Saturday 30 May 2015

Buck Rodgers Needs Action Plan

A season at Watford, maybe another at Reading, before taking up the vacancy at Swansea for a similar length of time, hardly prepares anyone for the hot seat at Anfield. No matter how much of a talent or fast-tracker one is destined to be. Or feted by a fickle media as the next greatest thing in the Premier League

On such a flimsy apprenticeship Liverpool's Brendan Rodgers may very easily perish and find life in the lower ranks of the game less captivating. Not unlike Andre Villas-Boas who was unable to step out from the shadows of Jose Mourinho’s backroom team and hold his own as manager at either Chelsea or Spurs. Now plying his trade at Zenit St Petersburg.

Although older managers never employed the silken PR skills of the current crop. One has to believe they were scarred by the game’s less romantic experiences and more hardened than some of those in place today. Who invent philosophies as lasting as match day pies. That when analysed are little more than sound bites. In that sense Rodgers is a classic and creating his own parody material with quotes that leave David Colemanballs in the cheap seats. 

Now faced with a week of bad results any investigation at Anfield will enjoy respite due to the international break. Allowing one hopes the management team to gather themselves. 

However it is hard to avoid the harsh truth that the merits of last season were earned on the back of the sublime skills of Luis Suarez and with most title challengers battling on a number of fronts in Champions League or FA Cup. While Liverpool had nothing but the Premier League to focus on. Able to rest players and avail of plentiful recovery time with fewer midweek matches. A year further on the supposed progress at Liverpool last year is not very visible. 

Complicated by the poor spending of the £80M harnessed from Suarez’s move to Barcelona and the acquisition of Mario Balotelli. A players that has yet to find any job security since he was first on trial at Barcelona in 2006. Failing at Manchester City with Robert Mancini, falling out of favour at Inter Milan with the treble winning manager of the day, Jose Mourinho; and not being retained at AC Milan beyond a season and a bit. Not to mention some of the off field activities that attract unwarranted attention. 

Questioning very strongly Rodgers decision to bring Balotelli to Liverpool. However well-intentioned the motives of the Liverpool manager. Not helped by ten days where Liverpool lost to Newcastle United away and suffered another defeat at home to Chelsea. 

Those matches either side of a Champions League visit to Real Madrid where Rodgers rested Raheem Sterling, Steven Gerard, Jordan Henderson, Mario Balotelli and Philippe Coutinho from his starting line-up. A meeting that came on the back of the first leg at Anfield where the Reds went down by three goals to nil. 

A decision that Rodgers argued was about resting players ahead of their Premier League clash with Chelsea. Insisting that: "I didn't rest players for Saturday. I picked a team that I thought could get a result. The players that came in were excellent and we were unfortunate not to get a result."

Whatever the reasons the boos at Anfield on Saturday suggest that without result Rodgers home spun philosophy on the game will not be enough to meet the dreams of the fans. Nor the ambitions US owners potentially. Or indeed equal the lengthy history ingrained at Anfield with the club still no closer to ending the 25 year League title drought. With the fielding of a weakened side at the Santiago Bernabeu midweek seen as sacrilege by some. Particularly at a club that made a habit of winning the European Cups in the past. The last of which was won in 2005 in Istanbul against AC Milan. 

Drawing a reaction also from one of the clubs legends John Toshack. A striker in his day who also managed Real Madrid on two occasions.

"I still think there's a dark cloud hanging over Anfield from what happened," Toshack told the BBC. "They went so close after being so long without winning that championship.

“I still think there's a bit of a hangover there. It's a bitter pill to swallow for them. Liverpool really are going through a bit of a dodgy spell.

On the return from the international break Liverpool face Crystal Palace away, have Stoke City at home; then Leicester city away before the visit of Sunderland. Offering twelve valuable points before they face Manchester United on December 14th and then travel to Arsenal. 

Which depending on the results, might have the Liverpool boss wishing he was indeed Buck Rodgers and living in the 25th Century

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Qatar 2022 in Slavery Claims

Nepalese migrant workers’ lives are being put at risk as Qatar prepares for the 2022 World Cup, The Guardian has reported, with the competition's organising committee saying it is "appalled" by the findings of the investigation.

The newspaper has obtained documents from the Nepalese embassy in Qatar’s capital city, Doha, showing at least 44 workers died in a two-month spell this summer as the Gulf state puts the infrastructure in place for the tournament. The deaths were said to be predominantly down to heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents.

