The Managerial Merry-Go-Round: Winter 2007 Edition

As chairmen up and down the country succumb to peer pressure and begin sacking their managers, the Managerial Merry-Go-Round (MMGR) steps up a gear. Far enough into the season for clubs to have had a "disappointing run of results", yet early enough for supremos to "act now, in the best interests of the football club", we are in prime hunting season. Unemployed managers with patchy CVs are placed on red alert as vacancies appear at struggling clubs, while desperate chairmen draw up shortlists to find "the right man" for the second time in six months. Meanwhile, bookmakers close their betting as speculation mounts over possible replacements.

The Angle... presents the third edition of the MMGR:

  • David O'Leary - Arguably now the new holder of George Graham's former position as chief resident of the MMGR, O'Leary is now sniffing around the Republic of Ireland job. With the requirements of an international manager even more of a mystery than a club boss, O'Leary stands a very good chance.
  • Stuart Pearce - Currently occupying the most cushty of managerial positions - England Under-21s, where it's all about the performance, not the result and where absolutely nobody cares if they win or not. May well eventually be selected as the right man at a struggling Premier League club who need an injection of fighting spirit, grit and determination.
  • Paul Jewell - Having taken a break for several months, Jewell is presumably now itching to get back into the game. Now being linked with a return to Wigan, which would contravene an unwritten rule of football - never go back.
  • Chris Coleman - Fairly likely to be quietly ushered out of the historically revolving door at Real Sociedad when he fails to gain promotion back to La Liga, Coleman will return to these shores with his managerial reputation inexplicably replenished. The pitiful number of British players and managers plying their trade on the Continent means that those who do are immediately assumed to be far more talented than they are, regardless of how utterly average they may have been in the first place.
  • Steve Cotterill - A classic example of a tough-talking young English manager who has turned out to be a complete no-mark. After not proving himself in the slightest at Stoke City and hilariously failing to keep Sunderland afloat in the Premiership alongside Howard Wilkinson in 2003, Cotterill recently left Burnley by mutual consent. Will hopefully be bringing his brand of overeager touchline finger-pointing to a lower division side in his next role.
  • Graeme Souness - Having rapidly lost his only managerial quality - pure terror - Souness may have to make do with becoming the new George Graham for football broadcasting purposes, only without the successful managerial career behind him. Will quite simply not succeed in any managerial position he happens to land. Also perhaps O'Leary's main challenger for MMGR longevity in the future.
  • Martin Jol - The amiable Dutchman will find it very difficult to shake off his reputation as quite a nice bloke who suffered the ruthless axe from his previous club, despite being popular with most football fans. Jol is quite clearly, therefore, the new Claudio Ranieri.
  • Gary Megson - The Angle... try our best to keep up to date. To help us achieve this, we occasionally take the plunge and bravely assume some things are probably going to happen anyway. This is not one of those occasions, however, as we are actually quite certain of Megson's future demise at Bolton. The MMGR may as well have a seat made with Megson's face depicted on the front, especially for him. Doomed.
  • Martin Allen - Another young English manager who appears to be allowed to prioritise humorous interview quips over actual managerial prowess (see also Holloway, Ian), Allen undid any supposedly promising work at Brentford and MK Dons by getting himself employed by Leicester City.
  • Peter Reid - Considered in the last edition to be disappearing from view, Reid seemingly wants to supplement the wages Leeds United are probably still paying him - although the only signs of his potential return are being linked to the Leicester job, reportedly part of an enticing shortlist alongside Graeme Souness and fellow MMGR veteran Joe Royle. Speaking of whom...
  • Joe Royle - Last seen dusting down his copy of The Idiot's Guide to a Relegation Battle in preparation for his interview with Milan Mandaric at the Walkers Stadium.
  • Chris Hutchings/Sammy Lee - Those pesky No. 2s just won't give up, will they? Before reverting to their natural role as conemen, these two will get one more bite at the managerial cherry - possibly at a Championship club that is allegedly geared towards Premier League football.
  • John Gregory - Ah, yes. Not quite ready to untuck those tracksuit bottoms from his socks just yet, Gregory will surely attempt to gain employment at yet another club he visited during his journeyman playing career. In which case, that list now leaves Northampton Town or Brighton to be ticked off/left to pick up the pieces. On the other hand, perhaps Gregory has realised that being a former fans' favourite means bugger all when you try and inflict your managership upon them.
The MMGR rolls on...



Qualified Failure

As the qualifying campaigns for Euro 2008 come to an end, the media like to keep us updated with the Home Nations' chances of reaching the tournament. Apart from the endless permutations of the final games, a select set of phrases are usually sufficient to leave the fans in no doubt. As always on The Angle..., they tend to fall into a convenient scientific model.

Fig 1.0 - Graph displaying the rather unsurprising correlation between qualification hopes and international managers' futures.

Miss Out
There are no easy games in international football, of course, so any slip-ups can result in a team missing out on a major tournament ("for the first time since....", etc). According to football media, there are only two places a footballer is allowed to be during the summer of a World Cup or European Championships year - either at the tournament, or on a beach somewhere.

All but out Needing your closest qualification rivals to lose 4-0 to San Marino while you must come from 1-0 down at half-time in Ukraine means your country is all but out. Technically correct, admittedly, but why beat about the bush? You're out.

Mathematical chance
Also often used for relegation-threatened sides, the mathematical chance heralds the final nail being fetched for the qualification coffin.

