All Aboard the Managerial Merry-go-round

The departure of Carlo Ancelotti from Everton to rejoin Real Madrid came as a shock to many especially those in and around the club. Having only hired the Italian 18 months ago in what at the time was deemed as a masterstroke, Everton now find themselves with a massive gap to fill and a search for their 6th manager in five years. But Ancelotti’s return to the Bernabeau only came about when Zinedine Zidane decided enough was enough and walked away. The sentiment from the Frenchman was that he no longer felt that the club had faith in him or the willingness to support his longer term vision so taking his leave seemed to be the only solution. His actions however as well as the actions of a few other high profile managers in Italy, Germany and France have acted as the catalyst for change in the managerial world and kick started the merry go round of moves that we are now witnessing across Europe’s top five leagues.

The question is not really where to begin but instead where to stop given the vast number of changes that have and are set to happen. Managerial changes throughout Europe’s leagues are at an all time high with adjustments being made both by the clubs due to the after effects of a global pandemic which crippled the football financial ecosystem and by the managers themselves who need change after an intense pressure filled season. No league felt this more than Italy so it seems like a good a place as any to start.

Antonio Conte’s decision to leave Inter only days after guiding them to their first Scudetto in 11 years highlighted the financial impact of the pandemic which has ravaged the game. Unable to strengthen his squad in the summer due to financial cut backs at the club, Conte decided like Zidane to quit. He was quickly replaced by Simone Inzaghi who led Lazio to a sixth placed finish. Simone faces the prospect of taking Conte’s squad and selling off one or two of its prize assets as the club looks to pull back €80m. Lazio are yet to announce their new manager but are being heavily linked with Maurizio Sarri.

Conte’s decision to depart sparked a host of various other managerial moves

The former Chelsea manager has been out of work since leaving Juventus in 2020 when they decided to test out Andres Pirlo as manager with the hopes that the former midfield maestro could have the Zidane effect on Juve. That didn’t work out in the end and he will depart this summer with Massimilano Allegri returning to the club he left in 2019. Jose Mourinho is also returning to Italy this time with Roma after they let Paulo Fonseca go last month. Fonseca has yet to decide on his next move but has been heavily linked with Tottenham and Wolves as well as several other clubs across Europe.

The one season manager does seem to be a reoccurring trend in Italy with Conte only lasted at Inter a year having replaced Luciano Spalletti in 2019. Incidentally, Spalletti himself is also on the move this summer joining Napoli after the exit of Gennaro Gattuso to Fiorentina. Gattuso is the long term replacement for Cesare Prandelli who sensationally quit in March citing a feeling of distress as well as personal reasons behind his decision. Gattuso spent two years at Napoli after replacing Carlo Ancelotti who was sacked only a couple of weeks before he showed up at Everton.

Speaking of Everton, the race to replace Ancelotti is well under way with former Everton and now West Ham boss David Moyes tipped for a sensational return. However the club is also rumoured to be considering Eddie Howe (out of work since leaving Bournemouth) and Nuno Espírito Santo who left Wolves just a few weeks ago. Howe who was in advanced talks with Celtic before turning them down, is also in the running for the vacant role at Crystal Palace after Roy Hodgson took his leave. Ex Chelsea boss Frank Lampard is also in the frame for that role as is ironically Santo who could spur a tug of war between the two clubs as they jostle for their number one pick. Meanwhile at Celtic, they are looking more seriously at Ange Postecoglou having failed to get Howe or Jesse Marsch in earlier attempts.

Will Eddie Howe return to management in the EPL with Everton or Crystal Palace?

Marsch chose to move to RB Leipzig this summer from Red Bull Salzburg as the automatic replacement for Bayern bound Julian Nagelsmann. It will be an exciting challenge for the American that will have him pitting his wits against one of the brightest young coaches in the game right now in Nagelsmann. The 33 year old german takes over at Bayern Munich from Hansi Flick who will take the reins of the German national team following the completion of Euro 2020. Elsewhere, Marco Rose will join Borussia Dortmund as manager in the summer, with Borussia Monchengladbach hiring Adi Hutter from Eintracht Frankfurt as his replacement. They in turn hired Oliver Glasner from Wolfsburg who in turn then appointed former PSV boss Mark van Bommel as their new manager. Finally Leverkausen grabbed Gerardo Seoane from Young Boys Berne as they looked to make a quick replacement for the Lyon bound Peter Bosz.

In France, the big news surrounds Christophe Galtier and his next destination after he sensationally steered Lille to the French title last season. Days later he would quit the club and has been linked with a host of jobs including Spurs and indeed looked likely to end up at OGC Nice before a gap in the compensation package appeared too big to bridge. There are also rumours starting that Zidane could replace Mauricio Pochettino at PSG if the Argentine makes a sensational return to Tottenham.

This summer will see changes at a host of other European clubs including Montpellier HSC, RC Strasbourg Alsace, Angers SCO in France, a new managerial appointment at Valencia with Jose Bordalas signing on from Getafe and in England, West Brom and Sheffield United are at different stages of their process with West Brom still considering candidates whilst Sheffield United have moved quickly confirmed Slavisa Jokanovic as their new boss.

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A Summer of Transition Ahead For Crystal Palace

With the regular season soon drawing to a close, Crystal Palace has some decisions to make soon as 12 of their players are out of contract this summer. With the manager, Roy Hodgson and a dozen of his players running out of contract, a rebuild at Crystal Palace is on the table. And the timing may just work in their favour. With the pandemic rattling club finances all over Europe, promising players can be signed for relatively cheaper transfer fees than previously. Added into this, with players looking to secure their own futures following a difficult period, they may accept lower wages just to resign for the club.

A majority of the players approaching the end of their term at the London club will be 30 or older by the summer. Averaging at 28.2, Palace is the second oldest team in the league. Freshen up the squad should be a priority and Palace have already made some moves within the club towards that.

Crystal Palace face a summer of change with a majority of its first team out of contract

Academy talents Jesurun Rak-Sakyi and David Omilabu have signed their first professional contracts with Palace recently after Fionn Mooney, Jadan Raymond and Tayo Adaramola did the same. Promoting from within with be welcome news for the Palace fans. Signing up Rak-Sakyi, who was included on the bench for the visit to Stamford Bridge on 20th April, was seen as a positive move after reports of the attacking midfielder coming under radar of clubs in England and Germany. The reality of promoting a bunch of promising scholars into the first team is that it would still take some time for them to integrate and reach the appropriate level so strengthening in the short term from other areas remains a priority.

Targeting up and coming British players like Eberechi Eze and a loan deals with an option to buy, similar to what they did this season with Phillip Mateta are the kind of moves Palace would want to replicate going in the transfer window. However before they can do this, Palace must address its salary problem with the high earners currently not proving their earnings on the pitch. Renegotiating their contracts or moving them on all together could help to balance the books and make the rebuild an easier job.

Take for example Mamadou Sakho, one of the highest earners at the club, who has hardly featured this year because of injuries. It won’t be a bad decision to let him go considering his age and injury history. Similarly Christian Benteke who is on £120,000 per week is an interesting one as he is one of the players who’s contract expires in the summer. The club appeared happy for him to leave in January and indeed held talks with other clubs to sell him but he insisted on staying. Now in better form and scoring once more, talks have progressed between the player and club around a new contract. The two however are separated by quite a bit in terms of what Benteke should be paid with Palace hoping the Belgian striker will stay but on much lesser terms. The potential to turn Mateta’s loan into a permanent signing also brings complications to Benteke’s future at Palace. It may be best for Palace to let the 30 year old striker depart in the long run.

High earners Sahko and Benteke could be allowed to leave to release some wages for future signings

Palace also have an option to permanently sign Michy Batshuayi from Chelsea at the end of May. He has not managed to make any serious impact this season, registering 2 goals and 1 assist in 17 appearances but offers another option if Benteke is to leave. Wages however could be a deciding factor as he is also one of the highest paid players in the club currently on £90,000 a week. Unless he is willing to accept less, it’s more likely that he will probably be returned to his parent club when his loan finishes. .

At the right back position, Nathaniel Clyne, Joel Ward and Martin Kelly are out of contract this summer. With promising youngster Nathan Ferguson returning from injury next season, two of the seniors should be let go in the coming months. Ward has made more starts this season and is on less than half the wages of Clyne which makes the argument for Ward to be selected. However despite earning £80,000 per week, 30 years Clyne who is a year younger than Ward he played well when he’s not been injured and is arguably the better player of the two. Like Benteke, former England player Clyne would likely have to accept reduce wages to stay on. Kelly will definitely be released having failed to make a single appearance this season.

On the other side of the defence, Patrick Van Aanholt has been competing for his spot with the impressive Tyrick Mitchell. The left back still has bits to offer and could be offered an extension but regardless of Patrick’s contract situation, Mitchell is more than ready to make the left back position his own after impressing several times this season. Having spent three seasons at Palace already, Dutch full back Van Aanholt may decide it’s time to move on and has garnered interest from Galatasaray over a free transfer.

Veteran centre backs, Scott Dann and Gary Cahill are running out of time too. With the aim of reducing average age, both of them could be let go. However, Cahill has shown he can still put in impressive shifts and with the possibility of young defenders coming in, his experience and leadership qualities could be useful. There are reports of Palace looking to swoop 19 years old centre back Radu Dragusin on a free transfer after the Romanian has been frozen out of Juventus first team.

Should Palace retain veteran defenders Scott Dann and Gary Cahill? That is one of many questions that the club has to answer this summer

After signing Jack Butland last summer and extending Vicente Guaita’s contract, Palace are likely to let go of reserve keepers, Wayne Hennessey and Stephen Henderson and look to sign a young 3rd choice keeper or promote from its u23 team with Rohan Luthra, Jacob Russell and Oliver Webber all keen to make the step up.

In midfield, James Mcarthy has only 12 appearances this season and is down the pecking behind Riedewald and  Milivojević so it would be surprising if he is given an extension. Andros Townsend has seen less game time this season because of emergence of Eze and the winger told Talksport how his contract situation has affected his performances and Palace are likely to wait till the end of the season before handling contract situations. The club may look to retain his services as he has the ability to change games on his own when in form. James McArthur is likely to be given a new deal having performed consistently for Palace since his arrival in 2014. Jeffrey Schlupp will also be handed new terms in the coming weeks.

