Tag Archives: Frank Lampard

Etihad Stadium, Manchester

Preview: Man City v Chelsea (23/11/19)

Pep Guardiola’s side is currently fourth in there Premier League, one point behind their visitors, with both sides looking for their first win against a ‘big six’ club this season.

Man City defender Aymeric Laporte and striker Leroy Sane are still struggling with knee injuries, and goalkeeper Ederson is unlikely to return. Midfielder Bernardo Silva is serving a one-match ban because of his controversial tweet about his team-mate Benjamin Mendy.

Chelsea have three midfielders, Christian Pulisic, Ross Barkley, and Ruben Loftus-Cheek, struggling with injuries. Defender Antonio Rudiger is still recovering after groin surgery.

The Blues have eight victories in their past 10 games, and Man City have seven. Guardiola’s side is more effective at scoring than their opponents – they have a league-leading 35 goals, compared to Chelsea’s 27.

Nevertheless, they went without a win in their most recent two matches: a 1-1 draw against Atalanta in Champions League, and a 3-1 loss before the international break. In contrast, Chelsea are unbeaten in November.

The hosts have won five out of six most recent meetings of these two teams, but this will be the first time Frank Lampard has faced the club where he spent a brief period at the end of his playing career.

Both sides are secure in the top four as fifth-placed Sheffield United are eight points below Man City. A home win tomorrow, coupled with Liverpool loss at Crystal Palace, will see the gap at the top reduced to six points.

If Chelsea win and the current top two, Liverpool and Leicester City, both lose, they will climb from third to second place, only five points off the top spot.

Etihad Stadium photo by Quay News via Flickr Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Red card for ‘Play to the Whistle’

It’s understandable that ITV would want to recreate the success of Sky’s A League Of Their Own and the BBC’s long-running A Question Of Sport.

There is clearly a huge appetite for watching sports stars step outside their professional environment and into the world of entertainment.

Athletes often come across as sullen, dull and uncommunicative, so giving them a chance to lighten up in panel show formats can clearly make for good television.

“Contestants appeared disinterested, ignoring the live audience, on their phones between rounds… the interaction between presenter Holly Willoughby and the panellists felt awkward”

In this regard, Play To The Whistle’s acquisition of Chelsea and England midfield legend Frank Lampard as a resident team captain was certainly shrewd.

His pedigree ensures that plenty of football fans will be drawn in, and he has a celebrity pull that might get viewers who aren’t into sport interested, too.

But if ITV want to make the third series of Play to the Whistle a success, then Lampard will not only not be enough, but may actually prove to be a obstacle.

If my recent experience at Elstree studios is anything to go by, then perhaps ‘Saturday night snoozefest’ would be a little more apropos a category than ‘sports-based comedy panel show’.

Effort

Unless I missed something during my two brief toilet breaks, there didn’t appear to be much to laugh at during the show.

Contestants appeared disinterested, ignoring the live audience, on their phones between rounds and failing through large parts to provoke any real laughter. The interaction between presenter Holly Willoughby and the panellists felt a little awkward.

It was clear that golfer Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston and reality TV ‘star’ Scarlett Moffatt aren’t cut out for this line of work, and audience members around me seemed expectant of a little more effort from both guests and regular captains alike.

What’s more, the ratings tend to agree with them. The show debuted back in April 2015 with an audience of 2.79m, which within two weeks had dropped to 2.03m. The second series revealed the same trend, with 2.71m viewers tuning in for opener – a figure down by 700,00 by the end of the run.

It’s hard to avoid predicting a similar level of dwindling engagement for the third series unless better-calibre guests and a more structured format are adopted for the show.

Lifeless

Somebody needs to tell Bradley Walsh that few people care about his new album nor will want to buy it. Why it was thought he’d be a good Play To The Whistle team captain eludes me.

He’s clearly a versatile performer, but his antics were inappropriately brash, and one particular audience member objected to him referring to her as “love” during one of the earlier rounds.

