Handily poised

Having devoted yesterday’s post to a round up of the cycling, today I felt I should turn my attention to the football. I will, of course, firstly address the two clubs closest to my heart: namely, AVFC and OGCN. The former didn’t play at the week and as their would-be opponents were involved in a replay. Unsurprisingly, they’ll be playing Manchester City in the next round of the FA Cup. My beloved boys in claret and blue are the filling in a Midlands sandwich. They’re lying in 16th place with 30 points, the same as Birmingham who are above us thanks to a superior goal difference, and a game in hand. Below us, on two points less, are WBA. To put this in perspective, the league leaders, Manchester United, have twice as many points. OGCN lost 3-0 at home to PSG. They’ve played one game less than Villa and are on 27 points in 17th place, just above Monaco, who are in the relegation zone. The similarities are alarming but I don’t believe either will be relegated.

I will now turn my attention to the Champion’s League which tends to be a bit of a closed shop. There’s 4 English sides (Man U, Chelsea, Spurs, Arsenal), 3 Spanish teams (Real, Barca, Valencia), 3 Italian teams (Inter, AC Milan, Roma), 2 German teams (Bayern, Schalke), 2 French teams (OL, OM) plus 2 others (Copenhagen, Shaktar Donetsk).  Following the results of the first leg, there’s only one side which looks likely to be eliminated: FC Copenhagen who were beaten 2-0 at home by Chelsea.

If we look at the results from the remaining first legs, there are at first glance some surprising results: most notably Spurs winning 1-0 away at AC Milan and Manchester United drawing 0-0 away from home at OM. In other instances,  while the favoured team lost, they do have that all important away goal as in Arsenal 2-1 Barcelona, Lyon 1 – 1 Real Madrid which should provide the platform for a home, and overall, win in the next leg.

At this stage, it’s not easy to forecast who will win. There’s so many variables not just the opponents in the forthcoming rounds, domestic situations but,  more crucially, the availability of key players. However, I’m all for sticking my neck out and I’m going to predict that the last 8 teams will be Spurs, Schalke, Shaktar, Barca, Real, Chelsea, Man U, Bayern. I would have liked to include Arsenal in that list but cannot see them beating Barcelona at home. I hope, in this case, I’m proved wrong.

 Of course, it’s difficult to work up enough interest if your own team isn’t playing, nor shows any sign of qualifying to play Champions League in my remaining lifetime. I will however always be able to treasure the moment when Peter Withe’s knee struck the ball in Rotterdam and put in the back of the Bayern net enabling my beloved boys to bring home the trophy in 1982. I watched the game after barracading myself into the tv lounge of the hotel where I was staying in Taunton while auditing Somerset CC.

Wasteful

As a manager, you always want your team to give of their best. After all, a manager is only as good as the people who work for him or her. Management is not an art, nor is it rocket science. It’s grounded in common sense. In my experience, if someone isn’t performing to the level you expect, you need to sit down with them and try to get to the bottom of the matter. Don’t assume, it’s all down to the individual either, it’s far more likely to be your fault. You cannot expect anyone to work well if they do not know or understand what it is you expect of them. This is true of whomever or whatever you’re managing. Clearly, some managers are better than others in unlocking and developing an individual’s potential.

My chouchou of the French beautiful game is one Yoann Gourcuff who was the subject of several pages of conjecture in L’Equipe this week which may have contributed to him being unfairly whistled at by the French crowd when he was substituted in 86th minute in yesterday’s friendly against Brazil.

My take on the issue is that he feels crushed by the overwhelming burden of expectation. The French public regard Gourcuff as Zizou’s natural successor. Those are mighty boots for anyone to fill, let alone someone who, let’s not forget, is only 24. True he plays in a similar position, behind the strikers, and displays the same kind of creativity and technique as Zidane.
 
He’s the son of Lorient’s manager and until his teen years played tennis to a competitively high standard too but, having been beaten by one Raphael Nadal, he chose to concentrate on his football. After a successful debut in the professional game at Rennes, he moved to  AC Milan in 2006. It was not a good move. He couldn’t get a game. 
 
He returned to France in 2008, initially on loan, to Bordeaux where he flourished under Laurent Blanc leading Les Girondins to the League and League Cup titles as well as being named the French League’s Player of the Year after scoring 12 goals and claiming 11 assists. He continued to play well and was shortlisted for the Ballon d’Or award in 2009.
 
After the departure of Blanc, Gourcuff signed for Olympique Lyonnais in 2010 where he has failed to build on that early promise. Promise that is evident when he plays for France under Blanc. He played well yesterday evening, as did Karim Benzema who scored the only goal of the match. He’s another player who can’t get  a game at his club: Real Madrid.
 
For whatever reason, neither of these players are playing to their full potential at club level. I don’t know why this is and no doubt many columns have been written speculating on the various reasons. It just strikes me as a great shame that their respective managers can’t or won’t make best use of these talented players.