We need to talk about Rafa…

My thoughts on Sunday’s game are similar ones to those I have had over the past year watching Rafa Benitez’s team. We lack depth, we lack width and we lack movement off the ball whilst in possession. Pretty much the absolute basics of attacking play. Rafa may (rightfully) moan about missing out on specific transfer targets earlier in the window but this does not explain his needlessly negative strategy, line-ups and substitutions.

Before I go off on a possible rant I would like to make one thing perfectly clear, we are not a bad team. Don’t buy into the mainstream football media’s avalanche of misery they insist on piling onto our club whenever things don’t seem 100% right from the outside looking in. We were not outplayed by Huddersfield, much like we weren’t outplayed by Spurs last week when 11v11, and apart from their goal, the newly-promoted side hardly made a dent in terms of hurting our back line.

Out of both sides, it was us that had the biggest chance of the game when Ayoze Perez blasted over when completely unmarked from about 8 yards out. Substitutes Joselu & Murphy had opportunities to have a clear shot on goal but failed to make the most of them. Out of both goalkeepers, it was Huddersfield’s Jossl that had to pull off a fingertip save to keep out Ritchie’s effort in the first half. If that chance, or any of these chances, go in then it’s a different game and likely different result.

Mooy

Now that the positives are out of the way, yes, they were positives honest, there is a big elephant in everyone’s room on Tyneside that nobody wants or is prepared to talk about. Some refuse to even acknowledge its very existence under any circumstances mainly due to bigger worries and concerns. However, at some stage, this has to be discussed and looked at. At some point, we need to talk about Rafa.

Amongst all the lack of transfers stuff & the Mike Ashley stuff and whatever other stuff fans want to talk or moan about, there has been one massively concerning issue that has been staring us all in the face over the past year. Rafa Benitez’s overly cautious and needlessly negative approach to our games. More specifically his tactics and use of the personnel he has at his disposal. Do we lack some quality? Yes. Do we have any quality? Yes. Is that quality being used in its capacity? No.

How we managed to win the Championship was quite remarkable to be perfectly honest. You can count on one hand the amount of games where we actually looked impressive and destroyed teams that were below our level. No one can say our Championship season wasn’t one hell of a long struggle. Some say, ‘well that’s the Championship’, maybe.

Ritchie

The more accurate thing to say, however, is that we caused our own frustrations by not going about our business on the pitch anywhere near as positively and ambitiously as we should have. Wingers dropping deep and always coming short. Full-backs chained to the halfway line and unable to get forward. Both centre midfielders dropping deep right in front of our centre-backs. It’s needless and it’s wrong.

Against Huddersfield, these demons in Rafa’s philosophy raised their ugly head once again. 99% will put this down to ‘lack of quality’ or ‘they need more players’. I am telling you now, even with new and/or better players that won’t dispel the demons. The football club needs to change its philosophy when it comes to being cheap in the transfer market. But Rafa also needs to change his philosophy with the players he has. Neither are good enough at the moment.

Follow on Twitter @ToonBano

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The truth behind tactical Transfer Requests: They don’t always come from players!

“On most occasions transfer requests don’t come from the player, they are instigated either directly or indirectly by the player’s club”

We live in an age where players look to demand transfers and force their way out of their current football club to go to another, as player power rules all and contracts aren’t worth the paper they are written on. They do this by issuing a transfer request to the shock and dismay of their club. Right?

Wrong. On most occasions transfer requests don’t come from the player, they are instigated either directly or indirectly by the player’s club for a couple of reasons. The main one being when a player signs a contract with a club they (somehow) have a ‘loyalty bonus’ within that which is paid out to them if they were to leave the club before the contract expires. Mental, I know.

Now for a club to get out of paying such ‘loyalty bonus’ the player himself needs to show a distinct lack of ‘loyalty’ by doing something like issuing a transfer request to enforce a transfer away from the club. Once this is in place the club don’t have to pay him squat in any ‘loyalty bonus’ and save themselves millions of pounds.

