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Ancelotti Right to Dump Chelsea’s 4-3-3 for Diamond Formation that Could Bring Richer Rewards

BLOG EXCLUSIVE: (Crikey, that sounds a bit pretentious, doesn’t it?) Ancelotti has arrived at Chelsea to quite a fanfare, and has wasted no time in stamping his authority on the club. The 4-3-3 tactic is out, replaced by Ancelotti’s preferred diamond formation. Will this be the change Chelsea need to get back to football’s summit?

Ancelotti: Comfortable enough in his own ability to make big decisions, even early in his Chelsea career...

Ancelotti: Comfortable enough in his own ability to make big decisions, even early in his Chelsea career...

Chelsea’s friendly with Inter Milan last Wednesday, in the unfamiliar surroundings of California’s Rose Bowl stadium, represented the second opportunity for new manager Carlo Ancelotti to assess the quality of the squad at his disposal. For the interested onlookers, it was also a second opportunity to see how the Italian might chance things tactically for the Blues.

While Ancelotti’s four predecessors have all tended to stick with variations on a 4-3-3 formation that took Chelsea to the semi-finals of the Champions League five times in the last six years, the signs so far suggest the former AC Milan boss will buck the trend and introduce the 4-4-2 ‘diamond’ formation that lead the Italian to two Champions League titles at the San Siro.

Ancelotti first unveiled his ‘Blue diamond’ formation as Chelsea took on the Seattle Sounders the previous Saturday, and saw his side grab a fairly comfortable 2-0 win, one that was repeated four days later against the slighter sterner test of Inter.

Even at this early stage of the season, it seems the new formation might be agreeable to the type of players at Chelsea’s disposal, and could just enable Chelsea to become even more successful than they have managed in recent years.

Ancelotti’s diamond sees one midfielder in a deep-lying role, tasked with winning and distributing possession. With Milan, this role was generally filled by Andrea Pirlo. Against Seattle, Ancelotti employed Deco in the position — an intriguing prospect ahead of the new season. Against Inter, it was John Obi Mikel who performed the role, a player Ancelotti has already praised for his all-round abilities. The Nigerian looks likely to start the new season in the role, but many fans will want to see how Deco’s vision and skill might impact on the position. Continue reading

July 28, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , | 1 Comment

Breaking Down the Ibrahimovic – Eto’o Transfer: A Good Deal For All Concerned

The initial fee might raise a few eyebrows, but once the situations are examined and the figures are analysed it becomes clear that this summer’s biggest part-exchange transfer is a good deal for everyone involved…

Ibrahimovic may lack big occasion credentials, but he doesn't lack for confidence...

Ibrahimovic may lack big occasion credentials, but he doesn't lack for confidence...

