Thursday, July 9, 2009

Spurs European push takes a blow

Tottenham Hotspur’s push for European football next season has taken a blow with the news that influential midfielder, Didier Zokora, has left for Spain to join Sevilla. Zokora has signed for the Spanish side on a long-term contract and for an undisclosed fee and it is news that has put the breaks on any hope of European football next season that Harry Redknapp currently has.

Redknapp had stated his intent to keep his most influential players at the club while adding in a number more in the hope that Spurs could challenge for a Champions League place in the coming campaign. Zokora was the sort of player that could have played a big role in this push as he has the ability to play in a number of positions outside of the midfield.

They will also miss his aggression and although at times his temperament was questioned, he was loved by the Spurs fans for his headless running around and launching into tackles that reminded many of an English centre back and not an Ivory Coast play maker. It is this very sort of mentality and player aggression that led to his name being roared out around White Hart Lane on a weekly basis and it will definitely be a quieter place for his departure.

However, Spurs should take some light out of the transfer because firstly Sevilla matched the asking price that Spurs wanted for the player, which is thought to be a lot more than the Spanish side originally wanted to pay. This means that they will have even more funds to use when buying players once Redknapp has decided, which summer transfer targets he wants to go for.

It has also created a space in the middle of the spurs midfield that will allow a congested part of the squad to ease slightly. It provides an opportunity for a better and more high calibre player to come to the club and walk into the squad, filling the position with little ease.

However, it is very difficult to replace such an influential player who made over 100 appearances for his side. Zokora was the sort of player that we all love to see coming to the Premier League and making a name for himself. He did not appear to be an egotistic man and he did not appear to be afraid of any thing. He flew around the pitch putting himself on the line on more than one occasion.

It may have been the arrival of Wilson Palacios from Wigan Athletic in January that tempted Zokora to make a move, as they are both very similar players. However, the point is that in a squad pushing for a Champions League place you need a lot of players that are of a high standard and are ready to walk into a side whenever someone else picks up an injury or has a bad run of form.

It will be unlikely that Zokora will be bitter about the way things have unfolded at Spurs but it could turn out that he is the exact type of players that the club needed if they pick up one or two injuries during the early part of next season. Sevilla on the other hand should be very happy at this moment in time because they have signed a player that will help them move forward in Spain.

Zokora arrives there with all of the knowledge and technical ability that he has picked up playing in England. The Premier League is a lot quicker than La Liga so Zokora should fit in nicely to Sevilla’s side. He will be sharper than a lot of the other players though he may have to learn that you cannot launch into tackles over there in the same way that you can do here because the referees do tend to protect the players a lot more.

When a club has a clear vision of where it wants to go during a close season period then sometimes you just have to make sacrifices. Zokora was a well liked player and person by both the fans and the clubs but it just panned out that he does not fit into Redknapp’s plans for next season when Spurs will be going all out to finish in the top four.

It seems that all parties are happy and there is no distinct sign of bitterness so each will happily wish the other well. Zokora gets to go and ply his trade in what Cristiano Ronaldo recently called the best league in the world and Spurs have an opportunity to bring an exciting player into their team that they otherwise would not have had the chance to sign.

The move may also allow Zokora to realise any international ambitions he has because the Ivory Coast do have a lot of talented players playing in leagues all over Europe. This means that competition for places is fierce and he would have had no chance of an international slot of he was not at a club that was playing him every single game.

This was not always the case at Spurs whereas at Sevilla he has a chance to make a first team place his own, meaning that the powers that be at the Ivory Coast FA would see this and realise it. So whenever an international match comes around he would be one of the first names on the list in terms of players that would be the sharpest and the most match fit.

He will be a sad loss to the Premier League. Every English fan loves to see an unsung hero running out on the pitch every week and haring around like a headless chicken for 90 minutes. It will be sad to see him go as we have to watch a game that has so many egos and players that so often abuse their gifted positions, it would be great to see more Didier Zokora’s coming to the Premier League but sometimes the ambition of a club is too great to play to the fairy tale.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Ancelotti fends off the rumours.

