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English Premier League

Who is to blame for the mess at Sunderland?



Someone always has to carry the can, regardless of whether the blame is apportioned appropriately or not. There is something sinisterly satisfying in laying the blame squarely at someone else’s feet: it couldn’t possibly have been me who messed something up, or forgot to do something, or actually did something, but did so spectacularly badly. And even if I did (or didn’t), it wasn’t my fault: I wasn’t in possession of the facts, I was under pressure, the voices in my head made me do it. Let the individual who was never resorted to such defensive tactics proudly step forward (unless you’ve used that last excuse; in which case, speak to someone who knows about such things…quickly.)

Of course in football, the fans, journalists and pundits which constitute the ‘blob’ that Michael Gove might well term such an indefinable mass of voices, are constantly on the prowl to dish out the blame – sometimes reasonably, sometimes indiscriminately. Generally speaking, the referee is first in the firing line and if he’s inaccessible, go for the fourth official. After this though, it’s either the players or the manager and where the good ship Sunderland are concerned, Gus Poyet had been playing the blame game for a while before he was told to pack a cardboard box with his desk tidy and pot plant. Ultimately, his relationship with the ‘blob’ around him surely contributed to his downfall. He blamed the fans for having things such as expectations; he blamed the media for…well…reporting on events and he also blamed, naturally, the referee for not giving seemingly obvious penalties. In the last throes of his management, he had a new target in his sights and his setting was not set to stun.

On discovering that his team was bottom of the Premier League Fair Play League Table, he responded thus:

“I don’t care who’s in charge of the fair play rules, but they’re not fair. It’s an invention. Somebody told me we were bottom but I don’t know how they give the points. I don’t know if they’re from Newcastle. It’s so superficial.

“I’ve not seen anything that makes me think we’re dirty so why we’re bottom I don’t know. I’d like someone to explain. But there would be no explanation, just words that don’t make sense. I don’t accept it. I don’t care what they say, it’s not true.”

Perhaps someone needs to sit down with Poyet, make a strong brew, dish out the Custard Creams and explain to him that one of the factors that contributes towards the Fair Play Table is ‘behaviour of team officials’.

It seems that Poyet resorted to a default position of a scattergun approach of blame, most likely in an increasingly futile attempt to deflect attention from his team’s dreadful run of form which achieved previously unattained levels of shoddiness  in rolling over and kindly asking Aston Villa to tickle their tummies. The Black Cats are in a serious state of disarray and with Burnley and Villa both getting their ‘things’ together, Wearsiders are bandying around the ‘R’ word willy-nilly.

So where does the blame lie for this current shambles? The obvious starting point is with Poyet and his continuous tactical and team selection tinkering. He managed to get through a veritable smorgasbord of formations before deploying a kind of 4-1-4-1 line-up against Villa with Steven Fletcher deployed in a wide left position: a contest that turned out to be his Waterloo. He persisted with Jozy Altidore for longer than was necessary and then went out and put all his eggs in a Jermain Defoe shaped-basket. Furthermore, if you’re going to raid your old club for players, it’s imperative that they work out, otherwise your judgment might be rendered a bit wonky. Unfortunately for Poyet, Liam Bridcutt and Will Buckley haven’t quite worked out as well as he might have hoped. Ditto re. Jack Rodwell.

But as we all know, once the team is over that white line, it’s reasonable to expect the players to run around, put the effort in and generally perform as if they are professional footballers. In fairness to Poyet, it wasn’t necessarily his fault that John O’Shea decided to redefine the term ‘stinker’ with his performance against Aston Villa. Recent events surrounding Adam Johnson didn’t help his cause either. Those pesky players have lost many a manager his job in the past and then suddenly found their form once the caretaker manger steps in with his long brown coat and huge set of keys.

Ultimately though, the buck stops with the guy who oversees the coaching and picks the team. No doubt Ellis Short and his cost-cutting policies contribute to the current situation and perhaps the loss of Niall Quinn in 2012 may have played a part too (after all, what is a club without a pair of fancy disco pants?). Yet, Poyet’s mission to shift blame away from his own in-tray grated and ultimately, increasingly resembled the policy of a doomed manager.

I write occasional bits and bobs here and there: @InTheTopOne, The Set Pieces.


Jack Wilshere’s injury shows why Arsenal shouldn’t renew his contract

The 26-year-old has been struck down by yet another injury.

Jake Jackman



Photo: Getty Images

Jack Wilshere will be pleased with the progress that he has made since returning to Arsenal from his loan spell at Bournemouth.

He was initially nothing more than a squad player that was out in the cold at international level too, but the midfielder worked hard to gain more game-time in North London.

Across all competitions, he has played more than 30 matches and his form earned him a call-up to the England squad.

It looked like he was getting a once-promising career back on track, but almost like clockwork, he has suffered an injury to set him back once again.

Gareth Southgate confirmed that he wouldn’t be travelling to the Netherlands for Friday’s match and the quotes were reported by Sky Sports.

“It is not a specific injury and over time they flare up and they need to settle down over a couple of days.

“We are hopeful it will settle down pretty quickly. It’s an ongoing problem and it’s not something new for him. He’s very disappointed not to be involved in the game.

“He’s trained well though but if you think about the journey he’s had in the last two years and his big injuries then he’s progressing really well.”

Although it is encouraging that it isn’t a serious injury, it is a reminder that Jack Wilshere remains a risk for both club and country.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is difficult to build a team around a player that is susceptible to miss matches and the quote from Southgate is a worry as he refers to an ongoing problem.

Arsenal have had a difficult campaign and they will be planning a rebuild over the next 48 months as they transition away from the Arsene Wenger era.

