Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Jamie Ness - The New 'Slim Jim'

There have been numerous times over the years where players have failed to live up to their hype, and failed to real the heights many believe they were destined for. Comparisons play a factor in this failed success. John Fleck was only 15 when he was labelled the Scottish Wayne Rooney, and tipped as a Wonderkid. Fast forward four years, and Fleck is still being labelled one for the future. It's not just our own who are culpable of these crimes. Freddy Adu was labelled the next big thing, even the legendary Pele hyped him up. Adu went on to play in the US National Team 15 times, and now - at the age of 21 - is playing Greek football for Aris. A massive let down at each club he's appeared at, Adu is now facing mediocrity - a life out of the spotlight. So many young talents are quashed this way. Adu seemed to peak early, far too early. But with Fleck, and many others, they are hyped up beyond their ability, giving spectators a false idea of what they are about, and not allowing them to flourish naturally. The opposite can be said of Jamie Ness.

Ness made his debut on the 26th December 2010 at Fir Park, Motherwell, one year after manager Walter Smith claimed the youngster was ready to make the breakthrough. Although Ness was known to the public, he wasn't given the hype of his team-mate and was allowed to progress naturally, without the eyes of the nation on him. The result? An exceptionally talented midfielder, likened - probably correctly - with the late  'Slim' Jim Baxter.

2 appearances for his club, numerous for the Scotland Under-19's and 17's. So what makes him so special? Why are his comparisons correct and the others not? 3 natural midfielders started in the recent Old Firm derby, only one received pass marks. Not the tireless Steve Davis, nor the physical Lee McCulloch - but Jamie Ness. The only player who looked capable of playing a pass, running with the ball and keeping possession over the 90 minutes was a 19 year old on his first start. From the first minutes, Ness demanded the ball and sprayed it around the pitch. Five yard passes, 50 yard passes - they all came natural to him. Unfazed by the occasion, Ness flourished, showing the ability to play in the middle that neither McCulloch or Davis has shown this season.

Rangers lost the game 2-0, goals from the usually flaccid Georgios Samaras, and the result left them 4 points adrift from their Old Firm rivals, albeit with 2 games in hand. If ever there was a need for the management to give youth a chance, now is it. The usual midfield partnerships of Steve Davis and Lee McCulloch/Maurice Edu are bearing no fruit, meanwhile two young midfielders have been handed opportunities, and given performances to be pleased with. Kyle Hutton and Jamie Ness are the future of the Rangers team. Hutton, a more defensive midfielder in my mind, was handed his full debut against Manchester United in the 1-0 loss at Ibrox in the Champions League, and on more than one occasion shrugged off Paul Scholes or Michael Carrick and skipped past them. 

If there was ever a time to start both players, the upcoming Scottish Cup match v Kilmarnock should be that time. Kilmarnock are performing above expectations in the league this season and much of that has come from Alexey Eremenko and Ben Gordon (who has now returned to his Parent Club, Chelsea). Eremenko's presence is one that cannot be ignored, and this game will be won and lost in the midfield. Why not start what could be the strongest midfield pairing at the club?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Scotland Dilemma

Scotland. Football. In the past, the two went hand in hand. But in recent times there has been a severe lack of quality coming through Scottish Football. Whether it be the referee's, the players or even the matches themselves, no one has dodged the bullet as the masses savagely attack our 'beautiful' game.

Long gone are the days of Souness, Dalglish, Johnstone, Cooper, Greig, McNeil, etc. Even the foreign talent like Larsson or Laudrup are distancing themselves from our game. No abundance of young talent, no cash to buy in the foreigners, so where do we go from here?

We've seen one or two youngsters buck the trend and become decent players: Danny Wilson, James Forrest, Aiden McGeady, Graeme Dorrans, John Fleck. But this really isn't enough, is it? Why are we so far behind Spain, Germany and even the French? Questions I am not prepared to answer.

Scotland v Liechtenstein - 7th September 2010.

