Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Man City: Contenders or Flip Floppers

Manchester City's 1-0 loss to Sunderland in round 11 of the premiership season, was not just the usual turning of the tables on a high profile team by one in relegation quagmire. It was more of an embarrassment for all connected with last season's runners up. It's the third of such kind, following earlier reversals to Cardiff and Aston Villa. Meaning of the four defeats suffered in the league, three have come from teams in the bottom half of the table.

If I were Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City owner, I'll be mad - really mad!! . Here we have one of the biggest spenders in the close season transfer window, investing in a £100 million worth of talent, humbled by a side whose transfer budget was one-tenth that of his Club.  I would be calling the director of football  Tixi Berguristan and chief executive Ferran Sorriano for an explanation. It was the machinations of the pair that led to the dismissal of ex manager, Roberto Mancini.

READ: Mancini takes the bait in City's smoke and mirrors

 It was interesting to read Jan Verthogen's recent comments ahead of Spurs' clash with Man City. The Belgian International spoke in that universal innuendo- of Man City being the strongest side in the league. That idea has been such a fallacy, I wonder if Verthogen is using it as flattery here, or he sees it as fact.

 Sorry, I am not sold on Man City's title chances. They have undoubtedly a galaxy of gifted players, but the core of the team is not as powerful as people may want to believe. Even after the £100 million investment on new players and a trainer, it's tentative at best, if these additions enhance Man City's core - It's what gives a team the calibre to be champions.

 Four defeats in the first eleven games by mid November: you' be hard pressed to find a side that won the premier league on that statistic. 

 New Manager, Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini is experienced enough to know from his Real Madrid flame-out, 3 years ago, that lofty goals, and hastily assembled super stars are not a guaranteed recipe for laurels. His championship credentials in Europe is not particularly attractive, and he needs time to get to grips with the nature of the Premier league, then weave a collection of stars into a proper fighting force to deal with the terrain in the real world of football matches. He asserts that "individual mistakes" rather than "tactical" matters are responsible for city's curious away form.

Here's the deal, their schizophrenic performances and results undermines their credibility to win any of the prizes commensurate with their billing. There are latent, as well as obvious causes to their flip-flop season so far: 

Try this for size: Man city do not have a reliable cover at centre back if especially Captain Vincent Kompany is unavailable. It's been a long standing issue, and the Club have been oblivious to it. Riches in attack, paupers in defence. That malaise is an indirect consequence on Joe Hart's recent unassured goalkeeping.

City have a habit ( or tactic ) of being pensive in their build up to an attack. There is a lack of crispness and quickness. I personally attribute that to Yaya Toure and David Silva who are the brains in attack. Yes, they scored seven against Norwich, and winger Navas has twinkle toes, but they lack that tactical incision, and lethal finishing to terrorise teams constantly. This has been carried over from last season.  Aguero has the potential, but does the pass arrive early?

The team also lacks  that street savvy, like Diego Simone has engendered at Atletico Madrid recently. Amid their opulence, there has been an under-investment in a player(s) of the defensive midfield genre. Nigel de Jong was effective at that in the title winning team. A position that Yaya Toure has to be encouraged to fill like he did in his Barcelona days, freeing up space for a more conventional attacking midfielder.

There is no doubt City will have their moments this season. They've shown that with their demolishing job of Newcatle, Man Utd, Everton, and the fact they are on the verge of qualifying for the champions league knock out stages, but I see their season as being one where there will be more questions than answers. 

The seeds of failure have been sown by frivolous expenditure and expectations. There is a need to coalesce, and solidify the core of the team. It's the hub on which championships are won. Dzeko, Aguero, Negredo, Jovetic: Multi million pound strikers, but the team badly need a rugged centre half. City are a  disparate, rather than homogenous outfit. Those banging on about their potential are misguided and exuberant.  Their means shall not be justified at the end of the season. Sheikh Mansour might well have paid expensively for a bunch of flip floppers, rather than title contenders.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Southampton on the radar

 In a week when Republic of Ireland's new manager Martin O'Neil referred to his immediate successor at Sunderland, Paulo Di Canio, as a "charlatan" for the Italian's uncomplimentary remarks over the "fitness" state of Sunderland players, back when he inherited the job in March this year. Many observers would be forgiven if they had a similar opinion of Mauricio Pochettino, Southampton's Argentine manager, when he took over at Saint Mary's at the beginning of the year.

Not that the ex-Argentine International made any derogatory comments about the players he took over, but his name recognition level was dismally low in England. Pochettino had a relatively obscure playing career; mostly known in his native Argentina; Spain where he played and managed Barcelona's poor relations, Epanyol. His stint as a player in France with PSG and Bordeaux was unremarkable. In his relatively short management spell in the Premiership, he has been self-effacing, and chosen to do interviews through an interpreter, even if it's widely believed he has a grasp of English language.
Adam Lallana slotted home Southampton's third just before half-time
There was consternation when his predecessor, Nigel Adkins was sacked by Southampton after guiding the South coast club to the premier league. After a turbulent start, had started to turn the corner with a string of impressive results at the tail end of 2012. Even Southampton Legend Matt Letissier criticised the sacking of Nigel Adkings for Mauricio Pochettino.

The 41 year old former centre half has wasted no time in impressing his doubters, by consolidating Southampton's fine form when he took charge, and actually enhancing. There was no bigger stage for the new Southampton boss to announce himself to the premier league, than at Old Trafford at the end of January, when his team terrorised Manchester United, despite a 2-1 loss,  prompting the ex- United manager, Alex Ferguson to confess:

'In the second half Southampton produced the best performance anyone has done here this season,
'They pushed right on top of us and didn't give us time to settle.
'But my experience of this club, when you are going for championships, is that there are always games where you can say we were a bit lucky.
'This was one of those nights.'

I suppose Fergie's comments were a foreshadow of events to come under Southampton's new chief. Pochettino has transformed Saints from a side with just potential, to one with tactical aptitude and consistency in his first full season. They close down opponents high-up the pitch with their 4-2-3-1 formation, score goals, and have become harder to break down. The Club owners were confident to back Pochettino with no less than £35 million for the signings of Pablo Osvaldo; Victor Wanyama; and Dejan Loveren in the summer, adding quality to the squad.

It's little wonder England manager, Roy Hodgson called up three Southampton players ( Ricky Lambert; Jay Rodriguez; and Adam Lallana) in his latest squad to face Chile and Germany. Southampton have a precedent for unearthing major talent, but three exciting players in the England squad is a breath of fresh air, and thanks to Pochettino in no small measure.

Southampton have climbed up to third place in the premier league table, after 11 rounds. This no doubt their best start to a premier league season. Mauricio Pochettino won the manager of the month award for October; he has won 12 of his 30 games in charge, losing only 7.  Maybe people did not heed the warning when they beat Liverpool 1-0 at Anfield in September.

Sadly, with the publicity they have enjoyed since the call up of three of their players to the England squad, comes greater expectations. Southampton and their manager can no longer expect to fly below raider detection anymore.Teams are going to get better prepared, and games shall get tougher henceforth, then we'll know conclusively what they are made of. But i am willing to bet they will finish in the top seven position this season, and that would be a monumental achievement for the club, it's fans, and their talented manager Mauricio Pochettino.    

 The News that BT bid over £900 Million to win exclusive coverage of champions league football from 2015 - 2018 is an outrage in my opinion. 

 I suppose you'd say it's an independent company, responsible to its share holders. But that's not the point: Their quest to pose a counterweight to SKY's dominance of football coverage is going to trigger the unintended consequence of customers paying more on subscription charges on either, or both platforms

 If BT have to Fork out £2billion for rights to screen premiership and champions league games; plus their coverage of the Bundesliga, Lique 1, and Serie A, that seems like they are overreaching themselves, and surely, when the smoke clears, customers will be asked to pay more.

 It's reprehensible on two levels. 