Need a miracle
Miracles can happen, of course - that's football - but needing three goals in the last 10 minutes is a bridge too far.

Hang by a thread
Wales' qualification hopes seem to constantly hang by a thread, even before the groups are drawn. Very similar to the mid-match scenario of being in last-chance saloon, hanging by a thread merely prolongs the agony.

In/Out of their hands
Whether a team's hopes are in or out of their hands is vital. If it is still in their hands, they "know what we have to do." If they depend on results elsewhere, they "have just got to go out there and do our job".

Need a favour
Much, much more likely than a miracle, a favour is required when qualification hopes are out of your hands. Pre-match, the team in question is likely to ignore any talk of doing another team a favour.

Hang in the balance
If a team's qualification hopes hang in the balance, all sorts of permutations can affect them. At this point, managers will look to important international double-headers to make or break their qualification campaign.

All but qualified
Teams that have all but qualified usually just need a draw in their final game, at home to the group's minnows, to rubberstamp their entry. There may be a mathematical possibility of them failing, but that's all it is.

Booked their ticket
Also known as sealing their passage, teams can book their ticket to the host nation(s) by securing qualification, especially with ease or by cruising through.

The Angle... suggest that Steve McClaren's qualification hopes currently hang by a thread, putting his Axe Probability figure at around 78%.



Suits You, Sir

If clothes maketh the man, what sayeth the pitchside attire about the manager? The Angle... believes that what a manager wears speaks volumes for the aspirations of the club whose fortunes they are seeking to turn around.

As always, The Angle... is on hand with a guide to pitchside attire:

The Tracksuit Manager

If you peer through the gloom and driving rain to the touchline, to see if there is any activity down on the bench to liven up the drab proceedings, and you see your manager wearing a sweatshirt with his initials emblazoned in the corner, I have some bad news. For, whatever the hopes and aspirations the manager set out at the beginning of the year, your team are just going to fall short.

Presumably, in a bid to be one of the boys and hold on to the past, the tracksuit wearer will try and make up for his lack of ability by becoming animated on the sideline. Sadly, the players they have bought and the tactics they employ won’t quite be good enough to make the next step.

Being a tracksuit manager is also rather thirsty work. More often than not, you will see them pacing over to the perimeter of their technical areas to clasp a Lucozade sports bottle, take an almighty swig, before placing it carefully back.

Models: David Moyes, Martin O'Neill, Martin Jol, Alan Pardew, Stuart Pearce, Iain Dowie.

The Cheap Suit

A manager in a bad suit can only mean one thing - a relegation dogfight. Favoured by natural tracksuit-wearers from the lower divisions who have been promoted to the top flight, the bad suit betrays two revealing emotions. The first is an absolute desperation to be taken seriously, in the belief that a TopMan suit, a big knotted tie and a determined look is all that is missing from his squad that was playing in the lower reaches of the Championship about 18 months previously. The second is that, despite the determined expression, he isn’t quite confident enough to go and buy an expensive number, as he will more than likely be on the dole come March. If he is lucky enough to stay up, he is also lucky that he is not David Pleat and will not be wearing the worst suit ever made as he goes scampering across the pitch to celebrate his Great Escape.

Models: Paul Sturrock, Paul Jewell, Aidy Boothroyd, Billy Davies

The Expensive Suit

The new breed of young British managers are from the Sky-sponsored, 20-grand-a-week, post-1992 era. This means that they have plenty of well-cut, expensive suits ready to wear in yet another vain bid to be taken seriously. Graeme Souness appeared in Boys from The Blackstuff in the trademark Scouse shiny grey suit, with sleeves rolled out. Two years in Genoa, however, and he came back with a knowledge of fine materials, tan shoes and a new, younger wife. Sadly he also signed Ali Dia - and therein lies the rub. They suffer from the belief that dressing like Capello makes you as good as him. It doesn’t.

Models: Gareth Southgate, David Platt, Chris Coleman, Roy Keane, Graeme Souness

Club Blazer, Club Tie

This is the uniform that all supporters should look for when demanding a new manager. These men have experience, quality and silverware to their name. We’re thinking Ferguson, Benitez, Wenger, Graham and erm, Walter Smith. Unfortunately, the rule that governs all football - thou must always do as others have done before thee - mean that this is becoming a disguise for managers whose natural habitat is either the bad suit or the tracksuit. However, The Angle... isn’t fooled, as we know who you are...

Models: Sam Allardyce, Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes, Lawrie McMenemy


The Footballer's Timeline

Players' ages are seemingly more significant than ever before. Be it a starlet or a stalwart, a player can be defined heavily by his age. As a result, there are more than a few cliches that can be identified and thet are brought together here in the Footballer's Timeline:

