Sunday, 31 July 2011

Kevin Leonard's Copa America 2011 Review



The Football Front’s senior writer, Kevin Leonard reviews this year’s Copa America.

Some nations were unlucky this summer. Some had goalkeepers that couldn’t handle a simple shot fired at them, while some teams couldn’t finish a game with 11 men and some had the World’s best player and just couldn’t seem to beat Bolivia.

This tournament will be remembered for it’s upsets rather than the traditional exciting South American football which we are accustom to. However, the tournament was still very enjoyable, but perhaps it was not worth staying up until dawn at times. But that is the kind of guy I am. I watch South American football until 5 in the morning so YOU don’t have to.

Here is the 11 that mainly stood out:

Goalkeeper: Justo Villar (Paraguay)

Defence: Maxi Perreira (Uruguay), Antolìn Alcaraz (Paraguay), Oswaldo Vizcorrondo (Venezuela), Alvaro Perreira (Uruguay).

Midfield: Luis Manuel Seijas (Venezuela), Fernando Gago (Argentina), William Chiroque (Peru)

Forwards: Luis Suarez (Uruguay), Jose Pablo Guerrero (Peru), Juan Manuel Vargas (Peru)

Some of you may recall Paraguay in the World Cup a year ago. In particular the LONG match against the Japanese. Paraguay's dull dish water tactics worked so well for them in South Africa. So it's no surprise they decided to stick with similar tactics in this year's Copa Amercia. In return, they managed to reach a Cup final without winning a game which was both abysmal and spectacular at the same time.

Personally I don’t put this feat down to any tactical genius from Paraguay's manager Gerardo Martino but credit it more to Villar and Alcaraz. Villar produced many memorable saves, none more so than his close range parry against Brazil in the quarter final. While Alcaraz makes the team because he was far more potent in front of goal than any of his strikers were! The Wigan defender scored a nice Premiership style scrappy goal in the amazing match featuring Paraguay and Venezuela. (They drew 3-3)

The Venezuelans have gone from whipping boys to 4th best in South America in the space of 5 years. They’re two central midfielders Seijas and Rincon could have held hands throughout the entire tournament as they kept so close together. They made the team into a defensive dynamo, emulating everyone’s favourite National team Greece. Rincon would have made the 11 of the Copa XI had he managed not to get sent off twice.

Vizcorrondo stood out for both his outrageous curly hair and excellent defending in the centre of the Venezuelan defence. He got himself on the score sheet too with a wonderful headed goal against Chile.

The host nation Argentina were largely sub standard as a team, with the 3-0 win over Costa Rica as an exception. Although, Fernando Gago stood out and reminded us of the kind of player he is. A player truly wasted on Real Madrid’s bench and would be a superb buy for any top European club.

The other zero to hero nation of the tournament was Peru. They were both terrible and fantastic depending on which side of the pitch the ball was on. Whilst the right lived up to traditional Peruvian standards, their left hand side was devastating to the opposition. Vargas, their best known player. captained the side and galloped up the left wing to create and score the goals that help Peru advance to the semi finals. Once there, after Suarez’s double, a Uruguay win looked so certain that Vargas decided to elbow an opponent in the face directly in front of the referee. At this stage of the Copa red cards had become a skill rather than an offence to be fair.

Not many games had 3 goals in them so it is no doubt a testament to the under rated talent of Jose Guerrero that he managed 3 in one game. His 3 goals made Peru the 3rd place winners. Perhaps its a title which is condescendingly over looked in most tournaments but Peru won’t care too much about that.

The other player who scored in that match was William Chiroque. A player who richly deserved a goal for his performances throughout the competition.

It's clear the entire Uruguayan team could have easily been named as the best 11. Players I didn’t list like captain Diego Lugano fought valiantly in every match. While, Diego Forlan has become the third generation of his family to win the Copa America. The tournament also saw him become Uruguay’s joint all time top scorer.

Uruguay perhaps participated in the best game of the Copa in the quarter finals against Argentina. Certainly out of all the 11 red cards of the competition Diego Perez’s was the funniest. Perez committed a yellow card offence by hauling a player down, later in the game he scored his first international goal and did the exact same thing he was booked for in the first place. All in the space of 39 minutes, a period of time which summed him and Uruguay up perfectly.

Uruguay can also can claim to have the funniest quote of Copa 2011. Sebastian Abreu said aftter Diego Lugano won the fair play award. “To give him [Lugano] the fair play award is like giving the Nobel peace prize to Bin Laden.”

The Uruguayans have shown that physical football can be mixed with skill, technique and humour. The Perreira full backs (no relation) and Luis Suarez personified this approach with their performances and in particular their work ethic.

But we can’t go praising the likes or Uruguay, Peru and Venezuela without having a good chuckle at Argentina and Brazil. The hosts, Argentina struggled to get draws against Bolivia and Colombia and after what should have been a turning point 3-0 victory over Costa Rica, they failed to beat a Uruguayan side who were down to 10 men from the 39th minute onwards.

Sergio Batista never really found the best formula to get the best out Argentina’s immense individual talents but thankfully for him it is no longer his concern.

The Argentine FA have now sacked him.

Brazil were by no means embarrassed at the 2011 Copa. Their own opening day draw with Venezuela was the result of a very dedicated and well organised Venezuelan side, who were quite happy with a 0-0.

The quarter final penalty shoot out with Paraguay caused a few blushes. 4 Brazilian penalties were saved. Brazil made England look like penalty shoot out masters. Brazil can honestly say they have done it all in World football. Perhaps those FIFA World rankings were accurate after all?

