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Bungling foreign owners serve up more competitive Premier League — at either end of the table

How many words does it take to point out that foreign owners at the top and bottom of the Premier League have given hope to the rest of the competition? Err… quite a few apparently. Nevertheless, the likes of Tom Hicks and George Gillett have somehow managed to make the league far more interesting this season…

George Gillett and Tom Hicks: Hampering Liverpool's ambitions since 2007?

When the influx first looked like coming, foreign ownership of clubs was rallied against as the beginning of the end for English football — with dire warnings that fans would lose the connection with their local club as the sport became more about making money than providing entertainment.

The same was said of foreign players, of course, when they suddenly began descending on their Premier League around 15 years earlier.

The likes of Eric Cantona and Dennis Bergkamp would obstruct English talent from shining, it was widely believed. In fact, the opposite has been proven to be true, as the many others who followed those legendary players to English shores have helped improved the native technique and ability beyond almost all recognition.

Few predicted the Premier League would get stronger with foreign players but, having contributed Champions League finalists in each of the last five seasons, that has proven to be the case.

Few predicted foreign ownership would lead to a more competitive league but, perhaps belatedly, even unexpectedly, that is suddenly becoming the case.

After all, some of the traditional powerhouses of English football have seemingly been handicapped by their foreign owners in recent times, while others from the middle of the English pack have been able to burst forward under the ambitious direction of new men in charge.

In the former corner, unfortunately for their long-suffering fans, is Liverpool. Just this week Rafa Benitez, the club’s beleaguered manager, attempted to deflect attention away from his own troubles by admitting publicly what everyone already suspected about the way the club is now run:

“One of the priorities this year was to reduce the debt so the club is working very hard to do this and I think that our position will be much better,” the Spaniard said. Continue reading

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December 16, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Great Gael Kakuta passes debut test as Chelsea start to dream of future glory

He has been one of the most talked-about young players in world football, for all the wrong reasons. But after an impressive 30-minute debut at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, Gael Kakuta underlined exactly why Chelsea had sailed so close to the wind in order to obtain his signature…

We're flying: Kakuta soared at Stamford Bridge under intense pressure

No one can say they weren’t warned.

If anyone had missed the furore surrounding Gael Kakuta that overshadowed the early part Chelsea’s season, Carlo Ancelotti’s comments ahead of yesterday’s game against Wolverhampton Wanderers added another reason why the Frenchman has become one of the most talked about young players in world football.

“He (Kakuta) is a very good talent. He is very young and he can be a player in the future of Chelsea with his quality,” Ancelotti said.

“His character is good, he is a quiet boy, and at that age I have never seen a player with this talent,” he revealed.

Coming from Ancelotti, that is some statement. The Italian has observed some fabulous players in his 30-year career in football.

The fact that Kakuta is the best 18-year-old he has ever seen — just last year he was working with another fabulous teenager, AC Milan’s Alexandre Pato — will only increase the expectation around the young winger.

But the France U19 international has already become used to that.

After all, in September he went from being just a highly regarded member of Chelsea’s reserve team to one of the most notorious players in the world.

With FIFA judging out of the blue that Chelsea had broken the rules in luring Kakuta from French club RC Lens as a 16-year-old, the west London club found themselves forbidden from making signings for two consecutive transfer windows.

Kakuta, portrayed in many places as one of the villains of the piece, was banned from competitive football for four months.

Mentally weaker players would have crumbled under the increased scrutiny. But after a brief period of panic, the club’s 2008 Scholar of the Year soon composed himself.

“I think Kakuta suffered for one or two weeks about the situation and then after that he was better,” Ancelotti said.

“He returned to being quiet and calm and stayed with us to train. Still now he is well.

