Kit review: Klabu, rebuilding lives through football kits

Football is priceless. When you connect sweetly with a volley, touch a ball down dead from 50m in the air, or lash a free kick into the top corner from 20 yards, nothing can compare. You see, football isn’t a game, it’s a lifestyle. It’s going to the park from dawn till dusk, sliding knee celebrations after a rain shower. It’s collecting Match Attax, imitating the best goals with your mates from the weekend.

It’s doing rock-paper-scissors over who has to jump over the fence to retrieve the ball, or bending over for stingers after heads and volleys. Football- and in a wider context, sport- is an essential learning curve for the character of the human being. It teaches you how to lose, how to win, how to make friends and, most importantly, how to have fun.

Unfortunately though, football is an exclusive party. Through various different reasons, many children, men and women across the world will never get the chance to kick a football- something so pure that it should almost be a human right. And Klabu is determined to make this a reality.

Founded in 2017, Klabu- translating simply to ‘club’ in Swahili – is an Amsterdam-based charity that aims to help rebuild lives by setting up sports schools in refugee camps. There are 25 million refugees worldwide, half of which are under 18, wasting their potential talent for the endeavours of surviving. Klabu’s goal is to set up 10 camps in 5 years, powering sports for 100,000 refugees across the globe. To fund this, the charity came up with something rather ingenious : football shirts.

The Klabu tee is special not just for the moral significance behind the shirt, but for the design itself. With a geometric turquoise-orange colour scheme, the 19/20 home shirt will lure in the eye of any customer. £60 isn’t cheap, yet for the cause, the quality of the fabric, and the authenticity of the design, it was worth every penny. The crest reads ‘Kalobeyei spirit’, depicting two giraffes locking necks. The Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya holds a unique place in the heart of the charity- it is the location of Klabu’s first ever camp. Measuring 15 square kilometres, the settlement primarily holds South Sudanese refugees after war broke out in South Sudan in 2013. Lilian- donning the purple and pink away shirt- is a spokeswoman for the settlement. “We are like you, we have dreams, we have goals we want to achieve in life. We are all human. Klabu is a chance for our voices to be heard.”

The shirt may be the coolest on the continent, and a welcome addition to any shirt collection on the planet, but that’s not what matters. It’s about children like Lilian. Children who’s voices are too often drowned out by gunshots and war cries, but through the positive power of sport and the Kalobeyei spirit can finally make themselves heard. “I want to be Messi, I want to be Ronaldo” enthuses a girl from Kalobeyei. Far-fetched ? Possibly. But, if given the chance, why not ?

Ratings

Aesthetics: 8.8

Comfort: 9.1

Authenticity: 9.4

Rarity: 8.2

Retro ? : No.

Overall rating: 8.9

Craven Cottage: a masterpiece of old and new

Fulham fans are probably pulling their hair out reading this. And no, not because they were beaten 2-1 last Saturday after amassing 78% possession, but because we are assessing a ground, their ground, which is only 75% completed. 6819494e-ea41-407a-949e-163575b2e355In March last year, Fulham released the blueprint for their new corporate riverside stand. Renovations began in the summer, leaving the stand unavailable for this season and most likely the next. The wait will be worth it though, with the new stand extending majestically out into the Thames and raising the capacity of Craven Cottage to almost 30,000.

Ignore that temporarily uninhabited part of the ground, however, and you have an absolute peach of a football stadium. Spacious; modern but in no way soulless; and then there’s the famous cottage nestled quaintly in the corner of the ground, the symbol of Fulham football club and it’s 144 year history.  The cottage hosts the dressing rooms, along with a balcony for the owners to spectate from. It is not the only striking aspect of the ground, though. Walk along the Stevenage Road Stand, and -if it weren’t for the sporadic Fulham badge and ticket offices at the end- you wouldn’t have any idea there was a football pitch behind it. Erected in 1905, the stand can easily be mistaken for terrace housing, with it’s red-bricked façade providing another utterly unique aspect to an already mystifying ground.

Much like the San Siro, Craven Cottage manages to fuse old and new. One minute you’re marvelling at the ancient cottage, the next you’ve got a magnetic pint in your hand. The stadium’s concourse beneath the away fans’ stand is a slick, open-air plan, equipped with large TV’s and hot-dog stands that don’t, for once, use horse meat.

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The cottage

It was a welcome break from the grimy, claustrophobic tunnels of the City Ground. True, the old-school grounds are often the more atmospheric, yet Craven Cottage and, in many aspects, the new Tottenham Hotspur stadium, have proved that you can harness both new technology and an intimate spectating experience.

