Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Villas-Boas appointed at Chelsea

Finally Chelsea football club can start planning for the future after Andre Villas-Boas was finally confirmed as their new manager today. The Portuguese manager enjoyed a quite phenomenal season at Porto last season and emerged as the hottest managerial candidate in Europe.

It will be his third managerial role (not including a brief stint as manager of the British Virgin Isles when he was 21) but it is certainly the most high profile and the most challenging. Recent history suggests that he will have to continue his success if he to remain in the job longer than his predecessors. Indeed, many still belief Carlo Ancelotti was incredibly unlucky to lose his job after winning the double in his first season in English football.

There are a number of things Villas-Boas will need to address if his team are to improve and challenge for major honours next season. Firstly he must sort out Fernando Torres and ensure that his star striker begins to repay the huge transfer fee laid out in January. It seems that Didier Drogba will be moved on and it could be a wise idea; he holds far too much sway in the dressing room and it would represent a statement of intent from the new manager.

In order to get the best out of El Nino they must surely look to bring in a top class playmaker. It appears that Luka Modric has already been identified for this role but Chelsea need to act quickly and ensure they get the Croatian sooner rather than later. The Chelsea midfield was too pedestrian last season and they need to ensure they add someone who can link effectively with Torres.

The squad at Chelsea is an aging one and more emphasis has to be placed on youth development. Villas-Boas will already know several of the long term players after working under fellow countryman Jose Mourinho whilst learning his trade. His assistant manager Vitor Pereira has opted to fill Boas’ shoes at Porto rather than following him to Chelsea. He will need to ensure he can get a reliable and trustworthy number two to support him at Stamford Bridge.

Rumours of disharmony are far too common at his new club and he one would hope he has received assurances from Roman Abramovich regarding how best to take the club forward. A few big investments will stand them in good stead and with the likes of Josh McEachran waiting in the wings he has some talent to work with. After playing and aggressive style at Porto it will be interesting to see his approach. There have already been links to Falcao whose physical attributes and power in the air would be beneficial.

Chelsea should be very happy with their new manager. However, as we have seen on numerous occasions before he must be given time. Next season is really taking shape already.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Cesc Fabregas to Barcelona??

The transfer saga that dragged on throughout last summer is set to rear its head again in the coming days. Spanish newspaper Marca published an article over the weekend claiming that personal terms have all been agreed but the deal still hinges on whether Arsenal and Barcelona can agree a deal.

The fee Barcelona are willing to pay appears to be around the £35 million mark with a possibility over player exchanges to lower the cash amount. Their valuation appears to be comparable with David Silva who moved from Valencia to Manchester City last summer for £24 million. Silva is a year older than Cesc and struggles to hold down a regular starting place for Spain, which is similar to Fabregas.

However, with some of the astronomical transfer fees that Liverpool in particular have paid in recent months Arsenal’s valuation is considerably higher. They see their captain valued around the £45-50 million mark which would almost certainly price Barca out of a move. The key issue remains whether Fabregas really wants to leave Arsenal.

There is no question that he would like to return to Catalonia in the near future and play for his beloved Barcelona. Questions have been raised about how much he would play but modern day football is all about squads. The physical demands on the top players these days are far greater than at any time in the past. Previous championship winners used to be able to win trophies using 15 players; this is simply not possible these days. When you consider Seydou Keita made 56 appearances for Barca this season this question is put into perspective; although many were as a substitute late on in games.

The player exchange rumour is one that could interest Arsene Wenger. Last night showcased Thiago Alcantara’s ability and he certainly looks like another talented prospect who has graduated through Barca’s academy La Masia. However, losing his captain would be disastrous for Wenger. Since his arrival in 2003 he has been nurtured and developed into being the player he is now. The natural ability he possesses was always there but playing with the likes of Vieira has made him the player he is today.

