The revamp of Newcastle United under new boss Steve McLaren continued this week with his third signing of the window so far, defender Chancel Mbemba from Anderlecht. The Democratic Republic of Congo full back has arrived at the club for a fee of £8.5million and should go into Newcastle’s starting line up for next Sunday’s season opener against Southampton along with fellow newcomers Georginio Wijnaldum and Aleksandar Mitrovic. Mbemba is a powerful full back with good pace and a strong reading of the game who should add some bite to the Newcastle back line. Having played 36 times for Anderlecht last year including their six Champions League matches, Mbemba appears comfortable at the highest level and is being heralded as a coup by Newcastle who have stolen a player with the best years of his career ahead of him.
But how many years exactly has become an interesting side point and distraction in this transfer. The uncertainty over how old Mbemba actually is has plagued the player since he moved to Europe three years ago. The issue is that in Congo birth certificates and record keeping are rare so Mbemba’s exact year of birth is unknown. What is certain is that he arrived into the world on August 8th but of what year? The players first two clubs registered his birth year as 1988, making him 26 today however his country submitted 1991 as his year of birth when registering him for the African Cup of Nations. That would make him 23. Then when Mbemba moved to Europe to sign for Belgian side Anderlecht they registered his birth year as 1994 making him 20. The player himself has been reported to believe that his birth year was 1990 making him 24 today.
Where the truth falls in this story is unknown but FIFA has now launched a formal investigation to get to the bottom of it once and for all. It is suspected that the date given by the DR Congo national team was fabricated to allow Mbemba to take part in the 2012 Olympics games, a tournament he would have been illegible for if he was indeed born in 1988. By bring the clock forward, a move done by several African nations, he would be able to compete and would hand Congo an advantage against its competitors given Mbemba’s then size and strength. The birth dates given by Mbemba to his first clubs are likely to be incorrect as well due to poor medical/birth records or simply down to the players desire to play professionally for as long as possible. Many players in Africa see a career as a footballer as an escape from their current lives and a way to help their families. Adjusting their year of birth as they move around allows them to prolong their careers further and generate more money to send home. Mbemba is not the first nor will be the last player from Africa to have their age questions. Stars like Taribo West, Nwankwo Kanu and even former Newcastle striker Obafemi Martins have been questioned about their real age given that they appeared to have played at the highest level from a very young age.
To Newcastle and their fans, they care little about how old Mbemba is. Whether he is 20 or 24 makes little difference to Steve McLaren who sees the player as someone who will become an instant hit with the fans and will help Newcastle to progress on the pitch. Mbemba himself seems unmoved by the ongoing speculation around his year of birth and in fact has become accustom to having his teammates tease him on the issue. His international colleagues ritually poke fun at his ever-moving birthday but all agree that he has the potential to go all the way in the game. He has raised comparisons between himself and Manchester City defender Vincent Kompany back in Belgium and its hard to argue with. Both are powerful yet skillful defenders who can read the game brilliantly. Mbemba will now have the chance to show what he can do in England’s top league and whether he can replicate Kompany’s success and become one of Europe’s best defenders.
When Didier Drogba rejoined Chelsea at the start of last season, many believed it would be his last move with the Ivorian striker now in the latter stages of his career. It seemed to be the perfect end to Drogba’s football story, reuniting with the manager who had put him on the map on a global scale. At Chelsea under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, Drogba became a legend vindicated in 2012 when a fans poll voted him the greatest Chelsea player ever. That was at the end of his original eight year stay where he scored 100 goals in 226 games, making him the club’s fourth highest goal scorer of all time behind Frank Lampard, Bobby Tambling and Kerry Dixon. Subsequent moves to Shanghai and Galatasaray proved successful but Drogba’s heart remained in London and he secretly pined for a return. So when Jose came calling late last summer, Drogba wasted little time in resigning for the club.
The move revitalized Drogba despite the fact that he played a more marginal role than before in his previous spell as Chelsea ran in as English Champions. Knowing he still had something to give and with Mourinho’s blessing, Drogba decided to leave Chelsea again in search of one final swan song. Many anticipated a move back to France with former club Marseille expressing timid interest.But the pull of the ever improving MLS and a chance to sign for Montreal Impact was too interesting to turn down. So Drogba flew to the french speaking Canadian province of Quebec to sign for Montreal in a 18 month deal. Drogba will fill one of Montreal’s three designated player spots on their roster alongside Argentine Ignacio Piatti and one other player still to be named. With the MLS season already underway, Montreal find themselves in sixth place in the Eastern Conference on 24 points in what is quickly becoming a difficult and competitive division. Despite being arguably one of the weakest teams in the conference, Montreal are doing ok but have lost too many games away from home to be considered contenders. Drogba should offer Montreal a new threat upfront as a proven goalscorer both for club and country.
His move comes on the back of several other high-profile players joining the league. In the same division as Montreal, newcomers Orlando and New York have been the most active with the Florida side signing Kaka whilst New York snapped up Frank Lampard, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo. Big spending Toronto have continued to invest in their squad, letting Jermanie Defoe leave with Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco joining as replacements in a move that has helped to balance Toronto’s team. Chicago added Scotland star Shaun Maloney in the close season but despite good form for his country he has failed to reignite Chicago’s fire. Elsewhere Steven Gerrard joined Robbie Keane at Los Angeles Galaxy to continue their run of hiring former England captains whilst FC Dallas chose to look to Mexico with their loan signing of Erick Torres. The addition of these players plus the influx of returning US internationals from Europe has increased the competitiveness of the league overall and with it improved its viewership on a global scale. Drogba’s arrival will help this further given his draw in Africa and in particular at home in the Ivory Coast. Whether he can have the same impact on Montreal though is to be seen.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In France’s darkest hours during the Second World War, the French looked around desperately for a figure who could stand for them and lead their fight against the invading Nazi Germany. In Charles De Gaulle they found that leader who formed the Free French Forces that would fight back against their occupiers. De Gaulee was pragmatic figure forthright with his opinions and an inspired leader whose efforts during that time went along way towards the allies eventually winning the war. Now 70 years later, another Frenchman is stepping up to the plate as the voice of the people, not to stop a war but to restore pride and honour to football’s governing body FIFA. This week, UEFA president Michel Platini will step into the FIFA presidential race much to the delight of many in the game. Like De Gaulle, Platini does not mince his words and has been vocal about his distaste for the current regime and how it has been operated.
As a legend in the game as a player, Platini has used his reputation wisely post retirement to cement himself into the running of football first in his native France then later at UEFA. His rapid ascent through the football ranks to become UEFA president would not have been possible if he hadn’t established a pedigree on the pitch. Quite simply he would have not have had a seat at the table without it, a fact that Platini is keenly aware of. However Platini the player has now progressed into Platini the politician – a suave, calculated operator who leverages his knowledge of the game and his ideas by encasing them in his rich Gallic charm. But unlike a politician, Platini can separate his opinion from that of the organization allowing him to rock the apple cart without letting one fall from it. When the Swiss authorities arrested several key FIFA delegates at the Baur au Lac hotel in Zurich in May, many in opposition to Sepp Blatter’s reign took it as an opportunity to slam his running of FIFA publically to any media outlet nearby. But Platini took a different route by going to meet with Blatter one on one and pleading with his friend to step down. Blatter rejected the idea claiming it was too late to do so but days later recanted and did indeed resigned.
Despite their differences, Blatter and Platini are friends, aligned closely due to shared interests. That said, Platini has told the FIFA president in no uncertain terms that what has happened under his watch is simply unacceptable and that his reputation within the game lies in tatters. Blatter will depart form FIFA next February by which time Platini should be the clear favourite to replace him. He may have delayed his announcement to run for as long as possible but his intent was always there. Gaining the support of the majority of the six confederations was important to avoid ending the election with egg on his face. With four now secure including Africa and Asia, Platini has time to win over the remaining two, one of which should be incredibly easy given that he is their current sitting president. Abandoning that position may be viewed as detrimental to UEFA SO Platini will look to lock in his successor if not formally but at least in principle. Current vice president Michael van Praag, UEFA executive David Gill and the inexperienced Portuguese legend Luis Figo should all be front-runners, each offering something different to a Platini run FIFA.
In the next few months, Platini will make his case for reform at FIFA. His manifesto will be etched onto a chalkboard not stone to allow for greater flexibility and fluidity than the current regime offers. Matters concerning the restructuring of FIFA, the purifying of its members and the unravelling of key decisions such as the World Cup award to Qatar will be crucial sections that will be scrutinized the most. But there will also be a fair amount of Platini ideas scattered in amongst it – changes he sees that would be to the betterment of the game in the long run. He has shown as UEFA president that he is not willing to sit back and let things run as they have done for centuries. During the last eight years since Platini was elected to UEFA’s highest chair, he has made changes to almost every tournament under its jurisdiction, most notably abandoning the European Championships single country format for hosting in favour of a multi country extravaganza. But he has also tackled the bigger issues including child trafficking, racism and in recent years club debt that is threatening to cripple the game. Platini is at heart a reformist, someone who wants to adjust the norm rather than destroying it. After years of behind doors corruption at FIFA, Platini’s arrival could be exactly what it needs.
Kirk Broadfoot has never been the sharpest tool in the box. After all this is the player who managed to injure himself attempting to poach an egg in a microwave, with the egg blowing up in his face. On the pitch, the mouthy defender makes up for what he lacks in skill by showcasing his colourful vocabulary to any one that will listen. So it was unsurprising to many that he has been caught up in a sectarian scandal which has now seen him land a unprecedented ban by the English FA. The Rotherham United player found himself in hot water when repeated comments he made to an opposition player were overheard by some fans who were appalled enough to report it. Broadfoot was reacting to Wigan winger James McClean who had won a free kick under dubious circumstances which Broadfoot later claimed was a dive. The two exchanged words with Broadfoot making several unsavory comments about McClean’s upbringing as a catholic. That was seen as a breach of FA Rule E3(1) which is about using abusive and/or insulting words towards a member of the opposition. Broadfoot also broke Rule E3(2) which involves a reference to “ethnic origin, colour, race, nationality, religion or belief, gender, gender reassignment, sexual orientation or disability”. Broadfoot was banned for 10 ten games, the longest ban ever handed down to a player for verbal abuse.
What is remarkable in this story is the disparity in which the FA dispenses its justice. They appear to have adopted different rules for different players depending on the offence even if all the offenses fall under the same rule section. For instance when Luis Suarez was found guilty of racial abusing Patrice Evra in a EPL match, he was banned for seven games. But when John Terry racially abused Anton Ferdinand in a game he received only a four game ban. In that case, the FA claimed that there was not enough proof, despite receiving a official report from Anton himself and various video angles of the game which clearly showed Terry ranting at him. Even though there was no sound on the videos, any amateur lip reader in the world could have deciphered what the Chelsea defender had said to his counterpart in the QPR back line. The then England captain only lost the captaincy of his country when the FA was pressured to do so by the public outcry over their lack of action towards Terry.
But in Broadfoot’s case, the FA decided to throw the book at him and then for good measure pushed the bookshelf over on top of him as well. A ten game ban is hardly on par with other just as scandalous offenses so why single out the beanpole defender? Away from the Premiership spotlight and subsequent world-wide interest, Broadfoot’s actions would have gone fairly unnoticed. He has slipped quite far down the footballing ladder since his glory years in the Glasgow Rangers defence and although already in possession of an alarming amount of Scotland caps; is as close as Denis Law or Kenny Daglish to adding to them. Hardly a poster boy for the FA to make its point on. But that did not stop the FA who decided to make an example of the player to show its tough stance on sectarianism, a crime so hideous in their eyes that it makes racism look almost acceptable. Broadfoot’s actions on the pitch were stupid yes and no there is no place in the modern game for sectarianism on any level but the FA’s punishment is ridiculous to say the least. Arguably racism is as bad and a larger problem in football not just in England but in other countries across the world most notably in Russia, the next World Cup hosts. FIFA’s attempts to “kick out racism” have been about as successful as Sepp Blatter’s attempts to convince the world that he knew nothing about the behind doors going ons at FIFA. Last week, Zenit St Petersburg striker Hulk claimed that racism in Russia is a weekly occurrence, his claim backed up by Emmanuel Frimprong who delivered his own answer to racist remarks thrown his way by flicking them the finger.
Broadfoot deserves to be punished for his crime but at the same level as everyone else. If you hand out a ten game ban for sectarian comments then the same should apply for racist ones too. Biting, mauling, punching etc should also receive notable time on the sideline as should pushing (albeit with a caveat that if the pushed party reacts like a kicked dog when they crash to the ground, then the penalty should be reduced – see Paolo Di Canio’s well publicized push on referee Paul Alcock). Broadfoot has accepted his ban however wants to tell his side of the story and has contacted his lawyers to do so. What exactly he said will not come out as the FA has taken out a confidentiality clause to prevent it being released. It is for this reason that Broadfoot has engaged with his lawyers to find a way around this clause and get his version of events out into the public. With a ten game ban, he has plenty of time to work out how to do just that.
