Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Injuries are a part of the beautiful game and we all accept that but it doesn’t stop them being any less frustrating or painful. I remember those horrendous images when Henrik Larsson broke his leg at Celtic, no matter how many times I saw them I still winced, but somehow the former Manchester United player’s career wasn’t ruined, but some have not been so lucky. Whether it be reoccurring injuries, horrific challenges or freak incidents so many gifted players have drifted out of the game due to injuries cutting short their promising careers or at minimum hindered them achieving their potential.

Michael Bridges

Emerged as a promising young striker in the 1996-97 for Sunderland with many touting Bridges for a long and successful career. After four years at Sunderland, Bridges moved to Leeds and scored an impressive 19 Premiership goals in his first season for the club. However in the same season the former England international was injured against Besiktas in the UEFA Cup and this was the beginning of four seasons at Elland Road mainly spent in the treatment room. An unsuccessful loan spell at Newcastle followed before his release by Leeds, and the former promising youngster went on to play for Carlisle, Hull City, Sydney FC, MK Dons and Newcastle Jets before announcing his retirement in April of this year at the age of 32.

Michael Owen

Even now I still get downbeat at how Owen’s career has dwindled, a truly superb goal against Argentina in World Cup 98 showed promise of a superb career, and by all means Owen has had an impressive and successful career, but it could have achieved so much more. The signs were there after a couple of injury hit seasons at Liverpool, and after a a disappointing spell with Real Madrid and an injury prone stint at Newcastle, Owen now plays fourth fiddle to Berbatov, Hernandez and Rooney at Old Trafford; something that is hard to comprehend after scoring over 150 goals for Liverpool.

Norman Whiteside

Whiteside broke various records and promised so much when he broke into the Manchester United side in the 1981/82 season and became famous for his aggressive and physical style of play. The former Northern Ireland striker’s career didn’t live up to expectation though with long spells on the sidelines with major injury problems, and with the return of Mark Hughes, Fergie decided to sell Whiteside to Everton. After a good start at Goodison, Whiteside was again affected by injuries and after having 13 operations on his knee during his career he decided to call it a day at the age of 26.

Dean Ashton

The former England international joined West Ham in January 2006 from Norwich City, after a very impressive season with The Canaries. The former Crewe player went away on international duty with England after impressing in his eleven appearances since he had moved to Upton Park but subsequently broke his ankle. Ashton did return for the 2007/08 Premier League season and had a relatively successful one scoring ten goals, however a few games into the following season the former England international suffered another ankle injury, one he never recovered from forcing his early retirement in 2008 at the age of 26.

Luc Nilis

Aston Villa signed Belgium international Nilis after his formidable form for PSV which saw him net 110 goals in 164 games. The former Anderlecht player did score a rather superb goal against Chelsea but in his third appearance for The Villians the striker collied with Richard Wright, which resulted in a leg break that meant Nilis could never play again.

Owen Hargreaves

The Canadian born Englishman established himself as consistent and solid centre midfielder in his time at Bayern Munich and after surprisingly being one of England’s few positives from the 2006 World Cup with his impressive displays, he was signed by Manchester United. The former Bayern player’s Old Trafford career was hampered by persistent injuries and Hargreaves failed to make even forty competitive appearances for the Red Devils and Fergie has recently taken the decision to let Hargreaves’ contract to expire in the summer, with many predicting that the former England international will retire.

Jonathan Woodgate

After impressing for Leeds United and Newcastle United, Woodgate made a surprising move to Real Madrid despite not being fully fit. A risk that didn’t pay off for the La Liga giants, with the Englishman making no appearances in his first season and only twelve overall when he left the Bernabeu after an injury ravaged spell in Spain. Ever since leaving Madrid Woodgate has continued having injury problems firstly with Middlesbrough and now Tottenham Hotspur.

Fernando Redondo

Spent a decade in La Liga, mainly with Real Madrid before moving to AC Milan for £11 million and after only three minutes into his first Italian training session Redondo’s Milan career was all but over, when he injured his knee. The Argentine didn’t make any appearances in his first two seasons for the Serie A giants and eventually retired in 2004 after making only 16 appearances.

