No Peace, Just War

  A war of words that erupted between Tottenham’s Daniel Levy and West Brom’s Jeremy Peace over the handling of the proposed transfer of Saido Berahino still rumbled on after the window slammed shut yesterday, leaving everyone involved disappointed.  West Brom claim that Tottenham failed to match their valuation and in doing so failed to land the striker that they desperately needed. West Brom, unhappy from the start by the way Levy had conducted himself now must sort out the mess of the failed transfer which has left the club with a much disgruntled player. In fact so angry is Berahino, who submitted a transfer request earlier in the week to force the move, that he took to Twitter during the final hours of the window to voice his disgust. In a tweet which he quickly erased Berahino told his followers that he was unable to say exactly how bad the club had treated him and that he vowed to never play for Peace again. A bold statement and one he will surely be regretting this morning as he is hauled over the coals by Peace and his manager Tony Pulis. He may be young but age is no excuse for a lack of professionalism and this will be a harsh lesson for the England forward who will likely be fined heavily. 

Berahino’s twitter rant, although deleted will cost him dearly (image from Twitter)

Berahino’s moment of madness however was orchestrated by two men whose growing egos got between them and common sense. The deal fell by the wayside as the two exchanged blows in an effort to show who was top dog. Levy, the master negotiator who prides himself on emptying Real Madrid’s wallet two years ago when they signed Gareth Bale for a world record fee of £85million, believes that he will always get his way in a negotiation regardless of how long it takes. Peace on the other hand is a smart businessman who is unimpressed by Levy’s self made reputation. When the two clashed over Berahino in what Peace described as a tapping up, it was clear from the off that this was one negotiation that was not going to go to plan for Levy. Peace, annoyed by Spurs antics in unsettling one of West Brom’s star players refused to budge as Levy gradually increased his offer. The two hit a stalemate late on transfer deadline day and in doing so caused irreparable damage to both of their clubs. 

Levy managed to persaude Real to part with a record fee much to his delight (image from getty)

Their failure to check their egos at the door has left both clubs and their respective managers with major headaches. For West Brom’s Tony Pulis he now has to motivate a player who he admitted has had his head turned and is at war with Peace. Having already planned for a life without Berahino by signing Rickie Lambert from Liverpool and Salomon Rondon from Zenit, Pulls  desperately needed a defender to strengthen his back line. He had identified Fabrizo Fabio as that man but since his current club is Tottenham that deal was never going to be agreed.  

Pulis has work to do to repair the damage left by Peace (image from PA)

And the same goes for Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettini who allowed Robert Soldado to leave the club on the basis that Levy would sign a support striker for the increasingly lonely Harry Kane. Berahino was that player but Levy’s unwillingness to be beaten in an negotiation has left the Argentine with few options up front. Spurs did sign South Korean international Son Heung-min but he is more of a winger than an out and out centre forward. It may be that Spurs have no option but to either place their faith in a youth player once more or worse offer a return to first team football to Emmanuel Adebayor. The Togo striker is so unwanted at the club that late into transfer deadline day, Spurs were attempting to either flog him or mutually terminate his contract. But Adebayor refused to go saying he needed to hear the word of God before making such a move.

Levy’s stubborness has left Spurs with only one recognized striker (image from Getty)
Tottenham will now have to survive the next four months with only one recognized striker on their books in hope that Harrry Kane doesn’t get injured. They will have to buy in January no matter what but unless Peace and Levy have settled their differences by then, a move for Berahino is unlikely to happen. Tony Pulis knows that there is little point in trying to keep a player who wants to leave and in Berahino he has one. But he must find a way to get through to the 22 year old and get something out of him before he departs next year. For Peace and Levy the lesson to be learned is that the club and its long term stability are far more important that their collective bruised egos. 
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Swansea Win Highlights Problems with 4-2-3-1 formation

Gomis scores to seal all three points for Swansea (Image from PA)After a nervous first half performance which saw the home side Swansea create the best opportunities to score, Juan Mata’s strike three minutes after the restart will have gone some way to settled the nerves of Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman will not have been pleased with his sides showing in the opening 45 minutes but will be more disappointed with their collapse after Mata’s goal as Swansea roared back to win by two goals to one. Gary Monk’s tactical switch just after the goal proved to be a defining moment  in the game as the Swan’s boss switched from their 4-2-3-1 formation to a narrower yet more direct 4-3-1-2 formation. The change, which saw defensive midfielder Ki Sung Yueng replace the ineffective Wayne Routledge altered Swanseas approach with Sigurdsson freed to play a more attacking role supporting the duo of Gomis and Ayew up front.

Tactical switch by Monk won the game for Swansea (Image from AFP)
Tactical switch by Monk won the game for Swansea
(Image from AFP)

The trio combined excellently throughout the next 30 minutes, causing the United back line a host of problems and often pulling them out of position. Eventually they found a breakthrough with Sigurdsson’s precise cross on 61 minutes met by Ayew who headed the ball pass Romero to tie the game. Five minutes later, it was Ayew who became provide as he slipped in Gomis who found the back of the net to hand Swansea the three points. Monk’s formational change had unlocked United’s defense and with it handed Swansea a route back into the game, one in which they took gladly. Both teams had lined up with the same formation at the start of the match, one which is become more and more common place in the Premier League. Out of the twenty teams in the EPL, 13 (65%) starting with this setup this weekend. That number would have been more if it wasn’t for Liverpool and West Ham switching to the same 4-3-3 for their clash this weekend. Only Bournemouth, Aston Villa, Sunderland, West Brom and Norwich have resisted the move to the attack minded 4-2-3-1 formation primarily in favour of a more controlled standard formations such as 4-5-1 or 4-3-3. So why have so many managers decided to line up their team like this?

The growth of the 4-2-3-1 formation in the EPL has been quick yet steady (Image from Getty)
The growth of the 4-2-3-1 formation in the EPL has been quick yet steady
(Image from Getty)

As an adoption of the 4-4-2 diamond formation, this attack focus system was adopted widely across Europe with its roots believed to be in Spain before slowly making its way to the Premier League. Teams like Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund and Valencia have triumphed in major tournaments by using this formation which relies heavily on the midfield quintet rather than strikers. The two central midfielders perform a pivot role both supporting the back four by breaking up opposition attacks as well as distributing the ball to the attacking midfield trio to create chances for the lone striker. In Valencia’s 2003-2004 La Liga and UEFA cup winning side, David Albelda and Ruben Baraja formed an excellent partnership in this role, allowing the exciting trio of Pablo Aimar, Vicente and Jorge Lopez ahead of them to run free. Aimar in particular  was impressive in this formation pulling the strings behind the lone striker, generally Mista. Other teams have found similar success with this formation, especially if they have an abundance of creative attacking midfielders in their squad. Now clubs in England are taking note and building side capable of playing in this fashion with Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal the main ones to embrace this once continental approach.

Valencia used the 4-2-3-1 to their benefit in the 2003-2004 season (Image from Getty)
Valencia used the 4-2-3-1 to their benefit in the 2003-2004 season
(Image from Getty)

But the formation does have its problems as evident this past weekend in the Premier League. With the main focus placed on the midfield, the lone striker role often gets overlooked or in many cases improperly used with any striker being dropped into the role like a square peg in a round hole. But its a certain type of striker or forward that you need to operate effectively in this formation. As a lone striker, they have to be able to create their own chances, pull away from not one but often two defenders and finish with a variety of methods including both feet and their head. However often more important is the ability to hold up the play, hold off defenders and create chances and space for the attacking midfield trio to run onto.

Walcott suffered in the lone striker role (Image from Reuters / Andrew Yates Livepic)
Walcott suffered in the lone striker role
(Image from Reuters / Andrew Yates Livepic)

This past weekend, Arsenal used Theo Walcott in this role against Newcastle leaving Olivier Giroud on the bench. Wenger believed that Walcott pace alone would cause problems but his inability to hold up the play and importantly hold off Chancel Mbemba and Fabricio Coloccini meant he had a torrid day. Giroud did fair better when brought on but his poor finishing meant that Arsenal limped over the line with a narrow 1-0 win. Whilst Wayne Rooney is more suited to the role than Walcott, he too has struggled in the lone stinker role, preferring to play as a two up front, pulling off the other striker to give himself space. As a lone front man he cannot find that space which has meant that his opportunities on goal have been restricted. The best example of a striker who fit this role was Didier Drogba who had all the attributes needed and was therefore a success in the role for Chelsea. With this type of striker, the pressure on the attacking midfielders to provide goals is often too much to take and the formation once again falls down. The ability to recognize this collapse, much like Monk did and make changes are what defines a good manager and what highlights a bad one.

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Alive and Kicking – The Original 22 Stars Of The Premier League

The 1992-93 Champions Manchester United (Image from PA)When the Premiership launched in 1992, the League decided to take the risky decision and give the rights to their games to one pay for television provider, Sky. At the time, the idea of having to pay to watch football on TV was fairly unusual as the public had been spoiled over the years with free viewing courtesy of the BBC and ITV. However with the freshening up of England’s top division, it was felt that a new approach was needed and the League was impressed with Sky’s ideas of how they wanted to revolutionize football. Since then Sky has gone on to dominate the pay for market, fighting off competition from Irish firm Setanta, US giants ESPN and now British Telecomms to remain top dog in terms of the Premiership. As Sky prepares for it’s 23 year as broadcaster, they have launched a new ad campaign featuring one of the leagues best players over the past 23 years Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal and France forward has been cleverly inserted into a few memorable moments over the past two and a bit decades including celebrating with Alex Ferguson, avoiding Tony Yeboah’s thunderbolt and commiserating with Kevin Keegan after Liverpool snatch all three points in dramatic fashion against his side Newcastle in the thrilling 1996 4-3 clash.

It seems like an eternity since Sky launched its original ad campaign featuring some of the then stars of the league against the backdrop of Simple Minds “Alive and Kicking”. The campaign featured the likes of Tim Flowers, Gordon Durie, John Salako and Gordon Strachan who posed along with the 18 other players for a promotional photo shortly after making the advert. The picture below is that photo in all its glory, complete with remarkable strips and more than a few dodgy haircuts. But where are those players today, how many stayed in the game and how many have left for pastures new.

The 22 stars of the original Premier League advert (Image from Getty)
The 22 stars of the original Premier League advert
(Image from Getty)

Several of the players featured have stayed in the game in some capacity or another. Current Scotland boss Gordon Strachan and Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood are the most recognizable but there are others who have dedicated their careers to coaching players both at senior and junior level. David Hirst, Peter Beardsley and Alan Kernaghan work with youth players at Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle and Ireland respectively whilst Tony Daley has become Wolverhampton Wanders fitness coach. Former goalkeepers Tim Flowers and Hans Segers have taken up goalkeeping positions at Kiddieminster Harriers and Dutch side FC Oss whilst Ian Butterworth is now chief scout at QPR, working alongside Andy Sinton who is the clubs ambassador, the same role as John Wark performs at Ipswich. Others like Gordon Durie who left Rangers last month after the appointment of new boss Mark Warburton and former Liverpool defender Mark Wright are looking for their next job in the game.

Tony Daley is now head of fitness at Wolves (Image from Twitter)
Tony Daley is now head of fitness at Wolves
(Image from Twitter)

Unfortunately there are a couple amongst the 22 that found themselves in decline after retiring. Former Sheffield United player Carl Bradshaw found himself on the wrong side of the law after assaulting a taxi driver earning him a four month stay in prison. He was released and is now living a quieter life as a bed and breakfast owner in Norwich. Former Nottingham Forest defender Gary Charles was considered to be one of the best right backs England ever produced in the early part of his career but after giving up the game in 2000, Charles struggled with alcoholism and too ended up in prison. But since then he has turned his life around and is now working at the University of Nottingham as their Director of Football.

Entertainment and in particular TV work has appealed to several of the 22 including Lee Sharpe, Andy Ritchie and John Salako who spend most of their retirement in a studio talking about the beautiful game. Arguably the most famous of the 22 is Vinnie Jones, footballer turned movie star and now one of Hollywood’s go to hard men. He has starred in a variety of blockbusters from Mean Machines to Gone in 60 Seconds to the X Men trilogy and now resides in Los Angeles. That leaves us with three unaccounted for players – Ian Brightwell, Andy Pearce and David Hillier who have all stepped firmly away from football into other professionals. Brightwell runs a successful property development firm who also bizarrely specializes in building squash courts whilst Pearce is also in construction as a site supervisor. Former Arsenal midfielder Hillier may have taken the furthest leap by putting his neck on the line day in day out as a fireman in Bristol.

How many could you identify? Now that you know their names, can you correctly identify the teams in order from left to right starting with the back row? Leave a reply on our FB page with the chance to win a prize!

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Bad Week For Martinez As Stones Drama Rumbles On

Not a great week for Roberto Martinez (Image from Getty)The life of a Premier League manager is anything but an easy one, just ask Roberto Martinez. With fan protests over the running of the club, a nervous start to the new season and his star defender submitting a transfer request, the Everton manager has had better weeks. It began on Sunday with a 2-0 defeat to Manchester City thanks to two second half goals from Kolarov and Nasri. Everton had competed well throughout but had failed to repeat the previous weeks goal scoring exploits with Martinez bemoaning that the lack of luck in the six yard box had been their downfall. An bad injury to the promising Brendan Galloway added further to his frustration. On Monday, Martinez focus was to get his team back on track in preparation for the Capital One Cup second round clash with Barnsley on Wednesday but transfer rumours about the potential signing of Ukrainian Andriy Yarmolenko and Brazilian Bernard proved to be an annoying distraction.

Stones handed in a transfer request on Tuesday  (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)
Stones handed in a transfer request on Tuesday
(Photo by Chris Brunskill/Getty Images)

The following day a bombshell was dropped on Martinez as John Stones handed in a transfer request in order to force a move to Chelsea before the window shuts. The England international has been the subject of four bids around the £30m mark by the current Premier League champions, all of which have been rejected by Everton. Martinez refused to accept Stones request and insisted that the player is not for sale but with Chelsea aggressively pursuing the player and with Stones now keen to go, its more likely that Everton are simply holding out for more cash before letting the player move. Martinez does not want to lose the centre back but will be well advised that the club’s coffers could do with bolstering and that cashing in on a player who cost only £3m back in 2013 for a fee ten times that is good business. If Stones is to go, Martinez would rather it be sooner rather than later so that he can find a replacement with the window due to shut next Tuesday. Everton have already drafted in Argentine Ramiro Funes Mori from River Plate but it will be seen whether he can cope with life in England’s top division. BBC journalist and resident South American expert Tim Vickery doesn’t rate the player and voiced his concerns on a recent BBC World Football Phone in which he hosts along with Dotun Adebayo. He believes that Mori will be a flop, lacking in the necessary skills and toughness to be a success in the fast paced Premier League. Not that Martinez cares though as he looks to strengthen his side for a life without Stones at the heart of their defence.

Tim Vickery doesn't rate Ramiro Funes Mori  (Image from AFP)
Tim Vickery doesn’t rate Ramiro Funes Mori
(Image from AFP)

Stones may have played his final game last night ironically against his former club Barnsley as Everton travelled to the Oakwell stadium for the second round of the cup. With Stones playing in the centre of defence, Everton were slow out of the blocks and were punished by the League one side who surged into a two goal lead within the first 30 minutes. Facing a humiliating cup upset, Martinez made two changes at half time bringing on Ross Barkley and Gerard Deulofeu as he adjusted the shape of his side. The switched worked with Everton pulling the game within 15 minutes of the restart level thanks to goals from Mirallas and Naismith. But Barnsley fought back once more with Daniel Crowley, on loan from Arsenal putting the Tykes back into the lead with a fine finish. They would hold the lead for 18 minutes before Lukaku snatch the equalizer to send the game into extra time. In the end Everton’s superior fitness and talent took over as the Barnsley players who had given everything started to fade. An own goal from Marc Roberts and a second from Lukaku finished the game off, handing Everton the win and passage to the next round.

With Chelsea likely to push for the transfer of Stones before the end of this week, it could have been the last time Everton fans see John Stones in the Blue shirt. Some sections of the travelling support did vent their anger towards Stones calling him a rat and telling him in not so polite terms where exactly to go. But a majority of the fans will understand the situation and whilst disappointed to see him go will be appreciative of what he has given to the club over the past two years. For Martinez, who has surely given up hope of retaining Stones, the focus now turns to Saturday’s trip to London to face Tottenham in the late kick off. Spurs are going through a patch of indifferent form at present after failing to win their first three matches of the new season so Martinez will be hoping that they can take advantage of this and walk away from White Hart Lane with all three points, ending this bad week on a positive note.

