Sunday, 19 March 2017

Wenger must leave Arsenal at the end of the 2016/17 season

Arsene Wenger needs to leave Arsenal at the end of the season if the club is to challenge for honours in the near future.

He will still go down in the history of the Gunners and he has done many great things for the club but both parties need a change of atmosphere.

Although the 67-year-old has brought silverware to the north London club, his reign will probably become infamously remembered for the number of times Arsenal has finished fourth in the English Premier League, which has happened six times.

He has been praised for his ability to work on a limited transfer budget, especially when the club had spent money on the Emirates Stadium, and he has turned a club once known for playing the most boring football in the United Kingdom into a team synonymous with entertaining football.

In the past the Gunners produced entertaining football and results but now there is style with little substance. He has become so focused on the aesthetics of football and his team are not very strong in the defensive phase of the game.

For the seventh season in a row, Arsenal was eliminated in the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Wenger lamented the refereeing in the second leg against Bayern Munich but when you lose 10-2 on aggregate, a controversial Laurent Koscielny sending-off is the least of your worries.

The Frenchman is also keen to highlight refereeing errors than on the flaws of his team. Regardless of how good or bad the refereeing is in a particular game, Arsenal has a history for not being able to cope with pressure and expectations.

Wenger has spent big money on players in recent seasons but it does not necessarily mean he has invested wisely. Attacking midfielder Mesut Ozil was bought for £42.5 million in 2013, winger Alexis Sanchez for £31.7m in 2014, and defender Shkodran Mustafi for £35m as well as central midfielder Granit Xhaka for £30m in 2016.

Ozil and Alexis have been great players for the North Londoners but the verdict is still out on Mustafi and Xhaka and they have not acquired a centre-forward with superior skills and a more prolific strike rate than Olivier Giroud.

Searching for out-and-out strikers has been a problem in recent seasons as the likes of Lucas Perez and Yaya Sanogo look like nothing more than bench-warmers.

Arsenal has gone 13 years without a Premier League title and it seems that the drought will get longer and longer. Fresh ideas are needed at the north London club if it is going to be a title contender. It may require a change in tactics or mental approach.

The squad from the 1997/98 double-winning season is gone as well as “The Invincibles” from 2003/04. The Gunners have also lost two finals in European competitions. Recent FA Cups don’t prove enough atonement for not winning more Premier League titles or performing well in Europe.

Arsenal needs fresh ideas as well as a fresh approach and it doesn’t look like Wenger will win more silverware with the Gunners. It is time to leave.

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Brisbane Lions 2016 Review - A Season of Regression and Humiliation

Disappointment and a lack of competitiveness were evident to see throughout the 2016 AFL season for Brisbane.

In the third season with Justin Leppitsch as coach, the Lions went backwards in terms of results, performances and player development.

Although some promising youngsters have emerged such as Josh Schache, Rhys Mathieson, and Jarrad Jansen, Brisbane looks like it is in worse shape than what it was in 2013 when Michael Voss was sacked as senior coach and Angus Johnson stepped down as club chairman.

Dismal Performances, Dismal Results

There were many occasions in which the Lions played some dour and uninspiring football and that should not be a surprise considering that the Queenslander club lost 19 games.

The 138-point defeat to Adelaide in Round 20 was clearly the worst of the lot but most of the other losses were just as humiliating and embarrassing. More often than not, Brisbane looked non-competitive and devoid of inspiration and determination.

Injury woes did have an effect on Leppitsch’s squad selections and missing players such as Dayne Beams, Allen Christensen, Tom Bell, and Tom Rockliff for parts of the season, if not all of it, meant that the remaining players available had to improve on their performances. Unfortunately many experienced players underperformed this season.

Aside from the absentees due to injuries and the underachievement of key players in 2016, Leppitsch showed a lack of tactical know-how and motivational skills. He couldn’t structure the team properly or inspire the players to keep battling in tough circumstances.

Many Brisbane fans complain about a lack of effort from the players but the coaching staff have not shown that they are capable of analysing mistakes and rectifying them.