Gianluigi Lentini

In 1992 Lentini was signed by AC Milan for £13 million, making him the most expensive player in the world at that time. The Italian’s career promised so much and was just getting under way for Milan when he was involved in a car crash, which left him in a coma and a fractured skull. Although he did recover, Lentini never recaptured his form and eventually ended up seeing out his playing days for Italian clubs’ lower down the leagues’.

Andy van der Meyde

Rose to prominence at Ajax and was signed by Inter Milan but failed to maintain a starting place at the San Siro so the Dutchman moved to Everton in 2005. During van der Meyde’s time on Goodison he suffered with alcoholism, disciplinary problems, as well as various injuries, which limited the former Netherlands international appearances for The Toffees’. In 2009 he was released by David Moyes and spent six months without a club, before signing for PSV but made only one appearance before announcing his retirement.

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The Arsenal greats that Francesc Fabregas is sure to go down with all have one telling difference from the young Spaniard; they wouldn’t have attempted a ridiculous back heel against arguably one of the greatest teams ever, on the stroke of half time- it was clumsy, careless and a subconscious sign of where Fabregas’ heart lies (if any proof was needed).

As the season draws to a close and the transfer window re opens, speculation will be rife and without a shadow of a doubt Fabregas will be linked with a return to the Nou Camp, however (and I’m sure most football fans will agree with me), this story has become irritating, especially with Fabregas declaring his desire to return to the Nou Camp and play for Barcelona. (Little tip for all you up-and-coming footballers; if you want to play for Barcelona and you are at Barcelona, a good place to stay is Barcelona and not go wandering around Europe).

I could never imagine the likes of Kenny Samson or Pat Rice hugging and joking around with their fellow compatriots in the tunnel before a game, but Francesc Fabregas, Arsenal’s captain, the man supposed to lead by example, was all over Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta as if it were a family reunion. Add that to the image of Fabregas wearing a Barcelona shirt when celebrating Spain’s World Cup victory and, apart from the disrespect to all those involved with Arsenal, it shows that the Spanish international isn’t happy with the North London outfit and therefore should be moved on.

Fabregas is definitely a fabulous talent, however I feel Arsenal are almost hindered by Fabregas’ inclusion in the starting eleven at the moment, as Samir Nasri, who arguably has been Arsenal’s player of the season, played in Fabregas’ role when he was out injured at the beginning of the season. This spell saw Nasri reach double figures in a matter of games and, although still a threat, Nasri’s influence isn’t as powerful out on the wing. Furthermore, Fabregas’ inclusion does seem to create a slight battle between him and Jack Wilshere for control; and credit to the young Englishman, in recent weeks he has outshone his World Cup winning teammate with a string of man of the match performances.

Wenger has tried numerous ‘bribes’ to maintain the Spaniard’s services, most notably making him captain, but I think even Fabregas wouldn’t put up much of a fight against those who doubt his captaincy credentials. Apart from offering Fabregas the keys to the stadium, Wenger has done all he can and it may be time to cash in on his prize assest and bring in that special brand of player that defines captaincy; possessing John Terry’s courage, Nemanja Vidic’s strength and Scott Parker’s desire. Perhaps they already have that in Jack Wilshere, but that’s for another article.

Young Boys to Men

Posted: March 11, 2011 in Uncategorized

3-0 down after 28 minutes against Young Boys, Spurs looked out of their depth before even qualifying among Europe’s elite. Fast forward 6 months and Spurs have come of age, knocking out the second most successful team in the history of the European Cup.

Along their journey Spurs have constantly reminded fans and critics how they have grown, averaging 3 goals per game throughout the group stages, beating the holders Inter Milan and even rivaling Barcelona and local rivals Arsenal with the best free flowing attacking football of this season’s tournament, which has earned them numerous plaudits for their verve and style.

The victory over Milan was passion and commitment triumphing over tactics, but more importantly it was a Tottenham performance not usually accredited to this Spurs side. With attacking options in abundance, it was in fact a resolute, determined and most importantly experienced defensive performance that propelled Tottenham into what was unimaginable territory only two seasons ago, a Champions League Quarter Final tie. Spurs progression had a lot to do with the performance of William Gallas. Gallas was a defensive rock, and despite entering White Hart Lane having played for Tottenham’s fiercest rivals Chelsea and Arsenal, all this will be forgotten after his performance, on this glorious European night at ‘The Lane’, the experienced, powerful and impressive Gallas became a ‘hero’, the goal line clearance, the in sync partnership with Michael Dawson and his commanding of the back line had Laurent Koscielny taking vigorous notes. The ex-Gunners captain showed the red half of north London what was needed in their embarrassingly one sided defeat to Barcelona the previous night.

