Brazil Recovery On Track As Copa Approaches

BrazilThe 2014 World Cup semi final still haunts Brazil. The humiliating defeat at the hands of eventual winners Germany was an eye opener for a team so confident of success in the tournament that they became blinded towards the truth. Despite having arguably one of the best players in the world in Neymar, the Brazil squad selected for the World Cup in their home land was less than inspiring. Luiz Filipe Scolari’s side were good on paper but lacked the creative spark or cutting edge of previous Brazil world cup teams. No Robinho or Ronaldinho to add an extra dimension to their play and no Romario or Ronaldo like striker to fire them to glory. All in all it was a side built for one purpose – to support Neymar. The talented 22 year old was given a free role, allowed to roam and create and basically do what he does best. With that freedom, Neymar shone picking up four goals on route to the quarter finals and placing himself in the running for player of the tournament. But a bad clumsy challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga in the last few minutes of their clash in the quarters ruled Neymar out for the rest of the tournament. Heading into the semi’s Brazil were like a chicken with its head cut off. Unable to function and without Neymar to lead the way, Brazil were torn apart by a rampant Germany hungry for success. The 7-1 score line was flattering to Germany but in truth it could have been more. Their pride severely dented, Brazil’s national team was in tatters.

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Brazil were humiliated by Germany in the Semi Final or The World Cup (Image from Getty)

Two months later a fresh looking Brazil side took to the field to play Colombia in a friendly. Led out by new manager Dunga returning for a second spell as national boss, Brazil looked nervous yet prepared to start to rewrite the wrongs that had happened months previously. Their ranks had been changed dramatically with several key players from the World Cup notably absent. Striker Fred, who suffered the most due to his poor showing at the World Cup, had retired from international football aged 30 whilst Julio Cesar, Jo, Hulk, Maxwell and Paulinho all were left out in favour of fresh blood. In came Diego Tardelli, Everton Ribeiro, Philippe Coutinho and a recall for Robinho to add options to Brazil’s approach. The inclusion of Atletico Madrid defender Miranda was also welcomed by the fans and Brazilian media, many of whom felt that he should have been part of the World Cup squad in the first place and not have been excluded. His addition helped to solidify a shaky looking defence, even if it meant breaking up the much hyped PSG duo of David Luiz and Thiago Silva.  The match against Colombia finished in a 1-0 win with newly appointed captain Neymar sealing the win with an 83rd minute free kick. That nervous win would kick start a run of friendly victories that has now stretched to eight in a row. Brazil are back so it would seem and with a bang. Or are they?

Yes they have played against some good sides (notably France, Chile, Argentina and Colombia) scoring 18 times and conceding just twice but in a majority of the games Brazil have labored away to get the win. This may be due to Dunga crafting the team in his vision – less flair, more workhorse like in their performances. Brazil is more disciplined than before preferring to play through teams on the deck rather than looking for adventurous but risky long balls. Neymar in his new role as captain has a more disciplined approach too, less free to roam the pitch and more focused on linking the play and inspiring the team with some quick setup work or a shot on goal. The results of this change have been evident with the Barcelona player scoring eight times in as many games, including a self demolition of Japan when he scored four goals. Unlike during the World Cup though, the pressure on Neymar as his country’s only real goal threat has been lifted with several new players drafted in to ease the burden. In particular, the emergence of Hoffenheim’s Roberto Firmino has been a massive boost to Brazil’s attacking options with the 23 year old playing a significant role as provider and finisher of some of Brazil’s best moves in recent games. Despite having only four caps to date, Firmino has scored two fantastic goals and looks set to cement his place in Dunga’s long term plans as long as his form continues for both club and country.

Brazil’s fresh start under Dunga has been impressive to date but the biggest challenges await with the Copa America the first of them. Due to be played in Chile in June, Dunga will know that only a strong performance and perhaps a win will be enough to mend the bridges with the Brazil fans that were so violently destroyed by that defeat by Germany. The Copa is far from an easy competition to win, arguably tougher than the World Cup so Brazil will need to be on their best form to be triumphant. Brazil face Peru, Colombia and Venezuela in the group stage starting June 14th with progression expected. Failure to progress is not an option open for Dunga especially with the heartache from the World Cup still fresh in Brazilian hearts and minds.

