Remembering the England managers: Kevin Keegan

It’s hard to believe it now but in 1999 Kevin Keegan’s appointment as England manager was a cause for national jubilation (not just in Newcastle). English Football had finally appointed its greatest hero to its biggest job. After the fractious ending of Glenn Hoddle’s reign here was the man to bring the nation together.

_44361731_kev_england_flag

It wasn’t just the cult of King Kev’ that got fans excited, Keegan’s management record to that point was outstanding. He’d taken Newcastle from the bottom of the second division to a whisker away from a Premier League title, more recently he’d turned Fulham around in both cases bringing a style of football rarely seen at either St James Park or Craven Cottage.

Almost everyone believed he could do it with England particularly given the quality of young players he had to work with; David Beckham, Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Paul Scholes, Steven Gerrard, Emile Heskey and Lee Bowyer. Keegan had always been a strong advocate of his ex England manager Don Revie, often stating England’s problems in the 70s were simply down to a lack of quality players, here there seemed evidence England might finally have the talent to succeed.

But those expecting a youthful reinvention of England were soon disappointed. It became clear very quickly Keegan favoured veterans. He retained Alan Shearer as captain having previously broken the World transfer record to sign him for Newcastle. The problem was by 1999 Shearer had lost a yard of pace and was embroiled in a difficult relationship with new Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit. Keegan also retained the spine of the Euro ’96 team- Davis Seaman, Tony Adams & Paul Ince all by now on the down slide of their careers. The youth of the side was again provided by Manchester United; right sided pair Gary Neville & Beckham continued their right wing/back partnership from club level in a 4-4-2 with right footed Phil Neville at left back and Paul Scholes playing attacking midfield.

The qualifying situation Keegan inherited was worrying. England had taken a poultry 4 points from their opening three Euro 2000 qualifiers. The group was headed by Sweden who’d beaten England in Stockholm and held a 2 point lead in the table with a game in hand, but Keegan projected his usual air of self confidence and insisted England would qualify.

In March 1999 Keegan strode out to the Wembley dugout chest puffed out for his first game as manager, ready to face England’s most familiar qualifying opponents; Poland. Scholes slid onto a through ball to put England 1 up after 12 minutes, 10 minutes later he headed home a Beckham cross and England were in charge. The Poles pulled a goal back before half time but England bossed the second half and Scholes completed his only England hat trick on 70 minutes to finish off the Poles in a 3-1 win.

Soccer - Euro 2000 Qualifier - Group 5 - England v Poland

Keegan had to wait another 3 months for the biggest qualifier- a chance for revenge at home against Sweden. The Swedes arrived at Wembley holding a 100 percent record in the group.  Injuries dictated team selection and Keegan made the bizarre decision to include Tim Sherwood in his starting 11.

It was a turgid ill tempered match with Scholes making a predictably poor tackle and being sent off early in the second half. It ended 0-0 with England’s chances of winning the group disappearing down the Wembley tunnel with Scholes. It was now about finishing second and winning a play off.

Even finishing second started to look difficult when England drew their next qualifier later that week in Bulgaria.  When September came around England needed maximum points from their remaining 2 qualifiers. The first was easy- Luxembourg at home, the open goal was duly accepted and England won 6-0, leading to the regular event of an England qualifying campaign ending with the need to ‘get a result in Poland.’

The teams were level on points but crucially Poland had one more game to play whilst England’s campaign would end that night in Warsaw. Keegan went with tried and trusted a 4-4-2 with Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler partnering Shearer in attack and Fowler’s old pal Steve McManaman on the left. Poland played for the draw, England huffed and puffed but Fowler and Shearer weren’t a natural pairing and England struggled to create anything of note. In the 84th minute David Batty was red carded and Poland got more interested in winning but England held out for a 0-0.

England’s qualification rested on Poland losing their last game away to Sweden (who’d already qualified) and then getting it right in the playoffs, most fans consigned the campaign to failure and started thinking about the 2002 World Cup.

But it was at this point fate slipped Kevin Keegan an ace; Poland crashed 2-0 in Sweden, with Celtic’s Henrik Larsson injury time goal guaranteeing  England a place in the play off draw. At UEFA HQ the draw was made, the first team drawn from the pot of 8 was Scotland and there was something in inevitable about who was drawn to play them. It was an Auld Enemy clash to decide a place at Euro 2000 and all talk of 2002 was on hold, England suddenly expected.

The first leg would be held in Scotland, as an icon of English football Keegan made for a convenient target for the Scots as match day approached and Keegan seemed to revel in the atmosphere, for the first time he looked truly comfortable as England manager and it had the effect of taking the pressure away from his players.

