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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Share your comments and follow us now on FacebookTwitter Instagram

Why relegation may be the best thing for Newcastle this season

In the 1993 classic movie “Groundhog Day”, TV weatherman Phil Connors, played by Bill Murray finds himself in an never ending loop reliving the same day over and over. Frustration sets in early on for Connors as he struggles to understand why he is stuck repeating Groundhog Day no matter what he does. Eventually though he accepts his fate and spends each day repeating his steps in order to entertain himself and hopefully win over the heart of his producer Rita Hanson, played by 90’s favourite Andie MacDowell. Whilst the plot may seem fictitious to most, for Newcastle fans it has become their reality – reliving the same season over and over. Each and every season follows the same vicious circle – at the beginning the fans are filled with hope that this will be the season when things turn around for their club, that new players will arrive to improve the squad and Newcastle will become the team that many expected them to become. But that hope soon disappears as signings fail to arrive. What follows is a painful season as the squad limps through picking up just enough points to survive. At the end the season, the cycle starts all over again condemning the Newcastle faithful to their own footballing version of Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day for Newcastle fans? (image from Groundhog Day official poster)

It has been ten long years for those fans since Mike Ashley walked into their club and fundamentally changed the philosophy and approach of Newcastle from a footballing sleeping giant to a frugally driven business. Like Murray’s adventures in Punxsutawney, there have been more than a few false dawns along the way but all have ended the same way; in bitter disappointment. Whether it be Graham Carr’s French transfer revolution, Alan Pardew’s European adventure or most recently Rafa’s revival, the club has always fallen backwards rather than moving on to better things. Ashley decided a long time ago that Newcastle wasn’t going to be his hobby but instead another profit making machine within his business empire. Success on the field was sacrificed for larger numbers in the balance books. And it worked with Newcastle becoming the 17th most profitable club in the world bolstering Ashley’s reported £2.5b fortune along the way. Ashley has said publicly that despite his multi-billionaire status that the club must now be self sufficient having put £250m of his own money into the club over the past ten years but the math doesn’t stack up. in the time he has been in charge, Newcastle has raked in huge sums of money from gate receipts, merchandise, lucrative broadcast rights and player sales yet consistently spent little on bringing players in. This season manager Rafa Benitez has had to rely on loan signings, free transfers and self funded transfers (selling players to buy players) to bolster his already fragile squad. Added into this, he had to contend with the club trying to shortchange his existing squad in the run up to the start of the new season when they failed to agree a bonus structure forcing the players to take their own actions by refusing to comply with media requests. For the fans it’s a never ending cycle that shows no sign of resolving anytime soon.

For the love of Money – Mike Ashley (Image from Tumblr)

 

Hope however may be on the horizon in the form of Amanda Staveley. The British businesswoman with her Middle East connections launched an audacious bid to buy Newcastle late last year and for a while looked like she was going to be successful. With Ashley keen to sell, Staveley matched the asking price set by the Sports Direct boss (rumoured to be £320m) only for Ashley to up his price to £400m in what can only be described as a last ditch effort to get more money. It backfired with Staveley walking away from the negotiations, leaving Ashley holding the over priced baby. Staveley is still rumoured to be interested but won’t overpay for the club knowing that additional funds will be needed to vastly improve the first team as well as completely overhaul the youth development structure at the club which has failed to bring through anyone of note since Paul Dummett.

Could Staveley be tempted to buy Newcastle even if they are relegated? (Image from Tumblr)

So here is why relegation may be the best thing that can happen to Newcastle this season. It’s well understood that Ashley is becoming bored of Newcastle and would sell for the right price. It’s also understood that Ashley wants to avoid another relegation as the value of the club would drop significantly, likely to half of his current valuation. That would result in him having to make one of two choices – stick it out for another season and fund the squad rebuilding needed to get out of an increasingly difficult Championship or sell for less than the original £320m he had asked for. Given that he paid £135m to acquire Newcastle ten years ago and has likely taken enough cash out of the club since then to cover that plus his other investments, selling the club for £200m would still be a smart business move. Staveley would likely re-enter the picture (as could other potential buyers) given she sees the long term value in the club and has a desire to awaken the sleeping giant on numerous fronts. Relegation would result in several players leaving and perhaps the manager too if he has stuck around by that point. But they could be enticed back by new owners with a desire to invest that matches their long term vision for the club.

Newcastle fans make their feelings clear (image from Tumblr)

In “Groundhog Day”, Murray is caught in his endless time loop for an undetermined period. But according to director Harold Ramis, Connors is stuck for ten years before he finds redemption and escapes the loop. Its been ten years since Ashley took over at newcastle so perhaps this is an omen. With Staveley still keen on buying Newcastle and Ashley growing tired of a business that has giving him endless headaches despite being profitable, Newcastle’s escape may be on the cards. Relegation may be the trigger needed for Ashley to finally part with the club and end the fans own Groundhog Day.

Share your thoughts and follow us now on Facebook: BackOfTheNetBlog, on Twitter: @BOTN_soccer & Instagram: @backofthenet_soccer

Where will Newcastle finish next season?

After only one season in the Championship, Newcastle have secured passage back to the Premier League at the first attempt.  Some pundits have already stated that Newcastle doesn’t have enough quality in its squad to be competitive in the Premier League and that 5-6 new signings are needed.

This summer manager Rafa Benitez will be hoping to strengthen his squad ahead of their return. However that will of course depend on how much money the manager is given by owner Mike Ashley and who he can attract to the North East. If Rafa is able to bring in the 5-6 new faces the media is saying he needs, where will Newcastle finish next season? Top half, middle or relegation places?

Share your thoughts now on Facebook:https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. Also on Instagram: backofthenetblog

Newcastle United will be a major force in the Premier League next season

After a long Championship season, Newcastle were one more game away from the big time. On a tense night at St James’ Park, nerves were eased just after the hour after Preston’s Paul Gallagher handled on the line, gifting Newcastle a penalty that Matt Ritchie cooly dispatched. The party could begin, Rafael Benitez had done his job, Newcastle were back in the Premier League.

rafa-benitez-newcastle-united_3429544-678x381

Job Done Rafa (Image from Tumblr)

The potential of Newcastle United, may finally be realized. There is a reason a manager like Benitez, who left Real Madrid just two months earlier, took the job of resurrecting Newcastle. They are a massive club with huge prospects. With Newcastle back where they belong, they will be a major force in the Premier League next year. After the disappointment of relegation, Benitez identified Championship specialists and bought in the likes of Mohamed Diamé, Grant Hanley and Daryl Murphy to get them back up. Only run away leaders Brighton have stopped them winning the Championship.

