Podcast tagline or something

Where The Owl Sleeps

Man City to Win the Premier League? Our Predictions for the 2017/18 Season

Stephen McGovern - Friday, August 11, 2017
The Premier League season is upon us, so obviously it's time for us to make fools of ourselves and give our best guesses for what will happen. We asked each of the lads for their opinion on how the season will go.


Premier League predictions 2017/18, Man City 


  • Who is going to win the Premier League?


Only one of the group believes Pep Guardiola won't pick up his first Premier League medal.


Rob Palmer: Manchester City.

Conor Kelly: Man City.

Rob Canavan: Chelsea.

Adam Kelly: Man City.

Ste McGovern: Man City, but wouldn’t it be so typical of Jose Mourinho to spoil it for us all and win a fourth title?


How will the Top 6 look come the end of the season? (1-6)


Manchester City and Chelsea are the two favourites to make up the top two places in the league, while Liverpool (4) and Spurs (3) got the most votes to finish outside the Champions League spots. Only Rob Palmer thinks the Reds will finish fourth again.


RP: Man City - Chelsea - Arsenal - Liverpool - Man United - Spurs

CK: Man City - Chelsea - Man United - Spurs - Arsenal - Liverpool

RC: Chelsea - Man City - Man United - Arsenal - Liverpool - Spurs

AK: Man City - Chelsea - Man United - Arsenal - Spurs - Liverpool

SM: Man City - Man United - Spurs - Chelsea - Liverpool - Arsenal



Who’s going down?


Consensus is that Huddersfield should look forward to their parachute payments already, while Canavan believes Stoke City -- a consistently mid-table team -- will face the drop this year. Southampton fan Palmer is sick of the sight of the Cherries. 


RP: Burnley, Huddersfield and Bournemouth, on the final day.

CK: Huddersfield, Burnley, Brighton.

RC: Burnley, Huddersfield, Stoke.

AK: Burnley, Huddersfield, Brighton.

SM: Huddersfield are going to be fun, but surely can’t stay up. I’d love Brighton to stay up, but equally can’t see it unfortunately. Swansea City did a great bit of business in getting Tammy Abraham on loan, but that defence is wojous and they haven’t improved it a tap.


Who is going to be this season’s dark horse?


There's always one team who defies the odds and does better than expected, but there's no real agreement on who that will be this season. 


RP: Brighton, I think they can upset the odds and get a nice, comfortable mid-table finish. Hughton one of the best at managing underdogs.

CK: I think Watford will do better than expected.

RC: Newcastle United.

AK: Crystal Palace.

SM: Should be Bournemouth, but signing Jermain Defoe on a massive three-year-deal is going to have so many knock-on effects. So I’m going to say Newcastle will finish top half.


Who is the first manager to lose their job? 


RP: Slavan Bilič. 

CK: Mark Hughes.

RC: Mark Hughes.

AK: Slavan Bilič.

SM: Frank De Boer, just to be different.



Is Harry Kane going to retain the Golden Boot, or will someone else be the top goalscorer this season?


RP: Manolo Gabbiadi- nah, Gabriel Jesus.

CK: Harry Kane again.

RC: Alexandre Lacazette.

AK: Romelu Lukaku.

SM: Romelu Lukaku.


Who will be the Player of the Year?


RP: Sadio Mané.

CK: Kevin De Bruyne.

RC: Bernardo Silva.

AK: David Silva.

SM: Paul Pogba.


More importantly, who is going to be the best Irish performer?


If ever there was a set of answers that proves Conor and Rob Canavan spend too much time together, this is it.


RP: Harry Arter (or dark horse Shane Duffy).

CK: Sexy Jeff Hendrick.

RC: Sexy Jeff Hendrick.

AK: Jeff Hendrick.

SM: Stephen Ward, obviously.


Who is going to win the Champions League?


RP: Real Madrid, as fuckin' usual. Would love Juventus to do it, but I can't look past Real. Anticipating a Juve-Real final again anyway.

CK: Real Madrid or Barcelona.

RC: Bayern Munich. 

AK: Bayern Munich.

SM: PSG, if they sign Kylian Mbappe. Don’t @ me.


Here’s where you likely embarrass yourself: what is your mad prediction for the season ahead?


Last season Palmer claimed Hull City would finish with less than 12 points, while Conor predicted City would win the title by twenty points. The lads are going to have to try really hard to beat those bad bets.


