Posts Tagged gareth bale

Over the Weekend: Hewitt on Course for Djokovic Match, Bale Sale Sealed and More

Barack Obama went George Bush on Iraq, on Syria when he declared that the United States will get a military campaign going in the Middle Eastern nation. Then Yung6ix did a Kendrick on Control, on twitter when he declared himself best rapper in Nigeria. Then I went… no, I only did the needed, picked beans for the week while watching as much sports as I could. Here goes…

Years ago when Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi were the Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic of tennis, a certain Australian was the Andy Murray that tended to upset the balance every now and then till injuries ravaged his career to a halt and allowed Roger Federer and Nadal reign supreme after Sampras and Agassi were done dominating tennis.

Over the weekend however, Lleyton Hewitt rolled back the years as he first upset sixth seed Juan Martin del Potro in a thrilling five set second round win before getting a 6-3 7-6 (7-5) 3-6 6-1 win over Evgeny Donskoy and make the fourth round at the US Open for the first time in seven years.

It is an unlikely run for the 32 year old Hewitt who will now face either Mikhail Youzhny or Tommy Haas, fellow 30+ year olds against whom he holds healthy head-to-head records, thus making him favourite to set up a potential quarterfinal match with world number one Novak Djokovic.

The Serbian top seed was ruthless as he dropped just three games on his way to a straight sets win in his third round match, and was joined in the fourth round by defending champion Andy Murray who also won his match against German Florian Mayer in straight sets, having beat Leonardo Mayer of Argentina (no relation to Florian) in the previous round.

Also through to the last 16 is Tomas Berdych who has greatly impressed at Flushing Meadows and hasn’t dropped a set so far while in the women’s section, defending champion Serena Williams won her last 16 clash with Sloane Stephens; the young woman touted to replace her soon, in straight sets to set up a quarterfinal against Spanish 18th seed Carla Navarro.

While Navarro flies Spain’s flag proudly far away at New York, the natives back at her home would surely be forgiven for being distracted by activity from the Santiago Bernabeu, home of is-money-your-problem? side Real Madrid.

And Samuel Eto’o must have gone ‘been there, done that’ when confirmation of Gareth Bale’s world record transfer to Real was made. No, not because of the £85.3m/€100m transfer fee involved but because of the weekly wage the Welsh winger’s set to earn… a staggering £300,000, or not.

Bale’s weekly earnings will actually be £170,000 after tax, so yes, Eto’o can still feel good about himself that he once earned all three hundred grand every week while at Russian club Anzhi before his move to Chelsea where he’ll ‘humbly’ be earning around £135,000 every week.

More importantly, Bale’s record move – which eclipses the one that brought Cristiano Ronaldo to the Bernabeu – will not see him earn more than the Portuguese ace so egos may be bruised slightly but definitely not entirely upset eventually.

Putting pen to a six year deal ends the highlight saga in this year’s transfer window and thanks to the hierarchy governing when to shut that window, we may yet witness quite a number of high profile players move around in a domino effect off Bale’s transfer before the end of the day.

One such muted move sees Mesut Ozil suddenly close to sealing a €45m move from Real Madrid to Arsenal on a €7m per annum salary while Kaka could leave the Bernabeu for AC Milan for free four seasons after leaving Milan for Madrid for £56m. Lord!

There’s talk of Luis Suarez leaving Liverpool for money no be problem Madrid, a move which could see Karim Benzema leave the Bernabeu for none other than Arsenal just as Angel di Maria reportedly remains an option for the Gunners.

Simply put, today’s the sort of day the fainthearted stay offline and avoid the legendary and infamous rush of transfer day deadline updates… a day trolls will reign, medicals will hold, moves will break down at the last detail and what not. E! is the perfect channel for your kind, or a channel showing reruns of matches from over the weekend… just so the football fan in you stays sane.

A fainthearted Arsenal fan for instance would be very pleased to watch the club’s 1-0 win over Tottenham Hotspur in Sunday’s north London derby, a match Mathieu Flamini made a telling second Arsenal debut and which was settled by Olivier Giroud’s well taken strike early on.

That win helped the Gunners rise to fourth on the Premier League table with six points, going above their £107m spent neighbours by virtue of goals scored, and champions Manchester United that fell two points behind after a lone goal loss at archrivals Liverpool.

On a day new players Victor Moses (on loan from Chelsea) and Mamadou Sakho were in the stands, some way off a disgruntled England manager Roy Hodgson, it was Daniel Sturridge’s instinctive finish – his third in as many – that settled the battle of the Reds at Anfield and hand the winning Reds a third win in as many matches and a two point lead atop the league table.

In some other Premier League matches, second half goals from Alvaro Negredo and Yaya Toure’s sweet freekick got Man. City a 2-0 win at home to stubborn Hull City (Tigers [never forget]), Swansea City won 2-0 as well at West Brom and Everton drew a third consecutive match in a goalless stalemate at Cardiff City.

Jermaine Pennant’s freekick helped Stoke City to a lone goal win at West Ham United and fifth place, Paolo di Canio was left miffed and ‘brainless’ was used as a qualifier after Sunderland’s 3-1 loss at Crystal Palace while ‘sublime’ would be a suitable qualifier to describe Hatem Ben Arfa’s late strike in Newcastle United’s lone goal win at home to Fulham.

In Italy, Juventus bashed Lazio 4-1 on Saturday with Carlos Tevez scoring the final goal there and help Juve maintain a perfect start to the season, though last season’s runners-up Napoli now lead the league thanks to goals scored following a 4-2 win at Chievo Verona.

Inter Milan and AS Roma follow Napoli on the table with six points apiece following respective 3-0 wins against Catania and Hellas Verona, with Fiorentina now in fourth with six points as well – ahead of Juve thanks to goals scored – as a brace each from Giuseppe Rossi and Mario Gomez sealed a 5-2 at Genoa while AC Milan won 3-1 at home to Cagliari for their first league win.

