Tag Archives: Harry Redknapp

Giroud and Poldi (and Cazorla), together again…

Do you remember the beautiful partnership that once flourished between Olivier Giroud and Lukas Podolski, the one that delivered some stunning goals? At times, it was Giroud chipping or flicking to that Hammer of Mjölnir; at others, it Podolski fizzing in a cross for Giroud to tap in or head home. Whatever the case, that partnership has faded as Poldi has fallen out of favor. Whether it was too many kebabs or too many selfies, we haven’t seen much of Poldi on the pitch, and rumours are swirling around a potential move away from the Emirates in January. More on that another day. For now, he’s a Gunner (and rarely has a player’s penultimate skill matched his club’s name so well), and we need him, if only to rest Alexis  against QPR.

Without unduly slighting QPR, we really should be able to rest a few players as we look ahead to other, more-challenging fixtures. Away from Loftus Road, after all, ‘Arry’s boys have only mustered three goals in while conceding 20 in eight losses for a league-worst -17 goal differential. That 5-4-1 that they’re playing may not generate many goals, but it’s hardly doing much to prevent them either. Even taking into account their much-stronger home-form, QPR have conceded more goals (32) than any other side, conceding on average almost two goals per game.

On paper, then, this seems like just the kind of match a player like Alexis might thrive in. However, when we remind ourselves that he’s played more minutes than anyone besides Mertesacker (and done a bit more running along the way), Arsène would do well to sit the Chilean and play Podolski. The benefits are two-fold: one, of course, rest our most in-form player rather than see him redline; two, rebuild Poldi’s confidence if not his reputation ahead of the transfer-window or the final run-in. If we are to sell him on, we might as well give him a chance to shake off cobwebs and remind potential buyers what he’s good for. If we can buy some rest-time for Alexis, well, so much the better.

Giving Poldi the start could resurrect that beautiful friendship from 2012-13 that saw our trio of 2012 summer signings link up so often and to such devastating effect. By my count, Cazorla, Podolski, and Giroud found each other no less than 16 times in that season, including three or four goals that involved all three. It’s a triumvirate that brings together three very different skill-sets, delivering some very symphonic moments. However, for various reasons, Poldi’s star has faded despite his being one of the most prolific finishers we’ve ever seen. Literally. Towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign, Podolski had achieved a minutes per goal involvement behind only two other players in Prem history: Thierry Henry and Sergio Aguero. This does reflect to an extent Podolski’s role as a super-sub, coming on late in matches when opposing defenses were already weary and ragged, but it does also reflect his clinical finishing. Among our current squad, his conversion-rate hovers in the 20% range, far-better than anyone else in the squad.

More recently, however, Podolski has been more of a sideshow than anything else, with his most-memorable contribution to the recent campaign coming from his inability to find his shin-guard when trying to sub in against Dortmund. If he can set aside the shenanigans and the selfies, maybe there’s enough time for him to rediscover the shooting boots that have seen him score 31 goals in 81 appearances with Arsenal. I love Podolski for what he brings to the club, which too often shrouds itself in overly-serious intensity or melodramatic gloom, but I also miss what he brought to the pitch. Here’s hoping he gets a chance on Friday to remind us all—and, perhaps, himself—of what he’s capable of.

'Arry Redknapp offers comic relief to ease Three Lions' pain…

So England’s World Cup ambitions have ended before they even really started, foundering on the Merseyside shoals and ending in a bit of humiliation as Costa Rica—teeny, tiny Costa Rica—can now coast through Tuesday’s “clash” knowing that they’ll advance no matter what happens. There’s some small consolation in knowing that Spain crashed out even more ignominiously and that Portugal were 15 seconds away from joining them, but, even better is the comedy on offer from former Spurs manager and current Droopy-impersonator Harry “‘Arry” Redknapp, who has gone out of his way to suggest that various Spurs found it necessary to beg off of playing for the national team. Thank you, ‘Arry. Thank you very much for lightening the mood around what was otherwise a dismal trip to Brazil.

