It’s me, Mario!

So it looks like Mario is coming back!

Its a great deal for Liverpool if his attitude is right, if not they’ve swapped one liability for another but when Ross McCormack goes to Fulham for £11 million to get Balotelli for only £5 million more is a great deal by anyones standards.
They’ve got a player who oozes raw talent and he pushes Liverpool back up to being real contendors for a top 2 or 3 finish in my opinion.
The thought of Sturridge, Sterling, Balotelli, Coutinho, Lallana, Gerrard etc all combining makes this one of the best Liverpool teams in years and on top of that attacking threat they’ve brought in defenders and it looks like that area may be sorted as well. Yet again Liverpool look to have got a great deal but as I said this could all implode if Mario wants it to.

Quick Hits

- Deals like this are showing how times have chaged, every team has made a marquee signing but Man United when they are the team who need it the most. While they have made some good, albeit expensive signings, they haven’t yet signed a game changing player and if they don’t in the next 8 days it’ll be a long season.
– Chelsea started the season exactly as I imagined they would, Fabrages is a great addition and if someone could explain why Arsene Wenger would turn him down then it would be much appreciated as I can see why you wouldn’t want him.
– Quick word on Malkey Mackay and the LMA. Now I’m sure he’s a good guy but you can’t say the things he did and get away with it, and while the LMA are protecting their own it sends a terrible message to any managers from those races mentioned, the phrase ‘banter’ was the worst part though, being racist isn’t banter, being offensive on that level isn’t banter and he should be punished. The LMA must be aware that in England there are ZERO black managers and events like this won’t help.
– Quick shout out for my team Lincoln City. They were playing away at top of the table Barnet and their team bus didnt turn up so the players had to drive themselves. It also meant there was no tactice board or anything so tactics were discussed with Jelly Babies on the back of a locker! And to top the day off we won so I say we should keep the Jelly Babies!

Exciting times

Tomorrow the English Premier League begins again and it is shaping up to be one of the most interesting seasons yet with 7 teams fighting for top 4 spots and managers departing before the season has even begun!

Ohh and in 3 weeks the NFL season begins, sports never ends and that is why I love it.

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Transfer Window So Far

I know there are still 25 days left of the transfer window and as always there will be some last minute moves, most of which made my Harry Redknapp, but I thought I would do a quick evaluation of what has happened for the Premier League teams so far.

I’ll start with Arsenal, a team I have mocked before for never spending any money and showing no real ambition. Well it does appear Mr Wenger has been listening. Alexis Sanchez for £31.8 million, Mathieu Debuchy for £12 million, David Ospina for £3.2 million and Calum Chambers for around £16 million and I still believe there will be more money spent. Arsenal have gone from perenial 4th placers to genuine title contenders. If their teams can stay fit for once then they have a genuine chance especially with players like Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud, Ramsey, Walcott, Oxlade Chamberlain and Cazorla they have some of the best attacking options in the league.

However Arsenal will have to get past Chelsea, who we’re unlucky not to win the league last year and to improve has signed Fabregas, Costa, Luis and brought back Didier Drogba. Chelsea are my favourites for this season because of the massive strength in depth they now have, they literally have a world class player in every position and enough left over to fill their bench.

Everton have made 2 massive steps this summer to move themselves, hopefully, into the top 4. They have resigned Ross Barkley on a 5 year contract and signed Romelu Lukaku for £28 million (which for a team like Everton is a massive amount of money). Those deals with the players they already have will push them on but unfortunately Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Man City, Man United and Tottenham will all be pushing for 4th as well. A very interesting season ahead!

Liverpool have splashed the cash big time but in my opinion they haven’t massively improved their starting 11 but they have improved their depth, which for them will be huge with a season in the Champions League ahead.

Man United biggest chance was at manager and will be with their formation. I expect more deals from them once Van Gaal has had his much publicised clear out.

