A lot, in fact, for us to learn from. The Americans and their sporting culture have been a constant target of ridicule from the European shores for years, never more so than when they actually began to take giant strides in the world of football, or soccer, as they like to call it. You can’t blame the Europeans for feeling protective over a sport which they feel that they’ve earned the right to lead the way in, when it comes to the laws and norms of the game. However, it would be foolish not to look over those shores and learn a thing or two from the Americans. They know what they’re doing and it works too. Now, no one is advising cheerleaders at half-time, even though girls in tight shorts may not be something Sepp Blatter would be against, nor are we suggesting breaking a game of football into quarters, or giving time-outs to teams. Although it would be worth considering that all of the above-mentioned elements of their sports are largely geared towards raising advertising revenue, and hence create money for the networks and teams, something which is a driving motivation for FIFA and UEFA when it comes to making changes to the beautiful game. It is questionable if our football would be better off if any of those revolutionary changes, when a little bit of goal-line technology talk has been the object of resistance by FIFA, over the years, even though it is safe to agree that not only will it not slow down the match in progress, but it would be beneficial in helping to ensure Fair Play, one of the guiding principles that FIFA stands for. Today, we aren’t here to discuss changing our soccer to their football. That’s a debate for another time and place. Today the question is why don’t we analyze our beautiful game as comprehensively as they do their sports?
Sports data and statistics have been a cornerstone of American sporting culture since the very first games of Basketball and Baseball. In fact, supporters test each others knowledge of their sports by reciting seasonal batting averages in baseball, triple-double stats in Basketball (that’s when a player gets double figures in 3 facets of a basketball game, usually points, rebounds and assists), or rushing yards in the NFL. That’s just one set of statistics from each of their three big sports, with no disrespect to Ice Hockey. Their trading cards, similar to Panini sticker albums on these shores, highlight full player statistics on the back-side of the cards, and fans as young as 9 or 10 years old trade and exchange cards simply based upon the players performances in certain statistics. Its embedded into their sporting system from such a young age. How many football supporters would know how much a player ran in the previous match, or how many times a player intercepts the ball in the season or who gives the ball away the most in their side? It’s highly unlikely that many would. But that’s largely through no fault of the supporters. The information has never been available on these shores. That begs a question of why? Sportsmen and women on the North American shores are heavily scrutinized by facts born out of their statistics week in, week out. These stats are available on a multitude of places including the respective leagues official websites among others. But in Europe, this scrutiny is largely based upon “match ratings” given by newspapers or reporters, without really going into much depth of what went into devising those ratings other than the opinion of one person. Pundits on TV also give their opinions but quite a lot of the time, it’s based on a few minutes worth of highlights that has been watched and one or two key incidents during the game.
Today, things are beginning to change, Pro Zone and other similar programs that compile in-depth stats are used by many clubs as a modern tool in analyzing performances. The info is not readily available to the public. Opta joined the public fore and it has helped supporters get closer to the game with the in-depth statistics that it releases, although full access to all its data is not available to the public at any one given time. Most recently, WhoScored joined the fore and they must be commended for providing access to the most in-depth data to the public ever. Anyone, at any time, can access their database and find out random, but integral information, such as who wins the most aerial duels, who has the worst shots on target percentage, and who gives the ball away the most in their side. This has been a giant stride in the right direction for the public, in terms of proper analysis of football. Commentators, pundits and so-called experts would do themselves and their audiences justice by actually referring to this sort of data when they’re undertaking their critiques or commendations, just as their American counterparts do.
Whilst we look forward to more strides being taken in this regard by those who will facilitate the availability of such information, in order to provide better in-depth coverage of fact and opinion in any media of football, we can also confidently state that huge steps have been taken in the last five years in this regard, due to some of the groups mentioned above.
Now, just to make things interesting, with the help of our friends at WhoScored who provide the sort of data needed to compile the below statistics and conclusions, we’ve decided to present to you some lesser known facts, about which players have stood out within in-depth categories and which ones have not in the European season so far, with an American twist. So as they say on those shores, let’s get ready to rumble.
Players playing in Europe’s “Big 5” leagues of England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France (UEFA Rankings) are only considered (All figures are per game):
The Denilson Award for Most Dribbles
Gokhan Tore (Hamburg) 6.1
Leo Messi (Barcelona) 5.4
Ribery (FC Bayern) 4.4
Seven of the top ten dribblers in Europe play in the Bundesliga, who on the back of breaking league attendance records recently and winning an extra Champions League spot from Italy this season, is definitely a league on the up. The Premier League only has one representative in the top 10 and that is Blackburn Rovers Junior Hoilett who averages 3.1 dribbles a game.
Guilty as Inzaghi when it comes to Offsides Award
Di Natale (Udinese) 2.7
Papiss Cisse(Freiburg) 2.6
Calaio (Siena) 2.4
The Premier League, Serie A and Bundesliga each have three men in the top ten of Europe’s most caught offside players. La Liga only has one representative in the top twenty and that is Real Zaragoza’s Portuguese international Helder Postiga (5th overall). Ligue 1’s most impressive striker, Oliver Giroud is also its most caught offside one and he is the only representative of his league in the top twenty.
Most Turnovers (Passing the ball to the opposition)
Adebayor (Tottenham) 3.8
Mouloungui (Nice) 3.4
The tempo of the French and English leagues plays a role in this as 16 of the top twenty players come from these two leagues with Ligue 1 edging it with 9 players. Only one Serie A player makes the top twenty, and that is Mirko Vucinic of Juventus who commits 2.6 turnovers.
Ibrahimovic (Milan) 3.3
Nene (PSG) 3.3
Valbuena (Marseille) 3.1
Some of Europe’s top passers rarely give the ball away, but sometimes they are criticized for playing the ball side-ways or backwards. Whilst it retains possession, it does not penetrate the opposition unlike the top 3 key passers in Europe. However, there will be persistent passers who eventually break down the opposition as they pick and choose when to send across what can be deemed a key pass more carefully. Leo Messi comes in 22nd, Andrea Pirlo comes in 23rd whilst Xavi comes in 27th in the category. Usually, players like these, especially the latter two pull off the key passes when they decide to go for them and the success ratio is higher even though stats are not available as of now to corroborate this. The more direct nature of the Premier League is exhibited by the fact that eight of the top twenty players represent it. Leighton Baines is the only defender in the top 20 with 2.7 key passes per game. It would be worth looking at the number of assists some of those key passes have been converted to. Ibrahimovic has 2 assists all season long, Nene 2, Valbuena 8, Messi 8, Pirlo 4, Xavi 5 and Baines 1.
