One On One with: Jeremie Aliadiere

At 16 years of age, he turned heads at the elite Clairefontaine academy with his technical ability on the ball and his pure number 9 movement off of it. Fortunately for him, among those impressed was Arsene Wenger, the genius French football mind who was currently assembling his dream squad that would go on to become the undisputed ‘Invincibles’ of England. Wenger soon put the young Frenchman- who had trouble getting permission for this from his parents- on a plane to the UK.

What followed was a 6-year long career at Arsenal where he found Wenger to be a father figure, and earned himself a rare ‘Invincibles’ Premier League medal. Jeremie was among the Ruling Masters of England in 2002/3. As his career progressed, Jeremie saw it all. He found himself lifting trophies, as well as fall from glory; but only to get back up stronger and have the season of his life in his beloved France. From debunking transfer speculations in his prime to waiting for the phone to ring on bad days, from struggling around a star studded line up to coping with the trauma that is life after football, Jeremie Aliadiere opens up in an exceptional interview with us at Back Of The Net. Enjoy!

Backofthenet: Let’s start from the very beginning, you trained at the world-renowned INF Clairefontaine Academy, which has produced the likes of Thierry Henry, and more recently, Kylian Mbappe. How important do you think the academy turned out to be in molding you into a professional footballer? Would things have gone differently if you attended another academy?

Jeremie Aliadiere: Clairefontaine Academy was the best pre formation I could have ever had as everything was based on technical abilities. We were training every day for 2 hours which helped me so much to develop as a boy as well. I had to leave home at the age of 13 so I had to grow up very quickly.

Clairefontaine Academy, France

Clairefontaine Academy, France

BOTN: You have said that at the tender age of 16, after signing for Arsenal, you moved in to your own five-bedroom house in Southgate. Things were definitely looking good off the field for you. Do you think that level of independence and luxury at such a young age impacted you positively? What did you learn from those experiences?

JA: I moved from France at 16 to a country where I didn’t speak the language so my parents weren’t gonna let me go to the UK unless my grandparents moved with me. They stayed for 6 months but found it very tough and went back. After that I lived on my own. It has only impacted me in a good way I think as I had to become an adult at a very early age and quickly. Yes I have made mistakes but learned from them and moved on in my life and my career.

BOTN: During your early years at Arsenal, you had three fairly disappointing loan moves including one to Celtic under Gordon Strachan. What happened during that time and why do you believe Strachan never gave you the opportunity you needed?

JA: I wouldn’t say the Wolves move was disappointing as I played every game for 4 months for a great manager and man Glenn Hoddle. As for Celtic unfortunately Strachan had a lot of belief in me until they signed a Polish striker in middle of August (editors note: Maciej Zurawski). From then he said to me I wasn’t going to start games as I was only on loan so I didn’t see the point of staying at a club  where I wasn’t going to get more playing time than i would at Arsenal. So I left before the end of the summer transfer window to West Ham.

BOTN: Only a handful of players in the world can claim the honor of being called an ‘Invincible’. You were part of the Arsenal Invincibles squad of 2003-4. How does it feel to be part of such an elite group? Do you often reminisce about the golden days?

JA: Yes I always think about it as I realize what an achievement it is. At the time I did feel quite frustrated as I wanted to play more but now that I have retired, I realize how amazing it was to be part of that squad of incredible players.

Aliadiere lifts the Premier League trophy as part of the "Invincibles" (Image from Aliadiere's Instagram)

Aliadiere lifts the Premier League trophy as part of the “Invincibles” (Image from Aliadiere’s Instagram)

BOTN: Henry, Bergkamp, Nwankwo Kanu, Sylvain Wiltord and Francis Jeffers were already in the squad when you signed as a striker for Arsenal. Competing for the same position as these already established players, did you ever feel intimidated, or unsure about your own abilities?

JA: Yes, from the beginning I always thought it was pretty impossible for me to get ahead of those guys and I did feel intimidated and didn’t believe in my own abilities.

BOTN: In a recent interview, you called Dennis Bergkamp the ‘smartest’ player you have shared the field with. How do you think training with him changed your perspective of the game or impacted your style of play?

JA: Before joining Arsenal I was always focused on scoring goals but after watching Dennis play, I realized you could enjoy yourself by playing for the team and the other players; creating space for your teammates. He was always one step ahead of everyone else, he saw things before everyone else and was a very clever player.

The legendary Dennis Bergkamp (Image from Tumblr)

The legendary Dennis Bergkamp (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Eventually you left Arsenal and moved to Middlesbrough under Gareth Southgate. It was a turbulent time for the club who were very much in transition following some success under Steve McLaren. What do you remember about that time? 

JA: I will always be grateful to Middlesbrough and Southgate as they gave me that opportunity to be part of a starting eleven in a top club in the Premier League. Yes it wasn’t easy, it wasn’t the same football I was used to but I have learned so much and the fans were amazing.

BOTN: Are you surprised to see how well Southgate is doing as England manager?

JA: i’m not surprised at all with the progress and how well Southgate has done. He was so motivated, clever and smart. I knew he was going to make it at the top.

BOTN: You experienced relegation with Middlesbrough in 2009 which resulted in Gareth Southgate getting sacked and Gordon Strachan being appointed. Given what had happened at Celtic previously in your career, what were your emotions when you learned that Strachan had got the job? Did you feel that you had to move clubs?

JA: When Strachan got the job at ‘Boro, I must say I wasn’t over the moon but thought I would wait and see how things were going to go but he was great to me. From the first day he came in, he said to me he was counting on me so I was very happy and did my best even when I had injuries.

Jeremie Aliadiere at Middlesborough (Image from Tumblr)

Jeremie Aliadiere at Middlesborough (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: A return to France followed with a move to Lorient. You had some of your best seasons for Lorient, where you were a leading striker in a competitive top tier team. What do you think was the reason behind this top spell in the French league?

JA: It’s very simple. I was at the lowest of my career, after spent one year without a club and wasn’t sure I was going play football at the top level again so when Lorient call me I had nothing to lose. Gourcuff gave me back the joy of playing football. Lorient is such a family club and that was what I needed. A family club with a great coach who knows my quality and was going to give me the opportunity to enjoy playing football the way I’ve always like to play football.

BOTN: At Arsenal and at Lorient, you played under two magnificent managers in Arsene Wenger and Christian Gourcuff. Both have unique and distinctive styles. What impact did both managers have on your career? Are there specific things that they did to get the best out of you?

JA: They are both very similar in some ways and both want to play football in an attractive way. Wenger was like a dad to me as I was so young when I joined Arsenal and gave me my chance at the highest level. Gourcuff saved my career and I will always be so grateful to him and Lorient. He believed in me when nobody else did and he made me realize that you achieved great things by being disciplined and tactically organized.

Father figure - Jeremie with former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger (image from Aliadiere's instagram)

Father figure – Jeremie with former Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger (image from Aliadiere’s instagram)

BOTN: During your career, you have played for a club who have won various titles and for clubs fighting relegation. How would you assess the differences in the dressing room morale in those situations? Are players more determined to win when they are considered underdogs, or as defending champions?

JA: I think it’s much tougher to play against relegation without a doubt. You play with the clubs survival and know that you could impact on so many people lifes. When you play for the title, you go into certain games with so much confidence that you feel that you have won the game before it started.

BOTN: Your career was often troubled with injuries. How did you try to stay positive during the long, aching periods of recovery before you were allowed to play again? How important is it to have a supportive family behind you during these times?

JA: I have had many big injuries in my career but I have always thought I couldn’t give up. What else was I going to do? Football is my life; that’s all have done since I was 6 so whatever happened I was always going to carry on and fight to come back. My family has always been very supportive and behind me. You do realize when times are hard who Is there for you. Not many people are when the phone isn’t ringing but that’s life.

BOTN: During several interviews, you have opened up about life after football and all the struggles that come with it. What advice would you give to young footballers still in their prime years, such that the end to their careers is more fulfilling? Do you think enough is being done to help footballers prepare for life after retirement?

JA: I would tell them to start preparing what they would like to do after their career is over even if they have a lot of money and don’t need to work. The hardest thing is from one day to the other the change a way of life. Football is a way of life with everything that comes with it. When you lived for 25 years like that it’s very hard to change.

Aliadiere tears his cruciate ligament against Man Utd in the Community Shield in Wales (Image from Aliadiere's Instagram)

Aliadiere tears his cruciate ligament against Man Utd in the Community Shield in Wales (Image from Aliadiere’s Instagram)

BOTN: Finally some fans questions if we may. What advice would you give your younger self? Would you like to have played your career in reverse and end it at Arsenal?

JA: I would tell him to believe in himself more and not to care so much about what other people think.

BOTN: You have a tattoo of the Algerian flag and could have played for them at one stage. You were also close to being called up for the French National team at Lorient. Were you reluctant to play for Algeria as you felt that the French call up might happen?

JA: I could have played for Algeria but didn’t feel I was close enough to the country for me to play for them. I do regret it now as it would have been a great experience. As for France, I was going to get called up once but was a bit injured so couldn’t go.

BOTN: How close did you come to signing for Newcastle in the 2013 January transfer window? Why did that deal fall through?

JA: I wasn’t close at all. I never spoke to Newcastle at that time. It was all press speculation.

BOTN: Finally, you have played in Qatar with Umm Salal SC. Do you think that Qatar will be able to host a successful World Cup in 2022?

JA: Yes I do believe it will be a successful World Cup. It’s a great country with amazing people. They will want impress the rest of world and they can do it so trust me they will do everything in their power to make it a very successful event.

Interview by Sairam Hussian Miran, Special correspondent for Back Of The Net. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram

Follow Jeremie on Instagram.

Summer of the Sack as Premier League clubs prepare to wield the axe

This Sunday will draw to a close the latest Premier League season and with it mark the last game in charge for some of its managers. Watford have already announced the Italian boss Walter Mazzari will depart his position in the summer after failing to impress the clubs demanding owners, the Pozzo family. To be fair, the writing has been on the wall for the former Napoli and Inter manager for some time now after some poor results. His tactical mismanagement in certain games and apparent lack of interest in learning English left him floundering in a league where managers are treated by the media as rock stars and expected to be the next messiah. Mazzari unfortunately was neither charismatic nor inspiring and as a direct result dampened any enthusiasm surrounding Watford from day one.

Confirmed - Mazzari will leave Watford at the end of the season (Image from Tumblr)

Confirmed – Mazzari will leave Watford at the end of the season (Image from Tumblr)

Hot favourite to replace Mazzari at Watford is Marco Silva, the unknown manager parachuted into Hull mid season to rescue them from impending relegation. The critics scoffed at the appointment stating that the job should have gone to someone with Premier League experience like Nigel Pearson or Ryan Giggs (seriously they did) but Silva pushed through and quickly won them over by “transforming” Hull into a team who could actually compete on the pitch with cup wins over Swansea and Manchester United in the FA Cup and League Cup respectively within his first 30 days. However he couldn’t quite replicate that form enough in the league managing only 6 wins and 3 draws over the next 17 games leading up to this Sunday’s clash with Tottenham. Hull’s relegation has been confirmed but despite this Silva has gained what a lot of managers crave – a positive Premier League reputation and will now have the pick of a few jobs on offer.

The Chosen One - Marco Silva is wanted by several clubs (Image from Tumblr)

The Chosen One – Marco Silva is wanted by several clubs (Image from Tumblr)

Watford may be in the driving seat now but they could easily be pushed to the hard shoulder by West Ham if they decide to end Slaven Bilic’s time in charge. The former Croatia manager has endured a less than exciting second season as Hammers boss and could be given his marching orders after the clash with Burnley on Sunday. Despite finishing an impressive seventh last season and collecting the clubs highest points total (62) along the way, Bilic’s team has often looked rudderless this year much to his obvious frustration. You can point to a variety of factors including a stadium move that has proven more troublesome than beneficial, the departure of their star player Dimitri Payet after a much lengthy wrangle and the failure of some of his key summer signings to integrate into Bilics preferred tactical style but ultimately not all is right with West Ham. There is something underlying at the London Stadium (and its not the ancient curse that Simon Jordan said was haunting West Ham for moving there). Perhaps its the elevated visions of grandeur that the owners have after last years successes or the inability to play in a stadium that lacks atmosphere (take note spurs who look forward to the same at Wembley next season). Either way things don’t look promising for Bilic,

Bilic shares a moment with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp in one of his happier moments in charge of West Ham this season (image from Tumblr)

Bilic shares a moment with Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp in one of his happier moments in charge of West Ham this season (image from Tumblr)

Also on borrowed time is Claude Puel at Southampton who like Bilic is suffering from bloated expectations from above. Having finished sixth under Ronald Koeman last season, Puel was hired on the basis that he would build upon this and continue the clubs upward trajectory. Things haven’t quite turned out that way despite what some would consider a half decent season – likely an 8th placed finish and an a League cup final appearance where they pushed Manchester United all the way in a thrilling game. Despite this, Puel looks like he may be relieved of his duties after only one season in favour of a fresh pair of eyes. If he is it will be a disappointing decision as a majority of Southampton’s misgivings this year were set in motion before he started at the end of June 2016. The sale of Victor Wanyama and Sadio Mane weeks before he arrived and Graziano Pelle just twelve days after he started ripped the core nucleus of the team that had been so successful the season before. Puel’s side never recovered and the results on the pitch have reflected this – more defeats than wins, just over a quarter of all PL games drawn, higher goals conceded than scored  all paints a bad picture for the French coach.

 

Puel was caught off guard by the ball and by life in the Premier League it would seem (Image from Tumblr)

Puel was caught off guard by the ball and by life in the Premier League it would seem (Image from Tumblr)

There are also question marks over the futures of Middlesbrough’s caretaker boss Steve Agnew who is unlikely to get the post full time after their relegation, Stoke’s Mark Hughes who has overseen the decline of the Potters this year with a 14th place finish their lowest since the 2011-2012 season and Arsene Wenger who despite a spirited end of season revival which has given Arsenal a fighting chance of a Champions League spot is still under pressure to leave from a large cross section of the Gunners faithful. There are even some calling for Jose Mourinho to go after a dismal 6th placed finish but a League Cup win and a Europa League final appearance against Ajax which should end in them lifting that trophy too should ensure the Special One gets another bite at the cherry at United.

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England’s Hunt For A New Manager Takes An All Too Familiar Path

Abject failure, catastrophe, disaster beyond repair, calamitous. All over exaggerations heard about the current problems facing the England national team following their disappointing exit from Euro 2016. Yes, it was a surprising exit at the hands of Iceland, but one that truthfully those closest to the game would know was coming for some time. It all started during the qualifying campaign. England qualified for France fairly convincingly, and with little effort, which ultimately ended up being their downfall. With no real competitive games as such in two years (with the exception of Switzerland), England was on auto pilot for too long. When manager Roy Hodgson did retake the controls in the few months in the run up to the tournament, it was as if he had forgotten exactly how to fly and was hastily retraining himself. A series of pointless international friendlies did nothing to convince the watching spectators that lifting the trophy in July would be a possibility. Instead those games only served to confuse the fans and media with former England winger confessing that he couldn’t work out what system England were playing and what the general plan was. These experimental games only seemed to serve the purpose of giving players like Danny Drinkwater and Andros Townsend false hope that they might squeeze on to the flight to France. In the end, neither did, and for their own reputations sake it’s probably a good thing.

Danny Drinkwater’s man of the match performance afainst Holland in a friendly before Euro 2016 did little for his chances (Image from Tumbl)

During the tournament England played a strong possession game which appeared to please Hodgson and the always animated Gary Neville. But possession without purpose leads to nothing and England made qualification from the group look extremely difficult for themselves. Hodgson, to be fair, did not help England’s chances when he made some strange choices, including shoehorning Wayne Rooney into the team as a midfielder so he could compensate for picking four other strikers in the squad of 23. His decision making in the run up to the tournament and throughout was poor; selecting a barely fit Jack Wilshire ahead of Drinkwater or the impressive Mark Noble of West Ham, for example. Similarly, putting his top marksman Harry Kane on all free kicks and corner kicks was so baffling even Kane probably didn’t understand why. Finally, his lack of a plan B on several occasions costs his side more than just three valuable points and potentially a fairly good shot at winning a relatively poor tournament outright.

