Three Reasons France Will Win Euro 2016

Along side World Cup winners Germany, former winners Spain and Italy and outside bets England and Belgium, France enter Euro 2016 as one of the early favourites and rightly so. This will be the 15th time the European Championships have taken place and the third time France has hosted (1960 and 1984 the other two). In 1960, France reached the semi finals losing out to Yugoslavia in an enthralling match that ended 5-4 despite France being 4-2 up with 35 minutes left to play. In 1984 with Michel Platini leading the way France went one better by reaching the final beating Spain by 2-0 to lift the trophy for the first time. Since then, France have always been in contention but have failed to reach the latter stages apart from on one occasion in 2000 when a late David Trezeguet goal handed them victory over a battling Italy in the final to earn their second crown. Now back in France, the French know that this is their chance to add yet another trophy to their growing collection and we at BOTN blog believe that they will. Here are the three reasons why:

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The European Championship trophy is lifted up by France’s Didier Deschamps in 2000 (Image from Tumblr)

Form

If you take a look at the winners of Europe’s top five leagues (England, Spain, France, Germany and Italy) and count the number of players that feature for those teams with their respective national sides, France comes in fourth with 6 players behind Germany/Spain (seven) and Italy (eight). But when you factor in the top three sides of each league, those stats dramatically change with France way out in front. Man to man, France has the most in-form players across Europe out of any of the squads attending this years tournament. At the back, Hugo Lloris has had a superb season with Tottenham and narrowly missed out on a winner’s medal losing out to surprise winners Leicester City.  At left back, Patrice Evra continues to roll back the years with Juventus and has earned himself a new 2 year contract despite being 35. At centre back, the Premier League pairing of Arsenal’s Laurent Koscieniny and Eliaquim Mangala may not be everyone’s ideal pairing and to be fair aren’t France’s either but with injuries to Raphael Varane and Kurt Zouma, the duo looks likely to be first choice. The good news is that both are in good form, ending the season well and should be ready for the Euros. Supporting the defence is a midfield packed with talent. At the heart of it is Juventus Paul Pogba who has established himself as one of the first names on Deschamps team sheet. Alongside Pogba is likely to be N’Golo Konte, Leicester City’s breakthrough star whose rise to promenance has been nothing short of amazing. Over a year ago, Konte was playing for lowly Caen and was further from the national team thoughts than most but a move to Leicester City last summer followed by an outstanding debut season which saw Konte play a pivitol role in Leicester’s surprise run to the title has catipulated him into the French national team and a role at Euro 2016. His form during the season, alongside three stand out performances for Les Blues in recent friendlies has push him ahead of Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi for a starting spot. On the wings, France have talent in abundance with West Ham’s Dimitri Payet also benefiting from a move to the Premier League. His form for the Hammers this season as well as his natural talent at dead ball situations make him a contender for a starting place. Ahead of him however is Atletico’s Antonie Griezmann who is in the form of his life, helping Atletico push Barcelona all the way in the La Liga title race. He played a crucial role in Atletico reaching the Champions League final and will be looked to by Deschamps to provide the inspiration that powers France to glory this summer.

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Griezmann should play a pivotal role for France in the Euros. (Image from Tumblr)

Upfront Deschamps has options despite overlooking the obvious pair of Karim Benzema and Kevin Gamiero. The former finds himself excluded due to off field shenanigans with the Real Madrid striker under investigation for allegedly attempting to blackmail fellow international Mathieu Valbuena over a sex tape. Benzema would likely have been a starter given his form for Madrid but Deschamps has taken the bold move to remove him from the equation for the betterment of the entire squad. Sevilla’s Gamiero on the other hand just can’t seem to quite force his way back into the national team despite being in blistering form. The former PSG striker who scored in the 3-1 victory over Liverpool in the UEFA Cup final hasn’t featured for Les Blues since 2011 making him the forgotten man. Ahead of him however are three strong options, all of whom are playing well for their respective clubs. Like him or loathe him, Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud is a proven goalscorer with 14 goals for his country so far in just under 50 appearances. with Benzema now excluded, he is in contention for a starting spot but faces stiff competition from Andre-Pierre Gignac. Many feared that Gignac’s international career was over following his strange decision to leave Marseille for Mexican side Tigres but the move to North American has worked out well with the powerful striker rekindling his form and reestablishing his belief in his own abilities. Unlike Italian head coach Antonio Conte who has refused to call up the in-form Toronto forward Seb Giovinco due to his stance that the MLS is too weak a league, Deschamps has had no such hesitations and has given Gignac more game time than first expected. Finally the emergence of Anthony Martial at Manchester United has given Deschamps a new but nice headache with the electric teenager forcing his way into his plans. Whilst United stuttered this year under Louis Van Gaal, Martial has blossomed into one of their star players despite constant unfair pressure that came with his record-breaking monster transfer from Monaco. This trio, along with the exciting talents of Antonie Griezmann, Bayern’s Kingsley Coman and Dimitri Payet France have goals in them.