The Hog the Ball Award for Most Passes
Xavi (Barcelona) 106.7
Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid) 85.9
Schweinsteiger (FC Bayern) 80.6
This was probably the most expected result of any category out there. Barcelona have 4 representatives in the top 20 but it might be news to you that there is a club that has more players in the top twenty, and that club is FC Bayern, with 5. Lahm, Rafinha (FC Bayern)and Dani Alves exhibit the fact that full backs are integral to the modern game with each of them being comfortably placed in the top 20, with the first two averaging just under 80 passes a game. Only four players from the Premier League are found in the top twenty. Not surprisingly, two of them play at Arsenal. Arteta averages 78.7 passes a game is 5th overall, whilst Ramsey and Ashley Williams (Swansea), two Welshmen each average 68.6 passes per game. Yaya Toure is 11th overall and is the 4th Premier League player, averaging just over 70 passes a game.
Most Accurate Passer
Britton (Swansea) 94.2%
Thiago (Barcelona) 93.9%
Xavi (Barcelona) 93.1%
This category coupled with the previous one probably illustrate a better picture when combined. In it, we only considered players who succeed with at least 50 passes a game. Britton leads in the category but he only makes 57.8 passes a game, whilst Thiago achieves 15 more passes a game. Xavi has already been discussed in the previous category. Busquets, Mascherano and Abidal all have pass ratios over 90% and are in the top twenty, whilst succeeding with at least 62 passes per game. The top twenty is dominated by the Premier League and La Liga and interestingly Swansea City have 3 players in it, confirming them as a side that likes to retain possession and pass the ball.
Best Crosser Award
Larsson (Sunderland) 2.8
Cossu (Cagliari) 2.8
Tiffert (Kaiserslautern) 2.6
Seven Premier League players make the top twenty in a league which has traditionally been known to target crosses towards a traditional number 9 playing as center forward. Six Ligue 1 players also find themselves in the top twenty. Interestingly, no La Liga player is in it, as not a single player there makes 2 crosses per game.
Quarterback Award for Most Successful Long Balls
Ter Stegen (Gladbach) 14.1
Hennessy (Wolves) 12.8
Begovic (Stoke) 11.8
As evidenced by the top 3 in this category, goalkeepers largely play the role of the quarterback if you’re looking at long balls completed per game. The highest placed outfield player is Mark van Bommel, in 4th place, with 11.2 long balls per game. Thiago Silva and Pirlo are the next two highest placed outfield players. All in all, six goalkeepers find themselves in the top twenty. Only two La Liga players and 1 Ligue player find themselves there.
Nigel De Jong Award for Best Tackler
Lucas Leiva (Liverpool) 5.7
Hetemaj (Chievo) 5.3
Behrami (Fiorentin) 5.2
Tackling is an art as old as goal-scoring even though it is somewhat not given the exposure or coverage that it deserves. Surprisingly, eight of the top twenty placed tacklers in Europe play in La Liga. 5 play in the Serie A although only one of those players is Italian, Udinese’s Pinzi who is in 10th place with 4.8 tackles per game. Nigel De Jong, the man whose name lies on the award does not even make the top 100 although he hasn’t had enough minutes this season.
Most Interceptions Per Game
Javi Fuego(Rayo) 7.3
Chico (Mallorca) 6.6
This is a category dominated by La Liga who take the top 16 spots and 31 of the top 40. The highest Premier League based player is Stilian Petrov of Aston Villa with 3.5 interceptions, who finds himself in 74th place.
The Hoof the Ball Clear Old-School English Style Award for Most Clearances
Shawcross (Stoke) 12.8
Peybernes (Sochaux) 11.6
Gabbidon (Swansea) 11.3
As tradition would have it, the Premier League is home to the most no nonsense defenders in Europe. The fans love them as much as they love their goalscorers. Four of the top five and seven of the top ten players play in the Premier League. Be it weaker defending or the fact that La Liga is considered to be the most technical league out there at the moment, the league has no player in the top 100 of the category.
The Terry Butcher Award for Bravery AKA Throw your Body in the Way and Block Shots
S. Taylor (Newcaslte 2
Cahill (Bolton) 1.5
A. Williams (Swansea) 1.5
Unsurprisingly, the Premier League provides 10 out of the top twenty in this category, and all of the representatives are British players.
Hang-time 50-50 Award for Most Aerial Duels Won
Crouch (Stoke) 4.7
Pelle (Parma) 4.5
Kabouo (Spurs) 4.5
Unsurprisingly, one of the tallest players in Europe wins the most aerial duels. Even though Peter Crouch has been criticized for being soft in some quarters, he almost always comes out on top when it comes to a 50-50 in the air. Credit must go to Heidar Helguson of QPR who is the only player under 1’85 in the top 10. In fact he is only 1’78 but wins 4.2 aerial duels per game and finishes in 4th spot.
Now onto the most interesting category of the season so far, an All-Defensive Team, a cornerstone of the end of season awards when it comes to the NBA. Usually, an all-star team of the season, gives precedence to the players who shone when it comes to the biggest games, and sometimes reputations win over performances. Attacking stats would definitely be favored in the selection of teams of the season, whichever league they are picked from. This team, however, includes players from every position who guarantee the undertaking of their defensive duties and back it up with the performance stats to prove it (Tackles, Interceptions, Clearanaces, Blocked Shots, Offsides Won, among other criteria). The members of the Defensive Team of the Season, selected from Europe’s top 5 leagues at the half-way mark of the season are as follows:
The above players have excelled when it comes to performing their defensive duties, in some cases right from the top of the team. In goal, Joe Hart’s save percentage, as well as shots to goals ratio, goals conceded and clean sheets make him one of the best keepers in Europe. Javi Venta has been instrumental to Levante’s meteoric, if shocking, rise to the top echelon of Spanish football, whilst Mascherano has had an excellent season as a center back. Hugo Campagnaro forms an integral part of Napoli’s back-3, whilst Lars Stindl and Arda Turan have better defensive numbers than many defenders. Jeremy Menez may be criticized for not having the final pass or finish mastered in his repertoire yet, but he puts in a shift and a half when it comes to working hard for his side. Honorable mentions must be made for Lucas Leiva who would have surely made the team had his season not been cut short by injury. Didac and Efrain Juarez of Espanyol and Real Zaragoza respectively also came close to breaking in at full back positions, while Santi Cazorla pushed himself close on either wing. Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny was also close to breaking into the starting line-up at center back and must surely be considered as one of Europe’s most improved player if such an award existed.
