Mourinho should be careful. He is giving his players excuses to fail.

Jose Mourinho should be wary of the way he goes about his press conferences in the run up to the Europa League final. The constant rolling out of excuses potentially gives his players one should they fail to win on 24th May in Stockholm.

Manchester United face Ajax in the Europa League final but Mourinho’s continued griping over schedules, fatigue and almost anything you can think of, could surely have a detrimental effect on his squad. The negativity surrounding the build up to Manchester United fixtures recently is usually followed by an uninspiring performance from the team on the field.

Take for instance the game at Old Trafford in which Jose Mourinho’s side hosted newly promoted Burnley. Prior to that fixture Mourinho made sure to avert the public to the fact his side had just played five games in quick succession allowing for only two days rest in between. That performance against the Clarets wasn’t all bad, and but for some woeful finishing from United’s attacking threats, and a superb performance from Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton, Manchester United would have run out comfortable winners. They did not, of course. Drawing the game 0-0 with yet another under performance from the team in which Jose Mourinho had already made excuses for his players to do so.

There have been other instances of course. Prior to the game at the Emirates Stadium against Arsenal in May, Jose Mourinho called it “impossible” to go there and play for the win after having to play in the Europa League away at Celta Vigo the previous Thursday. United would go on to lose the game at Arsenal 2-0. Again a poor performance excused beforehand by their manager.

Bemoaning the draw at Old Trafford with Swansea before this, Mourinho claiming he had now given up and lost all interest in the Premier League and would rest his players for games in the competition, again was reason enough to expect dismal performances from his side. United have only won one of their five fixtures since the Swansea game, none in the Premier League. The performances of Mourinho’s side have left an awful lot to be desired, even for the most staunchest of Manchester United supporters.

There is no denying that the scheduling for clubs also participating in European competitions could be, and should be, handled more appropriately, but if you wish to be the manager of a top club challenging for honours both domestically and on the European front, this is simply something you must do. The schedule is always going to be packed. It is the same for clubs across Europe who aim to deliver European success.

One of Jose Mourinho’s more favoured justifications for failure is the fact his players have played so many matches this season. This is indeed true, but in the 2008-9 season Sir Alex Ferguson still managed to win the Premier League, win the League Cup, and reach the final of the Champions League, albeit losing to Barcelona, despite playing two more games than this current Manchester United squad will do this season.

There is also the case of the Chelsea squad of 2006-7 who, under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, played more fixtures than any other team in the entire history of the Premier League, managing to win the FA Cup, the League Cup, and finish second in the Premier League, whilst also reaching the Champions League semi-final stage.

The excuse of too many games and fatigue just does not stand up. The Manchester United squad has under performed. Allowed to do so by their manager, forgiven for it, even. This is a squad that is the most expensively assembled squad in history, costing over £600m. A squad that includes over 30 players that should have the resources to cover a schedule such as this without question. Mourinho’s persistent moaning over just about anything has given this squad an almost free pass to fail. Any points dropped against the likes of Swansea, Burnley, Southampton, sides that Manchester United should be seeing off with ultimate ease, are lost in the reasoning that this squad and their manager are hard done to.

There is no debate here that this Manchester United squad should have enough to over come Peter Bosz’s young Ajax side in the wonderfully named Friends Arena on May 24th. Should the Red Devils fail to deliver a performance and silverware in Stockholm, their manager, Jose Mourinho, would have already given them the excuses to do so.

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Leeds miss out on Play-offs but time is now to build for next season.

After occupying the top six positions in the Championship for a large part of the season the month of April put paid to Leeds United’s play-off hopes. There is no time like the present to begin working towards the new season though and guaranteeing Garry Monk is still in charge for it must be the number one priority at Leeds.

When Garry Monk was appointed the new head coach of Leeds United he was only given a 12 month contract. In fairness, given owner Massimo Cellino’s penchant for sacking managers, you would be forgiven for thinking he would not be around long enough to even see that out. He has, and though it is understood there is an option to extend that by a further year, it should be in Leeds United’s best interest to give Monk a longer contract.

The appointment of Monk at Leeds was met by sincere optimism from Leeds fans and by an element of surprise by fans of other clubs. After the employment of some lesser known names as managers in recent times under Cellino, Darko Milanic and David Hockaday to name a couple, it felt Leeds finally had a real manager. The task at hand was nonetheless a huge one for Monk.