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Benzema misses out due to off field issues (Image from Tumblr)

Deschamps/Harmony

Heading into this tournament, the French are in an unfamiliar position – they actually all like each other. Historically the French national team has been splitting at the seams entering into major tournaments with in squad squabbles often derailing their challenge before it can begin. But heading into Euro 2016, the French are playing with a new-found sense of camaraderie which should bode well for the tournament. At the heart of this is manager Didier Deschamps who has built a squad that complements each other and more importantly has removed any potential bad apples that could ruin the pot. There is no place for the feuding Benzema and Valbuena for the reasons mentioned above nor is there a spot for Hatem Ben Arfa despite a stellar season with Nice. The former Newcastle winger has been on fire since returning to France scoring 17 goals this season but his colourful history as a disturptor has obviously been taken into consideration by Deschamps who has decided not to risk it. With a more balanced squad than ever before and a renewed focus, France look better prepared for this tournament than any other.

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Home support will be key for France at Euro 2016 (Image from Tumblr. Photo credit should read FRANCK FIFE/AFP/Getty Images)

Home turf/Passage

Never underestimate how important home field advantage can be. Playing the tournament in France in front of their own fans will benefit the national team much as it did at the World Cup in 1998. That year, France’s golden generation finally lived up to its potential and lifted the coveted trophy much to the delight of the thousands packed into the Parc des Princes. In that tournament, France benefitted from having an easier path to the final with their quarter-final clash with Italy proving to be their first real test. This year, France’s route to the final is arguably similarly easy having been placed in a very winnable group with Romania, Albania and Switzerland. Progression as the group winners should set up a clash with the Ukraine followed by a tie against either Austria/Iceland or Slovakia/Wales in the quarters. That leaves only a clash with Germany or Italy in the Semi’s and a potential final against Spain or England all being well. By the semi’s, France should have momentum behind them and with the home crowd in support, they should go on to lift the trophy to similar euphoric scenes as were seen in 1998.

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

With the chaos surrounding the fitness and mental state of Brazil’s star striker Ronaldo, the media spotlight had swung away from the hosts and firmly on to their opposition.  With the pressure lifted, France was able to complete their historic march to the World Cup lifting the famed trophy following a stunning 3-0 victory. The team heralded as legends in France would later go on to lift the Euro 200 championship trophy cementing their status in World football as legends too. With Euro 2016 due to be held in France next summer, we now look back on that 1998 final team and ask where are they now.

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

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

Right Back – Lilian Thuram

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

Centre Back – Marcel Desailly

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

Centre Back – Frank LeBouef

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

Left Back – Bixente Lizarazu

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

Midfielder – Didier Deschamps

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

Midfielder – Christian Karembeu

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

Midfielder – Emmanuel Petit

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

Attacking Midfielder – Zinedine Zidane

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

Attacking Midfielder – Youri Djorkaeff

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

Striker – Stephane Guivarc’h

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

Subs

Alain Boghossian

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

Christophe Dugarry

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

Patrick Vieira

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

Manager

Aime Jacquet

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

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Could A Facebook Post Have Ended Jourden’s France Chances Before They Have Even Begun?

