Dyche returns to management in his toughest role yet

There is an old adage that states “be careful what you wish for” and that will be ringing true for Sean Dyche as he surveys the mess in front of him in his new job as Everton manager. The former Burnley boss has been out of work since April of last year and despite rumoured approaches by Championship and Scottish clubs, Dyche has been firm in his belief that he still can offer something as a Premier League manager. That something has finally arrived in the form of a move to Goodison to try and repair what is left of Evertons disastrous season. Despite Frank Lampards best efforts, Everton for one reason or a hundred proved too much for the former England midfielder who left bemused by how much had gone awry.

Everton for all intents and purposes should be a club positioned well for success but in truth they have been a badly injured animal who has been on its last legs for too long. How it hasn’t succumbed to its injuries is anyone’s guess with many now pondering when rather than if. This season, much like the past 7 seasons since Farhad Moshiri took a majority share in the club, has been one calamitous moment after another. Blaming the owner for everything is an easy game (see Mike Ashley during his Newcastle days) but it’s way beyond Moshiri; something is fundamentally broken at Goodison Park. Millions invested; most of it badly, seven managers in and out during that same time with Dyche No. 8, indecision and an overall lack of strategy on and off the pitch has lead fans to wonder what exactly is happening at their club. Making things worse, this all happened during a period of uplift at Liverpool FC, their bitter rivals who added Champions League and more importantly Premier League trophies to their cabinet.

Everton are a club in peril, languishing in 19th place in the table and staring relegation in the face. A drop to the Championship could be the death mail for the club; recovery and promotion back is not a foregone conclusion even for a club of Everton’s stature. For Dyche, the issues off the pitch will have to wait until the summer as his main focus and indeed his only focus has to be sorting the club out on the pitch. He has a lot to contend with – a talented but disjointed team, badly lacking in confidence, riddled with injuries to key players and now one shorter following the departure of one of their brightest players, Anthony Gordon to Newcastle. With hours before the window shuts, getting reinforcements in (mostly likely loans) is key although their should be some of the £40m from Gordon to spend if the right player comes along. Everton need a goalscorer badly; Calvert Lewin has been ravaged by injury after injury whilst Richarlson was allowed to leave last summer without a real replacement being brought in. He has issues in midfield and defence too but that’s a long term issue that won’t be solved with a bandage loan signing.

There are some green shoots of hope though for Everton fans. Dyche may be exactly the type of manager that the clubs needs right now; a no nonsense operator who knows how to grind out results whilst building a strong club culture at the same time. He also favours building from the back so sorting out Everton’s defensive frailties will be top of his to do list. Luckily Dyche has allies in that department in the form of James Tarkowski and Michael Keane, both former players of Dyche’s at Burnley. Building a base around them, with the addition of Conor Coady or Mason Holgate along side in a three and England keeper Jordan Pickford behind should positionally go along way to stopping the goal rot but thats only half the battle. The entire squad is desperately lacking confidence and as a result are making errors in games that are costing Everton dearly. Restoring their confidence and self belief may be Dyche’s biggest challenge and its likely he knows that. In midfield Dyche has options for how he wants to play with another former Burnley player, Dwight McNeill surely in line for a prominent attacking role. He could also make the bold move of bringing Dele Alli back to the club from Turkey with a view to regenerating a player who once shone brightly in the league. Many other managers have failed so that might prove the cautionary tale that prevents Alli’s return too. The job for Dyche has already started and he has no doubt plotted Everton’s great escape already. Whether he can pull it off however we will all have to wait and see.

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One on One with: Terry Phelan

There is a lot of talk about Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold being the definition of the modern day fullback. The media seems intent in pointing out that Arnold and his counterpart on the left hand side of Liverpool’s defence, Andy Robertson are revolutionizing football by becoming modern day wingbacks. It seems to them that this role is new, that the Liverpool duo are doing something remarkable, something never seen before but in truth it’s been done for years.

Indeed the Premier League has witness some fantastic examples of attacking fullbacks. Players like Tony Dorigo, Warren Barton, Stuart Pearce, Lee Dixon, Graeme Le Saux , Ashley Cole and our latest One On One guest Terry Phelan were all attacking full backs who could run all day, provide that extra dimension to the attack but also defend. When we chatted recently about the overuse of the modern day terminology, Phelan laughed and said “i was doing that 30 years ago”. And he was.

Those who caught Phelan in action either for one of his many clubs (Leeds, Wimbledon, Man City, Everton, Chelsea etc) or for his country (Republic of Ireland) remember him most for those lung busting runs up the touchline to deliver a cross or racing back to thwart an opposition attack. He was the modern day full back that Arnold and Robertson are replicating today. Currently Phelan is taking everything that he learned as a player and using it to enhance and move the game forward in his new home in India. He has a big job on his hands currently but as he revealed to us in a fantastic interview his thoughts are always back in Ireland and would one day like to work there developing their next generation. We also talked about life in the Crazy gang, what it was like playing for Ruud Gullit and that win for Ireland over Italy at the 1994 World Cup. Enjoy!

Exclusive: One on One Interview with Terry Phelan.

You can follow Terry on Instagram.

Interview contributions by Rob Latham. Follow him on Twitter.

An Apology to David Moyes

We all owe David Moyes an apology. And by we, I mean anyone who ever doubted his abilities as a manager or took pleasure by scoffing at his failures. I put myself in that category, not necessarily to the same degree as some others but I did publicly question whether he “found his level” at Everton after failing at United. For that I apologize and so should everyone else. Under Moyes, West Ham are revitalized, performing well and sitting comfortably in the top half of the Premier League. The project is far from completion, there is a lot of work still to be done but it’s on the right path. And Moyes should be credited for that change.

Moyes never doubted his abilities nor his “level”. He knew deep down that he was a good manager, but he fell foul to something that brings down a lot of managers – circumstance. In the eight years since leaving Everton, Moyes has been a victim of circumstance on more than a few occasions which has rapidly tarnished the reputation he built for himself first at Deepdale (Preston NE) then at Goodison Park.

Everton manager David Moyes celebrates on the touchline after Leon Osman (not pictured) scores his side’s second goal of the game

It started with a dream move to Manchester United as the chosen successor to Sir Alex Ferguson. On the surface, the move made a lot of sense. Moyes had consistently overperformed with the financially strapped Everton, relying heavily on his coaching and man management skills to get the best out of his sub-par squads as opposed to buying success through the transfer market. Moving to the more affluent Manchester United; a club that can attract the best talents in the game, should have given him the opportunity to build something special but circumstances beyond his control would prevent him from ultimately being successful.

In truth, Moyes inherited a mess from Sir Alex. It’s unlikely that the latter did that deliberately, but he certainly knew that he wasn’t handing over the club set for success. Indeed, Sir Alex had meant to retire two years previously according to several reports but was persuaded to stay on. In those two years the squad hadn’t improve significantly with only Ashley Young, Robin Van Persie and a very inexperienced David De Gea arriving but it did age badly. By the time Moyes stepped into Old Trafford, most of the key members of the first team were on the wrong side of 30. Ferdinand, Vidic, Giggs, Evra were all coming towards the end of their careers whilst Berbatov had moved on and the influential duo of Van Der Sar and Scholes retired. The squad Moyes inherited was unbalanced, over paid and tired. Efforts were made to correct this but the inefficiencies of Edward Woodward in the transfer market were plain to see as United missed out on target after target. Only Mauroune Fellaini would arrive that summer; hardly a transformational player even at his best.

Fellaini’s arrival did little to help Moyes chances of success at Old Trafford

Granted the expectation place on Moyes to live up to Ferguson played a significant role in his downfall but in truth it only added to the problems he inherited when he started. Moyes was always seen as Ferguson’s choice, not the fans first choice nor even the clubs who would have preferred a more blockbuster name. In the end, the mountain proved too steep for Moyes to conquer and he fell hard less than 10 months into his six-year deal. It’s only now with hindsight that we can look back and understand that his failure was not necessarily of his own doing. Bigger name managers like Van Gaal and Mourinho have come and gone at Old Trafford without failing to conquer the same mountain.

Burned badly by the United experience, Moyes moved to Spain to join Real Sociedad having been sold the vision of the club by president Jokin Aperribay only to find that what he was buying into was not what was expected. Circumstances and expectations of what Moyes could deliver changed rapidly during his first six months in charge. Gone was the understanding by the Scot that he would be afforded time to remould and reprogram the squad in his vision and in its place was unrealistic ambitions including challenging for honours right away. Even if Moyes was afforded more time to craft something from nothing, Aperribay’s delusions of grandeur would have crippled his chances before long. The axe fell almost a year to the day of his arrival.

Moyes revealed as the new Real Sociedad manager alongside club President Jokin Aperribay (centre)

Returning to the UK was never going to be easy especially with his spell at United still fresh in the mind and now a secondary “failure” in Spain with Sociedad. Moyes looked for a redemption project, somewhere without high expectations or a generous war chest to bankroll massive change. He needed a club that needed him and his ability to get the best out of its existing players. Sunderland appeared to be that challenge having spent the better part of the previous five seasons fighting tooth and nail to save themselves from Premier League relegation. Moyes presumably expected to have to put out a few fires at Sunderland but I don’t think he expected to walk into the entire house engulfed in flames. Anyone who watched a single episode of Netflix’s ” Sunderland Til i Die” documentary will know exactly what i mean. Two points from the first ten games told the story of a squad bereaved of confidence, lacking quality and full of overpaid disengaged footballers. With little money to overhaul the squad, Moyes struggled to turn things around and paid the price with a costly relegation, his first in management. Questions were asked over who he did bring in – namely the £20m spent on Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong who failed to add anything significantly to the troubled squad but it mattered little in the grander scheme of things.

Licking his wounds, Moyes moved to West Ham to help steer them away from relegation but that was not good enough for the Chuckle Brothers (David Gold and David Sullivan) who had their eyes on a more marquee manager in Manuel Pellegrini. Moyes watched in disgust as the owners ran out the clock on his 6-month deal in favour of the Chilean. It took them 19 months to realize the error of their ways and reappoint Moyes after Pellegrini burned through a small fortune only to deliver zero progress. Tails between their legs, Moyes was given an 18 month contract this time and more importantly control to put things right at the London Stadium.

West Ham are transformed under Moyes this season, currently sitting in 6th place

This season, West Ham have been transformed under Moyes propelling them into 6th place in the table (at the time of writing). The changes he has implemented are apparent. Defensively West Ham under Moyes are more compact and disciplined than before with the towering Angelo Ogbonna marshalling the backline. Clever acquisitions in the midfield, namely Sourek and Bowen offer more attacking threat at pace allowing for a better turnover of the ball whilst the more defensively minded Declan Rice prowls in front of the back four. Set pieces have been worked on extensively on the training field both defensively and offensively leading to less goals conceded and more scored at the other end. All in all West Ham are a difficult side to face which has translated into their current league position.

Moyes may have finally found his club and now has a chance to rebuild that somewhat damaged reputation. It’s been a long and treacherous road for the Scot who remained confident, at least externally, about where he belonged and what he brought to the table. The moral lesson for us all should be to not jump to quick conclusions and instead look at the bigger picture. Perhaps if we had all done that back in 2017, Moyes wouldn’t have been put through the ringer as much as he was following his United exit. Maybe indeed he would have bounced back quicker if we had supported him rather than tearing him down. That’s our mistake, our misgivings, our moment of shame. For that alone, we should collectively say “Sorry David”.

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One on One with: Michael Ball

We are back with an all new interview, this time with former Everton, Rangers, Man City and England left back Michael Ball. Bursting onto the scene in the 1996/97 season with Everton, Ball quickly became a mainstay in that side despite his young years. It was a difficult period for the Blues with off field financial issues often dampening the aspirations of the die hard fans. But with the promotion of Ball and others (such as Richard Dunne, Francis Jeffers and Leon Osman) from the 1997 FA Youth Cup win, the club looked set for a bright future. It would be short lived and Ball like many other stars were sold to balance the books.

We caught up with him recently to chat his career including switching from Liverpool to Everton in his youth, his time in Scotland including that Old Firm game, marking the Romford Pele and winning so few caps for England.

Back Of The Net: Who was your idol growing up? What influence did they have on your career?

Michael Ball: Mostly any Everton player on the ’80’s – I used to love being big Neville (Southall) in goal but also try to score diving headers like Andy Gray & shoot like Kevin Sheedy.

BOTN: As a schoolboy you traded the red half of Liverpool for the blue half by joining Everton from Liverpool’s youth system. How did that come about? 

MB: I was lucky enough to have the son of a Liverpool academy coach Hughie McCauley in my local side. He invited me to a training session when I was around seven years old which continued until just before my 14th birthday. McCauley, Dave Shannon & Stevie Heighway were 3 fantastic coaches.

BOTN: Let’s talk about Everton and making your breakthrough at 17 under the legendary Howard Kendall. How did it feel to pull on that jersey for your debut against Spurs?  

MB: It was a fantastic unbelievable feeling and one I’d been dreaming & focusing on doing all my life.

Ball gets the better of Vegard Heggem in the Merseyside derby (Image from Tumblr)

Ball gets the better of Vegard Heggem in the Merseyside derby (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Financial issues at Everton led to a move north of the border to Rangers. It was either Rangers or Middlesborough correct? Looking back now, do you think that was the right move to make at that early stage in your career?  

MB: I was crushed when I wasn’t going to be offered a new deal at Everton. They apparently accepted offers from Liverpool, Middlesborough and Rangers.  I was hoping to stay & prove the manager wrong but after being told I would rot in the reserves a move had to happen sadly.

BOTN: You have played in the Old Firm derby (Glasgow Rangers vs Glasgow Celtic) and the Merseyside one (Liverpool vs Everton). How do they compare? 

MB: Both games are fantastic, obviously being a local blue I know the feeling of winning but also losing these games. The Old Firm was no different just media build up beforehand was a lot more.

BOTN: What happened in your Old firm debut when you were substituted? 

MB: The disagreement (between Ball and Rangers manager Dick Advocaat) was just myself showing frustration in the wrong way to the manager at the time. I reacted because I just wanted to keep playing and gets us back into the game.

 

Rangers beat several offers to land Ball (Image from Tumblr)

Rangers beat several offers to land Ball (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: It was in Scotland that you suffered your first major injury, damaging your medial ligament which would keep you out for the better part of two seasons. Mentally and emotionally that must have been tough. How did you cope with that injury and were there times where you thought you wouldn’t bounce back? 

MB: It was a really difficult time for myself and the club who invested a lot to bring me in. For me, it was an injury I had been carrying for over a season and thought I’d got over it. Unfortunately after a game my patella tendinitis (an overuse injury of the tendon that straightens the knee) came back and an operation was the only way forward. Dr Steadman was in shock at the state of my tendon but also reassured me I’ll be back playing once rehab was complete.

