Ghostgoal’s Team of The World Cup

13 07 2010

The obligatory Team of the World Cup:

Iker Casillas

Saint Iker is widely regarded to have had a below-par time at the Bernabeu this past season. When Spain’s World Cup began with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland and Casillas was partially responsible for the goal, the whispers grew louder. Victor Valdes? Pepe Reina? What followed was six straight wins with just one (deflected) goal conceded. Casillas’s handling in the final itself was exemplary and the save from Robben when clean through was one of the pivotal moments in the biggest match of the tournament. History is written by the winners… and winners don’t come much bigger than the World Cup winning captain.




Maxi Pereira

The Uruguayan full-back has long had a reputation for being a whole hearted trier but Maxi Pereira showed so much more at this World Cup. His energetic performances were a standout in Uruguay’s remarkable run to the semi-finals. Indeed, by the end of the tournament only Xavi & Bastian Schweinsteiger of the other 736 players at the World Cup covered more yards than Maxi Pereira. As a wing-back responsible for providing attacking support as well as defensive solidarity, Pereira played an important role in both facets of the Uruguayan success story. It represented a colossal ongoing effort that reached a crescendo with his fantastic goal in the dying stages of the semi-final against the Dutch.




Carlos Salcido

The fact that Mexico’s Carlos Salcido is the only player in this XI to have played in just four World Cup matches is testament to the impact he made in those games. The right-footed left-back was virtually faultness and adapted brilliantly to the various demands of the flexible Mexican system. He switched between full-back and wing-back with ease, proving defensively adept whilst always proving a threat going forward. His long range efforts and capable crossing caught the eye in some bright Mexico displays, the highlight being the 2-0 victory over France that exposed the extent of the Gallic malaise.

John Mensah

The failure of every other African nation to reach the knockout stage only served to concentrate the continent’s efforts upon the Ghanaians and they performed admirably – disposing of the USA in extra-time and following up with the controversial penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands (literally in Suarez’s case) of Uruguay. In the case of Ghana, and John Mensah in particular, cliches about naive African defending feel more offensive than ever. Their success this World Cup centred around organised defence and solid defending and this is emphasised by their conceding just four goals in over eight and a half hours of football in the tournament. Mensah was a colossus throughout.


Paulo Da Silva

Da Silva was a rock throughout Paraguay’s World Cup campaign as they battled their way to the quarter finals. He competed endlessly and was the key figure in their defence. The Paraguayans defended resolutely through their five games, conceding a goal in the opener against Italy and another in their last eight tie with Spain but with three clean sheets in between. I accept that the inclusion of a second Sunderland centre-back is somewhat bizarre and it does feel a little harsh on the efforts of bigger names such as Puyol, Lucio and Friedrich. However, Da Silva’s performances in one of the better defensive outfits caught the eye and deserve a nod.

Bastian Schweinsteiger

You don’t need to go to the statistics to know that Bastian Schweinsteiger had a stunning World Cup. He was the central figure in Germany’s impressive campaign – controlling games from midfield, prompting and probing, driving the side on. That said, the stats do bear it out – 2nd most passes, 2nd most distance covered. He was excellent in the destruction of England but his finest hour was surely the 4-0 demolition of Argentina. Schweinsteiger fought hard when out of possession and stuck the knife in superbly when the time came. He had already established himself as the star turn by the time he danced through the Argentine defence to lay on Friedrich’s goal, sealing a tour de force display from the German.

Xavi Hernandez

What is there left to be said about Xavi? Such is his status in the game now that it is easy to take his performances for granted. He covered more ground than any other player at the World Cup – 80.2 km. He completed more passes – 544 of them. He took more corners (47) and he completed more crosses than anyone else (14). Of players who had more than 200 minutes of action, only Xavi played more passes than minutes he was on the pitch for: 669 passes in 636 minutes. Basically he was a constant force at the hub of the finest team in the tournament. I think you can call that a well-deserved World Cup winners medal.