As France gear up to face Portugal on Saturday in an international friendly, spare a thought for Didier Deschamps.  The French national coach has had a torrid week not at the hands of the press or his players but online. For the second time this year, Deschamps has been blasted on social media by the partner of a player he did not select. The wife of Montpellier goalkeeper Geoffrey Jourden took to Facebook to call out Deschamps on his apparent snub of her husband when selecting his squad for the forthcoming friendlies against Portugal and Armenia. Noemie Jourdren vented her anger by saying that she hoped Deschamps died the next day. Her comments come only a few months after Anara Atanes ranted on Twitter about Deschamps excluding her boyfriend Samir Nasri from his World Cup squad. Atanes repeatedly swore about France and Deschamps before calling the former Monaco boss as bad manager.

Anara Atanes, pictured with Nasri blasted Deschamps for not picking him for the World Cup (Image from Getty)

Anara Atanes, pictured with Nasri blasted Deschamps for not picking him for the World Cup
(Image from Getty)

Nasri has since retired from international football citing he was unhappy with everything associated with the national team. Deschamps was questioned by the French media at the time about the exclusion of Nasri, especially given that the midfielder had played a significant role in securing the English Premiership title for his club, Manchester City but the coach simply felt that the player did not play in the same way he did for his country as he did for his club. In the end Nasri’s exclusion matter little with France making it to the quarter finals of the World Cup in Brazil before being knocked out by eventual winners Germany. In the case of Geoffrey Jourden however the player has yet to be capped for France. He has been performing well for his club, Montpellier this season and was in contention for a call up when Saint Etienne goalkeeper Stephane Ruffier pulled out of the initial squad due to injury but Deschamps instead opted to call up Rennes Benoit Costil instead. This was obviously a massive disappointment to Jourden who has dreamed of representing his country at full international level since 2006 when he first pulled on the Les Blues jersey for the Under 21 team. However the actions of his wife may have ironically made that dream a more distant reality than it was before her post.

Jourden must save his international career by speaking to Deschamps (Image from AP)

Jourden must save his international career by speaking to Deschamps
(Image from AP)

It calls into question the impact that social media can have on a player’s career. Whilst a vital tool to connect the players with their fans and give them a voice away from the pitch, it can be argued that it could be detrimental to their careers especially if they are too vocal in their opinions. Both club and international managers are adapting to the way players use social media with some embracing it as a form of expression and free speech whilst others clamp down heavily in order to protect the players from themselves. However controlling those connected to the players is almost impossible as in the case of Jourden and Nasri. It is admirable that both Noemie Jourdren and Anara Atanes felt compelled enough to protect their partners and voice their anger at what they saw as a grievance as many of us would however when it has the potential to have a negative effect, then they must stop and think about the impact before posting. It must fall to the players to control the situation that surrounds them and stop any social media outbursts that could damage their brand or impact their jobs. Football careers are short as they are and given the increased pressures to perform on a regular basis at the highest level, it is to be anticipated that emotions will run high. However like in any job, blasting your boss on social media or going public with your negative view points about how they do their job will only end up with bad consequences.

Tough week for Deschamps (Image from AFP/GETTY

Tough week for Deschamps
(Image from AFP/GETTY)

As national manager, Deschamps has every right to select the players he feels are correct for the games ahead and will not be deterred by the actions of Noemie Jourden or Anara Atanes. In fact, publicly blasting the manager on social media if anything made it harder for their respective partners to be selected.  France automatically qualify for Euro 2016 as hosts so Deschamps is using the time between now and the tournament starting to test players and formations. For Jourden, he had time on his side to continue to impress and eventually win his way into Deschamps plans but the outburst of his wife and in particular the nature of her comments may have made that challenge an impossible one. Jourden would be wise to act quickly to mend the bridge between himself and Deschamps before this situation becomes irreparable or face years of wonder what could have been if only his wife hadn’t written that post.

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Looking Through The Crystal Ball At A Summer Of Changes

Looking through the crystal ball (Image from getty)Making predictions is always a risky game. And in football it’s almost impossible given the ever changing variables attached to the sport. For example, last month several papers speculated that Barcelona would spend heavily in the summer with a variety of new faces arriving. One week later they were hit with a transfer ban meaning that their summer spending plans were axed. Whilst no one could have predicted this outcome, it is possible to make calculated guesses on what is about to happen in the short term based on information available. For example, Chelsea are likely to buy a striker this summer. Why? Well because Jose Mourinho has said so and won’t shut up about his lack of faith in his existing ones. Whether Chelsea actually does or not will depend on other factors but it’s a fairly strong assumption that they will. So on that note, we have decided to pull together some predictions of our own based on information available to the general public added in with some pure gut feelings. All the predictions are around things that will happen over the summer so come 1st September we will see how many we got right and how many were wildly wrong. Enjoy!

