Mixed Fortunes as Messi spoils Pep’s night in the Champions League

Despite it being a cold Tuesday night in Paris, the recent clash between PSG and Man City provided a brilliant and entertaining game of football. Paris won the game 2-0 against the Premier League champions, Manchester City with Messi officially opening his goal scoring account for his new owners. Manchester City came into the game on the back of a bitter-sweet win against Thomas Tuchel’s Chelsea. City have been in great form and scored five goals on their last outing in the Champions league so expectations were high going into the game.

The game started slowly with both teams testing the waters with initial tactical movements. About 8 minutes into the game, City let Mbappe free due to an error from Kyle Walker and the momentum of the game changed almost instantly with Mbappe attempting to find Neymar. The Brazilian scuffed his shot but, the ball fell into Gana Gueye. City’s defence managed to close the gap on a shot but Gueye managed to curl the ball beautifully into the top right corner. Ederson was planted to the spot, unable to react quickly enough to the unstoppable shot.    

Despite conceding an early goal, the game was still on as City maintained possession and were threatening PSG’s goal with several good chances. Mahrez and Sterling made attempts to cut inside and take shots, with the best chance falling to Sterling who hit the cross bar. Unfortunately Bernardo Silva could not redirect the rebound into an open net in what was tell tale sign of how the night was going to pan out for the Manchester club.

A minute later, Sterling had another shot blocked but Mahrez was on hand to catch the defence off guard and return the ball to Sterling who was unaware and the ball was eventually cleared by Herrera. This moment was the perfect encapsulation of City’s woes, a lack of an attacking mindset. On a day where De Bruyne had an off night, they did not possess anyone with the eye towards the goal. Had Sterling attempted to take a volley from Mahrez’s ball, the entire game could have been different but that wasnt to be.

In addition to De Bruyne, Grealish had a quiet game, playing out wide while Sterling was deployed more centrally. Grealish’s instincts throughout the game were to put crosses into the box or split the defence to open space but he tendency to pass the final ball rather than cut inside to take the shot himself was problematic for City. More is needed of him to justify the price tag if City are to establish themselves as European elites.

City’s best chances came in the first half but in the second half, Pochettino made several tactical changes that turned tge game in PSG’s favour. The French champions came out strong into the second half and started to close the gaps in their defence. Herrera, who had been lying in a deeper position started moving up the field more and Mbappe timed his runs making fewer offside calls. This all contributed to PSG making more chances as they searched for a second goal. Guardiola removed Grealish for Foden but, PSG at this point were in control of the game.

In the build up to the game, Messi had stated that he was desperate to score for PSG and he didnt have to wait long. City uncharacteristically let slip of the ball and Messi pounced on the chance dribbling the defence out wide before making a diagonal run to the box. He then sent the ball through Mbappe just outside the edge the box, who cleverly laid it back off to Messi who took the shot with the left foot. There was no stopping this goal. Even if City had man marked him tighter, Messi still possesses that natural ability to glide around the pitch and find the space where it doesnt exist. That goal galvanized PSG and perhaps has given them the confidence to go on and challenge for the Champions league title this season.

PSG are far from perfect but, this group stage win could set the cogs in motion for the knockout stages. On the other hand, City need a plan B for tight games, Guardiola needs a striker who can muscle him a victory. Mahrez should not be tracking back for defence, Sterling needs to always be thinking goalward. More importantly, they need Gundogan and Kevin de Bruyne back to their best if they are to turn things around.

Post by Subhash Narasimhan, Contributor to BOTN

PSG gamble on Pochettino. But will it pay off for them?

It is fairly recent news that famed football manager Mauricio Pochettino has taken the helm as the head coach of Paris Saint-Germain, also known as PSG. Although there are many questions surrounding this appointment,  the key question to be asked is whether Pochettino’s high press, teamwork and unit based tactics be a good fit with this PSG side or will its main players such as Mbappe and Neymar struggle to adapt into his playing style? With only 12 days since his appointment, its too early to answer this question but early indications are promising with PSG have played 3 games drawing the first against Saint-Étienne in a somewhat lacklustre performance, a somewhat more appealing 3-0 win against Brest who sit in a mid-table 11th and Pochettino’s first trophy in charge lifting the Trophee des Champions by beating Marseille 2-1 yesterday. 

While Pochettino’s first game may have seemed like a poor result and performance from the outside looking in, if you look into the game analytically and especially through video analysis you can see signs of Mauricio’s plan coming into place. You can see this through the transition from a 4-3-3/4-5-1 formation to the 3-1-5-1 formation that brings in a diamond shape at the back with the defensive midfielder key in allowing a quick build-up and counter-attacking phase of play to take place. Even though this may have not worked in the first game, it was a promising sign of things to come.  In his second game in charge against Brest, there was more proof that it does work and that there may be a bright future ahead for PSG. This should allow them to continue their recent dominance of the French football league system and maybe even beyond this with success in European competitions a priority.

With one of the two centre backs moving into a defensive midfielder role when PSG have the ball, it offers more to the attack.

Key to Pochettino long term success at the club is that has to develop the already brilliant and deep PSG squad that he has at his disposal, as well as to make additions that will be able to fit into his tactics and ethos. This  should ensure that he has a hard working, high-pressing well-oiled machine that will be able to use his tactics as well as their individual flair to become the dominant team in any given match. Not just domestically in France but also continentally within Europe. It is well known that ‘Poch’ as he is affectionately known by many football fans, is a successful, versatile and technical manager with one of his greater achievements being Tottenham’s 2018-2019 UEFA Champions League’s run to the final in which they were runners up to fellow Premier League giants Liverpool FC.

“I am really happy and honored to become the new coach of Paris Saint-Germain. I would like to thank the Club’s management for the trust they have placed in me. As you know, this club has always held a special place in my heart. I have wonderful memories, especially of the unique atmosphere of the Parc des Princes. This team has fantastic potential and my staff and I will do everything we can to get the best for PSG in all competitions.

Mauricio Pochettino on becoming head coach of PSG, Jan 2021.

It seems that Mauricio has a plan for PSG and as an ex-player and a person highly respected by everyone involved within PSG (whether its a player, coach or fan), he is sure to be given the best chance execute against his plan. It is extremely likely that all the players will be listening and following his orders with a laser focus and that this will be a project and something for everyone to believe in. This could make an already brilliant and dominant club become an even bigger, and by the sounds of Pochettino’s plan; powerhouse of European football and an extraordinary dominant side for many, many years to come.

But for now we will just have to wait and see how the partnership of PSG and their new coach Mauricio Pochettino works. It will be very interesting to see; and all football fans will be sure to keep a keen eye on his work and success with the club. Especially fans of Tottenham, many who were and still are of the belief that he is a brilliant manager and should have been more time at the club primarily due to the improvements and forward strides he made while manager.  PSG are a completely different club though, and due to this they are a very tough club to manage because of their focus on success, both nationally and domestically. They aim to be a world class side at all times and anything less than that is unacceptable. We will see if Mauricio has what it takes or if he falls foul to the early axe and the tough life of a manager into today’s football industry. It will also be interesting to see what signings are going to be made for the club under new management. With the start of the January transfer window, this will be a good opportunity to gain insight into Pochettino’s intent and we are hoping to see some exciting and unexpected signings for PSG before February 1st 2021 when the window closes.

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

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Where next for Messi as he calls time on Barca

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

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

Man City

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

Can Pep persuade Messi to join him at Man City?

PSG

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

Juventus

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

Messi and Ronaldo in the same team?

Man Utd

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

Newell’s Old Boys

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

Messi has a decision to make.

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

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Always in the Shadows

You have to feel for Neymar. The Brazilian superstar just can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to his club. After making the breakthrough at Santos in his native Brazil, Neymar quickly became the player that everyone was talking about. Blessed with a natural ability that has elevated him to become one of the worlds best players, Neymar thrives as the focal point of the team. At Santos, surrounded by teammates of lesser quality Neymar was front and centre. For Brazil it is a similar story. Neymar was basking in the limelight but needed a bigger platform. In stepped Barcelona.

Front and Centre - where Neymar feels most comfortable (Image from Tumblr)

Front and Centre – where Neymar feels most comfortable (Image from Tumblr)

At first, the move to Barcelona made a lot of sense. Neymar, the latest emerging prodigy from South America moving to arguably the world’s biggest club. His name and talents would be elevated into the next stratosphere whilst Barcelona profited both on and off the pitch. At Barcelona he would be one of their brightest assets but not their biggest. That title has been held for over a decade by one Lionel Messi. The Argentine is a god amongst men in the world of football, an icon that regardless of how he is playing steals all of the limelight. Barcelona pitched a story to Neymar about coming in to play alongside Messi, learning from him day-to-day and eventually replacing him as the clubs focal point. It was an attractive proposition, one that almost guaranteed success for Neymar so he snapped it up without hesitation. Over the next four seasons, trophies would flow into Barcelona like water – two La Liga titles, three consecutive Copa del Reys, one Champions League and a Club World Cup should have left Neymar feeling on top of the football world. But despite this, all was not right with the Brazilian, something was clearly missing. The limelight.

 

Neymar and Messi should have been the dream ticket and for a while it was (Image from Tumblr)

Neymar and Messi should have been the dream ticket and for a while it was (Image from Tumblr)

Neymar was improving season over season. His first season started slowly with Neymar finding his rhythm part of the way through the campaign leading to 14 goals in all competitions. By the second, he was firing on all cylinders contributing 39 goals in 51 appearances. By the third season his tally decreased but his influence on how Barcelona attacked and in particular won games was evident. But regardless of what he did, Messi continued to shine brighter.  In Neymar’s second season at Barcelona, Messi racked up an incredible 58 goals in 57 appearances, 43 of which came in the league. The light was starting to blind Neymar who started to doubt the vision painted by Barcelona a few years before. Messi was not slowing down nor looked to be fading. Neymar knew that if he was to become the central figure, he was going to have to leave.

Living in Messi's shadow grew tiresome for Neymar (Image from Twitter)

Living in Messi’s shadow grew tiresome for Neymar (Image from Twitter)

PSG had spent a lot of money on players before Neymar arrived capturing top talents like Angel Di Maria, Julian Draxler and Edison Cavani. But none came close to the impact that Neymar had on his arrival. On signing, PSG went from Ligue 1 title winners to possible Champions League contenders. His €222m transfer obliterated the record set previously by Real Madrid when they bought Gareth Bale. Neymar entered the club like Julius Caesar returning to Rome following the conquest of Gaul. With only Cavani in his way, Neymar brushed aside the Uruguayan to take his position as the focal point of PSG. All was well it seemed until the arrival of a teenage upstart called Kylian Mbappe.

Back in the Limelight - Neymar joined PSG to be the focal point (Image from Tumblr)

Back in the Limelight – Neymar joined PSG to be the focal point (Image from Tumblr)

The 2018 World Cup in Russia was viewed by Brazil as a redemption opportunity; a way to final bury the memory of what happened four years previously back home at the hands of the Germans. Neymar, sidelined for that game took it as his personal mission to win the World Cup for Brazil this time around was a man possessed even if a bit dramatically. As always he was front and centre, controlling what Brazil did and scoring important goals when needed. A wry smile will have crept over his face as Messi and Argentina crashed out early on. Against Belgium in the quarter finals, Neymar’s dream crumbled as an injury time equalizer was agonizingly saved by Courtois. Brazil were out. Neymar was forced to watch as France, led by his newest teammate Mbappe swept to glory. It was a turning point in the career of Mbappe, once a promising talent now considered the real deal.

Mbappe is slowly becoming the star at PSG much to Neymar's disappointment (Image from Tumblr)

Mbappe is slowly becoming the star at PSG much to Neymar’s disappointment (Image from Tumblr)

Back in Ligue 1, Neymar has been playing brilliantly with eight goals in eight league games to date.  A hat trick in the Champions League goes to show how much Neymar has the bit between his teeth. However its Mbappe that is stealing most of the headlines in France. Following his World Cup heroics, Mbappe has been elevated to saint status with his every touch fawned upon. Whilst his goals to games return has not been as good as Neymars’, a recent four goal haul against Lyon has the media once again eating out of his hand. Neymar is not handling it well and cuts a worried figure realizing that this youngster could eclipse him and eventually steal all of the limelight. He has a tough decision to make – stick it out and battle against Mbappe in a country that favours the Frenchman over him or cut his losses and move yet again. Real Madrid are rumoured to be monitoring the situation closely and hoping to get a SOS sign from Neymar. With the light switching over to Mbappe, Neymar needs to act fast or face further years in the shadows.

