Our time with Michael Laudrup, Swansea’s Don Draper

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It was easy to believe in Michael Laudrup. Between a legendary playing career, Jon Hamm’s looks, and a philosophy that melts the heart of any ‘play the right way’ aestheticist, it’s no wonder the man was being linked with so many big job openings last summer. It didn’t hurt that his latest team, Swansea City, had just won silverware in England, but even if the Swans hadn’t claimed the League Cup, Laudrup’s mystique would have still created links to Paris Saint-Germain and Real Madrid. After all, who doesn’t want to hire Don Draper?

As we’ve found out over Mad Men’s last eight years, perfect hair, a bone-cutting jaw, and the charisma to captivate beyond explanations leads to false belief. Now, with Swans chairman Huw Jenkins forced to call time on his Don, Swansea fans are left wondering what will become of their team now that their Draper has been shown the door.

Perhaps that’s too dramatic. Swansea of all teams is used to changing coaches. But as Jenkins pointed out in his announcement, this is the first time in a decade Swans have had to dismiss a boss. Before Laudrup, Brendan Rodgers had brought the Welsh team into the Premier League, using the club as a springboard to Anfield. Prior to him, Paolo Sousa guided the Swans before taking off for Leicester City, and before that, Roberto Martínez made his managerial name by taking Swansea into the second tier. All the while, Swansea maintained an approach that played progressive in addition to winning soccer. All the while, Swansea kept moving up the English ladder.

Laudrup seemed like a perfect fit – somebody whose reputation could match the ambition of a club that had established itself in the first division. Denmark’s greatest player ever — somebody who starred for all of Juventus, Barcelona, and Real Madrid — Laudrup would add a level of panache that could elevate Swans beyond Rodgers’ and Martínez’s success. For a club that had never won a major title, drawing a man of Laudrup’s mystique to the Liberty Stadium was a relative coup.

That coup produced immediate results. He was able to leverage his experience in La Liga, bring in Michu, and win silverware in his first year. If Laudrup was Swansea’s Don Draper, then 2012-13 was his carousel:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoKtk8L77-U width=440 align=center]

Silverware makes you believe, so in the same way we didn’t worry about the empty bottles coming out of Don’s office, it was easy to overlook Laudrup’s problems. A murky past that didn’t add up to his present plagued Don as much as Michael, only where Draper never talked about Dick Whitman or Korea, nobody mentioned Laudrup’s one-season stints at Getafe, Spartak Moscow, or Mallorca. Where Don Draper disappeared to Southern California to hit on Anna’s niece, Laudrup let Swansea regress after claiming the League Cup. Distracted, intoxicated by his Draper-ness, Don lost his edge, just as winning a trophy make Laudrup forget.

Swansea are supposed to be the underdogs. They’re supposed to be Welsh upstarts. They’re supposed to be the feel good story that appeals to the neutral’s hearts. They’re not supposed to be resting on laurels, deserting Pete Campbell to lounge in the California desert. They’re supposed to be chasing Dow Chemical.

On Tuesday, our perceptions finally caught up to reality. Laudrup ceased being the hero. Unable to find new solutions, and with rumors from behind the scenes describing tensions that forced Jenkins’ hand, Swansea could no longer ignore the obvious. The club is two points from relegation. They’ve gone from playing beautiful, flowing soccer to holding the ball with little product. The man they were paying to help them build beyond the mire was guiding them back into it. It was time to move on.

For some, today’s move was a surprise. Had Laudrup been a little less Draper, it wouldn’t have been. It’s been over a season since Swansea played to the standard Laudrup inherited. He pushed the club to its greatest glory, but he was also on the brink of leading them to a debilitating failure. Sterling Cooper  had to move on from their Jaguar high, just as Swansea had to move on from the League Cup. At some point, the lesson’s so clear it’s painful: Not even Don Draper can avoid getting results.