3 - started kicking a ball
13 - playing for Under-15s local side, possibly Wallsend Boys Club, despite being two years younger
14 - Rejected by professional club for being "too small"
17 years and 113 days - Becomes club's youngest ever player, when he makes debut, as substitute, in the Carling Cup.
17 years and 117 days - Becomes club's youngest ever League player, when he makes debut, as substitute.
17 years and 123 days - Becomes club's youngest ever goalscorer. Even if goal is tap-in, player will instantly become one to watch.
18 - signs 5-year contract. called up by Under-21s.
19 - England debut. Fears of burnout are raised in the media.
20 - Three points on driving licence.
20 - Age at which a youngster, having worked his way through the club's Academy, is farmed out on loan to a lower-league club. Although this move is officially sanctioned in order for the player to gain first-team experience, it is in fact a way of preparing the player for the lower-league football they'll face when they are released the following summer, after finding their first-team opportunities limited.
21 - People begin to tend to forget he is still only 21.
22 - A watershed. At this point onwards, a player is allowed to use the phrase "at this stage of my career, I need to be playing first-team football". This stage of his career will, in fact, last about 15 years.
23 - Too old for the Under-21s, and not good enough for the full national side, a player's England B career begins.
28 – the absolute final age possible to be signed from non-league and also the point at which all blokes in the country can officially admit to themselves and their mates that “they’re not going to make it”
28 – also the age when all outfield players are considered to be at their peak.
28 - also the age where chronic injury forces the player to retire from the game at the age of 28. The player did not take this decision lightly, and will miss the matchday buzz, but wants to be able to play football in the garden with his children while he still can
31 - Age at which international retirement is announced, in order to concentrate/focus on club commitments. Such a decision will be credited with adding two or three years on to the player's career
32 – goalkeepers are said to reach their peak
32 – Player is approached to come out of international retirement
33 - Veteran status achieved. Players still at the top level will be labelled "evergreen"
34 – Player reveals that he is taking his coaching badges
35 - Former international player now legally eligible for move to Qatar.
37 - Outfield player's career nears its end, and the player smugly reveals how he is taking each game as it comes and just enjoying it. Others will observe with awe how the player has "looked after himself".
40 – goalkeepers travel the country as emergency cover for teams with a goalie injury crisis. Any move will, of course, be subject to special dispensation.



A Journey Into The Unknown

Mid-August always sees several of Britain's top clubs have their embryonic league campaigns inconvenienced by the pesky qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League. The third and fourth placed Premier League sides from the previous season, plus whichever two lucky clubs manage to scrap successfully for the top two places in Scotland, are required to navigate this obstacle before they can properly take their places at the top table of European football.

Inevitably, the opponents for this tie (which the big guns probably view as a right pain in the arse, whatever they say about not underestimating the other side) will be from Eastern Europe. Throughout football history, teams from the former Eastern Bloc have been viewed with the traditional suspicion and often awe. The 1980s saw the powerful emergence of crack East European outfits, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and the influx of foreign players to the Premiership, began to significantly (although not entirely) demystify the football culture of the region.

Nowadays, there is a very high probability of drawing a (possibly little-known) East European side in the qualifying rounds of the European competitions. In the Champions League third qualifying round, roughly one-third of the teams are from Eastern Europe. In the UEFA Cup second qualifying round, this representation increases to almost fifty percent.

But enough of the history lesson - books such as those by Jonathan Wilson or Simon Kuper will provide a much more comprehensive account than The Angle... would dare to attempt. Instead, this article's aim is to examine the way that our football teams and media approach such European ties. As always, there is a strict and unbreakable code...

Fig 1.0
The Scale of Difficulty of East European Away Legs (SDEEAL), brought to you exclusively in association with

All of the above adjectives are employed to describe European away matches in Eastern Europe. Awkward (or awkward-looking) matches tend to be against teams from countries without a significant footballing pedigree, and who don't necessarily pose a real footballing threat. However, the perceived awkwardness is understood to stem from the distance that must be travelled to play the game, the state of the opponent's pitch (even if the match is moved to their country's national stadium after "UEFA safety concerns") and the fact that the game will probably be covered on an obscure television channel here in the UK.

What distinguishes potentially tricky ties from simply tricky ties, you ask? Well, ignorance. A potentially tricky trip could be to a relative unknown, or a European debutant - they might provide a stern test, but could just as easily be put to the sword by a straightforward professional performance. Quite simply, the "potentially" part serves as a get-out clause for the media correspondents. Genuinely tricky trips tend to be to better-known opponents, perhaps once-great clubs that have fallen upon rather more modest times. As Coxie pointed out in the previous article, any semblance of a European record back in the day is enough to strike even the slightest bit of fear in a media pundit ahead of a tricky European tie.

Tough ties, at least in the qualifying stages, tend to be the sole domain of the Glasgow clubs. While their English counterparts look far stronger on paper than their opponents (before the SDEEAL model is applied), the Old Firm risk being paired with rather more formidable propositions before they can reach the group stages. Rangers' clash with Crvena Zvezda (yes, we all know who they really are...) was therefore labelled "tough" accordingly.

All clubs will rather avoid having to make a daunting trip at this stage. Such matches take place inside vast concrete bowls that pass as "Olympic" Stadiums, packed to the rafters with a partisan crowd, who generate a hostile atmosphere. Sadly, the modern era of satellite telecommunication denies us the grainy images and muffled commentary that further enhanced the alien unfamiliarity of away matches in Eastern Europe in the 1970s and 80s. Dynamo Kiev used to be the paradigm of daunting trips, but the description now tends to be more sensibly restricted to genuinely daunting footballing opposition such as Barcelona.

However, nothing compares to the away match that nobody wants - Turkey. Although the menace of such journeys peaked with Galatasaray in the 1990s, visiting sides are still given a typically warm Welcome to Hell. Fearsome banners and relentless chanting, all drenched in a generous helping of goat's blood, are separated from the wide-eyed visitors only by a line of Turkish military. All of which is guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of any Premiership tourist, apart from Graeme Souness.

