Posts Tagged Manchester United

Not Every Whistle Blower Can Be a Collina But


Former Tottenham Hotspur striker Garth Crooks made a legitimate analysis on BBC Sport’s post-match analysis of the fiery London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal on Saturday, which the Blues won 2-0 courtesy of a Kurt Zouma header and a deflected Eden Hazard goal early and late in the second half respectively.

Before the goals however, it would not have been much of a surprise if the match had gone on to finish goalless, or to have seen either side steal a win with a fortuitous goal. Arsenal were hardly at their fluid best at Stamford Bridge but nonetheless were holding their own against a Chelsea side that can probably be seen as on a resurgence having secured back-to-back wins for the first time this season, scoring six and conceding none to boot.

In another realm of reality, Zouma scoring his first Premier League goal against a rival could have been the major talking point. Another realm of reality could have chosen to ponder on whether Hazard’s so far form is on the mend having scored, albeit off Arsenal defender Calum Chambers.

Perhaps we could have been going on about how Jose Mourinho and Arsene Wenger managed a (rather frosty) handshake before kick-off but ‘forgot’ or were too occupied to share another at full time, with Wenger walking right down the tunnel while Mourinho, understandably, shared a warm hug with a man he still trusts completely, John Terry.

As we would have it though, in whatever realm of reality you choose to exist, the major talking point had to do with two Brazilian born players, each on either side who threw up what perhaps has been missing in a lot of so-called derby matches in the English top flight; tempers!

Arsenal defender Gabriel reacts after being sent off against Chelsea, while Diego Costa watches on.

Arsenal’s Gabriel Paulista struggling with Chelsea’s Pedro and Branislav Ivanovic while Diego Costa watches on

That happened just before halftime and imagine after such altercation, both players remained on the field for the rest of the encounter, all riled up and just itching for the other to as much as glance along their path for a proper brawl to break out and perhaps for more slaps to be served two or three involved faces.

Arsenal fans and many neutrals can go on all week about how insert your feelings about the striker’s behaviour here disgusting, despicable, unacceptable, unsporting, irritating and appalling Costa’s part in getting Gabriel sent off was but what is a derby if neither side has at least one player being a tick in the skins of his opposition all game?

Didier Drogba held a psychological card on Philippe Senderos and Arsenal for a long time, same hold Costa seems to be having on a lot of opponents in the Premier League having previously been involved in confrontations, but somehow not getting sent off in his ‘two’ seasons so far in the Premier League.

Everton's Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Everton’s Tim Howard confronts that man Costa

Which is why I agreed 100% with Spurs fan Crooks, ironically riled about an injustice to an Arsenal player when he said, “We all want to see 11 against 11. It’s a great game” and indeed it was, until referee Mike Dean felt it appropriate to send off one party in the altercation and leave the other on the field with just a yellow card for his troubles. Would not have been the 11 on 11 one wanted, but 10 on 10 was not a bad option at all. Alas.

Dean’s only fault as it turns out, was not showing that red card to Costa as well when he showed it to Gabriel for if he had, we probably would be scrambling for the best resolution footage of a classic tunnel bust-up between both players and possibly their teammates off the field and bench… along with the coaching staff… and both managers, tantalisingly.

However, showing just one red card brought an imbalance to what was – to that point – a contest of two sides looking to bounce back for different reasons. Instead, we were left to consume a largely one-sided second half (inevitably) which saw Santi Cazorla get himself sent off to add a feeling of injustice for Arsenal fans and a need for justification for Chelsea fans.

Good old days, one would have had a good time or held a proper grudge (depending on what side of reality you existed) at Martin Keown for (in)famously rubbing Ruud van Nistelrooy’s penalty miss in the final minute of that match between Manchester United and Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2003.

I mean… Keown was just getting started but look at Ashley Cole too

… Keown was getting warmed up now even though Ruud was all cool…

… think the angle in the last one did an injustice to this moment…

… but very few moments beat this ‘point driven straight home’ part of this moment of what used to be a proper rivalry.

