Saturday, December 6, 2008

Man City set for January anti-climax

Manchester City may - according to reports - have bid around £129million for Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas (or, at least, be prepared to pay that amount) but will any players actually make the mid-season move when the transfer window opens next month?

It seems unlikely. Top players will surely want to see out the rest of their club's Champions League campaigns, while the clubs won't want their top players to leave. Of course, everybody has a price, whether they be players or chairmen, but there doesn't seem to be much pull surrounding the light blue half of Manchester at the moment.

Aside from a few impressive displays, Man City have been distinctly average so far this season and have failed to grab the headlines for their on-the-pitch activities. Therefore, is it safe to say that they won't be doing much business in January?

Probably, yet it's clear that once the season ends and the summer window opens, all bets are off.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Watford kid to play for country he's scared of

Football sometimes throws up stories that manage to transcend the back pages of the newspapers and grab wider attention. Today is the turn of Watford midfielder Alhassan Bangura. The 20-year-old was allowed to stay in the UK by the Home Officer in December 2007 and was then given a work permit in January 2007.

All of that should be in the past, though at the time there was a lot in the press about the situation, as Bangura had been playing without permission to work. One of the key reasons he was allowed to stay in the UK was because he stressed he would be in danger of being killed if he returned to Sierra Leone.

This week, Bangura has been called-up to play for Sierra Leone, the country he fears returning to - although it should be stressed he will only be playing in away matches. The player's new national coach, Ahmed Kanu, said: "I’m pleased that I now have Al Bangura in my team and I hope he will bring life to it. He has told me he is ready to give his best for his country. I’ve seen him playing for Watford and he’s a player I like."

Watford have also backed their player to shine on the international stage. A spokesman said: "He’ll be available to play for Sierra Leone in all their away matches and we’re very pleased for him. Because he still fears for his safety he will not play in home games."

Everybody will have a view on this, but perhaps it's best to focus purely on the footballing implications. Surely it is very, very rare for a player to only be available for away matches? It's more likely, even if rare, for a player to refuse to play abroad, although in the modern era it's hard to imagine any national FA allowing that.

Then again, it shows how football is far more global and the best players are playing in an ever-decreasing number of leagues - and there are now even international players who are unlikely to even step foot in the country they represent for the foreseeable future, let alone play in their own domestic league!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Titanic Tottenham should avoid the drop

The press are making a lot out of the fact Tottenham's start to the season is their worst since 1912 - the year the Titanic sunk. But is that really a fair comparison? The Titanic was a mighty ship, whereas Spurs are more like pedalos in comparison!

The massive amount of money been thrown at the English Premier League's version of the game was always going to cause one of the "established" clubs a lot of problems. That it happens to be Spurs is irrelevant to an extent, as if it wasn't them, it would have been someone else.

But can Spurs really, like the Titanic 96 years ago, actually go down? On the surface (the best place for a boat to be) no team is too big to go down, but there is still a long way to go. Just as some pundits have been making wild claims Aston Villa will challenge for a top-four slot, it's far too early to be making serious predictions about a club the size of Tottenham Hotstpur.

One thing worth considering is that Spurs are one of the seven clubs to have played in every season of the Premier League since it began, on that terrible day back in the 1990s, along with Arsenal, Aston Villa, Chelsea, Everton, Liverpool and Manchester United. Of those, clearly Everton and Villa would have to be considered the most "at risk".

For Everton's chairman has already said the club needs a billionaire owner, while Aston Villa don't have the money to compete at the very top table, or the global brand to force their way in. Randy Lerner, their owner, may be a nice enough guy, but money talks - and his £600million or so won't go far in the crazy system we now exist in.

The next interesting thing will be to see who takes over Newcastle, how much money they have, and whether Sheikh Mohammed, either on his own or with a consortium, buys Liverpool. For it is possible that a new power group will exist, ending the days of a top-four but creating a new, even more divisive era between the haves and the have lots!

Hull City - fun, however long it lasts

Hull City have been a breath of fresh-air this season - and have shown that sometimes teamwork can overcome stronger teams packed with more expensive, if not better, players. Their defeat of troubled Spurs, shortly after dispatching Arsenal, was enjoyable.

However, it's unlikely to alter the pre-season predictions. Despite their decent start (they are third in the table!), I wouldn't personally bet against Hull getting relegated and I certainly wouldn't bet on Spurs going down. But stranger things have happened, which is why football can, at times, still be enjoyable, despite the obscene amounts of cash involved.

As well as enjoying Hull's unlikely league position, it's also great to see a new face in the dug-out enjoying the action. Phil Brown is currently the highest-placed English manager (with Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth the next-nearest) and is quite correctly winning plaudits across the land.

