I thought they were different

New depths: You can't take our history but today is another low point.

New depths: You can’t take our history but today is another low point. Photo: Waywardeffort

Football has officially gone mad.

Many will have told you this happened a long time ago but no-one ever takes anything seriously until it affects their own club, and now it has.

The Al Hasawi family sacked Nottingham Forest manager Sean O’Driscoll after a 4-2 home win over Leeds United left them a point off the Championship’s top six.

The decision makes a mockery of their family’s promises.

I had been pleasantly surprised by the Kuwaiti’s management of Forest since they bought the club in July.

They appointed Sean O’Driscoll, a manager who knew the club after a spell as Steve Cotterill’s number two last season, and had a good record in the Championship.

Funds were made available to assemble a very competitive Championship squad with no pressure statements of ‘we must get promoted this season’.

Instead we were assured they were in it or the long haul, wanted to build a sustainable club and in time return Forest to the promised land.

But all the gloss and good will built up with the fans started to fade in the past few weeks as the players were paid late, bills went unpaid and the club’s credit card was refused in Brighton.

A shiny new replay screen was installed for the game against Leeds, something the City Ground has been crying out for, but it was clearly just another attempt to curry favour.

For after the mightily impressive result against Neil Warnock’s men the owners decided to part company with O’Driscoll after all his good work.

The manager had a group of strangers just one point from the play-off spots with half a season left to gel them into a team.

His sacking is just as baffling as Gareth Southgate’s when Middlesbrough had just won 2-0 to sit a point from top in the Championship.

That was in 2009 and ‘Boro are still trying for promotion to the Premier League now.

Short-term plans very rarely work out and sacking a manager clearly respected by his player’s after just six months in the job is ludicrous in the extreme.

Gloomy Trent End

A dark day: Forest have been in the doldrums and can’t help but shoot themselves in the foot. Photo: Torcello Trio

O’Driscoll may not have been the Kuwaiti’s first choice, proclaiming as they did to look for an ‘iconic’ name.

But he was doing his job well and the excuse of wanting a manager with Premier League experience is rubbish.

We are a Championship side, let us worry about the Premier League if and when we get there.

Paul Lambert, Nigel Adkins and Brendan Rodgers are just a few examples of managers without Premier League experience but all have won promotion in recent seasons.

For now all I can say is good luck to Sean O’Driscoll, wherever he may go next – one lucky club will be getting a very fine manager.

And why would any player now want to sign for Forest in January, with a brand new manager who knows nothing about the club?

Photos: Waywardeffort, Torcello Trio, rutty

Fan Fever

Recent events in the Premier League have called into question the degree to which supporters should follow their club without regard for circumstances and understanding of a situation. Whilst listening to ex-cricketer Geoffrey Boycott discuss his love of Manchester United on radio 5Live I was struck that he took umbrage with being called a fan, preferring to be referred to as a supporter. He noted that a supporter, by nature, simply supports whereas a fan is, by nature, a fanatic. While some may disregard the subtle difference between the two terms, it is an important one. A supporter is simply someone who supports, but a fanatic is defined by ‘excessive enthusiasm and often intense uncritical devotion’.

Wolves Supporters Celebrate Together

Wolves Supporters Celebrate Promotion Together. Photo: TGIGreeny

The personal abuse Steve Kean has been subjected to by Blackburn Rovers ‘supporters’ this season has little to do with his team’s performances on the pitch. All supporters have a right to voice their opinion on their team’s performance, its management and how the club is run. Some people seem to confuse this with an excuse to shout obscenities and personal abuse though, these are not the actions of a supporter.

Luis Suarez

Luis Suarez argued that the language he used is not perceived to be racist in his native Uruguay. Photo: jikatu

Patrice Evra returned to Anfield recently for the first time since the incident which led to Liverpool striker Luis Suarez receiving an eight game ban. The booing he received from all corners of Anfield could be expected from a passionate Liverpool crowd and accepted against their fiercest rivals were it not for the fact that Evra was singled out. None of the other Manchester United players were subjected to the booing received by their captain, suggesting that Liverpool fans were condemning him for having been a victim of racist abuse which led to their striker being punished. This booing was again, not an act of support but of uncritical devotion that portrayed the Liverpool crowd to be condoning the racist actions of their player.

Chelsea followers’ recent treatment of the Ferdinand brothers has also crossed the line beyond support. The sending of a bullet in the post to younger brother Anton, and subsequent booing of elder brother Rio in Sunday’s encounter at Stamford Bridge displayed a lack of critical thought towards their club that epitomises the actions of a fanatic. Chelsea defender John Terry is charged with racially abusing Anton Ferdinand following a complaint to the police by a member of the public, not Ferdinand himself. The criminal prosecution service clearly saw enough in the evidence to charge Terry, so why should the Ferdinand brothers be subjected to abuse when they have done nothing wrong?

Following a football team elicits emotions from sublime joy to gut-wrenching disappointment, supporters embrace this and support their team through thick and thin. However, people shouldn’t be so myopic and unwavering in support of their club that they lack the ability to criticise the actions of their club or player if they are in the wrong.