The investigation also found evidence of forced labour on the World Cup infrastructure project, as well as allegations that pay has been withheld for several months and passports have been confiscated to prevent the workers leaving.

The problems with the summer heat -- already a major talking point amid plans to move the World Cup to the winter for the first time in its history -- are said to be posing a substantial health risk, with some workers claiming they have been refused free drinking water.

Qatar, whose immigrant workforce stands at 90 percent, is accused of exploiting a situation that sees Nepalese workers paying recruitment agents to secure work in the state and then being left powerless to escape the conditions. The Nepalese ambassador to Qatar, Maya Kumari Sharma, sparked a significant controversy earlier this summer when she said that the state had become “an open jail” for workers from her homeland.

Aidan McQuade, director of Anti-Slavery International, said: "The evidence uncovered by The Guardian is clear proof of the use of systematic forced labour in Qatar. In fact, these working conditions and the astonishing number of deaths of vulnerable workers go beyond forced labour to the slavery of old where human beings were treated as objects. There is no longer a risk that the World Cup might be built on forced labour. It is already happening."

Work directly relating to the World Cup has yet to begin but new cities are being created that will house stadiums to be used in the tournament, and the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee has said the current treatment of workers is inexcusable.

A statement read: "Like everyone viewing the video and images, and reading the accompanying texts, we are appalled by the findings presented in The Guardian's report. There is no excuse for any worker in Qatar, or anywhere else, to be treated in this manner.

"The health, safety, wellbeing and dignity of every worker that contributes to staging the 2022 FIFA World Cup is of the utmost importance to our committee and we are committed to ensuring that the event serves as a catalyst toward creating sustainable improvements to the lives of all workers in Qatar.

"We firmly believe that all workers engaged on our projects, and those of the other infrastructure developers in Qatar, have a right to be treated in a manner that ensures at all times their wellbeing, safety, security, and dignity. This is our top priority as we begin to deliver on the promises made in our bid to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar."

In a recent interview with, FIFA president Sepp Blatter had said he believed hosting the World Cup in Qatar would make a positive impact.

He said: “The Qatar World Cup promises to help unite an unstable region of the world by bringing hope and joy to millions who have suffered for decades. It will show, once again, that football is a force for good -- as we have most recently demonstrated by encouraging the Palestinians and Israelis to come to Zurich and start meaningful dialogue towards reaching an historic agreement.

“We have no political ambitions, which is why we are not suspect of having a political agenda. All we want is to bring the World Cup to regions where it has never been before, and where football can help make a difference -- even for a few weeks. I am a firm believer in the good of the game and what it can generate.”

The International Trade Union Confederation also said Thursday it is pushing FIFA to press for changes in Qatari labor laws.

ITUC secretary general Sharan Burrow said in a Sept. 20 note to Blatter that "several hundred migrant construction workers die each year in Qatar" where they often work in extreme heat.

ITUC wants FIFA to discuss the issue at its executive committee meeting next Thursday and Friday when it will also discuss other World Cup issues, including switching the tournament from summer to winter.

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OSM - Bale Won't Beat Real Premier Jinx

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Real Madrid brought Gareth Bale as their next major signing. News that should have been greeted with caution and analysed beyond just the proposed mega value of the Spurs defender – €100 million. But also in the context of British players moving to the Spanish club which is not encouraging over the decades, with few really making a serious impact in La Liga. The list not a modest one either with the names of Michael Owen and David Beckham included, neither of whom ever came close to the achievements of one Steve McManaman – once of Anfield. 

Not forgetting the misfortunes of Jonathan Woodgate at the Santiago Bernabeu, who made only nine appearances over an injury plagued three years. 

Although others have come from the Premier League in more recent times it was Laurie Cunningham who broke the mould in 1979 arriving for a record fee at the time of just under one million pounds. The winger having established himself as part of Ron Atkinson's new breed at West Bromwich Albion - laden with talent - such as Cyril Regis and Brendan Batson. Yet it was a stunning performance in the UEFA Cup against Valencia at The Hawthorns that same year - televised all over Spain by terrestrial TV in those days – that made Cunningham a hot property for Real Madrid. As the Valencia team was the home of the 1978 World cup winner Mario Kempes of Argentina and 1974 German World Champion, Rainer Bonhof. 

As the first black player to play for England in a competitive fixture, Cunningham’s arrival to Madrid was much heralded and in doing so he also became the first English player to join the club – making a dream start by winning the double in his first season. 