Crystal Palace are in a zero-debt position and have managed their finances pretty well in the pandemic. They are plotting a £50 million spending spree in the summer and will try to make the most of that by adding some free transfers and loan deals in the mix. Player markets across Europe are vulnerable, especially Ligue 1 who possess good talent but the French clubs are in a desperate position to raise money and could be preyed on for economical signings.

Whilst the rebuild on the pitch would probably be centred around Zaha, Eze, Riedewald and Mitchell and will start soon, the decision over who is in the dugout come the start of the season is the priority. With Roy Hodgson most likely to end his term, Palace have been linked with Eddie Howe and Patrick Viera for the management role. Both men bring different skillsets and experience to the role but are also in high demand meaning that Palace will have to move quickly to get their man. Regardless of who they hire, the new manager will likely want to bring in new players to suit their style of play hence the urgency to appoint them first. It’s likely to be a summer of transition for Crystal Palace both on and off the pitch. With several moving parts including expiring contracts, heavy expected transfer activity and a change in management, it’s a lot for Palace to manage but if done well, they could use this transition to build something exciting for the future.

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

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Jack Rodwell, The Forgotten Man

In the summer of 2012, a wry smile crept over the boyish face of Jack Rodwell. Having burst onto the scene some four years previously, the now 22-year-old was finally starting to see the fruits of his labour. Signing on the dotted line, Rodwell completed his move from boyhood club Everton to the now über wealthy Manchester City who were actively in the market snapping up the best talent England had to offer. And Rodwell was certainly one of those. Now a full international having made his England berth some ten months previous, Rodwell was widely considered one to watch; built-in the same kind of mould as Steven Gerrard with the passing range that Frank Lampard would be proud of. Even Roy Hodgson who had been appointed as the Three Lions manager a few months earlier from Rodwell signing for City was giddy with the potential that the player had. Everything it seemed was set for Rodwell to succeed both at club and international level.

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Jack Rodwell made his England debut in November 2011 against Spain (Image from Tumblr)

Except he didn’t. His move to City fizzled rather than sparked his England prospects. A lack of playing time hindering any chances of selection, much to the frustration of Hodgson. To be fair to City, it was hard to squeeze Rodwell onto the pitch that already contained David Silva, Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel De Jong. In the limited time Rodwell did see on the pitch he failed to impress amongst the collection of superstars. Reoccurring injuries, in particular to his hamstring led to City becoming frustrated with their prize acquisition and eventually deciding to cut their losses sanctioning the sale of Rodwell to Sunderland after only two seasons. The move to Sunderland was viewed as many as the sensible one – Rodwell would be able to play more and in doing so gain the strength needed to stop his recurring hamstring injury from returning. Back playing regularly, Rodwell could regain his England place and hopefully one day reach his childhood goal of playing at a World Cup.

Rodwell's career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Rodwell’s career has been ravaged by injuries (Image from Tumblr)

Except he hasn’t. For one reason or another, Rodwell’s career has flatlined. His demise is hard to understand partly because it appears to be self-inflicted. Things did start well at Sunderland with Rodwell playing a majority of games in his first few seasons but again injuries meant that he spent large chunks on the treatment table instead of the pitch. Over the first three seasons (120 weeks) at the Stadium of Light, Rodwell spent a quarter of them (30 weeks) out injured mostly with hamstring or ankle issues. It proved to be a troublesome time for the player as it was for the club who in fairness have been battling against relative chaos for the better half of a decade since Martin Ellis’ arrival and were finally relegated from the Premier League at the end of the 2016-2017 season.

Scunthorpe-United-v-Sunderland-Checkatrade-Trophy

Rodwell has spent a large chunk of time on the treatment table (Image from Tumblr)

As the club dropped into the Championship, there were expectations that their higher paid players would take a pay cut but also their more senior players would stand up and be accounted for as the club looked to rebuild and bounce back up. Again when it came to Rodwell, neither happened. Rodwell’s money spinning contract remained in tact whilst the player himself completely checked out, refusing to play for the club. Efforts were made to sell him or even loan him out but none proved successful. Eventually Sunderland offered to terminate Rodwell’s contract in January but again the player refused in a move which baffled then club. He has been vocal in saying he doesn’t care about money and just wants to play except Sunderland and its fans have seen very little evidence to support this.

rodwell

Where has the passion gone? (image from Tumblr)

Instead he appears happy to sit on the bench or on the sidelines whilst his Sunderland contract ticks slowly down to its finish. Even his former boss Chris Coleman stated that he wasn’t quite sure where Rodwell was towards the end of his reign. In a way the whole situation is a shame. An inform Rodwell is a force to reckon with; skillful with both feet, an excellent engine that gets him up and down the pitch like a cheetah on steroids and a strong passing range that makes him the natural fit for a majority of teams. But many have now forgotten that as the seasons tick on. Rodwell has been replaced in their minds from being “the next big thing” to another failure story of English football. The longer he stays in the football wilderness and refuses to resolve his Sunderland situation, the harder it will be for him to make a comeback.

jack-rodwell

During his younger years at Everton (Image from Tumblr)

So what is next for the 27-year-old? That is the great unknown. It’s clear that Rodwell isn’t in the right mind space at this time, either frustrated with what has happened to his career to date or with his time at Sunderland or simply with football itself. But his reluctance to resolve things opens up more questions about his appetite for the game and is ultimately marking him out as a bad apple to potential future suitors. It could be that he is willing to sit tight knowing that his wages are safe under his airtight contract up until 2019. They may take a hit following Sunderland’s relegation to League One; dropping from £70k to a measly £40k including loyalty bonuses but still for someone who has played a grand total of 159 minutes last season, it’s still not bad. Or perhaps he can be persuaded to come back into the fold and fight for the cause by new Sunderland boss Jack Ross. Rodwell still has time to revive his career one way or another but needs to make a decision on his future either way. Stick or twist, Rodwell needs to get back in the game or eventually he will be known mainly as footballs forgotten man.

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England’s Hunt For A New Manager Takes An All Too Familiar Path

Abject failure, catastrophe, disaster beyond repair, calamitous. All over exaggerations heard about the current problems facing the England national team following their disappointing exit from Euro 2016. Yes, it was a surprising exit at the hands of Iceland, but one that truthfully those closest to the game would know was coming for some time. It all started during the qualifying campaign. England qualified for France fairly convincingly, and with little effort, which ultimately ended up being their downfall. With no real competitive games as such in two years (with the exception of Switzerland), England was on auto pilot for too long. When manager Roy Hodgson did retake the controls in the few months in the run up to the tournament, it was as if he had forgotten exactly how to fly and was hastily retraining himself. A series of pointless international friendlies did nothing to convince the watching spectators that lifting the trophy in July would be a possibility. Instead those games only served to confuse the fans and media with former England winger confessing that he couldn’t work out what system England were playing and what the general plan was. These experimental games only seemed to serve the purpose of giving players like Danny Drinkwater and Andros Townsend false hope that they might squeeze on to the flight to France. In the end, neither did, and for their own reputations sake it’s probably a good thing.

Danny Drinkwater’s man of the match performance afainst Holland in a friendly before Euro 2016 did little for his chances (Image from Tumbl)

During the tournament England played a strong possession game which appeared to please Hodgson and the always animated Gary Neville. But possession without purpose leads to nothing and England made qualification from the group look extremely difficult for themselves. Hodgson, to be fair, did not help England’s chances when he made some strange choices, including shoehorning Wayne Rooney into the team as a midfielder so he could compensate for picking four other strikers in the squad of 23. His decision making in the run up to the tournament and throughout was poor; selecting a barely fit Jack Wilshire ahead of Drinkwater or the impressive Mark Noble of West Ham, for example. Similarly, putting his top marksman Harry Kane on all free kicks and corner kicks was so baffling even Kane probably didn’t understand why. Finally, his lack of a plan B on several occasions costs his side more than just three valuable points and potentially a fairly good shot at winning a relatively poor tournament outright.

Hodgson appeared to be unsure of his best team and formation leading up to Euro 2016 (image from Tumblr)

In the end, Hodgson fell on his sword resigning moments after the defeat at the hands of Iceland in the last 16. Almost instantaneously debates began over who should take over – Englishman or foreign, young or old. Sam Allardyce, Jurgen Klinsmann, Roberto Mancini, Arsene Wenger, Eddie Howe, Glenn Hoddle and strangely Steve Bruce were all linked with the position with Big Sam the clear bookies favourite as the search got underway. Leading the recruitment process is FA chief executive Martin Glenn (who candidly admitted that he knows nothing about football) so would be seeking out the advice of others in order to make an informed decision. In the end, a three man panel of Glenn, FA technical director Dan Ashworth and FA vice chairman David Gill will pick the 18th manager of England who will lead the team through the qualifying campaign for Russia 2018. However, as usual, the discussion around who they should appoint is focused on what type of manager they want to bring in, rather than the question that needs to be answered: what style or identity should the England national team have? That question more than any other will dictate who the right man (or woman) for the job should be. It’s an approach used by other nations during their selection process and was integral to the decision of the RFU (Rugby Football Union) to appoint Australian Eddie Jones to the position of head coach of the England Rugby team, a move that has already proved to be the right one.

The appointment of Eddie Jones by the RFU was doen based on the style of play that they wanted England to adopt (Image from Tumblr)

Answering that question however may be the difficult part. England historically has relied on big name players at the heart of their team with a formation developed around them, most of the time unsuccessfully. Nine times out of ten England breezes through qualifying for major tournaments creating a false sense of security that the formation is working. However it’s worth noting that England generally avoids the harder teams in the qualifying group draws due to their regular high positioning in the FIFA World rankings. As a result, it’s only at the tournament itself when England faces tougher oppositions that problems with the choice of formation occurs, usually leading to an exit. The lack of a plan B often also stems from this with the belief that plan A is good enough to work. Turning this on its head and starting first with the style or identity that England want to have will help define the formational options and the manager capable of making it work. For example, if England decided to follow Germany’s lead in playing a high pressing possession game then someone like Jurgen Klinsmann would make more sense than Sam Allardyce. It’s not necessarily that the Sunderland manager doesn’t know how to play a high pressing game but his experiences to date indicate that his preferences are towards other styles. If however England chose to play like Iceland as a tough to break down unit who are more rigid than fluid in nature, then Sam becomes one of the stand out candidates. Fundamentally the FA trio must focus less on Russia and more on the long term future of the national team. Build the foundations now to create long term success rather than constructing a half-baked solution that will need repairing or scrapping in four years time.