On a final note, it is fair to say this Copa was not the most aesthetically pleasing. There was not a collection of amazing volleys or mesmerising matches. But the gap between top and bottom has decreased. Peru and Venezuela were both in the bottom 3 of the qualification table for the last World Cup. While 2 years on they are 3rd and 4th respectively in the Copa. They have improved while Argentina and Brazil appear to be on a downward slope.

With Brazil already qualified for the 2014 World Cup, as hosts, this means there is a massive chance for Peru and Venezuela to make a strong crack at the 2014 World Cup.

South America just got very interesting.


You can follow Kevin on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Away Goals too.

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Friday, 29 July 2011

How Man City are getting away with Uefa’s Financial Fair Play Rules


Manchester City. The club everyone just loves to hate. They have financial backing to sign any player they want. They have money which some clubs could only dream of having.

But as this dream of challenging for trophies and having the best players becomes a reality, there is something which could stand in their way. The Uefa Financial Fair Play rules. There is absolutely no doubt Manchester City are fully aware of this too.

Some argue this is an explanation as to why the club have made a massive commercial deal with Etihad. As many are aware, Man City recently announced a 10 year Stadium naming rights deal with the Abu Dhabi based company. The deal is worth around a staggering £400million.

Indeed this deal looks odd and has been met with sceptism from City’s rivals. But a closer look at Man City’s main sponsors highlights even more murkier water.

Below are Man City’s eight main sponsors, these can also be found on their website.
Manchester City’s Main Sponsors (revealed on official website)
Etihad Airways
Umbro
Etisalat
ADTA
Aabar
Thomas Cook Sport
Jaguar Land Rover
Key103
The sponsors highlighted in yellow are all based in Abu –Dhabi. Now, on the surface this seems genuine. The Man City owner has every right to develop and create relations between his club and companies based in his country.

However, if one takes a finer look at the sponsors in yellow, it creates a different picture, one which seems far more ingenuine.

Firstly, Aabar, a global investment company which deals with buying and selling oil, is owned by the United Arab Emirates government, via subsidiary companies. While, ADTA (Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority), is yet again owned by the United Arab Emirates government. Then of course, telecoms giant, Etisalat are owned by, you know who..The United Arab Emirates government.
Indeed this seems a little odd that four out of eight of Man City’s sponsors are owned by the same institution. But here’s the most resounding aspect of the sponsorship issue.

The Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is one of the Deputy Prime Ministers of the United Arab Emirates government.

This rings massive alarm bells.

The City owner is a key player in the governing of the United Arab Emirates. In fact, he chaired the First Gulf Bank and many other imperative faculties of the UAE government. It’s fair to say, Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan has a massive political influence in UAE.

Coming back to Manchester, the owner’s political role explains vividly why four of Man City’s main sponsors are owned by the UAE government.

It’s transparent that City’s bizarre sponsorship dealings have become even more broadcasted after the club’s massive new naming rights deal. The fact Etihad Airways, a company, who since its existence in 2004 has reported a loss every year has agreed to stump up £400 million over 10 years is extremely dubious. You also have to consider Etihad Airways is a third of the size of British Airways, in terms of fleets.

There is no surprise that some football clubs have been muttering in frustration at City’s deal. After all, it’s clear the Manchester City Owner is in a position to dictate and have some means of control over Etihad Airways.

The simple fact Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan is a man of great wealth its clear he can provide heavy backing to Ethiad Airways in order for them to facilitate dealings with Man City. This seems logical, especially since the Airline company are working at a loss. But not only this, his political influence can allow him the chance to make these types of dealings possible.

With Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan great position politically and financially in Etihad Airways, Arsene Wenger is completely correct when he states, ‘It raises the real question about the credibility of Financial Fair Play.’ However, Gary Cook, the Man City Chief Executive argues the substantial stadium sponsorship deal fits under the FFP rules.

One can easily see where Garry Cook is coming from. After all, the holdings of Etihad Airways isn’t directly under Sheikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan. This means his potential influence on the business is not official or visible to the public. This is yet another reason as to why Wenger argues this deal raises serious questions of the credibility of the FFP rules.

However, there is some hope for Football.

The Independent revealed that Uefa’s FFP will analyse family relationships between clubs and it’s sponsors. Many have stated this is where Man City’s massive sponsorship deal with Ethiad Airways could fail.

After all, the Chairmen of Ethiad Airways is Hamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Who incidentally is the half brother of the Man City owner.

Without a doubt the personal closeness between the two supreme heads of both companies symbolises the murky waters between Man City and Etihad Airways.

Surely, the FFP rules will instantly ring alarms bells when this is recognised.

However, it’s transparent City have tried to overcome this family relationship problem before the FFP rules fully kick into play. The beauty of doing this deal now means that the club can commercially make money before UEFA begin to crack down and analyse clubs accounts. Making money commercially now will be a lynchpin in assisting the club to work at a profit rather than at a loss. This will help the clubs credentials for being allowed participate in Europe in the following seasons.

The sad aspect of Manchester City’s massive sponsorship deal is that it foreshadows two certainties.

Firstly, if Man City are allowed to exploit the FFP rules, it will be all most certain that Man City will develop or gain new sponsors (most likely from Abu Dhabi based companies) who will sponsor the club for massive amounts.

Secondly, Man City, will be the litmus test for UEFA. Many owners such as Liverpool’s John Henry have argued, the FFP rules will only work if the rules are enforced properly. If teams like Man City can evade the FFP rules with their incestuous business relations, it surely is a bad sign for Football.