It wasn’t meant to end this way. Inspired by the heroic performance of the women’s team at the Women’s World Cup, the US men’s national team were supposed to bring home a trophy of their own – the Gold Cup. The defending champions had it all in their favour – home field advantage, a better squad than most of the others in the tournament and good form after a series of impressive friendly victories over Germany and Holland in the run up. Despite a less than convincing start in the group stage, the US finally found its second gear in the quarter finals hitting lowly Cuba for six. Klinsmann’s men looked ready and were already preparing for their six consecutive appearance in the final when they came up against Jamaica in yesterday’s semi final. But the Reggie Boyz clearly hadn’t read the script that the US had written. Instead of rolling over, they took the game to their opponents and in the end walked away with a much deserved victory leaving the US players shell-shocked. Jamaica now proceed to Sunday’s final against Mexico whilst the US are left wondering what just happened.
Goals from Giles Barnes and Darren Mattocks were enough to seal the shock win and knock the holders out. Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley did manage to pull one back for the US but it counted for nothing as they crashed out of the Gold Cup. Despite having a majority of the possession and more than enough chances to win the game, the US simply couldn’t find a way past Ryan Thompson in the Jamaica goal. The 30-year-old, who plays for Pittsburgh Riverhounds in the USL (the US third division) was in stunning form making save after save as the US bombarded the Jamaica goal. Indeed the only real mistake that Thompson made during the entire game was the failure to hold onto Johannsson’s long range shot which bobbled from his arms straight into the path of Bradley. By the time the newly elected US captain struck, the US were already trailing by 2-0. Despite having limited shots on goal, Jamaica made each one that they did have count with Mattock’s first on the score sheet. The Vancouver Whitecaps frontman rose well inside the box to connect onto a throw in from Kemar Lawrence and loop his header over Brad Guzman and in off of the far post. US national boss Jurgen Klinsmann will be disappointed with his centre back John Brooks who was out jumped by Mattocks despite having a sizable height difference (6’3 versus 6’0). Still shaken from that goal, it wasn’t long before the US had conceded again. This time the goal came from an exquisite free kick by former Derby prodigy Giles Barnes from the edge of the box. Barnes curled the ball round the outside of the wall and into the near post with Guzman failing to get across in time to stop it.
Bradley’s goal just after the restart gave the US the lift it needed and rallied the crowd behind the home team with Jamaica now looking rather nervous. But Winfred Schafer’s side would not give in and held on for the remaining 42 minutes to book their first ever appearance in a Gold Cup final. Remarkably its only their 2nd win over the US in 23 attempts but one that they will saviour for a long time to come. Their focus will now turn to Sunday’s match against Mexico, a side who are beatable based on their performances so far in the tournament. They finished second in group C behind Trinidad after an enthralling match between the two in the final game. Mexico surged into an early lead but seven goals in the last forty minutes of the game saw the game finish as a 4-4 draw and left Trinidad on top of the group with Mexico behind them. The knock out rounds were less than convincing too for Mexico as they struggled to find their rhythm. They needed extra time in both their quarter-final against Costa Rica and their semi final against Panama to win the games and book their final spot.
This could hand Jamaica a much-needed boost with Mexico potentially facing up to fatigue after two gruelling matches in four days. But El Tri will be the strong favourites to lift their tenth title, and will take comfort in the fact that they are not facing the US as predicted. Jamaica however will once again relish the underdog carding and will be out to show that the US result was not a fluke as they look to lift their first ever Gold Cup.
It is every players right to decide their own career path including where they want to ply their trade and for which club. Much like any job, money plays a significant role in these decisions with each player looking to maximize their own value as much as possible during their careers. In a sport where injuries could end your time in football at any point, every move counts so you can hardly blame a player for travelling down the golden path instead of choosing a job that pays significantly less. But when your career starts to looks like you are a constant fixture on that path, then questions are raised about your ambitions in the game and your desire to make money rather than a name for yourself.
Asamoah Gyan is a fantastic striker, who has redefined the word prolific over the course of his career. He has become a cult hero in his native Ghana, leading his national teams records for most caps and goal scored and since 2013 has been their captain too. Everything that Gyan does in his life is followed closely by his millions of fans back home and around the world. They are undoubtedly loyal to the 29-year-old striker but now his latest move has sparked fierce debate in Ghana with many now questioning his motives and his ambitions. Last month, Gyan agreed to a lucrative move to China with Shanghai SPG securing his signature. The move concludes Gyan’s four year stay in the United Arab Emirates and ends his rumoured £6m per season deal. But the player will not be out-of-pocket as his new employers have agreed to pay him more than the £163,000-a-week he earned at Al Ain, making him one of the highest paid players in the world. His decision to move to China rather than to a club in Europe looks to be solely based on the money or so it is being perceived in his homeland. Whilst the Chinese league is up and coming it still nowhere near as competitive as its European counterparts and is using the appeal of extremely lucrative contracts to entice stars to join.
In the past, they have only managed to snare mid level players or those close to retirement but a new approach and improvement in the league quality has led to bigger names joining. Gyan is certainly one of those as is Brazilian internationalists Robinho and Paulinho, Senegalese striker Demba Ba and Icelandic front man Eidur Gudjohnsen. But many in Ghana believe that Gyan is too good for the Chinese Super league and that as the captain of their country, he should have moved not for the money but instead for the prestige and challenge of playing against better players week in week out in one of the world’s top leagues. Their argument is also compounded by what they see as a necessity for Gyan to be a strong role model to the younger players who they worry will look at the money rather than the game as they embark on their careers.
Whether they have a point is up for debate but its unlikely that Gyan will care enough to backtrack on his move. It is highly likely that Gyan will indeed prove to be too good for the Chinese league as he did in the UAE firing 113 goals in 104 matches for Al Ain. But at 29 years old does he really have to prove anything? He has already shown that he can play in Europe after spending nine years of his career doing so with spells in Italy with Udinese and Modena, France with Rennes and an ill-fated stay in England with Sunderland. The only black mark on his career is that last one, where after a stunning debut season for the Black Cats, Gyan left under somewhat of a cloud after falling out with the management team and board who refused to give him a pay increase after one season of his four year contract.
To be fair to Gyan, the then Sunderland boss Steve Bruce did not blame the player instead calling out his advisors as the trouble makers referring to them as parasites. Al Ain’s approach was to offer Gyan a route out of England with a too good to refuse deal. Many saw it as a temporary move until Gyan could regain his sense but the player stayed for a further three years. It would appear now that Gyan was comfortable playing in a league way below his ability, compensated by a luxury lifestyle and riches beyond his wildest dreams. Moving to China only emphasises this comfort but at what cost? Gyan’s reputation as one of the world’s top strikers is slowly slipping into obscurity each season he spends outside of the world’s top leagues. Whether he cares though, is a different story.
Eddie Howe doesn’t get flustered easily. The Bournemouth manager is spending this summer preparing for his side’s maiden campaign in the English Premiership next season. In a fairy-tale story, Bournemouth has risen from narrowly avoiding relegation from the football league to Premiership newcomers in less than seven years. Despite this meteoric rise, it hasn’t stopped the pundits already condemning Bournemouth to relegation from England’s top league before kicking a single ball. Howe doesn’t mind as being the underdog suits his team well. He knows how to cope with the pressure applied by the British media and this forthcoming season will be no different.
But the young English coach has never managed in the Premiership and will perhaps be unaware of the pressure that he is about to be put under. It’s a huge leap in class between the Championship and the Premiership for the players but the same can be said for the media attention especially around the decisions that each manager makes. Every defeat, every tactical switch and every press conference will be scrutinized. But more so than that, the players that Howe signs will be scrutinized the most. Before last Friday, Bournemouth had added four new faces to its squad – goalkeepers Artur Boruc and Adam Federici, striker Joshua King and winger Christian Atsu. But it’s the signing of his fifth player that has many talking. The arrival of 22 year old Tyrone Mings from Ipswich is an impressive capture. The left back is one of the hottest prospects in English football having impressed last season as Ipswich just missed the promotion via the play offs. He has been the subject of various transfer approaches over the past year from several Premiership clubs including Crystal Palace but chose to stay in the Championship to help the Tractor boy’s cause. But now he has been persuaded to join Howe at Bournemouth and will be a Premiership player next season.
Despite being a promising player, the value of the transfer rumoured to be around £8m is being commented on as too much by the media and fans alike. A record transfer fee for Bournemouth but one that Howe sees as a strategic and long term investment in the club. He has faith in the player becoming a success and potentially moving on to a bigger club for a considerably higher transfer fee. But his justification appears to be falling on deaf ears with several questioning the logic of spending such a large chunk of Bournemouth’s transfer budget on one player and more than that a left back. Looking at the mistakes of the past, most sides that have won promotion then been relegated again after one season all have something in common – the failure to score goals in the Premiership. Investing £8m in a striker would potentially have made more sense as goals win matches. But for Howe perhaps the best form of attack is from defense and conceding the least goals. It’s a fair argument considering that if the league table last year was based on goals conceded, Burnley would still be in the Premiership next season having conceded only 53 goals. But their downfall as with fellow relegated sides QPR and Hull was the lack of goals at the other end.
Spending £8m on an English defender for a club like Manchester City or Chelsea is seen as an investment but for clubs like Bournemouth who have considerably smaller war chests, it can be perceived as a risky move. Mings is a talented player who will be a stand out for Bournemouth this season but will his signing be the reason for their demise? There is still several weeks left in the pre-season for Howe to make further signings and he may still decide to spend big on a ten to twenty goal a season striker but that will depend on how much money owner Maxim Demin wishes to give him. Howe is one of the finest managers in the game today but at 37 years young, he is still learning. Hopefully this signing will not be a defining lesson for the up and coming English coach.
Miss Dinah Washington said it best. What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours. That song must have been playing on a loop in Fabian Delph’s headphones over the last week as he flipped and flopped more times than a politician over a move to Manchester City. The England midfielder’s on off switch to City is finally over after agreeing to join the club for a fee of £8 million just days after he pubically stamped his colours to the Aston Villa mast. Despite this and after releasing a statement of his own accord stating he had no intention of leaving for City, Delph will be wearing the Blue of Manchester City next season, penning a five year contract. Its a embarrassing time for Delph who must be looking back at his comments from Saturday with some regret.
“I am a loyal person and committed to my future” he said before finishing his quote by saying “I love the club, I love being here and this is my club”. That was back in January when he signed a new four year contract with Villa much to the delight of the fans who saw Delph as a more than their inspirational captain. Unlike others in the game, Delph played for the shirt not for money and his determination to make Villa a success showed with every performance. He loved the club and they loved him and more so with every transfer he rejected. When Tim Sherwood arrived shortly after Delph has signed his new deal, he spoke passionately of the player he saw as the best embodiment of the ambitions of the club. Delph was a Villa man through and through and that wouldn’t change.
Fast forward six months and Manchester City found themselves in a pickle. Having let James Milner, Frank Lampard, Micah Richards and Derek Boyata leave, their required British player allocation of eight was now down to just three. City quickly identified a list of British players they wanted to buy including Fulham’s Patrick Roberts, Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and Delph. The first approach for Delph came early on the 10th July with City agreeing to a fee with Villa, partly thanks to a minimum fee release clause inserted into Fabian’s contract in January. Delph with his agent went to meet City’s representatives to discuss personal terms with a proposed medical to take place the next day. But during the course of that meeting, Delph did not like what he heard and rejected the move. It’s rumoured that he was told that he would be a squad player rather than a starter which did not appeal to the player. On Saturday, Delph released a statement saying that he had rejected the move, was staying and was looking forward to captaining Villa next season. His set the record statement was in response to negative press surrounding his potential move but now that it was off, he wanted to reassure the Villa faithful that he was committed to the cause. Well for a week at least. Fast forward to last Friday and Delph arriving in Manchester to complete his medical and sign the paperwork needed to make him a City player.
It’s a bitter blow to Villa as they prepare for the new season. Losing your captain is one thing but losing your star striker as well is another. The news that Liverpool had activated Christian Benteke’s contract release clause with a massive £32.5 million bid came on the same day as Delph departed made Friday as miserable day for the Villa fans. Manager Tim Sherwood now faces an uphill struggle to repair his squad and replace two crucial components of his team. He will have £40 million in the bank to go an do so but the bedding in period for those new players and the potential disruption of Delph and eventually Benteke’s departures on the squad wont be know for some time to come. The reason for Delph’s dramatic change of heart is still unknown but its likely that the England midfielder will break his silence shortly and give his side of the story. Whether City were able to satisfy Delph’s concerns about potential lack of playing time by offering him either more reassurance or more money will never be known. Regardless of what Delph says, he will be due for a very hostile reception when City travel to Villa Park in early November with few fans likely to welcome him back after the way that he has handled this move.