 First, SKY and ITV have an existing deal which cost both £400 Million to air champions league games till 2015. A deal that encapsulates the interests of everyone, and makes a lot of sense to those on pay TV and those not. Why does BT want exclusive rights? would it not make sense to share a deal with SKY or ITV, and bring down costs for itself and it's subscribers? Is it not an axiom in economics that competition brings down costs? Well, it seems football broadcasting runs contrary to smart economics! How reprehensible is that!

 The other level this grates with me is the hypocrisy of UEFA and the European commission. UEFA talk about Financial Fair play rules for rich clubs, whilst gaming the unsuspecting British public with it's bidding process for Champions league screening rights. The European commission led calls for the de-monopolizastion of SKY's broadcasting rights, a few years back. I wonder if they are asleep or acquiesced to how UEFA have just sold broadcasting rights to a single entity, called BT. 

 There's no doubt UEFA have cashed in on the Maximalist and irresponsible position taken by SKY and BT to competing for broadcast rights. They'll be laughing all the way to the bank, and the British public are taken for suckers. I bet BT's so called "exclusive deal" is inordinate with what the media from other European countries got from UEFA. 

 SKY and BT ought to close ranks, and realise that this orgy they are embarking on creates undue inflationary pressure on their customers. Footballers will take home more pay; UEFA pay lip service, while the fans are left reaped off. If this precedent spirals, it will be a crying shame. I am sure the FA are plotting their share, and Alas, the vast majority of fans - working class people, toil!

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Dortmund Decrypted?

The formidable Borrusia Dortmund yellow and black machine abruptly jammed to the dismay of it's fervent followers at the Signal Iduna park on the evening of Wednesday, November 6th . It was Match Day Four in the champions league group stage, and London team, Arsenal were in town for the reverse fixture after losing themselves at home, 1-2.

Jurgen Klopp's men has stood toe-to-toe with arch rivals Bayern Munich and some of Europe's finest teams in the last one year. Who would forget their spectacular 4-1 win against Real Madrid in the first leg of last season's champions league semi final. That was the game that got everyone sitting up to take notice.

It was not only about the fact that Dortmund made it to the finals of the champions league last season that caught the eye, it was also about Dortmund's high energy pressing game; and their razor sharp counter attacking play. A lot of analysts have concluded the Gelsenkirchen outfit are "difficult" to play. I recall respected Bundesliga writer Rafael Honigstein saying "you know what Dortmund are going to do, but stopping them is another thing".
Aaron Ramsey: Living up to the potential, as predicted by Arsene Wenger

No doubt, Jurgen Klopp has built up an idiosyncratic team, and derives maximum efficiency from his young players. But the manner in which they defeated Arsenal two weeks ago had prompted this blogger to state  thus :

I really do not expect Dortmund to do the double over Arsenal despite their 6-1 demolition of Stuttgart in their last game , and lots of pundits concluding an easy win for Dortmund. They will be mistaken to underestimate Arsenal.  Remember Arsenal destroying Norwich 4-1 before the first leg?  Football is full of surprises, and I am predicting Arsenal to triumph in Germany to a lot of surprise!

Here's the thing with soccer: any successful team tends to carry an exaggerated potency, till demystified. Dortmund's swashbuckling tactical philosophy may well have been decrypted in their home defeat to Arsenal. Klopp's team have mastered the craft of exploiting space with speed, after ensnaring teams in their own half. But what Arsenal revealed in their win in Germany is that, perhaps the best way to play Dortmund is to circumvent their pressing by keeping the ball cautiously between your defence and midfield zones, where you have most of your players massed, thus protecting the ball better. Arsenal made lots of zigzag passes, taking the sting out of Dortmund's predatory instinct, and slowed down their running power. Arsenal's slowing the game down, watered Dortmund's renowned intensity, and by consequence their danger.

In other words, Dortmund are a more dangerous proposition when opponents attempt to play into their half. Bidding your time forces them to take the initiative in a  more pro-active sense than they would probably prefer. Having said that,  Dortmund did not really deserve to lose this game, as they made enough chances to win. Perhaps they did not deserve to win in London in the first place, so poetic justice was served.

Where to go for the Klopp and the Yellow machine? we'll know better after games against Wolfsburg and Bayern ( In the Bundesliga ) and Napoli ( champions league ) this month. I expect them to continue to ruffle feathers along the way. Gundogan, Hummels, Pisczek should soon return to boost Klopp's options. As long as Dortmund remain good to their playing ethos, soccer aficionados and scholars alike would at least unanimously rule their style innovative and exciting. A median way, at a time when the game is under the influence of Pep Guardiola's inspired tiki-taka ball retention, which some times can be monotonous and boring. The game needs the Dortmund approach, and whatever may have happened this week, I believe  they still have the wind in their sails  

Monday, 4 November 2013

The Media have their nose in Mourinho's backside!

The Media love a darling. In this case, Chelsea coach, Jose Mourinho is the darling of the media. The ex-Real Madrid manager enjoys a cult following in the British media. They have characterised  him in lavish and romantic terms. It whiffs of servitude, obsequious and starry-eyed at the very least. Or to borrow Edgar Davids analogy, they ought to get their hooters out from where it's lodged down below.

A good chunk of the media have created a myth to the man and his coaching skills. Even after Chelsea's 2-0 defeat to Newcastle, November 2nd, the media pretend not to see the flaws in his team. He is portrayed as the embodiment of victory or success  to the game. You'd be forgiven for thinking Jose Mourinho invented all the tactical postulations  we have witnessed. His performance and utterances before the media, ties in with that narrative. He's got the media hexed, and they in turn milk the misconception he spouts for headlines.

Mourinho is presented as Chelsea's messiah. True he won two premier league titles for the club in 05 and 06.  On the back of record spending on new players, he constituted a formidable team back then, using charm, rhetoric, and audacity to launch Chelsea to the fore front front. It was self-evident Mourinho had a team grinders and grafters, rather than players of fantasy. Even after spells at Inter Milan and Real Madrid, Clubs that had the biggest budgets in their respective leagues, he never produced a team that the soccer world got fond of, like we did with Ajax, AC Milan, Barcelona, and most recently Bayern Munich. How come?

That's because Mourinho is first and foremost a counter-intuitive coach, rather than one who plays to the ideals of the game.  A character, rather a custodian of the values, and finest traditions of the game.  A master in the art of divide and rule, and a self serving junky.

Once he returned back to England in the summer, the bookies and the media installed Chelsea as the favourites to win the premiership. The Club spent over £50 million on Andre Schurlle from Bayer Leverkusen, and William, from Russian Club Anzhi; on top of pre-existing attacking talents in Eden Hazard, Oscar, Mata, de Brunye, and Victor Moses

Do I need to mention Mourinho also got striker Samuel Eto to join Torres; and that youngster Romelu Lukaku seemed on the verge of finally getting his chance at Chelsea. The Chelsea coach in his infinite wisdom sent  Lukaku out on loan, this time to Everton, and he now has five league goals to his credit. Eto and Torres: only one each. Mourinho has pivoted from calling his team "babies", to controversially de-selecting fans' favourite Mata; and then expending copious media attention in trying to define his philosophy, and how Oscar is his new number 10, usurping Mata, who does not "work hard" enough tracking back. I doubt the likes of Cryuff, Maradona, or Zidane were ever castigated so publicly as Mourinho did Mata!

The "happy one" tells us he has "never worked harder" than he has with Chelsea this season. He
cannot decide if to play  David Luis or not. The Brazilian International has been criticised, and dropped. After his perpetual tinkering of personnel, he has the impunity to claim the players are not heeding his instructions. Isn't Mourinho trying too hard to impress here? is this not narcissism? The media is rife with stories of him wielding the axe to players who are not adhering to his standards. Can you really back Chelsea to win the league with Mourinho's vindictive, shoot from the hip management style?

