HISTORY REPEATING ITSELF IN THE MIDLANDS
The parallels between Gianfranco Zola and Roberto Di Matteo’s most recent job postings are uncanny. The good friends, business partners, and former teammates were both surprise appointments at Birmingham-based teams with Premier League pedigrees and high expectations. Both Italians are known for flair and highlight-reel goals/assists in the champagne-football-style Chelsea sides of the late 1990s and early 2000s. And both, as managers have failed to deliver consistently at the top level. Both were somewhat surprising hires too, and both brought other Chelsea old-boys to their new clubs. Like Di Matteo, who hired Steve Clarke to be his assistant manager at Aston Villa, Zola brought in Pierluigi Casiraghi, who has been a regular collaborator with Zola throughout his coaching career. Zola also has former Chelsea keeper Kevin Hitchcock on his staff.
Di Matteo never found his footing at Aston Villa. As the losses and bore-draws piled up, fan and boardroom pressure eventually succeeded in seeing RDM ousted from the club just months after his appointment. At Birmingham City, Zola is skirting with a similar fate. In just over a month at the helm, Zola has failed to guide the Birmingham Blues to victory.
On January 7th his side were held 1-1 at home by Rafa Benitez’s Newcastle United in the FA Cup. Zola’s men were knocked out the cup on the 18th, after the Magpies won the replay 3-1. In the League, Birmingham drew with Forest at home 0-0 on the 14th, drew 1-1 away at Blackburn on the 21st, and lost 2-0 at Norwich on the 28th. The mediocre-to-poor run of form has dropped Birmingham in 12th place in the table, eight points from the play-off spots.
If the papers are to be believed, Zola may have just as much trouble winning in the transfer market as he has winning on the pitch currently. The Birmingham Mail reported that Zola’s top January Transfer Window target is Robin Quaison, a Swedish winger who is having a breakout season at Palermo. However, Quaison is also allegedly being chased by Juventus, Roma, Sampdoria, and Hoffenheim (Palermo have also reportedly offered him a pay rise to stay in Sicily). With so much top flight competition over his signature, it seems unlikely Zola will be able to get the speedy Swede to move to England’s second tier.
Whether it’s with new players or with his current squad, Zola will need to start finding a way to win or else this chapter in his managerial career may end exactly as his good friend Roberto’s did last year.
Europe’s #sillyseason has nothing on China’s! Fresh off their capture of Carlos Tevez, on an absurdly lucrative contract, Shanghai Shenhua (who are managed by Gus Poyet) are on the prowl for another big name signing. The Daily Star reported that the ambitious Shanghai outfit had made attempts to sign Wayne Rooney on a deal comparable to Tevez’s (who may be the highest paid player in the world now). However, that outlet could not say if Manchester United had taken the offers for their team captain seriously.
Seemingly intent on finding another striker for Shenhua, when Poyet was asked who his dream signing would be he revealed he would love to bring in fellow Uruguayan Luis Suarez, according to Yahoo Sports. That report did remark that it seemed unlikely that Suarez would move to Shanghai, given that he had only recently committed long term to Barcelona.
According to the Daily Mirror, Poyet may succeed in pulling off a less ambitious raid in acquiring Watford’s Odion Igalho. According to that report the struggling striker may receive only £200,000-a-week to switch Hertfordshire for the banks of the Yangtze.
Slavisa Jokanovic probably wishes he had Poyet’s problem in deciding which big name player he can throw hundreds of millions of pounds at. But this former Chelsea midfielder is instead most concerned with keeping hold of his own players. The Fulham boss is apparently doing all he can to keep Tom Crainey at Craven Cottage, who — according to The Sun — is subject to a £7m bid from Middlesbrough.
Jokanovic’s team are currently 11th in the Championship after a win, loss, and a draw in January. The win came over Barnsley at home, the draw was away to QPR, and the loss was away to Reading. Fulham won twice in the FA Cup this month, defeating Cardiff 2-1 away and then knocking out Premier Leaguers Hull City 4-1 at home.
