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  • 1. Bleak signs for Newcastle in the North East Derby

    It’s not been a great week for Newcastle fans. The inevitable happened on Monday, when they finally sold best player Yohan Cabaye to PSG for £20 million. On Wednesday, they played out a dire 0-0 draw with Norwich, dearly missing Cabaye’s creative input and losing striker Loic Remy to a red card, which has seen him suspended for the derby. Attempts to sign Clement Grenier to replace Cabaye appear to have failed, and with only 12 hours left on the transfer clock as I write this, Mark Noble is being touted as a possibility. Oh dear. It feels like a perfect storm, and a loss to mortal enemies Sunderland for the second time this season looks very much on the cards.

  • Watching yesterday's 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Manchester City was like being caught in the driving rain that persisted throughout: not unexpected but completely unwelcome. But there were positives: numerous ones, in fact. More than I could actually fit into this article, even!

    I'm not grasping at straws, I swear.

  • Something special happened in East Manchester last Friday, something which may, in time, come to be seen as game-changing, epoch-shifting and vitally important. As Manchester City Ladies were unveiled to the press as Manchester City Women, more than a century of prejudice and disrespect was, if not completely poleaxed, then at least given a good kicking.

  • Arsenal have reportedly commenced negotiations with Schalke over the transfer of Julian Draxler and could make him their second major German signing of the season should they reach an agreement for the ultra-talented attacker. So what are they paying for?

  • There is little that this season's two Merseyside derbies haven't offered in the way of thrilling attacking football - or inadequate defending, depending on your preferred disposition. Glancing at the statistics from both games, it's evident that neither side felt the need to prioritise one facet of the game, namely defending, over the other. But in reality, the two matches conformed to incredibly different patterns.

  • Yohan Cabaye, French international midfield star, is reported to have agreed – in principle at least – to sign for France’s flagship team, Paris Saint-Germain, in a deal rumoured to be approximately £20 million, after Newcastle had blocked attempts from Roma to sign their playmaker, and rejected an initial gambit from the French capital’s Qatar-backed big-spending “galacticos.”

  • The scenes at Hull over recent weeks have certainly been ugly; Assem Allam’s desire to change the club name from Hull City to Hull Tigers went down like the proverbial lead balloon with many supporters, and the situation only worsened when Allam stated fans opposed to his ideas could ‘...die as soon as they want’, in response to the City Till We Die protest group.

  • I haven’t contributed some coverage on the Championship in a while and so, to make up for it, I’m gonna hit it and quit it by getting through all 24 teams in one go without breaking a sweat – possibly stopping for like a power bar or something around mid table.

    I like to imagine the following being said in one breath, stream of consciousness style...

  • It is fair to say that the teams at bottom of the Premier League and the top of the Championship are not that different in strength. There have been countless matches in the FA Cup, where a top division side came up short against lower league opposition. Cardiff’s trip to Bolton had the potential to turn out to be one of those FA Cup upsets. 

  • With a round of Premier League fixtures this mid-week, there was even more reason to suggest key players would be absent and fringe players would be starting for the bigger sides. Early FA Cup rounds, especially for the bigger clubs, are supposedly all about surviving; escape injuries and field as few of the first eleven as possible. A lot of clubs expect to lose, desperately try to avoid a replay, and winning the game is just a bonus. 

  • Three and a half years ago, a Malaysian business mogul bought a struggling Welsh club then in the Championship. Nobody batted an eyelid until said business mogul decided in 2012 to rebrand the club, change their colours from blue to red, and redesign their club crest from a blue badge depicting a bluebird to a red badge depicting a dragon (and a bluebird at the bottom, if you squint).

  • As ever, Chelsea have been present in this transfer window and the biggest story has seen Juan Mata complete his move from the West London club to the red side of Manchester. The two-time Fans’ Player of the Year has been used sparingly by José Mourinho in a squad that has a wealth of creative, attacking talent. But by losing the fans’ favourite and bringing in the highly-rated Mohamed Salah from Basel, has the Portuguese manager got this one right?

  • 1) The Coventry City Protest

    Odds are Coventry City are facing a hiding to nothing when they make the journey to the Emirates on Friday night, but they are using the televised game as an opportunity to air their grievances. Due to a dispute between its owners and local council, the Sky Blues are currently playing home games 35 miles away from their city, in Northampton. At 35 minutes, fans will hold up signs saying ‘why?’, to signify that 35 mile trek. Then at 61 minutes, they’ll hold up a sign saying ‘when?’.  Coventry fans have had it hard over the past decade, and this might get their story seen by a few more eyes.

  • Ever since Roman Abramovich took over Chelsea back in 2003, the footballing landscape in England changed forever. Here was a model for other billionaires to latch on to; buy a football club, invest your money in good players and new talent, watch your club achieve untold success and bask in the adoration of millions of fans worldwide.

  • If there has been one story floating around Newcastle United for the past year or so, it is that Yohan Cabaye is on his way out of St. James' Park for a club that can provide him Champions League football, with Paris St. Germain, Manchester United and Arsenal all mooted destinations. But would it be beneficial to the Toon to sell their star man? Let's delve deeper.

  • Unusual, I know, but to start, cast your mind back in time. Back to the end of the 2011/2012 season, when beaverish defending and a strike force that had both Papiss Cisse and Demba Ba in imperious form led Newcastle to a 5th-place finish in the Barclays Premier League, and also into the Europa League. However, these impressive league statistics and entrance into Europe were to come back to haunt the Toon Army.

  • It was over. Finally. Massimiliano Allegri had been relieved of his position as manager. As one, every Rossonero around the world heaved a sigh of utmost relief. Fresh off a devastating 4-3 loss to 18th placed (at the time) Sassuolo, in which Milan’s defence were put to shame by the fresh-faced 19 year old, Domenico Berardi, the worldwide contingent of Milan tifosi could see light at the end of the horribly long dark tunnel they have been forced to endure this season.

  • Five months of shattered dreams and crushed optimism came to a head when a 10 man Tottenham Hotspur conceded five against a rampant Liverpool and Luis Suarez. The high line deployed against one of the quickest attacks in the league even after a sending off may have contributed; the lack of a single shot on target at home stung like a shotgun wound submerged into the Black Sea.

  • Edgar Davids brought end to his infamous stay at Barnet this weekend after he and the club came to a mutual agreement to his release. The former Ajax and Juventus star was sent off three times this season, and complained that referees were 'making an example' of him, but in the end he decided to leave altogether, rather than quit playing. But in the grand scheme of things, did this little experiment really help the club do anything?

  • Liverpool have been smacked in the face by yet another knee injury to Brazilian anchor man Lucas Leiva, leaving the Reds threadbare in the central midfield department. Whilst captain Steven Gerrard has been deployed in a deeper role of late, and Joe Allen is back to full fitness, Brendan Rodgers will be keen to strengthen a key area of the pitch, and I've identified five players who could do just that.

     

  • Chelsea hosted Manchester United in a game that was quite the opposite of the reverse fixture at the beginning of the season. José Mourinho was less cautious in this game, and decided to field a team that could stifle Manchester United, and beat them by using their individual qualities in attack. On the other hand, David Moyes made some questionable decisions, and United were punished for the same shortcomings they have had all season. 

  • In a season that manager Jose Mourinho wrote off as a learning curve for his new-look side, Chelsea are not doing too badly. Third in the league at the time of writing, into the knockout phase of the Champions League as group winner and with The Blues’ raft of midfield talent starting to prove their worth, The Special One hasn’t had too much to complain about.

  •  

    We may only be 21 matches in, but already this 22nd Premier League season is being heralded by all and sundry as the best ever. Better than 2003/04, when Arsenal’s Invincibles achieved the impossible and went through a whole season undefeated; better than 1998/99, with United’s treble-winning triumph; better even than 2011/12, when Sergio Agüero wrested the title from the red to the blue half of Manchester with practically the last kick of the game.

  • 1)    Moyes must win against top opposition

     

    Outside of a win against Arsenal, United’s record against the rest of the top half is appalling, with losses to Man City, Liverpool, Everton, Tottenham and Newcastle, and draws against Chelsea and Southampton. This results in five points from an available 24 against sides in the top nine, something that has to dramatically improve if they are to challenge for a top four place.

  • Germany has an inexplicable ability to produce top talent one after the other, with exciting youngsters popping up on a regular basis. Players like Mario Götze, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Andre Schürrle can almost be seen as the previous generation of talent; despite being only 21, 21 and 23 years of age respectively. In recent times, new talents have emerged and are ready to set the world alight – Leon Goretzka, Matthias Ginter, Erik Durm, Timo Horn, Jonas Hofmann and Emre Can are but a few. Regardless of how highly these youngsters are rated, the performances of late of a particular young man are getting some highly deserved attention.

  • With Jermain Defoe’s impending move from Tottenham to MLS side Toronto FC I thought it would be a good idea to put together a bit of a fact file, because let’s face it, I don’t know anything about them and neither do you! So let's take a look...

  • Liverpool's 5-3 victory over Stoke City on Sunday put to bed a hideous record that had seen the Reds fail to record a single league victory at the Britannia Stadium previously. It also lifted Brendan Rodgers' team back into the top four of the Barclays Premier League, ensuring that six of the top seven all won, with Villa due to play Swansea City on Monday night.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as George reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Murray reviews the year that was.

  • 1)      Redemption for Wenger

    Losing to Aston Villa on the first day of the season caused a lot of Arsenal fans to descend into panic and despair. They thought this might be the season where everything falls to pieces, after threatening to for the last couple of years. Instead, it’s been the season they rejoined the title-chasing elite, and a win against a Villa team currently in disarray at Villa Park would put to bed a couple of demons born out of that first day and fully confirm that they are for real.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Rishi reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Aman reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Kai reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Farhat reviews the year that was.

  • With the dust still settling from Sunderland’s shock 2-1 victory over Manchester United at the Stadium of Light, and Manchester City’s 6-0 thrashing of West Ham at the Etihad, the first full week of January 2014 has proved to us that the League Cup can still bring with it plenty of drama, surprises and most of all great football.

  • In the not too distant future...

    The silence was unnerving; Kevin didn't want to be here at all. He glanced around at his men, aimlessly roaming the sodden ground, uncertain if any of them would survive the ensuing battle. He wondered if he could escape without them noticing, but surely they would recognize a lack of leadership, and capitulate far easier than expected.

  • As the year comes to a close, it's time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Emma reviews the year that was. 

  • As the year comes to a close, it’s time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Matty reviews the year that was. 

  • As the year comes to a close, it’s time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Lizzi reviews the year that was. 

  • As the year comes to a close, its time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Ben reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, its time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Louis reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, it’s time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Matt reviews the year that was.