When the Premiership launched in 1992, the League decided to take the risky decision and give the rights to their games to one pay for television provider, Sky. At the time, the idea of having to pay to watch football on TV was fairly unusual as the public had been spoiled over the years with free viewing courtesy of the BBC and ITV. However with the freshening up of England’s top division, it was felt that a new approach was needed and the League was impressed with Sky’s ideas of how they wanted to revolutionize football. Since then Sky has gone on to dominate the pay for market, fighting off competition from Irish firm Setanta, US giants ESPN and now British Telecomms to remain top dog in terms of the Premiership. As Sky prepares for it’s 23 year as broadcaster, they have launched a new ad campaign featuring one of the leagues best players over the past 23 years Thierry Henry. The former Arsenal and France forward has been cleverly inserted into a few memorable moments over the past two and a bit decades including celebrating with Alex Ferguson, avoiding Tony Yeboah’s thunderbolt and commiserating with Kevin Keegan after Liverpool snatch all three points in dramatic fashion against his side Newcastle in the thrilling 1996 4-3 clash.
It seems like an eternity since Sky launched its original ad campaign featuring some of the then stars of the league against the backdrop of Simple Minds “Alive and Kicking”. The campaign featured the likes of Tim Flowers, Gordon Durie, John Salako and Gordon Strachan who posed along with the 18 other players for a promotional photo shortly after making the advert. The picture below is that photo in all its glory, complete with remarkable strips and more than a few dodgy haircuts. But where are those players today, how many stayed in the game and how many have left for pastures new.
Several of the players featured have stayed in the game in some capacity or another. Current Scotland boss Gordon Strachan and Aston Villa boss Tim Sherwood are the most recognizable but there are others who have dedicated their careers to coaching players both at senior and junior level. David Hirst, Peter Beardsley and Alan Kernaghan work with youth players at Sheffield Wednesday, Newcastle and Ireland respectively whilst Tony Daley has become Wolverhampton Wanders fitness coach. Former goalkeepers Tim Flowers and Hans Segers have taken up goalkeeping positions at Kiddieminster Harriers and Dutch side FC Oss whilst Ian Butterworth is now chief scout at QPR, working alongside Andy Sinton who is the clubs ambassador, the same role as John Wark performs at Ipswich. Others like Gordon Durie who left Rangers last month after the appointment of new boss Mark Warburton and former Liverpool defender Mark Wright are looking for their next job in the game.
Unfortunately there are a couple amongst the 22 that found themselves in decline after retiring. Former Sheffield United player Carl Bradshaw found himself on the wrong side of the law after assaulting a taxi driver earning him a four month stay in prison. He was released and is now living a quieter life as a bed and breakfast owner in Norwich. Former Nottingham Forest defender Gary Charles was considered to be one of the best right backs England ever produced in the early part of his career but after giving up the game in 2000, Charles struggled with alcoholism and too ended up in prison. But since then he has turned his life around and is now working at the University of Nottingham as their Director of Football.
Entertainment and in particular TV work has appealed to several of the 22 including Lee Sharpe, Andy Ritchie and John Salako who spend most of their retirement in a studio talking about the beautiful game. Arguably the most famous of the 22 is Vinnie Jones, footballer turned movie star and now one of Hollywood’s go to hard men. He has starred in a variety of blockbusters from Mean Machines to Gone in 60 Seconds to the X Men trilogy and now resides in Los Angeles. That leaves us with three unaccounted for players – Ian Brightwell, Andy Pearce and David Hillier who have all stepped firmly away from football into other professionals. Brightwell runs a successful property development firm who also bizarrely specializes in building squash courts whilst Pearce is also in construction as a site supervisor. Former Arsenal midfielder Hillier may have taken the furthest leap by putting his neck on the line day in day out as a fireman in Bristol.
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Losing a World Cup winning midfielder just a month before the new season begins could have the potential to derail a clubs preparations and result in a sluggish start to the new campaign as they frantically try to adjust. However this won’t be the case for German champions Bayern Munich who let German icon and recent World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger leave for Manchester United last week. It is business as usual for Pep Guardiola’s side who are already filling the void left by Schweinsteiger by purchasing Juventus and Chile star Arturo Vidal. A fee of €40m has been agreed between the clubs for the tireless midfielder who will now travel to Germany for a medical and to finalize terms. It will be a welcomed return to German football for Vidal who left Bayer Leverkausen in 2011 to join The Old Lady in Turin.
Vidal has been a huge success in Italy, helping Juventus lift four consecutive Scudetto’s and reach the Champions League final last year. But that defeat to Barcelona now sees a break up of the existing squad with several key players either on their way out or having already departed. Carlos Tevez has returned to Argentina with Boca whilst creative maestro Andrea Pirlo departed for the MLS. Speculation has been constant around the futures of midfielder Paul Pogba, striker Fernando Llorente and Vidal with the Chilean now set to be next out of the door. Juventus have strengthen already in several positions as Massimiliano Allegri shuffles his pack but the loss of Vidal will hit them hard regardless. Alongside two of either Pogba, Pirlo and Marchisio, Vidal has been the driving force in the Juventus midfield for the past few years. Comfortable as a defensive midfielder or in a more central position, Vidal’s no nonsense approach to the game bears resemblance to former Italian star Rino Gattuso who acted like a bulldog in the heart of AC Milan’s midfield a few years earlier under Allegri. However unlike Gattuso who was more comfortable sitting back, protecting the back line whilst others created in front of him, Vidal is more of a box to box player creating as many opportunities for his strikers as he does preventing them at the other end. He has benefited hugely from playing alongside the highly experienced Pirlo who has shown Vidal how to read the game better, involved his teammates more and pinpoint attacking opportunities before they happen. This tutelage has made Vidal a better all round player and is now regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world.
The chase for his signature has been going on for months now with Arsenal and Manchester United making several enquiries only to be told by the polite Vidal that he wasn’t ready. The Chilean wanted to win the Champions League with Juventus and the Copa with Chile this summer before thinking about a move. He may have failed at the first objective but was instrumental as hosts Chile beat Argentina in the final to claim their first ever Copa title. Bayern boss Pep Guardiola has been a fan of Vidal for some time now with suggestions that he attempted to bring him to Barcelona before the Chilean moved to Juventus. But the Spaniard would not lose out this time and has swooped under the radar of all other clubs to sign the player. Along with fellow new arrival Douglas Costa, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for €30m at the start of the month, Vidal will be part of a new look Bayern midfield as Guardiola looks to build on their domestic dominance in the Bundesliga success with similar success in Europe, namely the Champions League. Vidal will likely operate as part of a new look midfield trio with Costa and the never aging Xavi Alonso who Guardiola will look to as another Prilo like figure for Vidal.
One player who may not be part of that new look team is Mario Gotze. The forward, who scored Germany’s World Cup winning goal after coming off the bench is set for talks with Juventus about a move after falling out of favour with Guardiola. The former Borussia Dortmund star would move as a separate deal but the revenue generated from his sale would help to cover the outlay for Vidal. Both players offer something different and are not like for like replacements for each other so its hard to judge which side is getting the better end of this deal. For Gotze, it’s a chance to resurrect his career which has somewhat stalled since that dramatic night in Rio. For Vidal its a chance to show that he is one of the worlds best midfielders and that with Guardiola’s help he can finally lift the trophy he has been hoping for – the Champions League.
Life as a Leeds United fan is never easy. This season more than any has tested their loyalty to breaking point with several off field dramas blighting what looked to be a promising season. Pre season optimism fuelled by an exciting batch of new young players coming through led many fans to wonder if this would be the season that Leeds finally pushes for promotion. That enthusiasm however lasted only a few weeks after controversial owner Massimo Celino appointed the inexperienced Dave Hockaday in mid June to lead the team into the new campaign. The fans were naturally disappointed by the move as they believed it was a step back for the club and a ploy by Celino to save money (Hockaday was reportedly paid only 1/8th of what his predecessor Brian McDermott was on). Hockaday’s only previous managerial job was at Forest Green Rovers in the Conference League but was sacked by Rovers in October 2013 after a run of poor results. Hardly the pedigree manager that the Leeds fans were hoping for. Despite this, the fans backed the team and after an impressive series of wins in friendly games, the optimism returned to Elland Road once more, with many wondering whether they were wrong about their new boss.
After narrowly avoiding relegation the year before, Leeds needed to start the season well if they were to finish in the top six but within the first eight minutes of their opening game of the season against Millwall, it was clear that Hockaday hadn’t gotten the memo. Leeds lost that match as well as two of the next three matches leaving the club dangling near the bottom of the table. Despite a resurgence which saw Leeds beat Bolton, Bournemouth and Huddersfield, Hockaday was eventually sacked and replaced by the Strum Graz manager Darko Milanic. The former Slovenia defender’s appointment meant that he became the first non British or Irish manager in Leeds history. Just over a month later he picked up another first by becoming the first sacked foreign manager in Leeds history after failing to win any of his six games in charge. Celino reacted to the fans backlash of yet another failed manager by promoting from within bumping Academy boss Neil Redfearn to the hot seat. His appointment, along with a change in formation to a 4-2-3-1 approach revitalized Leeds season which by that point was in free fall. Granted it did take a few months for his new look side to embraced the formational adjustment but when it finally clicked against Bournemouth in late January, Leeds were flying. In the period between his appointment in November and the Bournemouth match on the 20th January, Leeds picked up only 10 points from 12 games with a win rate of 16%. Over the next twelve games, Leeds racked up an impressive 25 points with a win rate of 66%. Finally the Leeds fans had something to smile about as their team climbed to mid table safety.
But then things began to unravel. Redfearn’s assistant Steve Thompson was shockingly suspended by the club by Sporting Director Nicola Salerno due to an internal matter. No reason was given for the suspension and worst of all Redfearn had not been advised about the suspension prior to it happening. Redfearn, who specifically targeted Thompson for the assistant role when he took over as manager was furious and complained to the board stating he felt undermined and would have to consider his role at the club. Without Thompson to assist him, Leeds suffered a drop in form losing five of their remaining eight games of the season and picking up only a single win along the way. Leeds playoff chances were dead and along with it the confidence of the fans in the current regime. The return of Celino after a four month hiatus due to a suspension by the Football League for tax evasion in his native Italy, has hardly given them a renewed energy with many hoping that someone else will come in and buy the club. The situation is so dire that even rumours that Hollywood actor Russell Crowe could purchase the club were welcomed warmly by the Leeds faithful. Anyone is better than Celino at least in the eyes of the Leeds fans.
Once a dominant force of English football, Leeds recent demise due to poor management and unnecessary off field drama is a sad reflection on the game today. The club has so much to offer a potential purchaser – a long colourful history, an established and loyal fan base and an impressive stadium (albeit in need of some upgrading). The squad isn’t bad either – with a good mix of home grown players like Sam Bryam, Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt and experienced Championship players like Billy Sharp and Luke Murphy. Added into this an accomplished manager in Neil Redfearn who understands the club and its rich history, Leeds are a good purchase for any wannabe investor. Leeds fans will be hoping that this summer brings stability back to their club in one way or another and finally they can start to dream once more about a return to life in the Premiership where they belong.
Former England striker Gary Lineker is never short of an opinion about anything these days. The BT Sport host uses the marvels of social media and his uncanny ability to be wherever a TV camera or radio mic happens to be when something occurs in football. He has become the medias go to man for comments, one liners and headline grabbers. So when Leicester City, one of Linekers former clubs announced the appointment of Claudio Ranieri as their new manager, there was only ever going to be one man who the media called. And once again Lineker delivered calling the well-travelled Italian “an uninspiring choice” and an indication of a growing problem in football which sees the same group of old tired managers clambering for all managerial appointments that become available. For once he may have a point but we hesitate to admit that just in case it goes to Linekers already swollen head.
After the sacking of the ostrich quoting former manager Nigel Pearson, speculation over who would take over the foxes went into overdrive with the British press and football gossip blogs wetting the bed in excitement. They threw the usual set of candidates into the mix: a former player (Neil Lennon), a former manager (Martin O’Neill), a current player with no managerial experience (Esteban Cambiasso) and a well-traveled British steward of the managerial game (Sam Alladyce). They even did some back of a napkin math figuring out that Guus Hiddink’s departure from the Dutch national team meant only one thing; that he was bound for Leicester. There was no way that Hiddink’s failure in recent months to inspire the Dutch to qualification wins had anything to do with it nor his intention to step away from the game the moment he left the Holland job. Including Hiddink’s name gave the media what they wanted – a name to play on, a big star who would excite the foxes fans enough that they part with their hard-earned cash in order to buy their newspaper for the exclusive details behind his imminent arrival.
