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MARTIN SAMUEL: Man City are all that is wrong with English football...
Published : 27 Jan 2010 12:01:27
We hear so much about respect these days that football is in danger of turning into south central Los Angeles. Blue versus red; Crips against Bloods. Manchester United play Manchester City again tonight at Old Trafford, so you can pretty much guarantee somebody will get dissed; probably Carlos Tevez, whose popularity at Old Trafford is right up there with Malcolm Glazer's. Lack of respect explains the feud between Tevez and Gary Neville, the Manchester United captain, apparently. According to Kia Joorabchian, adviser to Tevez, the angry gestures and description of Neville as an idiot and a creep were not even derogatory. 'A professional footballer has to have respect for his companions and if you don't have class, then you have to accept that they are entitled to say something back,' Joorabchian said. New money can't buy you love: Garry Cook (right) unveils new manager Roberto Mancini Leaving aside exactly who is in a position to lecture on class in football these days - although it hasn't stopped the most debt-laden Prime Minister in history sermonising on governance and balancing the books - Joorabchian would appear to have rather missed the point. Modern Manchester City do not have class and they do not have respect; that is what is so appealing about them. If City now have a purpose it is to tweak the nose of the established order, the Champions League clubs who have been allowed to dominate for too long. City are here to tick off Arsenal supporters with their goal celebrations, to upset Sir Alex Ferguson with mischievous fly-posting, to annoy Chelsea by targeting their captain, not to mention taking Gareth Barry from beneath the noses of Liverpool without being able to offer European football or all that lovely history. City's job is to get on everybody's wick, precisely because they do not have respect and refuse to apologise for their parvenu presence. Good for them. In the circumstances, however, to expect consideration in return is absurd. Neville stands accused of rubbishing Tevez in his column for The Times of Malta, published on January 17, but he did not. Neville responded to a reader query in a short section called 'Over to you'. 'Was it a mistake to let Carlos Tevez leave Manchester United and do you think United should buy a striker in this transfer window?' asked John Refalo of Attard. Neville replied: 'The manager over the years has made many decisions with regard to players coming and going, and he has almost always been proved correct. Over a period of 20 years he may have got one or two wrong, and I think he has admitted that himself, but he knows exactly what he's doing and he understands when a player's time is up. I can't disagree with his decision on Tevez. He was a good player for us, but if the financial demands are too big then that's just the way it goes. Other good players have left this club in the past; it's not the first time it's happened.' More from Martin Samuel... MARTIN SAMUEL: Once a red always a red? It's not a sure thing for Wayne Rooney24/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Greed, hypocrisy and an emission that's truly toxic21/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Champions keep their head when madness rages...19/01/10 Martin Samuel: Glazers may be bad for United but that is good for the game...17/01/10 Hand Pietersen a rise in status: Trott's spot is perfect to restore KP's powers17/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Rain the only shield against warrior Smith and South Africa15/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: If Graham Onions is a legend, why gamble?14/01/10 MARTIN SAMUEL: Our best friends are now a better class of torturer 14/01/10 VIEW FULL ARCHIVE He then went on to say he did not think Manchester United would signanyone in January because the manager has never been a big fan ofbuying in the transfer window. And that was it. Maybe Tevez, who, judging by his reaction, appears to be under the impression thatNeville said he was useless and United couldn't wait to ditch him, should have a bigger beef with his club interpreter than his former team-mate. Maybe that is Manchester City's dirty secret. They mistranslate every headline containing Tevez's name as 'Steaming pillock Carlos Tevez can't play football', read it to him before kick-off, attribute it to the opposition captain and watch the goals fly in; after all, something must explain his change in fortune. If it is respect Tevez craves he has made the wrong move. Nobody will respect Manchester City while Garry Cook, the chief executive, continues to trawl bars crowing that his club will soon be the biggest and best in the world. Peter Kenyon was mocked for suggesting this of Chelsea when they were league champions; Manchester City have not won a trophy of significance since 1976. Then there was the dismissal of Mark Hughes, the former manager, without even a full season to make the new money work: hardly the action of a club courting popularity. Indeed, there is so much that is gauche and grasping about City - the widely broadcast bid for Kaka, the petulant outburst from Cook when it did not succeed - that it would be easy to dislike them, and many do. To the detractors, City's players are money-motivated, because they either left or spurned bigger teams, while the management is disdained for buying victory, as if it were the first to do so (and as if this is not precisely what the Football Association are attempting by employing Fabio Capello as England manager). Yet these weaknesses are also City's strengths. How are a club meant to break into the top four? Politely? Regretfully? What players are they meant to go for, if not the finest? And how are they meant to attract them, if not financially? City had to blow Liverpool away financially for Barry, or what