Wednesday 29 July 2015

Eredivisie to The Premier League: 2015/16

With Holland being a constant production line of talent, here is a profiling of the players making a move from the Eredivisie to the Premier League this current season.

Memphis Depay: PSV to United- £25 million

The new Ronaldo?
By far the most high profile and expensive move across the North Sea, Memphis (as he likes to be referred to as) arrives at Manchester United with huge reputation following a season where he scored 22 Eredivisie goals, thereby cementing his status as one of the most exciting young players in the world.

Though he was primarily deployed by PSV as a left-winger that cuts in on his right foot, it is being suggested that Memphis may well be groomed as the eventual heir to Wayne Rooney as the man to lead the line at United, a rumour that has been strengthened by the fact that he has been handed the number 9 shirt for preseason games. For now, however, it is likely that he will compete with Ashley Young for the left wing spot in Van Gaal’s 4-3-3, as well as backing up Wayne Rooney up top.

Memphis will have to deal with the pressure of making a step up to a club of United’s stature, particularly with comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo being made by sections of the Old Trafford faithful, due to his trickery and eye for the spectacular. However, his most impressive trait that he shares with Ronaldo is his obsessive desire to fulfil his immense potential and to improve day in and day out. It is this factor, beyond all else, which persuaded Van Gaal to part with £25 million for the 21 year old.

Georginio Wijnaldum: PSV to Newcastle United- £14.5 million

Coup of the season

With Ligue 1 long being Newcastle Chief Scout Tony Carr’s quarry for bargains, the capture of Wijnaldum may be the start of a shift of focus towards trawling the Eredivisie for additions to Mike Ashley’s investment portfolio. This is because even at £14.5 million, a sizable transfer fee for Newcastle United’s standards, Wijnaldum has to be one of the coups of the season, as is the player’s immense quality.

Not many can claim to have captained their club to a league and cup double at 24 but this, alongside having been a regular starter for the Dutch national team for several years now are but two feathers in Wijnaldum’s cap. More impressively still has been the fact that he has excelled in a number of roles during his short career, including the right wing, central midfield and number 10 positions, emphasising both his completeness as a player and his professional attitude. He has however stated that his favoured position is playing just off the striker, and there may be concerns that he, Siem De Jong and Moussa Sissoko may cause an overload in one position for Newcastle.

Questions may also be raised in why a player who has achieved so much in the last two years on both the domestic, European and international stage has moved to Newcastle United. One certainly hopes that his relatively modest destination ensures that he remains a regular first team starter as his presence should be a real treat for Premier League fans (except maybe Sunderland ones).

Jordy Clasie: Feyenoord to Southampton-£8 million

Same age as Ed Woodward it seems

A player who has followed in the footsteps of Graziano Pelle and Dusan Tadic in following Ronald Koeman from the Eredivisie to the Premier League, Saints fans will certainly be hoping that Jordy Clasie can emulate the success of his new teammates. Given his most recent season at Feyenoord, they certainly have every reason to be hopeful.

A defensive midfielder, Claise has seemingly been signed to take the place of Morgan Schniederlin, although he is by no means a like for like replacement for the Frenchman. At 5”7 and resembling a 12 year old boy, Clasie lacks Schniederlin’s physical presence. Although he more than makes up for this with his tenacity (cue a lazy comparison to Edgar Davids) it will be interesting to see how he handles the step up in physicality that the Premier League presents him with.

Where Clasie does offer an improvement to Schniederlin is in his technique and intelligence. He is one of those players like Michael Carrick or Xavi who always seems to have time on the ball and can dictate play to a level that belies his 24 years.

Though he is a shy and introverted character who displayed nerves when he came onto the scene at both club and international level, his close relationship with Koeman should ensure that Clasie does not disappoint Southamption fans—that is until Liverpool or Manchester United inevitably utilise their newest feeder club.

Cuco Martina: Twente to Southampton- £1.5 million

First Curacao international in the Premier League- good pub quiz answer

While certainly the less exciting Southampton import from the Eredivisie, Cuco Martina may yet play an important role for the Saints this season, particularly given their involvement in the notoriously squad-stretching Europa League this year.