“It was not so important to speak with him, it was important to train with him and he stayed with the first team in this period.” Continue reading

November 23, 2009 Posted by | Comment, Uncategorized, World Football | , , , | 1 Comment

Time for Chelsea’s academy to step up to counter effect of transfer embargo

Earlier in the week it was UEFA stealing the headlines with their punishment of Eduardo, now FIFA have got in on the act. Chelsea might appeal the ruling with all the might they can muster, but if the worst comes to the worst then perhaps the answer to their problems might lie in the very place that got them in trouble…

Gael Kakuta might have a bright future, but his club's immediate outlook just got a whole lot bleaker...

Head up: Gael Kakuta might have a bright future, but his club's immediate outlook just got a whole lot bleaker...

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the football world has been rocked by the news of Chelsea’s year-long transfer embargo, imposed on the club by FIFA after the Blues were found guilty of acting improperly in their acquisition of young French midfielder Gael Kakuta.
On top of the ban, which will last for two transfer windows and mean the next opportunity for the club to sign new players will be in January 2011, the club have been ordered to pay compensation to Kakuta’s former club, RC Lens, totalling around $186,000.
Understandably, the Stamford Bridge club are not going to willingly comply with what is an unprecedented, if not unpopular, decision from the game’s governing body.
“Chelsea will mount the strongest appeal possible following the decision of FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber over Gaël Kakuta,” a statement on the club’s website read.
“The sanctions are without precedent to this level and totally disproportionate to the alleged offence and the financial penalty imposed.”
On this, it is arguable Chelsea have a point. The club might well come away from the inevitable hearing with CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport) with a reduced embargo, or even just a sizeable fine.
If not, as they have already found out with the recent Adrian Mutu saga, there is always an even higher court to continue their appeal in.
However, no one should be under the illusion that a successful appeal is inevitable. FIFA will not have come to such a decision, especially knowing how much attention it would bring, without a determination to see it enforced.
If little else, it can be taken as read that the organisation will do everything it can to ensure the London club comply to ever aspect of the ‘sentence’ they have passed down.
As such, the Chelsea hierarchy must start making contingency plans (as limited as they may be) in case the punishment imposed on them remains in place, especially as it has such widespread implications on their prospects.
With an already ageing squad (the average age of the first XI this year is over 29), the prospect of not being able to sign fresh blood until January 2011 is something that could well prove detrimental to short-term fortunes.
In that time, they are likely to miss out on long-rumoured targets Sergio Aguero and Franck Ribery, among others. With both players likely to move next summer, Chelsea will have to watch on mournfully as rival clubs fight over players they have long coveted.
Not only that, but they will have little opportunity to respond as key squad members (Drogba, Kalou, Essien) head to the African Cup of Nations in January of this season, or make arrangements next summer to counter the potential impact of certain important players (Drogba, Ballack, Carvalho) hitting an age where their talents will reasonably be expected to diminish rapidly.
Lastly, the club faces the prospect of being held to ransom by its squad players, many of whom might take advantage of the transfer embargo and their own expiring contracts to negotiate inflated wages for themselves that the club will have little option but to pay.
All in all, FIFA’s ruling could destabilise a squad that could arguably be considered the most settled in England just a few days ago.
Many have already taken this as reason enough to right off Chelsea’s chances, if not this season then certainly in 2010-11.
This doesn’t have to be the case, however, as there is some scope for Chelsea to turn FIFA’s decision into something of a positive—by focusing on the one thing that got them into trouble in the first place.
Youth development.
Chelsea’s academy, so expensively maintained and overseen by coaches of international repute since Roman Abramovich’s take-over, has so far failed to produce a notable first-team contributor since John Terry—a player who hit the first-team long before the Russian billionaire ever even flew his helicopter over Fulham Road.
Michael Mancienne might be a player considered worthy of note—indeed, the on-loan Wolves defender will undoubtedly be called upon frequently next season—but beyond him few academy graduates have made the grade in recent teams.
This state of affairs exposes the club’s current youth setup as an abject failure. For all the bluster, Frank Arnesen (now the club’s sporting director, but originally appointed as head of the youth team) has achieved very little in his time at the club.
Now more than ever is the time to refocus on making the academy effective.
Just last week, club chief executive Peter Kenyon called on his club’s youth system to provide the first team with the quality of players it requires, while bemoaning the costs involved.
“Every club is spending more time, more money and more resources on the academy. But the standard which we’re demanding of the players is just going up all the time,” Kenyon said.
“I think we’re all producing more good players but it’s hard to get them to breakthrough at the level we need them and that will take time. The infrastructure is certainly there at our club, it is as good as anyone’s and I’m sure the next John Terry will be coming through.”
Now, more than ever, Kenyon will be hoping his words are prophetic.
And, with no other players to spend money on, resources invested in the club’s youth infrastructure might suddenly be even more plentiful.
Youth development has not just been a problem for Chelsea in recent years; it has been a problem for almost all clubs in England.
While Barcelona started last season’s Champions League final with seven players from their own youth team, the ‘Big Four’ combined would only realistically be able to contribute four—Terry, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, and Ryan Giggs.
Perhaps that is due to a widespread problem with how English youngsters are introduced to football. Perhaps it is just a cause of poor coaching. Whatever the cause, Chelsea find themselves in an enforced position where they can attempt to do something about it—and gain an unlikely advantage on their rivals in the process.
If they can, then youngsters like Kakuta (the club’s scholar of the year last year), Miroslav Stoch, and Ryan Bertrand might develop enough to reinforce what will become a stale first team squad.
With other junior players like Daniel Sturridge and Nemanja Matic already in the first-team squad and showing great potential, the club might surprise many and be hold things together until the embargo is lifted.
And, as an added bonus, the club might be even stronger in the long run.
No one can reasonably suggest that Chelsea did not have this sort of scenario coming, even if many of their rivals have no doubt indulged in similarly murky practices.
In their pursuit of Ashley Cole and John Obi Mikel, Chelsea were shown to be more than willing to bend the rules, so it can easily be inferred that similar tactics were being employed with the 15 and 16-year-old youngsters the club wanted to attract.
Make no mistake; FIFA’s ruling is a body blow for a club that has become accustomed to life at Europe’s top table. But maybe, even if an appeal fails them, the club can salvage something from the wreckage.
They might not develop an exact substitute for a multi-million pound signing, but perhaps with the right steps a silver lining can be found from what looks an especially dark cloud.