We saw his infantile behaviour in Chelsea's clash with Man City a week ago, when Torres got the fortuitous winner in the last minute: He celebrates over zealously, jumping into the crowd, with the excuse he wanted to celebrate with his son; and Chelsea are "to blame" for locating his son close to the opposition dug out! What a load of garbage! Man City's Manager Pellegrini  didn't find his tawdry behaviour funny.

Here's my take..... The media will soon understand their folly in jumping into bed with Mourinho again. They can give his excuses for being five points behind premiership leaders, Arsenal as much positive spin as they want. They can be enamoured by the drama of his press conferences; they can claim Chelsea are not "a Mourinho team yet"; they can dream on about Chelsea winning the tittle this year! In the end, they'll realise Mourinho and his dogma is a train wreck waiting to happen.

When they really decide to cover teams and coaches that deserve  attention for sheer gravitas, I am sure Southampton and their Argentine manager Mauricio Pochettino would come under their spot light. Southampton are going great guns. I refer to them as the Borussia Dortmund of the premier league. Pochetinno has no less than five England International prospects in his team. They play the high pressing game; switch from defence to attack rapidly; create quick openings in the opposition's half, and are explosive in search of goals. Pochettino should be hailed for the tactical transformation of the south coast club.  Like Guardiola at Bayern Munich; Tata Martino at Barcelona; Rudi Garcia at AS Roma, coaches who have proved their worth at a new Club in a short spell.  Mourinho's  oratory is cheap!!!`

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Arsenal bolster their championship credentials

Early November, 28 rounds left in the Premier League, do not be fooled by anyone saying it's still early days yet.... The league table has had a fairly consistent shape for the last five weeks, and I do not envisage more than small changes in the standings of the top eight teams currently, when we hit 38 rounds. Any major shift will come from Man Utd, whom I believe would eventually gate crash the top four.

Significantly, I see Arsenal and Liverpool finishing in the top two positions. These two served us the best game in the premiership so far, when they clashed at The Emirates, November 2nd.  Not only was it a great advert for the Premier League, it showed that both sides are more settled tactically, and structure-wise, and as long as they handle the fluctuations and nuances in details of this turbulent league, correctly, they'll remain as they are.

I stand firm in my convictions Arsenal will win the premier League this season, and yesterday's performance proves they are the best team in the League. Contrary to most pundits' view, beating Liverpool 2-0 means they can handle the pressure, and won't choke at the top.

Liverpool are on a great run, and the mention of Suarez and Sturridge  gets opponents hyper-ventilating. Their Midfield has skill, invention, and protection from playing de facto five defenders. Brendan Rodgers' game plan was as expected - to press Arsenal high in midfield; with Suarez and Sturridge picking up the pieces from there. Arsenal did not play suckers twice. Yes, they fell for it against Borussia Dortmund in their 1-2 defeat to the German side in the champions League, not once again.

There were always going to be chances at both ends, but such was the tactical plot of this game, that the better midfield would inevitably produce the winning team. Liverpool had five to press - the wing backs Cissokoh, Flanagan; and midfielders Henderson, Gerrard, and Lucas. Arsenal pushed their defence high when in possession in their half; and the likes of Arteta, Ramsey, Carzola, Rosicky, out-manouvred Liverpool's midfield, and showed excellent technical ability to retain the ball; when they lost possession, their high-line defence, counter-pressed to regain possession. The midfield duel in this top of the table clash, was like two boxers in the ring with the knowledge that scoring points with jabs mattered more than seeking a knock-out with the big left hook.  Arsenal's success was built around their midfield flair and technique.

Arsenal have floundered in the last few seasons, and that's been in the main down to  manager Arsene Wenger's scorn at tactical defending and high work rate in midfield. Merely thinking the technical fluidity and brilliance of his team was good enough to win the league. He was mistaken. Wenger now brings on defenders when a lead needs protecting. He was so animated against Liverpool even when they were ahead; such has Arsenal evolved.

It must be stated that as much as anything else, having a relatively smaller group of players available has been helpful to Arsene Wenger. It's helped him get his message across, they have circled the wagons, and playing 14 or 15 players consistently means the team can focus better and  it's ethos better upheld. How about Aaron Ramsey? if he goes on like this till january, he'll be player of the season. Typically, the best player in the league tends to play for the eventual league champions. The signs are good for the North Londoners.

Arsenal deserve the encomiums, but Borrusia Dortmund on November 6th will be an interesting clash. Have Arsenal learnt their lessons? They conceded two careless goals in the first leg in London - losing possession on the edge of their box, and a sucker punch on the counter attack in the 85th minute. Overall, I do not think Arsenal dealt with Dortmund's intense pressing on the night; neither did they compete well enough in large spells. Playing Liverpool before Dortmund is a perfect dress rehearsal for the game at the Signal Iduna park. This time, the Gunners must out-compete Dortmund with a higher work rate in midfield, and like they did against Liverpool, counter-press. In a nut shell, the key to victory in that game is to give Dortmund a dose of their own medicine. I really do not expect Dortmund to do the double over Arsenal despite their 6-1 demolition of Stuttgart in their last game , and lots of pundits concluding an easy win for Dortmund. They will be mistaken to underestimate Arsenal.  Remember Arsenal destroying Norwich 4-1 before the first leg?  Football is full of surprises, and I am predicting Arsenal to triumph in Germany to a lot of surprise!

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Finally, Wenger's Roses Sprout Thorns

After an epic roller-coaster ride in the close season transfer window for Arsenal and it's fans, I believe the Club may have landed on it's feet finally.

Manager Arsene Wenger and the board had been viciously criticised all summer for failing to bring the marque signing(s) everyone believed the team needed to propel a challenge for titles; and the fans' feelings had begun to morph into anger and resentment at the Club's top brass after the defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.

Three straight wins against Fenerbache (twice in the champions league qualifier) and Fulham in the premier league, gave Wenger and the board some breathing space. Even though the likes of Harry Rednapp scoffed at those wins, saying they were easy teams for Arsenal to beat, perhaps diluting the significance of winning those games.


The Real catalyst to Arsenal's season occurred in the North London derby against Spurs, September 1st.  Manager Arsene Wenger has always worn his heart on his sleeve tactically, for the last eight years. There has barely been variation in his approach to games at the Emirates. It's been all or nothing with the 4-3-3 set-up. Keep the ball, lay into the opponent at pace ( big or small ) leave spaces behind.

Against Spurs, he deviated from that script. Arsenal were circumspect, pre-meditated, and calculating. The  idea was to curb their wild attacking instincts, and instead bid their time, waiting for Spurs to over commit, before un-picking them. That was not only evident with the way their only goal ( and match winner came about ) it was in the character of the team's tactical performance.

It's my thought that Flamini would be a very significant addition to the gunners' squad. He is a ferocious tackler, a tenacious midfielder, quick at reading and intercepting danger, and he breaths fire.  His presence would be infectious, not only to his co-midfielders, but so too the defenders. After leaving the club for AC Milan five years ago, you are talking about a player who thoroughly understands the flaws around Wenger's romantic and aesthetic ideology.  Arsenal have lacked steel and character in midfield for so long. I am not bluffing, Flamini's presence will change all of that.

Then the marquee signing arrived in Mezut Ozil. The Real Madrid outcast had Arsenal breaking the bank in a record £42 million deal to bring him to the Emirates. What does he bring ? is he worth it ? he brings business-end-creativity to the team's moves. Arsenal lack that metaphor in attack - a reference point. Ozil will sort out the over elaborating and self-indulgence, negatively consistent in Arsenal's play over the last eight years, and bring in the required incision and penetration to win games. The sum of the transfer is irrelevant. The figure for a for a player's transfer is not co-related to his talent or potential in my opinion.

Arsene Wenger had been averse to spending vast sums. He pushed back on the idea, and played the maverick. The longest serving manager in the premier league perhaps has lost his long standing argument; being the lone voice in the wilderness. The landscape of Club soccer in Europe is altering rapidly, and the force of change is money. Money from plutocrats funding Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG, Monaco, and a host of Russian sides. Then Bayern Munich won the champions league last season, and no one can deny  their star studded team was assembled on the cheap. Spending big is becoming a a mainstream concept.