Dawson and Gallas will take great credit but the world of football was already familiar with their talents. Being at home in the Champions League last sixteen, against European giants Ac Milan, the stage was set for someone to step up and earn their lily whites; and Sandro Ranieri duly obliged. Ridiculed, booed, and his talents questioned by the media and football fans alike (Spurs fans included), Sandro silenced them all with a true ‘unsung hero’ performance. Sandro shielded the defensive line, broke up the play and was a key factor in Milan hardly registering a decent effort all night despite their 59% possession.

Admittedly Arsenal fans will argue it wasn’t a Milan of Van Basten, Guillt and Maldini. This was a Milan that boasted the reliably toothless forward that is Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Spurs reject Kevin-Prince Boateng, the same player who made less than 20 appearances in two seasons and was loaned out to Portsmouth. Still nothing should, or will, be taken away from this uncharacteristic dogged defensive victory for Spurs.

How far can this Tottenham side go? All the fans will be crossing their fingers for Schalke in the next round and who can blame them; this may be their only time in the competition and they want to go as far as they can, however, overcoming Manchester United, Chelsea or even Real Madrid isn’t above this Tottenham side who have shown just about every quality in this remarkable, yet unpredictable campaign, and it could very well be the infamous chant of “Yids” echoing around Wembley come May 28th.

9 points, the closest gap between 20th and 9th position since the Premier League’s inception at this stage of the season, furthermore the gap between 17th and 9th is only 6 points. This shows what a close and equal league it has been this season, with several teams on the cusp of qualifying for Europe or being drawn into a relegation dogfight.

At Christmas, everyone had written West Ham off and it was a case of which other two teams would join them in the Championship next season, however, West Ham now sit 17th in the table and 4th in the form book over the last six games; only behind Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool. This run of results that wouldn’t have been deemed possible under Avram Grant, a man whose job only a few months ago was said to be Martin O’Neill’s for the taking.

I feel the scrutiny, at the beginning of his tenure with West Ham, of Avram Grant, the man who just last season led Portsmouth to Wembley in the FA Cup, was harsh, especially when you consider the injuries he had to deal with, with the likes of Jack Collinson, Manuel Da Costa and Thomas Hitzlsperger all out for lengthy periods of time. They have all returned in recent weeks and have proven to be key players in the Hammers first eleven and survival bid.

Demba Ba, a player recommended by Steve McClaren who he felt would be worth more to a team than Edin Dzeko; and if you look at the facts so far, the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ got this one spot on. Demba Ba has added power, goals, but, most importantly, competition for places, with the likes of Carlton Cole and Frederick Piquonne appearing to up their games in recent weeks, especially Cole, who has been showing fans and critics alike why over the years clubs like Liverpool have been linked with the forward.

West Ham’s recent resurgence isn’t just down to Ba’s arrival; up step West Ham’s talisman and captain Scott Parker, whose passion, talent and influence was in abundance in West Ham’s recent recovery against West Brom. The Hammers were 3-0 down at half time but fought back to 3-3 and earnt a precious point; after the game numerous players credited Parker’s impressive morale boosting team talk at half time that helped ignite the Hammers recovery.

West Ham’s current premier league position is, in my opinion, a ‘false one’. The spine of the West Ham team is a strong one, with the likes of Robert Green (ignore the World Cup, he is a good goalkeeper), Upson, Noble, Parker and now Ba; and in recent years the successful teams have demonstrated that a solid spine is crucial for the rest of the team to build upon, most evident through Chelsea’s quartet of Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba. I’m not saying West Ham will dominate the Premier League for years to come, but I do feel West Ham have the capabilities in their manager, squad and set-up to give the Olympic Stadium the glorious European nights such a fantastic venue deserves.

25 Years Young or Old?

Posted: March 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

Eating my bowl of frosties while watching Sky’s Sunday Supplement and an interesting point raised by one of the journalists grabbed my attention “Have we seen the best of Wayne Rooney at 25?”