It may have taken a while, but European champions Barcelona have finally responded to the gauntlet thrown down to them by rivals Real Madrid.
While Los Blancos have added Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema among others for exorbitant transfer fees this summer, Barca have finally responded with the signing of Inter Milan’s mercurial striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Samuel Eto’o leaves for the San Siro as part of the deal.
With Barca reported to be paying around €43.5 million (£37.6 million) on top of Eto’o for Ibrahimovic’s services, many eyebrows have been raised about the sums involved. But, when the deal is examined closely, it quickly becomes clear that the deal makes absolute sense for all the teams, managers, and players involved.
Until the season kicks off in earnest, everyone will be happy with their end of what is a blockbuster deal.
Barcelona
Ibrahimovic, despite concerns about his temperament on the biggest stage, is undoubtedly one of the finest strikers in world soccer. As powerful in the air as he is imposing on the deck, the Swedish international has struck fear into Serie A defences since he arrived in Italy with Juventus in 2004.
Since joining Inter in 2006, the former Ajax player has scored 57 goals in 88 league games for the club—an impressive record.
Considering Real’s inflation of the transfer market, Ibrahimovic could reasonably be valued just shy of the €65 million (£56 million) that AC Milan demanded from Real for Kaka. Inter seem to believe this, as they were prepared to make their talisman Serie A’s highest paid player (at €11 million a year). While keen on the player, Barcelona couldn’t rationally sanction such a high transfer and wage fee for a player who, at 27 years of age, might hold little resale value.
With Eto’o as a bargaining chip, however, the balance shifted slightly. The Cameroonian international is another of football’s premier hitmen, but at 28 and with only a year left on his contract, was a source of concern for the Barca hierarchy.
Once Manchester City failed in their bid to sign the former Real Madrid player, the Blaugrana board knew that they would have to sell Eto’o this summer, rather than see him leave on a free next summer. Considering his age and contract status, however, his market value could not realistically be considered to be above €10 million (£9 million).
But by involving Eto’o in the Ibrahimovic deal, Barcelona have effectively managed to knock off around €20 million from the transfer fee for a player that might only fetch €10 million on the open market. Not only that, but if Florentino Perez believes that Kaka and Ronaldo’s signings will eventually pay for themselves through higher revenues, then Barcelona can expect a similar boost in shirt sales and advertising fees by signing one of Europe’s most recognisable names.
If, as many outlets are reporting, Alex Hleb’s loan is also part of the deal (conflicting reports suggest the midfielder was actually part of an earlier deal between the two clubs that saw Maxwell head to Spain) then Barca will also be happy to reduce the wage bill slightly, and free up a space in the squad for one of their talented youth products to impress.
The Catalan giants will feel that while they have spent a vast amount of money, they have got great value in return.
Inter Milan
Ibrahimovic’s relationship with the powers-that-be at Inter had become increasingly strained over the past season, and with the board becoming more and more frustrated with the club’s inability to make a real impact on the Champions League, president Massimo Moratti was becoming more open to selling a mercurial player who had—much to the Nerazzurri’s infuriation—developed a habit of going missing in Europe’s biggest games.
When Barcelona came calling, the chance to add Eto’o—a player who, if nothing else, frequently excels when the occasion most demands it—was not something they would pass up easily. Memories of his 36 goals in all competitions last season (including the opener in Rome’s Champions League final), will have been hard to ignore.
Taking Eto’o’s contract situation out of the equation, the 28-year-old would have a transfer value of around €30 million. Believing they have effectively sold Ibrahimovic for nearly €75 million, and signed a player that might have eluded them on the open market, Inter will be delighted.
Getting Alex Hleb on loan as part of the deal is a no-lose situation for the club. The Belarussian has a reputation as a creative force, and the club might be hoping he links up with Eto’o to provide the chances for his illustrious teammate to put away.
If such a plan doesn’t work out, however, then they have lost little and the player can return to a club that no longer wants him. As the Italian club are only paying 30% of the player’s wages for the duration of the loan, it is an inexpensive gamble.
For a net profit of €43.5 million then, they have lost a proven Serie A performer that has so far failed at the level Inter are most desperate to impress, but managed to acquire a lethal finisher who knows how to win European football’s biggest prize.
With the compensation more than covering their “loss”, Inter will be extremely happy.
Josep Guardiola
The Barcelona manager will be privately relieved to offload what he perceived as a disruptive dressing room presence, even if the incoming player carries a similar reputation.
“I fully understand that people ask why [he wants Eto’o to be sold]. He is a wonderful player. Everyone knows there are no ‘football’ reasons. So why? It is a question of feeling,” Guardiola told a news conference earlier this summer. “I feel that it is the best for the team, for the club. I am very grateful to Samuel, not for this year but for the five years he has spent here.”
Guardiola will be confident that Ibrahimovic will comfortably slot in to Eto’o’s old position as the focal point of Barca’s three-pronged attack, and will be excited to see how the Swede’s impressive attributes—a sublime touch, creative brain, shooting threat from in and outside the box—might add extra dimensions to his team’s 4-3-3 formation.
While the proof will only come once the season kicks off, Guardiola will believe the transfer immediately makes his first-team considerably better.
Not involved in the financial side of the club’s operations, the 38-year-old will see this piece of business as the belated culmination of last season’s operation to remove the club’s undesirable influences (Ronaldinho, Deco, now Eto’o), and a timely improvement to a squad already proven to be among Europe’s very best.
Jose Mourinho
The “Special One” might well be delighted at the conclusion of a transfer that not only will swell his transfer budget, but also sees him get a clinical striker as an immediate replacement for a quality player he did not always see eye-to-eye with.
“Only a stupid coach would not be happy to have Samuel Eto’o and only a stupid coach would be happy to lose Ibrahimovic. I am very happy to have Eto’o,” Mourinho told La Gazzetta Dello Sport this week. “For me this is a €100m deal. Eto’o is worth as much as Ibrahimovic.”
Despite what he might say in public, the Portuguese manager will not be devastated to see Ibrahimovic go, a player with whom he had more than a few run-ins with over the last year. This included a final day on-pitch drama last season, where the striker was forced to play the full 90 minutes despite demanding to be substituted soon after half-time.
Apparently the Swede, along with other members of the squad, had over-done the title celebrations the previous night, but Mourinho felt it necessary to put in his place a player who was increasingly getting too big for his boots.
The former Chelsea manager might be concerned that the team will suffer without Ibra’s presence in domestic games, but will be pretty confident that Eto’o and other summer signing Diego Milito (who had a fine Serie A goalscoring record with Genoa, and scored twice in a pre-season friendly against rivals AC Milan) will more than pick up the slack.
If the money is wisely invested elsewhere—Mourinho has a decent track record of handling large budgets—then he and the rest of the club will undoubtedly feel that the transfer allows the club to go into the new season stronger than they have ever been.
Samuel Eto’o
The striker always knew his relationship with the Barcelona management was an uneasy one, and as disappointing as that situation was for him he must have understood that he would leave the club, either this season or at the end of his contract in 2010.
Testing the market as a 29-year-old next summer might have made it difficult for Eto’o to attract an offer from the sort of club he feels fits his ability, especially if he did not have as great a season as in 2008-09.
By moving this summer, even if as a makeweight for another player, he at least finds himself at a club capable of helping him to continue adding trophies to his cabinet. Financially, a raise from his €128,000-a-week wages to a reported €190,000 deal—and the security a five-year deal brings—will also bring a smile.
“I’m very happy to finally have arrived in Milan,” Eto’o said in his first public statement since arriving in Italy. “For me this is a new adventure and I really want to make the very most of everything. My first aim will be to win the Champions League.”
The club might still be a little distance from such a challenge, but having won everything the game has to offer at the Nou Camp and, rightly or wrongly, received very little affection for it, Eto’o might will see this move as the chance for him to not only win further trophies, but also the adoration and praise that he feels he richly deserves.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Never lacking for confidence, Ibrahimovic will be delighted to join the best side in Europe, and arrive on a stage that he feels is befitting of his talent.
“It’s difficult to explain my feelings,” the Swede, who will inherit Eto’o’s No. 9 shirt, said on Monday. “Every player wants to come to Barca, but not everybody can. When I saw Barca were interested in me, I told my manager to sort it out and he’s done a great job. I think any player would want to represent what is the best club in Europe and maybe the world. The best players have to be at Barca and I hope to be one of them.”
Ibrahimovic enjoyed his time at Inter, but as his departure from Juventus after the Calciopoli scandal shows, the Swede has no time for sentiment. Just as he saw Inter’s offer as a chance to keep playing at Italy’s highest level, now he sees Barcelona’s offer as the opportunity to show himself to be the very best in Europe.
While his wage—around €210,000-a-week in Milan—will not rise significantly, Ibrahimovic’s ego will be more than fed by the move itself.
Barcelona is among the handful of clubs that signify the absolute pinnacle of a player’s career, and at only 27, Ibrahimovic has plenty of time to make sure his time in Spain is a very successful one.
Alexander Hleb
An awkward third wheel to the headline-grabbing protagonists, this transfer saga only shows how far Hleb’s star has fallen since Barcelona paid €13m for his services only last summer.
But after a torrid time at the Nou Camp, the former Arsenal man will be delighted to get the opportunity to resurrect his career with a manager familiar with his ability, in a league that might ultimately suit him slightly better than La Liga.
For now, then, both clubs will be happy with a deal that suits their respective ambitions and needs. But the kick-off to the new season, barely three weeks away, will begin to reveal which side should really be most satisfied with a transfer that looks like to have massive implications for the destination of next season’s Spanish, Italian, and European titles.

It may have taken a while, but European champions Barcelona have finally responded to the gauntlet thrown down to them by rivals Real Madrid.

While Los Blancos have added Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema among others for exorbitant transfer fees this summer, Barca have finally responded with the signing of Inter Milan’s mercurial striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Samuel Eto’o leaves for the San Siro as part of the deal.

With Barca reported to be paying around €43.5 million (£37.6 million) on top of Eto’o for Ibrahimovic’s services, many eyebrows have been raised about the sums involved. But, when the deal is examined closely, it quickly becomes clear that the deal makes absolute sense for all the teams, managers, and players involved.

Until the season kicks off in earnest, everyone will be happy with their end of what is a blockbuster deal.


Barcelona

Ibrahimovic, despite concerns about his temperament on the biggest stage, is undoubtedly one of the finest strikers in world soccer. As powerful in the air as he is imposing on the deck, the Swedish international has struck fear into Serie A defences since he arrived in Italy with Juventus in 2004.

Since joining Inter in 2006, the former Ajax player has scored 57 goals in 88 league games for the club — an impressive record.

Considering Real’s inflation of the transfer market, Ibrahimovic could reasonably be valued just shy of the €65 million (£56 million) that AC Milan demanded from Real for Kaka. Inter seem to believe this, as they were prepared to make their talisman Serie A’s highest paid player (at €11 million a year). While keen on the player, Barcelona couldn’t rationally sanction such a high transfer and wage fee for a player who, at 27 years of age, might hold little resale value.

With Eto’o as a bargaining chip, however, the balance shifted slightly. The Cameroonian international is another of football’s premier hitmen, but at 28 and with only a year left on his contract, was a source of concern for the Barca hierarchy.

