Arsène Wenger, 15 years on. Has the bubble burst?

Firstly, I really didn’t want to write this. I tweeted on a few occasions completely ruling myself out of making a Wenger critic article, but there comes a point where there’s an element of hypocrisy to blog on the failings of other clubs, yet casually avoid your own.  Secondly; This is a long one, but bare with it – It’ll put some light on a generation of football.

“When I think of Arsène Wenger, I think of Warren Buffett. Wenger runs his football club like he is going to own the club for 100 years.”
Billy Beane, 2010.

At 15th in the table, P7 W2 D1 L3. Arsenal have made their worst start to a season in 58 years. The fans are in dismay, the players look shaken, the injury list is growing, and their rivals are pulling away at a rate of knots.


Let’s start this from the beginning. It’s 1996 and Arsenal, and then-CEO David Dein, have just appointed a geeky, quirky, funny looking Frenchman. Armed with a masters degree in economics, a modest playing career and a decent record with Monaco/Nagoya Grampus Eight. It was a controversial appointment to say the least.

Arsène Wenger in 1996, aged 47.

20 months later and Mr Wenger is sitting pretty with an Fa Cup and Premier League title to his name – the first foreign manager to ever achieve ‘the double’. Suddenly the penny dropped, this was a man who’s breath of fresh air had shaken the football world. The attention was being directed to a brand of football, a culture of pass and move. The Evening Standard, who had headlined with “Arsène Who?!” 2 years ago, were looking very sheepish.

Fast forward again, to the famous unparalleled 2003-2004 campaign. ‘The Invincibles’. Arsène Wenger has navigated his side to an unbeaten season, with an all-time unbeaten record of 49 games. He could do no wrong. He had the balance between purchasing established quality players, and developing young players through the system to play the ‘Arsenal Way’. His back four were stubborn. He had a solid 4-4-2 in place which was frustrating to break down and devastating on the break. The giants in Europe were scared. No-one wanted to play The Arsenal.

Following that, the come-down was inevitable, even the most heartened Gooner didn’t expect another invincibles season, but the manner in which the 49-long run was ended has always left a feeling of injustice around the club. An FA Cup victory in 2005 to Manchester United sweetened the pain. Club captain Patrick Vieira left the club and Gilberto Silva filled the boots. Adequately, I must add. The FA Cup win 6 years ago is the last trophy Arsenal Football Club won.

What has happened to a team which promised so much?

Next stop, January 2011, every year getting more frustrating than the last. David Dein, the Chairman, the personal and professional friend of Wenger left the club in 2006 following disputes over the move away from the 93 year old, 38,000 capacity Highbury Stadium, across the road to the new state-of-the-art Emirates Stadium. Arsenal’s pass-and-move philosophy remains, the big name players – to an extent, remain. There is slightly more focus on buying talented youngsters and developing them into the players of tomorrow, as opposed to the balance which was in use during the 2001-2005 era. It’s a long-term plan. Fans are patient, at times too patient, but in January Arsenal find themselves the only English club in all 4 competitions, 2nd in the league with a game in hand, with a strong team, players bought as youth in 2007/8 are now showing the promise to be stars. All is going to plan, bar the long-term injury of  central defender Vermaelen, and the insufficient cover on the wings.

To me, Mid-January 2011 is where Arsène Wenger makes his first big mistake. At a time where we have serious chances of an epic season, he needs to strengthen, and get depth. Every manager from Barcelona to Barnet will tell you that teams statistically suffer more injuries in the second half of the season. Wenger does not add to his side.

With the same 25 man squad, Arsenal enter February. A promising month, with a Carling Cup Semi Final, a string of winnable Premier League games, and mouth-watering clash with Barcelona in the Champions League bridging what became the Carling Cup final.

A thrilling win against Barcelona comes first, before they are dragged back down to earth by the turning point in The Gunners season.
Arsenal 1 – 0 Stoke City.
A nervous win against a gritty Potters side, but the tackling of Pulis’s men enrages Arsène Wenger. Winger Theo Walcott, and Captain Cesc Fabregas suffer injuries as a result of strong tackles and are added to the 4 long injury list ahead of the Carling Cup final.

Arsenal 1 – 2 Birmingham City. Carling Cup Final, Feb 27th 2011.

Birmingham players celebrate their winner.

Calamity. Disaster. Embarrassing. The victors went on to be relegated. This was the first showing of cracks in Arsène Wenger’s new 4-2-3-1 formation, as the structure of that team was based around the creativity of the injured Cesc Fabregas, the team went to Wembley and played without a spark. He should have played 4-4-2. This formation is a central-theme to Arsenal’s current demise.

From that game, Arsenal went from worse to worse. Cheated out of the Champions League 3 days later. From 4 trophies to 2 trophies in no time. 2 weeks later, FA Cup quarter-final; Arsenal, and I, travel to Old Trafford to see Sir Alex play 7 defenders against the best strength Arsenal side available. And Manchester United run out 2-0 winners.

This run grew to 2 wins in 17 games. Which brings me to this season.

We’re finally in season 2011/2012. Things have only gotten worse. 9 players, 7 first team all feature in what can only be described as a mass exodus over the summer. Arsenal sign 1 player of stature during before August. They lose their own pre-season tournament to the New York Red Bulls, and enter the first game of the Premier League season with a significantly weakened and demoralised team.
1-1 draw against Newcastle (Gervinho s/o). 

From then, Arsenal games went like so;

Udinese (h) 1-0 win. (Pat Rice Manager – Wenger banned).
Liverpool (h) 0-2 loss. (Frimpong s/o).
Udinese (a) 1-2 win. (Szczesny saves penalty – huge moment).
Manchester Utd (a) 8-2 loss. (one of the biggest defeats in AFC history – Jenkinson s/o)

Post the 8-2 demolition at Old Trafford, Wenger finally enters the transfer window with 5 days remaining – building more pressure on himself with “panic buy” allegations.

To highlight Wenger’s big mistake number 2: A quick list of comparison is needed; Transfer dealings, 2011.

Sir Alex Ferguson; Evaluates his team, highlights positions which need strengthening, highlights and dispenses ‘dead-weight’ in the side. Recalls young players from their loan spells at other clubs. Purchases, at all costs, the players he believes will strengthen his side. Allows them to gel over pre-season USA tour, returning to win the Community Shield, and score 18 goals in first 4 league games. Clicked.

Arsène Wenger; Evaluates his team, promises fans he won’t sell big players unless it’s for a fair offer. Loses Clichy, Eboue. Next, Cesc Fabregas leaves for half his value (£28m), then Barcelona slap a 200M euro buy out clause on him. Slap in the face. Arsène Wenger then highlights Blackburn’s Phil Jones as a target, but only offers £8 million for him. Sir Alex Ferguson then realises Arsène has just essentially scouted a talented player, and buys him for double that. Ashley Young, a massive Arsenal fan, let’s Arsenal know his availability via his agent, and is willing to take a wage-cut to join his boyhood heroes. Arsenal spend 12M signing Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlain, 18 years old. Manchester United sign Ashley Young (who scores twice in the 8-2 mauling). Wenger offers £16M for Juan Mata, Valencia reject the low offer, Chelsea pick him up for £22m – He’s scoring for fun now. Penny pinching has lost Arsenal 3 players, now. Nasri leaves for Manchester City. Wenger buys 4 players in last 3 days. The season has already started poorly, now the side find themselves trying to gel, whilst picking themselves up from humiliating defeats and looking up at the 3 promoted teams above them in the table.

The comparison to Manchester United is the most fair. Given they operate financially in the same league as The Gunners, they should be the main compeition. Their structure is the most similar when it comes to raising capital for expenditure.

This one is a long one isn’t it?

Meanwhile, to thank Arsenal fans for their continued support. Arsenal FC up their – already highest in the UK, 2nd highest in Europe – ticket prices by 6%. 1% for every year the Arsenal fans have had nothing to shout about. Average ticket price is now around £55. Not to mention the now inflated price of travelling around the City of London. Fans are growing impatient.

Arsène Wenger continues with the 4-2-3-1 formation, yes, the one built around Cesc Fabregas, remember? Who’s currently one-thousand miles away in sunny Spain. But place new-boy Mikel Arteta in his role, though sometimes Aaron Ramsey, sometimes Benayoun, but what about when Wilshere’s back? No-one really knows. They face their next 2 games;

Swansea (h) 1-0. win. (Edgy affair, a very lucky goal).
Dortmund (a) 1-1. (Pat Rice manager – Brilliant performance).

And continue the 4-2-3-1 into Ewood Park. The 2nd biggest humiliation of Arsenal’s season.
Blackburn (a) 4-3 loss. (Blackburn are no longer bottom of the table)

Following that, a minor rebuff of 3 wins;
Shrewbury (h) 3-1. win. (Carling Cup – Youth Team out).
Bolton (h) 3-0. win. (Poor first half, red card for BW. Game changed).
Olympiakos (h) 2-1 win. (Pat Rice manager).

Wenger and Redknapp exchange words.

Before the biggest test of Arsenal ‘new beginning’;
Tottenham (a) 2-1 loss. (Arsenal now 5 points + 1 game behind Spurs).

Wenger’s policy of buying youth is simply not working if he cannot retain them, so many fans argue this point. Even Wenger himself was quoted saying;

“We do not buy superstars, we make them.”

Where are they now?