The arrival of players like Murphy has helped Newcastle navigate the Championship with ease (Image from Tumblr)

Newcastle aren’t like any other team being promoted from the Championship, they are a club with enormous potential. When promoted in 1992, Kevin Keegan took the Toon to 3rd in the Premier League as a newly promoted side. Even Alan Pardew took Newcastle to 5th a year after they returned to the top flight. Newcastle have unbelievable resources and can easily compete in the top ten in the Premier League. Their fan base is one of the largest in the UK, with St James Park regularly getting 50,000 through the door. To gain promotion, Newcastle spent nearly £60m on new recruits. In the Premier League only the current top six sides plus Leicester City, fresh from winning the Premier League, spent more than that. Even when they were relegated, Newcastle spent over £80m. They are one of the richest sides in Europe. And it won’t be long before top players are signing for Newcastle wanting to work for a manager like Benitez.

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

Premier League bound Ayoze Perez (Image from Tumblr)

After years of mismanagement, Newcastle are now on to something and the difference is Benitez; he’s one of the best managers in Europe. Benitez knows the Premier League inside out after two successful spells with Liverpool and Chelsea and now he is back in charge with one of the biggest sides in England. Newcastle United, the sleeping giant of English football, may finally be waking up.

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

Share your thoughts now on Facebook:https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. Also on Instagram: backofthenetblog

Rafa to Stay as Newcastle Rebuild For The Championship

In what is viewed as a major coup for the club, Newcastle are set to announce that Rafa Benitez will remain in charge as manager despite the clubs relegation to the Championship. The 56 year old former Liverpool, Napoli and Real Madrid boss was widely expected to activate a break clause in his contract but has decided to stay in the role after being given reassurances by Newcastle’s owner Mike Ashley that he will be given greater control over the clubs transfer policy. With money committed to spend and assurances that any other money generated from player sales will be reinvested in the squad, Rafa is happy enough to stay at St James Park. It’s a major boost for the club as they get set for their second spell in the Championship in eight years. Last time Newcastle bounced straight back up under Chris Hughton but failed to learn from their mistakes and find themselves sucked back down. Rafa will likely make wholesale changes to not only the first team squad but also to the infrastructure that supports it in an attempt to prevent a repeat in the future. One such change is the departure of chief scout Graham Carr who the club has indicated has decided to retire but many believe has taken the blame for the clubs failure to survive in the Premier League.

tumblr_nrdbhmFaBf1un9jt0o1_250

From Champions League to Championship for Rafa (Image from Tumblr)

The task of rebuilding Newcastle will not be an easy one given the amount of work needed to be done. First up is establishing a squad capable of competing in a highly competitive Championship. Rafa will be hoping to hold on to the main nucleus of his squad but is aware that several key players are set to leave. French midfielder Moussa Sissoko will be the first to go with clubs across Europe keen on the player. He will be likely followed by Dutch internationals Daryl Janmaat and Georginio Wijnaldum whilst the futures of Tim Krul, Cheick Tiote and Jonjo Shelvey remain uncertain. Andros Townsend, who only arrived in January from Tottenham and impressed the fans with his effort and goals, will also depart with a move to Portugal on the cards. The drop will give Benitez the chance to remove the under performers from the club including Siem de Jong, Yoan Gouffran and Steven Taylor whose contract is set to expire ending his 13 year association with the club. Key to Benitez bounce back plans is convincing the backbone of Mbemba, Colback and Mitrovic to give him one season in the lower league something that all three are likely to do. Added to this, Benitez will look to get more out of Ayoze Perez, vurnon Anita and youngsters like Rolando Aarons as he rebuilds around them. Attracting new players will be important but Rafa could find it difficult to get the players he wants to play due to the club playing in the Championship. 

tumblr_o78am4H3Cy1rccdxao3_1280

Keeping Mitrovic is key to Newcastle gaining promotion next season (Image from tumblr)

Escaping the Championship will not be easy given the competitiveness of that league. This season Middlesborough and Burnley have already secured promotion with hull and Sheffield Wednesday fighting it out in the play off final for the third spot. But it could quite have easily been several other teams with derby, Brighton, Ipswich,  Cardiff and Brentford all in the hunt whilst Leeds, Wolves and QPR continue to improve season over season. Next season newcastle will also be joined by a resilient Norwich side and a rejuvenated Aston Villa who under new ownership will spend heavily in the summer. Whilst Benitez is set to sign a revamped three year deal, mentally he will be looking at giving this one year. If Newcastle are unable to gain promotion at the first attempt or Ashley doesn’t live up to his promises, then Benitez will be off.

Share your thoughts now on Facebook:https://facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog  or on Twitter:https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. Also on Instagram: backofthenetblog

D-Day For McClaren As Defeat Will Spell Dismissal

After nine days in the sun, Newcastle returned to Premier League action on Wednesday. You would have thought they would have been brighter than they have been this season and for the opening twenty minutes or so they  were. But as usual Newcastle faded fast and eventually they were beaten once again. Rumours of a dressing room rift have surfaced once again following Wednesday nights narrow 1-0 defeat to Stoke. Whilst the club continues to plug the usual line of all is well, several sources close to the club insist that the senior players in the squad have become disillusioned by the way manager Steve McClaren is running the team. The pressure on the former England manager is mounting as patience for his consistent excuses runs out.

 Up until their mid season summer retreat, McClaren has been overly protective of his players reassuring the press and fans that the effort is there but Newcastle have just been incredibly unlucky. There is always an element of luck in football but in this case, it has nothing to do with it. An inability to hit the back of the net on a regular basis coupled with dubious defending at the back are two of the primary reasons Newcastle find themselves in the bottom three. There simply cannot be any excuses for McClaren who has been given more than most Newcasyle boss got and failed to deliver.

