Category Archives: Football

The role of ego in Steven Gerrard’s decision to leave Liverpool

The captain will depart... All rights are reserved for this image ©
The captain will depart… All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

The first thing to say, is that ego is not a bad thing. Particularly in sports, ego can often improve performance.

 

Lionel Messi has ego, Cristiano Ronaldo has ego, Paul Scholes had Roy Keane had ego, and Steven Gerrard has ego. Different types of ego, but egos nonetheless. It inspires them to try things on a football pitch that others would not dare try. They believe (with some validity), that they are quite simply, better than the other players on the pitch. They know they are world class.

The ego which can help dispatch last minute pressure penalties, inspire comebacks that can only be dreamt of and score goals of world class ability because they know they can. In any walk of life, you want to have an ego which tells you that you are better than anybody else at what you do, so whatever you do, you do with full confidence in yourself.

Yet, it is the role of ego which has influenced Steven Gerrard’s decision to leave Liverpool and join LA Galaxy in July. There is no right or wrong in this situation. Many Liverpool fans, with emotion running through their veins, are lambasting the club for ‘allowing’ Gerrard to go. “Give him more money!” “You should have offered a contract sooner!”

When cutting through the emotion, and looking at this situation for what it really is; a footballer of enormous skill, aged 34 and is out of contract at the end of the season. His contribution to the team in terms of goals and assists is still significant. His overall performances in the position he plays are not beneficial to the overall team performance. Is he however, worth keeping? The answer is yes.

Brendan Rodgers tries to copy several of Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial tricks- most notably the envelope trick. He has done the right thing, the ‘Ferguson thing’, in this situation as well. He has told Gerrard, like Ferguson told Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, that the games they played needed to be managed, and that those players would be utilised as squad players.

As a manager, that is his right, to look out for the best interests of the team. The veteran players aren’t as consistent as they were yesteryear, so pick and choose the important games for them, giving them time to prepare specifically for each one. Ryan Giggs was told 3 weeks in advance he’d play against Real Madrid in the second leg in 2013.

Giggs was happy to accept his new role as a squad player. Scholes though, was not. He, like Gerrard, was unable to handle the thought of only being a squad player, so retired at the end of the 2010-2011 season. His ego- his mindset of knowing he had more skill than those around him on the pitch meant he could not handle being a squad player. It was only months into his retirement that he realised how much he missed playing Manchester United, and he returned to play for another 18 months, accepting his new role as a squad player.

The situation with Roy Keane is perhaps the one that mirrors Gerrad’s best. Keane was captain, his robust style of several years had taken a toll on his body. The coaches felt he would best serve the team from the capacity of a squad player, or as a player who did not need to expend much energy anymore – playing deep. Keane and Keane’s ego could not handle it.

Having been the main man, the leader, the focal point, Keane could not handle being something other than the Roy Keane of the 1990s. That, along with his personal issues with the club, culminated in his departure from the club.

Gerrard himself admitted something similar,

“From a professional point of view, everyone knows what I’m like and what I want.

“Since I was 16, 17 years of age, the moment I come into work on a Monday morning my preparations begin to play 90 minutes the following weekend.

“That’s the buzz. I’ve always worked hard all week to prepare and make sure my performance is right come the weekend.

“When it gets to the stage where you don’t know if you’re going to be starting or not it becomes different.

“I’ve never wanted to be a squad player. If I was missing games now, I’d be sitting out even more next season. I knew it would get worse and worse as time went on.”

Rodgers felt Gerrard could contribute to the squad, he would be the leader of the dressing room, a conduit between players and manager, a calm head in the tough situations.

Should Liverpool have tried harder to keep him? Yes. If one should accuse Liverpool of anything, it’s not of disrespect to a legendary player, rather of arrogance.

They thought the captain would never leave. He would always stay, no matter what. This is where they never thought of Gerrard as just a footballer. This is where they thought of him as the man so loyal, he would be the last one to leave the club. This is where they erred.

Gerrard is human. Like all footballers, he needs to feel loved, he needs to feel wanted. They should have opened informal talks with him the moment the World Cup ended, understood what Gerrard wanted from the future, try and persuade him of his importance to the squad. Play on his ego.