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Toronto Off To A Flyer But With A Long Way To Go

Defoe starts with a bang (Image from Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)It was the perfect start to the new season for Toronto F.C. with Jermaine Defoe hitting a brace on his debut for the club as they brushed aside Seattle by 2-1. But for Ryan Nielsen the work really now begins as he looks to put Toronto onto the footballing map once and for all. The team has invested heavily in the summer with a complete revamp of its first team squad. In has come some impressive name’s like Defoe, Michael Bradley, Julio Cesar and De Rosario to complement an already refurbished line up. Nelsen has built a solid experienced spine in Cesar, Steven Caldwell, Bradley and Defoe and is flooding his team with a mix of rising stars and established MLS players.

A Defoe brace sealed victory for TFC  (Image from Getty)

A Defoe brace sealed victory for TFC
(Image from Getty)

Against Seattle, the starting eleven looked solid enough from back to front. Justin Morrow, a pre season acquisition from San Jose Earthquakes looks capable enough at left back whilst Bradley Orr, a second half substitute against Seattle due to his slow recovery from illness, should make the right back position his own. Nelsen will look to captain Caldwell to nurture and sheppard rising star Doneil Henry at centre back as the duo look to complete a solid defence for Toronto. Brazilian Cesar will provide a much needed stable and reliable last line of defence as goalkeeper in this new look team. The capture of Cesar, even on loan, would have been the MLS signing of the year if Toronto hadn’t already nabbed that title with the double signing of Bradley and Defoe.

Safe Hands - Julio Cesar  (Image from Getty)

Safe Hands – Julio Cesar
(Image from Getty)

In the midfield, Bradley has a key role to play and his partnership with Jonathan Osorio in the centre of the park will be crucial to the team’s forward motion. Whilst Defoe will likely earn the plaudits for his goals, Toronto’s season hinges on whether Bradley and Osorio can form an effective working partnership and how quickly this happens. Against Seattle, there were early signs that this was a work in progress, with Bradley taking more of a leadership role. This was not unexpected given his experience versus his partners’ younger years but he needs to command the space and marshall his young companion more if Toronto is to flourish. Nelsen has the duo setup as cover for one another – if Bradley pushes forward, Osorio is to sit back and vice versa. But against Seattle this didn’t happen as much as needed and Toronto was duly punished for it when Seattle scored. With both Bradley and Osorio caught high up the pitch and out of position, a Dempsey inspired Seattle broke quickly with the US International striker latching on to the ball just inside the box to smash it under a diving Julio Cesar. Better teams than Seattle would have used this momentum to punish Toronto again but the Sounders looked dazed and confused by Defoe’s early brace. Toronto will need to be wary of this as the move forward in the season.

Dempsey punished Toronto after Bradley and Osario were caught out of position  (Image by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Dempsey punished Toronto after Bradley and Osario were caught out of position
(Image by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

On the wings, Rey and Jackson were creative but looked and operated more as wide midfielders than traditional wingers. This could be a problem for Toronto as the season goes on, with a lack of out and out wingers at the club to create chances for Defoe. Nelsen may prefer to operate without them but he needs options and the ability to adjust tactics if needed, as teams start to get use to the way that Toronto will play this season. Letting Matias Laba leave may come back to haunt Nelsen in the long run. Up front, Toronto finally looks strong. Against Seattle Jermaine Defoe looked unstoppable. Whilst he limited his running to short bursts, he was effective in the game and showcased his finishing abilities with two superbly taken goals. With a revitalized De Rosario in support and Gilberto on his way back from injury, Toronto have what they have desperately sought after for years – a strike force to be feared. Keeping Defoe fit and free of injury will be key as well as maintaining his interest post this summer’s World Cup. Defoe is clearly out to prove to England boss Roy Hodgson that he can and should be part of his final squad and if he continues to score, it will be hard for Hodgson to ignore him. However if he doesn’t make the squad, motivation may be a factor and a Defoe that lacks conviction could spell financial disaster for Toronto. After a strong start, Toronto now head home and start preparations for Saturday’s game against DC united. The anticipation from the home fans will be another three points but with the season still stirring from its winter hibernation, have we really seen the true Toronto FC yet? Good or bad, they will interesting to watch this year.