BOTN: Rumour has it your move to PSV Eindhoven came as a result of a recommendation by Ronald Waterreus (former Rangers goalkeeper) to then manager Guus Hiddink. You were all set to sign for Birmingham but instead signed for PSV. What changed your mind? 

MB: That’s true I think. Ronald came from & lived in Eindhoven. As a PSV legend he also went into the training ground when he could. After a successful year including reaching the semi final of the Champions League, they sold their left back Yeong-pyo Lee to Spurs. Ronald said there’s a guy at Rangers worth looking at. Birmingham had been in talks for few weeks offering a three year deal, but then went silent for a long period when I wanted to sign. Birmingham finally came back on deadline day but changed their offer to only one year.  On way to the airport Guss Hiddink called said all the right things & it was only one choice to go, compete in the Champions League & for titles.

BOTN: After PSV, you joined Manchester City as part of their evolution under Sven Goran Eriksson. Was that your most enjoyable time as a player? Was it good to reunited with Sven who gave you your England debut?

MB: It felt great to back to the U.K. & to be coached by Sven. I felt it was the fittest I’d been for a long time and I was hoping success would soon follow with Sven’s ambitions for the club.

 

 

Michael returned to England to sign for Man City following his spell in Holland (Image from Tumblr)

Michael returned to England to sign for Man City following his spell in Holland (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Eriksson signed you later on for Leicester, right? Is he the manager you liked playing for the most? 

MB: Sven tried to sign me while he was manager at Notts Country.  I think he liked my attitude in how approached the game and in training as a lot of his session where defensive focused which I enjoyed a lot.

BOTN: Many people (myself included) are surprised by the fact that you only earned one cap for England during your career but It would appear as though injuries and unfortunate timing in a sense that England had an abundance of options at left back at the time (Ashley Cole, Wayne Bridge etc.) played a role. Would you agree? Is that your biggest regret? 

MB: I had my eye on that role coming through the youth yanks and also being selected a few times before my debut happen but it’s not a regret as I couldn’t do too much about it. The timing of my injury was the biggest let down for my England career as unfortunately for myself Cole and Bridge had established themselves in the squad. I still hoped even though it would be difficult that I could find a way back in.

Its surprising to many that Ball only has one England cap to his name (Image from Tumblr)

It’s surprising to many that Ball only has one England cap to his name (Image from Tumblr)

 

BOTN: Recently we have seen wingers like Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia converted into full backs. What are your thoughts on this? Do you see any positional issues with this?

MB: It seems to be the going trend in modern football. I get it. As most full backs in the game one day probably started as a winger.  My worry is like most they aren’t natural defenders and that art of defending is dying out. They react to situations instead of pre-emptying it.

BOTN: So, what’s next for Michael Ball? Tell us more about two companies you are involved in – Sports Company & Crafted Society? 

MB: Since retired I’ve being struggling into what next –  Coaching / manager etc. That was the obvious choice but the coaching badge courses weren’t for me. My phone kept ringing from ex-teammates, parents and kids who were all asking for my advice & guidance which I’ve now continued doing so with my own sports agency business that keeps me busy and learning. Crafted Society is a fantastic company based in Amsterdam founded by my good friends Mart & Lise, who both have huge experiences in this field and it’s a joy to see them create hand crafted items around the world but also giving back to charities.

BOTN: Finally, a few quick hits please. hardest opponent to mark? 

MB: I played against a lot of world class players like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo etc but when i was coming through at Everton, Ray Parlour (Arsenal midfielder) was difficult to mark.

The Romford Pele - Ray Parlour (Image from Tumblr)

The Romford Pele – Ray Parlour (Image from Tumblr)

BOTN: Best player played with?

MB: Too hard so many. It would be unfair to name just one.

BOTN: Proudest moment as a player? 

MB: Again, too many. Everton debut, first goal, England appearance, first medals etc. All of it.

BOTN: And how do you think Everton will get on this coming season. 

MB: With Carlo at the club, I’m hoping now Everton will start the journey of success. It will take time but with a winner like Carlo, I am excited to see what the next few seasons as a blue will be.

BOTN: That will indeed be interesting to see. Thank You Michael.

If you are a player, coach or parent who need any guidance from Michael, please reach out to him directly via Twitter or Linkedin.

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Second Time Around For Moyes As West Hams Owners Eat Humble Pie

It was only a matter of time before David Moyes found himself back in management. The Scot had been on the substitute bench for a while after leaving West Ham at the end of the 2017-2018 season. He has had several offers from both home and abroad yet Moyes believed strongly that he belonged in the Premier League.

Indeed his old club Everton looked to be lining him up only to eventually go for Carlo Ancelotti. But Moyes didn’t have to wait much longer before West Ham came calling following the sacking of Manuel Pellegrini.

There is a slight sense of irony that West Ham have returned to Moyes after Pellegrini failed. After all Moyes was already in the managers chair when owners David Gold and David Sullivan had a change of heart and decided not to renew his contract in favour of heading down a different direction.

That “direction” was Pellegrini and at first it looked like an inspired move. But now the two David’s are eating a huge slice of humble pie with West Ham after turning back to the man who saved them from relegation the last time.

The problem that faced Pellegrini and ultimately led to his downfall was the heavy expectations. It was expected that West Ham would be a gatecrasher in the top six this season given the amount of money they spent in the summer and the summer before (£170m in total). Indeed the squad bulked up in key areas previously lacking whilst deadweight was shifted on to leave the squad lean but mean. Everything was set for Pellegrini to be successful.

Indeed it looked like he would be at the start of the campaign. Four wins from their opening six games including a stellar winning performance against Man Utd put West Ham exactly on target to upset that top six. But then came the trip to Bournemouth where things started to unravel at an alarming rate. An injury to Lukasz Fabianksi late in the first half rocked what looked to be a fairly comfortable Hammers performance and bizarrely they never seemed to recover. Bournemouth took the lead shortly after and although Cresswell rescued a point late on, it was clear that something was not quite right.

Many fingers were pointed in the direction of back up goalie Roberto who made a series of howlers in the games following the draw with Bournemouth but in truth the wheels were already shaky before he came into the side. Pellegrini failed to inspire the squad he had and live up to the expectations. Now it’s Moyes turn to see what he can do.

He (Moyes) does inherits a squad brimming with talent though. In goal, he has arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League last season (Fabianski) that didn’t play for Man City or Liverpool. In front of the Pole, Aaron Cresswell and Ryan Fredericks are accomplished wing backs whilst Zabaleta offers a more stable footing if needed. Declan Rice competes alongside Mark Noble, Jack Wilshire and Pablo Fornals for midfield engine slots whilst Lanzini, Felipe Anderson and Yarmolenko offer the creative supply for target man and record signing Sébastien Haller up front. That’s not even mentioning West Ham mainstays like Robert Snodgrass and Michel Antonio who always tend to end up on the score sheet when least expected.

Moyes can succeed where Pellegrini failed by making some minor tactical and formational changes. For example pushing Felipe Anderson more into a central role rather than on the wing should free him up to shine like he has done in past seasons.

Similarly placing a secondary striker upfront alongside Haller could release the towering Frenchman to find the form that encouraged West Ham to buy him in the first place. Haller played his best football at Frankfurt alongside the more technical Luka Jovic so a similar type of partnership at West Ham with Lanzini or Ajeti could be exactly what the doctor ordered.

Restoring a sense of pride and regaining a higher level of commitment from his squad will also be high on his to do list.

There are fans who will be unhappy with Moyes return, someone jaded by the lack of entertaining football on show the last time. However when you are in a relegation dog fight, entertainment is often overruled in favour of grafting out a performance that nets you the three points. That approach worked the last time as Moyes saved them from the drop so more of the same is likely on the cards for the Hammers faithful whether they like it or not. With a 18 month contract, Moyes will spend the second half of this season papering over the cracks before setting about moulding West Ham into his image in the summer. That is as long as the owners don’t have another change of heart.

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Jack Rodwell, The Forgotten Man

In the summer of 2012, a wry smile crept over the boyish face of Jack Rodwell. Having burst onto the scene some four years previously, the now 22-year-old was finally starting to see the fruits of his labour. Signing on the dotted line, Rodwell completed his move from boyhood club Everton to the now über wealthy Manchester City who were actively in the market snapping up the best talent England had to offer. And Rodwell was certainly one of those. Now a full international having made his England berth some ten months previous, Rodwell was widely considered one to watch; built-in the same kind of mould as Steven Gerrard with the passing range that Frank Lampard would be proud of. Even Roy Hodgson who had been appointed as the Three Lions manager a few months earlier from Rodwell signing for City was giddy with the potential that the player had. Everything it seemed was set for Rodwell to succeed both at club and international level.

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Except he didn’t. His move to City fizzled rather than sparked his England prospects. A lack of playing time hindering any chances of selection, much to the frustration of Hodgson. To be fair to City, it was hard to squeeze Rodwell onto the pitch that already contained David Silva, Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. In the limited time Rodwell did see on the pitch he failed to impress amongst the collection of superstars. Reoccurring injuries, in particular to his hamstring led to City becoming frustrated with their prize acquisition and eventually deciding to cut their losses sanctioning the sale of Rodwell to Sunderland after only two seasons. The move to Sunderland was viewed as many as the sensible one – Rodwell would be able to play more and in doing so gain the strength needed to stop his recurring hamstring injury from returning. Back playing regularly, Rodwell could regain his England place and hopefully one day reach his childhood goal of playing at a World Cup.

Rodwell's career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Rodwell’s career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Except he hasn’t. For one reason or another, Rodwell’s career has flatlined. His demise is hard to understand partly because it appears to be self-inflicted. Things did start well at Sunderland with Rodwell playing a majority of games in his first few seasons but again injuries meant that he spent large chunks on the treatment table instead of the pitch. Over the first three seasons (120 weeks) at the Stadium of Light, Rodwell spent a quarter of them (30 weeks) out injured mostly with hamstring or ankle issues. It proved to be a troublesome time for the player as it was for the club who in fairness have been battling against relative chaos for the better half of a decade since Martin Ellis’ arrival and were finally relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

Scunthorpe-United-v-Sunderland-Checkatrade-Trophy

Rodwell has spent a large chunk of time on the treatment table (Image from Tumblr)

As the club dropped into the Championship, there were expectations that their higher paid players would take a pay cut but also their more senior players would stand up and be accounted for as the club looked to rebuild and bounce back up. Again when it came to Rodwell, neither happened. Rodwell’s money spinning contract remained in tact whilst the player himself completely checked out, refusing to play for the club. Efforts were made to sell him or even loan him out but none proved successful. Eventually Sunderland offered to terminate Rodwell’s contract in January but again the player refused in a move which baffled then club. He has been vocal in saying he doesn’t care about money and just wants to play except Sunderland and its fans have seen very little evidence to support this.

rodwell

Where has the passion gone? (image from Tumblr)

Instead he appears happy to sit on the bench or on the sidelines whilst his Sunderland contract ticks slowly down to its finish. Even his former boss Chris Coleman stated that he wasn’t quite sure where Rodwell was towards the end of his reign. In a way the whole situation is a shame. An inform Rodwell is a force to reckon with; skillful with both feet, an excellent engine that gets him up and down the pitch like a cheetah on steroids and a strong passing range that makes him the natural fit for a majority of teams. But many have now forgotten that as the seasons tick on. Rodwell has been replaced in their minds from being “the next big thing” to another failure story of English football. The longer he stays in the football wilderness and refuses to resolve his Sunderland situation, the harder it will be for him to make a comeback.

jack-rodwell

During his younger years at Everton (Image from Tumblr)

So what is next for the 27-year-old? That is the great unknown. It’s clear that Rodwell isn’t in the right mind space at this time, either frustrated with what has happened to his career to date or with his time at Sunderland or simply with football itself. But his reluctance to resolve things opens up more questions about his appetite for the game and is ultimately marking him out as a bad apple to potential future suitors. It could be that he is willing to sit tight knowing that his wages are safe under his airtight contract up until 2019. They may take a hit following Sunderland’s relegation to League One; dropping from £70k to a measly £40k including loyalty bonuses but still for someone who has played a grand total of 159 minutes last season, it’s still not bad. Or perhaps he can be persuaded to come back into the fold and fight for the cause by new Sunderland boss Jack Ross. Rodwell still has time to revive his career one way or another but needs to make a decision on his future either way. Stick or twist, Rodwell needs to get back in the game or eventually he will be known mainly as footballs forgotten man.

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One on One with: Landon Donovan

It’s not very often that you get the opportunity to sit down with a genuine legend of the game. With six MLS Cups, four Gold Cups, four U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year titles, and a World Cup Best Young Player Award to his name (just to name a few), Landon Donovan isn’t short of accolades to support that legend status. His career over the last twenty years has taken him from his native US to Germany and England, and now to Mexico, where he is playing for Club Leon in the Liga MX. His illustrious international career has seen him represent his country at three World Cups and score numerous important goals along the way. Through his achievements in the game, Landon has played a pinnacle role in the growth of soccer in the US over the past two decades. 

BackoftheNet: Landon, thank you for taking the time to sit down with us.

Landon Donovan: It’s my pleasure.

BOTN: Let’s start off by talking about your experiences in Germany in the Bundesliga where you had spells at Bayer Leverkusen and later at Bayern Munich under Jürgen Klinsmann. How important were those moves for you in terms of your development as a player? And what lessons did you take away from that time in Germany?

LD: My time in Germany was extremely valuable to me in many different ways.  On the field, I became a much better player because of the training and playing environment I encountered in Germany.  Off the field, having the ability to travel and experience a different culture is something that will help me the rest of my life.

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(Image from Facebook – @landondonovan)

BOTN:  The majority of your career was spent in the MLS and as a pivotal player in the league you have been part of its rapid evolution. How far do you think the league has come over the past twenty years, and do you think there will ever be a time when soccer becomes the No.1 sport in America, ahead of the NFL, NBA and MLB?

LD: It’s only a matter of time until soccer becomes equal with all of the other major sports in America.  You have to remember that MLS has only been around for 20+ years while the other major leagues have been around for significantly longer.  I’m extremely proud of the progress we’ve made and I look forward to seeing it continue to grow.

BOTN: Let’s move on to the Men’s National team. You are widely considered to be the greatest American men’s soccer player of all time. Having been capped over 215 times for your country at various levels, including playing in three World Cups, you must have some special memories in that shirt. What were your defining games and goals for your country?

LD: My defining games were the games that I played in World Cups and the games where I won championships.  As a soccer player, the ultimate goals are to play in a World Cup and win trophies at every level.  I was fortunate to be a part of many teams that were successful and those were the most meaning accomplishments for me.

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Donovan scores deep into injury time against Algeria during World Cup 2010 to helped the US win their group for the first time since 1930 (Image from Instagram – @landondonovan10)

BOTN: How far do you think the US is away from winning the World Cup?

