Football

Can Football Learn From the NFL?

As England still comes to terms with a crushing 2018 World Cup semi-final loss to Croatia, many are reflecting on how well the team played throughout the tournament. A particular strong point for the young England side has been their prowess from set-pieces.

Kieran Trippier’s free-kick against Croatia set a World Cup record, with England scoring nine goals from set-pieces during the tournament. Russia 2018 in general has seen in a rise in set-piece goals, with a record 30% of total goals up to the quarter-finals coming from corners or free-kicks, bettering previous recent records of 23% from the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

With set-pieces becoming increasingly important to international tournament football, not much has been written about what influenced England’s set-piece excellence under Gareth Southgate. England’s attacking coach Allan Russell has been praised by Southgate and his players, whom they credit for their drastic improvement in set-pieces.

Russell has spent his entire adult life within the world of professional football, yet Southgate has looked further afield for his set-piece influences. The England manager has spent time in the U.S visiting NFL franchise the Seattle Seahawks, has visited the last two Superbowl’s and has had numerous discussions with NFL analysts and NBA coaches to find out how their players find space in tight areas.

It was frequently seen in England World Cup games, when the team was taking a corner beforehand the players would quickly huddle together, before going into a line formation. As a casual fan of both football and American football this sounds much more like an NFL play then a football set-piece.

GETTY_Colombia-v-England-Round-of-16-2018-FIFA-World-Cup-Russia_SPO_GYI990944196jpg-JS417938365

England players set-up for a corner against Colombia using a move known as “the love triangle”. Nine of England’s 12 World Cup goals came from set-pieces. Photo copyright: Getty Images. 

With England showing how vital set-pieces can be in major international tournaments, will world football begin to follow the England example and adopt the mindset of an NFL franchise when it comes to set-pieces.

In the simplest sense a set-piece in football can be largely similar to an NFL play, a chance to score from a dead ball.  The NFL is constantly using shifts and motions to buy players space in tight windows, something that could prove massively beneficial with set-pieces.

Teams could use cleverly designed set-pieces where players disguise and then go in motion to fool opposition defenses, much like an NFL offense does. Football has tended to view American sports with a certain level of ignorance, dismissing it as not relevant to football.

What Gareth Southgate and England have highlighted is that in a time where set-pieces are becoming increasingly important in major tournaments, there is a lot world football can learn from American sports in how to create space in tight areas of the pitch.

By Jordan Wilkins find me on Twitter @JWjournalism.

Let me know your thoughts on this article in the comments section below. 

What’s Wrong At Arsenal Part 1: Arsene Wenger

First of all I would like to say that I understand this will appear to be a poorly timed post. Arsenal battered Bournemouth 3-0 and then played their best game in a long time to contain champions Chelsea 0-0 at Stamford Bridge. This blog post is however not simply a response to the last two games, or even the 4-0 humiliation against Liverpool, this a response to the sustained poor performances which has led to a growing discontent amongst the fans, mostly centered on manager Arsene Wenger.

I would also like to say from the start that the current climate around the club is not the sole responsibility of Wenger and I feel that he shoulders more of the blame for the clubs problems than he should. This however is the downside of being the public face of the football club. Up until several years ago I remained a Wenger in supporter, but the ongoing poor performances when they matter most  are impossible to ignore any more.

They have produced one-off performances in big games such as their 2-0 win over Manchester City at the Etihad in January 2015, or the clubs 3-0 hammering of Chelsea at home at the beginning of last season, but this have been few and far between. Just take the 2013/14 season as an example. In one season away from home they managed to lose to Manchester City 6-3, Liverpool 5-1 and Chelsea 6-0. This big game issue extends to the clubs derby with rivals Tottenham. The last time they beat Spurs was March 2014 with a 1-0 win at White Hart Lane, and since this game the club have risen above Arsenal for the first time this century.

The club have also struggled to compete in the Champions League. The world’s premier club cup competition has proved the same repetitive cycle for the club. Since the turn of the decade they have been knocked out in the second round of the competition every year, almost exclusively by Bayern Munich and Barcelona it seems. The 10-2 aggregate humiliation by Bayern Munich last season made us the laughing stock of Europe, whilst the recent 4-0 humiliation by Liverpool made us the laughing stock of Britain so at least we are consistent.

