How The FIFA Scandal Could Affect The Rest Of The World

How will the FIFA scandal affect the rest of the world? (Image from Getty)In the wake of the recently published reports of the massive wave of corruption in world football governing body FIFA, football fans and governments are angered. Even though there are several people who are willing to help and there are several football federations and governments that are investigating the corrupt practices there is undoubtedly a long list of unfortunate things yet to happen. Recently several questions have been answered however the following are likely ramifications to the corruption issues.

The Russian Status Change in World Football

The upcoming 2018 World Cup will be held in Russia, however, should UEFA actualise the threat of withdrawing from FIFA, the Russians would be left in a rather precarious situation. It would mean that should Russia decide to host the World Cup, it would be left with no other choice but to quit UEFA. Should the Kremlin decide to quit UEFA and given the country’s geographical location, it would mean that Russia would have to make a move. It would have to apply and hope to be invited to be part of the Asian Football Confederation. Should they be granted the invite, it would be beneficial for nations signed up to the AFC region, both for financial and popularity reasons. However, one wonders what would Russia get from such a deal? Departing the European championships, especially now that the country has a club level on UEFA Champions League and joining the AFC is not a great option for the Kremlin.

Russia out - Could Putin pull Russia out of UEFA? (Image from Getty)
Russia out – Could Putin pull Russia out of UEFA?
(Image from Getty)

New Changes to the Game of Football

Currently, the IFAB (International Football Association Board) determines any potential changes as well as additional football laws. As separate as FIFA is from IFAB, the former has a position on the latter’s board carrying 50% of the voting power. The board’s derived from Great Britain makeup 50% and should UEFA withdraw from FIFA, then FIFA would lack a majority in its body and thus would be affected in the voting of new laws. We would be left wondering whether UEFA would prefer going their separate way and forming a new body and have a say in the formation of new laws. Again one is left to wonder what if UEFA decided to part ways with FIFA, would it mean that Northern Irish, Scottish, English and Welsh board would also have to pull out of the IFAB? However, it is unlikely that it would have two different codes for association football. However, countries in UEFA would have to follow the rules given by UEFA as the rest of the World prescribed to a different standard altogether.

The IFAB - An uncertain future ahead (Image from PA)
The IFAB – An uncertain future ahead
(Image from PA)

The Players’ Jeopardy

European-based players would also suffer from the wrath of a split as they would not likely take part in FIFA World Cup tournaments. They would rather remain in their home continent and participate in UEFA Champions League and European Championship games. The players that would be hampered most are football players that were born out of the UEFA Zone and players that don’t have European passports. The rules for them to be included in UEFA games would potentially be adjusted to be stiffer. Perhaps what we may witness would be players moving to the UEFA side and get a ban from participating in FIFA events. Clubs in Europe would also be affected not knowing whether they would be asked to let go of their non-European players. In general, a World Cup event that would exclude the best players from non-European countries who play for UEFA clubs not featuring in the tournament would just be outright sad. Moreover, a World Cup event without Europe’s great countries taking part would just be outright awful, why? Because many players playing in the European leagues would choose to play for the clubs as they pay better than their countries. In summary, these are just some of the ramifications FIFA is faced with, should the world governing body fail to take measures to restore its image!

This article is courtesy of author and sports analyst John Hawthorne. John is not just a writer of sports he is also a sports analyst for U.S based sports system Simply The Bets. Follow him now on Twitter : @johnhawthorne82

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Down But Not Out – Scotland Now Prepare For Bare Knuckles Fight With Poland

Scotland and Germany tussle for the ball (Image from Getty)If only points were awarded for effort in football, Scotland would surely have walked away with something last night against Germany. They put up a good fight twice coming back from going a goal behind but in the end left Hampden with nothing but a sore head and a bruised ego. It wasnt an unexpected result but stung nonetheless as Scotland’s chances of qualifying for Euro 2016 took another blow. The sucker punch however was not against the Germans but instead last Friday night in Tbilisi when Scotland were TKO’d by an old foe in the form of Georgia. In a fight they had to win, Scotland looked sluggish failing to connect with any of their jabs at the home team before suffering a fatal blow to the abdomen which they were unable to come back from.

Georgia's sucker punch knocked Scotland for Six (Image from Getty)
Georgia’s sucker punch knocked Scotland for Six
(Image from Getty)

Much like a well-traveled fighter, Scotland has a checkered past. It has some famous shock wins against the heavyweights of world football including France and Holland in qualification but for each one there are several bouts they look back on and can’t believe they lost. It’s the same story year after year for Scotland and their supporters who turn out in their droves regardless of how bad the pummeling will be. They watch helplessly as lesser opponents push Scotland to the ropes time and time again, first jabbing then slamming Scotland with a hook and an uppercut. The fans see Scotland bleeding and want the referee to call time early to save their prize-fighter. But he can’t and he won’t. Scotland must defend itself but it can’t, unable to push their opponent back and stop the onslaught. Disbelief fills the stadium as the fans remember how Scotland managed to push better opponents, the so-called heavyweights all the way to the twelfth round. They think If only Scotland could be consistent then perhaps they would have a shot at something great.

McArthur delivers a warning blow to the Germans which puts Scotland back in the fight (Image from PA)
McArthur delivers a warning blow to the Germans which puts Scotland back in the fight
(Image from PA)

Unlike in Tbilisi, the effort was more apparent against the current world champions. Scotland battled hard, trying to stay in the fight they now most desperately needed to win.Their defence looks solid, if not totally convincing and held of the German onslaught of intricate passes and probing shots for a majority of the tussle. Against Georgia the midfield was lethargic and failed to create any really opportunities for the lone frontman Steven Fletcher to strike. But against Germany, Scotland where throwing wild punches, often missing the mark all together but still trying to push back. Germany had seen it before in their last fight but this time looked concerned as the pair exchanged blows in the first half. Twice Muller tried to knock Scotland out but twice they responded, first through Maloney and then by McArthur. The fight was evenly balanced going into the break. German trainer Joachim Low delivered a stern warning to Germany that they needed to win this fight to take a step closer towards the Euro’s. He told them to step up a gear and finish Scotland once and for all. They did just that with the fatal blow happening just moments after the restart, a blow that knocked the wind out of Scotland and left them dazed and confused. As the referee ended the fight, Scotland trudged off the park believing all was lost and it may be.

Up Next Another Heavyweight - Poland (Image from AFP)
Up Next Another Heavyweight – Poland
(Image from AFP)

To make matters worse, Scotland must watch as Wales and Northern Ireland edge closer towards the Euros. Once considered poorer versions of Scotland, the duo have now leap ahead of their northern rival and are challenging the heavyweights once more. The only chance Scotland has at redemption comes next month when they face up to another tough heavyweight in the form of Poland. They must win this fight and the following amateur bout against Gibraltar to stand any chance of reaching the play offs. Battered and bruised, Scotland must regroup and look deep inside themselves for the energy to go out in front of their home support once more and finally knock down a heavyweight. The gloves are officially off now as Scotland prepare to fight dirty in an effort to keep their dream of qualification alive.

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Hello Jurgen? Liverpool Close In on Klopp After Rodgers Departure

Favourite to replace Rodgers - Jurgen Klopp (Image from PA)On a wall on route to the Anfield tunnel is a plaque almost as famous as the club it represents. Leaving the Liverpool changing room, the players walk down a flight of stairs directly underneath the plaque which instantly became a symbol of the club on the day it was hung there. Reading “This is Anfield – Liverpool Football Club”, it has become a ritual for Liverpool players and fans of the club to touch it as they walk down those few steps. As Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers was one of those who has touched that plaque more than once but in recent months it has been a different set of writing on the wall that has had Rodgers worried. He knew that he was in danger of being sacked and probably believed he had more time but after a dismal start to this season, Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton would turn out to be his last in charge of Liverpool.

Liverpool's search for a new manager is one as Rodgers is sacked (Image from Getty)
Liverpool’s search for a new manager is one as Rodgers is sacked
(Image from Getty)

In the end the result at Goodison mattered little as the club’s owners had already made up their minds. Rodgers was informed shortly after the match by managing director, Ian Ayre. Whilst expected, the news will still have hurt as Rodgers strongly believed that he had what it took to turn Liverpool around. But for Fenway Sports Group, Liverpool’s principle owners enough was enough and a change needed to be made. They had grown tired of Rodgers excuses of why despite repeatedly spending vast amounts in the transfer market, he had little to show for it. In three years, Rodgers has delivered nothing – no cups, no European success and certainly no title. The latter is what FSG wanted the most having already tasted success on several occasions with their baseball team, Boston Red Sox. But in the footballing world, their sizable investment under Rodgers failed to bear any fruits. One season of nearly clinching the title does not quite count and for Rodgers the writing was starting to be etched on the wall as early as last Christmas.

Liverpool co owner John Henry lost patience with Rodgers and has acted (Image from Getty)
Liverpool co owner John Henry lost patience with Rodgers and has acted
(Image from Getty)

Whilst former AC Milan, Chelsea and Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti has been linked heavily with the job along with current Ajax boss Frank De Boer, there is only one man who Liverpool should be turning to in their time of need. Jurgen Klopp is that man and if the FSG has any sense they will appoint him quickly. This is the perfect time for a change with the international break now upon us, it will give Klopp longer than usual to settle in and start to formulate the clubs revival. The former Borussia Dortmund boss has been out of work since this summer after calling time on his spell with the former Bundesliga champions. At his exit press conference, emotions were running high with a Dortmund board inconsolable about losing their prodigal son. It was Klopp’s decision to leave, stating that he could no longer offer them everything he had. Dortmund’s loss could well be Liverpool’s gain as they close in on their preferred candidate.