LD: The US still has a way to go to win a World Cup but I believe we can absolutely achieve it if we focus our energies in the right way.

BOTN: You had two short spells on loan in England with Everton in 2010 and then again in 2012. It’s fair to say that despite your limited time there, you became somewhat of a cult figure. Did you ever have the opportunity to make that loan deal permanent? Where there other clubs who were interested? We hear that Fulham and Manchester United made enquiries at one stage.

LD: I absolutely loved my time at Everton and fell in love with the club.  Although I did have the opportunity to make the loan deal permanent, I wanted to keep my word to the Galaxy that I would return to the club after my time in England.

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Donovan had two spells at Everton and loved his time on Merseyside (Image from Twitter – @landondonovan)

BOTN: Recently you came out of retirement again for the second time to sign for Liga MX side Club Leon. What was the motivation behind that decision – was it simply a burning desire to get back onto the pitch or was the opportunity too good to refuse?

LD: There were a few reasons I wanted to return:  Leon made a great pitch to me and my family and really made me feel wanted, I’ve always wanted to play in Liga MX, and this was a life experience for my family that I simply couldn’t pass up.

BOTN: In the past you have talked openly about how you suffered from depression throughout your life and career. Do you think enough is being done to help players who suffer from mental health issues, including depression, both at the club level and by the governing bodies? In your opinion, do you think players feel like they can talk about it openly to their colleagues?

LD: I don’t feel there is enough being done for the population in general about mental health, not just within sports. Society as a whole suffers greatly from mental health issues and I think our world would become a much happier and safer place if we put more emphasis on helping those in need. My hope is that the stigma is slowly waning and people will feel comfortable and safe to speak up about their feelings. Additionally, on a sporting level, I do believe clubs and organizations can do much more to help athletes speak openly about their emotional/mental issues just like they do with physical issues.

BOTN: When you eventually do hang up your boots, will we see the evolution of Landon Donovan the player to Landon Donovan the manager? Do you see yourself as US men’s national manager one day?

LD: I do have some desire to become a manager one day but I have a lot of learning to do before that may become a reality one day.

Donovan with former US national teammate Stuart Holden commenting on USA vs Trinidad (Image from Twitter - @landondonovan)

Donovan with former US national teammate Stuart Holden commenting on USA vs Trinidad (Image from Twitter – @landondonovan)

BOTN: Recently you became a dad for the second time – congratulations on that! How has fatherhood changed your perspective on life and your plans for the future?

LD: The main way fatherhood has changed my life is that I have become ultimately selfless.  Life is now about my children and trying to give them the tools to become healthy and happy human beings.

BOTN: Finally, your former teammate David Beckham revealed that one of his sons did not want to become a professional footballer because the pressure of following David and the legacy he left in the game would be too much to cope with. Will you be encouraging your sons to follow in your footsteps or do you believe that the expectations may be too much as well, given all that you have achieved in the game?

LD: My sons can do whatever they want in life, whether that includes soccer or not.  Most of all, I just want them to be happy and have meaning in life.

BOTN: Landon, thank you again for talking with us, and good luck for the rest of the season!

Landon supports the work of a local San Diego Charity called TravelingStories which empowers kids to outsmart poverty by providing the literacy and money management skills they need to become productive members of society.

Follow Landon on Twitter: @landondonovan, Facebook: @landondonovan and Instagram: landondonovan10

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The End of The Line For Stoke and West Brom?

Surviving in the Premier League is often considered a harder proposition than being successful in it. With the gap growing between the top six and the rest, the fight to remain off the bottom three at the end of the season has become more competitive than ever before. This season has been a great example of this with eight points separating eighteenth placed Southampton and tenth placed Bournemouth with only a handful of games left to go. Whilst Bournemouth (and Watford in eleventh) are unlikely to be dragged into this dog fight given that they are four points away from the magical 40 points safety mark, nine clubs are still entrenched in the battle for survival. There is a lot to play for given the financial rewards in play for staying in the division (each club earns around £40 million from the Premier Leagues lucrative TV deals).

For the two clubs below Southampton – Stoke in nineteenth and West Bromwich Albion in twentieth surviving the drop is looking increasingly less likely each passing week.  Stoke’s latest defeat to Everton; a must win game based on their remaining fixtures was a heavy blow for the club. New boss Paul Lambert, parachuted in 10 weeks ago to replace Mark Hughes has no intention of giving up but it will surely take a miracle for them to stay up now. Three  points adrift of safety in seventeenth having played an extra game than West Ham who occupy that spot, Stoke are in desperate need of a run of form in order to get them out of trouble. With only six wins all season and a goals against tally which is double their goals scored (58 vs 29), Stoke quite simply cannot win. Their last victory was a 2-0 win over Huddersfield which coincided with Lambert’s first game in charge but since then the club has returned to its pre Lambert form with four draws and three wins in the last seven.

Paul Lambert arrival ten weeks ago was meant to kickstart Stoke’s season (Image from Tumblr)

The defeat to Everton, who have been in indifferent form under Sam Allardyce for most of the season highlighted the issues that Lambert is battling against – starting well in the first twenty minutes before losing concentration and capitulating at the back. Midfielder Charlie Adam’s dismissal was cited as a turning point in this match but in truth Stoke’s problems started before he walked. Much was expected of Stoke this year after they spent heavily in the summer with previous boss Hughes bringing in defenders Kevin Wimmer, Kurt Zouma (albeit on loan), Bruno Martins Indi and Mortiz Bauer as well as defensive midfielders Darren Fletcher and Badou Ndiaye plus the extravagant Jese from PSG who was supposed to take Stoke to the next level. None with the exception of perhaps Fletcher and Bauer to a lesser degree have worked as Stoke huffed and puffed through most games until Hughes eventually was dismissed.

The only thing keeping Stoke off of the bottom of the table is the poorer form of West Brom. On field inefficiencies and off field high jinks have left baggies fans deflated and facing their first relegation from the Premier League in eight years. Three wins all season and ten points behind West Ham with seven games to go, it will take a miracle now for West Brom to avoid the drop. Manager Alan Pardew who arrived in November to replace Tony Pulis has been unable to turn around their fortunes and in particular solve the clubs goalscoring problem with their lead strikers Jay Rodriguez and Salomon Rondon only finding the net five times each in the league this season. Like Stoke, West Brom spend well in the summer with hefty layouts for Rodriguez, young Scottish winger Oliver Burke, former Arsenal full back Kieran Gibbs and Egyptian Ahmed Hegazy but the team has failed to deliver when it mattered most.

Pardew has been unable to turn around West Brom’s fortunes so far (Image from Tumblr)

For Pardew it has been a disappointing spell in charge that was summed up by two incidents during his short tenure. The first was the behaviour of four senior players including club captain Jonny Evans and Gareth Barry during a winter training break to Portugal. The trip was meant to bring the players collectively together and focus their minds on the task of surviving but instead it turned into an unwanted media circus as the two fore-mentioned players plus Jake Livermore and Boaz Myhill stole a taxi cab and were arrested by the police as a result. All four were suspended by the club but eventually brought back into the fold fairly swiftly by Pardew as he had little alternative given the predicament the club has found itself in and the need for experienced players at this time. Not Pardew’s finest hour but you can forgive him given his lack of other option. The second incident involved the arrival of Daniel Sturridge from Liverpool on loan during the transfer window. Signed as a fix for West Brom’s lack of potency upfront, Sturridge has only made three appearances, collectively managing 78 minutes in total and no goals. Oh and he has been injured since mid February after pulling his hamstring three minutes into their game with Chelsea.

Sturridge limped off after only 3 minutes against Chelsea (Image from Tumblr)

Both clubs face difficult run ins in their remaining fixtures with Stoke facing Arsenal, Spurs and in form Liverpool whilst West Brom face Man Utd, Liverpool and Spurs. Both clubs also face sides just above them in the table including Newcastle, Swansea, West Ham and Crystal Palace but those games could prove trickier to navigate especially as they too are fighting tooth and nail to remain in  the division. They say that hope springs eternal but for Stoke and West Brom fans that hope is slowly slipping away and being replaced with the realism that Championship football likely awaits them next season.

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Raising Awareness Of The Silent Killer Affecting Football

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide (Image from Getty)

Depression affects 350 million people worldwide
(Image from Getty)

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

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

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Jordan Pickford is a great signing for Everton

In the awkward few weeks after the league season has ended and before any summer tournaments have begun, fans are left with new signings to pretend to be outraged about. There is a new unspoken rule that all players must be written off and doubted before they have even been unveiled these days.

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Pickford’s transfer fee raised some eyebrows but will it turn into a good investment by Everton in the end? (Image from Tumblr)

Next up was Everton’s new signing Jordan Pickford, signed from Sunderland for around £30m. Never mind that he is an exciting, young, English goalkeeper (and boy are they needed), many were quick to bring him down a peg or two. Whilst the fee may sound crazy, perhaps looking at the deal from Sunderland’s perspective offers some insight. The Black Cats, newly relegated, in serious debt and selling their most valuable player, were hardly going to sell cheap. From Everton’s point of view, you have to ask yourself 3 questions:

Does he improve Everton?
Yes, bloody hell yes. Everton have struggled badly in goal for years now. Maarten Stekelenburg was a terrible signing and Joel Robles, who has been at the club for 4 years, isn’t up to scratch either. Signing a new keeper and a replacement for Romelu Lukaku are the top priorities for Ronald Koeman this summer.

 

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Pickford is a solid shot stopper who will only improve over time (Image from Tumblr)

Would any of Everton’s rivals sign him?
Pickford was undoubtedly one of the breakthrough players of last year. Any team in the top six would like to have Pickford either as a starter or future No.1, so Everton are conceivably beating off some stiff competition for Pickford.

Can Everton afford it?
It’s worth remembering that Lukaku will probably leave for upwards of £70m this summer so I’d say they can easily afford to invest in other areas. Everton have already spent similar amounts of money on Morgan Schneiderlin and Yannick Bolasie in the last 12 months.

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Long England career ahead for Pickford (Image from Tumblr)

In a previous post, I talked about how important and undervalued goalkeepers are and how it’s about time teams started spending big money on their keepers. Everton have identified that problem in their team and Pickford, at 23 years of age, is a long term solution. From an England point of view, its great news too. An up an coming talent is moving to a big club to learn and improve. At Goodison, he’ll play in a strong team (Everton had the 6th best defence last year) and hopefully get good experience in the cup competitions and play European football. Try and ignore the price in today’s market, just look at the player. Pickford’s a real prospect, a great keeper and much needed at Everton. You’d love him at your club.

Post by Tough Tackler – @thetoughtackler (www.toughtackler.co.uk)

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Are EPL clubs too fiscally irresponsible?

Money. It’s something we all want and need. After all it’s what makes the world go round. We all clamber to make more than our neighbour and be better than our rivals. Football clubs especially in the EPL are no different. With the pressure to continuously improve and be better than everyone else in the league, more money than ever is being spent by the twenty clubs in the EPL. That ability to spend is unlike any other time in the leagues history as overpriced TV deals and lucrative rule bending sponsorships flood the clubs with an abundance of cash. That allows the clubs to pay over the odds for players in transfer fees and salaries but at what cost long-term? Are the EPL clubs acting fiscally responsible with the money at their disposal or instead whittling away their cash like a recent lottery winner at an expensive car dealership?

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Like lottery winners, clubs are spending money without thinking long term (image from tumblr)

In the last week we have seen three transfers already concluded. Newly promoted Huddersfield have been quick to move to secure the full-time services of Aaron Mooey after the Manchester City midfielder impressed during a loan spell at the club last season. A fee of £8m with add ons has been agreed for the Australian international who failed to make a single appearance at the Etihad. Former champions Leicester have sealed a deal with relegated Hull for their central defender, Harry Maguire. The clubs have settled on a fee of £17million for the player who many believe is tipped for bigger things. Finally Everton completed the transfer of  Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford. The youngster leaves the Stadium of Light in a £25million deal that could rise to £30millon thanks to add ons.

Pickford moves to Everton following an impressive debut season with Sunderland (image from Tumblr)

Pickford moves to Everton following an impressive debut season with Sunderland (image from Tumblr)

Whilst none of these deals have been surprising and all appear as good business sense for the selling clubs (Mooy was a free transfer, Maguire a £2.5m acquisition and Pickford promoted from Sunderland’s youth ranks), it is baffling how no one appears to be questioning the vast amounts of money being paid out for these players. Not an eyelid was blinked when they were announced which is an indictment of how crazy transfers have gotten in the EPL. The transfer fees of players in England have been rising for a long time, since Trevor Francis became the countries first £1m signing. But with an influx of cash now flooding in to the league from over hyped TV deals, the sublime has become the ridiculous in regards to fees paid.  Take for example Jordan Pickford. He was without doubt the single shining light in Sunderland’s abysmal season last year and is quite rightly considered a future England national star but is he really worth £30m?

TV deals like Sky's are pumping billions into the EPL (Image from Tumblr)

TV deals like Sky’s are pumping millions into the EPL clubs (Image from Tumblr)

In the past, Everton’s transfer budget has been limited at best with their average net spend for the past ten years coming in at £7.3million (half of those years saw Everton post a profit with their player sales more than covering their purchases). So an outlay of £30million for one player seems extravagant. But with wealthy new owners, soaring profits from those tv deals and lofty ambitions, Everton are a club on the rise and prepared to spend big. The rumoured amount available to manager Ronald Koeman is said to be close to £150 million which would rise if he were to sell key assets like Lukaku and Barkley. That might seem like a lot but with a market of over inflated priced and mad dash to get ahead of the chasing pack, that money wont stretch far. It wouldn’t even be enough to buy Europe’s current hottest prospect, Monaco’s french striker Kylian Mbappe who would be allowed to leave for a cool £165million. Ironically it may be enough to secure arguable the worlds best player, Cristiano Ronaldo who rumours suggest is ready to leave Real Madrid for £95million.

Mbappe is the hottest prospect in the world right now (image from tumblr)

Mbappe is the hottest prospect in the world right now (image from tumblr)

That in itself highlights a problem. Like the housing markets in cities like Toronto, New York and London, people are paying over the odds for properties that are not worth half of what they are shelling out. The same is happening in football and the fear is that long-term (like the housing markets) a correction or crash is just around the corner. Clubs are foolishly banking on the money still pouring in by the dump truck loads but what if it suddenly dries up? What if TV companies like Sky, BT and NBC refuse to buckle to the EPL’s demands for more and more cash leaving the league with no option but to sell it for less. The returns to the clubs would be less leaving them with potential shortfalls and gaps with a realistic possibility of being unable to afford to pay the astronomical wages of the players they have just expensively acquired. Financial ruin could be around the corner for clubs who are not acting fiscally responsible.