The Lions players handball and chip the footy sideways and backwards and they are easily placed under pressure. The defence is usually very open and there is no evident structure in the defensive 50.

Leppitsch wants to implement a run and gun style of play but that requires the players to think, move, and dispose of the ball quickly. At their best, the Lions can play in that style but the players usually go into their shells against stronger opposition and ‘Leppa’ has done little to shrug off their fears.

From seven victories in 2014, four last year, and just three this year, Brisbane is clearly regressing under Leppitsch and it is doubtful that he can possibly turn things around.

Promising Youngsters Offer Hope for the Future

Although Brisbane finished 17th on the ladder, there have been some youngsters who showed some glimpses of potential throughout 2016.

Key forwards Schache and Eric Hipwood are lanky targets but they showed mobility and some ability to read the play. With more time to bulk-up in the gym and greater know-how of beating their opponents, they can be the future goal-kicking duo of the Lions.

Midfielders Mathieson, Jansen and Ben Keays were given regular playing time this season. Although Keays faded as the season went on, Jansen demonstrated his ability to collect contested possessions, and Mathieson plays with the swagger and confidence that belies his age.

In defence Harris Andrews was solid again as a key defender despite a lack of support and Tom Cutler played like the running defender that the Lions are in desperate need of.

What Should Brisbane Do to Make 2017 a Better Year?

Sacking Leppitsch as coach is a must. Even if he was given the task to build-up a list with youngsters, the team as a collective are poor and the results show that the Lions are going backwards.

Fans with rose-coloured glasses praise him for giving youngsters a chance but ‘Leppa’ and assistants aren’t developing the skills and decision making of the players.

Robert Walls granted playing opportunities to young footballers at the Brisbane Bears and became part of the ‘three-peat’ at the Brisbane Lions but they needed a great coach like Leigh Matthews to place them into the right positions and give them discipline and belief. ‘Wallsy’ could not have done what ‘Lethal’ did.

An experienced coach like Mark ‘Bomber’ Thompson or Brett Ratten would be good or an assistant with a good pedigree like Stuart Dew or Simon Lloyd could be handy. Either way, Brisbane needs a senior coach with no previous association with the Lions.

Changes at board level are required because Chairman Bob Sharpless has done little to construct new administration offices and training facilities. A majority of board members are civil engineers but an AFL club needs people with great business minds as well as a passion for footy. From the outside looking in, the current board does not display any of these qualities.

Although the players cannot be blamed entirely for the flaws of the board and the coaching staff, they still need to improve greatly in 2017. They need to embrace the views of the new coach if Leppitsch is sacked and they need to be a united group.

These footballers must show that they can play with skill and confidence and appreciate the fact that they are AFL footballers, not players in a suburban or country league.

Sunday, 26 June 2016

Glimmers of Hope for Brisbane Despite Richmond Defeat

Although the 2016 AFL season has been a dismal one for Brisbane, there are some positive signs for the future thanks to some of the youngsters that are emerging.

The Lions lost to Richmond by 42 points on Saturday and collectively they played uninspiring footy but there were some young players who showed that they deserve to be in the senior squad.

If there was one youngster that appealed to me more than the others, it was key forward Eric Hipwood.

He scored 3.2 from just seven disposals in only his second game of AFL football, which is quite impressive when great forwards like Wayne Carey and Jonathan Brown had to wait for their sixth and seventh games respectively to score their first senior goal.

His fellow key forward Josh Schache has played 13 games this season and against Richmond he had just eight touches but he scored a goal and set-up three others.

Both Hipwood and Schache were selected by Brisbane in the 2015 AFL draft and Lions coach Justin Leppitsch said after the game against the Tigers that they would be Brisbane’s key forwards of the future.

Currently it seems that Brisbane lacks a clear gameplan but Leppitsch should encourage the rest of the Lions team to supply the duo with as much footy as possible.

Although they are both slender in build and under 20 years old, they need regular playing time and the midfielders need to believe that Schache and Hipwood are two reliable targets in the forward 50.

In midfield the experienced players are not making a huge impact on games but youngsters like Rhys Mathieson and Jarrad Jansen displayed moments of quality.

