Month: February 2014

Watford sign veteran defender Neill

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Watford have completed the signing of 35 year old defender Lucas Neill on a deal to the end of the season.

The former Blackburn, West Ham and Everton man was a free agent following his release from J-League outfit Omija Ardija in November last year.

Since Neill left England in 2010, he’s been to a variety of clubs all over the globe such as Galatasary in Turkey, Al Jazira in the UAE and Sydney FC in his native Australia.

The Hornets will be hoping Lucas Neill’s experience can lift them up the table as they have failed to repeat last season’s impressive feat of reaching the play-off final. They currently lie in 12th, 8 points off the top 6.

Neill, capped 96 times for Australia, scoring just the 1 goal, was linked to a move back to Blackburn but Watford have won the battle against Rovers.

 

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Birmingham sign Ibe on loan

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Jordan Ibe has put pen to paper on a loan deal to Birmingham for the rest of the season.

The young Liverpool winger, 18, has made one substitute appearance for the Reds this season, coming on with 15 minutes remaining when Liverpool trounced Arsenal 5-1 at Anfield in early February.

Ibe is expected to make a big impact on the game and has attracted a good reputation following his move to Liverpool from now League 2 Wycombe in 2011.

The England under 19 international was only 15 years old when he made his senior debut when Wycombe met Colchester in the league cup at Adams Park. He scored his first professional goal two months later when the Chairboys lost 1-2 to Sheffield Wednesday after a superb run.

Birmingham’s new man also scored on his England under 19 debut, a 6-1 victory over Estonia last September.

He is available for Birmingham’s next match, away to Blackpool on Saturday.

Why Arsenal need to change their philosophy to progress

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Arsenal are well known for their patient passing play but eight, possibly nine barren seasons without a trophy needs changing. Fast. It could all improve if they ditch their modern tactics.

Following Wednesday’s 0-2 defeat to reigning European Champions Bayern Munich, the Gunners look all but out of this season’s competition which would see them fail to get past the last 16 for the fourth successive time. They haven’t got past the quarters in five years.

What was highlighted most on Wednesday was how Arsenal were completely played off the park at their own game, at home, with Bayern having an astonishing 79% possession statistic. This wasn’t helped of course by Wojciech Szczesny’s dismissal on 37 minutes which forced Arsene Wenger to replace Spanish play-maker Santi Cazorla but Arsenal looked second best even before that.

England’s best “Spanish Footballer” comes in the shape of Jack Wilshere but he was non-existent for the full 90 minutes while Mesut Ozil was his usual “passenger” self, looking uninterested for the whole game, even his crucial penalty was incredibly lazy. He missed.

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Ozil’s dip in form should have him looking over his shoulder.

This is not the first time Arsenal have been beaten by their own game, Barcelona did the same to them in 2011.

One of the most worrying aspects of the modern Arsenal is Wenger’s decreasing tactical knowledge. Following Szczesny’s sending off, the Frenchman brought off Cazorla while the consistently average Ozil was kept on. Even worse, when 0-1 down with 15 minutes to play, Arsenal’s main, possibly only, attacking threat Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was hauled off for the defensive minded Tomas Rosicky.

Holding onto a narrow loss at home is embarrassing enough, even when a man down. What’s more embarrassing however is when it doesn’t work, Thomas Muller made it 0-2 with two minutes remaining.

Should Wenger have kept “The Ox” and Cazorla on, Arsenal would have possibly created more chances with Cazorla’s passing followed by Oxlade-Chamberlain’s powerful jinking runs, but there was none of that, Arsenal stepped off Bayern and allowed them to pass them to death.

The argument that this would have left Arsenal more open defensively is a valid one, however Chelsea proved in 2012 that it can be done when they earned their hugely impressive 2-2 draw over Barcelona at the Nou Camp, and that was with ten men following John Terry’s clumsy challenge.

Wenger’s tactical failings also apply to his forward line. Promising striker Yaya Sanogo looked isolated for large periods of the Munich match however he won most, if not every header. This suggests that the France Under 21 International would benefit from a striking partner, something Arsenal don’t use. Sanogo could use his strength and heading ability to knock balls down to his partner, possibly Olivier Giroud or a new acquisition, and even grab the odd goal himself as he does get in the right areas but lacks the decisive finishing touch at this stage.