     

  • It did not take long for Jose Mourinho to make his first signing after returning to Chelsea, following news that Bayer Leverkusen winger Andre Schurrle would be joining the Europa League champions for a fee of around £19m. The 22-year old adds yet more attacking firepower to a team that is already blessed with brilliant forward players such as Eden Hazard and the sumptuous Juan Mata. But just what exactly will he offer the team and his new manager? In short, a lot.

  • Diego da Silva Costa, the Brazilian Spaniard who has been burdened with the responsibility of filling the void that Radamel Falcao left at Atletico Madrid when he departed for France in the summer. Liverpool showed a major interest in the forward during the last transfer window and some reports suggested that The Reds had met the release clause in his contract of around £20m but he stayed put in Madrid. More recently, given his more than impressive start to the current campaign, Arsenal is the latest Premier League club to be linked heavily with the striker with Chelsea also keeping tabs. So what is it about Diego Costa that is attracting the big clubs?

  • As the year comes to a close, its time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Dan Lloyd reviews the year that was.

  • As the year comes to a close, its time for Ballsy Banter's finest to tell you who they think has made 2013 their own in the Ballsy D'or. Who was the best player? Who scored the greatest goal? Who are we sick of hearing about? All these questions and more as Johnny reviews the year that was.

  • Edin Džeko’s 66th minute winner against Crystal Palace last Saturday marked a milestone for the player and his club; the strike was the Bosnian’s 50th goal in a City shirt. Since arriving three years ago in the January 2011 transfer window from Wolfsburg, Džeko has been one of those players who frustrates and delights in equal measure. All City fans know what he’s capable of, but the striker rarely appears to fulfil his potential.

  • Today, as it is reported that Wilfred Zaha is possibly going to Manchester United for £15million subject to a medical, I feel the need to question that decision on many levels. Do a side already ridiculously top heavy really need another forward? Are the Red Devils really the best place for Zaha’s development? And, most importantly, why so much?

    It’s a symptom of a problem. This problem is an epidemic festering in our game for ages, possibly the cause of the problems cited every two years as England fails to hit the heights the mainstream media convince us they can.

    That’s right, I’m talking about English VAT.

    In layman’s terms, the over-inflated price of English talent. It could be argued if Zaha was at the CAN with his country of birth, he’d cost about half the price.

    Don’t believe me? Hmm…

    -

    Andy Carroll: Newcastle-Liverpool, £35million 

    The obvious one, this was inflated by the Reds receiving a ridiculous amount for a certain Spanish “striker” hours before. But still, this much for a young target man who had only been firing for half a season? Compare to Michu. Spanish. £2million. No hype. More goals in a half season than Carroll in two years. Unfair? Maybe…

    Rio Ferdinand: Leeds-Manchester United, £30million 

    The one transfer that is arguably value for money on this list is also arguably the most ludicrous. Years of dutiful service don’t distract from the question: who pays £30million for a defender unless you’re ballin’ in Paris (St Germain)? All off the back of one good World Cup as well! Look at the amount Real Madrid paid for Fabio Cannavaro, who was captain when he won the damn thing and claimed the Ballon d’Or that year: SEVEN MILLION EUROS.

    -

    Shaun Wright-Phillips: Manchester City-Chelsea, £21 million

    Here, the roubles come into play. Essentially very expensive cover for Arjen Robben, £21million is way too much money to pay for a benchwarmer. And City bought him back for a profit. Clearly a massive success and bound to go down as a Chelsea legend.

     

    Fabian Delph: Leeds United to Aston Villa, £8.5million 

    Once considered one of the greatest young talents in a Leeds United squad in League 1, it’s never quite happened for Fabian Delph at Villa. Now, I’m not an oracle: he may still become the finest midfielder of our generation. But he is half the engine room of a much maligned Aston Villa side bested by a team in the fourth flight two days ago. Oh dear.

    -

    I tried to keep it fair and I only mentioned each club once: there are countless other examples everywhere. It’s no wonder the likes of Newcastle are looking abroad for the next big thing when you’re not even guaranteed value for money on these vastly overinflated prices. Prudence is needed but won’t be practised: Wilfred Zaha’s seemingly imminent transfer a case in point.

    Still, if you gave me the sums of money touted in this article for my own use, I’m pretty sure some of it would be utterly wasted.

     
  • Newcastle thought they had him, but it now appears that Harry Redknapp has finally got his hands on a player that he has been interested in for some time now. Loic Remy was a target for Harry while he was in charge of Spurs, and he carried his interest in the French striker to his role as QPR boss, and has seemingly managed to convince the player that his future lies with the relegation battlers rather than the Magpies. So what has Harry Redknapp paid £8m for?

  • So this morning, it has been reported that Olympique Marseille striker Loïc Rémy has passed his medical after QPR hijacked his move to Europa League contenders Newcastle United. Which begs the question, why would a player turn down playing in Europe, on a regular basis as well, for the basement team of the Premier League?

    One word. Money. Newcastle were reported to have offered Rémy a contract of roughly £40,000 a week, which isn’t bad for someone who is in a bit of poor form at the moment, as well as being injury prone as of late. Queens Park Rangers, however, thought that one goal all season merited a contract worth roughly £85,000 a week. That roughly translates to £1.5m by the end of the season. QPR also had the bright idea of putting in a relegation release clause. So not only will Rémy be making more money than players such as Theo Walcott, he will be able to walk away at the end of the season with his pockets lined, and play for a better club, provided he proves himself in the Premier League. In the end, it could well be that he ends up playing for Newcastle United, although that will disgruntle many fans now.

    You just have to look at the comparisons between the clubs to see that, career wise, Newcastle would be the right move for the Frenchman. Not only do they have have six of his French compatriots, they also have one of the best stadiums in the league, one of the best fan bases, a higher league position, European football, and a lot of the players are a close-knit bunch. At QPR, he will have one other Frenchman, who may well be out the door with Rémy’s arrival, they play in a stadium worthy of a game of Subbuteo, they’re rock bottom of the league, and the players are seemingly mercenaries, playing for the money, but not really caring about the football they play. Adel Taarabt is arguably one of their best players, but even he has been trying to seal a move away from Loftus Road for god knows how long now! They’re like Manchester City were a few seasons ago, with no players able to gel on the field, although City wielded much better results than this rag tag bunch of misfits.

    The buck doesn’t stop with Rémy admittedly, lots of players go where the money is. Samuel Eto’o is a prime example. He earns €20m a year playing for Anzhi, but what does his career get out of the move? Nothing. He’s not going to challenge for any major trophies while he is there, so he’s essentially called time on his real playing career, and decided to take an early retirement in the form of playing for a team in Russia, who won’t win the league, and will pay him a ton of money.

    Rémy’s representatives have claimed this morning that he is not going to QPR due to the salary they are paying, but more because of ‘Arry Redknapp’s technical attraction. What attraction? QPR’s best result all season was 1-0 against Chelsea, when Chelsea didn’t play the likes of Hazard, Mata, Cech, Ramires, Terry, Cole, and hadn’t secured the signing of Demba Ba. So this is clearly an attempt at trying to save face, seeing as technically, QPR are one of the worst teams around – genuinely.

    I wish Rémy all the luck in the world, and will love to see where he ends up when he uses his relegation release clause, or even more interestingly, where QPR will end up if he doesn’t. Portsmouth mark two, anyone?

    And with that, we pull the plug on another article; as always, hit me up on twitter, @drl_nufc, especially if you’re QPR fans disagreeing with my opinion, constructive criticism is always welcome. Until next time, amigos, keep it classy!

  • Back in 1995, Alan Hansen famously dismissed Manchester United’s title chances after a 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season by declaring that “You can’t win anything with kids.” To cut a long season short, he was proved wrong as United’s golden generation stormed to a Premier League title with youngsters such as Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and David Beckham. The way they won that title, though, was by mixing these young players with the older, more experienced players like Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister, Steve Bruce and Peter Schmeichel. Everyone remembers just how good these young players were in that season, but few mention just how instrumental the experienced players were in their title and cup triumphs.


    So I would like to amend Mr Hansen’s quote and give this hypothesis: You cannot survive in the Premier League with kids, and without experienced players.

    We are currently just over halfway through the season and my hypothesis refers to one club in particular – the one languishing in 18th place, Aston Villa. It is strange to see the Villans all the way down in the relegation places; after all, just a few seasons ago, they were competing for European cup places, and things looked so rosy with a rich new owner and a talented manager in Martin O’Neill. You look at their team just three seasons ago in 2009/2010. They had some great talent in their team. Brad Friedel was in goal, they had Ashley Young, James Milner and Stewart Downing in midfield, not to mention “Big” John Carew up front with Gabriel Agbonlahor who was knocking on Fabio Capello’s door to play for England. With such promise just a few seasons ago, it really does beg the question, what has happened?

    Well, the reason stems from owner Randy Lerner, who has decided to have a massive cut back on spending and wages. I am sure many people will be thinking, hang on, didn’t they get a substantial amount of money from the sales of Milner, Young and Downing? You are correct, but O’Neill spent a staggering £119 million during his four seasons at Villa Park, and because of that, the clubs wage billed spiked massively, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Lerner has tightened his belt.

    If we look at the team that Paul Lambert inherited from the sacked Alex McLeish, it really is lacking in any sort of experience. The average age of their starting eleven in recent weeks has been just 22, which, when you consider the Premier League average is around 26, really does show just how inexperienced their team is. Lambert should have made it his mission in the summer to sign some experienced players to help these young players out; Phil Neville, for example, would have been perfect for them, he would have instilled leadership and huge experience. However, Lambert signed Christian Benteke, a talented, but raw 22-year old striker for £7 million, and that money could have been better spent in my opinion. Obviously, they are missing their captain Stiliyan Petrov, who is thankfully recovering from leukaemia, and Richard Dunne through injury, but their established players such as Stephen Ireland haven’t stepped up to the mark in their absence, and that is what you need from these players.

    The same thing happened to Middlesbrough in the 2008/09 season when they got relegated. They relied upon their young players such as Andrew Taylor, Justin Hoyte, Robert Huth, Stewart Downing and Adam Johnson. Their team reminds me a lot of the current Aston Villa, and it isn’t hard to see Villa suffering the same fate as Boro, who have yet to come back up from the Championship.

    Paul Lambert really needs to get Randy Lerner to invest in some old heads during this transfer window; if they don’t and lose Darren Bent as is rumoured, then we could see Aston Villa’s ever present stay in the Premier League, being broken and my hypothesis ringing true.

     

  • While the January transfer window powers on and players secure deals at new clubs worth hundreds of thousands of pound a week, a smaller battle is being fought over the pitiful wages paid to England’s top female footballers.