“Romesh Ranganathan was a rare highlight who did manage to amuse during the show’s more conversational segments”

Nobody’s performance underwhelmed quite like Lampard’s, though. Acting as a perfect example of why footballers ought to let their feet do the talking, his lifeless showing may go some way towards explaining the trajectory of the show’s ratings.

He didn’t expand on questions put to him by the presenter and when the cameras weren’t on, spent most of his time texting and sipping a beer.

Even comedian Seann Walsh, the show’s mock pundit, failed to inject the proceedings with any real humour.

His skits after each round, designed to show him doing anything other than watching the show or monitoring the scores, felt a little like a boy trying to impress the girl he likes at school: forced and over the top.

Burden

I did, however, like how he introduced each contestant. Mocking Sky’s punditry and line-up presentation was a nice touch that gave the show a uniquely sporty feel.

That burden fell mainly onto the shoulders of his fellow funnyman Romesh Ranganathan, a rare highlight, who did manage to amuse during the show’s more conversational segments.

I was especially surprised at Rob Beckett’s lack of contribution. I’ve been impressed with his work in the past, but I don’t recall him saying anything funny this time around.

Combine all this with a string of technical faults, which eventually set the recording 40 minutes behind schedule, and the overall impression was one of sloppiness and disorganisation.

For me, this displayed a lack of thought and attention to detail; two things Play To The Whistle is in desperate need of.

Blow the full-time whistle, ITV.

Will Major League Soccer ever be taken seriously?

The profile of Major League Soccer in America has certainly grown in recent years, but will it ever be able to compete with its European counterparts?

When it comes to other sports, the United States boasts some of the top leagues in the world. The National Basketball Association (NBA), National Football League (NFL), Major League Baseball (MLB) and National Hockey League (NHL) are unquestionably the world leaders in their respective sports.

But considering the size of its pool of players and the resources available, America’s domestic football league is still a poor relation.

The men’s and women’s national teams have both impressed on the world stage in recent years, and the Premier League continues to be extremely popular, but as for MLS? It is still some way behind its rivals in other countries.

European imports

One way in which MLS clubs have tried to strengthen themselves and ultimately the league as a whole is by importing some of the biggest stars of the European leagues as they come towards the end of their careers.

The prime example of this remains former England captain and ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder David Beckham, who,  in 2007,  joined LA Galaxy at the age of 31.

beckham_la_galaxy_cropped
©Wikimedia Commons: David Beckham

This coup opened the door for other clubs, and the likes of Freddie Ljungberg, Rafael Marquez, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill followed suit by ditching Europe for America, keen to try out a new footballing experience, live in some of the world’s most exciting cities – and pick up a decent pay cheque for doing so.

One of the MLS’ more recent high-profile signings Frank Lampard, however, who joined New York City from Chelsea in 2014, believes players such as himself have the responsibility of trying to improve football in America instead of just going there to pick up their wage packages.

Speaking to The Drum in March, Lampard said: “As a player now you come to America to play but also you have a responsibility to improve the brand of football, which means taking the MLS to bigger levels.

“I think as a player coming from Europe, myself, David [Villa] and Andrea [Pirlo], we have a responsibility then to get out in the community and do these things [promotional events] and make people want to come and support us.

“I think you’ll see more [foreign] players come here as the league improves.”

Designated Player Rule

As for Beckham’s move to the States in particular, it had repercussions.

Repercussions that may need to be looked at should the MLS one day hope to have its top team teams filled with stars to rival the likes of the Premier League, La Liga and the Bundesliga.

Beckham’s signing ushered in the Designated Player Rule, also known as the “Beckham Rule,” as part of the MLS salary cap regulation.

It means MLS clubs are only allowed to sign up to three players (the third resulting in a fee of $150,000 (£120,000) being paid and split between teams without three designated players) whose salaries will exceed the MLS salary cap of $436,250 (£350,000).

