Saturday, 20 May 2017

Tigers Transfer Talk: Vultures circling around Silva and Maguire

It's back! A weekly (hopefully) review of the stories making the press about Hull City's plays and managers, past and future.

Andy Robertson to Liverpool is a done deal .... right?

Sunday 14th May

According to the Sunday Mirror - Andrew Robertson to Liverpool is a done deal. The left back was said to have agreed a move, despite City's season still being alive and well at press time, which would be announced on July 1st when the transfer window re-opens. Other newspapers have linked Robbo with a move to the Reds for around £8m.

The paper also suggested Harry Maguire is a target for Jurgen Klopp. Maguire has been heavily linked with Spurs stemming from an article in the Evening Standard last month.

Hello ... Goodbye?
Monday 15th May

With Hull City fans waking up to the reality of relegation from the Premier League, Harry Maguire was said to be interesting one of the teams who'll take our place. The Northern Echo say Harry is Rafa Benitez's preferred option to strengthen the centre of his defence where grant Hanley has been deemed surplus to requirements and despite the Geordies having run the rule over Sporting Lisbon’s Ruben Semedo.

Tuesday 16th May

The daily Harry Maguire rumour comes from The Mirror. They suggest that Newcastle want Leicester skipper Wes Morgan and that the Foxes will replace him with Maguire. According to the red-top "Maguire has one year left on his contract, but has turned down an extension and is set to quit (City)".

In a line that popped up in most other news reports, The Mirror say Tottenham are also interested in Harry but Leicester are offering a higher salary and better first-team prospects.

Wednesday 17th May

Don't fall off your chair but this is actually good news for a change - if it's anywhere near true of course. Italian football news site translate an article from La Gazzetta dello Sport and claim that Andrea Ranocchia, currently on loan at City from Inter Milan,wants to stay in England and isn't opposed to staying with The Tigers despite relegation. They do recognise that his wages and the previously rumoured fee of £8.2m might now be a problem.

This isn't the greatest source. They've run around 3 million stories on Abel Hernandez over the past three years of which none were ever true so I'm always wary of them.

Thursday 18th May

The news that Watford will target Marco Silva to replace Walter Mazzarri, sacked yesterday, made the back pages of some papers including The Express (left). The Telegraph also make Silva the front-runner to be the Hornets ninth manager in five years.

Brummie local paper Express & Star claim Wolves have sounded out Marco Silva to be their next boss. It's well known that Wolves didn't appoint Marco last summer and if his rumoured links with Jorge Mendes are true, with Mendes running things at Wolves - then it does make some sense. From a football point of view it would be a backwards step for Silva.

On a more positive note, although surely only a temporary reprieve, the Liverpool Echo report that Liverpool are unlikely to make a move for Andy Robertson despite the claims of The Sunday Mirror.

Friday 19th May

Apparently "Sky Sport italia" - whoever they are - are suggesting that if Marco Silva takes over at Watford then he'll target Andrea Ranocchia. Definitely an element of guesswork in this one but putting two and two together, it's not an unlikely outcome.

...and Finally

In the wake of Fulham's failure to make the Championship play-off final, ex-Tiger Tom Cairney has been linked with a huge money move to Newcastle or Bournemouth.

The Mirror reckon another former City player, Tom Ince, is also a target of Newcastle and could be allowed to leave Derby for £10m as the Rams look to raise funds for new manager gary Rowett to strengthen his squad.

It's that time of year when clubs post their "retained lists" of playing staff. These names from Tigers' past have been released so far: Michael Turner (Norwich), Hope Akpan (Blackburn), Paul Anderson (Northampton), Scott Wiseman (Scunthorpe), Mark Yeates (Notts Co) and Billy Paynter (Hartlepool). Wiseman and Anderson have already been scooped up by Chesterfield and Mansfield respectively.

Stats website Squawka have put together an XI from the best players, statistically, in the three relegated sides. They've gone with a crazy formation to fit them all in but Tigers Harry Maguire, Sam Clucas, Andy Robertson and Kamil Grosicki feature.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hull City 2016/17 Review - Part 2: Lost that loving Phelan

As Hull City looked down from the top of the premier League table in late August 2016, there was no getting carried away with the situation. It had been noted as soon as the fixtures came out that the next block of five fixtures included games against Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Gulp.