November 19, 2010 heralded a new era in the history of one of the founding clubs of the English leagues, Blackburn Rovers. Venkys London Ltd, a newly established subsidiary of Venkys India, a regional poultry giant, completed the purchase of the club from the Walker’s Trust, which had been running the club since the death of Jack Walker. Immediate talk of European football, and bringing in top quality international players followed. You wouldnt begrudge the supporters for beginning to dream. Sam Allardyce was managing the club and having kept Rovers up in his first season, after taking over from Paul Ince, he followed it up with a respectable 10th place finish and a league cup semi-final.
Whilst Allardyce had his detractors in the stands, due to a combination of his history at Bolton, his so-called long-ball football, and presumed negativity and throwing in the towel against the “Big four”, you wouldn’t argue with the relative success Allardyce had at the club with the lack of finances at his disposal and an average looking squad, which continued to see its best players being sold off to help finance the running of the club. This was a strategy that had worked well for the club in the past since the days of Mark Hughes, but it arguably only worked due to stable management off the field as well as entrusting the squad to the hands of a safe manager. What you could be sure with Allardyce was that Rovers rarely ever lost against teams in the bottom half, especially at home.
Cue forward to December 13, 2010 and Sam Allardyce is sacked with the club lying in 13th place and 5 points outside the relegation zone. The owners said it was a decision taken in line with their “wider ambitions and plans for the club”. They also said that they wanted a manager who would instill “good football” and take Rovers to “fourth or fifth in the league”. They hired Steve Kean, one of the coaches in Allardyce’s backroom staff, on temporary basis. Kean had no managerial experience, but was considered to be a respected figure within the coaching community. Whatever people felt about Allardyce, the sacking was a shock at a critical time in the season, which would define whether a club pushes for a top 10 finish or ends the season battling relegation. The owners clearly did not understand what the latter was. Kean took over with a cloud of uncertainty over both his appointment as well as the direction the club were heading. Within a few days Kean was given a contract till the end of the season, after a 1-1 home draw against a poor bottom of the table West Ham, as the owners seemingly continued to search for the man who would take Rovers towards Champions League football.
Kean began to feel more comfortable in his surroundings, especially during press conferences and began talking about attractive football, qualifying for European competition, bringing in young players as well as making the supporters happy, all of which were easy digs at Allardyce. One thing Allardyce had done at the club was making Ewood Park a fortress. Only Chelsea had Arsenal had won during his last half a season in charge. Throughout the previous season Rovers only suffered 3 home defeats to Manchester City, Spurs and Everton. In celebration of a his full-time hiring, Kean led Rovers to their first defeat at home against a bottom half club in almost 18 months when they were blanked 2-0 by Stoke on Boxing Day. On January 4, Rovers Chairwoman, Anuradha Desai spoke of a “2-3 year contract for Kean who is a hard-working man”. This happened on the back of Kean’s infamous monthly trips to Pune for some face-time with the onwers. On January 20, he signed his 2 and a half year deal to end speculation over the management position at the club and seemingly provide stability. His record at the time had been 2 wins, 1 draw and 3 defeats.
Kean took Rovers on a 10-match win-less run from February until the last day of April when Rovers won 1-0 at home to Bolton after finding themselves under massive pressure with the poor league run. Throughout it all, Kean spoke of “more attractive performances”, “positive results”, and bringing in “younger players like Hoilett and Jones”. Granted Rovers rigid style had loosened a little but it would be a hard push to quantify either of those two first claims. The final statement was something that Kean tried to take credit for even though it had been his predecessor who introduced both to the squad. However, it is fair to say that Hoilett’s form took a turn for the better under Kean. Rovers went on to win only one more game until the end of the season, a final day victory at Wolves to seal the club’s fate in the Premier League; however Kean spoke of “nine positive results” which ran towards the end of the season. These included draws against Blackpool and Birmingham at home and West Ham away, and only two wins.
The 2010/11 season was the 11th successive one for Rovers in the Premier League, during a period where they have finished in the top 6 twice, won a domestic trophy and reached a number of semi-finals too. The season began in the worst fashion with a poor home defeat against Wolves and that was followed up with two further losses. Rovers picked up its first win against Arsenal in late-September but did not use it as a platform as the poor season and results continued. Home losses had now become a regular occurrence at Ewood Park. By December 17, 2011, almost one year to the anniversary of Allardyce’s sacking, Rovers found themselves in 19th place with only 10 points picked up from a possible 48. It was the Bolton fixture last season which sealed Allardyce’s fate. It may well be the same fixture but at Ewood Park in a few days that seals the fate of his successor, although Rovers fans wont hold their breaths on that.
Whilst we have tried to remain objective throughout, it may be pertinent now to present a set of facts and statistics on Kean’s reign at Blackburn Rovers by analyzing the facets and elements that are important when judging any manager’s tenure.
When Kean took over one of the first changes he promised was playing attacking football with two strikers. Allardyce had favored one-striker systems with David Dunn usually favored to play behind the lone target-man. Kean proved to be a man of his word in the early days lining up with two natural strikers on a number of occasions including a game at home to West Brom, during which Niko Kalinic and Roque Santa Cruz both started. However, soon enough as “positive results” failed to materialize Kean reverted to a 4-2-3-1 formation which he has stuck with throughout his tenure without exception.
One of the major criticisms of Kean has been a lack of flexibility in his tactics. It does not seem that Rovers ever set up based upon how the opponents play. Kean sets his team up in the same fashion regardless of opposition and regardless of in-match events. He does not react to changes during a match. Very rarely do you see any tactical changes from Rovers under Kean. At best, personnel changes will take place.
