Friday, May 29, 2009

Tale of the Tape - FA Cup Final

Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon, now an analyst for BBC Sport, does such an outstanding job in his tactical breakdown. Here is his account of identifying key areas for tomorrow's FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Everton.

"The difficulty that Everton face, though, is that when you have four defenders up against three attackers, it is easy to lose sight of the runners from midfield. And, in Frank Lampard, Chelsea have the very best in the business at making those runs…"


"I expect Everton to flood the midfield in a 4-5-1 formation, and I think it is vital for Moyes to detail one player at man-marking Lampard - possibly Phil Neville or Marouane Fellaini.

"If you come up against a player who can break from midfield, it's something you always find difficult to combat as a defender, so it's hugely important you are helped by your midfield, and your defensive midfielder is a vital player.

"Lampard, as we all know, is the absolute expert at making those late runs from midfield and getting into goal-scoring positions. With Malouda, Drogba and Anelka occupying the back four, Lampard knows if he gets into the box, those three have the ability to find him.

American vies for FA Cup Medal

By STUART CONDIE, AP Sports Writer

LONDON (AP)—Goalkeeper Tim Howard thinks an FA Cup final win with Everton on Saturday would feel even better than the one he enjoyed with Manchester United five years ago.

Howard became the first American to win the FA Cup when his United team routed lower-league Millwall 3-0 in the 2004 final. But that was just one of the 25 major titles United has won under manager Alex Ferguson.

Victory for Everton over much-lauded Chelsea at Wembley would earn the club its first trophy since 1995 and give fans a rare reminder of the status it enjoyed until the late 1980s as one of England’s biggest teams.

“In a crazy way, it would mean more this time,” Howard told The Associated Press. “For all those reasons, but also because it’s a very special club and it’s become home to me.”

Howard needed that home after becoming just one of several goalkeepers who struggled to fill the huge gap left by Denmark great Peter Schmeichel at Manchester United.

Having moved to Old Trafford from Major League Soccer’s MetroStars in 2003, he switched to Everton three years later after United manager Alex Ferguson signed veteran Edwin van der Sar.

He has since established himself as a Premier League No. 1 and a key component of a team that has finished fifth in the league for the past two years despite operating on a far lower budget than the elite sides.

Everton finished the season in good form with a 2-0 win at Fulham, a crucial boost to morale.

“It was great to keep piling in rather than limping over the line,” Howard said. “The manager has been pointing out to us that you can’t just turn it on and off again.”

Encouraging, considering Everton is up against a Chelsea squad including Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, John Terry and Michael Essien.

While Chelsea should have a fully healthy squad, Everton will again be without playmaker Mikel Arteta, striker Yakubu Ayegbeni, key defender Phil Jagielka and forward Victor Anichebe.

That makes preparation and organization even more important for an Everton side that has built its success on those virtues.

For his part, Howard, who stopped two penalties in Everton’s semifinal shootout win over Manchester United, will again study the spot-kick technique of his opponents.

“We’ll certainly leave no stone unturned,” Howard said.

If Everton wins, Howard will have less time to celebrate than his teammates after being called into the United States’ squad for World Cup qualifying matches against Costa Rica and Honduras.

But Howard is thinking only about Saturday.

“I’ll just treat it like any other game,” Howard said. “I’ve no crazy preparations or anything like that. I’ll just get my feet up if I have a chance and maybe have a lie down.”

Schmid takes aim at the Crew

José Miguel Romero of the Seattle Times writes about the match-up between the Sounders FC and the Columbus Crew, which will be the first time that Sigi Schmid will get to manage against his former team taht he had taken to the MLS Cup title last season.

Sigi Schmid won't say it directly, but one of his assistant coaches will.

Schmid really wants to beat his former team, Ezra Hendrickson said Thursday after Sounders FC practice.

Hendrickson should know. The recently retired former defender played for Schmid in Los Angeles and Columbus, where Schmid guided the Crew to last year's Major League Soccer championship. The Crew comes to Seattle on Saturday to face Sounders FC and Schmid, who left Ohio to the dismay of many Crew supporters.

Some of those were folks who held signs in the airport when the team came back from winning the MLS Cup that called for Schmid to stay. But his contract with Columbus expired, and he was free to explore options.

Philly gets right man in Nowak

John Smallwood of the Philadelphia Daily News talks about the excitement surrounding the hire of Peter Nowak as the new head coach of the Philadelphia expansion team of MLS.

PIOTR "PETER" NOWAK is a big name and a good hire to be the Philadelphia Union's first coach.

Unless the Union wanted to extend its coaching search beyond the U.S. borders and delve into Europe or South America, Nowak, who will be introduced today, might be the best name currently available to the expansion franchise, which will begin play next spring.
You want experience both domestically and internationally?

Nowak has it.

He was the head coach of D.C. United for 3 years, and then an assistant to the U.S. men's national team. He coached the United States in the under-23 CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2007 and last summer at the Olympics in Beijing.

You want championship experience?

Nowak took over at D.C. United in 2004 and immediately guided it to the Major League Soccer title. He took United to the playoffs in his other two seasons.

As a player, Nowak joined the expansion Chicago Fire in 1998 and led it to the MLS Cup title.
You want a no-nonsense coach who puts the team above individual players?

Look at Nowak's experience with D.C. United.

In 2004, he was given 14-year-old prodigy Freddy Adu and all the pressure and hype that came along with coaching the player many heralded as America's Pele.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Did Sir Alex Ferguson get his tactics wrong?

Where I'm sure most Manchester United supporters are still reeling from yesterday's 2-0 defeat by Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League (myself included), there was a piece by Kaveh Solhekol from the Times that analyses the tactics used by Sir Alex Ferguson.

It is difficult to question the tactics of a manager who has won more than thirty trophies, but it looks like Sir Alex Ferguson got it all wrong in Rome last night.

Chelsea – and United in the past - have proved that the best way to play against Barcelona is to be physical and strong. Give Barcelona time and space and they will destroy you.

For some reason, Ferguson decided to try and play Barcelona at their own game in the Stadio Olimpico and United’s fate was sealed when Samuel Eto’o scored after only ten minutes.

To make matters worse, Ferguson gambled at half time by bringing on Carlos Tevez, switching his formation and making the game even more open.

United did not turn up last night. They did not compete. There was no passion. There was no fire. There was no spark.

Ferguson does not owe United anything but if he had taken Barcelona more seriously last night the result could have been very different.

Novak to be announced as head coach in Philadelphia

Ives Galarcep of ESPN Soccernet broke the story that Peter Nowak will be named Head Coach of the expansion Philadelphia MLS franchise.

The MLS expansion Philadelphia Union has selected its first head coach and it has chosen a man with championship experience and a gritty style perfectly-suited for his new home.

Philadelphia will introduce Peter Nowak as its first head coach at a press conference on Friday, sources with knowledge of the hire told Soccer By Ives on Wednesday. Nowak, the only man to ever win an MLS Cup as a player and head coach, is leaving his post as U.S. national team assistant coach to take over as head coach for the Union, which is set to begin play in 2010.

Philadelphia Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz would not confirm the hire when contacted on Wednesday. Nowak, 44, was not with the U.S. national team in Miami on Wednesday at its first training session ahead of its upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Honduras.

A decorated player for the Polish national team, Nowak left a long career in Europe to play in MLS, which he joined in 1998 with the Chicago Fire.

Nowak captained the Fire to the 1998 MLS Cup title and U.S. Open Cup title, earning a reputation as one of the best central midfielders in the league.Nowak made a seamless transition to coaching, taking over as D.C. United head coach just one year after completing a five-year career with the Fire. Known for his no-nonsense approach, Nowak led D.C. to the MLS Cup title in 2004, his first season in charge. He spent three years as D.C. United’s head coach, compiling a 42-27-25 record during that time.