Hodgson appeared to be unsure of his best team and formation leading up to Euro 2016 (image from Tumblr)

In the end, Hodgson fell on his sword resigning moments after the defeat at the hands of Iceland in the last 16. Almost instantaneously debates began over who should take over – Englishman or foreign, young or old. Sam Allardyce, Jurgen Klinsmann, Roberto Mancini, Arsene Wenger, Eddie Howe, Glenn Hoddle and strangely Steve Bruce were all linked with the position with Big Sam the clear bookies favourite as the search got underway. Leading the recruitment process is FA chief executive Martin Glenn (who candidly admitted that he knows nothing about football) so would be seeking out the advice of others in order to make an informed decision. In the end, a three man panel of Glenn, FA technical director Dan Ashworth and FA vice chairman David Gill will pick the 18th manager of England who will lead the team through the qualifying campaign for Russia 2018. However, as usual, the discussion around who they should appoint is focused on what type of manager they want to bring in, rather than the question that needs to be answered: what style or identity should the England national team have? That question more than any other will dictate who the right man (or woman) for the job should be. It’s an approach used by other nations during their selection process and was integral to the decision of the RFU (Rugby Football Union) to appoint Australian Eddie Jones to the position of head coach of the England Rugby team, a move that has already proved to be the right one.

The appointment of Eddie Jones by the RFU was doen based on the style of play that they wanted England to adopt (Image from Tumblr)

Answering that question however may be the difficult part. England historically has relied on big name players at the heart of their team with a formation developed around them, most of the time unsuccessfully. Nine times out of ten England breezes through qualifying for major tournaments creating a false sense of security that the formation is working. However it’s worth noting that England generally avoids the harder teams in the qualifying group draws due to their regular high positioning in the FIFA World rankings. As a result, it’s only at the tournament itself when England faces tougher oppositions that problems with the choice of formation occurs, usually leading to an exit. The lack of a plan B often also stems from this with the belief that plan A is good enough to work. Turning this on its head and starting first with the style or identity that England want to have will help define the formational options and the manager capable of making it work. For example, if England decided to follow Germany’s lead in playing a high pressing possession game then someone like Jurgen Klinsmann would make more sense than Sam Allardyce. It’s not necessarily that the Sunderland manager doesn’t know how to play a high pressing game but his experiences to date indicate that his preferences are towards other styles. If however England chose to play like Iceland as a tough to break down unit who are more rigid than fluid in nature, then Sam becomes one of the stand out candidates. Fundamentally the FA trio must focus less on Russia and more on the long term future of the national team. Build the foundations now to create long term success rather than constructing a half-baked solution that will need repairing or scrapping in four years time.

Is Sam Allardyce the right choice? (image from Tumblr)

Italy’s success at this year’s Euros are an indication of how effective this approach can be. The Italians were not blessed with the most talented squad going into the tournament with several Italian journalists calling it the worst team in fifty years. But in manager Antonio Conte they had a coach who understood the style that Italy wanted to play and built a formation around that. The players he then selected fit into this system rather than the other way around (which is what England did). When PSG’s Marco Veratti dropped out due to injury, Conte turned to Lazio’s Marco Parolo; a similar type of player who can drop straight into the gap left by Veratti rather than reworking his system to accommodate a different type of player. The entire squad knew the system, how they intended to play and what their role was leading Italy to a quarter final spot. England must learn from past mistakes, define their style and approach going forward. Once they have done this, only then can they confidently choose a manager who can be most effective in executing against that, regardless of who that is and where they come from.

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Transfer Day Movers and Shakers in the Premier League

The window officially slammed shut last night with Premier League clubs splashing out £175m in transfers during January, a five year high total. That takes the total to spent by Premier Clubs to a record £1.045bn on transfers in the 2015-16 season. To put that into prospective, its a fifth of the total national wealth of Tongo or the same amount spent by the Kardashians on food and makeup each year. So with all that money, who has done the best business on the last day of the window and who is waking up today with regret.

Asleep at the wheel – Arsenal/Aston Villa

Arsene Wenger seems like a camomile tea man, sipping it slowly as he curls up on the sofa reading the manual for a toaster oven. But perhaps he should have switched to coffee for deadline day. Maybe then he would have had some skin in the game and done some deals. With this season being his best chance in over a decade to win the league you would have thought Wenger would have moved quicker than a sloth to strengthen his side for the final push. Instead Arsenal let more people leave in January than they signed which is by definition the exact opposite of strengthening. Does he not want the title or is he simply trying to make it harder for himself in the long run? Really no one knows with Wenger anymore and like your nonsensical grandfather who shouts at plants in his living room, it’s gotten to the point that few people actually care preferring just to ignore the crazy man and let him instead sit there with his lukewarm cup of tea. Sharing this award with Arsenal however is a team in so much in denial about what is about to happen it’s as if they are in fact Donald Trump supporters. Aston Villa is a Premier League institution but their time is rapidly drawing to a close which was not helped by an incredibly poor January window. For the club routed to the bottom of the league, the window should have offered a last roll of the dice and a chance at salvation. Instead it turned into clusterf*ck with more people saying no to them than to Will Smith during Oscar nomination season. The preverbal ship has struck the iceberg and is sinking fast but instead of patching the hole, the clubs executives are arguing over which song the band should play next on deck. Villa fans on the other hand are jumping for the lifeboats whilst Micah Richards, now in the cold water clings desperately to yet another failed move. Sad times indeed.

wenger

Arsene sends a clear message to those who have questioned his signing policy (Image from Getty)

Ooooohhh didn’t they do well – Stoke
Shall I tell them or do you want to? Ok I will. Stoke, you may be a lovely team with a mild mannered manager and a 6ft 8in striker but top four side you are not. So why oh why would you then go and spend over $28m on midfielder Giannelli Imbula from Porto. Yes he is one of Europe’s brightest prospects that reminds many of Claude Makelele but that’s a lot of money! Just think how many other ways you could have spent that money. For a top four side that is chump change (see Manchester United for a better sense of how to overpay in style) but for Stoke surely that’s most if not all of the budget. Are we to believe that this is the next evolution of Stoke City into a challenger. First Bojan, then Shaqiri now Imbula???Who next – Ronaldo? Messi?

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Imbula pulls on the red and white strip of Atletico Madrid after Hughes convinces him that Stoke City is just a nickname (Image from Getty)

Hey big spenders – Newcastle

Perhaps it was a rouge chicken leg or the fallen remote control that made Newcastle owner Mike Ashley reach down into that dark gap in his couch and rediscover his check book. Regardless since then Newcastle have been spending money like Bill Cosby on defence lawyers. The once tightly held purse strings have well and truly been ripped open like.. well you get the picture. The benefactor of this has been Steve McLaren who somehow has managed to keep his job by constantly moving the measurements for success goalposts week by week. In have come several new faces over the course of January include Andros Townsend, Jonjo Shelvey and Henri Saivet but with the club relying to heavily on midfielder Georgi Wijnaldum for goals this season, a striker was needed. Up step Roma forward Seydou Doumbia to save the day, joining on loan with an option to sign later if he can actually score more goals than Mitrovic or Cisse have so far. Not that hard a challenge. All in all Newcastle have spend a fortune in the hope that it will make them a fortune by saving them from relegation. With Villa already down, Sunderland applying for one of the other two available slots and Swansea in freefall, it may be money well spent by Ashley who can now get back to that pesky chicken leg.

Mike_Ashley_1516078c

“Yeah i found it. It was down between the couch cushions. oh and found my check book as well. Great day” (image from PA)

You what? Who to where?!? -Steven Fletcher to Marseille

Did anyone really see this one coming? Come on, don’t lie. The Sunderland striker completed his surprised loan move on deadline day leading many to spit out their tea and sending others running to the calendar to check it wasn’t April fools. Even Jim White looked perplexed as he read it out during Sky’s colourful broadcast. Marseille it seems we’re in on the joke releasing what appeared to be a rendition of Braveheart acknowledging that Fletcher was a scot and indeed very tall, albeit lacking technical ability. The whole transfer was bizarre not just the lack of due cause. Perhaps when they swung by Newcastle to pick up flop Florian Thauvin on their jet they caught a glimpse of Fletcher tossing cabers at Sunderland’s training ground and thought that’s just what we need. Now that he has signed, the next question is where will he play with many quickly pointing out that the Ligue 1 side tends to play with only one up front and the in form Michy Batshuayi currently occupies that role. Fletcher may have bagged a hat trick for Scotland last year but prolific he ain’t having failed to score for strugglers Sunderland in the League since November. But let’s give the big man the benefit of the doubt and say that he will be successful in France and may indeed land a permanent transfer sparking an upsurge in form. Seriously though if Joey Barton can make it at Marseille so can the big if not technically challenged Steven Fletcher.

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“We signed William Wallace” (Image from Getty)

Finally further down the divisions, Charlton made a last ditch move to help secure their championship future by signing the aptly named Rod Fanni. The 32 year old former French international defender arrived at the Valley after a stay in Qatar but soon discovered he wasn’t the only Fanni at Charlton when the clubs owner stopped by to introduce himself.

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The Falseness Of The False Nine

 

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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Garde In As Villa Search For Redemption

Sitting bottom of the table with only 1 win so far this season, it’s an all too familiar tale for Aston Villa. In the past four seasons, the Midlands club has dangled precariously over the drop zone only to avoid relegation almost at the death on each occasion. However after selling star striker Christian Benteke and playmaker Fabian Delph in the summer, Villa’s luck could be about to run out. Yesterday’s 3-1 defeat to Tottenham marked Villa’s seventh straight defeat in a row, a run that has seen them concede 15 goals and score only six and highlighted the magnitude of problems that the club faces. Lacking confidence, Villa were disorganised, defensively inept and impotent in attack. Captain for the night Gabby Agbonlahor’s first half performance summed it all up – no shots on goal, five miss hit passes and only eight touches in total during the first 45 minutes. Unsurprisingly Agbonlahor did not reappear for the second half.

Agbonlahor's heat map in the fist half against Spurs (Image from Opta)

Agbonlahor’s heat map in the fist half against Spurs (Image from Opta)

In attendance at the match was new manager Remi Garde who surveyed the task ahead of him surely with some trepidation. His new side was brushed aside with ease by a youthful Tottenham side who themselves are far from the finished article. Mauricio Pochettino’s side created several chances throughout the game and would have scored more if their inexperience hadn’t gotten in the way. At the full-time whistle, Aston Villa’s caretaker manager Kevin MacDonald glanced upwards to where Garde was sitting as if to say “Now you can really see what you have gotten yourself in for”. The former Arsenal midfielder and Lyon boss was introduced to the media just shortly before the game but chose to sit in the stands and watch as Villa sank without a trace. His appointment may be viewed as a risky one by several camps but his work in France with Lyon in a variety of roles including as a coach, Director of  the Centre Tola Vologe (Lyon’s training facility) and most recently manager should show that he has the credentials to at least be given a shot. This job however will be his most difficult to date as he attempts to turn around a team that has evaded the drop for too long and is in desperate need of restructuring from the ground up.

Not a great start as the club misspells Garde's first name in its official tweet  (Image from AstonVillaFC)

Not a great start as the club misspells Garde’s first name in its official tweet
(Image from AstonVillaFC)

Garde is but one man though so his focus must be on fixing the team and propelling them back up the league. The faces a long list of tasks with an incredibly short time to get them all done. The venue for his first task will be someone where he feels most comfortable, on the training pitches. He needs to quickly get the group together, refocus on what is to come and more importantly get them to forget what has already happened. Sorting out a shaky looking defense will be an important task and he will need to lean on all of his experience to get the best out of what is an average group of players. He does have some experience at the back with Micah Richards, Jolean Lescott and Alan Hutton all having played several seasons in the Premiership. But the trio have been posted missing so far as has goalkeeper Brad Guzman. Once seen as a reliable stopper, Guzman lacks belief in his own abilities and that self-doubt is costing Villa dearly. Either Garde has to rejuvenate the US keeper or ditch him in favour of Mark Bunn or youngster Brad Watkins. Ironically letting 39-year-old Shay Given depart in the summer could be a major factor in whether or not Villa stay up.

Guzman is having a nightmare start to the season  (Image from PA)

Guzman is having a nightmare start to the season
(Image from PA)

Once the defense has stopped leaking goals, Garde must find a solution for the lack of goals. Without Benteke in the ranks, Villa have only Agbonlahor, Kozak and new signings Jordan Ayew, Adama Traore and Rudy Gestede to lead their lines. Between them only five goals have been scored with Gestede leading the way with three and Ayew closely behind with the other two. With nine weeks until the January transfer window, Garde cannot afford to wait until then to find a prized striker as Villa’s season could be all but over by then. The new boss must find a way to reignite his strikers and get them back on the right track and quickly, starting on Sunday against league leaders Manchester City. The heartwarming thing for Villa fans is that Garde has history of doing just that, turning Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis into scoring machines during his time at Lyon. He did so by playing the pair together with one dropping back into the hole between the midfield and the attack and pulling a central defender with him. Gestede and Ayew could operate in a similar fashion with the latter dropping off to give the 6ft 4in Gestede more freedom.

Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis were transformed by Garde at Lyon (Image from AFP)

Alexandre Lacazette and Bafetimbi Gomis were transformed by Garde at Lyon
(Image from AFP)

Garde knows that he has little time to turn things around and will be hoping to quickly stabilize the ship before tossing the deadwood overboard when January comes. He will be given funds to make the team his own but the Frenchman knows that in order to strengthen the way he wants, he will need to sell before he can buy further. He may also raid the club’s youth team for players including promoting the talented trio of Andre Green, Leiws Kinsella and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy to the first team. For Garde, the challenge starts today as the new coach tries to pick up the pieces of what has been yet another disappointing season. He will be hoping to build his own legacy at Villa much like his mentor Arsene Wenger did at Arsenal. There is a lot of work to be done but the Frenchman is confident that he can finally get Aston Villa back onto steadier ground.

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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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Advantage Wenger As Arsenal Snatch The Community Shield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Juventus Aiming For Champions League Success

Vialli lofts the Champions League trophy, but can Juventus do it again? (Image from Getty)It’s remarkably been ten years since Juventus last lifted the Champions League trophy, beating Ajax on penalties in the final. That Juventus side included club legends like Antonio Conte, Alessandro Del Piero and Ciro Ferrara to name a few but whilst the 2015 batch isn’t quite as star studded as its predecessor, they still have the talents of Carlos Tevez, Andrea Prilo and Paul Pogba to call on. As they enter the quarter finals stage of the Champions League and prepare to face Monaco, Juventus manager Massimilano Allegri knows he will need all of his star names on top form if he is to bring the trophy back to Turin.

The road to glory is paved with obstacles and given that some of Europe’s biggest hitters are still in the competition, reaching the final will be a challenge in itself. Allegri will have one eye on proceedings across Europe over the next few weeks with Bayern Munich taking on Porto, Barcelona clashing with PSG and a repeat of last year’s final with Atletico Madrid taking on current holders Real Madrid in the other quarter final matches. With the final played in Berlin, Pep Guardiola’s Bayern side will be looking to rid themselves of last year’s failed attempt by going one step further and reaching the final. Guardiola’s former side Barcelona are also looking to rewrite some wrongs after being knocked out at the quarter final stage last year by Atletico. In their way however is a hungry PSG side that needs Champions League success badly to justify the heavy investment made by its owners. Juventus’s challenge is a daunting one with some difficult matches lying ahead of them if they can progress.

Pep Guardiola is looking to add another Champions League trophy to his collection  (Image from Getty)

Pep Guardiola is looking to add another Champions League trophy to his collection
(Image from Getty)

But before they can think about any of these teams, Juventus needs to dispatch Monaco. The French side progressed by beating Arsenal in the last round with thanks to the away goal rule after a 3-1 victory in London was equaled by a 2-0 defeat in Monaco. Currently third in Ligue 1, Monaco appear to have found a winning formula in the league and remain unbeaten in their last eight games. However in Europe, their form has been patchy at best with convincing wins over Zenit and Bayern Leverkusen at home in the group stage followed by nervous performances on the road. They did however manage to finish top of a difficult group that also contained last year’s UEFA Cup runners up Benfica, setting up a return visit for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger who bossed the French club back in the late 80’s early 90’s. Unfortunately for Wenger his side severely underestimated Monaco ability to attack on the break and we convincingly beaten 3-1 on a cold night at the Emirates. The stars of that game were rising French midfielder Geoffrey Kondogbia and Portuguese playmaker Joao Moutinho who pulled the strings for Dimitar Berbatov and Anthony Martial up front. Berbatov in particular was in fine form, rolling back the years and remind us all what a great striker he was. However in the return leg, the Bulgarian was posted missing for most of the match as Arsenal finally stepped up a gear and looked to sink their French challengers. It wasn’t to be and Monaco progressed but their performance in the second leg as well as several other ones in the group stage will give Juventus hope.