This is where Ferguson was masterful. More often than not, he was able to make a player feel as though the club would crumble without him.

 

Alas, it took Gerrard in the winter months to brief the media that he was not yet offered a new contract and bingo, a contract is then offered the next day. The perceptions, whatever the intentions, is what mattered. He and the public felt Liverpool were trying to force Gerrard out.

Liverpool wanted to keep Gerrard. Gerrard did not want to be a squad player. His ego would not allow him to be a squad player. The man who led from the front, ensuring everyone followed him, could not take being a peripheral figure, having once been the main man.

When time passes, perhaps Gerrard will seek to return to Liverpool through a loan move or otherwise, realising, like Scholes, how much he misses playing for his club.

Ultimately, the ego which brought much happiness to Liverpool, is the same ego which will bring a lot of heartbreak come May.

World Cup Final Preview: Argentina vs Germany

The final is with us…who will be the winner? All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

This is it. The finale to the greatest World Cup in the history of World Cups. Yes, there is no Brazil, but in Argentina vs Germany, we are presented with a battle which has a lot of history. The final between the two nations is the 3rd final in recent history.

The 1986  final saw Argentina beat Germany 3-2, in a magic match where Maradona became the legend Maradona. In 1990, when the Germans won 1-0 in what was considered at the time a less than exciting performance from the two teams. Will this match be like the 1986 match, seeing Messi become the legend Messi, like Maradona. Or, will we see a clinical, efficient German win like in 1990?

This is a match which many regard as ‘team vs individual’. The well oiled, cohesive German unit vs the magic of Lionel Messi. Messi has not reached his best in this tournament, but, he has one final chance, one final stage, the biggest stage of them all, to create his very own Maradona moment.

The last time these two teams met in a World Cup, Germany were easy 4-0 winners, 4 years ago in South Africa. They managed to keep Lionel Messi quiet and were hugely impressive that day. Yet, things may be different this time around.

Messi is now much more patient, more intelligent, and has more creativity in the No10 role, than 4 years ago.

The man with the unenviable task of stopping Messi will be Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has played the deep-lying midfield role since the 1-0 quarter-final victory over France. Schweinsteiger is an excellent passer, but can struggle defensively against tricky, top-class opponents. This explains why Joachim Loew was so adamant to play Philipp Lahm there, as he lacks that natural holding midfielder. The rest of the composition of the German midfield is made up of Toni Kroos and Sami Khedira. They will most likely be unable to help Schweinsteiger as they will be tasked with pressing and rushing the Argentine midfield.

Germany have changed the way they play, since the 1-0 loss in 2010 to Spain. Germany sat much deeper, allowed Spain to have the ball and counter attacked whenever possible. However, things changed when Spain went 1-0 through Carlos Puyol, and Germany were then required to chase the ball and chase the game. Spain opted to keep possession without fuss. This is when the Germans were trying to press Spain, yet they expended so much energy in doing so that they were “too tired to do anything with the ball” as Miroslav Klose stated.

Germany have indeed shifted to a more possession based game than before, but the second shift is another thing they took from Spain’s performance that day- the pressing. Pep Guardiola’s famed 7 second rule is to win the ball back within 7 seconds of losing it. Spain did something similar in 2010. Though it is no surprise that Xavi was the leading passer on that day, he also covered the most distance of any player. He led the Spain press, urging his players to win the ball. He showed that the old saying of running more without the ball was nonsense.

Germany have certainly included that aspect in their game this World Cup, pressing higher up the pitch. Kroos and Khedira did this often vs Brazil, to Fernandinho and Gustavo. The 4th goal showed this perfectly; Kroos robbed the ball from Fernandinho, played a one-two with Khedira and converted into an empty net. Germany are now playing passes in the opposition area, as opposed to their own area.

Germany's cohesive machine...can anybody stop them? All rights are reserved for this image ©
Germany’s cohesive machine…can anybody stop them? All rights are reserved for this image ©

There has been much talk about Manuel Neuer as the ‘sweeper keeper’, with many calling him the ‘crazy keeper’. Neuer is essential to this new German style of play. With the emphasis now on pressing higher up the pitch, there is more space left in behind the German defence. That requires Neuer to charge out and cover the space, something he has done very effectively so far. Pressing is not about a few individuals covering space/angles at certain times, it is about a whole team unit doing it in perfect sync.

