PSG Turn Focus To Champions League After Securing League Title In Style

Needing only three points, Paris Saint Germain knew that winning their fourth league title was in their own hands. Up against bottom club Troyes, PSG were strong favourites for the win but few would have predicted how emphatically they would do so. Dominant from the off, Laurent Blanc’s side controlled the game with ease eventually running out 9-0 winners. Goals from Pastore, Rabiot and Ibrahimovic gave PSG a 3-0 lead going into the half time break. But rather than applying the breaks in order to coast to victory, the champions elect stepped up a gear and went for the jugular destroying Troyes in a frightening 45 minutes period. An own goal from Saunier, a brace from Cavani and a further three goals from Ibrahimovic wrapped up the result and the league title.

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Cavani and the rest of the PSG team celebrate winning their fourth consecutive title (image from afp)

The ease in which PSG wrapped up the title this year with eight games to spare is more a reflection of the growing gap between the champions and the chasing pack than anything else. Only one defeat in thirty games and a positive goal difference of 62 highlights the issue. Monaco did managed to mount a sizable challenge but too many draws ultimately led them to fall too far behind PSG. Surprise package Nice, led by the brillIance of former Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa and Lyon came close but in the end now one could keep up with Laurent Blanc’s side as they sped to the title. Lyon were the only side to beat PSG during the regular season but a series of early season defeats had by then already cost them a chance at the title. The key reason for this growing gap is the financial resources available to PSG. Their addition of Angel Di Maria in the summer for €63m was more than any other team in the league spent in total during the entire season. At this level of spending it is impossible for the chasing pack to compete, leading to a one sided title race in Ligue 1.

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PSG’s ability to spend big on players like Di maria is the difference between them and the others in Ligue 1 (Image from Getty)

With the league tied up, PSG can now focus on the one title that the clubs Qatari owners want the most – the Champions League. Having eliminated Chelsea in the last round, PSG advance to the quarter finals with the hopes of becoming only the second french side to lift the coveted title (after Marseille’s infamous victory in 1993). There are still some formidable sides left in the competition including Real Madrid, Manchester city and current holders Barcelona but all the remaining teams are still competing for their respective domestic titles giving PSG  major advantage. Blanc now has the luxury of resting his entire starting eleven ahead of the next set of Champions League fixtures with the remaining squad players and youngsters at the club taking over the league duties in their absence. Keeping his talented side fresh for this run may be a decisive factor in PSG eventually winning the trophy.  

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PSG are looking to emulate Marseille by winning the Champions League (Image from Getty)

Doing so may also be the only hope that the club has of holding on to the eccentric Zlatan Ibrahimovic how has indicated that he is likely to leave at the end of the season when his contract expires. At 34 years old, Ibrahimovic is well aware that his career is drawing quickly to a close so is considering his options after winning everything that is possible at PSG. Club president Nasser Al-Khelaifi wants the iconic player to stay but all the sounds coming out of Ibrahimovic’s camp is that he has made his mind up, joking that the only way he will stay is if the city replaced the Eiffel Tower with a statue of him. Ibrahimovic has recently been linked with moves to Manchester United and Major League Soccer in the United States. If however PSG can lift the Champions league, it may persuade Ibrahimovic to stay at the club a while longer as they compete firstly for the Super cup and then in December for the Club World Cup. He has won both of these trophies before at Barcelona but to do it with PSG as the clubs talisman would be enough of an incentive for Ibrahimovic to consider staying for one further season.

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Will he stay or will he go? (Image from AFP)

Ibrahimovic’s four goals on Sunday included a 10-minute hat-trick, which took his league total to 27 in 24 games this season and increased his tally in the French top flight to 102. He may be aging but at present is showing no signs of slowing down and could quite easily continue to score crucial goals for PSG for some time to come especially given the ever widening gap between PSG and the other teams in the league. The next few months will be defining times for both PSG and Ibrahimovic and whether they will stay together or part as friends at the end of this specular season for the French champions.