The last thing the game needs is for the rules to be there, but for them to be exploited by the super rich.


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Thursday, 28 July 2011

Splintered Woodgate’s Final Chance

The Football Front's Christian Brown assess Jonathan Woodgate's move to Stoke.

“Madrid’s true leader.” “One of the best centre backs to play for Newcastle.” “Leeds United’s ‘jewel in the crown.’” Jonathan Woodgate has been showered with compliments over his 13 year long professional career. An 8 time England international, the clichéd ‘rock at the back’ has commanded £36.4 million pounds worth of transfer fees, spreading from Yorkshire to Madrid. However, he now finds himself at Stoke City, having failing to agree a new contract with Tottenham Hotspur. No disrespect to Stoke, but they’re a bit of a comedown seeing he once played for Real Madrid.

So where did it all go wrong?

The answer is very simple. Injuries. The term ‘injury prone’ fits to Woodgate like a tailor made suit. Notable injuries to his groin and back have meant that Woodgate has never really had a full season playing week in, week out. It’s a great shame, because had injuries not struck him, he could have been spoken about as one of the great English defenders of his generation, rather than a player who has ‘shot it’ and ‘should have retired ages ago.’

The fact Real Madrid, the biggest club in world football, forked out £13.4 million it emphasises the appreciation of his quality. Yes, his debut was a horror show to say the least (scoring an own goal before being sent off for a second yellow.) But the fact he recovered from that strongly enough to be recognised as a bit of a cult hero due to his performances after, it gives you an insight of his character. His time at Madrid nearly led him back into the England fold, but again, injury put a stop to that.

A move to Tottenham followed soon after. Woodgate will go down in Tottenham’s history books for his efforts there. It was his goal that clinched them a Carling Cup victory over their hated rivals Chelsea. He also gained the Man Of The Match award in the process. Woodgate was Tottenham’s captain for a short while, and was instrumental in their recovery to 8th position in 2009

However the injuries creped back in 2009. This resulted in Woodgate being out for 14 months with a groin injury this time. He came back to play once in Spurs’ victory against AC Milan in the Champions League as a substitute.

As he could not agree a new deal with Tottenham, he signed a pay-as-you-play contract with Stoke, making his debut in a friendly against Aldershot. Credit to him, he lasted just over an hour before being substituted, and this switch had nothing to do with an injury either.

Throughout his career, Woodgate has proved he is world class. When at Newcastle, he had a certain dangerman who goes by the name of Didier Drogba in his back pocket when they played Marseille in the UEFA Cup semi finals. Surprise, surprise though, Woodgate was injured for the second leg and guess who scored twice to send Newcastle out of Europe?

With Stoke though, he has the possibility of playing in this competition again – if he can remain fit. Pulis would have brought him in to add depth to his squad as they could embark on a long season; much like Fulham did in 2009. Indeed, budging Stoke’s first choice centre backs Shawcross and Huth won’t be easy. But if Woodgate can recapture his form and keep fit, there’s no reason why he can’t. Who knows, this time next year he may have signed an extension with Stoke, and Spurs may be kicking themselves as to why they released him. Alternatively, he could find himself at the bottom of the footballing scrapheap, begging ex clubs Leeds and Middlesbrough for a final shot at the beautiful game.

Football has been ever so cruel to Jonathan Woodgate.

But only time will tell if his move to Stoke reignites or further declines his career.


This piece was written by Christian Brown, you can follow him on his Twitter - @Chris78901, Chris also writes for The Sports Pallet too. All of Chris' work is on his blog, 1-chris78901.


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Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Kevin Leonard’s All Star 5 aside Premier League team – The Usual Fullbacks

Here is The Football Front's new feature of the ‘5 a side all star Premier League team.’ Imagine a five aside team. A team that could consist of Premier League players, from the past and present. We have asked fans, bloggers and writers to talk us through their fantasy Premier League five aside teams.

The Football Front's own Kevin Leonard kicks things off with his hilarious selection.

Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness the assembly of the greatest 5 a side team the world has ever seen. This is a team formed metaphorically speaking in the very depths of hell where the most barbaric of history’s villains dare not to venture.

Realistically speaking they met in a group therapy session on how to deal with anger management issues.

The goalkeeper of these Inglorious Bastards is the German Jen Lehmann. He stood between the sticks for his country as well as Arsenal, Stutgartt and Borrussia Dortmund. Jens was in the group therapy session because his anger problems led him to take a Stutgartt fan’s glasses after he was sent off. The fan, to be fair, had angrily asked the German; why are you so difficult? Jens felt because his anger caused him to steal and effectively blind a man it was time to go into group therapy.

The defender on this team is none other than the angry Aussie Lucas Neill. Once of West Ham and Blackburn, now of Galatasary says it all really. Lucas’s tendency to become infuriated constantly with officials and team mates got out of hand in an International match. Neill played an overly strong pass in the direction of an innocent bird. The bird, known as flappy, was on the pitch trying to enjoy the game when the ball from Niell came flying his way. Flappy will never fly again. By order of the WWF (World Wildlife Fund, not the wrestling organisation) Lucas Neill had to attend this anger management session.

Central midfielders are among the most ill tempered people on the planet and it was no surprise that two of them were at this group therapy meeting. Joey Barton and Roy Keane were certainly scarier than most other patients the psychologist had treated in his career. Barton put the proverbial shits up the shrink because of his time in jail due to an assault on a Manchester City team mate Ousmane Dabo.

