Phelan comments more damaging than Snodgrass dive

Robert Snodgrass’ dive on Saturday provoked heavy condemnation, but Hull boss Mike Phelan’s comments were far worse than his player’s actions who was “trying to get out of the way”.

The Scotland international’s cheating was so blatant that it prompted a tweet from the player himself to apologise. Whether it was sincere or just to save his embarrassment is debatable.

But Snodgrass’ dive was so obvious it left Crystal Palace defender Scott Dann fuming and Palace boss Alan Pardew branding it “embarrassing”.

Snodgrass later  admitted “it was never a penalty” – how could he offer any other explanation with Match of the Day and the ensuing analysis looming later that evening?

Snodgrass tweeted: “Apologies from my end, it was never a penalty. But I genuinely thought the defender was going to slide, so I tried to ride the tackle.”

But as misjudged as Snodgrass’ actions were in the heat of battle, Hull boss Phelan’s comments were astounding and a major reason why the English game will struggle to eradicate cheating.

We’re told the Premier League is the best league in the world: it’s honest and there’s no play acting etc. But, hold on. Last week England man Dele Alli won a dubious penalty with a dive and this week Snodgrass – another British player – conned the referee to gain an advantage.

The EPL our kidding themseleves if think cheating doesn’t happen and from British players too. It does, and if they want to stamp it out then football figureheads, like Phelan, need to come clean.

The former Manchester United assistant manager’s comments were dishonest and leave a question mark over the integrity of the game.

“I have dealt with football players all my life, some who are blown over by the wind and some who take massive knocks, but do not got penalties. It will be highlighted. That is the job of pundits, the media,” said Phelan.

“But I shouldn’t think that detracts from an excellent performance; a team performance. We possibly got lucky in that situation and I am sure Crystal Palace were aggrieved by it.

“But I am not going to argue with my player or say anything that will turn his head or make him feel down about it. I need a Robert Snodgrass. He has to get on with his job. He will put up with whatever comes his way. My team, my players and my staff are behind him.”

To claim that Hull “possibly got lucky” underplayed the whole incident, but more importantly it was damaging to the game. To defend his player to the hilt is understandable, but when the integrity of the game is at stake then it’s time to take a step back and show some courage.

Snodgrass’ actions were wrong and should have been quickly condemned. There was no reason to deride his man, who is clearly one of the Tigers’ stars, but he should have been made aware that it cannot be tolerated. A few public words to that effect would have sufficed from Phelan, but instead he insisted the club was behind him.

An intimation that Hull City approve of cheating is surely not what Phelan was trying to portray but that’s pretty much the picture that has been painted.

There can be no retrospective punishment for Snodgrass’ actions. Why in this tech-laden age is bizarre, but that’s another argument. So Snodgrass and Hull have benefitted, not from a refereeing error, but from a piece of cheating, which has been sanctioned by Phelan and the club.

Snodgrass, who accused Sheffield Wednesday’s Fernando Forestieri of ‘cheating’ last season, later tried to explain just why he had dived in the box under Dann’s attempted challenge.

“You feel as if you need to ride the tackle. Probably, when I look at it, it will maybe look worse. But, from my side, I thought the defender was going to come in and slide.

“That is what I was trying to say to him (Dann). I was just trying to get out of the way of his tackle, but he never tackled, so that is probably why it looks bad.”

He was also asked whether he was an honest player.

“Of course, that is what it is all about. I have never been one for going into that position, so that is what I tried to say to the lad.

“I am not that type of player. I said that to him. But, obviously, emotions are running high, he is thinking, ‘Well, I’ve not touched you’. But I am thinking, ‘Obviously, I’m trying to get out the way’. It is up to the referee to make that sort of decision,” added Snodgrass.

To recite the cliched “I’m not that type of player” was an unfortunate oversight from the 29-year-old, just as his dive was at the KC Stadium.

However, the lack of contrition from Phelan, after considering the bigger picture, surely cannot be accepted.

The Football Association are currently coming under attack because of their antiquated structure and the fact their are not representative of the association. Accused of being “elderly white men who do not represent anyone but block even the most minor of changes” they have more on their agenda at the minute, but this is an incident they should be getting involved with.

Reprimanding manager’s for criticising referees pales into insignificance, but surely protecting English football’s integrity should be top of their priorities?

If manager’s are not going to be honest then the FA should step in and remind managers like Phelan of his wider responsibility.

Matthew Briggs

Bob Bradley deserves his chance, but he’s still looking for a connection

When Bob Bradley made history in October and became the first American to manage in the English Premier League he, more than anyone, knew he would have fight harder than ever to prove himself.

Fast forward almost two months and, with his first win behind him, he knows that is still the case more than ever.

At his first press conference Bradley, who was born in New Jersey, made it clear he knew what the protocol was going to be.

