Premiership Clubs Agree To Share The Wealth

Sharing the wealth of the Premiership (Image from Getty)Call it generosity, call it guilt but the decision by the current twenty Premiership clubs to hand over at least£1billion of their new £5billion TV deal to the lower leagues sides and grassroots needs to be commended. In a meeting yesterday, the clubs decided unanimously to hand back £50million each in an unprecedented move. That money will now be given to five worthy areas in the lower regions of English football – grassroots facilities, participation, fan engagement and match day experience, solidarity with lower leagues and supporting disadvantaged groups. Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has called the decision “the right thing to do” and added that it would be tough to find another sport that is as committed to this level of sharing. He fell short of breaking down how much each area would get in terms of redistribution as the agreement is dependent on the outcome of a regulatory challenge from Ofcom into how the league sells its TV rights and further additional potential income generated from lucrative international TV right sales.

Richard Scudamore revealed the intent to share £1billion  with the lower leagues yesterday  (Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)
Richard Scudamore revealed the intent to share £1billion with the lower leagues yesterday
(Photo by Tom Shaw/Getty Images)

The divide between the top tier in England and the other leagues has been growing year over year since the launch if the Premiership in 1992. Clubs in the Premiership have profited considerably from increased interest and subsequent lofty TV deals whilst sides in the lower divisions struggle to survive. Sky and BT agreed this year to a three year, £5.136billion deal that will start in 2016 but as the Premiership continues to grow its global brand this cost could rise to as much as £8billion when they come to renegotiate for the rights to continue in 2019. By stark contrast the TV deal struck between Sky and the Football League, which runs the three divisions under the Premiership – Championship, League One and League Two is also a three year deal but for a much smaller sum – £264million.  Interest in the Championship both domestically and internationally is growing as the league attempts to become more attractive to investors by making itself more competitive but reaching the same levels of TV revenues that the Premiership is getting now is still very much a pipe dream.

Whilst the move has been welcomed by many of the fans groups associated to the lower league clubs including the Football Supporters Federation, there are some who believe that the amount is still not enough and that the Premiership should be sharing more of its wealth.  But the move is a step in the right direction for many who see the investment as a way to protect the future of football in England going forward. In an additional move, the twenty Premiership clubs have also agreed to pay all full time staff at their own clubs at least the living wage. The current living wage is set at £9.15 an hour in London and £7.85 an hour in the rest of the UK. This should help to appease several fan groups who have been protesting for fairer conditions for their workers associated to the Premiership clubs. The fans are also calling for a reduction of match day tickets with the average cost now sitting at £56, a dramatic rise from the average cost of £19 when the league kicked off in 1992 which has meant that the common working fan struggles to afford to attend games on a regular basis. In previous years families used to take their kids to games but with the cost of a match day experience for a family of four reaching the £300 mark (after tickets, transport, food etc), it proves too difficult for families who are struggling to make ends meet. That decision lies with the clubs themselves who may be less likely to lower prices given this new deal with the lower leagues.

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Parma Face Uncertain Future As Debt Mounts Up

An uncertain future for Parma (Image from Getty)Time is running out was the message from bewildered Parma captain Alessandro Lucarelli who is facing up to the realistic proposition that he may be unemployed soon. The Italian side faces a bleak future after it was announced that the club is riddled with debt and unable to pay its players or bills. News surfaced about the extent of Parma’s debt after the club was forced to scrap last weekend Serie A clash with Udinese as it couldn’t afford to pay for the stewards or police.  A bankruptcy hearing date of March 19th has already been set with the Italian authorities looking to wind up the club before it melts down any further. It’s a dramatic fall from grace for a club who are due to celebrate its twenty year anniversary this May of their biggest triumph, the 1995 UEFA Cup final win over Juventus.

With stars like Cannavaro, Crespo and Dino Baggio, Parma won the 1995 UEFA Cup  (Image from AFP)
With stars like Cannavaro, Crespo and Dino Baggio, Parma won the 1995 UEFA Cup
(Image from AFP)

Sadly this isn’t the first time this club has teetered on the brink of extinction. In 2004, the club was declared insolvent following the financial meltdown of Parmalat, the multinational Italian dairy and food corporation founded by Calisto Tanzi and then Parma owner. Tanzi, along with several other senior executives at the company were charged with financial fraud and money laundering in one of Italy’s biggest financial scandals with Tanzi accused of embezzling an estimated €800million. He was sentenced to eight years and one month in prison initially before having an additional 27 years added later for his part in letting Paramlat and Parmatour fall into bankruptcy. After three years of administration, Param were rescued by engineering entrepreneur Tommaso Ghirardi who created a holding company called Eventi Sportivi which would control the club and its assets.  Up until December 2014, Ghirardi continued to own Parma but after being sensationally banned from competing in Europe this season due to an unpaid tax bill, Ghirardi finally relinquished control Albanian businessman Rezart Taci before he flipped it only months later to its current owner Giampietro Manenti.

Former owner Tommaso Ghirardi is being blamed for the current financial mess  (Image from Getty)
Former owner Tommaso Ghirardi is being blamed for the current financial mess
(Image from Getty)

Once seen as the savior of Parma, public opinion of Ghirardi has shifted dramatically since the revelations of the extent of Parma’s debt. When he took over the club, the club had a gross debt of €16m which has now risen to an amazing gross debt of €197m (net debt of €97m) in a seven year period.  Where the money has gone is anyone’s guess however many will point to the fact that over a two year period between the summer of 2012 and summer 2014, Parma has been involved in 450 player transactions ranging from full purchase deals, co ownership agreements, loans and transfers. The effect of this is that Parma now has a total of 143 players on its books; with 85 of them currently out on loan and 11 of them under co-ownership agreements with other clubs. The architect of this idea was not Ghirardi but instead Parma’s director of Football Pietro Leonardi. In place since 2009, Leonardi created a system that he believes will be beneficial to the club in the long run. In a move similar to an over excited Football Manager player, Parma acquires all the most promising free agents on the European market targeting quantity over quality. They then send them throughout Europe to allow the players to develop both in terms of skill and value in exchange for either a monthly fee or full coverage of the player’s wages.  At the end of the loan, the player can be sold for a fee, loaned back out again or in a rare case promoted to the Parma first team. In theory the system creates a continuous cycle of money and a production line for talent.

Parma currently has 85 players out on loan  (Image from Wikipedia)
Parma currently has 85 players out on loan
(Image from Wikipedia)

The system has generated a lot of criticism to date with some complaining that Parma are treating players like cattle or stock, trading their careers away on a whim in order to make a quick buck. Whilst the club insists that it’s simply developing young players for the future, the sheer scale of its loan project is staggering and hints back to why the club finds itself riddled with debt. Leonardi insists that the cost of running such a scheme is minimal but the club has yet to break even on player transfers in the last five years. The debate on whether the system is working or not has been paused as the club switches it focus to remaining in business. Current owner Manenti is confident of sorting the clubs problems out but with a rising debt, drastic changes will be needed to ensure he can. A short term loan of €5million is needed urgently to cover the running costs of the club until May allowing Parma to complete the Serie A season.  Long term, refinancing or a new wealthy owner need to be found to secure the clubs future for the next few seasons.

Parma sit rooted o the bottom of Serie A under manager Roberto Donadoni  (Image from Getty)
Parma sit rooted o the bottom of Serie A under manager Roberto Donadoni
(Image from Getty)

The club will be dragged over the coals and scrutinized by the Italian authorities for every deal that it has struck since recovering from administration in 2007. However this may be a lengthy process given the number of player transactions made by the club since then. The extent of which Leonardi’s scheme affected the club will become apparent with the club potentially facing further sanctions by UEFA for its mismanagement of players and bending of the rules. UEFA has yet to crack down on schemes like Leonardi has created with other clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City also guilty to a lesser degree. Nothing however will be done by UEFA until the summer and by that point the issue may be null in void in Parma’s case if the club no longer exists.

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What Next For Falcao As He Heads Towards United Exit Door

What next for Falcao? (Image from Getty)

It’s all gone so wrong for Radamel Falcao. The Colombian striker joined Manchester United in the summer on a year long loan but has been unable to establish himself in Louis Van Gaal’s starting eleven. In truth, Falcao does not look like the player he once was and questions over the physical and psychological impact that his knee injury that rules him out of the game for over six months had are starting to surface. Now fit again, Falcao jumped at the chance in the summer to join Van Gaal’s United revolution and many expected him to be leading the goal scoring charts at this stage in the season. But with a return of only four goals in 22 appearances, his move is turning into a nightmare and the chances of him staying at Old Trafford beyond this season are dwindling by the day. United have the option to buy Falcao from French side Monaco for a pre-arranged fee rumoured to be north of £40 million but with the 29 year old failing to live up to his billing, it’s unlikely that they will follow through with it.

Falcao's Manchester United move has been a nightmare for the player  (Image from Getty)
Falcao’s Manchester United move has been a nightmare for the player
(Image from Getty)

So what has gone wrong for Falcao? The injury to his left knee, suffered due to a horrible tackle in the French Cup clash between Falcao’s Monaco and 4th division side Monts d’Or Azergues Foot in January 2014, meant that he missed last year’s World Cup in Brazil. It was a devastating blow for the player who up until that point was arguably the world’s most feared striker. Colombia too were distraught at the prospect of not having Falcao in their squad and gave him up until the very last minute to show he had recovered and take his place. However it was not meant to be and Falcao along with head coach Jose Pekerman informed the public at a press conference just weeks before the start of the tournament that he would not be available.

At United, Falcao has struggled to get to grips with both the speed difference between Ligue 1 and the Premiership as well as the more physical nature of the game played in England. He has looked off pace when in games and has lacked the cutting edge that made him so famous in the first place. Van Gaal has not helped the situation by constantly tinkering with his tactics and randomly dropping Falcao to the bench in place of the returning Robin Van Persie or even youngster James Wilson. This has resulted in a further loss of confidence for the mild natured Colombian, something his former agent calls as the primary reason behind Falcao’s lack of goals. There is a sense of trepidation in Falcao’s play as well with the player perhaps slightly more cautious of stretching for a ball or riding a challenge in fear of another lengthy spell on the sidelines. Knee injuries can and have wrecked careers with a good example being that of Michael Owen. The former England striker never really recovered from his knee injury in the 2006 World Cup and looked like half the player he once was in the remaining six seasons of his career. At 29, Falcao knows that he has perhaps five to six years left at the top before old age catches up with him but another lengthy injury could cut that down even further. Like Owen, Falcao has not lost his predatory instincts that helped him to hit the back of the net on a frequent basis but he has lost a yard of pace which means that he will need to adapt his game slightly to compensate. Recovering psychologically may be trickier for the player but as the old adage says the best way to recover from a fall is to get back on the horse. Falcao needs to play regularly, he needs to be involved in collisions with other players to show him that his knee will not give out but most importantly he needs to start scoring again. Goals for a striker are like a drug, they give them fuel and confidence which in turn leads to more goals, increased confidence and so on.

He need to play consistently and at United under Van Gaal he won’t unless something dramatic happens between now and the end of the season. Falcao has now accepted that his United stay will come to an end in June with the player’s agent now examining the options available to him. A return to France would suit his existing employers Monaco who have lacked a reliable goal scoring front man this season. However it’s unlikely that Falcao will want to head back to France, preferring to try his hand elsewhere at a new club. Italian champions Juventus could offer such an opportunity, whilst former club Atletico Madrid are also rumoured to be watching his situation very carefully. Staying in the Premiership is not also out of the question with Liverpool, Tottenham and even Manchester City willing to take a gamble on the once great striker. Rumours of a summer switch to Real Madrid were floating around before his injury but the Spanish giants went in a different direction last summer. However they may now return for Falcao as there are only one of a few teams who could afford his fee and his wages. Regardless of where he ends up, Falcao knows that his next move may be the most important one he makes. He can ill afford another season on the sidelines which damages his reputation as one of the game’s best strikers. Falcao used to equal goals and he still can if he can find a club willing to give him a fair go and help him rebuild the confidence in himself.

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Bale Faces His Toughest Challenge Yet – Winning Over the Press

Love me again? Can Bale win over the Spanish media? (Image from Getty)

After becoming the world’s most expensive player following his record breaking move to Real Madrid, it’s not hard to understand why the media spotlight appears to be permanently fixed above Gareth Bale’s head. The welsh winger, who made the switch from Tottenham to Madrid in the summer of 2013, has embraced life in the Spanish capital and despite a rocky start that was plagued with injuries and language barriers problems, Bale has impressed with some breathtaking  performances.  Two in particular set him apart from everyone else, including his pragmatic teammate and World player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo.  With the Portuguese superstar confined to the stands due to injury, it was to Bale that Madrid turned for inspiration during their Copa del Rey final against Barcelona last year. And he didn’t fail to impress scoring a wonder goal that is now one of the most viewed goals of all time.

Bale and Ronaldo have had a rocky relationship at Real  (Image from Getty)
Bale and Ronaldo have had a rocky relationship at Real
(Image from Getty)

With only minutes left in the game, Bale picked up the ball on the left wing just inside his own half, nudged it past Barca right back Marc Barta and set off after it. With his path blocked he was forced to run into the manager’s technical area which handed Barta a five yard head start. It mattered little for Bale who outpaced Barta, collected the ball and coolly slotted past Pinto in the Barca goal to hand Real the trophy. A month later, he would be on hand again late in the game to head Real into the lead during a hard fought Champions League final against rivals Atletico Madrid. It would be the turning point in the game. With Atletico now broken, Real surged into a 4-1 lead and ultimately picked up their 10th Champions League title. Bale had secured legendary status and appeared to be loved by both the fans and the media.

The love hate relationship that exists between the press and players like Bale is born out of necessity with both parties with much to gain. But whilst Bale remains impartial to the local Spanish press, preferring to keep them at arm’s length by living a quieter, event free life in order to protect both his image and his family, keeping them onside is equally as important. After all they tend to be two faced and have the ability to pander your name to the masses which can make life more difficult. Bale is experiencing this first hand and as a result is suffering the consequences. Once loved and adored by the Spanish newspapers Marca and AS, who waxed lyrically about his match winning performances last season as Madrid marched to domestic and European trophies, they have started to turn on him slating his every move and criticizing his performances on the pitch for Madrid this season.  Whilst critical of the entire Real Madrid team following their 2-1 defeat to Barcelona on Sunday, Marca pinpointed Bale as the main culprit and even refused to rate him in their review of the game the next day.  AS did decide to rate him however gave him a 4.5 out of 10, indicating that he was by far the worst performer for Real on the night. Whilst Bale freely admits to a dip in form in the last few weeks, the stats still showcase that he is having a good season having scored 14 times in the league with countless assists for his teammates.

Spanish paper Marca refused to score Bale following the defeat on Sunday to Barcelona  (Image from Marca)
Spanish paper Marca refused to score Bale following the defeat on Sunday to Barcelona
(Image from Marca)

But with the boos now ringing out from the Madrid faithful in the stands due to what they see as a series of under performances since the turn of the year, the focus of that anger is now starting to be concentrated on the teams more talented individuals. Bale in particular has received some harsh treatment from the Real fans, fuelled by the negativity being spewed out by the Spanish press. For the generally laid back Bale, the pressure is starting to show on the 25 year old. Two weeks ago, Bale ended his 829 minute goal drought with a double against Levante. He celebrated by covering his ears, indicating acknowledgement of the boos aimed at him that had been ringing out for several weeks before running to the corner flag and kicking it hard out of pure frustration.

The negativity is affecting Bale and the way that he plays with the skinny nervous welsh boy that used to exist now reappearing. To make matters worse, Bale’s car was attacked by some fans following the defeat to Barcelona on Sunday. He was not the only player but Bale must now be considering his own safety and that of his family. With the season nearing its end, it could be a summer of transition for Bale who may decide to quit La Liga in favour of a move back to the Premiership and an escape from the boo boys. Real will not want to see him depart, given that they view him as the long term successor to Ronaldo who at 30 years old and with a growing list of injuries will soon run out of steam. If Bale does stay, he will need to win over the fans and more importantly his toughest critics, the press. They once adored him so it is possible that Bale can charm them into loving him once more.