With all of these results the players have to shoulder some of the responsibility but ultimately it’s the manager that sets up the team and does the tactics. One-off bad performances can be tolerated, but it’s the consistency of our drubbings which has begun to wear thin on the majority of fans.

To revisit the recent Liverpool game the manager chose to leave starting left back Sead Kolasinac on the bench and put right back Hector Bellerin in his place, even though he’s a natural right back. He then played midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain at the right back role. Aside from the defence he decided to leave the club record signing Alexandre Lacazette on the bench in place of Danny Welbeck. Welbeck is a good player who works hard however away from home against a top four opponent your best players should be playing, in their correct positions.

These tactical decisions in a key game are baffling to both fans and experts alike, and surely only Wenger could fully explain his reasoning behind the team decisions he made for this game. Many fans have begun to question whether Wenger can still be successful in the modern game, and they would point to his tactical choices in this game as an example proving their point.

Along with the notion of playing players out of position, he also appears to be very one dimensional in his philosophy. Whilst every manager has their favoured system, it appears Wenger is almost always completely unwilling to change his possession based attacking style of play. This style of play produces good results when facing inferior teams and has earned Arsenal a reputation as one of the best teams to watch in the world on their day.

The frustrating thing watching Arsenal is that they will still try and play this attacking style of football when playing against better matched teams with higher quality players. This is where the team are fatally exposed because every team knows how to game plan against Arsenal. Top six sides and even less talented physical sides such as West Brom can have success against Arsenal because of how they play.

This explains why the team are consistently struggling against top six opponents, as the team have failed to address their need for more physical players to help with the defensive work the team struggle with so often. This along with Wenger’s seeming indifference to changing his style of play no matter the opponent has led to the current on pitch problems for the club.

What do you think of Arsene Wenger? If you are a fan of the club or have any views on the Frenchman please leave them in the comments section below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and I hope you enjoyed reading it.

Part two is coming up shortly and will look at the problems of the current board and owner. Stay tuned!

 

 

Could ‘Moneyball’ Ever Work In Football?

Since the new millennium a singular concept has swept through American professional sports. The concept is known as ‘Moneyball’,  has been made famous by the 2003 best selling book and the 2011 film starring Brad Pitt and Jonah Hill. After conquering American sports, the question is, can the concept work in football?

For those of you who  are not familiar with the ‘Moneyball’ idea, it’s the concept that individual players are over valued and a team filled with smaller players working to a common goal are just as effective as world class talent, costing a lot less money and allowing smaller teams to compete with bigger teams. Whilst this is a broad description of it, it’s the only way to explain it so it would work in professional football.

Existing football pundits may suggest that the concept is a novel idea but would not work in football and they could have a point. For a start, football does not have a salary cap unlike major American sports. They would suggest that this means that the concept has little relevance to football, however for me I have to disagree.

The ethos of the concept is to help smaller budget teams compete more evenly with their financially richer rivals. The sport in which gave the concept its fame is Baseball, a game which arguably has the biggest discrepancy in finances. According to Spotrac going into the 2017 Major League Baseball season, there is a difference of $179 million dollars between the L.A Dodgers $242 million dollar payroll and the Milwaukee Brewers $63 million dollar payroll.

Whilst there is a large difference in finances between the top and bottom of the Premier League for example, the financial divide is no where near as big as baseball. If teams such as the Oakland A’s can compete with major teams in baseball the same is possible within the Premier League.

Last season Leicester City proved inadvertently that the ‘Moneyball’ concept can work at a high level in football. They assembled a squad that cost under £30 million pounds, with their biggest signing being Japanese striker Shinji Okazaki for £7 million. With their own brand of counter attacking football manager Claudio Ranieri, they shocked sports fans across the world.

They started the season as favourites for relegation, with some bookmakers they were 5000-1 to win the Premier League. Yet they flew through the season, only losing three games on route to the most unlikely Premier League title in history. Whilst this is rightly being talked about as the ultimate football fairy tale story, what can be learnt from it?

What I think it shows is that the ‘Moneyball’ concept could work in professional football. If a lower budget team adopted the mentality and began searching for players who had good individual attributes, and putting them into a team which could then execute an effective game plan could very well prove to work better for that club than the existing model.

