Thursday, 28 March 2013

Why Manchester City's Scott Sinclair destroyed the Sinclair of old

Scott Sinclair's move from Swansea City to Premier League champions had an air of ambition about it. It signalled the turning tide in Sinclair's stop-start career in professional football. From a reserve at Chelsea to the champions of England in a matter of years, nothing could have gone wrong, but it did.

Originally a product of Bristol Rovers, Sinclair made the move to Chelsea in July 2005 for an initial £200k with increments rising to a possible £750k based on certain circumstances. Not a bad fee for a recently turned 16-year-old, and just two years later Sinclair was making his mark on the Chelsea senior side, appearing in a League Cup Semi-Final match against Wycombe.

With huge investment from owner Roman Abramovich taking shape, Sinclair saw his opportunities at SW9 thwarted by the likes of Joe Cole, Damien Duff and Arjen Robben. Numerous loan spells at six different clubs between the period of 2007 and 2010 surely highlighted the end of his Chelsea career, despite making five appearances (one against Arsenal and the other a starting place in the XI v Manchester United). For a young man destined to reach the top by a host of professionals and even members of the Chelsea board and coaching staff, frustration had set in and it was time for Sinclair to seek regular first team football.

So, along came Swansea, signing Sinclair for a measley £500k fee on a three-year-deal. It was a change in the wind for the man rated so highly at Chelsea but never fully utilised. Sinclair became the inspiration for Swansea City's jump to the big-time. His performances inspired a side, once plying their trade in the depths of Division 4, to the very top of English football - the Premier League. 27 goals in 50 appearances in all competitions during Swansea's promotion-gaining 2010-11 season was the pinnacle of Sinclair's career as the Swans became the first Welsh side to stamp its authority in the coveted 'Best League in the World'.

Sinclair's form continued after the summer break, scoring his side's first ever goal in the Premier League against former champions Arsenal. A more conservative eight goals in the league was an unjustified return to a man so inspirational to Swansea's 11th place finish in their debut campaign. Sinclair played all 38 league games for Swansea, cementing his place as Swansea's most potent attacking threat, and perhaps just as crucially, the club's talisman.

At the start of this campaign, however, Sinclair's love for Swansea had dimished. He was set for pastures new in Manchester, ironically the hometown of his new girlfriend, actress Helen Flanagan. Unbeknown to many of us, Sinclair's move to City, hyped with so much anticipation after the departure of Adam Johnson from the Etihad, would create the biggest setback of Sinclair's career. Sinclair played his final game for Swansea at the start of the season and scored, before completing his journey across the Welsh and English border on 31 August 2012. Now, how does a starter for Swansea, become an outcast at Manchester City? I don't even think Sinclair himself knows.

Since his move from the Liberty Stadium, Sinclair has made just EIGHT appearances for Roberto Mancini's "champions", starting just TWICE and playing a total of 169 competitive minutes in no less than SEVEN months. The problem Sinclair has is that with a lack of first-team football and a contract running until the summer of 2016, he has to stick with it. A move away would mean more relocating for a man who seems relatively settled - location wise, and a loan move would bring back memories of slumming it in the reserves at his earliest Premier League club, Chelsea.

The benefit Sinclair has is time. He is only 24, and has time to redevelop his ability in England, but his decision to move to City was far from ambitious, and more toward the deluded spectrum. He made a career mistake and it's a mistake he must solve quickly. His flourishing ability at Swansea earned him admirers across the land and calls for him to be including with England. But now, we have the shadow of a talented youngster, another missing piece of English talent, talent gone through one stupid, ignorant and naive move to Manchester City.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

England's weak links must be dropped to find successful era

For months on end, England manager Roy Hodgson has pledged an alliegance to the 'loyal' men with the Three Lions on their chests. While the English faithful sit and pray for the long-desired day of success at a major tournament to come flying round the corner, they may be waiting for an infinity before our nation's managers realise that the next generation of superstars must be plunged onto the international scene for success to come anytime soon.

Image courtesy of Creative/Wikimedia Commons
Author: Олег Дубина

Some have called England's 1-1 draw with Montenegro in Podgorica a "disappointment", an "embarrassment" and even a "shambles". Lying in second in the World Cup qualifying group - it is not the time for the fans to be pointing fingers at a generic England, who somehow find themselves ranked the 4th best team in the world. It is instead time for the manager to realise the change the fans desire is a manager with some bottle.