Thomas Mueller

He didn’t get a Panini sticker and he only made his full International debut in March. In fact, his rise has been so meteoric that he wasn’t even a part of the much vaunted German U21 side that won the European Championships last summer. A year on, he is in just about everybody’s World Cup XI. Mueller’s all-action displays were central to the German success story as they surpassed expectations to come 3rd in the tournament. While Mesut Oezil took the early plaudits it was Mueller who grew as the competition went on – 2 goals against England and 1 against Argentina before missing the semi-final defeat to Spain through suspension. A 5th goal against Uruguay in the 3rd place play-off win sealed the Golden Boot for Mueller, thanks in part to the 3 assists he also managed at the World Cup… boys own stuff from the Bayern star.

Andres Iniesta

He’s a gorgeous player to watch but boy is there end product with Iniesta. He is the youngest player in over 30 years to add a World Cup to Euros and Champions League success. There were loads of the little touches and feints, plenty to enjoy, but Iniesta was key to almost all of the pivotal moments of Spain’s success. There was the goal against Chile to secure qualification. The incisive passes that led to the only goal in the knockout victories over Portugal and Paraguay. And finally, brilliantly, the World Cup winning goal with just 4 minutes of extra time remaining. A wonderful tournament for a wonderful player.

David Villa

When you score 5 of the 8 goals that the World Cup winning side manage in the tournament then it makes you a hard man to ignore. Villa impressed from the left-wing in the early stages before moving to a central role to do a job for the team following Fernando Torres being axed. Villa grabbed both goals against Honduras – one a contender for goal of the tournament as he slalomed through players before firing into the top corner whilst stretching. By the time he had followed this up with a goal against Chile and the winners against both Portugal and Paraguay, Villa had established himself as one of the stars of the World Cup.




Diego Forlan

The Uruguayan has been a revelation at the World Cup. It is a bit of a cliche to say that he was the only guy to master the Jabulani but at times it did feel that way. Comfortable striking the ball with either foot he sparked – scoring 5 goals in 7 games – as Uruguay surprised many to reach the semi-finals. He’s still suffering at the hands of some of the bafflingly short-sighted British media who feel the need to constantly refer to the remarkable turnaround from his time at Manchester United. Well, he has been one of the finest forwards in the world for many years since then, twice a winner of the European Golden Boot. He nearly added the World Cup Golden Boot, only denied on the basis of assists, but the Golden Ball as the outstanding player of the tournament tells you all you need to know..  Diego Forlan is a class act.


The Trouble with English Football: The Mark Burke Story

8 07 2010

Following England’s elimination from the World Cup in disappointing fashion it has been all the rage to question the state of the national game in this country. Kick and rush. Tackling ahead of dribbling. The physical preferred to the technical. This is not a new problem though. It is a problem that English footballer Mark Burke was wrestling with some twenty years ago.

He is the Englishman who made nearly 100 appearances in the Dutch top flight, playing alongside Mark van Bommel under the current Holland coach Bert van Marwijk. The man who became the first player from these shores to play in the Romanian league. He even had a dabble out in the Far East with J-League outfit Omiya Ardija before trying his luck in Sweden with Brommapojkarna.  Yes, Mark Burke brings a new perspective to the term ‘journeyman’.

Mark Burke (2nd from left) in action for Wolves at Crewe 07/08/1993

At this point, I should perhaps declare an interest here. As a young pre-teen Wolves fan, Mark Burke was a favourite of mine. Yes there was Steve Bull – a legend – but he was my hero in a very obvious way. For a contrary 11 year old, Burke was a fascination. The Wolves of the early 90s played a fairly effective but thoroughly agricultural style of football. Even the shortest spells of possession would be greeted by calls of ‘boot it up to Bully’ and those who didn’t oblige were soon on their way through the exit door. Among them there was Burke. Sure of touch, calm of mind, he would lope around in seemingly lackadaisical fashion before offering a cute little pass here or a deft touch there. A man with an eye for ball retention. In other words, he was a player wholly unsuited to the muck and nettles of English football.

