Big Sam’s First England Squad: My View

So then, after three weeks of scintillating Premier League football, the first international break of the 2016-17 has arrived. And with a new man in the England hotseat, there has been huge speculation surrounding the squad announcement for next weekend’s visit to Slovakia. This afternoon, the rumours came to an end as Sam Allardyce confirmed his selections.

The big news is that Big Sam has awarded West Ham’s Michail Antonio his first cap – hopefully as a winger rather than a right-back. But there are plenty of other talking points to discuss. Here is the squad in full:

Fraser Forster (Southampton), Joe Hart (Manchester City), Tom Heaton (Burnley).

Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Danny Rose (Tottenham Hotspur), Luke Shaw (Manchester United), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Manchester City), Kyle Walker (Tottenham Hotspur).

Dele Alli (Tottenham Hotspur), Michail Antonio (West Ham United), Eric Dier (Tottenham Hotspur), Danny Drinkwater (Leicester City), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Theo Walcott (Arsenal).

Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City).


The first noticeable point, Antonio aside, is that it’s all very much the same as we’ve seen before James Milner’s retired, Marcus Rashford has been demoted to the U21s, and a couple of others are absent through injury. However, most of these names are the ones we’ve become familiar with over the past couple of years.

But it’s hard to argue against the inclusions. Walcott has handled the summer’s disappointment in style while Shaw is looking brilliant since recovering from injury. Likewise, Rooney and Lallana have performed well after receiving a lot of abuse in recent months.

The only names that aren’t really playing are Hart and Smalling. But both are probably going to be in the starting XI come the next World Cup, which makes it hard to omit them. The only one I’m not thrilled about is Jagielka, as I think he’ll be past it far too soon.

Of course, there are a few players that can consider themselves unlucky while the likes of Mark Noble will be wondering if the call is ever going to come.

I imagine a lot of people will be slagging Sam off, but the majority have been waiting weeks for the chance to get their claws out. I’m quietly optimistic that this set of players can still achieve good things, even if they aren’t capable of winning a tournament.

Allardyce has shown two great signs in my opinion. While it couldn’t happen, the move for Steven N’Zonzi shows that he is willing to cover all bases. Secondly, I love that he has said he’s going to give players more freedom behind the scenes. So many ex-England stars have said that the camps feel restricted. A happier camp can only lead to improved atmospheres and performances. Big Sam should still have enough authority to ensure things don’t become out of control anyway.

As far as I’m concerned, the squad selection is just fine. I for one will be right behind the maanger until he gives us a reason to doubt him.

Come on England!


Jose’s First Home Game: The Special One’s Special Night At OT

The night has finally arrived. Tonight, Jose Mourinho will be in the home dugout at Old Trafford – and I can barely contain my excitement.

Like most MUFC fans, I hated seeing him win trophies at Chelsea. But in spite of that supposed love with the Blues, Manchester United has always been Jose’s destiny. Ever since the iconic moment when he sprinted down the touchline as Porto manager, everything in Mourinho’s career has been building to this moment.

David Moyes and Louis van Gaal tried, but Mourinho is Sir Alex’s successor.

Of course, we’re all worried that Mourinho won’t stay for the long haul. However, there’s no doubt that he can lead this great club back to where it needs to be. After picking up three points at Bournemouth last weekend, following the Community Shield win seven days earlier, the start has already been pretty good. Tonight’s match against Southampton could be the topper.

There’s something extra poetic about tonight’s game as there’s no greater sight than Old Trafford under the floodlights. More importantly, there’s a genuine feeling that we might finally get to see the Manchester United of old. Mourinho loves defensive stability, but it seems evident that he is buying into the Red Devils philosophy. For the first time in ages, fans might be on the edge of their seats rather than asleep in them.

I’d imagine that Southampton will give us a tough game, but I think we’ll win 3-1 with Zlatan getting on the scoresheet yet again. I’ve got my ticket, and I’ll be heading out in less than an hour. It should be a magical night at Old Trafford.

Oh how I’ve missed being able to say that with conviction.



Zlat’s The Way I Like It

One game. One goal. One trophy… Not a bad start for the new United No.9. And, like a lot of fan, I’m now starting to get a little excited.

Winning Sunday’s Community Shield is nothing to write home about, but it’s a positive start for Jose Mourinho’s tenure all the same. Of course, the whole of Old Trafford will refrain from getting too excited as even David Moyes won the shield in his first game. Nevertheless, the signs are good as we approach this weekend’s Premier League opener at Bournemouth.

I’ve had my apprehensions about Ibrahimovic, but nobody can doubt his ability or personality. As much as I love the guy, skipper Wayne Rooney isn’t going to bag 20 league goals; neither will Marcus Rashford or Anthony Martial just yet. Zlatan could, and it would be a key factor in firing our way back towards the top.

Likewise, I’ve had a few doubts about paying such a large fee for Paul Pogba. But the Frenchman returns with a huge sense of determination while we also managed to get him for just (yes, I realise how ridiculous that word sounds) £89m. With Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly looking like promising additions too, it’s starting to look a little like the Manchester United of old.