RP: Lacazette to scrape 10 goals. Not quite as bad as Vincent Janssen for Spurs last year, but enough to draw a comparison.

CK: Jose Mourinho to leave/be sacked at the end of the season.

RC: Alan Shearer to wholeheartedly embrace xG.

AK: Kyle Walker to score a free kick against Spurs in either game.

SM: Antonio Conte to walk away from the Chelsea job before the end of the season.


What do you think of our predictions? Let us know yours on Twitter and Facebook.

The Renaissance of the Football Magazine

Stephen McGovern - Friday, July 21, 2017

Football magazines are surging in popularity, with more and more popping up all over the place. But what is behind this resurgance in a form that was thought to be dying? Ste McGovern finds out.



Growing up, the football magazine was a staple in the diet of the young fan. Any one of Match, Kick or Match Of The Day could have been found in most schoolbags in any given classroom. You might even find the odd fanzine or whatever official version your club offered. Approaching teenage years it was common to move on to something a bit more mature, like Four Four Two. But after that, interest generally dwindled, especially as the internet became an infinite source of news and opinion.


The only other notable monthlies that spring to mind are World Soccer and When Saturday Comes, both exceptional publications, but the dearth of choice on your local newsagent's shelf is startling. One might make a fair assumption that they just aren't a thing anymore, but you'd be wrong: the death of the football magazine has indeed been greatly exaggerated.


There is somewhat of a movement going on in the subculture of football fandom. Dissatisfied with the direction of modern football journalism, the clickbait model and instant news feeds, creative minds have banded together to produce something unimaginable - print editions that actually sell. By focusing on high quality writing and niche subjects, these companies have zeroed in on a market that has been crying out for something more than just match reports or 200 word pieces. 



The Blizzard is, of course, the go-to in this field, giving some top class journalists the room to write about the topics they wouldn't be able to for newspapers or websites in longform for several years now. The three-quarterly has been wildly successful, selling thousands of subscriptions since 2011. Jonathan Wilson explains on their website why he founded the project:


"I’d been frustrated for some time by the constraints of the mainstream media and, in various press-rooms and bars across the world, I’d come to realise I wasn’t the only one who felt journalism as a whole was missing something."


It's a common complaint in the Search Engine Optimisation era. In the spirit of online freebies though, they have made their entire back catalogue of articles, literally millions of words, available on the site, and if you want to see what they're all about you get three free articles per month.


In this writer's opinion however, Mundial is a standard bearer of print production. Over the course of nine issues they have created their own unique style in both design and the written word. Not only have they featured interviews with such greats as Andrea Pirlo and Cristiano Ronaldo, the articles are from another planet. Where else would you find an analysis on why Javier Zanetti's hair reflects his political viewpoints?


Editor Dan Sandison tells us they started the venture around the time of the 2014 World Cup "to champion the stuff that we loved about football as there was a lot of negativity surrounding the game at the time."


Something the Mundial team loves is style and fashion -- something that is evident in their adoration for all things Adidas -- so much so that it's become a bit of a meme.



Naturally, their covers are beautiful too.




Covers are an entry point for potential readers. The better or more imaginative the front page, the better chance you have of drawing people in. It's a prerequisite that every magazine strives for. Just look at Eight by Eight and Howler, and the outstanding efforts of their covers. Some of them go for wild illustrations, while others like to keep it simple and minimalist. Either way, it makes for a nice change from the crowded nature of your average magazine design.


Whatever about judging books by its cover and all that, you won't keep readers for long unless your content is on the ball. What brings people back for more is great ideas that are executed well in brilliant prose. Mark Godfrey, editor of The Football Pink, tells Where The Owl Sleeps why that's the case.


"The importance of good, original content can't be overstated; especially considering you're trying to persuade the reader to part with actual money when nowadays there are plenty of high quality websites putting out excellent material for free."


These Football Times is one such online space that offers top class content without charge, but they have gone about things in a somewhat backwards manner. Many publications start out in print format before having to submit to market forces and create an online presence.


For TFT, who specialise in long pieces on subjects that you wouldn't find on the back pages, the magazine came after the website, as their loyal following wanted a piece of their tremendous work to hold in their hands. Each issue is dedicated to a different country, with loads of stories delving deep on a specific topic. Mark tells us this is an important aspect of ensuring a dedicated readership.


"Ideally, each magazine needs to have a particular niche or style to appeal to a specific type of consumer. In that respect I don't imagine this is any different to the fanzine and magazine scenes of the past."