Where Chelsea’s formation, which is exactly the same as Arsenal’s, succeeds is that they have better goal scoring midfielders in the shape of Eden Hazard, Oscar, Willian, formerly Juan Mata and occasionally Ramires. These get on the score sheet enough times that the limited scoring ability of Fernando Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba isn’t too much of a problem. Whereas Cazorla, Ozil, and Oxlade-Chamberlain have 10 league goals between them, Hazard boasts 12 on his own.

This season has been a lot better for Arsenal, the double is still realistically on the cards in theory. Where they struggle however is overcoming the big teams. Their league results against last season’s top four are a 6-3 away loss to Manchester City, a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea, and an away loss and home draw against a below par Manchester United team. Not forgetting a 5-1 thumping away to Liverpool.

The Gunners have a tough end to March with Tottenham away followed by a trip to Chelsea before finishing at Manchester City at home. February’s fixture list has been cruel to Arsenal with that Liverpool loss and the home draw against Manchester United joining an FA Cup and Champions League tie. If they end March where they are now they will still be in the title race but given this season’s record against the top sides it looks doubtful.

The FA Cup is realistic after they eliminated Liverpool to reach the quarters but they meet Everton which is not an easy prospect. Arsenal will be boosted by Chelsea and Man United’s elimination but Man City are clear favourites to lift the trophy and carry on Arsenal’s long wait for silverware where it all looked so promising just few months ago.

Wycombe left in lurch on potential new owners

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Fans of League 2 club Wycombe Wanderers won’t find out the identity of their proposed new owners until next week.

There was a meeting on Tuesday attended by some of the Wycombe Supporters’ Trust (WST) to learn about an offer from an unnamed company after a deal was agreed last week to sell the club next Month.

The Chairboys have been owned by the supporters’ group since June 2012, when the trust completed its purchase from Steve Hayes at at a time when the club was losing £1.6 million a year.

The League 2 club have improved this figure slightly however decreased attendances and lower corporate income keep the financial security of the club in a precarious position.

Wycombe’s new owner will remain anonymous until the annual general meeting on February 26th as part of the non-disclosure agreement but the WST will remain in control of the stadium Adams Park and all memorabilla.

The deal will go ahead once 75% of the WST vote in favour of the deal.

Sources close to the club suggest a fans’ favourite would be returning to Adams Park in an advisory role. Rumoured to be former boss John Gorman.

Swindon 1-1 Peterborough (3-3 on aggregate, Peterborough win 3-4 on Penalties)

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Peterborough booked their place in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy Final at Wembley after defeating Swindon on penalties at the County Ground following a 1-1 draw after 90 minutes.

Tommy Rowe slotted in the winning penalty to send the 383 travelling fans home happy and Peterborough to the JPT final for the first time in their history.

Misses from Massimo Luongo and Tijane Reis left Rowe to convert the winner from the spot which he did with consummate ease.

The game itself was a cagey affair with the two teams only managing 5 shots on target between them (Swindon 1, Peterborough 4).

Swindon opened the scoring when Luongo’s cut back across the six yard box got a touch off Peterborough goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik into the path of Craig Alcock who smashed a clearance into Dany N’Guessan and clear man of the match Alex Pritchard was there to rifle home from close range.

The goal Swindon conceded was just as sloppy as the one they scored. Under pressure, Norwich loanee Jacob Murphy attempted a back pass that was missed by Darren Ward. Alcock crossed to Britt Assombalonga who powered a header past Wes Foderingham to level the scores with 15 minutes to play.

It was Assombalonga who first came close in the match, his swerving shot from the edge of the area was well saved by Foderingham and settled a few early nerves at the County Ground. Relief turned to anger soon after though when referee Keith Stroud failed to blow for a clear penalty when N’Guessan broke free of Alcock and was tripped inside the area.

Town started the second half the brighter when N’Gussan beat Olejnik to the ball but he saw his shot hit post and out. Posh grew into the game following their leveller though, Michael Bostwick fired wide from the edge of the area on 83 minutes and then Foderingham had to have a strong hand to deny a Grant McCann freekick in stoppage time.

