Javier Aguirre the man for Portsmouth?

February 18, 2009

aguirre_spain_soccer_do811David James has come out twice this week to voice his support for Sven-Göran Eriksson‘s candidature to be the new Portsmouth manager. James appears to be preoccupied with the idea of a former England manager taking the hot seat at the south coast club. But other than his status in a group of alumni that includes Glenn Hoddle and Steve McLaren (neither of whom, I note, have earned a vote of support from the former Liverpool goalkeeper), does Eriksson’s CV really match up to the job?

The Swede’s success has come almost exclusively at clubs with extravagant budgets, in particular at a Lazio backed by millionaire investor Sergio Cragnotti, who plunged some £274 million into the team to buy players like Pavel Nedvěd and Christian Vieri. At Manchester City, he spent a small fortune on a cluster of players including Elano, Valeri Bojinov, Benjani Mwaruwari and Gelson Fernandes – none of whom were able to acclimatise to the Premier League quickly enough or gel well enough to keep Eriksson in his job.

So rather than turn to a former England don, perhaps Portsmouth should be looking to one of Sven’s predecessors in his incumbent position at Mexico. Javier Aguirre led the Central American side to victories over Croatia and Ecuador as well as a creditible draw with Italy in the 2002 World Cup before a heartbreaking loss to rivals USA in the second round. But it is his subsequent achievements in club management that really stand out. On a shoe string budget Aquirre led unfashionable Spanish team Osasuna to a Champions League spot ahead of Juande RamosSevilla in 2006, before taking them to the UEFA Cup semi-finals a year later (ironically losing out to Sevilla).

A more recent but less successful spell with Atlético Madrid still secured the La Liga side a top four and Champions League place for the first time in 12 years. Yet despite setting a new record for goals scored at home, the Mexican has found himself deemed surplus to requirements at the Vicente Calderón. Atlético‘s loss could prove Portsmouth’s gain – even before losing his job, Aguirre announced his ‘dream’ to manage in the Premiership to ESPN programme, Futbol Picante. He may not be the flashy big name that David James has been dreaming of, but Aquirre could bring back to Portsmouth precisely what they have been missing since Harry Redknapp‘s defection to Tottenham – a voice of experience. Not of managing England, perhaps, but of taking little fancied football clubs to new heights.

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Mexico’s Golden Generation

February 4, 2009

10_24409tSven-Göran Eriksson‘s decision to become head coach of the Mexican football team last year after successfully rebuilding his reputation as a club manager at Manchester City may have seemed a little eccentric. But for all his failings, as both England manager and Premiership boss Sven has been nothing if not cooly analytical. Even his infamous selection of Theo Walcott for the 2006 World Cup was a carefully calculated gamble (albeit one that didn’t pay off).

Mexico is a country that is on the verge of a major break through on the international football scene. The Under-17s helped the country to win it’s first major global competition at the 2005 FIFA World Championship. They beat a much fancied Brazil side including Manchester United‘s Anderson and Arsenal midfielder Denílson in the final after thrashing a similarly talented Dutch side 4-0 in the last four. This week Sven announced the senior squad for Mexico’s international derby against the United States, and four of the World Championship juniors of 2005 have made the step up (with two more unavailable through suspention). So how are Mexico’s “Golden Generation” progressing under the Swede’s tutelage?

Guillermo Ochoa

The 23-year-old goalkeeper and one of the elder statesmen of the World Championship side, Ochoa was also in Mexixo’s 2006 World Cup squad as a back-up goalkeeper. Despite making over 150 appearances for his club side Club América, has struggled to fill the boots of goalkeeping legend Oswaldo Sánchez (who at 35 is still kicking around) and establish a regular spot in the senior international side.

 Omar Esparza

A talented right back who scored the second goal in the Under 17s 3-0 defeat of Brazil in the 2005 finals, two years after that game Esparza helped Mexico’s Under-20 side to a World Cup quarter final. Made his first senior appearance in August, and could well be the next player from that World Championship team to move to Europe, although he’ll need to bulk up before then.

Giovanni Dos Santos

Even before Dos Santos walked on to the pitch wearing the red, white and green of Mexico he had footballing pedigree. The son of Brazilian footballer and soccer school founder Zizinho, both Giovanni and brother Jonathan came from Barcelona stock. Set up half of all the goals scored by Mexico in the World Championship, he was named the tournament’s second best player. Has failed to make his mark at Tottenham since a summer move and has been linked to Chelsea and Portsmouth – but whoever lands him has an awfully big talent on their hands.

Carlos Vela

Top scorer in the World Championship with five goals, Vela earned himself a move to Arsenal after the tournament. Although we haven’t seen a great deal of him in the Premiership as yet, defenders in La Liga will be all too familiar with his attacking trickery after 64 appearances in Spanish football with Salamanca and OsasunaArsène Wenger brought Vela on in the game against West Ham last weekend, and if used a little less sparingly the Mexican has the talent to keep Arsenal‘s new signing Andrei Arshavin on the bench.

Certainly, if Sven can blend the new generation of players with more established stars like Barcelona‘s Rafael Márquez and former VfB Stuttgart midfielder Pável Pardo, the journey from England manager to Scandinavia’s man in Mexico could look more like a promotion than a career red herring.

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One cap wonders

January 30, 2009

It’s all right for some people. With England‘s friendly international against Spain just around the corner, David Beckham has moved half-way across the globe and reproduced his finest form, all in the hope of securing a record equaling 108th cap. But in the shadow of Beckham, fans of the Premiership‘s less fashionable clubs and even some gossip columnists will be beginning to speculate about which players Fabio Capello will be handing an international debut.

Surely Aston Villa‘s James Milner – England’s most capped Under-21 international with 40 matches under his belt and eight goals – is due a promotion to the senior team? Perhaps Capello is set to spring another surprise after including Michael Mancienne in his last squad – in which case, the midfield duo of Tottenham‘s Tom Huddlestone and West Ham‘s Mark Noble have been impressing in the junior ranks. However, the fear for all of these players is that they sucumb to the fate of the “one cap wonder” – players called up on the back of exceptional form or circumstance to fill a void in the national team, or simply as a misjudged experiment. Recent candidates include Portsmouth flop David Nugent, while Jimmy Bullard has a lot of hard work to do at Hull to avoid being similarly derided. 

So I’ve put together a team of recent players to fall into the “one-cap” trap since the Premiership‘s inception in 1992. I have been careful to leave out the footballers who are likely to add to their tally, with the likes of Robert GreenBen Foster and Gabriel Agbonlahor left off the list (sorry Phil Jagielka, but that’s just my opinion). I have also missed out Francis Jeffers (who has a record of one goal in one game for England) and Michael Ball, because some wasted talent is a little too hard to stomach. To see players like Chris Sutton (a Premiership winner with Blackburn) and former UEFA Champion’s League semi-finalist Lee Bowyer in the team is certainly food for thought.

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I would love any thoughts or opinions about the respective qualities of the players above, and why any manager – and particularly such a venerable old hand as Terry Venables – would allow David Unsworth onto an international football pitch. I mean, seriously?