Come the game Keegan made another odd selection decision- picking Sol Campbell at right back in the absence of Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp in the troublesome leftwing position.

article-2390771-0021B98100000258-734_634x637

50,000 Scots crammed into Hampden Park baying for blood like an Alex Salmond wet dream. But Scottish hopes for a Braveheart inspired pitch battle were quickly muted.  A rangey cross from Campbell found Scholes who nipped in front of Colin Hendry and put England 1 up after 21 minutes. Despite their imbalanced looking side England outclassed Scotland, with the second goal arriving before half time; One Beckham cross, One Scholes header 2-0. England controlled the second half and rode off to Wembley with what looked like an unassailable 2 goal cushion.

Wembley was a sell out for the return match 4 days later, most went to Wembley in party spirits with the Scots already beaten for Keegan’s coronation as England’s saviour. Keegan made only 1 team change with Gareth Southgate replacing Martin Keown, the gamble of Campbell at righback had paid off and Keegan stayed with the winning formula from Hampden.

But Scotland hand’t read the script, they produced a stirring fightback and after Barry Ferguson had missed a gaping early chance, a Neil McCann cross found Don Hutchison and Scotland were back in it 2-1 (on aggregate) after 39 minutes. In the second half the Scots pushed for an equaliser, England looked rigid and unable to find a response sat further and further back, they almost paid for it- A close range Christian Dailly header ws brilliantly saved by Seaman and England just hung on for an aggregate win but a loss at Wembley to Scotland. It was an odd sobering night for England fans, qualification which looked lost a year earlier had been achieved but it had been a constant struggle

In truth the campaign had been awful with England only managing 3 wins in the group (2 against Luxembourg) 4 draws and that opening loss in Stockholm, indeed England finished 9 points adrift of Sweden. They’d only made the playoffs because Poland had blown it and when drawn against an unfancied Scotland they’d done it by the skin of their teeth.

It wasn’t neccasrily Keegan’s fault, Hoddle had dropped him in it with a lousy start, his options had been hugely debilitated by injuries and ill discipline, but there was little to suggest England would play the champagne football Keegan had previously brought to Newcastle.

But the most obvious deficiency Keegan had to wrestle with was the shocking lack of left sided options available to him. In the era before Ashley Cole but after Stuart Pearce (not that being 37 stopped Keegan calling him up!) England couldn’t produce a single left footed defender and few natural left wingers. Keegan often played Phil Neville at left back arguing he’s played their successfully for Manchester United, true but at United Neville had the marauding Ryan Giggs in front of him, he had no need to run the left corner and cross, with England he always had a right footed midfielder ahead of him meaning England leaned to the right more than a Donald Trump rally.

Keegan now had some respite through friendlies and time to prepare his team for the finals ahead, he also had a draw ceremony to attend. Given how England had sneaked into the tournament the seeding in the draw was low and fears were raised of a tough group, but again fortune favoured Keegan and England drew Germany, Romania & Portugal. Germany were a fading force whilst the Portuguese had a talented side but one with a reputation for under achievement, Romania had beaten England at the previous World Cup but were seen as an ageing side.

The friendly results were middling, Keegan chopped and changed without finding the combination to unlock the kind of football his club sides had often played. In the final friendly he opted to give youngsters Steven Gerrard & Gareth Barry their debuts. Gerrard impressed but more importantly the left footed Barry offered a possible solution to the left side issue, left footed and able to play at left back or left midfield Barry could have been the missing piece Keegan needed to complete his jigsaw.

Gerrard & Barry made the squad as did the recalled Steve McManaman (fresh from scoring in the Champions League final) and fit again Michael Owen. Owen had been the star of the previous World Cup campaign but often injured during the Euro qualification campaign. England were ready to roll.

England would start against Portugal or to give them their official title of the era Luis Figo’s Portugal.  Keegan again opted for Phil Neville at left back with McManaman on the left wing, alongside Scholes, Beckham, Owen & Shearer this was a very attack minded side with Seaman, Adams & Campbell & the Neville brothers only screened by the ageing Ince.

England got off to a perfect start, a 3rd minute Beckham cross was headed home by Scholes 1-0. Beckham was the best player on the pitch and 15 minutes later he crossed again for McManaman to volley home. 20 minutes gone 2-0 up what do you do? If you’re managed by Keegan you push men forward for a third. But with England in the ascendancy the ball broke to Figo who ran unchallenged through England’s half and blasted home from 25 yards, 2-1. From then on Portugal had the upper hand playing in a flexible 4-3-3 England were simply out numbered in midfield, on 37 minutes a fine team move saw Rui Costa float a perfect cross for Joao Pinto to head home 2-2 at half time.

During the break Keegan sent Peter Beardsley of his coaching staff out for the interview who gave the insightful soundbite “2-0 is often a dangerous lead to have.”  The second half saw England unable to regain their mojo and Portugal got the winner on 59 minutes when Nuno Gomes slid home 2-3. England had blown it, they were too open too cavalier and got caught out whilst on top and Keegan faced a storm of criticism.