As a result, there is an obvious limit to how many big names a team can sign, considering they are the candidates for the designated player slots.

While such deliberate limitations do help keep a level of parity and competitiveness in the league, some modifications should at least be considered if the MLS truly wants to mix it with the big boys of Europe.

Retirement home

The signing of players such as Beckham definitely brought publicity to a competition which people may not otherwise have seriously considered paying attention to.

“The MLS will never be able to shed its unwanted tag until it can attract world-class players who are yet to reach their peak.”

However, whilst Beckham still had a few good years in him when he joined as a 31-year-old – Real Madrid tried to re-sign him before he joined the Galaxy, and he went on to have spells at Milan and Paris St Germain – many of the signings that have followed in his wake have given the MLS a reputation as a retirement home for ageing European stars.

That does not necessarily mean that those who have joined the MLS in recent years are not up to scratch.

©Nigel Wilson: Frank Lampard(L), Steven Gerrard(C) and David Beckham(R)

The likes of Henry, Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Didier Drogba, Ashley Cole and Robbie Keane, have all made an impact during their stints in the MLS.

Additionally, New York City’s Villa and Orlando City’s Kaka have also impressed and could probably have played at a higher level for at least one more season instead of joining the MLS in 2015.

But the MLS will never be able to shed its unwanted tag until it can attract world-class players who are yet to reach their peak.

‘A league that doesn’t count for much’

Regardless of the calibre of its foreign imports, the overall standard of quality across the league seems to be its biggest problem.

Earlier this year, former Juventus midfielder and Italy legend Pirlo, criticised the MLS for involving too much running.

The 2006 World Cup winner told Reuters: “It’s a very hard league to play in. It’s very physical, there’s a lot of running. So there is a lot of physical work and to me, in my mind, too little play.

“What I’m talking about is actually a system or culture. I don’t mean that the level of technical skills are low. I just mean there is a cultural void that needs to be filled.”

And Pirlo is not the only Italian to have questioned MLS football.

Despite his red-hot form since joining Toronto in 2015, Sebastian Giovinco missed out on Antonio Conte’s Italy squad for Euro 2016 because he plays in the MLS, and the former Juventus forward’s exile has continued under Giampiero Ventura.

©Wikimedia Commons: Sebastian Giovinco

“I have done everything to help him [Giovinco] but the reality is that he plays in a league that doesn’t count for much,” Ventura was quoted saying on ESPN FC.

“And the number of goals he scores is less important because with the quality he has got, he is bound to make a difference in that league.

“The problem is that if you play in that type of league, and you get used to playing in that type of league, it becomes a problem of mentality.”

Does Ventura have a case? It is debatable, although some MLS fans interested in the affairs of the Italy national team will be quick to remind Conte’s successor that he has not been afraid to call-up Graziano Pelle – who is currently playing his trade in China.

Will MLS ever be taken seriously? Perhaps one day but, until something changes, it seems destined to remain deep in the shadows of Europe’s elite leagues.

Featured Image: ©Matt Boulton

Review – Box to Box by Curtis Woodhouse

Many youngsters grow up dreaming of becoming professional footballers, but for every one that makes the grade, there are so many that fail to fulfil their potential and drift into obscurity. We’ve all heard that story before. 

Similarly, the tale of the ageing boxer who somehow manages to pull off one last shot at the big time is something of a cliche.

Combine both stories, however, and you have something a bit different – people don’t just go from being nearly men in football to really men in boxing. But somehow Curtis Woodhouse managed to do just that, and his autobiography ‘Box to Box’ tells his remarkable story.

The start and the end

When he stepped up from Sheffield United’s academy to the first team at the age of 17, the outlook was bright for Woodhouse as he moved from earning £42.50 a week as an apprentice to taking home more money than he had ever seen before.

Once he broke into England under-21s team alongside Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, his future looked even better. But something was missing. Desire.