PSG got a second league win after four Ligue 1 matches as stoppage time goals from Adrien Rabiot and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw off Guingamp and lift the reigning champions to fourth on the table with eight points, two points behind new leaders AS Monaco that came from behind to claim a 2-1 pyhrric win at Olympique Marseille; a match Monaco’s Radamel Falcao scored the equaliser before going off injured.

In Spain, Lionel Messi put his recent injury troubles behind with a first half hattrick that helped Barcelona to a 3-2 win at Valencia whose goals were scored by Helder Postiga before half time. The win left Barça top of the league with nine points, just ahead of Atletico Madrid that beat Real Sociedad 2-1 on Sunday.

City rivals Real lie fourth but also with nine maximum points so far courtesy of a 3-1 win over fifth placed Athletic Bilbao while newly promoted Villarreal kept up their surreal start to the season with a 3-0 win at bottom-without-a-point Osasuna with Nigerian striker Ikechukwu Uche scoring the third there.

Elsewhere, Kevin Gameiro scored twice as Sevilla came twice from behind to draw 2-2 at home to Malaga while Espanyol and Celta Vigo remain unbeaten in sixth and seventh respectively, with Espanyol playing a goalless draw with Nosa Igiebor’s Real Betis and Celta being held 1-1 by Granada on Saturday.

Borussia Dortmund meanwhile remain unbeaten and with a perfect record even after four Bundesliga matches, securing a hardfought 2-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt to regain top spot from Bayern Munich that is two points behind on 10 points.

A trio of teams failed to take advantage of Bayern’s 1-1 slip last week at Freiburg, with Bayer Leverkusen losing 1-0 at Schalke to remain on nine points in third, Mainz losing 4-1 at Hannover 96 to drop to fifth place on nine points behind their conquerors on goal difference while Hertha Berlin lost 2-0 at Wolfsburg to remain on seven points in sixth place.

Moving on to African football, Orlando Pirates maintained top spot in Group A of the CAF Champions League despite falling 2-1 at Zamalek of Egypt. The South Africans, with seven points, however lead on goal difference ahead of second placed Zamalek and their fellow Egyptians Al Ahly that beat Congo’s AC Leopards 2-1 in the other group match.

In Group B, Esperance of Tunisia opened a two point lead thanks to their lone goal win over Sewe Sport in Tunis and Cotonsport’s 1-1 draw at Recreativo do Libolo, a draw that left Cotonsport in second place with seven points.

Finally in the Nigeria Professional Football League, Bayelsa United now lead the table with 49 points following a 1-0 win over Sharks on Sunday. The Yenegoa club is followed by champions Kano Pillars that won 2-1 at home to Enugu Rangers while Enyimba dropped to third with 47 points after a goalless draw at Dolphins on Saturday.

In other matches, ABS of Ilorin drew 1-1 at Shooting Stars of Ibadan, Akwa United thrashed visiting Sunshine Stars 4-0 and Heartland recorded a 1-0 win at second from bottom Wikki Tourists of Bauchi.

On this day, tennis legend Jimmy Connors was born in 1952. Others born on this day include delectable actress Salma Hayek in 1966, former boxing Briton Lennox Lewis in 1965, Malian striker Freddy Kanoute in 1977 and my favourite actor Keanu Reeves in 1964. You should watch his latest film 42 Ronin.

Others born on this day include Liverpool legend Bill Shankly, Bayern Munich’s Spanish midfielder Javi Martinez, former ‘next big thing’ from Brazil Alexadre Pato, English midfielder and twitter troublemaker Joey Barton and Nigerian defender Danny Shittu.

Sadly (or not), Shittu isn’t on the 23-man list of players named by Super Eagles manager Stephen Keshi (and approved by the NFF) for this weekend’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Malawi in Calabar.

All the best to the Super Eagles in that match, and to you in the month of September.

Have a great day ahead. Wenger, you too… please!

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Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 2

Seeing as that game I returned to on football manager was lost eventually, thus adding propane to my already blazing virtual hatred for Javier Hernandez, it’s better to indulge in this writing distraction some more and salvage my season afterwards. Something I fear Arsenal will end up doing yet again this season in the league.

Arsenal could’ve been a true title contender if £55m was spent on Gonzalo Higuain and Marouane Fellaini/some other workhorse of a midfielder such as Luiz Gustavo who’s recent link turned out as nothing having now signed for Wolfsburg. Even Jack Rodwell, if the club had made an effort to sign him early in the window, would have been a very good signing for me.

Alas! Arsène Wenger’s let the economist he is get the better of him so far, to the detriment of his dearly beloved club. News of Mikel Arteta being set to miss four to six weeks with a thigh strain has further dimmed the optimists at the Emirates Stadium, something a Gustavo arrival would’ve prevented.

Wenger’s previously been always on about how the quality players who can fit into the Arsenal way are not on the market or the money to get them isn’t available. A first XI’s worth of those were available this transfer window as was the money (let’s give him and Gazidis the benefit of doubt on the money bit), yet it came down to him expecting Brendan Rodgers to be the fool this year and sell a prized asset to a rival. Such delusion!

Wenger’s continued stance to not adapt entirely to the transfer market dynamics (despite the clear fact that breaking ‘the bank’ for two quality players will not scratch Arsenal’s finances) will have Arsenal not in the running for the league title once more. The Gunners however could finish higher than usual in third, if his (a bit thin) squad, show the grit and form from the closing weeks of last season.

Having virtually same set of players allows for a sustained progression, off that close season run from the night in Bavaria which every player at the club would readily want to remind fans and critics alike. But injuries (as Arteta’s might show), possible suspensions and inevitable burnouts (Cazorla and Giroud will testify) will greatly threaten that.

The best Arsenal can do now is win a Cup, something they embarrassingly refrained most casually from doing last season. That would tear a veil of sustained failure from the club’s loins and set it on track for further successes, especially in the league.

