Why Neil Etheridge should be high on teams’ summer shopping list should Cardiff be relegated

Why Neil Etheridge should be high on teams’ summer shopping list should Cardiff be relegated

At football’s highest levels, earning results often comes down to the smallest margins. For the man positioned between the sticks, these microscopic details hold the most significance, and is why recruiting well in the goalkeeping position can be make or break for a side.

In crucial relegation battles, or equally in avoiding being dragged into such late season scraps, a top quality shotstopper can be the deciding factor.

Therefore a premium exists for a good goalkeeper and clubs looking to strengthen that area must box smart.

Of course, there is always the chance of unearthing a hidden gem with a risky punt from Europe. Newcastle United have found that in Martin Dubravka, who they plucked unexpectedly from one of the continent’s less acclaimed leagues and been duly rewarded with performances far outweighing his cheap price tag.

However, for every success story, there are five or more failures of such a business model. Newcastle themselves found that out when they signed promising Belgian Matz Sels, only to discover the player’s aerial weakness meant he simply wasn’t cut out for the demands of English football.

The other option, obviously, is buying domestically. This is where clubs have to be equal parts reactive and intelligent, so as to secure top talent without extortionate prices.

As the table currently stands, however, there looks to be a real option set to become available for other Premier League clubs should they want to do just such a thing and improve their goalkeeping department.

Cardiff City find themselves five points adrift in the relegation zone currently, with crucial games against Burnley, Brighton and already relegated Fulham in the coming weeks. Should they not get the results Neil Warnock needs in these games, and they will be joining Huddersfield and the aforementioned Fulham in the Championship next season.

That would leave the door wide open for other clubs to snap up possibly one of their star players this season; goalkeeper Neil Etheridge.

Now yes, it certainly sounds bizarre to consider a goalkeeper at a relegation-threatened side to be a top player and a good transfer target for other clubs, but the truth comes down to that, without Etheridge, Cardiff’s situation – and certainly their goal difference – could have been a lot worse.

The Philippines international has made the second highest number of saves this season in the Premier League at 114 – and many have been good saves at that too.

Yes, he has made more saves partly because a weaker defence in front of him has meant more chances for his opponents to try their luck, but the other relegation-threatened and already relegated sides have had the same situation. The key difference; Etheridge is keeping more out.

In their most recent game against Manchester City, Etheridge continually denied and frustrated Pep Guardiola’s world-class talent and, even despite the 2-0 defeat, looked genuinely impressive.

For a player who’s career nearly ended when he was released from Fulham a few years back, he has roared back determinedly having been given a second chance at Cardiff and proven he has the quality to deserve his place between the sticks in England’s top league.

Should the 29-year-old’s current club not manage to retain their place in the top flight, then there are a number of teams who will have scraped in just above Cardiff – and who have had real issues in conceding too many goals – that should consider a move for the player.

He still remains a somewhat underappreciated player it seems, and so may well cost less than a number of players of equal or perhaps even slightly lower ability may do.

It’d certainly be worth an enquiry should the Bluebirds go down come the end of the season.

The sorry state of Gateshead FC; Staff and players set to strike over club sale

The sorry state of Gateshead FC; Staff and players set to strike over club sale

It seems every day that another club, both in the Football League and just below, seems to be embroiled in financial troubles. For Tyneside club, Gateshead FC, it’s started to become a nightmare right as times looked to be on the up.

The National League side, who currently sit ninth in the table and are just outside the playoff positions, have been wrought by financial woes all season.

Despite having only been taken over by Dr Ranjan Varghese in July 2018, financial issues have seen the Tynesiders operate under a transfer embargo for the vast majority of the Hong Kong-based businessman’s tenure.

Problems compounded to a peak this week when they were kicked out of their ground, the International Stadium, by the local council over owed money.

They have been allowed to play this season’s remaining home games at the stadium, but the players cannot train there and staff have had to vacate their offices.

This came as staff also revealed they had not been paid their wages for March, as well as receiving delays on their pay for January and February.

All this came out and soured the mood significantly, just as troubles were looking to be potentially coming to an end. The National League club had been put up for sale last month by Varghese and a deal in principle was agreed with former Rochdale chairman Chris Dunphy.

However, that deal now looks to have started stuttering over behind-the-scenes issues and prompted a statement to be released by Gateshead’s players and staff, threatening to strike should the deal not be allowed to go through swiftly and smoothly.

The statement, which was apparently approved by “all players and coaching staff”, stated that “financial mismanagement” by Varghese and his advisor Joseph Cala was affecting the team.

The statement said: “Having agreed to sell the club to Chris, we simply ask you to honour this promise and leave the club with at least some dignity by allowing Chris to take over alongside Bill Goodwin.

“These are men with a proven track record at running a football club and we wholeheartedly endorse their takeover bid.