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Bournemouth’s Hollywood Finish Edges Closer

Bournemouth are flying high in the Championship (Image from Getty)

It’s a story straight out of Hollywood but one very much with its roots firmly set in the south of England. A phoenix from the flames story about a club teetering on the brink of collapse and narrowly avoided relegation from the Football League eight years ago to now only a few points away from promotion to the country’s top league. However this isn’t just a Hollywood dream but in fact a reality. This is the story of Bournemouth FC and their remarkable turnaround. Having spent most of their 116 year history plying their trade in the lower leagues of English football, few would have believed that Bournemouth would be now so close to the Premiership. But after five strong seasons which has seen Bournemouth climb league after league, they now sit top of the Championship on 73 points and are looking to end their long stay in the lower leagues and finally compete with the best teams in England.

Final step? The Championship table as of Monday 23rd March 2015  (Image from BBC)
Final step? The Championship table as of Monday 23rd March 2015
(Image from BBC)

The credit for this must go largely to their manager, Eddie Howe. The dynamic young boss has been in charge at Dean Court for nearly six years albeit with a short stint as Burnley boss in-between. When originally appointed Howe was the youngest manager in the football league at aged 31 and many doubted that he would be successful given the various challenges he faced – taking over at the club at arguably its lowest point, second bottom of League Two and facing relegation after the club was hit with a 17 point deficit at the start of the season for entering into administration. Despite this, Howe inspired Bournemouth to safety finishing 21st on 46 points above Grimsby and the relegated duo of Chester City and Luton Town. With 19 games left in the season when he took the reins, Howe rallied his Bournemouth team to 11 wins and two draws that gave them the points they needed to secured their position in League Two. The next season he would go one better as Bournemouth finished 2nd in the league, gaining promotion back to League One. He left half way through the next season to join Burnley but returned to finish what he started less than a year after leaving. It took two attempts but eventually promotion to the Championship was achieved. Now sitting top of the Championship with seven games left to play, Howe could complete an incredible hat trick that sees Bournemouth promoted once again, this time to the Premiership.

Miracle worker - Eddie Howe  (Image from Getty)
Miracle worker – Eddie Howe
(Image from Getty)

Saturday’s emphatic 3-0 victory over promotion rivals Middlesbourgh was a huge psychological boost to Howe and his team who firmly believe that their destiny is now in their own hands.  Four wins should be enough to secure a playoff berth but Howe will not settle for this, preferring to hold on to top spot and automatic promotion.  Having built a team on a limited budget, selling key players in order to reinvest in the wider squad, Howe’s man management of Bournemouth has been simply remarkable.  He has made clever signings over his time as manager bringing in Dan Gosling (a free from Newcastle), Matt Ritchie (signed from Swindon), Artur Boric (on loan from Southampton) and this season Callum Wilson (signed from Coventry). Alongside veteran strikers Yann Kermorgant and Brett Pittman, the 23 year old Wilson has been a revelation since arriving, scoring 16 vital goals as Bournemouth climbed the table.  Solid at the back (the 2nd best defence in the league) and scoring for fun at the other end (82 goals so far and counting) it’s hard to see Bournemouth slipping up at this late stage.

That said Howe acknowledges that this season has been tough and that they will need to battle to the end to ensure that they are rewarded for their efforts. The memories of a torrid February still linger in Howe’s mind (Bournemouth failed to win a single game that month losing twice and drawing three times) so he will not allow a repeat of this. There is no such thing as an easy game in the Championship and Bournemouth will know that they will have to give their all to ensure promotion. Up first is Ipswich away after the international break this weekend. April could be a defining moment for Bournemouth and for Howe as they look to end their Hollywood story with a happy ending.

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Club Profile – Dunfermline Athletic

Club Profile - Dunfermline Athletic FC (Image from DAFC.com)

In yet another example of how money has changed the beautiful game, Dunfermline Athletic offer hope to clubs facing uncertain times due to financial problems. Back in 2013, the Pars faced up to administration and were weeks away from winding up calling to an end almost 130 years of history and tradition. But like many struggling clubs in Scotland’s various leagues, the solution came in the form of fan ownership with a group of fans known as Pars United Limited rescuing their club from disaster. Now back on an even financial footing, Dunfermline can now focus on getting back on track and climbing the divisions once more. It’s a long road ahead but one that the Pars and their fans are ready to take on. In the latest of our club profiles, we look at the challenge that lies ahead and the obstacles that Dunfermline need to overcome to get back on that road to success.

Club Details

Founded: 1885

Ground: East End Park, Dunfermline, Scotland

Capacity: 11,480

Owners: Pars United Limited (fan community)

Manager: John Potter

Club Honours

Scottish FA Cup Winners (2) – 1961,1968

Scottish First Division Champions (3) – 1989, 1996, 2011

Scottish Second Division Champions (2) – 1926, 1986

Current League

2014-15 Current Standing: Scottish League One, 6th (as of 11th March 2015)

2013-14 Final Standing: Scottish League One, 2nd

2012-13 Final Standing: Scottish Championship, 9th (relegated)

2011-12 Final Standing: Scottish Premier League, 12th (relegated)

2010-11 Final Standing: Scottish Championship, 1st (promoted)

Typical Starting Eleven

Normal Starting Formation: 4-4-2

No Position Player Name Age Value (GBP)
- GK Ryan Scully 22 -
- LB Alex Whittle 21 -
- CB Lewis Martin 18 -
- CB Gregor Buchanan 24 -
- RB Ross Millen 20 -
- LM David Hopkirk 22 -
- CM Lewis Spence 19 -
- CM Andy Geggan 27 -
- RM Josh Falkingham (c) 24 -
- CF Michael Moffat 31 -
- CF Andy Barrowman 30 -

Star Player

Josh Falkingham

Signed by Leeds United aged 8, Falkingham progressed through the youth system for the next 11 years but was released having never broken into the first team. St Johnstone picked him up on a short-term contract before spending 2 years at Arbroath. He had developed into a versatile playmaking midfielder (preferred wide on the right) with accurate passing, determination and strong in the tackle. Newly appointed Dunfermline manager Jim Jefferies saw his potential and brought Falkingham in. He was immediately installed as the team vice-captain, but before the season was out he would be handed the captain’s armband and has not looked back since.

Star Player History

Senior Career

Season Team Mins/Game Apps Starts Yel Red Gls
2009/10 St Johnstone 63 1 1
2010/11 Arbroath 82 38 36 8 2 9
2011/12 Arbroath 85 41 40 8 8
2012/13 Dunfermline Athletic 82 39 38 9 3
2013/14 Dunfermline Athletic 84 38 36 6 5
2014/15 Dunfermline Athletic 82 31 27 8 2

Team Strengths

  1. The Dunfermline squad has a really good mix of young and old players.
  2. The coaching team are all experienced professionals and can help with youth development, notably former Rangers and Scotland internationals Neil McCann and Andy Goram.
  3. Defensively the team has been fairly solid having conceded 33 goals in 28 games (the lowest goals against in league is 30).
Former Scotland star Neil McCann is now working behind the scenes at Dunfermline  (Image from Craig Brown)
Former Scotland star Neil McCann is now working behind the scenes at Dunfermline
(Image from Craig Brown)

Team Weaknesses

  1. The team have no major attacking threat. In December 2014, the manager opted not to extend the contract of 21 year-old Gozie Ugwu who had scored 7 goals in 14 league games (and is still comfortably the teams top goalscorer for this season). He chose to use the salary and living expenses money from Ugwu to invest in new players for the club, none of who have improved the team’s league standing (they have fallen from 4th to 6th).
  2. The midfield lack width as even the current wide players (Hopkirk and Falkingham prefer playing centrally).
  3. From January 1st 2015, Dunfermline have played 11 games but have never had the same starting eleven. On average the manager has made 2.6 unforced changes to the team for each game.
  4. Since 2012 Dunfermline have been plagued with financial difficulties and transfer sanctions. They have paid almost ₤0 in transfer fees since the 2011/2012 season, but have also not recouped any fees on departing players in the same timeframe.

Improvement Suggestions

  1. Formation

The Dunfermline squad consists largely of players who prefer to play through the middle and so should have a formation that takes advantage of this rather than forcing players into positions. I can see them do well by playing a 3-5-1-1 that would utilize their defensive and midfield strengths in the centre with young pacey wing backs providing width when required. The single striker would need Moffat to hold up the ball for Hopkirk playing in the hole and Falkingham providing attacking support from deep.

  1. Team Selection

In terms of personnel, young Ryan Williamson has the best win/loss percentage in the club and should come in for Ross Millen (who would be very handy coming on from the bench). The misfiring attack (Barrowman in this case) should be replaced by an additional centre back in Urquhart to allow for the wingbacks to push forward. Finally, the other key change I would make is to establish a preferred starting 11 and not make as many unforced changes to the starting eleven. With a constantly changing team the players (especially given the young age of most of them) don’t get a chance to learn how to play intuitively with each other and could explain why Dunfermline’s results have been so erratic since the start of the year.

Ryan Williamson has impressed this season (Image from DAFC.com)
Ryan Williamson has impressed this season (Image from DAFC.com)

Proposed New Starting Eleven

Starting Formation: 3-5-1-1

No Position Player Name Age Value (GBP)
- GK Ryan Scully 22 -
- CB Stuart Urquhart 19 -
- CB Lewis Martin 18 -
- CB Gregor Buchanan 24 -
- LWB Alex Whittle 21 -
- RWB Ryan Williamson 18 -
- CM Lewis Spence 19 -
- CM Andy Geggan 27 -
- CM Josh Falkingham (c) 24 -
- ACM David Hopkirk 22 -
- CF Michael Moffat 31 -

Post by Kenny C, BOTN writer based in Asia

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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: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7bCp0pHuHqQ

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Raising Awareness Of The Silent Killer Affecting Football

The late Robert Enke (Image from Getty)

On the morning of November 10th 2009, Hannover 96 goalkeeper Robert Enke kissed his wife goodbye and said he was off to training. Two years later, Wales’s manager Gary Speed said farewell to his colleagues at the BBC after filming Football Focus, saying he would see them next week. Unfortunately it would be the last time that anyone would see these men alive again as shortly after their subsequent departures, they took their own lives. Their deaths, along with the attempted suicide of referee Babak Rafati a week before Speed, in a hotel bathroom just shortly before he refereed a German league match highlighted that depression in football is very much a problem. The pressures of the modern game is affecting all of its participants with some unable to cope, forcing them to look for an escape.

Babak Rafati tried to take his own life due to depression  (Image from Getty)
Babak Rafati tried to take his own life due to depression
(Image from Getty)

Enke’s death shocked German football as it came as a surprise to many, with few signs that the player was in trouble. However underneath his calm professional façade lay a man who had been battling depression for nearly six years. The death of his daughter Lara in 2006 due to a severe heart defect, three years into his depression only heightened his sense of despair and despite seeking treatment, Robert decided on that cold morning in 2009 to step in front of a train and end his pain. Speed’s death was also a shock given how highly regarded he was in the game. After a glittering career with Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United, Speed had now turned himself into an accomplished manager and was in the process of revitalizing the Welsh national team when he died. Former teammate Alan Shearer and BBC presenter Dan Walker had spent the day with him at the BBC’s Manchester studio watching his former club Newcastle play against Manchester United and commented that Speed appeared to be in high spirits. But in truth Speed was suffering and later that night he would hang himself in his garage, only to be found the next morning by his wife.

Leeds paid tribute to their former player Gary Speed  (Image from PA)
Leeds paid tribute to their former player Gary Speed
(Image from PA)

According to the World Health Organization, depression affects an estimated 350 million people per year globally across all age groups and is the leading cause of disability worldwide. Depression is hard to spot as it often disguises itself amongst the normal lows of life. However consistent feelings of detachment, disillusion and despair can indicate a larger problem. Self diagnosis does happen however fewer than half of people (or in poorer regions it can be less than 10%) who recognize that they may suffer from depression seek help. Many factors prevent treatment from happening such as cost, accessibility of help and the social stigma of admitting you have a problem. Even talking to a love one can be hard with few caring to admit to what they perceive as a weakness. For families and friends, spotting depression in others can be extremely difficult given the varied levels that the disorder has. Early warning signs are increased irritability, lack of energy or appetite to do anything, sleepless nights or sleeping too much and general disengagement from society. Unlike some other disorders, depression can be treated with a range of psychotherapies and if needed antidepressant medications.

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide  (Image from Getty)
Depression affects 350 million people worldwide
(Image from Getty)

Since Robert Enke’s death, his wife Teresa has worked hard to raise awareness about the condition and destroy the social stigma attached to it in an effort to encourage others who suffer from this disorder to seek help. She set up the Robert Enke foundation in his honour and is working closely with his former club Hannover 96 and the German FA to offer confidential support options to anyone else in the game who may be suffering in silence. Pressure is part of all professional sports but for footballers who are always in the public eye for better or worse, the pressure can be too much to cope with. The awareness of the disorder brought on by the untimely deaths of Enke and Speed has increased dramatically and is helping others with their fight. Some things are changing with depression no longer a taboo subject in clubs with players encouraged to talk to the clubs medical staff, coaches or a teammate if they are find themselves spiraling out of control. But it is a long road ahead with more needed from the games governing bodies to help promote further awareness and support in order to prevent another tragedy like this happening again.

For further information about depression, please see the World Health Organization page here: http://www.who.int/topics/depression/en/

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Scottish Future Looks Bright With Latest Batch Of Talented Youngsters

One of a host of bright stars for Scotland - Ryan Harper of Real Madrid (Image from Getty)Once considered a breeding ground for new talent in the 70’s and 80’s, Scottish football entered into a somewhat dormant phase of its history with few Scottish born players making the move to other countries to ply their trade. Of the ones that did, only a handful succeeded such as Paul Lambert who joined Borussia Dortmund from Motherwell and helped them to the Champions League title in 1997 before returning to join Celtic. Others like Gary O’Connor lasted only a few seasons abroad before returning sheepishly to Scotland to rebuild his career. But now a new generation of talented players is emerging and interest in Scottish football has spiked again with many clubs now sending scouts to watch specific players. The latest player to agree to the move is Stephen Hendrie, the Hamilton left back who has signed a pre contract with West Ham and will depart for the Premiership in the summer.

Hendrie has agreed to join West Ham in the summer  (Image from Getty)
Hendrie has agreed to join West Ham in the summer
(Image from Getty)

The 20 year old has had a superb season helping his side perform above expectations in the Scottish Premier League. Over the years Hamilton has become one of several clubs in Scottish football who continuously discover, develop and sell on young talent. Previous graduates include midfielders James McArthur and James McCarthy who both left the club to join Premiership sides and have since built notable careers. Whilst the latter of the two has chosen to represent the Republic of Ireland at national level, he is still Scottish by birth and a good example of how the clubs youth system is progressing. Similarly Dundee United, Inverness Caley Thistle, Celtic, Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian have all had talented Scots leave their ranks in recent years to test their skills at a higher level.Switching to the English Premiership has been a common theme for several Scottish players once they start to out shine the other players in Scotland. Alan Hutton, Charlie Adam, Andrew Robertson, Steven Naismith, James Morrison and Steven Fletcher are all examples of players who have made successful switches and continue to play in England’s top league on a regular basis. But now other European leagues are sitting up and taking notice of the Scottish talent on show. The recent move of Ryan Gauld from Dundee United to Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon is probably the one that springs to mind to most after his £3 million move. The player dubbed “mini Messi’ by the Dundee United fans is still only 19 but excelled in Scotland over a two year period before Sporting came calling. He is now pushing hard for a starting spot in the Lisbon first team after performing well in various cup matches.