Argentina will be trying their best not to be overrun in midfield, and not to get broken down by Germany’s pressing. This will be tough for Argentina considering they have had 1 day’s less rest.

Enzo Perez is likely to continue for Argentina in place of Angel Di Maria. Though he is not a natural wing replacement, he will narrow in and make the midfield into a 3 man midfield, which should help Argentina cope better with Germany’s swarm.

The important man for Argentina will be Javier Mascherano. Fernandinho was often caught out for Brazil by dwelling on the ball very and having slow distribution. Argentina’s midfielders, especially Mascherano need to ensure they are not caught out. Mascherano will be helped by his experience at Barcelona, a passing mecca where swift distribution is a necessity.

Argentina are the polar opposite to Germany, which can be reflected in the difference in the 2 goalkeepers. Whilst Neuer is happy to charge out, Romero of Argentina prefers to stay in his area, protected by his deep lying defenders and midfielders. This tactic of cautious deep defending is probably the best solution and method for Argentina to adopt.

The other major threat to Argentina will be Thomas Muller. He is likely to start out on Argentina’s left, facing Marcos Rojo. Rojo must play the best game of his career if he is to stop Muller. Muller has scored 10 World Cup goals, has pace, power and intelligence in abundance.

Going forward, Argentina are wholly reliant on Messi, more so now that Di Maria will most likely be ruled out through injury. Messi plays a much more relaxed role for Argentina than at Barcelona, more of an old-fashioned, languid Argentine No. 10 role. He’s not expected to press energetically, and remains in a position to always receive the ball.

Messi will drift over to the right, as he did regularly during the tedious draw against the Netherlands. This will be a concern for Germany, because their weak link is Benedikt Howedes, who hasn’t looked comfortable at left back. Howedes though, may cope, as being a right footer, he is equipped to stop Messi from drifting inside.

Germany must work as a unit to stop Messi. Schweinsteiger has to be incredibly disciplined, and have the best game of his career, to stop the best player of the modern era. Kroos and Khedira have to press the Argentine midfield to stop them playing balls into Messi. Germany must then somehow find a way to suffocate Messi, and not allow him space to dribble.

This will be a fascinating final. Of course, there is a lot of emphasis on tactics. Yet above everything, in this big final, will be the mentality of each player. Can they cope with the pressure? Can they cope with the eyes of 3 billion on them?

It is time for Germany to stand up, and win a World Cup after 24 years. There are no more excuses. No more ‘potential from players’. Loew himself has said it, “we have players playing at their peak.” This is a team which is far superior to Argentina.

Argentina are the underdogs, but they have Messi. If Messi puts on a show, then the World Cup will belong to Argentina. It is a big ‘IF’. He has looked exhausted in the knock outs. Many question whether he has enough left in the tank to perform in the final, against this rapid-fire German machine.

Can Messi have his Maradona moment? All rights are reserved for this image ©

One feels, it is not tactics which will solely win the game, but cool and calm minds as well. Germany are the favourites, but it is time for Messi to stand up and deliver.

Probable XIs:

Argentina (4-4-1-1): Romero; Zabaleta, F Fernández, Garay, Rojo; E Perez, Mascherano, Biglia, Lavezzi; Messi; Higuaín.

Germany (4-3-3): Neuer; Lahm, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Khedira, Schweinsteiger, Kroos; Özil, Müller, Klose.

 

Argentina vs Netherlands: Semi Final Preview

Who will book a place into the final? All rights are reserved for this image ©

By Manish Pandey.

This match is the meeting of mastery. The mastery of Louis van Gaal vs the mastery of Lionel Messi. All the focus is on the plan van Gaal will devise, to stop Argentina’s wizard from casting such a spell which would send Argentina through to the final at the expense of Netherlands.

Argentina are very reliant on Messi. He has dragged them into the semi-finals, with a little help from Angel Di Maria. Unfortunately for Argentina, Di Maria is a severe doubt for the match, putting sole pressure on Messi.