Ireland is not immune to this new culture of magazines either, with Pog Mo Goal carrying the flag here. Not content with looking at the game through the prism of English football, there is a real international feel to this one. "We wanted to feature some of the great writers we have had on our website," explains creator Kie Carew.


"We give them a platform to create timeless pieces that they might generally not have been able to dedicate the time to before, and marry their words with illustrators and photographers from countries all over the world, not just Ireland.


"In our last issue we had an designer from Japan illustrate a story about the soccer playing exploits of the Easter Rising's Oscar Traynor by Donal Fallon. We thought that was an amazing mix of cultures to tell a story so close to home."


The marriage of Irish football writing with global designers and artists is unique to this island. It's so nice that it's hard to believe such a thing exists in this country. It's a niche, but it's also the key to it success thus far, as Kie explains. 


"I think the resurgence in football magazines has a lot to do with the power of the internet and the demand for a different way to consume football culture. The people that are making the magazines are finding a market of football fans that want to delve a little deeper into the game, and on a world wide scale more so than a local or exclusively Premier League focused one. With YouTube and other online resources we are now able to demand a little more from football content, and find stories we have never heard before."


There are so many more amazing publications we could have talked about here, which gives you an idea of how popular this form has become. Publications like Rabona, Soccer Bible, Nutmeg, Proper, and Pickles offer incredible choice, while new ones continue to pop up all over the world, such as Unusual Efforts in North America. Whether this phenomenon of football magazines is here to stay or not is an unknown. Increasingly, followers of websites and podcasts want more beyond what they get on the screen of their laptop or phone. Sometimes that manifests itself in the form of merchandise or even a live show, but sometimes it can just be a bloody good mag.



Let's Get Real: Wayne Rooney Was Never Elite

Stephen McGovern - Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wayne Rooney was a decent striker for Man United, but several forwards could have scored the goals he did in that team, writes Ste McGovern.


wayne rooney



When Wayne Rooney left Everton, he was a prodigy that many thought would turn into a world class striker for club and country. 13 years later, he returns bigger, slower and, most of all, over-rated.


While the boy wonder holds multiple records at this stage, he should have performed far better over the course of his career. Watching a video of his highlights on YouTube it's clear to see he was an incredibly explosive player back then, one you could easily envisage becoming what they call "unplayable". For Jose Mourinho, he is quite literally unplayable and it is no surprise his Man United career has come to an end.


Ever since his breakout year there has been a desperation from parts of the English media to him legendary status. Let's get to the fact of the matter: any decent striker would have scored the goals he scored in that team.


We're not talking about a guy who made the whole team look better. Rooney was surrounded by great players like Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and so on during his time there. You would struggle not to score with some of the guys around. They made him look better.



For a second let's compare him to another Premier League striker, someone who maybe wasn't as spectacular in his heyday but very consistent all the same: Robbie Keane. The Irishman scored 165 league goals in 349 appearances, a tidy total for any forward. Rooney, meanwhile, sits on 198 goals in 460 appearances. While the former United man has surpassed Keane in terms of goals, it's worth noting that means Rooney has scored on average 0.43 goals per game, while Keane's average is 0.43.


Of course, that's not a massive difference and it would be remiss of us to overlook the fact that our Robbie did indeed play in some good teams like Leeds United and Spurs, who had terrific players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale to supply him with assists. But to have a better goals-to-games ratio, despite having made his Premier League debut at a later point in his career and playing in weaker teams, is eye-opening.


It's impossible to tell how a player like Keane or of similar quality would have done during that same period of time at Old Trafford, but there's no doubting that Rooney never dipped into those vast reserves of potential and turn it into the goal-scoring goldmine we thought he would. Aside from the two seasons where he scored 34 goals in all competitions, his tallies have been average for a good striker in the league. Harry Kane has already better Rooney's season record after scoring 35 times in 2016/17, having already scored 59 over the two years before that. Surely that's the level of consistency they would have hoped for?


Some of you reading this will argue that Rooney was played out on the wing to make way for Ronaldo for many of those seasons, but that points to the big problem: that when he should have been at his peak and leading the line for his club, he was instead told to play out of position because that was his only way to get in the team. As the years wore on and took their toll on his body, he moved back into midfield. Again we were told he was too good to be left out of the England side, but that wasn't the case at all. It was just more proof that he was well beyond his best.


His return to Goodison Park an admission that his top level career more or less over. Some think he'll do well, but being realistic he probably won't even make the starting eleven with some of the brilliant signings the Toffees are making this summer. If this transfer is about anything, it's about the romance. What other club would take him at this point?



