The faulty “alarm bells” in Graeme Souness’ head

When Graeme Souness left his native Edinburgh to join Tottenham Hotspur in 1970, much was expected of the young Scottish midfielder, not least from he himself. He repeatedly told the much-loved Tottenham manager Bill Nicholson that he was the best player at the club, and that he deserved to start every week. Nicholson clearly had different ideas. Souness would go on to only make one appearance for Spurs, as a substitute in a UEFA Cup tie. He was quickly moved on to Middlesbrough in 1972.

In his 1984 book, ‘No Half Measures’, Souness elaborated on why his Spurs career failed to live up to the expectations. “I owe that North London club more than one excuse for the way I behaved while I was with them,” he said, “I was still impatient, and I still couldn’t be told… As usual, my attitude was the problem and I didn’t try hard enough to put matters right.”

A striking contrast between Souness’ situation and that of Everton’s new Italian striker emerged before The Toffees game against Wolves recently. It seems as if Souness is a specialist at highlighting a player’s attitude, even if it’s his own. The Scotsman, whilst working for Sky Sports claimed that Kean’s move from Juventus to Everton has set ‘alarm bells off’ in his head.

Souness talking about Moise Kean (1/09/2019)

Souness continued: “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy, given that they’ve got an older strike-force you’re selling a 19 year-old who won’t be hurting you wage wise. They haven’t got £100 million plus for him.”

His flowing criticism was briefly abrupted as he quizzed Jose Mourinho on whether Juventus have a buy-back clause on Kean: “Do you know if they’ve got a buy-back clause, Juve?”

His knowledge, or lack of surrounding the details of the transfer, suggests that Souness is not in the greatest position to make such a scathing attack on Kean.

“It doesn’t make any common sense if you are Juventus,” argued Souness, “which would suggest his off the field activities are not the best.”

Souness wrapped up his point by comparing Kean to the once wantaway Arsenal striker, Emmanuel Adebayor: “Just about to enter his best years, Wenger sold him to City,” he said, “they’re not selling him because he’s not a very good footballer, it’s because of something not quite right with him.”

Souness has played for Sampdoria in Italy, whilst he has also managed Juventus’ neighbours, Torino. Furthermore, his own attitude problems, previously alluded to, may provide him an insight into a teenage footballer’s mindset. This suggests that the Scotsman is well informed on football matters, and specifically Italian football matters to make a sound judgement on this issue.

That is not the case. Despite Souness’ pool of footballing experience whether that be as a manager or a player, in England or in Europe, his opinion on Kean is both wrong and dangerous.

First off, Souness’ argument is littered by vague phrases, allowing him firstly, to make his point by not actually researching what he is about to say first, and also so he cannot objectively be proved incorrect. ‘Off the field activities’ is indicative of this unsubstantial argument.

Souness’ first point that “Juventus are the wealthiest club in Italy” is most likely true. This summer they have signed Matthis de Ligt for close to £80 million. They’ve also signed a few Serie A defenders for upwards of £20 million: Crisitian Romero, Luca Pellegrini and Merih Demiral. Add to this the free signings of Aaron Ramsey, Gianluigi Buffon and Adrien Rabiot and it seems that Juventus are flexing their financial muscles once more.

However, Juventus are facing an uphill task with Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations, following their colossal signing of Cristiano Ronaldo last summer. As a result they have needed to balance the books somewhat. Kean was one of 10 Juventus players that was sold for £5 million or more. Most notably, their star right-back, Joao Cancelo was sold to Manchester City. So Souness is correct that Juventus are wealthy, but it is not a simple ‘black and white’ case.

It was also evident this summer that the club tried to offload Paolo Dybala to both Spurs and Manchester United. Whilst Gonzalo Higuain was defiant in his wish to stay in Turin, despite Juventus’ wish for him to depart to Roma. Thus, this is not an issue over Moise Kean’s attitude, but Juventus’ desire to sell players that they do not view as integral to their plans.

Souness was perplexed as to why Juventus could not command a fee of at least “100 million” for Kean. Again, a little research into the situation and Souness’ worries would be cascaded. Kean only had one year left on his contract. His agent, Mino Raiola is also known to favour his players running down their contracts, so he can command a greater fee. This was seen in the case of Paul Pogba, who shares the same agent. So Juventus were either forced to sell now, or keep Kean for one more season, and lose him for nothing. For a club pressured by FFP, the latter option was clearly not viable.