It may not be an exaggeration to say that the football world has been rocked by the news of Chelsea’s year-long transfer embargo, imposed on the club by FIFA after the Blues were found guilty of acting improperly in their acquisition of young French midfielder Gael Kakuta.

On top of the ban, which will last for two transfer windows and mean the next opportunity for the club to sign new players will be in January 2011, the club have been ordered to pay compensation to Kakuta’s former club, RC Lens, totalling around $186,000.

Understandably, the Stamford Bridge club are not going to willingly comply with what is an unprecedented, if not unpopular, decision from the game’s governing body.

“Chelsea will mount the strongest appeal possible following the decision of FIFA’s Dispute Resolution Chamber over Gaël Kakuta,” a statement on the club’s website read.

“The sanctions are without precedent to this level and totally disproportionate to the alleged offence and the financial penalty imposed.”

On this, it is arguable Chelsea have a point. The club might well come away from the inevitable hearing with CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport) with a reduced embargo, or even just a sizeable fine.

If not, as they have already found out with the recent Adrian Mutu saga, there is always an even higher court to continue their appeal in.

However, no one should be under the illusion that a successful appeal is inevitable. FIFA will not have come to such a decision, especially knowing how much attention it would bring, without a determination to see it enforced. If little else, it can be taken as read that the organisation will do everything it can to ensure the London club comply to ever aspect of the ‘sentence’ they have passed down.

As such, the Chelsea hierarchy must start making contingency plans (as limited as they may be) in case the punishment imposed on them remains in place, especially as it has such widespread implications on their prospects.