Allan McGregor

Alan Hutton - Davie Weir - Stephen McManus - Lee Wallace

Scott Brown - Darren Fletcher - Lee McCulloch - James McFadden

Kenny Miller - Kris Boyd

 The lack of quality in tonight's squad is seriously frightening. A win v Liechtenstein will only paper over the cracks, this is a poor side. Allan McGregor, Alan Hutton, Darren Fletcher and James McFadden are the only players who boast any sort of 'class' in their game - the rest are a bunch of athletes, nothing special. Davie Weir gets in for his experience and ability to read the game (a trait he has picked up in his 20 years playing the game), Kris Boyd gets in on his ability to score against the "Diddy teams", and Kenny Miller gets in because he "runs aboot". Stephen McManus, Scott Brown, Lee McCulloch and Lee Wallace are mystifying selections. Not one of them would get into my pub side, so why are they 'gracing' Hampden Park with their headless chicken approach to Football?

Scott Brown - Celtic captain. The famous quote attached to the lad sums him up perfectly, "He can't pass, he can't shoot, he can't tackle; what can he do?".

Stephen McManus - the former Celtic and Scotland captain. A truely woeful footballer, beaten for pace by Kris Boyd, bossed by Kenny Miller and made Gary Caldwell look half-decent. How this guy got a game for Glasgow's second club is nonsensical!

Lee McCulloch - the... eh? For Rangers, he fits in well, allows the flair players to play their game while he picks up a booking a game. For Scotland... no idea what he brings to the table. He does a similar job to Darren Fletcher, yet both play in the same team, and neither do any sort of job!

Lee Wallace - the true headless chicken. Unfairly, I have pointed his start out. The lad starts only because Steven Whittaker - who was brilliant v Lithuania - has broken a nail, but that doesn't cover for his lack of ability in defence. Great going forward (apparently) but lacking in his defensive game. If that aptly describes Lee Wallace, then why is he playing at left back?

Despite this, I have complete faith in Craig Levein. He believes in youth, hopefully more like Joachim Loew and John Toshack believe in youth, and not like Bertie Vogts believed in youth. The older players: Hartley, Ferguson, Weir, Miller, McFadden and Alexander should, in my view, be dropped from International duty permanently, and allow the younger players to gel together. 

First written 14th April 2010.
World Cup fever is here! In just two months time, South Africa will kick off in Soccer City, Johannesburg, against Mexico. Bafana Bafana will be looking to be the winners of the first African World Cup, but so will another 31 sides. In this blog, I will be looking to evaluate the groups in the fairest way possible.

Looking at this group, its obvious who the favourites are to progress, or so you might think. France have had a tough time lately, struggling to qualify, in fact they almost weren't representing at the World Cup this year at all (see Lé Hand of God).

South Africa, mainly due to home advantage, aren't to be taken lightly during this competition. Boasting players such as Aaron Mokoena, Steven Pienaar and Benni McCarthy, they are sure to pose problems to all of the teams they meet.

Uruguay don't boast many household names - Diego Forlan (Atletico Madrid) and Luis Suarez (Ajax) are the only ones who really stand out when I look at the squads - but they are certain to cause problems, historically having a team of very good passers, and with Forlan up front you can be sure of a few goals as well.

Mexico A lot of Mexican players ply their trade in Europe, Marquez (Barcelona), Vela (Arsenal), Dos Santos (Tottenham) and most recently Javier Hernandez (Manchester United). But the ones to look out for feature only in their native leagues. Johnny Magallon (Chivas Guadalaraja) and Gerardo Torrado (Cruz Azul) are two players sure to feature at the World Cup, and two who can really pull the strings for Mexico.

France Not much can be said about the World Cup Finalists. A talented team, but a poor team. If I had to choose 2 players to look out for I'd go for Yoann Gourcuff (Girondins Bordeaux) and Franck Ribery (Bayern Muchen). Both supremely talented players, and both sure to be in the starting XI for France.

Prediction: France (Winners)
Uruguay (2nd Place)

Standouts come in the shape of Argentina who boast the magnificent Lionel Messi(Barcelona). Qualification was not easy for the sky blues, Diego Maradona showing he doesn't have what it takes to be a manager of a Sunday league football team, never mind an International team. They have an 'easy' group, but if Argentina are to go far in this tournament, Lionel Messi must be utilised properly (for once).

Nigeria Nigeria's hopes lie with Yakubu (Everton) and Obafemi Martins (Wolfsburg). Jon Obi Mikel (Chelsea) is also a key player for the Super Eagles, but not one I expect to make any influence. Contenders for 2nd place.