Samir Nasri, 24 – Manchester City.
Cesc Fabregas, 24 – Barcelona.
Emmanuel Adebayor, 27 – Tottenham (of all places!!).
Mathieu Flamini, 27 – AC Milan.
Eduardo Silva, 28 – Shaktar Donetsk.
Jose Antonio Reyes, 28 – Athletico Madrid.
Gael Clichy, 26 – Manchester City.
Emmanuel Eboue, 28 – Galatasary.
Ashley Cole, 30 – Chelsea.
Alexander Hleb, 30 – Barca (loan Wolfsberg)

That’s only a few!

Arsenal are putting up with their ‘developing’ years, all the mistakes etc, but are not getting the rewards of the finished article, other sides are. Essentially just realising an army of ex-players with a point to prove who ear-mark netting against them; Bentley, Pennant, etc.

Furthermore, and an extension of the point of buying youth; Arsenal, in this season, are now finding themselves missing Jack Wilshere, who’s just 19. Granted he’s a talented 19 year old but how are: Szczesny/Ramsey/Walcott/Wilshere/Gibbs being viewed as senior players? In what world is that fair on them? Not to mention giving youth like Coquelin premier league debuts at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane. If you go into a match without experience in your side, or the right balance of experience with youth, then of course you are going to lose.

Wenger, shadowed by the Arsenal faithful.

Following that, there’s Van Persie’s constant quotes saying he is not an ‘out-and-out striker’ and that he prefers to play with a more rounded forward, not alone up front. Yet Wenger continues to play the 4-2-3-1 formation which is currently suiting no-one.

He had to buy someone like Karim Benzema in July. If he had, Nasri would have stayed. I’m 100% sure of that. He could have switched to 4-4-2. And players like Frimpong/AO-C/Gibbs would be out on loan, perfecting their game. Not learning their game through mistakes.

In life, and in sport, if it’s not working, revert to the last system which did. 4-4-2. (coincidentally, with a Dutch trickster, and a Frenchman up front). Arsenal are the 3rd biggest economy in football, one of the highest revenues, yet this summer Arsenal made more money from sales of players, than they spent on players. Which means the ‘transfer kitty’ he originally had available was not touched.

Tottenham have had the better of it recently, I’ll admit that. They kept their best player, and why? ’cause he was under contract. If Ivan Gazidis had half the qualities Daniel Levy possesses then Cesc Fabregas would still be wearing the armband, or we’d have gotten double from a club who one week announced they had no money, then landed Alexis Sanchez for 31.5M euros. Arsenal were taken for a ride. Now Spurs have just fired us out of reach of a European spot most fans are taking for granted. How did that work out for Liverpool?

Brian Clough, the legend that he is, had a fantastic spell with Nottingham Forest, but ultimately, his legacy was the reason he was not dismissed following his poor run of results in 1993. I’m not suggesting for a second that Arsenal will be relegated. But currently this team will be lucky to finish 10th. And that hurts to write.

My final points, and it will be the response to the first 2 questions of every one of your lips/fingertips;

“Yes, it’s right for the team, but perhaps wrong for the club.  Arsenal could lose a few players who see him as a father figure; Song, Diaby, RVP etc. but unless he realises 4-2-3-1 doesn’t work, he has until January for Arsenal to be at least 5th. Unfortunately, it’s all uphill, he’s lost the media, which is piling the pressure on them. Players don’t like that.”

And then the second question;

“Jurgen Klopp” 

Lastly, have any of you ever seen the film; ‘Lucky Number Slevin’? There’s a good quote by ‘The Rabbi’ which to me sums up Arsène Wenger;

I’ll let you decipher from that what you will.

Over and out.


Blatter’s ignorance to a plea of help. The referee’s paradox.

So, we have a week off from the ups and downs of the Premier League, but the joys of being a football fan does not stop there, oh no.

It’s the turn of the Welsh and the Scots this week to bemoan the poor officiating which has cost their side dearly in the international break; Wales, playing at Wembley, trailing 1-0, see Aaron Ramsey play a pass his old captain would have been proud of,  to the sprinting Gareth Bale, the Tottenham winger controls the ball and is ‘1 on 1’, only to be flagged offside, wrongly. What could have been. Mind, Rob Earnshaw had a chance to make amends had he not blazed a complete sitter.

3 days previous, at Hampden Park, Scotland suffer in the ‘tale of two penalties’. At 2-1 to the hosts, Czech striker Jezek dives under the presence of Wilson and is awarded a penalty, converted by Kadlec. 2-2. Then 50 seconds later, Christophe Berra has his ankles taken and nothing is given. A very costly draw for the Tartan Army’s chances of Euro2012 qualification.

So the argument was re-ignited; do referee’s need help?

I think the world of football is crying out for it.

Hawk-Eye, used in Tennis to determine boundary decisions.

Sport as a whole has always been surrounded by an aura of controversy, but with the development of technologies in the social and media universe, other sports have developed with the advancements; ensuring whilst the referee has final say, he is in a position to use the media to review the incident. Rugby uses the video-ref, tennis has hawk-eye, in American Football you “go upstairs”, and any race, be it horses/cars/humans there is photo-finish and in-race conduct being monitored.

Football is being left in the dark ages, held by the stubborn-ness of a Swiss dictator refusing to budge over the pressing issues. These decisions are literally re-writing history; Spain, won their first World Cup in 2010, however, in the Semi-Final vs Germany, Germany should have been awarded one penalty, and could easily have had a second. Costly in a game finishing 1-0. Furthermore, in the final, Dutch winger Robben had broken free of the Spanish defence only to be pulled back by Puyol as he attempted to shoot, could have been a game-changing red card in extra time.

The cynics will argue that it takes power away from the referees; but I feel it empowers them to officiate in a fair and proper manner. Referee’s will still be able to put their personalities onto a match; the leniency of Webb, the pro-penalty-giving nature of Dean. But the integrity of the sport will remain, and the ‘buck’ will ultimately stop with the referee. Under current rules, referee’s are being blamed for incidents in which they really cannot be expected to know for sure.

Frank Lampard’s shot clearly crosses the line, but officials didn’t spot it.

Take Germany vs England, for example. Whilst the Lampard phantom goal was blatantly obvious for us to see at home, one must consider; we had an elevated angle, we also had the benefit of a replay for clarification; it would take the 4th official a matter of seconds to confirm the correction to the ‘1st official’ and the goal would have stood. As it stands now the referee’s are so bound by dated rules that they can’t even use the replays on the stadium monitors to be sure, regardless if the fans can see an injustice: (Argentina v Mexico, WC2010, Arsenal v Everton BPL 2011).

Sepp Blatter: “The International Football Association Board is of the opinion that football will remain, for the time being, a game for human beings with errors on the field of play. We will try to improve referees but you will never erase errors completely.” – A categorical ‘no’ to the thought of video replays.

If it were up to me, I’d have a system which incorporated both the Tennis and Rugby practises. And here’s what and why;

Mr Blatter argues that video replays would make the game inconsistent, and the stop-start nature of the game would deter fans. My first argument is; football is already more stop start than everyone realises, with every corner/throw/goal kick etc taking an extra 15/20 seconds. Last season, the average ‘game-time’ of teams, i.e., the time that the ball was actually on the field and in motion, was around 75mins. With the lowest team being Stoke City FC. Averaging around 68mins per match. I think Rory Delap can have 5/6 of those minutes himself. My 2nd argument, and my solution, is; 3 unsuccessful challenges per side. The same as used in tennis. Assuming all challenges are used, at an average of 30 seconds for the 4th official to confirm/deny, that would only add 3 minutes to a game. Which is hardly an inconvenience for the sake of a fair result.

Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA.

Next, Mr Blatter wants to avoid scenes of players crowding the referees for every tedious decision. My solution to that would be taking a spin on the Rugby system of communication with officials; Only the captain/manager can request use of a challenge. Additionally, the sinned/sinned against player can too, in events of penalties/red cards etc, but captain must be present on field.

Enforcement of these rule changes would take the controversy out of the game, which would apportion the blame inexcusably onto the referees. Which would bring me to my final suggestion on the matter;

This is perhaps the only time in my life I may do so, but I agree with Tony Pulis;

Pulis told BBC Radio 5 live: “Every club should have one vote [annually] and mark referees after every game. Then they have a chance of being relegated to the Championship. It would be a great system.”,

He went on; 

“If the top three [referees] in the Championship got the opportunity to work at the top level, I think it would certainly clear a few referees’ minds.”

What. A. Brilliant. Idea.

….But…..with a few tweaks; whilst rating referee’s will be averaged I think it needs to be weighted; i.e. 25%, home manager, 25% away manager. 50% by the match assessor. That would counter the ever-moaning managers; Wenger, Ferguson, Pardew. And also protect the opinions of certain managers who never seem to complain too much; O’Neill, Bruce, Martinez.

Additionally, I completely disagree with the small pool of referees in the Barclays Premier League. In my opinion, this causes familiarity; which is detrimental to the chances of a fair referee. For example, how many times have you heard the phrase “he’s not that type of player”?

My point being, if Joey Barton makes a late tackle, all of a sudden all his previous misdemeanours are poured onto him and a collaborated decision is given. On the other hand, Theo Walcott, a player with only 2 yellow cards to his name in his Arsenal career, if he makes the same tackle… Are you trying to tell me that you’d give the same decision? I doubt it.