    Most of us in our professional lives expect to earn a decent living wage, especially when we are the best at what we do, but while this may be true for the likes of Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney, the reality is totally different for England’s female footballers. A row has broken out between the Players’ Football Association (PFA) and the FA, as top female footballers in the country were offered contracts worth only £18,000 a year. A PFA spokesperson has described this meagre amount as ‘embarrassing’, and have advised Hope Powell’s England team not to sign them until further agreements can be made.

    But really, is this so pitiful?

    Well, frankly, yes it is.

    Having played for a women’s team at University (not well, I hasten to add), it’s obvious the amount of effort and time that goes into training and games and trying to fit that around everyday life, especially to be competitive (which the team really was). However, it is striking that even at this level, there are huge discrepancies between the men’s and women’s game, and the women are being penalised. Even when I was playing football at a level that was by no means professional, the girls were only allowed one team in the Universities League when a fifth boys team was cut, even though we exceeded the demand for a second team, on the assumption that it ‘wasn’t fair’ on the boys. The result of this was a team of talented and aspiring young sports women who trained three times a week and barely ever got to play competitively.

    And if you’d think this was a problem seen only on the non-professional stage, then you’d be wrong. Even with women having their own Euros and World Cups, it is still not considered a professional sport, and many women, including England defender Sophie Brady, have part-time jobs. All of the Nottingham Forest ladies team are volunteers who have regular day jobs and aren’t even afforded the privilege of playing at Forest’s home ground.

    Imagine Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo having to take on part-time jobs. I know you’ve just scoffed at that, but this is the reality of it. It’s a massive problem, especially considering that women’s football is becoming bigger and bigger on the world stage and it’s a fast progression; at the Olympic games in the summer, England’s win over Brazil drew 70,000 spectators, while 4 million people watched from their homes, and there are more women than ever who play regularly at all levels.

    Yet the popularity of the game is far outweighing the return that these women get for their hard work and successes, and it is jeopardizing the potential of not only the game but also young talent. It is difficult for many of these women, who struggle to hold down a part-time job that is flexible enough for them to keep up with their training and game fixtures, something that professional status and more money would resolve, and would allow them to focus entirely on their sport, in the same way the men do.

    The London Olympics was supposed to inspire a generation of young sports people. The women’s football certainly did this and the viewing statistics are proof of this, but how are we supposed to continue to inspire young women if they can’t even pursue the sport they love professionally?

    It is an issue that is ignored by many. Even when researching for this piece, very little journalism exists beyond the BBC; the Guardian’s Women’s Football webpage didn’t even acknowledge that this issue had been raised, let alone show any sort of opinion, and it angers me. I bet you didn’t know that American Abby Wambach won the women’s Ballon D’or, because the media was so focused on Lionel Messi. It’s so sad because women like Abby and Arsenal captain Faye White should be the role models for young women. But while the likes of Amy Childs and the rest of the morons from the Only Way Is Essex are getting more coverage and more money, they are going to be the ones who get the attention and where the aspirations are going to be headed.

    I hope that women’s football gets the support it craves, and that women can play a bigger role in the sport, whether it be on the pitch, in the commentary box or punching Andy Gray in the face, because it is the least these fantastic women deserve.

  • Six months into his Old Trafford career, Shinji Kagawa is yet to truly arrive at Manchester United. The Japanese play-maker has struggled to find himself at Old Trafford amidst sky high expectations and the shadow Robin van Persie is casting over not just United, but the entire Premier League.

    In some ways, van Persie’s fine form is perhaps for the best, for it seems like Kagawa will need some time. This is no unusual thing, many players before him have taken a season or so to settle before consistently showing their best form. However, the concern for United fans at the moment is that this is very much the hope rather than the expectation.

    Kagawa enjoyed a stellar spell in Germany, scoring 17 times and assisting 13 goals as Dortmund claimed a double last season. It feels as though Kagawa left that form behind at the luggage belt. A six-week lay off will not have helped but Kagawa’s poor performance at West Ham in the FA Cup was simply not good enough. Playing in his favoured position and role, Kagawa was far too quiet, too safe and lacking in conviction. Of course any player can have a bad game and Kagawa should be right back on the horse on Sunday in one of United’s biggest games of the season.

    The question most observers seem to be pondering over is how to best fit Kagawa into a line-up which features both van Persie and Rooney ahead of him. As the cliche goes, it’s a good problem to have. The most popular solution seems to position Kagawa and Rooney in interchanging roles behind van Persie, with one dropping into the #10 position and the other playing as an inside forward from the left side.

    Whilst it sounds about right on paper, in practical terms it’s not so surprising that Ferguson is yet to try such a formation. For one, Ferguson commands that his side play with natural width, something which Kagawa nor Rooney seem likely to offer. Secondly, both Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young, and even Nani, offer a high work rate working up and down the flank helping their full-back. Kagawa, a constant and firm presser of the ball higher up the pitch, is unlikely to be as enthusiastic running backwards. United’s wide players are often charged with a high work rate simply because their two-man midfield is often immobile and overwhelmed.

    The reality is that Kagawa’s best performances for United to date, notably a couple of weekends ago against West Brom and on the first Monday of the season at Everton, came in the #10 role when given the licence to roam and create as he sees fit. A long-term future for Kagawa in such a role soon hits the stumbling block of Wayne Rooney, who is also best suited to such a role. Therefore it seems to me that United will struggle to get the best out of both Rooney and Kagawa in the same team with Robin van Persie leading the line – one will have to be sacrificed. Most times, a luxury of riches is no bad thing and United fans should feel thrilled they have such depth in attacking positions. For now, Ferguson will have to juggle his side and the fans their expectations. Going forwards, if Manchester United do eventually strengthen their central midfield with harder working and tackling players, Kagawa and Rooney may well be able to play together alongside each other, not tasked with going backwards but doing their best work on the front foot.

    Until then, however, Kagawa’s initial hype will have to put on hold. With Rooney on the sidelines this weekend, perhaps Kagawa can assume the free role once more. A star performance against Dortmund’s bitter rivals Schalke was Kagawa’s first signpost in Germany, so United fans will hope he can begin to write a similar story on Sunday afternoon.

  • At the time of writing, Netherlands midfielder Wesley Sneijder is contemplating a move to Galatasaray. It’s a move that, if we’re being honest, no-one really envisaged for Sneijder, even if he has been reduced to a meagre five starts this year for Internazionale. It’s quite alarming how quickly someone’s stock can drop in football; a year and a half ago, Manchester United seemed desperate to sign Sneijder, then rated at £30m, and with wage demands of approximately £200k a week. Today, Inter have accepted a reported £8m bid for their number 10, and the terms that have been offered to him would see him receive a basic £65k a week wage, considerably less than his demands to United. Even more indicative of Sneijder’s ‘fall’ is the fact that he is reportedly stalling on talks with Galatasaray in the hope that a Premier League club will swoop in and steal him, and as of yet, none have. Even Manchester United, the team so keen to sign the Dutchman prior, and consistently on the receiving end of accusations of a lacking midfield, appear to show no interest. So what’s happened?

    Sneijder Holland

    I’d probably forgive Sneijder if he decided to pack up and go back to Holland, as any transfer he’s made appears to have ended on a sour note. Bought from Ajax by Real Madrid in 2007 during a period of time that I can only describe as Madrid’s “Great Dutch Experiment” which also involved Arjen Robben, Rafael van der Vaart, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Royston Drenthe. He made just over 50 appearances in two years before being poached by Inter Milan for 15 million Euros. Hardly a terrible fate to befall a top player; Jose Mourinho was putting together a new-look attack at the Italian giants – one that would go on to secure a historic treble the next year. His exit seemed suspicious at the time; all was clearly not well, and the surprisingly low price raised questions. Never mind, a new adventure awaits.

    Success also awaited at Inter, and Sneijder’s value skyrocketed, as he formed a deadly trinity with Samuel Eto’o and Diego Milito. Couple that with a superb showing at the World Cup 2010, and Sneijder could legitimately make a claim to be the best central attacking midfielder in the world. Sadly, it seems that the loss of one domino topples the entire structure, and Jose Mourinho’s departure in 2010 saw the club undergo a severe change in personnel; key players such as Eto’o, Lucio and Julio Cesar have departed since, and Sneijder has become a sort of luxury player. In the admittedly few games of Serie A football I have watched recently, Sneijder has not been anywhere near as effective as he was in 2010, and a large part of this can be attributed to Inter’s preferred formation.

    Under Mourinho, Inter played formations which saw, essentially, four banks of players; that is to say, a formation such as a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-2-3-1. Inter’s preferred formation was the 4-3-1-2, with Sneijder taking the spot behind Eto’o and Milito, providing most of Inter’s assists, while also providing a real goal threat. The narrowness of this formation also catered for attacking full-backs; Maicon, most notably, was spectacular during Mourinho’s time at the San Siro. Similarly, for Holland at the World Cup, Sneijder was positioned as the central attacking threat just behind the striker in a 4-5-1/4-2-3-1, and the end result was a phenomenal run to the final, before they abandoned their principles and chose to instead focus on physically destroying the Spanish.

    Now that we’ve established where Sneijder plays best, it’s understandable why he does not thrive in current Inter manager Andrea Stramaccioni’s preferred 3-4-3 set-up. Sneijder is not known for his defensive work, and for him to play as a central midfielder in the flat four, played deeper than he is used to, sees his attacking threat somewhat lessened, and his defensive abilities found lacking. Can you pay a player like that £200k a week? And so, Sneijder’s second club outside of his native Holland has come to an end with a somewhat bitter taste. Sneijder is clearly unwanted, seen as a financial burden, a luxury, on a club that is part of a league desperately trying to be on the right side of Financial Fair Play. In this sense, it would have been wise for Sneijder to have moved to Manchester United in 2011, in the midst of a string of managerial changes, tactical shifts and failure to make a mark in Europe. His wages reportedly proved to be a stumbling block, and I feel that he will be ruing that stance right now.

    All of the ‘big’ clubs in the Premier League, believed to be his preferred destination, all have their own star men playing in Sneijder’s preferred position; Chelsea have Juan Mata, Manchester City have David Silva, while Arsenal have Jack Wilshere as their star man in midfield, and Tottenham play best when Mousa Dembele is on form – all younger than Sneijder. Manchester United have Wayne Rooney play there, with Shinji Kagawa signed as another option. As far as I see, while Kagawa is there, there is no need for Sneijder, unless you play him deeper. But as we’ve seen before, that would sort of negate the point.

    Sneijder is a wonderfully talented player, and I feel for him, considering how his moves have always ended. At the age of 28, he still has a good few years in him at the top, and with all due respect to Galatasaray and Turkish football, he could do better than move to Turkey. I don’t see how a Premier League club could make Sneijder their main man, so if a bid does come in from one, he may be forced to accept a rotational role. All I know is that I hope a player as gifted as Sneijder has not reached a point where his best years are behind him.