The player had an unremarkable season in what was a poor campaign for FC Twente last season, and it is his versatility rather than his individual quality which likely brought him to St Marys. He is a natural right back but can play anywhere across the back four or in defensive midfield. Though he is unlikely to start regularly in any of these positions, barring injuries to teammates, he may yet prove to be an important signing following the departures of Nathanial Clyne and Toby Alderweireld. Don’t expect fireworks though.

Steven Berghuis: AZ Alkmaar to Watford- £4.5 million

Berghuis: exciting but is he tough enough?

A free scoring winger who had a trial at Chelsea and Tottenham as a youngster, Steven Berghuis is a player that AZ fans will certainly miss following his 11 goals for them last year

Despite this, there are some concerns about his suitability in joining a club like Watford. Although he is by no means a lazy player, he may well prove to be too lightweight to be effective in a team regularly playing on the back foot in games, and although he has the creativity to unlock defences in tight games, he is by no means complete enough to carry a struggling team.

In short, his personal success may be heavily predicated on the success of the Watford project as a whole. If they can thrive in the Premier League continuing their attacking style, Hornets fans are in for an exciting prospect as he certainly compliments this strategy. However, in games where Watford need to sacrifice inspiration for perspiration Berghuis may well be the fall guy.

Kristoffer Nordfeldt: Heerenveen to Swansea- £800k

Too good for the bench?

Though not likely to be a starter ahead of Lukas Fabianski, especially considering the Pole’s fine form last season, Swansea’s signing of Kristoffer Nordfeldt is a further example of the value that can be found in the Eredivisie this window.

The goalkeeper was Heerenveen’s player of the season last campaign, keeping 10 clean sheets and making the most amount of saves out of everyone in the league. He will certainly be one of the better second choice goalkeepers in the Premier League this coming season, despite being one of the least expensive. If Fabianski were to suffer an injury or dip in form Nordfeldt would certainly offer a solid replacement and may prove hard to dislodge, particularly given the fact that his ability with the ball of his feet endears himself to Swansea’s possession based style.

For now, however, it is likely that the principal of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” means that Nordfeldt will begin this coming season on the bench.

Tuesday 21 July 2015

Van Gaal’s toughest transfer

Manchester United have impressed so far this transfer window, but still face a major challenge

It’s safe to say that Manchester United fans will be happy with their clubs business in the transfer window so far. The additions of Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin mean that, for the first time in a long time, United can go toe to toe in central midfield with any club in the Premier League, whilst captures of Memphis Depay and Matteo Darmian have also got fans drooling over their flair and reliability respectively.

Though the longstanding problem positions of central midfield and right back may have been solved this summer, Van Gaal still clearly has to plug more gaps in the United squad if they are to challenge for honours next season. Though a leading centre back is one role that needs such recruiting, a far tougher challenge is the signing of a striker who can provide reliable cover for Wayne Rooney now he has been given full responsibility for leading the line at United.

Whilst a second choice striker may not be the most high profile role in a squad, two factors about Van Gaal’s system at United make it a near impossible role to fill adequately.

The first of these factors has to do with Van Gaal’s adoption a 4-3-3 at United. Despite it merits, the formation does have the tendency to leave its solitary centre forward isolated, a problem which is further exacerbated by Van Gaal’s preference to have his players stick to their positions rather than to roam around in an attempt to find the ball. Therefore, to successfully make an impact as a centre forward in this formation a striker needs to be in one of two moulds.

The first of these is the bullish mould: a striker who can impact the game even when isolated, either through the pressing and bullying of centre backs even when he doesn’t have the ball and/or through being such a goal scoring threat that defenders cannot keep their eyes of him for a second—with or without the ball. Rooney and Luis Suarez typify this type of striker and its no coincidence that they have both successfully led the line in a 4-3-3, whilst many others have failed.