Continue reading

September 3, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | Leave a comment

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

Shevchenko Happy to Return to Chelsea, but Privately Expects Transfer

He’s back, and definitely not at all disappointed to be. The Ukrainian international has publicly declared himself happy to fight for his place at Stamford Bridge, but privately expects to be offloaded before the summer is out…

Didier Drogba is one of the players standing in the way of a happy Chelsea return for Shevchenko...

Didier Drogba is one of the players standing in the way of a happy Chelsea return for Shevchenko...

After an unsuccessful loan spell at the club where he made his name, Andriy Shevchenko is back at Chelsea — the club where his reputation was damaged so greatly — in the hope of rebuilding it once again.

Having failed to make a real impact during last season’s return to AC Milan — scoring just twice in nine starts — the Ukranian striker will make his way back to Stamford Bridge ahead of the new season, and is positive about the opportunity.

“I have one year left on my contract with Chelsea,” Shevchenko told Corriere dello Sport, “and I intend to respect it and honour it in the best possible way.”

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June 22, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , | Leave a comment

The Impending Transfer Saga of the Summer: Glen Johnson?

The rumours have already begun in earnest. Once the World Cup Qualifiers are finished, expect Portsmouth’s right-back Glen Johnson to quickly become one of the transfer stories of the summer… 

Glen Johnson: Joining Defoe at Spurs, or giving Malouda hairstyle tips at Chelsea?

Glen Johnson: Joining Defoe at Spurs, or giving Malouda hairstyle tips at Chelsea?

With Gareth Barry having already made the leap up North to join Manchester City and Kaka apparently close to signing an agreement with Real Madrid, the newspapers are fast running out of high-profile transfers to write about. The never-ending Cristiano Ronaldo-Real Madrid saga is still alive, but it is looking increasingly likely that the Portuguese winger will stay at Old Trafford for another season, at least.

In summary then, there appears a shortage of column-fodder for the traditional media. A new target must be found, to keep readers interested for the majority of the summer.

That man could be Glen Johnson.

The Portsmouth right-back has long been coveted by the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool, and now Chelsea are believed to be in the race to sign a player they sold to the Fratton Park club in 2007 for £4m.

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June 6, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , | Leave a comment

Despite Chelsea Moans, Don’t Overlook Barcelona’s Tactical Victory

The spotlight might be on Chelsea’s grievances with the referee, but Barcelona and manager Josep Guardiola deserve all the plaudits for engineering their progression to the Champions League final…

Iniesta: Silenced Stamford Bridge

Iniesta: Silenced Stamford Bridge

Much has been made of the fallout of Chelsea’s last-gasp defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday night, in particular the reaction of Didier Drogba at the final whistle.