Next up were Germany, the game was hugely hyped and the fixture inevitably was the one England fans had circled. But this was not the Germany of old or more specifically it was an Old Germany. Incredibly Lothar Matthaus was captain aged 39, elsewhere they had Liverpool pair Christian Ziege & Didi Hamann, the dour midfield duo Jens Jeremies & Mehmet Scholl, giant striker Carstan Janker who had a turning circle bigger than an oil tanker and the deceptively slow Ulf Kirsten.

Keegan made 2 team changes dropping McManaman for the more workmanlike Dennis Wise and replacing the injured Adams with club mate Martin Keown. The first half was tepid, England went close when Owen headed a Phil Neville cross from the edge of the box but little else of note happened.

On 53 minutes a Beckham free kick found Shearer on the left of the box who headed a low effort past Oliver Kahn 1-0. Germany fought back and Keegan perhaps learning from his mistake against Portugal dug his side in replacing Owen with Gerrard who marked the occasion with crunching tackle that left Hamann “screaming like a girl.’ Germany had little cutting edge and England had done it!

1728275_w2Germany were beaten and a draw from the Romania game would see them into the quarter finals. Keegan again had a change forced on him- Seaman got injured before the game and Nigel Martyn played in goal. Romania made a fast start and Christian Chivu headed home from close range after 22 minutes. England laboured but won a penalty which Shearer despatched on 41 minutes, then on the verge of halftime a break through the centre saw Owen burst forward and tap home a second 2-1 at the break.

England had looked ragged, struggling with their passing and lacking the fluency of the Romanians. They needed an improved performance in the second half but got a poor start when a weak Martyn clearance fell to Dorinel Muntaneu who lashed in an equaliser. Romania swept forward, England repelled with Martyn partly atoning for his error with a series of fine saves. There was little tactical advice from the sideline with Keegan instead encouraging his players to stand tall, it was a disjointed performance but the result was enough so long as nobody did something silly at the death, enter Phil Neville. The young fullback committed a clumsy tackle in the box and the referee pointed to the spot Ionel Ganea put away the penalty and England were out.

article-2028286-002B588500000258-365_634x411The knives were out and England’s poor tournament was ridiculed, Keegan took the brickbats and prepared for the new season. Shearer retired from international duty that summer depriving Keegan of his captain, he was replaced with Adams.

Preparing for England’s first game of the new campaign (a friendly against France) Keegan gave an interview saying he’d needed time after the Euros to lick his wounds and then gave an odd analogy to his current predicament saying “Sometimes a boxer gets off the canvas to fightback and land the knockout blow, I want to be that boxer’. The unfortunate thing with that analogy is of course more often than not a floored boxer gets up just to stumble around in a trance, take more punishment and fall flat on the canvas as the referee decides he’s had enough. And here were Germany rocking up at Wembley to start World Cup qualifying.

Despite a credible 1-1 draw with newly crowned World & European Champions France hopes for Keegan’s side heading into qualifying weren’t high. On the eve of the game Keegan made yet another surprise selection- picking defender Gareth Southgate as a defensive midfielder, Southgate had only played that position briefly in his early career at Crystal Palace but had spent the last 5 years as a centre half at Aston Villa.

Wembley was sold out as usual but this was more than a qualifier, it was Germany and it was the old ground’s final England game. The German’s were little changed from the summer encounter but did have a new coach in Rudi Voller and the sides kicked off in a light London drizzle.

Germany won a free kick 30 yards from goal, Hamann stepped up and lashed a low shot that skidded around the wet surface, was fluffed by Seaman and squirmed into the England net 0-1.

England responded with chances falling to Andy Cole & Captain Adams before half time but to no avail. In the second half Keegan brought on Barry and changed shape to nearer a 3-5-2 but the second half was a turgid affair with England pushing, Germany hanging in and occasionally breaking forward, a couple of long range efforts from Beckham were as close as England got, the game ended 0-1 and as Keegan trudged down the Wembley tunnel he was heckled by a small group of fans, he looked up clearly hurt by it and disappeared into the dressing room. Soon after FA chief Adam Crozier was called in and after short delay Keegan faced the press declaring he’d resigned as manager.

keegan2111_468x782

In his resignation speech Keegan gave a heartfelt thanks to the FA & his players for their support and effort but also declared he felt he just wasn’t quite good enough for international management. It was a staggeringly honest assessment of his reign and one few managers would dare admit but he was probably correct in what he said.

I like most were relieved it was over and that’s the saddest thing about Keegan’s time with England. Most respected his brutal honesty and accepted England should move on without him although there was criticism that he was leaving 4 days ahead of England’s second qualifier in Finland. The most surprised person at Wembley that day was probably Howard Wilkinson who arrived Under 21s Manager and left in temporary charge of the senior side.