     

  • Manchester United fans may squirm when reading that long-time target Wesley Sneijder has taken a supposed backwards step in joining Turkish giants Galatasaray, but it wouldn’t be the first time a top name footballer has made the switch to Eastern Europe. Sneijder, undoubtedly the biggest of all to make the switch, has turned a few heads in his apparent ignorance of interest shown in him from Europe’s elite by agreeing terms with the 18-time Turkish League winners. Indeed, United aren’t the only side who would jump at the chance to land the Dutchman for a reported wage packet of £85k a week after bonuses. But, as Sneijder embarks on the latest chapter of his stalled career, it’s time to take a look back at some of those who have taken a similar path.

    -

    Harry Kewell – Liverpool to Galatasaray, free transfer (July 2008)

    Aussie Harry Kewell’s switch from Merseyside to Istanbul provoked strong criticism from sections of Leeds United’s support. The memory of two Leeds fans who were killed in a clash with Gala fans before a UEFA Cup match in April 2000 lives on, and Kewell’s decision to leave England for a club considered an enemy angered Leeds fans. But injury-ridden Kewell had only football on his mind, and his selection of the no.19 shirt (that which he first received as a Leeds United player) was in dedication to the time he spent at Elland Road.

    Kewell’s career had often been curtailed by injury, particularly during his five-year stint with Liverpool, a period in which he lifted the Champions League trophy despite limping off in the first half of the final in Istanbul. But three years with Aslan (The Lions) went smoothly, and after a stellar debut in which he scored with his first touch and set up the winning goal, Kewell went on to play 61 times for the club. A goal return of 23 helped make him a firm favourite with the club’s fans and he went on to earn the nickname OzBüyücüsü; The Wizard of Oz.

    In June 2011, Kewell called it a day on his career in Turkey in favour of heading home to join Melbourne Victory where the 34-year old went on to make 25 appearances before being released. He remains a free agent.

    -

    Scott Carson – West Bromwich Albion to Bursaspor, £2mill (July 2011)

    Scott Carson endured much ridicule in England after his calamitous error against Croatia at Wembley cost England a place in Euro 2008. West Bromwich Albion remained faithful to him and Carson went on to become an important part of the Midlands side’s make up. But, after failing to make the no.1 jersey his own for Fabio Capello’s England, Carson decided to jet off and join the Turkish revolution by joining Bursaspor for £2mill in the summer of 2011.

    Carson has proved a solid capture for the side that finished eighth in the Turkish Super Lig last season and has so far made 51 appearances for the club. He also has a Turkish Cup runners up medal to show for his efforts in Turkey. Let’s just hope all this glory doesn’t persuade Roy Hodgson to bring him back to the England fold, right?

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    Emmanuel Eboue – Arsenal to Galatasaray, 3.5mill Euros (August 2011)

    Perhaps one of the more colourful players in European football today, Emmanuel Eboue never fails to entertain. His career with Arsenal was littered with headline moments, most notably being booed by his own fans, and it didn’t stop after making the move to Galatasaray in August 2011.

    The Ivorian’s parody Twitter feed has caused the biggest stir since his move to Turkey, as ‘his’ very vocal, rather crude appreciation for footballing issues has won him many fans. It seems a no-holds-barred attitude works the best in Turkey, if Eboue’s Twitter is anything to go by.

    As for football, after rejecting approaches from Tottenham and Roma, Eboue agreed a 4-year contract with Gala. He has now nearly reached the half-century mark in terms of appearances and the Ivory Coast international admitted that coach Fatih Terim has been an inspiration to him. It was that inspiration that took Galatasaray all the way to the league title in Eboue’s first season, and the full-back remains dedicated to both his football in Istanbul.

    The former Gunner has also helped his latest side reach the last 16 of the Champions League, a run that saw them defeat Manchester United at Old Trafford in the group stages.

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    Albert Riera – Olympiakos to Galatasaray, 3mill Euros (August 2011)

    Albert Riera must have thought he’d been mistaken for Barack Obama when he walked off the plane upon arriving in Istanbul. Riera required security to guide him through the terminal as thousands of fanatical Galatasaray fans were present to greet the new signing from Olympiakos.

    The former Liverpool winger signed for the Turkish champions in August 2011 for a mere 3 million Euros, a fee considered a bargain amongst the Turkish press. So far, the 30-year old hasn’t set the world alight in his 39 appearances for Aslan, but he remains a fan favourite. If Albert Riera can drum up that kind of support, imagine the scenes when Mr. Sneijder disembarks his flight.

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    Dirk Kuyt – Liverpool to Fenerbahce, 1mill Euros (June 2012)

    The most recent footballing import from England to Turkey is Dirk Kuyt, who made the move from Merseyside to join Fenerbahce last summer for a meagre 1 million Euros. Kuyt made a name for himself at Liverpool for his unquenchable desire to work hard for the benefit of the team, and he often chipped in with a fair few goals playing wide right.

    Fener’ have used him in a more central position this season, a transition that has seen him net seven times in his first 17 games. At 32, Kuyt’s engine won’t be far long empty, but for now, the Dutchman is showing no signs of lag.

  • Blackburn Rovers

    Season so far: F

    Where do you start with Rovers? Their first season back at this level has been a nightmare of some sorts. Steve Kean finally fell on his own sword, but his replacement Henning Berg lasted only 57 days. Rovers are now left without a manager while their owners continue to grow ever more stranger, all in the midst of diminishing crowds. Bright spots have been few and far between, but their team is still packed with quality; Jordan Rhodes up front has netted 13 goals already since his big money move from Huddersfield.

    What they need: New owners! The fans are staying away from Ewood Park. Blackburn have a “global advisor” who went on Radio 5 live and called everyone Robbie, and the whole Venky’s fiasco has taken a weirder turn this season. Until they are replaced with someone who understands football, Blackburn cannot possibly perform on the field.

    Blackpool

    Season so far: D

    A fantastic start by the seasiders has been rendered meaningless by an alarming slide down the table. Ian Holloway left for Crystal Palace, presumably because he felt that he’d done all he could with the club. It looks increasingly likely that Tom Ince will be on his way during January, and although the team is still packed with players with experience in the Premier League, the team just isn’t firing at the moment.

    What they need: Old heads to lead. Blackpool still have the spine of the team that took them up and did so well in the Premier League. They could do with these experienced players showing their worth. Evatt, Cathcartt, Baptiste and Crainey at the back could and should provide a strong foundation for the midfield to build on.

    Charlton Athletic

    Season so far: C

    Satisfactory so far from Chris Powell’s Champions of League 1. After a slow start, Charlton began to find their feet during the autumn and found some form. A superb away win at Watford on New Year’s Day underlined their ability to keep up with the best in the league. Charlton fans will go into 2013 in good spirits and deservedly so.

    What they need: Home form. Charlton have been much more comfortable away from The Valley so far this season. With only 3 wins and more goals conceded at home, it shows that if The Addicts can tighten up at home, then more wins will surely follow.

    Bolton Wanderers

    Season so far: D

    It’s been a really poor season so far for Bolton, but they get a slightly better grade than their Lancashire counterparts in Blackburn due to their potential for bettering their performance in the second half of the season. Owen Coyle was sacked long after he should’ve been, and Dougie Freedman has been brought in for the inevitable “transition” period. However, there didn’t need to be a transition at the start of the season; Bolton have the players to go straight back up, although they won’t now.

    What they need: A striker to start striking! Bolton are laden with quality players on paper. Ngog, Sordell, Afobe and Kevin Davies should not have struggled as much as they have. Freedman is set to bring in Craig Davies from Barnsley, but he is a Championship stop gap at best. If Freedman wants to move Wanderers forward, they might have to take a big hit on some of their bigger players and offload them.

    Huddersfield Town

    Season so far: C-

    Huddersfield fans were treated to some fantastic early displays which really raised expectations. The fact they are now past 10 league games without a win gives the team a more realistic position in the league. They are in big danger of being sucked into a relegation battle unless they rekindle their early season form. The talents of Jermaine Beckford and James Vaughan up front should bring goals if they can stay fit and if the midfield can contribute more.

    What they need: A left back and settled midfield. Simon Grayson brought in Scottish international Paul Dixon at the start of the season, but despite good performances, he has fallen out of favour. Recently, Grayson has opted for playing an untested centre-back in that position instead. If Grayson doesn’t want Dixon, then he needs to get someone in soon. Also, a settled midfield with on-form wingers would do wonders for the goals for column.

    Wolverhampton Wanderers

    Season so far: F

    A nightmare so far for the pre-season promotion hopefuls. Stale Solbakken has had little to no success with the team and although Dean Saunders has been brought in, it is looking like an increasingly poor decision to sack Mick McCarthy. Wolves certainly have the players to win the league, but as all three relegated Premier League teams have shown, The Championship is not that easy.

    What they need: Where do you start? Essentially Wolves could do with their big players actually putting in a shift for the club. The likes of Kevin Doyle, Karl Henry and Roger Johnson should not be this troubled at this level. The spine of the team needs to stand up strong and be counted.

    Ipswich Town

    Season so far: C-

    Ipswich had an awful start which resulted in Paul Jewell looking like a beaten man. Mick McCarthy has come in and, as predicted by myself in an earlier column, has tightened Ipswich up and made them much harder to beat. The Suffolk club are still sitting precariously above the relegation zone, but signs look generally positive that they will stay afloat.

    What they need: Re-sign DJ Campbell. Campbell was brought in on loan by McCarthy and has scored 10 goals in 16 games. He has returned to QPR as the loan spell ended; McCarthy has said that they are trying to arrange a permanent move for the striker. However, money talks and those goals won’t have gone unnoticed by other clubs. Ipswich’s season rather hangs in the balance.

    Birmingham City

    Season so far: F

    Lee Clark’s stock is falling almost as fast as it went up. Birmingham are having one of those seasons which is not only bad but is also seemingly just being accepted by the fans. Attendances are down and the owners are not popular. The media continue to rave about Jack Butland, but if any of them had actually watched him play this season, they’d see he has made a lot of errors and really isn’t as good as the papers think. If Birmingham get a offer for him in January, they’ll probably sell.

    What they need: A new manager. Knowing Lee Clark’s style very well, it seems a lost cause. His signings this season have been mostly atrocious and Birmingham are still paying big wages to the likes of Zigic. Ravel Morrison has done nothing and the “experience” brought it seems to have stalled the development of some decent youngsters. Clark has got a potential playoff team in a relegation scrap, but I doubt the club can afford to sack him.

    Peterborough United

    Season so far: D

    Peterborough are an enigma of some sorts. They can go many matches looking truly terrible, and then put together a sequence of results that make you wonder what the hell is going on. One thing they do have going for them is their outstanding record of recruiting from lower and non-league sides. Dwight Gayle is another to add to their list of successes that includes Craig Mackail-Smith, Aaron McClean and George Boyd.