While Roy Keane terrified the Doctor for a number of reasons. 1: He looks like Iranian President Mahamoud Ahmadinejad. 2: He broke Haland’s leg in two. 3: His low pitched, calm voice makes him sound like the Cork equivalent of Michael Corleone.

The striker and captain of the 5 aside team is perhaps the most responsible man on the team, Duncan Ferguson. The Scary striker admitted himself to the anger management programme for reasons of heroism. When two burglars broke into his home in Liverpool, he turned into a loud mad Scottish Hulk and pummelled their faces so hard he broke his own fist. Drunken Duncan as some call him, or others simply call him a hero. Even though he was well within his rights to assault the two uninvited guests. He still thought it best for the World if he learned to calm himself by attending group therapy.

Duncan himself formed the side as an idea for him and his buddies to channel their rage into a more productive manner. This may not be a five a side team rich in skill but it certainly will not lack passion!

NOTE: All of these players didnt go to the same therapy group, they went to local anger therapy groups.

You can follow Kevin on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Away Goals too.


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Monday, 25 July 2011

The life and times of Neuchâtel Xamax - Russian owner wields axe at Swiss club

In his debut article for The Football Front, Jake Miller assesses Neuchâtel Xamax and their Russian

Bulat Chagaev has ambitions of turning Neuchatel Xamax into more than just an impossible to pronounce Swiss club. The Chechen billionaire took over the club in May and wasted no time in making his mark on first team affairs. He even sacked First Team coach Didier Olle-Nicole on his first day in charge. Not that his replacement fared much better - Bernard Challendes managed to steer Xamax away from a relegation play-off and to the Swiss Cup final, but defeat to FC Sion saw his 3-week tenure come to an end.

It has to be said that these are changing times for the club based on the beautiful Lake Neuchâtel. Xamax are relatively new outfit. They were formed in 1970 as an amalgamation of two local clubs. The club have played in the top level of Switzerland, the Super League for the majority of their existence. They enjoyed a spell at the top of the Swiss game during the mid 80's, qualifying for European competition 5 years in a row. The last two European campaigns came in the European Cup after they secured their only two league titles in 1987 and 1988. Xamax enjoyed a semi-regular UEFA Cup football in the 90's. The club last appeared in the competition in the 03/04 season. However, they were knocked out by Auxerre in the first round. That was Xamax's last real success of note. They were relegated in 05/06 season (they bounced straight back up the next year) and have since bobbed along in the lower reaches of the 10-team Super League.

Xamax were taken over by Chagaev in May of 2011 at the tail end of another mediocre campaign. However, controversy was rife. The Russian business man didn't turn up to the vote to confirm his ownership, nor the first press conference, when he was expected at both. He was hardly inconspicuous in his absence. Chagaev was hosting famous footballers from yesteryear in his home country at Terek Grozny (the Chechen club which sacked Ruud Gullit earlier in the summer) in which he owns a stake. Whilst his deal to sign Xamax was being completed, Chagaev was sharing champagne with Diego Maradona, Luis Figo, Robbie Fowler and the leader of the state Ramzan Kadyrov.

The man sent to field questions back in Switzerland is Andrei Rudakov. The ex-Spartak Moscow striker has been put in day-to-day charge of the club under the title of President. His first job was to dilute some of the claims of the Billionaire. "The first thing is that we have to stay in the Super League," he said. "Today, it's about staying in the Super League and winning the Swiss Cup.” This was in reply to queries from journalists using quotes from the owner who insisted that the club was going to win the Super League at the first time of asking and that he was looking forward to Xamax playing in the Champions League, some doing for a club who finished 3rd bottom last season.

Not that Xamax have been slow to act in the transfer market. They secured a huge coup in signing former Valencia captain David Navarro to lead their back line. To partner Navarro, they have signed solid Dutchman Sander Keller from FC Utrecht. They also managed to snap-up young stars Victor Sanchez (from Barcelona) and Vincent Bikana, the centre half from Cameroon who has been playing with Corinthians in Brazil.

The season looked promising and under Sonny Anderson, the ex-Brazilian international. There was a chance that Xamax could challenge in and amongst the European spots. At least that was the idea.

However, the season didn't get off to the best start.

The owner sacked the entire administrative staff before the first game of the season- leaving the fans to rely on hand-written tickets to enter the 12,000 capacity Stade de la Maladière. What followed was a 3-0 home defeat to Luzern and that saw Chagaev act immediately. Rodrigo Galatto, a Brazilian goalkeeper signed a week before the game from Malaga and after making his début, he was unbelievably sacked by the club.

It seemed that nobody was safe, and that theory was proven correct. After Xamax were unsurprisingly defeated at Basel in their second league game of the season. The club’s major shareholder managed to sack his 3rd manager in just 2 months, as he terminated the contract of Sonny Anderson and his entire coaching staff. First team coach Francois Ciccolini, who joined Anderson at the club said "They can't ask us to perform magic".

Xamax are currently bottom of the Swiss league and in all honesty it will take a lot for them to challenge for the title this year. They are some way short of the excellent Basel and a turnaround in form that drastic was always going to be unlikely, no matter what the investment was this summer. That's not to be said that Xamax isn't a good investment. They are a club with a small but passionate fan base and with patient building they could potentially challenge for the title in the not so distant future.

It remains to be seen as to whether Neuchatel Xamax and Bulat Chagaev can work as a partnership. But after 2 months and 3 managers, it's hard to see there ever being an environment in which the club can flourish under his rule.

Perhaps it's another example of a European football club being bought by a foreign-owner who is looking for instant success, and whilst Chageav's wealth isn't the issue in this case.