Gauld is considered one for the future for Scotland national manager Gordon Strachan who is reaping the benefits of work carried out former Performance Director Mark Wotte. The Dutchman was drafted in by the SFA in 2011 to revamp the countries failing youth system and immediately set about implementing the recommendations of a review conducted by former first minister of Scotland, Henry McLeish. These changes most notably included a shift in mindset around how clubs were developing its younger players, focusing more on technique, fitness and healthy living. The plan, partially backed by the SFA with significant investment saw the appointment of Wotte and the birth of a new generation of players. Whilst it’s the clubs that deserve most of the praise for the way that they have nurtured talent, McLeish and Wotte deserves some credit for starting the conversation and helping Scottish football to get back on track.

The late Henry McLeish and his report  (Image from STV)
The late Henry McLeish and his report
(Image from STV)

The future now looks rosy especially for the national team. Not only can Strachan call up players who have spent several years in the Premiership developing their games but he now has a wealth of talented players coming through to freshen up his side. Gauld, along with the likes of Chelsea’s Islam Feruz, Real Madrid’s Ryan Harper and Dundee United’s Stuart Armstrong are the future of the national team. For the fans their hopes are that this new generation can help the national side to finally end its long term exodus and reach a major international tournament, something it has failed to do for nearly 30 years. Reaching a World Cup or European Championship would be just reward and indicate how far Scotland has come over the past ten years. If the influx of talent young players leaving the country for stronger leagues across Europe is an indication, then Scotland looks to be on course once more to reaching its goals.

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Club Profiles – Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest Club Profile (Image from Getty)One of the most successful clubs in English football history having won back to back European Cups during the dizzy heydays of the Brian Clough reign, Nottingham Forest are desperately looking to rekindle those years under new boss Dougie Freedman. The Scot, who replaced club legend Stuart Pearce in February after a disastrous return to the City Ground for the former England Under 21’s manager have now put together an impressive run that has them leaping up the table towards the promotion places. After a sixteen year absence, we ask do Nottingham Forest have what it takes this year to make that final step back into the Premiership? In our new series of club profiles, we break down the Forest into its elements and make suggestions about what is needed for them to make that step and start back on that path towards glory.

Club Details

Founded: 1865

Ground: City Ground, Nottingham, England

Capacity: 30,576

Owners: The Al Hasawi Family

Manager: Dougie Freedman

Club Honours

European Cup Winners (2) – 1979, 1980

European Super Cup (1) – 1979

English Champions (1) – 1978

English FA Cup Winners (2) – 1898, 1959

English League Cup Winners (4)- 1978, 1979, 1989, 1990

English FA Charity Shield (1) – 1978

Current League

2014-15 Current Standing: The Championship, 9th (as of 9th March 2015)

2013-14 Final Standing: The Championship, 11th

2012-13 Final Standing: The Championship, 8th

2011-12 Final Standing: The Championship, 19th

2010-11 Final Standing: The Championship, 6th

Typical Starting Eleven

Normal Starting Formation: 4-1-4-1

No Position Player Name Age Value (GBP)
1 GK Karl Darlow 24 2.64m
13 LB Danny Fox 28 1.76m
6 LCB Kelvin Wilson 29 2.42m
16 RCB Jamaal Lascelles 21 2.64m
2 RB Eric Lichaj 26 1.32m
4 DCM Michael Mancienne (C) 27 1.32m
18 LW Michail Antonio 24 2.20m
38 LCM Ben Osborn 20 0.66m
10 RCM Henri Lansbury 24 1.76m
27 RW Chris Burke 31 1.23m
9 CF Britt Assombalonga 22 5.28m

Star Player

Jamaal Lascelles

He may not be the most expensive player bought by Forest (Assombalonga for GDP5m) or the highest profile player (Lansbury – at Arsenal from the age of 8, Wenger commented that he “will be a big player” and capped by England at U16/U17/U19/U21 levels) or most creative (Antonio has scored 11 goals and has 11 assists this season), but Jamaal Lascelles is definitely a star. A product of the Forest youth system, Lascelles is a strong, commanding centre back that is quick and comfortable on the ball. In August 2014, Newcastle United bought him from Forest, and then loaned him back for the season. He has represented England at U18/U19/U20 levels and is now featuring for the U21 team.

Emerging talent Jamaal Lacsalles should feature more before he moves back to Newcastle  (Image from emipics)
Emerging talent Jamaal Lacsalles should feature more before he moves back to Newcastle
(Image from emipics)

Star Player History

Senior Career

Season Team Mins/Game Apps Starts Yel Red Gls
2011/12 Nottingham Forest 90 1 1
2011/12 Stevenage (loan) 72 9 7 2 1
2012/13 Nottingham Forest 5 2 0
2013/14 Nottingham Forest 88 29 29 8 2
2014/15 Newcastle United 0 0 0
2014/15 Nottingham Forest (loan) 66 20 1 4 1

International

Active Years Team Mins/Game Apps Starts Yel Red Gls
2011 England U18 46 1 1
2011/12 England U19 54 8 3
2013 England U20 90 2 2
2014- England U21 90 1 1

Team Strengths

  1. Forest have 2 very experienced and strong fullbacks in Danny Fox and Eric Lichaj. This season Forest have had their best win percentage when both players are in the starting eleven. Fox is a Scottish international who has also played for Celtic, Burnley and Southampton. Lichaj is an American international signed from Aston Villa.
  2. Scoring goals has not been a problem for Forest this season and they rank 5th highest in the league. Its also good to note that both the midfield have more than contributed their fair share of goals with Antonio and Lansbury the 2nd and 3rd top goal scorers respectively for the club this season.
  3. Overall the squad is good mix of experience and youth, and there is a great balance to the positions available, which means they can easily and quickly switch formations without having to overhaul the starting eleven.

Team Weaknesses

  1. Kelvin Wilson (central defender) has the worst percentage of losses to games played.
  2. The 4-1-4-1 formation is heavy on defense but the team is 9th worst in the league for goals against.

Improvement Suggestions

  1. Formation

Historically the formation most used by Championship teams in 4-4-2 (this is especially true for the teams promoted over the last 5 years).

However, with Forest’s squad I would make a slight change to their 4-1-4-1 and make it a 4-2-3-1 with a flat back 4 and the 2 central midfielders split as 1 deep lying player and the other a box-to-box player. The 3 attacking midfielders would have a central playmaker and the 2 wide men as inside forwards (keeping the opposing full backs from moving forward).

Another advantage of this formation is that it can morph into multiple other formations quickly and without a change in players:

  1. 4-1-2-2-1 V – drop the deep lying midfielder between the defence and midfield, with the attacking central midfielder dropping back in the central line. Allows the forward and wide men to stay high and pick up cleared balls and counter attack.
  2. 4-4-1-1 – Drop the wide men back to provide deeper support and form 2 banks of 4 to break down any opposing attacks.
Switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation may solve Forest's problems  (Image from FA)
Switching to a 4-4-1-1 formation may solve Forest’s problems
(Image from FA)
  1. Starting Eleven

To accommodate this formation then a few personnel would need to change.

  1. Kelvin Wilson would drop to the bench and Michal Mancienne moved into central defence. Michael is an experienced defender who came through the Chelsea youth ranks.
  2. Bring Gary Gardner off the bench and into the deep lying central midfield role. Gary is on loan from Aston Villa but has the highest win percentage to games played in the whole squad.
  3. Britt Assombalonga is out for the season and so should be replaced by the long serving Dexter Blackstock, with Matty Fryatt on the bench as backup forward. Both players have great scoring and assists records but Blackstock edges it for both percentage of games won and percentage of games lost (in fact Forest lose less whenever Blackstock is in the starting eleven).
  4. Recall Djamel Abdoun from loan. He has one of the lowest loss percentages per games played in the squad and would be great cover for the inside forwards (potentially replacing Chris Burke as Abdoun better suited for the inside forward role).

Proposed New Starting Eleven

Starting Formation: 4-2-3-1

No Position Player Name Age Value (GBP)
1 GK Karl Darlow 24 2.64m
13 LB Danny Fox 28 1.76m
4 LCB Michael Mancienne (C) 27 1.32m
16 RCB Jamaal Lascelles 21 2.64m
2 RB Eric Lichaj 26 1.32m
22 DLM Gary Gardner 22 0.88m
38 B2BM Ben Osborn 20 0.66m
18 LIF Michail Antonio 24 2.20m
10 ACM Henri Lansbury 24 1.76m
27 RIF Chris Burke 31 1.23m
23 CF Dexter Blackstock 28 0.88m

Post by Kenny C, BOTN writer based in Asia

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Juan Roman Riquelme – The Last True Playmaker?

Juan Roman Riquelme - the last true playmaker? (Image from Getty)In terms of great examples of illustrious attacking playmakers, there is no one better that Juan Roman Riquelme. The sublime Argentine is one of the finest players to grace the position and is considered by many as one of the most talented Argentine players ever produced. At 36 years old, after a memorable career Riquelme has decided to call it a day and ride off into the sunset. Anyone who was lucky enough to witness him in action will testify about his genuine talent and flair for the game. Sharp on the ball, with incredible vision, neat touches and precision passing, Riquelme was a formidable opponent who wreaked havoc over opposition defenses for nearly 20 years.  The four time winner of Argentine Footballer of the year including back to back wins in 2000 and 2001 was capped over 51 times for his country and will be remember as one of the last true number 10’s and one of the world’s greatest playmakers.

Riquelme played over 51 times for Argentina including at the 2006 World Cup  (Image from Getty)
Riquelme played over 51 times for Argentina including at the 2006 World Cup
(Image from Getty)

Growing up in rural Argentina, Juan Roman dreamt about one day becoming a professional footballer and representing his favourite team, Boca Juniors. Little did he know that he was destined to become an icon at the club he adored. His journey with Boca started in 1995 when he was signed along with several other promising youngsters from Argentinos Juniors, a club well known for producing some of Argentina’s greatest players including the likes of Jose Pekerman, Fernando Redondo and Diego Maradona.  Aged 18, Riquelme wasted little time in impressing his new employers and before long was taking to the field for his debut against Union de Santa Fe. He would soon establish himself in the first team but it wasn’t until the arrival of Carlos Bianchi in 1998 that transformed Riquelme from a good player into a great one. That season Boca marched to the Primera Division championship in style losing only once in 38 matches with Riquelme now operating in the role he would later define – the attacking midfield playmaker. Positioned just behind the front two of Martin Palermo and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Riquelme was tasked with pulling the strings and making the team tick, a role which he played perfectly notching 10 goals himself on route to winning the league. His talent would soon attract attention from Europe and in particular Barcelona who were desperate to add him to their ranks in 2002 having just let Brazilian playmaker Rivaldo leave to join AC Milan that summer. A fee was quickly agreed and Riquelme would join the Spanish giants but his stay at the Nou Camp would not go quite to plan. Issues with then manager Louis Van Gaal who preferred to play Riquelme as a winger and the signing of Ronaldinho the following year meaning that the club was over its foreign player allocation eventually led to Riquelme being shipped off to Villarreal on loan. It was there under the guidance of Benito Floro and later Manuel Pellegrini that Riquelme would rediscover his form and show the world why he was considered one of the best players at that time.

Impressed with his performances, Pellegrini made his loan move permanent and set upon building a new side around him alongside striker Diego Forlan. With Riquelme pulling the strings once again, Villarreal became a contender for the title over the next few years and had saw success in Europe too. In 2006, Villarreal reached the last four of the Champions League, knocking out favourites Manchester United along the way but found it hard to break down Arsenal who progressed to the final thanks to penalties. Unfortunately it would be a tipping point for Riquelme and his time in Spain. Shortly after the start of the new season, Riquelme would fall out with Pellegrini and after things became irreparable, he agreed to a loan move back to his beloved Boca which would eventually turn into a permanent one. His return would mark a continuation of his early success at the club and would in the end turn him into a legend. Playing in his favoured position, Riquelme became an irreplaceable component of how Boca played over the next six years as he helped them to the Copa Libertadores title in 2007, a Recopa Sudamericana in 2008, a Copa Argentina in 2011, and two Apertura titles in 2008 and 2011. The legend was born.

With age catching up on him, Riquelme took the tough decision to quit Boca citing a lack of energy left after giving all he had to the club over the past six years.  Despite interest from abroad, there was only one place that Riquelme wanted to finish his career and that was where it started – back at Argentinos Juniors. He would play for them for half a season before eventually calling time on his career early this week. For all the clubs that Riquelme touched and the players he played with, his legacy will remain.  An Argentine legend and the true definition of a traditional number ten, Riquelme will go down in history as one of the greatest attacking play makers to have ever graced a football field.

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FIFA Continues To Fumble With The Womens Game

Christine Sinclair, right, of Canada challenges for the ball with Fara Williams of England during the Cyprus Cup final (Image from AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Only FIFA in its disorganized and corrupt state would allow two tournaments’ to run simultaneously. Hard to believe but this week saw the completion of two international tournaments in the women’s game – the Algarve Cup and the Cyprus Cup. The invitation only Algarve Cup to be fair has been running for longer (since 1994) so the addition of the Cyprus Cup in 2008 must have come as a surprise to its organizers. Having another tournament in the women’s international space is not a bad thing but FIFA allowing it to run at the same time is just ludicrous.

Record breakers - The US women's national team lifted its 10th Algarve Cup  (Image from AFP)
Record breakers – The US women’s national team lifted its 10th Algarve Cup
(Image from AFP)

With the best teams in the world split between the two cups it’s hard to see how either could be set for success. Crowds were low to nonexistent at both whilst media coverage was limited in several key markets with various media outlets unaware that the tournaments were actually taking place. Yes the tournaments are organized separately but by combining them into a mini world cup format or even scheduling them in separate months would likely be more beneficial to all involved.

Mexico and South Africa played in the opening match of the Cyprus Cup in front of empty stands  (Image from PA)
Mexico and South Africa played in the opening match of the Cyprus Cup in front of empty stands
(Image from PA)

It’s another poor reflection of how little FIFA appears to care about the women’s game across the world. Already at the centre of controversy over the decision to test out artificial pitches at this summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. Protest rang out from the players when the news broke of FIFA’s intentions to use artificial surfaces rather than grass for the women’s pinnacle tournament. FIFA retorted to criticism of sexism by suggesting that this was a trial for the men’s which they hoped would follow suit. This only angered the players further who saw themselves being used as guinea pigs by FIFA, something the footballing organization denies in a contradictory statement. Despite legal action being taken by a group of high-profile players against FIFA and the threat of a strike before the world cup, FIFA held its stance. Unfortunately for the players, the women’s game doesn’t have the same amount of clout as the men’s does. If the men were to strike, it could cost FIFA financially as well as being a PR disaster but with the women’s game still in development, they are likely years away from having equal billing in FIFA’s eyes.

Controversy around the choice to use artificial pitches at the Women's World Cup continues  (Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)
Controversy around the choice to use artificial pitches at the Women’s World Cup continues
(Image from THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson)

In the end the results of the two tournaments were hardly important. The Algarve Cup is held on the picturesque Portuguese coast and saw twelve teams from across the world compete in the competitions 22nd iteration. The US secured a 2-0 win against France in the final to lift their record-breaking 10th Algarve Cup. A stand out performance from the controversial Hope Solo in-goal, who made several key stops including a penalty to keep them in the game, pushed the US towards the trophy. At the other end goals from Christen Press and Julie Johnston were enough to see off a French side who had laboured well bit could not break down the resistant Americans.

Elsewhere at the Cyprus Cup, World cup hosts Canada were looking to finalize their preparations for the June-July tournament with a finals appearance. They were hoping to add a historic third Cyprus Cup to their trophy room but fell at the last hurdle to a determined England side. A single goal from Lianne Sanderson settled the contest and handed England the much-needed morale boost ahead of their participation this summer. The style of the win suggest that England will be a feared opponent in Canada this summer.

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Shout Out From The Stands – The Bright Future of Football In Singapore

Singapore has followed many countries in setting up academies and centres of excellence, which are churning out young players for the local and regional teams. Unfortunately, very few make it into the top teams in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, and even fewer make it beyond the region’s borders. However, this may just be starting to change.