    What they need: Defenders. The Posh have conceded 49 goals already this season (only Ipswich have conceded more), however their attacking style means that they find the net quite often themselves. This leaky defence has meant that Peterborough have only drawn 1 game all season. If they can tighten up at the back, they may be able to turn a few losses into draws and pick up the points they need to stay up.

    Sheffield Wednesday

    Season so far: D-

    Although newly promoted teams often have a relegation fight in their first season, not many expected Wednesday to be this mired in trouble at this stage. They started the season pretty well but it has tailed off quickly, and Dave Jones’ is very much under pressure to keep Wednesday up. 3 wins in succession in December halted a run of 5 losses, but a home loss to fellow strugglers and rivals Barnsley on New Year’s Day has really annoyed the Hillsborough faithful.

    What they need: Ross Barkley and Danny Batth back on loan. Everton prospect Barkley has been Wednesday’s best midfielder so far this season, but has since returned to Everton – the fans would love him back. They could also do with Batth, who was on loan last season and isn’t getting a game for Wolves this season. He was a rock at the back in their promotion campaign and it would certainly give the team a lift to see him back.

    Bristol City

    Season so far: F

    It’s just not happening for Derek McInnes. The Scot came with a good reputation, but he has struggled to keep City’s heads above water this season, though relegation is by no means a certainty yet. Sam Baldock up front is more than capable of scoring the goals needed, and McInnes wants to re-sign Neil Danns to add steel to the midfield.

    What they need: Clean sheets (amongst many other things). McInnes could do with bringing a strong centre-back in before the end of January as City has conceded the most goals at home in the league, negating all the good work done up front and giving up a lot of home points that they need. If City can keep it tighter at the back, Baldock, Adomah and company should take care of the business up front.

    Barnsley

    Season so far: D

    An expected relegation fight has become reality for Barnsley and Keith Hill has paid for it with his job. At the time of writing, Sean O’ Driscoll has turned down the chance to become manager and the club are now looking toward Terry Butcher. Either way, Barnsley’s budget and resources are small with their players being snapped up, and prospective targets being snatched from under their noses. It looks like a thankless task for the new manager and unless this changes quickly, they might need to start planning for League 1.

    What they need: Goals. The lowest scorers in the league have had their main striker pinched from them by Bolton. Barnsley are in dire need of another inspired signing like Ricardo Vaz Te last season. If they can’t get someone in to replace Craig Davies, it may be a lost cause.

     

  • Yesterday, amidst all the big names, bigger money and enormous fibs being thrown around this window, the fact that William Gallas is being linked with a move to QPR was missed by many.

    And while I’d like to fill this article with dancing GIFs because I am so damn happy (I’m a Spurs fan), I’ve got to get serious. It would be a sensible decision for QPR, what with Clint Hill possibly moving to Leeds, Ryan Nelsen’s management career probably starting sooner rather than later, and the alternatives being a natural right-back and Anton Ferdinand.

    Gallas would add some much needed experience to a back four less reliable than National Rail on a snow day. And he’s worked with Harry Redknapp before, so he knows what will be expected of him. It’s a move that makes sense.

    So naturally, I’ll be shocked if it happens.

    Who does William Gallas play for? And QPR have bid for him? Who do they play next?

    I see what you did there ‘Arry. It’s not a ploy that’s been seen for a while, but the “unsettle player with a bid just before a match” is about as 90s as Reading’s standard game plan, so those with shorter memories won’t remember it. While usually done with a bigger player, it is important to note that Gallas plays in the gaping hole that QPR need to fill in a squad full of glaring weaknesses.

    Because as much as a spineless, sloppy liability he has been for us this season, chances are Gallas will play on Saturday in the Redknapp reunion. Chances are ‘Arry will unconvincingly deny any kind of move being made in the press conference beforehand. And chances are, the French defender will have a shocker. Just as planned.

    I really don’t know why he bothered, to be honest. The footballing gods love a bit of irony, and as badly as I want us to win (Redknapp will be unbearable if they do), QPR’s momentum after their home win against Chelsea gives them just enough confidence to go for it.

    Yes, we’re going well in third and not playing badly ourselves, but footballing logic (completely different to your bog-standard everyday common sense) says that a win is on the cards for the Hoops. It’s just one of those things.

    Still, the best thing about being pessimistic is being right or being pleasantly surprised. I know what I’d rather be on Saturday night.

     

  • The greatest difficulty in writing about football every week is trying to avoid being reactionary. You have to remember the big picture and that each week’s set of results is definitive. Momentum and prospects can be undone as easily as they can be created, and it is important that generally speaking, it’s too early to talk about anything with real credibility or conviction. That said, I’m going to say that a weekend of fixtures occurring on the 13th of January could be pivotal to the title race, so I suppose, ignore that thing I just said.

    Manchester United will begin the day seven points clear, with a superior goal difference to second placed Manchester City, and unbeaten in the league since a bizarre loss to Norwich in mid-November. Their lead is not undeserved either, for while United’s defence is continually leaky and Jonny Evans looks like an offload in the making, the ascendant form of summer signing Robin van Persie has made it a moot point. He scores goals and wins close game after close game, like some FIFA 13 cheat code for a player who can’t defend for toffee. City, meanwhile, have stuttered and stalled their way through their season, playing as they can on occasion but mostly stuck in second gear; particularly their expensive striking quartet, who range from slightly under-performing (Aguero), worryingly wasteful (Tevez), wildly inconsistent (Dzeko), and finally to being Mario Balotelli. Balotelli’s single Premier League goal, in particular, is a fairly shocking return. Yet they have ground out points and remain just about in touching distance.

    City play Arsenal away this weekend, a fixture they haven’t won in the league for 37 years and not scored a goal in in six years, and quite frankly, they need to win this one. A draw won’t really cut it. Man City are perfectly capable of beating Arsenal, but fixtures tend to coincide with City’s worst performances of the season. Not too many people will need reminding of this fixture last season, where Arsenal won 1-0 and Mario Balotelli got himself sent off in what looked tellingly like the end of City’s season. It wasn’t, but yet again, City found no joy at the Emirates. A win here could keep the pressure on United, and if the Red Devils were to drop any points against Liverpool at Old Trafford earlier in the afternoon – certainly possible given the intensity of that fixture – then the gap could be down to four points, which would look a lot less mountainous.

    A loss, however, could leave City as much as 10 points behind, and I think if the gap between the two were to reach double figures, then I think even conservative prognosticators could begin to think this was the beginning of the end. United are favourites at Old Trafford, strong favourites at that, but years of mutual Mancunian-Scouse loathing have made this a derby fixture as big as any, and in that environment, results have a tendency to be unpredictable. Liverpool are in what constitutes good form for them this season; they’ve won a couple of games in a row, and in Luis Suarez, have a player every bit as mercurial as van Persie and not a whole lot less lethal, with Suarez currently only one Premier League goal behind the Dutchman. The problem is there’s not a whole lot else. New signing Daniel Sturridge, in his Premier League debut, will hope to make an impact, but he’ll have to figure out how to pass the ball first, and I wouldn’t wait around for that.

    City, meanwhile, are weakened through injuries, suspensions and African tournaments, and will start this game without Yaya Toure,  Samir Nasri or Sergio Aguero, three influential and vital first team players. The loss of Aguero will be the most damning, as the Argentine was just starting to show the kind of form that took the Premier League by storm last season. And given Mancini’s tendency to play Balotelli in the big ones and the tendency of that to blow up in everyone’s face, I have to assume Mancini will once again go out on a limb for the erratic Italian, and once again that might prove costly. I’d start Tevez and Dzeko personally, but I’m not a multi-millionaire manager, so I defer to his authority.

    United are essentially full strength, with Kagawa and Vidic coming back to fitness, and you have to assume they’ll be too strong for Liverpool, while for City, with their horrible record at the Emirates and half their best players out, a win would be their best result of the season with no question. Whatever happens, it very well could shape what kind of title race this is going to be, a close on to the wire or one that would require a Tottenham Hotspur-style meltdown from United to even make it interesting.

  • Just four months after his £33m transfer, speculation is mounting that the Real Madrid career of Luka Modrić has hit the skids before it has even started. Whether the damage is irreparable remains to be seen, but the signs aren’t good for the Croatian midfielder who, thus far, has underwhelmed spectacularly at the Santiago Bernabéu.

    Modrić put pen to paper on a five-year deal at the end of August 2012 and was rewarded with success just days later, coming on as a 75th minute replacement for Mesut Özil in Madrid’s victory over Barcelona in the Spanish Supercup. A winning, and impressive, Primera División debut soon followed with an appearance in the starting eleven for the home game against Granada in early September. A last minute goal – his first for the club – came in Madrid’s 4-0 home win over Real Zaragoza and proved to be the high water mark on his fledgling career in the Spanish capital.

    Luka Modric Signs For Real Madrid


    In a total of eleven starts, three of which have come in the Champions League, the player has lasted the full ninety minutes just five times and has twice been hauled off at half-time. The upshot of all this indifferent form is the unwanted accolade of being voted the worst signing of the season by readers of the influential Spanish daily newspaper Marca.  Privately, the player himself has admitted the adjustment required to play at such a massive club as Madrid has been difficult and far harder than he expected.

    The decent form of his principal rival, Özil, who by contrast has starred in his sixteen La Liga starts, chipping in with five goals along the way, can hardly have helped smooth the way for Real Madrid’s marquee summer arrival either. Add to that the fact the club hasn’t exactly set the league alight to date with four defeats in their first eighteen Primera fixtures, and you can perhaps begin to understand a little about the player’s difficulties – even sympathise. Truth be told, Real Madrid FC really isn’t the kind of environment in which to be low on confidence or out of form.

    Like Kaka and Turkish international Nuri Sahin before him at Madrid, quality players don’t simply become donkeys overnight; the problem of how to prove that, though, is made worse by limited on-field opportunities. Continued failure will only fuel the speculation that signing Modrić was a costly mistake, and that before too long the Bernabeu exit door will beckon for the 27-year-old. If Jose Mourinho, himself not certain to be a permanent fixture, does decide to off-load the playmaker, what are his options?

    Sure to be closely monitoring the situation will be Chelsea, who twice tried and failed to land the former Spurs star, as will more-money-than-sense Manchester City, for whom manager Roberto Mancini is known to be an admirer. Manchester United could also be in the frame, as they were first time around, with Paul Scholes due to call time on his Old Trafford playing days at season’s end. Without the obstacle of an intransigent Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy making things awkward, Chelsea will probably start in pole position, but not before the summer, by which time Frank Lampard will, in all likelihood, be elsewhere and require replacing.