His methods definitely are.

This article was written by Jake Miller. You can follow Jake on Twitter here: @jakemiller10 .You find Jake’s work on his blog too; playingthepercentages


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Sunday, 24 July 2011

Everton – The Premier League’s drought club?

In Leanne Duckett’s debut article for The Football Front, she explains her thoughts on Everton’s reoccurring problems in the past few years.

Last season Everton won 4 times in the league before the New Year. They languished at the bottom of the league and were dropping point’s game after game. This has been the case for the last few years. If only Everton could play a whole season the way they played in the second half. Then the club would be playing European Football. Perhaps its, something Everton should be aiming for every year.

Everton are a top 6 club, in all aspects. Except one, and its quite an important aspect. Everton have no money which equals no buying power which therefore means no progression.

David Moyes has worked wonders with what he has had to spend, some of his signings have been beyond amazing. I could go on for hours about the signings of Cahill, Arteta et al. They are great players, but the reality is, without a serious cash injection Everton are in grave danger of being cut adrift from the Premier League big boys.

With this lack of cash injection, I still for the life of me can't understand why no one has bought Everton. I understand and appreciate Bill Kenwright's ideal of not selling the club to become someone’s 'hobby' but how have clubs like Blackburn succeeded whereas Everton have failed?

Everton have history and still to this very day can produce world class footballbers. One could argue, selling Rooney to Manchester United saved Everton. It secured the clubs financial future for the next 5 season. This security lead to the clubs fantastic runs in Europe and the FA Cup Final in 2009.

Even now, if Rooney moves on Everton will receive a payment from it, it was a sound deal for all involved.

The main issue has been the failure to secure a site for a new stadium.

Goodison Park is full of 'original features' including restricted view seats and concrete pillars! Everton should be welcoming 55,00 every home game at the Kings Dock (now the Liverpool Echo Arena). This fell through in 2003. In 2004 brought the rumours of the ground share with Liverpool. This is something I felt could really have worked.

Even now, the Merseyside Derby Day is different to other cities around the country, they still have fans, families, sitting together, only divided by the colour of the strips they wear and flags they fly! The banter, is (for the most part) good natured and tongue in cheek. Obviously there will always be the exception that proves the rule, but a groundshare could have been a great solution to a problem that has plagued both clubs over recent seasons. The revenue in corporate and alternative facilities could have ensured both Everton and Liverpool kept in the mix with the big guns.

But in 2006 Everton had the KEIOC debacle. The Tesco deal was put before the fans who voted in favour of the move 59% to 41%. However, opponents to the plan included other local councils concerned by the effect of a large Tesco store being built as part of the development. Furthermore, a group of fans (Keep Everton In Our City) demanded that Everton should remain within the city boundaries of Liverpool.

But with only a few weeks left to go until 2011/12 kicks off Everton’s transfer activity has been minimal. Only the loan signing of Eric Dier and sale of James Vaughan to Norwich for £2.5m to note. There are no record signings, no big sale to raise funds for a much needed star striker. It begs one question. How are Everton going to fare this season?

Never before has the Premier League had so many teams competing for the top 6 places, Everton have to be competing for them too. Teams like Stoke and Sunderland are making marquee signings, and Liverpool have signed players to ensure their attempt to reclaim a top 4 spot goes to plan.

On paper, Everton can put out a great 11, but they have no cover in key areas and are really lacking a 20 goal-a-season striker.

So at Everton if everyone comes back from pre season fit and if they can hit the ground running, we can hope that they can start the new season as they finished the last.

But is it enough?

This article was written by Leanne Duckett, you follow her on Twitter: @halftimejaffas .You can find her work on her blog here too -> http://halftimejaffacakes.blogspot.com/

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Saturday, 16 July 2011

Why Charlie Adam is a good signing for Liverpool


Liverpool have finally got their man, after a 7 month chase, Charlie Adam is a Liverpool player.

But, there has been some question marks over whether Adams is good enough for Liverpool.

Despite this, I believe Adam will improve the team.

The key component of Charlie Adam’s game is his passing. This cannot be denied, Adam is a fine passer of the ball, its transparent the player can pass exquisitely with both feet. The stats prove this too. Last season, Charlie Adam made 2059 passes, he had a pass completion rate of 67%. This is a particularly impressive record, seeing it was the player’s first season in the Premier League.

One could argue, Liverpool have been deprived of a long range passer ever since the departure of Xabi Alonso in 2009. Now of course, Steven Gerrard is a fantastic long range passer. But no one can deny, Gerrard is far better when he is utilised in a more offensive position. Indeed, Charlie Adam will bring his long passing capabilities to the table. Surely this is beneficial for Liverpool? Especially as Liverpool play with a high tempo. Adam’s long passing range will give Liverpool the edge on their counter attacks.

Many observers of the game argue that Adam tries too many ‘Hollywood’ balls thus resulting in him being wasteful in possession.

But, things will be different for Adam at Liverpool.

At Blackpool, Adam was the most technically gifted passer of the ball. He was Blackpool’s main catalyst. So he was given the licence to use the ball with far more freedom.
While at Liverpool, Adam will not be given as much freedom. He will be expected to play to his duties in Liverpool’s three man midfield. If Adam is wasteful with over ambitious long passes. He will be dropped. It’s as simple as that. Liverpool has more depth than Blackpool. This means if Adam isn’t fulfilling his role, another competent midfielder will take his place.

