Redemption night as Everton flex their muscles to derail Arsenal’s title bid

 

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Arsenal hadn’t lost a league game since the opening day of the season. They had only lost once away this calendar year in the Premier League. They had just one defeat in 18 league games against Everton.

Few had given the hosts hope of only a second win in 12 games in all competitions after a desperately poor performance in the 3-2 loss at Watford four days ago, especially after a nervous opening 20 minutes saw them fall behind to Alexis Sanchez’s opener.

But the spirit that has now seen them claw back 11 points from losing positions  – more than any other Premier League side this season – has been somewhat disguised by the results of the past three months.

“There won’t always be games with a Cup final feel to it,” Alan Stubbs rightly pointed out in the BT Sport studio following a ferocious show of character that lifted the side back up to seventh in the table.

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Seamus Coleman typified such a never-say-die attitude, dragging the side level with a well-placed header, screaming at his team-mates down the right throughout, reminiscent of the role played by Phil Neville for many years.

Ashley Williams had quite a night. From villain of the piece to match winner. But he was not alone in needing to put right the many wrongs during a woeful run of form.

Actions speak louder than words, and after Koeman had his Wikipedia picture changed to Pat Butcher in the hours leading up to the game, this was his ‘F*** You’ to those dissenters.

Questions of mental and physical fragility asked by Koeman himself were emphatically put to bed here. There’s no need for an inquest after the final 70 minutes of blood and thunder that added this to the pantheon of great Goodison nights.

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“It was very difficult – you know the qualities of Arsenal,” the Dutchman said immediately after a thrilling 2-1 victory over Arsene Wenger’s side. “We had the sending off of Jags in the final minute and we were lucky with the last challenge in the box, but you need that in life.

“You can as a manager tell the players what needs to change, but if you start as we did today, you won’t win any games in the Premier League. We were very nervous, but if we fight for every ball and if we’re aggressive you can see the reaction of the crowd.

“We went face to face, and with a lot of aggression you can make it very difficult. We deserved the win today. We showed after 20 minutes how we need to play, the commitment and aggression was there and the crowd reacted. It’s a big result.”

Williams gestured a heart with his fingers as he looked towards the box where his family watched on as he celebrated his goal, a reminder of the ‘Together Stronger’ slogan that took Wales to the last four of Euro 2016.

Coleman called on the fans to remain with the players now after such a morale-boosting win heading into the Merseyside derby next Monday night.

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“A lot of teams would’ve given up after going a goal down, and you could sense the crowd getting a little on our back,’ he said.

“But we got the next goal and we know that if we put in a performance we can make the crowd happy and they are like a 12th man so it’s important that we get them right behind us and for them to stay with us.”

Thirty seconds into this contest, James McCarthy went in late on Granit Xhaka. More aggressive, more compact and more fight. This was the midfielder making his intentions known from the off.

Despite McCarthy’s best efforts, the first 20 minutes belonged to Arsenal. Everton sat back, looked to be compact and allowed their opponents to play in front of them. Co-commentator Steve McManaman on BT Sport called it ‘playing with fire’.

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This was quite clearly Koeman’s game plan, hoping to pick Arsenal off on the break with the speed and directness of Valencia and Lennon.

What wasn’t drilled on the training ground was the suicidal minute of madness which led to Arsenal taking the lead.

Three Everton players had the chance to clear, as Enner Valencia, Ross Barkley and Williams were guilty of sloppiness in possession. Idrissa Gueye ended up being clattered by Williams in the self-inflicted chaos on the edge of the penalty area.

Phil Jagielka was the man to eventually halt Arsenal in their tracks, taking out Sanchez, but the Chilean then ensured he did not escape with just a yellow card.

His free-kick was hit low but Williams, lacking mobility with his hands behind his back, compounded his error as he tried his best to adjust his feet, only managing to deflect the ball into the net via the hand the diving Maarten Stekelenburg after it had skidded off his shins.

The groans came back, balls that could have been crossed by both Barkley and Valencia ended back at the feet of an Arsenal player, Aaron Lennon shot when a pass was on for the Ecuadorian.

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But Everton slowly shook off the blow to an already low level of confidence as Coleman rode forward to win a corner, which was flashed over by the involved Valencia.

The crowd responded to a flurry of tackles that rattled into Xhaka and Co, Lennon being released down the left, carrying the ball into the box. But he shot over with his weaker left foot. Again no end product.

Everton were getting some joy down the left, Baines stayed on his feet as both Theo Walcott and Hector Bellerin dangled then withdrew a leg. Lukaku urged his team-mates to squeeze with him from the front. The Gwladys Street roared their approval.

The fans showed further appreciation as Barkley pick-pocketed Coquelin before slipping in Lukaku down the left but he hurried his shot. Petr Cech still hadn’t had a save to make.

Arsenal had shown ruthlessness at Everton’s moment of uncertainty but Everton didn’t show such a clinical side when Nacho Monreal miscued his clearance. Lennon prodded his shot wide of the mark again after being teed up by McCarthy.

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The Wigan midfielder, in front of the watching Republic of Ireland assistant manager Roy Keane, looked as though he was playing for his future, winning the ball high up, snapping into another challenge on Francis Coquelin to go into Mark Clattenburg’s book.

For all of Everton’s endeavour, Arsenal absorbed everything that had been thrown at them until they were breached in remarkably easy fashion.

Gueye picked up Barkley’s pass and again looked down the left with the always available Baines. Walcott raced across to shut down the space, but couldn’t slow down quick enough, his momentum inviting the full-back inside onto his right.

Baines produced the perfect inswinging cross for Coleman to cushion his header down low into the corner past the rooted Cech. From one full-back to another, two players criticised defensively this season showed battling qualities to drag their side back into the contest.

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Wenger wore a concerned face to go with his tailored winter coat, and the Frenchman was happy to hear the half-time whistle as the players had to be separated following a bit of afters between Coleman and the peripheral Mesut Ozil.

Even the bouncing Everton first-team coach Duncan Ferguson, still playing in his head and in his Copa Mundials, intervened to help pull the players apart as they headed down the narrow tunnel into the changing rooms. It was then you felt this would be one of those nights.

Into the second period, Everton’s press was evident again from the start, but Sanchez began to assert himself as Arsenal enjoyed an early spate of possession with the hosts sitting in and snapping when the ball broke loose on the slick surface.