Greece 2004 European Champions. Girogos Karagounis (Panathinaikos) and Kostas Katsouranis (Panathinaikos) are the key men for the Greeks. Both have ability, Karagounis showed this in 2004, can he rise to the challenge once again for his country? Contenders for 2nd place.

Korea Republic or more notably South Korea. The team who were praised for their efforts in the 2002 World Cup, shocked the world by beating Italy, Spain and Portugal en route to the Semi Finals. Underdogs for this tournament once again. Park Ji-Sung must contribute heavily if they are to do well. Possible Contenders for 2nd place.

Prediction: Argentina (Winners)
Greece (2nd Place)

The group I suppose many people will be looking out for most. On the face of it, an easy group. Look closer, however, and it is much more of a challenge than first thought.

England for those of you who are unfamiliar with Capello's team, Wayne Rooney is key. Players such as Gerrard, Lampard, Young, Barry, Ferdinand, Johnson, Cole and Green are all expected to play a big part, but no one really knows the final team. Favourites to progress.

USA a very, very good team on their day (just ask Spain). Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan) and Maurice Edu (Rangers) are the players I expect to influence the USA. A very athletic team, all the players are able to run themselves into the ground if needed. Contenders for progression in either place.

Algeria fourth place in the African Cup of Nations. Another team of hard workers, and a team of hot heads. Anyone who seen the game v Egypt at the ACoN will know what I mean.
Key Players: Nadir Belhajd (Portsmouth) Madjid Bougherra (Rangers) Karim Ziani (Wolfsburg). All three players influential to Algeria. Contenders for 2nd place.

Slovenia The underdogs. Can't say I know much about Slovenia.
Performed well against Northern Ireland in the Qualifiers. Key man is undoubtedly Robert Koren (WBA). 4th Place.

Prediction: England (Winners) 
USA (2nd Place)

The hosts of the last World Cup, Germany have an outsiders chance of claiming the trophy. Dramatically knocked out in the Semi-finals by eventual winners Italy in 2006, Germany will fancy their chances. For players such as Michael Ballack (Chelsea) and Miroslav Klose (Bayern Muchen), this will be their last chance at claiming the trophy. Key players: Michael Ballack, Phillip Lahm (Bayern Muchen) and Stefan Kießling (Bayer Leverkusen). Should take 1st place easily.

Australia make the short journey to South Africa in good form. The Socceroo's boast a wealth of European quality players. Despite his recent exclusion from the squad, expect Mark Schwarzer to return. Mark Bresciano and Scott McDonald are also expected to be back. All three of these players are integral to any hopes Australia might have. 2nd place contenders.

Serbia perhaps one of the most exciting teams coming to the World Cup this year, Serbia boast a wealth of talent. Milos Krasic (CSKA Moscow), Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United), Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea), Zoran Tosic (FC Koln), Dejan Stankovic (Internazionale) all have tremendous amounts of ability, and are sure to impress. 2nd place contenders, possible 1st place.

Ghana their hopes lie with Michael Essien (Chelsea) and Asamoah Gyan (Stade Rennais).

Prediction: Germany (Winners)
Serbia (2nd Place)

Holland Another team who boast an amazing array of talent. Arjen Robben (Bayern Muchen), Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale), Klaas Jan Huntelaar (Milan) and Rafael Van der Vaart (Real Madrid) will all be sure to feature. If the Netherlanders play to their ability, they are sure to challenge for the World Cup, but when have they ever played to their potential? Should steamroll the opposition, 1st place.

Denmark ran riot in a group which contained Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal. Should be considered dark horses for the group, and should not be taken lightly. This will be a real test for Olsen's team, who boast  the young Simon Kjaer (Palermo) who is sure to attract attention from major clubs. Dennis Rommedahl is the top scorer in the team, with a massive 16 goals in 93 caps. Nicklas Bendtner is a man who will be hot and cold at the World Cup. Could struggle, contenders for 2nd.

Japan Unfavoured due to their lack of big names. Can always rely on the trusty stalwart Nakamura if needed, or his protégée Keisuke Honda. Don't expect fireworks from this lot. Lowly 4th.

Cameroon will rely heavily on Samuel Et'to. Much like Ghana, rely on Essien. Possible 2nd.

Prediction: Holland (Winners)
Cameroon (2nd place)

The group I'm looking forward to watching least. No team here will get you off your seat, all are just footballing sides, not exciting.