Once Manchester City failed in their bid to sign the former Real Madrid player, the Blaugrana board knew that they would have to sell Eto’o this summer, rather than see him leave on a free next summer. Considering his age and contract status, however, his market value could not realistically be considered to be above €10 million (£9 million). Continue reading

July 27, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment

Team Unity, Not New Defenders, The Priority for Hughes’ Manchester City

Many have focused on the need for defenders. But perhaps more pressing to Manchester City’s immediate prospects is Mark Hughes’ ability to get all his superstar signings working together as a team…

Dunne might be in line to be replaced, but at least he will keep some of the team's egos in check...

Dunne might be in line to be replaced, but at least he will keep some of the team's egos in check...

Much has been written—and perhaps even more said—about Manchester City’s apparently ludicrous summer transfer policy.
With the recent acquisition of Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez for a combined £50 million, bringing Manchester City’s roster of top-class strikers to seven, some commentators have been lead to state that having such a depth of offensive talent on the books is not just greedy, but a little pointless.
This is especially true, as many have been quick to point out with a certain glee, when a team still relies on defenders of the quality of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards.
“Manchester City’s All-Star lineup of strikers looks impressive—more than that, it looks electrifying—but they have to build a defence, or else it will be the Real Madrid galacticos reborn; lots of goals and nothing else to show for it,” wrote former Liverpool midfielder turned Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp this week. “In seven of the last 10 years, the team who won the title have also boasted the best defensive record.”
Clearly, City wouldn’t decline the opportunity to upgrade their defence from Micah Richards and Richard Dunne, especially after both had disappointing seasons last year. But with holding midfielders in front of them of the quality of Vincent Kompany, Nigel De Jong, and Gareth Barry, it should not exactly be seen as a massive problem either.
With both full-back positions reasonably covered with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Wayne Bridge, and Javier Garrido, on the whole, Manchester City’s defensive unit can be viewed as relatively solid.
In truth, of greater importance to City’s immediate prospects than addressing the defensive issues is manager Mark Hughes’ ability to get his illustrious squad to gel quickly as a unit.
After all, as Redknapp might agree, 10 of the last 10 Premier League champions have boasted incredible team spirit.
Improving team unity is an undertaking that shouldn’t be taken lightly. As much as it might annoy the City hierarchy, it is not something that can be bought.
With such a wealth of attacking options, City look almost certain to employ a 4-3-3 formation, a la Barcelona, with Adebayor leading the line alongside Tevez and Robinho.
In midfield, Stephen Ireland and Gareth Barry look likely to play slightly ahead of De Jong or Kompany—although the Belgian could potentially slip into central defence if he must.
The problem, however, is that Ireland and Barry—plus, to a lesser extent, De Jong—are not in the same league as Xavi, Iniesta, and Yaya Toure.  To replicate the roles of their illustrious Catalan contemporaries, they will have to adapt their game significantly.
This in itself is not a massive problem. City could always opt to fashion a system similar to that Liverpool employed last term (De Jong acting as Mascherano, with Barry as Xabi Alonso) or even come up with a unique tactic of their own that plays to their formidable strength.
But, just as the above formation leaves no place (on a regular basis) for talented players like Roque Santa Cruz, Elano, Shaun Wright-Phillips, and Martin Petrov, no formation on earth will be able to accommodate every one of City’s big names.
How will the unlucky players that do get left out be kept happy, and prevented from letting their discord spread to the rest of the squad?
Publicly at least, Hughes seems unconcerned by what looks an impossible task.
“It doesn’t faze me at all,” the 45-year-old said. “I understand it’s a big responsibility and it’s up to me to make sure we blend the team in the right manner and we get a winning team. Everybody has a view on how you deal with big players and big world stars, the likes of Carlos Tevez.”
“But from dealing with top players the reason they are top players is because they have certain qualities and certain attributes and blend themselves to being top professionals. From my experience the top, top players are easier to handle, so there’s no apprehension about it. I just view it as an outstanding opportunity for myself and my football club.”
Perhaps Hughes should have reason to be fazed. Last season, Hughes visibly struggled to get his team to work as a unit, particularly away from Eastlands.
At home, City had the third best tally in the league, as its 39 points from 19 games only surpassed by cross-town rivals Manchester United and Liverpool.
But away from home, the club’s measly 11 points represented the fourth-worst away record in the league, better only than Stoke, West Brom, and Middlesbrough.
If Hughes is not to find himself under pressure early into the new season, he will have to sort out such problems almost immediately.
While certain that City will be a force to be reckoned with in the near future, even those closest to the action doubt whether this season will see Manchester City get to the level required to challenge the “Big Four.”
“This year might be tough for them but, next year, you never know given the guys they are buying,” Chelsea full-back Ashley Cole said recently. “The players they are bringing in are good quality. You never know, they may just gel, click, straight away and it’s magic. But you won’t really know until you see them play.”
Those within the club, however, have no such doubts.
“The city is blue already. I was amazed by that,” Nigel De Jong said last week. “But now also on the expectation side and performance side, it can be blue, too. Manchester City are making a point that nothing is impossible. We can buy whoever we want and just go for the best players in the league and compete. I hope we can be the dominant team.”
Perhaps Hughes will surprise almost everyone, and get his side playing with a style and harmony reminiscent of the Barcelona team his tactics might well impersonate.
If De Jong’s confidence is representative of the rest of the squad, then such an outcome is far from unlikely.
But if the Welshman cannot get the midfield, and the team as a whole, to link together as a cohesive unit in both attack and defence, then even the greatest central defenders money can buy will struggle to deal with the resulting problems.

Much has been written — and perhaps even more said — about Manchester City’s apparently ludicrous summer transfer policy.

With the recent acquisition of Emmanuel Adebayor and Carlos Tevez for a combined £50 million, bringing Manchester City’s roster of top-class strikers to seven, some commentators have been led to state that having such a depth of offensive talent on the books is not just greedy, but a little pointless.

This is especially true, as many have been quick to point out with a certain glee, when a team still relies on defenders of the quality of Richard Dunne and Micah Richards.

“Manchester City’s All-Star lineup of strikers looks impressive — more than that, it looks electrifying — but they have to build a defence, or else it will be the Real Madrid galacticos reborn; lots of goals and nothing else to show for it,” wrote former Liverpool midfielder turned Sky pundit Jamie Redknapp this week. “In seven of the last 10 years, the team who won the title have also boasted the best defensive record.”

Clearly, City wouldn’t decline the opportunity to upgrade their defence from Micah Richards and Richard Dunne, especially after both had disappointing seasons last year. But with holding midfielders in front of them of the quality of Vincent Kompany, Nigel De Jong, and Gareth Barry, it should not exactly be seen as a massive problem either.

With both full-back positions reasonably covered with the likes of Pablo Zabaleta, Wayne Bridge, and Javier Garrido, on the whole, Manchester City’s defensive unit can be viewed as relatively solid.

In truth, of greater importance to City’s immediate prospects than addressing the defensive issues is manager Mark Hughes’ ability to get his illustrious squad to gel quickly as a unit.

