Club vs Country – A Clear Winner

This week a clip from BT’s Premier League Tonight show has been going viral, shared by fans, pundits, and ex-players alike. The concept is simple. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard are asked about their England days, and why the ‘golden generation’ failed to deliver. The question wasn’t pulled out of thin air but was asked because of an interview with Rio that had taken place only earlier that week. In it, he talked about his friendship with Frank, and how it broke down during their playing days because of the club/country divide.

All three players were quite to the point in their responses, and their reasons were many. One was the issue raised by Rio in his previous issue. All three players were key players at top Premier League clubs, and Rio and Frank especially were jostling for the league each year with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively. In a league where the two sides shared the trophy, often with just a few points between them, neither player wanted to give up any secrets or show weakness to the other. This would mean avoiding each other whilst with the national team, eating apart, and would cause team factions to start appearing.

Jake Humphrey reacted with the shock that most England fans would. “So, were you effectively putting your club before your country?” he asked them all. They all immediately recoiled “no”, but all agreed that it would have hampered the national team. They listed off plenty of other reasons for the team’s failure: managers, formations, plans, injuries, and the expectations from the fans themselves. But it raises the age-old question, is a club now more important than a country?

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A Fight Between the Blues

It’s back! (Well yesterday it was) – the Premier League has returned after just the 3 months, and I can’t help but feel a little meh about it all. Don’t get me wrong, I love my football, it’s great to have the league back, but I can’t help but feel a little dismayed at the state of the sport. The needless being thrown into transfers, wages, and agent fees has reached a new ridiculous level: 190m for Neymar, possible 100 for Dembele, possibly 100 for Coutinho, City spending 120m on full backs!!

It’s easy to say that surely it will hit a peak and drop down again, but I’ve been saying that for a few years now – and so were fans 15/20 years ago. Another reason for my rather low levels of excitement has been my team’s summer – the losses of Ake, Zouma, Matic, and Chalobah very frustrating. So, I’ll start my Premier League preview with my own team, as we look to defend our title over the coming months.

As I mentioned the summer activity has been frustrating, as once again we let great youth prospects leave the club permanently or on loan whilst our first team squad looks at least 2 or 3 quality players short. The signings made look good, but having Ake, Zouma, and Chalobah as backups would have given us a strong squad to compete with in all competitions. Arguably our biggest title rivals, City, spent a bus load of money this summer, over 200 million in fact, and look like the team to beat. Their front line is scary, and their back line looks bolstered, but the main question for them, is can these personalities gel together quickly?

Another title seeking team is Manchester United, who have now gone 4 years without a title, and are under huge pressure to change that. So is Mourinho, who has never gone 3 seasons without a title, and has always won a title in his first two seasons at a new club. Again, Mourinho has bought quickly and shrewdly, bringing in Lukaku, Matic, and Lindelof, and they very much look the complete team. Their fate will likely be dependent on how well Lukaku settles, and whether they can turn those constant draws from last season into wins.

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In Defence of the Away Goals Rule

It seems each year as the European competitions reach their knockout stages, louder chime the cries of those who say we should dispose of the controversial ‘away goals rule’. The rule itself is a simple one. If the two teams in a cup tie finish level on aggregate after the two legs, the team who has scored the most away goals progress. If both teams are level on ‘away goals’, they then progress into extra time, and if needed, a penalty shootout.

The rule was introduced over 50 years ago, to replace the then current method of having neutral replays, or in some competitions, a coin toss. Clearly, since then, the game has moved on. The format of extra time and penalties have since been introduced, but the away goal rule is still prioritised, and in my mind rightly so.

Yes, I’m one of what seems to be a dwindling group of fans of the rule, a rule I believe is a great addition to the game. The rationale behind the rule nowadays is to avoid extra time and penalties deciding the ties, and to encourage the visiting teams to be more aggressive. Something you’d think that everyone wants to see.

One common argument is that the game is completely different to when the rule was introduced. Of course it is, no one is denying that. But that doesn’t mean the rule doesn’t have a place in today’s game. When the rule was introduced, getting an away victory in European competition was rare. Because of the difficulties of travel and conditions, home advantage was far greater. The percentage of away victories in European competitions has doubled since then, mainly because home advantage is less prominent, but also, I believe because of the away goals rule.

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Is it time for a Video Referee?

Long has been the discussion about the need for future technology use in football; and after every bad decision, or every 50/50 call, there are constant cries for the introduction of video referees into the game. Compared to other popular sports, Football has always been behind the times in its use of technology, and now that these measures have been successfully integrated into Cricket, Rugby, and Tennis, and pressure is on for Football to join the club.

It wasn’t long ago we saw the introduction of goal-line technology into the game, and it’s fairly unanimously agreed that it’s been a positive step. So, what is the next step for Football? What other technologies could be harnessed to improve the game?

Most believe there is room for a video referee in the game. It’s worked for Rugby; as the video referee can investigate tries and fouls, and can provide an answer to the on-pitch referee within 1-2 minutes. Say a video referee was introduced into the game, what would the scope of the role be? Would they look at fouls? Offsides? Penalty decisions? Red and yellow cards? In addition, when would the referee be called upon, and whom by? Would the referee ask for help on a decision? Would each team be able to appeal decisions like is currently utilised in the NFL? One thing is for sure, implementing video technology into Football will be more complicated than any other sport previously, and will need thorough consideration, and planning.

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