Is Sam Allardyce the right choice? (image from Tumblr)

Italy’s success at this year’s Euros are an indication of how effective this approach can be. The Italians were not blessed with the most talented squad going into the tournament with several Italian journalists calling it the worst team in fifty years. But in manager Antonio Conte they had a coach who understood the style that Italy wanted to play and built a formation around that. The players he then selected fit into this system rather than the other way around (which is what England did). When PSG’s Marco Veratti dropped out due to injury, Conte turned to Lazio’s Marco Parolo; a similar type of player who can drop straight into the gap left by Veratti rather than reworking his system to accommodate a different type of player. The entire squad knew the system, how they intended to play and what their role was leading Italy to a quarter final spot. England must learn from past mistakes, define their style and approach going forward. Once they have done this, only then can they confidently choose a manager who can be most effective in executing against that, regardless of who that is and where they come from.

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Vardy Run Continues But Hodgson Is Less Than Impressed

As far as zero to hero stories goes, Jamie Vardy’s takes the cake. The Leicester forward’s rags to riches story is remarkable given how far he has come in such a short space of time. Eight years ago, Vardy was playing non league football for Stocksbridge Park Steels F.C after being released by Sheffield Wednesday as  youngster. For many, being released by a football league club at such a young age would destroy your confidence but not for Vardy who used the experience as a learning curve. He knuckled down and trained hard with Stocksbridge which paid off with 66 goals in 107 appearances. That mentality and dedication has been the continuous theme in Vardy’s rise from non league to Premier League star. A constant performer, Vardy has risen through the ranks first moving to Halifax then on to Fleetwood before signing for Leicester in 2012. Now a regular for the Foxes and scoring for fun, Vardy is knocking on Roy Hodgson’s door so loudly that it is proving hard for the England manager to ignore him.

Vardy during his Stocksbridge days (Image from PA)

Vardy during his Stocksbridge days (Image from PA)

It was last season when Vardy first came to the England manager’s attention with some fine performances for Leicester under Nigel Pearson as they turned around a miserable start that saw them rooted to the bottom of the table at Christmas to securing  a mid table finish by the end of the season. Despite only scoring five times that season, it was Vardy’s overall contribution to the teams efforts and his non stop running that won him many plaudits. When Pearson was replaced in the summer by Italian Claudio Ranieri, many pundits believed that Leicester would struggle and eventually be relegated. However the Foxes have been in stunning form and currently sit 3rd in the Premier League with 25 points from 12 games. Key to their success has been Vardy who has scored in nine consecutive Leicester games and is now chasing Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of ten goals for Manchester United. His exploits have spawned praise from far and wide and has included some remarkable comparisons to some of the games greatest strikers including Argentine goal scoring legend Gabriel Batistuta.

Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta (Image from Getty)

Gabriel ‘Batigol’ Batistuta
(Image from Getty)

The comparison to Batistuta is complementary but somewhat in jest. Vardy’s form for Leicester this season (and arguably last) has been impressive and deserves the praise he is collecting. But his manager’s remarks after the game were directed more towards answering the question asked than making comparisons. The question posed to Ranieri was when was the last time that he saw a player score on such a frequent basis. His answer was Gabriel Batistuta’s eleven goal run for Fiorentina back in the 1994-1995 season. Ranieri, who managed the Viola from 1993 to 1997 was hardly saying that Vardy reminded him of Batistuta but instead remarking on his incredible goal scoring run which was similar to that of Batigol’s ten years earlier. Batistuta is one of the world’s greatest strikers to have played the game scoring over 300 goals in just over 500 appearances for club and country during a 17 year playing career. At 29 years old, Vardy is quite a long way behind Batistuta’s exploits with only 163 goals in just under 300 appearances (most of which were non league) and has yet to score for his country in four tries.

Scoring for England is the next goal for Vardy who deservedly should be called up for England’s next few friendly matches. With Rooney short of form, Sturridge permanently injured and Theo Walcott more comfortable on the wing, Hodgson has a shortage of recognizable front men. With qualification to Euro 2016 already secured, the friendlies between now and next summer will be crucial for Hodgson to judge who should make his 23 man squad. Rooney, despite bad form will be there regardless as will Tottenham’s Harry Kane but the other striker positions are still up for debate. Vardy is keen to impress and show Hodgson what he can do but he needs playing time to do so. Whilst happy to include him in recent squads, it would appear as though Hodgson sees Vardy’s role with the team as being a wide player rather than the one that has seen him be so deadly in front of goal for Leicester, the traditional number nine role. In a recent press conference, Hodgson appeared to blast Vardy by saying that Vardy will play in whatever position that he dictates and that the player should just be grateful to be included.

Hodgson seems less than impressed by Vardy (Image from AFP)

Hodgson seems less than impressed by Vardy
(Image from AFP)

This remarkable outburst was unprompted as Vardy had not made any statement or remark to the media about his unhappiness to play out wide. Hodgson’s reluctance may get the better of him if England find themselves a goal behind with twenty minutes left in a crucial group game in France next summer. As he glances along that bench for a player in search of a player would can run like a man possessed and create chances from nothing, will he regret not giving Vardy a shot and a chance to impress in advance of the tournament beginning. Lets see.

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Defoe Calls Time On Love/Hate Relationship With Toronto

Defoe has joined Sunderland from Toronto (Image from Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)In truth it was a love affair of convenience rather than choice that brought Jermain Defoe to Toronto FC. Desperate to remove himself from the White Hart Lane bench in order to increase his England World Cup chances, Defoe would have settled for anywhere as long as he could play regularly. Unfortunately for him, that only option was a move to Canada and the vastly improving MLS as a designated player. TFC pulled out all the stops to persuade Defoe to quit London for Toronto offering him a package that was too good to refuse, wining and dining his mother all across the city and even having Toronto born rapper Drake call the player in an effort to swing favour. But did he really want to leave London for the icy winters in Toronto? Honestly no but he had little choice.

Mummy's boy - Defoe's return to England is likely to have been forced by his mother  (Image from Getty)

Mummy’s boy – Defoe’s return to England is likely to have been forced by his mother
(Image from Getty)

Defoe may have said the right things at the press conference but beneath that fake smile lay the dark truth – he was using Toronto to get to Brazil. He or his advisers had convinced him that playing and scoring regularly for Toronto would give him the edge over other rivals for a spot in the final 23 man squad. With Rooney guaranteed, Defoe was aiming for one of the other three places but did he really stand a chance? Given that his competition was the trio of Lambert, Welbeck and Sturridge, Defoe must have realized that even a move to Barcelona couldn’t have helped his chances. Given that Rickie Lambert, the then Southampton striker who at 31 was scoring for fun on more than a regular basis and offered a more physical presence than Defoe. Or Danny Welbeck, a standout player in a very average performing Manchester United team under David Moyes, who won favour with England boss Roy Hodgson thanks in part to a series of stellar performances during qualifying. Or perhaps it was Daniel Sturridge who he thought he could displace despite the Liverpool striker being in the best form of his life and seen as England’s best striker. Of course Defoe was a shoe in for a place, why wouldn’t he considering that his ego had already told himself that he had one foot on the plane. In the end Hodgson rightly or wrongly didn’t select Defoe for the World Cup thus ending the dream and with it Toronto’s chances of holding onto their big name signing.

Never in doubt - Only injury could have stopped Lambert from taking his place in the England World Cup squad  (Image from Getty)

Never in doubt – Only injury could have stopped Lambert from taking his place in the England World Cup squad
(Image from Getty)

So on the coldest day in Toronto so far this year (-33 with the wind chill), Defoe finally bided adieu to his home for less than a year and headed back to London to sign for… well no-one. Instead he is heading north to Sunderland, a place not known for its warmth either. A swap deal plus cash move that sees US striker Jozy Altidore head to Canada has been agreed and Defoe has gotten his wish, to return to the Premiership and of course to his beloved mother. Defoe will retain the astronomical wages that he was given in Canada at Sunderland, along with his belief that a return to the national team is a possibility. Toronto on the other hand will pick up the pieces of Defoe’s failed move and focus on replacing him, either with Altidore on his own (if the MLS agrees to it of course) leading the line or as part of a new front duo alongside rumoured target Italy and Juventus striker Sebastian Giovinco.

US striker Jozy Atlidore is Toronto bound, if the MLS approves  (Image from Mike Russell | mikerussellfoto.com)

US striker Jozy Atlidore is Toronto bound, if the MLS approves
(Image from Mike Russell | mikerussellfoto.com)

The heavily advertised “Bloody Big Deal” has spectacularly ended with a whimper with few fans disappointed to see Defoe go. Whilst he may have performed well during his 19 games for the club, the player’s attitude and apparent need of an escape route as soon as possible quickly turned the home crowd against him. Even the two men responsible for engineering the move – Tim Bezbatchencko and Tim Leiweke could not hide their distaste for the man towards the end. Whether this was an eye opening experience for the pair is unknown but surely they must have predicted this when they signed Defoe in the first place? Hardly filled with options, Defoe could either languish on the bench at Spurs or give this MLS malarkey a go in the hopes that he became a superstar once more like Henry or Keane had. Unfortunately for Defoe both of those players, who he called out as reasons for his optimism for the league, were superstars when they arrived; not because of it.

Defoe’s return to the Premiership will be viewed by many as a career salvaging move, with the striker still highly regarded by many in England. His spell in North America will be viewed in the future as successful given his goals to game ratio however the underlining truth is that it wasn’t. From the day Defoe arrived in Toronto, he was engineering his escape. That escape has been found and for the MLS its good riddance. Toronto may suffer in the short term from his departure but longer term will become a stronger team. Defoe on the other hand could have made yet another terrible mistake by joining relegation threatened Sunderland. He must believe that he can score the goals to rescue them and keep them in the Premiership, but if he can’t then once again he will be looking towards the exit door.

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Spurs Blitz Adds To Mourinho’s Woes

Not quite the start to 2015 that Jose Mourinho had hoped for as he watched in horror as his title hopes took a major dent. With Manchester City firmly on their tail, Chelsea travelled across London to face Tottenham, a side who have quietly been working away to build up some much needed form and momentum. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have been on a good run of late and were hoping to find some of the Chelsea players nursing hangovers from their New Year’s eve celebrations. What they did find was a Chelsea team looked vulnerbale and there for the beating despite taking an eighteen minute lead. But Spurs rallied well and in the end the game turned into a whitewash as Tottenham won by 5 goals to 3. It was Mourinho’s heaviest defeat as Chelsea boss in either of the two periods he has been in charge. The forced substitution of Ryan Mason (due to injury) only fourteen minutes into the game for Moussa Dembele may have actually worked for Spurs. Dembele sat back more than Mason which allowed Erikson, Rose, Chaldi and Kane to attack with more freedom. Chaldi like Kane has been a revelation this season and was instrumental in setting up chance after chance for his teammates.

