Catch Seventy7

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Roberto Mancini and Rafa Benitez locked in a battle for survival only one can win

Two years ago, Benitez’s tactical superiority directly led to Roberto Mancini’s departure from Inter Milan. Now working on these shores, the Italian has the opportunity to settle a score — as it is quickly becoming evident the two talented managers are fighting for just one job-saving Champions League spot…

Battleground: The first meeting between the two was explosive an explosive appetiser. Now fans look set to be treated to an enthralling saga

Roberto Mancini: Roman gladiator or Renaissance man?

English fans are yet to discover whether the new Manchester City manager is more of the former or the latter. Robinho might be doing his best to test the waters, but so far the scarf-wearing Italian has been a picture of placidity since arriving at Eastlands.

But if the 45-year-old does have a combative side, it might be Rafa Benitez, rather than the mercurial Brazilian, who should be sweating about his future.

It was the Spaniard’s Liverpool side, after all, that knocked Mancini’s Inter out of the Champions League in first knockout round that year.

In the first leg of their tie, Fernando Torres tortured Materrazzi in front of the Anfield faithful, eventually engineering the defender’s sending off and enabling the Reds to grab a late 2-0 win (Kuyt and Gerrard) that the Spanish striker added to in the Guiseppe Meazza to earn a comfortable 3-0 aggregate success.

That defeat, especially the manner of it, effectively spelt the end of Mancini’s rain at the Nerazzurri, despite having successfully steered the club to three Serie A titles (one handed to them in the aftermath of the Calciopoli scandal) in his four years in charge.

Such success (which also included two Coppa Italia triumphs) meant little when what chairman Massimo Moratti craved above all was Champions League success.

Using an emotional outburst from Mancini in the aftermath of the Liverpool defeat (where he announced his intention to resign at the end of the season, before retracting it a day later) as a reason for dismissal, at the end of the season Moratti engineered Mancini’s exit and oversaw the arrival of Jose Mourinho—a man with experience of winning the European game’s biggest prize (with Porto in 2004). Continue reading

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January 29, 2010 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Emmanuel Adebayor must learn from Didier Drogba if Manchester City are ever to hit the heights

He’s been signed as the hitman that will lead Manchester City to the sort of success their wealthy backers expect. But Emmanuel Adebayor should take a leaf out of another African striker’s book if he is to ever truly make the maximum of the potential he undoubtedly has…

Making a point: But Adebayor still has to prove his heart lies with Manchester City's ambitions, not their money

As far as starts go, perhaps few can have too many complaints about Emmanuel Adebayor’s early career at Manchester City.

In the nine Premier League games in which Adebayor has featured this season, the striker has scored five goals, and laid on a further three assists for his teammates.

On paper, then, it is a solid return from the 25-year-old after joining the Eastlands outfit from Arsenal for £25 million during the summer.

As has often been the case with Adebayor in England, however, the positives have been offset by a number of negatives. In no game was that better encapsulated than when he faced his former club earlier in the season.

Throughout the game against his old team-mates, the Togolese international was often at his blistering best.

He tormented the Arsenal players — taking advantage of their seemingly reckless desire to clatter him — but then proceeded to torment their fans after his well-taken goal.

That celebration, running a full 90 yards to gloat in front of those who had spent much of the game abusing him, earned him a three-game suspension after a review by the Football Association.

City, without their leading scorer, subsequently lost their next league game against arch-rivals Manchester United, in a cruel 4-3 thriller.

“I had a bad afternoon against Manchester United because I am sure that if I had played that day then I would have scored a goal,” Adebayor said.

“It was a shame that we lost in added time. United did not deserve to win—a fair result would have been a draw.”

Rather than bemoaning missing out on a chance to add to his goal tally, however, Adebayor should perhaps have been reflecting on his own conduct. His performance against Arsenal helped the team, but his subsequent conduct certainly didn’t.

That just isn’t good enough for a top striker. Continue reading

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

Everton feud indicates fifth is the immediate target for Mark Hughes and Manchester City

They’ve made a lot of signings this summer, but only managed to enrage Everton in the process. For Mark Hughes and Manchester City, surely that is no coincidence?

Lescott: Could his immediate future decide who finishes fifth come May?

Lescott: Could his immediate future decide who finishes fifth come May?

Ask Alex Ferguson, and he’ll surely tell you (no doubt with a certain amount of glee) that stirring up trouble with rivals in the media can often have more of an effect on their fortunes than anything you do to them on the pitch.

Last season, Ferguson’s subtle baiting of Rafa Benitez lead to the Spaniard’s infamous “these are the facts” rant, a rant that preceded a noticeable drop in form — one that ultimately cost the Reds the title.

Some might not believe in the effect of Rafa’s rant, but to fans at Old Trafford the meltdown certainly didn’t hurt their march to the title. Taking that on board, rivals Manchester City are now trying their hand at unsettling their own league rivals.

The fact that it is Everton being unsettled gives the clearest indication yet that fifth is the position Mark Hughes is targeting this season.

After John Terry ended his silent summer flirtation with the club, Everton’s Joleon Lescott has become the subject of Hughes’ affection. But manager David Moyes has been left outraged by the way the Eastlands club has handled the deal:

“The dialogue has not taken place with Manchester City and Everton in the way that it is said to be. If it was, the dialogue would come to me,” he said. “There has been no contact with me. I’m the person here who makes the decisions. I’m in control of Everton Football Club.” Continue reading

August 15, 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

Don’t Blame Daniel Sturridge For His Outrageous Contract Demands

He’s 19, has only started a handful of Premiership games, and wants £75,000-a-week. Catch Seventy7 is 22, about £15,000 in debt, but still doesn’t blame Daniel Sturridge for his actions….

Ireland & Sturridge: Close on the pitch, but Manchester City clearly value them miles apart

Ireland & Sturridge: Close on the pitch, but Manchester City clearly value them miles apart

In the pantheon of stories about footballer’s greed it may never rank at the top, but Daniel Sturridge’s recent contract demands with current club Manchester City have certainly raised a few eyebrows.

The 19-year-old striker, who has started just three league games for the Eastlands club this season, looks destined to leave the club after rejecting their final contract offer. According to reports, Sturridge turned down the club’s final offer of £45,000-a-week as it fell short of his £75,000 demands.

It should be patently obvious to anyone who watches football that Sturridge is not worthy of £45,000-a-week, let alone £75,000, at this stage in his career.  After all, Stephen Ireland — the club’s player of the year — is about to put pen to paper on a deal ‘only’ worth £65,000-a-week.

The temptation, because it is Manchester City, is to make sweeping generalisations about Sturridge’s intentions.

But his outrageous demands should not be simply written off as pure greed.

Continue reading

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