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Stuart Pearce and England face tough job at Uefa Under-21 Championship

June 2, 2013 in In the News, The Guardian

Stuart Pearce

Powered by article titled “Stuart Pearce and England face tough job at Uefa Under-21 Championship” was written by Paul Wilson, for The Observer on Saturday 1st June 2013 21.00 UTC

Stop me if you have heard this before but England have been drawn in a relatively easy group for their next tournament and are confidently expected to reach the semi-final stage.

We are talking under-21s football – it has been a long time since a senior England side set a course for a semi-final place with any degree of confidence. The good news about the tournament that kicks off in Netanya, Israel, on Wednesday is that England find themselves in a group with the hosts, Israel, plus Norway and Italy. The bad news is that Germany, Spain and Holland are in the other group, with Russia. All three have won the tournament more recently than England and, though Stuart Pearce’s side might realistically hope to go through to the last four with Italy, the likelihood is that they will proceed no further.

The reason for that is not hard to discover. England are strong enough to reach U21s tournament finals quite regularly and in qualifying for this one they have won their past nine games without conceding a goal, though when it comes to meeting the best sides in Europe they tend to misplace their best players. For these finals Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Kyle Walker might have come in handy, but they are all deemed full internationals now and will not be going back. Raheem Sterling was withdrawn at an early stage by Liverpool and injury also claimed Wigan’s uncapped but extremely promising Callum McManaman. Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson is still around as captain and in Wilfried Zaha and Jack Butland England have players who appear destined for lengthy Premier League careers, though it is debatable whether the overall standard will be good enough when the emphasis Spain and Germany place on youth development is considered.

Spain are the holders and their class of 2011 featured Juan Mata, Javi Martínez and David de Gea. The Manchester United goalkeeper will be involved in Israel this time round too, partly because he has not yet forced his way into Spain’s senior side but mostly because he takes the competition seriously and is keen to pick up tournament experience.

Pearce is a big advocate of picking up tournament experience at this level, though it often seems he is the only manager in England who is. Certainly leading Premier League clubs are less keen to part with their best young players for a couple of weeks in the close season, when they will generally prefer to let them recover from minor injuries or rest to avoid the risk of burn-out.

When England last appeared in an U21 European final in 2009 in Sweden they managed to beat Spain 2-0 in the group stage before being comprehensively taken apart by Germany in Malmo. Doubtless elated by the novelty of winning a penalty shootout in the semi-final against Sweden, an England team featuring James Milner, Adam Johnson and Theo Walcott were no match for a German side containing Manuel Neuer, Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil and lost 4-0.

Four of that quintet (Hummels was the exception) lined up against England at senior level a year later in the World Cup round-of-16 game in Bloemfontein. England had only Milner from the youth side that went to Sweden and he was replaced after an hour. Germany’s 4-1 victory would not have come as the greatest surprise to anyone who saw the game in Malmo, whether Frank Lampard’s disallowed “goal” should have counted or not. Joe Hart was on the bench in South Africa, England preferring the 39-year-old David James in goal once Rob Green had made his calamitous error in the opening game against the USA.

When the game was up after the fourth German goal, whom did Fabio Capello send on but the 32-year-old Emile Heskey. John Terry was given such a runaround that day it appeared likely his England career would be over, and it would have been impossible to foresee that his value to the national team would end up forcing Capello to resign.

Other countries appear to do youth development better than England, which is why the excitement will be contained if Pearce’s side do manage to make the last four and why the coach himself may be ready to step down from the role after four tournaments. Being in charge of England under-21s is not exactly a thankless task – though it might appear that way when wrangling with Arsène Wenger over the release of Walcott or Jack Wilshere – but one is rarely competing on an equal footing with the more organised countries in Europe.

Figures were produced a couple of weeks ago to hint at why two German sides might have reached this season’s Champions League final. It turns out that Germany has 28,400 coaches with the Uefa B licence, compared with England’s 1,759. There are also around 20,000 fewer qualified coaches in England than in Spain. When at the sharp end, like Pearce, these numbers must keep one awake all night. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Arsenal restore their normal order with victory over Bristol Academy

May 27, 2013 in In the News, The Guardian, Womens

Shelley Kerr and Steph Houghton

Powered by article titled “Arsenal restore their normal order with victory over Bristol Academy” was written by Tony Leighton at Keepmoat Stadium, for The Guardian on Sunday 26th May 2013 18.09 UTC

The women’s club game was restored to its default setting as Arsenal, after failing for the first time in seven seasons to reach the 2012 FA Cup final, lifted the trophy for the sixth time in eight years and the 12th time in all.

In front of a disappointing attendance of 4,988 at Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, the lowest final crowd since 2000 and almost 20,000 short of the record set in 2008, captain Steph Houghton’s early goal and late strikes by the midfielder Jordan Nobbs and the striker Ellen White earned Arsenal victory over the team they had beaten with equal comfort in the 2011 final.

Defeat for Bristol Academy, who are top of the Super League, left them still searching for their first major trophy while Arsenal’s celebrations were for a 39th piece of silverware in 22 years – this after their near-invincibility had been brought into question by a 4-0 WSL thrashing by Liverpool three weeks ago.

That was Arsenal’s first league defeat in almost two years and the heaviest they had suffered since April 2003. But they have bounced back in style and their new manager, Shelley Kerr, after her first trophy success since taking over in February,, said: “People were writing us off when they saw that scoreline against Liverpool but I never questioned the ability or character of the players.

“The expectations within our club are as high as those outside and today the girls were absolutely magnificent. We dominated for long periods and the win was well deserved. It’s important that as a club we continue to win trophies, so I’m extremely delighted for everybody concerned.”

The Bristol manager, Mark Sampson, agreed with Kerr’s thoughts on Arsenal’s perceived demise. “People keep telling me Arsenal are on the slide,” he said, “but that’s rubbish. They are a brilliant team.”

“We had to be at our best if we were going to beat them and we were desperate to win, but unfortunately we weren’t at our best. We had a shocking start, conceding in the second minute, but the girls showed good character. They could have crumbled but they pulled up their sleeves and battled throughout.”

Arsenal were ahead inside the opening 90 seconds, the left-winger Rachel Yankey spearing in a cross that the midfielder Houghton, rushing in at the far post, headed firmly home.

Corinne Yorston’s fifth-minute corner should have led to an equaliser but, from eight yards, the central defender Jemma Rose ballooned her shot over the crossbar. That was a rare early chance for Academy, however, Arsenal producing the more potent attacks and the striker White, from another fine Yankey cross, having a 15th minute close range effort spectacularly saved by the Bristol goalkeeper Siobhan Chamberlain had a slice of good fortune when a narrow-angled shot bythe midfielder Nobbs bounced off the far post and into the keeper’s hands. But four minutes before half-time she pulled off another excellent save, diving to turn aside Alex Scott’s 18-yard drive.

Emma Byrne was tested for the first time four minutes after the interval, having to scramble across her line to keep out Lucy Staniforth’s 20-yard free-kick.

Arsenal went on to dominate the second half as they had the first and, after Yankey and Houghton had gone close, Nobbs headed in the second goal from winger Gemma Davison’s 72nd-minute cross.

