Much has been said and made of Thomas Hitzlsperger’s decision to ‘come out’ as gay over the last few days – and a majority of it is a delight to read.
The reaction has been nothing but positive for the former German international midfielder, who spent time in England playing for Aston Villa, West Ham and Everton, signs that we are beginning to live in a far more tolerant world.
Hitzlsperger was known on the pitch for his bravery and strength in the tackle, as well as having a venomous shot and he has shown this bravery in his decision – a decision which he hopes will help others in the future.
All you have to do is rewind a few decades and to the case of Justin Fashanu, a promising, talented football who made the decision to make his sexual orientation public, eight years later he had killed himself.
The torment and ridicule he was forced to face from the terraces of football grounds the length and breadth of the country was nothing short of barbaric, a sign of the attitudes of the time.
The sexual orientation of a professional footballer, or any sports star, in fact any person, is irrelevant to the job they do and therefore should in theory not even be news but in this case, the positive reaction from around the footballing world has justified Hitzlsperger’s decision to come out.
But as mentioned, a positive reaction can only be a good thing and can only lead to more positive discussion about homosexuality and can hopefully create a climate where any footballer, if/when it comes down to it, feels safe and secure to come out whilst they are still in their playing days.
Another shinning example, is of former Leeds midfielder Robbie Rodgers, currently playing in America, who publicly revealed his sexuality last year. He received a great welcome on his return to England, and Elland Road over Christmas, a feature of which was shown on the Football League Show.
As I have mentioned, it should not have to be news but the only way for it to get to that place is with the positive reaction, the reaction which will continue to help to continue to change attitudes towards homosexuality, and hopefully create a change for the best.
Gordon Banks, Peter Shilton and David Seaman. All are some of England’s most capped and most influential players and what have they all got in common? They were all goalkeepers.
However in recent times, England have struggled to establish a number one and concerns are beginning to grow as the pool of potential England ‘keepers begins to dry out.
There is no need to mention the pressure Joe Hart has been under in the last 12 months. After a string of high profile errors in recent times, Hart, England’s undisputed number one since the 2010 World Cup, has been dropped by Manchester City and there are calls for the same to happen to him on the national scene.
The problem however, the other two ‘keepers in the squad, John Ruddy and Fraser Forster, have just 135 minutes of international football between them and with Hart now under pressure and a World Cup approaching, are England prepared?
John Ruddy, of NorwichCity, has made one international appearance, coming on at half time to replace Jack Butland in a friendly against Italy in 2012. The other, Fraser Forster, plays in Scotland for Celtic and despite a number of fine performances in the Champions League has not had much experience at the top level having never played a Premier League game. He now has 90 minutes under his belt in the 2-0 friendly defeat by Chile on Friday.
One only has to rewind ten or 12 years to see how the state of England’s goalkeepers has declined. The number one jersey was the first to pick itself, and there was more than enough talent playing at the top level to have three ‘keepers. David Seaman made the spot his own for 14 years between 1988 and 2002. A top performer in the League and in Europe for Arsenal, the national side were assured with him in the net.
The other two men in the 2002 World Cup squad, Nigel Martyn and David James, both had a wealth of experience in the top flight and both had played in Europe, Martyn with Leeds and James with Liverpool.
Back to the present day and has the England number one spot become a poisoned chalice. Since that Ronaldinho lob that ended Seaman’s England career, goalkeepers have come and gone, each making their own mistakes.
The first to take over was David James, who began to find form difficult to come by after taking the jersey. He was England’s number one going into Euro 2004 and was joined in the squad by young Paul Robinson and experienced campaigner Ian Walker, a keeper who despite playing more than 250 games for Spurs, made just four appearances for his country.
He soon earned the nickname ‘Calamity James’ and before long, Paul Robinson became the number one.
At about the same time, Robinson joined Spurs and his career seemed to be progressing. He made his last appearance in 2007, shortly after the costly error that ended his England playing days. In a game against Croatia in October 2006, Robinson totally missed a back pass from Gary Neville and the ball rolled into the empty net.
Next in line to ruin their career was Scott Carson. Steve McClaren’s England needed to beat Croatia to qualify for Euro 2008 but Carson’s howler, allowing a shot to go straight through, led to a 3-2 defeat and the end of Carson, and McClaren’s England’s future.
2010 brought the turn of Rob Green and his moment of horror in the England goal, this time at the World Cup in South Africa. In the opening game against USA, Green allowed a Clint Dempsey shot evade his grasp and to throw away the win. Green was subsequently dropped.