Arsenal's fiscal conservative model meant the club risked being an empty giant, and it has done the right thing changing it's course. With the German international, Ozil aboard,  Wenger and the Arsenal board have re-defined the Club's strategy, image, and ambitions going forward. That is crucial after the messy failure to sign Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, and Luis Gustavo. It's the trend for the heavy weights to throw their cash around; as laudable as it was to stay pragmatic with their finances, the morale of the fans needed to come first at this point.


There's little doubt this club side has lost it's compass to trophies. Wenger got too mired in the financial calculus to the detriment of his tactical advancement as a coach. Maybe the time has come for him to recalibrate and refine his concepts.

Sometimes, not having too many stars; or bringing players through the ranks could blunt a coaches tactical edge. Whereas, having a few stars provides food for thought, and puts a coach under pressure, forcing him to innovate. Wenger falls squarely in the former.

Having a real star since Thierry Henry should stimulate the him tactically. What formation would he play with Ozil in the side ? it would be a downer if he retains the 4-3-3 set-up. With a tackler like Flamini in the team, Wiilshere and Carzola's technical skills, Wenger might have to tinker a little, and go 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-2-1 to effectively harness the his team tactically.

For too long Wenger has been building teams pretty as a rose, but with a delicate spine. With Ozil and Flamini, Wenger's team now has some spikes. If that dove-tails into his tactical re-awakening,  I am sure, Arsenal's barren eight years might not go beyond this season. I'll strongly tip them as solid league title contenders this season.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Arsene Wenger's deja vu Moment Is Here

For the last six years, Arsene Wenger has doubled down on the idea that Arsenal do not need to buy for the "sake of it". However, if the "right player" becomes available on the market, he would go for it. Implicit in his argument has been: show me the sort of player who can make my team better, whose talents are outstanding, and I'll show you I am not scared to spend money.
Arsene Wenger: Ready to sign a new deal with Arsenal

The longest serving manager in the premiership is now attempting to validate his argument by courting Real Madrid's Argentine Striker, Gonzalo Higuain. Arsenal have made a bid, if reports are correct, but Real Madrid, and the player are playing it cautiously for the moment. The potential for a transaction seemingly loosing traction by the day.

Luis Suarez has been hankering for a move to Real Madrid all summer. Bleating about how tired he is of life in England. It does not look like Los Blancos would be swayed by this eponymous plea; so, in comes Arsene Wenger to play knight in shinning armour to the Liverpool Marks man. Allegations that Arsenal offered £30 million for the Uruguayan striker last week was staggering to me. It's the most cavalier I have witnessed of Arsene Wenger in his approach to sign a player, especially as there were  no indications Arsenal were monitoring the player's situation.

 Is this classic Wenger? The player is quintessentially his type of striker. Explosive, quick, skillful, attacks from the flanks, and lethal in-and-out- of the box. Does that remind you of a certain striker, who wore number 14 for the gunners, called Thierry Henry ? It is little surprise the North London club have not won a trophy since the departure of their legend, and all time top scorer. The likes of Emmanuel Adebayor, Eduardo, Olivier Giroud have auditioned the role of replacement, but Henry has been  a hard act to follow.

From whatever angle you view Arsenal's purported interest in Luis Suarez, there is no denying acquiring a player of his standards resonates with Arsene Wenger and Arsenal's core needs at this point in time:  An outstanding forward of versatility and goal scoring pedigree. Right age, at 26, and most significantly the sort to spark Arsenal into real championship form.
Luis Suarez: Has previously blamed press intrusion for his desire to leave Liverpool

The fact he remains a Liverpool player must be respected, but Arsene Wenger would lose further credibility if he and the board cannot cut a deal for a player who seems intent on leaving Liverpool to play champions league soccer. What excuse can they possibly give the Arsenal faithful, after the repeated public declarations of substantial funds to strengthen the squad.

It's almost a decade since Arsenal last won the premiership, and no doubt the vision to build a new stadium, and spend within their means during the transition, has been a convincing argument,  but the reality today is: Arsenal are treading water, and all the prestige built in the Bergkamp, Vieira, Henry era is fast fading into distant memories. Should the narrative be: Arsenal mortgage their future as one of Europe's top clubs for a new stadium, payed for in part by exorbitant ticket prices ladened on fans, who watch their team's talented, but average players, play second fiddle to the Manchester Clubs, and Chelsea ?

Arsenal have speculated to accumulate in the last ten years. It's made sound economic sense to self sustain. The next stage is to use that brilliant axiom as a means to an end. How about : a well run club, with a 60.000 stadium, that attracts star players, wins trophies, and has the trappings of an elite European side !

Not taking the risk to achieve the next level, would mean an antithesis to the Club's progressive agenda, and global appeal. After all, investing in youth has not quite produced the stars Wenger promised. There is a ready made one in Suarez, who could potentially capture all of Arsenal's attacking flair, and Wenger's lofty, but unfulfilled dreams. Luis Suarez could be the game changer. It's now or never. This transfer could be the gate way for Arsenal. Luis Suarez is there for the taking, and Arsene Wenger would be judged on this one !    

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Matter Is If Man Utd Want to Sell Wayne Rooney

Hell will freeze over before Manchester United sell Wayne Rooney to Chelsea specifically, or Arsenal to a lesser extent. The player has had to pull out of the Club's far East tour, and the conspiracy theorists have ratcheted up the doubts as to the player's future at Old Trafford. Chelsea Manager, Jose Mourinho has found it perfect breeding ground for his archetypal mischief making, by saying "he's a player I like very much".

I find the mechanics of this story pretty easy to analyze. Wayne Rooney is posturing.  His employers are hanging, and new manager David Moyes holds the key to resolving the issue. This story simply needs more time to settle down, then it will subsequently die away slowly.

READ : The Substance Behind Wayne Rooney's Blustering

Here's my take. Wayne Rooney knows only too well this is the season before the world cup. He is yet to really perform to his potential on the big stage. In two crucial senses, he is approaching the sunset of his career : The 2014 world cup is logically his last as a player with the big name tag. His next contract carries similar connotations, and the Liverpool born striker knows he has reached the defining point of his career. A lot of loose ends need tying up, but it has to suit the three parties involved, that tends to give rise to contrived deadlocks as we currently witness.

Wayne Rooney: Manchester United striker out of pre-season tour through injury

Manchester United, and in particular new chief executive Ed Woodward are mindful of handling the situation carefully, and setting the right precedent. Ultimately, the club know handing the player a new improved contract is the end game, but the trajectory of pre-contract talks / events must ring correct. It boils down to the player deserving it, and going about asking for it in an acceptable manner. Loosing Wayne Rooney will represent a blow to the club on the pitch and financial terms. It is a risky strategy to call the bluff of a big player with two years only left on his contract.

This is why Manager David Moyes' role is central to resolving this logjam. He has to get Wayne Rooney thirsty to play, by building a tactical frame work that affords the player room to maximize his talent and potential for the team, and as much provide stimulation for his growth on to a Man United legend. I will continue to reprise the argument that having van Persie and Rooney in the same team is a very difficult balancing act to perform for any manager. The balance of the team is potentially held hostage by it's biggest star players, who happen to occupy a similar sphere tactically, where it is one from two.

David Moyes: Has big targets

READ : Man Utd's Dilemma or Collateral Damage ? 

I will not believe for a second, yet, Man Utd will fathom selling Wayne Rooney. The conspiracy theorists are deluded. The Player, I believe is injured, and that creates a setback to a quick resolution of the dividing issues between player and club. If Man Utd are not going to countenance the sale of their number 10, and the manager is clever enough to understand players like Rooney are hard to find, never mind their price. Then the optics is the player would work hard and perform to his ability to hold on to a precious bargaining chip when his representatives meet the club to discuss his future. The club would expect to be presented with enough reasons to keep him on improved terms  A Parting of ways suits neither party, especially as each has what the other needs.

