About shakahislop

Goalkeeper, pundit and lover of football

Euro 2012 – a semi-final would be a great result for England

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Thoughts of England winning Euro 2012 should be secondary thanks to the team’s troubled lead-in. It should all be about the learning for brighter days ahead says Shaka Hislop

It’s strange to see England go into a tournament with such little expectation. The messy situation Roy Hodgson has inherited seems to have dampened the usual hype you normally see around the team. It’s no bad thing. Normally they’re doomed to disappoint a nation, but this time around a run to the semi-finals would surely count as progress.

It’s early days in the Hodgson era, but there are some good signs. In his two friendlies, England were a well organised and disciplined side. They didn’t dominate in the way some people would like, but they have some real strengths heading into the tournament.

With Welbeck, Young and Walcott, they’ve got real pace and are well set-up to play on the counter attack. Added to the mix is Ashley Cole, who is simply one of the best left-backs in the world, let alone Europe. They’ll be dangerous on the break.

England have been unlucky with injuries, especially in defence, but Roy will have whatever team he puts out there well-drilled. That counts for a lot in international football were the margins are generally very thin. With France playing well, it’s hard to see England claiming top spot and that means big trouble. With Spain likely to top Group C, it would make getting further than a quarter-final nearly impossible. If however, they started with a win over France and got the right results against Sweden and then Ukraine, topping the group could be huge. That would most likely mean playing Italy, Croatia or the Republic of Ireland – all of which are substantially more achievable challenges.

It’s something of a freebie for Hodgson. With all the turmoil surrounding England in the last few months, he’s done well to steady the ship. There was criticism of the way he handled the Rio Ferdinand and John Terry issue. I can see it from both sides. I totally sympathise with Rio, but I can see legitimate footballing reasons for his omission. In a squad like this, you don’t really need two centre backs over the age of 30 with a lack of pace. The leadership and experience of one will suffice and Hodgson clearly believes Terry is the better defender.

England will get out of their group, most likely as a runner-up. That puts them on course for Spain in the quarter-final and that’s where the story could end. It’s not crucial for Roy on this occasion, but he’ll be expected to deliver in future. Hopefully England can make progress deep into the tournament, but the more realistic aim is that everyone involved learns from the experience and they’re better placed for success in 2014.


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Euro 2012 – England are improving but the Netherlands will win it

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Spain are in great shape ahead of defending their European Championship title. But Shaka says they might find the chasing pack are a little closer this time around.

Greece

Greece winning Euro 2004

There’s something really enjoyable about the European Championships. I know it lacks Brazil, Argentina and some of the other global heavyweights, but it’s a great tournament. The unpredictability makes it fantastic. We saw Greece and Denmark upset the big boys in the last couple of decades, but it was happening long before that with Czechoslovakia claiming glory in 1976.

There won’t be a shock of the same magnitude this time around, but Poland and Ukraine could go far. Firstly you hope that everything goes right for their hosting the event, but then comes the football and both teams are capable of getting at least a quarter-final. I’ve got a sneaky feeling Poland may even manage more than that.

Spain are the defending champions, looking to become the first nation to win three major international tournaments in a row. They’ve once and for all buried the chokers tag and they’ve looked good in the two years since their World Cup triumph. I don’t think they’ll win it though.

They’re not suddenly a bad team, but the gap between them and the rest has shrunk. Germany have improved since 2010 and the Netherlands look a stronger team two years on.

The Dutch are going to be chomping at the bit. Since the Total Football era, they’ve prided themselves on style. That went out the window at the last World Cup and they will be desperate to show they don’t need to adopt the same tactics again to prevail. With an in-form and fully fit Robin va Persie, they’ve got a great chance. Having Huntelaar, a prolific goalscorer at international level, won’t hurt either. They’ll need to improve defensively, but they can and they’ll be a major candidate.

Italy’s preparation has been poor, but I wouldn’t dismiss them out of hand. Serie A is still producing good players and led by Gigi Buffon, they could surprise a few people who are maybe writing their obituary. They miss a tackler in midfield though. Andrea Pirlo is a wonderful playmaker, but he neglects his defensive duties. You can’t do that at a tournament like this.

