Who’s for Santa’s Sack this Christmas?

“Mourinho has even criticised John Terry, despite never having had played at the level of Robbie Savage.  Surely the sack beckons?”

Who’s for Santa’s Sack this Christmas?

It has been a tough few weeks for some high profile managers at underachieving clubs.  Messrs Van Gaal, Mourinho, Monk, Hasi and Delia have all either had calls for their heads or, in Monk’s unfortunate case, have been decapitated.

I’m not convinced about the reasons or legitimacy of sacking Ronny Delia at Celtic.  His objective is surely to win the SPL comfortably. The inexorable procession towards this has begun as Celtic build up a lead that already looks unassailable.  For Scottish clubs, European Football has become a bonus.  It is an almost annual event to lament their performances before the first snottery nose of Autumn has been blown.  Given that the clubs receive a tray of pies and a slab of watery beer for the rights to show their games, it’s not that surprising.

The others are less clear cut.  With every passing game, Mourinho looks increasingly pained.  His title-winning squad haven’t become poor overnight and no real first-team players have departed.  Yet, they are exactly where they deserve to be in the league.  When and why did it start to go wrong?

It can’t be a coincidence that Hazard (not scored all season), Costa, Oscar, Fabregas, Matic, Terry and Ivanovic have all been rotten since Mourinho threw his hissy fit at the club Doctor for helping an injured player.   He looks a lonely, forlorn and isolated figure on the touchline nowadays.  Add, for me, therein lies the problem. Mourinho has ‘lost the dressing room’ and the unwavering player support he once had.  He created a siege mentality and the players responded to that. He protects and defends them publicly, taking the criticism himself or blaming the referee.  It was the world against Chelsea/Porto/Inter/Real Madrid.  That is (was) the Mourinho method.

However, he has run out of excuses.  The players and club staff have been publicly lambasted at different times by Mourinho, he has behaved in a ludicrous fashion and it appears a critical mass of his staff have swung against him. Mourinho has even criticised John Terry, despite never having had played at the level of Robbie Savage.  Surely the sack beckons?

So who do you get in?  Someone who will work with the players there, be liked and get the best out of them.  Someone who can’t be trusted with a large transfer budget but has an excellent track record as a coach.  Someone who has been at the club before but has not been sacked by them.  Brendan Rodgers would get that team fighting and believing again.  I’d be amazed if José can.

Moving north to the Philosopher of the Pennines, the Locke of Lancashire, the Sage of the Stretford End; my pal Van Gaal.  What is left to say about him that hasn’t been said.  He can’t seem to fathom that Schweinsteiger was sold by Bayern because he can no longer cut it.  In a previous article, I referred to him as ‘An Amiga in a World of iPads‘.  He is no longer the same Schweinsteiger that Van Gaal had at Bayern.  It seems everybody knew this except from Van Gaal.

His team looks confused, scared and without leadership.  If you try to win ugly, to be efficient if not pretty, then you need to win.  That’s the bottom line.  However, when you overhaul the playing squad at great expense, progress is to be expected.  The much vaunted ‘philosophy’ seems to be understood by precious few people.  The team look slow, without dynamism and solidity has come at the expense of creativity.  The squad is strong.  They could be title contenders but they don’t look like they believe it or believe in themselves and almost seem to win games by accident.  They have sold Welbeck, Hernandez, Van Persie, declined Falcao and loaned Wilson.  Some of those decisions were clearly necessary.  However, who has replaced them? Only the talented, but hardly prolific, Martial.

He has made some strange tactical choices but that is part of his Modus Operandi.  Over the years he has specialised in either playing unusual formations or selecting players in  unfamiliar positions and claiming credit for their performances if it works (World Cup 2014 v Spain for example).  However, Manchester United at the moment are not a well mixed cocktail but more a mucky puddle of everything in the drinks cabinet flung in a glass: if it works then it is more by chance than by design.

That said, the club have been very quiet and supportive and they are only six points away from Leicester.  The Champions League exit, while hardly a massive surprise to anyone familiar with football beyond the inward-looking goldfish bowl of the Premier League, should act as a wake up call for the club.  The suggestion that the club would rather let him see out his contract than try to lure Guardiola must be a disappointment to the fans.  Should the club sack him?  Quite probably, the team are barely better than the Moyes XI.  There is a ready-made replacement at the club in Ryan Giggs, who will surely be the next Manchester United manager provided he remains patient.

Van Gaal’s story has many parallels across the Channel at Anderlecht.  Besnik Hasi – a man whose pint you really wouldn’t want to spill – doesn’t come with a reputation like Van Gaal.  Nor does he have any overt ‘philosophy’.  However, when a manager does have a vision, it is important that he shares it with the players and they can see it too.  There is little evidence of that at Anderlecht. There is an awful lot of huffing and puffing but the house hasn’t been blown down.  However, unlike the Big Bad Wolf, Hasi may be ‘buiten’ (sorry, Dutch for ‘out’).

