Matt Miazga’s future at Chelsea and the US national team

MiazgaChelseaShirt

Matt Miazga is an upcoming center-back from the United States. The youngster started his youth career at New York Red Bulls in 2009 and progressed to the MLS outfit’s first team four years later in 2013.

He went on to feature in 34 league games for the New York-based club before Chelsea came calling for his signature in the 2016 winter transfer window and made him a Blue. By the time he arrived at Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho, then in his second stint as Chelsea boss, had been sacked after a string of poor results. And the Blues had installed the Dutch manager Guus Hiddink for his second spell as the club’s interim boss.

The Dutchman steadied the ship and after ensuring the club’s Premier League status, started giving chances to youngsters in the squad. Miazga was one of the beneficiaries of Hiddink’s policy and went on to make two first team appearances for the Blues last season.

He made his senior Chelsea debut in a 4-0 thrashing of Aston Villa at Villa Park and then made a second half substitute appearance in the following game against Swansea when he came on for another youngster, Kenedy.

Miazga didn’t light the two games on fire with his displays, but he did appear to be a good centre-back. He is still far from being a sure fire starter for Chelsea but chances are if he continues to develop his game he will be in contention sooner rather than later.

It is to Miazga’s great fortune that Chelsea have appointed a tactically strong manager in Antonio Conte and the Italian’s intense focus on drilling defensive discipline should be a great learning experience for the youngster.

Conte’s Juventus and his current Italian national team have been a delight to watch for purists who hold defensive organisation at a pedestal. And it is clear that a young player can only flourish by learning from someone of Conte’s calibre.

#19 Miazga White & Blue Home Match Soccer Adult COPA 2016 Jersey

However, going by Chelsea’s track record of loaning out their young prospects to clubs across Europe, Miazga’s fate remains unclear for now. He could be the next Chelsea prospect on another loan spell to Vitesse in the Dutch Eredevisie or might be loaned out to a lower league side in the English football pyramid. Whatever may the case be, Miazga should make the most of his opportunities and try to impress his manager in order to come under contention for a spot with the Chelsea first team.

Miazga had represented Poland Under-18 side early in his career and was eligible to represent the Poland national team at the international level owing to his ancestry. However, Jurgen Klinsmann tied him to the Stars and Stripes by awarding him a cap in a 2018 World Cup qualifier late last year.

The former Germany international didn’t call up Miazga for the recently concluded Copa America Centenario, probably due to the defender’s paucity of first team minutes since his transfer to Chelsea.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that strong showings in the upcoming season will strengthen Miazga’s case for a call-up to the United States national team when they begin their next set of international fixtures.

 

Soccer Documentary Review : United 2011

On 6th February, a plane crashed during its third attempt at taking off from the Munich International Airport. The plane was hired by Manchester United as they went ahead with their European tie against Red Star Belgrade, a match they had won, and were on their way back to clinch their league title at home. However, fate had something else planned. That day 23 of the club’s personnel were found dead out of which 8 were first team players including Duncan Edwards; the crash also left the charismatic manager of the club – Sir Matt Busby injured. As the people of Manchester wept, the whole football fraternity did too.

The movie: The movie starts off with Sir Bobby Charlton trying to make the first team of the club and when he gets his chance, he proves to be a wonderful addition to the team. Jack O’Connell plays Sir Bobby Charlton’s character and does due justice to it. He acts effortlessly and portrays ‘survivor’s guilt’ in a realistic and true manner from which Charlton actually suffered.

The movie is mainly seen from Jimmy Murphy’s perspective as he tries to gather the club together after the crash. David Tennant plays Jimmy Murphy and pardon my French here, but god damn, that man can act. He does a brilliant job in getting across the message and anyone who has ever watched football, even for 5 seconds will understand the very predicament Murphy goes through and Tennant gets that across perfectly.

Tenant acts as though he himself is in the very situation that Jimmy Murphy once was in and that is what makes the movie so very powerful. A particular scene where Jimmy Murphy goes to the hospital in Germany to see his players and soon after meeting Duncan Edwards and Bobby Charlton, he goes to the hospital staircase and lets out the saddest cry in the history of cries encapsulates just how much the staff and the club suffered.

Another scene that describes the movie very well is Murphy convincing the board to let Manchester United play and not be shut down – this scene is the very root of the movie, the movie thrives on important speeches and this one is the best. Murphy talks about just how important the reclamation of the club is and how he will personally see to it that it succeeds and oh, it did.