Birmingham-born Burke began his career under Graham Turner at Aston Villa, making several top-flight appearances there in his teenage years before the next Villa manager (confusingly, Graham Taylor) shipped him up north to Middlesbrough. There Burke played under the tutelage of Bruce Rioch for 3 years and the two enjoyed a difficult working relationship. The son of a sergeant-major, Rioch was a fierce disciplinarian and an old-school British manager. Burke, for his part, was developing a reputation as a talented impact substitute – exciting and infuriating in equal measure. Unable to make the breakthrough,  a £25,000 move to Wolves followed and the opportunity to work under his old Villa manager Graham Turner. This was to be Burke’s most successful spell in England – 8 league goals in 27 starts in the 1992/93 season being the pinnacle. By this stage, however, Burke’s concerns with the English style were becoming greater, as the player later recalled in an interview with David Instone:

“In England, I often heard coaches say: ‘Let’s get stuck into them, do this and that and, if we get chance, play some football.’ That drove me nuts. You should always try to play football, not just as an after-thought.. There were times in games when I thought after 20 minutes I was going to have a heart attack. If you put three passes together, the crowd thought it was something special. But, if you still hadn’t gone anywhere, they would be urging you to knock it into the area.”

As Sir Jack Hayward began his spending spree at Molineux, Burke found himself increasingly marginalised by the new signings. When Turner was replaced by Graham Taylor, as he had been at Villa, Burke realised the writing was on the wall. There was the false dawn of interest from Tottenham Hotspur – he had a trial there and Ossie Ardiles was keen to take him before bowing to pressure from above to bring in bigger names. Klinsmann, Dumitrescu and Popescu duly headed for White Hart Lane.. Burke was dispatched to Port Vale.

After a year in the Potteries, however, the following summer was to prove a major turning point. It was time for a new adventure as Mark Burke went into the unknown with a move to Fortuna Sittard of Holland, where he would spent the next four seasons and enjoy a footballing education. It was to prove a whole new world.

“I learned more in a year in Holland than I had done in ten in England. All that happens in England when things are going wrong is that people talk about ‘working harder’, but these are professional players: they’re already working hard. In Holland, players think about everything and they talk about everything. It can get a bit much when they go on for twenty minutes about something that only needs, ‘When you go forward, I’ll stay back,’ but what then happens is that they really understand the system and what they’re doing.” [interview with Go! Go! Omiya Ardija]

It may have seemed exhaustive and over-the-top, but it also improved his understanding of the game, as Burke explained to Simon Kuper:

“In England if the manager said it, you just did it. When I went to Fortuna .. I really started to understand the shape of the field, horizontally and vertically. In England the only time I had training sessions like that was when I went on coaching courses.”

Burke’s first coach at Fortuna was Pim Verbeek, who managed Australia at this summer’s World Cup. The team had been promoted to the Eredivisie just before Burke’s arrival and over the next four years they were to establish themselves as a good midtable outfit. Mark van Bommel was the star turn throughout that period, often playing at the base of the midfield diamond with Burke at the tip. It was far cry from the bench-warming duties of the English second tier.

How Fortuna lined up for the derby against Roda in 1997

Dutch football clearly suited Burke’s game far better than the fare on offer in England. The Premier League was up and running and money was now flowing into the game as football became fashionable again. This fast tempo game was proving highly entertaining for fans both home and abroad. Part of the excitement though, was the speed, the constant exchanging of possession as the merry-go-round became faster and faster. In Holland, Burke’s experience of the game was quite different – the man who had been perceived as strolling around playing sidewards passes when he should have been lumping it forward was suddenly cast as the uncultured Englishman:

 “Yes, I probably seemed like a direct player to them. The Dutch are encouraged to be patient, to wait and wait until a gap opens up. It’s draining mentally as well as physically when you don’t have the ball and your opponents are passing and passing. Someone, sooner or later, will switch off for half a second, and an opening will present itself.”

Never has the gulf between the passing football of continental Europe and the hard-running back-to-front football on offer from England been more apparent than at this summer’s World Cup in South Africa. Some speculation has focused upon the technical deficiencies of the English players. Burke, though, has no truck with this view. He believes it is more a case of misguided emphasis:

“I don’t believe foreigners are any better technically than we are. I defy anyone to name a better technical player than Paul Scholes. It’s just that our players aren’t encouraged to play the same way as the foreigners and our game is so fast.”