So shout, cheer, jeer and applaud as much as you want, but never cross the line from supporter to fanatic.

Photos: Wolves supporters – TGIGreeny, Suarez – jikatu

Hypocritical Wenger?

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger spoke recently of his dislike for the current loan regulations that prevent a loanee playing against their parent club. He said: “Personally, I would not ban players on loan from playing against their own clubs. What I would like to see in the Premier League is that you are not allowed to loan players over the age of 21”.

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger wants changes to the current loan rules. Photo: Ronnie Macdonald

Wenger’s comments reiterated a point he made in November, that Manchester City are effectively paying Emmanuel Adebayor to score for Tottenham against City’s rivals, but that he is not allowed to do the same against City. Wenger perceives this to be unfair, an exploitation of the loan system that was introduced to aid the development of young players not getting a chance at their own club.

City’s riches mean they have a surplus of talented players, and with no need to rapidly remove them from their wage bill they can be loaned out to rival sides. In doing so these players can attract interest from other clubs for a permanent deal and potentially help City in the process. Some would argue that this is just a benefit of having wealthy owners and that while it is permitted by the regulations then teams and managers shouldn’t be criticised for doing so.

Thierry Henry warms up for New York Red Bulls

Henry (34 yrs) is currently on loan at Arsenal from New York Red Bulls. Photo: checkbrazil

Wenger is known for his footballing ideologies though and the concept of the über rich owner flaunting their wealth and control over other sides clearly doesn’t sit right with the Frenchman. So whilst he is happy to let his young players go out on loan he would rather not see older professionals loaned between clubs. Were it not for the fact that Arsenal currently have two players in their 30s on loan, Thierry Henry and Yossi Benayoun, then it would be easier to sympathise with Wenger’s views. He has taken these players on loan to supplement his squad that is lacking depth and experience, arguably due to his mis-management.

The current regulations also prevent any possible allegations of corruption. Were Adebayor allowed to play against City then questions would be raised as to where the player’s true allegiances lay. Should he miss an easy chance to score against his parent club there would inevitably be suspicions of foul play and the integrity of the player would be called into question. So whilst loans are allowed it seems the safest option to prevent a loanee lining up against their parent club.

The loan system in its current form is beneficial to all clubs, however it does appear to favour the richer ones. I agree with Wenger that over 21 players shouldn’t be loaned, and I suspect more football traditionalists would concur with the Arsenal manager’s views were he not being somewhat of a hypocrite in saying so. If teams were forced to name their 25 man squad at the end of each transfer window, with no loanees over 21, it may force managers to reconsider their transfer policy and produce a more sustainable financial future for their club.

Photos: Wenger – Ronnie Macdonald, Henry – checkbrazil

Race To The Promised Land

Queens Park Rangers are, barring any punitive action from the FA and the courts, all but promoted to the Premier League. This leaves a five-way battle for the remaining automatic promotion spot and, optimistic Watford fans will tell you, an eight team fight for 6th spot and the final playoff place.

Picture of a finish line.

The finish line is in sight for Championship clubs but who will be victorious? Photo jayneandd http://www.flickr.com/photos/jayneandd/4450623309/

With this in mind is it any wonder than many call the npower Championship the most exciting league in the world? Financial services company Deloitte have calculated the Championship Playoff Final to be the most valuable single fixture in world football. Add this to the sheer unpredictability of the division and it is no wonder it sits behind only the top leagues in England, Germany and Spain as the fourth most attended football (soccer) division in the world. The staggering audiences captivated by the topsy-turvy nature of the competition rank the Championship above the top divisions in France, Holland, Italy, Portugal, Argentina, Brazil, North America and Scotland. It makes you wonder why anyone would ever want to leave the division!

The carrot dangling in front of them is worth the trials, often literally (just ask Cardiff and Portsmouth), and tribulations though; the Barclays Premier League is the holy grail all English Football League teams strive for. It’s wealth knows no bounds and offers players and managers the chance to pit themselves against some of the best talent the footballing world has to offer.

Here then is my assessment and (foolishly) predictions of who will be strutting their stuff in the promised land next season, and who will be left to toil away in the unforgiving world of the Championship for at least another twelve months.

(Before I start I should inform you that I am a Nottingham Forest fan. I will attempt to remain impartial and objective throughout but given recent results don’t be surprised if I’m a little harsh on some of the teams above the reds in the league).

Automatic As It Stands (Remaining Fixtures):

As of 17-04-11

Team P GD PTS Remaining Fixtures
2 Cardiff 42 24 75 QPR H, Preston A, M’boro H, Burnley A
3 Norwich 42 19 74 Ispwich A, Derby H, P’mouth A, Coventry H
4 Reading 42 26 72 Leeds A, Sheff Utd H, Coventry A, Derby H
5 Swansea 42 18 70 P’mouth A, Ipswich H, Millwall, A, Sheff Utd H

Cardiff have the box seat at the minute, but all the teams barring Reading have held that second spot at some point in the last month so that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Judging by the form table Reading will overtake Cardiff with two games to play, but that can also mean very little now the expectation levels have been raised at the Madejski. Pressure is a funny old thing and both Cardiff and Forest buckled under it at the business end of last season.