After all, as Redknapp might agree, 10 of the last 10 Premier League champions have boasted incredible team spirit. Continue reading

July 24, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | | Leave a comment

Terry and Lescott Exemplify the Differing Attractions of Manchester City’s Elaborate Project

One player is interested in a move for the footballing opportunities, the other seems to have no reason for interest other than the money. But together, Joleon Lescott and John Terry serve to illustrate Manchester City’s attraction for two players at different ends of football’s top table…

Terry and Lescott are both intrigued by Man City, for differing reasons... (Photo: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Terry and Lescott are both intrigued by Man City, for differing reasons... (Photo: AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Manchester City’s footballing master-plan has kicked up a notch in recent weeks, with attacking reinforcements acquired at a rate that has further shaken a transfer market already reeling from Real Madrid’s early summer moves.
In the signings of Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Gareth Barry, to name just three, City have added a host of players who have played for or were once coveted by members of the “Big Four”.
As a result, the message the club is sending out is clear—Manchester City are in it to win it.
Whether the players mentioned above will be enough to catapult City to title contention is debatable, but what is certain is that the players currently at manager Mark Hughes’ disposal makes the club realistic Champions League contenders—especially if the defence receives reinforcements before the season starts.
Interestingly, the two targets manager Mark Hughes has identified to solve his defensive issues, John Terry and Joleon Lescott, exemplify better than most the differing attraction of City for certain players.
On the one hand, Lescott is the sort of signing that many clubs in Manchester City’s position would love to make. The 26-year-old has proved himself an outstanding Premiership defender over the last two seasons, chipping in with crucial goals but most importantly playing a pivotal role in making Everton a difficult side to beat.
But Everton’s understandable inability to break into the Champions League—and their failure to win last year’s FA Cup—would lead him to be intrigued by any offer from Manchester City who, while finishing lower in the league than the Toffees last term, seem to have the personnel and the financial clout to challenge the dominance of the “Big Four” across all fronts.
A bid of £15 million for the former Wolves player has already been rejected, but anything nearer the £20 million mark is likely to test the resolve of manager David Moyes.
Lescott’s conduct throughout the transfer process should also renew Hughes’ desire to try and sign him. Lescott, while privately keen on discussing a move with the Eastlands club, has so far refused to confront Moyes with his wishes, and has declined from making any public comment about the situation—a viable option if he wished to engineer a move away.
Lescott’s actions illustrate a player more concerned with playing football to the best of his ability than maximising his earning potential.
“Absolutely we want Joleon to stay. I don’t think anyone would want a player like Joleon to leave,” Lescott’s teammate Leighton Baines told the club’s official website after the club’s midweek friendly with Rochdale.
“He’s done so well for the club over the last few years. His mind isn’t elsewhere and he’s fully focused on what he’s doing here at Everton at the moment. That’s great.”
Hughes might well feel such an upstanding character would be a welcome addition to a dressing room quickly being filled by multi-millionaires whose footballing desire has been publicly questioned.
Another man whose character seems highly desired by Mark Hughes, is Chelsea defender John Terry—the subject of a £30 million bid from the club that was apparently rejected by the Blues.
“I played alongside him at Chelsea and I admire him as a person and captain from afar,” Hughes said this week. “He’s obviously the type and calibre of player we need if we are going to progress and compete at the top level.”
Yet City’s bid for the England international has created more questions about Terry’s character than it has given answers.
The 28-year-old is a man who has carefully and deliberately cultivated the image of being “Mr. Chelsea.” It is a status that has enabled him to be more than looked-after by his club (his wages are believed to be around £130,000-a-week), and even rise to captaincy of his national side on the back of his much-vaunted leadership skills.
For a man whose defensive abilities are not above criticism, Terry cannot be said to have underachieved.
But without his reputation as a talismanic leader, Terry would simply be another example of the overpaid and over-pampered modern footballer, brazenly parking in disabled spaces and more interested in the size of his pay cheque than the size of his trophy cabinet.
If that was the case, the England captaincy would surely have eluded him.
Surprising, a refusal to deny an interest in Manchester City suggests that such an analysis might not be too far from the truth after all. Surely a real “Mr. Chelsea” would not consider leaving Stamford Bridge for a club that is still some way from reaching the same standing in the world game?
Surely, after regularly stating his desire to win the Champions League with his boyhood club, he would not turn his back when the possibility of such a dream being realised is still realistic?
The answer to either question is as yet unclear.
But in refusing to make any comment about the situation, Terry is doing his own image more harm than good.
There appear to be two likely outcomes from the whole saga. The first sees Terry join City for a giant transfer fee that perhaps overplays his importance as a player, but underlines his significance as a leader.
For such a move, he will doubtless be handsomely rewarded with an astronomical weekly wage.
The second outcome would see Terry stay at Chelsea, but use Manchester City’s interest as a bargaining chip with which to squeeze more money out of Roman Abramovich, upping his wage from its current £130,000.
Terry might pass it off as the price of loyalty. Others might simply see it as greed.
But with either outcome, Terry will see a rise in his income.
In the modern game, the chance to increase earning potential is almost as powerful an attraction to a player as the opportunity to increase their chances of winning trophies.
This summer, City are in unparalleled position to provide an attractive opposition to players motivated by either money or potential titles. They can attract players otherwise out of their reach (Adebayor, Tevez) as what they can offer financially outweighs what they cannot provide in short-term opportunities.
But they can also attract ambitious players at clubs outside the “Big Four” with the otherwise unlikely prospect of Champions League football somewhere down the line.
The task facing Hughes is to find the right balance of either type of player in his squad.
The way things look at the minute, some might suggest it is a hungry player like Lescott the club needs most, rather than John Terry—a player whose character suddenly finds itself firmly in question.

Manchester City’s footballing master-plan has kicked up a notch in recent weeks, with attacking reinforcements acquired at a rate that has further shaken a transfer market already reeling from Real Madrid’s early summer moves.

In the signings of Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Gareth Barry, to name just three, City have added a host of players who have played for or were once coveted by members of the “Big Four”.

As a result, the message the club is sending out is clear — Manchester City are in it to win it.

Whether the players mentioned above will be enough to catapult City to title contention is debatable, but what is certain is that the players currently at manager Mark Hughes’ disposal makes the club realistic Champions League contenders — especially if the defence receives reinforcements before the season starts.

Interestingly, the two targets manager Mark Hughes has identified to solve his defensive issues, John Terry and Joleon Lescott, exemplify better than most the differing attraction of City for certain players.

On the one hand, Lescott is the sort of signing that many clubs in Manchester City’s position would love to make. The 26-year-old has proved himself an outstanding Premiership defender over the last two seasons, chipping in with crucial goals but most importantly playing a pivotal role in making Everton a difficult side to beat.

But Everton’s understandable inability to break into the Champions League — and their failure to win last year’s FA Cup — would lead him to be intrigued by any offer from Manchester City who, while finishing lower in the league than the Toffees last term, seem to have the personnel and the financial clout to challenge the dominance of the “Big Four” across all fronts.