Laurent Blanc deserves immense credit for what he’s done with France. Thinking back to the absolute anarchy in South Africa and afterwards, it looked like a scene UN peacekeepers would struggle to contain. The fallout from the anti-Domenech revolt has been handled brilliantly by Blanc. He’s got the players onside, they’re playing well and they’ve got a fantastic chance. The fitness of Yann M’Vila is importance. If he’s forced to sit it out, they’ll miss his tackling.

Roy Hodgson has made a good start to the England job. It’s only been two friendlies, but they’re well organised and set up to strike on the counter attack. My fear is the draw. If they don’t win the group, they will most likely meet Spain and despite the win last November, they won’t do it again.

It’s always been a team game and that’s why Portugal won’t win it. We all know what Cristiano Ronaldo can do, but winning a championship like this takes more. He doesn’t have the players around him. Portugal have several top quality players, but not enough to cover for the overall shortcomings in the squad. They’re not good enough defensively and in a tough group, they could get found out.

All things considered, it’s the Netherlands at 13/2 for me. With the form Robin van Persie is in, they can go all the way.

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International football presents a different challenge for an England GK

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Roy Hodgson’s England goalkeeping selections for the summer have provoked much debate. No-one can quibble with Joe Hart but there was far less consensus when it game to bringing Rob Green and John Ruddy (and now Jack Butland) to Euro 2012. Many people lament the continued absences of Ben Foster and Paul Robinson, whilst others made a case for Scott Carson who is out of sight and presumably out of mind in Turkey.

The first thing to say is club football and international football are totally different. International football is a lot slower. It’s a different mindset. I got called up to an England B team back in 1996. David Seaman was out injured and then Tim Flowers went down with an injury so I got bumped to the A squad. Nigel Martyn was the first choice and I sat on the bench for the game against Chile at Wembley.

Nigel summed up the differences between the club and country game perfectly. He told me “in international football, you’re generally going to be resigned to taking goal-kicks and picking the ball out of the net.” That’s because the game is a lot slower. In club games, the play is at a much higher tempo and you’re going to have maybe 14 or 15 saves to make. In international football, you’re normally only going to have to make three or four saves.

The teams are trying to work the ball into positions where they’re only a few yards out, so when the shots do come in, you’ve got much less of a chance of keeping them out. At that level, you’ve got to be prepared to do little else but take goal-kicks and pick the ball out of the net. Those requirements don’t suit every goalkeeper. It’s takes much more mental toughness and concentration. To play a long season at club level where you’re making a much higher volume of saves, it’s more suited to the younger and more physical goalkeeper.

From my own experiences, I’m fully aware of the psychological differences between being first choice and second choice both for club and country. At World Cup 2006, I was largely 2nd choice at West Ham, but I was thrown into the limelight for the national team. I knew exactly what was required, so it was no problem to step in and change mental approach.

It’s something England will need. Everyone will hope Joe Hart stays fit and healthy, but if he doesn’t you need to have a certain type of player around. Rob Green is the right man for the job. I’ve always liked him as a goalkeeper. He obviously had a disappointing World Cup in 2010 by his standards. It really knocked his confidence, but he’s going to Poland and Ukraine as a number 2. It’s a completely different mindset when you know you’re the back-up. You know you’ll play the odd game at most and you’re prepared for it. He’s experienced enough to know what international football involves, so it’s worth having him around. He can play that role as well as anybody.

I thought is was a good idea bringing John Ruddy along to give him a taste of senior tournament football. It’s not now going to happen thanks to his broken finger, but it was the right thing to do. Hopefully Jack Butland won’t need to see any playing time and he take build up his experience to play a bigger role in future.

Cech’s resurgence is crucial as Chelsea take on Bayern

Petr Cech and Manuel Neuer

The Champions League Final always seems to bring about some top class goalkeeping. Immediately you think about Jerzy Dudek’s double wonder-save to deny Andrei Shevchenko when Liverpool pulled off the Miracle of Istanbul. In 2008, Edwin van der Sar pulled off some penalty heroics to deny Chelsea and ,the performance he put in for his final game in last year’s decider was arguably better – even it was in a losing cause.