Hard not to like him - Jurgen Klopp (Image from Getty)
Hard not to like him – Jurgen Klopp
(Image from Getty)

But why Klopp? Critics will argue that the appointment of a more highly experienced manager like Ancelotti would make more sense, and give greater stability to the club than they had under Rodgers. Ancelotti has been there and done that during a glittering 20 year managerial career and any club would be fortunate to have him. But Liverpool are looking for something different, someone with charisma and charm that can be a driving force on the pitch as much as off it. Klopp fits what they need. Anyone who has ever met the guy has loved him and fallen head over heals for his smooth talking German charm. His inviting smile and friendly demure make him seem highly approachable, almost to the point that you could believe that he would be quite happy to have a pint with you and talk for hours about the beautiful game. But underneath all of this is a superb footballing brain, one that sees beyond what is in front of it and is already planning the next five moves. There are only a few coaches like this in the game today – Guardiola and Mourinho being the best examples so for Liverpool to secure one would be a massive coup.

Klopp touches the Anfield sign last year (Image from Getty)
Klopp touches the Anfield sign last year
(Image from Getty)

Whilst he may not have the years of managerial experience across multiple countries as Ancelotti has, Klopp has shown in the teams he has managed that he can build teams not only for now but for the future. He focuses heavily on youth players both through transfers and promotion from the youth team and building a squad capable of challenging for years to come. This is exactly what Liverpool needs at this junction, a manager who will take average players and make them into great ones and build a side that can challenge on all fronts going forward. Klopp has been open in his admiration for the club in the past speaking about its rich history and unfilled potential. He might be just what Liverpool need now as they look to reclaim the glory years of yesteryear. Time will tell if the German can do just that and give the fans another piece of history to hold on to.

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Ballon d’Or Shock Nominees Deserve Praise, Not Judgement On Inclusion

Last year's winner Cristiano Ronaldo is looking to make it three in a row at this years event (Photo by Mike Hewitt - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)The leaked list of this year’s Ballon d’Or nominations has yet again thrown up some surprise inclusions. The 59 man long list for the 2015 award will be eventually whittled down to a shortlist of 23 names of which the winner and two runners-up will be chosen. There are the standard names of world football on the list including last years winner Cristiano Ronaldo, four-time winner Lionel Messi plus regular nominees Manuel Neuer, Robert Lewandowski, Gareth Bale, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Eden Hazard but its the inclusion of other names that has many scratching their heads. However all of the names on the list deserve to be there based not only on current form but on past performances throughout this season and last including both domestic and international appearances. We look at three of the “surprise” names below and examine exact why deserve to be included in the list.

Christian Atsu

Christian who is what most people will be asking but the Chelsea winger who is currently on loan at Bournemouth arguably deserves his spot based on his performances at the African Cup of Nations in January. Atsu may be only 23 but is already a fundamental part of the Ghana squad. With 30 caps already since his debut in 2011, Atsu’s impressive wing play and dynamic running inspired Ghana as they marched to the final. Despite losing to the Ivory Coast, Atsu won the player of the tournament prize scoring twice including the goal of the tournament against Guinea. Yet to play a single minute for Chelsea since his move from Porto in 2013, Atsu has become yet another loanee in the Chelsea machine spending time at Vitesse in Holland and Everton last season. Now at Bournemouth under Eddie Howe, Atsu is keen to impress and potentially secure a permanent move. With Max Gradel ruled out for six months, Atsu may get that opportunity to dazzle Howe and in addition show Jose Mourinho exactly what he is missing.

Massimo Luongo

A year ago, Massimo Luongo was toiling away in the third tier of English football with Swindon but 2015 has proven to be a defining year for the 23-year-old. The former Tottenham reject was already impressing visiting scouts to the Country Ground when he received the call up to be part of Australia’s Asian Cup team in a move that would help him secure not only his next transfer but the Ballon d’Or nomination as well. Like Atsu, Luongo was in spectacular form as Australia stormed to their first ever Asian Cup title in front of a packed home crowd in Sydney. Luongo’s exploits at the heart of the Australian midfield earned him the Most Valuable player award after scoring two vital goals and playing a key role in several others along the way. Back in England, his form continued as he help Swindon to a play off final appearance only to suffer heartache when beaten by Preston. That heartache wouldn’t last long as Luongo secured a move to newly relegated QPR in the Championship. With lofty ambitions to return to the Premiership quickly, we may just see Luongo back in England’s top division sooner rather than later. Likely nominated by former Australian international Harry Kewell who is now part of the selection committee for the Ballon D’or, Luongo may have been given the nod for his exploits for the Aussies but in truth his performances through last season with Swindon also helped merit his inclusion.

David Ospina

Arsenal fans are still annoyed by David Ospina inclusions in their opening two Champions League fixtures this season ahead of new signing Peter Cech. After two defeats, with Ospina partly responsible for errors in both games, Arsenal now have a mountain to climb if they are to get out of the group stage. So news that Ospina has been included in the Ballon d’Or list will be a major shock to the Gunners faithful. Beating Gigi Buffon, who not only won the treble in Italy but also help Juventus to the Champions League final may be questionable but Ospina has done well int he past few years at both club and international level. He has cemented himself as Colombia’s first choice goalkeeper with a series of fine performances including helping them to quarter-final appearances at both the World Cup last year and this years Copa America. At club level, Ospina had dethroned Polish number 1 Wojciech Szczęsny as Arsenal’s first choice goalkeeper and looked too have cemented that spot before the arrival of Peter Cech this summer. Ospina helped Arsenal to cup wins in both the Community shield and FA Cup last season as well as guiding Arsenal to a third place finish. But with all goalkeepers, Ospina is judged on his last performance and if the team loses especially to lesser opposition, questions are always asked about how the goalkeeper played.

Ospina made several key saves for Arsenal last season  (Image from Mitchell Gunn/JMP/REX)
Ospina made several key saves for Arsenal last season
(Image from Mitchell Gunn/JMP/REX)

For the three players above, being recognised on this list is an accomplishment especially considering some of the names of players who missed out. Spare a thought for Manchester City duo Joe Hart and David Silva or for that note Bayern Munich captain Philipp Lahm. Fellow German Marco Reus and new Bayern teammate Douglas Costa also missed out as did Arda Turan, Sergio Busquets and many others who could quite have easily have made the list. For each of the 59 names mentioned on the list, the next few months will be about receiving the adulation from your fellow professionals until the list is cut down in December. Even if they don’t win, the players on this list including the three above should all be proud of their accomplishments and revel in the fact that they have been recognized by the world of football as one of the best players in the game today.

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

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

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

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

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

Adam Swandi

Age: 19

Position: Attacking Midfield

Club: Courts Young Lions

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

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

Anumnathan Kumar

Age: 20

Position: Central Midfielder

Club: Courts Young Lions

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

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

Rising star Anumnathan Kumar in action against Palestine  (Image from Getty)
Rising star Anumnathan Kumar in action against Palestine
(Image from Getty)
Adam Hakeem and Amer Hakeem

Age: 17 and 16

Position: Both defenders

Club: NFS U-17 and U-16

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

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

Amirul Adli

Age: 19

Position: Central defender/midfielder

Club: Courts Young Lions

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

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

Post by Kenny C, BOTN writer based in Asia

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Football’s Data Epitome On The Horizon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dundee United Search For Next Manager Following McNamara Sacking

Jackie out as United ring in the changes (Image from Getty) The sacking of Jackie McNamara as Dundee United manager was expected given the recent run of poor results at the club. The former Scotland and Celtic defender was released from his duties following the latest defeat, a 2-1 loss to St Johnstone on Saturday ending his two-year spell in charge. With only 4 wins and 4 draws in his last 24 Scottish Premier League fixtures, the decision by owner Steven Thompson to remove McNamara is the right one but the manner is which he did it has received a lot of backlash from both fans of the club and the media. Thompson broke the news to McNamara after the game in a board room at McDiarmid Park, home of St Johnstone handing the manager a pre-prepared letter confirming his termination. Many believe that this was disrespectful to McNamara and that the club should show him more respect and notified him the following Monday at Dundee United’s training ground.