Although much loved at Real Madrid the move damaged his England career as Ron Greenwood was often unable to secure the Englishman's release. Even in the build-up to the 1982 World Cup, due to contractual issues of the day when FIFA wielded less authority. Then an injury in the 1980 season started a series of setbacks that were to shorten his days as a first team player and caused him to spend loan periods at a number of other clubs - including Manchester United - where he was reunited with his mentor, Ron Atkinson. 

In 1989 further tragedy struck when Cunningham died in a car crash in Madrid aged only 33. 

These days though the transfer of English or Irish players to La Liga is perhaps less novelty than back in the 1980’s, especially following the move of Steve McManaman. Who surprised many in 1999 with his decision. 

In many ways McManaman was the first to establish himself on the national stage in Spain leaving a legacy that will be very tough for even Gareth Bale to beat. Even amidst all the managerial change that took place within months of MacManaman’s arrival, which saw Vicente Del Bosque replace Welshman John Toshack, the midfielder still claimed a place in the team. Becoming the scorer of that key goal when Real Madrid won the 2000 UEFA Champions League final in Paris against Valencia. 

But he also had his darker days when he was clearly told he was surplus to requirements, yet maintained his focus to eventually reclaim his place in the tea. Scoring a vital goal as a sub in the 2002 semi-final against Barcelona at the Camp Nou - a place where they had not won in six years at the that time. Which the guaranteed him a squad place at the Champions League final in Glasgow at Hampden Park. His cameo as a sub for Luis Figo securing a second medal and Real Madrid’s last time to lift the trophy. 

However his fairy-tale move from England far exceeded the experiences of the other big names that had preceded him to Spain. Including Mark Hughes, who had a mixed time at Barcelona after terry Venables left the club. Or BBC Sport’s pundit Gary Lineker who made some impact at Barcelona when Venables was manager but then fell out with Johan Cruyff who was up until recent times Mr Barca. Indeed, Steve Archibald was the most successful English player in the eighties following his move from Tottenham Hotspur emerging as top scorer in La Liga in his first season at Barcelona making him a favourite at Camp Nou – where is still very fondly remembered today. 

For Republic of Ireland players, the most recent from the Premier League was Steve Finnan, and his predecessor Ian Harte who left Elland Road to join Levante when the English club had to sell off players to make some cash. In 2004 Levante were in the Second Division and their manager Bernd Schuster, secured promotion and for two seasons Harte was part of the squad in the Primera Division. In 2007 Levante were relegated and he returned to England on a free transfer, joining Roy Keane’s Sunderland, with no medals in hand. 

Two other Republic of Ireland stalwarts from Liverpool moved to La Liga in an earlier era the first being Michael Robinson, who went to Osasuna in 1987 and John Aldridge who went to Real Sociedad in 1989. 

Despite only playing for a season at Anfield, Mick Robinson, moved to Spain to join his ex-Liverpool team-mate Sammy Lee - making 59 appearances for the club - and scoring 12 goals in total. In the end Injury shortened Robinson’s career and when he told the club he was not enforcing his contract helping him become a reluctant local hero for his generosity. His enthusiasm and acceptance of the “Spanish Way” in Osasuna not only made him a local favourite but it also opened up a media career that still continues today. 

The connection between the Republic of Ireland and Osasuna continued some years later when former Bohemians defender Ashley Grimes went to Spain, ending his playing career at the club in 1989 - having won 18 caps for the Republic of Ireland and scoring one of those memorable goals against Spain in a Euro ‘84 qualifier at Lansdowne Road. 

Aldridge’s move to San Sebastian came while he was still gathering his 69 caps for Ireland and spent two seasons with Real Sociedad, a club in the Basque region that up to that time only selected Basque players. The club’s only link with Anfield was John Toshack, who had managed them to a Copa del Rey title in 1987 and a runners-up place in La Liga in 1988. During his two seasons at Sociedad Aldridge played 75 times and scored 40 goals. His decision to return to Tranmere Rovers in 1991 being personal as the incoming boss Toshack, who was asked to come back to the club once more, might have formed a strong partnership with the Irish man had he chosen to remain. 

At Manchester United, following a glittering career at Old Trafford, Kevin Moran moved to Sporting Gijon in 1988 when Alex Ferguson let him go on a free transfer. During his two years in Spain Moran only made 33 appearances and never made an impact at Gijon despite remaining a key part of Jack Charlton’s Ireland squad, where he played in Italia ’90. In the end he also returned to England to join Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn and stayed for four seasons, just missing out on the Championship win of 1994 due to retirement. 