Luis Suarez: A bullish striker who can spearhead a 4-3-3

The second type of striker that can be successfully deployed in this role is the zeitgeisty “false 9”, an unorthodox striker who roams around the final and middle thirds of the pitch, contributing to several phases of play to both score and lay on goals for teammates. A good “false 9” needs to be as proficient in setting up goal scoring chances as finishing them and also requires the intelligence to know when to roam deeper and when to hold their position to ensure their team are not outnumbered in attack. Francesco Totti and Lionel Messi are two players who can play this position well. Due to the massive demands of this position there have been a lot more trainwrecks in it than success stories for the "false 9" as players fail to strike the balance between being a creative force and a goal scorer.

The key point here is that both centre forward roles in a 4-3-3 require an incredibly complete footballer to play them. As they will not be spoon fed the ball in the way a striker playing off of a dedicated number 10 or with a strike partner may be, they need to be able to create their own chances or contribute more to their team than just goals, but not at the expense of goal scoring itself. A striker who cannot do this simply will not work in a 4-3-3, and it is this stringent role criteria which has seen the likes Robin Van Persie banished from the club.

So, if the first factor that makes the second choice striker berth such a hard one to fill at United is the difficulty of the role itself, then the second factor that makes this such a tough recruitment mission is that a second choice striker at United will never be more than second choice. Whether it be due to Van Gaal’s undying faith in his captain or a clause in his obscene contract, Rooney is never dropped. If two strikers earning in excess of £200,000 a week could not get a game ahead of him then no player can rightfully expect to displace him from the starting line up. This is obviously a massive turn off for any potential transfer targets.

What Van Gaal therefore appears to be looking for in his striker search is one who is complete enough to spearhead his 4-3-3 formation but who is also happy being at very best a rotation player. Such a player simply does not exist. Any player who possesses the broad skill set required to fill the centre forward role in Van Gaal’s system could command a starting place at a top European club. A player who would choose to warm the benches at United rather than to start for a similar (or even slightly smaller) statured club is immediately the wrong player for them, posing a seemingly impassable dilemma to this recruitment mission.

Though Van Gaal has recently said that he will bring in another “mystery” striker, there is an argument that a potential solution already lies within the club in the shape of young Memphis. Though the player is unproven as a striker at any level, he possesses the pace aggression and eye for a goal that could see him develop into a striker of the first variety described. This also overcomes the lack of game time issue as Memphis can play on the left wing (albeit not as first choice) whilst Rooney is fit. United have enough cover in that position through Ashley Young and Angel Di Maria that they will not be left short on the wing if Memphis is to play up front.

A second possible alternative is to sign a right winger, a position which United are in short supply of, who can also play up front in a 4-3-3. Though, for reasons set out earlier, a perfect solution is unlikely to be found, Barcelona’s Pedro is the closest thing to this currently available and it will be of little surprise to see him unveiled as Van Gaal’s “mystery” striker signing.

Could Pedro be Van Gaal's next signing?

Thursday 16 July 2015

Turns out my prediction was right (article first published 16/2/2015 on Backpage Football)

On Valentine’s Day it was announced that Aston Villa have appointed Tim Sherwood to be their new manager, signing a contract until the end of the 2017/18 season. This appointment has received a mixed response from pundits and Villa fans alike, with the general consensus being that it is at best a massive gamble by the club.

In many ways, however, Sherwood’s appointment as Villa manager makes a lot of sense. Although he has limited experience, he has shown some evidence that he is the right man to address The Villan’s deficiencies and build on what strengths the club already possess.

The first and most obvious problem that the new Villa manager must address is their lack of goals. Twelve goals in twenty-five league games is asking for relegation, especially when you consider that it means that in an average league game an opponent only needs to score once to defeat the Midlands club, and a team at the foot of the table can never really be relied on to keep clean sheets.

Given his record as manager of Tottenham Hotspur, it would not be too farfetched to suggest that Sherwood has the ability to improve Aston Villa’s goal output. During his (admittedly short) stint as Spurs boss during the latter half of last season his side to scored an average of 1.9 goals per game in the league. This was a vast improvement from Andre Villas Boas’s record during the first half of the same season where Spurs only managed to average 1.0 goals a game.