The men between the posts for this year’s final in Munich look on course to be mentioned in the same breath as the very best keepers to have graced the European Cup final. After the troubles he has had in recent seasons, its hard not to have a soft spot Petr Cech and it’s simply a pleasure to watch Manuel Neuer grow into one of the world’s best. How the two perform on the big night is going to have a huge influence on who gets to hold the trophy aloft in the Munich night air.

As a young man you can do things physically that you can’t when you’re older. I think that’s part of the reason Petr Cech has had to rediscover himself. It’s been a process that’s been forced upon him because of his head injury and some other niggling injuries he has had in the last couple of years. After the injury, his form dropped off for a few years to the point where I began to wonder if he could ever get back to his best. It’s taken a while for him to adapt his game. He doesn’t have the out and out shot-stopping ability he once had, but he has learned how to use his experience to greater effect. His positioning is a lot better, his anticipation is good and his decision-making is improved. That’s something you have to do as you get older. With most goalkeepers, that’s a gradual progress that happens over time, but with Cech, it was forced upon him.

This season, it’s noticeable how strong he has been in one on one situations. He’s now more decisive and picking his moment. He doesn’t always have to make the save. Simply putting the striker under pressure sooner can be enough. There were a few examples of this in the two legs against Barcelona, but he’s been doing it throughout the knock-out rounds. Against Napoli he pulled off some saves that kept Chelsea in the tie and against Benfica, his performance made life a lot more straightforward for his team.

The main difference between the two is experience. Manuel Neuer has been around for the last few years, but he’s still the new kid on the block, particularly at this sort of level. He’s rightly been refereed to as one of the best goalkeepers in the game right now. He’s got it all and has experience way beyond what you’d expect for a 26 year old keeper. He’s immensely talented and can do everything. He’s quick, he’s technically very strong, he’s brave, he’s got the physique – he’s really got everything you want in a modern goalkeeper.

With some senior players absent, Chelsea are going to need leaders and big performances. I have no doubts about Cech’s ability to produce both.

Shaka Hislop: ‘Liverpool have said goodbye to a gentleman and a great football brain’

It turns out a Carling Cup win and FA Cup Final appearance aren’t enough to keep you your job. Liverpool have parted ways with Kenny Dalglish. Shaka Hislop looks at the man and the manager and where things may have gone wrong at Anfield.

Kenny Dalglish

The curtain has come down on Kenny Dalglish’s second stint in charge of Liverpool. Parting company with the man who has been there for the some of the brightest and darkest days in the club’s history is a seriously big call from the owners. In coming days and weeks we may get more of an insight into the dynamics behind the scenes that triggered the decision, but King Kenny is adored by the fans and his contribution to the club – quite aside from the football – has been immense.

First and foremost, I have to say I’m a big fan of Kenny on a personal level. I worked with him towards the end of my time with Newcastle. He’s far more personable than many people may realise from watching him purely on camera. Even though I left St. James’ Park under his management, I have the utmost of respect for him and I’m genuinely sorry to see how thing have turned out. Maybe you can understand the Liverpool owners parting ways with Dalglish, but I’m disappointed. I like Kenny a lot, he’s a gentleman.

He’s got a great football brain. He’s got a good balance between man management and tactical awareness. Harry Redknapp was certainly a better man manager than Kenny, but Kenny was far better tactically than people gave him credit for. The game has changed a lot in the fifteen or so years since I worked with him, so I can’t say for certain how he approached tactics in this era, but I felt he was good enough at the time.

As for where it went wrong, it’s hard to pin down. He spent a lot of money last summer, but I really feel he was building a team. I never thought they would come close to challenging for the Premier League or even close to it this season and that’s how it turned out. But under Kenny they were getting better, playing better football and but for a little more luck, they could have been higher up the table. They were well poised to make a stronger challenge next season.

I think he handled the Suarez/Evra incident really poorly from Liverpool’s point of view. Knowing Kenny, that really surprised me. The owners clearly weren’t impressed with the entire situation. I don’t think the form was bad enough to sack him and I don’t think his handling of the Suarez case was enough on it’s own to get rid of him, but the combination of the two was his undoing.