Cheikh Tiote's Passing Raises Red Flags

Stephen McGovern - Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Cheick Tiote's death poses questions over China's ability to cope with responsibility that comes with their severe financial power, writes Liam Baxter.



The untimely death of former Newcastle United combative midfielder Cheick Tiote two weeks ago brought to light the awfully painful question of whether professional sporting organizations, particularly those in China, are doing enough to ensure heart defects among professional and amateur athletes are detected early and sufficiently.


According to a list of players that have passed away during a game or in training, Wikipedia begrudgingly being the most accurate source there is to date, a total of sixty-four players have died since 2007. Eight of the previous ten are of African descent, raising eyebrows and questions within the footballing community. Can more be done to prevent seemingly young and healthy athletes from just falling down dead? Are athletes of sub-Saharan descent more susceptible to these conditions? And are the Chinese sporting authorities taking steps to implement safety measures that befit their new found position in the financial totem pole?


Early reports into the cause of Cheick Tiote’s death are suggesting that Beijing Enterprise, the club in China where Tiote was plying his trade at the time, did not have emergency cardiac equipment at the training base where he collapsed. Prior to that, Tiote had only been with the team and in the country for six months. Would Tiote not have had to pass a stringent medical before making the move from the northeast of England? With players moving to China for exorbitant amounts of money, there needs to be processes in place to ensure the players that arrive are fit and healthy.



After Bolton Wanderers’ Fabrice Muamba collapsed during an FA Cup tie in 2012, the English FA introduced a ruling to ensure all professional clubs had access to the necessary cardiac equipment, including defibrillators, and mandatory cardiac screenings at all professional football clubs, equating for around 1,400 cardiac screenings per calendar year. While in Italy a mandatory cardiac screening process was set up in 1982 for all athletes taking part in organized sport. To prevent further unnecessary deaths this protocol has to be rolled out worldwide by the relevant governing bodies.


The medical complexities that shroud heart conditions and their links to African-born players underline the need for stringent screening in England, China and across the globe for all professional athletes. English charity Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) offer screenings for just £30, highlighting the fact that cost is not an issue. According to statistics released by CRY, around 12 people under the age of 35 die each day in the United Kingdom because of an undiagnosed heart condition. However the number could be much higher as it is supposedly difficult to diagnose cardiac issue after the heart has stopped beating.


In some cases footballing ambition is seen to be clouding the judgment of players when an alarming condition is caught during a screening. Mohamed Diame’s time at Lens was cut short because of a heart problem, while Loic Remy is another known example of a player found to have had potential heart defect during a medical, only to transfer from Nice to Marseille in 2010 anyway - that “anomaly on the wall of his heart” would also scupper Remy’s move from Queens Park Rangers to Liverpool in 2014.


Cardiac screening is not a foolproof system; there are those who are found to have no existing problem but a potential future condition known as a “false positive”. The heart is a complex organ constantly evolving and requires repeated screening.


With the accelerated spending of Chinese Super League clubs in the transfer market -- fueled by billionaire tycoons and the enthusiasm of President Xi Jinping -- surely measures should be put in place to ensure the safety of players willing to make the move to the far-east.




Follow Our Confederations Cup Coverage Throughout June


Real Madrid and the Curious Case of the Double

Stephen McGovern - Thursday, June 01, 2017

Why haven't the world's most successful club not won La Liga and the Champions League in the same season for 50 years? Ste McGovern asks.



For a club as successful as they are, it’s bizarre that Real Madrid have only done the League and European double twice in their history. It’s not to be sniffed at of course, any club would love to be able to say the same, but it’s an oddity that belies their lengthy honour roll. Barcelona after all have won two trebles in the last decade alone.


Perhaps it points to their relentless hunger for the mouse eared trophy, the league becoming almost irrelevant in its shadow. Many a manager in the capital has won La Liga and lost their job immediately after anyway, as Fabio Capello did on two separate occasions. Can you imagine that happening anywhere else? That piece of silverware only matters when the club say it matters.


When Santiago Bernabeu was president of Real he helped create the European Cup, and wanted to use its lustre to build the club’s brand. They would have the best players playing the best football in the best competition in the world. This was part of what they refer to as their economic sport model -- winning competitions with stylish, attacking football to attract bumper crowds -- ensuring both footballing and financial success.



