At Last Spurs Rise

21/04/2010

Each year I predict that Spurs would be the team to crack the top four, and while many have opined that Arsenal would be the team to lose out at the expense of their North London rivals, I always felt it would be Liverpool losing out. Now finally that looks to be on the cards.

Last season Liverpool pushed United to the title. Much was expected of them this season. Many, admittedly within the camp and their fan base, felt this would be there year. That proved to be far from the truth. What we have seen this season is that Liverpools title challenge last season was a once off surprise and not the dawning of a new period of success. They are a team with not enough quality and over reliant on the little that they do have. While many would suggest that Rafa is a genius, this stems solely from the Champions League success of his first season. A success born from an inherited squad. It’s what has happened since that has been the problem. They have stagnated as a top four club and this seasons decline has been a long time coming. It’s fine to turn up for a couple of big games a season but it’s the 30 odd other games that win you titles.

By contrast Spurs have been on the verge of breaking into the top 4 for years. That they haven’t has been mostly down to their form against the big teams where they have flattered to deceive time and again. Not so now. This last week they have beaten both Arsenal and Chelsea and travel to United on Saturday to try to make it 3 in a row. It’s a remarkable record at the business end of the season. While they have steadily build their squad they have had to compete with the shift in power that has seen Manchester City splash the cash to compete for 4th place. In the penultimate weekend these two will battle it out for what should be a winner takes all 4th place play off.

The number of English, and British players, in the Spurs squad must be a factor in their rise. King, Dawson, Jenas, Defoe, Crouch and Bale, supplemented by some foreign flair and experience is a better recipe than Rafa’s bit part foreign mercenaries.It’s meant that there is less time needed for players to adapt and get to grips with both the team and the league. The relatively smaller squad to that of United and Chelsea has meant that they’ve had to persist with the likes of Gomez in goal, who had a nightmare start to his career at Spurs, and Roman Pav has had to remain with them, and is now coming good.

With the right investment, and there is little room for error, they can sustain their push next season. They’ll have to find a blueprint that would take them to the next level and not follow Liverpool path. Next seasons race for 4th, with Spurs, City, Liverpool, Villa and Everton all comepeting promises to be one of the most intense yet.


Adeybayor is in the Wrong

15/09/2009

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There should be no doubt in any minds that the actions by Manchester City’s Emmanuel Adeybayor this weekend against Arsenal must be punished. There has been much said on the issue, or issues rather, and surprisingly there seems to be a wide array of opinions. Adeybayor himself does not understand the fuss being made, he has been defended by his manager, Mark Hughes, and City fans, and has been vilified by many, notably Arsenal fans.

Vilified he should be. There is no doubting the talent of the forward, his record at Arsenal, the fee paid by City, and his start this season, four in four, a goal in every game, point to the Togo player being a talented, accomplished player. Scoring goals is not his problem, but his off field, and during this last match on field, actions are a problem.

Adeybayor feels that he has been unfairly targeted and subjected to abuse by Arsenal fans, during his final season at Arsenal, and continuing into this one. He fails to see the obvious. Ade was a talented young player at Monaco but had problems at the club when Arsene Wenger took a chance and brought him over to England. Few in England would have known about him. He quickly set about showing Arsenal fans exactly what he was about. His time at Arsenal was a success, he played well, scored goals, lots of them, and made a name for himself. And became a wanted man. Chelsea, City, Milan, Barcelona and others were interested. And Ade’s head was turned. During a press obligation for his boot sponsors he came out and said that it was time he went to one of the biggest clubs in the world, probably thinking that a move to Milan was forthcoming. This is where the beginning of the end for Ade at Arsenal can be traced back to. What this said to Arsene Wenger, and to Arsenal, the manager and club that made him, was that he was itching to move, and more importantly, that he didn’t view Arsenal as one of the best teams in the world. Can he be surprised that the Gunners fans turned on him?