Other characters like Duncan Edwards and Matt Busby were portrayed well too, with emotional scenes all across the floor that’ll have the toughest of football fans weeping in seconds. Duncan Edwards was one of the most promising English players and his death was hard on the country and the club and that has been portrayed beautifully.

Edwards was good friends with Sir Bobby Charlton and this friendship is portrayed in the form of Sir Bobby feeling a certain guilt on why he survived and Duncan died. A scene where he throws out all his medals and trophies along with a rugged old football symbolizes this perfectly. However, Bobby Charlton soon realized that football is what he’s meant to do and hurries back to the field to put on his boots.

The last scene in particular makes people shed a few tears as Murphy looks across his new playing XI and can’t help but imagine the old times as hope lets out a sigh and says ‘go on, boys!’

All in all, this movie should be watched by every football fan and especially Manchester United fans and is also recommended to non-football fans to learn just how much a sport can mean to so many people and unite them when really needed.

Rating: 5/5.

Leading by Alex Ferguson: Soccer Book Review

Leading: Learning from Life and My Years at Manchester United

Rating: 3.5/5 A solid book underlying how to be successful in business and life with Sir Alex Ferguson’s hugely successful career highlights and sometimes low-lights providing the evidence

Background

Sir Alex Ferguson – a Manchester United and indeed football management legend underlines his leadership philosophy in a lot of detail using real life stories, anecdotes and successes and failures in this easy to read book.

He brings you upto date with parts of his career which you might not be familiar with. In Scotland he of course managed Aberdeen to a famous Cup Winner’s Cup Final victory over Real Madrid. But we learn about the clubs he managed before this and the mistakes and lessons he learnt.

Some Surprising Points about his philosophy

The media liked to portray Ferguson as someone aggressive and scary – ready to give the ‘hairdryer’ treatment to his players. The media is quick to portray or remind everyone about the incident which allegedly led David Beckham to leave Manchester United.

However, Ferguson in his book ensures us that that was not his style and that it is very difficult to lead through fear. He had to learn how to handle each player individually. One of the things he said he tried to do was to learn about each player’s own upbringing. And he was especially careful not to stress out young players or those more sensitive to too much criticism. In fact he says that any leader no matter how quiet they might be just by the very fact that they control the paychecks and indeed employment futures of their employees can automatically be feared just because of that. And a raised eyebrow to someone or a gesture which may appear meaningless to that person could terrify the employee.

What is great about this book is that you don’t need to be particularly interested in business or leading. There is so much general interest and going behind the scenes.

We learn about Ferguson’s working class roots and why the difficult times he faced as a child meant the rough and tumble of the dugout was relatively easy to deal with. And why working class players are those likely to make it because for many players they don’t have the distractions middle class children have e.g. of academia or University. Their sole focus is football.

The importance of discipline

Ferguson has a couple of chapters on this. And how he drills into his players discipline. He said the lack of discipline is why his Manchester United side lost to Barcelona in the Champions League Finals of 2009 and especially 2011. Some players lost their heads and the team lost its shape. He tried to drill into players the need to think with their heads and not lose themselves to their emotions. So structure was important.

World Class Players

One of the most interesting points in the book is how Ferguson believes there are currently only two world class payers playing the game. Messi and Ronaldo. Everyone else is a level below this. Well there are players such as Suarez and Thomas Mueller who are excellent but not at Messi and Ronaldo’s level. He outlines all the criteria he gives as to what makes a world class player.

Relationships with Players

One really interesting thing is how Ferguson was always thinking years ahead with his team and changing the team around every 3 to 4 years with younger players, youth team players and so on. He would be ruthless in this although still compassionate to those who had served the team. And always ready to get rid of troublemakers.

At the same time you cannot get too close to the players as it doesn’t work.

His philosophy was always to pay players what they were worth. And he feels that very few players actually need agents. Most could just hire a lawyer on an hourly basis because the agents want to make as much money for themselves typically.

Summary

Well worth a read if you like Manchester United or Alex Ferguson or are interested in personal and business development. Very accessible.

There is also a lot more than I mentioned here. His relationship with technology and data analysis, his succession with David Moyes and Luis Van Gaal, his relationships with the greats at Manchester United including Eric Cantona and Bobby Charlton and much, much more.

Why did Leicester City win the Premier League?

Leicester City – Winners of the Premier League 2016? Why and how did they do it?

