Jul 302012

Coming off the back of a successful 3-1 win over the United Arab Emirates, one thing that stood out with regards to the Team GB squad was the true lack of a potent up-and-coming marquee striker for England that is still young enough to play at U21 level (or below!) for their country.

Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene in a flash as a teenager…same with Jermain Defoe, Darren Bent, and Danny Welbeck. Granted times are changing, with players not getting their professional debuts until they are much older, but with Daniel Sturridge effectively competing for a Senior spot in England’s squads, it certainly leaves Stuart Pearce with little meat to pick from for his U21 squads.

So…what of England’s striking prospects?

Let’s go through the forwards who have been picked for the U21s since the last European Championship finals in 2011.

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Jul 302012

There’s nothing wrong with the game itself. There’s no harm at all in spending a lazy afternoon getting Exeter City into the Champions League. There are far too many people, however, who seem to have lost sight of one of the most fundamentally important aspects of the top-selling management simulator, Football Manager… brace yourself… isn’t real.

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Jul 292012

Having pulled out of the Great Britain Olympic team with a back injury, Gareth Bale upset a few people when he showed up in a Tottenham Hotspur pre-season game before any Olympic football had even been played. He scored in Spurs’ 1-1 draw with LA Galaxy and played 75 minutes.

Bale then started Spurs’ game against Liverpool which finished 0-0 and was subbed off at half-time, but not before Charlie Adam got in a crunching tackle on the Welshman.

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Jul 282012

These days it would normally be a term of abuse to call a Manchester United footballer ‘an amateur’, but it wasn’t always so. Sometimes it’s simply been a statement of fact, albeit applying to less than a dozen players in United’s history from the 1880s to the 1960s.

Thoughts about this select band who pulled on the red shirt for nothing but expenses were prompted by the possibility that such Old Trafford luminaries as David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs may play for Team GB in the London Olympics. In the old days professionals were totally excluded but times have changed and assumptions about some innate moral superiority among amateur competitors have more or less evaporated. It was ‘shamateurs’ who did the damage, competitors who took ‘under the counter’ payments or bent the rules through taking salaries for non-existent jobs and dodgy sponsorship deals.The global spread of television added to the problem, as the massive – not to say obscene – rewards of sporting success have driven out those who competed purely for the love of it.

That’s why I want to pay tribute to the handful of authentic spare-timers who made admirably uncynical contributions to the history of Manchester United, in two cases of profound importance to what might be called the ‘Manchester United way’. For some the involvement was fleeting, but valuable none the less, including a player I never saw but remember well, an old-fashioned amateur who solved an acute goalkeeping crisis in 1961. All the standard United histories ignore this brief episode, but it caught my imagination when I was 14, perhaps because I loved the idea as a child of the man of honour riding to the rescue.

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Jul 272012

“I can’t believe that in England they don’t teach young players to be multi-functional. To them it’s just about knowing one position and playing that position. To them, a striker is a striker and that’s it. For me, he is somebody who has to move, who has to cross, and who has to do this in a 4-4-2 or in a 4-3-3 or in a 3-5-2, each of which is different. I don’t think you should take a youngster, say, aged between fourteen and eighteen and only teach him to play 4-4-2. You have to teach him different systems, make him comfortable in all of them. Because what happens if later he has a manager who likes to play 4-5-1 or 3-5-2? What happens to him then?”

Whilst watching England’s fortunes in the recent European Under-19 Championships in Estonia, I kept returning to Jose Mourinho’s now-famous criticism of youth development in this country.

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Jul 262012

It seems an age ago since the Martin O’Neill era at Aston Villa. When we look at the position of the club last season it is a far cry to that of a club that not too long ago had become perpetual top six finishers in the Premier League under the Northern Irishman. Under O’Neill’s stewardship Aston Villa had been transformed from a team that safely achieved mid table finishes to a club that regularly challenged the top four and consistently qualified for European competition. O’Neill brought out the best of all the players at the club with high significance being put on good, entertaining attacking football that brought the fans to Villa Park week in and week out. As a result of this philosophy, players such as Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young rose to prominence within the Villa side with their pace and nimble feet being fully utilised by O’Neill to cause defences significant problems whenever they came up against Aston Villa. Along with working well with players that were already at the club Martin O’Neill sought to bring in his own players as well, with Norwegian forward John Carew who was renowned throughout Europe as a result of his time at Valencia and unmistakable height, joining the Midlands club with O’Neill at the helm. As a result of O’Neill’s work Aston Villa were able to challenge the top sides on a regular basis.