Nowak left D.C. after the 2006 season, choosing to join Bob Bradley’s coaching staff after Bradley was named U.S. national team head coach. Nowak served as head coach of the U.S. Under-23 national team, guiding it to an appearance in the 2008 Olympics in China, where the United States finished 1-1-1.

American Success Story in the Dutch Eredivise

Steven Goff of the Washington Post writes of a unique story about Alex Pama, a former youth soccer coach here in the US that is now the manager of SC Cambuur, who is fighting to gain promotion into the Dutch Eredivisie.

SC Cambuur is close to gaining promotion to the Eredivise and playing in the Netherlands' top flight for the first time in nine years. Why should we care?

Because Cambuur's general manager, Alex Pama, was born in Bethesda, Md., coached youth programs in Idaho, Arkansas and Georgia before arriving at the Dutch club three years ago. Under his guidance, Cambuur has pulled itself out of financial ruin, and this spring has advanced to the final round of playoffs for promotion. It will play top-tier club Roda (16th place among 18 clubs) in a series that begins Thursday.

With an American background, however, he needed to prove himself to a skeptical audience.

"Americans in football in Europe are not easily accepted," he said in a phone interview today.
"You come from a third-world country in soccer. As Americans, we look at the possibilities, not the impossibilities. In Europe, they want to see it; they're more negative. I was working at a faster pace that they are used to."

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Vidic ready to win at all costs

When it comes to playing in a cup final, most coaches would compromise aesthetics to raise the cup after 90 minutes (or after 120 minutes and PK' it was for Manchester United last season).

On the eve of the 2009 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester United and FC Barcelona, David Ornstein of BBC Sport caught up with United central defender Nemanja Vidic - Vidic certainly has his priorities in line when it comes towards winning titles.

Nemanja Vidic is sure Manchester United will beat Barcelona in the Champions League final - and does not care about the style in which they do it.

Wednesday's match in Rome pits holders United against the team regarded as the most attractive in Europe this season.

But United defender Vidic, 27, told BBC Sport: "All that matters is the result, you'll quickly forget about the style.

"Football is not about the style - it's about the winning and we have the confidence and belief to do it."

The Serbia international added: "I don't think we are arrogant - we respect Barcelona but we believe in ourselves and in the players we have.

"We won the league and have reached the Champions League final so we have to believe we can win it. We know it's going to be a hard game and have big jobs to do but we are excited and we will try to hurt them."

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Art of Managing

Rob Hughes of the New York Times writes of the differences between Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and Barcelona manager Josep Guardiola.

Ferguson’s rise was tempered by an apprenticeship in the Glasgow shipyards, and he has managed soccer teams in 1,907 games over 35 years.

Guardiola, less than half the age of Fergie, came through Barcelona’s academy to play in one great era for the club, and accepted the chalice to coach the team’s collection of world stars last summer.

One is the grand-daddy of team managers, the other is still shedding the title of novice coach.

The distinction between them is that Ferguson manages not just the team but the club. He makes the decisions on who United hires, from schoolboy talents to multimillion-dollar star players.

Guardiola, in keeping with the way that sports outside Britain appoints coaches, is precisely that: the coach of the squad of players put at his disposal by others.

“Managing change is the most difficult part of the job,” Ferguson said. “We have 18 nationalities in our club now, and I have reached a situation where I have two full-time scouts in Brazil, one in Argentina, others in Germany, France, etc. I’m dealing with different cultures, and find that very interesting from a management point of view.”

He has steered United to 25 trophies in 22 years, and managed the transition through different epochs during which the coaches, and, of course, the players, have become multimillionaire cult figures.
Guardiola has stepped instantly, but not effortlessly, into that world.

His team has just won the double of the Spanish league and cup, but when Barcelona’s own Web site tried to pin on the coach the accolade of being the driving force behind those achievements, Guardiola demurred.

“The only reason is the talent and commitment of the players,” Guardiola said. “I’m sure that with other players we wouldn’t have won the league. Yet with a different coach they might have done so."

“The key is their talent, humility and appetite for hard work in every single game. Soccer is about players. We coaches set out the rules and give some ideas for them to follow. All the rest is them, just them and they have done a great job.”

The modesty belies the taskmaster that Guardiola has become. His team plays with the discipline, the hunger that was his own mark as a tenacious midfield soldier in the successful team coached more than a decade ago by Johan Cruyff.

DiCicco to do 'community service' for comments

It is not uncommon for a coach to be fined for comments made about officiating, but when you see why Tony DiCicco was fined the other day, it certainly seems like the WPS is walking the line with disciplining a coach who didn't say anything over the top.

The WPS Disciplinary Committee fined Boston Breakers coach Tony DiCicco $750 for comments after the game that had "an effect prejudicial and detrimental to WPS including public criticism of game officials and WPS officiating generally." He is also required to do four hours of community service in the sport of soccer.

"It's just not good enough," the dean of WPS coaches told the Boston Globe. "They're over their head. They have to learn, just like the players have to learn to play at this level and coaches have to learn coaching at this level, and the refereeing has to get better at this level."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Experience is key component in coaching

Simon Austin of the BBC Sport wrote an outstanding piece that echoes a sentiment that has been carried on this site quite a bit this Spring - experience is a key component in management or coaching.

Andy Roxburgh, Uefa's highly respected technical director, says experience is a big asset.

"Fabio Capello summed it up best when he said football was the only profession where you could go from the shop floor to chief executive's office in one day," Roxburgh told me.
"Countries like Italy and Spain regard management as a profession, which has not traditionally been the case in the UK."

"You wouldn't throw a talented youngster straight into a huge game and the same principle applies for coaches."
The situation in the Netherlands, where "all top club managers have been assistants", is very different, says Roxburgh. Dennis Bergkamp, arguably the greatest foreign player to grace the Premier League, coaches Ajax's strikers, while Frank de Boer, who won 112 caps for Holland, is in charge of the Amsterdam club's academy.

The former Scotland boss accepts there are sometimes compelling reasons for appointing an untried man - if he has been a legendary player at that club, for example. If that is the case, it is crucial he is as well prepared as possible, which perhaps was not the case with Shearer, who is yet to start his Uefa Pro Licence, a mandatory qualification for full-time Premier League managers.

Ince was given special dispensation to take the job at Blackburn despite not having the licence, while Southgate, who took over at Boro in 2006, is due to finish the course in June.

Shearer, Southgate, Ince and Adams were undoubtedly magnificent international players, but research shows that top players don't enjoy greater success as managers.

Research commissioned by the League Manager's Association found that managers who were former internationals had a win percentage of 35.2%. The figure was 34.5% for those who had played in the Premier League, 34.7% for ex-Football League players and 34.1% for those who had not even play professionally.

Roxburgh adds: "Gianluca Vialli went straight from playing for Chelsea to managing them."

"After he left his next managerial job, at Watford, he returned to Italy to get his coaching qualifications. That is clearly the wrong way round and Gianluca has told me that he wishes he had been trained before getting those jobs in England."

Roxburgh believes the perfect combination for a manager is "talent, experience and preparation".

Getting the right formula is crucial, when you consider how little time managers are given to succeed.

The four managers who have been sacked this season - Ince, Adams, Luiz Felipe Scolari and Juande Ramos - were in their jobs for an average of only 0.59 years, according to Sue Bridgewater, an associate professor at Warwick Business School.

The average for sacked managers in the Premier League and Football League combined was 1.47 years, down from 1.56 last season. Many of these men will not get another chance, as 49% of first-time bosses don't get another managerial job.