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Cabaye To Sign For Crystal Palace in Major Coup For Club

On Route to Palace - Yohan Cabaye (Image from AFP)Five years after looking dead and buried following the club slipping into administration for the second time in their history, Crystal Palace have completed an amazing turn around and are now looking to established themselves as a Premiership mainstay. Under the management of Alan Pardew who returned to the club in January after four mixed years at Newcastle, Palace have been revitalized playing some of the most exciting attacking football in the Premiership in the second half of last season. Pardew has managed to arrange his team to be both functional and fluent with an eclectic mix of reliable no-nonsense players like Scott Dann and Mile Jedinak acting as the relief mechanism for more gifted yet unpredictable talents like Wilfried Zaha and the impressive Yannick Bolasie.  Under his guidance, Palace secured ten wins from eighteen games finishing in tenth overall in the league. It was clear from the outset that Palace would want to build upon this success by acquiring some additional players over the summer but no-one expected their first signing to be that of French star Yohan Cabaye.

Pardew has been instrumental in turning Palace around  (Image from PA)

Pardew has been instrumental in turning Palace around
(Image from PA)

The former Newcastle midfielder has become disillusioned at Paris Saint Germain after failing to secure a permanent spot in the first team and has been on the look out for a new club for a few months now. Speculation linked Cabaye with a move to Italy or Spain or even a return to England with Manchester United or Arsenal. But now it looks likely that Cabaye will be heading to London and surprisingly to the south of the city after PSG accepted a £10million bid from Crystal Palace. The move would see Cabaye linking up with his old boss Pardew who managed him during his time in the North East with Newcastle. The two have a strong bond and its believed that working with Pardew again was a decisive factor in  Cabaye’s return to the Premiership instead of other options. The player has travelled to the English capital city to undergo a medical ahead of agreeing personal terms with Palace confident that there will be no late hiccups. If he does sign, it will be seen as a major coup by Palace despite them smashing their previous transfer record paid for a player (£7million for James McArthur last year).

Cabaye and Pardew during the pair's time at Newcastle  (Image from Getty)

Cabaye and Pardew during the pair’s time at Newcastle
(Image from Getty)

The signing of Cabaye indicates the faith that the Palace board has in Pardew and what he is hoping to achieve as he strives to take the club to the next level. At 29, Cabaye is entering the latter part of his career but is still very much a world-class player. He has been an ever-present member of the French national team since his debut in 2010 and played a key role for them at both Euro 2012 and at last summer World Cup in Brazil. With superb vision, strong ball control and proven technical ability, Cabaye is the model central midfielder and should fit neatly into Palace’s setup with ease. After making his name with Lille over a seven-year period, he was rewarded with a move to Newcastle who snapped him up for just over £4million. Over the next three seasons, Cabaye would build his legacy entrenching himself in the clubs history as a fan favourite. His exploits for the Geordies elevated his global reputation and found him linked constantly with big money moves away from the club to one Europe’s elite clubs. Newcastle did reject several advances from the likes of Arsenal, Juventus and Barcelona as they desperately tried to cling on to their star player. But when über rich PSG approached them offering in excess of £19 million, owner Mike Ashley decided to cash in on Cabaye in a move that Newcastle would regret in the months that followed.

Cabaye’s failure to establish himself in Paris at the French champions is less a reflection on his own abilities and more an indication of how strong PSG’s midfield is at present with the likes of Javier Pastore, Lucas Moura, Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti and Thiago Motta all battling for two central midfield spots. A move to Palace will see Cabaye once again as one of the first names on the team sheet with Pardew likely to rebuild his side around the Frenchman. His signing could be the catalyst Palace needs to kick on with other top players across Europe likely to take note of Cabaye’s decision to join a club few would have previously considered. What is most surprising about this transfer is the relatively low fee paid for a player of Cabaye’s quality especially against the backdrop of a potential £50 million outlay Manchester City are willing to pay for Raheem Sterling  or the £27 million rumoured move of Morgan Schneiderlin to Manchester United. Both clubs need a strong central midfielder of the same ilk of Cabaye so their failure to submit a rival bid may be a defining moment in their summers. Even Cabaye’s former club Newcastle who are in desperate need of an overhaul failed to make a move in time for Cabaye despite rumoured interest from both sides to make it happen.  Like City and United, Newcastle could live to regret that decision once more when Palace face them in late November with Cabaye deep at the heart of their team.