However, with O’Neill and the clubs’ achievements came further expectation and desire to progress. Unfortunately O’Neill was, in his mind, not backed financially by owner Randy Lerner with the club often falling short in the transfer market and having to sell their key players such as Gareth Barry and James Milner. It is this that eventually saw the end of Martin O’Neill era at Villa Park after the conclusion of the Milner transfer saga in August 2010 saw relations between O’Neill and Lerner damaged to an irreparable degree. What followed for Aston Villa was a period of deterioration with Kevin MacDonald being appointed as O’Neill’s replacement as caretaker manager until a long term replacement could be found. Whilst there was a short period of success with the emergence of teenage wide midfielder Marc Albrighton, on the whole the Aston Villa-Kevin MacDonald partnership was an unsuccessful one with the Inverness born Macdonald being overlooked for the position of permanent manager when Villa appointed former Liverpool head coach Gerard Houllier, giving the Frenchman his long awaited return to English football. The eight month period in which Houllier was in charge of Aston Villa was once again a disappointing one with the Frenchman trying to do too much too soon in bringing in his own coaching staff and players. The most surprising was the signing of former Arsenal midfielder Robert Pires on a free transfer, an indication of what was to come at Villa was given when it was revealed Pires would not be moving out of his London home and would be chauffeur driven to training on the Midlands each day.

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Jul 252012

Not since the days of Pierre van Hooijdonk have we seen the threat of industrial action loom over English football like it has in the last few days. That’s not entirely true; there have been strikers before and since. Who can forget Carlos Tevez’s golfing tour of Argentina (apart from Mancini of course)? But van Hooijdonk’s actions are the ones that stick in my mind the most in current times. During the pre-season, angered that his club had not strengthened the team and were now reneging on a promise to let him go, van Hooijdonk took matters into his own hands and simply walked out. It all sounds eerily familiar.

Van Hooijdonk lost that battle, Nottingham Forest stuck to their guns and the player came back, but it was never the same. His teammates refused to celebrate with him, the fans had turned on him and with his indifferent form Forest found themselves relegated. Arsenal and Spurs may not have to worry about the threat of relegation just yet but if the claims are true and their star players are on the verge of mutiny, if not already there, it’s a huge blow to the North London teams.

Arsenal’s mutineer in question is of course the lethal Robin Van Persie; Mr “Scores when he wants”. Unfortunately for the fans that revered him, he may not score WHEN he wants but likely will score WHERE he wants. With just a year left on his contract, RVP has indicated he has no intention of signing another and Arsenal’s bargaining position has been left desolate as circumstance. RVP has been extremely injury prone, a fact his team’s fans had ignored all season until it dawned on them he was leaving, he’s 29 years old and he’ll want a big payday.

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Jul 252012

The news has been filtering through over the past couple of weeks that there has been significant interest from Chelsea towards Internacional and Brazil’s midfield playmaker Oscar.

What do we know about Oscar?

To begin with, his full name Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Junior. The 20 year old has just begun to break into the National team after impressing over the last couple of years for his club Internacional. Although not a household name, a few people will know that he is one of only two players to have ever scored a hat trick in a world cup final (His at U20s level), not a bad record to be in possession of. He has now won 6 caps for The Selecao with his only goal coming during a 4-3 defeat to Argentina. For club he has contributed with numerous goals and assists and plays a vital role within the team.

What can we expect if he is to sign?

Naturally an attacking midfielder, a traditional number 10 Oscar is capable of playing numerous roles across the midfield from central to roles to occupying wide positions. Versatility is one of his biggest strengths and will be invaluable to a Chelsea side that has shifted between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations.

Seemingly, like all Brazilians, Oscar has incredible control with the ball at his feet. His composure on the ball is well beyond his true age. He is never afraid to find space and find himself on the ball, willing to drop deeper than most would expect their number 10 to do. More importantly it is when he is on the ball that Oscar excels. His passing is precise and can split defences on a regular basis, he doesn’t fail to spot when his teammates are in a goalscoring opportunity and his reading of the game is exceptional. He also has the bonus of being able to play with both left and right foot and would fit in perfectly alongside Juan Mata and new signing Eden Hazard. Pass and move, pass and move… It is what we are told when we are young and Oscar unlike me listened to those who preached the philosophy.

