Monday, 17 October 2011

Is football all about the players? Part 2 of 2

Jamie Carragher and Ray Wilkins give their thoughts on why the England manager should be an Englishman. Carragher's argument is hard to argue with, but Wilkins' analysis reflects badly on the state of the English game

I had said previously that I'd report back on the talk about modern footballers at the Leaders In Football conference earlier in the month. In truth, I've been stalling on getting round to writing this blog since so much of what Jamie Carragher, Ray Wilkins and Fabio Cannavaro said on the day was reported by the media. Such is the life of a blogger who also has a full-time day job, getting round to writing up a blog on something you attended can be rendered a lot less worthwhile if somebody gives the press a few soundbites. 

The talk was less of an insight into the mindset of a modern footballer than billed, and proved to be more of a rambling discussion which leapt about quite a bit. As it turned out, the most interesting stuff was what Carragher and Wilkins had to say on the subject of the England manager. Their thoughts are not especially ones that I agree with, but were well argued nonetheless.

Carragher has strong feelings that the England manager should be an Englishmen: "Its not anything against foreign coaches coming to manage England, it’s just about what I think international football is. It’s our best against their best. Whether that’s the best keeper, best centre forward, wherever. If we’re short, then we have to improve.

"Surely if you’re English and you go on a coaching course, the idea is for the England manager’s job to be what you aspire towards? For me, you shouldn’t have a foreign member of staff. The best doctor in the country should be the England doctor, or whatever. It should be your best against another country’s best," he said.

Wilkins credits moving to Italy with turning him into a proper professional, yet still
thinks the England manager should be an Englishman due to the players' mindsets
Ray Wilkins was in vehement agreement with Carragher, saying: "I’d like to see an English manager. We’ve tried it and we haven’t gone that far in World Cups with foreign coaches. I had the fortune of going to Italy and playing. Their attitude to football is completely different to our attitude. When Fabio came in there were lots of changes, especially on the discipline side. Now, I’ve no problem with discipline at all, but the England player reacts slightly differently to the way the Italian player reacts. 

"I never became a professional footballer until I was 27 - the day I moved to Italy. That’s when I actually started to live the right way, which meant I was able to play for a long period after. Everything was so professional; the diet was kicking in then. I thought I was relatively professional until I went to Italy and realised I was unfit. The fitness coach took our fat counts, got the results and said 'We’ve got a fat guy in the room'. So of course I’m looking round thinking 'Where is he?'. But it was me. I was the fat guy. It gave me the routine I needed to live each day. Within a month I lost an inch and a half off my waist and I was flying."

Isn't that depressing? Ray Wilkins has played and lived in Italy and completely immersed himself in the culture and the mindset, and credits the experience with broadening his horizons and turning him into a proper athlete. Yet he has so little faith in the England players of today that he thinks they wouldn't benefit from a foreign coach with advanced ideas telling them a few things they might want to change if they want to cease being a national embarrassment every time they go to a major tournament.

We might be miles behind the Spanish and Germans in terms of technique, but we're even further behind when it comes to hunger. Our mollycoddled players just aren't prepared to put their faith in one man and work their backsides off. Unless perhaps if that man is an Englishman who'll "keep things simple" and constantly praise them to the hilt. 

So in answer to my original question back in part one of this blog - Is Football All About The Players? - the answer would appear to be, in this country at least, yes. It's not a happy state of affairs, but one we're stuck with for the foreseeable. All part of football's general sickness at the highest level in England.

I'm off to flick through my 1986/87 Panini sticker album and see if I can spot some ambition and pride in the players' eyes. I can hardly wait for Euro 2012.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Kia Joorabchian on Carlos Tevez in Munich: the complete interview transcript

Controversy erupts on Manchester City's bench in Munich
Today at the Leaders In Football summit, held at Chelsea FC's Stamford Bridge, a hastily arranged Q&A with Carlos Tevez's representative Kia Joorabchian was organised. Asking the questions was former executive director of the FA David Davies. 

Below is the full transcript of their conversation about the incidents in Munich last week, when Carlos Tevez is alleged to have refused to come off the bench for Manchester City in a Champions League game.

I do not offer any comment or opinion on the contents of their discussion, and instead leave you to make up your own mind. The press will of course select some choice quotes for their stories in tomorrow’s papers. But for completeness, here’s everything Joorabchian said on Tevez before the discussion moved to more global football matters.

