England’s World Cup Squad – Goalkeepers

With just under 100 days to go until the start of the World Cup in Brazil, and after a very unconvincing 1-0 victory over Denmark on Wednesday, it seems like an appropriate time to assess England’s team. The usual pessimism that surrounds an England team at the time of a major tournament is beginning to kick in, with some going so far as to create an online petition, suggesting that Manchester United midfielder Tom Cleverley be banned from going to the World Cup on the back of some highly unimpressive performances for club and country.

Unfortunately, the match against Denmark did not seem to provide too many conclusions, creating even more selection headaches it seems. Luke Shaw and Ashley Cole are neck and neck for the back-up left-back spot, while Jack Wilshere’s injury now puts his place in the squad up in the air. Jordan Henderson played well in an advanced midfield role, while Lallana impressed after coming on as well.

Goalkeepers

Despite being dropped by Manchester City earlier on in the campaign, Joe Hart is the undisputed first-choice for England. He has recovered well from that disappointment to put in some good performances for his club in recent times and that can only bode well for the World Cup. However, who should be the second and third choices?

Fraser Forster has had an excellent campaign at Celtic and it looks like he will be on the plane to Brazil. The 25-year-old has only one cap to his name but has been breaking all sorts of records in Scotland this season (including keeping 13 consecutive clean sheets in the league.) His form has not gone unnoticed, with England manager Roy Hodgson stating, “I must say I am really pleased for Fraser to break the Scottish clean sheet record. It is a great achievement and he deserves it because he’s been playing very well.” I believe that Forster should be Hart’s understudy in Brazil, something which he has all the qualities for.

It seems as if there is a direct battle between John Ruddy, Ben Foster and Jack Butland for one place in the squad. The latter is still very young and does not have much top-flight experience, which would rule him out if I were picking the squad. However, the likelihood of needing the third-choice keeper at any point in the tournament is doubtful, and so many are calling for him to go to Brazil to “gain experience.” This has not proved so successful in the past (think Theo Walcott in 2006) and so I still would not pick Butland.

Foster has been playing relatively well recently for West Brom, as has Ruddy for Norwich. Foster has only played 13 matches this season because of injury, while Ruddy has played every one of Norwich’s 28 Premier League games so far, conceding 43 goals in the process. For me, there is barely anything between them, but I would go for Ruddy as he has been in slightly better form and has played more this season, meaning his fitness will probably be better. Unfortunately though, third-choice goalkeeper is arguably the most useless in the entire squad, with a very slim chance of playing.

Picked: Joe Hart, Fraser Forster, John Ruddy

Luke Shaw vs Ashley Cole

We already know that Leighton Baines will travel to Brazil as part of England’s World Cup squad, however there is a battle going on for which the other left-back should be. Should Roy Hodgson pick Luke Shaw, the teenage Southampton defender, or Ashley Cole, Chelsea and England stalwart for over a decade but seemingly on the way down?

The players are on a very equal footing, however it is utterly pointless comparing an 18-year-old upstart to a 33-year-old who has been a stallion for club(s) and country for over a decade now. I realise that players shouldn’t be judged on what they have achieved in the past, rather on their current form and fitness, but suggesting that Ashley Cole is past it is somewhat ludicrous. Yes, he has lost his place to Cesar Azpilicueta (a right-footed left-back) in the Chelsea team but when he has been called upon, he has more than played his part. His past three starts in the Chelsea shirt came against Stoke, Hull and Southampton and he excelled in all of these games, even grabbing an assist against Hull.

The idea that he has lost some of his pace is also without proof, and although he bombs forward slightly less frequently than when at his peak, this is a man who Roy Hodgson recently described as having unbelievable stamina and fitness, despite not being a regular for his club side. Despite several off-field misdemeanours in the past, Cole is extremely serious when it comes to his football. The former Arsenal defender is well known to be an extremely hard worker at the training ground (when he’s not busy shooting interns with BB guns) and he will obviously give it his absolute all if called upon for Chelsea or England.