Everton were guilty of again failing to clear when Jagielka had the chance, looking to play out through Gueye – Arsenal almost made them pay with Sanchez finding the onrushing Ozil who stroked his ball over when he looked set to score.

Everton were next to go close. Jagielka’s directness this time almost paid dividends, finding the chest of Lukaku whose lay-off to Barkley was flashed just wide of Cech’s left-hand post from the angle.

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But chasing the win they needed to return back to the summit, Wenger urged his players to go up the gears and frantic moments around the box saw Coquelin and Sanchez both denied by last-ditch clearances.

Koeman looked to fresh legs as Kevin Mirallas replaced Lennon, applauded off after a far better showing than in his recent starts. The Goodison crowd roared again as Lukaku won a foot race with Gabriel and Valencia ran himself into the ground to chase another lost cause.

Everton had found a second wind from somewhere but no one was on hand to run onto a loose ball inside the six-yard box after Barkley had outsmarted Sanchez. Arsenal’s defending was becoming increasingly desperate.

Coleman was next to test their resolve as his cross was snuffed out by the impressive Laurent Koscielny after another tepid ball out from the back by Arsenal had been intercepted.

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Into the final 15 minutes, could Arsenal find a way of winning ugly as Chelsea had done against West Brom? Wenger brought on Olivier Giroud but Koeman looked to youth, calling back England under-20 international Dominic Calvert-Lewin to get ready.

With the home crowd beginning to get nervous, the introduction of debutant Calvert-Lewin for the tireless Valencia received a standing ovation. Another talented local boy was thrown into the bowels of the famous bear pit.

It was a masterstroke from Koeman just at the moment the home side needed another lift to go again for the final 10 minutes as the 19-year-old took his place behind Lukaku.

Everton had to be careful not to over commit, but with the exuberance of Calvert-Lewin quickly involved, this was never likely to be a case of two sides settling for a point.

The striker took a one-two off the excellent Gueye and then won a corner from another Baines delivery. Who said Koeman didn’t look to academy players? This was precisely what the fans had been crying out for.

Everton got their heads down, harnessed the passion of the crowd and won another corner.

Barkley this time beat the first man, with the ball falling to Jagielka but Cech managed to claw the shot around the post. Any sense that the danger had been averted, however, was short-lived as Barkley had now, finally, found his range.

Redemption comes in many forms, and Barkley’s positive response to being taken out of the side was given its crowning moment from the ensuing delivery, as Williams rose unmarked to crash his header off the ground and high into the roof of the net.

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The towering Wales captain ran the length of the field, along the side of the Main Stand passing Ferguson on his way, who had done the same memorably for his first goal against Liverpool and twice against Manchester United in his prime.

Coleman eventually caught up with the impassioned centre-half, holding him down as Calvert-Lewin jumped on his back and Gueye was close behind. Lukaku jumped on board while McCarthy was there to give him the final thunderous nod of approval.

It was one huge outpouring of emotion that was mirrored by the usually composed Koeman on the sidelines, heading an imaginary ball as Williams rose before removing his hands from his pockets to celebrate it hitting the net with an almighty fist pump.

The passion in the celebrations said everything. This was Everton’s night. The fans responded with a chorus of songs, how they had suffered for this, but there were still four minutes plus stoppages to hold on.

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Stekelenburg frantically claimed a teasing ball from Sanchez before McCarthy was replaced by Ramiro Funes Mori as Koeman looked to batten down the hatches.

Barkley then exposed the space by running clear down the right but he shot when a ball was on at the far post. It was a rush of blood to the head when both Mirallas and Calvert-Lewin were on for the pass.

It may well have proved costly as after a corner down the other end wasn’t cleared, Jagielka was caught the wrong side of substitute Lucas Perez and was rightly shown a second yellow card.

The veteran ruled himself out of the home clash with Liverpool in the process, but Everton’s concerns were more immediate as with the side one player short for the final minute of stoppage time, Arsenal had a glorious chance to snatch a point.

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Twice they were thwarted by last ditch blocks in the same incredible phase of play as both Monreal and Alex Iwobi had shots blocked, first by Funes Mori and then Leighton Baines on the goal-line.

The ball broke loose, and Mirallas may well have brought down Sanchez who had come up his blind side to pinch the ball, but Clattenburg allowed play to go on.

After his role in a Merseyside derby in 2007 – a 2-1 win for Liverpool in which he awarded the Reds two penalties and failed to give one for Everton led to six years without him refereeing a game at Goodison – some would say this too was a night of redemption for him.

Everton could still have scored a third with Cech stranded up the pitch in pursuit of the equaliser, but neither Barkley nor Mirallas could get a shot away. It was a breathless end to the game as Everton held on.

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Williams slunk to the ground in exhaustion at the final whistle, brought back to his feet by Stekelenburg as Baines was lifted in the air by Coleman and Gueye, never far from anything.

The players had responded to Koeman’s comments after the hapless showing in Hertfordshire, this was him planting his flag in the sand.

Williams could reflect on an eventful night. “It’s nice to get my first goal, I’m obviously disappointed with their goal, so it’s great to get the winner in the end. I was desperate to score to make up for it. It gives us a massive confidence boost.

“It was about looking at ourselves in the mirror, and looking to put it right. We fell behind but we battled back and the fans responded as well. Next week is a massive game, and it’s great we can take this into the derby.”

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Coleman admitted after another famous night under the lights: “We’ve been nowhere near good enough, but the only place to put it right is back on the football pitch. We know that our form has not been good enough and there were some nerves.”

After some strong criticism from supporters who had already begun to question their new manager, this was a major step in the right direction for Koeman leading into the festive fixture pile up.

“Liverpool will be a total situation after tonight,” he said. “We go into it on the back of a good performance with three points in the pocket.

“We’re still unbeaten at home, and we know the importance of the Merseyside derby. If we play with the passion we showed tonight, we can have a good result.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘I love Lionel Messi and he loves me,’ says Afghan carrier bag youngster who receives Argentina shirt signed by Barcelona star

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The Afghan boy who pulled at our heartstrings wearing a bin bag bearing Lionel Messi’s famous number in a picture that went viral has now received the ultimate gift from his footballing idol.

Having become an online sensation last month for wearing an impoverished version of the Argentina star’s jersey, the five-year-old boy has received the real thing, signed by the player himself.