Furthermore, players and referees begin the get friendly, an unhealthy relationship to be had when a game is worth as much as it is. Notably, and perhaps only known by Everton fans, Mark Clattenburg is banned from officiating Toffee’s games after this incident;

Notice how Clattenburg takes a yellow card out of his pocket, then following an exchange of words with the Liverpool skipper, he changes Hibbert’s punishment to a red card. Worrying.

There are 18 referees with Premier League status, or to give it the proper name, 18 are full-time members of the ‘select group’, appointed by Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL). With Jon Moss and Neil Swarbrick sharing a part-time status after both officiating 2 PL games each last term. This means, that there is on average less than 1 full time referee per team, from that, in 2010/2011 it varied from Phil Dowd refereeing 30 games, and Anthony Taylor officiating 13. Moreover, and I hope you’re keeping up!, ‘high profile games’, between top 6 sides, bottom 3 sides, or derby games, go to the referee’s said to be the best; Dean, Webb, Dowd, Atkinson, Foy, Walton. Which can only mean familiarity for the top sides. Which is leading to fans accusations/predictions, and pre-emptive conclusions of ‘the unfairness to come’, all before some games have even started; I.e. Mike Riley had given Man Utd 8 penalties in 8 games at Old Trafford, Webb has given Man Utd 3 penalties in 6 games vs Arsenal, Atkinson is said to bias toward Chelsea, 13 games unbeaten under him. And Webb is said to always lean toward the home side. Meanwhile Dowd has a habit of placing himself at the centre of controversial results, comebacks, game-changing moments, etc.

Phil Dowd dismisses Chelsea skipper John Terry.

The thing is, the more help referees can get, to enforce the laws of the game, the easier the whole process becomes. A referral system gives the referees a chance to make a confident decision, and it takes away the curtain if the decision is wrong. Therefore it makes the individual accountable, which will lead to punishment, which will mean the referees that are the best, are officiating at the highest level. It’s a conclusion that everyone wants.

I am 100% Blatter and Platini; Out. They are corrupt, elitist and racist (in their constant ignoring of the monkey chants at Camp Nou, yet chasing trivial issues).

Whatever happens in the future – and, who knows, football might end up embracing technology as other sports have done – criticism of referees is unlikely to subside completely, but at least football will be rid of the blatant injustice which is currently crippling the sport.

Over and out.

“How important we are to England” – Manchester United.

During the tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Scot has led Manchester United to 37 honours, has received personal accolades from Manager of the Month to Knighthood, and has been labelled one of the greatest managers of the Premier League era, if not the stand-alone candidate. The success of the club has seen them over-take even the once famous Liverpool.

But today, Sir Alex launched a four-letter attack on the FA claiming the club have been unfairly treated. For anyone who may have missed it;

So, the key quote I picked out from the interview was;

“Maybe they will realise how important we are to England instead of treating us like s***.”

So what does this mean? Is Sir Alex calling for preferential treatment? It certainly sounds that way – but, as the rest of the league may say, doesn’t he already?

This blog post will not be a balanced article of all things United, this isn’t an article about how the league are for or against United. This is 100% just me compiling a range of counter-arguments which dis-prove Sir Alex’s arguments. I.e, he thinks they ‘are treated like s***’, I’m going to show them getting the rub of the green.

In my own opinion, I feel Manchester United have a habit of complaining when justice is served; i.e. The Wayne Rooney incident, swearing into the camera – People seemed to forget that Sky Sports pay Manchester United an excess of £40,000,000 a year, to show their games. Sky’s viewership on a weekend lunchtime is of all ages, and the aggressive nature of Mr Rooney’s actions were unacceptable for a pre-watershed audience. The FA would have been sanctioned by BSkyB, as part of the media contract, to warn players of behaviour on the pitch, and had the FA not punished Wayne Rooney, the FA would have been fined by Sky. Simple as that. Many argued “players swear on-screen all the time” – Yes, they do, but never at the camera, never directed at the viewers. That’s the fundamental difference.

Back to the pressing issue, Sir Alex claims that Manchester United are unfairly treated, interestingly, SJA Sports Writer of the Year; Nick Harris, compiled a report on the findings of @timjtlong (twitter), looking into how the league table would look, had all refereeing mistakes been corrected.

An interesting read, though I’ll be the first to admit there is flaws. For example, that table takes into account that all penalties would have been scored, fair – I guess. However, it does not take ‘momentum’ into account, for example;

Blackpool 2 – 3 Manchester United

Blackpool are leading 2-0, when Rafael appears to trip Luke Varney, BBC’s Sam Lyon describes the incident on ‘as it happens (;

“I’m sorry, but how is that not a penalty? Blackpool forward Luke Varney looks to have been cleared out by Rafael da Silva inside the box, with the Brazilian nowhere near the ball, but referee Peter Walton waves the appeals away. Varney is incredulous and Blackpool boss Ian Holloway is incandescent.”

The aforementioned table counts that final result as a 3-3, but one would seriously argue that at 3-0 down United are out of the game.

Same can be said for West Brom 1 – 2 Manchester United; in the first 20 minutes Gary Neville is last man and clearly brings down Dorrans;

This time the words of BBC’s Chris Bevan;

Gary Neville brings down Dorrans as the Baggies man is 1 on 1.

“Big, big shouts for a West Brom penalty as Graeme Dorrans latches on to a long ball over the top. He is shaping to shoot inside the area when Gary Neville slides in. Does he get the ball? No. Does get the man? Yes. It should be a spot-kick but referee Chris Foy says no.”

This time, the table allows for 2-2, instead of taking into account the difference 1-0 (scored penalty), plus the sending off of Gary Neville.

Nor does it include the FA Cup, many Liverpool fans remember the 3rd round game at Old Trafford between the sides, where Howard Webb (who incidentally has given Manchester United 5 penalties in 10 matches) awards a penalty for a ‘foul’ on Berbatov when replays showed minimal/no contact.

Additionally, the table does not account for the difference a fair referee would have made to the potential suspension of a player;

Wayne Rooney elbow on McCarthy, should have seen a 3 match ban – Similar to how Alex Song was retrospectively punished for him stamp on Joey Barton, but was not seen. As well as the handball at the Emirates by Vidic  should have seen a 1 match ban, minimum, which would have seen the inspirational defender miss the title decider at Old Trafford with Chelsea. Further more, during: Aston Villa 2 – 2 Manchester United, Nemanjia Vidic scores the equaliser for the Red Devils, before going into the crowd to celebrate, a bookable offense, with the Serbian already on a booking the letter of the law demands he be sent off, as was Piquionne by the same referee vs Everton in Jan 2011, and Robben away at Sunderland for Chelsea in 2006. Pivotal decisions in a season, which are clearly inconsistent in United favour, appear to be so blindly missed.

Vidic celebrating just before entering the Away Section at Villa Park.

And these decisions are just in 2010-2011.

In 2009, Arséne Wenger coined the phrase ‘Old Trafford-ish’. A phrase which I can best define as; “The decisions that Manchester United get when playing at Old Trafford, the type of decisions that aren’t completely in-fitting with the rules of the game, nor are they expected when at other grounds”, after Darren Fletcher made 11 fouls in a match against the Gunners before being booked, then making around 3 prior to being substituted, also Arsenal conceded this penalty;

Watch Rooney’s leg in the slow motion replay, he’s leaving it into the ground, and forcing the contact. Not to mention the fact he’s booted the ball into  Row Z and is never going to get there. As Wenger said; ‘Old Trafford-ish’.

However, that is not the decision Arsenal fans are most bitter about; in 2004, their unbeaten record of 49 games was ended, you guessed it, at Old Trafford in a 2-0 victory for the Red Devils. With the game balanced at 0-0, Mike Riley, who – like Webb (above) had a record of giving penalties – had given Manchester United 7 penalties in his last 7 games at Old Trafford, made it 8 in 8, after awarding a penalty for this;

Make up your own mind if Sol Campbell makes contact.

It is very easy to get carried away in this debate, as a self-confessed Arsenal fan, I do try to maintain un-bias, and I understand there is an element of fortune that goes with any successful side, I just feel the comments of Sir Alex Ferguson can be translated as such;

“Help, we’ve done so much for English football over the last 25 years, and now, this mob from the other side of the City have a lot of money and are buying superstars like they have cheat-codes for Football Manager – we’re the best positioned team to challenge them and if you want this league to be competitive I suggest you help us out to make it so” – Or am I just being really cynical?

To conclude, Manchester United are not unfairly treated, in fact, I believe, had decisions gone a differently last season, and Manchester United not been given the rub of the green like they had been in 2010/2011, they would not have won their record 19th title. Manchester United remain, in my eyes, one of the most favoured clubs in the league.

However, the position that this leaves the FA in is tricky, they have two options;

Sir Alex gives the 4th Official his opinion.

1) Leave Sir Alex unpunished for his comments, but risk sending out an uneasy message to the football world. This action would be viewed as; “Hmm… we accept your point”

2) Charge Sir Alex. His comments are spiteful, and are leading towards the governing body acting upon them. He is playing mind-games with referees and the malicious nature of the comments threaten the integrity of the game.

Time will tell.

….. And let the barrage of Manchester United fans hate messages begin, direct them all to;

Over and out.

Leg Breaks; Dirty or Mistimed?

