Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Transfer deadline day - why the wait?

Almost every football fan worldwide is currently watching SkySports or their nation’s equivalent to find out who their club will sign before midnight tonight. It appears crazy to me that managers actually wait until the last minute to conduct their summer’s business.

I can fully understand that some sides have lost players and may have started the season poorly which could prompt the manager into reinforcing his squad before the International break but still. Targets should have been identified prior to the window opening and acted upon accordingly. The reigning champions in England, Manchester United carried out their business very early in the summer and have therefore had time to adapt and enable the new players to settle. Just look at the performances of Phil Jones and Ashley Young; both have hit the ground running after settling quickly into the United set up.

On the other side of the coin you have the two north London sides – Arsenal and Tottenham. Both sides are running around like madmen trying to tie up deals to ensure they are ready to compete for Champions League football this season. When you look at Arsenal the issue becomes more farcical considering the Cesc Fabregas saga was always likely to end sooner rather than later and was by no means the best kept secret in football. From speaking to several fans they simply cannot understand why replacements have not been identified and approached before the end of the window.

Meanwhile at Spurs the situation seems incredibly reminiscent of when Dimitar Berbatov left White Hart Lane. The situation with Luka Modric has been on-going for months but it has left the club short on options. I even wonder whether Redknapp even had time to buy any players with all the golfing and SkySports advertising he has had to do this summer. The club have several squad players who are clearly surplus to requirements but the clubs asking price has put potential suitors off. Having enjoyed a successful season in the Champions League last year this season looks like being very uninspiring at the moment.

Elsewhere in Europe there doesn’t appear to be the frenzied activity there is in the Premier League today. Many of the Italian and Spanish sides have bought steadily throughout the summer and their seasons start later than in England anyway. I could appreciate this stance if you picked up genuine bargains at the end of August but normally clubs end up spending well over the odds. The selling clubs must relish days like these when they can charge astronomical fees for players simply not worth the fee.

Whilst the transfer deadline day is exciting for fans, journalists and pundits alike it must be a nightmare for the managers and senior clubs officials. My message to all of these would be to simply follow United’s example and conduct your business early, to the benefit of everyone at the club.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

An open letter to the Venky Group

Dear Sir/Madam

I am writing to you to express my deep concern over the future of Blackburn Rovers Football club. The season may only be two weeks old and I don’t want to offer too much of a knee-jerk reaction but I already fear for our Premiership status. The takeover last year seemed incredibly promising but is in serious danger of turning into a complete disaster.

Ever since Jack Walker invested his money into the club it has prospered; for a small industrial town in Lancashire to be one of only four clubs to have won the Premier League is remarkable. It was his life’s ambition to witness the club lift the trophy and every fan of the club will always look back and remember the moment when Walker himself lifted the trophy to rapturous applause. He was a quite remarkable man and will be remembered and adored forever.

This is what the club stood for, the values it represents and in all honesty I believe you just cannot comprehend this. I can understand that as a wealthy and successful company it can be lucrative to purchase an English club in the Premier league to further your brand name but you must have some prior football knowledge. I was immensely happy when the purchase went through as I thought it would guarantee our future…how wrong I was.

Our trusted and respected former Chairman John Williams had searched high and low to find suitable investors and his opinion was one I believe every supported respected. Within two months of taking over he resigned. I believe this was when you began to lose the trust of the supporters and when the serious underlying issues surfaced.

The sacking of Sam Allardyce could well prove to be the catalyst in our decline but in all honesty I don’t believe many supporters were overly sad to see him go….at the time. Under his tenure we secured Premiership status and had some very credible results, although the standard of football was not great. The appointment of Steve Kean certainly raised eyebrows within the football world but I for one wanted to see him given a chance. He speaks very well but lacks the necessary experience of managing at the highest level and again this could cost the club in the long run.

However, there are two things that really worry me about the future of the club; one is the influence of Jerome Anderson, the head of Sport, Entertainment and Media group and the other is how you are portraying us over the world.

I have to start with that abomination of an advert that was released a month or so ago. The club has already lost much of the respect and appeal it had built up and releasing an advert portraying the players eating your chicken was just a complete aberration. How could any advisor you have honestly condone that dreadful endorsement? Why would any player in their right mind want to join a club that could enforce you to be part of this?

My second and probably biggest concern is the influence SEM has over the club. Both the manager and his assistant John Jensen are looked after by the company and they were heavily involved in brokering the deal to buy the club in the first place. I do not want to mention names but my opinion of football agents is that they are vermin. They are parasites that feed off the excess money that floats around the Premier league and have far too much power within the game. How can you do business with these crooks in suits? (I am aware there are actually some very respectable, honest agents whose names are tarnished by the others – to those I apologise)

I would appeal to you to think long and hard about what you intend to get out of the relationship you have with Blackburn Rovers. As one of the founder members of the football league the club is steeped in history and tradition and I am incredibly worried you and your group will ruin all of this.