Furthermore, Adam’s role in the team will be to create chances for his team mates. The Scotsman has proved he can do this. Last season, Charlie Adam made 64 key passes. Luka Modric, Aarron Lennon and Nani all made the same amount of key passes. It’s clearly an extraordinary record, especially when you consider Blackpool were relegated. This remarkable stat reinforces the idea of Liverpool acquiring players with ‘vision.’ Most teams come to Anfield and play 11 men behind the ball and often Liverpool have found it hard to create and expose their opposition. This statistic is proof that Liverpool are acquiring a player who can unlock teams at the Premier League level. The fact he has a better key passes record than any Liverpool player, it proves he is a highly credented signing for the club.

Adam’s fantastic accuracy with his set pieces will give Liverpool another dimension. Especially since Liverpool have aerially dominating players, such as Kuyt, Carroll, Skrutel and others.

This trend of Adam creating more chances than most Liverpool players continues. Adam assisted 8 of Blackpool goals last season. And yet again, that’s more than any Liverpool player. Of course Adam has been reasonably sloppy at times, but surely his high level of assists shows he is a player who can contribute and can make a difference. Liverpool desperately need players like this. Over the past few years, Liverpool had become mega dependent on Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. Now Liverpool are creating a skilled squad with players who can bring something unique to the team, rather than relying on individuals.

Besides Charlie Adam’s attacking competencies, the defensive part of his game is solid too. Last season Adam made 62 successful tackles. This was more than Raul Meireles who made 55 successful tackles. Perhaps, something which Liverpool’s central midfielders have lacked in recent times is players who can successfully win the ball.

Indeed, a common criticism of Meireles and Aquilani is that both players tackling hasn’t been up to scratch. While in contrast, with Adam, Liverpool have a player who has proven he can not only attack the ball, he can successfully challenge for the too.

Furthermore, Adam won 50 of his aerial duels last season, thus giving him a 56% aerial success rate. Perhaps this symbolises the fact Liverpool have brought a well rounded player. Damien Comolli reinstates this, ‘He’s [Charlie Adam] has got the power, strength, stamina and then technically, he’s got an absolute fantastic left foot.’

Charlie Adam’s competence in attacking and defending stems from his personality. The Scotsman’s leadership, hunger and determination are all traits which should be admired. He was Blackpool’s 'captain fantastic' last season. There is no denying this. Adam’s personality on the pitch will raise his new team mates performances, and not only this, it will inspire the crowd and liven them up even more. Having this desire and hunger to win is something that will always be appreciated in football, especially by the Liverpool fans.

However, with this desire to win, it is also where Charlie Adam’s wastefulness creeps in. Last season. Adam had 2.3 shots per game. This was even more than Luis Suarez who had 1.7 shots per game.

It’s clear some of Adam’s flaws are over inflated. A quick look at the players statistics prove the player is a highly productive player. Furthermore, Adam’s mobility along with his technical proficiency will suit Liverpool’s style. The Scotsman’s creativity will make the lives of Gerrard, Carroll and Suarez far more easier.
Charlie Adam may not be the most glamorous of players, due to his tenacious characteristics on the pitch.

But there is one word that sums him up.

Productivity.

Charlie Adam 2010/11 Premier League Statistics


Starts

34

Goals

12

Minutes

3,051

Assists

8

Crossing Accuracy

23%

Pass completion

67%

Key Passes

64

Shooting accuracy

61%

Shots on target

68

Shots off target

44

Successful tackles

62

Aerial duels

50

Aerial duel success %

56%




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4-4-2 It's failings and former successes


Friday, 15 July 2011

4-4-2- its failings and it's former successes

In his debut article for The Football Front, Itsaballnotabomb explains the strengths and weaknesses of the 4-4-2 formation.

The 4-4-2, arguably the most famous and most popular formation of the last 20 years. However, it is now falling out of favour.

For any manager in the 1980’s or 1990’s, especially in England, the notion of this formation 'falling out of favour' would be laughed at. Almost every side, whether it would be the national team or a club. They would play a 4- 4-2 of some variant. The only real exceptions to this idea were the Dutch and the clubs that they had influenced, most notably Barcelona, who had been transformed by Johan Cruyff.

The simplicity of the formation was loved by players and managers alike. It created partnerships in the formation. The partnerships included both centre backs, then the full backs linking with the wingers, the two central midfielders (one would normally hold his position while the other drove into the box) and the two strikers (traditionally a player good in the air and the other striker was quick and could finish). These partnerships are written into the folk-lore of English football and are still talked about today. The likes of Shearer and Sutton or SAS, Pallister and Bruce, Beckham and Neville and Yorke and Cole are all fondly remembered by British fans.

The 4-4-2 remained dominant in international competitions and for club sides in Europe until late into the last decade. Barcelona and Spain destroyed the 4-4-2, first in Euro 2008, where Spain picked apart the opposition by keeping possession with one touch passes and good technique. And then in Rome in the Champions League Final where Manchester United chased shadows against Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona and lost 2-0.

The problem with the 4-4-2 against a team playing a 4-3-3 system is that you simply have less people in midfield. It is therefore harder to control that area of the pitch thus making it difficult to keep possession. As shown in the diagram above, if player 1 has the ball, either one of the midfielders will try to pressure him and win the ball back, if they do this successfully, player 2 or 3 for the green team will then be free and a simple pass can be completed to that player. It is essentially like playing piggy-in-the-middle with the two central midfielders.

One way to get around this is if the two central midfielders of the other side sit deep or don’t press, although this allows the deep lying midfielder on the other team a lot of time and space which can still cause problems.