Soon after Crozier crossed the Rubicon (quite literally) in appointing Lazio boss Sven-Goran Eriksson as England’s first overseas manager. England would go on to qualify for the World Cup, beating Germany 5-1 in Munich 11 months later. Keegan resurfaced the following year at Manchester City, a great name of English football fallen on hard times, a typical Keegan project. He took them to promotion and into their new Stadium but crucially left before the Abu Dhabi billions rolled in. His most recent management stint was an ill advised return to Newcastle in 2008 where he fell out with Mike Ashley.

Looking back on Keegan’s time with England the biggest problem seemed to be his pushing square pegs into round holes; Campbell at right back, Neville & Redknapp on the left, Southgate in midfield to name a few.

But also there was a lack of a defined team shape, like a lot of England managers he correctly identified the best 11 players and simple put them out on the pitch. In Michael Cox’s recent book ‘The Mixer’ Cox reviewed Keegan’s time at Newcastle pointing out their problem in that title near miss of 1996 was the team lacked a defined shape and scheme and Keegan simply fitted it around the best 11 players, a particular problem when they signed Batty & ‘tino Asprilla. You could certainly see a similar pattern in his England tenure.

There were also problems with his coaching staff, Keegan wanted Arthur Cox as assistant  but the FA refused on the grounds of Cox’s age. Notably after Keegan left Crozier recruited top coaches Brian Kidd & Sammy Lee to work with the as yet unnamed new England Manager. A similar policy when Keegan was in charge would have helped, I can’t help thinking had he had a top line coach to help with his own short comings (Kidd or Ray Harford say) things might have been different.

In a recent interview Keegan gave some interesting insight into his management at Newcastle. On taking the job he noticed the training ground was run down and decrepit so he immediately persuaded Sir John Hall to invest £40k in having the dressing rooms retiled, cleaned and out dated equipment replaced over the weekend. It had the desired effect lifting spirits amongst the squad and Keegan used such incentives to motivate his players as he rebuilt the club.

It was a great trick at a run down Newcastle but not the sort of thing that works with top level players at Wembley (where I”m sure the floors have a nice polish). And of course at international level he didn’t have the fantasy football chequebook of Sir John to back him up. Whilst his shortcomings in tactics and team shape came into far sharper focus at international level.

Kevin Keegan the England player is a legend, arguably the best his country as ever produced, as a manager he said it himself he just wasn’t quite up to it. He did however achieve England’s only tournament victory over Germany since 1966 and for one night only We Loved it when we beat them! LOVED IT!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Match Report: Newcastle 0-2 Tottenham

Newcastle’s relegation day 15 months ago was one of the oddest I can remember. With their demise already confirmed the Toon Army showed up for a party confident in the knowledge that in Rafa Benitez they had the man to take them straight back up and had he taken over from the hapless Steve McClaren earlier they’d have survived. Last season proved them right.

On that day last May Newcastle demolished a crestfallen Spurs side 5-1, the Londoners season having come to an abrupt halt in the final weeks of the campaign after their title bid fell short.  So this match was always going to be about how far both sides have come. Both have endured frustrating transfer windows but it was pretty evident today it’s Newcastle who have the greater need for fresh blood.

After an early Dwight Gayle shot, Tottenham quicky assumed control with Mousa Dembele and Christian Eriksen pulling Newcastle’s midfield around the park. For the rest of the first half Newcastle were content to sit deep and win the occasional set piece on the break.

Newcastle’s deep defence had the effect of nullifying Harry Kane and restricting Spurs to a handful of pot shots from Eriksen and Newcastle saw out the first period 0-0.

Aside from the constant booing of Momo Sissoko there was little for the home crowd to get worked up about, until the third minute of the second half, when Jonjo Shelvy stupidly got himself sent off for standing on Dele Alli’s ankle.

Alli became the pantomime villain as Spurs upped the tempo, Kane should have opened the scoring 4 minutes later with a point blank shot at the keeper, but Rob Elliot produced a fine save. Inevitably it was Alli who broke the deadlock in the 61st minute, getting on the end of an Eriksson’s pass after Spurs worked the ball around Newcastle’s box.

5094

From then on Tottenham were in game management mode, happy to knock the ball around and make Newcastle run. In the 70th minute the Magpies defence cracked again as a long session of keep ball eventually saw Ben Davies slide home.

From then on Spurs continued their domination of possession, Kane should have made it 3-0 in injury time but struck the post, for Newcastle Christian Atsu produced a fine run and shot but Tottenham rarely looked troubled and rode out 2-0 winners.