Singapore celebrate scoring at the 2013 SEA Games  (Image from AFP)
Singapore celebrate scoring at the 2013 SEA Games
(Image from AFP)

This last month has seen the first Singaporean player ever to move to an Australian A-League team with 23-year-old Safuwan Baharudin signing on loan for Melbourne City. The versatile defender impressed the City Football Group team during a couple of friendly matches in the UAE and after completing the move has gone on to make 3 appearances scoring 1 goal in his first month. Young Singaporeans are also looking further afield for their footballing education. Adam Swandi spent 2 years in France with FC Metz (more of him later) and Mahathir Azeman has just returned from Brazil to Singapore to serve his National Service (NS). Azeman, 19, was signed from the National Football Academy (NFA) by Boavista Sport Club at the end of 2013 and has been a first team regular in the club’s reserves (U-21) side. He will play locally this season before heading back to Brazil with Boavista once his NS is complete.

Following this trend are the 2 eldest sons of (arguably) Singapore’s greatest player, Fandi Ahmad – the first Singaporean footballer to play in Europe – have huge shoes to fill. From a young age both have shown plenty of potential and have already been picked up the Chilean club CD Universidad Católica’s academy, without either having played a Singaporean league game. Irfan is a forward with good vision and touch, excellent speed and accurate passing. Ikshan is an attacking midfielder noted for his ability to dribble at defenders and beat them with individual skill. At 17 and 15 respectively, they have time to develop but it is already hoped that they will be key players for the national team for the next 15 years. (Oh, and they also have an 11 year old younger brother, Ilhan, who is rattling in the goals for his school team). Perhaps this growing trend of the best young players leaving Singapore to maximize their development will be the key to the country improving the national team’s FIFA Ranking and maybe even improve Singaporean football on the whole. However, it makes my task of identifying 5 of the best U20 prospects in the country a little harder.

So here goes, these are my 5 top players under the age of 20 that Singapore currently has:

Adam Swandi

Age: 19

Position: Attacking Midfield

Club: Courts Young Lions

Like some of the young starlets mentioned above, Swandi burst on to the scene with captivating displays for the NFA teams. A 2-year stint with FC Metz in France followed, although he has returned to Singapore this year to serve his NS and play locally. An intelligent playmaker with great control and one-touch passing, who plays with a very similar style and physique to that of Philippe Coutinho.

Recommended Future Club: Like many Singaporean players Swandi has good technical skills but lacks strength. Given a strict conditioning program to improve his physicality then he could certainly provide a playmaking role to a team that plays with a number 10 behind the forward line. A team like West Ham could do wonders for his development as they have a proven youth history, have an experienced manager renowned for getting the best out of unknown players and make good use of playmakers.

Anumnathan Kumar

Age: 20

Position: Central Midfielder

Club: Courts Young Lions

Kumar is a strong midfield general who has grown to dominate the Courts Young Lions’ boiler room. His presence inspires those around him, strong in the tackle, great vision and finds his teammates on most occasions. The national team has called him up regularly over the last 18 months and so we should see him playing regularly at international level.

Recommended Future Club: Kumar’s potential is crying out to be tested at a higher level. With his skills similar to those of a young Clarence Seedorf then AFC Ajax would be an ideal place for him to develop and hopefully follow in their tradition of producing world-class players.

Rising star Anumnathan Kumar in action against Palestine  (Image from Getty)
Rising star Anumnathan Kumar in action against Palestine
(Image from Getty)

Adam Hakeem and Amer Hakeem

Age: 17 and 16

Position: Both defenders

Club: NFS U-17 and U-16

Standing at 1.92m, Adam Hakeem, son of Singapore football legend Nazri Nasir, is a looming presence that reinforces the backbone of the defence. His ability to get up in the air coupled with his towering height makes him a dominating player at both ends of the field. Younger brother Amer has impressed scouts and already impressed scouts and earned himself a training stint at the prestigious Ajax Academy in Holland. His humility, willingness to learn and effervescent leadership ability are certainly qualities of a star in the making.

Recommended Future Club: As these brothers are still so young I would keep them together and let them follow the example of Mahathir Azeman by going to Brazil with Boavista SC. The Brazilian training and league produces strong defenders without sacrificing any focus on skills and creativity.

Amirul Adli

Age: 19

Position: Central defender/midfielder

Club: Courts Young Lions

A versatile player, Adli, has been brought through the NFA system and established himself quickly in the Young Lions last season. A composed player who makes good use of the ball, he provides defensive cover to more attacking teammates. Made his international debut last year and should see more playing time in upcoming matches.

Recommended Future Club: With respect to Adli, his potential path to glory is unlikely to be as meteoric as others on this list. His solid style is perfect for development in the A-League with the Brisbane Roar. The 3 time champions have an experienced management team, good youth team structure and in Matt Mackay they have an international defensive midfielder for Adli to learn from.

Post by Kenny C, BOTN writer based in Asia

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Where Are They Now Series – France 1998 World Cup Winning Team

France lift the 1998 World Cup (Image from imago/Oliver Behrendt Frankreichs Kapitän Didier Deschamps hält jubelnd den World Cup in die Höhe; Finale, Endspiel, Sieger, Siegerfoto,)With the chaos surrounding the fitness and mental state of Brazil’s star striker Ronaldo, the media spotlight had swung away from the hosts and firmly on to their opposition.  With the pressure lifted, France was able to complete their historic march to the World Cup lifting the famed trophy following a stunning 3-0 victory. The team heralded as legends in France would later go on to lift the Euro 200 championship trophy cementing their status in World football as legends too. With Euro 2016 due to be held in France next summer, we now look back on that 1998 final team and ask where are they now.

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

The eccentric Barthez played an integral part in his country’s first ever World Cup triumph by conceding only twice in the seven games during the tournament, winning the Yashin award for best goalkeeper in the process. The former Marseille, Monaco and Manchester United stopper took over the No.1 jersey from Bernard Lama shortly after Euro 1996 and held onto the shirt for almost a decade. In the final itself, he made a wonder save from a nervous looking Ronaldo which kept France in the game. After retiring in 2012, Barthez became honorary president of US Luenac and now splits his time between performing that role and partaking in his new passion for motorsport.

Right Back – Lilian Thuram

Widely considered as one of the world’s greatest ever defenders, Thuram retired in 2008 as France’s most capped player with 142 caps to his name. Versatility is the word that describes Thuram the best, as a player he was comfortable anywhere across the back four, either as an outright defender or an offensive threat. During a distinguished playing career that saw him turn out for Monaco, Parma, Juventus and Barcelona, Thuram won over all that watched him with his grace, passion for the game and outstanding physical and technical attributes.  A great thinker on the pitch, it comes as no surprise that now retired Thuram has shown interest in raising the awareness of a variety of political and social issues, both at home in France and in his role as UNICEF ambassador.

Centre Back – Marcel Desailly

Sent off in the final after receiving two yellow cards with twenty minutes to go and France two goals ahead, Desailly could only watch in anticipation of a Brazil revival. Luckily for him that revival never came and France completed the rout with an Emmanuel Petit strike in the dying minutes. Desailly, often criticized by many for his outspoken nature and often over exuberance about his own abilities, was the rock at the heart of the France side alongside Blanc. Like Thuram, he is considered to be one of France’s best defenders with 116 caps to prove it. The former Nantes, Marseille, Milan, Chelsea player finished his career in 2006 after a two year spell in Qatar, first with Al-Gharafa and then latter with Qatar S.C. Now working as a pundit for the BBC and Canal Plus, Desailly has the platform he so desperately wanted during his playing career in order to make his opinions heard.

Centre Back – Frank LeBouef

In for the suspended Laurent Blanc, the then Chelsea defender has only played a bit part in France’s run to the final but would play a larger role in their final 90minutes of the tournament. Tasked with man marking Ronaldo, LeBouef gave the performance of his life limiting the Brazilian to only few attempts on goal. Not considered to be on the same playing field in terms of legendary status as Desailly, Thuram or Blanc, LeBouef’s showing in the final did earn him cult status at home and abroad which has helped in his career after football. Now an accomplished actor, LeBouef starred in the Oscar nominated The Theory of Everything as the Swiss doctor who tells Stephen Hawking’s wife that he will never talk again. Hollywood is calling for more of LeBouef with several casting firms keen to sign him up following his performance in the film.

Left Back – Bixente Lizarazu

Having made his name at Bordeaux during a ten year spell in the late 80’s early 90’s, Bixente Lizararu was set for greater things. A brief stint in Spain was followed by a career defining move to Bayern Munich where he would play for seven years and win countless honours including the Bundesliga title six times and the Champions League. The diminutive left back, at only 5ft 7inches was a star player for both club and country, always reliable and never caught wanting.  During the final he was asked by Jacquet to control the runs of Rivaldo and Cafu, something that Lizararu did perfectly with the duo limited to bit parts roles in Brazil’s defeat. Since retiring, Lizararu has gotten involved in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu competitions, becoming the European champion in the blue belt senior 1 light division.

Midfielder – Didier Deschamps

Captain fantastic, Deschamps was a leader both on the pitch and off of it for France and played a starring role in lifting the World Cup and latter the Euro 200 cup.  Over a 16 year playing career with Nantes, Marseille, Juventus, Chelsea and Valencia, Deschamps perfected his trade whilst using his time wisely to ingest as much information about the game as possible. Since retiring, Deschamps has become an accomplished manager in his own right although serious honours have somehow eluded him to date. Now the France manager, Deschamps is looking forward to next summer when France host the European Championships with Deschamps keen to become one of only a few to win the tournament as a player and as a manager.

Midfielder – Christian Karembeu

Originally from New Caledonia, Karembeu was one of several players in the French squad from French overseas territories but it matter little to many as he earned his spot as part of the national team. An accomplished tough tackling midfielder, Karembeu alongside Deschamps and Petit boss the French midfield during the 1998 World Cup. He would only play a bit part in the Euro 200 triumph as well but by then Karembeu’s legacy was complete. Another player who started at Nantes, Karembeu travelled far during his playing career with spells in Italy (Sampdoria), Spain (Real Madrid), England (Middelsbourgh), Greece (Olympiacos), Switzerland (Servette) and France (Nantes, Bastia) chalking up 414 appearances along the way. Now strategic advisor at Olympiacos, Karembeu also campaigns for peace throughout the world as part of the Champions for Peace club.

Midfielder – Emmanuel Petit

The long blonde locks of Petit are probably what he is remembered most for but his role in the final could not be understated. His corner just before the half hour mark was met by Zidane to give France the lead and it was his goal in the dying minutes after a through ball from Patrick Vieira that sealed the victory. Petit in fairness had played a significant role in getting France to the final with his nonstop running and occasional goals. Having spent nine years at Monaco, it wasn’t hard to see why he jumped at the chance to reunite with his old boss Arsene Wenger at Arsenal after the Frenchman took over there. It was here that Petit was converted into a defensive midfielder in a move that benefited both Arsenal and France in the end. He would spend three years at the Gunners before moving to Barcelona and then back to the Premiership with Chelsea. Since hanging up his boots, Petit has become a football analyst back home in France whilst also throwing his support behind football initiatives like the Homeless World Cup.

Attacking Midfielder – Zinedine Zidane

Widely considered the greatest French football of all time (some argue Platini is), Zinedine Zidane did not have the greatest of tournaments but popped up at the right time to become a legend. Having been sent off in the group stage against Saudi Arabia, Zidane returned for the quarter final against Italy and semi final against Croatia without really having an impact. But buoyed by the chance to win his country’s first world cup, Zidane stepped out onto the pitch to deliver arguably one of his best performances in the Les Blues jersey. His two headed goals sent France into half time with a 2-0 lead and the momentum they needed to go on a win the trophy. After the final whistle, Zidanes name rang out across France as a legend with his image projected onto the Arc de Triomphe in Paris along with the words Merci Zizou. He would go on to play a bigger role in France’s Euro 2000 success and latter in their march to the World Cup final in 2006, where despite losing his head and the game to Italy (he was sent off for head butting Marco Materazzi in the chest after the Italian had insulted his sister), Zidane retired as a legend. Now manager of Real Madrid’s B team, Real Madrid Castilla many believe Zizou’s is destined to manage France one day, a notion the great man has failed to dismiss.

Attacking Midfielder – Youri Djorkaeff

The little magician, Youri Djorkaeff played a vital attacking role alongside Zidane in Jacquet’s 4-3-2-1 formation.  The son of former France defender, Jean Djorkaeff it only seemed fitting that it was part of France’s greatest hour given his performances up until that point. Despite only scoring once in the tournament, Djorkaeff was one of France’s biggest contributors of assists including that cross in the final for Zidane’s second goal.  After spending eight years in France perfecting his craft, Djorkaeff eventually left home to join Inter before a spell in Germany with Kaiserslautern. But it was his switch to Bolton in 2002 that he will be most remembered for, at least with British fans. During those years, Bolton attracted the likes of Jay Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo to play for them but Djorkaeff was by far their best signing. After leaving England he spent the last year of his career in the US with New York Red Bulls before retiring to become a pundit and bizarrely a singer releasing “Vivre dans Ta Lumiere” as a single.

Striker – Stephane Guivarc’h

Picked ahead of Dugarry and a youthful Thierry Henry, Guivarc’h had only played a bit part up until the final despite being handed the number nine jersey by Jacquet at the start of the tournament. He did start against South Africa, Italy and Croatia in the run up but was substituted on all three occasions. Even in the final, Guivarc’h failed to complete ninety minutes, giving way to Dugarry on 66 minutes. The former Auxerre, Rennes, Rangers and Newcastle striker had a mixed career with the highlight of it being the World Cup win. Since retiring in 2002, Guivarc’h has done a variety of things including selling swimming pools. No diving jokes here.

Subs

Alain Boghossian

A 57 minute substitute for Karembeu, Boghossian is probably the least well known player to have played in the France win. Dogged through his career with injury, including picking up one a day before Euro 200 started, Boghossian was limited to only 26 caps for France. He did spend eight years in Italy making a name for himself with Napoli, Sampdoria and Parma before eventually retiring in 2003. He is now a coach with the French national team.

Christophe Dugarry

Replacing Guivarc’h in the final was surprisingly Christophe Dugarry ahead of France’s top goal scorer in the tournament Thierry Henry. Jacquet decided to throw Dugarry on with a view to introducing Henry later. But when Desailly was sent off, the plans were changed and Henry never took to the field. Dugarry had played well during the tournament so it was only fair to use him and as a different type of striker to Guivarc’h, one capable of holding up the play, it was just what France needed. The former Bordeaux, Milan, Barcelona, Marseille and Birmingham striker played 55 times for France over eight years starting in 1994. He joined LeBouef and Lizarazu in the punditry box after retiring in 2005.

Patrick Vieira

Best known for his spell with Arsenal, Vieira was still a youngster when the tournament was in full swing so was limited to substitute appearances. At Euro 2000 however he would take Karembeu’s spot as starter in the midfield, a role he would hold for a further nine years. After leaving Arsenal in 2005, Vieira returned to Italy with Juventus and then Inter before heading back to England for a final year with Manchester City. It’s at City where Vieira has remained appointed as part of their new administration as Football Development Executive.

Manager

Aime Jacquet

The mastermind behind the win, it’s hard to believe that even up to a month before the start of the tournament that Jacquet was not liked by the French fans, many of who were calling for his head. Despite this, Jacquet created a siege mentality and national pride within the team giving them the opportunity to win the World Cup on home turf. After securing the World Cup, Jacquet quit his job later becoming technical director of French football a month later. He held that role until 2006 when he finally retired from the game.

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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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A New Dawn At Rangers As King Sweeps Into Power

King seized control of Rangers with a majority vote at the EGM (Image from PA)In the end it only took just over 13 minutes for Dave King to gain full control of Rangers at the clubs EGM but for the Rangers fans it has been a long time coming. The South African based businessman who is a majority shareholder in the club called an extraordinary general meeting in an attempt to finally end the mismanagement of Rangers by several individuals on the board. At the EGM held earlier today, King was looking for the immediate removal of the four current board members – James Easdale, David Somers, Derek Llambias and Barry Leach and the subsequent appointment of himself, Paul Murray and former Tennents boss Jim Gilligan onto a new look board. In the weeks running up to the meeting, King’s chances were handed boost after boost with two of the four current directors – Easdale and Somers stepping down in advance, the clubs bumbling appointed nomad WH Ireland resigning and several influential shareholders throwing their support behind him or one of the various fan groups. It may have only taken 13 short minutes for acting chair Andrew Dickson to wrap up the vote but the result was a resounding yes for change with each of the resolutions receiving an 85% in favour of it being approved.