 

How long will Mike Ashley wait? (image from Afp)

Owner Mike Ashley is no longer tinkering in the running of the club or appointing his buddies to “help” the manager as he has so often done in the past. He has also put his money where his mouth is and sank considerable funds into the development and signature of players for the first team. The result is that Newcastle have one of if not the strongest squad in the bottom half of the table but yet still find themselves in danger of relegation. The reason is simple – McClaren. His failures to pick and execute on winning strategy are at the heart of Newcastle’s problems. A great coach in many people eyes he may be but as a manager he is unable to cope. He has been given long enough to find a formula that works but instead spends his time researching new ways of saying his players tried hard but were unlucky. Now with the end of the line fast approaching, McClaren has started to criticize his players in an effort to up their game. But even that tactic has failed miserably with several players now turning on the manager. It should have been the final straw for this bumbling manager but he will get one last chance.

 Saturday becomes a must win game for Newcastle as they face Bouremouth. Eddie Howe’s side were most people’s candidate to go straight back down this season after winning a surprise promotion last year. But unlike McClaren, Howe has worked hard to figure out how to get the best out of his players in England’s top league. With eleven games to go, Bournemouth sit comfortably in the bottom half knowing that two or three more wins will likely be enough to make them secure. That could start tomorrow with all three points against Newcastle in a result that would surely be the final nail in McClaren’s coffin. Ironically Howe could be the perfect replacement for the outgoing Newcastle boss as he has proven that he can manage in the Premier League under difficult circumstances and still get results. Bournemouth have played with confidence throughout the campaign despite being favourites for the drop. That confidence has been lacking at St James Park all season and McClaren is to blame for that. Confidence comes from the manager first and foremost but if the players have no confidence in him then the job is even harder. If Newcastle want to remain in the Premier League they must sack McClaren now regardless of what happens tomorrow against Bournemouth. It could be their only hope.

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

 Transfer Window (Image from SkySports)

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

Arsenal

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

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

Aston Villa

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

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

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

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

Burnley

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

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

Chelsea

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

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

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

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

Crystal Palace

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

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

Everton

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

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

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

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

Hull

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

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

Leicester City

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

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

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

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

Liverpool

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

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

Manchester City

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

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

Milner replacement  - Jake Forster Caskey  (Image from PA)

Milner replacement – Jake Forster Caskey
(Image from PA)

Manchester United

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

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

Newcastle

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

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

Overweight and Out - Ben Arfa  (Image from AFP)

Overweight and Out – Ben Arfa
(Image from AFP)

Queens Park Rangers

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

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

Southampton

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

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

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

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

Stoke

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

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

Sunderland

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

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

Miss hit - Danny Graham  (Image from Getty)

Miss hit – Danny Graham
(Image from Getty)

Swansea

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

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

Tottenham

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

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

Time to go Kyle  (Image from AFP)

Time to go Kyle
(Image from AFP)

West Bromwich Albion

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

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

West Ham

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

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

Share your thoughts below or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. You can now follow us on Tumblr and Instagram as well!

Summer Signings Offer Hope Of Brighter Days Ahead For Newcastle

Newcastle have strengthened in the summer with 8 new arrivals including Siem De Jong from Ajax (Image from Getty)

Towards the tail end of last season, the glum looks that were present on the face of the Newcastle fans were a good indication of how bad things were going. After a promising start, Newcastle had imploded and were spiraling down the table. Without a manager on the sidelines due to the eight match ban he was serving for head butting a player to a homesick captain and a shot shy front line, the only thing that stopped Newcastle from being relegated was time itself. If the season had continued for another two months then this summer’s planning may have been drastically different. But after a summer of spending which has seen eight new players arrive at St James Park, Newcastle started the season with a renewed vigour and enthusiasm for the beautiful game.

Aguero strikes late into injury time to make it 2-0  (Image from Getty)

Aguero strikes late into injury time to make it 2-0
(Image from Getty)

Yesterdays defeat to current champions Manchester City was not as one sided as the score line suggests. In fact Newcastle took the game to City in a match that has regenerated the faith in the Geordie army. Newcastle fielded six new faces over the course of the 90 minutes with each one looking like good acquisitions. The summer arrival of Remy Cabella after months of will he, wont he speculation has given Pardew’s team the creative spark it has been lacking since the departure of the highly influential Yohan Cabaye to PSG. In the past, Pardew would have turned to fellow Frenchman Hatem Ben Arfa to take up the mantel but with the player failed to step up last season leaving the Newcastle boss with no option than to find a replacement. His search was intensified when Ben Arfa turned up to preseason overweight and out of condition which has now lead to the player been placed on the transfer list with no future at St James Park. However Newcastle fans need not fear as in Cabella they have a creative player who looks destined to be a fan favourite at the club.

Cabella will provide the spark for Newcastle this season  (Image from Getty)

Cabella will provide the spark for Newcastle this season
(Image from Getty)

Supporting Cabella in midfield was Jack Colback who had controversially crossed the divide between Sunderland and Newcastle in the summer. Any doubts about his desire to play for the club were dismissed early on with a tough challenge within two minutes which brought back memories of David Batty to many. Colback, alongside Sissoko and Anita looked comfortable on the ball and ran his heart out for ninety minutes in a performance that should ensure he becomes a permanent fixture in Pardews starting 11. In defence, the only new addition was Dutchman Daryl Janmaat at right back. A straight replacement for the departed Mattheiu Debuchy, Janmaat looks accomplished as a defender and should add further quality to Newcastle’s struggling back line.

Just like Batty - Colback's crunching challenges just like David Batty  (Image from PA)

Just like Batty – Colback’s crunching challenges just like David Batty
(Image from PA)

The emergence of Paul Dummett, Alun Armstrong, Shane Ferguson and Rolando Aarons is also an encouraging sign that the clubs youth development program is starting to bear fruits. Whilst the likes of Aarons were acquired several years ago rather than grown from scratch, they have still needed the time and energy of Newcastle’s youth coaching staff to get them ready for first team action. Regardless of where they came from, the Geordie faithful have always given their new youth players a rousing ovation, which can be intimidating for the best of people. Aarons in particular receive a fantastic welcome as he made his Premiership debut on Sunday against Manchester City. After impressing in pre season, the Jamaica born winger was given a 17 minute crash course in life in the Premiership against arguably its best team. The youngest didn’t manage to turn things around for his side but did show enough to ensure that he will play a role in Newcastle’s season this year. The 18 year old was not the only youngster making his debut with Spanish striker Ayoze Pérez also entering the fray. Having arrived in the summer from Tenerife for an estimated €2 million fee, the Newcastle fans were looking forward to seeing who exactly this kid was and why Pardew was so keen to land him. Coming on for fellow new boy Emmanuel Riviere on the 80th minute, it took him only 2 minutes before he started to demonstrate who he was. Running on to a through ball, he showed good pace and composure to control the ball, pull it back inside Martin Demichelis and angle a shot past Joe Hart. Unfortunately a sliding challenge by Fernandino clipped the ball wide but gave a clear indication to the Newcastle fans what they can expect from this exciting youngster.