Subject to the unknown unknowns, this matter is a storm in a tea cup, and United fans would soon be rising to rapturous applauds, when the England International smashes one in the back of the net. Time and clever management  settles events like these.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Can The World Champions Reload Their Chamber ?

Crave my indulgence, please... not many, if any had dared to encourage a challenge to Spain's authority in International Soccer. The media establishment, obsequious pundits and analysts, even coaches in the game, got predictably boring with their acquiescence of Spain's excellence. Such complacence is short sighted, and highly unwholesome for the game. On the 25th of June, I wrote these lines below :

We cannot eternally view Spain with rose tinted spectacles, we must start to challenge the status quo, hence I belong to the esoteric school of thought that seek to exalt a fiercer contest to Spain's reign, rather than the sport to remain paralyzed by their panache. An International record 28 games the world champions have gone unbeaten: It's time for  nations in the football community to take a good hard look at themselves and what they are doing. Spain are outstanding, but there is also an argument of a psychological inferiority hanging over the rest which is self evident. Change that, and the barriers start to fall.

READ : Belabouring The Spanish Point

Brazil produced a devastating display of power, tactical pressing, a ravenous hunger to win,  sparked by national and sporting pride. The confederations Cup was a show case for the FIFA World Cup next year, and Brazil took the bull by the horn. It was in so many ways perfect for them to face Spain in the Finals of the competition. Whilst Spain had become World champions, and held in the highest esteem, everyone forgot they had not  beaten 5 time world champions Brazil at any point in time in this magnificent cycle. Congratulations to Brazil for playing their part in providing a competing theory to Spain's, and making the winner's of the 2014 world cup a close one to call. 

Neymar: Celebrates with the trophy after Brazil beat Spain 3-0

The Samba stars from Brazil were fired up, bursting with pride and motivation after a rendition of the Brazilian national anthem by the players and 75,000 fans, A cappella style. It was such to get the hairs at the back of your neck standing. The charged atmosphere complemented Brazil's tactical plot to stifle and pulverize Spain with aggression, speed, pressing; and always looking to exploit the loose ball, with  rapid conversion into attack.

The much maligned David Luis played the game of his life. His partner in defense Thiago Silver  suffocated space; Luis Gustavo an Paulinho underpinned the team, and boy did they tackle ! Oscar picked the scraps in midfield, while Neymar was quick, elusive, creative and magical. Striker Fred was competent, as his two goals underlined. Brazil delivered an A-Z team performance - a perfect response to their doubters.

Big Phil Scolari has got it going on once again. He has picked up a floundering team, and burnished it. Spain had been at the cutting edge of contemporary tactical advancement ; so much so, perhaps, Brazil were in danger of being forgotten as major players in the sport. Almost no one had faith in this team, but Scolari has not just restored Brazil's pride, he has re-announced to the world, Brazil have the players, the tactical variation, and adaptability to keep it at the fore front of the game. We saw a model way to counteract the opponent when they press : The centre backs Thiago Silver and David Luis took up positions akin to a full back when Brazil had the ball in their half ; with the two midfielders Paulinho and Luis Gustavo serving to protect. David Luis, especially, launched diagonal cross field passes from the left back position towards Hulk on the right side of attack,meaning Brazil were not sitting ducks. This shape was awkward for Spain to press.

Luiz Felipe Scolari: Confederations Cup success for Brazil boss

Spain were not bad! They played their game, except they were surpassed. Iniesta and Xavi were in the mood, but Brazil were more than determined and tenacious in midfield. Spain's potential  in attack was always visible. Torres was played as the point man, but it was that sort of game where La Roha needed something new, because Brazil had their number all the way.

Andres Iniesta: Not happy with the referee

I was watching ESPN Press Pass the other day, and one of the issues raised and discussed by Paul Mariner, Stewart Robson, and Sid Lowe about Spain was their lack of fresh ideas, and if the younger generation might now have to step in. Haven't you heard that theory on this blogsite, like when Spain looked invincible, Hello !!!!!

 The fissures in the Spanish last third is latent, but a tactical reality for opponents. Has anybody noticed that Spain's starting XI has been more or less unchanged for the last three years or that nine of the twenty outfield players in their current 23 man squad is 27+ and another three over 30 ? Here's the deal :

If Spain's starting XI picks itself for three years, then why is all the young talent not seeping through ?

* If the squad if brimming with talent, how come the glass ceiling has not been broken ?

* With the age symmetry of the squad, won't it  be the case a large percentage of the current squad      
    getting phased out the same time ?

* If 60 % of the current squad are likely vanish at the same time, would the talent of the up-and-coming youngsters be a match for the unique experience of the departed ?

Hypothesis for consideration.

Blog post, June 25th, Soccerprescription.

The likes of Alan Hansen on BBC are proving to be reactionary and sclerotic in their analysis. In the build up to the game, he dismissed Brazil with impunity. Calling them "overrated". What grates is that stiff, dismissive demeanour he possessed making his declaration Brazil would not be good enough. Praise be to Luca Vialli and Alan Shearer for better professionalism. Alan Hansen's one dimensional commentary is symptomatic of all that is wrong about our pundits today: Boring and repetitive. The game is crying out for dynamism, and pundits must come out of their self absorbed bubble. 

READ : Sky's Egregious Punditry 

Back to Spain: they did not score in their last two games of the confederations cup, and the 3-0 loss to Brazil in the final could have been worse. It will be foolish to talk about the end of an exceptionally amazing group of players, but it's safe to say they are now at a critical juncture. That defeat to Brazil will be analyzed countless times by prospective opponents. There is enough talent in their arsenal, especially from the under 20 group to keep them a force in the game for a while to come, however, there is now factual evidence they are beatable, and worse still, there is a method to doing so. They will have to raise their game hereon, and what sort they reload their chamber with, and whether they can get hungrier for more titles is what determines their future. There should be nothing automatic about success in football. Take note, Alan Hansen !

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Be-labouring The Spanish Point

Place your bets folks, who dares wins !! Almost a year after retaining the European Championship, and exactly a year to the FIFA 2014 world cup in Brazil, Spain continue to ride a crest of a wave. It is best to classify their current dominance as epic. Spain have written new paradigms into the game of football, and if they retain the world cup next year, they would be inducted into the hall-way of sporting immortals. Spanish soccer has now become a paragon. Not only central to the theme of winning, but excellent for it's production line of a range of superlative youngsters. It just won the UEFA under 20  championship with an intriguing team, and tipped to win the FIFA under 20 world cup in progress. It seems their reign has no end in sight.

FULL CIRCLE : I was insane enough during Euro 2012 to suggest the wheels was about to come off their cycle of dominance. Italy, Croatia, and Portugal were inspired enough in the tournament to push back on Spain's irrepressible form, and I sensed the moment had arrived when events would conflate with the collective will of nations to dethrone them.
Spain and Italy poised for EURO rematch
READ : Guess What, Spain has reached it's Plateau 

It proved to be a false call. They went on to do a demolition job on Italy in the EURO final, raising their game in that match to such unparalleled levels that sent a message of shock and awe, and still has  rivals cowering one year on.  This game is relentless in hatching plots and intrigues, and here we are again with a tasty grudge match in the confederations cup semi finals between guess who ? Italy and Spain. The world and European Champions have it all to do once again as they continue their incredible ascent up that greasy pole. Italy have some explaining to do, and scores to settle in practical terms after their spectacular flame-out on that barmy night in Kiev. Spain needn't listen. This fits in with my theme from last summer: has anyone out there been able to concoct a potion to neutralize Spain ? does soccer have it's own version of subversive resistance?