Argentina have not looked convincing all tournament, this is far from the greatest Argentinian team. Yet there is seemingly a sense of fate developing for Argentina fans. The semi-final falls on the day of Argentinian independence. It is the first time since 1990 and the heroics of Sergio Goycochea, that Argentina have progressed past the quarter-final stage.

There is little criticism in Argentina for the way they have performed. It’s more so about results than eye-catching football. Argentina have indeed delivered a few special moments. Messi, Di Maria and Gonzalo Higuain have provided moments of inspiration, but this is, as Messi says, “more than ever a team.”

Coach Sabella has selection and tactical dilemmas for the semi-final. If Di Maria is indeed out, there is no obvious replacement in the squad. This could lead to a change in system, to a 5-3-2 formation, particularly with the return of Marcos Rojo- the same system which was used without success in the first half vs Bosnia. This however, would be a massive gamble, with Ezequiel Lavezzi missing out, and a risk of upsetting Messi, who disliked this system.

Enzo Perez may come in for Argentina in place of Di Maria, and play as a right sided midfielder. Yet this selection is perhaps the one which decided the team shape.

A positive for Argentina in the win over Belgium was the performance of Martin Demichelis. He justified his selection and put in a powerful performance alongside Ezequiel Garay, coping with the physical threat of Marouane Fellaini and Romelu Lukaku. This bodes well for Argentina, in case Netherlands opt for a more physical presence up top in the form of Klaas jan Huntelaar.

Demichelis is an underrated defender. He is a powerful defender, strong tackler and is relatively effective with possession. He is often caught out at Manchester City because his partnership with Vincent Kompany is not cohesive. Kompany is a front-foot defender, who has a more individual style of defending, as opposed to a partnership based style.

The biggest dilemma for Louis van Gaal will be how to deal with the threat of Lionel Messi. Will he opt for a man to man marker or look to crowd him out? The likelihood is man marking, as van Gaal has opted to man mark his opponents in this tournament.

Van Gaal has perhaps been the most tactically astute out of all the managers in the tournament. He has not been afraid to change formations, displaying 4 different formations at different parts of games throughout.

He has been brave and cold in his decision making. The most notable include taking Robin van Persie off when 1-0 down and bringing on Tim Krul just for the penalty shoot outs. Decisions which worked.

Van Gaal will probably revert to the 3-4-1-2 system he used in the group stage. He can play an attack-minded wing-back on the left, which most likely means Dirk Kuyt but on the right against Lavezzi he’ll favour a more defensive player, probably Daryl Janmaat. Daley Blind is the obvious partner for De Jong- if De Jong returns.

The man-marking in the midfield by Netherlands means Wesley Sneijder will press Javier Mascherano, Blind will be on Lucas Biglia, and De Jong against Messi, playing in a man-marker destroying role. This will force the Argentine centre-backs into more risky passes, as the easy passes into the midfield will not always be available.

Van Gaal has cleverly covered Dutch defensive deficiencies through safety in numbers. Netherlands look very streaky at the back playing just the 2 centre backs, so van Gaal has opted to play 3. As a result, Higuain should be expected to be man-marked very tightly.

Netherlands strategy will be primarily about counter attacking very quickly, through Arjen Robben. Having started wide-right against Costa Rica, where he got three opposition players booked, he’s likely to return to a more central position here, drifting wide into the channels.

Robben will favour himself in any 1v1 situation, so it is vital for Argentina to not allow him to be 1v1.

A problem for Netherlands could be fatigue. They looked shattered in the penalty shoot vs Costa Rica. The World Cup has seen Netherlands go to Salvador to Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo, Fortaleza, back to Salvador and now Sao Paulo once again. These narrow margins could provide to be the difference. 

This game is unlikely to be a feast of football, but it is undoubtedly going to be a wonderful tactical battle.

Probable XIs:

Argentina (4-3-3): Romero, Zabaleta, Demichelis, Garay, Rojo; Biglia, Mascherano, Alvarez; Messi, Lavezzi, Higuain.

Netherlands (3-4-1-2): Cillessen; de Vrij, Vlaar, Indi; Janmaat, De Jong, Blind, Kuyt; Sneijder; Robben, Van Persie.