So now we come onto Joe Hart, who after three years uncontested in goal, is finally beginning to show signs that he, like many England keepers before him, are beginning to struggle. Although his mistakes have mainly been in club colours, Hart made an error in the allowing a James Morrison shot to totally evade him in a recent friendly against Scotland.
Is there a link to the pressure put on the goalkeeper by the English press and the memories of the mistakes made by previous holders of the number one jersey.
The problem stems with the number of goalkeepers playing in the Premier League. At the start of the Premier League you had the likes of Seaman, Martyn, Tim Flowers, Chris Woods, Ian Walker, David James, all playing for the top Premier League clubs.
20 years later there is now just three goalkeepers playing regularly in the Premier League. Hart, Ruddy and West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster, who is currently injured. Hardly a large pool to choose from.
So where do England go from here? England have given John Ruddy and Fraser Forster a chance in friendlies (Forster against Chile) but in the long run Hodgson, or whoever manages the national side, need to stick with Joe Hart and not let him go the same way as the other post-Seaman goalkeepers.
There is hope for England with the likes of Jack Butland coming through and with Greg Dyke’s report, hopefully more English players, including goalkeepers, will be back playing regularly in the Premier League, helping the problem Roy Hodgson, and the national side, currently faces.
FA Chairman Greg Dyke today delivered a refreshing speech condemning the current state of English football, going as far as saying England will not be able to compete on the world stage for much longer without changes to the way our game is run. He also set England the target of winning the 2022 World Cup.
But what exactly needs to change to see an England team competing all the way to the end of a tournament?
A lot of people blame the introduction of the Premier League and the financial implications brought in by its introduction. With the money being pumped into the Premier League, this year even more so with BT Sports, the financial need to stay in the Premier League is greater and therefore more money is spent on cheaper foreign exports and the vicious cycle begins.
There is a clear over reliance in foreign players. At the start of the Premier League 69% of starters were English, today just 32%, under a third of players.
You only have to look at Manchester City against Newcastle on the opening day of the season, where only 3 English players started, Joe Hart, Joleon Lescott and Steven Taylor. Compare that to 6 French players, 4 Argentinians, 2 Spaniards and Ivorians amongst others. 3 out of 22 players equates to 13%, which is not promising for the national team.
Of course, this relates to a shortage of first team football for English players, especially those moving to ‘big’ clubs. Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair moving to Manchester City proves an example. Rodwell featured in just 11 league games last season and Sinclair the same, having played all 38 in the previous season at Swansea.
Players in the current squad, including Chris Smalling and Steven Caulker featured in just 15 and 18 for Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur last season respectively, less than half of the leagues games.
It is clear what first team football can do to a player, only look at the transformation of Daniel Sturridge at Liverpool. He has scored 13 Premier League goals in 17 appearances for the Mersyside club, compared to the same haul in 63 games at Chelsea. His teammate Jordan Henderson is another example of this. The former Sunderland midfielder has finally found his feet at the club and is a regular in the first team.
However, the truth of it is England’s failure lasts a lot longer than the introduction of the Premier League. Not since 1966 have England won, or even reached the final, of a major tournament.
What the national team needs is more qualified coaches, from grass routes level all the way to the top, to help nurture talent and in all honestly, improve the technical ability of the players.
The number of UEFA A liscence coaches in England stands at 1,161. Compare that to Spain 12,720 and Germany 5,500, you can see where the problem begins to arise. It does not stop here. When you look at the number of Pro Licenced coaches England have just 203. Compare that to over 2,000 in Spain and 1,000 in Germany, a common theme begins to occur.
However it is not all doom and gloom.
There are a number of encouraging young players plying their trade in the Premier League right now. The likes of Jack Wilshere, if he can stay fit, will be key for England in coming years, along with others such as Danny Welbeck and his Manchester United colleague Wilfried Zaha and Nathan Redmond, who has impressed with England Under 21’s recently and goalkeeper Jack Butland. Southampton trio Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse and Callum Chambers have made encouraging starts to their careers on the south coast.
There is even more clear talent if you drop down a league into the Championship. Derby midfielder Will Hughes being the stand out star, who has been linked with a move to the Premier League, Nick Powell, who is on loan at Wigan from Manchester United, and Blackpool’s Tom Ince.
The key being? Getting them regular first team Premier League football and not too soon.
You only have to look at Connor Wickham, signed by Sunderland for £8million after just 13 goals, and has scored just one in 3 years and just 31 appearances at the North East club.