Much has been made of the fallout of Chelsea’s last-gasp defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday night, in particular the reaction of Didier Drogba at the final whistle.
Yes, many might agree with the Ivorian that the refereeing was a “disgrace”, but the truth is only one of the four shouts the Blues had was worthy of a penalty being awarded (Pique’s handball from Anelka’s flick).
Indeed, a case can be made that Chelsea profited from referee Tom Henning Overbo as much as they were disadvantaged—in particular Eric Abidal’s sending off for a challenge only the Norwegian saw handed Chelsea a numerical advantage for the majority of the second half.
The fact they did not take advantage of this, but instead were content to sit on the slender lead they had, cannot be blamed on the referee.
Over both ties, Chelsea showed little real adventure or ambition, and looked destined to go through on the back of one unexpected moment of exquisite beauty from their midfield linchpin. To moan afterwards about the refereeing is simply disingenuous—the misplaced anger of an emotional team devastated to see victory snatched away from them in the cruelest of manners.
Blame must start at home.
Where is the dissection of Cech’s questionable technique, that allowed Iniesta’s shot to rifle past him?
Where is the post-mortem of the defensive organisation, lax enough to allow arguably Barcelona’s most threatening player on the night space on the edge of the box?
Why didn’t the team go in for the kill when their opponents went down to 10 men?
These questions, ney criticisms, for Chelsea should be raised and answered. Hiding behind the excuse of poor referring will not change anything in the long-run. But a bit of self-awareness and reflection, currently so conspicuous in its absence, just might.
Due to the fuss made by much of the Chelsea hierarchy, the consensus already seems to be dismissing Barcelona’s triumph as a result of extreme good fortune.
This paints an inaccurate picture.
If anything, a Barcelona triumph would have been the only fair reflection of the tie.
Barcelona’s manager, Josep Guardiola, deserves great credit for steering his side to success. Yes, Iniesta’s strike came dangerously late, but to restrict a powerful and imposing Chelsea side to one goal in 180 minutes (and a Yeboah-esque wonder strike at that) is an impressive achievement equal to anything their opponents were lauded for at the Nou Camp.
Considering in the second leg Barcelona had to do without the influential presence of Carles Puyol, Rafael Marquez, and Thierry Henry, Guardiola should be lauded for enabling his team to progress—especially on enemy territory, having seen his side go a goal down.
Playing Yaya Toure in central defence was a masterstroke—the key pre-match decision in a selection full of them. Guardiola had other options—he could have opted for admittedly inconsistent Martin Caceres at the back, or put Busquets as the makeshift defender in order to keep the team’s traditional midfield core together.
But he went for Toure—and the Ivorian proved himself to be the correct choice.
The 25-year-old helped Pique cope with the physicality of Drogba, and nullified the threat of a striker that has been in top form in recent weeks. Crucially, though, he also acted as a invaluably distributor of the ball when in possession—bringing it out of defence with panache, and starting attacks with intelligence.
He created another facet to Barcelona’s play in attack, without sacrificing too much defensive security.
Attacking threat was something they craved, especially as the absence of Thierry Henry appeared to considerably blunt the Catalan giant’s threat. Iniesta did a solid job deputising in the Frenchman’s unfamiliar role, creating a lot of width on the left and generally giving Bosingwa food for thought.
But, thanks in part to Chelsea’s dogged and disciplined defence, it rarely looked like anything tangible would come of his prolific industry.
Until the last minute, that is.
In midfield, Sergi Busquets stepped up to the plate admirably, as did Seydou Keita. At times they did bend, but never did they break. Confronting arguably the most imposing midfield trio in world football, that is not something to be overlooked.
Still, the nagging feeling for Chelsea fans today might be that if their team had applied more pressure on the two newcomers, they might have got some reward.
In his career, Guus Hiddink has been on the end of as many fortunate refereeing decisions as poor ones, and would undoubtedly admit privately that the team cannot really blame anyone other than themselves for the defeat.
Ultimately, Abidal’s red should have been the rag to the bull—spurring the Blues on to go in for the kill. That it didn’t only serves to demonstrate the team are not yet worthy of becoming European champions.
Last night’s match was not a triumph for refereeing, nor a triumph for Chelsea’s style of play—but it was a triumph for the beautiful game.
And it was a triumph for Pep Guardiola.Much has been made of the fallout of Chelsea’s last-gasp defeat at the hands of Barcelona on Wednesday night, in particular the reaction of Didier Drogba at the final whistle.

Yes, many might agree with the Ivorian that the refereeing was a “disgrace”, but the truth is only one of the four shouts the Blues had was worthy of a penalty being awarded (Pique’s handball from Anelka’s flick).

Indeed, a case can be made that Chelsea profited from referee Tom Henning Overbo as much as they were disadvantaged—in particular Eric Abidal’s sending off for a challenge only the Norwegian saw handed Chelsea a numerical advantage for the majority of the second half.

The fact they did not take advantage of this, but instead were content to sit on the slender lead they had, cannot be blamed on the referee.

Over both ties, Chelsea showed little real adventure or ambition, and looked destined to go through on the back of one unexpected moment of exquisite beauty from their midfield linchpin. To moan afterwards about the refereeing is simply disingenuous—the misplaced anger of an emotional team devastated to see victory snatched away from them in the cruelest of manners.

Blame must start at home.

Continue reading

May 7, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , | 3 Comments