Kondogbia blasts Monaco into the lead against Arsenal  (Image from Reuters)

Kondogbia blasts Monaco into the lead against Arsenal
(Image from Reuters)

Allegri will know that he needs to cut the snake off at his head and that means shutting down Moutinho. Usually he would have tasked the talented Pogba with the role but an injury against Borussia Dortmund in the last round has ruled him out of contention. Instead the duo of Arturo Vidal and Claudio Marchisio with one asked to close down the Portuguese star and the other to sweep behind if needed. If they can break up Monaco’s attacks then they can spring the counter attack with Roberto Pereyra used as the catalyst. His job will be simple – get the ball to Carlos Tevez or Alvaro Morata who between them can create space and drive in on goal. Tevez has been in sparkling form this year and will be looking to add to the Champions League winner’s medal he picked up whilst playing for Manchester United. The Argentine, who was surprisingly omitted from his country’s World Cup squad last year, has scored 25 times this season in all competitions from 36 appearances and leads the Serie A goal scoring charts. His form has been instrumental in Juventus recent success as they look on course to record their four straight Serie A title. Adding the Champions League crown to that would be the icing on the cake for Tevez and Juventus who are desperate to climb back up that mountain and once again be kings of Europe.

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It Takes All Kinds – What Type Of Manager Do You Have When It Comes To Transfers?

Patience is a virtue -  Wenger (Image from Getty)As the January transfer window prepares to open, clubs across the world will be thinking about how they will strengthen their team. At the heart of that decision is generally the manager but depending on what type of boss you have in charge of your team, any new arrivals will likely have to adhere to their preferences. No two managers are the same but certain bosses have easily definable characteristics that play a key role in deciding who arrives and who doesn’t. Here we look at four examples and highlight who could possibly be arriving at their clubs when the window opens.

Faithful Follower – Harry Redknapp (QPR)

More well-known as a wheeler and dealer, Redknapp’s history of signings also shows an interesting pattern. Redknapp like a lot of managers tends to go after the same players regardless of what club he is at, preferring to sign who he knows and trusts rather than experimenting with new players. It’s a smart move by the aging coach who has found success with this formula time and time again. His over use of players like Peter Crouch, Jermaine Defoe, Sandro and Niko Kranjcar who have all played for a club that Redknapp managed on at least two separate occasions allows the English boss be more comfortable and therefore better organized. Now at QPR and struggling for goals, despite a resurgence in form recently for Charlie Austen, Redknapp will spend the January window perusing a striker. It would be a fool to bet against that striker being either Crouch or Defoe and with the latter keen to end his MLS adventure, Redknapp may just get his man once again.

Crouch or Defoe could be linking up with Redknapp once again  (Image from Getty)

Crouch or Defoe could be linking up with Redknapp once again
(Image from Getty)

All in the details – Pep Guardiola (Bayern Munich)

Never one to rush a decision, Guardiola prefers to take his time and uses data to work out what his side needs. Meticulous planning, scouting and analysis of statistics and video footage are done in advance of any new signing. This tends to mean that whenever Guardiola signs a player they are successful at his club. Take Xavi Alonso for instance. Guardiola recognized that his team last year struggled (despite the successes it had) in the centre of midfield and he needed to find an enforcer who also had a high pass rate completion. His search led him to Spaniard Alonso who despite his advancing years was still statistically on of the best passers in the game. Once he had made his mind up, Guardiola swooped in and Alonso soon joined him in Germany. This season Alonso has become a vital clog in Bayern’s winning streak and has helped his team to increase its pass complete ratio, much to Guardiola’s delight. This January, with Bayern already way out in front in the league and in the latter stages of the Champions League, reinforcements are not necessarily needed. However Guardiola may decide to add a forward to the mix to take the pressure off of Robert Lewandoski and will be looking for someone who can provide something different from what he has already. The pacey Raheem Sterling of Liverpool fame fits the bill nicely but whether his stats match exactly to what Guardiola wants is still to be seen.

Making sure the pieces fit before making a move - Guardiola  (Image from Getty)

Making sure the pieces fit before making a move – Guardiola
(Image from Getty)

Glitz and Glamour – Louis Van Gaal (Manchester United)

The easiest way for a manager to get the fans onside is to sign a glamorous player, someone with equal parts pedigree and panache. Van Gaal has already done this twice this season with the arrivals of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao but will be looking to add one more in January to gain further fan approval and strengthen his position at the club. Having turned a troubled United side around in recent weeks, you could argue that this is mot needed however Van Gaal will know that he needs to strengthen his back line and by bringing in a star centre back he can kill two birds with one stone. January will be filled with rumours about potential central defenders that may move to United but Van Gaal will be cautious knowing that he needs to make it an important signing to have the right effect. A return to Old Trafford of former captain Nemanja Vidic who is struggling in Italy with Inter would certainly achieve this or similarly drafting in the highly rated Atletico powerhouse Diego Godin will have the same effect.

Big name arrivals like Di Maria please Van Gaal (Image from PA)

Big name arrivals like Di Maria please Van Gaal (Image from PA)

Patient viewer – Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Patience is a virtue but for Arsenal fans patience can also be torture. For the faithful Gunners followers each transfer window under the incredibly patient Arsene Wenger can be a difficult time waiting to see if and when their manager dips into the market. Usually it happens last-minute as Wenger patiently waits out the chaos that surrounds the window. Whilst a clever strategy, it is also very risky especially leaving it till the last day as he has done in previous years. The signing of Mikel Arteta from Everton some three years ago almost never happened as administration issues nearly scuppered Wengers plans. This year, Wenger will likely continue as he has in the past with a last-minute buy to strengthen his side. Not happy with his current goalkeeper situation, a move for the safer hands of free agent Victor Valdes may seem like a logical step. However with Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool also eyeing up Valdes to replace the bumbling Simon Mignolet, Wenger’s patient approach may be his undoing come this January transfer window.

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Tough Challenges Ahead For British Teams Left In Europe

Tough draw for UK teams in Europe (Image from UEFA)This year’s draw for the knockout stages of both the Champions League and Europa league have not been kind to the remaining British sides taking part. In the Champions League, Manchester City faces a familiar foe in Barcelona in the last 16. The pair were drawn against each other last season with the Catalan giants coming out on top, winning 4-1 on aggregate. The task of slaying Luis Enrique’s side will be any easier this year as City reeling from the loss of inform striker Sergio Aguero struggle to find the correct gear both domestically and in Europe. One glimmer of hope is that Barcelona of late have been struggling in La Liga dropping seven points in their last seven games. Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Getafe left Barcelona four points off of leaders Real Madrid and allowed defending champions Atletico Madrid in third to close the gap to three points. However in Europe, Barcelona have been in good form, losing only once (a narrow 3-2 defeat to PSG) since being knocked out of last year’s tournament by Atletico.

Man City meet Barcelona again in the last 16  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Man City meet Barcelona again in the last 16
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

On route to dispatching Barcelona, Atletico knocked out Chelsea who were going through a transformation phase under returning manager, Jose Mourinho. Having successfully rebuilt his side and rediscovered the balls that he felt they lacked last year, Chelsea look like a far more capable side than last season. Currently topping the Premiership with new striker Diego Costa firing on all cylinders, Mourinho’s side will be looking to advance to the quarter finals when the tournament restarts in February. Standing in their way are PSG, with Brazilian defender David Luiz coming up against his former employers. Seen as unreliable in Mourinho’s eyes, Luiz was sold for £50 million during the summer and will be keen to prove his former boss wrong by stopping Chelsea in their tracks.

Former Chelsea defender David Luiz, now with PSG is out to prove a point  (Image from Getty)

Former Chelsea defender David Luiz, now with PSG is out to prove a point
(Image from Getty)

Meanwhile across London, Arsenal’s chances of progressing in the Champions League were given a boost by drawing French side Monaco. The club from the tiny principality has been out of sorts this season despite the wealth of riches at their disposal. Having strangely allowed star striker Falcao to leave for Manchester United on a season long loan, Monaco have struggled to score goals with 33 year old Dimitar Berbatov their only real goal scoring threat so far with five goals. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will not fear a trip to Monaco and a ground he knows all too well having coached there in the past. The Frenchman spent seven seasons in the south of France in the late eighties before eventually winding up at Arsenal after a short stint in Japan with Nagoya Grampus Eight. With Alexis Sanchez on form and Theo Walcott returning from injury in the next few weeks, Arsenal should have enough firepower to progress.

Berbatov is Monaco's top goal scorer on five  (Image from REUTERS/Robert Pratta)

Berbatov is Monaco’s top goal scorer on five
(Image from REUTERS/Robert Pratta)

In the Europa League, Celtic were hoping for an easier passage into the next round but instead got one of the worst draws possible in the shape of inform Inter Milan. Still unbeaten under new boss Roberto Mancini, the Italians will be formidable opponents for Ronny Delia’s team and it will take a special atmosphere inside Celtic Park to rattle them. Also up against Italian opposition are Tottenham who drew Fiorentina with Micah Richards in their ranks. The Manchester City player is spending the season on loan at the Serie A club but has only made a few select appearances so may have to make do with a spot on the bench. Spurs haven’t started the season as well as they would have hoped but will likely strengthen in the January transfer window in advance of the Fiorentina clash.

Homeward bound - Richards could feature against Spurs  (Image from EPA)

Homeward bound – Richards could feature against Spurs
(Image from EPA)

Liverpool are another team looking to strengthen in January after a very disappointing start to the new campaign. Out of the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers side now face Turkish side Besiktas sparking memories of the stunning 8-0 victory that they managed the last time the two sides met. The Europa League may be the only way for Liverpool to secure a Champions League place for next season so beating the current Super Lig leaders may be essential for Rodgers keeping his job. Across the city, Everton face Young Boys with manager Roberto Martinez confident of his side progressing having escaped out of a difficult group containing Lille, Wolfsburg and Krasnodar. However the Swiss side is unlikely to roll over easily and will prove a tricky test for Everton as they too look to cement their place in the last 16.

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Arsenal Distraction Could Spell The End For Klopp At Dortmund

Rooted to the bottom of the Bundesliga table after thirteen matches, Borussia Dortmund find themselves in unfamiliar territory. It’s a dramatic fall from grace for the 2011 and 2012 champions who under Jurgen Klopp have once again become a dominant force in European football. But after a disastrous start, questions are now being asked about Klopp and whether the Dortmund board has to do the unthinkable and call to an end his spell in charge. Klopp has refused to walk away from Dortmund, citing that he can turn things around and propel Die Schwarzgelben back up the table. With only nine points separating Dortmund and fifth place Borussia Monchengladbach, mathematically it is possible however given Dortmund’s recent league form; the challenge looks far more daunting.

Klopp consoles his players after another defeat (Image from Getty)

Klopp consoles his players after another defeat
(Image from Getty)

Klopp’s men slipped to yet another defeat this past weekend, this time at Eintracht Frankfurt. Despite having a majority of the possession and 17 attempts on goal, Dortmund crashed to a 2-0 defeat condemning them to their eighth defeat of the season. Scoring goals has been a major problem with Klopp blamed for failing to adequately replace Polish striker Robert Lewandowski who departed in the summer for Bayern Munich.  His three replacements – Italian Ciro Immobile, Adrian Ramos and Pierre Aubameyang have scored only eight goals between them in the first thirteen matches with the entire midfield only chipping in a further four during the same time frame.  Whilst putting the ball in the net at one end has been a problem, picking it out of their own net appears to be a bigger one. Dortmund have shipped twenty one goals so far and have yet to record a clean sheet this season. Klopp has stuck by goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller despite some dubious displays, much like he has stuck by several other underperforming players in recent weeks. Dortmund’s once solid defence looks unmistakably leaky at present with youngster Matthias Ginter in particular looking off the pace. The talented youngster who was part of Germany’s World Cup winning squad this past summer, is one of the brightest prospects in German football however in recent games has looked nervous and error prone. An injury to Mats Hummel has forced new signing Ginter into action but the youngster appears to be struggling under the pressure of life in Signal Iduna Park. Klopp to be fair still remains composed on the sidelines, pondering what to do next to rectify this drop in form but some are now wondering if he will get the chance.

Shot Shy - Ramos and Immobile have struggled to find their footing since joining Dortmund (Image from PA)

Shot Shy – Ramos and Immobile have struggled to find their footing since joining Dortmund
(Image from PA)

Before Klopp was hired, Dortmund were struggling in the Bundesliga with the fans becoming disenchanted after five dreadful campaigns. After Thomas Doll was sacked, Mainz coach Jurgen Klopp was selected in a move that would transform the club back into one of Europe’s elite. Along with a plethora of youngsters coming through the youth system, Klopp started to rebuild the squad, buying good young players and turning them into world class footballers. Eventually his hard work started to pay off with titles and trophies coming back into the Dortmund trophy room. He made his position at the club irreplaceable for as long as he wanted to stay at Dortmund, the club would be happy to let him remain there. However after six successful years, rumours started to surface about potential moves to Barcelona, Manchester United and Liverpool, all of which came to nothing in the end after Klopp reiterated his desire to stay. But recently Klopp has added weight to that argument that perhaps in the not so distant future he would move to another club, with the Premiership his preferred destination due primarily to his ability to speak English. Since then unconfirmed reports of an agreement struck between Arsenal and Klopp for the German to take over from Arsene Wenger have fuelled the fire that Klopp’s time in Germany may be up. If it is true, Klopp will quit his role at Borussia in the summer and join Arsenal as Arsene Wenger moves upstairs to take on a board position.  This distraction has not helped Dortmund’s season to date with several newspapers claiming the mood in the Dortmund camp has dramatically shifted. Once seen as irreplaceable, Klopp’s position is gradually migrating towards untenable.

Next Arsenal manager? Klopp talks with Wenger at the Emirates (Image from Arsenal FC/AFP)

Next Arsenal manager? Klopp talks with Wenger at the Emirates
(Image from Arsenal FC/AFP)

If the poor league form continues into January, Dortmund’s board may just decide to pull the rip cord on Klopp’s time in charge sooner than the summer in order to protect their future as a Bundesliga team. Klopp will know that he needs to put any talk of a move away from Dortmund onto the backburner so that he can refocus his team towards the task in hand.  Over the next few weeks before the winter mid season break, Borussia have the chance to claw back some points with winnable games over Hoffenheim, Werder Bremen and Hertha. Even a tricky match against this season surprise outfit Wolfsburg offers Dortmund the chance of leaving that match with some points. If Klopp can rally his troops to four victories in a row before Christmas then perhaps he will be safe in his role. If he can’t, he may have to face up to life out of football for a while, that is until the summer when he will surely join up with his new team Arsenal.

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Henry lines Up Ligue 1 Swansong

Where next for Henry? (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

The name of Thierry Henry is one of the most recognised in world football. The World Cup and European Championship winning striker is second only to Lillan Thuram as the most capped French footballer of all time with 123 caps for France and leads the ways in goals scored with 51 to his name, 10 ahead of French legend Michael Platini and 20 ahead of Just Fontaine. Whilst his time on the international stage has now come to an end following his retirement after the 2010 World Cup, Henry continues to play at club level and is now in his fourth season in the MLS with New York Red Bulls. But as Henry’s contract reaches its end, the former Juventus, Arsenal and Barcelona frontman is surveying his options ahead of one final swansong. With a variety of offers including lucrative moves to the Middle East, China and India on the table, it would appear that Henry has his heart set on a switch back to his homeland, with champions Paris Saint Germain and Monaco leading a chasing pack.