Will Costa move to Chelsea?  (Image from Getty)

Will Costa move to Chelsea?
(Image from Getty)

Managerial Changes Galore

It’s a World Cup summer so that means only one thing – managerial changes. The pre conceived notion about footballs biggest tournament is it is the place for players to shine, but the same can be said for managers who want to put themselves in line for a lucrative club contract. Already confirmed departures include Holland boss Louis Van Gaal, Greece’s Fernando Santos and Spain’s Vicente Del Bosque whilst there are persistent rumours around the futures of Italy’s Cesare Prandelli, Brazil’s Luis Felipe Scolari and France’s Didier Deschamps. Roy Hodgson could also depart but it will be dependent on how well England fare. All these departures will spark a feeding frenzy amongst the clubs and a series of changes will happen. Van Gaal is already linked with the soon to be vacant seat at Spurs but what other changes will happen. Here are our predictions:

  • Prandelli to AC Milan: His time as Italy coach has helped grow his reputation both domestically and abroad. Whilst clubs across Europe will be interested, Prandelli is unlikely to depart his native land as he wants to remain close to his family. Given the chance to rescue AC Milan after their failed Clarence Seedorf project could be too hard to resist.
  • Deschamps to PSG: Replacing Laurent Blanc at PSG would make it 2 from 2 for Deschamps who succeeded him as French national manager in 2012. Whilst still under contract until after France 2016, an early exit at the hands of either Bosnia or Argentina in the round of 16 of the World Cup would be deemed a failure and would make it difficult for him to remain in charge. However still well liked back home, PSG could end Blanc’s stay at the club if the former French captain became available.
  • Klopp to Barcelona – Not a great season so far for Barca who under Martino have won little and lost ground to both Madrid clubs. A change is coming and likely to be in the form of Jurgen Klopp, who after six successful years at Dortmund needs a new challenge. It’s a shame for Martino but don’t feel bad for him as he will take over from Alejandro Sabella as Argentina manager, that is unless Argentina can pull off a shock and win the World Cup
  • Other moves: Neil Lennon to Norwich, Martinez to Arsenal (Wenger to leave after lifting FA Cup), Tim Sherwood to Blackburn (after failing to get promoted)
Lennon to Norwich?  (Image from Getty)

Lennon to Norwich?
(Image from Getty)

Striker moves set the pace

Where Diego Costa will end up after the World Cup will depend on who pays the most. Chelsea are favourites to land him but face competition from wealthy Monaco who have fans drooling over a potential Costa/Falcao partnership. Monaco are struggling with several teams In Ligue 1 who feel that Monaco shouldn’t be allowed to compete due to lower taxes so adding Costa to the mix will pour more salt into the wound. Chelsea should secure him but what other deals will happen:

  • Jordan Rhodes to leave Blackburn for the Premiership – Having scored another barrel load of goals this season in the Championship, it’s hard to see Rhodes sticking around with several Premiership clubs hovering nearby.
  • Fernando Torres to Atletico Madrid – Inter has made noises but a return to the club where he is held in high regard is more appealing to Torres. His troubled time at Chelsea will end with a whimper rather than a bang.
  • Josip Drmic to the Premiership – The Swiss youngster has been on fire in the Bundesliga this season and is destined to leave Numberg with the Premiership his likely destination. West Ham are interested but with Arsenal now engaged, they could miss out to the North London side.
  • Edinson Cavani to Manchester United – Missing out on a host of players last summer has taught Moyes a valuable lesson, get them early. That’s why he will snap up PSG’s Cavani as soon as the season has finished and then turn his focus elsewhere.
Moyes will want to tie up Cavani before the World Cup Starts  (Image from PA)

Moyes will want to tie up Cavani before the World Cup Starts
(Image from PA)