Part 1 - "Summertime blues" 

The Tigers put in another valiant performance against Manchester United, despite losing to a late Rashford winner, and then finally took the opportunity to strengthen the squad ahead of the transfer deadline. In came goalkeeper David Marshall (Cardiff £3.5m), midfielders Ryan Mason (Spurs £13m), Markus Henriksen (AZ Alkmaar Loan) and James Weir (Man Utd Undisc.) and strikers Dieumerci Mbokani (Dinamo Kiev Loan) and Will Keane (Man Utd £1m). With two of the signings appearing to be “for the future”, it wasn’t enough but it was far better than nothing. Or at least it seemed so at the time.

City picked up another point courtesy of Robert Snodgrass’s last minute equaliser at Turf Moor, Burnley taking them to seven points. About seven more than anyone had predicted by this point. And then the wheels fell off the wagon spectacularly. They’d only manage six points and one more win before (spoiler alert) Mike Phelan was sacked in January.

Phelan felt the need to integrate the players he’d signed and eroded the incredible spirit that had built in the team in their time of adversity. The most egregious was the replacement in goal of zero-to-hero and new fans’ favourite Eldin Jakupovic with Scotland international Marshall. Phelan clearly felt he had to justify a £3.5m signing and neither he nor his predecessor Bruce had ever shown confidence in “the Jak” but the team seemed buoyed by his confidence and charisma. Marshall bore the brunt of the criticism as City conceded sixteen times in his first five league games but it wasn’t his fault. Phelan should never have put him in the position to be the fall guy.

City conceded four in Jak’s last game too making it twenty conceded in six matches. A run that eroded the confidence of the group and exposed a clear weakness defending set pieces, the ability to concede penalties at a ridiculous rate and an inability to keep eleven men on the pitch. The lowest point of the run came at Bournemouth where City, decked out in their new blackcurrant-vomit inspired third kit were hammered 6-1. The defending in the first half was shambolic and throwing in the towel after an hour was unacceptable. Those in attendance, including yours truly, have rarely seen a worse performance from a top flight City side.

After showing some bottle to bounce back from a cruel defeat at Watford and conceding yet another penalty after only five minutes to surprise Southampton, City sandwiched an uninspiring draw at home to West Brom with the performances that surely sealed Phelan’s fate. We were abject in defeat at Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Losing sloppy goals and failing to lay a glove on weak opposition.

Olympic Stadium, East Landan.
 Things did improve in December but a combination of bad luck and that weakness from set pieces meant results didn’t. The 3-3 draw at home to Crystal Palace was the game of the season but another missed opportunity. The white flag was shown at White Hart Lan to avoid a beating by Spurs and then the team bus ran over several black cats, their kittens and Witchy owners on the way to the Olympic Stadium. West Ham beat us one nil but only after we’d hit the post several times. Some unluckily but Mbokani’s a horrendous miss when as clean through as you will ever be. We then conceded another penalty.

Man City won at the (now) KCOM Stadium on Boxing day after another good City performance and that was followed by an unfortunate draw with Everton when we played well but let in soft equalisers – and one was definitely Marshall’s fault this time. Then came the end for Phelan. A 3-1 defeat to West Brom at the Hawthorns having lead with two of the goals coming from set pieces was another horrendous away day.

Phelan was out of his depth. There’s no doubt about that but he’d been unlucky too. The “backing” he’d received in the summer was appalling. He’d not been appointed permanently until it was clear Ehab Allam had failed to find a better option. Most of his signings came from a post-it not Steve Bruce left on a wall somewhere. Team selection was constantly upset by injuries and suspensions and explained a lot of the inconsistency in performances.

While there were mitigating factors, there was no defending… Actually, that sentence is finished. The repetition in the same mistakes was indefensible. The poor performances of very good players and the side-lining of others was inexcusable. The only thing supporting Phelan’s continued employment was the feeling that unless the Allams showed a renewed level of interest and invested some of the massive TV money in new players – no manager could do much better with this squad.

