Why Jose Mourinho Hasn’t And Will Not Achieve Greatness At Real Madrid

The Real Madrid crowd have been booing recently. And surprisingly, the boos are directed towards two of the most important men in the team – Cristiano Ronaldo and Jose Mourinho. Their frustration with Cristiano Ronaldo is understandable to an extent, as he is the best player that Real Madrid could have had yet he is consistently outscored and outshone by their rival’s best player, Lionel Messi. However their frustration with Mourinho has deeper rooted reasons.

Never in the history of the club has any single person been bigger than the club itself. On the other hand, Mourinho is the type of personality who is strong and likes nothing standing in its way. In simpler words, Mourinho and Real Madrid are the complete opposites of each other. But it is a problem that could not have been thought before Mourinho’s appointment at the club. At first, it seemed like a match made in heaven. Real Madrid’s superstar egos needed to be controlled by someone who has managed it before. Mourinho’s success at Chelsea and Inter in achieving that sort of results suggests that he was more than capable of handling the pressure at Real Madrid. But at the moment, it seems like it is getting harder, even for the Special One himself.

One of the obvious reasons why Mourinho is unpopular with the Madridistas has to be the fact that he has not managed to unlock the code required to defeat Barcelona. His one off fluke success with Inter against Barcelona in the Champion’s League has been given far more importance than it actually deserved. It was felt at that moment that only Mourinho was the person capable of defeating the Catalans. Since being appointed as Real Madrid manager, he has defeated them only once. Agreed that it was in the finals of the Copa Del Rey, but when your arch rivals are busy lifting the Champions League trophy, it is hard to digest a cup victory.

Another reason for Mourinho’s unpopularity with the crowd is his outlandish and too an extent, classless behaviour (the Tito Vilanova incident). He has blamed everyone except his own players. He hasn’t spared the referees, the linesmen, the ball boys and not even UEFA, claiming that it was a conspiracy from their part to eliminate Real from last year’s Champions League. Even in the theatrical showdowns that the El Classicos have become, where it is now expected that both the teams will provide at least three players for the top acting honours, he has gone on to crucify Sergio Busquets, Pedro and Dani Alves, without even glinting an eye over his own crop of actors: Pepe, Sergio Ramos and Angel Di Maria. The Madrid fans would surely have appreciated if Mourinho came out and scolded Pepe for playacting in their Copa Del Rey second round match against Barca.

Real Madrid are a club like no other in world football. They have had exceptional talents gracefully exhibiting their skills on the pitch and conducting themselves admirably, off it too. An egoistic and brash manager with limited success (with Real Madrid, of course) is not what the Madrid faithful are used to. With Barcelona now seven points behind, Real Madrid can possibly win the La Liga title this year, without them having to beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou, and Mourinho, having completely lost the plot, has come out and said that it would be even better if they could do it that way. If Mourinho just somehow managed to feel what a normal Madrid faithful would, he would have known, that the deal would be sweeter if they included Barcelona in the mix.

It’s That Time Of The Season Again For Arsenal

There is always a season defining moment for every team in the league. For some, it is a hard fought win that shows maturity and fighting spirit. For others, it is a demoralising loss that saps away all their hopes of achieving anything. Unfortunately for Arsenal, in the recent past, it has always been the latter. None more so, than the last minute loss against Birmingham City in the Carling Cup final last season. At exactly the same stage in the season. Arsenal were fighting on four fronts before that loss. Within a span of 20 days, they were out of three.

Last week’s loss against Swansea City can prove to be that season defining moment for Arsenal this time around. Not because they lost to a promoted side who happened to play better football than them and beat them at their own game. Not because they lost the match before that as well. But, because these are exactly the sort of matches which have drained the confidence out of the side in the recent past. Arsenal were in a winning position in both of the matches. However due to profligacy in front of goal and a bewildering choice to sit on their lead for the remaining 70 minutes, they ended up on the losing side on both the occasions.

It can be a matter of great interest for psychology students to understand and compare the mindset of Arsenal and other champion teams. No matter the personnel, somehow Arsenal always manage to come under pressure, always manage to get bullied, always manage to break down. However when you compare this to Manchester United (or Barcelona or Manchester City for starters), their philosophy has always been about, not giving up and fighting till the last breath. It was argued that Arsenal lacked enough experienced players in the seasons before. However they haven’t been able to turn things around this time either, even with the signings of Arteta, Benayoun and Mertesacker. All experienced players and of enough quality.