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None of Mourinho’s men covered themselves in glory unlike Spurs hottest new prospect Harry Kane who continues to impress. It was yet another match winning perfromance from the 21 year old with a stunning brace. Spurs fans were rightly concerned in the summer at the lack of striking options at the club. Emmanuel Adebeyor is too often caught up in his own drama to be reliable whilst the shot shy Spaniard Roberto Soldado has still to show the waiting public exactly why Spurs splash £26million for his services. But they need not have worry because in their youth ranks was a genuine gem. Kane has stepped up under Pochettino to fill the void and has demonstrated maturity well beyond his years handling the pressure of playing in these types of matches as if it was second nature. With sixteen goals in all competitions so far this season, Kane has a growing list of admirers including current England boss Roy Hodgson.

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It is becoming harder and harder for Hodgson to ignore the player especially given his mantra about picking players by form and not by reputation. In truth, its a nice problem to have as Hodgson surveys the opions before their next European qualifying match in March. The debate over who should partner Wayne Rooney up front rages on with several candidates in the running. Liverpools Daniel Sturridge is the preferred option however recent injuries have limited his playing time. Similar issues with Arsenal duo Danny Welbeck and Theo Walcott have forced Hodgson to explore other options. West Ham’s Andy Carroll is making a push for a recall after some stellar performances but its Kane who has been in more consistant form this season so should get the nod. Already part of Gareth Southgates Under 21 side, Kane is focused on maintaining a regular starting spot for Tottenham but would welcome a call up to the full international team.

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Spurs now find themselves in fifth place whereas Chelsea now drop to second behind Manchester City. Its Chelsea recent away form that has resulted in the change in positions as Mourinhos men let an eight point lead slip. One win in their last five away matches in unacceptable for a title winning side and Mourinho knows that he needs to rectify the problem quickly to avoid slipping further down the table. For Spurs and Kane the only way is up and the manner in which they brushed aside Chelsea will give them a confidence going into their next set of fixtures.

Defoe To Remain In Toronto, For Now

Under Pressure - Tim Bezbatchenko (Image from Getty)

It was a very long day for Tim Bezbatchenko and one that he won’t necessarily forget any time soon. Just a day after sacking manager Ryan Nelsen and his entire coaching staff for what he deemed as a run of poor results, the Toronto FC general manager was back in the trenches again trying to prevent Jermain Defoe from leaving the club. Three English Premiership clubs including QPR were actively pursuing the England striker during transfer deadline day, in the hopes of persuading him to move back home. Defoe appeared to be keen to move given his timely yet unnecessary flight back to England for apparent treatment on a groin injury. Indeed a bid was made by QPR and their Defoe loving boss Harry Redknapp but Bezbatchenko and Toronto rejected it outright insisting the player was staying. Rumours began to circulate that Defoe was unhappy in Toronto and in the general direction that the club was going in which given the sacking of his friend Nelsen the day before makes sense.

Nelsen's sacking has made Defoe unhappy  (Image from cp)

Nelsen’s sacking has made Defoe unhappy
(Image from cp)

Back tracking eight months, Defoe’s arrival in Toronto was a spectacular affair, a bloody big deal as defined by MLSE (Toronto FC’s owners, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment). Defoe became one of the league’s highest paid players, alongside fellow new signing Michael Bradley and spoke of his excitement about joining the club and the massive opportunity it presented. His reason behind leaving Tottenham for the MLS was the challenge it presented and the chance to make an impact in a league that was flourishing. But in truth Defoe moved to Toronto for one reason – to get regular first team football in order to secure a spot in the England squad for the World Cup in Brazil. Things started brightly with a debut brace for Defoe in his first match in March against Seattle. However despite some good performances and another five goals, Defoe was eventually overlooked by England boss Roy Hodgson. Defoe now had a dilemma. At 31, he has still a lot to offer and the MLS wasn’t challenging him. Yes he was the clubs top goal scorer with 11 and Toronto looked good for a playoff place in the Eastern Conference but was this really where he wanted to be? Given the chance, a move back to the Premiership would be his real dream so that he could once again get the chance to play for his country. All he needed was an exit strategy, and one that Bezbatchenko handed to him on a plate with the sacking of Nelson. Now “disgruntled” by the direction the club was going in, Toronto would surely sell him on at a healthy profit in order to protect face right?

Bloody Big Deal - Defoe and Bradley arrive  (Image from CP)

Bloody Big Deal – Defoe and Bradley arrive
(Image from CP)

The irony that Defoe was in the UK on transfer deadline day looks to have been missed by most in the media. For the injury Defoe has, there was no real reason for him to travel to the UK for specialist treatment as he could have received that in Canada. More likely, his agent convinced his want away client to be in England so that he could attend signing talks in person with any potential suitors on deadline day. When Harry came calling, Defoe was London bound with QPR the destination. Personal terms were agreed swiftly with Redknapp keen to sign the striker who has played for him three times before at West Ham, Portsmouth and Spurs. Now the only thing that stood in the way was the transfer fee. A bid was formally made, rumoured to be in the £11million mark almost double what Toronto paid Spurs but was rejected. Toronto refused to part with the player as they chased a coveted playoff berth. The deal was dead and Defoe is staying in Toronto, well for the time being. During a hastily arranged press conference, Bezbatchenko reassured Toronto fans that Defoe was committed to the cause but refused to give them what they wanted to hear – that Defoe was staying for the long term.

Old Friends - Defoe and Redknapp  (Image from AP)

Old Friends – Defoe and Redknapp
(Image from AP)

What has likely happened is that Defoe and Bezbatchenko have made an unwritten agreement for the England striker to stay at the club until the end of the MLS season and help the club into the play offs before he is sold back to England (and QPR) during the January transfer window. The deal works for everyone, giving Defoe the route back to England he so desperately wants and Toronto the time to find yet another bloody big deal signing. Bezbatchenko and Toronto get to keep face and will spin it in January that they gained a healthy profit from the sale of Defoe and have reinvested it in their new to be announced star striker. The plan is flawless except for one potential problem – Harry Redknapps long term future. Given QPR’s stuttering start to the season, Redknapp knows that he must improve the team’s results or face the axe which in turn could kill any potential deal for Defoe. Other suitors may appear but whether they are as an attractive an opportunity to Defoe as working again with Redknapp is unsure. Defoe may end up being stuck in Toronto and in turn Toronto may be stuck with a designated player who doesn’t want to be at the club. It will be then that Bezbatchenko will look back on the events of September 1st 2014 and wonder whether he should have just accepted that bid from QPR and let go of his troublesome headache once and for all.

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Can Koeman Convince Southampton Starlets To Stay?

Koeman faces an uphill struggle to keep his stars (Image from Getty)Ronald Koeman faces an uphill challenge from day one in his new job as Southampton manager. The Dutch legend, who signed a three year deal on Monday, must spend the summer trying to convince key members of his new squad to stay. Luke Shaw, Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Calum Chambers have all been linked with moves away from the club following the departure of former coach Mauricio Pochettino last month to Tottenham. It now falls to Koeman to convince them not to follow their former coach out of the exit door and that he can fulfill their ambitions by growing the club into European contenders. Koeman, who will be assisted at the club by his brother Edwin and long time friend Jan Kluitenberg, will seek talks with the quintet as soon as possible in order to secure them for next season.

Koeman signs on at Southampton  (Image from PA)

Koeman signs on at Southampton
(Image from PA)

However Croatian defender Dejan Lovren has already requested a formal transfer so persuading him to change his mind may be beyond Koemans’ powers. Adam Lallana has been heavily linked with Liverpool who raided Southampton earlier this summer for England striker Rickie Lambert. Lambert and Lallana are currently in Brazil as part of Roy Hodgson’s England World Cup team and will be talking about the prospect of linking up again at Anfield next season. Lamberts former striker partner Jay Rodriguez was also due to be in Brazil but injury ruled him out which strangely may work in Koeman’s favour. If he can get to Rodriguez early before he has recovered, he may be able to convince his that his future lies at St Mary’s rather than elsewhere. Koeman should also be able to talk Calum Chambers into staying another year, that is unless Arsene Wenger finally puts money behind his admiration for the player and places a bid for him. Arsenal have already lost Bacary Sagna to Manchester City so need a replacement right back before too long with Chambers one of several options under consideration by Wenger. Koeman will want to hold on to the talented right back who is destined to be a full England international within the next few years. The chances of him doing so are high given the players love of the club and strong sense of loyality.

Lambert will be trying to persuade Lallana to join him at Liverpool  (Image from Getty)

Lambert will be trying to persuade Lallana to join him at Liverpool
(Image from Getty)

The same unfortunately cannot be said about left back Luke Shaw who will likely be leaving for a substantial fee this summer. After a stunning season last year, Shaw stock has risen considerably and is now seen as one of the brightest prospects in European football. With a sweet left foot and stunning pace, Shaw was picked ahead of Ashley Cole to be the support act for Leighton Baines in the England squad. Until recently Chelsea and Manchester United were fighting it out for his signature but it appears that Chelsea have now turned their attentions elsewhere clearing the path for Shaw to move to old Trafford. Koeman will not give up hope of retaining him and will use his fame as former PSV, Barcelona and Holland defender to persuade Shaw that he can learn a lot from Koeman by hanging around.

United bound? - Luke Shaw  (Image from AFP)

United bound? – Luke Shaw
(Image from AFP)

The other option to Koeman would be to cash in on all five players which would likely net Southampton somewhere in the region of £70-80million to then rebuild but the risks evolved plus the backlash from the fans makes this a last resort. Keeping all five would be the best scenario for Koeman and building his new team around them for his first assault on the Premiership. Success for Koeman is building upon the work that Pochettino started and helping Southampton to grow beyond that. Failure would likely start by letting all five players follow Pochettino out of the exit door.

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Is Lambert’s Move To Liverpool The Wrong One?