When one delves deeper into Spurs’ attacking statistics under Sherwood, one finds more cause for optimism for his Villa reign. A massive part of Aston Villa’s goal shortage is their utterly shocking chance conversion ratio, which is the second worst in all the major leagues in Europe. Under Sherwood, Spurs had the best chance conversion ratio in the Premier League, indicating that if anyone can get Villa’s attackers firing, it is he.

A large factor as to why Tottenham Hotspur’s scoring rate almost doubled between the reigns of Villas Boas and that of Sherwood last season was the rejuvenation of Emmanuel Adebayor under the latter manager. Having been frozen out during the first half of the season, the Togolese striker returned to score 10 goals in 20 league appearances. Adebayor himself acknowledged that his return to form owed much to Sherwood’s influence, as can be shown through both his famous salute of the manager after a goal against Sunderland, and his public vocal support of the manager to keep his position beyond the end of the 2013/14 season.

Aston Villa fans will certainly be hoping that Sherwood can have a similar effect on their out of form striker Christian Benteke as he had on Adebayor at Spurs. The Belgian striker has only scored two league goals all season but, like Adebayor, can be unplayable when confident and on form. Villa’s potential to ascend from danger will surely rest heavily on whether Benteke can get back amongst the goals, and, as has been stated, there is good evidence to suggest that Sherwood can be the man to bring him back to his best.

It is Sherwood’s ability to instil confidence in players, particularly attacking players, which may well ensure that his appointment is a gamble that will pay off. Villa’s lack of goals can be attributed to their midfielders and attackers always choosing the safe option rather than attempting a run or killer pass. This lack of creativity has been further highlighted with the recent introduction to the team of exciting playmaker Carles Gil. Gil’s adventurous and creative play bears a stark contrast to all of his new teammates, quite possibly because he has not been a part of the Villa camp for long enough for the negative atmosphere to drain away his confidence.

Sherwood’s first task as Villa manager will therefore be to give his players the belief and freedom to express themselves on the field. Given the upsurge in form of attacking players such as Adebayor, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane during Sherwood’s time as Spurs manager it would seem that he has the capabilities to achieve this.

Although it must be admitted that Sherwood came nowhere near to alleviating Spurs’ mental block against the bigger sides, his former team’s ability to bounce back from humiliations at the hands of Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City suggest that he has the motivational skills to overcome the setbacks that will surely occur during a relegation scrap.

Sherwood’s ability to give attacking players more creative freedom may see Villa reaping instant benefits. Though their recent form has been woeful, having not won a league game since early December, they have just finished a very difficult run of fixtures and are entering into a period of winnable games. An injection of confidence, particularly into their attacking players, could therefore see them picking up some momentum into the business end of the season.

Perhaps the biggest reason, however why Sherwood seems a good fit for Aston Villa is his excellent record of working with young players. Sherwood was in charge of the Tottenham Hotspur Under-21 side that reached the final of the first ever Barclays Under-21 Premier League. He should be heavily credited for the large number of young players making an impact at White Hart Lane at the moment, in particular Harry Kane and Nabil Bentaleb, who he personally blooded into the first team during the latter half of last season.

Such ability to bring through younger players is an essential trait for any Aston Villa manager, particularly given owner Randy Lerner’s refusal to inject money into the club’s transfer kitty. The Villan’s have a tradition of youth products making an impact in the first team, and Sherwood could definitely continue this tradition, particularly given Villa’s clear need for fresh legs and minds within the first team.

Sherwood’s ability to work with young talent will also be incredibly important for Villa’s long-term future. With Lerner seemingly looking to offload the club, a young, talented and inexpensively assembled team will attract investors. As well as this, should Villa fan’s nightmares come true and they are relegated, Sherwood has the skills to assemble a new team cheaply, meaning that he is a sensible option as Villa manager as opposed to the gamble that many are making him out to be.

