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Dorset last won the day on April 20 2012

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  1. Firstly, you were right to want a lot of youth integration (Ake, Christensen, Baker, Chalobah, Musonda, Abraham, Aina) and I also agree - now IS the time for dominance - but you are wavering on integration for no real reason other than to imply it cannot be achieved if the club pursue it as a policy. Lest we forget, Nathaniel Chalobah and Nathan Ake are improving with every game and will have gained such a lot from being part of the celebrations after the West Brom win, so how silly it would be to send them on their disheartened way well before the start of next season. No, my optimistic belief is, contrary to your gut reaction, dominance can be achieved with a fair sprinkling of youth added to the existing squad and indeed it could be argued that you would be hard put to reach the highest levels of Conte-esque control without the harmony factor this type of integration provides – just look at ManU's attempts to throw money at their recent problems if you want to see where spending big [as an alternative to youth development] gets you in the end. That is not to say spending isn't required, as has already been acknowledged by Conte in the immediate post-title press conferences, but the extent of it should be limited and focussed on proven top quality, uninfluenced by any need to bulk buy due to a ditching of the youth element currently within the group (or previously being considered for return) because faith is suddenly lost in their ability to succeed long term. In any event Conte will insist on a bigger squad than those twenty-five he has had at his disposal this season, CL demands being what they are and in an effort not to fall foul of injury crises should they happen due to the increased number of games on top of Antonio's already punishing training schedules. An extra five bodies should suffice and I would anticipate these places going in the main to the most promising Development Squad players, much in the same way as RLC, Nate and Aina made their [albeit mini] breakthroughs last term. Given those extra numbers, my ideal 1st team squad for next season (3-4-3 formation) would be:- GK: Courtois, Blackman, Eduardo (nor retained if successful bid made for Craig Gordon) CB: Azpi, David Luiz, Cahill, Ake, Christensen, Zouma RWB: Moses, Sterling LWB: Alonso, Aina, CM: Kante, Verratti, Cesc, Matic, Chalobah, Musonda, Baker Forwards: Costa/Lukaku/Morata,/Batsuayi/Abrahams (4 from 5 - if Diego leaves retain/buy the rest, if he stays my preference would be Morata over Lukaku as he provides a better balance) Hazard, Sanchez, RLC, Pedro, Willian. This leaves one place available, which should on the face of it go to a wing back, as Sterling and Aina covering for Moses and Alonso could be said to be two unnecessary gambles few managers would take. Nevertheless, Conte may think them both risks worth taking, as Azpi provides excellent cover on both flanks and Musonda is another versatile option. There is also the retention of Kenedy to consider, but this hardly settles any risk aversion/acceptance argument. Therefore, bearing this in mind and taking into account his Italian mindset, Antonio may lean towards the purchase of another big name defender instead, although getting in three major signings of the quality of Verratti, Sanchez and Morata will cost a small fortune even before you start to think about buying the Koulibaly's of this world... or decide to fork out the £90m Everton are said to want for Lukaku!
  2. Last year, before the away game against Crystal Palace, an article written by Louise Taylor appeared in The Guardian under the headline “Chelsea’s perfect 10 but are they that good and have they any weak points?” Going on to ignore the first question completely and failing miserably to get to grips with the second, the piece proved to be one of many forensic Chels studies made over the Christmas period and relied heavily on the posing of further [unanswered] questions, such as, is three at the back really that great an idea and could matching up a trend be capable of demystifying Conte’s 3-4-3 blueprint? But, needless to say and try as hard all the hacks and pundits might, none of them have come up with anything like a magic potion to cure the Premier League’s primary ill this season - the growing concern that by the end of February, if not earlier, Chelsea will have turned the title race into a non-event. More importantly, neither have the managerial medicine men at any of our closest rival clubs. Since last December we have gone from strength to strength with only Spurs, of all teams, finding a chink in our armour-plated defence which, true to their own advertising hoarding blurb, resulted in them getting under it by means of the relatively simple tactical ploy of targeting the right-sided height issue in our back three when defending as a five. But that was to be it, all there was by way of Sherlockian detection and fault-finding, an exercise in failure that seems to have ended in mass shoulder-shrugging, case-closed acceptance for ManU, Man City and Mankind in their quest to rid the football world of an unspeakable, unprintable CD virus - Chelsea Domination. Indeed, apart from the solitary panacea provided by a Dele Alli double and the resultant three-point drop at the Lane, abnormal service was duly resumed against Leicester, an aggrieved press corps subsequently reverting to type with their last ditch lazy journalism, the en bloc frolicking in a murky pool of ‘let’s destabilise Diego’ nonsense. So, can it really be said that the Conte era heralds an unstoppable advance of full blown CD or is this just the wishful thinking of a fan instantly sold on the Italian‘s football philosophy? Any Chelsea supporters response probably hinges on his or her own levels of optimism when measured against the numerous false dawns we’ve experienced over the last decade, but assuming you have sufficient faith (and who wouldn’t in present circumstances?) it is tempting to look forward to our basking in what could easily be a very long sunny spell of success. Exactly how long may well depend on the length of time it takes for the hero everyone else is holding out for to step up to the plate, whether it be Potch, Pep, Jurgen or Mou, the Fourth Estate aren’t fussy, although the current flavour of the month is the former and any championing of the latter would have to be grudgingly made through gritted laptops. Yet in all honesty what are the odds of the Media’s saving grace (or graceless save in Jose‘s case) coming from this quarter? Slim to none, I’d say, because our Antonio has played a blinder so far and he appears to have no equal. This then, begs the question - where, exactly, are the ’weak points’ Louise Taylor refers to and, should there be none beyond fake news about Diego, is Chelsea Domination potentially as incurable as it is inevitable? In the past, when faced with a similar threat in the 2004/5 season, there were age-old antidotes available. A good dose of ferocious Fergie could always be relied upon to stiffen ManU sinews and if that potent mix of teacup tossing and press censorship failed to do the trick (as it did the very next season) most expert analysers still displayed sufficient blind faith in Professor Wenger and his bottled elixir to proclaim such quackery a ‘cure all‘ and not the ‘do f***k all‘ it has turned out to be. The Special One ended up confounding both, only to suffer at the hands of an increasingly resentful Media that rubbished his management style and methodology, undermining the working relationship with Roman and derailing CD in the process. Ten years on and the club now look a different proposition altogether, the likelihood of our perennial weakness - a pressing of the self-destruct button - an improbability under Conte, and the added bonus being that his football philosophy hardly lends itself to the s**t on a stick criticism we were subjected to when Jose was in his pomp. Also, slap bang in the centre of a period best described as ‘the-big-Manc-spend-up-years‘ our own rigid adherence to Financial Fair Play has served to counter the derogatory ’buying the title’ claims once levelled against us, this principled stance being helped in no small measure by a flourishing Academy. Indeed, it could be argued that CD has already been firmly established in this area through a relentless winning of FA Youth Cups year-on-year, as well as other highly-regarded European trophies. Previously a hornets nest regularly poked at by the Media for being an excessive waste of money on young players that would ultimately do nobody any good, our Development Squads have [at last] proved themselves to be the breeding ground for top class talent and all that remains is for youngsters like Loftus-Cheek, Chalobah, Aina, Ake, Musonda and Solanke to establish themselves in the first team, thereby completing the evolutionary cycle. Cynicism on this subject was rife before Conte arrived, but now even a previous critic like Henry Winter of The Times has had to take a serious look at the progress being made rather than just give it a cursory glance. When a journalist of his standing does this you end up with a quality piece, as seen from the following paragraphs taken from his recent article on RLC:- “The club now feel that Ruben Loftus-Cheek, whose progress was again tracked by Gareth Southgate on Saturday, is ready to “cross The Road” permanently. The Road runs through Cobham’s expansive complex, separating academy from first team, development to delivery, and signals a player fully in contention for sustained involvement… … two years ago, Chelsea discussed whether Loftus-Cheek should go on loan to sharpen him up, but José Mourinho felt that the player was progressing quickly and wanted him within the first-team fold. Injuries, and pupils’ differing learning speeds, as well as competition for places, held Loftus-Cheek