Catch Seventy7

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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

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.”

Continue reading

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

Michael Owen Signing Indicates Ferguson is Looking For Solskjaer’s Heir

Few predicted it (although Catch Seventy7 weren’t far off), but bearing the giant hurdle of a thorough medical, it looks likely Michael Owen will sign for Manchester United. Is Fergie hoping Owen will become Solskjaer Mk II?

Michael Owen: Made it through the rain...

Michael Owen: Made it through the rain...

It has not been a particularly happy few months for Michael Owen.
First he saw his then-employers, Newcastle United, suffer a heart-breaking relegation from the Premier League while he was forced to watch much of the run-in from the treatment table.
Then, as his contract expired, he had to sit back as newspapers and fans alike almost unanimously wrote him off—with one national paper even suggesting he should retire.
Commendably, Owen remained upbeat, and kept his dignity intact.
“When I scored a goal in the World Cup as an 18-year-old, people six months later were writing me off saying, ‘It’s a one-off’,” Owen said in a rare interview during his difficult period. “There will be something, there always is—this country is renowned for it. Someone will always criticise you, no matter what.”
On the back of his ill-fated 32-page brochure intended to create interest—which became another stick with which to beat him—Owen had to endure the relative ignominy of seeing only Hull City and Stoke City publicly declaring their interest in him. 
Even Sam Allardyce stated he would not look to sign Owen, even though realistically neither Blackburn nor the two clubs that did enter the “race” could have entertained realistic ambitions of luring the England international.
But with Manchester United’s surprise approach, it looks like all that strife will soon be forgotten.
Owen will get the last laugh.
After a frantic day of rumour and counter-rumour, it looks likely the 29-year-old will agree a move to Old Trafford this week, subject to a medical undertaken later today. The contract, rather sensibly, is expected to be incentive-based, with a low basic wage but sizable bonuses based on appearances and goals.
With Owen (who has a moderately successful horse-training venture) hardly needing the money but intent on playing at the highest level possible, and Manchester United in need of attacking players after the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez, it looks like a deal that will suit all sides.
Once Owen signs, the topic of discussion will inevitably move onto how Sir Alex Ferguson intends to use the England striker.
Depending on fitness, it is probable that Ferguson sees Owen as the long-awaited heir to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s former role at the club.
The Norwegian striker made himself a cult figure at Old Trafford with his ability to join games late and make an impact almost immediately. Solskjaer is the top scorer from the substitutes bench in Premier League history, helping himself to an impressive 26 goals in the latter stages of important matches.
It should not be forgotten that Ferguson has long been admirer of Owen’s—and even tried to sign the England schoolboy before Liverpool eventually agreed a deal. That interest was piqued as much through Owen’s attitude and finishing as his raw pace—attributes he still possesses.
Sir Alex has seen first hand that, even without the pace that sparkled during their early career, players can still contribute at the highest level. If Ryan Giggs can do it, why can’t Michael Owen?
With Solskjaer still on the United staff as a youth coach, Ferguson will be hoping that with Owen’s inherent quality and a little direction from the former Norwegian striker, the England man too will be able to make regular game-changing contributions for United from the bench.
In recent times, Owen’s goals have come as a result not of his quickness of movement, but instead due to his quickness of thought—a quality that, far from diminishing with age, should actually improve.
In his fleeting performances with Newcastle this term, Owen demonstrated that he still possesses a lightning fast footballing brain. What he lacked, perhaps understandably, was match sharpness.
If the world-class United physios can keep Owen upright, then that match sharpness should return. And with the quickness of thought and opportunities he will be regularly presented with in the box, he could prove a vital weapon for United in what is currently a slightly barren attacking armoury.
But even if injuries continue to dog him, Ferguson might well see another role for a man with 89 international caps and 40 goals.
Reassured by Owen’s conduct during a trying time, Ferguson might well have given thought to the mentoring role Owen could bring to the club. While many believe Owen has been half the player he was since injuries decimated his turn of pace, a close analysis of his game indicates that his speed of thought and movement within the box has got even better with age.
With Ferguson having high hopes for both Danny Welbeck (“Danny’s a certainty to make it to the highest level,” he said last season. “I’ve told Fabio Capello he will be at the World Cup”) and Italian Federico Macheda, the Scot would be justified in thinking that even if the 29-year-old continues to suffer horrendously from injuries, the advice and technique he could pass on to the two young strikers might later prove invaluable to the club.
He can help them technically, but also mentally—on and off the pitch. Like Owen, both Welbeck and Macheda are set to become worldwide superstars at a very young age. Having experienced the pressures and influences such stardom brings, Owen will be able to advise the players on how to keep grounded and ensure that football remains their top priority.
That is something that will attract Sir Alex Ferguson.
A week ago, despite all the evidence to the contrary, Owen was upbeat about his career prospects.
“I will come back, I will play well and score goals and do all these things once more,” he said.
Perhaps such a statement was what Ferguson needed to hear, to convince him that a player he once highly coveted still has the desire to play at the highest echelons of the game.
Now he will get that chance.

It has not been a particularly happy few months for Michael Owen.

First he saw his then-employers, Newcastle United, suffer a heart-breaking relegation from the Premier League while he was forced to watch much of the run-in from the treatment table.

Then, as his contract expired, he had to sit back as newspapers and fans alike almost unanimously wrote him off — with one national paper even suggesting he should retire.

Commendably, Owen remained upbeat, and kept his dignity intact.

“When I scored a goal in the World Cup as an 18-year-old, people six months later were writing me off saying, ‘It’s a one-off’,” Owen said in a rare interview during his difficult period. “There will be something, there always is—this country is renowned for it. Someone will always criticise you, no matter what.”

On the back of his ill-fated 32-page brochure intended to create interest — which became another stick with which to beat him — Owen had to endure the relative ignominy of seeing only Hull City and Stoke City publicly declaring their interest in him. 

Even Sam Allardyce stated he would not look to sign Owen, even though realistically neither Blackburn nor the two clubs that did enter the “race” could have entertained realistic ambitions of luring the England international.

But with Manchester United’s surprise approach, it looks like all that strife will soon be forgotten.

Owen will get the last laugh.

Continue reading

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

Manchester United’s Success Built on Craft of Carrick

It’s a cliche, but he really is the heartbeat of the side. Don’t overlook Michael Carrick’s importance to arguably the best side in world football…

Carrick: Pretty happy

Carrick: Pretty happy

When the decisive moment in the title race finally came, everyone knew it.

Patrice Evra certainly did.

Sprinting across the turf at the JJB Stadium to join his celebrating teammates, the Frenchman exuberantly crossed his arms in an obvious imitation of Rafa Benitez’s controversial gesture made a month earlier, when Liverpool beat Blackburn.

Back then at Anfield, the Spanish manager was reported to be indicating in the action that the game was over, Liverpool had won. This time Evra was indicating something more final — that the title race was over.

Manchester United had won.

Four days later, in a game that for the majority resembled the formality it ultimately was, Manchester United got the point they needed at home to Arsenal to clinch their eleventh Premier League title.

That Saturday afternoon, on the Old Trafford pitch in front of their adoring fans, was where the title victory was formally celebrated. But, to all intents and purposes, it was in the 86th minute of a turgid game in Wigan that the trophy’s destination was sealed, with a 20-yard drive from Michael Carrick that whistled past ‘keeper Richard Kingston.

Arguably, the scorer of that goal could not have been more fitting.

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May 18, 2009 Posted by | Sport, World Football | , , , | Leave a comment