After the incident (between Costa and Gabriel that is), Keown tweeted he would have loved to play against the Chelsea striker. That tweet reeked of an emotion missing in current Arsenal players and a whole lot at others club who have to be ‘appropriate’ or risk being farcically charged by the trigger happy FA for the comment deemed ever so slightly inappropriate.

The Arsenal manager and others of his kind should not always expect the opponent to play nice and allow the other team be the better team. That is not how the football gods (not Messi and Ronaldo but their mythical ancestors) ordained the procession to go, otherwise they would be a bunch of bored lawmakers who doze off during once-a-quarter sessions.

But all of that is for another feast of sporting battles.

Admittedly not every Mike Dean can be Pierluigi Collina great, not even Collina’s compatriot Nicola Rizzoli who saw PSV Eindhoven’s Héctor Morono get his Ryan Shawcross on and do a Ramsey on poor Luke Shaw during a UEFA Champions League encounter, which Manchester United eventually lost 2-1 with Morono scoring one of those goals for PSV.

Excuse me while I do a Crooks complimenting Dean before slating him, Rizzoli is a top official otherwise he would not have been named Serie A Referee of the Year in 2011, 2012 and 2013 nor would he have been chosen to officiate the final of the 2010 UEFA Europa League, the 2013 UEFA Champions League final and the 2014 FIFA World Cup final.

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

Luke Shaw injured during PSV v Manchester United

But in the Champions League group stage match in Eindhoven, Rizzoli covered himself in all the aforementioned adjectives for Diego Costa when he (for the benefit of doubt) forgot to book Morono for his rash challenge on Shaw. Had he done so, and given the player the red card he deserved, would PSV have won?

So, one must disagree with Crooks when he implied that referees should not try to be in the spotlight. In fact, they should have the spotlight right on them as much as the one beaming on Costa’s [insert adjectives] behaviour in order to make the referees realise how much their decisions actually impact on results.

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Era of New Men – 2013/14 Premier League Preview 1


Going into a match, having just come out of a gruelling Christmas schedule with a six match unbeaten run to lie third on the league table, two points off the top, my team fall behind midway through the first half against a team two places off the relegation zone.

Rubbish! And perfect time to pause football manager and feel most inclined to put down this preview of the 2013/14 Premier League season, a season which comes with a sense of the new mixed with the usual, high octane drama we’ve become accustomed to season after season.

Last season, Manchester United reclaimed the league title from the noisy neighbours and as a result went past Liverpool as the team with the most league titles, thanks largely to the goals of Robin van Persie; the last genius gamble of long serving manager Sir Alex Ferguson who finally let go of the thinking cap and chewing gum at the Theatre of Dreams.

Moyes 'guarding' RvP

Inevitably, the new man at the helm will be banking on the flying Dutchman in his quest to begin a reign as Fergie’s successor on a high, off what has been a turbulent run up to the season, no thanks to speculation on Whine Rooney’s future at the club as well as failed bids for Barcelona duo Thiago Alcantara (who opted to join his former boss Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich) and Cesc Fabregas who ‘decided to stay put’ as well as for his former boy Leighton Baines.

That leaves David Moyes with pretty much the same squad that came from behind on numerous occasions to win the league. Only difference now from then is, can Moyes’s charisma evoke that similar spirit Fergie was always conjuring from his players on their way to a 20th crown last season?

Having gone fruitless years being a pain in the a.k.a.-donkey of the bigger clubs while at Everton, the expectation is that having a better squad and much better budget at his disposal now would make a ‘better’ manager of him. His ability to make the best out of what he has and potential to be at the helm for long – stability – is what got him the job and what is hoped would ensure sustained success at Old Trafford.

But his failure to land transfer targets however, point to an inferior character incapable of commanding a presence, a respect where it matters. It certainly cannot be at the level of Fergie’s but it right now is quite far from convincing even most fans of the club that Moyes is the ideal man for the job.

As a result, rivals for the league title, swirling around as sharks would at the presence of blood, have made their moves and all that’s left now is for them to go for the kill and take the league title from the Red Devils.

First shark in the tank is Manchester City that finished second last season, having failed to replicate the drive which led the club to a most dramatic title win minutes after Man. United thought the title was theirs in 2012. Hence, the hierarchy at the Etihad relieved Roberto Mancini of his job and replaced him with seasoned Chilean tactician Manuel Pellegrini.