It’s a model that Florentino Perez has followed during his time as president with great results. Over the course of his two terms, he has transformed the club’s financial state and added three Champions Leagues to their trophy cabinet. Not bad going, but now he’s hoping the team can achieve something that hasn’t been done since Bernabeu was the head honcho.


In 1956-57 and 1957-58, Real Madrid completed the league and European Cup double, the only times they have done so, although they did complete a double that included the UEFA Cup in 1986. It’s odd for a club considered so powerful and historic to have not achieved it in the modern era. Man United, Internazionale, Bayern Munich and their aforementioned Catalan rivals have all won trebles, never mind doubles, in the last twenty years. So why haven’t Madrid?


To say that Real don’t care about the league would be an absurdity, having won it 33 times, more than any other side in Spain. But it is perhaps fair to say that they don’t care about it quite as much as the Champions League. After all, dominating the competition in its early years helped Los Merengues foster their identity in the fifties and the iconic trophy is now sown into the fabric of the club.



Unfortunately for them that identity ebbed. They could not continue to afford the star names into the sixties, and the team that won the sixth European title in 1966 was made up entirely of Spaniards. Despite dominating La Liga in the seventie and late eighties, they wouldn’t win another European Cup for thirty years.


In 1998 they defeated Juventus 1-0 at the Amsterdam Arena for their seventh Champions League win. Finally one that wasn’t just in black and white television. They went on to win another two in the next four years, winning the league either side of their 2002 triumph. They could never match up domestic and European success in the same season, and even finished fifth in 2000.


With the exception of 1957, Real have never made the final of the European Cup and won the league by a margin of five or more points. This season they pipped Barcelona to the title by three points, setting the stage for an incredible double that would cap off an astounding first two years as manager for Zinedine Zidane. It seems their energies can barely focus on more than one competition, which shouldn’t be the case for a club with such resources. This is Real though, where money might talk but it makes no guarantees. The Frenchman has gracefully guided this squad to its most consistent level in a long, long time.


Promisingly for Los Blancos a precedent was set in 2014 when they won the Copa Del Rey to go along with their Champions League, the first time they had won such a double. Zizou was assistant coach that season, and he’ll be looking to make more history as manager on Saturday night.


In many ways it is fitting that Real Madrid so rarely complete such feats. Their tunnel vision wouldn’t have it any other way: it’s the Champions League or nothing.



For One Weekend Only, The FA Cup Really Matters

Stephen McGovern - Saturday, April 22, 2017

A tournament that rarely excites anymore is ready to host two giant clashes, writes Ste McGovern.



The FA Cup is an anachronism. It’s a symbol of glories past, of childhood memories, of a game played in a different time. It’s not the same as it once was, and never again will it be. Winning it used to be the pinnacle for many a British player. Now it’s hard to place what it even means in the modern game.


Not even Championship clubs bother putting out their first string teams anymore. Premier League sides, with squads presumably big enough to withstand the added load, who haven’t won a trophy in decades -- or, in some cases, ever -- can’t be arsed seeing out the third round. Denying a dancing Pards in 2016’s showpiece final wasn’t enough to save Louis Van Gaal’s bacon in the end.


It’s just a weird competition; we’re told of this magical tournament, of its special place in the game, and no one -- not the players, managers or fans -- could care less about the games. That’s not to say none of the above would like to win it. They do, but it’s often not worth the effort to get there unless you can wade your way through the thicket of lower division opposition without affecting your league position. And that’s where our four semi-finalists come in.


Ask Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City or Tottenham Hotspur at the start of the season whether or not the FA Cup was a priority, and you could safely bet your house on them all answering ‘No’, assuming of course they’re being honest and not just paying hollow deference to a glorified tin pot.


Aside from City, they have all fielded much weakened teams on cup weekends up to this point. It is by chance as much as strength of depth that they have made it this far. And now that they have, they might as well go all out to try and bring it home. Notwithstanding that, the cup actually means something this time around.



While Chelsea and Spurs are still battling it out for the title, City and Arsenal are fighting for a spot in the top four. This is their last chance for a major trophy this season, one that could put a glossy sheen on a testing time for these clubs.


Pep Guardiola, perhaps not entirely privy to the tradition of treating cup ties in England as if they are reserve team games, has hardly taken his foot off the pedal in this competition even when it might have seemed better to do so. For all the talk of the Spaniard’s marriage to a philosophy, an ideology that takes precedence over winning, his true love is success. Many expected City to be on their way to a third Premier League by now, but it’s been a weird one for the Sky Blues. They play some of the nicest football in Europe, and their underlying statistics would have you thinking they should be higher up the table. They will settle for a cup for now, knowing they surely have bigger fish to fry in the future.