The other reason a club will want their superstar, or not, player to hand in an official transfer request is accountability. We all here fans & pundits criticise their clubs when they sell a big player as they wanted them to stay.

Remember Liverpool making a huge mistake selling Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid? Fans and experts alike will still tell you today that it was. The fact is, the only mistake Liverpool made was to not get Xabi Alonso to make his desire to join Madrid public and officially request a transfer. If they had, then this myth that Alonso had any remote chance of staying at Anfield wouldn’t exist.

We sit here as I type with Philippe Coutinho and Virgil Van Dyke wanting to move to bigger football clubs but both of their respective clubs have issued unwavering statements categorically stating ‘he ain’t leaving, no matter what’. Since both statements were released to the media, sure enough, the player’s agent have released their own ‘statement’ of sorts with official transfer requests.

Now, if and when Coutinho and Van Dijk make their moves before 1st September, not only will Liverpool and Southampton have made an eye-watering amount of transfer money, they will have saved a few million by not having to pay the player his ‘loyalty bonus and also NOBODY can criticise the club for not trying to keep the player. It seems to be a win-win for everyone involved, although that isn’t necessarily true.

The party which will have a cloud hanging over them will be the player. Liverpool fans are already burning their Coutinho shirts as we speak and Southampton fans will never name their child Virgil if they were for some reason thinking about it. Plus, they also miss out on a few million of a loyalty bonus but the dent in reputation will hurt more than in their hefty pockets.

Have a look at the criticism Chelsea have received by selling Nemanja Matic to Man Utd and the constant questions Antonio Conte has to answer for his clubs ‘strange’ behaviour. The fact is, Matic wanted to work with Jose Mourinho and Chelsea had already replaced Matic with a younger player in Bakayoko weeks previous.

Now if Matic had handed in an official transfer request, would Chelsea be receiving any criticism? Doubtful. Would Conte be needing to defend his clubs actions in selling Matic to a rival? No. With all this in mind, it makes you actually wonder why the club didn’t go down the tactical transfer route to save them the trouble. Perhaps they did but the player refused.

Gary Neville has questioned Chelsea’s decision to allow midfielder Nemanja Matic to join title rivals Manchester United this summer.

The Premier League champions sanctioned the Serbia international’s departure to Old Trafford in July for a fee of £40m.

However, the Sky Sports pundit has labelled the sale “strange”, especially given the role Matic played in helping the Blues win the Premier League last season.

Football is a dirty business at times. We all know that player power rules football. But the factor of an official transfer request before any deals go through actually puts the club in a very controlling position.

They can sell a player, potentially destroy his reputation (at least with its own fans) and keep their own reputation intact by avoiding any potential criticism for lack of ambition or being a sell-out. The player issuing a transfer request gives them ‘no choice’ at the end of the day. No responsibility.

In some instances, like the Andy Carroll £35million transfer from Newcastle to Liverpool in 2011, the club rang Carroll up as he was already on his way to sign for Liverpool (in Mike Ashley’s private helicopter!) requesting that he handed in a transfer request otherwise the deal was off!

Carroll didn’t have much choice and did as he was asked which saved Newcastle a couple of million quid by avoiding paying his loyalty bonus but at the same time destroyed the local lad’s reputation with some Geordies that will never be fixed.

So the next time you see a player hand in a transfer request ask yourself why? Is it him throwing his toys out the pram and demanding a move or is the club forcing it upon him?

Follow The Ginger Pirlo on Twitter @ToonBano

Rafa Benitez confirms he is “not happy” at Newcastle at the moment

It’s Premier League launch day and one of the several guests in attendance is our very own ‘special one’ Rafa Benitez. As the standard procedure, he has taken part in several interviews for the likes of Sky, BT Sport, BBC & TalkSport with the main talking point being the seeming lack of spending and investment in the squad over the summer.