The team were rudderless and completely lacking in creativity and direction against a superior Oostende.  The 1-1 draw itself was not the major bone of contention; it was that the team were second best in every area and were completely outplayed.  Individually, Hasi has easily the most talented squad in Belgium.  However, a lot of these talented players are cooking their own soup and eating it themselves.  Were Hasi to look west at Gent, he’d see a squad of players who know exactly what their coach wants them to do and they have clearly bought into the vision.  Gent have become the benchmark in Belgium.  Last year they swiped the title in the second half of the season due to Club Brugge and Anderlecht managing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory when it really counted.  This year though, Gent are the best team in the league by some distance and they have a very shrewd coach.

Anderlecht do have a fantastic youth setup and there are a lot of talented players on the periphery who could step up to the plate e.g. Lukebakio and Kawaya to support those out of form like Tielemans or Praet.  These players need to be given more than 5 minutes at the end of a match.  While the unexpected bonus of a fit-looking Mati Suarez was an undoubted positive, the performance was grim.  If you’re going to be ugly, you have to be effective.  Anderlecht are, at the moment, only the former.  Perhaps, given his previous flirtations with novel tactics, Hasi might want to consider a 3-5-2/5-3-2 style formation given the that the full backs are fast but can’t really defend and the wingers/wide midfielders look desperately like fish out of water.  That way, he could play most of his best players, retain Suarez and Okaka, and give the strong but positionally negligent Kara and Deschacht an extra body.

While Anderlecht are underachieving, they have qualified for the next round of the Europa League from a tough group.  However, they are struggling domestically against teams they should be beating comfortably and performances have been scrappy and turgid.   Players like Tielemans and Praet are playing well below their potential and the fans are fed up.  Hasi needs to do something different to get the public back on side but I’m not convinced he is capable.  Do I want to see him get the sack?  No.  Does he deserve to get the sack?  Not yet.  Will Anderlecht need to sack him to have any chance at becoming champions?  Unfortunately, yes.


PSV Eindhoven v CSKA Moscow

PSV Eindhoven v CSKA Moscow

Tuesday 8th December 2015: UEFA Champions League

Between cursing scrotum-esque Belgian undertaking drivers, I played a little game of ‘What could PSV stand for?’.  Based on this experience, it certainly could mean People Should Visit Eindhoven or Proudly Support Vocally Eindhoven.   The excitement and atmosphere of this match was fantastic and even with its ‘importance coefficient’ factored in, the fans were terrific and were surely complicit in inspiring their team to victory.

What's this shape again that looks like the scolex of a tapeworm?
What’s this shape again that looks like the scolex of a tapeworm?

Getting to Eindhoven

Travelling from Eindhoven from Brussels via public transport is surprisingly slow given the geographical proximity of the two cities. The city does have its own airport and train station for those with more patience than me.   Under normal road conditions, this drive takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.  However, craziness on the Belgian roads varies directly with rainfall meaning that the journey was 2 hours and 35 minutes of cursing, stressing and worrying about missing a game I’d set out in plenty of time for.

This was compounded by the fact that my sat-nav sometimes confuses his ‘turn rights’ from his ‘go straights’.  Finally, I pulled into a car-park that may have been car park 4 but, given how poorly lit the area was, I’d never have known.  I locked the car and camera, phone, wallet and printout in hand,  scampered across the road to find gate 9.  The reason the area was so poorly lit is probably due to the whole Dutch electrical supply being channeled into the 3-bar patio heaters dangling from the roof of the stadium.

Roof Heaters. What's a 'Carbon Footprint?'
Roof Heaters. What’s a ‘Carbon Footprint?’

I won’t be able to include anything about Eindhoven as, due to time constraints and bad weather, I didn’t see much of it.  However the stadium is very central and is any easy walk from the city centre.  I didn’t have to purchase a ticket for the game but, if you are visiting from outside the Netherlands, you can get tickets via https://www.psv.nl/english-psv/ticketing.htm.  Dutch fans needs a Club Card to buy tickets for most home games.  To be honest, the whole process seems clunky and time consuming but, at 60€ including 20€ credit in the fan store and 11€ credit for food and drink for a Dutch league match, it’s not exploitative.