I’m going to begin this blog piece by sending out my best wishes to Chung-Yong Lee of Bolton Wanderers FC, on 30/07/2011 he suffered a double-leg break (tib and fib, not both legs) in a pre-season friendly vs non-league Newport County, after a reckless tackle by Tom Miller. Lee will be out for around 9 months, but as many Arsenal fans know, with the case of Eduardo, in some examples the individuals may struggle to find form again.

So here we go;  Tackles. Are footballers under-protected or are safety conscious viewers attempting to remove physicality from the beautiful game?

I must add, and this is a key point from myself. I do have an element of hypocrisy in this blog post, given I’m a proud Rangers AND Arsenal supporter, it would seem ludicrous that I support crunching tackles in Old Firm encounters, yet slate wild attempts to injure Arsenal players, perhaps there’s no continuity in football. I’ll try to maintain an element of neutrality, but I’m not promising anything.

Scenario; ‘a player is coming towards you with the ball, he’s quicker than you, he’s technically superior to you, and you’re a CB who’s found himself out of position beyond the half-way line, you swing a boot in a scythe-like motion, completely missing the ball and leaving your young opponent lying on a heap in the floor, with his leg and ankle shattered.’ Ouch. If your mind is struggling to invisage this, check the inbedded video, below. The victim of this ‘tackle’ is sidelined for the next 9 months, in some cases – longer. The attacker serves a 3 match ban and then is available for the remainder of the campaign. How does this sit with your moral  conscience Mr/Mrs.Reader?

Okay, that’s my dig at Ryan Shawcross out the way.

In my opinion, cases like this should see the player who breaks his leg, be suspended for the time it takes the victim to recover. So; 9 months.

It seems harsh, but is there any other way to stomp it out?  – excuse the pun.

Let’s dive deeper; my only issue with my initial punishment is that where do you confuse recklessness with lack of skill. Many have argued that Shawcross’s attempt was a 50:50 and that to alter the rules, thus removing the physical edge, would turn the game into a non-contact sport? Or, in this case, alter the rules to suit Arsenal’s style of play? I think it’s fairly common knowledge for English Premier League supporters that; “To beat Arsenal, you kick them off the park”, – except Manchester United, who just absorb and counter – but kicking them off the park can lead to injuries. And with Diaby/Eduardo and Ramsey all suffering leg-breaks in the last 7 years many Gunners’ fans are beginning to worry at the tactic’s instructed which may lead to this. – Let me back up this point with a good example;

…You all remember being 14/15 years old, you’re playing for your local or school football team and the coach tells you; “First tackle you make, make it a hard one! Make sure they know they’re in a game!”. Well, I happen to think that’s very similar instructions to what some <8th place sides get when they face Arsenal. Of course I’m not suggesting they’re encouraged to attempt to injure, but surely if you’re encouraging hard, crunching tackles, then injuries to your opponents are a potential by-product.

Holden and Evans contest a ’50:50′

Further more to this point, since the take-over of Owen Coyle at Bolton Wanderers, many bloggers and media alike have noted the style of play exhibited at the Reebok, and have commented on their new-found notions of passing, moving and playing a better game. Their style of play has become a far cry greater than the Allardyce days and I believe Europa League is not outwith their abilities should they secure a few more signings. So, and I think you know where I’m going with this, since Christmas, Bolton have had 2 leg breaks, the fantastic and highly rated Stuart Holden, and now Chung-Yong  Lee. Is this a coincidence?  Perhaps not.

Though I do find the irony in Trotters fans tweeting in out-cry at the same reckless tackles they were happy to cheer on during Allardyce’s tenure.

There currently is a panel, set up by the FA, to look at red card incidents and decide on if these are worthy of an extension to the 3 match ban imposed automatically. – Most notably in the case of Ben Thatcher vs Pedro Mendes. However, this is the same panel who happened to deem Wayne Rooney’s elbow on James McCarthy as okay.

Which brings me nicely on to the topic of this blog entry’s title. How do you distinguish between dirty and mistimed?  

Nolan challenges Victor Anichibe of Everton, leaving the Toffee’s man out for months.

The fact of the matter is, it’s difficult to. Every coach and team-mate will claim “he’s not that type of player”, and I’m sure he’s not malicious at all off the field, in fact… I’ve been told Mike Tyson is one of the nicest people I could ever meet, still doesn’t alter his sporting personality. Dirty tackles are an everyday occurrence, so I would say that the only way to distinguish between tackles and punishments is the severity of the out-come caused, and a harsher view upon this by the governing panels in situ. Cause at the end of the day, the intent behind this (Wayne Rooney vs Portsmouth) and this (Karacan vs Liverpool) is the exact same, it’s merely the contact, and the effect is what should determine the punishment. Similar to driving a car, if you are speeding; 3 points. If you speed into a residential area and kill someone, slightly more than 3 points. Similar system…..ish.

So I guess the jury is out, this blog piece has been a build up of entirely my own opinions, but it doesn’t necessarily make it right or wrong. I guess this is one of the few times where, in my eyes, the responses I get are just as valuable as the original piece.

Get voting on the poll, give a good overview without needing to read through everyone’s comments!

Follow me on twitter, link below, and if you guys have your own blogs please let me know so I can check them out and hopefully add them to my ‘recommended read’ section!

Over and out.

The loan market, un-cut diamonds ready to add value.

Pre-season, and the transfer embargo’s of many clubs are already drawing to conclusions. In my opinion, smarter clubs like Manchester United are the one’s who get their dealings done early, Young, Jones, De Gea all in for around £60M but the USA Tour has given them an opportunity to bond and integrate themselves into the side.

Liverpool and Sunderland have also seen some wholesale changes, Newcastle finally addressed their STR issue in plenty of time and the wheels on the Aston Villa wagon are finally beginning to turn.  

However, teams throwing money around is not always where the real gems can be unearthed. For this, we have to look at the shrewd skill needed to navigate the loan market. And where better to turn than to the Principle of the ‘grandest finishing school in football’ – Bolton Wanderers FC’s; Owen Coyle.

2009/2010 season, Jack Wilshere leaves a boy, and comes back a man – now he’s one of his countries best talents and looking a contender for the Arsenal arm-band one day.

2010/2011 season, Daniel Sturridge is out of favour at Chelsea, who over-look his abilities in favour of a £50M star-buy. An impressive run of 8 goals in 12 games has seen him return to Stamford Bridge as a real threat to the established front force and I see Drogba’s future looking bleak as Torres will be expected to fulfil his price tag and Anelka was, in my opinion, their only stand-out player during their poor Winter 2010-2011.

Additionally, Kyle Walker of Tottenham and Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck all gained plaudits by effective loan spells in the Premier League.

So who next? In my opinion, Owen Coyle’s brand of football makes for an attacking option to be the most likely, STR’s are needed, as is width, so if I was the manager of one of the big clubs (Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal) I’d be building a relationship with O.C. and hoping to turn potential into value. “I always felt it would be a win, win, win situation in both cases,” says Coyle, players are able to get that much-needed match time, when they’re not quite sharp enough to challenge at their respective clubs, and the club who receive the player are able to bolster their options and nurture young talent.

Here’s a list of my; “loans to look out for” from the bigger sides;

1) Henri Lansbury; Gunners utility midfield man, can play anywhere across the 4, though personally, I’d play him on his least favoured LM. His timing of runs into the box means he could prove an effective goal-scorer though his crossing would need to improve to fulfil that role. In other news, he kept a German u’20 side at bay from GK after a pen (conceded) and RC for the starting GK Jason Steele, and already has himself a trademark celebration, doing; ‘the dougie’ at Elland Road after scoring for the Canaries. I think it’s time he was at a Premier League side.
I’d suggest; Bolton, Wigan, WBA. 
Compare him to; Freddie Ljunberg.

2) Josh McEachran; I’ll put his weaknesses aside first, he’s a bit weak and he’s still very young, 18. However, once you get past this, he’s a very composed, and an incredibly clever central midfielder. He has an incredible first touch for his experience levels, and finds himself space similar to the style in which Luka Modric does – presumably both players are conscious of their physical limitations so utilise technical skills. He also has a key eye for a through ball, and knows how to weigh a pass better than some of his team-mates. I’d say, the PL may be a step too much at this point, but playing in a Championship CM along side a strong holding midfielder, or a midfield 3, could be his best option;
I’d suggest; Portsmouth, Southampton, Peterborough, Brighton being his best options.
Compare him to; Luka Modric.  

3) Federico Macheda; Struggled to live up to expectations after his heroics in 2009 vs Aston Villa, but he did show promise of what he can be. He’s strong and powerful, he’s a player who is comfortable with his back to goal – a trait he stands alone with compared to other Manchester United strikers. I feel he would play best in a formation which incorporated an attacking midfielder, but I feel he needs a strike partner too. His loan spell out at Sampdoria proved ineffective, however I don’t believe they really got the best out of him, nor did they invest enough time in him as a player. In order for Manchester United to effectively cash-in on his potential, an English PL club would need to take him on.
I’d suggest; Newcastle United, QPR, Sunderland.
Compare him to; Francesco Totti.