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Overhaul Needed As QPR Prepare For Life In The Championship

QPR (iMAGE FROM GETTY)Tony Fernandes broke his season long silence this week and blasted his overpaid QPR stars in what is set to be the first move in overhauling the club. The Malaysian businessman, who bought a controlling stake in the club in August 2011, had vowed never to publically slam his players despite their poor form in order to maintain morale and keep the passion alive for the fight against relegation. But now that the fight is over and QPR’s fate has been sealed, the popular owner has pulled off his gloves and come out punching. His scathing attack critizied players in the squad who he felt had not given their all in every game and those who came to the club for the wrong reasons.

Fernandes backs his team and its bosses all the way  (Image from Getty)

Fernandes backs his team and its bosses all the way
(Image from Getty)

Fernandes is within his right to do so, after enduring a season to forget, watching week in week out a team that had enough quality throughout to easily stay in the Premiership but lacked the desire to do so. He has been fully transparent throughout his time as owner and has backed his managers both publically and financially without question. His handling of the Mark Hughes situation has to be admire as most owners would have dismissed the bumbling Welsh manager months before Fernandes did, but the businessman bought into his vision and gave him as much time as possible to execute against it. Only when the situation was getting beyond repair did Fernandes depart with Hughes and install Harry Redknapp in his place, but still has not publically slammed Hughes for putting QPR in the position they were in. Once again Fernandes has backed his manager in Redknapp by committing to him next season, despite the Englishman being unable to stop the rot. Harry has been highly critical of the team he inherited, blasting their lack of professionalism and greed. But now Fernandes and Redknapp must plan for next season in the Championship, which will see them come straight back up. As always BOTN is on hand to offer its advice to the chairman and head coach as they rebuild for the next campaign.

Keep hold of Harry

Fernandes and Redknapp have already discussed the coach staying on for next season and have agreed but nothing in football is definitive so above all else, Fernandes and QPR must keep hold of Harry and prevent his head from being turned by a better opportunity. Redknapp is faithful and loyal to the club and has expressed his desire to remain at Loftus Road but if a job comes up in the Premiership at a club like Everton for instance, you can count that Harry will be on the shortlist. The draw of England’s top league may prove too difficult to ignore as Harry knows that at 66 years old he probably won’t be managing for much longer. Redknapp has had a good managerial career and is a proven master of turning teams around (QPR were a sunk ship when he inherited them) so he will want to end his career on top in the best division in the league. A quick rebound with QPR will give him that but the Championship is considerably harder to get results in than the Premiership, with the teams more evenly balanced so promotion is not a foregone conclusion. Fernandes must keep Redknapp and back him 100% as switching managers even at the start of the season can prove costly. 

Much to Ponder - QPR must hold on to Harry  (Image from Reuters)

Much to Ponder – QPR must hold on to Harry
(Image from Reuters)

Trim the fat

The QPR squad is heavily bloated and overpaid, making it one of the biggest and most expensive to run squads in the Premiership. With over 42 players in the first team, all on over inflated wages, trimming the squad down to a manageable number is a must. Fernandes will know what that number looks like but it is likely to be a fifth of what they are currently paying out (premiership wages are historically five times larger than championship ones). Between Fernandes and Redknapp, they need to trim the squad down to a manageable 22 players, give or take a few. Cardiff by example won the league this year with a squad of 28 players and a handful of youth/reserves thrown in from time to time.

