Fabio Capello has been praised for giving youth a chance, while Roberto Mancini got a pat on the back for taking a gamble on a free agent. If I had not known any better, I would have thought that I had woken up to the footballing equivalent of 28 Days Later.
Just imagine, a desolated world where boring, defensive football is praised and managers force attackers to play like zombies, all while Sepp Blatter sits on a throne as the Evil Overlord of the entire universe. And there’s still no goal-line technology. Oh the horror.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a nightmare, and it wasn’t a joke either. The headlines I was staring at on my computer screen commending Capello and Mancini, puryevors of stodgy football and an egotistical management style fuelled by the countless millions in their coffers, were real.
After calling up youngsters Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck to the England squad for the 3-0 victory over Bulgaria, Capello was treated to a round of praise in the British press for “taking a gamble on youth”.
Honestly, even if Capello had handed Elton John a call-up, the average age of the England squad could not have gotten any higher than it was at the World Cup. Anyone would have been considered “youth” compared to that bunch of dinosaurs.
But more importantly, people need to realise that Capello doesn’t deserve any praise because all he did was basically leech off Alex Ferguson’s youth policy at Old Trafford. Not to mention, on closer scrutiny, the only youngster that made it to the starting XI was Chris Smalling (Theo Walcott’s the same age as Smalling, but he’s been there forever so he doesn’t count).
He has done absolutely nothing to encourage youth development in his three years with the England set-up, apart from giving Jack Wilshere a few games after South Africa – a safe gamble since his old charges had done so badly and he really had nothing to lose. Plus you’d really have to be an idiot to ignore Wilshere’s talent.
But then again, he’s also the guy that overlooked youngbloods like Theo Walcott, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andy Carroll and Darren Bent for Emile “The Ole Donkey” Heskey. ‘Nuff said.
The truth is, Capello didn’t take any “gamble” on youth. He’s just lucky that at one of the lowest points in the history of the English national team, Ferguson has managed to develop another group of talented young Englishmen at Manchester United for him to choose from.
Capello could have either continued with that failing, ageing group he brought to South Africa, or go with the new kids Ferguson has brought up. That’s quite a no-brainer if you asked me.
In fact, the gamble was Ferguson’s, not Capello’s. While United’s rivals have mostly signed expensive foreign players (in Arsenal’s case, just foreign), Ferguson has placed his faith in this new crop of English youngsters, preparing them for battle at the very highest levels to the benefit of United, England and, more crucially, Capello.
The praise Capello received was just as ridiculous as the plaudits Mancini got, for taking a gamble on free agent Owen Hargreaves and not splurging the cash like only he knows how. It’s really hard to define what constitutes a gamble for Manchester City though, because if you asked me, any player signed at below £20mil (RM100mil) is really playing it safe for them.
Money aside, some are making Mancini out to be a saint who’s giving the erstwhile perpetually injured Hargreaves a second chance. Let’s face it, though, he only signed Hargreaves because he was a cheap, convenient cover for Yaya Toure, who would be gone for a month in January for the African Nations Cup. Also, it’s because that the club’s previous approaches for Daniele de Rossi, Fernando Gago and Mark van Bommel had failed.
They were obviously just looking for a stop-gap measure, and after realising that no big name player like de Rossi or Gago or even an older head like van Bommel would be interested in signing up for that kind of role, they turned to Hargreaves.
At least they would have known from YouTube that he was desperate to join any club (look up his “fitness videos” online. Quite hilarious).
Plus, they’re only giving Hargreaves a one-year deal where he will be paid a nominal salary and renumerated more on actual appearances on the field, so this deal could cost them close to nothing. How is that a gamble? It’s not called a gamble if you’ve got nothing to lose.
Even if it all works out for Hargreaves and he manages to displace Toure, Nigel de Jong, Samir Nasri, David Silva, Gareth Barry and James Milner in the City midfield on a regular basis, again, Ferguson and Manchester United deserve some credit.
After providing him four years of constant medical treatment and expensive surgeries for knees that were just about as fragile as Lindsay Lohan’s sanity, Hargreaves finally overcame his injury problems.
And what does he do? He goes straight to Manchester City. Brilliant.
Ferguson had continued to put his faith in Hargreaves, surprising everyone by handing him a start once he got fit against Wolves last season, when most people were telling him to just give it up.
The club had also spent £17mil to sign him from Bayern Munich, plus millions more in wages and medical expenses, though he only ever made 27 league appearances for the club. So when Hargreaves offered to play for United for free at the end of his contract, they were well within their rights to take him up on it.
The club, however, advised him that it wouldn’t be in his best interests to stick around with all the youngsters coming through, which Hargreaves has admitted to be rather true.
They simply wouldn’t have been able to give him enough games for it to be constructive to his career. Do City and Mancini care as much about rehabilitating his career? I don’t think so.
Even if the Hargreaves experiment does somehow work out at City, and United’s Young Lions help England win the World Cup 2014 in Brazil, would Ferguson get any plaudits from the blue half of Manchester or the England supporters? Now that would be the footballing equivalent of What Dreams May Come.