Legend Status Secured for France - Henry  (Image by © Christian Liewig/Corbis)

Legend Status Secured for France – Henry
(Image by © Christian Liewig/Corbis)

At 37 questions will be asked about whether Henry can cope with life back in Frances top division but one man has no doubts that he can. Former Liverpool boss Gerard Houllier, now technical director at New York Red Bulls believes Henry still can compete with the best and at the highest level. He is desperate for Henry to stay with the MLS side but knows that his chances are slim given Henry’s desire for one final challenge. Returning to France would suit the former French internationalist rather than moving back to London with Arsenal where arguably Henry made his name. The news will come as a bitter blow to Arsenal fans who would love to see their former star return to the club for a third time. Henry became a legend in his first spell, scoring 174 goals in 256 games helping Arsenal to two Premiership titles along the way. Whilst he hasn’t ruled out a sensational return to the Emirates, Henry appears to be thinking more about another former club Monaco rather than Arsenal. It was in the south of France at the small principality club that Henry first emerged as a then speedy winger. The manager at that time was Arsene Wenger who would sell the player to Juventus before buying him back for Arsenal and converting him into one of the best strikers the game has ever seen. Henry spent eight years at Arsenal before being sold to Barcelona and then eventually to New York Red Bulls as a marquee signing.

Thierry Henry during his time at Monaco  (Image from AFP)

Thierry Henry during his time at Monaco
(Image from AFP)

Like David Beckham in Los Angeles, Henry’s arrival in the Big Apple was heralded as a momentous moment in the club and league’s history. He has since gone on to showcase to the US soccer fans how the beautiful game can be played with a series of dazzling performances making him one of the best players in the league. Contrary to popular belief, it was Henry’s move rather than Beckham’s that convinced many others like Robbie Keane and Tim Cahill  to move to the US by showing them that the league was a desirable place to play in their prime rather than simply in their retirement years. The league has benefited massively from Henry’s presence with crowds growing in both New York and in away grounds where Henry was playing. But with all good things, eventually this must come to an end with Henry departing to pastures new. A January transfer back to France is likely but to which club is yet to be decided. He may follow in Beckham’s footsteps by joining PSG and in turn getting one final chance at the Champions League but he may also opt to follow his heart back to his old club Monaco. That is unless his old mentor Arsene Wenger has a say and convinces Henry that his final season should be spent back in his other homeland with a return to Arsenal.

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Pardew – Should He Stay Or Should He Go Now?

This close to the exit - Alan Pardew (Image from Getty)

Trailing 2-0 to Hull with 20 minutes remaining, Pardew motioned to the bench for Papiss Cisse to warm up. After a quick warm up, Cisse was thrown into the game with the hopes that he could contribute something. What he did was turn the game on its head by scoring twice to earn Newcastle a point in what looked to be a foregone conclusion. An inspired substitution is what some media outlets called it but in reality it was the last throw of the dice for Pardew. Results on the pitch have been far from impressive this season and another defeat would have surely meant that the manager would be clearing his desk come Monday morning. The newspapers had been taunting him in the run up to the game with his opposite number, Steve Bruce ironically picked as favourite to replace him. Pardew knew he couldn’t lose so instead threw an unfit striker into a game against his medical team’s advisement. The gamble paid off and Pardew was granted a stay of execution but was it the right decision by owner Mike Ashley or should he have shown Pardew the door anyway?

Papiss Cisse levels for Newcastle against Hull  (Image from Getty)

Papiss Cisse levels for Newcastle against Hull
(Image from Getty)

If it were up to the fans, it would have been the latter. Newcastle have been less than remarkable this season and sit bottom of the Premiership after five games. Defeats to Southampton and Manchester City along with draws at Aston Villa, Crystal Palace and now Hull hardly spell success for Pardew and his team. Injuries to key players like David Santon and new signing Siem De Jong have hindered Pardew’s team selections but with the squad he has, the team really should have picked up more points than they have done so far. The fans demonstrated their frustration with the manager in front of a watching Mike Ashley holding Pardew Out signs at the Hull game but the owner seemed hardly fazed by the proceedings instead sitting emotionless in the stands. Pardew responded defensively suggesting the fans have created a mass hysteria in a move that is hardly going to win over the home support.

Pardew out banners displayed at recent matches by the fans  (Image from AFP)

Pardew out banners displayed at recent matches by the fans
(Image from AFP)

Never a popular replacement for the departing Chris Hughton, Pardew had to work hard to change public opinion and it appeared as though he had turned the corner in the 2011/2012 season when he guided Newcastle to a fifth place finish and picked up the LMA Manager of the Year award. But the following season was less convincing with a run in Europe combined with a lack of depth in the squad highlighting Newcastle’s limitations who eventually finished their league campaign that season in 16th place. Pardew blasted everyone but himself in an attempt to deflect the attention away from his own failings. Too focused on potential Europa League success, Pardew let the league campaign suffer by playing his best team abroad and a weakened side in the Premiership. Newcastle slipped quickly down the table with an exhausted squad unable to cope with the dual demands. Realistically the only thing that stopped Newcastle from being relegated that season was time itself, as if they had played another four games, the drop would have been likely. He survived and managed the team through yet another season but results and off field antics only created a further divide between the clubs fans and the manager. The turning point for Pardew appears to have been the head butt on David Meyler and his subsequent ban thereafter. It was seen as the final straw by the fans that up until then had tolerated the manager and the clubs rollercoaster campaigns.

Moment of madness by Pardew on Meyler  (Image from Paul McFegan/Sportsphoto)

Moment of madness by Pardew on Meyler
(Image from Paul McFegan/Sportsphoto)

Pardew has six years left on his bumper contract a fact well known to owner Mike Ashley. Originally given to create continuity at Newcastle similar to what Manchester United had under Sir Alex Ferguson or Arsenal have under Arsene Wenger, it could be a hindrance in Ashley’s attempts to change things at the top. Sacking him now would ensure a bumper pay out for the former Southampton and West Ham boss, something that may not be keen to do but if Newcastle’s poor form continues, it may be a lesser of two evils given the amount of money Ashley could lose if the club is relegated for the second time in his tenure. Tonight’s result against Crystal Palace in the cup may not be the decisive factor but instead the next run of games could help Ashley make his mind up. Winning the next three games against Stoke, Swansea and Leicester could propel Newcastle back up the table and protect Pardew’s long term future at the club. Unlike previous seasons, he has the resources needed to turn things around but must firstly look to heal the wound he has created between himself and the fans and get them back on side if he is to succeed. Excuses only buy time; they don’t buy results which is exactly what Newcastle need and fast.

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Would Scrapping The Loan System Be Such A Bad Idea?

Time to ditch loan deal? (Image from wikipedia)With transfer fees climbing year after year, there appears to be little solace for clubs who are barely struggling to make ends meet. The gap between those who have and those who have not is widening at an alarming pace, with a few clubs pulling away from the crowd thanks in part to their wealthy owners. The Bosman ruling, which came into effective in 1995, was meant to offer some rest bite from the fast pace rise of transfer fees, with clubs now able to pick up a player at no cost when their contract expired. The ruling offer hope to many that dreamed of making a star signing but could not afford it and for a time, it looked to be the case. But now the Bosman is working against clubs who are watching in vein as the top clubs stockpile the best talent in over bloated squads.

Bosman ruling allowed for freedom of movement when a contract expires(Image from PA)

Bosman ruling allowed for freedom of movement when a contract expires(Image from PA)

Placing limitations on squad sizes and requirements around the percentage of home grown talent as part of that squad will go some way to helping the problem. But by limitations, we do not mean the current guidelines in place. In the Premier League, teams are required to submit a list of 25 players, of which 8 must be home grown (defined as anyone who has been registered with any club in the English or Welsh leagues for three seasons prior to their 21st birthday). In the Premiership, the five biggest clubs – Chelsea, Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City employ between them 167 first team players and are currently loaning out 95 players to other clubs. This 95 is made up in its majority by Under 21 players but also includes international players like Gareth Barry, Pepe Reina, Romelu Lukaku, Marko Marin, Park Chu Young and Wilfred Zaha. These players in particular have left their respective clubs in search of first team football but the club does not want to let them go fully as they may need them at a later date. The clubs have figured out how to retain the top talent but also adhere to the Premier League rules and regulations around squad sizing, making a mockery of the entire system. The loan deal between two clubs allows the player to go and play for another club for a set period of time, sometimes for an agreed fee or a percentage of that player’s wage.

Gareth Barry - Everton player by loan  (Image from Getty)

Gareth Barry – Everton player by loan
(Image from Getty)

From a football prospective this makes complete sense but in the business world, it would be absurd. Football is a job and the players are employees of a company much like any other business but when was the last time you heard of a company allowing one of its employees to go and work for a competitor? Would Google ever lend a programmer to Microsoft or Adidas allow a designer to go and be creative for Nike? No, of course they wouldn’t. But in football the loan system is a legitimate business transaction. Clubs in the lower leagues rely on loan deals as they cannot afford to buy players so clubs will argue that the loan system is crucial. Larger clubs will argue that it gives their younger players first team football and the ability to further develop their skill sets before being exposed to first team football at their own clubs.

Nike and Adidas ae unlikely to allow job sharing  (Image from Getty)

Nike and Adidas are unlikely to allow job sharing
(Image from Getty)

If the loan system was abolished and clubs were held to tighter reins on squad sizes, including limitations on the volume ownership of players over 21, clubs would have to be more selective on who they chose. This would mean that purchasing would be limited to filling the available spots and more players would be available for transfer. With less demand, prices should fall making them more affordable clubs with tighter budgets. The benefits remain the same, with quality players like Gareth Barry getting regular first team games at Everton but as an Everton player rather than being still a Manchester City player. The move would also force English clubs to follow their French counterparts in fielding more home grown youth players instead of sending them out on loans. Exposure at the top levels will speed up their development quicker than playing at a slower pace against arguably weaker opposition week in week out. Look at Cesc Fabergas or Wayne Rooney as examples of young players who were thrown into the deep end in the Premiership at an early age instead of being sent out on loan and how they blossomed into the players they are today. Yes both were unique talents but taking more risks will help England to discover the next Ross Barkley or Luke Shaw quicker than before. The French benefited from this enforced change by watching their national team 10 years later lifting the World Cup on home soil with players who emerged based on these rule changes.

Discovering the next Ross Barkley by ditching loans?  (Image from PA)

Discovering the next Ross Barkley by ditching loans?
(Image from PA)

There are arguments for and against the loan system including some well known ones such as journalist Martin Samuel and Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger who both believe the loan system is damaging the game. Managers like Roberto Martinez see the benefits of the system mostly because they are using it to their advantage. Others agree arguing that the game will suffer and lower league football will be killed off if the loan system disappeared but those voices appear to be coming more from the bigger clubs rather than the football league teams themselves. The football world feared the Bosman ruling when it happened but the positive effect of it was that it changed the way that clubs treated players and their contracts, preferring to renegotiate and keep them rather than lose them for nothing. Scrapping the loan system may have a similar affect, this time on the transfer market, helping to lower the cost of transfers in the long term but like the Bosman ruling or the changes made to squad sizes in France, we will only find out if it is introduced sooner rather than later.

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Arsenal Draw First Blood In New Season With Win In Community Shield

Arsenal lift the FA Community Shield (Image from Getty)

Arsenal grabbed the first silverware of the new season with a comfortable 3-0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Community Shield but what does it really say about both of their chances over the forthcoming season. To be honest very little but try telling that to the Gunners faithful. After years of starvation, last season’s FA Cup success gave a much needed confidence boost to Arsene Wenger and potentially handed him a reprieve from the sack. Yesterdays emphatic win, that saw Ramsey, Cazorla and Grioud hit the target will further strengthen the calls for Wenger to stay. And it seems as though Wenger himself is starting to realize how close he came to unemployment. Criticized for his lack of spending in past windows, the French coach has wasted little time (or money) this summer rebuilding his squad. In comes Chilean striker Alexis Sanchez from Barcelona, English defender Calum Chambers from Southampton, French defender Mathieu Debuchy from Newcastle and Colombian goalkeeper David Ospina from Nice for a combined xmillion. And the spending is unlikely to end there with Thomas Vermelan leaving for Barcelona, a central defender is now top of the list for Wenger.

Arsenal take the lead through Cazorla  (Image from Getty)

Arsenal take the lead through Cazorla
(Image from Getty)

Arsenals new collection of players is already impressing. Debuchy is a known quantity after his time in the north so should add consistency and reliability to right back after Sagna’s departure for Manchester City whilst Chambers is a young talented player who shone in the Southampton team last year. David Ospina offers a selection headache for Wenger who has been searching for competition between the sticks ever since Jens Lehmann departed. But it’s the arrival of Sanchez that shows how serious Arsenal are about competing for the title this year. Dynamic, fast paced and deadly in front of goal, Sanchez is exactly the right catalysis for Giroud upfront. Often stranded and alone, the powerful French striker found opportunity stifled resulting in one too many games without a goal. Sanchez is not a direct replacement but will do the leg work and heavy lifting that Grioud needs to better himself. Arsenal chances will depend on how quickly Sanchez settles in England but based on yesterdays match, Arsenal should be in a good position come May.

Sanchez already looks like an impressive signing  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Sanchez already looks like an impressive signing
(Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

City have been relatively quiet this summer much to everyone’s surprise. Bacary Sagna, Wily Caballero and Fernando have been the only notable arrivals with a few other names on the cusp of a move to the club. However few people should be shocked at the limited activity in the transfer market that City have shown given what they already have at their disposal. They have kept all the fundamental components from last year’s title winning team including Yaya Toure who looked destined to leave after a ridiculously concocted scheme by his agent around a lack of birthday gift from the clubs wealthy owners, failed to bear fruits. Strengthening an already solid team would just be wasting money and with UEFA already breathing heavily down City’s neck on the financial fair play rules, Pellegrini has chosen to pull back on the purse strings. However the players he has added offer competition to areas where none existed before. Pellegrini knew Caballero well after coaching him at Malaga and sees the Argentine as an option instead of Joe Hart. Despite the England No.1 regaining his position at the tail end of last season, he did so unconvincingly spurring Pellegrini to go after Caballero. The arrivals of Sagna (on a free) and Fernando add cover to already strong areas for City. Last season Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure were sensational as Manchester City piped Liverpool to the title. But with little faith shown in Micah Richards and Javi Garcia, it forced Toure and Zabaleta to play in more games than most others in the squad did.

Can Caballero displace Hart?  (Image from PA)

Can Caballero displace Hart?
(Image from PA)

City’s showing in yesterday’s game suggests that they are not quite ready for the new season and further changes are needed. But in truth City are good to go and motivation was the only factor in the defeat to Arsenal. The Community Shield has been viewed as a pointless exercise or glorified friendly that tells us very little about how the new season will pan out. Last year Manchester United under David Moyes won the shield comfortably too but then went on to have a nightmare season that has seen whole scale changes this summer with Van Gaal and several new faces arriving. Whilst no one can take the victory away from Arsenal who simply wanted it more, the result itself should hold no barring on how the season will pan out.

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Commercialized Preseasons Taking Their Toll On Players

The Arsenal squad get back into pre season training (image from Getty)Preseason training is supposed to be gruelling as clubs get their players back to peak fitness ahead of the new season starting. But recently concerns have been raised about the effects pre season is having on the player’s bodies in particular the often gruelling travel schedule attached to it. Europe’s top clubs are jetting off to far away destinations like the US, China and Australia for pre season tours that combine warm weather training with exhibition matches. However in recent years the balance between the two has been swinging more in the favour of these lucrative matches with some clubs now spending more time travelling and playing rather than training.

Another flight for Rooney and his teammates  (Image from PA)

Another flight for Rooney and his teammates
(Image from PA)

Manchester United’s pre season tour of the US has seen them play matches in California, Maryland, Colorado, Michigan and Florida over a 15 day period. In amongst those games are 6 travel days with numerous flights adding up to 13,500 miles travelling. Added into this various press calls, interviews, photo opportunities and sponsor run events, it’s hard to see how this trip to the US is really benefiting the players. New Manchester United boss Louis Van Gaal and his counterpart at Arsenal Arsene Wenger have both been vocal in recent weeks about the effects of commercialized pre seasons and their general distain for them. Van Gaal is upset at the structure of his new clubs US tour and volume of travel that he and his players are being forced to do. He argues that whilst game time is important for the players to reach match fitness ahead of the new season, the tight flight schedules and distances travelled are taking its toll on his players. Jet leg and exhaustion can be detrimental to a clubs preparation of its playing staff and make the job harder for the trainers and coaches. Wenger agrees citing previous pre seasons as examples of how heavily commercialized summer activities can hinder a clubs explosive start to the new season. He understands football is evolving into a business and the benefits that commercialization is having on the game but believes in striking a balance between the two. This year, much like last season, Wenger has pulled the reins back on exhibition games in foreign markets preferring to take his squad away for a few days of bonding time before heading back to London for competitive matches in the Emirates Cup. Louis Van Gaal is likely to follow suit next season but as the tour was organized and book before the Dutchman made his entrance, he has to put up with it but not without having his opinions heard.