One of the most overlooked attributes in footballers is there work rate and Oscar is willing to put the effort in for his team. He blends the traditional Brazilian ability with the more modern physically talented team.

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Jul 242012

It’s been nearly two years since I profiled Ryan Tunnicliffe. He was about to embark on an important final season in the club’s Academy and was now a full-time professional. Off the back of an injury hit season in his first year as an U18, this was to be an important year for him as he formed part of an unstoppable midfield trio at youth level. Now on tour with the first team, what can be expected of Ryan this season?

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Jul 242012

Name: Santiago Cazorla González

Age: 27 (turns 28 in December)

Height: 5 foot 6 inches.

Skills: Two-footed, versatile, set pieces.

Early career: He joined his local team, Real Oviedo, when he was a teenager and was signed by Villarreal CF when he was 17. He spent his first two seasons playing for the B team. He made his début for the first team when he was 18.

What happened next: He joined Recreativo de Huelva on a four year deal when he was 22 although there was a clause in his contract stating he could return to Villarreal. He scored on his début and went on to have a great season for the club that finished that 8th season, having just been promoted from the 2nd Division. He was named Spanish Player of the Year and Villarreal resigned him. He had a great first season back with his old club and helped them finish second in the league with his goals and assists. Real Madrid tried to sign him but he rejected them, saying: “There are many other things in football besides Real Madrid. It’s clear that it is possible to say “no” to them, There is no doubt that they are a great team, but I also feel very satisfied and valued at my club. I hope I can continue growing at Villarreal because I am young and I’m only starting off with the national team.” Cazorla went on to struggle with injuries over the next two season and missed out on Spain’s World Cup squad in 2010 because of this. The following season he regained fitness and helped Villarreal secure a Champions League spot.

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Jul 232012

Lucas Moura is a 19-year old player who is currently at São Paulo. He usually wears shirt number 7 at both his club and also at Brazil’s national team.

He started his career at Marcelinho Carioca’s youth academy, and quickly got nicknamed Marcelinho due to supposedly looking like the former Corinthians player. He spent the next years at Juventus-SP and Corinthians’ youth setups before joining São Paulo in 2005.

He shined for the first time in a big tournament in 2010, when he was part of the São Paulo team that won Copa São Paulo de Juniores, the most prestigious youth tournament in Brazil. His success in that tournament enabled him to be promoted to São Paulo’s senior team.

The young star eventually got tired of getting called ‘Marcelinho’ and requested to be called just ‘Lucas’, as Marcelinho Carioca is one of the biggest idols of São Paulo’s arch-rivals Corinthians.

He quickly became known as ‘Lucas Moura’ as he started to get called up for Brazil’s national team, where Lucas Leiva from Liverpool was already a regular part of the team.

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Jul 232012

Daniel Levy could negotiate his way out of hell. At the conclusion he’ll be standing behind the desk once frequented by St Peter at Heaven’s Gate with the devil smiling to himself in the flame infested pits holding a Spurs ‘Champions League 2013’ mug proclaiming victory. You don’t mess with the chairman of the board. Even if you think you’ve won, you’re probably losing.

The second and possibly final chapter of the Luka Modric transfer saga is now in full flow. He’s missed training and a flight to the US for Tottenham’s pre-season tour. Andre Villa-Boas revealing that he believes Modric to be wrong and that the situation has worsened, with Levy angered by the player’s behaviour. Fine(s) imminent or handed out depending on what you wish to believe. Last summer’s yacht has been replaced with a one man revolt. Absent, on strike, same difference. But alas all Luka is looking to do is better himself, and why wouldn’t he want to join Alonso, Ozil, Kaka, Sahin, Khedira, Diarra, Callejon, Granero (to name a few). Seriously though, why would he not want to move on? It’s his prerogative. If not quite his unequivocal decision to do so.