Rafa seems more than happy to talk about it and hasn’t held back in what he thinks. On Sky Sports this morning he blatantly made his stance be known to the world by categorically confirming he is “not happy” with Newcastle’s transfer business thus far and hopes to bring players in over the coming weeks.

 

Rafa is a very political manager who uses threats and concerns through the media in order to strengthen his own hand with certain issues he has with his club, usually transfer business, and has done this throughout his career.

How his latest comments will go down with the club executive Lee Charnley and owner Mike Ashley no one knows for sure. Will it inspire Charnley to get his finger out? Or put his back up? We will find out in due course but one thing is for sure, Rafa is not happy with his current squad and wants the whole world to know that ‘fact’.

Follow me on Twitter @ToonBano

Angry Kieran Gibbs set to leave Arsenal for Newcastle after FA Cup final omission

Arsenal have signed left-back Sead Kolasinac on a free transfer for next season and with Nacho Monreal first-choice, Kieran Gibbs’ days are numbered at the Emirates.


The Englishman has been plagued by injuries his whole career and was reported as injured, then ill, before the FA Cup final but was angered after not being told about his omission from the squad by Arsene Wenger.

So Gibbs is set to leave Arsenal in the summer after a massive 10 years since making his debut for the North London club, with Newcastle his most likely destination. A fee of around £6 million should be enough to take him to Tyneside and would be a much-welcomed addition to take over the left-back duties from Paul Dummett.

The semi-retired Welsh international Geordie wizard just isn’t up to scratch for the Premier League. He was decent in the important games during our Championship campaign, with keeping Brighton’s ‘Championship Player of the Year’ Anthony Knockaert quiet being the highlight, but he still showed on countless occasions his lack of positional sense, total reluctance to ever get forward and still has a massive mistake waiting to happen in his locker.

Gibbs is an experienced 27-year-old with a point to prove, given he has never quite made the most of his potential. If he can stay injury free, then he will be as solid a left-back as NUFC could ever hope to bring in for such a reasonable fee.

Watch this space.

Follow The Ginger Pirlo on Twitter @ToonBano

Sol Campbell: the forgotten Premier League man mountain

“It was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him”

Very rarely will you find someone who truly understands or recognises the greatest centre-back to grace the Premier League stage. He was born Sulzeer Jeremiah but you know him as Sol. The man mountain of Sol Campbell.

Whenever you ask someone to make an all-time Premier League XI, the centre-back partnership will usually consist mainly of John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Tony Adams, Jaap Stam or Nemanja Vidic.

20 years a Premier League player with over 500 appearances. A multiple Premier League winner. A multiple FA Cup winner with two different teams. A League Cup winning captain. Three times selected in Premier League team of the year.

11 years an England international with 73 caps. Played in two World Cups. Two European Championships. Captained his country. Selected in the 2002 World Cup & 2004 European Championship teams of the tournament.

Never ending sliding tackle by Sol Campbell

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All impressive reading but his unique and greatest achievement was being the linchpin of a team that went a whole league season unbeaten. To win games requires a team to score goals. To not lose games requires a team to not concede goals.

As the main defender of a team to go a whole season without defeat is special, however, when you consider his centre-back partners he had at the time, it shows how special Sol Campbell really was.

“Sol had become one of our main players, and we now had an absolute physical presence and stability at the back.

He is monstrous and, with his full power and also his ability to score a goal, you have an outstanding player. With Jens Lehmann, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Touré, they were all winners.”

Wenger speaking on Campbell and the defence of the Invincibles season

The 2003-04 season was the first time Kolo Toure would be used as a centre-back by Arsene Wenger. He needed a rock beside him to help guide and cover his mistakes that he would inevitably make being a rookie, Sol Campbell was that man.

The other options at centre-back that season was an ageing Martin Keown and Pascal Cygan. For Arsenal to go unbeaten with these options is quite incredible.