DestinationSoccer was in the city of Leicester, England in April 2016. It was the day of the final home game of the season at home to Everton. Leicester were already Champions of England. Everywhere in the City from the main city center through to the suburbs and outer towns of Leicester, people were going Leicester City crazy. Entire homes were decorated in Leicester City celebrations including replica shirts and plastic Premier League trophies.

Even hairdressers and austere cafes had Leicester City flags. Plus people were walking around everywhere with the famous blue shirt. And finally even people who were not thought to be Leicester City or even football fans were caught up in the fervour and the pride.

But the question still remains, how is it even possible that Leicester City won the world’s most popular league? Wasn’t the League Trophy to be shared between just Chelsea and Manchester City? And perhaps Manchester United when they get good again?

How could Leicester City, a team which the year before had been in the relegation places for part of the season and who had just appointed a manager who had never won a League Title in any country he had been in preside over such a huge upset? 5,000 to 1 was the famous odds that they did this. Elvis Presley being found alive and well is 2,000 to 1. (So surely he must be alive?!)

So, let’s investigate the potential reasons for this shock. Some are logical, others crazy and dubious. So, let’s go.

The Tactics – Playing to their strengths

Jonathan Wilson, the tactics guru who wrote the book on tactics – Inverting the Pyramid back in March 2016 wrote in World Soccer about Leicester City’s winning tactics.

The main point is that the world of soccer or football had surely moved on. We were in the period of Pep Guadiola inspired tiki-taka or at least Jurgen Klopp’s gegenpressing. Press high up the pitch and get the ball and attack. Maybe we don’t even need a formal striker or attacker as Spain applied to win Euro 2012 with no formal striker. And possession is often the name of the game. Keep possession and the other team can’t score.

Sure, every now and then we had Jose Mourinho’s teams playing against better opposition with less possession but that was the exception rather than the rule.

Not so with Leicester City. When Leicester beat Manchester City away in February, they had 36.1% possession with a pass completion rate of 64%. These are crazy figures for the Champions. But Jonathan Wilson argues that these figures reflect how they play. They sit deep and hit the opposition on the counter-attack, with two defensive midfielders covering the back four.

And, they create two rows of four when defending with the wide midfielders also dropping back. When Leicester get the ball, most of the time, they hit quick passes forward for Jamie Vardy to run onto. So these passes have high risk or reward. They are easier to cut out than short passes on the ground but if they work, Vardy is through on the goalkeeper or last defender.

Being Underestimated by the Opposition

Leicester City’s tactics were not countered or taken seriously enough by the opposition to work out clear ways of playing against them. Even late on in the season, pundits and fans kept expecting Leicester City to be beaten away by the big boys.

But, they weren’t. And they proved it time and again, losing only three times in the season.

Players hitting the form of their lives

At this stage, we don’t know if Leicester City can keep this form going every season. But, the main thing is how good the players were. The PFA Player of the Year – had has 17 goals and 11 assists in the Premier League when he was given the award. And other superb stats.

Put in the form of Jamie Vardy who made his way into the England team during the season and scored a high number of goals.

In defence, Robert Huth was imperious, with 221 clearances over the whole season. The defensive partnership with Morgan is solid and the positioning has been excellent. The defence was hard to break down because of the full-backs being defensive minded also.

Kante in midfield ran himself into the ground as they say and kept the defence clear of threats and denied space to the opposition. He also got himself into the French squad for Euro 2016.

Add in the performances of everyone from Kasper Schmeichel, joining his father and legendary fellow goalkeeper with a Premier League winner’s title and the tireless running of  Shinji Okazaki and you can start to see the bond and the form of the players.

And of course, the incredible and stroke of inspiration and luck by Leicester legend Steve Walsh in finding and picking up some incredible players from under the noses of the big fish.

The Integration of Medical and Sports Science

Every Premier League uses and spends a lot of money on sports science. From specialist equipment, nutrition, training and experts, this is standard.

However, it seems like Leicester City integrated this kind of expertise to a level which has not been seen before. The results were fewer injuries – the fewest in the League, allowing Claudio Ranieri to reverse his position as ‘The Tinkerman’ and keep the same line-up again and again.

They did a lot of specialist work from using a special machine to build hamstring strength. The large sports science team also got the players to do sprints later on in the week when they were tired. It might seem crazy to do that as it risks injury but it has helped.

They also use beetroot juice. And the sports science team had a huge input into the players’ training and use. E.g. they would give feedback to Ranieri and a player might be rested from training depending upon what the data said about that player’s condition.

And Leicester City have made it very clear to understand each individual including getting each player to complete regular questionnaires depending upon how they are feeling.

