2 May 2016

Phenomenally Below Par

Well, what a strange old season this has been. Here we are with two weekends to go and Leicester are currently standing one point shy of almost certainly claiming the most unlikely of league titles, and their nearest challengers are Spurs, yes, Spurs, who could have predicted that? With my best mate being a Spud I almost feel sorry for them as undoubtedly from a pure footballing perspective the perennially underachieving north London team have played the most attractive football, and Phil, being now comfortably the wrong side of 50 has never witnessed his team lift the top domestic honour. Still, there's always next season, eh? I can't see Spuds anywhere but challenging next time, while only the the daftest fox would assume anything more than a decent top half finish for Leicester next time out, what with their Champions League commitments, and the possibility of losing Mahrez and/or Vardy, and Kante.

Talking of perennial underachievers, my lot missed a big opportunity this time out, what with two of the usual top 4 suspects misfiring badly, and a third coasting along like a comatose Oasis album. This was the season that Roberto Martinez, who is A Nice Bloke, had to improve on the lacklustre 2014/15 campaign, when at least he had the justified excuse of a Europa League charabanc to explain our poor league showing. This time, with no such distractions we have gone backwards. It seems as a coach, Martinez is incapable of getting the best out of players. To do that you need a bit of steel, the ability to switch on the "hairdryer" when needed. Putting your arm around the shoulder of your young centre back and telling him to play his way out of trouble because he has the obvious talent is the limited and failed tactic of A Nice Bloke, I'm afraid.

John Stones, more than any other player reflects Martinez' backwards progression since taking the job. In his first season the team were still possessed of a solid spine built on years of no-nonsense Scottish Presbyterian work ethic, and that, combined with Martinez' natural flair made for a winning combination and our highest ever Premier League points tally. For some reason thereafter Martinez decided to coach out of the team any sort of defensive shape when without possession, or maybe it just happened because Roberto, who is A Nice Bloke, just doesn't know any better? Fine if you are Barca or Real, but we simply do not have the talent in depth to rely on continually scoring more goals than the opposition. It seems Martinez' defensive coaching team consisted of a couple of hairdressers and a Sunday pub team manager. I can't even tell you who they are, such is their anonymity, assuming they even exist.

Going back to Stones, here is a lad that immediately after all the transfer speculation linking him with Chelsea played a blinder in the home game against that very team, and we thought, yep, all is well. Unfortunately that was a peak from which he swiftly tumbled, as Martinez' baffling tactics drained every last bit of confidence out of him to such an extent you could almost see it in his face sometimes. Endless mistakes and goals given away, aided by Martinez relying on Howard for far too long - Martinez is A Nice Bloke, you see - meant we gave away leads like Tories giving away different bits of the NHS every week.

The other player who suffered more than most at this strange lack of direction from Martinez was Ross Barkley, who seemed to have been given the responsibility of launching every attack, a fact opposing teams quickly spotted by putting three players on him at every opportunity. Luckily our one top class player Romelu Lukaku still managed to get the ball often enough to bang in his now customary shedload of goals, without which we would be keeping the north easteners and Norwich company down the bottom of the league.

Many fans keep banging on about how this current squad is the best we've had since the 80s, but is it, really? We have one player who would get the centre forward spot in most PL teams, a couple of very promising kids who hopefully one day not so far away will be the best in their positions in league, whether or not with us, who knows? The rest are mostly competent PL players, no more. Jags is a great captain and CB but he won't go on forever, Baines is no spring chicken. Barry shows how much we rely on him when he's missing, and for me he is our player of the season. Doofyloofy blows hot and cold, there's no danger of Barca wanting him back. Robles is OK, no more, if we are to challenge for top 4 we need a better keeper. Funes Mori is unpredictable and has poor judgement. The guy can go from brilliant to calamity in the space of one move. In other words, a typical South American - Tim Vickery was right. So, best squad since the 80s? Is it any better than Moyes' best squads, given the standard of competition then and now? I don't think so. Wholesale changes need making.

No single game summed up our appalling total lack of defensive nous than the Man City League Cup semi final, a game that at one point we were 3-1 up on aggregate, enough to see most other teams through - imagine Moyes being 3-1 up and losing a game like that? Of course, a two goal lead was nowhere near enough for us that time, nor has it been on many other occassions this woeful season. Many fans have suggested employing a defensive coach, but this simply will not happen under Martinez, as to defend as a team without the ball dictates a complete change of tactical philosophy, something the increasingly stubborn Martinez is unlikely to ever contemplate.

The fan base was split at the end of last season between those who wanted Martinez out, and the rest of us who were willing to give him one more season. Those of us in the second camp have now lost our patience, with one exception on the Facebook group at least...you know who you are! With the influx of Moshiri's loot and the new TV deal, does our new money man trust a bumper transfer kitty to A Nice Bloke, or does he get a proper manager in? The answer might be obvious, but it all depends how much he listens to Bill Kenwright, that most loyal of chairmen. Even Bill must now realise that A Nice Bloke is not necessarily what you need running a football club with ambitions of European football.

Finally, a word of congrats for my home town club, whose story is every bit as emotional as Leicester's. From being two days away from being wound up to ending up League Two champions a few months on, it doesn't get much better than that. They cheered me up at times when Everton continually heaped disappointment upon let down, something the club have become expert at since 1878, so I suppose I should be used to it.

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