Friday, 31 December 2010

Narrow The Angle's Football Quiz, No. 1

Well, as the footballing 2010 draws to a close and a new year of hope, optimism and lots of Ian Holloway looms into view, I thought I'd bring the curtain down on this blog for the year with a taxing little football quiz for you anoraks out there. I've had a very pleasant afternoon with my Rothmans annual and have come up with this for you. I've put the answers at the end, but frankly, if you skip straight to the answers without trying to guess them first, you may wish to consider a career working for FIFA, you sneaky so-and-so. No peeking! Right, here goes, I'll start with a toughie...

1) Who was Fulham manager in between Kevin Keegan (1998-99) and Jean Tigana (2000-03)?

2) Who were the top goalscorers (in all competitions) in all four divisions in the 2009/10 season?

3) Who did Cardiff City beat over two legs in the Championship play-off semi final, before losing to Blackpool at Wembley?

4) As we begin a new decade, Arsenal have had just five managers in the previous three decades. Two of them are, of course, Arsene Wenger (1996-present) and George Graham (1986-95). Who are the other three?

5) Carlisle United's player-coach is one of the most dynamic and industrious midfielders to grace the Football League in recent seasons. Name him.

6) What was unique about Torquay United's goal difference in the 2009/10 season?

7) According to Rothmans, who is Ipswich Town's all-time record signing, from which team and what was the fee involved?

8) In 2009/10 season, five teams in the top four divisions won fewer than two league games away from home. How many can you name?

9) Sheffield United have just appointed Micky Adams as manager. Who is the only other manager in their history with a five-letter firstname and five-letter surname?

10) In the opening match of the 2010 African Cup of Nations, Angola lead Mali 4-0 with 11 minutes left on the clock. What happened next? Why was this apparently bad news for one English university student?

11) True or false? Jimmy Bullard has scored more than five goals in a season just once in his career.

12) Who is this Wolves assistant manager, pictured here with Mick McCarthy?

13) Bolton Wanderers signed Bulgarian winger Martin Petrov in the summer. How many of his five previous clubs can you name?

14) Two members of the current Stoke City squad have the colour blue in their national flag. Who are they, and what are their nationalities? Note: I have discounted Diego Arismendi (Uruguay) as he is on a season-long loan to Barnsley. There are two others.

15) Name the six different sponsors that the League Cup has had in its history.

Scroll down below this completely random Panini sticker of John Aldridge in his Oxford United days for the answers...


1) Paul Bracewell.
2) Didier Drogba, Peter Whittingham, Rickie Lambert, Lee Hughes.
3) Leicester City.
4) Terry Neill (1976-83), Don Howe (1984-86) and Bruce Rioch (1995-96).
5) Graham Kavanagh.
6) They were the only side in all four divisions to finish in the bottom half with a positive goal difference. They ended up with a goal difference of +9 in 17th place in League Two.
7) Matteo Sereni, £5 million from Sampdoria (August 2001).
8) Fulham, West Ham, Burnley, Hull, Gillingham. (Doesn't say much for the quality of last season's Premier League, does it?)
9) Steve Bruce (1998-99).
10) Mali scored on 79, 88, 90+3 and 90+4 minutes to draw 4-4. The English university student allegedly bet £4,400 (with the score at 4-0) that Angola would win the game. The odds were 1.01, so he stood to win just £44 profit from his £4,400 stake.
11) True.
12) Former Leeds, Brighton and Portsmouth striker Terry Connor.
13) CSKA Sofia, Servette, Wolfsburg, Atletico Madrid, Manchester City.
14) Asmir Begovic (Bosnia) and Eidur Gudjohnsen (Iceland).
15) Carling, Worthington, Coca-Cola, Rumbelows, Littlewoods, Milk.

Hope that got the old grey matter working. If people like it, I'll do another one sometime. Happy new year everyone. Hope your team rips it up in 2011.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Has Andre Blackman blown it at Wimbledon?

Back in August, I wrote on this blog about how lucky AFC Wimbledon were to have a supremely talented 20-year-old left back on their books in Andre Blackman. I said this with some caveats though. Blackman's already been shown the door at few league clubs (a level at which he is easily talented enough to play), and the worry was that his attitude and lack of discipline would get the better of him. Sadly, these caveats are looking quite accurate at the moment.

Blackman was - and I'm going on overheard fan conversations here - apparently seen stropping off in the car park while his teammates were preparing to kick off against Eastbourne yesterday, leaving flu-hit Wimbledon to name only three subs on their bench. Who knows, maybe Blackman had flu too and was just frustrated that he couldn't play, but whatever the cause was, it's another worry to add to Blackman's growing list. There are plenty of rumours as to why he got kicked out of other clubs - most of them relating to off-field matters - but it's on the field where the concerns are at the moment.

