One on One with: Terry Phelan

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

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

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

Exclusive: One on One Interview with Terry Phelan.

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Interview contributions by Rob Latham. Follow him on Twitter.

The Greedy 12 and the Super League

It was supposed to be a quiet Sunday until all hell broke loose. Embarrassing and greedy quickly started to trend on Twitter alongside the word “Super League” which told you everything you needed to know. The decision by 12 European clubs to announce a breakaway SuperLeague has been widely condemned by footballs governing bodies, its former and current players and most importantly the fans, who all see this move as financially motivated and without any consideration for them.

After months of secret, behind closed doors talks twelve clubs – Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea, Liverpool, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Juventus, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have signed on to be founder members of this new JP Morgan backed European Super League (ESL) which was announced late Sunday afternoon, one day before UEFA was due to announce a potentially expanded Champions League.

The “Big 6” in England have signed on to a European Super League much to the dismay of the FA, the Premier League and the British government.

FIFA have been quick to condemn the move whilst UEFA has threatened tough sanctions on the clubs involved and their players including banning them from all other league and cup competitions and even stopping players from potentially representing their national teams. Legal action could also be taken against each of the 12 clubs with UEFA seeking significant damages rumoured to be around £50-60billion. UEFA have also been supported by the three national federations and leagues that the 12 currently play in, stating that any move of such would result in their eviction from their domestic leagues and cup competitions. But it’s the reaction of the former players and the fans that tells the story. Both have been outraged by the news and have rejected the idea of a Super League being a good thing or indeed even for them. Former Manchester United player Gary Neville called the move absolutely disgusting and a decision based solely on greed whilst former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher called it an “embarrassing decision for Liverpool and for those who have come before”. Hard to disagree.

In a statement released by the new ESL, the founding clubs had agreed to establish a “new midweek competition” with teams continuing to “compete in their respective national leagues”. Three further teams would join shortly to make 15 founding teams that would be secured in their places in the league (couldn’t be removed or relegated) and a further five would join based on performances elsewhere. The hope was that the new league could start as early as next year but the ESL has a lot to do before that becomes reality.

The statement went on to say that the global pandemic had “accelerated the instability in the existing European football economic model” and that conversations with UEFA had failed to answer concerns about the need to provide higher-quality matches and additional financial resources for the overall football pyramid.” The ESL will apparently help to put the game on a more sustainable footing in the long term.

Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has been named as the president of the European Super League and is one of its principle instigators

ESL vice chairman and Manchester United owner Joel Glazer was quoted in saying “By bringing together the world’s greatest clubs and players to play each other throughout the season, the Super League will open a new chapter for European football, ensuring world-class competition and facilities, and increased financial support for the wider football pyramid.”

There is a lot to unpack there but underneath it all is the general sense that the owners of these 12 clubs are being motivated by one thing and one thing only – greed. The richest clubs in football simply want more money. Talk of fixing the European game, improving the quality for fans or providing a more financial support to the football pyramid is just smoke and mirrors for what this is really about. These 12 clubs feel entitled to more and because UEFA won’t buckle to their demands, they are trying to force their hand.

Whether all 12 believe this league will happen is one thing but what’s more important is that they have massively overestimated their own hand. Either foolishly or naively, the clubs believed that the fans would be excited about this league and more so that their own domestic leagues ( English Premier League, Serie A and La Liga) would be comfortable with this. Neither of which is true. What has happened is instead the greedy 12 have landed in a PR nightmare with no one for support and a general feeling from supporters that they don’t care about anything other than money. Now facing some difficult conversation, not only with FIFA and UEFA but as well with their national leagues, the European Club Association and the Players Football Association, it’s fair to say that the announcement didn’t quite go as planned.

Former players Rio Ferdinand, Francis Benali and Robbie Savage react to the news about the proposed European Super League.

The League may never happen due to a variety of reasons and as suggested earlier, it might never have needed to happen. It could all be a ruse to get UEFA to back down and agree to the changes these 12 clubs wanted as part of a new look Champions League – more power, preferential treatment such as annual participation regardless of performance and above all else more money. But now having overextended themselves and misread how much power they actually have at the wider footballing table, it might be a harder battle to win.

Regardless of how those discussions go or how things pan out over the next few weeks and months, the fans ultimately will have their say or the ability to voice their opinion at the least by turning their backs on the clubs in more than one way. For the instigators of this new league, it’s worth noting that it was supporters who helped to build these clubs up to where they are today and that they quite easily tear them apart as well – Super League or no Super League.

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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

In Pep We Trust – How tactical tweaks turned around Man City’s season

Pep Guardiola’s men are approaching what could be a mesmerizing end to their season. Manchester City, cruising to their 5th Premier League title with 11 points clear on the top of the table, in the semi finals of the Champions league and the finals of the EFL Cup are in cruise control. However it was not this rosy from the start; fragilities in the back line and imbalance in attack led to a shambolic 5-2 home defeat to Leicester in only the second game of the season which was then followed by some cagey draws and less than convincing 1-0 wins. It wasn’t until after the 1-1 draw at the Etihad against West Brom on 15th December, that they turned things around and went on a sensational 21 games winning streak in all competitions that put themselves back in a position to contest for all four titles (EPL, FA Cup, League Cup and Champions League). Their quadruple dreams may have broken by Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final but they still have a lot to play for.

Credit where its due goes to the players, namely a reborn John Stones, possible signing of the year, Ruben Dias, unlikely goal scoring hero Ilkay Gundogan, the creative forces of Kevin De Bruyne and Joao Cancelo to name a few. But, of course, the man most responsible for the remarkable season turnaround is Pep Guardiola. In an interview with BT Sports in March, Guardiola explained the changes that brought around this tranaformation in his team:

“It was the day after West Brom at home when we drew 1-1. We could have won but I went to myself, my staff and friends and said I don’t like the team, I don’t like the way we play. We ran too much, we were not in the position. We ran too much without knowing exactly what we have to do with the ball. Our strength is when we have the ball. And we just came back to the principles, that’s all. So the wingers high and wide, a lot of players in the middle and come back without the ball, run like animals and with the ball, be more calm, play more passes,”

Ilkay Gundogan has been in rich goalscoring form for Manchester City this season

One of the main tactical tweak Guardiola made was to have one of his full-backs play in a midfield position – either Cancelo or Oleksandr Zinchenko. In the build up play, the full-back forms a double pivot with the holding midfielder; this gives defensive solidarity in the midfield and allowed Gundogan to operate higher up and make runs in the box. Once City are in the attacking third, the inverted full-back gets in advance positions to create chances by playing passes through the lines, over the defence and linking up play. It is mostly Joao Cancelo that was used in this role as he has exceptional quality with the ball at his feet. This change also helped City to press with more numbers higher up the pitch.

Early on in the season it looked like De Bruyne was given the whole responsibility of creating openings and opponents were able to deal with that, but later, a better balance was found which still allows him to be the most creative outlet. The benefits of the season defining change can also be seen in player stats; Gundogan is City’s highest goal scorer this season with 16 goals in all competition and Cancelo ranks no. 8 in the Premier League for key passes. Added into this, City has scored the most goals in the Premier League (69) to date but has done so without a recognized goalscorer like Spurs have with Harry Kane or Liverpool has in Mo Salah. Instead the goals are more evenly distributed throughout the team, more so than any other team in the league – Gundogan (12), Sterling (9), Mahrez (9), Jesus (8), Phil Foden (6), De Bruyne (5).

One factor affecting that is Guardiola deploying a false 9 on many occasions, especially against higher quality opponents. Mostly De Bruyne or Bernardo Silva have been used in that position but even then the attacking four operates very fluidly and interchange positions through the game. This causes havoc in the opposition defence and the City players score different types of goals from different positions.

Deploying a false 9 with Bernardo Silva in the role allows space to develop between the centre backs who are stuck between following Silva as he retreats back into midfield or tracking one of the four runners (Mahrez, Sterling, De Bruyne, Gundogan).

One more eye-catching stat is that Man City has only scored one goal from counter attack this season in EPL. Guardiola has regularly talked about his team being more calm and playing more passes which is the likely reason behind this stat. It’s true that most teams sit back deep when playing against City and avoid being caught on the break. But still there have been many instances where City could have hurt a team on the counter but they rather choose to wear the opposition down by playing more passes and dominating the position. Playing more passes is not just their way to attack but defend too. “We control and be organized through the passes, because what makes the team balanced is the ball,” said Guardiola in the post match conference after the UCL 2nd leg against Dortmund.

“It’s not three incredibly huge holding midfielders or physicality, what makes the team have good balance, compact, is what we do. With. The. Ball. Extra passes help everyone be in the right position and when you lose the ball always you are organized, and that is what we have done since day one we arrived but sometimes you need more time to get it.”

In defence, with one full back advancing to midfield, the other one stays back and the two centre backs spread to form a wide back three. This allowed City to play passes from the back, rotate sides and control the tempo of the game. The inverted full back and the defensive midfielder gave more passing options and also protected the back line. This compact organization has made City way less vulnerable to counter-attacks, which was the way to get at them earlier in the season and also large parts of last season. It has worked wonders as they possess the best defence in Europe this season;  City has conceded the least number of goals in EPL (24) and the Champions League (3), level with Chelsea.

The centre back partnership of Dias and Stones has been a revelation for City this season

The resurgence of John Stones and the new signing, Ruben Dias have been crucial for City’s defence, keeping the previously impressive Laporte restricted to only a handful of appearances. The centre back pairing of Stones and Dias have been Pep’s go to for the important games and even when the two players have been paired with someone else, they have performed brilliantly due to the way that they are set up.

One distinctive factor about City has been the heavy rotation. Pep Guardiola has made over 100 changes to his starting lineup in the league this season, well more than any other team. No places, other than Ederson’s and Rodri’s, can be taken for granted. In a press conference in December Pep said:

“It’s not about rest here,” It is about rest when a big clash like a UCL tie is looming but mostly it’s not. Every game I put in the best players, sometimes for the benefit of the team, sometimes because of injuries, but especially the players who play well. It’s not about the players who believe, ‘I deserve to start because I have been here for three or four years’.”

Sterling and Laporte have been the biggest victims of the regular overhauling, but that shows the performance and consistency Pep demands of his players. Rotation has sometimes not worked with the recent loss against Leeds attributed to too many changes. But rotation was necessary ahead of the Champions League 2nd leg game against Borussia Dortmund, the most important game of the season until now. For most of the season, changing the starting 11 has helped in coping with a hectic season and has not been a hindrance on getting the results needed, which is remarkable. It can be said that City possess a deep squad but it’s never easy to change half the starting 11 from the last fixture and keep the performance level high.

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

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Manchester United – A Shadow of its former self

It has been 7 years since Sir Alex Ferguson won his last English Premier League trophy and gave his farewell speech at Old Trafford. In the years proceeding, Manchester City have won the league three times, Chelsea have done so twice, Liverpool broke their 30-year drought to win it last season and Leicester City had a fairytale run to become champions in 2016. Manchester United however have only come close once which can be deemed as an overstatement considering they finished in second place that season 19 points behind local rivals and eventual Champions Manchester City. In theory they were close but in reality they were so so far from it.

Manchester United have hired four new managers since Ferguson retired and have shelled out over a billion pounds on new signings with nothing really major to show for it. Given the investment, its hard to understand the real reason behind this but what we do know is that the one constant during these years has been the Glazer Family. According to the global market research agency Kantar, Manchester United is the most popular sports club in the world, boasting a worldwide fan and follower base of 1.1billion, an increase of over 400 million since a similar survey was conducted in 2012. It is undoubtedly the clubs rich history of winning that has drawn such a large global following. However it seems somewhat ironic then that the current strategy at Manchester United sees them moving away from the winning identity that put them in the position and has them adopting one which only sees a need to invest in the club when necessary so as to protect the value of the brand or to get Champions League football. Once achieved however the club appears to take that investment away until it struggles again, then it invests and the cycle repeats itself.

This was once a club that had Premier League winning ambitions every season but now appears happy with a top 4 finish so as it suits their current strategy. For outsiders looking in, the amount of money spent over the past seven years shouldn’t be a cause for complain but when put into context, you can see how misleading this outlay of money actually is. Firstly, none of it has come out of the Glazers’ finances. They had cleverly leveraged their debt unto the club during the acquisition using a leverage buyout plan in 2005. A LBP is a means of buying an asset by borrowing money against said future asset. This means that the Glazers have not invested a single dime of their own money into the club. Instead, the money the club has made over the period of time they have been owners has been used while also helping paying off their debt at the same time. If you take a look at the two graphics below from Transfermarket.com, it breaks United’s total spend into 3 sections which show United only being outspent by newly Roman Abramovich acquired Chelsea in the eight years before the Glazers bought the club. In the next graphic we can see Man Utd being completely outspent by Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Spurs once the Glazers takeover happened and with Sir Alex Ferguson still at the helm. The final graphic shows the state or play post Ferguson which sees Man Utd being dominated by Man City and Chelsea during these past 7 years.