Newcastle should have enough to survive this season, but Shelvey’s upcoming suspension combined with two first half injuries will only add to the pressure for new signings and further complicate the relationship between Benitez & Mike Ashley, if Newcastle are to avoid their customary autumn crisis they need to get the recruitment right over the next three weeks.

As for Tottenham this was a routine win from a potentially tricky opener, showcasing their defensive strength if not a fully functioning attack.  Eriksen was outstanding whilst Kyle Walker-Peters enjoyed a fine debut at right back. They’ll need to play at a greater tempo in their adopted home next week against Chelsea. But for now it’s a solid start.

 

 

Scouting England’s winners & losers- Premier League Week 1

It’s a World Cup season so which England hopefuls caught the eye this weekend and who wishes they hadn’t.

Winners
Jamie Vardy

After a poor 2016/17 campaign Vardy looked to be slipping out of England contention whilst Leicester signed Iannacho and retained Slimmani. But against Arsenal Craig Shakespeare opted for the old money of Vardy & Okazaki- they repaid him with 3 goals. Vardy torched Arsenal’s shaky back 3 with his searing pace and deadly finishing. Only 13 PL goals last season suddenly feels a long time ago.

FBL-ENG-PR-ARSENAL-LEICESTER

Wayne Rooney

This was always going to happen, Rooney does love a debut goal and from his number 10 role Rooney not only scored, he produced his best all round display for well over a year at Goodison Park. It’s too early to talk about a recall but Rooney remains in contention, it’ll be fascinating to see how he gets on at the Etihad next week.

Premier League - Everton vs Stoke City

Kyle Walker

Man of the match on debut, Walker couldn’t have asked for much more. Far tougher defensive tests await but Walker confirmed what we already knew- he’s the best right back in the country.

FBL-ENG-PR-BRIGHTON-MAN CITY

Kyle Walker-Peters

The under 20 World Cup fullback was one of only 2 members of that squad who started this week. He gave an assured debut display for Spurs at Newcastle.  Maybe worth checking if there’s a Kyle Walker III in the Tottenham academy.

Jay Rodriguez

After 3 horrendous injury ravaged years Rodriguez gave a fine, energetic performance on his West Brom debut. Didn’t notch a goal but an encouraging display none the less.

Marcus Rashford

Playing as a left forward rather than central striker, Rashford terrorised West Ham’s backline with his pace and direct running, Lukaku rightly grabbed the headlines but Rashford was sensational.

 

Losers
Rob Holding

Ok playing in a back 3 with 2 leftbacks (1 on debut the other Monreal) always looked like a hiding to nothing, but Holding was rotten. He looked caught in no mans land between Mark Albrighton (who he failed to close down for Leicester’s second goal) and the front 2, he gave away possession looked uncertain throughout and was subbed after 66 minutes. What on earth was Callum Chambers thinking sat in his suit on the Arsenal bench, ‘where’s my agent?!b*$tard must have died’ at a guess.

Demarai Gray

Reports of Riyad Mahrez’s demise appear greatly exaggerated. Gray needs minutes but he won’t get them sat behind Mahrez.

Jermain Defoe

Needs to score 15 goals this season to get one last shot at a World Cup, not easy to do if you’re sat on the bench, can he play in tandem with Josh King? Eddie Howe appears to have his doubts, worrying.

Gary Cahill

Red carded 14 minutes into his club captaincy, at least there’s no danger of him being injured when Southgate announces his first squad.

Jonjo Shelvey

Utter fool! Shelvey has always been prone to a meltdown but his straight red for standing on Dele Alli was barmy. No danger of those 2 playing together for England anytime soon.

stamp-e1502633715484

England Playing Stat

Number of player available to England starting PL games this week- 70 (32%)

England internationals currently unavailable: 5- Clyne, Trippier, Rose, Shaw, Lallana, 

 

 

 

New Season predictions

premier_league_logo_before_after

Here’s my exhaustive list of 2017/18 season predictions;

Domestic

tottenham-manchester-city-harry-kane-nicolas-otamendi_3356176

Premier League Champions- Tottenham

CL Qualifiers- Man City, Chelsea, Man Utd

FA Cup- Liverpool

League Cup- Man City

Relegation- Huddersfield, Burnley, Brighton

Promotion- Leeds, Fulham, Middlesboro’

Europe

La Liga- Real Madrid

Bundesliga- Bayern Munch

Ligue 1- PSG

Serie A- AC Milan

SPL- Celtic

Champions League- Bayern Munich

Europa League- Everton

Random Stuff

Top Scorer- Harry Kane (Spurs)

Player of the year- Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)

Breakout Star- Dom Solanke (Liverpool)

Best Signing- Javier Hernandez (West Ham)

First manager to leave post- Rafa Benitez (Newcastle)

rafae-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqqv0Fju-aeb1W9_3jsknJjb9I2S2-TcnipTvK7G2FRdk

First Sacking- Mark Hughes (Stoke)

Most Red Cards- Gabriel (Arsenal)

Arsenal-Arsenal-v-Chelsea-Diego-Costa-Gabriel-Paulista-Gabriel-Red-Card-Paulista-Red-Card-Arsenal-News-Gunners-Costa-FA-606882

Player Mourinho falls out with first- Anthony Martial

Manager Mourinho falls out with first- Arsene Wenger (who else)

Month we see the first ‘Wenger Out’ banner over the Emirates- September.