Gateshead are supposed to be play Ebbsfleet United in the National League on Saturday, but the game is in serious doubt now given the ongoing situation at the International Stadium.

It’s a real mess of a situation, and one that is becoming depressingly prevalent within English football.

The worst part in the case of Gateshead though is that hope is clearly on the horizon, with Dunphy having even agreed a deal in principle to take over the club and try to rescue them from their troubles.

Everyone at Gateshead – the players, staff, fans, even the club itself – is suffering and for reasons that are simply ridiculous. Varghese knows his time is up at the Tynesiders, the smartest and cleanest thing to do is step aside gracefully and smoothly, assisting in whatever way needed to help a quick and dignify transition, rather than his current approach that does little but frustrate everyone and further tarnish his reputation.

You hope the situation can come to a healthy and positive outcome in the very near future for Gateshead’s sake, but it is the kind of messy situation that we so often see dragged out.

It could be a long, difficult end to the season for one of the North-East’s few professional football clubs, and for reasons that are entirely off-the-field.

Seeing Red; Why Alfredo Morelos’ poor discipline is a real problem Rangers have to consider

Seeing Red; Why Alfredo Morelos’ poor discipline is a real problem Rangers have to consider

Some players have real issues with discipline; that’s nothing new in football. However, to be sent off five times in a single season should surely prompt your club to re-evaluate your role in the team, shouldn’t it?

Well, after a heated Old Firm derby at the weekend, that is the exact situation Rangers find themselves in with striker Alfredo Morelos.

The talented Colombian is a truly prolific striker for Steven Gerrard’s side. Since joining the Scottish side in June 2017, he has netted 47 times in 87 games. A total of 29 of those goals have come in this season alone.

There is no denying that the Cerete-born forward is a crucial cog in the Rangers team, but his discipline record is almost as prolific as his goalscoring.

This season alone, in all competitions, he has collected himself 15 yellow cards and five red cards. Four of those dismissals have come in the Scottish Premiership. One shown to Morelos against Aberdeen was later rescinded, but it doesn’t change the issue.

The sendings off tend to be straight red cards too, meaning lengthier bans for the player.

Morelos clearly has a very short fuse, and is prone to lashing out, and the problem with that is he has now quite clearly be found out. Defenders know going into the games against him now that he will cause them real problems – and have a very real chance of scoring – but is also just as likely to lash out and be sent off if they provoke him and get under the player’s skin.

Celtic captain Scott Brown, who at this stage has turned winding up opponents into an art form, was no different in the Old Firm game at the weekend. A gentle tap on his opponent saw Morelos react with an elbow, something that in the modern game – and especially a televised one – you simply aren’t going to get away with.

It’s almost become a running joke at this point, seeing Morelos dismissed in a Rangers game, and it’s a real liability for the Scottish side. For all his goals, there needs to be real questions asked whether having to play with ten men so often is truly worth the trade off.

In the Old Firm post-match interviews – having seen his Rangers side lose 2-1 – you could see the frustration in Gerrard. He explicitly warned his player was to be fined, and his actions were no longer defensible.

Red cards sometimes happen in football. Two or three red cards in a season and you ask questions, but you can largely put it down to frustration or over-exuberance.

At five, you have a serious problem. And one that needs addressed, and that may well need to be in such a manner that sees Morelos walking the opposite way out of Ibrox.

He’s a top player, and his goals are incredibly helpful to the team, but with a discipline record as poor as his there is a real chance every time he steps on that pitch that he’s one slight aggravation away from putting his team at a severe disadvantage.

You simply can’t have that risk as a professional football club looking to continue improving and aiming for success; prolific striker or not.

Why Guangzhou Evergrande’s decision to suspend Wei Shihao for a bad tackle is utter madness

Why Guangzhou Evergrande’s decision to suspend Wei Shihao for a bad tackle is utter madness

Nobody likes to see a player suffer a serious injury, and especially not through a rash tackle from an opponent. While aggression and competitiveness are key elements of the modern game, there are times when players can get a rush of blood and cross the line.

Chinese international Wei Shihao was guilty of just such an incident during the most recent international break when during the first half of a 1-0 defeat to Uzbekistan in the China Cup, he scythed down opponent Otabek Shukurov with a rash challenge.

Shukurov was unable to continue in the match and forced to go to hospital following the injury, where it was discovered the Uzbek midfielder had suffered a fractured tibia. He now faces at least two months on the sidelines.

At the time, Wei Shihao only received a yellow card from Qatari referee Mohammed Al Shummari.

However, the 23-year-old winger received mass criticism from Chinese fans and media for the tackle, which was condemned as a “malicious” foul. His club, Guangzhou Evergrande, took an even more extreme approach, suspending the player for an entire month whilst they evaluated his future with the club.