It may be a toy/plaything for you but for all supporters it is our club and it is becoming increasingly difficult to have any faith in the people running it. You are clearly intelligent people who know how to run successful businesses, please, please do not ruin our club!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Fabregas saga finally over

After almost three years of negotiations, speculation and transfer gossip the biggest transfer saga in history ended today with Cesc Fabregas finally sealing his move to Barcelona. The fee is understood to be £35 million with further add-ons depending upon the clubs success in La Liga and the Champions League.

It seems that the Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reluctantly conceded defeat in attempting to hang onto his captain. The decision was inevitable as the pressure mounted on the French manager to sell. The young Catalan spent eight years at the North London side where he became their best and most influential player. He contributed regularly to the side and was even appointed captain during the 2008/9 season.

Speaking at the press conference this afternoon Fabregas said: “I waited many days, months, years for this moment. I return home after eight years. This will be the challenge of my life.” The joy on his face was clear to see for everyone around and the relief that the saga is finally over was clearly not lost on the player.

Much of the comment appears to focus around how much he will play. Many of the Arsenal fans seem to believe he will not figure much at the Catalan club and will have to settle for warming the bench; this is simply ludicrous. The modern game is built entirely around squad systems and rotating your best players so they are at their optimum for the big games. In the last three seasons at Arsenal he has endured several injuries which has restricted his playing time significantly. Indeed over the last three years the most he has played is 66% in 2009/10.

Over the recent years there have been significant injuries to Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez which has restricted the side. There is serious reason to suggest that if Iniesta had indeed been fit when they faced Inter Milan in the semi-finals of the Champions League in 09/10 they could have overcome the Italians. The emergence this summer of Thiago Alcantara has also added to the confusion but in a side with an abundance of quality there is always scope to add further excellence.

It is likely that Fabregas will indeed be eased in gently by the coach Pep Guardiola but he will certainly play in 40 odd games this season, starting with the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup. With Barcelona likely to be competing on every front this season he will certainly be a welcome addition and having played with many of the current squad for the Barcelona youth side and Spain the transition should be straight forward.

The move today will come as huge blow to Arsenal and indeed the whole of the Premier League. Fabregas has been one of the shining lights in the league for several seasons now and his contribution will be missed by all. The question for Arsenal now is how to replace their talisman and with only two weeks remaining in the transfer window Wenger must act quickly.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Premier League Preview – the battle for 4th place

The battle for the elusive final place in the Champions League will be the most intense it has ever been and is likely to be between Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham. All three sides are only a couple of signings away from being serious title challengers but at this moment in time do not possess enough quality to worry the top three.

Since the return of Kenny Dalglish Liverpool has once again become a force in the Premier League. Their form at the end of last season was that of Champions and if they can start well they could be a force again. The key addition of Luiz Suarez was made in January and it will be intriguing to see how he develops this season; his partnership with Andrew Carroll will be pivotal to the club. They have strengthened in midfield by adding Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson which will certainly provide ammunition for the forwards. The key to Liverpool’s success at the end of last season in my humble opinion was the absence of Steven Gerrard. There is no doubting his importance to the club but the side appeared more balanced in his absence. The addition today of Jose Enrique will also give much needed support to the defence which will be important if they are to qualify for the Champions League again.

The goings on at Arsenal this summer have been rather strange and with the impending departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri it will be difficult for the club to remain amongst the elite. They have strengthened by signing Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is surely not enough. There is no doubt that Arsenal still have enough quality to match anyone on their day but losing their two best players is too much at once. If manager Arsene Wenger can bolster the squad before the end of August it could be different but the signs are not good. Last season they set their bench mark against Barcelona but then got nowhere near it as they capitulated yet again at the business end of the season. If they can keep Robin van Persie fit and go some way to replacing Fabregas they could be surprise package but with their start of the season looking so tough it could be a long season for Arsenal fans.

Meanwhile at Spurs the summer has been spent trying to offload players unsuccessfully and retain key players. There are a number of fringe players that they have tried to sell but they have demanded too much money which has effectively ended all interest. Their wage bill has to be lowered due to not being in the Champions League which means they cannot buy until these players go. Although they have been linked with almost every player in Europe there still appears to be no imminent new signings. With Spurs tending to conduct most of their business at the end of the window it could be a busy end to August.