There are signs, however, that the mystique of East European away trips is fading. Teams are hardly flying with Aeroflot and staying in log cabins in Siberia before such matches. Despite the taming of the perceived terror of these away legs, a few cliches remain intact. Teams are still said to to face a journey into the unknown, against teams they no almost nothing about. In fact, managers are surprisingly happy to admit their relative lack of knowledge of their opponents, and that they have relied on DVDs and sending their unfortunate right-hand men to see them in action. The Angle... has no idea why they bother - we can guarantee that the scouting report will inevitably draw attention to the East Europeans being well-drilled, with the ability to run all day.

So, when you're tuning into ITV4 or Channel Five to see your team take on Lokomotiv Chernobyl away, bear our latest offering in mind.



The Bluffers Guide to Punditry

Yesterday, we brought you a guide to the pundits who will be bringing you the sort of insight only years of playing at the top level supposedly gives you. Of course, being an ex-footballer, a hard week's work would consist of about eight hours of playing a sport you love and getting paid fortunes to do it. As a pundit you will be paid less than you were as a player, so to do more work seems the mark of insanity. Scaling down the pay/work ratio means that our newly appointed pundits will only work in the time they are on the screen. But will this lack of preparation be shown up live in front of the nation? Not if our army of readers includes, as it surely does, luminaries from the professional game.

You pundits should worry no more as, on the eve of the season, The Angle... brings you The Bluffers Guide to Punditry...

The Angle... appreciates that it’s a difficult time to come into punditry. When the Premier League was in its infancy and Richard Keys still wore a Sky Sports corporate blazer, the last truly successful foreign players were widely regarded as the Dutch pair Muhren and Thijssen who played for Ipswich back in the 70s. However, the influx of foreign players meant that no longer would the names be restricted to Smith, Adams and Jones. New, exotic and difficult to pronounce ("rather you than me, John, he he he") names would become widespread.

Things have become even worse with the expansion of European football and the seemingly endless proliferation of Eastern European states. Now, with the UEFA Cup extended to incorporate nearly 5,000 teams, it becomes even more difficult to keep the fact you know little more than Joe Public. First of all, don’t panic - Crvena Zvezda is actually Red Star Belgrade and you certainly have heard of them!

Rule 1: All information is good information. If you do know something about someone featuring in the game, don’t be afraid to blurt it out, even if my nan knows that same bit of information. Which football fan committed enough to watch Copa America games in the middle of the night would not know Julio Baptista spent last season on loan at Arsenal? None, yet this factoid was trotted out continuously in every one of Brazil’s games.

Rule 2: If an obscure team has a player who has been linked, no matter how tenuously, with a move to England, single him out as the danger man. Even if it is the goalkeeper.

Rule 3: If the game is an international, one of the players will surely be familiar to you. Again, pick him out as the main source of danger. This is especially helpful if Brazil have picked a side of largely home-based players but have included a Real Madrid player, isn’t it Trevor Francis? Don’t think we didn’t notice you pick out Robinho out as the man to watch in the Copa America final!

Rule 4: Predictions for the game are largely unaccountable, but to show you know what you’re talking about, make them as non-specific and uncontestable as possible. A good phrase is “I think we can expect a tight opening twenty minutes, before the game opens up in the second half as the players tire” (ie basically the model of nearly every football match ever played).

Finally, Rule 5: If an English team is playing a team you’ve never heard of, the match will automatically set to a minimum difficulty of “tricky”. Never mind that you are unable to name a single player, their manager, or any of their results in the last six months, this simple formula will suffice. We saw this in action last season as Tottenham’s game against Eintracht Frankfurt was labelled “tough” purely on the basis that the German side had played Real Madrid in the final of the European Cup 47 years ago.

Follow these simple rules and the rest of the season will be a doddle. Good luck, pundits!



Silly (Pre-)Season.

The idea that football supporters are left in a desperate limbo between the final day of the season and the day that the fixture list is published is a rather outdated one. Thanks mainly to outlets such as the ravenous gossip-mongers at Sky Sports News and the bored wind-up merchants at Football365, we are kept afloat by a constant stream of transfer talk.

We are informed of managers being given war chests by their new foreign billionaire supremos, which they are free to squander on whichever player catches the eye at that summer's international tournament. Vast sums change hands across the Continent in high-profile deals, all of which are vying for the honour of being the Transfer Saga of the Summer (protracted or otherwise). Managers of perennial underachievers are expected to perform a clear-out each summer, in order to strengthen their underachieving squad to the point where they are tipped to challenge in the forthcoming season. This freshly-heightened expectation thus allows the squad to underachieve once more. The knee-jerk nature of many signings made during the close season is clear, but it is a situation not helped by the fans. Even the most cynical supporter gets a buzz of excitement when his beloved club unveils their latest recruit. Those who are yet to see their club dip into the transfer market as July approaches can be heard to pray for their club to sign "someone".

The sheer number of transfers that occur during these hectic twelve weeks or so mean that some simply go unnoticed. Whilst all eyes are trained on the Carlos Tevez saga (A saga that promises to be the absolute godfather of all Protracted Transfer Sagas), Trevor Sinclair will quietly put pen to paper at Cardiff, Leeds United stalwart Gary Kelly will jump the sinking ship to hang up his boots, and England international Michael Ricketts will continue his inexorable downward career spiral by joining Oldham Athletic.