Despite loving his time in Holland so much that he still lives there to this day, in terms of Burke’s football career all good things come to an end. After Verbeek left the club he was replaced by his assistant, Bert van Marwijk, with whom Burke had a more fractious relationship. Better players were being added to the squad with the likes of Kevin Hofland, Wilfred Bouma and Patrick Paauwe coming in and with the Englishman approaching 30 he made plans to go join his former coach Verbeek out in Japan. An enjoyable year followed, with Burke impressed with the enthusiasm of his Japanese counterparts, before brief spells in Romania and Sweden preceded his retirement from the game. However, Mark Burke’s views on the game continue to be shaped by his time in Holland:

”Sometimes I watch kids being coached by Premiership clubs. They’ve got fantastic kits, all the facilities, but the coaching itself hasn’t changed in twenty years. I want to get away from the idea that keeping the ball is ‘pretty football’. If we’ve got the ball, you can’t score. It’s as simple as that. That’s not ‘pretty football’, that’s just football.”

Mark Burke harbours ambitions of getting into coaching. Given the events of this summer, I’d argue that he is exactly what this country needs.

How Will Wolves Line Up?

8 07 2010

Ghostgoal’s latest article for Wolvesblog

With Wolves having virtually completed their summer business it is perhaps a good time to look at the likely options Mick McCarthy’s could go with for the 2010/11 season. There are big decisions to be made in terms of both formation and personnel.

Until December 2009 I would wager that McCarthy would have happily described himself as ”a 4-4-2 man”. Although he had operated with a variety of systems in the past, particularly during his spell as Republic of Ireland boss, we here at Wolves had been treated to 4-4-2 week-in week-out through his first three and a half years in charge. As Mick said recently however:

“I used to feel having one set way of playing in your mind showed a real strength in people because I used to think that’s how I did it. But I’ve come through that. You can’t keep playing the same way if you keep losing — you have to be big enough to change it.”

The signing of Steven Fletcher for around £7m was heralded by many as a clear signal that McCarthy intends to revert to 4-4-2 now that the pressure of a relegation battle is not upon his team – at least until September anyway! The theory will go that the players have had a taste of Premiership football and are ready to kick-on with a more attacking formation. I think it is more likely, however, that we will see a hybrid formation from Wolves this season. It is a belief based on a series of factors:

  • McCarthy will be conscious of the increased impact Matt Jarvis had when allowed to play slightly higher up the field in the 4-5-1 (actually more of a slanted 4-4-2 as discussed previously). As can be seen by Mick’s regular touchline promptings he has often been wary of how vulnerable the team is down the left-flank in a traditional 4-4-2 when Jarvis is left stranded upfield after an attack.
  • Wolves now have several players on the right hand side of midfield who are happy to tuck in to form a more solid midfield 3 when needed. Kevin Foley and David Edwards operated there with some success before Adlene Guedioura was given a chance in the role, scoring the winner against Sunderland on the final day.
  • Steven Fletcher played much of the first part of the 2009/10 season on the right-wing for Burnley, part of a growing trend (Jarvis included) of ”inside-out wingers” – players operating on the opposite wing to their strongest foot. It was not a great personal success for the player with fans lamenting the fact he was not given the opportunity to play through the middle. It did, however, coincide with some of Burnley’s better results and we know how fond McCarthy is of guys who put in a shift for the cause. Given that Mick has already spoken of Fletcher’s flexibility, I would suggest this is already in his thoughts.

With Stephen Hunt and Michael Kightly not expected to be fully-fit for the start of the season I would expect, assuming no other injuries, Wolves to line up something like this against Stoke on August 14th:

Steven Mouyokolo and Kevin Foley will be pushing hard for starts but, particularly against Stoke with their expected aerial bombardment, it would seem likely that Jody Craddock and Ronald Zubar will retain their places. Jelle Van Damme also happens to be remarkably strong in the air for a full-back and will surely come in at left-back. David Jones’ strong finish to the season puts him in the box seat ahead of Nenad Milijas in midfield, with the Serb offering an option from the bench alongside the likes of Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.

Whilst I would expect Michael Kightly to get his opportunities from the bench this coming season, the interesting shift in system may come when Stephen Hunt returns to full fitness around October time. Of course, as a left-footed winger, Hunt may be seen as a direct challenge to Jarvis. He is, however, also comfortable operating from the right-wing and it will be interesting to note whether he will be threatening Steven Fletcher’s place in the starting eleven or if he will be challenging for one of the midfield positions. If Wolves are playing away from home against a strong side, it would not be a shock to see Hunt and Jarvis playing wide in support of Doyle with a solid central midfield three. This is, after all, more of an attacking line-up than we saw for much of the second half of last season with Foley operating on the right-wing. Hunt’s return to fitness seems likely to coincide with a run of games from mid-October against Chelsea, Man City, Man Utd and Arsenal (the probable top four) so it would be no surprise to see him come in for Fletcher at some point during this run of games.