Whilst it’s possible the entire Leicester season was indeed a one-off fairy tale, it’s equally possible that Leicester proved that a new model of structuring a team can be successful in football. It will be interesting to see in the future if any other Premier League clubs adopt this mentality, and if it works the revolutionary balls of change may begin to roll.

‘Moneyball’ proved that in baseball you didn’t need to pay the high wages of a Derek Jeter to be successful and compete, so could Leicester’s success prove you don’t need a Sergio Aguero or Paul Pogba to be successful? Only time will tell.

 

What do you think of the ‘Moneyball’ concept, and do you think it could work in the Premier League? Let me know in the comments section below and thank you for reading. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Does the Premier League Need a Winter Break?

The Christmas and New Year period is for the large majority of the nation an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, however in the world of English club football this period is the busiest of the season. With many teams facing the prospect of three games within a week over this period, has the time come for serious debate over whether a winter break period should be adopted?

The English football league is an anomaly amongst its European counterparts, with a vast majority of other European leagues taking a winter break. Even the Scottish leagues have a break over the new year period. South of the border teams are forced to exhaust all avenues of their squad as they have to prepare their teams to face three fixtures in six days, an exercise that seems an archaic throwback to previous era’s of football.

Some football fans will want to retain the hectic Christmas fixture list, maybe as a nostalgic ode to how things used to be. On the other hand, at a time when English football is going through a period of introspection after successive failures for the national team, club teams also find themselves on the back foot.

The Premier League is widely seen as the most competitive major league in the world thanks to its high level of talent, but in major competition they face a disadvantage. When the next rounds of the Champions League and Europa League take place in the middle of February, for English teams they will already have done three quarters of their season, and will be suitably showing the exertion this places on a squad. European rivals however will be just a few weeks into the second half of their seasons after the break.

The winter break is not simply a time to rest however. Many clubs will hold winter training camps or play international friendlies to raise the profile of their clubs. The more controlled nature of these however ensure that the players efforts do not replicate what takes place in a normal league fixture. The risk of injuries or suspensions is also very much reduced, keeping as much as the squad fit and healthy for the second half of the season.

The period of non-stop fixtures takes a heavy toll on English teams, leaving them at a disadvantage as the season goes on. This month there is the added burden of the African Cup of Nations, of which many top players will compete in, although this is something that every major club will have to deal with, however some clubs may be affected more than others by the tournament.

Whilst some fans and pundits in England have lamented state of football in this country, it seems obvious that when other major clubs around you have several weeks off whilst they have to face the most congested period of the season, of course this is going to put you at a disadvantage to your rivals. Whilst the solution would be for the English leagues to adopt a winter break, this is far easier said than done.

The English Premier League especially generates huge amounts of revenue and has the largest worldwide fan base of any major league. It’s become a global brand and therefore it will be very hard for the F.A to implement a winter break when fans are used to having such a busy Christmas/New Year period. Fans may be able to stage some form of protest, although this issue is for the majority not their highest priority.

Next month will see the return of the Champions League and Europa League, and I hope I am proved wrong about the disadvantages facing the English teams competing. If however they struggle against their respective opponents, factor in the relative games both sets of players have already competed in.

Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95 and thank you for reading!

 

Can Borussia Dortmund Ever Reach Their Previous Heights Again?

The 12th May 2012. Borussia Dortmund are a club in a state of ecstasy. Having retained their Bundesliga title they have humiliated rivals Bayern Munich with a 5-2 trouncing in the DFB Pokal to secure the double for the first time in the clubs history.  This was the moment that Dortmund cemented themselves as the benchmark team in German football, and it would also be the beginning of the end of their reign.

In the four years since that magic moment a lot has changed for the club. A lot of the key players from that team have since left for pastures new, tempted by big money offers from bigger clubs. The charismatic manager Jurgen Klopp has also departed, leaving after a testing 2014/15 season, replaced by Thomas Tuchel. He is seen in German football as the man most like Klopp, and not simply because he has followed his path from Mainz to Dortmund.

In an attempt to return Dortmund to the days of challenging Bayern Munich for the title this summer the club spent a very uncharacteristic amount of money to try and compete for the title.  After finishing last season in second place they used the money from high profile departures of Mats Hummels, Ilkay Gundogan and Henrikh Mkhitaryan with fellow world class talent.

article-0-130f237f000005dc-377_634x376

Bayern Munich winger Arjen Robben is dejection personified as the rival Borussia Dortmund players celebrate yet another goal in their 5-2 humiliation of the German football titans in the 2012 DFB-Pokal final. This result would have wide ranging consequences in the coming years. Photo copyright Associated Press. 