Once the dude at gate 9 frisked me for weapons – it didn’t seem like the time for saying how a pen could be figuratively weaponised – I made my way up to the press seats.  I was right at the back of Vak CD.  I was very grateful to PSV for the invitation to this match. However, I’m sure I’m not the only person to sit in those seats to marvel at the stupidity of the design.  The seats are fixed, so don’t fold down.  Not a problem if there is space to pass in front of or behind the seats.  But, there isn’t.  So if a person wants in or out, the whole row has to stand up and let the person walk along the seats. Add to this the little ‘desk’ bench for placing your notepad or laptop on which prevents you from actually standing up fully.  If the fans in front stand up, and you try to stand up, you get the back of the chair digging into your calves due to the platform and lack of space.  It is frightfully stupid.

Philips Stadion

The Stadium itself looks like it was made from the spare parts of other stadiums.  It isn’t a modern thing of beauty and is fairly asymmetric.  However, what it lacks in immediate aesthetics it makes up for in atmosphere and character.  It is a clearly a stadium that has evolved into its current condition.  That’s not to say it is ugly.  I really liked how it looks, but you wouldn’t design a stadium like this from scratch.

There is all the fan merchandise, chips and beer outside the stadium that you would hope for.  They also looked like little independent operations as opposed to being club-run vendors, which means they don’t need to succumb to UEFAs corporate prohibition.  Fans were flooding between spaces between parked cars immediately next to the stands like winding roads leading to Rome.

Up in the Gods
Up in the Gods
Looks like old Croatia Strips
Looks like old Croatia Strips
Flag tastic
Flag tastic
A clown's makeup palette has been spilled.
A clown’s makeup palette has been spilled.
It says 'No Shmoking' there Joris...
It says ‘No Shmoking’ there Joris…
More layers than an onion
Away fans
The corner stand looks like Jenga with steel and concrete
Zoet Heyyyy

Normally I’d get a walk around the stadium, check out the refreshment system and prices, evaluate the toilet situation and watch the stadium fill up all before the players warm up.  Not this time.  Although, my half-time trip to the toilet revealed a woefully inadequate 5 urinals being accessed from two doors.  This drastically needs sorted.  The club also operate one of these dreadful token systems, where you have to go and buy tokens and decide you want to buy food and drink before you see what’s on offer.  The toilet and refreshment concourse reminded me a little of Anderlecht’s stadium.  Narrow, pipes at head height for a tall person, funneling stairways and little space to move.  Let’s home those roof heaters never catch fire or nobody is getting out alive.

The pre-match atmosphere was fabulous.  Better to show you than describe it, but it left you pumped for the game itself.  When the teams emerged, it seemed almost coincedental as opposed to the focal point: the fans were partying regardless.  The video won’t do it justice but it certainly blew Feyenoord and Ajax out of the water.

The Match

This could easily be described as 74 minutes of the teams feeling each other up, a very soft CSKA penalty conversion followed by gung-ho PSV waking up and getting the goals they needed.  There was a lingering inevitability about PSV getting the win, which they just about deserved.  My friend Shug declared that PSV were being osmotically fuelled by my hatred of Van Gaal, giving them the extra impetus they needed to get over the line.  I don’t hate Van Gaal; I just think he’s an Amiga in world of iPads.  That Man United pinched PSV’s top scorer from last season and their team cost ten times what PSV’s did perhaps made the victory all the sweeter though.

I liked PSV’s shape and, importantly, the players looked like they understand it.  Luuk de Jong is a bit of a mystery and, at times, looks like the complete centre forward.  He didn’t really cut it Borussia or Newcastle but is a clear threat.  For me, PSV’s main man is Jeffrey Bruma at the back.  Formerly of Chelsea, he’s far more solid and   assured than anything they currently have and he bossed the defence tonight.

CSKA played a very high line, perhaps due to de Jong’s lack of real pace, and ‘gegenpressed’ a little but lacked the killer pass.  It is easy to be swayed by the howling home support every time a refereeing decision doesn’t go their team’s way but PSV didn’t get many favours.  Propper’s winning goal was fit to win any match as he thumped it in from the edge of the box.  By that time, my camera had died and the stadium was shaking.  I did manage to catch it samples on my phone, but you can fill up the memory of an 8GB iPhone with a Haiku recital.

‘So Happy Together’

All in all, it was a fabulous night.  I stayed to watch the celebrations for a couple of minutes after the match but, realising that 35000 were still inside the heated stadium, I made a dash for the car and was back home within 90 minutes.

A PSV home game in the league might be different but it’s a great, non-linear and characterful stadium whose fans make a great racket. The team play some nice stuff as well.  Next time, I’ll take the train and see what Eindhoven is all about.  What does PSV stand for? Tonight, it stood for Proudly Superior to Van Gaal.

Stadium Ratings

  • Quality of match:  ****
  • Stadium character: *****
  • Stadium atmosphere:  *****
  • Hospitality: ***
  • Ease of access: ****
  • Things to do around the stadium: ****
  • Overall: ****1/2