In a tale that shows the power of social media, Murtaza Ahmadi was all smiles as he proudly wore his new shirt delivered by Messi’s management team to his family in the Jaghori District, in the eastern Ghazni province of Afghanistan.

‘I love Messi and my shirt says Messi loves me,’ said a beaming Murtaza on Thursday.  Messi has been crowned the Ballon d’or winner on five separate occasions, but it was little Murtaza who woke up feeling top of the world as he eagerly sported the latest Argentina home shirt in preparation for a kick-about.

It is a truly heart-warming story, which came into public awareness after the boy’s elder brother Homayoun, 15, made him the plastic shirt with Messi’s named scrawled in marker pen and posted photos of Murtaza wearing it on Facebook.

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Messi’s biggest fan will no doubt be aware of the maestro’s two goals in the first leg of the Champions League last 16 clash with Arsenal on Tuesday night, and Murtaza celebrated his achievement in the best possible fashion.

Earlier this month, the Afghan Football Federation said that it was planning to set up a meeting between 28-year-old Messi and the youngster.

The federation’s spokesman, Sayed Ali Kazemi said  that officials hope Messi can come to Afghanistan to visit the boy, but otherwise they will arrange to send him to Spain, or arrange a meeting in a third country.

According to Arif Ahmadi, Murtaza’s father, the love affair started when Murtaza watched Messi playing on television in his family home, which only has solar power.

It tugged on the heart strings of football fans around the world, prompting the social media hunt that eventually identified Murtaza as the little boy with the ‘saddest football shirt in the world’.

Sport was rarely played under Taliban rule, and the football stadium in Kabul was a notorious venue for executions, stonings and mutilations.

Football and cricket are the two most popular sports in the war-ravaged country

Everton have lost their ‘top six’ status… whatever this is isn’t good enough

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There will be few Everton supporters who could argue they didn’t see a result like this coming. Swansea brought the perfect game plan, they will say, but the battle to stifle the Goodison Park crowd is becoming less of an issue with each passing wayward performance, and if there’s one place you’ll be given chances to score it’s at Everton.

Twelve months ago, the Toffees were 12th after 22 games. While six points better off, the side occupies the same position in the league at the same stage this term. But the concerns have been widely discussed for well over a year now.

The fears of losing the likes of John Stones and Romelu Lukaku, while wildly and rather crassly speculated by newspapers each passing Sunday, would seem an inevitability. The need to sugarcoat these stories will become redundant.

The saddest thing, as Anthony Taylor generously gave Everton the chance to redeem themselves with an additional ‘last play’ in the 2-1 defeat by Swansea, was that many of those in attendance had accepted their fate.

It is something of a Toffees trait to score late on, especially over the years at Goodison while more recently on the road, but the sense of despondency that will have eaten away at home fans in the second-half was due to an overwhelming feeling that this was quite simply a ‘must win’.

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There will be those who will not care for the Premier League this season – who’ll be wetting their whistle for the club’s biggest game in four years against Manchester City on Wednesday night – but that’s not good enough for a side who have chronically under-achieved; it’s never been good enough to snub the bread and butter of league points.

After a brief response from the hosts that lasted all of five minutes at the start of the second period, Swansea rediscovered their poise, with two white sheets of four brilliantly marshalled by captain Ashley Williams.

The grit and desire shown by the players out to impress new head coach Francesco Guidolin was every bit as stark as the growing apathy among Evertonians towards joining the rump of teams fighting for Europe through the league.

There were boos at half-time. There was a brief cry of urgency midway through the second-half. And at full-time, there were groans. The point was made several times over in the matchday programme notes how the side ought to have won last week at Stamford Bridge, and how much rosier the situation should be.

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But it’s time a bigger point was made of those Everton supporters who attend home games. Too many add nothing positive. They are a burden on the team rather than the twelfth man. They have no right to expect victory over a Swansea side battling for their lives. In contrast, the decibel levels at the Emirates, of all places, on Sunday was alarming.

Neutrals welcome Everton in this disorderly season. They provide wonderful lessons to aspiring young footballers on how not to see out games, but equally they have always fought until the end.

Fans of the club, however, would say watching their side comes with a major health warning, and in this most open of Premier League seasons, with any one of the current top 10 capable of putting a run together that could lead to Champions League qualification, languishing in the bottom half is an abomination.

It is not that Everton have collectively under-performed. There have been stellar seasons for the returning Gerard Deulofeu, for the maturing Ross Barkley and for 19-goal top scorer Romelu Lukaku. His performance against Swansea was his worst of the season, though he wasn’t alone.

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Given the Belgian’s uncharacteristic lack of fluidity and appetite to give Williams a more troublesome afternoon, you wonder whether he has fully recovered from that ankle injury in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final with City.

Roberto Martinez may feel inclined to see the result as one to draw a line under and swiftly move on. He may point to the handball from Williams in the build-up to Andre Ayew’s winning goal which ought to have been spotted. Then there were the two injuries to Muhamed Besic and Kevin Mirallas in the first-half.

But muscular injuries – which had resulted in the manager not taking any risks with Phil Jagielka on Sunday – have regularly interrupted Everton this term.

Few excuses could be made last season from the point of selection, but the number of innocuous injuries is mounting at Finch Farm. Baines and Coleman – the side’s first choice full-backs have only just become available, while James McCarthy has played 26 minutes in the last two months.

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At 33, Jagielka is showing signs of his age, but while the level of caution is something you would expect from Martinez given his bachelor’s degree in physiotherapy, questions must be asked about how the squad is being trained.

With Besic and Mirallas hobbling off and subsequently ruled out for the game on Wednesday, Martinez had limited options to change the dimension of the match after Swansea had stemmed the flow of attacks on the Gwladys Street goal.

Given one of the few similarities he shares with his predecessor is his inability to change things from the sidelines, he will have pondered his final substitution for an additional 10 minutes with little or no extra insight gained.

Whereas before he could look to Steven Naismith, one of the finest examples of how to observe games intelligently from the bench, there was only the out-of-form Arouna Kone as a forward option.

The sale of Naismith, much like Nikica Jelavic despite the pair’s need for more first-team opportunities, has come at the detriment of the club. No replacement has been lined up. Evertonians just know that a deadline day South American unknown is readying his suitcase.

But back to Sunday, and as he stood there arms crossed, two thoughts will have filled his mind: the Spaniard could have brought on Kone for the tiring and out-of-sorts Ross Barkley, and moved the Ivorian closer to Lukaku, allowing Steven Pienaar to operate as is his preference with Leighton Baines.