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Malmo Advance To Champions League Leaving Celtic Shellshocked Again

Malmo knocked Celtic out of the Champions League (Image from Getty)It’s hard to say it but Barry Glendenning called it. The sour puss Guardian Football Weekly contributor correct called it on last weeks podcast that Celtic would crash out of the Champions League qualifiers to Malmö. The Irish journalist who adds his views on Scottish football to the pod via the superbly named “fitba corner” segment stated that after watching Celtic throw away a two goal lead in the first leg that they were destined for the Europa League with Malmö progressing to the Champions League group stages at Celtic’s expense. Many doubted it but he was right as Malmö stormed back in the return leg and knocked Celtic out with a 2-0 win.

The Oracle Barry Glendenning (Image from Guardian)
The Oracle Barry Glendenning
(Image from Guardian)

In fairness, Glendenning is anything but a clairvoyant, instead the seasoned journalist can expertly read a game and highlight the issues. However in Celtics case the issues were apparent to everyone who cared to look, even the clubs management team. Over the past few weeks, Celtic have played the same way in every game – bursting out of the blocks with enthusiasm and slick passing eventually surging into a lead. But as the game progresses Celtic appear to drop down a gear, letting their opponents claw themselves back into the game before a nervous finish to the match for Celtic. It appears as though they run out of steam having expended too much in the opening forty-five. Against the poorer teams in Scotland (apologies to Aberdeen manager Derek Mcinnes who may take offence to that remark once more) they can get away with it but in Europe, Celtic are caught out. Beating Malmö should have been pretty cut and dry but instead Celtic laboured in the first leg after starting as always so brightly. Letting a two goal lead slide as badly as they did at home is outrageous to say the least, especially given the ease in which Celtic had controlled the opening period. Three goals down, the Malmö players heads had already dropped until Celtic flung an arm around them and invited them back into the game. The Malmö fire was burning bright once more as they surged up the park in search of redemption and a second goal.

Another miserable night for Celtic (Image from PA)
Another miserable night for Celtic
(Image from PA)

In the first leg, poor substitutions from the inexperienced Celtic boss Ronny Deila added fuel to the fire with Ciftci replacing the highly effective Griffiths with over 15 minutes remaining and Celtic leading 3-1. Ciftci’s addition was meant to freshen things up for Celtic but instead effectively reduced them to ten men as the former Dundee United player showed his inability to play at this level by running around the park like a headless chicken. Deila must have been hoping for the striker to come on and finish the game but instead his substitution may haunt him for some time. That is if he isn’t haunted by his decision to let Jo Inge Berget leave the club last summer after he conveniently popped up for Malmö to score twice and hand them a life line. Despite losing the game 3-2, the former Celtic flop gain redemption back at Celtic Park with a brace that swung the tie back in favour of the Swedish champions. Deila’s face said it all as Bergets shot hit the net for the second time on the 90 minute mark. His dream of Champions League football were vanishing once more much like they did last season in similar fashion.

Much to Ponder - Ronny Deila's side failed to qualify yet again for the CL group stages (Image from Getty)
Much to Ponder – Ronny Deila’s side failed to qualify yet again for the CL group stages
(Image from Getty)

Celtic needed to score in Sweden to restore the buffer but instead it was Malmö who drew first blood, netting mid way through the first half through captain Markus Rosenberg. If the score line remained the same, Malmö not Celtic would progress to the lucrative group stages of the Champions League on away goals. Celtic needed to score and fast to give themselves a chance. But Malmö were lying in wait for them, ready to exploit the space between the midfield and defence as Celtic pushed players forward. The second goal may have come slightly against the run of play but it had been coming. Derek Boyata’s bumbled clearance finally beat the impressive Craig Gordon in the Celtic goal to add further misery to Deila’s night who now must answer questions about how his side failed to perform yet again. Excuses can be made about poor refereeing and bad decisions but ultimately the only people who Celtic should blame are themselves. They should have tied the game up at Celtic Park last week with the return leg a given. Instead they fall to the Europa League once more, losing an estimated £12million on route.

Ironically they look set to make up that loss with the sale of centre back Virgil Van Dijk to Southampton for the same fee following their defeat to Malmö. But the sale of the Dutch defender is hardly going to please the fans who were hoping to retain him as they planned for champions league outings across Europe with Virgil at the heart of their defence. That won’t happen now with Celtic likely having to trim their squad after another failed European adventure. Malmö progress to Thursday’s draw whilst Celtic will have to wait until Friday to find out who they will play in the group stages of the Europa league.

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Will EPL’s Growing Wealth Destroy English Football?

The EPL clubs continue to spend big in the transfer market (Image from AFP)In a weeks time the transfer window will slam shut ending yet another thrilling few months. This summer has seen the sides in the English Premiership go into overdrive, mostly due to the rather large windfall that in coming their way next year. It would appear as though the objective has been to over stretch the existing budget now to improve squads safe in the knowledge that each club in the league is in line for a large cash payout (rumoured to be around £100million) thanks to two mammoth TV deals signed by Sky (£5.2billion) and NBC (£1billion). That is nearly a 100% jump on what the clubs made last season (up from £52.5million) giving the clubs more muscle in this window in which to operate. Whilst the top four have spent large amounts of money strengthening their already impressive teams, it’s the other sides who look to be benefiting the most from this cash injection.

The Premier League's new TV deals will earn the clubs more than ever before (Image from BBC)
The Premier League’s new TV deals will earn the clubs more than ever before (Image from BBC)

West Brom’s acquistion of Venezuelan striker Solomon Rondon for a club record £12 million, Stoke’s purchase of Swiss international  Xherdan Shaqiri also for £12million and Yohan Cabaye’s arrival at Crystal Palace for £13million are all indications of this new-found wealth and the pull that the Premiership now has. Even the newly promoted trio of Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford have all been active in the window spending potentially more than they had hoped in an attempt to build a side capable of staying in the league. Afterall its only the 20 teams in the Premier League at the start of next season that will benefit from the new TV deals and get a share of the cash. That said, all three will be comfortable knowing that if they don’t survive they will still be looked after by the league who are set to increase the parachute payments in an effort to soften the blow. The stakes are simply higher than ever with all twenty clubs realizing that they need to make sure they are in the Premiership come next season which has forced even the more financially prudent of clubs to invest. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has received a lot of criticism over his tenure at the club mostly due to what the fans deem as a failure to invest in the clubs future. Indeed Newcastle have pulled the proverbial purse strings over the past few years which has resulted in a healthier bottom line for the club at the expense of performances on the pitch. But after narrowly avoiding relegation last year, Ashley has finally opened his wallet and started to spend heavily again much to th delight of the fans. In came Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba, Ivan Toney and Florian Thauvin for a combined net spend of £50 million, second only to Manchester City who have spent to date £5million more.

The amount spent by EPL clubs each season continues to grow at an alarming rate  (Image from BBC)
The amount spent by EPL clubs each season continues to grow at an alarming rate
(Image from BBC)

Across Manchester, the Red Devils have continued their spending spree from last summer as Louis Van Gaal looks to revamp his entire squad. The arrival of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmain, Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger are an early signal of United’s intent this year but the club are far from finished spending and could overtake their city rivals by sealing a superstar signing right at the death. Having lost out on Pedro to Chelsea, rumours around who exactly is Van Gaal’s big surprise have been circulating in recent weeks throughout the various world tabloids. Names like Ibrahimovic, Cavani, and Thomas Muller have the fans drooling but not as much as Neymar who United are rumoured to be wooing in the hopes of signing him for a world record £240million. It’s unlikely that this deal will be done before the window shuts but instead could happen next summer with United bringing in someone else for the time being. With money rolling into the club thanks to the new TV deals and some new lucrative sponsorships, United’s crazy spending sprees could continue for some time especially given that UEFA has relaxed its financial fair play rules almost to the point of abolishing them all together.

Record breaker? Neymar to United for a world record fee   (Image from Getty)
Record breaker? Neymar to United for a world record fee
(Image from Getty)

Whilst the strengthening of the clubs outside of the top four in the Premier League can only be a good thing in a sense making the league more competitive than ever before, there are some major risks associated with it. The financial wealth that these twenty clubs will shortly have will mean that the best players in the world will be moving to England, even to clubs that historically they would have not considered in the past. This could have a detrimental effect on the other leagues across Europe who struggle to compete with the financial windfalls that the Premier League clubs can offer players. But it could also have an effect on the England national team with fewer home-grown products able to break into their club sides now brimming with the worlds best players. This problem already exists to a degree with few English players playing regularly in the league especially in the top four clubs.

English players like John Terry may feature less of EPL clubs in the future  (Image from PA)
English players like John Terry may feature less of EPL clubs in the future
(Image from PA)

Only Joe Hart and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), John Terry and Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) can classify themselves as regular starters. More recently clubs like Everton, Southampton, Leicester and Tottenham have provided players for Roy Hodgson’s side but this could also change if more talented players from abroad arrive at those clubs. Many managers are calling for a change in the timing of when the window shuts but not a single one in the league is pushing for a cap on foreign players in their squads in an attempt to aid the development of English players. Other leagues like Russia are now introducing these rules to protect the future of their national team and its identity. It’s unlikely that this approach will ever be taken by those at the top of the Premier League who are blinkered by their new-found wealth and the wonders that are to come.

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For The Love Of Money?

Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan (Image from AFP)It is every players right to decide their own career path including where they want to ply their trade and for which club. Much like any job, money plays a significant role in these decisions with each player looking to maximize their own value as much as possible during their careers. In a sport where injuries could end your time in football at any point, every move counts so you can hardly blame a player for travelling down the golden path instead of choosing a job that pays significantly less. But when your career starts to looks like you are a constant fixture on that path, then questions are raised about your ambitions in the game and your desire to make money rather than a name for yourself.

Is it all about the money for Gyan? (Image from Sydney Mahlangu/Backpagepix)
Is it all about the money for Gyan?
(Image from Sydney Mahlangu/Backpagepix)

Asamoah Gyan is a fantastic striker, who has redefined the word prolific over the course of his career. He has become a cult hero in his native Ghana, leading his national teams records for most caps and goal scored and since 2013 has been their captain too. Everything that Gyan does in his life is followed closely by his millions of fans back home and around the world. They are undoubtedly loyal to the 29-year-old striker but now his latest move has sparked fierce debate in Ghana with many now questioning his motives and his ambitions. Last month, Gyan agreed to a lucrative move to China with Shanghai SPG securing his signature. The move concludes Gyan’s four year stay in the United Arab Emirates and ends his rumoured £6m per season deal. But the player will not be out-of-pocket as his new employers have agreed to pay him more than the £163,000-a-week he earned at Al Ain, making him one of the highest paid players in the world. His decision to move to China rather than to a club in Europe looks to be solely based on the money or so it is being perceived in his homeland. Whilst the Chinese league is up and coming it still nowhere near as competitive as its European counterparts and is using the appeal of extremely lucrative contracts to entice stars to join.

Gyan flies in to China ahead of his move (Image from Getty)
Gyan flies in to China ahead of his move
(Image from Getty)

In the past, they have only managed to snare mid level players or those close to retirement but a new approach and improvement in the league quality has led to bigger names joining. Gyan is certainly one of those as is Brazilian internationalists Robinho and Paulinho, Senegalese striker Demba Ba and Icelandic front man Eidur Gudjohnsen. But many in Ghana believe that Gyan is too good for the Chinese Super league and that as the captain of their country, he should have moved not for the money but instead for the prestige and challenge of playing against better players week in week out in one of the world’s top leagues. Their argument is also compounded by what they see as a necessity for Gyan to be a strong role model to the younger players who they worry will look at the money rather than the game as they embark on their careers.

Robinho has agreed a move to China (Image from REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)
Robinho has agreed a move to China
(Image from REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)

Whether they have a point is up for debate but its unlikely that Gyan will care enough to backtrack on his move. It is highly likely that Gyan will indeed prove to be too good for the Chinese league as he did in the UAE firing 113 goals in 104 matches for Al Ain. But at 29 years old does he really have to prove anything? He has already shown that he can play in Europe after spending nine years of his career doing so with spells in Italy with Udinese and Modena, France with Rennes and an ill-fated stay in England with Sunderland. The only black mark on his career is that last one, where after a stunning debut season for the Black Cats, Gyan left under somewhat of a cloud after falling out with the management team and board who refused to give him a pay increase after one season of his four year contract.

Gyan spent one season in the Premiership (Image from PA)
Gyan spent one season in the Premiership
(Image from PA)

To be fair to Gyan, the then Sunderland boss Steve Bruce did not blame the player instead calling out his advisors as the trouble makers referring to them as parasites. Al Ain’s approach was to offer Gyan a route out of England with a too good to refuse deal. Many saw it as a temporary move until Gyan could regain his sense but the player stayed for a further three years. It would appear now that Gyan was comfortable playing in a league way below his ability, compensated by a luxury lifestyle and riches beyond his wildest dreams. Moving to China only emphasises this comfort but at what cost? Gyan’s reputation as one of the world’s top strikers is slowly slipping into obscurity each season he spends outside of the world’s top leagues. Whether he cares though, is a different story.

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The Strange Case Of Charlie Austin

Why has no one bought Charlie Austin? (Image from Getty)With a shortage of quality English centre forwards, the ongoing saga concerning the future of Charlie Austin is baffling. The Queens Park Rangers striker was widely expected to leave the club this summer following their relegation to the Championship but two weeks before the window closes, Austin remains in London. He has been repeatedly linked with several Premiership clubs such as Newcastle, West Ham, Leicester and Spurs but to date no club has match the clubs valuation of the player, reported to be £15million. The fee itself is not ridiculous given the recent transfers of Raheem Sterling for £45million to Manchester City and Christian Benteke for £32million to Liverpool. Austin out scored both of these players last year and that was playing in one of the poorest teams in the league. With several clubs including the four mentioned above in need of a centre forward in the Alan Shearer mould, why they have not taken the option of signing Austin has pundits and journalists alike scratching their heads.

Austin is in the same mould as Alan Shearer (Image from PA)
Austin is in the same mould as Alan Shearer
(Image from PA)

Various potential reasons have been touted from wage demands, injuries and assurances over how often he will play but none have really been verified. With Austin starting and scoring in QPR’s first couple of games of the new season it looks like he is in great shape and hardly struggling from the injuries that many clubs are rumoured to be concerned about. In fact just looking at the players absences for injuries last season confirms this with Austin starting 35 out of 38 games last season for QPR, missing only ten days last season due to an ankle knock and a further nine days due to suspension.The on going speculation about his future appears to have not fazed the player who continues to work hard in training despite some negative remarks about him in the press. Given that he is one of QPR’s most sellable assets, Austin has conducted himself well since the club was relegated. Unlike most pre madonna strikers, the Hungerford born frontman has not thrown his toys out of the pram and insisted that the club sell him, instead got his head down and worked hard in pre season on his fitness letting the speculation around his future roll on in the background. But eventually Austin had to break his silence and after months of injury rumours including what he described as an outrageous slur made by West Ham Chairman David Sullivan this week, Austin fought back. In a prepared statement, Austin hit back at Sullivan and his remarks during a fan podcast where he said that Austin was too great a risk due to a knee problem, stating that this was highly inaccurate, misleading and an uniformed innuendo. He added that the so-called injuries he was carrying were not accurate in the slightest and that he was in fact in great shape.

Austin has hit back at West Ham owner David Sullivan for his remarks (Image from Getty)
Austin has hit back at West Ham owner David Sullivan for his remarks
(Image from Getty)

Anyone who has watched him play in QPR’s first two games of the season would struggle to argue with this statement. He has started much as he left off last year, doing what he does best – scoring goals. His strike rate of 18 goals in 35 games last season put him fourth in the top goal scorers chart behind Man City’s Sergio Aguero, Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Chelsea’s Diego Costa and brought his career tally to 110 goals in 183 games since joining Swindon form non league Poole Town in 2009. This in itself is remarkable if you think about the service that the other three received from the players around them compared to the scraps that Austin was living off. There was no David Silva, Christian Eriksson or Eden Hazard in the QPR team last year that could create space and a chance for Austin to score. Instead the 6ft 2in powerhouse used all of his skills to create and score his own chances. Austin is a formidable opponent and a defenders worst nightmare – an old fashion striker who not only is able to hold off the biggest of defenders but has the ability to turn them and finish with power and accuracy. Given his size, he is also unsurprisingly good in the air but with enough vision  and composure to bring the ball down and coolly slot it away if necessary. Many consider Austin to be a shoo in for a future role as England number nine with the 26-year-old gaining his first call up last year but failing to make it on from the bench. Regardless of his next move, Hodgson would be foolish to ignore Austin as he builds a squad for next years European Championships.