We’ve been here before with Spurs and Levy (Carrick and famously with Berbatov). Last season the club made an emphatic stance during an attempt by player and agent to orchestrate a move to Chelsea with conducting responsibilities by some of the English press that painted a picture of injustice. Modric was being kept hostage at little old Tottenham. A gentleman’s agreement was supposedly the reason why the player and agent sulked with petulance. They lost that battle. Why? The player has a contract with the club. A long term contract. Ironically, having finished 4th, Champions League was not forthcoming. The irony deepened further by the fact that Chelsea finished 6th, won the CL and took the last place for next seasons competition. Regardless, Modric and agent might have still looked towards leaving Spurs. Both will be richer for it and with the player at his playing prime, his ambitions might exceed ours. Or to be more poignant, his ambitions are his own and might not be ones we care to understand or appreciate. So here we are once more except it’s a year on, and now with four years left on that contract.

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Jul 192012

With half a dozen players resting up after their exertions at Euro 2012, a further four set to participate in the football tournament at the London Olympic Games and a trio of centre-backs nursing injuries, Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad has been deprived of thirteen first-teamers as they embark on the first leg of their pre-season tour this week. An inconvenience in many respects (particularly with Rio Ferdinand being the only senior defender in the travelling party), the silver lining comes in the form of a fantastic opportunity for a number of United’s younger players to gain priceless experience and catch the manager’s eye as the Reds visit South Africa and China.

Nick Powell has received plenty of coverage following his summer transfer from Crewe, whilst the likes of Ben Amos and Kiko Macheda should be known to most by now, so we’re going to focus on the names that will likely be a little less familiar. Introducing….

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Jul 182012

Football had a bad week last week.

In Scotland, football seemed to implode. This sorry saga will run and run and there will be few winners and many losers.

In England, regardless of the fact that Terry was found not guilty of racially abusing Anton Ferdinand, neither of the players came out of the debacle smelling of roses.

Few of us who love the game were surprised at the filthy language the two players showered upon each other. It is slightly disappointing that the “banter” doesn’t quite reach the exquisite levels of sledging in cricket.

However, the telling point was that many have said “it is part of the game” and that to stamp out bad language would be either pointless or, somehow, negative. (NB: Never mind that both Wayne Rooney and Didier Drogba have both been disciplined for “using offensive, insulting or abusive language and/or gestures” in recent years*). Such language contravenes the laws of the game but referees rarely do anything to stop it.

There are numerous other things that fans and the golf-club of ex-pros which populate our TV studios believe are “part of the game” which actually contravene the laws of the game.

After the game between England and Germany at the 2010 World Cup, Manuel Neuer admitted he knew that the ball had crossed the line but realised that no one had spotted it. His exact words were “I tried not to react to the referee and just concentrate on what was happening. I realised it was over the line and I think the way I carried on so quickly fooled the referee into thinking it was not over.”

He cheated. He knew the ball was over the line, he knew he had conceded a goal but he deliberately conned the referee. To most of us though he did the right thing. It isn’t his job, after all, to referee the game nor is it his job to help the referee. It is part of the game. Can you imagine if your goalkeeper admitted a ball had crossed the line when the referee hadn’t seen it?

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Jul 162012

In the first chapter of Genesis, God tells mankind (yes, I know) to go out and conquer the world, and ever since (yes, I know), we’ve been gripped by a paranoid, neurotic desire to understand everything. But however hard we try, it’s simply not possible: whether its spontaneous combustion, kicks in snooker, or red trousers, cardigans and fascinators, some things will forever lie beyond human comprehension.

There are some things, though – and then there’s Manchester United’s midfield. After signing Owen Hargreaves in July 2007, a player legendary knee-botherer Richard Steadman described as having the worst knobblies he’d ever seen, Alex Ferguson spent five whole years refusing to recruit reinforcements.

At times – painful, aggravating, despondent times – United’s eleven has interpreted the term “midfield” in the most literal possible sense, that being a lump of grass right in its very centre. Outsiders might say that United supporters are spoiled, insiders that it’s important to maintain standards. When I began my career, we had Norman Whiteside and Bryan Robson, who were irreplaceable – until they were replaced while still at the club by Paul Ince, who was irreplaceable – until he was replaced while still at the club by Roy Keane. Soon after, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt came through, and ten years ago yesterday, United augmented perhaps the finest foursome of all-time with Juan Sebastian Veron, to be later accused of possessing more genius than any team could reasonably accommodate. How far we done fell!

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