As Bristol attempted to find a way back into the game, the substitute Laura del Río sent an overhead kick narrowly over Byrne’s crossbar, but Arsenal’s by now almost inevitable victory was wrapped up four minutes into stoppage time when White drove in the loose ball after Nobbs’s goalbound effort had been saved by Chamberlain. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Paul Lambert: from Motherwell gun for hire to Dortmund mainstay

May 24, 2013 in Coaches, In the News, Interviews, The Guardian

Borussia Dortmund

Powered by article titled “Paul Lambert – from Motherwell gun for hire to Dortmund mainstay” was written by David Hytner, for The Guardian on Wednesday 22nd May 2013 11.15 UTC

Paul Lambert remembers the moment the flutters of self-doubt became a knot inside his stomach. It was the summer of 1996 and the Aston Villa manager had been fighting, as a triallist, to win a playing contract at Borussia Dortmund. His deal at Motherwell had expired and he saw his slingshot at the big time. But then came the meeting when he realised that surely it could not happen.

“I walked into the dressing room at the training ground and I’ve seen all the players,” Lambert says. “Dortmund had given all their German players who won Euro 96 time off but they were back … Jürgen Kohler, Steffen Freund, Andreas Möller, Stefan Reuter, Matthias Sammer.

“I remember thinking: ‘No. You’re never going to do it.’ There was unbelievable self-doubt, that I couldn’t handle that company because when I saw the players … He’d won Serie A, someone had won the World Cup, someone had won the European Championship, the Bundesliga titles … and I’m coming from Motherwell on a free transfer. I was worth a bottle of Coke. Jesus!”

Lambert would end the season as Dortmund’s man of the match in their Champions League final triumph over Juventus, having shackled a bloke called Zinedine Zidane in midfield and set up the opening goal of the 3-1 win for Karl-Heinz Riedle. The Glaswegian had been outstanding in both legs of the semi-final victory over Manchester United and he became the first British player to win the European Cup with a non-British club.

Lambert’s whirlwind journey from gun for hire to Dortmund legend feels almost incomprehensible, the sort of thing that features only in comic books, but as the club prepares for its second Champions League final appearance, against Bayern Munich at Wembley on Saturday, it provides insight, context and, above all, sheer enjoyment. “In your own eyes, when you’ve played in Scotland from St Mirren to Motherwell, you think you’re a professional footballer,” Lambert says. “But when I went over there, I thought: ‘Whoa, this is what you call professional football.’ The stadiums were huge, the crowds were massive, the standard was fantastic. That’s when I realised I was in big-time football.

“People talk about the German focus and mentality and ask: ‘How do they do it?’ I understand how they do it. They are just so focused on what they are and they don’t really bother too much about outside influences. They focus on what they have to do and they have great self-belief. That was where my career changed.”

Lambert had resolved to leave Motherwell in search of a fresh challenge and, like every player, he thought somebody would want him, that he would get something. “You always think, ‘I’ll be all right,'” he says, but t “Lo and behold, people think you’re crap,” he adds. Motherwell, under the management of Alex McLeish, wanted him to stay and they thought that he would come back to re-sign for them, possibly with his pride dented.

Lambert turned to a Dutch agent. “He’s dead now, God rest him,” he says. “He said for me to give him 10 days. Motherwell were nearly in pre-season so he had to find me something. On the 10th day, sure enough, he phoned to say he had two teams for me to trial with. I thought he was going to say somewhere like Azerbaijan or Liechtenstein because I had nowhere to go; nowhere in England, nowhere in Scotland, nothing. But he said PSV Eindhoven and Borussia Dortmund.”

Dick Advocaat was the Eindhoven manager and he played Lambert on the right of a four-man midfield, which was not his position. He scored a couple of goals but it did not work out. And so to Dortmund, against whom he had played impressively for Motherwell in the Uefa Cup.

“I had to get a car from Dortmund to Lübeck, where the club was playing a small four-team tournament, with two 45 minutes, one against Lübeck, one against Hamburg,” Lambert says. “It was a four-hour journey and I’m sitting in the car with serious doubts in my head. I got to Lübeck, saw a massive yellow and black flag at the airport, fans everywhere and I’m thinking: ‘You’re out of your depth here.’

“Anyway, I played centre midfield in both games and it went all right. I went back to Dortmund, trained for a few days and then there was another tournament. My first game was against Schalke, who I didn’t realise until then were Dortmund’s biggest rivals. We lost 3-1. Then we played Borussia Mönchengladbach, I got injured after 20 minutes and went off. I thought: ‘That’s it.'”

Complicating matters further was Dortmund’s high-profile purchase of the Portugal midfielder Paulo Sousa, who had led Juventus to the Champions League. Lambert put his faith in destiny. “Wee Billy Davies [then of Motherwell] was phoning me up, asking, ‘Where are you?'” Lambert says. “I said, ‘I’m in Dortmund.’ He said, ‘Big Alec is going mad, asking where are you?’ Because I just went. I just took the chance, packed my bags and went.”

The gamble paid off. Lambert was granted a contract at Dortmund on the eve of the Bundesliga season and he made his debut on the opening weekend, in the 4-2 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen. He struggled to contain Paulo Sérgio, who scored twice. “They were my fault,” Lambert says. “I never knew the language, the terminology on the pitch. Jesus! What the hell was this? But I scored to make it 2-1 and after that my confidence really picked up.”

The true turning point came four days later, on his home debut against Fortuna Düsseldorf. “Mr [Ottmar] Hitzfeld said: ‘Paul, you’ve done really fine but obviously we’ve signed Paulo Sousa for seven million deutschmarks. If he is fit, he will play. If not, you’ll play.’ Paulo didn’t make it, because of his knee, and I had one of those games where I couldn’t do anything wrong. It could come off the back of my head and go to one of my team-mates.

“It just snowballed into the next game and the next game. All of a sudden, I felt a part of it and then the crowd took to me and I became a mainstay. You become one of them. You can talk about world-class players and it can be flippant, but not in this case. They were genuine world-class.”

Lambert’s spell at Dortmund was short – he left for Celtic in November 1997 – but it was impossibly sweet. He learned to speak German, he immersed himself in the club’s culture and his recall of every last detail is total. “I haven’t a clue where my Champions League medal is because the memory is more important than the actual piece of metal, knowing that I’ve done it and I’ve come from Scotland to do it,” Lambert says. “I just thought: ‘I’m going to go for it.’ The trial could have gone belly-up and I’d have had to go back to Motherwell with my tail between my legs, but I took the gamble. I’ve always seemed to get there the hard way.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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How Germany went from bust to boom on the talent production line

May 24, 2013 in General Interest, In the News, The Guardian

SC Freiburg's Sebastien Kerk

Powered by article titled “How Germany went from bust to boom on the talent production line” was written by Stuart James, for The Guardian on Thursday 23rd May 2013 18.20 UTC

Robin Dutt has a lovely problem on his hands. Sat in his office in Frankfurt, the man who replaced Matthias Sammer as the sporting director at the German Football Association last August, taking on responsibility for the development of young players and coaches, doubts there is any room for improvement. “We are at the top level and it’s difficult to go above that,” Dutt says. “If we are in the year 2000 and we are at the bottom it is OK. But nobody sees anything wrong here.”

A decade or so after the DFB travelled the world in search of best practice, Dutt smiles at the irony that other nations are coming to them for advice these days. Dan Ashworth, the Football Association’s newly appointed director of elite development, was among recent visitors, spending three hours with Dutt, the former Bayer Leverkusen and SC Freiburg coach, in a meeting that must have been enlightening.

German football is booming, reaping the rewards of the strategy drawn up after their dismal performances at Euro 2000, when Germany finished bottom of their group. Forced into an overhaul of youth football, the DFB, the Bundesliga and the clubs decided that the development of more technically proficient homegrown players would be in everyone’s best interests. This led to the creation of academies right across the top two divisions.