Dundee United owner Steven Thompson has received harsh criticism for the way the club dismissed McNamara (Image from sns)
Dundee United owner Steven Thompson has received harsh criticism for the way the club dismissed McNamara (Image from sns)

Whilst the debate rages on about how he should have been sacked, his dismissal it seems is not up for discussion. McNamara has performed reasonably well in his role despite difficult circumstances. Dundee United are for all intents and purposes a selling club, like most other clubs in the Scottish Premier League. That was not always the case but after running into financial difficulties four years ago, owner Steven Thompson decided that the club would become so, helping to balance the books and keep the club in the black. The sale of £6.3million worth of talent in recent years including Ryan Gauld to Sporting Lisbon, Andrew Robertson to Hull and the duo of Gary MacKay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong to Celtic has helped United to wipe their debt and put the club back on a more even footing for the future. McNamara has remained positive despite the loss of key players and the lack of money made available to him to buy new ones, however recent revelations by Dundee United supporters may explain his reason for remaining silent. The club has admitted that during his spell in charge, McNamara benefited financially from the sale of players. Although not involved in player transfer negotiations, McNamara received a kick back for each player he helped the club to develop and sell on. In justifying this type of arrangement, Thompson claimed that the practice was widely used and was seen as a way to deliver value to the club over the long haul:

“The manager’s basic remuneration package was reduced considerably, replaced instead by a performance-based contract, with several bonus initiatives, which included developing young players into actual transfer targets. This way the Club drove down management costs and engaged a forward-looking management team whose income would only increase by achieving results. This practice is well established throughout the UK, particularly in England where transfer markets are a substantial incentive”.

Despite the work McNamara did off the pitch in developing saleable assets, the on pitch performances were not good enough. The players he did manage to bring in to replace his outgoing stars have not worked and as a result Dundee United have struggled in the past two season. With the third highest wage budget in the Premier League, the expectations were that United would be challenging for a place in Europe, not kicking it about in the relegation zone so changes had to be made. With McNamara now gone, the focus now has switched to who will replace him. A host of names have already been touted with some familiar faces in Scottish football being put forward by various media outlets and sports betting firms. Jimmy Calderwood, Stuart McCall, Mixu Paatelainen and John Hughes were among the first, later joined by the names of Ally McCoist and Steven Pressley. The latter has already pulled himself out of the running, speaking on BBC Scotland’ Sportsound radio call in show saying that he was approached to have a discussion but now settled in England with his family, it wasnt the right time for him to be considered. Pressley isn’t the only name south of the border to be linked with the job with Paul Lambert, Newcastle assistant Ian Cathro and Malky Mackay but its unlikely that United will be able to afford any of them.

Jimmy Calderwood is one of several names linked with the Dundee United job  (Image from PA)
Jimmy Calderwood is one of several names linked with the Dundee United job
(Image from PA)

To date, Thompson has kept his cards close to his chest around who he will appoint. He has an idea of what he wants in terms of a new manager/head coach but was unwilling to share when asked by journalists. One thing he was clear on was that any candidate who hasn’t managed in the past would not be considered saying that United is at a level where they shouldn’t have to give new managers their first job. The club will take stock over the next few days and work out who fits their criteria with interviews then set for the following weeks. With an international break coming next week, the timing couldn’t be better and the club will be keen to bring someone in before United’s game with Hearts on the 18th October.

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The Old Lady May Have Slipped, But Her Hip Isn’t Broken

The Old Lady is struggling to recapture their form that won them four consecutive titles (Image from AFP)Less than six months from their Champions League final appearance, Juventus find themselves in unfamiliar territory struggling to find form in the league. Ravaged by injuries to key players, the current Italian champions are 10 points adrift of top spot after only one win in their opening six games of the new season. Lying in 15th place with only five points to their credit, it’s perhaps too early to panic but for many fans it’s a worrying time. The old lady has fallen over and in her fragile state is struggling to get back up. Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Napoli highlighted the clubs current problems as a sub standard Napoli, who are struggling themselves to find form dispatched Juventus with a fair amount of comfort.

Higuain was on target as Napoli beat Juventus 2-1 (Image from Getty)
Higuain was on target as Napoli beat Juventus 2-1
(Image from Getty)

The departure of key players Carlos Tevez, Andrea Pirlo and Arturo Vidal in the summer has certainly had an effect on how Juventus have started this season. And it could have been worse if moves for Paul Pogba had gone through. But it’s the injuries to holding midfielders Claudio Marchisio and Sami Kherdira and strikers Mario Mandzukic and  Alvaro Morata have highlighted the squads lack of depth. Despite having a squad of 85 players (58 of which are out on loan), Juventus are struggling for quality replacements when first team regulars drop out with injuries. Added into this, the bedding in of new signings Paulo Dybala, Hernanes, Mario Lemina, Alex Sandro, Juan Cuadrado and Simeone Zaza appears to be taking a lot longer than hoped with only glimmers of recognition of what they are meant to be doing on show. It’s not helping that Massimiliano Allegri keeps shifting formations using three so far – 3-5-2, 4-3-3 and 4-3-1-2 but to be fair to the manager the shuffling is due to a variety of factors including the lack of available players and the need to find a suitable winning formation.

The loss of Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal is being felt by Juventus this season (Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)
The loss of Tevez, Pirlo and Vidal is being felt by Juventus this season
(Photo by Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

The bigger concern is that Allegri doesn’t know what his best eleven is, even at this stage in the season. Only the return of all of his injured players will allow for a clearer view of how Juventus exactly should line up. Even when he does have a team on the pitch, the basics are still not there. Juventus are creating chances but at present have the worst chance to goal conversation ratio of all sides in Serie A. Misfiring strikers are bad at any time but when your side is starved of confidence and in need of a win, it heaps more pressure on the team. The Juventus midfield, in particular Paul Pogba have tried to make up for their strikers lack of form in front of goal but have only managed to contribute two goals between them. That is only one less than the strikers but two better than the entire defence highlighting  another major headache for Allegri to address.

Paul Pogba battles for possession against Napoli (Image from Getty)
Paul Pogba battles for possession against Napoli
(Image from Getty)

There are however some signs that the Old Lady is slowly getting back to her feet. A solid 2-1 win over Manchester City in the Champions League despite falling a goal behind thanks to an own goal by Giorgio Chiellini was followed swiftly by a their first win of the season in the league at Genoa. Three days later they were moments away from their second win of the season against newcomers Frosinone before collapsing under the pressure, failing to clear a 92 minute corner with Frosinone defender Leonardo Blanchard leaping highest to head past Neto for a share of the points. Facing Napoli only three days later hardly helped as Allegri tried to rebuild his sides confidence and having Napoli score early on won’t have helped. They did rally within a minute of Higuain putting Napoli further ahead through a goal from new signing Mario Lemina but Napoli held on for all three points. Juventus now face Sevilla in the Champions League then entertain Bolonga before the international break. Allegri’s objective will be to get though the next two game and make it to the break with the hope that some of his injured stars return before they face league leaders Inter Milan on the 18th October.  A Juventus revival is on the cards, that is once the old lady is fully back to her feet and off running again at full speed.

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Are You Listening? A Pod For All Ages

The Guardian Football Weekly podcast is one of the best (Image from Guardian)With more football than you can swing a cat at, keeping up with whats going on not only in Europe but across the world can be extremely difficult. Luckily the explosion of mobile technology over the past five years has helped to solve this problem as it has spawned a new way to enjoy the beautiful game – the Football Podcast. With podcasts driving an eruption of audio consumption in recent years, there are more football based podcasts than ever before. But with a plethora of choice ranging from traditional media and publishing company driven pods to fan run pods covering everything from Spanish football to MLS to individual clubs, it’s becoming increasingly hard to navigate this minefield and find the right pod for you. This is where we come in. After months of extensive research and many hours on buses, trains and streetcars listening to various pods, we have come up with a top three (with a few honourable mentions as well) that should help you dissect this ever-expanding space. So sit back and listen as we go through our top three (in no particular order)

The Football Ramble

Whilst the Guardian and BBC podcasts often lend towards the more PC type of broadcast, the boys from the Football Ramble are refreshingly honest although sometimes slightly controversial. Presented by Marcus Speller, Luke Moore, Jim Campbell and former Zoo employee Pete Donaldson, the Ramble has a faithful following who regularly tune in to hear the teams opinions of that weeks Premier League action and to a lesser extent the going ons in Italy, Germany, Spain and Scotland. One of the only podcast to read the fans colourful views in full from social media, the Ramble is nothing but entertaining and we challenge anyone listening to try to not chuckle at least once at an inappropriate comment. Donaldson’s never ending hatred of former Newcastle boss, now Palace favourite Alan Pardew is highly amusing. How he will react if Pardew does get the England job down the road will be worth tuning in for on its own. Check out their website as well for the latest podcast and the Dean Windass Hall of Fame for other podcasts on a variety of topics including Diego Maradona, East Germany, Roberto Carlos and Dixie Dean. Although no longer featured on the show, this section has gained a cult following with regular listeners lobbying for its return.

The Ramble Four (Image from
The Ramble Four
(Image from

BBC 606 and World Football Phone ins

Given its rich history in journalism and it’s love affair with the British game, it’s unsurprising that the BBC has some of the best pods out there. Most are derived from call in Radio shows like 606 with Darren Fletcher and Robbie Savage on Saturday or Ian Wright and Kelly Cates (née Dalglish, daughter of Liverpool legend Kenny) on Sunday’s. Both shows are fine examples of pairing strong radio broadcasters with well opinionated former players. Not a fan of Wrighty or Savage during their playing days, it doesn’t matter as both contribute brilliantly to the series and have a bad habit of winning you over by the end. Take part in “Dark Savage – caller: name, team, point, go!” or just simply rant about how badly your team is performing and Savage will listen. Sunday’s version tends to be more subdued yet still highly entertaining primarily because Kelly’s voice is strangely soothing as you digest the weekend’s action, all the while listening to Wrighty’s well structured opinions on how the games went.

