Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Wrexham FC - The Summer So Far and Hopes of Promotion (Again)

It hasn't taken new boss Gary Mills long to stamp his authority onto the goings on at Wrexham FC has it? From the outside looking in, he certainly looks like a man who knows what he wants to do and has set about doing it in both words and actions. After the (admittedly disastrous) Dennis the Menace (anniversary) season, the reds will resort to playing in “red” again and somehow that just feels more comfortable as a starting point. With his clear-out of the playing (and coaching) staff Mills has made it perfectly clear that there is no room for sentiment this season after the emotional highs and lows of the 150th celebrations.

Useless Trivia Alert – Wrexham FC Managers and Panini Stickers

How many Wrexham FC managers (permanent boss not caretakers) have appeared in a Panini football sticker album as a player? Well, new boss Gary Mills is certainly one – I remember him as a Nottingham Forest sticker. Dean Saunders is another – I remember him as an Oxford United sticker (he probably also appeared for Brighton, Liverpool and Aston Villa amongst others). It’s too far back for me, but I believe Brian Flynn appeared – certainly for Burnley – did he sneak in with Leeds United too? Are there any others?

Players Out

At the time of writing, these are the players to have left Wrexham: Dean Keates, Jay Harris, Kyle Storer, Joe Clarke and Elliott Durrell (that’s a whole midfield right there!). In addition, Neil Ashton, Andy Bishop, Nick Rushton, Anthony Stephens, Sam Finley and Luke Waterfall have left the club. That’s 11 first team squad members gone in one swoop! The new manager has stated his desire to work with a small squad so that may go some way to explaining why quite so many have been allowed to leave.

There is no denying that those players were more than decent on their day but there was an increasing feeling amongst fans that a staleness had crept into the squad despite the arrival of Louis Moult, Manny Smith, Wes York and Blaine Hudson for the start of 2014-2015.

Can a Manager be Too Nice?

I say this not wanting to rock any boat (and it’s my opinion only) but I also wonder whether the last couple of managers were a little bit “too nice” to get the full potential out of the squads they inherited. (Nobody can deny that the players have only performed sporadically over the last 2 seasons). Andy Morrell is one of my favourite Wrexham players ever and one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and by all accounts Kevin Wilkin is also a thoroughly decent man but perhaps Gary Mills with his straight talking, no nonsense, and “old-school” attitude to running a football club is exactly what Wrexham FC needed in this moment in time. A bit more “knowhow” and a ruthless streak perhaps?

Players In

With so many players leaving, it’s probably fair to say that a fairly restrictive transfer budget suddenly looked a lot healthier for the new boss with a pretty clean slate to work with. So far we have seen Sean Newton, Adriano Moke, Javan Vidal, Dominic Vose, Lee Fowler and Cameron Belford added to the squad. With the promise of new strikers (perhaps another central defender will be required after the departure of Waterfall) and the new “smaller”, increasingly younger squad seems to be taking shape.

A Familiar Formation?

If the new season started tomorrow (and injuries were miraculously healed) could the starting 11 look something like this?

GK: Belford

Defenders: Newton, Hudson, Smith, Vidal

Midfield: Moke, Vose, Fowler

Forwards: York, Moult, Jennings (Provided the latter puts pen to paper)

Subs: Evans, Carrington, Tomassen, White, Coughlin

From the look of the above, those promised new forward players and another defender will certainly be needed to guarantee any sort of depth to the squad – especially as Gary Mills is committed to the 4-3-3 formation.

I doubt any of the new signings have been brought in specifically to be substitutes so it looks like Rob Evans, Mark Carrington and the like will have to force their way into the reckoning by being right at it come pre-season training – which is no bad thing.

As we approach the new 2015-2016 season in the newly named National League does the Good Ship Wrexham FC have its rudder in place? It would appear that we have a captain who knows where he wants to steer it at least! The club website also reports that Season tickets are selling well for the new season at the Racecourse Ground.

Come On You Reds!