His apparent guess that Juventus do not have a buyback clause on Kean is correct. There is no buyback clause, but the clubs share a good relationship, and the deal reportedly includes a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ which will allow Juventus to match any future offer for Kean.

Moreover, Souness failed to consider the situation from Moise Kean’s perspective. He wants to be a starter for a big European club, at Juventus he was not that- only making 13 Serie A appearances last season. It was rumoured that Arsenal were interested in Kean, but he rejected their advances as they too could not offer him first team football, with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette already at the club.

Kean has featured in every Everton game so far this season, and he started his first Premier League game against Wolves at the start of September. His decision to move to Merseyside clearly seems to be highly charged by a guarantee of football.

Surely this is something that should be applauded, not looked down upon. A young prodigy who has chosen to move from the comfort of a European giant, to a new country, all to gain more footballing experience, and to work his way up the footballing ladder. Yet this is something that Souness has chosen to lambast.

More importantly, Souness did not touch upon the abhorrent racist abuse that Kean was subject to, whilst playing in Serie A. In an away game against the infamous Italian club Cagilari, Kean, who had only just turned 19, was subject to monkey chants from sections of the home crowd throughout the match. Kean went on to score before holding out his hands in a passive celebration in front of the Cagilari supporters. Following the match, his team-mate, Leonardo Bonucci made the spectacular claim that Kean provoked the fans, and the blame was “50-50”. It would not be surprising if Kean felt that he was not welcome.

Perhaps, Souness should have touched upon this fact, and how, although racism is still present in English football, it is a galaxy away from the situation in Italy. Just take the example from the Inter match on the same day that Souness made these comments. Former Man United striker, Romelu Lukaku was also subject to racist chants, once again, by Cagilari supporters.

Thus, it is a much more delicate and serious situation than just the players “off the field activities”. Souness, whether deliberate or not, ignored this.

His comparison of Kean to Adebayor is arguably the most puzzling aspect of his entire argument. The two players are separated by six years from the time they departed their respective clubs. And Arsene Wenger actually wanted to keep Adebayor at Arsenal. Once more, there are holes in Souness’ argument.

To rub salt in the wounds, the Scot failed to discuss the transfer of Patrick Cutrone to Wolves. The situation has many parallels with that of Moise Kean’s transfer. Cutrone is also from Serie A, he also moved for a modest fee (£16 million), he is Italian, and he is young- only 21.

Similarly, he had no qualms about the attitude of Spurs’ Christian Eriksen, despite the Dane desperately seeking a move away from North London all summer.

“I don’t know him at all, I’m assuming he’s not been a problem around the place. I’d play him.”

He does not know Kean at all either.

Does Souness’ criticism of Kean have deeper racial undertones then? It would be wrong to accuse him of this. But his views should still be criticised, for implanting an idea into the vast audience that he has, that Moise Kean, a black footballer, has ‘attitude problems’ off of no basis.

Instead, Kean’s move to Everton should be celebrated. Firstly, the Premier League is getting a classy young striker, who will only improve. His courage to make the move from Italy to England and just 19, due to his desire to play first-team football should be commended, not criticised. The only “alarm bells” that should be ringing should be inside the heads of Premier League defenders, as they gear up to face Moise Kean this season.


Sheffield United’s ‘Route-one football’: Danny Mills and Garth Crookes

Last weekend Sheffield United came back from two goals down to gain a heroic 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It left the club with a respectable five points from their opening four games, following a win against Crystal Palace and another draw away to Bournemouth. Sheffield United’s progressive tactics have played a big part in their results so far this season.

Chris Wilder has lined ‘The Blades’ up in a 3-5-2 formation this season, when going forward this formation fuses into a 3-3-2-2. Wilder has adopted this set up so the team can maintain triangular patterns across the right and left sides of the pitch, enabling the man on the ball to always have a passing option available. A crucial aspect of this system is the use of overlapping centre-backs, who can often be found in the right and left wing-back roles.

Chris Wilder

Of course, if Sheffield United lose the ball in the attacking third, then they are vulnerable to the counter-attack as their centre-backs push on. As a result, they aim to win the ball back or, at least stop the opposition from attacking as soon as they lose the ball. Sheffield United have committed 57 fouls, only Crystal Palace (60) have committed more fouls this season. If they do win the ball back though, Sheffield United are able to reignite their attack, and this has been something that they have been successful at so far. At the end of gameweek four, no team starts their attacks higher up the pitch than Sheffield United, with a higher press than the likes of Man City, Tottenham and Liverpool.