“The tour was already arranged and I shall adapt and United will do everything to apply to my rules, but I have said that already. We have to prepare the season and when you have commercial activities and dreadful distances, having to fly a lot and the jet lag, it is not very positive for a good preparation”

Manchester United's tour last season proved fatal  (Image from Getty)

Manchester United’s tour last season proved fatal
(Image from Getty)

Van Gaal has learned from experience that a solid pre season is essential for a strong start to the new campaign and even hinted towards United pre season last year as a reason why the team started so poorly under David Moyes. A grueling preseason tour of Thailand, Australia, Japan and Hong Kong over a period of two weeks kick started Moyes time in charge this time last year. Whilst commercially the trip was deemed a success with key sponsors getting the full effect of the Manchester United machine, the knock on effect was that United looked off the pace as they started the campaign losing three of their first eight games of the season. Moyes never recovered and was sacked at the end of the season, to be replaced by Van Gaal.

Sand dune runs - How players used to do pre season training  (Image from Wikipedia)

Sand dune runs – How players used to do pre season training
(Image from Wikipedia)

Pre season for British clubs used to involve players running up sandbanks on a rainy day along the various coastlines in Britain but now jetting off to warmer climates is the norm. Whilst commercialized preseason’s are here to stay, there is a strong argument towards striking a fine balance between making money for the club and getting it ready for the challenges ahead. Whilst exhibition games and tours allow foreign fans to see their favourite teams up close and personal, many would rather see their team finishing with silverware at the end of the season instead.

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Five World Cup Stars Looking To Move Up In The World

Memphis Depay set up and score a goal in Holland's 3-2 win over Australia (Image from Getty)

With the first week of the World Cup now completed and the tournament now entering the second round of the group stage, fans across the globe have now had a chance to see their teams in action. After some spectacular matches including Holland’s 5-1 hammering of Spain, Costa Rica’s surprise 3-1 victory over Uruguay and a dominant 4-0 victory for Germany over Portugal, several players have stood out already leading to the much anticipated transfer speculation. There is no better platform for a player to showcase what he has to offer than the World Cup and a good performance can often lead to a high value transfer. Clubs too want their players to be successful as it drives up the value of them, potentially leading to an evaluated fee after the tournament has ended. Whilst several players will move as a result of this year’s World Cup, we now look at five surprise packages who after some good displays already could have earned themselves a dream move.

Wonder save by Ochoa to deny Neymar  (Image from AFP)

Wonder save by Ochoa to deny Neymar
(Image from AFP)

Matt Besler – Sporting Kansas City

For the first 45 minutes of the USA vs. Ghana match until an injury stopped him, Matt Besler was one of the best players on the park. The Sporting Kansas City defender was instrumental in organizing the US defense and stopping Ghana from posing a real threat. Besler’s rise to international status comes on the back of his growing reputation in the MLS. A permanent fixture for Kansas, Besler has now established himself as US head coach Jürgen Klinsmann’s preferred option at centre back too. He will be praying that Besler is fit to face Portugal on Sunday knowing that any positive result may help their chances of progression. Having spent his entire career in the MLS, it may be time for the 27 year old Besler to depart for pastures new with England or Holland likely destination. Besler previously turned down trials with English clubs Portsmouth, QPR and Birmingham but if he continues to perform he may have a tougher challenge of turning down some of the bigger clubs across Europe.

Besler (5) stops Ghana in their tracks  (Image from Getty)

Besler (5) stops Ghana in their tracks
(Image from Getty)

Guillermo Ochoa – Free agent

“Simply Stunning” was how one broadcaster described Guillermo Ochoa’s performance against host Brazil and it’s hard to argue. The Mexican goalkeeper produced a heroic display that prevented Neymar and friends from stealing all three points. Mexico put in a shift against Brazil and deserved their point, if not more but would not have managed it without Ochoa making three tremendous saves during the game. One in particular, a Gordon Banks esque save, when Ochoa got down low to spoon away a Neymar header that was destined to be a goal, will live in the memory of Mexican fans for years to come. He followed up with a stunning point blank save from Thiago Silva and a late save from a left foot drive by that man again, Neymar. After the game, Ochoa’s image was shown on fan Instagram accounts and Tumblr pages depicted as Superman and even received a marriage proposal from Mexican singer Thulia based solely on his performance. A free agent after leaving French side AC Ajaccio, Ochoa is now being linked heavily with Liverpool and Arsenal, both of whom need a safe pair of hands for next season. But the two English clubs are unlikely to be Ochoa’s only option with various French, Italian and Spanish clubs now in the hunt for the Mexican Superman.

Ochoa has been made into Superman on social media  (Image from Instagram)

Ochoa has been made into Superman on social media
(Image from Instagram)

Dries Mertens – Napoli

His impact in the 2-1 turnaround victory for Belgium over Algeria was clear to see. Coming off the bench, Mertens added pace to what had been a lackluster Belgian side in the first half. The Napoli star has had an impressive season in Italy last season and has already attracted a few admirers but his performance and winning goal against Algeria will only add more clubs to that list. Napoli will be unwilling to sell given his contribution (1 goal for every three games) last year but may be forced to part with him given a substantial offer from Spain or England. The dynamic winger, who’s career goal tally is impressive to say the least, is likely to start Belgium’s next match against Russia in place of Nacer Chadli and will be looking to add to his World Cup goal tally. Luis Enrique is thought to be a fan of his as is Arsene Wenger so Mertens may have a decision to make come the end of Belgium’s World Cup journey.

Mertens celebrates after scoring the winner against Algeria  (Image from PA)

Mertens celebrates after scoring the winner against Algeria
(Image from PA)

Ricardo Rodriguez – Wolfsburg

Rodriquez made history against Ecuador by becoming the first player to assist two goals in a single World Cup match for Switzerland since 1966. The left back, who currently plays for Wolfsburg in Germany put in a stellar performance and is credited as one of the players who helped Switzerland turn around a 1-0 deficeit after Ecuador took the lead. The 21 year old has only been in the Swiss national setup for less than three years but has quickly established himself under Ottmar Hitzfeld as the team’s most reliable defender. Comfortable in attack as his is in defending, Rodriguez is one of Switzerland’s several Immigrant players. Born in Zurich to a Spanish father and Chilean mother, Ricardo could have played for either of these World Cup teams but chose the country of his birth much to Switzerland’s relief. A constant in the Wolfsburg team, Rodriguez’s performances for club and country, especially at this World Cup will likely lead to a transfer away from the Wolves to a bigger club, with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund two favourites already for his signature.

Rodriguez set up two goals for Switzerland as they pegged back Ecuador  (Image from ALAIN GROSCLAUDE/AFP/Getty Images)

Rodriguez set up two goals for Switzerland as they pegged back Ecuador
(Image from ALAIN GROSCLAUDE/AFP/Getty Images)

Memphis Depay – PSV

Sometimes a substitute appearance is all you need to impress and for Memphis Delay, that appearance happened during Wednesday’s game against Australia. The PSV youngster came on as a second half substitute and made a valuable contribution by setting up Holland’s equalizer and then scoring his first ever international goal – a 30 yard screamer that won the game. A fairly new addition to the full national side, having played at all levels for Holland from Under 15’s and upwards, Depay became the youngest Dutchman to score at a World Cup with his strike against Australia.  The 20 year old winger has been one of the revelations in the Dutch league this past couple of seasons and is destined for greater things., with PSV unlikely to hold on to one of their prized assets for much longer. Fans of Football manager will know that Depay often joins Barcelona in the game but fiction may become reality soon given Luis Enrique’s interest in the player. However he will face competition from Depay’s current boss at international level, Louis Van Gaal who is interested in taking the player to Manchester United as he starts his revolution there at the end of the tournament.

Depay's strike impressed the watching Van Gaal  (Image from Getty)

Depay’s strike impressed the watching Van Gaal
(Image from Getty)

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Shout out From The Stands – Spurs Manager Roulette Continues

Spurs suffered from low confidence under AVB (Image from PA)Let’s take a step back from all the raw emotion and try to think clearly. Sherwood is in an invidious position. He inherited a dysfunctional, unbalanced squad with low morale from AVB and the man AVB reportedly asked for as DoF, Franco Baldini. That was not Sherwood’s fault. Yes, we should have kept Bale for another season and gotten a toe-hold in the Champions League before selling and rebuilding but at the time the vast majority of Spurs supporters seemed happy for Bale to go for what was undoubtedly a good price. Many may now look at Suarez and Liverpool’s success and rue that decision. It’s not often Spurs produce a world class player and arguably we shouldn’t have been so hasty to do business. Whether he wanted to go or not, Bale was on a long contract at Tottenham and I’m sure another season tearing up defences in the Premier League wouldn’t have killed him. Rooney and Suarez were both persuaded to stay so perhaps it should not have been beyond Tottenham.

Liverpool prospered by holding onto Suarez (Image from Getty)

Liverpool prospered by holding onto Suarez (Image from Getty)

The transfer situation, although regrettable was also entirely predictable. It takes most foreign players at least a season to adapt to the Premier League. Mertesacker and indeed Suarez are good examples of imports who struggled to adjust in their first season. The problem is having seven new faces in the same squad who are all trying to adjust at the same time. It may have appeared to be an exciting transfer strategy of ‘selling Elvis and buying the Beatles’ but it’s proven to be chaotic and ill-judged. It has also highlighted the lack of leaders from within our existing group of senior players. Only Dawson and Ade seem that bothered on the pitch. Where are Lennon, Vertonghen and Dembele when our backs are against the wall?

Lennon and Vertonghen have been posted as missing this season (Image from PA)

Lennon and Vertonghen have been posted as missing this season (Image from PA)

If these players cared more, there would be less pressure on the new players. Please don’t get me started on the players’ languid body-language in the tunnel at Anfield. Here were professional, elite athletes, many of whom are being paid £50-100k per week, arrayed like a hungover, pub team. You could see we’d lost the game before it had even kicked off. Our fans sang ‘we want our money back’ and they have a strong case. Let us for a moment, revisit the halcyon days of last summer when Bale seemed on his way and we Spurs fans were clamouring for exciting, exotic replacements which Levy duly delivered in numbers beyond our wildest dreams. All our Christmases had come at once, or so we thought. The new signings were arguably the best of the bunch available to us at that time. It’s not possible to analyse the season so far without discussing the changes in personnel who joined at a combined cost of £107m, twice breaking the club’s record transfer-fee. New signings and/or new manager invariably mean a season of transition for a club. We’ve been here before at Tottenham but any manager would have struggled with the Herculean task of life without Bale. The Welshman’s departure had a greater impact than anyone anticipated.

Could Spurs season have been better if Bale stayed?  (Image from Getty)

Could Spurs season have been better if Bale stayed?
(Image from Getty)

Bale’s stunning performances had papered over many cracks and AVB for all his coaching badges and Power-Points did not have the tactical Polyfilla to fix them. Sherwood was promoted with an 18 month contract and he made a promising start but has faded in March when Spurs came up against a series of tough games against Chelsea, Woolwich, Benfica (x2) and Liverpool. Yes, March was punishing but it hasn’t been all doom and gloom. We were holding our own at Chelsea until the 56th minute penalty which saw Kaboul sent off.  We outplayed Woolwich at the Lane and were good in the 2nd half at Benfica. It will be interesting to see how Sherwood fairs in the final six games. All are against teams we should beat. Win them all and Spurs end up with 74 points, our highest ever tally in Premier League history. It probably isn’t fair to judge Sherwood on the basis of half a season with a misfit, inherited squad. Whether he’ll get another season to show what he can do remains to be seen.

Has Sherwood really done that bad of a job? (Image from PA)

Has Sherwood really done that bad of a job? (Image from PA)

Some fans have been against Sherwood’s appointment from day one, churlishly poking fun at everything from his accent, to his choice of clothes. Is this unprecedented level of vitriol a symptom of Sherwood’s results; his boyhood Woolwich links or a bit of both? Or is it because Spurs fans feel they need a big ‘name’ such as a Van Gaal? One thing is for sure, it’s paradoxical for fans to bemoan the high frequency of Spurs managers whilst calling for a manager to be sacked. Personally, I like the idea of recruiting from within the club and the extended THFC family, like they do at Barcelona where the focus is on the long term. Those fans who criticise Sherwood’s lack of experience must also acknowledge Guardiola had no experience prior to taking over at the Nou Camp. If Sherwood does get chopped who picks up the poisoned chalice? I have some nagging doubts about Van Gaal. If he is that good why would he come to Spurs when there will be bigger Champions League fish to fry? Hoddle’s name has been linked to the job and he undoubtedly talks a good game on Sky.

Van Gaal on route?  (Image from AFP)

Van Gaal on route?
(Image from AFP)

There’s arguably no better football brain in England and it’s a bit harsh when fans judge him on his previous tenure a decade ago when Spurs were a struggling mid table-outfit with significantly less playing and financial resources at their disposal. That awful scene of apathy in the tunnel at Anfield suggests we may be better off investing in home-grown talent who genuinely feel for the club and who love the shirt. Should this policy extend to the manager too? The cultivation of a distinctive footballing identity will take time but there were some promising signs in the U21s on Friday. The youngsters Winks and Coulibaly celebrated their respective goals like they’d won the World Cup. It clearly meant a lot to them to play for Tottenham. Fans can rightly level some criticisms at Sherwood but lack of passion for our cause isn’t one of them. The Tottenham roller-coaster trundles on. Whoever is in the hot-seat next season, I’d like to wish them well. For all the pain of supporting Tottenham, I’d much rather be in our situation than follow a play-thing for bored oligarchs.

Post by Leon Butler

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Someone Ask For A Miracle?

Miracles do happen (Image from GETTY)Miracles are few and far between but it appears as though everyone in football is desperate to get one. From Cardiff’s Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer to Dortmund Jurgen Klopp to Sunderland’s Gus Poyet, they have all been hoping and praying for some divine intervention in the form of a much needed miracle. This season has already seen a few dispensed with Crystal Palace receiving the biggest one in the form of Tony Pulis, who has turned around the club and has them climbing further and further away from relegation zone each passing week. Palace were supposedly dead and buried when Pulis took over in November, rooted to the bottom of the Premiership with only two wins to their name. But with some luck and hard graft, Pulis pulled Palace up by the neck and has won 9 out of 21 matches in charge helping them to 14th place in the league, showing that miracles do happen.

Palace have turned around their season thanks to Pulis  (Image from PA)

Palace have turned around their season thanks to Pulis
(Image from PA)

Meanwhile in Germany, Jürgen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund needs more than a miracle tonight if they are to proceed to the next round of the Champions League. 3-0 down from the first leg against a rampant Real Madrid, Klopp knows his only hope of progressing is to turn to Bayern Munich bound striker Robert Lewandowski to produce another miracle of his own, similar to the one he performed last year at this time when he notched all four goals ironically against Real Madrid in the Champions League semi final game. Only a repeat of that and a clean sheet will help Klopp and Dortmund out of their current predicament. Klopp is in good spirits but realistic at the same time. Miracles never happen when you talk about them beforehand said Klopp in regards to a question from reporters yesterday about Dortmund’s chances. Regardless he will be hoping that after the game, he can speak about witnessing one more.