back and Chelsea now regret not sending him out on loan. But such is his weight of talent that he has forced his way through. Others have taken more scenic routes, such as Nathan Aké, newly recalled from a successful loan with Bournemouth. The Dutchman, 21, knows that he is returning with a good chance of playing, especially with Terry and Ivanovic fading. … Chelsea engage in an internal debate about Aké’s best position, probably a left-sided centre back but also capable of holding midfield, even wing back. He and Kurt Zouma, who was bought from Saint-Étienne for £12 million, loaned back and then brought back, are not in Conte’s squad merely to make up the numbers. They will be joined by another centre back, Andreas Christensen, next pre-season. In the summer of 2015, Chelsea decided that their highly regarded Danish centre back, then 19, needed to work on his heading and tackling. His passing and reading of the game was considered advanced. After extensive discussions at Cobham, Chelsea opted for a two-season loan to Borussia Mönchengladbach, where they felt that Christensen would mature as a player and a person. He was soon in the Denmark national squad and is constantly monitored by Paulo Ferreira and Eddie Newton, popular former players who are now in charge of overseeing the loanees.” And the conveyor belt also looks well set to keep the talent flowing for many years to come, those not making the grade with us receiving a level of coaching that is second to none, standing them in good stead to pursue a career with another club eager to employ a youngster with the football equivalent of an Oxbridge education. Of course, the real high flyers must have one thing in common - patience - but of those named above RLC, Chalobah and Ake are within touching distance and there now appears to be a natural pathway leading to regular first team appearances next season. Just as there is a fine skill to The Road building going on at Cobham so there is an art to choosing the right moment to move on to pastures new, as recently displayed by Branna, and to retire, as no doubt JT will demonstrate at the end of this season. Though parting is such sweet sorrow in the case of the legend, there is a feeling that nowadays the club is even getting these momentous changes right (in terms of their timing to fit in with a greater scheme of things) and maybe, when one door closes on Steve Holland joining Gareth Southgate at the FA, another will open to welcome Lamps back into the fold in his place. So, no weak spot crumbs of comfort to be found for the Media in this direction either, which leaves them clutching at a last short term straw in this season’s title race that is best summed up by the phrase - ’it’s Chelsea’s to lose’. This phraseology is, of course, as close as we are ever going to get to symbolic waving of the white flag and grudging acceptance of the existence of CD as a growing force. Resigned, as every news outlet is, to acknowledging the situation (often in the most coded and sour-grape fashion) you can sense the pessimism in every pundit voice or printed word, excellent work such as Henry Winter‘s article being an exception to the drool. How different it all would have been if Pep’s Citeh or Potch’s Spurs, or Klopp’s Pool, or Arsene’s Arse, or even the increasingly moody Mou’s United, had been in our position. Revolutions would have been gleefully predicted, Histories gloriously made, Dynasties started, New Eras begun, Geniuses hailed. But instead, unless I’m very much mistaken, we shall see Antonio simply, solemnly sworn in as a great manager with little mention made of the potential for CD, or even an acknowledgement of it already having been established at youth level. A media narrative that was once all about an unspeakable club owned by an unspeakable Russian, with unspeakable players, managed by an unspeakable individual, spending unspeakably large sums of money, has been rendered ridiculous in one watershed season under the guidance of Antonio Conte, our catalyst for future success on what could be an unprecedented scale. Only time will tell, but this unspoken truth could end up speaking volumes. .
  3. “It was, according to an official Chelsea statement, “understandable” that the club inserted a confidentiality clause into an agreement with Gary Johnson after he told the club that he had been abused over a period of five years by Eddie Heath, a chief scout in the 1970s. It was “understandable” that instead of investigating thoroughly, finding out whether other young people had been harmed under their care, they hushed it up. It was “understandable” that Johnson - who was first assaulted at the age of 13 and was a victim on hundreds of occasions - was paid £50,000 not to talk about it by the club. The scandal of the child-abuse allegations in football is that it is increasingly clear that clubs, the authorities and, yes, even the media turned a blind eye to the allegations circling all those years ago. The crucial difference with this story, however, is that while the alleged abuse is historical, the decision to cover it up is not. The payment was made last year. The present directors of one of the world’s biggest clubs seem to have been trying to airbrush serious crimes out of existence. Indeed, when you take a step back and examine their carefully drafted evasions, the Chelsea statement, released on Saturday, is staggering in its duplicity. They went as far as possible to justify the decision not merely to gag Johnson, but to sit on their hands when they came to investigating his claims that he was not the only young Chelsea player whose life was ruined by Heath. Did Chelsea investigate these allegations with the diligence that you would expect from a club who, according to the same statement, are “fully committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all children and young people who are in our care or attending our premises”? Did they put a fraction of their vast wealth into a proper review given that the welfare of children is “of paramount importance”? Not a bit of it. With startling abruptness, the club offer the following explanation for why they did so little: “With the limited information the club received, we were unable to identify any further individuals who may have been subject to abuse.” And this is where the issue becomes serious indeed. For Johnson came forward for a simple reason: he had been emboldened to do so, after suffering regular bouts of depression, by victims who spoke publicly during the Savile affair. In much the same way, the crisis in football came to light after an interview by Andy Woodward, who waived his right to anonymity to speak bravely (and heart-breakingly) about his abuse at the hands of a youth-team coach. The directors of Chelsea must have known that by offering hush money to Johnson, they were effectively thwarting the very process that could have led others to brave the spotlight, particularly those who may have been at Chelsea, thus shining a light on the problem, bringing belated relief to the victims and, who knows, bringing other paedophiles to justice, some of whom (unlike Heath, who died in the 1980s) may still be acting in a criminal way. And this is what makes this scandal so astonishing: the pristine image of the club seems to have taken precedence over the interests of victims. That the decision was made in the aftermath of Savile, of the scandal that has rocked the Catholic church, of the terrible tales still emerging from care homes and the Boy Scouts, makes it even more egregious. After all, nobody in a position of authority, particularly at an institution involved with children, can have been oblivious to the fact that the paying of hush money would directly hinder the operation of justice. One should be clear, of course, that the true criminal in this terrible story is Heath. He is the one who conspired to ruin the life of Johnson and perhaps other victims too. He is the one who robbed a young man of his innocence, who forced him to take part in threesomes with other boys, who put his own gratification above those over whom he had a duty of care. But it is surely also true that Chelsea had an overriding responsibility to act with urgency when Johnson came forward. Greg Clarke, the chairman of the FA, said last week that if it could be shown that payments had been made to silence victims, it would be “morally repugnant”. Well, now it has. In an interview with the Daily Mirror, Maryce, Johnson’s wife, said: “It has been there almost 30 years and occasions when it has come up so many times . . . I have learnt to just leave Gary when the depression hits him, to let him get over it. But at times it has taken weeks.” Johnson, whose courage in speaking out should be saluted, said: “I felt shame, I felt my childhood had been taken away. I spent my late teens in turmoil, absolute turmoil.” Chelsea have commissioned an “independent review” into what happened and I, for one, look forward to scrutinising the lawyers who have been hired to conduct it. But whatever they come up with, there can be no doubt of serious culpability. This isn’t an oversight, or a slip; it seems to have been a conscious decision to make it financially disadvantageous for a victim of sexual abuse to speak out. One can only hope that it is not symptomatic of the attitude of other clubs when it comes to child protection. “All [Chelsea] fans deserve to know the truth about what went on. I know they asked me to sign a gagging order. How many others are there out there?” Johnson said last week, surely echoing the thoughts of every right-minded person in the game. “They may have paid others for their silence. I hope and pray no clubs are allowed to cover this up - no one should escape justice. We need total transparency now for the good of the game.” Matthew Syed is third in line, behind Matt Hughes and Matt Dickinson, to write forThe Times on this matter, restricting ever-widening club involvement solely to CFC in the