Negredo, Jovetic and Navas

A number of players have also been added to the squad there, with Fernandinho joining from Shakhtar Donetsk, quickfeet Jesus Navas from Sevilla, followed later from same club by striker Alvaro Negredo, with Montenegrin forward Stefan Jovetic arriving from Fiorentina some time between the two Spaniards.

Fernandinho’s arrival gives the spine of City’s midfield a bit more dynamism to the one already provided by Yaya Toure. Javi Garcia never got going last season and with Jack Rodwell still in the mix of the hustle to be Toure’s starting partner in midfield, it’s looking like it’ll be a long season for Garcia.

Upfront, Pellegrini has an enviously potent forward line consisting of Negredo and Jovetic joining Sergio Agüero and Edin Dzeko, with support over the season from Fernandinho and Navas joining a midfield already rich with Yaya Toure, Silva, Samir Nasri, James Milner and Javi Garcia… not to forget Rodwell and Scott Sinclair who may leave the club on loan for this season.

However, Man. City’s main failing last season was the defensive lapses that brought about a number of unexpected losses, an issue that should not be a bother this season after all if the goals are regular from the wealthy choice of forwards he’s assembled. Otherwise, Pellegrini’s got a coming headache.

Having captain Vincent Kompany and the rest of the back line fit and in form (Joe Hart’s bipolar form comes to mind here) all season would be crucial to Pellegrini’s main test as new manager, which will not necessarily be how well he performs in the league, as he could lead City to a third place finish and still be regarded a success based on how well he does in the UEFA Champions League and FA Cup, especially in the former where the real test is.

Man. City’s embarrassing displays in the last two European seasons pose a threat to their domestic ambition. Doing well in Europe could hamper their league performance and vice versa. Pellegrini’s job will therefore be to strike a right balance in the Premier League and Champions League or end up only delivering what Mancini could to the oil money, unsatisfactory success.

From the blue side of Manchester to London’s, a shark swirling about Moyes, also with a new man at the helm but, unlike the previous two clubs, a man who is returning to familiar terrains.

Chelsea have satisfied the yearn for European success unlike City, and in fact won the Champions League and Europa League in successive years. The Premier League, last won 2009/10, will be the main goal at Stamford Bridge and Jose Mourinho knows all to well how to go about winning it.

Mourinho during his first Chelsea spell flanked by Lampard and Terry

He was the one who won the Blues a first league title in half a century, going right ahead to retain that title the following season. Now armed with more experience from Inter Milan and Real Madrid along with a diabetic wealth of choice in players, without forgetting his undying love of life in the Queen’s most pretigeous league, Mourinho and Chelsea are the genuine favourites to win the league and break the recent hold of Manchester on the title.

Fernando Torres may not have the chance to be the undoing of Chelsea’s title quest, even though I feel he’s been improving in front of goal lately. Not to say he’s close to his old lethal self but… he’s been improving. And if indeed he falls short again, there’s Demba Ba. The Senegalese however has a prone to going on a drought in the second half of the season following a flourishing first half. What then? Hello Romelo Lukaku.

If there is a set of players highly motivated to prove a point this season, the Belgian striker’s name would be at the top of that list. The imposing young striker left good memories from his loan spell last season at West Bromwich-Albion and has looked good in front of goal this preseason for the Blues.

And with a creative force led by Juan Mata that also comprises Eden Hazard and Oscar, along with Victor Moses and new boys Kevin de Bruyne and Andre Schurlle, the problem for Chelsea won’t be the number of chances created but the number of those taken. Who Mourinho picks as the man with the task to convert those chances will be key to Chelsea’s success this season.

Among the three teams written of in this piece, Chelsea (much to my biased side’s dismay) are favourites for the league title based on the facts that Mourinho knows the league well enough and he is the sort of manager who can get his team to grind out the needed results at crucial stages of the season.