As the story goes, one highlight of Redknapp’s career was as the manager of an up-and-coming London-based club. Before that, he managed Tottenham. During his time there, a fair few British nationals apparently found it necessary to ask him to help them avoid national duty. Apparently, the embarrassment of mucking things up at White Hart Lane would be quite enough without having to reprise the role on a bigger stage. Still, the request feels similar to a snail asking to be left out of the 4×100 relay, if you don’t mind my saying so. It’s the kind of request that prompts a bit of a double-take or a spittin’ o’ the mornin’ coffee, for those who like their apostrophes fast an’ furious.

As ‘Arry tells it:

I can tell you when I was at Tottenham, when full internationals came around, there were two or three players who did not want to play for England. They would come to me 10 days before the game and say: ‘Gaffer, get me out of that game, I don’t want to play in that game.’

Hm. Without getting into the in’s and out’s around which international competitions these players were referring to, let’s admit that certain international competitions matter more than others. An injury in a friendly might loom larger than a cap in a World Cup match. Still, the idea that anyone might back out of a meaningful international match feels, I don’t know, treasonous? It’s one thing to start limping around a few days before a pointless interlullian match; it’s quite another to find ways to avoid helping one’s country qualify for, or succeed in, meaningful international play.

‘Arry mentions “full internationals”, which may or may not refer to the ones that matter. Who’s to say? Not ‘Arry, apparently, as he’s refused to name names or reveal other particulars. Let’s just say, for sh*ts and giggles, that he might refer to World Cup 2010. Among those who played under for Spurs and for the Three Lions, we have Michael Dawson, Aaron Lennon, Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, and Ledley King. Whether any of them offered enough quality to displace other compatriots is for others to suss out. There are others, of course, who might have been looking for ways to avoid other international commitments, but the irony is striking.

Whereas we’re wondering whether the Three Lions’ collapse might have been due, in some small part, to an over-reliance on Merseyside, our lily-livered Londoners have been looking for ways not to serve. I’m no fan of interlulls or friendlies; they strike me as chicanery more than anything else. However, when your country comes calling, you have to answer. I’ve been chomping at the bit to see Wilshere and Ox on the rampage. I’m gutted that Gibbs didn’t even get the call. Looking further afield, I’m thrilled to see Giroud, Sagna, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Podolski, Özil, Cazorla, Campbell, Vermaelen, and Chu-Young (yeah, even him) represent their countries.

There’s something to be said about pride and self-respect, whether it comes from playing for club or for country. It’s not for nothing that Gooners can see what amounts to a starting XI on the world stage while Spuds cringe and hide behind whatever excuse they can conjure: “my girlfriend is having a baby in four weeks, I don’t want to play”, as ‘Arry relates it. Fair enough. If those Spuds didn’t want to play for trophies in 2010, they shouldn’t be bothered with competing for one in 2014—oh. Wait. There’s not a single Spud in the squad this time ’round. Did ‘Arry come up with some lame excuses, or did the players just come out lame?

I’m a Yank, and I’m thrilled at the idea that we might be through to the next round. Over here, where our pedigree is just a bit shorter than it is in England, we have players clamoring to represent their country. Heck, we even left off our all-time leading scorer, Landon Donovan, for this World Cup, and we’re still trying to figure out whether to call it football or soccer. Across the pond, we have a club arguably and ostensibly at the epicenter of proper football whose players looked for any way to avoid international commitments. Whether they were good enough to warrant consideration in the first place is up to the Capellos and Hodgsons—but not the Redknapps—of the world.

The Three Lions’ campaign may have gone down in flames, but it won’t be due to the absence of certain Spuds. Not because they begged off four years ago, but because featuring for Spurs means you’re not serious about competing for trophies. Except Spuropa.

