Sunday, April 27, 2008

Fox-in-the-box cull?

It looks as though this season's Premier League scoring charts will be without an English representative in the top ten for the first time since its 1993 inception (indeed, probably ever then, as foreign players have only really proliferated in Britain in the Premier League era).

With Wayne Rooney's goal yesterday (his 12th league strike), and John Carew's equaliser at Everton earlier today (13 goals, equal with Carlos Tevez and Yakubu), the Manchester United forward now stands level with Portsmouth's Jermain Defoe as the 11th highest scorer in the league. Kicking about just below are Gabriel Agbonlahor, Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard - but up near the medal positions, as it were, there's a significant dearth of English names.

Is this down to imports crowding out home talent? I'm loathe to believe it. After all, with four tiers of professional football in England, as well as numerous semi-pro leagues, there is a much bigger pool for players to splash around in than most other countries, which usually have just two or three professional divisions.

Bringing me to the question of how we coach youngsters and inculcate within them both the requisite skill level and a mentality to succeed. Maybe more English footballers should play abroad, and learn about different iterations of the game; it's worth NBing that many of the great players of the modern era - Zidane, Ronaldo, Henry, Maradona, Bergkamp - have been itinerant performers of their craft. Only the Italians stay at home.

We could take, for example, Emmanuel Adebayor, who has scored 21 goals for Arsenal so far this season. Blessed with a gangling talent, but aware of the need to improve his technique, the Togolese, who arrived in England via France with little in the way of a reputation, has run his cotton knee-socks off all year, helping Emirates-goers to forget, perhaps for just a nanosecond, about a recently-departed No14. He may miss more easy ones than he scores, but his commitment and work ethic have been unimpeachable. If only we were describing Emile Heskey two seasons after he had moved to Liverpool...

But even if there has been a restriction of opportunities for young English strikers, should we not be able to bank on producing another Shearer or Owen, sooner or later? Of the successive heirs apparent, James Beattie, Andy Johnson, and Darren Bent have all struck rich veins of form only to end up mining in the relative wilderness; Beattie and Bent now sadly diminished, Johnson a mere stage hand to Yakubu's headline act. Only Defoe remains on the prowl at his new south coast hunting ground.

There are other bright, young things, however. Dean Ashton has at times provided a rough and ready simulacrum of Shearer's power and finishing, while his young team-mate, Freddie Sears looks to have a bit of nip about him. And then there is Theo Walcott, who has bagged half a dozen goals this season, despite spending much of his time on the wing. Manchester United's Hull loanee Fraizer Campbell is much touted; Blackburn's Matt Derbyshire much underrated. Otherwise, all we're left with is Kevin Phillip's vulpine grin - although that's still probably better than Heskey.

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

To change or not to change?

Slightly off-topic, but have you considered the issue of being a sweaty cyclist? I have, and you can read my thoughts, and chip in with your own, on the London Cycolumnist.

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