The seven-time champions of the Chinese Super League released a statement saying: “The club has decided to give Wei Shihao a one-month suspension and the player should report to the club’s human resources department to have a deep self-examination.

“The club will decide if he will be expelled based on his self-examination.

“Before the new Chinese Super League season, our club published a series of new regulations to better manage the players. We have higher requirements on our players, but Wei Shihao seriously violated the regulations during the China Cup.”

This was despite public and private apologies from Wei Shihao, who also visited Shukurov in the hospital – and had an apology accepted by the injured Uzbek international.

Shukurov even went so far as to ask Guangzhou Evergrande for leniency on social media following the announcement of the suspension.

Now, in fairness, I can understand the logic that has probably crossed the minds of those in charge at Guangzhou Evergrande. With huge backlash across both the press and social media, they’ve took a hugely reactionary approach and ran with a hard line stance; a significant suspension.

Nobody wants their club associated with violent acts, I get that, but this isn’t a player who has done something that is exclusively and clearly intentionally unsportsmanlike. He’s not gone out his way and punched an opponent.

Is it a really bad tackle? Yes. Does it look like it was largely born out of frustration in a game that wasn’t going China’s way? Yes, again.

However, I don’t believe that Wei Shihao has gone in with the intention of injuring Shukurov.

That’s why I find the idea of suspending one of your top, up-and-coming talents for a month – and talking about potentially terminating his contract – entirely baffling.

Even if Wei Shihao returns to play for Guangzhou Evergrande after the suspension, he’s going to be affected. Not only has it given him a damaging reputation, but it will have likely affected him psychologically. You’d imagine he will be a lot more hesitant to tackle an opponent following this incident.

For an exciting young player in Chinese football, who was just starting to make a place for himself in the national team, it seems like a really sad situation brought about by a major overreaction from his club.

There’s a very real possibility that Wei Shihao will not reach the potential he could maybe have done after this situation, all because of a bad tackle – something that is far from uncommon in the modern game.

Why the Chinese goalkeeper rule may not actually be beneficial for development

Why the Chinese goalkeeper rule may not actually be beneficial for development

When people think of China and football there is one thing that comes to mind in modern times; money. In the past five years or so, the Far East nation has been the source of some of the most astronomical transfer fees and dealings.

Yet, there remains one crucial position on the football pitch entirely untouched by that big-money business.

The goalkeeper.

And that’s for good reason too. Clubs simply aren’t allowed to.

As part of the rules set by the Chinese Football Association, clubs must field Chinese goalkeepers. This prevents the Chinese Super League sides from exercising their considerable financial might when it comes to the shot-stopping department.

The rule came into affect with good intentions too. Chinese football’s governing body acknowledged early on that the wealth that Chinese clubs could invest in players would see an influx in foreign players – largely big-name stars from Europe – coming over to ply their trade for mega-money deals.

For most positions on the football pitch, that was fine. Chinese football maintains a foreign player cap, so Chinese players were getting to play alongside top players and, as such, would likely find their own game slowly improving.

However, in football, there is only ever one goalkeeper on the pitch for a side. That presented a unique problem; how to ensure that Chinese clubs didn’t simply go out and buy a star man between the sticks and let their Chinese talent languish in the depths of the squad.

For a country led by football enthusiast Xi Jinping and with genuine desires to win a World Cup in the not too distant future, not developing domestic goalkeepers that could help national team success would be a real problem.

Hence, the foreign goalkeeper ban came into effect.

Yet, I’m not convinced it has truly worked. Certainly, by Asian football standards, there are some relatively talented Chinese goalkeepers playing in the country’s top-flight.

However, they haven’t managed to push on and reach that next level of talent in goal. There aren’t really big name teams in Europe scouting and snapping up Chinese talent in general, but especially not in the goalkeeper market. They still seem to be just slightly off the grade necessary at the moment.

And I think some of that does come down to the negative effect of the Chinese goalkeeper rule.

While it does ensure that there are sixteen Chinese goalkeepers playing week-in, week-out in the top flight, it also stops foreign goalkeepers arriving who could help coach and push those players to the next level. The competition and need to improve isn’t as great as it would be for the Chinese goalkeepers had foreign players in their position been allowed to arrive.

And similarly, there is little desire for Chinese goalkeepers to move beyond their country. Why would they want to look abroad, to moves to other top Asian nations or to Europe, when they can remain domestic and have guarantees that they’ll play, and competitive and sometimes even overly-inflated wages.

If Chinese football truly wants to push for major improvement and even win a World Cup, then in terms of goalkeepers it needs to think seriously about loosening its strict domestic-only rule.

More than anything, to encourage Chinese goalkeepers to aim for and reach the next level, and potentially seek opportunities in more established footballing nations and leagues abroad. That may well prove necessary for any real success on an international stage.