First Manager to have a Kevin Keegan style meltdown on camera- Antonio Conte

 

Final Premier League Table

  1. Tottenham
  2. Man City
  3. Chelsea
  4. Man United
  5. Liverpool
  6. Arsenal
  7. Everton
  8. Bournemouth
  9. Leicester
  10. Southampton
  11. Watford
  12. West Ham
  13. Crystal Palace
  14. Swansea
  15. Stoke
  16. West Brom
  17. Newcastle
  18. Brighton
  19. Burnley
  20. Huddersfield

England’s goalkeeping options

In the last of my pre-season assessments of the England squad, I’m looking at the goalies. For the first time since David Seaman & Nigel Martyn vied for the No1 shirt there’s positive competition for the jersey, here are the contenders;

1. Jack Butland

So unlucky to pick up that long term injury in Germany. Finally back to full fitness Butland must be the favourite to start in September if he shows the sort of form he illustrated on his international return against the French. Butland has looked outstanding since joining Stoke with an unflappable temperament complementing the great saves.ENGLAND-503957

2. Joe Hart

Since acquiring the gloves in 2010 Hart finally has genuine challengers in Butland & Pickford. His form over the last year has been patchy at best with a hit and miss loan spell at Torino following on from his awful showing at Euro 2016. Now looking to a fresh start at West Ham he’ll get lots of practice on the seasoner opener at Old Trafford. Clearly needs to cut out the mistakes that have blighted an often spectacular career (remember his performances against Brazil & Barca?) You should before writing him off.

3. Jordan Pickford

Rose from the Sunderland reserves to £30 million ‘keeper in 1 season, some rise! A good Euros with the under 21s enhanced his reputation further and a first cap is beckoning. Spectacular saves (he got plenty of practice on Wearside last season!) and excellent distribution skills are his strengths, a lack of height may be a concern. Looking forward to seeing his first cap.

nintchdbpict000332072192

4. Tom Heaton

Not capped until hitting 30, Heaton’s call up was well earned after emerging and staying with Burnley. His nervy performance in Paris suggests he’ll only rise to being a squad player rather than true Number 1, but consistent club excellence will keep others on their toes.

5. Fraser Foster

Endured a tough 2016/17 campaign at Southampton but Forster’s experienced enough to bounce back. Has an excellent Champions League campaign from his Celtic days on the CV and an upturn in form could see him challenge for the No1 slot. But a poor campaign will see giant ‘keeper fall out of contention.

Fraser-Forster-may-win-hi-010

6. Ben Foster

It says something positive about England’s option that Foster went to the last World Cup as the number 2 and through no fault of his own is now relegated to 6th choice. At 34 has probably had his last cap but still in with a shout.

7. Freddie Woodman

The Under 20’s World Cup final hero will be in the Under 21s this season. Will probably require another loan spell before taking over as Newcastle number one. Unlikely to go to the World Cup unless someone picks up a late injury (it worked for Jack Butland in 2012).

TELEMMGLPICT000131606075-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4Bqqe94gVf5fwATDoCZ63F3bFnimEKN_wSPya1OD16I6gM

England’s Centre Back options

Traditionally England’s great strength, recent years have seen England start Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott, Phil Jagielka & Chris Smalling in key Finals matches, oh dear.

Some cause for optimism has been provided by a good defensive record in World Cup qualifying and both the current title favourites sporting first choice English centre backs. But a settled partnership has remained elusive and question marks remain over many of the candidates, so who’s in the reckoning?

1. Gary Cahill

Chelsea’s new club captain had an excellent 2016/17 campaign adding a second league title to his truckload of medals. Has grown as a leader but still hasn’t completely convinced with England. A nailed on starter but for how much longer?

2. John Stones

A brilliant ball player but error prone defender, Stones endured a tough first season at Manchester City. Many have made excuses for his short comings perhaps Roberto Martinez endulged him too much? Was it his fault in that defence? There’s some justification here; playing in front of a ‘keeper who doesn’t do saves and partnered in central defence by Alex Kolarov, even Maldini would look nervous! This season there can be no excuse, it’s time to deliver.

3. Michael Keane

An excellent season for Burnley won Keane his England debut and a transfer to Everton. Solid defensively and comfortable on the ball Keane looks like challenging Stones for the start as Cahill’s more cultured partner.

