Jamaica international Michael Hector lost on English Premier League (EPL) debut for promoted Fulham United, but for the player, the fixture itself marked the end of a long journey to topflight football that took 11 seasons and 15 clubs.

The 28-year-old centre half, who has featured for Jamaica in recent Gold Cup campaigns, was first signed for Reading in 2009 but amazingly went out on loan every season for his six years at the club.  While at Reading, where he resigned in 2012, Hector was loaned to Bracknell Town, Didcot Town, Havant & Waterlooville, Oxford City, Horsham, Dundalk, Barnet, Shrewsbury Town, Aldershot Town, Cheltenham Town, and Aberdeen.

In 2015, things seemed to be looking up for the player when he was snapped up by then Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho on deadline day, after watching him on loan at Aberdeen.  It seemed the much-travelled defender was now destined to appear in the topflight.

 Hector was, however, immediately loaned back to Reading.  He returned to Chelsea and trained with the first team ahead of the new season but was loaned out to German club Eintracht Frankfurt.  Next up for Hector, was a loan spell at Hull City and he joined Sheffield Wednesday the following season.  He, however, impressed at Sheffield and was named the club's Player of the Year at end of that season.

In December of last year, he joined Fulham for an undisclosed fee.  He settled well into the new team and on August 5th, 2020, he started the 2020 EFL Championship play-off final, which promoted Fulham back to the Premier League.  The player started again for Fulham on the team’s debut, on Saturday, and despite a 3-0 loss to Arsenal must feel some amount of satisfaction to be playing his first match in the Premier League.

Seven years ago, a fact-based thriller about the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis won best picture at the Academy Awards. The name of the picture was Argo, the name of the director was … some guy named Ben Affleck.

Last summer Paul Pogba gave an interview which shocked me as a Manchester United fan.

The fact that he wanted to leave didn’t come as a massive surprise, however, the fact he expressed it, was for me the ultimate show of disrespect to a club which I’ve been supporting since the Trinidadian striker Dwight Yorke joined in 1998.

Pogba, in Tokyo for a promotion, said "After this season and everything that happened this season, with my season being my best season as well ... I think for me it could be a good time to have a new challenge somewhere else. I am thinking of this: to have a new challenge somewhere else."

What?! Where is the loyalty!?

As I said, he wanting a departure wasn’t shocking. His demeanour under the dour Jose Mourinho who dropped him like an unwanted case of the “virus” wasn’t healthy and it made the situation at Manchester United untenable. In fact, if Mourinho had been kept on as manager, the Frenchman would have likely returned to Juventus or gone to Real Madrid.

In September of 2018, Pogba went in front of reporters and openly called out the playing style under Mourinho after a 1-1 draw with Wolves.

“We should play much better against Wolves,” he said, “When we are at home we should attack, attack, attack. That’s Old Trafford. We are here to attack. I think teams are scared when they see Man United attacking and attacking. That was our mistake today. We’ve had three games at home and we’ve got only four points. It’s not enough.”

Three months later, Mourinho was sacked and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over as interim manager. And in his first 16 games, the Norwegian won 13 of them, before ending the season with 2 wins from 11 games. And it was during that summer break when Pogba made his comments in Tokyo. So when he said it was his best season at Manchester United, he was right. He led the club in goals, assists, completed passes, chances created, successful dribbles, key passes and shots on target.

Pogba was essentially a one-man show and he was tired.

As a fan, we expect players to show the same level of loyalty as we do. I was similarly disturbed when Cristiano Ronaldo wanted to leave for Real Madrid, when Roy Keane threatened to quit the club and when Wayne Rooney wanted to go… twice… thrice? I lost count.

However, all of them, superstars, were afforded the tools to be successful and they were! All three players hoisted both the Premier League and Champions League trophies. All three of them were part of great teams. All three of them were part of a structure envied by many teams.