Many people say that we should look to the future if these players cannot be separated on a performance-related level. However the past has shown this is not a brilliant idea. Theo Walcott was taken to the World Cup in 2006 as a 17-year-old, did not play a single minute and suffered over the next couple of years under the weight of enormous expectation. He has in the last few years come into his own at Arsenal, however the World Cup was too early for him and even he has made that clear since. Shaw has played more football than Walcott at that stage, and he is a year older, but he could suffer under the weight of pressure that comes with being an England international. Letting him stay back while Cole and Baines head off to Brazil would be a good idea, while he has many years ahead of him to improve and learn from others. Give him a couple of years and I am sure that he will be 1st or 2nd choice for Euro 2016.

The main reason I would pick Cole over Shaw is his experience. Were Leighton Baines to pick up an injury at any stage of the tournament, would you rather have an 18-year-old upstart with 45 minutes of international football under his belt or a 33-year-old who has won everything there is to win at English club level (including a record 7 FA Cups)? Pressure is an odd phenomenon, and something that can affect people in vastly different ways. Cole has shown in the past that he can handle the pressure of a major tournament, while Shaw has played a very limited number of matches under pressure, and so it is difficult to say how he would handle a match of such importance. This is why I would pick Cole over Shaw every time.

Multiculturalism in Germany and France: How do they differ?

The theme of multiculturalism is a relatively new one and does in fact have a lot in common with immigration. Recent laws concerning the latter have allowed people to almost freely choose where they want to live in the world. This has of course resulted in certain areas becoming densely populated with people of very different backgrounds, which we would call a “multicultural” society. I personally live in London, which is very multicultural in parts, especially towards the east of the capital. I study at the University of Durham, which I would not call particularly multicultural at all, in comparison with other universities and cities that I have visited. However we are not here to discuss how multicultural England is, rather France and Germany, whose languages I currently study.

It is well known that metropolitan France has many immigrants (it is estimated by the French national institute of statistics that almost 20% of people living in France descend from immigrants), but how well exactly have they integrated into society? Many of the immigrants in France come from North Africa and they are known as “Maghrébines.” These people do not seem to have congregated in any particular area in France, rather they have spread out all over the country. Over a quarter of the population of the department of Seine-Saint-Denis (to the northeast of Paris) are immigrants, which represents the highest percentage in the whole of France. This shows that immigrants in France have refused to seclude themselves entirely from French society by all living in one particular place, however whether or not they are integrating themselves within their small societies is open to debate.

A woman wears the French flag as a face covering.
A woman wears the French flag as a face covering.

A large problem with immigration that exists all over the world at the moment is that of religion. It seems to be very difficult for people of different religions to blend together readily as the lives they live are so totally different. France has a long history of “laicism” (not to be confused with secularity), while many “Maghrébines” come from strong Islamic backgrounds, and so of course there are going to be problems. Laicism, which “is a concept denoting the absence of religious involvement in government affairs as well as absence of government involvement in religious affairs,” is deeply bedded in French history and tradition, and so these have clashed (not violently, yet) with the incommensurable beliefs and customs of the Islamic people who have settled there. The issue of the burqa and the niqab, for instance, both of which were banned from being worn in public in 2010, has highlighted many cultural issues. Although the niqab has absolutely no cultural basis in Islam, that did not stop many demonstrations taking place to oppose the law.

The key argument against these kinds of face coverings states that they represent a security risk (being unable to see someone’s face obviously prevents them from being identified). However another argument which is often forgotten, is that in the Western world social interaction and communication relies on facial recognition and expression, and covering one’s own face therefore prevents real integration into society. There is clearly no basis in the argument that the ban on face coverings is a racist movement, however this seems to be what several critics have argued. Many imams have even spoken out in support of the ban, suggesting that facial coverings have no place in French society, a country where women have been able to vote since 1945.