Monk would realise as early as the opener to the campaign, a 3-0 loss away at QPR, just how big the job was. There was the same errors in defence, the same lack of fight in the middle, and a lack of firepower up front.

After a poor start to the season, losing twice and drawing once in his first three league games, a breakthrough arrived at the home of rivals Sheffield Wednesday. There were signs of what Monk was hoping to achieve at Leeds. By the end of the first month of the season, Monk had been able to bolster his squad slightly, particularly at the back. Club captain Sol Bamba was encouraged to leave and in came Pontus Jansson on loan, who will sign permanently in the summer, and Luke Ayling who was signed from Bristol City. With Kyle Bartley in from Swansea on a season loan and Gaetano Berardi soon to take over from Charlie Taylor at full back, it was a back four that would become one of the reasons Leeds would push for the play-offs.

Another reason for this, and one of the main factors, was the improvement of Chris Wood in attack. Last season the New Zealand international managed just 13 goals in all competitions and had come in for some criticism from parts of the Elland Road stadium. Since the arrival of Garry Monk, and without question James Beattie, Chris Wood has been transformed into one of the hottest strikers in England. His tally of 30 goals in all competitions is currently only bettered by Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero throughout the four divisions in England. His goals propelled Leeds United up the Championship table.

After the season rather fizzled out in the final month for Leeds, it seemed obvious that a lack of investment from the board in January had contributed to the team running out of steam and falling short of the play-offs. The lack of another centre forward to take the pressure of the shoulders of Chris Wood perhaps. A lack of goals coming from midfield also becoming a factor.

As Garry Monk confirmed he is to sit down and talk in-depth with co-owner Andrea Radrizzani, currently in talks to complete a 100% takeover of the club, about his future, investment will be one of the key components of the plan to move forward. Monk has stated he is happy to stay at Leeds United only if the board share his vision of how the club can progress.

The board have been made well aware, as the season came into its final stages and Monk’s contract wound down, just what the fans feel is of the utmost importance in the off-season. That is securing Garry Monk long-term. Every week whether at a sold out Elland Road, or a packed away end on the road, Garry Monk’s name has been sung so loudly and so passionately it would be difficult for anybody not to take note.

After years of feeling let down, taken for granted, and disgruntled with everything from happenings off the field to performances on it, Garry Monk has seemingly bonded the club and the fans once again. He has turned Elland Road into somewhat of a fortress again, Leeds lost only 5 of the 23 home games in the Championship this season conceding just 16 times in the process. Out of the top ten sides in the division only 2nd placed Brighton conceded less at home.

So despite missing out on the play-offs this time around, now is not the time to dwell on what might have been. It is time to do what is right and allow Garry Monk to improve on what he has begun to build at Leeds United this season. To let Monk walk away this summer after not agreeing to allow him to stay on as manager would be criminal. United have not finished as high in the division since the 2010/11 season. A series of mid table finishes before Monk’s arrival are enough proof of the job he has done already here and also serve as a warning to where the club could be again if his services were not retained.

Ultimately the disappointment of missing out on the play-offs this year could be forgiven if the right moves are made this summer. Starting with securing Garry Monk to a proper contract.

David Wagner leading Huddersfield to the Promised Land?

David Wagner is transforming Huddersfield Town into arguably the most attractive side to watch in the Championship. His high intensity, high pressing, all action style of play, more recently labelled as “gegenpressing”, has The Terriers currently occupying 3rd place in the division.

When Wagner arrived in Huddersfield on 5th November 2015, following the dismissal of Chris Powell, Town were sat in 18th place in the Championship, having only been the victors in 3 of their 15 league fixtures up to that date. The three victories they had amassed came against the three sides, Charlton, Bolton, and MK Dons, who would eventually be relegated come the end of the season. In appointing David Wagner there is no denying that Huddersfield Town chairman Dean Hoyle had taken a risk. Unknown to many in England, David Wagner became the first manager from outside the UK and Ireland to be appointed by Huddersfield.