In early days, Kean’s side was set out to play a more short-passing game, which was pleasing on the eye but not reaping the results. Backers suggested it needed time. Detractors suggested teams in Rovers position do not have the luxury of time nor the quality of players to pull it off. As time has passed, Kean has begun bringing back more and more elements of Allardyce’s side. However, he has not been successful in optimizing the performances which Allardyce got out of his side.
Only, Stoke City have less of the ball than Blackburn this season. Rovers average less than 42% possession per game. Rovers are 18th in the league when one looks at successful passes, where they stand at only 72%. They also have the second lowest amount of shots per game, averaging 12. Even worse is the fact that Rovers have the least amount of possession at home in the whole of the league at 39%. What is more striking is that no home side in all of Europe’s top leagues of Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England has less of the ball at home than Rovers.
Furthermore, only Stoke plays a higher percentage of long balls to short ones in the Premier League than Rovers. It’s also Stoke that is the only side in the league that averages less short passes per game. Rovers only average 270 passes a game, a shockingly low amount. Whilst, Rovers and Stoke have similar sorts of statistics as each other, one striking difference is the fact that Stoke wins the most aerial duels in the league, while Rovers the 14th highest. By trying to play a direct long-ball style, dependent upon set pieces, Rovers would need to be winning far more 50-50s and aerial challenges. For a side that depends so much on playing without the ball, the off-the-ball defending is even worse. Kean has been unable to get the defense organized from day one and Rovers concede schoolboy goals which could be prevented by closing down especially shots from long range, not giving away cheap fouls in dangerous areas as well as better marking on set pieces, all basics in modern football coaching. No clean sheets all season says it all.
Overall, one gets the sense of imbalance between defence and attack in almost every Rovers line-up with far too many light-weight attack-minded players lining up and arguably only one defensive player, if any, in the front 6. That puts a lot of pressure on the defence, and even though Rovers are averaging more goals than usual, they let in far too many easy goals to even reap the benefits of misusing statistics like Kean had recently when he said “we’re 6th in the league when it comes to scoring goals”. In terms of the type of goal scoring, Rovers score almost 40% of their goals from set pieces. Sam Allardyce who?
Under Steve Kean there has been a huge turnover of players, both in and out of Ewood Park. One of the first things that Kean did when he took over was to gain the support of senior players. That was achieved by signing them all onto longer, more lucrative deals. During his first season, Ruben Rochina and Mauro Formica joined on undisclosed amounts, although Rochina cost one-third what the agent brokering the deal made out of the deal. Little detail is available on Formica’s transfer. Kean also signed Roque Santa Cruz and Jermaine Jones on loan deals. The latter was one of the key performers that helped keep Rovers up in the Premier League. More should have been done to sign him this season on a permanent deal as his performances had been priceless. He made a lesser team get better results than it even should have.
This summer, Kean signed Myles Anderson, son of an agent close to Steve Kean, Serbian international midfielder Radosav Petrovic, David Goodwillie, Brazilian journeyman Bruno Ribeiro, Simon Vukcevic, Yakubu, Scott Dann and Jordan Slew. Anderson was signed “for the future” whilst Ribeiro, 28, and a right back, a problem area for Rovers this season “has not adapted”, according to Kean. Goodwillie, signed from Dundee United, was highly rated in Scotland but after starting a couple of games early in the season has been sitting on the bench for most of it and looks short of the pace or skill to succeed in the league. Dann has had mixed performances this season at center back, whilst Vukcevic has only recently started after an injury to Junior Hoilett. Petrovic has not caught up with the pace of the Premier League and seems too similar to Nzonzi, who is already at the club. Jordan Slew has been more a case of Jordan who? On a brighter note, Rochina and Formica have both played regularly for the club this season. Only Yakubu can be judged a success as of this point.
Looking at the current make-up of the starting line-up, having signed a right back in Ribeiro, Jason Lowe has been playing there in Michel Salgado’s absence. Most recently at home to West Brom, Salgado was said to be injured by Kean, even though he had traveled to Hamburg to play a charity match a few days earlier. Morten Gamst Pedersen has featured in central midfield even though Petrovic was signed for that area. Kean has spoken about signing a goal-scoring striker in January even though he signed 3 strikers in the summer window.
Overall, there has been a poor handling of transfers in and out of the club. Who has signed these players is a valid question. If it has been the manager, then that’s another nail in his performance as manager. If it has not been the manager who has signed them, then that creates a whole array of different questions.
At the end of the day, managers are judged on results. Whether the supporters like him or not, if they win, everyone is happy, unless you are Brazil and then winning isn’t everything. Steve Kean’s league record as Blackburn Rovers manager reads played 37, won 7, drawn 11 and lost 19 matches. He is one short of a 38 game Premier Leaague season, but currently stands at 32 points during those 37 matches and has 0.86 points per game. Even if he picks up a win in his next game, 35 points is a very low total that would result in relegation during most seasons. His record this season is even worse, as a stand-alone one. He has picked up only 0.62 points per game, winning only 19.6% of points available.
Kean’s 2011/12 record is even more striking when put across some of the worst managers to lead teams in the Premier League, including a man who many considered the worst manager they had ever seen at Rovers, Paul Ince. Ince was in charge for 17 matches, ironically, and led his side to 3 wins, 4 draws, 10 defeats with a total of 13 points, giving him 25.5% of points on offer.
The worst managerial record, in terms of percentage of points won against matches managed, in Premier League history falls to Portsmouth’s Tony Adams who had 15 games in charge. He won twice, drew 4 times and lost 9 times, giving him 22.2% of the points on offer, still a higher than Kean has managed this season. Even Avram Grant, relegated twice, with Portsmouth and West Ham, has a better record. He has managed a Premier League side 63 times, won 12 times, drawn 18 and lost 33 times, giving him 28.6% of the points on offer. Those facts ultimately mean that Steve Kean’s stewardship this season makes him the worst manager in Premier League history. Overall, even when coupled with his poor record last season, he is still among the worst managers that have ever led a team at this level.
The half-time team talk is one of the cornerstones of a manager’s role. Endless games are won from losing positions. Endless games are lost from winning ones and a lot hinges on those 15 minutes which a manager has with his players. During Steve Kean’s 37 Premier League ties, the following holds true. In the 2010/11 season, if matches ended at the end of the first half, Rovers would have had 5 wins, 12 draws and only 3 defeats under Kean. They would’ve had 27 points instead of only 22. However, what is more striking is if one only looks at the second half scores, Rovers would’ve had 1 win, 6 draws and 11 losses. Overall, Rovers won only 2 points from losing positions and lost 9 points from winning ones.