The LMA is putting on coaching clinics, emphasising the importance of qualifications and using managers like (Roy) Hodgson to advise the next generation.

Defending set pieces can be difference in success

With so many goals scored off of set pieces, a key component in a team's success is normally how well they defend free kicks.

This has been a staple of the New England Revolution's success in the past, but as's Kyle McCarthy reports, the number of goals conceded thus far in the 2009 season has been as much a part of their downfall as their injuries.

Injuries might be the primary scourge in New England these days, but set pieces aren't all that far behind.

The number of goals conceded from set pieces (six) has yet to match the injury list (almost too many to count), but it has equaled the Revolution's 2008 tally and staked them to a considerable league lead -- second-place D.C. United have allowed three -- in that category. For a team that had defended set pieces well in its zonal marking system over the past few seasons, the glut of set-piece goals allowed surprised more than a few observers.

Combine that tendency to concede with an inability to score from dead ball situations, after scoring a league-high 10 times in 2008, and there are some aerial issues in the mix along with those injury worries.

In order to avoid further punishment from deadball situations, Revolution defender Darrius Barnes said his side needs to do a better job of sorting themselves out before the set piece gets taken.

"They've either been great goals or it's been a lack of communication on our part," Barnes said. "We need to make sure we communicate. We need to call out our guys. We need to do that early so we can get set up."

Getting set up isn't everything when it comes to defending set pieces. Once the set piece is struck, players have to attack the ball with conviction rather than hesitating. Too often, that hesitant split-second can lead to a goal.

New England midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said he and his teammates need to act more aggressively when the service arrives.

"I think people are not going to the ball," Larentowicz said. "We're indecisive when the ball's coming into the box. You have to be a little of an animal to go after balls in the box. You have to put your face on the line. It's scary to some people, so you have to face it and do your job. Those are the decisions you have to make."

If those decisions don't work out, Barnes said the next course of action comes from denying opposing attackers the chance to capitalize on those mistakes.

"You have to get a hand or a body on somebody," Barnes said. "If you can't get to it, you have to make sure they don't get to it either."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Practice is the key component in Ronaldo's success

A perfect compliment to my last post about practice making permanent is this quote from Sir Alex Ferguson, referencing what maks Cristiano Ronaldo so special.

"There are some players such as Kaka, Messi and Ronaldo who are innately gifted," he told The Technician.

"But this is not enough and there is a practice element which becomes very important. If you watch Cristiano Ronaldo, he practices after every training session and quite a few of the others do the same."

"As a coach we dedicate parts of the training to improving touch, movement, passing and speed of play, but the special quality, the detail, depends on the player being willing to sacrifice himself after training - this is the hallmark of the great players."

"If the big talents only rely on their natural ability, they won't have that extra edge. They must do something extra on their own.",19528,11661_5337169,00.html

Practice, with passion, makes permanent

From the Evansville Courier Press, May 16, 2009

I always tell campers and youth soccer players that practice makes permanent, not perfect — that how and what you train will stick with you on game day.

According to acclaimed author Malcolm Gladwell, practice — not natural ability — is the key to becoming a world-class expert in your field. Ability, according to Gladwell, is just one factor in success. Work ethic, luck, a strong support base and even being born in the right year plays a far larger role.

Gladwell references the 10,000-Hour Rule in his book "Outliers: The Story of Success." The 10,000-Hour Rule says that you need approximately 10,000 hours of practice to become a world-class expert in a field. The rule applies to geniuses like Mozart and Bill Gates.

"What's really interesting about this 10,000-hour rule is that it applies virtually everywhere," Gladwell told a conference held by The New Yorker magazine. "You can't become a chess grand master unless you spend 10,000 hours on practice. The tennis prodigy who starts playing at six is playing in Wimbledon at 16 or 17 (such as) Boris Becker. The classical musician who starts playing the violin at four is debuting at Carnegie Hall at 15 or so."

The obsessive approach is evident in sporting icons. Tiger Woods in golf and the Williams sisters in tennis have trained relentlessly since they were children.

The greatest athletes, entrepreneurs, musicians and scientists emerge only after spending at least three hours a day for a decade mastering their chosen field. The years spent intensively focused on their area of expertise place the world's most successful people above their peers.

Think about that: If you consistently practice 4 hours a day for 6 days a week, you will still need 8 years to get 10,000 hours.

When I read about the 10,000 hour rule, I was reminded of the Gary Player quote: "The harder you work, the luckier you get." When you really think about it, those who put in hours of practice effectively make their own luck. The harder you work and the more time you put in, the more prepared or "lucky" you are when asked to perform.

I had the opportunity to see a piece of Tim Gibbons and Tammie Forster's landmark study for the United States Olympic Center's Athletic Development Program, "The Path to Excellence," in which they provided an in-depth look at the development of U.S. Olympians who competed between 1984 and 1998. The average U.S. Olympian began his or her sport-specific participation at the average age of 12 for males and 11.5 for females. Most Olympians reported a 12- to 13-year period in which they developed their talents (practiced) to make their Olympic team.

While watching my 7-year old son play last weekend, I was taken aback by a parent who was screaming at their child for both not playing well enough and not working hard enough. It made me think about both the 10,000 hour rule and the US Olympic Center study — If the average Olympian is starting to compete in their sport at the age of 11 or 12, and it takes 12 to 13 years to develop those talents, how motivated will this player be to set out on that challenge if he has been demoralized and mentally beaten down before he turns 8 years old?

Passion and support need to go hand in hand with practice. When you think of anything you were really good at, you probably were very passionate about it as well.

I can't believe that a young competitor would invest 10,000 hours in an activity if they didn't really enjoy it. Doing something you love is essential to meet your 10,000-hour mark, and I don't think that your child can be pushed towardthat. If you are passionate about it, it will help you go through the difficult times. It will help you overcome boredom. Without that passion, your 10,000 hours will be a painful journey, and unlikely to be reached.

As parents and coaches, we have to make sure that we are supportive of our children's endeavors. If you have to force your players to go out and practice, they will do it begrudgingly. In most cases, the players who are most passionate are the ones that work the hardest. If you can instill a passion for the game and a strong work ethic, everything else will take care of itself.

Not every athlete will train for 10,000 hours or become an Olympian, but their best chance for success is to develop an appreciation for practice and a passion for their sport.

Ancelotti ''one of the greats'' says Becks

England midfielder David Beckham believes Chelsea would be getting ''one of the greats'' if they lure AC Milan coach Carlo Ancelotti.

The former England captain has spent the second half of the season playing under Ancelotti at the San Siro and revealed the Milan players are ''pleading'' with their boss not to leave.

Beckham told The Sun: ''Carlo Ancelotti's man-management skills are exceptional. He is a brilliant coach."

''To have played under a manager of his quality is a real privilege. He is one of the greats. I have been lucky in my career to play under a few of the best in the business and he comes into that category."

''I just wish I had been able to play for him for many more years. It has been a lot of fun. Every single one of the Milan players adores him and doesn't want him to go. They are pleading with him to stay."

''I know wherever he goes, and whatever he does, he will always have my admiration and respect.''

Beckham insists Ancelotti can also be fiery as well as friendly.

''He is a low-key, private type of person. But there is another side to him. While I have never had the 'hairdryer' type treatment, I have seen it from him,'' said the former Manchester United winger. ''When he wants to get his point across, he does it in no uncertain terms!''

Meanwhile, former AC Milan coach Arrigo Sacchi hopes the club can hold on to Ancelotti this summer.

''I have not spoken to him, but I think we are close to a goodbye,'' Sacchi told Radio Kiss Kiss.

''Perhaps Ancelotti's experience at AC Milan is about to end but I repeat, I am not certain and I hope Milan are able to keep him.''