Potential England XI for 2022 World Cup
. Jones Caulker Smalling Shaw
. Barkley Chalobah Wilshere
. Redmond Welbeck Zaha
Subs from: George Long, Andre Wisdom, Callum Chambers, Michael Keane, Tom Cleverley, Will Hughes, Nick Powell, Jesse Lingard, Theo Walcott, Daniel Sturridge, Connor Wickham.
Now everyone, including David Moyes, knew it wasn’t going to be an easy job replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United after more than quarter of a century at the helm of one of the biggest clubs on the planet.
What Moyes needed was a quick start. Has he got one? No. Just four points from their first three games sees them five points off the top already, granted it is early days.
United’s worst start for five years will set alarm bells ringing amongst supporters all across the country.
Most concerning will be the fact that United never looked liked scoring in the 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea or the 1-0 defeat away at Liverpool. United lacked any kind of service from midfield and Robin Van Persie’s frustrations were clear for all to see.
Yes, it can be argued that Moyes’ United have has a tough start fixture wise and have picked up the same points haul from the respective fixtures as last season but the performances must be a concern.
Transfer window woes will have done nothing to improve the mood of Moyes.
Unlike Fergie’s United, the club have gone very public over transfer pursuits this summer, most notably with Thiago and Cesc Fabregas, before missing out on both. You have to ask yourself was the pull of Ferguson as manager more than that of David Moyes now? You have to argue as well that nine times out of ten Ferguson would have got his man.
Another one United missed out on late in the day was Ander Herrera. It is believed imposters posed as United officials in Spain, (whether or not this it true is yet to be confirmed) but it all is a bit shambolic.
Then of course we arrive at Marouane Fellaini, a panic buy. Yes okay, the Belgian international may improve the squad but does little to improve the first team and can hardly be described as the marquee signing Moyes was looking for, and failed to get. When you consider the fee Spurs paid for Christian Eriksen, reportedly about £12 million, the fee of over £27million a lot more than the former Everton man is worth.
Then you have to remember that United could have activated Fellaini’s £23 million release clause any time in July, meaning a cheaper transfer. Poor management right from the top of the club.
Another thing that has baffled me about Moyes is his reluctance to play Shinji Kagawa, a world class creative player, something of which United have clearly lacked in the last two games. The Japan international had a cracking Confederations Cup this summer and the fans will hope Moyes will utilise him more before they lose him.
It’s not all doom and gloom.
Of course it is still early days for Moyes and I don’t think many expected him to have the same sort of impact as Ferguson straight away. The pressure on him compared to at Everton is immense and it must be remembered, albeit against Wigan, United have won the Community Shield.
Moyes will also learn from the mistakes he has made so far, on and off the pitch, which will help him on his way to becoming a success at Old Trafford.
Whatever the outcome, it will certainly be an interesting season at Old Trafford.
With the transfer window drawing to a close tonight, it is time to assess the state of the Premier League following this summers transfer window.
Of course the big news is Gareth Bale‘s move to Madrid, finally completed on Sunday, after a summer of full speculation. Arguably the best player in the league last season, Bale won the player of the season award following his 21 goals in 33 matches, some record for a left midfielder.
Bale leaving is a massive blow, not just to Spurs, but to the Premier League as a whole. He is arguably the third best player in the world, following his new team mate Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. However, could you name enough players to make an XI of players to have left the Premier League this summer? Maybe not.
The next biggest move was perhaps the departure of Carlos Tevez, winner of the Premier League with both Manchester clubs, to Italian side Juventus from the blue half of Manchester.
Pepe Reina has left Liverpool for Napoli and a number of big name players have left QPR, including Chris Samba, who is hardly a world class player.
On the other hand when looking to build an XI based on players arriving to the Premier League is a much easier task and would give many managers a headache when trying to pick the best XI. Therefore you would have to say the Premier League is much stronger than at the back end of last season.
Manchester City spent big early to bring in Jesus Navas, Alvaro Negredo and Fernandinho, three players who improve the Man City side.
Chelsea and Spurs are this season’s main buyers however. Chelsea have brought in the likes of Willian, Samuel Eto’o, Andre Schurrle and Marco van Ginkel, amongst others. Spurs have spent a lot of money this summer on players including Christian Eriksen, Erik Lamela, Paulinho, Roberto Soldado, Nacer Chadli and Etienne Capoue.
Many teams have broken their transfer records aswell, Swansea have signed Wilfried Bony, Norwich have brought in Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Southampton have signed former Roma striker Osvaldo.