4) Vladimir Wiess; intelligent, quick, strong, and is able to ride a tackle. Perhaps more importantly, he is a ‘big game player’ – He was effective during the World Cup for Slovakia and tormented Celtic in Old Firm games, his imagination and clinical nature created Nikita Jelavic’s winner in the League Cup final in March 2011. He’s a natural winger, but due to his work rate he makes an effective LM too. In Jan 2010 he had a rather poor loan spell at Bolton, but largely used as a substitute and without the ability to gain momentum. Personally, I’d love to see him return to Rangers but his ambitions and ability are far above the SPL. A loan spell could be effective to advertise his skills to other PL clubs, given Man City’s buying policy it’s unlikely he has a future at The Etihad Stadium.
I’d suggest; Leeds, Swansea, Newcastle, Leicester, West Ham.
Compare to; Aidan McGeady – without the needless step-overs.

5) Danny Wilson; I’ve been vocal of Liverpool’s spending policies in the past, and I think Danny Wilson is just another example of how they have a habit of wrecklessly spending, and over-paying for talent, which leads to expectation, and at such a young age, often can lead to failure. The simple matter is, they bought Wilson aged 18, and should have loaned him back to Rangers until he was 20, in order to let him fulfil his potential and gain experience. Instead, they’ve sat him on the bench, behind the likes of  Sotirios Kyrgiakos, and his growth has suffered. He’s a technical footballer, who doesn’t dive in and uses his physical strength to dispossess attackers. At the same time, he has a gritty side to him when needed, and really can assert himself when he needs to in derby games or when playing in big matches. If it weren’t for Ryan Shawcross’s inability to time a 50:50 without attempting to end the career of his opponent, I would compare the two, as their playing styles are very similar. His real value is around £4M in my opinion, but given the right coaching he could go on to great things.
I’d suggest; Blackburn, Wolves, QPR, Sunderland, Rangers.
Compare him to; Alan Hansen.

So there we go! Keep an eye out on those players and while I’m giving out advice, check out Genoa’s youngster Alexander Merkel, I’m a massive fan. Additionally Borussia Dortmund’s Mario Götze is another fabulous player that this season’s Champions League will give us a chance to view.

Let me know what you all think, or alternatively, and perhaps preferred, tweet me your opinions or any ideas to what you’d like to see written about in the future.

Over and out.

Transfer Season – Pt IV. It all ends.

Writing this 4 part transfer saga has been the bane of my life. At the beginning it seemed a good idea, and a good chance to get a detailed prediction on all things Premier League. In reality, you find yourself reluctant to write about other topics due to having not finished the series. Additionally, by July certain teams are very transfer active so have already beaten you to players – believe me, Norwich City had battered by blog notes by week 3. Demoralising.

Before I begin, allow me to give a  massive thank you, a shout-out and a twitter direct to; Ian Mitton and Joe Liquorish, whose knowledge in the fields of Norwich City and QPR made this possible – I just hope they’re not offended with my conclusions.

So here we go, Wigan Athletic, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Swansea City. The three promoted sides are among the favourites to go down, and with all due respect to their achievements last year, I believe this is a season where we’ll see a points tally to rival Derby County’s record in 07/08, and it will be set by one of the newly promoted sides. I think Wolverhampton will be clear with ease, replaced with Blackburn in the dog-fight, and Wigan will once again scrap it out in a 3/5 battle for the drop.

Wigan Athletic; (last season, 16th)
Transfers already made; In; Ali Al-Habsi (GK), Out; Steven Caldwell (CB).
Remaining budget; £10M – Sell to buy.
Positions to strengthen; STR, CB, AM.
Latics fans surely cannot have any fingernails left, every season they’ve flirted with the drop – yet when it matters they can pull it out the bag. Once again I can see them being involved in the relegation battle. Whelan is a fantastic Chairman, he is the ‘Carlsberg don’t do, but if they did…’ of Chairman, but what he desperately needs is finance. Wigan have the lowest attendances in the 3 year PL clubs and I can’t remember the last time I witnessed the DW a sell out – excluding the town’s pride; rugby.  This isn’t just a side-swipe at the lack of support, I’m saying this from a financial point of view. Sponsors won’t come in to a club who can’t even get their own fans through the gates, and every season ticket sold increases DW/RM’s ability to bring it top players. Their scouting network is keeping them afloat, and that is top class.
So here’s what’s needed, a good out-and-out CF, I think a Championship raid is needed. I was very surprised they weren’t more assertive in their quest for Craig Mackail-Smith, DJ Campbell is an option but with him they would need a link up man, Hooper at Celtic may want to avoid another season playing second fiddle to their stronger Old Firm counterparts while they have been heavily linked with Getafe’s Coulunga. I think Wigan will end up bringing in another South American starlet, they rumour mill has been quiet which makes me think their eyes are on the Copa America. Charles N’Zogbia may leave but this could be a blessing in disguise, funds would be re-invested to give a more rounded strength to the Latics. CB’s are needed because it is the weak-link in this side, when Wigan play; Dr. Jekyll is lovely to watch but by god Mr. Hyde is laughable. 
If I was Roberto Martinez, I would sign; Coulunga, but quickly before someone else spots him. Liam Ridgewell/Matthew Upson perhaps, but I think the wage bill could be too high. Cathcart is a possibility, he was the best of a bad bunch in the Blackpool defence but perhaps has more to offer.

Wolverhampton Wanderers; (last season, 17th)
Transfers already made; In; Jamie O’Hara (CM), Doris De Vries (GK).
Remaining budget; £13-17M
Positions to strengthen; The whole back line. CM’s.
Wolverhampton fall into that category which I put West Ham in last season. They were literally too good to be in the position they were. Injuries blightened them but I can’t help but think the problem is McCarthy, he strikes me as being a manager who’s not necessarily that good at gel-ing players and getting the best from them, that aside, I think they’ll confidently finish around 11-14th. I like them, I like their midfield, though could be strengthened, and I think they’ve got a good arsenal of attacking options. The GK is fairly solid too. Defensively they’re strong and powerful, but technically not as strong as present in other sides.
Reports are coming out that Jonny Evans and Paul Konchesky are being lined up, would be two good additions. Craig Bellamy and Robbie Keane could both be available, but it must be said it would be a big out-lay for a side who have good options in attacking roles. Liverpool are set to have an exodus of their 14 CM’s to a more manageable number, I’m sure McCarthy has kept his eye on the more affordable options. For strength in midfield I would love to see Wolves, and their fans, take a look at Celtic’s Beram Kayal. I’m a Rangers fan, so I’m saying this once and once only, he’s brilliant. Celtic’s best CM since Stan Petrov.
If I was Mick McCarthy, I would sign;  Evans and Konchesky, take a look at Owen Hargreaves on a pay-as-you-play basis, and why not Jonathon Woodgate on the same basis. Lee Bowyer could bring muscle and experience, but technically there’s better players. Finally, though this isn’t a signing, Nenad Milijas is so much better than his form has suggested, get the best out of him!

Queens Park Rangers; (last season, Championship 1st)
Transfers already made; Nil, none significant anyway.
Remaining budget; Hmmm. The jury is out. They have a lot at their disposal, but don’t seem to want to commit it to a money-pit football industry.
Positions to strengthen; LW, CM, CF, RB.
Now, QPR fans, your first fear – from what I gather – is the potential loss of AdeL Taarabt. Do not fear, he’s so massively over-rated it makes me want to cry. He dominated the Championship because largely it’s a league which players dive in, thus making them easy to beat, also, he’s fairly strong so he holds his own. He’s not stupid, if he wants to continue a career with success he’ll go to PSG and win things. But if he stayed at QPR he’d be a PL flop, players like Song/Essien/Fletcher/Lucas/Tiote etc would make him turn up to games with shoulder-pads on. Bullied.
I feel there is just a general need for some Premier League experience and some young quality, as balance of the pair. All promoted sides need a striker, they always do, but I’d put QPR as favourites for the signiture of DJ Campbell, Andy Johnson is another option. Kyle Naughton on loan would be perfect but it looks like Spurs are looking to develop him internally, Alan Hutton on a permanent basis could be feasible seeing bigger clubs appear to be over-looking his quality. Jermaine Jenas could be a good signing as he looks to stay in London for family reasons but has fallen out of favour at TH. Jamie Murphy is turning heads at Motherwell but the PL could be a jump too big. Chris Eagles is a player I really like and could fill that creative void vs bottom half clubs IF Taarabt leaves.
If I was Neil Warnock, I would sign; Hutton, Eagles, Campbell, Murphy – take a risk, he’s a quality player, Nigel Reo-Coker is a free agent too.   

Norwich City; (last season, Championship 2nd)
Transfers already made; In; James Vaughan (CF), Bradley Johnson (CM), Anthony Pilkington (Wing), Elliot Bennett (Wing). Ritchie de Laet (DEF), Steve Morison (STR).  
Remaining budget; £5-10M
Positions to strengthen; Bolster the defense, need some better quality. Perhaps natural width and GK competition.
Norwich City are my pick of the newly promoted which may just have a chance of staying up, however I feel ‘second season syndrome’ could be what catches them out. Their main advantage to the other promoted sides is that Lambert (yet another addition to the Premier League from the Glasgow School of Football Managers) got his act together early and got signings in quickly. A very structured approach to the new campaign. If I’m honest, there’s not a lot left for them to do. Just a general re-vamping. CB quality would be good, however I don’t feel they’ll find it in the Championship, and I worry that Premier League clubs could be too far from their price range. Their CB’s are okay, I think Lambert prioritised a good break-up midfielder (Johnson) to ease the pressure on the back 2. Time will tell. A loan deal for a top sides’ young CB’s could be the best option. GK’ing competition could come in the same form, a loan deal for a major sides upcoming player, alternatively Newcastle United are finding themselves with 3 GK’s of high quality in Harper, Krul & Forster – Nick one of them, give them a chance to compete 1 on 1 for the nod at Carrow Road. Finally, due to the narrow diamond midfield that Norwich play, natural width is needed, but I’m unsure where it’ll be found on budget, Wladimr Weiss could be an option and he’s got a quick and innovative mind that can unlock defenses – See Nikita Jelevic’s winner in the Co-Op Cup Final (Rangers v Celtic).
If I was Lambert, I would sign; Kyle Bartley, Tim Krul, Wladimir Weiss, and one big name at CB. Spend £4/5M on getting in a bully, who’s perhaps slightly past it but still has 2/3 seasons left at the top. If they’re to stay up they need PL experience. The only pain is that names in that department are limited as they tend to be snapped up by promotion chasing Championship sides.