Monday, May 18, 2009

"Life's just not fair"

...that's the title of Derek Robson's blog this week, in reference to the sad plight of Middlesbrough and West Brom - two teams that try to keep the ball and play the game on the ground - as well as to Rafa Benitez, in the wake of his comments over the weekend.

Robson is really clever, and has some amusing comments about this past weekend's English Premiership action...

On Middlesbrough and WBA - Both Boro and Albion have at least tried to keep the ball on the deck and knock it around. At times both teams have been a nice watch - like Arsenal but without the results. Then again Arsenal are like Barca but without the results. It's a bit blinking irritating when teams with big lads who treat a football like it needs to be taught a lesson - Stoke, Bolton, Blackburn - end up way above you. I think all three of them will stay up next year 'n all, mind, cos no matter what your average half-interested lass says, football's not about being pretty. Just ask Steve Bruce. It's about results.

On Manchester United - Time too to grit your teeth into a clenched dead man's smile and congratulate the Beetroot of Govan for another job well done. Rafa take note. We used to slate Benitez for his rotation policy but then he used to replace fillet steak with economy frozen burgers. Fergie's first 18 are in their prime. The defence, but for one little blip, has been rock-solid and the Tumbler had been close to his best. Do we think his strop the other day against City was cos he wanted more goals and as it stands Anelka might yet pip him to the golden boot? Nah, he wouldn't be that vain.

On Benitez - So I'm not sure why Benitez is being quite so petty. Perhaps it's cos he knows that he spent half the season being way too negative and ever since they lost at our place, they've been, well, brilliant and exhilarating and, a poor home display against Chelsea in the Champs league apart, unstoppable. In short, by being too cagey it's Liverpool that've lost it. Can't see that mistake happening next season - so come on, sulky-chops! Say well done, and win it next year.

On Hiddink and Drogba - That's what Guus Hiddink would be saying if he was to stick around at the Bridge. Every time that bloke opens his gob I'm more impressed. The players like him and any one who can get two self-appointed members of football's royalty to dovetail like Drogba and Anelka have done in the last few weeks deserves all the plaudits going. The bloke shouldn't be off back to Russia he should be helping Blair's Middle-East peace talks. I don't know whether Drogba will be there either but every time that bloke sets his mind on staying on his feet for 90 minutes he's twice as good a player. Lesson learned? I doubt it. If he's in Serie A next season he'll be expected to revert to type and he'll be throwing himself on the floor and weeping like a Blue Bell regular.

Don't let 'the chase' prevent you from being professional

I am not surprised by the comments from Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez towards Manchester United and their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson.

After all, Liverpool had a down-to-the wire battle with Manchester United for English Premiership supremacy, only to fall short in the end. Verbal warfare was ongoing between Benitez and Ferguson since January, and where that should certainly come to an end as the title chase concludes, Benitez refuses to let go.

First, Benitez claimed that the team that won the title was not the Premier League's best.

Then, he refuses to congratulate Ferguson directly on winning the title, stating "I will say congratulations to Manchester United. They have done well, but I do not want to say too much. I prefer just to say well done to the club, a big club, a good club....." and "When you are prepared to pay £20m or £30m for players it is easier to win the title."

I know how hard it is to end a season short of your own goals and aspirations - you feel gutted for your players, staff and yourself. Saying that, at some point, you collect yourself and maintain your dignity, respect and professionalism.

I am an admirer of Benitez as a tactician, and feel that he has brought Liverpool to great heights during his reign. I know that in the heat of the battle, emotions run high. Saying that, when the battle is over, you also need to show respect - not only to your opposition, but to yourself and your supporters as well.

BBC Sports chief football writer Phil McNulty wrote on this very topic.

Sir Alex Ferguson - on the rare occasions when Manchester United have been denied the Premier League title - has traditionally written a letter of congratulation to the victorious manager.

And when Rafael Benitez led Liverpool to Champions League success against AC Milan in Istanbul in 2005, Ferguson was again prepared to put pen to paper.

It is hardly a major feat of deduction to guess that Benitez will not be moved to prose in praise of Ferguson after United equalled Liverpool's tally of 18 titles.

If he could not bring himself to utter verbal congratulations to Ferguson when pressed at The Hawthorns on Sunday, Benitez is unlikely to put it down in writing.

He was prepared to salute Manchester United but made a point of not congratulating Ferguson - putting the latest coating of acrimony on a soured relationship between the pair.

The problem Benitez has here is two-fold. Firstly, even though Ferguson will be supremely indifferent as to whether he receives bouquets from Liverpool's manager or not, it makes his Anfield counterpart look petty and a bitterly sore loser.

It also came hard on the heels of Benitez's questionable claim that United may not actually be the best team in the Premier League - they simply won more points than anyone else.

Secondly, and more importantly, the man who holds the trophies wins the arguments and Ferguson has beaten Benitez hands down by securing a third successive title.

Turnover at big clubs could start coaching carousel

Some of Europe's biggest clubs will see coaching changes this summer - Chelsea, Bayern Munich, Ajax and now Juventus (with the dismissal of Claudio Ranieri).

With jobs like these now open, it leads you to believe if a major coaching carousel won't start to go round and round, with names like Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti and Marco van Basten being mentioned at filling some of these posts.

Wenger's name might have been the biggest suprise until recently, as he has always been quick to dismiss speculation about his future. ESPN Soccernet's Jon Carter writes about Wenger's current situation at Arsenal, as well as his possible flirtation with Real Madrid.

The news that Madrid are interested in Wenger is unsurprising. His replies, or lack of them, are something more of a bombshell.

Wenger usually bats away speculation over his future with consummate ease. His focus has always been on building the foundations at Arsenal - the club he has been at for over a decade - and blooding a squad of young players talented enough to challenge for the title is his goal.

However, it is possible that there is a growing realisation from within that this may not happen in the short-term and that he has taken the club as far as he can. A 'season of transition' has been occurring yearly in North London since the Invincibles of 2003-04 were broken up and, despite some promising performances, Wenger's young side have not matched up when it matters most.

His argument that the likes of Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby have shown why he can keep his chequebook in his pocket this summer doesn't stick, and it comes down to his own desire to keep the club's financial stability secure. In theory, this is admirable, but when major shareholder and director Danny Fiszman makes it clear money is there for the manager questions must be raised.

Despite the situation the club find themselves in, it seems unthinkable that Wenger would swap Arsenal for the Gálactico culture of Florentino Pérez and Real Madrid; but he has not helped the speculation with his comments.

Madrid may prove to be an 'interesting project' for whoever gets the job, but Wenger may be merely playing a game with the board, and his critics, to prove just how important he is to the Gunners in the face of some harsh criticism.

Despite the fact that no Arsenal fan wants to see the back of him, his flirtation with Madrid could prove damaging. Stability is in short supply in Spain and with growing disillusionment with his vision of the future in London; Wenger should be careful what games he plays.

van Gaal to Replace Klinsmann at Bayern

MUNICH (AP) -- Louis van Gaal has been hired by Bayern Munich as the permanent replacement for fired coach Juergen Klinsmann.

The 57-year-old led AZ Alkmaar to the Dutch league championship this season and was given a two-year contract by Bayern to start July 1.

Klinsmann, the former coach of Germany's national team, left his home in Southern California to take over Bayern last summer but was fired April 27. Jupp Heynckes was appointed interim coach by Bayern, which is 19-7-6 and trails Wolfsburg for the Bundesliga lead on goal difference with two games remaining.

In Warzycha they trust

Shawn Mitchell of the Columbus Dispatch writes about the support that Columbus Crew head coach Robert Warzycha has from his players and front office.