Eventually, come mid-July, new-look squads up and down the country hit the pre-season trail. New signings, looking distinctly unfamiliar in their new club's shiny new third kit, stroll through their debuts against Conference (sorry, Blue Square Premier) opposition. Those at higher-profile clubs see their first appearance come against a local Chinese side, as part of their ambitious employer's attempt to tap into the lucrative Far East market. Of course, this isn't their proper debut, but it's an easy ride nonetheless. A new signing (particularly a more expensive one, strangely) cannot really do too much wrong on his pre-season "debut". Unless he gets sent-off or scores a hat-trick of own goals, the player will be said to have shown "some good touches". Sky Sports News will inevitably acquire footage of these good touches.

Year upon year of the transfer free-for-all means that, in the eyes of some supporters (if not the managers and chairmen), some transfers are doomed to total failure. One such signing is that of Rolando Bianchi by Manchester City. For a fee of almost NINE MILLION POUNDS. The Angle... suggests that a good rule of thumb in the labyrinth of the summer transfer market is to avoid signing a player nobody has ever heard of for £9m. Sven, it'll all end in tears -cue Ceefax:

No. 3: January 2008 - Rolando Bianchi is put out of his Premiership misery.

Starved of club football for a quarter of a year, supporters attempt to extract as much significance as they can from their club's pre-season friendly results, despite assurances from the manager that "at this stage, it's more about the performance than the result." Confused fans wonder if the "XI" side they see listed on the Ceefax fixtures page is work keeping tabs on, while scouring the forum on their club's website for the link to a legally-dubious internet feed of the first team squad's latest match of their Far East tour. Despite their similar curiosity, supporters of the Premiership's more mediocre teams are too wise to get carried way by their team's 12-0 win over some Swedish postmen, plumbers and milkmen, as they begin their Scandinavian tour.
Of course, no pre-season is complete without a red card controversy, where clubs and fans alike are curiously outraged that one of their players gets suspended from the start of the league season after being given his marching orders in the final warm-up match.
While television manages to occupy the airwaves with tedious pre-season rumours, newspapers are faced with a similar task. An effective way of filling the void is a good old club-by-club feature. Club-by-club features crop up at least twice during the close season. The first instance occurs at the height of the summer transfer chaos, where each club's ins, outs and shakeitallabouts are listed in minute detail. It is at this point, if a club's arrivals are summarised by the word "none", that fans are seen to become frustrated at their club's lack of transfer activity. The traditional response from the chairman or manager is to assure the fans that they are "working hard behind the scenes". Over-eager club representatives may even let slip to the masses that the club are "looking to bring in four or five" transfer targets.
As the new season approaches, the second type of club-by-club feature will appear. Providing a forensic rundown of each club's hopes for the next nine months, these features even go as far as to predict the entire final Premiership table for May. The relegation candidates are rarely a surprise, but the speculative forecasts for the top of the table usually just involve the feature writer tipping Liverpool to finally put together a title challenge. Elsewhere in the table, you sense that the predicted midtable positions of Blackburn, Everton and Middesbrough et al are simply cobbled together.
Here we go again.


The Crystal Ceefax Ball

Steve Sidwell's move to Chelsea on a Bosman was seen by many as a money-grabbing move by a player who will spend most of next season warming the bench. They may well be right...

No. 2: May 2008 - Steve Sidwell ends his Chelsea nightmare by moving to footballer scrapyard Middlesbrough, who are inevitably under new stewardship.



Tomorrow's Inevitable News....Today!

If only the footballing world had a fast-forward button. The appointment of Bryan Robson as the new Sheffield United manager brought a collective sigh of despair from the Blades faithful, and led the The Angle... to once again question the sanity of football club chairmen.

To save everyone the bother of waiting for the next few months, The Angle... brings you the first in a series of Ceefax stories from the future. Bask in the inevitability of it all!

No.1 - January 2008 - Bryan Robson's spell at Sheffield United reaches its natural end:



The FA Cup Final

No occasion in football is better positioned to cling on to clichés of decades past, as well as developing the clichés of the future, than than the FA Cup Final.

Saturday, 3pm, is the kick-off for the game, but the tried and tested formula of FA Cup Final coverage has begun way, way before then.

The Angle... may not be able to predict the first goalscorer, correct score or even the result. However, there are a whole raft of incidents that are absolutely guaranteed to occur on the big day itself. Fortunately, The Angle... is far better placed to comment on this, as we bring you:

The Ultimate Guide To The Magic of The Cup, Cup Final Stuff That's Definitely Gonna Happen Because It Always Does, and Stuff That Will Happen Because It's The New Wembley.

The Stadium

A good proportion of the coverage will be devoted to the fact that this is the "New Wembley", and that we are to witness the first final there since it was redeveloped - which seems like 400 years ago.

Prepare to see footage of a lone policeman on the white horse controlling the crowd at the first Wembley final in 1923 between West Ham and Bolton. There will be a talking head interview with a very old man who was at that first final as a boy, describing pretty much what we all know - that a policeman on a white horse controlled the crowd and the game went ahead. Of course, there will be no proof that this man was at the game - it could quite easily be the cameraman's grandfather. Alternatively, perhaps the interviewee has to pass a standard BBC Authentication Test:

  1. Are you over 90 years old?
  2. Have you ever worn a flat cap to a football match?
  3. Do you know what a horse looks like?