Pre Glazers
Glazers ownership with Ferguson in charge
Glazers ownership after Ferguson.

In my opinion, Manchester United’s spending has been irresponsible and has been carried out by people unfit for the job as they still lack a Director of Sports at the helm. Breaking it down season by season, it has been a cycle of the same thing over the span of 7 seasons with the club hiring a new manager, backing him enough to gain entry to the Champions League, then pulling back investment and sacking the manager when Champions League is not then achieved.

Going back to the 2013/2014 season post Ferguson, David Moyes signed only Marouane Fellaini in the summer after publicly chasing a host of unattainable targets and added only Juan Mata in January with the team languishing below the Champions League places. With the fans beginning to turn on Moyes due to the boring football Manchester United were playing, he was eventually sacked. Man Utd finished 7th that year and missed out on the Champions League, change was needed and a new coach was hired in the form of Louis Van Gaal to transform its fortunes. The club backed this move with some real investment put in as the pattern will show. The club signed seven players in total, costing close to £176 million outspending everyone with Angel Di Maria being the marquee signing. The season was a success according to this model as Man Utd finished 4th and got back into the Champions League. The following summer saw a large amount of players signed but at the same time there were some players who were questionably sold including Angel Di Maria which was a key signing the season before. It was like taking one step forward and two steps back which ended up having a negative effect on the team. They finished the season as FA Cup winners but the season was deemed to be a disappointment with boring football and a lack of Champions League qualification earning Louis Van Gaal the sack immediately the FA cup final whistle was blown.

Once again a new face needed to be brought in to helm the next phase of this Manchester united evolution and the team went big by signing the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Paul Pogba at a world transfer fee while also bringing in Jose Mourinho as the manager to steer this ship to the right course. And to their credit, this almost worked to a tee. The team had its most successful period to date during this 2016/2017 season as they won the Community Shield, EFL Cup and the Europa League whilst also managing to qualify for the Champions League. This season is the only one where there is a break in the pattern which has been established for the past four years as Mourinho was backed again with acquisitions of Lukaku, Matic, Lindelof and Alexis Sanchez which ultimately led United to their highest finish post Ferguson. But unfortunately they weren’t good enough as they lost out on the league to Manchester City in the league which Mourinho labelled his “Greatest Achievement Ever” and ultimately lost to  Chelsea in the FA cup. It was a good season on a holistic view and the board should have backed the manager once again which could have yielded a very fruitful outcome. Sadly, the club resorted back into their old ways and failed Mourinho in the transfer market with the manager coming out publicly to criticize the lack of investment that following summer. United were the 10th biggest spenders in league which set a toxic atmosphere in the locker room which led to a doomed season under their bitter coach.

Mourinho was eventually sacked and replaced by United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and although he ended up missing out on the top four, hope was once again brought into the Theatre of Dreams, with substantial investment being put in the following season. Ole was able to get United back into the Champions League and getting them to three cup semi finals really made it look like there was a bright future ahead of them. However the recent showings in the transfer market currently does not bode well for the current manager as his top target Jadon Sancho was not signed after being courted all summer. It seems like United have reverted back into their old ways once more and are having to make last minute signings to bolster their squad. The season may end up going better than expected but from their previous history and recent pattern it is more likely United are going to continue to fail to invest when needed. It suits their model to do so and although it might keep them ahead financial wise, the club as a football powerhouse will remain in the desolate wasteland it has come to inhabit over the past seven years. All the fans can do is hope and pray that structurally something changes to ensure their  league drought doesn’t last as long as their greatest rival Liverpool once did.

Post by Ani Chukwuebuka. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram

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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Ajax relaxed as they look to hold onto prize assets; for the time being.

There is a general feeling of relaxation about Ajax manager Erik ten Hag as he watches the first training session back after the international break. His team sit second in the Eredivisie behind leaders and current champions PSV but with a lot of football still to be played and with an exciting and youthful sides in the league at his disposal, ten Hag looks like he doesn’t have a care in the world. The same however cannot be said for Edwin van der Sar who as the club’s general director is now batting down the hatches as he prepares to ride out a very big storm approaching.

Dutch Eredivisie"Ajax v Go Ahead Eagles"

van der Sar knows a storm is coming (image from Tumblr)

Ajax and van der Sar have every reason to be nervous as clubs across Europe prepare to test their resilience by making moves for three of their emerging starlets. Scouts from the elite clubs have been arriving steadily and leaving hastily, almost giddy at the prospect of telling their owners what they have just found. Ajax has built a stellar reputation on developing young players and selling them on for vast profit with the likes of Kluivert (Patrick and son Justin), Wesley Sneijder, Dennis Bergkamp, both De Boers and van der Sar himself all having coming from the clubs youth ranks. But this latest crop is something special. In almost every position, Ajax have produced a quality player that now occupies space in their first team.

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The Ajax youth production line never stops (Image from Ajax)

From Andre Onana in goal to Donny van de Beek and Carel Eiting in midfield and Vaclav Cerny in attack, this team screams youthful exuberance and talent. But there are three stars that are standing out more than the rest and shinning the brightest – centre back Matthijis de Ligt, midfielder Frenkie De Jong and striker Kasper Dolberg. Despite being still young (De Jong and Dolberg are 21, de Ligt only 19), all three are capped at full international level for their respective countries (De Jong, de Ligt for Holland and Dolberg for Denmark) and all three are destined to become global superstars.

de Ligt and Dolberg (Image from Tumblr)

de Ligt and Dolberg (Image from Tumblr)

de Ligt has all the markers of being a total defender – strong with both feet, commanding in the air as he is on the ground, with a strong range of passing and viable leadership qualities to boot. Indeed his teammate often talks about how de Ligt takes centre stage in the locker room and rallies the players before they head out. Dolberg on the other hand is quiet and reserved around his teammates but explodes with energy and pace on the field. Despite a difficult year last season that was blighted by injuries, the blonde striker is back and firing on all cylinders this campaign. Finally de Jong who has been likened to Franz Beckenbeur, Xavi and Frank Rijkaard at one time or another is a predominately deep lying midfielder whose versatility and football orientated brain lets him control games with ease. Although he never actually came through the youth system at Ajax (he was bought from Willem II), he plays as if he has spend a decade learning at the academy. With precision passing and a good eye for goal too, he is the complete midfielder who will only get better as he gets older.

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Frenkie de Jong has been a revelation since making his breakthrough (Image from Tumblr)

Now positioned as a selling club, Ajax know that holding on to these three in particular will be almost impossible so ensuring the biggest payout possible will be the main goal. That should not be an issue given the interest levels reported in various European newspapers. de Ligt is attracting interest from Juventus and Barcelona whilst Dolberg has Napoli and Tottenham drooling beyond control. But its Frenkie de Jong who could secure the club the biggest pay out with Pep Guardiola such a big fan that he is asking Manchester City to sanction a pre-agreement with the player valued at €70 million now in order to hold off interest from his former club Barcelona. Frenkie, who was named by his parents after Frankie Goes to Hollywood is seen as an ideal replacement for the aging Fernandinho and could become Guardiola’s centrepiece as he looks to build the next iteration of his Manchester City team.

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Frankie Goes To Hollywood hit song “Relax” (Image from Tumblr)

Ajax Technical Director Marc Overmars has hinted that the club is already preparing to lose the trio but is hopeful that they can remain in Holland until at least the summer. For ten Hag, keeping all three will give him a better chance of clawing back and overtaking Mark van Bommel’s PSV side in the race for the championship. Losing them in the winter transfer window would not be preferable but would arm him with a substantial war chest of funds which could be used to bring in more players. Either way, Ajax is set to benefit from the trio in more than one way. In all of this, Overmars does not seem stressed and like ten Hag is relaxed about the prospect knowing that he only has to look over his shoulder to see who’s next coming off the Ajax youth production line.

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Evans Pursuit Pushes City Closer Towards Much needed Back Three

Manchester City’s pursuit of Jonny Evans may seem strange to some but to those close to the clubs manager Pep Guardiola it makes perfect sense. It’s no secret that Pep harbours ambitions to move to a back three. However with a lack of plausible options at centre back, bringing in another one or two has become a priority. The ongoing fitness concerns of Vincent Kompany and sub par form last season of both Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones meant that Pep had to shelf his plans until this season. All three mentioned before will  feature in this campaign to some degree or another depending on form and fitness but Guardiola needs is stability and a centre half that can offer this on a regular basis. He has strengthened well down the flanks with Kyle Walker, Danilo and Bemjamin Mendy arriving but now his attention has switched to the centre of his new look defence.

Form and injuries lead to a constant shuffling of the City defence last season (Image from Tumblr)

Form and injuries lead to a constant shuffling of the City defence last season (Image from Tumblr)

With an owner willing to give him whatever or whomever he wants, why chase Jonny Evans? Simply put he fits the mold perfectly. Evans offers not only experience both in the Premier League and in Europe but can also possess great positional sense and a deft touch for a centre back. Simply said he is a rare breed of old school centre half with a twenty first century brain. He clearly impressed Pep last year enough for him to write off giving £42m defender Eliaquim Mangala another chance in favour of pursuing the 29 year old Northern Irish centre back.

Buying Evans makes a lot of sense as City look to switch to back three (Image from Tumblr)

Buying Evans makes a lot of sense as City look to switch to back three (Image from Tumblr)

Playing with a back three is hardly new but it’s becoming increasingly popular in a division that lacks originality. Chelsea’s success last year with a makeshift back three (converting Azpilicueta from a right back to centre half  to play alongside Cahill and Luiz was a masterstroke by Conte) has planted the seed in many fellow managers heads who likely spent the summer pondering if it could be applied to their club. Some clubs did test it towards the back end of last season including Arsenal and Everton but neither had the players needed to pull it off. Perhaps their summer investments suggest that a back three may be used again this campaign as a back up option to their starting systems. Either way more clubs will follow Chelsea’s and City’s lead in rolling this out with varied levels of success. Pep however is convinced that its the way forward for his side based on the evidence of last season and the opening couple of games of this one. Opening day jitters at the back against new boys Brighton and some suspect defending against Everton last night highlight the need for Guardiola to correct things before the season gets too far along.

Pep knows he has to change things at the back to avoid a repeat of last season (Image from Tumblr)

Pep knows he has to change things at the back to avoid a repeat of last season (Image from Tumblr)

At present Evans current club West Bromwich Albion appears in no mood to let their captain walk out of the door. Three bids, the last of which was for £18m have all been rejected outright with West Brom insisting that he is not for sale at any price. The truth however is that West Brom are prepared to let him go for the right price – closer to £30m and with the player wanting to move, its likely that Evans will become a Manchester city player by the end of the window if Guardiola continues his pursuit. Evans wont force West Brom’s hand like other players in the league have done to their clubs but will make it clear to Albion boss Tony Pulis that the club should cash in on him sooner rather than later in order for them to secure a suitable replacement before the window shuts at the end of the month.

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Gigi Multescu – the most underperforming manager in the world?

When the news broke on twitter that Gheorghe (Gigi) Multescu was leaving his post as manager of Romanian side Universitatea Craiova after their most recent league defeat at the hands of FCSB sadly hardly anyone took notice. After all this wasn’t the first time that Multescu has left a managerial job one way or another. In fact the former Romania midfielder has had quite the managerial career that started back in 1990, has stretched over 37 years and a remarkable 34 jobs. Aside from four spells in charge of Sportul Studentesc, three spells in charge of Dinamo Bucuresti both in his native Romanian and two in charge of Samsunspor in Turkey, Multescu has not tied himself really to any club and has shared the love. Despite his journeyman approach to management, Gigi has proven fairly unsuccessful as a coach winning only one trophy – the Balkans Cup in 1993 with Samsunspor (ironically the last Balkans Cup before it was scrapped the following year.

The question this raises is this: Could Multescu be the most underperforming coach of all time? Who else has managed for a similar lengthy spell with little to no success? BOTNBLOG set out to find out.

Norway's head coach Egil Olsen looks on

Egil Olsen

The former Norway and Wimbledon boss (yep remember that?) spent a majority of his managerial career coaching teams in Norway or as the manager of the Norway mens national teams. He started in management in 1972 with Frigg Oslo FK (now in Norway’s second division) and since then bounced around the league before gradually taking up national appointments – first with the Under 21’s then the Under 23’s and eventually being promoted to the first team. He did venture out twice, once for that less than successful spell in south London and an even worse spell in charge of Iraq where he was sacked after only five months for not being strict enough. Whilst he might not have won anything during his 41 year career but he is still viewed as a highly respected coach globally.