Swansea City; (last season, Championship 3rd – Play off winners)
Transfers already made; Steven Caulker (FB), Danny Graham (STR).
Remaining budget; £10-13M – Most likely around £8/9M though.
Positions to strengthen; All over. Depends on how they wish to tackle the PL. Read on.
Okay, so I’ve written a blog previously expressing my dislike of the officiating which led to their play-off win, but that was largely due to my dislike of Phil Dowd as a person, and further fuelled by Dobbie’s antics. You’re in the PL now, and over the course of the season you deserve it. So let’s cast that aside and get on with this. Swansea’s season will largely depend on how Brendan Rodgers wants to approach the campaign. They can either play how they know, from the back football, passing, control and possession. However, if they do that they’re going to take some heavy defeats, slightly Blackpool-esque. The difference is the gulf in class between the top and bottom half, if they try to play ‘football’ against PL clubs, they’ll lose vs the top clubs and might beat the lower ones. It’s a risk, so would need to invest in top quality players. Alternatively they could switch to the 4-2-3-1, which is what I believe they will do. Scott Sinclair is a good striker in that position and Graham will give competition. This allows Swansea to dominate midfield and keep the ball well. The biggest hiccup to this is that they sold Darren Pratley. WHY? He’s exactly who they need, plus one more. Dyer looks promising and their defence actually looks okay for a newly promoted side. Granted they shipped 2 vs Reading but that was an open game. They need to sign CDM(s) and a new GK.
If I was Brendan Rodgers I would sign; Moreira – They look to have that all but wrapped up, CDM’s are few and far between, Lee Bowyer/Nigel Reo-Coker looks the best option but I doubt Swansea can match the wage demands. I just don’t see where they can find the top quality CDM’s. Pratley would have been ideal. Time will tell, but for sure we know they will cause a few upsets along the way.

I think Blackburn, Swansea, QPR will go down. Wigan will leave it very late (once again) and Norwich will be safe by gameweek 35.

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this. It’s been time-consuming but as my blog has passed the 40,000 mark after a mere 7 weeks I can safely assume it’s being well received. Leave comments, let me know what you think, agree/disagree or alternatively come onto my twitter and do the same.

Best of luck for the new season.

Over and out.

Transfer Season – Part III

So, after a 13 day absence my internet is re-working, my degree is completed and I’m back in business. I’m 2 parts through my 4 part transfer saga and looking to wrap it up before any more movements. 

Further news, the list of Premier League free agents was publicised today, with a few big names out of a club; Lee Bowyer, Patrick Vieria, Seb Larsson, Nigel Reo-Coker, Owen Hargreaves, Jonathon Woodgate, Mathew Upson make up just some of the names who could have clubs, particularly bottom-half vying for their signatures.  

West Bromich Albion; (last season, 11th)
Expected Transfer Budget Available – £25M
Highlighted positions; Utility men, CF, CB, LB, CM.

Despite finishing the season as one of the form teams, Hodgson will be under no illusions, WBA’s priority next season is to stay in the Premier League. Personally, I am a massive fan of Chris Brunt, I genuinely believe his ability of passing, technique and accuracy is of a level of Charlie Adam, however perhaps slightly behind when compared directly. I feel they need a ball winner in CM to compliment him, Hodgson could look back to Fulham or steal from the twelve CM’s at Liverpool. Ideally, perhaps someone like Guy Moussi at Forest could be a steal, or Craig Conway of Dundee United could be suitable along side if WBA could out-bid Glasgow Rangers. My steal for WBA, and appears a non-brainer, Emilie Heskey. Peter Odemwingie made my Alt-TOTY (below) with 15 goals, a link up man link Heskey could see him score more and with Heskey seemingly out-of-favour a smaller club may help him get back on track. Finally, and raiding the free-transfers once more, Matthew Upson would provide experience and cover should he be acquired.  
If I was Roy Hodgson, I would sign; Upson, Heskey, Moussi, Reo-Coker.

Newcastle United; (last season, 12th)
Expected Transfer Budget Available; Available? £40/50M, what will probably be given? £15M.
Highlighted Positions; CM, CF, CB, STR.

My opinion of Newcastle United has changed the most dramatically in the time between the initial planning of this blog and the transfers/movement that have happened since. The in-ability to keep Kevin Nolan to a Championship club is nothing short of embarrassing, you must wonder what he knew about the club that made him lose the faith in their continued growth. More, the expected departure of Joey Barton is leaving their mid-field looking rather bare, and without that core ‘fight’ which allowed them to pull out key results last season, particularly away to Arsenal and their home Dowd-assisted recovery from 4 goals. Newcastle simply must keep a hold of Cheik Tiote, had a fantastic debut season, they need a complimentary CM too, with a bit of creation. Perhaps signing Mark Noble, or Barry Ferguson could aid their midfield cause. They need experience and composure, in my opinion. Ben Arfa will provide flair going forward so a CF and an out-and-out striker are needed to put the goals away; Demba Ba looks prime to join the Magpies but someone quicker to play off him could be the ultimate compliment. Jay Bothroyd is a free-agent and Cameron Jerome has a price on his head. Matthew Upson at such availablity is at least worth an enquiry too.
If I was Alan Pardew, I would sign; Ba, Upson, Ferguson, Bothroyd. And Mike Ashley wouldn’t even need to dig deep into his gambling money…

Stoke City; (last season, 13th)
Expected Transfer Budget Available; £25M
Highlighted Positions; Full backs, CF, CM.
Stoke City finishing 13th is perhaps a poor reflection of them as a team, and their campaign as a whole, with the FA Cup final as an obvious distraction, and never looking a contender for relegation, one can forgive them for ‘taking their foot off the pedal’. That said, I think they are an incredibly balanced side, with no real weakness. However their over-all quality and additions of real class is what needs to be addressed to carry them forward. I can see the re-addition of John Carew on a permanent basis being very likely and I expect them to chase two established full backs as like for like replacements as well as acquiring a solid CM performer. Nigel Reo-Coker could be thrown into the frame, as well as pickings from the recently relegated; Ferguson, Vaughan, Bowyer, Gardner, Noble. I think another CF could be beneficial to help them all round, but someone a bit different from their usual ‘big/strong’ frame. Dj Campbell perhaps, free agent – Jay Bothroyd, or a lower-league raid.
As much as it pains an Arsenal fan to say, Stoke are making great strides to shake off their anti-football label, the FA Cup run has played a huge part aswell as the signings of more natural footballers like Carew, Jones, and the two wide men.
If I was Tony Pulis, I would sign; Ferguson, Bothroyd, Bougherra, Upson, Nigel Reo-Coker, Carew (massive strengthening).

Bolton Wanderers; (last season, 14th)
Expected Transfer Budget Available;
Highlighted positions; STR, CDM, CAM – Replacement for Cahill if sold.
Bolton, similar to Stoke are a side who can be forgiven for taking their foot off the pedal late in campaign. After the smashing at Wembley in the hands of The Potters, Bolton found themselves deflated and with nothing left to play for. As a side, they’re relatively well-balanced. Stand out players being; Cahill, Holden, Davies. They essentially just need a bit of class around with some effective passers to work with Holden’s technical abilities. Joey Barton at Newcastle is seeking the exit and Owen Coyle could have the man-management skills to bring out the best in him. An audacious bit to steal Stan Petrov from Aston Villa is another option they could look at, but it would take a lot to prize him off his captaincy, Jonny Evans has slipped down the pecking order and Liverpool have a silly number of CM players. Manchester City look to be the favourites to sign Gary Cahill, but the out of favour Nedum Onuoha could be involved in some deal, also the inclusion of any of their strikers would also be beneficial to them. City currently have over 8 out-and-out strikers and would be looking to trim the squad for the new season. A Scottish raid of David Goodwillie could be cost-effective and welcomed by the young Terror’s player.
Additionally, one cannot rule out Coyle’s ability to enroll students to what must say is the greatest finishing school in the country; Wilshere, Sturridge so who next? Carlos Vela, Henri Lansbury, Jay Spearing, Josh McEachren could all possibly enter the fray.
If I was Owen Coyle, I would sign; Vela, Upson, Goodwillie, Evans, Barton. As well as a proven striker, a big bid for Shane Long could be hard for Reading to turn down.