So if the full facial covering holds no truth in Islam, why then do women continue to wear it? Unfortunately this seems to be a very complex and controversial topic, with suggestions of male domination and Islamic indoctrination coming to the fore point of the debate. There is evidence that many females are forced by their husbands to wear the covering, although this has occurred more prominently in the Middle East than in metropolitan France. Sexist domination has a long history in Islam and unfortunately is not something that can be abolished overnight. The reasons for forcing certain females to wear such a covering are unclear, although it may have something to do with the Islamic belief in modesty in public places. If these women are married, then their husbands are normally unwilling to let them show their face due to it being considered offensive to show skin in public. As much I’d like to be, I can’t say I’m an expert in this topic, so I best leave it to others with more informed opinions to discuss.

Muslims wearing niqabs stand with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
Muslims wearing niqabs stand with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Going back to the issue of multiculturalism, I will repeat how difficult and complex it is for people of different backgrounds to fully integrate into the same society. Contrasting beliefs and upbringings mean that people are wired to behave in differing manners towards each other and to society in general. For example, many Muslims believe that homosexuality is a disease or a sickness, something which they have been brought up to believe and so which they cannot be entirely blamed for. This belief does not fit well into any Western society, where the treatment of homosexuals is similar to that of any human being and therefore there will be a struggle for Muslim immigrants to adopt and accept the beliefs of the culture which they are being faced with in France.

Racism in France is a very broad issue and a whole book could be devoted to the topic, however I will try and outline certain issues as briefly as possible. Unfortunately, the evidence suggests that racism exists in many different manners, from housing and education to employment and public perception. The foreign population are twice as likely to be unemployed as any French native (20% compared to 10%), while university graduates of North African origin are more than five times more likely to be unemployed than those who originate from France (http://www.global-politics.co.uk/issue%203/Multicultural%20France.htm). Moreover, immigrants are effectively coerced into living in certain areas, or cités as they are more commonly known. These areas are characterised by a high unemployment rate, high levels of poverty and poor housing and infrastructure.

A chart in "The Economist" shows where France and Germany stand in comparison to the rest of Europe on the topic of immigration.
A chart in “The Economist” shows where France and Germany stand in comparison to the rest of Europe on the topic of immigration.

One conclusion that can be reached from this underlying presence of racism in French society is that immigrants have been used as scapegoats during a period of economic decline. The white population have experienced these uncertain times and have used the North African population in France to turn their fear and anxiety towards. This provides without doubt one reason why multiculturalism in France has not been as successful as it could have been, with French nationals maybe unwilling (that might sound a little harsh) to integrate the North African population, who have been discriminated against to a large extent.

Thankfully for the vast majority of people who immigrate to France, they speak the same language and so there is no problem in this respect in integrating into society. Speaking the language of the country which you have moved to is vital, and this leads us onto Germany, where unfortunately many immigrants do not speak the language.

In recent years multiculturalism has been a fiercely controversial topic in Germany. 1 in 5 people currently living in Germany comes from an immigrant background, quite a staggering number if you think about it. You would have thought that this would have led to a well-blended society in which Germans freely interact and get on with Turks, Poles and elsewhere. However this is unfortunately not the case, as even Angela Merkel confessed that “attempts to build a multicultural society have utterly failed.” Even though those comments were made in 2010, it is clear to see that they still apply. Surveys suggest that a considerable number of Germans are opposed to the idea of immigration, with 30% believing their country was being “overrun by foreigners.” This damning indictment points towards a lingering xenophobia in parts of Germany and which is being ignored. But what exactly is causing multiculturalism (which has been significant and far more successful in other European countries like England and France) to fail so drastically in Germany?

Many believe that immigrants need to do more to integrate themselves properly into German culture. As any language student would have studied in detail, it is absolutely key to learn the language in order to integrate oneself effectively, and there is evidence that this is not happening in Germany. A public debate occurred between former German president Christian Wulff and the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, who claimed that Germany weren’t doing enough to help Turks, who form the largest ethnic minority in Germany, to integrate.

Turkish-German women stand with banners proclaiming "We are Germany" in mass demonstrations in Solingen.
Turkish-German women stand with banners proclaiming “We are Germany” in mass demonstrations in Solingen.