Ian Wright and Kelly Cates prepare for another 606 phone in (Image from BBC)
Ian Wright and Kelly Cates prepare for another 606 phone in
(Image from BBC)

For listeners who want more than a standard one hour program, tune in to the BBC’s legacy football podcast show The World Football Phone In. Kicked off as always by the real sounds of Africa (listen and you will get the reference), the WFP is hosted by Dotun Adebayo (yes the uncle of Peterborough United defender Tobi Adebayo-Rowling) and his faithful sidekick Tim Vickery. The latter, no relation to Phil is a South American specialist based in the colourful city of Rio de Janiero, Brazil. The English-born journalist who also writes for various publications including World Soccer and the BBC has an extensive knowledge of the region having lived there for almost a third of his life. So good is his knowledge that there doesn’t appear to be a single player in South America that Tim doesn’t know about. His ability to give an excellent and astute insight into each player makes the show what it is. Just don’t mention the band “Queen” to him or ask him to do a west country accent. Dotun, originally from Nigeria but now a fully fledged Brit with an MBE, keeps the show flowing nicely and spreads the questions well between Vickery and one of his other guests – the lovely Mina Rzouki, Jon Arnold, Mark Gleeson, Johnn Duerden or the voice of the US Sean Wheelock. Focused on “players from over there playing in our leagues”, the World Football Phone In does exactly what it says on the tin with discussions primarily focused on football in other regions beyond Europe. Taped between 2am and 4am every Saturday morning, you can listen to the show live on BBC Radio 5 or like many others who have to sleep simply download the pod and enjoy at your own leisure.

Resident South American expert Tim Vickery is a fountain of knowledge on the World Football Phone In (Image from Getty)
Resident South American expert Tim Vickery is a fountain of knowledge on the World Football Phone In
(Image from Getty)

The Guardian Football Weekly

One of the best in the football podcast space is The Guardians Football Weekly. With its flagpole Monday pod and Thursday edition simply named Football Extraaaaaaaaaa, the boys and girls of the Football Weekly pod delight their listeners week after week with some light banter mixed in with insightful analysis. The show is hosted by the highly likeable James Richardson, the former frontman of Channel 4’s Football Italia who spent over a decade sipping on espressos whilst waxing lyrically and pointing to the various Italian sports pages. Richardson may have perfected his craft in the land of Roberto Baggio and slow-paced football but he is the perfect host for this gathering of rich football minds. Even if you only listen to his quick-witted, pun filled intros you are in for a treat which summarizes the pod in a delicious 30 second run down. In the pod itself, Richardson has a variety of well-known names from the sports journalism world  to assist him like Barney Ronay, Jacob Steinberg, Phillipe Auclair, James Horncastle, Ian MacIntosh and the ever-present yet slightly moody Barry Glendenning. In fact so rich is this pod in quality that they regularly substitute new voices in such as the wonderful Ralph Hoenstine from Germany, Sid Low in Spain, the voice of Italian football Paolo Badini or the fantastic if underused Amy Lawerence. The pod focuses primarily on the English Premier League but does playfully touch upon other leagues across Europe as Richardson calls up the pods various correspondents. Glendenning’s Fitba Corner and Sid Low’s views on Spain tend to be very entertaining and feature more regularly than other areas. All produced brilliantly by Producer Ben it’s a must for any football fans podcast list.

Honorable mentions must go to Sports Illustrated “The Planet Futbol Podcast”, The Times “The Game Podcast”,  Men in Blazers and The Total Soccer Show who regularly produce great podcasts in their own right but fall just slightly short of the three above. Happy listening!

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Iago Aspas Shines As Celta Stun Barcelona With Emphatic Win

Iago Aspas fires Celta into a 3-0 lead in their emphatic 4-1 win over Barcelona (Image from Getty)Only a few days after we called him a flop in a previous post, Iago Aspas popped up once more to prove us wrong. The former Liverpool striker who was signed by Brendan Rodgers for a fee estimated between £7-9 million and went on to play only eight games in two seasons scoring only once in the cup before being sold back to Spain for under £4 million, played a starring role as Celta Vigo ended Barcelona’s unbeaten start to the season with an emphatic 4-1 win. A brace from Aspas and solo efforts from Nolito and John Guidetti secured the win with Brazilian striker Neymar adding a consolation goal for Barcelona as Celta Vigo maintain their good start to the season. The win saw Celta temporarily leap-frog Barcelona to the top of La Liga, only to be displaced later that night after Real Madrid secured all three points in their match against Athletic Club Bilbao. Celta Vigo now occupy second spot in the league after four wins and a draw including impressive wins over Sevilla, Levante and now Barcelona.

Messi looks at the ground as Celta run riot  (Image from Getty)
Messi looks at the ground as Celta run riot
(Image from Getty)

Going into the match, Barcelona had won all four of their opening league fixtures including confidence building wins over Athletic Club Bilbao and rivals Atletico Madrid and looked to be hitting their stride. With Neymar, Messi and Suarez all back in form, Barcelona were clear favourites to win this match up but Celta Vigo had other plans. Despite having the lions share of the chances and possession, Barcelona struggled to break down the plucky side from Spain’s north west coast. Celta on the other hand managed to take their limited opportunities well and exploit Barcelona’s shaky defence time after time. From the off, it was clear that Celta believed that they could get a result and within 26 minutes they had the lead. After some clever interplay between the defence and midfield, the ball fell to right back Hugo Mallo on the flank who fired in a cross into the box for Aspas to attack. However his cross was too long and sailed over the striker, landing instead at the feet of Nolito on the edge of the area. The former Barcelona B player controlled the ball perfectly before curling a shot up and over Marc ter Stegen in the Barca goal to give Celta the lead.

Nolito started the rout with a curling effort that beat Marc ter Stegen in the Barca goal (Image from epa)
Nolito started the rout with a curling effort that beat Marc ter Stegen in the Barca goal
(Image from epa)

Celta’s second came only four minutes later thanks largely to some sloppy defending by Gerard Pique. The Spanish international failed to control a looping back pass at the half way line then had his follow-up clearance blocked by Nolito who headed the ball to Aspas sending him clear. Now in a straight race with Pique, Aspas bared down on goal and with ter Stegen rushing out coolly lifted the ball over the German goalkeeper to make it 2-0 as half time approached. In the second half, Barcelona looked to have been reinvigorated by Luis Enrique’s team talk and started brightly with Luis Suarez hitting the post after some good play by Iniesta. But it would be Celta and that man Aspas who would score next with a fantastic counter attacking move. Defending against a corner, Celta managed to clear their lines well pushing the ball out to Aspas on the right flank. With only Dani Alves to beat, Aspas lifted the ball over the Brazilian at the half way line and then raced onto goal before slotting past ter Stegen to make it 3-0.

With ten minutes left to play, Barcelona finally found a way through the Celta defence and past the impressive Sergio Alvarez in-goal. Messi’s perfectly placed ball over the top was latched onto by Neymar who controlled with his left foot, fired it across Alvarez and into the bottom corner for 3-1. But Barcelona’s revival didn’t last long with substitute John Guidetti, on for Aspas firing in Celta’s fourth goal from close range after some good wing work by Hugo Mallo. The former Manchester City, Celtic and Stoke striker who played a pivotal role in Sweden’s under 21 European Championship winning team during the summer only joined in July and has yet to start a game with Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo preferring to use him as an option form the bench. But now after scoring his first goal for the club, Guidetti will be pushing for a starting berth. Standing in his way however is Nolito and the in form Iago Aspas who is proving many of his doubters wrong with some superb performances this season.

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Lewandowski Five Goal Blitz From The Bench Stuns Wolfsburg

  In terms of supersubs, you could probably only name a handful of players who have come on to fundamentally change the direction of a game. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer from the bench to win the Champoons League for Manchester United is likely the most famous example of this. But now there is another name to add to that short list – Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski who earned his spot last night with a rather impressive appearance from the bench. With Bayern trailing Wolsfburg by 1-0 at half time, Bayern boss Pep Guardiola had to make a change to swing the balance of the game back in their favour.  

Supersub Lewandowski scored five in nine minutes to seal all three points (image from getty)
 Step forward Polish striker Lewandowski who came on and scored five goals in nine amazing minutes to silence Wolfsburg. His breathtaking substitute performance even stunned his own manager with Guardiola unable to believe exactly what was happening. From his first touch, Lewandowski looked dangerous and hungry for goals. He only had to wait six minutes before his first arrived converting a failed clearance from Dante to draw Munich level. Less than a minute later, the Pole put Bayern into the lead with a drilled finish from the edge of the area. Now with a hat trick in sight, Lewandowski appeared to step up a gear and four minutes later found the net again although this time it took three attempts to put it in. The post and a save from the goalkeeper only temporarily denied Lewandowski but eventually he fired past Diego Benalgio to what earn the fastest hat trick in Bundesliga history.  
Even Pep couldn’t believe what he was seeing (image from Getty)
 His fourth followed two minutes later when he met a perfectly placed Douglas Costa cross to secure the vital three points for Bayern. As if four was not enough, Lewandowski had one more trick up his sleeve and saved the very best for last. Three minutes after his fourth, Lewandowski added his fifth goal with a stunning overhead bicycle kick at the edge of the area. His spectacular effort left the stadium stunned as they tried to work out exactly what had just transpired. Lewandowski could have added a sixth later in the game but was denied by a goal line clearance by Wolfsburg fullback Roberto Rodriguez. As the full time whistle blew, the Bayern team celebrated with Lewandowski as Wolfsburg’s players trudged off the pitch shaking their heads.  
Lewandowski was in stunning form as he single handledly won the game for Bayern (image from Getty)
 Lewandowski’s goal glut earns him another spot in a unique club for players who have scored five in one match. He joins Marco Negri, Andy Cole, Cristiano Ronaldo, Miroslav Klose, Radamel Falcao, Jurgen Klinsmann and Dieter Hoeness who was the last player to score five for Bayern in the Bundesliga back in 1984. Unsurprisingly Lewandowski win the man of the match award for his superb performance from the bench. Remarkably the player was omitted from the starting line up in the first place due to a niggling injury that had him doubtful to play at all. Guardiola may have taken a gamble in playing him but it paid off in spectacular fashion.