DD: Did Carlos Tevez refuse to play for Manchester City at any stage?
: Well there’s an internal investigation going on, so whatever I say here is my opinion and not Carlos’s. I haven’t spoken to him about it. What the investigators think and what Carlos thinks is their issue. I’ve tried to keep at arm’s length from it. I am party to some extra information that I hopefully will not divulge today! The main thing is that what happened was an issue of a lot of confusion. While I don’t believe that it’s correct for any player to behave in a manner that is contrary to that of his club, events have been judged prior to the real outcome coming out. We didn’t actually see what really happened. We only saw the TV footage, which shows it in a different light.

What’s your interpretation of what happened then?
My interpretation of the footage is that there is a lot of arguing going on down on the bench when Edin Dzeko comes off. They showed Carlos warm up during the first half with two other players. In the second half when they showed the bench, we didn’t see Carlos and they then showed that he and Nigel De Jong were warming up. He was warming up even as De Jong comes on. We then see him walk back to the bench, and as he’s walking back to the bench there’s a god-awful row between Roberto Mancini and Dzeko. We see this row carrying on and Carlos then sits down. We see this row continuing, we see the physical trainer is talking to Carlos, and Carlos then stands up to go towards somewhere. There is some more shouting and he sits right back down. So, that’s what we see from the video footage. And from then on we are going by what Mancini says.

Do you believe he refused to play?
I know Carlos in totally different light to most people in this room and around the world, since he was an 18-year-old boy. You can criticise him for anything, but one thing you can’t criticise him for is his commitment on the pitch, or for not wanting to play. There have been several times at Manchester City and throughout his career where he’s taken injections, played with swollen ankles or in situations when doctors have told him not to play. There was a situation at Corinthians where the medical department came to me before the Libertadores semi-final with River Plate and said “Carlos cannot play, he is not fit”. I then hear that there is a massive row going on and people were saying “You need to get down to the dressing room ASAP”. I go down and the coach says: “You’ve got to help me out. Carlos wants to kill the doctor.” He then played the full 90 minutes.

So you’re saying that this is a misunderstanding and he didn’t refuse to play?
This is my opinion that he didn’t refuse to play. Throughout his career he has been one who fights to play. He joined City when he had offers from Real Madrid and Manchester United. United gave him an offer, as did Madrid and City. He was one of the first players to join City’s new vision. It is a great vision. I have the honour of knowing Sheikh Mansour and sometimes that vision is not portrayed properly. Carlos was brought in to help and start that vision. So he feels very differently towards the club. He had a very intense feeling at end of his first season when they missed out on qualifying for the Champions League. He took that very personally. In the second season his performances on the pitch were outstanding.

There are a lot of issues around this. Carlos does speak English, but his English is not good enough to host a full-blown interview.

But did he say, as he was interpreted as saying, “I did not feel right to play, so I did not play”?
One of the biggest problems right after a game when questions are asked is that things get put out of context and if you don’t have a very professional interpreter then you have a problem. I speak both languages and I listened to the questions in English and the interpretation in Spanish. The interpretation was incorrect. Both questions and both of Carlos’s answers were misinterpreted. Geoff Shreeves says “What is the truth?”. Carlos says something like “the truth is, at this point in time, how am I going to be in a mental state to play?”. The interpreter then says something very different. The second question is Shreeves

Are you saying that whatever the outcome of the enquiry, he would want to stay at Manchester City?
Again, there is an investigation going on, and I don’t really want to speak about what Carlos does and doesn’t want to do.

Do you think he knows what he wants to do?
I think he feels that he has been judged before the case has been looked into. Manchester City are in a very difficult position, and Carlos is in a very difficult position. 

Wouldn’t it have been better to say “I’m sorry if this was the impression I gave to the manager”?
Just to clarify, I was not aware of the statement before he released it. But he did release a statement and it clearly said that it was a misunderstanding and he did apologise. If you look at the bench, it seems there was a misunderstanding with Zabaleta – and I’m not saying there was or wasn’t – but we should wait until the investigation has run its course and analyse its findings. And at that point both Carlos and Man City need to sit down and have a conversation.

Could the manager and player be reconciled again?
This is something for the two of them to work out. It’s a personal relationship between two people. You’ve seen this happen all through the summer with Fabregas, Nasri, Modric, the list goes on – those are just the high-profile names from throughout the summer. People handing in transfer requests, refusing to travel, refused to play – I think this is a problem in general. 

Are you actually saying [those players] refused to play?
Well, I can say that my opinion is that they refused to play, but that they refused to play in a different way. Those situations were handled in a different way; their managers and clubs handled them very differently.