Take a look at Swansea City. Despite switching off in the league for about two months after romping to the Capital One Cup, one can argue that the Swans had a relatively better last season than Arsenal. It was understandable that the Welsh team, with a decent (numerical) but very talented squad, faded in the league after winning a Cup.

Which makes the summer signings there all the more impressive. Wilfried Bony hit 30+ goals last season. You may want to be condescending about it since it was only the Dutch league, then you remember, a lot of very good players such as Luis Suarez came from that league. Make no mistake, Bony and Michu will bring torment upon the rest of the league and I expect that to start right from Matchday One, fittingly against the reigning champions.

Michael Laudrup did very well to keep Ashley Williams at the club, my thought being that Laudrup played the Sinclair card there. He also did well to get Jonathan de Guzman back on loan for a second season just as the arrival of Jonjo Shelvey gives his midfield more depth to ensure they put up a commedable display in their debut in Europe while also faring better than last season in the league.

In fact I feel the Swans can finish in the top 5 this season, making them the biggest threat; not Tottenham Hotspur, not Liverpool and certainly not Everton, to the teams that finished in the top four last season. I’m even envisaging Liverpool having a better season than Spurs would… it’s just a thought, I don’t necessarily believe it but it’s an enticing thought.

Of all the pretenders, Spurs have quite a bit to prove largely no thanks to the Modric-esque saga of Gareth Bale. The Welsh winger should’ve been cashed in, replaced with Gervinho (who’s now at Roma) or a Scott Sinclair with a fraction of the transfer fee received, using the rest to bring in good defenders. Instead, Spurs will start the season with a makeshift defence.

The arrivals of striker Roberto Soldado, winger Nacer Chadli and midfielders Paulinho and Etienne Capoue add needed potency and stability to their respective positions. Succeeding in keeping Bale would go a long way as well, but the defence – if left without reinforcement – will be their undoing this season.

Spurs’ back line is up for easy picking this season, as newly promoted Ligue 1 side Monaco vehemently showed the world just over a fortnight ago. Jan Vertonghen’s absence should’ve been highlighted much more than Bale’s was. Even then, having him fit does little to sort the similarities with a poorly built structure in ghetto Lagos.

The backline at Anfield is in a fairly better state, Simon Mignolet is a good goalkeeper, Glen Johnson, Jose Enrique and Aly Cissoko on loan from Valencia are good full backs and while not world class, the combination of Martin Skrtel, Sebastien Coates, Daniel Agger and Kolo Toure at the centre should be decent enough through the course of the season.

Liverpool’s midfield is usually climatic; one day piss poor irrelevant only to be championship (no, not the lower league) material the next day, and Philppe Coutinho – along with a fit Lucas Leiva – will be central to whatever orchestrations are composed from there this season for a forward line that actually can be impressive on their day. Given, Daniel Sturridge can be a pipe of a player at times, he always is a threat in the area.

Suarez may sulk through the opening weeks of the league but fortunately (when the big picture is well observed) for the Reds, he’s going to sit out the opening six matchdays… enough time to quell a good number of the demons toying with his emotions about leaving Anfield or staying.

Unlike Christian Benteke who had a sudden epiphany at Villa Park and signed an extension to his Aston Villa stay, the latest instalment in Suarez’s eventful time at Anfield could end up being a good catalyst that’ll see Rodgers’s side having a real go at Champions League qualification next May. It is Suarez’s desire to play Champions League football, Rodgers is very determined to keep the Uruguayan forward at the club hence, the ambition there would be to finish in the top four this season or have little choice than to let go of their prized asset.

Rodgers (AVB and maybe Moyes too) obviously hasn’t sought Paul Lambert’s advice on such matter, seeing as the Aston Villa manager managed to keep his prized asset. Not to say Villa will fare greatly this season but Benteke’s presence upfront, along with Brad Guzan’s in goal, will help Lambert steer Villa through a decent season.

Lambert’s former club Norwich however look like they’ll fare better this season, with Ruddy back in goal after missing most of last season injured. Then there are the quite impressive signings of strikers Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel, arrivals that should ensure the club won’t miss Grant Holt who now plays at Birmingham City.

Newcastle United have reinforced their options upfront, adding Loic Remy on loan from QPR and Yoann Gouffran on a permanent basis from Ligue 1. The Magpies also got right back Mathieu Debuchy from the French league, to add to the dominantly French speaking squad, which the club would hope translates to a good enough season fighting for a Europa League spot at best.

Yohan Cabaye, Hatem Ben Arfa, Sylvain Marveaux and Moussa Sissoko will be key in midfield for Alan Pardew’s side, who also has the options of Cheick Tiote, Jonas Gutierrez, Gabriel Obertan and Dan Gosling to make for quite a decent group of midfield players at St. James’ Park to last a gruelling season.

Pardew will also be pleased to have Remy and Gouffran to call upon now should first choice striker Papiss Cisse fail to show a more lethal touch in front of goal as he largely did last season. All that said, Newcastle have the potential to finish in the top half of the league and even go for a spot in next season’s Europa League.

Newcastle, on paper, should perform better than Everton even. Unlike Pardew who’s been at St. James’ for a bit, Roberto Martinez is new at Goodison, but that’s about it really. Martinez is a talented manager who is attack minded, a philosophy players such as Marouane Fellaini, Leighton Baines, Stephen Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas, new signing Arouna Kone and, to an extent, Bryan Oviedo, Victor Anichebe and Nikica Jelavic can live up to.

Martinez couldn’t deliver much while at Wigan Athletic due to a shambolic defence. He however has a resilient set of defenders at Goodison Park so all he can hope for is that the players deliver in the final third for him. It’s that or opposing teams will pick the Toffees apart on the counter and Tim Howard then won’t be able to keep balls from the net.