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Wrexham AFC Anniversary - 150 Not Out

Wrexham Football Club is 150 years old this year and although celebrations would ideally continue until next spring, culminating in promotion back to the Football League, in the short term, October 11th 2014 is the focal point with what is billed as the Anniversary Match against Grimsby Town FC. Provided I can still get a ticket on Friday afternoon, I will be there (travelling from Newark on Trent) to make sure I am part of the historic occasion.

I am not the most religious of followers – there are those that simply don’t miss a match, ever – so I can’t and won’t claim to be in their league but I do love Wrexham FC! I have witnessed promotions, relegations, incredible cup ties (ones that have gone well for the Dragons and those that have not), I have seen the team play at famous stadiums like Wembley (twice), Old Trafford, Goodison Park and I have seen them play at Runcorn. I have also seen the club on the brink of extinction and in this modern era of football, where the game (especially at the top level) is more of a business than a sport – it is nothing short of a miracle (and some amazing supporters) that the club has survived to reach this incredible milestone.

I am really looking forward to an afternoon at the Racecourse Ground, especially such a significant one. I am sure fans of other teams would say the same about their own stadiums, but there really is no place like the Racecourse! It’s a million miles from being a state of the art stadium, where even the newest Mold Road stand is beginning to show its age a little (leaky roof anyone?) but it just feels like my football home. It can generate a pretty awesome atmosphere too – even with only a few thousand in the ground and one end completely empty but I remember the days of a full Kop (I also remember standing at the back of a near empty Kop!) bouncing and in full voice.

I am only in my early 40’s, so I’ve missed almost 110 years of Wrexham’s 150 but still have a lengthy list of amazing memories. It will be great to see the legends - not Rockin Robin or Wrex the Dragon (although they are great too) – but those ex-players who gave their heart and soul for the club. My first favourite player was Dixie McNeil and I have enjoyed watching many others since - scoring great goals, making fabulous tackles and flying across the goal making match winning saves!

There is no other team like Wrexham AFC, there is no other football ground like the Racecourse Ground - it’s all just really special! Happy Anniversary Wrexham AFC and here’s to another 150!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Top 10 World Cup 2014 Highlights - Rodriguez, Messi, Van Persie, Robben, Neymar Light up Brazil

Brazil 2014 is widely considered as one of the best World Cup Finals ever (if not the best) and we are only just at the quarter final stage. In South Africa, 4 years ago it would have been very difficult to pick out 10 highlights at all, let alone by the quarter final stage. So who and what has made this tournament so compelling so far?

1. James Rodriguez has scored 5 goals (plus 2 assists) and has been the undisputed star of the World Cup up to this point. Rodriguez has led the way in Colombia’s very impressive march to the quarter finals but there is one moment that stands head and shoulders above the rest – his stunning goal against Uruguay in the round of 16. His vision, followed by the control and execution of the amazing volley will take some beating if it isn't to be crowned best goal of the World Cup.

2. Lionel Messi and Argentina haven’t played particularly well but they find themselves in the quarter finals and still in with a chance of lifting the trophy at the Maracana. However, truly great players, and Messi is certainly one of those, can lift themselves when the team most needs it. Messi has made key contributions in each of Argentina’s 4 matches to date. The decisive goal in their opener against Bosnia-Hercegovina, a double strike against Nigeria and a last minute winner against Iran took his team through to a meeting with Switzerland in the round of 16. With the game deep into extra time and seemingly heading to penalties, Messi looked totally exhausted. He somehow summoned up the energy to dispossess a defender and run with the ball before laying off a perfect pass for Angel Di Maria to slot home and win the game.

3. Neymar has been described as the poster boy for this World Cup in his own country. Certainly one of the best players in the world, expectation was high and just like Argentina have looked unremarkable, needing Messi to bail them out, so too with Brazil. Two goals in each of his country’s opening and closing group games ensured passage to the round of 16 for the ordinary looking hosts. Neymar played on after an early injury in a gruelling encounter with Chile and scored the decisive penalty in the shootout. Brazil need to at least get to the final for their tournament to hailed a moderate success – such is the expectation, but Neymar has certainly made his mark.