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Are There Cracks Appearing In PSG’s Dominance?

PSG have once again dominated French football but  are there cracks now appearing in the capital? (Image from Getty)Paris Saint Germain’s canter to their third successive title last season appeared to be tougher than first anticipated with Lyon, Monaco and Marseille all pushing to the very end. But in truth, PSG were far too strong for them all. Flush with riches beyond most teams wildest dreams and a squad of superstar players at their disposal, PSG should be ruling French football and they are. This past weekend they added another trophy to their cabinet, the French Cup making it their third domestic trophy this season and earning them a place in French folklore as the first team to win a domestic treble. Despite the narrow 1-0 scoreline, they dominated that match much like they had dominated most matches this season in France.

PSG sealed  hattrick of French titles this season with victory in the French Cup final  (Image from TVA)

PSG sealed hattrick of French titles this season with victory in the French Cup final
(Image from TVA)

Their record in Ligue 1 over the last three years demonstrates their dominance. Over three seasons and 114 games, PSG have won 76 times (66%) and have lost on only 11 occasions (9.6%). They have scored 236 goals, average just over two goals a game. Better still they have only conceded only 82 times in three seasons, or a goal every game and a half. But there are early signs, albeit manageable ones of problems arising at the club. This season saw PSG draw 11 times and more worryingly concede more goals (36) than either of the first two seasons (both 23). Added into this, Ligue 1 is finally becoming competitive again after several baron years with few teams able to mount a serious challenge. Whilst Monaco has bought its recent success with a series of high profile captures over the years including Rademel Falcao, Joao Moutinho and Lucas Ocampos, Marsielle’s renaciance can be credited to the appointment of Marcelo Bielsa and the strong team work ethic he brought to the club. A strong start to the season raised hopes that this was the year for Marseille but their hard work was ultimately undone by two poor months in February and April where they only managed to pick up three points in eight vital games. Lyon however did push PSG to the very end but shock defeats to Caen and Nice would derail their chances as the season drew to a close.

PSG's performance in the last three years has been impressive but  signs of regression emerging?  (Image from Wiki)

PSG’s performance in the last three years has been impressive but signs of regression emerging?
(Image from Wiki)

PSG know that they will need to improve, despite winning this years title in the end by a comfortable eight points. Their overdependent on stirkers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Edison Cavani who between them scored 44% of PSG’s league goals this season. With speculation mounting that the pair could depart the club for new challenges, Blanc will need to address the situation sooner rather than later. As always, PSG’s owners are not afraid to flex their financial muscle to obtain their required targets but after being stung once before by UEFA’s financial fair play rules, they will be slightly more cautious this time.  They will invest their money more wisely with a focus on younger players who will provide longevity to what is an aging squad. Decisions will need to be made over the growing volume of stars now over 30 like Ibrahimovic, Zoumana Camara, Thiago Motta and Maxwell. The futures of Yohan Cabaye and Ezequiel Lavezzi will also be considered over the summer after the pair have failed to live up to the high standard they produced at their previous clubs that first brought the attention of PSG’s scouts to them.