He was dealt the thankless task of keeping Huddersfield Town in the division. There was work to be done and Wagner was straight to it, immediately doubling training sessions after his confirmation as manager. A work in progress, the former Schalke player lost his first two games as manager, a 3-1 defeat at the home of Yorkshire rivals Sheffield Wednesday, and a 2-0 defeat to Middlesborough in his first home game in charge. Huddersfield ended the 2015/16 campaign in 19th place, a further 10 victories and 6 draws ensuring survival, but without a win in their last four league outings, including a 4-0 defeat at Ashton Gate, and a 5-1 home defeat to Brentford, fans would be forgiven for still being sceptical ahead of the following season.

Wagner knew his first pre season at the club would be crucial to his teams league campaign. He needed a togetherness, an unbreakable spirit. The squad departed for Sweden on a pre season tour without the item that would otherwise be first on, or of high priority, on the list of things take, a football. On the islands off Sweden, and without a football in sight, David Wagner had his players canoe from island to island. Two players to a canoe, and two players to a tent once they reached the island. The pairs were often rotated also. Wagner’s logic behind this was to encourage the players to have conversations with one another about anything and everything, not specifically football. He wanted to the players to learn about each other, about their backgrounds, families and the like. Wagner is a firm believer of the closer the players are bonded off the pitch, the greater the results will be for the team on the pitch.

Among other items left behind were mobile phones, another way of encouraging conversation. There were no toilets, no electricity, no food, no water. If the players were hungry they would have to pick up their fishing rods and catch their own dinner. Likewise if thirsty, get your bottle and head down to the lake, fill it up. If players were cold in the camp, make a fire. Rather than a pre season tour, it was shaping up to be a survival camp expedition. Wagner and his colleagues specifically made it an uncomfortable experience for the players simply because, as Wagner himself puts it, “in the Championship there is no comfort zone.” They were so out of their comfort zone, they did not even know the result of the Euro 2016 quarter finals.

Despite people outside the club expecting a backlash to this type of pre season, Wagner found his decision vindicated. The squad was knitted tightly together as one, even the 13 new players he had brought to the club either permanently or on loan bought into it.

Despite a loss in the EFL Cup to lower league opposition in Shrewsbury Town, The Terriers soared to the top of the Championship. Winning away at St James’ Park, and a 1-1 draw away at Aston Villa, two of the sides considered among the strongest in the division, Huddersfield were exceeding even their own expectations. With 8 victories and a draw from their opening 11 league fixtures, Wagner had overseen Huddersfield Town embark on their most successful start to a league campaign in the entire history of the club. With a victory over rivals Leeds United at Elland Road, Wagner’s second in two games against them, along the way, victory over Ipswich Town ensured Huddersfield would head into the international break sitting atop the Championship.

With many presuming, correctly, that Huddersfield Town were punching well above their weight in the Championship, the slump after the international break was met with an air of inevitability from outside of the club. The feeling was that Huddersfield Town would now fall away and descend down the league. With a solitary victory in eight matches following the break there was not a lot of evidence to suggest the thoughts of the majority of fans outside of Huddersfield were false. Huddersfield had fallen outside of the top six for the first time this season.

What followed this slump was a remarkable run of eighteen matches in all competitions in which The Terriers have lost only two. One of those losses coming away at the Etihad Stadium in the FA Cup against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City after making nine changes.

In the midst of Huddersfield’s latest remarkable run of form, take the cup games away and Town have lost only 1 of their last 15 league games, came the Yorkshire derby against Leeds United. With both sides occupying the top six, it could be argued that this was the biggest derby in which the two clubs had faced off in a very long time, in all probability forever. After taking the lead through the ever impressive Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown, Huddersfield were pegged back by Leeds United talisman Chris Wood. It was not until an 89th minute winner scored by Michael Hefele, a free transfer from Dynamo Dresden, that wild jubilation and celebration was sparked. Wagner bolted out of his technical area and off down the pitch to join the wild celebrations of his players, and his now adoring fans. It was an act David Wagner would pay for, a fine of £6,000 and a two-match suspension, but one which proved the meaning of such a big result. If you did not know David Wagner, you would be forgiven for thinking the German was born and bred in Huddersfield, such was his participation in the celebrations after victory over Leeds.

