Chelsea Pre-Season Questions

With the Far East portion of the pre-season complete, Chelsea jet of to the US for the Guinness International Champions Cup. The chance to test the squad against a more challenging level of competition will be welcome as the players work to bed into Jose Mourinho’s system.

The eight-team tournament will see us play three matches against the likes of Juventus, Real Madrid, Valencia, Everton, LA Galaxy and both Milan clubs. Following an Asian tour which saw the club score 13 goals in just three games, the Champions Cup will be a sterner test, along with a friendly against AS Roma in Washington.

These games will not only see the return of players rested following the Confederations Cup earlier in the summer, but might also help to address the areas of concern heading into the new season. For each area of concern,

1) Midfield. Under the assumption that the main formation used will be 4-2-3-1, the real question is: which combinations will be used?

If Mikel stays, and there are no further signings to add to Marco van Ginkel, then those two, along with Frank Lampard, Michael Essien and Ramires look most likely to form the core of the Chelsea midfield for the upcoming season, with Kevin De Bruyne and possibly Oscar also being used in deeper-lying positions.

This group is quite well balanced, with the stamina of Ramires, power of Essien and Mikel and the passing abilities of Lampard, van Ginkel and Oscar. However, especially playing with two deeper midfielders, combining these options into a valid partnership will be key. For example, while Lampard and Oscar might combine to give the best vision and passing options, there isn’t much strength or defensive nous. Similarly, Lampard and Mikel might give you positional discipline and passing, but no speed. With the mobility and box-to-box running of Ramires and Essien, partnering them with a less mobile passer might be the best option, giving some flexibility both in attack and defence.

Who should start against Hull City? Ramires and Lampard.

Potential Transfers? Mikel out, Khedira (Real Madrid) in.

2) Defence. What role will David Luiz play in defence, and what are the best centre-back pairings?

With Mourinho having said that he feels Branislav Ivanovic’s best position is at right back, the main centre-back options in the squad are John Terry, Gary Cahill, Luiz and Tomas Kalas.

Luiz is the most mobile of these options, and offers the most as a footballer. The question will be whether he can be a centre-back in the Ricardo Carvalho style, excellent defensively as well as a threat moving out of defence.

One of the reasons for Carvalho’s success in partnership with Terry was a clear understanding of what each players responsibility was – often with Terry attacking the ball and Carvalho covering. Assuming the club captain is fully fit again after a disrupted (and below-par) season last year, then a similar combination could work effectively. Cahill can also be brought into this type of partnership, and has the flexibility to fill either role, with his strong positioning and ability to react to attacking movement quicker than Terry, whose lack of mobility could be concerning.

Who should start against Hull City? Luiz and Terry

Potential Transfers? Luiz is rumoured to be the subject of a bid from Bayern, but it is highly unlikely that any tranfser would be sanctioned.

3) Goal scoring. Who will start up front?

Torres hit the 20-goal mark last season, even though many of those goals came in the Europa League. Ba had some good games, but also went missing more often than he should have. Lukaku looked hugely impressive playing for West Brom. Andre Schurrle can play up front, but it isn’t his first choice position.

These are the current options to open the season as the main striker. While none of them have performed at a superstar level, there is talent, flexibility and a range of skills available. Lukaku has the most upside, while Torres has the scoring record, and when he is on form Ba has the potential to be a match winner, as we saw in the FA Cup against Man United last season.

Given that Torres and Ba are very much known quantities at this point in their careers, and can only offer a certain level of physicality and pace. Lukaku has the potential to be better than both, and could well outperform them in the US and make a bid to start the season as the centre forward, despite his inexperience.

Who should start against Hull City? Lukaku

Potential Transfers? The Rooney saga continues, but that seems likely to be the only movement.


Writing Idea: Pre-Season as a Professional Footballer

Taking inspiration from Stefan Fatsis’s A Few Seconds of Panic and HBO’s Hard Knocks, I’d love to do a similar thing with a Premier League football team. Given my personal preference, I’d want it to be Chelsea.