The move to Milan didn’t happen and Ade spent another season at Arsenal, with the fans, and his team mates, feeling let down and questioning his commitment. That his performances didn’t match up to the previous season didn’t help. Adebayor has had some harsh words to say about Arsenal youngster Nicklas Bendtner in the media lately. He failed to understand why Bendtner, seen as an inferior player by himself, was commanding the respect of the Arsenal faithful while he was not too kindly viewed. True, Bendtners performances have not been anywhere near that of Ade’s, or in fact of the viewed potential of the Dane, but he has shown commitment on the pitch. He’s run his socks of in some games, and often out of position. Fans love a trier. Ade had stoped trying.

If Real Madrid meet Manchester United at some stage of this seasons Champions League Christiano Ronaldo will get a warm welcome at Old Trafford. Ronaldo’s dream has always been to play for Madrid, so while he kept saying he was happy at United and didn’t want to leave, the truth was his heart was always set on Madrid. The main difference between Ronaldo and Adebayor’s transfer situations is that Ronaldo didn’t, and still hasn’t, shown any disrespect to United. He still has love for the club, and the club still has love for him. Adeybayor does not have that luxury.

Any disrespect that Adebayor has shown to Arsenal before Saturday’s much was taken to the unforgivable during the match. His challenges on Fabregas and van Persie should have seen his sent off before he scored the decisive 3rd goal, but his goal celebration after scoring, running 90m to taunt the Arsenal fans should see him banned. Provocation should not be tolerated, and such over the top actions should be harshly dealt with. City fans have come out and said that such talk is just by jealous and bitter Arsenal fans. Not true. Whatever problems Carlos Tevez has with Fergie and the United board you won’t see him showing that sort of disrespect to United fans. Similarly Michael Owen should he score against Liverpool. The actions of Adebayor were that of a petulant, spoilt child and anyone who can’t see that is either blinded by club blinkers or has something wrong with themselves.

Adebayor is a quality, class player, his actions even before Saturday were not, and the display he should the world that evening don’t belong on any football pitch. The fact that he doesn’t see it that way does him some harm. The FA must hit him with a maximum ban with further fines and bans should he ever repeat his madness. His personal vendetta against Arsenal was that of a player out for himself with no thought about the team, a problem City may face when times get tougher. Adebayor shamed himself and his new club and must be punished and not allowed to get away with this.

pic from teamtalk.com


The Sunday Papers

24/05/2009

NEWS OF THE WORLD

Cristiano Ronaldo has pledged: “I am staying at Manchester United.”

Manchester City have stepped up their chase for Arsenal striker Emmanuel Adebayor.

Xabi Alonso has rocked Liverpool by admitting he wants to quit Anfield.

Goodison legend Peter Reid is trying to buy his beloved Everton.

Chelsea are planning for life without Didier Drogba by moving for Atletico Madrid striker Sergio Aguero.

Manchester City are desperate to push through a new deal for Stephen Ireland while Nedum Onuoha is set to sign a three-year contract.

Chelsea’s £25million move for Zenit St Petersburg’s Portugal midfielder Danny has been dealt a serious injury blow.

Newcastle are desperate to keep young goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Wigan want to sign Alan Smith from Newcastle.

Fulham boss Roy Hodgson has lined up a move for FC Twente’s Austria striker Marko Arnautovic.

Everton face stiff competition for Inter Milan striker David Suazo with Manchester City and Villarreal also interested.

THE PEOPLE

Angry Patrice Evra has accused Cesc Fabregas and Arsenal of trying to kick him out of the Champions League final.

Sunderland are set to have a £200million transfer budget thanks to new owner Ellis Short.

Gareth Southgate will be asked to oversee a fire sale of players if Middlesbrough are relegated.

Bayern Munich want Portsmouth’s England right-back Glen Johnson.

Manchester City are ready to offer Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry £19million in wages to tempt him to Eastlands.

Arsenal are ready to launch a club-record move for Blackburn striker Roque Santa Cruz.

Aston Villa are set to make another move for David Bentley of Tottenham.