A pet-hate of fans around the world is the misplacement of their stadiums. Location can mean everything. Too often are sacred grounds plopped beside some motorway in the middle of nowhere, away from the heart of the city. It robs the fans. Craven Cottage, though, is famously situated on the banks of the Thames, surrounded by a prosperous housing estate and the lush Bishop’s park stretching on from Putney Bridge. And when I say a prosperous housing estate, I mean a prosperous housing estate. I’m talking millions of pounds for semi-detached houses.

That’s West London for you, and in many ways that’s Fulham for you. With celebrity fans  from Michael Jackson to Richard Osman, Fulham is a real glamour club, and a rich one too. Lest we forget, Shahid Khan- Fulham owner and billionaire- was on the verge of buying Wembley a year or so ago. Of course, they aren’t in the elite bracket- but for a ‘small’ club, Fulham are one of the richest out there.

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5 talking points: Take Us Home, Leeds United

“I started to feel sorry for Leeds for a minute… and then I remembered it was Leeds,” was a tweet that best encapsulated Take Us Home. Amazon Prime, they’ve done it again. Just like Man City’s All Or Nothing series a year or so ago, Amazon prime have once again produced an absolute peach of a documentary, a documentary this time so engaging it turned fans from all across the country into Leeds supporters for at least 45 minutes. Take us homeEven though- as a Forest fan and follower of the Championship- the outcome was a formality before the first episode, you couldn’t help but find yourself attached to the story on a visceral level. 

1.Victor Orta, what a man

 It was entirely unforeseen that the most likeable person in Take Us Home would not be a player, coach, or kitman as it was in the Manchester City documentary. No, in fact, it was the man in the suit, the sporting director Victor Orta. If every sporting director was this much fun, the world be a much better place, that’s for sure. Displaying a refreshing zeal for his job, Orta captured the hearts of viewers with his outpourings of emotion. The Spaniard was in tears after the Daniel James deal fell through, but the abiding image was Orta, there in the executive box, double fist-pumping the air in sheer hysteria at a late Leeds equaliser.

2.Daniel James was nearly Leeds

When Daniel James came of the bench to bag Man Utd’s 4th goal on his Old Trafford debut 12 days ago, all his suffering over the last 6 months at Swansea was well and truly put to bed. But he could, and should have headed an entirely different path. Take Us Home went behind the scenes to reveal a transfer saga that was actually astonishing. James, at the time a Swansea player, was a hair’s breadth away from becoming a Leeds player in January. Daniel JemsonsHaving passed his medical, chosen his squad number, and completed the photoshoots, it seemed only to be a matter of time until the Swansea board gave their nod of consent. But it never came. So, packing his bags up, James began the long, painful drive through the night back to South Wales. The signing would have given Leeds’ promotion credentials an almighty boost. “Daniel James, he wants to be Leeds,” sang the Leeds’ fans on his return to Elland Road with Swansea. But a star performance against Manchester City in the FA cup and the Premier League clubs began to sniff around. And, low and behold, 3 months or so later, James was holding a certain red shirt high and proud on the fields of Old Trafford.

3. The paradox of Elland Road

Leeds United are an absolute giant of a club. Being the only club in the city, and with their success in the late 60’s under Don Revie, league title in 1992 and European exploits in the early 2000’s, the club attract a huge following from all across the world. Amazon Prime were determined to portray this. The series included the incredible story of a man travelling all the way from Malaysia bringing his wife to a match against Sheffield United for their honeymoon, interviews with the avid Scandinavian following known as ‘The Scandinavian Whites”, and a legendary quote from one Leeds fan saying “Leeds come before everything, before family, kids, everything.” Elland Road is never short of noise and support on matchday. But the passion of the faithful can often prove a double-edged sword. Interviews with Luke Ayling and Adam Forshaw revealed the abuse received on social media after a sub-par performance or bad result. “People forget your a person sometimes,” claimed an emotional Forshaw. Ayling elaborated on the unfairness of Twitter hate, “People say ‘oh he’s crap, get him out’, and then you think hold on a minute, at the start of the season I was the best thing since sliced bread!” 

4. Where was the dressing room footage ?

To be quite honest, it was a real disappointment to have no dressing room footage. The prospect of seeing the enigmatic Bielsa’s team talks lured many of us in, but there was nothing of the sort. PepyThe highlights of the Man City documentary took place in the dressing room: Guardiola fuming at his players, “Sit down ! Nobody Talk!”, and Fabian Delph’s row with Yaya Toure at half time in the FA cup against Wigan. But, in retrospect, it is understandable why we weren’t granted that in Take Us Home. Bielsa, the paranoid perfectionist, would not risk giving his tactics away for some futile documentary. A sole blemish in what was, on the whole, a fantastic series.