    For now then, the Modrić misery looks set to continue with no simple solution in sight. It isn’t all gloom and doom, though, with team-mate and rival for a place in the Madrid midfield, Xabi Alonso, quick to offer words of support. Recalling his own move from Liverpool, the Basque-born Spanish international said at a recent press conference, “There are a few of us competing for that position and he is adapting to a new club and a new league, I found it difficult in my first season after coming from the Premier League but he is very well integrated, he is a fantastic lad and a great player. I have no doubt he will be important (to us).”

    There is no doubt whatsoever that Modrić is a fine player – he’s already played four times this season as a first choice for Croatia – but he’ll need to adapt quickly to life in the goldfish bowl that is Real Madrid or face an uncertain future. As Tottenham prepare to fend off a probable Real Madrid approach in a few months for another one of their key players, Gareth Bale may well be regarding the Luka Modrić situation with some trepidation.

    Aston Villa v Tottenham Hotspur - Premier League

     

  • The man who once set a record for appearing in 164 consecutive Premier League matches, and the same man who sits in joint second position in the list of all-time goal scorers for Chelsea is now seemingly unwanted by the club with which he won so much. He was once the 20 goal-a-season, heartbeat of the Blues, orchestrating the match with his influence on the ball and his superb runs off it, but it now appears that his 11th year at the club could well prove to be his last. The days of paying £30m for an out of form 30-year old are long gone for the West London club, who in recent years, with the signings of Moses, Hazard, Mata and Oscar, have switched their focus to procuring younger talent with the view of developing them into world beaters. Unfortunately for Frank, he doesn’t fit into this model any longer.

    At 34, Frank is no spring chicken but at the same time, he won’t be collecting his pension any time soon. David Beckham, at 37, is attracting interest from clubs all over the planet, and if any of these clubs actually want Beckham for his footballing prowess rather than his commercial value, then why on earth would they not consider Frank? You have to argue that Frank has been playing at a much higher level than David, is younger and less injury prone, so one thing he won’t have to worry about is advertising himself – plenty of clubs will be fighting for his signature. However, clubs wanting you to play for them and you wanting to play for a club are two completely different things. Frank clearly feels that he still has much to offer and undoubtedly would like to play regularly for a top club – so what are his options?

    Remaining in England seems highly unlikely, because although Arsenal and possibly even Manchester United may show interest in the midfielder, he would almost certainly be used sparingly or as cover for their current midfield. Ferguson has shown he can handle his maturing stars over the years but would Frank swap sitting on the bench for Chelsea with sitting on the bench for United? Not likely. He’d walk into any mid-table team’s starting eleven, but again, there is a notion that he will still want to challenge for silverware, so it all points to Frank Lampard leaving England to continue his career in pastures new.

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    Spain? Doubt it. At the moment there are only two world class teams in that division, with the rest all vying for the remaining Champions League spots, and Barcelona and Madrid are simply not interested in the Englishman. Germany? Again, probably not. Dortmund and Bayern are known for producing their own stars so they won’t be looking for an ageing midfielder in a fast paced league such as the Bundesliga. You can’t avoid talking about Paris Saint-Germain when it comes to transfers so there you go, we have mentioned them. Anzhi in Russia could double his wages, but Frank wants to prove he can still cut it at the top so that will not be an avenue he will go down. So that pretty much leaves two destinations – USA or Italy. Take your pick, Frank.

    Coming back to David Beckham, in terms of replacements, Frank Lampard would be the best one LA Galaxy could wish for. Beckham had very much adapted to life as a central midfielder for the Los Angeles club and this was where he played for the last six years, so to have someone of Frank’s calibre to continue where Beckham had left off would be ideal for the club. With so many former Premier League stars prolonging their careers in America, you would have to say that the prestige levels have increased since the arrival of players like Beckham, Henry, Keane and Cahill. He may not come with the glamour that David brought to America, but he does come with the experience, professionalism and skill that make a great footballer and this would be invaluable to a club like Galaxy. Without taking away from what Beckham achieved there, you would have to think that if Lampard was to cross the pond for Los Angeles then he would make a bigger impact than Beckham; perhaps not commercially, but certainly on a playing level.

    Then there’s the obvious choice – Italia. The Italian League is custom made for players like Frank, so it’s almost a no-brainer. He was continuously linked with a switch to Italy while his friend and former manager Jose Mourinho was in charge of Inter, but he stayed loyal to Chelsea and won another Premier League title, the League Cup, two FA Cups and the Champions League with the Blues. However, with the situation as it is at the moment, this could be the right time to make the move.

    Serie A is much slower and more technical than the Premier League and this will suit Frank just fine. AC Milan have their infamous, top-secret science laboratory in which they devise methods to obtain the best out of older players. Costacurta, Maldini, Inzaghi, Seedorf, and various others all benefited from Milan’s ability to prolong the careers of footballers, so realistically, they could easily squeeze another three or four years out of Frank. Juventus seem to have put the shame of match fixing behind them and are currently the strongest team in the league, and you would have to say that a massive part of their success is a 34 year old, central midfielder – a certain Andrea Pirlo. Who’s to say Frank couldn’t form a partnership with Hamsik and help a team like Napoli to challenge Juve’s dominance? A move to Italy would probably also mean more Champions League football.

    So, prepare yourself for the inevitable. There will be a host of clubs jostling for his signature, but remember – there’s only one Frankie Lampard.

     

  • Tottenham Hotspur have announced the signing of German Under-21 captain Lewis Holtby, who will depart from Schalke 04 in the summer once his contract has expired (subject to a medical, of course). He becomes Tottenham’s second January signing after Zeki Fryers from Standard Liege.

  • With the season just over halfway through and this weekend being FA Cup heavy, I thought I’d run the rule over every Championship team and grade their season so far. I’ll also be attempting to figure out what it is that they need in order to progress. Feel free to leave comments about your team below if you agree or disagree with my ideas. The excuse that “the table is still taking shape” is now definitely redundant so I’ll be looking at the teams in position order from top to bottom.

    Cardiff City

    Season so far: Grade A

    Malky Mackay has done what has been expected of him so far. Cardiff spent a lot in the summer, having one of the biggest budgets in the league and had to be up there challenging for the title; they do not want to go through the playoffs again. So far so good, a 7 point lead at New Year is the position every other team would want.

    What they need: Focus and luck! Cardiff have had a habit of tailing off towards the end of seasons in recent years, resulting in slips into the playoffs on bad runs of form. If Mackay can keep his team’s foot firmly on the gas and get that little bit of luck they’ve missed in previous seasons, then we could have a Welsh derby in the Premier League next season.

    Hull City

    Season so far: A

    Steve Bruce has surprised most pundits who figured he would probably do a solid job rather than a spectacular one in his first season at Hull. Sitting 2nd is probably beyond the clubs expectations, but Hull have been gathering momentum throughout December and have launched themselves firmly into promotion contention.

    What they need: A striker. Hull have struggled for a consistent goal threat. Expensive summer signing Nick Proschwitz has struggled to settle and Jay Simpson is not firing, whilst Aaron Mclean has been allowed to join Ipswich and Matty Fryatt is out injured for the season. Recently, Bruce has been playing Robert Koren up front.

    Crystal Palace

    Season so far: A-

    A slightly turbulent season so far for Palace who saw hero-turned-manager Dougie Freedman leave for Bolton. Ian Holloway has come in but found Palace to be a sublime attacking force who have been lacking consistency. They have found a great goalscorer in Glenn Murray, and his 22 goals so far have kept Palace in the promotion chasing pack.

    What they need: Hold onto their stars. There is no secret that Premier League clubs are sniffing around Zaha and although his goal tally really isn’t anything to write home about, he still strikes fear into the opposition every time he picks up the ball. If Palace can keep hold of him until at least the end of the season, then a playoff spot seems nailed on whilst automatic promotion will be achievable if they can become consistent.

    Middlesbrough

    Season so far: A-

    Another team who you’d expect to be there or thereabouts but have probably surprised a few people with some of their performances this season. Tony Mowbray has finally got a team together who are capable of challenging the top spots and although they flirted with 2nd spot earlier in the season, they seem destined for the playoffs in their current form.

    What they need: Excite the crowd! Middlesbrough are known for having one of the most vastly underpopulated stadiums in the country. Huge sections of empty seats convey a sense of very few actually caring about games. However, when the atmosphere at the Riverside is brimming, it truly is something to behold. If Middlesbrough can pull in a few thousand more fans, then the extra support could give them the push they need to get over the line.

    Leicester City

    Season so farB+

    With the amount of money spent, you’d expect Leicester to be right up there challenging. But the age-old problem of inconsistency strikes again, and Leicester find themselves mired in the playoffs. However, the addition of Chris Wood from West Brom (formerly on loan at Millwall) gives them a frightening prospect up front. David Nugent already has 12 goals this season, and the sublime Anthony Knockaert looks destined for bigger things.

    What they need: Sort out away form. Only 4 wins and only 12 goals scored away from the King Power Stadium is not the form of promotion hopefuls. Leicester have scored for fun at home and if they can convert this into their away form, then I’d think they have an excellent shot at a top 2 finish.

    Watford

    Season so farA

    No one expected Watford to be up in the playoffs at this stage, especially after their poor start which saw them languishing in the bottom half. Gianfranco Zola’s group of players -most of whom are loan signings – started clicking a month or so ago and have now become a team to fear. The question now is whether Zola can get the winning mentality he had as a player to rub off on his team.

    What they need: Keeping everyone happy. Watford have a huge squad and the team finally looks settled. Players will either be rotated or consistently left out, and disharmony might not be too far away. The reliance is now really on Zola to keep the team focused and tight.

    Millwall

    Season so far: A+

    Kenny Jackett had been under fire last season, and remained so at the start of this season as Millwall slipped down the table, but once again, he has managed to get the most out of a limited group of players and Millwall sit comfortably just outside the playoffs. An excellent season so far.

    What they need: A striker. The inspired signing of Chris Wood on loan from WBA laid the foundations of their season, but his performances alerted bigger clubs and Wood has been poached by Leicester. Millwall need a striker to come in and fill the void, and it won’t be an easy find.

    Leeds United

    Season so far: B

    A slow start for Neil Warnock, but Leeds picked up through the autumn and now sit fairly happily in 8th. Leeds fans however will want a proper promotion push, and to achieve that, Warnock will be hoping that the new owners give him some money to spend in the transfer window. Keeping hold of Luciano Beccio will also be a priority.

    What they need: Defenders. The only team in the top 4 with a negative goal difference shows that Leeds need defensive reinforcements if they are to challenge for the playoffs. A left-back may be highest on the list as right-back Lee Peltier has been recently playing there without much success.