Despite the Crew's slow 2009 start as the defending MLS Cup Champions, Warzycha has the backing of the entire organization.

"That didn't even go through my mind, that they would get rid of Bobby," midfielder Robbie Rogers said. "I think people would be upset. Who are they going to bring in that has the experience with the guys here, who was here when we won the championship?"

"I think maybe if we lost all of those seven games, then guys would be discouraged. But I really think we've just been unlucky."
Two red cards, a late-game own goal and several injuries and national team call-ups have turned victories into ties, usually in heartbreaking fashion. The Crew blew second-half leads four times in its first seven games.

"The last week before (Saturday's 3-2 victory over Kansas City), that was the toughest week," Warzycha said. "The week (before a 1-1 tie at Toronto) was, too. I was worried, but that's the beauty of this game. As a coach, you're just getting gray hair every week, more and more."

Warzycha called the Crew's first victory "huge" but said there is more work to do. The team remains in last place in the Eastern Conference, but 22 Major League Soccer games and an appearance in the CONCACAF Champions League remain.

Considering that under Schmid the Crew sat at or near the basement of the Eastern Conference for two seasons before finding success in the third, another loss wouldn't spur a coaching change.

"The guys have to believe the person in charge is going to make them successful," McCullers said. "They believed that about Sigi, and they believe that about Robert."

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sir Alex Ferguson - interview

Hugh McIlvanney is a well-respected journalist for The Times, and he was granted a 1-on-1 interview with Sir Alex Ferguson.

McIlvanney has followed Ferguson's career since his days at Aberdeen - being in Gothenburg when he gained his first major European honour — the Cup Winners’ Cup when they defeated Real Madrid. Ferguson shares some insight on the current Manchester United side, as well as his thoughts on the game.

Ferguson on the 'drinking culture' in England - “Players from other parts of the world tend to have more natural discipline about how they address football, the training and their social life. They bring a more regulated approach than has been traditional in this country. There is, without doubt, a massive change in the game’s association with alcohol right across the board, though there are still remnants of the old attitudes to socialising among British players...the general picture is totally different from what it used to be. Gone are the days when even great players might think nothing of overdoing it with alcohol. Football today, especially at the Premier League level, is such an energetic game, makes such demands on speed and power, that it’s hardly imaginable anybody could drink a lot and get away with it on the park. The system of preparation is so rigorous now, with sports science, guidance on nutrition, fitness coaches. ”

Ferguson on Frank Lampard, the current player that reminds him most of Bryan Robson - "He is an exceptional player, a huge asset to his team. Every time he plays he goes from box to box and he hardly misses a game. You pay attention to players who can get goals from midfield and he’s been averaging 20 a season. You don’t see him getting into stupid tackles or making a habit of becoming involved in silly rows. When he was sent off against Liverpool two or three months back he walked from the pitch straight away, without fuss. He stayed restrained in the middle of all that bother after Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League by Barcelona and made a point of swapping shirts with Iniesta. As I say, Frank Lampard is exceptional.”

Ferguson on Barcelona, their rivals for the 2009 UEFA Champions League title - “The way Barcelona operate their midfield makes it very difficult to get the ball off them. I don’t think Iniesta and Xavi have ever given it away in their lives. They get you on that carousel and they can leave you dizzy. Your concentration levels can’t be allowed to falter for a second. But, with the right tactics, their game is containable.”

Ferguson on rebuilding his club to rival the titles won by Chelsea and Arsenal, prior to their recent 3-year title spree- “We did what we always do, examined the structure of the team, identified the strengthening required and relied on our philosophy of bringing in young players but only those we’re convinced will turn out to be really special. To produce the right revitalising effect there must be an emphasis on exciting, attacking players, the kind who can have a big influence on matches.”

Ferguson on Wayne Rooney - "You knew what you were getting with Rooney. He gets all your emotions going, drags you in with the physical, emotional way he plays. When he starts to compete and show that great desire and intensity, you say to yourself, ‘F****** hell, what is he made of, the boy?’"

“You’re starting to think, ‘I’ll maybe rest Rooney this week’. It was definitely an option to consider in the run-up to the second leg of the Champions League semi-final with Arsenal, which was to be played on the Tuesday following what was liable to be a tough league game at Middlesbrough. Then he comes up to you at training and says, ‘I hope I’m playing on Saturday. If I don’t play against Middlesbrough I won’t play well against Arsenal. I’m hopeless if I’m rested’. He’s something else."

Ferguson on his role in training - “I’m not interested in how Mike (Phelan) and Rene (Meulensteen) plan the training,” he said. “I’m interested in what I see. I want to see quality, intensity, what players are bringing to it. What they do on the training ground comes out on the pitch and I want to see if there is improvement in them. The players know my eyes are on them. I had to be away for a couple of days, doing something elsewhere, and when I turned up again Rio Ferdinand said, ‘Where have you been? It’s not the same when you’re not here’.”

Could Blanc's fast track lead to Real Madrid?

Zinedine Zidane has recommended Bordeaux coach Laurent Blanc to Real Madrid's prospective president, Florentino Perez.

According to Sport, Perez has asked members of his team to suggest a coach and Zidane, who is widely expected to have a role to play at Real Madrid, has built a case for Blanc.

The current Bordeaux coach, who played with Zidane for the French national team, has enjoyed a successful start to his young managerial career. He was elected manager of the year last season after guiding his side to second, while they find themselves on top this season, pending Marseille's result tomorrow. Zidane favors him because of his commitment to attacking football, as well as his calm demeanor.

Blanc might not have the experience of some of the other names linked with the Real Madrid job - Arsene Wenger, Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho and Jorge Valdano - but has risen to the top of the French coaching ranks with his success at the domestic level.

Wenger to Real Madrid?

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has stated that the imminent return of Florentino Perez to the Bernabeu boardroom makes managing Real Madrid an attractive move for any coach this summer.

Wenger has been consistently linked with a move to los Blancos, despite spending 13 years in London, and it is believed that the Frenchman is near the top of Perez's list of replacements in the hot-seat.

Recently, reported that he chose to deflect questions on his future in press conference prior to the league match against Manchester United yesterday.

Now, sports publication L'Equipe reports that Wenger has commented that with the lavish transfer kitty that is sure to be bestowed on whoever follows Juande Ramos as Coach, any top boss worth their salt would be interested in the position.

He said, "With Florentino Perez in charge, it would be attractive to any coach. I would prefer to stay silent about this. Normally, I usually end my contract."

Hiddink is the model for Chelsea successor

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has stated that Guus Hiddink's replacement must be able to get the basic, fundamental aspects of management correct if he is to succeed at Stamford Bridge.

Speaking to The Observer, Cech said, "Mr Hiddink restored the spirit of the old Chelsea and added his own things."

"You can see everywhere he's been he's had success. This isn't a coincidence. You could see his experience of working with top players."

"The strength he has is that he knows what he has in the team. He doesn't ask people to do things that aren't in their character."

"You can see that working perfectly when the manager knows to use the right people for the right jobs."

Cech also said he felt Hiddink had performed the basics well, helping the team gain some consistent form.

"In December and January (under Scolari) we were missing a lot of discipline," he said.

"That, for me, was the key, going back to basics. Basic things we were getting wrong and losing points."

"Everyone knows what the strength of the team was, and in every game he (Hiddink) has used the right players to achieve exactly what we wanted on the pitch."

"When you get that right, everything works. He's not one of the managers who speaks a lot, but every time he says something he's spot on."

Standards set high by Ferguson

Sky Sports analyst Andy Gray writes a great article about what separated Manchester United from the pack this season, en route to their 3rd straight English Premier League Championship.

Sir Alex Ferguson's ability to maintain a high level of expectations and demands on his players was a key component for their success.