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Fair Market Value – The Need for a Structured Transfer System

In 2001, France’s Zinedine Zidane was considered as one of the best players on the planet. That summer he moved from Italian side Juventus to Spanish side Real Madrid for a record breaking €77.5 million. At the time, the amount seemed astronomical but given the recent transfer of Neymar to PSG for €222 million and the expected move of Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool to Barcelona for €150 million, Zidane’s move appears to be a snip. Even with inflation (2001 to 2017), the amount paid by Real Madrid for Zidane would only be €100 million which would suggest that Coutinho is considered to be better than the former World Cup winning Frenchman. Transfer fees have in recent years grown to unexpected levels with not only the top players moving for considerable fees but most players in the top five divisions moving for amounts well above the expected market value.

tumblr_orz92gqW9M1wof0rjo1_1280

Zidane scores against Bayern Leverkusen in the Champions League Final (Image from Tumblr)

Market value is defined as the price at which an asset (in this case the player) would trade in a competitive auction setting. To achieve market value or more specifically fair market value, comparisons are needed to gain a true understanding of the starting price. In football, those comparisons come from other players of similar stature and position who have been sold recently. However there are issues attached to doing it this way. For example take two recent transfers in the Premier League – Michael Keane who moved from Burnley to Everton and Harry Maguire who moved from Hull City to Leicester. Identical players in many ways including stats, background and experience. Both players are 24 years who play at centre back and are seen as future England defenders with a recent call up to Gareth Southgate’s team an indication of this. However Keane’s transfer value was considerably more than Maguire’s (£25m vs £12m) which in a fair value system would mean that either Everton overpaid or Leicester secured a bargain.

tumblr_otzabeasZ11vstd6go2_500

Maguire – a bargain? (Image from Tumblr)

The reason why this has happened is that there is no set system in place used to calculate market value. Instead it is up to the clubs themselves to work out how much their player is worth under current conditions. That in itself is problematic as some use a plethora of data and research to construct a detailed analysis of the players value to the club whilst others appear satisfied with a licked finger in the air. The introduction of a wealth of riches of the years thanks to lucrative broadcast deals has only heightened the problem with clubs now chasing the holy grail of getting as much as they can for their player by simply asking the buyer how far they will go. Think about a world were you walk into a store and the owner asks you how much you are willing to spend to purchase the item you want.

Einstein would not have approved of clubs approach to the current transfer system (Image from Tumblr)

Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Clubs across Europe especially in England appear in no rush to address escalating transfer fees despite warnings from financial experts about the long term ramifications of such. The clubs appear blinded by the money that is flowing into their coffers like water at present and are spending without due consideration. Some are taking note and have acted accordingly like FIFPro who filed a legal action against FIFA and UEFA in 2015 for negligence around its handling of the transfer system. Whilst taking more about the impact it has on players, FIFPro did suggest that the current systems fuels and sustains the increasing competitive and financial imbalance whilst also inviting commercial abuse by third parties and individuals looking to profit from transfers. It suggested scrapping transfers all together, a proposal which was understandable railroaded by those who benefit from it – the clubs, the agents and the governing bodies.

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Pushing for change (Image from Tumblr)

So if the system can’t to be scrapped, can it be contained? There is no clear answer to that question but some believe that the introduction of a market value system for players would help. Indeed three students from Amsterdam University in Holland took a stab at creating one and eventually produced a model for La Liga which they believed would be scalable to other leagues. However their model relied on transfer data attached to each player which was not actively available (given players dont move every year) so assumptions were made. That said, their model was on the right path using not only player information and data to calculate the players value but also economical, social and other conditions that could affect it. Their system may not be perfect but its a start towards a model that does work and hopefully long term curbs the current financial insanity that plagues football’s top five leagues.

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Will EPL’s Growing Wealth Destroy English Football?

This summer saw the sides in the English Premiership go into overdrive, mostly due to the rather large windfall that in coming their way next year. It would appear as though the objective has been to over stretch the existing budget now to improve squads safe in the knowledge that each club in the league is in line for a large cash payout (rumoured to be around £100million) thanks to two mammoth TV deals signed by Sky (£5.2billion) and NBC (£1billion). That is nearly a 100% jump on what the clubs made last season (up from £52.5million) giving the clubs more muscle in this window in which to operate. Whilst the top four have spent large amounts of money strengthening their already impressive teams, it’s the other sides who look to be benefiting the most from this cash injection.

The Premier League's new TV deals will earn the clubs more than ever before (Image from BBC)

The Premier League’s new TV deals will earn the clubs more than ever before (Image from BBC)

West Brom’s acquistion of Venezuelan striker Solomon Rondon for a club record £12 million, Stoke’s purchase of Swiss international  Xherdan Shaqiri also for £12million and Yohan Cabaye’s arrival at Crystal Palace for £13million are all indications of this new-found wealth and the pull that the Premiership now has. Even the newly promoted trio of Bournemouth, Norwich and Watford have all been active in the window spending potentially more than they had hoped in an attempt to build a side capable of staying in the league. Afterall its only the 20 teams in the Premier League at the start of next season that will benefit from the new TV deals and get a share of the cash. That said, all three will be comfortable knowing that if they don’t survive they will still be looked after by the league who are set to increase the parachute payments in an effort to soften the blow. The stakes are simply higher than ever with all twenty clubs realizing that they need to make sure they are in the Premiership come next season which has forced even the more financially prudent of clubs to invest. Newcastle owner Mike Ashley has received a lot of criticism over his tenure at the club mostly due to what the fans deem as a failure to invest in the clubs future. Indeed Newcastle have pulled the proverbial purse strings over the past few years which has resulted in a healthier bottom line for the club at the expense of performances on the pitch. But after narrowly avoiding relegation last year, Ashley has finally opened his wallet and started to spend heavily again much to th delight of the fans. In came Georginio Wijnaldum, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Chancel Mbemba, Ivan Toney and Florian Thauvin for a combined net spend of £50 million, second only to Manchester City who have spent to date £5million more.

The amount spent by EPL clubs each season continues to grow at an alarming rate (Image from BBC)

The amount spent by EPL clubs each season continues to grow at an alarming rate
(Image from BBC)

Across Manchester, the Red Devils have continued their spending spree from last summer as Louis Van Gaal looks to revamp his entire squad. The arrival of Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmain, Morgan Schneiderlin, Anthony Martial and Bastian Schweinsteiger are an early signal of United’s intent this year but the club are far from finished spending and could overtake their city rivals by sealing a superstar signing right at the death. Having lost out on Pedro to Chelsea, rumours around who exactly Van Gaal’s big surprise was circulated in run up to the window shutting throughout the various world tabloids. Names like Ibrahimovic, Cavani, and Thomas Muller had the fans drooling but not as much as Neymar who United are rumoured to be wooing in the hopes of signing him for a world record £240million. This deal never happened with United buying Martial but a move for Neymar could happen next summer with United with negotiations ongoing. With money rolling into the club thanks to the new TV deals and some new lucrative sponsorships, United’s crazy spending sprees could continue for some time especially given that UEFA has relaxed its financial fair play rules almost to the point of abolishing them all together.

Record breaker? Neymar to United for a world record fee (Image from Getty)

Record breaker? Neymar to United for a world record fee
(Image from Getty)

Whilst the strengthening of the clubs outside of the top four in the Premier League can only be a good thing in a sense making the league more competitive than ever before, there are some major risks associated with it. The financial wealth that these twenty clubs will shortly have will mean that the best players in the world will be moving to England, even to clubs that historically they would have not considered in the past. This could have a detrimental effect on the other leagues across Europe who struggle to compete with the financial windfalls that the Premier League clubs can offer players. But it could also have an effect on the England national team with fewer home-grown products able to break into their club sides now brimming with the worlds best players. This problem already exists to a degree with few English players playing regularly in the league especially in the top four clubs.

English players like John Terry may feature less of EPL clubs in the future (Image from PA)

English players like John Terry may feature less of EPL clubs in the future
(Image from PA)

Only Joe Hart and Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), John Terry and Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) and Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) can classify themselves as regular starters. More recently clubs like Everton, Southampton, Leicester and Tottenham have provided players for Roy Hodgson’s side but this could also change if more talented players from abroad arrive at those clubs. Many managers are calling for a change in the timing of when the window shuts but not a single one in the league is pushing for a cap on foreign players in their squads in an attempt to aid the development of English players. Other leagues like Russia are now introducing these rules to protect the future of their national team and its identity. It’s unlikely that this approach will ever be taken by those at the top of the Premier League who are blinkered by their new-found wealth and the wonders that are to come.

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Iago Aspas Shines As Celta Stun Barcelona With Emphatic Win

Iago Aspas fires Celta into a 3-0 lead in their emphatic 4-1 win over Barcelona (Image from Getty)Only a few days after we called him a flop in a previous post, Iago Aspas popped up once more to prove us wrong. The former Liverpool striker who was signed by Brendan Rodgers for a fee estimated between £7-9 million and went on to play only eight games in two seasons scoring only once in the cup before being sold back to Spain for under £4 million, played a starring role as Celta Vigo ended Barcelona’s unbeaten start to the season with an emphatic 4-1 win. A brace from Aspas and solo efforts from Nolito and John Guidetti secured the win with Brazilian striker Neymar adding a consolation goal for Barcelona as Celta Vigo maintain their good start to the season. The win saw Celta temporarily leap-frog Barcelona to the top of La Liga, only to be displaced later that night after Real Madrid secured all three points in their match against Athletic Club Bilbao. Celta Vigo now occupy second spot in the league after four wins and a draw including impressive wins over Sevilla, Levante and now Barcelona.

Messi looks at the ground as Celta run riot  (Image from Getty)

Messi looks at the ground as Celta run riot
(Image from Getty)

Going into the match, Barcelona had won all four of their opening league fixtures including confidence building wins over Athletic Club Bilbao and rivals Atletico Madrid and looked to be hitting their stride. With Neymar, Messi and Suarez all back in form, Barcelona were clear favourites to win this match up but Celta Vigo had other plans. Despite having the lions share of the chances and possession, Barcelona struggled to break down the plucky side from Spain’s north west coast. Celta on the other hand managed to take their limited opportunities well and exploit Barcelona’s shaky defence time after time. From the off, it was clear that Celta believed that they could get a result and within 26 minutes they had the lead. After some clever interplay between the defence and midfield, the ball fell to right back Hugo Mallo on the flank who fired in a cross into the box for Aspas to attack. However his cross was too long and sailed over the striker, landing instead at the feet of Nolito on the edge of the area. The former Barcelona B player controlled the ball perfectly before curling a shot up and over Marc ter Stegen in the Barca goal to give Celta the lead.

Nolito started the rout with a curling effort that beat Marc ter Stegen in the Barca goal (Image from epa)

Nolito started the rout with a curling effort that beat Marc ter Stegen in the Barca goal
(Image from epa)

Celta’s second came only four minutes later thanks largely to some sloppy defending by Gerard Pique. The Spanish international failed to control a looping back pass at the half way line then had his follow-up clearance blocked by Nolito who headed the ball to Aspas sending him clear. Now in a straight race with Pique, Aspas bared down on goal and with ter Stegen rushing out coolly lifted the ball over the German goalkeeper to make it 2-0 as half time approached. In the second half, Barcelona looked to have been reinvigorated by Luis Enrique’s team talk and started brightly with Luis Suarez hitting the post after some good play by Iniesta. But it would be Celta and that man Aspas who would score next with a fantastic counter attacking move. Defending against a corner, Celta managed to clear their lines well pushing the ball out to Aspas on the right flank. With only Dani Alves to beat, Aspas lifted the ball over the Brazilian at the half way line and then raced onto goal before slotting past ter Stegen to make it 3-0.

With ten minutes left to play, Barcelona finally found a way through the Celta defence and past the impressive Sergio Alvarez in-goal. Messi’s perfectly placed ball over the top was latched onto by Neymar who controlled with his left foot, fired it across Alvarez and into the bottom corner for 3-1. But Barcelona’s revival didn’t last long with substitute John Guidetti, on for Aspas firing in Celta’s fourth goal from close range after some good wing work by Hugo Mallo. The former Manchester City, Celtic and Stoke striker who played a pivotal role in Sweden’s under 21 European Championship winning team during the summer only joined in July and has yet to start a game with Celta coach Eduardo Berizzo preferring to use him as an option form the bench. But now after scoring his first goal for the club, Guidetti will be pushing for a starting berth. Standing in his way however is Nolito and the in form Iago Aspas who is proving many of his doubters wrong with some superb performances this season.

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From World Cup Winner To Bit Part Player – What Has Gone Wrong For Mario Gotze

With only ten minutes left of their crunch second leg game against Barcelona and trailing on aggregate by two goals, Pep looked at his bench. Sitting there was a player who could potentially turn the game, a baby faced assassin who seems to flourish in these big occasions. Mario Gotze knew his time had come so stripped off and prepared to enter the fray. Having the luxury to remove a player like Thomas Muller and replace him with Mario Gotze is a dream that only few coaches will ever experience. So deep is the pool of talent at Bayerns disposal that they can afford to leave out Gotze from the starting eleven is startling. But with the talent that Gotze has was it right of Guardiola to give him only four minutes or indeed leave him out of the starting line up all together? Whether or not Gotze starting the game would have had any effect on the overall outcome is unknown but arguably he offers slightly more to the side than others. But for one reason or another Pep has never really warmed to the little German.

No love lost between Pep and Gotze (image from Getty)

When Guardiola agreed to take over at Bayern he asked that they sign Neymar. Instead he got Gotze as the board felt he was as good and had the added advantage of being German. In the end, Neymar joined Pep’s former club Barcelona  whilst Gotze traveled across the country from Dortmund to Munich. It’s fair to assume that the relationship between the two has been on rocky ground for some time now. Gotze last year spoke publically about his frustration at the playing opportunities Guardiola had thrown his way that season. Gotze did manage to finish the season strongly and was selected for the Germany squad in a move that ended up securing them the World Cup thanks to his extra time goal. Returning to club football, Gotze must have believed that Guardiola would have been impressed by what he had achieved for his country but instead he found a manager who didn’t seem to care. Guardiola simply didn’t know what to do with Gotze. Talented yes but as a smaller player in a fairly tall squad where exactly would he fit?  In a 4-3-2-1 formation, dropping Muller or Ribery/Robben from wide positions was not an option, nor was the prospect of leaving the towering Robert Lewandowski out in favour of Gotze. Sacrificing one of his central midfield three appeared to be the best bet but that would mean leaving out Thiago, Schweinsteiger or Xavi Alonso. Thiago, who played for Guardiola at Barcelona was a player who the coach specifically wanted and who the board delivered, unlike Neymar. Schweinsteiger is a legend for both club and country and his work rate for both is unheralded. So that only leaves Alonso. At 34, Xavi Alonso appears to have lost none of his tactical awareness of the game with the way he reads it and dictates the play a joy to watch. In a midfield crammed full of talent, Alonso still stands out as the player Guardiola can ill afford to drop. He is their calm through stormy weathers, with a passage range that most great players would be proud off. To say that Alonso keeps getting better season after season is not far from the mark although he has notably slowed over the past decade as time caught up with him. Dropping Alonso for Gotze would mean a change in format and a switch to a more uncomfortable approach. Gotze would be condemned  once again to being  rotation player only for Bayern.

Alonso continues to impress despite his advancing years (image from pa)

To be fair to Pep he has played Gotze more times this season than last. Gotze has made thirty appearances in the league, fourteen of which came from the bench. Injuries to key players like Schweinsteiger, Ribery and Thiago have indirectly handed Gotze a few more starts than usual but as a result Guardiola had to adapt his formation to suit. His preference it would appear is to have Gotze come from the bench, something the player isn’t too happy about. Guardiola doesn’t necessary not like the player, he simply can’t fit him into his preferred system. In fact when Gotze was heavily criticized recently by German legend Franz Beckenbauer for being lazy, it was Pep who jumped to his defence stating that Gotze was one of the best professionals he had ever worked with. He fell short of saying that he was an important member of his squad however, something that would have perhaps made Gotze feel slightly better about his role at the club.

Beckenbauer has been critical of Bayern and Gotze in particular in recent weeks (image from getty)

Where to play Gotze is the puzzling question. Coming off the bench appears to suit Gotze style of play. He is an impact player who can grab the goal that wins the game. Given that a quarter of Bayern’s league goals this season were scored in the last fifteen minutes of the game, it’s not hard to work out why Pep prefers it this way too. Whether Gotze sees it this way is a different matter. With Pep confirming that he will be in charge next season, Gotze has two options – stay and fight for a spot or leave. If he does decide to leave the list of potential suitors will be a long one with clubs in England, Spain and Italy more than willing to add the German to their ranks. Gotze will have to decide if staying in his native Germany is more important at this stage in his career than regular games. He could bide his time and wait for Guardiola to depart at the end of next season when his contract expires but the risks with that strategy are great. Bayern are happy with what Guardiola has done so far albeit missing out on the Champions League final was not ideal. However if he can steer them to Europe’s top club prize next season, a new contract may be offered by the Bayern board if it hasn’t been offered before then.

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Brazil Recovery On Track As Copa Approaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Extra Terrestrial Messi Ruins Guardiola’s Nou Camp Return

From Another Dimension - Messi (Image from AP)Advantage Barcelona in their Champions league semi final clash with Bayern Munich. Pep Guardiola’s side arrived carrying several injuries to key players but optimistic of progressing to the final in Berlin on June 6th. For Pep it was a special night, returning to the club that he made his name as a player and then as a manager, the latter being a period of history recognized as one of Barcelona’s finest hours. But against the team that he worked so hard to build, with a few small additions from Geraldo Martino and now Luis Enrique, Barcelona proved too good for the visiting German Champions. The score line at the end of ninety thrilling minutes read 3-0 to Barcelona but in truth it could have been more. Barcelona were unstoppable with Leo Messi in particularly dazzling form. His two goals plus assist in Barcelona’s third goal of the night puts Barcelona in a commanding position heading into the return leg in Munich next week. Pep must be wondering how he can turn this around and more importantly stop the player who helped him to numerous titles during his time at the Nou Camp – Leo Messi.

The little Argentine probably had one of his best games in a Barcelona shirt for some time. He has been in fantastic form this season, combining well in a new look front three alongside Luis Suarez and Neymar. The trio have scored 111 goals between them in all competitions with Messi racking up fifty three of them so far. With three games left in the league, the Copa Del Rey final and potentially two more in the Champions League if Barcelona can reach the final, the chances of Messi beating his season best tally of 73 goals look fairly unlikely but that will matter not to the player. Having notched ten goals in the last nine games, Messi is lethal in front of goal at the moment which showed last night against Bayern. His first goal; a long range effort with his left foot that bounced perfectly in front of the diving Manuel Neuer was only a taste of what was to come. The follow up would be far better and would highlight just how good Messi really is. Collecting a threaded defense splitting pass from Ivan Rakitic, who himself had a great game Messi drove in on goal from the right hand side of the pitch. World Cup winning defender Jerome Boateng tracked his run and as the pair entered the box, it looked as though the former Manchester City centre back had nullified the threat. But Messi had different ideas, twisting his body one way then the other, the ball glued to his feet at all times eventually leaving Boateng laid out on the floor in such an embarrassing way that it spawned a million meme’s on social media. Now in the box with only the onrushing Neuer to beat, Messi simply lifted the ball over the diving keeper and into the net for Barca’s second. His angled pass to Neymar deep into injury time only added icing to the cake as the Brazilian raced into the box and shot under Neuer for Barcelona’s third of the night.

Some of the meme's created by users following Boateng's falling over due to Messi's trickery  (Image from Twitter)

Some of the meme’s created by users following Boateng’s falling over due to Messi’s trickery
(Image from Twitter)

In this sort of form, it’s hard to see how exactly Messi’s former boss Guardiola will stop him in the return league. His current manager Luis Enrique praised the Argentine striker saying that he was “a player from another dimension” and it’s hard to argue with that. Former Barca striker Patrick Kluivert back up Enrique’s praise by saying “He really is from a different planet, even if you are supporting another team you have to admit this” whilst former England striker Gary Lineker simply said that he was such a joy to watch. Even his own teammates were quick to praise his performance after the match with Gerard Pique insisting that when Messi is inspired, no one can stop him. Even Andreas Iniesta, who has had his fair share of magical performances over the years, was left speechless by the performance of Messi last night. As usual the man himself gave no comment after the game, instead deciding to focus on the challenges ahead. Reaching his fourth Champions League final and securing the La Liga title and Copa Del Rey title are the only things on Messi’s mind at the moment. Winning is the only option for the little Argentine maestro and few would be against him getting the trophies he wants this season based on the form he is currently in.

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La Masia Legend Krkic Signs On At Stoke

Krkic owns the record for all time leading goalscorer at La Masia (Image from Icon/Maddenfoot)As far as summer transfers go, the decision by Bojan Krkic to move from La Liga to the English Premiership is hardly unexpected. But what is surprising is his choice of club to move to. Stoke City announced yesterday that the 23 year old has completed his move to the Britannia Stadium for an undisclosed fee on a four year deal. Krkic finalized his switch to The Potteries on Tuesday afternoon after passing a medical and speaking in length with manager Mark Hughes. The transfer will be viewed as somewhat of a coup for Stoke given Krkic’s reputation and past career history.

Mark Huges is revamping his Stoke squad ahead of the new season  (Image from Getty)

Mark Huges is revamping his Stoke squad ahead of the new season
(Image from Getty)

Born in Spain to Serbian father (former Red Star Belgrade midfielder Bojan Krkic Snr) and Spanish mother, Bojan Jnr joined Barcelona’s famed La Masia youth system aged eight and quickly went on to establish himself as one of the most exciting prospects to ever come through their ranks. With notable dribbling skills and lighting quick pace, Krkic became a goal scoring phenomenon and the all time highest scorer in La Masia history, scoring more than 400 times for the various youth teams. He eventually made his first team debut at 17, breaking yet another record becoming the youngest Barcelona player to feature in a La Liga match. Over the next four years he made 104 appearances for Barca scoring on 26 occasions earning him a call up to the Spanish national team. But despite his promise, he was unable to hold down a permanent spot in the first team, leading to his eventual departure to Italian side, Roma. The sale was agreed by Barcelona on the provision that a buy back clause be inserted into the deal, which they would active two years later. In the meantime Krkic grew his reputation in Italy with a fine debut season for Roma followed by a yearlong loan deal at AC Milan. His return to the Nou Camp was welcomed by the fans who still remembered the player with fondness from his first time at the club. However under new boss Gerardo Martino, Krkic was unable to displace the inform trio of Neymar, Pedro and Messi leading to another loan move, this time to Ajax. Under the management of Frank De Boer, Krkic played his role in helping the Ajax secure a domestic double in the form of the League and Super Cup.

Krkic moved to Italy with Roma  (Image from Getty)

Krkic moved to Italy with Roma
(Image from Getty)

With his stock rising and still aged only 23, Krkic returned to Barcelona this summer for talks with new boss Luis Enrique about his future only to be told that he was unable to give Krkic a starting spot. Having acquired Luis Suarez from Liverpool, Krkic knew his time was up at Barcelona and his agent started work in an attempt to engineer his move away from the Nou Camp. Krkic’s decision to join Stoke is an indication of his desire to play in England and get regular first team football. With Hughes revamping his squad, Krkic will be given this chance as a key component of his new look squad. Having lost his way slightly over the past few years, Krkic will have a chance to resurrect his career and show Barcelona the error of their ways. This time however Barcelona have not inserted a buy back clause meaning that if they are to regret letting Krkic go, they will likely face paying a hefty fee to get him back. Krkic however has no thoughts about returning to Spain right now and is focused on making his move to England successful. If he can recapture the form he showed during his time at La Masia, Stoke may have snapped up the bargain of the season.

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Deconstructing Brazil – What Went Wrong

Down and Out - Brazil crashed out of the World Cup in stunning fashion (Image from AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)With the dust now settled on what was a stunning World Cup, the inquest into what went wrong for Brazil can now begin. Whilst other teams like England, Spain and Italy exited earlier than expected and before Brazil, it was the nature of the home teams implosion in the semi finals against eventual champions Germany and their failure to recover for the irrelevant third place playoff game that has many talking. Expectations were high going into the tournament off the back of winning the World Cup warm up event, the Confederations Cup. A spectacular demolition of Spain in the final by 3-0 lifted the hopes of a nation and set about creating a false dawn ahead of the World Cup. How could they not win? With Neymar playing well, the defence solid as a rock and Fred finishing top goal scorer, Brazil fans started to plan the victory parade before the World Cup had even began. After a group stage that taught us little except for Neymar’s brilliance, Brazil went into the knock out stages with more belief that ever before. But after crashing out in the semi finals to Germany by a score of 7-1 and then throwing away the third place playoff against Holland, many are wondering exactly what went wrong?

World Cup winners, Germany  (Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

World Cup winners, Germany
(Image from PEDRO UGARTEPEDRO UGARTE/AFP/Getty Images)

Over reliance on Neymar

Neymar’s brilliance was on show from day one but so was Brazil’s apparent over reliance of their boy genius. Even from the first kick of the ball against Croatia, it appeared as though the tactic was simply give the ball to Neymar. The Barcelona star was at the heart of every play that Brazil made and in the beginning it was mesmerizing to watch. But as the tournament progressed, it gradually turned into predictable. Oscar, the creator of many of Brazil’s best moves cried out for the ball but his teammates instead chose to pass the ball to the heavily marked Neymar. The once unpredictable Brazil had become routine and beating them became obvious – nullify the threat of Neymar and the game is there for the taking. Brazil had little else in the locker – no Kaka to turn to for inspiration, no Robinho to add some flair or Ronaldinho for that matter to provide some brilliance. They may have breezed through the group stage but in the knock out rounds, Brazil dangled too close to the edge for comfort. Both Chile and Colombia tried to shut down Neymar and managed fairly successfully though tight marking although the latter took that too literally. A late and high challenge by Juan Zuniga ended Neymar’s World Cup and with it Brazil’s Plan A. Unfortunately a Plan B was not in the bank for them to turn to meaning defeat against Germany was inevitable.

An over reliance on Neymar cost Brazil dearly  (Image from Getty)

An over reliance on Neymar cost Brazil dearly
(Image from Getty)

The £50million mistake?

As a centre back, David Luiz is vulnerable. Against Germany his defending was laughable, his positioning more so. Against the Dutch his attitude to amend for previous mistakes was commendable but again his positioning let him down. Why a centre back was on the left wing with his team trailing by two goals was anyone’s guess. Too often Luiz was anywhere but at centre back leaving Thiago Silva stranded. Its easy to blame Luiz for all seven goals against Germany and that would be unfair as the entire team minus Oscar were culpable but against Holland the argument is vindicated. For the first goal, Luiz was found wandering at the half way line when the ball was played to Robben who was then dragged back by Thiago Silva for a penalty which Van Persie duly converted. Holland’s second came directly from Luiz who chose to clear the ball with his head into the middle of the pitch and onto Daley Blind’s left toe rather than head it out of towards the side line. And to cap off his bumbling display, he was again found out of position for Holland’s third stranded at left back which forced Fernandinho into defending against Janmaat’s cross. Unfortunately Scolari’s decision to place his faith in David Luiz as a centre back failed miserably and the player looked out of his depth and badly out of position. Luiz secured his dream transfer to Paris Saint-Germain for a record fee of £50 million just days before the tournament began with the view to him partnering Thiago Silva at the back next season but surely now even they must be having second thoughts?

Luiz looked lost against Germany and too often out of position  (Image from PA)

Luiz looked lost against Germany and too often out of position
(Image from PA)

Lack of options upfront

When naming his squad, Scolari chose to name only two out and out strikers – Fred and Jo out of a possible five. The other three positions went to winger Bernard, the all-rounder Neymar and forward turn winger Hulk. Playing with one upfront and Neymar in a floating role, Brazil and Scolari put a lot of faith in one striker in particular, Fred. The 30 year old Fluminense front man was rightly picked as his starting number nine after an impressive season with his club and an even more impressive Confederations Cup which helped to silence many of his critics. But unfortunately for Brazil and Scolari, on the world’s biggest stage Fred was posted missing. Ineffective in the group stages, misfiring in the knockout rounds Fred at times looked more like a liability than a goal threat. Foolishly Scolari kept faith but to no avail as Fred finished the tournament with only a single goal to his name. Why Scolari stuck through him is up for debate but looking at the other options available to him may give the answer. Substitute Jo may be effective in the National Championship but against tough tackling defenders, he became the player who badly failed at Manchester City all those years ago. Bernard, for all his tricks on the ball, is not an out and out striker but yet was thrown into the mix against a rampant Germany with the hopes of scoring a goals or two. As for Hulk, the player who gained his name from his formidable physique and love of the green skinned monster, was more timid than ferocious during the World Cup leading to many questioning if his nickname was indeed appropriate.

Fred's ineffective performances up front cost Brazil (Image from AFP)

Fred’s ineffective performances up front cost Brazil (Image from AFP)

Failed to learn lessons of the past

Brazil’s rich history in the World Cup is nothing to scoff at with a record five World Cups already in their locker. Learning how to win from them is one thing but learning from the mistakes of past failed Brazil teams is another. Scolari knew how to win the World Cup having won it before in 2006 but the fear of losing it never crossed his mind. He should have looked at past teams like that of the 1982 Brazil World Cup squad that went to Spain and learned from their mistakes. After all the similarities are painfully obvious. Clear favourites leading up to the tournament, they feared no one and rightly so as they were arguably one of the best Brazil sides never to win the World Cup. With a squad that included the ever talented Zico alongside the likes of Socrates, Eder, Serginho and Junior, Brazil ran through their group stage with ease which excited the Brazilian people into believing that this would be their year. But like the 2014 squad, Brazil crumbled in the knock out rounds with some startling similarities. Like Neymar, Zico was Brazils star player and the one who they looked to when they needed inspiration. He too was targeted by opposition numbers for rough treatment and almost missed the crucial tie against Italy after a horrendous challenge against Argentina threated to end his World Cup. But Zico managed to play against Italy but could do little to prevent Brazil from crashing out. Upfront Serginho, who had been in superb form for Sao Paulo in the Brazilian Championship in the run up to the tournament was misfiring and with no real option on the bench, Brazil were struggling in front of goal. Added into that Italy exposed Brazil’s defensive frailties on a too frequent basis for the game to end in their favour. Paolo Rossi ran riot with Italy eventually winning 3-2 and knocking Brazil out of the World Cup.  The harsh lessons that head coach Tele Santana learned from this experience should have been glaring warning signs for Scolari but for whatever reason he chose to ignore them.

Scolari could have learned something from the Brazil 1982 team who lost to eventual winners Italy  (Image from Getty)

Scolari could have learned something from the Brazil 1982 team who lost to eventual winners Italy
(Image from Getty)

Why he picked a squad with so few options upfront and little to no support characters like Kaka or Ronaldinho that could shoulder some of the burden from Neymar is unknown. Or why indeed he placed so much faith in David Luiz at centre back despite having a more than reliable alternative in Dante is even more baffling. Ultimately it was Scolari’s decision and one that has cost him his job with the CBF terminating his employment last week along with his coaching staff. Former Brazil manager Dunga and Corinthians manager Tite are rumoured to be the favourites to take over and regardless of which coach gets the job, both will look towards younger players like Oscar as they rebuild the Brazil squad. One man he wont be able to call upon is Fred who decided to retire from international football after being made into a proverbial scapegoat by many in the Brazilian media.  After the collapse in 1982, Brazilian football took a long time to recover focusing more on getting a result rather than playing attractive flowing football, the Brazilian way. For the sake of the world game and for the watching public, many will hope that history does not repeat itself and that Brazil can bounce back from this and show the world once more that they are a team to be feared in international football.

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German Blitz Brings Brazil Crashing Back To Reality

Blitz complete - A shell-shocked Brazil survey the damage (Image from FIFA via Getty)No one could have predicted it and few could believe what they were watching. In the crowds, Neymar sat dejected, his dream diminishing before his eyes. Brazilian supporters fought to hold back their tears as they watched Germany rip apart Brazil in a rampant opening 30 minutes of their World Cup Semi Finals match. During spells Germany looked like they had double the players on the pitch than their stunned opponents as they raced into a five nil lead. Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari sat emotionless on the sidelines, his tactical plans lying in tatters by his feet as a hush rolled over the Brazilian fans in the stands. How could his team possibly come back from this?

Brazil fans couldn't believe what they were seeing (Image from AFP)

Brazil fans couldn’t believe what they were seeing
(Image from AFP)

To be fair in the second half Brazil looked margainly better with the no show Hulk replaced at haf time by Ramires. But Germany still dominated and won the half 2-1 ending the game as a record 7-1 winner. Humiliation complete, Germany advance to Sundays final to face either Argentina or Holland and probably for the first time ever Brazil want Argentina in the final. Not because they would rather see them win than Germany but fear further humilation in the pointless 3rd/4th place play off match with they are now forced to play. But like that game, it’s irrelevant with the main prize snatched away as Brazil crashed out of their own World Cup in stunning fashion.

Should Kaka been part of the squad?  (Image from Getty)

Should Kaka been part of the squad?
(Image from Getty)

Germany were quite simply superb, with a passing and finishing game that many would be proud of. In the ranks, World Cup stars featured prominently. Thomas Muller added to his impressive goal tally so far with one whilst Toni Kroos showed his growing value with a thunderous brace. But the applause must go to 36 year old Miroslav Klose who scored the goal that puts his name permanently into the World Cup record books as the all time leading goalscorer with 16. He overtakes former Brazilian striker Ronaldo who finished his career on 15 World Cup goals. Ironically be overtaken by countryman Thomas Muller who at 24 already has 10 goals to his name. Having scored 5 goals in his first World Cup in 2010 and 5 so far in this World Cup its not hard to see why Klose is looking nervously over his shoulder.

Klose scores his record breaking 16th goal  (image from Getty)

Klose scores his record breaking 16th goal
(image from Getty)

Neither Holland or Argentina will realish their chances against a Germany in this kind of form. Brazil on the other hand look ripe for the picking, battered black and blue by Germany, their pride in the gutter. As the squad sulked off the pitch at the end of a tiring 90 minutes that never looked like ending with tears pouring down their faces, Brazil look like a shell of their former selfs. Yes they missed Neymar and probably more importantly Thiago Silva but this mauling was coming. Over reliance on the boy genius from Barca hurt them badly when injury occured. No plan b hurt more. A lack of a Kaka, Robinho or even Ronaldinho option was clear as Scolari puzzled over what to do to repair the damage. Oscar was the only shining light in what was a dismal performance from the entire team in particular captain for the day David Luiz who made several key errors during the 90 minutes. Few in Brazil will watch Sundays final and fewer Saturdays playoff. Boos and jeers helped the players from the pitch yesterday and nobody can blame them. Brazil failed to show up, and pay the penalty for it. Germany move on to the final and are 90 mins away from destiny of their own making. For Brazil, it’s back to the drawing board once again and reflection time for what went wrong during the tournament everyone thought they would win.

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Calls For FIFA To Embrace Technology To Remove Human Error

Strange decisions by Yuichi Nishimura could have been prevented by FIFA embracing technology (Image from AFP/Getty)

It has been four years since Frank Lampard watched in anguish as his strike against Germany was incorrectly judged as having not crossed the line. TV replays showed clearly that his strike off of the bar bounced over the line by almost a foot before coming back into play. But by that point, the referee was already running up the pitch as the game continued. The mistake sparked huge controversy and added weight to the call for goal line technology to be introduced. Fast forward four years and it has become a reality with Brazil 2014 being the first World Cup to use it. However despite a host of technological advances designed to help referees make the right decisions, basic human error mistakes are still being made.

The Goal That Never Was - Lampard's strike against Germany was over the line  (Image from PA)

The Goal That Never Was – Lampard’s strike against Germany was over the line
(Image from PA)

In yesterday’s opening showcase match between Brazil and Croatia, two strange referee decisions will be talked about more today than the football that was on show. We should be talking about Brazil’s comeback from a goal down, Neymar’s superb equalizer and Oscar’s late wonder strike but instead controversy surrounding a penalty decision and the lack of a red card for an apparent elbow to the face of Luka Modric by Neymar is grabbing the headlines. Both decisions were made by the referee and his assistants and without the use of technology which would have surely given a much different result. The decision by referee Yuichi Nishimura to award a penalty for Dejan Lovren’s apparent tug on Fred inside the area was miscalculated at best and incensed Croatian manager Niko Kovac who called the decision shameful. Replays show little contact between the two players but despite this Fred crashed dramatically to the ground, earning a penalty for his team and a yellow card for Lovren. The resulting converted penalty swung the game back in the favour of Brazil and severely dented the concentration and confidence of the Croatian team.

Fred falls in the box under the challenge of Lovren  (Image from PA)

Fred falls in the box under the challenge of Lovren
(Image from PA)

Even more frustrating for Croatia was the decision by Nishimura to only give Neymar a yellow card late on in the game after he wildly swung his left arm and elbow into the face of Luka Modric. Why a red card was not shown immediately is up for debate – either Nishimura didn’t see the incident and hedged towards a more cautious approach or that he did see it but winced at the thought of sending of Brazil’s prize asset on home soil in front of millions of Brazilians watching on. If it’s the latter, it is understandable as doing so would be the same as escorting Pele out to the middle of the pitch and punching him in the face. But for the good of the game, and for the millions of viewers across the globe watching, Neymar should have walked. Allowing officials to review TV footage as the incident happened could have resulted in a different decision being made. If Neymar had been sent off, Croatia could have potentially rallied against the ten men of Brazil and searched for an equalizer. Instead, Neymar remained on the pitch and fed the pass to Oscar that resulted in Brazil’s third goal.

Neymar's elbow on Modric only earned him a yellow card  (Image from Getty)

Neymar’s elbow on Modric only earned him a yellow card
(Image from Getty)

The argument against the use of technology in such incidents is that the game needs to flow and that halting every couple of minutes to review would disrupt that but this is not exactly accurate. The current goal line technology uses cameras to determine the position of the ball and if it crosses the line alerts the referee within seconds via a watch he/she is wearing that the ball has crossed the line. The human decision process on average takes four seconds so before the referee has made his own mind up, he already has a response from the goal line technology. Why similar technology could not be developed to help referees make the other decisions is baffling, especially given the high stakes now attached to many of these games.

Goal Line Technology is now a reality  (Image by TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

Goal Line Technology is now a reality
(Image by TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images

Officiating a match is a difficult job but one that technology and innovation can help with. Take for example the use of vanishing spray that disappears within a few minutes helps the referee control encroaching by players during free kicks. Or ear pieces which allow communication between the official on the pitch and his or her assistants off it. Technology should be embraced and utilized to its fullest instead of ignored or downplayed as a threat to the game itself. FIFA is guilty of having prevented the meeting of football and technology in the past but the recent decision to allow goal line technology should help to oil the wheels on future innovations. Fans may disagree about its need but if it improves the quality and fairness of the game, then it’s only to its benefit.

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Spotlight On The Eight Players Who Could Provide That World Cup Spark

Hagi was the star in 94 but who will spark this time? (Image from Getty)In any World Cup, there are star players who are expected to shine. Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, Andrea Prilo and Robin Van Persie will all be looked at to provide the spark needed that ignites the tournament. But more often than not, the world’s biggest football competition throws up a few other names and stars are born. Brazil will be no different with several players providing talking points for discussion around the water cooler the next morning. But which players will create that spark that has fans talking about them for the months ahead? Remember Gheorghe Hagi’s performances at USA 94 or perhaps Oleg Salenko’s five goal brace at the same tournament? Or maybe it was Paolo Rossi in the 1982 World Cup when he inspired Italy to victory despite only returning to the national side after a three year ban? BOTN looks at eight potential players who could take away the limelight from Ronaldo, Messi and Neymar and write their own World Cup chapter.

Prove him wrong - De Bruyne  (Image from PA)

Prove him wrong – De Bruyne
(Image from PA)

Belgium – Kevin De Bruyne

Regret is not something often expressed by managers but Jose Mourinho could be about to regret letting Kevin De Bruyne leave Chelsea earlier this season. The pacey Belgian winger left Stamford Bridge to join Wolfsburg after Mourinho found him surplus to his plans. But since his move, De Bruyne has done nothing but impress both for club and country. Now a regular fixture in Marc Wilmot’s team, De Bruyne was sensational during qualifying finishing as his country’s top goal scorer with four goals. As part of an exciting Belgian side now going to the World Cup, the quick feet and lighting pace of De Bruyne is all set to show his old coach exactly what he is missing.

Di Maria has been in superb form for Real Madrid  (Image from PA)

Di Maria has been in superb form for Real Madrid
(Image from PA)

Argentina – Angel Di Maria

Whilst the focus will be on Lionel Messi to inspire Argentina to success, it may actually be Angel Di Maria that steps up to the job. The Real Madrid winger was instrumental in his side’s recent Champions League victory and will carry his good form into the World Cup. With a high work rate, combined with unbelievable pace and close control, Di Maria is a nightmare for opposing defenders and will exploit any weakness he can find in them over and over again. In the past, he has been found guilty of not tracking back but this appears to be something that he is working hard on correcting with a majority of his runs now starting within his own half. Di Maria could be the key to Argentina’s success, especially in the latter rounds, which in turn should relax and more importantly release Messi to inspire the team to glory.

Fred will be the main goal threat for Brazil  (Image from Getty)

Fred will be the main goal threat for Brazil
(Image from Getty)

Brazil – Fred

Like Pele in 1970, the pressure of winning the World Cup in 2014 for Brazil will lie firmly on one player’s shoulders – Neymar. But like Argentina, the player to watch may not be the dazzling light from Barcelona; instead Brazil’s chances of retaining the World Cup on home soil may lie at the feet of Fluminense’s 30 year old striker Fred. The tall, yet technically gifted front man has established himself as Brazil’s preferred number nine and has only looked under threat of losing his place once from Diego Costa before he switched his allegiance to Spain. Sensational in the Confederation Cup run last year, Fred’s ability to hold up the ball upfront and invite Brazil’s quick and dynamic midfield to attack is his biggest asset. His finishing skills are not quite on the same level as legend’s Romario or Ronaldo but like Bebeto in 1994, Fred could play a pivotal role if Brazil are to go all the way.

Draxler will likely be used from the bench by Low  (Image from Getty)

Draxler will likely be used from the bench by Low
(Image from Getty)

Germany – Julian Draxler

Over recent years Germany has produced a host of fantastically gifted youngsters and their production line of talent continues with the introduction of Julian Draxler. The pacey Schalke winger may have surprised many with his inclusion in the squad but anyone who has watched him this past season in the Bundesliga will be more surprised that his inclusion was ever up for debate. As direct as they come and with a turning circle of a London cab with the ball locked firmly at his feet, Draxler is set for bigger things with several of Europe’s big boys already hovering nearby. Draxler is not likely to start given Germany’s wealth of talent, but is a certainty from the bench especially if manager Joachim Low spots opposition defenders tiring and on the back foot. Having only selected one out and out striker in Miroslav Klose, Low will be focusing heavily on how his midfielders can inspire and drive his team on. Draxler, along with Gotze and Ozil will be favoured candidates to take up that challenge.

Claise is hoping to get a starting spot now for Holland  (Image from PA)

Claise is hoping to get a starting spot now for Holland
(Image from PA)

Holland – Jordy Clasie

Through disaster comes opportunity and for Jordy Clasie, a unique opportunity has been presented to him due to two untimely injuries. After the early departure of Kevin Strootman due to a knee injury and with the recent withdrawal of Rafael Van Der Vaart with a calf tear, Clasie now faces up to the prospect of playing a starring role for Holland at the World Cup. Having missed out on Euro 2012 at aged 20, the now matured 22 year old Clasie now will get his chance even if it was at the expense of two of his colleagues. The Feyenoord midfielder has become a club favourite due to his never say die attitude and tenacity which he should bring to a young looking Dutch side. Comfortable on the ball, Clasie has been labeled the Dutch Xavi which in turn has attracted the interest of several EPL and Serie A teams. Expected to leave after the tournament, Clasie will want to give the Feyenoord fans one last thing to shout about – as he stars for Holland at the World Cup.

Insigne is a free kick specialist  (Image from AFP)

Insigne is a free kick specialist
(Image from AFP)

Italy – Lorenzo Insigne

Brought into the squad at the expense of Giuseppe Rossi, Lorenzo Insigne may be one of the surprises of the tournament. A diminutive figure who stands at only 5ft 4in, what Insigne lacks in height he makes up for two fold with his on field play. As a free kick specialist, that has memories of Alessandro Del Piero flooding back, Insigne offers Prandelli another option from set plays (that is if he can get the ball from the clutches of Andrea Pirlo) as well as a speedy winger out of the blocks. Comfortable on the wing or as a central striker, Insigne should see more playing time after a broken leg ruled out his starting rival, Ricardo Montolivo. Expect fireworks.

Pena wants to help Mexico past the round of 16  (Image from LEOPOLDO SMITH MURILLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Pena wants to help Mexico past the round of 16
(Image from LEOPOLDO SMITH MURILLO/AFP/Getty Images)

Mexico – Carlos Pena

The last time Mexico managed to progress further than the last 16 was at home in the 1986 World Cup. Manager Miguel Herrera knows how important it is for Mexican football to continue its development, considering little has been done since their Olympic triumph in 2012. Goals are what help progression and in Carlos Pena, Mexico has a player who knows how to score important goals when needed. The 24 year old Leon player has taken the Mexican league by storm this season with comparisons to Ruud Guillit being made on more than one occasion, not only because of his long hair but also due to the physical nature of his play on the pitch. Old before his days, Pena possess the brain of a seasoned professional but the stamina and enthusiasm of a kid. Speedy with the ball at his feet, he will look to supply the passes for Peralta and Hernandez up front that will help Mexico to qualify to the latter rounds.

Can Bacca fill Falcao's shoes?  (Image from AFP)

Can Bacca fill Falcao’s shoes?
(Image from AFP)

Colombia – Carlos Bacca

With Falcao now ruled out, Colombia will turn to Sevilla’s Carlos Bacca for goals. The powerful hit man, who started his career at Atletico Junior before success at Club Brugge, has been in great form this past season firing new club Seville to UEFA Europa league final victory over Benfica. Voted the best signing in La Liga last season, Bacca is already attracting interest from afar but expect his stock to rise even more over the course of the tournament as the goals fly in. Powerful with his back to goal but quick on the turn, Bacca poses a real threat to opposing defences especially those who mistake his apparent lack of enthusiasm for how the game is developing as a sign of weakness. In truth, Bacca is filled with confidence in his own abilities and knows that given half a chance he will put the ball into the back of the net.

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Behind The Murky Curtain Of Neymar’s Barcelona Transfer

Smoke and Mirrors - The Deal that Brought Neymar to Barca (Image from PA)

Arguably one of the most anticipated transfers of the last five years, Neymar’s long awaited switch to Barcelona from Santos appeared to go without a snitch. That was until a Catalan pharmacist and Barcelona fan wanted to dig deep into the transfer and with it set the proverbial cat amongst the pigeons. What Jordi Cases did was simply ask for an explanation of Neymar’s transfer fee and in turn blew the lid off of one of footballs murkiest deals to date. Like many transfers in the current game, not all was revealed straight away to the general public and for good reason.

The Puzzled Pharmacist that started it all - Jordi Cases  (Image from Getty)

The Puzzled Pharmacist that started it all – Jordi Cases
(Image from Getty)

As reporting in World Soccer, Brazil’s brightest prospect for several years arrived at the Nou Camp for only €17.3million. Yes you read that right, the actual fee paid between the two clubs makes Neymar’s transfer look like daylight robbery. But the fee claimed by Barcelona at the time of signing was significantly more, a more realistic €57.3million so what is actually the truth? Well its somewhere in between as Barcelona did part with the larger amount but not all to Santos, with €40 million going to an agency called N&N, run by Neymar’s father Neymar da Silva Sr. The truth is that one of footballs biggest moves is not as it seems and at the heart of things is corruption and greed.

Neymar Snr profited from his son's move  (Image from Getty)

Neymar Snr profited from his son’s move
(Image from Getty)

The winner in this transfer was not Santos but instead Neymar’s father who has pocketed a total of €51.9million through a combination of economic rights payments and marketing fees. Besides the €40 million already mentioned, Neymar Snr picked up €4million for his role in identifying further sponsorship opportunities for his son over the next five years. In his capacity as advisor to his son, combined with his close relationship with super agent Wagner Ribeiro plus Neymar’s strong advertising appeal, the need for Barcelona to pay Neymar Snr for this service seems unnecessary. In addition to this, Barcelona are forking over €7.9million for collaboration efforts with N&N where Neymar Snr is expected to identify three future prospects for Barcelona to potentially sign. Ironically all three players have been found and unsurprisingly play for Santos, giving the Brazilian club a realistic future revenue stream that may go some way to calm the choppy waters between the two clubs. Santos rightly feels somewhat aggrieved at the nature of the Neymar transfer and the final amount agreed. They feel that their prize asset should have departed for a much higher traditional transfer fee than what was given. Barcelona has thrown a series of friendlies there way in an effort to maintain a good working relationship with a club they see as a good source of young Brazilian talent.

Where the money went?  (Image from World Soccer)

Where the money went?
(Image from World Soccer)

With add-on’s including bonuses and signing on fees, the full value of Neymar’s move sits around €86.2million, with another €44million set aside for the players wages, making his move one of the most expensive in history. But for all the trouble and effort that went in to negotiating the deal, it could spell disaster for Barcelona. The Catalan club now faces the realization of a court led investigation which could lead to sanctions or heavy fines laid against them. President Sandro Roswell has already resigned in a damage limitation exercise but it’s unlikely to deter those now chasing Barca. New President Josep Maria Bartomeu is cooperating with the investigation but in truth there may be little he can do to repair the harm done by Rosell, who sanctioned the deal and its various components. FIFA and UEFA have yet to weigh in with their thoughts but UEFA president has been vocal in the past about his desire to make transfers more transparent and above board. His distaste for third party ownership and side deals is known widely but in a game that stretches beyond the boundaries of his control, he may have little power to influence the changes needed. Only one man, FIFA president Sepp Blatter can orchestrate such a change on a global scale, but with corruption and back payment rumours rife in the halls at FIFA, perhaps Blatter is choosing to ignore the situation that is developing so that he and his delegates can partake in a piece of the action.  Unsubstantiated speculation only but given FIFA’s track record, it’s not outside the realms of possibilities.

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Bale Shines As Barcelona Consider Transformational Summer

Bale celebrates scoring his wondergoal (Iamge from Getty)With Cristiano Ronaldo injured, the spotlight was turned to Lionel Messi to take centre stage and shine during yesterday’s Copa Del Rey final between Messi’s Barcelona and Real Madrid. Little did Messi know that the spotlight would be snatched away from him so superbly by a flying Welshman in the form of Gareth Bale. The former Tottenham winger stole the show with a stunning performance and a wonder goal in the last few minutes of the game, handing Madrid the cup. Picking up the ball just inside his own half, Bale knocked the ball past Marc Barta and the chase was on. Despite Barta manhandling and pushing him off the pitch into the technical area, the sheer pace of Bale was all it took to ensure he regained the ball. Driving into the box, the Barcelona team could only watch in agony as he composed himself and drilled the ball past Jose Manuel Pinto for one of the best goals of his career. The entire move only took 7.2 seconds but confirmed Bale as one of the world’s best players.

Bale's wonder goal  (Image from DailyMail)

Bale’s wonder goal
(Image from DailyMail)

For Barcelona, it’s another bitter blow in what looks likely to turn out to be a disappointing season. Out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid and trailing in the league to the same team, the Copa Del Rey offered manager Gerardo Martino the opportunity to show that appointing him wasn’t a mistake. But as Bale broke down the left wing on the 84th minute, heading at full pace towards goal, Martino must have known that his time was up as head coach. This summer will be one of transformation for Barca, with a likely overhaul of the playing and coaching staff. Not an easy thing to do given the recent FIFA imposed transfer ban but Barcelona need to evolve and shake off what has been a miserable season. Martino stated after the defeat to Real Madrid that his job is safe; a foolish statement given Barcelona’s past history of success and hunger to continue to build on this. Martino will exit with Dortmund’s Jurgen Klopp or Athletic Bilbao’s Ernesto Valverde appointed in his place. Both men offer something different and will appeal to Barcelona’s two guiding principle themes – excitement and stability. Klopp has transformed Dortmund from Bundesliga underachievers to Champions League finalist, building a fast paced, high pressing team in the process. He has achieved a lot but with Pep Guardiola now working his magic on Bayern, the time for Klopp to test his skills in a different league may have come. His willingness to move will alert Premiership clubs like Arsenal and Manchester United who themselves need a fresh start, but the draw of Barcelona and the potential to win the Champions League will make the decision to move to Spain an easy one.

New Challenge for Klopp?  (Image from PA)

New Challenge for Klopp?
(Image from PA)

That is if the Barcelona board goes for Klopp as some suggest that they are leaning more towards former player Ernesto Valverde who could offer a return to stability for the club. The Bilbabo manager has impressed this season, guiding his team to 4th place in the league despite limited transfer funds. Valverde has bought wisely but also relied heavily on youth players coming through the ranks with Erik Moran, Iker Muniain and Aymeric Laporte playing pivotal roles for his team this season. His ability to operate under these conditions and utilize the youth system will appeal to Barcelona who find themselves unable to expand the squad through traditional transfers for the next two windows. As a former Barcelona player and a seasoned La Liga manager, he already has a deep understanding of the club and what role it plays in the league, something that Martino has struggled with since his arrival.

Stability may be key which is what Valverde offers (Image from getty)

Stability may be key which is what Valverde offers (Image from getty)

Both men are strong options but they will face the same issues unless Barcelona can overturn their transfer ban. They will enter the Nou Camp knowing that they are picking up an aging squad, with low morale and too many stars playing either below par or out of position. Getting the best out of Neymar and Messi, similar to how Carlo Ancelotti is doing with Bale and Ronaldo at Real, will be key as well as replacing fundamental members of the first team squad who are departing at the end of the season. Carlos Puyol and Victor Valdes will leave gaping holes at the back whilst rumours about Xavi’s potential exit still exist. The trio will be hard to replace, even harder with the ban still in place. Looking toward the clubs famed La Masia academy for replacements may be the only option with Sergi Gomez, Adrian Ortola and Denis Suarez promoted to first team duties quicker than expected. It will be a difficult summer for Barcelona, transition is never easy but it’s a necessity after a disastrous season for the Catalan club.

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Transfer Ban Is A Mixed Bag For Barcelona

No more new faces for Barca (Image from Getty)In a remarkable turn of events, Barcelona have been handed a 14 month transfer ban after breaking FIFA regulations when signing players under the age of 18. The Catalan club who were looking spend heavily in the summer, particularly at the back in the form of a goalkeeper and several defenders to replace the departing Victor Valdes and Carles Puyol, but now may have to revisit their plans. This ruling by FIFA could drastically affect the team’s hopes of winning any trophies next season.

Carles Puyol, Barca legend (Image from PA)

Carles Puyol, Barca legend (Image from PA)

According to FIFA, Barcelona failed to comply with the rules set out when making international transfers for younger players. The transfers can go ahead as long as they either: ensure that their parents move to such a location for non-footballing reasons, they are from another country in the EU or live 100km from the club. During 2009 and 2013, the four time European Champions have been found guilty of breaking this rule in relation to an astonishing 10 players. Not only does this affect the club on the pitch but this will also damage the club’s brand. Barcelona are known for nurturing young talent and are responsible for producing stars on a non-stop conveyer belt but this impediment may hinder future negotiations for offshore prospects.

FIFA handed transfer ban down to Barcelona (Image from FIFA.com)

FIFA handed transfer ban down to Barcelona
(Image from FIFA.com)

In January, Sandro Rosell, stepped down as President at Barcelona after it was alleged he had misappropriated funds from the Neymar deal reported to be originally cast at £48.6 million. The club were then forced to pay Spanish authorities £11.2 million after being charged with tax fraud for the deal involving the Brazilian striker. Rosell’s successor, Josep Maria Bartomeu, will now be faced with a new challenge to ensure that the Spanish giants don’t sit behind the shadow of his predecessor’s triumphs where the club won two La Liga titles, the Champions League and the FIFA Club World Cup.

Smoke and Mirrors - The Deal that Brought Neymar to Barca led to Rosell resigning (Image from PA)

Smoke and Mirrors – The Deal that Brought Neymar to Barca led to Rosell resigning
(Image from PA)

FIFA made the decision yesterday morning and have also fined the club 450,000 Swiss Francs (£305,000). They will be unable to buy anyone in the next two transfer windows and the ban is likely to jeopardise current transfer negotiations. It was believed that German goalkeeper, Marc-Andre ter Stegen had agreed a move to Barcelona to replace Valdes from next season onwards but this deal is yet to be confirmed. In addition last week, the club signed 17 year old Croatian midfielder Alen Halilovic, considered to be the next Lionel Messi, but the ban throws a cloud of mystery around this deal as well. Rumoured summer moves for Chelsea’s David Luiz, Porto’s Eliaquim Mangala and Real Sociedad’s french winger Antoine Griezmann now look to be off whilst Barcelona may rethink letting current players Javier Mascherano and Dani Alves leave the club anytime before next summer. If Barcelona cannot get the ruling overturned, the Catalan club will be forced to look to their academy for a fresh crop of players. This is unlikely to be an issue given the reputation of La Masia, Barcelona’s famed youth academy and the talent found within its doors.

Alen Halilovic move to Barca in doubt  (Image from Mirror.co.uk)

Alen Halilovic move to Barca in doubt
(Image from Mirror.co.uk)

Over the past few years, players such as Marc Bartra, Rafinha, Christian Tello, Gerard Deulofeu and Sergi Roberto have made a handful of first team appearances at the Nou Camp but the transfer ban will likely mean that they will see more playing time next season. Barta in particular could feature more as he is a natural replacement for the departing Puyol. Already a full Spanish international, Barcelona will look to Barta to forge a new partnership with Gerard Pique as the Catalan club looks to solve a problematic area that has haunted them this season. Brazilian Rafinha is also likely to feature heavily next season whilst Spanish striker Bojan Krkić could be recalled from his loan spell at Ajax. The challenge for head coach Gerardo Martino will be to build a squad that can continue to compete on all fronts without bring in any reinforcements from other clubs. Real Madrid will move ahead with its plans to spend big money, with PSG’s Marco Verratti and Bayern’s Thomas Muller top of their wish list. Meanwhile Atletico Madrid will likely build on this successful La Liga season and are expected to be a force again next year meaning Barcelona fans may need to brace themselves for another toughly contested campaign.

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Three Chase FIFA Goal Of The Year, But What About These Contenders?

Arsenal's Jack Wilshere scores the first goal against Norwich City in the Premier League (Image from Getty)On January 13th 2014, FIFA will host the FIFA Ballon D’Or for 2013. As part of the award ceremony, FIFA will hand out The FIFA Puskas award, named after the former Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás, for the best goal of 2013. In the running are three players:  Barcelona and Brazil sensation Neymar, PSG and Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimović and Benfica and Serbia midfielder Nemanja Matic. All three scored spectacular goals that can be watched on FIFA.com but voting has already closed, with the winner already decided. The favourite is Ibrahimović, whose amazing overhead kick against England stunned the football world earlier this year. Fans of Neymar will have flocked onto FIFA’s site to vote but potentially the best goals of the three from a technical prospective was Matic’s strike against Porto. All eyes will be on Zurich in January to find out!

Ibrahimovic wonder goal against Engalnd (Image from Sports News)

Ibrahimovic wonder goal against Engalnd (Image from Sports News)

There were many other great goals this year so here’s a look back at some other contenders for 2013 best goal:

Gareth Bale:

Bale had a remarkable season last year and single handily took Spurs within touching distance of fourth spot and this goal was a vital one as they nicked three points fromWest Ham at Upton Park in the 89th minute.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9PWeGBgMGAk

Robin van Persie:

Manchester United reclaimed the Premier League in May and van Persie was the big marquee signing needed to claim the top spot. He was firing on all cylinders and scored this screamer against Aston Villa as they got the win they needed to secure the title and he ended up scoring a first half hat trick.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wlz_P-tZj_w

Van Persie strike Aston Villa should be a contender  (Image from PA)

Van Persie strike Aston Villa should be a contender
(Image from PA)

Matt Lowton:

Aston Villa had a very gloomy season last year but they turned it around in the New Year as their young defence began to find their feet and one of them in particular found his shooting boots too as he hammered home this incredible volley to secure a vital local derby win against Stoke.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXkuB5oKmlk

Cristiano Ronaldo:

Cristiano Ronaldo has become renowned for his swerving goals and here is another which demonstrates the animalistic nature of his shots. The strike is wild and the Celta Vigo keeper had no idea what to do.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iexHKWaPuac

Ronaldo gets ready to hit his free kick vs Celta  (Image from Getty)

Ronaldo gets ready to hit his free kick vs Celta
(Image from Getty)

Robert Lewandowski:

Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich turned Germany into Europe’s super power for football beating the two big Spanish sides to make an all-German final at Wembley in the Champions League. In the semi-finals, Robert Lewandowski scored four past Real Madrid in his side’s home leg as they took a dominating lead to the Bernebau. His third goal was the pick of the bunch as he used quick footwork to beat two defenders and smash the ball past the keeper.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spN9qlYuSTA

Zlatan Ibrahimović:

Ibrahimović is fighting with Falcao for the title of the most lethal striker on the planet at the moment and he has scored a ridiculous amount of great goals this year however this one is something special. This comes from PSG’s 5-0 demolition over Anderlecht in the Champions League a couple of months ago where he scored a hat trick. With the ball bouncing about 35 yards out, Zlatan decides to just go for it and the end result was spectacular.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qXt0Rg8hGOk

Pajtim Kasami:

In a game featuring Fulham and Crystal Palace, many thought there would be little glamour but this game featured two screamers including this one from Kasami. Running down the left hand side chasing a long ball, he takes down on the chest and fires it into the far corner. Unbelievable!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5GTaZEtAkH0

Pajtim Kasami goal vs Palace   (Image by Andy Hooper)

Pajtim Kasami goal vs Palace
(Image by Andy Hooper)

Jack Wilshere:

Arguably the best team goal of the season so far, Wilshere finishes off a vintage Arsenal move involving three players, six one touch passes and a stunning finish. All without the ball touching the ground! The Norwich players and fans were left stunned. Be sure to look out for it later this season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YYSeSbBEl7s

To see the three FIFA Puskas Award contenders, click here: http://www.fifa.com/ballondor/puskasaward/index.html

Post by Richard Waterhouse

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Will Messi’s Latest Injury Hinder Barcelona’s Season?

Messi ruled out for 6-8 weeks (Image from PA)Despite winning 4-1 over the weekend against Real Betis, many Barcelona fans were left feeling bitter after their talisman Lionel Messi picked up a hamstring injury which has ruled him out for six to eight weeks. Can the Catalans keep up their hot form going into the New Year or is this a chance for Atletico Madrid or the Bale/Ronaldo inspired Real Madrid to catch up with the early pacemakers?

Bale and Ronaldo lead the chasing pack  (Image from AFP)

Bale and Ronaldo lead the chasing pack
(Image from AFP)

This is the fourth muscle injury the striker has suffered in the past eight months and there are concerns that if these injuries continue to reoccur that this could hinder his goal scoring record and possibly his team’s domestic ambitions. The Argentine limped off after eighteen minutes with the score at 0-0 as his team went on to win the game which kept them three points clear of Atletico Madrid. A double from Cesc Fabregas as well as goals from Pedro and Neymar secured the win. Just over a week ago many critics questioned Messi’s form after he went on a four game goal drought but this soon came to an end with a penalty scored in Milan. Now the striker has been ruled out for almost two months and now they are asking where the team’s the goals will come from.

Barca romped to a 4-1 win despite losing Messi  (Image from Getty)

Barca romped to a 4-1 win despite losing Messi
(Image from Getty)

Here is how vital Messi’s goals have been to Barcelona’s last few league campaigns:

2009-10 = Barcelona scored 98 goals (Messi = 34) = 37%

2010-11 = Barcelona scored 95 goals (Messi = 31) = 33%

2011-12 = Barcelona scored 114 goals (Messi = 50) = 44%

2012–13 = Barcelona scored 115 goals (Messi = 46) = 40%

Each of the past four seasons, Messi has contributed to at least a third of the team’s goals and in the 2011-12 season, he scored a half century yet the team came second to Real Madrid that year. No other player has come close to his total in these campaigns. Last year the second highest scorer was Cesc Fabregas with eleven. Although his scoring record is quite startling, his side haven’t suffered when he has been absent. The team have won all of their last nine games without the twenty six year old. Alexis Sanchez has been on clinical form for the side scoring seven already and Neymar also has four to his name. So Barcelona may have some firepower behind their star man but how long can they hold form for? Sanchez had a fairly quite season last year compared to his Argentine team mate scoring just eight in the league and although Neymar was prolific in Brazil, can he live up to his £48.6 million price tag?

Neymar can pick up the slack from Messi  (Image from Getty)

Neymar can pick up the slack from Messi
(Image from Getty)

For the Madrid sides, this latest injury woe could swing the title odds in their favour. Atletico Madrid (currently the better side in the capital), have only failed to win on two occasions from their first thirteen matches. Diego Costa has been red hot in front of goal for the side, netting an average of a goal per game. Real Madrid have obviously got the talent to take advantage of this situation. Cristiano Ronaldo already has sixteen goals and we’re only in November and Gareth Bale is adapting well to life in Madrid with three goals in fewer matches. Arguably the La Liga leaders should be able to hold steady until Messi returns but Gerardo Martino has revealed that he will need to talk to his star man:

He said: “We will have to talk to Messi and see if he is effected because of this. This is his third injury of the season. It is true that it did not take him long to overcome the first but this is the third one and could affect him mentally.”

Headache for Martino?  (Image from Getty)

Headache for Martino?
(Image from Getty)

Here are the next five fixtures in the league for the top three.

BARCELONA:

  • Granada CF (H)
  • Athletico Bilbao (A)
  • Villarreal (H)
  • Getafe (A)
  • Elche (H)

ATLETICO MADRID:

  • Getafe (H)
  • Elche (A)
  • Valencia (H)
  • Levante (H)
  • Malaga (A)

REAL MADRID:

  • Almeria (A)
  • Real Valladolid (H)
  • Osasuna (A)
  • Valencia (A)
  • Celta de Vigo (H)

Atletico have got a good run into Christmas whereas Barcelona have tough fixtures away at Bilbao and Getafe to come so it could be interesting to see if Los Rojiblancos can push their way to the top. With Messi likely missing until early January, the pressure will be on Barcelona to see if they can keep up the pace and hold on to top spot in La Liga without him.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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Careful What You Wish For As Celtic End Up In The Group Of Death

Forrest strike sends Celtic into the Champions League (Image from TheSun.co.uk)It took a late James Forrest goal to rescue Celtic against Shakhter Karagandy and secure their spot in this year’s Champions’ League group stage but as the draw was made yesterday, some would be forgiven for wondering if all that effort was in vain. Drawn in the same group as Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax, Celtic are anything but favourites to progress to the knockout stages.  A trip to the San Siro to face AC Milan will kick off proceedings for Neil Lennon’s men before they play host to the Spanish champions, Barcelona and then the Dutch champions Ajax at Celtic Park all before the end of October. November doesn’t get any easier with a trip to the Amsterdam Arena first followed by AC Milan at home in Glasgow and then a final easy match at the Nou Camp against Barcelona.

Tony Watt scores the winner against Barcelona last year (Image from Getty)

Tony Watt scores the winner against Barcelona last year (Image from Getty)

With a somewhat weaker squad than last season, following the departures of influential trio Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Kelvin Wilson, Lennon is scouring the transfer market, looking for quality players to bring in to strengthen his squad.  Steven Mouyokolo and Virgil van Dijk have arrived to bulk up Lennon’s defence options, whilst Israeli youngster Nir Biton signed on this week to add an extra dimension to the midfield. But it is upfront that is the biggest concern for the manager who is desperate to find a suitable replacement for Gary Hooper, who left for Norwich in the summer. Hooper had three successful years in Glasgow scoring 82 goals in 138 appearances so filling the void left by the Englishman will be difficult. Lennon has Greek striker Georgios Samaras and Irish forward Anthony Stokes to call on but neither look like 20 goals a season strikers so the search is on to find a player who can. Lennon is hoping that 22 year old Guinea striker Amido Balde, bought during the summer from Portuguese side, Vitoria Guimaraes can be that player but it’s still too early to tell. The 6ft 4in forward hit 9 goals in 27 games last season during his debut season for Victoria and gives Celtic another option upfront. With a few days left in the transfer window and a majority of the £20 million received from the departures of Kelvin, Hooper and Wanyama, you cannot rule out the possibility of Lennon dipping into the transfer market once more, especially if the right striker came along.

Double trouble - Messi and Neymar will face Celtic in the group stages (Image from Getty)

Double trouble – Messi and Neymar will face Celtic in the group stages (Image from Getty)

Celtic may have found themselves drawn in the Group of Death but they wouldn’t have it any other way. That after all is what the Champions League is all about; to be the best you have to beat the best. Celtic will give it their all and may surprise a few people along the way just like they did last year against Barcelona.  Neil Lennon’s men recorded a famous 2-1 victory over the Catalan giants in the group stages and will be hoping that history repeats itself. Barcelona are classified as a team in tradition, with new coach Gerardo Martino still trying to find his feet but with the addition of Brazilian Neymar to their ranks, Lennon now must figure out a way to contain both him and Argentinean maestro Leo Messi if his team are to come out on top.

Celtic’s Group H fixtures:

AC Milan v Celtic – Wednesday 18 September

Celtic v Barcelona – Tuesday 1 October

Celtic v Ajax – Tuesday 22 October

Ajax v Celtic – Wednesday 6 November

Celtic v AC Milan – Tuesday 26 November

Barcelona v Celtic – Wednesday 11 December

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Careful What You Wish For As Celtic End Up In The Group Of Death

Forrest strike sends Celtic into the Champions League (Image from TheSun.co.uk)It took a late James Forrest goal to rescue Celtic against Shakhter Karagandy and secure their spot in this year’s Champions’ League group stage but as the draw was made yesterday, some would be forgiven for wondering if all that effort was in vain. Drawn in the same group as Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax, Celtic are anything but favourites to progress to the knockout stages.  A trip to the San Siro to face AC Milan will kick off proceedings for Neil Lennon’s men before they play host to the Spanish champions, Barcelona and then the Dutch champions Ajax at Celtic Park all before the end of October. November doesn’t get any easier with a trip to the Amsterdam Arena first followed by AC Milan at home in Glasgow and then a final easy match at the Nou Camp against Barcelona.

Tony Watt scores the winner against Barcelona last year (Image from Getty)

Tony Watt scores the winner against Barcelona last year (Image from Getty)

With a somewhat weaker squad than last season, following the departures of influential trio Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Kelvin Wilson, Lennon is scouring the transfer market, looking for quality players to bring in to strengthen his squad.  Steven Mouyokolo and Virgil van Dijk have arrived to bulk up Lennon’s defence options, whilst Israeli youngster Nir Biton signed on this week to add an extra dimension to the midfield. But it is upfront that is the biggest concern for the manager who is desperate to find a suitable replacement for Gary Hooper, who left for Norwich in the summer. Hooper had three successful years in Glasgow scoring 82 goals in 138 appearances so filling the void left by the Englishman will be difficult. Lennon has Greek striker Georgios Samaras and Irish forward Anthony Stokes to call on but neither look like 20 goals a season strikers so the search is on to find a player who can. Lennon is hoping that 22 year old Guinea striker Amido Balde, bought during the summer from Portuguese side, Vitoria Guimaraes can be that player but it’s still too early to tell. The 6ft 4in forward hit 9 goals in 27 games last season during his debut season for Victoria and gives Celtic another option upfront. With a few days left in the transfer window and a majority of the £20 million received from the departures of Kelvin, Hooper and Wanyama, you cannot rule out the possibility of Lennon dipping into the transfer market once more, especially if the right striker came along.

Double trouble - Messi and Neymar will face Celtic in the group stages (Image from Getty)

Double trouble – Messi and Neymar will face Celtic in the group stages (Image from Getty)

Celtic may have found themselves drawn in the Group of Death but they wouldn’t have it any other way. That after all is what the Champions League is all about; to be the best you have to beat the best. Celtic will give it their all and may surprise a few people along the way just like they did last year against Barcelona.  Neil Lennon’s men recorded a famous 2-1 victory over the Catalan giants in the group stages and will be hoping that history repeats itself. Barcelona are classified as a team in tradition, with new coach Gerardo Martino still trying to find his feet but with the addition of Brazilian Neymar to their ranks, Lennon now must figure out a way to contain both him and Argentinean maestro Leo Messi if his team are to come out on top.

Celtic’s Group H fixtures:

AC Milan v Celtic – Wednesday 18 September

Celtic v Barcelona – Tuesday 1 October

Celtic v Ajax – Tuesday 22 October

Ajax v Celtic – Wednesday 6 November

Celtic v AC Milan – Tuesday 26 November

Barcelona v Celtic – Wednesday 11 December

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Luis Enrique To Mend The Broken Hearts At Barca?

After the dust has settled on the sad news that Tito Vilanova is standing down as Barcelona manager for health reasons, the Catalan club will need to start their search for his successor. The Spanish giants have been rocked by Vilanova’s decision but they understand his reasoning as the coach continues his fight against throat cancer. Vilanova, who replaced Pep Guardiola as coach of Barcelona last summer, had a tumour removed from his throat in late 2011, but  suffered a relapse a year later. He underwent another operation on his parotid  gland in December before beginning a course of chemotherapy and radiotherapy in  New York. With less than a month to go before the new campaign kicks off, Barcelona are on the lookout again for another manager.

Tito Vilanova has stood down for medical reasons (Image from Getty)

Tito Vilanova has stood down for medical reasons (Image from Getty)

Less than two months ago, BOTN predicted a change at the Nou Camp as part of the managerial merry go round but it gives us no satisfaction that this is now happening or for this reason. At the time, we predicted that Swansea boss Michael Laudrup would be tempted into a return to his former club as the new boss and that is still a distinct possibility. However it’s the emergence of Luis Enrique that has the fans drooling and many see him as the man to mend the broken hearts at Barcelona. The former Spanish international is well known across the country as one of the finest attacking midfielders they have ever produce and has made significant strides in management since getting his break in 2008.  After a four year hiatus which saw Enrique take a break from football, Enrique was tempted back after Barcelona offered him his first job in management in charge of their B team, as the man to replace Pep Guardiola, who along with Tito Vilanova were moving on to take charge of the first team. With Barcelona calling once more and offering Enrique the chance to work with the likes of Lionel Messi and new signing Neymar on a daily basis, it may be a call that he can’t ignore.

Enrique and Guardiola during their playing days at Barca (image from getty)

Tito Vilanova has stood down for medical reasons (Image from Getty)

However appointing Enrique may not be as straightforward as Barcelona would have hoped. Only eight weeks ago, Enrique took over the reins at Celta Vigo, replacing former national teammate Abel Resino, in his first move back into management since leaving Roma in 2012. Vigo will be reluctant to release their newly appointed manager but may be powerless to resist the financial muscle that Barcelona can flex, especially in these times of financial recession. Barcelona will likely have to part with as much as $5million to secure Enrique but it may be a small price to pay to get the man they want. Barcelona have sounded out other coaches about their availability such as Gerardo Martino, the former head coach of Argentinian side Newell’s Old Boy but with Vilanova personally recommending Enrique, it’s likely they will go above and beyond to get their former captain back as their new boss.

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The Rise Of Football Freestyle

Freestyle performers entertain the crowdsFootball Free style is an art form. Art in the loosest sense to some but still an art form none the less. It takes years to develop these skills, hours practising and requires incredible close control, balance and awareness to pull off these tricks. Some like Victor Rubilar have made it into a full-time occupation touring the world showcasing their talents to audiences. Rubilar specializes in mixing football freestyle and football juggling skills with dance, acrobatics and comedy and has featured in a variety of adverts for Coke, Nike and Puma displaying his skills. Others like Arnaud “Sean” Garnier, Hee Young Woo and John Farnworth are freestyle champions in their own right, competing at brand run competitions such as the Nike Freestyle Competition or Red Bull Street Style.

Guiness Record holder John Farnworth (Image from Getty)

Guinness Record holder John Farnworth
(Image from Getty)

However most freestylers do it either for tips or simply for the love of the game. A simple search for football free style on YouTube reveals a plethora of clips. On good example is the video of a young street performer named Iya, performing a variety of free style skills with a ball in Paris, from lying down whilst balancing the ball on a pen to balancing the ball on his chin and then putting his right shoe on top of it! The clip was uploaded to YouTube in 2010, creating an internet sensation at the time with over 2 million views. Iya, like others before him, have spent years perfecting their skills and are now reaping the benefits as the popularity of free style increases. With professional players like Robinho, Neymar and Ronaldo all evangelists for the sport and showcasing their form of freestyle on the pitch, freestyle is slowly making the cross over into the football mainstream.

To see free styling at its best, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnNB2FRtctI

To see Ronaldo perform some freestyle tricks, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Di7G4nbpyDg

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Young Players Learn From Goals And Gaffs

Beckham scores his famous goal against Wimbledon (Image from Getty)The easiest way for you to make a name for yourself in football is to do something incredible on the pitch. Scoring a spectacular goal, doing some fancy dribbling or worst case scoring a horror own goal can all bring the media attention firmly to your door. It’s likely that both Wayne Rooney, Neymar and David Beckham would have eventually grabbed the spotlight soon after making their competitive debuts but scoring a wonder goal or a howler in their first few matches certainly helped to speed up the process.

Wayne Rooney made an impact by scoring a wonder goal for Everton against Arsenal  (image from PA)

Wayne Rooney made an impact by scoring a wonder goal for Everton against Arsenal
(image from PA)

The latest players to attract the media glare, for opposite reasons are Esbjerg’s Youssef Toutouh and Utrecht’s Mike van der Hoorn. Both hit the headlines after hitting the back of the net this past week but for Van der Hoorn he is wishing he hadn’t. The powerful young centre back has been in fine form this season and has attracted the interest of some other teams both at home in Holland and abroad. But in the game against AZ Alkmaar at the weekend, Van der Hoorn scored a comical own goal that has made him a media sensation. Trailing 3-0, with only injury time left in the first half, Ulrecht’s left back Dave Bulthuis failed to clear a nothing cross and was disposed on the edge of the 6 yard line by AZ winger Roy Beerens. Beerens brought the ball under control before unleashing a hard shot from an acute angle at Jeroen Verhoeven in the Utrecht goal. The former Ajax stopper managed to get a hand to the ball and pushed it away from goal into the path of Van Der Hoorn. With no one near by and the ball dead at his feet, Van Der Hoorn tried to adjust his feet and clear the ball out of danger but instead swiped the ball into the empty net to give AZ a 4-0 lead. Consoled by opposition players and the referee, the player looked devastated by what he had just done before quietly walking in at the half time whistle.

Van Der Hoorn looks for the ground to open up after his goal  (Image from Getty)

Van Der Hoorn looks for the ground to open up after his goal
(Image from Getty)

Over in Denmark, Esbjerg took on a high-flying Randers team, needing a win to keep their push for the top half alive. Within 33 minutes, Esbjerg had the lead and in some fashion. Twenty year old Youssef Toutouh was only making his 17th start for the club following his loan move from Copenhagen earlier this year. The young winger, who scored his first goal for the club (ironically also on the 33rd minute) last month in the 1-1 draw with Brondby, took up possession of a bouncing ball some 25 yards from the Randers goal. With his back to goal, he cleverly flicked the ball up and over his head, leaving Randers defender Johnny Thomsen routed to the spot. As he swiveled round, he connected perfectly with the ball firing it over the head of goalkeeper David Ousted and into the net. A stunning goal made and executed by a rising star in Danish football. TouTouh’s goal set the pace for the game and Esbjerg went on to win the match comfortably by 4-0, continuing their recent good run.

Toutouh and his teammates celebrate his wonder strike  (Image from Getty)

Toutouh and his teammates celebrate his wonder strike
(Image from Getty)

Whilst Toutouh will take confidence from his strike, the unfortunate goal that Van Der Hoorn scored may affect his, resulting in a dip in form. It is his managers responsibility and his more senior teammates duty to help pick him up from this and explain to him that everyone had a bad day in the office that day (Utrecht lost 6-0 in the end) and to move on. Similarly teammates and the management of Esbjerg need to make sure that Toutouh does not become too over-confident and remind him to continue playing his natural game and not live on past glories. Van der Hoorn and Toutouh are talented youngsters who are just beginning their footballing careers so need to be nurtured appropriately through these situations by their respective managers. Both players can learn a lot from these experiences that will make them better players and hopefully one day turn them into stars like Beckham, Neymar and Rooney have become.

To see Van Der Hoorn’s howler, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nA9Z5J2yb5g

To see Toutouh’s goal, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2vObJnOQYU

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Anything Falcao Can Do, Falcão Can Do Better

FalcãoIs there nothing that Falcao can’t do? No, not the Colombian sensation that is causing a stir across Europe with his goal scoring exploits, rather the Brazilian Futsal superstar than never fails to impress. Recognised as the best player at both the 2004 and 2008 Futsal World Cups, Falcão helped Brazil reclaim the title in the latter, beating the 2004 champions Spain in the process.  Falcao, real name Alessandro Rosa Vieira, has been the star of the Brazilian Futsal team for a while now since impressing selectors of the Futsal national team with his natural ability, close control and finishing during his playing days with Corinthians. So what is Futsal?

Futsal ia a variation of  association football that is played on a smaller pitch and mainly played indoors. Not to be confused with indoor five a side, the game is played on a harder surface than the five a side version and uses a smaller, heavier ball which means that natural ability, improvisation, creativity and technique such as ball control and passing in small spaces become overly important aspects of the sport. With a focus on technique and close ball control, its unsurprising that Brazil have, to date, been the dominant force in the game. Only more recently have Spain and Italy started to challenge more frequently, with Spain the only other country to have won the FIFA Futsal World Cup since its beginnings in 1989. FIFA now acknowledges Futsal as a sport and has been working closely with the AMF to govern the sport and pull it under its jurisdiction.

Brazil star Falcão is aiming for 400 goals

Brazil star Falcão is aiming for 400 goals

For Falcão, Futsal is his life. The 35-year-old is now the most decorated Futsal player of all time with just over 200 games played for Brazil and an even more impressive 339 goals scored. Whilst a talented professional player in the Brazilian league, it was on the Futsal pitch that he has found his spiritual home. Falcão plays not only for Brazil but within a nationally run Brazilian league. It was in a match recently for his club Atletico that Falcão scored possibly the most outrageous goal of his career. In a planned move, Falcão scored a quite unbelievable spinning-backheel-lob free-kick. The goal left the goalkeeper stranded and the opposition players in stunned silence.

Falcão's unbelievable flick

Falcão’s unbelievable flick

Since this video went viral, Falcão left his Futsal boots behind and took to the full size pitch once more in a Match Against Poverty in Porto Alegre, a UN charity game organised by former Brazilian striker Ronaldo and French World Cup winning star, Zinedine Zidane. The match gave Falcão the opportunity to showcase his skills and he even had the chance to perform some keepy ups with current Brazil star Neymar. Falcão, Neymar and Ronaldo eventually ran out as 3-2 winners of the match but for Falcao it was more about the experience than the result.

Ronaldo and Zidane lead the way in the UN Charity match

Ronaldo and Zidane lead the way in the UN Charity match

To watch Falcao’s amazing goal, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tEIurdmnT_4

Even Great Players Can Miss Penalties

The most memorable moment of the USA 1994 World Cup final, and some say the only one in what was a boring final itself, was Roberto Baggio’s penalty miss in the shootout. Baggio, who had been Italy’s star player throughout the tournament, conjuring two goals in the last 16, one in the quarter and two again in the semi finals to send Italy through to face favourites Brazil in the final. The Brazilian’s powered through to the finals mostly due to the goals of strikers Bebeto and Romario, keeping a young 17-year-old Ronaldo on the bench for the entire tournament. In the final, the two sides played out a drab match with few chances falling to either side, leading eventually to the dreaded penalty shoot out.

Under the baking hot sun in the Rose Bowl Arena in Pasadena, California, AC Milan legend Franco Baresi  stepped up to take the first penalty for Italy. He missed, giving Márcio Santos the chance to put Brazil ahead but he too caved under the pressure and miss his strike. The next two penalties from either side were scored, tieing the game at 2-2 after three penalties taken each.  Italy striker Daniele Massaro then missed his penalty and watched helplessly as Brazil captain, Dunga put his away. It was now down to Roberto Baggio to score the fifth and final penalty for Italy and keep them in the game. He placed the ball down, took a look at Cláudio Taffarel in the Brazil goal, steady himself for a long run up before skying the ball over the crossbar to hand the 1994 World Cup to Brazil. The divine ponytail, as Baggio was known at the time due to his chosen hairstyle, could only look at the ground in disgust. Camera replays show the ball moving slightly which could have led to the striker blasting over but there was nothing he could do but watch Brazil celebrate.

The Baggio miss is one of many penalty misses from football greats. Looking back through history, players like Van Basten, Muller, Platini, Cruyff and Puskas all missed penalties at some stage in their careers, granted not all of them as important as Baggio’s one. Even new stars like Messi and Neymar have missed penalties in their time. Only two days ago, in a friendly between Brazil and Colombia, Neymar replicated the Baggio miss in the last few minutes of the game. Although it was only a friendly, pride was at stake between these two countries coming into the match. Neymar had managed to equalise for Brazil after they fell behind to Colombia, courtesy of a Juan Cuadrado strike just before half time. But when Brazil were awarded a penalty in the 78th minute following a foul inside the area, Neymar, unopposed, confidently picked the ball up and placed it on the spot. Similar to Baggio, he took a long run, glanced at the keeper and then sent the ball some 15 yards over the cross-bar in an amazing miss. Neymar looked in disgust at the ground, but it may have been the slight hesitation he had in his run up that led to the miss. Either way, this miss cost Brazil the win, with the game finishing at 1-1.

Neymar was dismissive after the game, blaming the state of the pitch:

“The penalty was horrible but you probably noticed the state the pitch was in, it didn’t have any stability. I tried to take it slowly but it didn’t work out. These things happen.”

To be fair to Neymar, the surface at the East Rutherford Stadium, more suited to NFL than international football, was not in the best of conditions. The ball may have bobbled or rolled on the pitch resulting in him lifting it skywards and into the crowds. Neymar will no doubt want to correct his mistake in the next game for Brazil but this time he may have a few others looking to take over the penalty taking duties from him.

To see Neymar’s miss, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILqIS39fca8

To see Roberto’s miss in the 1994 final, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HRpmm2GucK4

Neymar dazzles as Europe’s elite watch with interest

Current Santos starlet Neymar is eyeing his next move. After months of speculation, Neymar looks finally set to move to Europe to ply his trade. The unanswered question is who will he be playing for? Chelsea, PSG, Manchester City and United plus Real Madrid and Barcelona have all expressed an interest but the final decision will rest with the player himself.

Neymar’s future may be uncertain but his ability is not. In a recent match for his club Santos, he scored a fantastic individual goal to put his team up 2-0. Santos would later throw the lead away, drawing the match with Atletico Mineiro 2-2, but the Santos fans were not concerned after seeing their star player at his best. Just days after scoring a brace for Brazil against Japan, the skillful Brazilian skinned two players with sublime touches, before nut megging Serginho and beating the goalkeeper from 14 yards out.

Neymar’s future looks certainly to lie away from Brazil which will disappoint the Santos fans, but for one lucky club in Europe, they are getting a genuine superstar in the making.

To watch the goal, click on this YouTube link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qrnTdLezuK0&feature=player_embedded