So Roberto Mancini should’ve handled it a different way?
Roberto has his style of management, it’s very direct and totally different to Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger or Carlo Ancelotti. Fabregas had a big problem throughout the summer, Modric put in a transfer request and I think he didn’t play in Spurs’ first European game and it was reported that he didn’t want to play. Whether that’s true or not, we don’t know. Every manager and every club handles situations differently. Carlos’s situation has been handled in a different manner. Carlos and Roberto now have to deal with the manner in which it has been handled.

So is Carlos Tevez, as some people have suggested, easily lead? Or is he quite tough?
I think any person in the world that knows Carlos knows that he has a very strong opinion on everything. One thing he’s always said and reiterated all the time is that he resents the fact that people think he can be [easily lead]. He’s come up from the bottom and has reached the top of his game. He hasn’t done that by not being a very strong character. He’s a very, very strong independent character and if you speak to any of his teammates and managers – either current or past – they will tell you he’s a very different character to this.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Is football all about the players? Part 1 of 2

This week sees some of world football's top minds and most powerful decision makers come together at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge for the Leaders In Football summit. There are a number of intriguing talks on the agenda, with referee Pierluigi Collina, AS Roma president Tom DiBenedetto and the Secretary General of Qatar 2022 (that talk might be fun) among the speakers on various panel discussions.

However, it was the last talk of the two-day agenda that most caught my eye. Somewhat flippantly titled "It's the players that matter, stupid", it features a panel consisting of Jamie Carragher, Owen Hargreaves and Fabio Cannavaro.

"At the top level," says the blurb, "players and their coaches work under the most intense pressure in an environment where job security, even with a lengthy contract, often seems non-existent. Performances are assessed daily, fairly and unfairly by public and media alike as well as by employers. So what is it really like today at the sharp end of football under such scrutiny? And what do today’s heroes think will be tomorrow’s challenges?"

My immediate reaction to this is that I'd happily be under that sort of scrutiny if I was getting paid £80,000 a week (or £4.16 million pa). You can call me whatever you want for that sort of money. To my face. I'm pretty sure I'll get over it.

But is this attitude an overly dismissive one? Should we be more considerate to the pressure players are under in modern football, and consider the difficulties of taking to the field in peak mental and physical condition?

You imagine that Carragher – noted as one of the deeper thinkers currently playing the game, and a man who will surely make a decent fist of management when he hangs up his boots – will be quite forthright when he takes the mic. Players at the top level are fantastically rewarded for the job they do, and as a result have a duty to stay focused on helping their team while keeping themselves in prime physical condition. Club management will guide them along the way, but ultimately the player must push himself in trying to achieve his and the team's goals. Certainly it will be a surprise should such an uncompromising player pander for any sympathy.

Hargreaves could be a different story. His terrible luck with injuries must have pushed his mental strength to its very limit. How does it feel when every time you take to the field, you know the crowd and press are just waiting for the next innocuous challenge that puts you on the sidelines for another period of months. It will be fascinating to see what Hargreaves has to say about the last few years of his career. Does he think it's fair that the media have scrutinised his fitness so closely or has that just increased the mental anguish of being on the sidelines? Did it make him stronger or push him closer to thoughts of retirement?

As a World Cup-winning captain, Cannavaro reached the very peak of the game. He was also Fifa's World Player of the Year in 2006. Recently retired after a short spell playing in Dubai, he should be able to offer an interesting overseas perspective on life at the pinnacle of game. The English media are renowned for their continual hunger for stories, but Cannavaro has played for several top Italian sides as well as Real Madrid, so you'd imagine he knows what pressure is better than most. Certainly his time at Madrid would have been an eye-opening experience in terms of the club's intense relationship with the press.

So what will we learn from the panel? That footballers are sublimely gifted and should be protected from stresses and strains that could detract from their performance at all costs? Or will they instead concede that footballers at the highest level are handsomely paid and should "man up" and get on with doing something most people would dream to do? How do they see the nature of their job changing in years to come? It promises to be a fascinating discussion and one I'll report back on later in the week. (EDIT: make that 'later in the month'!)

In the meantime, do feel free to give your opinion on whether it is fair that footballers are placed under so much scrutiny today.

Edit 4/10/11: The Leaders In Football website has updated it's programme this week, with the panel now set to feature Ray Wilkins instead of Hargreaves. Not sure if that's definite or not; conference line-ups often seem to fluctuate until the last minute. Personally, I don't think this line-up will be quite as interesting as two current players and one recently retired World Cup winner, but we shall see. Also, I wonder why Hargreaves is no longer available?