Lambert signs on at Liverpool (Image from Getty)Last season was for Rickie Lambert the thing that dreams are made off. Starring in a high flying Premiership side as their lead striker, pulling on an England Jersey aged 31 for your first cap against arch rivals Scotland before scoring the winning and finishing the season as part of England’s World Cup squad heading for Brazil. And now to top things off, he is heading back to his boyhood club Liverpool as their first summer signing. You could hardly blame Lambert if he felt that he needed to pinch himself. Liverpool are obviously keen to take advantage of Mauricio Pochettino’s departure from Southampton and snap up Lambert for a fee believed to be in the region of £4million before the new manager has a chance to object. Or perhaps Liverpool wants to make sure they land the burly striker in advance of any star World Cup performance which brings in other suitors. Either way, Liverpool are playing their cards early as they gear up for another assault on the Premiership title and Champions League.

Hodgson has selected Lambert for his World Cup Squad  (Image from PA)

Hodgson has selected Lambert for his World Cup Squad
(Image from PA)

But the question that needs to be asked is why manager Brendan Rodgers has bought Lambert and how he intends to use his new striking option. In addition, given that Lambert is used to playing as a lone striker, can he adapt to Liverpool’s style of playing with two strikers. Likely Rodgers will use him sporadically as a different threat than his preferred current striking duo of Sturridge and Suarez. It’s also likely that Lambert will make more match appearances from the bench that he will start, which could in the long run damage Lambert’s ambitions to gain more England caps before his impending retirement in the next four to five years. At 32, this is Lamberts last big move and whilst Liverpool is a huge club, it’s hard to see how Lambert will be playing regularly as he would like or need to be. So whilst a move away from Southampton is inevitable, would a move to another Premiership club or abroad that could offer a starting slot be more beneficial to the player?

Starting Pair - Lambert faces a challenge to displace Suarez and Sturridge  (Image from Getty)

Starting Pair – Lambert faces a challenge to displace Suarez and Sturridge
(Image from Getty)

Depending on how Lambert plays at the World Cup, he could have his choice of clubs to play for. Lambert should look at Irish defender Gary Breen, who after a starring role at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan ended up with a move to Inter Milan before a failed medical that curtailed his Italian dream just as it began. Inter Milan were rumoured to have fought off Barcelona and Bayern Munich to seal Breen’s signature, which shows how powerful a showcasing tool the World Cup can be. This isn’t to say that this would or could happen for Lambert but he won’t know until after the end of the tournament or at least until England is knocked out. By signing for Liverpool now, his options are reduced to the bare minimum with few clubs likely to test the waters to sign him. Playing for your boyhood club is a dream of many a player and Lambert came close to doing so after being on Liverpool’s books for five years as a kid. But in the end they released him and kick started the long road back to the top for Lambert from lower league to World Cup. Heading back may open up old wounds but Lambert is older and wiser now so should be able to cope with it. Whether it ruins his career which he has fought so hard to build may however be harder to cope with.

Remember Gary Breen who was close to Inter Milan move after stunning World Cup  (Image from AFP)

Remember Gary Breen who was close to Inter Milan move after stunning World Cup
(Image from AFP)

Lambert breezed through his medical yesterday and signed the contract that officially makes him a Liverpool player. He spoke about fulfilling his dream to play once again for the club he loves and will be focused on proving his worth right from the first kick. Lambert will be aware that Liverpool have trudged this road before with a traditional British number 9 in the form of Andy Carroll with disastrous consequences. Carroll, a £35 million buy from Newcastle, failed to adapt to Liverpool’s system of playing and after a trouble filled 18 months was shipped out on loan to West Ham before eventually making the move permanent. Like Lambert, Carroll at the time had just made his break through into the England team and was seen as the future but now, after flopping at Liverpool, struggles to catch Roy Hodgson’s attention. Lambert must be careful not to fall into the same trap as Carroll who saw a move to Liverpool as the start of something great only for it to end in failure. If the same happened to Lambert, it would be the second time around that he was let down by the club he loves but unlike the younger Carroll, it may end up being the killer career move for the new England number nine.

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Hodgson’s Dilemma at Left Back – Youth vs. Experience

The emergence of Shaw has raised questions over Cole (Image from PA)The emergence of Luke Shaw as a future England left back comes at a welcome time for England manager Roy Hodgson as he contemplates what to do with Ashley Cole. The Chelsea defender has hardly featured this season which in a world Cup year has thrown up a lot of questions about who would travel to Brazil to compete for the starting position at left back with Everton’s Leighton Baines. Candidates were few and far between with Aston Villa’s Ryan Bertrand and Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott other options, but youngster Shaw offers a long term option. The Southampton attacking full back has been a revelation for the club since making his debut last season.

Baines is set to be the starting left back for England  (Image from Getty)

Baines is set to be the starting left back for England
(Image from Getty)

Playing for Southampton has been a blessing in disguise for Shaw. Once on the brink of folding whilst languishing in League One, Southampton has rebounded spectacularly and has now become an example club to many in the Premiership. Dangling that close to extinction can be the kick in the ass that most clubs need to evaluate their business model, which is exactly what Southampton did. Once financially secured, Southampton vowed to never fall back into its old ways and decided to invest heavily in youth development. The pay off of this decision is now being felt by the club who boast youth academy graduates like Shaw, Lallana, Chambers and James Ward Prowse as first team regulars. Shaw and Lallana are now full England internationalist and look increasingly likely to be on the plane to Brazil. Shaw made his debut against Denmark and immediately impressed with his willingness to run at opposition defenders in addition to protecting the back line. It was a debut reminiscent to that of a young then Arsenal left back called Ashley Cole. Like Shaw, Cole rose through his team’s youth setup and when he burst onto the scene was one of the most exciting prospects in his position in Europe. He has since gone on to become one of England’s most decorated left backs winning 107 caps for his country in a 13 years period. Now at Chelsea, Cole’s career has started to falter over the past few years. A string of injuries as well as some off field misdemeanors has tarnished his reputation as well as his marriage to pop singer Cheryl Cole. Now 33, Cole looks likely to leave Chelsea this summer for one last stab at first team football. Where has yet to be decided but having a successful World Cup may help Cole to rebuild his reputation and earn him one last big pay day. He needs to get on that plane ahead of all others but his chances are being greatly reduced by the form of Shaw.

Cole has featured 14 times this season  (Image from AFP)

Cole has featured 14 times this season
(Image from AFP)

One of the stand out performers of this Premiership season, Shaw continues to go from strength to strength. The combination of youthful exuberance and raw talent has benefited Southampton in its push for a top eight finish and has gained Shaw praise from a variety of sources. Former England international and FA Director of Football Development Trevor Brooking has described Shaw as “technically very gifted whilst teammate Adam Lallana described him as “ an outstanding talent and one of the best – probably the best – player I’ve ever seen at 18”. Manager Mauricio Pochettino knows he faces an uphill battle to keep a hold of Shaw during this summer with the vultures already circling. Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Real Madrid are all said to have expressed an interest in the youngster but like Cole, a sterling performance at the World Cup could help add further names to the list of interested parties. In a flat race between the two, Shaw looks likely to be picked over Cole due to form and future promise. But with Cole you have a professional with years of experience, something which could come in very handy in the pressure cooker environment that is the World Cup. Hodgson has a difficult decision to make and will upset one of the two. Does he favour youth over experience or does he hand Cole one last chance at salvation and a chance to kick start his career again? We will only have to wait one more month before Hodgson is forced to make his call and name his squad for Brazil.

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Toronto Off To A Flyer But With A Long Way To Go

Defoe starts with a bang (Image from Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)It was the perfect start to the new season for Toronto F.C. with Jermaine Defoe hitting a brace on his debut for the club as they brushed aside Seattle by 2-1. But for Ryan Nielsen the work really now begins as he looks to put Toronto onto the footballing map once and for all. The team has invested heavily in the summer with a complete revamp of its first team squad. In has come some impressive name’s like Defoe, Michael Bradley, Julio Cesar and De Rosario to complement an already refurbished line up. Nelsen has built a solid experienced spine in Cesar, Steven Caldwell, Bradley and Defoe and is flooding his team with a mix of rising stars and established MLS players.

A Defoe brace sealed victory for TFC  (Image from Getty)

A Defoe brace sealed victory for TFC
(Image from Getty)

Against Seattle, the starting eleven looked solid enough from back to front. Justin Morrow, a pre season acquisition from San Jose Earthquakes looks capable enough at left back whilst Bradley Orr, a second half substitute against Seattle due to his slow recovery from illness, should make the right back position his own. Nelsen will look to captain Caldwell to nurture and sheppard rising star Doneil Henry at centre back as the duo look to complete a solid defence for Toronto. Brazilian Cesar will provide a much needed stable and reliable last line of defence as goalkeeper in this new look team. The capture of Cesar, even on loan, would have been the MLS signing of the year if Toronto hadn’t already nabbed that title with the double signing of Bradley and Defoe.

Safe Hands - Julio Cesar  (Image from Getty)

Safe Hands – Julio Cesar
(Image from Getty)

In the midfield, Bradley has a key role to play and his partnership with Jonathan Osorio in the centre of the park will be crucial to the team’s forward motion. Whilst Defoe will likely earn the plaudits for his goals, Toronto’s season hinges on whether Bradley and Osorio can form an effective working partnership and how quickly this happens. Against Seattle, there were early signs that this was a work in progress, with Bradley taking more of a leadership role. This was not unexpected given his experience versus his partners’ younger years but he needs to command the space and marshall his young companion more if Toronto is to flourish. Nelsen has the duo setup as cover for one another – if Bradley pushes forward, Osorio is to sit back and vice versa. But against Seattle this didn’t happen as much as needed and Toronto was duly punished for it when Seattle scored. With both Bradley and Osorio caught high up the pitch and out of position, a Dempsey inspired Seattle broke quickly with the US International striker latching on to the ball just inside the box to smash it under a diving Julio Cesar. Better teams than Seattle would have used this momentum to punish Toronto again but the Sounders looked dazed and confused by Defoe’s early brace. Toronto will need to be wary of this as the move forward in the season.