But in the end the Leicester board pulled a fast one, appointing “a highly respected coach with both club and international experience”. The well-traveled Italian has managed primarily in Italy (Cagliari, Napoli, Fiorentina, Juventus, Parma, Roma and Inter) and Spain (Atletico Madrid, Valencia twice) as well as stints as boss of Chelsea, Monaco and Greece along the way. The perfect fit for Leicester it would seem apart from a few minor details. Firstly Ranieri’s success at the various clubs he has been limited to say the least and his international experience is less than impressive having been sacked by Greece after failing to win a single game. At club level, the last trophy Ranieri picked up was the French Ligue 2 title with Monaco back in 2012 which was his first trophy since 2004. Managers should be judged on their success and for Ranieri the judges are still very much in debate chamber. He has won 9 trophies in a 27 year managerial career but most are lower league titles: 1 each from the Italian Serie B and C leagues and that French Ligue 2 crown with Monaco. He did find some success early on in his career at Fiorentina and Valencia (during his first stint in charge) securing the Copa and Supercopa Italia titles and the Copa Del Rey, Intertoto Cup and Super Cup respectively. But apart from this, Ranieri has fallen short on a too frequent basis.
His success at Monaco was expected given that the team was funded by a billionaire and had a squad that was earning ten times what their nearest league rivals were making. It’s a familiarly story throughout Ranieri’s managerial career with the Italian lucky on more than one occasion; inheriting a good squad but failing to move it forward. His time at Chelsea for instance coincided with a change in their financial fortunes with Roman Abramovich rolling into town, bulging suitcases of money firmly under both arms. After failing to impress the Russian, he left to re-join the then reigning La Liga and UEFA Cup champions Valencia but couldn’t inspire his talented side to perform and was sacked eight months later. Spells at Juventus, Roma and Inter Milan followed, all of which had strong enough squads to challenge but in typical Ranieri style, he fell short on all three occasions. Escaping to the south of France was supposed to repair Ranieri’s damaged reputation and things looked good for the Italian as he guided them back to Ligue 1. But the jump appeared to be too hard to cope with and again Ranieri was sacked after failing to make the grade.
Then came a switch to national football with the surprise appointment to the Greek national team managers position. Greece were on a high after reaching the last 16 of the 2014 World Cup, narrowly missing out on a quarter-final spot thanks to an agonizing penalty shoot out defeat to Costa Rica. Ranieri’s arrival heralded a different approach and one that the Greeks believed would take them to the next level by sailing through qualification for Euro 2016 but instead the country slid backwards. His strange tactical alterations and lack of ability to speak the language lead to confusion among the players who looked like an amateur team in an already weak qualification group. Defeats to Romania, Northern Ireland and the lowly Faroe Islands was enough to end Greece’s hopes of qualifying and with it led to his sacking for which Hellenic Football Federation’s president, Giorgos Sarris publicly apologized for his “unfortunate selection of manager”.
Ranieri’s reputation is in tatters which makes his appointment at Leicester so baffling. Leicester’s survival last year was down to consistency under Pearson who found a tactic and team mid way through the season that worked and stuck with it. That resulted in the most dramatic of turnarounds which saw Leicester fly up the table to safety. But now in his place the board has hired a man known ironically as the Tinkerman due to his constant need to alter tactics and team selection making consistency almost impossible. Hardly what Leicester needs going into the new season. Ranieri is dramatically different from Pearson which is maybe why the board selected him. He is quiet, reserved and polite unlike Pearson who made a name for himself last year with his brash, bully like approach. Quite simply he is vanilla, plain and simple which by itself is very uninspiring so perhaps Lineker was right after all.
After months of speculation, Raheem Sterling will finally leave Anfield this week after sealing a £49million transfer to Manchester City. The England winger leaves Liverpool under a dark cloud after doing much over the past few months to annoy both the staff and the fans of the club. Greed and bad judgement had clouded the youngsters vision well before City sparked an interest, with Sterling’s controversial agent Aidy Ward acting much like Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings fame taking a lead role in manipulating the England star. After Ward told Liverpool publicly that Sterling would refuse any contract they gave him, even a £900k a week one, it was clear that the Jamaica born star would be leaving the club with the fans having firmly turned against him. This paved the way for Manchester City to swoop, much to the delight of Ward who saw a large pay-day coming his way.
Manchester City have agreed to pay Liverpool £44million up front and an additional £5million in bonuses depending on appearances making Sterling the third most expensive signing for a British club. The player has agreed a five-year, £160k a week contract taking the total spent on this transfer by Manchester City over the £100 million mark. Sterling’s arrival will help City in it’s quest to meet their required home-grown quota but questions remain about whether or not they have they taken a huge gamble on a player who could be poisonous to their squad. City’s move for the twenty year old is based on potential rather than firm knowledge with Sterling having proved little at either club or international level to date. Bursting onto the scene in 2012, Sterling wasted little time in highlighting his talents using his pace and superb dribbling skills to his advantage, forcing everyone at Anfield to their feet. Over the next three years he would force his way into the starting eleven and in the 2013-2014 season play a key role as Liverpool pushed Manchester City all the way in the race for the Premiership. By now he was part of the England team and viewed by many as a star for the future.
But since that season, something has changed. Sterling the boy became Sterling the man and with it came a false sense of entitlement. Out went his apparent passion for the sport, where every game he played was for the love of it rather than the money. That change coincided with agent Aidy Ward’s decision to depart Impact Sports Management and go it alone, taking two of the firms brightest prospects, Sterling and Saido Berahino with him. Now under Ward’s full control, Sterling’s demeanor started to change and not for the better. Rodgers attempted to bring the player back on side with an improved £35k a week contract which Sterling signed but by then Ward was already eyeing a bigger prize – a lucrative move for Sterling away from Anfield. Ward however was less successful in influencing West Brom’s Berahino who decided last week to break ties with the agent after becoming disillusioned with his advice and overall handling of the Sterling situation.
Sterling will join up with his new teammates later this week after completing the obligatory medical on Wednesday. City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be aware of problems the winger caused Brendan Rodgers in recent weeks including calling in sick twice for training and refusing to go on Liverpool’s pre-season tour in order to force his own agenda. The Chilean will be hoping that now that Sterling has achieved his objective he will settle down and focus on his football which he should do. However problems could arise over the course of his contract if Sterling is left on the substitute bench too often, a realistic possibility given City’s vast array of talent at their disposal. City could be faced with another Carlos Tevez situation who famously refused to come on as a sub against Bayern Munich during Roberto Mancini’s reign as he protested his exclusion from the starting eleven. With Ward likely already eyeing up Sterling’s next move in order to secure his next payday, City could be faced with a problem of their own doing. This time, it may not be that easy to find a buyer for the troubled star.
Whilst reluctant to admit it, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will be delighted to have removed the headache that has been hounding him for the past six months. Having accepted early on that one of his prize assets was departing, Rodgers and the club stood firm on their valuation safe in the knowledge that they could with the player under contract until 2017. City was always the likely destination with few other clubs willing to meet Liverpool’s £50million valuation. That money has already been sensibly reinvested in the squad with the signatures of Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne. The removal of the disruptor Sterling from his squad should restore the balance and allow Rodgers to switch to a narrower 4-2-3-1 formation with Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana operating behind a central striker. Sterling’s departure could also open the door to young Jordan Ibe, who has impressed in the club’s youth system over the past few years. As a replica of Sterling, the young winger could be introduced into first team football slowly over the course of the next season as an option from the bench. Rodgers will watch his progress carefully and will be on hand to advise the youngster about every key decision he makes, including the selection of his agent. Sterling may be gone but the club moves on and will learn from their past mistakes hoping that they will never happen again.
Not many players can boast about a more successful career spent at one club than Iker Casillas has had. Over the past 25 years, Casillas has quite simply become a Real Madrid legend so news of his pending departure to FC Porto will come as a shock to many. Once considered the best goalkeeper in the world, Casillas has been found guilty on several occasions over the past few years of making critical mistakes which in turn brought his position as Real’s undisputed number No.1 into question. Last season for example he lost his place to Diego Lopez early on only to win it back once again in the second half of the campaign after the fans protested. It’s a familiar story of late that surfaces with Casillas who has been saved from the chop a few times due to reputation alone, primarily due to all that he has done for club and country over the past two and a half decades. And to be fair, they have a point. Casillas has won it all over that time including five La Liga times, three Champions Leagues and ten other trophies with Real Madrid as well as helping Spain to lift two European Championship titles and the country’s first ever World Cup in 2010. But the time has come for the legendary keeper to depart with Real keen to sign up Manchester United and Spain stopper David De Gea as his direct replacement.
Arguably Casillas departure strengthens the negotiation hand of Manchester United as they continue to hold out on letting David De Gea join Madrid. With Real now racing against the clock to secure a new goalkeeper, United will know that Madrid’s willingness to part with more cash to secure De Gea will now increase dramatically. Keeping De Gea would be the preferred option for manager Louis Van Gaal but that looks increasingly unlikely with the player making moves himself including putting his house up for sale to ensure the switch happens. With Victor Valdes at the club, United could afford to let him leave without really having to worry about who they could get to replace him. So it looks certain that De Gea will move on but when and for how much remain the key questions. United could also use Real’s desperation to leverage their move for Sergio Ramos with the defender keen on a switch to Old Trafford. However it’s believed that Real Madrid want to keep the two deals very much separate in an attempt to reach a more favourable financial conclusion for the Spanish side.
Part of the reason for Casillas departure was in fact De Gea who insisted that he wouldn’t join Real Madrid unless Casillas left. It’s understandable that the young Spanish keeper would not want to go to a club that has a goalkeeping legend still in its ranks. Despite De Gea’s confidence in his abilities and his growing stature in Spain, he could ill afford to play second fiddle to Casillas at this important crossroads in his career. Madrid have tried in vain to convince him that he will be their undisputed number one but De Gea will know from watching other goalkeepers coming in to Real int he past that it has been hard to displace Casillas. Despite his mistakes that have on occasions cost Madrid dearly, the fans still love Casillas and expect him to play in front of all others. With Casillas gone, De Gea can own the No.1 jersey and focus his efforts on winning over the fans rather than fighting to hold on to the shirt with Casillas waiting in the wings.
At 34, Casillas still has a few good years left in him and can be a success in Portugal in a continuously improving Porto side. He may not be the tallest goalkeeper in the world but his athleticism and positioning more than makes up for it. A natural-born shot stopper and a leader at heart, Casillas will strengthen the Porto back line as they look to win back the Primeira Liga and challenge in the Champions League. Regardless of whether Casillas is a success or not during his stay in Portugal, his legendary status as one of the world best ever goalkeepers is secure. Italian goalkeeping great Gigi Buffon called him simply the best goalkeeper that had ever lived and its hard to argue with that. Like all great players, age has an effect on form and the decline that follows can be brutal on a players reputation but for Casillas it will take a lot more than just bad form to damage his legacy. A capacity crowd will give Casillas the send off from the Bernabeau that he deserves after a lifetime spent at the club, giving his all for the club that he loves and has loved him back.
Five years after looking dead and buried following the club slipping into administration for the second time in their history, Crystal Palace have completed an amazing turn around and are now looking to established themselves as a Premiership mainstay. Under the management of Alan Pardew who returned to the club in January after four mixed years at Newcastle, Palace have been revitalized playing some of the most exciting attacking football in the Premiership in the second half of last season. Pardew has managed to arrange his team to be both functional and fluent with an eclectic mix of reliable no-nonsense players like Scott Dann and Mile Jedinak acting as the relief mechanism for more gifted yet unpredictable talents like Wilfried Zaha and the impressive Yannick Bolasie. Under his guidance, Palace secured ten wins from eighteen games finishing in tenth overall in the league. It was clear from the outset that Palace would want to build upon this success by acquiring some additional players over the summer but no-one expected their first signing to be that of French star Yohan Cabaye.
The former Newcastle midfielder has become disillusioned at Paris Saint Germain after failing to secure a permanent spot in the first team and has been on the look out for a new club for a few months now. Speculation linked Cabaye with a move to Italy or Spain or even a return to England with Manchester United or Arsenal. But now it looks likely that Cabaye will be heading to London and surprisingly to the south of the city after PSG accepted a £10million bid from Crystal Palace. The move would see Cabaye linking up with his old boss Pardew who managed him during his time in the North East with Newcastle. The two have a strong bond and its believed that working with Pardew again was a decisive factor in Cabaye’s return to the Premiership instead of other options. The player has travelled to the English capital city to undergo a medical ahead of agreeing personal terms with Palace confident that there will be no late hiccups. If he does sign, it will be seen as a major coup by Palace despite them smashing their previous transfer record paid for a player (£7million for James McArthur last year).
The signing of Cabaye indicates the faith that the Palace board has in Pardew and what he is hoping to achieve as he strives to take the club to the next level. At 29, Cabaye is entering the latter part of his career but is still very much a world-class player. He has been an ever-present member of the French national team since his debut in 2010 and played a key role for them at both Euro 2012 and at last summer World Cup in Brazil. With superb vision, strong ball control and proven technical ability, Cabaye is the model central midfielder and should fit neatly into Palace’s setup with ease. After making his name with Lille over a seven-year period, he was rewarded with a move to Newcastle who snapped him up for just over £4million. Over the next three seasons, Cabaye would build his legacy entrenching himself in the clubs history as a fan favourite. His exploits for the Geordies elevated his global reputation and found him linked constantly with big money moves away from the club to one Europe’s elite clubs. Newcastle did reject several advances from the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona as they desperately tried to cling on to their star player. But when über rich PSG approached them offering in excess of £19 million, owner Mike Ashley decided to cash in on Cabaye in a move that Newcastle would regret in the months that followed.