The same year Mad Men debuted (2007), we started to see the cracks in Laudrup. Until then, the then-43-year-old was perfect, building on near rarefied playing success with four successful seasons at Brønbry. But he saw himself as too big for Getafe, never adapted to Moscow, and resigned rather than be troubled at Mallorca. Even before Swansea, he’d become a drifter, his new career an ill fit for an icon.

Swansea were given no choice but to move on. In the process, we’ve come to see a new Michael Laudrup. This wasn’t a coach building toward a place at a bigger club. This was somebody holding on in the face of failure, and as much as we want him to succeed, we’re forced to see him as flawed.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8i5SpIxx_A4]

Andy Carroll’s Chelsea move in doubt due to injury

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Andy Carroll‘s hopes of securing a move from West Ham to Chelsea in January appear to be over.

The Telegraph is reporting that Carroll, 29, has suffered an ankle injury which will keep him out for at least a month but possibly as long as four months if he needs surgery. This comes after he has missed West Ham’s FA Cup win against Shrewsbury on Tuesday as he didn’t participate in training.

Carroll hasn’t played for West Ham since coming on as a late sub in their 1-1 draw at Tottenham on Jan. 4.

It has been widely reported that Chelsea had lined up Carroll and were willing to pay West Ham $30 million for the Englishman, with Mich Batshuayi potentially involved in a loan deal, but the former Newcastle and Liverpool forward has suffered yet another untimely injury.

Carroll has scored just two goals in the Premier League this season, with both coming in the 2-1 win against West Brom in December.

The towering forward has been restricted to just 12 appearances in the PL in 2017-18.

What now for Chelsea? With his deal over, it appears they will continue their hunt for a back-up option to Alvaro Morata.

In the summer they tried to signed Fernando Llorente but failed as the Spaniard signed for Tottenham Hotspur instead, while they currently have only Batshuayi to back up Morata but it appears the Belgian forward could be heading out on loan in the coming days.

With Carroll suffering this injury, it appears Batshuayi may be staying at Chelsea after all as Antonio Conte looks around for an alternative striking option for the Blues. In truth, the vast majority of Chelsea’s fans were either bemused or hugely underwhelmed by this potential transfer deal in the first place.

Could the move to bring Daniel Sturridge back to Stamford Bridge? Would Liverpool sell a clinical forward to a direct rival in the PL? It’s unlikely, while Sturridge has previous with Chelsea’s fans after the way he left the club in 2013 and moved to Liverpool.

It’s back to the drawing board for Chelsea’s recruitment guru’s as Carroll’s injury appears to be worse than West Ham first feared.

Premier League Power Rankings

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Which players are on fire in the Premier League?

[ MORE: Power Rankings archive ]

Players from Tottenham and Liverpool feature prominently in our latest top 20 after four wins from their last five for both teams, while some of Manchester United’s stars continue to rise.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players right now in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections.


  1. Mohamed Salah (Liverpool) – Up 5
  2. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – Up 1
  3. Heung-Min Son (Tottenham) – Up 5
  4. Paul Pogba (Man United) – Up 9
  5. Marko Arnautovic (West Ham) – Up 10
  6. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City) – Down 6
  7. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City) – Down 3
  8. Jesse Lingard (Man United) – Down 6
  9. Roberto Firmino (Liverpool) – Up 2
  10. David De Gea (Man United) – Even
  11. Sadio Mane (Liverpool) – New entry
  12. Anthony Martial (Man United) – New entry
  13. Leroy Sane (Man City) – Up 1
  14. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) – Down 4
  15. Raheem Sterling (Man City) – Down 9
  16. Ederson (Man City) – Down 7
  17. Dele Alli (Tottenham) – New entry
  18. Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – New entry
  19. Antonio Valencia (Man United) – New entry
  20. Bakary Sako (Crystal Palace) – New entry

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Aubameyang to Arsenal; Sturridge to leave

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Borussia Dortmund are not happy with Arsenal over Arsene Wenger‘s comments about their star striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

[ MORE: Sanchez to United “likely”

The Gabonese striker, 28, was left out of their squad last weekend due to disciplinary problems and it is believed a fee of $76 million would be enough for Dortmund to sell the top scorer in the Bundesliga last season.