    Brighton & Hove Albion

    Season so far: B

    Another decent season from Gus Poyet’s men, building on a strong showing upon their return to this level last year. The previous year’s performance perhaps raised expectations, and fans are after a proper playoff push this season. However, Brighton have at times struggled to find someone who can put the ball in the net consistently. Craig Mackail-Smith works hard but Brighton need someone clinical alongside him to get them into the promotion pack.

    What they need: Home wins. Too many draws at the Amex this season has dented Brighton’s chances of progression up the league. 6 home draws and only 4 wins paints a clear picture. The Amex needs to be a fortress and at the moment Brighton are giving up too many points there.

    Derby County

    Season so far: C

    Derby are once again having a season of no real note. Flirting neither with promotion nor relegation. Nigel Clough has been in the job for many seasons now, but Derby are continue to remain standing still – not that there are any rumours they want Clough out. They do however have some talented youngsters coming through; Will Hughes and Mason Bennett should have big futures ahead of them.

    What they need: Goals away from home. With just 11 scored away from Pride Park, Derby are the joint lowest scorers on their travels. The likes of Connor Sammon, Theo Robinson and Jamie Ward really need to start producing.

    Nottingham Forest

    Season so far: C

    Things were moving along steadily with Sean O’ Driscoll before his shock sacking. Alex McLeish, continuing his mission to ruin every midlands club, has lost 2 of his first 3 games including in the cup against Oldham this weekend. Never a popular choice with the fans, McLeish needs to start winning fast unless he wants to have another managerial nightmare on his hands.

    What they need: A contribution from midfield. Forest’s midfield is packed with more-than able players: Reid, McGugan, Lansbury and Guedioura are all quality players, but they really need to be contributing more. Jonathan Greening and Jermaine Jenas are two big loan players who have so far failed to produce anything of note.

    Burnley

    Season so far: C

    If it wasn’t for the goal scoring exploits of Charlie Austin I don’t think anyone would’ve noticed Burnley this season. The sudden departure of Eddie Howe back to Bournemouth caused a slight ripple of fear, but ever the sensible club, Burnley quickly replaced him with Sean Dyche who has gone about his work quietly and confidently.

    What they need: Keep hold of Charlie Austin. You don’t score 20 goals in half a season and not turn a few heads. Plenty of clubs may be sniffing around the former Swindon striker but Burnley will need to hold onto him. Without Austin up front, the team may really struggle for goals.

     

  • As the January transfer window starts to get into gear, here are my five worst January transfers ever made.

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    Fernando Torres – Liverpool to Chelsea – £50 million

    This transfer often reminds me of poker; your brain stops functioning as the clock counts down into the final seconds, you gamble and throw all your chips in just hoping for the best, but 9 out of 10 times losing. This just seemed like Roman Abramovich’s all-in attempt at salvaging Chelsea’s aim of retaining the league title.

    Now, Chelsea are stuck with Torres, and without making one of the most humiliating losses of all time by selling him on, they’re hoping that, one day, the old Torres of his earlier Liverpool days might just come back.

    However, with 7 goals in 20 games this season so far and back working with old boss Rafael Benitez, he can’t be classed as a write-off just yet… but admittedly, time is close to running out.

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    Andy Carroll – Newcastle to Liverpool – £35 million

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    Carroll made his professional debut in October 2008, and just 80 games later, he’s already being shipped on for a staggering £35m. Was he just THAT good?

    I sat in amazement watching Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day, watching Newcastle reject a £30 million bid from Liverpool just for them to up it even further for a relatively raw and unproven young talent. As this whole transfer saga evolved in front of my eyes, it slowly became a reality and turned into one of those ‘if I don’t laugh, I’ll cry’ moments, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Ashley is still laughing now. Andy Carroll has done little for Liverpool except deplete their transfer funds, and to put the icing on the cake, Carroll is now no longer playing for Liverpool but he is on loan at West Ham.

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    Savio Nsereko – Brescia to West Ham – £9 million

    Football was definitely not a strong point of Savio Nsereko. Currently a free agent – and has been for a while – after being released by a third division German side, this guy really was West Ham’s worst ever signing. Ten games and no goals, sold onto Fiorentina, who he didn’t even play one minute for before being moved on again.

    It was only two months ago that he faked his own kidnapping to his family as well, and he now faces trial for this bizarre event. At least he could potentially have an interesting biography, he’s only 23.

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    Fernando Morientes – Real Madrid to Liverpool – £6.5 million

    Arriving at Anfield with a good reputation, having been the integral part of the Monaco side which reached the Champions League final two seasons previous, Liverpool looked as if they had found a cure to their striking problems. How wrong they were.

    A huge drop in form ultimately lead to Morientes’ exit a year later after a dismal 61 games which only saw him score 12 times.

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    Afonso Alves – Heerenveen to Middlesborough – £12.7 million

    A Brazilian international, full of flair and with 45 goals to his name from 38 appearances for his previous side, a record any other striker would have been proud of, Alves transferred to Middlesbrough from Dutch side Heerenveen in January 2008 for a record club fee which still stands today.

    Once arriving Teesside, it was almost as if he had forgotten how to play football. Netting just 10 goals in 42 games, some argue that he was the sole reason why Middlesbrough are no longer a Premier League side.

     

  • Welcome to another stellar instalment from me, I hope all you readers had a merry Christmas and a fantastic new year! In this article, as you can tell, I shall be talking about falling over a lot during football matches, and why it needs to stop.

    This epidemic needs to stop, as I believe it is ruining the beautiful game. Call me crazy, but what happened to good old-fashioned honesty? The most recent outbreak of this that I have seen came during the Brighton vs Newcastle game during this week’s FA Cup matches, in which play acting from Paul Dicker and David Lopez managed to get Newcastle captain Shola Ameobi sent off. Both of these were incredibly soft, but the one that got me was the Lopez one. Okay, it was a foul, no doubt about it, but the cameras saw Lopez do one roll, then another, then another, then look at the ref to see if he had sent Ameobi off, then rolled again.

    This behaviour from a professional athlete, who is getting paid probably about £10k a week for Brighton, is absolutely ludicrous, and not to mention, malicious. Even the first ‘foul’ that Ameobi committed – the referee wasn’t looking, it wasn’t in his peripheral vision or anything, he just saw Dicker on the floor, and because of that, he booked Ameobi. This shows that it isn’t just the players’ fault, it is the referee too. I obviously know that if you get a player sent off, it helps your team out, but now Newcastle have Ameobi missing for one game, which they can’t really afford, so I believe diving by footballers should be an offence that carries a ban.

    Of course, it does not end there. By far, some of the most highly paid players in this game are shamefully engaging in diving and play acting to get the referee to send people off, and over-exaggerating the tiniest of touches. Players for the best clubs in the world – Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Manchester United – all go down like a cheap hooker in Amsterdam as soon as they feel the tiniest of touches from a player on the opposite team. I’m not saying it’s not beneficial for them, but why cheat? Are you that desperate to win? It’s not a life or death situation, and footballers are losing more respect with every game they do it, and therefore, people are losing respect for the game as well, tarred by association.

    Even Lionel Messi, holier than thou, dives like you wouldn’t believe, but we just can’t see it through those rose tinted glasses. That is a man who has won FOUR Ballon d’Or awards now. The best player in the world, breaking records every time he steps on the pitch, but somehow that makes it okay for him to dive? I don’t believe anybody should get away with this, and I genuinely believe that players who dive should be sent off or retrospectively banned. Each dive, every hand over the face feigning agony, is an indictment against football, in my opinion. It’s going to continue until the referees buck up their game. Until they say “enough!”, but I don’t see that happening any time soon, especially against teams like Barcelona, who will react in uproar, or Manchester United, whose manager will react in uproar.

    I know that there are much more important issues in football, but I do believe that this needs to be kicked out of football, the sooner the better; what happened to the good old days of Terry Butcher, getting his head cut open, and just carrying on? I know that wasn’t exactly safe, but in my opinion, it’s better than people who act like they’ve been hit with a sack of bricks after a poke or tap on the head.

    Anyway, that’s my own spell on things. Hit me up on Twitter, @drl_nufc, where as always, I can make you hang off every single word I say in 140 characters or less!

  • Predicting the future can be a dangerous business, particularly in football. One can be left nursing a serious case of ‘egg on face’. Nevertheless, some predictions look more plausible than others, such as Jonny Evans becoming a future Sunderland captain, and Mario Balotelli ending up in prison for attempting to replicate Eric Cantona’s infamous karate kick. Add to that the plight of David Moyes and a couple of his Everton cast, and suddenly I don’t look so zany after all.

    Moyes

    As one of the most underrated managers since the Premier League sprouted its first spot, it’s no wonder that scouring the internet for a decent piece on the Scotsman leads to a dead end (if someone can prove me wrong, I’d be delighted to read it). But, having surpassed expectation almost every season he’s been in charge at Goodison Park and having continued to skirt around the borders of the PL radar, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t speculate as to what the future holds for the Glaswegian.

    A man as modest and low key as Moyes shan’t be finding himself anywhere near Stamford Bridge, so we can rule that one out early on. Similarly, one might argue that given Arsenal’s recent free fall from Champions League finalists to a side gasping to make the top 4, moving to the Emirates wouldn’t be much of a step up from Everton, who are often knocking on Arsene Wenger’s door in challenge for that position; a remarkable feat considering the measly budget Moyes has to work with. Tottenham would fall under the same bracket. That leaves Manchester. With City’s riches and a refusal to do anything without a huge ‘LOOK AT US’ stamped all over it, Moyes wouldn’t be their cup of tea. But, perhaps pining after a little more milk and less of the darker, hot stuff, would be Manchester United, whose current messiah seems to be writing the last few chapters of a glorious novel, one that might see a slightly bitter denouement.

    The signs of senility are there for all to see in Sir Alex Ferguson. Claims that Robin van Persie “could have been killed” by a rogue clearance from Swansea’s Ashley Williams helped to make a valid point, but also blew a minor incident into the stratosphere. It’s always been something of Ferguson’s nature to get others into trouble, kind of like a playground bully who fails to recognise his own wrongdoings in favour of making a mockery out of others. Once upon a time, such a fragile and ferocious argument would be taken rather more seriously by us, the people, and the FA, the robots – two parties who would, of course, hold contrasting views. A previous outcome may well have seen Williams brandished with a multiple-game ban, but now? Nobody takes much notice of that silly old man.

    Sir Alex’s achievements will never be understated, solely because they shouldn’t be. Whatever you think about the man, as a football person he is one of the greats. Unrivalled success with Manchester United, years and years of dominance in a league heralded as the best in the world, and the production of some of the game’s wonders. Not bad for a couple decades work, eh? But no man can last forever, not in football, and it’s a testament to the man’s genius that he has avoided all speculation surrounding his job, with the exception of possible retirement. It was the 2001-02 season when Ferguson announced he was to retire at the conclusion, only for that to be put off entirely. Inside, everyone knew that was never to happen. Fergie still had so much to offer. This time, things are different, and the general consensus reads it is time he shuffled off serenely.