It was Peterborough who prevailed on penalties though and they march on to Wembley to face either Chesterfield or Fleetwood on the 30th of March. Chesterfield lead 3-1 going into the second leg which will be played at the home of the North final leaders.

Swindon vs Peterborough. A preview.

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Monday’s second leg clash in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy South Final is evenly poised as Swindon Town and Peterborough United are locked at 2-2 following the draw at London Road.

Swindon have a depleted squad for the crucial second leg at the County Ground with last year’s player of the year Nathan Thompson suspended after picking up his tenth yellow card in Friday’s 0-0 draw with Colchester and Nile Ranger is a doubt after suffering a hamstring injury in the same game. Swindon’s defensive problems continue with Tottenham loanee Grant Hall still injured while Jay McEveley remains suspended following his red card in the first leg. Jamie Reckord, a new defensive loan signing, is also out with injury while striker Michael Smith, signed from Charlton in January, is cup-tied after featuring in the competition for AFC Wimbledon earlier in the season. Central Midfielder Yaser Kasim from Iraq is expected to return though and Tijane Reis is gradually returning to full fitness.

Peterborough on the other hand could give new loan signing Josh McQuoid his full debut following his recent move from Bournemouth however new defenders Ben Nugent and Jack Baldwin are cup-tied having played in this season’s competition for Brentford and Hartlepool respectively. Striking pair Nicky Ajose and Connor Washington are also cup-tied, Ajose played for Posh’s opponents Swindon in earlier rounds while Washington turned out for Newport. 

Swindon made their way to the brink of Wembley by knocking out Plymouth, Wycombe, and then Stevenage on penalties. All of these at the County Ground which has become a bit of a fortress in recent years. The Robins boast the second best home record in League 1 this season, only Brentford have done better. 

Posh on the other hand saw off Brentford, Dagenham and Redbridge and Newport County to book themselves an area final spot. Both teams received a bye in the first round.

The Reds overcome the Cambridgeshire club 2-1 in the league meeting between these two sides at the Country Ground with goals from Ranger and Kasim while Peterborough overcome the Wiltshire side at London Road thanks to a single goal from then debutant Britt Assombalonga on the opening day of the season. 

The victor of Monday’s game will meet the winner of the all League 2 match up in the Northern section where Chesterfield lead Fleetwood 3-1 after the Spireites defeated the Cod Army in the first leg in Fleetwood.

Should Swindon and Chesterfield both reach Wembley it would be a repeat of the 2012 final where Chesterfield ran out 2-0 winners following an own goal from Oliver Risser and then Craig Westcarr sealed the tie.

2013/14: Who’ll finish where? Part 1: Premier League

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With the January Window slamming shut after clubs up and down the divisions were trying to bring in new faces attempting to secure their pre season targets, it’s time to evaluate who will achieve what in the next 4 Months.

The Title Challengers:

Arsenal: Gunners fans were clamouring for a new striker in January and failed to get one.  Arsene Wenger has decided to keep faith in hit and miss forward Olivier Giroud, traditionally goal shy in the league Lukas Podolski and “world’s best” Niklas Bendtner. A deal for Julian Draxler never came to fruition either which increased fan’s frustrations and a tough February/March period of fixtures could be Arsenal’s downfall. Prediction: 3rd.

Manchester City: The league’s powerhouses at present, Manchester City didn’t sign anyone in January following the decision to not sign Porto pair Eliaquim Mangala and Fernando. The Citizens don’t really needed to strengthen but their one weakness lies in Martin Demichelis, a problem Mangala would have solved. Thankfully for them though, City have finally sorted out that once troublesome away form and look unstoppable currently. Losing to Chelsea is a big blow to them though and it shows they can be beaten and will boost Chelsea no end. Prediction: 2nd.

Chelsea: The return of the special one hasn’t led to a league title as plain sailing as many thought and the Blues are currently as low as 3rd in the league behind leaders Arsenal and Manchester City. The reluctance of Jose Mourinho to sign a striker might prove costly but nevertheless Chelsea did still have a positive January window. Mohammed Salah came in as Juan Mata’s replacement, Nemanja Matic returned to the club and highly rated powerful centre back Kurt Zouma was also brought in, he was loaned back to St.Ettiene but will be in Chelsea blue next season. Monday’s win against Manchester City has left them level on points with City and they’ve already played big teams like Arsenal and Manchester United away which City haven’t Prediction: 1st.