Stephen Hunt and Andre Bikey are on their way out of Reading. Hunt is a target for Everton while Wigan want Bikey.

Everton are closing in on a £12million deal for Sporting Lisbon midfielder Joao Moutinho.

Manchester United want Charlton’s England youth defender Carl Jenkinson.

Middlesbrough want Leeds winger Robert Snodgrass.

Leicester boss Nigel Pearson is ready to sign Hibernian’s Polish goalkeeper Grzegorz Szamotulski.

Lucas Neill and West Ham are set to agree a new deal.

Kettering boss Mark Cooper is favourite to take over at Chesterfield.

Salomon Kalou has hinted he may leave Chelsea.

Preston boss Alan Irvine is on Reading’s short-list for their vacant managerial position.

DAILY STAR SUNDAY

Djibril Cisse is closing down his classy Newcastle clothes shop The Pr9ject – sparking fears that the Sunderland striker will be leaving in the summer.

Manchester City are set to join the race to land Aston Villa midfielder Gareth Barry.

Tottenham will switch their attention to Juventus striker Vincenzo Iaquinta – if they fail to land Kenwyne Jones from Sunderland.

Derby are launching a £500,000 bid for Blackpool defender Shaun Barker.

Southampton winger Nathan Dyer is wanted by Ajax.

French club Marseille have joined Wigan in showing an interest in Tottenham midfielder Didier Zokora.

Oldham want Bradford skipper Graeme Lee on a free.

Coventry are chasing Leicester outcast DJ Campbell.

Derby manager Nigel Clough is ready to get rid of £3million flop Claude Davis to Crystal Palace – for nothing.

SUNDAY MIRROR

David Beckham is set to join Chelsea as part of Carlo Ancelotti’s blueprint for the club.

Kanu is anxiously awaiting a decision from Portsmouth as to whether he is to be offered a new deal.

Micah Richards has been assured he has a future at Manchester City.

Aston Villa are preparing a £9million offer for Almeria’s 27-year-old left-back Mane.

Ipswich and Sunderland want Bristol City midfielder Marvin Elliott.

Fulham have turned down the chance to sign Derby’s Giles Barnes on a permanent deal.

MAIL ON SUNDAY

Sir Alex Ferguson insists Cristiano Ronaldo is staying at Manchester United but Carlos Tevez looks set to leave.

SUNDAY EXPRESS

Texan millionaire Ellis Short will complete his buy-out of Sunderland this week.

Liverpool’s pursuit of Portsmouth right-back Glen Johnson is gathering pace.


Thanks For Spain and Holland

18/06/2008

With Euro 2008 about to reach its knock out stage, the business end of the tournament, the most pleasing aspect of the two weeks of matches thus far has been the progress of Holland and Spain. Their performance has been a triumph for football, as much as Euro 2006 was a dark period in recent international competitions.

While the title can never be taken away from Greece, they won it ahead of much better teams and should rightly be pleased with that moment of history, it was still a blight of a tournament that bored rather than entertained. At that stage, at the end of a long season, the Greeks managed to bore the world better than the rest of the field. Blame it on whatever you like, tired legs, the fact that the Greeks were mile fresher then any other team, luck, good for the Greeks, bad for everyone else, history will still tell you that in 2006 Greece won the European Championships. And that’s all it will say. There will be no side not about the way they played, or rather the way they didn’t. So it has always been. This would have been the excuse needed by all in sundry to put out the same stall as the Greeks, and make sure that results are all that matter. 2006 was a tournament that saw teams put out predominately 4-5-1 formations and look to wear the opponents down, get a goal, put everyone behind the ball, and hold out for the win, creating little and using very little imagination or artistry. The Greeks weren’t the only ones to do this, they just managed to do it well at this time. This was the way football was headed, with results become of far more importance than entertainment. Today in England Arsenal and Manchester United are commended for their attacking, flowing, entertaining play. Yet only United have married this with winning. Arsenal must be given credit for continuing with this philosophy despite the lack of trophies. They will continue with it for as long as Wenger is in charge and so lets hope that that is for a long time to come. They could easily adopt the style, or lack of it, of Chelsea and Liverpool, the other two forces of the “Big Four” in England. Liverpool play with one up front, pack the midfield, and launch balls up to the terrific pace of Torres. Chelsea say they play a 4-3-3 and on paper it is exactly that. But on the field, where it matters, they play a 4-5-1. They have been successful with it and so have persisted with it. Abramovich wants fantasy football, like United, Arsenal and Barcelona play, but both Mourinho and Grant brought dull but effective football to the Bridge, winning was more important than putting on a show. Abramovich will be hoping Scolari shares his vision but must be aware that there is a lot of pressure on a manager who spends 100 million a season, pressure to make sure he wins, and this will become more important than how he wins. Will he be happy with a season where his team play the best football in the world, as Arsenal have at times, yet finish with nothing? I doubt that.