A bid of £15 million for the former Wolves player has already been rejected, but anything nearer the £20 million mark is likely to test the resolve of manager David Moyes. Continue reading

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | Leave a comment

Diego Forlan Overlooked by Europe’s Elite Despite Enviable Record

His goalscoring record compares favourably with anyone else in Europe. But age and the memory of his failure with Manchester United seem to be ensuring Diego Forlan doesn’t get another chance with one the game’s biggest clubs…

Diego Forlan: The finest Uruguayan player since... Alvaro Recoba?

Diego Forlan: The finest Uruguayan player since... Alvaro Recoba?

As the summer transfer window rolls on, strikers have quickly hit the top of the agenda, with every big club looking to improve their team by adding a world-class finisher.
Manchester City have already added Roque Santa Cruz (£18 million) and Carlos Tevez (£25 million) to their squad, with another £25 million believed to be heading Arsenal’s way in exchange for the services of Emmanuel Adebayor.
In Spain, Real Madrid have already spent money on attracting French striker Karim Benzema to their ranks, hoping the former Olympique Lyonnais hitman will be the focal point of the Madrid attack that will also feature £80 million Cristiano Ronaldo.
Real, along with arch-rivals Barcelona, have also been consistently linked with Valencia striker David Villa. The Spanish international is highly coveted by clubs throughout Europe, but the Mestalla-based club are taking a hardline stance in negotiations in order to get the best deal possible for their talisman.
Down the big club’s lists, however, and so far failing to gain serious interest, is a player that—on recent form—is arguably the superior of all the aforementioned names: Diego Forlan.
Some clubs, most notably Barcelona, have flirted with the Uruguayan striker but have yet to get serious with their intentions.
“It is not strange to me that Joan Laporta [Barcelona’s president] says he likes Forlan, as we have known that for a long time,” said Forlan’s agent, Daniel Bolotnicoff, recently. “But the reality is that there has been no offer[s], and we are calm. Barcelona have at no time made contact with us. Laporta has made no movement for Forlan.”
Elsewhere, the top clubs in England seem prepossessed with a move for Atletico’s other talented striker, Sergio “Kun” Aguero, although the club’s valuation of the player might prove an insurmountable obstacle.
Yet it is the Uruguayan striker, and not his Argentinean teammate, who currently holds the Pichichi, the award given to the top scorer in La Liga, having beaten both Villa and another highly sought-after striker, Samuel Eto’o, to the crown last season.
In the 2008-09 season, Forlan scored a fantastic 32 goals in 33 league games, capping yet another great season in Spain for the former Manchester United striker.
Forlan arrived at Manchester United with an impressive reputation, but a poor return of just 17 goals in 120 games (although some of those proved vitally important) saw the £6.9 million signing’s stock plummet.
Indeed, the man once dubbed “Diego Forlorn” around Old Trafford has become virtually unrecognisable ever since he was offloaded to Villarreal in 2004 for a reported sum of just £3 million.
Forlan won the Pichichi in his first season with the Villarreal club, helping the club to its first-ever Champions League qualification.
The Uruguayan international went on to score 54 goals in 103 games for the club before Atletico Madrid came calling with a sizeable €21 million offer for his services.
In two seasons with the capital club, Forlan has notched 48 goals in just 69 games—a record that compares favourably with anyone else in Spain or Europe.
But that hasn’t been enough to make him the focus of Europe’s biggest clubs.
For many, the memory of his underwhelming period at United acts as a deterrent to any transfer bid.
For his part, Forlan is remarkably sanguine about the failures of his career:
“Every coach has his own players,” Forlan said. “Maybe I was not the player that Sir Alex [Ferguson] liked, which is fair enough. He can choose—that’s why he’s the manager.”
For the others, Forlan’s age is the problem. The 30-year-old doesn’t look like a particularly attractive proposition considering the limited number of years left in his career, particularly for English clubs concerned by his failure to adapt to the Premier League, when his 21-year-old teammate Aguero could be purchased for just a slightly higher fee.
But more so than most players currently being bandied about in the rumour pages of newspapers, Forlan’s record should excite any club serious about their aspirations—and with the money to back it up.
Aside from his formidable goal-scoring record, the Montevideo-born man is a truly two-footed finisher—last season he scored 16 goals with his right foot and 15 with his left—with the knack of producing the spectacular.
Forlan doesn’t just rely on his teammates for goals; he has often created his own openings out of nothing. As deadly inside the box as he can be 30 yards out, Spanish defences have had five years to nullify Forlan’s threat and have so far failed miserably.
Content to stay with Atletico, who will enter the Champions League in the playoff round this year, Forlan would nonetheless be intrigued by a second opportunity to prove his worth with a European heavyweight.
“Diego is at Atletico, very happy there because he has been treated wonderfully,” his father Pablo told Spanish station COM radio this week. “But, without a doubt, playing in a team like Barca would interest any player.”
It might interest him, but it looks like Forlan will have to wait until the future of players he has regularly outscored—particularly Eto’o and Villa—is resolved before he can mull over any proposals of his own.
All things considered, a transfer this summer looks unlikely.
“In football, you cannot predict what will happen,” Pablo admitted, “but neither myself nor Diego want to talk about something that has not happened. He is happy at Atletico.”
And Atletico are happy to have him.

As the summer transfer window rolls on, strikers have quickly hit the top of the agenda, with every big club looking to improve their team by adding a world-class finisher.

Manchester City have already added Roque Santa Cruz (£18 million) and Carlos Tevez (£25 million) to their squad, with another £25 million believed to be heading Arsenal’s way in exchange for the services of Emmanuel Adebayor.

In Spain, Real Madrid have already spent money on attracting French striker Karim Benzema to their ranks, hoping the former Olympique Lyonnais hitman will be the focal point of the Madrid attack that will also feature £80 million Cristiano Ronaldo.

Real, along with arch-rivals Barcelona, have also been consistently linked with Valencia striker David Villa. The Spanish international is highly coveted by clubs throughout Europe, but the Mestalla-based club are taking a hardline stance in negotiations in order to get the best deal possible for their talisman.

Down the big club’s lists, however, and so far failing to gain serious interest, is a player that — on recent form — is arguably the superior of all the aforementioned names: Diego Forlan.

Some clubs, most notably Barcelona, have flirted with the Uruguayan striker but have yet to get serious with their intentions.

“It is not strange to me that Joan Laporta [Barcelona’s president] says he likes Forlan, as we have known that for a long time,” said Forlan’s agent, Daniel Bolotnicoff, recently. “But the reality is that there has been no offer[s], and we are calm. Barcelona have at no time made contact with us. Laporta has made no movement for Forlan.” Continue reading

July 20, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | 3 Comments

Portsmouth and Newcastle Find Short-Term Prospects Hampered by Takeover Talks

Both clubs are hoping new owners will revive their fortunes. But while negotiations continue to eat into the summer transfer window, the short-term impact could be more negative than positive…

Uncertainty at both clubs is beginning to affect the players (Photo: Getty)

Uncertainty at both clubs is beginning to affect the players (Photo: Getty)

In general, a takeover brings positive results to the football club involved.

Transfer budgets and ambitions are increased, as a new chairman comes in and approves the purchase of expensive new signings who invariably help the team to dramatically improved league positions.

