James Ducker On… AV-B, Manchester, Eden Hazard and boring Spain

Jordi Alba joined Barcelona when he was just 9-years-old and stayed there for seven years before he was released. He signed for neighbouring UE Cornellà when he was 16-years-old and was soon called up to the Spain U-19 squad. Valencia paid €6,000 for the teenager where he went from strength to strength. He got his first call up to the national team last September and then made his début in October.

At Euro 2012, Alba made 226 successful passes in the opposition half, which was 48 more than any other defender, according to Opta. He assisted Alonso’s goal against France in the quarter-finals and scored a goal for himself in the final, rounding off a brilliant tournament. An agreement between Barcelona and Valencia was reached whilst he was on International duty which will see him return to his former club for €14 million. Barcelona struck such a bargain because the talented full back was in the last year of his contract but it certainly puts in to perspective some of the prices being quoted in England for less talented players!

James Ducker, a Football Correspondent at The Times, reckons Alba was the most impressive player at Euro 2012.

“He’s brilliant going forward, brilliant defensively,” Ducker said. “Barcelona are going to be all the better for his arrival. What an ominous thought.”

Spain didn’t really appear to break in to a sweat until the final, when they ripped Italy apart, particularly once playing against ten men. They dominated possession in every game they played, although some neutral fans became increasingly frustrated with their tactics, as Spain passed their opponents to death but played without a striker to kill games off. The past few years have been dominated with praise for Barcelona and Spain’s style of football but now people were turning on them. Suddenly they were boring, not brilliant. What’s going on?

“I really don’t know where this ‘boring’ talk emanated from but it seemed to take on a life of its own,” he said. “It’s at times like that that working in the media is frustrating – it was such a fraudulent debate – and you ended up with this ridiculous situation whereby players of the quality of Xavi were having to defend a team of that quality against accusations of being dull. Of course they’re not boring and anyone who thinks slick possession football in its purest form is boring needs their head examining. That, or they should watch another sport.”

With the Euros over and the Champions League some months away, we won’t need to bother ourselves with thoughts of the Spaniards for a while and can focus on events closer to home. Last season, Manchester City pipped Manchester United to the title on goal difference in the final seconds of the last game. What can we expect next season?

“Unless there are some dramatic transfer developments at United, they sign one or two more outstanding centre midfielders and a high quality left back, – then I think Manchester City will retain the title,” Ducker said. “I think City, United, Chelsea and Arsenal will be a shoo-in for the top four spots.”

Tottenham Hotspur secured a top four finish last season whilst Chelsea finished sixth, a massive 25 points behind City and United. Chelsea’s start to the season was fairly woeful, with new manager Andre Villas-Boas struggling to get the players to fit his system. It was announced this week that AV-B is back in the Premier League but this time with Chelsea’s London rivals who were denied Champions League football this season because of the blues’ win in Munich.

“It’s both interesting and underwhelming,” Ducker said of Andre’s return. “I’d be pretty gutted if I was a Spurs fan but then I’d be happy to be proved wrong. I thought it was abysmal how a lot of those Chelsea players just decided to go into hiding when AVB was there and then suddenly start playing again once he’d gone. It’s good he’s got a second bite at the cherry.”

We’re just under two months away from the season kicking off but already some teams have been busy in the transfer market. Arsenal have spent £13m on last season Ligue 1’s top scorer, Olivier Giroud, whilst Chelsea paid £32m for Eden Hazard and Manchester United have splashed the cash on one of the star men of the German champions, Borussia Dortmund, Shinji Kagawa.

“It’ll be interesting to see how two of the stars of Ligue 1 in France – Olivier Giroud and Eden Hazard – get on in the Premier League,” he said. “I think Kagawa is a good signing for United. Jordi Alba’s transfer to Barca and Lavezzi’s to PSG are the most intriguing thus far, though, if you discount Danny Murphy’s bizarre decision to go to Blackburn in the Championship!”