Another problematic aspect of the 4-4-2 system is that if a striker on the opposing side drops off between the midfield and the defence and no-one tracks him he will be allowed the space and time to shoot or pick a pass. However, if one of the centre backs follows him, it can lead to a 1 on 1 and a large hole in the defence to exploit, especially if the other striker has pace, this gap can be easily exploited. Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp did this to great effect with Arsenal in the early 2000’s.

But if a defensive midfielder, as he would be in a 4-3-3, is sitting in front of the defence it makes the opposition striker dropping off the defence far easier to deal with, as the marking duties can easily be switched.

The 4-4-2 though can still be a useful formation. The natural width in a 4-4-2 allows a side to stretch teams. This can be done with direct passing towards the flanks. As shown in the diagram above, when the cross comes in from the wing there can be up to 4 people in the box, which can be extremely difficult to defend against. Manchester United have used this tactic extremely often in recent years. United would play a long ball out to Valencia/ Beckham, who then wait for the midfielders to make their runs and then any decent ball into the box can lead to a good goal scoring opportunity.

Another advantage of this formation is the ability for the front two to link up easily. This can also be exploited with a long pass, this time instead of out wide, it would be fired directly at one of the strikers. One of the strikers, usually the one who is better in the air, would then flick the ball on, whilst the other striker, usually the quicker of the two, would try to get on the end of it and exploit the space behind the defence, leading to a clear chance on goal.

Tacticians are claiming the 4-4-2 is on the decline. This isn’t true, formations go in and out of fashion quickly; the 4-4-2 has just become another victim of this cycle. For a defensive or counter-attacking side the 4-4-2 still provides the side with plenty of attacking options going forward. Also if the space between the midfield and defence is minimal and the side is willing to sit back and let the opposition have possession, it can still be a useful formation.

This article was written by Itsaballnotabomb, you can follow him on Twitter at - @ballnotabomb

You can find more of his work on his blog - itsaballnotabomb.wordpress.com



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Aston Villa and Alex McLeish – A marriage destined to fail

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Aston Villa and Alex McLeish – A marriage destined to fail


So, after weeks of rumours, rejecting and rejections, Aston Villa have finally got a manager.

Their new manager is of course, former Birmingham City manager, Alex McLeish.

But there are times in life, when two people who are clearly wrong for each other end up being together. You may think to yourself or tell your mates, ‘That relationship wont last long.’ The same notion is apparent in football, especially when thinking about Aston Villa and their new manager, Alex McLeish.

This appointment is so odd. It’s like two people with conflicting values or ties getting married. It reminds of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

And like that love story, it’s destined to go wrong.

To the Villa fans, the appointment of Alex McLeish sends a message of a lack of ambition from Randy Lerner.

To put this into context, last season Alex McLeish’s Birmingham City were relegated. In his three Premier League seasons with Birmingham City, twice he has been relegated. How can this enthral the fans? How can the fans have hearts filled with optimism when they know they have a manager who has a knack at getting his teams in a dog fight at the bottom end of the table?

Aston Villa’s last two managers symbolised the clubs ambition. In Martin O’Neil, Aston Villa had a successful manager, who was well respected by the Villa fans. While in Gerard Houllier, Aston Villa had a manager who had won various cups throughout his management career.

However, with Alex McLeish, although he has been highly successful in Scotland especially with Rangers, he has hardly captured the Villa fans minds and hearts. One fan commented, ‘we had a disastrous season [Last season], I feel with him [Alex McLeish] in charge it will be a lot worse.’

The statistics horrify the Aston Villa fans too. McLeish’s Birmingham last season had the fewest shots in the whole of the Premier League (314 shots) and they scored the least amount of goals in the league too (37 goals). Of course this unsettles the Villa fans, as Villa traditionally play attacking football and score many goals.

For many clubs, the relationship between the fans and manager is crucial in how long the manager survives. If the manager is adored by his fans, it often gives the manager time and patience. While if the fans dislike the manager, it often means the fans are more inflammable and hostile towards the manager and his decisions.

The passionate opposition towards Alex McLeish being the manager of Aston Villa is symbolised by the protests outside Villa Park. One protesting Villa fan said, ‘we don’t want rejects from there [Birmingham].’ This suggests Alex McLeish is fighting a battle he will never win.

However, the feeling of discontent will further alleviate if the results do not go Villa’s way.

If, Villa go through a poor run of form at the start of the season, the fans will instantly target Alex McLeish. The Scotsmen may expect this, but it will make Villa Park a highly pressurised environment.

In McLeish’s first press conference for Aston Villa, the new manager commented, ‘Let me prove myself and I’ll win you over.’ The grim reality is that many Villa fans will not give McLeish a chance to prove himself. After all, he is by no means an ideal candidate in the fans eyes.

There is something incredibly ironic about Aston Villa’s hunt for a new manager. Steve McClaren, was rumoured to be short listed for the Villa job. However, due to the negative reception from the fans towards McClaren, the board removed him from the shortlist.

However, with Alex McLeish, a man who most Villa fans passionately oppose, the club appointed him as manager. It’s incredible how the club showed respect and value towards the fans, but then betrayed the fans so painfully by appointing a hated figure to lead their beloved Aston Villa.

It’s abundantly clear that the marriage between Aston Villa and Alex McLeish will stutter severely. The Villa fans have little faith in McLeish. One Villa fan commented, ‘he [Alex McLeish] is not good enough for Aston Villa.’ They are rueful towards the Villa board, as there are better candidates out there such as Mark Hughes and Rafa Benitez.

