Archive for July, 2013

Over the Weekend: Manager Hunt Ending, African Football Wrap Up and More


When Barcelona suddenly scheduled a press conference for Friday evening, imaginations initially ran wild as to why. All I could think of was ‘did the Spanish court have a change of mind and decided to throw Messi to jail?’. Before we are quick to judge a non-malicious suggestion of a thought, imaginations on Friday evening narrowed the cause of the sudden press conference to one possibility.

And so it was that manager Tito Vilanova announced his resignation with immediate effect due to health reasons. No, not heartbreak and depression from seeing Thiago Alcantara join the team that gleefully skinned them alive last season, he’s been treating cancer for a while now; treatment which saw him miss a chunk of the second half of last season.

A number of names have been linked to be Vilanova’s replacement. Andre Villas-Boas already reaffirmed his commitment to Tottenham Hotspur, former forward Luis Enrique (who has quite a managerial flair on FM) was heavily linked but Argentine Gerardo Martino seems likely to be the man to take over at the Nou Camp.

While the Catalan club’s hierarchy search for a suitable replacement that will be announced this week, they will also be mulling on what to do with Manchester United’s reported increased bid for midfielder Cesc Fabregas. If that was accepted, Arsenal will have to exercise their first right of refusal there; something too many tense gooners would much welcome.

The Gunners, who beat Nagoya Grampus 3-1 this afternoon, have other meals on their transfer plate, as always. Not pleasant meals however, with Italian side Napoli looking like they’ll get Gonzlo Higuain from Real Madrid; should the Spaniards decide to sell the Argentine striker.

Arsene Wenger, spoilt for choice already with the presence of (preseason) free scoring Olivier Giroud, Yaya Sanogo and Nicklas Bendtner (for now) who isn’t on tour with them, is also in for Luis Suarez and a bid a little over £40m has reportedly been submitted to Liverpool. Wenger trying to get Higuain for £25m was believable… I’m just observing how he’s supposedly bid an amount he’d easily use to get three or four players with ‘great potential’.

One player showing great potential in preseason so far is Jesse Lingard who starred in Man. United’s 5-1 win over an A-League All Stars side in the championd Australian leg of their Asian tour. London side Chelsea are also in Asia, and claimed a 4-1 win over a Malasia XI while Liverpool did a 2-0 on an Indonesia XI.

Back in England, Real Madrid paid an unlikely visit to Bournemouth for a friendly match. Higuain was in town, as was star player Cristiano Ronaldo along with Mesut Ozil, Kaka, Luka Modric, new signing Isco among others as Real came away with a 6-0 stroll of a win.

Master strollers Bayern Munich kept up the habit with a 4-0 win over Hamburg while beaten Champions League finalists Borrusia Dortmund lost by a lone goal to Borussia Monchengladbach and big spending AS Monaco lost by a lone goal as well to German side Augsburg.

Unlike Europe where the football’s only just coming to life for the new season, it’s the business on the African continent. First, this year’s COSAFA Cup, a regional football competition for southern African nations, came to an end with Zambia crowned champions thanks to a 2-0 win over Zimbabwe. South Africa made do with third place after coming from behind to beat Lesotho 2-1, with Lesotho seeing a late penalty saved.

In Nigeria, the league resumed after Federation Cup matches were played a week ago, the group stage of the CAF Confederations Cup kicked off as did the group stage of the CAF Champions League.

In the Nigerian Professional Football League, leaders Kano Pillars saw their lead cut to three points by Bayelsa United after losing at the Yenegoa club by a lone goal on Saturday. Enyimba failed to take full advantage of Pillars’ loss following a 1-1 draw at Nasarawa United to end the weekend third on 35 points, four points off the pace.

In other results, Kwara United dropped to fifth with 34 points after losing 3-1 at Sunshine Stars, city rivals ABS beat Gombe United by a lone goal in Ilorin, Heartland got a lone goal win at home to Warri Wolves to end the visitor’s fine recent winning run, Shooting Stars was held to a goalless draw by Dolphins of Port-Harcourt and Enugu Rangers won 2-0 at home to Nembe City.