But those moves from the Premier League to la Liga are still somewhat jinxed as Luka Modric could attest, as he struggled to earn a regular place in Jose Mourinho’s Madrid midfield alongside Mezut Ozil, Sammy Khedira and Xabi Alonso. A strong competitor during his last season at Spurs, the Croatian was looking to return to England, until the second leg of the Champions League clash with Manchester United when he fired a dramatic after coming on as a sub to earn a vital win. 

Then in 2006 it was the turn of Ruud van Nistelrooy to leave United for a three-year contract with Real Madrid for about €24 million. All amortised when he proved a prolific goal scorer in the first year, where the Dutchman winning La Liga’s - Pichichi – or La Liga’s top scorer trophy. However just under two seasons later Van Nistelrooy suffered a partially torn meniscus in his right knee and was de-registered by the club for the season. Then in his comeback in 2009 he suffered another setback and eventually had to join Hamburg in 2010 where he revived his career somewhat, before returning to Malaga for his final year. 

So it has to be said the signs are ominous for Bale, based on history, and regardless of the money involved. But so exceptional is his talent that he could be the one Premier League player to outdo the McManaman record. In doing so he would become the first Welsh player to join Madrid. Albeit not the first Welshman to arrive at the club. 

John Benjamin Toshack already wrote that particular piece of history in 1989, winning La Liga to boot in his first season. 

Toshack believes Gareth Bale is already a better player than Barcelona forward Neymar, claiming the Tottenham winger could be "worth €100m".
The ex-Wales international heaped praise on his compatriot, claiming Bale's success in the "competitive" Premier League makes him more established than Neymar.

"For me, Gareth is better than Neymar, because he is playing in a very competitive League," Toshack told Punto Pelota. 

"With Neymar we will have to wait and see. If there is someone who is worth €100m, then it is Bale."

During his six-year tenure at the helm of the Wales national team, Toshack handed Bale his international debut and he insists the PFA Player of the Year requires Champions League football to reach his peak.

This weekend Real Madrid disclosed Bale is suffering from a chronic back injury in addition to the thigh problem which has restricted him to just 132 minutes of action for his new club.The club said the world’s most expensive footballer had a bulging disc in his back but insisted that it was common to many footballers and would not prevent him returning to action when he recovers from the thigh problem which has restricted him to playing only twice since joining them.

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Arsenal v Aston Villa - FA Cup Final

Arsenal striker Danny Welbeck will miss the FA Cup final after failing to recover from a knee injury.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mathieu Debuchy (both hamstring) and captain Mikel Arteta (ankle) are in contention after returning to training.

Shay Given is fit for Aston Villa's first Cup final in 15 years after recovering from a groin injury.

Aly Cissokho (groin), Kieran Richardson (calf) and Jores Okore (knee) have also trained but Ciaran Clark (knee) is out.

Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey scored an extra-time winner last season as they beat Hull 3-2 to win their first trophy in nine years.

And the Welshman is hopeful of adding another trophy to his collection as Arsenal look to become the first team to retain the Cup since Chelsea in 2010.

Ramsey said: "To score a winner in the FA Cup final, it's everybody's dream and I managed to live it.

"To finally win something after all those years and the pressure that has been put on this club was such a nice feeling of relief to finally win something.

"We never do it easy. We've experienced what it's like now, going a few goals behind early in the game, but we still believed in ourselves and our ability to get through it.

"Hopefully it will be a bit easier this time and we won't have to put so many people through that.

"Villa are a good team, very solid and of late they've been in really good form, so we'll have to be aware of that."

Villa could have Christian Benteke available for the last time, as speculation continues to link him with a summer move.

But manager Tim Sherwood is confident of keeping Benteke, and teenage midfielder Jack Grealish, who could start after impressing in the semi-final win over Liverpool.

"Grealish has coped with the pressure up until now, when he is asked to step up he has ticked the boxes," he said.

"The bigger the stage, the better he's been. There isn't any bigger stage than this one, so I'm hoping he performs - otherwise we'll sell him!

"He is great, he loves playing. I don't think he gets nervous. He doesn't look the type. He's a terrific player and we're happy he's on our side.

"I think he realises it because he is around Aston Villa fans - Jack has never seen the club win a trophy.