“With football in the US, we have always known we needed to earn respect. It’s the number one thing. For a club to have any chance of being successful, you have to have connection with supporters and community,” admitted Bradley.

And with three points bagged, albeit only just in the topsy-turvy 5-4 win over struggling Crystal Palace, the 58 year-old again emphasized that a connection with the fans was crucial.

“We have some good guys and they are good to work with every day,” beamed Bradley at The Liberty Stadium on Saturday

“I’ve enjoyed what each one is all about and I try to create an environment where everybody is part of something – the players, the staff, everyone. I am trying to find a way of connecting to the supporters too.”

It’s a connection that unfortunately due to his New Jersey accent and, more comically, his fashion sense is yet to take hold.

Match of the Day host and former England striker Gary Lineker recently pulled Bradley up on his ‘jumper’.

It was water off a duck’s back though for Bradley, as was the fun poked at him on social media for his American pronunciation of Alan ‘Pardoo’.

“I’ve already heard I’ve failed the dress test. My daughters told me they thought a pair of black slacks and a nice black sweater was fair enough, but obviously Gary Lineker didn’t,” said Bradley after defeat in his first game against Arsenal.

“I thought a jumper was something a little girl wore to kindergarten!”

Although that was light-hearted, Bradley has and will have to face up to more sinister attacks aimed at the American stereotype with a common Twitter phrase being “he’s out of his depth”.

Far from it.

Taunts and jibes on social media are far from a balanced overview of the Swansea fans, but it’s safe to safe generally there was not too much cheer when Bradley was handed the reins on October 3. There was a feeling of apathy.

With two American owners at the helm in Wales it was an obvious starting point for his detractors, but Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien admitted to not knowing and never meeting Bradley before his interview, which reportedly went very well. What’s more they were adamant that Bradley was the best man for the job and with Ryan Giggs the other major candidate it’s hard to disagree.

Would Manchester United and Wales legend Giggs had to put up with jibes about his appointment being down to his playing exploits at Old Trafford? Certainly not from the mainstream media, who had tried their best to get Giggs the job. But with no coaching experience to his name, Bradley’s resume must have stood out a mile from Giggs’ list of winner’s medals.

And looking deeper into Bradley’s achievements it’s not hard to see why Kaplan and Levien hung their hats on their compatriot.

His management career started in 1981 but he rose to prominence with a near five-year spell at the helm of the US national team, where he boasted a win percentage of 52.5%.

That was eclipsed by his time in charge of the Egypt national team, where he became a respected figure after his efforts to galvanise the country in the aftermath of the uprising that engulfed Cairo. He was also in place when the Egyptian Premier League was suspended in the aftermath of the Port Said Stadium riot of 2012, where 74 people died and 500 were injured. He has seen and experienced hard times.

It was then Bradley showed his compassion and leadership facets, visiting the injured and loved ones of the deceased. He had after fully immersed himself in the Egyptian way of life and he just missed out on 2014 World Cup qualification, losing in the play-offs to Ghana, finishing with a 67% win percentage.

Bradley then led Norwegian club Stabaek to the Europa League before joining French club Le Havre in November 2015 and just missed out on promotion to Ligue 1 by a single goal.

He was torn to leave the French side but a move to the EPL was a dream he could not turn down and he’s convinced Saturday’s remarkable home win will be the turning point for the Swans’ season. More of the same will help get the fans on his side, but for a manager that built his teams on firm rocks, the 5-4 scoreline last time out was not what Bradley is about.

His USA team was strong and resolute and his expertise was squeezing more from inferior players, and with that in mind he seems a good fit for the Swans, who sold two of their best players from last season Andre Ayew and Ashley Williams to leave them with a modest squad.

In the summer they did not really replace the pair, although Fernando Llorente scored twice in the last few seconds to sink Palace and Bradley is hoping the Spanish focal point can be the man to step up and fire them to safety.

If Llorente can find his feet, and he has admitted to struggling to adapt, then Bradley has a chance of leading his team to mid-table. But Bradley deserves a fair go at proving he can do the job.

Forget his Americanisms and referring to a penalty as a ‘PK’, the goalkeeper as a ‘net minder’ and the Premier League as the EPL, Bradley has established himself as a hard-nosed manager and not ‘an American manager’ as he pointed out from day one but ‘a football manager’.

And as he admits, his slacks, jumpers, accent and Americanisms won’t matter if he starts turning over positive results: “If we win, no one will care.”

Oliver Burke on top of Bundesliga after broadening horizons

“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide

While young Scottish international Oliver Burke’s ignorance could be excused for not knowing who French author Andre Gide was, the unlikely pair certainly hold the same values.