Not for the first time in recent years, the club finds it’s self at a crossroads. Not being able to turn to King Kenny is going to take some getting used to at Anfield.

Manchester United need midfield reinforcements to return to the top

Manchester United accrued the most points in the of the Premier League without actually winning the league. But the raw data hides some major weaknesses in Fergie’s squad. Shaka looks at what’s needed to return United to the top next season.

Sir Alex will be busy in the transfer market

There’s been something so utterly un-Manchester United about the closing weeks of the league. They couldn’t look more out of character if Fergie started praising referees and Rio Ferdinand started tweeting in the Queen’s English.

The game against Everton, when they conceded four goals and dropped too immensely valuable points highlighted the fact they need to reinforce at the centre of defence. I know they had to do without Nemenja Vidic for most of the season and Jonny Evans did well as a replacement, but they need something else.

Rio Ferdinand is still capable of playing well, but he’s at an age where he’s a little inconsistent. I’m a big Vidic fan, but we have to wait and see how he returns following a serious injury. I like Chris Smalling, but I still think he’s one for the future and United need someone for the present. I felt he was a little exposed in the second half of the season, but that’s only to be expected because he’s so young and he’s still learning the game at the highest level. He’s highly talented and he’ll get better as he builds up his experience.

If I was Sir Alex, I’d be looking for another high class out and out striker to lead the line alongside Wayne Rooney. They do have Welbeck and maybe he can grow into that role, but with United, success is demanded so relentlessly, they should look for a finished article to share the goal-scoring burden with Rooney.

The biggest area of the team in need of work is the midfield. They need more creativity and a more defensively minded stopper. Michael Carrick is not a combative midfielder and he never has been. He’s been doing the role and not done too badly, but it doesn’t suit him and you get the impression he’s only ever filling the void. Giggs and Scholes have been fantastic players and great servants to the club, but the fact United are still relying so heavily on them for creativity shows how much creativity they lack.

Title win is well deserved for Manchester City and Mancini

Their dramatic title win was brought about by a dramatic few moments, but it was a season in the making. Shaka looks at the work Roberto Mancini has been doing at Eastlands

Roberto Mancini had a turbulent but successful season

If we were to believe the reports throughout the season, Roberto Mancini was about to get sacked in the region of 30 times this season. Even with the Premier League in the bag, there will be whispers about under-performing and schemes to install the Special One, Pep Guardiola [insert name of any flavour of the month manager here] at the helm.

I’d ignore the conspiracy theories, because if you win the title, the bottom line is you deserve another season at the club. I think he’ll be kept on and given more money to spend over the summer. If the early stages of next season don’t go so well, then there will be a concerted effort to replace him, but not before then.

The owners will expect another strong start to the season next term and without a doubt, qualification from the group stages of the Champions League. If he doesn’t achieve one or both of those goals, they may push the ejector button very quickly. It’s vastly different being the comparative ‘underdog’ and the defending champions and he’ll be under a whole new set of pressures next season.

I think there’s still improvement to come from this Manchester City squad. I don’t actually think they’d developed much over the course of this season, especially when you consider the level they were playing at in the early months of the campaign. Mancini needs to get his players to that level of performance more often and I think he can do it. They won’t play like the Harlem Globetrotters in every game, but he needs to work on getting winning performances out of his players when they’re maybe not at their best. He did instil plenty of battling spirit in his players and for that he deserves immense credit.

They were beating people very easily early on, but people figured them out before too long. City don’t play with much width. It all comes through the middle and they really just try to batter down the door. Teams can come to terms with that rather easily. You stay quite narrow and compact in defence, pick up the runners from midfield and you make life difficult for them. His main task will adding another dimension to their play.

Aside from holding on to Mancini, they need to keep Yaya Toure. He has been immense for them in the last few weeks, especially in the Manchester Derby and then in the tricky game against Newcastle. He came back from the Africa Cup of Nations and looked a little sluggish and as a result I think City’s performances suffered. Even when he went off against QPR, you could see City lacked that attacking threat from deep. When Yaya doesn’t perform, I think City struggle so keeping him and keeping him happy are vital for continuing the progress next season.

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