There’ll be goal line technology to assist Howard and other Premier League goalkeepers and defenders settle controversial moments now, having being installed in all Premier League stadia. Could end up being the difference between a team being relegated or staying up.

My favourites for relegation this season include West Brom; now without Lukaku who’s back at Chelsea and still with a poor back line, Stoke City now managed by Mark Hughes, Hull City despite some decent signings and whose chairman wants to change the club’s name to Hull City Tigers… rugby union behaviour!

There’s also Crystal Palace (and I promise you it’s not because Marouane Chamakh has joined them) and Cardiff City; promising dealings in the transfer market but still doesn’t seem right to me. I’d like to be proven wrong with Cardiff though.

Fulham and West Ham should do well for a midtable finish, as should Southampton ably led by Ricky Lambert. Sunderland, with almost a new set of first team players signed so far, including American forward Jozy Altidore and Italian midfielder Emanuele Giaccherini from Juventus, Black Cats manager Paolo Di Canio could leave quite a good impression on the league this season. (Wanted to comment on the quality of his goal tenders but that would overshadow the potential of the rest of the team, so… ).

… so I’ll end it here and look forward to the opening weekend, which kicks off at Anfield where Liverpool host Stoke City in the early kickoff. Arsenal then host Aston Villa, Manchester City welcome Newcastle’s French gang to the Etihad, Chelsea host Hull City (Tigers) and champions United embark on a tricky trip to face Swansea in Saturday’s evening kickoff.

Here’s to another entertaining season. And to all Arsenal fans… just take it easy.

Liverpool vs. Stoke City (12:45)
Arsenal vs. Aston Villa (15:00)
Norwich City vs. Everton (15:00)
Sunderland vs. Fulham (15:00)
West Ham United vs. Cardiff City (15:00)
West Brom vs. Southampton (15:00)
Swansea City vs. Manchester United (17:30)

Crystal Palace vs.Tottenham Hotspur (13:30)
Chelsea vs. Hull City (16:00)

Manchester City vs. Newcastle United (20:00)

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Thoughts on Barça’s Humbling

The first leg embarrassment was heartwarming and fun to watch, but the second leg of Barcelona’s 7-0 aggregate loss to Bayern Munich at the semi-final stage of club football’s biggest competition left me immensely perplexed at what had happened. Someone literally signalled ‘shut your mouth’ at me minutes after the third goal went in.

All night Barcelona never looked like scoring and each time they tried to threaten, times they actually got a shot towards goal, it simply was a part in Manuel Neuer’s training session schedule. The one real save he made was from a Cesc Fabregas shot from outside the area, which says a lot about both teams.

On one foot, Barcelona’s undoing wasn’t entirely down to Lionel Messi’s absence from the match; which unlike the first leg was because he was actually absent and not metaphorically so. It wasn’t even majorly down to that I believe, since there are matches that Barça have won without Messi in the past as well as lost with Messi involved.

Barça’s undoing was, and has been, basically down to the other members of the team (keyword) not rising to the occasion when they needed to. Hence, the convenience of Dani Alves (and to an extent, Gerard Pique) suggesting after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss that an alternative to their Messi reliance must be found.

Truth is, Barcelona have always had the alternative to Messi’s reliance. David Villa was a fearsome striker when he arrived from Valencia, as was Alexis Sanchez when he did from Udinese. And Fabregas? He was the instrument used, to devastating effect, to bring the false 9 formation to life at last year’s Euros with Spain.

That’s three alternatives already, ably backed by a midfield comprising Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez who can keep the ball as long as their feet pleases and deliver a buffet of passes to the danger area as often as they see someone make the right run or create just about enough space to shoot at goal.

Last night, none of that happened. Other than Fabregas’ first half effort, Xavi shot over from close range (before desperately, amusingly, seeking for non-extant penalty), Pedro sent weak shots at Neuer… it overall was the worst struggle I’d seen Barça made to put up in seasons, bringing us to the other foot.

The Bayern team let their host have the ball and try to conjure something with the possession and passes before nicking it and countering. On one such occasion, Arjen Robben was sent clean through on goal… but the persona in him we hate decided to try dribbling the last recovering defender when proving to the world yet again what an overrated footballer Victor Valdes is was the only option on the menu.

Then there was another moment when Robben cut in from the right to the edge of the penalty area but kept going on the edge before his eventually taken shot was blocked when the option to lay the ball to the man on the left was there. He had taken that option at a point in similar circumstance in the first leg and it almost led to a goal then.

If you noticed, the ball hardly went to the right for the rest of the first half after those moments, and when the ball did go there, Philip Lahm was usually the recipient. Now you see why the perfomances of full backs are usually judged upon the wingers ahead of them.

But that changed in the second half and that one change was what led to the three further blows Barça got, with Robben not trying to dilly dally on the ball but be incisive with it hence, the cut back and shot that was the first goal.

After that Bayern served their host a full dish of their tikitaka meal, along with fingerlings that were the further two goals from Pique’s own goal and Thomas Müller’s header for a comprehensive and overly deserved victory.

The Catalans had not just been defeated on their hallowed grass, they’d been rolled over with a foot to face the sky by their German dementors, spat and urinated on severally and left to begin to come to terms with the severe humbling they’d just been put through.

In the end, a reliance on Messi is Barça’s actual strength, their most powerful tactic which works most of the time. But when the maestro is unavailable, can the alternatives show up?

It therefore should be that since Messi will be chosen upfront all the time ahead of natural 9s (I honestly still don’t see Messi as one), then Barça should quit buying the Villas, Zlatans, Sanchezes, Eto’os and instead, get a Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard or Franck Ribery who can actually provide from the wings rather than a striker turned pseudo-winger.

Till then, Barça will continue relying on Messi to deliver the goods and he will most of the time, killing a few more highly potential careers along. But on days when he meets an inspired midfield and/or defence like at the San Siro against AC Milan or against Bayern in both legs (using Iniesta as yardstick for Bayern’s efficiency in the second leg), well… goodbye.