5. Bielsa: should he tweak his methodology ?

Marcelo Bielsa has two fundamentals: a small squad to work with, and a high-energy style of football. But are his ideas routed in reality ? Can you have both of them ? Take Us Home shed light on the ravaging injuries for Leeds United last season, primarily due to the physical demands set on the players by their manager. The board haven’t exactly bolstered the squad this summer, so will injuries take their toll on another Leeds United campaign ? 

Rating: 8.5/10

 

Tactics explained: modern football’s glamorous 4-3-3

Not since the Black Death some 700 years ago has anything spread across Europe as quickly as possession-based football. As the technical abilities of footballers improved exponentially, and revolutionaries Cruyff, Bielsa and Guardiola inspired with their success, more and more teams have since jumped on the bandwagon. And the 4-3-3 ? It is the go-to system for facilitating this philosophy.

4-3-3 template

The 4-3-3 set up (right). Often in a 4-3-3, the striker drops deep to link up-play, in what is known as a false 9 role.

4-3-3- triangles

The triangle is the second most powerful combination on the pitch (behind the diamond). In a triangle, the player with the ball has more than one option to pass to, forcing defenders to make a choice on which one of those options to shut down, which then creates gaps to be exploited. Although for these triangles to work, there must be movement, or defenders can easily man-mark each option.

The 4-3-3 possesses triangles all across the pitch, meaning the player on the ball almost always has two options, thus reducing the chances of losing the ball and making it easier to build up play on the floor. One of the deadliest examples of a triangle in the 4-3-3 is between the outside midfielder, full-back and winger. When the full-back has the ball, he can either go inside to the midfielder for a one-two or down the line to the winger. Pace is necessary though, so the full-back can evade his marker to either be an option for a one-two for a midfielder, or overlap the winger to get down the line into the space created. At Manchester City, these routines have become almost subconscious, with Walker (full-back), David Silva (outside midfielder) and Mahrez or Bernado Silva (winger). The combination is so seamless because Silva and Mahrez naturally drift inside, leaving space for Walker to overlap with his pace down the flank.

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Midfield dominance

The triangle controlling play, however, is the one in central midfield. Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta. Untouchable. Games are won and lost in the midfield, so it’s no surprise  Barcelona won the treble in 2009 with these three. They had the perfect balance. The deeper, central midfielder Busquets would provide the first link between defence and attack, while also thwarting opposition attacks in between the lines. Xavi was the shuttler, constantly receiving the ball up and down the pitch and passing forward. Iniesta was different, usually the furthest forward, and able to thread passes through the eye of a needle. Yet when options to pass forward were limited, these three could create a dizzying passing triangle. The benefit of the 4-3-3 is that it outnumbers a two man central-midfield, making it easier to keep the ball. Teams would switch to a three to combat this, but Barcelona were one step ahead. A certain Lionel Messi would drop deeper to outnumber the opposition once again.

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4-3-3 (squares) outnumber two man-central midfield.

Defensive attributes

4-3-3 is also ideal for a pressing game. When the ball is lost, three players are almost always positioned high up up the pitch, meaning there is less distance to cover to retrieve the ball, thus resulting in less time for the opposition to get comfortable in possession. Liverpool use a 4-3-3, with Mané, Salah and Firmino as the forward pressing trio. Although winning the ball high up the pitch creates goalscoring opportunities, it is also a defensive strategy, preventing the opposition from building up potentially dangerous attacks.

Weaknesses

In your typical 4-3-3, possession-based pressing game, a very high block will be deployed. A high block is where the whole team pushes up the pitch to squeeze the opposition in their own half during the press, but also to maintain possession further up the pitch. Man City deploy a very high block, their defenders taking position near the halfway line. But when the other team win the ball back, and the press isn’t quick enough, the space behind the defence can be exploited with a long-ball towards the pacy attackers.  However Manchester City have quick defenders at their disposal, and a sweeper keeper in Ederson who can rush out and claim the long-balls.

High block

Post script

“No system is sacred,” are the wise words of Ruud Gullit in his book, How To Watch Football. And he’s right, nor is the 4-3-3, it just helps to accommodate a more aesthetically-pleasing style of football than, say, the 4-4-2. For clubs like Ajax and Barcelona, however, the rules seem to be different. The 4-3-3 is inscribed into the clubs’ DNA. A dogma that often pays off- Ajax’s fairytale run to the Champions League semi-final, Barcelona’s 2009 treble- but can also work against them. Specific types of players are needed for specific systems, and without these players tactical flexibility is needed, something which may have been missing at times from these two giants.