Besides, the Chelsea squad doesn’t seem as one on the brink of tearing apart, unlike City where four internationals are vying for two striking spots, if not one (depending on Pellegrini’s choice of tactics) and the duo of Yaya Toure and David Silva seem untouchable in midfield. As for United, they are title contenders simply because of van Persie. One bad injury… it’s either Rooney or the little pea step up in the Dutchman’s absence or it’s over.

The rest of the league? There’s Arsenal to lead them, followed in no particular order by Swansea City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool. I’ll rather write about them in another post, a sequel if you may. But right now, I’ll finish my match on football manager… whose makers by the way have announced and released screenshots of FM14. Exciting times.

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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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Arsenal: Deluded in Wealth


Couple of weeks ago – can’t exactly remember with whom – we were talking about who would make a suitable replacement for Arsène Wenger in the event ‘it’ happens and names such as Martin O’Neil (for his commendable management of clubs running on tight budgets), Guus Hiddink (for obvious reasons) and Frank Rijkaard (as I felt his philosophy fits well to Arsenal’s) came up.

Yes Wenger’s shot the club’s stature to rocket heights since he arrived (the club is worth some $1.2b at the moment and has reached the lucrative Champions League group stage 14 successive years) but for whatever reason(s), this same man and club has settled for a policy that sees a teenager with no experience whatsoever at the top level (club and country) arrive for £15m when the likes of Steven Defour and Arturo Vidal cost their new clubs around the same amount.

So who’s deceiving who when same Arsenal that deems it most appropriate to spend a sum on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finds it difficult to do so in the very much needed instances of Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba and so on? I’ll just put it this way about Wenger… at another club, he would be out of a job and Jose Mourinho will gladly emphasise this point anytime, anywhere.

Take a Ibrahim Afellay for instance, what’s stopping Arsenal from getting he who cost Barcelona a mere €3m just over a year ago? He has had limited playing time ever since and really has no concrete future at the Nou Camp where that alien Lionel Messi is untouchable, Pedro stays consistent, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sanchez have just arrived and a talented indigenous midfielder Thiago Alcantara is just itching for a starting spot? All that without mentioning Xavi, Andres Iniesta and probably Seydou Keita.

Alas, Arsenal can actually get the necessary, albeit more expensive yet much needed experienced players to solve this whole mess without fuss what with about £90m available in the transfer kitty (excluding whatever could be added from the prize money of reaching the Champions League group stage). So why players such as Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Cahill, Samba, Ricardo Montolivo (all linked to the club now and then) and others of such calibre are not Arsenal players yet miffs me.

If the club insists on being self righteous in an arena that has (sadly so I admit) long dropped the notion of basing the transfer value of a player on his experience, achievements and reputation (Andy Caroll’s a good player but he’s worth more than way too many strikers much better than him including teammate Luis Suarez), then nothing less than the six years going on seven without a trophy should be expected.

As for the dissipation we got at Old Trafford, worst I’ve ever felt being a Gooner since the 6-1 loss against same club in 2001 and I cannot feel sorry enough for Gooners who paid to watch the match live. To their credit, they sang on rather than boo the players at the end.

Never could I also ever imagine I’d witness an Arsenal side field some six players that cannot boast having ten appearances with the first team making the squad for a Premier League match against Manchester United. Really? You would do that against your arch-rivals?? Just quantifies mediocre the state of the club.

Problems at the club are bare to see, solutions to them even more so and the sooner the better because I’m in no mood to go two decades without a league title or any other major title at that.

This article birth as a mere comment at http://t.co/yV01ZLp but guess I had quite a bit to say hence the above. Sincerely yours, since late ’97 till the Mayan Calendar comes to pass or whenever after, I stay a proud Gooner!h whom – we were talking about who would make a suitable replacement for Arsène Wenger in the event ‘it’ happens and names such as Martin O’Neil (for his commendable management of clubs running on tight budgets), Guus Hiddink (for obvious reasons) and Frank Rijkaard (as I felt his philosophy fits well to Arsenal’s) came up.

Yes Wenger’s shot the club’s stature to rocket heights since he arrived (the club is worth some $1.2b at the moment and has reached the lucrative Champions League group stage 14 successive years) but for whatever reason(s), this same man and club has settled for a policy that sees a teenager with no experience whatsoever at the top level (club and country) arrive for £15m when the likes of Steven Defour and Arturo Vidal cost their new clubs around the same amount.