The fawning over the stadium (I anticipate the word "magnificent" will be used approxinmately 750 times over the course of the day). If you cast your mind back to the beginning of the season, a time, incredible as it may seem, when there was no such thing as The Angle of Post and Bar, Arsenal's Emirates Stadium opened. Few will forget the over-the-top praise this shiny new stadium received. Into September, and they were still at it - Jamie Redknapp arriving especially early so he could do his Goals on Sunday link, live from the stadium, a good five hours before kick off.

If you cringed at that, then I suggest you prepare for that level of praise multiplied by one thousand, bearing the following in mind:

1. The stadium is 50% bigger than The Emirates

2. It's the National Stadium so any pundit's reservations about Arsenal can be truly put to one side.

3. It's Cup Final Day.

I am also predicting the most patronising "thankyou" imaginable towards Cardiff's Millennium Stadium. I am especially thinking of Richard Keys asking one of his special brand of platitude-filled-cringe-inducing questions, along the lines of "No disrespect to Cardiff, who put a magnificent show on by the way - we're thankful for you putting us up for seven long years - but aren't we all glad it's back here, Jamie?"

The first pre-match question to every single person interviewed will be "What do you think of the stadium?". Every reply will be:


The Build-Up

Strangely, this year the BBC and Sky have swapped roles, with the BBC's coverage starting 3 hours and 10 minutes before kick off. Sky, unusually, have decided to start the build up from 2pm - despite what they say, Blackpool v Oldham Athletic in the League One Play-off semi-final does not constitute a Cup Final build-up!

Neither will the BBC have the luxury of adverts to help them out, so they will be really stringing out the features in their pre-game fare, which may include conveniently bumping into two television personalites who happen to support either side (We at the The Angle... bet a fiver that James Nesbitt will get his mug on the box at some point.), and asking them if they've ever "played a bit".

Lineker and Hansen will have little digs at each other about what happened in the 1986 final and Shearer will self-indulgently reveal (almost word for word) "By rights I should hate this competition, having lost two finals, but there's something special about it and I still love it."

Following this will be a recollection of when the two teams met each other in the 1994 final, in which Gavin Peacock and Gary Pallister will be on hand to talk us through what happened.

There will be an interview with a foreign player from each side where they will be duty-bound to say that they "grew up watching this game" and that they "always dreamed of playing at Wembley in the FA Cup Final", as if the failure to say this means that stupid Johnny Foreigner fails to understand the concept of a Cup Final and won't try as hard, and defeat will be their own, silly-foreigner-don't-you-understand-the-magic-of-the-cup, fault.

No FA Cup Final build-up will be complete without following the teams from their hotels to the ground. I doubt whether Wimbledon's journey will ever be beaten - with the BBC actually on the coach playing the tape of when Dennis Wise was 11, appearing on Record Breakers, telling Roy Castle he wanted to win the FA Cup.

I must warn you that, on Sky, when Manchester United arrive, Richard Keys will look up, possibly interrupting one of Jamie Redknapp's monologues about Frank Lampard doing it "week in, week out" and say "Sorry, Jamie - The Champions are here..." Please try not to smash your television into smithereens.

The newspapers have had an easy time of it from The Angle... since its inception in January (don’t worry, we have the whole summer to cover that particular shower). However, come cup final week, and with hardly anything else to write about, they focus entirely on the two teams – even if this does include a fourteen-page special on the registration of Mourinho’s dog.

As a final throw of the dice, the sports sections will try to predict the outcome of the game by assuming the probable line-ups of the teams, marking each player out of ten and then adding the scores up to see which team is stronger (and therefore will obviously win). Not a method favoured by bookmakers, but there you are. There are a number of flaws with this approach. The media want to build this up as a close game, rather than the walkover it has been it recent years, and so contrive to make the scores as close as possible, without arousing the suspicion of the readership that this is what they are doing.

You can easily spot where this has been applied, as the odd player will be given a half-mark up or down to keep it tight overall. For example, Cech will be given 9/10 and Van Der Sar will receive 8.5/10. All innocent to the lay person, but to the trained eye that extra half-mark for Van Der Sar is clear evidence of a newspaper man artificially massaging the scores to ensure a close finish. It's massively infuriating, and surely defeats the whole point of the feature in the first place.

The Game

For those of us with digital TV, the dilemma arises of which channel to watch it on. Is it the Super Sunday pairing of Martin Tyler and Andy Gray or the more traditional duo of John Motson and professional irritant Mark Lawrenson?

I will personally go for the Tyler/Gray match day commentary team, but with half time analysis from the BBC.

Andy Gray’s co-commentary in the cup final is preferable to Lawrenson’s cynical and embarrassingly poor quips. As someone puts it over from 8 yards, the Gray reflexes kick in as he says “What a chance, Martin. You won’t get a better chance than that to be a hero in the Cup Final, son”. This, of course, in addition to his usual glee when a striker “gambles”.

At half time, a 15-minute treatise on how brilliant Michael Carrick is, and how Drogba is the complete player because he’s able to head a corner away at the near post. Half-time analysis on the BBC can be reduced to a simple theory:

Exciting 1st half: They will talk about goals and chances

Tight, Intriguing (e.g. Boring) 1st Half: They will talk about "half-chances" and "openings". Lineker, for example will half-heartedly attempt to stoke the analytical fire with "So....Drogba had a chance right at the end of that first half, didn't he? Well, more of a half-chance, really."