Ultimately David Wagner continues to work wonders for Huddersfield Town. He has turned the John Smith’s Stadium into a fortress. Nobody looks forward to a trip to West Yorkshire anymore, and that includes the so-called big boys of the division. Huddersfield have won 12 and drawn 2 of their 16 games played at home this season. Only Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan Athletic have managed to take maximum points away from their trips to the John Smith’s Stadium. Huddersfield have amassed 65 points in the Championship this season, and with 13 games remaining, already have 14 more points on the board than they ended up with last season.

With only Newcastle United out of the Championship’s current top six left to play, The Terriers look a certainty to make the Play-offs and if results go their way, look the team best placed to launch an assault on the top two. A lot of the way Huddersfield’s season has gone, and the way they have performed, has to go down to the manager. The togetherness and spirit that David Wagner knew was crucial to his side before they embarked on the survival expedition of Sweden in the summer is firmly in place. The risk that chairman Dean Hoyle took in appointing the relatively unknown manager has paid off. The rewards could be great. David Wagner looks to be leading Huddersfield all the way to the Promised Land.

Ranieri Sacked but Players Should Harbour Blame.

Claudio Ranieri was sacked by Leicester City this week. Sacked less than a year after guiding the club to the Premier League title, and a month after being crowned the best manager in the world by FIFA.

When Ranieri walked into the King Power Stadium to sit in the Leicester City hot seat, he took over a side who the previous season had survived thanks to a late surge of victories, who otherwise were rooted to the foot of the table for the majority of the season. A team with a playing staff who, prior to last season, was not exactly eye catching. Ranieri took the reigns after controversial manager Nigel Pearson was sacked at the end of the previous season. His appointment was met with uncertainty, with many predicting The Foxes may even be relegated under the stewardship of the Italian. We all know how that story played out.

Leicester City were crowned champions at the conclusion of Ranieri’s first season at the helm. A remarkable achievement that nobody saw coming. He took a squad with distinctly average professionals and turned them into a winning machine. He found a formula that worked to the benefit of his players. The pace at which his Leicester City team would move the ball through the team was frenetic, catching out high defensive lines of opposition time and again. It was an achievement that rarely comes around, it may never happen again that such a club will win the elite league in English football. A magnificent feat.

Following the title victory, Leicester also qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history. Ranieri could do no wrong. Fast forward nine months, and Ranieri is gone. Sacked after a poor run in the league, winning the title never even bought him enough time to see the following season out. After receiving “unwavering” support from the board and despite claiming a creditable result away at Sevilla in the Champions League in midweek, if a defeat can be claimed as creditable, which keeps them firmly in the competition thanks to Jamie Vardy’s consolation away goal, Claudio Ranieri was sacked by the Leicester board after it was revealed players had told them they had lost confidence in Ranieri’s abilities. Losing confidence in a manager who took these players on a journey beyond even their wildest dreams. Nobody is telling me Wes Morgan, among others, seriously thought he would ever be a Premier League winner and competing in the Champions League.

Ranieri deserved more. He deserved more from his board, at least a season, and at least to see out his Champions League run. He undoubtedly deserved more from his players. It is impossible and unfair to single out any one player alone for criticism, it is after all a team game, but his match winners, his influential winners, from the previous campaign vanished. They vanished after a poor start to the season, only three victories in their opening ten league games, and never really reappeared, barring a demolition of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at the King Power Stadium in December. The spine of the team which was so strong the season before, from Kasper Schmeichel, to Wes Morgan and Robert Huth, through Riyad Mahrez and Danny Drinkwater, to Jamie Vardy, who let us not forget broke Ruud Van Nistlerooy’s Premier League record by netting in 11 consecutive games, had completely downed tools. To see Claudio Ranieri yelling from the touchline at Riyad Mahrez to press his opposite number against Swansea City earlier this month, and Mahrez, who was well within ear shot of his manager, literally not move an inch further than where he was summed the situation up. The players had given up.