There were plenty of sneers and noses turned up when 19-year-old Burke moved from Nottingham Forest to Red Bull Leipzig in the summer. It was almost cast as a crime in some English quarters when Burke opted to chance his arm in the German Bundesliga and turn down the lure of the English Premier League.

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Liverpool, Tottenham, Chelsea and Arsenal were all tracking the Melton Mowbray prospect, but it wasn’t the right fit for Burke who decided to head for a club founded just seven years ago, but a club very much on the up.

John Hartson, who played all his career in the UK, was baffled, he could not believe it and pointed the finger at his agent.

“He’s gone over to Germany and I can’t understand that, to be honest with you. I think that stinks of agents more than anything else.

“How much German football do we all see? We see highlights of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, and that’s about it.

“The Premier League is the place to be. I thought that was the next step for him,” said Hartson.

It wasn’t though, and just what foundation Hartson had to suggest that Burke may not progress in Germany because the exposure of their rival European league in the UK was poor was a somewhat small-minded approach.

Burke, who is trying hard to learn the German language, cannot be accused of having a closed mind. The Scottish-born right winger is enjoying life and the culture in a new country and at the top of the Bundesliga to boot.

Don’t be mistaken; this is no fairytale story. The £13million deal to take Burke from Forest was the biggest ever involving a Scottish player. It’s not a rags to riches story, but a tale of boldness, and the desire to experience something new.

And just three months later Burke is already reaping the rewards after RasenBallsport Leipzig, to give them their full name, moved three points clear at the summit.

They remain unbeaten since their promotion to the top flight and if they can topple Freiburg on Friday they will march six points clear of Bayern Munich on the back of four straight promotions up the German ladder.

Burke might well be congratulated for snubbing the EPL’s elite and good on him for refusing to join the 40-plus players out on loan ‘developing’ at other clubs – the Chelsea model.

“For a young man I don’t want to go somewhere that is a big club but, really, am I going to play? Am I going to progress? Or are they just going to stick me out on loan, which happens a lot at English clubs nowadays,” Burke told the Daily Mail in September.

“You can only look at your Chelsea, and see the amount of talent they have, but they’re all on loan, not getting used.”

His decision though is paying dividends.

“It’s obviously proved everybody wrong and now I’ve really shown that I’ve come to a fantastic club. I don’t really need to say much really – look at where we are,” Burke told The Set Pieces.

“It’s been very positive. Every day I’m learning something new and I can only get better at this club,” said Burke.

Burke will be the first to admit he has plenty to learn and he’s far from the finished article, but he has moved on considerably from the teenager that was loaned to Bradford in 2014/15.

Then 17, he was sent north to pick up some first-team experience in the third tier of English football, but after two appearances and two defeats he returned to Forest having failed to show much of the potential that Forest suspected he heralded.

Burke though returned to the City Ground even more determined to improve and the following season he made 23 appearances, scoring twice, and his performances were getting noticed. Scouts from all over England were tracking the powerful forward and when he scored four times at the start of this season, Leipzig had seen enough to make him their joint-record signing.

He’s been far from a first-team regular for the upwardly-mobile German new boys. So far he has played only 193 minutes, making just one start, but he has made an impact.

His only start at Cologne saw him find the net, while he has provided two assists, but he knows he has plenty to learn.

“I have the right people around me and I’m still at a young age.

“It’s all about learning now and becoming a better player. I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”

Comparisons to Britain’s greatest ever football export – Gareth Bale – maybe premature but Burke’s future is a bright one despite being axed by Scotland recently.

Gordon Strachan dropped the youngster from the squad for the recent 3-0 defeat by Slovakia, just days after subbing Burke in the 1-1 draw with Lithuania. It will prove as a reminder to Burke that his journey has only just begun, but one player who made a similar move in 1996 – former Scotland skipper Paul Lambert – is convinced Burke is on the right path.

At the age of 25, Lambert moved from Motherwell to Borussia Dormund and he recently told the Daily Mail he is sure Burke will benefit from a similar move.

“He has been ambitious in going over there and I’m full of admiration for him. The easiest thing for him would’ve been just to stay in England.

“OK, he might not have played as many minutes as he would have liked so far. But he’s at a team that is absolutely flying, second in the Bundesliga.

“They are wiping out everything that’s in front of them, and, trust me, he will learn more there in six months than he would in a couple of years in England.”

Burke, who signed a five-year contract, will be hoping for a longer stay than that but all the signs are that if he decides to move on, his football education in Saxony will have stood him in good stead.

Matthew Briggs

No decision to make; USMNT and Klinsmann’s fight has gone

USMNT captain Michael Bradley was as diplomatic as he could have been in the wake of two damaging World Cup qualifying defeats this week, but even then his feelings were evident and coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s time looks to be up.