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Time to sign Julio Cesar

In a highly scientific and rigorous poll conducted at this very site, Julio Cesar has firmly vanquished all other candidates for the role of #1 keeper for the 2013-14 year. Over the course of a grueling two-day election, thousands dozens of votes were cast, delivering Cesar a resounding victory as he gathered 55% of votes cast. In a crowded, four-candidate contest run on American-style “winner takes all” election rules, the only logical outcome is that Cesar will be the keeper for all of our matches next year. Had this been more of a proportional representation-type system used by just about every other democracy in existence, we could keep Szczesny while also signing Mignolet and allotting games to them based on the proportion of the vote they had received. Results of the poll are here, if you still want to cast your vote and change the outcome.

all stats courtesy of whoscored.com

Alas, this is only one winner, and according to those who voted, Cesar will have no choice but to be our keeper next year.

But should we really go for him? Is he still capable of the form he showed with playing for Inter a few years ago? After all, he’s 33, hardly ancient by keeper standards but getting awfully long in the tooth. He’s no Brad Friedel or Jens Lehmann, playing into their 40s (and more power to them). As far as I can tell, he was released after refusing to lower his salary. This appears to be the same problem that Wesley Sneijder ran into as he left Inter in January to join Galatasaray. As Cesar says here:

Inter suggested that I reduce my salary. No player in my situation would have done thatI am not a hypocrite, and I can talk openly about this. It became a tough situation for both parties.I then spoke to my representative and I thought this was a good choice.I’ll terminate my contract with Inter Milan and thank the president, Massimo Moratti, for the seven wonderful years we have had together.

Straight talk. I like that. Unfortunately for him, his market-value has plummeted from a high of around £20m in 2010 to a current £3.5m or so. Is he worth it, even at that price? He’s several seasons removed from his best performances with Inter, and a quick glance at his stats this year are hardly enough to set one’s heart on fire. However, he did play for QPR, a team so woeful that it only won four games and was outscored by 30 goals on the season. With that as a backdrop, then, we’d be fools not to sign him. Compare his whoscored.com numbers to those of Szczesny’s. Nearly identical whoscored.com ratings. Yes, he has fewer clean sheets and gave up more goals than did Szczesny, but look at how much more he had to do. He had to make more than four saves per game, on average, while Szczesny had to make less than three per game. He conceded far more frequently than Szczesny did, but he faced a veritable firing squad each week, worrying about 16 shots per game (a figure that includes teammates’ blocks, rebounds off the woodwork, and misses) while being the last man standing on a team that only held the ball for 45% of the time and spent 32% of games in its own defensive third. It must have been hard to get motivated at times, going from an Inter squad that won scudettos and the Champions League to a Queens Park Ranger squad that had to fight tooth and nail to escape relegation. But he did it.

What really stands out to me is that, despite the onslaught he faced every week, he still managed to all but match Szczesny in overall effectiveness, separated by two-hundredths of a point. Most impressive to me is how often he was a game-changer as indicated by his two MotM awards and four games with ratings above an 8, including an 8.12 against us back in October when he held us scoreless for 84 minutes before conceding. We’ve rarely come out of a game saying to each other, “man, what a game Szczesny had. He saved our hash tonight”.  For all of QPR’s notable failures, it seems that there have been at least a few occasions when they kept a point or stole all three thanks to Cesar.

I’m not saying I actually do want him as our first-choice keeper, but he would prove an strong addition to the squad. Whereas Mannone and Fabianski had to more or less wait for Szczesny to foul up or get injured, Cesar is certainly still skilled enough to challenge Szczesny for playing time in his own right. No one would ask “what does this mean for Szczesny’s future with the club?” when Cesar gets the nod. A second benefit, one that Mignolet (or other keepers close to Szczesny in age or experience), is that Cesar has been around the block a few times. He’s faced Barcelona and Bayern and Chelsea, stopping shots from the likes of Drogba, Ibrahimovic, Robben, Messi, and Henry, among others. Mignolet might have more skill in him, but I’d bet dollars to donuts that Cesar possesses far more secrets, tricks, wisdom, and insights of the kind that more than make up for being a step slower and more than a few hairs grayer than younger keepers.  Bringing in a younger keeper might push Szczesny to try harder, but he’d still be fumbling around in the dimliy-lit recesses of his own imagination and experiences. Cesar could illuminate so many aspects to Szczesny, bolstered by real-time demonstrations, that the callow Pole could become a world-class keeper in short order.