But this incredible achievement by Campbell wasn’t his first. Two seasons previous to this he made the controversial move from Spurs to Arsenal after a solid 2002 World Cup, in which he made the tournament best XI, and in his first season at the club, he won the league and cup double.

Sol

Not only did he achieve this but he took over the mantle of club legend Tony Adams without much issue. When Arsenal sealed the title at Old Trafford it was Campbell in the heart of the defence with Adams not in the squad.

For the FA Cup final 12 months after Michael Owen tore Adams and Keown apart, Campbell was Adams partner this time around as they kept Chelsea at bay with a clean sheet to win 2-0.

“I signed Campbell as I found that when playing against him his attackers could not pass him like they could other players

…it was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him”

– Arsène Wenger

From the years 2000-2005 there can be not much dispute that Sol Campbell was one of, if not THE, best centre-back in the world. He had every attribute you could want.

Strong, fast, read the game extremely well, good in the air, strong tackler plus he could grab you a goal like all good centre-backs should from set-piece situations. Sol Campbell had it all.

Sol Campbell's Goal | UCL Final 2006 vs Barca

He scored in a Champions League final in 2006 despite losing his place earlier in the season and wasn’t set to play at all against Barcelona that night. Which shows the mental strength of the man.

Speaking of mental strength, coping with the Spurs fans over the top hatred in 2001 was Sol 2quite a sight. He also went on to win the FA Cup as captain of Portsmouth in 2008, you know, like you do. What a man mountain this lad was.

The possible reason why Sol doesn’t get the recognition he deserves is he was never one to hog the limelight. He went about his work quietly and professionally. He wouldn’t be one for a post or pre-match interviews giving it the big one nor gallivanting round town with the paparazzi snapping away at his actions.

He was a defender. That’s it. Showing his personality to the public didn’t bother him. He almost seems to be punished for this.

When you look at the ridiculous send off John Terry organised for himself, can you imagine Sol having the gall to do that? When you see Rio Ferdinand constantly in the media, even whilst still playing when he made the ridiculous TV show, ‘Rio’s World Cup Wind-ups’. I mean are you having a laugh Rio?

Adams is Mr Arsenal. Vidic became a cult hero amongst Man Utd fans with his eastern European look and tough style. Nobody in this country is really bothered about a Sol Campbell type.

Sol seems a bit too intelligent for the average football fan to get along with. Terry and Ferdinand talk the dumb London footballer so the dumb London football fan relates to him. Not many relate to Sol Campbell.

How could they? This is a man who has delved into politics and spoke about possibly trying to become Mayor of London. He appreciates art, interior design, he gives speeches at care and injustice awards. He has been to the Chelsea flower show just this week. This type of ‘footballer’ is obviously something to be mocked or laughed at.

In other countries around the world, it is quite common for famous sports stars to become Mayor’s or Politicians. But not here, this is England. We like our footballers to be dumb, so we can relate but also mock how dumb they are at the same time.

We know where we stand then. Not many know where they stand with Sol Campbell which scares them. So they choose to forget him or ignore him.

I refuse to forget a man that was an absolute rock in a defence that went a whole Premier League season unbeaten, that was a rock in the England defence that gave us a genuine shot of winning something in 2002 and 2004 before the likes of Upson, Lescott and Cahill lowered our standards significantly and who has the nerve to be a quite intelligent human being, who isn’t your stereotypical footballer in this country.

Sol, you were great.

Why does Mourinho have a Jedi-like mental hold over the media?

“The fact is Jose Mourinho is made of a shiny thick coat of Teflon when it comes to any possible criticism of his teams, his management or his comments.”

It is absolutely fascinating to witness the hacks in this country, as well Sky Sports and alike, that take pride in destroying anybody in football’s reputation or credibility whenever they see fit over the smallest of things, be totally uninterested in doing the same to Jose Mourinho.