Same Again please  (Image from AFP)

Same Again please
(Image from AFP)

Back in England in the battle to beat the drop, Premiership duo Sunderland and Cardiff know that whilst it’s still mathematically possible to survive, the challenge will be one of their toughest yet. Both managers have spoken recently about needing a miracle to prevent relegation from happening but with three teams going down, neither is likely to have their prayers answered. After Monday night’s 5-1 defeat to Tottenham, Sunderland need all the help they can get as they sit bottom of the Premiership. Manager Gus Poyet spoke about how his team lacks the quality during periods of the game to finish off chances that could make the difference but insisted there was no place to hide and that Sunderland needs to step up. When quizzed about what his team needs in the last seven games, given that they are 7 points adrift, Poyet politely said “a miracle”. Honesty from a coach who has restored some pride back into Sunderland after its disastrous start to the season under Paolo Di Canio.

Calling for a Miracle - Gus Poyet  (Image from Getty)

Calling for a Miracle – Gus Poyet
(Image from Getty)

Fellow strugglers Cardiff also need a miracle to survive with head coach Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer admitting that his team lacked self belief against Crystal Palace on Saturday. The Eagles ran out 3-0 winners, meaning Cardiff have only won 3 times in the last 15 matches. With 5 games left, Solskjaer remains upbeat but the odds are stacked firmly against his team especially given that they have tough games against Newcastle, Stoke and Chelsea still to come. It has been a tough season for Cardiff with managerial changes, on and off field drama as well as some agonizing last minute defeats but survival is still realistic, if they can win their remaining games and other results go their way. For Sunderland and Cardiff, the news that Chris Hughton has been sacked at 17th place Norwich and replaced until the end of the season by an untried manager will come as welcomed news. Poyet or Solskjaer will not like to see their fellow manager lose his job but if it gives both clubs the glimmer of hope that they could survive at the expense of Norwich, they will take it. After all miracles come in all shapes and forms.

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Are Bayern Ready To Dominate European Football?

Bayern sealed the title with seven games left (Image from AFP)Bayern Munich have sealed the Bundesliga title with seven games to go after another commanding season, dropping just four points. It’s the quickest title to have been claimed in Europe and they are still on course for the DFB Pokal and are the favourites to retain their title as the Champions of Europe. With this in mind, is this the strongest team Europe has ever seen or are their other teams who can claim that they too have had their moments of domination.

Lyon:

They are no longer a stern power in Ligue 1 but Lyon were the undisputed favourites not so long ago. From 2002 to 2008, Lyon recorded seven successive league titles. Admittedly the first few titles were closely contested but in 2006 the club captured the title with a 15 point margin and the following season increased that to 17. Much of their success through the noughties was due to the array of stars they had at their disposal. Karim Benzema, Florent Malouda, Michael Essien, Jeremy Toulalan and Juninho combined during these years, making ‘The Boys’ the only real power in France. Their winning streak came to an end in 2009 when Bordeaux claimed their first title in 10 years. Now Olympic Lyonnais are fifth, hoping to challenge for a Champions League spot whilst Paris St Germain look to retain their title.

Lyon dominated French football thanks in part to Benzema and Juninho  (Image from Getty)

Lyon dominated French football thanks in part to Benzema and Juninho
(Image from Getty)

Arsenal:

A lot has been said about the Gunners’ lack of trophies over the past nine years but the North Londoners are the only team in England to have gone a whole season unbeaten. In 2003, Chelsea were taken over by Roman Abramovich and bolstered their squad with an £100 million investment. Manchester United had just lost David Beckham to Real Madrid but brought in some firepower of their own in the form of the Dutch striker, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Arsenal only made one addition, bringing in Jens Lehmann in goal as they kept their squad very much the same. In the cup competitions, Arsenal struggled, getting knocked out in the quarter finals of the Champions League and the semi-finals of the FA Cup. However, in the league, Wenger’s men would go on to be known as the ‘Invincibles’. After 38 games, Arsenal recorded 26 wins and 12 draws picking up a total of 90 points which was the joint highest league total, as they took the title by 11 points. Unlike now, Arsenal got stronger as the season wore on, with players such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira leading Arsene’s armada to victory.

Henry, Bergkamp and Pires inspired Arsenal to the title  (Image from PA)

Henry, Bergkamp and Pires inspired Arsenal to the title
(Image from PA)

Barcelona:

Since Pep Guardiola’s revolution at the Nou Camp, Barcelona have become the biggest power in world football. The Spaniard took over the Catalan club in 2008 after coaching the B team for a year. After flogging off the dead wood, in particularly Deco, Ronaldinho and Eto’o, Pep went on to bring in some fresh young talent which included the likes of Dani Alves and Pique at the start as he built from the back. Later he would go on to add Mascherano, Adriano and Sanchez in the following season as he created a team that suddenly became unstoppable. During his spell there, he won three La Liga’s, two Copa Del Rey’s, two Champions League’s, one UEFA Super cup and the FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 and 2011. It’s the most impressive managerial stint seen in the modern game and this made Pep the hottest property on the managerial market. The tactics he enforced made Barcelona incredibly hard to beat. Plenty of possession and the exerting pressure off the ball combined with plenty of stamina made the Spanish giants unbearable to play against and some of this style still remains with the team now.

Guardiola built Barcelona into the most feared team in the world  (Image from Getty)

Guardiola built Barcelona into the most feared team in the world
(Image from Getty)

Bayern Munich:

Pep has been at the Allianz for just over a year and has already won a league title and looks on course to complete the treble for the second consecutive year for Bayern. His style of play has taken shape in Germany and under his leadership, the team has yet to lose in the league. At the back, the team have Manuel Neuer between the sticks a long with Dante and Boateng in front. In front of them there is a vast selection of German options including Schweinsteiger, Kroos, Muller and Gotze. There most influential players are situated on the wings with Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery controlling the flanks – the best partnership of wingers in the world, arguably ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. They have already started planning for the future with Robert Lewandowski making his arrival from Borussia Dortmund in the summer.

The man again - Guardiola leads Bayern's latest charge  (Image from Getty)

The man again – Guardiola leads Bayern’s latest charge
(Image from Getty)

It’s hard to determine which team would be considered the most dangerous of sides. Some clubs can control their league standings for years but aren’t spectacular where as some have the most outstanding season but are unable to maintain this following on to this. Bayern look to have this like Barcelona have but the German side were already in control before Pep’s arrival after winning the treble with Jupp Heynckes. Germany and Spain’s youth system has allowed both Munich and Barca to establish a firm grounding which will allow them to stay at the top for years to come and with both clubs continuing to collect great amounts of revenue, there’s no telling when this will end.

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Chase is On To Become Record Breaking Champions

Hit for Six - Chelsea stunned Arsenal (Image from Getty)In one of the most exciting title races in recent years, three teams lead the way in terms of goals and excitement. All three had high scoring wins this past weekend in an effort to keep their chances of success alive. Chelsea drew first blood with an impressive 6-0 win over Arsenal at Stamford Bridge. Not exactly the way Arsene Wenger had hoped to have spent the anniversary of his 1,000th game in charge of Arsenal but his team were simply blown away by Jose Mourinho’s men. The Portuguese coach had poked the fire weeks early by suggesting that Wenger only knew how to lose, given his recent dry spell without a trophy. That kicked the preverbal wheels off of Arsenal’s title charge, which was all part of Mourinho’s master plan to begin with persumably. Saturday’s defeat all but confirmed that Arsenal’s only hopes of a trophy this year would come in the FA Cup, which is unless something catastrophic happens to Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.

On fire - Suarez and Sturridge  (Image from Getty)

On fire – Suarez and Sturridge
(Image from Getty)

Manchester City’s reply to Chelsea throwing down the gauntlet at the Bridge was to hand out a drubbing of their own, albeit one less with five. Fulham put up a brave fight but were powerless to stop Yaya Toure from adding more weight to the claim of being one of the best midfielders in the world, with a stunning hat trick. His third demonstrated the gulf between the two sides, as he carefully picked the ball up some 25 yards out and effortlessly curled it past David Stockdale in goal.  A Fernandinho strike and a tap in by defender Martin Demichelis wrapped up the game and took City’s goals for tally to 76 for the season. The current Premiership winning goals tally sits at 103, scored by Chelsea in the 2009-2010 season so City still have 27 goals to find in their remaining 10 games. Not unrealistic given that they are averaging 3.68 goals a game. With Sergio Aguero still to come back to full fitness and Edin Dzeko hitting form, their goal scoring exploits look likely to continue for some time.

Toure and City celebrate against Fulham  (Image from PA)

Toure and City celebrate against Fulham
(Image from PA)

One team not to be out shot by City is this year’s surprise team, Liverpool. Firstly, an apology. This blog was critical in the past of Brendan Rodgers and his team especially Daniel Sturridge who were feared would never become a double digits striker in his career. As we sit and eat humble pie, Sturridge has impressed his critics with his fine displays during the course of this season and his lethal partnership with bad boy Luiz Suarez which has proven to be the catalyst behind Liverpool’s revival. Never truly considered a title contender in the past ten years, Rodgers has instilled a belief in his squad that says simply why not. Saturday’s thrilling performance against relegation threatened Cardiff, where they twice came from behind before eventually to win by 6 goals to 3, confirmed that they should not be discounted as a title hopeful. It was their sixth win in a row, the first time that they have done so since 2008. In that year, Liverpool finished behind Manchester United in the title race, three points ahead of Chelsea. Now sitting in 2nd place in the league (City are in 3rd with 2 games in hand), Liverpool are hot on Chelsea’s coat tails, four points behind with a game in hand. The new SOS strike force of Suarez and Sturridge (the previous being Blackburn’s Shearer and Sutton) have scored a combined total of 47 goals so far and Liverpool now lead the team goal scoring charts with 83. Few would bet against them from competing with Chelsea, not only for the title but for their goals record as well.

The original SOS - Sutton and Shearer  (Image from Empics sport)

The original SOS – Sutton and Shearer
(Image from Empics sport)

Early pretenders Arsenal and Tottenham have simply come to the boil too soon and now are slipping quickly. Arsenal’s biggest problem has been containing the current top three in the matches they have played against them this season. Remarkably Arsenal have conceded half of their 34 goals against in only three away matches – December’s 6-3 defeat to Manchester City, February’s 5-1 loss to Liverpool and Saturday’s 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Chelsea. At home, they did managed to pip Liverpool by 2-0 plus held Chelsea to a draw  so Saturday’s visit to the Emirates by Manchester City will give Wenger a chance to complete a unique trio of redemption results but will it be enough to kick start their title push once more? Arsenal have not been as prolific as the three other challengers, with 53 goals scored in the league to date (an average of 2 per game). Main striker Olivier Giroud has lead the way with 12 goals but lack of support or another recognised striker has hindered Arsenal’s overall push.

Giroud has been Arsenal's main goal threat  (Image from REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

Giroud has been Arsenal’s main goal threat
(Image from REUTERS/Eddie Keogh)

Spurs on the other hand appear to have found their main striker, months after casting him aside. Sherwood’s reintroduction of Emmanuel Adebayor has been a masterstroke with the Togolese hitman scoring eight times in the league since Sherwood took over from the flapping AVB. Tottenham managed to sneak the win on Sunday against Southampton but any dreams of a title push died long ago, along with the team’s confidence. Sherwood has guided the way well but it won’t be enough for Spurs to challenge or for him unfortunately to keep his job come the end of the season. Already Southampton’s Mauricio Pochettino and Dutchman Louis Van Gaal have been installed as favourites for the job well before the seat has been vacated by Sherwood. As for current Champions, Manchester United, well we all know the story there. Moyes is focusing on winning the Champions League, knowing that the title is well out of reach. With Bayern Munich is his way howevere, it might not be that simple to do, so focusing on 5th place may be the better option. Either way it’s been a failure of a season for United and its new head coach who has much to do in the summer, if he is still around that is.

Chelsea's 2009 squad hold the record for top goalscorers with 103 (Image from PA)

Chelsea’s 2009 squad hold the record for top goalscorers with 103 (Image from PA)

The title will be decided in the next few weeks with clashes such as Manchester City vs Liverpool, Arsenal vs Manchester City and Liverpool vs Chelsea all having a key bearing on where the cup ends up come May 11th. All three teams have the firepower to keep on going all the way until the finish with Chelsea’s 2009 goal scoring record firmly under threat.

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Last Chance Saloon For Wenger As He Targets Cup Success

Last Chance Saloon for Wenger (Image from Getty)A wry smile crept over Arsenal Wenger’s face as he sat back and watched Wigan dispatch favourites Manchester City in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. He knew that this might be his best shot at delivering what the fans want – a first trophy in nine years. It’s hard to believe it has been so long but it has. When Arsenal last one a trophy, Manchester City were fighting for survival, not titles and Wigan had just secured their passage to the Premiership for the first time in their 73 year history. Now with only Premiership side Hull and Championships sides Sheffield United and Wigan left to compete against, this may be the best chance Arsenal have had in a very long time. City’s victors Wigan are up first in a semi final showdown that is a must win for Wenger if he is to keep his job longer than this summer.

Up Next - Wigan  (Image from Getty)

Up Next – Wigan
(Image from Getty)

Not that it’s a cut and dry as it seems. They face tough opposition in Wigan, who are looking to join a select list of clubs who have successfully defended the FA Cup. Shock winners last year, courtesy of a solo Ben Watson strike against Manchester City, Wigan have gone through a lot of changes since that fateful day in May last year. But what hasn’t changed is the belief and determination that they can win the cup again and beat anyone put in front of them on the way there. So far Wigan, now under the management of Uwe Rosler, has put MK Dons, Crystal Palace, Cardiff and City to the sword as they continue their run to Wembley.  Facing Arsenal, who have struggled lately with form, after a blistering start to the new season, will not worry Wigan as it’s the Premiership side that have it all to lose. In the past Wenger has given little care to the FA Cup, preferring to use either second string or emerging youngsters in these games. But he can ill afford to squander an opportunity to return to Wembley, especially given recent history.

Martins goal still haunts Wenger  (Image from PA)

Martins goal still haunts Wenger
(Image from PA)

Arsenal and Arsenal have been in this position before and have let a potential cup win slip through their fingers. Memories of a cup final defeat at the hands of Birmingham City still lay heavily on the minds of the Gunners faithful. That last minute drop of concentration that allowed Obefemi Martins to capitalize still must etch away at Wenger on a daily basis. Now could be his chance at redemption, but he must keep his players focused more on the job in hand than what level the opposition are playing at.  One thing that might work in Wenger’s favour is the fixture list for the two teams between now and the 12th April, when the two sides are scheduled to meet. Having been knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich mid week, Arsenal face difficult games against Spurs, Chelsea, City, Everton and Swansea in the league before playing Wigan. The Championships side however have eight games to play in the league before they take on Arsenal including three must win games at the start of April which will likely stretch Rosler’s side to its fullest. Cup success for Wigan would be a bonus but gaining promotion back to the Premiership is their main goal. Sitting in 7th place, with two games in hand, Rosler’s team is pushing hard for a playoff berth. With 13 games left in the standard season including crunch games against Reading, Leicester and QPR, the clash with Arsenal may not be top of mind. But try telling that to owner Dave Whelan who still basks in the glory of last year’s cup success. Promotion back to the Premiership and lifting the FA Cup again is his dream, one that Arsene Wenger must do all he can to shatter.

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Pardew’s Enders Game

Pardew in deep water for headbutt (Image from PA)It’s all got Pete Tong for Alan Pardew. The Newcastle manager looked to have managed to escape the axe after his last troublesome boss, Joe Kinnear left the club but now he has landed himself in deeper water which he might not get out of. The former West Ham and Charlton boss faces a lengthy ban form the FA after allegedly head butting Hull’s David Meyler during Saturday’s 4-1 win. Video footage shows Pardew being pushed by Meyler as the player ran after the ball which had gone for a throw. Incensed by this, the Newcastle boss proceeded to square up to the player before pushing his head forward into the players chin and left eye. This act alone could cost Pardew his job and puts his whole career in jeopardy.

Pardew and Meyler have to be seperated after the incident  (Image from Getty)

Pardew and Meyler have to be seperated after the incident
(Image from Getty)

Pardew has no defense. The pictures and video show clearly that he led with his head and he knows it so an appeal against whatever punishment is handed down by the FA is unlikely.  The governing body could hand him as much as a ten game ban which would suspend Pardew up until the end of the current season and a hefty fine. Newcastle has already fined their manager £100,000 but could take further action if Pardew is unable to coach for the remainder of the season. It would give owner Mike Ashley the perfect get out clause to Pardew’s contract by being able to fire him for gross misconduct. Ashley famously handed the Newcastle boss a bumper 10 year contract in 2012 which at the time was meant to encourage a long term approach for the club. But in doing so, Ashley effectively made an expensive mistake as now sacking the manager would cost the club millions in compensation. But with Pardew in breach, the contract can be ripped up with little to no payments given to the troubled manager.