Newcastle have brought in 7 new players so far and players like Cabella and Janmaat, on paper at least, are very good signings but Newcastle still strike me as a team who could finish 4th or could finish 16th you just have no idea which Newcastle will turn up.

QPR have made 2 of the best deals in my opinion. As a newly promoted team having a solid defence can be the key that keeps a team up. To address this they have signed Rio Ferdinand and Steven Caulker. This is the perfect balance of experience, youth, ability and potential and they should form a solid partnership but more importantly for QPR and maybe even England Caulker will learn masses from Rio that will move his game onto a new level.

Southampton have let go 12 players so far and most of them have been big name players; Shaw, Lambert, Lallana, Lovren and Chambers. Obviously this will have a massive effect on their team. They have signed two players so far Pellè scored 23 goals in 28 games last year and Tadić scored 16 so they have so far brought in players who on paper can score goals but will that be enough. They need more players but for some reason I have faith that they will have more youth players who are ready to step up when called upon.

Stoke. Stoke signed Bojan Krkic. Stoke. The same Bojan who since he joined Barcalona at the age of nine scored over 850 goals. Aged 15, he was joint top-scorer at the 2006 Under-17 European Championships. A year later and he scored the winning goal for Spain in the final of the same tournament. He beat Lionel Messi’s record as the youngest player to score in La Liga for Barça by nearly eight-and-a-half months and soon after he became the first footballer born in the 1990s to play in the Champions League. He now plays for Stoke, if he can play to his full potential and abilty he will be the best player to ever wear a Stoke shirt by a long long time.

Sunderland have signed Jack Rodwell and all I’ll say about that is that for Englands sake I hope this kick starts his career because he is the type of players England desperately need.

Eric Dier has signed for Spurs and if you read my other blog posts you will see how much I have ranted and raved about Eric Dier and I am massively excited to see him play in the Premier League. I will say it again that I believe he will be Englands starting centre back of the future.

So all of that has happened so far and I imagine most of it will be eclipsed by what will happen in the next 25 days, god I love the transfer window.

Deutschland über alles

So the World Cup is over and Germany are deserving champions. I could talk at length about how this tournament will go down as the best tournament ever for so many different reasons but instead I’ll do a few of my quick thoughts about this tournament.

- Brazil as hosts had the pressure of a nation on their shoulders, through the group stages they looked shaky at best and we’re carried by Neymar and dodgy refereeing decisions and the weaknesses we’re undone in a big way by Germany. It showed how poor they really were and it is a result that I will never forget and those players certainly won’t.

- Argentina did very well to make the final but we’re helped out by a very easy draw and then when they did play some good opposition they just decided to shut up shop and hope Messi could conjure up some magic. For much of the tournament this worked but not when it mattered against Germany and they we’re beaten.

- On the subject of Messi how he can win the Golden Ball is beyond me. Yes he is a world class player, probably one of the best ever, but that doesn’t give him a divine right to these awards. He wasn’t even the best Argentine player! Maybe it was something to do with the sponsors of that award being Adidas whose poster boy is conveniently Lionel Messi, who knows. Rodriguez, Muller, Schweinsteiger or Mascherano would all have been more deserving recipiants.

- Also to stand up for Messi for a second he will get a lot of criticism for not winning a world cup. Some will even go are far as saying that stops him from being the best ever which I think is stupid. One player can’t win a World Cup, as proved by Portugal, Brazil and Argentina. It takes a team which is why Spain and Germany have won the last two. To judge Messi’s credentials as world class on how the whole Argentina side do is ridiculous.

- Germany have been immense all tournament and truth be told they have been immense for 14 years now. 4 world cups and they have made the semi finals, at least, in all over them. That is some record. Their system of bringing players through in groups from all ages groups has been proven and they will only get better with players like Draxler, Kroos, Lars and Sven Bender all to feature more in the future. I think that the coincidence of Bayern Munich being the best side in Europe and many of their players also playing together for Germany, the best side in the world, also needs noting. This happened with Barcelona and Spain. For England to be successful I think it needs to happen here but sadly I can’t see it happening. The closest we are going to get will be Liverpool with Johnson, Flanagan, Gerrard, Henderson, Lambert, Sturridge, Lallana, Sterling etc. but there is still a long way to go before that team and those players match Bayern and the German players.

