Monday, 21 June 2010

Rooney's No Gary Bennett

Let’s be honest; international football and what Wrexham get up to are virtually different sports. However, there are still parallels between us and the World Cup which England in particular can learn from. Specifically, Wayne Rooney’s ability to turn things round seems linked to whether he’s got a bit of Gary Bennett in him.

There’s certainly plenty of anger in Rooney right now, but that’s nothing new. However, without the Machiavellian Alex Ferguson to direct it, it seems the striker has lost the ability to use his fury to spur him on. Diego Maradona talks of bronca, a sense of indignant fury, hatred even, which drives him, and clearly it can spill over unhealthily, as every journalist who has been shot or run over by EL Diego will testify! However, Ferguson has long cracked the trick of using such emotions to inspire a side; “No one likes us, we don’t care” has been converted by him from a Millwall fan’s epithet to a tactic and the resulting siege mentality has brilliantly driven Manchester United on.

Note how United will always celebrate in front of the opposing fans rather than their own if they can. Sure, it’s ugly, but it works. The chips on the shoulders of Rooney, Neville and the rest are converted into sheer will-to-win.

Capello doesn’t seem to operate like that though, and Rooney finds himself lacking a direction for his anger. He aims it instead at the fans, at his team mates, at anyone and everyone, it would appear, instead of channelling it into an energy which can drive him on. He’s no Gary Bennett.

Bennett didn’t need a manager to tutor him; his ability to get under the opposition’s skin and feed off their resulting ire was natural. A game at Crewe stands out for me; their fans, familiar over the years with Bennett’s provocative antics, gave him hell. And he scored two in a 3-0 win, lapping it all up. Rooney needs to learn the lesson and react by showing everyone what he can do.

Of course, Ferguson’s not there to remind him how to do it, so perhaps Rooney should get a copy of the excellent documentary ESPN screened last week on basketball player Reggie Miller’s vendetta with film director Spike Lee. In a play-off in New York in the mid-1990s, Miller’s Indiana Pacers are getting thrashed, but Lee’s constant, manic mockery of Miller on the sidelines drove the player to new heights. Miller scored basket after basket, turning to Lee after each one to ram his words down his throat, and led his team to an incredible victory.

Perhaps Rooney should see if he can get his hands on the DVD; after all, those poor, brave little soldiers are supposed to be struggling for ways to pass the time in their luxury six star spa, aren’t they?

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Saunders to Hereford?

This one has flown under the radar, hasn't it? Saunders on his way to Hereford? Unlikely, but it's out there, so let's investigate!

My immediate reaction's that the story's unlikely. What, after all, has Saunders done to attract a Football League club?

However, should he turn us around and turn us into a side capable of challenging for promotion he could become an attractive proposition; after all, his name is still worth something in the game, as the interest the likes of Derby County and Nottingham Forest supposedly showed after his brief, bright start suggests.

Saunders is no fool; he sells himself extremely well. He has used this talent, plus his name, to attract players like Joe Allen and Andy Crofts to The Racecourse when they appeared to be out of our reach. A bit of success and he'll be able to present himself as a big name who has turned a club around.

And don't over-estimate the average club owner. No matter how shrewd a business head they might have outside the game, there are plenty who'd be thrilled with the thought of appointing an ex-Liverpool star, once the most expensive player in the UK, and lording it over him.

However, Saunders hasn't reached that point yet; we're at a low point, and his immediate concern is that he gets off to a strong start in order to ensure his job security isn't compromised. It would take a seriously star-struck CEO to appoint him in a higher division, I'd suggest. He hardly has a record of making the most out of limited resources either, and surely that's a key consideration at Edgar Street these days?

The problem with such stories is it's impossible to know where it began. Is its source a well-informed insider? A reporter with an inside line? Or a speculatory piece like this, which appeared last week, predating the South Wales Argus story?

The interesting part of it is the confirmed fact that United are speaking to a Conference manager. Is that supposed to be Dean Holdsworth, who signed a new contract today, or someone else, because the list of possibilities is short. Surely managers are the larger clubs, like Luton, would see Hereford as a backward step; although in a higher division they are surely a smaller club. Managers of the smaller clubs might seem to be unattractive gamble. Saunders, however, could see them as a way out of a job which has certainly not been as easy as he'd hoped when he arrived.

Not that the poll at the bottom of this page suggests Saunders' exploits with us have filled Bulls' fans with enthusiasm!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Never A Sense of Closure at Wrexham

Is it my imagination, or do we sign back a disproportionate number of ex-players?

Andy Morrell is the latest one who looks like he might come back for another stint at The Racecourse. His exploits when we were promoted seven years ago have assured him a place in the club's history, but should he return he'll have to buck a trend if he's not to tarnish that reputation.