Dempsey punished Toronto after Bradley and Osario were caught out of position  (Image by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

Dempsey punished Toronto after Bradley and Osario were caught out of position
(Image by Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)

On the wings, Rey and Jackson were creative but looked and operated more as wide midfielders than traditional wingers. This could be a problem for Toronto as the season goes on, with a lack of out and out wingers at the club to create chances for Defoe. Nelsen may prefer to operate without them but he needs options and the ability to adjust tactics if needed, as teams start to get use to the way that Toronto will play this season. Letting Matias Laba leave may come back to haunt Nelsen in the long run. Up front, Toronto finally looks strong. Against Seattle Jermaine Defoe looked unstoppable. Whilst he limited his running to short bursts, he was effective in the game and showcased his finishing abilities with two superbly taken goals. With a revitalized De Rosario in support and Gilberto on his way back from injury, Toronto have what they have desperately sought after for years – a strike force to be feared. Keeping Defoe fit and free of injury will be key as well as maintaining his interest post this summer’s World Cup. Defoe is clearly out to prove to England boss Roy Hodgson that he can and should be part of his final squad and if he continues to score, it will be hard for Hodgson to ignore him. However if he doesn’t make the squad, motivation may be a factor and a Defoe that lacks conviction could spell financial disaster for Toronto. After a strong start, Toronto now head home and start preparations for Saturday’s game against DC united. The anticipation from the home fans will be another three points but with the season still stirring from its winter hibernation, have we really seen the true Toronto FC yet? Good or bad, they will interesting to watch this year.

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England Hold Their Breath As The World Cup Draw Nears

Getting ready for the draw (Image from FIFA)With the World Cup draw happening tomorrow, nerves in the England camp are at an all time high.  England’s fate will be decided at 5pm (GMT) in Bahia, Brazil so in advance BOTN explores what could be England’s worst group.  Using the existing pools (England are in pot 4) and based on the various rules and regulations attached to the draw itself, here is the “Group of Death” for England. It features Spain from Pot 1, Chile from Pot 2 and Mexico form Pot 3 with England filling the final place from Pot 4.

Current World Cup holders, Spain  (Image from Getty)

Current World Cup holders, Spain
(Image from Getty)

The current World and European champions are amongst those in pot one that could pose a real threat to England’s chances. In fact all eight teams, with the possible exception of Switzerland will be a serious threat to England’s qualification hopes. Spain have talent in abundance and are incredibly hard to break down due to their intense passing game. Xavi and Iniesta are likely to dominate the play with Fabergas and Mata as support options. At the back, they have a solid backline with centre back pairing Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos causing problems for opposition strikers, roaming just in front of Casillas, Reina or Valdes in goal. Upfront Spain’s rich talent pool continues with the likes of Fernando Torres, David Villa, Fernando Llorente and  Roberto Soldado to name a few offering options. Adding to this mix is newly converted Atletico Madrid striker Diego Costa who has been in blistering form so far this season. The Brazilian born striker, who recently pledged his allegiance to Spain instead of his homeland, has forged a successful partnership with David Villa for Atletico. This surely gives Spanish head coach Vicente del Bosque food for thought on whether he should unleash the pair for Spain during next summer’s tournament.

Diego Costa and David Villa  (Image from AFP Getty Images)

Diego Costa and David Villa
(Image from AFP Getty Images)

Chile tested England in their last trip to Wembley just under a month ago as Alexis Sanchez backed up his talking off the pitch with a sublime performance. The Barcelona striker made a sly remark about England’s pathway system for future footballers stating how it was too easy for youngsters to join academies and automatically play for a club in the future. In Chile the academy system is nowhere near as advanced as it is in England but appears to be producing the goods. At Wembley they convincingly beat England 2-0, throwing Roy Hodgson’s plans into disarray. Although England chose to field an altered side for the match allowing them to test some new faces, it was a huge win for the South American’s who have shown with the emergence of star players like Sanchez, Arturo Vidal, Felipe Gutiérrez and Gary Medal that they are a future force in world football.  Pot 3 may be considered to be the weakest pot but within them lies the stinging tail of Mexico who could relinquish all hope for England. With a squad made up of established stars and Olympic winning youthful exuberance, Mexico are considered to be one of the tournaments dark horses. Despite taking a rocky path in qualifying, Mexico’s strength is their desire to succeed which makes them a dangerous opponent.  Upfront, Mexico can call upon Manchester United’s  Javier Hernandez, Valencia’s Giovani Dos Santos or Santos Laguna’s Oribe Peralta to score the goals needed to progress.  In midfield, head coach Miguel Herrera mixes experience in the form of Andres Guardado (who is one game off his century for his country) with up and coming stars like Porto’s Héctor Herrera with some success. He could also spring a few surprises with his final squad selection if Erick Torres or Marco Fabian make the cut. Both players are good examples of the rich talent that Mexico is producing and that England needs to be aware of if they draw them in the World Cup.  

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England  (Image from PA)

Chile ran out victors the last time they faced England
(Image from PA)

In the World Cup, there is no such thing as an easy team as England have found out in the past. There are various other teams who pose a threat to England’s chances of progression, most noticeably host’s Brazil, a Messi inspired Argentina and arch rivals, Germany. But some of the dark horses could also cause problems such as the Ivory Coast or Ecuador. Ivory Coast has plenty of talent including Manchester City’s Yaya Toure, former Chelsea striker Didier Drogba, Roma’s Gervinho and CSKA Moscow’s Seydou Doumbia. They will be no pushovers, nor will Ecuador who are an improving side and will be a lot tougher than the last time England played them in 2006. Antonio Valencia and Vitesse’s Renato Ibarra are two talented wingers with lots of pace to burn plus with Felipe Caicedo up front, Ecuador could be a real threat. The country is still hurting from the death of legend Christian Benetiz so will be approaching the World Cup with a desire to do well for his memory. The USA are also amongst the group of teams who could be a potential danger as England found out in 2010 in South Africa. Coach Jürgen Klinsmann has spent the past few years experimenting with different players but now has established a nucleus of talent like Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley that he is building his team around. Added into this the emergence of Brek Shea, Terrance Boyd and Sunderland’s Jozy Altidore, Klinsmann has a strong group that is ready and prepared for the World Cup next year.

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw  (Image from Getty)

Hodgson will be hoping that he is still smiling after the draw
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson and England will be hoping to avoid such a nightmare by drawing a generous group such as Switzerland, Algeria and Iran. Based on previous draws, England has had luck on their side but can it hold for Brazil? Interestingly one team in pot 4 will be moved into pot 2 just before the draw starts. This is to allow for 4 groups of eight and a somewhat easier drawing process. That said, it is still quite confusing as FIFA will not allow a group to have more than two European teams in it so adjustments will need to be made, ruling out the three European teams in Pot 1 being pulled.  If England were chosen for Pot 2, it could play in their favour or perhaps not. Either way, Hodgson is unlikely to get any sleep tonight as he worries about who his team will face next summer.

Blog by Richard Waterhouse

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A Page Too Far? Managerial Autobiographies Are Upsetting Many

Sir Alex Ferguson book (Image from Getty) Sometimes is best to leave things unsaid, to avoid confrontation and upsetting people’s feelings. Arguments, disagreements and opinions especially in a close knit community like in football should remain between the individuals concerned and out of the media. But it appears as though no one told Harry Redknapp and Sir Alex Ferguson who both released warts and all auto biographies that are now causing a stir. With the media glare firmly on the books and the content found within, Redknapp and Ferguson are now under the microscope for some of their more controversial comments.

Redknapp's book signing (Image from Getty)

Redknapp’s book signing (Image from Getty)

In Ferguson’s book, entitled “Alex Ferguson: My Autobiography”, he talks openly about his time as United boss including the players he managed. Deciding not to hold back, Ferguson called former Aston Villa and United goalkeeper Mark Bosnich as the laziest player he ever managed whilst also slamming Owen Hargreaves as non committal and the worst signing he ever made. Harsh words for a player he once described as “sensational talent”. Hargreaves is likely to take offence to the claim in Ferguson’s book and will cite his reoccurring injuries as the reason for his troubled time at United, which Ferguson also claims was self induced and a result of lack of determination on Hargreaves part to overcome them. Ferguson goes on to say that United considered suing the former England midfielder over claims by Hargreaves that the United’s medical staff had let him down.

Ferguson cited Hargreaves as a poor signing  (Image from Dailynewsen.com)

Ferguson cited Hargreaves as a poor signing
(Image from Dailynewsen.com)

Bosnich and Hargreaves weren’t the only two to feel the heat from the book. Ferguson opened up about the decisions to let star players like David Beckham and Roy Keane leave United, insisting that the pair had to move on, with the latter in particular coming as a relief when he did. Ferguson claims that Keane’s attitude towards the end of his career at Old Trafford was affecting the entire squad and eventually overstepped the mark by criticizing his teammates in an interview with MUTV. Keane hit back saying that Sir Alex didn’t know the meaning of loyalty and that Ferguson should be grateful for what his players did over the years instead of talking about them in a book after he retired. Bosnich and Hargreaves are also reported to be upset at the comments with Bosnich going as far as to ask Ferguson for a face to face meeting to discuss them in more detail.

Bosnich has taken exception to the comments made by Ferguson  (Image from AP)

Bosnich has taken exception to the comments made by Ferguson
(Image from AP)

Redknapp doesn’t fare any better and indeed has reopened old wounds by talking in length in his book “Harry – My Autobiography” about his fall out with Billy Bond. The pair haven’t spoken since a falling out whilst Bond was West Ham manager and Redknapp was his assistant. In his book, Redknapp talks of his remorse at the breakdown in communication between the pair, citing external circumstances and a misunderstanding that led to Bonds removal as West Ham manager in 1994. Bonds has since branded Redknapp’s version of the event as all lies and has called his former friend pathetic for adapting the truth to suit his book. Redknapp’s approach to his book is less scathing than Ferguson, instead prefers to talk in length about the great players he has bought or worked with. Players like Paolo Di Canio, Rio Ferdinand and Paulo Future, all of which played for him at West Ham. So far no players have had a negative reaction to what Redknapp has written in his book but he may face a back lash over his claims that the English FA has no clue what they are doing, following the appointment of Roy Hodgson over him last year. Whilst not attacking Roy himself, Redknapp suggested the appointment was a surprise to many, who all suspected he had the job.  The FA have been quiet to date but it may have finally put a nail in any hopes of Redknapp ever becoming England manager, something that he has always dreamed of doing.

Redknapp and Bonds during better days  (Image from AP)

Redknapp and Bonds during better days
(Image from AP)

For the reader, the warts and all approach is what they want to read in an effort to get a behind the scenes look at football. Sensationalism sells books but at what cost? Both managers appear to care little about hurting people’s feelings but revealing what they truly think in their respective books, but both will likely face difficult discussions about their comments next time they come face to face with their subjects. The two books are not the first to be written by a manager and certainly won’t be the last as the industry pines for more in-depth behind the scenes stories. The growth and interest in bloggers and columnists like the Secret Footballer has shown that this type of content is in high demand and that sensational stories are what people want to read. Sales of both books are doing well and will continue to do so, despite the objections from some of the subjects featured in them.

