BBC BLOGS - Paul Fletcher

Archives for August 2010

The hopes and fears of football's free agents

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Paul Fletcher | 18:00 UK time, Tuesday, 31 August 2010

The Professional Footballers' Association's comprehensive list of free agents is as lengthy as it is depressing.

It took me ages to plough through the 31-page list of players who are out of contract. I was driven on by an almost morbid fascination to see who is suddenly facing an uncertain future.

There are the hundreds of players who are still in their teens - footballers I have never heard of but ones whose professional careers could be set to end in their infancy.

Then there are the likes of Liam Rosenior, Jeremie Aliadiere, Lee Hendrie, Francis Jeffers, Keith Gillespie, Russell Hoult, Gavin Mahon, Jay DeMerit, Barry Hayles - all experienced performers at a variety of levels, all united by the fact they are without a club.

But what also unites them all is that they can still be signed by clubs even though the transfer window has now closed.

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Pardew sacking at Saints raises eyebrows

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Paul Fletcher | 12:39 UK time, Monday, 30 August 2010

Alan Pardew described Saturday's 4-0 victory at Bristol Rovers as a big relief, but it obviously wasn't enough to persuade the decision makers at Southampton that the 49-year-old should remain in charge at the League One club.

A press release landed in my inbox at 0821 BST on Bank Holiday Monday morning informing me that Pardew, assistant Wally Downes and goalkeeping coach Stuart Murdoch had all been "relieved of their duties with immediate effect".

They had been sacked, in other words, just three games into the League One season.

The club statement was just six paragraphs in length and, bizarrely, started by announcing that the club would be appointing a new manager and coaches rather than explaining that the previous ones had left.

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The pain game

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Paul Fletcher | 11:45 UK time, Wednesday, 25 August 2010

My feet left the ground, my body moved violently backwards and my brain experienced a momentary disorientation that was only corrected when I finally returned to terra firma - backside first.

Welcome, I thought ruefully, to the bone-crunching and body-bruising world of rugby league.

As I looked up from the deck I saw the friendly smile of two-time Man of Steel winner Paul Sculthorpe. It was completely devoid of anger or malice - and totally at odds with the pain that had just been inflicted by its owner.

The former Great Britain and St Helens loose forward asked whether he had tackled me too hard.

"No," I replied tamely. What else could I say? After all, driven by a foolhardy desire to be able to say that I'd been splattered by Scully, I had asked him to do it.

"How close was that to a full-on tackle - 30 or 40% of maximum impact?" I asked, out of breath but still full of enthusiasm.

Sculthorpe looked at me like a father consoling a child who had recently been humiliated at a school sports day.

"Yes," he said. And after a pregnant pause, he added: "Something like that..."

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Warnock's Rangers look the real deal

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Paul Fletcher | 20:37 UK time, Saturday, 21 August 2010

At Loftus Road

QPR manager Neil Warnock was at The Oval watching the Test match between England and Pakistan on Wednesday when he found out that Jon Walters had joined Stoke City.

Warnock had been trying to sign the want-away Ipswich forward for weeks and spent 14 hours in his office on Tuesday trying to put together the finishing touches to a deal.

He was so frustrated at missing out on the player that when he returned home from the cricket he headed straight out on his bike and cycled around Richmond Park for two hours in an attempt to blow off some steam.

"Walters could have done two jobs for me - playing out wide and up front," Warnock told me. "Missing out on him means I have to try to sign at least two more players."

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Reid thriving on the pressure at Plymouth

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Paul Fletcher | 11:35 UK time, Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Peter Reid was in Doha watching a World Cup match on television when he received the call asking whether he would be interested in becoming Plymouth Argyle's new manager.

The 54-year-old cancelled plans to head on to Dubai and instead flew back to London to meet representatives from the Devon club, including chairman Sir Roy Gardner. Not long afterwards, he was offered the job and duly accepted.

I wanted to know why Reid had left a very good and relatively secure job as assistant manager at Premier League outfit Stoke to accept a position at a club that needed overhauling after the disappointment of relegation to League One last season. He replied instantly - and his answer encapsulated the no-nonsense style he brings to management.

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The rags to riches story of Man Utd's Bebe

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Paul Fletcher | 19:01 UK time, Thursday, 12 August 2010

Tiago Manuel Dias Correia, better known as Bebe, was taking part in the 2009 European Street Football Festival in Bosnia when he joked with his team-mates that he would one day be greater than Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 20-year-old still has a long way to go before he achieves that ambition but his transfer from Portuguese side Vitoria de Guimaraes to Manchester United for a reported £7.4m, subject to a medical, nonetheless marks a stunning rise to prominence.

The midfielder's story has taken him from a shelter for homeless young people on the outskirts of Lisbon to one of the world's biggest football clubs in little more than a year.

It is a remarkable story.

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England's small step in the right direction

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Paul Fletcher | 07:59 UK time, Thursday, 12 August 2010

At Wembley Stadium

England went into Wednesday's friendly against Hungary braced for a rough ride but determined to eradicate the lingering disappointment of their World Cup campaign.