The race for 4th:

Liverpool: The Liverpudlians had a disaster of a transfer window, first losing out on Salah who opted for Chelsea and then missing out on Yevhen Konoplyanka on deadline day. Ironically though, Liverpool need to work on their defence more than their midfield or attack which Kolo Toure’s horrific error against West Brom highlighted. The Reds are lucky to still have a player of Luis Suarez’s calibre on their books but since they do they are in good stead to return to the coveted top four spots, his good working relationship with Daniel Sturridge to create the new “SAS” is working wonders. Prediction: 4th

Everton: Well known to be low on funds, Everton are not traditional big spenders in transfer windows however they did attract three new players to Goodison last month. Aiden McGeady from Spartak Moscow and giant Lacina Traore on loan from Monaco as well as young goalkeeper Jindřich Staněk from Sparta Prague. The Toffees have a strong squad, quite literally in the shape of Romelu Lukaku and new man Traore but they lack a Suarez type figure to lift them into top 4 reckoning. Prediction: 5th

Tottenham: No new faces at Tottenham during January could be more worrying than what meets the eye. Despite being given a deal to the end of next season Tim Sherwood has appeared reluctant to begin to construct the team into his own image. Although this would be more effective in the Summer, January would be a good starting point and it would also prove useful to bring players in to get them used to the league, something which the players brought in last Summer are struggling with. This Tottenham team also don’t look good enough for the top 4 as proved by being demolished 1-5 at home by Man City, 6-0 away to the same club, 0-5 at home to Liverpool and 0-3 earlier on in the season against West Ham so Sherwood’s reluctance to bring in new faces is a strange one. Prediction: 7th

Manchester United: David Moyes was always going to have a tough job taking over from the legend that is Sir Alex Ferguson with many predicting the club would lose its premier league crown but no-one expected this. Old Trafford has lost all its fear factor and it would appear sides now relish a trip to the red half of Manchester. Juan Mata is a promising signing by Moyes however it does have its down sides. £37 million seems a bit steep for someone who couldn’t get into a top 4 side this season and a player who doesn’t play regularly for his country. In fairness to Mata though he did win Chelsea’s player of the year award twice in a row and is Spanish however one signing isn’t enough for this side and a big shuffle is needed in the Summer. Prediction: 6th

Relegation:

Aston Villa: Only the one signing this window and it wasn’t a headline grabber, Grant Holt on loan from Wigan. Holt had only managed 2 goals in the Championship this season. Villa aren’t a side that needs much improvement regarding their season expectations though with their young side beginning to mature, none more so than Fabian Delph, even Christian Benteke having a poor season isn’t dampening the mood at Villa Park. Prediction: Safe.

Stoke City: Mark Hughes’ job when appointed Stoke Manager this season was to change the playing style, from Tony Pulis’ “ugly” football to a more attractive brand. Hughes has had moderate success with the new system, it tends to work against the bigger sides, memorable home wins over Chelsea and Manchester United, and home draws with City and Everton have been exceptional results but this doesn’t stretch to the teams around them. Losses have come against the likes of Sunderland, Crystal Palace and only managing home draws against Hull and Cardiff isn’t good enough. Prediction: Relegation.

Swansea City: Questionable signings by Swansea won’t change them much, new faces include David N’Gog from Bolton (3 goals in 17 in the Championship this season), Adam King from Hearts and Jay Fulton from Falkirk. Respectable mid table again for the Swans, the big test comes next season when the expected departure of Michael Laudrup happens, will their next manager make the Swans soar the next level or will they sink back down to the Championship? Prediction: Safe.

Hull City: Tipped by many to go straight back down, Hull City are surprising a few and this is mainly due to their home form. Their problem though is that they’re not scoring enough goals and Steve Bruce has addressed this problem by signing Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long. Hull have been on a bad run of form though and need to pick this up quickly otherwise they’ll be in trouble. Prediction: Relegation.