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Wilshere Smoking Up A Storm Over Nothing

Wilshire smokes outside a London Club (Image from TheSun)The amount of column inches and back pages devoted to Jack Wilshere’s “behaviour” away from the pitch is getting ridiculous. I realise that its somewhat ironic for me to say so given that this post is doing the same thing but it’s about time that someone said something. Wilshere’s public shaming after he was caught outside a nightclub with a cigarette in his hand has been overblown and needs to be reigned back in, especially by his club and its long serving manager. Wilshere was criticised by Gunners manager Arsene Wenger, who said he disagrees completely with his actions, and feared the player may have damaged his reputation as a role model. Granted players are looked upon by younger fans as icons and people to replicate but I’m sure they have seen much worse than a cigarette.

Not Happy - Wenger has spoken to Wilshere about his damaged reputation  (Image from Getty)

Not Happy – Wenger has spoken to Wilshere about his damaged reputation
(Image from Getty)

Modern day football is all geared around creating the best footballers technology and science can make. Hours spent in the gym to tone and bulk up physiques are complemented by strict diets and restrictions over what players can and cannot do. Cigarettes are frowned upon as they damage your health but what about excessive drinking or the other substances the players are taking behind closed doors. Very few have been caught but anyone who thinks that it is only a handful of players taking part is fooling themselves. Wilshere will know what he has to do to look after himself but that will also include distressing and relaxing. If that involves smoking a cigarette then surely that is his decision to bear? Think of it this way, would this have ever made the papers if the smoking bylaws had not been introduced, forcing the player outside into the public eye? Whilst I do not agree with smoking, mostly because of the effects it has long-term on your body, who are we to judge if this should be something that a 21-year-old can or cannot do?

Redemption - Wilshere salvages a point for Arsenal against West Brom  (Image from Getty)

Redemption – Wilshere salvages a point for Arsenal against West Brom
(Image from Getty)

The England midfielder’s equalising strike against West Brom reminded everyone what a quality player he is, as he superbly struck a neat lay down by Tomas Rosicky well past Boaz Myhill to square the match. His manager was pleased with the character he saw from his players, including Wilshere but failed to comment on the midfielder even when he was given the chance to do so. Wilshire himself played down the event, most likely because he has already had a dressing down once from his manager about his inappropriate behaviour. But given Wilshere’s performances for the club recently and the fact that Arsene Wenger has openly admitted that his teams are built entirely around the talented Englishman, can he afford to continue to crack the whip over trivial things like this? How long before Wilshere decides that he has had enough and requests a transfer? That would spell disaster for Arsenal, even with Mezit Ozil in the team, and would make Wenger’s position as the manager somewhat questionable. And what about England, who desperately need Wilshire to be playing the best football of his career this season as England head into next summer’s World Cup. It’s noticeable that Roy Hodgson jumped to the players aid when the “scandal” broke saying only that he wanted a fit Wilshere back for England and that the story would be long finished by the time Wilshere hooked up with Hodgson and the England squad for the forthcoming double-header with Montenegro and Poland.

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Lambert Living The Dream, But Is He Ready To Lead The Line For England?

England's new Number 9? (Image from PA)Not since Alan Shearer or Michael Owen has England had a traditional front man but now with the emergence of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, has England finally found one? The 31-year-old striker may be a late starter to the international scene but he is making his opportunity count with two goals in two appearances so far.  With qualification for Brazil 2014 still on the agenda for Roy Hodgson, the England manager is already planning for the what if scenario and identifying areas of needed improvement.

All eyes turning to Brazil (Image from AFP)

All eyes turning to Brazil (Image from AFP)

For a long time now England has relied heavily on the talents of Wayne Rooney to get them through major tournaments but the Manchester United striker has too often been posted missing when the chips are down. Hodgson has tried various options from Daniel Sturridge to Jermaine Defoe to Danny Welbeck with little success but Lambert’s early success is giving the 60 year coach food for thought. A consistent goal scorer at club level for Southampton, Lambert has deserved his chance even if his journey to get there has been slightly longer than some of his international teammates. The truth is that Lambert’s rise to England international is nothing short of inspirational and shows what determination and hard work can lead to.

Rooney has too often been quiet at major tournaments  (Image from Getty)

Rooney has too often been quiet at major tournaments
(Image from Getty)

Having started in the lower leagues with Blackpool, Lambert worked his way up the leagues playing in every division in England, making him one of only a handful of players to do so. Whilst his time at the Blackpool didn’t quite work out as planned, moves to Macclesfield Town and then Stockport County proved more fruitful to Lambert as he started to find his goal scoring touch. In the 2001-2002 season, Lambert broke his duck and in some style hitting 10 goals in 40 appearances for the club. A club record transfer to Stockport (£300,000) saw Lambert climb up a division but he was up to the task despite struggling in his first season at the club. His second season was more productive hitting 13 goals during the campaign, attracting the interest of Rochdale who eventually persuaded Stockport to release their prize asset in February 2005. After 66 games and 28 goals later, Lambert would secure the move that would launch him to the public eye with a transfer to Bristol Rovers.

Lambert was a star for Bristol  (Image from AP)

Lambert was a star for Bristol
(Image from AP)

Over four seasons, Lambert was in fine goal scoring form hitting 59 goals in 155 games, helping Bristol in his second season at the club to promotion to League One. The following season Lambert earned recognition for his strong work ethic and abilities in front of goal, finishing the season’s joint-top scorer of 29 goals with Swindon Town’s Simon Cox. Unfortunately Lambert’s goals were not enough to stop Bristol from dropping back down the league but his performances were sufficient to persuade Southampton to part with £1 million for his services. Since then Lambert has been in blistering form rocketing Southampton back up the leagues, climbing from League one to the Premiership in less than five years. To date Lambert games to goal ratio for Southampton is 2 to 1, leading his current manager Mauricio Pochettino to proclaim that he is “one of the best strikers he has ever seen”.

Pochettino sees Lambert as crucial to his teams onward success  (Image from Getty)

Pochettino sees Lambert as crucial to his teams onward success
(Image from Getty)

It wasn’t long before Hodgson started to take notice and finally gave the front man his first call up for the friendly squad to face Scotland at Wembley in August. On the 14th of August, and in need of inspiration, Lambert rose from the England bench to make his debut and marked the occasion by hitting the winner with a powerful header past Allan McGregor. Less than three weeks later, Lambert was handed a starting berth by Hodgson against Moldova in the World Cup qualifiers and rewarded the boss for his faith by scoring another powerful header and showing his setup play by gifting Danny Welbeck with two clear opportunities to score.

Lambert celebrates scoring against Scotland  (Image from Getty)

Lambert celebrates scoring against Scotland
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson has a dilemma on his hands but a good one at that – to leave Lambert on the bench against Ukraine or to start him? The media attention going into today’s match with Ukraine has been around Frank Lampard landing his 100th cap for England but if Lambert can continue his international scoring record and find the winner, the back pages may well be talking about finally finding a player to lead the line for England at the World Cup next summer.

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Wrong Move For Rooney Could Be Fatal

Next Move? Wayne Rooney (Image from MUFC)With Wayne Rooney likely to tell new Manchester United manager David Moyes of his intentions to leave the club, speculation around where he will end up has already begun.  With a £25million pound price tagged attached to his head and wages rumoured to be around £200k a week, only a few clubs can realistically entertain the possibility of adding Rooney to their squads. Each of these teams need him for a variety of reasons but few will interest Rooney and more importantly his wife. For instance, a move to Russia with Anzhi will surely not appeal to Colleen as much as one to Paris, London or Madrid might. PSG, Arsenal and Real Madrid have all been linked with the England striker but its potentially a move to Monaco to link up with Falcao in their new look attack that has the most appeal.

PSG bound? Rooney has options  (Image from AFP)

PSG bound? Rooney has options
(Image from AFP)

Either way, if Rooney is to leave Manchester, it has to be for the right reasons which unfortunately it looks like it wont be. Rooneys form has dipped this season, almost as much as his popularity with the fans. Requesting a move at the start of last season, in truth to get the club to fork out more in weekly wages to him has not done his image much good. This granted was an image already damaged around the edges with stories of Waynes infidelities with escorts and grannies alike over the years tarnishing his poster boy persona. Rooney, thankfully aware that he could never look that bad whilst John Terry was still playing, appeared to have settled down abit following the calamities of last summer,  with a second child on the way and a new deeper role at United that he was enjoying. But the truth is that Rooney is burnt out, lacking in form and most importantly self discipline and control.

Rooney admitted to sleeping with Jenny Thompson  (Image from Getty)

Rooney admitted to sleeping with Jenny Thompson
(Image from Getty)

More concerned about correcting his receding hairline than his growing waistline, Rooney has looked off the pace and out of sorts this season, often hiding in the formidable shadow now cast by star man, Robin Van Persie. Even for England, Rooney has lacked fizzle, only shining in unimportant games like the match against Brazil, most noticeably when scouts are watching.  Hodgson has moaned about the pressure built upon Rooneys shoulders to be the talisman for his country yet fails to give him a consistant partner to help which hasnt helped his form. Rooney is in a slide and only he can pull himslef out, if he wants to that is.

All alone - Too much pressure on Rooney to be the goal threat for England  (Image from Getty)

All alone – Too much pressure on Rooney to be the goal threat for England
(Image from Getty)

It could be that he is done, not as in finished but done as in mentally and physically exhausted after playing at the very top levels of football since his dazzling introduction at Everton as a 16 year old. Now approaching 30, Rooney could ansd probably is worn out but afraid to say so, especially to those wjo constantly demand more at United. A move solves this problem, with an escape to a new land, a new team and a new challenge giving him the space ti breath. But with any multi million pound transfer and astromocial wages comes pressure to succed, something Rooney may not be able to do. If he moves and fails to correct his rut, Rooney could damage more than just his pride as he watches a dream move turn into a nightmare. The reputation as one of the world best strikers he has built over the years could be damaged beyond all recognition with a poor season abroad.

Rooney Burst Onto The Scene at Everton  (Image from Getty)

Rooney Burst Onto The Scene at Everton
(Image from Getty)

Lacklusture is not in the vocabulary of winners but for Rooney it might be all he can muster. If that genuinely is the case then staying with United may be the best course of action for the player.  Afterall he is not being shown the door by Moyes, the man who incidentally gave Rooney is first ever start at Everton, but instead leaving it up ti Rooney to decide his next step. Leta just hope for everyone sakes, inlcuding the player himself,  the Rooney makes the right decision.