Cabaye’s failure to establish himself in Paris at the French champions is less a reflection on his own abilities and more an indication of how strong PSG’s midfield is at present with the likes of Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura, Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta all battling for two central midfield spots. A move to Palace will see Cabaye once again as one of the first names on the team sheet with Pardew likely to rebuild his side around the Frenchman. His signing could be the catalyst Palace needs to kick on with other top players across Europe likely to take note of Cabaye’s decision to join a club few would have previously considered. What is most surprising about this transfer is the relatively low fee paid for a player of Cabaye’s quality especially against the backdrop of a potential £50 million outlay Manchester City are willing to pay for Raheem Sterling or the £27 million rumoured move of Morgan Schneiderlin to Manchester United. Both clubs need a strong central midfielder of the same ilk of Cabaye so their failure to submit a rival bid may be a defining moment in their summers. Even Cabaye’s former club Newcastle who are in desperate need of an overhaul failed to make a move in time for Cabaye despite rumoured interest from both sides to make it happen. Like City and United, Newcastle could live to regret that decision once more when Palace face them in late November with Cabaye deep at the heart of their team.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
There has been an awaking in Turkish football of late, one that has been a long time coming. After a decade of sub standard performances, football in Turkey is improving with much-needed upgrading to its main league, The Super Lig and its players. In the past Turkey relied on a golden generation that included Hakan Suker, Rustu Recber, Bulent Korkmaz and Alpay Ozalan to name but a few to advance their game both domestically and internationally. Success followed this generation with a third place finish at the 2002 World Cup and a semi final appearance at Euro 2008 the main highlights. But since their retirements, Turkey has failed to qualify for a major tournament and look set to miss out once again on Euro 2016 unless they can improve their current fourth place position in Group A.
But after several turbulent years, Turkish football is once again pushing its way to the front of the queue for recognition. The Super Lig is starting to become more competitive and interesting to those outside of Turkey with a host of well-known faces joining the league. In what has been a fairly quiet start to the summer transfer window, Turkey is leading the way with several big moves. The first came late last week and was fairly expected with German striker Lukas Poldolski finally ending his troubled stay at Arsenal by joining Galatasary. The World Cup winner had found his chances limited at the Emirates over the past few years and has decided to move to Turkey in order to secure regular first team action. Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger did try to convince him to stay but was unable to promise to start the winger on a more frequent basis. After a disastrous loan spell at Inter Milan last season, Podolski’s credibility as a world-class striker has dropped considerably so he views a move to Turkey as a way to rectify that.
Another player looking to rescue their career is Nani. The Portuguese winger has decided to leave Manchester United this summer after been deemed surplus to requirements by Louis Van Gaal. A move to Fenerbache and a starring role in their new look side is just what the doctor ordered for the player whose career has gone into free fall. Both moves are for significantly less than Arsenal or United paid for them but at this stage any revenue generated is welcomed. Both clubs are looking to spend big in the window but need space in their squads and extra funds to make that possible. The potential addition of Robin Van Persie to Fenerbache will only strengthen the league further and help to promote the Super Lig on a more global scale.
Luckily for Turkey it is not just one way traffic with several of Turkeys national side set for big moves this summer. First up is Atletico Madrid star Arda Turan who has agreed to sign for Barcelona in a move that has disappointed several other chasing clubs including Chelsea. The talented 28-year-old played a pivotal role in Atletico’s title run in 2014 which in turn made him into a cult figure at the Vincte Calderon Stadium. Turan is known for his close control, dazzling dribbling skills and vision. As the captain of Turkey, he is a strong fan favourite and is widely recognized as a influence of the next generation of Turkish players so his move to one of the biggest clubs in Europe has been seen as boost to his home nation chances of developing the next batch.
One of these players is the highly rated Turkey striker Enes Unal who yesterday agreed to join Manchester City. The 18-year-old is the clubs first signing of the summer will arrive in a deal worth an initial £500,000 that could rise to £2million based on appearances. Unal first came to the attention of several of Europe’s elite clubs with his performances for Bursaspor youth team scoring a remarkable 182 goals in just 110 games. That strike rate earned him a call up to Turkey’s Under 16 side where his goal scoring exploits continued hitting 24 goals in 25 appearances. Since then Unal’s progression has been accelerated both at club level and international level, making his debut for Bursaspor aged 16 and for Turkey earlier this year aged 18. He is likely to be part of City’s development squad rather than the first team but could feature if City needs to add something different to its attacking options.
Players like Turan and Unal will be vital to the future success of the Turkish game but they will face some of the same challenges as their predecessors. Turkish football for a long time has been riddled with off field corruption at board level with many clubs bending the rules to gain an advantage. Changing this mindset will take more than the arrival of a few new foreign players. An additional problem that Turkey has is with its existing players with rumours of infighting rampant amongst the squad. Stories surfacing last month about Gokhan Tore pulling a gun on Hakan Calhanogiu highlights the extent of the problem. Manager Faith Terim is in his third spell of Turkey but has never had to deal with such problems before so it will be interesting to see how he handles it going forward. What is clear is that if Turkey is to reach a major international tournament, they need to have their entire squad playing as one. Despite the talent at his disposal, this could be his biggest challenge to date.
In a rerun of the 2011 final, the USA faced a Japanese side looking to claim back to back titles in yesterday’s 2015 World Cup final. Japan, who had knocked out England in the semi finals to advance to yet another grudge match with the US, have not been as impressive in this tournament as they were in Germany but in a sign of a true champion have battled through each round, usually relying on a single goal for progression. The US on the other hand have grown stronger as the tournament progressed, firstly escaping from a difficult group before convincing wins against Colombia then China in the knock out rounds. But it wasnt until their semi final match with a rampant in form Germany that the US showed their real potential as contenders. The Germans had scored a remarkable nineteen goals in opening play from five matches with Celia Sasic and Anja Mittag in particularly impressive form.
But against a much tougher defence, Germany failed to find the space that was afforded to them in their previous matches. Unable to find the breakthrough at one end put more pressure on a nervous looking German defence that weakened as the match went on. Eventually the pressure became too much and the German’s conceded a silly penalty. Carli Lloyd converted that spot kick to hand the US the advantage in a defining moment in the game. The US added a second late in the game to secure their passage to the final and continue the US fine record at World Cups. In the seven Wormen’s World Cups that have been playing to date, the US has finished in the top three on every occasion, including three times as winners (1991,1999 and 2015) and once as runner-up (2011). Germany who are have won the tournament on two occasions (2003, 2007) have faltered in recent years and are in somewhat of a transition phase with half of their current squad under 25 years old. That inexperienced showed in their semi final match when they came up against an US side filled to the brim with seasoned internationals. In fact 10 of the US squad have over 100 caps whilst another 6 have more than 50 caps.
Since their defeat in 2011, the US has stuck with the same group of players making only a few additions along the way but importantly retaining a good mix of youthful exuberance with experienced professionals. Whilst captain Abby Wambach (249 caps) and defender Christie Rampone (308 Caps) may not feature as much in the starting eleven as in previous campaigns, their influence especially on the younger players in the team has been the making of this World Cup winning side. Gold at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London was a huge turning point and gave the US the confidence that they need to believe that they could become world champions. With a squad that contained Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Carli Lloyd, Rampone and Wambach it was hard to see anyone stopping them.
Meanwhile Japan took on England who had knocked hosts Canada out in the quarter finals. England, who had never reached this far in the World Cup before, played well in a tight match and looked on course to provide yet another upset by beating the Japanese. However a late own goal deep into added time at the end of the game by Laura Bassett knocked England out and put Japan into the final. It was the confidence booster that Japan needed having once again failed to live up to their billing as one of the tournament favourites. All that stood between them and another World Cup title was ninety minutes of football against the US. As the match kicked off on a sunny night in Vancouver in front of a sell out 53,341 fans, both sides looked evenly matched but it wouldn’t take long for one side to step up a dominate the game. It’s hard to argue that US captain Carli Lloyd should be the player of the tournament after some stunning shows in the previous rounds but she saved the best for last.
Two quick goals within five minutes gave the US the lead before Lauren Holiday made it three within 15 minutes. Lloyd would add a fourth a minute later to complete her hat trick with a stunning long distant lob from the half way line over the back peddling Kaihori in the Japanese goal. Japan however did not give up and snatched a goal back eleven minutes later to make it 4-1. After the restart, Japan added a second with Julie Johnston scoring an own goal to make it 4-2. Japan saw an opportunity to get back into the match and pressed forward to find the two goals needed to send the game into extra time. But it wasn’t to be as almost immediately the US raced up the pitch and scored their fifth goal thanks to Tobin Heath. With the game won, the US could afford to make two token substitutions, bringing on Wambach and Rampone for one final swansong. A fitting end to this historic win for the US women’s team.
The US Men’s National Team hashad some trouble recentlyhowever they have come together to defend their Gold Cup title with experience over youth. Manager Jurgen Klinsmann has chosen to use a more experienced team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, but the youthful team he is using in the Gold Cup could prove to be the US team of the future.
#1: The Youthful Team
The youthful team that is going to the Gold Cup is facing other youthful teams from neighboring countries. There are many experienced players in the world who choose not to play the Gold Cup, and the countries must dip into their junior ranks to find the players they need. The players on the US team aremore experienced overall, and the US team’s chances will rise immediately. Even the likes of John Brooks and DeAndre Yedlin have played for the US over ten times despite being only 22 years old.
#2: Stiff Competition
As always the threat to the US regaining the title lies with Mexico. The El Tri are not at full strength in the Gold Cup, but the Mexicans always field great teams filled with players who play professionally around the world. Stiff competition comes in the form of a US team that is not able to get past its previous failures. The Americans have won the Gold Cup, but that team did not perform very well in the last World Cup. The Americans are stuck in a cycle that sees them only progressing so far before being eliminated. The change in the roster could cause problems for a team that does not have an identity, and the match betting on the team becomes quite complicated.
#3: Is This Klinsmann’s Last Stand?
There has been little improvement to the US team since the World Cup and Jurgen Klinsmann is running out of opportunities to turn around the USMNT program. The team has not improved much since Klinsmann took over, and the Americans are not in the mood to be disappointed again in 2018. The World Cup 2018 could be a watershed for everyone in the ranks of world soccer, and Klinsmann could be let go if it appears that he is unable to manage the Americans to victory. His coaching philosophy is not perfect, and his results are varied.
#4: Will The US Win The Gold Cup?
The Gold Cup is anyone’s tournament to win, and it is a tournament the Americans could easily lose. The major changes in the American roster have caused an upheaval that most onlookers do not understand. The upheaval that the Americans take to the Gold Cup could become so problematic that they are eliminated early. The experienced team that the United Stated takes to the Gold Cup could help turn around Jurgen Klinsmann’s fortunes, but the Gold Cup is only one step in the rebirth of American soccer.
This article was written by Tony Samboras who is a sports writer with a passion for soccer. He has written for many online publications and currently writes for www.freebets.com.au
With the pressure on the host nation, England entered Saturday’s quarter final match with Canada with optimism. Manager Mark Sampson had been surprisingly vocal about Canada’s physicality in advance of the match with the hope that referee Claudia Umpierrez of Uruguay would take note. Canada’s English born manager John Herdman refused to be drawn into playing mind games with Sampson, instead dismissing his comments and insisting that the players on the pitch would decide the match not comments before it. In the end, the pressure on the host nation in front of a sold out 54,000 Vancouver crowd was too much with England progressing to the next round.
England took a shock 2-0 lead against the run of play inside fifteen minutes of the start after exposing Canada’s early nerves. But when captain Christine Sinclair rallied her troops with an impromptu huddle just shortly after the second England goal, Canada regained its composure and went up the field on the attack. England tried in vain to hold on until half time but when Sinclair pounced on a Bardsley fumble, there was only going to be one outcome. Canada were firmly back in the match. The second half started with the same tenacity as the first ended, with Canada firmly on the attack once more. But England stood firm, defending as a unit and in turn crushing Canada’s dream. As the seconds ticked away, Canada threatened to find the equalizer they needed to send the game into extra time but it wouldn’t be as they crash out of the World Cup. Up next for England is the semi-final match against Japan on Wednesday which is ironically Canada day. The defending champions are looking to replicate Germany by becoming only the second team in history to win back to back World Cups. England have never progressed to this stage before so the experienced Japanese side should be clear favourites to win the match.