Il bulgaro Hristo Stoitchkov. (AP Photo/Denis Paquin)

Hristo Stoichkov

As a player Hristo Stoichkov is often considered as one of the best ever. The same however cannot be said about his time as a manager. The Bulgarian legend, who was the star of his country’s 1994 World Cup and a crucial cog in Cruyff’s Barcelona “Dream Team” of the early 90’s, fell into management shortly after retiring in 2003. He started as a forwards coach at Barca before Bulgaria came calling after their poor exit from Euro 2004. during a fiery three years in charge, Stoichkov couldn’t quite get the team to play the way he wanted with his frustration boiling over on a to frequent basis. He left in April 2007 to join Celta Vigo but lasted only 17 games before being sacked after the club was relegated. Stints in South Africa (Mamelodi Sundowns) and back home in Bulgaria (Litex Lovech and CSKA Sofia) followed but Stoichkov never really got the whole management game. Despite prizes galore as a player, the best Hristo could manage was a Coach of the month award which was nice.

English Premiership  - Manchester City v Liverpool

Alan Ball

Winning the 1966 World Cup with England was definitely the highlight of Alan Ball’s playing career. Finishing runner-up in the Football League Trophy Southern Area with Exeter in 1993 was sadly his finest as a manager (although manager of the month with Man City in 1995 was a close second). The dynamic midfielder was loved by almost everyone but unfortunately he couldn’t quite find his stride on the sidelines. He started his managerial career at Blackpool as player boss in 1980 before being tempted to pull his boots back on full-time for one final swan song at Southampton. When he did eventually retire for good in 1984, he managed a host of English teams including Portsmouth (twice), Stoke, Exeter, Southampton and Manchester City. His last job in management was in 1999, eight years before he would tragically die following a heart attack in his home.

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The Race for the EPL Champions League Spots – which two teams will qualify?

With only a few games left in the season, the race for the coveted Champions League spots is heating up. Chelsea look set to be crowned EPL Champions with Tottenham second unless things go awry for them. They will take two of the four spots leaving two remaining spots to fight for. Currently Liverpool and Manchester City are in the driving seat in 3rd and 4th respectively. Manchester United, who could reach the Champions League through the back door by winning the Europa League this season and Arsenal are both in the hunt. But who will finish the season in the Champions League spots? That is the topic of this weeks poll:

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Pep’s Unravelling? No just a small hiccup

Pep Guardiola’s body language said it all. Slumped in his seat on pitch side with his jacket pulled up over his mouth as if to cover up the obscenities flowing from it, Guardiola looked like a beaten man as his side was thoroughly thrashed by Everton. The 4-0 loss, City’s heaviest in the Guardiola era was the latest setback in the Spaniard’s master plan. Many expected Pep’s arrival in Manchester to be the start of an unheralded dominance by City of the Premier League and for the first 6 games it looked to be the case. But after a difficult festive period that saw City falter with defeats to Chelsea, Leicester and Liverpool the proverbial wheels have well and truly fallen off the wagon with Pep declaring their title challenge is over. Chelsea’s remarkable 13 match winning run that was only just recently ended by a superb Tottenham performance didn’t help. Liverpool’s continued resurgence under Jurgen Klopp also added to Guardiola’s woes whilst the fact that Mourinho has finally found a winning formula at neighbours United puts another thorn in his side. Which raises the question  – what has happened at City?

Everton v Manchester City - Premier League

Former teammates, now opposing managers Ronald Koeman’s Everton got the better of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in their latest clash (Image from Tumblr)

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Tactical Review – Chelsea vs Manchester City

Guardiola and Conte are two new acquisitions in the Premier League, with each of them boasting impressive tactical pedigrees. On one hand, Guardiola has been struggling with a hit-and-miss Manchester City side. His players are still adjusting to their new tactical workload, and while they started out the season in a promising fashion, Pep has found himself struggling off late, suffering from a leaky defence, and, at times, misfiring forwards. City, who, at first, dominated the Premier League, have now slipped to fourth, and have opened the title race back up for the likes of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs.

On the other hand, Antonio Conte went through a rough phase at the start of the season while he experimented with the formations and tactics that he needed to use to make the most out of his Chelsea side. However, a string of brilliant results followed when he fixed his formation and playing style. The new 3-4-3 that he uses allows him to give freedom to his attacking playmakers (Hazard, Pedro), while ensuring that his teams are defensively solid through the introduction of versatile wing-backs in the form of summer signing Marcos Alonso and breakthrough first team player Victor Moses. Furthermore, the metamorphosis of Azpilicueta and the maturity of David Luiz has allowed Chelsea to concede only 11 goals throughout the course of this season.

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The matchup between the new boys was highly built up, especially if one considered the outcome that this match could have on the respective title challenges of the teams. Chelsea did come out with a win, and find themselves three points ahead of the pack, while City are now in fourth, having to fight off competition from the likes of Spurs and United. So, how was the tactical jousting between the two managers like?

  1. Formations

Each formation allowed City and Chelsea to make the most out of their tactical strategy. They were, in my opinion, foreshadowing to the playing styles of the team.

Manchester City went through yet another tactical reshuffling under Pep Guardiola, with John Stones being recalled back into the first eleven, Kolarov being played as a centre back and Sane and Navas on the wings. They played with a back five while defending, with Sane and Navas playing as wing backs. While attacking, the back five transitioned into a back three to aid City’s attacking exploits.

On the other hand, it was more of the same from Chelsea, who lined up with their trademark three at the back formation, with only one exception – Fabregas, who made his first top flight appearance since the 24th of September, replaced an injured Matic, pairing up with N’Golo Kante to make the heart of the Chelsea midfield. However, compared to the City formation, Alonso and Moses didn’t contribute much to the attacking exploits of the team, due to the overwhelming force of the City attack.

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Victor Moses has been a revelation for Chelsea this season (Image from Tumblr)

  1. The Tactical Chameleon, Exploiting and the Double-Edged Sword

Guardiola brought out another one of his tactical tricks, pulling out another trick from his magical hat. City’s team were lined up with one purpose – to exploit the weaknesses of the Chelsea team. On that day, his side were focused on maintaining possession while overloading flanks to create chances.

John Stones, brought back specifically for this fixture, was tasked with bringing the ball out from the back with his brilliant retaining skills. He stayed deep for much of the game, combining his passing intellect with his defending skills to play as a last man. His comrades, Otamendi and Kolarov, were assigned the same instructions – maintaining possession. Otamendi is a good ball-playing centre back, and his passing skills, which mirror that of Stones, were used by Pep to ensure that his midfield and attack didn’t suffer from the loss of his passing centre back. During the build-up, Fernandinho dropped deep, giving security to the likes of Gundogan and Silva, who spent most of the game occupying attacking positions, which, in turn, allowed City to make the most out of their game plan – abuse the right wing.

The left side of Chelsea is comparatively weak if one studies the partnership of Alonso, Cahill, and the lack of Fabregas’s defensive mindset. Therefore, Guardiola decided to bombard that flank with his players. De Bruyne stuck to the right flank, supported with bombarding runs down the line due and through the half-spaces the attacking prowess of Navas, Gundogan and Silva. The half spaces allowed Aguero and Co to make runs through the lines, giving De Bruyne and Navas chances to pick them out with low crosses. If those runs didn’t work out, the likes of Gundogan and Sane were present in the space created by the runs, poised to pounce on the second ball and to provide other passing opportunities.

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Figure 1 – City’s game plan was effectively carried out

While defending, City ensured that Chelsea’s defenders and midfielders didn’t have enough time on the ball, preventing them from switching the play, playing out from the back and counterattacking. This was achieved through a strict man-marking, with each City player assigned a Chelsea player to mark during their build-up phase. For example, Aguero pressed Luiz to ensure that Chelsea couldn’t rely on him to bring the ball out from the back. The lack of forward movement forced the likes of Hazard and Pedro to drop back to ensure that the ball moved forward, invariably disrupting Chelsea’s attacking shape.

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Figure 2- Chelsea were forced to play defensively, with City exploiting the spaces in their formation.

Once City lost the ball, they also engaged in counter-pressing to prevent Chelsea from advancing quickly. The lack of passing options forced some Chelsea players to play to their weaknesses (for example – Kante as a playmaker, Cahill as a ball-playing centreback), which allowed them to regain possession easily.

City were dominating the first half. The intelligent runs of Guardiola’s attackers put Chelsea’s defence were on strings. After the first goal, it looked like City were set for a walkover victory, however, luck wasn’t on their side.

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“Football is a combination of four things – the ball, space, time and luck.”

The intensity and complexity of Guardiola’s tactics had its toll on his side, physically and mentally. Pep’s tactics are often double edged swords – the strain that they place on his team often harm them.

During the second half, City began to slack off, and became less intense in their counterpressing, making them more vulnerable to counter-attacks, which allowed Chelsea to become more efficient in possession. Hazard and Pedro effectively used Pep’s marking system against him, dragging Kolarov and Otamendi out wide, making space for Costa to run into. The introduction of Willian was also vital. The pacy Brazilian and his direct style of play added another dimension of deadliness to Chelsea’s counter attacks. Things went from bad to worse from the Citizens after the substitution of Stones, allowing Chelsea to get their vital goal and kill off the game.

Manchester City v Chelsea - Premier League

In conclusion, City had a brilliant game plan which was executed perfectly in the first half, however, Chelsea made the most of their chances, and used their luck to come away with the victory.

Written by Chaitanya Jadhav  (@IndiciumBlog)

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Why City’s Hidden Troubles Will Keep Pep Awake At Night

Given various factors including the failure to launch of arch rivals Manchester United, the capitulation of Chelsea, Arsenals past history of collapses and the unpredictability of results in this Premier League season, winning the title should have been fairly straight forward for Manchester City. Instead they find themselves struggling to get the points they need to climb to the top of the pile and stay there. Hammered by Leicester last week and beaten by Spurs this weekend is hardly championship winning form. In years gone by, when City have drawn level after falling behind in a game, they usually push on to win it. But the killer edge that became their calling card in previous seasons is not there this year with the latest example being against Tottenham who snatched a late winner and all three points.

Leicester’s win highlighted some of City’s problems (image from Getty)

To Tottenhams credit, they continue to improve – they may be a young side but they consistently show the heart and self drive needed to keep pushing for the win even if the game seems lost. Such is the strong work ethic and mentality of Pochettino’s side that they often run more than their opposition giving them an advantage (3.5km more than City in this game). Whether this is an indication of future champions is to be seen. Many believe that this season may be a step too far but not apparently based on yesterday’s performance against the former champions. City needed a win to tighten the gap at the top and keep their title hopes alive but it would be Tottenham that had the last laugh. After a stalemate first half that was more of a love in than a football match (fitting however for the day, Valentine’s) it needed a goal to spark it to life. Spurs taking the lead in the second half thanks in part to a harsh penalty with the ball striking Raheem Sterlings body not arm, seemed to be the tonic that both sides needed. City pressed for an equalizer using width and a range of quick passing to try and break down a resilant Tottenham, eventually getting their reward courtesy of their regular super sub Iheanacho. But like a cheap deck of cards City folded and couldn’t hang on for a point with birthday boy Christian Erikson popping up to seal all three points for Tottenham.

Birthday boy Erikson scores late to snatch three points for Spurs (image from getty)

These are slightly worrying times for Manchester City who should be in a state of euphoria after sealing Pep Guardiola as their heir apparent beginning next season. With the Spanaird known for doing extensive homework ahead of taking on a role, the logic would suggest that the players would up their game to impress the new boss. Instead they appear to have done the exact opposite and look somewhat lethargic during games especially against Leicester and Tottenham. Perhaps they feel that they no longer have to impress current coach Manuel Pellegrini and therefore do not need to try but that surely can’t be the case. They are still in the hunt for four major honours and could with renewed effort push to secure at least three of them (the Champions League may be a stretch this year). Yesterday the problems that Guardiola will inherit were apparent. Whilst Aguero had an off day and can be forgiven for missing a few good chances, it is others that raise the eyebrows of concern. Player wise Yaya Toure looks less like the world class player we once knew as his influence over games diminishes whilst Otemendi still hasn’t found out how to replicate his La Liga form that made him one of Europes best defenders. Organizationally City are lopsided with Sterling, a natural winger who petulantly wants to play in the number ten role that David Silva fills, running all over the place. De Bruyne does act as a proxy for this but his recent injury has meant that City were forced to look elsewhere for a solution that doesn’t exist. Upfront is a major concern as well. Aguero is world class but if he is injured or has an off day like he did yesterday there is no one to turn to to fire City back on track.

It’s not all doom and gloom for Guardiola who will inherit a strong squad with a sizeable warchest to improve it. He will have the summer to fix the issues that he has discovered in his evaluation phase but only when he sees his team during the course of the season will he unearth the other underling issues at the club. Like what has changed in Toure’s mindset that has him giving less each game or how Sterlings teammates feel he fits best into the side. At that point, Guardiola will find out exactly what he has let himself in for and if he has any chance of being successful at Manchester City Football Club.