Big Bets

Big bets always have the highest returns but also run the biggest risk in terms of getting it wrong. That’s why caution is always best to be used in these cases. But we say no to that and throw it to the wind with these audacious bets:

  • Spain to make it four in a row – Not everyone’s favourite but never one to discount in a major tournament. With Del Bosque on the way out and many of his dream team on their finals legs, it may be the last time that this group is together. They have a lot to prove and winning back to back World Cups is the goal.
  • Newcastle to sack Pardew – After the first half of the season, Pardew looked like things were starting to go right again for him at Newcastle. That was until he landed a headbutt and received a lengthy ban for it. Newcastle are going tired of Pardew and he will be dismissed in the summer in favour of fresh ideas.
  • More revelations about bribery and vote fixing attached to the 2018 and 2022 World Cups – As the focus of the footballing world turns away from Brazil, it’s likely that more will surface around the FBI’s investigation into illegal payments with several key figures either resigning or being arrested. That will make it an interesting summer to watch!

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Life without Cabaye – Will Newcastle Flourish or Flounder?

YCabaye looks set for Pastures new (Image from Getty)ohan Cabaye’s match winning performance on Saturday was not what Alan Pardew wanted. The dynamic French midfielder was at the heart of everything Newcastle created during their 3-1 win over West Ham, scoring two goals in the process. Alan Pardew knows that it’s inevitable not probable that his star midfielder will be leaving the club. His match winning show on Saturday only helped to remind potential suitors what they are missing.

Cabaye scores a wonderful free kick in Newcastle's 3-1 win over West Ham  (Image from Getty)

Cabaye scores a wonderful free kick in Newcastle’s 3-1 win over West Ham
(Image from Getty)

With the French media reporting that PSG have agreed a fee with Newcastle rumoured to be £26m, Cabaye may have played his last game for the club. If he does go, Newcastle will need to replace him but where and how do you replace quality like Cabaye. Most important is spending the money wisely on a solid attack minded central midfielder. With Anita and Tiote in place as defensive options, Newcastle need to replace like for like. Rumours of a move for Montpellier youngster Remy Cabella have surfaced which likely means that super scout Graham Carr has been hard at work again. An accomplished central midfielder, Cabella is from a similar mould as Cabaye, able to dictate play and spread the passes around. He would be an interesting choice and would continue Newcastle’s love affair with the French market. Another option is Southampton Adam Lallana who Pardew views as a natural fit for the club. Lallana has proven his worth to Southampton over the years but with the new turmoil behind the scenes, he could be tempted by the opportunity to escape. Not that manager Mauricio Pochettino will let him go without a fight as the England international star had established himself as a crucial part of the Argentine’s team. However at 28 he goes against Mike Ashley “buy them young policy” so asking to pay over 10million for him may be rejected outright.

Remy Cabella could replace Cabaye  (Image from AFP)

Remy Cabella could replace Cabaye
(Image from AFP)

Regardless of who is brought in to replace Cabaye, the biggest question that is outstanding is how will Newcastle cope without their talisman? This season Newcastle have played well and more importantly as a unit but Cabaye has been at the heart of everything, much like he was on Saturday. Without him, Newcastle has struggled to dictate games and create chances. He offers them so much – vision, drive, opportunity that when he isn’t playing Newcastle look limp. If Pardew can replace him with a replica player then Newcastle stand a chance but the new player, especially if they arrive from abroad, will take time to bed into the team. After a strong start to the season, Newcastle needs to maintain the momentum and continue to improve not falter and fall.

Pardew is planning for life without Cabaye  (Image from PA)

Pardew is planning for life without Cabaye
(Image from PA)

So far Cabaye has played down speculation with a January move away from the club insisting he is happy to remain and his focus is on keeping his form going in preparation for the world cup. Almost guaranteed to be on the plane to Brazil as part of the French squad, Cabaye knows that staying at Newcastle will not harm his chances but a move away and the uncertainty of regular games could result in a change of heart for French coach Didier Deschamps. Whilst a move to PSG will see him play, it’s not a foregone conclusion given the strength in depth of their squad that he will start every game. At Newcastle that is the case (unless he is injured or suspended of course) so it may be Pardew saving grace if the player sticks to his guns and hangs around at the club until the summer. Any Geordie fans that believe Cabaye will be pulling on the black and white striped shirt post World Cup may be delusional. Cabaye is set for greater stages that St James Park and only a title victory would be enough to convince him to extend his stay. Unfortunately for Newcastle that doesn’t look like a likely scenario so their talisman looks set to depart sooner or later.