And so we come back to Euro 08. Spain and Holland have played football the way it should be played and, with Spain to complete their group matches tonight, have both topped their groups and thus far have both got 100% records. Holland have counter attacked with a true 4-3-3 formation, not Chelsea’s false one, with pace and drive down the flanks, and Ruud in the middle. Spain have done what so many in international and club football have forgotten to do – play with two up front. With Villa and Torres up front you always know that if you create chances they will be put away – and so they have been.

International football was headed into the dark ages but has been rescued by Holland and Spain this year. It would only be right if one of these two teams were to take home the trophy in 10 days time and show the world you don’t have to be dull to win. Football is about passion and entertainment. Let them entertain.


Veloso To Milan?

17/06/2008

Miguel Veloso, the Sporting Lisbon midfielder currently with the Portugal squad at Euro 08, has long been touted as being Premiership bound, with Manchester United seemingly favourites to land the talented central player, and Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, Newcastle and even Everton ready to pounce. It now seems he may be heading to Italy to join AC Milan.

While a host of club scouts are no doubt waiting to see Veloso in action at Euro 08 before making their move Milan may have jumped the line by taking action. The link to Milan is not new but where as before it was coming out of Veloso’s camp, and denied by Milan, they have now revealed that Veloso could be a Milan player in the future.  Milan director Ariedo Braida has said that the club are interested in Veloso and he could see him being a Milan player in the future. While this does open the door to a move to Italy it does put a vague spin on the time scale. He hasn’t said that they will be moving for Veloso this transfer window but merely that he sees him at Milan in the future.

With the Milan squad an aging one, and any new signings tending to be for the future, as a new Milan is born, with the likes of Pato leading the way, Veloso would fit the mould of the type of midfielder MIlan would want, probably taking over from Gattuso in the middle of the park. However with a host of clubs monitoring the situation anyone interested in Veloso will have to make a move soon, and would have to meet Sportings valuation of the player, which wont be cheap.

For now he is still a Spoting player, but it is only a matter of time before he makes the move to one of Europes elite.


No Christmas Cheer for Liverpool and Chelsea

22/12/2007

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While many of the top European teams will be heading for a winter break after this weekends round of matches, those in England will be heading into their busiest period of the season. This weekends games will be followed by the boxing day, next weekends and New Years fixtures. Squads will be tested and it is this period that will see the league table really begin to take shape. Come January and we can expect the league to truly become a two horse race, with Arsenal and Manchester United fighting for the title in May.

United’s slow start to the season, where they failed to win any of their first 3 matches, is well and truly behind them. They now trail Arsenal by only a single point, have safely progressed through a difficult Champions League group, with 5 wins and a draw, and have beaten both Chelsea and Liverpool, as well as drawing with Arsenal, who needed a late goal to rescue a point. With Ronaldo still the driving force of last season, the Tevez and Rooney partnership getting better each week, Giggs still leading from the front, and new boys Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves settling in nicely, United are looking very strong this season, and have a squad that can cope with injury and loss and form, and that should see them in a strong position come May, this season could be very fruitful for the Red Devils.