Rangers should be taking part in the CAF Confederations but were replaced with Tunisia’s CS Sfaxien following the mess of fielding a player whose transfer from Shooting Stars wasn’t exactly completed at the time, a move Rangers have appealed. Doubt that would come to anything favourable for the Enugu side.

In the competition proper, TP Mazembe of DR Congo drew 1-1 at Entente Sétif of Algeria in a Group B match with FUS Rabat of Morocco and Bizertin of Tunisia playing out same scoreline in the group’s other encounter.

St. George of Ethiopia recorded the first win of the group stage with a 2-0 win over Stade Malien in a Group A match while Tunisian rivals Sfaxien and Etoile du Sahel met in the group’s Sunday night kickoff, with Sfaxien winning that one by a lone goal.

In the CAF Champions League, Orlando Pirates played out a goalless draw at home to AC Leopards of DR Congo and former champions Esperance of Tunisia suffered a lone goal loss at Recreativo do Libolo. The star match comes up on Wednesday night when Egyptian giants Ah Ahly and Zamalek clash in a Cairo derby.

Also during the week, the preseason tours to the ends of the world continue with Man. United in Japan playing Yokohama F Marinos on Tuesday and Cerezo on Friday. Liverpool will be in Australia to face Melbourne Victory on Wednesday, same day Real Madrid will face Olympique Lyon and Bayern Munich tentatively face Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Sky Sports News made me understand that England is cleaning out the Australians in the Ashes test series. I’m not even going to bother with the cricket numbers and pretend I know what most of it mean. In all, England lead the series 2-0 and I presume will take an unassailable lead if they come out tops in the next ‘batting’.

In more sports I know next to nothing about, Phil Mickelson blitzed through the field of competitors to claim the British Open at Muirfield for his fifth Major (ala Grand Slam in tennis). Tiger Woods on his part faded off to sixth no thanks to a poor showing in the final holes.

And finally from a sport that seems straightforward to follow, British rider Chris Froome rode easy to win the 100th edition of the Tour de France (pinnacle of cycling), his first time of going home with the yellow jersey after finishing second behind compatriot Bradley Wiggins last year.

Strange names those, as I’m used to names such as Alberto Contador, the disgraced Lance Armstrong and Mark Cavendish;whose disastrous final day in this year’s competition extinguished whatever thread of hope he had of winning the tour.

That’s all the bit from here today. Happy birthday to John Egbunowon, a very good friend and to all others who are a year older today including footballers Leandro Damião, Stewart Downing, Dirk Kuyt and Dennis Rommedahl. And one of my lovely nieces would be a year old during the week, looking forward to that!

On this day in 1933, Wiley Post became the first person to fly solo around the world, traveling in 7 days, 18 hours and 45 minutes. Now, we wait for the first person to fly solo to outer space and back.

Have a blessed last week of July! The year 2013 is running out yo!

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What Bayern Has (Inadvertently) Caused


When he was on a well earned sabbatical in New York, many football fans must have dreamed of what it would be like to have the man who led Barcelona through a spell of domination in world football join their respective favourite clubs and replicate his success with the Catalans.

It was a rude shock hence, when Pep Guardiola was announced as heir to the dynasty of Juup Heynckes, a man who at the time was on his way to lead the Bavarians to a spectacular treble, with the masterclass over Pep’s former club the crystal bubbles swimming all in that chilled glass of Heineken.

Pep’s ascension at Bayern’s helm was the start of what is turning out to be arguably the busiest and most high profile transfer window ever, with Mario Götze’s switch to Bayern from Borussia Dortmund, a move announced weeks before both met in that dramatic Champions League final which the then Dortmund player unfortunately sat out via injury, causing further stir well before the window opened.

The champions of Europe had made two formidable signings to an already formidable team, and they were made before two of the three titles in the treble were won. Psychological bullying to go with the on-field one they imposed on all season last season.