process. Earlier Hughes chose the simplistic self-praise route of ‘uncovering’ the concerns that were raised over Eddie Heath, a method that took the form of a trawl through previous fragmented coverage, followed by false presentation of it as fresh investigative journalism. The Times needed this platform from which to pontificate because it was way adrift of both The Telegraph and The Guardian in terms of being seen as a newspaper at the forefront of events. Dickinson continued the theme in the very same edition and these quotes from his article are enough to show the accusative angle taken:- “Troubling questions are stacking up for Chelsea, which are very unlikely to be satisfactorily answered by the club’s own inquiry into their having paid off a victim of child abuse two years ago. Did they investigate properly or was it more important to maintain the glitzy façade? Did they report it to the relevant authorities or did they hope it would go away? Did they think of the welfare of other potential victims or were they happy to prolong the agonised silence? A club might be more preoccupied with upsetting the sponsors. They might not want to delve back into the grubby Seventies and Eighties when they have a gleaming corporate box to sell. There are good reasons why a club would be expected to report something of this magnitude. But who wants to risk having to pay multiple victims if you can make one quickly disappear? We should note that it is too easy to say that throwing money around is typical of football’s - and Chelsea’s - way of dealing with a problem. Chelsea are facing tough questions about how they dealt with this issue as football tries to come to terms with the scale of this abuse and all those victims who never felt able to speak up in public.” This latest tilt at the club comes several days later and, as it appears to bring nothing new to a Times table already groaning under platefuls of emotive verbiage and unanswered questions that require little or no substantiation, you can’t help but think it is all designed to keep the parochial Chels pot boiling away merrily, or whatever the sombre, strident-stirring equivalent of that metaphorically might be. Nevertheless, whilst we all know Matthew Syed needs no second bidding to deride all things SW6, we must not deny him the opportunity to have his say, by painstakingly trampling over old ground in the puffed up statesmanlike manner we have all grown accustomed to reading and ultimately laughing at. No exception here, then, although trying hard to give him the benefit of any doubt that might be going (and desperate to be as fair-minded as you always strive to be, g3) I did give his article a thorough scan in the hope of unearthing at least a modicum of originality. And, lo and behold, here it is… “The scandal of the child-abuse allegations in football is that it is increasingly clear that clubs, the authorities and, yes, even the media turned a blind eye to the allegations circling all those years ago.” Such a pity that, having got to the nub of the matter as early as his second paragraph, Syed reverts to his predictable default position, namely overkill on criticism of one club. Even the media? EVEN the media??? And there I was naively believing that ’allegations circling’ was the acknowledged domain, the everyday working environment of the investigative journalist. In such circumstances, media turning of a blind eye is arguably the most reprehensible of the lot! Still, I note with interest and gratefulness that, when it comes to the ‘independent review’ Chelsea have commissioned, dear old Matthew, for one, will ‘look forward to scrutinising the lawyers who have been hired to conduct it'. Better late than never, some true due diligence from a journalist at last... even though it has only come about with malice aforethought.
  4. Okay DB, let me have my say about the media… As is always the case with The Fourth Estate, it is not what you write, but the way you write it, and I will take The Times recent coverage [postTelegraph and Guardian's Bennell breaking news] and their catch-up-if-we-can, faux exclusive majoring on Chelsea’s involvement. Starting with the most provocative of headlines, then a sub-liner that hints at successful investigative journalism in action (yeh, right), a few paragraphs are enough to give a flavour of the piece:- Dark secret that has come back to haunt club “Matt Hughes uncovers the concerns that were raised over Eddie Heath at Stamford Bridge, where Barry Bennell was one of his youngsters… The independent lawyers appointed by Chelsea to investigate the conduct of Eddie Heath will not struggle to find anecdotal evidence of disturbing behaviour… Heath will not get the opportunity to defend himself in public because he died in dramatic circumstances in the late 1980s - The Times has been told that he suffered a heart attack while putting out the corner flags before a training session with Charlton Athletic - but there was no shortage of individuals speaking ill of him in private yesterday… As a recruiter Heath was ahead of his time, stockpiling a huge number of talented young players at Chelsea, which was unusual for that era…” Emotive words (dark secret/haunt club/disturbing behaviour/speaking ill/stockpiling talent) but as yet neither substantiated nor solely applicable to one club‘s actions, no doubt the media will continue to imply and infer in this way for as long as it takes to besmirch character in situations requiring their noble profession to pontificate from up there on the high moral ground. And should this stance be interpreted merely as my typically tribal-based over-reaction to one hack’s approach to the story, here are a few more sample paragraphs from Matt Dickinson’s parallel piece in the same newspaper, on the same day:- How could Chelsea see this as best swept under the carpet? “Troubling questions are stacking up for Chelsea, which are very unlikely to be satisfactorily answered by the club’s own inquiry into their having paid off a victim of child abuse two years ago. Did they investigate properly or was it more important to maintain the glitzy façade? Did they report it to the relevant authorities or did they hope it would go away? Did they think of the welfare of other potential victims or were they happy to prolong the agonised silence? A club might be more preoccupied with upsetting the sponsors. They might not want to delve back into the grubby Seventies and Eighties when they have a gleaming corporate box to sell. There are good reasons why a club would be expected to report something of this magnitude. But who wants to risk having to pay multiple victims if you can make one quickly disappear? We should note that it is too easy to say that throwing money around is typical of football’s - and Chelsea’s - way of dealing with a problem. Chelsea are facing tough questions about how they dealt with this issue as football tries to come to terms with the scale of this abuse and all those victims who never felt able to speak up in public.” Once again, emotive words and inference (paid off victim/improper investigation/glitzy façade/happy to prolong agonised silence) delivered from a position of pomp, with scant regard for circumstance. In short, every tabloid and red top wants a slice of this scandalous cake now that those individuals concerned have been brave enough to step into the spotlight, but where exactly was this broad supportive media shoulder back in the day when these atrocities were actually taking place? Where was the investigative journalism [as opposed to the current bandwagon stuff] rooting out the Bennells, the Ormonds and the Heaths, carrying the banner headline of truth in the rumour, innuendo and locker room talk and demanding that the public be made aware of what was going on, regardless of any victim’s plea for anonymity? So there we have it, plain and simply put - ‘Matt Hughes uncovers the concerns that were raised over Eddie Heath at Stamford Bridge‘, but, if truth really be told, only with self praise aforethought, when prompted by current events and encouraged by a massive pointer in the direction of SW6 - yes indeed, Matt, well done you! And well done you too, Marina Hyde of The Guardian, the only journalist I have yet to come across who has been prepared to admit to the failings of her own profession on this issue, in a recent article where, under the most honest of headlines, the following two paragraphs stand out as beacons of truth:- Football abuse scandal shows media must learn lessons from its silences “Historically, many journalists have always delighted in inserting themselves approvingly into the nobler tales of how stories are brought to the world. But we must not flinch from putting our trade at the centre of stories of institutional failure either. Why do we collectively fail to follow up broadcast investigations into allegations of sexual abuse in football? What was it about crimes of the most serious kind in the national game that didn’t make the media cut? What do we ignore in the current era that will seem an unfathomably shameful oversight a mere couple of decades from now? The abuse scandal currently snowballing began its belated journey toward enormity when Andy Woodward waived his anonymity to speak to Daniel Taylor. That was an act of immense courage and immense significance. One of the unpleasantly enduring facts about our profession is that without a face to the horror, the horror is just the horror, and very often seems too inconveniently faceless to be properly reported. Over the past few years, progress in the way the media handles highly sensitive narratives has been made, but we kid ourselves if we imagine this tendency toward a certain template for storytelling is not still resulting in other terrible silences.” Never a truer word... and above it never a clearer example of a certain template for storytelling by Messrs Hughes and Dickinson, in a rival newspaper that really ought to be setting higher standards.