Liverpool have also strengthened, bringing in defender Mamadou Sakho, as well as Iago Aspas and Tiago Ilori
Premier League transfers XI (From abroad)
. Lovren Sakho Chiriches Pieters
. Fernandinho Paulinho
. Navas Eriksen Willian
Subs from: McGregor, Ilori, Okore, Capoue, Schurrle, Chadli, Lamela, Soldado, Bony, Eto’o
With the transfer window still open until 23:00 on Monday, there are sure to be some more big transfers in the Premier League. Mesut Ozil is close to a move to Arsenal, who are also reportedly interested in Angel Di Maria. Manchester United are rumoured to be interested in Ander Herrera from Bilbao.
Arsenal’s 1-0 North London Derby win rounded off the third week of Premier League fixtures which saw Liverpool move to the top of the league. What can be learnt from this weekend as the season starts to get into full flow?
A weekend which started off on Saturday lunch time as a less than impressive Manchester City narrowly edge past newly promoted Hull City at the Emirates. The 2-0 scoreline flattered the Manchester club as Hull spurned a number of chances as first Aluko stabbed wide after being put through one on one and Danny Graham seeing a goal ruled out for offside. Despite the scoreline, Steve Bruce will be a happy manager after an impressive performance.
In the headline game of the weekend, Arsenal beat Spurs 1-0 in the North London derby with Oliver Giroud scoring the only goal of the game and his 3rd in as many Premier League games. Much has been made about the lack of money spent by Arsene Wenger with many tipping them to miss out on the top four at the expense of their rivals but his side showed on Sunday they can still compete and with or without signings will still be there or there abouts come May. Spurs will be disappointed but AVB will understand that his newly built side will take time to gel. Their lack of attacking threat shouldn’t be of too much concern with Eriksen still to come in and Lamela yet to make his first start.
Another Sunday game saw Liverpool defeat Manchester United by the same scoreline. Doubts are already being cast over David Moyes but it was always going to be tough job replacing Ferguson and there was always going to be a transitional phase. What will disappoint Moyes the most was the lackluster performance of the midfield. Questions have to be asked of why Shinji Kagawa didn’t feature at all in the match day squad as Moyes looks to strengthen his midfield. Liverpool were impressive as they notched up their third straight 1-0 win courtesy of Daniel Sturridge’s goal, again. They never looked like being broken down at the back and Brendan Rodgers side, the only to have obtained maximum points so far, are looking more and more like Champions League contenders.
Elsewhere new boys Crystal Palace beat Sunderland 3-1 at Selhurst Park thanks to goals from Danny Gabbidon, Dwight Gayle and Stuart O’Keefe gave the London club their first win of the season. The win shows Palace can compete and score goals at home, something which will be vital if they are to stay up. For Sunderland on the other hand, things look bleak. A woeful performance, littered with mistakes, followed by a melt down by manager Paulo di Canio after the game will leave fans of the North East club wondering which direction the club will go this year. One positive was the goal scoring return of key man Steven Fletcher.
There were also first wins of the season for Norwich City and Newcastle United both winning 1-0 at home against Southampton and Fulham respectively. Young star Nathan Redmond lit up the pitch for Norwich whilst Hatem Ben Arfa scored a cracking late goal, Newcastle’s first of the season to move them both onto four points. Both Southampton and Fulham will be disappointed with the lack of chances they created but will not be too disheartened after decent performances.
Another team to grab their first win were Swansea after they beat bottom of the table, yes it is early, West Brom 2-0 at the Hawthorns. Swansea have had tough opening fixtures and the win shows their potential to do well this season whilst West Brom fans will be feeling rather nervous after a poor performance today, and just one point to their name. Fans are also concerned about the lack of money being spent on the playing club, not one penny has been spent of transfer fee’s.
Stoke make it two wins out of three following a 1-0 away win at West Ham courtesy of a Jermaine Pennant free kick, an encouraging start for Mark Hughes who seems to have got his side starting to pass whilst maintaining their solid core at the back. West Ham won’t worry too much having picked up 4 points from their opening two fixtures.
Finally, Cardiff and Everton played out a 0-0 draw in Wales. Cardiff will be pleased with their first clean sheet of the season and can count themselves lucky after Everton were denied a stone wall penalty following a foul on Leighton Baines. Everton fans will be scratching their heads after 3 successive draws, with none of their attacking players yet to find the net. Two clean sheets in a row will be encouraging for the club though, with many wondering about Martinez’s ability to build a solid team.
Team of the week
. Zabaleta Agger Gabbidon Davies
. Redmond Henderson Hernandez Ben Arfa
. Sturridge Giroud