possible reason would he have to go there? If they need a centre half, why not start with the best, John Terry, and lower their sights to Joleon Lescott or Kolo Toure if that audacious move does not come off? And for a club wishing to announce their altered circumstances, has there ever been a more memorable message than the Tevez 'Welcome to Manchester' campaign? The reason so many hate City is the reason others like them: they have made English football more interesting, with chippy players, brash pronouncements, rampant egos and vaulting ambition. They are everything that is wrong with English football, and everything that makes it compelling, rolled up in a ball of spit and directed at the biggest clubs. They do not command respect because they do not afford any, although someone needs to translate that to Tevez before tonight, or he is going to spend a lot of the match very angry again. On second thoughts, maybe not. Small pitches for kids will cut long ball down to sizeSince Fabio Capello took charge of the England team, the biggest tactical change is the speed with which the ball is played to the forwards. The coach does not want time wasted playing tippy-tappy at the back, before launching one upfield to a marked striker. He wants Frank Lampard and Gareth Barry to serve it quickly, primarily to Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard, before the opposition defence has the chance to get settled. Xabi Alonso did the same for Gerrard at Liverpool last season, which is why he is missed. Looking at where Lampard and Barry are deployed, and where it is hoped Rooney and Gerrard will be when they receive the ball, these are not short passes. Englishmen think of long-ball football in a very one-dimensional way, the hopeful punt up to the head of a big striker, or a clearance hit aimlessly down a channel for a rabbit to chase. Fabio's way: Frank Lampard needs to play it fast forward It has taken an Italian to make us notice there can be good long balls, too. David Beckham played them, so did Glenn Hoddle and Bobby Charlton. Jimmy Greaves once said that Charlton hit too many. He switched the play across the field, Greaves recalled, while Johnny Haynes would try to thread a shorter pass through the defensive line. Last week, Sir Trevor Brooking, head of football development at the Football Association, said that the long ball had to be driven out of the English game. As plans were finally unveiled for the National Football Centre in Burton-on-Trent (corporate motto: Convenient For Nowhere), Brooking laid out his vision. 'We have to get our youngsters playing the way Brazil and Spain play,' he said. 'In other countries, the back four are comfortable on the ball. Look at Lucio's display for Brazil in Qatar recently. He showed how defenders can step out and play. The long ball must be a thing of the past.' These FA visions are much like the Microsoft Windows programme. A new one is launched every two years and, by the time you've got the bugs out of that, the next one is already on the market. English football has variously been besotted by Italian efficiency, total football, the German sweeper system, the Clairefontaine academy in France and now Spain's mighty atoms. Whatever international team enjoys success, we decide that is the way to go. Yet the reason English football produces generation after generation of central defenders with limited ability and a default tactic that sends the ball into orbit could be addressed at the most basic, grassroots level, by Brooking himself. It is to do with pitch size, goal size and mud. The culture of English football could be changed overnight with the flourish of a pen from the comfort of his office. The rot sets in at the moment English schoolchildren begin playing 11-a-side on full-size pitches. This can happen before a child leaves primary school; it did to my boys. To expect a 10-year-old to monitor the same sized goal as Petr Cech is ridiculous; to expect a defender to be able to clear his lines in the manner of John Terry is equally unreasonable. It is like asking an average-height adult to protect a target as big as a house. That is why one of the most consistently successful routes to goal in schoolboy football is to concede a goal kick to the opposition, then mass on the edge of the penalty area as the goalkeeper tries in vain to clear his line. You get greater return that way than from winning a corner. A team end up entrenched in their penalty box until the opponents score. The structure of the game is warped. So how do pragmatic youth coaches avoid this? They get the two biggest kids, play them at the back and tell them to kick the ball as far up the field as they can, then charge to catch the opposition offside. We see this primitivism replicated in dire elements of our professional game. Generations of big kids being told anywhere will do, just as long as the ball goes far enough to get out of danger. If the goals, pitches and team numbers were reduced, there would be greater emphasis on skill. When England failed to qualify for the 2008 European Championship, it seemed, briefly, as if men like Brooking were sufficiently concerned with the root cause to make a change. And then the FA spent £6million-a-year employing Capello, England breezed to the 2010 World Cup finals and nuance was forgotten. Now we are back to copying Spain, and generalising about ending long-ball football, without considering why it is our downfall. Brooking, in his present position, could make a real difference in an instant. He could introduce regulations dictating new pitch, goal and team sizes for age groups in which technical learning is important. He could ensure money was directed at county level towards better playing surfaces, promoting a faster, passing game. As it is, the penny will drop too late: by the time they hit the National Football Centre, the next generation will already have gone for a Burton. Contact Martin at: email@example.com