On what should have been a relatively important day for Chelsea, it was another Premier League story that marked the unveiling of Carlo Ancelotti as the new headman at Stamford Bridge. There was no definitive end to the ongoing speculation that John Terry will be going to Manchester City at the end of the month as the Italian fended off the question with a mixture of nerves and broken English.

There is no doubt that this man has a presence. It was almost as if the world had come to a complete stop when he strolled into the press conference room to take his seat and answer the first few media questions that were thrown in his direction. Needless to say the Terry issue was one of the first and the message that came across was probably not the one that Chelsea’s new boss desired.

Ancelotti’s opening comments were all very cliché: “Roman and I have the same objectives. To do very well this season and to win. I would like to have a team that plays well, plays good football, creative football, and naturally that win. It's important to win but also to be a team with good characteristics, to play well and with organisation.”

Chelsea fans would have been looking for a defintive sign that this would be the man to take them back to the success that they are experienced during the Jose Mourinho era. It is clear that at times yetserday he wanted to say certain things but because he was speaking in borken English he could not always get his message across.

This may well have been the case with the whole John Terry story. He insisted that Terry would be captain of the club next season but this is all that he said on the matter, he gave very little away. It is important not to read too much into this because the Italian is a very smart person who has been in the game for a very long time. Sometimes managers like to toy with the press a little bit as so many have stated in the past their dissatisfaction at media intrudement.

The Italian has a clear sign and direction that he wants to take the club towards and he clearly recognises that he needs his best players committed to the future of the club if he is able to do this. It is important to remember that Ashley Cole has still not signed a long term contract on top of his current deal with the club. So there are clearly questions hanging over one or two players.

The point is that Ancelotti is not a stupid person he knows better than just to toy with an issue such as the John Terry affair that is floating around at the moment. He probably tried to get his message across in as clear and as positive a nature as he possibly could. However, because he is not a native Englishman it is slightly harder for him and therefore the speculation will carry on.

What Chelsea really need is for John Terry to stick his head out into the open for five minutes and commit his future. This would take a lot of pressure off of the gaffer who has only just got in through the door. Ancelotti would have been expected a heavy media element in his Premier League way of managerial life but he probably didn’t expect it to be so dominant on the very first day that he officially took up the top post at Chelsea.

Chelsea as a football club have publicly stated their discontent at being so far behind Liverpool and Manchester United last season. The appointment of Ancelotti is a statement of intent that they intend to compete both domestically and on the European front when the new season starts up again. It is because of this that it would be non-sensical for the club to let their captain leave or any other high profile player, because it would completely contradict the managerial appointment they have just made.

It can only get easier for the manager from this point on because there probably won’t be a bigger or more important player linked with an exit from the club. Once this story brushes over, as Terry surely must stay at Chelsea, then it will allow the club to develop, get better and start winning trophies again.

If Terry continues to say nothing and just puts more pressure on the manager then there will come a point when all parties would have had enough. A Terry exit to any other club but one in the top four would be truly bizarre and would leave many questioning the ambition and logic of a player that has turned himself into an England and Chelsea legend over the last four or five seasons.

All in all though Ancelotti made a very good first impression as Chelsea’s new manager and head coach. As with so many managers when they come into a new position they all state the same thing but Ancelotti clearly has the calibre and the respect of the players in order to make these statements a reality. He knows what it feels like to win the Champions League as he won it at AC Milan and he knows what it takes to win a very tough domestic league.

It is extremely hard to guage someone like Ancelotti because he gives so very little away but he has a good basic grasp of the language and the culture of this country. He seems intent for the long haul and seems intent that all of his players share the same vision and rive as he does if Chelsea are to rediscover their success.