Finally, the BBC reports how Leicester City use the cryogenic ice therapy treatment favored by sports people and celebrities the world over. This helps with recovery.

No Distractions from the Premier League

Another benefit which helped Leicester City was no involvement in Europe and also early exit from domestic Cup competitions. This allowed both more recovery time and gave the space for the sports science team to take ownership of the players’ routines as we have just seen.

This won’t be the case with Leicester City being in the Champions League for the first time in their 132 year history!

The Other Factors

We can run through the other factors. The tactical awareness of Ranieri, the bond between the team, the lack of pressure on the team – after all they were expected to be relegation fodder by some journalists.

The Blessing of Buddhist Monks

The club is owned by a Thai businessman and with Buddhism being the main religion in Thailand, Buddhism played a big part in Leicester City’s season.

Buddhist Monks blessed the players before home games and also have put religious items below the pitch and regularly are on the pitch.Players and fans wear Buddhist amulets blessedx by the monks.

Richard the III and Leicester City

In March 2015, the former King of England, Richard the III was finally given his Royal burial just a mile away from the King Power Stadium.

Before the burial, Leicester City’s win rate was 32%. After the burial, between March 2015 and February 2016, the win rate doubled to 63%.

Allegations of Drug Taking

On a more serious note and hopefully not at all true, there were allegations made in the Sunday Times newspaper that Leicester City were one of the teams (alongside Arsenal and Chelsea), in which a Doctor was recorderd by the newspaper claiming to supply upto 150 sports stars with performance enhancing drugs – including players from the Premier League Champions.

However, no individual players were named and no evidence was provided to substantiate those claims, so hopefully that is not at all true.

The Fans and their Cardboard Clappers

Surely, the secret weapon behind Leicester’s rise are their incredible fans and the cardboard clappers which the team provides them with to create an incredible atmosphere in the stadium.

The evidence is overwhelming. Since the Club introduced the cardboard clappers in April 2015, the team has picked up 1.35 more points per home game. The club spends £12,000 (approximately $17,000) per game supplying the 30,000 fans with the clappers. And Leicester City now average 2.2 points per game after the clappers than before this. With 0.85 points per game.

It seems to have made a difference to the atmosphere and the support from the fans.

Conclusion

It looks like a whole host of factors have come together at the perfect time to create the result of a life-time.

Maybe Leicester City are this generation’s Nottingham Forest who unexpectedly won the League after being in the Second Division the season before (now called the Championship). Forest went on to win two Champions Leagues in a row including beating the European Champions Liverpool in their first match.

Who would rule out Leicester City winning the Champions League?

What do you think of this? Are there are any other reasons we have left out for why Leicester City won the Premier League in 2015/16?

Soccer Movie Review: Looking For Eric

Looking for Eric

Rating: 4.5/5 Amazing, heart warming, touching and deep movie which takes you through modern day Manchester, Manchester United and the eternal Eric Cantona

Background

This movie was made by the legendary Ken Loach, the respected British film maker. He is well known for football films including the classic Kes movie with a superb football scene.

This movie at first is pretty dark. We see the world through the eyes of an ageing working class postman in Manchester. His life is falling part. He suffers from mental illness, he is barely holding onto his job, his personal life is in tatters and his step children are involved in the grimy side of Manchester life – gangs and drugs.

There is one savior though – Eric Cantona! We learn just how much Manchester United fans even today love and respect Cantona. After all Cantona was the missing link which brought the Premier League trophy back to Old Trafford.

It gets dark before the storm

Ken Loach is simply a master storyteller. He drags you in emotionally. You see this shell of a man with only Eric Cantona – is it really him or just the vision of a delusional man keeping him going.

We also learn a lot about the culture of football in Manchester with some fans annoyed with the commercialism in the Premier League and therefore supporting the FC Manchester of United club. A club by the fans of the fans.

However, they can never really leave the relationship with the Red Devils. This is seen in one of the my favorite moments in the movie – a really comedic scene which you will love as well.

The Rousing Comeback

LookingForEric

Wow. The ending has to be seen to be believed and even years later I remember it strongly. One of the best ever endings to a movie. Where local people come together against almost insurmountable odds.

I wonder if this is what Alex Ferguson teaches in his book ‘Leading’.

We also get a lot of Eric Cantona’s Gallic wisdom including his full press conference after being suspended for attacking a fan during a game.

Summary

Highly recommend this movie even if you are not a Man U fan. It is always engaging and emotionally grabs you through hopelessness to well – I’ll let you find out for yourself!