Another reason for this failure is perhaps the differences in religion. Turks are generally Muslims, however a survey as recent as 2012 showed how differing their beliefs are to Christians, with 51% (of German Turks) believing that homosexuality was a sickness, while 62% prefer to maintain social contact only with fellow Turks. This is clearly problematic if immigrants are unwilling to integrate themselves with the natives and their culture, however the fault must not lie solely at their feet, and it is clear that Angela Merkel, or Joachim Gauck, the current president, need to do something to help the 16 million immigrants that live in their country.

To conclude, we can see that sadly multiculturalism has not been anywhere near as successful as it could have been in either France or Germany, and this is down to a variety of reasons, which have been discussed in brief. Language issues present a minor problem in France and a severe one in Germany, while religion continues to be a thorn in the side of both societies. Complete integration into a totally contrasting culture is very optimistic, however if immigrants and natives begin to interact in a way that helps the former adapt into society, then we are not too far off. Racism has no place in today’s world in any form, and so this needs to be abolished as quickly and effectively as possible, which is sadly far easier said than done. A utopic society in which everyone lives happily in whichever country they want to can only be hoped for, and with a few changes to the deeply-entrenched values and beliefs in certain societies, it can be achieved.

Nicolas Anelka and the “Quenelle”

(Max 400 Words)

On 28th December of last year, Nicolas Anelka scored a goal against West Ham and proceeded to celebrate with the now infamous “quenelle” gesture. Within minutes of the match finishing, Anelka was being criticised for being racist, comments which largely came from across the Channel. Anelka immediately claimed the gesture was not racist, but instead a show of support for his friend, the hugely controversial comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala. This complex topic has taken a while to be solved, and now it appears Anelka faces a five-match ban and fine for his actions. But what exactly has Anelka done wrong and does he deserve his punishment?

Described as an “inverted Nazi salute,” the “quenelle” (which involves touching or gripping your shoulder with one hand while holding the palm of your other hand outstretched and pointing to the ground) is offensive to many people around the world, however it has only received significant criticism in France because that is where it is supposed to have originated. Many people have been photographed making the salute outside Holocaust memorials and similar such places. It’s clear that the gesture holds an offensive religious undertone, something which Anelka would obviously have known, so did Anelka really think he’d get away with claiming he didn’t mean to cause any offence, and was just acting in support of his friend? Or have the FA given Anelka too harsh a punishment for his celebration, “an anti-establishment symbol of defiance?”

 I believe Anelka and his legal team were acting in ignorance in claiming such a defence. It is simply not possible to make an offensive gesture and claim that it was not meant in such a manner. Raising your middle finger in public and arguing that it was meant in a friendly way is not possible, just as the “quenelle” was for Anelka. The FA had been warned that the outcome of the hearing could cause racial hatred on the streets of France if the French striker had not received his deserved punishment, and the fact that it took 2 months to come to a decision shows how significant this hearing was.

 Anelka has received exactly what he deserved, and he has now been warned. Supporting a friend using an offensive salute (which has significance way beyond football) was ignorant and somewhat stupid, and I can only hope that the 34-year-old learns his lesson.

 

 

 

 

Multiculturalism in Germany

(Max 400 Words) 

In recent years multiculturalism has been a fiercely controversial topic in Germany. 1 in 5 people currently living in Germany comes from an immigrant background, quite a staggering number if you think about it. You would have thought that this would have led to a well-blended society in which Germans freely interact and get on with Turks, Poles and elsewhere. However this is unfortunately not the case, as even Angela Merkel confessed that “attempts to build a multicultural society have utterly failed.” Even though those comments were made in 2010, it is clear to see that they still apply. Surveys suggest that a considerable number of Germans are opposed to the idea of immigration, with 30% believing their country was being “overrun by foreigners.” This damning indictment points towards a lingering xenophobia in parts of Germany and which is being ignored. But what exactly is causing multiculturalism (which has been significant and far more successful in other European countries like England and France) to fail so drastically in Germany? Many believe that immigrants need to do more to integrate themselves properly into German culture. As any language student would have studied in detail, it is absolutely key to learn the language in order to integrate oneself effectively, and there is evidence that this is not happening in Germany. A public debate occurred between former German president Christian Wulff and the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, who claimed that Germany weren’t doing enough to help Turks, who form the largest ethnic minority in Germany, to integrate. Another reason for this failure is perhaps the differences in religion. Turks are generally Muslims, however a survey as recent as 2012 showed how differing their beliefs are to Christians, with 51% (of German Turks) believing that homosexuality was a sickness, while 62% prefer to maintain social contact only with fellow Turks. This is clearly problematic if immigrants are unwilling to integrate themselves with the natives and their culture, however the fault must not lie solely at their feet, and it is clear that Angela Merkel, or Joachim Gauck, the current president, need to do something to help the 16 million immigrants that live in their country.