If Bayern, a team that lost only three matches all of last season; two of those coming at home weirdly, still found it necessary to add Pep and Götze to a team well groomed by a departing Heynckes, a team that had made the Champions League final in three of the last four seasons, then others needed to show their ambition in upstaging the German giants… or at least try to keep up.

Enter Pep’s former club Barça that finally secured the talent of Brazilian ace Neymar from Santos, a player the Catalans could play behind their superman Lionel Messi. But more importantly, Neymar is the signing Barça could rely on when a (12/13) Bayern or (11/12) Chelsea come along with kryptonite.

Then there is Paris Saint-Germain, the French club that has only itself to blame for losing on away goals to Barça in last season’s Champions League quarterfinal.

Le Parisiens paid over €100m to acquire fearsome striker Edinson Cavani from Napoli, defender Marquinhos from AS Roma and left back Lucas Digne from Lille OSC, signings which should be enough to quell the homefront threat of newly promoted AS Monaco that so far have signed Radamel Falcao, Joao Moutinho, Jeremy Toulalan from a very sorry Malaga and James Rodriguez among others.

But the loss of the man responsible for bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura, Director of Football Leonardo, no thanks to his feud with the LFP, could be detrimental on the long run. Cavani’s arrival was his last act and the spotlight will now turn to Laurent Blanc who, for now, is a temporary replacement for Carlo Ancelotti whom they had to let go for Real Madrid.

Los Blancos, losing semi-finalists in the last three Champions League seasons, parted company with manager Jose Mourinho following a fiasco of a season that saw them come out tops in the 2012/13 series of the El Clasico but fall short where it mattered elsewhere, culminating in the embarrassing defeat to Dortmund in the Champions League semi-final first leg.

Florentino Perez has since paid top dollar to get Ancelotti as Mourinho’s replacement, Isco from a sorry Malaga and Asier Illarramendi from Real Sociedad while also soothing the ego that is Cristiano Ronaldo and holding on to Gonzalo Higuain till interested clubs do like he’s done in the market or the window closes – whichever comes first.

The latter in the above has frustrated Arsenal’s bid to bolster the perennially underachieving talented club, forcing the north Londoners to consider bidding £40m for Liverpool forward Luis Suarez. Which begs the question, why not hand that amount to get Higuain who is your true target in the window?

If indeed Arsenal are looking to piss Real off or force their hand in the Higuain deal by bidding for Suarez, who is admired at the Bernabeu, the Gunners could end up the biggest loser since Real have nothing to lose really while Liverpool aren’t a financially weak side, the type Arsenal enjoy poaching.

The Reds themselves have signed a few in order to help their cause of performing far better in the league at least, although losing out to Dortmund in the race for Mkhitaryan’s signature from Shakhtar Donetsk put a bad dent on that.

Along with the signing of Pierre Emerick Aubemayang from St. Etienne and the will to see Robert Lewandowski play in the yellow and black for the coming season (at least), his final season on his contract with them, Jurgen Klopp has a side that can perform as well as it did last season. You will recall, they lost the Bundesliga to Bayern, lost in the quarterfinal of the German Cup to Bayern and lost in the final of the big one to… yes, them again.

It would be interesting to have Dortmund drawn in the Champions League group stage with Real and Manchester City again. Would Klopp still come out top of the group with a smirk on him? Would Ancelotti and Zidane have made Real better? Can City qualify from the group stage in their third attempt? That would be Manuel Pellegrini’s true test in his first season as the manager of the ‘noisy neighbours’.

Employed from a very very sorry Malaga side, Pellegrini has pretty much stated that ‘eez nuffin’ for City to win the Premier League and do very well in Europe. Time will tell. For now, the arrivals of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Alvrado Negredo hold promise for the Citizens, as does the impending confirmation of Stevan Jovetic’s signing.

The activity at the blue side of Manchester poses a real threat to reigning league champions Manchester United that are still sulking from the inevitable retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and the appointment of David Moyes whose presence is understandably underwhelming.