So this is why criticism of Pogba who wanted to leave an ordinary team is unfounded. Football is the ultimate team sport. No matter how good an individual is, the team is only as good as the sum of its parts and the system in which they play. And Pogba, a player filled with ambition, missed what he had with Juventus, where he was one of the main men, and not the only man.

So when Bruno Fernandes arrived during the winter transfer window this season, Pogba raced to meet his new best friend and went out of his way to help him find somewhere to live. If Manchester United was a rehab centre, Fernandes was the drug Pogba wanted… such was his eagerness to help the Portuguese maestro settle. No relapse was to be expected here, as this was what Pogba needed.

And in an interview today with MUTV, Pogba gushed over his teammates, especially those in the attacking third.

“From behind I just enjoy it. I’m enjoying just watching Bruno, Rashford, Martial and Mason, who all played the last game, and seeing them score goals. You just keep applauding, it’s beautiful… they make me enjoy football every time!” he beamed.

“You can tell that the team is improving a lot,” he continued, “We play more as a team than we did before, we enjoy it, even more, we defend together, we attack together, and this team is stronger as well. The players who are on the bench or who don’t play every time, when they come on they help the team so the mentality is good and is right. All this together has put us where we are today.”

It’s clear that Pogba is driven by ambition which has to be reciprocated by the club. So bring on a champions league placing, a new contract for the Frenchman, Jadon Sancho and let the good times roll again at Manchester United.

Donald Oliver is a football and cricket commentator and a senior producer at SportsMax. Learn more about him at www.thedonaldoliver.com or email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Leroy Sane saga

July 02, 2020

The Manchester City winger has certainly been in the headlines over the past 12 months.

Some former players, and Jurgen Klopp, offer their thoughts on who has been Liverpool's star man this term.

Liverpool are the 2019/20 English Premier League champions and after their performance this season, even with eight games still to play, will likely go down as one of the greatest teams to have lifted the title.

That supposition made me think, well, which teams can boast of being the greatest team to have played in the Premier League era (1992-present)? And boom, there we have it, our next Best XI.

With the number of titles Manchester United have won during the Premier League era, it is no surprise that they have dominated a list of the best XI teams to have played in the competition, but there are 11 of them, so maybe a team you support has found its way in there.

The truth is the English Premier League has provided some wonderful entertainment over the last almost 30 years and there have been many wonderful players and teams that have brought joy to many all over the world.

Whether you agree with this list or not, and please share that opinion on Facebook or Twitter, you must agree that the world is a much more drab place without the Premier League in it. Welcome back sport.

 

BestXI Premier League teams of all time

 

 

1.      Manchester City (2017/18)

This team was the team that Pep Guardiola built. It was his second season in charge of Manchester City and by then he had them running like a well-oiled machine, changing the nature of what was required to be crowned champions of the Premiership. Pep’s galaxy of stars scored 106 goals, conceding just 27 for a goal difference of a remarkable +79 on their way to 100 points, 19 more than second-place Manchester United. They lost just two games all season and drew on four occasions, putting down a marker for teams to follow.

 

2.      Arsenal (2003/04)

This squad, having achieved an unbeaten season for the first time in 100 years of the Premier League, has been argued to be the greatest squad of all time and who could argue against that? While Chelsea’s 2004/05 team only conceded 15 goals in an entire season, the zero figure under the losses column makes this team the most revered defensively. Attackingwise, the combination of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddi Ljungberg, and Robert Pires can boast to be comparable to any ever assembled in the history of English football. The central midfield pairing of Patrick Viera and Gilberto Silva was also very formidable, with a great many big teams mimicking the formula to this day.

3.      Manchester United (1997/1998)

In the 1998/1999 season, Manchester United won the League and Fa Cup double as well as the Champions League. That feat meant Alex Ferguson’s Class of ’92 had come of age. Now without the talismanic Eric Cantona and going trophyless the season before, the combination of Gary Neville, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Ryan Giggs had turned the fortunes of the side around in the most incredible fashion. While they only won the title, pipping Arsenal by a single point, their resilience, their ability to snatch victory from the draws of defeat was one of the wonders of the decade. Nowhere was that more evident than in the Champions League final where they beat Bayern Munich in the final, scoring twice in the dying seconds of the game.