    That is where Moyes comes in. There seems to be few better suited to succeeding one of football’s greatest. A personality that couldn’t be more different, someone who wouldn’t overshadow the success Fergie has achieved no matter how he fared. Someone who wouldn’t go knocking on doors and shouting ‘I’m the manager of Manchester United!” from the rooftops. His Everton side, with very little money invested in it, play the most fearless and dedicated brand of football you’ll see in the Premier League. No team, not even Manchester City with all their celebrities and big-timers, instill any sort of doubt into the Everton structure. Quality, if understated and unrecognised, runs throughout their team; Leighton Baines is now viewed as one of the best left-backs in the world; Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin would do a sterling job for any team in the top flight; Leon Osman recently won his first cap for England, and Nikica Jelavic stirred interest from Liverpool among others before deciding to join the blue half of Merseyside. These are players who have all realised their potential under Moyes. Would Moyes be able to adjust to spending big money on world-class players at United? With an eye for gems and motivational man-management skills, therein lies your answer.

    Moreover, the likelihood of Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines following Moyes to Manchester would be rather high. Fellaini has already publicly voiced his desire to move on to bigger and better things, and Baines, being talked about as he is, will surely look to widen his horizons also. United have been keen observers recently. A regular starting place for Roy Hodgson’s England would beckon should he decide to take the next step in what is a very bright career for the 28-year old.

    A more modest approach wouldn’t go amiss either for United, whose wily old manager is starting to take some of the gloss off an otherwise immaculate exterior with senile comments directed elsewhere. Behind the scenes problems will of course rumble on at Old Trafford, especially while the Glazers remain at the helm, but with Moyes in charge of team affairs, everything would be safe and cosy. Place your bets now.

  • Newcastle are currently reminding me a bit of a rock band. I know, you are all probably thinking I am crazy, right? Well, hear me out. Let’s call their return to the Premier League their comeback after a slight hiatus. Their first season or for this metaphor, album, was a solid return; good, but not spectacular, better than expected. The tricky second album followed, the pressure was on to avoid the second season/album syndrome but much to everyone’s surprise, they were fantastic, with players/singles such as Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye and Papiss Cisse all fantastic, which secured them a place on tour in Europe. We now move into the present, with the difficult third album, and sadly for Newcastle, it has been a major flop, with a series of poor shows, and while they are still in Europe, the lead member has now departed for pastures new. With the wheels falling off the tour bus, they badly need to recruit, and there are two options that I think would be perfect for them.

    NewcastlePoor

    Their biggest problem this season has been their leaky defence, which has already shipped thirty nine goals this season; only my beloved Reading and Aston Villa have conceded more. To put this into perspective, they only conceded 51 goals last season in the league. Their defence last season of Mike Williamson, Fabricio Coloccini and Steven Taylor were superb, but they were always playing above themselves and they have been found out. They are crying out for a quality centre-back to install confidence, experience and leadership to their team, and there is one player available who fits the bill nicely –  Joleon Lescott. The Manchester City defender is currently not in favour at the Etihad, even falling behind car salesman Kolo Toure who has looked particularly “Championship” quality with his performances so far. Lescott was in good form for England at the European Championship in the summer, so quite why Roberto Mancini has frozen him out is a mystery, but it plays into the Magpies’ hands. He is at a good age at 30, where he still has a good few seasons to offer but also keeps his market value down. If Newcastle were to get him on loan with a view to purchasing him for around £8m at the end of the season, they would be making a superb signing, and along with Debuchy, their defence suddenly doesn’t look as vulnerable as it has done so far this season.

    The defence needs to be a priority in my opinion, but they must not forget to replace Demba Ba, following his move to Chelsea. The rumours have been flying around about who they can get to replace the Senegalese striker and the most popular choice seems to be the right one – Loic Remy. The Marseille striker holds some similar attributes to Ba, but plays quite differently which could then bring out the best in Papiss Cisse, who has been rather lacklustre currently. Remy likes to run at his man, utilising his fine dribbling skills and his pace, and he also likes to drift out to the wide positions which then could open up the channels for Cisse/Ben Arfa to get some space. He is not just about pace and skill, though; he has proven that he is a good finisher, scoring an impressive 67 goals in his five seasons as a main striker. The French international will probably be available for around the £10m mark, which will provide decent value at that price. Goals are valuable after all.

    Mike Ashley really needs to get his chequebook out and sign both of these players quickly. If he doesn’t, then Newcastle could be closer to the relegation zone at the end of the season than their fans might think.

     

  • I’ve really started to lose it with the football this week, as it becomes increasingly difficult to find ACTUAL news amongst the swathes of never-ending sagas, repeated reports and unbelievably unlikely stories. Firstly, Manchester United’s supposed chase for Wesley Sneijder has been in the news again, what with it being the transfer window and all. Reports indicate that the Reds could land their man for £25m, despite the presence of several other factors. Let’s list them. 1. United are reluctant to pay Sneijder’s requested wages. The Dutch playmaker’s wage demands are supposedly £250,000 a week; this was news back in August 2011, and I don’t see why he or United would be willing to compromise on their stances from then. 2. Sneijder will be 28 years old by the end of the season, which is most certainly not in line with United’s transfer policy of late, barring Dimitar Berbatov. Ashley Young, at 26 years old, was seen as just in the appropriate age bracket to be a signing with a good resale value. If Sneijder signs on a 4 year contract, there would not be much resale value for a 32 year old. Just ask Chelsea about Nicolas Anelka. 3. United aren’t even in the Champions League, which makes a Sneijder move even more unlikely. The man is cup-tied in European competition, so we won’t be able to play him in the Europa League, while he won’t want to play in the Europa League. Realistically, the only fans that are begging for Sneijder’s arrival at Old Trafford right now are clueless fools that are also calling for Fergie’s head, David De Gea to be sold and have the same ability to plan for the future as a man on Death Row. Not sure how this next one is news: Michael Owen still harbours hope of increasing his England cap total. As much of an icon Owen was for me in my younger years, I can see what he can offer now, which is back-up. Hope is great, but not news; I, for example, hoped to pull Kelly Brook when I was younger, but I’ve had to face reality. Maybe Owen should too. That being said, with Fabio Capello somehow allowing Glen Johnson to play for England over Micah Richards, it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch for Owen to play too. Revelations that apparently Blackburn Rovers are poorly run! This came as a total shocker for me, because usually poultry-farming Indian businessmen that sack an established manager to replace him with one with no managerial experience, attempt to bring R&B; superstars to stadiums in the north of England and think that they can run a Premier League football club on £5m a year are usually SUCH big successes. Thanks for that eyeopener! Cristiano Ronaldo to move back to United! Fantastically plausible story. The goal machine is apparently at loggerheads with the Madrid fans and the holier-than-thou pro-Madrid publication Marca because he didn’t jump about like a crazy fool to celebrate the incredibly significant fifth goal in a 5-1 victory against Granada. He lacks passion, he lacks team chemistry. He was spotted having lunch with his agent and David Gill of Manchester United, which naturally means that he is returning. Small matter of the £80m Madrid would want back first though. How about the not-at-all tedious updates on the Tevez saga? I’m getting really tired of hearing about how Tevez is a mercenary that plays just for money. The man is clearly missing his family back in Argentina, and is attempting to solve this problem by moving closer, to either of the Argentinian clubs Inter Milan and Paris St. Germain. It’s not like he’s asking for a six-figure weekly wage, is picking up crazy money for playing as much football as I have in the last three months and is AWOL from his club, right? He’s a loyal man – just ask Manchester City Manchester United, er, West Ham? For the love of God, just move and be done with it. At this rate, we’ll see megabucks Chinese club Shanghai Shenhua take him on – he will be closer to Argentina than ever, all he has to do is drill a hole directly through the bloody Earth. Final shocker of the week: apparently Roberto Mancini requires money for players, and is sad because he isn’t getting any. It’s not fair, how can you expect a man to buy any sort of workable team for £250 million?! You’re mad, sheikhs! Flipping crazy! On a more serious note, if Mancini needs money, STOP PAYING TEVEZ. The £2.4m that Tevez has picked up despite swanning off to Argentina could have bought City, um, Darron Gibson? Excellent cover for Yaya Toure! Following Michael Owen’s example, I can only hope that the football news will begin to report more realistic stories from now on, lest that I may go insane again.
  • Remember Shunsuke Nakamura? He’s one of those players that you find on PES and you really hope he lives up to his virtual self. Luckily he went to Celtic and scored THAT free kick against Manchester United. Well the boy certainly hasn’t lost it. But rather than hitting a dead ball in Celtic Park he’s doing it on Japanese TV. In this video Nakamura has to hit a ball into a window of a moving bus for a contestant on a gameshow. Oh and to add to that he only has a traffic mirror to monitor the vechile’s movements.
  • Brighton fans up and down the country will be counting down the seconds until the transfer window closes on the 31st of January, in the faint hope of keeping hold of the latest player to attract a host of Premiership clubs, central defender Lewis Dunk. Lewis has been outstanding so far this campaign, his debut Championship season. He originally got drafted in to partner skipper Gordon Greer, due to the injuries of both Adam El-Abd and Tommy Elphick. Hard to believe that it was only Lewis’ third game for Brighton against Doncaster on the opening day of the season.For such a young lad he put in such a confident, astute performance. Dunk has performed above expectation so far this season. His performances have not gone unnoticed by Stuart Pearce, the England u21 manager, as Lewis received his first call up in November against Iceland and Belgium in the European Qualifiers. Dunk, however, was an unused sub in both games. His heading ability amongst others is what is considered his best attribute, as well as his positional sense. The latter being more impressive taking into consideration the way in which Brighton play, which is starting with the ball from the back and slowly working it forward. His passing is also a key element of his game and although, Gus Poyet likes his players to play it short and quick Lewis’ long ball distribution is just as good, and can easily ping a ball 80 yards for Craig Mackail-Smith to run on too, or 60 yards to Craig Noone’s feet. The one thing, currently, that lets him down would be his disciplinary problem. Although he has yet to see a red card, his cautions so far this season amount too 10. This, however, will get better and will come with time as he matures as a player. Lewis has caught the eye of many Premiership managers, with rumours of different teams’ scouts watching him every game (and no doubt go away impressed). Every week you hear of different clubs being linked with a January move for him, some of these teams have been; Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham, Newcastle, Aston Villa and most recently (who I believe he will join) Everton. That said it would need to take big offer of around £3/4 million to see him leave Brighton. In my opinion this would be a steal for any Premiership team. Gus Poyet did say that in the near future he will be playing in the Premiership and for England. You can’t say he doesn’t know his stuff…
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