  5. If they should read this, no doubt bookies countrywide will immediately stop taking bets on bola giving the daftest of definitive answers to my headline enquiry, but I’ll have an odds-on wager that it’s pretty much a rhetorical question for the rest of us after the weekend we‘ve all had. Can’t wait to see Kante gun down his previous employers repeatedly? Like the idea of having deadly Diego on your side, then leading the line in true baddie fashion, ably supported by a good guy named Hazard who causes last-third havoc at Leicester Gulch like no other can? Fancy some fun and games with Geezer as he crashes a free kick against the woodwork one minute, then misses a bicycled effort by a clear foot ‘n a half the next? - I know g4 is already booking early for his repeat performance of these events, such was the rollercoaster excitement generated. And yet, even more exhilarating was the Conte late-late show, that three-kid card trick we’ve all been waiting for, bar bola of course, who found the trio's arrival depressingly samey for some unaccountable reason. Still, whatever floats his boat I suppose, and I’m sure he’ll be back at Conte’s South West 6 World soon enough… just for different reasons. But in the meantime and rather fittingly, it was to be Moses and Chalobah who took us into that Promised Land where we‘ve longed to be, where battle-hardened loanees meld in a moment of magic to produce a wonderful goal for their parent club, the assist part provided by the first of the three Academy players to be set before us in the latter stages of a memorable match by a suitably proud father-figure in the dugout. Indeed, Antonio Conte deserves much praise for sticking to what looked to me like a prepared speech in substitutions, one that he’d been dying to make and not even a desperate [to come off] Diego could dissuade him from delivering. It was, quite simply, a massive statement of future intent. Okay, you can expect the hypercritical to hint at the Italian displaying little faith in Michy Batshuayi by continuing with Costa regardless, but I prefer to see the subbing in a totally different light - in order to get all three Academy kids on the pitch Diego had to put up with a full 90 minute work load - and the boss summed it up perfectly in a curt aftermath comment “I make the decisions,” followed by the olive branch additional explanation that he did not want to remove Costa’s passion from his team. However, all this post match pampering pales into insignificance when you consider the bigger picture and the overall impact the game will have on Chelsea for the rest of the season. Make no mistake, this was Conte’s real beginning in the Premier League and the performance bore all the authoritarian hallmarks of his old Juventus side and the tactical class of his Italy team. On this occasion those tactics focused on destroying Leicester from the flanks with our wing-backs, a hugely impressive Marcos Alonso and a rampant Victor Moses staying high and wide and hitting early crossfield balls. With wing work duly sorted Edin had the freedom to drift centrally, causing mayhem in the Leicester ranks. In short, it may have taken eight games to get there, but yesterday saw three at the back well and truly installed as our defensive set-up of choice. No coincidence then, that we have not conceded a goal using Don Antonio’s favourite system, and as an added bonus key players have been released by its implementation. Edin Hazard gets to come inside and use that deadly space behind the striker, while Victor Moses revels in the sheer expanse of it on the flanks. Add to this Kante’s ability to seemingly play both No 6 and No 8 roles at the same time, plus the [hoped-for] emergence of David Luiz as the accomplished central sweeper in the three, and there you have the ideal recipe for a successful season and beyond. Little wonder the boss felt confident enough to eulogise Academy-wise afterwards, marking everyone’s card with regard to his own pedigree for developing talent to the point of readiness and ultimate selection… “I know we have a fantastic academy, I know that behind Chalobah, Loftus-Cheek, Aina and Solanke we have other young players. Chalobah is deserving to play and people who know me know I don’t gift a place to anyone. If they’re ready I put them in. I had my first appearance in Serie A at only 16 years [for Lecce against Pisa in 1986].” Such is life, real or otherwise, there are bound to be those that fall by the wayside, but only the most hardened of human or resilient of robot keeps getting up, dusting themselves down, and going back out there to face the rigours to come - just ask Victor Moses if you want to know what all that feels like, especially immediately after you play a wall pass off a likeminded young professional before slotting home a sumptuous goal. Virtual reality it ain’t, hard graft it most definitely is, and well worth a somersault or two of celebration. So here’s to more of the same, please Antonio, because we’ve waited a while for all this to mesh into something resembling the dream ticket most fans buy into every time they get the train to Fulham Broadway and saunter on down to their own little South West 6 World - they may not be travelling on the Union Pacific Railroad, but at times, gol-darn it, it sure do feel like it!