How can Manchester United improve?

Sitting 7th in the league with well over half the season gone, it is fair to say this has not been the greatest of starts for Manchester United manager David Moyes. Taking over from Fergie was always going to be a tough task, however I doubt many were predicting such a disastrous campaign. True, they are still in the Champions League with a relatively easy draw against Olympiakos, but surely only the most optimistic of United fans have to realise that their chances of winning are very, very slim. Moyes has repeatedly looked confused and seems to only have a Plan A, which involves sending as many crosses into the box as possible (a record 81 on Sunday against Fulham). This seems bizarre as they have three fantastic players in Mata, Rooney and van Persie, all of whom enjoy playing centrally. After a weekend which Moyes described as “as bad as it gets,” the question that arises is, how exactly can United improve?

Tactics

Moyes currently has United playing in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Mata on the right, boy wonder Adnan Januzaj or Ashley Young on the left and Rooney playing up behind Van Persie. Despite having what is (on paper at least) one of the best attacks in the league, Moyes seems insistent on enforcing tactics which suit a team such as Stoke City considerably more than the Champions of England. They produced a record 81 crosses against Fulham, while only a meagre 23% of their play came through the middle third – almost half the 43% of time they attacked on the left. This is a tactic that is relatively easy to defend against, as Fulham centre-back Dan Burn can attest (the 6ft 7in defender made a total of 22 clearances). For a team with the history and tradition of Manchester United, it is worrying that they seem to lack any sort of a Plan B, while even their Plan A leaves a lot to be desired.

Although their attack seems to be underperforming, it is in defence that the biggest changes need to take place. They have conceded 31 goals in 25 matches so far this season, more than the likes of Southampton and Hull City. In fact, only Tottenham have conceded more amongst the top 7 clubs (even that stat is skewed by two poor performances against Liverpool and Man City, conceding 5 goals in each game). Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have looked a shadow of their former selves, while the younger Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have failed to live up to their reputation, mainly due to being played out of position. It is only really Jonny Evans who has not under performed at centre-back, which suggests Moyes may want, or even need, to buy in the summer.

Defence

At full-back, Rafael has looked decent but nothing more, while Patrice Evra deserves more credit than he is given for consistently good performances. Their replacements have so far failed to perform however, which is why Smalling and Jones have been forced to cover. Fabio, Rafael’s twin brother, played one match this season and has subsequently been shipped out to Cardiff City, while the Dutchman Alexander Buttner has looked terrible every time he’s played. It is hard to pinpoint exactly why they have been so poor defensively this season – it may just be down to some ageing players – however what is certain is that United will need to invest in this department heavily in the summer.

Improvements

In order to improve, I propose the following changes: -

    • Tell the team to play more centrally and rely on the technique and skill of players such as Rooney, Carrick, Mata and Van Persie to be able to unlock the stubborn defences they usually come up against. Moyes must soon realise that he must set his side up different to his Everton of old – he has enough star players to make a proactive, possession-based team.
    • Stop playing Smalling and Jones out of position, unless absolutely necessary. If these two young English defenders are going to develop, it has to be in one position and I would say centre-back is best for both.
    • Moyes has no other option than to play Mata on the left, however he should give him free rein to drift into the middle and hope that the two defensive midfielders can cover for him. The Spaniard is at his best when playing between the lines, not playing as the left midfielder in a 4-4-2.
    • Play Januzaj as much as possible. As the football adage claims, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. The 19-year-old is clearly already a better player than Young and Nani so needs to play as much as possible. The Nandos-loving youngster has scored more goals and made more assists than those two put together in a similar number of appearances.
    • Below is the team that I would look to play as much as possible in the rest of the current campaign.
      931527_Manchester_United