The fruits are there for all to see. Joachim Löw, Germany’s coach, is blessed with a generation of gifted young players – Julian Draxler (19), Andre Schürrle (22), Sven Bender (24), Thomas Müller (23), Holger Badstuber (24), Mats Hummels (24), Mesut Ozil (24), Ilkay Gundogan (22), Mario Götze (20), Marco Reus (23), Toni Kroos (23) … the list goes on – and Dutt says there are more coming through in the under-21 side who will travel to Israel for the European Championship next month.

As for Saturday’s Champions League final at Wembley, the DFB proudly points out that 26 of the players Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund named in their Uefa squads this season are homegrown and eligible to play for Germany. More than half of those players came through the DFB’s talent development programme, which was introduced in 2003 with the aim of identifying promising youngsters and providing them with technical skills and tactical knowledge at an early age. Covering 366 areas of Germany, this impressive initiative caters for children aged 8 to 14 and is served by 1,000 part-time DFB coaches, all of whom must hold the Uefa B licence and are expected to scout as well as train the players. “We have 80 million people in Germany and I think before 2000 nobody noticed a lot of talent,” Dutt says. “Now we notice everyone.”

Some youngsters attending the development programme are already affiliated with professional clubs but others may be only turning out for their local junior side, which means the weekly DFB sessions are also a chance for Bundesliga teams to spot players.

It is the opposite of what happens in England, where the FA relies on clubs to develop youngsters. Dutt smiles when it is suggested to him that the DFB are doing the clubs’ recruitment for them. “But if we help the clubs, we help us, because the players of our national teams – the youth teams and Joachim Löw’s team – come from the clubs,” he says.

The incredible depth of Germany’s coaching resources, as well as the DFB’s close relationship with Bundesliga clubs, helps to make the programme. According to Uefa, Germany has 28,400 (England 1,759) coaches with the B licence, 5,500 (895) with the A licence and 1,070 (115) with the Pro licence, the highest qualification. It is little wonder that Ashworth said last month that there will be no quick fix for English football. The country that invented the game has forgotten that we need people to teach it.

For Germany, post-Euro 2000 was about changing philosophies as well as employing more full-time coaches and upgrading facilities. The DFB wanted to move away from playing in straight lines and relying on “the German mentality” to win matches. Instead coaches focused on developing fluid formations that required the sort of nimble, dexterous players who would previously have been overlooked because of their lack of physical strength.

“In the past there were a lot of big players. But look at our players now,” Dutt says. “You realise that an important thing for a football player is technique and then the height of the player, ordinarily, will be small. [Diego] Maradona, [Andrés] Iniesta, Xavi – all little players. In the defence we think we need big players. Mats Hummels is big but he is very good with the ball. In 1982 Mats Hummels wouldn’t have played in defence, he would have played at No10. In the 1970s, [Franz] Beckenbauer was playing football and [Hans-Georg] Schwarzenbeck was running after the English players – if he got the ball he gave it to Beckenbauer and the job was done. But now Schwarzenbeck is Hummels, and Hummels plays like Beckenbauer and Schwarzenbeck.”

If one club has led the way when it comes to producing young players in Germany it is Freiburg, who have won the German equivalent of the FA Youth Cup four times in the past seven years. Their 25-man first-team squad consists of 10 homegrown players, six of whom started in the 2-1 defeat against Schalke last Saturday, when Freiburg needed to win to pull off the unimaginable and qualify for the Champions League. Beckenbauer was among those who travelled to Freiburg’s Mage Solar Stadion hoping to see history made.

Under the tutelage of their erudite and colourful manager Christian Streich, a qualified teacher who worked in the club’s youth setup for 16 years, Freiburg were one of the stories of the Bundesliga season. With an annual wage budget of only €18m (£15.4m), which covers the coaching staff as well as the first-team squad, Freiburg’s fifth-place finish was a remarkable achievement, even if Streich was unable to conceal his disappointment that they will be playing in the Europa League, rather than the Champions League, next season and that four of his best players have been snapped up.

Last week the Guardian went behind the scenes at Freiburg, whose location, on the fringes of the Black Forest, is every bit as impressive as the work that goes on at the football school. The facility, which has four pitches including a small stadium, cost €10m in 2001, before the academy reforms were introduced and at a time when Freiburg were relegated from the Bundesliga, which gives an idea of how committed they are to producing players.

Freiburg has neither the financial wherewithal nor the desire to compete for overseas talent, so there is no chance of Streich, or any of his staff, being spotted with an agent in São Paulo brokering a deal for a teenage Brazilian. Of the 66 players in the under-16 to under-19 age groups in their academy, all but two are eligible to play for Germany. In keeping with the ethos of the club, where there is a wonderful sense of community, every senior academy player earns the same.

Across a sizeable area where they face little competition from other Bundesliga clubs, Freiburg work closely with five amateur feeder teams who receive a part-time coach to train children aged 8 to 11 twice a week. The most promising players are invited to attend the academy during school holidays and for occasional tournaments at weekends. “We believe it is not good for a nine-year-old to play [regularly] for a professional football club because it changes the reasons why he plays football,” says Sebastian Neuf, a member of the football school’s management.

Once a player reaches under-12 level things change. Those who live within 40km of Freiburg train at the football school up to four times a week and play in a league, where teams can win a title and be relegated, a major difference to the way academies are run in England. The earliest an academy player would take part in competitive football with a professional club in England – where the theory is that it “should be about performances, not results” – is at under-18 level.

Dutt offers an interesting response when asked about the rationale behind the league system. “It’s important for the mentality to have some games in the year you have to win, but it is not the main thing. The main thing is to do good training.

“For the Germans this system is very important. It’s like golf. If I play golf in England, no club wants to know my handicap. If I go to play in Germany you have to show your handicap. If you play with a guy you don’t know, the first question is: ‘How do you do?’ The second question is: ‘What is your handicap?’ Germans want to reach something, they want to go up.”

There is no shortage of silverware on show in Freiburg’s academy, yet the club are not obsessed with winning leagues and cups and acknowledge there is life outside football. Through a nationwide elite schools programme supported by the DFB, the 16 players who board on the top floor of Freiburg’s three-storey academy building, along with those who live with host families and travel from home, are able to continue their education around their football schedule, which sometimes means training before and after lessons.

Freiburg place great emphasis on academic work, so much so that they like a selection of their staff to come from a teaching background, so that they can provide educational help whenever it is needed, including on the way to matches. It is not uncommon for players to do homework on the coach. Streich says that clubs have a moral obligation to think about what happens to those who fail to make the grade.

“When I went to Aston Villa eight years ago I told them our players, under-17, 18 and 19, go to school for 34 hours a week,” he says. “They said: ‘No, you’re a liar, it’s not possible, our players go for nine hours.’ I said: ‘No, I’m not lying.’ They said: ‘It’s not possible, you can’t train and do 34 hours of education.’ I said: ‘Sure. And what do you do with the players who have for three years, from the age of 16 to 19, only had nine hours a week of school?

“They said: ‘They have to try to be a professional or not. They have to decide.’ I said: ‘No, we can’t do that in Freiburg. It’s wrong. Most players in our academy can’t be professionals, they will have to look for a job. The school is the most important thing, then comes football.’ We give players the best chance to be a footballer but we give them two educations here. If 80% can’t go on to play in the professional team, we have to look out for them. The players that play here, the majority of them go on to higher education. And we need intelligent players on the pitch anyway.”