On January 3rd, Ehab Allam finally woke up and realised things had to change. Phelan and his coaching staff were dismissed and the club, second bottom of the Premier League with just thirteen points from twenty games went looking for a miracle worker…

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Hull City 2016/17 Review - Part 1: Summertime Blues

Hull City were relegated from the Premier League in 2016/17 before a ball was kicked in anger. That was a prediction in July 2016 and became a reality in May 2017. It was a season of twists and turns and more downs than ups but despite the best efforts of many people – it ended where it started.

Steve Bruce answering questions about Hull City's "quiet" summer.

Promotion was sealed on May 28 with the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley.  June was a write off. A month of rumour and growing discontent at the lack of words or action coming out of the club. That wouldn’t change until pre-season training resumed in July and manager Steve Bruce broke the silence in several interviews with both the local media and the club’s in-house “press”. Bruce coined the phrase “Ask Ehab” to explain the lack of action – the phrase was ‘hashtagged’ and shared delightfully around City fans. That the highlight of the summer was embarrassing the odious Vice Chairman of Hull City did nothing to lift the low mood around the club.

In the wake of promotion, several out of contract players were released, loan players returned to their parent clubs and a couple of injuries hungover from the previous season. That left the manager well short of the 22 players he’d have liked to start the early pre-season games – meaning youngsters filled the gaps. When Moses Odubajo and Michael Dawson suffered injuries in friendlies against Grimsby and Mansfield respectively that would keep them out for at least a couple of months – it left 13 senior professionals available for outfield selection. I was at both of those friendly games and the sense of deflation was palpable.

Could things get any worse? You bet your life they could. On July 22nd – Steve Bruce walked. His working relationship with Allam Junior made his position untenable and he either walked or was pushed out. Regardless, our club had lost the best manager we’d ever had 22 days before the start of the season. It was a situation the owners had neglectfully allowed to happen. They were already widely and deservedly loathed for the failed attempt to change the club’s name and their new pricing structure which decreed children and OAPs would not be entitled to concessions, amongst other hideous actions. Now their footballing decisions were making a mockery of the club too.

And still, they weren’t finished. At the start of August Mo Diame, scorer of the winning goal at Wembley 2 months’ prior, was sold to Newcastle United. Diame had a release clause in his contract from the relegation a year earlier – the Allams didn’t think to offer him a new contract until the bid from Newcastle came in and good old #AskEhab didn’t even break from his holiday to meet and persuade Diame to stay. If you’ve not been counting – that left 12 fit senior pros to take on the Premier League.

Mike Phelan, who’d been Steve Bruce’s assistant manager, took over in a caretaker capacity and steadied things with his calm personality. He kept everyone’s focus on the upcoming matches while making it clear that he, or whomever would be the next manager, needed help from above and needed it quickly.

Amongst the doom, the drama and the desperation, Phelan’s band of 12 players and 2 goalkeepers turned over reigning Premier League Champions Leicester City on a glorious day at the KC Stadium. It was one of the best games and outcomes in City’s time at The Circle but the signs of toll the summer had taken on the fans were obvious – there were less than 18,000 home fans there to witness a magnificent victory.

Adama Diomande gave The Tigers the lead against the Champs with an audacious overhead kick, performed in unison with Abel Hernandez, just before half time. Leicester equalised from the penalty spot even though the foul by Tom Huddlestone had been committed outside the area (being on the wrong end of decisions would become a feature of the campaign) but Robert Snodgrass swept City into the lead again in the second half and we held on. 

Smoky celebrations at the Liberty Stadium as City upset the odds!

That unlikely victory was followed by another. A 2-0 win at Swansea with late goals from sub Shaun Maloney and Abel Hernandez. Such was the lack of depth in the squad, Maloney’s introduction was the only substitution made by Mike Phelan in the opening two league games. It was a tremendous, dogged performance by a group of players bound together by adversity. It was well worth the 500 mile round trip – much of it in torrential rain.

City sat top of the Premier League table after two games much to my enjoyment but general astonishment. But all was not suddenly rosy in the garden. Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer ripped the Allams a new arsehole for allowing the club to try and compete at the top level in such a hideous state.

The squad was still tiny and the fixture list looked cruel. But for a few days, at least, I walked around town with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. As did my fellow Tigers the world over.

Friday, 20 January 2017

What's next for Hull City after the sale of Jake Livermore?