For now, Austin waits for the right club to come along and pay the fee that QPR are holding out for. Given his obvious talent and finishing ability, its hard to believe that he will remain a QPR player after the window. As we said before, half the teams in the Premiership could do with a player like Austin leading their line, especially given his recent track record in front of goal. The next two weeks will be an important time for the player as his agent looks to secure his move. But for Austin himself who is ever the professional, his focus will be on QPR’s next game against Rotherham where he will be looking to continue his good form and prove once again to the doubters that he is a player who they should be buying.

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Marseille Appoint Michel As Cabella Checks In

New manager Michel checks in (Image from AFP)After the shock resignation of Marcelo Bielsa one game into the new season, Marseille have been busy identifying possible managerial  replacements for the Argentine. With various home-grown names thrown into the hat early on, it appeared as though Marseille were about to appoint a French coach. That was until yesterday when they announced that former Olympiakos and Seville manager Michel will take over at the club. The Spaniard joins the club on a three-year deal and becomes the clubs eighth coach in less than a decade. The 66 times capped Spanish midfielder has coached primarily in his homeland of Spain since retiring as a player ten years ago. Having found success at Getafe and then at Sevilla, Michel took the strange move of switching to Greece but the risk paid off for the 52-year-old.

Marseille and Caen clashed on the opening day of the season (Image from PA)
Marseille and Caen clashed on the opening day of the season
(Image from PA)

Michel spent two successful years in Greece where he steered Olympiakos to back to back titles and to a Greek Cup as well as to the last 16 rounds of the Champions League two years in a row. Michel will be joined at the club by Newcastle winger Remy Cabella who arrives on loan as part of Florian Thauvin’s switch to St James Park. The French midfielder only joined Newcastle last summer from Montpellier but failed to adapt to the Premier League. After arriving with a lot of hype, Cabella struggled with the physicality of the league with former Newcastle captain Rob Lee quick to describe him as “too lightweight”. Cabella’s return to France to join his boyhood club is a dream come true but he holds no regrets about his time in the North East of England. That is a good thing as he may end up back there if he fails to reach the required games and goals targets set by the club that would make his loan move permanent. That will of course depend on Michel and whether he sees Cabella as a player who can fit in to his new look side.

Remy Cabella failed to make the grade at Newcastle (Image from Getty)
Remy Cabella failed to make the grade at Newcastle
(Image from Getty)

With the French season already underway and with less than two weeks left to go in the transfer window, Michel will need to act swiftly if he is to strengthen. The squad he has inherited is significantly weaker than the one that Bielsa had last season that was challenging for honours. The loss of towering striker Andre-Pierre Gignac to Mexican side Tigre, the departure of playmaker Thauvin and the lack of significant arrivals may have been a factor in Bielsa shock resignation. The Argentine quit in spectacular fashion after Marseilles week one defeat to Caen. All appeared normal as Bielsa attended the post match press interview answering questions about the game and the match ahead. Once the questions had finished, Bielsa coolly announced that he was resigning silencing the room by doing so. It came as a shock to the press in the room and the Marseille fans the next day as the news broke. Many expected the master technician to build pain last seasons strong season but it has come to light that a summer of disappointment for Bielsa with clashes with the board may have resulted in Bielsa stunning announcement. There are also suggestions that Bielsa has quit in order to free himself up to take over as the Mexican National team manager as they gear up for their Confederations Cup qualification match with the US in October.

Bielsa quits in spectacular fashion (Image from Getty)
Bielsa quits in spectacular fashion
(Image from Getty)

Back at Marseille, Michel will pick up the pieces but it may take another two transfer windows before this current side starts to look more like the one in Michels mind. With PSG likely to dominate yet again, the news that Marseille will unlikely challenge this year is a blow to Ligue 1 who are desperate for someone to challenge the Paris based club. Michel will be hoping that with the heavy expectations of being a challenger now lifted, his side can play with more freedom and hopefully mount a surprise challenge to PSG’s crown.

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Nations Look To Copy Belgian Blueprint for Success

Michel Sablon, who masterminded the Belgian revolution (Image from Getty)

It may have taken 88 minutes for Belgium to grab their second win in the World Cup group section this past summer and secure qualification for the knockout stages of the tournament but for Belgian fans, the wait to see this moment has been a lot longer. Belgium is revelling in what has been proclaimed as the Golden Generation – a group of talented players who have come through in recent years and are accredited with turning around the fate of Belgian football. However the evolution of Belgian football should be credited to the vision of one man, Michel Sablon who put the wheels in motion many years ago. It was in 2000 when Belgium was co-hosting the European Championships with Holland that was the main turning point. Placed in a group with Turkey, Italy and Sweden, expectations were high that the hosts would reach the knockout stages with relative ease. Despite an early win against the Swedes, Belgium suffered back to back defeats against Italy and Turkey eventually finishing in third place in the group and missing out on progression. With an aging squad including captain Lorenzo Staelens, Luc Nilis and current Belgian manager, Marc Wilmots Belgium were looking towards the future generation and what they saw was bleak.

The failure of Euro 2000 was a blessing in disguise for Belgium (Image from AFP)
The failure of Euro 2000 was a blessing in disguise for Belgium
(Image from AFP)

Belgian football was on a downward slide and faced years of mediocrity. Few saw the problem as clear as Sablon and even fewer would have thought that the overhaul needed was so radical. Sablon realized that the Belgian league was failing, that it was struggling to produce on a regular basis talented players for the national side. Added into this, any ones that did emerge moved abroad at an early age in order to play in a better league. So he created a new blueprint for the national obsession, one that went back to basics and focused on what was really important. What he came up with was hardly revolutionary but instead common sense. To succeed, he needed clubs on every level to embrace his plan, not partially but fully committing to it. Changing the philosophies and mindset of an entire nation is one thing but managing to convince everyone to implement it is another but somehow he managed to do just that. Not that it was an easy task, especially given the changes he was asking them to make at a youth level. Sablon asked for all teams in the Under 18’s and below to play a 4-3-3 passing formation and more importantly forget about winning.

Youth football in Belgium is focused on technique rather than winning (Image from Getty)
Youth football in Belgium is focused on technique rather than winning
(Image from Getty)

He realised that younger players and their coaches were too obsessed with the result of the game and what it meant for their position in the table to care about perfecting their individual game. He used university professors to film and study over 1,500 youth games in an attempt to show them what he meant. The result was exactly what he thought and backed his argument that winning at all costs was killing the game. So with the support of the Belgian FA, he simply scrapped the league tables and reorganised youth football introducing smaller pitches, five against five at junior level, seven against seven for older kids and a renewed focus on technique development. The best players from across Belgium were regularly taken out of their clubs and sent to six performance academies for two weeks at a time. This meant that the younger players got to know each other early on which has helped as they all migrated to international football, first at youth level then later to the full internationals you see today at the World Cup. The years passed slowly, with friction from the clubs and youth teams an ever present until in 2007, Belgium’s youth changes started to show promise when they made the last four of the European Under-17 championships for the first time in their history. The stars of that tournament were Eden Hazard and Christian Benteke.

Eden Hazard is one of Belgium's best players (Image from PA)
Eden Hazard is one of Belgium’s best players
(Image from PA)

Now 14 years after instigating change, the fruits of Sablon’s labour were on show at this years World Cup. Belgium possessed one of the more talented squads in the tournament and was even tipped as potential dark horses to win the trophy. In every position, Belgium has star players who are all plying their trade at the highest level. As an attacking team, Belgium boast the likes of Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Axel Witsel and Romelu Lukaku and not forgetting Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke who only due to injury is not in the squad. Their backline is impressive too with Jan Vertonghen, Thomas Vermaelen, Toby Alderweireld and Vincent Kompany playing in front of one of the best goalkeepers in the current game, Thibaut Courtois. Indentifying a weak link in this vibrant squad is near impossible and the talent doesn’t stop there with a host of youngsters coming through the youth team like Thorgen Hazard, Laurens De Bock, Dennis Prat and Massimo Bruno, all eager to break into Wilmot’s team.

The current crop of Belgium stars (Image from PA)
The current crop of Belgium stars
(Image from PA)

Other countries are now following suit in particular Scotland who have taken the Belgian blueprint and have implementing it fully with the hope of having the same effect. Formerly under the guidance of Mark Wotte, the SFA invested £20m in seven performance schools and indoor training centres. But they face an uphill battle to change the mindset of Scottish clubs who are struggling to stay afloat and with the mentality of the Scottish public in general. If they want to have the same success as Belgium, then following Wotte’s plan is the only way forward regardless if of who is in charge. The results may not be obvious now but if Scotland can produce a squad with the same quality of talent as Belgium for the 2022 World Cup, then it will be money and time well spent. For Belgium, the future looks bright with the current squad set up to dominate for the next 10 years. The possibilities of this team are endless and it may start with a surprise World Cup final victory in the near future. If they can lift that trophy, Sablon will be hailed as a hero, the man who changed Belgian football for the better.

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Bilbao Shock Barca To Lift First Trophy in 31 Years

Athletic Bilbao lift the Super Cup for the first time in 31 years (Image from Getty)Revenge is a dish best served cold so on a scorching hot night in Spain, it just didn’t look like it was on the cards for Athletic Bilbao.  The Basque country club were still hurting after losing the Copa Del Rey final to Barcelona in May heading into this two legged Super Cup final against the same team. Barcelona, fresh from winning an historic treble were strong favourites to win with the local Spanish press already talking about the feasibility of this Barcelona side completing a clean sweep by winning every tournament that they entered this year. But Bilbao had other ideas heading into the first leg last Friday. Under the guidance of Ernesto Valverde, Bilbao lined up with the intent of stifling Barcelona’s impressive front line of Messi, Suarez and Pedro by deploying two deep lying midfielders in San Jose and Benat in front of the usual four man defence. Valverde knew that Barcelona would have a majority of the possession and that his side’s opportunities would come on the turnover which required his team to pass the ball quickly into offensive positions when they won it back and look to create a chance for lone striker Aritz Aduriz. Little did he know that his plan would work so well.

Valverde masterminded the two legged victory over Barcelona  (Image from AFP)
Valverde masterminded the two legged victory over Barcelona
(Image from AFP)

Straight from kick off, Barcelona were on the attack and controlled the game with some slick passing as they looked to unlock their opponents. Having convincingly beaten Bilbao by 3-1 in the Copa months earlier, Barcelona were confident of finding a way through but knew that like in that game the early goal could help to unravel Bilbao who would be forced to attack more in search of an equalizer. However it was Bilbao who took the early lead thanks to a stunning half way line strike from San Jose after a mistake by Ter Stegen in the Barcelona goal. The German keeper who models himself on compatriot Manuel Neuer in a sweeper keeper role came out of his area after only 12 minutes to head the ball clear only to watch it fall to the feet of San Jose who rifled it back 50 yards into the empty net. Barcelona were shocked but quickly regained their focus as they pushed for an equalizer before half time. However Valverde’s tactics worked perfectly as Benat and San Jose shut down attack after attack, sending Bilbao into the break with a 1-0 lead. The second half started much like the first with Barcelona on the attack with Messi in particular looking threatening. But it would be his opposite number Aduriz who would steal the show in the end and secure Bilbao a comfortable victory with a stunning second half hat-trick.

His first came from a header after some good setup work down the left flank by Sabin. The second goal would arrive only nine minutes later in similar fashion with Eraso whipping in a cross from the right hand side. This time however Aduriz failed to connect with the header but did pounce on the follow up after Barcelona’s defense failed to clear their lines. Now 3-0 up, the 34 year old Aduriz was searching for a hat trick and he would get that chance from the penalty spot when Alves bundled over Etxeita in the box with just over twenty minutes left. Aduriz confidently stepped up to slot home and in doing so placed one hand on the cup for Bilbao.

Aritz Aduriz scores his first of three against Barca in the first leg  (Image from PA)
Aritz Aduriz scores his first of three against Barca in the first leg
(Image from PA)

In the return leg last night at the Nou Camp, Valverde and his men knew that if they could shut down Barcelona once more, the cup was theirs. Operating with a five man midfield with Eraso deployed as a support midfielder for Aduriz upfront, Bilbao looked to contain their opponents until half time. For a long time it looked as though they had managed to do so but when Lionel Messi drove into the box to knock home a downward header from Luis Suarez, Bilbao’s dream of ending their 31 year hiatus without a trophy looked at risk. But during the half time interval Valverde reminded his side that they still held a sizable lead and that Barcelona needed three more goals to get back into the match. Refueled with optimism, Bilbao returned to the pitch with the objective of shutting their opponents down once and for all and did so magnificently limiting Barcelona to only a handful of chances in the second half. As the moments ticked on, Bilbao looked more and more likely to be the victors so when Gerard Pique received his marching orders with only 11 minutes of the second half played, it was a massive boost for Valverde’s side and their chances. They would take full advantage and secured a stunning victory in the 74th minute when some slack defending put Aduriz through on goal unchallenged. His first effort was saved by Ter Stegen but the German could do little to prevent his follow up effort from hitting the back of the net. As the full time whistle blew the Athletic Bilbao players and coaching staff celebrated a historic victory, ruining Barcelona’s chance of a clean sweep. Its their first trophy since 1984 when they picked up the same trophy by beating none other than Barcelona in the final.

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Trouble at Stamford Bridge? Not Really

Kompany scores as City win 3-0 (Image from PA)The praise should have been on Manchester City’s players who performed exceptionally well against the existing Premier League champions. But instead the focus of much of todays coverage in the British press is on the apparent implosion happening at Chelsea. Always happy to bypass the truth in pursuit of a good story, the british tabloids are reporting that Mourinho has lost the dressing room, has fallen out with key figures like captain John Terry and is at war with his backroom staff as well. Last weeks drama with his medical team, where he accosted doctor Eva Carniero and Physio Jon Fearn during the final minutes of their 2-2 draw with Swansea was still rumbling on as the Man City game came around, much to the annoyance of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese coach, whose side were already down to ten men after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was sent off took exception to the pair running on to treat Eden Hazard who had fallen to the ground from a fairly weak challenge. The referee had beckoned the medical staff onto the pitch but Mourinho felt that Hazard was just tried and would eventually get up even without medical intervention. Mourinho castrated the pair as he believed that they did not understand the implications of their actions with Chelsea reduced momentarily to nine men. With the game on a knife’s edge, Mourinho feared a Swansea counter attack that could have lost him the game.

The Chelsea medics treat Hazard against Swansea (Image from Getty)
The Chelsea medics treat Hazard against Swansea
(Image from Getty)

The press coverage of this story has been ridiculous with many saying that the relationship between Mourinho and his medical team has gone into meltdown and that Caniero and Fearn had been sacked from their roles. The truth, which unsurprisingly is less dramatic is that Mourinho simply removed the pair from his bench for the Manchester City game. In a colourful interview on Friday, Mourinho explained that he has a strong working relationship with his medical staff of 12 people including doctors, physios and massuers which is based on good communication and self-improvement. More than any other coach in the last two season, Mourinho has heaped praise on his medical staff saying repeatedly that they were to thank for keeping his players fit and strong throughout the gruelling seasons. But in regards to the Carniero and Fearn issue, it was his call as to whom would be on the bench with only two slots available for his medical staff. The press chose to ignore Mourinho when he said that it was not a permanent move and that Caniero and Fearn could be back on the bench soon but again that would damage their sensational story so chose to let that piece of information slide.

Mourinho has stood by his criticism of his medical team (Image from AFP)
Mourinho has stood by his criticism of his medical team
(Image from AFP)

The same can be said for the John Terry “situation”. The Chelsea captain was subbed off at half time against City in an apparent first sign that the longstanding centre half’s career at the club was coming to an end. Speculation as to why he was removed from the game ranged from a fall out with Mourinho to Terry taking too much control in the dressing room which irked the manager. The truth, again somewhat disappointingly was that the switch was tactical with Mourinho feeling that Kurt Zouma could control the threat of Sergio Aguero much more comfortably than Terry due to his power and more importantly speed. Terry had struggled in the first half to cope with the Argentine hitman so taking him off made sense. Many point out that none of the back line had an inspired first half which is true however Terry, who is now 34 is easily the slowest out of the four that started the game. The introduction of Zouma did work with Aguero’s threat nullified in the second half but as Terry sat on the bench the tabloids concocted his demise. Mourinho’s comments after the game explaining his captain’s substitution were again butchered by the media in order to fit their Terry out storyline, misinterpreting Mourinho saying that he had given the player his chance as a sign that he was trying to bring the captain down a peg or two. What he actually said was that Terry was a fantastic captain who he relied on and that he knew him best after giving him his break so subbing him was his choice. Despite the numerous press interviews Mourinho gave explaining that the Terry substitution was purely tactical, the press have chosen to speculate rather than report the truth.