But, by the same token, a takeover can bring many problems to a previously stable club. If a takeover drags on and takes a while to complete — particularly during the vitally important summer months, where fresh talent must be recruited for the new campaign — it can spell disaster for a club’s short-term prospects.

That is the fear that currently grips Premiership club Portsmouth, and recently relegated Championship outfit Newcastle United.

While Newcastle seemed to be paralysed by owner Mike Ashley’s failure to sell the club this summer, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Fahim’s protracted negotiations over the purchase of Portsmouth have resulted in the South Coast club losing a lot of ground in the transfer window.    

Star player Glen Johnson has already moved to Liverpool in the transfer window, with the £17 million fee helping to alleviate the club’s existing financial concerns — concerns held over by the outgoing regime.

The right-back’s move has also gone some way to assuaging Al-Fahim’s fears about the economic integrity of the club he proposes to buy, as the Middle East-based businessman finally completed due diligence of the club yesterday.

“The formal application for the fit and proper person test has been submitted to the Premier League and it is with them now,” said Ivo Ilic Gabara, Al-Fahim’s spokesman, after announcing due diligence had been completed. “The buying party, Fahim Associates, are now doing the final commercial assessment following the due diligence process.” Continue reading

July 14, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , | Leave a comment

Ashes Series Set To Serve Up Great Tests, But Not Greatness

A tense final hour saw England finally show some resolve and grab a draw from the very depths of defeat, but the dramatic conclusion only served to highlight the lack of widespread class in either side…

Bopara and England will have to match Australia's intensity (Photo: Getty)

Bopara and England will have to match Australia's intensity (Photo: Getty)

England escaped defeat by the slimmest of margins on Sunday, as James Anderson and Monty Panesar—England’s No. 10 and 11 respectively—formed an unlikely yet defiant 69-ball final stand to deny an Australian side from a victory that they looked destined to take for much of the final day.
It was a dramatic end to the first Ashes Test of 2009, and the first Test match ever to be held at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens.
Much credit for the “great escape” must go to Paul Collingwood, whose valiant six-hour innings (during which he compiled the slowest England 50 in 14 years) got England to within sight of the finish line.
Ridiculed four years ago by Shane Warne as he collected an MBE despite only contributing 17 runs to England’s Ashes success, Collingwood looks like a man determined to have a big impact on the series this time around.
Absolutely mortified by his dismissal—caught feeling outside off-stump and ending up spooning a catch to gully—that prevented him seeing the job through to its conclusion, the 33-year-old should not be too down-hearted.
Nevertheless, the tense conclusion to the Test should not detract from the simple fact that Australia managed to gain the upper hand on England within three days of the first Test of a five Test series—and this is not even a great Australian side.
“In the end it was close, closer than we would have hoped for and at one point we looked dead,” Collingwood told Sky Sports in the game’s aftermath. “There are some happy people in that dressing room now. Realistically though we know we have to improve for Thursday.”
Nathan Hauritz is an average spinner at best, and while Peter Siddle and Mitchell Johnson are both threatening bowlers, neither would have challenged Glenn McGrath for strike-bowling supremacy in years gone by.
The fact that such a weak bowling attack, by Australia’s high standards, still managed to out-fox England’s upper and middle order, is not a good sign for the remainder of the series.
England—possessing of their own distinctly average bowling lineup in the form of Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Monty Panesar, and Graeme Swann—will hope that a move back to the more familiar Test surroundings of Lord’s will reinvigorate all aspects of their game.
“We’re just thankful that we managed to get away with it,” England captain Andrew Strauss said at the post-match presentation. “We’ve not given away too much momentum, which is important in back-to-back Tests. We are just very, very thankful to get a draw and we can take pride in the fight we showed.”
England’s batsman will look forward to arriving at the home of cricket, bringing with i the likely prospect of a few runs. Only Ravi Bopara should provide real worries for the selectors, and the young No. 3 looks like he only needs one decent knock to give him the confidence to remain competitive throughout the rest of the series.
It is the toothless nature of the bowling attack that might need more than a change of scenery to address.
Steve Harmison—at his best a truly world-class fast bowler—is in the squad for the second Test and might well get another chance to take on the Aussies, against whom he has a bittersweet history, once more.
If he doesn’t make the starting 11 for the next Test, in replacement of one of the spinners (surely, despite his heroics, Panesar), then his Durham teammate Graham Onions surely should.
These are decisions for Andrew Strauss and the England selectors to make, although, as a captain, Strauss does not inspire confidence in the way Michael Vaughan did.
While Vaughan seemed to have the ability—and the courage—to actively make things happen for his side during crucial periods of matches, Strauss seems to be an altogether more reactionary leader, preferring to try and respond to events as they come.
Strauss does not strike you as a natural leader, and you feel after Kevin Pietersen’s antics last year he became captain through a lack of any other options.
In the annals of time, his captaincy will probably not be remembered amongst the greats. Although the ECB might be quivering at the prospect, Pietersen will surely re-assume the captaincy before too long.
With it, perhaps England will develop the sort of hard-nosed intent that characterises Australian teams. At the minute, that seems the major difference between the two sides—Australia are ruthless, intimidating, and abrasive.
England, while comparably talented, seem too nice to get involved in a real dogfight. Perhaps that will develop as the series, and the personal rivalries, progress.
Regardless of future events, England can take heart from the fact they have come through the inevitable early baptism of fire without any tangible damage being done to their series prospects. The junior members of the squad now know what the Ashes are all about, and the senior members have had the opportunity to see what the new faces in the opposition squad are all about.
From what has been seen so far, neither side should be scared of the other.
One the evidence of the first Test, it cannot be denied that the quality of the two teams is far diminished from the 2005 series.
But if the 2009 version continues to serve up dramatic finishes like Sunday’s, then it is doubtful too many casual observers will be that bothered.

England escaped defeat by the slimmest of margins on Sunday, as James Anderson and Monty Panesar — England’s No. 10 and 11 respectively — formed an unlikely yet defiant 69-ball final stand to deny an Australian side from a victory that they looked destined to take for much of the final day.

It was a dramatic end to the first Ashes Test of 2009, and the first Test match ever to be held at Cardiff’s Sophia Gardens.

Much credit for the “great escape” must go to Paul Collingwood, whose valiant six-hour innings (during which he compiled the slowest England 50 in 14 years) got England to within sight of the finish line.

Ridiculed four years ago by Shane Warne as he collected an MBE despite only contributing 17 runs to England’s Ashes success, Collingwood looks like a man determined to have a big impact on the series this time around.

Absolutely mortified by his dismissal — caught feeling outside off-stump and ending up spooning a catch to gully — that prevented him seeing the job through to its conclusion, the 33-year-old should not be too down-hearted.

Nevertheless, the tense conclusion to the Test should not detract from the simple fact that Australia managed to gain the upper hand on England within three days of the first Test of a five Test series — and this is not even a great Australian side.

“In the end it was close, closer than we would have hoped for and at one point we looked dead,” Collingwood told Sky Sports in the game’s aftermath. “There are some happy people in that dressing room now. Realistically though we know we have to improve for Thursday.”