QPR’s drastic overall must start at the top with the biggest earners leaving first (Samba, Remy, Julio Cesar, Zamora) hopefully all commanding fees then followed by the players who are surplus to requirements, either for a fee or on a free transfer to get them off the books – Bosingwa, Wright Phillips, Jenas, Barton, Cisse. Finally Redknapp must make decisions on players who may want to stay and play for him but don’t fit into his long term vision for the club – Green, Ganero, Park Ji Sung, Taarabt, Ferdinand. They may be offered the chance to stay but must do so on heavily reduced wages and on Harry’s terms. Rob Green and Anton Ferdinand may opt to do so, but will likely insist on a clause in their contracts to allow them to leave after one season if promotion is not achieved. Once Redknapp is finished he should have trimmed his squad down to 28, with a few others deciding to leave on their own accord. 

First in, First Out - Samba could leave (Image from AP)

First in, First Out – Samba could leave
(Image from AP)

Keep a strong core group of players

With a now reduced squad and a wage bill that has been cut in half, Redknapp will focus on building a core around a select group of players. These individuals are at QPR to play for the club, not the money which a majority of Hughes signings ended up being. Players like Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Alejandro Faurlin, Luke Young, Jamie Mackie, Nedum Onouha and Andy Johnson are likely to stay for various reasons, some through a love for the club and others as a sense of loyalty to the fans for getting QPR into this position in the first place. The last three on the list may be harder to hold on to, with Premiership clubs interested in all of them but if Harry can be persuasive then perhaps they will end up staying. But most will have to take a pay cut of some degree as the club looks to slash its costs across the board. With a core intact, Harry can add to this with fringe and youth players like Yun Suk-Young, Max Ehmer and Angelo Balanta as well as some select signings.

Max Ehmer may play a key role next season  (Image from Reuters)

Max Ehmer may play a key role next season
(Image from Reuters)

Buy wisely

Fernandes will make money available to Redknapp that is for sure but how much will depend on who can be sold, what savings can be made and what requirements he has. The Premiership will kick in some money as well in the form of the parachute payments but much of this will go towards paying off player contracts and general running of the club. Redknapp wants to sign players of good character in order to unite a dressing room that was split for most of this campaign due to the irregular levels of pay that some players were on compared to others. He is likely to go back to Tottenham to sign, either permanently or on loan Andros Townsend who spend the last six months at the club on loan and impressed Redknapp. In addition players like Blackburn trio Jordan Rhodes, Grant Hanley and Paul Robinson plus Leeds United’s Stephen Warnock and Ross McCormick could be on Redknapp’s wish list as they all possess the self drive, determination and commitment that he is looking for. Regardless of who he signs, Redknapp will be cautious to avoid a repeat of last season when average players were given star status and the wages to match, which ultimately led to the clubs downfall. It’s unlikely that the club or its fans would survive another fall.

Jordan Rhodes could fire QPR back into the Premiership  (Image from PA)

Jordan Rhodes could fire QPR back into the Premiership
(Image from PA)

Repay the Fans

Above all else, Fernandes needs to repay the fan. They remained loyal throughout the entire campaign and give their all even if the team on the pitch didn’t. It won’t have been easy to watch this supposed star studded lineup fail so miserably week in week out but the fans stuck through it and will come in their droves again next season as well. Fernandes has already made promises to heavily reduce the cost of tickets down by almost 35% next season. This should go some way to appease the fans but more needs to be done to reward them for their loyalty. They need stability at their club, investment in infrastructure and the promise of a quick return to the Premiership, where they feel they truly belong. Fernandes has been a man of the people so far and will likely look to offer more to the fans in order to keep them on side. But if performances on the park don’t improve before next season, even reducing ticketing costs won’t stop the fans from expressing their anger.

QPR fans blame Hughes for what has happened  (Image from Getty)

QPR fans blame Hughes for what has happened
(Image from Getty)

Fernandes, Redknapp and QPR have a huge summer ahead of them as they look to overhaul the first team in preparation for next season’s grueling Championship campaign. If Fernandes and Redknapp can work well together to quickly move on players and secure the ones they need before pre season begins, then QPR will undoubtedly be seen as a challenger for the title. Any delays however could result in a stuttering start to the year and lead to disaster once again for QPR.