What is clear is that those who are good enough will get a chance at Freiburg, which makes the €3.5m the club put into the youth academy every year (about 10% of turnover) feel like a sound investment. Against Schalke, in what was one of the biggest games in Freiburg’s history, Streich gave Sebastian Kerk, a Germany Under-19 international, his debut. Nobody at Freiburg batted an eyelid.

While Freiburg have been investing in youth for years, not least because the club’s existence depends on it, Streich acknowledges that huge changes have taken place across all Bundesliga clubs, in particular when it comes to attitudes towards coaching, where a “jobs for the boys” mentality has largely disappeared. He believes England needs to rethink its own approach.

“They have to look to build coaches in England. They have a lot of money and they have bought players. But for me the most important thing is to educate the coaches in the youth academies.

“Before in Germany, if you played in the Bundesliga for a few years, clubs said: ‘We’ll take them to manage the under-17s.’ But they had no education to be a coach. Sometimes the same thing happens in England – I saw this. On the pitch these players played very well but that doesn’t mean they’re a coach, and now this changes in Germany. And then under-15, under-17 and under-19 coaches, they gave them a salary so they could do this work full time. Coaches came from university, who had studied sport, they mixed it up and then it got better.”

Streich smiles when asked what he thinks of some of the top English clubs, which spend millions on youth programmes despite there being no obvious pathways to the first team. “You can’t compare someone like Manchester City with SC Freiburg, it’s saturn and the moon,” he says. “We played against Manchester City’s youth team here, in the Black Forest, some years ago and also a few years later. They had one player from Sweden, one player from Finland, one player from Brazil, one player from here, one player from there. ‘What do you do next year?’ ‘Yeah, we buy eight or nine players.’ ‘What about scouting?’ ‘We have 20 people scouting at youth [level].’ We only have four for the professionals.”

Frank Arnesen, who is full of admiration for Streich’s work at Freiburg, has been on both sides of the fence and is well qualified to compare the merits of youth football in Germany and England. The Dane, who has just left his position as sporting director at Hamburg after working for Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur in the same capacity, believes England has the best facilities for young players but feels the spending power of Premier League clubs denies academy graduates the chance that exists in the Bundesliga.

“The money is a big part of the problem in England because clubs go out and buy finished players instead of waiting,” Arnesen says. “Young players need to make mistakes to get better, but managers think they can’t afford [for] that to happen. You see the squads, even in the smaller clubs, they get players from all over instead of bringing young players through.”

Arnesen believes that the introduction of the “50% plus one” rule in 2001, which requires Bundesliga clubs to be owned by their members, has helped to promote homegrown talent. In the absence of foreign benefactors it makes financial sense, and also appeals to the supporters in control, to give young German players an opportunity.

The landscape could not be more different in the Premier League, where the majority of clubs are in foreign hands and English players in the minority. It is hard, almost impossible, to imagine Germany accepting that situation, not least because the success of the national team is at the forefront of everyone’s mind.

“I think one thing is very important, coaches who are coaching for the national team of Germany, from upstairs to down, they are very respected and it’s a good job to have. In England I am not so sure about that,” Arnesen says. “I think there is a feeling that to work for a club is much higher than the FA but that’s not the case in Germany.”

It was one of the reasons why so many people were surprised when Ashworth, who was attracting interest from leading clubs because of the exceptional job he did as sporting director at West Bromwich Albion, opted to take up a high-profile but extremely challenging position with the FA at its new national football centre at St George’s Park, where it remains to be seen whether he will get the support he needs from the Premier League and its clubs. Arnesen, who recently met Ashworth at Hamburg, believes relationships need to change in England.

“The FA [must] create a situation where it is an honour to be there and you need help from clubs,” he says. “Hamburg have one of the biggest defensive talents in Germany, Jonathan Tah [the national Under-17 captain]. Sometimes he is training from Wednesday to Friday [with the DFB] and he cannot play Saturday in his own game for Hamburg. We did not think that was correct so we sat down and talked, and that is what the Germans do.”

Dutt agrees. “I spoke three hours with Dan about this,” he says. “It will be better for England if the clubs and the association talked together. If you see the English clubs, there are a lot of foreign players and not many from England. Chelsea win the Champions League and then the Europa League, so they have success. But the English national team, I don’t think they are successful at this time.”

The Elite Player Performance Plan, which the Premier League introduced a little more than two years ago, feels like the last throw of the dice for youth development in English football. Millions of pounds are being pumped into academies, with clubs free to cast their net far and wide for players who will have more contact time with coaches than ever before, albeit with no promise of greater opportunities to break through. Time will tell whether it works.

Back in Frankfurt, Dutt is looking at his watch before his next meeting. There is just one final question for him before he heads off: why is it that Bundesliga academies so rarely bring in players from overseas? “If you want to get an African player, or a player from Brazil, you need money,” he says. “It’s cheaper to bring through your own player from Germany. And we have enough players here.” © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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NYCFC has Man City and Yankees as backers but there are still big obstacles

May 22, 2013 in In the News, MLS, The Guardian


Powered by article titled “NYCFC has Man City and Yankees as backers but there are still big obstacles” was written by Graham Parker in New York, for on Tuesday 21st May 2013 18.05 UTC

A second Major League Soccer team in New York City has long been the ambition of commissioner Don Garber. There have been months of speculation, ranging from the discovery in January that variations on the name of the New York City FC team had been registered as domain names, to a recent heavy-handed allusion Commissioner Garber made to there being an announcement expected in a few weeks — widely taken as a reference to the forthcoming Manchester City vs Chelsea friendly at Yankee Stadium.

Yet the sudden confirmation that City, and as it turns out the Yankees, would be the owners of the so-called NY2 team, instantly changed the complexion of NY2 from a concept seemingly stuck in a permanent holding pattern, into a tangible entity that, if not exactly cleared for landing, now has a chance to finalize its touchdown in Queens.

There are still obstacles left in what has been a long game of bluff and counter-bluff in New York, that has become further complicated by the traditional saber-rattling that precedes a mayoral election. The proposed site for the new team’s stadium is in the symbolic immigrants’ heartland of Queens, and involves the complicated issue of MLS replacing parkland that will be displaced by the building of a 25,000-seater stadium. It’s a topic that’s prompted local protests, but so far has not ignited debate within the mayoral race, with candidates mostly waiting to see what definite developments would take place. Today’s news may force the hands of some of those candidates to come out definitively for or against the proposed Flushing Meadows stadium that is due to become New York City FC’s home.

Certainly MLS have lobbied extensively within the city to build the new stadium (the initial model for the deal was that whoever purchased the 20th MLS franchise for 0 million would then help build the stadium at the site identified and brokered by MLS). Of the amounts paid to lobbyists registered with the city treasury last year, MLS-related consultants represented the largest dollar amount. MLS claims many of these were architectural and legal consultants rather than lobbyists per se, but Garber’s intense commitment to forcing NY2 through has long been apparent, even if skepticism persists about the ability of MLS to crack a crowded media market with 10 existing major sports teams.

Certainly the current New York franchise, the New York Red Bulls, have at times limped along, despite a state-of-the-art new stadium of their own and the signings of marquee players like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill. Publicly the Red Bulls have welcomed the prospect of a second New York team to ignite a rivalry, though their commercial manager Jerome de Bontin made critical comments about the likelihood of a second franchise succeeding just after his appointment last year.

The Red Bulls, famously, have never won anything, and in a league where forced parity reigns (financial fair play — of sorts), there is no guarantee that even the might of Manchester City and the New York Yankees will ensure the kind of winning team that draws crowds. In the 1970’s, with no such restrictions, the New York Cosmos prompted an unsustainable arms race in the NASL when media mogul Steve Ross ran the club as a plaything and brought the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer and Chinaglia — and crucially titles — to New York City. Other clubs tried to follow suit and the NASL flared and died in the aftermath — for a long time existing only as a cautionary tale for MLS executives.