A 2-1 reverse to Mexico in Columbus was followed up by a 4-0 mauling by Costa Rica to leave Jurgen’s men bottom of their qualifying hex.

All is not lost with four automatic qualifiers from the group and two of the hardest games down. USMNT are still fancied to reach Russia in 2018 but whether Klinsmann will still be at the helm is very unlikely.

Whether it was a 3-4-3, which Klinsmann claimed or a 3-5-2, the switch from the usual 4-4-2 left the USA vulnerable and it was no surprise when Mexico pinched the points at the death. The change – the first time Klinsmann has used a three-man defence in competitive action – in such a big game was a gamble that did not pay off and Bradley afterwards admitted that Mexico’s spacing gave the USA clear problems and made it difficult to defend.

“The way they space themselves out and do a few things tactically, means that you have to have clear ideas about how you’re going to go about dealing with it,” said Bradley.

“I thought in the second half we were able to, just by virtue of rearranging ourselves and a little bit more intensity, get after them a little bit more and really close things down and really tilt the bar in our favor.”

The USA’s switch back to a 4-4-2 in the second half, whether it was prompted by Bradley and co. or not, gave USA a footing back into the game, but afterwards Klinsmann made it clear where he thought the blame lay.

Klinsmann called out Bradley and Jermaine Jones for not playing well enough in the first half and the very fact that he has decided to point the blame at the players may well be his final call because his goose looks cooked.

The second-half performance in Tuesday’s 4-0 defeat by Costa Rica was described as a ‘chaotic, ragged performance’, by MLS Soccer and raises the question whether Bradley and the rest of the players have given up on the German coach.

There has been tension between Bradley and Klinsmann recently with Bradley keen to play as a defensive midfielder, while Klinsmann has preferred to use him as box-to-box No. 4. Regardless of the history between them his second-half showing – matched by many of the USA side – was gutless.

“On a night like this there is no point in trying to look at it any other way,” Bradley said after his team’s second straight loss. “We have to be big enough and strong enough to say we weren’t good enough.”

When asked why the US weren’t good enough, Bradley paused for another 15 seconds before claiming the team wasn’t ready for “what the game was going to be about”.

Again hardly a glowing tribute to the coach, who afterwards admitted it was the most painful defeat of his reign.

“This is the defeat that hurts the most in my five years here, there’s no doubt about it,” Klinsmann told reporters as he took full responsibility for his team’s inability to bounce back from the Mexico setback.

“We had some chances but I think they gave us a psychological knock with that goal right before halftime,” he added.

“There’s always things you look back on and think you should have done differently,” Klinsmann said when asked about his game plan. “It’s not about the system.

“It’s about the willingness to fight back, and after the second goal they didn’t have that power or that drive to get back into the game.”

Has the fight gone from Klinsmann? Those comments suggest exactly that and a coach that is unable to rally his players usually finds himself dumped and pretty quickly.

His mood after Mexico was downbeat but he managed to post a thank you to fans for their support. His mood after the loss to Costa Rica was darker and his Twitter account has been silent ever since.

The trust and close bond between coach and the players looks to have disintegrated.

Asked whether time was up for Klinsmann, US Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati would not be rushed into a decision.

“We won’t make any decisions right after games,” said Gulati inside the Estadio Nacional.

“We’ll think about what happened today and talk with Jurgen and look at the situation. Obviously it’s not a good start to the Hex, and today in particular was not a good performance.”

Unfortunately for Klinsmann though there doesn’t look being much of a decision to make; the media have also decided he must go, and Gulati’s decision has almost been made for him.

Koeman blunder ruthlessly exposed by Conte’s flexible Chelsea

Chelsea would have swept away just about anyone put before them on Saturday night but Ronald Koeman’s decision to match-up Antonio Conte’s line-up was his worst yet as Everton boss.

Ahead of the game it was certainly a bold move against a Chelsea side who had won their previous four games, including a 4-0 demolition job on Manchester United, but in the aftermath of Everton’s 5-0 defeat it now looks naive.

A switch to 3-4-3 is paying dividends for Conte – a manager whose success in Serie A with Juventus was built on three at the back. Five straight wins, 16 goals scored and none conceded and a performance on Saturday evening which befitted the Bonfire Night date.

“This was the best 90 minute performance I have ever seen in the Premier League,” said legendary commentator John Motson.

“It was a great game, a good performance,” claimed Conte in the immediate aftermath – however after some time to reflect the Blues boss rightly upgraded the display and after being asked to use an Italian word – ‘fantastica’ was his considered response.

Conte was right to crow too because Chelsea were simply breathtaking, but Koeman’s attempts to nullify the hosts with a like-for-like formation was suicidal. Not since the opening day of the season had Everton gone with a back three and although they managed a draw against Spurs on that day they were never going to get a repeat once Eden Hazard had put Chelsea ahead.

