Leicester City

Stop the transfer train because I want to get off

In the early hours of Wednesday morning I tuned into the ‘Premier League Asia Trophy Preview’ while whittling my way through a packed Sky+ planner.

Said programme was an interview hosted by Sky Sports presenter David Jones, who spoke to four managers: Frank de Boer, Tony Pulis, Craig Shakespeare and Jurgen Klopp, as the title suggests, previewing the forthcoming pre-season tournament, the Asia Trophy.

Maybe watching such a show at the barbaric hour of 3am had the effect, but it seemed like I was in a world where all control had been lost, or maybe this was just an all-too-accurate reflection of Planet Transfer Market once the activity of Crystal Palace, West Brom, Leicester City and Liverpool was discussed.

Unlike in the eyes of most others though, the main issue is not necessarily people like Kyle Walker commanding circa £50 million fees – that is just the price you pay for mega-bucks television deals and English players, especially half-decent ones, being so few and far between.

No. What the real problem is, is the tremendous titillation of it all.

Presenter Jones, who emphasised the word ‘transfers’ in his introduction to the segment with so much vigour that it seemed Tourette-like, was, to be fair to him, just doing his job as the Sky Sports mouthpiece to what has long-been the entertainment within the entertainment.

In what is a ‘Chicken and Egg’ scenario, there is an issue football has now where the amount of people interested in the 90 minutes is decreasing while the hullabaloo before and after it seems to be sky-rocketing. Any print media journalist asked the difference in readership figures between the match report and the ‘Player X linked to Club Y’ story will tell you that.

How could you not be excited when, in the words of Jones, “all managers are battling the transfer spending, which is hitting new levels”?

The managers themselves are not getting caught up in it though. Pulis labelled it “ridiculous”, de Boer “crazy” and Shakespeare admitted he “doesn’t really like it, but you have to accept it.”

Klopp, who previously quipped Germany is still normal with players still moving clubs for fees such as £5 million and £7 million, put it better than anybody else, however.

When asked if he was planning any more incomings for the Liverpool fans with “baited breath” (again, a phrase fired from Jones’ mouth like a bullet out of a gun), he responded: “Look. There’s nothing I could say that could help.

“We are interested in a lot of players around the world, but at the moment I’m working with the squad I have. With all respect, that’s my job in the first place.

“If I go into training and think: Oh my God, still them? That’s not okay, but that’s the first part of the job – nobody thinks about improvement and development of the players you have.”

The crux of the matter though is why is nobody thinking about improvement and development? Is it all just too dull?

There is no flashy ‘totaliser’ for every player a manager improves instead of buying, there is no bold yellow strap at the bottom of a screen when an 18-year-old gets his first start and there is certainly no all-day event that some joke should be a national holiday quite like the perpetual damp squib that is Transfer Deadline Day.

Maybe it is time to get off the transfer train, maybe we missed our stop a long time ago, and, if so, maybe we are approaching the end of the line, we just need to hope we are not going completely off the rails.

 

 

Jamie Vardy in many ways is the modern day Paul Gascoigne

For the first time in years England fans up and down the country exploded in joy over a goal that was scored in a friendly. Jamie Vardy’s flick at the near post past the best goalkeeper in the world Manuel Neuer was very much the kind of goal Paul ‘Gazza’ Gascoigne would have scored, and in many ways, the two are remarkably similar.

In other ways they are nothing alike, Gascoigne was one of the best players of his generation and perhaps the most gifted to ever wear the shirt of the Three Lions while Vardy, although a remarkable success story, will never be remembered as a world class player. We will leave that to Dele Alli.

Where they do draw comparison though is the way both have them have captured a nation.

Gascoigne put smiles on football fans’ faces at a time when the sport was in the doldrums. The Geordie made his first-team debut for boyhood club Newcastle United in 1985 – the same year of the Heysel disaster, the same year as the Bradford fire disaster and four years before Hillsborough. Football in England around that time was also a period where pitch invasions were commonplace all over for reasons of violence and not those of celebration more typically seen in 2016.

Gazza’s brilliance helped provide the sort of distraction that only sport can from such dark times he also made a big contribution to the transformation of football with his dazzling displays at Italia ’90. Those tears in the semi-final against west Germany put football in a good light again and would lead to the formation of the Premier League two years later which has led to a more commercialised game but also a safer one that more traditionally welcomes families as opposed to just dads and sons.

The tears that captivated a nation: Gazza cries at Italia 90

The tears that captivated a nation: Gazza cries at Italia 90

And this is where Vardy comes in. Due to the amount of money in the Premier League the so-called ‘top’ teams dominate. Chelsea and Manchester City, who 20 years ago were not typically challenging for titles, have been crowned champions three of the last four years thanks to Russian and Abu Dhabi billionaires respectively.

This year, however, some new kids are in town: Leicester City, and Vardy is the poster boy.

While football is thankfully no longer trapped in the unmitigated horror that is constant tragedies and a fear of going to matches, the modern fan is so disillusioned with the game due to ever-increasing ticket prices and football players being multi- millionaires that the beauty has been in danger of being lost but Vardy is bringing it back.