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No Way Back For Now For Ferdinand

Rio_Ferdinand (Image from Getty)Rio Ferdinand is a smart guy but when it comes to his England career, he may have just made the biggest mistake of his career. Left out of various squads since 2011, Rio was offered a lifeline back into international football by Roy Hodgson only to eventually turn it down due to a back problem, which would have been aggravated by travelling to San Marino and Montenegro. Players call off all the time for international duty but Rio made the fateful mistake of then accepting a job with Al Jazeera as a TV pundit for the games in Dubai. Fifteen hours on a flight, with a troublesome back apparently held little concern for Rio who defended his decision saying that the international break would help his intricate, pre-planned fitness programme and that he had discussed this with Hodgson who agreed that removing himself from the two games would only be to England’s advantage long-term.

Ferdinand on Al Jazeera (Image from Getty)

Ferdinand on Al Jazeera
(Image from Getty)

It was a strange decision from Rio to admit to Hodgson that at the moment he is unable at 34 to play two competitive fixtures within five days. This surely doesn’t bode well for Hodgson if his team does reach the World Cup as taking a player who can’t play two games in close proximity like in a world cup scenario is a dangerous game to play. England fans will remember the decision of Fabio Capello to take an injury ravaged Ledley king to the 2010 World Cup ahead of teammate Michael Dawson, only for him to get injured in the first game and be ruled out of the tournament. With a 23 man squad to choose from, a semi fit Rio at aged 35 doesn’t look like a compelling option for the England boss. Hodgson however has left the door open to a return, but it may only be a token gesture, similar to that taken by former coaches Eriksson and Capello in regards to David Beckham. Hodgson doesn’t appear to be a fan of the Manchester United defender and is often caught in embarrassing situations then forced to deny them when it comes to Rio. He was famously asked by an England fan on the London Underground if Rio would ever play again to which Roy replied no. He reversed this statement days later after the story was leaked and an aggravated Rio took to Twitter to blast the coach.

Will Roy Select Rio? (Image from  The fa.com)

Will Roy Select Rio?
(Image from The fa.com)

Whether Hodgson ever wanted to bring him back into the fold or not is debatable, but it would appear as though the England faithful have had enough of Rio as well, given sections of their support at the game against Montenegro were singing racially fuelled songs about the player. The FA is having to investigating yet another incident of racial abuse, only months after concluding John Terry’s case, who was investigated after being caught on film racially abusing Rio’s brother, Anton in a game between Chelsea and QPR in 2011. The whole episode left a very bitter taste in the mouth of Rio who had played alongside Terry on numerous occasions for England. Terry, to be fair, is no stranger to controversy and annoying teammates after admitting to bedding Wayne Bridge’s girlfriend behind his back.

Ferdinand and Terry in better days (Image from Getty)

Ferdinand and Terry in better days
(Image from Getty)

Hodgson’s decision to stand by Terry during the racial scandal and reintroduce him into the team after the storm had passed, whilst leaving Rio out has fueled the theory that Hodgson does not rate Rio as a defender anymore regardless of what he says publicly. England midfielder Frank Lampard has come out this week and backed Rio to play again for England stating that he is still a quality centre half and a valuable asset to the squad. But ultimately the decision lies with Hodgson if he is to give Rio yet another chance to stake his claim. Rio however may have just given him the perfect excuse to end it all together as the England coach simply has to state his concerns over the aging defenders physical condition and ability to play at international level. If he does go down this path, then Rio only has himself to blame as he could have gained his 82nd cap against San Marino last week.

Redknapp Faces Up To His Hardest Challenge Yet

Harry Redknapp, new QPR managerHarry Redknapp must be wondering what he has taken on as he looks at his new QPR squad and the up coming fixtures. The veteran English manager, who took over from Mark Hughes at Loftus Road at the end of November, is a formidable record for turning teams over the years. Look at what he did with Tottenham for example. Sitting in the bottom of the Premiership after a disastrous time under Juande Ramos, Harry left Portsmouth to take over at White Hart Lane and transformed the team into title challengers within 2 years.  He instilled confidence in the team once more and worked with players who had struggled to find form and position such as Gareth Bale which started the revival. His work at Spurs was so impressive that most fans felt he was a certainty for the England manager’s job after the departure of Fabio Capello, only to be surprisingly overlooked in favour of Roy Hodgson. Harry’s confidence took a knock which eventually led to his dismissal from Tottenham due to a poor end to the season, but his qualities as a manager made it only a matter of time before he resurfaced at another club.

When the call came from QPR owner Tony Fernandes, Harry jumped at the chance, despite contractual negotiations being underway with the Ukrainian Football Federation over their top job, the national manager’s position. But Harry favoured a return to the Premiership rather than a 1,000 mile journey to the former Soviet Republic. However his new challenge could quite easily be the hardest one Harry has ever faced. With QPR rooted to the bottom of the Premiership with only 4 points in the first 13 games, Harry took over the club on the 24th November for the match against Manchester Untied. Harry decided to sit in the stands for this match and let caretakers Mark Bowen and Eddie Niedzwiecki, he watched as his new side were dispatched 3-1 by a rampant United team and highlight the various problems that exist at Queens Park Rangers.

Task in Hand - new boss, Harry Redknapp

Task in Hand – new boss, Harry Redknapp

A team lacking in confidence, desperate for direction and tactical awareness on the pitch, a squad heavy with over paid new signings unable to gel or adapt to life in the Premiership, with disgruntled players and ego’s off the pitch, Harry was facing up to a spider-web of problems to solve. The legacy that Mark Hughes had created was starting to look more like a nightmare. Hughes, for all his managerial skills and abilities had foolishly spent heavily over the summer bringing in a host of new players in a desperate attempt to completely revamp his squad and remove all reminders from the Neil Warnock era. Wranock had left Loftus Road in January 2012 with the team struggling in the league, but what he had done was build a strong team of grafters who would fight for each point. Although not technically gifted nor exciting to watch, his approached worked in the first few months of the season  job but ultimately struggled in the few months before his sacking, due to injuries, suspensions, fitness and lack of creativity in the final third. Hughes scrapped that philosophy as soon as he arrived and deemed several players as no longer needed.

Mark Hughes struggled to change QPR's fortunes

Mark Hughes struggled to change QPR’s fortunes

Over the summer he brought in a host of big name players – goalkeepers Robert Green and Julio Cesar, defenders Jose Bosingwa, Nedum Onuoha, Ryan Nelson, Fabio, midfielders Park Ji-Sung, Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilett, Samba Diakité and strikers Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cissé and Andrew Johnson in an attempt to turn the fortunes of the club around but still struggled to do so. After a poor end to last season and an even poorer start to this season, Fernandes could support Hughes no longer and dispatched with his services. Harry was an easy choice for the owner and with the a pedigree for turning things around, he was confident that Harry was the best choice too. After three games in charge, Harry has halted the clubs losing streak but has yet been able to get his first three points, managing only 3 draws so far. Saturday’s 2-2 draw with relegation candidates Reading was probably Harry’s best chance, and now faces a tough next 5 games against sides in the top half of the table.

One of Hughes many signing, Park Ji Sung

One of Hughes many signing, Park Ji Sung

Redknapp knows he has the squad capable of turning the season around and will likely have to rely on them as transfer funds in January are likely to be limited. Harry may be able to bring in some players on loan and may look towards the US for an injection of fresh talent. As the MLS season finishes and is not due to restart until March, players like Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are all looking for short-term loans to keep their fitness levels up. Redknapp knows all these players well having managed Keane before at Tottenham and has seen Donovan and Keane up close during their time at Everton. All three would offer a new dimension to the team and with experience in the league all ready, would be able to adapt with ease. Regardless of what Redknapp decides, he has a job on his hands to change the fortunes of the club. He needs to take his talented squad and get them to play together quickly. His approach is likely to be focused on the basics first, creating a solid spine to the team and a tight defense. If he can stop the goals being conceded, Redknapp and his coaches Jordan and Allen, will then work with his strikers to give them back the confidence they need to start scoring again. If he can manage this, it will be only a matter of time before QPR start to climb up the table once again.

Ibrahimovic Wonder Strike Nothing New For Superstar

The talk of Wednesday’s international friendlies was undoubtedly Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s devastating four goals against England include a quite spectacular 4th goal – an overhead kick from 30 yards out. His performance against Roy Hodgson’s men was nothing short of brilliant as Sweden hosted England for the first time in their new 50,000-seat national stadium, Friends Arena. His fourth goal has to be seen to be believed and has sent social media sites into meltdown as people from across the globe scramble to see it but for fans who know Ibrahimovic well, this is nothing new for the giant striker. Indeed his 3 goal against England was equally brilliant; a low driven free kick from 30 yards out; good enough to win most goal of the day competitions but blown away by the spectacular fourth.

England’s Gary Cahill can only watch as Ibrahimovic scores again from 30 yards out.

For the 6ft 5 PSG striker, spectacular goals is second nature to him now. You only have to look back through his career and you can see numerous examples of Ibrahimovic’s talent and eye for goal. His performance against France in the last group match of Euro 2012 and his opening goal, am instinctive volley from a cross that put his team on the path to an eventual 2-0 win (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FC_jFLVGEEs), is one good example. Another is his strike against Bologna in the 2008 season during his Inter Milan days, when he connected with an Adriano cross with the back of his heel to score (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hH_POzV6UWE) or more recently his 30 yard free kick for new club PSG against Marseille that had commentators speechless (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqqDFLvGhAg).

Even in his earlier career with Malmo and Ajax, Ibrahimovic loved to wow the home fans with flashes of brilliance.A legend during his time at Ajax, he became so by scoring goals in breathtaking fashion. His close control, technique and finishing abilities (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZgqsaDnsEq8) make it clear why Ajax felt they had unearthed a gem in Malmo. Footage of his time spent at the small Swedish club is limited, but in the clips that do, it is obvious why clubs across Europe were interested (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zkI9V3Up5to). Arsenal came close to signing him in 2000 when Ibrahimovic was still at Malmo, with the striker even posing in the Arsenal shirt, but the transfer broke down and he moved to Ajax instead.

Now 31, Ibrahimovic is supposed to be reaching the latter stages of his career but his form for club and country shows no signs of slowing down with age. His strikes against England cement his place in footballing history as one of the greatest European striker’s to have played the game.

To see his 3rd and 4th goals against England, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xz38qqfxuH4