Playing a three-man defence and a rearguard with limited pace too against Hazard, Diego Costa and Pedro was always going to be risky and it proved more than that as Chelsea’s three frontrunners tore Koeman’s men apart.

Playing against two strikers a back three can be very effective, because it gives you a man over in defence while you can then try and outnumber the opposition in midfield. Playing three vs three though, and away from home when you are likely to see little possession is and was a very different story.

Everton had seen only Spurs concede fewer goals ahead of the Stamford Bridge clash but it soon became clear that switching from a back four to a back three was not as easy as it may seem.

Koeman afterwards claimed the formation was irrelevant because Chelsea’s pressing, hard running and quick passing would have prevailed whatever, but his 3-4-3 failed to give his men a footing in the game.

The Dutchman switched to a back four on 36 minutes with the arrival of Kevin Mirallas and he will point to the fact that his men fared no better to prove the point that the system was not a factor.

However, starting a back four would not have left his defenders three on three against a revitalised Chelsea.

Hazard looks like the player he was the year before last and much of that has to do with him being further forward and able to vacate any defensive duties. It’s no coincidence the Belgium star now has seven goals this term, eclipsing the six he grabbed last season after admitting he has got his football mojo back again.

“I am enjoying playing now, my position is a bit different from before, I go inside more and I try to shoot,” he said after scoring twice on Saturday.

Costa, who also netted leads the scoring charts, looked a yard sharper and is thriving on two quick players either side of him, while Pedro looked like the player he was at Barcelona for years – rampaging up and down the right flank.

Koeman will point to the absence of the suspended Idrissa Gueye. He leads the division on tackles won (44) and was a big miss at the Bridge but Chelsea would have found a way through with or without Gueye.

For Chelsea David Luiz put in another rock-like display in the middle of the back three.

His return to the Bridge was met with some scepticism and he was surely not Conte’s first choice as he returned somewhat out of the blue on transfer deadline day. Kalidou Koulibaly of Napoli was rumored to be Conte’s preferred target, but the Brazil defender was the man drafted in and he has been molded into a reliable kingpin.

His ability to bring the ball out of defence was always undeniable but the fans and pundits that once sniggered at his lackadaisical tendencies have been forced to take note of his improvement – a man coached the right way.

Ahead of the season in his first Chelsea press conference Conte placed his emphasis on being flexible.

“When I was in Italy I liked to say that the coach is like a tailor,” he said. “You must build the best dress for a team, and respect their characteristics and talents. Then you decide. In the past I started seasons with one idea and then changed it because I saw this system wasn’t good. Three at the back? Four at the back? It’s not important.”

And he’s done exactly that with Chelsea – aborting a back four after the mauling by Arsenal to adopt a three-man defence which has suited his squad thus far.

The Italian tactician, who has long-term plans and is soon hoping to bring his family to the capital, employed an attacking 4-2-4 formation at Bari between 2007-09 and he won the Serie B title in the latter of those two seasons, before using the same line-up with two high-playing wingers at Siena en route to another Serie B promotion two years later.

The 46 year-old attempted to play a similar way at Juventus before the arrival of Arturo Vidal and then he went to a 3-5-2 system to suit the Chile star, which brought him three successive Serie A titles.

He’s modified that again at Chelsea. Employing a 3-4-3 line-up and his ability and willingness to be flexible will be a major advantage as Chelsea bid to get back to where they once were.

Matthew Briggs

Traditional soccer match reports nearing extinction

When the English Press Association published a story last week suggesting that automated reporting could be introduced before the turn of the year there were sighs of disbelief from within the publishing industry.

At least PA editor-in-chief Pete Clifton confirmed that robots would not be used to “cover fires and for court reporting,” but that was little to comfort to the industry, which has seen some pretty big changes over the last decade.

Clifton claimed they were ready to start experimenting with automated sport and news stories to support their current newsroom. Essentially, the robots are coming.

“It will be more a case of offering an extra level when it comes to short market reports, election results and football reporting,” Clifton told the Society of Editors conference in Carlisle last week.

The news may have come as a surprise to some, but the real shock is not that the PA want to use Metal Mickey to write reports, more that they still concluded that football reports are relevant. It may seem crazy to think that traditional match reporting is a thing of the past, but that’s the way we are heading and quickly.

The original match reports filed from journalists at games are labor intensive and ultimately expensive. And while it was a necessity in the past we are now staring at a digital era where their relevance is debatable.

They are not high traffic drivers in the digital era and why would they be?


Who wants to and who has the time to read through paragraph after paragraph of detailed copy from the afternoon’s encounter when we have already seen countless images, info-graphics, stats, gifs, vines and videos of the game’s defining moments? Everyone that seemingly matters are demanding 10-second clips of action so they can continue to browse their Twitter and Facebook feeds looking for monkeys riding motorbikes.