So who’s deceiving who when same Arsenal that deems it most appropriate to spend a sum on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain finds it difficult to do so in the very much needed instances of Gary Cahill, Christopher Samba and so on? I’ll just put it this way about Wenger… at another club, he would be out of a job and Jose Mourinho will gladly emphasise this point anytime, anywhere.

Take a Ibrahim Afellay for instance, what’s stopping Arsenal from getting he who cost Barcelona a mere €3m just over a year ago? He has had limited playing time ever since and really has no concrete future at the Nou Camp where that alien Lionel Messi is untouchable, Pedro stays consistent, Cesc Fàbregas and Alexis Sanchez have just arrived and a talented indigenous midfielder Thiago Alcantara is just itching for a starting spot? All that without mentioning Xavi, Andres Iniesta and probably Seydou Keita.

Alas, Arsenal can actually get the necessary, albeit more expensive yet much needed experienced players to solve this whole mess without fuss what with about £90m available in the transfer kitty (excluding whatever could be added from the prize money of reaching the Champions League group stage). So why players such as Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Cahill, Samba, Ricardo Montolivo (all linked to the club now and then) and others of such calibre are not Arsenal players yet miffs me.

If the club insists on being self righteous in an arena that has (sadly so I admit) long dropped the notion of basing the transfer value of a player on his experience, achievements and reputation (Andy Caroll’s a good player but he’s worth more than way too many strikers much better than him including teammate Luis Suarez), then nothing less than the six years going on seven without a trophy should be expected.

As for the dissipation we got at Old Trafford, worst I’ve ever felt being a Gooner since the 6-1 loss against same club in 2001 and I cannot feel sorry enough for Gooners who paid to watch the match live. To their credit, they sang on rather than boo the players at the end.

Never could I also ever imagine I’d witness an Arsenal side field some six players that cannot boast having ten appearances with the first team making the squad for a Premier League match against Manchester United. Really? You would do that against your arch-rivals?? Just quantifies mediocre the state of the club.

Problems at the club are bare to see, solutions to them even more so and the sooner the better because I’m in no mood to go two decades without a league title or any other major title at that.

This article birth as a mere comment at http://t.co/yV01ZLp but guess I had quite a bit to say hence the above. Sincerely yours, since late ’97 till the Mayan Calendar comes to pass or whenever after, I stay a proud Gooner!

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The Perilous Plain Arsenal Treads: Fàbregas, Season 4


The protracted tussle between nascent Premier League underachievers Arsenal and world conquering Barcelona to have midfielder Francesc Fàbregas in their respective teams is currently seeing its fourth season play out; complete with the usual rumoured agreements behind the scenes and blown out of proportion comments among other plots in a number of episodes in this saga.

This season’s tussle actually set off in the run up to the last UEFA Champions League final with Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique posing with a picture of Fàbregas taken down from a wall at the Arsenal training ground; an opportunity that came about with the Gunners granting the Catalan side access to its training facilities ahead of the win at Wembley over Manchester United.

This same duo, along with Liverpool keeper Jose Reina, also succeeded in forcing a Barça jersey on Fàbregas after the Spanish national team lifted the 2010 World Cup at South Africa; a campaign that saw Fàbregas contribute to the success even in his bit part role.

Back then (Fàbregas: Season Three if you may), Arsenal was going to have none of it as regards negotiating any fee for his transfer to the Nou Camp. Currently, the stance has changed with the Gunners willing to negotiate having set their asking price at a staggering £60m.

Importantly and fortunately for Barça and otherwise for Arsenal, what has not changed is the silverware cabinet at the Emirates Stadium, which bolsters Barça’s approach for Arsenal’s talismatic midfielder coupled with the fact that the Nou Camp (with all bitterness in admitting so) is Fàbregas’ home.