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During the Week: 40’s the New 30, Reckless Joey and More

In some cases where one is determined (or desperate) to get a romantic relationship started (or keep an already existing one going) with that one older person, “age is nothing but a number” gets uttered. For Taribo West however, age became an unwanted topic.

The former Nigerian international, among a few (like Mario Balotelli and Zlatan Ibrahimovic) to have played for both Milan clubs, was commented on (whatever for) by a former Partizan Belgrade President. And indeed Zarko Zecevic was enthusing about erstwhile Pastor Taribo’s time at Belgrade, stating that West played well during his stint there.

Problem is, Zecevic indicated in his compliment that West was a good dozen years older than he claimed to be when he joined the club in 2002, saying the former defender was actually 40 years old rather than the 28 he claimed to be. Meaning Taribo will be 51 years old now rather than 39 as found when you ask Google or check his wikipedia page.

Apart from (perhaps) inadvertently and innocently staining what was intended to be complimetary remarks, Zecevic by so saying has given the suspicion on the eligibility of a number of Nigeria’s historic Atlanta 96 winning team another attempt at resurrection.

Taribo has debunked the comments by Zecevic, saying “I have my record in the professional League with Obanta United since the 1990’s and all along, I have been keeping with my true age.” while also pondering why it is now such matter has been raised, almost a decade after he left the club.

Age falsification has been a menace in Nigerian sports, so much it has become banter among football lovers in the country, especially when the male and female junior national football teams participate in international competitions.

For some time, another source of banter, via his tweets, has been English midfielder Joey Barton who is on loan at Olympique Marseille from Queens Park Rangers and has tweeted certain (un)popular opinions about the end of his tumultuous time at Newcastle United, matters involving him at QPR, players called up or otherwise to the English national team and, among others, Justin Bieber.

However, his tweet in which he referred to Thiago Silva – of archrivals Paris Saint Germain – as an overweight ladyboy has landed the very opinionated Barton in some trouble, with PSG threatening to take legal action against the player and his club while the French Football Federation ethics committee will now look into the matter with a view to suspending Barton from competitive matches for the comments.

Barton and l’OM have since released a statement, apologising to PSG (which would be a rather humbling experience for l’OM) and to the Brazilian defender for the comments made soon after PSG’s dramatic 2-2 draw at home to Barcelona in a UEFA Champions League first leg quarterfinal match.

Despite starting the match on Tuesday night in rampaging manner and being denied a goal by the post, PSG fell behind some minutes to half time when a delightful Dani Alves pass over the defence found none other than Lionel Messi.

The drama came in a Messi-less second half when PSG equalised midway through the second half via a Zlatan rebound with Zlatan clearly offside. Xavi would then put Barça back in front from the penalty spot with a minute left in normal time, only for Victor Valdes to (amusingly) fail in keeping out a rather tame Blaise Matuidi shot four minutes into stoppage time.

Tuesday night’s other encounter saw David Alaba* score the competition’s second fastest goal ever – at 25.02 seconds – as Bayern Munich once again put up an efficient performance in a comfortable 2-0 win over Juventus at the Allianz Arena.

Real Madrid put up an even more precisive display on Wednesday
night in easing to a 3-0 win over Galatasaray at the Bernabeu, while elsewhere in Spain, Borussia Dortmund showed just how a team can be wasteful in front of goal in its goalless draw at Malaga.

Swiss side FC Basel showed a bit of Real Madrid and Dortmund on Thursday night in a Europa League quarterfinal clash at Tottenham Hotspur, racing to a 2-0 lead and missing further chances as Spurs fought back to claim a costly 2-2 draw.

Andre Villas-Boas had described his players as being “superior” compared to the Basel side ahead of that match, yet it was Basel that looked the likelier of both sides to win on the night. A bad night was made worse for AVB and Spurs when star player Gareth Bale was stretchered off in the closing stages with an ankle injury.

AVB previously had stated (after beating Inter Milan 3-0 in the first leg at the round of 16 stage) that the club didn’t need to prove it could play well without the Welsh winger in the team. Now with Bale out for two weeks and the return leg at Basel sandwiched between matches against Everton and Chelsea as they battle to finish in the Premier League’s top four coming up, AVB will hope his earlier assertion hasn’t met with Karma.

Chelsea and Arsenal will be out to take advantage of any Spurs slip-up at Goodison Park on Sunday, with Chelsea; fresh off a Juan Mata inspired, Fernando Torres-scoring 3-1 win over Rubin Kazan, hosting Sunderland on Sunday as well in Paolo di Canio’s first match as the visitors’ manager, while Arsenal visit West Brom on Saturday where a win will put the Gunners in the top four for 24 hours at least.

Newcastle United, that lost 3-1 at Benfica in the Europa League after taking the lead in Lisbon, welcome Fulham to St. James’ while Europa League chasing Liverpool host West Ham United. But the biggest match comes up on Monday night when both Manchester clubs clash at Old Trafford.

A win for United will put the Red Devils one match from a 20th league title but City, bolstered by Yaya Toure signing a four-year contract extension on Thursday, will be out to put the celebrations on hold for a little longer.

Elsewhere this weekend, Bayern Munich will clinch a 23rd Bundesliga title with a win against Eintracht Frankfurt, regardless of other results, while in Italy, Spain and France, Juventus, Barcelona and PSG still have a little way to go before clinching their respective domestic league titles.

Juventus face a relatively easy (on paper) match at home to Pescara in the Serie A on Saturday while Barcelona host Real Mallorca also on Saturday, with PSG facing a tricky trip to Rennes on Saturday too.

Away from the top, the Rome derby between Lazio and Roma on Monday night should make for interesting viewing, with both sides chasing a top five finish which guarantees at least a spot in next season’s Europa League. Another is Wigan Athletic’s trip to Loftus Road to face QPR in a relegation battle.