The fluidity and ingenuity of Wilder’s system have led Sheffield United to two promotions in the last three years. Not only has the club improved significantly under Wilder’s tenure, but it is also clear to see that they play an attractive brand of football. Since the 2016/17, only Pep Guardiola has accumulated more points in the English Football League than Chris Wilder.

However, Sheffield United’s success and style of play has been not only downplayed, but actually attacked by the British media. Before the season even began, ex-Man City full-back Danny Mills, most famously remembered for being left red-faced by Thierry Henry at Anfield, suggested that Sheffield United would struggle this season. “They’ll be similar to Cardiff,” stated Mills, “it’s not the most glamourous way of playing. They might play a little direct at times.”

Retired player Danny Mills

The comparison to Cardiff is baffling and insulting to Wilder’s way of playing. Whilst, the two clubs spent similar amounts of money in the Premier League, Sheffield United aim to keep the ball on the ground, and, as we have seen press incredibly high up the pitch, an antithetical way of playing, when compared to Neil Warnock’s tow flat banks of four tactics at Cardiff. Obviously, Mills had not done his research, it is questionable whether he had ever watched Sheffield United in either League 1 or the Championship before offering his ‘hot-take’.

Likewise, Garth Crookes belittled Sheffield United last Saturday, during their match against Chelsea. Crookes predicted that Sheffield United would struggle this season. A fair assessment potentially considering the club’s perceived lack of renowned Premier League goalscorers. However, his insight on United’s play was less fair. “Their style of football is quite basic for the Premier League”. Despite, claiming to watch Sheffield United three times this season, the ex-Tottenham man dismissed Wilder and his progressive tactics. Crookes failed to take note of the club’s high-press, novel use of centre-backs in the wing-back role, or the fluidity of their players in the attacking areas.

We have seen already, two criticisms not only of Sheffield United’s quality, but also their style of play. So why do British pundits fail to recognise they obvious heroic achievement by Wilder, an English manager. And the manner in which Sheffield United have achieved success, with a brand of progressive and attack-minded football?

Perhaps the answer opens up more on the consequences that are attached to the way that football, and 21st century life are progressing. It is fanciful to suggest that Mills and Crookes have watched much of Sheffield United, even if they claim to do so. Their opinion is based of what they ‘think’ is true. In the case of Mills, this may be a lingering attachment in his head between Sheffield United now, and Sheffield United when they were last in the Premier League. After all, their manager then, Neil Warnock is the Cardiff manager now, thus explaining the ‘similarities’ between Sheffield United and Cardiff. However, that was in the 2006/07 season, nearing on 15 years ago. The club have been transformed since, and any opinion that links Sheffield United now, to the team when they were last in the Premier League is both false and bemusing.

Maybe Crookes pins Sheffield United down to the same canvas of Neil Warnock’s football, just like Mills?

Crookes opinion on Sheffield United’s ‘basic’ style of play is a reflection of a wider problem in football punditry today. Sheffield United don’t hold the financial capabilities of the likes of Man City and Liverpool. They do not hold the same calibre of player. The club and the results are instead built of Wilder’s tactics and the belief in the ethos that the ‘whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.

Invariably now, discussions on popular broadcasting channels such as BT Sport’s ‘Gone in 60 seconds’ or Sky Sports ‘The Debate’ feature debates over the Top 6 and VAR, but constantly cascade the equally important tales, such as Wilder’s Sheffield United.

Sky’s ‘The Debate’

This is indicative of the obsession with topics surrounding money, or ‘quick’ debates, such as ‘was that VAR decision correct?’ No longer, are there discussions actually on football, and the way it is played, especially amongst the less popular teams in the Premier League.

Mills and Crookes may have coagulated Sheffield United now with Sheffield United from 2006. Or they have no real interest in Sheffield United, or the way the play football, as they are not a ‘Top 6’ club, they do not have limitless financial backing, and their manager isn’t a Dutchman that plays an attacking 4-3-3. Their clear disinterest with the story of a club that doesn’t have a £500 million costing starting XI displays both how some pundits fail to actually watch football that does not involve the elite clubs, and how their perceptions of teams revolve around the ‘glamour’ of finance.