Chelsea could have done a lot worse but the hard work starts here. They will have to ignore and fight off many tempting bids for a lot of their star players but they cannot give in to any of these if they want to fulfil on the ambition that Ancelotti has just displayed, to do otherwise would efy logic.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The arrival of Michael Owen at Manchester United has been met with a lot of mixed reaction. There is a group that sees the move as a further sign thatSir Alex Ferguson is going a bit mad in his old age. The other group of people believe that United have snapped up one of the best goal scorers of recent times and that it could come to help the club substantially.

It had been well publicised that Owen was looking for a move away from Newcastle United after they got relegated. However, the point is that it was smaller Premier League clubs that were the expected destinations and not the actual champions of England.

Owen must not be able to believe his luck, after all his best days are behind him and he is still on a good wage packet, which turned out to be the main difference between himself and his previous club. It means that he will be earning a lot of money and probably not playing a great deal as United are likely to make a lot more signings during the transfer window.

Ferguson will say though that his club have snapped up a proven player for free and have the advantage of experience and calibre to call upon if needed. Nobody in a million years would have expected United to sign Owen and it seems that his arrival at Old Trafford is nothing more than a stopgap. If the former England front man can get fit and stay fit then he could well end up having a much larger role to play in the side but as we have so often seen in the past, this is always a lot more difficult as far as Michael Owen is concerned.

It is a good move for the player but a debateable one for the club. United have £80 million in the bank and need to make good the loss of two brilliant players that have already left this season. It is no disrespect to Owen but he is hardly the man that Ferguson would have had in mind to replace the Portuguese guy that has just left for Real Madrid.

It is nothing more than a smart and shrewd business move that can allow United to strengthen further in area while continuing the pursuit of many other targets. Owen should realise how lucky he has been and this should act as an incentive to work his socks off for his new club. If he does then it could have a number of added advantages and turn out to be one of Ferguson’s best ever signings when he does eventually retire.

What Owen brings to the club is a lot of experience in a relatively non-egotistical person. Experience is every thing to a lot of the younger players in the side that are trying to make a name for themselves and Owen can offer so much as far as this is concerned. All of the youths at the club will know who he is and what he has done so they will pay attention and listen. You do not play for Liverpool and Real Madrid as well as captaining your national side if you are a bad player.

Yes it is fair enough to say that Owen is not the player that he was maybe five or six years ago but the point is that class is permanent and form is temporary. The reason that Ferguson has signed Owen is because firstly, he is a good player, he can still score a lot of goals and offer an awful lot to any side. The other reason he has signed Owen is because he can offer so much more to the club than any other squad player he could just go and pick.

Owen has already stated his intent to put everything behind him and get his fitness exactly right for the new season. A fit Michael Owen is a daunting proposition for any side. Furthermore, United have not had a goal poacher since Ruud Van Nistelrooy left for Real Madrid a couple of years back.

These sort of players have the ability to pick up a lot of scrappy goals, which quite often can make the difference between winning and losing in a lot of games. These players are priceless and Owen is one of them.

It is naïve to say that he will be able to run around and sprint past most defences because those days are behind him. Michael Owen cannot do now what he was once able to do, as is the case with all ageing players. He has a better ability now to be able to read the game and get into the right positions and will no doubt pop up with a few important goals in the Premier League and Champions League at some point during the next season.

The argument that Ferguson is losing it is there for all to read and consider but it is a difficult one to read into when you consider every thing that Ferguson has so far achieved at his club. Fair enough he has made one or two debatable decisions this summer but he so often gets it right and this could well turn out to prove just the same.

No club wants to lose their best player but it is impossible to keep that player if he does not want to stay in the side and at the club. Ask any manager in the Premier League and they will say that they would rather have a lower quality player who is busting to get into the side than a high quality player who does not give a second thought to the club, the team mates or the fans.

Michael Owen’s career is back on track and only time will tell whether it has been a good move for all concerned. He will have to work very hard this summer to get fit enough to warrant a first team place but it is obvious that he does not want to sit on the bench and it is obvious that this transfer has revitalised him.