The real intrigue of course, would be if McCarthy felt able to play Hunt and Jarvis in support of both Doyle and Fletcher in a clear 4-4-2. This is the sort of attacking line-up that the fans want to see. I suspect it would be something that could actually happen if and when Mick is feeling confident that his team is stronger than the opposition – at home to Bolton on November 13th or away to Blackpool on November 20th perhaps?

The 2010/11 season is a fascinating one for Wolves and it is difficult to overstate its importance to the club. Not only would relegation be a disaster in itself and bring the usual problems of the team being broken up but it would also surely see the shelving of the club’s stadium expansion plans. As such there is more pressure than ever on Mick McCarthy to get his tactics spot on… expect the 4-4-2 / 4-5-1 debate to continue.

The British Manager Abroad: Deco or Pembridge?

3 07 2010

Managing in a foreign country is a tricky business. Do you immerse yourself in the culture, embrace the indigenous talents and back your motivational skills and tactical nous to shine through? Or do you act as a modern-day missionary, spreading the gospel of your native land’s footballing beliefs? The former can leave you isolated and vulnerable – perceived as the daft foreigner on the outside looking in. The latter can see you accused of failing to adapt to the native culture – imposing your own brand of football stylistically unsuited to local demands.

Here in England, we have experienced several high profile examples of foreign coaches surrounding themselves with their compatriots. It makes sense on several levels. The manager gives himself a mouthpiece within the dressing room – guys who understand the message, perhaps who have played for him before, that can help the whole squad buy into his way of working. Arsene Wenger was quick to bring in high quality French talent such as Patrick Vieira, Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit. As well as the stars however, Wenger also brought in Remi Garde in his first season and Gilles Grimandi, who had worked under him at Monaco, in his second. These were more experienced players never likely to take the league by storm but ones who could help the coach assert the culture he wanted at the club. In a similar vein, we have seen Rafa Benitez at Liverpool bring in a plethora of fellow Spaniards on and off the field, with his early Champions League success only hastening the speed at which ‘the Spanish influence’ was embraced on the red half of Merseyside. But what of the British manager on his travels..

So far, the 21st century has seen only a handful of British managers try their hand at the highest level outside of these shores. Sir Bobby Robson and John Toshack were already plying their trade abroad at the turn of the century and continued to manage abroad until both returned closer to home in 2004. Whilst their approaches differed, with Robson relying heavily on interpreters (no need to mention his most famous one) and Toshack attempting the native language, often with comical results, it is noticeable that neither manager sought to rely on British players. Robson never signed a British player while in Spain or Holland. Toshack’s influence on Sociedad was a factor in the Basque club dispensing with their Basque-only cantera policy but the man himself was not actually the coach when John Aldridge was signed, soon to be followed by Kevin Richardson and Dalian Atkinson. Interestingly, when Toshack returned to Sociedad after his brief dalliance with Real Madrid, all three British players were to leave the club.  

A coach with a very different outlook on the benefits of taking British players along for the ride was Graeme Souness. In the dying embers of the 20th century his penchant for Dean Saunders, a player he had bought for Liverpool, was once again made clear when he paid £2.35m to take the 31 year old to Galatasaray with him. This was to be but a toe in the water in comparison to what was to follow however. After a brief stint at Torino, where Souness left in frustration at not being allowed to sign who he wished, the fiery Scotsman showed the Italians just what they were missing when he embarked upon a British invasion of the Portuguese game while in charge of his new club Benfica from 1997 to 1999.

Saunders would again link up with Souness and was joined by such luminaries as Steve Harkness, Michael Thomas, Gary Charles and Brian Deane. In a well-documented example of history not treating the manager kindly, Souness also decided to offload a young midfielder who had impressed while on loan at Alverca. The manager was unconvinced by the young prospect and was keen to add more British steel to his midfield. And so it came to pass that Graeme Souness elected to dispense with the services of Deco in favour of Mark Pembridge. 6 years on the little Brazilian-born magician had a Champions League winners medal and came 2nd in the Ballon D’Or voting. Meanwhile, Souness and Pembridge had long since trudged out of the Estadio da Luz.