- To end I reflect on a poor tournament for England, I won’t go into details but Germany have shown the power of a players or group of players playing together at all ages levels up to senior and not just jumping form under 18s to senior. If they play together then they gain experience together, they know each other. 7 of the German squad won the European under 21 Championship together. They beat an England team where 1 player now plays for the senior team. People like Luke Shaw, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain, John Stones, Ross Barkley, John Flanagan should all be together as a group in the England Under 21’s and they can then progress through as a group. This alongside improvements to coaching should be the focus for England and not B teams.

For 4 years now we wait until Russia 2018. This World Cup has been the best for many years, maybe ever, and I for one can’t wait to see what Russia have to offer!

39th Game

This year there will be another 3 regular season NFL games played at Wembley stadium, 240,000 people will go and watch them and this will repeat itself again next year and the next. I believe it is time for the Premier League to start exporting its product to foreign markets in the way the NFL has.

There are 380 BPL games and 256 NFL games in a season and the NFL is willing to outsource 3 this year and almost half of all teams have played in UK now. The problem comes because in the NFL there is a much smaller gulf between the biggest and smallest franchise because of salary caps and the drafting system so there is always parity within the league whereas in the Premier League money is not equally distributed, the top players go to the top clubs and you are left with the same few teams fighting it out at the top every year. This means that globally the demand may be there but it is only really there for those top teams. Most of these big teams have already started doing tours of America for their pre season and those games all fetch very good attendances so it is obvious the market is there and I really do think that it needs to be exploited.
The NFL are trying to make their game a global game, football (soccer) already is but America still have trouble accepting it. This summer things have begun to change after their performance in the World Cup and I think this momentum needs to be built on. With David Beckham starting his franchise and many players choosing to play in America rather than stay in England it is obvious the game is building out there but I think if one or two games a season we’re to be moved out there I think it would truly move soccer up to the same levels as NFL and other sports in America.

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Ryan Gauld and British Youth Development Elsewhere

Earlier this week Ryan Gauld completed a move from Dundee United to Sporting Lisbon for a minor fee of £3 million but the interesting part of the deal was the 6 year contract he signed and the £48 million release clause that went with that contract. Now this sort of release clause is what you would expect for a player who has just been signed in a multi million £ deal not an 18 year old. Gauld will be hoping he has made the right choice, I’m sure he had a number of suitors in the Premier League but he chose to join the club that developed the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. The deal got me thinking where really is the best place for the development of British talent, is it through the youth set up we already have here or is it abroad.

Owen Hargreaves was born in Canada and then moved through the youth system at Bayern Munich playing for Bayern Munich II and then the first team before making a big move to Manchester United. Had it not been for injuries he would, I believe, have developed into one the best midfielders of that era. At Euro 2006 he was Englands best player by miles and all of this for a player who had never played in an English youth system, clearly it did him no harm.

Dale Jennings is a name that may not ring many bells but in July 2011 he signed for Bayern Munich from Tranmere at the age of 18, he was moved into the reserve team (much like Owen Hargreaves) and much like Mr Hargreaves it was an injury that did damage to his career. In October 2011 he suffered multiple ligament tears in his knee and and although he attempted a comeback he was never able to break through into the first team and has since moved back to England and to Barnsley. Now the impact that Bayern Munich had on him may not be known but maybe it was too little too late as he played youth football for Liverpool but was released, for whatever reason, as a schoolboy.