Or the option he chose, which he no doubt will have had designs of enforcing before kick-off given Bryan Oviedo’s fitness levels and the need for Seamus Coleman to head into the City clash with minutes under his belt following his own injury troubles.

It very almost rescued a point, with Coleman guilty of missing two glaring opportunities – the first horribly dragged after a beautifully disguised pass from Stones, and then the same combination saw the defender flick on Baines’ corner leaving the unmarked Coleman with a simple tap-in. But he skied his shot, and the game was up.

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Martinez was impressive in his first year. A record 21 wins from a 38-game season, a fifth-place finish, a strong identity based on possession football with a recruitment strategy focused on developing the stars of tomorrow to boot.

The club was sold the promise of being taken ‘back to where it belongs’ – with Champions League football – in his very first press conference in June 2013, but with him hell-bent on sticking to his principles, there is a feeling now that Everton’s status as a top six or seven side is ebbing away.

There have been other cases in recent times. Just ask fans of Leeds United and Nottingham Forest, who have suffered relegation, the likes of Sunderland, Newcastle and Aston Villa whose situations are perilous.

However bad Manchester United have become since the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign, they will never lose their status as one of the big clubs. Of course, they will look on enviously at the goings-on at their neighbours and try to emulate their youth development project. But Everton’s status in the top echelons of the top flight, is in real danger.

If the club were to sign a new goalkeeper, to put Tim Howard out of his misery, of what calibre would he exactly be? What’s the expectation of fans? Jack Butland? Do me a favour. Even Liverpool just offered Simon Mignolet a new five-year deal.

With the scores level on Sunday, Howard’s catch from a routine cross was greeted with sarcastic cheers. It was not the first time the American has been subjected to such lowbrow irony from his own supporters.

Any crumb of momentum that had been built after Gareth Barry’s deflected equaliser was lost with those jeers. It transcended onto the pitch and into the minds of the players.

But solving the goalkeeping issue at Goodison is just one of the problems. Goodison simply just isn’t up to scratch, as a home ground in a league where creating a bear-pit for clubs less economically privileged is essential. It’s lost any sense of fear-factor carried over from the David Moyes years.

Fortress Goodison was a thing under Moyes. Under the lights, there were big victories over United in 2005, in the FA Cup against Liverpool in 2009 and several times against City and Chelsea. But since the start of last season, Everton have won 10 out of 31 games at the famous old ground.

You sense visiting the place that the residents are just waiting for something to happen, not only on the pitch, but also in the boardroom.

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Then there’s John Stones. The type of error that nearly came from over-playing against Tottenham in his own six-yard box manifested itself leading up to Swansea’s first goal. A sloppy, under-cooked back-pass had Howard flinging a foot at Ayew.

There was only one outcome, Gylfi Sigurdsson dispatching a fourth penalty for a visiting side to Goodison in the last four League games – with all of them having a direct impact on the result. While Howard perhaps ought to have used his footballing intelligence to withdraw his leg, this was Stones’ doing.

It is not the first time he has been punished for a lackadaisical piece of defending in his own area. While he was slightly unfortunate with the crucial penalty awarded against him in the 4-3 defeat to Stoke last month, it was a risky challenge, and his form has undoubtedly dipped with speculation over his future.

Stones handed in a transfer request last summer, but the club stood firm resolutely believing him to be the jewel in the crown, and the player around which the side could be built. But now he appears to have had his head turned.

His body language, and call to home fans to ‘calm down’, are suggestive of a man who is counting down the days to his departure. Stones is now a luxury item that is in danger of becoming academic to the club’s future, and rather a pathway to the kind of investment Martinez has done little to warrant, given that this is no longer a squad he can say he’s inherited.

The issue of quite what Everton would do with £60million for either Stones or Lukaku, or for both, would fill Blues supporters with a sense of foreboding rather than excitement. It is not a subject for today, but given the predictability of this defeat at home to Swansea, it is a prospect that is looming larger than ever.

The night Muhamed Besic provided his Marouane Fellaini moment for Everton

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There is renewed optimism around the famous old ground. The sense of panic was snowballing in the terraces following back-to-back home defeats either side of Christmas, but after an encouraging draw against an in-form Tottenham, here was the huge win the fans have so desperately craved.

Goodison under the lights is known for its aura, but the locals have become restless in recent times. For all Romelu Lukaku’s brilliance in leading the line this term, so few of his team-mates have followed his example and so few of his goals have led to tangible success.

Lukaku was again relied upon to hand Everton the advantage in the Capital One Cup semi-final with Manchester City, getting on the end of Gareth Barry’s cross to nod past Willy Caballero despite having already picked up an ankle knock.

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But it was a night when the good side of Goodison shone, as Barry had hoped for with his pre-match call to arms.

The decision to stick with Joel Robles in goal for the first leg may have had something to do with this, but the selection of Muhamed Besic provided the side with an inner steel that has been lacking.

There has been frustrations over the fitness of James McCarthy, who was rushed back too soon from a hip injury, and Tom Cleverley – whose calf problems reared themselves again in the first-half – but Besic has taken his opportunity.

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The midfielder made twice as many tackles as the rest of Everton combined in the first-half, helping disrupt City’s creative powerhouse Yaya Toure and launch counter-attacks with possession won.

Evertonians are knowledgable watchers of their side, and the appreciation for Besic – whose stats of six tackles, five dribbles, two shots and 58 passes reflect the completeness of his performance – was shown in him winning 60 per cent of the vote for man of the match on social media.

There was a sense among Everton fans against Stoke, with the side 3-2 in front heading into the final 15 minutes, that had David Moyes still been in charge the Blues would’ve seen out the game having tightened up the midfield.

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Besic remained on the bench as he watched Mark Hughes’ side stage a dramatic late comeback, with Steven Naismith, Romelu Lukaku, Arouna Kone and Gerard Deulofeu all remaining on the pitch.

In the week leading up to Spurs last Sunday, I was convinced the Bosnian should’ve started. He has been made to bide his time since his £4million arrival from Hungarian side Ferencvaros in July 2014, but with the side leaking more goals at home than anyone else, this was his time.

The opening 45 minutes against Mauricio Pochettino’s side was every bit as one-sided as Everton’s dominant display before the interval against Norwich a few weeks’ ago, but Martinez didn’t address this at half-time regardless of Dele Alli’s equaliser so close to the interval.