Exciting prospect - Rolando Aarons  (Image from Getty)

Exciting prospect – Rolando Aarons
(Image from Getty)

The club still has Siem De Jong and Facundo Ferreyra to come into it making this Newcastle team one of the strongest n the past few years. However how the season unfolds is still to be seen but early signs indicate that Newcastle should be able to repeat the form that they showed in the first six months of last season. Whether they can continue with that form after the Christmas break is another matter all together.

Share your thoughts below or on Facebook: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog. You can now follow us on Tumblr and Instagram as well!

Let The Games Begin But First The July Round Up

New Barca boss, Gerardo Martino (Image from Getty)It’s hard to believe that it’s August already but with the summer break drawing to a close, football is back on the menu once again with most leagues kicking off this month. Europa League and Champions League qualifiers have already begun whilst international friendlies like the much anticipated Scotland vs. England match at Wembley thrown in for good measure. But before we can start to look forward, in time honored tradition, BOTN is looking back at the month that has past – July. And what a month it was!

Lots to think about for Rooney (Image from Getty)

Lots to think about for Rooney (Image from Getty)

Speculation around the future’s of two of the Premierships biggest stars, Wayne Rooney and Gareth Bale reached fever pitch last month, with both rumored to be leaving for pastures new. Jose Mourinho wasted no time since coming back to the league with Chelsea to upset Manchester United and new boss David Moyes by suggesting Rooney is wasted at Old Trafford and should move to Stamford Bridge. It was enough to unsettle the petulant player who is now in a huff with United who won’t let him do what he wants. It’s a similar situation at Tottenham with Daniel Levy standing firm in front of the exit door that Gareth Bale is trying to walk out of. With Real Madrid pulling from the other side, Levy is stalling to make sure he gets as much capital as possible for the Welsh Winger before he allows the move to happen. Unlike Rooney, Bale is acting graciously and has refused to issue a formal transfer request but has had secret talks with manager Andre Villas Boas and Levy to tell them about his desire to move to the Bernabeau. One player who has already engineered his move away from the English leagues is the troublesome Djibril Cisse who ended his stay with QPR to join Russian side, FC Kuban Krasnodar. It’s his tenth move of his career and the seventh country he has played in so far that has lead to any questioning if it’s a language or an attitude problem that has resulted in Cisse’s stays at various clubs being limited to less than two seasons.

Tottenham's Gareth Bale could be on his way to Madrid (Image from AFP)

Tottenham’s Gareth Bale could be on his way to Madrid (Image from AFP)

It has been a fairly hectic transfer window for most clubs this summer, with the noticeable exception of one Newcastle United. With Joe Kinnear now fully settled in and the media circus around that almost dying down, attention should be turned to signing players. But unfortunately for Alan Pardew and the Geordie faithful, there have been more exits than arrivals at St James Park than the squad can cope with. Simpson, Harper, Perch, Moyo and Abeid have all left with only 16 year old French midfielder Olivier Kemen arriving. Frustration is not the word for Pardew, as he continues to wait to see if Kinnear is actually going to prove to be any value to the club this summer. If nothing happens, Pardew may resign and join Guus Hiddink on the unemployed list, following the Dutchman’s sensational resignation from Anzhi just a day after Tito Vilanova left his Barcelona hot seat for medical grounds. It seemed like a certainty that Hiddink would get the nod, but the Catalan club surprised many by announcing Argentine Gerardo Martino as their new boss. Martino has a tough job on his hands but with a glittering squad, he should succeed in La Liga. Over in Serie A, one team looking to succeed is tiny Sussuolo who are gearing up for their first ever season in Italy’s top flight after winning promotion from Serie B as champions. It was a fantastic group effort by the players who can now look forward to a selection of David vs. Goliath challenges against the likes of Juventus, AC Milan and Roma.

Sassuolo players celebrate promotion  (Image from Getty)

Sassuolo players celebrate promotion
(Image from Getty)

Also making the news last month was the retirement of the voice of Football – James Alexander Gordon from the BBC after surgery on his throat meant that he was unable to continue his job announcing the football results. Gordon had gained legendary status with fans across the UK for his approach and style in reading the results with celebrity fans like the late Eric Morecambe praising his technique. We said goodbye to another legend last month, with the death of former Manchester City goalkeeper Bert Trautmann. The tall German was known for his heroics during the 1956 Cup final where he played the last 17 minutes of the game with a broken neck. He made a host of last ditch saves as City held on to win the Cup by 3-1. Trautmann was an inspiration to many young goalkeepers including Arsenal’s Bob Wilson and recently to current City stopper Joe Hart.

Trautmann is helped from the pitch by his teammates  (Image from Getty)

Trautmann is helped from the pitch by his teammates
(Image from Getty)

Finally, BOTN covered the issues that concern the modern game with several Nigeria players suspended after two matches played on the same day ending with score lines of 79-0 and 67-0. An investigation uncovered match rigging ties to all four clubs involved as well as the officials and some ground staff in another black mark for Nigerian football. We also looked at the crippling financial implications of chasing the Champions League dream, with clubs like Rangers, Leeds and now AEK Athens paying for past expenditures. Whilst the larger teams grew in size and financial wealth, the chasing pack overspent beyond their budgets on players who were capable of competing in the Champions League, now with disastrous results. On a plus note, we did take a look at rising Austrian star Martin Hinteregger who scored a stunning goal in a pre season friendly as well as looking at the best way to pick your fantasy football team for the new season. Quite a month overall!

To read any of these stories, please look at our new look site homepage here: https://backofthenetblog.wordpress.com/

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

April Round up – Goals, Gaffs and Guardiola

A Newcastle fan punches a horse (Image from Getty)May is the one of the most exciting months in domestic football. As the season draws to close, fans are poised on the edge of their seats waiting to see if their team is successful in winning the league, avoiding the drop or lifting the cup. For the first time since their famous win in 1997, Borussia Dortmund are looking forward to the Champions League final at Wembley on the 25th May, where they will face either Barcelona or fierce rivals Bayern Munich. The odds are firmly stacked against the Spanish side who trail 4-0 from the first leg but miracles do happen. Back in the Premiership, the fight for the title is over with Manchester United beating Manchester City to the post and picking up their 20th title, an english record. All eyes are now focused on the bottom of the table to see who will join QPR and Reading in the Championship next year. Newcastle, Wigan, Aston Villa and Sunderland are in a vicious dog fight with all four clubs desperate to avoid the drop.

On the Move - Mario Gotze  (Image from Reuters)

Champions League Final bound – Mario Gotze
(Image from Reuters)

Last month we took at look at two of those teams – Sunderland and Newcastle, focusing on two key stories, Sunderland’s appointment of controversal manager Paolo Di Canio and Newcastle’s recent slump which has left them dangling in the bottom half of the table. Di Canio got off to a flyer with unexpected wins against Everton and Newcastle before being cruelly brought back to earth with a bump by a rampant Aston Villa. Newcastle, who lost the Tyne Wear derby 3-0 have had a bad month, both on the pitch and off it. On the pitch, they crashed out of a winnable Europa League after defeat against Benfica then saw their domestic form slump as well picking up only 5 points out of a possible 15 during April. Off the pitch, the Tyne Wear derby was marred by the return of the english hooligan with Newcastle fans rioting after the match and one fan even punching a police horse. They were not alone in a month to forget for English football followers as fans of Millwall, Stoke, Bradford and Portsmouth all contributed to tarnishing the beautiful game’s reputation.

New Sunderland Boss Di Canio  (Image from Getty)

New Sunderland Boss Di Canio
(Image from Getty)

Also leading the charge in setting a bad example was Liverpool’s Luis Suarez who was banned for 10 games following an incident against Chelsea where he appeared to bite the arm of Branislav Ivanovic. The striker was slammed by his manager and the club for his actions before dramatically performing a U-turn and defending his actions, insisting it wasn’t worth a ten match ban. Very strange indeed. It could have been a lot worse for Liverpool, just look at AEK Athens who are now having to fight for survival without influential young midfielder Giorgos Katidis, now serving a ban for performing a nazi salute as a celebration. The incident which happened in March has not help AEK’s plight as they desperately tried to avoid the drop. However Sunday’s defeat in the final game, and a three-point deduction handed down for fan violence has resulted in AEK being relegated and dropping out of the Greek Super League for the first time in their history.

Suarez sinks his teeth in  (Image from SkySports)

Suarez sinks his teeth in
(Image from SkySports)

As AEK dismiss their manager following relegation, other teams across Europe are gearing up to follow suit. In a piece we called the six degrees of managerial separation, we predicted a chain of events that would start with Real Madrid and exiting manager Jose Mourinho and end back at Real with their new potential coach. See if you agree with us on our predictions. One manager who has already been confirmed is Bayern Munich’s new head coach, Pep Guardiola who has already started his revolution by signing Borussia Dortmund winger Mario Gotze. The player arrives for a record german transfer fee and kicks off what is sure to be a transformational time for the Bavarian club. Another club preparing for a transformational season is Cardiff City who led by Scot Malky Mackay celebrated last month with promotion to the Premiership. Cardiff will want to avoid the same fate as many promoted teams who find the move to difficult and end up back in the Championship after only a year. We looked at what Cardiff need to do to avoid the drop in their first season in England’s top division.

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

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

Also making the news last month was the never aging story of Nigerian footballer Taribo West, who Serbian officials are now pursuing over allegations that he lied about his age to gain a contract with Partizan Belgrade. It would appear that he is not the only player to have done this with other players from the same region reported to have done this. Two players who don’t need to do this just yet are Esbjerg’s Youssef Toutouh and Utrecht’s Mike van der Hoorn who made the news in April but for different reasons. Toutouh took the plaudits in April with a stunning effort against high-flying Randers whilst Van Der Hoorn felt the heat due to a clumsy error in Utrechts 6-0 defeat at the hands of AZ Alkmaar. Both players have exciting careers ahead of them so we are sure this won’t be the last time we hear from them. Also featured a crazy Bulgarian coach ripping up a referees cards, a goal from a goalkeeper, Bebeto’s resignation from the CBF and a look at Hamburg’s tactical woes in what proved to be a busy month. May is likely to throw up more interesting stories so please keep checking the blog and enjoy!

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Please feel free to leave a comment or request a post about your club, country or league.

Owen Announces Retirement At End Of Season, But Suprises Few

Michael Owen announces retirement (Image from PA)Michael Owen’s announcement yesterday about his end of season retirement will come as a surprise to some but for most they believe the player may have already been in retirement for sometime. The 33-year-old former England striker has taken the decision based on the realisation that the better part of his career is behind him and that with injuries happening on a more regular basis, his body is unable to cope any longer with the rigorous of the modern game. Owen has had quite the career since breaking onto the scene with Liverpool as an exciting 17-year-old with electric pace. His eye for goal, rapid footwork and quality finishing ability made him one of the most exciting prospects England’s famous school of excellence, Lilleshall has ever produced.

Owen scores for England in 2007 (Image from PA)

Owen scores for England in 2007
(Image from PA)

From a young age, Owen was breaking goal scoring records. At age 10, he scored an incredible 97 goals in one season for Deeside Area Primary School’s Under-11 team, smashing the former holder’ record by 25 goals. It was at that point that Liverpool knew they needed to pay close attention to him as the record he broke belonged to one of their greatest strikers, Ian Rush. Before long Owen had signed youth forms with the Anfield club and began his England career firstly with England Under 15’s then Under 16’s, again smashing goal scoring feats along the way. He hit 28 goals in 20 games, a striking record that still holds today. It wasn’t long after then that Owen made his Liverpool debut, first at youth levels and then finally handed a first team slot by then manager Roy Evans. He made his first team debut against Wimbledon, and in Owen fashion finished the day on the score sheet. After then, he never looked back and over the next eight years went on to score another 117 goals in 216 appearances.

Owen marks his Liverpool debut with a goal (Image from Getty)

Owen marks his Liverpool debut with a goal
(Image from Getty)

Two years after his first team debut at Liverpool, a then prolific Owen was handed his full England start under manager Glenn Hoddle. His performances for both club and country before the 1998 World Cup in France, made it almost impossible for Hoddle not to include him in his squad but it didn’t make him an automatic starter. During the tournament, he sat out the first two games but a goal against Romania in the final game, persuaded Hoddle to give him a starting berth against Argentina in the next round. His faith was repaid as Owen scored most likely the best goal of his career with a dazzling run, before beating two players and slotting past the goalkeeper. Despite England crashing out of the tournament after that game, Owen went on to make the no.9 slot his own and represented England a total of 89 times in a ten-year period, scoring 40 goals.

Owen outmuscles Ayala on route to goal at France 1998 (Image from Getty)

Owen outmuscles Ayala on route to goal at France 1998
(Image from Getty)

It was at the high of his career, aged 25, Real Madrid came calling and Owen made the move to Spain, in what some see start of Owen’s downfall. After a somewhat successful season with the Madrid club, Owen was on his way back to England in a £16.8 million move to Newcastle. Controversy surrounded his move as Owen was openly admitting that he wanted to move back to Liverpool but with the Anfield club unwilling to match Real’s validation and Owen’s place now in Madrid unsecure, he reluctantly took the move to the north of England in an effort to resurrect his England career. It was a move that would end in failure as Owen suffered injury after injury at the club over the next four years. On a hefty pay packet, Newcastle stood by their striker as the fans prayed that he could get back his fitness and start scoring for the club like the Owen of old. Unfortunately only disappointment came as Owen’s contract ran out and he decided to leave the club. What angered the fans the most was that Owen then decided to sign for Manchester United, making him a hated figure in the North. But Owen’s move to United did not pan out as planned and his playing time was limited due to stronger strikers ahead of him and a lack of fitness. Eventually Owen left United to move to Stoke where he has played for the past two season, again limited due to fitness issues.

Injury ravaged - Owen spent a lot of time on the Stoke bench (Image from PA)

Injury ravaged – Owen spent a lot of time on the Stoke bench
(Image from PA)

His decision to call it a day comes after almost seven years of injury problems where Owen has spent more time on the racetrack than the football pitch. His distractions away from football as well as his lack of playing time have led to many speculating that Owen gave up mentality some years ago and his retirement from the game was inevitable. Owen will argue that his passion for the game has never dwindled and that only injuries have prevented him adding to his England haul of caps and goals but the sad truth is somewhere in the middle. If Owen had remained at Liverpool instead of moving to Spain with Real, he may have managed to join the likes of Beckham and Shilton in the 100+ cap club for England. Owen will still go down as one of the countries greatest ever strikers but perhaps he could have been even better if he had decided against the move. Fellow strikers like Gary Linekar and Alan Shearer have already taken to Twitter to proclaim how good Owen was and pay tribute to the player. Owen deserves the accolades he receives for his career up to the age of 26 but after that, injuries prevented the game from seeing what else this England great could have achieved. He leaves the game as a winner, having won cups and league titles at the various clubs he has played at but one will wonder if he will look back on his whole career with the same enthusiasm as he had in the early part of it when he burst onto the world scene with that goal on 30 June in St. Étienne, France at the 1998 World Cup.

To see his amazing goal against Argentina, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPC6Yv3BPVY

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

Ranger Released As Newcastle Run Out Of Patience

Nile Ranger  (Image from PA)When Nile Ranger burst onto the scene at Newcastle during the 2009 season, the fans took to him instantly. As a tall yet gangly striker, Ranger gave Newcastle something that they had craved for a while – a forward who showed no fear. The Newcastle faithful, still hurting from relegation some three months before and now facing up to life in the Championship, were in need of inspiration and when Ranger stepped from the bench in the 84th minute against West Bromich Albion, they got the boost that they desperately needed. This was the first crop of a new generation of Newcastle players, fresh from the youth team and ready to give it all to get Newcastle back into the Premiership. Three weeks later, Ranger started his first game for the club at senior level and did not let the opportunity pass him by, picking up the man of the match award and gaining a standing ovation from the fans as he left the park. The future looked bright for the 17 year old but now only four years on, Ranger is on the football scrap-heap and looking for a new club.

Ranger in action for Newcastle (image from AP)

Ranger in action for Newcastle
(image from AP)

Brought in during the ill-fated Dennis Wise era on a free transfer, Ranger looked at first like a great piece of business by the club. In his first season in the youth and reserve teams, Ranger impressed finishing the season on 22 goals between the two levels. It was good enough to earn him the Wor Jackie Milburn Trophy and a bumper three and a half-year deal. But the truth about Ranger is that whatever he did on the pitch, wasn’t enough to cover for what he did off it. Born in North London, Ranger had a tough life growing up and attributed his early mistakes to the wrong associations.These mistakes as he calls them resulted in Ranger spending time behind bars when he was only fifteen for armed street robbery. He served 11 weeks and was almost released by Southampton because of the incident but they decided to give him a second chance. After serving his time, he returned to the club but staff noticed a change in his attitude and eventually did release him, citing his bad reputation as the cause.

Better times - Ranger pens a new deal (Image from Getty)

Better times – Ranger pens a new deal
(Image from Getty)

Wise, not short of controversy during his playing career, offer Ranger a way back into football if he could stay out of trouble off the park. Ranger accepted and joined the club but unfortunately the troubles followed him. Having helped Newcastle back into the Premiership and played a bit part in their first year back in the league, Ranger looked to have turned the corner. He was living a quieter life and more importantly keeping himself out of trouble. He was rewarded again by the club at the end of 2010 with a new five-year deal and a significant pay rise which would end up being the unravelling of the youngster. Still only 20 years old and with more money and time than he knew what to do with, Ranger found himself partying more and drinking more. In August 2011, just weeks after the new season started, Ranger was arrested for assaulting a man in Newcastle and leaving him unconscious in the street. A month later, he was arrested again for being drunk and disorderly in Newcastle  and later found guilty. The players obsession with his past life also rang true as he found himself in trouble with the club for posting a picture of himself with a replica gun. Manager Alan Pardew, rightly angry at the situation, banished him to the reserves for not setting a good example to the younger fans.

Patience rang out - Alan Pardew (Image from Getty)

Patience rang out – Alan Pardew
(Image from Getty)

It would not be the last time that Pardew and Ranger clashed as the player found himself in deep water. With the managers patience wearing thin, Ranger continued his disruptive behaviour resulting in him being arrested once again for criminal damage and then investigated by the club for homophobic remarks on twitter. Loan moves to Barnsley and then to Sheffield Wednesday were less than successful in their attempt to prevent further trouble from finding Ranger. The final straw that broke the camel’s back was when Ranger was recently arrested on suspicion of rape. Ranger’s contract was terminated on mutual consent by the club last Friday with the player taking to Twitter the same day saying simply that he was happy. Ranger’s attitude appears to be somewhat foolish and unaccepting of the blame for what has happened. Ultimately he is to blame for the state of his career and the predicament he finds himself in. Ranger is at a cross-road in his career – either change his ways and focus on getting back playing or give up his football career for a road less travelled. Newcastle and Southampton have tried in the past to help him but ultimately the player is responsible for what happens to him.

Wenger Loses His Cool As Arsenal Lose Again

Arsene Wenger on rocky roads at Arsenal (Image from Times of India)Failing to win against championship side Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup fifth round has not helped Arsene Wenger’s cause. The Frenchman’s approach to yesterdays pre game press conference was nothing less than confrontational to say the least. Unhappy at the standard of questions and the general direction they were headed in, Wenger snapped at seasoned journalist Neil Ashton accusing him of creating lies around a new contract. It was remarkably out of character for the French coach who generally remains composed even under the heaviest of pressures. But with no trophies in eight years and with the faithful fans, starting to turn on him, the strain is starting to show across Wenger’s face. One of his last hopes for silverware this season and a chance to keep the hungry wolves at bay, exited through a side door last night, after a stunning performance by Bayern Munich  knocked the wind out of the Gunners Champions League hopes. Only a miracle now will save Arsenal’s season and Wenger’s job.

Wilshire left to think about what could have been against Blackburn (Image from Getty)

Wilshire left to think about what could have been against Blackburn (Image from Getty)

A 3-1 defeat at home in the first leg is not what Wenger was hoping for. Two goals down within 22 minutes at the Emirates, the grumbles from the home crowd started in earnest. As they went into the half time break 2-0 down, Wenger knew he had to do something and fast. For a moment it looked like Wenger’s team talk had done the trick as the crafty Jack Wilshire crossed for former Bayern Munich striker Lukas Podolski for him to coolly head home. But this only angered the germans who found another gear and pushed for a third goal which eventually came through Croatian hitman Mario Mandžukić with less than 15 minutes to play. The game was all but over as Arsenal heads dropped knowing a gigantic effort will be needed in Munich in two weeks time for them to overhaul this scoreline. Arsenal will need to score three goals to proceed, which for this team may be a step to far. Granted Arsenal have managed to score three or more goals a remarkable twelve times this season in all competitions (including a stunning 7-3 victory over Newcastle in December) but they go to Munich to face one of the best defences in Europe. Having only lost once in the Bundesliga this year (a shock 2-1 defeat against Bayer Leverkusen in October), Munich have not conceded more than 2 goals in any match in any competition this season. In addition, Munich had not conceded a single goal in their last five matches until Podolski’s goal ended that run.

Misery at home for Arsenal against Bayern (Image from AFP)

Misery at home for Arsenal against Bayern (Image from AFP)

Wenger knows that anything less than a 3-0 victory in Germany will do, and will try to put as positive a spin on it as he can but with the odds stacked firmly against him, it may be too much for the Frenchman to contain. Rumours are already admist surrounding the goings on at Arsenal and in particular Wenger’s behaviour. The rumour suggest that faithful Arsenal servant Liam Brady has decided to leave the Emirates youth setup for pastures new after 25 years at the club, not because he  needed a new challenge but because Wenger hasn’t talked to him in over a year. He felt his position was compromised especially if the current manager cared so little about what he was doing. It was noticeable that Wenger decided not to comment at all on Brady’s departure, instead leaving the task to Ivan Gazidis to praise the exiting Irishman. Other rumours suggest that Wenger has lost the confidence of his senior players through his strict and often bizarre micro management of their time. Fines for trivial things like reading a newspaper (£100) to outdoor shoes in the changing rooms (£100) has made the players resent their leader rather than respect him.

No Laughing matter - Brady to Leave Arsenal (Image from Getty)

No Laughing matter – Brady to Leave Arsenal
(Image from Getty)

If the rumours are true then Wenger must surely be heading towards the exit at Arsenal, whether it be by fan and player revolt or by poor results, the Frenchman’s time is likely to be over soon. He will not go without a fight which will be a disappointing sight especially given what he has done for the club during his tenure. It would make more sense for the Frenchman to leave gracefully through the front door than to be kicked out the back. Its time for another man to have the reins at the Emirates, even if Wenger disagrees. His stubbornness will mark the end of his time in charge with a black mark but must already be thinking it to be the case. In the fateful confrontational press conference before yesterdays game, Wenger was asked what the future holds for him beyond next season when his contract at Arsenal ends. His reply said it all:

“I am not completely sure that you are really interested. When we lost at home to Blackburn, I am not sure that is your first worry.”

When the collective replied ” we would miss you“, Wenger simply answered “”I am sure you would miss me when I am gone.”

Like this post? Like us on Facebook now: www.facebook.com/BackOfTheNetBlog or on Twitter: https://twitter.com/BOTNBlog

United Fightback Stuns Newcastle As Rivals City Lose

Alex FergsuonIt was the tale of two cities this past Boxing day. In Manchester, United entertained a Newcastle side short on form and well out of luck. Having dropped points against Swansea at the weekend, Alex Ferguson’s men were keen to get back to winning ways against Pardew’s team who had lost 3 of their last 4 games coming into the match. But Newcastle showed spirit from the off and were ahead after only 4 minutes thanks to James Perch. And so began a thrilling match that would see Newcastle lead three times only to be pegged back three times and eventually dealt a sucker blow with Hernandez’s 90th minutes strike. It was a hard pill for Pardew to swallow as for so much of the game, Newcastle looked worthy of a point, if not 3. For the first time in more than a month, the Toon Army were given a glimpse of last season’s form that has so far deluded the team this year.

Hernandez late strike sinks Newcastle

Hernandez late strike sinks Newcastle
(Image: bleacherreport.com)

Up in Sunderland, Manchester City were looking to put a poor performance against Reading behind them, where they snatched the three points thanks only to a later Gareth Barry goal. They faced Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland who lie mid table but have hardly shown the form that they are capable of. Indeed Steven Fletcher’s influence and goals looks like one of the few reasons why Sunderland aren’t involved in this years relegation battle. City struggled early on in the match to find their gear and fell behind in the early part of the second half to a goal scored by former City player Adam Johnson. Johnson, who joined City from Middlesbourgh in the January 2010 window for a reported £7m, failed to hold down a first team place under Mancini and was sold this summer to Sunderland for a reduced fee. A pacey winger, Johnson has flourished at Sunderland with some fine performances, including yesterday’s one against his old club. Mancini’s team were unable to get the equalizer they needed and left the Stadium of Light without any points and now sit 7 points behind rivals United.

Johnson returns to haunt City

Johnson returns to haunt City
(image: Getty)

With Chelsea picking up three points with a 1-0 victory over Norwich and Tottenham and Everton continuing their form with victories, the pressure must surely be on Mancini. Out of the Champions League and desperate to retain the league title again, Mancini knows that City’s wealthy owners are running out of patience and quickly. With the January transfer window approaching, Mancini will look to strengthen his squad but may not be given the chance if the owners feel that now is the perfect time to change leaders. Guardiola is rumoured to be open to discussing new opportunities and the potential for him to succeed Mancini may be too much to look past. Across the city, Ferguson will know the importance of Hernandez’s 90th minute goal and the psychological effect it will have on the title race. United will know that if they can maintain good form in the last half of the season and hold off the chasing pack, they could see themselves lifting a record 13th Premiership title in May.

Belgian Surprise Package Hoping To Make It into Europe Once More

Eden Hazard excites the Belgian fans every time he plays (Image: Guardian.co.uk)

Football in Belgium is on somewhat of a high at the moment as the country’s youth development program finally starts to bear fruits. A talented group of players has emerged and can now be found claiming first team places at a large selection of Europe’s top clubs. English based players like Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Everton’s Marouane Fellaini, Manchester City’s Vincent Kompany and Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke join the likes of Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, Zenit midfielder Axel Witsel and Cagliari midfielder Radja Nainggolan in what has been described as the best Belgian national side in over 30 years. With a squad beaming with talented youngsters, with more than one in almost every position and sitting top of their group in the 2014 FIFA World Cup qualification stages with 3 wins out of 4, Belgian fans would be forgiven for thinking about which hotels to book in Rio in two years time.

Belgium National Team

Belgium National Team
(Image: Belgium.net)

But it’s not just the national team that is benefiting. The Belgian Pro League is also reaping the rewards with several teams boasting a handful of these talented youngsters making the league more competitive and interesting for the fans. Alongside the usual suspects racing for the title this year, a new horse has joined the race and is competing against the best the league has to offer. SV Zulte-Waregem have never finished higher than 5th in the Pro League but find themselves sitting in 2nd place this season, 5 points behind leaders and defending champions Anderlecht. For the team from West Flanders, it is quite an achievement to be in the running at this stage in the competition, especially with the squad that they have. Managed by a former police detective now turned football coach, Francky Dury, SV Zulte-Waregem have a relatively young squad for the league with 15 members of the first team squad under the age of 21. Dury has focused on blending experience with youth throughout his team and is now starting to see the results after an impressive start to this years campaign. Experienced players like goalkeeper Sammy Bossut, defenders Davy De Fauw and Karel D’Haene, midfielders Jonathan Delaplace, Franck Barrier and Ólafur Ingi Skúlason and strikers Mouhamadou Habibou and M’Baye Leye, have led the way but have been brilliantly supported by a younger cast.

Young defender Bernard Malanda Adje

Young defender Bernard Malanda Adje
(Image: Football.com)

Players like 18-year-old Belgian defender Bernard Malanda Adje, bought from Lille’s second team this summer but already a sucess at the club. As a regular starter and performer, Malanda Adje’s age has not stopped him from impressing his fellow teammates and the clubs management staff with his performances. He has even managed to get on the score sheet for the first time, with an equalising strike against Genk two weeks ago, that turned the game around and resulted in a 3-2 victory for Zulte-Waregem. Also playing an important role in the turnaround that day was Thorgan Hazard, the younger brother of Chelsea star Eden. Thorgan is also a Chelsea player after following his brother to Stamford Bridge earlier this year but was immediately loaned out to Zulte-Waregem to gain some experience. On the day in question, he laid on a killer pass to Franck Barrier who slotted home his 10th goal of the season and ultimately the match winner that day. Hazard has played almost 60% of all of Zulte-Waregem’s fixtures since he arrived and if he continues to impress he may be following his brother, once again, this time into the national team.

Thorgan Hazard signs on loan

Thorgan Hazard signs on loan
(Image: Football365.com)

Another player hopeful of an international cap is 21-year-old striker Jens Naessens who has been in good form in front of goal this season, notching 4 goals so far out of 21 games, most of which came from the substitute’s bench. In one of the few times that he did start, Naessens got the ball rolling with the first goal of the game against Kortrijk, with the help of Hazard once again. Strike partner for the day M’Baye Leye sealed the three points late on in the game before Kortrijk scored an injury time consolation goal. The Senegalese internationalist has a habit of scoring crucial goals for the club, popping up to snatch 1 or 3 points when needed, but is not as prolific as his manager would have hoped for. It’s a common theme in the team that they aren’t relying solely on the goals of one player, rather playing as a team and sharing the goals throughout. Only French midfielder Franck Barrier can claim to be on fine finishing form with 11 goals in 19 games so far. But that is not Dury’s plan and so far whatever he is doing is working.

Striker Jens Naessens

Striker Jens Naessens
(Image: Uknown)

Zulte-Waregem know that there is still a long way to go and will be hoping that their form and luck continue through to the end of the season. The players will be aware of the history of the club and about its only venture into European football back in the UEFA Cup in 2006. After lifting their first and only Belgian Cup the season before, Zulte-Waregem managed to reach the last 32 of the competition before they were dispatched by Newcastle United, managed by Glenn Roeder. The current crop of players will be desperate to make this a distant memory and qualify for Europe once more. But they face a difficult task if they are to do so. Dury and his players know that if they can continue to play and score as a team then anything is possible.

One Team, One Result

Image: Times of India