  6. Pep’s priorities lie in an entirely different direction, BB, effectively putting youth development way down on his to do list. My guess is that the Abu Dhabi boys are targeting Champions League and Premier League title success and for them it’s definitely in that order. The youth developers of their world went on a global scouting mission that’s seen all their best prospects brought in regardless of cost and this has resulted in the best being Spanish - Brahim Diaz, Aleix Garcia and Manu Garcia. The only standout home grown [Manchester-born] youngster is the youth team captain Tosin Adarabioyo, a ball-playing centre-back who was in the City side that lost to us 5-1 in the FA Cup last season and, like FikayoTomori and Jake Clarke-Salter, he still has some way to go to be part of the first team set-up. Ironically, Stones arrival has probably delayed his progress in the same way that it would have done for our two centre-back prospects had he come to us, but because the Barnsley boy is so high profile - future England captain in the making - his signing will go some way towards placating those City fans who might otherwise be disappointed with the number of foreign kids that are likely to break through into their first team squad well before any home grown players do. Stones purchase would also help Guardiola deflect any criticism he might get [if they all turn out to be Spanish!] though because almost all of the media men are in awe of him anyway I doubt he’s going to get much flak on the youth development front whether it’s delayed or not and, as I also think it’s always been a secondary consideration for his bosses, he is under no pressure to tackle this issue as a matter of urgency. However, contrast that situation to Conte’s at Chelsea… I’m inclined to think Roman has, quite literally, bought into the Academy big time and after all these years must be expecting, perhaps even demanding, to see a return in the form of a few of the youngsters making the first team and staying there. Those arguing differently [that the whole process is simply good business practice on the owner’s part] cannot have seen him at games and witnessed firsthand the enthusiasm he shows when the kids are doing well. Okay it isn‘t rocket science, it makes sense to produce your own players rather than spend a fortune buying them, but you have to think that it will give him far more pleasure seeing nurtured Academy youngsters playing at the Bridge rather than making a few million profit every time he sells a half-decent one - with his billions, I don’t believe a small beer profit ever makes him jump for joy. My belief, unsubstantiated of course, is that Carlo, AVB and Jose were each tasked with bringing the youth players into the first team squad as and when they were deemed ready by those in charge of the Development squads. In Carlo’s case this coincided with the emergence of Josh McEachran, being the first since JT to work his way up through the ranks, and he must have made a dozen or so starts for him before the Italian went and AVB came in, at which point he hardly got another opportunity. Who knows whether or not Carlo would have persevered with him if he’d stayed or if he might have eventually found favour with AVB if he’d been any good at his own job, but one thing’s for sure - everything that followed in the next few seasons under RobbieD and Guus meant progression from the Academy to first team squad contention virtually came to a full stop. Jose’s return brought another priority with it - regaining the Premiership title - but more and more talent was coming through the ranks and still no sign of any of them making the grade. Then, once the title was regained, there was seemingly no excuse anymore for the Special One and RLC became the new McEachran, presented to Jose as the best prospect we had and duly shredded by his criticism which, be it well-intentioned or dismissive, did nothing to improve the mindset of either the individual concerned or the hopefuls looking for a trailblazer to boost their own morale. At this juncture Roman probably lost patience and his frustration, together with bad results and what manifested itself into ’the loss of the dressing room’ revelation like as not cost Jose his job. Not that any of this surmise answers your question regarding buying players rather than integrating talent, but it does seem plausible to me and, if I’m right, all the indications are that Antonio Conte was given a similar remit to those managers who went before - why would Roman do otherwise? The signs are initially good, RLC, Aina and Chalobah are as close to first team quality as any player we’ve seen developed over the last decade, while Christensen, Ake and Musonda are seemingly one season away from a career-defining decision being made. Something has to give in terms of regime change or the stockpiling jibe takes on ever-increasing relevance. In the last England Under-21 match we had three players selected with another coming on as substitute and in a few hours time the likelihood is that Chalobah, RLC, Baker and Abraham will start against Bosnia and Herzegovina in the next European Championship qualifier. If Conte delivers, some if not all of those named above should be playing in our first team next season. Is that really too much to expect?
  7. “Chelsea’s success at youth level - winning five of the past seven FA Youth Cups as well as the past two Uefa Youth Leagues - is not, on its own, a badge of honour. If they fail to help those players to fulfil their potential, whether at Stamford Bridge or elsewhere, it is a stick with which their supporters, never mind anyone else, are entitled to beat them. Should Nathaniel Chalobah, Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Lewis Baker, Isaiah Brown and Solanke go the same way as McEachran, as many fear they will, then Clarke-Salter, Tammy Abraham et al will be entitled to think that they, too, are doomed, victims of a culture that does not know how to nurture talent beyond youth-team level.” Oliver Kay (The Times, 8/10/16) Embedded in a piece entitled ‘England now have the talent: clubs must not stifle it.’ this paragraph encapsulates the view of almost every Chelsea fan who has followed the fortunes of the club’s Academy players for the last decade. Kay’s last line, blaming cultural failure [whatever that may mean] to date comes across as a somewhat wishy-washy explanation for what has been a genuine attempt on the part of all concerned to provide a career path for these youngsters, but the rest hits home and, even though that is where the club’s heart has been throughout, this life blood is in danger of draining away well before any final infusion into the first team. Cultural failure it isn’t - no excessive amount of salary was ever going to interfere with Josh McEachran’s development if he really had the mentality to go with his talent. It is simply a case of not being quite good enough and he is at his true level at Brentford, his brother George being a sibling example following in his footsteps and making further strides, if he can. No, what is missing here is not culturally-based, but a singular lack of willpower being shown on the part of those who have had a remit to see the process through to completion come hell, high water, low league position, whatever it may be that causes managers to step back from the brave brinkmanship necessary to get two or three of these kids established as first team regulars. Carlo showed a certain willingness, but truth be told no more than that, while Guus was never around long enough for such youthful cause commitment to matter much, either to him or to the hierarchy. So too Jose, who was inevitably going to dampen down evolutionary spirit, with young flames quickly doused in criticism and by the blanketing effect his own quest for glory-at-all-cost has [and always will have] on youthful ambition. Never mind culture not knowing how to nurture talent, it is quality coaches such as these that seemingly cannot deliver, whatever the mitigating circumstance used as an excuse. But after all is said and very little done, Antonio Conte’s approach feels different somehow. On his watch Ruben Loftus-Cheek, Ola Aina, Nathaniel Chalobah have all caught the eye and are closer to the ultimate breakthrough than any Academy player since JT got his chance, took it and went on to true legendary status. Speaking in similarly glowing terms is, of course, a long way off for these three, but it has started and was definitely in evidence when Gareth Southgate made honourable mention of Chalobah in his first press conference as England interim manager, holding him up as an example of what can be achieved by broadening your experience [playing overseas in Italy] and what this would also do for Joe Hart following his loan move. High praise indeed for the lowlier Nate, especially when you consider Hart’s eminence and much-heralded, super-starry new Italian job, then compare it to our own kid’s previously unheralded and [at the time] much-maligned loan move to Napoli. Southgate’s insistence on Steve Holland joining him as his assistant is also encouraging, as it only serves to strengthen the ties that have linked us with the England Under-21 squad for some time now, thankfully running contrary to the fractious relationship we’ve had with the FA over the years, a situation not helped by the ruling body and the media continually sniping in tandem and in isolation at Chelsea’s loan policy, despite other top clubs acting in similar fashion. Sadly, Oliver Kay blots this particular copy book in the closing paragraphs of his article as follows:- “It is good news that English football has, at least, begun to face up to questions about youth development - credit to Greg Dyke, the former FA chairman, for insisting that it was kept high on the agenda throughout his tenure - but there are indications that progress was already being made through the Elite Player Performance Plan as well as the belated investment in, and changes to, the way the game is coached at junior level. Far less clear, even now, is whether leading Premier League clubs have the appetite to nurture the talent that their academies produce or, in some instances, recruit.” Myopic in the extreme, this view of recent grassroots FA backing, combined with further criticism of Premier League clubs perceived ’loss of appetite’ is a bit rich, to say the least. Greg Dyke keeping high ideals high on his agenda meant very little after years of neglect and FA reliance on clubs like Chelsea filling the void on the youth development front, successful or otherwise, deserves acknowledgement regardless of how self-serving its root cause might be. A demob happy Dyke effectively got out while the going was good, something clubs appear to do regularly when it comes to implementing youth policy fully, but we keep ploughing on Academy and loan-wise despite all the media flak we take and that is to the club’s credit. Another carping comparison comes in Kay’s conclusion below, where he decides to major on Rashford’s rather fortuitous progress compared to that of Brown and Solanke, no mention being made of the media-mauled LVG, as instigator of a solitary 18yr-olds advancement, nor the healthy numerical competition facing our own two home grown youngsters as they emerge from the nastiness known only to Kay as stockpiling:- “It is no use looking at the structure of English football, cursing the restrictions of a league system that is far too healthy to necessitate or warrant the creation of B teams for the benefit of those who stockpile. You only have to look at the example of Rashford, who this time last year was far behind Brown and Solanke when it came to competition for places in England’s development teams. An injury crisis at United gave Rashford his chance last February and he has barely looked back since. You might have thought that clubs would learn from that, realising that the gap between academy and first-team level is nothing like so great as the one that builds up in managers’ minds as the pressure for results - and the pressure for revenue - intensifies. Academies are doing their bit right now. The pressure is on managers, whether it is Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, José Mourinho or anyone else, to do their bit - and on their clubs to hold them to it.” In my opinion, this last sentence tries unsuccessfully to cover the tracks of an outmoded media attitude towards us that previously sought to trample all over Roman during [what for Chelsea has been] a decade of Academy advancement, if not complete fulfilment, by shrouding it in sole managerial responsibility. Fair enough, this is the main key and it has always been in the hands of these individuals, yet hardly ever used to unlock the potential within, but should top managers really bear the brunt of the newfound blame? If so, I know which of these three is most likely to respond - Pep doesn’t have a need to and therefore wont. Jose doesn’t want to and therefore wont. Antonio has to… and therefore will. .