Blackburn Rovers; (Last season, 15th)
Expected Transfer Budget Available – £25-30
highlighted positions; RB, CF, CM, CB,
I really fear for the future of Rovers, they escaped relegation when really Robbie Keane (West Ham) and Manchester United should have put them in trouble in fixtures 36 & 37 of the season. They didn’t, and fortunate Rovers live on. Roque Santa Cruz has returned to Man City, Morten Gamst Pedersen and Chris Samba  are looking to move on, and transfer speculation for incoming players is quiet. Blackburn simply have too much to do, with a manager who isn’t good enough and not enough funds to make it possible. The Venky’s are wealthy, but they’re not the Indian monetary force of Tata. If they are to make a healthy account of themselves, they must strengthen the positions mentioned above. RB, Salgado is far too old, every week he’s skinned by anyone with a hint of pace, Alan Hutton is available after a breakdown in relationship with Harry Redknapp at Spurs and Kyle Naughton could be available as a youth investment or as a loan alternative to purchase. CB looks like Upson could most realistically move here, the set up is the most similar to how he is used to playing, but the likely success of WBA is the major competition.  If Robbie Keane puts his ego aside, and Celtic do not review their interest he could be a key addition to the side, as well as a lower league raid or moves for an out-of-for striker. Roque Santa Cruz will probably return but ultimately it won’t be enough.
If I was Steve Kean, I would run a mile. But If forced to stay, I would sign; Alan Hutton, Upson, Roque Santa Cruz, and enquire about Kevin Thomson.

Will be back soon with my conclusion to my transfer preview, hopefully my internet issues are a thing of the past but I do appreciate the enquiries I got from my readers on twitter about when the next one will be!

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And of course post below or on twitter with your thoughts on part 3!

Over and out.

A brief Play-Off Final rant. One for the Royals.

Sorry to break up the transfer embargo with Play-Off-Final nonsense, but, I keep getting into arguments with people about it. So I just want to give a reference that explains my points as to why Swansea had it so easy due to Phil Dowd’s style of officiating. And no, I wasn’t just slating Swansea, congrats to them, I just felt they got rub of the green in all 3 play-off matches. Oh, and briefly why I don’t like Dobbie.

Swansea’s play; dominating, control the ball, technical, through balls, incisive passing.

Reading’s play; pressing, when they get the ball, be direct, channels out the Kebe or long to well, Long.

My point is, you could tell the only chance Reading had, was if they stopped Swansea having the ability to outplay them, as Swansea were the technically better side. To do that; it’s all about early tackles, firm tackles, getting ‘stuck in’. Phil Dowd stopped that from happening.

As Phil Dowd went on a one-man quest to book the Reading back line, he took away their ability to press and be more aggressive. Rightly or wrongly. Andy Griffin makes a firm, fair tackle, and is booked – I couldn’t see why. Borini then goes in late on Federici (booked) then theatrically throws himself to the ground when confronted by Khizanishvili (god love google – spelling, but lets call him ZK), to me, Dowd quickly got word in his ear that he shouldn’t have booked ZK, hense why he was perhaps wrongly saved from the walk at the penalty incident. However, had ZK and AG not been on bookings, I think the CM would have been crunched in the build up to the pen, and they’d of took a fair booking then – This is my point.

However, in the bookings to the back line, your 2nd goal was made possible, because as Dobbie turns, he’s allowed to do so because the defenders have dropped deeper, and became less aggressive – Something I think was a tactical change because…….. Dowd kept booking people for nothing challenges! – Therefore….

Dowd booking people = less aggressive defenders = Suits Swansea’s style of play more.

Reading only pulled their goals back because at 3-0, they didn’t care about being booked, were getting desperate. Swansea couldn’t handle the fight they had and looked nervy.

As for Dobbie, I seen him asking for people to be booked on 4 different occasions, I don’t like that.

However, Swansea are a very good football side! And I much prefer them to Cardiff. A very good backing story too rags to riches and they have a brilliant football philosophy. Perhaps too close to Barcelona for my likely with the antics of Dobbie, though.

So yes, there you go Swans and Royals. A disappointing season finale by poor reffing. I think this is further evidence for a promotion/relegation system in Football League/Premier League.

Just a rant, but it’s been annoying me for a while. Reading were unfairly treated. AND, everyone who knows me, and my blog knows I have no loyalty to either side. Just a mere neutral.

Best of luck to both clubs though.

Over and out.

Transfer Season – Part II

So, on to part two. I did initially plan on making this into a 20 team bonanza, but after the initial section on club 1, I realised it just wasn’t feasible. Plus, this way it makes it easier to look at a club individually, passing through the teams that aren’t so traditionally active in the transfer period.

Back to work.

With the United, Chelsea, City,& Arsenal and Liverpool covered (below) on to the next batch of hopefuls.

First up,  Tottenham Hotspur; (last season, 5th)
Expected transfer budget available – £40M, potentially more should they lose a star player.
Highlighted positions; GK, RM, CF – Don’t lose anyone irreplaceable.
A mixed season for Tottenham in the 2010 campaign seen a flying Champions League debut, crashing out of both domestic cup competitions and securing the Europa League on the final day. For Spurs, any other year that’s not a bad season, but after tasting success in the CL, they’re expectation levels are sky-high, many fans were disappointed with how the year ended. In terms of signings, they desperately need a GK, Ben Foster or Robert Green could be a suitable replacement for the calamitous Gomes, and could come at an affordable price. A right midfielder is also needed in my opinion, someone who can provide effective cover for Lennon/Bale if needed or can compete with them for a starting position as both have a habit of going missing a times. (Yes, Bale too. He’s good but over-rated – will explain in another post!). Finally, they could do with a talisman CF, someone who will come in for a big fee, but score them 20 goals a season. If anyone is able to bring in a superstar at a shock price it’s probably Harry Redknapp. But whatever you do, do not call him a “Wheeler Dealer”. Any players lost will need replacing, but Modric, Bale and Dawson (three key players at the club) are the 3 they really should fight to keep above all.
If I was Harry Redknapp, I would sign; Scott Parker, Ben Foster, N’Zogbia, and maybe enter the race for Adebayor’s signature for a rotation of quality. 
(Prediction; 4th)

Everton; (last season – 7th)
Expected transfer budget available; £10M + sell to buy.
Highlighted positions; CF, RB, Wingers.
If the season started in January then my god, Everton would be the Barca of Britain, but why is it their early season form seems to let them down? And why do they seem to pick up horrendous long-term injuries to so many first team-ers? Though, I have to hand it to David Moyes, the job he does there with so little money – Just imagine what he could do with a bigger budget? As for transfers, I think he needs more quality at CF, someone who makes those cute runs off the shoulder of the CB, and someone decent on either foot. Problem with Everton is that their looking to the lower leagues, as their finances are so limited they can’t compete with the bigger sides for stars. Championship seems to be a trusted hunting ground, or the mid-table foreign sides. They also could do with a better RB, I think Heitinga is good for the bigger games, but his lack of pace is worrying, they need a quicker player in there that can come in against quicker wide men, Alan Hutton and Kyle Naughton are very realistic candidates. Finally, some natural width, when Landon Donovan was their he had a terrific time, and maybe prizing him away from the MLS could be beneficial, or stealing relegated/championship talent like Bentley, Larrson, O’Neil.
If I was David Moyes, I would sign; Craig Mackail-Smith, Seb Larrson, Alan Hutton, Robbie Keane.
(Prediction; 7th (but a good cup run, fancy them for the League Cup actually))

Fulham; (last season – 8th)
Expected transfer budget available; £10-15M
Highlighted positions; CM, LM, Full-backs.
With Mark Hughes resigning as I’m writing this, not only do Fulham need more players, but a manager too. But I shall continue.
Fulham will want a side strong, rigid and can hold a decent back line, Brede Hangeland brings a similar strength to Samba in his Blackburn side, but I think the next manager would look for a quicker player along side, with a better tackle. And I think a large percentage of his budget could be spent there, someone like Madjid Bougherra at Glasgow Rangers or perhaps swoop for Ashley Williams of Swansea or Luke Chambers of Nottingham Forest. All would make an excellent edition. I feel they create a lot through the middle, with Dempsey able to link up with the front players, but a natural wide man would give them that other option. Loan deals may be the best option here, or a lower-league swoop, names like Chris Burke, Vladimir Wiess or loaning Gabriel Obertan from Manchester United. Finally, their problems at full-back, the right purchase here could lead to their wide-men problems being solved too, I would like them to enter the Alan Hutton race, or try for Celtic’s player of the year Emilio Izaguirre, or again, go for the lower leagues with Chris Gunter.
If I was the next Fulham Manager, I would sign; Emilio Izaguirre, Madjid Bougherra, and enquire Shakhtar’s Jadson. Loan deal for Obertan could be effective, too.
(Prediction; 13th)

Aston Villa; (last season – 9th)
Expected transfer budget available; £15-20M
Highlighted positions; LB, CM, GK.
After a very mixed campaign the season ended on a relatively decent note, with wins against Liverpool and Arsenal. Since then, manager Houllier has stepped down leaving a vacant position (which looks to be filled by Mark Hughes, having resigned from his Fulham post this afternoon), the next man in will need to sort out this team because on paper they are far better than 2010/2011 has suggested. Brad Friedel looks to be gone so a goalkeeper is a priority, either Old Firm keeper comes with bags of quality or the media have reported interest in Birmingham goalkeeper Ben Foster. The central midfield isn’t that weak, but needs strengthened and a more level head; Mark Noble, Jordan Henderson, Thomas Hitzlsperger, David Vaughan, Scott Brown, would all bring that. They also have a left-back position which needs addressed, Emilio Izaguirre seems a popular name for this level of club, and Fabio Coentrao could be possible for the right fee. Wayne Bridge has been out-of-form in recent times, but the right manager could bring him back to his best. Finally, with Ashley Young and/or Stuart Downing set to leave Villa Park, can Marc Albrighton fill their shoes? I think he can, but with help on the other flank.
If I was the next Villa Manager, I would sign; Craig Gordon, Mark Noble, Emilio Izaguirre, Matt Jarvis/Jermaine Pennant + maybe enter the Craig Mackail-Smith race, his inability to give up could lead to chances created for the clinical Darren Bent. Could be a busy window for the Villans.
(Prediction; 9th.)