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Housing markets like Toronto are seeing over inflated prices for commodities much like the current football landscape (Image from Tumblr)

The argument has been and will remain so whilst the money is there that to be competitive you have to spend even if that means paying over the odds. But for clubs like Stoke, Crystal Palace, Bournemouth and West Brom being competitive means finishing mid table with a potential good run in the cups. Winning the league is not likely (not impossible as we saw with Leicester but given the growing gap in wealth between the top eight and the rest is getting harder) so for them does it make sense to break to bank and their financial future to do so? UEFA have tried to enforce financial fair play rules to restrict the threat of clubs spending beyond their means but they were too vague and open for manipulation which some clubs are now actively exploiting.

UEFA's financial fair play guidelines - more of a nice to know than an enforced policy (Image from Tumblr)

UEFA’s financial fair play guidelines – more of a nice to know than an enforced policy (Image from Tumblr)

So what is the solution? To be honest it’s not an easy answer. Should clubs stop buying all together? No of course not. Should the clubs be restricted to amount of money they spend per season (similar to a salary cap)? Possible. Should clubs look to put away some of the cash for a rainy day or invest it in other ways? Definitely. Using the cash to build long-term infrastructure developing youth prospects and creating world-class facilities can be an investment in the clubs future. It may not deliver results straight away but it could be a valuable fall back plan if things do start to go belly up. But most of all clubs need to think more carefully about how they spend their money and on who. This is not to say that Mooy, Maguire or Pickford are not good signings but when it feels like you are paying too much for someone it usually means that you are.Share your thoughts now on

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Everton hand Barkley an ultimatum – sign or go

The future of Ross Barkley as an Everton player looks less obvious this week following revelations that the player has been handed an ultimatum by the clubs manager, Ronald Koeman. The Dutchman appears to have lost patience with the England midfielder and his reluctance to sign a new deal so has given him until next weekend to sign or he will be sold in the summer. Koeman indicated in a recent press conference that the club has been in conversation with Barkley and his representatives about a new deal for some time now but its believed that the player is stalling as he surveys his options. With Tottenham rumoured to be interested, Barkley perhaps doesn’t want to sign anything that could close that door permanently.

 

Barkley is already an England international (Image from Tumblr)

Barkley is already an England international (Image from Tumblr)

With a year left on his deal, Everton need to either have the player sign a new long term deal or sell him in the summer to avoid losing him for free the following year. At 23 years old, Barkley is a rising talent and with that has seen his potential transfer valuation rise considerably to around $20m. Whilst now backed by a wealthy new owner, Everton are set up to be profitable and would not look kindly on waving goodbye to that type of money if Barkley was to exit on a bosman. In addition to this Barkley is viewed by Koeman as a player of immense quality who could play a big part in his team going forward. The former Holland defender who has been at Goodison since last summer is slowly building a side capable of challenging for firstly domestic honours and has all but secured a 7th place finish for Everton this season.

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Koeman is building a new team that he wants Barkley to be part of (Image from Tumblr)

As part of his forward plans, Koeman has been securing some of his star players on longer term contracts including Seamus Coleman and Kevin Mirallas who have signed new deals in recent weeks. in addition to this, Koeman has added a flurry of youth talents to his squad through either acquisition (Lookman, Holgate) or promotion from the clubs flourishing youth development system (Kenny, Davies, Calvert Lewin) which all bodes well for the future. In recent weeks he has also cemented his own future at the club despite rumours of interest from one of his former clubs, Barcelona who will be seeking a new manager in the summer with current boss Luis Enrique set to depart. Koeman acknowledged the rumour but distanced himself from the role stating that he had a job to finish at Everton.

Mason Holgate is one of several new young players in the Everton squad (image from Tumblr)

Mason Holgate is one of several new young players in the Everton squad (image from Tumblr)

As to what Barkley will decide to do is unknown but the player who came through the youth ranks at Everton is said to be happier now under Koeman than under previous boss Roberto Martinez. This is in part to Koeman giving Barkley more freedom to play his natural game and influence the direction of matches when he can. Not stuck to a specific position Barkley has regained his confidence and at times this season has demonstrated why many see him as a long term England star. Koeman has nurtured the player this year and at times has increased the pressure on him by openly criticizing his development to the media or dropping him for important games. To be fair it has been exactly what Barkley has needed in order to continue to grow as a player. But how Barkley himself has taken to the criticism and being dropped is uncertain. On one hand he may look at Koeman as someone who he can learn from and buy into the Dutchman’s vision of where he wants to take the club. But he could also see his expiring contract as an escape route to greener pastures and potential trophies which to date have eluded him at Everton. One thing is sure is that Barkley has a choice to make and he needs to make it quickly or Koeman and Everton may just make it for him.

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Can Conte and Chelsea hold off Tottenham’s challenge to clinch the title?

For the longest time it looked as though there wouldn’t be a title race in the Premier League as Chelsea pulled out in front and started to put breathing space between them and the others. The chasing pack stuttered through its fixtures whilst Chelsea notched win after win to put themselves in a commanding position by Christmas. The challenge by Guardiola’s Manchester City never materialized as he woke up to the severity of the situation he faces whilst Jose Mourinho struggled to get his new look Manchester United side to convert a draw into a win on too many occasions. Arsenal’s off field “Will he go, won’t he go” saga with Arsene Wenger derailed their push early on whilst Liverpool’s patchy away form stalled Klopp’s chances of lifting the trophy for now. That left Tottenham as the only potential suitor who could catch Chelsea and wreck their title party. The race was on with the two best teams in the league going full pelt for the finish line.

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It is debatable which team; Chelsea or Tottenham is the best in the Premier League. Many favour Spurs purely based on their attractive brand of football that has produced a similar amount of goals as their south London rivals but at the same time leaked less at the back. Added into this, Pochettino’s men are on fire with a recent run of nine straight wins putting them firming back into the title race. But its Conte’s side that holds top spot and have everything to lose. Four points separate the two going into the last four games. On paper, Tottenham have the harder run in with West Ham, Manchester United, current champions Leicester and Hull still to come. Chelsea on the other hand face Middlesbrough, West Brom, Watford and relegated Sunderland. Whilst its hard to see Tottenham dropping points at this stage based on their current form, its equally hard to see where Chelsea will slip up; conceding the points that Spurs would need to overtake them.

Tottenham have been sensational this season with Kane and Alli in particularly good form (Image from Tumblr)

Tottenham have been sensational this season with Kane and Alli in particularly good form (Image from Tumblr)

Last Sunday’s trip to Goodison was the potential banana skin that lay in wait but Chelsea simply side stepped it with a stellar second half performance and walked away with a comfortable three points. Spurs did their part to keep things interesting with a strong 2-0 victory over Arsenal ensuring the first season in 22 attempts that they will finish above their other London rivals. It also put them onto 77 points, the most points the club has ever achieved. Twelve points still remain so Tottenham could finish on a club record breaking 89 points and still not end up as champions. Only Manchester United (92-93, 99-00, 08-09), Arsenal (03-04) and Chelsea (04-05, 05-06) have finished with more points. What that means is that this tally would have been good enough to win the league in 14 of the past 25 seasons (plus potentially a further five more title depending on what their goal difference will be at the end of the campaign).

Conte celebrates with his players after securing a valuable three points against Everton (Image from Tumblr)

Conte celebrates with his players after securing a valuable three points against Everton (Image from Tumblr)

That itself is an illustration of how good Chelsea have been this year. Relentless to the end in many ways. Conte will be aiming for full points as well which would see Chelsea finish on 93 points. That would be three points better than Arsenal’s Invincibles of 2003-2004 (who went unbeaten the entire season) and only two points worse off that the current points holder, Chelsea who in Jose Mourinho’s first season in charge secured the title with a staggering 95 points (they lost only once but drew eight times much to the Special Ones annoyance).

Better than the Invincibles? (Image from Tumblr)

Better than the Invincibles? (Image from Tumblr)

Conte’s side have lost five times this season but have drawn considerably less games than Mourinho’s team hence the points gap but the argument can be made that the league has changed and become harder to win in recent years making Conte’s achievements all that more special. Conte will be hoping that he can steer his team over the finishing line in style and in doing so become only the fourth Italian manager to lift the premier League following in the footsteps of Carlo Ancelotti (Chelsea), Roberto Mancini (Man City) and of course last years surprise winner with Leicester Claudio Ranieri.

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Predictions For the Premier League Season

So the first weekend of the new Premier League season has been and gone. Today I’m going to run through my predictions for the coming season and to preview what i think will happen. So here goes:

Champions – Manchester United

This might be a controversial choice but i feel that Utd have a manager in Mourinho who has done it all before. He has the experience and knowledge about the league and knows what it takes to win the title. Along with the signings he has made in Pogba, Ibrahimovic, Mkhitarayan and Bailly, these players will add that bit of quality to a promising side. Won’t be an easy ride but think they will win the league. Just.

Top 4 – Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea 

Guardiola will just miss out on glory in his first season in the English game. Yes his signings have been impressive but i feel they won’t be enough to take this team to a title win. Guardiola will need time to adjust to the league as well and given the injury problems to key men Aguero and Kompany it won’t be an easy ride for the boy’s in blue. Liverpool under Klopp will be a force this season. After having a full pre season with his players i think it’s now time for them to push on. Showed signs of promise last year and i feel they will do well this season. Chelsea with Conte is a hard one. I feel if they can replicate the way they were playing come the end of last season and take Conte’s style of play under their belts then they could be in with a shout of a Champions League finish. If they don’t it could be a long hard season for the team.

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Liverpool beat Arsenal in the opening weekend but can they beat them to a top four finish? (Image from Tumblr)

Relegated – Hull, Burnley and West Brom

All three of these teams have just not made enough quality signings to give themselves a chance of staying in the league. Simple as that. Hull has brought in no new players, no permanent manager and a owner who has caused problems since day one with the club. This only means one thing. Goodbye Hull. I like Burnley. I like their manager in Sean Dyche but i feel they just don’t have enough quality on the field to get enough wins which ultimately grants survival in this league. Andre Gray is the only chance they have of staying up. If he is scoring, well they could have a fight on their hands. West Brom is a choice i couldn’t decide on. The thing is Pulis usually guarantees you survival and has shown that in his history in the league but something just tells me that with the ongoing Saido Berahino saga dragging on and with no real moves being made to get new players in, it could be a long season for the team.

Surprise team of the season  – Everton

It was either going to be West Ham or Everton that was my choice here but i have went for the Merseyside team. With Ronald Koeman coming in to replace Martinez as manager, the club has made a big statement of where they are looking to go this coming year. Giving the new owners at the club and the sale of John Stones it means there is money to spend at Everton. If Koeman continues to spend the cash well and can get Lukaku, Barkley and Deulofeu playing again, i predict good things for the club with a top eight finish and a cup run.

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Can Koeman revitalize Everton this season? (Image from Tumblr)

Player of the Year – Paul Pogba

Yes this might of been expected but i feel this guy is going to tear the league up. Once he finds his feet and starts to get to know his new teammates i think they will be no stopping this man.  As i have said previously this guy has it all and with Mourinho at the helm big things will be expected.

Young Player of the Year – Alex Iwobi 

The young Arsenal forward is going to make a name for himself this year after showing glimpses of what he could do last season. With 13 appearances and 2 goals last year in the league and an outing at the Nou Camp in the Champions League , this boy can only get better this coming year. I expect the 20 year old to improve and show what he can do when given the chance and to cement his place in the starting 11.

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Rising star – Alex Iwobi (Image from Tumblr)

Top Scorer – Romelu Lukaku 

Lukaku is going to one of the hottest strikers on the planet next year. In a poor Everton side he scored 17 goals which was a club best return in the Premier League era. I expect him to easily get past the 20 goal target and to get the Golden boot.

So there it is my short post about who i feel will do well come the end of the season. Let me know what you think and what your predictions are. Let’s see how if they are correct at the end of the year.

Post by Derek McAllister – writer for Footballs11blog

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Key Challenges Facing Ronald Koeman at Everton

Ronald Koeman’s move from Southampton to Everton may have come as a bit of a surprised given his recent comments rebutting any notions of such a switch but in fairness it makes a lot of sense. Whilst just over 238 miles separate the two clubs geographically and five positions part them in the most recent league standings, the differences between the two clubs are few and far between. Granted an argument can be structured based on history including title wins and European adventures that Everton are the bigger club, but in truth there current respective setups both on the field and off it have them on a similar path. Both clubs whether they like it or not are selling clubs, producing players that will gain first team exposure before being sold for a hefty profit in order to finance the next batch. Both have fallen on hard times over the past twenty years (Southampton more so) that has resulted in a drastic rethink of the philosophy and approach. Both have tasted some success too in the pitch with good runs leading to top six finishes that have yielded European football the following year. The only noticeable difference between the two clubs is the owners and their mindset about what to do next. At Southampton its business as normal with owner Katharina Liebherr preferring to stick with the tried and tested model of buying cheaply from abroad or promoting from the clubs stellar youth academy to bolster the squad. Reckless transfers or overpayments are definitely jot on the cards at St. Mary’s. That is in stark contrast to Everton’s new owner, Farhad Moshiri who is gearing up for a summer shopping spree that Everton fans rarely saw under the previous more frugal ownership of Bill Kenwright. Moshiri believes that progress on this seasons 11th placed finish will only be achieved by buying big and improving the squad, something that will appeal to Koeman’s hunger to grow as a manager. Ultimately Koeman wants to leave the UK for his dream job as manager of Barcelona but first he must be a success at Everton to prove his worth. So following on from Roberto Martinez what three things must the Dutchman do to improve Everton’s current predicament.

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Koeman dreams of managing Barcelona one day (Image from Tumblr)

Keep his big name players

To win football matches, you need to retain your best players. It sounds simple but is often something that most managers fail to acknowledge. Koeman’s first task will be to persuade his three best players to stay for at least one more season. The speculation surrounding the futures of John Stones, Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku has become deafening with the only relief from it being that the attention has momentarily switched to the Euros. But come the end of the tournament in France, discussions will be required and decisions will need to be made concerning this important trio. Koeman will be persuasive but in some cases it may be a losing battle with the player having already decided to leave. If that is the case, Koeman has experience in dealing with it at Southampton where each summer one or two of his best players would depart under their own steam for pastures new. Rebuilding is in his blood and Koeman knows how to do it well so if Stones, Barkley and/or Lukaku hand in a request to leave he will be ready. Koeman has shown already that he is a tough negotiator and better still a shrewd spotter of talent. The signing by Southampton of Dusan Tadic, a fairly unknown Serbian winger plying his trade in Holland is a great example as is Virgil Van Dijk who was brought in from Celtic. Both players became key components of Koeman’s team at St Mary’s as will any new recruit brought in to replace exiting stars at Everton.

