Padraig Amond was left with a simple choice last year. Either he stayed in Ireland with Sligo Rovers and continued his domestic career as an already impressive striker, or he travel the short trip overseas to make the step up in grade and try his hand at a level arguably far above that of his Irish counter-parts. This ‘promotion’ in personal football terms was markedly different to that of many other League of Ireland exports, though.
For unlike Kevin Doyle, Keith Fahey, Steven Ward or Seamus Coleman - to name but a few - Amond was not heading to England. He in fact made the decision to go off to Portugal, to a club called Pacos de Ferreira, to play in a league featuring some of Europe’s most iconic sides, Sporting Lisbon, Benfica and Porto.
Having scored 17 goals for Sligo before departing, it is not perhaps too surprising to find out foreign clubs were interested in him. But how did such a surprising move come about?
“The sporting director came to watch me against Shamrock Rovers in the League Cup semi-final when I scored twice -- the interest became concrete then. I tried to stay out of the deal as much as I could and left it to my agent to sort it out for me. When terms were agreed by all parties I was delighted and travelled over for a medical and to sign,” said Amond.
“It was a tough decision for a number of reasons but at the end of the day I want to play football at the highest level possible and this was too good an opportunity for me to turn down. My time in Sligo was brilliant and I can’t thank everybody up there enough for giving me the chance to show what I could do when I played.”
Of course, as Irish exports continue to excel (the names already mentioned in this column do enough to explain that) many eyes will be on who is next to make the jump over to the continent, with places other than Portugal also prime candidates for Irish sanctuaries.
“I think its a great learning curve playing in the League of Ireland for young players because you get great experience from it and, although when I was 14 or 15 I would have loved to have gone to England, I'm really glad I have done it the way I have. There is no substitute for first team football and I was more mature coming over here, which has helped me a lot.
“The likes of Kevin Doyle, Keith Fahey and Seamie Coleman have made more teams aware that there are some really good players that play in the league. If you do well in Ireland you can get the chance to go across the water to play and try to earn a good living.
“I think there are a good number of players in the Airtricity League who would be very comfortable on the continent -- players like Shaun Williams and Richie Ryan for example, who have great technical ability.”
Of course, playing in an environment completely alien to that of the League of Ireland will have many benefits, and experiencing a different, professional approach to the game will no doubt serve many of our exports very well.
“So far I believe I have improved a lot as a player, the training here is brilliant. We do a lot of work on technique and of course being up against really good players everyday is going to make you a better player.
“The standard of the league out here is really high and it is great to be involved so far -- hopefully I'll get to be more involved in the coming months too. Probably the hardest thing to get used to is the speed of the game. Everything is done so quickly out here that you have to be ready for anything to happen at any stage. Initially the heat was difficult for me, but I have gotten used to it at this stage.”
While Amond has been away, two of his former clubs, Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers, played out the monumental FAI Ford cup final in the Aviva Stadium, and unfortunately for Padraig he had to skip the game and turn out for Pacos instead.
“We actually had a game that day an hour before the cup final so I didn’t get to see it but my parents and my little brother were at it. I was on the phone to them for the last five minutes of extra time and the penalties but, when I got back from my game that night, I watched the match -- it was a great game to watch, the atmosphere was unbelievable too.”
Seeing his old clubs battle it out at the Aviva didn’t cause Amond to rethink his steps though, with the striker positive he has made the right decision in making the step up in Portugal.
“I want to keep improving as a player to enjoy the experience of playing in a different culture, playing a different style and do the best I can out here. I’m still learning Portuguese at the minute. It is a very hard language to get the hang of but I can understand a good bit of it. I’m getting used to it and I am enjoying everything so far.
“I just want to keep working hard out here, break into the starting 11 and take everything from there. I want to play at the highest level possible. Whatever that level is remains to be seen, but I signed a three year contract here last September and so far things have gone well -- to be honest I'm only concentrating on the present so who knows what will happen.”
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
With the end of one of the most thrilling F1 seasons now a distant memory -- the energy emancipated by the five-way title race / the curiosity brought by the retired Fuhrer returning to stumble through the first three quarters of the season before performing some quite outstanding races whilst the leaders blew up at the front towards the end / the incredible ability of ex-World Champion Lewis Hamilton to drag his sub-standard McClaren to within a win of the title -- what could possibly hold our attention this season?
Well it's not Red Bull's ridiculous ability to create a monster machine rivalled in very few aspects by even fewer contenders, it's not Ferrari's imminent response to throwing away last year's title in the most embarrassing of circumstances, and it's not the uncomfortable relationship carefully maintained by McLaren's Britons to erase painful recent team memories.