Many will laugh at Ferguson but he could be proven right all over again by the time the new season kicks off again in August.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sven backs Pearce

Stuart Pearce could well be our next England manager. At least, that's the view of Sven Goran Eriksson who believes the national under-21 coach would be a worthy successor to Fabio Capello.

He would certainly be the fans'choice, representing what everyone would like to see in a manager. Guts, determination, leading from the front and a straight, no nonsense attitude. How many times did we see Pearce on the England pitch, bursting with anger at a poor performance but still managing to contain his emotions?
Pearce has done a marvellous job by guiding the under-21s to England's first major final in 25 years.

Ironically, it was penalties which got them through against Sweden, a curse which has usually seen England dumped out of the big tournaments. Eriksson firmly believes Stuart Pearce can make the step up from national under-21 coach to first team manager. "If he has proven it at under-21 why shouldn't he be able to do it with the senior team?" he told BBC Sport.

"Yes it's a big step, but I think he can do it in the future. Why not?" Pearce, now 47, already works with senior coach Capello on England duty. Reaching the finals of the European tournament is a brilliant achievement and one which will look pretty good on Pearce's footballing CV.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hull to make Owen a hero?

Michael Owen is to leave Newcastle United at the end of June, an announcement which comes as no surprise whatsoever. The Toon Army might have wanted him to stay, to show his loyalty and to help the club fight for its place back in the Premiership. But Owen has made no bones about the fact that he believes he still belongs in the top tier, despite his injury toll and obvious dip in form.

Owen, who is now 29, will be available for a free transfer from Newcastle and the clubs will be in a queue to snap him up, no matter what his recent performance on the pitch. Given the chance, Owen can be a great player again. He just needs to find his confidence and start scoring goals to open the floodgates. Where best to kick-start his revival? According to Hull, they are the club Owen should opt for.

Manager Phil Brown has shrugged off the laughs by confirming their interest in the England striker is absolutely serious. He believes they do have a chance in achieving the coup of the century and so does club chairman Paul Duffen. Brown says Owen joining Hull is not out of the question and they would not have made an approach had they not thought it possible. He believes Owen will not be tempted by the best offer or money and that he needs to find a club where he can play consistent football, not sit on the bench waiting for the chance to prove his worth.

Likewise, Duffen says Hull would be a great place for Owen to be. They are already trying to sign striker Marc-Antoine Fortune, though Celtic are also in the running. On the face of it, Hull and Michael Owen does not seem a perfect match. Hull only narrowly missed relegation by a point last season and are already being tipped to go down this time. Yet Newcastle will be fired up in the First Division with a steely determination to get back into the top flight. Which club could give Owen the best platform?

Some fans believe a big club like Manchester United should go for Owen though that is unlikely to happen. Owen needs a club which has faith in him, a crowd to cheer not jeer him on, a regular slot in the team and plenty of goal-scoring opportunities. But he also needs good opposition from the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United to give him that extra incentive.

It’s a shame Owen isn’t staying with Newcastle but things were obviously not right behind the scenes. At least he has had the decency to come out and praise Alan Shearer, describing him as the right man for the manager’s job and “Newcastle through and Newcastle”. Perhaps Liverpool might throw their name into the hat or Manchester City or even a club from abroad?

If Owen really sits down and thinks about it, joining Hull would not be a bad option at all if he can overcome the lack of glamour associated with the club. He could become a hero there in his own right and get them back up the table, whilst boosting his own self-esteem.

Owen should perhaps listen to his own words. He says Alan Shearer is going to be a great manager. He might be learning the ropes at the moment but he has to start somewhere. Owen can be a great player again but location, location, location is going to be everything in his next vital decision.

City say goodbye to one of their brightest youngsters

It appears that the financial situation at Manchester City has forced the club to over look a number of younger players, this has resulted in Daniel Sturridge being snapped up by Chelsea. Sturridge, 19, made a few first team appearances at City and has been tipped by many pundits as becoming a future England centre forward.