Terry's substitution led to the press speculating about the end of his career (Image from Getty)
Terry’s substitution led to the press speculating about the end of his career
(Image from Getty)

The only story that should have been reported is that Chelsea look lacklustre in their first two games of the season which should be and will be a worry for Mourinho. Upfront Diego Costa looks short of match sharpness but Mourinho is forced to play him due to lack of alternatives. In the midfield Matic and Fabregas have failed to spark and have been caught short in both game which is something Mourinho will need to address.  At the back, errors have been made by several key figures including the dismissal of Courtois in the first week that cost Chelsea the game. But after only two games the alarm bells should not be ringing. Chelsea still have time to strengthen their squad and get back on track which they will look to do next Sunday against West Brom. The press will write what they want regardless if it’s the truth or not. Sensationalism sells and at Chelsea that starts and ends with the manager, Jose Mourinho.

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Soldado Departs As Spurs Attempt To Forget The Summer Of Seven

Soldado is finally waving goodbye to  Spurs (Image from Getty)After accepting that they were about to lose one of their best players to Real Madrid, Tottenham started the process of identifying players that they could bring in off of the back of Gareth Bale’s departure. Safe in the knowledge that they were in line for a record transfer fee of £85million, Spurs options were almost limitless which makes what they did so surprising. They decided that instead of spending the majority of that money bringing in a direct replacement for Bale, they would instead use it to strengthen across the entire squad, eventually bringing in seven players for a combined fee of £105million. The club ended the window by breaking even after selling fringe players Steven Caulker, Clint Dempsey, Tom Huddlestone and Scott Parker with many viewing Tottenham as much stronger for doing so. However as the season progressed, it became apparent that out of the seven arrivals – Paulinho, Chadli, Soldado, Capoue, Chiriches, Eriksen and Lamela – few were fitting in and that Spurs transfer dealings in the summer of 2013 had been a disaster.

The Summer of Seven For Spurs  (Image from Action)
The Summer of Seven For Spurs
(Image from Action)

Two years on and its all change at Tottenham with only 3 of the seven remaining following Soldodo’s departure to Villarreal this week. Paulinho has departed for China in a move that reunites him with former Brazil boss Luis Felipe Scolari at Guangzhou Evergrande. French defensive midfielder Capoue moved to Premiership newcomers Watford this summer in a fairly surprising move whilst Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches also ending his nightmare spell at the club by joining Napoli in July. Soldado’s on off move to Spain was firmly cemented earlier this past week when Villarreal and Spurs agreed to a fee for the 30-year-old Spaniard who has faced the most criticism out of all the arrivals due to his inefficiencies in front of goal. That leaves only Danish midfielder Christian Erikson, Belgian Nacir Chadli and Argentine Erik Lamela at the club but with the Tottenham faithful yet to be convinced by Lamela, further departures could be possible. In all Tottenham have received around £31.8million for the four departed players this summer against an initial outlay of £60.5million in the summer of 2013, effectively selling them for half price which has left a heavy black mark on the clubs transfer records.

Flop - Chiriches has left for Italy  (Image from PA)
Flop – Chiriches has left for Italy
(Image from PA)

These losses quite simply are unacceptable and highlight the serious errors made by Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy and Technical Director Franco Baldini who orchestrated these transfers. Spurs scouting system will also take some of the blame but that issue has been rectified in recent months with the arrival of Paul Mitchell from Southampton in November as the new Head of Recruitment. Mitchell’s arrival heralded a change in structure which saw Baldini moved off of player negotiations and scouting to focus solely on out going transfers. This has marginalized his role to such an extent that his announced exit earlier this month was hardly unexpected. The Italian has agreed a compensation package and will depart at the end of the transfer window in yet another strange move by the club. Given that Baldini has been made the scapegoat for what happened two seasons ago in the transfer window, allowing him to stay on until the end of this one doesn’t make a lot of sense. Levy, who considers himself to be a tough negotiator and always able to get a good deal for Spurs must take a lot of the blame as he was deeply entrenched in all of the signings made that summer. But the chairman survives, aided by the fact that he coaxed Real into spending £85million to buy Bale in the first place.

Baldini (in the scarf) with Daniel Levy  (Image from AFP)
Baldini (in the scarf) with Daniel Levy
(Image from AFP)

For the remaining three players, only Christian Eriksen looks like a solid investment. The 23-year-old was brought in from Ajax for a fee of £11million and has been fantastic for Spurs over the past two seasons. His value and stock has risen dramatically at the club who will eventually have to sell the playmaker to one of Europe’s elite when he “outgrows” Tottenham. Until then Eriksen operates as part of Spurs attacking force often in an central attacking midfield role just behind the striker or on occasions out wide. The versatile two footer found his goalscoring form last season bagging 10 goals much to the delight of manager Mauricio Pochettino and the White Hard Lane faithful. Also finding form last season was Belgian Nacir Chadli who struggled early on to adapt to the more aggressive style of defending found in the Premiership. He looked certain to leave after only six months at the club, but a change of management and a renewed confidence propelled Chadli on to better things. Last season he match Eriksen’s attacking threat by notching ten goals himself helping Spurs to a fifth place finish. Chadli is now considered as a starter and an important part of Pochettino’s plans much to the players delight.

Erkisen and Chadli celebrate after scoring last season  (Image from PA)
Erkisen and Chadli celebrate after scoring last season
(Image from PA)

The arrival of Pochettino from Southampton last summer instilled a new sense of confidence into the Spurs players but none more so than fellow countryman Lamela. Like Chadli, Lamela had suffered from an inability to adapt in his first season which lead to poor form and a spate of avoidable injuries. This past season Lamela started to show glimmers of what he was capable of, including his fantastic rabona goal in the Europa League but the Argentine winger has still a lot to prove to the fans who are filled with questions about the talented player. Lamela knows that this season is make or break and is geared up to be a success so that he isn’t next out of the door. He has the backing of his manager and teammates but more importantly Daniel Levy who can ill afford for Lamela, the jewel of his seven 2013 signings, to fail.

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Turkish Delight As League and Players Improve

Turkish football is improving (Image from Getty)There has been an awaking in Turkish football of late, one that has been a long time coming. After a decade of sub standard performances, football in Turkey is improving with much-needed upgrading to its main league, The Super Lig and its players. In the past Turkey relied on a golden generation that included Hakan Suker, Rustu Recber, Bulent Korkmaz and Alpay Ozalan to name but a few to advance their game both domestically and internationally. Success followed this generation with a third place finish at the 2002 World Cup and a semi final appearance at Euro 2008 the main highlights. But since their retirements, Turkey has failed to qualify for a major tournament and look set to miss out once again on Euro 2016 unless they can improve their current fourth place position in Group A.

Turkey finished 3rd at the 2002 World Cup (Image from REUTERS/Jason Reed)
Turkey finished 3rd at the 2002 World Cup
(Image from REUTERS/Jason Reed)

But after several turbulent years, Turkish football is once again pushing its way to the front of the queue for recognition. The Super Lig is starting to become more competitive and interesting to those outside of Turkey with a host of well-known faces joining the league. In what has been a fairly quiet start to the summer transfer window, Turkey is leading the way with several big moves. The first came late last week and was fairly expected with German striker Lukas Poldolski finally ending his troubled stay at Arsenal by joining Galatasary. The World Cup winner had found his chances limited at the Emirates over the past few years and has decided to move to Turkey in order to secure regular first team action. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger did try to convince him to stay but was unable to promise to start the winger on a more frequent basis. After a disastrous loan spell at Inter Milan last season, Podolski’s credibility as a world-class striker has dropped considerably so he views a move to Turkey as a way to rectify that.

Lukas Podolski has joined Gala from Arsenal (Image from Getty)
Lukas Podolski has joined Gala from Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

Another player looking to rescue their career is Nani. The Portuguese winger has decided to leave Manchester United this summer after been deemed surplus to requirements by Louis Van Gaal. A move to Fenerbache and a starring role in their new look side is just what the doctor ordered for the player whose career has gone into free fall. Both moves are for significantly less than Arsenal or United paid for them but at this stage any revenue generated is welcomed. Both clubs are looking to spend big in the window but need space in their squads and extra funds to make that possible. The potential addition of Robin Van Persie to Fenerbache will only strengthen the league further and help to promote the Super Lig on a more global scale.

Nani is mobbed as he joins Fenerbache (Image from AP)
Nani is mobbed as he joins Fenerbache
(Image from AP)

Luckily for Turkey it is not just one way traffic with several of Turkeys national side set for big moves this summer. First up is Atletico Madrid star Arda Turan who has agreed to sign for Barcelona in a move that has disappointed several other chasing clubs including Chelsea. The talented 28-year-old played a pivotal role in Atletico’s title run in 2014 which in turn made him into a cult figure at the Vincte Calderon Stadium. Turan is known for his close control, dazzling dribbling skills and vision. As the captain of Turkey,  he is a strong fan favourite and is widely recognized as a influence of the next generation of Turkish players  so his move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe has been seen as boost to his home nation chances of developing the next batch.

Captain Arda Turan is widely respected across his home land (Image from AFP)
Captain Arda Turan is widely respected across his home land
(Image from AFP)

One of these players is the highly rated Turkey striker Enes Unal who yesterday agreed to join Manchester City. The 18-year-old is the clubs first signing of the summer will arrive in a deal worth an initial £500,000 that could rise to £2million based on appearances. Unal first came to the attention of several of Europe’s elite clubs with his performances for Bursaspor youth team scoring a remarkable 182 goals in just 110 games. That strike rate earned him a call up to Turkey’s Under 16 side where his goal scoring exploits continued hitting 24 goals in 25 appearances.  Since then Unal’s progression has been accelerated both at club level and international level, making his debut for Bursaspor aged 16 and for Turkey earlier this year aged 18. He is likely to be part of City’s development squad rather than the first team but could feature if City needs to add something different to its attacking options.

Players like Turan and Unal will be vital to the future success of the Turkish game but they will face some of the same challenges as their predecessors. Turkish football for a long time has been riddled with off field corruption at board level with many clubs bending the rules to gain an advantage. Changing this mindset will take more than the arrival of a few new foreign players. An additional problem that Turkey has is with its existing players with rumours of infighting rampant amongst the squad. Stories surfacing last month about Gokhan Tore pulling a gun on Hakan Calhanogiu highlights the extent of the problem. Manager Faith Terim is in his third spell of Turkey but has never had to deal with such problems before so it will be interesting to see how he handles it going forward. What is clear is that if Turkey is to reach a major international tournament, they need to have  their entire squad playing as one. Despite the talent at his disposal, this could be his biggest challenge to date.

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Bizarre Goal Leads To Unique Show Of Sportsmanship

Freak goal leads to sporting gesture from Doncaster (Image from AFP)In a time when money plays a more significant role in the modern game, sportsmanship is often pushed under the carpet as teams strive for a result that will financially benefit them in the long run. With a greater demand placed on results, enforced by boards operating teams more like companies than sports organizations, getting a win often supersedes fair play. But at Doncaster things appear to be different who demonstrated this past weekend in their opening game of the new season against Bury that fair play and sportsmanship is still very much alive and kicking.

Harry Forrester holds his hands up after scoring a bizarre goal  (Image from PA)
Harry Forrester holds his hands up after scoring a bizarre goal
(Image from PA)

The match itself was a thrilling encounter with both teams creating fine chances at either end but failing to break the deadlock. In a fine example of how good the Football League One is, both sides looked confident of their seasons ahead and ready to convert their preseason form into a good start to the new campaign. Doncaster, bossed by former Manchester City and Scotland striker Paul Dickov were on the attack from the off with Harry Forrester testing Chris Walton in the Bury goal early on. Bury replied with a fine effort on goal after some good running  by Danny Mayor set up Leon Clarke for a low drive from outside of the area. Over the next seventy minutes both sides created further chances with Bury taking more of them but were denied by a combination of some fine goalkeeping by Thorsten Stuckmann and the woodwork. So with the game winding down towards the full-time whistle, it looked like both teams were settling for a point. That was until a bizarre moment that was triggered by an injury to a Bury defender with only a few minutes left to play.

In standard procedure, the ball was put out of play to allow the injured player to receive treatment. When he had recovered and gotten back to his feet, Doncaster sub Nathan Tyson took a quick throw in to Harry Forrester who in sporting fashion volleyed the ball back towards the Bury goalkeeper. However due to the connection with the ball and the positioning of the goalkeeper the ball ended up sailing over Walton’s head and into an empty net. What came next was confusion with the Bury players running to the referee and to Forrester to protest at the goal. The referee, Eddie Ilderton strangely allowed the goal as it fit within the laws of the game as technically Doncaster had given the ball back to Bury as required. Arguably the throw in itself was illegal given that it was thrown down rather than across but to pull it back on that would add further confusion to the situation.  Bury manager David Flitcroft appeared angered by the decision and the fact that he looked destined to finish the game with no points.

Leon Clarke scores an unopposed goal to tie the game  (Image from Sky)
Leon Clarke scores an unopposed goal to tie the game
(Image from Sky)

That was until Doncaster boss Dickov intervened and instructed his players to allow Bury to score unchallenged. It was a fantastic gesture by the young manager who felt it was the right thing to do given the bizarre nature of the goal his team had scored. From the restart Leon Clarke gentle ran the ball unchallenged towards the Doncaster goal with a couple of the Doncaster players joking with him along the way. Clarke entered the box, went past the goalkeeper and scored to draw the match. After the match, Bury boss Flitcrioft praised his opposite number for the sporting gesture and for allowing Clarke to score. For Clarke the whole game was a surreal experience after being denied three times by the woodwork and then scoring an unchallenged goal right at the death. For Dickov he explained that it was the right thing to do given the way the game had gone and that the officials had put them in a difficult spot because they hadn’t ruled out the goal in the first place. Given the way that both sides performed in the match, its hard to say that sharing the points wasnt a fair result with both teams now able to focus on their next matches in their attempt to win promotion from League One.

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Football’s Data Epitome On The Horizon

The use of data in football is growing as more clubs embrace it (Image from Wiki)

The evolution of technology within football over the past decade has dramatically changed the game arguably for the better. Whilst goal line technology is still in its infancy, other hi-tech advancements especially in the treatment and conditioning of players are more broadly accepted and are being incorporated into clubs across the world. But one area that had for a long time been untouched and against change is now undergoing a much needed makeover. The sourcing and scouting of players has traditionally been a simple affair – with a manager identifying the player(s) he wants and clubs scouting network travelling to games to watch them. But with every match being recorded in one shape or form, the need for bums on seats in the stands is become less important. Of course there is no substitute for seeing the player first hand and the scouts in particular will tell you that there is no other way to see or catch a player’s weakness than to see him or her in the flesh. But the process of finding and scouting players can be altered thanks to new technologies and with it the data that it brings.

Heat maps like these show how players are moving across the pitch (Image from OPTA)
Using data to judge players suitability is a fairly new concept but one that more and more clubs are turning to. Companies set up specifically around data collection, processing and display such as OPTA, Stats Inc and Prozone are revolutionizing the way that players are viewed. The data can show things that potentially the scout couldn’t detect by seeing the player on the field such as an underling problem in their game or a long term injury. With more knowledge about each individual player than ever before, clubs can make smarter selections in order to enhance their team and performances. The idea of using data in such a fashion may be slow in the adoption by soccer teams but in baseball in the US, clubs regularly use stats to their benefit. Highlighted in the book turned movie “Moneyball” where Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and his team use data to put together a winning baseball team on a budget with great success, the use of data to analyze all aspects of a players game has now become common practice. Soccer has been reluctant to date and slow to adopt insisting that data can be inaccurate and is secondary to experience and knowledge of the game. But slowly clubs across various leagues are realizing that instead of data being a threat to the way they run their club, it can hand them a huge advantage over the teams who are not.