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Discover the secret to consistency

Under Martinez, Everton struggled to find consistency. One week they would be superb picking apart their opponent with ease and passing the ball effortlessly around the pitch. The following week they couldn’t hit a barn door from five yards or find a teammate in space if their lives depended on it. Consistency is key to a strong season. Look at Leicester who shocked the world by winning this years title with two common themes running throughout – teamwork and consistancy. Koeman needs to discover the special sauce at Everton that turns possession into points on the good days and thrashes out 1-0 wins on the bad ones. If he can strike a balance between defending as a unit and then breaking forward as one too then he should be able to propel Everton further up the table towards those coveted European slots.

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Koeman found a formula that worked for Southampton but can he do the same for Everton? (Image from Tumblr)

Promote from within

Finally it’s important especially to the Everton fans to promote from within as they like to see one of their own taking in field in the dark blue jersey. Roberto Martinez did managed to do this giving starts to youth talent like Tyias Browning and the excellent Brendan Galloway but he struggled to find the right balance in the sides he put out. Koeman has shown at Southampton that he is not afraid to trust youth products, fielding Matthew Targett and James Ward Prowse on a semi regular basis but again has struggled to find a working balance between experienced pros and exciting young talent. To be fair the benchmark was set high by Koeman’s predecessor at Southampton Mauricio Pochettino who did manage to incorporate several academy prospects into his teams. With one of the best youth systems in the Premier League (alongside Southampton ironically) Koeman must look to the clubs academy for the next batch of first team regulars. Ryan Ledson is one such prospect and is expected to make the transition soon but how Koeman balances the need for blood these youngsters with the pressures of getting results is still to be seen.

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US stopper Tim Howard Agrees To MLS Return

 

In a much anticipated move, MLS side Colorado Rapids have announced that they have signed US goalkeeper Tim Howard from English Premier League side Everton. The player himself announced his return with a quirky 15 second Claymation video by Uninterrupted. The move ends Howard’s thirteen-year stay in England where he has racked up 397 appearances so far, first with Manchester United and now with Everton where he has become a fan favourite. Despite being 37 years old, Howard still has the ability to compete at the highest level but having lost his starting spot in the Everton goal to Spaniard Joel Robles, the American shot stopper has decided that it is time to return home. The move to join Colorado was completed late last month but the club decided to wait to announce their new acquisition to allow the player and Everton to focus on several crunch games in the English league and cup competitions. Howard signs a three and a half year deal with the club to become one of their designated players and joins for a fee of just over $600,000 in the summer.

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Howard has racked up nearly 400 Premier league appearances so far (Image from Matt West/BPI)

The move signals Howard’s return to the league where it all began just under 20 years ago. As a native of North Brunswick, it made sense for Howard to join the New York/New Jersey Metrostars (now New York Red Bulls) as a 18 year old. However few expected that he would have the impact that he did. In his debut game ironically against Colorado, Howard gave a dazzling performance making five crucial saves as the Metrostars ran out 4-1 victors. That performance set Howard up for success and he did not disappoint, establishing himself as a important part of the Metrostars team over the next five years. With his growing reputation came the early accolades of his career, winning MLS goalkeeper of the year in 2001 and representing his country at under 20 and Under 23 level. It wouldn’t be long before Howard started to gain attention from abroad and when Manchester United came calling in 2003, Howard knew that his life was about to change massively.

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Howard’s move to Manchester United propelled him into the spotlight (Image from Getty)

Signed as a direct replacement for the outgoing French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez in a $4m deal, Howard was dropped firmly into the deep end at one of the world’s biggest clubs. Under the management of the legendary figure of Sir Alex Ferguson, Howard would excel in his opening season winning the FA cup (becoming in the process only the second American to do so). However his second season would be more problematic with Howard losing confidence then his place to Roy Carroll. He would eventually regain it but by then the seed of doubt had been planted firmly in Ferguson’s mind. After United signing Edwin van der Sar from Fulham, Howard was sold to Everton where he has made a majority of his PL appearances during a ten year stint with the Liverpool club. Throughout that time, Howard consistently showed the world exactly how good a shot stopper he is helping the club to establish its self as a permanent fixture in the top half of the league table. He would also play a starring role for the United States, earning over 100 caps with stand out performances at the 2010 and 2014 World Cup including a man of the match performance against Portugal in the latter which spawned a million memes and landed him a meeting with the US president.

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Following his breathtaking performance against Portugal, the internet exploded with millions of memes of Howard saving things (Image from Google)

Howard spoke to ESPN Sport center shortly after the announcement, stating that the timing was right for the move and that he will always remember his time in England fondly. Howard returns at a time when Colorado are undergoing a rebuilding exercise after several disappointing campaigns. The signing of Howard adds experience to the side managed by former US international colleague Pablo Mastroeni. The new coach will be hoping that Howard can lend his support both on and off the field potentially paving the way for Howard to move into coaching once he hangs up his boots.

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Controversy As Man City Books Final Date With Liverpool

With the shadow of Pep Guardiola hanging over him, there appears to be very little that Manuel Pellegrini can do. The Chilean manager is widely expected to be replaced by Guardiola as Manchester City boss at the end of the season but to all watching it would appear as thought Pellegrini is not planning on going down without a fight and is looking to win the four tournaments City remain in to make his point. His first chance of reaching a final came last night with the second league of the League Cup semi final against Everton. Trailing 2-1 from the first leg, City approached the game with caution knowing that Everton have the ability to hit on the break. For Roberto Martinez, it was important for his side to burst out of the blocks and take control of the game, which is exactly what they did. Everton controlled the first half, taking the game to City and eventually finding the breakthrough thanks to sensational run and shot by Ross Barkley. Fernandinho did snatch a goal back moments later but it was very much against the play with Everton more likely to press on and win the match.

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Ross Barkley looks to have set Everton on their way with a wonderful solo goal (Image by Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

But in the second half, it was City who was very much in control. Credit where it’s due must go to Manuel Pellegrini. The Manchester City manager made two tactical changes at half time that swung the tie back in favour of his side. One of the two changes made – to push Sterling out wide leaving Aguero up front on his own with Navas coming on for Delph widened City’s play and stretched Everton to their fullest. Eventually City’s new-found width paid off with Sterling in particular causing havoc on the left flank which lead to City taking the lead in somewhat controversial circumstances. Picking up the ball wide on the left, Sterling raced towards the byline with Stones in pursuit only to reach the ball and pull it back for the waiting Kevin De Bruyne to slam home. However replies show that the ball was over the line when Sterling cut it back so the goal should not have stood.

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De Bruyne pokes home Sterling’s cross (Image from Getty)

It mattered little as less than six minutes later, City made the result clear with their third goal. A mistake by John Stones, who strangely was playing at right back ahead of Seamus Coleman, let Sergio Aguero ghost into the box to head home a perfect cross by De Bruyne. It would be one of the Belgian’s final contributions with the midfielder brutally brought down in the closing minutes by Funes Mori and now in danger of missing the remainder of the season with suspected cruciate damage. City will be hoping to have him fit in time for the final, which will be against Liverpool after Jurgen Klopp side squeezed through on penalties against Stoke. Leading 1-0 from the first leg, Liverpool looked to keep things tight at the back but with a host of first team players out injured, the task was not an easy one against a rapidly improving Stoke. Mark Hughes side pushed Liverpool back from the start and controlled the first half well eventually taking the lead at the end of the first half thanks to a beautifully crafted team goal converted by Austrian Marko Arnautovic.

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Stoke looked the better side in the first half and took the lead through Arnautovic (pictured) – Image by Getty

Starting from the centre spot, a quick interchange of passing put Bojan clear through on the right. He beat his market Moreno before delivering a beautifully place cross for Arnautovic to power home. With the momentum now very much in their favour, Stoke pushed for a second goal to kill off the game. But the Potters found it hard to break down Liverpool’s defence with Sahko in particular in spectacular form. Despite chances for both sides, the match ended in a stalemate and would be settled by a penalty shootout. Both sides scored their first penalties before Peter Crouch missed his and Emre Can saw his effort hit the post. The remaining penalties found the back of the net before Mignolet saved Marc Muniesa’s weak penalty and Joe Allen converted his effort to send Liverpool to Wembley.

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Allen scores the winning penalty to send Liverpool to Wembley (Image from getty)

A jubilant Jurgen Klopp ran on to the pitch to congratulate his players sad Allen’s penalty flew into the back of the net. A trip to Wembley is now on the cards for Klopp only four months since taking over at Liverpool. City may be favourites based on current form however they have already lost heavily to Liverpool under Klopp this season which will give the German hope that his side have a chance come February 28th.

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Why United’s Once Famous Youth Academy Lies In Ruins

Once the linchpin of the Manchester United setup, the clubs youth academy has seen better days and is in much need of a revamp. Having gained recognition for bringing through the class of ’92 which included both Neville brothers, Gary and Phil, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs and David Beckham, United are now failing to produce the stars of tomorrow and the youth setup is getting the blame. Since ’92, only a handful of players have emerged (Darren Fletcher, Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck, Jesse Lingard being the most recognizable) leading to calls to completely revamp the setup. Making matters worse is that several other clubs in the surrounding areas are now jumping ahead of United to sign up the best young talent in the region. Liverpool and Everton have both established promising connections with local youth sides in Manchester and are attracting players to join their youth setups with the promise of a quicker route to first team football. In addition, arch rivals Manchester City have also stepping up their youth development program with significant investment in their infrastructure, which is going along way in impressing kids to pick them ahead of United.

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Manchester City’s new state of the Art $200million Academy (Image from Getty)

The writing unfortunately has been on the wall for some time now. Early indications that something was amiss came towards the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign when then current players Darren Fletcher, Phil Neville and Robin van Persie chose to place their kids in Manchester City’s youth development scheme rather into United’s. But now the situation has worsened with key staff members and former players voicing their concerns about the failing state of the clubs academy. Reports surfacing from the club suggest that Derek Langley, the clubs head of youth development will quit the club at the end of the season after becoming disillusioned by going-ons at the Manchester United. Langely, who has been part of the United backroom team for the last 16 years has clashed on several occasions with club secretary John Alexander and Academy chief John Murtagh since they arrived in the summer, replacing Brian McClair. One of the key concerns Langley has is that the club has placed restrictions on him when it comes to youth recruitment making his job even harder. Added into this, the club’s decision to open the check book and buy from abroad rather than promote from within has meant that Langley’s job has become some what redundant.

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Youth Development Chief Derek Langley, here with another United hopeful, has become disillusioned and is set to leave after 16 years at the club (Image from Getty)

For a club with a rich history of blooding youngsters into their first team, it’s a troubling time for all concerned. Over the past five years there have been some promotions from the youth teams into the first team (Tom Cleverly, James Wilson, Tyler Blackett etc.) but all have either been sold or shipped out on loan after finding it too tough to break into the starting eleven. However the volume of players coming through is low in comparison to some other Premier League sides like Everton, Tottenham or West Ham. United are falling behind badly and unless changes are made quickly to the approach and the philosophy, the club could face an uncertain future where the only recourse they have would be to buy new players for the first team. At the heart of the problem is chief executive Ed Woodward who has taken little interest in youth development, preferring instead to focus on marquee signings and raising his own profile at the club. It is this neglect that is leading to a crumbling of the academy’s foundations to a point were its has fallen into disrepair and a complete restart may be needed.

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Youth prospects like Tyler Blackett are being farmed out rather than given a chance at the first team (Image from PA)

If United are to change it focus, they will need to do it fast. As mentioned before, their nearest rivals have already stolen a march and are operating far superior training facilities and youth development academies than United is. It will take a serious investment by the clubs owners to bring it up to par again and more importantly the long-term vision to see it through. The benefits however could outweigh the original outlay especially if they can bring through another class of 92. Those close to the club are hoping this is the case and that they will be heard but as yet their pleads have fallen on deaf ears. Only time will tell if united will correct its ways and once again reinvest in the youth development that has worked so well for them in the past.

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Sam Byram Set To Leave Leeds After Contract Talks Stall

A product of the Leeds United youth system, Sam Byram is one for the future. The 22 year old right back is well known to fans of the Football Manager franchise for being a steady performer and it would appear that once again fantasy is being replicated in reality. Having made 126 appearances for Leeds since his debut in 2012, he has established himself as an important member of the current Leeds team battling for promotion in the Championship. To the fans, he is widely seen as the future of the club along with a handful of other promising youngsters to have emerged in recent years including Alex Mowatt, Lewis Cook and Charlie Taylor. But his spell at Leeds United could be about to end and not by his own choice.

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Cook, Taylor, Mowatt and Byram – The future of Leeds United (Image from PA)

With less than a year on his contract to go, Leeds approached Byram with an offer of an extension. However the offer made to extend for a further two years came with the stipulation that he would be paid less than his current £12,000-a-week salary. Unsurprisingly the 22 year old who is currently Leeds second longest serving player behind Charlie Taylor rejected the offer in a move that frustrated the Leeds board. Given the financial and off field issues that the club is going through, the offer was understandable but surely they did not expect one of their best players to accept a deal on lesser terms based purely on loyalty to the club? Most players put in Byram’s position would have done the same but now his refusal to sign an extension has painted him in a bad light with the clubs owner, the controversial Massimo Cellino who is now willing to let him leave in January rather than lose him on a free in the summer if he is unwilling to sign a new contract. Manager Steve Evans finds himself in a difficult position as he looks to try to retain Byram but he knows that the player’s agent is more likely to encourage his star to look for greener pastures after what they called an insulting initial contract offer. For Byram the whole episode has been disappointing as the England Under 20’s star was keen to sign an extension and stay with the club. But now he looks set to leave with several Premier League clubs watching in anticipation.

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Massimo Cellino is happy to sell Byram now than let him leave for free in the summer (Image from IMG)

Front of the queue is Everton who have a good record of plucking players from the lower leagues and blending them into their side. Byram will look at how Everton have dealt with John Stones (who arrived from Barnsley), Brendan Galloway (from MK Dons) and Luke Garbutt (from Leeds) and how all three have been given their chance to impress. Under Roberto Martinez management and with the backing of owner Bill Kentwright, promoting youth players into the first team setup has been encouraged and is now a stable part of the Everton forward progression model. If he is to move to Everton, it could be as a direct replacement for Seamus Coleman who is attracting interest from Manchester United and Chelsea. Another club rumoured to be watching Byram closely is Newcastle. Steve McLaren is a fan of the young right back and his flexibility (he can also operate as a right midfielder or right winger) and wont rule out a move during the January transfer window. Gaining a first team spot however may be slightly trickier at St James Park given that the club already has Holland international Daryl Janmaat in the right back slot.  Finally there is Tottenham and the chance to work with Mauricio Pochettini. The Argentine is building an impressive young squad at Spurs and is a keen promoter of young English talent having let the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Ryan Mason flourish under his tutelage. His approach would be a welcomed one by Byram who can see the potential of working with the coach and the chance for him to make Byram into a full England international much like he did with the previously mentioned three.

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Brendan Galloway has earned a new contract at Everton thanks to a run in the first team and some superb performances (Image from Getty)

For Leeds United fans, its another indication of how far they have fallen. The clubs inability to hold on to one of its brightest prospects must irk the Elland Road faithful and further dent their confidence in gaining promotion back to the Premier League. For Byram, it will be a bittersweet end to his stay at the club, one he has cherished since he signed on in 2010. But the right back has a bright future ahead of him that will no doubt lead him to becoming a full England international. Maybe at that point Cellino will regret not offering him more money in order to keep him at Leeds and give them a better chance of promotion.

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Where next for Moyes As His Career Lies In Tatters

You have to wonder where has it all gone wrong for David Moyes? The move to the sunshine of Spain was meant to rejuvenate his managerial career but instead it has dented it even further. David Moyes apparent failure to ignite Real Sociedad’s fire has led to his sacking yesterday almost a year to the day that he took over. Despite rescuing Soceidad on his arrival last season, Moyes could not find the winning formula in this campaign and leaves the club dangling just above the relegation zone after only two wins in their first eleven games. With the international break now upon us, the timing makes a lot of sense and Sociedad have wasted no time in appointing its new manager, former Barcelona B boss Eusbeio Sacristan. As Moyes and his assistant Billy McKinley took their leave, the former Everton boss must have been wondering what went wrong and what is next.

Moyes spell at Real Sociedad has ended only a year after it began (Image from Getty)

Moyes spell at Real Sociedad has ended only a year after it began (Image from Getty)

His last challenge lasted less than a year too when he replaced Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. But his time at Old Trafford was always destined for failure. Replacing arguably the greatest manager the world has ever seen at a club whose fans expectations were at an all time high made the task daunting to the best of managers. Like a rebound girlfriend, longevity was never on the cards and before Moyes could complete his transitional season, he was sacked. Once viewed as the darling of the Premier League, Moyes reputation was in tatters. All of the hard work and good credibility generated through his time at Goodison had gone with many in the media clambering to question his managerial abilities. The job at United seemed to be too big for the Scotsman, a miscalculated leap that ended up being a canyon rather than a babbling brook. Battered and bruised, Moyes searched for a plausible return to management. Despite his disastrous spell at United, there were various offers on the table, some more appealing than others. Moyes knew that jumping back in to another Premier League job would not relieve him of the media glare that had hounded him so badly at United. The solution was a move abroad and in particular to Spain with Real Sociedad. Similar to Everton in their frugal yet calculated approach, Sociedad appeared to be offering Moyes exactly what he needed – time. Despite being ambitious to the last, the Sociedad board were realistic about the next few years and saw Moyes as the man to lead their transformation from relegation candidates to La Liga challengers much like he had done at Everton. But his failure to assimilate was his downfall, his lack of understanding of the Spanish language his boundary and his tough no nonsense approach to coaching the ever tightening noose around his neck.

Life at Old Trafford proved difficult for Moyes (Image from PA)

Life at Old Trafford proved difficult for Moyes
(Image from PA)

The question is where next for David Moyes? A return to the Premier League would be the more sensible approach given Moyes comfort and understanding of that league. But at present there are no jobs on offer. He was in the running for both Aston Villa and Sunderland managerial vacancies but turned them both down in favour of continuing his Spanish adventure. On reflection, it wasn’t perhaps the best decision but hindsight is a wonderful thing and to be fair to Moyes neither job looked more attractive than the one he current had. Moyes can financially afford to wait and see especially given the volatile nature that managers in the Premier League are forced to live under. It may be that come January there have been other sackings, the most likely candidates being Steve McLaren at Newcastle, Garry Monk at Swansea and Alex Neill at Norwich. The Newcastle job may appeal more than the other two but Moyes will face stiff competition from Ajax boss Frank De Boer who has publicly lauded over that job.

A move to Newcastle could appeal to Moyes if it was to become available (Image from NUFC)

A move to Newcastle could appeal to Moyes if it was to become available
(Image from NUFC)

If he doesn’t go back to England then continuing his European journey is another route. A return to Scotland with boyhood club Celtic could be appealing especially if they finally end the less than impressive tenure of current boss Ronny Deila or perhaps a move to Holland or Germany which has proven to have mixed results for British managers throughout the years. The last option would be a move into international football, much like Claudio Ranieri did with Greece or Guus Hiddink has done on several occasions. The job he would want in this space is currently filled by Gordon Strachan and is unlikely to be vacated anytime soon especially now that the Scotland manager has renewed his contract for the World Cup 2018 qualifying campaign. Taking charge of a foreign national team is also highly risky (again see Claudio Ranieri and Guus Hiddink) with a language barrier still a major factor in achieving success. Moyes will know that his next move needs to be the right one, not just the most convenient one. He needs to find another Everton, a place where he will be given the time, love and support he needs to transform an ugly duckling into a golden swan. Whether there is another Everton out there though is still to be seen.

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Mourinho’s Patience With Media Expires As Pressure Grows

Oh to be Jose Mourinho. The Chelsea manager’s torrid start to the new season continued on Saturday with a 3-1 home defeat to Liverpool, despite his side taking a fourth minute lead. Two strikes from Philippe Coutinho and a solo drive from Christian Benteke handed new manager Jurgen Klopp his first Premiership victory and heaped more pressure on his opposite number. Chelsea have now lost six of their first eleven games in an unexpected twist to this new season. What exactly has gone wrong is hard to say but many believe it’s a variety of factors all rolled into one that have caused this dip in form. Everything from player fitness, match tactics, lack of new signings and off field drama have been blamed but the one person who is receiving most of the criticism rightly or wrongly is manager Jose Mourinho. His behaviour since the start of the new campaign has been baffling, with the usually pragmatic Jose looking more sullen than before. The ailing health of his father during the summer may be a factor in this, which would also explain Chelsea’s late start to pre-season and the problems that have arisen from that which snowballed into a start that Mourinho would rather forget.

Mourinho and his staff held a meeting on the pitch after the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool (Image from PA)

Mourinho and his staff held a meeting on the pitch after the 3-1 defeat to Liverpool (Image from PA)

Due to this, the media hounding of Mourinho is not unexpected but the pace in which they have changed their opinion of the self-proclaimed Special One is startling. For a man who guided Chelsea to a convincing title win last season to be now be seen as a bad manager in this one is inconceivable yet the British press have been quick to doubt his capabilities and handling of Chelsea. Speculative stories have been printed about Mourinho’s future as early as the start of September only five games into the new season. That followed the 3-1 defeat to Everton, Chelsea’s third defeat of the new campaign, marking Chelsea’s worst start in the Premiership. Rumours of unrest between players and Mourinho surfaced quicker than Chelsea, the players and their manager could deny them. Then Mourinho’s impending sacking by owner Roman Abramovich lead to speculation over who will replace him. The manager reacted in typical style but the drain of constant media pressure seems to be getting to him; refusing on occasion to speak with them or when he does, like this past weekend, resorting to one or two-word answers.

In stark comparison, defending Italian champions Juventus have experienced little media pressure despite their poor start to the new season. Massimilano Allegri’s men sit in tenth place after eleven games played with only four wins to their name, three of which came in their last five matches. Whilst the start has not been ideal, the Italian press have been kind to the Juventus manager understanding that the season is still in its infancy and Allegri has time to turn things around especially given the circumstances. With several key players leaving in the summer, new recruits arriving and injuries to first team players, Allegri has understandably been unable to build on last years success which included a Champions League final spot. Allegri is under pressure but from the board rather than the media which appears to have given him more room for movement than his counterpart at Chelsea.

Juventus start to the season has been less than impressive yet Allegri is not under the microscope like Mourinho  (Image from ANSA/MATTEO BAZZI)

Juventus start to the season has been less than impressive yet Allegri is not under the microscope like Mourinho
(Image from ANSA/MATTEO BAZZI)

So what now for Chelsea? Abramovich would be crazy to fire Mourinho at this stage in the season. Unless the owner has Pep Guardiola lined up and ready to take over now, then sacking Mourinho would make little sense. Besides Pep, there are few managers in the world game as good as Mourinho or possessing the talent to turn things around. Mourinho needs time to figure out what is going wrong and stop the slide. With the struggling trio of Stoke, Norwich and Bournemouth to come in the next four fixtures, Chelsea’s revival could start as early as next Saturday. Nine points from these three games could propel Chelsea back up in the top half of the season and potentially close the now 14 point gap between them and early leaders Manchester City. Winning the title is likely beyond Chelsea now unless others slip up badly so a place in Europe will be the new target. Results will come with Mourinho in charge but only if he has the full backing of the board and of Abramovich especially in January’s transfer window. Only then will the British media leave Mourinho alone to do what he does best – build winning football teams.

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The Passing Of An Everton Legend – Remembering Howard Kendall

Preparing for the arrival of Manchester United is never easy but for Everton who played hosts to the Red Devils this past weekend, its was harder than ever. The club awoke up on Saturday to the terrible news that Everton legend and former manager Howard Kendall had died. A sense of numbness struck Goodison that day as the club mourned its fallen son. Kendall will be remembered not only as a great player for the club but as one of their greatest managers too. He would never earn a full England cap but that didn’t stop Kendall from becoming one of England’s most iconic figures, both on and off the pitch.

Howard Kendall who passed away on Saturday aged 69 (Image from EFC)

Howard Kendall who passed away on Saturday aged 69 (Image from EFC)

Originally bought as a defender, Everton’s then manager Harry Catterick saw something else in Kendall and converted him to a central midfielder in a move that would prove inspirational for Everton. As part of the famous Holy Trinity, along side Alan Ball and Colin Harvey, Everton won the First Division title in the 1969-1970 season. The following season Kendall would be handed the armband for the first time, a position he kept for the next three seasons. However despite his strong leadership, Everton failed to build on their title-winning success struggling to find consistency and the good form that had made them unstoppable the season before. Kendall would eventually leave  Everton in February 1974 but not after racking up 229 appearances for the club. After leaving Goodison, Kendall would go on to play for Birmingham and Stoke before joining Blackburn as player manager kick starting the next chapter of his life as a manager.

Howard Kendall playing for Everton in 1968  (Image from Getty)

Howard Kendall playing for Everton in 1968
(Image from Getty)

After spending two seasons with Blackburn, Everton came calling and the draw of returning proved too strong for Kendall. He joined originally as player manager but after playing only a handful of games, he decided to hang up his boots and concentrate on management full-time. At first, things never clicked for Kendall at Everton and was even on the verge of being sacked in January 1984. But Kendall persevered and turned the clubs fortunes around steering them to the League Cup final where they would lose to arch rivals Liverpool in a nail-biting game. But It wasn’t long before he tasted success winning the FA cup in the same season. From there, Kendall never looked back and under his tutelage Everton embarked on one of its most successful spells winning the League title and the European Cup winners Cup in the following season. In the 1985-86 season, Everton would push Liverpool all the way in the league eventually coming second but would retain the title in the 1986-87 season beating Liverpool by nine points. Kendall would eventually call time on his spell as Everton boss, departing for Spanish side Athletic Bilbao in 1987 mostly because of his growing frustration at English clubs being banned from European tournaments. He did return to Everton for two further spells during a twenty year managerial career that ended dramatically in 1999 when he was sacked by Greek side Ethnikos Piraeus.

Kendall and Paul Bracewell celebrate in 1985  (Image from PA)

Kendall and Paul Bracewell celebrate in 1985
(Image from PA)

His managerial career may have ended on a sour note but his legacy especially at Everton was very much in tact. During his three spells, Kendall had been instrumental in bringing various club icons to the club including Mo Johnston, Peter Beardsley, Andy Gray and Gary Linekar whilst blooding promising youngsters like Peter Reid, Gary Stevens and Trevor Steven along the way. After hearing of his death, tributes poured in from some of his former players including Peter Reid who spoke about losing a great friend and mentor, someone who was not only a terrific footballer but also an extremely talented manager. Gary Linekar echoed those comments by saying that Kendall “brilliantly managed the best club side he had ever played for” and that he was a “great bloke”. At Goodison on Saturday, the players wore black arm bands whilst the crowd emotionally applauded one of the clubs greatest every managers.

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Bad Week For Martinez As Stones Drama Rumbles On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Leicester Top And Arsenal Struggle As Premiership Starts With A Bang

leicester go top after 4-2 win (Image from PA)Leicester City fans will be waking up this morning in a dreamland with their side top of the Premiership season after an emphatic opening day win over Sunderland.  It may be only be a week one but the Foxes will care not especially given that many suspect that they will struggle this season under new boss Claudio Ranieri. Even the Italian himself was pessimistic about Leicester’s chances heading into the game lowering the level of expectations of the fans and preparing them for a hard slog. But on Saturday the Tinkerman got it right with and found his new team 3-0 up within the first 25 minutes of the game, eventually going on to win the game 4-2 in the end. Sunderland to be fair were never at the races and looked like they were still on vacation which will be a worry for returning boss Dick Advocaat. They did look brighter in the second half, winning it by 2-1 but by then the game was already lost. Its going to be a long season for the Black Cats.

Difficult season ahead for Ranieri and Advocaat  (Image from PA)

Difficult season ahead for Ranieri and Advocaat
(Image from PA)

Up the road in Newcastle, the Toon Army were in a boisterous mood filled with optimism about the season ahead with a new manager and more importantly some new players after owner Mike Ashley found his wallet down the back of the sofa. Two of the new signings, Chancel Mbemba and Georgina Wijnaldum started whilst the third, striker Aleksandar Mitrovic settled for a spot on the bench. Despite being out jumped for Graziano Pelle’s opening headed goal, Mbemba looked solid at centre back alongside Coloccini which will please the Geordie faithful who still have Mike Williamson nightmares every time they close their eyes. Mitrovic looked lively coming in off the bench, even if his first act was to get booked with a fairly rash over committed challenge. But it was the performance of Wijnaldum in particular that will give Newcastle the most hope. His spirited non stop running, strong reading of the game and eye for goal where demonstrated in the 48th minute when he ran 60 yards to get on the end of a perfectly held up cross from Gabriel Obertan to give Newcastle a 2-1 lead. Southampton may have pegged them back in the end to draw the match 2-2 but the Newcastle fans saw enough to walk away from St James Park with that sense of optimism still in the vicinity.

Wijnaldum rises to meet Obertan's cross to head Newcastle into the lead  (Image from Getty)

Wijnaldum rises to meet Obertan’s cross to head Newcastle into the lead
(Image from Getty)

That result wasnt the only 2-2 draw of the weekend with two other matches ending by the same scoreline. Champions Chelsea made a stuttering start to the new campaign with a laboured 2-2 draw with Swansea who had new boy Andre Ayew on the score sheet within 29 minutes. Jose Mourinho’s side looked tired as they tried to hold on to a 2-1 lead going into the second half but their task was made harder when goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois saw red for bringing down Gomis as the Swansea front man ran clear. The French striker converted the subsequent penalty and the two sides shared the points. It was a similar story at Goodison as Everton left it late to equalize against new boys Watford. Quique Sanchez Flores’s side looked the fresher going into the match and soon took the lead through new signing Miguel Layun. They held that lead until the 76th minute before Ross Barkley rifled Everton back into the game with a long distance stunner. But seven minutes later Watford regained the lead through Odion Ighalo and looked set for three points until substitute Arouna Kone drilled a low shot past Gomes to tie the game.

Barkley scores a screamer to pull Everton level  (Image from AFP)

Barkley scores a screamer to pull Everton level
(Image from AFP)

Elsewhere there were three narrow 1-0 victories with wins for Man Utd, Aston Villa and Liverpool who all showed glimmers of what is to come. Liverpool needed a late wonder goal from Coutinho to grab all three points whilst United relied on an own goal by Kyle Walker to snatch their points. Bournemouth put up a valid show against Villa with some crisp passing movements but couldn’t find the cutting edge in the final third. In the end a powerful header from Villa striker Rudy Gestede settled the tie. Fellow newcomers Norwich found it more difficult on their return to the Premiership falling to a 3-1 defeat to a new look Crystal Palace with Zaha, Delaney and Cabaye notching for the Eagles. Nathan Redmond did rely for Norwich but Alex Neil has a lot of work to do if this showing was anything to go by. Finally many people’s tip for title challengers Arsenal came unstuck against Slaven Bilic’s West Ham side with the Hammers running out as 2-0 victors in the end. Bilic, who handed 16-year-old Reece Oxford a starting berth in front of the back four, had a dream start as the new West Ham boss with his side going in at half time 1-0 up thanks to a powerful header by Cheikhou Kouyate.

16 year old Reece Oxford won the man of the match award fro his performance against Arsenal  (Image from Getty)

16 year old Reece Oxford won the man of the match award fro his performance against Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

New Arsenal stopper Peter Cech will be blamed for his misjudged attempt to clear but in truth its his defence who should have taken care of Payet’s free kick. Arsenal pressed for an equalizer but couldn’t find it due to poor finishing highlighting their desperate need for a world-class striker, preferably like Karim Benzema. With Arsenal throwing more people forward, space opened up which West Ham took advantage of in the 57th minute with striker Mauro Zarate drilling a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards. On this performance West Ham look like they are set for a good season under Bilic who took a brave move in fielding rookie Oxford in such an important game. But his gamble paid off with the youngster grabbing the man of the match award after a sterling performance that saw him complete 95% of all his passes, higher than the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Mexut Ozil and Mark Noble. Oxford has a bright future ahead of him especially if given the playing time he needs under Bilic.

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Is This The Most Exciting Europa League Ever?

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Everton Hamstrung by Hamstring Injuries

Everton's Kevin Mirallas pulls up with a hamstring injury, a growing concern for manager Roberto Martinez (Image from Getty)It’s widely believed that the English Premiership is one of the quickest leagues in the world. The speed of the league in comparison to other European leagues like in Italy or Spain often catches new foreigner players unaware who struggle to adapt quickly. Even younger players who have spent their progressive years watching from the sidelines fail to grasp how quick the league is until they are thrust into it. Preparing squads properly for this requires a special team of individuals whose sole goal is to ensure that the players are as physically fit as possible. It has quickly becomes a major component of any team in England’s top tier with fitness and conditioning coaches working alongside sport scientist and performance specialist to construct a tailor made program for each player. They push the players to their limits in order to extract the additional 1% that could be the difference between success and failure. This however can lead to injuries and in Everton’s case one specific injury is causing manager Roberto Martinez to have many a sleepless night.

Cause for concern for Martinez (image from PA)

Cause for concern for Martinez (image from PA)

Hamstring injuries are very common with these athletes as they push their bodies to breaking point. The hamstring is not a “string” at all but a set of three muscles that run along the back of your thigh. These muscles allow your leg to bend at the knee and are extremely susceptible to strains, pulls and occasionally tears. During a hamstring strain, one or more of these muscles are over extended and if continued to do so could tear leading to a longer time on the sidelines. It can be a very painful injury for the athlete especially severe strains and tears resulting in agonizing pain which can make even walking or standing impossible.  Recovery time can span from a couple of weeks to up to four months with rest, ice, compression and elevation better known as the RICE protocol the most common treatment. Lengthy layoffs could also require extensive physiotherapy or in some cases injections to ensure that the muscle or muscles recover properly.

In the Premiership, hamstring injuries are the most common injury suffered but Everton’s frequency spells a larger problem for the club, one that Martinez is keen to address quickly. Since taking charge in the summer of 2013, Martinez has lost twenty players to hamstring injuries of various degrees. With a smaller squad that most of teams in the Premiership, injuries to key first team players leave Everton vulnerable, a problem that Martinez is keen to fix.  The latest injuries to James McCarthy, Leighton Baines and Sylvian Distin were the last straw with the club now launching an internal investigation into why this type of injury keeps happening.  Questions will be asked about the routines on the training ground and on the pitch with warm ups and warm downs a particular focus. Failure to properly stretch the muscle before prolonged exertion could lead to issues either in the short term or longer term. In addition to this over conditioning of the quadriceps (the muscles at the front of your thigh) can be problematic as the two muscles operate better when of a similar strength.

Hamstring injuries are common in football (Image from Wikipedia)

Hamstring injuries are common in football (Image from Wikipedia)

If the investigation reveals that the training or conditioning of the players is to blame, Martinez could make further changes to his backroom staff. Under scrutiny will be Head of Performance Richard Evans, new Head of Sports Medicine Matt Connery and the team’s fitness and conditioning coaches. Evans followed Martinez to Everton from Wigan and the two share a good relationship so he is unlikely to be shown the door.  However alterations have been made recently with fitness and conditioning specialists Steve Tashjian and Dave Billow leaving as well as Danny Donachie who resigned from his role as Head of Sport Medicine in December. The reason for their departures is unknown and it’s not clear whether its connected to this investigation. Martinez, a qualified physio in his own right, is now working closely with Connery and Evans to understand what is going on and why this particular injury keeps reoccurring at the club.

Richard Evans is working with Martinez on the investigation  (Image from EvertonFC)

Richard Evans is working with Martinez on the investigation
(Image from EvertonFC)

Everton sit mid table in 13th, slightly off the pace after a difficult start to the season. With only five wins and six draws in the first twenty matches, Everton need a resurgence in form if they are to climb the table and compete for European places much like they did last year. To do that, Everton need to have a fully fit squad with their key players playing regularly. Martinez knows that Everton will continue to be hamstrung until they resolve the conundrum of the reoccurring hamstring injuries.

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Defoe Enters Record Books For Goal Scoring Exploits

Goals Galore For Defoe (Image from Getty)Love him or loathe him, Jermain Defoe is a goalscorer. The former Tottenham, West Ham and Toronto striker scored his second goal for new club Sunderland at the weekend, and in doing so earned himself a place in the record books. Defoe’s strike against Swansea means that the England striker becomes the first player ever to score against ever team in the current Premiership. In total he has scored 137 goals in England’s top division since making his debut for West Ham back in 1999. So in honour of the player here are a collection of those goals by team for you to enjoy!

Arsenal

Aston Villa (1:50 into video)

Burnley

Chelsea

Crystal Palace

Everton (5th goal of compilation)

Hull

Leicester City (7th goal of compliation)

Liverpool

Manchester City

Manchester United (6th goal of compilation)

Newcastle United

QPR (0.30 into compilation)

Southampton (1.55 into compilation)

Stoke City

Defoe scores against Stoke  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Stoke
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunderland

Defoe scores against Sunderland  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Sunderland
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swansea City

Tottenham

Defoe scores against Spurs  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Spurs
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Brom (4th goal in compilation)

West Ham

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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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Ledson Tipped For Greater Things Following Europa Performance

Ryan Ledson is tipped as a future star for Everton and England (Image from Getty)In the end the result matter little with Everton having already secured their passage into the knockout rounds after three wins and two draws. With the pressure removed, manager Roberto Martinez decided to rest some of his first team players in preparation for Monday’s clash with Queens Park Rangers. It also gave him the opportunity to give some of the clubs most promising youngster’s valuable playing time. Into the starting lineup came right back Tyias Browning, left back Luke Garbutt and striker Conor McAleny whilst Kieran Dowell, Gethin Jones and Chris Long all made appearances from the substitutes bench. It said a lot about Martinez approach that Long at 19 years old, was the oldest squad player on the Everton bench. And it almost paid off with his young team restricting their Russian opponents Krasnodar to only a handful of chances with only one trickling through under reserve goalkeeper Joel Robles to hand them the victory. The fans however did not leave Goodison disappointed as they were shown a glimpse into the clubs future with the unveiling of the latest youngsters from their youth system production line. They all gave a good account of themselves but one other youngster in particular stood out above all of them.

Ledson commanded the Everton midfield against Krasnodar  (Image from PA)

Ledson commanded the Everton midfield against Krasnodar
(Image from PA)

Defensive midfielder Ryan Ledson is seen by the club as one of the brightest prospects to have ever emerged at the club. He took up position at the heart of the midfield alongside seasoned veteran Gareth Barry and demonstrated exactly why the club rates him so highly. Ledson controlled the game with a maturity well beyond his 17 years and looked confident on the ball throughout. His passing both short and long was exceptional with 91% of the 56 passes he made hitting their mark whilst his superb positioning at all times help Everton to retain its shape especially when under pressure from the five man Krasnodar midfield. Having been at Everton since the age of five, Ledson is very much at home at the club and is pushing hard to get into the first team as a regular squad member. Progress has been quicker than expected with Everton keen to secure the player for the long run rather than lose him to potential suitors like Manchester City and Tottenham who have been rumoured to be interested. It would appear though that Ledson has no intentions of playing for anyone else by signing his first professional contract with Everton in August. This was swiftly followed by a first team bench appearance against Southampton, and although he didn’t make it on to the pitch it was a signal of intent by Martinez that he sees Ledson very much in his plans. England are also keen to ensure that Ledson is part of their long term plans having already watched him excel at Under 17 level. Ledson played a significant role as captain as he led the England Under 17 national team to European Championship success last season. Now very much part of Gareth Southgate’s Under 21 squad, it won’t be long until he follows in Ross Barkley’s footsteps into Roy Hodgson’s full team.

Ledson signed his first pro deal in August (Image from Getty)

Ledson signed his first pro deal in August (Image from Getty)

Before that happens, Ledson knows that he must establish himself as a regular starter at Everton. His performance against Krasnodar will go a long way to helping this transition with Roberto Martinez praising the way that he played. This won’t be the last time that we see him pull the strings for Everton at the heart of their midfield.

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Spanish lifeline Offers Moyes Redemption Opportunity

Spain bound? David Moyes (Image from Getty)Real Sociedad could be set to offer David Moyes a route back into football management after they sacked their coach Jagoba Arrasate at the weekend. Moyes, who has been out of work since his sacking by Manchester United in May has had several job offers over the past few months but none have appealed to the Scotsman. But a move to Spain with Sociedad could prove to be compelling enough for Moyes to end his forced sabbatical. With a young, talented yet raw squad Sociedad are a perfect fit for Moyes who will be able to craft them into a tough to beat side much like he did at Everton and Preston.

Upfront Mexican Carlos Vela leads the line  (Image from Getty)

Upfront Mexican Carlos Vela leads the line
(Image from Getty)

Moyes would be following in the footsteps of Horace “Harry” Lowe, John Toshack and Chris Coleman who both had spells in charge at the Anoeta Stadium. The Spanish clubs love affair with British coaches began back in the 1930’s when Lowe was appointed. The former Tottenham and Fulham centre half managed the club for five years before leaving to manage RCD Espanyol for a further campaign. It was 50 years later that John Toshack arrived for his first of three stints in charge. In total the former Wales boss held the top job at Real Sociedad for nine years and during that time led to their first Copa del Rey success in 75 years. After the club sacked Miguel Angel Lotina in June 2007, they turned once again to Toshack who rejected their advances but did recommend that they take a look at another British coach, fellow Welshman Chris Coleman. Having been sacked months earlier by Fulham, Coleman jumped at the chance to manage the then Segunda Division side and duly signed a contract with them on July 1st 2007. Coleman’s spell in charge, much to contrary belief was successful in Spain and his departure was only the result of the club electing a new president who wanted to return the club to its Spanish roots. Now managerless once again, Real Sociedad are eying up a return to the UK for their fourth British manager with Moyes identified as the man to take the club to the next level.

Toshack spent nine years at Sociedad over three spells  (Image from Getty)

Toshack spent nine years at Sociedad over three spells
(Image from Getty)

Despite struggling in La Liga this season, Sociedad have all the ingredients necessary to be successful. With an exciting mix of youthful exuberance and established seasoned professionals, Moyes would inherit a squad that requires little tinkering in terms of personnel but in desperate need of tactical guidance.  Funds will be available during January to strengthen the squad but the need for new faces is not so apparent when you look at their squad. In defence, Real Sociedad has one of Spain’s hottest prospects in Inigo Martinez. The 23 year old centre half has been on the cusps of greatness for a while now with a move to Barcelona on the cards before Gerardo Martino was dismissed. Now a full Spanish international, Martinez is one of many hot young prospects at the club. Midfielders Ruben Pardo and Pablo Hervias have impressed so far in what has been a difficult campaign whilst up front Iker Hernandez, who hasn’t played so far this season is itching to show exactly what he can do. Helping these youngsters mature into better players would be a key part of Moyes role but he would be supported well by defenders Carols Martinez and Dani Estrada and influential captain Xabi Preto. At 31, Preto is the heart and soul of the club having been at Sociedad for his entire career and is the perfect player to help Moyes craft the side if he gets the job. Upfront, Sociedad have the fire power to get them back up the league with former Arsenal striker Carlos Vela leading the line alongside Icelandic sensation Alfreo Finnbogason or Spaniard Imanol Agirretxe.

Inigo Martinez is one of Spain's best prospects  (Image from AFP)

Inigo Martinez is one of Spain’s best prospects
(Image from AFP)

Unlike the pressure he faced at United, there are little expectations on how Sociedad will perform this season. Currently sitting in 19th in La Liga, it looks like a grim challenge however the season is still fairly fresh and the gap between the bottom three and mid table remains realistic at only 6 points. That is not to say that the club has no ambitions and rightly believes that a Europa League place is well within their grasps. With a new manager installed and a new direction to their play, Real Sociedad will be expected to climb up the table and back to a more realistic place among Spain’s top clubs. The offer has yet to be made to Moyes but for the Scot, it could be the perfect position for him to ease back in to the game.

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Barkley Must Choose His Career Over Cash

Barkley must resist a cash driven move (Image from Getty)Collecting the ball just outside the area, he fooled the oncoming defender with a dip of his shoulder, a clever switch of the ball at his feet before steadying himself and unleashing a stunning powerful drive past John Ruddy. This was how Ross Barkley chose to introduced himself in style to the fans at the start of last season during Everton’s opening day win over Norwich and the 20 year old England midfielder continued to impress for the rest of the campaign. In his breakthrough season under new boss Roberto Martinez, Barkley was one of Everton’s most consistent top performers which earned him a spot in Roy Hodgson’s England team that travelled to Brazil for the World Cup. Despite a dismal tournament for the three lions, Barkley’s growing reputation remained intact and interest in the player increased week over week.

Tough Love - Barkley gained a lot from Martinez last season  (Image from REUTERS/Darren Staples)

Tough Love – Barkley gained a lot from Martinez last season
(Image from REUTERS/Darren Staples)

Manchester City are the latest team to express an interest and are rumoured to be preparing a bid whilst Arsenal and Manchester United are also monitoring the situation. With pressure mounting from UEFA and the English FA to encourage the development of home grown players including proposals to change squad requirements to include a higher set number of domestic players in each team, talented kids like Barkley are high in demand. However whilst the rules are not formalised yet, moving to a larger club like Manchester City in a multi million pound deal doesnt neceasarily guarentee first team action.

Barkley is the future of English football  (Image from Ross Kinnaird - The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

Barkley is the future of English football
(Image from Ross Kinnaird – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

There are enough examples of young English players moving to City in recent years and struggling to get on the pitch. Adam Johnson, Jolean Lescott and Jack Rodwell have all moved in bumper deals but found playing time limited by an all star foreign cast ahead of them. Micah Richards, who came through City’s youth ranks is looking for an exit route after failing to displace Pablo Zabaleta at right back and finally there is James Milner who operates much more from the bench nowadays than as a starter. Without playing time their international careers have all slowed in their pace. Out of the four of them, only Milner remains part of the England setup, with Johnson only recently being considered after he left City for a starting spot at Sunderland. With England needing a fresh new look, they need Barkley to continue to develop and grow as a player, not to go stale by sitting on a golden bench especially now given Steven Gerrards recent announcement that he is retiring from international football. Compared to Paul Gascoigne, Barkley is the future of England’s midfield alongside either Jack Wilshere or perhaps Jack Rodwell if he can find regular first team football. He is a unique talent, and according to former teammate Tim Cahill “one of the most technically gifted players he has ever played with. Barkley has an exciting career ahead of him but must make the right decisions now to protect his long term future – stay at Everton as a key piece of Roberto Martinez’s team or move to City as a bit part player under Pellegrini.

Rodwell has seen limited first team action since joining City  (Image from Getty)

Rodwell has seen limited first team action since joining City
(Image from Getty)

At 20 years old, Barkley has time on his shoulders so delaying a move to one of the larger teams in Europe would not necessarily have a negative effect on it. Remaining at Everton and continuing his development under Martinez is the sensible thing for him to do but unfortunately money talks and it can sway the mind of a young player into making the wrong decision. Hopefully Barkley can remain level headed and resist the temptation to move for a quick pay day, instead staying at Everton for the right reasons – for footballing reasons.

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BOTN Transfer Window Premiership Special – Predicting Who’s In And Who’s Out

 Transfer Window (Image from SkySports)

Ah the transfer window is upon us again. It’s an anxious filled day for fans who dream about celebrating new signings but dread the departure of their star players. The rumour mill kicks in weeks before causing those anxiety levels to rise and rise only eventually relieved as the window slams shut tonight. For the clubs in the Premiership, it’s their last chance until January to balance their squads before the first half of this gruelling season really begins. So which player should each team sign and what player should they let go? BOTN has pulled together each teams must buy and sell list before the summer window shuts.

Arsenal

Buy – Much talk is around a striker but really they need to invest in a centre back. Weak due to the departure of Thomas Vermaelen, investing in cover in case of injury makes sense. Borussia Dortmund’s Greek centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos would be ideal.

Sell – Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard appears to be surplus due to this summer’s arrivals so a move for significant cash back to Spain may look appealing to Wenger.

Aston Villa

Buy – Fabian Delph’s England call up hints at his promise however to maintain his development, he needs a strong partner in central midfield. Manchester United’s Tom Cleverley is the likely choice.

Sell – Despite starting the first couple of games, Alan Hutton should be shown the door at Villa. Unable to find the confidence and form he had at Rangers, Hutton has spent too long wasting his career and needs a move to maintain his position as Scotland’s right back of choice.

Hutton needs to leave to protect Scotland position  (Image from Getty)

Hutton needs to leave to protect Scotland position
(Image from Getty)

Burnley

Buy – Burnley showed against Manchester United how organised they can be at the back however they lack a creative player in the midfield going forward. Derby’s Will Hughes may be an ideal signing if Burnley are willing to splash the cash.

Sell – None. With a wafer thin squad as it is, Sean Dyche can ill afford to let anyone lease at this time. Holding on to his players will be the number one goal for the Burnley manager as the window prepares to close.

Chelsea

Buy – After letting Fernando Torres leave for Milan, Chelsea are a little short up front despite the addition of Loic Remy yesterday. Anothee striker is needed to partner Diego Costa, Didier Drogba or Remy. Roma’s Mattia Destro is a good option however the Italian side may be reluctant to let him go.

Sell – Once fought over by Manchester United and Chelsea, John Obi Mikel needs to leave the Bridge to continue his career. He has fallen down the pecking order and needs first team football to maintain his development. Even a loan move would make sense at this stage.

Chelsea are keen on Roma's Mattia Destro  (Image from AFP)

Chelsea are keen on Roma’s Mattia Destro
(Image from AFP)

Crystal Palace

Buy – Neil Warnock has had little time to adapt the squad since taking over. His squad needs improvements but funds are restricted so loan moves may be the only thing possible. Norwich City defender Sebastien Bassong could add strength to the defence and forge a useful partnership with Hangeland.

Sell – James Puncheon must have groaned when Neil Warnock was appointed after his much publicized spat with the new manager on Twitter earlier this year. Accusing Warnock of being corrupt, it’s unlikely that the player will remain in the team much longer. Everyone will understand if he was to leave.

Everton

Buy – Roberto Martinez is building an impressive young squad but still lacks the quality in depth to challenge for major honours. Building for the future appears to be Martinez’s mantra so a move for Watford’s young England goalkeeper Jonathan Bond could be wise. He would act as a deputy to Howard and learn from the American over the next few seasons before eventually taking over.

Sell – With Samuel Eto’o and Lukaku arriving plus the emergence of Chris Long, it may be time for Martinez to end his Wigan experiment and let Arouna Koné leave. The Ivorian appears surplus to requirements now and a move may be best for all involved.

Heading for the exit? - Aroune Koné  (Image from Getty)

Heading for the exit? – Aroune Koné
(Image from Getty)

Hull

Buy – Now out of Europe, Steve Bruce’s side can now focus on domestic duties. With the departure of Shane Long, it’s hard to see where goals will come from so making Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes their main target made sense. Rovers are reluctant to let their star player leave but Hull should go all out to get the Scotland frontman.

Sell – Not needing to sell in this window, Bruce should look at loan moves for some of his younger players to give them much needed experience. Strikers Matt Fletcher and Calum Jahraldo Martin should be top of the list.

Leicester City

Buy – To survive in the Premiership, you need to score goals and lots of them. Nigel Pearson has a lot of options upfront but few seem capable of breaking into double figures. A move for Ipswich striker David McGoldrick is on the cards but given his lack of experience at this level it still might not be enough.

Sell – With eight strikers in the first team squad, it may be that one or two depart either on permanent or loan moves. New Zealander Chris Woods and youngster Tom Hooper lead the way.

Ipswich striker David McGoldrick could be Premiership bound  (Image from Getty)

Ipswich striker David McGoldrick could be Premiership bound
(Image from Getty)

Liverpool

Buy – The most active team in the transfer market so far, there is little needed for Brendan Rodgers team to be complete. Competition for Mignolet in goal is the only real area with Brad Jones unable to challenge. A move for Victor Valdes, currently without a club could be interesting and make Liverpool into contenders again.

Sell – At 33 years old, Kolo Toure must start to think about his last few years as a professional and getting first team action rather than his paycheck. Unlikely to feature much this season given the volume of new recruits in the Liverpool defence, Toure should be eying the exit door with enthusiasm rather than dread.

Manchester City

Buy – With a strong squad already, there is no reason for further spending from City. Further new faces will only cause more hassle to Manuel Pellegrini’s team selections. Buying young English players for the future may help but learning from past mistakes, this might not turn out to be the right thing to do. If they do, Brighton’s Jake Forster Caskey could be the perfect long term replacement for James Milner.

Sell – Micah Richards needs to leave for his prospective rather than City’s. Now 3rd in the right back pecking order, his career is in freefall so he needs to pull the cord on his time at the Etihad and save his long term future.

Milner replacement  - Jake Forster Caskey  (Image from PA)

Milner replacement – Jake Forster Caskey
(Image from PA)

Manchester United

Buy – For a club who have strengthen in attacking areas well, there inability to spot a massive hole at centre back is startling. They are missing Ferdinand and Vidic badly and need a similar type of player to replace them. Either a permanent move for Spurs Jan Vertonghen or a loan move for Chelsea Kurt Zouma would fix the problem.

Sell – It’s easier to say who they shouldn’t sell but out of the list they should Anderson is top of the list. The Brazilian has barely shown any of the promise he displayed early on in his career and should be sold or released as soon as possible.

Newcastle

Buy – Tim Krul is Newcastle’s last defence and on his day there is no better. However when he picks up an injury, back-ups Rob Elliot and Jan Alwick look less than impressive. A loan move for Stoke’s Jack Butland could provide excellent coverage for Krul.

Sell – Ben Arfas fall from grace has been spectacular to say the least. Once the first name on the team sheet, he is now training with the youth team after coming back from the summer break overweight and a move away from the club looks certain. A loan move to Birmingham is a possibility but it’s unlikely that the player will be willing to make the drop down to that level.

Overweight and Out - Ben Arfa  (Image from AFP)

Overweight and Out – Ben Arfa
(Image from AFP)

Queens Park Rangers

Buy – Harry has not really splashed the cash to date but his team still needs to improve. With Julio Cesar leaving for Portugal and Robert Greens’ form sketchy at best, a new goalkeeper may be on the cards for Harry. A move for Brad Friedel may not materialise but he could provide the safe hands needed for QPR to survive.

Sell – Abel Taarabt seemed destined to join AC Milan following a loan move last season but the arrival of Fernando Torres has scuppered that option. As far as talent goes, Taarabt has it in abundance but what he lacks is the desire to stay in London with QPR. Another loan move may be the only option but a permanent one would be better.

Southampton

Buy – It’s been a summer of departures at Southampton with key assets heading for pastures new. With a war chest that many managers would be pleased with, Ronald Koeman has money to spend but unfortunately time is running out. Many are calling for a new striker but in Graziano Pelle they have a front man capable of filling Rickie Lamberts boots. It’s at centre back where a replacement is needed with no one to date being brought in to plug the gap left by Dejan Lovren. Celtic’s Virgil van Dijk or Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld could be that player

Sell – If Southampton can hold on to Jay Rodriguez until January then all the better but it looks as though the England front man wants to leave. Cashing in now may make sense, especially if Spurs are still in the hunt for a new striker.

Wanted man - Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld  (Image from PA)

Wanted man – Atletico Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld
(Image from PA)

Stoke

Buy – Hughes is transforming Stoke with some impressive signings but lacks creative options in midfield. Despite insisting that no more players will arrive, if the right opportunity presents itself Hughes could act. A loan move for Newcastle’s Hatem Ben Arfa may add the spark that Stoke need.

Sell – American Geoff Cameron was one of the stand outs of last season but has slipped down the ranks since then. A switch to the MLS may offer the US international an escape route.

Sunderland

Buy – Gus Poyet has worked wonders since arriving at Sunderland boss and continues to reshape his squad. His focus at present is on his defense and how to add to it, with a loan move for Madrid’s Toby Alderweireld on the cards. At present former Manchester United players Wes Brown and John O’Shea have been starring at centre back but a move for the Belgian could result in one of them moving to the troublesome right back slot.

Sell – Whilst short upfront, few fans would object to Danny Graham being sold. The former Swansea striker has not exactly been on fire since arriving and looks less and less like a goal threat as the seasons go on. A move to the championship may help Graham find his level.

Miss hit - Danny Graham  (Image from Getty)

Miss hit – Danny Graham
(Image from Getty)

Swansea

Buy – Gary Monk’s side have strengthened well upfront but need to add quality to their midfield to supply their new front line. Montpellier’s Benjamin Stambouli is the favourite to arrive if Spurs don’t steal him first.

Sell – After spending last season on loan at Birmingham, Kyle Bartley is back at Swansea but looks further away from first team action than ever before. Time for the former Arsenal youth player to move down to the Championship with Birmingham could be his best bet.

Tottenham

Buy – A striker would be helpful for Spurs and the addition of Danny Welbeck would fit perfectly. The United striker has found playing time limited under Van Gaal so far so an exit may be the best course of action for both.

Sell – Despite many touting Lewis Holtby as the next to leave, he really should stay as he can add a lot to the team. One player who should exit is Kyle Naughton who has disappointed during his time at Spurs. He looks nervous going forward and terrified at the back. Time to move on Kyle.

Time to go Kyle  (Image from AFP)

Time to go Kyle
(Image from AFP)

West Bromwich Albion

Buy – Whether Alan Irvine actually knows what he needs to buy is a fair question given some of the strange arrivals to the club this summer. Irvine has also suggested his transfer business is finished but one look at his squad suggests otherwise. The Scot may head home in search for a creative frontman and his first choice is likely to be Celtic’s Kris Commons. Unwanted in Glasgow, the Scotland international would welcome a move to the Premiership.

Sell – He may not want to lose him but Craig Dawson is attracting interest from clubs and if a decent offer is made, he may be sacrificed in order to help balance the books.

West Ham

Buy – Allardyce has had an active window so far but seems keen to continue. A defender is what is needed and a move for Manchester City’s Micah Richards would appeal to both parties. Richards’s flexibility makes him the ideal player for West Ham and could solve their defensive frailties.

Sell – Winston Reid has been the one player in West Ham’s defence that has impressed week in, week out. This has alert a variety of clubs who are looking at the player with interest. Arsenal has made inquiries in the past and could move for the versatile player with Allardyce unable to resist if the bid is high enough.

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