 

Kit Review : Loyle Carner FC, the next big thing on the music-football scene

Music and football, believe it or not, are intertwined across many fronts. You wouldn’t have thought it, would you ? Football is far too vulgar and classless for the art that is music, surely ? Cast your mind back to October 12th, 2018. It was Croatia vs England, a group-stage match at the Stadion HNK Rijeka in the inaugural Nations League- with a twist. Sanctioned by UEFA for drawing a swastika on the pitch during a Euro 2016 qualifier against Italy, Croatia were forced to play the match behind closed doors. What once was a fiery encounter with scores to be settled from the World Cup semi-final earlier that year was now a dull, lifeless affair. The game ended, predictably, 0-0. You’d rather have watched paint dry. In fact, no. You’d rather have watched dry paint dry.

 

It was a seminal match though. For arguably the first time ever, we had concrete evidence on the reliance of fans to football. What it also vindicated was the notion that songs, and for that matter music, still had their part to play in modern football. Cheering every now and again at a goal or a bone-crunching tackle can spur a team or player on, but what really creates the atmosphere at football grounds are the songs. The Stone Roses’ Waterfall covers, the Seven Nation Army renditions and a little more close to home, Nottingham Forest’s famous Mull of Kintyre cover. Songs like Mull of Kintyre, say, or Liverpool’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone” are part of football folklore. Sung by tens of thousands of fans in tandem, it never fails to make the hairs on the back of you neck stand up.


Yet while Loyle Carner’s slow hip-hop tunes may never make it to the terraces, he certainly plays his part on the music-football scene, in many ways taking the baton from the Gallagher brothers and the 90’s Manchester bands. To commemorate the release of his new album “Not waving, but drowning”, Croydon-born Carner teamed up with Umbro to release his own football shirt- Loyle Carner FC. With only a handful made, to get my hands on one was a blessing. The shirt is a spin-off of the iconic England 2000 kit, arguably the greatest England top of all team, and one of the finest kits Umbro (a budget sportswear company by definition) has ever produced.

If Carner’s not in the studio, he is either watching football- he dedicated a whole song in his new album to England’s world cup heroics- or hunting down retro kits, with the outspoken Liverpool fan known for offering tickets to his gigs in return for a retro shirt he does not already possess. It’s worth it, his music is special.

Ratings

  • Aesthetics: 9.6

  • Comfort: 7.4

  •  Authenticity: 9.0

  • Rarity: 9.5

  • Retro factor: 9.1

  • Overall rating: 9.2/10

 

Don’t expect Forest to come firing out the blocks

2019 summer has felt rather familiar. Take a trip back in time to one year ago, summer 2018. Kieran Trippier smashing in that free-kick in Moscow, pints flying everywhere- only for the nifty Croatians to shatter English hearts (Kane should have squared it to Sterling). It was the beginning of Southgate’s revolution. However, rather more close to home, another revolution was unfolding. “Viva la revolución,” read the banner earlier that year in the Lower Bridgford Stand upon Aitor Karanka’s inauguration as Nottingham Forest manager, simply translating to “Live the revolution”.

U23 friendly vs Mansfield Town at the One Call Stadium ( s***hole)

Cause for optimism was in abundance. Aitor Karanka was a proven promotion-winning manager, far above the level Forest had had to contend with in recent years ; and then there was Evangelos Marinakis. Unlike certain previous owners, the Greek shipping merchant was not afraid to splash the cash, and brought an unforeseen ambition and drive to the club.

A summer of transfer activity ensued that Forest fans couldn’t have dreamed of. Taking a leaf out of Wolves’ Portuguese-inspired, promotion-winning campaign the season prior, Forest scooped up three promising, young Portuguese talents. Namely, Gil Dias, Diogo Gonçalves and our record, £13m signing Joao Carvalho, with the former two on loan. These three, along with the signing of proven Championship goalscorer Lewis Grabban, a renewed loan for Jack Colback and the addition of the classy centre-half Tobias Figueriedo had many Forest fans setting their eyes on promotion already. After all, Forest had spent a colossal £25m on transfers. But football doesn’t, and didn’t work like that.