Arsenal have been linked with a move for the striker with Alexis Sanchez’s move to Manchester United “likely” to happen, but when asked about Arsenal’s reported interest in Aubameyang on Thursday, Wenger was coy on any deal.

However Dortmund’s sporting director, Michael Zorc, was not, as he hit out in a magazine interview.

“We find it disrespectful to speak about players of other clubs”, Zorc said. “There is no contact with Arsenal. We assumed that Arsene Wenger would have enough to do to take care of the performances of his own players.”

Dortmund’s manager, Peter Stoger, has since said he assumes that Aubameyang will stay and learn from his latest mistake, which was being late for a meeting.

What could the forward bring to Arsenal if he did leave Dortmund? Goals. And lots of them. It has been reported that the Gunners could offer Olivier Giroud as part of the deal, which could soften the blow of Aubameyang’s exit for the Germany giants, and if there’s a chance this deal can get done, Arsenal should do it.

Despite issues with his behavior off the pitch, Aubameyang has always delivered on the pitch. He has scored 141 goals in 212 games in all competitions, including 21 in 23 games this season and 40 in 46 appearances last season.

With Sanchez on his way, Aubameyang’s arrival, and reuniting him with Henrikh Mkhitaryan (who looks set to join Arsenal from Man United) could get the Arsenal fans back on board (still a big maybe…) after a disastrous start to 2018 for Wenger’s men.


Daniel Sturridge is said to be interesting both Sevilla and Inter Milan.

The Liverpool forward, 28, is in serious jeopardy of not making England’s squad for the World Cup this summer as he continues to warm the bench at Anfield with Roberto Firmino, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane ahead of him in the pecking order. Jurgen Klopp just doesn’t have a need for Sturridge’s style of play and prefers the movement and industry of Firmino instead of Sturridge’s instinctive finishing.

According to Sky Sports, La Liga side Sevilla want to take Sturridge on loan for the rest of the season, while the BBC say that Inter Milan are also interested in a loan move for Sturridge.

The main issue here is that Liverpool are only interested in a permanent deal for Sturridge, who they value at $45 million. Given the fact that he has suffered multiple injuries over the past three seasons and has 18 months left on his current contract it is highly unlikely anyone will stump up that kind of cash, despite his obvious top-class finishing ability.

Sturridge will surely move on in January with his World Cup spot on the line. Sevilla are in the Champions League last 16 and in La Liga’s top four, while Inter are pushing for the Italian title. Either would welcome Sturridge’s predatory instincts and it appears that if the Englishman wants to stay in the PL he will have to settle for a move to a team in midtable or battling against relegation. A move abroad could be the smart play on his behalf.

Teething problems intensify the VAR debate

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It doesn’t matter if you are a fan of VAR or you aren’t. It’s going to happen. Get used to it.

With Video Assistant Referees trialed in English soccer for the first time over the past few weeks during both FA Cup and League Cup games, the debate has intensified around its value and how it should be used.

First off, let’s define exactly when VAR will be used. According to the International Football Association Board (IFAB) guidelines, VAR will only be used to “correct clear errors and for missed serious incidents” which have “match changing” outcomes.

The four areas VAR can be used for are:

  • Goals
  • Penalty kicks
  • Red cards
  • Mistaken identity

It is important to remember that the referee on the pitch is the only one who can sanction whether a video review is necessary after consulting with VAR officials who are watching on monitors and recommend, via an ear piece, if certain instances are worth a second look. The referee can then go and take a look at the incident on a TV monitor on the side of the pitch himself, if necessary, before either keeping his original decision or changing his mind.

So, with all that in mind, why are we still having problems? Number one: fans, players and even managers still seem to be unsure as to exactly how this technology will be used.

