3 To See (the weekend of 26/11/16)

I looked at the 3 big games to see this weekend for Just Football.

I picked out Chelsea vs. Spurs, Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen, and Monaco vs. Marseille as games to look out for.

Check out the team news and previews here.


What Next for US Soccer After Klinsmann Experiment Ends?

This piece was originally published on Medium, and you can read that version here.

Is it possible for something to be both entirely expected and a massive surprise? It feels like the kind of thing they would have a word for in German. If so, Jurgen Klinsmann may be the man to ask after he lost his job as the manager of the United States men’s team this week.

It’s entirely expected because the US just suffered back-to-back World Cup 2018 qualifying defeats to Mexico and Costa Rica. Yet it’s a massive surprise because the country is generally seen as being sober and realistic in terms of managerial expectations. Managerial upheaval isn’t really done.

Klinsmann was just the third man to manage the side since 1996. His predessor Bob Bradley had four years in the job, and before him Bruce Arena — who will return to the post to replace Klinsmann — had eight.

Speaking after the 4–0 loss to Costa Rica, Klinsmann did not sound like a man under pressure. He spoke eloquently and calmly of the peaks and troughs of the international football cycle, and maintained that his young charges would peak in time for the World Cup. If he knew the chop was coming, the German boss hid it well.

Klinsmann’s stint in the US dugout was book-ended by poor form, but he had highs in the middle. World Cup 2014 was arguably the peak. The tournament will always be remembered fondly by American soccer fans after they qualified from the “Group of Death” comprised of Germany, Portugal and Ghana. In the Round of 16, the USA took a talented Belgium side all the way. A 0–0 draw after 90 minutes (with Tim Howard in inspirational form) ended with a 2–1 defeat after extra time, but Klinsmann hard running side impressed everyone with their Stakhanovite workrate.

He also led them to a Gold Cup victory in 2013, and a respectable fourth place in the Copa America Centenao. But Klinsmann’s role wasn’t limited to on-field matters. Essentially combining the role of manager and technical director, the German wanted to revolutionise the national set-up. Part of his plans were to use his connections in his home country to cast the net wider than normal for US-qualified players.

His regime saw the likes of German-born Fabian Johnson, Julian Green and John Brooks get regular call-ups, while German based Americans like Bobby Wood and wonderkid Christian Pulisic also received more attention than they might have under an American coach.

The question now for a lot of Klinsmann’s German cadre is what happens next. Is it overreaching a bit to suggest the political isolationism espoused by President elect Donald Trump might be reflected in the future make-up of the national side? Certainly there are many in America uneasy about being represented by players born — or even playing — outside of their shores. Women’s soccer legend Abby Wambach articulated that view when she stated:

“The way that he has changed and brought in a bunch of these foreign guys is not something I believe in wholeheartedly.”

Wambach may find an ally in incoming boss Bruce Arena. The successful boss is steeped in MLS culture, and he may well look a lot closer to home when it comes to his call-ups. That said, he would be wise to retain the best players that Klinsmann brought in, regardless of where they were born.

Besides, he has pressing issues that won’t be solved easily. The goalkeeping position — usually an area of such strength — looks shaky, with Tim Howard showing his age and Brad Guzan still struggling for any kind of form (in a run that stretches back to last season). He also may have a conundrum of whether or not to pick the now un-retired Landon Donovan. The 34-year-old famously didn’t see eye-to-eye with Klinsmann and was very publicly dropped for World Cup 2014. The LA Galaxy man may be a long way from his peak, but the talent pool is thin. With Arena and Donovan in tandem, the US could really be rolling back the years.

Time will tell if the decision to end the Klinsmann project early was due to panic over some bad results, or the country cutting their losses on a failing experiment. Bruce Arena has a good record, but he won’t be a silver bullet. The American national team has problems that run deeper than just the manager. It will be interesting to see if Arena can solve them — and how much time he will get to do so.

“It Couldn’t Happen Here”

This story was first posted in Medium, and you can read that version here.

“It Couldn’t Happen Here”

The morning after, no-one knew what would happen next.

For the first few months it was rumour and speculation. After the inauguration — renamed Great America Day — things started to change.

Words changed. Or rather, words stayed the same, but their definitions changed. American got smaller and smaller, the walls closing in. Un-Americanbecame so broad as to encompass virtually anything.

I noticed the Internet shrinking. Certain website URLs would redirect me to a new page, noting in dry prose that my ISP was required by law to block the site, and repeated attempts to visit would result in my information being passed to the new House Un-American Activities Committee.

Getting the news from television and radio proved no easier. Gradually, recognisable faces and voices faded away, replaced by nondescript men and women who spoke in clipped, even tones of unpatriotric dissenters, re-classifications and deportations, and repeated official White House press releases as rote.

Those in the media who did speak out were soon gone from the airwaves. Talk show hosts who had once skewered both sides of the political aisle were often re-classified, blacklisted. Or, to put it officially: “forging new careers outside of media and journalism”.

After a few weeks, I stopped seeing riots outside my window. I was assured by sober newscasters that much of the country was still engulfed by “chaos”. The President reacted by suspending all elections for the “medium to long term” until stability could be restored.

In the name of stability, the borders were closed, north and south. The Department of Education announced a new curriculum called “New American History”. The students who do not pass will have to face mandatory “supplementary education” lessons.

We became afraid not of violence, but of the simple things: our quiet neighbour with the stars and stripes on their lawn. Using the wrong words in public. CCTV cameras. A knock at the door.