Jamie Vardy, who scored 28 goals last year for club and country, has managed only 8 goals in all competitions this season, and that includes the Community Shield. We can point to a few aspects that influence this statistic, but another statistic, that Vardy failed to have a shot on target since the middle of December up until his goal at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan in midweek suggest the desire, attitude, and application is not there. That can not be laid solely at Claudio Ranieri’s doorstep. In the same fixture that Vardy scored his latest goal, a largely non-existent Riyad Mahrez had the look of a man who simply could not care less. This also can not be laid firmly on Ranieri. This is the attitude and reaction of a man being told he was not allowed to leave the club in the summer. Despite being rewarded with a bumper contract on money we could only dream about, Mahrez had downed tools before the season even began. He never even opened his tool box in the first place. The attitude of the players in nothing short of a disgrace, and to think these players have passed a vote of no confidence in their manager is ridiculous. Perhaps if they had listened to Ranieri’s ideas and tactics instead of just seemingly dismissing them and not trying a jot out on the field, we would not have this scenario.

And what of the board? What did the Leicester board really expect? Another title challenge? An assault on the top four? We all knew there would be a slump after the achievement of last season. The fact that Leicester City are still in the Champions League is an achievement itself.

I am aware that football is all about the here and now. There is no time for sentiment, no time to be romantic in the swirling money pool that is the Premier League, clubs are that desperate to stay in the division and recoup as much money as they possibly can, they forget that being relegated to the Championship is not actually the end of the world. Leicester City are financially very stable, the 24th wealthiest club in Europe even before the league win and the Champions League. Add that to the parachute payments the club would have received should they be relegated and their is no doubt this club would not be one to fall by the wayside. Why shouldn’t Claudio Ranieri be granted time to bring them back to the Premier League if they did go down under his management? It is not as though this is Jose Mourinho at Chelsea the season after winning the title. This is Leicester City. A club, and players that has started to believe its own hype and press, big money contracts have led poor to average players to believe they are in the same bracket, and hold the same power as some of the games global superstars. One league title win, a staggering triumph it may have been, should not grant you this power. Unfortunately it does, and as a result of it doing so, Leicester City fired their Premier League winning manager, Claudio Ranieri.

A man who took a team of average and unfancied players, united them, galvanised a spirit rarely seen elsewhere, and won England’s top division with them, deserved more loyalty and more respect. It is a sad ending to one of footballs greatest stories. Thanks for the memories, Claudio. You deserved better.

Sean Dyche…Manager of the Year?

When talk turns to discuss the manager of the year following the culmination of this Premier League campaign, it would be easy for the eyes to wander straight to the summit of the Premier League at the master tactician that is Antonio Conte, who let’s face it, has his Chelsea side performing above expectation following their dismal defence of their Premier League crown under Jose Mourinho last season. Attention could even be levelled in the direction of Jose Mourinho himself, who after inconsistent beginnings in the Old Trafford hot seat, mainly due to selection issues, seems to have got the wheels in motion and heading in the right direction once again at Manchester United.

Inevitably attention would also become averted to the other side of Manchester, to Pep Guardiola. Guardiola has endured his fair share of criticism during his first spell in the English league, some justifiable in the shape of replacing Joe Hart between the sticks with Claudio Bravo. But given he was left a predominantly ageing squad, and struggling to have them maintain his level of performance on the field, he has Manchester City back on track after a slump in form followed a blistering start, and has them currently sat in 2nd place. Maybe Mauricio Pochettino should be a leading candidate for the award of manager of the year? After all there are not many sides set up better than his Tottenham Hotspur side, especially on home soil, where Spurs are yet to lose a league fixture.

There are also cases for managers that have recently arrived in the Premier League. If Swansea were to avoid relegation after the season they have endured, and the debacle with Bob Bradley, who seemingly never stood a chance just because he was American, should Paul Clement be considered? Or maybe Marco Silva? Hull, who were not necessarily bad to watch under Mike Phelan, seemed to have stepped up to another level since the arrival of the former Olympiakos boss.

Not many would have a case for argument should any of the aforementioned managers be presented with the Manager of the Year award, especially Antonio Conte, but it is further down the Premier League from where Conte is sitting where my attention is continually drawn to. Generally a manager at a club sitting in mid table obscurity, in 12th position to be exact, would not even be considered for such an award, but the manager in 12th position is not usually the manager of Burnley Football Club, a provincial club to say the least, and the manager sitting in 12th position in the Premier League is not usually Sean Dyche.