It would represent a massive blow to Arsenal if Fabregas does decide his future lies in Barcelona. However, with the varying degree of valuations floating around it seems unlikely a deal will be agreed, unless Barcelona pulls out all the stops. If Ibrahimovic signs for AC Milan they will receive €24 million after the fee was agreed last summer. Although they have already made moves to sign Guiseppe Rossi from Villareal there should be just enough money to sign Cesc.

The pressure being applied from the Barcelona players must be difficult to ignore for Fabregas who has stated he would only move to Barca if he indeed leaves Arsenal. It will be an interesting few weeks but I for one hope it is resolved one way or the other quickly. It would be a great shame for the Premier League to lose one of its real genuine talents but on the other side it would be interesting to see him progress at the best club in the world.

Friday, 10 June 2011

Roberto Martinez proves loyalty still exists

Wigan manager Roberto Martinez has rejected overtures from Aston Villa to remain under contract at his club. In a world of greed and overly inflated egos it is incredibly impressive to see Martinez honouring his agreement with Wigan Athletic.

The Spaniard played for Wigan between 1995 and 2001 playing in 188 games, scoring 17 goals. After finishing his career at Chester City he took his first job in management at Swansea City where he had also played for three seasons. He had an impressive start to his managerial career and moved to Wigan in 2009.

He has been associated with playing an attractive style of football although Wigan have struggled in the Premier League during his tenure. However, maintaining their Premiership status has been a remarkable achievement which has in turn lead to interest in him from bigger clubs.

The rumoured approach from Aston Villa must have been tempting for him. However, after the turmoil this season surrounding the midlands club I believe he has made the correct decision. It seems like Villa maybe on the decline after a decent couple of years under Martin O’Neill. The Chairman Randy Lerner has not done too much wrong but with the impending departure of Ashley Young means the club face a difficult task to challenge for a top half Premier league finish next season.

Whatever the offer was from Villa the decision to remain at Wigan appears to be centred on Martinez’s association with the club. With the transfer window fully up and running and the rumour mill going crazy it is incredibly refreshing to see someone acknowledging how important loyalty is. Everyone associated with Martinez and Wigan should feel immensely proud today and the Spaniard has won many friends with this decision.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Falcao admits he may move

Of the many wanted strikers in world football currently none look quite as appealing as Porto’s Colombian player Radamel Falcao. He has scored 38 goals in 42 games this season and has helped Porto break all kinds of records this season. Out of the 38 this term, he scored 17 goals in 14 games in the Europa League; which broke Jurgen Klinsmann’s record of 15 goals.

He began his career at River Plate in Argentina where he progressed through the ranks. The 2007-8 season was when he really began to make his mark by scoring 19 goals in 39 games. He followed it up with an impressive season the following year and a move to Europe was in the offing.

The dream of a big money move to Europe materialised when Porto paid €3.9 million for him. He enjoyed a remarkable debut season which saw his new win the Portuguese Cup and finish third in the League. Again he was prolific and scored 34 goals in 43 games which is a remarkable return in a debut season in a new country.

However, it is his performances this season that has made people sit up and take note. He has been playing in a very attacking side under new manager Andre Villas-Boas who has got Porto playing a new, attacking brand of football. He has relished it and during their successful season contributed 38 goals in 42 games which is a truly outstanding return. He has been blessed with two great feet and an incredible ability to head the ball which has certainly caught the eye of many Premier league suitors.

The understanding was that he wanted to remain at Porto next season and have a crack at the Champions League again. However, news emerging in the last few days has alerted both Arsenal and Spurs to his availability. The current rumour mill has quoted a price of around £26 million (which is his release clause) but when you consider he has scored 72 goals in 85 games since moving to Europe. His physical prowess would certainly suit him to the Premier League and it is hard to see him not succeeding in England. Only time will tell.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Phil Jones set for Manchester United

The Premier League Champions have made a real statement of intent today after agreeing a deal with Blackburn Rovers for starlet Phil Jones. The young centre back underwent a medical this afternoon and is set to sign for around £16 million in the coming days.