Hand gestures making a square TV symbol are now happening in grounds across the UK, trying to suggest to the referee that he needs to go to VAR. Extra pressure is being placed on officials and despite the system being trialed in Major League Soccer, Serie A and the Bundesliga with limited issues over the past 12 months, it seems like the English game is struggling to adapt to the concept even though it will make the life of referees much easier in the long run.

All in all, VAR can slow down the flow of the game but that’s only if huge game changing moments occur multiple times. How often does that really happen? Once or twice, on average, in a single game, if that?

I was one of those so-called purists who wasn’t in favor of the technology to start with, but seeing how easy it can be to rectify mistakes over the past few weeks, I’m all for it now. Kelechi Iheanacho‘s second goal for Leicester in their FA Cup replay win against Fleetwood Town on Tuesday proved how great this can be. Replays showed he was clearly onside and the goal was awarded after initially being ruled out. It took 10-15 seconds without the referee even going to a pitch-side monitor to check it out.

Simple. Easy. Effective.

That goal was an example of a “clear and obvious error” which, per the IFAB guidelines, is why VAR exists. But in Chelsea’s FA Cup win against Norwich City on penalty kicks on Wednesday, there was an incident where VAR was used but didn’t overturn a decision which caused controversy.

Willian was booked by referee Graham Scott for diving in the box, even though replays showed there was clear contact with a defender but VAR officials didn’t believe there was a definitive reason to overturn the initial decision.

Antonio Conte had the following to say about the new technology as he wants it to improve.

“If we want to use a new system, I can’t accept a big mistake,” Conte said. “In this case, the Willian penalty was a big, big mistake. Not from the referee on the pitch, who took quickly a decision to book Willian and didn’t have any doubt, but from the person watching the game [Jones]. I hope the VAR wasn’t a referee because if you see that watching on television and don’t think that’s a penalty … he has to improve. It was very clear.”

Well, Antonio, you may have to accept mistakes, especially at the start, but was that decision really a mistake?

The VAR official may have simply been agreeing with the referee on the pitch that there was contact between Willian and the Norwich defender but that the Chelsea man left his leg hanging out and tried to buy a penalty kick. Even though there’s an extra official looking at video footage of the event, unless he believes the referee has got the decision horribly wrong it will not be overturned.

As for Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger, who saw the technology used in his sides 0-0 draw at Chelsea last week in the League Cup semifinal first leg, he remains an advocate of VAR and believes this trial run is extremely helpful.

“Will there be some hiccups up at the start? Certainly,” Wenger said. “We have to improve the system, but we have to go for it.”

That is the correct answer here.

It will take time to get used to the technology, just like it did in MLS. But fans, players and coaches need to not only embrace VAR but also educate themselves as to when and how it can be used.

I have no doubt that if the system is introduced into the Premier League for the 2018-19 season it will be hugely beneficial. Largely because the PL have sat back and let the FA trial the system and other leagues around the world work out the kinks. By the time next August rolls around, we will have months of use of VAR at the top level with the 2018 World Cup also set to use the technology.

Look at last weekend in the Premier League. Two key decisions likely changed the outcome of games between clubs battling to stay in the Premier League. Abdoulaye Doucoure’s late equalizer for Watford would have taken all of 10 seconds to review and overturn as he clearly punched the ball into the net against Southampton to seal a 2-2 draw.

While Newcastle’s Mo Diame clearly handled a goalbound effort which not only cost Swansea a penalty kick but would have seen Diame sent off. Both incidents would have been cleared up quickly and easily without minimum fuss.

That is what this system is for. The gray areas of diving and intent with handballs will still exist, just like they did before VAR. But the clear-cut calls which officials can’t see and don’t get right will be overturned when new replays become available to them.

That’s where they need the most help and that’s why VAR should be welcomed into the English game with open arms.

The debates will still rumble on in pubs, stadiums and offices in the UK. The system being trialed to stop those never-ending debates is currently having the opposite effect.