28 June 2014

GUEST POST! The Italians are coming: A new dawn for Leyton Orient?

Italian businessman Francesco Becchetti is currently in talks to take over Leyton Orient by acquiring Barry Hearn’s stake in the club. Here Andy Brown runs the rule over our potential new owners…

Who is Francesco Becchetti?
Becchetti is a native of Rome, entrepreneur and CEO of BEG (Becchetti Energy Group), a multi-functional group that develops research in the field of renewable energy, processing waste (with energy objectives) and infrastructure for energy distribution. Word has it he's a billionaire.

What do we need to know about Becchetti Energy Group?

BEG (Becchetti Energy Group) is one of the leading Italian companies in the environmental field. Working in all stages of power production, this company's core business is in the production of renewable energy through the planning, production and managing of hydroelectric plants and systems for the collection and processing of urban waste, in Italy and abroad.

Any controversy? 
Not around Becchetti himself, though his uncle Manlio Cerroni - nicknamed Italy's "Trash King" - was arrested this year for trafficking waste materials.

What’s the connection between waste management and sport?
Supporting sport activities is part of BEG's DNA since its foundation, as demonstrated by the essential contribution to volleyball team Roma Volley's success.

BEG was the sponsor of the club which brought Roma to the top of the volley world in the Jubilee year, winning the championship and the CEV Cup in 2000, with Francesco Becchetti as the club's CEO. The Italian seemed keen to get on the ladder with a football club too, but an attempt to purchase Bologna fell through.

In March, according to Italian media, Becchetti undertook a trip to England with former Juventus and Roma director Gian Paolo Montali and former Siena and Catania coach Marco Giampaolo. He apparently visited with Reading, Birmingham and Leyton Orient.

What does all this mean for Orient?
It’s difficult to say what a takeover would mean for Orient. Certainly Becchetti is a very successful businessman, especially in the emerging markets of Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo around waste disposal and renewable energy.


He seems to have a passion for sport and a preferred management team, which leaves questions for Orient’s existing and very successful senior personnel. He has been keen to acquire a club, after also apparently also meeting with Reading and Birmingham earlier this year.

However, it’s unclear what Becchetti sees in Leyton Orient. Some would say exploiting the club’s potential and others would say a good foothold for a company in the UK that may be beneficial for his other business interests.

There are questions as to why attempts to buy Bologna fell through or why he decided against buying into Reading, but perhaps there are very good reasons.

One thought: if Becchetti truly is a billionaire, why has never made a play for Roma or Lazio? What is his game with Orient? Why England?

Ouch. That hurts.
Maybe details will emerge and he'll be a knight in shining armour for Leyton Orient. But then why let Moses Odubajo, our best young player, go? And Romain Vincelot (probably) too? Unless he plans to buy a bunch of Championship players?

I guess we'll find out in time, but I'm suspicious of non-homegrown benefactors, mainly because there is little reason for them to care about the club or community long term (see Cardiff, Hull, Birmingham).

That said, Barry Hearn has often stated his desire to walk away if the right buyer came on board, so it remains to be seen if both parties can agree, subject to FA approval. Should all things be agreed, uncertain times lie ahead following one of our most successful seasons in decades.

16 June 2014

Goodbye and thank you Jamie Jones: Leyton Orient will miss you. Sort of...

Shwan Jalal, Marek Stech, Paul Rachubka, Stuart Nelson…

Run through a list of some of the less illustrious names who’ve appeared between the sticks for Orient in our recent past and it’s easy to consider ourselves very lucky to have had a goalkeeper of the calibre of Jamie Jones for six seasons.

Bought as a 19-year-old in summer 2008 by Martin Ling in a momentary interlude in the manager’s obsessive but unfruitful search for a big striker, Jones established himself as number one in his second season, under new gaffer Geraint Williams.

In the 2010/11 season he was immense - pulling off countless gravity-defying saves to help Orient rise up the league and almost make the play-offs.

Shot-stopping - that was his stock-in-trade. He narrowed angles; he leapt; he clawed; he almost never spilled those low, skidding shots that regularly terrorise lower league goalkeepers.

Jones wasn’t flawless, of course - no goalkeepers are, and in League One fans have to accept some sort of fallibility in their number ones. The Scouser’s weak spot was coming off his line and commanding his area, though to be fair in his defining 2010/11 season that wasn’t particularly pronounced.

At the conclusion of that campaign Jones wasted no time in changing his Twitter bio to read: “League One goalkeeper - for now” - not exactly a chest-beating declaration of loyalty to the club that paid his wages but, hey, he was young, he was ambitious, he was a bit of a twat.

And besides, there were no knocks on the door from the Championship or the Premier League so Jones was a League One goalkeeper for a little bit longer.

And then he got crocked: a shoulder injury sustained in the summer of 2011 that wiped out all but the last five games of the coming season. Repeated recurrences and other injuries meant that Jones also missed large chunks of 2012/13 and 2013/14.