Wimbledon started the season short of cover at left back. But this wasn't too big a problem because Blackman looked a nailed-on starter for that position. Quick, skilful, audacious, attack-minded - Blackman essentially looked like an exciting winger that could defend a bit. On the ball, there are comparisons with several Premier League left backs - with aspects of Ashley Cole, Micah Richards, Gareth Bale and Patrice Evra in the way he plays. Defensively, he's a bit naive and prone to being dragged out of position. And by "dragged out of position", what I really mean is "caught upfield after neglecting his defensive duties".

The frustrating thing is, it's not always naivety that makes him a liability. Sometimes it's just flagrant disregard for tactics. We've even seen him dispute shouted instructions from the bench. Like the time when, positioned as cover on the half-way line for a corner, like full-backs often are - he started creeping forward leaving only one man back. And when told to get back to his position, he started gesticulating at the bench as if he knew best and that going forward was the correct thing to do. Even if it was, that's a debate for the dressing room afterwards. When you're on the pitch, you do what the coaches tell you to do.

If you'd seen Blackman play during pre-season you'd understand why I thought he could be one of the stand-out players in the division. AFC Wimbledon manager Terry Brown agreed, labelling Blackman as "Premier League or Championship quality". But it's just not worked out for him yet. He's not been able to find a way past solid Brentford loanee Chris Bush into the first team of late, and Brown is now making noises about finding another left-back in January.

One surprising thing is that Brown hasn't really given Blackman a go on the left wing. I'm a huge admirer of the manager and I'm sure he knows better than me, but a player of Blackman's touch, pace and skill would presumably do quite well running at an opposition full-back. I'd like to see it tried once.

If Wimbledon do sign another left-back in January, I worry that could be the last we'll see of Blackman. And for such a talented player to just simply not be able to knuckle down and work hard at his game, listen to instructions and make progress, would be a huge pity. If he applied himself, he'd be playing league football in no time.

I'm sure most supporters can think of a player they've watched as a youngster who looked supremely talented, but just never quite had the mindset of a professional athlete - and thus didn't make the grade. Andre Blackman may be just the next in a long line of gifted players that don't fulfil their potential. But with the ability he has, it really wouldn't take a hell of a lot of knuckling down for him to regularly be one of the best players on the pitch.

I hope I'm wrong to be worried. I hope we see what he's really capable of in the second half of the season and that this talented but troubled soul can somehow channel his angst into terrorising the opposition. But I'm increasingly concerned that Andre Blackman may have kicked over his bar stool at the Last Chance saloon, and is now squaring up to nobody in particular, possibly just his own reflection in a mirror, as a potentially brilliant career starts to slip from his grasp.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The thrills and skills of Andrei Kanchelskis

I used to love watching Andrei Kanchelskis play. At his best he was a genuinely exhilarating player. It is he more than almost anybody that epitomises my memories of the early years of Premier League football and Sky’s coverage. Here's why...

Any winger with the winning combination of searing pace and plenty of trickery will always be a favourite with the neutral. They’re the one you want to get on the ball during a drab game; you know that if anyone can make something happen, it’s the baggy-sleeved whippet on the wing.

But Andrei Kanchelskis’s sleeves weren’t as baggy as the archetypal touchline hugger. Surprisingly broad of shoulder for a winger, he’d often go past his man with a combination of pace, skill and the sort of strength that is best shown when going shoulder-to-shoulder with a fullback and gradually sending them off balance over the course of several paces. The marauding Ukrainian played the game how most of us like to see it – quick, on the deck, with precision and verve. I think the greatest compliment I could pay him would be that he made every pitch look like it was wet. The ball would glide along smoothly as he dribbled it. His crosses and shots would normally be fizzed in low like a well-skimmed pebble being thrown into water. He did everything with zip.

Of course, Kanchelskis played at the same time (and in the same team) as Eric Cantona, and so history perhaps does not remember him as a true United great. And even apart from the volatile-but-gifted Frenchman, he was playing alongside other world-class players in their pomp (Giggs, Schmeichel, Keane). But he still stood out as a real danger on many occasions during his four-year spell at United. During this time, he would make 145 appearances for the club, scoring an impressive 48 goals.

United's first 'proper' right winger since the early 1980s
I was lucky enough to see him play during his last full season at Old Trafford. It was 29 October 1994, and United were at home to Kevin Keegan’s table-topping Newcastle. The home side were convincing 2-0 winners, thanks to goals from Gary Pallister and Keith Gillespie (before the latter became a make-weight in the Andy Cole transfer between the clubs a couple of months later). But the real star of the show that day was Kanchelskis. People often talk about how thrilling it is to be stood or sat behind the goal towards which a flying winger is running. But for me, it was equally beguiling to sit behind him as he ran away, because then you got to enjoy watching the full-back squirm and contort before eventually falling over. He seemed so fast. And as he approached top speed he would jink and lurch in different directions – much like Gareth Bale does today, but at more acute angles. He loved to cut inside too, and was more than comfortable shooting with either foot. 