Despite this, many Villa supporters are still dissatisfied with the appointment of Sherwood, with their main gripe being his lack of managerial experience and, more specifically, his lack of experience in guiding teams through relegation battles. Indeed, he does have absolutely no experience in this situation, and that is not ideal, however there is a strong case to be made that such experience is not as important as it seems, particularly given how this particular campaign is panning out at the bottom of the table.

First of all, one must look at the managers of the teams around them, and compare what experience they have to that of Sherwood. Indeed, Tony Ferndandes’s ‘dream manager’ at QPR has no head management experience in football, Sean Dyche is in first season of Premier League management and, given his recent indiscretions, the more experienced Nigel Pearson appears to be losing the plot at Leicester. In addition to this, relegation “specialist” Harry “Houdini” Redknapp’s recent work at QPR must beg the question of whether experience is really as valuable as people it make out to be.

An interesting contrast can also be made between the managerial appointments of Villa and their Midland rivals West Bromwich Albion, who recently appointed Tony Pulis as the man to lead them to safety. Such an appointment could not be in a more different vein to that of Sherwood’s at Villa. Pulis is certainly a relegation specialist, as can be shown through his miracle work last season at Crystal Palace. To see West Brom getting relegated under his leadership would be unpredictable to say the least.

However there are also some major drawbacks of West Brom’s new managerial appointment. It is unlikely that Pulis will stay at the club in the long term, particularly given their “continental” management structure which sees Pulis having no real control over transfers, this being the reason why he left Crystal Palace at the start of the season. Sherwood, on the other hand, seems to have been appointed for his ability to develop a team gradually, and the Aston Villa board’s hopes will surely be that they already possess the personnel to achieve their short term goal of safety, so long as they have the required confidence.

This type of long termism in the face of adversity is all too rare in football and should be respected, even if it is not necessarily rewarded.

A second problem that Villa fans may have with Sherwood revolves around his media handling style, which can be very aggressive at times. During his spell in charge of Spurs he publicly criticised his players and at times resembled a stroppy teenager at press conferences. A worry for Villa fans could be that if he continues this eccentric media style and results do not improve then the Birmingham club could become the laughing stock of English football.

However Sherwood’s displays in front of the media may actually prove to be an advantage in a relegation battle. It could divert pressure away from underperforming players, and give Villa a “wildcard” club persona that could unnerve sides around them. At the very least, Sherwood’s antics will at least provide Villa fans with some entertainment, something which has been painfully lacking at Villa Park this season.

Given all this, it would seem that Sherwood’s strengths greatly outweigh his weaknesses in being the new Aston Villa management, and considering the dearth of other options available, Sherwood’s appointment should surely be seen as much more than just a big gamble.


Phileppe Mexes— Europe’s own Kenny Powers (first posted 11th Feb 2015)

In his own eyes, Phileppe Mexes has it all. Outrageous footballing talent, warrior-like aggression, great hair—all the things needed to make him the most gifted French centre half since Marcel Desailly.

And until fairly recently there would be many who have agreed with him (hair aside—most are not as big fans of the greasy-blond-rat look as the Frenchman). A player who could combine superb technique with the ability to shut down strikers like no other, Mexes was once one of the most coveted young defenders on the planet.

However with an ego as large as his temper is short, ill-discipline and a complete lack of professionalism has brought his career to a standstill.

Now serving yet another four-game suspension at struggling AC Milan, the Frenchman cuts a bloated and almost broken figure; permanently red faced due to either a blind rage or an inability to keep up with his man. Despite being the Rossoneri’s highest paid player and most experienced centre-back, there are whispers coming out of the club that the player may be released early from his contract, a poignant statement of how Mexes’s personality has completely negated from his vast ability.

Unlike other footballers who’s careers have had similar fates, it is near impossible to feel any sympathy towards Mexes, as every one of his indiscretions smacks of someone completely undeserving of their remarkable talent. He is, in essence, football’s equivalent to Eastbound and Down’s Kenny Powers.