After beating Spurs, Brown said: "Tottenham might have had 23 shots but the best chances fell to Hull City. My hardest job after last week was to keep their feet firmly on the ground and make sure that they weren't over-confident. We're about three points ahead of our points tally because we didn't expect to beat Arsenal at the Emirates. We are ahead of schedule. It is dreamland."

Brown makes a great point. Nobody expected Hull to beat Arsenal but, once they did, the current trials and tribulations of Spurs made another win possible. To keep his players focused on the job in hand, despite being outplayed for long periods, showed a resilience any newly-promoted side needs if they are to bridge the gulf between the Premier League and Championship.

So while I remain convinced Hull City will be relegated, I'm happy to cheer them on as they stick a proverbial finger up at the big money boys in the top-flight - and if they do manage to stay up, especially if at the expense of a club who have spent silly money, it will be because of the "all guns blazing" opening they have made to their first-ever Premier League campaign.

Though even after beating Spurs and Arsenal, there is still someway to go before Hull's greatest-ever moment is beaten:

I'll get my coat...!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Robinho didn't fancy City move - claim

Robinho wanted to reject a move to Manchester City as he wanted to move to Chelsea, according to the player's former agent. However, Real Madrid's "pride" ensure they would not deal with Chelsea as the transfer window deadline approached.

According to, Wagner Ribeiro had expected to fly to London on deadline day in order to secure a move to Stamford Bridge for Robinho. But the staggering goings-on at Manchester City, who suddenly became the richest club in the world, changed the situation and Chelsea's bid was trumped.

Ribeiro said: "'If you are going to sell cakes in the market, we have a better offer from Manchester City' he (Real's sporting director Predrag Mijatovic) said. I told him that Robinho will reject it but they accepted it. I then demanded a salary higher than Chelsea's offer and got 15 percent more. At the last moment, Chelsea offered €42 million but Real did not want to hear of it. Their pride would not allow it."

The claim again shows just how much money Manchester City have to spend. Offering 15 per cent more wages than any other "top" Premier League club would be staggering, but outbidding Chelsea by such an amount is, quite frankly, frightening. And it's not as though Robinho is the only player in the world who would make a less-than dream move in exchange for a big pot of gold.

January should be interesting, and the summer window may be nothing short of ridiculous, as there is no reason to expect Manchester City to do anything other than use their practically limitless resources to win whatever they want to.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Now South Africans move for Newcastle

A South African group have reportedly offered Mike Ashley £300million to take Newcastle off his hands, following claims a staggering eight consortia have held talks with the Toon supremo.

According to BBC Sport, the South African group has five members who are "thought to be keen to bring back" Kevin Keegan. It has been claimed Keegan could be offered a five per cent stake in the club in order to entice him to return...again!

The South Africans are apparently the front-runners and, as Ashley has no shareholders to consult, they could take control of the club within weeks - and certainly well before the January transfer window. Whether signing new players would actually help Newcastle's situation is a matter of debate.

Given all the talk in the press is of the shaky global financial position, and how we may be heading for the worst period since the Great Depression of the 1920s, it's staggering to think people are currently prepared to make such a punt on perennial underachievers Newcastle - but there seems no reason to doubt there really is interest.

However, in general terms the idea of offering a manager a stake in the club seems a sensible one. Whether it is a sensible thing to offer Kevin "The Quitter" Keegan is another matter, but that will be for the owners to decide. Hopefully a boss would only accept such an offer as a display of stability, rather than to line their own pocket.

But as even Newcastle fans can't decide whether they would want Keegan back (or whether Michael Owen is worth keeping, but that's another story!), who are the rest of us mere mortals to give our opinions?!?

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Is Keegan still wanted at Newcastle?

There is an interesting poll being held at the NUFC Blog, asking whether Newcastle fans want Kevin Keegan back or not. Ed Harrison, the blog owner, has received a number of emails from fans of the beleaguered club saying it is time to move on.

The poll currently stands at 416 votes for wanting Keegan back, 235 votes against the idea and 50 "don't knows" (how anyone can not know is beyond me!). While the current standings suggest the majority want Keegan back, it's not as clear-cut as non-Newcastle fans may have assumed.

The comments section of the blog is full of differing opinions, ranging from "Keegan is God" worshippers to others who don't want to hand the job to a manager who has shown a habit of walking away. Some clearly have short memories, as many were begging for him to return to Newcastle - though the current poll standings suggest many didn't want that back then.