"Even if he tries to get away from it, it's impossible with his family walking around with Villa shirts on every day."

Arsenal and Aston Villa have been drawn together in the FA Cup 10 times, with Arsenal winning seven and Aston Villa three.This is the first time these sides have met in an FA Cup final.

The last FA Cup meeting between these sides was in the fourth round in 2012, when Arsenal came back from two goals down to win 3-2 at the Emirates Stadium.

Arsenal have reached the FA Cup final for the second successive year, after failing to reach this stage in the previous eight seasons. It is their 19th FA Cup final - a record for any side.

Only three clubs have lifted the FA Cup on more occasions than Aston Villa, who have won the trophy seven times. Their seven FA Cup wins came between 1887 and 1957.

This is Aston Villa's first FA Cup final since 2000, when they lost 1-0 to Chelsea at Wembley.

Paul Clement Leaves Madrid

Assistant manager Paul Clement has announced he is leaving Real Madrid after the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti this week.

It was widely expected that Clement would follow the Italian out of the Bernabéu after his sacking on Monday and the Englishman took to Twitter on Friday to confirm his departure.

“It has been an honour to have worked with Carlo at the Number 1 Club in the World,” he wrote. “Thank you to all the Players, Staff and Fans. Hala Madrid.”

Clement worked with Ancelotti at Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain before the duo moved to the Spanish capital in 2013 and has recently been linked with the vacant manager’s positions at Derby and Sunderland.

Saturday 16 May 2015

Norwich City v Ipswich Town

A place in the Championship play-off final is up for grabs when East Anglian rivals Norwich and Ipswich meet at Carrow Road on Saturday.

The semi-final is evenly poised after a 1-1 draw in the first leg, but Norwich will start as favourites given home advantage and their strong recent form against their rivals.

The Canaries have won their last three home games against Ipswich and have not lost to them at Carrow Road since 2006.

Ipswich have also never won a play-off game away from home, but will be hopeful of upsetting the odds after a keenly-contested first leg last weekend.

Jonny Howson put the visitors in front after 41 minutes but it was quickly cancelled out by Paul Anderson late in the first half.

The Tractor Boys will be forced into at least one change as Luke Varney ruptured his Achilles in the first leg.

Anderson could be the man to replace Varney while Norwich will still be without Lewis Grabban as he serves the last of a three-game ban.

Anfield Finale for Gerrard

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Steven Gerrard will bid an emotional farewell to Anfield as Liverpool face Crystal Palace on Saturday Night Football.

It will be the 34-year-old’s final home match for the Reds after making more than 700 appearances over a 17-year spell. He will then finish his Liverpool career at Stoke on May 24 before jetting off to join MLS side LA Galaxy.

The Reds will be hoping to give Gerrard a winning send-off at Anfield after losing three of their last four matches to slip out of contention for a top-four finish.

Liverpool have only lost one of their previous 14 home league games against Crystal Palace but were beaten 3-1 at Selhurst Park earlier in the season.

Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard expects his final game at Anfield on Saturday to be emotional

Palace are still in with a slim chance of finishing in the top half of the table if they win their final two games, but are also looking to avoid a fifth successive defeat.

Gerrard will be given a guard of honour and is likely to start alongside Jordan Henderson in midfield as manager Brendan Rodgers expects to have the same squad which drew at Chelsea last weekend.

After being sidelined by a hamstring injury for five weeks, defender Mamadou Sakho trained this week, as did striker Mario Balotelli.

Crystal Palace have a clean bill of health and academy winger Sullay Kaikai could be among several youngsters to make the trip to Merseyside.

Crystal Palace have found the back of the net in each of their last six Premier League matches against the Reds, including exactly three goals in their last two.

Palace have scored more goals in their past six league games against Liverpool (11) than the previous 19 (10).

Of Gerrard’s 92 Premier League assists, 51 have arrived at home. Only three players (Ryan Giggs 84, Dennis Bergkamp 66 and Frank Lampard 52) have provided more assists at home for a single club than the Liverpool captain has in the Premier League.

However, Gerrard has recorded just one assist this campaign, his lowest total since his debut season in the Premier League in 1998/99 (0 in 12 games).

Simon Mignolet and Jordan Henderson could make their 53rd appearance of the campaign in all competitions, more than any other Premier League player has managed.

Jason Puncheon (12) has had a hand in more Premier League goals than any other Crystal Palace player this season (five goals, seven assists).