Beneath the Badge (1): Watford FC

Watford FC are a Premier League football club founded in Watford, Hertfordshire. The club secured promotion to the Premier League in 2014-15 and have been competing in England’s top division since, they even reached the FA Cup final last season, eventually losing out to Manchester City. The club was founded in 1881 and fused with Watford Rovers to eventually establish Watford Football club as we know it, in 1898. Before then though there were internal disputes over whether to change them name to Watford Herts (for Hertfordshire). In the years following its formation, Watford FC often played in a blue kit. This changed in the late 1950s when they chose to sport gold kit and black shorts- the colours that are found on Watford’s badge today. Following the switch to gold and black the nickname of ‘The Hornets’ quickly stuck, following a popular vote by the supporters’ club. This remains in place today, epitomised by Watford’s mascot- ‘Harry the Hornet’.

Watford’s last blue kit (1959)

It may seem puzzling then, that whilst Watford are nicknamed ‘The Hornets’, that their current badge displays no hornets. The most recent Watford badge depicts a red stag’s head at the centre of a pentagon, which is split into black on the left side and yellow on the right side. This badge has not always been present, however. From 1968 through to 1974 Watford adopted three different badges and whilst they all contained the yellow and black colours seen today, the stag was discarded for a hornet. However, since 1978 the club has chosen to stick with what looks like a moose, but what is actually a stag. The reason for this is based upon Watford’s location in Hertfordshire, a county in England that is known for its vast stag population. This harks back to Watford’s earlier days where the stag was placed on the 1950 and 1958 badge. Even Hertfordshire County Cricket Club shares an image of a stag, or a fallow deer- it is an image that has become synonymous with Hertfordshire.

History of Watford’s badge
Current badge

Last year the club raised the question to the fans to design their own badge, calling it: ‘Designs on the Future’, the new badge will be introduced for the 2020/21 season. It may not be too long before we see the hornet once again taking its place on Watford’s crest. It seems once more than Watford’s image will continue to change and evolve.

England’s 2019 Cricket World Cup Team: A Lesson in Diversity

Following and enthralling rollercoaster of a match, England beat New Zealand (on the number of boundaries scored) to lift the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup and stamp their place in English folklore alongside the 1966 football team and 2003 rugby union team. There certainly has been no cricket game that can even be compared to that in recent memory, even more so when considered on the stage it was on- the biggest game in world cricket.

All this made the image of Eoin Morgan lifting the World Cup and even more sweet sight to savour for all. What this picture also tells though is the story of inclusion in the England cricket team, and without this inclusivity the World Cup dream would not be possible.

Eoin Morgan lifting the 2019 ICC Cricket World Cup

The picture of England lifting the World Cup displays captain Eoin Morgan raising the trophy. Morgan was born in Dublin and even played for Ireland in the earlier stages of his international career. Behind Morgan is Jofra Archer, who similarly was not born in England, but Barbados. The 24-year old bowler who was able to hold his nerve in the super-over, took the World Cup by storm, taking 17 wickets throughout the tournament. The same can be said for other members of the team: Ben Stokes, who put in a match-winning 84 not out, was ironically born in New Zealand. Jason Roy who accumulated over 550 runs at the World Cup and Tom Curran were born in South Africa, whist Moeen Ali and spinner, Adil Rashid- who claimed 10 wickets are both the grandsons of Pakistani immigrants. Furthermore, the overseer of the 2019 World Cup project- England coach, Trevor Bayliss was born in Australia. The overall picture is one of inclusivity and diversity in the England squad. This diversity was recognised by Morgan after the final, ‘we had Allah with us as well…It actually epitomises our team. Quite diverse backgrounds and cultures.’  

Jofra Archer and Ben Stokes, from Bridgetown to Christchurch (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England cricket has had issues with diverse background representing the country in its past though. Indian born Nasser Hussain was booed by English fans in 1999, when he took over the captaincy. Yet a similar, although less active form of exclusion can be seen 20 years on. In the Independent, Jonathan Liew quoted the BBC’s heralded cricket journalist Jonathan Agnew on his scepticism over Archer’s call-up to the World Cup squad, where he expresses concern over the subtle prejudices that remain in our society: ‘A huge call… Morale and camaraderie is a big part in team performance.’. Of course, it is now unfathomable that Archer’s selection could be called into question, thanks to his super-over heroics. But it is less certain whether this had been the case had Guptill made it back for two and won New Zealand the World Cup at Archer’s expense. Although one hopes the World Cup heroics by all those in the England squad teaches us a lesson on the value of diversity and inclusion .