For the uninitiated, Eastbound and Down is HBO’s recently ended sports comedy, co-created by Will Ferrell and Danny McBride. The show chronicles the attempted comeback of Kenny Powers, an immensely talented and once dominant baseball pitcher who, due to a ridiculous lack of professionalism and sense of self –entitlement, has been forced out of the game because no team will touch him with a bargepole.

Powers is vain, egotistical to the point of sociopathy and, above all, is disgustingly aware of his own talent. The similarities to Mexes are huge. In fact, Mexes’s unavailability for a Champions league tie due to an eye injury sustained by overuse of sunbeds could have actually been pulled straight from episode of Eastbound—a running joke in the show is Powers’s forever growing sunglasses tan line.

Admittedly, the sporting “mad genius” is a bit of a stock character, and it could be argued that there are many examples of Kenny Powers in all sports. However, the similarities between Powers and Mexes are truly striking.

First of all, Kenny Powers is the embodiment of the negative American stereotype. He is loud, self-important and truly believes that he benefits all of those with whom he encounters. Mexes, in the same vein, cuts a caricature of the Latin-European man: slimy, overly-coiffured, and (like everyone who has had the misfortune of having to introduce their French Exchange to a female sibling) is inexplicably fawned upon. Despite being the weak link of a mid-table AC Milan side for over a season and seemingly unable to control his waistline (another trait he shares with the Eastbound star) he still manages to divide opinion amongst Milan fans. His supporters, however, are unsurprisingly dwindling in number.

Mexes’s playing style also seems to mirror Kenny Powers’s attitude towards his craft, as is epitomized in his deplorable (but sadly somewhat truthful) claim that: ‘fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless’. Indeed, Mexes’s talent is startling, anyone who has seen his bicycle-kick lobbed goal against Anderlecht will tell you that. However, all too often he will try to defend spectacularly, rather than simply and effectively, resulting in a high level of mistakes caused by the conceited belief that his talent alone will see him through every situation.

That is not to say that Mexes’s talent has not brought him success. Much like how Powers was once a dominant player in the MLB, so was Mexes once a darling of European football. Indeed, he was instrumental in delivering his first professional club Auxerre to two of their most successful seasons (2001-2003) where they played in the Champions League proper and won the Coup De France. The defender’s personal success at the club was so great that he was named in their all time best 11, despite leaving the club at 23.

The nature of the centre-back’s transfer from the club he was at since 11 years old to AS Roma, however, was indicative of his relentless and eventually self-destructive ego.

In the arrogant belief that his own career progression was more important that contractual law, Mexes walked out of his existing contract with the Ligue 1 side and signed a with Roma in 2004, despite receiving no permission to do so from his current club. Though a fee was eventually agreed through the Court of Arbitration, Auxerre never truly recovered from Mexes’s unauthorized departure and currently sit in mid-table in Ligue 2.

Though such a despicably turncoat act would have made Kenny Powers proud, the biggest parallel to be drawn between these two characters are their insatiable appetites for violence.

Throughout Eastbound, Powers has several violent encounters with other pros, including knocking out the eyeball of long time rival Reg Mackworthy in a particularly gruesome scene. Though Mexes has never achieved that level of gore, he does have a number of punches to his name, including to one time bite victim Giorgio Chiellini.

Out of the staggering 43 games he has missed through suspension in his career, about a third have been due to violent conduct. Simply put, the man loves a scrap—seemingly more than actually playing football.

And herein lies the tragic nature of Phileppe Mexes. Much like how throughout Eastbound, it is implied that Kenny Powers’s return to the MLB is fuelled by his violent behaviour being marketable, rather than his on field talent, it seems that Mexes is becoming little more than a footballing shock-jock.

Though he will surely find a club after AC Milan (who will certainly not renew his contract) and avoid the actual fate of Kenny Powers, Phileppe Mexes will now always be remembered for his unhinged character rather than his truly remarkable footballing ability.