  8. The plain and simple truth is it’s rollin’ on over - the Chelsea deadwood stage that is - and if the game against Arsenal is anything to go by we are already in a dangerous land and there’s no time to delay. So Antonio, by all means whip-crack away, whip-crack away, whip-crack away! Apologies for that rather self-indulgent trip down Calamity Jane musical memory lane, but nothing seemed to sum up our plight better, nor pinpoint the overriding factor that has led to our reaching such a parlous state, namely a club cartel made up of sluggish, rapidly ageing players and the need for Conte to either whip them into shape or relieve them of their first team duties. For some, Cahill and Ivanovic and to a lesser extent Matic, being rested may well come as a blessed relief, but for others such as Willian and Oscar it would be nothing short of a shock, albeit a short, sharp one. In truth, those five sorely need to take five and if everything else had been equal on both the injury and squad strength fronts we can only hope their respective respite packages would have been put in place a lot earlier than the Hull game. But, of course, everything else is never going to be equal - transfer targets still remain as such, JT gets crocked, crises of confidence abound and Conte is (probably as a direct result of all three) still nowhere near knowing his best line-up or formation. Trusting his experienced players hasn’t helped either, as it has been misplaced in the main and probably led the Italian to drift aimlessly into that oh-just-one-more-time mode selection-wise on Saturday. It proved to be one time too many and for my money was Conte’s first mistake of real note. More of the same-old after that humbling against Liverpool should have been avoided at all costs, even if it meant bringing Victor Moses into a five-man midfield and taking the gamble of going 3-5-2 for the first time this season. In the end, backing away from that switch until as late as the third goal going in smacked more of desperation than inspiration. So, deadwood stage we are definitely at, but if by some chance Conte should actually take all this bull by those Carabao horns and decide to make wholesale changes for the Hull game will it really be an indication that he’s addressing the problem at source, or merely be the machinations of a man seeking a short term solution? After all, unless it was all part of some self-harm master plan, he can’t have been working towards this situation, but now that it exists and urgent action is required why not grasp the opportunity with both hands, then place them around the necks of certain individuals and wring the changes for effect, if nothing else? C’mon Antonio, play Nate, bet Victor, SOS RLC, hey Michy [let’s see if you really can] blow my mind, Ola Aina!… fit them all in somehow, because it would do wonders for your reputation as a hard taskmaster whilst at the same time rattling the cages of a few old birds who have begun to sit all too comfortably on their first team perches. Go on, be our guest, whip-crack away.
  9. I think Conte does have options and they have been made all the more attractive by three performances in particular last night. Cesc has thrown the gauntlet down at Oscar’s feet, Moses has definitely edged ahead of Willian in the battle for the right wing berth and Chalobah has made the most of his debut, looking very composed and assured. Therefore, taking all this into consideration and subject to JT‘s fitness (agreed he is irreplaceable) my starting line-up (Plan A) against the Arse (4-1-4-1 formation) would be:- Azpi, Cahill, JT, Alonso, Kante, Moses, Luiz, Cesc, Hazard, Costa. However, Conte has a stated preference for playing Geezer at the back, so more likely is JT partnering him and a choice made between Matic and Chalobah to give extra bite in the middle of the park. It is possible that Nathaniel and RLC will fight for this selfsame spot in the future, with a switch into a 3-5-2 formation more easily made in this present set-up by including one of them in the above-named side, again at Gary Cahill’s expense, in this my (Plan B) team :- Azpi, JT, Luiz, Moses, Chalobah/RLC, Kante, Cesc, Alonso, Hazard, Costa. Ironically, the dilemma for Conte, should he makes this adventurous selection, is that we can’t keep a clean sheet to save our lives and a right-sided pairing taken from Azpi/Moses/Willian, or a left-sided one taken from Alonso/Aina/Hazard isn’t exactly going to make us more defensively secure, just incredibly offensive. Perhaps it has to be done, though, especially if you want to see [as I do] Batshuayi (not Hazard as in the above line-up) becoming the second striker. Something [someone] has to give to even get close to achieving these objectives and as Edin shouldn’t be sacrificed, the best I can come up with is (Plan C):- Azpi, JT,Luiz, Alonso, Kante, Cesc, Moses, Chalobah, Hazard, Costa. And yes indeed, it is our old friend the 4-2-3-1 formation, but based purely on my perception of the present form of players and the flexibility of the system. Naturally, the fear is that a holding two of Kante/Cesc would not be strong enough to cope in the normal course of events but, as Fergie used to say of another north London club ‘Lads, it’s Arsenal’ next up and they will play their own game regardless of the size and physicality of the players in these positions. In short [as both players are] I think we are better served giving as good as we get going forward on the break, with Cesc or Geezer providing the Route One long ball over the top to Diego - like him, it‘s not pretty, over-elaborate, pass, pass, pass, rocket science, but we should leave all that to the Emirates experts anyway. So there you have three plans put forward for consideration, though none of them are likely to see the light of day until more points are gathered in and we are as supremely confident as Pep Guardiola’s squad must be at the moment. Still, you live in hope and a rewarding run of games for Victor Moses, a recall for Cesc, plus a promising debut for Chalobah, are definite steps in the right direction.