Brad Pitt (sitting) starred in the film version of Moneyball  (Image from Sony)
Brad Pitt (sitting) starred in the film version of Moneyball
(Image from Sony)
Brentford, in the English Championship are not exactly the first team you would think of when it comes to this approach but are very much a club in transition. Under the ownership of forward thinker Matthew Benham, Brentford are paving a new path for themselves by embracing the data available and using it in an effort to uncover gems across Europe. Benham, who made his money by running a sports betting and football stats business, has taken the brave step of giving successful manager Mark Warburton his notice as he attempts to switch the clubs direction to this new model. Warburton, who is considered one of the best managers in the lower leagues, has guided the Bees into the Championship and has them on course for a potential shot at promotion to the Premiership for the very first time. But regardless of what happens Warburton will part ways with the club in the summer after agreeing to terminate his contract due to a difference in philosophy with Benham. Far from being opposed to using data in the scouting process, Warburton feels that as a manager he would still like to own the decision of who to buy and who would work well in his squad, something Benham and the club disagrees with. Benham will spend the next few months identifying a new head coach rather than manager who will work alongside Director of Football Frank McParland as part of a new setup. It may be seen by many as a risky move but Benham believes it is the right thing to do for the future of Brentford FC.

Brentford owner Matthew Benham is embracing the use of data  (Image from Getty)
Brentford owner Matthew Benham is embracing the use of data
(Image from Getty)
This move follows a dramatic shift in the mindset of some owners in England from the conventional British approach where the manager owns and controls the team to a European approach where a Director of Football or Sporting Director takes care of transfers, scouting and youth development leaving a head coach to coach. Recently QPR appointed Les Ferdinand into a Director role with Chris Ramsey as Head coach and although Ramsey is only in place temporarily until the summer, QPR will likely maintain this structure going forward regardless of whom they choose. It’s a similar situation at Newcastle where Managing Director Lee Charnley and Chief Scout Graham Carr are tasked with the buying a selling of players whilst temporary manager John Carver manages training and the team. They too will likely hire a full time head coach during the summer with several names already being touted for the job.

Ferdinand as Director of Football will help Ramsey with the business side of the game  (Image from Getty)
Ferdinand as Director of Football will help Ramsey with the business side of the game
(Image from Getty)
Adjusting to this new approach will not be easy, especially for managers, coaches and scouts who have been in the game for considerable amounts of time but the evolution of technology will continue with or without them. Data, like in baseball will start to play a more significant role in how teams operate both on and away from the pitch. Mangers who cannot adapt will be pushed to the sidelines and replaced by new coaches who can. It is an evolution of football that has been coming for some time now but only in recent years has picked up enough steam to push its way through to the end.

To see more on how OPTA is helping the data revolution, click here:

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Leicester Top And Arsenal Struggle As Premiership Starts With A Bang

leicester go top after 4-2 win (Image from PA)Leicester City fans will be waking up this morning in a dreamland with their side top of the Premiership season after an emphatic opening day win over Sunderland.  It may be only be a week one but the Foxes will care not especially given that many suspect that they will struggle this season under new boss Claudio Ranieri. Even the Italian himself was pessimistic about Leicester’s chances heading into the game lowering the level of expectations of the fans and preparing them for a hard slog. But on Saturday the Tinkerman got it right with and found his new team 3-0 up within the first 25 minutes of the game, eventually going on to win the game 4-2 in the end. Sunderland to be fair were never at the races and looked like they were still on vacation which will be a worry for returning boss Dick Advocaat. They did look brighter in the second half, winning it by 2-1 but by then the game was already lost. Its going to be a long season for the Black Cats.

Difficult season ahead for Ranieri and Advocaat  (Image from PA)
Difficult season ahead for Ranieri and Advocaat
(Image from PA)

Up the road in Newcastle, the Toon Army were in a boisterous mood filled with optimism about the season ahead with a new manager and more importantly some new players after owner Mike Ashley found his wallet down the back of the sofa. Two of the new signings, Chancel Mbemba and Georgina Wijnaldum started whilst the third, striker Aleksandar Mitrovic settled for a spot on the bench. Despite being out jumped for Graziano Pelle’s opening headed goal, Mbemba looked solid at centre back alongside Coloccini which will please the Geordie faithful who still have Mike Williamson nightmares every time they close their eyes. Mitrovic looked lively coming in off the bench, even if his first act was to get booked with a fairly rash over committed challenge. But it was the performance of Wijnaldum in particular that will give Newcastle the most hope. His spirited non stop running, strong reading of the game and eye for goal where demonstrated in the 48th minute when he ran 60 yards to get on the end of a perfectly held up cross from Gabriel Obertan to give Newcastle a 2-1 lead. Southampton may have pegged them back in the end to draw the match 2-2 but the Newcastle fans saw enough to walk away from St James Park with that sense of optimism still in the vicinity.

Wijnaldum rises to meet Obertan's cross to head Newcastle into the lead  (Image from Getty)
Wijnaldum rises to meet Obertan’s cross to head Newcastle into the lead
(Image from Getty)

That result wasnt the only 2-2 draw of the weekend with two other matches ending by the same scoreline. Champions Chelsea made a stuttering start to the new campaign with a laboured 2-2 draw with Swansea who had new boy Andre Ayew on the score sheet within 29 minutes. Jose Mourinho’s side looked tired as they tried to hold on to a 2-1 lead going into the second half but their task was made harder when goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saw red for bringing down Gomis as the Swansea front man ran clear. The French striker converted the subsequent penalty and the two sides shared the points. It was a similar story at Goodison as Everton left it late to equalize against new boys Watford. Quique Sanchez Flores’s side looked the fresher going into the match and soon took the lead through new signing Miguel Layun. They held that lead until the 76th minute before Ross Barkley rifled Everton back into the game with a long distance stunner. But seven minutes later Watford regained the lead through Odion Ighalo and looked set for three points until substitute Arouna Kone drilled a low shot past Gomes to tie the game.

Barkley scores a screamer to pull Everton level  (Image from AFP)
Barkley scores a screamer to pull Everton level
(Image from AFP)

Elsewhere there were three narrow 1-0 victories with wins for Man Utd, Aston Villa and Liverpool who all showed glimmers of what is to come. Liverpool needed a late wonder goal from Coutinho to grab all three points whilst United relied on an own goal by Kyle Walker to snatch their points. Bournemouth put up a valid show against Villa with some crisp passing movements but couldn’t find the cutting edge in the final third. In the end a powerful header from Villa striker Rudy Gestede settled the tie. Fellow newcomers Norwich found it more difficult on their return to the Premiership falling to a 3-1 defeat to a new look Crystal Palace with Zaha, Delaney and Cabaye notching for the Eagles. Nathan Redmond did rely for Norwich but Alex Neil has a lot of work to do if this showing was anything to go by. Finally many people’s tip for title challengers Arsenal came unstuck against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham side with the Hammers running out as 2-0 victors in the end. Bilic, who handed 16-year-old Reece Oxford a starting berth in front of the back four, had a dream start as the new West Ham boss with his side going in at half time 1-0 up thanks to a powerful header by Cheikhou Kouyate.

16 year old Reece Oxford won the man of the match award fro his performance against Arsenal  (Image from Getty)
16 year old Reece Oxford won the man of the match award fro his performance against Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

New Arsenal stopper Peter Cech will be blamed for his misjudged attempt to clear but in truth its his defence who should have taken care of Payet’s free kick. Arsenal pressed for an equalizer but couldn’t find it due to poor finishing highlighting their desperate need for a world-class striker, preferably like Karim Benzema. With Arsenal throwing more people forward, space opened up which West Ham took advantage of in the 57th minute with striker Mauro Zarate drilling a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards. On this performance West Ham look like they are set for a good season under Bilic who took a brave move in fielding rookie Oxford in such an important game. But his gamble paid off with the youngster grabbing the man of the match award after a sterling performance that saw him complete 95% of all his passes, higher than the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mexut Ozil and Mark Noble. Oxford has a bright future ahead of him especially if given the playing time he needs under Bilic.

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Premiership Season Preview

Who will challenge Chelsea this year? (Image from Francesca Ceciarini)After a summer spend pondering the meaning of life, fans across the world can breathe a sigh of relief as the new Premiership season kicks off. This season like many before is being widely tipped as the most exciting yet with high-profile arrivals, changes and new faces coming into the league. Every club has strengthened in some sort or another in anticipation for  38 games ahead. But who has had the best summer, who has failed to strengthen accordingly and ultimately who will finish first and last when the season concludes next May.

World Cup winning Bastian Schweinsteiger's arrival adds quality to United's midfield  (Image from Getty)
World Cup winning Bastian Schweinsteiger’s arrival adds quality to United’s midfield
(Image from Getty)

Best Buyer in Transfer market: Many would suggest that Manchester United have had the best window with the arrival of several key signings but credit where it is due has to go to Stoke. The Premiership mainstays may not be everyone’s cup of tea but since Mark Hughes arrived have been  slowly building a team capable of challenging for greater honours. Despite letting Asmir Begovic leave for Chelsea, Hughes has added a good balance of experience and potential to his ever improving squad. Shay Given’s arrival should provide adequate cover for new No.1 Jack Butland whilst Glen Johnson and Phillip Wollscheid will add steel to the back line. Hughes has also raided Barcelona’s closet once more by snatching former Nou Camp winger Ibrahim Afellay on a free. Along with Chelsea loanee Marco Van Ginkel, Afellay will be tasked with providing chances for the returning Bojan and new boy Joselu.

Mark Hughes is slowly building an impressive team at Stoke (Image from PA)
Mark Hughes is slowly building an impressive team at Stoke
(Image from PA)

Worst Buyer in Transfer Market: Strangely the award goes to Tottenham who yet again have failed to really strengthen in the areas that they needed. Manager Mauricio Pochettino seems obsessed with defenders dipping into the market again to bring in three new faces to his back line. In come Kevin Wimmer, Kieran Tripper and Toby Alderweireld meaning that since Pochettino took over, he has signed ten players in total, seven of which have been defenders (eight if you include goalkeeper Michel Vorm into that equation). With only three recognised strikers in his squad including the extremely disappointing Roberto Soldado and the want away Emmanuel Adebayor, the Spurs faithful must be wondering why they haven’t yet seen a new front man walk through the doors.

Pochettini gets all defensive  (Image from PA)
Pochettini gets all defensive
(Image from PA)

Best signing: Arguable at this stage as various new signings could take this honour including James Milner and Nathaniel Clyne (Liverpool), Peter Cech (Arsenal), Memphis Depay (Manchester United) or Andre Ayew (Swansea) but the award should go to Crystal Palace and their signing of Yohan Cabaye. The French midfielder shocked us all by joining Palace from PSG but its a sensational show of trust by the player who must believe that Palace are going places under Alan Pardew. This is a player who only three years ago was wanted by most of the top clubs in Europe so a move to the Eagles comes as a shock. But its a massive coup for the club and one that they should be applauded for. Hopefully he can deliver.

Coup - Yohan Cabaye to Palace  (Image from afp)
Coup – Yohan Cabaye to Palace
(Image from afp)

Worst signing: Planning for the season ahead usually starts towards the tail end of the last season, with budgets being carefully worked out and potential new additions scouted. But over the course of the summer, things can shift dramatically. Take Aston Villa as an example. Tim Sherwood had anticipated a move for his star striker Christian Benteke but he was probably not expecting to lose his captain Fabian Delph as well. Adjustments will have been made post sale and with it replacement signings made. However unless it was pre-planned some clubs rush into this and end up buying based on instinct rather than hard evidence. As a result, sense often departs and clubs end up overpaying for a player they believe is the right choice. Take Crystal Palace’s move for Connor Wickham. The ex Sunderland striker joined Palace for just over £7 million despite being less than prolific at the Stadium of Light. In fact in four years and over 75 appearances, Wickham only scored 11 times or 14% depending on how you look at it. He did have a strong finish to last year which may have helped his cause but for a Premiership striker his return hardly warrants the fee paid. But in this day and age, astronomical fees are part and part of the course. Look at Raheem Sterling, a 20-year-old who over the last three years has impressed for Liverpool but not to the extent that someone has to pay £44 million for him. Sterling has promise and more importantly for City is British which helps their home-grown quota but still its a lot of money for promise.

Worth the risk? Wickham's moves to Palace  (Image from AFP)
Worth the risk? Wickham’s moves to Palace
(Image from AFP)

Team to watch: Funny as it may sound, I am tipping Aston Villa as a team to watch this season. Despite losing two of their best players, manager Tim Sherwood has strengthened well by taking a leaf out of Newcastle’s books by raiding the French Ligue 1. In has come the exciting trio of Jordan Amavi, Idrissa Gueye and Jordan Ayew to add depth to the squad alongside fellow newbies Rudy Gestede and Micah Richards.  Sherwood is looking to add Adebayor as well to increase his striking options whilst is also expected to dip into the clubs flourishing youth team and will give more playing time this year to the likes of Andre Green, Callum Robinson, Jack Grealish and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy. Also keep an eye out for Bournemouth who are many people’s favourites to go straight back down. Under manager Eddie Howe, Bournemouth have achieved the impossible and the young English boss will not have spent a single moment since winning promotion not deep in thought about how to stay in the Premiership. He has extensively studied past promoted teams, how they fared, what went right and what went wrong in an attempt to unlock the secret code. Whether he has found that code is to be seen but one thing will be for certain that Howe will have his team highly organized and playing as one which could be the difference between survival and relegation.

New team captain Micah Richards is looking forward to the season ahead  (Image from Getty)
New team captain Micah Richards is looking forward to the season ahead
(Image from Getty)

Strugglers: It’s never easy coming into the Premiership from the Championship. For new boys Bournemouth, Watford and Norwich, the Premiership will test their squads to the max. Whilst all three have superb managers at the helm, a lack of real established fire power up front may ultimately be their downfall. Expect all three to be in the bottom half of the table although any of the three could surprise with some early season form that sees them climb to safety.  Last year Leicester and Sunderland fans chewed through their fingernails almost to the bone itself as their sides struggled in the league. Unfortunately it doesn’t look good for either side despite hiring experienced managers in Ranieri and Advocaat. Ranieri, a surprise replacement for the “media friendly” Nigel Pearson has already admitted that last season was quite incredible and that it will be difficult for his side to replicate that going forward. Sunderland have added some new faces but the lack of belief that they can continue to avoid the drop may be their undoing in the end.

Fear the season to come - Ranieri  (Image from Getty)
Fear the season to come – Ranieri
(Image from Getty)

Victors: Based on squad depth alone, its hard to look past the top four of Chelsea, Arsenal, Man United and Man City as title challengers. Liverpool have done well to strengthen and will be in the running but exactly how long it takes for their new look squad to blend is still a question. Added into that Brendan Rodgers inability to adapt his tactics to fit the rhythm of the game will also lead to Liverpool dropping points and falling behind. Manchester United have added further quality at the back and in midfield but their lack of firepower up front is concerning especially if Rooney picks up yet another injury. Van Gaal still has another trick up his sleeve which hopefully means a quality striker is walking through the doors at Old Trafford but until that happens United will struggle to win the league. The same goes for City who have sold most of their striking rotational options leaving only Bony and Aguero plus a handful of untested kids to fire them to the title. Further additions are needed but Pellegrini seems more interested in adding midfielders rather than frontmen. That leaves Chelsea and Arsenal, separated by 12 points last year that gap should be less this season. Chelsea have added a few faces although whether Mourinho can get the best out of Falcao is still to be seen whilst Arsenal have plugged their problematic goalkeeper slot with a quality stopper in Peter Cech. That should bring the two sides closer together and it will likely be the results they have against the top five sides that will dictate their final placings.

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Celtic Have More To Lose Than Just Money In Crunch CL Qualifier

Celtic take a narrow 1 goal lead to Baku (Image from SNS)After an eight and a half hour journey, Glasgow Celtic touched down in Azerbaijan tired but ready for the challenge ahead. Ronny Deila’s side will need to quickly shake off any jet lag they may be under as they prepare to face Azerbaijan champions  Qarabag in today’s crunch second league Champions League qualifier. With only a slender 1-0 lead from the first leg in Glasgow, Deila will be instructing his team to go out and find that crucial away goal that will surely send Celtic through. Concerns about the state of the pitch or the heat will need to be put to one side as the Scottish champions look to progress to the group stage. The pitch at the Tofiq Bahramov Stadium has been badly damaged by a recent heat wave in the country and looks patchy in places with as much as 30% of it classified as unplayable but Qarabag manager Gurban Gurbanov is in no mood to be apologetic about it stating there is little the club can do at this stage.Whether he has a point is up for debate but the game will go ahead regardless.