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Cardiff Reach The Promise Land But Can They Stay There?

After a 51 year wait, Cardiff City have finally reached the promise lands of England’s top division, the Premiership. The Championship title is yet to be secured but Cardiff care little as they have managed to seize one of the two automatic promotion places with three games to spare. Manager Malky McKay has masterminded what many others failed to do and built a side capable of competing and more importantly winning in the Championship. Cardiff have flirted with promotion for the past ten years so to finally achieve it will come as a welcomed change to the faithful Bluebird fans.  Their quest next season will be to stay in the Premiership and replicate the success of fellow Welsh side Swansea who capped a good year for Welsh sport with their League Cup final victory. But that’s not as easy as it seems.

Going in the right direction - Cardiff win promotion  (Image from BBC)

Going in the right direction – Cardiff win promotion
(Image from BBC)

History does not bode well for Cardiff next year as they embark on their debut campaign in the world’s most watched league. Promotion success has frequently been followed by relegation despair the season after as clubs fail to cope with the differences between the leagues. Since its inception in 1992-1993 season, the Premiership has welcomed 59 promoted teams (only two were promoted in the 1994 season due to restructuring of leagues) with 25 teams going straight back down the following year (that number will grow by 1 if Reading are indeed confirmed as relegated this year). In addition, of those that managed to avoid the drop in their first year, seven were relegated in their second year back (again that number will increase by 1 if QPR are relegated this season). So what lessons can Cardiff take from past failures and indeed successes to stay in the Premiership long term?

Master and Chief - Malky MacKay  (Image from Huw Evans Images)

Master and Chief – Malky MacKay
(Image from Huw Evans Images)

Lesson 1 – Buy only what you need to survive. Clubs have shown that you don’t have to replace your entire squad when you come up, only strengthen areas you deem as to be not up to par. After all you wouldn’t have claimed promotion if your players weren’t good enough. The misconception is that the gap between the Premierships top teams and the Championships top teams is too wide which is somewhat true, however the majority of the teams in the bottom half of the Premiership are likely to be on similar groundings, with most having come up only a few years previously. The age old adverb ” if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” rings true in this case. Look at Sunderland in 2006 who signed 14 players or Derby County in 2007 who signed a total of 19 players over the season during two transfer windows. Both ended the season bottom of the league after the squad failed to gel quick enough to compete. After spending the first four months trying to get to know each other, the team then found themselves being replaced by new arrivals in January and facing an already uphill climb to escape relegation. Buying to solve problem areas is a better solution as nine times out of ten; it helps the team avoid relegation. Well that is unless you are Norwich City in the 2004 season, who bought wisely with the likes of Thomas Helveg, Dean Ashton and David Bentley arriving but were unable to prevent their team escape the trapdoor.

Danish International Thomas Helveg was unable to keep Norwich in the Premiership in 2004  (Image from NorwichFC.com)

Danish International Thomas Helveg was unable to keep Norwich in the Premiership in 2004
(Image from NorwichFC.com)

Lesson 2 – Forward planning. Most clubs don’t look at the fixture list as an opportunity but the smart managers like Wigan’s Roberto Martinez and former Swans boss, Brendan Rodgers do. They studied the list like it was a manual to the Premiership, trying to work out where they could likely get the points needed to hit the magical, yet mythical 42 point mark. Facing Manchester City away from home at the start of the new season is not likely to be one of these places but tackling Norwich (sorry Norwich fans) at home in the middle of December may well be. Planning can give you an idea of what number you are likely to finish on and how close you potentially could be to the bottom three. It also acts as motivation when your team picks up a surprising win away from home against an Arsenal or Chelsea in September. The unexpected result making life a little easier and giving your team that safety barrier, just in case you lose one of your so called guaranteed three pointers.