After being unfairly dismissed from his position as manager of Watford in 2012, Dyche guided them to their highest league position for four years, and their highest since relegation from the Premier League in 2008, he found himself accepting the job in the Burnley dugout. After consolidating in his half season there originally, his first full season in charge would see the former Chesterfield and Millwall centre half take The Clarets up into the Premier League, finishing in second place in The Championship, conceding only 37 goals in 46 league games. Not a bad feat considering he inherited a team with the worst defensive record in the league when he arrived the previous year, Burnley had shipped 29 goals in only 13 league games.

The following season would prove to be a difficult one for Sean Dyche and The Clarets, immediately relegated from the Premier League after finishing in 19th place and only being the victors in 7 league games all season. Where many clubs would have hit the panic button upon relegation and sacked the manager who the year before had guided the club to the promised land, Burnley decided to persevere with Dyche. A decision that would prove to be a very good one indeed for the club.

Burnley bounced back at the first time of asking, winning The Championship in 2015/16 by a four point margin. With players still at the club that were relegated first time around, and certainly what would be considered a lot of Championship standard players, Sean Dyche has got his team flying high, higher than any expectations of anybody, except for maybe the most optimistic of Clarets fans. There are a few, believe me. After defeat to Swansea City in their opening game of the season, in front of their own supporters, you would be forgiven for thinking this season was not going to be too dissimilar to their last in the top flight. The following weekend they faced Jurgen Klopp and his much fancied, for the league as well as this fixture, Liverpool side at home. Dyche’s prowess at coaching defending that helped Burnley win promotion to the Premier League, and that we have become accustomed to throughout this campaign, first reared its head in this fixture. With Liverpool having more than a lions share of the possession, around 80%, Dyche’s men provided rearguard action that limited Liverpool to few clear cut chances, forcing them to revert to efforts from far out. It was a tactic we’d see frequently at what is fast becoming Fortress Turf Moor. Burnley won the game 2-0. Burnley have gone on to collect 29 of their 30 points so far this season at home. There have been impressive results as reward for the impressive performances, the 2-0 over Liverpool, 2-1 against Everton, and a 1-1 draw with Chelsea. They arguably should have had another point on the board, denied a goalless draw against Arsenal at Turf Moor by a last minute Laurent Koscielny winner, which was controversial to put it lightly.

Home form was always going to be an integral part of survival for The Clarets and Sean Dyche has certainly tapped into that rationale. His Burnley side have only been on the losing side three times on home soil, and only champions elect Chelsea, and Tottenham Hotspur can boast of having more impressive home records. Sean Dyche knows that visiting sides, established top level sides, are going to have more of the ball, dominate possession and therefore look to dominate the game against his side, he may even encourage it. It complements how he sets his team up at Turf Moor. As we have seen in the recent fixture at home to Antonio Conte’s table toppers, packed with stars such as Eden Hazard and Diego Costa to name two, they defend well enough to limit even the best sides to rare opportunities. After taking the lead through Pedro on 7 minutes, Chelsea were not afforded a single shot on target. Burnley defending crosses extremely well, the ever impressive Michael Keane in particular, and shutting down advances on their box swiftly, leaving Chelsea to fire from distance, often into the Burnley back line, or wildly over the bar or wide.

If their was to be one criticism levelled at Sean Dyche and his team it is their lamentable away form. The Clarets are on a dismal run away from home, only managing to collect one point on the road, albeit an impressive 0-0 draw against Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United at Old Trafford, thanks largely to the excellence of skipper and goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Should Sean Dyche’s charges be able to gather up a few more points on the road, fixtures at Hull, Swansea, and Sunderland should provide enough chance to pick some up, to guarantee what is surely survival already, then Sean Dyche must surely be a leading candidate for the Manager of the Year Award.

A continuation of their form at Turf Moor combined with a few more points away from home, it is not entirely unfeasible to think that Burnley could secure a top half finish in the Premier League, a long shot maybe, but nevertheless a possibility. Should Chelsea go on to lift the trophy at the end of the season, and let us face it, there doesn’t seem to be anyone out there who can stop them, then Antonio Conte will doubtless be rewarded with Manager of the Year Award, but in my eyes, in having a club the size of Burnley, with the players they have, and i mean that relative to the majority of teams in the league, the budget they have, wages they pay, punching well above their weight, and with a distinct possibility of a top half finish this year, for my money, there is nobody more deserving of the award than Sean Dyche.

Leicester City… To Good To Go Down?