4. Costa Rica have been the surprise package at Brazil 2014. With 2 wins (against Uruguay and Italy) and a draw (against England), the Costa Ricans topped their group with 7 points. They needed a penalty shootout to see off Greece in the last 16 but it was another deserved victory as they battled through 24 minutes of the second half and the whole of extra time with 10 men following the sending off of Duarte. They will need to raise their game again to stand any chance against the Netherlands in the quarter finals but who knows?

5. Goalkeepers always play their part in World Cup tournaments but whereas some previous competitions are remembered for their “dodgy keepers” this one in Brazil has seen some of the “number 1’s” truly excel. Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico), Tim Howard (USA) and Keylor Navas (Costa Rica) certainly deserve a mention for a string of superb performances and can take bow along with some of the world’s great strikers for truly making a difference at this tournament.

6. The Underdogs – We have already mentioned Costa Rica’s heroics but whilst they have perhaps been the most successful of the underdogs, there have been plenty of others who have fought and battled in an attempt to overturn the form guide. Performances from the USA, Algeria, Nigeria, Greece, Ghana, Iran and Australia have ensured there have been no easy rides for the favourites and have probably delighted the bookmakers in the process as punters trying to predict correct score lines have been left baffled!

7. The Goals – No World Cup worth its salt can get away without having some great goals to look back on. Brazil 2014 hasn’t disappointed! We may not have seen much in the way of great free kicks yet but there have been some truly stunning goals to savour. James Rodriguez has not one but two great goals so far, one the sublime volley from distance and the other a jinking run and little chip over the keeper. The Netherlands racked up a host of goals against Spain in their opener and Robin Van Persie’s diving header and Arjen Robben’s twisting, turning run were fantastic. Lionel Messi has contributed too along with Neymar, Gervinho, Tim Cahill, Luiz Suarez, Jermaine Jones and Ahmed Musa to name but a few.

8. The race for the golden boot is a hot one this year with at least 7 contenders still in the tournament at the quarter final stage. James Rodriguez leads the way (5), Thomas Muller, Messi and Neymar are in the chasing pack (4) with Benzema, Robben and Van Persie all still in with a shout with 3 goals each.

9. The Managers and Coaches have been a revelation at this world cup with the majority of them committed to attacking football and winning matches rather than trying to preserve their own reputations by simply setting out to avoid defeat (a virus that has been present in many previous tournaments). Their passion and determination has also been evident with entertaining and animated displays up and down their technical areas. The players may get all the glory but let’s not forget these coaches that have given so much.

10. The Fans also deserve a mention. The build up to the tournament was filled with news headlines about the possibility of mass demonstrations that whilst understandable, certainly had the potential to take the shine off the football. However, what we have seen from the supporters of all nations is a fervency and enthusiasm that has been contagious. This has probably been the most noisy, colourful world cup ever, with perhaps the yellow of Brazil being the most dominant of bright colours. On the whole it seems that fans have been well behaved and have certainly helped to create the fabulous atmosphere at all of the stadiums.

The only thing wrong with this world cup (asides from the odd bit of biting) is that it has to come to an end at all. Only 8 matches remaining (sad face).

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Should Luis Suarez be banned for “Biting” at the World Cup in Brazil?

Luis Suarez is a supremely gifted footballer who unfortunately has a habit of losing control on the pitch and after “allegedly” biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in Uruguay’s final World Cup group game, Suarez’ career is once more in the dock.

At the time of writing, FIFA have yet to come forward with a decision on what disciplinary action (if any) it will hand out to Suarez. Some are suggesting a complete ban from the remainder of the world cup, others believe a much harsher sentence is deserved, with this being the third “biting” incident the player has been involved in.

There are certainly those who dislike Luis Suarez and would love to see his career ended and there are those (not just Liverpool fans) who would somehow like to see him rehabilitated so that the sport can retain the services of one of its greatest modern day players.