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Liverpool Fans Hoping For Early Christmas With Rodgers Sacking

Under Pressure - Brendan Rodgers (Image from AFP)“It’s the Most Wonderful Time Of The Year” sang Andy Williams in 1963 and he wasn’t far wrong. To millions of people across the world, Christmas is the time for celebration, spending moments with those closest to you and reflecting on what has been a joyful year. Each year around this time, the countdown to Christmas begins with most hoping that it would come sooner rather than later. But for Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers the opposite is true with the Northern Irish boss wanting to delay the onslaught of Christmas as he battles to save his job. After a mixed start to the new season Rodgers is living in fear that he may be out of a job as the holiday season draws in. Saturday’s 1-1 disappointing draw with Norwich highlighted some of the issues that Rodgers faces. Without a win in the last five games, Liverpool’s season is on the rocks and their manager fearing what is to come. Like Scrooge, Rodgers has three ghosts that haunt him – the past, the present and the future.

A wonderful time of the year for Andy Williams, perhaps not for Brendan Rodgers  (Image from Getty)
A wonderful time of the year for Andy Williams, perhaps not for Brendan Rodgers
(Image from Getty)

During his time at Liverpool, Rodgers has been haunted by what could have been. Large outlays of money have been spent building squad after squad for regret to be its only reward. Failed signings like Luis Alberto, Iago Aspas, Fabio Borini and Mario Balotelli have shown Rodgers scattergun approach in the transfer market, often buying players on impulse rather than with a view to how he will include them in his starting line up. Season after season players arrive to much fanfare only to eventually be absorbed into the budging Liverpool squad never to be seen again. Of the 31 players he has brought in for an average fee of £9 million, arguably only six (Joe Allen, Phillipe Coutinho, Daniel Sturridge, Emre Can, Christian Benteke and Nathaniel Clyne) have proven to be valuable additions so far. Recent arrivals like James Milner, Danny Ings and Roberto Firmino need to be given a grace period and could prove to be good acquisitions as the season progresses but regardless that still means that 60% of all of Rodgers signings have been a disaster. That is a lot of money with little to show for it.

Iago Aspas - One of Rodgers flop signings  (Image from Getty)
Iago Aspas – One of Rodgers flop signings
(Image from Getty)

Liverpool did come close to winning the league two seasons ago when the talents of Luis Suarez and an in form Daniel Sturridge almost fired them to glory. Rodgers received a lot of praise based on that campaign but questions have been raised about how much he actually did in that year or more importantly how much he didn’t do. Liverpool played with the same formation for a majority of the season and it worked in the most however when they fell behind in games or in the case of Crystal Palace when leading 3-0, Rodgers failure to change his approach when Palace changed theirs cost Liverpool dearly. Three second half goals cost Liverpool a valuable 2 points which went along way to costing them the title.

Liverpool's collapse against Palace was down to Rodgers tactical failures  (Image from PA)
Liverpool’s collapse against Palace was down to Rodgers tactical failures
(Image from PA)

The present isn’t any better. Having sold Sterling in the summer, Rodgers failed to heed the warnings from his past and once again splashed the cash. In came James Milner, Christian Benteke, Nathaniel Clyne, Roberto Firmino, Danny Ings and Joe Gomez but few have been a success so far. How they exactly fit into a new look Liverpool line up is still be understood as Rodgers continues to baffle pundits and fans alike who are trying hard to decipher it. Six games in to the new campaign, Liverpool occupy 13th place in the table following two wins, two draws and two defeats so far. But it’s there performances that have caused the most concern. Defensive against Norwich and gung-ho against Manchester United, Rodgers alters his style but not his formation which is the fundamental issue. The problem is that Rodgers tactical knowledge is severely lacking and his players are paying the penalty. Instead of working a formation with the players he has, Rodgers is putting square pegs in round holes as he tries to play his formation. The result has Ings on the left-wing, Joe Gomez covering at left back and Roberto Firmino running around like a headless chicken often glancing towards the bench for guidance. Liverpool’s next five games in the league – Aston Villa, Everton, Spurs, Southampton and Chelsea all pose different threats and will not make Rodgers next month easy, heaping more pressure on the under fire boss.

One eye on the Liverpool job - Jurgen Klopp  Image from Getty)
One eye on the Liverpool job – Jurgen Klopp
Image from Getty)

So what about the future? It doesn’t look good for Rodgers unless he can turn it around and quickly. Jurgen Klopp sits quietly watching as Rodgers desperately tries to make up for his past misgivings and current misfortunes. Having survived the cull in the summer, preferring instead to throw his assistants Mike Marsh and Colin Pascoe under the bus, Rodgers is on borrowed time. Another action packed summer of signings took his spend as Liverpool boss to biblical proportions. In three years as Liverpool boss, Rodgers has spent just under £300 million revamping his squad season after season. Take in to consideration that amount versus the amount Arsenal has spent in 19 years under Wenger (£515 million) or Sir Alex Ferguson spend at United in his 27 years (£563 million). Both men built sides that won leagues and cups yet Rodgers is yet to deliver a single piece of silverware. He may be looking to build a similar dynasty as Wenger and Ferguson but has little to show for it at this point. Unfortunately for Rodgers time is not something that is on his side. The clubs US owners are growing tired of his failure to deliver and may be forced to make a change sooner rather than later. With a majority of Liverpool fans supporting a change, Christmas may come early for them if the club decides to finally end the madness and sack Rodgers in the next few weeks.

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The Strange Case Of Charlie Austin

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

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

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

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

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

For now, Austin waits for the right club to come along and pay the fee that QPR are holding out for. Given his obvious talent and finishing ability, its hard to believe that he will remain a QPR player after the window. As we said before, half the teams in the Premiership could do with a player like Austin leading their line, especially given his recent track record in front of goal. Austin himself who is ever the professional will focus on QPR’s promotional challenge and will be looking to continue his good form, proving once again to the doubters that he is a player who they should be buying.

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Valcke’s Dismissal Could Spell The End For Blatter

Valcke's dismissal could be bad for Blatter in the long run (Image from Getty)It’s only been a few weeks since Jerome Valcke suggested that he may run for the FIFA presidency. The Secretary General of football’s governing body was reported to have spoken to several delegates and federations to see if they would back his bid. His dream however to take over FIFA’s top job dissolved yesterday when he was relieved of his current role due to allegations that have surfaced about his involvement in yet another FIFA scandal. Valcke’s suspension pending an investigation is the direct result of revelations that Valcke was involved in a scheme to sell World Cup tickets over face value. The Frenchman who has been with FIFA since 2007 has denied his involvement but with the FBI likely to take notice, it’s unlikely that this will disappear without any further action. Valcke, along with Sepp Blatter have been the subject of much interest from the US-based domestic intelligence and security service who are stepping up their corruption case against FIFA.

Blatter now lives in fear of the FBI (Image from AP)
Blatter now lives in fear of the FBI
(Image from AP)

With Sepp Blatter already stepping down next year, it was expected that Valcke would follow suit but the Frenchman decided against better judgement to ride it out, pleading his innocence and lack of involvement in any wrongdoings. But now the net is tightening around him forcing Valcke to constantly look over his shoulder. It is surprising that it has taken this long for Valcke to depart given allegations a few months ago about an illegal payment of $10 million made to secure the 2010 World Cup for South Africa. Valcke was on route to Moscow for a meeting about the 2018 World Cup when his plane was turned around and told to return to Zürich. He was immediately suspended and removed from his position by Sepp Blatter.

Tough at the top - Valcke and Blatter (Image from Getty)
Tough at the top – Valcke and Blatter
(Image from Getty)

It’s the latest black mark against FIFA whose hierarchy is slowly being picked off by the FBI one by one. Their end goal is to arrest and charge all those responsible for corruption within the organization starting at the bottom and working their way to the top with Blatter in their sights. To date they have arrested eight members of the FIFA executive committee including Jeffrey Webb, FIFA’s vice president. Their extradition from Switzerland to the US is underway with the help of the Swiss authorities who made the arrests in May, As yet, the FBI doesn’t have enough to arrest Valcke or Blatter but this latest revelation may give them a new angle to pursuit. They believe that if they can get Blatter’s top advisers to crack then they will in turn give the FBI enough information for them to build a sizable case against the man they actually want, FIFA president Sepp Blatter.