The pitch will be problematic for both sides  (Image from Getty)
The pitch will be problematic for both sides
(Image from Getty)

Celtic  can not afford to sit back against a very technically strong Qarabag side. With pace to burn upfront  through the electric Brazilian Reynaldo and the dynamic link up play of Spanish midfielder Dani Quintana, Qarabag could be a threat straight from the kick off. They will be looking to snatch an early goal in the hopes that Celtic have a stuttering start to the game as their players adapt to the humidity. Qarabag have never qualified for the group stages of the Champions League, narrowly missing last year thanks to an away defeat against Salzburg. But Baku is not an easy place to come as many teams have found out in the past with Qarabag notching victories against Club Brugge, Wisla Krakow, Rosenborg and Salzburg in recent years. They will be looking to add Celtic’s scalp to their collection in what should be a frustrating night for the Scottish champions.

Reynaldo is a threat that Celtic need to be aware of  (Image from PA)
Reynaldo is a threat that Celtic need to be aware of
(Image from PA)

Celtic manager Ronny Deila will not say it but there is a lot resting on tonight’s game and in particular qualification to the group stages. Besides the obvious financial advantages to Celtic through playing regularly in Europe’s top club competition, there are other key reasons to want to compete like holding on to their best players. Winning the Scottish Premiership has become somewhat pedestrian with few teams able to put up a constant long-term fight for the title, especially as Rangers continues its exile. So Celtic rely on European football to keep its star players like Virgil Van Dijk interested. The dutch defender has been a revelation for the club since his £2.6m move from FC Groningen two years ago. Stunning displays and assured defending has led to several Premiership scouts taking notice. Rumours that Southampton are lining up a £7m bid for the player appear to be accurate as they ramp up their search for a new central defender.

Southampton are eyeing a move for Van Dijk  (Image from Getty)
Southampton are eyeing a move for Van Dijk
(Image from Getty)

Ronald Koeman was hoping to make the loan signing of Toby Alderweireld permanent but was beaten to his signature by Tottenham. That was followed by the long-term injury to Romanian defender Florin Gardos which has left Southampton drastically short in the centre back position. With money to spend, the Saints have identified the tall dutch defender as their number one target and are preparing a bid despite Celtic not wanting to sell the player. However failure to qualify for the Champions League could see Virgil request that the move be permitted as he strives to better himself as a footballer. Holding on to Van Dijk is not impossible for Celtic but it will be made harder if all they can offer him is football in Scotland. Victory today in Azerbaijan will go along way in securing the Dutchman for another season at least making the result in Baku that more important.

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Advantage Wenger As Arsenal Snatch The Community Shield

Advantage Wenger as Arsenal lift Community Shield (Image from PA)Jose Mourinho is anything but a good loser. The Chelsea boss reacted in his usual fashion to his side’s 1-0 defeat in the FA Community Shield to Arsenal by insisting that the better team had lost. In the post match interview, Mourinho explained that his side had the greater possession, initiative and looked more likely to score but Arsenal’s organisation and defensive approach eventually won the game. Alex Oxlade Chamberlain’s 24th minute powerful shot into the top corner was enough to settle the tie and hand Arsenal a mental edge heading into the new Premiership season. It’s the first time in 13 attempts for Wenger who finally gets the victory over Mourinho that he has been pining for. There is no love lost between the two coaches as they continue their ongoing spat which was highlighted by the fact that the pair refused to even acknowledge each other during or after the game, foregoing the old tradition of shaking hands after the ninety minutes is up.

Mourinho’s frustration was clear as his title-winning side failed to spark in the first main test of the new season.  Coming second is nothing for Mourinho who wants to win everything , displayed as he tossed his runner’s up medal into the Arsenal fans section of the crowd at the end of the game. The Special one will play down the defeat as a non-essential competition however it will have raised a few questions about his side’s readiness for the season ahead. In particular Mourinho will be concerned that two of his key midfielders Eden Hazard and Cesc Fabregas were posted missing for a vast majority of the contest, allowing Arsenal to control the midfield and dictate the pace of the game. But its upfront that Jose will likely lose more sleep. With Diego Costa out injured, Mourinho selected Loic Remy to play as a lone striker – a move that failed spectacularly. Remy, who was acquired from QPR last summer after an impressive stint on loan to Newcastle, was rumoured to be on his way out of the club but Mourinho had a change of heart and has decided to hold on to the French striker with a view to using him as a replacement or rotation player for Costa. However based on yesterday’s performance Mourinho may be second guessing himself with Remy failing to register a single shot on goal in the first forty five minutes.

Different Shirt, same story - Falcao  desperate to find form  (Image from Getty)
Different Shirt, same story – Falcao desperate to find form
(Image from Getty)

Remy was quickly replaced at half time by Radamel Falcao with the Colombian hitman desperate to prove that he can still be a success in England. Falcao’s move to Chelsea is a strange one given his poor spell on loan to Manchester United last season but Mourinho believes that he can get the best out of him. Based on yesterday’s performance, Mourinho has a lot of work to do. Sporting a new shorter haircut, Falcao looked lively and offered slightly more than Remy had in the first half creating a couple of chances. But he still looks like he is lacking in confidence and a yard short of the required sharpness needed to be back at his best. Falcao’s biggest problem last season was his lack of on field time with Van Gaal preferring to bring him off the bench more often that not. That doesn’t look to be any different at Chelsea especially when Costa returns to full fitness. However Falcao may have just edged in front of Remy based on yesterday’s performance.

For Arsene Wenger, it’s the perfect start to the new season as he looks to build a squad capable of challenging Mourinho’s side for the title. The addition of Peter Cech, ironically from Chelsea is the same as adding 6 more points to their season tally with the Czech goalkeeper likely to be more reliable than Arsenal’s other options between the sticks. However Arsenal still lack depth especially upfront with Wenger eyeing the transfer market with interest. With money to spend, the arrival of a support or main striker should happen but given Wenger’s previous transfer history, that move will not go through until the very last moments before the window slams shut. He will start the season as is with games against West Ham, Crystal Palace, Liverpool and Newcastle all to come before the window closes giving his current strike options enough time to prove their worth. The win over Chelsea will mean that Arsenal will start the season on a high with dreams of lifting the Premiership title come May next year. But Mourinho will not give up the title without a fight, after all in his own words there are no prizes for losers.

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Where Are They Now – Ajax 1995

After both teams drew a blank on the first leg of their European Cup semi final clash, Ajax FC entertained a strong Bayern Munich side at home knowing that 90 minutes separated their team from their first  European Cup final since 1973. Bayern, with a host of stars including German internationalists Markus Babbel, Thomas Helmer and Mehmet Scholl, were favourites to progress against a talented but youthful Ajax squad. In an epic match that saw both teams give 100% commitment to every tackle, Ajax came out on top with a 5-2 win that sent them through to the final in Vienna against AC Milan.

Milan, having beaten PSG both home and away to progress, went in as slight favourites and rightly so. With a squad featuring Paolo Maldini, Demetrio Albertini, Zvonimir Boban and Daniele Massaro, Milan had coasted to the final without conceding a goal from the quarter finals onwards. However, the signs that this Ajax team could beat Milan were there from the group stages where the two had already locked horns in group D with Ajax winning both times by a two goal margin.

After a thrilling match, Ajax scored the only goal of the game in the 85th minute through 18-year-old substitute striker Patrick Kluivert, on for Jari Litmanen, and held on to win and crown Ajax champions of Europe. This was their finest hour, not only because of the teams they had beaten along the way but by the way they had played, especially for such a young squad. The achievement itself was even more remarkable as the squad was built of mostly local talent, all eager to impress and build a name for themselves. Even with Dutch legend Frank Rijkaard returning to the team at the age of 32, the average age of the squad was still only 23.

At the age of 25, Edwin Van Der Sar was one of the oldest members of the team, having been in the first team for the past 4 years. A towering goalkeeper at 6 ft 5 inches, Van Der Sar (picture below) was a crucial part of the 1995 season, picking up the Best European Goalkeeper award of that year.

The defence, either as a straight back 4 or as a central 3 was a combination of youth and experience. At right back, Michel Reiziger was a constant, no-nonsense defender who had broken into the first team at the age of 17 and become a regular in the side since then. In the final in 1995, the then 22-year-old played as the right-sided defender along side Danny Blind (centre) and Frank De Boer (Left). Blind, 33, was an experienced centre half who was brought to Ajax in 1986 by then manager Johan Cruyff to add much-needed steel. Completing the back three was the younger twin brother of Ronald Be Boer, Frank. The solid left-sided defender (picture below) came through the youth ranks in the late 80’s and by 1995, the 25-year-old was a permanent fixture in the team.

In midfield, the trio of Davids, Seedorf and George provided the Ajax strikers with the supply and the flair needed for them to win games. Davids, 22 at the time of the final, came through the youth ranks at Ajax and went on to make a name for himself as a tough tackling midfield general affectionately known as Pitbull. Clarence Seedorf, who played alongside Davids, was only 19 during the 1995 campaign but already displayed glimmers of the talented player he would become. His natural ability shone through especially in the second leg of the semi final against Bayern where he shackled Mehmet Scholl and prevented him from playing his game. Switching between midfield and attack, Findi George was a pacey Nigerian winger brought in two seasons before to add flair to a workman like midfield. At 24 years old, he was known for his dazzling runs and shooting abilities which gave a different dimension to the team.

Up front, Ajax usually played with the trio of De Boer, Litmanen (above) and Overmars, with the latter acting more as a winger than a striker. Frank De Boer, like his brother, had come through the youth system. His goals in the 95 campaign helped Ajax to get to the final including strikes against Milan in the group stages and Hajduk Split in the quarters. The 25-year-old performed different roles for the team, sometimes dropping to midfield or behind the strikers, depending on the opposition. Litmanen, a Finnish international, was the recognised striker. Having built his name in the Finnish leagues, he moved to Ajax in 1992 and went on to play 159 times for the club, scoring 91 goals. by 1995, the 24-year-old had established himself as the central striker in the team. Marc Overmars supplied Litmanen with a majority of his goal scoring opportunities throughout his 5 year spell at Ajax. The winger was 22 at the time of the final and along with George gave the team the width needed to stretch games and open up spaces for De Boer and Seedorf to attack.

Ajax 1995 starting eleven:

GK – Edwin Van Der Sar – After leaving Ajax, Edwin starred for Juventus, Fulham and most recently Manchester United where he won the Champions League in 2007. Capped 130 times by Holland to become the most capped player of all time, Edwin currently works as an analyst and has stated an interest in coaching in the near future. He is now back at Ajax as Sporting Director.

D – Michel Reiziger – Reiziger left Ajax at the end of the 1996 season to join AC Milan then going on to play for Barcelona, Middlesboro and PSV before retiring. Capped 72 times by Holland, the right back is now pursuing a coaching career.

D – Danny Blind – Defensive rock Blind was the heartbeat of the Ajax team during the 90’s. After joining from Sparta Rotterdam in 1986, Blind never looked like leaving the club and didn’t in the end. He played 372 times for Ajax, finally retiring in 1999. Blind took up the role of Technical Director at Ajax shortly after retiring and held the post until boardroom unrest resulted in him departing from the club. He now works as assistant coach for the Dutch national team.

D – Frank De Boer – A defender with great technical ability, De Boer joined Barcelona from Ajax after the 1998 World Cup. Unsuccessful spells at Galatasary, Rangers and Al-Rayyan then followed. After retiring, De Boer took  up a role at Ajax in charge of the youth team and during the 2020 world cup acted as assistant manager of the Dutch National team. In December 2010, following Martin Jol’s departure, Frank De Boer was appointed Ajax manager, a position he still holds.

D/M – Frank Rijkaard – The 1995 Champions League Final proved to be Rijkaard’s last game before retirement. He took up the Dutch managers role in 1998 but was dismissed after a fairly unsuccessful time in charge. In recent years, Rijkaard enjoyed success as manager of Barcelona, winning 2 titles and a Champions League. He was manager of the Saudi Arabia national team until January when he was dismissed.

M – Clarence Seedorf – Arguably the most successful of the ’95 youngsters, Seedorf’s CV boasts spells at Ajax, Sampdoria, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and AC Milan. In 2003 he became the first player to win the Champions League with 3 different clubs. He is still playing after recently moving to Brazil with Botafogo.

M – Findi George – Following his 3 years at Ajax, George moved to Real Betis in 1996. English fans may remember him playing for Ipswich during their brief stay in the Premiership. He retired in 2004 after a season with Real Mallorca. He is Director of international football at Real Betis in Spain

M – Edgar Davids –  A ferocious tackler in the middle of the pitch, Davids was instantly recognizable for his protective glasses which he wore during matches. Davids formed a formidable midfield with Zinedine Zidane for Juventus in the late 1990′s. Following Juventus, Davids played for Barcelona, Inter Milan, Tottenham and Ajax before retiring in 2008. He travelled the world promoting Street Football before eventually ending up at Barnet of all places for his first managerial role.

M/F – Ronald De Boer – Like his twin brother Frank, Ronald also moved to Barcelona after the 1998 World Cup. Unlike Frank, Ronald struggled to make an impact at the Nou Camp and moved to Rangers in 2000. He retired in 2008 after a number of seasons in the Middle East. He is now working with his brother back at Ajax as a youth coach.

F – Jari Litmanen – On of the best players in the world at the time, Litmanen was a highly talented attacking midfielder. Like many of the 1995 side, he went on to play for Barcelona. He moved to Liverpool in 2001, in search of first team football. After being criminally underused by Gerard Houllier, Litmanen returned to Ajax in 2002.  Until recently he was still playing back home for HJK.

F – Marc Overmars – The lightning fast winger was a key member of Arsenal’s double winning team of 1998. He moved to Barcelona for £25m in 2000 before retiring in 2004 at the age of 31. Overmars returned to football briefly in 2008 to play for the Go Ahead Eagles in the Dutch lower leagues. He is now Director of Football at Ajax.

Coach – Louis Van Gaal –  After leaving Ajax, the Dutch master helped Barcelona to win the La Liga in 1997 before stints as firstly Holland boss then Bayern Munich before recently returning to the Holland national team job.

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Age Is Only A Number As Newcastle Seal Mbemba Signing

Newcastle United Unveil New Signing Chancel Mbemba (Photo by Serena Taylor/Newcastle United via Getty Images)The revamp of Newcastle United under new boss Steve McLaren continued this week with his third signing of the window so far, defender Chancel Mbemba from Anderlecht. The Democratic Republic of Congo full back has arrived at the club for a fee of £8.5million and should go into Newcastle’s starting line up for next Sunday’s season opener against Southampton along with fellow newcomers Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Mbemba is a powerful full back with good pace and a strong reading of the game who should add some bite to the Newcastle back line. Having played 36 times for Anderlecht last year including their six Champions League matches, Mbemba appears comfortable at the highest level and is being heralded as a coup by Newcastle who have stolen a player with the best years of his career ahead of him.

Chancel Mbemba impressed at Anderlecht  (Image from Getty)
Chancel Mbemba impressed at Anderlecht
(Image from Getty)

But how many years exactly has become an interesting side point and distraction in this transfer. The uncertainty over how old Mbemba actually is has plagued the player since he moved to Europe three years ago. The issue is that in Congo birth certificates and record keeping are rare so Mbemba’s exact year of birth is unknown. What is certain is that he arrived into the world on August 8th but of what year? The players first two clubs registered his birth year as 1988, making him 26 today however his country submitted 1991 as his year of birth when registering him for the African Cup of Nations. That would make him 23. Then when Mbemba moved to Europe to sign for Belgian side Anderlecht they registered his birth year as 1994 making him 20. The player himself has been reported to believe that his birth year was 1990 making him 24 today.

Mbemba in action for DR Congo  (Image from Getty)
Mbemba in action for DR Congo
(Image from Getty)

Where the truth falls in this story is unknown but FIFA has now launched a formal investigation to get to the bottom of it once and for all. It is suspected that the date given by the DR Congo national team was fabricated to allow Mbemba to take part in the 2012 Olympics games, a tournament he would have been illegible for if he was indeed born in 1988. By bring the clock forward, a move done by several African nations, he would be able to compete and would hand Congo an advantage against its competitors given Mbemba’s then size and strength. The birth dates given by Mbemba to his first clubs are likely to be incorrect as well due to poor medical/birth records or simply down to the players desire to play professionally for as long as possible. Many players in Africa see a career as a footballer as an escape from their current lives and a way to help their families. Adjusting their year of birth as they move around allows them to prolong their careers further and generate more money to send home. Mbemba is not the first nor will be the last player from Africa to have their age questions. Stars like Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu and even former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins have been questioned about their real age given that they appeared to have played at the highest level from a very young age.

