Tag Archives: Premier League

What’s in a name?

Newcastle supporters have had a lot to complain about since Mike Ashley bought the club in 2007. His appointment of Dennis Wise as director of football, which subsequently led to the resignation of manager and fan favorite Kevin Keegan. The club being relegated in 2009 for the first time in 20 years. The £35 million sale of England striker Andy Carroll, seemingly with the funds being pocketed by Ashley.

But now it seems that Ashley has gone too far. What’s the latest “last straw” for Newcastle supporters? The renaming of their famous grounds, St. James’ Park. Ashley’s been working on selling the naming rights to the grounds for nearly three years now. In October of 2009, Ashley decided to name the stadium sportsdirect.com @ St. James’ Park, using his online sportswear retailer as naming rights holder in an effort to drum up interest in an outside group purchasing the rights.

This plan had not garnered the attention Ashley was hoping for, so this week he announced that the name St. James’ Park would be discarded all together. What was once St. James’ Park is now Sports Direct Arena. Again, Ashley using his sportswear retailer’s name to drum up interest in buying the rights to the entirety of the grounds.

“When we initially launched our plans at the end of 2009, we invited sponsors to attach their brand to that of St James’ Park,” Newcastle Managing Director Derek Llambias said. “However, it has become clear that in order to make the proposition as commercially attractive as possible, a potential sponsor must be given the opportunity to fully rebrand the stadium.

“Naming the stadium the Sports Direct Arena helps up to showcase the opportunity to interested parties. We are now actively seeking a long-term sponsor wishing to acquire full naming rights for the stadium.”

Considering this same strategy of using a dummy sponsorship deal to lure a real sponsorship deal has been unsuccessful for the past three years, I’m skeptical rebranding the grounds in its entirety will do much more, but I digress.

But are Newcastle supporters justified in their disgust over Ashley’s latest attempt at a money grab? After all, this is a club that plays in the Barclays Premier League, competes for the FA Cup with Budweiser and the Carling Cup, and runs around with Northern Rock plastered on the front of their shirts.

And selling naming rights isn’t that uncommon in the sport. Manchester City just sold the rights to Manchester Stadium for £400 million to Etihad Airways. In an effort to keep up with the mega money coming into the sport, Arsenal didn’t just sell the naming rights to Highbury Stadium. They turned the grounds into luxury flats, built a new 60,000-seat stadium a 10-minute-walk away, and sold the naming rights of that stadium to Emirates airline.

Roman Abramovich is trying to do the same thing at Chelsea. Abramovich tried to buy the publicly held Stamford Bridge from the supporters who purchased it in an effort to save the club in the 1990s in an effort to mimmic Arsenal’s plan and develop the current ground after moving to a new stadium. The Chelsea Pitch Owners declined Abramovich’s offer, and the naming rights for Stamford Bridge are expected to be sold beginning in 2012/13.

Some will argue that none of the clubs that have sold their rights have grounds with the tradition of St. James’ Park. I might disagree. Stamford Bridge is 108 years old, Arsenal up and left their home of 93 years at Highbury, and Liverpool have actively been looking for ways to get out of historic Anfield in order to turn more of a profit at a new stadium, which would undoubtedly sell its naming rights.

If Newcastle is ever going to compete with the big clubs, it has to put sentimental ideals like this aside and generate as much money as possible. Supporters need to determine what’s more important to them: the name of the stadium or having the old stadium at all. Because judging by other clubs, new stadiums with corporate names seem to be the way to go. Besides, soccer sold out many, many years ago.

Tagged , , , ,

What’s wrong in West London

Although the Premier League table may say otherwise, there are no two clubs in the division playing worse football than Fulham and Chelsea.

Chelsea ended October as league leaders and were six points clear of their closest challengers. In that impressive first third of the season, Chelsea won eight, drew once and lost once, scoring 27 goals and conceding 3. Since the start of November, they’ve won just one of eight, drawing three times and losing four more, only managing 5 goals and conceding 12.

Fulham have not suffered the fate of two seasons. Theirs has been a rather monotonous, succession of mediocrity. In 18 games, the Cottagers have won just twice. Both wins came against fellow relegation-battlers Wigan and Wolverhampton. In that span of time, Fulham have averaged less than a goal a game.

So what’s in the Evian in West London?

For Chelsea, it’s a club undertaking massive personnel changes while attempting to defend a league title. The losses of Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Deco, and Juliano Belletti were only softened by the purchases of Yossi Benayoun and Ramiers, and the addition of academy players Josh McEachran, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, and Jreffrey Bruma.

Benayoun only featured in three matches before a torn Achilles ruled him out until the end of March, and Ramiers has looked astonishingly poor since his £18 million switch from Benfica.

Meanwhile the youth movement has had mixed results. Kakuta has shown glimpses of what scouts saw in the French prodigy, but he’s looked immature and out of place more often than not, while Bruma has only been used in defensive emergencies and his performances did little to inspire confidence.

McEachran has been the bright spot of the lot, but at 17, he can’t be relied upon to pick up all of the slack of players like Cole and Ballack. van Aanholt has also looked like a player ready to step into the side. Unfortunately for Chelsea, widely-heralded as the best left back in the world, Ashley Cole already occupies that position.

What Chelsea need is new faces. Players with the ability to change the game. It’s been nearly three years since Chelsea did anything close. Their addition of Nicolas Anelka in January 2008 was not seen unanimously as a game changer.