If they can reach the final, they will face either Germany or the USA who take to the field tonight in the other semi-final. For the two teams ranked 1st and 2nd in the world, it’s the match that most hoped would be the final but will now be played out at the semi-final stage. Germany’s progression through the tournament has been nothing short of routine, hammering the Ivory Coast 10-0 in their opening match, drawing with Norway and then resuming their domination of the group with a 4-0 thumping of Thailand. They routed Sweden 4-1 in the round of 16 whilst relied on penalties to dispatch a tough French side in the quarter finals to set up the mouth-watering clash with the US. The Yanks route to the semi-final has been similarly easy with wins over Australia and Nigeria sandwiched between a draw with Sweden in the group stages. They faced a difficult challenge in the last 16 against Colombia but rose to the occasion knocking the South American’s out by 2-0. Up next were China who put in a gallant performance that was only undone by a fine goal from Carli Lloyd who has been one of the US most consistent performers in the tournament so far.
It should be a fantastic match with the World Cups top scoring team going up against the tournament’s best performing goalkeeper, Hope Solo. The US no.1 has been in stunning form making eleven key saves and conceding only one in five games. The pin up star was a controversial selection for US head coach Jill Ellis after Solo’s arrest last year for domestic assault. Despite some calls for her to be omitted, leaving the world’s best goalkeeper out of their squad would have been a defining decision for Ellis and one that she was unwilling to make. The truth is that Solo is fundamental to a US World Cup win and without her in goal, the US is a much weaker side. They will need her experience and skills if they are to stop a rampant Germany side from cruising to the final on July 5th.
Outclassed, outplayed and outscored was the story of the Under 21 European Championship semi-final match between Germany and Portugal. A 5-0 win enough to seal passage to the final. But somewhat surprisingly were the victors, Portugal who sent the tournament favourites Germany back to Bavaria for a rethink. Despite having a World Cup winning defender at the heart of their defence and a Champions League winning goalkeeper behind him, Germany simply could not contain a rampant and free flowing Portuguese side that appears to grow more in stature as the tournament progressed. They now face one final challenge, a repeat match with Sweden tomorrow to see who will lift the coveted trophy. The last time these two met in the group stage the game was tied 1-1 in the end but in the final only one team can leave victorious.
Germany will be watching that final with disappointment after failing to live up to their promise. The German squad was one of the strongest in a long time. In a week when English FA elite Director Dan Ashworth claimed that they couldn’t possibly ask full established internationals like Sterling, Barkley and Shaw to drop back down to Under 21 level, it was refreshing to see that other nations don’t seem to have the same hang ups. Germany called up Matthias Ginter who was part of the senior teams triumph in Brazil last year as well as goalkeeper Marc Andre ter Stegen fresh of his heroic’s for Barcelona in the Champions League cup final win over Juventus last month. In fact out of the squad of 23 players, six have represented Germany at senior level and have had no issues dropping back down to play in this tournament. That number could have been greater if not for injuries and lack of form towards the end of the Bundesliga season had not ruled out a few other players. Their passage to the semi-final was not exactly to plan with two draws and a win in the group condemning them to a second place finish behind Denmark. That put them up against Portugal rather than Sweden with the ‘Esperanças’ knocking them out.
Portugal have been a revelation in this tournament with several players playing key roles in their success. It’s a talented batch that Rui Jorge has arranged with pace, skill and vision throughout. At the heart of his team is captain Sergio Oliveira. The central midfielder who plays for FC Porto is highly regarded in his homeland as well as throughout Europe with several clubs scrambling for his signature. Technically gifted with incredible close control and a good range of passing, Oliveira has been exceptional in the tournament so far with an 85% average passing accuracy that highlights this. Alongside Oliveira is another highly rated youngster, William Carvalho. The Sporting Lisbon defensive midfielder is wanted by numerous bigger clubs and his performances in this tournament will not have done his chances of securing a move any harm. A regular for the full senior team, Carvalho like some of his German counterparts had no issue spending his summer competing for the Under 21 Euro title and that dedication could now pay off. Portugal will be considered strong favourites after their stunning win over Germany on Saturday. Sporting Lisbon pair Ricardo and Joao Mario helped themselves to a goal each as did Benfica striker Ivan Cavalerio, Monaco’s Bernardo Silva and Malaga’s Ricardo Horta as Portugal ran riot. Silva in particular was instrumental in the win with the dazzling attacking midfielder proving why many in the game are comparing him to Portugal greats Rui Costa and Luis Figo.
Winning the final is the end goal but in their way is Sweden who progressed to the final with a convincing 4-1 win over Denmark. Goals from John Guidetti, Simon Tibbling, Robin Quaison and Oscar Hiljemark cancelled out Uffe Bech’s strike for the Danes. Both Guidetti and Tibbling go into the final looking to score in order to seal the top goal scorer award. Currently both players sit on two goals with Czech midfielder Jan Kilment leading the way on three goals. But scoring against Portugal will not be easy, given that they have only conceded one goal so far in the tournament. That goal however was scored by Tibbling in their 1-1 draw in the group stage which will offer the Swedes hope. The final should be a spectacular end to what has been a fantastic European championship with two talented teams battling it out for the trophy.
The antics of Chilean defender Gonzalo Jara during Wednesday’s crunch quarter-final Copa America clash with Uruguay were despicable. The centre back played a hand literally in the sending off of PSG striker Edison Cavani in the 63rd minute of the match that ultimately swung the balance of the game in favour of Chile. Cavani received a second yellow after appearing to lash out at the defender, striking him in the face. However on closer inspection from a different angle, the reason for Cavani’s actions can be better understood. In footage capture from behind the two players, Jara is seen approaching Cavani at the half way line and sticking his finger into Cavani’s backside. The striker, who was doubtful for the match after his father was arrested for killing a man in a car accident, reacted as most would by pushing Jara away. The act itself was not worthy of a card but the referee was fooled by Jara who fell to the ground in theatrical fashion.
With Uruguay reduced to ten men, Chile went on to win the game thanks to an 81st minute strike from right back Mauricio Isla and progress to face Peru in the semi finals on Monday. Uruguay, quite rightly so were incensed by the actions of Jara and protested saying that he had deliberately done it to get Cavani sent off. Those protests may have fallen on deaf ears with the Copa organisers Conmebal but they have been heard loud and clear by Jara’s club, German Bundesliga side Mainz 05. The side’s Sporting Director Christian Heidel has revealed that the club is appalled by Jara’s actions and is ready to take their own actions by selling the player this summer. Heidel told German newspaper Bild that Jara knows he will be sold if the club receives a reasonable offer. He went on to state that the club will not tolerate that sort of behaviour from a player who represents their club. His disgust is less about Jara’s wandering hand but more so about the theatrical spill he took in order to ensure Cavani was dismissed.
Jara has as yet failed to make a statement in response but it’s believed that relations between Mainz and himself have rapidly deteriorated. It is however not the first time that this has happened with the Chilean defender well-known for his lack of discipline and hot streak. His career, which has taken him from his native Chile to Germany via a five-year stay in England with West Brom, Brighton and Nottingham Forest, is littered with disciplinary action so it’s hardly surprising that his current club is having similar issues. That said, it is unusual for a club to react in such a manner based on an incident at international level. When Luis Suaraz famously bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup last summer, his then club Liverpool decided to once again to support their player despite several fan protests. It was only after they received a substantial offer from Barcelona that they decided to sell their prize striker but if this had not materialized he would still be at the club today. Mainz decision to sell Jara based on his actions for Chile is a radical step but one that can be rationalized if you consider players as an extension of the clubs brand. Mainz at its heart is a family club, who actively promote games to the next generation of fans with attractive family ticket packages. Having a player like Jara associated to the club could potentially send out the wrong message and damage their brand in the long run. Ridding themselves of the player now appears to be a sensible approach, with any fee a bonus given that he was signed last summer as free agent.
Jara and his agent will have a busy next few weeks as they start to look for yet another club for the troubled Chilean. There is an argument that the pressure placed on the Chile squad to reach the final is immense which could have resulted in Jara taking such drastic actions to gain the competitive edge in a match which they were in danger of losing. Winning the Copa at home for the very first time would mean a lot to the Chile players including Jara who have developed as a team over the past five years. For the next couple of games, Jara will give his all for Chile in the hopes of lifting the trophy and perhaps also putting himself in the shop window for a potential new club.That is as long as he keeps himself out of mischief which is still to be seen.
Most England fans will remember or at least have heard about the events of July 30th 1966 when Bobby Moore famously led England to its first and so far only World Cup triumph. However few England fans will be able to recall what happened almost thirty years later on July 25th 1993. That was the last time that an England side at either under 18, under 19, under 21 or senior level won an international tournament. That day, with a squad that contained the likes of Sol Campbell, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville and Robbie Fowler, England beat Turkey by a single goal (a penalty by Darren Caskey) to lift the UEFA European Under 18 Championship trophy. Twenty two years later, England are still looking for their next trophy after being dumped out of this years Under 21’s European Championships at the group stage. Gareth Southgate’s side finished bottom of their group after two defeats and a win in yet another disappointing tournament for English fans.
England entered the tournament as a strong contender with a talented squad at their disposal. With Tottenham’s 30 goal a season striker Harry Kane leading the line, Southampton’s James Ward Prowse in midfielder and Everton’s John Stones solidifying the defence in front of the ever reliable Jack Butland in-goal, England should have at least progressed beyond the group to the knockout stage. But defeat in their opening game to Portugal left Southgate’s side with a mountain to climb. They appeared to be back on track with a nervy 1-0 win over Sweden, with substitute Jesse Lingard striking with five minutes to go but going into the final game against Italy, England looked disheveled and unorganized. What followed was a mauling at the hands of a less than convincing Italy side despite England having the majority of possession and a greater volume of shots. A brace from Torino’s Marco Benassi and one from Andrea Belotti had already sealed the win before Nathan Redmond grabbed a late consolation goal. The result in the end was good for no one with neither side progressing to the knockout stages after Portugal and Sweden drew in their final match and both advanced. Southgate almost immediately sprung to the defense of his team insisting that despite the team being knocked out, there was still a lot of positives in terms of the individual progress of certain players. Hardly what the England fans want to hear from one of their national managers.
There will be an inquest into what went wrong with several influential figures in English football like Harry Redknapp, Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville all calling for rapid changes across the board. The first question raised is a valid one and is around selection. Whilst Southgate did select a talented group of players for this tournament, he chose to ignore other more experienced players like Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley, Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshire. The make up of his squad was primarily Championship players and fringe Premiership players with the except of Stones, Kane and his strike partner Danny Ings. For comparison, Italy fielded a squad that had between them played over 270 games in Serie A last season whilst England could only boast 130 appearances in their squad with a vast majority of them being in the Championship or below. When questioned before the tournament about his selection, Southgate spoke about being fair and loyal to the group of players that had gotten them to the Championships through qualifying. It’s a fair point but one that should be addressed by the FA with a major rethink into priorities.
If England does want to win a tournament like this one, then they should be giving themselves the greatest chance of doing so. They need to select the best squad possible with the likes of Sterling, Barkley, Chamberlain, Shaw and Wilshire going in place of others. These players should have been part of this squad from the very start, creating a nucleus that lasted not only for this tournament but beyond. The team needs to grow together and more importantly progress together through the various international stages. In 2009, Germany beat England in the final of the Under 21 Euro Championships with a squad that would largely make up the team that would lift the World Cup at senior level five years later. England needs to adopt a similar approach if its is to build a team that is capable of winning the World Cup or European Championships in the future. Winning breeds confidence and giving a team the chance to be successful at one tournament only benefits them when it comes to their next one.
There also needs to be a tactical adjustment. England through all levels up to the senior team are being instructed by FA Director of Elite Development Dan Ashworth to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation but without creative midfielders in the squad, this formation simply does not work. At the under 21 level, Southgate has used this formation repeatedly forcing players like Danny Ings or Tom Carroll to operate out of position in an uncomfortable and unfamiliar attacking midfield role. This role should have been played by Rosss Barkley or Jack Wilshire, both of which are comfortable in the role and can create chances. Similarly the inclusion of a player like Raheem Sterling could have offered more width to England and presented Harry Kane up front with more chances, something he was sadly starved off during the whole tournament in the Czech Republic. Southgate’s lack of backbone and willingness to go against the FA’s wishes will no doubt cost him his job. But its far from his fault. The FA should shoulder some of the blame for appointing him in the first place instead of a more progressive manager. Their desire to appoint a yes man to the role has led to failure once again and yet another set back for England. Strangely Southgate still believes that England can win the 2022 World Cup given the quality of players coming through but in order to do so the country’s FA needs to make a fundamental decision into how much they want to win a tournament and what changes will be needed to make that happen.