There are many different arguments of course, one being that if a company employee were to bite a fellow worker, that he (or she) would surely be sacked. Others point to the fact that this is not a one off lapse in concentration or self-restraint and that Suarez might have deeper underlying problems that need dealing with. All valid points.

Some might say that football is out of control altogether. How many players receive multiple red cards in their career and simply get away with a three match ban every time and perhaps an insignificant fine from their clubs? Remember, very often a red card is dished out for violent conduct! There is no excuse for biting – it is violent and vile but perhaps the same can be said of the deliberate use of elbows or those horror tackles where the studs are showing – they are all acts of violence and very often they are repeated by players again and again with intent. Where is their punishment?

Luis Suarez is at a critical point in his career and one would argue, his life in general. A hefty ban, could impact not just his (and his country’s) World Cup but his club career too. Despite a simply stunning season for Liverpool last time out, the Uruguayan is clearly unhappy with the way he is treated by the English media and may possibly be looking for an escape route with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid showing more than a little interest. However, will anyone want to pay in excess of £70 million for a player who not only has some major issues but might also be banned for a significant amount of time? Will Liverpool, or can Liverpool stand by their man once more in the face of such global condemnation and pressure?

For what it’s worth, I believe that Suarez needs to be punished accordingly and given perhaps a final warning, that when returning from the latest ban, if it were to happen again a life ban would be waiting. At the same time, I am neither a Liverpool fan nor Uruguayan, but I believe that losing Luis Suarez for good from our football pitches would be a genuine loss. Such a wonderful player, such a shame.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Who will win the World Cup in Brazil 2014? Lifting the Trophy at the Maracana

England have fallen by the wayside alongside defending world champions Spain, but there are still plenty of big hitters left in World Cup 2014 as we close in on the last 16 (or round of 16 as it's often called). Brazil, Argentina, The Netherlands (Holland) and Germany are all still present and correct at the time of writing. On South American soil, we also still have Colombia, Uruguay (with or without Luis Suarez) and Chile who must not be underestimated in a climate they are (relatively) used to and with massive backing from their fans.

Mexico and Costa Rica are also still in there and will be hard to beat in the knock-out stages. Of the European contingent, France, Germany, Holland and Belgium look the strongest prospects and are indeed the only four safely through at this time.

It’s difficult to make a concrete case for any of the teams, however, having all showed frailties in their opening matches. Hosts Brazil may have scored 7 goals (Neymar with 4 of them) but they have looked anything but secure at the back. Argentina have underwhelmed and have been bailed out of trouble by two pieces of magic from Lionel Messi. The Dutch have been generally excellent but laboured in their win against the Socceroo’s of Australia and now face an unbeaten and stubborn Mexico for a place in the quarter finals. Chile looked the part until they were undone by Holland and now face Brazil in the last 16. Belgium were much fancied before the tournament began and they may yet be, but two narrow wins at the group stage against unfancied opponents haven’t exactly left us drooling yet!

Germany were excellent against an ordinary Portugal but then struggled to overcome Ghana, who certainly look the most promising of the African teams (despite their progress hanging by a thread). Colombia have looked very comfortable playing some very nice football but again have yet to be tested by strong opposition. Perhaps the team who have surprised the most is France. Very poor in recent tournaments with plenty of unrest in the camp, the French seem to have sorted themselves out. Admittedly, the group with Switzerland, Ecuador and Honduras was one of the friendlier groups to have been placed in but impressive demolitions of the Swiss and Honduras surely bodes well for Didier Deschamps’ squad.

So, I wouldn't like to hang my hat on a definite winner at this stage but my personal feeling is that perhaps one of the South American teams will still just have the edge in familiar surroundings. With that said, as a neutral (my own country didn't even qualify for the finals), if the matches continue to be as entertaining as the ones we have witnessed so far, football (or soccer to much of the world) will be the winner when someone lifts the world cup at the Maracana on 13th July 2014.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Will Premier League Team "F" be Fabulous or Flops?