There is a commonly used cliche in football that a club is considered too good to be relegated from the league they are in. Every season or so we hear of one of these clubs. Recent years have seen Leeds United, Aston Villa, Newcastle United, for example, be mentioned in the same bracket. Step forward Leicester City.

There really are no words to describe just how remarkable an achievement Leicester City winning the 2015/16 Premier League title actually was. It surely has to go down as one of the greatest sporting, let alone football, achievements in history. The club were promoted form The Championship after winning the title in the 2013/14 season under the stewardship of  Nigel Pearson, who had now led them all the way from the third tier up to the promise land of the Premier League.

Their start to life back in the big time must have surprised even the hardened of Foxes fans. After being dealt what looked on paper to be a most difficult of starts, Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal, Stoke City, and Manchester United were their first five opponents in the league, Leicester picked up eight points out of a total fifteen, including an impressive 1-1 draw at home to Arsenal, and the incredible 5-3 victory over Manchester United after being 1-3 down with just under an hour played. A good start indeed. What followed was a dismal thirteen game run without a victory, in which they only managed two draws. Leicester were bottom of the Premier League throughout the majority of the season, until a run of six wins in eight games towards the end of the season saw the club propel to 14th position, and end the season there. Great escape complete.

The shock of a great escape not enough, The Foxes surprised everyone by winning the Premier League title the following season. They were additions to the squad that needed a miracle run of results to survive the previous year, Christian Fuchs, N’Golo Kante, to name two. The pace of the squad, and the speed with which they attacked, added to the quality of Riyad Mahrez and his seemingly telepathic link to record breaking goalscorer Jamie Vardy, blew sides away from the start. It could not last though, surely. They would falter at some stage, any time now, their run would end. We all now know the run did not end, they won the league title and pulled off one of, if not the most amazing achievements the game had ever seen.

Only one player was to leave in the summer, N’Golo Kante to Chelsea, and they managed to keep hold of Mahrez, Vardy, and others. Nobody seriously expected Leicester City to challenge for the title again. Competition being fierce as Man City, Man United, and Chelsea got new managers of the highest calibre. But perhaps people suggested Leicester would not struggle quite as much as they have done, given the quality that still exists throughout the squad. The season, barring an impressive debut in the Champions League, has not given Foxes fans much to shout about. A 1-0 loss at the hands of an impressive Burnley side midweek left Leicester sitting just two points above the drop zone, and facing a very real possibility of becoming the first defending champions of the Premier League to be relegated the following year, and the first champions to be relegated the season after triumph since Manchester City in 1938. With fellow relegation candidates Crystal Palace hosting bottom club Sunderland this weekend, a win for Sam Allardyce’s Eagles would see them leapfrog Leicester, who don’t play until Sunday, and leave them just goal difference above the relegation zone.

There doesn’t seem to be any real back up plan in place tactically at the club. They practically play the exact same way as they did the season they won the league, which brought them the obvious success, but sides are wiser to it now. Burnley defenders Michael Keane and Ben Mee simply dropped off a couple of yards in order to deal with the balls over the top aimed towards Jamie Vardy, and he rarely got a sniff. It sounds simple, because it really is, and if Leicester and Claudio Ranieri can’t think of way to resurrect their season, and start picking points up, the threat looming, of relegation, could become a certainty. Teams around them have made changes to their managerial staff. Palace have appointed Sam Allardyce, who finally picked up a league win in midweek, Swansea City look much improved, and have been impressive since the appointment of former Derby manager and Bayern Munich assistant manager, Paul Clement, and Hull brought in Marco Silva, who despite them still languishing in the bottom three, and short of goals, has got them playing much better.

The quality of player that exists within the squad, and their success the previous season, has led people to recycle the old cliche. They are too good to go down. Surely. But as the aforementioned teams, Leeds United, Aston Villa, and Newcastle United, will testify, no team is too good to go down.

Long season of suffering for Blackpool supporters.

Blackpool. A place to take a trip with the family, a  seaside place full of fun, the Pleasure Beach, and of course the main attraction The Blackpool Tower. It is also the home of Blackpool FC. The proud, traditional football club that represents the town that is being spoke about country wide for all the wrong reasons. Football fans across the country, affiliation to Blackpool or not, have felt sympathy. The fans of the club that lifted the famous FA Cup back in 1953 after being 3-1 down in the final have been taken to the very end of their wits, and back, and will doubtless go back again.