  10. I don’t think we can afford to make Hazard the casualty of any system overhaul, charriere, especially when you consider that one of the main reasons for making the change in the first place would be to give us more attacking options and he is one of our pre-eminent option-providers, not a finisher. The conundrum for Conte is that Edin is at his imperious best going at defenders from deep and is not ideally suited to a second striker role, which must surely go to Batshuayi in any future 3-5-2 formation. Indeed, even if he does tinker with the front two in order to wedge a midfielder in somewhere to partner Costa up front, Conte’s already hinted that he feels RLC would do a good job there and I too would prefer this, if only to hide our real intentions from the opposition. For example, a 4-1-4-1 set up [on paper] of Azpi, JT,Luiz, Alonzo, Kante, Willian, Cesc, RLC, Hazard, Costa could just as easily play in a 3-5-2 formation with either RLC or Edin as that second striker, although it would, of course, mean that either Azpi or Alonzo would be in the central three and, of necessity, Willian would take the wide role on that particular flank. For the set of players given above, with Geezer’s preference being on the left side of the three, Alonzo would probably play wide, but if Conte doesn’t bring him in and stays loyal to Branna that would alter things and he’d go right-central, with Azpi being the left wing back. Apparently, if ChelseaTV is to be believed, there has been a lot of behind-closed-doors training sessions recently and we can only hope that this is the sort of surreptitious fine tuning that has been going on. But to my mind, the most interesting upshot of any shake-up that might take place is how it affects those three players put forward for an ‘outing’ by Coco (namely Oscar, Matic and Willian) and what happens if, given his chance, Batshuayi starts banging ‘em in from the word go. All three incumbents were ineffectual against Liverpool, so you have to wonder if Conte will consider a cull against Leicester, or simply throw them back in again to see if there is an improvement. Should it be more of the same, well quite frankly I wouldn’t be too disappointed, as it would serve to resolve a few issues before the crunch game against the Arse, but Alonso could be bedded-in without fuss and a really brave Italian might even try Chalobah somewhere (anywhere!?) to provide the proverbial ’freshen up’, preferably in midfield alongside Kante at the expense of Matic, citing ‘rested’ as the excuse if he feels so inclined. And finally, as far as Batshuayi is concerned, the repercussions of any sudden and successful inclusion in the side could be quite devastatingly domino in its effect, forcing the removal of some midfield mediocrity whilst at the same time highlighting the importance of more back-up to be readied, for what was originally perceived to be a back-up player when he was bought. Hampered by injury against United in the Under-23s a week or two ago, Dominic Solanke is next in line on a Development Squad conveyer belt that has habitually dropped off talent well short of the complete package stage and I would hate to think that his most recent of setbacks would put everything else on a backburner, purely for fear of injury to Diego and our having nobody [other than a warmly-benched Batshuayi ] to turn to. This current striker situation highlights what was undoubtedly the poorest part of our preparations for this campaign - insufficient cover in the striker department should we ever decide to play two up front regularly during the season. It now appears we need to do exactly this and the knock-on effect with regard lack of numbers is that we are likely to merely make do and match instead, our Italian manager being forced to cut his attacking cloth accordingly…. and it simply wont suit you, sir.
  11. Brief though they may be, let’s start with a few positives that can be taken from this game:- 1. Despite conceding two goals David Luiz emerged blameless and was our best defender. It is good to have him back, because he is undoubtedly proud to wear the shirt and always gives a damn. 2. I’ve seen enough during our first five games under Conte (yes, it is only five) to judge this team capable of better quality football than that played in the first half last night. The sum of the squad’s parts can produce a whole lot more, as evidenced by a second half in which [unchanged] we showed the necessary desire and aggression - such a pity we didn’t wake up earlier, but more on that later. 3. The pattern of play, 4-1-4-1 in this instance, was chosen and drilled by the coach and I don’t have a problem with it defensively when the team performs as it should, but there were too many occasions in the first half when Conte was screaming at his back four not to sit so deep, almost on the edge of the penalty area, as this meant our midfield could not close down their opposite numbers, with Kante the only one to even attempt a tackle. Over time, when Azpi, Zouma, Terry, Luiz and Alonso are permanent fixtures at the back, with Cesc and Batshuayi added to the mix, we will have endless possibilities for formations and setups, not least the 3-5-2 many of us are longing to see. Now the home truths:- 1. Ironically, time is running out for Branna at full back at precisely the moment Gary Cahill puts up a situation vacant sign on his central berth, meaning only two out of four defenders were in any sort of form yesterday. With hindsight, we would have been better served bringing Alonso in at left back, switching Azpi to his favoured side and pairing Branna with Geezer in the centre. 2. Having Matic end up alongside Konte is just too sedentary a scenario, a recipe for disaster, but that’s exactly what happened yesterday. And, sadly, Matic does not provide sufficient momentum going forward these days, so when Oscar and Willian are as ineffectual as they were the onus on Hazard to create something out of nothing often proves too great a burden 3. Diego is becoming increasingly isolated in this system and although he is in decent enough form to compensate there are clear lessons to be learned, not least when it comes to the ever-growing need to provide him with a strike partner. This will not have escaped Conte’s attention, of course, and when all these negative factors are distilled into decision-making changes I’m sure he wont disappoint. In fact, the way forward looks clear to me - the adoption of a 3-5-2 formation that sees Alonso given a debut, Cesc a return ticket to the first team, and Batshuayi a chance to show what he can do in tandem with Diego… and the Emirates looks as good a place as any to get on with a job that now needs doing sooner rather than later. .
  12. One of the more recent photos of Antonio Conte on his dedicated thread shows him in conversation with Carlo Cudicini and Steve Holland seated somewhere in the stands at the Bridge. What is not mentioned is that it was taken last Friday night while they were watching the PL2 game against Tottenham, further evidence of our new manager’s desire to be seen as well as heard when it comes to Academy, Loanee and Development Squad matters. Here he was to witness another fine performance from the group that these days seem to fly permanently under this website’s radar. Hence my unapologetic bumping of this topic despite a seeming lack of interest in the youthful subject matter that, mercifully, does not appear to stretch as far as the Conte household, any disinterested plans he might have had for a good old Friday night out or a quiet meal in with the wife (seated beside him at the game) kept for another time and place. Second half goals from Jay Dasilva, Isaac Christie-Davies and Fikayo Tomori led to a comfortable 3-1 win over a workmanlike Spurs team, with Adi Viveash using a 4-2-3-1 formation that was much more adventurous than it sounds, as the two central midfielders chosen, Kyle Scott and Josimar Quintero, are the Little and Littler partnership option that many a coach would not have dared try for fear of physical domination. No apparent problem for Viveash though - he just paired them regardless - allowing their talent do the rest, and he was richly rewarded as they ratted around the pitch, belying their size in true Wisey fashion. Indeed, Kyle Scott put in a shift of genuine quality, described by Tommy Langley as ’a real bossing of the midfield’ and one that saw him substituted in the 92nd minute in order to receive a well-deserved ovation from the crowd and a hug from his appreciative coach. Other players to shine under the increased pressure of Conte’s presence must surely be the back four en bloc - skipper Dasilva, who put the opening pen away with aplomb, the ever-reliant Trevoh Chalobah, Tomori and Jake Clarke-Salter, who had previously completed a loan move to Bristol Rovers, but it has since been agreed he remains at his parent club to build fitness after a long-term layoff. Sadly, the only downside on a night for showcasing your talent, was that there was to be no game time for Dominic Solanke, who missed out due to an injury sustained against United in the previous game. Otherwise onwards and upwards, then, with the very real prospect of further silverware to come for this group that’s been together now at various age levels for quite some time.