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July 13, 2009 Posted by | Sport | , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Footballer’s Superstitions

As a rule Catch Seventy7 is not really a big fan of lists, but every once in a while exceptions must be made…

Blanc and Barthez: Bromance (Photo: Reuters)

Blanc and Barthez: Bromance (Photo: Reuters)

When it comes to superstitions, footballers are in a class of their own. Whether it be wearing the same piece of kit for a decade, or carrying out the same pre-match rituals, footballers will do anything if it makes them believe they will play better. Here are just 10 of the best footballing superstitions:

 

1. Malvin Kamara

When it comes to superstitions, the former Huddersfield midfielder certainly takes the biscuit. Or, more accurately, the chocolate. The 25-year-old watches Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory before every game he plays.

“It really helps to get me in the right mood for what lies ahead,” the 25-year-old revealed.
”That is the original Gene Wilder version I’m talking about though, the Johnny Depp one just offends me.” Obviously.

 

2. Romeo Anconetani

Former Pisa president Romeo Anconetani, renowned for his eccentric ways, had an unusual pre-match superstition. Before every one of his side’s games the Italian would throw salt onto the pitch. And the bigger the game, the more salt he would throw. In one particularly important match against local rivals Cesena, Anconetani distributed 26kg of salt on the pitch. Well seasoned.

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July 10, 2009 Posted by | Sport | , | Leave a comment

Manchester United Hope Nuture Will Build On Obertan’s Natural Talent

Well regarded in France, if hardly lauded as one of their finest prospects. Nevertheless, Manchester United have seen enough in Gabriel Obertan to persuade them their coaching methods can bring out the best in their new £3m signing…

Obertan's natural ability could do with some refinement (Photo: TEAMSHOOT)

Obertan's natural ability could do with some refinement (Photo: Teamshoot)

With the summer signings of Michael Owen, Luis Antonio Valencia, and now Gabriel Obertan, Manchester United have hardly captured the imagination of their worldwide fanbase.
£17 million Valencia, a star performer in a solid Wigan Athletic team last season, has been viewed as a decent, if unspectacular signing to offset the loss of the irreplaceable Cristiano Ronaldo.
Michael Owen was undoubtedly one of the world’s best strikers once upon a time, but many supporters remain to be convinced that the 29-year-old, arguably 11 years removed from his finest hour as a player, will be able to replace the effort, goals and overall contribution that Carlos Tevez brought to the club.
And as for the £3 million Obertan; while 80,000 Madrid fans turned out to see Cristiano Ronaldo’s unveiling at Real Madrid, it is perhaps doubtful that even that many United fans had ever heard of the former Bordeaux winger.
Nevertheless, Sir Alex Ferguson has done his homework in scouting the wideman, and has seen enough to lead him to believe he has the potential to succeed at the club.
“Gabriel is a player we have tracked for a few years now, but because of his educational programme [at the famed Clairefontaine academy] our efforts to get him here have always been delayed,” Ferguson said. “We are delighted to get him now, as he is an exciting prospect.”
The 20-year-old had long known of United’s observation of him, but admitted ahead of his move to England that he thought the opportunity for him to join the former European champions had passed.
“I knew they had been following me for a few years but I did not think it was going to happen this season,” Obertan told French radio station RMC.
“We had no longer been in too much contact until the England U-21 game where I played well for France and scored a goal. That helped things along. We spoke again, and I ended up signing.”
For pundits and fans alike, however, the Obertan signing is not one that has been greatly celebrated. Partly this is a result of Obertan’s relative obscurity, but it is also a result of the Frenchman’s fairly uninspiring CV.
After all, as former club Bordeaux chased a first league title in ten years last season, manager Laurent Blanc deemed Obertan expendable enough to be allowed out on loan to lowly Lorient for the second half of the campaign.
While his teammates went on to clinch the title, Obertan managed a meager one goal in 15 appearances with the Ligue 1 mid-table side.
But Blanc, if not a confidante then certainly a close acquaintance of Sir Alex (having played under the Scot at Old Trafford during the later part of his career), will not have sold his former manager a complete dud, and Obertan does have pedigree at youth level.
He won the most valuable player award at last month’s international Toulon tournament, and Ireland fans will remember him as a player who tore apart their U21 side in a friendly last year. As United witnessed, he was also instrumental as France beat England at U21 level earlier this year.
The French World Cup winner is more than aware of his former charge’s promise, but realistic enough to realise that the French club (especially with the likes of Yoann Gourcuff reducing first team opportunities) might not be best environment for him to progress.
“I was surprised [when United came in with a bid], but it is an unexpected chance for him to play with one of the best clubs in the world,” Blanc said recently.
“Manchester United certainly hope to advance him, something that Bordeaux and Lorient have failed to do. He has the potential, but he must overcome psychological and mental challenges so he can express his true value.”
United will be confident they can help Obertan overcome such obstacles, and that their coaching methods will prove more productive than Bordeaux’s.
Signing a player for £12.25 million and selling him five years later for £80 million will give a club great faith in the training methods they employ, and that is exactly what United achieved with Cristiano Ronaldo.
When the Portuguese winger arrived at Old Trafford, he was a young player with great athletic ability and natural skill, but lacking any sort of end product—something his former club Sporting Lisbon were struggling to address.
Much like Obertan.
Under United’s tutelage, however, Ronaldo is now one of the finest players in the world, with a goalscoring (and assist) record that compares with the very best.
United’s back-room staff must take a lot of credit for that.
While calling Obertan Ronaldo’s heir might be overly optimistic, a prolonged stay at Old Trafford will undoubtedly develop his talents to a level he could previously only aspire to.
At 6’2″, Obertan has the physical presence to survive in the Premier League. Like Ronaldo, he has already demonstrated the sort of trickery and natural speed that cannot be taught, no matter who the coach is.
It is his positioning, awareness and technique—among other things—that need work. These are all aspects that United’s coaching team, led by Mike Phelan, will be confident they can address.
“We like to get young players and develop them, and we will see that in Gabriel over the next two years,” Ferguson said.
Before signing the 20-year-old, Ferguson will no doubt have sat the winger down and underlined to him exactly how he sees him progressing, and how much effort he will have to put in in order to succeed. Ferguson will have wanted assurances that such a commitment will be made before finalizing a deal.
Publicly at least, Obertan seems to have taken that message on board.
“This is a big opportunity for me to play at such a great club,” Obertan said. “It’s my potential that interests him [Ferguson]. He has confidence in me. It is flattering and surprising—but I know I still have a lot of work to do.”
Obertan joins Zoran Tosic, Nani, Valencia, and Adem Ljajic (currently on loan at Partizan Belgrade) as the naturally-talented young attackers on United’s books.
And with the quality of nuturing available to them from United’s world-class staff, Sir Alex Ferguson will be confident that in the near future at least one of them, if not more, will develop into able successors for the departed Ronaldo.

With the summer signings of Michael Owen, Luis Antonio Valencia, and now Gabriel Obertan, Manchester United have hardly captured the imagination of their worldwide fanbase.