My initial reaction was to laugh off such suggestions; I mean did they not see Rooney’s spectacular overhead kick in the biggest game on the United calendar? But then I thought perhaps moments like this are just a reminder of what Rooney could do in his early days, I mean just short of a year of not being on top of your game, is a bit more than a blip in form.

Think back to Michael Owen, wowed the world at France ’98 with one of the greatest World Cup goals ever against Argentina but by 25 Owen was having numerous periods on the sidelines and having a not very successful period at Real Madrid and even now at 31, while at Manchester United he is in and out of the treatment room and being over looked by such players as Federico Macheda and Javier Hernandez (I refuse to call him Chiquerito). Owen promised great things and he delivered but he genuinely had peaked by 25 and why should Wayne Rooney be any different?

That raises questions on Fernando Torres or El Neno as I prefer to call him. £50 Million for a 25 year old is loose change in today’s game but it is however alot of money for a player perhaps on the decline already. El Neno’s almost petulant behaviour at Liverpool for the last 5 months or so was perhaps just a player that has already seen his glory days and just couldn’t perform to the high standards he had set and kidded himself he needed a new challenge.

I think we all know Torres will come good at Chelsea and Rooney is still a world class striker who has just had a bad year on and off the pitch, but we had seen the best of Robbie Fowler. Michael Owen and Joe Cole by 25(in my opinion anyway) but it certainly is food for thought.

Old age gets the better of all us; unfortunately for Arsenal it hit the majority of the ‘famous five’ at the same time and ever since then Arsenal have been trying to fill the void left by one of the best defensive rearguards in the history of football.

David Seaman, a man who for numerous years rivalled Peter Schmeichel as the best Premier League goalkeeper was always going to be big gloves to fill. Jens Lehmann did a good job in attempting this but like any eccentric German, he was always prone to costly mistakes and comical decisions (most notably with Didier Drogba). When Lehmann moved on, Arsenal were threadbare on experienced goalkeepers with Manuel Almunia the only real stand out name. However, Almunia has never played at international level and has never filled Arsenal fans and football critics alike with much optimism, despite showing some brief signs of brilliance and has, in more recent times, been replaced by Lukasz Fabianski. Wenger has shown faith in the young Pole but Fabianski still hasn’t overcome the rather unfortunate nickname of “Flappihandski” and has cost Arsenal several points this season (most notably his failure to deal with Andy Carroll when Newcastle beat Arsenal 1-0). Up steps Wojciech Szczesny, who has jumped the queue at Arsenal by passing Vito Mannone and Almunia for the number one spot when Fabianski was ruled out for the season. At 6ft 5inches, Fabianski’s international colleague very much resembles a Pole. Szczesny appears to have arrogance about his play, an arrogance that all the great keepers had, that all great keepers need to command their penalty box. Szezesny had a spell on loan at Brentford last season and earned rave reviews, with Brentford Manager Andy Scott claiming “…It has reached the stage where when he lets in a goal you wonder why he hasn’t saved it.” Szezesny still needs time and like Arsenal keepers since Seaman, he has been prone to the odd costly mistake, most recently the horrendous mix up that cost Arsenal the League Cup Final. For now Szezesny has potential, but unlike most players, I feel Wojciech Szezesny will reach his potential and be the man between the sticks at Arsenal for many years to come. However, for Arsenal to reach their own potential as a team, Wenger needs to finally loosen the purse strings and, in this writer’s humble opinion, activate Pepe Reina’s reported £20 million release fee clause.

There has never been any doubt on their day; the current Arsenal side are one of the best passing and free-flowing teams around, however, Arsenal are now in their sixth barren year without a trophy to show for their majestic Iberian-esque attacking football. Many believe it’s due to the lack of experience, quality and leadership at the back. Gone are the days when any Arsenal player from the backline raised their arm as the linesman raised his flag simultaneously. Seaman and the back four of Adams, Keown, Dixon and Winterburn (some argue Steve Bould made it a “back five”) were the complete defensive unit of a side that may have not played beautiful football but had a full trophy cabinet. Wenger has never quite found that rearguard to replace them (with Campbell and Gallas perhaps being the exception for some periods of their Gunners careers), despite trying numerous players in these positions, such as Igor Stepanovs, Pascal Cygan, Phillipe Senderos and now the most recent pairing of Koscielny and Squillaci. All these players have one thing in common; they cost very minimal transfer fees in comparison to the great defenders out there. Wenger has always prided himself on plucking a relative unknown for minimal money and moulding them into a complete footballer; usually with a high success rate, but perhaps less so in the defensive department, with many Arsenal fans and board members issuing their frustrations at this policy of Wenger’s.