The feeling amongst the Aston Villa fans is that their team have dramatically lowered their sights and ambitions.

However, the board have got to take the rap for this mess. They have completely disregarded the fans feelings and values. One Villa fan commented, ‘I feel, Aston Villa’s board has bankrupted Aston Villa’s credibility.’ The sad thing is, most football fans, will agree with this comment.

The marriage between Alex McLeish and Aston Villa is marred with disapproval, conflict and bitterness.

Alex McLeish stated, he was ‘the man’ for the Villa job.

I give it 6 months.



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Why more English players should play abroad

Friday, 8 July 2011

Why more English players should play abroad‏

Kevin Leonard explains his thoughts on why more English players should ply their trade abroad.

It is not often today or at any point in history that an Englishman will venture abroad for anything else other than a barmy drunken holiday or to invade a foreign land, take it over and tell the terrified locals to speak English from now on. And let's be honest, there isn't much difference between those two activities especially in the case of Gaza's transfer to Lazio. However, so far in this transfer window two young English players have transferred to two former European Cup winning clubs in Germany. Michael Mancienne has swapped the blue shirt of Chelsea and London's eloquent West End for the black and blue shirt and ice bars of Hamburg. Where as 18 year old Dale Jennings has some how landed a transfer from Tranmere Rovers to the German giants Bayern Munich, odd times indeed. It seems the transfer window had taken on a nostalgic feel to them with rumours of Scottish strikers like Kenny Miller joining Italian clubs and Irish strikers allegedly heading to Arsenal. But two young English talents signing for the elite of the Bundesliga does not represent any bygone era at all.

We are ‘well and truly in the twilight zone’ to quote a bygone Belgian rock band.

Besides the mysterious nature of these German shopping habits, we as English men and women (half of me actually) will inevitably ask the question; is this good for English football?

The egotistical nature of the TV presentations of the Premier League often leave the claim "best league in the World" ringing in our ear. Naturally most English fans believe this, which is fine. However when it is uttered from the mouths of pundits who don't actually watch any other league in the World one most question their claim. The fact is other leagues are very very good as well. The Bundesliga is perhaps one of the fastest improving leagues in Europe at the moment.

This is an environment which will excel the development of Michael Mancienne and Dale Jennings. It will give them an alternative view of the game in comparison to the one they would have viewed and experienced in England.

A lot of these clever pundits were very quick to belittle the Bundesliga, when Schalke were beaten by Manchester United in last seasons Champions League. Where as others like me have a slightly longer memory and can all too vividly recall 11 Bundesliga players humiliating 11 Premier league players in South Africa 12 months ago.

I would dare to say that this could be the catalyst of a new era of English football. That wonderful memory I mentioned can also recall football from further back than South Africa 2010. In fact it can recall a time before 2008 where the Spanish national team were not very good. Plenty of players that now make up Spain's first choice 11 were present in the years where La Liga sides would consistently perform well in European club competitions with an abundance of Spanish players. Yet Spain would fail on the international stage. The Spanish national side’s first choice 11 pre Euro 2008 was 100% La Liga players. The players were mostly from the very best La Liga clubs such as; Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia etc.

What was slightly different at Euro 2008? Xabi Alonso, Pepe Reina, Cesc Fabregas and Fernando Torres were not playing in La Liga. They were playing in the Premier League.

Another fact that some would claim makes the Premier league the ‘best league in the World’ is because it some how hardened up the Spaniards. This is not what happened. Believe it or not they do have tackles in Spain too. If you want to really talk about the physicality of both nations, us English don't wave red flags in an attempt to piss off a raging bull that would quite happily impale you onto it's horn and shake you until you were unable to wave a flag ever again.

What the English league gave those players was a different style, a different point of view on the game if you will. On the international stage you will of course encounter more contrasting styles than in club football. This variety gave the Spanish a little something extra and even though Alonso is now back in Spain and Fabregas soon will be too, they have that little experience of another footballing culture which has helped the Spanish win a World Cup.

If Manchester United's Owen Hardgreaves, was fit he would be picked in the England squad every time. His time with Bayern Munich made him a unique player, not necessarily better than some English central midfielders, but he has a discipline in the holding role that other English players just don't have. This is no doubt a direct result from playing in the German mindset which places great emphasis on tactical awareness and positioning rather than work ethic and passion. Brains over brawn you could say. Having viewed Michael Mancienne’s display for the Under 21 side against Spain last month, I would say he greatly needs a brain and to immerse himself in a more tactical thinking environment or at least one where he can learn to pass a ball.

The foreign journalists in attendance at the Under 21 European tournament remarked that England had changed somewhat, they felt that our problem was we tried to play too much football. England are making a transition into the modern game by placing the emphasis on technique now rather than power, hence the inclusion of Jack Wilshere at senior level. The problem is changing a countries ethos is not like flipping a switch. It takes time. With defenders like Rio Ferdinand and midfielders like Jack Wilshere England has shown they can produce players of a more intelligent and technical calibre. We just need to do this on a wider scale.

Two youngsters in Germany is a good start to a new approach. They are not just any German clubs mind you. Only three German clubs have won the European Cup and two of them are Bayern Munich and Hamburg.

Personally I would send every 16 year old we have over to Brazil and tell them to do whatever it is those Brazilian kids do all day long. Or just hire Pelè to shag 11 English women so we can raise a team of English/Brazilians in time for the 2030 World Cup.

A World Cup we'll hopefully be hosting, hint hint FIFA!


You can follow Kevin on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Away Goals too.


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