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Is there still magic in the FA Cup?

Is there still magic in the FA Cup?

 

Image Courtesy of IcyBloke, flickr.com

Image Courtesy of IcyBloke, flickr.com

We’ve all heard of ‘the magic of the FA Cup’ – memorable games such as Wimbledon’s ‘Crazy Gang’ beating Liverpool 1-0 in the 88 Cup Final or Wrexham dumping Arsenal out in the Third Round with a 2-0 victory back in 1992 come to mind. But is the magic still there?

So far, after this year’s tournament. you’d have to say ‘yes’. We’re heading into the Quarter Final stage with just Manchester United left to play a fifth round tie against Preston North End. If United make it through to the next stage, they will be looking to continue their run, hopefully taking them on to a nineteenth final. But, given the way the Cup has gone this year, that could be a big ‘IF’.

We’ve seen League One’s Bradford City claim a 4-2 victory over Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup and this weekend they were at it again with a stunning two goal victory over Sunderland to take them through to the Quarter Final stage. Championship side Blackburn Rovers will join them after coming back from 1-0 down in the first ten minutes to knock Stoke City out with a 4-1 victory that has left the Stoke fans, like most of us, in complete shock.

 

All eyes will be on the FA Cup Quarter Final draw this evening to see what potential upsets could be in store for the next round. It’s fair to assume that most teams will be wanting to avoid playing Bradford City. Given their recent Cup form away at Stamford Bridge and home against Sunderland, Bradford City don’t seem to fear anyone in the Cup. Blackburn will also be looking to setup a potential upset against one of the bigger sides left in the draw.

That being said, Arsenal have just avoided a massive banana skin by fending off Middlesbrough with a 2-0 victory, and Liverpool have seen a revival in their fortunes, with the return of Daniel Sturridge. The Liverpool striker linked up well with Jordan Henderson on Saturday to net the team’s first goal in their 2-1 come-back against Crystal Palace. It’s also worth remembering that the reds have made it to the final the last four times they have made it to this stage in the FA Cup: in 2012, 2006, 2001 and 1996. But, before we get ahead of ourselves, there’s the matter of Manchester United vs Preston North End…

So, can Simon Grayson’s Preston North End spark that bit of FA Cup magic and deliver a giant killing and a huge blow to Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United with victory tonight? We’ll just have to wait and see.

No more fear and loathing of the Manchester United brand

Ten years ago Prince Charles hired Manchester United’s former PR advisor, Paddy Harverson. In the week that Kristina Kyriacou, known for her work with Gary Barlow and George Michael, accedes the role of royal communications secretary, one wonders whether Harverson’s former employers might need him again.

Manchester United is the sporting brand everyone loved to loathe but that strength of feeling has dissipated, replaced by a listless indifference, stretching even to pity, for a behemoth brand that has hit the buffers. And more importantly, no one seems to care.

Some say the United brand became a victim of its own success; repeated league and cup wins led to arrogance and a sense of entitlement perpetuated by a relentless manager, star players and a new generation of fans who didn’t know any different.

Manchester United are faltering on and off the pitch.

Manchester United are faltering on and off the pitch.

They would wear hatred from opposing football fans as a badge of honour, blithely singing “No one likes us, we don’t care” every week while watching another comfortable win. They would see their club voted Britain’s most hated brand, above Ryanair, Starbucks, Wonga, RBS and BP and smile, wondering if any greater compliment could be paid.

But now the Marmite taste of United’s brand has turned vanilla. No one, save die-hard rival football fans, hates them and yes, they do care; haters go with the territory for marquee brands because competitors see them as a huge threat. The alternative is irrelevance and that is the death of a brand.

During its long period of success, Manchester United used the hatred of others brilliantly as a motivation to its players and fans. The “Us against the world” philosophy was personified by Alex Ferguson, who bullied and manipulated officials, refused to speak to parts of the media and whose great success was due, in part, to the siege mentality he built around the club.

If his intention was to build animosity as a management technique, then he certainly succeeded. But that ill-feeling reached such a level that there was always going to be a problem when Ferguson handed over the reins. David Moyes has no bank of goodwill to call on, no public affection to smooth over a rocky run of results; he must build a different image for the club – and it is no quick fix that is required, but a complete restructuring. What’s more, he must do so in the face of fast receding loathing and resentment – not an easy task, by any means.

Perhaps Mr Harveson should keep his phone to hand.

Great session, great coaching and a few good stories from Glenn Hoddle

FTBpro and Glenn Hoddle

We train with former England manager Glenn Hoddle.

It’s not often that you are given the chance to be coached by a former England manager, but that’s exactly what happened earlier this week when I visited the Soccerdome in London to take part in a coaching session organised by The PHA Group client FTBPro.

30 writers from the FTBPro website- the largest fan-generated media platform in global football – won a competition to be part of a training session with Glenn Hoddle and his team of England youth coaches. And thanks to a very kind boss I was also invited to take part!

We began the day with a light warm up and then we were split into four groups. After playing a few games against each other, which involved dribbling and passing between cones, we progressed into some small sided games under the watchful eye of Glenn Hoddle himself.