Taribo West - How old is he really?  (Image from PA)
Taribo West – How old is he really?
(Image from PA)

To Newcastle and their fans, they care little about how old Mbemba is. Whether he is 20 or 24 makes little difference to Steve McLaren who sees the player as someone who will become an instant hit with the fans and will help Newcastle to progress on the pitch. Mbemba himself seems unmoved by the ongoing speculation around his year of birth and in fact has become accustom to having his teammates tease him on the issue. His international colleagues ritually poke fun at his ever-moving birthday but all agree that he has the potential to go all the way in the game. He has raised comparisons between himself and Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany back in Belgium and its hard to argue with. Both are powerful yet skillful defenders who can read the game brilliantly. Mbemba will now have the chance to show what he can do in England’s top league and whether he can replicate Kompany’s success and become one of Europe’s best defenders.

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Drogba Joins Foreign Legions Moving To MLS

Immediate Impact - Drogba signs (Image from Getty)When Didier Drogba rejoined Chelsea at the start of last season, many believed it would be his last move with the Ivorian striker now in the latter stages of his career. It seemed to be the perfect end to Drogba’s football story, reuniting with the manager who had put him on the map on a global scale. At Chelsea under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, Drogba became a legend vindicated in 2012 when a fans poll voted him the greatest Chelsea player ever. That was at the end of his original eight year stay where he scored 100 goals in 226 games, making him the club’s fourth highest goal scorer of all time behind Frank Lampard, Bobby Tambling and Kerry Dixon.  Subsequent moves to Shanghai and Galatasaray proved successful but Drogba’s heart remained in London and he secretly pined for a return. So when Jose came calling late last summer, Drogba wasted little time in resigning for the club.

Mourinho and Drogba forged a strong friendship at Chelsea  (Image from Stu Forster/Getty Images )
Mourinho and Drogba forged a strong friendship at Chelsea
(Image from Stu Forster/Getty Images )

The move revitalized Drogba despite the fact that he played a more marginal role than before in his previous spell as Chelsea ran in as English Champions. Knowing he still had something to give and with Mourinho’s blessing, Drogba decided to leave Chelsea again in search of one final swan song. Many anticipated a move back to France with former club Marseille expressing timid interest.But the pull of the ever improving MLS and a chance to sign for Montreal Impact was too interesting to turn down. So Drogba flew to the french speaking Canadian province of Quebec to sign for Montreal in a 18 month deal. Drogba will fill one of Montreal’s three designated player spots on their roster alongside Argentine Ignacio Piatti and one other player still to be named. With the MLS season already underway, Montreal find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 24 points  in what is quickly becoming a difficult  and competitive division. Despite being arguably one of the weakest teams in the conference, Montreal are doing ok but have lost too many games away from home to be considered contenders. Drogba should offer Montreal a new threat upfront as a proven goalscorer both for club and country.

Montreal Impact have started well but their chances will be boosted by Drogba's arrival  (Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)
Montreal Impact have started well but their chances will be boosted by Drogba’s arrival
(Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter McCabe)

His move comes on the back of several other high-profile players joining the league. In the same division as Montreal, newcomers Orlando and New York have been the most active with the Florida side signing Kaka whilst New York snapped up Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Big spending Toronto have continued to invest in their squad, letting Jermanie Defoe leave with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco joining as replacements in a move that has helped to balance Toronto’s team. Chicago added Scotland star Shaun Maloney in the close season but despite good form for his country he has failed to reignite Chicago’s fire. Elsewhere Steven Gerrard joined Robbie Keane at Los Angeles Galaxy to continue their run of hiring former England captains whilst FC Dallas chose to look to Mexico with their loan signing of Erick Torres. The addition of these players plus the influx of returning US internationals from Europe has increased the competitiveness of the league overall and with it improved its viewership on a global scale. Drogba’s arrival will help this further given his draw in Africa and in particular at home in the Ivory Coast. Whether he can have the same impact on Montreal though is to be seen.

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The Falseness Of The False Nine

The False Nine  (Image from afp)

When David Villa suffered a broken leg months before the kick off of Euro 2012, the media went into speculation overdrive about who would lead the line for Spain. With strike partner Fernando Torres lacking form, candidates like Fernando Llorente and Álvaro Negredo were mentioned as obvious front runners for the position. When Vicente Del Bosque sent his team out for their first match of the tournament, shockwaves went round the stadium like a Mexican wave. Had Del Bosque made a mistake? Did the stadium announcer get it wrong when he read out the team? How could little Cesc Fabregas be leading the line? Del Bosque had simply revived a position forgotten in time, known as the false nine.

Tactical Surprise from Del Bosque  (Image from Getty)
Tactical Surprise from Del Bosque
(Image from Getty)

Sitting removed from a firm position, the false nine was an enigma and near impossible to mark. The problem with the false nine is the position itself. Not an outright striker, nor an attacking midfielder. Not even a trequartista . Floating around like a bee chasing pollen, the false nine moved from central to flank to outright front man all in the space of minutes. Central defenders are thrown into turmoil, trying to work out whether to track the player, pulling them dramatically out of position or leave him be and have him run at them at pace. The only solution for defending against this is to employ three centre backs or two centre backs with a holding midfielder, one of which is assigned to track the false nine wherever they go.

Fabregas and Spain triumphed using the false nine formation  (Image from AFP)
Fabregas and Spain triumphed using the false nine formation
(Image from AFP)

So if it works so well, why don’t teams use it now as a tactic? Simply put you have to be Spain to make it work or at least a team like Spain featuring strong interchangeable passing players whose principle philosophy is pass and move. You also need a player like Fabregas who can operate in a variety of forward facing roles, spread passes with ease and find space where little exists. You need a player of considerable skill but one who also possess a “footballing brain”, able to exploit opponent’s weaknesses without instruction.

Messi inspired False Nine (Image from Sky)
Messi inspired False Nine (Image from Sky)

Arsenal could potentially operate an effective false nine with Olivier Giroud dropping from the team and Jack Wilshere playing in the nine position. With the abilities of Ramsey, Arteta, Ozil and Carzola in support, the false nine role would take flight. But for Wenger it would be too far removed from the tactics he has used during his entire coaching career- a central figure who holds the ball up for attacking players to attack. Arguably he did test the formation a few years ago with Van Persie dropping from his central striker position into such a role but in that instance it was less about the position and more about the player who likes to explore all the space available in the final third.

Wilshere could operate as a false nine  (Image from Getty)
Wilshere could operate as a false nine
(Image from Getty)

Barcelona operates a semi false nine on occasions with Messi operating as such. But the Argentinean prefers to be at the heart of everything and likes to take on players making him more a complete or advanced forward rather than a nine. Roma successfully channeled the position in 2007 under manager Luciano Spalletti who used Francesco Totti in the role. However he abandoned the formation mid season after failing to score in five league games. This was despite starting well with 11 back to back victories. The only true team to have pulled off the false nine effectively (besides Spain) is the great Hungarian team of the 1950’s. The Mighty Magyars as they were known destroyed oppositions with ease during the period by operating a false nine with Nándor Hidegkuti operating in the role. Supported by the dynamic and potent trio of strikers Ferenc Puskás, Sándor Kocsis and attacking half-back József Bozsik, Hungary dominated football in the 1950’s and should have won the 1954 World Cup but for adverse weather conditions and rumours of cheating by the Germans. Their false nine tactic worked spectacularly well against sides who at the time only operated either a 4-4-2 or 4-3-3 formation. With Hidegkuti dropping off and the centre backs following, it created acres of space for captain and Hungarian legend Puskas to exploit. During the five year period between 1950 and 1955, when the tactic was used to full effect, Puskas scored an incredible 50 goals in 51 games for Hungary.  

The legendary Puskas  (Image from PA)
The legendary Puskas
(Image from PA)

Arguably playing the role of the false nine is the toughest in football. You need to be a special type of player to pull it off effectively. It also requires a strong willed coach who won’t shy away from public criticism of anti football like Del Bosque was subjected to. Fans after all want to see goals and rely on a central figure (the striker) to provide them. The tactic lends itself to a short tournament like the European Championships, where time to alter tactics is not afforded to coaches and the risk of failure is heightened to the highest degree. Spain, under Del Bosque took a gamble during Euro 2012 that fortunately paid off in style. But we are left to wonder what the backlash would have been on Del Bosque and his tactical decisions if Spain hadn’t lifted the trophy at the end of the tournament.

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Platini Ready To Answer The Call And Run For FIFA President

Platini to run for FIFA president (Image from PA)In France’s darkest hours during the Second World War, the French looked around desperately for a figure who could stand for them and lead their fight against the invading Nazi Germany. In Charles De Gaulle they found that leader who formed the Free French Forces that would fight back against their occupiers. De Gaulee was pragmatic figure forthright with his opinions and an inspired leader whose efforts during that time went along way towards the allies eventually winning the war. Now 70 years later, another Frenchman is stepping up to the plate as the voice of the people, not to stop a war but to restore pride and honour to football’s governing body FIFA. This week, UEFA president Michel Platini will step into the FIFA presidential race much to the delight of many in the game. Like De Gaulle, Platini does not mince his words and has been vocal about his distaste for the current regime and how it has been operated.

French leader Charles De Gaulle  (Image from BBC)
French leader Charles De Gaulle
(Image from BBC)

As a legend in the game as a player, Platini has used his reputation wisely post retirement to cement himself into the running of football first in his native France then later at UEFA. His rapid ascent through the football ranks to become UEFA president would not have been possible if he hadn’t established a pedigree on the pitch. Quite simply he would have not have had a seat at the table without it, a fact that Platini is keenly aware of. However Platini the player has now progressed into Platini the politician – a suave, calculated operator who leverages his knowledge of the game and his ideas by encasing them in his rich Gallic charm. But unlike a politician, Platini can separate his opinion from that of the organization allowing him to rock the apple cart without letting one fall from it. When the Swiss authorities arrested several key FIFA delegates at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich in May, many in opposition to Sepp Blatter’s reign took it as an opportunity to slam his running of FIFA publically to any media outlet nearby. But Platini took a different route by going to meet with Blatter one on one and pleading with his friend to step down. Blatter rejected the idea claiming it was too late to do so but days later recanted and did indeed resigned.

Blatter ignored Platini's original suggestion to resign  (Image from Getty)
Blatter ignored Platini’s original suggestion to resign
(Image from Getty)

Despite their differences, Blatter and Platini are friends, aligned closely due to shared interests. That said, Platini has told the FIFA president in no uncertain terms that what has happened under his watch is simply unacceptable and that his reputation within the game lies in tatters. Blatter will depart form FIFA next February by which time Platini should be the clear favourite to replace him. He may have delayed his announcement to run for as long as possible but his intent was always there. Gaining the support of the majority of the six confederations was important to avoid ending the election with egg on his face. With four now secure including Africa and Asia, Platini has time to win over the remaining two, one of which should be incredibly easy given that he is their current sitting president. Abandoning that position may be viewed as detrimental to UEFA SO Platini will look to lock in his successor if not formally but at least in principle. Current vice president Michael van Praag, UEFA executive David Gill and the inexperienced Portuguese legend Luis Figo should all be front-runners, each offering something different to a Platini run FIFA.

Will Luis Figo step into Platini's UEFA shoes?  (Image from Getty)
Will Luis Figo step into Platini’s UEFA shoes?
(Image from Getty)

In the next few months, Platini will make his case for reform at FIFA. His manifesto will be etched onto a chalkboard not stone to allow for greater flexibility and fluidity than the current regime offers. Matters concerning the restructuring of FIFA, the purifying of its members and the unravelling of key decisions such as the World Cup award to Qatar will be crucial sections that will be scrutinized the most. But there will also be a fair amount of Platini ideas scattered in amongst it – changes he sees that would be to the betterment of the game in the long run. He has shown as UEFA president that he is not willing to sit back and let things run as they have done for centuries. During the last eight years since Platini was elected to UEFA’s highest chair, he has made changes to almost every tournament under its jurisdiction, most notably abandoning the European Championships single country format for hosting in favour of a multi country extravaganza. But he has also tackled the bigger issues including child trafficking, racism and in recent years club debt that is threatening to cripple the game. Platini is at heart a reformist, someone who wants to adjust the norm rather than destroying it. After years of behind doors corruption at FIFA, Platini’s arrival could be exactly what it needs.

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Broadfoot Banned For Ten Games By Bumbling FA

Kirk Broadfoot has been banned (Image from Getty)Kirk Broadfoot has never been the sharpest tool in the box. After all this is the player who managed to injure himself attempting to poach an egg in a microwave, with the egg blowing up in his face. On the pitch, the mouthy defender makes up for what he lacks in skill by showcasing his colourful vocabulary to any one that will listen. So it was unsurprising to many that he has been caught up in a sectarian scandal which has now seen him land a unprecedented ban by the English FA. The Rotherham United player found himself in hot water when repeated comments he made to an opposition player were overheard by some fans who were appalled enough to report it. Broadfoot was reacting to Wigan winger James McClean who had won a free kick under dubious circumstances which Broadfoot later claimed was a dive. The two exchanged words with Broadfoot making several unsavory comments about McClean’s upbringing as a catholic. That was seen as a breach of FA Rule E3(1) which is about using abusive and/or insulting words towards a member of the opposition. Broadfoot also broke Rule E3(2) which  involves a reference to “ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability”. Broadfoot was banned for 10 ten games, the longest ban ever handed down to a player for verbal abuse.

Former Wigan player James McClean was the victim of the abuse (Image from AFP)
Former Wigan player James McClean was the victim of the abuse (Image from AFP)

What is remarkable in this story is the disparity in which the FA dispenses its justice. They appear to have adopted different rules for different players depending on the offence even if all the offenses fall under the same rule section. For instance when Luis Suarez was found guilty of racial abusing Patrice Evra in a EPL match, he was banned for seven games. But when John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand in a game he received only a four game ban. In that case, the FA claimed that there was not enough proof, despite receiving a official report from Anton himself and various video angles of the game which clearly showed Terry ranting at him. Even though there was no sound on the videos, any amateur lip reader in the world could have deciphered what the Chelsea defender had said to his counterpart in the QPR back line. The then England captain only lost the captaincy of his country when the FA was pressured to do so by the public outcry over their lack of action towards Terry.

But in Broadfoot’s case, the FA decided to throw the book at him and then for good measure pushed the bookshelf over on top of him as well. A ten game ban is hardly on par with other just as scandalous offenses so why single out the beanpole defender? Away from the Premiership spotlight and subsequent world-wide interest, Broadfoot’s actions would have gone fairly unnoticed. He has slipped quite far down the footballing ladder since his glory years in the Glasgow Rangers defence and although already in possession of an alarming amount of Scotland caps; is as close as Denis Law or Kenny Daglish to adding to them. Hardly a poster boy for the FA to make its point on. But that did not stop the FA who decided to make an example of the player to show its tough stance on sectarianism, a crime so hideous in their eyes that it makes racism look almost acceptable. Broadfoot’s actions on the pitch were stupid yes and no there is no place in the modern game for sectarianism on any level but the FA’s punishment is ridiculous to say the least. Arguably racism is as bad and a larger problem in football not just in England but in other countries across the world most notably in Russia, the next World Cup hosts. FIFA’s attempts to “kick out racism” have been about as successful as Sepp Blatter’s attempts to convince the world that he knew nothing about the behind doors going ons at FIFA. Last week, Zenit St Petersburg striker Hulk claimed that racism in Russia is a weekly occurrence, his claim backed up by Emmanuel Frimprong who delivered his own answer to racist remarks thrown his way by flicking them the finger.

Frimpong reacts to racist chants in Russia  (image from getty)
Frimpong reacts to racist chants in Russia
(image from getty)

Broadfoot deserves to be punished for his crime but at the same level as everyone else. If you hand out a ten game ban for sectarian comments then the same should apply for racist ones too. Biting, mauling, punching etc should also receive notable time on the sideline as should pushing (albeit with a caveat that if the pushed party reacts like a kicked dog when they crash to the ground, then the penalty should be reduced – see Paolo Di Canio’s well publicized push on referee Paul Alcock). Broadfoot has accepted his ban however wants to tell his side of the story and has contacted his lawyers to do so. What exactly he said will not come out as the FA has taken out a confidentiality clause to prevent it being released. It is for this reason that Broadfoot has engaged with his lawyers to find a way around this clause and get his version of events out into the public. With a ten game ban, he has plenty of time to work out how to do just that.