Just over a decade ago, Vardy was playing non-league football with Stocksbridge Park Steels after being released from his beloved Sheffield Wednesday. In 2012, as England were preparing for their last European Championships, Vardy was still in the Conference with Fleetwood Town and now he is one of the top scorers in the country’s top division and will probably be on the plane to France in the summer.

People enjoy Vardy because the Leicester striker could be one of them. The man playing with mates in a park and ten years later stepping foot in the Premier League in true cliché ‘Roy of the Rovers’ stuff. Gascoigne is much the same, the local lad who supported and played for local club and, it would not be unfair to say, did not possess the most athletic stature, but this again endears him to the people who watched him. That could be me.

Although, to both Vardy and Gascoigne, there is a darker side.

Gascoigne has had a very troubling and very public battle with alcoholism and has admitted to being violent to now ex-wife Sheryl during their marriage whereas Vardy has been filmed being racist to a Japanese man in a casino but we don’t like to remember these events, perhaps wrongly, but such is sport. It gives us great memories and we don’t want them tarnished.

If England do the impossible and win Euro 2016 Vardy will have gone one better than Gascoigne and done the thing Gazza always dreamed of – leading England to a major tournament win.

Leicester must part ways with Pearson to progress

Despite being a newly promoted side who were not expected to pull up any trees in the Premier League, Leicester City need to dismiss manager Nigel Pearson to make any sort of impact this season.

Saturday was a missed opportunity for the club to climb out of the relegation zone as they lost to fellow Premiership new boys Queens Park Rangers 3-2 at Loftus Road with the Rs leapfrogging Leicester in the table.

The Foxes are currently bottom of the top flight in English football, one point off that elusive spot of 17th and safety.

City have secured some credible results in the first half of the season, most notably two draws at home to Everton and Arsenal (2-2 and 1-1 respectively) as well as a famous 5-3 win over Manchester United but missed chances against teams around them could prove costly.

Crystal Palace away (2-0) as well as Burnley (2-2), West Brom (0-1) and Sunderland at home (0-0) have all ended without three points for Pearson’s men in what could turn out to be end of season “six pointers”.

In fact, before this weekend, Leicester had previously gone five games without even scoring a goal.

Pearson's finest hour

Pearson’s finest hour

Given the underdog nature of Leicester’s ambitions for this campaign, the initial sacking could seem harsh at first glance but clubs have taken the bold step before – and it has paid dividends.

Southampton opted to dismiss their boss somewhat unfairly in the 2012/13 season but are now flying high.

The South Coast club sacked Nigel Adkins, a man who guided the club to the Premier League from League One via back-to-back promotions, in January 2013 when they were 15th to widespread criticism but the Saints went marching into eighth in Mauricio Pochettino’s solemn full season at St.Mary’s.

Under Ronald Koeman, Southampton are mounting a surprise title challenge going into 2015.

Dreams of the top four may be a stretch too far for Leicester but Crystal Palace’s exploits could be a more realistic ambition.

Although Ian Holloway decided to depart Palace of his own accord, the Eagles looked down and out when Tony Pulis entered Selhurst Park a year ago last week. Palace finished 11th in May with Pulis being nominated for Manager of the Year.

In Tony they should trust: Pulis worked wonders at Palace last season

In Tony they should trust: Pulis worked wonders at Palace last season

Palace were tipped to struggle pre-season following the shock departure of Pulis the week before the season started but seem stable under Neil Warnock and are 14th at the moment.

Pulis seems to be the man Leicester want to take over at the King Power stadium and while Foxes fans will no doubt be forever thankful to Pearson for returning to the club to guide them back to where they feel they belong, it looks like one step too far.

2014/15 Premiership prediction

1) Chelsea
——————————————–
2) Manchester City
3) Manchester United
4) Arsenal
———————————————
5) Liverpool
6) Everton
7) Tottenham Hotspur
———————————————
8) Newcastle United
9) Swansea City
10) Sunderland
11) Stoke City
12) West Ham United
13) Southampton
14) Queens Park Rangers
15) Aston Villa
16) West Bromwich Albion
17) Crystal Palace
——————————————–
18) Hull City
19) Leicester City
20) Burnley

Bury sign Kelvin Etuhu

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League 2 side Bury have announced the acquisition of Kelvin Etuhu following his departure from Barnsley.

The 26-year-old made 10 appearances for Premier League Manchester City between 2006 and 2011, scoring one goal against Bolton Wanderers in December of 2007.

Nigerian born Midfielder Etuhu has also spent time at the likes of Rochdale, Leicester and Cardiff as well as a brief spell at Portsmouth in 2012.

Etuhu featured 46 times for Barnsley in his two years at the club but following relegation to League 1 last season, the Tykes deemed him surplus to requirements.

Bury have added Etuhu to an increasing list of summer transfers with the likes of Pablo Mills, Ryan Lowe and Shwan Jalal all joining from Rotherham, Tranmere and Bournemouth respectively as the Shakers aim to get promoted back to the third tier.

Diamond in the rough or just rough? The curious case of Nile Ranger

(Originally posted November 15th 2013)
Nile Ranger, 22, was tipped for great things in his Newcastle days when he joined the club in 2009, aged 18, but four years down the line he finds himself in League 1 and in danger of people remembering him more for his off the field antics than his football ability.