It’s nearly a certainty manager Carlo Ancelotti will add a central defender in January. The question is, how big of a gamble do they take? Gary Cahill of Bolton could step in and deputize respectfully for Alex, but at 25 and with only one cap for England, he may not be to Chelsea’s standard. Especially not at £15 million. Benfica’s David Luiz is the player with the most upside, but at £30 million and unfamiliar with the English game, it’s a pretty high-risk move. Roma’s Philippe Mexes offers a more tested option, and with only one year remaining on his contract, could prove to be the economical choice.

Past the defending, nothing is out of the question for Chelsea. They are in desperate need of creativity and goals. Some will argue the return of Frank Lampard is all the creativity and goal-scoring Chelsea need. Perhaps, but that won’t change the form of Anelka, Kakuta, Salomon Kalou, or Florent Malouda. Since Malouda has cooled off (zero goals, one assist in his past nine games), Chelsea have lacked any and all flair and trickery to complement the power of Didier Drogba. If they’re serious about retaining the Premier League title, Chelsea need to add a true game changer to flank Drogba.

For Fulham, the solution is pretty obvious, but the questions are rather confusing. The injuries to Bobby Zamora and Moussa Dembele have decimated Fulham’s attacking options. Recently-fit Andy Johnson and habitual Fulham reserve Eddie Johnson simply have not been able to stand in for Zamora and Dembele. The over-reliance on midfielders Zoltan Gera and Clint Dempsey has been glaringly obvious, scoring two goals or more on just on occasion since Zamora’s injury.

A proven striker is what Fulham need more than anything. However a central midfielder would be close behind. Danny Murphy looks to have lost a step from last season (which is saying a lot as he was nearly 33 a year ago) and Dickson Etuhu has been a near disaster this season. If there is any consolation for Fulham, it’s that its defense has been only worrying compared to the midfield and front line’s calamitous reputations. The return of Philippe Senderos from injury in February should allow more flexibility at the back to allow Aaron Hughes to cover for John Pantsil, Carlos Salcido, Stephen Kelly, or Chris Baird (whichever is playing most suspect at that time).

The solution at both clubs is the same (past spending money). Give the managers time.

Ancelotti is a proven winner, he picked up two Champions League trophies with Milan, one of which was at the beginning of their penny pinching days. If Chelsea is serious about building a perennial championship contending team (you know, like they had when Mourinho was in charge), they need to give Ancelotti time to build a squad in his image. Ancelotti should be given until this time next season.

Hughes should also be given time over at Fulham. However, the circumstances are more dire, meaning Hughes won’t have the luxury of another year of patience. Hughes will likely be given another week. If Hughes fails to produce three points from the next three matches (away to Stoke, away to Tottenham, and home to West Brom), he will likely be sent packing. What’s in Fulham’s best interest is to support whoever manages the club in January and allow him to improve an aging and mediocre squad with funds appropriate for this league (that would be more than £10 million, Mr. Al-Fayed).

The biggest difference between the two: If Chelsea fail to improve, they’ll have a furious Russian owner with questionable character. If Fulham fail to improve, they’ll be relegated. For both these West London clubs, it’s do or die.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ancelotti’s overhaul why Chelsea struggling

Chelsea are in the midst of a dismal run of form in the Premier League. Just one win and one goal in their past four matches.

This was a side only beaten once previously in the Premier League and was scoring for fun. So what’s changed?

Chelsea is a relatively old and injury-prone side. Of Chelsea’s preferred starting outfield players, four are past 30 and it will be six in December. Loking past the age, the squad’s depth has a history of injuries in Michael Essien, Jose Bosingwa and Yuri Zhirkov.

Add those factors up and you have a championship-calibre side short on available players. Making matters worse is manager Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to allow Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Michael Ballack and Deco all to move on this summer. It wasn’t a terrible move at the time as Chelsea, for the first time since coming into money, have a wealth of young players waiting to step into the first team.

Patrick van Aanholt, 20, looks to be ready to step into Ashley Cole’s boots if he decided to retire right now. Gael Kakuta, 19, is the wunderkind Chelsea nearly received an 18 month transfer ban over when he swapped Lens for west London and has looked capable of filling in on the wings or behind Drogba. And Josh McEachran, 17, is the new Jack Wilshire (that would be the next savior of England for those of you unfamiliar).

It seemed a good play, after all, it’s not like all three would be required to play for considerable amounts of time simultaneously, right? That’s been the problem for Ancelotti and Chelsea.

Essien has been injured and suspended, Frank Lampard is still injured, Yossi Benayoun could be lost for the season, Didier Drogba has been suspended, Bosingwa is just returning to match fitness after year on the treatment table, Zhirkov hasn’t been 100 percent healthy since he arrived at Chelsea in 2009, John Terry may well resume to action in weeks and not months after his leg/back injury, and Alex’s knee problem is still an unknown.

Ancelotti said Friday, “It is not the time now to speak about the missing players. We have to stay in focus with our players, they have good ability and did good performances before this moment, so we have to stay focused on these players.” That’s very positive and good management and all that, but it can’t be ignored that his side is hurting and his lack of depth is showing.

Commend the man for infusing Chelsea with a bit of youth, the club’s players were beginning to look like what the club is synonymous with. Pensioners.

But one can’t help but wonder if Ancelotti’s youth movement couldn’t have been implemented at touch slower rate and retaining some of that experience allowed to walk out the door for a combined £7 million. A bad bit of business, but will Chelsea pay the price?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,