In this stat-driven era of football, we often dismiss ‘soft’ aspects of the game, like the time for foreign players, particularly those taking their baby steps in their footballing career, to acclimatise to the intensity of the English leagues. We turn our noses up at intangible notions such as chemistry, a value that may have been missing in that Forest squad with 14 new faces added to the dressing room that summer. Top 10 was a reasonable, more measured goal- but try convincing an entire fanbase that they’re misguided, and try convincing a brash billionaire owner that has been through 12 managers in 7 years at Olympiacos to allow Karanka more time. Forest finished the season in 9th, not disastrous by any means, but choked a relatively easy chance to sneak into the play-offs under the second manager of the season, Martin O’Neill. And- yes, this is a naff perspective- but come on, should Aitor have remained at the helm, would Forest have finished as low as 9th? Deep down, every Forest fan knows the answer to that, but it hurts to admit it.

So we have to learn our lessons this time around. Sabri Lamouchi’s early moves have been a sweet refresh from the grey clouds of O’Neill’s reign, but what O’Neill had was experience under his belt, and experience in this league, something which Lamouchi does not have, and something he may pay for. Does he know how to combat your Cardiffs, your Prestons and your Blackburns ? Not many teams play this direct and compact in France. As a fan, though, you can’t help but get excited with these new signings. Tiago Silva is like a turbo-charged Carvalho, Adomah’s pace on those flanks could cause all sorts of problems, Aro Muric is arguably the best goalkeeper in the league and while we haven’t seen much yet of Yuri Ribeiro and Alfa Semedo both are very highly rated from their days at Benfica, with the latter valued at £25m and striking uncanny similarities with Paul Pogba. And we can’t forget Joe Lolley. On paper, Forest have one of the best, if not the best squad in the league behind Fulham probably. It will, however, take time for it all to gel together so please, please don’t call for Sabri’s head if results are wayward early on.

Pre season+transfer report

Pre-season has been, on the whole, positive. A superb victory against Atromitos on our tour of Greece was capped off by another thunderbolt from that wand of a left-foot of Joe Lolley’s, while Tiago Silva dazzled under the City Ground lights in the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace. However, on a more sour note, talisman Joao Carvalho picked up a serious injury against Alfreton Town, ruling him out for the first couple of months of the season along with Tendayi Darikwa, who was at the forefront of Sabri Lamouchi’s plans at right-back. Lamouchi has been lining up in a 4-2-3-1, though not necessarily a Karanka style 4-2-3-1. Karanka’s system was more about shutting the opposition out and counter-attacking, whereas Lamouchi has shown clear intentions to play out from the back. As we build up, the wing-backs push very high, almost to the halfway line, and Watson has dropped back to make it three at the back so we can outnumber the opposing attackers as we build up. Our press has been intense, holding a very high line. So no place for Dawson in the defence, unless we purposefully want to lose. In terms of transfers, the rest of the window should be focused on shifting players out. The likes of Murphy, Bridcutt and Hefele are lingering like bad smells. Get them off the wage bill.

Strong attendance in 1-0 win over Crystal Palace

Recommended team to face WBA

(4-2-3-1) Muric, Cash, Milosevic, Worrall, Robinson, Yacob, Semedo, Tiago Silva, Lolley (RM), Adomah (LM), Grabban

Top six predictions

  1. Leeds United
  2. West Brom
  3. Bristol City
  4. Fulham
  5. Nottingham Forest
  6. Stoke City

Tactics explained : the simple 4-4-2

The 4-4-2

The 4-4-2 will forever be associated with English football for many reasons. Primarily, for it’s simplicity being so synonymous with the English mindset on football tactics. British managers have, over time, built a reputation for turning their nose up at acute tactics and marginal gains, holding the belief that ‘fight’ and ‘spirit’ will pull through. The early 90’s saw Fabio Capello building this “win at all costs” identity at A.C Milan; Van Gaal and Ajax popularising a Cruyffian, space-orientated style of football while a decade and a half later Guardiola and Barcelona would make their stamp on Spanish football with the 2009 tiki-taka, possession-based treble. English football, though, was in the dark when it came to having a real tactical footprint.

No team from England would win the Champions League for 15 years (1984-1999). We were outthought, outwitted and outran on the big stage. Even Ferguson’s early title-winning sides did not really triumph as a result of a particular footballing philosophy or clever system; but primarily through possessing the best squad. But what part does the 4-4-2 play in all of this ? Well although like every formation it possesses it’s variations, the 4-4-2 facilitates a very simple, limited build up. Let’s not get it twisted- no formation in football is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s about choosing a system that best fits your group of players, best unlocks a certain player’s individual qualities and best minimises space for the opposition.

The 4-4-2 set up (right).

