Now Is The Spring Of Our Discontent

In the aftermath of our tonking in the Nou Camp last Tuesday night the rending of garments, wailing and nashing of teeth continues. And that’s just me!
Seriously, we’re all down after being comprehensively shown how to do it by an exceptional (and exceptionally well coached) Barça team. As I and some other astute observers remarked before the game, too many followers of the game in these islands, including many paid to be well-informed, overlooked the Catalan giants’ tactical discipline and organisation. All the stories were of Iberian flair. Yes, all of their players are at a minimum comfortable on the ball. Some appear to have it attached by an invisible string to their boot. They play a game based on organised pressing of possession when they don’t have the ball designed to get hold of the ball as quickly as possible without losing their essential shape. When in possession they keep the ball in play for as long as possible, stretching and probing the opposition with constant movement off the ball, always giving the player with the ball options. Impressive. Very impressive.
Lionel Messi is without any doubt whatsoever the best player in the world at the moment – although a profit currently without honour in his own land. The Argentine national team has a manager in Diego Maradona who is as poor and capricious a coach as he was the world’s outstanding player of his generation. An example that all time great players don’t necessarily make good (or even competent) managers and coaches.
All that said, it’s possible to be too critical. I suspect Internazionale will give Barcelona a much better contest than we managed. They’re the most balanced team in Europe at the moment. They show all the characteristics of a José Mourinho team – tactically sophisticated and technically excellent. I don’t know what Roman Abramovich was on when he got rid of him as manager but I want some for my birthday. He must have been completely out of his canister. We have however improved this season, although not by as much as we would have all liked. We’re one point off our final total of 72 points last term with five games to go.
We’ve already scored seven more goals than last season. We’re seven points away from absolutely nailing down a third place finish, thus avoided the need to play in the play-off round of the Champions League. That will be a real blessing in a World Cup year. Any of our players who reach the semi-finals in South Africa won’t report back for pre-season training until the Monday before the next Premier League season starts on 14 August, assuming Le Boss maintains his policy of giving the players at least a four week post-tournament break. I think that’s essential to stop player burn-out later in the season.
One area where we haven’t improved over last season is our goals against. We’ve only conceded three less than 2008/9 with five games to go. We’re likely to go over last season’s total conceded of 37, thirteen more than Manchester United and Chelsea and ten more than Liverpool (who lest it be forgotten finished as runners-up last season. This issue simply has to be addressed. It’s not just about the goalkeeper and back four. It’s a team thing as Barcelona amply demonstrated. Yes we need more quality in goal. I still think we missed a real trick in not signing Brad Freidel when Blackburn Rovers let him go. He’s done very well for Aston Villa. Philippe Senderos has proved he’s not adequate to the task and will be allowed to leave for any reasonable offer I’m sure. Mikaël Silvestre isn’t up to it either.
I’d be tempted to keep Sol Campbell for a further season as a good, experienced reserve. His passion and steadying influence is also welcome too I think. As long as he prepared to be a bit-player and dressing room elder statesman I’d give him another contract for next season.
William Gallas has done very well for us this season alongside Thomas Vermaelen, surely the value signing of the season in the Premier League. I’m worried about his fitness problems though. I’d have a very, very long hard look by the expert doctors before offering him another contract. Apparently he wants two years. I’ve always thought Arsčne’s policy of one year contracts for the over-thirties is generally sensible but there should always be exceptions to the rule. PROVIDED Big Bad Bill can demonstrate that he’s clear of injuries, we should offer him a two-year deal PROVIDED he’s prepared to take a large salary drop in return for two years. I wouldn’t go any higher than £4 million over two seasons at the absolute outside. If he can get better elsewhere and wants to go, let him leave would be my call. That would mean bringing in another central defender however, which won’t be cheap.
Whilst Alex Song can make a good job of playing in that position I think he better serves us as the principal holding midfield player. I think we need one or two top of the line central defenders and a top of the line goalkeeper. It wouldn’t be fair to drop Wojciech Szczęsny in at the deep end. As well as he’s played for Brentford on loan he’s still very young for a goalkeeper. I’d keep him out on loan for another season. The lad isn’t 20 until next Sunday. I’d also let Lukasz Fabiański go out on loan next season. I’m starting to have real doubts whether he’s got the “right stuff” in the long term. He needs to play regularly to see if he can develop the consistency needed. If Manuel Almunia wanted to stay as reserve I’d be happy to keep him with Don Vito Mannone as number three in the first team squad with a new first-choice keeper coming in.
If the media reports are correct Moroccan forward Marouane Chamakh is all but in the bag for next season. There’s no fee to pay for him as his contract with Girondins de Bordeaux expires at the end of this season, although his salary package with on-costs over four years won’t leave us with much change out of £14 million I wouldn’t have thought.
I think we need to concentrate therefore on looking for one or possibly two class central defenders and an international class goalie. One central defender I’d certainly be looking at personally is Uruguayan Sebastián Coates. He’s 6’5 just 19 years old and is playing super-well for Nacional of Montevideo at the moment. He’s all but certain to be in the Uruguay squad for South Africa. He certainly has what they call down there la garra uruguaya (the Uruguayan claw). He’s a real battler and mature beyond his years from the recordings of games I’ve seen.
What’s needed just as much as some astute new signings is a long, hard look at our tactical application and discipline and mental preparation. We’ve progressed this season, but not nearly as much as we’d all have liked.
A weekend off this week due to our elimination from the FA Cup. I’ll be cheering for Villa and Pompey over the weekend. Then we can look forward to our visit to White Hart Lane next Wednesday.
Keep the faith!

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