 

4.      Manchester City (2018/19)

An ageing team, it was difficult for Manchester City to repeat the title-winning performance of a year before, and the team had to do it without the services of Kevin De Bruyne and Vincent Company for much of the season. Showing off their depth and their mettle Manchester City had to win every game of their last 14 encounters to stay ahead of a marauding Liverpool, who finished just a point behind. The season also saw the growth of Raheem Sterling and the longevity of David Silva on display. Sergio Aguero, when fit, was also at his consistent best. Overcoming the trials of this season is what makes this Manchester City teams one of the all-time greats of Premier League history. The team finished with a +72 goal difference, 95 goals and 98 points. Their four losses and two draws represented a blip that was certainly overshadowed by their run in to the final game where they sealed the title.

 

5.      Chelsea (2004/05)

Jose Mourinho changed Chelsea from a team that played free-flowing beautiful football but often came up short when it counted most into a defensive beast in 2004. The team had 25 clean sheets in the 38 games they played from 2004 to 2005. Those stats are impressive and puts this team as the single most impressive defensive unit in the Premier League’s history. But it must be remembered that Chelsea were also a brilliant attacking force, with the combination Damien Duff and Arjen Robben counter-attacking teams into the dust. So good was the team that the 4-3-3 formation it used, was adopted by most of the league by the end of the season.

 

6.      Chelsea (2016/17)

Antonio Conte took over a Chelsea team in transition and struggled with getting them to look like a cohesive unit. That is until he switched to a 3-4-3 formation resulting in a remarkable turnaround that still brought all of 93 points to Stamford Bridge on the way to a title-winning debut for the coach.

The new formation revived the career of Cesc Fabregas, proved N’Gola Kante was no fluke and provided Eden Hazard with the kind of freedom he strived on, especially with the support of Marcos Alonso and Victor Moses’ marauding runs down either flank. Chelsea also had the robust work of Diego Costa up front. Two years before, Mourinho’s Chelsea had crawled over the line for a title-winning season, but this blues line-up seemed to get stronger as the season progressed.

 

7.      Manchester United (2008/09)

Manchester United’s 2008/09 winning season is precious not just because all Premier League titles come at a premium, but because it came at the expense of Rafael Benetiz’s Liverpool, a team of certain quality.

United, without the services of the injured Owen Hargreaves and Michael Owen, depended on the silky-smooth presence of Dimitar Berbatov, who while much maligned for his lack of work ethic, still managed to keep scoring. Defensively, this United team also had great moments, going without conceding a goal from November to late February, a string of 14 games.


 

8.      Chelsea (2005/06)

Michael Essien is perhaps the name somebody could most easily point to as the reason for Chelsea’s dominance in the 2005-06 season. With an ageing Damien Duff and a less-than-his-best Arjen Robben, Chelsea were not the same attacking force they had been a season before. But that did not matter as their midfield, driven by the indefatigable Essien, gave oppositions no opportunities to take over games. There workmanlike performances over the course of the season made them an unliked team, for the most part, because there wasn’t the flair of previous seasons. However, that made them an underrated team rather than not a good one. Still, they ended eight points clear of nearest rivals Manchester United and boasted the best goal difference in the league by a long way, ending with a +50 figure as opposed to United’s +38.

 

9.      Manchester United (1993/94)

Consistency was the key to Manchester United’s 1993-94 triumph. While the Red Devils were the most dominant of all Premier League teams during the 1990s, this unit was even more so than all their different iterations over the decade. The unit saw the inclusion of newcomer Roy Keene, who along with Paul Ince, produced a formidable duo of box-to-box players rather than holding midfielders.