In essence, the idea would be to join them on their pre-season tours as a squad member (again, my personal preference would be to play goalkeeper, as its the only position I can play), going through all the training, preparation etc as if I were a new signing – though playing in tour matches might be a stretch.

Keeping a diary of what happens on a daily basis behind the scenes, as well as how it feels to experience the rigours of pre-season, would form the basis of the piece (or book) that would be written afterwards, though of course interviews and opinions from players, coaches and management would be needed to make the experience properly worthwhile.

Anyway, that’s the basic idea. Any thoughts?

Russian Anti-LGBTQ Laws: Letter Sent to Foreign Secretary

Dear Mr Hague,
In your role as Foreign Secretary, I am sure that you are aware of the current human rights violations that are going on in Russia, and the brutal and systematic assault on the rights of LGBTQ individuals, purely because of their sexuality or gender identity. In case you have somehow missed it, here are a couple of reminders of what has been going on: first from Business Insider, from Buzzfeed and finally from the New York Times (I’ve put the full length links at the bottom of this letter in case there is an issue with linking through the FCO email system).

I would like to know why the UK government has drawn little attention to what is happening, and how come there has not been international condemnation of the actions of the Russian government, and calls for President Putin to revoke laws which will not only criminalise being a gay Russian, but will also make it possible for the Russian police to arrest anyone, of any nationality, they suspect of being LGBTQ. Why has the UK government said nothing? Would you keep similarly silent were this a law making it illegal to be Jewish or Black, or is it just because the victims of these hateful, bigoted, narrow-minded laws are LGBTQ that it is less of a hate crime?

Or, as I suspect, is it that the UK, as much of Europe does, relies on gas and oil from Russia, and the government will give the Russian government carte-blanche to abuse the human rights of their citizens, just as long as they don’t turn off the taps?

Furthermore, what is the government’s advice with regards to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi?Is advice being given that LGBTQ people ought not to travel, so that the consular section in Moscow doesn’t have to deal with people being arrested purely because of their sexuality? Again, if these laws had a different focus, would you be advising black people not to attend, “for their own safety”?

Finally, I am appalled at the “joint UK-Russia Year of Culture in 2014.” How is it that this government can be comfortable saying that we wish to celebrate our joint culture with a country that has begun such a brutal crackdown on the rights and safety of LGBTQ people? This is an embarrassment to the UK, and I strongly urge you to reconsider this partnership.

The double standard that is being expressed simply by your silence on the matter is chilling, and it is disturbing to think that the UK would stand by while people are beaten, brutalised and murdered because of their sexuality.

Given that the UK recently legalised same-sex marriages (despite the efforts of some of your own back benchers to portray gay people as child molesters and on a par with people who have sex with animals) I would have expected you, as Foreign Secretary, to represent this country properly in terms of standing up for LGBTQ people both in the UK and abroad.

I hope to hear back from you on this issue, and I hope that the government will take proper and appropriate action against human rights abuses against LGBTQ people in Russia.

Yours sincerely,

Adam Sheppard.


Links as mentioned above:

1. Business Insider Article:

2. Buzzfeed Article:

3. NY Times Article:

Thoughts on Punishment for Drugs Cheats in Sport

Everyone knows that drugs are a problem in professional sports. It isn’t news, and is something that authorities have been struggling against for decades. So how can drugs be removed from sports, and what is the most effective deterrent for drugs cheats?

Currently athletes, cyclists and the like are suspended, often for a couple of years, and have their results (including medals) voided. In some cases, the medals are then awarded to the next placed athlete – for example, the silver medalist is upgraded to gold etc. That is all well and good until the person who finished second tests positive too, as was the case with the Tour de France after Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven titles.

The thing is, even with the threat of spoiled reputations, returned medals and voided wins, there are still drugs cheats being caught, whether its the rash of Jamaican athletes caught in the last few weeks, or Ryan Braun finally agreeing to take a suspension for the remainder of the baseball season, at a cost of millions of dollars in salary.

Rather than just suspending the guilty parties, and in the case of the likes of Braun, not paying them during suspension, here is a slightly different approach: take the money that they earned while cheating, and put it to a slightly different use.

