Between the Lines

"Of all unimportant subjects, football is the most important" – Pope John Paul II

Archive for August, 2009

Hypocrite of the Week: Roman Abramovich

Posted by hakanrylander on August 28, 2009

I couldn’t have made this story up if I tried to. It’s too ridiculous. It seems that Uefa president Michel Platini wants to impose a rule that would force all Champions League entrants to balance their books by 2012. And that one of the main backers of this scheme is Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

I’m not too keen on the idea in the first place, but I suppose you could make an argument for limiting the spending or borrowing by clubs. But for Abramovich to push for this kind of rule is hypocrisy in the extreme.

The over-spending that he now wants to curb is exactly the kind that he himself has been practising ever since he took over Chelsea in 2003.  Since then Chelsea have amassed losses of about £700m. The most recent accounts show a loss of £67.5m. The intention at Chelsea is to break even within the next couple of years and then to start making profit. While trying to stop any other club from following their example.

And how about this: Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon welcomes the idea and is quoted as saying “I don’t think anyone could disagree with the broad principle”. Well, it certainly isn’t a “broad principle” that has been close to the hearts of Abramovich and Kenyon. Until now.


Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

CL-draw looks OK

Posted by hakanrylander on August 27, 2009

In today’s draw for the group stages of the Champions League United were drawn against CSKA Moscow, Besiktas and Wolfsburg. In all honesty I don’t know much about CSKA or Besiktas, but as champions of Germany Wolfsburg was almost certainly the strongest team in the fourth tier of seeds. Even so the draw looks favourable. At least we avoided the trickiest opponents from the second seeds like Juventus, Inter Milan and Real Madrid.

Other games to look forward to include Bayern Munich vs Juventus, AC Milan vs Real Madrid and Barcelona vs Inter Milan. It will be interesting to see whether Mourinho can come up with something to contain Xavi and Iniesta.

Posted in Manchester United | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Nani conundrum

Posted by hakanrylander on August 27, 2009

Two of a kind?

Two of a kind?

If you read my previous post you will know that I didn’t dare include Nani in the group of players of whom I expected a positive development this season. The reason is that Nani is by some distance the most frustrating player in our squad. There is no doubt that he has an awful lot of talent, but it’s equally obvious that more often than not he’s unable to use it properly. I’m often impressed by his all-important ability to create space for himself, but then he tends to waste the opportunity by mis-hitting a pass or a cross.

Defensively he’s a bit of a disaster. I don’t know whether this is because he lacks tactical awareness or just not fancies tracking back. The coaches need to work on this, as I’m sure they do. Particularly as he’s supposed to form a partnership with Patrice Evra, one of the most attack-minded full-backs in the world.

At the end of last season I had more or less written him off. I didn’t think he would be able to establish himself as an important part of the first-XI, even after the departure of Ronaldo. But then again in the last few weeks, particularly in the Community Shield, he’s shown the kind of form that raised my hopes of a bright future. Another false dawn? I have no idea. Frustrating, isn’t it?

Posted in Player Analysis | Tagged: , | 4 Comments »

Prelude to a new golden era

Posted by hakanrylander on August 26, 2009

No, I’m not thinking of our first three games as a prelude to a golden season. In fact, I don’t think this season will be particularly successful when it comes to winning trophies. Even so I look forward to the next nine months with great expectations. Which might seem a bit peculiar considering that we’ve sold the best player in the world and lost another world class attacker to City, and failed to sign replacements of similar stature.

The reason for my optimism is that I believe that we will see a rapid positive development of several players, which might in a year or two create an even better team than we’ve had for the last couple of seasons.

Firstly, we have a group of hugely talented youngsters of a quality that might even be about to rival the peerless fledglings from the early 90’s; Giggs, Butt, Beckham, Gary, Phil and Scholes (below).

Rafael and Fabio da Silva have taken to the PL like ducks to water. I’ve been amazed by how unfazed they’ve seemed when playing for the first team at only 17. This indicates mental strength to add to their obvious football skills. Only the excellence of Patrice Evra can stop them from both being first-choices before long.

Sir Alex has predicted that Danny Welbeck will travel to South Africa with England next summer. I find this rather unrealistic, but the last time I remember thinking that Ferguson praised a youngster a bit too much he was talking about – Paul Scholes.

Federico Macheda needed only 20 minutes or so against Villa to make it onto most people’s short-lists for both Goal of the Season and Player of the Season. Nick at the excellent manunitedyouth describes Macheda as a mix of Van Nistelrooy and Berbatov. Sounds good enough to me.

I admit that i didn’t think that Darron Gibson would ever make it to the first team, but he keeps on improving and will do so again this season.