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AC Milan Faces Its Biggest Challenge to Date – Accepting Change

AC Milan are no longer competitive with Juventus (Image from Getty)In the broadest sense of the word, change is the act or instance of making or becoming different. In the English language, Change has many meanings but when it comes to football, it usually refers to the need for dramatic switch of direction. It usually occurs after a low point much like AC Milan’s worst league performance in over 17 years. The eighteen times Serie A champions finished in 12th place this past season, sparking calls for a change at the club that will hopefully see them rebound and challenge for honours once more. With Juventus sealing their forth league title in a row and the gap widening between the top three the chasing pack, AC Milan need to introduce change quickly before they become irrelevant. But change is not easy to implement, it has to be systemic across the entire club. The issue with this and with AC Milan in particular is that the key problems lie in the boardroom level where several legacy directors still rule the roost and are unable to see that they are a major factor in Milan’s recent downturn in fortunes.

Inzaghi failed to deliver the change in fortunes that AC Milan needed  (Image from Reuters)
Inzaghi failed to deliver the change in fortunes that AC Milan needed
(Image from Reuters)
From the negative press associated to owner Silivio Berlusconi after hours activities to the archaic thinking of long time vice president Adriano Galliani, AC Milan’s board is rotten to the core and in desperate need of change. But now several green shoots are starting to appear that give hope to Milan’s bewildered fans. After Berlusconi’s troubled private life became the centre of much media and political debate in 2011, he wisely decided to step back from his role with the club and leave it in the hands of his daughter, Barbara Berlusconi. The 30 year old former socialite and philosophy graduate may not have seemed like the revolutionary figure that Milan needed but over the past three years she has proved to be exactly that. With a good business eye and ability to seek out and develop strong commercial relationships, Barbara is slowly bringing AC Milan into the modern game where commercial sponsorship’s and marketing initiatives help to fund the progress of a club rather than a wealthy owner. She has worked tirelessly to increase the awareness of the AC brand around the world in hopes of generating further interest and last month persuaded her father to sell 48% of the club to Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol for a reported €470 million. This sale comes with a promise of investment back into the playing squad with as much as €150 million being touted around the media as the figure Taechaubol is willing to plow into the club. The money will help to complete construction of a new stadium for the club in Portello which will finally see them move away from the now crumbling San Siro.

Barbara Berlusconi has galvanized Milan's commercial arm (Image from Getty)
Barbara Berlusconi has galvanized Milan’s commercial arm
(Image from Getty)
But more importantly that money will be used to refresh the squad which is in a dire state.  AC Milan’s current mix of over rated foreigners and under performing home grown players is simply not working and a drastic change is needed if they are to compete again. That change is already underway with the confirmation that Porto striker Jackson Martinez will be arriving shortly. He could be followed closely by Monaco’s talented defensive midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia with both clubs acknowledging that discussions are taking place. They have also been linked with Dortmund’s Mats Hummels,  Marseille’s Giannelli Imbula and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov in recent weeks as the rebuilding process picks up steam. This new look squad will however be somewhat surprisingly managed by ex Inter and Serbia boss Sinisa Mihajlovic who took over from Filippo Inzaghi on Monday. Former AC Milan and Italy striker Inzaghi had only been promoted to the first team manager position from his role as youth team manager at the start of the season following a disastrous spell under another former great, Clarence Seedorf. After an impressive spell at the Under 19 level, the hiring of Inzaghi made a lot of sense but he couldn’t transform the fortunes of the first team last season winning only 35% of the games he played.

Jackson Martinez is set to be AC Milan's first summer signing  (Image from Getty)
Jackson Martinez is set to be AC Milan’s first summer signing
(Image from Getty)
His failure sparked conversations about the need for change at the club with the board reacting quickly to try an persuade former manager Carlo Ancelotti to return for a second spell in charge. But Ancelotti rejected the offer stating that he was suffering from burnout after a pressure filled two years at Real Madrid and had decided to take a much needed rest. His refusal put AC Milan into panic mode especially given that Inzaghi was still technically their manager at the time of the approach. Their appointment of Mihajlovic is a bizarre move given his connection with their arch rivals and his previous comments made that he would never work for AC Milan. He did managed to lead a struggling Sampdoria side to 7th place last year after inheriting a side entrenched in a relegation scrap the previous year. But there are those who doubt his success at Sampdoria with journalist Mina Rzouki suggesting that in fact tactical coach Emilio De Leo that was principally responsible for Sampdoria’s turn in fortunes by improving their set piece play and movement off the ball with Mihajlovic playing more of the manager role. AC Milan have yet to confirm who from Sampdoria’s backroom staff will follow Mihajlovic to the San Siro but there is unlikely to be any room for former AC Milan legends to return to the club in a coaching capacity. This is something that the club needs desperately if it is to change for the better. Whilst it is good to let go of the past to move forward, you still need to be able to reflect on where you have comes from and former players like Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi can provide this nostalgic reference to previous Milan successes.

Strange choice - Sinisa Mihajlovic is the new AC Milan boss  (Image from Jonathan Moscrop / LaPresse)
Strange choice – Sinisa Mihajlovic is the new AC Milan boss
(Image from Jonathan Moscrop / LaPresse)
Change is coming to AC Milan but its slow and steady with much work still needing to be done. If they are to be competitive once more they need to change not only the team but the entire club up to the board room level starting with the removal of Adriano Galliani who continues to wreak a foul stench on the club. Mihajlovic may not be the right appointment for the future of the club but he is a good fit for now and should be able to steady the ship and help reform happen. AC Milan will unlikely challenge for honours next season but it wont be long before they are once again especially if they fully embrace change.

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Jamaica Stuns US To Seal Gold Cup Final Spot

Mattocks header beats Guzman as Jamaica shock the US (Image from ama getty)It wasn’t meant to end this way. Inspired by the heroic performance of the women’s team at the Women’s World Cup, the US men’s national team were supposed to bring home a trophy of their own – the Gold Cup. The defending champions had it all in their favour – home field advantage, a better squad than most of the others in the tournament and good form after a series of impressive friendly victories over Germany and Holland in the run up. Despite a less than convincing start in the group stage, the US finally found its second gear in the quarter finals hitting lowly Cuba for six. Klinsmann’s men looked ready and were already preparing for their six consecutive appearance in the final when they came up against Jamaica in yesterday’s semi final. But the Reggie Boyz clearly hadn’t read the script that the US had written. Instead of rolling over, they took the game to their opponents and in the end walked away with a much deserved victory leaving the US players shell-shocked. Jamaica now proceed to Sunday’s final against Mexico whilst the US are left wondering what just happened.

Down and Out - The US players leave the pitch shell shocked  (Image from Getty)
Down and Out – The US players leave the pitch shell shocked
(Image from Getty)

Goals from Giles Barnes and Darren Mattocks were enough to seal the shock win and knock the holders out. Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley did manage to pull one back for the US but it counted for nothing as they crashed out of the Gold Cup. Despite having a majority of the possession and more than enough chances to win the game, the US simply couldn’t find a way past Ryan Thompson in the Jamaica goal. The 30-year-old, who plays for Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USL (the US third division) was in stunning form making save after save as the US bombarded the Jamaica goal. Indeed the only real mistake that Thompson made during the entire game was the failure to hold onto Johannsson’s long range shot which bobbled from his arms straight into the path of Bradley. By the time the newly elected US captain struck, the US were already trailing by 2-0. Despite having limited shots on goal, Jamaica made each one that they did have count with Mattock’s first on the score sheet. The Vancouver Whitecaps frontman rose well inside the box to connect onto a throw in from Kemar Lawrence and loop his header over Brad Guzman and in off of the far post. US national boss Jurgen Klinsmann will be disappointed with his centre back John Brooks  who was out jumped by Mattocks despite having a sizable height difference (6’3 versus 6’0). Still shaken from that goal, it wasn’t long before the US had conceded again. This time the goal came from an exquisite free kick by former Derby prodigy Giles Barnes from the edge of the box. Barnes curled the ball round the outside of the wall and into the near post with Guzman failing to get across in time to stop it.

Giles Barnes curls his free kick round the wall to give Jamaica a 2-0 lead  (Image from PA)
Giles Barnes curls his free kick round the wall to give Jamaica a 2-0 lead
(Image from PA)

Bradley’s goal just after the restart gave the US the lift it needed and rallied the crowd behind the home team with Jamaica now looking rather nervous. But Winfred Schafer’s side would not give in and held on for the remaining 42 minutes to book their first ever appearance in a Gold Cup final. Remarkably its only their 2nd win over the US in 23 attempts but one that they will saviour for a long time to come. Their focus will now turn to Sunday’s match against Mexico, a side who are beatable based on their performances so far in the tournament. They finished second in group C behind Trinidad after an enthralling match between the two in the final game. Mexico surged into an early lead but seven goals in the last forty minutes of the game saw the game finish as a 4-4 draw and left Trinidad on top of the group with Mexico behind them. The knock out rounds were less than convincing too  for Mexico as they struggled to find their rhythm. They needed extra time in both their quarter-final against Costa Rica and their semi final against Panama  to win the games and book their final spot.

Mexico sealed their place with a controversial win over Panama  (Image from Getty)
Mexico sealed their place with a controversial win over Panama
(Image from Getty)

This could hand Jamaica a much-needed boost with Mexico potentially facing up to fatigue after two gruelling matches in four days. But El Tri will be the strong favourites to lift their tenth title, and will take comfort in the fact that they are not facing the US as predicted. Jamaica however will once again relish the underdog carding and will be out to show that the US result was not a fluke as they look to lift their first ever Gold Cup.

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Is Howe Gambling Bournemouths Future With Mings Outlay?

Is Howe risking a lot by spending so much on Mings? (Image from Dan Rowley)

Eddie Howe doesn’t get flustered easily. The Bournemouth manager is spending this summer preparing for his side’s maiden campaign in the English Premiership next season. In a fairy-tale story, Bournemouth has risen from narrowly avoiding relegation from the football league to Premiership newcomers in less than seven years. Despite this meteoric rise, it hasn’t stopped the pundits already condemning Bournemouth to relegation from England’s top league before kicking a single ball.  Howe doesn’t mind as being the underdog suits his team well. He knows how to cope with the pressure applied by the British media and this forthcoming season will be no different.

Bournemouth were promoted as Championship winners  (Image from Getty)
Bournemouth were promoted as Championship winners
(Image from Getty)

But the young English coach has never managed in the Premiership and will perhaps be unaware of the pressure that he is about to be put under. It’s a huge leap in class between the Championship and the Premiership for the players but the same can be said for the media attention especially around the decisions that each manager makes. Every defeat, every tactical switch and every press conference will be scrutinized. But more so than that, the players that Howe signs will be scrutinized the most. Before last Friday, Bournemouth had added four new faces to its squad – goalkeepers Artur Boruc and Adam Federici, striker Joshua King and winger Christian Atsu. But it’s the signing of his fifth player that has many talking. The arrival of 22 year old Tyrone Mings from Ipswich is an impressive capture. The left back is one of the hottest prospects in English football having impressed last season as Ipswich just missed the promotion via the play offs. He has been the subject of various transfer approaches over the past year from several Premiership clubs including Crystal Palace but chose to stay in the Championship to help the Tractor boy’s cause. But now he has been persuaded to join Howe at Bournemouth and will be a Premiership player next season.

The arrival of Tyrone Mings is seen as a coup for Bournemouth but at what price?  (Image from Getty)
The arrival of Tyrone Mings is seen as a coup for Bournemouth but at what price?
(Image from Getty)

Despite being a promising player, the value of the transfer rumoured to be around £8m is being commented on as too much by the media and fans alike. A record transfer fee for Bournemouth but one that Howe sees as a strategic and long term investment in the club. He has faith in the player becoming a success and potentially moving on to a bigger club for a considerably higher transfer fee. But his justification appears to be falling on deaf ears with several questioning the logic of spending such a large chunk of Bournemouth’s transfer budget on one player and more than that a left back. Looking at the mistakes of the past, most sides that have won promotion then been relegated again after one season all have something in common – the failure to score goals in the Premiership. Investing £8m in a striker would potentially have made more sense as goals win matches. But for Howe perhaps the best form of attack is from defense and conceding the least goals. It’s a fair argument considering that if the league table last year was based on goals conceded, Burnley would still be in the Premiership next season having conceded only 53 goals. But their downfall as with fellow relegated sides QPR and Hull was the lack of goals at the other end.

Burnley were relegated after failing to score enough goals  (Image from PA)
Burnley were relegated after failing to score enough goals
(Image from PA)

Spending £8m on an English defender for a club like Manchester City or Chelsea is seen as an investment but for clubs like Bournemouth who have considerably smaller war chests, it can be perceived as a risky move. Mings is a talented player who will be a stand out for Bournemouth this season but will his signing be the reason for their demise? There is still several weeks left in the pre-season for Howe to make further signings and he may still decide to spend big on a ten to twenty goal a season striker but that will depend on how much money owner Maxim Demin wishes to give him. Howe is one of the finest managers in the game today but at 37 years young, he is still learning. Hopefully this signing will not be a defining lesson for the up and coming English coach.

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Delph Performs Dramatic U Turn By Joining Manchester City

Delph was Villa's club captain (Image from Getty)Miss Dinah Washington said it best. What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours. That song must have been playing on a loop in Fabian Delph’s headphones over the last week as he flipped and flopped more times than a politician over a move to Manchester City. The England midfielder’s on off switch to City is finally over after agreeing to join the club for a fee of £8 million just days after he pubically stamped his colours to the Aston Villa mast. Despite this and after releasing a statement of his own accord stating he had no intention of leaving for City, Delph will be wearing the Blue of Manchester City next season, penning a five year contract. Its a embarrassing time for Delph who must be looking back at his comments from Saturday with some regret.

Delph finally signs for Manchester City  (Image from BBC)
Delph finally signs for Manchester City
(Image from BBC)

“I am a loyal person and committed to my future” he said before finishing his quote by saying “I love the club, I love being here and this is my club”. That was back in January when he signed a new four year contract with Villa much to the delight of the fans who saw Delph as a more than their inspirational captain. Unlike others in the game, Delph played for the shirt not for money and his determination to make Villa a success showed with every performance. He loved the club and they loved him and more so with every transfer he rejected. When Tim Sherwood arrived shortly after Delph has signed his new deal, he spoke passionately of the player he saw as the best embodiment of the ambitions of the club. Delph was a Villa man through and through and that wouldn’t change.

Delph's released the above quote after signing his new deal in January  (Image from Getty)
Delph’s released the above quote after signing his new deal in January
(Image from Getty)

Fast forward six months and Manchester City found themselves in a pickle. Having let James Milner, Frank Lampard, Micah Richards and Derek Boyata leave, their required British player allocation of eight was now down to just three.  City quickly identified a list of British players they wanted to buy including Fulham’s Patrick Roberts, Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and Delph. The first approach for Delph came early on the 10th July with City agreeing to a fee with Villa, partly thanks to a minimum fee release clause inserted into Fabian’s contract in January. Delph with his agent went to meet City’s representatives to discuss personal terms with a proposed medical to take place the next day. But during the course of that meeting, Delph did not like what he heard and rejected the move. It’s rumoured that he was told that he would be a squad player rather than a starter which did not appeal to the player. On Saturday, Delph released a statement saying that he had rejected the move, was staying and was looking forward to captaining Villa next season. His set the record statement was in response to negative press surrounding his potential move but now that it was off, he wanted to reassure the Villa faithful that he was committed to the cause. Well for a week at least. Fast forward to last Friday and Delph arriving in Manchester to complete his medical and sign the paperwork needed to make him a City player.

Also Leaving? Christian Benteke  (Image from PA)
Also Leaving? Christian Benteke
(Image from PA)

It’s a bitter blow to Villa as they prepare for the new season. Losing your captain is one thing but losing your star striker as well is another. The news that Liverpool had activated Christian Benteke’s contract release clause with a massive £32.5 million bid came on the same day as Delph departed made Friday as miserable day for the Villa fans. Manager Tim Sherwood now faces an uphill struggle to repair his squad and replace two crucial components of his team. He will have £40 million in the bank to go an do so but the bedding in period for those new players and the potential disruption of Delph and eventually Benteke’s departures on the squad wont be know for some time to come. The reason for Delph’s dramatic change of heart is still unknown but its likely that the England midfielder will break his silence  shortly and give his side of the story. Whether City were able to satisfy Delph’s concerns about potential lack of playing time by offering him either more reassurance or more money will never be known. Regardless of what Delph says, he will be due for a very hostile reception when City travel to Villa Park in early November with few fans likely to welcome him back after the way that he has handled this move.

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A Sideways Look At Football/Soccer Across The World


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