Glenn stopped us in our tracks a couple of times to give some advice but on the whole, he let us play as we wanted. It took me a while to get into the game but after a few decent touches and a couple of off the ball runs he acknowledged me and said he could tell that I had played at a good level. It’s not every day you receive praise from a former England manager!

Not that it matters too much but we lost the first game 2-1, drew the second 2-2 and in the third and final game we drew 1-1.

We finished off with some shooting from outside the 18-yard box. We were split into three groups, one group on the outside left of the area, one group on the outside right and one in the middle. I was in the middle group. We were told that we had to be on the move when striking the ball so either a teammate would have to set it up for you or you could take a touch out of your feet and hit it.

I happened to have the ball at my feet and Glenn Hoddle was standing with his back to goal on the penalty spot. So I took my chance and fizzed the ball into him and shouted left, luckily he was switched on and he set the ball back to me and I curled a shot just over the bar. It would have been better if it had gone in but nevertheless I can still say that I played a one-two with a man who won 53 England caps and managed his country!

Out of four shots, three hit the target and I scored one which, for a fullback, are pretty good statistics.

We then all had the chance to have our picture taken with Glenn and as I approached him and shook his hand he asked me who I played for. I answered that I played for Royston Town FC and, as it turns out, Glenn is actually good friends with a few of the coaches at the club…..hopefully he’ll put in a good word for me!

Glenn Hoddle and Dan, The PHA Group

After some lunch, we finished with a Q and A session with Glenn. He was more than happy to share stories with us about his career and give us some insight into how he thinks England will perform at this summer’s World Cup:

“A European team has never won the World Cup in South America so the most important thing for England this time around is to give the younger players as much experience as possible and the only way to do that is to go as far as they can in the tournament.

“The best player I ever played against was Maradona. When you look at the way he singlehandedly helped Argentina win the World Cup in 1986, for me I hold him in higher regard than Messi or Ronaldo.

“The best goal I ever scored was against Manchester United in 1979. It’s the goal that gave me the best feeling”.  (That was the goal that produced the iconic image, many will remember, of Glenn Hoddle floating in the air as he connected with a scissor kick volley to score).

“Paul Gascoigne, Paul Ince and a pint of Guinness” he said, discussing England’s heroic draw with Italy in 1997 to qualify for the 1998 World Cup.

On modern football coaching styles, he was asked… Mourinho’s style of play or Guardiola’s? “I prefer my own” he said.

Overall it was a pleasure to meet Glenn Hoddle and it’s obvious that he still lives and breathes football. He certainly still has a lot to offer the game and I’m sure it won’t be too long before we see him standing in the dugout again.

 

To find out more about FTBpro visit www.ftbpro.com or on Twitter @FTBpro

Premier League enters final sprint

As we head into the start of March, there is everything still to play for in the Barclays Premier League.

calendario-premier-league

Race for the Title

It might seem to many that Manchester United have already got one hand on the Premier League title but for anyone who follows football, we all know that could all change in a matter of games. Manchester City, you will remember, were eight points behind with just six games to go last season and still managed to snatch the title in the most dramatic circumstances, so anything can happen.  12 points might seem like a lot but with Manchester United focused on the Champions League tie with Real Madrid in two weeks’ time, City’s early exit from the competition could work in their favour as they look to close the gap at the top.  Injuries will be key but if United can keep Van Persie and Rooney fit, it’s difficult to see them losing four games from now until the end of the season. For the neutral, though we hope for the drama and excitement of last season, but as Sky Sports pundit Martin Tyler so famously said at the time “I promise you will never see anything like it again”….I’m afraid I tend to agree.

Verdict: United will get their hands on their 20th league trophy.

Champions League Qualification

The battle for 4th is set to go to the wire as we eagerly await the North London derby this weekend. Gareth Bale’s blistering form has catapulted Spurs into 3rd place in the Barclays Premier League ahead of their London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.

The Welsh international scored two wonder goals in Spurs’ stunning 3-2 win over West Ham this week to continue his outstanding form in front of goal. The man who flitted in and out of the Tottenham side for two years, following his arrival from Southampton, in 2007 has now become one of Europe’s premier performers. The Tottenham winger has scored 23 goals in an incredible season, with 9 goals in the last 7 games. He is the only midfielder on the continent to have had more than 100 shots this season and he alone has earned Tottenham 15 points this season.

However, with Bale’s outstanding performances single-handily carrying the team at the moment, the fans are beginning to question the performance of the other players around him. For their sake, they will be hoping the injury jinx doesn’t stand in the way of qualifying for the Champions League and that Bale will remain fit for the rest of the season. Indeed if you take away the goals Bale has scored this season, Tottenham would occupy 9th place in the table. A win for Tottenham will open up a seven-point gap over Arsenal and for me should see them seal one of the two remaining places leaving it down to Arsenal and Chelsea to battle over 4th place.