In the current campaign, if only first half scores were taken into account, Rovers would’ve had 3 wins, 8 draws and only 3 losses giving them 17 points. If second half scores only stood, then Rovers would’ve had 3 wins, 3 draws and 10 defeats, giving them 12 points. In either scenario, Rovers would have been better off than now. The side has won 5 points from losing positions and lost 10 from winning positions.
What does this all mean? Effectively, when it comes to pitting wits against other managers, Kean almost always comes out the loser. A lot also goes back to his inflexible tactics and the lack of changing things as a reaction to what the other side does. Maybe he simply does not know what to do. At the same time, a key element of Rovers season has been dropping back deeper and deeper in second halves especially if in a non-losing position. As that happens, Kean stands motionless on the sideline, seemingly giving his blessing to a suicidal move, which has cost Rovers at least 10 points (statistically).
Press Conferences & Attitude
Some of the press has recently picked up on the fact that Bolton’s Owen Coyle is currently going through form which is even worse than Steve Kean’s Rovers. They’ve begun to wonder why Kean has been getting the bulk of the criticism lately whilst Coyle has been safe, at least in the papers. Coyle hasnt talked a big game during his time at Bolton. He has been humble, kept his head low and taken the criticism on the chin. In fact, he recently said that fans have the right to boo their performances and took responsibility for their predicament, as any manager would and should.
Steve Kean, on the other hand, has only tried to keep one friend during his time as Rovers manager, and that is the Chairwoman, Mrs. Desai. It has kept Kean his job for this long, but its a losing battle for him. He has not tried to be diplomatic with the fans at any time. He has never tried to be realistic with his targets, promising Champions League football within a couple of seasons, European football in the near future, and top 10 football when at the bottom of the table. These assertions infuriate supporters who are watching the side on a weekly basis and can see what the side is capable of and what it is not.
The general media does not follow events at Rovers too closely and is mostly arm-chair followers who comment from time to time, hence some criticism of the fans for being fickle as well as a “good manager does not become a bad one overnight”, famously quipped by Rovers legend, Alan Shearer. The stats disagree with the ludicrous assertion that Kean was ever a good manager.
A manager manages the resources at his disposal and that includes creating a harmonious atmosphere at the stadium, bringing in the right players and ultimately getting the right results. Kean most recently in the aftermath of the West Brom defeat said that “the table will look better if we beat Bolton”. In reality, it will not. Rovers will still be in the relegation zone even if they are closer to getting out, they will be no closer to moving towards the “top 10” fantasy which Kean has been selling to the owners for a long time. His infamous “only 1% of fans are against me” comment also served to add tension to an already heated situation.
Had Kean taken an approach like Owen Coyle has done off the pitch, chances are Rovers fans would have received him better, although the circumstances over his hiring would have always had a dark cloud over him and this marriage may have been doomed from the start. Nevertheless, if Kean had gotten the results, none of the other things would have mattered and ultimately putting all subjectivity aside, results are what matters and Kean has failed miserably.
What Happens Next?
A majority of Rovers fans have prepared themselves for relegation and financial meltdown as a consequence. The running of the club in terms of the financial side currently has major questions marks over it and that is worrying. But as long as Rovers are in the top flight, then supporters would be able to hope for better days on the financial and management fronts.
Blackburn Rovers end the calendar year with two tough away matches at Liverpool and Manchester United. Money will be on the home sides during those games. That leaves a do or die match at home to struggling Bolton. Anything less than a win would make it impossible for anyone to save the club, considering that Rovers would have to play 6 matches against the “Big 6” during their last 19 games. That would leave 13 matches of which Rovers would need to win at least 9 of them to survive. That is Champions League form. Win against Bolton and things do not change that much but at least there is more realism to the scenario.
At either rate, Steve Kean should have been already sacked. No logical reason points towards his long stay at the club. There is nothing that supports anything that he is doing is leading the club towards any light. Win, lose or draw against Bolton and Kean has to go. Venkys already take the blame for hiring such an incompetent manager in the first place, but they may somehow buy some reprieve if they choose the right man to succeed him. They must look at facts and not hire a man without the right experience, or winning track record. Football is a simple game. Stats and facts usually don’t lie. Upturn in fortune does not happen baselessly. Kean’s delusion may lead him to actually believe that he feels that “we will go on a long unbeaten run any game now” but there is nothing to even suggest that Rovers will win back to back games let alone go unbeaten.
Note: Only managers with at least 15 matches managed at Premier League levels throughout their career were considered for the statistics provided above
It was May 22, 2010. Santiago Bernebau. Howard Webb puts the whistle to his lips a little before midnight local time. Massimo Moratti goes ecstatic in the stands. It had cost him almost €600 million and 15 years to finally get his hands on the Champions League. But the wait was over. Jose Mourinho had delivered on what he had promised. All was rosy in Milan, at least at the blue and black end. But that final whistle also heralded the beginning of the end of Mourinho’s tenure. For weeks it had been speculated that Mourinho’s visit to the Bernebau that night would be the first of many from then on. Moratti didnt really stand in his way and Inter had to begin a new era, post-Mourinho. How hard could it be for the treble winners, riding the wave of their most successful era in Italian football since Helenio Herrera’s reign?
Cue forward 19 months. December 3, 2011. The final whistle blows at the San Siro as surprise package Udinese win 1-0 against a glum looking Claudio Ranieri’s Inter side. Inter find themselves a couple of points outside the relegation zone in what has turned into a disastrous season which had already seen them change managers. Ranieri was now the fourth manager hired during the 19 months since Mourinho had left. The post-Mourinho curse had hit again. Just ask Chelsea. But this time it was even more severe than at Stamford Bridge. Let’s look at some of the factors that have put Inter where they’re at.