Barton has defended his old boss  (Image from Getty)

Barton has defended his old boss
(Image from Getty)

If Pardew is sacked, his career as a manager may be in danger with few clubs willing to take on a hot head for a coach. Pardew’s temper has landed him in trouble before so a repeat of Saturday’s incident would be hard to rule out. Last year, he was charged by the FA for pushing a fourth official after a disagreement. In 2006, he was involved in a heated exchange with Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger after the Gunners manager took exception to an overly enthusiastic celebration by Pardew in front of him. Even this season, Pardew has been in the headlines for the wrong reasons with flare ups with Southampton boss Pochettino and with Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini calling the latter a “f*cking old c*nt”. Hardly what you would expect from a man in such an illustrious position within football. The critics are already calling for Pardew to be sacked with several coaches and former players jumping on the bandwagon. Robbie Savage has called Pardew a disgrace whilst Alan Shearer also slammed the manager insisting he should resign. Others like Joey Barton have jumped to his defense saying that whilst his actions were wrong, Pardew shouldn’t be hung out to dry based on this. Unfortunately few will agree with Barton as the FA looks to make an example of the Newcastle boss.

Pardew has a few choice words about Pellegrini  (Image from Guardian)

Pardew has a few choice words about Pellegrini
(Image from Guardian)

Whilst the pressure and stress of managing a Premiership club can get to some managers, the frequency of Pardew’s outbursts and the severity of them suggest deeper issues. Pardew may have anger issues that need to be addressed, either through counseling or treatment. He needs to control this part of his character if he is to continue to manage at the top levels of football. The FA will decide shortly what his punishment is to be and Newcastle will follow shortly after that but for Pardew the consideration starts now. He must decide how to cope with this side of his character and what the best course to take is. It might be treatment, it might be rest, or it might be some time away from the game. The latter however may not be his decision to make.

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Arsenal Curse Resurfaces As Ozil Suffers From Wenger’s Cold Shoulder

Wenger prefers to distance himself from the players which doesn't help  (Image from Getty)Another Arsenal performance, another disappointing Mezut Ozil performance. The German, who was brought in for a record fee from Real Madrid in the summer was expected to be the catalyst that sparked Arsenal to life but instead is looking more like a flat battery. Confidence doesn’t seem to be apparent when you look at Ozil which is remarkable given the raw talent at his disposal. He started life at the Emirates with so much enthusiasm that he was deemed a revelation only weeks into the new season. But gradually performance levels have dropped and he has slowly become a wanderer in an Arsenal shirt. But what has lead to this decline?

Ozil has struggled recently (Image from PA)

Ozil has struggled recently (Image from PA)

He hasn’t suffered from a long term injury during his time at the club which can facilitate players going off the boil somewhat. He might be struggling to cope with the wettest January on record that London has gone through, but he has surely had time to adapt? He hasn’t fallen out with his teammates as far as we can tell, although clashes with Per Mertesacker have been public and often loud. It appears as though the curse of the Emirates has struck again and added the name of Ozil to a list containing Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh, Jose Antonio Reyes and Andrey Arshavin. All arrived with huge expectations only to eventually whimper out of the back door. Everything under the sun was blamed for their failure – poor weather, laziness, homesickness, even a dislike of the local women. But perhaps the problem is not the players themselves but in fact the one thing that has remained constant throughout everything, manager Arsene Wenger. His managerial style is rumoured to be like that of a headmaster – friendly on occasion but a strict disciplinary who struggles to connect with his pupils. Wenger’s hands off approach could be the principle reason behind players like Ozil, Reyes and Gervinho underperforming. Like a child seeking approval from an elder, some players especially ones with considerable talent need to be nurtured and told that they are doing well. Without this support, they recede back into themselves and eventually their performances start to suffer. After all, football can be pinned down to two clear attributes – talent and confidence. Without each other, the player cannot function properly and it shows in a game.

Flop Gervinho leads Roma's top goalscorer list  (Image from Getty)

Arsenal Flop Gervinho now leads Roma’s top goal scorer list
(Image from Getty)

Some will defend Wenger and his record suggesting that he brought through the like of Cesc Fabregas, nurturing him throughout. But again the truth is somewhere in between. Yes Wenger gave Fabregas his first start and promoted to him to captain at an early age showing the young Spaniard the faith he had in him. But the hard work was done before he even took the field for that first time; firstly by the staff at La Masia (Barcelona’s famed youth academy) and then by Arsenal’s youth team, led by Liam Brady. By the time Fabregas pulled on an Arsenal first team shirt, he was as grounded as could be with confidence oozing from every orifice. He was unstoppable and couldn’t be deterred even if the manager he looked up to was distant.

Liam Brady has been instrumental in guiding youngsters into the first team  (Image from PA)

Liam Brady has been instrumental in guiding youngsters into the first team
(Image from PA)

Wenger’s approach is costing the club millions but few are ready to take a stance and act on it. His success in the early years has held him in good stead but if Ozil fails to perform then it must be the coach that feels the pressure, not the player himself. After all this is the star of the 2010 World Cup, one of Germany’s brightest players that made the mistake of joining Arsenal believing that he would be loved and cherished by the fans and by his new manager. What he didn’t expect was Wenger’s cold shoulder or inability to communicate with his players. Ozil is not Arshavin but unless Arsenal and in particular Wenger changes, he will soon become him.

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Wenger Eyes Hernandez As The Missing Piece Of The Puzzle

Little Pea as an Arsenal Player? (Image from PA)Undoubtedly a player of considerable talent, Javier Hernandez finds himself sitting on the sidelines as his team, Manchester United continue to struggle for consistency.  The Mexican striker has been mostly overlooked by new boss David Moyes, who appears reluctant to deviate from the Van Persie/Rooney front pairing. Whilst Ferguson was the prophet of squad rotation, Moyes prefers to stick with a team and run with it. It’s frustrating times for the player nicknamed “Chicharito” or “Little Pea” who would prefer a starting berth than a place on the bench. Rumours around the player’s general happiness suggest that he is looking towards January’s transfer window as a potential time to call it quits at Old Trafford.

Hernandez chances have been limited this season (Image from Getty)

Hernandez chances have been limited this season (Image from Getty)

One potential destination for Hernandez could be Arsenal, which might not be a bad option. The Gunners have been on fire this season, finally starting to look like true contenders again, with Wenger making some smart choices that are now paying off. With the acquisition of Mezit Ozil and the re-emergence of Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal now has one of the best midfields in Europe and with a solid defence are pushing for honours on all fronts. Upfront Oliver Giroud has been a revelation, after a slow start to his career in the Premiership the Frenchman is now looking like the player he was at Montpellier – powerful and forceful in front of goal, strong with the ball at his feet or in the air and an accomplished finisher. But Arsenal’s only weakness and something that has haunted them for years is strength in depth. If Giroud was ruled out with a long term injury, Arsenal would be exposed up front. Yes they have options in the form of Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, German front man Lukas Poldoski and South Korea’s Chu Young Park, but none of the trio has looked comfortable playing as the solo striker in Wengers chosen 4-2-3-1 formation. Hernandez would offer that comfort to Wenger and a lot more.

Wenger likes the look of Hernandez  (Image from AFP)

Wenger likes the look of Hernandez
(Image from AFP)

At 25, Hernandez still has his best years ahead of him and with a likely price tag of around $12million, is a compelling option for Wenger. The Arsenal manager is also examining a potential loan move for Juventus striker Fernando Llorente but a move for Hernandez would be more appealing. Llorente caught the media’s attention in Spain with some fine performances for Athletic Bilbao which earned him a move to Italy but the player has failed to settle and has looked out of sorts alongside former Manchester United and City striker Carlos Tevez. At 6ft 3in, he is in a similar mode to Giroud but Wenger realizes that he could only play as a replacement for the French striker and not alongside him. Hernandez however at 5ft 7in offers more options with the ability and pace to play as a lone striker or potentially as a strike partner to Giroud. Whist Wenger doesn’t like to adjust his system, having the ability to go to a 4-4-2 formation or a 3-5-2 is a huge draw for the experienced coach. Hernandez has shown in his time for United that he can score all types of goals from tap ins to headers to long range strikes and links up well with creative players, something that Arsenal have in abundance.

Giroud has been in superb form for Arsenal  (Image from Getty)

Giroud has been in superb form for Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

For Hernandez, keen to secure regular club football to protect his place in the national team, it could be the perfect move. With the quality of movement and service he can expect at Arsenal, opportunities to score will come thick and fast. Joining the gunners, he would quickly become the 2nd striker which considering he has slipped down the United pecking order to 4th behind Van Persie, Rooney and Welbeck, is certainly something to consider. He would face the backlash of the United faithful who would see a move to arch rivals Arsenal as a sign of disrespect but many others have made the transition and survived so Hernandez can too. His love and respect for the club that brought him to England and gave him his chance on the bigger stage is evident but if the club cannot guarantee first team football and is willing to sell him, then he must go for the sake of his career. If Arsenal can pull off his signature in January, it will be yet another great piece of business for Wenger, already basking in the glory of the Ozil transfer. Hernandez would likely be an instant success and could quite conceivably return to Old Trafford as an Arsenal player and haunt Moyes, something that the Scotsman is well aware of. He will be reluctant to sell the Little Pea to the Gunners but letting an unhappy player leave for the sake of the wider group will be more important to Moyes than where Hernandez ends up.

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Last Minute Shopping In The January Window

Mata in, but who's next (Image from Getty)It’s the last few days of the January transfer window and several clubs still have much to do. Many face the likely situation of overpaying for players simply out of desperation as clubs and managers look to safe guard their futures. Historically the last three days of the window are its busiest which given the activity up until now indicates that we are in for quite a ride. Already Manchester United and Chelsea have flexed their respective financial muscles with players arriving for considerable sums. David Moyers has had a torrid time in his first season in charge at Old Trafford but he is looking to change his fortunes by investing heavily this month. Already in the door is Spanish winger Juan Mata for a record 37million. The former Chelsea player fell out of favour under Jose Mourinho despite being the clubs player of the year two years running. His departure to United was with a heavy heart but done to protect his position within Spain’s world cup squad. Mata adds creativity to a United squad that has been so far starved of it and living off if the scraps created by youngster Adnan Januzaj its unlikely that Mata will be the only arrival with targets across Europe identified. Any of Leighton Baines, Luke Shaw, Diego Costa, Toni Kroos and Marco Reus could arrive at Old Trafford before Friday’s deadline. All however will come at a hefty cost but with United in peril, the club needs to spend big to avoid slipping further down the table.

United Bound - Luke Shaw  (Image from Getty)

United Bound – Luke Shaw
(Image from Getty)

Chelsea have been quick to reinvest the money raised from Mata’s sale bringing in to new midfielders, Benfica’s Nemanja Matic for a cool £21m and Basel’s Mohamed Salah for £11m. Chelsea remain net positive this window as they have let Michael Essien join AC Milan whilst Belgian outcast Kevin De Bruyne has joined Wolfsburg for £16.7m. Mourinho knows that he needs to strengthen at the back with Luke Shaw and St Etienne powerhouse Kurt Zouma both rumoured to be high on his list. Their arrival could be the final nail in the coffin for long serving duo John Terry and Ashley Cole, who have both been unimpressive since Mourinho returned to the Bridge. Despite Samuel Eto’o finding his shooting boots in recent games, Mourinho is also on the lookout for a striker with Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa in his scopes. Both front men would give Chelsea the powerful striker that they desperately need, with Fernando Torres likely to be used in part exchange for any deal that would take place.

Diego Costa on his way to the Bridge  (Image from AFP)

Diego Costa on his way to the Bridge
(Image from AFP)

Across the city, Arsene Wenger is holding his cards very close to his chest. Despite being heavily linked with Schalke wonder kid Julian Draxler and Lyon star Yoann Gourcuff, Wenger has resisted temptation to go public with his admiration, insisting that he is happy with his current squad and any arrivals would be a bonus. One player he has gone public about however is Newcastle’s French maestro Yohan Cabaye. The midfielder has been in stunning form for the Geordies this season, and Pardew is keen to keep the player at the club at least until the summer. He has a tight grip round Cabaye but could be forced to let go if a suitable bid is made to Mike Ashley. The controversial owner is a businessman through and through and holds no sentimentality to the players at his club always insisting that everyone has their price. Cabaye’s would be around £25m, although an offer in the region of £21m may be enough to tempt Newcastle. A replacement has already been identified in Remy Cabella whilst Lyon’s Clement Grenier also presents an option. Pardew has his own shopping list and is actively chasing Borussia Monchengladbach striker Luuk De Jong as he tries to strength his front line. The move should be pushed through and financed by the sale of misfiring front man Papa Cisse to either Besiktas or Russian side Rubin Kazan. Another front man arriving ahead of schedule is Bafétimbi Gomis who has been on Newcastle’s radar for some time. The move was likely to go through this summer when Gomis became a free transfer but with Inter Milan now in the hunt, Pardew may have to move quickly to avoid missing out.

Early arrival - Bafétimbi Gomis  (Image from PA)

Early arrival – Bafétimbi Gomis
(Image from PA)

One club not holding back is Cardiff under new manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Moves for Fabio and Wilfred Zaha have been secured whilst a swap deal will see Kenwyne Jones move from Stoke with Peter Odemwingie going in the other direction. West Ham are also desperate to strength with Leeds Ross McCormick top of their list. AC Milan duo Marco Borriello and Antonio Nocerino have already landed at Upton Park but Big Sam needs to bring in more bodies at the back if he is to steer the club away from the relegation zone. With less than a week left, there is still plenty of time for deals to happen. With Everton, Southampton and Tottenham quiet so far in the window, expect fireworks when they make their late charge to nab the players they need for the remainder of the season.

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Rangers Keen To Avoid Comparisons With Arsenal as Run Continues

Can Rangers Finish the season unbeaten? (Image from PA)Twenty games in, twenty games won. Glasgow Rangers are unbeaten in the Scottish Division One and talk has already begun on whether they can emulate Arsenal’s 2003-2004 team by finishing the season unbeaten. It’s not a record that manager Ally McCoist wants to neither think about nor acknowledge but the further his team progresses this season on this winning run the harder it will be to ignore. Promotion is his one and only focus and rightly so. Records are records but they can be as damaging to a team’s form as they can be inspiring.

Calm and Focused - McCoist  (Image from PA)

Calm and Focused – McCoist
(Image from PA)

Comparing the two sides is like comparing apples to oranges; they are not the same nor pretend to be. The 2003-2004 Arsenal team, complete with Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Denis Bergkamp were in a league of their own, entertaining millions as they stormed to the title. They faced tough challenges along the way, beating Liverpool at Anfield by two goals to one then following it up with a hard fought win over eventual runners up Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. There were some ropey moments for Arsene Wenger and his team including nerve racking wins at Manchester City, Tottenham and Southampton but the belief was there that they could end the season unbeaten.  Arsenal finished the season on 90 points having won 26 of their 38 games, scoring 73 goals along the way. Their run would eventually stretch to 42 games before coming unstuck in controversial fashion to Manchester United at Old Trafford. By finishing the season without defeat, they became only the second team in history to do so, replicating Preston North End side of 1888. That Arsenal side is now recorded in the record books as one of the great sides in British football, something that Rangers could potentially join if their run continues until the end of the season.

The Invincibles - Arsenal 2003-2004 Squad  (Image from Getty)

The Invincibles – Arsenal 2003-2004 Squad
(Image from Getty)

Rangers however are not an exceptional team, far from it but a team none the less playing with heart. They want this title badly and the title after that as they yearn to be back at Scotland’s top table. They, like Arsenal are entertaining their fans as they go. Some games are harder fought than others but at the end all that matters is the three points won. Having scored 52 goals so far and conceded only six, Rangers are indeed on a roll. Led by captain Lee McCulloch and thanks to the goals of Jon Daly and Nicky Clark (between them they have scored 21 goals in all competitions) Rangers are in a commanding position and fear nobody in the league. Yes remarks will be made about the quality of opposition that they face but that would be doing a disservice to the teams Rangers have faced so far. What they may lack in flair and star players, the make up for in abundance with sheer grit and determination. They want to take the scalp of the once mighty Glasgow Rangers but are simply being outplayed. As the run continues, the harder the games will become with the determination from the opposite side building game by game as they look to be the team to end the winning run.