For example: a professional cyclist is caught using performance enhancing drugs, and admits to having been using for five years. During these five years, he earned a total of $5m in prize money (I know these figures are not necessarily accurate or realistic, but it makes the maths easier). Regardless of his wages and if they were earned because of his chemically enhanced performance, or other sponsorship deals, it is known that he earned $5m prize money by cheating.

The cheat now ought to be made to repay the $5m. All of it. Regardless of his current circumstances. Say he has retired, doesn’t make an difference. $5m please. If he isn’t able to come up with the money then it should be treated in the same way as a bank debt or mortgage: reclaim and sell off property until the debt has been repaid. So not only is there the risk of having reputation and wins destroyed, but also going broke. Having to repay all prize money earned through cheating is a pretty solid incentive to not cheat.

So once this hypothetical $5m has been reclaimed, what to do with it? Simple: it should be given to the organisations such as WADA who fight drugs cheats. So the punishment is a two stage process: 1) we take back the money you got by cheating, 2) We give the money you earned by cheating to the people who caught you. (The idea of Ryan Braun’s forfeited payments being given to the MLB’s anti-drug organisation appeals as well, though some of it should go to the enforcement officer he got fired last year).

In terms of the money from sponsorship, it also ought to be possible for sponsors to sue the athletes who cheat to have all of the money earned during that deal while the athlete used drugs.

So, at the end of this hypothetical story, our cyclist has had his $5m prize money given to the organisation that caught him, lost the house he bought with that fraudulently obtained money, and is being sued by his sponsors for the money he got from them by trading on his not-as-wholesome-as-it-seemed opinion. Oh, and in the case of Ryan Braun, he has to deal with the business partner he lied to as well.

Do small companies need to use PR?

When many small businesses and start-ups plan how they’ll try to raise their profile and increase awareness, they often consider expenditure on advertising, but will frequently fail to include public relations, or PR, in their budget – but PR can often be a great way for a small business to manage its image, and it can be extremely cost-effective.

PR is about getting your audiences to know about your business and your products and services, often through the press and wider media, in the way you want it to be known.  And it is about reaching new audiences.  This is done by managing the information that you provide about your business.

PR also includes reputation management, which means dealing quickly and positively with any crisis and managing any negative PR or press/media coverage.

A good reputation is critical to the success, indeed survival, of every business including – perhaps especially – SMEs and start-up companies.  Like an ocean-going liner riding out stormy weather, a major corporation is usually able to survive short-term damage to its reputation (think the criticism aimed at Google, Starbucks and Amazon over corporation tax).  But would a small company, tossed about like a dinghy in a hurricane, survive?

Your current (and future potential) audiences – customers, suppliers, business partners, investors etc – will have an opinion about you and your business.  So will your competitors.  Their opinion may be right or wrong.  It may be good or bad.  But their opinions and perceptions will impact on their decisions about whether to buy from you, supply to you, become a business partner or invest in your business.

These opinions and perceptions of your business are key.  A good reputation can be your company’s most important asset.  Once lost, you may never get it back.  For start-up businesses, particularly innovative and technology-driven companies, establishing and then maintaining a good reputation is crucial for survival and growth.  Effective public relations can help SMEs to manage their reputation.

Public relations can be much cheaper than advertising, and more valuable for a small business.  Small businesses tend to have tight marketing budgets and will often get more value for money using PR compared to more traditional advertising.

A positive reference to your company (or brand, product, service, technology) in a magazine article or an online publication is more valuable to you than an advertisement as it would be perceived by potential consumers (or business customers, industry professionals, investors etc) as independent endorsement.

When an audience sees an advertisement, they know the company behind it is just trying to sell to them.  But independent, third-party, endorsement in print or online helps a company to increase its credibility.

Compared to the cost of, for example, a direct mail campaign or a series of newspaper advertisements, a public relations success could easily pay for itself many times over.  One positive print and online article, in a reputable publication, can generate sales, increase interest in a company and create awareness of its products & services.  And it will enhance the company’s reputation and build its credibility.

With so much at stake, can small businesses afford NOT to use public relations?

[This was originally posted for Crystal Clear Media]