#RoamingRed part 6 – Fraser Island, Australia

After sailing around the Whitsunday Islands for 3 days, my next stop was Fraser Island. Again, this was a three day, two night experience, but instead of being stranded at sea we visited shipwrecks, champagne pools and drove off-road in 4X4s.

In my 4×4 was Ryan from Leicester, and we began talking after both asking the inevitable question “So who do you support then?”

Ryan (pictured) was a massive Manchester United fan and, as many others have, brought up the 2011 FA Cup fourth round tie between the two sides when Reds were mentioned. It seems we have stuck in a lot of people’s minds since that defeat, with many believing Crawley gave a great account of themselves and were unlucky not to come away with a replay.

Of the eight passengers, five were boys and spoke about football for the majority of the three days, while the three girls were crammed in the back and couldn’t get a word in.

One of the boys on the tour was a Leeds fan and looked distraught when I brought up the appointment of ex-Reds boss Steve Evans. He acknowledged the success he’d had at Crawley and Rotherham United, but described him as a ‘clown’ and crazy to take the job at a club who have had seven managers since June 2014.

With Massimo Cellino vowing to stay away from Elland Road and fans looking to buy a majority stake in the club, maybe Evans can try and emulate the promotions with CTFC, but it definitely won’t be in the foreseeable future.

Let’s hope Reds can prove the magic of the FA Cup is still alive and conjure up a similar cup campaign to 2011, starting with the first round at home to Luton on Saturday.

Advertisements

England must tighten up their vulnerable defence to give themselves a chance in France next summer

Image Source

Having a solid back four is a thing of the past for England. Over the last two decades the Three Lions have boasted world-class defenders, who were seen as up there with the best in the world.

You only have to go back 10 years to the 2006 World Cup, where even England’s substitutes rank higher than the current crop. The so called ‘Golden Generation’ of Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, John Terry and Ashley Cole were backed up by Jamie Carragher, Sol Campbell, Wayne Bridge and a versatile Owen Hargreaves on the bench.

We could even go further back to the 90’s, where die-hard tacklers like Tony Adams and Stuart Pearce were around and commanding the penalty area.

In recent times, however, the mean and patriotic England defence of old has been replaced with little more than mediocrity. The Manchester United pair of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are starting to string together successive starts for the national team, and even though the back four has been solid since the nightmare in Brazil, this is worrying for England fans.

Both have shown promising signs of progression and improvement since their terrible starts for United, however, the fact is they haven’t done enough to warrant a regular starting place in Roy Hodgson’s XI.

One strong point in England’s defence is vice-captain Gary Cahill, whose role as the most reliable at the back has been unchallenged. Cahill has won every major club trophy in just three seasons at Chelsea, however unlike England’s other starlets his name did not come into the limelight until his mid 20’s.

This may be the case for Jones and Smalling. The pair might build on their already vast experience and become late bloomers in the England ranks. They may even become key players in future World Cup and Euro Championships squads. Center backs usually peak in their late 20’s, which gives the twosome a few years yet to prove many doubters wrong.

There is, however, the small issue of players coming through the ranks with unbelievable potential. Everton’s John Stones is tipped by many to be England captain one day and I believe he deserves to be Cahill’s partner in front of Joe Hart.

Not only is he a towering centre-back, but the 21-year-old is calm on the ball, never panics and has two years top flight experience at a very young age.

Other promising signs for Roy Hodgson is the emergence of Nathanial Clyne, who has just completed a dream move to Liverpool after an outstanding season at Southampton.

Glen Johnson has finally moved on and Clyne is the perfect man to fill his boots. With his electrifying pace he has tonnes more ability and excitement than the man he replaces for both club and country. Liverpool fans will be rubbing their hands and gearing up to see what he brings come August.

I do believe Hodgson will come good one day and lead England to greater things, but some of his decisions have to be questioned. Deploying Jordan Henderson to right-back in the victory over Slovenia was an odd one, especially with Clyne on the bench ready to stamp his mark on the international scene.

Imagine Sven-Goran Eriksson replaced Neville with midfield maestro Paul Scholes during the early 2000’s; it just wouldn’t happen.

Hodgson holds the key to England’s fortunes and has an array of tough-tackling talent to choose from when picking his squads. Let’s hope he transforms a bench-worthy back four into a well-drilled fearsome quartet who are ready and able to shut out Europe’s elite.​

Champions League 2017 final in Cardiff could give English teams a platform for success

Image Source

The final of the biggest club competition in world football is expected to come back to Britain for the third time in six years, however, not to the capital.

Cardiff’s Millennium Stadium is the current favourite to host the 2017 final with UEFA likely to announce their decision in Prague on the 29th June.

If the decision were to go in the way of the Welsh national venue, it would give English clubs another stab at winning the competition on home soil and to catch up with Spanish and German clubs in European competition.

This would be hugely beneficial to the Premier League after a transitional period where England’s dominant club, Manchester United, failed to make the Champions League for the first time since 1995/96. In the 2012-13 and 2014-15 seasons no English team progressed beyond the last 16; a dismal portrayal of English football in comparison to the 1999-2011 era, where at least two Premier League teams reached the quarter finals in 10 out of the 12 seasons.

The last Champions League outing at Wembley in 2013 was solely represented by Germany, as Bayern Munich triumphed over Bundesliga rivals Borussia Dortmund. Two years earlier, Man United made their way to the capital to face Barcelona, but were outclassed by Pep Guardiola’s unstoppable Barcelona.

European football has been dominated by the Spaniards in recent times and they have proved a giant obstacle for English clubs. Despite winning two of the last four Premier League titles, big spenders Manchester City have consistently struggled in Europe and became the seventh English club to be knocked out by Real Madrid or Barcelona in the last six years.

Although winning two Champions Leagues and appearing in finals, Premier League teams seem to come unstuck against the Goliath figures of Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid. When you look at the domestic leagues however, the Premier League has higher calibre of competition, fiercer rivalries and a greater portfolio of players compared to others in Europe; so why do they struggle when reaching the knockout stages after the turn of the year?

A difference between the leagues is the winter break applied by other countries. When the February knockout stage comes around, other European big guns come fresh from a two week break. English teams have come straight out the back of a gruelling Christmas fixture list, playing two games over three days in some cases.

Cardiff’s 74,500-seater stadium missed out on its bid to host Euro 2020 matches, however has proven it can host these momentous occasions as it did whilst hosting the Football League play-offs and FA Cup finals between 2001 and 2006.

This year’s final was held in Berlin’s Olympiastadion, while next year’s final will be held at the San Siro in Milan. English teams must show a substancial improvement in next year’s competition in order to start dominating the continent as they did in the 2000’s, and withstand any chance of glory in Cardiff by the time 2017 comes around.