Sunderland: Under old boss Paolo Di Canio, Sunderland looked down already but they have a new lease of life under Gus Poyet. The Black Cats have booked themselves a trip to Wembley after defeating Man United in the Capital One Cup and have won 6 of their 16 games under the Uruguayan, two of those against fierce rivals Newcastle and momentum is high. New signings Oscar Ustari, Santiago Vergini, Ignacio Scocco and Liam Bridcutt can only help them. Prediction: Safe.

Norwich City: A team that has always gone about its business quietly since they returned to the premier league in 2011, mid table looks a real possibility again this season. Jonas Gutierrez and Joseph Yobo on loan are useful short term acquisitions who bring in lots of premiership experience and will help the Canaries cement their place in the division for next season. Prediction: Safe.

West Brom: Perennial “yo-yo” club West Brom look to have finally stabilised themselves in the premier league, new manager Pepe Mel was unlucky to lose his first game in charge away to Villa but a home draw against Liverpool will raise spirits. Shane Long left in January but this will give strikers like Matej Vydra the chance to shine after a great season in the Championship last year. No signings were made by Mel in January but the next chapter at the Hawthorns begins in the summer. Prediction: Safe.

Crystal Palace: Much like Sunderland, Palace looked relegated before changing their manager but now look like a completely different team. Tony Pulis has arrived at Selhurst Park and stuck to his system that worked so well at Stoke and it’s efficient in London too. Marouane Chamakh looks a new man and Palace are on the up.  4 deadline day signings will boost Palace, Jason Puncheon on a permanent deal, Wayne Hennessey, Joe Ledley and Scott Dann are the new men. Pulis will be proud of the new players and the form his team are in, Stoke may have made a huge mistake. Prediction: Safe.

West Ham: Saturday’s 2-0 win over Swansea came as one hell of a relief for “Big” Sam Alladyce who needs wins and fast, the previous result, a 0-0 draw away to Chelsea was credible but undeserved but these two results show West Ham aren’t dead yet. January saw West Ham add some Italian flavour to their side with loan deals for Antonio Nocerino and Marco Borriello, relative coups for the Hammers, Borriello will be most useful due to West Ham’s lack of strikers, Andy Carroll is a good player but can’t keep the club up on his own, especially due to his recent return from a long injury. Despite this though, West Ham should have enough about them to stay up. Prediction: Safe.

Cardiff: The acromonious departure of manager Malky Mackay outraged many of the Cardiff support but they were soon in good spirits again when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was hired as his replacement. The Norwegian acted quickly in the transfer market strengthening his side with no less than seven new faces arriving at the Cardiff City stadium. The most notable of these were Fabio and Wilfried Zaha from Man United, Fabio on a permanent and Zaha on loan. If Zaha can impress in Wales during his loan period he may have an outside chance of making the squad to Brazil which will encourage “OGS”. Kenwyne Jones was another signing who came from Stoke in a swap deal with Odemwingie going the other way and scored in his debut in a 2-1 win over Norwich which was OGS’ first league win as manager. He’ll be hoping more are coming soon. Prediction: Safe.

Fulham: 2 wins from 15 have left Fulham in a slump. Rene Muelensteen has a big job on his hands if the Cottagers are going to stay up, all hopes may be pinned on new £11 million man Konstantinos Mitroglou who has 23 goals in 26 games for club and country this season. If he can settle quickly Fulham might be ok, if he doesn’t, they’re in trouble. Prediction: Relegation.

Football’s Bad Boys: Should Every Team Have One?

Understandably perhaps, the misbehaved footballers have a bad reputation, but as players are in the public eye more than ever, more “bad boys” are being unearthed and are important to clubs.

One of the clubs attracting a lot of attention for harbouring problem players are Manchester City, none more so than their historic Premier League winning season. The main culprits of course, Carlos Tevez and one Mario Balotelli.

During the 2011/12 season, maverick Italian Mario Balotelli never stopped hitting the headlines, whether the stories were fact or fiction. The bonkers forward set fireworks off in his own bathroom, threw darts at members of the youth team and had training ground bust ups with captain Vincent Kompany, Jerome Boateng, Micah Richards and fellow bad boy Carlos Tevez. Plus many more things. Manager Roberto Mancini (who would also have a scrap with Mario the following season) stuck with him though and Balotelli repaid him with 13 goals in 23 games, including one with his shoulder; and who set up Aguero’s iconic last gasp goal?