It is almost five years to the day, 22 May 2010, when Blackpool, twice trailing Cardiff City at Wembley, came back to win the game 3-2, and with it clinch promotion to the Premier League for the first time ever, and their first visit to the top flight of English football since the 1970/71 campaign. It would be a season which would ultimately end in relegation for the club after they finished 19th in the league and were relegated by a single point. It was also a season in which the club generated £80m, for any club a huge sum, for Blackpool, a sign of security for many seasons to come. In the same season, it has come to light, that chairman Karl Oyston had a payment of £211,538 a week going to a company owned by Owen Oyston, the clubs owner. That amount equates to £11m a year, more than manager Ian Holloway, star man Charlie Adam, and the rest of the squad combined were being paid that season. It also made the Oystons between them, the highest paid directors of a football club ever.

The writing should possibly have been on the wall then. Following relegation from the Premier League, Blackpool almost made an immediate return to the top flight, losing 2-1 to West Ham United in the Championship Play Off Final at Wembley. It was the season following the play off final defeat that problems behind the scenes looked to be filtering onto the pitch. After reaching the final of the play offs the season before, Blackpool narrowly avoided relegation to League One after they finished in 20th position, just two points clear of the drop.

Before the start of the 2014/15 pre season, Blackpool had only EIGHT officially registered players. Out of the eight, there was only one midfield player, and remarkably, not a single goalkeeper on the books. This led to the clubs pre season tour of Spain having to be cancelled completely. Bizarrely, chairman Karl Oyston claimed there was “no panic” as he informed us it gave the manager a chance to bring his own men into the club. There was reason to panic, and throughout the season, fans protested. Blackpool’s bitter rivals Preston North End’s fans even joined the Blackpool supporters in the protests against Karl Oyston. The protests by and large had passed without disorder, but before the game against Reading at Bloomfield Road in April, smoke bombs, eggs, and fireworks were pelted at the directors box and the main reception area at the stadium.It was the week Blackpool’s relegation from The Championship was officially confirmed, they became the first team throughout the top four divisions in England to be relegated, they still had five games to play but were too far adrift.

Before what should have been the final game of The Championship season for Blackpool at Bloomfield Road, there was talk of a protest for which the suffering supporters would use the Stan Mortensen, the player who scored a hat-trick in the 1953 FA Cup Final, statue as a focal point. The statue, which has stood outside Bloomfield Road since 2005 and was paid for by the supporters, was reportedly taken down “for safety reasons”. There is also reports that suggest the statue of ‘Morty’ has been damaged on removal, a suggestion Mortensen’s family are looking into. With the statue gone, 2000 Blackpool supporters still took part in protesting outside the ground before the final game of the season at home to Huddersfield Town. With the tie goalless at the interval, it was forced to be abandoned by the referee after a pitch invasion on 48 minutes. As supporters packed the centre circle in protest, they were joined on the pitch by a fan on a mobility scooter. The referee, like the fans, had seen enough. The Football League have since decided the game need not be replayed. As the protests raged on, a shot of the target of all the frustration, chairman Karl Oyston, was seen to be laughing, not a care in the world. Seemingly Oyston enjoys taking the millions made by the club, over £100m since the Premier League season, and keeping him for himself, and his father.

Throughout the season, there has been one constant of positivity at the club, and that is the togetherness of the fans. This sentiment summed up in its entirety after Karl Oyston opted to sue a 67 year old Blackpool supporter for libel, after comments about the chairman were posted on the fans own Facebook page. Oyston demanded £20,000 in damages from the supporter who is retired and has no source of income. Instead the fans, have they have done all season, came together and stumped up the money. Oyston became embroiled in another altercation with a supporter and is this time under investigation from the FA for being abusive and insulting towards the fan.

Quite how the fans have managed to bring themselves to keep attending Bloomfield Road, and many haven’t, is remarkable. As is the norm when an owner or chairman seemingly drags a football club into the gutter, and carries on dragging, it is the supporters who suffer.

“Judge me at the end of the season” were Karl Oyston’s words as Blackpool had only eight players before the start of their pre season. Blackpool fans have been the jury all season, and the unanimous verdict is GUILTY!.