The Hull City Jake Livermore joined in 2013 was a different club to the one he’s left this week. A club full of joy and optimism enjoying its second sojourn into the top flight of English football but the mention of an attempt to change the clubs name was like the puncture wound from a venomous snake that would spread poison through the place.

Livermore was long touted as a promising midfield prospect at Spurs and had briefly broken through at White Hart Lane leading to him receiving a single England Cap in 2012. He’d already enjoyed/endured loans with half the football league when he turned up at City on the eve of the 2013/14 season in a buy one, get one free deal with Tom Huddlestone who’d become the club’s record signing.

The pair anchored the City midfield, with Livermore near ever-present, as the club finished in its highest ever league position (16th – one above Jake’s new club) and lost out in the FA Cup Final to Arsenal. The sight of Livermore and Huddlestone squat, broken, on the Wembley turf will stay with me forever. Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs attempted to console them in vain. It had been a tremendous spell for Livermore. Highlighted by an opening goal in a 3-1 win over Liverpool at the KC, a fantastice strike against his former club in a game Gaston Ramirez ruined and his infamous “smash up an expensive camera” goal celebration at the Hawthorns.

Steve Bruce signed Jake up permanently for around £8m that summer but the following season was a constant struggle for the club. While the attempt to rebrand us to “Hull Tigers” had failed, the application and the spiteful words of Assem Allam had split the fanbase. The club’s first ever European campaign ended before the season was a month old and we surrendered our Premier League place without so much as a whimper. Unbeknown to most, Jake Livermore had suffered a personal tragedy following the FA Cup Final and in trying to deal with it fell into a state of depression and self-destructive behaviour that led to a failed drug test after the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace in April 2015.

Livermore was subsequently suspended by the club and to those on the outside – it looked like his career was in serious jeopardy. Eventually though, the whole sad story came to light and the Football Association accepted Livermore’s mitigating circumstances and allowed him to return to playing. He resumed his career at Hull City and despite a trying year in the Championship, helped the club to promotion via the play-off final. On the final day of the regular season, he bagged a brace in a demolition of Rotherham at the KC before he proudly carried his new baby around the ground afterwards. I don’t think anyone has ever been more pleased for a footballer than the hull City fans in attendance were that day.

After another tumultuous half a season in the Premier League, Livermore has been allowed to leave City for West Brom for a fee of around £10m so we’re told. It’s a strange decision – to let your midfield anchor (who has also been a god send at centre half this season) leave when the threat of relegation hangs over the club. However, it’s clear from the months activity, replacing Mike Phelan with Marco Silva, that the Allams are having a go at keeping City up and are doing so on a limited budget. If the only way for Marco Silva to be able to bring in the 3/4/5/6 players the club clearly needs is to sacrifice a saleable asset then it’s probably a risk worth taking.

Ehab Allam has invited ridicule with the sale having told the Yorkshire Post exclusively only this week that we are not a “selling club”. And generally, Ehab Allam deserves any ridicule that comes his way because he is a first rate moron with an ego he never earned but his father paid for. But assuming Livermore is the only player to leave in the January transfer window and the club fight off interest in the likes of Robert Snodgrass, Andy Robertson and Harry Maguire – then Ehab Allam is right.

For their many, many faults, the Allams have generally done right by Hull City in the transfer market. They backed Steve Bruce to the hilt, many times. After selling Livermore, the club’s net spend under Allam ownership is £53m. Take away the sale of guys the manager didn’t want and the need to sell wantaway players following relegation and there are three sales. Shane Long, who was sold for “crazy” money and to be replaced immediately by Abel Hernandez. Mo Diame whose contractual situation was the result of utter buffoonery from Allam Junior. And then Livermore.

It is absolutely vital that Ehab Allam’s words are proven true now. The club needs to invest the money received for Livermore in new players for Marco Silva and they need to keep hold of everyone else in the squad (unless they explicitly ask to leave).

In amongst the poisonous atmosphere at the club caused most particularly by the aforementioned name change application and subsequent removal of the clubs name from its communication and most spitefully by the removal of disabled, child and OAP concessions and the forcing out of Steve Bruce as manager – there has been a moment of optimism following Marco Silva’s arrival. It seems the best way out of the current situation is for the club to stay in the Premier League to allow the Allams to sell it. If that is to happen then Ehab Allam needs to be as good as his word.