I can’t imagine many MUFC fans will expect a title win, although I wouldn’t rule it out. However, I do believe that the Community Shield will be the first of several trophies under Jose. No, he’s never going to be Fergie. Right now, though, it looks like the Portuguese manager is the best man to take us back to where we belong.

After waiting over a decade for the FA Cup, I think there’s a good chance we’ll retain. Add it to Champions League qualification, and it will be a positive maiden campaign under the former Chelsea chief’s leadership. If we can do it with the excitement that Zlatan and co are capable of, it could be out most enjoyable season of the post-Ferguson era.



My View On Big Sam’s England Appointment

After a week of waiting for the inevitable, Sam Allardyce was finally confirmed as England manager. A lot of people are happy, a lot of people are angry, and a lot are feeling indifferent. While I probably fall into the latter category, I think he was the only serious contender. It’s a decade later than he’d have liked, but Big Sam’s time has arrived.

The main concern for most people seems to be whether England will play attractive football. They won’t, but did they ever? Since Allardyce was interviewed first time around in 2006, England have played well against decent opposition on just two or three occasions. In tournament football, we’ve been awful under both Fabio Capello and Roy Hodgson, so I can’t see how Big Sam’s style can be any less attractive. Personally, those fears on philosophy don’t panic me in the slightest.

Moreover, I think Allardyce will almost certainly take the country back to where it should be. We’ll probably be quarter-finalists before losing to one of the world’s better teams. With a little luck, we could potentially reach a semi-final too. Meanwhile, having read Sam’s book, it seems that his progressive thinking could aid the development of future generations too. If I was to sum up my expectations in one word, it would be improvement.

But that’s also my main issue with the appointment. There’s a ceiling to what Allardyce can achieve. The old ‘Allardici’ stuff shows that he is probably more capable of building an England team that won’t crumble defensively, which is a must after the last four years. However, even the most optimistic Englishman would concede that winning the World Cup in 2018 is virtually impossible. For me, it’s a sad day when a new era of English football begins with no real hope.

I do think Allardyce will do a good job, but we should be expecting great. At this time, however, the alternatives of Steve Bruce and co would have been almost laughable.

Allardyce hasn’t evolved much as a manager, his success at West Ham and Sunderland was relatively similar to the job he had done at Bolton. I do believe he is the best man for the job. However, I don’t understand how he supposedly wasn’t the right fit 10 years ago, but is suddenly considered the FA’s right man. If he wasn’t good enough to beat the wolly with the brolly to a job, then it’s quite worrying to think he is now England’s premiere football manager.

Essentially, my opinion is that Sam will take us forward. But only so far. Still, I’ll be right behind him once they start their road to Russia in about six weeks time.

Come on England!

Is Pogba Worth £100m?

It’s the summer saga that keeps rolling on, but there finally appears to be light at the end of the tunnel. While his agent has suggested otherwise, it appears that Juventus and Manchester United are on the verge of agreeing a world record deal. Paul Pogba could be on his way back to Old Trafford.

The reported fee: €120m. Yep, that’s €20m more than the cost of the Italian club’s swanky stadium, and is considerably more than the fee Real Madrid paid for Gareth Bale too. So the real question is simple: is he worth it?

If the club are prepared to stump up such a large amount of money for a player that was allowed to leave on a free just four years ago, Jose Mourinho must be a big fan. My main worry would be where the Frenchman fits in. But the gaffer surely has a plan. Otherwise, it would be a huge waste of money.

For me, Euro 2016 underlined that Pogba needs to play in an advanced role. Sitting alongside Schweinsteiger in the middle would be a waste of attacking flair. But what would that mean for Wayne Rooney, who Mourinho has said will play in the No.10 or No.9 role.

Does the skipper get benched? I can’t imagine Zlatan Ibrahimovic would’ve agreed to a fringe role so it can only be assumed he’ll lead the line. Maybe it’ll be two up top, but that seems very anti Jose. In my mind, the only option would be to play Pogba in that holding role.

However, playing a world record signing out of position just wouldn’t make sense. Besides, the player left first time around because he was playing. Now that he has evolved to the point where he could be the first £100m+ player, it’s safe to assume he’d demand playing in his preferred role.

It’s a move that would raise a lot of questions. On the other hand, it could be the one to confirm that Manchester United is still one of the world’s greatest clubs. To sign the world’s most sought after player in a season where Champions League football isn’t on the menu would be a huge signal of intent.

Moreover, at 23, Pogba could become the linchpin of Mourinho’s squad for years to come. He certainly boasts the star quality needed for a team to built around him. If other players can be pieced around him, it could be one of our most important signings.

Assuming a deal is finalised over the coming days, I’ll be reserving any judgement until January at least. There’s certainly plenty of positive and negative aspects to consider, but it has to be a risk worth taking. Alongside the arrivals of Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, the attacking unit would look far more dangerous than the shower seen under Louis van Gaal in 2015-16.

Is it a risk? Definitely. But it’s probably one worth taking. Pogba left a boy but could return a man; it’s just a shame we’ve paid through the nose to see Juventus encourage that evolution.