ACHILLES HEEL : Spain were held to a 1-1 home draw by Finland in March, in their 2014 world cup qualifier. They out-possessed and out played the Fins, who were resolute in their blanket defending on the edge of their box. Spain had so many men forward, it only took a counter-attack of a blowtorch type for Finland to equalize. If Spain had not scrambled a lucky winner in their next qualifier in France, they would have been in danger of not getting automatic qualification from their group. That close shave went largely unreported amid all the hype surrounding Spain. Had Nigeria played with a better presence of mind, and know how in front of goal in their confederations cup game last sunday, Spain's characterization of invincibility might have been seriously examined. The key to beating Spain is first and fore most a change in MINDSET, a stronger will, followed by a tactical plan of disciplined  defending  with two blocks, and counter attacks with intensity and purpose. The fissures in the Spanish last third is latent, but a tactical reality for opponents. Has anybody noticed that Spain's starting XI has been more or less unchanged for the last three years or that nine of the twenty outfield players in their current 23 man squad is 27+ and another three over 30 ? Here's the deal :

* If Spain's starting XI picks itself for three years, then why is all the young talent not seeping through ?

* If the squad if brimming with talent, how come the glass ceiling has not been broken ?

* With the age symmetry of the squad, won't it  be the case a large percentage of the current squad        
    getting phased out the same time ?

* If 60 % of the current squad are likely vanish at the same time, would the talent of the up-and-coming youngsters be a match for the unique experience of the departed ?

Hypothesis for consideration.

Sergio Ramos

BUCK THE TREND : The game has never stayed static, and we must fathom the surmounting of Spain. It's a prerequisite for the dynamism of the sport. This monumental epoch of Spanish soccer orthodoxy will be talked about for another one hundred years to come, no doubt. Spain might dig in for  more self preservation despite my call to arms, as they did a year ago, winning the Euro championship.

READ : LA ROJA turn-on the fury to Slay Italy , the Critics , the doubters, and I

We cannot eternally view Spain with rose tinted spectacles, we must start to challenge the status quo, hence I belong to the esoteric school of thought that seek to exalt a fiercer contest to Spain's reign, rather than the sport to remain paralyzed by their panache. An International record 28 games the world champions have gone unbeaten: It's time for  nations in the football community to take a good hard look at themselves and what they are doing. Spain are outstanding, but there is also an argument of a psychological inferiority hanging over the rest which is self evident. Change that, and the barriers start to fall.

YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN : Big Phil Has Got Brazil Revving

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Big Phil Has Got Brazil Revving

The notion Brazil have run out of talent, and not good enough to compete with reigning World Cup Champions Spain is increasingly looking like a load of baloney in the face of their tremendous display against Italy in the Confederations Cup. Too often Brazil are harshly judged, we have come to expect their teams to be clones of the great world cup winning teams of '70 or '94, and I must admit after watching Phil Scolari's first game in charge in February this year, I concluded the team was lacking.

READ : Promising For England, Worries For Brazil

I will be setting the record straight by saying on the evidence of the on-going confederations cup, Brazil are in good heart; they have got what it takes, and I boldly tip them to beat Spain in the confederations cup final, or whoever their opponents are on the occasion.

Brazil: Will face Mexico on Wednesday

STATE OF PLAY: A competitive game against historic rivals Italy served as the rallying call for Brazil, but it was not only that they won 4-2 that mattered, it was how they performed at a tactical level and the fitness conditions of the players which evokes sanguine vibes about the team. There is a litany of talent in the starting 11, and on the bench, first and fore most : Phil Scolari adopted a 4-2-3-1 formation, but there is a pioneering sub-plot to that formation which has me buzzing, and could potentially perplex a lot of teams in the future. On paper, there are 4 defenders, but the full-backs - Danny Alves and Marcelo in effect play as wing-backs, advanced in positioning, starting off attacks, an outlet, or an option for the short pass. The wide men of the 3 behind the striker also have that multi-functionality about them: Oscar and Hulk do not necessarily hug the flanks.... they tuck in-field like inside forwards, but also track back to defend, and attack from the flanks in tandem with the wing backs.  These four are weapons of stealth, difficult to deal with because they are utility and disguise rolled into one. This team can generate swiftness, play with combinations, and attack in numbers, constantly probing the opponents back-line. The brilliance and magic of Neymar is the real deal; Fred is definitely capable of scoring goals (twice against Italy) ; Luis Gustavo and Hernanes / Paulinho are the pivots in midfield. The team has balance, technical flair, and an increasing appetite to win games, which morphs into devastating confidence eventually.

Neymar: Celebrates his goal against Italy

THE COACH, BIG PHIL : I am a big fan of this guy, why ? it's the result of his proven ability to organize  teams on the international stage. He was called upon in 2001 to rescue A Selecao  (the selection) and he went on to win the world cup for Brazil in the Japan-South Korea 2002 finals. This uncanny ability was repeated with his handling of the Portuguese national team in the 2004 Euros, where they got to the final; and then the semi-finals of the 2006 world cup in Germany. Phil Scolari is one to maximize talent and human resources, tactically nuanced, and adept at preparing teams for tournaments. Before he took charge of the team  4 months ago, supporters of the national team were in dismay, and optimism was in melt-down. I am sure Scolari will here-on change the mood, he is that infectious. He has most certainly given the team an edge it lacked months ago, and make no mistake, his teams are hardly ever a bunch of show-ponies - there is a lot of grafting and a work ethic to it. Hulk's performance against Italy epitomizes that, I have never seen him put in as much hard work and defending like he did...... Let's not tempt fate by asking if Phil Scolari can do it again ! Winning the world cup on home soil will be tough with the likes of Spain, Argentina, and home pressure as factors to contend with. But if he continues to innovate and motivate with a bunch of talented players, and the nation gets behind the team in a positive way, big Phil is the sort to make far-fetched dreams come true. Watch this space !!!

PAULINHO TO SPURS ?  The media has it that Spurs are on the verge of signing Flumenense's Brazilian international midfielder, Paulinho. You can be sure this decision is a culmination of the player's performance in the on-going  confederations cup. Ramires has been a hit in Chelsea's midfield, but generally i'd caution against signing players on the back of tournaments for their national teams, because it is never a true indicator of a player's ability to adapt. It's one thing to be in an environment with colleagues of homogeneity for a month, and another to arrive in london to a different weather, culture, and absence of family. A player's form is the consequence certain variables. In addition, deals like this tend to be rushed, that means the Club pays a lot more that it should in transfer fees and wages. Watching Luis Gustavo play magnificently in central midfield for Brazil makes me wonder why he cannot get into the Bayern Munich starting eleven. I might also add, I have not seen him play as well for Bayern Munich. See where I am coming from ?

Paulinho (left) challenged by Mexico's former Spurs forward Giovani dos Santos

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Thursday, 20 June 2013


In the aftermath of an intriguing season in European club competitions, trends and prognosis are popping-up. That school of thought that has German club football making significant gains on it's rivals gets ever nosier. The Spanish and English contingent remain dogged in their push back, though...
Italian teams held sway in continental club competitions in the late 80's to the mid 90's point, and since then for a combination of reasons have evaporated as a credible force. Inter Milan won the champions league in 2011, then self-imploded, subsequently; AC Milan are in rebuilding phase, though, lost the glamour appeal they held ten years ago; which brings us to (la) Fidanzata d'italia  (the girlfriend of Italy) Juventus. A generation of fans have evolved oblivious to the powers, prestige, and history this great Italian team holds in Europe, why is that ?

Juventus: Mauricio Isla lifted the Serie A title last season but is set for a move to Inter Milan, says his agent

CREDENTIALS : For sure, it's all gone wonky in the last ten years, but Juventus are not only a special Club, they are a formidable one too. Historically, Italy's best supported side, accounting for almost 30% of the entire spectrum of fans in the country. It has won 29 Serie A titles, and 9 Italian cups, on both counts, more than any other team in Italy. It has consistently provided the Italian national team with players over the years, in fact, it's the biggest supplier of players to the national side, as many as six starters in the recent CONFEDERATIONS CUP match against Mexico underlines the historic trend. But Juventus have given a lot more than that : They are the only club side in the world to have won all the continental and intercontinental club prizes. Players from Juventus have won the European player of the year award on no less than eight occasions - including a record four on the trot when Paulo Rossi won it in 1982, and Michel Platini in '83, '84, and '85. Roberto Baggio ('93 ) Zinedine Zidane ('98), and pavel Nedved ('03 ) making their haul amongst the best from a single club. 