There’s also the loss of the race for Thiago Alcantara’s signature to none other than Bayern Munich as well as Kevin Strootman’s departure to AS Roma from PSV Eindhoven after being well followed for long by the Red Devils.

They do have Robin van Persie’s goals to bank on but he can only play so many games on the trot, which makes reinforcing the squad with a quality signing or two; hence, going (rather vainly) after Cesc Fabregas, and/or (mostly ‘or’) keeping Wayne Rooney (since he’s now an accomplished midfielder, to his subtle dismay) Moyes’ most important preseason task.

The thought of keeping a player at a club where he’s previously had transfer trouble with may entirely not be a good idea, leaving a hopeful silver lining for the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea who are very interested in the 27 year old Nike UK athlete.

Why Chelsea would want Rooney following the signings of Andre Schurlle and Marco van Ginkel, coupled with the return from loan of Kevin de Bruyne and Romelo Lukaku to complement a squad comprising Juan Mata, Eden Hazard, Oscar, Victor Moses, Ramires, Demba Ba (yes!) and Fernando Torres (no sarcasm here)… just why? To bully the competition of course.

Otherwise City wouldn’t have bought those players, PSG probably didn’t need to get Cavani though Digne and Marquinhos were needed, sort of. Barça too probably didn’t need to get Neymar but Bayern left quite the scar.

Real would tell you Illarramendi’s for the future and Isco adds depth to a squad headed in that department by Mesut Ozil, ably backed by Luka Modric and Kaka… and Juventus, Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente to complement Fabio Quagliarella, Matri and Sebastien Giovinco?

Bayern tops all that with Gotze and Alcantara joining up with Thomas Muller, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Franck Ribery, Arjen bipolar Robben, Mario Mandzukic, Javi Martinez, Xherdan Shaqiri, Luis Gustavo… and that’s just the midfield up. So unfair. Oh, and Toni Kroos who sat out the titles’ run-in last season injured. Such bulls!

It’s no contest that these are the clubs that would figure prominently in their respective leagues’ title race. Their performance among Europe’s elite is where the spotlight would really be.

Finally, the bullish nature of these clubs just goes to show how well thought through by UEFA the Financial Fair Play rule was, a rule that has as its victims this season an oh so verily very very sorry Malaga and Turkish side Besiktas among others whose financial muscles aren’t so Tyson.

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Over the Weekend: Brazil on Fire, Pirelli’s Bad Tyres, Goodbye Oliha & More


The Brazilian national team have inadvertently granted their government massive reprieve by winning the Confederations Cup to appease a population discontent with the government; mostly triggered by a recent increase in bus fares and sustained by the amounts spent to ensure the South American nation successfully host next year’s World Cup and the Olympic Games in 2016.

For the moment, the manner of the Samba Boys’ 3-0 humbling of Spain, achieved through a Fred brace early in each half either side of a Neymar striker, will be remembered for a long time in the same manner Bayern Munich’s masterclass over Barcelona in the semifinal of last season’s UEFA Champions League is remembered.

Worthy of being remembered as well is the third place match between Italy and Uruguay, a match of three well taken freekicks which the Italians eventually won 3-2 on penalties after scores was level at 2-2 after regular and extra time.

Victory for the Italians was ensured by Juventus stalwart Gianluigi Buffon who saved three penalties in the shootout and redeem (or more like reaffirm) his status as a legendary goalkeeper, which was brought to question in regular time by Edinson Cavani’s brace for the reigning South American champions.

Cavani’s goals, including a 78th minute peach of a freekick to get Uruguay on level terms again, would certainly tempt Napoli president De Laurentis to increase his €63m valuation of the striker who has been linked to Real Madrid and Chelsea.

Brazil goalkeeper Julio Cesar’s value could’ve increased as well if he wasn’t on the books of Championship side QPR… but not for long if reports that he is Arsenal bound are to be followed. Heading to north London with him is midfielder Paulinho, but to the White Hart Lane side of NL, whose fans would surely be highly expectant of his arrival following a good display at the Confederations Cup.