That dynamic meant that while Manchester United were listed as playing 4-4-2, they were perhaps the first team to really employ a 4-2-3-1 formation. Andrei Kanchelskis and Ryan Giggs provided lightning pace down the flanks while Eric Cantona played behind targetman, Mark Hughes. The line-up was irresistible when you factor in a solid backline with the ever-present Denis Irwin, Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, and Paul Parker. The four were backed up by the best goalkeeper in the league, Peter Schmeichel. Together they would rack up 92 points to finish eight clear of Blackburn Rovers.

 

10. Leicester (2015/2016)

It is easy, especially since they haven’t challenged since and never posed a significant threat before to call the Leicester City team that won the 2015-16 an aberration in a season where the other ‘big’ teams underperformed. But in doing so, you would have ignored the fact that N’Golo Kante announced himself as one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. That Riyad Mahrez’s exploits made him one of Europe’s best performing attacking midfielders/wingers, whatever you want to call him and that Wes Morgan led a defensive unit that was almost impenetrable, even for the most creative of teams in the English Premier League. That Jamie Vardy broke the EPL record for scoring in the most consecutive games. And if you want to ignore all of that, you still have to factor in that over the course of 38 games, Leicester lost just thrice. For an entire season, Leicester threw the rulebook out the window, depending on counter-attacking football throughout, never failing to hurt teams with blinding speed even after the hard yards of defending for long periods of time.

  

11. Manchester United (1999/2000)

A year on from winning a most unlikely treble, it was hard to imagine a Manchester United repeating a league win given the last-ditch effort it took to get the better of perennial rivals, Arsenal. However, it was to be an almost unprecedented romp, as newcomers Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole tore into the league’s defenders, quickly becoming the most dangerous attacking pairing in the league.

Of course, the presence of Giggs, Scholes, Keane and Beckham behind them didn’t make things any easier for the opposition, while Mikael Silvestre added pace to a backline that had lost some.

Manchester United scored 97 goals that season and only lost three of their 38 games, leaving Arsenal hobbled in their wake.

Last night I was watching Oral Tracey’s commentary during Prime Time News. He spoke about coaches from minorities in the English Premier League.

While sharing his views, he kept referring to coaches as ‘he’. His closing really got me: “The coach will always get a job whether he’s white or he’s yellow or he’s black.” He might be right, I don’t think he is, but what happens if that coach is a she?

Tracey is continuing to prove Natasha Orchard-Smith right. Smith, the only female to coach semi-professional men's football, doesn't think women will be a part of the conversation anytime soon. The conversation she is speaking about is women coaching at top teams in the top leagues like the English Premier League.

Orchard-Smith said she didn't believe backroom staff would be so bold. Her sentiments were backed by another Smith. Former Arsenal and England forward Kelly Smith, at just 41 years old, doesn't think a woman will coach in the English Premier League in her lifetime. 

"Personally, I don't see that in my lifetime. I think there's still a long way to go in terms of earning that respect and women being allowed to coach in the men's game at the Premier League level,” said Smith.

There’s a popular quote that goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” Forgetting people or things that are not visible especially for a long period of time. I could understand if women coaches didn’t have special requirements to fill those positions. But this isn't the case. Presently, there are women with credentials to coach at the professional league level. According to Smith, "Some female coaches have the elite, the professional license that the men have…” So, why aren't they being given opportunities?

I think women aren't given the chance to coach professional leagues because they’re forgotten. Since they’ve been unwillingly absent from these roles for so long, we naturally forget about them. As Smith says, “There are so many doors closed right now to female coaches.”

Some part of me wants to say this smells like something that starts with ‘s’. Sexism!

Smith admits, “I just don't think chairmen and board members are willing to give women that opportunity and open the door…”

As I put my thinking cap on, it’s all starting to make sense. We know women are the ones locked out. Smith said chairmen and board members are reluctant to open the door. Can I suggest certain men have the key?

Sure, there are possibilities for women to coach at academies and at the non-league football level. Natalie Henderson coaches Newcastle United’s academy. In March 2019, she was one of two female coaches there.

Although the Premier League's ‘Black and Minority Ethnic and Female Coach initiative’ aims to take on more women (and other minorities) for a more diverse space, the programme only invests in the coaches' development as far as becoming elite at the youth level.