Back to the game and the neutral will be hoping for a one-goal deficit as the final minutes approach, just so we can see a goalkeeper in his opponent’s penalty area. This wreaks havoc at the best of times, so who knows what panic will be induced if this occurs on Saturday?

Once the trophy has been won, the losers will walk up the 107 steps (used to be 39, of course, but someone will fill you in on this on Saturday) walk past the trophy and down again whilst the players are interviewed on the pitch with Geoff Shreeves, hoping that Wayne Rooney doesn’t swear. On average, Geoff Shreeves manages to fit in about 3 questions before he moves on to his next victim. Working valiantly within such limitations, Shreeves covers all bases with his incisive interrogations:

Question 1: How does it feel to have the FA Cup?

Question 2: Can you describe how it feels to have that medal around your neck?

Question 3: Can you put into words how it feels to have won today?

In the near future, footballers will realise they can apply their standard three superlatives ("unbelievable", "amazing" and "fantastic") to each of these questions, helping Shreeves fool the (actually rather uninterested) nation that he has actually asked three different questions.

The winning captain finally lifts the trophy, hopefully wearing a hat given to him by a fan and the swearathon can begin. My favourite example being in 1988, with Dennis Wise swearing his head off in front of a slightly embarrassed Princess Diana.

Eventually, after the third-choice goalkeeper has spent a disproportionate amount of time parading the trophy by himself, comes the most crushing inevitability of them all - who will be the first to put the lid on their head?

After this, the Wembley PA guy will interfere, playing Rockin’ All Over the World by Status Quo at 4000 decibels, as if celebrating winning the FA Cup needs a helping hand.

Hopefully we will be spared the lap of honour with the kids.



The Managerial Merry-Go-Round: Summer 2007 Edition

Back in January of this year, The Angle... detailed the concept of the Managerial Merry-Go-Round (the MMGR). A constantly rotating showcase of the game's most talented and enduring bosses, the MMGR serves the game (and, indeed, the media) with a reliable gauge of the available and unemployed, who proclaim themselves as "itching to get back into the game".

As the chairmen of the clubs in the lower reaches of the Premiership begin to wield their axes, a flurry of sackings, resignations and departures by mutual consent has ensued. The Angle... presents an updated MMGR:

  • David O'Leary: Remains a significant figure on the MMGR, after a near-apocalyptic end to his Leeds reign and an underwhelming spell at the talent black hole that is Villa Park. Concerns are growing, however, that Premiership chairmen may regard him as damaged goods.
  • George Graham: His future is now unclear. Setanta's capture of pay-per-view rights from next season means Graham's stint alongside Marcus Buckland on Premiership Plus is over. With the trend of Directors of Football now thankfully a distant memory, Graham faces a conundrum. Will we see the Godfather of the MMGR make a dramatic return, to show the new boys how it's done?
  • Glenn Roeder: The Angle's rather smug complacency regarding the modern game led us to include Roeder on the MMGR in January, even though he was then still Newcastle manager. Of course, he resigned at the beginning of this month and takes his place back on the MMGR. Arguably now the most prominent "active" manager on the MMGR, Roeder is preparing to look all serious, determined and rodent-like at another mediocre Premiership outfit in the near future.
  • Micky Adams: His desire to "get back into the game as soon as possible", after his sacking from Coventry in January, has proved fruitless. Earmarked as a possible long-term (and distinctly low-profile) rider of the MMGR, before he realises that he has to drop down the divisions to resurrect his career.
  • Claudio Ranieri: The most linked foreign manager on the MMGR - speculation around a possible future in England for the Italian is likely to be stirred again this summer. Until then, he will continue to lend a Continental flavour to the MMGR. Given the trigger-happy nature of Serie A club supremos, the fact that Ranieri is currently in employment (at Parma) actually means very little here.
  • Walter Smith: Seems settled at Rangers, but will inevitably be linked with the Scotland job before long. Yet again.
  • Stuart Pearce: Sacked by Manchester City yesterday, Pearce will now be forced to take his not-so-unique brand of technical area pantomime somewhere else. Despite being utterly found out at City, Pearce's stock remains unfathomably high, and he should only require the briefest of rides upon the MMGR before being unveiled by his next unfortunate employers.
  • Paul Jewell: Picked up his River Island leather jacket and left the JJB Stadium yesterday. May possibly only give the MMGR the merest glance on his way to be all small-time at his new club. But, still, save a space for him, would you?
  • Sam Allardyce: While his move to Newcastle seems done and dusted, no manager can be too comfortable with Freddy Shepherd's poisoned chalice. May require the service of the MMGR in the future.
  • Mark Wright: Simultaneously flying the flag for the lower leagues on the MMGR, whilst further proving the rule that former England internationals are well equipped to become spectacularly unsuccessful journeymanagers.
  • Chris Coleman: Will inevitably be involved in the summer speculation shake-up. Until then, Coleman will be busy practicing his trademark post-game march towards whichever referee he feels has cost his side three points.
  • Sven-Goran Eriksson: While Claudio Ranieri provides the exotic option for any vacancies at clubs in the midriff of the Premiership, Eriksson will be reported to be carrying his considerable media baggage to any number of top-half sides over the next year or so. To the backdrop of a collective and nationwide sigh of boredom.
Since January, several old-timers have begun to question the excitement of spending nigh-on a decade on the MMGR, and have clambered off in search of the candy-floss of a media career, the coconut shy of assistant management or the Big Dipper that is retirement:

Peter Reid - Now committing full-time to the only role in which an incoherent neanderthal can take the game less than seriously, and get paid for it - Gillette Soccer Saturday.