Liverpool have completed the £29 million signing of Hoffenheim star Roberto Firmino. The Brazilian, who is currently with the Brazil squad playing at the Copa America in Chile has penned a five-year deal worth a reported £100k per week. He becomes Liverpool’s second biggest transfer of all time, behind Andy Carroll and will likely operate as a solo striker in a new look 4-2-3-1 formation for Liverpool next season. He is Liverpool’s fifth signing so far this summer with manager Brendan Rodgers masterminding a complete revamp of the squad that failed miserably last season. With Raheem Sterling edging his way towards the exit, Firmino’s arrival pending a work permit will be a welcome boost to the bewildered Anfield crowd who must have been wondering how Rodgers would reshape the squad and how much money would be spent in doing so. The signing is a show of good faith by the clubs owners, Fenway Sports Group who continue to invest in the club and its infrastructure. That said whilst they have sanctioned the move for Firmino, it is in no way an indication that they are completely bought in to the player being a success and will be watching with interest on how he pans out.
At only 23, Firmino is a viewed as a long-term investment but a potential high risk. His transfer fee maybe second only to the amount Liverpool paid Newcastle for Andy Carroll but his potential sell on value will be much higher especially if he performs. Liverpool have taken calculated gambles like this in the past to varied results. They bought Luiz Suarez from Ajax for £22.8 million, only to sell him four years later to Barcelona for £75 million. Similarly Fernando Torres arrived in the summer of 2007 for just over £20 million before departing three and a half years later to Chelsea for £50 million. There have however been epic failures as well. Last season Mario Balotelli was brought back to England for £16 million but has struggled to live up to the expectations that followed him. Liverpool are now desperate to cut their losses and rid themselves of the misfiring Italian. Balotelli’s signing however was only a fraction of what Andy Carroll cost. At £35 million, he is Liverpool’s most expensive signing to date and their most spectacular flop. Forty-four appearances over an ill-fated two-year stint saw a return of only six goals for the England striker. Liverpool eventually shipped him out on loan to West Ham for an initial £2 million loan fee before selling him permanently to the Hammers for £15 million a year later.
Brendan Rodgers knows hat he cannot afford for Firmino to be a flop as his neck is edging closer to the guillotine. With Jurgen Klopp waiting in the wings to take over, Rodgers probably only has to Christmas to prove to the board that he should remain in charge. With Daniel Sturridge out until October at least and his other striking options, Balotelli, Borini and Lambert all heading for the exit, the pressure is on Rodgers to make Firmino a success. The stats however do not bode well. Despite finishing the 2013-2014 season with Hoffenheim on sixteen league goals, it’s the only time the attacking midfielder turn striker has ever finished in double figures in a league campaign. Much of his success in that season can be attributed to the players around him, like the talented Kevin Volland. The 22-year-old German international had a stand out season that year netting nine times and laying on eight assists, half of which were for Firmino. More concerning is that in that season, Firmino was averaging only two goals a month, hardly a strike rate to write home about. Last season, Firmino only netted seven times despite making the same number of appearances as the 2013-2014 campaign. To be fair, he did operate more as an attacking midfielder in those campaigns than as an out-and-out striker. Which begs the question of why Rodgers would gamble so much on a player who isn’t really a centre forward by trade?
Firmino no doubt has talent and is playing a starring role for Brazil in the Copa in the absence of the now suspended Neymar. But the question still remains on whether he is the right man to lead Liverpool’s front line next season. Firmino started his playing career as a defensive midfielder but has slowly been pushed further forward by the coaches he has worked for as they exploited his talents. For both Brazil and Hoffenheim, Firmino has operated as an attacking midfielder and as a striker but its fair to say that his most comfortable position is the former. From there he can dictate the play, create chances and roam free. As a striker, especially a solo one that ability to roam is curtailed and his role is dramatically changed from provider to finisher. Arguably he can be dropped back into that attacking three for Liverpool when Sturridge regains his fitness but that wont be for some time. Until then Firmino will have to play in that central striker role with Rodgers hoping he is more of a Suarez or Torres than a Carroll or Balotelli. If Firmino succeeds, Rodgers will be hailed as a genius for spotting his potential. But if he fails, the manager could quite easily be regretting this gamble as he packs up his desk and makes way for Klopp.
After a thrilling World Cup which saw Germany steal Brazil’s thunder, the domestic seasons across the world return with higher expectations than normal. And they didn’t disappoint with too many moments to mention. In order to capture as many of them as possible, we have pulled together an A-Z list of the season that was, highlighting those great achievements, the miserable moments and sometimes the downright bizarre. Enjoy!
A – A is for Aberdeen who pushed Celtic all the way in the title race in the Scottish Premiership; and for Auckland City who won the OFC Champions League for the fifth time in a row.
B – B is for Bournemouth, Bristol Rovers, Burton Albion and Bury who all secured promotions from various English leagues and for Bolivar who won their 24th title in Bolivia. Its also B for Blatter and more importantly Chuck Blazer whose testimony could end up bringing FIFA’s corruption to an end.
C – C is for former Italy defender Fabio Cannavaro who faces jail for breaking in to his own house to go for a dip in the pool and for Chelsea who won their fourth Premier League title with an eight point margin over second place Manchester City.
D – D is for Dost and De Bruyne who inspired Wolfsburg to second place in the Bundesliga and ruined Jurgen Klopp’s leaving do by beating his side in the DFB Cup final. Its also for FC Dila Gori who shocked Georgian football on route to their first ever title and for Memphis Depay who inspired PSV to glory in the Eredivisie before departing for Manchester United.
E – E is for Eibar, the little club from the Basque country who have managed to stay in La Liga for another season despite finishing third from bottom after 13th placed Elche were relegated due to unpaid taxes.
F – F is for the FBI who finally brought FIFA to its knees with a series of arrests and a mountain of confessions and for Luis Figo who gave everyone the briefest of hopes by running for FIFA president before eventually dropping out in disgust.
G – G is for Germany, who not only embarrassed the World Cup hosts Brazil on their own backyard but won the trophy in dramatic fashion and for Girona who won promotion to La Liga for the first time in their history. G is also for Gibraltar who began their first ever journey towards a international tournament by competing in the European Championship qualifiers and for Steven Gerrard who played his last game for Liverpool before joining LA Galaxy.
H – H is for Hearts who went unbeaten until January on route to the Scottish Championship title, ahead of arch rivals Hibs and favourites Rangers. H is also for Hamburg who after a torrid season managed to save their place in the Bundesliga next season with a late strike against Karlsruher in the playoff final.
I – I is for the Ivory Coast who finally ended a twenty three year wait to lift the African Cup of Nations and for Inverness Caley Thistle who won their first ever Scottish Cup and with it secured a place in Europe next season. I is also for FC Ingolstadt who will play their first ever Bundesliga season next year after securing promotion.
J – J is for Juventus, the Italian champions for the four consecutive year as well as the Coppa Italia and a place in the champions league final. J is also for Jorge Jesus, the new manager of Sporting Lisbon after sensationally leaving arch rivals Benfica to join them, the first manager ever to cross the divide.
K – K is for Harry Kane, the Tottenham and England striker who has been a revelation this season for club and country and is also for Kasier Chiefs, not the band but the Johannesburg side who regained the South Africa title with a record breaking 21 wins in 30 games.
L – L is for Luiz Adriano who was on fire in the Champions League scoring nine goals in seven appearances and for Leicester who despite being bottom of the Premiership at Christmas managed to survive with thanks to their pragmatic manager (see P). L is also for Lens who crashed out of Ligue 1 primarily due to a court order forced them down.
M – M is for Mourinho, the Chelsea coach who steered his side to yet another title and one more for his growing collection. M is also for FC Metalist who managed to lose all six of their Europa League group games and for FC Midtjlland who proved that the moneyball theory can work in football as they breezed to the Danish title for the first time.
N – N is for Norwich and their inspirational manager Alex Neill who guided them back in the Premiership despite having only taken over five months previously. N is also for Newcastle who imploded after the departure of Alan Pardew and almost got relegated before a last game of the season win saw them saved.
O – O is for Michael O’Neill, the Northern Irish manager who has transformed the once whipping boys of European football into a real force that stands a strong chance of qualifying for France 2016. O is also for Olympique Marseille who pushed PSG all the way in Ligue 1 for most of the season before faltering at the last hurdle.
P – P is for Nigel Pearson, Leicester media friendly manager who turn around the fortunes of his side by creating a siege mentality and for PSG who won the domestic treble whilst PSV snatched the Eredivisie title away from Ajax. It is also for Parma who were declared bankrupt by the Italian courts and fell out of Serie A for the first time in their history.
Q – Q is for Qarabag, the Azerbaijani champions who shocked Europa League finalist Dnipro in the group stage with a 1-0 win whilst holding Inter Milan and Saint Etienne to a draw. Q is also for Queens Park Rangers who dropped back out of the Premiership only a season after winning promotion to it from the Championship.
R – R is for Ronaldo who scored an amazing 48 goals this season in La Liga, 5 more than Lionel Messi and for River Plate who won the Copa Sudamerica this season only four years after being relegated from the Primera Division
S – S is for Sevilla who beat Dnipro in the Europa League final to secure back to back cups and for Stjarnan FC, the new Icelandic champions for the first time in their history. Finally S is for Sassuolo who continue to impress in Serie A, this time finishing 12th despite many tipping them early on for relegation.
T – T is for Luca Toni who at 38 has showed that he is still a lethal striker by finishing the Serie A season as joint top goal scorer with 22 goals and for Thomas Tuchel, the man chosen by Borussia Dortmund to fill Jurgen Klopps shoes.
U – U is for Peruvian side Universidad Cesar Vallejo who came from behind to beat Alizana Lima and win the final of the Copa Inca.
V – V is for Andre Villas Boas, the former Tottenham and Chelsea boss who has finally hit his stride again by winning the Russian title with Zenit. V is also for Videoton who retained the Hungarian title after a four year absence. V is also for Jamie Vardy, the one-time non-league player who now finds himself in the England squad after an impressive season at Leicester City.
W – W is for Watford for gaining promotion back to the Premiership and for Western Sydney Wanders who won the AFC Champions League title by beating Al Halil in the final.
X – X is for Xavier Alonso who has rolled back the years, becoming a key player for Bayern Munich this season and also for Spanish midfield maestro Xavi Hernandez who called time on his Barcelona career after 24 years at the club.
Y – Y is for Ashley Young, the once forgotten man at Manchester United who has been a revelation this season as a utility player under Van Gaal.
Z – Z is for Zenit St Petersburg who under Villas Boas secured the Russian title and for Zidane who continues to lie in wait for his chance at the Real Madrid managers job.
With the majority of media coverage focused on the Copa America, Women’s World Cup and Under 21 European Championships, its understandable that few people really knew that the Under 20 World Cup was happening this month in New Zealand. In what had been a fairly unremarkable tournament, the final between surprise side Serbia and Brazil was anything but. In a thrilling encounter, Serbia secured a memorable late win over their South American rivals etching a new chapter in their short but colorful history. Serbia who were debutants to the tournament performed like champions in front of the sold out 25,000 seater North Harbour Stadium in Auckland. The Balkan peninsula took a 70th minute lead through striker Stanisa Mandic who brushed home a Nemanja Maksimovic cross from four yards out. Brazil who had dominated the game stepped up a gear and piled more pressure on Serbia but were unable to find a way through. It was going to take a moment of brilliance from one of their players and that is exactly what they got. Manchester United midfielder Andreas Pereira had only been on the pitch less than seven minutes when he picked up the ball wide on the left. After evading the challenges of Zivkovic and Maksimovic, Pereira surged into the box with right back Milan Gajic in pursuit. Pulling the ball back inside, he lost Gajic before drilling a low shot past Predrag Rajkovic to tie the game.
But it would be Serbia who had the last laugh when deep into extra time Maksimovic ran on to a through pass from Zivkovic which split the Brazilian defence wide open. With two defenders racing on to him, Maksimovic only had time to take a few touches before looking up and coolly slotting the ball past the diving Jean in the Brazil goal. Chaotic scenes followed with the Serbia bench running onto the pitch to celebrate whilst the Brazilian team sank to its collective knees. After the match, Serbia’s head coach Veljko Paunovic spoke warmly about his giant killers by insisting that the team unity was the key reason behind their success in the tournament.
“Were we lucky? Yes, we were lucky. But you have to deserve your luck and we worked extremely hard. We are a team that plays as one and, in the end, I think the team that wanted most to win this trophy has won it, It will give us confidence for the future but we must continue building, and rebuilding, our football and our society.”
Paunovic was right. His Serbian team had entered the tournament as rank underdogs but emerged as champions by playing together. There are no pre Madonnas in this team, only grafters who were willing to fight tooth and nail for each other. After defeat in their first group match to Uruguay, Serbia could have crumbled but instead they rallied to beat surprise outfit Mali (who finished third overall after beating Senegal in the third place playoff match earlier in the day) in their second match. A convincing 2-0 win over Mexico propelled them into the knockout stage and a match against Hungary. Again that never say die attitude that epitomised this Serbia team rang true. Despite being a goal behind going into the closing moments of the match, Serbia once again pulled themselves level through a strike from substitute Ivan Saponjic. Seconds later they would be reduced to ten men with the dismissal of Gajic but that would not deter Serbia who dominated in extra time, finally making the break through with two minutes to go sending them into the quarter finals. In their next match, they faced a tricky game against an ever improving USA who had dispatched Colombia in the last round. The match would be a stalemate and eventually be settled by penalties with Serbia goalkeeper and captain Predrag Rajkovic saving the decisive penalty.