Webb's arrest was one of eight in May as the FBI closes in (Image from Getty)
Webb’s arrest was one of eight in May as the FBI closes in
(Image from Getty)

Blatter must believe that an arrest is coming as he has changed his plans on several occasions to prevent him from leaving Switzerland. He decided against travelling to Canada for the Women’s World Cup in fear of an arrest by the US and is debating whether or not to hold FIFA’S next executive committee meeting in Japan at the end of December.  Having admitted defeat in his decision to stay on as president, Blatter would have been hoping to slip  into retirement quietly rather than facing potential jail time. At 79 years young, Blatter now lives in fear of what is coming next and rightly so. Valcke is likely to be next in line to be questioned by the FBI and Blatter will be worried that his former right hand man may end up singing like a canary in order to save himself and in doing so sell Blatter down the river. Blatter’s decision to sack Valcke this week will have destroyed any relationship the pair may have had previously which could be costly for the FIFA president in the future.

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English Sides Slump As Champions League Kicks Off

 It wasn’t the best of starts for England’s Champions League contingent. Away defeats for Manchester United and Arsenal and a home loss for Manchester City in the opening week of fixtures was hardly the ideal start that they had all hoped for. Only current Premier League champions Chelsea could manage a win, putting their poor league start behind them by thumping Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv. Jose Mourinho made a series of changes to his starting line up including leaving captain John Terry, fellow defender Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and striker Diego Costa on the bench in a move designed to send a clear message who was boss. With only one win in their opening five matches in the Premier league, Chelsea needed to start strongly in the Champions League and they did exactly that. Goals from Willian, Oscar, Fabergas and substitute Diego Costa secured a well needed 4-0 win.

Not a happy sub – Ivanovic and Terry looked annoyed after being benched by Mourinho (image from Getty)

Out in Croatia, Arsenal were expected to win comfortably in their opening match against Dinamo Zagreb but in typical fashion exposed their lack of options upfront. Despite Theo Walcott’s current form, Arsene Wenger chose to leave the winger turned striker on the bench in favour of Frenchman Olivier Giroud in one of six changes to his starting line up. It proved to be the wrong decision as Arsenal fell behind early on thanks to a strange own goal by Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Things went from bad to worse just before half time when Giroud saw red For two bookable offences. Now down to ten men, Arsenal were in the back foot going into the second half and soon fell two goals behind after Junior Fernandes connected with Paulo Machado’s pass to finish coolly. Lacking striking options from the bench, Wenger could only turn to Theo Walcott and the Emgland forward didn’t disappoint scoring just shortly after coming on. The goal however came too late as Zagreb held on for a famous victory.

Giroud sees red as Arsenal slump to defeat in Zagreb (image from Getty)

The previous night saw both Manchester clubs kick off their Champions League campaigns. Manchester United travelled to Louis Van Gaal’s homeland to take on PSV still on a high after their emphatic 3-1 win over Liverpool at the weekend. But on a cool night in Eindhoven, United couldn’t find their rhythm. Strikes from Hector Moreno and Luciano Narsingh cancelled out Memphis Depays 40th minute goal, handing PSV all three points. To be fair to United, they did start strongly with Depay in particular looking menacing on his return to Eindhoven. But a serious injury to full back Luke Shaw on 15minutes proved to be the defining moment that swung the game in favour of PSV. Shaw was brutally fouled by PSV defender Hector Moreno, breaking the players right leg in two places in doing so. It’s a harsh blow for the England full back who has only recently started to show just how important he could be for Can Gaal. The Dutchman had been fairly critical of Shaw last year when he took over citing Shaw was unfit and lacking in commitment. Rather than sulking Shaw has shown a fantastic attitude by working hard behind the scenes on both his fitness and overall play. After a stop start season riddled with niggling injuries last year, Shaw was back in the fold and had made the left back position his own with a series of impressive early season performances. But the leg break and the severity of it means that the player will now miss a minimum of six months and is in a race against time to get back playing ahead of England’s appearance at Euro 2016 next summer. After his injury which delayed play for ten minutes whilst he received treatment, the United players were clearly distracted thinking more about the injury than the game they were involved in. PSV took advantage of this drop in concentration and punished United accordingly.

Moreno’s horror challenge on Shaw resultes in a broken leg for Shaw (image from AFP)

The only positive to come that night for United fans was that arch rivals Manchester City lost as well. Manuel Pellegrini’s side entertained  Italian champions Juventus in their opening match but couldn’t replicate their early league form that has them unbeaten so far. Despite taking the lead in the second half through an own goal by Giorgio Chiellini, two goals from Mario Mandzukic and Alvaro Morata  late on were enough to see off City who lacked a quality finisher in the final third. Wilfred Bony and Raheem Sterling both had chances but failed to hit the back of the net. Growing more desperate by the minute, Pellegrini was forced to throw on a semi fit Sergio Aguero into the mix to no avail. City must now regroup for the visit of West Ham this weekend.

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Raising Awareness Of The Silent Killer Affecting Football

The late Robert Enke (Image from Getty)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For further information about depression, please see the World Health Organization page here:

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Ade Be Gone As Spurs Terminate Strikers Contract

Gone - Adebayor's contract has been terminated (Image from Getty)Like a bad marriage that has reach the point of no return, divorce is often the best option. Couples often see it as the last resort after trying everything possible to keep the marriage alive. But if one party has already mentally checked out then there is no other solution than to part ways. In football, a players relationship to a club is a lot like a marriage which starts from the moment they sign on the dotted line of their contract. Like a marriage, both parties agree to certain things on that day and a bond is built that should flourish over time. However it is often the case that players become distracted or delusioned by other things that leads to a fracture between themselves and the club. Like a marriage, the club attempts to solve the problem and if it can look to part on amicable terms. This week, after months of trying to salvage their relationship to no avail, Tottenham announced that it has agreed to release Emmanuel Adebayor from his contract, ending a turbulent and often frustrating relationship.

Adebayor had troubled relationship with Villas Boas  (Image from Getty)
Adebayor had troubled relationship with Villas Boas
(Image from Getty)

To be fair to Tottenham, it was Adebayor who wasn’t happy in their marriage. At the start, everything was rosy with Adebayor seen as the striker who could fire Spurs to success. Initially arriving on loan from Manchester City in the summer of 2011, the Togolese striker hit the ground running scoring on his debut against Wolves, the first of 18 goals he scored that season. That impressive form convinced Tottenham to part with £5m the following summer and sign the player permanently. Under then manager Andre Villas Boas, Adebayor started a majority of Tottenham’s games but struggled to find the form he had shown on loan the previous season. Over the course of the year, his relationship with Villas Boas became strained eventually leading to the player being sent to train with the youth team at the start of the new campaign in 2013. That appeared to signal the end of the road for Adebayor but was given a second chance by new manager Tim Sherwood when Villas Boas was sacked in November of that year. Adebayor repaid Sherwood with goals, notching 14 goals in just under seven months. But with Sherwood’s departure the following summer, Adebayor fell out of favour once more with new boss Mauricio Pochettino restricting his appearances and eventually telling him he could leave. Despite several loan offers and a couple of transfer bids, Adebayor was unable to reach terms leaving Tottenham with little option than to reach a mutual termination of his contract.

He found redemption under Sherwood  (Image from Getty)
He found redemption under Sherwood
(Image from Getty)

Whilst it would appear at first glance that Adebayor is the victim in this story, that simply isn’t the case. The Togo striker is as much to blame for the demise of his career as Tottenham are, if not more so. Whilst talented on the pitch, Adeabyor’s distractions off of it and his desire for money over playing time have resulted in the capitulation of his career. Since arriving at Arsenal from Monaco in 2005, Adebayor has made making as much money as possible his number one goal. Whilst hardly unusually for a professional footballer, his hunger for the green has actually affected his time on the pitch, refusing moves which could have led to more playing time because they were unwilling to match his astronomical wage demands. With Adebayor unwilling to discuss a drop in wages, it has led to several clubs walking away and leaving the player in limbo, a state he seems strangely happy to be in as long as someone was paying him. His complex family life has not helped either with much documented public fights with his mother, sister and brother. Adebayor claims that his family are a drain on him both mentally and financially, taking advantage of his success whenever they can. His troubled family life will have had an effect on his mindset on the pitch which could have resulted in his drop in form or poor attitude.

Adebayor's troubled relationship with his family has caused off field problems  (Image from Getty)
Adebayor’s troubled relationship with his family has caused off field problems
(Image from Getty)

Despite a lack of striking options at the club, the decision to release Adebayor by Tottenham has been welcomed by a large percentage of the Spurs fans. With a return of one in every three games for Tottenham (35 goals in 92 matches) as a striker he could do a job but the distractions he had off of it made him unplayable. Removing him from the payroll frees up considerable wiggle room in the wage structure which should allow Tottenham more flexibility as they pursue a new front man. After agreeing a payout from Tottenham in order to break his contract, Adebayor now can turn his attention towards what he does next but with a reputation as a difficult player, it may be hard for hard for him to find a new club. At 31, his next move is an important one and not one that he should make lightly. Money should not be a factor in this decision but based on his career so far, unfortunately money talks for Adebayor and will play a pivotal role as he decides where he ends up next.