It appears to be a healthy and productive bit of business on the part of Chelsea who are looking to develop experience and youth under the management of Carlo Ancelotti. Sturridge refused a new Manchester City contract but because he is under the age of 24 years old, Chelsea will have to pay a fee as the player cannot move under the Bosman ruling.

It should be quite worrying for a lot of Manchester City fans because the owners said they would continue to allow young and developing players a chance to play in the first team. This is the first direct example that contradicts this and suggests that City will buy their way into the future, which can be a lot less stable than investing in the youth of the side to help the club grow.

Chelsea fans may be a bit puzzled as to why they have signed this particular player but it is a good move for a number of reasons. Firstly, Sturridge is not a bad player and has already proven that he can cut it at the top level. He will create competition for places with his enthusiasm and energy and it will only be a matter of time until his skills develop to a much more advanced level.

Secondly, it has to be considered that for a club with the size and stature of Chelsea, their youth teams have not been the best in the country over the last couple of years. They have all of the ingredients necessary to produce products from a great academy but for some reason it just does not seem to be happening. The arrival of Sturridge is a statement of intent that Chelsea want to bring in greater quality players into their youth sides and they want everyone to see that they are investing into the future of football.

Manchester City boss, Mark Hughes, may not have actually wanted to sell the player is he is clearly a very talented young man. However, with the pressures that the owners at City are likely to place on him over the next one or two seasons, he cannot afford to be carrying players in the squad and has to look to free up this space to bring in higher quality. This will increase the depth of the City squad and means that when a senior player picks up a bad injury, there is already a high-class replacement waiting to step in.

It is harsh on a player as young and inexperienced as Sturridge but he couldn’t have picked a better club to be going to. He now has the chance to get into one of the most admired first teams in the country and settle into a city that should suit him down to the ground.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

American broadcaster snaps up the rights to Premier League games.

Disney owned ESPN will show all of the matches that Setanta would have broadcast when the new season gets under way. The American broadcaster has snapped up the rights to show 46 live games next season that will be played on Saturday tea time and Monday evenings.

ESPN have also got the rights to show at least 23 games a season between 2010 and 1013. It is a very shrewd and astute move from the company that have no prior experience in hosting live English football to an audience that will have specific expectations. The broadcaster say the matches will be sold to the audience through Bskyb and it could mean a very different viewing experience to what we are used to.

It had been thought that Sky might make a last minute move to add a maximum of 23 more games to their live schedule for the season, which kicks off in mid-August. However, it appears that they made no attempt to block the bid from ESPN, which has brought live English Football to an American broadcaster for the first time in history.

Premier League Chief Executive, Richard Scudamore, said: “The timescale of our process was tight to say the least, and it is to the great credit of ESPN that they committed themselves to adding Barclays Premier League football to their already impressive portfolio of sports rights.”

“The speed at which we have been able to conclude this deal means that the preparations for next season will be able to continue without interruption and fans and clubs will have certainty over the broadcasting of Barclays Premier League matches for the next four seasons.”

The other reported bidders were Bskyb themselves and the English domestic Channel 4. If Channel 4 had managed to snap up the rights then it would have been a huge step forward for the mainstream audience for the first time in a long time. Ever since the days when ITV held all the rights to show Premier League highlights on a Saturday evening, the majority of the audience in England has been deprived of football unless they hold a subscription to Sky television.

Fair enough Match of the Day still does a terrific job for the BBC, but the point is that ITV were willing to show the matches at around 7-8pm in the evening, which made it a lot more viewable for a lot of people.

However, there should be a small sort of childish excitement at the fact that some Americans will have a say in how we watch our Saturday football. It can be expected that things may be glammed up quite a bit, which many people wouldn’t mind. We are so used to a specific routine from various broadcasters that it could actually go down quite well if the agenda is bent slightly.

Apart from Sky, the other bidders should not be downbeat about this whole affair. The domestic channels especially should continue to work hard and it would be fantastic if at some point in the near future they could acquire the rights to show matches live.