Mourinho’s Transfer Dealings
Whilst Inter fans still hold Mourinho in legendary status and would have him back in a heartbeat, the Portuguese manager’s tenure at whatever club he has been usually leaves a difficult set of circumstances (not for him) for the succeeding manager. No one can accuse Mourinho of not delivering on the promised glories he speaks of at every club he’s been till date. But at what price? His short-term thinking, especially in transfer dealings means that he is dead-set on creating a team that hits its peak immediately rather than building a project that may take 4-5 years to come to fruition. He is also an expert at walking away before the stormy clouds gather.
In his first transfer window, Mourinho signed Sulley Muntari, Ricardo Quaresma, Roma’s highly-rated Brazilian winger Mancini and an unknown young Portuguese midfielder whose success at the club matched the prediction skills of his namesake, Pele. None of those players figure at the club anymore and none really did by the start of Mourinho’s second season, except for Muntari who played a bit part role. By the summer of 2009, having won the league title, but coming short on Moratti’s ultimate dream of European success, Inter forayed into the transfer market and signed Genoa’s Diego Milito, 30, and Thiago Motta, 27, Real Madrid’s Wesley Sneijder, and also, arguably, took part in one of the greatest daylight robberies in modern football when they somehow convinced Barcelona to part with Samuel Eto’o, 28, and 35 million pounds for Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibra had been part of multiple league titles with the Nerazzurri but the feeling had always been that he had held back the team, especially when it came to the Champions League. Mourinho rounded up his transfer dealings by signing Brazilian center back Lucio, 30, for a bargain reported fee of €5 million. Goran Pandev and Mcdonald Mariga also joined the club in January. Pandev played a crucial role in the last 6 months of the season but neither player remains at the club today.
Since the Champion’s League success, Samuel Eto’o has joined Oil-rich Anzhi in Russia, Milito who scored 30 goals that season has managed only 12 in one and a half seasons since. Lucio, now almost 33, still forms a key part of the Inter starting line-up and Motta,now 29, still figures too.
An Aging Squad
Having already discussed Jose Mourinho’s signings during his two year reign, its clear that most of them were geared towards delivering immediate success, especially during his last summer transfer window activity.
In short, Mourinho’s last Inter Milan line-up had 5 players who were at least 30 and only 2 players under 28 when they lined up with Julio Cesar 30, Maicon 28, Lucio 31, Samuel 32, Chivu 29, Zanetti 36, Cambiasso 29, Sneijder 25, Eto’o 29, Pandev 27, and Milito 30. A number of the players had their birthdays coming up within 2 months of the Champions League Final. Marco Materazzi 36, Stankovic 31 and Muntari 26 came on as subs.
Interestingly, most of those players who played that night still figure centrally for Inter Milan this season. Julio Cesar, now 32 and criticized in recent months for mixed form but not under much pressure from reserve keeper Castelazzi, who is 36, is still the starting keeper. Maicon, 30, still starts if fit but has fallen from the height of the best season of his career and lost his starting berth with the national side. Lucio and Samuel, both 33, still form the first choice central defence partnership. Andrea Ranocchia, who joined under Leonardo, is 23 and offers cover in that area but has yet to convince. Chivu, 31, still starts when fit but has been experiencing poor form in recent times. Yuto Nagatomo, 25, is a Japan international who has been one of Inter’s better signings in the post-Mourinho era and is a regular and can play in either full back position or on either wing in midfield if asked to. Zanetti, 38, Cambiasso, 31, have started more games than anyone else for Inter in the Serie A this season. Sneijder, 27, is an important player for Inter more in reputation than performance now due to a cluster of injuries that have hampered the last year or so of his career. He continues to be linked to a move to England, which may still materialize either in January or next summer. Milito, 32, has regained his starting place this season after an ineffective and injury prone season last year, but has only scored twice in the Serie A this season. Giampaulo Pazzini, 27, partners the Argentine international, having joined the club under Leonardo. Stankovic, 33 and Motta, 29, still figure for Inter. At the same time, Diego Forlan, 32, joined this summer and plays when not injured.
Other than Ranocchia and Nagatomo, only Zarate, 24, on loan from Lazio, Alvarez, 23, Obi, 20, Jonathan, 25 and Coutinho, 19, figure in Inter’s usual squad lists. However, none of them come close to being regulars and Zarate’s 6 starts is the highest between them this season.
To top it all off, Inter became the oldest side to line-up in Champions League history against Lille this season in a match they won 2-1. They averaged 31 years and 317 days old.
How Come They’re Still There?
Who is to blame for Inter’s aging squad? Mourinho has certainly played a role but 3 managers have come in since. Only two players, Castelazzi and Forlan, over-30 years of age, have signed in the post-Mourinho era when the focus has often been on youth.
The reality is, however, that most of the younger players have not lit the San Siro largely due to one of three reasons. Either they have been unable to prove to have the necessary quality to succeed at Inter (Mariga, and Kharja come to mind), or be able to displace the influential strong-knit starters (only Nagatomo has really broken into the starting line-up post Mourinho), or be given the time to gel themselves into starters at the club (Obi, Coutinho, Castaignos, and Ranocchia). At the same time, as Benitez, Leonardo and Gasperini can testify, the President, Massimo Moratti and the supporters continue to demand a title challenge on the domestic front and reaching the semi-finals of the Champions League too. That left all 3 managers with a huge burden in terms of getting instant results. That makes it all the more difficult to take the risk of introducing younger players when results are paramount. The Champions League winning side have largely seen their best days behind them, other than Sneijder arguably, and may also be suffering with a lack of motivation be it intentional or unintentional in the wake of a treble winning season of which dreams were made of.
All three managers arguably harshly suffered due to those unrealistic expectations, with none more so than Rafa Benitez who joined at a time when the dust had yet to settle from the Champions League success to realize the cracks that clearly existed. Benitez wanted time and money to bring in his own players but probably chose the wrong Italian to play Russian Roulette with after the Club World Cup in the UAE in December 2010. Had he kept quiet he may have had both. His record as Inter manager saw his side win 48% of their matches, losing 7 times in 25 games. Mourinho had won 63% of his matches and Inter only lost 8 more games under him but during 83 more matches.