New faces will arrive to bolster PSG roster of stars, all under the watchful eye of Blanc who is likely to remain in charge after securing the domestic treble. Blanc however will not be allowed to rest on his laurels with the board making it clear that success for them means only one thing – Champions League. PSG have certainly become more competitive in recent years in the competition but are still quite far away from winning it. They lack the hunger of Barcelona, the organization of Juventus and most importantly the flexibility of Bayern. Blanc’s over reliance in the same tired formation, the one that has worked so well in the league has been his downfall. He may have matched Chelsea ball for ball in the round of 16 but their luck ran out when facing a more dynamic Barcelona side in the quarters. Messi and co simply ran rings round their firm structure and highlighted Blanc’s key weakness – his lack of tactical surprise. This unfortunately is not something you can buy but instead must be learned. Blanc has the summer to address this or he will face the axe.

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

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

Goalkeeper – Fabien Barthez

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

Right Back – Lilian Thuram

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

Centre Back – Marcel Desailly

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

Centre Back – Frank LeBouef

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

Left Back – Bixente Lizarazu

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

Midfielder – Didier Deschamps

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

Midfielder – Christian Karembeu

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

Midfielder – Emmanuel Petit

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

Attacking Midfielder – Zinedine Zidane

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

Attacking Midfielder – Youri Djorkaeff

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

Striker – Stephane Guivarc’h

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

Subs

Alain Boghossian

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

Christophe Dugarry

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

Patrick Vieira

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

Manager

Aime Jacquet

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

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Sir Alex To Leave United But Who Will Take Over?

Farewell Sir Alex  (Image from Reuters)

Less than a week ago, Jose Mourinho’s move back to Chelsea looked like a done deal. But following the announcement yesterday from Old Trafford about Sir Alex Ferguson plan to retire at the end of this season; doubt has surfaced over where the Special One will end up. Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich will be highly motivated to secure the Real Madrid coach sooner rather than later, if he hasn’t done so already, as he will be keen to avoid going through the same public embarrassment he felt when his first choice Pep Guardiola spurred his advances in favour of Bayern Munich.

Sir Alex joined United in 1986  (Image from PA)

Sir Alex joined United in 1986
(Image from PA)

Mourinho has been vocal about his desire to leave Real Madrid for some months now but his destination has regularly been hid under a cloud of thought provoking statements like I know “I am loved by some clubs, especially one”. Many assumed that this was Mourinho’s way of expressing passionately about his desire to return to Chelsea but now with the United job a real prospect, others are now re-examining his words and how he said them. Was he being honest or was the statement sarcastic, hinting instead about the way United fans feel about him. It’s hard to believe that Sir Alex has just made this decision over the past few weeks so it’s conceivable that a deal has already been struck some months ago for Mourinho to take over the reins at Old Trafford. Ferguson hinted that he and United legend Bobby Charlton had been talking about potential replacements if he decided to quit which cements the theory that this is not fresh news to the club’s owners and board. His love hate relationship for Mourinho aside, Ferguson knows that the Portuguese coach would be a success if he took over, making the decision somewhat easier but it may be Charlton who sways his final call.

Chelsea Snub? Jose Mourinho  (Image from Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Chelsea Snub? Jose Mourinho
(Image from Claudio Villa/Getty Images)

Charlton has been vocal in his appreciation for Mourinho as a person but doesn’t feel he is the right fit for the club going forward. He would prefer instead that the club turn to another Scot to follow in Sir Alex’s footsteps, Everton’s David Moyes. Having spent the last eleven years at Goodison, Moyes looks set to leave after repeatedly delaying negotiations of a new contract, citing his desire to see where the club was going first before committing for longer. Over the past few months, Moyes name has been bandied around in connection with several clubs in Germany, most notably Schalke but so far nothing has materialized. That may be because his agent and brother Kenny has already done the deal that will take him to Old Trafford at the end of the season.

