Archive | April 2014

Is it Time to Scrap the Easter Weekend Double Header?

‘Horrible’ and ‘unfair’ are the words Warrington Wolves Head Coach Tony Smith has used to describe the Super League Easter Weekend double header. Traditionally Super League teams have been asked to play 2 games in 4 days over the Easter period, often resulting in some of the highest attendances for clubs all year. However, complaints have risen in recent years highlighting player fatigue and the impact on travelling long distances for teams playing away at Catalan or London in such a short amount of time. The RFL have opened discussions this week to scrap the double header weekend, and teams could be asked to play just the 1 game over Easter from next year. So is it time to scrap the Easter weekend double header, or should professional rugby league players be capable of giving two top performances in 4 days?

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Player fatigue is something that Warrington Head Coach Tony Smith alluded to after his side’s 44-6 win over local rivals Widnes on Friday.

“Player welfare is the main thing when you’re asking some of the boys to back up in two days’ time. They’re still going to have fatigue in their bodies. It’s unfair; it shortens the appreciation of what they go through. Hopefully it’s over after this year.”

Rugby League is certainly one of the toughest, most physical and gruelling sports there is. The big hits the players endure for 80 minutes is extraordinary, as well as the pace at which the top quality games are played at. The first games tend to be a lot closer over the Easter period, with the players giving a higher performance level. The top teams are better equipped to cope with this going into the 2nd game in 4 days, which was evident in Wigan’s flawless 84-6 victory over Bradford on Monday.

As well as physical exhaustion, the mental tiredness and emotion that the derby fixtures produce shouldn’t be underestimated. On Thursday we had Leeds taking on Bradford, as well as a thrilling Hull derby, which saw KR win after a last minute drop goal. Friday saw the annual Good Friday fixture between St Helens and Wigan, as well as Warrington vs Widnes and Wakefield vs Castleford. Local derbies are the games which players look forward to the most, with big crowds and high emotions with local pride at stake. It particularly means a lot to the players who are playing for their hometown teams, and asking them to recover from a derby fixture, both physically and emotionally, in a short space of time is a big ask. I’d argue that the Saints players were still recovering from the loss to Wigan on Good Friday when they were beaten by Widnes 40-26 on Monday.

Travel arrangements also take their toll on the players, which Hull KR coach Craig Sandercock has pointed to this week:

“I am sure everyone is sick of me wingeing about it but the short turn-around is made worse by us having to travel. But we have to travel two and a half hours to get to an airport and, because we’d have to leave Hull at 4am to get the 9am flight from Liverpool – and the players wouldn’t get any sleep the day before the game – we’re forced to set off on Saturday. Some people underestimate how hard it is to do that straight after a game. It would have been preferable not to spend seven or eight hours travel time to play.”

The team who has to travel away to Catalan during the Easter period draws the short straw, and you’d highlight the amount of travelling in the short space of time as the main factor as to why the Dragons beat the Robins 37-24 on Monday.

In order to counteract this, as well as being televised, the Hull derby was moved to Thursday night, giving the Robins an extra day to make travel arrangements and to recover. However, Leeds vs Bradford and London vs Catalan were also played on Thursday night. Considering both Hull and Leeds only had to make a short away trip down the road on the Thursday, before playing at home on the Monday, you do wonder how significant an advantage the extra day was to both sides. The two teams won convincingly on Easter Monday.

On the other hand, playing games on Good Friday and Easter Monday is not uncommon in other sports, and doesn’t draw any controversy from pundits, coaches or fans. Football League sides are asked to play 2 fixtures in 4 days, and that’s having already played 42 league games in the season (excluding cup fixtures). People will argue that having a big squad is needed to do well in the Super League, and it’s the ultimate test of the coach to utilise that squad to cope with the heavy fixture demand. Finally, fans love the Easter weekend, and most find enjoyment out of watching two games over the bank holiday weekend.

The result of scrapping the double header weekend by the RFL could lead to complications for the fixture list. An obvious way to balance it would be the removal of the Magic Weekend, although that’s unlikely with the RFL looking to use the weekend to promote the sport and make a profit. Adding an extra week to the season is another possibility, although this could interfere with the international fixtures, something the sport doesn’t want to do after last year’s world cup.

Few will argue that the demands of playing 2 games in 4 days is tough on Rugby League players, and only intensified by the first game being a local derby for most. Whatever resolution the RFL finds, let’s hope it’s one that pleases players, coaches and fans.

 

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Moyes’s Sacking: My Thoughts

After strong rumours emerged yesterday afternoon, it was finally announced this morning that David Moyes had been sacked as Manchester United manager after just 10 months in charge. On this date last year, United were crowned Champions after a 3-0 victory over Aston Villa. Today, the club lie 7th in the Premier League table, out of all cup competitions, and staring down the possibility of no European football at Old Trafford next season. There’s no questioning that United have underperformed in this campaign and something had to give. Sadly for Moyes, in the climate of modern football, it was him.