In Africa, Nigerian champions Kano Pillars take a healthy 4-1 lead to their first round second leg CAF Champions League match at Leopards on Saturday, with Rangers hosting Vital’O on Sunday in Enugu following a goalless first leg.

Naze Millionaires Heartland take a slender 2-1 lead to their second leg CAF Confederations Cup first round tie at US Bitam while Lobi Stars held a 3-1 lead against Muculmana in their first round match. Unfortunately, the Makurdi based side got crushed 7-1 in Mozambique on Friday night.

The Rome derby is the match I’m most looking forward to this ‘weekend’. Whichever match is your choice, hope you enjoy it, as well as the rest of your weekend. Cheers.

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During the Week: What a Card Can Do, FFP Farcical and More

Jose Mourinho did say the world would stop when both teams met in the return leg of their Champions League first knockout round match, what he and the world didn’t envisage was the referee’s decision being the source of the ‘stop’.

Manchester United had just taken the lead and the way it was going, Real Madrid was going to have a tough time getting back in the match… until Luis Nani’s foot ran into Alvaro Arbeloa as both went for a ball.

Cuneyt Cakir’s decision to show Nani a straight red left the Portuguese perplexed along with the rest of Old Trafford, while Sir Alex Ferguson was miffed. Yes he had stamped into Arbeloa’s ribs going for the ball but he clearly didn’t intend to.

That said, Cakir maintains he made the right decision and in time those who feel otherwise (pretty much ‘everyone’ in a general sense of the word) would see so. Roy Keane, much to ‘everyone”s disdain agreed it was the right decision. Most importantly however, former reverred referee Pierluigi Collina stated the referee’s decision was the right one.

All that said, such decisions cut deep into the emotions of those associated with the team affected. And apparently, it is capable also of overshadowing an entire match elsewhere as Borussia Dortmund’s very impressive 3-0 win over Shakhtar Donetsk same night almost went unnoticed.

Nani’s red anyway only brings back memories of Zlatan Ibrahimovic getting a straight red at Valencia for basically going after the ball with an opponent like Nani (more so without a high foot), or Robin van Persie’s infamous red at the Nou Camp while he was at Arsenal… or Laurent Koscielny’s red against Manchester City, not to mention Vincent Kompany’s later in same match though his was later rescinded… and many more ‘unfair reds’, life goes on really.

And as life goes on, the money keeps piling up for the already rich clubs. At least it does for Paris Saint Germain that reportedly is close to selling its naming rights to its Parc des Princes stadium, a deal which could earn the glamour French side €100m a year.

If that sponsorship deal with the Qatar National Bank happens, coupled with the four year, $800m deal it has with the Qatar Tourism Authority, PSG will be in line to get about €250m at least from next season.

Such whooping amounts, excluding prize money from the Champions League where it is now in the last eight along with domestic competitions and other sponsorship deals, puts PSG well over the green line as it concerns UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rule.

And it goes to show how much of a farce the FFP rule really is, requiring clubs to get their finances in order so as to prevent obscene spending by clubs in the transfer market. A club like PSG however can still make audacious moves in the transfer market as it did in the signings of Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan at the start of the season.

Then there’s the likes of Manchester United, Real Madrid and Barcelona that already pull massive revenue from merchandising alone, Chelsea, Manchester City and co with wealthy owners and Arsenal with its peculiarly shrewd yet lucrative financial methods, the FFP really would do next to nothing to ‘sanitise’ the transfer market and/or curtail their excesses.

On the contrary, an Everton or Bayer Leverkusen for instance, which in all honesty cannot attract the kind of sponsorship suitors the rich clubs can, will have to make do with far less lucrative deals and only earn more by doing great in the domestic and continental Cups and/or managing to qualify for the Champions League group stage regularly.

What the FFP would ultimately achieve is create a financial gulf between the mega rich clubs and the financially stable ones, opening a yet wider gulf between the rich clubs and the modest likes of Everton for example. Simply put, the rich get richer and the rest just exist.

Would the potential of rich clubs getting richer affect homegrown talent coming through to the first team? Possibly. Then again, that’s why the smaller clubs are there so the homegrown talent get loaned to them till it’s there time.

There always are exceptions though, one or a handful of clubs that do manage to break the monopoly and ruffle the feathers. Tottenham Hotspur may well be one such club, after picking successive crucial wins in the last week.

First the Lilywhites beat local rivals Arsenal last weekend to hold the advantage in the race to finish in the Premier League’s Champions League spots, before easing to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in a first leg, last 16 match of the Europa League.

It however remains to be seen if the club can keep hold of Gareth Bale, the nucleus of Spurs’ above average season so far, beyond this season. In my opinion I think Bale will remain at White Hart Lane, with qualification to next season’s Champions League and Europa League glory within their grasp.

In the Europa League, Spurs are favourites to make the last eight – and indeed go all the way – along with SS Lazio that came away from Vfb Stuttgart with a 2-0 win, while European champions Chelsea has its work cut out following a lone goal defeat at Steaua Bucharest.

Fenerbahçe hold a lone goal advantage from its trip to Napoli’s conqueror Viktoria Plzeň while Newcastle United will be confident ahead of the home leg after playing out a goalless draw at Samuel Eto’o’s Anzhi Machačkala.

The Magpies, who were without Papiss Cisse and only played Shola Ameobi for about half an hour in Russia, will have both available as they look to edge even closer to the Premier League midtable in the match at home to Stoke City on Sunday.

Eyes on Sunday will be on Anfield and Old Trafford however, with Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur squaring up in a league match while Chelsea embarks on a tough trip to face Man. United in a 6th Round FA Cup match. Both matches however kickoff half an hour apart, which is just plain wrong but we’ll manage.