Replacing central defensive rock Hummels was young Barcelona player Marc Bartra, whilst central midfielder Gundogan was replaced with the returning Mario Gotze. The Dortmund youth product left bitterly to main rivals Bayern Munich, but after struggling to cement himself has now returned to his hometown team. Finally Mkhitaryan was replaced with Germany international Andre Schurrle.

It wasn’t just the present that the club was looking at this summer. Looking towards the future they signed several very promising young talents such as forwards Ousmane Dembele and Emre Mor from Rennes and Nordsjaelland respectively. Midfielders Mikel Merino and Sebastian Rode were also signed from Osasuna and Bayern Munich whilst left back Raphael Guerreiro joined from Lorient.

These youngsters along with Bartra join talented players already at the club such as midfielders Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl along with emerging defenders Erik Durm, Matthias Ginter and Felix Passlack. Whilst this season things have not gone perfectly for the team in the league this season, they currently sit a close fifth but a long way off the top two Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig, in the cup competitions they have shown promise.

hi-res-4200ffedad8a2c7e09f02a6a3617c91a_crop_north

Dortmund’s striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang shows the emotions when celebrating a crucial Champions League equaliser against powerhouses Real Madrid at home. He has cemented himself as one of the world’s best strikers and the Madrid club are strongly linked with a £60 million plus bid for him next summer. The match would end 2-2 but Dortmund would have the last laugh, topping the group. Photo copyright TF Images/Getty Images.

They have made it to the last 16 of the DFB-Pokal cup and will be hoping they can continue their good record in the competition.  In the Champions League they have also impressed as they overcame Real Madrid to top their group unbeaten as they now face Benfica in the next round.

It’s clear that the club are still in transition right now, with the legacy of the Klopp era looming largely over the club still. This is entirely natural as his reign took the club from mid-table obscurity to German football powerhouses and world football pioneers. With the squad also in transition as the previous generation of unknown players leave for bigger clubs the next generation of talent is coming through into the first team.

With the likes of Marco Reus and Gotze to guide them they have the potential to once again challenge the established order in Germany, much like RB Leipzig have done this season. The squad is getting younger and this can only mean good things for the future, therefore don’t think that because the majority of well known players and manager Klopp have gone,that the Borussia Dortmund era is over. It might simply be regenerating with a new assortment of players and manager at the helm.

By Jordan Wilkins

Thank you for reading and if you have any comments feel free to post them below. Find me on Twitter @brfcjordan95.

Have the F.A made the right decision?

Today is the day that the questions will begin in earnest. Should the F.A have removed Sam Allardyce? The 61 year old was a popular appointment as England manager, only 67 days ago, but the recent allegations made against him have proved too much for the F.A to handle. Where does this leave the England national side now?

Allardyce is alleged to have helped potential middle east investors circumvent third party ownership rules. These rules have been in place in England since 2008, and with FIFA since last year. Former UEFA president Michel Platini compared the practice to a form of “slavery”. These were very serious allegations made by the Telegraph in their sting operation, and now it has cost Allardyce his dream job.

Allardyce was also implicated in a 2006 BBC Panorama undercover operation, where he was accused of accepting bribes through his son from agents for signing certain players. This time around it has cost him his dream job, with Allardyce today explaining that “entrapment has won”, as he looks to rebuild his reputation.

3500Sam Allardyce proudly holding the England scarf on the day of his announcement in late July. Little did anyone know his reign as England manager would last only 67 days. Photo copyright FA.

Many will question where this leaves the England team, with Allardyce’s new era over after 67 short days. He only took charge of one game, with the team now in limbo after a hugely disappointing Euro 2016 performance. The F.A now finds itself starting again for the second time in several months, with some early candidates such as Gareth Southgate being put forward by the media.

The debate will rage on across the country in the coming days, were the F.A right to terminate the contract of Allardyce? Both sides of the argument will be well represented, but ultimately the England football team finds itself in a precarious position. After such a disappointing summer, where does it go from here as it aims to put it’s current turmoil behind them. And just who will take on the unenviable task of leading England back to the place where the nation expects them to be? All will become clear in the coming weeks and months. Whatever the outcome, the F.A will have to think long and hard about this decision, as it could have wide reaching consequences in the coming years?