It's been a hard season for them, not only because they've played so many games but because after winning two consecutive crowns the other teams chasing them were more determined than ever.

But they've coped with that pressure extremely well because manager Sir Alex Ferguson has set the highest of standards and refused to let them drop, even slightly.

There's no chance he will ever let that happen. Sir Alex sets the benchmark and if the players don't like it they won't be at Old Trafford for long. It's that simple.

Arsene Wenger, Rafael Benitez and even Guus Hiddink have all earned respect over the years as managers but what separates Sir Alex apart from the rest is his ability to keep winning titles even when he is rebuilding his side.

He's put three or four teams together during his tenure and yet that process seems to have been seamless: it's an unbelievable strength that Sir Alex has.

In his early management days he would have treated all of his players the same and blasted everyone; but over the years he has adopted a far more flexible management style to ensure that he copes with the demands of today's game.

Many players today won't accept too much stick but will just walk away so, Sir Alex has had to go through a transition and adapt his style - and he's done so successfully without compromising his position as an established manager.

Liverpool used to be the team who set the standards; they were the team to catch but through the life and times of the Premier League Sir Alex has ensured that has become United's domain. Now they have joined the Reds on 18 top-flight titles - a sensational achievement.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Memories of Sir Matt envoked by United's magical season

Oliver Kay of the Times wrote a piece today that talks of the way Manchester United's run to glory this season looks to mirror the dramatic fashion that Sir Matt Busby's Manchester United teams had years ago.

Every successful title campaign has a defining moment. Think back to Arsenal’s Premier League triumph in 1998 and it was crowned by the sight of Tony Adams marauding forward to score a goal against Everton that typified their enlightenment under Arsène Wenger.

Go back another five years and it was Steve Bruce’s stoppage-time header for Manchester United against Sheffield Wednesday at Old Trafford. Rewind another five years to Liverpool’s class of 1988 and it came with a goal against Arsenal that had it all: a shimmying run from John Barnes, a lost cause chased by Steve McMahon and a six-yard tap-in from John Aldridge.

When the apparent formalities are completed, a single moment will emerge as the one that defined United’s eighteenth league title. It came on an April afternoon on which a patched-up defence had been torn to shreds by Aston Villa at Old Trafford, when Sir Alex Ferguson’s team, exhausted, seemed to be hemmed in against the ropes, drifting towards a third consecutive league defeat until Cristiano Ronaldo equalised and then finally, dramatically, Federico Macheda, a 17-year-old Italian making his debut as a substitute, sparked delirium with a spectacular winning goal deep in stoppage time.

It was a goal that said much about United under Ferguson and, long before that, under Sir Matt Busby: a tendency to do things the hard way, a willingness to give youth its head and, above all, a commitment to attacking football that would often overwhelm opponents in the final moments of matches.

Edu grows our American soccer reputation in Scotland

The article below was forwarded on to me by Western Michigan University coach Stu Riddle, who found an Evening Times report by Thomas Jordan that references Maurice Edu paving the way for positive exposure of the American game over in Scotland.

ONE was reared in arguably the most famous footballing institution in the world, surrounded by the best players on the planet.

The other served his apprenticeship in a country where football - or soccer - isn't even close to being the top sport.

Yet last weekend, it was American Maurice Edu who emerged from his Old Firm debut as top dog over former Barcelona kid Marc Crosas.

Edu was hailed for his part in Rangers' 1-0 triumph as Crosas failed to hit the mark in his first experience of the fixture from the start.

Having spent most of this season as a bit-part player, the £2.5million signing from Major League Soccer side Toronto FC has exploded on to the Ibrox stage at a time when the stakes could not be higher.

Thrown into the SPL maelstrom out of necessity as Barry Ferguson's ill-advised conduct forced him to drop out of the team, Edu has now started his side's last six matches.

And it is perhaps no coincidence that Walter Smith's side have banked maximum points from every one to storm back into contention for the title as well as secure a Scottish Cup Final place.

So was Edu's successful display in the Old Firm cauldron as much of a success for the MLS coaching system in the States as it was for the 22-year-old midfielder?

Former Morton, Chelsea, Falkirk, Hibs and St Mirren defender Joe McLaughlin now runs soccericonUSA and spends his time luring players from Britain to America on scholarships to bolster the emerging scene Stateside.

In the past, Rangers well were served by American imports such as Claudio Reyna and they forked out £750,000 on DaMarcus Beasley last summer.

But McLaughlin believes Edu is now among the first of several stars and stripes kids who will successfully make the transition to foreign shores and become a new generation of American idols.

He said: "Maurice's performance at the weekend certainly seems to have attracted a fair bit of attention and, having watched some of his previous displays as well, I certainly feel he is showing just how good a player he is.

"He has had to bide his time, but it is obvious he has been picking up as much as he possibly can during that time.

"To come in at this stage of the season and perform consistently well for Rangers in the middle of the park only confirms how big a talent he is.

"Old Firm matches are where Celtic and Rangers players prove themselves. If you can handle that fixture, and especially one that could determine the outcome of the championship, then you can pretty much handle anything."

While many would look at Edu's switch from the MLS to the SPL as a major step up for the young midfielder, McLaughlin insists the player has been brought up in top quality facilities and under the careful eye of some of the most astute coaches in the States.

"You have got to see the facilities the colleges in America have to offer to believe it," explained the Inverclyde man.

"I'm not being funny, but the facilities Edu would have used at the University of Maryland would have been better than what Murray Park has to offer.

"Most major colleges have a stadium with a capacity of around 70,000, which host the American football matches and they have the best training pitches and gyms.

"There will be around 10 physiotherapists looking after the players and extremely respected coaches.

"In some cases, the head soccer coach at a particular college has moved to become an MLS manager and the standard of player at these colleges is very high.

"The top college sides in American would beat most First Division clubs over here and some clubs in the lower reaches of the SPL.

"So, even though Edu was at college and was also working towards a degree, he was basically living life as a professional footballer."

One huge advantage in signing a player who has come through such a route is their attitude, according to McLaughlin.

He declared: "American players always show a great desire to work hard, to learn and to conduct themselves in the proper manner.

"Davie Weir, who I played with at Falkirk, came through the American college system and he is as good a professional as you'll come across.

"Look at Andy Dorman. He has turned out to be a fantastic find for St Mirren and now they could be about to make big money on him.

"There are other players in America who would do fantastic jobs for SPL clubs but the problem, of course, is trying to secure work permits for them as they need to have played a vast amount of international matches in the last couple of years."

McLaughlin hopes Edu's progress at Rangers will help tempt Scottish kids to consider trying to come through the American college system themselves.

He said: "There are guys who haven't quite made the grade at clubs here in Britain, but moved out there, got a degree and became far better players in the process. Dorman is the perfect example of that.

"I'm always looking for players who have maybe been freed by clubs here in Scotland and, providing they meet the requirements, then it could be a fantastic opportunity for them."

Players can look up the website on

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Grella sets sites on Coca Cola Championship

Ives Galarcep reports on Soccer by Ives on how Mike Grella and his Leeds United teammates shoot for promotion from the English third division (League One) to the second division (League Championship).

Grella, who passed on the 2009 MLS Draft to sign with Leeds, has become a regular substitute as the team's first forward option off the bench.

...As for Grella, he saw minutes in all of Leeds' matches down the stretch of the regular season. Not bad for a 22-year-old striker who was playing for Duke University just seven months ago.

Leeds trails Millwall 1-0 after the first leg, but will host the second leg today. Johnson's MK Dons is in a better spot, having tied Scunthorpe United, 1-1, in the first leg of their series. MK Dons will host the second leg on Friday.