Before Super Sunday in England, in-form AC Milan will prepare for its Champions League match at Barcelona next week with a trip to struggling Genoa in the Serie A tonight, while in the Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund visit Schalke 04 on Saturday evening in the Ruhr derby before La Liga’s bottom side Deportivo La Coruña face Barcelona at the Nou Camp later on Saturday.

On Sunday, after the big matches in England, there is second hosting third in Ligue Un when Olympique Lyon play Olympique Marseille while Lazio and Fiorentina face off in Rome as both chase a win to keep them in touch of finishing in a Champions League place on the Serie A table.

Other matches to look out for this weekend include Bayern Munich hosting Fortuna Düsseldorf, primed for another win on Saturday as the Bavarians barge towards the Bundesliga title while struggling Nancy visit Ligue Un table toppers PSG also on Saturday.

Reading and Aston Villa meet in a Premier League relegation battle at the Madejski on Saturday, Atletico Madrid will look to maintain second place in La Liga ahead of Real when sixth place Real Sociedad visit the Calderon while Juventus face Catania in Italy.

Hopefully, a referee’s decision won’t overshadow any match this weekend, even if Howard Webb has been appointed to oversee the FA Cup match at Old Trafford.

With that, it’s a wrap here. Hope you have an exciting weekend.

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During the Week: Sorry Rafa, Storm at Barça, Being CapaBale & More

Chelsea’s interim manager Rafael Benitez unexpectedly went uber-emotional on us with his outburst aimed at fans of the Blues who simply will not roll the welcome carpet out for him at Stamford Bridge, and this is months after his appointment by Roman Abramovich.

Initially via an interview with BBC Radio’s 5 Live before butressing his weary feelings at the post match conference of the club’s FA Cup win over Middlesbrough, Benitez blasted the fans for their misguided priorities and/yet inadvertently made their day by stating he would be gone at the end of the season.

The Spanish tactician did make reasonable points about the fans wasting their time and energy on banners and angst against him when they should be supporting the club as well as being appointed ‘interim manager’, a tag that implied he wouldn’t last on the job.

That said, Benitez couldn’t have been expecting to be treated at the Bridge like he was a business class passenger on a long-haul Emirates flight as his appointment by Roman Abramovic was more of putting him on an interstate economy class ride on an Eurostar coach.

Besides those comments made about Chelsea while he was in his prime at Liverpool; a period in which both sides met more often in all competitions than any other two teams in all of Europe, made him a persona non grata at the Bridge. His appointment thus only made it easier to have him suffer for those comments.

But would Benitez have succeeded as Blues boss? Having won the UEFA Cup at Valencia and the Champions League twice at Liverpool? I honestly believe he would have failed as he currently is and I’ve elaborated on why I feel so in this post.

Simply putting it, Benitez failed because of Fernando Torres, Roman Abramovic and most of all, because of his eagerness to return to activd management. And that’s putting aside the tense reception from the stands from the onset.

Ironically, a former Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas took his Tottenham Hotspur side past the Blues into third place on the league table following a 3-2 win at West Ham United on Monday night.

That win was secured by a 90th minute strike from Gareth Bale, bringing the Portuguese manager to name his left wing ace as the Premier League’s likely Player of the Year winner just as football fans argued on Bale being on the level of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bale being in exceptional form is much different from him being exceptional and comparison’s with Messi and Ronaldo seem a tad premature for me. He does take his freekicks a bit like CR7 but that’s about it for me. Even comparing him to the Ronaldo we saw in his final season at Manchester United seems a bit out of place.

But to take nothing from Bale, he is in fearsome form much to the delight of folks at White Hart Lane and one can say he is incomparable at the moment since he is two or three notches below The Two just as he is alone at a level just above the rest.

Barcelona on its part have been brought down from its exalted exclusive zone of being incapable of playing fluid football or even being outplayed following a humbling 3-1 defeat to archrivals Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey.

That defeat saw Real qualify for the final of the Spanish Cup while also inflicting a first home loss on the Catalans in 22 matches, prompting more theories about Barcelona’s recent poor form.

One theory believes the club’s form comes just after the Fuentes doping saga, which named the club among its beneficiaries, broke. Another believes it is Tito Vilanova’s absence that is to blame. I like the idea of the former more, just for the drama inherent.

And oh what drama would break out if all the milk from the boiling Metodo 3 cow is spilled just as the club is enduring a low.

Seriously, if Gerard Pique was spied on by the club because of fears that his relationship with Shakira would lead to a dip in form, only for the club to then deny being responsible (or in the club’s words, not having “documentary evidence”) for him being followed when he realised so, that action would put a cloud over Barça’s painfully sustained public integrity.

If the club could treat Pique, who seems a model player of the Barça way, this way, potentially losing to Real twice in four days will only be a small cause of a migraine the hierarchy must deal with. Winning at Real this weekend will be a very welcome distraction for Barça but for once, the odds are not (ever) in their favour.

The coming El Clasico is one of the highlights of what will be a super weekend of football, kicking off tonight in Italy where second placed Napoli hopes to end a run of five winless matches at home to Serie A leaders Juventus.

That is followed by third placed Lazio travelling to AC Milan on Saturday (and here’s hoping Lazio gets a big win there), there is the El Clasico, then the north London derby between Tottenham and Arsenal on Sunday at White Hart Lane.

All that after a week that saw Angel di Maria and Ronaldo wreck havoc on Barça before di Maria got himself sent off in bizarre manner, followed by Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring twice to get Paris Saint Germain a second win over Olympique Marseille in three days.

There was also Bayern Munich’s lone goal win over Borussia Dortmund in the DFB Pokal, a scoreline that lies about Dortmund matching Bayern in the contest… Bayern displayed its superiority and it really is a mystery how they didn’t win by more goals.

Finally, a story that really amused me and no, not John Pantsil being found unconscious on Tuesday morning after reportedly attempting suicide, a report that has been bluntly denied. Pantsil needs to get his business together though.