No this year could be all about Mercedes.
Think about it, in a car obviously restricted by planning for this season's travails they managed to have the most consistent performer of last season in Nico Rosberg look extremly determined in their lineage (of which even Michael Schumacher was impressed), the experience of said Schumacher which was evident as the season drew closer to the end in Yeongam, and the knowledge of almost a full year's preparation for 2011.
Yes, under Ross Brawn, it looks at least part-likely that Mercedes will be closer to the front, perhaps even the car to beat this season.
So why have the bookies not thought so? Or is this one of the great cleavages in their profession, a mere oversight agreed on by the fraternity.
At this very moment Victor Chandler offer huge odds of 14/1 for Schumacher, and 16/1 for Nico Rosberg, to lift the drivers title. Even better odds, however, can be found on Betfred, where they make Mercedes quite a ludicrous 9/1 for the constructors title. The general consesus is that they will finish fourth, despite having the tools cited above, and not having the restrictions of (a) a poor McLaren in almost all aspects of performance bar straight line speed last season (b) an underperforming Felipe Massa (c) an unhappy Mark Webber.
Of course alot will be known after the early season performances, yet even then Renault managed to outplay their hand rather cynically last season before the lights had gone green in Bahrain, so alas it will be perhaps mid-season before we know if the bookies have made a mistake, but my 20e docket is already made out and I'm looking forward to next November's winnings.
Tuesday, January 11, 2011
Branded the ‘silly season’ by politicians, December and January is largely the ‘sacking season’ in the Premier League as nervous owners have their hands forced by fans, media and, ultimately, results.
With January the only chance a struggling club has to directly change playing personnel during the season, it offers clubs the chance to replace a manager in time for the incumbent to go out and purchase the players he feels will help an ailing situation.
Don’t act, and owners face the prospect of sitting on their hands as their beloved club gets relegated, misses out on a European place or even fails to land the title. Act after January and owners face the prospect of replacing a manager with no possibility of financially backing the new one – a very risky prospect as the players already at the club are surely worth some of the blame.
However, it is generally assumed that new managers enjoy a ‘Honeymoon Period’ where results and performances, for no apparent reason other than a new man in the dugout, dramatically improve in the short term.
This can have drastic effects when achieved by a club suffering near the foot of the table, as it is usually only a handful of points between the bottom half dozen or so teams come January, and is another key factor in the timing and reason of dismissal.
So Liverpool have gambled on this honeymoon theory – as well as allowing Kenny Dalglish a pop at the transfer window - in sacking Roy Hodgson, hoping that Dalglish can come in and immediately improve their admittedly dismal performances and results of late.
But is this possible? Do players improve when a manager flies in to save a club? If so, why? Surely it can only be a sign of mental weakness on the players part, an ineptitude underlined by the apparent drastic change in fortunes – even if the new manager makes changes to the personnel on the pitch, it can’t be hugely different at the immediate outset.
In the last two seasons, many clubs in the Premier League have changed their manager during a campaign, thus encountering an opportunity for players to drastically improve. Is there a link between their immediate results post-sacking?
First up, in November last season, Paul Hart was sacked as manager of
. With the club struggling desperately, they turned to Avram Grant. Ultimately he failed to get the club out of the bottom three all season, but in fact, under his first 5 league games he achieved just under three times the points/game ratio which Pompey had under Hart up to that point. Hart had earned a point every two games but Grant’s first 5 games secured 7 points themselves. Portsmouth
Then in December last season, two managers lost their jobs: Gary Megson at Bolton was replaced by Owen Coyle; and Mark Hughes was replaced by Roberto Mancini at
. Manchester City
During the summer there were obviously management changes but the ‘Honeymoon Period’ argument would not work if the manager was given lengthy time to train with his side and portray his visions.
So the first one this season worth looking at came at the eve of the season’s start, when Martin O’Neill walked out on Aston Villa.
Villa then earned 1.4 points per game under Kevin MacDonald before the permanent position was filled by Gerard Houllier, who came in and won just five points from his first five league games, a substantial reduction.
Then in December,
amazingly fired Christ Hughton, after he had won 1.18 points per game since August. But in replacing him with Alan Pardew, Newcastle actually managed to net 1.8 points per game in his opening five league fixtures. Newcastle
That’s two out of three this season who have had fairly large immediate improvements on results. Four out of the seven management changes listed were ‘succesful’ in the short term, two made no difference, and only one went sour – that of Houllier at Villa.
Liverpool excel in their first five games under Dalglish so, do not get too carried away, as by that theory, they probably would have done well under Steve Staunton!