Smart Money is on Moyes  (Image from Getty)

Smart Money is on Moyes
(Image from Getty)

Besides from the two front runners, other names have been linked to the job such as Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp, Juventus coach Antonio Conte and Swansea’s Michael Laudrup as well as former United players Laurent Blanc, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and Steve Bruce. Even current players Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have been touted around but the smart money is on either Moyes or Mourinho. Both men make a lot of sense but for different reasons. Mourinho knows how to win, having picked up trophies in Portugal, England, Italy and Spain including the coveted Champions League twice and brings with him an international pedigree that will help to attract the world’s top stars. Tactically smart and good at getting the best out of his players, United could expect to continue where they left off with Sir Alex if Mourinho took over. However some find him arrogant and difficult to work with public bust ups with players common place.

Giggs and Scholes - Future Managers  (Image from Getty)

Giggs and Scholes – Future Managers
(Image from Getty)

Moyes on the other hand makes for a more compelling hire. Softly spoken yet determined to get the best from his squad, Moyes is one of the best coaches in England at the moment. Having spent the past 11 years at Everton, his commitment to the club will resonate well with the United board who want to hire someone for another 26 years of success just like Ferguson has given them. In addition he has successfully managed to make Everton competitive in a majority of the seasons he has been in charge, often with little or no budgets available to strengthen the squad. Being clever in the transfer market and nurturing young talent like Wayne Rooney and Jack Rodwell, both sold for hefty fees, will also impress the powers that be in Manchester. With the UEFA enforced financial fair play rules soon to be brought into play, having a manager at the helm who can work with tight budgets put Moyes in a very strong position.

Rooney and Moyes to reunite at United? (Image from Getty)

Rooney and Moyes to reunite at United? (Image from Getty)

Regardless of whom gets the nod (and we won’t have to wait long with an announcement due before the weekend) Sir Alex will be a hard act to follow. The 72 year old will step down as manager of Manchester United after 26 years in charge, having won a staggering 38 trophies including 13 league titles, two Champions Leagues, five FA Cups and four League Cups. His last game in charge will be away to West Brom and ironically his 1,500 game in charge. It seems like the best time for him to go, after winning the club’s 20th league title and firmly establishing them as one of the best teams in the world. It will be strange for United to begin next season without Sir Alex in the dugout but whoever is the boss they will know deep down that he will be an impossible act to follow.

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What Now For Chelsea As Guardiola Joins Bayern

Pondering his next move: Roman Abramovich (Image by Dylan Martinez)The mood around Stamford Bridge changed dramatically yesterday as news from Germany broke to ruin their day. Inside Chelsea’s home ground, a Russian billionaire sat fuming in his chair after his number one target for manager, Pep Guardiola decided against joining him at Chelsea in favour of a stint in the Bundesliga with Bayern Munich. The Spaniard was formally confirmed by the club yesterday as Jupp Heyneckes successor when he steps down as manager at the end of the season. It ruins Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich’s master plan, which started by firing Roberto Di Matteo in November, then hiring Rafa Benetiz as a stop-gap until the end of the season, at which point he would step aside, just in time for Guardiola to waltz in and take over. Now, faced with the possibility of retaining a manager that the fans don’t like, Abramovich will be trying to work out how to fix his master plan in order to keep Chelsea in the hunt for both domestic and European honors. But the current Champions League holders may struggle to find a coach of Guardiola’s calibre and one who is willing to take over, given Abramovich’s past history for meddling in the first team and sackings of previous bosses.

Pep Guardiola signs on in Germany (Image from Eurosport.se)

Pep Guardiola signs on in Germany
(Image from Eurosport.se)

Benetiz is unlikely to retain the job beyond the summer unless he wins something of value to Abramovich. Already eliminated from the Champions League and down 2-0 after the first leg of League Cup double-header against Swansea, the only hope for a trophy would be either the FA Cup, Europa League or the Premiership. Out of the three, the Premiership trophy is the only one truly valued by Abramovich but already fourteen points off the pace, it will be extremely difficult for Chelsea to catch up to the two sides from Manchester. If indeed Benetiz card is marked, who realistically would take over?

Marcello Lippi

Lippi would be the obvious choice (Image from Reuters)

Lippi would be the obvious choice
(Image from Reuters)

The Italian coach, who lead his country to World Cup success in 2006, is currently in charge of Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande, having joined them in May last year on a two and a half-year deal. He has already managed to deliver the title and the Chinese FA Cup in his first season and is planning for the start of the new season in March, but may be tempted to quit his Chinese adventure for a shot in the Premiership. Lippi would have the pedigree and experience that Chelsea need as they plan a complete revamp of their first team squad and would supply funds to Lippi to do so. The challenge for the 64-year-old, who has coached for most of his career in Italy, would be dealing with Abramovich but this shouldn’t be an issue as Lippi has dealt with more than his fair share of pushy owners in his day. Guangzhou’s owners would demand a considerable fee for their talent coach but this is not likely to deter Abramovich especially if he feels Lippi is the right man for the job.

Laurent Blanc

Premiership return for Blanc? (Image from Original Winger.com)

Premiership return for Blanc?
(Image from Original Winger.com)

The former France manager, who is currently out of work, having left the national team job in the summer, is another potential candidate. As a player, Blanc experienced life in the Premiership with a short stint at Manchester United and would love to return to England one day if the job was right for him. Having led Bordeaux to the French title in only his second season in charge before leaving to coach the French national team, Blanc has made a strong start to his managerial career and would likely be seen as an interesting choice for Chelsea. But rumours surrounding Blanc’s next move have him replacing Arsene Wenger at Arsenal in the summer rather than going across London to Stamford Bridge so the Chelsea owner may have a fight on his hands if he wants to land him.

Gianfranco Zola

Former player Zola is an unlikely choice (image from Shaun Botterill)

Former player Zola is an unlikely choice
(image from Shaun Botterill)

A fans favourite during his time at Chelsea, a return to the managerial hot seat will  likely go down with the former Italian internationalist and the fans. But without a real managerial pedigree, Zola may not get the opportunity as Abramovich looks to bring in a bigger name than him. Zola has had limited success as a club  manager which is also likely to count against him. Watford would demand a release fee, all of which adds up to an unlikely scenario of Zola being given the nod.

Jose Mourinho

Chelsea return for Jose? (image from Newsowl.com)

Chelsea return for Jose? (image from Newsowl.com)

The special one left Stamford Bridge under a cloud back in 2007 after a row with Abramovich that led to the Portuguese coach being fired. Since then Mourinho has gone on to become one of the world’s most successful coaches of all time winning the domestic title in four different countries and capturing the Champions League trophy on two separate occasions. Now at Real Madrid, rumours persist that his time is coming to an end after a series of public disagreements by players and the worst start to a season for Real in nearly ten years. Clubs across Europe are watching with interest, including Chelsea and with Mourinho favouring a move back to the Premiership in the near future, Chelsea may believe that they can convince their former coach to return. However Mourinho is likely to resist and favours a move to either Manchester United or Manchester City before Chelsea. Added in to this, PSG’s ability to fund his ambitions and give him the opportunity to win another title in a different league, they may trump all the british clubs vying for his services.

Jurgen Klopp could also be considered (Image from AP)

Jurgen Klopp could also be considered
(Image from AP)

Other candidates such as Everton’s David Moyes, QPR’s Harry Redknapp, Borussia Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp and Russia’s Fabio Capello will all be considered as well for the Chelsea job. But Abramovich will know that he will need to act fast if he is to secure his next manager. If he takes the decision to relieve Benetiz of the role in the summer, the ground work must be laid now in an effort to prepare for the next Chelsea boss’s arrival. Having lost out on Guardiola, after giving the Spaniard space and time to think, Abramovich is unlikely to be as understanding with his next target and is likely to attack them strongly and demand an answer within a given time scale. The billion dollar question is which coach is brave enough to work for the Russian, given that he has dispensed with nine managers in ten years before their arrival. One thing is certain, that come July 1st it won’t be Pep Guardiola who is walking through the doors at Chelsea, much to Roman Abramovich’s dismay.