The story that amused me came from Switzerland where former AC Milan gladiator Gennaro Gattuso has been appointed player-manager at Swiss club Sion after former manager Victor Munoz was not fired but demoted to the position of club scout after a heavy defeat by FC Thun. That is just all sorts of awkward.

With that, it’s a wrap here. I’ll watch the north London derby with bottles of Lucozade by me. Arsenal tends to do that to one and being in recovery, watching the derby… I’ll need the boost, something to Bale me out, if it all goes wrong for Arsenal on the day.

Have a great weekend then, and a great month of March too.

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EPL Players of the Season 2010/11

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez

Javier Hernandez, the little pea in the big league

Snapped up from Chivas Guadalajara just before a commendable World Cup campaign in South Africa for Mexico, ‘Chicharito’ arrived Old Trafford, scored 13 goals in 21 league appearances and made such an impact at the Theatre of Dreams that Dimitar Berbatov’s long overdue return on goals for the money spent on him could not save him from losing his first team place to the diminutive Mexican.

Peter Osaze Odemwingie
Mostly condemned for moving to a club of Westbromwich-Albion’s stature by fans back in Nigeria and abused racially for leaving Lokomotiv Moscow by fans of the Russian club, Osaze went about his business and his sterling performances for the Baggies through the season; bagging 15 goals along the way, was more than enough to silence his critics and announce his talents to the English game. Being named PFA Player of the Month twice added good icing to his cake.

Robin van Persie
This Dutchman’s form for Arsenal, laden as always with time on the sidelines due to injury, deserved a trophy but just like his goal in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham City, it simply didn’t prove enough. Van Persie however should be proud of his individual performances this season having finished with 18 league goals this season; the first of those scored on New Year’s Day, equalling the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo and former teammate Thierry Henry for most goals scored between January and season’s end. He also shot his way to breaking Didier Drogba’s record of scoring in six consecutive away league matches by scoring in nine consecutive away league matches.

Luka Modric

Luka Modric

Luka Modric (Spurs' engine) would be the player in the background with both arms raised, with Van der Vaart (Spurs' sleek exterior) celebrating in the fore

Where Rafael van Der Vaart was the sleek outer design of the Tottenham Hotspur team, Croatian playmaker Modric was the engine under the hood that truly ran the show with space-opening passes, playing self and team out of trouble and providing the occasional assist. Modric indeed is the unsung star of Tottenham this season and you just feel a far less calamitous goalkeeper and more consistent forwards will see the top echelon of the Premier League be even more competitive.

Darren Bent

After leaving Sunderland in January the dearth in goal became obvious at the Stadium of Light, much to the benefit of Aston Villa where between the New Year and March he became top scorer of the Villans with 10 goals in 16 league appearances; including two in a memorable win at Arsenal at on the penultimate weekend of the season

Wayne Rooney
All he needs is a moment to show why every opposition defender is ever unsettled when Rooney appears on the starting sheet of Manchester United on any given weekend and weekday. Every season his game improves steady and his scoring touch has remained at a good level for a forward, his team play has improved tremendously and it’s when the team performs that managers are happy; individual performances come as added bonus really.

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines

Leighton Baines played in all of Everton's league matches this season, scoring five while at it

Everton would be better off in the league had the club attained same level of consistency as Baines. His occasional goals and high return on assists only bettered by Cesc Fabregas and Didier Drogba (according to Opta Sports) along with assured performances week after week for all 38 league matches amazingly, deservedly earned him the club’s Player of the Season, Players’ Player of the Season as well as Goal of the Season.

Jack Wilshere
Bolton Wanderers had a request to have the teenage English midfielder back on loan at the Reebok Stadium rejected few days to the start of the season and it proved to an invaluable decision by Arsène Wenger as evident by a consistent return of stellar individual performances for Arsenal all through the 49 matches he played in all competitions; one that deserved a trophy as reward… one that eluded the team.

Gareth Bale
Most unfortunately for the Three Lions of England, Bale is Welsh. A fact that made his explosive form for Tottenham Hotspur one worthy of much praise and enough for him to win the PFA Player of the Year although… winning that accolade was perhaps a bit of a hasty decision from the Queens’ men.

Edwin van Der Sar

Edwin van der Sar

Edwin van der Sar saving Anelka's spot kick in the 2008 Champions League final

This here is a Dutchman that has tasted the highs (Ajax) and endured the lows (Juventus and at Fulham; no offence to the Cottagers) of football hence retiring on a high at Manchester United after a top quality season of performances in all competitions is just what van Der Sar derseves. Van Der Save earned that nickname with string of saves that belied his 41 years and hopefully the Red Devils won’t go through the conundrum of finding a replacement like it did after Peter Scheimichel retired.

Rafael Van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart

Rafael van Der Vaart applauding Spurs' fans after a match

Following in the individual steps of countrymen Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder… out of Real Madrid, van der Vaart added a bit more flair to the game of Tottenham Hotspur, culminated in his 13 goals in 28 league appearances for the Lilywhites and a commendable campaign for the club; one that saw Spurs reach the Champions League quarterfinals in its maiden appearance in the competition.

Ryan Giggs

Ageless Welshman has now won one less league trophies than Arsenal has in its history. If that does not hit you enough in the face, think of it this way; only three clubs in all of England has won more league titles than he has… and the picture should be settling in now. Even at the ripe age of 37 when it is goalkeepers that attain their peak, Giggs proved very instrumental in Manchester United’s title winning campaign with his experience coming in handy and the evidence of speed in him still that belies his age. This here is a Welshman that has got better with age.

And others worthy of making this list fall below:

Didier Drogba

Samir Nasri

Charlie Adam

Antonio Valencia

Dirk Kuyt

Nemanja Vidic

Brede Hangeland


Charles N’Zogbia

Carlos Tevez

Yaya Toure

Dimitar Berbatov

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