Top 10 stories of 2017
Written by Simon Austin — December 25, 2017
WE'VE worked out our top 10 best-read stories of 2017, based on number of page views using Google Analytics. Here they are, in ascending order:
ANALYST Oli Walker gave an in-depth explanation of why Sheffield United have been so effective at set pieces under manager Chris Wilder. One Championship team told us they'd used the piece as part of their pre-match preparation before facing the Blades.
WHEN Garry Monk made a surprise exit from Leeds United in May, Claudio Ranieri was quickly installed as one of the favourites for the job. We managed to get hold of the Italian at his home in west London and he explained that he hadn't even been approached by the Elland Road outfit.
BEN DIRS travelled to meet Brian Ashton (and his dog Wurgo) at his local pub in Lancaster. What followed was a masterclass in writing and coaching insights. “I’ve never been a believer in game-plans. I believe in providing a framework and a vision of how the team should play." It's little wonder that Ashton, the man who led England to the 2007 Rugby World Cup final, is now in demand with clients including Manchester United and the Premier League.
WE broke the story that Huddersfield were downgrading their Academy from Category Two to Four, scrapping all teams below Under-18s. This was massive news not just for the club, but for English football as a whole. “This decision has been the biggest we have undertaken in my time as chairman, and not an easy one," explained Dean Hoyle.
THERE are 86 Academies in England ranked Category Three or above. Up until this piece, there was no publicly available data about how productive each was. Parent Mark Crane set out to put that right, working out how many professional players had come from each Academy last season. What resulted was a productivity ranking that stimulated a lot of debate. Crane hopes the footballing authorities take notice and publish expanded and audited research about Academies.
NEIL REDFEARN gave an incredible insight into his life as Leeds United manager under Massimo Cellino. Some of the things that happened are difficult to believe: an owner who cooked pre-match meals, told the manager to wear purple socks for good luck, sacked his assistant for no reason and encouraged six players to report injured on the eve of a game. "If somebody had said to me ‘you’re gonna be manager of Leeds United’ when I was eight years old, I would never have dreamt of it. You can look back and be bitter but I’m not."
FORMER England international Alan Smith told Ben Dirs why he's still turning out on dank nights at places like Exeter at the age of 37. “Old team-mates of mine say to me: ‘What are you doing still playing? Why do you still bother?’ I still love it, it’s as simple as that." If you'd expected the Notts County midfielder's story to be one of a sad fall from grace, you couldn't have been more wrong.
RENE MEULENSTEEN, the former first team coach at Manchester United, explained how he'd improved the skills of some of the top players in the world, including Paul Scholes, Diego Forlan and Cristiano Ronaldo. The Dutchman's level of detail and insight was superb and the story was picked up by the likes of the Mirror and Sports Illustrated. "When we worked with Ronaldo he just bought into it, boom, because he could see it made him a more dangerous and complete player: the flick behinds, the changes of angles, the disguise. He became the whole package.”
DR CRAIG ROBERTS, the Head of Medical Services at Bournemouth, revealed how the club had managed Jack Wilshere's training to minimise his risk of injury. The strategy had worked well, with the Arsenal loanee not missing a single game through injury until he suffered an unavoidable fracture in April. “We were very strict on what he could and couldn’t do. Jack didn’t like it, because he just wanted to get out and train and play."
HERE it is: our best-read story of the year, with more than 70,000 page views and 11,200 shares on Facebook. Mental skills coach Gilbert Enoka explained what it takes to think like a New Zealand All Black. First rule: no dickheads allowed. "A dickhead makes everything about them. Often teams put up with it because a player has so much talent. We look for early warning signs and wean the big egos out pretty quickly. Our motto is, if you can’t change the people, change the people.”