For Arsenal it goes without saying. Wenger has never felt more vulnerable at anytime during his reign in London, with the crowds baying for blood over the lack of tangible success. Not that it bothers his superiors, but there is pressure on him to deliver. The FA Cup is the easiest way to present some form of glory, as they gun for a third in four years. While they have actually regressed since those triumphs, another should offer a sweet release for the fans, if only temporary at least. And regaining their status as the most successful team in the competition from Man United is always a nice tribal bonus.


Continue reading below:


A few weeks ago the cup appeared to be a mere distraction from Chelsea's runaway form in the league. With no European football in their way they could just focus on maintaining momentum against the likes of Peterborough, Wolves and Brentford. In light of their defeat to United, however, doubts are starting to emerge. Are they as strong as everyone assumed? Will they hold on to win the league? A victory over their local rivals, the only ones who can wrest the title from them, would put pay to all of those questions.


This tie is amazing timing for both sides, but especially for Spurs. It’s a golden opportunity for the north Londoners to give them the fear, manifest that seed of doubt inside their cross city rivals. Victory might also banish the memories of last year’s late season collapse, not that it seems it’s been on the mind of the players ever since -- they have accrued the most points of any team in the league since the start of the 2015/16 season. Critically though, they have no silverware to show for it. The most important thing about this competition for Spurs is the winning mentality it can help instill.

Ideally Saturday's game would be a straight playoff for the league, but the knockout manner of the tie will give it an old school feel. Whatever happens, the FA Cup won’t just be an afterthought this weekend.



The Championship: A Hotbed For Irish Talent

Stephen McGovern - Tuesday, March 28, 2017

A strong contingent of Irish internationals, both present and future, are impressing in the old first division, writes Ste McGovern.


Preston's Irish quartet (Horgan, McGeady, Browne, Cunningham)


Receiving the ball five yards outside the box he completes a trademark stepover, but the defender doesn’t bite, making sure to hold his ground. The attacker steps inside, but still the defender follows. He pushes once more and now his marker has no choice but to commit, sliding in a desperate attempt to win the ball, allowing him to get a shot off. A second defender tries to close him down, while another three players stand between him and the goal, but it doesn’t matter. The ball leaves his right foot, launching into the air before dipping softly as it hits the netting beyond the goalkeeper.


Aiden McGeady gets a masive equaliser for Preston North End on the stroke of half-time against QPR, who took the lead just nine minutes previously through Kazenga Lua Lua. The goal, his fourth of the season, is representative of something of a renaissance for the Scottish-born winger, who in recent years has endured indifferent spells at Everton and Sheffield Wednesday. It’s also representative of how Preston have come to rely not just on him, but their Irish contingent too.



In the second half Daryl Horgan swings in a corner from the left which meets the head of Jordan Hugill. His header is saved but the rebound is knocked in, meaning the Galway man doesn’t get an official assist, but does contribute to an important win in their push for the playoffs. The northerners have lost just two of their last fifteen matches, a run that includes a 2-0 win over second-placed Brighton & Hove Albion, coincidentally Horgan’s first start in the Championship. His performances have earned him a regular place in the starting line-up, getting two goals and three assists along the way.


That day he played with compatriots Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham either side of him, although the latter usually plays at left-back if they are in a 4-4-2 formation rather than a back three. There could have been more Irishmen on the field too: Andy Boyle came with Horgan from Dundalk, but is only recently breaking into the team, while Eoin Doyle went out on loan recently. Both are expected to start against Iceland.


On the losing side that afternoon was Ryan Manning, who has bided his time for a chance, but once he got it for the R’s he made it count. The 20 year old joined when the club was still in the Premier League under Harry Redknapp, but wouldn’t make his first team debut until 31 December last year, almost two full years since putting pen to paper on his move from Galway United in January 2015.


He’s since started eleven games, coming off the bench just once, and scored his first, and thus far only, goal against local rivals Fulham in a 1-1 draw. Most notably, aside from that or his one assist, he has somehow gotten six yellow cards already, which is just over a card every second game. He possesses a raw tenacity that could be channelled into controlled aggression as he progresses in his career, and in time he could be an ideal fit for Ireland’s midfield.