Italy the world Champions. Embarrassed at Euro '08, the Azzuri's lack of youth was blatantly obvious. Have youngsters coming through, in the shape of Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal), Danielle De Rossi (Roma) and Davide Santon (Internazionale), but can they afford to drop the likes of Pirlo, Gattusso and Del Piero to accomodate them? Should canter to 1st place.

Paraguay will rely heavily on Roque Santa Cruz (Manchester City). Contenders for 2nd.

New Zealand will show up and have fun. Hardworking team, but lack real quality. Will struggle to make an impact. 4th place.

Slovakia boast a few young gems, such as Miroslav Stoch (FC Twente), Vladimir Weiss (Bolton Wanderers) and Marek Hamsik (Napoli). Showed they can overcome stern opposition when facing Northern Ireland, could trouble Italy and Paraguay. Contenders for 2nd.

Prediction: Italy (Winners)
Slovakia (2nd Place)

5 time World Champions Brazil were in a transitional period during the 2006 World Cup. Players such as Ronaldo, Cafu and Roberto Carlos were making their final bows. Having moved them on, the new generation. The new generation includes Ramires (Benfica), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Robinho (Santos) and Thiago Silva (Milan). Always there, or there abouts come the end of the tournament, Brazil cannot possibly be overlooked. Players such as Kaka and Ronaldinho will be looking to impress. Should go through in first, with some difficulty.

Korea DPR the overwhelming favourites, to finish last that is. Noone knows much about Korea DPR, and so they are a danger to all they will play against. Should finish last.

Cote d'Ivoire or Ivory Coast are another exciting prospect for the World Cup. Known as the underachievers, having not fulfilled their potential, they will be looking to give a good account of themselves. Boasting the world-class players such as Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Soloman Kalou (Chelsea), Yaya Toure (Barcelona) and Kolo Toure (Manchester City), this is possibly the best chance Africa has at getting its hands on the trophy. Could challenge Brazil for 1st.

Portugal a talented team. Will rely hugely on the mercurial Cristiano Ronaldo. Boast talents such as Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho (both Sporting CP), Ricardo Quaresma (Internazionale) and Simao (Atletico Madrid). Strong at the back, and talented in midfield and attack. Could challenge Brazil for 1st alongside Ivory Coast.

Prediction: Brazil (Winners)
Ivory Coast (Second Place)

European Champions Spain are the favourites to lift the trophy, and rightfully so. A huge amount of talent in their squad, they will rely on Xavi Hernandez (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), David Villa (Valencia) and Iker Casillas (Real Madrid) to get them through. They have quality all over the pitch, and are obviously difficult to play. Overwhelming favourites for 1st.

Switzerland are beginning a new generation of footballers, and are in a transitional period. They will rely hugely on Tranquillo Barnetta (Bayer Leverkusen) to get them through games. Could surprise a few, but are not contenders for the trophy, overall. Should fight for 2nd.

Honduras are a little known team, but have a few exciting players. Wilson Palacios (Tottenham), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic) and David Suazo (Genoa) are all sure to feature, and will trouble. Could be considered outsiders for 2nd place.

Chile are another relatively unknown side, only Mark Gonzalez (CSKA Moscow) really stands out. Could cause an upset. 4th place.

Prediction: Spain (Winners)
Switzerland  (Winners)

Looking at the groups, and at the players, my money would go on Spain. Spain have by far the most talented team there, and after their European Championship victory, will feel able to win it.

Brazil are always a good bet for a World Cup, and their experience in winning it before will stand them in good stead.

The usual contenders, Italy, France and Germany shouldn't struggle to reach the knockout rounds, but don't expect fireworks from the two formers. Both have relatively old squads, and both were embarrassed at the Euros'.

Outside contenders for me, are England, Ivory Coast and USA. England are always contenders for the World Cup, but this year I feel it is too much for them. The quality of other teams is more than that of England, and I know I wont get a lot agreeing with me.

Ivory Coast are a very talented squad, and the advantage of being in Africa will help them. Perhaps this is their year.

USA. What to say about the USA. Shocked the world last year, beating Spain in the Confederations Cup, before succumbing to defeat in the final to Brazil. Outside possibility of a Yankee win.

Bring on South Africa!