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The Falseness Of The False Nine

The False Nine (Image from afp)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Rangers Settles With McCoist As Club Continues Rebuild

 It was only a matter of time before the new Rangers board reached a settlement with former manager and club legend Ally MCoist. Since being placed on gardening leave under the old administration, McCoist has twiddled his thumbs waiting patiently for Dave King to swoop into power. Now fully in charge after what felt like a centuries wait, King and his new look board have set about cleaning up the mess created by years of mismanagement and under hand dealings. Out went the evil henchmen who seemed more intent on lining their pockets than helping this Scottish football institution. In came trustworthy names in business but more importantly genuine fans of the club who shared Kings long term vision. The South African based businessman has returned the club to the fans after three miserable years much to their delight. Progress albeit slow is being made as Rangers returns to normality. King was keen to work out a settlement with McCosit who in his eyes had done so much for the club under extremely difficult circumstances. The pair who have been friends for some time now met on several occasions but without the secured cash flow and with still a lot of uncertainty into how badly cooked the Rangers books were, a agreement couldn’t be reached. But now King and the rest of the board have agreed on a payment for McCoist that will draw yet another line under an outstanding legacy issue.

Since sweeping into power, King has spent alot of time fixing the problems left by the old regime (image from Getty)

On the park, things couldn’t be rosier with new boss Mark Warburton and his assistant Davie Weir engineering the perfect start to the new campaign. Eight games played and eight wins with a total of 35 goals scored and 6 conceded. The side that struggled last year first under McCoist, then McDowell and finally McCall has found new life under Englishman Warburton. The squad has been radically reconstructed with many of the faces of the failed promotion campaign leaving. Out went McCulluch, Boyd, Foster, Smith, Moshni and Black as well as fringe players Faure, Simonsen, Daly and Hutton leaving a skeleton bare squad for Warburton to inherit. With limited funds, Warburton and Weir embarked on a persuasive tour of the UK, pinpointing and convincing select players that their futures lay in Scotland with Rangers. Many bought into their vision and signed on including Martyn Waghorn, James Tavenier, Andy Halliday, John Thompson, James Holt, Wes Foderingham and Rob Kiernan. Warburton has also used his contacts in England to secure some young talent on loan with Dominic Ball and Nathan Oduwa arriving from Tottenham whilst Gedion Zelalem arrived from Arsenal. They have been joined in the squad by several youth players such as Tom Walsh, Ryan Hardie and Craig Halkett as Warburton builds his squad for not just this season but beyond. But he hasn’t done it alone and on several occasions has used Weirs reputation in the game to get the players he needed. Leaning on a previous mentor relationship, David Weir played an instrumental role in convincing former Hearts captain Danny Wilson to return to the club where he made his breakthrough. Having help Hearts lift the Championship title last season, it was widely expected that Wilson would be playing for a Scottish Premier League side this year with Rangers arch rivals Celtic favourites to land his signature. A host of English Championship clubs also had shown an interest however when Weir approached Wilson about a return to Ibrox there was only ever going to be one winner. It was alongside Weir at the heart of the Rangers defence that Wilson made his debut for the light blues over seven years ago. Since then Wilson has gained a lot of experience playing in the English leagues and back home in Scotland which he now hopes to bring to Rangers title push. He has forged a strong central defensive partnership with Kiernan this season with Tavenier and captain Lee Wallace at full back positions which has seen Rangers only concede three times in their opening five league fixtures. The full backs have been impressive so far demonstrating their talents at both ends of the field. With pace to burn and a knack of finding the back of the net, Wallace and Tavenier are one of several success stories at the early part of this season. But in truth the whole team appears to be firing on all cylinders, even veterans like Dean Shiels and Kenny Miller who have found renewed energy under Warburton. 19 goals in their first five league matches demonstrates the gap in class  developing between Rangers and the chasing pack.

Wilson’s return was orchastrated by Weir (Image from Getty)

So far the Chamionship looks like a breeze for the Englishman as Rangers stretch their lead at the top of the table. But there will be no resting on his laurels for the former City trader who is not unfamiliar to some hard work. First in and last out is his motto as he strives for perfection at Rangers. Bringing Rangers legend David Weir with him as his assistant has certainly helped the transition from English Championship to Scottish Championship. Weir’s knowledge and love for the club have been key in Warburton understanding the significance of his role and what it truly means to the fans who have been hungry for success for too long. His relationship with King is strong with the pair working hard to identify and secure the talent needed to not only win the Championship this year but challenge Celtic for the Premier League title next year. King has already pledged to do whatever it takes to get the squad ready for next season with potentially another five new faces arriving before that assault happens. It’s a relationship that McCoist had yearned for but never got. Whether it would have made a difference will never be known. Off the pitch, King is working hard to untangle the ball of elastic bands created by the previous regimes including a lengthy and obstructive partnership with Mike Ashley and his Sports Direct franchise. King is receiving help away from the club as the authorities look to press charges against those responsible for the clubs demise. Former owners Craig Whyte and Charles Green have already been arrested and face charges of conspiracy and involvement in serious organised crime. David Whitehouse, from administrators Duff and Phelps, faces the same charges whilst Green is also accused of fraud. Fans of the club heckled Whyte and Green as they left court last week and will be hoping that the pair are found guilty and jailed. That would signal a significant step forward for the Glasgow based club who is desperate to return to its former glories.
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From World Cup Winner To Bit Part Player – What Has Gone Wrong For Mario Gotze

 With only ten minutes left of their crunch second leg game against Barcelona and trailing on aggregate by two goals, Pep looked at his bench. Sitting there was a player who could potentially turn the game, a baby faced assassin who seems to flourish in these big occasions. Mario Gotze knew his time had come so stripped off and prepared to enter the fray. Having the luxury to remove a player like Thomas Muller and replace him with Mario Gotze is a dream that only few coaches will ever experience. So deep is the pool of talent at Bayerns disposal that they can afford to leave out Gotze from the starting eleven is startling. But with the talent that Gotze has was it right of Guardiola to give him only four minutes or indeed leave him out of the starting line up all together? Whether or not Gotze starting the game would have had any effect on the overall outcome is unknown but arguably he offers slightly more to the side than others. But for one reason or another Pep has never really warmed to the little German.

No love lost between Pep and Gotze (image from Getty)

When Guardiola agreed to take over at Bayern he asked that they sign Neymar. Instead he got Gotze as the board felt he was as good and had the added advantage of being German. In the end, Neymar joined Pep’s former club Barcelona  whilst Gotze traveled across the country from Dortmund to Munich. It’s fair to assume that the relationship between the two has been on rocky ground for some time now. Gotze last year spoke publically about his frustration at the playing opportunities Guardiola had thrown his way that season. Gotze did manage to finish the season strongly and was selected for the Germany squad in a move that ended up securing them the World Cup thanks to his extra time goal. Returning to club football, Gotze must have believed that Guardiola would have been impressed by what he had achieved for his country but instead he found a manager who didn’t seem to care. Guardiola simply didn’t know what to do with Gotze. Talented yes but as a smaller player in a fairly tall squad where exactly would he fit?  In a 4-3-2-1 formation, dropping Muller or Ribery/Robben from wide positions was not an option, nor was the prospect of leaving the towering Robert Lewandowski out in favour of Gotze. Sacrificing one of his central midfield three appeared to be the best bet but that would mean leaving out Thiago, Schweinsteiger or Xavi Alonso. Thiago, who played for Guardiola at Barcelona was a player who the coach specifically wanted and who the board delivered, unlike Neymar. Schweinsteiger is a legend for both club and country and his work rate for both is unheralded. So that only leaves Alonso. At 34, Xavi Alonso appears to have lost none of his tactical awareness of the game with the way he reads it and dictates the play a joy to watch. In a midfield crammed full of talent, Alonso still stands out as the player Guardiola can ill afford to drop. He is their calm through stormy weathers, with a passage range that most great players would be proud off. To say that Alonso keeps getting better season after season is not far from the mark although he has notably slowed over the past decade as time caught up with him. Dropping Alonso for Gotze would mean a change in format and a switch to a more uncomfortable approach. Gotze would be condemned  once again to being  rotation player only for Bayern.

Alonso continues to impress despite his advancing years (image from pa)

To be fair to Pep he has played Gotze more times this season than last. Gotze has made thirty appearances in the league, fourteen of which came from the bench. Injuries to key players like Schweinsteiger, Ribery and Thiago have indirectly handed Gotze a few more starts than usual but as a result Guardiola had to adapt his formation to suit. His preference it would appear is to have Gotze come from the bench, something the player isn’t too happy about. Guardiola doesn’t necessary not like the player, he simply can’t fit him into his preferred system. In fact when Gotze was heavily criticized recently by German legend Franz Beckenbauer for being lazy, it was Pep who jumped to his defence stating that Gotze was one of the best professionals he had ever worked with. He fell short of saying that he was an important member of his squad however, something that would have perhaps made Gotze feel slightly better about his role at the club.