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Controversy As Man City Books Final Date With Liverpool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Why United’s Once Famous Youth Academy Lies In Ruins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Mourinho’s Patience With Media Expires As Pressure Grows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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English Sides Slump As Champions League Kicks Off

 It wasn’t the best of starts for England’s Champions League contingent. Away defeats for Manchester United and Arsenal and a home loss for Manchester City in the opening week of fixtures was hardly the ideal start that they had all hoped for. Only current Premier League champions Chelsea could manage a win, putting their poor league start behind them by thumping Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv. Jose Mourinho made a series of changes to his starting line up including leaving captain John Terry, fellow defender Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Matic and striker Diego Costa on the bench in a move designed to send a clear message who was boss. With only one win in their opening five matches in the Premier league, Chelsea needed to start strongly in the Champions League and they did exactly that. Goals from Willian, Oscar, Fabergas and substitute Diego Costa secured a well needed 4-0 win.

Not a happy sub – Ivanovic and Terry looked annoyed after being benched by Mourinho (image from Getty)

Out in Croatia, Arsenal were expected to win comfortably in their opening match against Dinamo Zagreb but in typical fashion exposed their lack of options upfront. Despite Theo Walcott’s current form, Arsene Wenger chose to leave the winger turned striker on the bench in favour of Frenchman Olivier Giroud in one of six changes to his starting line up. It proved to be the wrong decision as Arsenal fell behind early on thanks to a strange own goal by Alex Oxlade Chamberlain. Things went from bad to worse just before half time when Giroud saw red For two bookable offences. Now down to ten men, Arsenal were in the back foot going into the second half and soon fell two goals behind after Junior Fernandes connected with Paulo Machado’s pass to finish coolly. Lacking striking options from the bench, Wenger could only turn to Theo Walcott and the Emgland forward didn’t disappoint scoring just shortly after coming on. The goal however came too late as Zagreb held on for a famous victory.

Giroud sees red as Arsenal slump to defeat in Zagreb (image from Getty)

The previous night saw both Manchester clubs kick off their Champions League campaigns. Manchester United travelled to Louis Van Gaal’s homeland to take on PSV still on a high after their emphatic 3-1 win over Liverpool at the weekend. But on a cool night in Eindhoven, United couldn’t find their rhythm. Strikes from Hector Moreno and Luciano Narsingh cancelled out Memphis Depays 40th minute goal, handing PSV all three points. To be fair to United, they did start strongly with Depay in particular looking menacing on his return to Eindhoven. But a serious injury to full back Luke Shaw on 15minutes proved to be the defining moment that swung the game in favour of PSV. Shaw was brutally fouled by PSV defender Hector Moreno, breaking the players right leg in two places in doing so. It’s a harsh blow for the England full back who has only recently started to show just how important he could be for Can Gaal. The Dutchman had been fairly critical of Shaw last year when he took over citing Shaw was unfit and lacking in commitment. Rather than sulking Shaw has shown a fantastic attitude by working hard behind the scenes on both his fitness and overall play. After a stop start season riddled with niggling injuries last year, Shaw was back in the fold and had made the left back position his own with a series of impressive early season performances. But the leg break and the severity of it means that the player will now miss a minimum of six months and is in a race against time to get back playing ahead of England’s appearance at Euro 2016 next summer. After his injury which delayed play for ten minutes whilst he received treatment, the United players were clearly distracted thinking more about the injury than the game they were involved in. PSV took advantage of this drop in concentration and punished United accordingly.

Moreno’s horror challenge on Shaw resultes in a broken leg for Shaw (image from AFP)

The only positive to come that night for United fans was that arch rivals Manchester City lost as well. Manuel Pellegrini’s side entertained  Italian champions Juventus in their opening match but couldn’t replicate their early league form that has them unbeaten so far. Despite taking the lead in the second half through an own goal by Giorgio Chiellini, two goals from Mario Mandzukic and Alvaro Morata  late on were enough to see off City who lacked a quality finisher in the final third. Wilfred Bony and Raheem Sterling both had chances but failed to hit the back of the net. Growing more desperate by the minute, Pellegrini was forced to throw on a semi fit Sergio Aguero into the mix to no avail. City must now regroup for the visit of West Ham this weekend.

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Ade Be Gone As Spurs Terminate Strikers Contract

Gone - Adebayor's contract has been terminated (Image from Getty)Like a bad marriage that has reach the point of no return, divorce is often the best option. Couples often see it as the last resort after trying everything possible to keep the marriage alive. But if one party has already mentally checked out then there is no other solution than to part ways. In football, a players relationship to a club is a lot like a marriage which starts from the moment they sign on the dotted line of their contract. Like a marriage, both parties agree to certain things on that day and a bond is built that should flourish over time. However it is often the case that players become distracted or delusioned by other things that leads to a fracture between themselves and the club. Like a marriage, the club attempts to solve the problem and if it can look to part on amicable terms. This week, after months of trying to salvage their relationship to no avail, Tottenham announced that it has agreed to release Emmanuel Adebayor from his contract, ending a turbulent and often frustrating relationship.

Adebayor had troubled relationship with Villas Boas  (Image from Getty)

Adebayor had troubled relationship with Villas Boas
(Image from Getty)

To be fair to Tottenham, it was Adebayor who wasn’t happy in their marriage. At the start, everything was rosy with Adebayor seen as the striker who could fire Spurs to success. Initially arriving on loan from Manchester City in the summer of 2011, the Togolese striker hit the ground running scoring on his debut against Wolves, the first of 18 goals he scored that season. That impressive form convinced Tottenham to part with £5m the following summer and sign the player permanently. Under then manager Andre Villas Boas, Adebayor started a majority of Tottenham’s games but struggled to find the form he had shown on loan the previous season. Over the course of the year, his relationship with Villas Boas became strained eventually leading to the player being sent to train with the youth team at the start of the new campaign in 2013. That appeared to signal the end of the road for Adebayor but was given a second chance by new manager Tim Sherwood when Villas Boas was sacked in November of that year. Adebayor repaid Sherwood with goals, notching 14 goals in just under seven months. But with Sherwood’s departure the following summer, Adebayor fell out of favour once more with new boss Mauricio Pochettino restricting his appearances and eventually telling him he could leave. Despite several loan offers and a couple of transfer bids, Adebayor was unable to reach terms leaving Tottenham with little option than to reach a mutual termination of his contract.

He found redemption under Sherwood  (Image from Getty)

He found redemption under Sherwood
(Image from Getty)

Whilst it would appear at first glance that Adebayor is the victim in this story, that simply isn’t the case. The Togo striker is as much to blame for the demise of his career as Tottenham are, if not more so. Whilst talented on the pitch, Adeabyor’s distractions off of it and his desire for money over playing time have resulted in the capitulation of his career. Since arriving at Arsenal from Monaco in 2005, Adebayor has made making as much money as possible his number one goal. Whilst hardly unusually for a professional footballer, his hunger for the green has actually affected his time on the pitch, refusing moves which could have led to more playing time because they were unwilling to match his astronomical wage demands. With Adebayor unwilling to discuss a drop in wages, it has led to several clubs walking away and leaving the player in limbo, a state he seems strangely happy to be in as long as someone was paying him. His complex family life has not helped either with much documented public fights with his mother, sister and brother. Adebayor claims that his family are a drain on him both mentally and financially, taking advantage of his success whenever they can. His troubled family life will have had an effect on his mindset on the pitch which could have resulted in his drop in form or poor attitude.

Adebayor's troubled relationship with his family has caused off field problems  (Image from Getty)

Adebayor’s troubled relationship with his family has caused off field problems
(Image from Getty)

Despite a lack of striking options at the club, the decision to release Adebayor by Tottenham has been welcomed by a large percentage of the Spurs fans. With a return of one in every three games for Tottenham (35 goals in 92 matches) as a striker he could do a job but the distractions he had off of it made him unplayable. Removing him from the payroll frees up considerable wiggle room in the wage structure which should allow Tottenham more flexibility as they pursue a new front man. After agreeing a payout from Tottenham in order to break his contract, Adebayor now can turn his attention towards what he does next but with a reputation as a difficult player, it may be hard for hard for him to find a new club. At 31, his next move is an important one and not one that he should make lightly. Money should not be a factor in this decision but based on his career so far, unfortunately money talks for Adebayor and will play a pivotal role as he decides where he ends up next.

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Trouble at Stamford Bridge? Not Really

Kompany scores as City win 3-0 (Image from PA)The praise should have been on Manchester City’s players who performed exceptionally well against the existing Premier League champions. But instead the focus of much of todays coverage in the British press is on the apparent implosion happening at Chelsea. Always happy to bypass the truth in pursuit of a good story, the british tabloids are reporting that Mourinho has lost the dressing room, has fallen out with key figures like captain John Terry and is at war with his backroom staff as well. Last weeks drama with his medical team, where he accosted doctor Eva Carniero and Physio Jon Fearn during the final minutes of their 2-2 draw with Swansea was still rumbling on as the Man City game came around, much to the annoyance of Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese coach, whose side were already down to ten men after goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was sent off took exception to the pair running on to treat Eden Hazard who had fallen to the ground from a fairly weak challenge. The referee had beckoned the medical staff onto the pitch but Mourinho felt that Hazard was just tried and would eventually get up even without medical intervention. Mourinho castrated the pair as he believed that they did not understand the implications of their actions with Chelsea reduced momentarily to nine men. With the game on a knife’s edge, Mourinho feared a Swansea counter attack that could have lost him the game.

The Chelsea medics treat Hazard against Swansea (Image from Getty)

The Chelsea medics treat Hazard against Swansea
(Image from Getty)

The press coverage of this story has been ridiculous with many saying that the relationship between Mourinho and his medical team has gone into meltdown and that Caniero and Fearn had been sacked from their roles. The truth, which unsurprisingly is less dramatic is that Mourinho simply removed the pair from his bench for the Manchester City game. In a colourful interview on Friday, Mourinho explained that he has a strong working relationship with his medical staff of 12 people including doctors, physios and massuers which is based on good communication and self-improvement. More than any other coach in the last two season, Mourinho has heaped praise on his medical staff saying repeatedly that they were to thank for keeping his players fit and strong throughout the gruelling seasons. But in regards to the Carniero and Fearn issue, it was his call as to whom would be on the bench with only two slots available for his medical staff. The press chose to ignore Mourinho when he said that it was not a permanent move and that Caniero and Fearn could be back on the bench soon but again that would damage their sensational story so chose to let that piece of information slide.

Mourinho has stood by his criticism of his medical team (Image from AFP)

Mourinho has stood by his criticism of his medical team
(Image from AFP)

The same can be said for the John Terry “situation”. The Chelsea captain was subbed off at half time against City in an apparent first sign that the longstanding centre half’s career at the club was coming to an end. Speculation as to why he was removed from the game ranged from a fall out with Mourinho to Terry taking too much control in the dressing room which irked the manager. The truth, again somewhat disappointingly was that the switch was tactical with Mourinho feeling that Kurt Zouma could control the threat of Sergio Aguero much more comfortably than Terry due to his power and more importantly speed. Terry had struggled in the first half to cope with the Argentine hitman so taking him off made sense. Many point out that none of the back line had an inspired first half which is true however Terry, who is now 34 is easily the slowest out of the four that started the game. The introduction of Zouma did work with Aguero’s threat nullified in the second half but as Terry sat on the bench the tabloids concocted his demise. Mourinho’s comments after the game explaining his captain’s substitution were again butchered by the media in order to fit their Terry out storyline, misinterpreting Mourinho saying that he had given the player his chance as a sign that he was trying to bring the captain down a peg or two. What he actually said was that Terry was a fantastic captain who he relied on and that he knew him best after giving him his break so subbing him was his choice. Despite the numerous press interviews Mourinho gave explaining that the Terry substitution was purely tactical, the press have chosen to speculate rather than report the truth.

Terry's substitution led to the press speculating about the end of his career (Image from Getty)

Terry’s substitution led to the press speculating about the end of his career
(Image from Getty)

The only story that should have been reported is that Chelsea look lacklustre in their first two games of the season which should be and will be a worry for Mourinho. Upfront Diego Costa looks short of match sharpness but Mourinho is forced to play him due to lack of alternatives. In the midfield Matic and Fabregas have failed to spark and have been caught short in both game which is something Mourinho will need to address.  At the back, errors have been made by several key figures including the dismissal of Courtois in the first week that cost Chelsea the game. But after only two games the alarm bells should not be ringing. Chelsea still have time to strengthen their squad and get back on track which they will look to do next Sunday against West Brom. The press will write what they want regardless if it’s the truth or not. Sensationalism sells and at Chelsea that starts and ends with the manager, Jose Mourinho.

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Is Howe Gambling Bournemouths Future With Mings Outlay?

Is Howe risking a lot by spending so much on Mings? (Image from Dan Rowley)

Eddie Howe doesn’t get flustered easily. The Bournemouth manager is spending this summer preparing for his side’s maiden campaign in the English Premiership next season. In a fairy-tale story, Bournemouth has risen from narrowly avoiding relegation from the football league to Premiership newcomers in less than seven years. Despite this meteoric rise, it hasn’t stopped the pundits already condemning Bournemouth to relegation from England’s top league before kicking a single ball.  Howe doesn’t mind as being the underdog suits his team well. He knows how to cope with the pressure applied by the British media and this forthcoming season will be no different.

Bournemouth were promoted as Championship winners  (Image from Getty)

Bournemouth were promoted as Championship winners
(Image from Getty)

But the young English coach has never managed in the Premiership and will perhaps be unaware of the pressure that he is about to be put under. It’s a huge leap in class between the Championship and the Premiership for the players but the same can be said for the media attention especially around the decisions that each manager makes. Every defeat, every tactical switch and every press conference will be scrutinized. But more so than that, the players that Howe signs will be scrutinized the most. Before last Friday, Bournemouth had added four new faces to its squad – goalkeepers Artur Boruc and Adam Federici, striker Joshua King and winger Christian Atsu. But it’s the signing of his fifth player that has many talking. The arrival of 22 year old Tyrone Mings from Ipswich is an impressive capture. The left back is one of the hottest prospects in English football having impressed last season as Ipswich just missed the promotion via the play offs. He has been the subject of various transfer approaches over the past year from several Premiership clubs including Crystal Palace but chose to stay in the Championship to help the Tractor boy’s cause. But now he has been persuaded to join Howe at Bournemouth and will be a Premiership player next season.

The arrival of Tyrone Mings is seen as a coup for Bournemouth but at what price?  (Image from Getty)

The arrival of Tyrone Mings is seen as a coup for Bournemouth but at what price?
(Image from Getty)

Despite being a promising player, the value of the transfer rumoured to be around £8m is being commented on as too much by the media and fans alike. A record transfer fee for Bournemouth but one that Howe sees as a strategic and long term investment in the club. He has faith in the player becoming a success and potentially moving on to a bigger club for a considerably higher transfer fee. But his justification appears to be falling on deaf ears with several questioning the logic of spending such a large chunk of Bournemouth’s transfer budget on one player and more than that a left back. Looking at the mistakes of the past, most sides that have won promotion then been relegated again after one season all have something in common – the failure to score goals in the Premiership. Investing £8m in a striker would potentially have made more sense as goals win matches. But for Howe perhaps the best form of attack is from defense and conceding the least goals. It’s a fair argument considering that if the league table last year was based on goals conceded, Burnley would still be in the Premiership next season having conceded only 53 goals. But their downfall as with fellow relegated sides QPR and Hull was the lack of goals at the other end.

Burnley were relegated after failing to score enough goals  (Image from PA)

Burnley were relegated after failing to score enough goals
(Image from PA)

Spending £8m on an English defender for a club like Manchester City or Chelsea is seen as an investment but for clubs like Bournemouth who have considerably smaller war chests, it can be perceived as a risky move. Mings is a talented player who will be a stand out for Bournemouth this season but will his signing be the reason for their demise? There is still several weeks left in the pre-season for Howe to make further signings and he may still decide to spend big on a ten to twenty goal a season striker but that will depend on how much money owner Maxim Demin wishes to give him. Howe is one of the finest managers in the game today but at 37 years young, he is still learning. Hopefully this signing will not be a defining lesson for the up and coming English coach.

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Delph Performs Dramatic U Turn By Joining Manchester City

Delph was Villa's club captain (Image from Getty)Miss Dinah Washington said it best. What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours. That song must have been playing on a loop in Fabian Delph’s headphones over the last week as he flipped and flopped more times than a politician over a move to Manchester City. The England midfielder’s on off switch to City is finally over after agreeing to join the club for a fee of £8 million just days after he pubically stamped his colours to the Aston Villa mast. Despite this and after releasing a statement of his own accord stating he had no intention of leaving for City, Delph will be wearing the Blue of Manchester City next season, penning a five year contract. Its a embarrassing time for Delph who must be looking back at his comments from Saturday with some regret.

Delph finally signs for Manchester City  (Image from BBC)

Delph finally signs for Manchester City
(Image from BBC)

“I am a loyal person and committed to my future” he said before finishing his quote by saying “I love the club, I love being here and this is my club”. That was back in January when he signed a new four year contract with Villa much to the delight of the fans who saw Delph as a more than their inspirational captain. Unlike others in the game, Delph played for the shirt not for money and his determination to make Villa a success showed with every performance. He loved the club and they loved him and more so with every transfer he rejected. When Tim Sherwood arrived shortly after Delph has signed his new deal, he spoke passionately of the player he saw as the best embodiment of the ambitions of the club. Delph was a Villa man through and through and that wouldn’t change.

Delph's released the above quote after signing his new deal in January  (Image from Getty)

Delph’s released the above quote after signing his new deal in January
(Image from Getty)

Fast forward six months and Manchester City found themselves in a pickle. Having let James Milner, Frank Lampard, Micah Richards and Derek Boyata leave, their required British player allocation of eight was now down to just three.  City quickly identified a list of British players they wanted to buy including Fulham’s Patrick Roberts, Liverpool’s Raheem Sterling and Delph. The first approach for Delph came early on the 10th July with City agreeing to a fee with Villa, partly thanks to a minimum fee release clause inserted into Fabian’s contract in January. Delph with his agent went to meet City’s representatives to discuss personal terms with a proposed medical to take place the next day. But during the course of that meeting, Delph did not like what he heard and rejected the move. It’s rumoured that he was told that he would be a squad player rather than a starter which did not appeal to the player. On Saturday, Delph released a statement saying that he had rejected the move, was staying and was looking forward to captaining Villa next season. His set the record statement was in response to negative press surrounding his potential move but now that it was off, he wanted to reassure the Villa faithful that he was committed to the cause. Well for a week at least. Fast forward to last Friday and Delph arriving in Manchester to complete his medical and sign the paperwork needed to make him a City player.

Also Leaving? Christian Benteke  (Image from PA)

Also Leaving? Christian Benteke
(Image from PA)

It’s a bitter blow to Villa as they prepare for the new season. Losing your captain is one thing but losing your star striker as well is another. The news that Liverpool had activated Christian Benteke’s contract release clause with a massive £32.5 million bid came on the same day as Delph departed made Friday as miserable day for the Villa fans. Manager Tim Sherwood now faces an uphill struggle to repair his squad and replace two crucial components of his team. He will have £40 million in the bank to go an do so but the bedding in period for those new players and the potential disruption of Delph and eventually Benteke’s departures on the squad wont be know for some time to come. The reason for Delph’s dramatic change of heart is still unknown but its likely that the England midfielder will break his silence  shortly and give his side of the story. Whether City were able to satisfy Delph’s concerns about potential lack of playing time by offering him either more reassurance or more money will never be known. Regardless of what Delph says, he will be due for a very hostile reception when City travel to Villa Park in early November with few fans likely to welcome him back after the way that he has handled this move.

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The £100 million Gamble?

Manchester City's gamble - Raheem Sterling (Image from Getty)After months of speculation, Raheem Sterling will finally leave Anfield this week after sealing a £49million transfer to Manchester City. The England winger leaves Liverpool under a dark cloud after doing much over the past few months to annoy both the staff and the fans of the club. Greed and bad judgement had clouded the youngsters vision well before City sparked an interest, with Sterling’s controversial agent Aidy Ward acting much like Grima Wormtongue from Lord of the Rings fame taking a lead role in manipulating the England star. After Ward told Liverpool publicly that Sterling would refuse any contract they gave him, even a £900k a week one, it was clear that  the Jamaica born star would be leaving the club with the fans having firmly turned against him. This paved the way for Manchester City to swoop, much to the delight of Ward who saw a large pay-day coming his way.

Ward has acted like Grima Wormtongue influencing Sterlings thoughts much like the LOTR's character did with King Theoden  (Image from New Line Cinema)

Ward has acted like Grima Wormtongue influencing Sterlings thoughts much like the LOTR’s character did with King Theoden
(Image from New Line Cinema)

Manchester City have agreed to pay Liverpool £44million up front and an additional £5million in bonuses depending on appearances making Sterling the third most expensive signing for a British club. The player has agreed a five-year, £160k a week contract taking the total spent on this transfer by Manchester City over the £100 million mark. Sterling’s arrival will help City in it’s quest to meet their required home-grown quota but questions remain about whether or not they have they taken a huge gamble on a player who could be poisonous to their squad. City’s move for the twenty year old is based on potential rather than firm knowledge with Sterling having proved little at either club or international level to date. Bursting onto the scene in 2012, Sterling wasted little time in highlighting his talents using his pace and superb dribbling skills to his advantage, forcing everyone at Anfield to their feet. Over the next three years he would force his way into the starting eleven and in the 2013-2014 season play a key role as Liverpool pushed Manchester City all the way in the race for the Premiership. By now he was part of the England team and viewed by many as a star for the future.

Sterling is now a full England international  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Sterling is now a full England international
(Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

But since that season, something has changed. Sterling the boy became Sterling the man and with it came a false sense of entitlement. Out went his apparent passion for the sport, where every game he played was for the love of it rather than the money. That change coincided with agent Aidy Ward’s decision to depart Impact Sports Management and go it alone, taking two of the firms brightest prospects, Sterling and Saido Berahino with him. Now under Ward’s full control, Sterling’s demeanor started to change and not for the better. Rodgers attempted to bring the player back on side with an improved £35k a week contract which Sterling signed but by then Ward was already eyeing a bigger prize – a lucrative move for Sterling away from Anfield. Ward however was less successful in influencing West Brom’s Berahino who decided last week to break ties with the agent after becoming disillusioned with his advice and overall handling of the Sterling situation.

Saido Berahino has left agent Aidy Ward due to the way he handled the Sterling situation  (Image from Getty)

Saido Berahino has left agent Aidy Ward due to the way he handled the Sterling situation
(Image from Getty)

Sterling will join up with his new teammates later this week after completing the obligatory medical on Wednesday. City manager Manuel Pellegrini will be aware of problems the winger caused Brendan Rodgers in recent weeks including calling in sick twice for training and refusing to go on Liverpool’s pre-season tour in order to force his own agenda. The Chilean will be hoping that now that Sterling has achieved his objective he will settle down and focus on his football which he should do. However problems could arise over the course of his contract if Sterling is left on the substitute bench too often, a realistic possibility given City’s vast array of talent at their disposal. City could be faced with another Carlos Tevez situation who famously refused to come on as a sub against Bayern Munich during Roberto Mancini’s reign as he protested his exclusion from the starting eleven. With Ward likely already eyeing up Sterling’s next move in order to secure his next payday, City could be faced with a problem of their own doing. This time, it may not be that easy to find a buyer for the troubled star.

City are keen to avoid another Tevez situation with Sterling  (Image from Getty)

City are keen to avoid another Tevez situation with Sterling
(Image from Getty)

Whilst reluctant to admit it, Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers will be delighted to have removed the headache that has been hounding him for the past six months. Having accepted early on that one of his prize assets was departing, Rodgers and the club stood firm on their valuation safe in the knowledge that they could with the player under contract until 2017. City was always the likely destination with few other clubs willing to meet Liverpool’s £50million valuation. That money has already been sensibly reinvested in the squad with the signatures of Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne. The removal of the disruptor Sterling from his squad should restore the balance and allow Rodgers to switch to a narrower 4-2-3-1 formation with Firmino, Coutinho and Lallana operating behind a central striker. Sterling’s departure could also open the door to young Jordan Ibe, who has impressed in the club’s youth system over the past few years. As a replica of Sterling, the young winger could be introduced into first team football slowly over the course of the next season as an option from the bench. Rodgers will watch his progress carefully and will be on hand to advise the youngster about every key decision he makes, including the selection of his agent. Sterling may be gone but the club moves on and will learn from their past mistakes hoping that they will never happen again.

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Manchester City Forced to Bet On Best Of British

City will turn its focus to home grown players this summer (Image from AP)After months of speculation concerning the future of manager Manuel Pellegrini, it would appear as though the Manchester City board has decided to stick with the Chilean, even if it is just a stop gap solution until Pep Guardiola becomes available. Whilst the speculated arrival of the Spaniard next season would mark the start of a transformation of the existing squad, Manchester City are not about to rest on their laurels and will invest heavily once again in their squad this summer. However their approach to the market may be slightly different than in previous years with a focus on home grown players. In the last five seasons, only five out of 26 summer arrivals have been British and of that five only one, Richard Wright remains at the club. In addition to Frank Lampard’s departure back to New York City FC, City has allowed another three home grown players to leave since the end of the season. James Milner joined Liverpool after his contract expired, Dedryck Boyota joined Celtic and Micah Richards who spent last season on loan at Fiorentina was released.

With Milner and Lampard leaving, City need five new home grown players  (Image from PA)

With Milner and Lampard leaving, City need five new home grown players
(Image from PA)

The importance of having home grown players in your squad cannot be understated. In 2010 the Premier League introduced new rules which mandated all clubs in the league to have a minimum of eight home grown players in their squad of 25. The definition of a home grown player is somewhat up for interpretation with any player regardless of their nationality or age considered home grown who has been registered with the club for a continuous period of three years prior to their 21st birthday. This means that City could technically claim that Spanish youth striker Jose Angel Pozo is home grown as the player was signed in early 2012 and has now spent three years at the club. There are other youth players in the Manchester City academy that can help bolster the number of home grown players however this would mean that they would have to be allocated one of the 25 spots in the Manchester City first team roster. With the pressure mounting on Pellegrini to deliver success both at home and in Europe next season, he cannot afford to take a risk on youth players so will enter the summer transfer market with a new objective – to sign home grown players. With only three home grown players at present in their first team – goalkeepers Joe Hart, Richard Wright and French defender Gael Clichy, City need to find five new players to meet the required number.

Hart and Clichy - Two thirds of City's current home grown allocation  (Image from Getty)

Hart and Clichy – Two thirds of City’s current home grown allocation
(Image from Getty)

To be fair they have wasted little time in their pursuit of home grown talent and have been linked with a variety of players over the past few weeks; none more so than Raheem Sterling. The Liverpool winger has, primarily through his agent, insisted that he wants to leave the Anfield club in order to win trophies; something that City can offer him a good chance of doing. To date Liverpool have stuck to their guns rejecting bid after bid from the Manchester club and are rumoured to be holding out for a reported £50m. It looks certain that Sterling will leave Liverpool this summer but for how much exactly is still to be seen. Another player very much on City’s radar is Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshire. The England international who scored a two wonderful screamers against Slovenia last weekend in the 3-2 win has had a difficult past two years in north London with injuries hampering his progression. He is still widely regarded as a talented player who can offer much to any side so City’s interest is not unwarranted. They have yet to formally bid for the player with any move likely to fail given Arsene Wenger’s reluctance to sell. A cheaper and more likely option could be Aston Villa’s Fabian Delph who had a terrific season at the East midlands club despite the turmoil that surrounded their season. His performances earned him an England call up earlier this year and could help him secure his passage to a bigger club with City favourites to land the tireless central midfielder.

Buying talented youth players may also be an option open to Pellegrini. Patrick Roberts is not exactly a name that is widely known but he soon will be. The 19 year old Fulham striker/winger has impressed last season in the Championship, catching the eye of many Premiership scouts along the way. Despite not getting on the score sheet in any of the 20 appearances he made last season, he is viewed as one for the future and is likely to leave Fulham after their failure to escape England’s second tier. Pellegrini is a huge fan of the player and is willing to bid up to £5m for the England under 19 star however Fulham will hold out for double that. He could face a challenge from Liverpool who are also reportedly interested and with Roberts being an avid fan of the Merseyside club, he may face an uphill struggle to convince Roberts to play in blue rather than red next season.

One for the future - Patrick Roberts  (Image from bongarts/getty)

One for the future – Patrick Roberts
(Image from bongarts/getty)

City’s desperation to buy British is starting to show but with cash to burn they should be able to land their targets eventually. Unfortunately the price they will have to pay is likely to be over inflated as most clubs in England are aware of City’s home grown dilemma and the vast financial resources at their disposal. City is seen by many as a cash cow to clubs who will milk them for as much money as possible before releasing their best home grown players to them. City face a race against time to bring in the required additional five home grown players before the end of the summer transfer window or will face heavy sanctions from the Premier League. This will be a pricey summer for City but one that they only have themselves to blame for after five seasons of buying foreign imports instead of home grown players.

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A Summer Of Anxiety For The Premierships Released Players

Micah Richards is looking for a new club after leaving City (Image from Getty)Once considered as a future England captain, Micah Richards career has gone stuttered to a stop in recent years. After falling down the pecking order at Manchester City, Richards jumped at a loan move last season to Serie A side Fiorentina with the view to impressing and securing a long term move. But his switch to Italy didn’t go to plan with playing time limited to just a few substitute appearances. Now Richards is searching for his next club after Manchester City decided against offering him a new contract and instead chose to release him this month.

Ron Vlaar is one of 154 players released by their Premiership clubs  (Image from AFP)

Ron Vlaar is one of 154 players released by their Premiership clubs
(Image from AFP)

The move by City was revealed after the club along with the other 19 teams in the Premiership submitted their retain and release lists to the Premier League. Implemented as a way of tracking player movements and club intentions, this annual event that happens only a few weeks after the season ends details those players deemed as no longer required by the clubs. A majority of the players formally released are youth players who have failed to make the required grade to be awarded a contract. Whilst most will look towards the lower leagues for their next adventure, there are some youngsters who could be picked up by Championship or even Premiership clubs as the have shown enough flashes of the talent they have to convince a club to take a punt on them. Two such players are midfielders George Green and John Lundstram who were both released by Everton this week. Green, who arrived at Everton four years ago from Bradford City as a raw yet talented 15 year old touted as the next Paul Gascoigne  but has failed to convince Roberto Martinez that he can fulfill his potential at the club. At 19, Green still has time to become the player many believed he would be and being released by Everton could be the catalyst he needs to do so.

George Green has been released by Everton  (Image from PA)

George Green has been released by Everton
(Image from PA)

Whilst the list is primarily fairly unknown youngsters, there are some more familiar names on the list including several experienced pros like Richards. Former England players Darren Bent, Wes Brown, Matthew Upson and Glen Johnson are all looking for their next club after being released by their respective clubs. They are joined by the likes of Dutch defender Ron Vlaar, towering Norweigan centre back Brede Hangeland and Swedish striker John Guidetti ho had a successful loan spell at Scottish champions Celtic this past season. Out of all of the clubs in the Premiership, its hardly surprising that two of the three sides relegated this year, Hull and QPR were the sides who released the most players (13 and 11 respectively). Among them were seasoned pros like Joey Barton, Karl Henry, Paul McShane and Steve Harper as the pair tried to trim down their wage bills ahead of a season in the Championship next year. Fellow strugglers Newcastle and Sunderland who narrowly avoided relegation after a nail biting finish to the season also released a handful of players including Athony Reveillere, Wes Brown, Ryan Taylor and Jonas Guiterrez. The story around the two Newcastle players release (Taylor and Gutierrez) summed up perfectly how badly managed the club was at the end of the season. It was up to stand in manager John Carver to break the news by telephone to Taylor about the clubs decision not to renew his contract but what followed was a complete lack of class from the North East club. After breaking the news to Taylor, Carver asked if he could simply hand the phone over to cancer survivor Gutierrez who was with Taylor on a coaching course in Northern Ireland. Taylor obliged only for Carver to relay the same termination decision to Gutierrez. Both players are iconic figures at the club and fan favourites so the way that their departure was handled was nothing less than awful.

Taylor and Gutierrez couldn't believe the phone call that led to their departures  (Image from Getty)

Taylor and Gutierrez couldn’t believe the phone call that led to their departures
(Image from Getty)

This summer will be filled with anxiety, long tiresome training sessions and the occasional trials for all those players released by the clubs. In total 154 players were release, some of whom will retire all together from the game (Rio Ferdinand, Brad Freidel) and others will move on to pre-arranged destinations (Frank Lampard, Steve Gerrard). For the rest the next five weeks will be a nervous time as they look for their next job in football. For many the new season will be about new opportunities at a new club but for others the new season will mark the moment when some serious decisions need to be made – stay in the game they love or look beyond its borders for their next career move.

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Rafa Benitez In At Real As Carlo Exits?

Real Bound? - Rafa Benitez (Image from PA)After finishing the season without a trophy, it appears as though Carlo Ancelotti’s time as Real Madrid boss is about to end. Rumours are circulating that the Bernabeau is about to welcome a new manager with Napoli boss Rafa Benitez being lined up to replace the Italian. Ancelotti will lead his side out for their last game of the season against Getafe but it will almost certainly be his final game in charge. Real’s board is fuming that Ancelotti has failed to build upon their record breaking 10th Champions League title last year and are getting ready to make the change. Several reports indicate that discussions with Benitez representatives are in the latter stages despite only 7% of Real fans polled actually wanting the former Valencia, Liverpool and Chelsea boss as their next manager. Ancelotti, who is being linked with moves to Manchester City or a mouth watering return to AC Milan, has failed to win the La Liga title in the two years that he has been in charge which has been deemed unacceptable by the extremely demanding Madrid board.

Ancelotti lifts the Champions League title for Real Madrid  (Image from Getty)

Ancelotti lifts the Champions League title for Real Madrid
(Image from Getty)

Benitez contract with Napoli is due to expire at the end of the season with the Spaniard unwilling to sign a new deal. He has been linked to the West Ham job in recent months but has fallen short of stating his interest in the role, instead preferring to defer his answer to the end of the season in an attempt to keep his options open. That patience looks like it has paid off with Madrid now in the hot seat to land him. Benitez would arrive with a winning pedigree having won something at every club he has managed since taking over at Extremadura in July 1997, the highlight of which would probably be lifting the Champions League title with Liverpool in Istanbul in 2005. That final more than any defined Benetiz as one of the best managers in the game after inspiring his side to come back from 3-0 down at half time to win on penalties in an epic final ironically against Carlo Ancelotti’s AC Milan. However it’s his success in Spain during his time as Valencia manager that attracts the Real board more than anything else. Having won the La Liga title twice during his three years in charge of Los Murcielagos, the Real board is convinced that he can deliver the much desired league title back to Real Madrid for the first time in four years. With a talented squad at his disposal and a healthy budget to bring new faces in, the challenge for Benitez will simply be to make sure that Real are competitive against Barcelona and Atletico next season and ultimately deliver the title back to Real.

Benitez could be joined at Real by Manchester United stopper David De Gea with the Spanish international reportedly keen to move back to Spain for personal reasons. De Gea will not feature in United’s game this weekend against Hull after sustaining a hamstring injury in the 1-1 draw with Arsenal and will be replaced by Victor Valdes. There has been speculation that De Gea may leave at the end of the season for a while now but the biggest indication came in the game against Arsenal. As he trudged off the pitch, De Gea lifted his left hand and waved to the fans as if to say thank you one last time. After the match, Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal dodged a question asked by the BBC about whether De Gea would be leaving by saying that it would be up to De Gea whether he is to stay or not. He also indicated that the club is making plans for life without the Spaniard by telling the reporter that they have identified other options for the goalkeeper position.  Any potential move to Madrid will be subject to the two clubs agreeing a fee or constructing a deal that suits both parties.

De Gea waves to the United fans after picking up an injury against Arsenal  (Image from Getty)

De Gea waves to the United fans after picking up an injury against Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

Real Madrid have been quick to squash rumours of a potential swap deal involving Gareth Bale, insisting that the Welsh winger will be staying and is a key component of their long term plans. Bale has had a torrid second season in Spain with the Real Madrid fans and the press often singling him out for criticism when the team under performs. The world’s most expensive footballer has not reacted well to the abuse and is rumoured to be considering his options, which has alerted a host of English clubs including Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United. Benitez however will be keen to hold on to the player at all costs especially if he is to introduce his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation to Real next season.

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Sterling’s Liverpool Career In Jeopardy Thanks to Meddling Agent

Sterling wants to leave Liverpool this summer (Image from Getty)With the dust settling on the final Anfield run out of the legendary Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, Brendan Rodgers sat back in his chair and turned his focus towards the final game of the season. It’s not been quite the campaign that Rodgers expected having pushed Manchester City all the way last year with his own SOS strike force (Suarez and Sturridge) leading Liverpool’s impressive front line. Rumours of Suarez departure to pastures new had been growing since early January so when the call came in that Barcelona’s bid had been deemed acceptable, it will hardly have been devastating news to the Northern Irish coach. Rodgers had in fact been planning for this and would use the money to reinvest in his squad, not in one position but several. In came Lallana, Lambert, Can, Markovic and Balotelli to name a few to form a new look Liverpool side. The big money arrivals all came with pedigree or potential but would be outshone in the end by a player already at the club, a young winger by the name of Raheem Sterling.

The actions of Sterling's agent have put him on a collision course with the club  (Image from PA)

The actions of Sterling’s agent have put him on a collision course with the club
(Image from PA)

After a breakthrough season last year which saw the Jamaican born player cement his place in the starting line-up by offering the pace and creativity needed for Suarez and Sturridge to profit from, Sterling approached this season with renewed energy and with the manager’s full backing to shine. He would end this season with the club Young Player of the Year award after a solid season but at the award ceremony would be greeted by boos from the fans rather than cheers. The reason for this hostile reception was down to events that had happened earlier in the day when it was revealed that Sterling wanted to leave Liverpool in the summer and would be turning down a lucrative contract. It was hardly the news that either the Liverpool fans or indeed their manager Brendan Rodgers wanted to hear, his Tuesday morning ruined by the actions not of his player but of the players key advisor – his agent.

Agents in football generally get a bad rap for being too heavily focused on what’s best for them and not for the player and what will earn them the biggest pay off.  In 99% of the times this is simply untrue with the agent instead acting as the mediator in negotiations between players and their respective clubs. Good agents work with the clubs to manage the player and his/her expectations around their futures both in the short term and the long term. If the player is deemed important, the agent will negotiate a better deal that keeps the player at the club and more importantly happy to do so. If the player is seen as expendable, then the agent will look for new opportunities for the player in order to get him into a club where he is valued and happy. However there are a small minority of agents, like Raheem Sterling’s chief negotiator who seem intent in disruption, preferring to look for a big pay day for themselves than looking out for the best interests of their client. On Tuesday morning, the Guardian broke the news that Sterling wanted to leave Liverpool. This is hardly unusual as it’s generally the norm that one paper gets the exclusive story. However within minutes of the news showing up on the Guardian, every media outlet across the UK had the story in length and was covering it. It was a whitewash, a carefully planned yet badly timed ploy by Sterling’s agent and support team to get the story out to as many people as possible in order to drum up interest in the player.

Sterling picked up the clubs Young Player of the Year award to a chorus of boos  (Image from Getty)

Sterling picked up the clubs Young Player of the Year award to a chorus of boos
(Image from Getty)

Not only was this done badly but the timing of it was just plain stupid. Why they decided to let the cat out of the bag publicly at that time makes no sense. The week before had been all about Steven Gerrard and his final game at Anfield. But this week would be a continuation of that with his last game in a Liverpool shirt on Sunday against Stoke. Sterling’s departure now hogs the limelight, not that it will matter to Gerrard but out of respect for the player and the club, could they not have waited until after Sunday’s game? In addition to that breaking the news on the same morning as the Liverpool team awards dinner put Sterling in a difficult position. He should have accepted his award to applause rather than a chorus of jeers. Sterling’s agent is clearly acting for himself and not thinking about his 20 year old client. If he was, he wouldn’t be leaking these statements, instead would be giving him the advice he needs to hear – stay at Liverpool for a couple of more years, hone your skills and then make the big money transfer move.

A move to Real Madrid could see Sterling playing alongside Martin Odegaard for Real's reserve team, Castilla rather than their first team  (Image from Getty)

A move to Madrid could see Sterling playing alongside Martin Odegaard for Real’s reserve team, Castilla rather than their first team
(Image from Getty)

Sterling is far from the finished article that he needs to be to command a starting spot at a Real Madrid or a Barcelona. Madrid may have publically stated that they are monitoring the player but the fact that it was Zidane rather than Ancelotti suggests they see Sterling as one for the future and any purchase would see him follow the same path as Norwegian protégée Martin Odegaard. Sterling could move to another Premiership side like Chelsea or Manchester United but is not guaranteed to get a regular run out in the first team as he is at Liverpool. Manchester City have stepped up their interest in recent weeks, with a new mandate to buy British but Sterling should heed the warnings left by Jack Rodwell, Adam Johnson and Scott Sinclair before him who all made big money moves to City only to see their careers go backwards. For the sake of his career, Sterling should stay put, commit Liverpool and above all else sack his agent for the poor selfish advice he is handing out.

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QPR Plan For Future As Relegation Is Confirmed

Back to the drawing board for QPR (Image from Getty)A passionate and dedicated performance is hardly what you would have expected from the Premierships bottom club Burnley but that’s exactly what they gave on Saturday against Hull. Despite knowing that the chances of them staying in the division were slim to none (they needed to win all three of their remaining games and have other results go their way), the Burnley players marched onto the field with their heads held high and duly walked away with a well deserved three points thanks to Danny Ings 11th goal of the season.  It’s been a season of justs for Burnley – just unable to hold on for that draw against Crystal Palace in mid January, just unable to find the net against Leicester a few weeks ago etc. One thing they haven’t lacked is effort, competing for every ball from the first minute to the last, giving 100% to every match. Relegation back to the Championship is a harsh punishment for Sean Dyche’s men who have won over a lot of the skeptics with their brave approach this season. The same however cannot be said for Queens Park Rangers who too have been relegated after a miserable season. Sunday’s 6-0 mauling at the hands of Manchester City sealed their fate but in truth QPR were relegated before a ball was even kicked.

As the two sides lined up in the tunnel ahead of kick off, few gave QPR a chance at getting all three points. But if the side came out and gave a spirited performance, a point may be possible which would have gone a long way to appeasing their fans. Unfortunately the body language of the QPR players was all too evident. Defeat and relegation were to them inevitable so why try? Not exactly the response you want from your players going into a crunch match.  Within four minutes, Sergio Aguero had fired City into a 1-0 lead. Already the heads had dropped; a drubbing was on the way. When Kolarov stepped up to hit a 32nd minute free kick, QPR were in disarray.  Robert Green tried his hardest to organize a wall but no one appeared to know who was meant to be in the wall or where they were supposed to stand. The work that was surely done on the training pitch had been forgotten in yet another example of how badly organized QPR are. The blame however should not lie at the feet of manager Chris Ramsey, instead it should rest solely at the feet of his players – unable to follow simple marching orders or fall into some resemblance of structure.  Woeful defending let Aguero race through and add a third just after the break but by then the QPR players were already contemplating next season.  No doubt some were planning their moves away from the club but they failed to understand that any potential clubs would be watching how they performed in this game. The lack of desire and effort by the QPR players would hardly compel clubs to reach for their cheque books.

Kolarov curls one over a badly organized QPR wall  (Image from Getty

Kolarov curls one over a badly organized QPR wall
(Image from Getty

QPR’s owner Tony Fernandes needs to drastically overhaul his team starting by appointing a full time manager. Chris Ramsey has done a good job in what can only be described as horrific circumstances – a misshaped squad, lacking in self belief and conviction, all picking up astronomical wages that demand better performances and more effort. Handing him the reins full time and giving him the ability to rebuild the team in his vision may result in a rebound for QPR.  But in truth they shouldn’t be in this position to start with. QPR should not have gone back down given their financial resources and squad but unfortunately they failed to learn from their past mistakes. The signings brought in to the club were mostly aging pros, enticed by those high wages but all have failed to add any class to an already starved team. Captain Joey Barton talked openly after the game as he does about one of two bad eggs in the squad that were upsetting the balance of the team as a whole. Although he fell short of naming them, the fact that these bad eggs were allowed to cause problems highlights further issues at the club. In the past, QPR has been found guilty of throwing money at a problem but never really fixing it. Booting out these bad eggs mid season could have been all it took to save QPR from relegation but instead the club decided against doing that.

Will Chris Ramsey be in charge next year?  (Image from PA)

Will Chris Ramsey be in charge next year?
(Image from PA)

This summer will give them that opportunity with the entire squad needing a desperate revamp. The club has 9 players out of contract including Barton, Richard Dunne, Rio Ferdinand and Bobby Zamora all of which will be assessed carefully by Director of Football Les Ferdinand and the manager (whoever that should be) with a view to handing only a few of them a new deal. The four loan players at the club (Isla, Vargas, Zarate and Kranjcar) will all return to their clubs whilst key assets like Charlie Austin, Matt Phillips and Steven Caulker will all be sold. The remaining squad will see their wages sliced by at least half as the club looks to trim the fat that is strangling the club. QPR will look dramatically different next season as they prepare to mount a challenge for one of the promotion places.  There are worse ideas than turning to the clubs youth players for new additions to the squad, adopting the Southampton approach that has benefited them so well over the past five years. Whatever QPR are to do, the most important thing that they need is a plan – they need to sit down, learn from their mistakes and built a robust plan not for the next season but for the next five to ten seasons. Sticking to that plan however may be their biggest challenge.

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Will Manchester City Adapt Its Crazy Transfer Approach?

City's transfer strategy may need a rethink (Image from PA)The uncertainty around the future of Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has intensified in recent weeks due to bad on field performances and rumoured fall outs with key players. His stay at the City of Manchester Stadium could soon be over with a variety of names including the recently available Jurgen Klopp being bandied around the tabloids. City have not quite had the season that many expected and Pellegrini will pay the price for that although the full blame may not lie solely at his feet. It is the players who win the matches, not the manager so the current squad must take on some of that blame as well as the clubs executive management team who sanctioned their transfers in the first place.

Under Pressure - Pellegrini  (Image from PA)

Under Pressure – Pellegrini
(Image from PA)

City’s transfer policy in the past has been flawed. Given the vast financial resources available to the club, they have spent frivolously on players and most of the time paid over the odds in order to get their targets. Much of this happened in the early stages of their new ownership with the finger pointed firmly at former manager Mark Hughes however this is unfair as it was the City owners and management team that negotiated the fees not Hughes. The Welsh boss merely identified the players he wanted and the club pursued them with vigor and tenacity. The arrivals of Roque Santa Cruz for £18m, Jolean Lescott for £22m and Robinho for £32.5m are three examples where City has arguably paid over the odds for players. Although the latter was used as a way for the owners to show the fans their ambitions of  turning the club into genuine contenders both at home and abroad, the move ended in failure with the Brazilian sheepishly leaving for AC Milan three years after his arrival for less than half what he was bought for. Unfortunately for City, they did not learn their lesson and have continued their brazen approach to transfers with Javi Garcia (£15.8m), Stefan Savic (£6m), Eliaquim Mangala (£40m) all being brought in much on higher than expected transfer fees, much to the delight of the selling clubs.

Robinho's arrival marked the start of the crazy spending by City  (Image from PA)

Robinho’s arrival marked the start of the crazy spending by City
(Image from PA)

A new approach is needed focusing on the long term and for a good example of one in action City don’t need to look very far. Southampton’s recent success in the Premiership is a direct result of two fundamental changes they made to their transfer approach. The first was to look for emerging local youth talent from the surrounding areas and entice them into the club with the promise of personal development and first team exposure. Over the last six years since Southampton recovered from financial ruin and relegation to League One, the club has produced a host of talented youngsters like Luke Shaw, Calum Chambers and Adam Lallana who were eventually sold for large transfer fees. Even before this, the club was bringing through the likes of Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gareth Bale who also moved on to greater things for significant fees. The money received in all these cases was split between funding the first team development and refinancing the existing youth programs. City do not need to be a selling club like Southampton but investments in youth development could save them millions in the future.

James Ward Prowse is the latest product of Southampton's youth initiative  (Image from Getty)

James Ward Prowse is the latest product of Southampton’s youth initiative
(Image from Getty)

Secondly Southampton has targeted up and coming talented players abroad who then became bigger stars at the club. Instead of purchasing readymade internationalists at a premium, they brought in players like Morgan Schneiderlin, Dusan Tadic and Dejan Lovren for low fees who have become more valuable over time. Lovren’s move last summer to Liverpool netted the club £20 million off of an initial investment of £8.5 million only a year before. These clever purchases have made Southampton both successful on the pitch as well as economically sound off of it. City has too often looked for the complete player rather than one that needs development. This works in the short term but in the long term is set to fail. Generally these “complete” players are older having plied their trade in a variety of different leagues, honing their skills along the way before City swooped to buy them for an elevated fee. By buying them sooner, they could have saved some of that fee and used it to develop the player themselves which in turn would add further value to the player and the team.

Southampton made a profit from selling Lovren  (Image from Getty)

Southampton made a profit from selling Lovren
(Image from Getty)

In order to balance the books and comply with the heavily enforced UEFA financial fair play rules, City needs to sell some of its existing aging squad, starting with the players on the highest wages. First up is Yaya Toure, who has been a mainstay in the City midfield since his arrival from Barcelona but in recent years has seen a drop in form and desire to play for the club. Inter Milan are rumoured to be watching his situation with interest but may baulk at his staggering £250k per week wage demands. Another player that City wants off their books is Jesus Navas with the Spanish winger failing to settle in the north east. In total there could be between 10 to 13 players that City choose to sell this summer as a major revamp of the squad is done. Much will be dependent on the new manager who will arrive with his own philosophies and approach.  Regardless City must address their approach to transfers if they are to transform the club this summer. They will likely spend big once again but the question remains if they adapt their signing style or continue to fall into the same pattern of paying over the odds for players they desperately want.

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Klopp Bombshell Puts European Clubs On Alert

After a difficult season, Borussia Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp is set to leave the club. The two time German manager of the year has watched his side struggle in matches in the Bundesliga that they really should be winning. Now after turning their season around and pulling Dortmund away from potential relegation, Jurgen Klopp has announced that enough is enough and that he intends on leaving the former German champions at the end of the season. His decision has shocked many only a year after committing himself to the club following rumours that Barcelona and Arsenal were interested in his services. However a year is a long time in football and for Klopp who has gone through his worst season as Dortmund manager in his seven years in charge, he now feels that he has taken the club as far as he can and that it deserves to be coached by someone who can give 100% to the club.

Klopp announces his decision to quit Dortmund at the end of the season (Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Klopp announces his decision to quit Dortmund at the end of the season (Image from Bongarts/Getty)

Speaking at a hastily arranged press conference and sitting next to Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke and Sporting Director Michael Zorc who he has rumoured to have a strained relationship with, Klopp spoke with emotion yet authority as he told the gathered press why he was quitting. Klopp explained that his decision was not based on this seasons results or fatigue stating he feels 100% fine but instead that he was no longer the perfect coach for the club. He quickly shot down rumours that he had already engaged in discussions with other clubs and stopped short of saying which league he would like to manage in next but did confirm that he will not be taking a sabbatical from the game like Pep Guardiola did after leaving Barcelona and instead wants to get back into management straight away after leaving Dortmund.

Watzke, Klopp and Zorc in better times  (image from PA)

Watzke, Klopp and Zorc in better times
(image from PA)

This news will be welcomed by several clubs across Europe who will now have to fight it out for his services. Heavily linked to both top jobs in Spain last summer, he could be tempted move to either if the opportunity existed. However it is unlikely that they will given that Luis Enrique has finally found a winning formula at Barcelona and Ancelotti is highly regarded at Real Madrid. That opens the door to a handful of English clubs with Manchester City leading the pack. The Ethiad club has grown tired of current manager Manuel Pellegrini’s failure to build on the successes of last year and with the club out of Europe and struggling in the league; his job is far from secure. Whether Klopp wants that sort of challenge is unknown with a huge rebuilding job needed, starting with a dismantling of the current aging squad. He would be given a sizable war chest to acquire new faces and the flexibility to mould a new team around his style of playing. But with a large amount of investment comes high expectations from the clubs owners who will expect success both at home and abroad; pressure that the three previous coaches at City experienced. All three fell on their swords early into their agreed tenures which may not appeal to Klopp. He was given time at Dortmund to craft the team in his vision and it’s questionable whether City will allow him the same amount of time and buy into his long term approach.

Start again? - City's aging squad  (Image from Getty)

Start again? – City’s aging squad (Image from Getty)

If he doesn’t end up at City, a job at the Emirates may become available if the Arsenal board decides that it’s finally time for Arsene Wenger to vacate his chair. Klopp has been spotted at a few Arsenal games over the past few years fueling speculation about a gentleman’s agreement struck between himself and Wenger. If Arsene is to leave, he will want to help pick his successor, someone who will carry on his approach of developing youth players and turning them into world stars. Klopp fits that mould perfectly and with expectations on immediate success lower at the Emirates than at somewhere like City, it could be a perfect fit for the talented coach. There are other Premiership clubs in the market for a new manager like Newcastle and West Ham but neither is likely to appeal to Klopp. Liverpool however may spark his interest but it’s widely believed that despite a disappointing campaign this season, Brendan Rodgers has done enough in his time in charge to convince the Liverpool board to retain his services. Klopp could try his hand in Italy or France too but at present England looks to be his most likely destination. One thing that is for sure is that the Premiership would benefit hugely from the arrival of one of the world’s best managers regardless of which team he joins.

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All To Play For As Premiership Enters The Home Stretch

Vardy's strike handed Leicester a much needed 3 points (Image from Getty)Not since the shock 5-3 victory over Manchester United back in September has Jamie Vardy had such an impact. The Leicester City winger, who bagged a goal on that day in a pulsating game, had been notoriously quiet since then but popped up on Saturday against West Brom to remind everyone how good he can be. Picking up the ball at the half way line Vardy surged forward with the ball apparently stuck to his foot. Going past two players and into the box, the Leicester fans rose to their feet as Vardy unleashed his shot past Myhill in the West Brom goal. The importance of Vardy’s last minute strike is as yet unknown but it did hand his team the crucial three points it needed in their fight against relegation. Rooted to the bottom of the league, Leicester looked dead and buried going into the match but after a gritty performance and thanks to Vardy’s last minute heroics, Leicester’s survival push could be on. Now only three points behind safety with a game in hand, Leicester’s run in is favourable with winnable matches against Burnley, Sunderland and QPR but they will need players like Vardy to perform in every match if they are to avoid the drop.

The gap at the bottom is tight with only 10 points separating 7 places.  Any three of West Brom, Aston Villa, Sunderland, Hull, QPR, Burnley and Leicester could go down with even 13th place Newcastle still not mathematically safe. Defeats for Burnley, QPR, Hull and Sunderland this weekend have added to the tension with only Aston Villa managing to pick up points away to Spurs. Dick Advocaat’s Sunderland revival looked to be on after impressive derbies win over Newcastle last weekend, with Jermain Defoe adding the gloss on that occasion. But his new side was firmly brought back to down to earth with a bump by a rampant Crystal Palace side who continue to improve under Alan Pardew. A hat trick by Yannick Bolasie and a header by Glenn Murray sealed a 4-1 win and put pressure on Dutch coach Advocaat. With one of the worst run in of all the teams involved in the relegation dog fight, it doesn’t look good for Sunderland. They face Stoke next week before games against Southampton, Everton, Leicester, Arsenal and Chelsea in a series of must win fixtures.

At the other end of the table, Chelsea showed why they are likely to end this season as champions. A nerve jangling performance against QPR was not quite what Jose Mourinho had in mind so the relief on his face was hard to ignore when Cesc Fabregas popped up to score the winner. The Spanish midfielder, sporting a face mask to cover the broken nose he suffered last week in a clash with Charlie Adam, broke QPR hearts with a 88th minute shot that squirmed under Rob Green. Chelsea are now 7 points clear with seven games left, one more than the chasing pack. Arsenal continued their pursuit of their London rivals with a 1-0 win over Burnley thanks to an early strike by Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey. Manchester United also kept up their chase with a convincing 4-2 demolition of neighbours Manchester City, a result which heaps more pressure on manager Manuel Pellegrini. The Chilean has been under fire after City crashed out of the Champions League and lost valuable ground in the race for the Premiership title. He will more than likely be asked to leave his position with the only question being when as some speculate that he may not get to finish the campaign as manager.

City will be desperate to hold on to 4th place to secure Champions League football once again but the face stiff competition from this year’s surprise outfit Southampton, Liverpool and Tottenham. Ronald Koeman’s Southampton were suspected to struggle this year after selling off half their squad by some clever signings and the addition of new energy into St Mary’s has seen Southampton defy their critics and mount a serious push for Europe. They continued their push with a 2-0 win over struggling Hull and will be bolstered by the news that 6th place Tottenham lost to Aston Villa. However Liverpool could leapfrog them tonight if they beat John Carver’s inept Newcastle side.

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Nothing Fair About UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rule

Masterstroke or Mistake - Platini (Image from Getty)The inclusion of the word “fair” in UEFA financial fair play rules is somewhat ironic given that its intended purpose will be anything but fair. Introduced by UEFA president Michel Platini as his masterstroke idea of how to curb exuberant spending by clubs across Europe, its objective is to limit the spending capacity of clubs to their net gains. By net gains what we mean is the difference between what they spend each year in transfers and employee wages vs. what they make back from gate receipts, TV revenue, advertising, merchandising, sales of players and prize money. With a host of clubs now bankrolled by wealthy investors and owners, Platini is keen to stamp out overspending before it damages football in Europe beyond repair. But will the rules really prevent clubs from spending beyond their means or will it simply drive clubs to be more deceitful about its practices and how it generates revenue?

UEFA's Financial Fair Play Rule is designed to make things fairer but will it?  (Image from Photos8.com)

UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Rule is designed to make things fairer but will it?
(Image from Photos8.com)

Breaking it down, it comes down to profit vs. loss and the difference between them. So if a club’s overall running costs (not including infrastructure, training facilities or youth development which is not factored in) are $2million per year whilst they make $6m, they are allowed to spend $4m in that year (give or take a 5% grace window). In theory the rule is sound and restricts clubs from spending astronomical amounts to bring in top talent, and widening the gap between those that have and those that have not. However in practice the rule is flawed and like most things full of grey holes and loopholes. For instance UEFA’s terminology for what they consider acceptable sources of revenue are questionable and without limitations. Advertising revenues generated mostly by corporate sponsorships are  an area that should be built within barriers but none exist to date which will lead to inside deals and US style advertising. Currently there is nothing to stop a club structuring a multimillion pound sponsorship around something as non essential as a training ground or their corner flags. Whilst the latter is idiotic (at the moment) the former is already been explored by clubs desperate to retain their financial clout and advantage. Barcelona recently announced a $25million deal with Intel, for a shirt sponsorship that would be inside the player’s shirts. The deal itself caught the headlines but for the wrong reasons as many looked at it as a unique and quirky ad campaign by Intel. A closer look exposes a potential risk of clubs having more than one shirt sponsor (similar to Formula one) with each piece of the shirt classified as advertising space. Multiple shirt sponsors mean that rule will be exploited as clubs rake in the cash.  If expenses total $2million but revenues, including such sponsorships equal $50m, surely that defeats the purpose of this rule?

Is the Intel deal a sign of things to come?  (Image from AFP)

Is the Intel deal a sign of things to come?
(Image from AFP)

In addition, TV revenues are factored into the profit margin which presents a further problem. The top five leagues in Europe have never been as popular on a global scale as they are right now on. Interest in the leagues continues to surge and as a result so do the various TV deals attached to it. BSkyB, BT, NBC and Al Jazeera have paid billions of dollars between them for the exclusive rights to showcase these leagues, with the money trickling back down eventually to the clubs. However in most Leagues the allocations of TV revenues are not shared evenly but instead the top clubs profit more than the rest. In Spain, Barcelona and Real Madrid command the lion share of this allocation with the rest in La Liga getting a small fraction of the remainder. In the Premiership, Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City all received bumper payouts last season based on their top half finish but all have wealthy owners backing them. It’s a similar story when talking about gate receipts and the ability to strike multimillion dollar deals. The top clubs can play host to larger crowds due to larger stadiums which in turn entices companies to invest in association advertising.  Barcelona’s deal with Intel is a good example as Intel see the value in working with the Catalan giants and their extended global reach. A deal with fellow La Liga teams Elche or Almeria would never have been structured by Intel as the value exchange does not exist. In essence the rich are getting richer whilst the poorer clubs struggle to compete. The gap will only widen unless clubs in the lower half of the divisions can compete but in order to do so, they need better players which cost more than they can afford.

NBC has invested heavily in US TV Premiership rights (Image from NBC)

NBC has invested heavily in US TV Premiership rights (Image from NBC)

These are just a few of the loopholes and grey areas within the Financial Fair Play rules but there are many more including 3rd party ownership of players (clubs only pay a fraction of a players wage, whilst an outside corporation picks up the remainder), multiple club ownership outside of Europe (Manchester City’s owners have acquired teams in USA, Mexico and Australia with a view to setting up a network that will see player and financial exchanges outside of these guidelines), varied country specific economical situations(some countries will have higher wage bills due to higher tax rates like France) and charity payments (not included in the calculation by UEFA but questions are being raised over using charities to invest in a clubs development). All in all the Fair play rules, set to begin in full next season, with clubs that fail to adhere to the new rules punished either in the form of a fine, deduction of points or exclusion from European competition.

Manchester City's owners expand their reach across the world  (Image from Getty)

Manchester City’s owners expand their reach across the world
(Image from Getty)

Clubs like Russsian side Anzhi Makhachkala are taking the new rules seriously and have made drastic cuts to their playing staff in order to fall in line with the new rules. Bankrolled by billionaire Suleyman Kerimov since 2011, Anzhi had grand ambitions to dominate European football and with Kerimov’s wealth in support embarked on a spending spree like no other, tempted some of football’s biggest players into moves to the Russian wilderness. Samuel Eto’o, Roberto Carlos, Willian and Christopher Samba were paid astronomical wages by Anzhi as they looked to exploit the system and buy success. But the club has now cut its cloth accordingly, selling most of its star players and started to live within its means. Kerimov is an example of what Platini calls “fat cat owners” and the reason behind the introduction of this new rule but will others follow suit or will they instead look for ways to exploit the system and continue to operate as they have done over the past decade? Share your thoughts now on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Defoe Enters Record Books For Goal Scoring Exploits

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

Arsenal

Aston Villa (1:50 into video)

Burnley

Chelsea

Crystal Palace

Everton (5th goal of compilation)

Hull

Leicester City (7th goal of compliation)

Liverpool

Manchester City

Manchester United (6th goal of compilation)

Newcastle United

QPR (0.30 into compilation)

Southampton (1.55 into compilation)

Stoke City

Defoe scores against Stoke  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Stoke
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunderland

Defoe scores against Sunderland  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Sunderland
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Swansea City

Tottenham

Defoe scores against Spurs  (Video not available)

Defoe scores against Spurs
(Video not available)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

West Brom (4th goal in compilation)

West Ham

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