In the United Arab Emirates Dan Petrescu and Al Nasr have hit a speed bump. After an impressive start to his career in charge of the ‘Blue Wave’, Petrescu’s team suffered a difficult January. They beat Al Ain away in the President’s Cup on January 5th, but then got hammered 5-0 at home on the 9th by Hamburger SV, in an oddly scheduled friendly. After that they drew to Al Dharfra, and lost 2-1 to both Al Ahli Dubai and Al Wasl (who are both city rivals to Al Nasr). This all left Al Nasr in 7th place in the 14 team league and a long way behind the top three. To make matters worse Al Nasr got in trouble with the football association over an incorrect player registration.
In the UAE league, teams are permitted to field only three foreign nationals from countries outside of Asia, plus an additional player who is a national of an Asian country. According to a Gulf News report on January 25th, Al Nasr were penalized after it was discovered their striker Wanderlay Santos had been registered as Indonesian with a ‘forged or falsified’ passport. In response to this Santos was banned for 10 games and fined $10,000. Al Nasr were fined $50,000 and also have to pay back the $340,000 worth of prize money won in the Asian Champions League games that Santos was a part of.
Back in England Ritchie Hanlon and Paul Hughes’ struggles at Hayes and Yeading have continued. Their team slumped to second from bottom of the Southern Premier League after a 2-1 home loss to Kettering on January 29th. Hayes and Yeading had been leading that game. They are now winless in nine games. Although things look bleak, they are only three points away from safety in a very congested relegation race.
A league below them, Micky Hazard’s Hadley found some good form. They beat Berkhamsted 1-0 and drew 1-1 with Holmer Green to lift themselves out of the relegation zone in the Spartan South Midlands Football League’s Premier Division. They are currently placed 18 out of 22 teams.
In Scotland’s third tier, they might as well start etching Livingston United’s name on the trophy. David Hopkin is still top of the league, after a close 3-2 win away at Peterhead and a confident 3-0 thrashing of Brechin at home. The wins increased Livi’s lead to 11 points atop the table. Livingston has a game in hand too.
NEW DUGOUT BLUES
After former Chelsea academy boss, coach, and assistant manager Paul Clement took the reins at Premier League stragglers Swansea City on January 3rd, it didn’t take long for him to recruit a bona fide Chelsea legend for his staff room. On January 11th it was announced that Claude Makelele had been hired as Clement’s assistant coach. Makelele, who defined the holding midfield role in English football and beyond, played over 200 times for Chelsea from 2003 to 2008. After being acquired for £16.8 million from Real Madrid Makelele lifted the Premier League trophy twice with Chelsea (04-05, 05-06), and won two League Cups and an FA Cup. He left for PSG in 2008 before ending his playing career in 2011.
After serving as assistant manager to Carlo Ancelotti at PSG between 2011 and 2013, Makelele got the gaffer’s job at Bastia (also in Ligue 1). He didn’t fair well though, being fired after just 13 league games (of which he won just three). He had been serving as technical director of AS Monaco until June, 2016.
Jiri Jarosik was a seldom used back-up for Makelele for the 2005-2006 season. During his Chelsea career he got on the pitch 20 times, but only three of those appearances were starts. The Czech player was loaned out to Birmingham City in 2005 and then sold to Celtic. Earlier this month it was announced, via sport.cz, that Jarosik had landed his first coaching gig, as an assistant youth coach at the club where he started his professional career: Sparta Prague. With two spells at Sparta Jarosik played in around 150 games and scored 25 goals. He retired from playing in 2015 after two seasons with Alaves in La Liga. Jarosik played for the Czech national team 23 times.
When Claude Makelele joined his new team at Swansea, he was subjected to a special initiation, much to the delight of his new co-workers. The initiation involved Makelele having to sing the French national anthem during a team dinner. You can see that below, captured by one of the many phones that were pulled out during the performance (via The Mirror).
But there are better Makelele videos out there than that...
Here’s one of my all time favourite moments from one of the best — and least entertaining — players to ever wear a Chelsea shirt (courtesy of colv1).