March 9 2014 Latest news:
Monday, June 11, 2012
And now to the players. I always wonder how players feel when a new manager arrives at a football club. How many dare put their heads above the parapet and say, “brilliant new manager, can’t wait to work with him”, for fear of being shot down in flames by people who think they are doing the equivalent of taking in an apple for teacher.
There are, of course, issues for players, some of whom presumably will be wondering who Chris Hughton will be bringing in this summer – and who he will want to keep.
Grant Holt’s name springs to mind: no manager in their right mind would turn down the chance to keep Holt, on his own terms of course. If what Holt is demanding doesn’t suit manager and club, then it may not happen. I’d hazard a guess that Hughton will have a nice, friendly chat with Holt in the very near future and try to get at the heart of the problem to avert the loss of one of his greatest assets before a ball has been kicked in anger. Holt isn’t just a goal scorer extraordinaire, he is a leader to many of the rest of the squad. A new broom might just sweep away some of the obstacles.
Managers do have track record of casting their eyes back to whence they came and bringing familiar faces to their new jobs.
Paul Lambert did it: he brought in David Fox and Marc Tierney from Colchester United, and signed Russell Martin, who played for him during his time at Wycombe Wanderers – and who penned a new deal at City at the weekend. Whether or not Lambert will come back to raid the cupboard remains to be seen. If he does – and there appears to be no gentleman’s agreement or otherwise that he can’t – there are plenty of players who would fit the bill for his new job.
Villa were a shambles on the final day here – they had nothing to prove and set about proving only that they couldn’t care less about their then manager Alex McLeish. If that elastic mental attitude which can pull and stretch itself to suit whatever occasion and mood exists within the Villa squad, Lambert has his work cut out. He is a man who instilled mental integrity in the City squad – a facet Hughton has inherited.
But might Hughton have to fight to keep Holt from Lambert’s claws? Or Fox. Or Tierney. Fox would give Stephen Ireland a run for his money – come to think of it, a couple of weeks’ training and I’d give him a run. Tierney wouldn’t go walkabout like Stephen Warnock did.
Speculation has already suggested Hughton will go back to Birmingham for centre half Curtis Davies and striker Nikola Zigic, while young Nathan Redmond might also be a decent bet. It is easy to pluck out familiar names and make a case for seeing them in a yellow and green shirt. It is a very different thing to speak with authority based on not seeing them at all during the past season - so take a pinch of salt before you go reading the red tops.
Hughton has cast his net far and wide before - you don’t get to do the jobs he has done at Spurs, Newcastle and Birmingham without having a decent contacts list and a knowledge of every player who might just suit his purpose, either at home or overseas. He brings with him chief scout Ewan Chester, who had some interesting comments to make about Norwich when he first joined Birmingham.
“Everyone here really puts the hours in and that is mirrored in the team,” he said. “This is also a bigger club. Norwich have done superbly but, no disrespect to them, there is a ceiling to what they can achieve.”
We’ll forgive him that as, perhaps – in the style of Robbie Keane (I’ve supported the team ever since I was a lad) – people do get carried away when they switch jobs.
Maybe he was speaking the truth then.
But maybe Norwich are a different animal nowadays.
Frankly, if he brings in good quality players, who cares. As long as the best don’t go to Villa, I don’t.
• THE DEFINITION OF A PERFECT AFTERNOON ON THE BANK
I was fortunate enough last Saturday to meet a man who has become a bit of a local hero for me.
John Bailey is not only a very good fisherman, he is also a very good writer – there aren’t many better combinations in my mind. His angling columns in the EDP are read not just by those who, like me, enjoy a bit of maggot dangling now and then, but by those who just like a damned good read.
We discussed the heron that flew past, playing football into your 50s, who the next Norwich City manager would be, and which sports lend themselves best to writing.
Boxing, I suggested, bred fantastic writers. Cricket, he responded. Then came football, and John drifted off into a world of black and white TV, muddy boots, jumpers for goalposts and the ultimate footballing triumvirate – Best, Law and Charlton.
With the dark and enticing depths of Kingfisher Lakes in front of us, the swans dipping their elegant necks into the water and other feathered friends making all sorts of weird and wonderful noises, it was idyllic. A man who talked all sorts of sport in the same way he writes: magnificent. I cannot think of many better ways to while away some time in the sun of a weekend
I think I might take him up on his offer of a little tutorial – it will be a pleasure just to listen.
• RACISTS 1, DECENCY 0
I sometimes wonder if the buffoons that run football can actually be any more stupid. Here we are, at the start of one of the world’s strongest football tournaments, and the sport’s bigwigs are treating racism as if it is a minor hindrance rather than a foul blight on the lives of millions. Mario Balotelli said he will walk off the field of play if he suffers racist abuse during Italy’s Euro 2012 games. And while I don’t always agree with what Balotelli says or does, I’m with him on this one – if only because football’s governing bodies seem so reluctant to throw the book at offenders (check out the way they have dealt with Spain over the years).
Uefa president Michel Platini says anyone walking off the field of play will be booked. So let me get that right – if you are the victim, you will be punished? The rule book states that if a player leaves the field without the referee’s permission he will be shown a yellow card. It also says if a scorer takes his shirt off when celebrating a goal he will be booked. Both are stupid rules when circumstances change. And with racism infiltrating our game again, they have.
“It’s not a player, Mr Balotelli, who’s in charge of refereeing. It’s the referee who takes these decisions,” said Platini.
“So, the referee has been given advice and he can stop the game if there are problems. We will stop the game if there are problems because I think racism is the worst of this.”
Trouble is, when a player believes it’s gone too far and when a official believe it’s gone too far can be two very different things. I just wish Platini would go and do the garden or something.
• NAME THAT TUNE
In this summer of many nations taking part in many different sports, it was never going to be too long before a national anthem cock-up occurred. Sometimes an apology suffices for a genuine accident which hasn’t caused any great offence, other than the usual. Yes, you’re miffed, but you’ll get over it. At other times though, the mistake can be a real stinker. Like Great Britain Hockey’s error in playing the apartheid anthem Die Stem before their game against South Africa at the London Cup on Tuesday.
Marissa Langeni, chief executive of the South African Hockey Association, said the country “watched with disbelief as our team stood through what clearly was a most embarrassing and uncomfortable experience”. The response was swift, with Great Britain Hockey offering a “full and unreserved apology to the South African women’s hockey team.”
Let’s hope that’s the last one. I suspect it won’t be.