Leonardo came in and had an instant impact, even as Inter continued to be linked with other long-term appointments on a regular basis. His signing of Pazzini proved to be a masterstroke. Inter won 70% of their matches under him (14 in 20), finishing in the Champions League spots and lifting the Coppa Italia. He left to become PSG Director of Football in the summer. Gianpiero Gasperini joined from Genoa and immediately instilled a fresh approach. Gasperini has for long been known as a tactician who favors the 3-4-3 formation, with a fast-break being a key component. He brought a growing reputation to Inter, having had a winning record at both Crotone and more impressively at Genoa, even though he was sacked there in November 2010. It was clear that a lot would change at Inter under Gasperini. A number of the players wouldnt fit the system and one was going to be Sneijder, unless he was moved to a position as an inside forward. Samuel Eto’o on the other other hand was a player perfectly suited to a front 3 until an unexpected bid from Anzhi forced Moratti’s hand and left Gasperini without a player he wanted and with a player he probably did not. The high defensive line needed pace to succeed and Ranocchia was drafted in under Gasperini, who had managed him at Genoa previously. Motta and Milito also received new leases of life under their former coach. Moratti must have known that it would take time for Gasperini’s principles to succeed. However, 5 games into the season, on the back of a 3-1 loss to Novara forced Moratti to sack the winless manager and hire the “tinkerman” Claudio Ranieri.
The Role of Massimo Moratti
No one can doubt the love and devotion of Morrati to the Inter cause. He has put his money where his mouth is but sometimes he may be too much of a supporter rather than owner for his own good. Had he had a closer look at the squad and on-goings after Mourinho left he would have known that Inter are bound to hit a transitional period sooner rather than later. With that in mind, time, money and patience would have been necessary for the next manager or 3 in Inter’s case.
Moratti has only now since the summer began to come to the realization that Inter are going through a transitional period, both on the pitch and off it, in terms of Financial Fair Play. He seems to be putting a lot of eggs in that basket and feels that if Inter curb their spending and work within their resources, they will be favorably placed when UEFA enforces FFF in the near future and clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea and others suffer.
Since sacking Gasperini he has put the club in the trusted hands of Ranieri. Ranieri has no doubt stabilized the ship, playing the role of a band-aid perfectly. He has a 53% winning record, but the side have lost 5 times in his 15 games in charge. Only 2 losses fewer than Benitez but with 10 games fewer games played. Not much has changed under Ranieri, other than reverting to a 4-man defence. He continues to largely favor the same veteran stalwarts who have regularly featured for the club in recent times. Younger players such as Alvarez, Obi and Zarate figure here and there. But does Ranieri have the ruthlessness to overhaul an aging squad, stand tall to Moratti and quell pressure from the stands all the while remaining competitive on the field?
It’s unlikely that those targets are attainable simultaneously. Ranieri is more a pharmacist than a surgeon. He is perfect for prescribing the medication that will hold things together until long-term solutions are found. He did it at Chelsea where he is still most fondly remembered. He kept Parma up winning 7 of the last 16 games of the season, having joined with 3 and a half months of the season remaining. At Juventus he stabilized a ship and probably helped it punch above its weight finishing 3rd and 2nd but never looked like really pushing on for the title. He then joined Roma and in fact led the Serie A until surrendering the lead to Inter and also losing the Coppa Italia Final to Mourinho’s side. He resigned at the half-way mark of the next season after poor results. During most of his career Ranieri has injected an immediate spark into the side that he joins, but finds it difficult to build on early promise and push on from there. What you get instantly is usually the best that you will get with the Tinkerman. Fans of Juventus and Roma are happy to see the back of him, despite having led those clubs to their best results in recent years. One of the subtle introductions he has made at Inter has been that of Marco Faraoni who has started Inter’s last three matches and has been quietly getting good reviews on the right side of the team.
Moratti must take a lot of the responsibility for not seeing what was going on under his nose in terms of the make-up of the squad, for not accepting that change was/is needed and for hiring a man he would not keep any faith in Gasperini.
What Happens Next?
Inter, Moratti and their supporters probably still hold hopes that the club will somehow turn around the season and finish at least 3rd and qualify for the Champions League. Whilst it is possible, they would need to have consistency till the end of a season where Udinese, Milan and Juventus have been impressive. They are currently 7th, 8 points off Lazio who are in 4th place, outside the Champions League spots. Inter have yet to record 3 wins in a row all season. No one has scored more than 3 goals for them this season. Their defence is suspect through the center with pacey players running in behind them. Chivu and Maicon have not been earning any rave reviews from defending in the full back positions either. It may be wishful thinking for them to end the season back in the Champions League. In fact, it may be the worst thing that can happen for the club. As long as they still harbor such hopes, however faint, it becomes difficult for the manager to make drastic changes to the side, bringing in younger players. A season outside the Champions League may be just what the doctor ordered for Inter, unless Moratti and the supporters begin to accept the transitional phase that is currently well and truly underway. Living in denial will only make the reality harsher when it does hit.
Whilst so much has changed at the club, so little has changed too in terms of the makeup of the side. Until that side of things is drastically effected, Inter will continue to underachieve. That is something that the club had been used to until the Calciopoli scandal lifted them to the summit of Italian football, as they had been effectively the only top Italian side not hampered by it.
Mourinho usually walks away at the right time, and he knew that he had probably squeezed the best out of that Inter squad and wanted a new challenge when he joined Real Madrid. He continues to refer to staying at Chelsea for the beginning of his last season in charge as his biggest regret in football. Chelsea were also arguably hitting the wall, so to speak, but to a lesser degree than Inter has. All subsequent managers that have joined the club have had to deliver instant results with largely the same aging squad that had been assembled under Mourinho. Benitez probably knew what had to be done, but his ego and contempt for Mourinho as well as the squad’s hangover from its previous season went against him from day one. Importantly, Moratti was not ready to accept that anything major had to be changed within a winning formula. Leonardo never looked like being a long-term choice and Gasperini probably tried to change too much too quickly. Ranieri will probably not change enough to be at the forefront of a revolution at Inter either.
If you were a betting man, you’d put your money where it says the worst is yet to come for Internazionale. Missing out on the Champions League this season may be the beginning of major changes at the club, and it may yet be a couple of seasons, considering UEFA’s FFF before the side begin challenging on the domestic front again. You can be sure that no one at Juventus or Milan will be shedding a tear for a side who they believe has had it coming since Calciopoli.