While Manning and a host of other up-and-coming talents such as Richie Towell try and make the step up, established internationals like Shane Duffy and Daryl Murphy are looking ahead to a return to the Premier League with Brighton and Newcastle respectively. Wes Hoolahan, and Richard Keogh and Cyrus Christie are chasing an increasingly unlikely shot at the playoffs with Norwich City and Derby County, so another year in the Championship is on the cards for those two. Guys like Robbie Brady and Jeff Hendrick have spent plenty of time in it, earning themselves moves to Burnley in the promised land of star studded squads and mega money. It's up to the rest to follow in their path.



The recent injury crisis to several key players for the qualifier, and seeing how that affected the style of play against Wales, shows how imperative it is that these players are playing consistently at a level that isn’t far off the pace of international football. Not so long ago the second tier of the English game would not have been considered good enough to guarantee you a starting berth in the Ireland team. But playing for your country is no longer the zenith, the highest level you can play at. The gap between leagues such as these and the group stages of qualification is narrowing all the time. In this context it has become fertile land for Martin O’Neill as he continues the quest to qualify Ireland for consecutive tournaments for the first time since 1990.

With the exception of McGeady and Duffy, all of the current Championship players I mentioned came through the League of Ireland, so who’s to say where the true hotbed for Irish talent really lies?




Is it Claudio Ranieri's fault that Leicester City been so bad this season?

Stephen McGovern - Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ranieri is gone, but there were some reasons beyond his control for Leicester's poor form, writes Ste McGovern.


Claudio Ranieri "lost" the dressing room, but were the poor results all his fault?


Like a rolling tide, Ranieri could not stem the overwhelming flood that was the relegation battle currently enveloping Leicester City. Maybe that’s the best argument for why he simply had to go. This season has been downright awful and it looks like it’s been out of his control for some time now, like a man trying to row a boat without an oar.


Last season many surmised during the early days of their incredible run that he seemingly had no clue as to what was happening. He had the look of a man who was happy enough with how things were going but for the love of God don’t ask him how. There’s probably some element of truth to that, it would be hard for anyone to fathom it, but at the same time he was the guiding hand throughout it all. He was saying the right things in the media, rewarding his players at ample opportunities, making sure they had free time when necessary. None of these things are revolutionary, but they played a huge contributing factor to the amazing journey.



Ranieri’s tactics were key to their success; moving away from the back three that kept the Foxes up, relocating Vardy from the wing to a more effective central position, and giving Mahrez the freedom to play further up the pitch. Although they had an awful lot of luck, it wasn’t by accident. His gameplan simply worked to a tee.


How often does that happen? To strategise and plan is one thing, but for it to work is another. This season has been almost the complete of opposite of the one preceding it, such has been the horrendous form they have been on. Sometimes the universe just needs to restore balance. According to data analysis undertaken by Daniel Altman, when luck is taken out of the equation, Leicester should have finished fourth. Still an incredible achievement, but it shows how external factors can have an impact. Bobby Gardiner theorised that the same thing has happened this year, just in the opposite direction, and they should be sitting closer to mid-table.



After the close of the most remarkable Premier League season ever, Richard Whittall wrote a piece on what the club should do going forward, and his words seem startlingly prescient now. “Even if your star players stay, chances are they will age, they will slump, regress, pick up injuries. Or, as sometimes happens in football, things that worked last season may not work this season, for no discernible reason. You still need a succession plan for the team.”


That succession plan was somewhat scuppered when head scout Steve Walsh moved to Everton this summer. Mahrez and Vardy remained, but N’Golo Kante, the most important player to their gameplan, was sold to Chelsea. The Toffees then signed Idrissa Gueye, a player whose profile closely matches that of Kante. It is no coincidence that Everton signed him once Walsh was on board.


I’ve seen plenty of people say that the departure of one person can’t possibly explain such a downturn, but it is this writer’s opinion that it has had a bigger impact than we realise. Indeed, Whittall goes on to say “if LCFC’s title run is like this magic souffle that came out of nowhere, even the slightest change can bring it crashing down.” This hypothesis is examined further in a great piece by Gardiner for Paste Magazine, who writes “If Leicester wanted to play the same way they did when Kante was in the side, they would need to get someone in who could emulate his defensive duties,” a la Gueye.


Bobby’s dive into the data reveals that Leicester are failing to turn the ball over in the same areas that Kante was so effective in last season. “Frequent turnovers in the middle of the pitch are essential to Leicester’s attack as they focus on fast transitions.” That much has been evident in the performance of Mahrez and Vardy, who have scored just eight goals between them in 2016-17. The rate at which Leicester was scoring difficult chances last season was unsustainable, and that has been borne out with zero league goals this calendar year.