Already highly expectant are Barcelona fans of Neymar who put in another good display to further more debunk arguments that he may be a tad bit overrated. Imagine a front trio there with him and Pedro just behind Lionel Messi, ably supported by Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets or Fabregas… or Thiago Alcantara who basically snubbed Manchester United via Instagram on Saturday (damn, that’s just cold blooded!).

In danger of getting snubbed as well, unless they find a fix to the mess of rubber made in Formula 1 is Pirelli, whose tyres ensured the British Grand Prix at Silverstone was eventful to the extreme while costing championship leader Sebastien Vettel valuable points.

It all started in the practice sessions when Sergio Perez suffered a punctured tyre. Then Mark Webber damaged his front wing at the very start of race proper, debris from which may have caused home favourite Lewis Hamilton’s left rear tyre getting destroyed in the eighth lap to have him relinquish his lead, followed by Ferrari’s Felipe Massa who suffered exactly same fate at same area on the track as Hamilton in the 11th lap… followed soon after by Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne with the same puncture.

Vergne later became the first driver to retire on the day after 37 laps and was soon followed out by Vettel after the German driver lost his gearbox while in the lead. Then Perez’s terrible weekend came to an end as he had to retire from the race with a tyre failure in the 46th lap.

Hamilton recovered very well from last position to tussle for third spot and a podium finish with Fernando Alonso, but eventually settled for fourth. Massa did well too to come from well behind and finish in sixth, just behind a seemingly weary Kimi Raikkonen.

In the end, Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg (friends with Lukas Podolski) won the dramatic race, holding off the late charge of Red Bull’s Webber by 0.7 seconds while Alonso finished third after he usurped Raikkonen.

As for the tyre drama, blame is in fact being pointed at the teams after it was revealed that three teams had voted against Pirelli bringing in new tyres made specifically for the Silverstone track, tyres which were secretly tested with the Mercedes team earlier in the season, around the time David Moyes was revealed as Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at Manchester United.

The Scotsman officially begins work at Old Trafford today; as does Manuel Pellegrini down the road at the Etihad, with the transfer situation with Wayne Rooney his prime concern for the moment. The Red Devils also have had a £12m bid for Leighton Baines rejected by their manager’s former club Everton.

To ease the bit of headache for him on the transfer front and in the backroom where Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen have left is the appointment of Steve Round as his assistant along with a couple more entrants to OT from his backroom staff at Goodison Park.

Wrapping up, it is sad to hear of the death of former Super Eagles midfielder Thompson Oliha, aged 44. Until his death, Oliha was the head coach of the Kwara Football Academy (KFA) in Ilorin, Kwara State. May he soul rest in peace, amen.

On that note, it’s a wrap from me. Looking forward to Nigeria’s U20 national team take on their Uruguayan counterparts on Tuesday in a second round match at the ongoing World Youth Championship in Turkey. All the best to the Flying Eagles there, vengeance must be attained following the Super Eagles’ loss to Uruguay at the Confederations Cup last week.

Before then Wimbledon resumes today with Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray scheduled to play against veterans Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny respectively.

On this day in 1903, the first Tour de France began and today, the 100th edition of cycling’s most prestigeous competition rode off. Also on this day in 1881, the world’s first international telephone call was made between St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada and Calais, Maine in the United States. Today however, my sister in the bedroom could call me; just right there in the living room, on my mobile when a simple yell of my name would suffice… if I’m bothered enough to answer.

Today also marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Abramovich era at Chelsea, the birthday of former American athlete Carl Lewis (52), American rapper Missy Elliott (42), former Dutch internationals Patrick Kluivert and Ruud van Nistelrooij (both 37)and actress Liv Tyler from the Lord of the Rings fame (36).

Late Princess Diana was born today in 1961 as was Carol Chomsky, deceased wife of foremost linguist and political analyst Noam Chomsky. And today marks the ninth anniversary of the death of actor Marlon Brando.

Have a great week ahead wherever you are, mine began yesterday with my brother’s birthday. Many happy returns to him and to everyone else celebrating this week. Cheers!

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