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Just as Besic ought to have been introduced for either McCarthy or Cleverley against Stoke, his energetic and tenacious playing style was what the Blues were devoid of against Spurs until his introduction on the hour-mark.

Besic hasn’t looked back. Whether by accident or design, Martinez has opened up a can of tattoo clad frustration.

Hugo Lloris made a flying save to deny an exquisite volley that would’ve raised the roof of the Gwladys Street, but the manner he helped take the game away from a rampant Spurs was every bit as impressive.

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Besic’s skill in the centre-circle to move away from David Silva last night would not have been out of place on the training fields of Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane these days, but it brought back memories of another fine midweek victory over City.

The drag-back to set up another Everton attack was reminiscent of Marouane Fellaini’s pirouette on Craig Bellamy in the 2-0 win over the Citizens six years ago, and comparisons can be made between the two midfielders.

Fellaini became a fans’ favourite for his curly hair and impassioned goal celebrations, but it was that moment of skill that many Evertonians remember as an act that demonstrated a point had been turned for the Belgian on Merseyside after questions had previously been asked over the £15million signing.

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Besic was brought to Finch Farm for considerably less but with a reputation for having performed so well against Lionel Messi at the World Cup, despite being unable to prevent the Barcelona player from scoring a wondrous goal in the group stage game at the Maracana.

The 23-year-old made the worst possible start to life at Goodison when he tried to be too clever in a dangerous part of the pitch, minutes into his debut against Chelsea at the start of last season.

His costly mistake led to Diego’s Costa wrapping up a heavy 6-3 defeat – a jolt to the Blues’ pre-season objective of a top-four finish which in truth Everton never really recovered from.

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Despite the error, Evertonians have taken to the German-born Bosnian, and the manner in which he operated in the three with Barry and the brilliant Ross Barkley – most crucially in the final six minutes with the side reduced to 10 men – was quite superb.

Martinez’s desperation to rush McCarthy back from injury is understandable given the side have won once in seven league games in his absence, but after the Spaniard’s glowing assessment of Barry’s renaissance this season, the opportunity is there for Besic to stake a claim for a regular place. He’s made the best possible start.

Why Jose Mourinho becoming Manchester United manager could signal bad news for Everton fans

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Everton find themselves at a crossroads in their season; eight points off the drop zone and in no immediate danger of being dragged into a relegation battle in the same way they were 12 months ago, and remarkably only six points off the Champions League places.

The Toffees have looked impressive going forward this campaign with the youthful triumvirate of Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley formidable on their day, but the defensive weaknesses that spread uncertainty throughout the squad last term have resurfaced during a run of very winnable fixtures that has so far failed to garner a single victory.

Roberto Martinez was in the end happy to settle for a point at home to Crystal Palace in between wins chucked away at Bournemouth and Norwich, and then with the potential scalp of a weakened Leicester on offer, Claudio Ranieri’s men rolled up their sleeves and recorded another deserved away win.

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Sloppiness at throw-ins replaced frailties from crosses in the 3-2 loss at Goodison Park, and some of the Blues’ brightest stars will certainly be aware of the problems at clubs harbouring title-winning ambitions – one they batted off in the summer and one that has fared slightly better in the past.

Through sheer stubbornness, Everton held onto John Stones amid incremental offers from Chelsea in the summer, and the Stamford Bridge outfit’s toils this season have served to justify why the former Barnsley defender was so ferociously sought after.

Despite the loss to the Foxes being the first since the ageing Phil Jagielka has been out of the side through injury in late October, there is little indication that Martinez’s men can belatedly usurp the tranche of sides enjoying fine seasons in the European places, with the worst defensive record in the top half of the table.

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Meanwhile, the sacking of Jose Mourinho as Chelsea manager on Thursday afternoon, coupled with the emergence of Pep Guardiola being available from next summer has heightened speculation surrounding Louis van Gaal’s tenure at Manchester United.

United are without a win in six games – the club’s longest streak since 1998 – and with fans chanting Mourinho’s name midway through Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Norwich at Old Trafford, there is gathering momentum behind the prospect of the Portuguese making an immediate return to management in the Premier League.

Mourinho may have struggled to lure the crown jewel in Stones in the summer, but should he be appointed Manchester United manager, he may just walk away with the whole trunk.

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Arguably, a combination of United’s defence and Everton’s swaggering front three would be the perfect mix in this most unpredictable of seasons.

Van Gaal’s problems has far from been in the defensive third, with the side already having kept nine clean sheets this term, but should the Glazers spectacularly turn to the Portuguese to bring the disaffected off their seats in the Stretford End once more, he could do far worse than raid Finch Farm for eligible reinforcements.

The obvious riposte would be to call this Moyes Mk II after he made Marouane Fellaini his first major signing in June 2013, but the so-called ‘Chosen One’ had the right club, just the third best player, behind Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman.

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Lukaku and Barkley both underperformed last season, and would have rightly set themselves personal goals in order to be reconsidered as two of the finest players in European football.

With the pair now excelling, they have been let down by the more experienced members of the squad. The lack of leadership at crucial moments in recent games and a soft approach to killing off teams has led to a return of just three points from the last 12 available.

While Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy have been the headline acts at Leicester aptly served by a support cast that will keep those prized assets away from the clutches of clubs in need of desperate additions this January, Everton need to start delivering with the level of consistency expected from them to prevent the ‘golden generation’ that Martinez speaks of from disbanding.

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The problems at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United have dominated the back pages, keeping the the sense of frustration among Evertonians flickering somewhat under the radar.

But with only one win in six,  a promising start that had seen a solid return from playing last season’s top eight in their opening 10 fixtures has been undone.

The shadow of Mourinho hanging over his old friend van Gaal is very real, and should the mediocre results continue at Everton, it is one that will loom just as ominously over the blue half of Merseyside.

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‘When Kevin Keegan’s England beat us, we knew something had to change’ – how Germany became the dominant force of world football

‘Before Klinsmann, we had a group of good players behaving badly. Now we have a team that is difficult to hate.’ – Ronald Reng

Raphael Honigstein spoke about his latest book, 'Das Reboot: How German football reinvented itself and Conquered the World' at the London Sports Writing Festival

Raphael Honigstein’s book, ‘Das Reboot: How German football reinvented itself and Conquered the World’ was discussed at the London Sports Writing Festival

Germany finished runners-up at the 2002 World Cup, but it was far from seen as a hard luck story.