Arsenals young stars have caught everyone by surprise, by coping with the loss of Thierry Henry by blazing out in front, playing an attractive style of football that has managed to marry entertainment with results, something they failed to do last season, even with Henry. Cesc Fabregas has become the new leader of this young team, a role that he could fulfill for many years to come, and a role that could end with him being Arsenals greatest ever player. What Arsenal do lack however is experience, particularly in depth. So it could be a year or two too soon for them to maintain a sustained title challenge, particularly when they are still involved in Europe. However they have maintained their form for the first half of the season, and they will feel there is no reason why they wont be able to replicate this run in the crunch part of the year. So long as the poison that is Jens Lehmann does not harm team spirit within the camp, Arsenal could be giving their brand of football the perfect acknowledgment this May – a Premier League trophy.

Chelsea have had a rocky season thus far, and that could lead to the type of inconstancy that will end up with them being satisfied with a Champions League place and not a title challenge. What they will fear is that this season is the beginning of the end for their brief period of dominance and not the transition that they hope it is. The arrogance and cockiness of Jose Mourinho’s period in charge is being diluted by a identity crisis within the camp. The team is stuck between the steely resolve of Mourinho’s team, and wanting to be Arsenal, owner Abromovich’s wish. Convincing wins over high flying Manchester City and struggling teams have been nullified by loses and poor performances against title challengers and rivals Manchester United and Arsenal. When Terry doesn’t play, and that’s becoming more and more frequent this season, Chelsea look vulnerable at the back and lack in leadership. Lampard has not been the player of seasons past, and fleeting performances not withstanding, is not going turn draws in wins and loses into draws, feats he used perform when Chelsea were going well. The Chelsea dream may be bursting this season.

Liverpool have been Liverpool once again this season. Changes in personal have not helped them find the consistency that is needed to sustain a long championship challenge. This has been in no small part due to the too frequent rotation policy of manager Benitez. They brought in Fernando Torres for big money from Spain and in the first few weeks he showed that he was every bit as good as his Spanish reputation. Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal must have been kicking themselves for allowing a player of that quality to go to Liverpool. Yet instead of playing him every week Liverpool have rotated him as they would other squad players. A big mistake that may cost Benitez his job. Liverpool, for all their talk and self hype are still no closer to ending their 18 season wait for another league title.

The busy period in English football will end up with the league table showing no real positional changes at the top, Arsenal and United will still be top, something that wont change for the rest of the season. The title race is well and truly a two horse race.


Englands Failure

25/11/2007

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England, rather predictably, failed to qualify for Euro 2008, when the rest of the world tried their hardest to get them there. A week earlier they seemed all but out, and then Croatia lost to Macedonia and Israel got a last minute winner against Russia, all of which meant that England now just needed a draw, at home, with Croatia to qualify. They had been given another chance. Another chance for redemption for Steve Mclaren, a chance to save his job, a chance for the declining reputations of Englands super stars to shine again, to walk the walk. And they blew it.

England talked of the need to get through, of how important it was for a major tournament to have England in it, of how they realized that they owed it to the country, to the fans, who they have let down, to get the job done. They talked of the respect that they had for Croatia, and how they would not take the draw they needed for granted. If you asked most of the England team to jot down the expected Croatian starting line up most would have Niko Krankjaer and Edwardo de Silva at the top of their page – and very few names after that. That’s the type of respect they had for a team that have now beaten them twice and topped the group.

Success has to be earned and is not a given right and that is where this England team fell short. Much has been made of the short comings of Steve Mclaren and many will feel that his firing has come a year to late, but these are international players called up from the top league in the world. They are training at Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Spurs everyday. They are working under the best coaches and best conditions in the world. There’s not to much an international manager under these conditions can do but to pick the team. He may be able to inspire passion and enthusiasm in his team talks, but if you can’t generate those yourself for representing your country, you have no place in international football. And maybe that’s the clue.