Using the fixture list to build a forward strategy is the best approach (Image from EPL)

Using the fixture list to build a forward strategy is the best approach (Image from EPL)

Lesson 3 – Score more than you concede. It may sound like common sense but many teams fail to understand that it doesn’t matter if you concede three goals in a game as long as you have scored four. A healthy points tally always outweighs a healthy goal difference so promoted teams need to make sure that they have goal scorers in their team. Notice we said scorers plural as often its left to one man (e.g. Kenny Miller in Derby’s disastrous 2007 campaign) to hit all the goals. If he struggles, you lose. Derby found out the hard way as Miller chipped in only four goals all season and his teammates added another 18 for a total of only 22 goals. After only one win all season they were relegated with one of the lowest point’s totals (and one of the highest goals conceded totals) in Premiership history.

All by myself - Lone Derby striker Kenny Miller  (Image from Getty)

All by myself – Lone Derby striker Kenny Miller
(Image from Getty)

Lesson 4 – Build a back bone. Every successful team in history has been built on a solid backbone – solid goalkeeper, tough centre half, creative or strong midfielder and deadly striker. If you have these four and they work together, the other players seem to matter less. Not that they don’t contribute but the backbone appears to dictate what the result of the game is likely to be, with the rest of the team feeding off of them. QPR have found it tough this year without a solid backbone. Yes they had Julio Cesar and Ryan Nelsen but without a Joey Barton or an inform Abel Taarabt playing, they lacked the structure for their strikers to feed from. Similarly, like in most operations, substituting key vertebrae like Ryan Nelsen for Christopher Samba midway through the season was always going to be troublesome, despite how good Samba is. Harry Redknapp’s team has never recovered and looks destined for life in the Championship next year because of it.

Losing Nelsen changed the QPR backbone (Image from Getty)

Losing Nelsen changed the QPR backbone (Image from Getty)

Cardiff’s manager Malky McKay will be aware of the trials and tribulations of life in the Premiership having played (and being relegated) with Watford in 2006. He is a smart manager so will plan accordingly and will already know the areas in which he wants to strengthen. With owner Vincent Tan suggesting a sum in the region of $25 million being made available to MacKay next year, he has the funds to do so. In Marshall, Turner, Cowie and Bellamy, he has a strong backline, but experience may be the only thing he needs to bring in with few in his squad having played in England’s top league. It will be a test for his squad on how they cope under extreme pressure next year but this is after all what they have been waiting for (and their fans) for almost 51 years. If they can heed the lessons of teams gone by then there is a good chance that Cardiff will follow Swansea’s lead by cementing their place in the world’s most watched league.

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Toronto Unable To Lock Down Full Nelsen

Ryan Nelsen takes over at Toronto (Image from Frank Gunn/AP)Toronto’s abysmal season last year and the gruelling post season interview between the media and head coach Paul Mariner, eventually led to his dismissal. Toronto need a fresh approach after more than a few disappointing seasons so have turned to QPR centre back Ryan Nelsen as the man to lead this. The 35-year-old New Zealand captain has had a distinguished career which has seen him take the field for Christchurch United, DC United, Blackburn, Tottenham and now Queens Park Rangers. But his new job, as Head coach of Toronto FC will end his playing days and begin what is sure to be a long career in football management. Nelsen, capped 49 times for his country, has a wealth of experience that he will undoubtedly bring to the role, once he actually starts. The problem is that Nelsen is under contract with QPR until this summer with the club keen for him to see out the term but with the new MLS season starting in March and pre season a month before, Toronto may be managerless for the first four months of the season. A farce is not quite what people are calling it, but its close.

New Boss for Nelsen - Payne (Image from Torontofc.ca)

New Boss for Nelsen – Payne (Image from Torontofc.ca)

Nelsen is tired. He has played in England’s top division for the last seven years and is now running on empty. With knees and ankles like glass, as Nelsoe himself describes it, it would appear that the time has come for the defender to hang up his boots. However he is still performing, week in, week out and is the main reason why QPR still have a chance of surviving a relegation dog fight. Manager Harry Redknapp knows this, hence why his reluctance to release the player to Toronto in this January transfer window. With little or no cash available to spend by Harry, assuming because Mark Hughes spent more than his share of it in the summer, finding a capable replacement for Nelsen may be tricky. Israeli Tal Ben Haim has arrived on a short-term contract to provide cover so could fill the slot left by Nelsen. Redknapp knows Ben Haim well from his time as Portsmouth boss so will be comfortable turning to the 30-year-old but he is not even half the leader than Nelsen is, who generals the QPR back line as if his life depended on it.