Brazil, with Ronaldo on a personal mission to make up for his failure in France four years earlier, were worthy winners in South Korea and Japan.

For Rudi Voller’s side, it represented progress nonetheless, with the embarrassment of failing to emerge from the group stages of the European Championship finals in 2000 as fresh in the minds as the subsequent 5-1 loss to England in Munich towards the end of the World Cup qualifying campaign.

Germany had a rather gentle passage to the final, having beaten Paraguay, the United States and hosts South Korea in the knock-outs, but they were comfortably defeated by Luis Felipe Scolari’s side thanks to Ronaldo’s brace.

Had Germany prevailed against the Brazilians, it would have stood as something of a false dawn, resembling the manner in which Italy triumphed over France in the 2006 final.

The Italians had created a club mentality in the face of turmoil back home caused by the match-fixing scandal, and many of the players who excelled at the tournament were in the autumn of their careers.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought a stubborn approach to the German national team in 2004

Jurgen Klinsmann brought a stubborn approach to the national team in 2004

While Italy took the glory, something more profound had taken hold of hosts Germany, who would prove the greatest beneficiaries in the longer term.

Just as France used the 1998 competition to create a sense of unity between football and the nation as a whole that would spill over into the following decade, the wave of optimism sweeping back into German hearts and minds under manager Jurgen Klinsmann made their semi-final exit far from a disaster.

‘2006 was the real turning point for German football,’ Raphael Honigstein, author of Das Reboot: How German Football Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World, said at the London Sports Writing Festival on Thursday. ‘Germans started to feel good again about German football and Germany – those two things are closely linked. Everyone started to buy into what Klinsmann was doing.’

Honigstein says the move towards greater emphasis on club academies was a vital step

Honigstein says the move towards more emphasis on club academies was vital

Honigstein was joined at Lord’s by Ronald Reng – promoting his book Matchdays: The hidden story of the Bundesliga – who marked the point of transition further back, with the 3-0 defeat by a Portugal ‘B side’ at Euro 2000 representing ground zero during Erich Ribbeck’s tenure.

‘After that loss, there was a really uncomfortable press conference. The nation had gone out in disgrace, and Germany took a long hard look at themselves,’ Reng reflected. ‘Even Kevin Keegan’s England had managed to beat us!

‘We were playing a system that relied on man-to-man marking seen 30 years ago. As a boy growing up in West Germany, you were even embarrassed by the way we won. The physical approach has now been replaced with a focus on entertaining.  Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan in the mid 1990s really led the way with zonal marking that made Germany reconsider the need for a sweeper.

‘It was only then that the German FA realised we had a team full of defensive midfielders. Desperate attempts were made to find creative players across the world with German grandmothers!’

Kevin Keegan's highest point in international management was beating Germany at Euro 2000

Kevin Keegan’s highest point in international management was beating Germany at Euro 2000

The boost of being announced as the winning World Cup bid in 2000 was precisely what Germany needed given the extent of the malaise on the pitch.

‘We didn’t want to embarrass ourselves at our own World Cup,’ continued Honigstein. ‘We admittedly looked at the Premier League and French model and created a sense of momentum through the Bundesliga clubs working together. This was fundamental and money was also key.

‘The boom time of the ’90s in Germany was over at the turn of the century. Spending 10 million on an academy was seen as worth the investment. A major emphasis was placed on this.’

The dour and relentless manner in which Germany bulldozed teams into submission had become ineffective, but Klinsmann kick-started the process of change, bringing with him an American mentality whereby the national side was treated more as a club team.

Joachim Low learned from Klinsmann as his right-hand man at the 2006 World Cup

Joachim Low (right) learned from Klinsmann at the 2006 World Cup

‘He changed the attitude of German football,’ said Reng.  ‘Before, the players were just allowed to play, but now we weren’t just relying on ability. The squad woke up to the fact they had to work scientifically in order to succeed and they developed their own tactics.  Before, it was a group of talented players behaving badly. Now, we have a team that is difficult to hate.’

On the 2006 World Cup, Honigstein added: ‘Klinsmann really used the energy of the home crowd. He didn’t have the best players, but he brought a real professional approach. Things that seem totally banal nowadays, like eating the right foods, sports psychology and the shift in goalkeeper training, all started under him.’

Joachim Low took over from Klinsmann in 2006 having worked under him, but it was not until 2014 that the nation overcame a substantial mental block created by the fallow period without success dating back to 1996.

Runners-up to Spain at the 2008 European Championship finals, Germany lost by the same 1-0 scoreline to the same opposition two years later in South Africa, before Italy’s Mario Balotelli broke their hearts in the semi-finals of Euro 2012.

The ‘re-boot’ was 10 years in the making, the watershed moment in Holland and Belgium ending infamously with Mesut Ozil and Thomas Muller taking apart Fabio Capello’s England in Bloemfontein. Much has changed in the way we now stereotypically view German football.

Mario Gotze stretches to score the only goal against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final

Mario Gotze scores the only goal against Argentina in the 2014 World Cup final

When we think of Brazil last summer, we think of the surreal nature of the 7-1 crushing of the hosts, the way Manuel Neuer played like an outfield player against Algeria and of course Mario Gotze’s goal in the final.

But how difficult will it be for Germany to keep advancing? The Spanish model of possession football enjoyed plenty of success in a four-year period that brought three major honours.

But death by asphyxiation, wearing their opponents down through a breathless demonstration of tiki-taka, was brutally undone by Holland and exposed once more by Chile at the World Cup 17 months ago.

The danger is that if Germany stand still, they too will eventually come unstuck in half the time it took to rebuild, but the process of reform has already begun at club level.

German boss Jurgen Klopp is trying to impose a high-pressing game at Liverpool

Jurgen Klopp is trying to impose a high-pressing game at Liverpool

‘There’s a movement, headed by the Red Bull Leipzig manager (Ralf Rangnick), which is all about the high pressing game, but I think they’re trying to be too smart,’ added Reng.

‘It’s obsessed with pace and getting in behind teams. It’s full of running and they do point to numbers for its success. But I think this is a very dangerous movement as if you teach youngsters too much about a game based on pace, they’ll lose sight of technique.’

Honigstein disagreed. The high-pressing (or gegenpressing as it is known in Germany) is something Jurgen Klopp wants Liverpool to adopt in the Premier League, and he placed his concerns elsewhere.