Mathieson played his third game of AFL footy against the Tigers and he has been criticised for ducking but he showed that he has some skills. He had 24 disposals including 14 contested ones and he had seven skill involvements.

Jansen was playing his fourth game for Brisbane and although he only had 16 disposals, 13 of them were contested. The former Geelong midfielder also had six clearances, with Tom Rockliff having more with seven.

Overall the defeat to Richmond was due to another insipid performance from Brisbane and the Lions had more room to play in the final quarter because the Tigers had slowed down.

It is important for the Lions to see these youngsters emerge though because a number of senior players have not been performing well recently so their spots need to be put under pressure. Injuries have also played a part but these kids have to make everything count and take their chances at senior level.

Brisbane is not expected to climb up the AFL ladder anytime soon but the likes of Hipwood, Schache, Mathieson, and Jansen showed offer signs of hope for the long-suffering Lions supporters.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Brisbane coaching staff needs to be held to account

Brisbane needs to look at its coaching staff after the Lions succumbed to another defeat.

On Sunday the Lions lost to Melbourne by 63 points and although there was more effort than in the defeat against Collingwood, there were still some skill errors made and the inaccuracy in front of goal still remains.

To keep blaming the players or poor recruiting is narrow-minded in my view and certain aspects of Brisbane’s coaching need to be assessed.

If the press conference after the 78-point loss against the Magpies was anything to go by, head coach Justin Leppitsch seems to have lost faith in his own ability to coach the Lions.

This team has progressed little since 2014 and the players are inconsistent performers. Leppitsch from the outside looking in does not come across as a great strategist or a great motivator.

It is very easy to single out the senior coach and it is also easy to blame the players for a lack of ability or effort but how about the assistant coaches?

Leigh Harding and Scott Borlace are the development coaches but the results so far have shown that they have not done much to develop the players. They should be teaching the players to improve their skills and decision making.

Gary O’Donnell is the Skill Development and Training Coordinator but he has been at the club for too long. He probably is not the right person to assist Harding and Borlace.

Maybe it is time to hire someone who has been associated with successful clubs of recent seasons. What worked during the glory days doesn’t necessarily work now so O’Donnell could do with a change of atmosphere.

Mitch Hahn does not seem to be doing well as a defensive coach. Tackling, smothering, and spoiling need to be improved dramatically as well as the ability to use the ball well in defence.

Ben Hudson might be ideal as a ruck coach but coaching forwards should not be his role. He was never a prolific goalscorer so he is not the right guy to teach the players to kick accurately for goal. Brisbane needs a forward coach who can teach the players to make leads, take marks, and kick goals.

Murray Davis is the transition strategy coach but it is clear the players struggle to get the ball out of defence or midfield.

Davis should be finding ways to get the ball moving with skill and effectiveness but it has not happened. Brisbane lacks experienced players so he should realise that young players are not the type of players to dictate the play. The Lions need to be more instinctive when they play.

Danny Daly is the stoppage strategy coach but he seems to be doing a poor job. Brisbane struggles at stoppages and the Lions need to be better at winning the ball, closing down spaces, and marking opposition players. The Lions need to be quick at getting the ball out of congested areas.

Simon Black is the midfield coach but he should do more to teach the midfielders and make them follow his advice. He was one of the greats as a midfielder so he can advise the players on how to use the ball.

In addition to the assistant coaches, Brisbane reserves coach Shane Woewodin needs to be criticised for the woeful job he is doing. The Lions usually get thrashed by 100 points and some of these players have played in the senior squad.

What does Woewodin know about developing players or game plans? So far he is not producing players who can step into the senior squad and put pressure on under-performing players.

Coaches are put under the spotlight when their team is losing regularly but Leppitsch cannot have 100 per cent of the blame. The coaches around him need to improve or they need to go.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Brisbane was So Close to Victory Against Sydney

Brisbane lost to Sydney today but the Lions can take pride in the performance that they put on show, almost coming close to victory themselves.

Although the Lions only lead for a few minutes in the first quarter, they kept on persisting and they avoided another heavy defeat like the one they got last week against the Western Bulldogs.