So, the problem should lie somewhere else, right? And it does. The finger has to be painfully pointed towards Arsene Wenger for this. Wenger’s refusal to look at his squad’s shortcomings is not protecting them from media abuse, as he might think. It is his blatant refusal to accept his own mistakes. A refusal to accept his stubbornness, transfer tactics and tactical naivety. Arsenal desperately need to get out of the Financial Fair Play dreamland and realise that the big clubs will not budge to UEFA rulings and that there is always a loophole. Manchester City’s sponsorship deal with Etihad and Liverpool’s shirt sponsorship deal can point to this. Also, somehow, the feeling of settling for mediocrity has been unfortunately accepted by the board, the coach and the fans themselves. Peter Hill-Wood’s recent comment that failure to qualify for Champions league would not be a disaster, points to this fact. The feeling was bound to seep into the players at some point of time.

Considering these points, the next home match against Manchester United could not have come at a worse time for Arsenal. Though United haven’t exactly been spectacular this season, they are still there at the top, fighting for the league title. A loss against United at this juncture will all but end Arsenal’s hope for qualifying for the Champions League positions. A draw would still be a favourable result, but more so for United. A win will probably delay the inevitable, but the duration surely can only be a matter of debate.

Get Over Henry and Score Goals Arsenal

Ever since the news broke out regarding Thierry Henry’s return to Arsenal, all headlines related to Arsenal have been about Henry only. So much so, that all the previous attention being paid to Robin Van Persie has evaporated in an instant. It is understandable to an extent as well considering the legend of Henry at the club. And the headlines don’t look like stopping any time soon as Henry completed his fairy tale return with a match winning goal against Leeds in the F.A. Cup.

In all this hoop-la, a very serious issue has been sidelined as well, the lack of goals being scored by Arsenal. In their previous 11 matches, Arsenal have been able to score more than one goal in only two of them. Somehow this point has gone rather unnoticed because of the fact that Arsenal have been winning or drawing most of the matches and their defence has been doing the job more often than not. The old ‘One-Nil to the Arsenal’ seems to be telling less and hiding more in this context.

Here’s Arsenal’s performance in their last 11 matches:-

Premier League

Home Team

Score

Away team

Arsenal

1-1

Fulham

Wigan Athletic

0-4

Arsenal

Arsenal

1-0

Everton

Manchester City

1-0

Arsenal

Aston Villa

1-2

Arsenal

Arsenal

1-1

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Arsenal

1-0

Queens Park Rangers

Fulham

2-1

Arsenal

Champions League

Olympiakos

3-1

Arsenal

F.A. Cup

Arsenal

1-0

Leeds United

Carling Cup

Arsenal

1-0

Manchester City

 

Arsenal have been heavily reliant on Robin Van Persie for goals this season, but it is so, only because the other players in the team are not clinical enough. Most notably, Gervinho and Andrei Arshavin have managed to miss more chances than any other player in the team. Other culprits include Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott. Had these players managed to take their chances in any of the above matches, the results would have had a far more resounding appeal to them as compared to their current state.

Arsenal’s tendency to walk the ball into the net has also been a reason for these scorelines. Against Everton, Arsenal had the chances to kill off the game in the first half itself, where they managed to create 4 clear cut opportunities only for them to be squandered by playing that one extra pass. Similarly against Wolves and Fulham, Arsenal had chances to increase their leads but managed to squander the chances due to over elaborating.

Henry has said that he would love to pass on his experience to these young Arsenal players and quite simply the best advice that he can give to these players is to improve their shooting skills from range. Henry was (is?) a master at long range strikes and if he could pass on the technique to some of the Arsenal players, that would be the greatest piece of knowledge that Arsenal fans could hope for.

Arsenal’s current crop of youngsters and fringe players has a great chance to learn from the legend himself and would be doing so as well. Especially Theo Walcott has a chance to learn from the man who has done it himself in the past. A winger turned striker who went on to become one of the best the game has ever seen.

 

Time To Right The Wrongs For Sir Alex

When Manchester United lost to Newcastle at the weekend, Sir Alex refuted the suggestions of a panic situation in the Manchester United camp. And on the face of it, the denial seems to be justified. After all, they are just 3 points off the pace in the league, still in the thick of the two-horse race for the Premier League title. But deep down Sir Alex knows that the situation is not what it should have been.

Last season, when Manchester United won the record 19th title, everyone agreed to an extent that this title was not won because of Manchester United being stronger or better, but because of the challenging teams not being up to the mark. Back then, Manchester City were not as experienced, Chelsea were going through an extremely bad patch and Arsenal were in shambles as usual. The shortcomings of their squad were rather cruelly highlighted in the Champions League final at Wembley where they succumbed to a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Barcelona. It was clearly evident that midfield reinforcements were required post Paul Scholes’ retirement. Somehow, Sir Alex chose not to invest in the midfield position and decided to go the Wenger way of promoting youth. A choice not turning out to be a wise one at the moment.