Jon Daly has fired Rangers into a comfortable lead in the League  (Image from Getty)

Jon Daly has fired Rangers into a comfortable lead in the League
(Image from Getty)

Defeat is inevitable for Rangers as it was for Arsenal. It might not be this month or even this season but eventually everyone loses. When that day comes Rangers fans will be hoping that it doesn’t matter as promotion has been secured and they are on track back towards the top flight. It will be at that point that Rangers will be able to look back at any records they may have set with pride and not regret. It’s been a long path back for the club through choppy waters and stormy seas. Records are meant to be broken but some things are more important than bragging rights. At least that’s the case for Rangers who are happy just to be here at all.

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Zouma In No Rush To Join The Big Time

Up and Coming - Kurt Zouma (Image from Getty)The emergence of France as a market for high quality signings is not a surprise. The abundance of talent in the country is mostly thanks to the deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of the ruling footballing structure in the 80’s that transformed France into World and European champions in 1998 and 2000. With a renewed focus on youth development,  France produced the golden generation – Henry, Zidane, Deschamps, Thuram which helped them to the trophies but that development did not stopped as it continued to pump out quality players like Cabaye, Ribery, M’Vila and Benzema. With the latest batch of youngsters is just as exciting (Sahko, Pogba, Varane and Kondogbia), the future looks bright for France.

Part of the new look French team - Cabaye  (Image from Getty)

Part of the new look French team – Cabaye
(Image from Getty)

Kurt Zouma is another example of this bright future. The 18 year old Saint Etienne centre half has been in outstanding form this season and rightfully so has been attracting interest. Juventus, Bayern Munich, Atletico Madrid and Liverpool have all had scouts present at St Etienne games this season as they keep a close eye on Zouma’s progress.  Valued at $7 million, the France under 21 internationalists would prove to be a snip if anyone was able to pry him away from his current club. Any contract would have to make sense to the talented youngster who has a different approach than most in his situation.  Zouma is happy playing and developing at St. Etienne and wants that to continue. Cautious of moving to a larger club only to sit on the bench, Zouma believes it’s in his best interest to stay in the south of France and continue to play regularly for St Etienne.

Zouma has been in impressive form this season  (Image from AFP)

Zouma has been in impressive form this season
(Image from AFP)

Zouma’s stance will not deter the likes of Arsene Wenger, Antonio Conte or Alan Pardew who see Zouma as an ideal fix to their defensive frailties. All three have suffered in the past few seasons from defensive glitches and are looking for long term solutions to ease their concerns.  As a powerful yet composed centre half who can also play at right back if needed, Zouma would be a long term replacement for the likes of Per Mertesacker, Fabricio Coloccini or Andrea Barzagli. All three clubs can afford to wait until next summer to make their move which might give them enough time to persuade Zouma that a move away from St Etienne would be beneficial to his development.

Deschamps has high hopes for Zouma  (Image from PA)

Deschamps has high hopes for Zouma
(Image from PA)

Current France head coach Didier Deschamps is also a keen admirer of the young centre half and has recently cited Zouma as a future Les Blues captain. He sees the pairing of Zouma and Real Madrid’s Raphaël Varane as France’s long term future and has compared the potential partnership to the Desailly/Thuram pairing of yesteryear. Praise indeed for the 18 year old that has been called up for the national side but never played. But having been capped at all levels for France from Under 16’S upwards, it’s surely only a matter of time before he does make his full international debut. Zouma will be hoping that the call up comes in advance of the World Cup in Brazil to give him the best chance possible to creep into the squad that goes but he will be safe in the knowledge that if he doesn’t, it won’t be his only chance. With Euro 2016 on home soil in France, it might be more reasonable for the 18 year old to set his sights on this tournament to make his berth. By that time, Zouma will be 22 and likely an established fixture in the squad, if not captain. Whether he will still be at St Etienne is a different story.

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Wilshere Smoking Up A Storm Over Nothing

Wilshire smokes outside a London Club (Image from TheSun)The amount of column inches and back pages devoted to Jack Wilshere’s “behaviour” away from the pitch is getting ridiculous. I realise that its somewhat ironic for me to say so given that this post is doing the same thing but it’s about time that someone said something. Wilshere’s public shaming after he was caught outside a nightclub with a cigarette in his hand has been overblown and needs to be reigned back in, especially by his club and its long serving manager. Wilshere was criticised by Gunners manager Arsene Wenger, who said he disagrees completely with his actions, and feared the player may have damaged his reputation as a role model. Granted players are looked upon by younger fans as icons and people to replicate but I’m sure they have seen much worse than a cigarette.

Not Happy - Wenger has spoken to Wilshere about his damaged reputation  (Image from Getty)

Not Happy – Wenger has spoken to Wilshere about his damaged reputation
(Image from Getty)

Modern day football is all geared around creating the best footballers technology and science can make. Hours spent in the gym to tone and bulk up physiques are complemented by strict diets and restrictions over what players can and cannot do. Cigarettes are frowned upon as they damage your health but what about excessive drinking or the other substances the players are taking behind closed doors. Very few have been caught but anyone who thinks that it is only a handful of players taking part is fooling themselves. Wilshere will know what he has to do to look after himself but that will also include distressing and relaxing. If that involves smoking a cigarette then surely that is his decision to bear? Think of it this way, would this have ever made the papers if the smoking bylaws had not been introduced, forcing the player outside into the public eye? Whilst I do not agree with smoking, mostly because of the effects it has long-term on your body, who are we to judge if this should be something that a 21-year-old can or cannot do?

Redemption - Wilshere salvages a point for Arsenal against West Brom  (Image from Getty)

Redemption – Wilshere salvages a point for Arsenal against West Brom
(Image from Getty)

The England midfielder’s equalising strike against West Brom reminded everyone what a quality player he is, as he superbly struck a neat lay down by Tomas Rosicky well past Boaz Myhill to square the match. His manager was pleased with the character he saw from his players, including Wilshere but failed to comment on the midfielder even when he was given the chance to do so. Wilshire himself played down the event, most likely because he has already had a dressing down once from his manager about his inappropriate behaviour. But given Wilshere’s performances for the club recently and the fact that Arsene Wenger has openly admitted that his teams are built entirely around the talented Englishman, can he afford to continue to crack the whip over trivial things like this? How long before Wilshere decides that he has had enough and requests a transfer? That would spell disaster for Arsenal, even with Mezit Ozil in the team, and would make Wenger’s position as the manager somewhat questionable. And what about England, who desperately need Wilshire to be playing the best football of his career this season as England head into next summer’s World Cup. It’s noticeable that Roy Hodgson jumped to the players aid when the “scandal” broke saying only that he wanted a fit Wilshere back for England and that the story would be long finished by the time Wilshere hooked up with Hodgson and the England squad for the forthcoming double-header with Montenegro and Poland.

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Oh Dear, its the Return of Joe Kinnear

Guess who's back - Kinnear checks in at Newcastle again (Image from The Times.co.uk)Just as the Newcastle faithful were starting to recover from a troublesome and traumatic season, in walks Joe Kinnear to take up a position again at the club. Luckily he is not replacing Alan Pardew as manager but instead he is taking up the role of Director of Football, recently vacated by Derek Llambias. The former coach, who left his job as manager in 2009 following his second heart attack, is not exactly well loved by the Geordie faithful who remember all too well what happened the last time he was in town. Not only the relegation which to be fair to Kinnear wasn’t totally his fault as Alan Shearer will testify, but in the way that he behaved and the impact it had on the club, ranting to the media on more than one occasion.

Kinnear won Manager of the Month three times, not manager of the year three times (Image from PA)

Kinnear won Manager of the Month three times, not manager of the year three times
(Image from PA)

Unfortunately four years on and Kinnear hasn’t changed, this time surprising many including the club by announcing to the media on Sunday of his appointment instead of waiting until Tuesday for the official one. Kinnear reminded anyone who tuned into his recent TalkSport interview of his qualities and stats as a manager, even if some were slightly exaggerated like his three manager of the year awards (really only one) or his ability to find gems in the transfer market to sign like Tim Krul and James Perch (signed by Graeme Souness and Chris Hughton respectively). And his inability to pronounce player’s names resurfaced, with the likes of “Yohan Cabab” and “Haten Ben Afre” touted as Newcastle’s best players will send shivers down the spine of many of the Geordie faithful and even some of the squad.

Whats's my name Joe? Cabaye not Cabab  (Image from Getty)

Whats’s my name Joe? Cabaye not Cabab
(Image from Getty)

If nothing else Kinnear is entertaining, a delightful reminder of football in the 1990’s when Wimbledon were a force to reckon with (and still played in London for that matter). He is what some would call old school, bragging about glory days that are now reserved for the history books rather than relevant in modern day football. Rather than being diplomatic in his retorts to the media, Kinnear goes on the offensive, often over shooting and overplaying his hand. Asked by a journalist what he can bring to Newcastle, Kinnear snapped back that he can open any door to any manager in the world, bragging again that he speaks weekly to Sir Alex Ferguson and has Arsene Wenger on speed dial. Again relevant ten years ago but perhaps no one has told him that the United chief has now retired?

Joe, I've retired, stop calling me - Sir Alex Ferguson  (Image from PA)

Joe, I’ve retired, stop calling me – Sir Alex Ferguson
(Image from PA)

Despite all the jokes that are flying around about the Kinnear appointment, there is a more unsettling though that emerges. Newcastle, since its relegation and subsequent promotion back from the Championship have acted like a different club. A smarter one some may say with a clear strategy to no longer pay over the odds for 30 something players, instead focusing on young talented players who will give their all for the club and pull in the same direction. In Alan Pardew they have found a manager with common sense, who can bond the team together and push the club forward (despite the glitch in the last six months of the previous campaign). Even owner Mike Ashley appeared to have read the memo about how to run a successful and profitable club, disregarding many peoples skepticism by planning for the future and handing Pardew and key staff like super scout Graham Carr eight year contracts. For the first time in a long time the club appeared to be putting the past behind it and moving on.

Owner Mike Ashley appeared to be planning for the future  (Image from Getty)

Owner Mike Ashley appeared to be planning for the future
(Image from Getty)

But now as Joe Kinnear takes his seat in preparation for next season, many people are wondering what will happen next? With Kinnear in charge of player acquisitions and strategy, what does it mean for Carr and his staff? Will the current strategy of cherry picking the best emerging players in the French league be shelved in favour of a new strategy devised by Kinnear with his 1990s cap on? And what does it mean for Pardew, who won manager of the year two seasons ago but suffered last year due to a gruelling Europa League campaign and lack of squad depth. Will he be choosing the team or will Kinnear who stated he has unfinished business at St James. If Pardew fails to deliver in the first part of the next season, will we see his dismissal and a return to the dugout for Kinnear?

More headaches for Pardew  (Image from Getty)

More headaches for Pardew
(Image from Getty)

Kinnear could surprise many and provide the assistance that Pardew needs in order to get his squad ready for next season. The appointment could be a revelation of sorts, bringing experienced opinions to the hierarchy at Newcastle and sorting out problems that Ashley creates with the players by accepting shirt sponsorship deals from a money lending company like Wonga. Or his appointment could be a disaster on the Dennis Wise scale, with players, staff and the manager making for the exit door. No one is really sure what the future holds for Newcastle but everyone is on tenterhooks to find out. One thing is for certain that Kinnear will be at the centre of anything that does happen over the next few weeks at St James Park.

To hear Joe Kinnear’s TalkSport interview, click here: http://www.talksport.co.uk/radio/andy-goldsteins-sports-bar/130617/joe-kinnear-his-newcastle-return-alan-pardew-and-toon-media-199848

To hear Joe Kinnear’s famous rant to the media, click here (Explicit language): http://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/football/news/joe-kinnear-rant-listen-full-1957960

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Wenger Loses His Cool As Arsenal Lose Again

Arsene Wenger on rocky roads at Arsenal (Image from Times of India)Failing to win against championship side Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round has not helped Arsene Wenger’s cause. The Frenchman’s approach to yesterdays pre game press conference was nothing less than confrontational to say the least. Unhappy at the standard of questions and the general direction they were headed in, Wenger snapped at seasoned journalist Neil Ashton accusing him of creating lies around a new contract. It was remarkably out of character for the French coach who generally remains composed even under the heaviest of pressures. But with no trophies in eight years and with the faithful fans, starting to turn on him, the strain is starting to show across Wenger’s face. One of his last hopes for silverware this season and a chance to keep the hungry wolves at bay, exited through a side door last night, after a stunning performance by Bayern Munich  knocked the wind out of the Gunners Champions League hopes. Only a miracle now will save Arsenal’s season and Wenger’s job.

Wilshire left to think about what could have been against Blackburn (Image from Getty)

Wilshire left to think about what could have been against Blackburn (Image from Getty)

A 3-1 defeat at home in the first leg is not what Wenger was hoping for. Two goals down within 22 minutes at the Emirates, the grumbles from the home crowd started in earnest. As they went into the half time break 2-0 down, Wenger knew he had to do something and fast. For a moment it looked like Wenger’s team talk had done the trick as the crafty Jack Wilshire crossed for former Bayern Munich striker Lukas Podolski for him to coolly head home. But this only angered the germans who found another gear and pushed for a third goal which eventually came through Croatian hitman Mario Mandžukić with less than 15 minutes to play. The game was all but over as Arsenal heads dropped knowing a gigantic effort will be needed in Munich in two weeks time for them to overhaul this scoreline. Arsenal will need to score three goals to proceed, which for this team may be a step to far. Granted Arsenal have managed to score three or more goals a remarkable twelve times this season in all competitions (including a stunning 7-3 victory over Newcastle in December) but they go to Munich to face one of the best defences in Europe. Having only lost once in the Bundesliga this year (a shock 2-1 defeat against Bayer Leverkusen in October), Munich have not conceded more than 2 goals in any match in any competition this season. In addition, Munich had not conceded a single goal in their last five matches until Podolski’s goal ended that run.

Misery at home for Arsenal against Bayern (Image from AFP)

Misery at home for Arsenal against Bayern (Image from AFP)

Wenger knows that anything less than a 3-0 victory in Germany will do, and will try to put as positive a spin on it as he can but with the odds stacked firmly against him, it may be too much for the Frenchman to contain. Rumours are already admist surrounding the goings on at Arsenal and in particular Wenger’s behaviour. The rumour suggest that faithful Arsenal servant Liam Brady has decided to leave the Emirates youth setup for pastures new after 25 years at the club, not because he  needed a new challenge but because Wenger hasn’t talked to him in over a year. He felt his position was compromised especially if the current manager cared so little about what he was doing. It was noticeable that Wenger decided not to comment at all on Brady’s departure, instead leaving the task to Ivan Gazidis to praise the exiting Irishman. Other rumours suggest that Wenger has lost the confidence of his senior players through his strict and often bizarre micro management of their time. Fines for trivial things like reading a newspaper (£100) to outdoor shoes in the changing rooms (£100) has made the players resent their leader rather than respect him.

No Laughing matter - Brady to Leave Arsenal (Image from Getty)

No Laughing matter – Brady to Leave Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

If the rumours are true then Wenger must surely be heading towards the exit at Arsenal, whether it be by fan and player revolt or by poor results, the Frenchman’s time is likely to be over soon. He will not go without a fight which will be a disappointing sight especially given what he has done for the club during his tenure. It would make more sense for the Frenchman to leave gracefully through the front door than to be kicked out the back. Its time for another man to have the reins at the Emirates, even if Wenger disagrees. His stubbornness will mark the end of his time in charge with a black mark but must already be thinking it to be the case. In the fateful confrontational press conference before yesterdays game, Wenger was asked what the future holds for him beyond next season when his contract at Arsenal ends. His reply said it all:

“I am not completely sure that you are really interested. When we lost at home to Blackburn, I am not sure that is your first worry.”

When the collective replied ” we would miss you“, Wenger simply answered “”I am sure you would miss me when I am gone.”

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