With two out-and-out centre-forwards, the 4-4-2 can bully a centre-back pairing. As a defender you do not want to be left one-on-one, but this situation becomes common when the 4-4-2 meets a back four. The ideal striker pairing is the target man- preferably tall and strong to flick on long balls or hold the ball up- and the speedster to run in behind to meet the flicks of the target man. If one centre-back marks the target man, he is leaving the other centre-back one-on-one with the speedster- a situation that is best avoided. Yes, one of the opposition’s full backs could tuck inside to help but that would leave the wide midfielders unmarked which could be particularly problematic if they decide to push on. The ideal way to combat this would be to switch to a back five, but it’s all about which players you actually have at your disposal.

A classic example of the 4-4-2 striker pairing was Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton, dubbed the SAS, who fired Blackburn Rovers to glory in 1995. While both of them can be considered traditional number 9’s the partnership still managed to flourish, with both of them displaying an incredible eye for goal. Sutton would primarily take the role of the target man though the roles could be reversed, Shearer netting 31 goals that season and his counterpart 15. Yet despite forging such a formidable duo on the pitch, the pair were not best of friends off it. Both wanted to be top dog, manifesting an almost palpable tension between the two.

At AC Milan under Arrigo Sacchi, the general plan was not to flick the long balls on, but to hold the ball up and knock it back to one of the midfielders who would pick out one of the quick wide-midfielders making a run forward.

4-4-2 chance creation and build up play

Once again, Blackburn Rovers’ 1994/95 title-winning season is the most appropriate case study for the majority of build-up play and chance creation in the 4-4-2. The long ball was, of course, a staple in the arsenal of all English clubs at the time, but there was also a huge emphasis on crosses into the box: a tactic embodied to an almost comical extent by Kenny Dalglish’s Blackburn. They absolutely abused it. Every training session revolved around working crossing positions into what Ray Harford, Dalglish’s revered assistant, labelled the ‘magic zone’. This so-called magic zone was essentially the penalty box stretched to the full width of the pitch, and the idea was that it created better quality chances for Shearer and Sutton to wreak havoc.

Training would often consist of setting up in the 4-4-2 shape and simply practising recycling the ball to the wings to cross in. One day, however, Dalglish decided to devise a ‘Plan B’. He pulled star-winger Stuart Ripley aside in training and told him that soon the widemen would be found out and ushered deeper and centrally, so he asked Ripley “where do you want the strikers to position themselves for the cross in this case”. Ripley stared back at him blankly, then responded “Are you taking the p***.”

Weaknesses

Dalglish’s Blackburn knew only one way to play, and these rigid tactics were exposed not only in Europe against the more savvy, technical sides- but the following season as even the dim English clubs wised up to the predictability of their build-up play. Don’t get me wrong, Blackburn were an extreme example of one-dimensionality in 4-4-2 but the system in general relies heavily on two main outlets : the long ball and crosses. In a system like the 4-3-3 however, you have passing triangles all across the pitch.

The 4-3-3 midfield (diamonds) overruns the 4-4-2 midfield as is represented inside the blue square, making it easier to either keep possession or steam through. Games can be won and lost in the midfield.

In the modern era of possession-based, high-pressing football there is no place anymore for the traditional 4-4-2 since teams can simply retain the ball for as long as they like to stop the long balls coming forward. And, more crucially, the very philosophy of the system revolves around physicality- a trait which, over the past decade or two, has been proved inferior to technical ability.

Loftus Road: West London’s hidden gem

The city of London hosts a wealth of fantastic away days. From the depths of Brentford’s old-school Griffin Park to the idyllic views over the Thames at Craven Cottage, each ground and location seems to have it’s own little quirks. One ground, however, attracts little attention- yet offers so much. Wedged in between an unsuspecting housing estate is Loftus Road- the home of QPR.

Loftus Road was built in 1904, and first occupied by QPR in 1917. It’s last major alteration was the erection of the new Ellerslie Road stand in 1972, raising the standing capacity to around 35,000. However following the Hillsborough disaster the capacity plummeted to a mere 18,000 ( 4th lowest of the 12 football league clubs in London) as all-seater stadiums became mandatory. Yet what’s most surprising is not the size of the ground for a club dipping in and out of the Premier League in recent years, but the fact they can actually fit 18,000 people in there.

On my trip down last season, where Forest triumphed 1-0, Reds fans felt obliged to rekindle one of the old favourites from the dark days in League 1: “My garden shed, my garden shed, is bigger than this, is bigger than this,”. Tongue-in-cheek ? Yes. But wildly inaccurate ? Not so sure. It’s microscopical seats are accompanied by an equally dwarfish leg room, to the extent whereby one’s knees actually graze the person in front’s back. Crouchy, if you’re reading this, please never go to QPR away.