Nelsen gives his all for QPR (Image from Getty)

Nelsen gives his all for QPR
(Image from Getty)

For QPR it’s a sad state of affairs that your best defender is a soon to be retired 35-year-old. Nothing against Nelsen or older players as such but looking at the money Hughes invested, especially in his back line, you have to wonder what has gone wrong. Along with Nelsen, Hughes brought in Portuguese right back Jose Bosingwa (Free) , centre back Stephane Mbia (£4.5million) and left back Fabio (loan deal), as well as two experienced goalkeepers in England’s Rob Green and Brazil’s Julio Cesar.  All are internationally capped players  (granted Fabio only has two caps and is still 22) and most arrived for a considerable fee but yet are unable to form an effective back line between them or the players who were already at QPR – Nedum Onuoha, Anton Ferdinand, Clint Hill, Armand Traoré and Luke Young. For Nelsen, who this season should be enjoying one of his last full seasons as a professional, it’s a sad state of affairs that Redknapp has no option but to use him in every game, despite his tiring legs.

New Zealand celebrate scoring against Italy at the World Cup (Image from Zimbo.com)

New Zealand celebrate scoring against Italy at the World Cup (Image from Zimbo.com)

For the New Zealand legend, who captain his side to their first ever FIFA World Cup appearance in 2010, the next chapter of his career looks to be happening back across the pond in the MLS, where his career began. He is due to meet with Redknapp and QPR owner Tony Fernandes to plead for his release at the end of the January transfer window, but this is unlikely to happen unless QPR can find a replacement. West Brom’s Swedish defender Jonas Olsson is a likely option whilst Tottenham defenders William Gallas and Michael Dawson are rumoured to be targets as well, mainly as the duo are known to Redknapp and played for him at Spurs. Gallas will be the more likely of the two to join as either no fee or a minimal fee would be required for the experienced 35-year-old French defender. Dawson would be the preferred option but Tottenham will be looking for a fee around £6million before they let the player leave White Hart Lane. Regardless of who arrives, Redknapp will want to reach a conclusion to the Nelsen decision soon as he holds too much respect for the player to drag it on and delay the inevitable.

Possible Options? Dawson and Gallas (Image from AP)

Possible Options? Dawson and Gallas (Image from AP)

For Toronto FC new club President Kevin Payne (who worked with Nelsen at DC United) the waiting game is now on, with a slim chance that his new head coach will arrive before pre season begins in late January. There is more chance of Nelson being in place by the season opener against Vancouver Whitecaps on March 2nd but there is also a chance that he won’t take up the job until Toronto’s home game against Montreal Impact on July 3rd, some 16 games into the 34 game season.  Payne will be praying that QPR backs down and releases the player so he can move to Canada and start the next phase of his life. Payne will also know that hiring Nelsen is a gamble, regardless of the start date as he has no coaching licences and has not managed until now. If Nelsen can turn around Toronto’s fortunes and lead them to a reasonable;e finish in the Eastern conference and potentially a CONCAF Champions League place then his lack of paperwork or experience will be forgotten. If he can’t and Toronto replicate the run that they showed this year, it may not be only Nelson that is looking for pastures new once again.

Redknapp Faces Up To His Hardest Challenge Yet

Harry Redknapp, new QPR managerHarry Redknapp must be wondering what he has taken on as he looks at his new QPR squad and the up coming fixtures. The veteran English manager, who took over from Mark Hughes at Loftus Road at the end of November, is a formidable record for turning teams over the years. Look at what he did with Tottenham for example. Sitting in the bottom of the Premiership after a disastrous time under Juande Ramos, Harry left Portsmouth to take over at White Hart Lane and transformed the team into title challengers within 2 years.  He instilled confidence in the team once more and worked with players who had struggled to find form and position such as Gareth Bale which started the revival. His work at Spurs was so impressive that most fans felt he was a certainty for the England manager’s job after the departure of Fabio Capello, only to be surprisingly overlooked in favour of Roy Hodgson. Harry’s confidence took a knock which eventually led to his dismissal from Tottenham due to a poor end to the season, but his qualities as a manager made it only a matter of time before he resurfaced at another club.