After Paul Scholes’ retirement and Darren Fletcher’s forced exile from football, Sir Alex opted for the central midfield pairing of Tom Cleverly and Anderson. Although the pair worked well in the opening matches, injuries have caused a rather precarious midfielder shortage at the club, a situation which ideally should have been handled in the summer transfer window itself. Had United completed the signings of a proper central midfielder and a defensive midfielder instead of signing a winger and a defender, their position might have been much stronger.

The winter transfer window presents the perfect opportunity for Sir Alex, to correct these mistakes. First and foremost United need to buy a proper defensive midfielder. Carrick’s failed auditions in this position should signal a move for Danielle De Rossi. Although people may argue that Phil Jones seems more than capable of playing as a central midfielder, he is first and foremost a central defender and should be seen as a long term replacement for Rio Ferdinand rather than Roy Keane’s reincarnation. Central Attacking midfield is a position where United can afford to risk not buying a player. With Tom Cleverly returning from injury, this position can be taken care of. Also Wayne Rooney may also enjoy playing in this position as it will allow him a greater chance to roam across the pitch and pick holes in opposition defence. Next up, a left back. Patrice Evra has been distinctly average for a couple of seasons now and his deputies, Da Silva twins are more often than not in the treatment room. United needs to buy a good solid left back and ask Patrice Evra to move on. Leighton Baines, anyone.

Recent return of Paul Scholes to the squad can at best be described as a move to paper over the cracks. He still has the awareness and vision, if not the legs to compete at the highest level. He managed to complete 71 passes while playing just 35 minutes during his return to the pitch against Manchester City, i.e. more passes than any other player on the pitch during the entire game. But if he found it hard to complete 90 minutes during the last season, it is debatable how he could cope with it this time around.

At the time of writing this article Sir Alex has rejected the idea of signing any player during the winter transfer window, a decision which might backfire in case of any further injuries to Phil Jones or Carrick. The squad is threadbare at the moment and Paul Scholes will certainly not solve the problem. Maybe Sneijder or De Rossi will.

 

The Convenience Of Neglecting Stoke

Every year the most interesting discussions about the Premier League revolve around the Champions League Places, the relegation battle and Liverpool’s continued failures to reaffirm their status as one of Premier League favourites. Amongst all these discussions, it is sometimes safely assumed that the mid table will most surely be filled by the Aston Villas, Fulhams and Evertons of the league. And more often than not, this used to be a correct prediction as well. But this year, a cursory look at the mid table will suggest a significant change in the proceedings. Stoke City are sitting 8th in the table, just a point behind 7th placed Newcastle and 4 points above 9th placed Norwich City.

When Stoke got promoted to the Premier League in 2008-09 season, every football pundit tipped them to be relegated in their first season back in top flight. Three years past, Stoke are sitting comfortably in mid table and are in the last 32 of the Europa League. Over these three years Stoke’s style of play has evolved from being brutally physical to being reliant on wing play and using set pieces wisely. Agreed that their style of play is still overly physical, especially while at set pieces, no one can argue that the other facets of their game have improved considerably. But while opposition managers can continue to harp on them for  using rugby tactics, it can be simply nullified by countering that it is a style of play nonetheless. It is clear that Tony Pulis and his squad realises that they cannot play the game with as much technical astuteness as say Arsenal or Tottenham, so,  they have mastered their very own style, of dominating aerial battles and sharp counter attacks.

It is hard to argue that Stoke’s current position in the Premier League is a misleading statistic. Under Tony Pulis, the club has gone from strength to strength each season, reaching the FA cup final in 2010-11 season and qualifying for the Europa League in the same year. This season, the squad is even stronger with shrewd signings of Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios and Jonathan Woodgate, while retaining the usual suspects Ryan Shawcross, Robert Huth, Matthew Etherington and Rory Delap.

This season, Stoke have held Chelsea and Manchester United to draws at home, while defeating Liverpool and Tottenham at home as well. Their away form has not been as good as their home form, but that can be attributed to the fatigue caused by midweek Europa games as well. Still with the position that they are in the Premier League and Europa League, they would be more than satisfied with what they have achieved so far.

When Andy Gray said last year that Barcelona would suffer on a cold night at the Britannia, he was laughed and ridiculed. A year later, Stoke are getting ready to invite Barcelona’s challengers Valencia to the Britannia stadium. Is it the same as facing Barcelona? No. But is it a step in the right direction? Probably yes.