4. Chris Smalling

Clearly not Jose Mourinho’s man at United, Smalling looks to be 4th choice for his club but a move doesn’t look likely. Smalling needs to win his club manager’s confidence to retain his England place- he did pick him for the Europa League & Super Cup finals will he be picked against West Ham on Sunday? Hmm.

5. Phil Jones

6 years ago he was drawing comparisons to Duncan Edwards & Franco Baresi (no seriously he was!) Since then he’s failed to find a regular place with any of the 4 United and 3 England managers he’s served.

On paper Jones should be a Jose player (quick, strong, physical) but when the manager spends £60 million on 2 players in your position it’s pretty apparent you’re not his man. Surely it’s time his junior place in the squad went to a younger less gaffe prone player who can actually play consistently in central defence, still if he is at the end of the line we’ll miss his brilliant facial expressions.

6.  Alfie Mawson

Has developed quickly under the tutelage of Paul Clement at Swansea. More a clear it all stopper and dominant aerial defender than a ball player, Mawson rose to prominence helping Swansea avoid relegation. He then turned in a great Euro Under 21s for England emerging as a leader and hardened defender. I would be amazed if Southgate overlooks him this September.

7. Rob Holding

Enjoyed a breakout season with Arsenal and ended the campaign an FA Cup winner. Holding is learning and developing alongside Per Mertersacker & Laurent Koscielny in Arsenal’s back 3. If he makes as much progress this season as last he should be in for a first cap. However his progress was checked at the Euros where he sat on the bench behind Mawson & club mate Chambers.

8. Callum Chambers

Another cultured central defender, Chambers was excellent in tandem with Mawson this summer, providing a ball playing option out of defence. He also had a credible league campaign on loan to Middlesborough. However he’s now back at Arsenal where he looks surplus to requirements. Crystal Palace want him but no move has materialised yet. If he does get a move a good run of form could get him a fourth cap 3 years on from the first three.

9. Harry Maguire

More a Mawson than a Stones, Maguire emerged from Hull’s disastrous season with huge credit and a £17 million move to Leicester where he’ll replace the immobile Robert Huth. A good season could move him very swiftly up this ladder.

10. Ben Gibson

As I mentioned in an earlier post if he wants to go to the World Cup he’ll need to get a Premier League club. If the rumoured move to West Brom comes off he’s got a place in the England squad to retain. But he might be better off in the long term staying put and trying to get promotion at a club where he’s the main man.

World Cup Memories- Mexico ’86

For me the summer of 1986 was about 2 things; finishing Primary School and watching my first World Cup.

In the pre Premier League era live football on TV was pretty much limited to the FA Cup final so for football mad kids the World Cup was heaven sent.  My last days of primary school were largely spent trading swaps from the Panini Mexico 86 sticker album; I vividly remember trying to trade endless duplicates of Pat Jennings in a futile attempt to acquire Brazilian superstar Zico.

The constant flicking through the sticker book also meant the image of World Cup mascot Pique remains indelibly printed on in my mind.

When the action kicked off I was quickly disappointed by holders Italy- much talked up by older kids who remembered Spain ’82, Paolo Rossi and all that, in 1986 it was the same players just 4 years past it. But two surprise teams bolted out of the traps in Mexico. First there was the now defunct Soviet Union who pummelled Hungary 6-0 in their opener, then midfielder Vasily Rats scored a stunning long range goal against France, and then came Denmark.

Unlike their victorious Euro ’92 side the Danes of 1986 were spellbinding to watch with star strikers Preben Elkjaer & Michael Laudraup rampaging through defences in the early days of the tournament. They also sported the perfect mid 80s pinstripe and chevron jersey.

Strangely both the Danes & Soviets crashed and burned in the last 16 against unfancied sides as I learned a great World Cup cliche: don’t peak too soon! Both clearly did but provided some great memories along the way.

Denmark’s rise was particularly surprising given they were drawn in a group with Germany, Uruguay & Scotland introducing me to yet another cliche ‘the group of death!’ It was from here the Scots introduced me to a further wellwarn cliche: Scotland will always find the unluckiest possible way to miss out.

It’s often forgotten the Scotland team of 1986 was managed by a certain Alex Ferguson, who’d taken temporary charge after the tragic death of Jock Stein in their final qualifier. Defensively they were strong enough for Ferguson to omit Liverpool captain Alan Hansen, the midfield featured a wonderfully moustached Greane Souness and the creativity of Gordon Strachan whilst the forward line of Steve Archibald, Frank McAvennie & Charlie Nicholas didn’t lack firepower.

As it turned out, the Scots first ran into the Danish juggernaut and then faced West Germany, Strachan scored early to put them ahead but the Germans proved too strong and the Scots went down 2-1.