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Time. That’s what pundits scream for managers to be given: to assess a team, put their mark on it and build their own successful side. However, in modern football the lifespan of a manager is limited. Manchester United are different, however, which perhaps adds to the surprise of Moyes’s departure. After the 26 years of stability and success under Sir Alex Ferguson, the board sent out a message with Moyes’s appointment by offering him a 6 year contract. ‘Your job now is to stand by your new manager’ were the words from Ferguson. So what’s changed?

The decline this year few could have predicted. The fall from 1st to 7th. The lowest ever points tally in a Premier League season. And ultimately, failure to qualify for the Champions League next year for the first time since 1995. It’s been a disastrous campaign, and whether it was the manager’s tactics or the player’s underperforming, Moyes has paid the price. When the board gave Moyes his 6 year contract, they wouldn’t have foreseen this. The transition was going to be a difficult one, but they wouldn’t have predicted the team’s rapid decline, and now we know they’re not going to accept it. I would have loved to have seen Moyes given the time to build a successful team. I would have loved to have seen Moyes lifting the Premier League title within the next few years. I would have loved to have seen Moyes rebuild Manchester United as one of the top teams in European football. But in reality, there were no signs that this would ever be the case.

Just like Roy Hodgson at Liverpool or Andre Villas-Boas at Chelsea, sometimes managers are just a wrong fit. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and today’s announcement is the owners putting their hands up and saying ‘we got it wrong’. Whether it was his formation and tactics that weren’t translating to the players on the pitch, or just his inability to manage at the top level, it just didn’t work out. United’s results against the 6 teams above them will prove that, having won just 1 game and taking 6 points from a possible 36. Moyes named 51 different starting line ups in his 51 games in charge, suggesting he never really worked out his best team. His transfer policy didn’t help him out either. You wonder how well United may have done with Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara or Ander Herrera in the centre of midfield this year. Instead, Fellaini came in and has made little impact, certainly failing to live up to the quality he showed at Everton. Juan Mata came in in January and has shown some promise with 3 goals in 12 games. Fitting him into the team has proved difficult though, with Wayne Rooney playing so well in Mata’s preferred number 10 role. At the start of February, Moyes had the luxury of playing Rooney, Van Persie and Mata together for the first time. United lost 2-1 at Stoke.

The 2-0 defeat away to Olympiakos. The home and away defeats to Liverpool and Manchester City. The League Cup semi final defeat to Sunderland. The FA Cup 3rd round defeat to Swansea. Sunday’s 2-0 defeat to Everton. We’ve ran out of new lows this season. The results and performances haven’t been there, and ultimately the manager becomes a scapegoat.

You do feel for Moyes in that the players have consistently underperformed for him this season. How many United players this year can truly hold their head up high? Wayne Rooney is the only one for me. It took an 18 year old in Adnan Januzaj to show the team how to be dangerous with the ball at their feet, although Moyes has been reluctant to utilise him in recent months. Pedestrian. Predictably. Ineffective. That’s 3 words you would never use to describe Manchester United teams of the past 2 decades, but words which have been used to describe most performances this year. The confidence and belief has been completely drained from the players this year, and they look like shadows of the players what they were last season. The best two performances of the season arguably were home and away against Bayern Munich, but even then it highlighted just how far away United are from Europe’s elite. Pace, energy and creativity needs to return to United’s football next season, and there were few signs this year that Moyes would be able to achieve that.

A big clear out is needed. There’s no doubt that this summer will be an important one for Manchester United. United can afford not to be in the Champions League for one season, but to miss out on a top 4 finish next campaign would be disastrous for the owners, sponsors and supporters. Rumours of £200million being spent on improving the side for next season are unsurprising, and if true, the owners clearly feel that Moyes cannot be trusted to oversee it being spent.

Perhaps Moyes’s biggest mistake came at the start of his tenure, with his decision to bring in his own backroom staff, leaving to a complete overhaul of the managerial team. The transition from Ferguson to Moyes would have perhaps been more stable had he kept Mike Phelan and Rene Mulensteen on as his assistants. The players would have probably responded better to this. The loss of David Gill shouldn’t be underestimated either. Most United fans pointed to new Chief Executive Ed Woodward last summer when United failed in their bids to land Fabregas. By the time Moyes and Woodward took the reins at Old Trafford, Manchester City had already made 4 summer signings. The transition of the club was perhaps too much, and any attempts to stabilise this shift should have been put in place, or even maintained in place.

Succeeding the most successful manager of all time was always going to be a difficult job. Moyes has admitted it was tougher than he expected. He’ll go away and be stronger from this as a manager. His time at Everton proved he is a brilliant manager, and I’m confident that in years to come he’ll be able to take over a top team and run a successful side. But for Moyes now, the chosen one is no more.