When the call came from QPR owner Tony Fernandes, Harry jumped at the chance, despite contractual negotiations being underway with the Ukrainian Football Federation over their top job, the national manager’s position. But Harry favoured a return to the Premiership rather than a 1,000 mile journey to the former Soviet Republic. However his new challenge could quite easily be the hardest one Harry has ever faced. With QPR rooted to the bottom of the Premiership with only 4 points in the first 13 games, Harry took over the club on the 24th November for the match against Manchester Untied. Harry decided to sit in the stands for this match and let caretakers Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki, he watched as his new side were dispatched 3-1 by a rampant United team and highlight the various problems that exist at Queens Park Rangers.

Task in Hand - new boss, Harry Redknapp

Task in Hand – new boss, Harry Redknapp

A team lacking in confidence, desperate for direction and tactical awareness on the pitch, a squad heavy with over paid new signings unable to gel or adapt to life in the Premiership, with disgruntled players and ego’s off the pitch, Harry was facing up to a spider-web of problems to solve. The legacy that Mark Hughes had created was starting to look more like a nightmare. Hughes, for all his managerial skills and abilities had foolishly spent heavily over the summer bringing in a host of new players in a desperate attempt to completely revamp his squad and remove all reminders from the Neil Warnock era. Wranock had left Loftus Road in January 2012 with the team struggling in the league, but what he had done was build a strong team of grafters who would fight for each point. Although not technically gifted nor exciting to watch, his approached worked in the first few months of the season  job but ultimately struggled in the few months before his sacking, due to injuries, suspensions, fitness and lack of creativity in the final third. Hughes scrapped that philosophy as soon as he arrived and deemed several players as no longer needed.

Mark Hughes struggled to change QPR's fortunes

Mark Hughes struggled to change QPR’s fortunes

Over the summer he brought in a host of big name players – goalkeepers Robert Green and Julio Cesar, defenders Jose Bosingwa, Nedum Onuoha, Ryan Nelson, Fabio, midfielders Park Ji-Sung, Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilett, Samba Diakité and strikers Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cissé and Andrew Johnson in an attempt to turn the fortunes of the club around but still struggled to do so. After a poor end to last season and an even poorer start to this season, Fernandes could support Hughes no longer and dispatched with his services. Harry was an easy choice for the owner and with the a pedigree for turning things around, he was confident that Harry was the best choice too. After three games in charge, Harry has halted the clubs losing streak but has yet been able to get his first three points, managing only 3 draws so far. Saturday’s 2-2 draw with relegation candidates Reading was probably Harry’s best chance, and now faces a tough next 5 games against sides in the top half of the table.

One of Hughes many signing, Park Ji Sung

One of Hughes many signing, Park Ji Sung

Redknapp knows he has the squad capable of turning the season around and will likely have to rely on them as transfer funds in January are likely to be limited. Harry may be able to bring in some players on loan and may look towards the US for an injection of fresh talent. As the MLS season finishes and is not due to restart until March, players like Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are all looking for short-term loans to keep their fitness levels up. Redknapp knows all these players well having managed Keane before at Tottenham and has seen Donovan and Keane up close during their time at Everton. All three would offer a new dimension to the team and with experience in the league all ready, would be able to adapt with ease. Regardless of what Redknapp decides, he has a job on his hands to change the fortunes of the club. He needs to take his talented squad and get them to play together quickly. His approach is likely to be focused on the basics first, creating a solid spine to the team and a tight defense. If he can stop the goals being conceded, Redknapp and his coaches Jordan and Allen, will then work with his strikers to give them back the confidence they need to start scoring again. If he can manage this, it will be only a matter of time before QPR start to climb up the table once again.