If Roberto Mancini didn’t have enough on his plate that season he also had to cope with Carlos Tevez going AWOL after refusing to come on during a Champions League match against Bayern Munich in September 2011. After a lengthy dispute between the two parties and Mancini claiming Tevez would never play for the club again, the Argentine returned in February 2012. The controversial decision to bring Tevez back is arguably the reason City won their first title, setting up the winner in his return to the fold in a 2-1 win over Chelsea and his link up play with fellow countryman Aguero propelled City to the top.

Another Premier League club with a reputation for the controversial player is Chelsea. John Terry and Ashley Cole are no stranger to the tabloids due to their off the field relationships with women and Cole shooting a youth team member with an air rifle and even more controversial, Terry’s race charge. Despite the never ending trouble these two cause though Chelsea haven’t stopped winning silverware, 4 FA Cups, 1 league title and 1 Champions League since the pair have been at the club, with Terry club captain of course.

Arguably the Premiership’s most controversial figure is Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan has chomped down on Branislav Ivanovic, racially abused Patrice Evra and picked up a reputation for diving but is widely considered to be the best player in the league and if you asked any Liverpool fan is Suarez worth the hassle, you’d get an overwhelming yes.

Ouch! Suarez getting stuck in.

Ouch! Suarez getting stuck in.

One of the premier league’s first bad boys was bonkers Italian Paolo Di Canio who arrived in England at Sheffield Wednesday following a period at Celtic where he became a fan favourite. It was during his time with the Owls where he famously pushed referee Paul Alcock which saw him banned for 11 matches. He still finished as Wednesday’s top scorer. West Ham signed him soon after soon and Di Canio showed why, becoming a cult figure at Upton Park, scoring one of the best goals the league has ever seen and winning a fair play award for catching the ball instead of scoring when Everton Goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was down injured. He still had his controversial moments but Di Canio was the sort of player who was inspired by these. His best moment in a Hammers shirt came in a match against Bradford in 2000. When 2-4 down, Di Canio requested to come off following a number of penalty appeals were turned down. He stayed on and single handedly dragged West Ham kicking and screaming to a 5-4 win, including fighting a young Frank Lampard over who would take a penalty. Paolo won.

Di Canio’s controversies have continued in his managerial career, ill fated times at both Swindon and Sunderland have affected his career but not his ego. His spell on Weir-side was ill fated from the start, endless questions on his alleged fascist politics that were all but ignored in Swindon was quickly followed by Phil Bardsley being caught into a casino, Di Canio banning everything from Ketchup to Ice and a player revolt against him. His worst moment as Swindon boss came after a Carling Cup loss against Southampton when he had a scrap with striker Leon Clarke.

Clarke himself has a negative reputation, his disagreement with Di Canio came after he stormed off the pitch at full time claiming he wouldn’t train the following day, he never played for Swindon again following the fight. Clarke also caused trouble at Coventry, he scored 23 in 34 for the Sky Blues, 18 this season but he angered Cov fans when he handed in a transfer request shortly before deadline day this year. He left for Wolves. A great striker at League 1 level but is he worth the headaches?

Clash of the titans. Clarke and Di Canio lock horns.

Clash of the titans. Clarke and Di Canio lock horns.

The Football League’s biggest problem is arguably Nile Ranger. A man who’s never been in the good books even when he was breaking into the game. He was imprisoned in a Young Offender’s institute for 11 Weeks following an armed robbery as a 15 year old and his behaviour has failed to improve. He’s still only 22 and since he’s been charged with being drunk and disorderly in Newcastle’s Cathedral Square (2011), posing in a picture with a gun (also 2011), made a homophobic comment on Twitter (2012), charged with breaking down a door (also 2012), convicted with assault in 2013 and is also awaiting a court case after being accused of rape. He denies the charges. Despite all this though he is currently at a club, Swindon, and has missed numerous training sessions which almost led to his contract being terminated, an apology was enough to stay at the club. His off the field antics have annoyed fans but Ranger is one of the main reasons Swindon are chasing the League 1 play-offs.

So the football bad boys, they give their managers plenty to think about but a lot of them are the reasons that managers achieve success. Something more people might have to consider.

Follow me on Twitter @BenjaminWills18