When United signed Kanchelskis from Shakhtar Donetsk in March 1991, they paid just £650,000 for his services. And they were urgently needed services too. No disrespect to Mike Phelan, Neil Webb and Clayton Blackmore, but United’s right-sided options weren’t exactly budding Usain Bolts. In fact, the new arrival was said to be United’s first 'proper' right-winger since Steve Coppell.

Like with so many of United’s best servants over the years, Kanchelskis departed after a fall-out with Sir Alex Ferguson could not be patched up. He left for Everton in a £5 million deal just weeks after Ferguson had sold Paul Ince and Mark Hughes – in retrospect, a clear-out that arguably accelerated the development of one David Beckham, not to mention the rest of “Fergie’s Fledglings”.

Many predicted that he’d flop on Merseyside. They assumed he must have an attitude problem to have fallen out with Ferguson. But whenever I saw him play for Everton he always looked a threat – and 20 goals from 52 Premier League games, including both goals in a 2-1 win away at Anfield – tell you all you need to know.

Kanchelskis nets the winner at Anfield in 1995
Having earned cult status with Toffees fans and cemented his reputation as one of the most feared wingers in British football, he was suddenly gone; sold to Fiorentina in the January of his second season at Goodison Park for £8 million. He was never quite the same player after that, and even when he joined Glasgow Rangers in the summer of 1998, he never quite hit the heights. His status in Glasgow was that of a player good at turning the screw once Rangers were ahead, but who couldn’t produce in the big games.

The flat-track bully tag was perhaps best evidenced in the fact that he began to showboat. Once, memorably, with Rangers several goals to the good against Ayr United in a Scottish Cup semi-final, Kanchelskis received a pass in space on the right flank. He stood on top of the ball with both feet and raised his hand to his brow as if surveying his options. A swift one-two with Claudio Reyna and Kanchelskis whipped the ball in for Billy Dodds to score. It was a memorable moment, replayed endlessly in the days that followed, but Ayr’s players and fans felt it was unnecessary to do it against a minnow already heading for a convincing defeat. They just wanted to enjoy their big day out at Hampden Park by that point, and Kanchelskis had rubbed their noses in it.

But if he got away with that one, signs that his powers were on the wane were more apparent in a game with Kilmarnock at Ibrox, when Kanchelskis performed an even more pointless trick, completing a 360-degree turn without touching the ball. His marker, who’d kept his eye on the ball, wasn’t even close to being fooled and the Ukrainian then failed to get his cross in. He did little of particular note in what remained of his career, as he drifted to Manchester City (loan), Southampton, Saudi Arabia and Russia before eventually retiring at 38.

It was not the end he would have wished for his career, but he will always be remembered by fans of United and Everton for the way he brought pace, goals and skill to the first half of the 1990s. He also provided a certain amount of exoticism as a foreign player. He was one of just 13 non-Brits to play in the Premier League’s opening weekend (the others were Schmeichel, Cantona, Jan Stejskal, Robert Warzycha, Roland Nilsson, Hans Segers, John Jensen, Anders Limpar, Gunnar Halle, Craig Forrest, Michel Vonk and Ronnie Rosenthal). How bizarre does such a statistic seem now? Today’s Premier League teams have, on average, 13 foreign players each.

Andrei Kanchelskis was unusual. He came from a place we knew little about, seemed to run differently, shoot differently, even celebrate differently – his arms outstretched, slightly bent at the elbows, hands turned in, as if ready to embrace the first person that could catch him.

The Cantonas, Bergkamps, Henrys and Beckhams are all rightly revered for the contributions they have made to football in this shiny Premier League era. But we should not forget that Andrei Kanchelskis more than did his bit too.

Gloria! Hosannah in Kanchelskis!
(Or, to use a less pretentious subhead, ‘Five Memorable Andrei Kanchelskis Moments’)

1) An absolute monster of a goal against Oldham in the 1994 FA Cup Semi Final. United are making rather heavy work of this fixture, and so Andrei decides to take matters into his own hands...

2) A stunning volley for Rangers away at Dunfermline – one of the few special moments of his time in Glasgow.

3) A terrific hat-trick for Everton against Sheffield Wednesday (you’ll notice a rare Daniel Amokachi goal in there too).

4) A decidedly scrappier hat-trick in the Manchester derby. But still, a hat-trick in the derby is something to savour, especially when you win 5-0. Kanchelskis is the only player in history to have scored in all three of the Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow derbies. Some feat.

5) A sublime goal against Forest in the 1994/95 season. It’s the first goal in this enjoyable compilation video. Watch for the view from inside the net to see just how well he picks his spot here. If Bergkamp had done that, it would have been Goal Of The Season in any season.