But Henderson believes that diversity is important at all levels.

"Everybody has their own qualities and everybody has their own experiences to pass on to the players, and I think that’s really important, to have a diverse set of staff to help that," she said.

Dwight Yorke shared a similar view in an interview. He acknowledges that representation is crucial especially at the top of an organization. There has to be someone looking out for another person’s best interest.

He focused on the absence of black managers in professional leagues. “When you think of the percentage of black players that have graced the game and contribute to the game of football, why aren’t they being given a fair chance?” Yorke urged board members to at least have the decency to come in and listen to those applying for a position. I want women to get the same courtesy.

Please share your thoughts on Twitter (@SportsMax_Carib) or in the comments section on Facebook (@SportsMax). Don’t forget to use #IAmNotAFan. Until next time!

The 20 clubs in the English Premier League, EPL are together losing about US$31 million each weekend that action in the globe’s most-watched sporting competition is suspended. That figure covers matchday related income alone. Television rights account for the bulk of EPL teams’ earnings and collectively, the suspension in play, induced by COVID 19,  is causing the teams to lose an estimated US$920 million. That’s a revenue bleed that no financial analyst would have ever seen in their career, let alone having a strategy to staunch.

Every player in the first team squad of an EPL team is a millionaire. Every. Single. One. There are 512 players listed in the first team squads of all 20 EPL sides, an average of about 26 players for each club.

Manchester City’s 24-man first-team squad is paid an average basic wage of US$8.73 million each, the highest average in the league. Manchester United, which has the highest overall wage bill at US$396 million, pays its 27 first teamers an average of US$7.66 million each. At the bottom of the payscale is Sheffield United, which pays each of its 22 first teamers a basic average salary of US$910,000, while just above them is Norwich City, which pays its 27 first teamers a basic average wage of US$1.2 million each.

But enough of those big numbers for the moment. The point being made is that EPL players are among the best-remunerated individuals in the global workforce, regardless of industry. The basic wages paid to them comfortably eclipses the wage-plus-bonus-plus-benefits package taken home by some well-paid professionals in other fields. That is why so many people are disappointed at the refusal by EPL players, through their union, the Professional Footballers Association, PFA, to take a pay cut and allow their clubs to breathe in this moment.

Indeed 92% of participants in a recent YouGov survey believe EPL players should take a pay cut in this difficult time, with another 67% saying the players should surrender at least half of their salaries. 

People are not stupid. They know greed when they see it. And already, many on that red hot spit known as social media are roasting players for putting greed above benevolence, compassion and basic humanity.

They ask, how can these players continue demanding their hefty paycheques when many people who work in the unglamorous roles in professional football face the stark reality of being laid off by their struggling employers?

Indeed, the man leading the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Gordon Taylor has given life to the term irony by his staunch defence of the players’ rights to not have a dollar docked from their salaries. Taylor himself is a man who lives high on the hog. Afterall he can afford to.

In 2017, the now 75-year-old was paid a salary of US$2.7 million. No wonder that in this situation he guards his players’ interests like a mongrel, growling as he protects a piece of liver from a pesky fowl in his master’s yard. 

As Premier League officials meet with club executives and the PFA to reach a common position on wages, the Tottenham Hotspur chairman, Daniel Levy has made a clever move in what appears to be a chess match with his own players.

Levy announced that 550 non-playing staff had agreed to a 20% cut in their wages. He says the move allows the club to keep them all in employment during this period. Levy is among the 550. This move is no doubt intended to guilt trip Jose Mourinho and the 25 members of his first-team squad to do what the cleaning lady, kit man, groundsman, tea lady, club steward and janitor at Spurs have all done.

Levy never does anything without calculating the ramifications down to the last decimal point.

In announcing the pay cut, he exhorted players to do their bit to protect jobs. In other words, if Spurs’ players refuse to give up some of their wages, then the tears of any janitor, cleaner or groundsman who gets sent home for good in this period, will be on the players’ expensively clothed shoulders.