Now that King has control, albeit in a non executive function until he has gained SFA and Stock market approval as a fit and proper person, the work can now begin in rebuilding Rangers but the volume of tasks on his to do list is staggering. With the help of Murray and Gilligan, King will need to focus his attention on five pressing matters that require resolution quickly if he is to succeed in rebuilding the club he loves.

Appointing a nomad

To remain on the stock exchange, Rangers need to appoint a Nomad to act on their behalf following the resignation of WH Ireland. The club has 30 days to do so or faces delisting from the Alternative Investment Market. Failure to do so could make raising capital harder a with a length process required to become listed again. King is confident that he already has a nomad in place so an announcement on this front should be made in due course over the next few weeks. One thing that is certain is that WH Ireland will not be partaking in the usual handover of responsibilities to the new nomad after the quit before the general meeting. King however is likely to prefer it this way as his faith in the appointed person at the firm, Paul Shackleton was clearly gone even before King called the EGM.

Now the work beings for Murray, King and Gilligan  (Image from AFP)
Now the work beings for Murray, King and Gilligan
(Image from AFP)

Appointing further members to the board

After appointing a new Nomad, up next will be strengthening the board with potentially two to three new faces at a minimum being added. There is a strong possibility that one or two of the spots could be filled by the so called Three bears – George Letham, George Taylor and Douglas Park. Their support of King and has quest for change will not have gone unnoticed and as primary shareholders and established businessmen, their appointments would be widely welcomed by all involved. Another set of investors who will likely seal a seat if not two on the board is the fan groups of Rangers First and the Rangers Supporters Trust. Both sets of fans have been instrumental in King’s win by collectively rallying behind him and gathering crucial proxy votes from the clubs fans. An appointment of a fan representative to the board will aid King in his quest to hand back the club to the fans and restore a culture of transparency and honesty, something that has been sadly lacking in recent years. Further appointments could be made as the club moves forward with various established business figures already being touted as potential members. But for now Rangers will likely operate with a smaller board in order to remain agile and able to get things done quickly.

Douglas Park will likely be appointed to the board  (Image from PA)
Douglas Park will likely be appointed to the board
(Image from PA)

Ashley’s loans

Next on the agenda is what to do with Mike Ashley and his agreements that he has with Rangers struck during the last tainted regime. Ashley, with 9% ownership of Rangers has weaseled his way into Rangers first from a commercial prospective with an astonishing Sports Direct deal that will likely be problematic for King to exit from and secondly from an asset prospective by handing the club two £5million loans with rights to appoint two board members and various rights for Rangers assets. Whilst the second £5million has not yet been drawn down, or at least has not been confirmed by the club as such, the first loan is still very much alive. King could repay the loan and rid himself of the headache but he could also look to strike a deal with Ashley given the Newcastle owners considerable wealth. King is no fool and understands that the club needs capital and quickly to remain in business so burning bridges with a billionaire may not be the smartest move.

Discussions with Ashley will likely take place soon  (Image from Getty)
Discussions with Ashley will likely take place soon
(Image from Getty)

Raising capital

Regardless of how King handles Ashley, Rangers need to raise funds to not only stay in business but eventually to start to restore the club to a point where it can be competitive again. King has already stated that he is willing to put his own money in but will not be the only person doing so. Ashley could provide further funding but having already secured the commercial rights and with King having no intention of using the clubs assets or board seats as a carrot, it is hard to see what is in it for the Sports Direct owner. Turning to the three bears could provide extra working capital in the short term but longer term new revenue will need to be found in order to rebuild and restore. US businessman Robert Sarver, who tried gallantly to buy Rangers last year before being rejected by the then board may return to the table and could offer significant long term investment but he wants full control of the club so it remains to be seen if King can strike a deal with him for co ownership.

Phoenix Suns owner Sarver still holds an interest in buying Rangers  (Image from Michael Schennum / The Arizona Republic)
Phoenix Suns owner Sarver still holds an interest in buying Rangers
(Image from Michael Schennum / The Arizona Republic)

Rebuilding the foundations

With funding in place, the job of rebuilding can begin and first up is hiring a new manager. With Ally McCoist on gardening leave and his replacement Kenny McDowell handing in his resignation too, King needs to find someone who can lead the club forward. Stuart McCall, a former Rangers midfielder is the most likely candidate but the new board will not rush into an appointment stating the need for the right candidate is more important than getting someone in quickly. Once appointed, the club will focus on other staff hires including a new lead scout to build a scouting network and other coaching staff to help the new boss. Long term a Director of Football may be hired with Walter Smith the preferred candidate for Rangers fans. Whether there are roles given to former legends of the club like Richard Gough and John Greig is still to be seen but could happen as this would appease the fans and help strengthen the connection between the board and the supporters. After the appointments are all made, the focus will switch to repairs to the clubs training ground Murraypark and stadium Ibrox and then eventually the squad itself with a major overhaul needed. A new approach is needed that focuses on the long term health of the club and its new future.

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Will This Be The Most Exciting MLS Season Yet?

Will this be the most exciting MLS season to date? (Image from MLS)Just days away from the kick off of the new season, the MLS has reached a tentative agreement on a new collective bargaining contract with the players and their union. This move has prevented a PR disaster for the league and its commissioner Don Graber as the players threatened to walk out of the league and go on strike just four days before what could be the most important year in Major League Soccer.  With more at stake than ever before, the agreement ends an anxious time for the MLS management team who can now sit back and watch as this season unfolds. But what type of season are we in for? Well the answer may lie in three important factors as detailed below. Could this well be the best MLS season in its near twenty year history?

Who will challenge LA Galaxy for the Cup this year?  (Image from MLS)
Who will challenge LA Galaxy for the Cup this year?
(Image from MLS)

More Competitive than ever

Since its inception almost 20 years ago, nine separate teams have won the league with LA Galaxy dominating in recent years with their most recent success being last season. But this new season sees the addition of two new teams – New York City FC and Orlando City bringing the number of teams in the league up to 20. Both new sides could pose a threat to LA’s defence with New York in particular looking strong through their squad. Managed by former Real Salt Lake boss Jason Kries and under the watchful eye of iconic US midfielder Claudio Reyna in a Director of Football role, New York have attracted Spanish striker David Villa and England midfielder Frank Lampard  to join their cause. The duo could also be joined by Barcelona legend Xavi in the summer although his move is merely speculation at this point. Their additions give New York a strong chance but winning the league in their first season may be a stretch too far. Similarly Orlando, coached by Englishman Arian Heath who has assembled a multicultural squad including Brazilian Kaka, US international Brek Shea and Jamaican goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts are hoping for an immediate impact however they will face stiff competition from other sides in the league in the form of Houston Dynamo, Seattle Sounders, New England Revolution and DC United. Even Toronto FC, who dispatched with the troublesome Jermain Defoe over the January transfer window have a shot given the strength of squad they have now following the signings of Jozy Altidore, Sebastian Giovinco this year and Michael Bradley last year. This new season is anyone’s to win and could prove to be an exciting spectacle with several twists and turns along the way.

New Star Players

Since its debut in 1996, the single biggest draw for fans to attend games has been the star players on show. Whilst each team is limited to only three designated players, allowing them to stretch their salary caps beyond their given limits, teams have relied heavily on star power to draw in new and existing fans season after season. In the first few years, the draw mainly came from US internationalist like Tab Ramos, Eric Wynalda, Tony Meola and Alexi Lalas with a splattering of South American talent like the wonderfully gifted Carlos Valderamma and the eccentric Jorge Campos. The success of the 1994 World Cup held in the US, plus subsequent performances of the US team at the 1998 and 2002 World Cups helped to generate the passion for the game and gradually attendances started to rise. However it wasn’t until the arrival of David Beckham to LA Galaxy in 2007 and Thierry Henry in 2010 that the league started to be taken more seriously, not just in the US but abroad.

Once viewed by European players as a league to join in the twilight of your career for one final payday, the perception shifted dramatically when Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane, aged 30 joined LA Galaxy. His move heralded a new era for the league and its fans with it becoming one of the most exciting leagues in the world to play in. Since then, the MLS has attracted some very big names, most of whom will be on show this season.  Steven Gerrard, Kaka, David Villa, Frank Lampard and Sebastian Giovinco are just a few of the new faces that will help kick off the new season (although Lampard and Gerrard will not join officially until the summer)  as it gets underway this coming Saturday.

Increased Coverage

When the league kicked off, it struggled for a long time to get the exposure it so desperately needed from the US media. Obsessed with the more traditional US sports like football, baseball, hockey and basketball, column inches in newspapers and magazines dedicated to soccer were few and far between. Even worse was the desire of TV stations to cover games with little to no interest shown in the new professional soccer league in the US for several of the foundation years. Having been burnt before with the defunct North American Soccer League (NASL), US based media conglomerates like ESPN, Fox Sports and NBC have been cautious in their approach but as the league grew in stature so too did their confidence that the league and soccer as a mainstream sport in the US was here to stay.  Today the MLS has bumper contracts with all three to showcase its games and have added Univision in an attempt to reach the growing Spanish audience in the US too. International awareness and interest in the league is at an all time high as well with TV networks across the globe now striking deals for their own countries to show the games and highlights much to the delight of the MLS.

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The Failings Of Football In Singapore

Singapore National Team (Image from Tumblr by Andrew H and JupiterFutbol)Professional football in Singapore is dying. No, wait, is it already dead? I’m sure the officials of the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) would disagree with me, after all I’m just an outsider looking in for the first time. So lets look at some of the facts:

  • Attendances are stagnant at best; most are dropping (despite an average ticket price of just US$4).
  • Television viewing numbers as poor as the live attendances.
  • GOAL 2010 was an objective 12 years in the making to get the national team to the 2010 FIFA World Cup but the goal was not reached (losing twice to Uzbekistan).
  • The country has no footballing reputation left internationally or regionally, except for perhaps match fixing or good old cross-country competition ticket sales politics.

So can the national sport of a country actually be dead? Alright, the perception is that the sport at a senior level is definitely at a near rock bottom point but surely that means that the only way is up? Maybe there is a little life left in the beautiful game that could spark a resurgence? Lets start with a quick history lesson. The Republic of Singapore is a city-state that lies just north of the equator in south east Asia, with a population of about 5.5 million. Since its founding in 1819 it has had a series of sovereign changes from British rule to a Japanese wartime invasion to state independence to a merger with Malaysia. Finally in 1963 Malaysia unceremoniously expelled Singapore for disagreeing on many political and economic issues. Since independence Singapore’s economy has boomed it has become one of the world’s major commercial and cultural hubs.

Attendances are dropping in the S League despite low prices  (Image from Getty)
Attendances are dropping in the S League despite low prices
(Image from Getty)

So can football in Singapore learn something from the business and political world? Following games held between British engineers working in Singapore, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) was founded in 1892 as the governing body that would organize and develop the sport. Over the next 90 years, FAS enjoyed a very stable existence and were fairly successful in the local region, including winning the Malaysia Cup on 23 occasions. However, despite this it took until 1983 for Singapore to have their first footballer to play in Europe (Fandi Ahmed for FC Gronigen in the Netherlands). During these years, politics certainly didn’t help Singaporean football. World War II ceased all competitions, disagreements with Malaysia before and after independence caused seasons of no competitions, not to mention other neighbourly disputes such as competition price fixing and not attending official state dinners.

1994 Singapore Malaysia Cup winning team  (Image from AFP)
1994 Singapore Malaysia Cup winning team
(Image from AFP)

Having said that, a few years later, two great things did appear in the 1990’s that give true hope to Singapore as a footballing nation. In part due to the political history and in part due to the significant changes seen in European football through the 1970’s and 1980’s i.e. improvements in training methods and the creation of new (more profitable) leagues. The first thing that FAS did was to overhaul the league structures and so in 1996 they created a professional league called the S.League. Followed quickly by a reserve league in 1997, the Prime League.

The S League was formed in 1996  (Image from Getty)
The S League was formed in 1996
(Image from Getty)

The second thing that FAS did was a game changer. In 2000 they created the National Football Academy (NFA) with the aim to develop Singapore’s most promising young footballers. With these 2 major steps forward, Singapore should have gone from strength to strength right? Unfortunately not. The NFA has done a great job of churning out youngster after youngster and created some definite talents, such as Baihakki Khaizan (111 caps), Shahril Ishak (118 caps), Adam Swandi (a 19 year old who was signed by FC Metz in France in 2013). However, it hasn’t produced a team of players that can play together on the global stage and take Singapore to a World Cup.

Having many of the young players growing up in the same teams from as early as 13 years old and playing together can only be a good thing (look at the success of the golden generation at Man United), but questions need to be asked of the methods of training and the trainers themselves. Are they up to high-level international standards? More to the point, can FAS actually recruit people at that level? The changes were definitely needed and they give a good base from which to build from but there has to be a level of stability. The S.League has seen 25 different clubs playing in the competition at some point in its 19-year history, many of which have also changed their name. On top of that there is no relegation or promotion from either the S.League or Prime League, and the number of clubs playing each season can fluctuate from 8-12.

Youth development is key to long term success for Singapore  (Image from FAS.org)
Youth development is key to long term success for Singapore
(Image from FAS.org)

With this ‘structure’ is it any surprise that the fan base is dropping? Or that the product doesn’t sell well to investors? As many leagues in Europe have seen (especially the EPL) and as the guys in Soccernomics point out, it’s the external businesses that identify opportunities not necessarily those that are trying to run the clubs or league. I have to wonder whether FAS is seeking input (and I don’t just mean financial) from external sources. So back to our original question – is football dead in Singapore? The FAS are trying to keep it alive but whether or not they want to keep it breathing just within the small island of Singapore or take their football to a wider international level remains to be seen.

Post By Kenny C, BOTN writer based in Asia

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Football Mourns The Passing Of Legend Dave MacKay

Football mourns the passing of Dave MacKay (Image from S&G and Barratts/Emipics Sports)Football in Britain during the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s was not for the faint hearted. Characters like Billy Bremner, Norman “Bites yer legs” Hunter and Ron “Chopper” Harris ruled the game with their harsh brand of fearful football. Talent players they were but they were also notorious for crunching tackles and dirty challenges which helped them to be successful. However one player who had tremendous success during these times was harshly portrayed as a bully simply because of a single photo. The picture of Dave MacKay grabbing Billy Bremner shirt and holding him up during a clash between MacKay’s Tottenham and Bremner’s Leeds in 1966 painted MacKay as one of these football hard men but it was far from the truth. Yes MacKay was known for his tough approach to the game but it was his self drive and strong will to be successful that made him into the player he was. Scotsman MacKay became a legend during his playing days and he will be remembered as such as people mourn his passing today after the former Tottenham, Derby, Hearts and Scotland midfielder died aged 80.

MacKay and Bremner in the now legendary photo  (Image from Mirrorpix)
MacKay and Bremner in the now legendary photo
(Image from Mirrorpix)

MacKay was always destined to be a footballer, after growing up on the back streets of Edinburgh with a football glued to his feet. There was only ever one club that MacKay wanted to join and despite the interest from others, he finally became a Hearts player in 1953 much to his delight. Little did they know that in doing so, Hearts had managed to sign someone who would redefine the way that they played. Under the management of Tommy Walker and with MacKay installed as captain, Hearts won their first of two Scottish league titles, first in 1958 and then two years later in 1960. The first triumph earned Hearts a spot in the record books after they won the league with 62 points on the board and 132 goals scored. It would be the making of MacKay who bossed the Hearts midfield with the grit and determination that he would later be known for. MacKay would only stay with Hearts for a further season, eventually leaving his boyhood club to join Tottenham in 1959 in a move that would help MacKay secure legendary status.