DOWN TURN: Juventus have not won the champions league since 1996, losing two other finals afterwards('97 & '03). There were shock waves in May 2006 after the"calciopoli" match fixing scandal  broke. Juve' were one of the clubs caught up in it, prompting the Italian FA to nullify their '05 and '06 league title wins; and star names departed, with the club demoted to the second tier of Italian soccer, as punishment for their part in the sordid scandal. These events were deeply damaging to it's reputation and prestige. But even before the scandal broke, it could be said that  Juventus were treading water, and in need of fresh impetus. It may have the record of winning all the titles in Club football, but the statistics tell you it has never truly come anywhere near holding dominant power in European football at any point in time, and that leaves not only an ambiguity, but a chasm in the Juventus' narrative which seriously needs addressing. AC Millan have a richer European profile than Juventus despite their inferior domestic title record of 18 to Juve's 29. AC Millan have won the European Cup / Champions League a second all time best - 7 times.  Juventus have 2 in comparison. The success of Juventus in European competitions in the context of their history is superficial rather spectacular, and certainly an issue worth addressing by it's owners, the Agnielli Family.

Emanuele Giaccherini: Juventus midfielder has no plans to leave

THE CURRENT TEAM : With no less than eight managers in the last ten years, the ignominy of match fixing allegations, and subsequent mandatory demotion to Serie B, ex-player Antonio Conte has blazed a trail as manager, winning two league titles ('11/12 &12'/13) in his two years in charge, and firmly re-establishing the Turin club on the map. It's even more stunning that he has done it without star names. The current team pales in comparison to Marcello Lippi's champions league winning team of 1996, but Antonio Conte has hit the ground running in terms of assembling an effective, resolute team, built in the finest Italian traditions. Conte brought in players like Asamoah, Giaccherini, Pirlo, Lichtsteiner, Vucinic, Arturo Vidal, Barzagli, and Paul Pogba, not house hold names, but he has masterfully fused them in with established performers like Buffon, Chiellini, and Cluaudio Marchisio. The manager has the team playing the text book 3-5-2 formation, solid at the back, very efficient in midfield. I watched this team a lot last season, it's evident that it has the right foundations,  and potentially on a cusp of a cycle of dominance in Serie A. Antonio Conte deserves a lot of eulogy for the Juve' revival

Paul Pogba: Midfielder is happy to stay at Juventus

SPECULATE TO ACCUMULATE : Can the bianconerri  seize the moment ? can it rebrand itself in terms of the champions league ? does it feel any anger from being dumped (4-0 on aggregate) by Bayern Munich in the quarter finals of last season's champions league ? does it realize it's stock in Europe has declined ? Juventus are a well run club. Their debt is not catastrophic, and they have a large following. With Coach Antonio Conte in fine form, stability re-established, this is the moment for the Agnielli family to shake off it's conservative approach, and ramp up the stakes with player acquisition. They are clever enough. Such an investment would bolster the Juve' brand which is in need of some razzmatazz and broader appeal. The vehicle to this end would be a couple of high profile signings. The goal scoring department is crying out loud ! Mirko Vucinic is not top calibre, and his goal scoring returns of 19 in 63 games is woefully mediocre. They got striker Fernando Llorente on a free from Athletic Bilbao for next season, and neither looks the real deal. His 4 goals in 26 games last season compares with that of a defender. Paying top dollar for Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain offers a better prospect. A talented understudy to Andre Pirlo is a necessity, as well as beefing-up the squad for a proper launch of a two-pronged attack on Europe and Serie A next season is essential. 17 years and counting without a trophy in Europe, lagging behind Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester United in global appeal, can Juventus seize the moment to re-address the balance ? Coach Antonio Conte is just the man to trust with this project. Juventus must not let this moment pass.


Who Will Detoxify Real Madrid ?

The Bundesliga's False Dawn in Europe

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Who Will Detoxify Real Madrid ?

Even by Real Madrid's recent psychedelic past, when we have witnessed the Club's dalliance with top end star players like Luis Figo, Zinadine Zidane, David Beckham, Kaka, and Cristiano Ronaldo; and trainers like Fabio Capello, Bernd Schuster, Jose Camacho, and Manuel Pellegrini  that had spells which deflated as fast as air out of a balloon, the Club bears a somewhat quizzical look at present, having not appointed a manager since parting ways with the cantankerous Jose Mourinho two weeks ago.
As Madristas hold their collective breath, President Florentino Perez pauses for thought, and a calm reflection. It's easy to deduce why he would mull over his next managerial appointment. For one, just departed coach Jose Mourinho has left the club in a quandary and a toxic state. Perhaps, even more importantly is the definition of Florentino Perez's legacy. No doubt, Mr. Perez realizes more than anyone that his guidance and leadership of the club through this awkward period is as good as certain to be interpolated on his legacy at the club. A sensitive subject i am sure, hence finding the appropriate means to detoxify the air around the club from the foul and corrosive Mourinho regime( to which Perez is culpable), redefining the Real Madrid ethos and aims, then re-calibrating the dressing room at a macro level are vital components to reload the chamber with.....
Florentino Perez returned to office unopposed in presidential elections early this month. A debrief on the last four years of his presidency would reveal hundreds of millions on player purchases which has yielded a solitary La liga title and the Copa del Rey; failure to capture a tenth Champions League crown, not providing the desired counter-surge to Barcelona, who have a 3-1 lead on La liga titles in the last four years; represents a scandalous return on the Club's investment. It's been either a qualified success or outright failure in the last four years, and that points at the president.

Read : Real Madrid Shall Fall !

Cristiano Ronaldo: Real Madrid confident he will sign contract extension

REAPPRAISAL:  It's against the backdrop of a failed grand-scheme that Florentino Perez would have to chart the Club's next milestone. Central to this is the next Manager, who will need not only to detox, heal, and adrenalize a group of players who have fallen in-between utopia and disaster in the last year. Furthermore, the Club are in dire need to strategize  not only for the short term, but also long term. Ex-President Vicente Calderon recently wailed at the failure to retain the services of coach Vicente Del Bosque in 2003, and that lends credence to the theory Barcelona are better at handling the long term game plan. Since the debacle of Carles Rexach  ten years ago, Barcelona have enjoyed better aggregate cycles, and winning more titles than Real Madrid in that time. The presumptive candidates to run the team next season are Zinedine Zidane: a "madrista", ex-player, champions league winner, and an icon of the club. He would have a galvanizing effect on the team, owing to his legendary status in the game; but the drawback to his candidature is Zidane has no coaching experience, and has a shy personality. A risk for the long term.  Carlo Ancelotti seems the perfect one. Mild mannered, possesses

Read : Remember Carlo Ancelotti ?

an impressive track record from AC Milan and Chelsea, experienced, and well respected. Except that he is under contract to PSG who do not seem keen to release him to join Madrid. The club look in a distinctly unfamiliar position currently, with not many suitable options at hand, prompting President Perez to say :

            "We will not rush, because the important thing is not to
             do it tomorrow, but to do it well"..........