Jose Mourinho has many gifts. A gifted manager, gifted coach, gifted translator…ahem. But perhaps his greatest gift is his Jedi-like mental hold over the media in this country.

They seem to be totally unaware that Jose can say any old nonsense and they soak it up like a sponge, no matter how ridiculous or untrue.

He once attacked Arsene Wenger by saying he is a specialist in failure when the Frenchman correctly called Jose up on supposedly conceding the Premier League title, well the special one is a specialist in evading failure that’s for sure.

Take Jose Mourinho’s latest media propaganda regarding Manchester United’s end to the season. He claims that Man Utd have too many games so he is sacrificing the Premier League to fully commit to the Europa League. This in itself deserves to be scrutinised by the media in this country as to how many games Man Utd actually have, with the quality of squad he has available.

A five-second Google search tells me that the only significant injured players Man Utd have had over the last few weeks are Zlatan Ibrahimovic & Marcos Rojo. That’s it. Luke Shaw & Darmian were out but were they first choice full-backs? Luke Shaw certainly isn’t.

“He had a good performance. He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him,” Mourinho said. This critique was so pre-calculated that it came with one of those sound bites that Mourinho is always able to reach for. “It was his body with my brain,” he said.

Jose Mourinho’s take on Luke Shaw’s performance versus Everton

Jose came out after another convincing away defeat at Spurs and claimed that Man Utd only have one game left to the season as they don’t need the Premier League games. Yet nothing is said from anyone about this ludicrous statement.

Let’s say the remaining games are pointless because Man Utd can’t finish in the top 4, who’s fault is that? What’s the reason that Man Utd can’t finish in the top 4? Is it not a disgrace that Manchester Utd spent over £150 million in the summer, to add to a squad that had spent over £130 million the season before, which added to an outlay of over £160 million to the season before that, has failed to finish in the Champions League spots? Where has this £450 million gone?!

Jose Mourinho has been telling everyone in every press conference or interview that he can’t play a certain team for a certain game because he doesn’t have the players. Let’s have another quick five-second google search and find out if he is telling the truth. Players that have been available to him for his favoured 4-3-3 formation:

GK – De Gea; Romero. RB – Valencia; Jones; Smalling; Young. CB – Bailly; Jones; Smalling; Blind. LB – Blind; Young. CM – Herrera; Fellaini; Pogba; Carrick; Mata; Rooney. Winger – Mkhitaryan; Lingard; Rashford; Martial. Striker – Rashford; Martial; Rooney. If a manager can’t pick a competitive team for a game every three or four days from that, then sack him.

The fact is Jose Mourinho is made of a shiny thick coat of Teflon when it comes to any possible criticism of his teams, his management or his comments. In spite of the fact that he is actually treating the media with complete contempt, as he knows full well they will report whatever he says and then discuss it like starving sheep that fall over themselves with any soundbite which they desperately crave.

How about you delve into or even dismiss what he is telling you and look at the facts. You might then get around to doing some journalism and calling out Jose for what he has been over the past two seasons, a failure.

Follow The Ginger Pirlo on Twitter @ToonBano

New Newcastle kit ‘leaked’!

Many of us have caught a glimpse of the supposedly new Newcastle kit that has been ‘leaked’ on social media, which shows Dwight Gayle giving it the big one as he rocks the ‘classic’ black and white design we were all expecting, complete with a brand new sponsor.

This new sponsor seems to be Chinese betting firm Fun88, which would also confirm the rumours of such an establishment being the next business to flaunt itself on the black and white stripe, which is replacing the awful Wonga once and for all. Thank the Lord.

No details have been released yet on whether this is, in fact, our next sponsor or how much they are spending to promote themselves via ourselves but let’s hope it’s in the levels you would expect a top Premier League club to receive, and not some cheap job concluded by tax-avoider Lee Charnley.

Follow me on Twitter @ToonBano. Also check out TheGingerPirlo.com