Arsenal’s move; however perilous it is, to appear as lending a listening ear to Barça’s approach for the player may well be what will keep Fàbregas at North London since it puts the Gunners in the light of not forcing Cesc to stay at the club (the perilous part of it), which then puts Barça in the light of being desperate for a player it in reality has no need of with the likes of Seydou Keita and Ibrahim Afellay behind the spotlight of Xavi and Andres Iniesta just as Thiago Alcantra is staking his claim to more appearances in the Barça first team especially on the back of his sterling performances at the recently concluded European U-21 Championships that Spain won.

Hence, by holding out for a fee that is obviously well out of Barça’s valuation of the player as well as what the club can afford, Arsenal has somewhat put itself in a win-win situation and put the courting Spaniards in a win-at-a-great-cost position.

Again, Arsenal’s position here is precarious due to Arsène Wenger’s transfer policy of not spending more than a footballer’s valuation in his economic view. So should Fàbregas join Barça because the Catalan giants actually meet Arsenal’s valuation or Arsenal accept Barça’s reported next offer of £35m, Wenger’s policy would mean the already disgruntled and disillusioned Arsenal fans would have to endure a seventh, eighth and perhaps ninth season without a trophy.

The second part of this piece will elucidate why I say this…

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London Olympics: Football’s Headache in Uniting a Kingdom


At club level, England boasts of some of the world’s best football teams such as Liverpool and Manchester United, alone with eight European Cup wins to their name along with the London duo of Arsenal and Chelsea while Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City should probably have their ambitions of breaking the Big-Four’s monopoly taken more seriously based on both’s improvement over the last few seasons, culminating in Spurs reaching the UEFA Champions League quarter final in only its first appearance last season and City lifting the last FA Cup, defeating city rivals United along the way.

The rest of the British Isle lies well behind the English Premier League both competitively and lucratively with the closest competition, the Scottish Premier League, being a standard golf course apart from matching the EPL’s prowess and global appeal with some yards to spare.

While the biggest clubs from the other nations of the British Isle have been unable to match their English counterparts, those nations have actually produced quality footballers that have reached the heights, some of whom are Liverpool’s Scottish manager Kenny Dalglish who is part of Celtic’s greatest team of all time along with fellow Scot Jimmy Johnstone. Other fine footballers these nations have produced are Ryan Giggs, Craig Bellamy and Gareth Bale from Wales, Darren Fletcher, Craig Gordon, Kris Boyd and Allan McGregor from Scotland as well as Irishmen John O’Shea, Ian Hart, Roy Keane and Robbie Keane among many others.

Unfortunately, most of these footballers along with their English counterparts have achieved naught in their international sojourns despite their potential being capable of earning such acclaim as evident with their individual successes at club level.

Hence, the British Olympic Association’s move to have a Great Britain football team participate at the London Olympics of 2012 rather than the individual nations with the logic being to afford footballers from each nation of the Isle such as those aforementioned; and the individual nations on the side, the chance to have a taste of success at the international level.

It should be noted that the closest international success came to any nation of the Isle was at the European Championship of 1996 with England only able to reach the semi-final stage. A decade and half of underachievement at four FIFA World Cups, three European Championships and three Olympic Games have since been endured.

This gives credence to the BOA’s idea of a Great Britain football team representing at the Olympics London will host. The manner the Association has gone about bringing the team to fluid fruition may however have put the dream in jeopardy with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish football associations claiming that the BOA only approached the English FA with the idea, and therefore cannot be seen to be in agreement with creating a football team for Great Britain.

The trio also stated that being a part of the proposal will confuse the individual identities of the nations. This is despite that FIFA has assured the BOA of each nation’s identity remaining intact in the aftermath of them contributing to the cause.

I strongly believe both sides should drop the egos and reach a compromise on the matter because in reality, none of the nations in the Isle can put up a commendable showing, let alone win Olympic gold come 2012; England’s U-21s a typical reason as to why. Having the best of each nation however may see Great Britain put up a commendable performance in front of the cheering faithfuls on home turf.

As it is now, should BOA go ahead with its plan of having a Great Britain football team for the first time since the Rome Olympics of 1960 without reaching a compromise with the trio that are being initially stubborn, then such team will likely predominantly compose of English players. Any success achieved then would not be shared!

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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

Nani

Charles N’Zogbia

Carlos Tevez

Yaya Toure

Dimitar Berbatov

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