Jones made an impressive start to his Blackburn career after making his Premier League debut at the end of the 2010 season against Chelsea. He out muscled Didier Drogba and made a real statement of intent. Towards the end of the season he came up against Arsenal and Manchester United and looked at ease against the Premier League’s top sides.

He has been a regular for Rovers this season and has even been deployed as a defensive midfielder under Sam Allardyce. Unfortunately he picked up a serious knee injury halfway through the season that kept him sidelined for four months. However, on his return he slotted back into the defence seamlessly and was outstanding in Blackburn’s relegation fight.

As stated previously on this blog I have felt for some time that Jones was simply too good not to leave Blackburn. Phil Jones is still only 19 but is fast becoming one of the most exciting English prospects around. After missing much of the season through injury he has slotted straight back into the side effortlessly. Whether Rovers go down or not I think he will be playing for one of the top clubs next season. I have been a Rovers fan for 17 years and the club have never produced such an exciting talent. It was inevitable that he would leave this summer and I am genuinely pleased that he has chosen United over his other suitors.

It remains to be seen how much first team football he will see at United next season. The club currently has six centre backs; Brown, Evans, Ferdinand, O’Shea, Smalling and Vidic. Jones has partnered Chris Smalling for the England U21 side and the pair have looked a really solid pair and have already developed a good understanding. It certainly appears likely that these two will be United’s defensive rock for years to come.

The deal is definitely good for both clubs and I for one am fascinated to see how he progresses in the coming years. He is certainly a first choice England centre back in the making and possibly a future England captain. Good luck to Phil Jones.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Transfer window looks set to be eventful

We are only eight days into the transfer window and already the whole football world seems to have gone a little crazy. With rumours circulating left right and centre the ability to tell fact from fiction is almost impossible. With the Premier League’s top six sides all set to spend heavily the domino effect will surely come; one big transfer will have knock on effects throughout the game.

Bizarrely the quietest side so far appears to be Manchester City who will surely spend huge sums again this summer after qualifying for the Champions League. It appears that Liverpool could be the first to splash the cash with Sunderland’s Jordan Henderson apparently very close to agreeing a deal. The rumour has the deal at £20 million which is staggering but after signing Andy Carroll for £35 million anything is possible.

Every window Spurs are linked with almost every possible player in world football and it certainly appears the case again. From Rossi to Lavezzi to Lassana Diarra all within eight days is the norm for the North London club. The club generally end up doing their business in the final hours of the window but maybe their Chairman Daniel Levy has changed his approach.

For the second summer in a row the issue at Arsenal appears to be who will be leaving. Their young French playmaker Samir Nasri is stalling on a new contract and some of Europe’s biggest clubs are rumoured to be hovering. However, it does appear to be more of a Rooney approach rather than a real desire to leave the club. The reports have stated that he has asked for the same money as the club captain Cesc Fabregas which is not unreasonable in my opinion. He was sublime in the initial months of last season having not featured in the World Cup and must remain at Arsenal if they are to challenge next season.

The current Champions Manchester United have already stated that they will bring in three players this summer. It is understood that the deal to bring David de Gea to the club has already been completed and they will surely look to strengthen their central midfield that was so exposed in the Champions League final. Their main rivals Chelsea must first address who will be manager next season; Guus Hiddink appears to be the obvious candidate and would represent a great addition to the club. However, they need youthful reinforcements for an ageing squad and most of that will depend on how deep Mr Abramovich wants to delve.

One thing is guaranteed; it will be an eventful summer.

Monday, 6 June 2011

England must make changes – and fast

After yet another abject display from England the time has surely come for a change in personnel. Whilst many fans feel the blame lies at the door of the manager Fabio Capello the problem lies with many of the players he continues to select. The World Cup finals highlighted the fact that many of the senior players are simply not good enough to bring success for the country.