“Ever been trapped in a loveless relationship?” he says in his book. “One day you’re head over heels and all set to take on the world together, a few years later it’s all gone to shit.

“You’ve fallen out of love and you don’t know how it happened. The dream has gone and it’s impossible to get it back. Love and hate are similar emotions. And I really hated football.”

Whilst to an outsider, a Premier League footballer may be living the life of a king, for Woodhouse, the reality was very different.

For sure, he enjoyed the parties and the drinking culture, but for the young child who grew up on Northfield Crescent in Beverley, outside Hull, with dreams of being the next John Barnes, the lustre had faded.

‘Living in my own little Beirut’

Despite a close relationship with family members, particularly his father, Woodhouse’s childhood was permeated with violence and anguish. Fighting and arguing were all around him.

“Between the ages of 10 and 14, I lived in a war zone,” he writes. “Northfield Crescent was my own little Beirut. I wouldn’t wish those years on my worst enemy. Please, Dad, don’t kill her. Please, Mum, don’t die.”

“He brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed”

The challenges Woodhouse experienced as a youngster left mental scars, and when his mother fled the family home with his siblings, fed up with rows and heartache, for years Woodhouse despised her.

As he got older, though, he realised the challenges she had faced – and also that his father, whilst being his hero, was by no means a saint.

The bitter youngster descended deeper into chaos, taking solace in drinking and fighting with anyone who got in his way. Although he says he was not by nature confrontational as a youngster, he changed his ways after a piece of advice from his father.

“Listen, do you want to be running for the rest of your life?,” said Woodhouse Snr. “It’s embarrassing, son. Get out there and fight. From now on, if anyone ever calls you nigger, smack em as hard as you can, straight in the face.”

Problem after problem

Throughout his footballing career, Woodhouse’s combative personality was a problem, and the book lists his series of run-ins at every club he played for.

Off the pitch, he brawled in nightclubs and was arrested numerous times. Repeatedly, he declared himself a new man and spoke of controlling his destructive urges, but no matter how far Woodhouse walked, trouble followed.

“Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, aged 33 and in his 28th fight, Woodhouse became the British light-welterweight champion”

Inevitably, his Premier League career came to an end when he was sacked by Birmingham after a 44-day bender. Not that he has much memory of his actual dismissal, however.

“I thought [manager] Steve Bruce was a wanker. I thought [club director] Karren Brady was a bitch,” he writes. “When I was smashing up Indian restaurants and playing for the first team, they pretended it didn’t happen.

“But now I was in a mess, they wanted me off the wage bill. I couldn’t tell you what was said or even the official reason I got sacked. I haven’t got a clue, because I wasn’t really there.”

Dreams can come true

With Woodhouse filled with rage, Barry Fry – manager of his next professional club, Peterborough United – suggested he take up boxing as an outlet for his anger.

This proved to be the turning point, as Woodhouse began his journey from the laughing stock who was pummelled by kids in sparring into a seriously talented and dedicated fighter, motivated by those early humiliations.

In September 2006, Woodhouse made his debut as a professional boxer. Just a few months later, in May 2007, his already ill father suffered a stroke, and shortly before he died, Woodhouse made a promise to his ‘superhero’.

“Dad, I promise that I’ll win the British title. I promise… I promise.”

And this he duly did. Five years after being booted out by Birmingham, on February 22 2014, aged 33 in his 28th fight, Woodhouse beat Darren Hamilton to become the British light-welterweight champion.

‘Box to Box’ is compelling, honest and very amusing, telling an amazing story of a remarkable sporting life.

It is a bruising ride through adversity and a lesson in shattered dreams, wasted opportunities, and the power of not giving up.

Despite the demons he faced, Woodhouse has conquered all.

“The demons are still inside but now I’m their master, rather than the other way round,” he writes. “I’ve succeeded in two sports and also overcome all the bad shit that happened when I was a kid.”

Box to Box is published by Simon & Schuster (Amazon £12.91).