‘Thomas Tuchel has shown at Borussia Dortmund that this system works and teams can adapt. I think it’s more that we are in danger of letting players have things too easy. Maybe they could prepare on poorer pitches, for example. Now it’s more about small steps to optimise the success, it’s not a change of model that’s needed.’

Ronald Reng's book Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga looks at how supporters have a say in Germany

Ronald Reng’s book Matchdays: The Hidden Story of the Bundesliga looks at fan-presence in Germany

England and the Premier League could most certainly do with making a few giant strides to catch up with their German counterparts, at least in terms of the relationship between clubs and their supporters.

It was a subject brought back into public consciousness during Bayern Munich’s recent Champions League visit to face Arsenal at the Emirates, with many visitors taking their seats five minutes into the game to protest against the £64 ticket price.

While many supporters of Premier League sides have campaigned for cheaper matchday experiences, the biggest sides in Germany are now struggling to control the hardcore contingent, and Reng believes there needs to be a balance between supporters being heard and clubs honouring the need for financial growth.

‘Fans are not treated as customers in Germany,’ said Reng. ‘Supporters now behave like a power base. Fans don’t care about the game anymore; it’s like they’re there to praise themselves. They sing throughout regardless of what’s happening on the pitch and they feel like they are the show. The fans have taken over.’

Bayern fans create an incredible noise but sometimes don't react to events on the pitch

Bayern fans create an incredible noise but often don’t react to events on the pitch

Honigstein added: ‘German clubs realise that despite all the commercial deals, the number one market is still the local market – they never lose sight of this. It’s taken time for success as things have been done organically and there’s been a few false dawns. But Bayern and Dortmund are good examples of how it’s worked.’

Klopp caused a stir last weekend when he expressed his disappointment at seeing huge swathes of empty seats at Anfield towards the end of his side’s 2-1 defeat by Crystal Palace, and while Germany is not entirely immune from the culture of fans leaving early, it is not something the Reds boss would have expected so soon into his reign.

‘I think he’s been a bit surprised by the atmosphere,’ said Honigstein. ‘You see even in Europa League games how German fans behave. Klopp has found Liverpool to be not quite as it was advertised. He came from Dortmund (with the famous Yellow Wall) and Mainz prior to that.

‘He’s acknowledged that he needs to change the atmosphere. He’s got himself heavily involved in the new stand and he’s got the ability to get players to play for him. Some managers don’t have his charisma. He has the ability to play players like an instrument. That’s what makes him the full package. He’s a great personality not just for Liverpool but for the whole of English football.’

Raphael Honigstein and Ronald Reng were speaking to Amy Lawrence at the London Sports Writing Festival. For more information on this year’s events, visit the website or via Twitter.

Michael Calvin: We’re dealing with human beings. If you praise them, they purr and if you criticise, they fight back

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Michael Calvin will be speaking about The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager alongside Henry Winter, Patrick Barclay and John Cross at Lord’s

Football management has become a bit of a cause célèbre. It’s the job many virtually assume via the popular computer game, the opportunity many former players are afforded while a few dedicate their lives to coaching badges in the vain hope they will work their way up to the top.

Once in charge of the most celebrated clubs in the land, they are there to be shot at, to be made accountable and sometimes be provoked into five-minute diatribes that land them with an FA fine.

People say they are paid millions of pounds, but at what price? That’s the question award-winning sports writer Michael Calvin explores in his latest book, ‘Living on the Volcano: The Secrets of Surviving as a Football Manager,’ and the subject brought again to the fore during the international break.

David Moyes was sacked as Real Sociedad manager less than a year into the job

David Moyes was sacked as Real Sociedad manager less than a year into the job

Often seen by owners as a natural juncture to assess how the season is shaping, there has been five managerial casualties in the Football League in the past week, with Blackburn’s Gary Bowyer the most recent to be relieved of his post at the Championship club. The trend is not exclusive to England, with David Moyes being dismissed at Real Sociedad following a run of disastrous results in La Liga.

Ahead of speaking at the London Sports Writing Festival, Calvin revisits the months spent collating interviews with managers, and his motivations behind a book that has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award.

‘The real incentive was to try to humanize what is a pretty dehumanizing job,’ Calvin began. ‘Everyone knows that football managers are recognizable…their sound bites become pretty familiar. But who are these guys? Do people really understand them and know them?

‘One thing that was really interesting talking to them was that, okay, they understand the world in which they work, the modern media press conference is a bit of a coconut shy of their agendas, but they don’t actually say that much of real insight or relevance, quite simply because it’s not worth the aggravation.

‘The great thing about writing a book is that you can contextualize everything in about 100,000 words. One of the common themes is that judgments are made that are pretty instant, usually cruel and sometimes abusive.

‘People make those judgments without actually knowing them, understanding their job and who they are, so a lot of what the guys in the book tried to do was provide an insight into not just their jobs but how they do it and who they are.’

Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho has found himself under increasing pressure this season with his side struggling for results

Jose Mourinho has found himself under increasing pressure at Chelsea

The modern football manager has myriad distractions to handle simultaneously when results are all that matter. Once the topic of the moment, every press conference is about his future.

The continual plight of Chelsea, for example, has even become a bit of sideshow itself to the on-going battle between the club’s manager Jose Mourinho, the English press and the Football Association. The Portuguese’s unwavering defence of his players, deflecting his venom onto the doctor, the referee, or even his peers, has become tiresome.

‘But he’s an interesting guy,’ Calvin notes. ‘He lives by the sword and dies by the sword. There’s someone who manipulates the media and most of his public announcements have an agenda of one sort or another.

‘There’s been a real disconnect this season at Chelsea right from the controversy involving the doctor (Dr Eva Carneiro) which was utterly disrespectful. It was surprising because dressing rooms are built upon professional respect.

‘Those players would have had a lot of respect for the doctor. Mourinho is someone whose behaviour and anger is very theatrical; a lot of managers use this.

‘Aidy Boothroyd once punched a wall at half-time in the dressing room and had a go at the oldest and youngest members of his team, but then when walking out for the second-half he was completely calm and rational. He did this for effect.

‘Perhaps the way modern management is going is that the younger manager is moving away from the teacup throwing spittle-flecked full-on frontal assault on players, verbally and occasionally physically.

‘It’s much more empathetic now. Managers have to understand they are working in a much more delicate working environment. Modern dressing rooms generally are multicultural melting pots so there are certain groups of players culturally who will not take kindly to being dug out in front of their peers.