Eric Dier is a name that will be familiar to you if you have played Football Manager or had a conversation with me about the future of English football. He is a 20 year old defender who has represented England from under 18 to under 21 level and has spent his entire footballing career at Sporting Lisbon. His entire career expect one season that he spent at Everton which was ‘an opportunity for the athlete to grow in a more competitive and demanding environment’. Maybe this hints at a self perceieved weakness in the development of players by Sporting but since then he moved up to their first team and featured in 12 league games last year. He has also been linked with moves to almost every English team this summer so again the impact a continental youth system has had on this English players is yet to be seen but I think that in the future he will become Englands starting centre back for many years.

Sometimes players move abroad at later stages of their careers and this can have drastically different effects. Jonathan Woodgate for example joined Real Madrid for £13 million and went on to be voted the worst signing of the 21st Century in Spain whereas Steve McManaman played nearly 100 times for Real Madrid and has been voted the 3rd best British player to play overseas. Both of these players came through English youth systems and for me they show the key aspect of why young British players may fail abroad, the ability or lack of ability to adapt. This is why Hargreaves and Dier (I believe) will develop better as they don’t know any different.

World Cup Group Stage Round Up

This may be a long post as this has been one of the most action packed group stages ever!

First off the teams that have dropped out, England, Italy (who were both very unlucky in different ways both of which can perhaps be traced back to an unused red card in the England vs Uruguay game), Portugal, who have suffered from an unfit Ronaldo and Spain who just never recovered from the Holland game. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that these four teams wouldn’t make it through but they didn’t and I don’t think they will be that missed as the next round of games are very interesting.

BRA vs. CHI, COL vs. URU, FRA vs. NGA, GER vs. ALG, NED vs. MEX, CRC vs. GRE, ARG vs. SUI, BEL vs. USA
Those are the next round of games and there are a few that stand out immediately. Brazil vs Chile will be an excellent game and if Chile perform they have a real chance of progression against a Brazil team that have looked very poor defensively and look very reliant on Neymar. Costa Rica have a real chance of progress deep into the tournament which nobody would have predicted, Belgium v USA should be an excellent game, Argentina have been so so average so far apart from a certain Mr Messi and if he continues to perform he could win this tournament on his own. I expect Columbia to beat a Suarezless Uruguay, France to beat Nigeria and Germany to brush aside Algeria but as good as Holland have been I think Mexico, if they perform, could cause them problems. Either way there are a lot of excellent games and one thing is for sure I except the goal to continue to flow!

I have mentioned him a couple of times already but I can’t not go into more details about Luis Suarez. That moment will go down in World Cup infamy alongside Zidanes heatbutt apart from this is much worse because it’s his THIRD offence. One bite is bad, two is crazy but three is down right madness and the four month punishment shows that! He and indeed Uruguay need to take a long hard look at themselves. The Uruguay team, coach and indeed nation seem to have closed around Suarez as though he did nothing wrong. The coach has come out claimed the English media have scapegoated Suarez and are working with FIFA, the Uruguayan people have given Suarez a heroes welcome when he should have got the opposite as he may well have doomed his country for this tournament (also this gives a horrible image of what is right to young children watching but that’s another argument altogether). The player himself is lucky to still be playing in my opinion, he obviously has problems (he has been suspended for 34 games since 2010 without receiving one red card) and if he wasn’t so talented I believe Liverpool wouldn’t hesitate to sell him immediately, indeed they may still do so but that remains to be seen. Many people have come out and said this ban is too long (many of whom are Liverpool fans and I do agree that he has well and truly screwed them over more than anyone else and they have every right to be mad but that anger should be directed at Suarez himself) but when you think of it that if a 2 year old did this you would punish them and he is a grown man who has now done this three times I think that shows that the ban is needed. He has a young child and will one day have to tell them off for biting someone I imagine and that will be a very awkward conversation to listen in on!

This World Cup, for one reason or another, is shaping up to be one of the best ever and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

PS. As an Englishman I’d love to rant about how unlucky we were and how much needs changing within our game but that really is another rant for another time, right now I can enjoy the games as a neutral and just relax knowing whatever happens I won’t be disappointed (unless Uruguay get their hands on the trophy)