There some were some players that under-performed in the three-point defeat but there were others that performed well in slippery conditions at the Gabba.

The Positives

Dayne Zorko was the standout for Brisbane with 33 disposals, seven tackles and a goal. He showed great fight and stamina and he used the ball well throughout the match. Pearce Hanley was also fantastic for the Lions, collecting 25 disposals, making 12 tackles and scoring two vital goals.

Mitch Robinson gathered 28 disposals and made seven tackles and he demonstrated once again that he is one of Brisbane’s toughest midfielders. He was a hard tackler and he went in hard into the contests.

Daniel Rich is a player that gets moved around the ground from time to time and he was a solid performer today. He touched the ball 23 times, made five tackles and he kicked two goals, showing that he can be a handy goal-scorer when he is in scoring range.

Allen Christensen touched the ball 17 times but he took seven marks and scored three goals, more than any other Brisbane player. He was usually present in the contest and he was slick in tight areas. After a tough 2015, this season he has shown that he is starting to be a key contributor for the Lions.

Ben Keays made his debut and got 11 disposals but he made eight tackles and kicked 1.1. It was not an amazing start to his AFL career but it was a solid introduction nevertheless.

Although Tom Rockliff gained 32 disposals, I felt that most of the other on-ballers made more of an impact with their ball use. 

The Negatives

Arguably the biggest disappointment from this game aside from the result itself was the performance of Lewis Taylor.

In his 50th match, his impact was not positive and he touched the ball only 11 times. There were a number of occasions in which he failed to control the ball and some of these opportunities to control the ball where at times in which he could have given Brisbane the lead.

Although Josh Walker scored the final goal of the match, his performance was rather poor. When he plays in the forward 50, he struggles to make leads, he has trouble taking marks, and he doesn’t create space for his teammates.

Walker works hard when he goes into the ruck so he is probably better off being a back-up to Stefan Martin than to become a key forward. Daniel McStay also struggled in the forward line, scoring one goal and only taking three marks.

Where Do the Lions Go From Here?

A trip to South Australia is next for Brisbane, who will play Port Adelaide at the Adelaide Oval next Sunday. The Power defeated Richmond on Saturday night but Brisbane needs to display the same determination and effort that they showed against Sydney.

Dayne Beams might play his first game of the season for the Lions against Port Adelaide, which would be great for the midfield, but Justin Leppitsch needs to fix his forward line.

Josh Schache needs to return after having a week’s rest so the Lions can have an additional target in the forward 50. It is unlikely that Walker will be dropped but Leppitsch is better off bringing back Jonathan Freeman and persisting with him because Walker doesn’t look like a player capable of becoming an elite key forward.

Brisbane showed that it was tough to beat but these sort of performances need to be replicated consistently. Defeating Port Adelaide might not be an easy task for the Lions but they must prove to all the other AFL sides that they are not a bunch of easybeats.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Brisbane Lions Must Makes Tactical Changes

Brisbane has lost its first three games of 2016 and it needs to make changes to its playing style. This “run and gun” game plan is not working for now so tweaks must be made to make it work.

The Lions are making the usual mistakes that they have been in recent years. They take too much time to think when they have the ball, their disposals by hand and foot are short, and they handball themselves into trouble.

When the player with the ball handballs to a teammate, he takes pressure off himself but the teammate who receives the footy is already under pressure. The player who receives the ball is not in space and usually there are opposition players ready to tackle him.

Brisbane’s players struggle to make smart decisions. When they dispose of the ball by going sideways and backwards, they lack purpose. It seems that they do it to maintain possession and nothing else. When the Lions play at a slow tempo or become indecisive, they invite pressure from the opposition. If they take a long time to bring the ball back into play, they allow enough time for the opposition to set themselves up.

When Brisbane has registered wins in the Leppitsch era, the Lions have usually had space to play the game or they created space for themselves when the opposition try to tighten things up.