They will have to make tough decisions on many players at the club and Wilshere’s future will be brought into focus over the next few weeks as his contract expires at the end of the season.

There have been numerous reports regarding contract talks between the two parties and there is hesitancy on both sides.

This latest injury suffered by Wilshere and the comments from Southgate referring to an ongoing problem show why it is Arsenal who need to end this association.

Wilshere can’t be relied on to stay fit and to feature prominently in a busy schedule. Arsenal will have ambitions of challenging at the very top of the game and will likely be involved in European competition every season. They need to have a squad of players that are reliable and the 26-year-old isn’t that.

Aside from that, Wilshere represents what Arsenal have become over the last decade. He is a player that had a lot of potential, but he has failed to fulfil it and been very inconsistent at the highest level. Of course, he isn’t to blame for the club’s problems, but he is also unlikely to offer the solutions.

This season has been a nice farewell campaign for him. It would have been sad if his Gunners’ career had ended after being shipped out on loan to Bournemouth.

He has returned to earn some of his credibility back, but the club need to move on and progress if they are to get back to the top of the English game.

A lot of contentious decisions will need to be made and the first should be the release of Jack Wilshere this summer.

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Manchester United

Why Jose Mourinho’s treatment of Luke Shaw has crossed the line

The Portuguese manager has been highly critical of Luke Shaw this season.

Rob Meech



Luke Shaw
Photo: Getty Images

The fractious relationship between Jose Mourinho and Luke Shaw plumbed new depths when the left-back was substituted at half-time in Manchester United’s FA Cup victory over Brighton & Hove Albion. The 22-year-old had been handed a rare opportunity to impress at Old Trafford but lasted only 45 minutes.

Speaking about Shaw in his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Luke, in the first half, every time they came in his corridor, the cross came in and a dangerous situation was coming. I was not happy with his performance.”

The differences between the pair now appear to be irreconcilable. Shaw, who was signed by Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2014, has been used sparingly by Mourinho. The former Southampton starlet has made just 18 Premier League appearances under the Portuguese in a career that has been blighted by injuries.

Being substituted at half-time is almost as embarrassing as it gets for a player and Shaw’s mood will not have improved after being publicly criticised by his manager. It’s certainly not the first time Mourinho has chosen to talk candidly to the media about his concerns with the 22-year-old.

(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Some players require an arm around the shoulder to perform at their peak, while for others it takes a kick up the backside. Mourinho, opting for the latter, does nothing without reason and has clearly tried to spark a reaction from Shaw, without success.

From being one of English football’s brightest prospects after making his World Cup debut aged just 18, Shaw, who has seven England caps to his name, is in danger of not fulfilling the potential that convinced United to spend what was then a world-record fee for a teenager.

Mourinho’s tactic of singling out individuals who have not met his standards is in stark contrast to Sir Alex Ferguson, who never blamed his players in public. It has divided opinion among pundits, with Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier claiming the United manager is ‘destroying’ Shaw.

Mourinho is an expert at using smokescreens to distract from his side’s unconvincing performances. And this latest controversy has moved the narrative on from United’s shock Champions League exit at the hands of Sevilla.

(Photo by Lindsey Parnaby/Getty Images)

Tough love is one thing, but the sustained, public attack on Shaw is unacceptable. If Mourinho genuinely believes he is not good enough to represent United, then fair enough. But to continually vilify the youngster’s performances is a step too far and one that could irreparably damage Shaw’s confidence.

This is not to say that Shaw is a completely innocent bystander. Mourinho’s predecessor, Louis van Gaal, also questioned his desire and general conditioning when he joined United four years ago. Indeed, the Dutchman signed Shaw up to a tailored exercise regime in an effort to improve his fitness.

But while van Gaal’s treatment had the desired effect, Mourinho’s has done the opposite. Being publicly humiliated on a routine basis does neither party any favours.

In all likelihood, Shaw’s disappointing United career will come to an end this summer. A fresh start away from the toxicity under Mourinho is exactly what he needs.

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English Premier League

Keanan Bennetts has perfect opportunity to impress Mauricio Pochettino this week

The left-sided star has a chance to impress in first-team training during the international break.



Photo: Getty Images

With the international week in full flow, plenty of teams in the Premier League have seen their squads diminished by call-ups to national teams.

Tottenham Hotspur are one such side. Nonetheless, with most of the first-team squad away with their respective nations, work continues at Hotspur Way.

In order for Spurs to have a full complement in training, plenty of young talent needs to be pulled in to the ranks.

Mauricio Pochettino will, therefore,e get a chance to see some of his young players training with regular first-team players such as Fernando Llorente, Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

One player who will be training with the first-team this week is talented wide-man Keanan Bennetts, according to London Live.

The 19-year-old left-winger has been catching the eye for the club’s youth team in recent weeks, making the news after scoring a fantastic goal for the under-19s against Monaco in the UEFA Youth League last month.

Bennetts has also been attracting interest for his positional dexterity. The wide-man has played at left-back in recent times and it could be that is his future best position.

This week he will be up against some excellent players such as Lamela and Moura, who did not receive selection to the Argentina and Brazil national teams, respectively.

If he can prove himself with this calibre of player, Pochettino will have to take notice.

(Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

It is coming to a point in his Tottenham career when Bennetts has to make such an impact. The teenager is out of contract at Spurs in the summer and needs to ensure he is kept on for at least one more season.

Tottenham fans who follow the youth teams are certain he is deserving of such a chance. If he can show Pochettino what he is capable of this week, then a new deal will surely be in the pipeline for the talented wide-man.

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