Looking at each teams respective run-ins you would surmise that Cardiff have the more difficult fixtures, QPR could clinch promotion with a win, Preston still have Championship survival in their sights and Burnley could still be in with shout of the play-offs come the last day of the season.

Norwich face four teams all with very little left to play for, often an easier task but occasionally, without the pressure of needing a result, a team can relax and play the sort of football they wish they’d been playing all season long.

Reading’s next two games are against Yorkshire rivals with much to play for but for very different reasons, but their final two fixtures shouldn’t pose too many problems if they continue to play as they have been recently.

And finally Swansea, their place in the playoffs seems secure but they faltered at the wrong time last year and missed out completely so will want to avoid a repeat this season. Their games look relatively simple on paper with Millwall away looking like the biggest threat to their promotion hopes.

History suggests that Cardiff don’t have the mental fortitude to do what is needed and seal their place in the Premier League over the coming weeks. Norwich have forged a reputation as a never-say-die team with numerous late goals to earn them extra points this season. Reading are on a phenomenal run of eight league wins on the trot, can they really do the unthinkable and keep it going to snatch second? Swansea are the outsiders and seem to be falling away at just the wrong time, they’ll still make the playoffs but second seems a little out of reach this season.

I seem to be siding with Reading at the moment, folklore suggests there’s always a team to go on a late season run and force their way into the promotion shake-up somehow. Usually it’s into 6th place and then win the playoffs (see Blackpool last season), Reading seem determined to go one better though and steal the automatic spot from the teams that have been up there all season long.

The Race For 6th As It Stands (Remaining Fixtures):

As of 17-04-11

Team P GD PTS Remaining Fixtures
7 Leeds 42 10 65 Reading H, C Palace A, Burnley H, QPR A
8 Nott’m Forest 42 10 63 Leicester H, Bristol City A, S’thorpe H, C Palace A
9 Hull 42 6 63 M’boro H, QPR A, C Palace H, Bristol City A
10 Millwall 42 12 61 Preston H, S’thorpe A, Swansea H, Barnsley A
11 Leicester 42 2 60 Nott’m Forest A, Watford H, Doncaster A, Ipswich H
12 Burnley 41 1 60 M’boro H, Derby A, P’mouth H, Leeds A, Cardiff H
13 Ipswich 42 2 59 Norwich H, Swansea A, Preston H, Leicester A
14 Watford 42 11 58 Barnsley H, Leicester A, QPR, H, Preston A
Playoff Final 2011

Wembley will be the destination for two teams come the end of May. Photo Terry Robinson http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/1873256

First off I’d like to eliminate Leicester, Ipswich and Watford. With games against each other as well as fellow promotion rivals it would take something extraordinary for any of these three sides to overhaul Leeds and grab sixth, I’m not saying it’s beyond possibility but it’s very close.

Leeds have been in and around the playoff positions for the vast majority of the season but their remaining games look the toughest of the bunch. They’ve consistently picked up points throughout the season though without going through a truly bad patch so may just have enough points in hand to scrape over the finish line.

If we’re talking about bad patches then Forest are your team, second bottom of the form table with four points from a possible twenty-four. This is a team very capable of putting together a winning run though as their spell from December to February shows. It’s largely the same players that fell in the playoffs last year though and they seem to be running out of steam at just the wrong time again, the Forest fan in me keeps saying anything is possible but the realist is having none of it unfortunately.

Hull and Millwall have crept their way up the table of late and are now within striking distance, Hull have the points advantage but were it to come down to goal difference Millwall currently have the upper hand. Hull also seem to have the slightly more favourable run of games to finish off and those two extra points could prove to be the difference.

This leaves Burnley, were they to win their game in hand that would take them up to 10th – level on points withForest and Hull but with a vastly inferior goal difference. With Cardiff to play on the final day of the season their chances seem slim and they need to start banging in the goals to have a chance.

So it seems I’ve narrowed it down to Leeds or Hull, whoever does end up in the 6th spot I don’t believe will have enough to go all the way though (unless of course Forest win four on the bounce!). The four teams above them have shown themselves to be just that little bit better over the season, and no-one seems to be riding the wave of form we’ve seen in the past that would sweep all in front of them away.

Money and calculator

There will be plenty of money available for those who make it to the Premier League but it must be spent wisely. Photo Tax_Rebate http://www.flickr.com/photos/59937401@N07/5474761220/in/photostream

The Playoffs:

There we have it then, the playoffs will see Cardiff, Norwich, Swansea and either Leeds or Hull fight it out for the one remaining spot in the Premier League. If I were a betting man I’d put my money on Norwich, but I’m not so my wallet will stay safely in my pocket.

So QPR, Reading and Norwich will be plying their trade in the promised land next season if I’m to be believed. But better people than me have tried to predict the outcome of the Championship for years and not fared any better so take my words with a pinch of salt and go with what you think will happen. You probably won’t be right either but that’s the point and why we love the Championship so, you never can tell what’s going to happen next.