‘Criticism can be administered now more subtly in private because southern Europe, South America, Asia – if you scream at someone in a dressing room situation they take that as profoundly disrespectful.’

Everton manager Roberto Martinez is someone who likes to treat his players like human beings

Roberto Martinez is someone who likes to treat his players like human beings

The whole nature of modern footballers is changing. At one end of the spectrum, young players at academies aged 11 years old are being courted by agents, have boot deals by the age of 14 and millionaires by the time they are 17.

Everton manager Roberto Martinez told Calvin, ‘I’m dealing with a footballer once or twice a week, when they play games. But actually I’m dealing with a human being seven days a week. The human side of management is a vital part of the job.’

Calvin wanted to get a really good feel for managers across the spectrum, speaking to Brendan Rodgers while he was still at Liverpool, right down to Micky Adams taking Tranmere out of the Football League.

Calvin spent the day with 25 bosses across the top four divisions in England, working with players whose wages ranged from £200,000 to £220 a week, watching them work not just in a training context but in all aspects of their job; that was the thing he says he felt most gratified about.

‘I was very lucky that some of the managers had read some of the other books I’ve done, so they understood what I was about in terms of providing a balanced piece in a way that was authentic, raw and real.

‘People in football don’t shy away from the realities of their job. The one thing they gave me, which is probably the one luxury they don’t have, is their time.

‘Having this was a huge privilege but it also gave me a chance to actually look at the big picture, rather than judging them on a five-minute press conference which doesn’t give much more than the superficiality of the job away.

‘We’re dealing with human beings. If you praise them they purr and if you criticise them they wince and their instinct is to fight back. It’s human nature that everyone likes to be loved, so they probably talk more when they’re doing well.’

Arsene Wenger has emerged the other side of a storm to still lead Arsenal

Arsene Wenger has emerged the other side of a storm to still lead Arsenal

Two managers who have stood the test of time are Arsene Wenger and Paul Tisdale. Wenger remains in charge at Arsenal having come through a trophy-barren run, while Tisdale is the second longest-serving manager in the English Football League having overseen two promotions with Exeter since taking over in June 2006.

‘Wenger and Tisdale have had time to bed into the job. The problem with the job is that it’s institutionalized impatience. The stats say the average time in management is 15 months; that goes down to eight or nine in the Championship, which is a complete drama house.

‘Rodgers I believe is what I call a survivable failure – he’ll get another job. He might need to reinvent himself in La Liga or somewhere like that but I think he’ll be fine.

‘But today there’s talk of Garry Monk (at Swansea City) going and he’s one of the most impressive guys I’ve met. It’s interesting how themes recur because the dispute at Swansea is the fact they want to impose a director of football above him.

‘It’s a bizarre one as Swansea have always come across as an exceedingly well-run football club, yet they appear to have made a strategic summersault because of the run of seven or eight games, where they feel Monk needs someone above him to give him a hand.

Garry Monk is reportedly under pressure with Swansea reassessing its structure

Garry Monk is reportedly under pressure with Swansea reassessing its structure

‘I can understand why he would balk at that as he is trying to develop his own style and I think he’s not naïve that if they don’t improve results he’s in trouble. But the fact they’re saying they’re going to do something completely different now with a director of football is problematic because who do you bring in?

‘I spent some time recently with Chris Ramsey at QPR, who had Neil Warnock almost hoisted upon him. Neil came in to help out in a position as director of football, and two weeks later he’s the interim manager while Chris has been sacked.

‘Football management is full of insecurities so if you’re a manager, and the club appoint a director of football above you and something tells you he still has managerial ambitions, there’s obviously going to be a fissure that opens up and there’s bound to be problems.

‘The one thing that struck me about Garry was his modernity. He comes from an old school background as a player but he really has a strategic approach to management. It’s right that he hasn’t become a bad manager overnight, but it’s the same with all managers; they all end up living a bit of a lie.

‘Eddy Howe is another one of the managers I came across in writing the book, who I captured on the way up and Bournemouth are now experiencing problems. Those problems inevitably reflect on you as a person because you live it 24 hours a day. As he says in the book, ‘I’m not superhuman, but as I manager I can’t be upset all week as my players look to me for strength.

Brendan Rodgers developed a closeness with the media when things were going well

Brendan Rodgers developed a closeness with the media during good times

‘Rodgers talked about viewing himself as a welfare officer who was ultimately gunned down by the fact that the team wasn’t good enough. No matter how good his sound bites were, they didn’t really protect him.’

Calvin writes of meeting Mark Hughes, when the Stoke City manager spoke of football as being a unique sport for magnifying failure.

‘Football managers are now a bit like matadors. They’re in the technical area, everyone’s looking at them. Their personalities are dissected much more nowadays than players. By and large, most players now have vanilla personalities; you can take them or leave them.’

Football management is now much more personality driven, with huge pay-offs when relationships break down midway through a lengthy contract. Rodgers walked away with £7million in compensation, a ludicrous sum of money, but the strain was what resonated with Calvin.

Martin Ling has recently made a managerial comeback at Swindon Town

Martin Ling has recently made a managerial comeback at Swindon Town

‘The book begins with Martin Ling undergoing chemotherapy in hospital. That’s a treatment that has echoes of the asylum really. He was desperate to get back in (to management). Speaking to Brian McDermott, his theory is that a lot people in football are depressed, but they don’t realize it because the game is so brutal anyway.

‘There’s someone in Brian who’s probably a lot happier now as chief scout at Arsenal, going around the world assessing players whereas at Leeds, his last managerial post, he was treated like dirt by an owner (Massimo Cellino) who has been very bad for that football club.

‘These are ordinary guys doing an extraordinary job with the same instincts and inclinations as most of us. They just happen to be good in that particular area of expertise.

‘They have really disconnected lives…someone like Ian Holloway moved home 33 times in his managerial career, and had to handle the deafness of his children, his wife having cancer. It is a problem that other people have to deal with as well – what I hope is that people can understand their job that little bit more.

‘On a Saturday, the instinct of some is to get on to Twitter and unload on a manager, but when you type those 140 characters that are full of bile, just pause for thought before you post it, because they have the right to be better understood.’

Michael Calvin will be appearing at the London Sports Writing Festival, Thursday to Sunday. For more information, please visit the website, or via Twitter.