As a football traditionalist, the teams in Canada’s new Premier League are frustrating

As a football traditionalist, the teams in Canada’s new Premier League are frustrating

From late April this year, Canada will be kicking off its inaugural Canadian Premier League – a new top-division competition to help improve football in the country.

Even with an initial roster of just seven teams it’s a great concept. However, the football traditionalist in me has one huge issue with the new league system.

The names of the teams.

Now yes, I realise how pedantic and ridiculous that sounds, but it for whatever reason genuinely gripes me.

I’m a huge fan of football teams’ names being tied geographically to a particular town or city that they represent. It gives them a real identity and are easily recognisable as a feature of that place.

The teams competing in the inaugural 2019 Canadian Premier League are as follows; Cavalry FC, FC Edmonton, Forge FC, HFX Wanderers FC, Pacific FC, Valour FC and York 9 FC.

Only FC Edmonton retain a name that actually features the name of the place in which they play. It is the only traditional-style club name present in the league, and it just gives the whole tournament too much of an element of Sunday league in my opinion.

Yes, technically, HFX Wanderers have their place of origin – Halifax – in their name too, but why on Earth did it need shortened like that? What is wrong with simply calling themselves Halifax Wanderers, like clubs anywhere else in the world would?

As for the others, I get that there are meanings behind some of them. York 9 for example is named as such because it represents the nine municipalities that make up the York Region in Toronto; but don’t stick numbers at the end of your club name unless it’s the year you’re founded. It just screams amateur football – not a serious, professional club.

The rest – Valour, Forge, Cavalry and Pacific – are the same. These are clubs representing Winnipeg, Hamilton, Calgary and Langford respectively, but you’d have no way of knowing that from just the club name.

They don’t present a clear connection to their local area, and so again feel just like a cool name thought up for your local five-a-side team, rather than a professional football club with genuine ambitions.

Obviously, with no games yet played in the league, we can’t say how competitive each team will be with each other, but at least one of the seven sides will be playing in the CONCACAF Champions League. Due to the way it’s being set up, there’s a real chance if Valour or Forge outperform FC Edmonton in the spring season, they will be in the 2019 edition of the North American Champions League.

It all just comes across a little bit odd. For such a slick and promising-looking step forwards for Canadian football, it seems to have missed a step through the naming of the clubs involved.

Given only the club roster list and no more information, there’s a good chance more people would think it the local Sunday league division rather than a top-level division with continental qualification.

The curious case of Alphonse Areola; The World Cup winner who could have represented someone else afterwards

The curious case of Alphonse Areola; The World Cup winner who could have represented someone else afterwards

Winning a World Cup is the greatest accomplishment a player could ever achieve with their national team… but what about then still being able to go on to represent a different nation entirely?

It sounds like a ludicrous proposition. A surely impossible one, right?

Yet, French goalkeeper Alphonse Areola could have done exactly that. The Paris Saint-Germain shot stopper found himself in a situation so bizarre that it had likely never happened before, and is unlikely to do so again.

Areola was a part of the France squad assembled by Didier Deschamps that took Russia by storm in the 2018 World Cup and lifted the trophy come the final whistle in Moscow on 15 July.

He was third choice goalkeeper, behind Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandanda, but was part of the 23-man squad all the same. Areola is part of the celebrations with the squad, and took his turn lifting the famous trophy aloft.

And yet, there remained one incredible catch. He had never made a senior international appearance for France.

Despite having received his first call up in October 2015, the Paris-born goalkeeper had always taken his place on the bench, watching on as Les Bleus achieved their success.

That meant that Areola – given that both his parents were of Filipino heritage – was still entirely eligible to represent the Philippines at international level. Even after having won international football’s highest accolade with an entirely different nation; France.

Now, obviously, Areola was not likely ever considering a dramatic late switch to the Philippines. The 26-year-old had his eyes and heart set on a place between the sticks for France, and was certainly a good enough keeper to justify it.

However, it’s just a fun and wildly unusual situation to consider. Had it been a nation whose national team is of a stronger calibre to the Philippines, a fellow World Cup contender say, and Areola could have legitimately – entirely in keeping with the rules of FIFA and international football – won World Cups with two entirely separate nations.

That would possibly be the greatest story in international football.

As it is, Areola did not opt to make a shock switch across continents to play for the Philippines and instead his patience paid off. With a thigh injury ruling out Lloris, Areola made his senior international debut for France in the UEFA Nations League (putting an end to this possible scenario) and put in a man of the match performance.

He has since earned a second France cap and is playing fairly regularly in Ligue 1 this season for Paris Saint-Germain, with the future looking bright for the France star.

However, how things could have so incredibly different had he done the unthinkable and begun representing a nation different to the one he won the World Cup with.