When he did play, the shot-stopping was still there, but the minor crack in his ability to command his area became a deep ravine. He reverted to the safety-first technique of punching, mostly unsuccessfully, wafting his right fist at high balls like an 11-year-old girl trying to land one on her irritating older brother.

Still, it was easy for fans to forgive the moments of aerial vulnerability when Jones would regularly keep Orient in games with his acrobatic saves. Such was his prowess when we played Swindon away this season that a deranged fan figured the only way to beat him was to come on the pitch and punch him.

Bosnia's number one: Eldin Jakupovic
But then our heads were turned in January 2014 when Bosnian Eldin Jakupovic glided into Brisbane Road like the dark, brooding love interest in a gothic romance novel.

Whether he was tearing off his line, rising majestically above the melee to claim the ball, or celebrating madly in front of opposition supporters after conceding a goal that was subsequently disallowed, Eldin was the goalkeeper that made Orient fans go gooey-eyed.

Unfortunately for Jones, after that fans could never look at him in the same way again; we averted our eyes, embarrassed yet still secretly exhilarated by our wild, whirlwind affair with Bosnia’s number one.

On his return to the team, Jones never gave less than 100 per cent, but it’s a sad truth that of the four goals Orient conceded in the play-offs, the goalkeeper was definitely at fault for two (Peterborough away and Rotherham’s first); probably at fault for another (Peterborough at home); and will be annoyed for being beaten from 35 yards by Alex Revell at Wembley

So while Jones is ambitious to play in the Championship - and touted himself to Preston to help him achieve that - it’s an unfortunate irony that were it not for his mistakes, Orient might already be there.

Still, there’s no need for Os fans to bear him any malice – like I said, Jones never gave less than 100 per cent and, arguably, is the best (permanent) keeper we’ve had at Brisbane Road in the last 30 years or so.

That said, when Orient play Preston next season, I hope that Russell Slade instructs his players to repeatedly pump high balls towards the opposition’s six-yard box. Where's Sam Parkin when you need him?

12 June 2014

Five ideas better than Greg Dyke's League Three proposals

According to FA Chairman Greg Dyke and his in-house philosopher Danny Mills, the purpose of every single football match in the whole country should be to help make the England team better. 

To that end they've proposed that Premier League B teams should be able to compete in the Football League – initially in a new League Three – as a way of nurturing English talent. 

Not to be outdone, the Football League themselves have come up with a plan to turn the Johnstone's Paint Trophy into a sort of Poundland version of the Champions League in which Premier League B teams can also compete.

I've already gone on a massive rant about why the FA's plan is both bonkers and dangerous. But then I figured: it's not fair of me to slag off their proposals if I can't come up with any alternatives myself.

Here are five ideas then, that will better help nurture English footballing talent:

1. The England's Got Talent League
Ask yourself this: who is the country’s leading visionary when it comes to developing talent? That’s right: Simon Cowell. So why not take a leaf out of the reality show impresario’s book when it come to building a national team of the future. In the England’s Got Talent League, then, matches are not decided by goals scored, but rather through the votes of a panel made up of the country’s brightest football brains - let’s say Danny Dyer, Rochelle from the Saturdays and Steve Claridge. Only the best players are allowed to proceed to next week’s fixtures. 
 
2. The Supernanny League One reason England always fail at major tournaments - apart from the fact all the other teams are better than us - is that our best players are either serving bans or getting sent off. The Supernanny League attempts to instil the required discipline in our squad of the future by replacing the referee with renowned TV child-minder Jo Frost. Under her authority, fouls, violent conduct, tantrums and bad language would be punished not with yellow or red cards, but by a visit to the naughty step.

3. The Ultimate Penalty Shootout League
Think about it: 1990, 1996, 1998, 2004, 2006, 2012… England almost always exit major tournaments by way of a penalty shoot-out. To address this, then, the Ultimate Penalty Shoot-Out League dispenses with all the boring passing and tackling stuff that typically makes up the first 90 minutes of a football match and instead gives each team 100 penalties. Imagine the tension when Hull City B need to score their final penalty to beat Aston Villa B on a bone-cold night at the KC Stadium.

4. The Pro-Celebrity League
England players need to perform on a world stage, in front of huge crowds and massive TV audiences. What better way to prepare our young talent, then, than to allow them to play alongside the celebrity supporters of their respective clubs? By insisting five of the 11 players in each Premier League B team are famous fans, you'd guarantee big audiences and highly-competitive football. Who wouldn't pay, for example, to watch Katy Perry try to dispossess Craig David when West Ham B take on Southampton B? Anyone? Anyone...? 

5. The Bonding League
It’s not just because England players cannot master even the most basic principles of passing and possession that we always fail at major tournaments. It’s also because the squad is riddled with the sort of in-fighting, squabbles and vendettas that always occur when Premier League players have to spend more than 10 minutes in each other’s company. To address this, then, the Bonding League dispenses with the football and instead asks the home side to invite their opponents to an evening of local culture at a venue of their choice. Imagine the friendships that could form, for example, when Stoke City B invite Crystal Palace B to a pottery-making class at a Staffordshire craft centre.
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