The Cosmos actually played some of their games at the old Yankee stadium, and the revived version of the team have engaged with a long flirtation with MLS over NY2 — even possibly trying a little brinksmanship of their own by announcing plans for their own stadium at Belmont Park. They now face an immediate future as a familiar if not formidable brand within the revived, second-tier North American Soccer League. NY3 seems wishful thinking.

Those Cosmos games were not the only soccer games at the old stadium, with international exhibitions a regular feature there until the mid-1970’s. The George Steinbrenner years ended that, and in fact City’s game with Chelsea at the new Yankee Stadium this Saturday is only the second soccer game to take place at a Yankee Stadium since that period, in a revised stance. The first was last year’s friendly between Chelsea and PSG. Beyond that revived interest in hosting/promoting the active involvement of the Yankees in the new City deal is an eyebrow-raising one, not least since the Yankees last active involvement with a soccer team was a commercial tie in with Manchester United.

City’s plans may have been a barely secret in recent weeks, but the degree of the Yankees involvement, while as yet undefined, will be intriguing. With the stadium still up in the air and the new team scheduled to begin play in just under two years, there will be an interim period where they must play their home games somewhere. It’s possible that may include dates at Yankee stadium, though community activists opposed to the loss of parkland may prove nothing compared to the wrath of baseball purists when confronted with repeated replacements of the pitching mound.

Speaking at a hastily convened press conference on Tuesday and asked about the difficulties in getting across the finish line in Queens, the Yankees president Randy Levine said "Yankee Stadium is a potential place to play" while insisting that the partners would step back and assess all options, including Queens. Certainly having the major player in a competitive market as a minority business partner certainly shouldn’t hurt City’s chances of success with this venture, even if the Yankees’ partnership with United didn’t appear particularly transformative for either party.

City sources might quietly assert that they have a different mindset to United when doing business. United have led the way in commercial tie-ins worldwide — dividing up marketplaces and setting up complicated tiered sponsorship deals. They are floated on the NYSE and are in the process of setting up an East coast office in the US. Backed by billionaire Sheikh Mansour, City arrive in MLS legitimately able to point to investment in grass roots funding of the game, including the recent investment in a soccer school in Washington D.C. and prior to that, in New York’s Spanish Harlem. These schools are seen in part as outposts of a ground-up mentality that may have been arrived at by expensive consultation and research into worldwide best practices, but which have nonetheless been heavily invested in, in apparently good faith, by the City ownership — most obviously in the 80 acre training/academy complex in Eastlands, that City see as key to their longevity as a top flight club. For all United’s noted promotion and celebration of youth, City arrive in the MLS scene making all the right noises for a league that has prided itself on cautious growth.

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Jürgen Klopp rallies neutrals to support ‘special’ Borussia Dortmund

May 21, 2013 in Coaches, Coaches Q&A, In the News, The Guardian

Jürgen Klopp

Powered by article titled “Jürgen Klopp rallies neutrals to support ‘special’ Borussia Dortmund” was written by Donald McRae, for The Guardian on Monday 20th May 2013 23.01 UTC

An hour after the first of Jürgen Klopp’s many jokes, interspersed with his worldly insights into football and life, he returns to a more personal memory. It is fitting and evocative because the tumultuous journey that Klopp and Borussia Dortmund have taken to the Champions League final at Wembley, where they play Bayern Munich on Saturday, has been this season’s most memorable story. A passionate club’s exhilarating play and outrageous drama, painful transfer intrigue and riotous joy, validates Klopp’s claim that "this is the most interesting football project in the world".

It was strangely similar for Klopp at Mainz, the first love of his sporting life. Klopp, who eventually became their coach, used to be a lumbering striker-turned-defender in the German second division, and he suggests that: "Just like every person who works for Dortmund is a fan of the club, it was the same at Mainz. When I was a player there we had 800 supporters on rainy Saturday afternoons and if we died no one would notice or come to our funeral. But we loved the club and we have this same feeling at Dortmund. It’s a very special club – a workers’ club."

Klopp is canny enough to evoke these romantic roots when, speaking in English with real fervour, he says: "I left Mainz after 18 years and thought: ‘Next time I will work with a little less of my heart.’ I said that because we all cried for a week. The city gave us a goodbye party and it lasted a week. For a normal person that emotion is too much. I thought it’s not healthy to work like this. But after one week at Dortmund it was the same situation. To find this twice, to be hit by good fortune, is very unusual."

Borussia Dortmund reeled from Champions League glory in 1997 to the brink of bankruptcy in 2005. Transformed by Klopp’s arrival from Mainz almost five years ago, the €189m (£160m) they generated in 2012 makes them the world’s 11th largest club. Their imposing Westfalenstadion, dominated by the steep Yellow Wall terrace, rocks with 82,000 fans for every game. But, compared to Bayern and Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona, they remain Champions League romantics. Their wage bill is half that of Bayern’s and a third of Madrid’s and yet, in their semi-final first leg, they swept aside the Spanish club 4-1. Just days before that unforgettable match, the 20-year-old Mario Götze, their most gifted player who has been at Dortmund since the age of nine, decided to activate his €37m release clause and join Bayern this summer.

It’s the latest in a line of departures that threaten to tear the heart from Klopp’s young squad. Robert Lewandowski, who scored all four goals against Real, will almost certainly leave – probably also for Bayern, already strong enough to have obliterated Barcelona 7-0 in the other semi-final.

"What can I say?" Klopp says with his only shrug in a 90-minute interview at Puma’s office in Dortmund. "If that’s what Bayern wants … It’s like James Bond – except they are the other guy [the villain]."

Klopp has previously compared Bayern to a remorseless superpower like China but he waves away that reminder. "I was tired," he smiles. "Bayern want a decade of success like Barça. That’s OK if you have the money because it increases the possibility of success. But it’s not guaranteed. We are not a supermarket but they want our players because they know we cannot pay them the same money. It could not be our way to do things like Real and Bayern and not think about taxes – and let the next generation pick up our problems. We need to work seriously and sensibly. We have this amount of money so we can pay that amount. But we lose players. Last year it was Shinji Kagawa."

He hits his head with his palm. "Shinji Kagawa is one of the best players in the world and he now plays 20 minutes at Manchester United – on the left wing! My heart breaks. Really, I have tears in my eyes. Central midfield is Shinji’s best role. He’s an offensive midfielder with one of the best noses for goal I ever saw. But for most Japanese people it means more to play for Man United than Dortmund. We cried for 20 minutes, in each others’ arms, when he left. One year before that Nuri Sahin went because Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world. [Sahin is back at Dortmund after just four appearances for Madrid and an unhappy loan spell at Liverpool]. If players are patient enough we can develop the team into one of the biggest in the world."

When asked about the cruel loss of Götze, the 45-year-old is initially philosophical. "It’s absolutely normal that people go different ways. At 18 I wanted to see the whole world. But I am only in Mainz and Dortmund since then and … [Klopp laughs] it’s not the middle of the world. It’s OK that they want to go to different places. But they get there and, shit, it’s not the same. Look, you work for the Guardian, and sometimes you see your colleagues and think: ‘Oh no, the same old thing every day.’ Maybe you want to go to the Sun? More money, less work. More photographs, [fewer] words."