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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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Portugal and France Progress To Brazil As England and Spain’s Plans Are Thrown Into Turmoil

Ronaldo celebrates securing Portugals passage to Brazil (Image from PA)It was a dramatic night of international football on Tuesday that sent four more European teams to Brazil and others wondering if they want to go at all. A Cristiano Ronaldo hat trick eclipsed a stunning brace by Zlatan Ibrahimovic as Portugal met Sweden in Stockholm for the second leg of the play offs.  With Portugal leading 1-0 from the first leg, the home fans were determined to help their team as much as possible, including disturbing the sleep of the Portuguese players the night before. Despite the underhanded tactics, Ronaldo would not be deterred from his goal of reaching another World Cup. The Real Madrid star put his team into an early lead before a Swedish comeback inspired by their talisman Ibrahimovic who has been in the best form of his life over the past two years. A quick fire brace including a wonderfully taken second goal pulled Sweden back level on aggregate and back into the match. But Ronaldo would have the last laugh as he stepped up a gear by grabbing a brace himself to complete his hat trick and put Portugal on the plane to Brazil. It wouldn’t be the World Cup without the Real Madrid star but others will be disappointed that Ibrahimovic will not be there as his creativity and flair have light up many a back page with yet another wonder goal.

ibrahimovic was unable to overturn Portugal's lead  (Image from PA)

ibrahimovic was unable to overturn Portugal’s lead
(Image from PA)

Elsewhere a convincing 2-0 victory for Croatia helped sealed their place at the expense of Iceland. The tiny Scandinavian country had reached the play offs against all odds so defeat over the two legs to Croatia will be painful to take. After all this was a Croatian side ripe for the picking having come off the back of a double defeat to Scotland in the group stages. Iceland’s approach and effort in qualifying should have been enough to secure their passage so falling at the last hurdle will be a harsh lesson for their young squad in staying focused and not being distracted by the main prize. Croatia will be joined on the plane by Greece who dispatched Romania over the two legs despite a spirited performance from Victor Piturca’s players.

Croatia and Iceland battled it out during the Play offs (Image from Getty)

Croatia and Iceland battled it out during the Play offs (Image from Getty)

The surprise of the night was the comeback of Les Blues as Didier Deschamp’s French team clawed back a 2-0 first leg deficit against a powerful Ukraine side to win 3-0 in the second leg and book their place. A brace from Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho and a solo strike from Karim Benzema was enough to turn around the tie that many feared was already over. Ukraine were blown away by a determined French side, inspired by Franck Ribery and Yohan Cabaye who were helped in their cause by the dismissal of Ukrainian defender Yevhen Khacheridi just before half time. A passionate crowd sang songs of allez les blues as France romped to victory.

France celebrate reaching the World Cup  (Image from AFP)

France celebrate reaching the World Cup
(Image from AFP)

Meanwhile friendly defeats for England, Spain, USA and Belgium have heaped concerns about their chances in Brazil next summer. England’s failure to trouble a heavily rotated Germany will surely concern manager Roy Hodgson and definitely the over exuberant British press. Spain’s surprising defeat in South Africa also came as a shock especially as Del Bosque had sent out an almost full strength team. Whilst they had chances, the reigning World and European champions looked vulnerable at the back, with some suggesting the exclusion of legendary goalkeeper Iker Casillas being the main catalyst. Dark horses for next year’s tournament, Belgium also suffered defeat for the second time in five days, this time to Japan. The Japanese who have also qualified took their chances well against the young and enthusiastic Belgium side eventually winning the match by three goals to two. In Austria, Jürgen Klinsmann led team USA preparations took a knock with a surprise 1-0 defeat to Austria. Having drawn on Friday with Scotland, Klinsmann was hoping to put Austria to the sword but they had other ideas. A single goal by Marc Janko thirty three minutes into the match sealed a famous victory and gave the German coach much to ponder.

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