I don’t think Arsenal will ever replace the back five; how could you? Leaders like Adams don’t come round too often and ‘safe hands’ isn’t a term used too frequently with all but the most adept modern day goalkeepers. Furthermore, there doesn’t appear to be an awful lot of world class talent coming through the Arsenal system, perhaps Ignasi Miquel will be that missing piece, but as for now, unless Arsene Wenger breaks all his beliefs and spends big on the likes of Gary Cahill or Brede Hangeland, then I’m afraid Arsenal will continue to attack with panache, but defend with malaise.

Barcelona, greatest team ever?

Posted: February 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

A bold statement but a team that consists of the majority of Spain’s 2010 World Cup winning team with the likes of Messi and Dani Alves thrown in for good measure, was always going to be close at defining perfection, but so were Pele’s Brazil, the Dutch team that brought us ‘Total Football’, Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ and Manchester United’s Treble Winning team, to name but a few. There are plenty of worthy rivals for the greatest team ever but Barcelona are certainly raising the stakes.

Barcelona’s players regularly scoop all the individual awards-most recently with Messi pipping Xavi and Iniesta to the 2010 Ballon D’Or- to add to players player, leading goalscorer and, well, the list goes on; but the real ‘x-factor’ about Barcelona is even if you take those players out of the equation, they can be replaced by Pedro, Mascherano and Bojan, a tactical headache any manager would dream of.

Pep Guardiola, a man who cuts a stern yet icy cool exterior on the touchline, is the ‘mastermind’ behind the team that continues to ‘wow’ the world of sport week in week out; and it’s been suggested that Pep Guardiola’s success has a lot to do with him being a product of Barcelona’s very successful youth academy (which has given us such talents as Pique, Xavi and Francesc Fabregas) and thus being in ‘in sync’ with the nature of what FC Barcelona really is: Més que un club (More than a club).

I’m running out of superlatives to describe the talent and achievements of the Catalan Giants, so I now have the ‘impossible’ task of finding flaws in an almost perfect working machine with the aesthetics to go with it; enter Inter Milan who surprised everyone when they convincingly dispatched of the ‘Champions’ League winners elect’ in last season’s semi final. It was a tactical victory for José Mourinho that gave a glimmer of hope to the chasing pack; the signs that Barcelona were beatable continued in this seasons Champions’ League when Russian minnows Rubin Kazan earnt a valuable point against Xavi and co and probably most surprising of all when Barcelona suffered a 2-0 defeat in their second game of the new La Liga campaign, to the newly promoted Hercules. These results prompted predictable responses from the world of football, ‘Barcelona are no longer unbeatable’, but fast forward to now, and Barcelona are five points clear of their main rivals, Real Madrid (who along the way, they thumped 5-0 in one of the greatest exhibitions of football ever) and have broken numerous records along the way, such as having the most points halfway through the season (52) and earning the most consecutive league wins with 16 victories (after their defeat of Atlético Madrid 3–0 at the Camp Nou). Overall, when you take everything into account, it seems to be a truly marvellous response from the supposed ‘fallen giants’ after a few dropped points early in the season.

And so the age old question once again rears its controversial head: ‘Is La Liga really as testing as the Premier League?’ With the Real Madrid era of ‘Galacticos’ appearing to be over and Valencia, while in third, are 17 points off Barca, perhaps it could be argued Barcelona are ‘a big fish in a small pond’, especially when you see stats that Lionel Messi has only scored once in nine games against English teams away from the Camp Nou; the same man who has 113 La Liga goals in only five full seasons.

I suppose, like most things in football, it all comes down to opinion; are Barcelona the greatest attacking team ever? In this humble writer’s opinion: yes.  I can’t even begin to consider swapping the likes of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta for Zidane, Ronaldo or even George Best, but defensively, the likes of Cafu, Malidini or even Carlos Alberto would oust Alves, Pique and Maxwell without much trouble.

Defensively, a work in progress, offensively a work of art.