£17 million Valencia, a star performer in a solid Wigan Athletic team last season, has been viewed as a decent, if unspectacular signing to offset the loss of the irreplaceable Cristiano Ronaldo.

Michael Owen was undoubtedly one of the world’s best strikers once upon a time, but many supporters remain to be convinced that the 29-year-old, arguably 11 years removed from his finest hour as a player, will be able to replace the effort, goals and overall contribution that Carlos Tevez brought to the club.

And as for the £3 million Obertan; while 80,000 Madrid fans turned out to see Cristiano Ronaldo’s unveiling at Real Madrid, it is perhaps doubtful that even that many United fans had ever heard of the former Bordeaux winger.

Nevertheless, Sir Alex Ferguson has done his homework in scouting the wideman, and has seen enough to lead him to believe he has the potential to succeed at the club.

“Gabriel is a player we have tracked for a few years now, but because of his educational programme [at the famed Clairefontaine academy] our efforts to get him here have always been delayed,” Ferguson said. “We are delighted to get him now, as he is an exciting prospect.”

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July 9, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | Leave a comment

Steve Savidan’s Career Ended By The One Organ He Could Always Rely On

He wasn’t the best footballer, he wasn’t the worst. But, as exemplified by the way it ended, Steve Savidan’s career was a story more worthy than those of most of his peers…

Savidan lived up to the hype at Caen...

Savidan lived up to the hype at Caen...

Oh, the irony of life.
A week ago, Steve Savidan was just another footballer nervously awaiting a transfer that might elevate his professional career.
Today, as a direct result of such a transfer materialising, the French international is resigning himself to the fact he will never play football at the highest level again.
A player renowned for his heart and resilience, Savidan has seen his career ended without warning by a problem with the one organ on which he could always rely.
Expecting to complete a move over the weekend from recently relegated Caen—for whom he scored 14 goals in 38 games last season—to one of France’s biggest sides, AS Monaco, only a medical stood in the former journeyman’s way.
But, in the same week where a successful medical reignited the career of an injury prone Michael Owen, the discovery of a severe heart defect by the Monaco physios has had the opposite effect on the Savidan—a player for whom fitness was rarely a problem.
“Unfortunately, signing for Monaco is no longer possible,” Savidan was forced to announce over the weekend. “The tests show there is a cardiac anomaly that has recently appeared. It is a real mental blow. It is likely that the doctors will not let me pursue my career.”
If Caen had not been relegated, if Savidan had not been forced to move to keep his slim international hopes alive, then perhaps he would have continued played—ignorant to the perilous danger he was in.
But throughout his career Savidan has not had much time for “what ifs”. He’s just dealt with problems as they arise. And he is well-versed in overcoming adversity.
After all, football hasn’t always been kind to him.
Barely five years ago, Savidan was supplementing his measly income with non-league Angoulême by working a number of menial jobs. One of those was as a binman—a fact that would mare the headlines he would subsequently make throughout his career.
Angoulême was his sixth club. Having already failed to make an impact at the previous five, it looked likely that striker had a better chance of making a living from emptying the trash than scoring goals.
Savidan would prove the doubters, and to an extent himself, wrong however, as he suddenly found his goalscoring touch (12 in 37 games) with the lowly side.
“I am proof that the system doesn’t always work,” said Savidan recently. “I was born at the wrong time. I’m from the same generation as Henry and Anelka [he is the same age as both men] and when they were coming through you had to be well over six-foot to be picked for youth schemes. I’m quite a bit under six-foot.”
A move to Valenciennes—a once respectable side, who had fallen out of the top divisions—materialized, and it was there that the 5’9” Savidan discovered it was his head—his heart had never been in question—that had held his career back.
“Whenever I was given a chance in the past I didn’t take it,” Savidan later said. “It’s possible that I destroyed myself. Very possible, in fact. You could almost say I was suicidal. But then I was analysed and helped by the right people, specifically a psychiatrist at Angers and a GP at Valenciennes.”
Mentally more assured, Savidan proceeded to shoot his new team to two promotions in succession, back into France’s top division, Ligue 1.
There, his goalscoring touch did not desert him, and he proceeded to score 25 goals over two seasons for unfashionable Valenciennes, including four in one game past the World Cup winning goalkeeper Fabien Barthez.
At the end of the 2007-08 season, Caen came calling and bought the former binman for €5m.
Savidan just kept scoring.
Soon, talk of an international call-up began to emerge. By now a 30-year-old, Savidan held little hope of such a dream materializing so late in his career. The last French player to earn his debut at 30 was Franck Juretti in 2005, and his international career lasted just 10 seconds.
The last Caen player to be called up to the French squad was in 1992.
But that didn’t stop him imploring coach Raymond Domenech to consider it.
“Imagine if it works,” Savidan said during an interview in 2008. “Imagine if I hit two goals just like I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a kid. Where’s the risk in trying? If I don’t fit in, I’ll toddle back to where I came from and you can say ‘see, I told you he wasn’t up to it.'”
Whether it was the impassioned speech or his impressive goalscoring record that did the job, Savidan got his wish as Domenech called the striker up for France’s friendly against Uruguay.
In the second half, Savidan would achieve his ambition as he made his international debut in front of 79,000 at Stade de France. But there would not be the realization of the two-goal dream he had since childhood, as the game finished 0-0.
It would be Savidan’s only international appearance.
But then, one is always better than none.
Only a week ago, the spectre of undiscovered heart defects was brought sharply into focus as the Confederations Cup final become a stage to remember the death of Cameroon international Marc-Vivien Foe, who died of a heart-attack on the pitch, aged just 27.
Foe’s death, along with that of Hungarian Miklos Feher, made FIFA sit up and realise something had to be done to prevent such fatalities in future.
Savidan’s situation proves that such testing is getting better and prevention is becoming the norm, but hopefully it will also encourage FIFA to realise that they cannot rest on their laurels, that players of all ages and at all levels should have the opportunity to be tested against such life-threatening problems.
With his career brought to an abrupt halt, at least Savidan can look back with pride on what he managed to achieve, overcoming the odds.
And at least he will live to face the challenges of another day, whatever it may bring.

Oh, the irony of life.

A week ago, Steve Savidan was just another footballer nervously awaiting a transfer that might elevate his professional career.

Today, as a direct result of such a transfer materialising, the French international is resigning himself to the fact he will never play football at the highest level again.

A player renowned for his heart and resilience, Savidan has seen his career ended without warning by a problem with the one organ on which he could always rely.

Expecting to complete a move over the weekend from recently relegated Caen — for whom he scored 14 goals in 38 games last season — to one of France’s biggest sides, AS Monaco, only a medical stood in the former journeyman’s way.

But, in the same week where a successful medical reignited the career of an injury prone Michael Owen, the discovery of a severe heart defect by the Monaco physios has had the opposite effect on the Savidan — a player for whom fitness was rarely a problem.

“Unfortunately, signing for Monaco is no longer possible,” Savidan was forced to announce over the weekend. “The tests show there is a cardiac anomaly that has recently appeared. It is a real mental blow. It is likely that the doctors will not let me pursue my career.”

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July 6, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , | 1 Comment