We can joke over the size all we want, but the bottom line is that it made for a cracking atmosphere and viewing. The seating at both goal ends is reminiscent of Valencia’s intimidating ‘La Mestalla’ stadium, where the stands angle at practically 90 degrees. It feels as if your perched in the heavens- yet directly above the keeper. What is most striking, however, is the compactness and sense of community within the ground. Loftus Road lies, quite magnificently, in the heart of an active Shepherd’s Bush housing estate. And that doesn’t mean there is some sensible gap between the houses and the ground, oh no. Some residents can literally walk out their garden door and find themselves face-to-face with the turnstiles. A proper hearty, old-fashioned set-up.

The QPR away day, though, is much more than the match itself. Put it this way, you have two options: glamour-fest or absolute p*** up. Loftus Road is a mere 10 minute drive from the famous Notting Hill and Portobello Road, which hosts an abundance of beautiful pubs and restaurants for those who need a bite to eat after catching the morning train or coach. Post-match, the likes of Marble Arch, Grenfell Tower and Hyde Park are all nearby landmarks available to visit. And then there’s option two. Scattered among the various Shepherd’s Bush alleyways are your grimy, hooligan boozers: open all night long and ideal for those middle-aged, Stone Island head-to-toe men who came down to London for a scrap outside the “White Fox” or some other generic pub name. QPR away really does have it all.

Chelsea failed Sarri

“Sarri’s not a Chelsea man!”, bellowed Rory from Chelsea Fan TV. In all honesty, he could be forgiven for thinking so. Maurizio Sarri was unorthodox in many ways, but one particular move backhanded the ‘Chelsea way’ right across the face. He attempted, dare we say it, to instil a positive brand of football- an attribute Abramovich has yearned for throughout his time at Chelsea, but something he has rarely ever recieved. Sarri was billed as the signpost of a new era at Stamford Bridge, following in the footsteps of the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool with long-term planning and a positive footballing identity. Initially, anyway, Chelsea fans pledged to support the revolution. But one thing is saying and one thing is doing. As soon as a couple of results went wayward, and form went downhill, Chelsea, well, became Chelsea again. The torches were out, calling for Sarri’s head, and the managerial merry-go-round turned full circle once more. Indeed, his supposedly revolutionary ‘Sarriball’ was largely unconvincing. Sarriball revolves around moving the ball forward urgently, vertical one-twos and rapid attacking transitions. Yet, especially early on in the season, his side were notorious for “sideways”, “unambitious” football.

Image from http://www.squawka.com

In fact, come the latter parts of the season, displeased Chelsea fans felt it necessary to voice their opinions on the system rather, well, explicitly. “F*** Sarriball, f*** Sarriball” topped the charts at Stamford Bridge. Jorginho- Sarri’s golden boy and systematic linchpin- fell prey to particularly harsh criticism. His defensive shortcomings and alleged lack of forward passing was lambasted by Chelsea fans and pundits, especially considering he was taking the position of fan-favourite N’Golo Kante. However, and this is what irate Chelsea fans couldn’t seem to grasp, the problem with Sarriball- and for that matter Jorginho- did not lie within Sarri himself. It was a lack of time to work on the training ground, and at the same time, a lack of a squad able to perform the system.

First, and most importantly, Sarriball requires defenders comfortable on the ball. This is so that if Jorginho- the man responsible for creating from deep and linking build up play in their own half- is marked out of the game, one of the centre-halfs can bring the ball forward out of defence and pick a forward pass. Kalidou Koulibaly performed this to a tee at Napoli. Yes, David Luiz is renowned for his technical quality, but he has a tendency to attempt long, extravagant balls rather than the simple forward pass. Antonio Rudiger is more sensible, but needed more time on the training ground to learn when to step out of defence and what passes to pick.

Image courtesy of https://metro.co.uk

The false 9 is another key component of Sarriball. The job of the false 9 is to drop in between the lines to offer options to passing combinations, while also lurking on the defenders’ shoulders to offer options in behind on quick breaks. Therefore, your archetypal false 9 is quick, nimble and technically gifted- with a fantastic awareness of space. None of these characteristics, however, would you associate with Alvaro Morata or Gonzalo Higuain. It would be unfair to describe the pair as old-fashioned no.9s, but nor are they your typical modern day striker. Both thrive on crosses into the box and scraps in the penalty area rather than offering selfless link-up play. This is partly why Chelsea’s possession went sideways not forward- there was no false 9 to play off.