Chelsea and the media- Oh the hypocricy

The backend of last season saw Chelsea wrapping up the English Premier League at a canter, bringing the trophy back to Stamford Bridge for the first time in five years. Though such an achievement would naturally spark envy from fans of other title challenging (an inappropriately strong word in this case) clubs, one would hope that ultimately the feeling across the whole English footballing community would be one of reverence for their new champions, and an excitement that the nation may, for the first time in a while, be on the verge of producing a true European superpower.

As refreshingly reasonable as such an attitude may be, it was clearly too much to ask for the English media. In a society where negativity flows and praise is always so begrudging the back pages of April and May filled up with column itches decrying The Blues as “boring” and somehow underserving of their awaiting trophy.

Now, though there has been some backlash against this ridiculous anti-Chelsea sentiment, with more rationally-inclined pundits pointing to the facts that Chelsea were the second highest scorers in the league and stating the outrageous claim that switching to a more defensive set up when you are leading a tight game with 20 minutes to go is not a war crime, the full extent of the hypocrisy of the Chelsea bashing has not yet been appreciated. Indeed, it is symptomatic of a self-contradictory mentality where common-sense club management and success is at once demanded and derided—to the eventual detriment of the English game.

The “boring” good sense to which Chelsea have been criticised for runs deeper than simply employing negative tactics for pivotal games. The whole squad has been assembled to fit a certain style, one which emphasises reliability and robustness over flair and individuality. Exceptionally talented players such as Juan Mata and Kevin De Bruyne have been sacrificed to support the overall system and at one point even the league’s best player Eden Hazard was touted to leave due to his overly individualistic style. The arrival of industrious winger Willian and short-term return of Didier Drogba in an almost exclusive front-post-defending role has further cemented the squad around this winning philosophy.

So if building a team around a balanced strategy which can deliver success is what makes Chelsea so dull, then such criticisms from fans of title-rivalling clubs are rich to say the least. Take Arsenal fans, who were most vocal in their “boring boring Chelsea” chants last season, for instance. It is those exact same fans who have been crying out for Arsene Wenger to make some defensive signings and who were waxing poetic about the “understated genius” of Frances Coquelin, a player about as exciting as muesli but with whom Arsenal only lost twice last season.

Similarly, the Manchester United fans who were bitter after their defeat by Chelsea in April even though they had the majority of the possession (because apparently that never happens in football) also complain when their squad contains the same amount of senior number 10s as centre backs and therefore lose 5-3 to Leicester in a game that they would almost certainly have preferred to win 1-0.

In short, with very few exceptions, highly successful teams play a pragmatic style based on a solid foundation and only allowing a few select players too much creative freedom. Jose Mourinho’s success across the continent is testament to the universality of this fact. Yes football fans have every right to deplore this fact and try to push for winning trophies with only exciting football, but they cannot however moan when another team is successful through a pragmatic strategy and then complain about their own team employing an overly na├»ve strategy.

The hypocrisy of English fans in their scorn pouring of Chelsea’s successes is not just limited to jealous fans of other title contenders who lament the lack of coherency to which their club is managed. Rather any English football fan who is currently complaining about the Premier League team’s lack of presence in the latter stages of European competitions dare not have joined the boring brigade against Mourinho’s men. Tactical naivety has been one of the biggest causes of this recent slump, most notably demonstrated by Manchester City’s decision to play two up top against Barcelona, or Arsenal’s gung-ho style against Monaco, which led to the only time in recorded history where Dimitar Berbatov scored on the counter. Though Chelsea did not make it much further in Europe last season, they certainly have the tactical nous to navigate tricky two legged ties where keeping a clean sheet at home is of highest importance and therefore offer England’s greatest hope by a country mile of Champions League success.

Chelsea should in fact be seen as an example for other English clubs to follow. Whereas the Manchester clubs have been spending silly money creating top heavy teams packed with big names, many of whom often fail to deliver, Chelsea are gradually creating a side who although have star power, are ultimately greater than the sum of their parts and operate beyond their relative spend. 

If that is seen as boring by English fans than they ought to be embarrassed.