Hodgson himself lacks bottle. He's the gentleman of football, but he is certainly the one capable to inspire a generation to international success. For some time now, I have been pleading for the manager to make changes which are obvious to the masses, but oblivious to the people who matter. It's a curious case of whether the coaching staff are willing to build for a better future, a future filled with talented youngsters, something in which England currently have in abundance.

Danny Welbeck is a suitable example. At the age of 22, the Manchester United forward is an established member of the starting XI. So he should be, he's earned his place with a consistent level of performances and an impressive major tournament debut in Poland and Ukraine during Euro 2012. Hodgson's faith in Welbeck is a step in the right direction. But there are a small minority of England's current crop who do nothing but halt England's rise to compete with the giants of world football.

There was a time I believed Wayne Rooney did not warrant his place in the England side. I was wrong. Even though he has yet to truly excel when it really matters for England, a stat of 26 competitive internationals goals, level with Michael Owen, is a testament to how important Rooney could be to this step into the future.

Steven Gerrard is another who seems to flounder when we really need him. His early goal at the 2010 World Cup against the USA showed signs of early promise that it was to be England's time, but his lacklustre performances post-USA in South Africa still leave an air of doubt over the captain's true ability to take England further. Gerrard's presence in Brazil is a must. England still requires that experience but too much responsibility is placed on a man who just cannot burden the weight of club and country expectations on his withering shoulders any longer.

While Rooney and Gerrard may have their critics, they are needed. The 'contributors' to England who should be nowhere near the setup continue to plague a squad with the true talent forced into international exile.

Glen Johnson, James Milner and Ashley Young are the three contributors at the dock. The latter especially has become a mere shadow of the potential he showed pre-Euro 2012. His goal against Norway just before travelling to Poland and Ukraine rounded off an impressive spell of form for both club and country. Young's performances were, quite rightly, earning him plaudits across the land, but his Euro 2012 impact was nothing short of disastrous. It was a disaster, capped off by his horrific penalty miss in the shoot-out against Italy. Just another victim of the cruel penalty curse which also continues to plague England's success in major tournaments. While some may argue Young offers England a new dimension, others critcise his lack of incisiveness, creativity and fight which makes a successful international.
Milner is another who continues to find his way into the first team but offers no real attacking threat or defensive structure.

Image courtesy of Creative/Wikimedia Commons
Author: Станислав Ведмидь/Stanislav Vedmid'/Stanisław Wiedmid'

But why should he be offering defensive structure when he's being played as a winger? A winger who fails to leave defenders for dead and swinging in deadly balls - Milner's presence in the England team mirrors that of Stewart Downing, another club hopeful who failed to transfer his Middlesbrough form over to the white of his country. For too long many have been baffled by Milner's inclusion in the squad, let alone the first team. His effort on a field is undeniable, the man works his socks off, but that's all he gives, and if it's become a time when our manager picks players on effort, then our manager should be in charge of kids football for him to display that type of affection.
Glen Johnson is England's third choice right-back. This is not Roy Hodgson's opinion obviously, nor is it mine, but it is a fact. Two players infinitely better than Johnson in that position have been benched and forced into the exile road. Kyle Walker, who performed so outstandingly against San Marino deserved his shot against Montenegro. His pace, strength and ferocious forward play for Tottenham is a demonstration of the ability the 22-year-old has, and it is time Hodgson recognised that an ageing, lethargic Glen Johnson simply cannot cut it anymore for his country. Micah Richards is another forced onto the barren wasteland of club football and ONLY club football. Denied a spot in the squad for Euro 2012, he is another who's potential has remained unfulfilled merely down to a lack of international experience. Thwarted by managers who fail to highlight true talent.

One saving grace for England's current imbalance in the side is Hodgson's persistence in the likes of Welbeck, Cleverley and Smalling, all starting against Montenegro last night. These players have it. As do Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Phil Jones, Leighton Baines, and perhaps just as crucially, England's main talisman Jack Wilshere.

It is at a stage where Hodgson must make some bold decisions in the run-in to Brazil. With England lingering behind Montenegro in second place, he simply must identify the weaknesses in the side before an automatic qualifying spot becomes untouchable. While Ashley Young can still offer a squad player status, Johnson and Milner must depart a squad brimming with talent waiting to make its mark on the nation. The team will continue to centre around Wayne Rooney, but the one who should be our main ambassador is Jack Wilshere. He is the focal point of Arsenal and will be the focal point of England. His presence, passion, and tenacity in any midfield is one England must utilise to its full ability, while the likes of Young, Milner and Johnson are the dead wood which England must abolish to produce any success in the short-term.