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!

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.

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.

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)

Aside

England fall again

Devastated. That’s how I feel after the game last night. Leading into this tournament I set my expectations so low but still I’m devastated. Before this tournament, especially after the draw was made I told myself that we would be so lucky to get out of the group but as the squad was named and as we got closer and closer to the start I guess I just couldn’t help but get caught up in the hype and start to believe that maybe, just maybe England’s young guns could impress and surprise at this tournament.

Last night our players weren’t good enough. Gerrard for all of the good he has done over his time with England, was poor but still cant be blamed for the second goal at all, that was poor defending as was the first goal. Sterling is young and promising yes but with time and experience he will learn when to try and take it past a player and when to pass. Henderson and Welbeck aren’t good enough and I personally believe they were only playing to cover our weaknesses in defence. With a stronger back 4 we could have played a much more attacking 11 that would have been able to capitalise on all of the possession we had in the two games and maybe the results would have been different.

For all of the abuse he has got over the past few weeks I thought Wayne Rooney was exceptional last night and was by far our best player, yes he isn’t a world class player but at the end of the day he has 40 international goals and has had the weight of the nation on his shoulders and he is as close as England have been or will get to a world class player for a few years.

I think the problem overall is with English football and the system that is employed.
Raheem Sterling for example was called up to the main squad before he ever played for the under 21’s, no matter how promising a player is they need to have worked their way through the appropriate youth levels first to gain experience of international football. Ideally they should have played in a major tournament at youth level. If this happens you get groups of players coming through the system together and they all have experience of big stage tournaments.

Going forward England need to change, lots of things need to change, some will and some probably won’t. Young English players need to be playing regular football at a high level. James Milner for example played more times for England under 21’s than anyone else and has been a regular fixture in the England set up for many years now but if he was at a club where he could play every week I think he could have been a starter for the past few years.

Our next game will be a friendly against Norway in September and for that game I believe our team should be Hart; Flanagan, Cahill, Stones, Shaw; Jones, Wilshere; Sterling, Barkley, Ox; Sturridge. This is the England team of the future and the team that will give us the best chances of succeeding going forwards. For that game I think Rooney should be rested so we can get a look at an entirely youthful team.

As an England fan I think that the problem lies with our inability as a nation to doubt our football team. After every tournament this happens, we say how bad we are and slate our players, managers and system but then we build ourselves up over the next two years thinking that this tournament will be England’s. The sad truth is that until we have drastic changes within English football I think our trophy drought will continue.

World Cup Week 1 Round Up!

Here are some of my observations from the first week of the tournament:

– The World Cup opening ceremony shouldn’t happen, it was awful!
– Pirlo is God.
– Raheem Stirling has a bright future
– Costa Rica probably aren’t the worst team in our group.
– Brazil have used up a large chunk of their luck in the win against Croatia
– Netherlands are up for this
– Spain not so much
– Columbia are winning best celebration
– Attack is winning over defense
– Van Persie’s goal will be shown over and over for years to come, quite rightly.
– The disappearing spray is the most simple and amazing idea ever.
– This one is for FIFA, good on you for implementing goal line technology but when the ball ripples the back of the net we dont need it confirmed!
– But FIFA when you do use it just show the part where it does cross the line please
– Honduras must have been watching Stoke in preparation for this World Cup
– Goals goals goals, already we’ve got more than double than last World Cup at this stage
– Spain looks like they’re down and out but I wouldn’t be so sure
– If Arsenal can sort out Joel Campbell’s permit then they have one heck of a player
– The future for England is as bright as it’s ever been.
– Messi and most of the big name players are off and running
– For the first time in years France might actually have turned up at a tournament… As long as they don’t fall out with each other
– Japan have amazing fans
– When it rains in Brazil it can really rain
– If Columbia had Falcao they would be so scary
– Germany have arrived and Muller is still in form from 4 years ago
– Pepe is a liability (even if Muller didn’t help his case)
– USA must have decided to only play for the first and last 10 minutes and it’s left them with a real chance to get out of the ‘group of death’
– I think we could all have predicted the first draw would be Iran v Nigeria and we weren’t disappointed
– Fabio Capello must be cursed when it comes to goalkeeping errors in the first games at world cups.

Feel free to comment with your own as the games go on!