Dave MacKay made only 22 appearances for Scotland, mostly due to injuries  (Image source unknown)
Dave MacKay made only 22 appearances for Scotland, mostly due to injuries
(Image source unknown)

Over the next nine years, MacKay would etch himself into Spurs folklore as a fan favourite, the tough tackling Scottish midfield general who was afraid of no-one. With MacKay in place as the heartbeat of the club Spurs won the league in 1961, three FA cups in ‘61, ‘62 and ‘67 and the European Cup Winners Cup in ‘63 beating Altetico Madrid in the final, a game MacKay unfortunately missed due to injury. It was during this time that the fateful image of MacKay standing up to Bremner was taken, a picture that has haunted him ever since. Upon leaving Tottenham, MacKay linked up with Brian Clough at Derby in a move that would see the player converted from his traditional role as a central midfield general to a no nonsense sweeper using his influence and ability to read the game to turn defence into attack. It worked perfectly with Derby winning promotion back to the first division and MacKay being named the FWA footballer of the Year. Having won 22 caps for Scotland over a eight year period (mostly curtailed by injury) including an appearance at the 1958 World Cup age was now starting to catch up with the player. Now 37, MacKay decided to leave Derby for one final season at Swindon in another move that would change his career for the better.

The move would kick start MacKay’s time as a manager first at Swindon then at Nottingham Forest and eventually back at Derby following the resignation of Clough. It was at Derby that he would win his only honours as a manager, lifting the First Division title in the 1974-75 season and the FA Charity Shield in 1975. Later roles at Walsall, Doncaster and Birmingham would follow with a nine spell in Kuwait in between. His final roles back in the Middle East with Zamalek and Qatar failed to bring any further success so MacKay at aged 63 decided to call it a day. Despite limited success as a manager, MacKay’s time as a player had already cemented his place as a football legend and that legacy is being remembered today. The great George Best called him “the bravest player he had ever played against” whilst his former club Tottenham called him “one of their greatest ever players and a man who never failed to inspire those around him”. A leader, a gentleman and a legend, MacKay will be remembered not for that photo but instead for the player he was and rightly so.

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Goal Rout Sends Hearts Racing

Hearts on course for the title after 10-0 demolition of Cowdenbeath (Image from Getty)Hearts romp to the Scottish Championship title stepped up a gear this past weekend with a 10-0 thumping of Cowdenbeath. It really was a game of men vs. boys as Robbie Neilson’s side ripped apart their opposition with ease and grace. Goals from Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker and a three minute hat trick from Genro Zeefuik sent Hearts into half time with a five goal lead. Shell shocked Cowdenbeath manager  Jimmy Nicholl tried to rally his troops in a attempted damage limitation exercise but his words of wisdom fell on deaf ears with the Blue Brazil shipping a further five goals after the restart. Strikes from Morgaro Gomis, Alim Ozturk and Danny Wilson plus a brace from Osman Sow completed the rout and handed Cowdenbeath their heaviest loss in its 134 year history. The dismissal of defender Lewis Toshney early on in the match hardly helped the situation for Cowdenbeath but in truth Hearts were simply unstoppable on the day.

Long before the season began; bookies and pundits alike had Glasgow side Rangers as firm favourites to win the league with Edinburgh rivals Hearts and Hibernian slugging it out for second spot. But due in part to off field chaos at Ibrox, Rangers have stuttered along and now look increasingly less likely to make the final step back to the Scottish Premiership. Hibs meanwhile under former Everton and Celtic centre half Alan Stubbs are a team in transition and it now looks apparent that they will battle Rangers for second spot with the Edinburgh club currently holding the advantage. Rangers and Hibs loss is Hearts gain who simply have been unstoppable this season. Having bounced back marvelously from their own financial woes under the new ownership of Ann Budge, Neilson and Director of football Craig Levein have used the distractions coming out of Glasgow at Rangers to their advantage by steadily building a squad of strength and talent to compete not only in the Championship this season but with a view to the same team competing next season back in the Premiership. After all a return to the top flight is not the only thing on Levein and Budge’s mind – they wish to remain there for the foresable future.

Levein, Budge and Neilson have turned Hearts fortunes around  (Image from DailyRecord)
Levein, Budge and Neilson have turned Hearts fortunes around
(Image from DailyRecord)

With the squad as it is, Hearts should be able to compete effectively back in the Premiership, granted they get there first. Despite relatively low transfer funds, Neilson has constructed a strong squad by combining existing talent with new inexpensive imports. Working alongside Levein, a true definition of what a Director of Football should be, Neilson brought in ten players in the summer all on free transfers. In came goalkeepers Neil Alexander and Scott Gallacher, defenders Adam Eckersley and Alim Ozturk, midfielders Morgaro Gomis, Miguel Pallardo and Prince Buaben and strikers Osman Sow, James Keatings and Soufian El Hassnaoui to add strength and depth to the current squad. But it was the addition of former PSV and Groningen striker Genero Zeefuik in January 2015 on loan that has added the cutting edge to Hearts recent form. The tall Dutch striker has been in sensational form netting eight times in seven games so far and is loving life in the Scottish capital.

With ten games left to play, including an Edinburgh derby game against Hibs and two matches against Rangers, the title is far from won but Hearts will know that they only need 16 points to make it so. With Hibs 20 points behind and Rangers a further four points adrift (albeit with three games in hand) it would be foolish for anyone to believe that Hearts won’t win the title by a easy canter. If they can continue the momentum they have built in recent weeks, the title could be heading to Tynecastle  Stadium sooner rather than later.

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Is This The Most Exciting Europa League Ever?

Goals galore in this seasons Europa League as teams look to emulate last years winners, Sevilla (Image from Getty)Once considered the poorer little brother to the Champions League, the Europa League appears to be on a quest to show just how good a tournament it can be. With the stakes raised this season (with the winner given an automatic slot in the Champions League), teams appear to be taking the tournament more seriously than ever before with several top sides still in contention. It has been a thrilling tournament to date with a plethora of goals to keep the fans entertaining. After a goal filled group stage (379 goals over 144 games, an average of 2.6 goals per game), the knockout stage had much to live up to and did not disappoint. Russian sides Dinamo Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg and Dnipro join Ajax, Dynamo Kiev, Sevilla and Villarreal in the last 16 after a series of strong performances and once again a barrage of goals. From the 32 matches played, a total of 88 goals were scored or an average of 2.75 goals per game which bodes well for the tournament as it enters the last 16 stage.

British participation however will be limited to only Everton after Liverpool, Tottenham and Celtic all crashed out last night.  Everton will now play Dynamo Kiev after dispatching Young Boys 7-2 on aggregate. It’s not an ideal draw for Roberto Martinez’s team with the first leg due to be played in Kiev in mid march.  Across the city, Steven Gerrard’s dream of leaving Liverpool after lifting the Europa League Cup were dashed after a 1-0 score line after ninety minutes in Turkey against Besiktas sent the game to penalties with defender Dejan Lovren missing the decisive one. Manager Brendan Rodgers defended his team saying that they had played well throughout but in truth Liverpool lacked the cutting edge to make it past an ineffective Besitkas side.  Also poor in front of goal was Tottenham who rested the inform Harry Kane for Sunday’s League Cup Final against Chelsea and replaced him with Roberto Soldado. To say that Soldado has been a flop since his arrival from Valencia two seasons ago is an understatement and after another confidence sapped performance from the once prominent striker, you have to wonder how long he has left at White Hart Lane. Two goals from Mario Gomez and Mohamed Salah were enough for Fiorentina to secure a 3-1 aggregate win over their Premiership competitors.

Fiorentina are joined in the last 16 by four other Italian sides – Rafa Benetiz’s Napoli, Roma, Torino and Celtic slayers Inter Milan. Inter’s nervy 1-0 win at the San Siro proved to be enough after a hard fought game that swung in the Italian side’s favour after the dismissal of Celtic’s influential centre back Virgil van Dijk. Making up the three places are Club Brugge, Besiktas and Wolfsburg, who secured passage through by knocking out Aalborg, Liverpool and Sporting Lisbon respectively. The draw, made earlier today, has thrown up some interesting matches with an all Spanish clash as Villarreal take on Seville and an all Italian clash with Fiorentina taking on Roma. Elsewhere Inter travel to Germany to face Wolfsburg whilst Brugge entertain Besiktas and Ajax make the long trek to Dnipro. Zenit vs. Torino, Napoli vs. Dinamo Moscow and Everton’s trip to Kiev completed the draw with the first leg to be played on March 12th and returns seven days later.

 

The draw for the last 16 has thrown up some interesting clashes  (Image from UEFA)
The draw for the last 16 has thrown up some interesting clashes
(Image from UEFA)

Given that the tournaments highest goal scorers Villarreal (20 so far in the group and knockout stages), Everton (17). Napoli, Wolfsburg, Brugge and Kiev (all 16) are still in contention again bodes well for the fans who are likely to see even more goals. Predicting a winner at this stage is almost impossible with all 16 remaining sides in with a chance. Current holder Sevilla will be hoping to become the most successful team in the competition by winning their fourth title. If they can secure back to back title, they will also become the first team to do so since the tournament was renamed from the UEFA cup to the Europa League. They will face stiff competition with five other former winners still left in the competition.  With the final set to be played in Warsaw on May 27th, the race for Poland is now on and what a race it is set to be.

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How A Dip Could Have Cost Cannavaro Everything?

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There is nothing better on a warm day than going for a dip in a pool. Even better if that pool happens to be in the back yard of your house. However if that house has already been seized by authorities and you have been ordered to stay out then the ramifications of that swim are yours and yours alone to deal with. Unfortunately for former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro, this bizarre scenario is tragically unfolding before his very eyes. The 41 year old has been under investigation in his native Italy for tax evasion with reports suggesting that his wife’s company FD Services which deals with luxury yachts owes over €1m in unpaid corporate, regional and value added tax between 2005 and 2010. In October last year, authorities in Naples seized almost the same amount owed in goods linked to Cannavaro and his wife, Daniela Arenoso and applied a order for the Cannavaro’s to keep out of their property in until further notice.

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Cannavaro fights off Ronaldinho in a match between Juventus and AC Milan (Image from PA)

The couple, along with Fabio’s younger brother Paolo who plays for Serie A side Sassuolo however ignore the order and were caught going for a swim in their pool. The result of this was that World Cup winning Cannavaro has now been sentenced to 10 months in prison, with his wife and brother handed custodial sentences. Appeals for the trio have been started and their sentences suspended until a final judgment can be made. Cannavaro, who current resides in China as manager of Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande, has insisted that he is innocent and will work with his legal team to have the sentenced squashed and his name restored.

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Cannavaro and his wife have both received sentences for the illegal swim (Image from Getty)

In a strange turn of events and according to the investigation led by prosecutor Luigi Cannavale, the villa had been confiscated for suspected abuse of building regulations and for failing to secure the correct planning permission for alterations done to their house, pool and garden. The Cannavaro’s were eventually acquitted of the planning permission allegations but the order still stood to remain out of the property and its grounds due to the ongoing tax evasion investigation. Cannavaro’s lawyer will likely plead miscommunication and understanding about having access to the property as he attempts to get his client’s charges dropped.

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Cannavaro has just recently taken over as manager of Chinese side Guangzhou Evergrande (Image from Getty)

This isn’t the first time that Italian football has been under the spotlight for tax evasion. In 2006, as part of a wider inquiry into potential match fixing of Serie A and Serie B games, several club owners and players including Cannavaro and Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic were investigated for tax infringements and evasion with Juventus chairman Antonio Giraudo eventually sentenced to three years in prison and the club relegated to the second division for match fixing and tax evasion reasons. No charges were ever laid against the two players mentioned above with both cleared of any wrongdoings.

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Antonio Giraudo was handed a spell in prison for his involvement in match fixing and tax fraud (Image from Getty)

Cannavaro had a distingushed playing career for both club and country representing Italy over 113 times and captaining them to sucess at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. The former Parma, Inter, Juventus and Real Madrid centre back is considered one of Italy’s greatest players and was just embarking on a new chapter of his life in management after retiring from playing. He only took over from Marcello Lippi as manager of Guangzhou last month after the former Italy manager retired. But now his future is in doubt thanks to a poor decision to cool off in his pool. It could end up being a costly dip for Cannavaro especially if the conviction is upheld and the World Cup winning captain is force to spend time beind bars.

From World Cup To Oscars As Frank Lebouef Turns To Acting

Leboeuf is moving into acting after retiring from football (Image from PA)Last Sunday’s Oscar ceremony saw British actor Eddie Redmayne pick up the Best Actor award for his portrayal of famed theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in the movie ”The Theory of Everything”. Redmayne’s stunning performance in the film about Hawking’s life, his rise to greatness and his subsequent fight against ALS has won critical claim and also earned the film a nod for best Picture. Despite losing out to Birdman in the end, The Theory of Everything has entertained audiences across the world with some great acting performances including one strangely by a World Cup winning defender.

Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor award for his role in The Theory of Everything  (Image from Getty)
Eddie Redmayne won the Best Actor award for his role in The Theory of Everything
(Image from Getty)

Frank Leboeuf is better known for his playing days as a tough tackling defender for Chelsea, Marseille and France rather than his acting. But after retiring from the game, Leboeuf has returned to his first passion acting and is starting to create new waves with his on screen performances. The 50 time capped French centre back, who helped France win the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championships starred as the Swiss doctor who breaks the news to Hawking’s wife that he may never speak again. Leboeuf is only in the movie for a three minute cameo performance but in doing so became the first World Cup winner to star in an Oscar nominated movie.

Leboeuf certainly isn’t the first former footballer to give acting a try. Fellow Frenchman Eric Cantona has starred in several movies since his retirement in 1997 including roles in Elizabeth and Looking for Eric and has in recently become a stage actor alongside his wife Rachida Brakni. Another striker who had a brief spell in front of the camera was former Rangers manager Ally McCoist who ironically played a fictional legendary Celtic player in the Robert Duvall movie “A Shot to Glory” along with former Celtic midfielder Didier Agathe. The 1981 cult classic “Escape to Victory” about allied prisoners in a German prison camp during the war who organize a match against their Nazi guards, several famous faces from football played key roles. Alongside actors Slyvester Stallone, Micheal Caine and Max von Sydow were the likes of Bobby Moore, Pele, Ossie Ardiles and John Wark. The film received great attention upon its theatrical release due in part to the famous players featured in the movie.

However none of the footballers involved quite managed to break into Hollywood following the film’s success. Indeed only on footballer has managed to do so and remain part of it – former Wimbledon hard man Vinnie Jones. Jones has starred in over 57 movies since he retired from the game in 1999 including blockbusters “Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels”, “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “X-Men: The Last Stand”. Jones has used his hardman image to his benefit securing some leading roles along the way, something that Leboeuf  knows that the path into Hollywood is a rocky one that has been well travelled by many before him that have failed. However starring in an Oscar winning movie, even albeit a small part is a huge step forward for the former defender as he looks to start a new chapter in his life as an actor.

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Mourinho Moaning or Media Manipulation Masterclass?

Moany Mourinho or Masterclass Mourinho? (Image from Getty)Like him or loathe him, Jose Mourinho has a point. After Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Burnley, the Chelsea manager didn’t hold back on his opinions calling out four moments during the game where he felt that his side had decisions given against them by referee Martin Atkinson. Whilst the Portuguese coach bit his tongue in the post match interview for fear of being reprimanded for negative comments against the referee, he did reveal more on the Sky Sports Goals on Sunday programme about his frustration regarding the decisions being made against his team. Of the four incidents he called out, the high challenge by Ashley Barnes on Nemanja Matic in particular irked Mourinho saying that Barnes challenge should have been a red card. As it turned out, it was Matic who was dismissed after he reacted to the challenge by pushing Barnes to the floor. Looking at the footage however, you can understand why Matic reacted like he did as Barnes challenge was high and reckless which could have resulted in a leg break or worse for the Serbian midfielder.