Sunderland; (last season – 10th)
Expected transfer budget available; £18-23M
Highlighted positions; STR, CB, Full Backs, Width.
Injuries destroyed Sunderland’s end of season push as their entire front line were on the sidelines, the departure of Darren Bent seen an immediate decline in goals but Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck seemed equipped when fit. Season over and it looks like Sunderland won’t be seeing Welbeck again, and are in the hunt for the CF that would work well with Gyan, for that they’ll need an intelligent footballer, age isn’t really a problem because Gyan will do the running, but the link up will need to be smart; Robbie Keane, Miroslav Klose, Demba Ba would be the perfect candidates. Alternatively, Sunderland tend to buy well abroad, Sessengon a perfect example of quality. So the clear out’s at Monaco and Deportivo could be a bargain hunt for The Black Cats – Expect something. Titus Bramble has had a good season but can be left exposed, and his defensive partnerships are often edgy when pressed or countered. A stronger back line could be partially financed by the sale of Craig Gordon. Alan Hutton had a successful loan spell on Wear-side and would be ideal, a CB like Scott Dann or Roger Johnson would bring a solidity too. Natural width seems called for by the fans, personally I think playing through the middle suits them, but a player with the ability to find space on the wings and cut in could work well with Gyan/Sessengon. And I think I have the perfect answer…… 
If I was Steve Bruce, I would sign; Gabby Agbonlahor, Roger Johnson, Demba Ba, Alan Hutton.
(Prediction; 12th.)

That’s all for part II, next time I’ll be going through West Brom-Newcastle-Stoke-Bolton-Blackburn in what I think will be the most interesting one yet. I’m trying to get them done on a fairly quick basis as I don’t want to space them between another blog post and I want to write an article shaming Sepp ‘Sith-Lord’ Blatter fairly soon. Also, I don’t want clubs to make transfers before I’ve predicted things, like Norwich City have so nicely done with the signing of James Vaughan!

As always, let me know what you guys think below or on twitter/facebook! 

Over and out.

Transfer Season – Part I.

Not blogged in a while, to which I can only apologise as my end of university exam preparation has been taking up my free time. Not to worry, all’s good now and I have a brilliant patch in my life between education and full-time employment. That in mind however, was nice to see my blog surpass the 10,000 mark this week, not bad for a blog operating for less than 3 weeks.

Back to business.

The domestic transfer window officially opened today, with the international (the really fun one) transfer window opening on July 1st. So, with my not-so-expert overview, I would like to cast an opinion over the perspective budgets, targets and areas that need strengthened from team to team. And if I’m feeling particularly bold I may even predict an end of season finish for May 2012.

So, 20 teams all with very different definitions of success. Lets start with the reigning champions and make our way down to the newly promoted sides;

Manchester United; (last season – 1st)
Estimated transfer budget available – £50-60M
Highlighted positions; GK, LM, CAM, CM
Manchester United have recently had the retirements of Van der Sar, Scholes and Neville to deal with, the rest of the squad are balanced but older than some, so a general re-building may occur in the next few seasons. Firstly, they need a new GK, Van der Sar needs to be replaced with similar quality, De Gea at Athletico is said to be a target but has rubbished speculation until after the U’21 Championships.
Their attacking forces can be bolstered too with quality Left and Centre attacking Midfielders; Bale, Modric, Nasri seem the names thrown around but I can’t see it happening, except maybe Modric. A distributor in midfield could also be key, with Hernandez and Rooney thriving on the shoulder ball.
If I was Sir Alex, I’d sign; Marc Steklenburg, Charlie Adam, Luka Modric. (Prediction 2nd)

Chelsea; (last season – 2nd)
Estimated transfer budget available – £70M+
Highlighted positions; RB, CF, CB, CDM. – Manager
Firstly, this constant management turnover needs to stop, owners of football clubs can not keep on changing things, it’s not good for the club. They need a chairman strong enough to challenge Abramovich.
For transfers, it’s looking likely Drogba will depart, but if the management is smart enough to see how Daniel Sturridge is progressing then a replacement may be under their noses. 50M man Fernando Torres is close to being back to form, but the bulking up he was made to do under Hodgson has ruined him. He needs to get back to being skinny so his pace can allow him to beat people and play a natural game. CDM, Essien is one of the finest at doing that job, but last season… He seemed to think he could play a more advanced role. He can’t. Never have a seen such a poor transformation.
CB, I think Terry is slowly getting ‘past it’, I don’t think he should have went to the 2010 World Cup, and I think he’s dying for pace more and more consistently now, however the English blood is needed in the spine of this side, and the RB position looks weak too.
If I was whoever the unfortunate man is next, I would sign; Gary Cahill, Darijo Srna, and keep Sturridge, as well as getting Essien back to his best role, CDM. (Prediction 5th)

Manchester City; (last season 3rd)
Estimated transfer budget – Budget? What budget?
Highlighted positions; CF, CM, RB.
My biggest problem with Manchester City, is that they have essentially based a team around a very bad player. Gareth Barry. And when you base a team around a bad player you can often miss out on the biggest prizes, hence why Manchester City were never really able to outclass the bigger sides in the division and had to park the bus and play for draws. Barry would need to be replaced with a more dynamic CM, and with money being no object, the realms of my selection went from Barcelona to Brighton. Furthermore, regardless of the Tevez affair, they still need just one more CF, maybe not needing to spend so much but Dzeko, Balotteli, Tevez needs one more. So keeping Adebayor or spending again, a player with something a little bit different, a supersub who can score vital goals. Finally, despite Richards nailing the RB spot last season, I feel he gets beat far too often and gets caught napping at set pieces. Would get rid of him, and put in a more experienced, better quality player.
If I was Roberto Mancini, I would sign; Miroslav Klose (he’s available, poised to sign for Lazio, steal him!), Maicon, Stuart Holden – Such potential, at 25 he would be a massive success in any side. Or for a bigger name, Charlie Adam could feature in this sides CM, too.  (Prediction 1st)

Arsenal, my beloved. The most frustrating team to support in the history of football. (last season, 4th. – The only team capable of finishing 4th in a 2 horse race).
Estimated transfer budget available – £50M, but will Wenger spend it?
Highlighted positions; STR, CB, LAM/Winger. Keep Nasri.
Arsenal seem to think the season lasts between Aug-Feb in recent years, since the departure of David Dein, Wenger has too much say in proceedings and not enough people to answer to for poor performance, slightly Blatter-esque in his ability to be essentially un-regulated. He needs a backbone, some players who will happily pick up 10 yellows a season and not think anything of it, he also needs quality wide men, when Walcott’s been injured we haven’t had the cover needed to back him up. And he need an out-and-out striker, Chamakh was the answer to our problems last year, between Aug-Dec he was banging in goals until Wenger bizarrely dropped him for RVP instead of incorporating both into the side which he promised. We need someone who will stay in the box and take 15 tap-ins a year. Samir Nasri simply has to stay too, not only because I foolishly purchased an Arsenal shirt for next season with his name & number on the back, but how pivotal he is to the side, it stops or reliability on the inconsistent Fabregas.  Finally, we need a CB. The return of Vermaelen should act as a new signing, but I would personally love to see an English, at least British signing to show some fight.
If I was Wenger, I would sign; Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard, Karim Benzema, Scott Parker. – And I’d get Vieira/Campbell back in some kind of coaching role. (Prediction 3rd)

Liverpool (last season 6th)
Estimated transfer budget available – £45M (partially gathered in sales)
Highlighted positions: CB, RB, LB, CM
Despite a horrific first half of a the campaign, Dalglish taking over seen Liverpool finish the year top of the form table, still however, they carry something of a frailty when being pressed back, their centre backs often are slow to make the tackle and easy to beat. They once again have found themselves reliant on a striker. It is open knowledge to seemingly everyone outside the club that they have never replaced Alonso, so for that reason I think they more than anyone NEED to sign Charlie Adam, though I do believe Chris Brunt at WBA is just as effective and would come at a significantly cheaper price. At CB, they are weak and Carragher’s legs are starting to leave him, Agger is quality but doesn’t seem to wear the badge anymore. Full backs, whilst I like Kelly at LB, I feel a stronger RB is needed as Johnson tends to play in midfield at times.
If I was Dalglish, I would sign; Charlie Adam – Break the bank to do so, Scott Dann, Kyle Naughton/Alan Hutton, as well as a winger, probably Ashley Young to give Carroll service. Maybe a swoop for Gabby Agbonlahor could be an effective signing for Liverpool too? (Prediction 6th)

Yes, yes, yes… Spurs finished above Liverpool, but as a Gooner it was way too fun to leave them out of part 1.

Let me know your suggestions and I’ll keep going with Spurs-Everton-Fulham-Aston Villa-Sunderland in part 2.

Over and out.