We already have a picture of the match in our heads even before match reports start hitting websites at 5pm and well before newspapers go to print. Browsing key stats, watching streamed live action and viewing social media comment from fans at games has already left a lasting memory – there’s simply no need to wade through 4000 words. And with player and manager video and audio reaction now readily available, often before match reports are published, it makes them almost superfluous when they eventually land.

Social media has essentially given everyone the platform to report and offer opinion, be it both good and bad and that presents the current generation with all they need. The ability to take pictures and record video on phones has revolutionized the way fans consume games. The recent Liverpool v Manchester United clash saw a clip of Liverpool fans more focused on taking pictures and filiming Jose Mourinho than watching the on-the-field action.

On-the-whistle analysis, player ratings and ‘five things we learnt’ are all preferred places to click. People are now searching for bespoke content and they want it quick too. The days of readers reading about their team’s result are gone. There are now so may other mediums for the younger generation to immerse themselves in that match reports seem almost antiquated.

The growing rise of E-Sports and FIFA, the all but obsessive use of mobile phones and tablets mean that younger fans consume football in a totally different way to how they did even five years ago.

That’s a problem that has started to infiltrate live TV coverage of football too. Only last week UK broadcaster Sky announced a 19% drop in their live viewing figures for Premier League football. A somewhat worrying statistic and while one key factor is almost certainly due to the increasing price, illegal streaming of matches on mobiles and tablets is also a major reason.

In the USA pay television has been in decline for the last few years. ESPN for example had a peak in their subscriber base in 2011 – with 100 miillion subscribers. But they have lost 10 million since then with four million of those subscriber losses coming since July 2015.

The NFL has also seen an 11% decrease in viewing figures year on year and they are almost undoubtedly battling to engage the younger audience. Why subscribe to monthly service when you rarely watch it in its entirety, and, if you are technically savvy enough, it’s out there for free?

The desire to solely concentrate on a full game is at best waning and almost gone. The younger generation are busy. They’re consuming sport on the go and usually while watching or doing something else (those monkeys again). The emergence of YouTube and Netflix and the like are having a huge impact on traditional television.

Ken Early’s brilliant Irish Times column reported that Nielsen claimed 18-24 year-olds are spending 38% less time watching television than they did in 2010. And while Sky’s subscriber base is still believed to be growing, albeit slowly, they are surely soon going to see the same pattern as their counterparts across the pond?

So if broadcasters are struggling to capture the imagination of the younger fans then publishers might as well write their match reports on blackboards with chalk or send them by carrier pigeon that’s how outdated they are in these ’10-second times’.

Matthew Briggs

The importance of leadership whilst learning

Being a student means always learning, which essentially means following the direction of someone else.

In school, you are constantly listening to a teacher or a coach and then come home and listen to your parents. There tends to be little opportunity for independent thinking. Once you get to college it all completely changes. You are on your own, making your own schedule and making real decisions for yourself. That’s why gaining leadership experience at a young age is indispensable.

Being a leader can come in many different forms. For high school students, one way to gain leadership skills is by playing sports. Being on a team can teach you valuable life lessons, not just leadership.

However, the one who has the opportunity to learn the most about leadership is the team captain. No matter what sport or what team you are on, being named a captain is an honor and the responsibility that comes with that title makes for an invaluable experience.

As someone who was a high school sports captain, my time as a young leader has helped me greatly later on in life. When I was a young and an inexperienced freshman starting my high school sports career playing tennis and soccer, I first looked up to the seniors and in particular the captains. I looked to them as a model for how they conducted themselves, and what it meant to be a high school athlete. I made it my goal to one day be in their shoes and to have the freshmen look up to me.

The best thing about being a leader is there is no right or wrong way to do it. You can lead by example, be a vocal leader, or just be there for advice. In the high school sports setting much of that responsibility falls on the coach, but the captains can play a key role due to familiarity. The captain is a part of the team who goes to class all day just like everybody else. They face the same problems and after practice head home to complete their homework like any normal high school student does. The coach does not.

It was a very rewarding experience finally having the opportunity to be a leader on a team I was a part of all four years of school. I was honored to be voted captain by my team-mates. As a kid, and yes high school students are still kids, being a sports captain allows you to have a responsibility for others. Just like being a big brother or big sister, those below you are watching your every move whether you notice or not.

High school sports presents opportunities for certain life experiences that just cannot be found anywhere else, and being a high school sports captain teaches you about leadership that could be hard to learn anywhere else in school. That experience will pay dividends later in life when you always have to do the right thing and take charge just as you would in a game. In the real world people will be relying on you at a job just like on a team.