Gonzalo Higuain: No agreement yet in place for Real Madrid striker

TRANSFERS: Real Madrid have been brazenly courting Garreth Bale, but it seems highly unlikely

Read : Zero Reason To Bale out

they would pull it off despite the gigantic carrot being dangled at his Club Spurs; It may well be a distraction for their dejected fans. One other target was Atletico Madrid's striker Falcao, who has chosen to move to Monaco; speculation has it Monaco is just a ruse for a reconnection to the white half of Madrid. Neymar has joined  Barcelona; Cristiano Ronaldo, the Club's top goal scorer has not yet committed to a contract extension, and their Argentine striker Gonzalo Higuain looks to be on the market. It is certainly a picture puzzle at the Bernabeu right now. The Club have to get it right, and fast. There is little margin for error though, and there are quite a number of delicate issues going forward. There is a solid core of talented players, no doubt, but uncertainty can make mischief of circumstances. A good pre-season preparation from all angles precedes a successful one. Logical  thoughts on player purchase cannot be held if the manager is not in place. Florentino Perez has his hands full going into his next term. How he manages this orchestrated confusion is the bridge to the near future of the Club. One wrong move from here on, and it collapses into an expensive mess. For now, we must give him some time to himself.

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Can Ronaldo outwit Real Madrid ?

The Bundesliga's False Dawn in Europe

The Man United Dynamic Guarantees Continuum

Thursday, 6 June 2013

The Bundesliga's False Dawn in Europe

Germany's elite Soccer division - The Bundesliga is enjoying distinguished and high profile attention currently after the historic all German UEFA Champions League Final, a couple of weeks ago. The rhapsody began after Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund scored twin semi-final victories over Spanish giants Barcelona and Real Madrid. Many commentators have signaled it an axiom that German Clubs will rule the champions league from here on, and advocating the virtues of the Budesliga as a blue print for other clubs in Europe. It's been heralded the Bundesliga is on the rise with it's clubs producing great youth academies, debt free, operating on the maxims of self reliance, financial sustainability, and the fans being at the heart of the initiatives of the clubs. All very impressive credentials without a doubt. However, advocates are wide of the mark  transcending the argument into a wider European hegemony for German clubs; they clearly underestimate the onerous task German clubs face reproducing two semi-finalists next season, and actualizing this vaunted superiority. The presence of Bayern Munich in the last  three finals of the champions league has spiked the Bundesliga ratings upwards, but generating a faulty calculus,  because Bayern Munich is not a prototype Bundesliga club, rather you'll  need a few other clubs to perform the feats of Borusia Dortmund to showcase that  argument. But that needs to be proved in next season's champions league, once again by Dortmund, and the other German representatives - Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke. Otherwise, it's an extrapolation of ludicrous proportions. It's like saying Arsenal or Udinese would be at the next final because they are well run clubs. It's not going to happen. The Champions League is an incredibly difficult competition, and it takes a lot to win. Here's some stats to freeze that idea :

Guardiola: Bayern can grow under his tutelage, say Souness and Redknapp

* 23 years ago was the last time any team ( AC MILAN 1989/ 90 ) retained the trophy

* It's only been retained twice in the last 33 years ( Nottingham Forest 1979 / 80' )  and AC Milan ( 1989 and 1990)

* 31 years ago was the last time two different winners emerged from the same country in successive years ( Liverpool 1981 & Aston Villa 1982 )

* The best any country has produced in last for 31 years is Spanish Clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona
    winning the competition twice in three successive seasons on two separate occasions: 2000, 2002 and 2009, 2011.

Barriers are meant to be broken, that comprises a part of why sport is thrilling. Football has no scientific bases, but the evidence that German clubs are set to shift the trend and become dominant in European competitions can be scoffed at for a number of reasons :

 BAYERN MUNICH : Folks might fail to notice that Bayern Munich's financial muscle has enabled them grow at a faster pace than their other rivals Borrusia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, and Schalke. Bayern can comfortably buy the best players of their rivals as they have done over the years, and most recently with their purchase of Mario Goetze from Borussia Dortmund. Bayern's financial dominance is an antithesis to the theory most Bundesliga Clubs are well run and financially wholesome and stable, they can all therefore compete on equal terms with Bayern, and have as much talented, and as expensive a squad as the Bavarians presently do, and achieve similar sporting successes home and abroad: powder puff..... if anything, Bayern Munich destabilizes and weakens the other clubs in the top division, cherry picking their best players, and augmenting with top talent from abroad. There is a latent disparity in the top echelon of the Budesliga, and commentators  need to wake up to this fact. The strengths of the Budesliga is subsumed under the Bayern Munich colossus, providing a distorted potential of the Bundesliga.    

Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinstiger: Bayern Munich pair had tasted the pain of defeat in the Champions League in recent years.

 ACUMEN : No doubt the geese that lay the golden eggs come in the shape of a good club structure, and the purvey of properly nurtured young players, and German clubs seem to be doing well at that, but the champions league is not a romantic competition, it's a brutal one, and competition experience is certainly a prerequisite to doing well in it. Bayer Leverkusen and Schalke do not possess the requisite amount of players with this. Borussia Dortmund are on the verge of losing a few of their best players, neither would they be the dark horses they were in last season's competition. One very reliable index of the strength of a country's league is the Europa League : If German teams had  as much as nearly clout or predominance in that competition, then the argument would be persuading, but no team from Germany has won the Europa league in 16 years since Schalke did it, that is a more poignant indication because the revamped Europa league format is modeled like the champions league. Furthermore, only two other German teams outside of Bayern Munich have won ( Hamburg and Borrusia Dortmund ) the champions league / European Cup in the last 30 years. In fact, German teams in comparison to Spanish, Italian, and English teams actually have catching up to do first before any hegemony is mentioned.

Robert Lewandowski: Likely to be working closely with Uli Hoeness

IN OPPOSITION :   The UEFA Champions League has a ruthless edge to it. The antagonists to Germany's representatives in the 2013/14 edition would be a combination aristocrats like Manchester United, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Barcelona, Juventus, with their illustrious history, and tremendous potential in star players and financial resouces ; And the billionaires' clubs - Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG, and a host of clubs from Russia and Ukraine : who are aspiring to dethrone the status-quo, by purchasing some of the best players in Europe for outlandish sums. After winning domestic titles set their sights on conquering Europe's glamour competition. These two blocks of clubs will provide very severe tests to the credentials of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Levekusen, and Schalke, no doubt well run clubs, adopting a credible creed, but the argument  they stand a chance of upstaging those two blocks of clubs is diluted when you consider they won't bring in star names, not the practice, and hav a meagre four European trophies between them. Bayer Leverkusen have never won the German Championship; and Schalke last won it in 1958, and who is to say after Dortmund's scintillating campaign in the champions league this year, will not put up a few more of their talented youngsters for sale!!! After all, that's implicit of it's self sustaining model. The draw back with this model is that the aristocratic and billionaire clubs( as mentioned above) have the cash to offer for the likes of Dortmund's best players. No matter how many good ones they produce, it would have a debilitating effect on their champions league  prospects.

Jurgen Klopp: Bortmund boss was generous in defeat about opposite number Jupp Heynkes

CLOSING BELL: The issue analysts miss out when prosecuting  the claim German Clubs have an auspicious future in the champions league is that the Bundesliga is an allegory of Bayern Munich and the rest. Bayern buy the best around the country. As long as their financial powers eclipses that of the rest by some distance, so too would their collection of domestic titles. Borussia Dortmund, Schalke, and clubs run on those lines would hardly be able to gain traction domestically and in Europe with the scenario their best players are apples in the eyes of their richer rivals across the continent, that pours cold water on the idea they are about to stage a coup
The rules that exist limiting foreign ownership of German clubs is admirable, but to the detriment of a challenge to Bayern. It's great these clubs are fan-based and pragmatic with their finances, but they  have to be able to match Bayern fire with fire to break out of the shadows, and be a force to be reckoned with rather than just the talk of potential. I am afraid they need to make an even bigger push on the domestic scene first. That's the gate way to any claim on the continent.  shifting the all powerful Bayern Munich is the crux of the matter. There is little empirical evidence of that, nor any more to suggest Bundesliga Clubs are set to rule Europe; perhaps donkeys would first have to  fly over the Alliance Arena for me to believe that.

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