It is almost unprecedented for the competition at the top of the league to be so close and it will be an incredibly interesting season for the clubs mentioned above. It will be very tough to separate Arsenal and Liverpool for 4th and it is likely to be dependent upon who Arsenal sign in the coming weeks. The whole club needs a lift at the moment and Wenger has to deliver.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Premier League Preview – the contenders

The long summer is almost at an end which means only one thing, the start of the football season is upon us. Every football fan worldwide has been getting more excited by the day about the return of the Premier League. It has been a long three months but at 3pm on Saturday the wait is finally over.

It has been an interesting summer in terms of transfers for the leading sides in the Premier League. With 20 days to go in this transfer window there is still a way to go and the expectation is that several high level deals are still remaining. Whilst the three Northern sides, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City have acquired several new additions the London teams, Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham have stuttered. Indeed the London clubs have spent most of the summer either trying to keep their best players or adjusting to a new manager.

Manchester United began the spending early this summer by signing David de Gea, Phil Jones and Ashley Young. All three additions are young and should form the core of the United team for the foreseeable future. This writer’s pick of signings would have to be Jones. At 19 he is already at ease in the Premier League and playing in the Champions League will only improve him as player. Whilst de Gea endured some misplaced criticism after the Community Shield he is still the second most expensive goalkeeper in history and will be between the posts at United for the next 15 years. Whilst there is some doubt over Young’s arrival from Aston Villa he has certainly gone to the best place if he is to hone his natural ability and fulfil his potential.

Manchester City have bought well and will be serious title challengers against their city rivals. The addition of Sergio Aguero from Athletico Madrid is excellent and it will be fascinating to see how he progresses in England. Only two years ago he was being likened to Lionel Messi and the general consensus is that he is ideally suited to the demands of this league. They also picked up Gael Clichy from Arsenal who will offer more pace than Aleksandar Kolorov and should prove a decent buy. Almost all summer the side have been linked with signing Samir Nasri from Arsenal but in David Silva they have one of the players I believe could be player of the year. After having an initial year to adapt he should be ready to show his class this season.

The manager’s position at Chelsea has changed yet again and they begin this season with Portuguese sensation Andre Villas-Boas. It is not the first time Chelsea have hired a successful coach from Porto and the fans will be hoping they have unearthed another football genius. The only real business Chelsea have done thus far is adding Oriol Romeu from Barcelona. It looks like being a positive signing as most La Masia graduates are remarkably good technically and physically. It is understood that they remain in the market to sign a creative midfielder and Luka Modric has been consistently linked.

I have written about these clubs in the order I believe they will finish this season. The signings United have made will enable them to easily manoeuvre the new players into the existing set up which will make them formidable. The recent speculation surrounding the possible signing of Wesley Sneijder from Inter would only make the league more of a formality if he signs.

The closest challengers I believe will be Manchester City. Now they are competing in the Champions League they are able to attract the next level of player which has made them significantly stronger than last season. The addition of Aguero should hopefully make them open up a little and we may finally see an attaching City side, although it is still relatively unlikely under Roberto Mancini. One feels that he has to deliver this season after another hefty outlay this summer.

Unlike many other pundits I generally feel Chelsea do have a chance in this title race but it is all depends on getting the best out of Fernando Torres. There are several key players at the wrong end of their careers at Stamford Bridge and if Villas-Boas can get el nino firing again they could be the surprise package in the top three. Defensively you would expect them to be sound but they have to buy another creative central midfielder if they are to get the best out of Torres.

This season promises much already and I will review the contenders for that elusive fourth place tomorrow. It is a position that will be the most sought after ever this season with Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs are fighting to qualify for the Champions League.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Nani up to the challenge

Sometimes in life you have to ask yourself what more can I do? Manchester United’s attacking midfielder Nani must have been asking this question on a daily basis since last seasons Champions League final. Having enjoyed his most productive season ever at Old Trafford he was benched for the showpiece final against Barcelona and then had to watch on as United added Ashley Young to their ranks this summer.

However, what all champions do is rise up and make sure that they cannot be forgotten next time. Although the Community Shield is still in theory a pre-season friendly the Portuguese player has laid down a marker for the coming season. His two goals were taken wonderfully well and showed the character and confidence of this young man.

It has not always been plain sailing for the former Sporting CP player who begins his fifth season at United this year. He struggled in his first few seasons when his fellow countryman Cristiano Ronaldo was stealing the headlines. His consistency has been the biggest criticism; a player who can look a world beater one minute and distinctly average the next will always concern a man such as Sir Alex Ferguson. Last season however he begun to shake that tag and started to deliver on a consistent basis.

He ended the season with 10 goals and 14 assists and in this writers opinion should have been Player of the Season. After making it to the Champions League final everybody assumed he would start against Barcelona; however, Antonio Valencia was selected and ended up having an incredibly disappointing game. Nothing was said over his disappointment but being left out must have hurt the 24 year old.