Former Referee chief Keith Hackett has blasted Atkinson for an incompetent officiating performance and it’s hard to argue with him on that. Atkinson did not have his strongest game which could have been down to fatigue given his midweek excursion to Germany for the Champions League clash between Schalke and Real Madrid. Hackett believes that Atkinson should have been given more time to recover and as a result made some strange decisions during what could be for Chelsea an important match.  Like Mourinho, Hackett believes that Atkinson got the Matic decision wrong and that Barnes should have been sent off. In fact Barnes was lucky to even still be on the pitch when the incident happened given that the Burnley striker had been involved in several unsavory clashes during the match. His high challenge on Branislav Ivanovic in the first half could have been a red card but instead Atkinson chose to ignore it and let the game continue.

For Mourinho it is the latest example of how his team is being picked on and how he feels that crucial decisions in matches are going against Chelsea. Despite his side sitting top of the league, he believes the challenge of winning the league has been made harder by an ongoing campaign to undermine him and his team. Whilst few will agree with him on this, there was support given to the notion that Barnes should have walked after the Matic challenge with former Arsenal player Paul Merson saying that Matic’s reaction was natural given the disgraceful manner of the tackle. Former England winger Chris Waddle also called it a terrible tackle and a potential leg breaker saying that there is no place in the game for tackles like that. Chelsea are appealing the decision but Mourinho believes that it’s fruitless as Chelsea has never won an appeal as far as he can remember.

Matic pushes Barnes to the floor after reckless challenge  (Image from Marc Atkins Offside)
Matic pushes Barnes to the floor after reckless challenge
(Image from Marc Atkins Offside)

It’s not been a great week for the south London club who have been dealing with the aftermath of last Tuesday racism storm, where Chelsea fans in Paris travelling to their side’s Champions League clash with PSG racially abused a black Parisian man before preventing him from boarding a train. The incident took the shine off of a solid performance by Chelsea in the Parc des Princes who secured the away goal needed to hand them the advantage for the return leg.  The dropped points in the league however have allowed rivals Manchester City to close the gap at the top to five points after their stunning 5-0 demolition of Newcastle. Mourinho knows that the league is still in his hands and may be using the incidents in the Burnley game to his advantage. After all Mourinho is a king of manipulation and of mass media control often using them to his benefit by taking the pressure away from his team.

Them vs US mentality at Chelsea  (Image from Getty)
Them vs US mentality at Chelsea
(Image from Getty)

The story from Saturday should have been about Chelsea’s inability to find a way past a struggling Burnley side and win the game but instead the focus is switched firmly to the referee and four poor decisions made. It’s a clever tactic by the Portuguese boss who knows better than anyone else how to create a siege like mentality at his club. The us versus them approach worked well in previous campaigns with Chelsea rallying internally against the naysayers who Mourinho painted as being firmly against Chelsea winning the league.  On this occasion with 12 games remaining including crunch games against Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, Mourinho may be looking to gain the upper hand by making the referees more nervous during games they officiate involving Chelsea. Time will tell if he gets his wish and he starts to see those decisions going for rather than against him.

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Understanding The Rangers EGM

Who will control Rangers after the EGM? (Image from PA)In two weeks’ time, the board of Rangers International Football Club (RIFC) are obliged to hold an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) for the company’s shareholders. After two London hotels withdrew from staging the event, it will be convened at Ibrox, the team’s home and the venue for the previous two annual general meetings. It will probably be a short meeting, since there are only seven resolutions to be read out and voted on, and no opening or closing addresses. It is, though, the culmination in a long battle for control of the club.

Dave King is desperate to wrestle control of Rangers back to him  (Image from PA)
Dave King is desperate to wrestle control of Rangers back to him
(Image from PA)

What is the EGM about?

In its broadest sense, the future of Rangers; but in pragmatic terms, control of the board. The EGM has been called by Dave King, the former Rangers director who owns 14.5% of RIFC. He has raised seven resolutions: the removal of all four current directors – chairman David Somers, chief executive Derek Llambias, finance director Barry Leach, and James Easdale – and the appointments of King, Paul Murray and John Gilligan. As far as the bigger picture is concerned, this can be framed as Mike Ashley versus ‘the rest’. The former is the majority shareholder of Sports Direct and Newcastle United, and his MASH company owns an 8.92% stake in RIFC. King is at the head of the latter, but he has clear and unambiguous support from fellow Rangers-supporting shareholders, ranging from ordinary fans with small holdings to Douglas Park, George Letham and George Taylor, who between them own 20% of the RIFC shares.

Who are the key parties?

Ashley looms over the current regime. He wanted to increase his stake, in underwriting a share issue, but the Scottish Football Association paid heed to the spirit of their dual ownership guidelines and denied him permission. Sports Direct have a joint retail agreement with Rangers and have lent RIFC £5m, secured against various assets, with a second tranche of £5m available to be drawn down. As part of this agreement, Sports Direct are entitled to appoint two directors until the loan has been repaid, but no new directors have been appointed. Llambias is the former managing director of Newcastle United and when he was appointed as a non-executive director, the Stock Exchange was informed by the club that this was on behalf of MASH. Leach left his executive role at Sports Direct to take up the position at Ibrox. Sandy Easdale is also part of this group, having supported the board appointments through his brother, James. Sandy Easdale owns 6.45% of RIFC and holds proxy votes for a further 19.67%, which includes the shares held by Blue Pitch and Margarita Holdings.

Somers and Llambias are looking to stay on the board after the EGM (Image from SNS Group)
Somers and Llambias are looking to stay on the board after the EGM (Image from SNS Group)

King was born and raised in Castlemilk before moving to South Africa early in his working life. He was a director of Rangers under Sir David Murray and then Craig Whyte, with his position on the board under the latter one of two issues that he faces in terms of ‘fit and proper person’ criteria. After an 11-year battle with the South African Revenue Services, King was convicted of 41 breaches of the Income Tax Act – paying a cumulative fine of around £186,000 – and a tax bill of more than £40m. King has said that he has a company lined up to act as the nominated advisor of RIFC – which manages the company’s listing on the Alternative Investment Market – that will approve his appointment as a director. He would then need to seek the approval of the SFA’s professional game board, having been on the board under Whyte when Rangers Football Club plc was put into administration, and due to his breaches of the Income Tax Act.

Root Cause Of The Recent Problems - Disgraced Former Owner Craig Whyte  (Image from Getty)
Root Cause Of The Recent Problems – Disgraced Former Owner Craig Whyte
(Image from Getty)

Paul Murray is also a former director of Rangers, and faces the same issue with the SFA having been on the board under Whyte, albeit he was sacked by the former owner before RFC plc entered administration and had previously been very vocal about Whyte’s unsuitability as an owner. A private equity investor, Murray has campaigned for proper corporate governance at Ibrox, becoming a thorn in the side of Charles Green and others who have passed through the boardroom in the past three years. Gilligan is the former managing director of Tennents Caledonian Breweries and a former vice-chair of the Rangers Supporters Trust (RST). There is a further block of powerful shareholders in Park, Letham and Taylor. The three offered to provide equity finance to RIFC earlier this year, but the board chose instead to take a loan from Sports Direct. All three want to invest in the club, and will vote for King’s resolutions. They have yet to respond to comments to the Rangers Fans Board by Leach, that were noted in minutes and released online, in which he said – in very uncomplimentary language – that they had been terrified when they thought their offer would be accepted. Later, Rangers said: “These minutes have not been seen or approved by the board. We are very disappointed by the behaviour of the existing fans’ board”.

How do the votes stack up?

Votes are currently being cast by post or by proxy, but informed estimations can be made. King is adamant that he will win, and has the backing of his own 14.5%, the 19.49% held by Park, Letham and Taylor, River & Mercantile’s 5.7%, Rangers First’s 1.75%, Rangers Supporters Trust’s 1.56%, Kieron Prior’s 1.35%, Ally McCoist’s 1.34%, Felix Magath’s 0.99%, Graeme Henderson’s 0.72%, Malcolm Murray’s 0.25% and Walter Smith’s 0.09%. That gives King a starting point of 47.74%.

Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has a share in Rangers  (Image from Getty)
Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has a share in Rangers
(Image from Getty)

The board can count on MASH’s 8.92%, Sandy Easdale’s 6.45%, Blue Pitch Holding’s 4.91%, Margarita Funds Holding’s 3.19%, James Easdale’s 0.7%, David Somers’ 0.08%, and the remainder of Sandy Easdale’s proxy, 11.57%. That gives the board a starting point of 35.74%.

The floating voters?

The remainder of the shares – 16.52% – are held by a smattering of small investors and individual fan shareholders. The latter are thought to hold around 10%, and many have been motivated to vote in advance by the board’s attempts to hold the EGM in London. The RST, in particular, and Rangers First have been gathering proxy votes and will cast them ahead of the EGM. Given the amount of proxies lodged so far, those votes alone could see King have the backing of more than 50% of shareholders, and a straight majority is all that is required for resolutions to be passed. It is conceivable that the board will be informed ahead of the EGM that King’s resolutions have the required support, prompting them to appoint the three and then resign.

What happens after the EGM?

Whichever side wins, there are clear and critical issues to address. The first is finance, since the Sports Direct loan is short-term and the club needs rebuilding from top to bottom. It is also conceivable that the second £5m tranche from Sports Direct will be drawn down before the EGM, with additional securities. If King wins he will not seek the second tranche of finance. He will refinance himself and with the support of Rangers-fan investors.  The performance of the team also needs to be addressed, since Rangers’ only likely route to the Scottish Premiership is now via the play-offs, and performances have sagged during the recent political strife.

Note to reader: This is a repost of BBC Scotland article written by Richard Wilson and the BBC. Full credit is given to him. Images have been added by BOTN and are credited as such

To view the original article, click here: http://www.bbc.com/sport/0/football/31524925

Yet Another Black Mark In The Fight Against Racism In Football

Chelsea have been caught up in yet another racism incident (Image from Getty)Yesterday’s showcase game in Paris between hosts Paris Saint Germain and Chelsea should have been the poster boy for this round of the Champions League but instead the actions of a few travelling Blues supporters tarnished the night and with it Chelsea’s reputation. Reports coming out of Paris suggest that an incident happened on the Paris underground system between a group of rowdy Chelsea fans and a black Parisian man with the fans refusing him entry onto the train they were travelling on. To make matters worse, they then racially abused the man before shoving him back onto the platform. Footage of the event has emerged as a bystander Paul Nolan who shocked at what he was hearing and seeing pulled out his phone and recorded it. Chats of “We are Chelsea, We are racist and that’s the way we like it” can be heard clearly on the video. Nolan described the scene as  “ugly” and “very aggressive” also alluded to chants made by the Chelsea supporters on the train about World War Two and other grotesque topics. One fan has been quick to try to defend his fellow supporters suggesting they was simply no room on the train for the black Parisian man and the chants were coincidental and about John Terry not the man himself. Given the footage and the aggressive nature of how the fans acted towards the man in question, it hardly seems to be a misunderstanding as suggested by the fan.

Chelsea, the English FA, UEFA and FIFA have all come out united in their disgusted at what happened with the club in particular annoyed stating that racism plays no part at their club or in football in general and that they will assist the Metropolitan police in bringing those responsible to justice.  FIFA president Sepp Blatter took to twitter last night to condemn the actions of the fans stating simply “There is no place for racism in football”.  Both FIFA and UEFA are unable to enforce action onto Chelsea as the incident took place away from the stadium outside of their remit but have supported the club in their involvement with the police in tracking down the individuals responsible and handing down whatever punishment is needed.

 

Blatter is vocal about his opinions but FIFA has failed to act in recent years  (Image from Twitter - Sepp Blatter)
Blatter is vocal about his opinions but FIFA has failed to act in recent years
(Image from Twitter – Sepp Blatter)

FIFA and UEFA however will likely punish Chelsea after additional reports surfaced of crowd trouble at the stadium before the game that was so severe that French police were forced to use teargas to bring the situation into order. This is not the first time that an English club has clashed with French police with Everton fans involved only months ago in an altercation in the run up to their Europa league game against Ligue 1 side Lille. These two incidents come at a time where the fight against racism in football appears to be a losing battle with a return to the darker ages becoming a more realistic reality. The increase in racist and homophobic chants inside English stadiums as well as in other countries like Russia, Greece and Italy are in stark contrast to the messages surfacing from UEFA and FIFA that their campaign to say No to Racism is gaining valuable ground. In fact the opposite is true with the ten year fight now losing its impotence. Each anti racism message read out at football stadiums across Europe before the start of games is simply ignored or dismissed. UEFA’s campaign has gone stagnant and its failure to hand down severe penalties to players like Luis Suarez and Chelsea captain John Terry (who was caught on film racially abusing a fellow player, Anton Ferdinand) does little to help their cause. Swift reform and harsher punishments are needed. UEFA will ban a club from European competition for overspending but it refuses to hand down similar punishments for racist or homophobic acts by clubs fans, players or officials. Where is the logic in that?

Racism has long been a problem in football and not something that will be solved any time soon. Whilst UEFA can be commended for tackling the issue head on some ten years ago, they now need to desperately breathe new life into it before it spirals further out of control. As for Chelsea, who take a small advantage back to Stamford Bridge for the return leg thanks to a hard fought 1-1 draw,  action will need to be taken to address not only this story but a growing concern at the club that a racist element is resurfacing. John Terry’s actions and lack of punishment have not helped the situation but it is hard to point the finger fully at that given the amount of time that has now passed. But for a club that has its fair share of black players in its first team including the legendary figure of Didier Drogba, it must take a stance to eradicate this element before it grows and festers into something more sinister. How Drogba himself feels about the incident in Paris is unknown but it would be surprising if he was anything but appalled by what he saw from the fans who he has given his all for over the last ten years.  Chelsea may claim that this group of individuals is only a small minority and that a vast majority of the Chelsea support is against racism but until they can prove it and finally stamp it out of their club, few will believe them.

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Lookback Series – When Steaua Bucharest Ruled Europe

Champions of Europe 1986 - Steaua Bucharest (Image from Getty)May 7th 1986 is a date engrained into the memories of one particular set of fans. On a warm May evening in Seville, Romanian side Steaua Bucharest etched their names into the history books by becoming Eastern Europe’s first ever European champions. In a thrilling final against the mighty Barcelona managed by Englishman Terry Venables, Steaua upset the odds to lift the European Cup high into the air and earn their way into football folklore.  Even now 30 years on, only Serbian side Red Star Belgrade in 1991 has been able to take the title back to Eastern Europe and give that region something to cheer about. It was a fantastic achievement for Steaua, one that would be hard to replicate now given the changes to the tournament and the growing financial disparity between the top five European leagues and the rest but one none the less that will not be forgotten.

Against all odds, Steaua beat Barcelona in the final  (Image from Getty)
Against all odds, Steaua beat Barcelona in the final
(Image from Getty)

Before the tournament changed to its current iteration – The Champions League, the European Cup was much more open with 32 teams competing over five rounds to see who would be crowned kings of Europe. It was a sombre start to the 1985-1986 tournament after the tragic scenes at the 1985 final in Brussels where 39 people were killed and 600 were injured after fans of Liverpool and Juventus clashed in the stands. As a result no English clubs were allowed to take part in the 1986 tournament as way of punishment but Juventus, as holders would take part as they were deemed to be the victim in this incident with most of the dead being from their fan base.  Along with Juventus, there were other European greats like Bayern Munich, Ajax, Anderlecht and of course Barcelona but the 32 also had some smaller teams who have since fallen by the wayside. Teams like Dynamo Berlin, Budapest Honved, Finnish side FC Kuusysi and Gothenburg have all struggled in their respective leagues with most falling to get back into Europe for some time now.