Mike was as dynamic a goal scorer as there was in College Soccer the past four seasons while at Duke University, and a promotion into the Championship might lead to a call-up by US National team coach Bob Bradley.

'The Disposable Superstar' keeps on winning

Chauncey Billups leading the Denver Nuggets into the Western Conference Finals is an accomplishment for a franchise that has not advanced this far since 1985.

What makes it even more of an accomplishment is that this is the 7th consecutive Conference Finals that Billups will be participating in - making him arguably the most consistent winner in professional sports during his era.

Tom Friend wrote a good piece in ESPN - Outside the Lines on Billups, who remarkably has been dubbed 'the Disposable Superstar' by Friend - Billups mid-season move to Denver is his 6th different team he has played for.

DENVER -- One of Chauncey Billups' ex-teammates -- and there are about a hundred of them -- has his nose pressed against a TV set. The Denver Nuggets have just called time, in the middle of a tight playoff game, and the ex-teammate can't help but notice Chauncey rounding up all the players, all the misfits and flakes, and poking a finger in their chests.

If only these Nuggets understood the history behind this -- because there are pieces of Chauncey Billups strewn all over the league. He might have just rescued George Karl's job and Carmelo Anthony's résumé, but don't be fooled: Billups was once a mystery himself. His eyes are wiser now and his scars are healed, but no elite player in these NBA playoffs has been kicked to the curb as often as he has. None spent their first five seasons on six different teams. None has suited up for 10 different coaches. None has been forced to spend a 12th NBA season revalidating himself.

In a league obsessed with LeBron, Kobe and D-Wade, Chauncey might actually be the one to emulate -- a sturdy playmaker who, mid-career, asked to be taught how to make plays. But now the journey ends where it began, a mile above sea level, with Chauncey teaching his own mercurial team how to pay attention to detail. It's why a zoo of an arena chants "MVP, MVP" in his direction. And it's why his former teammate from Minnesota, a friend he used to call "Unc," wishes he could jump through that TV screen, into that huddle … and tell the Nuggets the whole story. The whole story of "Smooth."

Ed Conroy rewrites history at the Citadel

It is easy to gain an appreciation for dealing with adversity if you are a fan of Pat Conroy's work.

He wrote "The Great Santini," introducing the world to the violent Bull Meecham, sharing his family's dark secrets, turning his fighter-pilot father and Don's nickname into an international cliché for horrible parenting.

He wrote "The Lords of Discipline," changing forever the way people viewed The Citadel, revealing hidden layers of institutional anger and cruelty and racism. The military college's alumni responded with hatred, vowing if he ever set foot on campus, he might never step off.
He wrote "My Losing Season," a best-selling memoir that cemented the unrelentingly dismal legacy of Citadel basketball.

Conroy's story has turned full-circle, as his cousin - Ed Conroy - is now the Head Basketball Coach at the Citadel. The Bulldogs are one of just five of the original Division I teams never to have made the NCAA tournament, but the Conroy family is doing a lot to change the reputation and culture at the Citadel.

The Citadel is pulsating with energy, the result of a strange chain of events that began when Pat Conroy left these white buildings and wrote a novel that made him hated but made his cousin want to wear the ring. All this has Pat thinking about the circles in life, and how so many things come back around, time turning wrongs into rights. "Our history began in 1963 in that gym," he says, "and here we are in 2009 and the Conroy history continues with this gym."

Simmons vs Gladwell - the Ali-Frazier of writers

I don't think there are two writers who I am more engrossed in than author Malcolm Gladwell and ESPN's Bill Simmons.

Gladwell continues to churn out books that promote thought - "The Tipping Point", "Blink" and "Outliers"; Simmons column in ESPN the magazine - 'The Sports Guy' - is first-class reading.

It was amazing to know that this duo not only were friends, but had a great exchange in 2 different three-part interviews on I raced through their interviews, and they were so enthralling that I read them twice. These two great writers and sports fans going back and forth is like the Ali-Frazier of writers...

Gladwell on loving what you do-
I'm happy writing anywhere and under any circumstances and in fact I'm now to the point where I'm suspicious of people who don't love what they do in the same way. I was watching golf, before Christmas, and the announcer said of Phil Mickelson that the tournament was the first time he'd picked up a golf club in five weeks. Assuming that's true, isn't that profoundly weird? How can you be one of the top two or three golfers of your generation and go five weeks without doing the thing you love? Did Mickelson also not have sex with his wife for five weeks? Did he give up chocolate for five weeks? Is this some weird golfer's version of Lent that I'm unaware of? They say that Wayne Gretzky, as a 2-year-old, would cry when the Saturday night hockey game on TV was over, because it seemed to him at that age unbearably sad that something he loved so much had to come to end, and I've always thought that was the simplest explanation for why Gretzky was Gretzky. And surely it's the explanation as well for why Mickelson will never be Tiger Woods.

Simmons: On Mickelson and Sports Lent, I remember watching one of those 20/20-Dateline-type pieces about him once, and he was adamant about remaining a family man, taking breaks from golf and never letting the sport consume him ... and I remember thinking to myself, "Right now Tiger is watching this and thinking, 'I got him. Cross Phil off the list. This guy will never pass me.'"

But I think there's a certain amount of professionalism that needs to be there, as well, because there will always be days when you don't feel like doing your job, and those are always the true tests. Halberstam has a great quote about this: "Being a professional is doing your job on the days you don't feel like doing it." I love that quote and mutter it to myself every time I don't feel like writing because my allergies are bothering me, or my back hurts, or my head hurts, or there's some random dog barking, or any of the other excuses I use when I'm procrastinating from pumping out something.

To read more about their views on what makes a successful NBA head coach, how to be a GM in the NBA, or how defense (specifically 'pressing') can best help an underdog compete with the favorite, click on the link below-

Young Coaches Join USA Basketball

Evansville's Chris Lowery, the head coach at Southern Illinois, and Purdue University's Matt Painter have been named to the coaching staff for the under-19 USA Basketball team that will compete in the World Championships this summer.

They will assist Pitt's Jamie Dixon, who was selected as head coach by the USA Basketball Men's Junior National Team Committee.

"This is an exceptional young coaching staff," said Jim Boeheim, who chaired the committee.

"Matt (Painter) has done a great job at Purdue retooling that program and what Chris (Lowery) has done is remarkable. Jamie Dixon has won more games in the Big East Conference than anybody in his first few years of coaching."

"They're young guys who have had a lot of success and I just think it's really a tremendous coaching staff."

Lowery, a Harrison High School graduate who played at SIU, said it was an honor to coach a USA age-group national team, but that he also going to treat the experience like a coaching seminar.

"It's an opportunity to work with some of the best coaches in America and pick their brains and see how they do things," Lowery said. "It's also a chance to see kids in other countries and the style they play."

Added Painter: "Any time you get the opportunity to represent your country, it's a tremendous honor. It's very humbling to be selected to work with USA Basketball.

"I'm also excited to get the opportunity to work with Coach Dixon and Coach Lowery, two coaches for whom I have tremendous respect."

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Moyes does his homework

Everton manager David Moyes is determined to try and find out everything he can about prospective new summer signings.

Moyes has prided himself on building a tight-knit unit at Goodison Park and doesn't want to bring in anyone who would upset the applecart.

The Scot told reporters: "For me it is important you get the correct characters."

"Sometimes you have to bring people in who aren't just the exact same because they help enhance the team in the dressing room as well."

"It is not always easy to get all the details about the players' personality. You have to do your homework and find out from the people who are close to them, but you tend to find they say they are great guys and everything is good."

"You have to do a little bit of delving and detective work to try to find out about them."