  13. In recent times Sturridge, Sterling, Kane and now Rashford have all been hyped out of all proportion to their ability. He is still a teenager, yet BT and Sky are already in full sainthood mode, sending him on his way to immortality and eventual burn out well before he has even registered on Jose’s Richter Scale as a spike to be quickly hammered flat, much in the same way as RLC was when he threatened a breakthrough season. United will soon realise that Jose will not compromise when it comes to playing this kid ahead of the likes of Rooney or Zlatan and no amount of media malarkey is going to change this mindset, which is very much that of a coach who has always backed experience ahead of youth, despites colour-coded lists of names to the contrary. Still, it's going to be fun watching Jose trot out the excuses for Rashford’s ultimate marginalisation - poor work rate, no tracking back, no embracing the team ethic and methodology, never mind that good old standby, the club cannot afford to gamble in pursuit of trophies, which roughly translated means I can’t and I wont. Of course, the expectation is that the Special One will be a changed man at United, but this hardly seems likely after his team selections for the opening three Premier League games and the anticipated reliance on his twin ancient spearhead. By contrast, under Conte we have seen the establishment of two of our three Under-21 scorers in the first team squad and if by some miracle they actually get to turn that exposure into regular first team appearances it will go some way towards justifying OUR managerial change, on one level at least. In the meantime, be prepared for a lot more of this Rashford mania claptrap, epitomised in the summing-up of the BT commentator last night [whoever he might be] when he described the United forward’s contribution to the 6-1 thrashing of the Norwegians as ’the difference between the two sides’ - just how embarrassingly delusional can you get?
  14. a) Stones or Luiz in the squad? Well, I have to admit to being an admirer of John Stones ability on the ball from way back in his early days at Everton and I was indeed prepared to defend him against those critics who said he couldn’t, even throughout his worst of times under Martinez. Undoubtedly his best years are yet to come and I would have liked to have seen them on show here had we been able to broker a deal instead of becoming embroiled in an [oh-so-principled] Scouse-fest. But we couldn’t and with hindsight I’m now of the opinion that it was probably the right outcome for all parties, primarily for reasons other than those surrounding these two players. Let me explain - and in so doing you will see why I’m now happy to see Geezer back in our squad rather than the Barnsley boy. Stones arrival as JT’s eventual replacement would have signalled the end of the more naturally progressive Academy-fed succession claims of Andreas Christensen, Fikayo Tomori and Jake Clarke-Salter in one fell swoop, albeit an always faintly flickering flame in most of our hearts, but nonetheless one that is certainly not extinguished by the return of David Luiz. Of more concern, however, would have been the captaincy situation and the faith we might have had to place in Stones leadership qualities. Here the choice between him and the Brazilian is far more clearly defined and weighted heavily in the latter’s favour. Stones for Kompany long term, or Luiz for JT short term? Who has the better chance of carrying the captaincy off in this predominantly show-us-your-medals world? Of course, it may all turn out to be of little consequence in the great scheme of things, but, on what we know of both of them so far in their careers, I know which I’d prefer. b) How highly do I value defensive reliability in a central defender? I’ve gone some way towards explaining my position already, but I’m also going to take the liberty of quoting from one of your earlier posts on this thread… “what I will say is that in addition to all of the qualities davey mentioned (and barney, when I say charisma, amidst the obvious criticism, I mean it sincerely- he [David Luiz] has on pitch charisma. he gets the crowd and the team going and that massively helps. it is a rare quality and I couldn't name more than five players we've had in the last ten years or so who have it. he's one of them), I do not think zouma and christensen are a ready made partnership. stylistically they could work, but I don't want two youngsters playing there together. they'll need an experienced player alongside one or both of them. I don't think cahill should be that player, because as much as I appreciate him, I've never felt he was a top player. he's a wholehearted, but ultimately limited footballer and when JT goes I can't see him being more than a squad player. So those young kids will need someone in his peak alongside them. luiz is 29, for me that is when defenders peak. maybe conte will get something out of him that others haven't. barzagli wasn't considered a truly top defender when conte first started working with him at a similar age so I suppose it is not impossible…” … couldn’t have put it better myself, although I did make a stab at it in the previous paragraph. So in conclusion, I can only ask you to trust in David Luiz just a little more, as well as in Conte’s ability to mould him into what we all hope will be a formidable 3-5-2 shape. You never know, give it a season or three and we might both have what we’re looking for in the following first team line-up:- Courtois, Zouma, Christensen, Luiz (3) Azpi, Willian/Oscar, Chalobah/Kante, Hazard, Aina (5) Batshuayi, RLC/Abraham (2)
  15. If he's better than stones (and imo he's got nothing on him, let alone stone's potential to improve) why did Jose sell him and try to sign the supposedly inferior player? My guess would be that it was good business to sell for £50m and there was every likelihood of getting Stones for much less. It didn’t happen, but not because the ability of either player, or an assessment of it, affected that situation. Why were psg happy to sell him at a loss with no chance of signing a replacement? I’m not sure that PSG even knew of our interest until late-on or can be described as happy to sell at all. As you said, they had no time to get any replacement in and, like any of big [un-Everton-ish] clubs you can name, were not prepared to keep an unhappy player. Stick with the dodged bullet theory if you wish, but the only similarities seem be that they are both ‘didn’t see that coming’ scenarios, no more no less. Where was guardiola's interest in this genius footballer? Admittedly, any interest from Guardiola would have come as a surprise, [eccentric] genius or not, but he probably wasn’t aware of availability either. He has other younger fish to fry [try] in an ageing squad that he too cannot afford to flood with youth prospects, although whether many of those exist at the Etihad I seriously doubt. Stones provided a viable English alternative and suitable home grown get out clause, so it was taken regardless of inflated price. You dont judge a magician on his props. You judge him based on whether he manages to deceive you. Something dave has managed to do with rather more success than his day job, in my assessment. Day job deception by sleight of hand rather than foot is an interesting accusation to make - could it be akin to JT hiding his lack of pace all these years by tricking us all into thinking he can actually defend? More fool us, eh? What kind of reasoning is this? imagine what a pathetic, sorry club it would be to cower from a signing in fear of the fans crying on social media. It would be nice if decisions were taken with the benefit of the team in mind rather than appeasing the false or idle. "Think what you're doing! Signing david Luiz won't bring back your failed crop of youth team players!" Don’t get me wrong on this point. I have no grouse with the Glazers or the Abu Dhabi boys spending as much as they like, just don’t seek to make a virtue out of it whilst at the same time shipping the kids out by the boatload to the Moyes Strait [back down again] or Phelandia. Also in answer to my "… and say what you like about David Luiz - he will never, ever be described as mediocre." Come on mate, with a bit of luck he might be. A nice drowning of the player well below the mediocre waterline line there g3, but as we both know with these charismatic characters, it will take a lot more than this put down to sink their spirit, never mind a lot of fans admiration of it.