Ranger’s problems off the field are nothing new however, back in the days when he was on Southampton’s books as a 15-year-old he showed promise but found himself imprisoned in a Young Offender’s institute for 11 Weeks following an armed robbery. He returned to The Saints after, briefly, before being released due to his behaviour.

He was somewhat fortunate to be signed up by Premiership outfit Newcastle United then but he earned his place, scoring 15 goals for the Under 18’s and 7 for the Reserve team and was rewarded with a 3 and a half year deal by Alan Shearer as Newcastle prepared their assault on The Championship following their unexpected Relegation.

Ranger was awarded his Magpies début in the season opener against West Brom as an injury time substitute  for Shola Ameobi before winning his first start, getting the Man of the Match award in a 1-0 victory over Leicester City three weeks later. Ranger proved he could get goals in tier two after netting in the 2-0 wins over Coventry and Crystal Palace.

Ranger wouldn’t make much more of an impact as Newcastle romped to The Championship title and didn’t feature much in the following Premiership season either, mostly limited to Carling Cup games. He took whatever chance he got however and managed to score in two of those fixtures in wins over Accrington Stanley and Chelsea. Ranger made his Premiership début as an 89th minute substitute vs Wigan and went on to make a number of sub appearances, most notably against Arsenal where he turned past Laurent Koscielny who fouled him and got sent off, maintaining a 0-1 win for Newcastle. Bad-Boy Nile also started a few games that season following injuries to Andy Carroll and Leon Best, failing to add to his goals tally but he was still awarded a 5 and a half year deal by Chris Hughton.

Whilst 2010 was a good year for Nile Ranger on the field, his behaviour in 2011 would cause him problems off it. On 27 August he was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a man in Newcastle city centre leaving the victim unconscious in the street, but was found not guilty in October 2012 and then in October 2011 he was charged with being drunk and disorderly in Newcastle’s Cathedral Square. The charge came only days after Ranger had been reinstated to Newcastle United’s first-team training after a three-month exile in the club’s reserves. Prior to this, in May 2011 Ranger was questioned by Newcastle after posing with a gun in a photograph. The gun was later handed in.

Striker Ranger in Shooting training...of sorts.

Striker Ranger in Shooting training…of sorts.

 

In what was an eventful 2011 for him, Ranger joined Championship side Barnsley to try and get his mind in football gear again, however it didn’t work out for him, five appearances, no goals and a foot injury had his loan cut short and back to Newcastle he went. He would try again in March 2012, this time opting for Sheffield Wednesday, then in League One.  Two goals in eight games was satisfactory as Wednesday won Promotion back to The Championship, however Ranger was still getting into trouble. Firstly making a homophobic comment on Twitter for which he was fined, then he was arrested again for breaching bail whilst awaiting trial for four assault charges. Then in September, Ranger was accused of criminal damage to a front door of someone else’s property, the charges were dropped 2 Months later however after the Court agreed that the Newcastle Front-man had damaged the door fearing his Girlfriend was being kidnapped.

Despite all of this however the Newcastle man still continued to get in the papers for all the wrong reasons. The 25th of January would prove to be the day that Ranger’s reputation would hit rock bottom. Ranger was arrested on suspicion of rape in a Newcastle hotel room and was charged for this on the 8th July and is due in court again in the New Year. His 2013 didn’t end there though, he was convicted of assault in March and hit the headlines again in July after getting “Ranger” tattooed on his forehead, coinciding with a Smiley face on his bottom lip which he isn’t shy on showing.

Smile for the Camera. Ranger's tattoo
Smile for the Camera. Ranger’s tattoo

Newcastle had got fed up with Ranger’s behaviour and released him by Mutual Consent in September. Two goals in 51 league games was not enough to justify his behaviour and Ranger was temporarily unemployed.

That was until League 1 outfit Swindon Town decided to take the risk. Despite negative press and an understandable annoyance from supporters, Ranger signed a 1 year deal on the dotted line in Wiltshire with the option of a second depending on his Court Case outcome. At the beginning it looked like a master-stroke by new boss Mark Cooper, Ranger repaid the faith shown in him, scoring 6 goals in 15 games including an 87th winner against West Country rivals Bristol City. However, now, Ranger seems to be showing his true colours. He’s missed several training sessions in the last Month, some from Swindon giving him time off for his court case, some for unknown reasons. Ranger has now gone AWOL and shows no signs of being in Cooper’s plans for the time being.

And this is what ultimately lets Nile Ranger down. He’s proved he has talent, he’s been capped for the England U-19’s 11 times, scoring 6 goals and although he may not be cut out for The Premiership, he may have been if he concentrated on his football more than his life of crime. One level he looks to have found himself at is League One with Championship chasing Swindon where he could really prove himself.

If Ranger is found innocent in January and Swindon forgive him for his missed training sessions and he finally learns to keep his head down and get on with his Football he could become the good player everyone expected back in 2009. However, it could all be too late for Nile if he gets found guilty in Court and then he’ll be added to the never ending “what might have been” list.