Beckenbauer has been critical of Bayern and Gotze in particular in recent weeks (image from getty)

Where to play Gotze is the puzzling question. Coming off the bench appears to suit Gotze style of play. He is an impact player who can grab the goal that wins the game. Given that a quarter of Bayern’s league goals this season were scored in the last fifteen minutes of the game, it’s not hard to work out why Pep prefers it this way too. Whether Gotze sees it this way is a different matter. With Pep confirming that he will be in charge next season, Gotze has two options – stay and fight for a spot or leave. If he does decide to leave the list of potential suitors will be a long one with clubs in England, Spain and Italy more than willing to add the German to their ranks. Gotze will have to decide if staying in his native Germany is more important at this stage in his career than regular games. He could bide his time and wait for Guardiola to depart at the end of next season when his contract expires but the risks with that strategy are great. Bayern are happy with what Guardiola has done so far albeit missing out on the Champions League final was not ideal. However if he can steer them to Europe’s top club prize next season, a new contract may be offered by the Bayern board if it hasn’t been offered before then.

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Rooney Overtakes Charlton To Become England’s Greatest Ever Goal Scorer

Half Century - Rooney in the record books (Image from Getty)It was always going to be Wayne Rooney that took the penalty. Picking up the ball, he walked confidently towards the spot before placing the ball down. Hands on hips, Rooney stood quietly looking at the goalkeeper who stood between him and greatest. With England leading and only six minutes of regular time left, he could afford to miss but Rooney was never going to. The stadium was silent as Rooney started his run up but erupted in cheers as his rifled shot smashed into the back of the net. Rooney had done it, he had beaten Sir Bobby Charlton’s long standing record of 49 goals for England and in doing so became England’s all time leading goalscorer. At 29 years old, Rooney had managed to do what the likes of Shearer, Greaves, Lineker and Owen had failed to do, etching himself into the record books.

Rooney celebrates his first goal for England against Macedonia  (Image by Andy Hooperway)
Rooney celebrates his first goal for England against Macedonia
(Image by Andy Hooperway)

After the match, an emotional Rooney gave an impromptu yet rousing speech to his England teammates challenging them all especially Harry Kane and Theo Walcott to beat his record. He singled out Ross Barkley for praise after the Everton midfielder shone in a match that he started from the bench. Fabian Delph has started the match but only lasted 9 seconds before pulling up with a hamstring injury gave Barkley his chance. Delph like Rooney entered the record books that night but for all the wrong reasons becoming England’s shortest ever international appearance. His injury however couldn’t mar Rooney’s night as the England captain finally grabbed the record for his own.

There is an argument that can be made that suggests Rooney’s path to 50 was much easier than Charlton’s for a variety of reason. Firstly the number of internationals played currently has rapidly increased since the sixties when Charlton ran riot giving Rooney a better chance of beating the record than ever before. In addition changes to the weight of the ball and the rules which favours the attacker more have also aided the Manchester United frontman in his quest. Finally the teams that England faced were arguably easier opponents than Charlton faced. Rooney benefited greatly by playing and scoring against smaller nations like Andorra, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Liechtenstein and San Marino  which between them contributed to 13 of his 50 goals to date. Against tougher opponents, especially in major tournaments Rooney has struggled only managing 6 goals in total which included braces against Croatia and Switzerland at Euro 2004 and single goals against the Ukraine at Euro 2012 and Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Sir Bobby Charlton during his playing days for England  (Image from Getty)
Sir Bobby Charlton during his playing days for England
(Image from Getty)

Charlton on the other hand excelled against the best teams of his day like Portugal, Argentina and the Soviet Union.  His brace against a tough Portuguese side including Eusebio set England on its way towards victory in the 1966 World Cup, a feat that Rooney has not managed to match. But like Rooney a majority of Charlton’s goals came in either friendlies (22 vs 14 for Rooney), in qualifying  (9 vs 30 for Rooney) or the now defunct British Home Championships (13 goals). In fact out of Charlton’s 49 goals, 16 came against the home nations – Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.  Regardless of how they got their goals, both players are phenomenal in their own right. Charlton finished his England career at aged 32 shortly after being knocked out of the 1970 World Cup by a Gerd Muller inspired West Germany. At 29, Rooney still has plenty left in the tank and will likely continue playing for England for the foreseeable future. That will give him a chance to add further goals to his current tally, stretching the gap between himself and Charlton. Whether he can reach the next target of 100 international goals is yet to be seen but on current form, you wouldn’t put it past him.

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Wales On The Brink As Britain Prepares To Invade The Euros

On the Brink - Wales edge towards qualification (Image from PA)“Three more points” is the message that Wales boss Chris Coleman will be telling his team as they stand on the edge of greatness. After a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Cyrus in their seventh European Championship qualifying group match, Wales find themselves on top and within touching distance of next years tournament in France. It will be an amazing achievement for Wales who have failed to qualify for every tournament since 1958. Mathematically Coleman has it correct – three points from their last three games will be enough for Wales to reach the promise lands and rid themselves of the ghost of ’58. And with Israel up next on Sunday who they ironically beat back in ’57 to reach the 1958 World Cup, it’s surely a case of when not if for Wales. Rush, Giggs, Hughes and Saunders all tried in the past to propel Wales to a major finals without luck. But now this new generation looks set to do it and write their names into the record books.

World Cup 1958 was the last time Wales played in an international tournament (Image from Getty)
World Cup 1958 was the last time Wales played in an international tournament
(Image from Getty)

Ashley Williams, Aaron Ramsey, Joe Ledley and Hal Robson-Kanu have all played their part but Wales owe a huge debt to one man in particular who has been outstanding. With five goals and several assists so far, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale has played an instrumental role in putting Wales in with its best chance of qualifying in nearly sixty years. It was his goal that settled the tie with Cyprus much like his strikes against Belgium, Israel and Andorra before that. Bale appears to be unstoppable when he pulls on the red shirt of his home nation. Arguably a poorer side without their talisman in their starting eleven, Bale makes Wales tick but is far from the only reason why they find themselves in this position. Coleman has done a solid job since replacing Gary Speed under tragic circumstances, bringing his side together as one whilst instilling belief that qualification can and would be achieved. Standing in their way were some formidable foes but by playing as a group and more importantly for each other, they look set to do it. Stunning yet hard-fought wins over Belgium, Israel and Cyprus has Wales on a seven game unbeaten run that looks set to continue all the way until the Euros kick off next summer in France.

Bale does it again (Image from Reuters)
Bale does it again
(Image from Reuters)

Wales will likely be joined there by England who are unbeaten in their group and are within touching distance themselves. But if current form continues and some other results fall favourably for them, Scotland and Northern Ireland could also be joining Wales and England at the Euros making it a clean sweep for the home nations. Northern Ireland lie second in their group behind Romania but ahead of Hungary going into today’s crunch clash with the Faroes Islands. Three points today are essential before Micheal O’Neill’s side can even start to think about Monday’s defining match against Hungary. By that stage, Northern Ireland could have a five point cushion between themselves and Hungary, especially if Bernd Storck’s side fails to beat leaders Romania in their match today. With Greece and Finland still to come, qualification is hardly guaranteed but like Wales, the Northern Irish players have faith that they can make it happen. Unlike Wales though, Northern Ireland don’t have a Gareth Bale-esque figure in their ranks. Instead they have a team of grafters who give their all to the cause and to date have produced some fine results against Finland, Greece, Hungary and Romania. Kyle Lafferty, the gangly former Rangers frontman has been their unlikely hero, picking up the hero status from David Healy and running with it. Five goals in six games shows he is a man in form and if his country is going to qualify, they will need Lafferty to maintain that form and fire them towards France.

The Unlikely Hero - Kyle Lafferty (Image from Getty)
The Unlikely Hero – Kyle Lafferty
(Image from Getty)

Out of all of the home nations, Scotland has the toughest challenge after being placed in a group with the current World champions Germany and heavyweights Poland. But Gordon Strachan’s side has performed brilliantly so far and kept themselves in contention going into the home straight. Currently third in the group only two points behind Germany and three behind Poland, their remaining four games will have the Tartan Army on tenterhooks. Up first is a must win game against Georgia today, played at the same time as Poland visit Germany with the result of that game arguably more important than Scotland’s. After Poland’s surprise victory at home against Germany, the group has been left wide open and is anyone’s for the taking.

Poland's win over Germany has left the group wide open (Image from Bongarts/Getty)
Poland’s win over Germany has left the group wide open
(Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Strachan knows that to stay in contention he needs to win today and then prepare his side for two crunch home fixtures against the group leaders. He will look towards the more experienced members of his team – Darren Fletcher, Scott Brown and Shaun Maloney to provide the motivation to the rest of the squad as they remind the others of the anguish they went through after several failed qualifying campaigns. Not that the Scotland squad needs to be motivated though, having lost only one of their last six qualifying games. There is a real belief in the group that if they play together they can get the results they need to reach France. Two wins from their last four games might not be enough but three wins especially one over Germany or Poland could be. It would be an amazing achievement for Strachan’s men to reach Euro 2016 and join the other home nations in doing so.

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Marseille Appoint Michel As Cabella Checks In

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

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

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

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

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No Peace, Just War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bad Week For Martinez As Stones Drama Rumbles On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Malmo Advance To Champions League Leaving Celtic Shellshocked Again

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Will EPL’s Growing Wealth Destroy English Football?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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For The Love Of Money?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Sideways Look At Football/Soccer Across The World


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