When you consider the high number of players who've come back for more, there seem to have been plenty more who didn't live up to expectations in their second spell with us. Gary Bennett, Chris Armstrong, Juan Ugarte, Mark Jones, Lee Roche, Scott Green and Mike Ingham spring immediately to mind.

Leaving the debit column behind, successes are harder to find. Mickey Thomas perhaps; Kevin Russell wasn't the same player up front but reinvented himself as an effective midfielder; and Lee Jones, hampered as he was by injuries in his three subsequent spells, had a decent enough strike rate.

There's an interesting pattern when you look at the players who've had a disappointing second spell with us. They tend to be goalscorers. Each of them went on to better things based on what they'd done for us, but having had a taste of life in the higher divisions, they came back down to us and failed to live up to expectations. And isn't that perfectly natural? Players don't drop back down the divisions unless they have to; strikers who can still score at their old rate wouldn't have to come back to us. Naturally, this means they fail to live up to fans' expectations, even if they didn't do that badly (look at Bennett's stats in his second spell, for example; while he didn't manage to hit his previous heights in a Wrexham shirt, a goal every three games was certainly not bad; it would have worked out at fifteen league goals if he'd been there for the whole season.)

And of course, that's what Morrell would have to watch out for if he returned. The beauty of Morrell was always his energy, and that down-to-earth willingness to put in a good shift will, one suspects, still be there. The encouraging fact that Bury offered him a new contract for this season supports that notion. However, fans will recall the remarkable tally of thirty-four goals he managed in his last season. and if they expect him to replicate that, their expectations would be unreasonable.

People forget that, until that phenomenal season, Morrell looked more like an eager foil for a goalscorer than a spearhead. He was the remarkable foil for Lee Jones when the latter hit five past Cambridge, and was expected to fulfil the same role for him and Lee Trundle the following year. That would be the logical role he would be cast in should he re-sign, doing the donkey work for Andy Mangan. If the deal is sealed, I hope everyone realises that from the off.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Westwood Loss Part of a Worrying Bigger Picture

In itself, the loss of Ashley Westwood doesn't fill me with dread. In context, though, it's a worry.

Westwood is sound, but not irreplaceable. I thought he finished the season playing as well as he ever did for us, but the fact is he's a solid Conference centre back in his mid-thirties, so hardly impossible to replace.

However, when you factor in the number of other defenders we've lost over the Summer, you start to worry. A back four of Spann, Westwood, Assoumani and Taylor in front of Sam Russell is, to a great extent what earned us a club record for least league goals conceded last season, and now they're all gone.

Of those still with us, only Chris Maxwell would be likely to disrupt that line-up, with Curtis Obeng still learning and Frank Sinclair unavailable too often. Hopefully Aaron Brown will decide to stay and lend some stability and continuity to the only part of the side which actually worked last season. It all makes the decision to release Mike Williams look even more ill-advised.

Westwood seemed a contradictory character. His intensity was central to his personality and performance, and could be both a good and a bad thing. On the one hand he was a highly-driven character, whom Saunders singled out at the end of his first season as the only player with a winning mentality. Certainly he had a close relationship with his manager; when injured he'd scout for him and there were rumours from plausible sources after Terry Darracott's departure that Westwood would be installed as his assistant.

However, his will-to-win could spill over in an ugly way. His involvement in the fracas against Barrow at the start of the season didn't look too clever. Admittedly the evidence was circumstantial, but it seemed fairly damning; after an altercation from a corner the Barrow players react furiously, as does their boss, Dave Bayliss, when one of their players loses a tooth. The claim was that Westwood punched him, and the fact that he immediately had to have a gash in his hand bandaged seems to support that claim.

An incident which there was certainly evidence for came during another bout of fisticuffs, following Lamine Sakho's disgraceful behaviour against Hayes and Yeading. The TV footage is damning; as attention was focussed on Sakho following his headbutt, Westwood runs into the crowd, then disappears out of shot, only to return from a different direction, sneaking up behind an opponent to punch him in the back of the head and retreat hurriedly.

It was hardly the actions of a captain, and he was lucky the incident took place in The Conference, where recourse to video evidence is highly unlikely. These weren't isolated instances of indiscipline, and neither was his constant dissent following a yellow card at Luton for complaining to a referee who did him a huge favour by not delivering a second yellow.

So Westwood was prone to errors of judgement, and would make mistakes in his play sometimes, seeming to suffer from lapses of concentration. Yet with so many other effective defenders gone, his loss could be costly. I wouldn't want to mark him when Kettering get a corner against us either!

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