Learning how to be a leader is something a student cannot find in a textbook. It is something you gain through experience. The biggest challenge to leadership is not becoming one but how to be an effective one. Your surroundings are constantly changing and you must adapt your leadership style to those around you. The sooner in life you can acquire leadership skills, the better off you can be down the road.

Jeff Zeserson

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A GoPlay Guide to Player Recruitment and Retention

“One week training abroad is worth a year training at home,” is a common belief held by coaches who travel.

Any team is only as good as the players who comprise it. In order for teams in any sport, level of competition, or age group, to succeed, they need to attract talent, keep them there from year to year, and help them reach their full potential.

This guide offers helpful insight and techniques into how you as a coach can elevate your program to the next level by recruiting, retaining, and developing top players.

About the Authors

GENE KLEIN (Regional Coordinator) has over 30 years soccer coaching experience across multiple levels – High School, youth, ODP, college and professional. As a former Head Coach and Technical Director of Pittsburgh Riverhounds Professional Soccer and former Head Coach of Quaker Valley High School, Klein has a wealth of knowledge and experience in coaching as he guided Quaker Valley High School to six Pennsylvania state championships. He is a Regional Coordinator at GoPlay Tours.

BRIAN AINSCOUGH (Technical Director) has over 20 years of collegiate coaching experience at both the Division I and Division III levels spending time as head coach at Northeastern, Bowdoin and Providence College. Originally from Dublin Ireland, he came to the United States after a standout performance on the 1983 Irish Youth National Team. He played four years at Fairleigh Dickinson University before beginning his professional career in the American Professional Soccer League. He is also the executive director of FC Boston, a US Soccer Development Academy with over 2000 players and over 130 teams. He is the Technical Director at GoPlay Sports Tours.

MARC AMIGONE (Content & Social Media Marketing Manager) played four years of Varsity Collegiate Squash at St. Lawrence University and studied abroad in France, Kenya and Tanzania in High School and College. He’s also an avid rock-climber and runner.


Recruitment and retention are every coach’s top priorities

Without top players coming in staying with your program, it’s impossible to ascend to a top level of competition. Prospective players, and their families, are looking for an environment where they’ll be pushed to reach their full potential.

On a daily basis, they want to know how they’re going to be challenged. They’re looking for a program with a culture of dedication and commitment where they’ll be developing as athletes on and off the field.

Having a vision

Top players are goal oriented. They want to see a pathway to the next level. They have a clear vision of what their future will be and they’re looking for the right environment to reach that potential. Top-level facilities and coaches are fantastic selling points, but they can be hard to quantify exactly how they’re better than your competition.

Setting yourself apart

As coaches and program directors, you have to find a clear way to set yourself apart from the competition.

Travel can be that differentiator

In order to attract top players to your program who are looking for a pathway to the top levels of competition, you have to enhance the overall experience and give them something they’ll always remember. Travel deepens their connection to the game, deepens their passion for the game, and gets them hooked by putting the game in a different context. It lets them see the commitment they made is all worthwhile.

Branding your program internationally

Building travel into your program as a core component will pay dividends for years to come by giving you a brand identity and marketing image as an internationally focused program.

Parents are always looking for the overall experience for their kids. They want them to reach their potential on the field, but they also want them to form strong bonds with their team-mates, learn valuable life lessons about discipline and dedication, and grow up in the process.

Travel is a fantastic way for players and their parents to form strong relationships with each other as well as with their coaches.


Raise the level of competition

For players who aspire to play at the highest levels of competition in their sport, it’s invaluable for them to gain exposure to international competition and realize they’re competing with the whole world.

Coming back a different team

We hear from coaches time and again about how their players return from travel experiences more mature, cultured, and independent which translates into their performance on the field in a myriad of ways.

Their passion and commitment to the game grows, their attitude and mentality to be a serious player develops, and seeing the way people live outside the United States gives them a sense of perspective, gratitude and humility.

Creating a team atmosphere

As great as travel can be for individual players, it does even more collectively for the entire team. Leaders emerge during travel experiences. Getting the group outside their comfort zone and creating the imperative for them to work together helps develop and strengthen the team environment where players hold each other accountable.

Learning to adapt to a different culture and deal with adversity as a team brings everyone together and gives the coaches the chance to show their players exactly how much they care about them.

The lesson that lasts forever

The experience of traveling becomes a reference point for players and coaches. Getting coaching from a dierent perspective and voice as well as facing a different level and style of competition can leave an indelibly positive impact.

Games, coaching, and situational lessons all act as vivid examples to which coaches and players can point when teaching or emphasizing a message for seasons to come. It works as a promise as much as a reflective emphasis giving coaches a motivational tool throughout the season, before or after the trip.

It also builds leaders in the team and brings everyone closer together through their common experiences. Any coach will tell you, a sense of accountability and collective responsibility is vital to success in any team atmosphere.