What are your thoughts on the sacking of Sam Allardyce? Too soft or the right decision? Please feel free to comment below and let me know your thoughts. Thanks for reading.

The Inquest Begins After England’s Latest Faliure

What a difference a month can make. Going into the Euro 2016 tournament last month, most England fans were quietly confident about their chances. After a perfect qualifying campaign that saw them easily finish top the group with ten wins from ten games, along with a string of friendly victories, many thought this new, young generation of players would finally match expectations in a major tournament. How naïve we all were.

After three up and down group games, the team bowed out of the tournament in humiliating fashion against a team they were expected to easily overmatch, Iceland. England showed promise in their three group games, cruelly being denied in the final minutes of a significant opening game victory against Russia, unfortunately a game that was marred by fan violence both before and after the game.

The country rejoiced with Daniel Sturridge after his vital winner in the final seconds of a closely fought fixture with local rivals Wales, which put them in the driving seat for topping the group. Even with their final group game against a good Slovakia side, many felt they were unlucky to draw 0-0 against a very defensive minded side. So why did things go so badly wrong when they faced the lowest ranked side in the tournament in the first knockout round?

roy-hodgson-2806

Roy Hodgson looking dejected as the realisation we are about to go out to Iceland dawns on him. Was it at this point he was considering his future? Photo credit Associated Press.

 This is a question that will have everyone in the country talking for a long time, as they struggle to find out just what is the seeming England curse with major tournament football. Early casualties were the coaching staff, with manager Roy Hodgson and his coaching staff Gary Neville and Ray Lewington all resigning minutes after the final whistle in Nice. Many have now seriously questioned the tactics of Hodgson, with many feeling he simply did not know his best team or formation all tournament. This confusion over tactics has been attributed as part of our epic downfall, with confusion reigning amongst the fans and players, which contributed to the woeful performance put in on Monday night.

The most galling thing was that this time things were expected to be different. After the previous generation bowed out in the group stage of the World Cup two years ago, better things were expected with a new, young generation of players who have thrived in the Premier League for the past few seasons. With a vibrant and exciting young squad we hoped the curse of underperformance in the England shirt would have been rectified. We clearly still have some work to do to fix this.

Whilst the manager has taken a lot of the early criticism, the players deserve their equal share also. The performance against Iceland was beyond awful, with highly paid and experienced Champions League players struggling to make the simplest of passes. The worrying statistic is that in the game Marcus Rashford completed the most successful dribbles for England, and he was only on the pitch for five minutes.

We showed ourselves up with amateur defending from a set piece, something we knew Iceland used as their main tactic of scoring thanks to their long throws. With the second goal the England defenders seemed to be standing around waiting for someone else to make a tackle, before forlornly watching the ball roll past the soft hand of keeper Joe Hart. From this point onwards England never looked like scoring, with the only brief ray of hope being provided by subs Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford. The players sunk to their knees at the final whistle, although they deservedly heard chants of “your not fit to wear the shirt”, from the tired England fans.

european-championship-england-iceland_3491506

The England players dejected after their shocking 2-1 defeat to Iceland on Monday night. Photo sourced from Sky Sports.

England have embarrassed themselves both on and off the pitch this tournament, and it’s safe to say that no one will be unhappy to see us now travel home with our tail between our legs. The inquest is already beginning over the debacle this tournament, and a lot will need to change if England are to do well in a major tournament. We need to find a manager who can successfully motivate the squad whilst also find the perfect formation and starting eleven for us to do well. Many have insisted it has to be an English manager, but after several tries with this method can we not simply accept that it should be the best man for the job, irrespective of whether he’s English or not?

We will need to keep faith with this young squad, as we do have some really promising players who many not recover if we heavily criticise them now. If we can get them playing in the manner they do with their clubs, we will go far. Maybe this latest disappointment will be wake up call we need to show that we have been expecting too much from the England team for numerous tournaments. It’s clear we are nowhere near as good as we expected, and maybe in future we need to temper our expectations to avoid any potential disappointment.

Where do England go from here? What are your thoughts on what went wrong in the Euro’s? Comment below and thank you for reading.