If you were with us for the Team “E” post, you will remember that they were possibly the weakest squad in this series of alphabetic Premier League teams (essentially squads made up entirely of players with surnames of a particular letter of the alphabet). I am not sure I would label team “F” as fantastic but they certainly look an improvement (on paper at least) over team “E”.

Let’s have a look at the starting eleven.

Goalkeeper: Fabianski (Arsenal)

Defenders: Flanagan (Liverpool), Ferdinand (Man United), Fonte (Southampton), Fabio (Cardiff City)

Midfielders: Flamini (Arsenal), Fernandinho (Man City), Fer (Norwich City), Fellaini (Man Utd) Darren Fletcher (Man Utd)

Forward: Steven Fletcher (Sunderland)

Squad Members/Reserves: Friedel (Spurs), Fryers (Spurs), Faye (Hull City), Fryatt (Hull City), Fox (Norwich)

With a lack of strikers in this category, we have once again opted for a 4-5-1 formation. If all of them play to their potential though, it’s a pretty tasty midfield! In fact there isn’t an awful lot more depth to this squad than there was for Team “E” but at least there are a handful of substitutes to just about keep the squad fresh.

I have opted for Fabianski in goal. Friedel would be another solid choice but he is 42 now so I have opted for the younger goalkeeper.

Rio Ferdinand (I still don’t understand why he isn’t featuring more often under David Moyes) and Jose Fonte are the two centre backs - No spring chickens but entirely capable with bags of experience. The full backs are Jon Flanagan of Liverpool who is enjoying a good run in the side at present and Fabio who hasn’t really fulfilled his potential yet but a recent move to Cardiff City might kick start his career.

The midfield five is strong. Flamini can sit just in front of the defensive unit and provide valuable cover whilst also using his ball winning skills in midfield. Fernandinho, after an unconvincing start at the Etihad Stadium has now won the fans and critics around with his busy and effective performances. Fellaini and Fletcher are two of the misfiring Manchester United midfielders but if form returns are both classy midfielders. Leroy Fer meanwhile has enjoyed a solid start to his Norwich career in a season of struggle for The Canaries.

The lone striker is Steven Fletcher who enjoyed a more productive season last time and is struggling for game time but he is our only available striker in this category.

What do you think of the line-up?

Can Premier League Team "E" Assemble a Squad to Challenge? Probably not!

If team “C” was perhaps the most well stocked squad in this series so far, then team “E” is certainly the least. With only 11 realistic choices, this team has no back up, so injuries or suspensions would be a disaster! Let’s have a look at the team we can assemble.

Goalkeeper: Elliott (Newcastle United)

Defenders: Evra (Man United), Johnny Evans (Man United), El Ahmadi (Aston Villa), Elmohamady (Hull City)

Midfielders: Eriksen (Tottenham Hotspur), Etherington (Stoke City), Eisfeld (Arsenal), Emnes (Swansea City)

Forwards: Elmander (Norwich City), Eto’o (Chelsea)

That really is it – the full squad! So, we have Arsenal attacking midfielder Thomas Eisfeld, who has only one league cup appearance to his name, as part of the midfield. We also have Matthew Etherington who is far from first choice at Stoke these days and Emnes of Swansea who is perhaps more of a forward, also in midfield. Thankfully, we have Christian Eriksen who is definitely a creative midfielder who can perhaps hold them all together and provide the international class.

Meanwhile in defence, we have El Ahmadi and Elhohamady who are both probably more comfortable in midfield positions but can play at the back if required. At least Johnny Evans and Patrice Evra have bags of experience between them, although Evra might have to fill in at centre back in this team to allow El Ahmadi and Elmohamady to operate as attacking full backs.

In goal we have to look to Newcastle’s bench to find Rob Elliot but he is not totally untried. At least we have some genuine strikers in the forward positions, although again, they are both well past their prime but at least Elmander and Eto’o will deliver some threat in the attacking third.

Certainly looks like relegation fodder here, so let’s hope for more scope with Team “F”!