Serbia did expect to meet Germany in the semi finals but Mali had different ideas by knocking out one of the tournament favourites on penalties. Like in the round of 16 and the Quarter finals, the semi final between Serbia and Mali would go all the way into extra time after Youssouf Kone’s strike cancelled out Zivkovic’s fourth minute drive. Once again it was the substitutions and tactical alterations by Paunovic that changed the game in Serbia’s favour. Ivan Saponjic netted a memorable goal that was enough to win the match and send Serbia into the final against favourites Brazil. The rest they say is history.
Speak to anyone who knows Clint Dempsey and they will tell you that the US forward is a quiet player who keeps his emotions in check both on and off the field. Which is why his actions during Tuesday night’s US open cup match are so strange. The former Tottenham and Fulham front man who is now playing for Seattle Sounders reacted badly to teammate Michael Aziri receiving a red card against Portland Timbers by grabbing the referees note-book and ripping it up. The incident happened deep into extra time during in a heated and tempestuous match with Seattle trailing by 2-1, referee Daniel Radford produced a straight red for Arizi following what appeared to be merely a coming together of two players. Seattle at this point were already down to nine men after midfielder Brad Evans was sent off by Radford earlier in the match and having lost striker Obefemi Martins to injury after Seattle had used all its three substitutes. Enraged at seeing his clubs chances of a potential comeback taking a further hit, Dempsey raced to the referee to protest the dismissal. What followed was a heated exchange between the two before Dempsey turned and walked away in disgust.
However moments later he returned to the referee, grabbed his notebook and threw it to the ground before going over to pick it up and rip it in half. Left with little choice, Radford produced first a yellow card to Dempsey and then a red card as the player had already been cautioned earlier in the match. This enraged Dempsey further who tried to square up to the referee only to be dragged away by his teammates before the situation got further out of hand. Dempsey’s sending off, along with Arizi’s meant that Seattle would finish with only seven men on the pitch. Portland took advantage of this by sealing the victory with a third goal four minutes from time thanks to a strike from Maximiliano Urruti. The defeat sees the defending US Cup champions Seattle crash out of the tournament with the ramifications of Tuesday nights apparent lack of discipline still to be felt. Whilst Evans and Arizi will likely face one or two match bans, the punishment for Dempsey could be a lot more with US Soccer ready to make an example of the 32-year-old. Due to different interpretations of the rule book, Dempsey’s actions could either be considered a gross misconduct or worse assault on a referee which carries a three-month ban from all soccer related activities. Section 531-9 of the US Soccer policy manual states the following:
The person committing the referee assault must be suspended as follows:
for a minor or slight touching of the referee or the referee’s uniform or personal property, at least 3 months from the time of the assault
The referees note-book could be considered part of his uniform or even his personal property so if US soccer follows the rule of the law, then Dempsey could be in a lot of trouble. However handing Dempsey a ban of this length could ultimately hurt US Soccer as the ban would apply to all soccer including the US men’s international team. With the Gold Cup fast approaching, the loss of their influential captain could be devastating for their chances of success which is much needed as they gear up for qualification to the Confederation Cup in 2017 and the World Cup in 2018. Doubters only have to look at last years World Cup for proof of Dempsey’s importance to the US team as he single handedly pulled them into the round of 16 with several stunning performances in the group stage. If they were to ban him, Dempsey could react badly and end his international career all together which would hurt the US further. But taking no action may have a similar effect and would make a mockery of the rules themselves which are set in such to govern football in the US.
Questions will be doubly asked about the referees performance during the match with several ex players saying that the way he called the game was highly unprofessional. But regardless of how bad the referee performed in this match, it is no excuse for the child like antics of Dempsey. The mild-mannered yet passionate forward simply lost his head and will likely need to face up to that in the coming weeks and months ahead. He will need to issue an apology, beg for leniency and hope that US Soccer decides not to make an example of the country’s captain.
After months of speculation concerning the future of manager Manuel Pellegrini, it would appear as though the Manchester City board has decided to stick with the Chilean, even if it is just a stop gap solution until Pep Guardiola becomes available. Whilst the speculated arrival of the Spaniard next season would mark the start of a transformation of the existing squad, Manchester City are not about to rest on their laurels and will invest heavily once again in their squad this summer. However their approach to the market may be slightly different than in previous years with a focus on home grown players. In the last five seasons, only five out of 26 summer arrivals have been British and of that five only one, Richard Wright remains at the club. In addition to Frank Lampard’s departure back to New York City FC, City has allowed another three home grown players to leave since the end of the season. James Milner joined Liverpool after his contract expired, Dedryck Boyota joined Celtic and Micah Richards who spent last season on loan at Fiorentina was released.
The importance of having home grown players in your squad cannot be understated. In 2010 the Premier League introduced new rules which mandated all clubs in the league to have a minimum of eight home grown players in their squad of 25. The definition of a home grown player is somewhat up for interpretation with any player regardless of their nationality or age considered home grown who has been registered with the club for a continuous period of three years prior to their 21st birthday. This means that City could technically claim that Spanish youth striker Jose Angel Pozo is home grown as the player was signed in early 2012 and has now spent three years at the club. There are other youth players in the Manchester City academy that can help bolster the number of home grown players however this would mean that they would have to be allocated one of the 25 spots in the Manchester City first team roster. With the pressure mounting on Pellegrini to deliver success both at home and in Europe next season, he cannot afford to take a risk on youth players so will enter the summer transfer market with a new objective – to sign home grown players. With only three home grown players at present in their first team – goalkeepers Joe Hart, Richard Wright and French defender Gael Clichy, City need to find five new players to meet the required number.
To be fair they have wasted little time in their pursuit of home grown talent and have been linked with a variety of players over the past few weeks; none more so than Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool winger has, primarily through his agent, insisted that he wants to leave the Anfield club in order to win trophies; something that City can offer him a good chance of doing. To date Liverpool have stuck to their guns rejecting bid after bid from the Manchester club and are rumoured to be holding out for a reported £50m. It looks certain that Sterling will leave Liverpool this summer but for how much exactly is still to be seen. Another player very much on City’s radar is Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshire. The England international who scored a two wonderful screamers against Slovenia last weekend in the 3-2 win has had a difficult past two years in north London with injuries hampering his progression. He is still widely regarded as a talented player who can offer much to any side so City’s interest is not unwarranted. They have yet to formally bid for the player with any move likely to fail given Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to sell. A cheaper and more likely option could be Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph who had a terrific season at the East midlands club despite the turmoil that surrounded their season. His performances earned him an England call up earlier this year and could help him secure his passage to a bigger club with City favourites to land the tireless central midfielder.
Buying talented youth players may also be an option open to Pellegrini. Patrick Roberts is not exactly a name that is widely known but he soon will be. The 19 year old Fulham striker/winger has impressed last season in the Championship, catching the eye of many Premiership scouts along the way. Despite not getting on the score sheet in any of the 20 appearances he made last season, he is viewed as one for the future and is likely to leave Fulham after their failure to escape England’s second tier. Pellegrini is a huge fan of the player and is willing to bid up to £5m for the England under 19 star however Fulham will hold out for double that. He could face a challenge from Liverpool who are also reportedly interested and with Roberts being an avid fan of the Merseyside club, he may face an uphill struggle to convince Roberts to play in blue rather than red next season.
City’s desperation to buy British is starting to show but with cash to burn they should be able to land their targets eventually. Unfortunately the price they will have to pay is likely to be over inflated as most clubs in England are aware of City’s home grown dilemma and the vast financial resources at their disposal. City is seen by many as a cash cow to clubs who will milk them for as much money as possible before releasing their best home grown players to them. City face a race against time to bring in the required additional five home grown players before the end of the summer transfer window or will face heavy sanctions from the Premier League. This will be a pricey summer for City but one that they only have themselves to blame for after five seasons of buying foreign imports instead of home grown players.
In the broadest sense of the word, change is the act or instance of making or becoming different. In the English language, Change has many meanings but when it comes to football, it usually refers to the need for dramatic switch of direction. It usually occurs after a low point much like AC Milan’s worst league performance in over 17 years. The eighteen times Serie A champions finished in 12th place this past season, sparking calls for a change at the club that will hopefully see them rebound and challenge for honours once more. With Juventus sealing their forth league title in a row and the gap widening between the top three the chasing pack, AC Milan need to introduce change quickly before they become irrelevant. But change is not easy to implement, it has to be systemic across the entire club. The issue with this and with AC Milan in particular is that the key problems lie in the boardroom level where several legacy directors still rule the roost and are unable to see that they are a major factor in Milan’s recent downturn in fortunes.
From the negative press associated to owner Silivio Berlusconi after hours activities to the archaic thinking of long time vice president Adriano Galliani, AC Milan’s board is rotten to the core and in desperate need of change. But now several green shoots are starting to appear that give hope to Milan’s bewildered fans. After Berlusconi’s troubled private life became the centre of much media and political debate in 2011, he wisely decided to step back from his role with the club and leave it in the hands of his daughter, Barbara Berlusconi. The 30 year old former socialite and philosophy graduate may not have seemed like the revolutionary figure that Milan needed but over the past three years she has proved to be exactly that. With a good business eye and ability to seek out and develop strong commercial relationships, Barbara is slowly bringing AC Milan into the modern game where commercial sponsorship’s and marketing initiatives help to fund the progress of a club rather than a wealthy owner. She has worked tirelessly to increase the awareness of the AC brand around the world in hopes of generating further interest and last month persuaded her father to sell 48% of the club to Thai businessman Bee Taechaubol for a reported €470 million. This sale comes with a promise of investment back into the playing squad with as much as €150 million being touted around the media as the figure Taechaubol is willing to plow into the club. The money will help to complete construction of a new stadium for the club in Portello which will finally see them move away from the now crumbling San Siro.
But more importantly that money will be used to refresh the squad which is in a dire state. AC Milan’s current mix of over rated foreigners and under performing home grown players is simply not working and a drastic change is needed if they are to compete again. That change is already underway with the confirmation that Porto striker Jackson Martinez will be arriving shortly. He could be followed closely by Monaco’s talented defensive midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia with both clubs acknowledging that discussions are taking place. They have also been linked with Dortmund’s Mats Hummels, Marseille’s Giannelli Imbula and Manchester City’s Aleksandar Kolarov in recent weeks as the rebuilding process picks up steam. This new look squad will however be somewhat surprisingly managed by ex Inter and Serbia boss Sinisa Mihajlovic who took over from Filippo Inzaghi on Monday. Former AC Milan and Italy striker Inzaghi had only been promoted to the first team manager position from his role as youth team manager at the start of the season following a disastrous spell under another former great, Clarence Seedorf. After an impressive spell at the Under 19 level, the hiring of Inzaghi made a lot of sense but he couldn’t transform the fortunes of the first team last season winning only 35% of the games he played.
His failure sparked conversations about the need for change at the club with the board reacting quickly to try an persuade former manager Carlo Ancelotti to return for a second spell in charge. But Ancelotti rejected the offer stating that he was suffering from burnout after a pressure filled two years at Real Madrid and had decided to take a much needed rest. His refusal put AC Milan into panic mode especially given that Inzaghi was still technically their manager at the time of the approach. Their appointment of Mihajlovic is a bizarre move given his connection with their arch rivals and his previous comments made that he would never work for AC Milan. He did managed to lead a struggling Sampdoria side to 7th place last year after inheriting a side entrenched in a relegation scrap the previous year. But there are those who doubt his success at Sampdoria with journalist Mina Rzouki suggesting that in fact tactical coach Emilio De Leo that was principally responsible for Sampdoria’s turn in fortunes by improving their set piece play and movement off the ball with Mihajlovic playing more of the manager role. AC Milan have yet to confirm who from Sampdoria’s backroom staff will follow Mihajlovic to the San Siro but there is unlikely to be any room for former AC Milan legends to return to the club in a coaching capacity. This is something that the club needs desperately if it is to change for the better. Whilst it is good to let go of the past to move forward, you still need to be able to reflect on where you have comes from and former players like Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi can provide this nostalgic reference to previous Milan successes.
Change is coming to AC Milan but its slow and steady with much work still needing to be done. If they are to be competitive once more they need to change not only the team but the entire club up to the board room level starting with the removal of Adriano Galliani who continues to wreak a foul stench on the club. Mihajlovic may not be the right appointment for the future of the club but he is a good fit for now and should be able to steady the ship and help reform happen. AC Milan will unlikely challenge for honours next season but it wont be long before they are once again especially if they fully embrace change.