As the dust settles on the first league Clasico of the season, one would urge caution before suggesting that Barcelona had dealt a knockout blow to Real Madrid’s title challenge. Nevertheless, Pep Guardiola tactically out-maneuvered the grim-faced Jose Mourinho, who lamented the lack of luck at key points of the match-up last night. Yes, at 1-0, Cristiano Ronaldo had time & space to slot home a shot, when he instead miscued a shot well wide & over the bar. Early in the second half, Ronaldo headed wide from a poor Barcelona attempt at an off-side trap off a cross. We’ve seen Ronaldo finish those opportunities with eyes closed, when the opposition isnt Barcelona. But it would be a dis-service to the Liga champions to suggest that Real Madrid’s misses handed Barcelona the victory.
Whilst Mourinho was brave to select Ozil to play in the 4-2-3-1 that he set up (when Karanka had suggested that RM would definitely play with a 4-3-3), the selection backfired. Ozil was rarely in the game, and could not get the better of Busquets who played an integral role both as a forward-moving center back, having started off in his usual anchor role. Even when Busquets dropped into CB, Ozil failed to take advantage. How much of a difference would Khedira have made from the start? That leads us to the second factor that helped Barcelona and that was the movement of Lionel Messi. He was not picked up by Real Madrid players & had no man-marker. When Barcelona were still finding their feet in the first half, Messi dropped deeper & deeper began to carry the ball forward & that helped his side settle. One of those mazy runs saw him slip through Alexis Sanchez who scored with what was a much more difficult finish than you would think.
Another interesting decision was the selection of Coentrao at right back. The idea was a left-sided player going up against a Barcelona attacker turning in-field. Initially it looked to be paying off, but Coentrao’s lack of familiarity with the role may have meant he played Alexis Sanchez onside for Barcelona’s first goal. Even though he had the better of Iniesta in the first half that was a crucial mistake. As the game wore on, Iniesta took on & beat Coentrao at will & was arguably Barcelona’s most impressive offensive player.
Real Madrid had set up to play a high intensity pressing game & that was evident from the first minute. Despite being a factor in their first goal, Barcelona remained patient at the back & continued to play what looked like risky passes to mere human viewers. They stuck to their philosophy when our inner voice was shouting out “hoof it, hoof it”. Victor Valdes got a lot of praise from Guardiola for showing “balls” & continuing to play short passes even after his mistakes in the first half. Despite giving up possession a few times due to the pressure, the Barcelona defence settled just as Real Madrid conceded the first goal, which came right at the time when Barcelona was turning the tide. Real Madrid began to reduce the intensity of their pressing, seemingly as part of their tactical plan for the match. Who could keep that pace up for 90 minutes without tiring? But one tactical reshuffle aided in getting Barcelona’s foot back into the game & alleviating a little bit of pressure on the Catalan side’s defence. Guardiola switched what looked like a back-4 to a back-3 plus Busquets who would drop into the center back role, pushing Pique to the right-sided center back, & returning captain Puyol to right back. This meant Dani Alves moved ahead into a right-wing position. The consequences of this were multi-fold.
Firstly, Puyol would face Ronaldo in one-on-one positions and he would get the better of him on every single occassion, stifling Ronaldo & frustrating him into a disillusioned figure. With Dani Alves moving forward, it forced the Real Madrid “attack” to think more about defending & dropping a little back. It was largely in the second half that the value of this tactical change provided an offensive result & that was when spaces opened up & Alves began sending delicious crosses towards the far post, one of which resulted in a Barcelona goal. Secondly, Busquets would drop into the center back role & have more time/space to spray the ball around. Initially, the move had defensive fruits as he was more disciplined & restricted in his movement but as Barcelona got their equalizer, Busquets began to position himself a little higher too. In the second half, he was virtually back to his original position as Barcelona almost exclusively looked like they had been playing with a back-3. Finally, the move allowed Fabregas to actually get into the game by dropping in as more of an orthodox central midfielder next to Xavi. Consequently, Xavi found himself moving forward, providing more of the forward runs which we are more accustomed to from Iniesta.
So what have we learnt from El Clasico?
- Mourinho probably second-guessed himself once again & this was evident in the tactics he set up
- Real Madrid cannot integrate the high-intensity pressing game for as long as they need to
- One step ahead, two steps back…Did Real Madrid look “closer” to Barcelona during the early season Super Cup? It’s quite likely that they looked more dangerous & could have easily won that title, but then again that was a Barcelona team that was physically about 2 weeks behind the RM preparations
- Pep Guardiola loves to change things on the go. The amount of times Barcelona’s movement & shaped changed during the game, whilst RM remained rigid & disciplined defines both the respective coaches approaches & styles. Pique said after the game that Barcelona were supposed to play with 3 at the back but RM’s pressure meant they werent able to until the 10th minute of the match
- Cristiano Ronaldo does not perform in big games as much as he should for someone of his stature. Messi brings much more than goals to this Barcelona team. Once again he played a crucial role just as he did last season during the Clasico series
- Puyol is a rock at the back of the defence & Barcelona never lose with him in the side. Well, almost never. He produced a defensive masterclass reminiscent of Fabio Cannavaro, the 2006 WC version & not the Real Madrid one. He stifled Ronaldo in every 1 on 1 situation, cleared crosses into the box, cleared the ball with his head, organized & disciplined Pique when he had to, & didnt give a foul away in the process & all this with lingering doubts over his fitness & future. What is clear is that Barcelona is a different side with him at the back. Had he not been playing last night, despite all the tactical talk above, it would not be far fetched to say Barcelona would not have won. A 10/10 performance for the captain
What happens next?
Well if you are Barcelona, you head to Japan to win the World Club Cup. But if you are Jose Mourinho, you have to pick up a dejected-looking set of players & re-inject self belief into them. But that will be easier said than done. RM were driven by the belief that they were as close to Barcelona as they had ever been & privately may have thought that they were, on form, the better side going into the Santiago Bernebau. But being walked off the park at home, especially in the second half, how do you tell those players that they are not inferior to their Barcelona counterparts? Whilst the defeat cost RM 3 points (arguably 4 with the head to head rules & away win for Barcelona), the real decisive factors in determining the champions will be who slips up in “other” games. Luckily for RM, they only have 1 league game before the winter break. Unfortunately, its at Sevilla, one of the harder grounds to go to. Failure to win that game & the sucker punch from last night could be turned into something much bigger.