But still qualification could still be achieved with a win over Uruguay who’d just shipped six against Denmark, it couldn’t have started much better with Uruguay defender Jose Batista red carded in the first minute for an appalling foul on Strachan. What followed was 89 minutes of Scottish attacking and agricultural Uruguayan defending with Uruguay kicking their way to a 0-0 draw and a second round berth.

But my enduring memory of that game came in the aftermath when the BBC tried to get some post match reaction from the Tartan Army outside the ground and one angry fan barked “I hate Uruguay! I hate ’em so much I hope they get through and play England and I hope England win! That’s how much I hate Uruguay!!”

And so to England, drawn in Group F the tournament was a week old before we got started and it wasn’t a great start, England began against Portugal with high hopes and they dominated possession for long spells, looked in control but conceded on the break 15 minutes from time, 0-1 on dear.

If the first game was bad the second was a disaster. Against Morocco England should have eased to victory but Captain Marvel Robson succumbed to a shoulder injury and midfield partner Ray Wilkins was bizarrely sent off for throwing the ball (accidentally) at the referee. The game ended 0-0.

The knives were out for Bobby Robson, it was England’s worst start to a World Cup since the 50’s and he needed to rework his entire midfield and attack. His solution was to bring in Peter Reid, Steve Hodge, Trevor Steven & Peter Beardsley, dropping Mark Hateley & Chris Waddle. The reshaped team was a gamble but it took only 8 minutes to pay off with Gary Lineker turning home Gary Stevens’ cross, by half time Lineker had a hat trick and England were through.

Suddenly England had a star in Lineker and a team set up perfectly to maximise his poachers instinct with Hodge and Steven providing width and Beardsley able to provide clever through balls from his deeper forward role. 

Sadly for me we’d gone on a family holiday and I only saw the game next day (due to the late kick off times In Mexico) and found out the result from Derek Jamieson’s breakfast show. 

Onto the last 16 and I was still in Cornwall, most expected England to sneak a win and despite a shaky start England again won 3-0. Lineker now had 5 goals and was set for the Golden Boot.

And so to the quarter final and the most infamous moment in English Football history. In footballs ‘where were you when Kennedy was shot’ moment I was watching it on the telly with my dad. It wasn’t until full time that I realised it was handball, watching it live in realtime was very different to looking at the photo everyone remembers- he was devilishly quick!


Everyone knows what followed; Maradona scored a brilliant second, Lineker pulled one back and almost equalised. England were out whilst Maradona went on to lift the trophy.

I think the main reason the infamy of that goal has endured for so long is Maradona’s obvious pleasure in it, he’s never shown any regret at what he did, it’s hard to believe Pele or Cruyff would have reacted with such glee, nor was it Maradona’s only handball moment playing for Argentina (he would later handle the ball whilst clearing off his own line).

When Thierry Henry later handled against Ireland in a 2009 World Cup playoff, it was clear even on the night Henry was embarrassed and whilst never actually apologising for it he clearly would like to expunge the incident from his career, Maradona by contrast has often revelled in his.

The day before England played Argentina I witnessed my first great World Cup match; Michel Platini’s France against the Brazilian Samba boys. 1986 was probably the last chance to see the Brazil at their beautiful best, Brazilian sides since have concentrated on string defence combined with pace and power, back in ’86 it was all flair, tricks and samba soccer. Facing them The European champions and their dynamic midfield quartet of Platini, Giresse, Tigana & Fernandes.

The game ebbed and flowed, the crowd a sea of yellow & blue- Argentina may have had the best player but these were the two best teams. Amazingly only one goal apiece was scored with the French triumphing on penalties. 

Everyone expected a Platini/ Maradona final, Argentina made it but the French fell foul of another great World Cup cliche: German efficiency. West Germany made it almost unnoticed into the last four, perhaps France underestimated them or maybe they were exhausted from the epic win over Brazil, whatever the reason France were subdued in the semi and went down 2-0.

The final proved entertaining but slightly underwhelming (the second part of that assessment could be applied to every World Cup final since.) Jorge Burruchaga scored the winner 6 minutes from time after the Germans had fought back from a 2 goal deficit, Argentina were champions and my first World Cup experience was over.

Mexico ’86 had everything, great games, brilliant players, colour, atmosphere and controversy. It was a heady cocktail that cemented my love of the beautiful game and it’s biggest event.

A year later my local library got a Mexico ’86 book recapping the  tournament in A3 size prints of the matches, the book spent much of the following year on loan to me. I remember very clearly the last picture in the book- of 2 fans in the Azteca stadium after the final whistle of the tournament, both stripped to the waist with their backs printed, on the first fan ‘Adios Mexico ’86’ on the other ‘Ciao Italia ’90’. The summer of 1990 couldn’t come around fast enough.