There are too many players in the squad who have failed continually at International Level and are still picked. The emergence of Jack Wilshire has shown that the younger players are hungry for success and are capable of playing at the level required when playing International football.

The Under 21s have a European Championship coming up and it will be fascinating to see how they compare with their European counterparts. In the side that played at the weekend I believe there are five or six players who are ready to take the next step and earn full caps. In defence there is a steady centre back pairing of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling who have both excelled for Blackburn and Manchester United respectively this season. In midfield there was Jordan Henderson and Jack Rodwell; both have been linked with big money moves to top clubs this summer. Then there is Daniel Sturridge who enjoyed a wonderful spell at Bolton in the second half of the season.

It is surely time for the likes of Ferdinand, Gerrard and Lampard to step aside for the younger players. Their desire to succeed is actually stopping the development of the up and coming stars who are ready to replace them. Those three are prime examples of players who have not succeeded at International level and were well below expectations against Switzerland on Saturday.

I have written about Ferdinand’s physical issues before and his lack of mobility is really starting to cause problems for club and country. Against average players his reading of the game is enough to get by but against pace he is exposed every time. He has been a good player throughout his career but his understudy at United Chris Smalling is ready to take over. The whole Gerrard and Lampard debate is just painful now; they have never looked comfortable at International level.

The result on Saturday did not prove to be too costly as Montenegro drew with Bulgaria at home but the draw at home to Switzerland is simply not good enough. England are slipping further and further behind the other major nations in world football and failure to qualify for the European Championships would be a disaster; although they have no chance of winning it the tournament would prove invaluable experience for Hart, Wilshire etc.

Wembley was graced with craft, guile and genius last weekend. Unfortunately this time around it was graced with overpaid has-beens. The time for wholesale change was at the end of the world cup, it has to happen soon or England’s search for major honours will go on for even longer.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Barcelona run riot at Wembley

The Champions League final on Saturday night ended up being one of the most convincing victories in recent memory; Barcelona dispatched Manchester United effortlessly to win their fourth European Cup. It was a phenomenal display from the Spanish side who must surely now be regarded as the greatest club side in football history.

In an almost instant replay of the final in 2009 United began in dominant fashion whilst Barcelona eased their way into the game slowly. However, after threatening a couple of times the Catalan giants went ahead through Pedro after some wonderful work by Xavi. The diminutive midfield maestro pulled the strings for the entire game; he completed 141 passes from a possible 148 which is staggering. When you consider that United’s two central midfielders contributed 56 passes from a possible 70 it begins to tell the story.

Although United did score before half-time the result was not in doubt. The ease with which Barca picked off United would have been horrible to watch for Ferguson. His team could simply not live with their counterparts and humiliation was not too far away. Much of the blame must lie with Ferguson who believed that Carrick and Giggs could halt the opposing midfield.

After beating Schalke in the semi-final you cannot blame him entirely for feeling that it was possible; however, the difference in quality of the opposition had changed dramatically. The need for a top class enforcer in front of the back four has never been so abundantly obvious.

The class with which Barcelona went about their business was awesome to see and in all honesty I don’t feel they got out of third gear – they simply didn’t have to. When you consider the fact that this team could be together for another two or three years it is frightening. Much of the credit must go to Pep Guardiola who has masterminded this dominance in recent years.

He is an incredible man who knows the club intimately and was also a member of the 1992 squad. He played and offered guidance to a young Xavi when he first came through the youth set up and has been instrumental in bringing Messi into the middle where he can really hurt opposing defences. Having signed another one year deal earlier in the season he will be desperate to win another Champions League trophy next season before he moves onto pastures new.

It was a wonderful final and a great advertisement for how football can be played. There is too much emphasis on the physical side of the game in England and that was clear to see. The most crucial elements are technique and skill which enables Barcelona to play their sublime style of football. I, like most other football fans hope this continues for many years to come.