He might not be as glamorous a signing as some of the other names we’ve been linked with, but his impact could be far greater, both on the upcoming season and for years after. What do you say? How much do we bid for the Brazilian?

Redknapp's talkin' some trash ahead of Saturday's match

Tomorrow’s run-in with QPR just a got a little saucier thanks to a helping of trash-talk on offer from manager Harry Redknapp. One would think that a team just relegated would be ready to just roll over as its players eye Mediterranean beaches and frou-frou cocktails. Instead, Redknapp was full of tough talk as he addressed our impending raid on Loftus Road. Turns out he was addressing rumors concerning keeper Júlio César, saying:

[César] wants to go to Arsenal? Arsène Wenger will be here tomorrow. If he’s interested, I’m sure he’ll speak to me. [César’s] a top, top goalkeeper. There’s no doubt about that. He’s a Brazil international so to play in the Championship next year would be difficult…It would take a good offer [to move to another team]. You’ve got to get what you feel is value for him. He’s going to cost decent money if anyone wants to buy hims. He’s a good goalkeeper.

Okay. Hardly full of piss and vinegar. Redknapp seems rather resigned to César’s  departure, and it makes sense. The man is 33 and hardly wants to waste a year trying to win the Championship when teams (including us) are sniffing around and can offer Champions League play instead. Of the teams at the top, we’re the only ones with anything resembling an unsettled keeper situation. I’ve suggested in the past that we pursue a seasoned keeper, one willing to play a mentor’s role while accepting less playing time. I don’t know César well enough to claim that he would like that roleis the prospect of sitting for a team contending for the Prem title and playing in the Champions League enticing enough, or would he prefer actual playing time for a mid-table team instead?

It would be a tough decision for him to make should an offer be made, but as QPR’s season fades, we’re bound to hear more stories concerning Cesar’s availability, as well as that of Rémy and Samba, among others. As we turn our attention towards the actual game, will we see more spirited-performances from the likes of César and Rémy, not so much to try to win as to audition for a role with us next year? We saw touches of that when we went to Upton Park in October amid stories linking us to Mohamed Diamé, who opened the scoring with a stunner of a goal before we set things right with a 3-1 winner.

I’m not seeing it, frankly. While we should be wary of getting bogged down in a lethargic affair, and we should likewise be prepared for a more-free-wheeling, pressure-free game full of wild abandon from a team no longer worried about anything. They’re finally and fully relegated, so they might just be content to knock around, or they might be happy to get nutty. We’ll see. We are, after all, facing a team that has won just four Prem league games, although they have managed to draw at home against Chelsea, Everton, Spurs, and Man City, keeping four points against top-table teams. For comparisons, we’ve kept five points against the same (beating Spurs and drawing with Everton and Man U). This is a team that can park the bus just fine when it needs to, and with César in the back, this could turn into a sticky one.

Then again, this is a team that has just won twice in 17 home matches, keeping just 14 of 51 available points while being outscored 25-12. They’re averaging less than a goal a game. However, it’s a touch undignified for us to dabble too much in statistics. This is, after all, a club that saw fit to let Joey Barton play for it. One regret of mine is that Gervinho won’t have a chance to slap him around as he did last year against Newcastle. Absent that, we’ll just have to come in and throw our weight around general. We have a lot of players due for a goal, and it’s been a while since we’ve laid gave anyone a proper thrashing. Let’s have tomorrow turn into a goal-fest (for us, of course). I’m calling for goals from Cazorla, Podolski, and Ramsey, not because I’m overconfident, but because we should approach this game as a pack of starved wolves.

Final score: AFC 4-1 QPR.