Behind the soap opera, we easily forget Sarri had a very successful season. Chelsea finished 3rd thus guaranteeing Champions League football, won a European trophy and were only beaten on penalties by eventual league-winners Manchester City in the Carbao Cup final. However – and this narrative is becoming freakishly identical to the one up the M25 at the City Ground- Sarri burnt bridges with the fanbase. They despised his stubborn adherence to the system and supposed ‘lack of adaptation’ when results turned pear-shaped. Don’t listen to them Maurizio. Once your on those sunbeds in Turin, you’ll forget Chelsea ever happened.

What is a Chelsea man though ?

Tumultuous week for Forest sees O’Neill out, Lamouchi in

Not again, Forest. In a seismic eighteen minutes, Nottingham Forest’s future was sent crashing into the unknown with a process all too familiar in recent years at the City Ground. At 13:21, Friday afternoon, the club’s social media announced the ‘departure’ of Martin O’Neill, followed by the announcement of Sabri Lamouchi as new head coach at 13:39. Manager out, manager in : it wasn’t our finest hour. With Pochettino excelling at Tottenham, and Liverpool finally reaping the rewards of their faith in Klopp, continuity and long-termism have become buzzwords of the modern game, ideals yearned for by modern clubs. Trentside, though, has evolved into a slaughterhouse. 8 managers in 6 years we have hacked our way through- and that’s excluding caretakers. It’s naive to believe Karanka wasn’t pressured out of the club by Marinakis, and similarly senseless to think that O’Neill did, in fact, voluntarily leave. If that was the case, then how did the club find a replacement a mere 18 minutes later ? Let’s not disrespect or be ungrateful to Marinakis here – he shares an ambition and drive with the fans with the money he has invested and stadium renovations- but two promising managers have now been given the chop in 6 months. Alarm bells are ringing.

Yet whether O’Neill did, in fact, have a future at Forest, has been the point of great discussion and debate among Forest fans. The Irishman led the Reds to a respectable 9th, but blew potential play-off hopes in a wretched April, where Forest picked up zero points out of a possible 12. It was the style of football, though, which particularly dismayed the Red’s faithful. O’Neill was largely adherent to a 4-1-4-1, with not one defensive midfielder- but three- in the middle of the park. Tight and compact defensively, we lacked the requisite creativity and rhythm further up the pitch with star-man Joao Carvalho relegated to the bench and old fashioned no.9 Daryl Murphy favoured up top. O’Neill refused to adapt- even when results turned pear-shaped- until the last three games of the season. By this point, however, O’Neill was public enemy no.1 among Forest fans- the relationship irrevocable. It was his dogma, his old-school approach, his ignorance: while all the players would clap the fans off after the match, he would simply walk straight down the tunnel. There grew a tension between the fanbase and the dugout.

However, what actually happened in the last three games of the season is key to the discussion. Not only did results begin to improve ( three wins on the bounce, first away win since November ), but O’Neill began to stray away from his principles, and experiment with the squad. Formation switched to a 3-5-2-1, Carvalho was drafted back in for three immaculate performances, and Murphy was shunted out. On the whole, our ball-retention improved and so did attacking fluidity, with the extra options in between the lines. O’Neill credited this to having nothing to play for, and explained that the reason for the poor quality of football beforehand was just him trying to grind out results. After all, he always spoke of wanting to implement a positive footballing philosophy at Forest, so perhaps those final three games were just the baby steps.

Rumours surrounding his dismissal suggested a ‘player revolt’, a backlash against O’Neill’s alleged old-school training methods. The legitimacy of those reports can be questioned, though it wouldn’t be surprising if it was true, especially considering the mysterious departure of Roy Keane a few days earlier, a man famed for his hardline approach. Admittedly, should the rumours be accurate, it changes the complexion entirely. The narrative is no longer one of a lack of time for O’Neill, but of the Irishman’s failure to adapt to modern man-management. Players nowadays won’t be ruled by fear like Brian Clough used to, they won’t accept a dressing down after a poor touch or spit flying in their faces after a below-par performance. And if there was this much-speculated ‘revolt’, it owes to a flaw in O’Neill’s man-management. Once you loose the dressing room, you’re already halfway out the door. It’s all rumours though, and the bottom line is that O’Neill’s project had more to offer. We’ll see what Lamouchi has in his locker, but we are undoubtedly weakened for next season with the departure of the Irishman. Managers can’t just walk through the doors, click their fingers and get results. It’s a huge gamble on an unknown quantity with very little time before the dawn of the new season. And Marinakis won’t wait.