His laughter dies and he looks suddenly stricken when I ask about his shock after he heard Götze would be gone this summer. "It was like a heart attack. It was one day after Málaga [whom Dortmund beat with two desperately late goals in the quarter-final]. I had one day to celebrate and then somebody thought: ‘Enough, go back down on the floor.’ At our training ground Michael Zorc [the general manager] walked in like somebody had died. He said: ‘I have to tell you something. It’s possible that …’"

Klopp can’t bring himself to repeat the words. "Michael asked if I wanted to talk and I said: ‘No, I have to go.’ That evening my wife was waiting because there’s a very good German actor, and a good friend, Wotan Wilke Möhring, in a new film in Essen and we were invited to the premiere. But I walked in and told her: ‘No chance. I cannot speak. It’s not possible to take me out tonight.’ There were all these calls from the club – we should meet in a restaurant and speak. I said: ‘No, I have to be on my own.’ Tomorrow I’ll be back in the race – but not tonight."

Some Dortmund players were so affected they could not sleep after hearing Götze’s news. "That’s the truth," Klopp concedes. "I called six or seven players who I knew were damaged in the heart. They thought they were not good enough – and they wanted to win together. That’s the reason it hurt them so much. But Bayern told Mario: ‘It’s now or never.’ I told him they will come next year. They will come in two years, and then three years. But he’s 20 and he thought: ‘I must go.’ I know how difficult it will be to find a player to replace Götze but, next year, we will play differently. It just takes time."

His first coaching inspiration, Wolfgang Frank, managed Klopp for years at Mainz and they were fascinated by Arrigo Sacchi’s work at Milan. "Even though we were in the second division we were the first German team to play 4-4-2 without a libero. We watched this very boring video, 500 times, of Sacchi doing defensive drills, using sticks and without the ball, with Maldini, Baresi and Albertini. We used to think before then that if the other players are better, you have to lose. After that we learned anything is possible – you can beat better teams by using tactics."

Klopp outwitted José Mourinho at the Signal Iduna Park. Beyond the relentless pressing and devastatingly quick transitions that define Dortmund, Klopp found a way to blunt Xabi Alonso and, in turn, Cristiano Ronaldo. The fact that Mourinho has since taken to phoning him regularly is another sign of Klopp’s place at the peak of European coaching. But, besides tactical acumen, his ability to connect emotionally with his players is telling.

After he has praised Lionel Messi as "the most unbelievable player because there’s no weapon against him when he is fit – no tactic will work", Klopp offers a startling insight. Rather than showing his team videos of Barça at their best, for displays of tika-taka are scarcely relevant to Marco Reus, the hugely energetic standard-bearer of Dortmund’s lightning transitions, Klopp offers them photographs. He highlights the way in which Messi and his team-mates celebrate every goal "like it’s the first they’ve ever scored. It’s the perfect thing to show my team. I do it very often. I show them photographs of how Barcelona celebrate. I don’t use videos because I don’t copy Barça’s style. But you see them celebrate goal number 5,868 like they’ve never scored before. This is what you should always feel – until you die."

Klopp has always been interested in ways of unifying his teams for, as he says: "You can speak about spirit – or you can live it." At Mainz, after he’d led the club to promotion in 2004, he settled on an unlikely pre-season trip. "We took the team to a lake in Sweden where there was no electricity. We went for five days without food. They had to do this [he whistles and, using an imaginary fishing rod, casts off]. The other coaches said: ‘Don’t you think it’s better to train playing football?’ No. I wanted the team to feel that they can survive everything. My assistant coach thinks I’m an idiot. He asks if we can train there. No. Can we run there? No. But we can swim and fish!

"When I meet one of those players now, from our ‘Special Forces’, they tell me what happened in the first and last minute and every story in between. Each night in a fucking tent, lying on the roots, you don’t forget that. We had to find the next island. The first one there had to make a fire and boil some water. The whole time it was raining. Only five hours it was not and then [Klopp slaps his cheek] … a mosquito! How can they live in Sweden? You see the sun and [he slaps his cheek again] you feel mosquitos! But it was brilliant. We were like Bravehearts. You can stick a knife in me here – no problem. We went to the Bundesliga and people could not believe how strong we were."

He was soon known across Germany. His incisive yet amusing work as a television pundit brought him a first flush of fame. More importantly, his outstanding coaching impressed Bayern Munich. "Uli Hoeness [Bayern’s president] asked if I would see him. I said: ‘Yes sir – I have to ask my mother first but I think it will be fine.’ He told me they were thinking of two coaches and I was one of them. Later Hoeness decided on Jürgen Klinsmann. It wasn’t too disappointing – for a second division manager to be called by Bayern is not the worst thing in the world."

Klopp was also approached by Hamburg. In the end their hierarchy offered the job to Martin Jol because, unlike Klopp, he wore a suit when interviewed. "I know why I didn’t get the job," Klopp says. "They came to my house but two out of three guys wanted me. One of them was not sure. I looked like this [Klopp gestures at his unkempt appearance]. I’m sorry!

"I read it in the newspaper that I’m not the right coach because of these reasons and, also, because my players called me Kloppo. I don’t think it’s disrespectful. At Mainz, when I started as a coach, the players were my team-mates. The next day I’m their coach. Must they start calling  me ‘Sir’? Hamburg thought if someone called me Kloppo I can’t have their respect. I phoned them and said: ‘I don’t want to go to Hamburg. It’s not possible when you have so many doubts about my character.’"

Hamburg must be cursing their fastidiousness. Klopp, since then, has been linked to Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United and even Arsenal. He still seems tightly bound to Dortmund – but will this always be the case? "I don’t know. In this moment I don’t think of anything else. If I went to many clubs now and said: ‘Hello – bring me offers’, maybe some would start running. But I’m not interested because, for me, this is the most interesting football project in the world. In three or four years, if someone wants me, we can speak. But, for now, this is the best place for me."

Klopp comes from a small village in the Black Forest – "There were 1,500 people there when I left and 1,499 live there now." He is the father of two grown-up sons and his wife, Ulla, is a writer. "She wrote a book for children," Klopp says. "It’s like Harry Potter – but it’s about football. There’s no Harry Potter flying on his fucking stick – just football." Yet even if Dortmund is not the centre of the universe, Klopp has produced a magical world of football rooted in his normality and good sense.

"I got more in life than I was ever supposed to get – family, money, football. None of my teachers, or my parents, ever believed this would happen to me. So how can this perfect life of mine be spoilt because they take our players? It’s better if they stay but I’m not sure we’d be stronger. You need change to make the next step in the team’s development. If all these players had stayed I would have to go because there’d be nothing new. If I say ‘Go left’, they would say: ‘You’ve told us that 200 times – we don’t want to hear your voice any more.’ That’s life – so you need new players. It’s not an easy situation but I can handle it. I am an absolutely normal guy but it’s not so difficult to find a moment to be their friend or, well, [he grins] teacher."

As he approaches the biggest game of his life, Klopp talks merrily of "a fairytale." But he also points out calmly that, last season, Dortmund did the league-and-cup double over Bayern, as he predicted. It was their second Bundesliga title in a row. At the start of this season Klopp insisted Dortmund were ready to win the Champions League.

Bayern will be favourites but Dortmund have the support of most neutrals – for it is difficult to resist such an exuberant team and their riveting coach.

"We are a club, not a company," Klopp says, "but it depends on which kind of story the neutral fan wants to hear. If he respects the story of Bayern, and how much they have won since the 1970s, he can support them. But if he wants the new story, the special story, it must be Dortmund. I think, in this moment in the football world, you have to be on our side."