For instance, Brisbane played fast, instinctive and direct footy when they defeated Port Adelaide and the Western Bulldogs at the Gabba in 2015. The Lions are not the type of team to chip the ball around the ground like Hawthorn and West Coast and the Western Bulldogs have shown under Luke Beveridge that youth is not an excuse. If you can organise a team and put your players into positions that suit their characteristics, they can do well.

Brisbane should play at a fast tempo because they have quick players and that speed should be use to the team’s advantage but they need space to really use it to great effect.

Goals obviously win games so the faster the Lions get the footy into the forward 50, the more chances they have to score. That requires going directly though because a team goes nowhere by kicking the ball sideways and backwards.

Since the Brisbane players have shown that they are poor at decision making, they need to be fast and instinctive so they can reduce their thinking time. Leppitsch needs to instruct his players to take the game on and make them believe that taking big risks will result in big rewards.

Handballs must be cut down drastically because the Lions create too many turnovers from them. Hawthorn and Geelong are different because the players make overlapping runs and they handball vertically or diagonally, which Brisbane struggle to do.

The focus for the Lions should be on kicking long, especially with key forwards like Josh Walker, Josh Schache and Jonathan Freeman on the list.

Even if Brisbane doesn’t kick to a contest or to a player on the lead, there must be kicks into an area of space in which a play can run into.

It is easy for people to use youth, injuries and the fixture as an excuse but the Lions need to improve tactically to make themselves more competitive.

Monday, 7 September 2015

Leppitsch must learn lessons from Brisbane's win against Bulldogs

Justin Leppitsch should have learned his lesson after Brisbane defeated the Western Bulldogs on Saturday afternoon.

The Lions won by eight points against the Dogs at the Gabba and they did it in style. After an insipid display in the first quarter, Brisbane played quickly, directly and instinctively.

Errors aplenty were made by Brisbane in the first quarter and the Western Bulldogs scored seven of their first eight goals from turnovers.

That display in the first quarter summed up the seasons of both teams. Leppitsch’s side was slow and indecisive and the disposals were going sideways and backwards. On the other hand, Luke Beveridge’s side were attacking at pace and disposing the ball with great accuracy.

From the second quarter onwards, Brisbane players were hitting their targets and they didn’t look lost and confused. They played with purpose, direction and flair. It also helped that Leppitsch actually had his players in roles that they could perform.

Justin Clarke played as a back pocket instead of a tall defender and the youngster was vital in the final quarter, making some good spoils and taking a mark near the goal-line in the dying minutes of the game.

Daniel Rich was excellent in midfield with three assists and 13 score involvements. He is a superb passer of the ball and it makes you wonder why he plays in the backline in some games. Rich’s vision is as good as any elite midfielder in the AFL.

Pearce Hanley got 35 disposals and scored two goals, including one scored with the outside of his boot in the third quarter. The Irishman is a ball magnet but he provides dash and spark when Brisbane goes forward. He too is another player that needs to be near the forward 50.

The change in game style worked to the advantage Lewis Taylor, who scored three goals and got 28 disposals. He has suffered second-year blues and has had a tendency to run in circles but on Saturday he played like the player who won last year’s NAB Rising Star award, demonstrating his pace and goal-sneak abilities.

Stefan Martin starred in the ruck with 32 disposals and 50 hit-outs and the Lions must do whatever they can to keep him. He can ruck alone and he is a fantastic player around the ground.

Brisbane played with two key forwards in Daniel McStay and Jonathan Freeman and although they only kicked three goals between them, they provided reference points in the Brisbane attack. Their presence allowed the likes of Josh Green and Jed Adcock to run free and score goals.

Both Green and Adcock scored four goals each and the former showed that he can be one of the league’s best small forwards. Adcock was playing in his final game for Brisbane but he has shown in recent matches that he can be a useful medium-sized forward.

The result may have been too little, too late and Brisbane could miss out on recruiting promising youngster Josh Schache in the draft this year but the Lions avoided the wooden spoon and played some footy that was delightful to watch.

Hopefully Leppitsch noticed that players should play in roles that suit them and the team should play with attacking intent. With this in mind, the 2016 AFL season shouldn’t be bleak for the Brisbane Lions.