Summer

This summer’s transfer window is vital if David Moyes is going to improve this side. Not only does he need to invest in two new centre-backs, a central midfielder and maybe a full-back and a winger, but also he needs to get rid of the deadwood at the club. Ashley Young, Buttner, Cleverley, Kagawaand Nani have not lived up to expectations, while Rio Ferdinand is past it and Vidic is leaving the club anyway. The rumours will abound about incoming transfers, and I feel it is too early to comment on any potential signings, as I’m sure Moyes and the board have their eyes on numerous players already. What is for sure, though, is that United have to improve soon, otherwise they could find themselves out of Europe and searching for another manager.

What are Fulham doing wrong?

Sitting rock bottom of the Premier League with well over half the season gone, Fulham find themselves in a precarious position with not much hope of survival. They have invested heavily in the January transfer market (breaking their transfer record like 7 of the other bottom 10 teams), hoping that the likes of Konstantinos Mitroglou and Lewis Holtby can initiate an upturn in form and help Fulham escape the relegation zone. With only a few football fans predicting the Cottagers would go down before the season began, the question remains, what exactly has gone wrong?

Having finished the season twelfth last term, there were reasonably high expectations coming into this season, and then-coach Martin Jol made what seemed to be a few shrewd signings in the summer, including Scott Parker, Darren Bent and Fernando Amorebieta, who arrived from Athletic Bilbao with a good reputation. Adel Taarabt and Maarten Stekelenburg were two other players who came to Craven Cottage, and the latter even played the 2010 World Cup Final for Holland. However, it’s fair to say that none of the players who came in last summer have performed. Bent looks nowhere near like his former self, while Stekelenburg has underperformed massively. To be fair to the former Chelsea midfielder, Parker has looked one of the better players on show at the Cottage, but even that isn’t saying much. Amorebieta has been unfortunately plagued by injuries and so has been limited to 12 starts in all competitions. Playing at right-back, Sascha Riether has started the majority of games so far, but like most of his colleagues, has underperformed, and at the age of 30, isn’t likely to improve a great deal more.

Martin Jol’s Fulham career seemed to end just like his time at Spurs – he was greatly unfortunate in that everything that could have gone wrong, did. He couldn’t have expected some of his signings to perform so poorly (Darren Bent in particular), while age seems to have caught up with a few players too (Berbatov and Duff etc). Duff especially seems to have lost everything that once made him such a good player – pace, trickery and ability to ghost past to defenders. Towards the start of the season, Jol relied on the creativity of the Swiss youngster Patjim Kasami in the number 10 role, the skill of Duff and Taarabt on the wings, the steady partnership of Sidwell and Parker in the middle, and the sturdiness provided Aaron Hughes and Brede Hangeland at the heart of defence.

Kasami started the season well but has faded to the extent that he is now effectively a bench-warmer, Duff has declined significantly and Taarabt has been so inconsistent, a criticism that has been present throughout his short career so far. Hughes has been sold mid-way through the season, Hangeland has only played a handful of matches, with the duo replaced by Senderos and Amorebieta (and even now Senderos has been sold to Valencia).

With Rene Meulensteen currently in charge, Fulham’s defensive solidity doesn’t seem to have improved much more. They conceded 17 goals in his first month in charge (including a frankly abysmal six against Hull City) and boast the worst goal difference of any team in the top four leagues. Holtby had a poor outing on his debut, while Clint Dempsey has looked a shadow of the player who lit up Craven Cottage a few years ago.

With the relegation battle due to go down to the wire, let’s just hope for Fulham’s sake that their new signings step up and help the Cottagers to perform a miracle escape.

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