Haters need no invitation to criticise footballers for what they earn and how they live. But this situation is different.

Habitual haters apart, well-thinking folks are also disgusted that almost a month after COVID 19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO, the richest among us are having to be cajoled into giving up some of their earnings to allow businesses to establish a form of balance in this period of disequilibrium.

Per capita, the EPL is the richest sporting competition in the world by revenue. So why are its millionaires having to be begged to give up only a little to stabilize the business of the same employers who facilitate their massive earnings? If a janitor can give up 20% in pay, why can’t a man, who’s earning up to 200 times more per month, not do the same? This is unconscionable.

Selah.

April 7, 2018, December 2, 2017.

Two dates. Two important occasions in the life of Paul Pogba as a Manchester United player.

Some players have the talent to decorate a game but lack the ability and force of personality to dominate it. Other players can dominate a game but because of their personality, eschew any attempt to decorate it.

Into the first category, we can easily slip a player like Mesut Ozil, the Arsenal version and the Real Madrid version. Into that band, you could also insert the former Arsenal (go easy Gunners’ fans, nobody’s picking on you) and Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb.

The Belarussian could be sleight of foot and crafty for a 20-minute spell of a game, but slight of frame and craven for the next 70 minutes.

Into the latter category, Roy Keane would insert himself, robust in approach and manic in conviction, bossing the midfield and running a game while being totally unperturbed by his inability to do a stepover. Why do a rabona when you can use the energy to scythe through the opposing creative midfielder is the question Keane would ask through gritted teeth, after leaving an Ozil-type rival in a crumpled heap at the top of the 18-yard box. 

So Pogba has played 150 games for the Red Devils in all competitions since returning to the Old Trafford club from Juventus in the summer of 2016, notching 31 goals. He has played 102 Premier League games, scoring 24 times, with the other seven goals coming in 48 games across the Champions League, Europa League, FA Cup, League Cup and the UEFA Super Cup. Forget his price tag of £89 million pounds and reported 290k per week salary. The fact is, that for a player of his lavish talents, Paul Pogba’s numbers in a Manchester United shirt are poor. 

The two dates above represent the only two times any reasonable observer could say that Paul Pogba dominated a big game for Manchester United.

Of course, there are numerous games in which Pogba has decorated a portion; see his world-class pass to free Marcus Rashford for the lone goal which beat Tottenham Hotspur on January 3, 2019, in the Premier League clash in North London; witness his performance against Newcastle on October 6, 2018; see his contribution in the 2-1 win away to Crystal Palace on December 14, 2016. But here’s the problem.

Pogba wasn’t recruited to decorate games against the Premier League’s lesser lights. He was recruited to dominate games against the league’s traditional also-rans and inspire wins over the title contenders and champions league aspirants. That is why the man they nickname ‘Pick-axe’ in France has copped so much flak from fans and pundits alike.

 

The December 2, 2017 performance was Pogba at his brilliant best; quick of thought, precise of pass, strong as an ox and running like a recently serviced Jamaican taxi. He made the men in Arsenal’s midfield and defence look like children, straining to deal with the adult, who had imposed himself on their lunch-time kickabout.

The performance against Manchester City at the Etihad on April 7, 2018, was by far Pogba’s best in a Manchester United shirt. He dragged the team from a 2-nil deficit to a 3-2 victory in the manner of a trenchant baby mamma, shaking down her man outside the gambling house before he goes inside and loses all of the fortnight’s pay he just collected. That was his moment, the day he proved he could use his considerable gifts to put other wonderfully talented players in the shade.

Suffice to say, two statement performances in 150 games is not good enough for a club like Manchester United. It’s a poor return. And frankly, it is not good enough from a player of Paul Pogba’s ability. Their separation will be a popular divorce. Selah.

There has been much said about the debut of VAR in the English Premier League this season and if the differences between its use there and in other leagues means it is being incorrectly deployed.

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