Jürgen Klopp is proud to wear PUMA – who are also a partner of Borussia Dortmund

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Borussia Dortmund’s banner plans blocked by Wembley red tape

May 21, 2013 in In the News, The Guardian


Powered by article titled “Borussia Dortmund’s banner plans blocked by Wembley red tape” was written by James Riach, for on Tuesday 21st May 2013 11.29 UTC

Borussia Dortmund supporters will be prevented from unfurling a mosaic of the Champions League trophy at Wembley before Saturday’s final against Bayern Munich due to health and safety fears.

Dortmund’s fans are renowned for their imaginative choreography but Uefa and Wembley rules mean a banner cannot be passed between the seats in level one of the stadium and the corporate section in level two, where members of the “Uefa family” will sit.

Wembley officials said they have tried to accommodate the requests of both sets of supporters for the showpiece game, the second time the Champions League final has been held at the ground in three years, but could not guarantee that spectators in the corporate seats would take part in any partisan activity.

So it was deemed that Dortmund’s choreography would breach health and safety conditions, while the gradient of the seats in level five of the stadium is too steep for a giant flag to be unfurled.

Daniel Lörcher, a Dortmund supporter-liaison officer, said: “It is very sad for our supporters, there are a lot of regulations and it isn’t possible to do a good choreography. We won’t do a bad one so it’s cancelled. In the middle of the standing area there is the VIP area for non-supporters, if you can’t do the choreography here you can’t do a whole build. They were planning flags, papers and a whole picture of the trophy.

“They didn’t finish their plans, they bought material and flags, but they can use it next season for a home match. It’s really sad, it’s the biggest game for them and they can’t do a choreography. There are problems in London that aren’t so big here.”

Dortmund supporters will still carry flags and wear yellow shirts to bring a “yellow wall” from Germany to London.

Bayern Munich, meanwhile, will press ahead with their plans for an organised display despite the red tape at Wembley, although their fans admitted there were a number of “hurdles” to overcome and that “the conditions for a successful choreography are catastrophic”. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Norwich’s twin threat earns victory over Chelsea in FA Youth Cup final

May 16, 2013 in In the News, News, The Guardian

Norwich's Cameron McGeehan lifts the FA Youth Cup as his teammates celebrate the triumph

Powered by article titled “Norwich’s twin threat earns victory over Chelsea in FA Youth Cup final” was written by Simon Burnton at Stamford Bridge, for on Monday 13th May 2013 22.21 UTC

In what must go down as one of the greatest cup upsets in nearly three days, Norwich convincingly overcame the defending champions and strong favourites, Chelsea, to win the away leg of the FA Youth Cup final 3-2, and the cup itself by an aggregate score of 4-2. The home side, widely expected to win the trophy for the third time in four years, instead ceded it to a club that last won it in 1983, when Jeremy Goss was in the line-up.

Thirty years later Norwich’s success was inspired by a pair of irrepressible fleet-footed forwards with whom Chelsea simply could not cope. The intelligence and speed of their running was probably enough to bemuse the home defence, but the fact that they are identical twins surely couldn’t have helped. Between them Joshua and Jacob Murphy created two goals and scored one, and formed such a troublesome threat on the counter-attack that, with slightly more clinical finishing, the scoreline – already shocking enough to prompt tears from Chelsea’s excellent captain, Lewis Baker, after the final whistle – might have been humiliating.

For all their promise, Monday night’s victory shouldn’t be taken as a guarantee of future glory. While many future stars have made their mark on this stage – as Chelsea know more than most, having won back-to-back victories in 1960 and 1961 with teams featuring Peter Bonetti, Ron Harris, Terry Venables and recently-deposed record goalscorer Bobby Tambling – it is equally easy to happen upon fool’s gold. When Leeds United stormed to a 4-1 aggregate win over Manchester United in 1993 they probably thought they had it made. As it turned out their most high-profile graduates were Noel Whelan and Mark Tinkler, and it was the losers who hit the big time – David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Robbie Savage, Keith Gillespie and the Neville brothers all played.

With this match serving as an annual graduation ceremony for the latest crop of skilful youngsters it was tempting to perceive a wind of change in the Stamford Bridge air. In fact it was just wind. The players ran out to a guard of honour formed by 18 Chelsea mascots, some of them not much younger than the footballers they were welcoming, whose blue-and-white checked flags stood rigid in the keen breeze. On their way from the tunnel the combatants were each accompanied by a further mascot, making 40 mascots in total. Last night’s crowd of 17,676 – the two legs were witnessed by an aggregate crowd of 39,271 – was thus 0.23% mascot.

Chelsea had lost the away leg 1-0, but this was not expected to be much of an impediment. After all, they had lost last year’s away leg 1-0 at Blackburn but made up for it by winning 4-0 at home.

Within three minutes Norwich had 10 men back defending waves of attacks and if a Chelsea victory seemed likely then, it appeared inevitable in the 15th minute when Jeremie Boga collected Andreas Christensen’s pass, sauntered towards the edge of Norwich’s penalty area and shot low past a wrong-footed William Britt. A minute later, Ruben Loftus Cheek, an elegant central midfielder who shows all the hallmarks of having studied Frank Lampard at great length and at close quarters, was just offside as Chelsea sought another.

But in the 20th minute Norwich retook the aggregate lead, Jacob Murphy playing a short corner to his brother, who got to the byline and slammed in a low cross that Adam Nditi, one of eight veterans of last year’s final in Chelsea’s starting XI, needlessly turned into his own net at the near post.

At this stage, though, the home side looked clearly superior. Though they lacked quality in wide areas, where Alex Kiwomya, nephew of the former Ipswich and Arsenal forward Chris, and scorer of six goals in six games in the run to the final, was never more than peripheral, they were dominating the centre. In the 29th minute Baker’s excellent through-ball found Islam Feruz, but he shot wastefully wide and soon afterwards Ola Aina’s low cross flew just behind John Swift, who speared the ball high.

Then Norwich broke. This time it was Carlton Morris, their brawny centre-forward, who led the charge. He carried the ball into the penalty area and went over, fairly easily it must be said, when challenged by Ben Wyatt, who had also conceded a penalty in the first leg. It was the fourth and final foul of a gleefully innocent first half. As in the first game, the Norwich captain, Cameron McGeehan, converted.

Baker saw one shot fly just wide and another well saved early in the second half, before the game’s critical moment arrived with an hour played. With the outside of his right foot Swift curled a brilliant pass round the last defender into the path of Feruz, who tried and failed to take the ball past Britt, got it back, cut inside and then lashed wide of the near post. A goal then and Chelsea would once again have been favourites to win. Instead they were forced into a series of increasingly desperate game-chasing tactical changes, which succeeded mainly in giving the Murphys extra space to run into.

In the 76th minute Norwich broke, the Chelsea substitute left-back Kevin Wright – described in the programme as “honest and hard-working”, a worrying phrase most commonly applied to 35-year-olds who play for Aldershot – played three Norwich players onside and Jacob Murphy crossed for Joshua to score. Norwich’s fans, who had outsung the home supporters throughout, outsung them even more emphatically thereafter, undaunted by Boga’s 87th-minute consolation. Whether they will be singing these players’ names in more highfalutin fixtures in future seasons remains to be seen, but there were certainly no fools in gold last night. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Stats show that referee’s favour home teams

April 29, 2013 in In the News, Referee, The Guardian

ivanovic and referee

Powered by article titled “Statistical models show referees are homers – by popular acclamation” was written by Sean Ingle, for The Guardian on Sunday 28th April 2013 22.00 UTC

Let us first say this about referees: they have evolved into marvellous species, worthy of an Attenborough voiceover, with lungs as deep as a blacksmith’s bellows and the 4D-vision of a teacher on a school outing. Even in the hyper-accelerated, scheming-cheating thrash of modern football – where these sheriffs with headsets make roughly 600 decisions every match – they get an enormous amount right.