On balance, I thought they delivered a performance that provided cautious reasons for optimism as Fabio Capello and his team switch their focus towards the forthcoming Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

A different formation, a few new faces and a positive attitude were all evident as England recovered from the shock of falling behind after 62 minutes to win 2-1 thanks to goals from skipper Steven Gerrard.

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England look to put World Cup behind them

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Paul Fletcher | 07:18 UK time, Wednesday, 11 August 2010

England coach Fabio Capello has apologised twice now for his team's miserable World Cup campaign, while captain Steven Gerrard has said he would probably boo the national side if he was a spectator at Wembley on Wednesday for the friendly against Hungary.

It is fair to say both men are expecting a hostile reaction from fans following England's disastrous South African campaign, which culminated in the humiliating 4-1 thrashing at the hands of Germany in Bloemfontein on 27 June. Some England supporters I know certainly plan to attend the game to register their dismay with the national side.

Wembley is unlikely to be anywhere near full for the game against Hungary - despite the Football Association's best attempts to get people through the turnstiles by cutting ticket prices - because of the fractured relationship between the fans and the players.

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Man Utd strike an early blow

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Paul Fletcher | 20:39 UK time, Sunday, 8 August 2010

At Wembley Stadium

Drawing cast-iron conclusions from the result of the Community Shield is a foolhardy business - and Ryan Giggs suggested as much when he denied that Manchester United's 3-1 victory over Chelsea would give them any psychological advantage going into the new Premier League season.

Indeed, the rather half-hearted manner in which the United squad paraded their latest trophy around the (now partly artificial) Wembley pitch suggested that they were treating the win with an appropriate sense of perspective.

Yet there is no question that any advantage to be gained during Sunday's traditional curtain-raiser belonged to Sir Alex Ferguson's team on an afternoon when his side gained their first victory over Ancelotti's Chelsea.

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Commons shines as Derby show promise

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Paul Fletcher | 22:15 UK time, Saturday, 7 August 2010

At Elland Road.

There was a weary tone of resignation in Nigel Clough's voice as he fielded the inevitable question about his family's association with Leeds United.

Father Brian lasted just 44 days as Leeds manager back in 1974, with the recent film adaptation of David Peace's book The Damned United bringing the whole episode back into stark focus.

"No, it had meant nothing at all," said Derby manager Nigel when asked if his Dad's forgettable spell at Leeds had made his team's 2-1 victory on Saturday extra special.

"I felt more pleasure because my little lad had not been allowed to walk on the pitch one-and-a-half hours before kick-off. Apparently it was a club rule."

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Boro banking on Scottish connection

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Paul Fletcher | 10:13 UK time, Friday, 6 August 2010

West Brom and Newcastle contested a 1-1 draw on the opening day of last season as they began their quest for an instant return to the Premier League.

Nobody was quite sure how they would respond to their demotion from the top flight, especially the Magpies, who had endured a traumatic time on and off the pitch, but both clubs adapted well to life in the Football League. So well in fact that they ended the season as the top two sides in the division.

Middlesbrough, who had been relegated alongside Newcastle and West Brom, fared less well. After sacking manager Gareth Southgate in late October, when they were fourth in the table and one point adrift of top spot, Boro eventually finished in 11th place. Their fans will hope that the chain of events set in motion with the appointment of Gordon Strachan as Southgate's successor culminates in promotion at the second time of asking.

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Can anyone stop Southampton?

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Paul Fletcher | 14:50 UK time, Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Shortly after the end of last season, it was widely reported that Alan Pardew was facing the sack as manager of Southampton.

His team had started the campaign on minus 10 points but eventually finished in seventh place, just missing out on the play-offs.

It was a noble effort by Saints, whose challenge was undermined by their inability to reproduce their dominant home form away from St Mary's. For example, they scored five goals in consecutive home games in late February but lost at struggling Tranmere in their next away fixture. But was it enough for chairman Nicola Cortese, who had sanctioned a multi-million pound spend in January?

Southampton manager Alan PardewPardew is set on directing his team towards the Championship

When he demanded a meeting with Pardew after the season was over, it was widely assumed the manager was on his way. But Pardew survived. That said, I would be extremely surprised if Cortese settled for anything less than automatic promotion this season.

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Too close to call in League Two

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Paul Fletcher | 11:02 UK time, Wednesday, 4 August 2010

It will have to be a pretty spectacular season in League Two if it is to match the 2009/10 campaign. All four promoted teams had incredibly distinctive stories in what proved to be a thrilling year for the fourth tier.

Champions Notts County provided a constant slew of headlines after the arrival of the mysterious Munto Finance consortium and the appointment of Sven-Goran Eriksson as director of football. Eriksson and co had all gone before the end of the campaign, leaving Steve Cotterill to steer the club to the title.

Bournemouth, calmly led by rookie manager Eddie Howe, defied a transfer ban to secure second place, Rochdale ended decades of disappointment to take third and Dagenham & Redbridge showed just how high "a pub team from Essex" can climb with their play-off victory.

It's a tough act to follow but Daggers boss John Still believes the division his team have left behind will be the scene of another almighty battle for promotion this season.

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