Les Reed -
Has effectively run and hid behind Lawrie Sanchez at Fulham, after a pathetically brief tenure as Charlton manager - which bestowed upon Reed the unenviable title of 2006/07 Comedy Caretaker.

Joe Royle -
Has found his niche alongside new wife John Helm on Five's football coverage.

Kenny Dalglish/Kevin Keegan/Jean Tigana/Dr Jozef Venglos -
all missing in (in)action.

A visit to the League Manager's Association website reveals a sort of transfer list for managers. This mammoth list of names who, once upon a time, managed a club for at least 24 hours and are now classed as "available managers", cannot be regarded as an equivalent of the MMGR. However, it does warrant some scrutiny. The following is a cross-section of the sort of aimlessly wandering ex-footballers and managers who are still purported to be jobhunting by their faithful union:

John Aldridge - No matter what he does in the future, Aldridge will still be known not for his admirable career goal haul, but for his 1994 World Cup sideline fit at a bemused official.

Alan Ball - Perhaps time for the LMA website to be given a spring clean...

Dave Bassett - Was always going to struggle to regain employment after the UEFA Pro Licence exam began to require a manager to be able to construct a complete sentence when on camera.

Tony Cottee -
For some reason or another, the only job Cottee looks suited for is as the manager of West Ham United Ladies.

Keith Curle - Will perhaps continue to rub chairmen up the wrong way at humble lower-league clubs, in a way only fellow ex-England international and hopeless manager Mark Wright could hope to emulate.

Glenn Hoddle - Should now accept that a media career, where he is still held up as some sort of "expert", is the most sensible option.

John Gorman - After a successful operation to remove himself from Hoddle's right-hand side, Gorman attempted to go it alone. May reappear in League One at some point, but no-one's bothered. May possibly be sat at home fuming at becoming increasingly referred to as "Glenn Hoddle's right-hand man, Dave Gorman".

Joe Kinnear - Your correspondent actually had to check whether or not Kinnear was still alive. Has seemingly retired from being linked strongly to any vacancy that arises at unfashionable clubs where the budget is, of course, a shoestring one.

Long live the Managerial Merry-Go-Round. Roll up, roll up...



"He'll miss one."

Penalty shoot-outs, we are told, are a cruel way of deciding a contest. In the lottery of a penalty shoot-out, the goalkeeper has nothing to lose in his quest to become a hero - unlike the unfortunate fools who fail to score from 12 yards, often because their shot is at a good height for the goalkeeper. The drama of penalties is based on its unpredictability, the fact that it can go either way. Well, The Angle... can conclusively address this unpredictability, and argues that it's actually rather predictable after all...

Defensive midfielders
Very high-risk penalty takers - defensive midfielders invariably cause supporter's heads to sink into their hands as they step up for a penalty. This doubt is so strong, and so widespread, that the defensive midfielder himself probably knows it too. And it certainly hits home on the long, lonely walk back to the centre-circle.

Rivals the defensive midfielder as someone you really don't want taking a penalty for your side in a shoot-out. Right-backs tend to be solid and dependable in open play, but lack the finesse and cultured delivery of their left-sided counterparts, which is why a left-back taking a penalty is far more acceptable.

Old-Fashioned English Centre-Halves
Unlikely to score for two reasons. Firstly, the old-fashioned English centre-half may attempt the no-nonsense smash down the middle. This often results in the penalty being blazed over the bar, or crashing against it. Alternatively, they may try a more conventional penalty. This weak effort is comfortably saved by the goalkeeper, who will know that such a routine save will still be hailed as heroics.

Short Run-Ups
A cardinal sin. Unless the penalty taker really, really knows what he's doing, a short run-up is almost guaranteed to fail. The sight of any player putting the ball down confidently, only to take a couple of steps back from it, is beyond nerve-jangling. In an era where minimal backlift is rife, many players feel they are capable of propelling the ball into the net with only a short run-up. Many, many fail.

Overlong Run-Ups
Yes, run-ups can also be too lengthy. The reason for this is less clear-cut than the short run-up, but one explanation is that the player concerned attempts to overcompensate for his nerves by trying to appear confident. By striding purposefully from the ball, they find themselves beyond the 18-yard line. This is too far.

Turning Quickly
The act of spinning 180 degrees, after placing the ball down and walking back, in order to try and catch the goalkeeper by surprise. The method of choice for rotund 80's striker Micky Quinn, who was fat, round and scored at every ground. Otherwise, any other player attempting this has clearly let the nerves get to him, and will probably miss.

Penalty shoot-outs are one set of circumstances in which hindsight is an acceptable source of wisdom for supporters. Claiming that "I knew he was going to miss" is very rarely challenged by your peers. Similarly, announcing that a player will miss before he has even reached the penalty area, possibly in some desperate attempt to cast some sort of reverse jinx, is just about tolerated.

So, have this guide handy when your team are next involved in a penalty shoot-out. It will still rip your heart out when they lose, but at least you can say you saw it coming.

(who may just have got it out of his system now...)