The summer started and United went out and did their business very early. One of the players they brought in was Ashley Young, who has been bought to contest Nani’s starting role this year. The first time he has been asked to stand up was this afternoon at Wembley and he answered any doubters in emphatic style by scoring two goals.

Although the season starts next weekend the one lesson that must be taken from today’s game is that Nani means business again. He has overcome several obstacles in the last few months which will only make his desire to succeed even stronger. I am no Nostradamus but it looks like Nani is going to have another fantastic season.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Barcelona continue to evolve

Modern day football is very much based around having large squads where young players have to prove themselves in order to get regular football. In England we have become accustomed to players being sent on loan from Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United to lower league clubs but this summer Barcelona appear to have improved this method.

The deals struck with Chelsea and Roma for Oriol Romeu and Bojan Krkic respectively have caught the eye. Both deals have on the surface appeared to be regular transfers; however, when looking closely they appear to be loan deals based upon performance. In England we have seen a similar deal proposed for Scott Parker where West Ham are happy to loan the player for a one off fee whilst in the Championship but then want him to return if they win promotion to the Premier League.

The similarity in all of these deals is that Barcelona can buy the player back either at the end of this season or next for a fee slightly higher than the original fee paid. Both players have graduated the much lauded La Masia academy but seem to be surplus to requirement. However, it seems that Barcelona are trying to avoid a repeat of the biggest transfer saga of the modern age – Cesc Fabregas. Most of the players that emerge from Barcelona’s academy have incredible technical ability and seem to reach their peak in their mid-20s.

Although Fabregas’ case is slightly different it certainly appears that they are trying to prevent having to pay over the odds for a former player again. The deal for Romeu to Chelsea stipulates that Barca can buy the player back at the end of this season for €10 million and for €15 million at the end of the following season. It certainly makes sense to include clauses for young players when they leave, especially at such an influential academy. The only similarity in this country is at Arsenal where they often include sell on clauses for young player that they lose.

Similar to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution the football transfer system is learning and adapting as it progresses and this new method is one that will be replicated much more in the future. Whilst many of the current first team have come through the ranks players like Gerard Pique (and potentially Cesc Fabregas) have had to leave to gain the required experience to develop their education. The chance to represent this side will become even tougher in the coming years so they have taken measures to ensure they don’t lose out on players they have taught.

Whilst the plaudits continue for their on-field performances they are also adapting and adjusting to the demands of the modern game. As I have mentioned in many previous blogs sport is about innovation rather than imitation and the Catalans have devised a new model for honing their players, even if they have to go elsewhere for a period of time.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

City to be serious title challengers

It has taken a little longer than Sheikh Mansour may have envisaged but Manchester City will begin this season as one of the clear favourites for the Premier League. Having won the FA Cup last season everyone associated with the club will be determined to lift more silverware this season.

The club has assembled an incredible squad due to their limitless financial resources but have begun to purchase more wisely than they did initially. The addition of Sergio Aguero should take them onto the next level; no matter whether Carlos Tevez remains a City player or not. He is exactly the type of player they needed to attract to cement their status as one of the biggest teams in Europe. Although it has come about through a lack of financial restraints the manager Roberto Mancini deserves a lot of credit.

However, this season will prove to be pivotal for the Italian manager. For too long last season his side were far too defensive and were over reliant on Tevez for most of their goals. The purchase of David Silva only really began to bear fruit towards the end of the season; he ended up producing nearly every attacking opportunity City created. He needs to be utilised in a far more effective way this season in a midfield that should boast such talents as Yaya Toure, James Milner, Adam Johnson, Nigel de Jong amongst others.

Last season the side was set up too often with two defensive holding players which meant the side lacked any real attacking cohesion. The new addition Yaya Toure was often played as the creative midfielder which is not really his strongest attribute. If City can adapt to playing with one player in that position it will free up their more creative players to ply Aguero, Balotelli and Dzeko with the service they flourish on. One player I have intentionally not mentioned is Gareth Barry. There is a good reason for this as he stifles their play too frequently to remain a part of the regular first team. He is not a bad player but offers little, apart from five yard passes. I can appreciate the need to have a player you can depend on sitting in front of the defence but with their array of talent there has to be someone more capable than him.

There is still another four weeks remaining in this transfer window and much will hinge upon Tevez’s future. It certainly appears that he will be on the move and City could do with adding another couple of players on order to consolidate their position as title challengers. It seems highly likely that whoever they will buy will already be a well-known player in world football. They could do with another commanding centre back to play alongside Vincent Kompany, who was outstanding last season.

Manchester City have not been domestic champions since 1967-68 but this season could be the one they regain their place at the summit of English football. The Beatles once sung that money can’t buy you love, it can however buy you a winning football team, I’m sure the Manchester City fans are not complaining.