Talking of Chelsea, Rafael Benitez’s spectacular outburst after Chelsea’s midweek cup win at the Riverside was evidence that he has finally cracked under the pressure of the disgruntled Chelsea fans. As a Chelsea fan myself it’s ridiculous that we don’t get behind him and support the team because, as he quite rightly said in his post-match press conference, he will be gone at the end of the season and we will be left to lick our wounds as we face the prospect of another Thursday night Europa League campaign.  If the minority of fans don’t end their campaign to “Get Rafa Out” unfortunately this will turn nightmare into reality. Whatever happens at Stamford Bridge, come what May… Chelsea will be looking for their 10th manager in as many years.

Verdict: Europa League for Arsenal… I hope!

The Race for Europe

Swansea will fly the Welsh flag in Europe next season for the first time after their Capital One Cup success last weekend at the hands of Bradford. The biggest ever winning margin in the competitions’ 100 year plus history, leaving the two Merseyside clubs and West Brom to battle it out for the remaining places. Everton’s inconsistent form since the turn of the year has seen them disappear from Champions League contenders to be Europa League certainties and Liverpool have been inconsistent all season to say the least. In Suarez and Gerrard, Liverpool have two of best players in the league and they should have more points than they have. The Rodgers Revolution is a fascinating project but hasn’t reached top gear yet.

Verdict: Everton should have enough to hold on to 6th place but might be distracted by a possible FA Cup semi-final at Wembley should they beat Wigan. All eyes on the Merseyside derby at the start of May as Liverpool look to close the three-point gap. West Brom will fall just short but it must be said what a fantastic season for Steve Clarke and the Baggies.

Mid Table Mediocrity

The likes of Stoke, Sunderland, West Ham, Fulham, Norwich and Newcastle you would think are just about safe if they secure a couple more wins and will compete against each other to finish as high up in the table as possible.

Relegation

QPR are in desperate trouble at the bottom of the table; seven points from safety and you have to wonder how they will cope both on and off the pitch should they fail to avoid relegation to the Championship. Huge transfer fees and a frightening wage bill don’t bode well for the West London club.

Harry’s magic hasn’t really worked its wonders yet. Despite a freak 1-0 win at Stamford Bridge in January, the team never kicked on. It’s now or never for QPR and this is where Harry Redknapp should come into his own. If anyone can oversee the great escape then he can but if they don’t start winning then I’m afraid they will be plying their trade in England’s second tier next season.

Reading, Aston Villa, Southampton and Wigan are all locked in a battle to survive but with Ricky Lambert scoring goals for Southampton on a regular basis and Wigan seasoned campaigners at avoiding the drop against all odds, I think they will survive leaving Villa – one of only six teams to appear in every Premier League season – and Reading heading through the trap door with QPR.

All in all, a fascinating climax to the end of another fantastic season of Barclays Premier League football.

 

Words by Dan Apostolos

Christmas – a time for fun, family and…..football?!

xmas-football-santa

Christmas is traditionally a time spent at home, with loved ones and family; a couple of days off work to sit back, relax and savour the festive spirit. But for footballers up and down the country the Christmas and New Year period is a whole lot more than this. It is a crucial time.

With nearly half of the season already gone in the top flight, the two Manchester clubs seemingly battling each other for the title, Chelsea with another new manager and “arry’s” QPR still looking for their first premier league win, every team is readying itself for the busy and potentially decisive festive period, which can often make or break a season. It doesn’t matter whether your team is chasing success in all competitions or you’re locked in a basement battle scrapping for every point to secure top-flight survival; every club wants the welcome gift of three valuable points this Christmas.

Most Premier League clubs will take part in four matches in a little over a week this Christmas.  However, cup commitments and European fixtures can lead to an even greater pile-up of matches…..not to mention the 3rd round of the FA Cup on the opening weekend of January.

Fixtures come thick and fast during the festive period and wintry conditions are hugely demanding for footballers, testing their fitness levels to the limit. With so many matches in such a short space of time, it is not uncommon for injuries to mount up and players’ form to suffer as they attempt to struggle through games without sufficient periods of rest.

Of course, tiredness and bad luck strikes every team at some point during a season but at Christmas time it can have far more damaging consequences. That said, the hectic festive fixture list is, of course, something of a top-flight tradition in England and given the quick turnaround of matches the reality of being swept aside by one of the top teams quickly disappears. The old cliché in football “there’s always the next game” springs to mind, offering comfort to the frontrunners in the New Year sack race.

Talk continues over the introduction of a two-week winter break in English football – once a distant whisper now a muted roar – but Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has hinted that FA Cup replays may have to be sacrificed to make it work. English football’s governing bodies used to palm off the idea of a mid-season break but it now seems a very possible reality.

The fundamental question is this – would you sacrifice your Christmas fix of football in favour of a mid-season break?

For the football scrooges out there the answer is fairly obvious but for anyone that plays football or loves watching the game, nothing beats the drama and excitement of the festive fixture list. Attendances are high. There’s a game on Monday; there’s another one on Thursday. It has been cherished by so many of us over the years and has an important place in our national football heritage. For now at least it’s here to stay.