"But footballers are like anyone else. They want to come and play and be part of a team and part of a good set-up. I think when they get that, they tend to mould together."

Managers need to learn history lessons

Jon Carter of ESPN Soccernet wrote an article recently that was in line with a previous column I had written about whether great players making great managers.

After seeing both Marco Van Basten (Ajax) and Jurgen Klinsmann (Bayern Munich) get fired early this month, it leads you to believe that a longer apprenticeship and coaching pedigree might be needed before thrusting our star players into management.

When former Liverpool boss, and one of Europe's most highly respected coaches, Gerard Houllier was asked if players were taking on managerial roles too soon, he retorted: "Would a manager of a big company put somebody without experience into a key position in his company? No, he would not, but they do in football."

Football has shown itself to be willing to take risks on inexperience but, as the fledgling careers of Marco Van Basten and Jurgen Klinsmann came to end over the past few weeks, has also shown a naiveity when it comes to management decisions.

Neither manager was ready to take over their respective national teams when they ended their playing careers, but the powers-that-be decided to install a figurehead instead of a coach that would guarantee long-term stability. Klinsmann showed some early promise by leading Germany to the semi-finals in the 2006 World Cup, but his fragility was shown up in his ill-fated stint at Bayern Munich. His training methods garnered criticism, but the root of the problem stemmed from the fact that he had jumped from the pitch to the dugout far too quickly.

Van Basten, too, was scathing in his assessment of his own performance as boss of Ajax. "I came to the conclusion that my qualities are not enough to do better with this squad next season," he said upon resigning. Having spent far too little time as an Ajax youth coach, he cut his teeth with the Dutch national team and, despite more early promise and a flourish at Euro 2008, never totally convinced that he had the tools at his disposal to become a successful manager.

Great players do not automatically become great managers and, as a way of aiding a player's transition into coaching, the idea of them serving "apprenticeship" is appealing. Young players are forced to prove themselves during trials, reserve team games and training sessions, so why not a manager?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

D'Antoni aims to be the Knicks' savior

ESPN's Eric Neel wrote an outstanding piece on Mike D'Antoni, the head coach of the New York Knicks of the NBA.

D'Antoni is one of the league's most respected coaches, having strung together 60 win seasons in Phoenix and helped Coach K as an assistant with Team USA as they won the gold medal in the most recent Olympics.

You'd better not take yourself too seriously if you want to stick and someday shine in the Big Apple. The city demands a touch of vulgarity and a healthy dose of self-consciousness. The locals like regular folk with a bit of wisdom, or -- as they like to think of it -- some street smarts.

And here comes D'Antoni: no bluster, no fronting, no Nick Saban-style self-satisfaction. He's willing to laugh at himself. He lets you see the wheels turning, never pretends he has it all figured out. When he gets thumped, he says so. When things are clicking, he claims that, too.

We cast our coaches as geniuses, and he could go that route -- he has written two books, he speaks two languages and he sees combinations in a five-man running game the way Duke Ellington heard the daring possibilities in his band -- but more often than not he demystifies, sees you as someone who loves the game and casts himself in the same simple role.

Battier and Artest are Houston's Odd Couple

I had the chance to watch Shane Battier up close while working at Duke University, and he was probably the best team leader I had ever seen in college athletics.

Teamed with Ron Artest, the tandem are leading the upstart Houston Rockets in a head-to-head battle with the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Playoffs.

I was in Houston this past week, and Battier was quoted as comparing his Rockets heading into the Staples Center to play the Lakers 'like taking the Bad News Bears into the Astrodome to take on the Toros'.

J.A. Adande wrote a great piece on the NBA's version of Felix and Oscar.

Says Rockets forward Chuck Hayes: "With Shane, he demands respect because of his credibility. And Ron, he demands respect because he'll get in your face. We look up to them, we respond to them."

You'll see Artest gathering the players and trying to motivate them. Battier is often the one providing the technical details, pointing out where they should be on defense. He gives the final words to his teammates before they leave the tunnel and take the court, trying to leave them with a couple of last-minute reminders to focus on, like golfers' swing thoughts.
Battier's also the emergency sprinkler system in case Artest or anyone else gets too hot.

"I need to be a stabilizer for this team," Battier says. "It's up to me to stay the course and keep it steady. We have a lot of guys with a lot of emotion. That emotion can be good, and it can be bad. But it's my job to just sort of keep perspective to the guys and just be a calming influence."

Coppell steps down

Steve Coppell resigned as manager of Reading on Tuesday night after his club’s failure to reach the Coca-Cola Championship play-off final.

The Berkshire side were beaten 2-0 at the Madjeski Stadium by Burnley, 3-0 on aggregate, coming just a week after Reading failed to gain the home victory over Birmingham City that would have given them automatic promotion to the Premier League.

It was known that Coppell, very much his own man, had been considering his future even before last night’s result. He once walked away from the manager’s job at Manchester City in 1996 after six games and 33 days in charge.

Coppell had been manager at Reading since October 2003, gaining promotion to the Premier League after winning the Championship title in 2005-6. Reading were relegated to the second tier after two seasons in the top-flight, although a petition by fans concerned that their manager might feel honour-bound to resign convinced Coppell to stay. Coppell had been in management since 1984, starting with Crystal Palace, where he would end up having four different spells in charge.

Coppell was named the manager of Palace’s centenary XI by the fans, got Reading promoted to the Premier League and was so loved by supporters of the Berkshire club that they launched a successful petition begging him not to resign after the Royals were relegated back to the Championship.

He also spent time at Brentford and Brighton before taking charge at the Madejski Stadium. In all that time he has only been sacked once, instead choosing to walk away on his own accord on numerous occasions.

Coppell was a great servant for the club while a player at Manchester United, and steps away from Reading with a tremendous reputation among his peers and fans.

Where it has all gone wrong for Arsenal

Former Arsenal defender Lee Dixon did an outstanding tactical view of what Arsenal is missing in their team, and to him, it all starts with the hole in front of Arsenal's back four.

Patrick Vieira filled that role as good as anyone in the world during his time at Arsenal, but Dixon feels that a major void was left when Vieira departed.

Manager Arsene Wenger's biggest problem is he has never properly replaced Patrick Vieira.

The absence of a defensively minded midfielder in that crucial area in front of the back four makes their defence so vulnerable.

Centre-halves do not like going into that area because they feel out of their comfort zone.

The longer your back four stays intact the better chance you have of keeping the ball out of your area.

Arsenal's defence have been exposed time and time again this season.

Early in the season, when Nasri played in the middle against Everton, they got hit by a ball over the top.

Against United in the Champions League the blame for the crucial opening goal was put down to Kieran Gibbs' slip in the area.

But the reason they conceded was because nobody was protecting central midfield when they gave away the ball. Nobody challenged Anderson when he picked it up.

The reason Gibbs fell over was because he was running back and tried to change direction.

Gibbs is inexperienced and if that had been Nigel Winterburn he would have already been in the box waiting for the cross not running back.

I believe Wenger is one of the best managers there has ever been but I cannot explain why he has not replaced Flamini.

Little things like that contribute but what went before the slip was not the fault of Gibbs - the ball came into the box too easily.

When I played in the Arsenal back four we always had that protection in front of us.

You need someone to break things up; someone with a bit of intelligence who knows where to be in that area, when to push forward, when to support and when to drag someone back.

Vieira was brilliant at that. If he felt exposed he would get hold of someone and get them to help him.

In turn, our back four had a cigar in their mouths because he was doing the work for us.

Vieira was not a particularly good passer but he broke things up and then gave a simple pass that started the attack.

He made runs forward but when he did you could guarantee Emmanuel Petit would stay there and cover him.

They never went together and exposed that area in front of the centre-backs.