I moved away when I could. Away from the city and its cameras and police and hundreds of thousands of snooping eyes. I’m affluent, and white, and male, so my classification means I can travel.

Minnesota is cold, but it’s quiet. I have discovered an underground resistance, online. Bloggers, writers, thinkers, (former) academics. The non-disappeared’s, eking out meagre existences, blogging in code. We talk about matters that are innocent enough: dogs, cakes, approved American history. But our words mean something different. We learned it from our government.

I hear the rumble of a drone overhead, but pay it no mind. I have been extra careful since moving. I watch all the political broadcasts. I say all the right things. A flag flutters proudly in front of my house.

I sit down to watch a broadcast of the news. Eyes on the screen — because they monitor it — but mind elsewhere. Just as it’s about to start, a see a car pull up outside. It’s sleek and black and moves without a sound.

After a few seconds that feel like hours, the door opens. A man emerges, lithe and smartly dressed. He looks around and adjusts his cuffs. He walks up my driveway.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

Football Manager 2017: The Journeyman Challenge (August, Part 2)

To read Part 1, covering pre-season and the first 4 games of August, click here. Nothing has changed here except the skin, as I opted for the default “Football Manager” one. If you want to see more detailed, high-resolution versions of the screenshots, just click on them.

“The world looks a totally different place after two wins.” – Gordon Strachan

We didn’t have two wins, but we were off the mark with our first following a 2-1 win over Poole Town. It was pleasing not just for the three points but for the fact that my misfiring lone frontman Eliot Richards bagged both goals.

Weston-Super-Mare vs. Dartford Town

I was hoping to continue in that vein with another win in another home game, this time against Dartford Town. Sticking to the old adage about not changing a winning team I stuck to the same tactics and XI. I still was not convinced about the 4-3-2-1, but I didn’t have any better ideas. And besides, it had worked last time out.


Bloody glorious, another 2-1 win! The only slight downside was that Richards didn’t continue his goalscoring exploits (and was in fact largely anonymous) but a win is a win.

We scored with virtually our first attack, and it was a disarmingly simple goal. A throw in on the right found Jesse Kewley-Graham, who played a simple square ball to his midfield cohort Adam Pepper. From just inside the box, Pepper lashed a shot inside the near post that was too swift for the Dartford keeper to stop.

It was 2-0 just after half time, and the goal was similar. This time Heath’s throw in from the left was flicked on by Jack Maloney. Kewley-Graham collected the ball on the edge of the area and lashed a shot home.

Dartford rarely threatened, but did get a goal back inside the final 15 minutes to make things tense. Some slack passing in the centre circle saw us lose the ball, and a quick break from Dartford saw them in behind out defence. Sub Danny Harris could have scored but instead squared unselfishly for Duane Ofori-Acheampong to tap in.

The pressed for an equaliser but couldn’t create anything clear cut as we withdrew and sat deep. Their frustration told with less than ten minutes to go as Eliott Bradbook was shown red for a two-footed lunge on Mark Nisbet. After that, whatever fight they had faded away, and we held on comfortably for a second 2-1 win in a row.

Ideally I wanted another home game to continue the momentum we had built, but instead we had an away trip to Margate. Again I saw no point in chopping and changing for the sake of it so we kept the same personnel playing the same way.

Margate vs. Weston-Super-Mare


Our winning run came to an end after just two games. Everything of note happened in the first half. Margate netted from a corner – our Achilles’ Heel – when centreback Yado Mambo’s header was diverted in, virtually on the goalline, by striker Daniel Akindayini.

It didn’t take long for us to equalise. Around 10 minutes later we had the ball in the net in fortuitous circumstances. Winger Jack Maloney had a speculative long rang effort that somehow squirmed under the body of the Margate goalkeeper and into the net. It wasn’t a good goal, but I wasn’t complaining!

And that was pretty much it for the rest of the game. Maloney’s effort was the only one we could muster on target, the best we could offer was other long range potshots that sailed into the stands. Margate were much the same, though Akindayini did miss a couple of gilt-edged one-on-one chances. A 1-1 draw was fair, it was pretty obvious we were two poor teams.

Our winning run had ended, but we were still unbeaten in three. I hoped that the confidence would still be intact after early pace setters St. Albans came to visit. I had make some changes. Unforunately experienced right back Sekani Simpson suffered a cruiciate ligament injury in training that would keep him out for the rest of the season. In his place, I loaned young full back Tyler Little from Bristol Rovers. Due to tiredness I also drafted in Syd Camper at left back, and Ladjie Soukana into defensive midfield. The changes weren’t ideal, so I was worried a heavy defeat would be on the cards…


Well, a heavy defeat was avoided. But we still lost. In fairness, we played quite well, and created more chances than them. The real difference came in the fact that they had Louis Theophanous leading the line and we had Eliot Richards. The Welshman had another forgettable game up front, while Theophanous showed him how it was done, diverting a near post cross into the net at the stroke of half time to give St. Albans the lead.

We had chances, but they were either saved by keeper James Russell or (more often) diverted haplessly wide and/or over the bar by Richards and his cohorts out wide. A 1-0 defeat against the early league leaders was no disgrace, but it proved that I had a lot of work to do to make this side competitive, despite those two wins.

The month of August had shown that we’re a better team than the relegation certainties we were predicted to be, but that we’re also a long way off matching the league’s better sides. I knew I had plenty to do, but I was confident that at the very least, I could keep this side up. I just needed a reliable source of goals from somewhere. We had a packed September ahead – 5 league games plus the second Qualifying Round of the F.A. Cup meant our squad would be stretched to the limit. Things were about to get interesting…