The deaths at the Heysel Stadium rocked football  (Image from Getty)
The deaths at the Heysel Stadium rocked football
(Image from Getty)

Steaua’s run to the final began with a first round ties against Danish champions Vejle Boldklub. After being held in Denmark in the first leg by a score of 1-1, Steaua welcomed Vejle to Bucharest two weeks later and showed them little mercy eventually thrashing Vejle 4-1 and 5-2 on aggregate. Up next was a formidable opponent in Hungarian side Budapest Honved. The Hungarian champions were going through a second golden age that saw them secure seven titles in thirteen glory filled years during the 80’s and early 90’s, featuring stars like Lajos Detari and Kalman Kovacs. Indeed it would be Detari who would scare Steaua in the first leg, snatching a 1-0 win in Budapest to set up a nerve jangling second leg back in Romania. But Steaua who had some star players of their own, namely Marius Lacatus, Victor Piturca and Helmut Duckadam would turn on the style once more at home and would surge into a four goal lead before Detari could find the net with what in the end turned out to be a mere consolation goal.  Into the quarter finals marched Steaua and at last some luck as they avoided more troublesome sides like Aberdeen, Juventus and Bayern by pulling FC Kuusysi out of the hat. However it wouldn’t be as easy as expected with Steaua only just managing to claw its way into the semi finals thanks to a solitary goal by Piturca in the second leg.  That strike was enough to set up a semi final against Belgian side Anderlecht and hand Steaua the realization that they were only 180 minutes away from their first European final.

Much like their run to the semis, Steaua started slowly losing the first leg 1-0 thanks to a goal from the legendary Enzo Scifo. With everything to play for Steaua appeared to step up a gear once again at home and thrashed their opponents by 3-0 in a stunning comeback. Steaua were Seville bound with only Barcelona now standing between them and glory. The final itself was a stunning affair with 70,000 fans packed into the Estadio Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán. Barcelona as strong favourites blew out of the blocks early but were unable to find a way past the sensational Duckadam in goal. The Romanian made multiple saves to keep his side in the match as the game stretched past the regular ninety minutes and deep into extra time. Despite chances for both teams, neither could find the breakthroughs which eventually lead to one of the most extraordinary penalty shoot out of all time.

Steaua would take the first penalty with midfielder Mihail Majearu to take it but he could not beat Urruti in the Barcelona goal from twelve yards. Barca captain Jose Ramon Alexanko stepped up next but he too found difficulty in scoring with Duckadam saving well to his right. The next two penalties by Steaua’s Laszlo Boloni and Barcelona’s Angel Pedraza would be saved by the respective goalkeepers meaning that the pressure was then on Lacatus to give Steaua the advantage. He did so with a thumping penalty high into the net that Urruti had no chance in stopping. When Duckadam saved Barcelona’s fourth penalty, Steaua knew that is Gavril Balint could convert his, they would be champions. He did so in emphatic fashion, sparking delirious scenes amongst the Steaua players and their travelling fans. Steaua Bucharest had made history, becoming Eastern Europe’s first team to lift the European Cup. That team is still remembered to this day as many wonder how long it will be before we see such an upset like this again on Europe’s biggest club stage.

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Nothing Fair About UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rule

Masterstroke or Mistake - Platini (Image from Getty)The inclusion of the word “fair” in UEFA financial fair play rules is somewhat ironic given that its intended purpose will be anything but fair. Introduced by UEFA president Michel Platini as his masterstroke idea of how to curb exuberant spending by clubs across Europe, its objective is to limit the spending capacity of clubs to their net gains. By net gains what we mean is the difference between what they spend each year in transfers and employee wages vs. what they make back from gate receipts, TV revenue, advertising, merchandising, sales of players and prize money. With a host of clubs now bankrolled by wealthy investors and owners, Platini is keen to stamp out overspending before it damages football in Europe beyond repair. But will the rules really prevent clubs from spending beyond their means or will it simply drive clubs to be more deceitful about its practices and how it generates revenue?

UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rule is designed to make things fairer but will it?  (Image from Photos8.com)
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rule is designed to make things fairer but will it?
(Image from Photos8.com)

Breaking it down, it comes down to profit vs. loss and the difference between them. So if a club’s overall running costs (not including infrastructure, training facilities or youth development which is not factored in) are $2million per year whilst they make $6m, they are allowed to spend $4m in that year (give or take a 5% grace window). In theory the rule is sound and restricts clubs from spending astronomical amounts to bring in top talent, and widening the gap between those that have and those that have not. However in practice the rule is flawed and like most things full of grey holes and loopholes. For instance UEFA’s terminology for what they consider acceptable sources of revenue are questionable and without limitations. Advertising revenues generated mostly by corporate sponsorships are  an area that should be built within barriers but none exist to date which will lead to inside deals and US style advertising. Currently there is nothing to stop a club structuring a multimillion pound sponsorship around something as non essential as a training ground or their corner flags. Whilst the latter is idiotic (at the moment) the former is already been explored by clubs desperate to retain their financial clout and advantage. Barcelona recently announced a $25million deal with Intel, for a shirt sponsorship that would be inside the player’s shirts. The deal itself caught the headlines but for the wrong reasons as many looked at it as a unique and quirky ad campaign by Intel. A closer look exposes a potential risk of clubs having more than one shirt sponsor (similar to Formula one) with each piece of the shirt classified as advertising space. Multiple shirt sponsors mean that rule will be exploited as clubs rake in the cash.  If expenses total $2million but revenues, including such sponsorships equal $50m, surely that defeats the purpose of this rule?

Is the Intel deal a sign of things to come?  (Image from AFP)
Is the Intel deal a sign of things to come?
(Image from AFP)

In addition, TV revenues are factored into the profit margin which presents a further problem. The top five leagues in Europe have never been as popular on a global scale as they are right now on. Interest in the leagues continues to surge and as a result so do the various TV deals attached to it. BSkyB, BT, NBC and Al Jazeera have paid billions of dollars between them for the exclusive rights to showcase these leagues, with the money trickling back down eventually to the clubs. However in most Leagues the allocations of TV revenues are not shared evenly but instead the top clubs profit more than the rest. In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid command the lion share of this allocation with the rest in La Liga getting a small fraction of the remainder. In the Premiership, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City all received bumper payouts last season based on their top half finish but all have wealthy owners backing them. It’s a similar story when talking about gate receipts and the ability to strike multimillion dollar deals. The top clubs can play host to larger crowds due to larger stadiums which in turn entices companies to invest in association advertising.  Barcelona’s deal with Intel is a good example as Intel see the value in working with the Catalan giants and their extended global reach. A deal with fellow La Liga teams Elche or Almeria would never have been structured by Intel as the value exchange does not exist. In essence the rich are getting richer whilst the poorer clubs struggle to compete. The gap will only widen unless clubs in the lower half of the divisions can compete but in order to do so, they need better players which cost more than they can afford.

NBC has invested heavily in US TV Premiership rights (Image from NBC)
NBC has invested heavily in US TV Premiership rights (Image from NBC)

These are just a few of the loopholes and grey areas within the Financial Fair Play rules but there are many more including 3rd party ownership of players (clubs only pay a fraction of a players wage, whilst an outside corporation picks up the remainder), multiple club ownership outside of Europe (Manchester City’s owners have acquired teams in USA, Mexico and Australia with a view to setting up a network that will see player and financial exchanges outside of these guidelines), varied country specific economical situations(some countries will have higher wage bills due to higher tax rates like France) and charity payments (not included in the calculation by UEFA but questions are being raised over using charities to invest in a clubs development). All in all the Fair play rules, set to begin in full next season, with clubs that fail to adhere to the new rules punished either in the form of a fine, deduction of points or exclusion from European competition.

Manchester City's owners expand their reach across the world  (Image from Getty)
Manchester City’s owners expand their reach across the world
(Image from Getty)

Clubs like Russsian side Anzhi Makhachkala are taking the new rules seriously and have made drastic cuts to their playing staff in order to fall in line with the new rules. Bankrolled by billionaire Suleyman Kerimov since 2011, Anzhi had grand ambitions to dominate European football and with Kerimov’s wealth in support embarked on a spending spree like no other, tempted some of football’s biggest players into moves to the Russian wilderness. Samuel Eto’o, Roberto Carlos, Willian and Christopher Samba were paid astronomical wages by Anzhi as they looked to exploit the system and buy success. But the club has now cut its cloth accordingly, selling most of its star players and started to live within its means. Kerimov is an example of what Platini calls “fat cat owners” and the reason behind the introduction of this new rule but will others follow suit or will they instead look for ways to exploit the system and continue to operate as they have done over the past decade? Share your thoughts now on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Like Father Like Son As Brooklyn Beckham Starts His Football Career

Brooklyn follows David into professional football (Image from Getty)It should come as no surprise that the offspring of David Beckham have decided to pursue football careers with his oldest son Brooklyn becoming the first to gain a contract. The 15 year old winger has signed a short term deal with Arsenal with a view to impressing enough to have it converted into a full time professional contract when he turns 17. Brooklyn’s decision to join Arsenal over rivals Chelsea and Beckham’s old club Manchester United may have come as a surprise to a few however the north London club have been actively involved in nurturing all of Beckham’s kids during the early stages of their careers with his younger sons, Romeo and Cruz also at the club in their youth ranks. Arsenal have been unable to comment about Brooklyn’s signing due to his age but sources close to the club are optimistic about his future and have already hinted at similarities in style between Brooklyn and his father, David.

New Football Dynasty - David Beckham with sons Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz  (Image from AP)
New Football Dynasty – David Beckham with sons Brooklyn, Romeo and Cruz
(Image from AP)

Brooklyn is hardly the first son of a famous footballer to follow his father into the game. The history books are littered with examples of prodigal sons trying to make their mark however in a vast majority of cases it doesn’t make for great reading with few managing to emulate what their parent achieved. Take for example Jordi Cruyff, the son of legendary Dutch midfielder Yohan who failed to live up to the hype created by his maestro father’s career. Stints at Barcelona and Manchester United did little to help Cruyff’s career with too high expectations placed on him higher solely due to his name. He was expected to be as good as his father but in truth the pressure of reaching the same level as Yohan was far too great for the talented Jordi to ever suceed. It was a similar story for Paul Dalglish who after struggling to make the grade in the Premiership eventually becoming somewhat of a journeyman with stints in Scotland, Northern Ireland and the US before ending his career in 2008. Being the son of Liverpool and Scotland legend Kenny was never easy for Paul who was touted for great things even before he had kicked a ball in earnest. Similarly the sons of Danish legends Michael and Brian Laudrup have yet to achieve the dizzy heights that their fathers respectively reached. Michael’s sons Andreas and Mads and their cousin Nicolai are all professional footballers in their own right but failed to make the grade and are now cutting their trades in the Danish league without making too many ripples.

Father and Son - Yohan and Jordi Cruyff  (Image from AFP/Getty)
Father and Son – Yohan and Jordi Cruyff
(Image from AFP/Getty)

That said, there are a few examples of son’s becoming greater than their fathers. Paolo Maldini is one such example of a success story. His father Cesare was a good player in his day but never really caught the imagination like his son did. Over a career spanning nearly 25 years, Paolo became one of the best defenders in the world and is now classified as an icon at his one and only club, AC Milan so much so that when he announced his retirement in 2009; Milan decided to retire his number 3 jersey in honour of all of Paolo’s achievements. Similarly few England fans these days remember Frank Lampard Snr contribution to the beautiful game but his son Frank Jnr is remembered and is viewed as one of the best midfielders England has ever produced. A born winner, Frank has had a glittering career that continues to this day and with over 106 appearances for his country is the sixth most capped player for England in history.

Legend in his own right - Paolo Maldini  (Image from Getty)
Legend in his own right – Paolo Maldini
(Image from Getty)

Predicting how Brooklyn will fare in his career is almost impossible but England fans will be hoping that he can repeat what his father did and become an England legend in his own right. His journey will be long, full of twists and turns along the way but it won’t be one that he will make alone. Brooklyn is part of the next generation of footballing sons who are about to break through. The kids of Paolo Maldini (Christian and Daniel), Zinedine Zidane (Enzo, Luca and Theo), Edwin Van Der Sar (Joe), Didier Drogba (Isaac) and even Brazilian great Pele (Joshua) have now reached that age where speculation over what they can do has now started. The pressure piled upon these youngsters will be great with some failing to make the grade. However with their parents supporting them all the way, encouraging their development and coaching them on how to handle such pressure these kids will have a better chance than many to succeed much like their fathers did before them.

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Lambert Out As Villa Slide Closer To Relegation

Lambert Out As Villa Look To Rescue Their Season (Image from getty)After months of protests, Aston Villa fans finally got their wish yesterday with the sacking of manager Paul Lambert. The Scot, who has managed Villa since 2012 leaves the club languishing in the relegation zone of the English Premiership with only 13 games left. It has been torrid season for Villa despite a positive start which saw them pick up ten points from a possible twelve in their opening four games. Why the wheels so spectacularly fell off so early on in the season is hard to say but the stats for their season so far hardly make for pleasant readings for the Villa faithful. 5 wins, 7 draws and 13 defeats highlight some of the problems but the most obvious one is the lack of goals scored. In 25 games, Aston Villa has only scored 12 times. That’s eight goals shy of Derby’s 2007-2008 record season low total of 20. Based on their current goal scoring form, Villa are on track to take that unwanted record away from Derby and finish on 18 goals. More importantly, failure to improve on their ability to hit the back of the net will result in relegation and an end to Villa’s Premiership legacy.

So what has gone so wrong? Many will blame the early influence of Roy Keane who spent the first half of the season as Lambert’s assistant manager. His explosive temperament eventually led to a breakdown in the dressing room and his subsequent departure at the end of November but by then the damage had been done. Although Villa did rally in the two games following Keane’s exit, it wasn’t long before they returned to losing ways.  Injuries to key players like Christian Benteke have not helped Lambert in his quest to turn around the clubs fortunes. The Belgian has spent most of the season on the treatment table and has only recently returned although his goals have not. This has been the fundamental problem for Villa and something that Lambert is guilty in failing to properly address.

Benteke's injury problems have not helped the cause  (Image from AFP)
Benteke’s injury problems have not helped the cause
(Image from AFP)

Goals win games and Villa’s return of 12 so far is abysmal. Whilst the focus of much of the criticism has been placed on the shot shy strikers who have only contributed eight goals in total, the real issue is the lack of goals from midfield with only Joe Cole registering a single goal this season. It says a lot when the defence has scored more goals than your midfield all season. In truth, Villa’s midfield has simply not been in the position to score goals due to Lamberts keen use of a narrowing 4-3-3 formation. Against sides that traditionally play through the wings, Villa have failed to match them in the centre of the park which has on more than a few occasions led to defeats. Added into this Lamberts decisions around squad management have been called into question after some very strange moves. In the transfer market, Lambert had money to spend despite Lerner’s ambitions to sell the club. At total of six players (four midfielders and two defenders) arrived at the club for just over £10million but strangely he allowed two strikers (Darren Bent and Nickolas Helenuis) to leave on loan deals. Given that Villa’s goal issue existed last season, it would appear to be a very unusual decision not to strengthen that department. Lambert’s issues with Bent are well documented with the forward spending much of this season and last on the Villa fringes. Helenius, a £1.2m signing last summer from Danish side Aalborg arrived with a pedigree for scoring goals but has been quickly shipped back out on loan for this season.  Whether either could have fixed Villa’s goal scoring problem is unknown but Lambert’s reluctance to give either a shot at it could have ultimately led to his downfall.

Randy Lerner is keen to sell the club but not for cheap  (Image from Getty)
Randy Lerner is keen to sell the club but not for cheap
(Image from Getty)

Villa need to find a new manager and quickly if they are to avoid relegation. The breakdown in talks between Tim Sherwood and QPR could present an opportunity for Aston Villa with the former Tottenham boss keen to get back into management. Hiring a manager who is currently unattached is the most likely option given that owner Randy Lerner is proactively trying not to spend any more money that he needs to as he looks to sell the club. However a small investment now in the proper manager could save the club from relegation and with it keep the valuation of the club at a level that Lerner is happy with. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley found out the hard way when his side was relegated in 2008. Keen to sell, his then Championship side was valued considerably lower to potential suitors than Ashley would have liked. He held on to the club after several failed bids were submitted and has taken them back into the Premiership and back to a valuation more in line with his thinking. Villa’s American owner Randy Lerner does not want to stay much longer at the club and will realize that his chances of a sale are much stronger if the club he has is a Premiership one. He will need to think carefully about who replaces Lambert as the wrong choice could be disastrous for one of England most famous clubs.

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A Sideways Look At Football/Soccer Across The World

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