And yet, with so much seemingly out of his control in relation to the team’s form, it is Ranieri who takes the fall. The Times have reported that a meeting in Seville between the players and the chairman prompted upper management to make decisive action. With the players no longer behind the manager, they felt they could no longer stay loyal to the man who brought their greatest success. While the players think that the coach is at fault, it is their performances that have ultimately gotten them to this point. It is their job as much as it is Ranieri’s to make that relationship work, but instead of working at it they have chosen to oust the Italian.



As much as we might not like how it has gone down, we also realise that this is football. And Ranieri knew that too. He was more aware anyone that the performances weren’t good enough and he would eventually have to take the blame. However if anyone had earned the opportunity to die on their sword as they chose, it was him.




The alternative viewpoint: 


Sorry, but Danny Rose is not an Elite Left Back

Stephen McGovern - Wednesday, February 22, 2017

We put the data into the Comprehensive Left Back Spreadsheet of Happiness and Wonder and it's not bad news, Spurs fans, but it's not great either, writes Rob Palmer.



Hello, and welcome to the first edition of me taking things way too far.


As most of you are aware, there was an incident on the podcast last week. It was to do with how highly – or lowly – we as a trio rated Danny Rose.


We followed up that debate on this week’s episode, replete with hard-nosed research:


I had a couple of days off from the hideous reality that is working in retail so I decided to put my time into examining all the regular(ish) left backs in the league and compile some stats. Before anyone makes any assumptions, I genuinely didn’t do this to prove myself right. It wasn’t some weird exercise of statistical smugness. I decided to do it because people were so veracious with their support for Danny Rose that I wanted to see how wrong I was about saying he was “pretty average”.


See how wrong Rob was and read the spreadsheet here!


All the data comes with thanks from a combination of Squawka and WhoScored. Some of the stats are a bit pointless in my opinion, like shot accuracy, but I just decided to put in every little thing that may be perceived as relevant. If there’s anything that I’ve missed in the spreadsheet, please let me know and I’ll update it accordingly.


Danny Rose stats from 18 league appearances in 16/17 (Ste McGovern)


There are a couple of things that people may not be happy with: the two Chelsea players. Azpilicueta and Alonso’s numbers are taken from last season, the first 26 games of the previous season when they both played as full backs for Chelsea and Fiorentina respectively. I thought it would have been silly to include their stats from this season as Alonso has played predominantly as a wing back and Azpilicueta a wide centre back.


Top eight LBs for creating chances (Ste McGovern)


The conclusion that I draw from the data is that Rose is good, but that’s about it. He is far from elite, but he is only 26 and he has a fantastic coach in Pochettino to iron out those large defensive shortcomings. He may turn out to be elite, but saying he is right now is a bit silly.














Maradona: The Napoli Years

Stephen McGovern - Saturday, February 04, 2017

We spoke to author and screenwriter John Ludden about his book, Once Upon A Time In Naples, which centers on Diego Maradona's time at Napoli, a story featuring drugs, the mafia and a bit of football. 


Final Third Talks: Maradona, The Napoli Years with John Ludden


In the eighties Napoli was a team with a fanatical support unrivaled in terms of passion and size in the south of Italy, but it had underachieved for far too long. They had won a solitary Serie B and two Coppa Italia trophies up to then, but never the Scudetto. For a club of their size, it was a point of shame for the team and its fans. 


On 5th July 1984, that would all change. Diego Armando Maradona arrived in Naples by helicopter, and for seven years all hell let loose in the Italian city. The Argentine would lead the Partenopei to their first league title, a joyous moment for the club, but behind the scenes a dark side was always lurking.




Maradona mixed openly with the city gangsters, Lo Camorra. He could do as he pleased whilst performing miracles on the pitch,
but it wouldn't last forever.


As detailed in the book's blurb, Once Upon a Time in Naples attempts to chronicle those unforgettable times under Mount Vesuvius’ shadow. When Diego left his mark on this Babylon by the sea. An alluring tale of wonderful football, glory, despair and betrayal. Of corruption, gangsters and ultimately, redemption.


You can find John's incredible book on Amazon.

Recent Posts





The Final Third was created originally as a vehicle for three Dublin lads to express their opinions on European football and rebel against the bland, clichéd and stale way it was covered by mainstream publications and organisations.

Contact The Final Third: