Hungary – The Greatest Team Not to have the Won the World Cup

There are few teams in the history of football that deserve more than they got but the 1954 Hungary squad is one exception. Quite simply put, Hungary should have been the World Champions that year which could have fundamentally shifted the forward trajectory of Hungarian football for years to come. Instead Hungarian football slipped slowly into the abyss with only a few glimmers of light shining through over the past 67 years. A win for Hungary in that final would have inspired a generation and those after them to talk more about how good a team that was and how the Magical Maygars transformed football in the 1950’s.

It all began in 1949 with the appointment of a revolutionary coach called Gusztav Sebes. As a country under communist rule, Hungary’s Deputy Sports Minister Gusztáv Sebes was tasked with creating their national team in an endeavour to further sporting excellence. Inspired by the Austrian Wunderteam and the Italian team that won two World Cups in the 1930s, Sebes set about transforming Hungary into one of the most dominant and feared national teams ever to grace the world of football. Adapting a 4-2-4 formation perfected by MTK head coach Marton Bukovi which pioneered the crucial deep lying centre-forward position, Sebes would create a side capable of playing fast flowing football that embodied pace, movement and unrelenting brilliance. He ensured that each member of the team was able to understand the individual style and strengths of each of his teammates and that every member of the squad was comfortable playing in multiple if not every position. Total Football was born.

Sebes vision – Hungary formation 1953

What helped Sebes to be successful with this approach was that his team was primarily made up of players from the state sponsored Army team Honved so they were already familiar with one another. Added into this, that Honved team not only had some of the fittest players at the time (army run after all) but also some of the most gifted including Gyula Grosics, Sándor Kocsis, Zoltán Czibor, József Bozsik and of course Ferenc Puskás. Adding in Gyula Lóránt at centre back and Nándor Hidegkuti in that newly created deep lying centre forward role, Sebes built one the the very first team of superstars. Under his tutelage, Hungary recorded 42 victories, 7 draws, and just one defeat, scoring 215 goals along the way in the six year period between 1950 and 1956.

Among those victories, Hungary became the Olympic champions in 1952, winning all five games and scoring 20 goals in total. That was truly when the world woke up to the Magical Magyars. It left many wondering how Sebes formation worked so well and more importantly how Péter Palotás had been used as a withdrawn centre forward. Sebes tactic was essentially to use the traditional striker as a more deep lying playmaker, as well as dropping the two wingers back into midfield to create a team capable of performing a quick turnover. The tactic also helped to draw opposition defenders out of position which in turn opened gaps for others to run into.

The gold medal in Helsinki earned Hungary a glamour friendly against England the following year at Wembley. Sebes, always meticulous in his planning arranged for a friendly with Sweden in advance of that game as they played in a similar style to England. The belief in the England camp however was that they were far more tactical and technically superior than Hungary and were confident that their record of having never lost on home soil to a team from outside the British Isles would stay intact. They were wrong. Sebes produced a surprise in that game by switching out Palotás for Nándor Hidegkuti and its proved to be a masterstroke as Hidegkuti scored a hat-trick as Hungary humiliated England beating them 6-3 on the day. Having failed to learn their lesson, England sought revenge the following year only to be on the end of a 7-1 defeat this time in Budapest.

England captain Billy Wright and Hungary captain Ferenc Puskas exchange flags before their 1953 clash

Next up for Hungary was the 1954 World Cup which they went into as clear favourites having won an impressive 27 straight consecutive games. Hungary issued a statement of intent early on in that World Cup thumping South Korea 9-0 in their opening match before dispatching West Germany 8-3 in their next group match. The trio of Kocsis, Puskas and Hidegkuti were unplayable, scoring 12 of the 17 goals between them. In the quarter finals, Hungary faced the 1950 losing finalists Brazil in what is now widely referred to as the “Battle of Berne”. Under driving rain and with a point to prove, Brazil sought to agitate and kick their opponents which resulted in tempers on both sides rising to boiling point. Hungary eventually won the game 4-2 but not before having József Bozsik sent off along with Brazil’s Nilton Santos for fighting.

The semi final against defending champions Uruguay, who had never lost a World Cup match in their history, was a calmer affair but was not without drama. Missing Puskas, Hungary worked tirelessly to edge out a 2-0 lead which pushed Uruguay to step up a gear. They replied by pulling one back early in the second half before snatching an equalizer 4 minutes from time to send the game into extra time. Despite Uruguay being as technical gifted as their counterparts, they could never match Hungary’s fitness and it was the Maygars who sealed the victory with two goals from Kocsis that set up a final against West Germany.

In the “Miracle of Bern”, better known as the 1954 World Cup Final, Hungary were widely considered favourites having already beaten West Germany convincingly in the group stages and on a 31 game winning streak. However with Puskas still suffering from an ankle injury but wanting to play, Sebes knew he would have to make a tough decision with his team selection. He chose to play Puskas and the “Galloping General” repaid that faith scoring after only 6 minutes. Czibor made it 2-0 shortly after before West Germany pulled it back even with two goals just before half time. In the second half, Hungary were the more aggressive but couldn’t find a way past the german goalkeeper. Six minutes from the end, Hungary were shattered when Helmut Rahn scored a third goal. However Hungary rallied and two minutes before the end, Puskas put the ball into the back of the net, but it was bizarrely ruled off side and West Germany won the game. The controversy with this game however was in the refereeing by Englishman William Ling who gave several key decisions throughout the match in West Germany’s favour. There were also rumours that the German’s had been given performance enhancing drugs in the lead up to the match which allowed them to keep up with the ultra fit Hungarians. Regardless, Hungary lost that game and it is now considered as one of the greatest upsets in football history.

Hungary’s defeat in the 1954 World Cup final was especially hard to take due to the multiple refereeing decisions that went against them that day with some suggesting the game was rigged.

After that defeat, Hungary continued to dominate international football playing 19 games, winning 16 and drawing 3 up until February 1956 when bizarrely Sebes was sacked and replaced by Marton Bukovi which also coincided with the Hungarian revolution of the same year. That was the catalyst that broke up the Magical Maygars. A majority of the players playing for Honved away to Atletico Bilbao in the 1956 European Cup when the revolution broke out back home in Budapest. Unable to go home, a majority of the players sought out new clubs with Puskas joining Real Madrid and Kocsis and Czibor moving to Barcelona.

The significance of this team on football history cannot be understated. The tactics created by Bukovi and adapted by Sebes opened the game up to a new way of thinking, that tactics could be adaptable and could influence games. The ideology attached to those tactics created the Total Football philosophy which would be embraced by Holland in the 1970’s and probably plays into the ideologies being created by our modern day coaches like Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. And the positions themselves, with the freedom to move from your deigned role or remove the shackles spawned various iterations that are widely accepted today – the attacking playmaker, the false nine, the sweeper keeper. For that contribution to football, Hungary deserves more than they got. Olympic gold is nice but for a team that dominated and revolutionized international football it’s simply not enough. The 1954 World Cup should have had Hungary’s name carved onto it but instead this great team will be forever noted in the history books as World Cup runners up.

Article by Martin Cowgill.

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Southampton and the Academy Vision that consistently produces world-class talent.

Southampton Football Club have always had a brilliant track record and knack for developing youth products and talent from within their academy. They have a structured model to produce high-level first team players. Their approach allows them to keep these players until they are developed enough to be able to attract interest from bigger clubs and then sell these graduates for large money transfers. This therefore helps Southampton to be financially safe for the future and reinvest into the next generation of stars. You only have to look at some of the examples of world-class and high level players who have come from within their youth development structure: Gareth Bale, Theo Walcott, Alan Shearer and Adam Lallana to name a few. Added into this, Southampton’s academy vision is to ‘’produce a first team year-on-year made up of 50% Academy graduates who are world-class in their technical ability on the field as well as behaviours off the field’’. Why is their academy vision so successful and what do they do to make this vision come true on such a frequent basis?

Southampton has always been a football club that prides themselves on being able produce talented youth who are capable of big things. You may think it is only a more recent trend but, in reality The Saints have always been able to produce high level youth even well before they became a Category 1 academy in 2012. Matt Le Tissier, Dennis Wise and Wayne Bridge were developed at Southampton as were more recent graduates like James Ward-Prowse, Matt Targett and Jack Stephens . Southampton put a lot of faith in their youth, and don’t just train their youngsters how to be footballers but also how to thrive in life, through their education programme. They have a philosophy of ‘’turning Potential into Excellence’’ and it is evident that this is a philosophy that works. Southampton as a club has a family culture and puts every player at the centre of what they do. The success of Southampton’s academy by many is credited towards what they call the academies ‘10 Commandments’, these are behaviours and traits that the club believes any elite player should and needs to possess.

image of Southampton’s academy; 10 commandments as pictured within the academy training ground.

You may have heard quotes such as ‘’Southampton has one of the best academies in the whole of world football’’. It may be hard to belive but there is hard evidence that this is the case. Take for example a recent study by the The International Centre for Sports Studies (CIES), that calculated that the fees received by Southampton for the sales of: Adam Lallana, Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers summed up to almost 40% of the total income of the Premier League teams for the transfers of home-grown footballers during the three seasons before 2015 at around €90 million. This put them at the top of the standings as the most profitable youth academy. It goes a long way to illustrate how much profit and revenue Southampton has made through the selling of their youth players and outlines the importance of having strong academy ethos and philosophies.

Former Southampton youth graduate Gareth Bale

Southampton FC are a proven and accredited club who are proud of their youth. They develop many world-class and high level football players, through their highly structured and punctual academy system and rules. They have an academy vision that refuses to fail due to both its focus on technical ability as well as their respect, morals and aim to build the players as people not just footballers.

Post by Samuel Cox, Back Of The Net contributor. Follow him on Instagram and Twitter.

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Takeover done. Now what for Newcastle?

4 years. 48 months. 1460 days. 35,040 hours. It’s a long time to wait to get what you want but finally its happened with the consortium led by Amanda Staveley and back by the PIF taking control of Newcastle United Football Club. The deal worth £305m is not without its controversies, much of which is aligned to PIF’s involvement but for the Newcastle fans who have spent the last 13 years being ignored and abused by their clubs former owner Mike Ashley, it matters not. Finally their club is free again and can now hopefully live up to its potential. Staveley and co will undoubtedly be aware of the enormous task that sits in front of them. A lot needs to change and quickly but where to start? Likely the first point of call will be with the manager.

Amanda Staveley and Newcastle’s other new owners have a lot to do now that they have the keys to this iconic club.

There has been a lot of talk about what will happen with the manager situation but there are very few who actually think Steve Bruce should or will remain in charge. His £8m payoff has been widely touted as being the first piece of real business by the new owners and its a move that will please the fans who have been bewildered by how Bruce has remained in charge for this long. To be fair to Bruce, who is 1 game shy of making the 1,000 games as a manager, it’s not totally been his fault with a lack of funds and mounting injuries largely to blame. But he hasn’t helped himself with his inability to use what he has and get the best out of them resulting in only 3 points from Newcastles first seven games of the season. Adding in to this, his close ties to outgoing owner Mike Ashley means he has to go. But who will replace him?

The job itself is an interesting one especially the opportunity to build something almost from scratch and wealthy backers willing to do that. However it’s also a long term project that will need patience and a few transfer windows to rebuild a squad that is threadbare at present. Antonio Conte and Zinedane Zidane are two high profile names linked with the job with the former slightly more interesting given his experience in the league after he won the title in his time at Chelsea. Both are currently out of work and are title winning managers but would this challenge present an opportunity for them to test themselves or would it be seen as too much of a risk to their reputations. After all, money doesn’t necessarily guarantee success at least not in the short term. Perhaps which might be enough to deter them. The other option is to look more short term and find a manager who can stabilize the club, assist in creating a more balance squad and bring belief back to the fans and the players that Newcastle can once again compete.

Conte is one name tipped with the job but can Newcastle’s new owners persuade him to join?

Top of mind is Brendan Rodgers who has done just that at Leicester City. The former Liverpool and Celtic boss is tactically sound and capable of building squad needed to perform. Having come close to winning the league with Liverpool and with Leicester (to a degree), would he view the opportunity at Newcastle as a way to eventually go one step further or will he see it for what it is – a risk. After all, success is defined differently by everyone so his idea of success might not align with the new owners, even if they are saying outwardly to the fans that this will be a long term project. What, if after two seasons in charge, Rodgers has Newcastle comfortably in the top 8 and had a few good runs in the cups. Will that be viewed as a success or will he be dismissed in favour of a bigger name manager. There is however one manager who the new owners will give a longer rope to and that is former Newcastle boss and now Everton manager Rafa Benetiz. The Spaniard is viewed favourably by the consortium having been top of their wish list for manager over a year ago had the takeover gone through then. He would likely be afforded more than just a season and a half especially if his vision aligned with theirs. But would they be able to convince him to leave the project he has only just started at Everton for another bite at the cherry at Newcastle. Time will tell.

Regardless of who is brought in, the rebuilding job needed at a squad level is more than apparent. With the exception of Allan Saint Maximin, Callum Wilson, Joe Willock and club captain Jamal Lascelles, quality across the board is seriously lacking. With no real production line of talent coming through, acquisitions in the short term will be needed to improve Newcastles fortunes. The spending will start in January before a real overhaul in the summer. With 12 of the first team squad over 29 years old, time is not on Newcastle’s side and new faces will need to be added which will not be an easy task. Identifying these targets and working behind the scenes to start the conversations will likely fall to the clubs new Sporting Director which should only be one man – Les Ferdinand. The former Newcastle icon has been Director of Football at QPR for the past 6 years and has done a tremendous job there and is the right man to lead the changes at St James Park. Having played for the club in its heyday he will understand the deep connection the fans have to the club, their expectations and what needs to be done to return Newcastle back to a place where they are competitive. The fans aren’t expecting to see Mbappe or Messi walk through the doors and into the famous black and white jersey but they are looking for players who can make them better and give their all for the club every time they step onto the pitch.

Sir Les Ferdinand should be the only name under consideration for Sporting Director

To help this evolution on the pitch, several things need to happen off it. Firstly investment into the training ground and in to St James Park to modernize them both is much needed. Both have suffered over the past 13 years under Mike Ashley’s ownership who barely put any money into either besides enough to give it a lick of paint. Secondly, rebuilding the youth academy from scratch including renewing ties with key youth clubs in the surrounding area to unearth the next generation of stars. Adding former players like Warren Barton, Lee Clark and Rob Lee to the youth setup would help as well as only players from the past can educate the players of the future about what it’s like to play for this club. Thirdly, establishing a strong scouting system and opening up ties internationally will allow the club to expand further, generate new sources of revenue and find hidden gems from across the world which will keep the club competitive in the future. And finally and likely the hardest of them all, making Newcastle United into a global brand. It’s something that Mile Ashley foolishly ignored whilst other clubs in the league and around Europe reaped the benefits. Outside of England, Newcastle has only a small loyal following and certainly not on the same international scale as Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United. Building a global brand will take time, it will need the right people leading it from a strategy perspective, it will need to tap into the clubs icon players of the past like Alan Shearer, Kevin Keegan, David Ginola and Jonas Gutierrez who can passionately sell the club to foreign fans and it will need funding, something that shouldn’t be an issue now. Opening up this iconic club to a wider audience only has upside and will elevate the club into a new stratosphere as they look to compete with the biggest clubs in world football both on and off the pitch.

Article by Martin Cowgill

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Who are the Favourites to Win the Premier League?

After a Pandemic that has crippled several clubs financially, many big-name players made unthinkable moves. The Premier League has seen a shift of fortunes in Europe in recent seasons after several years of poor performances in European competitions. With more amassment of talent, this season offers more excitement than ever before. Romelu Lukaku’s return back to London as the prodigal son has transformed Chelsea into genuine title contenders and he has looked dominant on his first few games back. On the other side, Harry Kane’s decision to stay in the capital appears to affected the player but not the club who was interested in buying him, Manchester City . Liverpool got back their captain and their entire squad looks more confident as a result but, the biggest shock has been the return of the Cristiano Ronaldo back to Manchester United after more than a decade.  With the closure of the transfer window, we can have a breakdown of the favourites for the title and the top four.

Clinical – Chelsea lacked a cutting edge last year but not this season with Romelu Lukaku returning

Chelsea

Last season finish: 4th

New Arrivals: Romelu Lukaku, Saul Niguez, Trevor Chalobah

Notable Exits: Tammy Abraham, Olivier Giroud, Kurt Zouma, Fikayo Tomori

Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel have made significant strides and have now started to taken a transform into a legitimate much to the delight of the board who backed them by investing over  £200 million in signings last year. After a hot pursuit of Erling Haaland fell through due to increased wage demands and agent fees, the board finally decided to sign for bring back their former prodigy, Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian has started the season in great form scoring 4 goals in five games so far. Chelsea possess phenomenal squad depth made up of a mix of young and experienced players. Jorginho has been instrument in the middle clearing build-up plays and stopping momentum with clever foul baiting tactics much like his performance for Italy at the Euros. The game against Liverpool at the beginning of the season showed just how well coached this team is under Tuchel. Despite giving away a penalty and losing a defender, the team managed to secure a draw and still managed to threaten a handful of chances in the second half. Chelsea have also managed to secure the signing of Saul Niguez from Atletico Madrid, a deep lying midfielder to provide cover for Kante who has had his fair share of injuries of late.

Prediction: Presently as constructed, Chelsea are the favourites for the season given their squad depth, tactically soundness and the presence of Lukaku up front. Tuchel’s biggest failure at PSG was his inability to control the ego of the big players but, he has the perfect opportunity of success at Chelsea with a hungry squad and a chance to correct on his mistakes.

In Pep they Trust -Pep has added only Jack Grealish to his squad yet still Man City look menacing.

Manchester City

Last season: 1st

New Arrivals: Jack Grealish

Notable Exits: Sergio Aguero, Eric Garcia

The defending champions have improved their squad with the addition of Jack Grealish but, failed to acquire a striker to replace Sergio Aguero who left for greener pastures in Spain. The Harry Kane deal fell through due to extreme demands from Tottenham as did their quiet pursuit of Erling Haaland whilst, Cristiano Ronaldo chose to return to his former home. The Sky Blues have started the season in great fashion with Jesus and Ferran Torres showing they can rise up to the task. Despite losing their first match to Tottenham, Man city went on to thump Norwich and Arsenal 5-0 on consecutive weekends highlighting their overall strength. With several options to choose from and a superior confidence in the squad, Man City should be challenging for honours on all fronts this season. However Guardiola still needs a top striker who can rise up during close games and big games as evidenced from the opening game against Tottenham. Manchester City possess a lot of talent to provide an entertaining season and will likely return for Kane or make a more aggressive approach for Haaland next year as Pep eyes the one piece of silverware that has eluded him so far at Man City – The Champions League trophy.

Prediction: 2nd Place

All Smiles – With Van Dijk back at the heart of the defence, Liverpool look more settled this year and happier after a troublesome campaign last year.

Liverpool

Last season: 3rd

New Arrivals: Ibrahima Konate

Notable Exits: Xherdan Shaqiri, Georginio Wijnaldum

Liverpool had a very quiet transfer window making only on real signing, bringing in centre back Ibrahima Konate from RB Leipzig most likely to avoid the issues of last season. A central midfielder was also under consideration following the departure of Wijnaldum to PSG but the emergance of Harvey Elliot perhaps gave Klopp food for thought. After a season of misfortune last year losing van Dijk and Gomez to injury and a lack of cohesion in their front three of Salah, Firmino and Mane, Liverpool somehow made it into the top four due to Leicester’s late slip up. This season however is different with Virgil van Dijk back and in great form looking like he was never injured. Firmino still looks off but, Salah and Mane are looking clinical with Jota adding an extra dimension. With cover in the back for van Dijk, Liverpool will bank on their forwards to carry them to a trophy. Their midfield however does looks old and slow and they need an aggressive attacking midfielder to press higher up the field if they are to properly challenge for the title.

Prediction: 4th place edging past Tottenham and well clear of West Ham at 6

The King Returns – Can Ronaldo inspire a new look Manchester United side to glory at home and abroad?

Manchester United

Last season: 2nd

New Arrivals: Cristiano Ronaldo, Rafael Varane, Jadon Sancho

Notable Exits: Daniel James

What a transformational window United have had this season! First they captured the young talented Jadon Sancho whom they have vetted extensively over the past year. They then added a proven winner in Raphael Varane from Madrid for only 50 million Euros which should ensure that the defensive is much tighter than last year. And then to top it all they got Cristiano Ronaldo. The former United man comes back a more experienced player than the one who left a decade ago. Despite the wear and tear, Ronaldo is still a genuine threat and a clinical finisher whose years in Juventus have created another threat in his game to shot creation. If not for the poor finishing in Turin, Ronaldo would have more assists to his name last season. Ole Gunnar Solskaer knows has a genuine title contender in this squad in Ronaldo and must use him wisely. United’s faith in Ole is beginning to pay off and they now have a squad with enough quality to attract even more top talents. Ole will require time to figure out his best squad including how to play the impression Edison Cavani, who let go of the number 7 shirt to Cristiano, with the returning Portuguese icon. Gary Neville has already said that this United squad may not win the league but will be challengers especially now with Ronaldo on board. They will set their sights on the European trophy with a veteran squad but, a trophy at the end of the season is a must for Ole after splashing cash on proven winners.

Prediction: 3rd Place

As Tottenham are in rebuild phase with a new coach and with no significant arrivals, they do not possess the squad depth of the Top 4 mentioned above to play throughout the season. Leicester and West Ham will provide tough competition as well as probably one other surprise team but this season will all be about the above four teams and that race for the title.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

Italy Wraps Up Euro 2020 with Dramatic Penalty Win over England

After a gruelling yet eventful tournament, Italy have once again established themselves as elites in Europe. After several agonizing years exiting tournaments in early stages or indeed missing out all together (despite harbouring a lot of talent), Italy’s place at Europe’s top table had been in question coming into Euro 2020. Viewed as a team in transition, they were never truly expected to do anything of note at this tournament. But maybe they should have been. On an unbeaten run dating back to 2018 entering Euro 2020, they were clearly the most consistent and balanced team in European international football. That run was extended as Italy brush past their group and knockout round opponents to extend their unbeaten run to 34 games and etch their name once more on the Henri Delaunay Cup for the second time in their history.

Road to redemption after World Cup misfortune

Roberto Mancini has swiftly changed the fortunes in his three-year tenure with the Azzurri after the Gian Piero Ventura experiment failed miserably. From missing out on the World Cup in 2018, he has taken it upon himself to experiment with younger inexperienced talents like Spinazzola, Chiesa, Berardi, Barella, Pessina to name a few with phenomenal results. After a dominant display at the previous World Cup, France were considered as favourites running up to the Euros followed by Spain, Germany and England. As mentioned before, Italy’s name did not pop up as the critics felt this team’s mettle had not yet been tested at the highest level.

Even after breezing through the group stages, Italy were still being questioned after an unsteady display against Austria in the Round of 16. The next two games would define their class over the rest of the contestants with a composed display against Belgium providing no space for Kevin de Bruyne to make any drives and a gritty performance to hold out over a Spanish side that outclassed them in the first half of regular time. They certainly made it to the Finals from a tougher bracket having gone through Spain and Belgium to face an enthusiastic England team in front of a hostile home crowd.

Like Father, like son – Following in his fathers footsteps, Federico Chiesa had a superb tournament for Italy, contributing with valuable goals when his team needed them.

It’s Coming Home

Due to Covid regulations, UEFA downsized the locations of the matches to few key arenas and the final and semi-finals were all decided to be played on English soil in Wembley due to UK’s swift vaccination schemes and loosening of restriction for fans presence at the stadiums. This meant England had an advantage and higher motivation to play for the trophy on home soil. England boast a very talented squad which has only improved after their semi-final run in Russia three years ago.  Now a more experienced squad was ready to fight for the coveted trophy with fans chanting “It’s Coming Home” before the tournament commenced. England proceed with an unsteady display in the group stages but, outclassed Germany tactically in the round of 16 breaking ghosts of the tournament’s past. England then cruised past Ukraine and made it to the finals through some luck to get past Denmark in extra time (England played better in extra time and were clearly threatening although it was not a penalty). With a solid defence in Maguire and Stones protected well by Rice and Philips, an ever confident Sterling linking well with Harry Kane upfront and impacts subs who could change the flow of the game in Sancho, Rashford and Grealish, England had a case to put up a strong fight against Italy.     

A final game deadlocked till the last kick

The game started with a bang with England making their mark with a goal from Luke Shaw on the heels of a beautiful counter-attack.  1-0 down, Italy now had to fight for their way back in to make a case for the trophy. Italy played a curious game holding possession and playing short passes trying to find gaps for a breakthrough but, the English defence was steadfast and held strongly and tried to create chances with breakaways but, could not find the final ball. Raheem Sterling was making runs but had a tough night with Chiellini, Barella and Di Lorenzo breaking down any potential threats. Harry Kane was also neutralized and outmuscled with three players on him whenever he had the ball in possession. At the other end, Insigne tested the waters but, could only take weak shots from outside the box. England looked confident and composed and played out the first half with the lead.

Luke Shaw opened the scoring for England with the fastest ever goal in Euro’s history and his first International goal for his country

Both sides made no changes come the second half of regular time. Italy played some long balls into the box but, they did not possess the specific talents to land the ball so Mancini introduced two changes to his side with the introduction of Cristante replacing Barella and Berardi to replace Immobile who was quite all game. Italy now wanted to get the ball in the box instead of playing short passes to breakthrough and after a few decent plays (Chiesa was a beast on one-on-one challenges) got their equalizer through Bonucci who scrapped a goal after the initial ball into the box was tipped over Maguire. England’s biggest error was that they gave possession to Italy for long period of the game and could not get the ball from Jorginho or Veratti. Italy took momentum and created more chances with notable attempts from Berardi and Chiesa. Southgate made two changes to change the flow of the game and get back into gear with the introduction of Henderson for Rice and Saka for Trippier. But, taking back possession after spending long period of the game defending proved to be difficult with only some set piece action the game looked primed for extra time.

Extra time proceeded slowly with neither side unable to threaten for goal, Italy brought on their final substitutes Bernardeschi for Bellotti and Locatelli for Verrati to replace a tiring starting line-up and England brought on Grealish for Mount.  But neither side could find the space to create a scoring opportunity and game was set for penalties and managers were ready. With only 2 minutes of extra-time left, the England managers last two substitutes were questionable not for the players brought in but, for the player removed. Jordan Henderson who was a second half substitute was taken off for Rashford and Sancho replaced Walker. Italy won the coin toss and start the penalty shootout

Southgate’s decision to put Sancho and Rashford into the game with 2 minutes to go before penalties backfired with both players missing from the spot

The first penalty was Italy’s and they scored through Berardi; Kane then replied with a calm penalty. Bellotti stepped up for the second penalty having scored his penalty with Spain but, was saved by Pickford and England then scored their second through Maguire. Bonucci stepped up for the third penalty for italy and confidently executed the ball. Marcus Rashford then had a chance to give England the momentum. The Manchester United frontman has taken many penalties for his club and was brought on for his penalty record. But he scuffed his shot hitting the post.  Italy could now take advantage. Federico Bernardeschi stepped up and stowed away boldly down the middle. Jadon Sancho then stepped up for the fourth which was saved by Donnarumma. With all seemingly lost for England as Jorginho, Italy’s penalty expert who won it against Spain stepping up, Pickford made yet another save to give England a lifeline. The last kick for England is taken by the 19-year-old Bukayo Saka who has never taken a penalty at Senior level. He took the long walk down to face Italy’s big man in Donnarumma standing tall at 6 foot 5 inches. He runs up to his kick but, it is saved and Italy take the win. The win garnering smiles across the world and celebrations across the nation. Mancini’s men will be glorified in history books for their courage and persistence.

Team of the Tournament:

With the tournament completed, we can look at the best players across all contestants who displayed their talents at this month-long battle.     

Goalkeeper:

Gianluigi Donnarumma:

The “Player of the tournament” award winner deservedly was influential in Italy’s winning run. The new PSG big man kept clean sheets in all three group stage games and was influential in the penalty shootouts against Spain and England.

Defenders:

Leonardo Spinnazola:

Spinnazola was one of the best players for Italy who provided a dynamic change of play for Italy. Similar to the left back of past (Fabio Grosso whose heroics in semi-final and finals of world cup 2006 will be forever remembered), he frequently ran down the lane and found his teammates. He was crucial in providing the assist against Austria to break the deadlock and was influential through the tournament, had it not been for his injury in the semi-finals, he would have made a strong case for “Player of the Tournament” award.

Leonardo Bonucci:

Bonucci was a confident and calm figure at the back clearing balls timely and formed a great partnership with Juventus teammate Chiellini. Bonucci also acted as the lynchpin to find his wings and strikers with long passes from the back providing another means of distribution. He was also the man to find the equalizer for Italy to get back into game in the Finals.

Bonucci’s goal brought Italy level and shifted the momentum to the Azzuri

Aymeric Laporte:

Laporte decision to play for Spain after having represented France youth levels came as a surprise as many expected the Manchester City man to play for France alongside Rafa Varane. But the centre back chose to represent Spain and was picked for the tournament squad. After a brief adjustment period in the group stages, he stepped up and took charge of the defence and formed a great backline alongside Pau Torres and Erik Garcia alongside veterans Cesar Azpilicueta and Jordan Alba.  He was beneficial in Spain’s build-up from defence, he was crucial to break Croatia’s momentum after swinging to extra time and made the block on Italy’s break but, could not help the rebound falling to Chiesa who scored the goal. Many will argue Chiellini should have deserved this spot and there would be no debates but, Chiellini was exposed in some areas of the game especially in the game against Spain. Laporte brings a different element to Spain on top of being a leader in the defence somewhat akin to Bonucci.

Kyle Walker:

There were few players who were as composed and as consistent as Kyle Walker at this tournament. Solid at the back and making blindingly fast and creative runs on attack, his awareness to pick out passes were also beneficial for England.

Midfielders:

Jorginho:

The Chelsea man has found a new lease to life under Tuchel after struggling to find playing time under Lampard guiding Chelsea to the Champions league trophy alongside Kante. He came into the tournament with superior confidence and was influential in providing flexibility to the Italian side linking the defence to the attack making interceptions alongside partner in crime Veratti. He also scored the beautiful penalty to end Spain’s run in the Semi-final.

Pedri:

Luis Enrique’s choice to start 18-year-old was a shock but, what we witnessed was the rise of a superstar talent. The “Young Player of the Tournament” winner played a very composed game with a 95% pass completion percentage. Barcelona have unearthed yet another gem who may form the core for the team for years to come. 

Pedri lit up the tournament with his Barca game and in doing so earned himself the Best youth player of Euro 2020 award

Paul Pogba: 

The claims that Pogba plays better for his nation than for his club have been looming for some time. Although, I don’t see much merit it is an undeniable that his performance in this tournament has been anything but spectacular. There may be many names that could have easily put in this spot but, Pogba has been sensational for France. Even in the loss to Switzerland, he was the most influential threat on the field. Had it not been for the poor finishing of Mbappe and Coman’s lack of a final touch, France would have gone through to the Last 8. Nevertheless, Pogba’s silky smooth finish in the loss to the Swiss was a sight for sore eyes and Manchester United should do their best to retain his talents at Old Trafford.

Attackers:

Raheem Sterling:

Sterling was at his best for England at this tournament. He made several marauding runs down the lane and often nestled past several defenders to create chances for England. His pace and aggressive mentality were very crucial for England making it to the finals. He did everything possible to get England to the finals, this should give Pep Guardiola plenty to consider with the transfer window looming and Manchester City’s interest in Harry Kane. 

Sterling had a solid tournament for England contributing vital goals throughout but his dive in the Semi’s marred it for many

Federico Chiesa:

My favourite player of the tournament, the Juventus loanee was a huge figure for Italy. His one-on-one drives were massive and he could not be stopped, he created several chances for himself and was a huge threat down the lane. The defenders had to always keep an eye on him as his dribbling was a constant threat and when the game against England was at a standstill and Ciro Immobile looked hazy, he made several drives without relying on Italy’s short pass strategy to create space for himself to take a shot. He had two shots on target and the spark behind Italy’s Equalizer. Italy’s offense dwindled when he was subbed in the Final. Chiesa in my opinion has a case for the “Best player of the Tournament” and anyone who watched him play with not argue on this point.

Patrik Schick:

This should not come as a shock entry as the Czech Republic and Leverkusen big man has been phenomenal throughout the tournament carrying the small nation to the quarterfinals. He also scored quite possibly the goal of the tournament against Scotland. Cool and composed, he made waves and turned heads across the tournament.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to Back Of The Net

Nail biting Round of 16 stuns Euros which now goes down to Final 8.

The knockouts of the Euro 2020 have started in full swing with exhilarating games and several significant upsets. After four days of knockout games, the bracket for the quarter finals has taken shape with several notable nations bowing out after tough competitions. Let’s take a look at a breakdown of the games and our predictions for the quarterfinals.

Day 1: A poor showing and a nail-biting thriller

Denmark vs Wales: 4 – 0

Key players: Gareth Bale (Wales); Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark)

The Danes dismantled an unorganized and unprepared Welsh side with ease in this game. The Euro 2016 semi-finalists who narrowly clinched the runner up spot of group A, went down a goal in the first half and were thoroughly outclassed by an inspired Danish side who have played heroically since losing star player Christian Eriksen in their very first game of the tournament. Welsh frustrations were only highlighted by the stoppage time red card to Harry Wilson, which looked soft to be fair. The Danes go through to the next round thanks to an inspirational performance and a newly confident forward in Kasper Dolberg who bagged a brace in this game.

Italy vs Austria: 2 – 1

Key Players: Lorenzo Insigne (Italy), L. Spinazzola, David Alaba (Austria)

Italy came into the tournament not having lost in 15 games in a row and cleared the group without any loss. Considered a darkhorse, they faced a very organized Austrian side led by Real Madrid new boy David Alaba. Italy was tested throughout the game which was goalless for 90 minutes. They then scored two goals in the first half of extra time, once again involved on the goal was the AS Roma man, Spinazzola. The left back has taken the Euros by a storm with his speed and deep penetrating runs. Austrian side put up a great fight until the end having scoring a last-minute goal and creating chaos for the last 8 mins of extra time but, the Italians held on to progress to the next round. If there were any cause for concern for the Italian side, it would be the poor showing of Domenico Berardi who despite some significant key defensive contributions failed to convert key chances to close the game.

Day 2: Passion and Pride

Netherlands vs Czech Republic: 0 – 2

Key Players: Patrik Schick (Czech Republic), Memphis Depay (Netherlands), Gini Wijnaldum (Netherlands)

The Dutch took an early exit after a poor showing against the surprise outfit of the Czech Republic. After losing their defensive leader Matthijs de Ligt early on (sent off for a deliberate handball), the Dutch lost all composure and fell under the pressure from a passionate and organized Czech performance. Patrik Schick was once again the man in the limelight who created the pressure for De Ligt’s send off and scored a fine goal to cap off a brilliant performance.  Now the only question that remains is how far can these underdogs go at the Euros.

Belgium vs Portugal: 0 – 1

Key Players: Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Belgium go through to the Quarter finals after a decent showing against Portugal. Portugal took a very conservative approach against a star-studded Belgium side, attempting to restrict any gaps. Both sides were very composed throughout the game, with Belgium capitalizing on an early chance with a goal towards the end of the first half. Kevin de Bruyne played his usual game and was constant threat throughout the game often suffering heavy tackles from Portugal’s frustrated defensive line. Belgium manager Roberto Martinez was quick to remove Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard after the early goal and held on to win the game as they prepare to face tougher competition on their expected road to the Final.

Day 3: Two classic games of passionate football that will be remember for years to come

Spain – Croatia: 5 – 3 (AET)

Key Players: Alvaro Morata (Spain), Luka Modric (Croatia) 

Spain came into the knockouts with two questionable performances and a final day 5-0 victory over Slovakia. Many questions were raised against Alvaro Morata’s form and Luis Enrique’s tactics at the Euros. Morata did not score in the win over Slovakia but showed signs of improvement from his first two performances. Spain started the game poorly with keeper Unai Simon missing a straightforward back pass from Pedro that ended up in the back of their own net.  But they quickly took control of the game and went up 3-1 shortly after. They looked all set to advance before Luka Modric who took control of the game in the last 15 minutes and Croatia scored twice to levelled the game in stoppage time with notable contributions from Atalanta man, Mario Pasalic. It looked like the momentum was completely on Croatia’s hands in extra time but, the fatigue of the game finally caught up to Croatian side. But the Spaniards were more clinical in extra time and put the game well beyond reach with two well taken goals to advance to the quarter finals. Heartbreak for Croatia but all in all it was an entertaining game for the fans and neutrals.

Take home: Spain showed grit to come back in extra time, they capitalized on the chances and closed down the game. Morata and Ferran Torres look confident but, defensive issues still persist.

France: Switzerland: 3 – 3 (AET) [4-5 Pens]

Key Players: Paul Pogba (France), Kylian Mbappe (France), Granit Xhaka (Switzerland), Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland)

The Euro 2016 finalists and 2018 World Cup winners were heavy favourites to win the tournament and looked likely to dispatch the Swiss and advance. With the recall of exiled striker Karim Benzema, France was meant to be an even better team. After an indifferent showing in the group stage, France still managed to clear as top seed of a very tough group. Flashes of brilliance were seen but, poor form of Mbappe and Benzema and lack of chemistry were signs of concern. Karim Benzema came alive in the last group stage draw against Portugal but, the dominance exhibited in previous tournaments was not apparent.  The game again the Swiss exhibited parallels with the earlier game between Spain and Croatia. France went down a goal due to poor positioning in the box and Swiss capitalized on the chance. France abandoned the back three by subbing out Clement Lenglet for Kingsley Coman and moved Rabiot and Pavard to the full backs. But things only got worse when Swiss were awarded a penalty in box. A huge save by the French captain Hugo Lloris led to change of winds followed by a genius first touch by Karim Benzema for a French equalizer. Then, France immediately took the momentum away and scored another goal. Paul Pogba introduced further damage with a worldie from outside the box.

The Swiss made changes to bring on some much needed energy and try to break France’s momentum. France failed to capitalize on several breakaway passes from Pogba and the Swiss pulled one back through another header from Haris Seferovic. A brilliant pass from Swiss captain Granit Xhaka setup the equalizing goal for Gavranovic to force the game into extra time. France then lost their Joker who shifted the momentum after Coman and Benzema exited due to injuries. The Swiss held on through extra time with a composed performance from Xhaka who broke several key passes. The game was settled in a nerve-wracking penalty shootout, the first four penalties were beautifully executed by both teams. The final penalty for the Swiss was taken by veteran Mehmedi who stepped up with a blank expression. He took his time and executed his kick to perfection. The last kick fell onto a superstar Mbappe who had an abysmal tournament, missed several key chances and clearly lacked the confidence but, this could have been his turning point in the tournament. But the penalty was saved by Sommer who waited a few seconds to get the all clear from the referee and celebrated a well-deserved Swiss victory.

Take home: A scar in Mbappe’s career but, a valuable lesson for the 22-year-old. Pogba and Kante both shined in the game with the former creating several key chances. France still possesses a world of talent with the World Cup just around the corner.

Day 4: Redemption and Rejoice

England vs Germany: 0 – 2

England and Germany both possess very young, talented squads with immense potential for years to come. After the initial loss to France, Germany showed a strong performance against Portugal but, drew with a “never say die” Hungary side. Similarly, England also played with the line-ups but, could not bring the best out their talisman Kane.  The two sides faced on in a slow and tactical approach in the first half. A stealthy finish by Sterling gave England the lead late in the second half but, Germany could not capitalize on the mistake by Sterling with Thomas Muller’s shot moving ever so wide of the goal post. Jack Grealish’s introduction opened up the goal for Harry Kane to score for England and they would hold on to a 2-0 lead. Germany’s attacks were unimaginative at this point only sending long balls to the box in hopes of a half chance at goal. England held on to finish a historic win in over 50 years against the former world champions.

Take Home: Grealish may the key to unlocking Kane for England. Germany can rejoice the successful tenure of Joachim Low and look forward to new mastermind in Flick. The German team has plenty of potential and Hansi-Flick with his success at Bayern and his understanding of the next generation may be the key to create another dynasty.

Sweden vs Ukraine: 1 – 2 (AET)

Key Players: Emil Forsberg (Sweden); Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)

Andriy Shevchenko’s Ukraine created history with a gritty performance and survived a dogged Swedish performance. Sweden missing talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who committed to return to national side for the tournament only to get injured) were still an emboldened team who put forward a strong group stage performance. A war of attrition between two sides who scored early first half goals was at a standstill and looking to be heading into penalties till Ukraine found some reserve energy to put the game to bed.

Predictions for the Quarter-Finals:

Belgium vs Italy:

Considered by many as the match that may provide the winner of the Euros, Belgium and Italy have shown some great football. Belgium will need their talisman Kevin de Bruyne, who took a knock in the Portugal game, in good form if they are to have any chance of winning against Italy. We saw Belgium completely lose their creativity after de Bruyne left the game against Portugal as did Man City in the Champions League final. They will need his dribbles to break through Jorginho and Verratti. Italy on the other hand have looked strong throughout this tournament but, needed extra time to put the game to bed against Austria. A tough game to call but a heavy tackle on de Bruyne might be all it takes to edge this for Italy.

Prediction: 1 – 2 (Italy Win)

Switzerland vs Spain:

Switzerland made headlines with a huge upset knocking out favourites France. Spain played a similar game but, managed to pull through in extra time against Croatia. Morata looks motivated and will be the key to help Spain go thorough to the semis.

Prediction: 0 – 2 (Spain Win)

England vs Ukraine:

England played a good game but, are still trying to figure out their best line-up to support Kane. Sterling has been phenomenal in this tournament and Mason Mount may feature in the next game after his stint in quarantine. Ukraine have done well to get as far as they have but will face a tough test in England who are desperate to get to the final this time around.

Prediction: 2 – 0 (England win)

Czech Republic vs Denmark:

After losing their first two games, the Danes bounced back valiantly with win over Russia and demolished Wales in the round of 16 with Kasper Dolberg rising up to the occasion at the perfect time. The Czechs have also shown resilience restricting the Dutch to a few chances and capitalizing on a mistake. They also have a star in Patrik Schick. This game a bit difficult to predict as Denmark possess a wealth of talent and a world class goal stopper in Kasper Schmeichel but, one cannot rule out the Czechs who are also playing with superior confidence.

Prediction: 1 – 0 (Czech win)

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

All Aboard the Managerial Merry-go-round

The departure of Carlo Ancelotti from Everton to rejoin Real Madrid came as a shock to many especially those in and around the club. Having only hired the Italian 18 months ago in what at the time was deemed as a masterstroke, Everton now find themselves with a massive gap to fill and a search for their 6th manager in five years. But Ancelotti’s return to the Bernabeau only came about when Zinedine Zidane decided enough was enough and walked away. The sentiment from the Frenchman was that he no longer felt that the club had faith in him or the willingness to support his longer term vision so taking his leave seemed to be the only solution. His actions however as well as the actions of a few other high profile managers in Italy, Germany and France have acted as the catalyst for change in the managerial world and kick started the merry go round of moves that we are now witnessing across Europe’s top five leagues.

The question is not really where to begin but instead where to stop given the vast number of changes that have and are set to happen. Managerial changes throughout Europe’s leagues are at an all time high with adjustments being made both by the clubs due to the after effects of a global pandemic which crippled the football financial ecosystem and by the managers themselves who need change after an intense pressure filled season. No league felt this more than Italy so it seems like a good a place as any to start.

Antonio Conte’s decision to leave Inter only days after guiding them to their first Scudetto in 11 years highlighted the financial impact of the pandemic which has ravaged the game. Unable to strengthen his squad in the summer due to financial cut backs at the club, Conte decided like Zidane to quit. He was quickly replaced by Simone Inzaghi who led Lazio to a sixth placed finish. Simone faces the prospect of taking Conte’s squad and selling off one or two of its prize assets as the club looks to pull back €80m. Lazio are yet to announce their new manager but are being heavily linked with Maurizio Sarri.

Conte’s decision to depart sparked a host of various other managerial moves

The former Chelsea manager has been out of work since leaving Juventus in 2020 when they decided to test out Andres Pirlo as manager with the hopes that the former midfield maestro could have the Zidane effect on Juve. That didn’t work out in the end and he will depart this summer with Massimilano Allegri returning to the club he left in 2019. Jose Mourinho is also returning to Italy this time with Roma after they let Paulo Fonseca go last month. Fonseca has yet to decide on his next move but has been heavily linked with Tottenham and Wolves as well as several other clubs across Europe.

The one season manager does seem to be a reoccurring trend in Italy with Conte only lasted at Inter a year having replaced Luciano Spalletti in 2019. Incidentally, Spalletti himself is also on the move this summer joining Napoli after the exit of Gennaro Gattuso to Fiorentina. Gattuso is the long term replacement for Cesare Prandelli who sensationally quit in March citing a feeling of distress as well as personal reasons behind his decision. Gattuso spent two years at Napoli after replacing Carlo Ancelotti who was sacked only a couple of weeks before he showed up at Everton.

Speaking of Everton, the race to replace Ancelotti is well under way with former Everton and now West Ham boss David Moyes tipped for a sensational return. However the club is also rumoured to be considering Eddie Howe (out of work since leaving Bournemouth) and Nuno Espírito Santo who left Wolves just a few weeks ago. Howe who was in advanced talks with Celtic before turning them down, is also in the running for the vacant role at Crystal Palace after Roy Hodgson took his leave. Ex Chelsea boss Frank Lampard is also in the frame for that role as is ironically Santo who could spur a tug of war between the two clubs as they jostle for their number one pick. Meanwhile at Celtic, they are looking more seriously at Ange Postecoglou having failed to get Howe or Jesse Marsch in earlier attempts.

Will Eddie Howe return to management in the EPL with Everton or Crystal Palace?

Marsch chose to move to RB Leipzig this summer from Red Bull Salzburg as the automatic replacement for Bayern bound Julian Nagelsmann. It will be an exciting challenge for the American that will have him pitting his wits against one of the brightest young coaches in the game right now in Nagelsmann. The 33 year old german takes over at Bayern Munich from Hansi Flick who will take the reins of the German national team following the completion of Euro 2020. Elsewhere, Marco Rose will join Borussia Dortmund as manager in the summer, with Borussia Monchengladbach hiring Adi Hutter from Eintracht Frankfurt as his replacement. They in turn hired Oliver Glasner from Wolfsburg who in turn then appointed former PSV boss Mark van Bommel as their new manager. Finally Leverkausen grabbed Gerardo Seoane from Young Boys Berne as they looked to make a quick replacement for the Lyon bound Peter Bosz.

In France, the big news surrounds Christophe Galtier and his next destination after he sensationally steered Lille to the French title last season. Days later he would quit the club and has been linked with a host of jobs including Spurs and indeed looked likely to end up at OGC Nice before a gap in the compensation package appeared too big to bridge. There are also rumours starting that Zidane could replace Mauricio Pochettino at PSG if the Argentine makes a sensational return to Tottenham.

This summer will see changes at a host of other European clubs including Montpellier HSC, RC Strasbourg Alsace, Angers SCO in France, a new managerial appointment at Valencia with Jose Bordalas signing on from Getafe and in England, West Brom and Sheffield United are at different stages of their process with West Brom still considering candidates whilst Sheffield United have moved quickly confirmed Slavisa Jokanovic as their new boss.

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Spurs mull over potential replacements for Kane as he eyes the exit door

Spurs fan’s biggest nightmare is likely about to come true. Club legend Harry Kane, after a 17 year association with the London club, has stated he wants to leave. It’s the hunt for trophies that has made the English skipper so desperate to find a new club. Tottenham, who are without a trophy since 2008, reached the UCL final in 2019 but since then have only drifted away from the top level. Kane is regarded as one of the best strikers in the world and big clubs all over Europe would love to have him in their team. However, it won’t be that simple. Kane signed a 6-year contract with Spurs in 2018, tying him up with the club till 2024. This gives Spurs chairman, Daniel Levy an upper hand in the negotiations. Levy would fight hard to keep hold of his best player and the minimum £120 million price tag would be hard to meet for the buyers in a pandemic hit transfer market. But a couple of big money signings and the spending domino could start to fall. Kane will need to be determined to force his way out of the club and if he does, what’s does that mean for Spurs?

Replacing Kane and his goals, if possible, would be stressful for the decision makers at Spurs. The dependency on him has only increased this season as he is not only the top goal scorer but also the highest assist maker for Spurs as well as in the league, recording 23 goals and 14 assists. His technical ability, finishing skills, and vision makes him a complete player who can win matches on his own. That makes you think, anyone except a few generational talents would be a downgrade from one of the most lethal strikers. Spurs, a club in managerial limbo and downward trajectory doesn’t seem like an attractive proposition to the talents of Mbappe or Haaland. So, Spurs would need more than one astute attacking signing to replace Kane’s numbers and receipts from his sale would allow that.

Manchester United and Manchester City are among the front runners for Kane’s signature. A deal with one of those clubs could lead to Anthony Martial or Gabriel Jesus heading to Spurs. Martial would bring pace with decent finishing ability. But the French international’s movement is not great, he doesn’t get involved in build-ups and can disappear in games. On the other side, Jesus’s link-up play is highly underrated and the Brazilian could lead the front line by pressing with great intensity. However, there are doubts about his finishing skills, as he often misses good scoring opportunities. Both Jesus and Martial are yet to hit the 20 goal mark in an EPL season.

Would Manchester City use Gabriel Jesus as part of a player plus money deal for Kane?

Other striking options from within the league are Southampton’s Danny Ings and Leeds United’s Patrick Bamford. Ings only has 12 months left on his contract and given his recent goalscoring exploits could be looking to sign for a big English club. Ings boasts good technical skills and link-up play as well as being potent in front of goal and can put up impressive numbers like he did in the 19/20 season (22 goals in 38 league appearances). However, his injury record is a worry and often hinders him from maintaining his form. Given that Ings could be signed for a relatively low fee, it would be a good coup for Spurs if they sign him as one of the pillars to Kane’s replacement package and not the direct replacement. Patrick Bamford just completed another strong season for Leeds, registering 17 goals and 7 assists. Bamford’s movement and build-up play is impressive and he could fit well in the Spurs team. But there might be a disparity between his market value and his value for Leeds. And there is also the question that most of Bielsa’s players face – how would he fair in a non-Bielsa organized side?

Outside England, there have been links with Andre Silva and Memphis Depay. The Portuguese striker had an incredible season for Frankfurt, on loan from Milan. Silva scored 28 goals and assisted 5 from 32 games for Eintracht Frankfurt this season. He is lethal inside the box and brilliant with headers but he doesn’t get much involved in the build-up play. The 25 year old’s release clause of £26 million could be activated in the summer with several top clubs competing for his signature but Spurs can weigh up their chances by offering him a starting position.

Silva has a proven goalscoring record with 92 career goals in 235 appearances but could he fill Kane’s boots?

Depay had a prolific season for Lyon, scoring 20 and assisting 12 goals from 37 appearances in Ligue 1. The Dutch international is definite to leave this summer and is heavily linked with Barcelona but that could change with Barca’s decision about Koeman’s future still pending. His pace and movement are his best attributes and can take on different roles in the front-line. His transfer move would cost around £50 million but there may be some doubts about taking a gamble on Depay after his failure to ignite when at Manchester United. The Dutchman only scored twice in 39 appearances for the Red Devils over two ill fated seasons. Has he shown enough growth as a player and in his game at Lyon to warrant a sizable investment?

Coping with the departure of your best player is never easy, especially when he is also the highest goal scorer. With no manager in charge, who is going to envision the signings on the pitch? Can Spurs be efficient in the transfer market and have they learned from making a series of underwhelming signings from Bale’s sale money? Of the seven players signed with that money, only one (Lamela) remains and arguably only a couple more could be deemed a success. There is also a question of whether Kane’s desperation to leave give a sense to other players outside of the club that Spurs is not the place to be? These are tough questions that Levy & Co. may have to work around.

Some help can also come from within the existing squad. There would be room for Son to step up and finally reach the 20 goals a season mark. The likes of Ndombele and Lo Celso can increase goal contributions from midfield. Or there is the possibility of retaining Bale for one more season, this time in a more central role. At the same time, with one of their leaders leaving, the team’s belief and confidence could be seriously hampered. Using some of Kane’s transfer to bring in a new leader might be worth considering as well. All in all this could be the most important transfer window in Spurs modern history. If Kane is sold early on in the window, there is potential to bring in new players and rejuvenate a squad that has failed to get over the line a number of times. But a late departure or the wrong players being brought in could also spurn the possibility that Kane’s departure will result in Spurs downfall. Oh to be Daniel Levy right now.

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Hammers on Fire Thanks to Astute Transfer Business

At the start of the season, no one would have put their money on West Ham fighting for a Champions League spot. Yet, here we are with two games left to play and they sit 7th on the table, 4 points behind Liverpool in 5th. The Hammers, who finished 16th last season, have done some smart business in the transfer market to turnaround their reality. They are notoriously famous for being too ambitious in the transfer market, for chasing glamorous players instead of the right ones. However, there has been a change of approach in signing players in the last couple of years at West Ham. David Sullivan, the club owner, has reduced his own influence on player recruitment and let manager David Moyes be the decisive man on that matter. Moyes has bought players desperate to prove themselves as well as found some hidden gems without breaking the bank in doing so. The impact of their recent signings is visible all over the pitch from defence to attack and has resulted in instant success.

The key signings

Tomáš Souček – Initially brought on loan in January 2020, and then signed permanently last summer from Slavia Prague for £15 million, Soucek is a prime candidate for signing of the season. Naturally a defensive midfielder, he has been deployed by Moyes more in a box-to-box role, making late runs in the box. He has given West Ham a real goal threat from midfield and is the co-highest goal scorer for West Ham this season along with Jesse Lingard and Michail Antonio, scoring 9 goals while also being a defensive pillar in midfield. The Czech hardly ever stops running when on the pitch, constantly providing his team defensive cover and getting involved in attacks. On average, he covers 12.2km per game, which is highest in the league alongside Brighton’s Pascal Gross. Soucek’s aerial prowess is another asset that stands out. Against a very physical Burnley side a couple of weeks ago, he set the record for most aerial duels won by a player in a match this season with 17. With Soucek no missing a single league games for the Hammers in 20/21, this might be the best £15 million West Ham has ever spent as the 26 year old is only going to grow in value with the numbers he is producing.

Soucek has proven to be a bargain for West Ham. After impressing on loan, West Ham parted with £15 million in one of the best pieces of transfer business this season.

Vladimír Coufal – Another great Soucek contribution for West Ham was telling Moyes about Coufal. This hidden gem was also signed from Salvia Prague for just £5.5 million in the summer and has been sensational down the right flank. The Czech has made the Hammers’ backline more solid and possesses amazing crossing ability, grabbing 6 assists in his first EPL season. His physical strength, high work rate and good tackling ability makes him a barricade for the opposition wingers. The right back is often deployed by Moyes as a wingback when playing with a three man backline, and contributes to attacks not just just through crosses but also linking up the play well and being efficient on the ball. The 28 year old has garnered praise from his manager for his attitude. Moyes claims that the two Czech internationals have brought a winning mentality to the squad, which is required when trying to keep up with the big dogs. Bought after Fredericks picked up an injury early in the season, Coufal has now made the position his own, starting 32 league games this season. West Ham fans could be assured that their right flank is in good hands under Coufal, who keeps the opposition attackers at bay while providing attacking impetus going forward.

Jesse Lingard – Signed on loan in January until the end of the season, Lingard came to West Ham on a mission to prove his doubters wrong. The England International has scored 9 and created 3 in just 14 appearances. He has already paid back the dividends plus extra for his £1.5 million loan fee having scored crucial goals in West Ham’s race for European football. With West Ham keen to sign on him on a permanent transfer, the only downfall regarding Lingard’s recent performances, is that it will likely add a few millions more to United’s asking price. Mostly used as a no.10, Lingard operates with great dynamism and flexibility, interchanging positions with the wingers. Even if his goal scoring slowed down, he would still have a lot to offer with great link-up play and an eye for a defence splitting pass. The 28 year old has already become a popular figure in the West Ham dressing room because of his charismatic personality and has a great relationship with Moyes. Making his move permanent would be on top of West Ham’s list, although his price tag and interest from bigger clubs will be an issue in that pursuit.

Craig Dawson – His impact goes often under the radar compared to other arrivals but he has been as influential as the other loan signing up front. Initially brought as a cover to Diop, Ogbonna and Balbuena, Dawson was given a chance after injuries in the back line and he grabbed it with both hands. Brought on loan in October, the experienced centre back has become integral to West Ham’s amazing season. As a part of his clause, West Ham will be making Dawson’s transfer from Watford permanent for just £2 million as he has made more than 15 league appearances this season. He has brought great leadership and organization to the Hammers defence for a very economical price. With a high tackle success rate of 78%, Dawson also has an eye for the occasional centre back goal having scored 4 this season in all competitions. In Dawson, Moyes has found someone to rely on and base his defence around for future seasons.

Dawson arrived quietly but has impressed hugely under Moyes with his move set to be made permanent this summer.

One signing that hasn’t quite lived up to expectations is Said Behnrama but there is still a sense of hope that he could come to fruition in the next season. The Algerian, signed from Brentford for £26 million has shown glimpses of his creative abilities and has managed to get 5 assists in 28 appearances but still has a lot to do to live up to his transfer fee. He did manage to open his goalscoring account for the Hammers at the weekend against Brighton with a beautiful curling shot from outside of the area which will have pleased Moyes and the player himself. There is no doubt about his talent and could be given a grace period as it’s only his first season in the English top flight.

The kind of signings West Ham would want to distance themselves from is of Sebastian Haller. Signing a big name player for a huge fee and then being forced to sell them for a loss after a period of underwhelming performances. Haller arrived with a lot of promise after being part of the Eintracht Frankfurt trio strike force of Haller, Rebic and Jovic. Whilst Rebic left for AC Milan and Jovic joined Real Madrid, Haller headed for London but under false pretences. Whoever scouted Haller clearly did a poor job and looked only at his goalscoring and assist numbers and his height (6ft 3in) instead of how he fitted into that Frankfurt frontline and how he scored most of his goals. He was labelled as a target man which he isn’t (he prefers to dribble more and drop deep to pick up the ball) and from then on never really fit with how West Ham wanted to play. Hardly his fault but an expensive lesson all the same for the Hammers.

Haller should not be considered a failure, more a mistake by the club who bought him to perform a role which wasn’t his strength

Trust in Moyes’ judgement should be carried on into this summer as they will look to build up on this season’s success. It would be impressive if they again pick up some right pieces from lower or lesser known leagues. West Ham’s main priority going into summer is signing a new striker. The Hammers are being linked to Tammy Abraham, who has struggled to get into Tuchel’s Chelsea team. Abraham’s style of play would suit Moyes’ system and he has also proved that he can shine in the Premier League. The other option is Ivan Toney who has been lighting up the Championship for Brentford. They could also improve between the posts with Fanianski now 36 and not as nibble as before. They have been linked to Sam Johnstone, who recently received an England call-up and would be looking to find a club in the Premier League as West Brom already relegated. West Ham will want to keep hold of Declan Rice as well but if a too hard to resist offer arrives from a big side, they could use that money to find a replacement and upgrade other positions. However it would be burdensome to find someone who can dictate passes and protect the backline the way Rice does.

If West Ham can continue doing their transfer business in the same vein to the last couple of windows they could surely become a familiar face at the top half of the table. A top 6 finish this season would not only attract quality players but also deepen West Ham’s pocket. It would be some achievement if Moyes can pull it off, given those who doubted that he still had what it took as a manager. Success for West Ham under Moyes looks possible especially if they keep making the right decisions on the pitch as well as in the transfer market.

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Will Hans-Dieter Flick mastermind for the next evolution of the German National team?

July 2021 marks the end of era in history of the German National team with the charismatic manager, Joachim Löw taking his last bow for ‘die mannschaft’ after the Euro 2020. Löw took over as manager after the 2006 World Cup and transformed the team fortunes leading them to World Cup victory in Brazil in 2014. His 15-year tenure revolutionized Germany’s identity as a nation and a leader in global football.  

The 1990 World Cup signified a turning point in its history. A mere few months after West Germany’s win at that tournament, they reunified with their Eastern counterpart forming the now known unified Germany. Instead of building on that success, Germany struggled to find its footing on the international scene. They did managed to win the 1996 European Championships in England but with an aging squad. There were also promising signs at the 2006 World Cup as well which was on home turf. Despite a semi-final exit, they showed the world a fun summer World Cup (breaking the typical stern-faced German stereotypes) and bright young talents (Lukas Podolski, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger) got to shine on the big stage.

Exit stage right – Low is set to depart from the German National job after Euro 2020

The German footballing authority looked to build on this momentum with a new manager (Löw) with fresh ideologies to foster the young and hungry talents that the country bore. The emergence of Pep Guardiola and the Tiki-Taka footballing philosophy along with Spain’s dominance at Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 only strengthened the notion that change was needed. International success usually comes on the heel of domestic success at club level. But German football clubs at the time were struggling to compete with clubs in the more opulent European leagues.

So, the clubs in german pivoted towards a new approach focused on developing home grown players and investing in young and upcoming managers with new ideas for long term success. The move would turn out to be a watershed moment in german football. Case in point, Jurgen Klöpp who brought success to Borussia Dortmund through recruitment and development of young players by educating them on a new chic of counter pressing style of football labelled Gegenpressing. This put Dortmund back on to the big stage again after breaking the Bundesliga dominance held by Bayern Munich with successive domestic titles.

Jurgen Klopp is one of several managers who benefited from a change in mindset in german football

This period of time in the Bundesliga also clubs spend more on international talent recruitment. It coincided with Germany as a country opening its borders more to immigrants in the hope of creating a new national identity and providing an economic stimulus. Some of the then “unknown gems” to shine in the German league at this time included Shinji Kagawa, Heung-Min Son and Roberto Firmino to name a few. Dortmund also produced several young talented german players who would go on to make up the core of the German national team that won the World Cup in 2014. Even now, the approach is being replicated with several german clubs entrusting younger managers who can relate and understand the new generation of players like Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann.

This thinking will likely also be applied to the selection of the new German national manager once Low departs. The German national team managerial job is a highly coveted position with a long line of history and pride so finding willing applicants should not be an issue. However selecting the right manager who can work with a new crop of exciting german players is the priority. Last year, four of the top five managers in European football were German coaches (Jurgen Klopp, Hans-Dieter Flick, Thomas Tüchel and Julian Nagelsmann); all of whom got their respective starts in management at a young age. Of them, Bayern Munich’s Hans-Dieter Flick seems to be the best fit for the national job. He was Joachim Löw’s assistant from 2006-2014 with the German National team before getting the nod for managerial career to begin in the Bundesliga on an interim basis taking over from Niko Kovac at Bayern. After getting the managerial job on full time basis, he guided the Bundesliga champions to a continental treble including the Champions League which he won against the Thomas Tuchel led Paris Saint Germain.

Flick waves goodbye to Bayern and hello to the German National managers job

Flick recently expressed his interest in taking over as the next manager of the national team after announcing his own desire to leave Bayern. After a long internal political struggle, Bayern Munich relinquished any chances to change Flick’s mind and hired Julian Nagelsmann from RB Leipzig for the 2021-2022 season. After successfully leading 1899 Hoffenheim to their first Champions League qualification, he then led RB Leipzig to their first Champions league semi-final spot in 2020. Despite his young age (he’s still only 33), Nagelsmann was touted by several big names in Europe to lead their club.  Bayern Munich moved quickly to secure their man and signed Nagelsmann for a hefty sum (€25 million) in order to break his contract with RB Leipzig in a move of utter dominance.

The German FA can now make a move for Flick, their first choice to take over after the Euro 2020. And rightly so. Flick mastermind the reemergence of Bayern Munich as a dominant player in Europe after a disastrous spell under Carlo Ancelotti and Niko Kovac. Part of his masterplan was to pinpoint the key players in the squad who he could work closely with to change the tide. The resurgence of Thomas Müller behind the striker and Joshua Kimmich’s deep runs from central midfield provided a new dynamic flow to Bayern Munich’s football. Given his relationship with Bayern Munich squad who make up the core of German national team and the vast number of talented players playing across Europe, come the summer 2021 and beyond it is hard to see Germany going anywhere but forward.  

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

A Summer of Transition Ahead For Crystal Palace

With the regular season soon drawing to a close, Crystal Palace has some decisions to make soon as 12 of their players are out of contract this summer. With the manager, Roy Hodgson and a dozen of his players running out of contract, a rebuild at Crystal Palace is on the table. And the timing may just work in their favour. With the pandemic rattling club finances all over Europe, promising players can be signed for relatively cheaper transfer fees than previously. Added into this, with players looking to secure their own futures following a difficult period, they may accept lower wages just to resign for the club.

A majority of the players approaching the end of their term at the London club will be 30 or older by the summer. Averaging at 28.2, Palace is the second oldest team in the league. Freshen up the squad should be a priority and Palace have already made some moves within the club towards that.

Crystal Palace face a summer of change with a majority of its first team out of contract

Academy talents Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and David Omilabu have signed their first professional contracts with Palace recently after Fionn Mooney, Jadan Raymond and Tayo Adaramola did the same. Promoting from within with be welcome news for the Palace fans. Signing up Rak-Sakyi, who was included on the bench for the visit to Stamford Bridge on 20th April, was seen as a positive move after reports of the attacking midfielder coming under radar of clubs in England and Germany. The reality of promoting a bunch of promising scholars into the first team is that it would still take some time for them to integrate and reach the appropriate level so strengthening in the short term from other areas remains a priority.

Targeting up and coming British players like Eberechi Eze and a loan deals with an option to buy, similar to what they did this season with Phillip Mateta are the kind of moves Palace would want to replicate going in the transfer window. However before they can do this, Palace must address its salary problem with the high earners currently not proving their earnings on the pitch. Renegotiating their contracts or moving them on all together could help to balance the books and make the rebuild an easier job.

Take for example Mamadou Sakho, one of the highest earners at the club, who has hardly featured this year because of injuries. It won’t be a bad decision to let him go considering his age and injury history. Similarly Christian Benteke who is on £120,000 per week is an interesting one as he is one of the players who’s contract expires in the summer. The club appeared happy for him to leave in January and indeed held talks with other clubs to sell him but he insisted on staying. Now in better form and scoring once more, talks have progressed between the player and club around a new contract. The two however are separated by quite a bit in terms of what Benteke should be paid with Palace hoping the Belgian striker will stay but on much lesser terms. The potential to turn Mateta’s loan into a permanent signing also brings complications to Benteke’s future at Palace. It may be best for Palace to let the 30 year old striker depart in the long run.

High earners Sahko and Benteke could be allowed to leave to release some wages for future signings

Palace also have an option to permanently sign Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea at the end of May. He has not managed to make any serious impact this season, registering 2 goals and 1 assist in 17 appearances but offers another option if Benteke is to leave. Wages however could be a deciding factor as he is also one of the highest paid players in the club currently on £90,000 a week. Unless he is willing to accept less, it’s more likely that he will probably be returned to his parent club when his loan finishes. .

At the right back position, Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Ward and Martin Kelly are out of contract this summer. With promising youngster Nathan Ferguson returning from injury next season, two of the seniors should be let go in the coming months. Ward has made more starts this season and is on less than half the wages of Clyne which makes the argument for Ward to be selected. However despite earning £80,000 per week, 30 years Clyne who is a year younger than Ward he played well when he’s not been injured and is arguably the better player of the two. Like Benteke, former England player Clyne would likely have to accept reduce wages to stay on. Kelly will definitely be released having failed to make a single appearance this season.

On the other side of the defence, Patrick Van Aanholt has been competing for his spot with the impressive Tyrick Mitchell. The left back still has bits to offer and could be offered an extension but regardless of Patrick’s contract situation, Mitchell is more than ready to make the left back position his own after impressing several times this season. Having spent three seasons at Palace already, Dutch full back Van Aanholt may decide it’s time to move on and has garnered interest from Galatasaray over a free transfer.

Veteran centre backs, Scott Dann and Gary Cahill are running out of time too. With the aim of reducing average age, both of them could be let go. However, Cahill has shown he can still put in impressive shifts and with the possibility of young defenders coming in, his experience and leadership qualities could be useful. There are reports of Palace looking to swoop 19 years old centre back Radu Dragusin on a free transfer after the Romanian has been frozen out of Juventus first team.

Should Palace retain veteran defenders Scott Dann and Gary Cahill? That is one of many questions that the club has to answer this summer

After signing Jack Butland last summer and extending Vicente Guaita’s contract, Palace are likely to let go of reserve keepers, Wayne Hennessey and Stephen Henderson and look to sign a young 3rd choice keeper or promote from its u23 team with Rohan Luthra, Jacob Russell and Oliver Webber all keen to make the step up.

In midfield, James Mcarthy has only 12 appearances this season and is down the pecking behind Riedewald and  Milivojević so it would be surprising if he is given an extension. Andros Townsend has seen less game time this season because of emergence of Eze and the winger told Talksport how his contract situation has affected his performances and Palace are likely to wait till the end of the season before handling contract situations. The club may look to retain his services as he has the ability to change games on his own when in form. James McArthur is likely to be given a new deal having performed consistently for Palace since his arrival in 2014. Jeffrey Schlupp will also be handed new terms in the coming weeks.

Crystal Palace are in a zero-debt position and have managed their finances pretty well in the pandemic. They are plotting a £50 million spending spree in the summer and will try to make the most of that by adding some free transfers and loan deals in the mix. Player markets across Europe are vulnerable, especially Ligue 1 who possess good talent but the French clubs are in a desperate position to raise money and could be preyed on for economical signings.

Whilst the rebuild on the pitch would probably be centred around Zaha, Eze, Riedewald and Mitchell and will start soon, the decision over who is in the dugout come the start of the season is the priority. With Roy Hodgson most likely to end his term, Palace have been linked with Eddie Howe and Patrick Viera for the management role. Both men bring different skillsets and experience to the role but are also in high demand meaning that Palace will have to move quickly to get their man. Regardless of who they hire, the new manager will likely want to bring in new players to suit their style of play hence the urgency to appoint them first. It’s likely to be a summer of transition for Crystal Palace both on and off the pitch. With several moving parts including expiring contracts, heavy expected transfer activity and a change in management, it’s a lot for Palace to manage but if done well, they could use this transition to build something exciting for the future.

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Could England Triumph at Euro 2020?

England moved top of their World Cup 2022 qualifying group after registering 3 wins in a week. They beat the lowest ranked international team in San Marino 5-0, then Albania 2-0 before managing a 2-1 win over Poland on the final day of the March international break.

The wins against San Marino and Albania were as easy as they come and indeed they should have beaten Albania by a higher margin. With the next competitive games set to be at the Euros, these two games gave Southgate a chance to explore who would lead his attack with a plethora of talent at his disposal. However the match against Poland was a stark reminded for England fans of the possible mishaps at the back, the pragmatic back 3 is anything but convincing but it is certain to be used against oppositions of higher quality.

England lined up in a 4-2-3-1 system for the three qualifiers and only switched to a reminiscing 3-4-3 for the last five minutes against Poland. Looking into the 4-2-3-1 system, with the double pivot, one defensive midfielder is to stay back at all times and help to build from the back. The other was given the freedom to join attacks from the right side and help create overloads in the wide-area with the extra responsibility of getting back in shape when possession is lost. The attacking midfielder up front shifts to the left side to create overloads and is given the most positional freedom and also the responsibility to create openings.

Maguire celebrates after scoring against Poland

Creating overloads in wide areas is a big part of how they attack with the full-backs pushing up high and the midfielders drifting wide. They then link-up play with wingers to create openings, find space to cross in the box, or attract the opposition defence before switching up play quickly. It also allows them to press up high with high intensity after giving away possession.

Mason Mount shone in the no.10 role in the WC qualifiers and is one of the players who has probably booked his spot in the starting 11 for the Euros. Declan Rice was solid at the no.6 role and is looking a good fit for it, in the absence of Jordan Henderson and was accompanied by either Kalvin Phillips or James Ward Prowse. If Henderson can recover from his groin injury in time he would be taking the second defensive midfielder role as the skipper brings experience and leadership to the side.

The centre back partnership of John Stones and Harry Maguire is looking certain to feature in Euros. Meanwhile Nick Pope was given the chance to be in the net as Pickford missed all three games after sustaining an injury to his oblique abdominal muscle. The Burnley keeper’s vulnerability when playing out from the back was highly visible and that will make it harder for him to take the number 1 spot at the Euros from Pickford, who is more proficient with his feet and also preferred by Southgate.

The England manager’s controversial decision to leave out Trent Alexander-Arnold came as a shock to a lot of fans, but to bring it to context, the Liverpool right-back has not been at his best this season and England possesses top-quality talent at his position. Kyle Walker, Kieran Trippier and Reece James are all competing for that role and bring more diverse and suitable attributes to the table for England; Walker can also play in a back three allowing Southgate to switch systems easily mid-game, Trippier can play on either flank, and Reece James is a pacy upcoming talent himself, who plays with high intensity. It still feels unfair to leave someone of Trent’s quality out and as Southgate said, he could still make it to the Euros if his performances for Liverpool improve. Not to mention, Wan Bissaka has found it hard to get in the England squad due to the four men ahead of him.

Southgate’s decision to leave out Trent Alexander Arnold from the last squad raised a few eyebrows

Ben Chilwell and Luke Shaw will be competing for the left-back position unless there is a surprise find in the last few months of the season. If Grealish can make it back to the squad, he will be competing with Rashford and Sterling to play in left-wing and Jadon Sancho could be seen fighting with Foden to play on the right flank. Keeping in mind, Foden, Sterling, and Rashford can play on either side but Southgate has figured out what flank he likes them to see in. Harry Kane in his hybrid of out and out striker and false 9 roles is likely to start every game at the Euros, with Calvert Lewin giving a superb option from the bench.

According to bookmakers England, alongside France are the favorites to win the Euros, but are they really? Well, they are a top-quality team on paper, and Southgate and his men now have valuable cup competition experience. But history tells England performs the best when expectations are low and disappoint when hopes are high. Looking at other big football nations in Europe, new generations of Spain and Germany are highly inconsistent, Netherland looks to have played the wrong card in appointing Frank De Boer as their manager. Italy is re-emerging and could still threaten whilst Belgium and Portugal have vary different points to prove. Not forgetting, Croatia and their new dark horse partner in Turkey who could all pose a significant risk to England’s chances at Euro’s success.

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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Is Going Down The Worst Thing For Newcastle? Maybe that’s the plan.

After another woeful performance, this time against Brighton and Newcastles chances of staying in the Premier League took a nose dive. With nine games left, it’s hard to see how they survive especially with Steve Bruce still filling the managers chair. Tactically inept, starved of ideas and with the players body language suggesting they have given up hope of survival, Newcastle under Bruce look like a sinking ship. It’s a sorry state of affairs for the loyal Toon Army who have endured more than most as the season has gone on. The end, we all fear, looks right around the corner and we are perilous to stop it.

Relegation however may not be the worse thing for Newcastle and indeed might be part of the plan as Ashley continues to work behind the scenes on reviving the failed Saudi bid. That bid was stopped by the Premier League’s new ownership test as well as a handful of other instigators who fuelled by their own personal agendas (or indeed paid by someone else’s) kiboshed any chance that Newcastle United had of a better life. That might sound flippant but for all Newcastle fans, the last almost 14 years have been a nightmare under Mike Ashley who decided early on that owning a football club was more for a personal advancement than that of the clubs. The Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund bid was far from perfect and indeed didn’t quite sit right in the minds of a lot of Newcastle fans but when you have the opportunity to escape the clutches of a torturer’s cell, you don’t consider if its any worse on the outside.

The Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund failed in its first attempt to buy Newcastle but are rumoured to be waiting in the wings

For now Ashley remains in charge and the club stumbles towards yet another relegation. But this one feels almost different as if it has been engineered that way. It might sound like the ramblings of a drunken Newcastle fan trying to make sense of what is happening but if you would just allow me to explain my thought process, it might not be that insane. So here goes. It’s no secret that Ashley has wanted to sell the club for a long time and indeed has entertained several offers but none met his lofty elevated set price tag. That was until the Saudi’s came along with more than enough money to meet Ashley’s greediness. From that point onwards, Ashley and his band of merry idiots pushed everything towards making that deal happen. Unfortunately a coalition of naysayers that including BeIn Sports, Amnesty International bizarrely, several MP’s likely paid handsomely for their objections and of course the insecure duo of Liverpool FC and Tottenham FC threw blockers up at very convenient intervals in the hopes of derailing the bid. And it worked. It gave the Premier League enough doubt that it sat on its hands for long enough that the Saudi’s walked away.

A furious Mike Ashley, who saw his dream of buying Necker Island and kicking Richard Branson out slowly disappearing, has sought legal advice and challenged the Premier League to justify why it delayed its decision to refuse or approve the Owners and Directors Test’ (‘OADT’) which all new owners need to pass. With the PL not willing to budge on its fence sitting position, it will need to go to the Court of Arbitration which could take many months if not well into next year. That for Ashley is too long. So perhaps he came up with another plan. A plan so mischievous that even Dick Dastardly and Muttley of the Wacky Races would approve. Why fight the Premier League on the takeover when he can push through the take over through the EFL, who are the governing body of the English Championship and the other leagues below. Given the EFL’s previous track record of takeovers (looking at you Nottingham Forest) and their lighter version of the directors test which involves solving a 16 piece jigsaw puzzle and telling them how much you like football, it should be a breeze for Ashley to sell the club.

Footage of a director trying to pass the EFL directors test recently

The challenge however was how to get into the Championship without the fans, the league or anyone else known their dastardly plan. The answer came in the figure of Steve Bruce. Retaining his services as manager and potentially cutting him in on the plan made it almost too easy. Under Bruce, Newcastle would play boring defensive non attacking football. He would throw any notion of tactical changes out of the window and would set the team up so badly it could only really hope to not fail too badly. Relegation would land Ashley, his band of idiots and likely Bruce a very handsome pay off when the revived Saudi bid finally got its approval in the Championship. Ashley would walk away into the sunset with two bulging suitcases full of cash and leave Newcastle under new billionaire owners who would then transform the club into PL challengers within a matter of years, much to the disappointment of Liverpool, Spurs and the Premier League. Far fetched? Maybe. But let’s see what happens if they are relegated. If i’m right, it’s going to be a very interesting and lucrative summer for Newcastle Football Club.

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Newcastle and Fulham face dogfight to stay in Premier League

As we get into the business end of the season, it’s getting tense at the bottom of the English Premier League. The fates of Sheffield United and West Brom are almost sealed and can surely start thinking about their next campaign in the EFL Championship as their ships are well underwater already with 9 games left to play. 10 points separate West Brom and the safe zone whilst Sheff Utd are rooted to the bottom 14 points deep in the drop zone. Southampton and Burnley sit at 14th and 15th spot respectively, with 33 points each and are 7 points clear of the relegation zone. Things would have to go pretty wrong for them and very good for the teams below them to really be threatened with a strong possibility of going down.

A huge win for Brighton against Newcastle on Saturday has given them a 6 point cushion over the relegation zone. They are not completely safe yet but the 3-0 against the relegation rivals would give them a big confidence boost. With the quality of football they play, they should be able to see it through, but they can’t let their main problem resurface again: low conversion rate. On many occasions they have played teams out of the park but not completed their chances, dropping a staggering amount of points on the way as a result.

But it’s the fight between Fulham and Newcastle that could very well go down to the wire. Only 2 points separate them; Fulham sit in 18th place on 26 points, Newcastle in 17th on 28 points. And to make things more exciting Fulham will host Newcastle on the last match day with an anticipated return of fans in the stadiums.

English Premier League table as of March 24th

Fulham has grown to become a much better team and found themselves in the position they are because of a dreadful start to the campaign rather than how they have played recently. As Scott Parker said in the pre-match conference of their game against Leeds, “We are a different team, different animal this time,” reflecting on the reverse fixture, which was way back in September at the start of the season. The London team has shown belief and great fight lately pulling off amazing results with victories against the two Merseyside clubs. February signing Josh Maja has given them a boost upfront and Joachim Andersen and Tosin Adarabioyo have gelled well to give Fulham a solid pair at the back and reduce the influx of goals. All this but they still might go down.

One of their biggest problem this season has been turning draws into a win. After 29 matches, Fulham has played the highest number of draws in the league (11), alongside Brighton. This includes draws against their relegation rivals – 2 goalless draws against Brighton alongside score draws against Newcastle, Sheffield United, and West Brom.

Fulham’s failure to beat the sides in and around them may come back to haunt them.

The football Fulham play is not bad and even worthy of staying in the top flight. They play with high intensity, press high up the pitch, attacking with pace through the channels, and are not afraid to commit men forward. They are an attractive team to watch and the prospect of them staying up and allowing Scott Parker to build the squad further is very exciting for the Fulham fans.

If Fulham are to stay up they would have to show their recently found hunger and belief till the end of the season. After going on a decent run they have lost their last two games and need to get back to winning or even drawing ways soon if they are to takeover Newcastle. The least they could do is stay within touching distance of Newcastle and then give it all against the team, which is not better than them by any means.

Fulham’s Remaining fixtures:

Aston Villa (A), Wolves (H), Arsenal (A), Chelsea (A), Brighton (H), Southampton (A), Man Utd (A), Newcastle (H)

Moving on to Newcastle, despite having a couple of points and a game in hand over Fulham, Newcastle is being given lower odds than Fulham to go out of the top flight, and if you watch their recent performances that makes sense. Magpies fans are being disappointed week in and week out, watching their team play with low intensity while defending deep and playing on counterattack. The tactics might not be the main problem but the fact is that the approach is not working and Steve Bruce has done little to nothing to refresh things up is the main issue.

Injuries to their attacking player have only made things worse. Their top goalscorer as well as highest assist maker, Callum Wilson has missed the 8 league games whilst he recovers from a hamstring injury. In addition, their biggest talent in Allan Saint-Maximin has suffered from multiple injuries, preventing him to get a foothold in the season. There have also been numerous other injuries to key players along the way which has added to Newcastles woes. The good news is that Wilson and Saint-Maximin are both expected to return soon after this current international break.

Newcastle fans protest against manager Steve Bruce following the 3-0 defeat to Brighton.

There have also been problems off the pitch for The Magpies too. Reports of a bust-up between Steve Bruce and Matt Richie followed by reports of Newcastle players being concerned with given too many days off. These issues can be reflected on their performances on the pitch. The race to stay in the Premier League will be intense and such matters can only make things worse.

Newcastle needs to find a way to start getting results soon, as Fulham are breathing down their neck. Their biggest hope is to get a boost from Wilson’s return in April, the centre forward who has scored 10 and created 5 goals in 21 league appearances this season. More than anything, Steve Bruce and the players both need to step up and take responsibility for what’s going on and turn things around before it gets too late.

Newcastle’s Remaining fixtures:

Tottenham (H), Burnley (A), West Ham (H), Liverpool (A), Arsenal (H), Leicester (A), Man City (H), Sheffield Utd (H), Fulham (A)

Post by Achyut Dixit, Contributor to BOTN. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

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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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Arteta’s Troubles Mount As Arsenal Continue To Slide

Arsenal’s far from perfect start to the season is turning into a nightmare with Mikel Arteta’s side languishing in 15th place with no win in their last seven games. Heading into Christmas, Arsenal find themselves in unfamiliar territory, starring down the barrel of a relegation dog fight rather than a run at the European places. The pressure is mounting on Arteta to find solutions to address the poor results and kick start the Gunners season yet all the signs appear to indicate that it’s an impossible task.

Despite a positive end to last season beating Chelsea in the FA Cup final and a strong showing in this season’s Community Shield, winning over Liverpool thanks to a penalty shoot out, Arsenal have failed to find first gear in the opening quarter of the season. The stats tell half the story – 14 games, 14 points, 12 goals scored, 18 conceded, only 3 clean sheets. But the other half of the story is written across the face of Arteta who stands on the sidelines in disbelief of what he is seeing. Despite his own promise to change the energy and the culture at the club, this recent run shows that neither have been changed which undermines anything that Arteta is looking to achieve.

If you don’t have the right culture, in the difficult moments, the tree is going to shake, so my job is to convince everybody that this is how we are going to live, and if you are going to be part of this organisation it has to be in these terms and in this way. And after that, we can talk about other things.”

Mikel Arteta’s first Arsenal press conference as head coach, Dec 2019.

Part of the strategy to change the energy and the culture was to bring in players who aligned to Arteta’s thinking and embraced change whilst jettisoning those in the current squad that didn’t. This summer, Arsenal spent heavily in the market with mixed results. Defenders Cedric Soares and Pablo Mari had their loan moves made permanent, whilst Runar Alex Runarsson arrived as goalkeeper cover following the sale of the impressive Emilio Martinez to Aston Villa. Of the three, only Soares has made an appearance this season and even then that has been limited to a single occasion. Brazilian centre back Gabriel came in from Lille for €26m, as did fellow Brazilian Willian from Chelsea (albeit on a free) and both have played frequently but not to the same levels that attracted Arsenal to them in the first place. Finally the biggest outlay was for midfielder Thomas Partey from Atletico Madrid for a whopping €50m but injuries have limited his time on the field to a handful of times.

All six are not bad acquisitions, far from it nor should they be judged fully this early on in their time at the club. But they all fail to really inspire the type of change needed at Arsenal to move the club to the next level. Gabriel is a tough defender with superb close control and passing range but his inability to command the defence like a Virgil Van Dijk or bark orders like a Tony Adams of old, is telling. Willian demonstrates skill and mastery which entertains the fans but he doesn’ t lead by grabbing the game by its throat and pushing it Arsenal’s way. Partey may be more of the type of character Arteta needs on the field but he needs to get on it regularly for Arsenal fans to see if he is. The club lacks leaders like a Kevin De Bruyne or a Jordan Henderson who show up each week and make their presence felt, albeit in different ways. Established first team players David Luiz, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Granit Xhaka should be driving the team forward yet so far no ones has stepped up this season to do so on a regular basis.

Partey and Gabriel have been good signings but failed to help shift the culture or raise the energy in games.

Added into this, the energy on the field is dramatically lacking with key players often caught walking or not looking to make the lung bursting runs needed to get into goal scoring opportunities. Pepe, who arrived to much hype last season for a mouth watering €80m looks like a passenger in most games, whilst Dani Ceballos who came in from Real Madrid runs without purpose or vision. That lack of energy in the midfield is having a knock on affect upfront with the usually prolific duo of Aubameyang and Lacazette feeding off lose balls and scraps resulting in only 6 goals between them and a 1 goal in every 4 games ratio. The energy in games is not there with only a few players, notably young Kieran Tierney showing desire and drive both in possession and without it.

Building a squad around your own vision takes time, something that Arteta simply hasn’t had enough off having only just celebrated his 1st full year in charge. But the club isn’t helping itself by failing to offload players who are upsetting the apple cart. Both Mezut Ozil and Sokratis Papastathopoulos have been excluded from Arteta’s 25 man EPL squad yet remain the club on a combined £442,000 per week. Over the past 14 weeks since the start of the season, that amounts to just under £7m in wages for players that aren’t being used nor moved along. Other problems have been pushed out on loan or resolved by handing them bumper new contracts but yet the culture remains the same. Despite Arteta’s efforts to pull the team together and push it towards a common goal, they remain divided and individualistic. January’s transfer window offers an opportunity to Arteta to once again address the culture at the club and make the changes needed to be successful under his vision. Whether he gets the time to do so, is a different story.

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Where next for Messi as he calls time on Barca

After 20 years at Barcelona, the club he joined as a 13 year old, Lionel Messi has decided it’s time to leave. Following an indifferent and difficult season, the Argentine has had enough and informed the club and its new manager Ronald Koeman that he wishes to activate an exit clause in his contract. That in itself is not exactly cut and dried as Barcelona are arguing the the clause needed to be activated by June 10th for Messi to walk for free and would demand a transfer fee if he were to go. Messi and his team are contesting this notion given the season was prolonged due to the pandemic but nevertheless it looks likely that there will be conscious uncoupling of the two sooner rather than later.

There isn’t a single club in the world that wouldn’t take Lionel Messi in a heartbeat. But there are only a few that could actually afford him. Since Messi announced to the world his intention to leave Barcelona, speculation over where he will end up has reached fever pitch. Europe’s elite have been linked with him through various sources all of which report to have insider knowledge that Messi’s agent has had “secret talks” with that specific club. Chelsea, Bayern, Tottenham, Inter and even Real Madrid are “actively interested” or whatever that means. But in truth, due to the players likely wage demands plus potentially a sizable transfer fee if Barca gets its way, only a small handful of clubs stand a chance of signing him. So who are they?

Man City

Its a well known secret that Messi considers Pep Guardiola as his greatest coach. When the now Manchester City boss was in charge at the Nou Camp, Messi was at his ultimate best. Not only was he preforming week in week out, scoring for fun and winning numerous trophies along the way but he was happy too. Guardiola built his team in and around Messi, preferring to play him in the position that Messi felt most comfortable then strategically placing the other pieces around him. It sounds like common sense and really it is. Take your best player, play them in a position that makes them the happiest and sit back and enjoy the show. Reuniting with Guardiola at Manchester City would ensure that Messi gets back to where he feels most comfortable. There are other draws of course to joining City including the opportunity to play in the English Premier League, something Messi has indicated in the past that he would like to do and the added bonus of joining a team that features his good friend and Argentina teammate Sergio Aguero.

Can Pep persuade Messi to join him at Man City?

PSG

You simply cannot rule out Messi moving to the French capital for a variety of factors. The Champions League finalists might still be licking their wounds after losing to Bayern last week but the appetite to go one step beyond their current state would require something extra special. With the league almost a cakewalk, the focus is on winning that Champions League trophy. Massive strides have been made this season, albeit under unusual circumstances but the need that X factor to secure their first major European trophy since the Cup Winners Cup back in 1996. (And no the 2001 Intertoto Cup doesn’t count). That could come in the form of Lionel Messi who would fit nicely into a PSG side brimming with talent. Talent like Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria and of course Messi’s former teammate Neymar. The notion of linking up with the Brazilian once more may be enough to sway Messi towards PSG as he was a key driver in the push to bring Neymar back to Barcelona last summer. That move never happened much to the frustration of Messi. But now the pair could reconnect in France and push the club towards lifting that Champions League trophy.

Juventus

If Juventus fans were left drooling when Cristiano Ronaldo came to town, just imagine how they will react if they have Messi join them too. The prospect of linking up two of the greatest players to have ever played the game in the same team is too much to fathom. It’s not certain that Messi would entertain the idea of playing alongside Ronaldo nor if Ronaldo himself would like sharing the spotlight with the Argentine but Juventus have the ability to make it happen. The Old Lady is going through somewhat of a transition herself with a new young manager in the form of Andreas Pirlo ringing in the changes under his vision but given the chance, its hard to see him fighting the board against signing Messi. Would he fit into Pirlo’s envisaged 4-3-3 formation is hard to tell considering Ronaldo will likely want to play as the central figure in that attacking three. But it’s a formation that Messi has played in a lot at Barcelona and seems comfortable adapting his game to fit.

Messi and Ronaldo in the same team?

Man Utd

Not to completely upset the apple cart for Guardiola but his neighbours over the fence could nip in and grab Messi from under his nose. They did it once before, signing Alexis Sanchez when it looked like he was destined for the Etihad. Ok that didn’t quite work as planned but the ability to pay extravagant wages is there so breaking the bank to sign Messi is not off the cards which makes them a real threat to City’s hopes. Manager Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer is building a new look United squad that features a cast of exciting younger players which could be a draw for the experienced Messi. The only real drawback, apart from the language barrier is that the deal would need to be negotiated and signed by Ed Woodward who by all appearances struggles when is comes to transfer dealings. The Executive Vice Chairman has hardly covered himself in glory over the past eight years after missing out on several big name players and paying over the odds for others like Sanchez and the previously mentioned Di Maria (now at PSG).

Newell’s Old Boys

Since leaving the club at the age of 13, Messi has always proclaimed that he would love to return and play for Newell’s before his career comes to an end. Moving back to Argentina certainly has its draws, especially given that Messi and his wife Antonela both grew up in Rosario and have family back there. The club itself would welcome Messi back with loving arms but it’s unlikely the would be able to afford even a fraction of his current wage demands never mind the whole thing. If he did return it would be with the understanding that he would take a significant pay cut and would be effectively signalling his departure from elite football with the Argentine league unable to match the level that he has been playing at. Messi is only 33 and has probably still got another 3-5 years at the top left in him all being well so it seems like the move home might be a bit premature at this stage.

Messi has a decision to make.

Where Messi ends up will be revealed shortly as the new season quickly approaches. Its not 100% certain that he will leave Barcelona despite what he is saying right now. There are politics in play and Messi knows how much he is revered by the fans and how much clout he has in the future of Barcelona football club. His main gripe is really with the President, Josep Maria Bartomeu and the way that he is running the club. If Bartomeu was to succumb to the pressure from the angry fans and resign, it could be enough to see Messi make a dramatic turnaround and stay. His reason for leaving is not about money nor is it really about his desire to try a new league but instead about his happiness. His love and deep connection to the club is undeniable yet something has not been right at Barcelona for a while now and all fingers point upwards. Bartomeu is unlikely to walk himself but it’s hard to see how he can stay in charge if he lets an icon like Messi leave.

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