Too many of this England team have under performed when they have played for England. The excuses have flown thick and fast as to what the problem is with England, from the over talked about and little substance feeling that there are too many foreign players in the league, to the wrong man, in Mclaren, being in charge, to the lack of young players coming through. The buck starts and ends with the players. Any team that has John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney in it, not to mention David Beckham when fit and available, should be competing to win a title and not failing to qualify. Yet, as Real Madrid found out during their Galactico’s phase, big names don’t win you anything if there is no desire and spirit there.

Much has been made of the inability of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to play together. Two of the leagues best players should, on paper, make up a dream central pairing in midfield. Yet match after match they failed to deliver. Lampard has received much of the criticism at international level yet Gerrard should not escape this consternation either. Gerrard inspires and drives Liverpool yet fails to do the same for England. When he has been needed most, when England need to dig deep and look for someone to drive them forward, Gerrard has been anonymous. England have needed him to take games by the scruff of the neck and immerse himself in the battle, but he has failed them here. Lampard, the free scoring midfielder at club level may have been exposed at international level. He has been brilliant at Chelsea, when playing next to Essien and Makalele. If he were to move to Juventus or Barcelona he may be effective because of the quality around him, but when he needs to be as big as his reputation he has fallen short. His rise in the England set up coincided with Beckhams best period, and with the likes of Scholes around, he doesn’t deliver alone.

Wayne Bridge, Wright Phillips, Crouch, Bent, Defoe and Johnson have all been exposed at international level. Although this may have a lot to do with the fact that , apart from Johnson, they spend most weekends on the bench waiting for a 15 minutes or less of play each match day. All the high class training in the world can’t match actual game time. If these players harbour any ambition of being good players, and not just rich players, they owe it to themselves and the English fans, to move to clubs that will allow them to play week in and week out. If this stops them from sitting on the bench and collecting medals as squad players then so be it. Gareth Barry has been Englands best midfielder of the qualifying campaign. Barry isn’t the most talent midfielder in the squad, but is a hard working, disciplined player, who, at Aston Villa, plays every minute of every game. That is what the England squad needs. To pick players that are first choice at club level, and to widen their pool of selection. The best players should be found in the entire Premiership and not on the benches of Chelsea and Liverpool.

While Phil Neville may not be seen as a good footballer outside of Manchester and Everton, he should have started at left back against Croatia. Not only does he play every week, unlike Bridge, but with a rookie keeper in Carson, an inexperienced Lescot at centre back, a player of the experience and big match temperament of Neville was needed. He may not be the most flashy player, but he would have done the job, and brought a calmness that England lacked at the back.

Another player that should have started was David Beckham. He may not have played much in the last few months but in a one off match, that this game was, he should have been allowed to play as long as possible to influence the game in a way that none of the chosen midfield were able to. Beckham may not be the most intelligent of people but he has a very good footballing brain. The little time he had on the pitch showed that. Until Crouch scored the equalizing goal he had been starved of service. It took Beckham to deliver the cross that was needed. His range of passing and ability to pick out a target should have been utilized from the beginning. Yet ego’s seem to play a big part in this England set up. Why was Barry withdrawn for Beckham and not Lampard who was the unnoticed during the game, or the equally ineffectual Gerrard?

While the international careers of James, the Nevilles, Beckham and Campbell may be now be over, although Beckham may be allowed to gain the one cap he needs to go to 100, others should be considering their futures. Lampard, Gerrard, Cole and Robinson should all be asking themselves if they have the desire and hunger to play for their country or if they are doing more harm than good for their international team. Hard working, as well as talented, skillful, players are needed ahead of the ego’s and inflated reputations. A fresh approach is needed, an injection of players who want to represent their country and not players that have to. Players like David Bentley and Kevin Nolan, both playing for hard working, unglamourous, clubs like Blackburn and Bolton are needed. Players who will give all for the shirt.

Euro 2008 will not have England competing this summer, and as much as the big international teams are needed in this tournaments, only the teams deserving a place will be there. England aren’t one of those deserving teams.