Yet the following is also true: they are unwittingly and incontrovertibly biased towards home teams – especially those with larger crowds.

"The evidence is overwhelming," says professor Alan Nevill, a specialist in biostatistics at Wolverhampton University. "And it is across a range of sports including football."

We can all cite oven-fresh examples from the past week. That bite and a shin-rake missed at Anfield. An offside goal and buttocky bodycheck ignored in Munich. A phantom penalty in Basel. Another offside goal waved through at the Emirates. In isolation these events tell us little. But by probing the issue from multiple angles, using large data sets and advanced statistical techniques, a pattern emerges. Referees subconsciously favour home teams.

A decade ago, Nevill led a study in which 40 qualified referees were asked to judge 47 incidents from a 1998-99 match between Liverpool v Leicester; half watched with crowd noise, the control group in silence. The results were surprising: those viewing the footage with crowd noise awarded significantly fewer fouls (15.5%) against the home team compared with those watching in silence.

In the NBA, fewer fouls are given against star players at home, while when Bundesliga matches are played in stadiums with running tracks the bias referees usually show the home team halves. Another paper – The 12th Man? Refereeing bias in English and German soccer – shows that home teams receive fewer yellow and red cards, even when accounting for them being disproportionately the favoured team and disproportionately ahead during games.

One of the authors, Dr Babatunde Buraimo – a senior lecturer in sports economics at the University of Central Lancashire – talks me through the "sophisticated statistical model" involving "minute-by-minute bivariate probit analysis". It is impressive stuff, although you don’t need a maths degree to know the likely consequences of being reduced to 10 men by a home-town decision. Forthcoming research also suggests that referees favour home teams by adding more injury time in addition to the amount the fourth official holds up – when a match is closer and when any additional time would favour the home team.

You might think improved referee training could change this. But Nevill’s latest article, in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise last month, suggests it is not that simple. It is true that home advantage has declined in England and Scotland – something Nevill says is due to a "systematic improvement" in referees’ decision-making accuracy because of better training and monitoring. There is, however, a caveat. The steepest decline in home advantage is to be found in the lower leagues and shallowest in the Premier League. "I think it’s the first scientific proof that it’s the crowd having the influence," Nevill says. "Referees’ objective capabilities are still not immune to the unconscious influence of the crowd."

Psychologists call this influence conformity. And you can see how it happens. If 70,000 fans scream for a decision it can reinforce the referee’s first impression of an incident. Or it can make them subconsciously decide to get the crowd off their backs by giving them what they want.

It has long been mooted that home advantage is partly down to playing in a familiar stadium, or the adverse effects of travelling. Maybe for an NFL team playing across the other side of America. But in the Premier League?

Another myth we cling to – that shouting until your tonsils are red-raw can somehow inspire your team – also has little to back it up. One example cited by Tobias Moskowitz and Jon Wertheim, the authors of Scorecasting, is that in 624 NHL shootouts between 2005-09 – when you might expect the home crowd to be more vociferous and therefore more inspiring – the home team won 304 (49.4%) times and the away team 316 (50.6%).

When looking at reasons for home advantage we first direct our attention to the man in the middle. We assume that whatever the terraces spit at referees runs off, like water off Gore-Tex. Research suggests otherwise.

So what should be done? One view is to just lump it. As David Forrest, professor of economics at Salford University, points out. "Statisticians think justice is everything. But randomness and noise create uncertainty of outcome, which is one of the appeals of sport."

On the other end of the scale, video evidence – while not to everyone’s taste – can help. When the instant-replay challenge was introduced to the NFL in 1999 it led to a 29.4% drop in home advantage. In football the effect could be even greater: because the game is low scoring, one decision – a penalty, red card or offside goal – is more likely to affect the result.

Whatever your view, doesn’t this issue deserve a little more attention? As it is, any discussion of referee bias rarely goes beyond weary laments involving Manchester United and the lack of away penalties at Old Trafford – something, incidentally, that silicon chips are yet to show has any statistical significance.

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While Germany sets a shift in Europe, Monterrey step closer to cementing a third straight CONCACAF Champions League

April 26, 2013 in In the News, The Guardian


Powered by article titled “Monterrey edge towards third straight Champions League with Santos draw” was written by Graham Parker, for on Thursday 25th April 2013 12.59 UTC

Santos Laguna failed to take the initiative in the home leg of their Concacaf Champions League final, despite playing against ten men for the last 24 minutes when Monterrey’s influential César Delgado was given a straight red.

Santos looked unreognizably pedestrian throughout a game where, if anything, the visiting Monterrey were the more likely to get a goal. They certainly went closest — the excellent Suazo powering a fierce header off the foot of the post with Orozco utterly beaten, early in the second half.

Santos meanwhile, were static in their approach play — particularly through the middle, where the central pairing of Rodriguez and Salinas did little to stretch the two lines of four men Monterrey maintained when out of possession. Only Quintero showed consistent invention, but to an extent he’d been marginalized from the first whistle by his coach Pedro Caixinha’s decision to leave Herculez Gomez on the bench in favor of Lugo. In theory that should have given Santos some more stability in midfield, but it ended up leaving them flat across the middle and unable to benefit from Quintero’s ability to open up defenses centrally, as he was playing wider than usual.

Quintero did look lively from that wider position, but without the provocateur/poacher Gomez making proactive runs, Peralta and Cardenas were too predictable and easily handled by Monterrey’s defense — particularly on set pieces, where the visitors were much bigger and won virtually every header. They also won most of their duels all over the field, while being happy to concede possession to a Santos midfield that held the ball deep and rarely forced the tempo.

When Gomez did eventually come into the game early in the second half, it was a forced substitution as Peralta’s knee buckled nastily as he tussled for a ball in the box. Gomez had a couple of half chances set up by threaded through balls by Quintero (illusory flashes of Santos at their best), but what might have been his most significant touch was the forceful one he received across his shin from the boot of Monterrey’s Delgado in the 66th minute. The straight red removed a player who’d been a stalwart not just of Monterrey’s defense, but of their marauding breaks forward, in which Suazo, playing off the target man De Nigris, was frequently given way too much time, or allowed to make dangerous secondary runs into the box.

Even when Delgado went off, Monterrey did not look unduly stretched. Moreno was thrown on to change their shape to something like a 4-3-2 in defense, and while Santos tried some substitutions of their own in Cejas and Calderón to change things up, their attacks lacked speed and conviction, and Monterrey were able to run down the clock.

All in all, Santos looked more like a team afraid of experiencing what Monterrey did to LA Galaxy in the last ten minutes of their semi-final first leg, rather than a team inspired by how the Galaxy had been able to open Monterrey up at times in the other 80 minutes. Santos didn’t lose, but they now have to find a way to get a result on the road, if they’re to stop a confident Monterrey side from winning their third successive Champions League title in front of their own fans.

Santos Laguna: Sanchez; Figueroa, Estrada, Baloy, Mares; Rodriguez, Quintero, Lugo (Cejas 77), Salinas (Calderón 85); Cardenas, Peralta (Gomez 57)

Monterrey: Orozco; Mier, Basanta, López, Solis; Delgado, Suazo (Madrigal 88), Ayovi, Zavala, Corona (Cruz 68); De Nigris (Chávez 79) © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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