Apart from the youngsters I believe we’ll see continued development from some of the more established players. The obvious example from last season is Darren Fletcher. Rarely has a player’s reputation been so enhanced by not playing a game as when Fletcher was suspended for the CL-final against Barcelona. A year ago very few would have predicted that Fergie’s main selection problem in midfield would now be who to pick alongside Fletcher. I think we will see him move on to yet another level this season.

I hesitate to include Nani in this group. Perhaps I’d better not. I’ll get back to him in a seperate post.

Finally, to achieve greatness we need a catalyst, much like Eric Cantona was in the 90’s. Regular visitors to Between the Lines will be well aware that in my opinion “le prochain Cantona” is already present at the club. It’s just a question of Dimitar Berbatov fulfilling this potential, as I think he will begin to do this season. I re-use my favourite quote: “All strikers must be soloists when appropriate – but rare ones, like Berbatov and Cantona, can also conduct the orchestra.”

Those were the days

Those were the days

Posted in Player Analysis, Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

Time to move for the next Peter Schmeichel

Posted by hakanrylander on August 24, 2009

PIX-FF9ATQOur present goalkeeper strategy seems very sensible. With Edwin van der Sar in his, probably, last season, Ben Foster will be given plenty of opportunities to prove himself. Presumably even at times when Van der Sar is fit. Sir Alex firmly believes that Foster will be England’s first-choice keeper in South Africa next summer, and beyond that the permanent successor to Van der Sar.

I’m not completely convinced by this strategy. Firstly, Foster’s injury problems have been far too frequent to install confidence in him as a reliable long-term solution. Secondly, I’ve been occasionally impressed but also  from time to time worried by his performances, e.g in the Community Shield a couple of weeks ago.

Even so there is no need to try to sign a new keeper unless you could identify one with genuine potential to be a long-term solution of the calibre of Casillas or Schmeichel.  I belive that such a solution was, perhaps still is, available this summer. I’m referring to 23-year-old Manuel Neuer at Schalke 04. I admit that I haven’t watched him regularly in the Bundesliga, but a number of hugely impressive performances in the European Under-21 Championship this summer convinced me that he should be our next keeper.

The end of the transfer window is fast approaching and a deal this week is unlikely. I fear that the competition for his signature will be very fierce next summer.

Posted in Player Analysis, Transfer Gossip | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Glazers likely to push for European league

Posted by hakanrylander on August 19, 2009

At the press conference ahead of Arsenal’s CL-qualifier against Celtic Arsene Wenger predicted that a European league will be formed within ten years. I believe he’s probably right, and that the United board would be happy to see such a development.

The main reason is that the commercial possibilities are too tempting to resist, as a European league is likely to significantly increase the revenues of the leading clubs. These clubs today make quite a lot of money from the Champions League (about £40m to the winners), but this would be dwarfed by the potential income, particularly media rights, from a European league. The most likely participants from England are the big four; United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal. Maybe City could spend themselves into this group.

Officially United are satisfied with the present situation. This is a wise stance in order not to create unnecessary conflicts with UEFA and the Premier League. But in reality the Glazers are most likely working behind the scenes to create such a league sooner rather than later. Again the simple reason is financial. All clubs would like to make more money, but the debt situation puts United under more pressure than most to increase revenues. And a European league would fit perfectly into the “development of club media rights” that is one of the Glazers key strategies.

Posted in Financial | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

A new way to beat the bookies?

Posted by hakanrylander on August 6, 2009

A study published in the new issue of Journal of Quantitative Analysis in Sports tries to find a statistical measurement to predict the winners of international football tournaments. Ferda Halicioglu at the Yeditepe University in Istanbul argues that there exists a positive relationship between the competitive balance in domestic football leagues and success in international football.  Competitive balance is measured as the seasonal coefficients of variation (CV) of the end of season points. The CV lies between 0 and 1, with 0 indicating a perfectly balanced competition. A high degree of competitive balance means that the league members have relatively equal playing strength.

Halicioglu then goes on to rank the finalists of the Euro2008 tournament according to the competitiveness of the domestic leagues in the mid-term, i.e. the last six years.  The country with the most competitive league was France followed by Spain, Germany and Sweden. Well, Spain won the trophy beating Germany in the final, but both France and Sweden were eliminated at the group stage. The evidence looks somewhat inconclusive so far.

 Unfortunately the report, at least the version that I’ve managed to get hold of, is very vague when it comes to pinpointing the statistical evidence. It doesn’t get much further than to conclude that the analysis “suggests that the CV ranking could be used as a supplementary variable” to predict the winners.  Not enough to beat the bookies I’m afraid.

Posted in Academic | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »