For The Love Of Money?

Ghana captain Asamoah Gyan (Image from AFP)It is every players right to decide their own career path including where they want to ply their trade and for which club. Much like any job, money plays a significant role in these decisions with each player looking to maximize their own value as much as possible during their careers. In a sport where injuries could end your time in football at any point, every move counts so you can hardly blame a player for travelling down the golden path instead of choosing a job that pays significantly less. But when your career starts to looks like you are a constant fixture on that path, then questions are raised about your ambitions in the game and your desire to make money rather than a name for yourself.

Is it all about the money for Gyan? (Image from Sydney Mahlangu/Backpagepix)

Is it all about the money for Gyan?
(Image from Sydney Mahlangu/Backpagepix)

Asamoah Gyan is a fantastic striker, who has redefined the word prolific over the course of his career. He has become a cult hero in his native Ghana, leading his national teams records for most caps and goal scored and since 2013 has been their captain too. Everything that Gyan does in his life is followed closely by his millions of fans back home and around the world. They are undoubtedly loyal to the 29-year-old striker but now his latest move has sparked fierce debate in Ghana with many now questioning his motives and his ambitions. Last month, Gyan agreed to a lucrative move to China with Shanghai SPG securing his signature. The move concludes Gyan’s four year stay in the United Arab Emirates and ends his rumoured £6m per season deal. But the player will not be out-of-pocket as his new employers have agreed to pay him more than the £163,000-a-week he earned at Al Ain, making him one of the highest paid players in the world. His decision to move to China rather than to a club in Europe looks to be solely based on the money or so it is being perceived in his homeland. Whilst the Chinese league is up and coming it still nowhere near as competitive as its European counterparts and is using the appeal of extremely lucrative contracts to entice stars to join.

Gyan flies in to China ahead of his move (Image from Getty)

Gyan flies in to China ahead of his move
(Image from Getty)

In the past, they have only managed to snare mid level players or those close to retirement but a new approach and improvement in the league quality has led to bigger names joining. Gyan is certainly one of those as is Brazilian internationalists Robinho and Paulinho, Senegalese striker Demba Ba and Icelandic front man Eidur Gudjohnsen. But many in Ghana believe that Gyan is too good for the Chinese Super league and that as the captain of their country, he should have moved not for the money but instead for the prestige and challenge of playing against better players week in week out in one of the world’s top leagues. Their argument is also compounded by what they see as a necessity for Gyan to be a strong role model to the younger players who they worry will look at the money rather than the game as they embark on their careers.

Robinho has agreed a move to China (Image from REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)

Robinho has agreed a move to China
(Image from REUTERS/Mariana Bazo)

Whether they have a point is up for debate but its unlikely that Gyan will care enough to backtrack on his move. It is highly likely that Gyan will indeed prove to be too good for the Chinese league as he did in the UAE firing 113 goals in 104 matches for Al Ain. But at 29 years old does he really have to prove anything? He has already shown that he can play in Europe after spending nine years of his career doing so with spells in Italy with Udinese and Modena, France with Rennes and an ill-fated stay in England with Sunderland. The only black mark on his career is that last one, where after a stunning debut season for the Black Cats, Gyan left under somewhat of a cloud after falling out with the management team and board who refused to give him a pay increase after one season of his four year contract.

Gyan spent one season in the Premiership (Image from PA)

Gyan spent one season in the Premiership
(Image from PA)

To be fair to Gyan, the then Sunderland boss Steve Bruce did not blame the player instead calling out his advisors as the trouble makers referring to them as parasites. Al Ain’s approach was to offer Gyan a route out of England with a too good to refuse deal. Many saw it as a temporary move until Gyan could regain his sense but the player stayed for a further three years. It would appear now that Gyan was comfortable playing in a league way below his ability, compensated by a luxury lifestyle and riches beyond his wildest dreams. Moving to China only emphasises this comfort but at what cost? Gyan’s reputation as one of the world’s top strikers is slowly slipping into obscurity each season he spends outside of the world’s top leagues. Whether he cares though, is a different story.

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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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Oscar Misses Out As Brazil Gears Up For Copa Run

Copa target - Brazil manager Dunga (Image from Getty)With the Copa America just over a month away, Brazil manager Dunga has decided to name his squad in preparation. There are few surprises in the squad that will likely be captained by Neymar. In a fairly balanced squad Dunga has named a majority of the players who have played under him over the past eight friendly matches. However there is a recall for former Manchester City striker Robinho after his impressive season for Santos this year. The 31 year old forward will be hoping he can inspire Brazil to yet another Copa America title much like he did back in 2007. Currently on loan from AC Milan, Robinho has racked up only five goals in 13 league appearances this past season but has contributed much more to Santos overall style of play that his return of goals give him credit for. Also in the squad is Liverpool midfielder Philippe Coutinho who has been the shining light in what has been a difficult season for the Anfield club. Having lost Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury for a majority of the season, Liverpool have failed to build on last year’s 2nd place EPL finish. That said, Coutinho’s form especially in the last few months has propelled the club back into European contention and now sit in 5th place with three matches left to play.

There is no place however for the creative Oscar who has had a frustrating past few months with injuries, summed up perfectly by his knock out at The Emirates thanks to a wild challenge by Arsenal goalkeeper David Ospina. The Chelsea midfielder was hoping that his recent injuries would be overlooked by Dunga and be able to claim a place by a call from Jose Mourinho soon sorted that out. The Portuguese coach, who spent last weekend celebrating his four Premiership title, placed a call to the Brazil manager to inform him about a thigh injury that Oscar had sustained in training. It’s a devastating blow for the 23 year old playmaker who is keen to build on his already impressive 45 appearances for his country including some standout performances at the last World Cup. Also missing out are the influential trio of Ramires, Dani Alves and Kaka with Dunga preferring to play favour with a group of players who fit more comfortably into his style of play. It may not be the style that most expect from Brazil, with attacking bias benched in favour of slower build up play with the midfield rather than the strikers playing a more significant role. This cautious approach is designed to avoid the pitfalls experience last summer.

Brazil as a nation is still reeling from the events of last summer and the Copa America, set to take place in Chile in mid June has been viewed by many in the country as the salvation. Since their 3-0 defeat to Holland in the third place playoff’s, there have been several personnel changes including the manager with Scolari replaced by Dunga. The changes have worked with Dunga’s new look Brazil side unbeaten so far in the eight friendly games they have played. They approach the Copa with confidence, with the country slowly coming back to support them in their droves. Dunga however is taking nothing for granted and knows that the memory of that 7-1 mauling at the hands of Germany in the World Cup semi final is still fresh in most Brazilians minds. The coach is always looking over his shoulder and for good reason. His first spell in charge was deemed a failure with his tactics especially in competitive matches questioned. Eight wins on the bounce is a great feat and goes a long way to mend the deep cuts inflicted by the Germans nearly a year ago. But failure to win the Copa, which is considered one of the more historic and important titles by many in South America, could result in Dunga leaving his job before the 2018 World Cup qualifiers begin in October. Reaching the final is a must, with even the semi’s not being enough to satisfy many. Dunga’s side will have to play six matches in four weeks if they are to reach the final so his team selection is designed specifically for this challenge. Instead of having a set eleven much like Scolari had at the World Cup, Dunga will use his full squad and rotate players depending on the opponent, with the only player likely to feature in all the matches being Neymar. He has strength in depth with several players in the squad able to play numerous positions which gives Dunga options in terms of tactical approach.

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)

He has strengthen the backline, which looked shaky and unorganized last summer, with Atletcio’s Miranda coming in to break up the reliance of David Luiz and Thiago Silva at centre back. In goal, Julio Cesar has been sacrificed for  the more reliable, no nonsense Jefferson whilst Danilo and Fabinho have been drafted in to offer support from full back but perhaps not as much attacking threat as a Dani Alves. The addition of Everton Ribeiro and Diego Tardelli add attacking prowess and mark a first for Brazil by calling up players for the first time who play in the UAE and China respectively. Much rests on captain Neymar’s shoulders but perhaps not as much as in the World Cup. His absence in the semi final due to injury was a huge blow to Brazil’s attack minded approach with Fred the only real option. That over reliance cost Brazil dearly and is a mistake that Dunga is cautious to avoid making again. The Copa America offers the chance at redemption for one of the world’s best sides. How far they can go will depend on many aspects but one thing is certain – failure is not an option.

Brazil squad for Copa America

Goalkeepers: Jefferson (Botafogo), Diego Alves (Valencia), Marcelo Grohe (Gremio)

Defenders: Fabinho (Monaco), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Filipe Luis (Chelsea), Danilo (Porto), David Luiz (PSG), Marquinhos (PSG), Thiago Silva (PSG), Miranda (Atletico Madrid)

Midfielders: Luiz Gustavo (Wolfsburg), Fernandinho (Manchester City), Elias (Corinthians), Casemiro (Porto)

Attackers: Everton Ribeiro (Al-Ahli), Douglas Costa (Shakhtar Donetsk), Willian (Chelsea), Philippe Coutinho (Liverpool), Robinho (Santos), Neymar (Barcelona), Diego Tardelli (Shandong Luneng), Roberto Firmino (Hoffenheim)

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Will Manchester City Adapt Its Crazy Transfer Approach?

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

Under Pressure - Pellegrini  (Image from PA)

Under Pressure – Pellegrini
(Image from PA)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Manchester City – Europe’s Reluctant Participants

The reluctant participants - Manchester City (Image from Getty)There was a time not so long ago that City fans dreamed of European nights, watching with envy as their arch rivals from across the city stamped their name across tournament after tournament. Manchester United’s dominance of English football in the 90’s was matched in Europe with Ferguson’s men picking up an impressive haul of European and World trophies. Over that ten year period, United lifted the UEFA Cup Winners Cup, UEFA Super Cup, Club World Cup and Champions League crowns whilst City fought to stay alive. Relegated in 1996 from the Premiership, Manchester City slipped down the leagues and by the end of the decade was languishing in England’s third tier with financial ruin a real possibility. Now fifteen years on Manchester City are back on top after a lengthy journey which has seen more than its fair share of twists and turns along the way. Once considered the poorer sibling to the mighty Manchester United, City’s fortunes turned when in 2008 they became one of the richest clubs almost overnight thanks to new wealthy owners in the form of the Abu Dhabi Group. City fans watched in stunned silence as a radical overhaul of their club began with money pumped into every corner and crevice of the City franchise. Star players like Robinho and Carlos Tevez would arrive as City turned their misfortune into one of the best rags to riches stories ever told in football.

Robinho was one of the first glamour players to arrive at City  (Image from Getty)

Robinho was one of the first glamour players to arrive at City
(Image from Getty)

Now possessing world class facilities and a team to match, Manchester City has become one of the best teams in Europe. Well on paper at least. Despite blitzing the Premiership, City have failed to ignite in European competitions and rekindle the memories of the great City team of the 1970’s who marched through Europe to claim their one and only title – the Cup Winners Cup. Winners of two of the last four titles, City have featured in the Champions league on four occasions and the Europa League three times in the last six years but their record has been less than impressive. Whilst having managed to get through to the last 16 of the Europa league on more than one occasion, City should really be judged on their performances in the Champions League given their newly crowned status and wealth. It is here that alarm bells ring. In four attempts, City has only once made it through the group stage (in 2013-2014) where they were eventually knocked out by Barcelona. This season, City lie bottom of their group with only two games remaining for them to rescue the situation. The Blues have been poor so far in Europe with few willing to tip them to win the Champions League any time soon. Manager Manuel Pellegrini still believes that City have enough in the tank to win the tournament but admits that when his team travels, something strange appears to happen. The confidence that his team shows week in week out in the league evaporates and City appear lackluster and on several occasions lost in Europe.

City's problems in Europe get worse as Toure sees red against CSKA Moscow  (Image from PA)

City’s problems in Europe get worse as Toure sees red against CSKA Moscow
(Image from PA)

Worst still for City is the apparent lack of care by their fans who have stayed away from Champions League fixtures in their droves the past few seasons. The team desperately needs their support but still they stay away. During this seasons crunch Champions League clash at home to Roma, City’s crowd was just over 37,000 people, 10,000 short of sell out. City reacted by offering promotional tickets and buy one get one free for kids which helped to drive the attendance figures back up for their match last night against CSKA Moscow to almost capacity but the problem then was less about number of bodies but instead the noise generated. City fans were eerily quiet throughout the game, which was more noticeable due to the lack of away fans that were banned from the match. They appear to be already bored with the Champions League and having City compete in it season after season. After all who would want to play in a tournament that has the greatest teams in Europe all competing for one trophy?

City fans stay away from Champions League matches  (Image from Getty)

City fans stay away from Champions League matches
(Image from Getty)

It has led some to suggest that the once famous Chelsea prawn sandwich brigade has migrated north to the Eithad with winning games regardless of the competition becoming expected by many. The City crowds of old were daunting, making noise and cheering on their team regardless of the clubs situation. It’s troubling times for the club who have appeared to have lost its way both on and off the field come European nights. City fans need to rally, get behind their team again and remember past days when European adventures were limited to holiday plans and the odd stag do. Their team needs them, they need to hear them roar once more which in turn will give City’s all star cast the confidence it so badly needs. City do have the potential to win the Champions League given their squad but it takes more than great players to lift Europe’s pinnacle title.

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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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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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Mark Hughes Appointed At Stoke Despite Fan Protests

Mark Hughes appointed new Stoke boss (Image from Martin Rickett/PA Wire)Ever since Tony Pulis was sacked as manager of Stoke, speculation has mounted over who would take over the reins of the club. Various names were mentioned from Roberto Martinez to Gus Poyet to Roberto Di Matteo, all of which would have been welcomed gladly by the fans at the Britannica. But it’s the appointment of former Blackburn, Manchester City, Fulham and QPR boss Mark Hughes that has caused a much public uproar with the fans, one that is not likely to die down anytime soon.

Pulis was sacked after 8 years in charge  (Image from Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Pulis was sacked after 8 years in charge
(Image from Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Hughes joins the club on a three year contract only six months after being sacked at QPR for failing in his mission to steer them towards a mid table finish. He was heavily critized by the press for his multitude of signings, lack of tactical direction and ultimately poor results on the pitch. With a win rate of only 20% during his time at QPR (eight wins in 34 games), Hughes will struggle to argue that his time at Loftus Road was successful but will be out to prove at Stoke that he is not as bad a manager as many expect he is.

Hughes may have a job on his hands to do so. Apart from his time at Blackburn and a few months at Fulham, his club management career has been anything but spectacular.  After some success at Blackburn, he moved to Manchester City and took on the challenge of revolutionizing the club using the millions given to him from the clubs new Saudi billionaire owners. Expensive signings like Roque Santa Cruz, Robinho, Jo and Kolo Toure turned into expensive flops as Hughes repeatedly paid over the odds for players. With investment of that nature came expected success and after Hughes failed to deliver, he was dismissed from the project.

Flop Jo proved that not all Brazilians are talented  (Image from Getty)

Flop Jo proved that not all Brazilians are talented
(Image from Getty)

Fulham offered him a route back into the game and he repaid them with an eighth place finish. Surprisingly he left in the summer without real explanation but rumours persist that he was not going to receive the financial backing he wanted for the next season. Unfortunately for Hughes, over spending appears to be his biggest problem, constantly spending the entire budget at the clubs disposal to bring in a variety of new faces. Last summer, Hughes brought in 12 players to QPR, all on large wages and without little thought to how they would gel together or how long it would take. They failed to do so quickly enough and by the time Hughes was sacked, the damage was already too serve for recovery to be possible for Harry Redknapp. Hughes will be given money to spend at Stoke but Chairman Peter Coates will prefer that he develops and uses the clubs youth system as a new production line for players as the club takes on a new direction to secure itself for the future.

Hughes used the Stoke announcement of his appointment as a platform to try and set the record straight.  He talked candidly about his time at QPR and the negative press he received following his dismissal:

I have listened to what people have said about my managerial ability and I can assure you I will use that as a motivation. If I am honest, we all tried to run there before we could walk. That was the mistake that we made. I made mistakes I will learn from. ‘I’m absolutely delighted to get the opportunity (at Stoke). I’m really grateful.

All smiles as Coates gets his man  (Image from PA)

All smiles as Coates gets his man
(Image from PA)

Ultimately it was owner Peter Coates that made the decision to go for Hughes, admitting that whilst there were other candidates, Hughes was the one he wanted and the only one interviewed for the job:

“We had other interest, but we’ve only interviewed Mark. We focused on him, he was our choice. We went for it and it’s happened. The way we’ve looked at his time at QPR, they had new ownership. All the managers they had are exceptionally fine – Neil Warnock, Mark, Harry Redknapp – pretty solid, very good managers, but all found it difficult. In Mark’s first year at QPR, he came in and saved them from the relegation. That’s how we’ve seen his time there. We want, like everyone, to get better and move forward and we think Mark is the right person to do that.”

Stoke fans protest Hughes appointment  (Image from Getty)

Stoke fans protest Hughes appointment
(Image from Getty)

Coates may be happy with the appointment but the fans are anything but. Football phone in shows have been flooded with calls from angry Stoke fans over the past few days as the news filtered out that Hughes was going to be appointed. One fan even took to the streets, creating a Hughes Out sign attached to his truck, in protest of the choice of new manager.  Supporters club chairman Shaw commented that Hughes wouldn’t have been the fans first choice due to his poor track record but as always the fans will back the club and hope that Hughes can prove them wrong. With everything to lose and his reputation on the line, let’s hope that Hughes has learned from his past mistakes, stays clear of radical squad overhauls and gets Stoke and his career back on track.

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