Whether you’re aspiring to build your program into a perennial powerhouse, or hold on to your status as one of the top teams in your league, the techniques outlined are all designed to help you reach your goals. Coaches who travel with their teams often say: “One week training abroad is worth a year training at home.”

Outlining that vision to prospective and existing players and their families is the best way to give them what they’re looking for: the opportunity to reach their full potential.

Melville successor has hard act to follow at USA Rugby

Nigel Melville leaves his post as Chief Executive Officer of USA Rugby this week and his successor has a hard act follow.

Former England scrum-half Melville, 55, departs after nine and a half years at the helm to take up the role of Director of Professional Rugby for the Rugby Football Union (RFU).

Melville, who admits when he arrived in 2007 he simply “had to get the ball in the hands of as many kids as possible” will leave a huge void and exits the organization in a position of strength. He is though sure the game will “get bigger and bigger”, but that brief will now be in the hands of his successor and there have been in excess of 150 candidates for the post.

USA Rugby this week announced the appointment of Jim Snyder as Acting Chief Executive Officer. Snyder will retain his current responsibilities as Chief Financial Officer, while USA Rugby also announced their search for a new CEO continues and is in the “final stages.”

READ MORE: ‘Building the Game’ with Rugby Utah and GoPlay

“We have had an extremely strong candidate pool for the position of CEO,” USA Rugby Chairman of the Board Bob Latham told “The remaining candidates all possess an impressive level of experience and talents. I have no doubt that the future of USA Rugby will be in good hands.”

While several applicants are believed to have strong resumes; the new man will have a difficult act to follow with Melville boasting a record which includes boosting registered rugby players from 50,000 in 2007 to over 115,000 at the current time.

“When I first came here it wasn’t really doing anything and it wasn’t really going anywhere,” said Melville, who was responsible for organizing an international rugby union match between the USA Eagles and the New Zealand All Blacks at Soldier Field, the home of the Chicago Bears, which was a 62,000 sell-out.

It was a proud moment for the Yorkshireman, who can only see the game in the US grow: “The bottom line is that it’s growing… it won’t go backwards now, it’ll get bigger and bigger,” added Melville.

Described as having one of the best passes in the game and captaining England on three separate occasions Melville’s leadership qualities came to the fore at USA Rugby.

Within three years of his appointment his urgency “to get the ball in the hands of kids” saw nearly two million American kids participate in ‘Rookie Rugby’. And from that moment Melville says he could “see the pathway develop – it brings growth in schools, in colleges and eventually in clubs”.


  • Rugby is the fastest growing sport in North America.
  • Youth Rugby has increased 25% over the last three years.
  • Rugby is the fastest growing collegiate sport for both men and women.
  • Rugby is the 3rd largest sporting event in the world behind only soccer and the Olympics


The potential for future growth at collegiate level is huge and one which the role’s new incumbent will surely be looking to develop. While Melville’s mantra of trying “to create a game that embraces tradition and brings to the table all that is great about American sport” will probably still be hanging on the wall at his Colorado headquarters.

“If you can get the right athletes with the right coaches, you can really make progress,” added Melville, who can also boast a key role in winning the bid to host the Rugby World Cup Sevens 2018 in San Francisco – a “truly historic moment”.

USA Rugby’s loss will by the RFU’s gain, but Melville leaves the state of the game in a far rosier place than when he arrived almost a decade ago and there are certainly no hard feelings on USA Rugby’s part.

“He has propelled USA Rugby forward on every level. He leaves with our everlasting gratitude, our blessings, and our expectations that he will remain a friend of USA Rugby in his new position,” added Latham.

READ ABOUT: GoPlay Building the Game with Utah Rugby

EPL outfit Southampton heading to Baltimore

EPL outfit Southampton will be heading to Baltimore for a week-long training camp in July.

As part of Saints’ new global partnership with Under Armour, which launches on July 1, the south-coast club will head across The Pond as part of their pre-season programme.

While some members of the first-team squad will be given additional time off following the conclusion of Euro 2016 the rest of the team will fly out to America on July 11 as they kick off their build up to the 2016/17 Premier League.

The training camp will serve to build on the foundations already laid in the region, with Southampton Academy coaches delivering coaching clinics to local teams as the club develops its Grass Roots Club Partnership programme to support the progression of football in North America.

Under Armour, who will provide game-changing technologies and product innovations for Saints over the course of the next seven years, will also welcome the club’s players and staff to their headquarters during the trip.

Towards the end of the trip Saints will also play their first pre-season game, as they take part in a behind-closed-doors friendly on Friday July 15.

Saints’ pre-season preparations will continue upon their return to the Staplewood Campus, before heading out to Holland on Friday July 22 for three friendlies against Dutch opposition.