The experience of Graeme Souness is perhaps a warning coaches should heed in the future. The desire to turn to what you know is bound to be strong – bringing in players whose strengths and weaknesses you understand. However, care must be taken not to overlook the virtues of players already at the club even if you are not familiar with them.  Relying on the scouting network can help but this is, to excuse the pun, often ‘foreign’ to British coaches who are used to entrusting agents to come to them with players.

One high-profile British manager now enjoying success abroad is the former England coach himself Steve McClaren. McClaren, perhaps keen to take the Robson route to public rehabilitation in his homeland and steer clear of a Souness-style dependence on friends from back home, conducted a low-profile transfer policy at Dutch club, Twente. McClaren was not afraid to use his contacts in the English game where appropriate, bringing in Miroslav Stoch from Chelsea on a very successful loan, but in the main he relied upon coaxing performances from the players already there and those new stars identified by his scouts. The key signing in the 2009/10 title winning season was Bryan Ruiz, a Costa Rican forward from Gent. Not for McClaren the 31 year old journeyman purchased at the over-inflated prices of the motherland. As the former Boro boss moves on to Wolfsburg and hopes of Bundesliga success, it may be the embarrassing ‘Schteve’ interviews that have captured the attention back in England but he has gone about the challenge of managing abroad in shrewd style – embracing the culture with an open-mind and trusting his coaching skills to bring him success.

Clearly there is more than one way to skin a cat when it comes to football management. Learning the language is important.. but not strictly necessary. Utilising contacts from back home can be an excellent tool to get ahead.. but you’d better make sure they’re better than what you’ve already got. After all, get it wrong and you’ll have people bringing up ”Deco or Pembridge?” over a decade on…..

Is the Quota System Counter-Productive?

3 07 2010

Chelsea’s Michael Mancienne has the footballing world at his feet. In November 2008, as one of the country’s finest prospects, he was called up by Fabio Capello for the England squad ahead of a friendly against Germany. He followed this up last season by playing 30 games in the Premiership on loan to Wolves. Is he, however, set to become a victim of the Premier League’s latest edict – the quota system.

 The 2010/11 season will require teams to name 25 man squads that include a minimum of 8 homegrown players. That is to say, 8 players that have been registered with an FA affiliated club for three years prior to their 21st birthday. Premier League chief executive Peter Scudamore explains the reasoning thus:

”It will make buying home-grown talent more attractive. We’re not going down the route of a nationality test but what this will mean is that you just can’t buy a team from abroad. We think it will give clubs an extra incentive to invest in youth. We think that one of the benefits will be that it will help the England football team.”

There is, therefore, some reasoning behind the new ruling and it is fair to say the move was welcomed by many parties as a step in the right direction to safeguard football in this country. And then we come to Mancienne. Wolves are keen to take the player either on loan for another season or in a £4m permanent transfer. They can offer him regular Premiership football albeit in what may well be a struggling side. Meanwhile, the player himself is torn – understandably keen to stay at Chelsea in the hope that he has some chance of breaking through into the first-team, but fearing a season on the sidelines at a time when he needs to be playing football and progressing with his career. The fascination of course, are the motives of Chelsea.

Scudamore argues that ”it is not in the clubs’ interests to stockpile players”. Can he really be so sure of this though? Chelsea are a club struggling more than most to fill their 25 man squad. As only 17 non home-grown players over the age of 21 are permitted, those home-grown players on the books take on an added significance that has only been exarcebated by Joe Cole leaving the club. The temptation to retain players like Ross Turnbull, Sam Hutchinson, Daniel Sturridge, Scott Sinclair and Michael Mancienne will be huge even though Carlo Ancelotti would surely regard none of them as first XI footballers. Generous contracts may be secured, the prospect of first team opportunities will be floated. However, all the time the clock is ticking for young talents who, in the case of Sturridge and Mancienne in particular, could perhaps be enjoying regular top-flight action elsewhere. It begs the question – how is this benefiting English football?