Given all of the uncertainty at Newcastle, it may make sense for them to appoint a manager who can offer stability - but, given Keegan's habit of walking away from jobs, can he actually offer that? Appointing a Messiah figure can also paper over the cracks, but that is certainly not what is needed at St James’s Park right now.

New owners may have totally different ideas, too, and some may even have their own "ideal" manager lined-up. Reports yesterday suggested seven groups had expressed an interest in buying Newcastle, and it's likely all will have wildly different views about how to take the club forward, in terms of business structure and managerial staff.

Man Utd and Arsenal impress in Europe

Last night's Champions League games (those involving English and Scottish teams, at least) went as expected - although Arsenal's 4-0 hammering of Porto at the Emirates was impressive.

Manchester United did what they had to do against Danish champions Aalborg, but will be disappointed to lose both Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney to injury. Scholes was stretchered off during the 3-0 win with suspected knee ligament damage, while Rooney also hobbled off.

Celtic, described yesterday as the only underdogs, tried their best to hold off Spanish league leaders Villarreal, but eventually lost 1-0 to ensure their run of not winning away from home in the Champions League continues.

Tonight's games will also be interesting - in terms of the European football balance, if not performances on the pitch. Liverpool should dispatch PSV Eindhoven without too much trouble (the Dutch league is in a bad way), while Chelsea should have no problems away at CFR Cluj.

If Liverpool and Chelsea manage to win by at least three goals, then the four English clubs would have put the ball into the net 13 times in Europe this week - and it would take a brave punter to bet against it happening. Although this year's tournament is still young, there is little to suggest the English domination of the tournament won't continue.

Which, of course, means more cash for the English top-four and a bigger gap in front of the other teams domestically. Sure, it won't worry Manchester City as they will throw money around no matter what, but it will add even more pressure on the other clubs.

Perhaps that is why Mike Ashley is holding out for a top price for Newcastle (if he is, and £300million is still a top price, even though it represents a cut!). The more the top clubs rake in the cash, the more money is needed to try and break their stranglehold. It is possible that Ashley wants new owners who can prove they have mega-money, but who knows?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Edu, Saha, Malbranque and Cudicini for England

If any further proof is needed to show how utterly ridiculous international football has become, look no further than today's claims that Sven Goran Eriksson wanted to call-up Edu, Louis Saha, Steed Malbranque and Carlo Cudicini.

Four decent enough players - but none of them English! However, at the time, none of them had been capped by their countries and were eligible to play under FIFA's residency rule. The serialisation of former FA executive director David Davies's book in the Daily Mail suggests Sven gave the idea serious consideration.

Davies wrote: "'I like Carlo Cudicini', Sven told me - an opinion which led to a very serious consideration being given within Soho Square to recruiting Chelsea's Italian goalkeeper. However, our goalkeeping coach Ray Clemence was particularly concerned, insisting to Sven it would destroy our keepers.

"'Can you also find out about Malbranque, Edu and Saha?' Sven asked me. I wasn't sure what the public reaction would be to an Italian, a Brazilian and two Frenchmen coming into the squad but I did Sven's bidding.

"However, all my discreet enquiries to clubs and agents led to nothing. Miraculously, the moment our interest became known Saha and Edu were called up by their own nations, making them ineligible."

As I have posted before, I used to enjoy international football. The best players would put aside their club rivalries and the sheer pride on their faces when they pulled on their national jersey was a joy to behold. I've yet to see such pride on an England player's face since Italia '90.

But...and there has to be a but...I do appreciate many others still enjoy the national game. Some seem to think getting stonked on lager and shouting at the television is the definition of patriotism (urgh!), and the thought of those fans (let's just say somewhere to the right of centre-right, cough) cheering on four foreign players wearing the Three Lions is amusing, although it shouldn't be.

Would Sven really have picked the likes of Edu and Malbranque? Who knows, but if he did I would hope even the most loyal England fan would stop watching the game. It would be like a fan admitting they would happily sell-out their history and tradition to the highest bidder if that meant winning some some Newcastle fans appear to be doing right now!

Venables slams "poisonous" Berbatov

Football needs characters like Terry Venables - proper people who can be relied on to speak their mind. Of course, they usually end up screwed over by people who don't like the "cut of their gib," or the like, but that's life.

One such character is Terry Venables. He may not have been anywhere near as good an England manager as the myth that has grown in the past 12 years, but he does have a very respectable record as a boss, both at home and in Europe.

Former Spurs boss Venables has made the headlines today (including the back page of The Sun, which is no mean feat!) by labelling Dimitar Berbatov as a "poisonous presence" who should shoulder a lot of the blame for the White Hart Lane club's terrible start to the season following his £30million summer move to Manchester United.

An extract of the article read: "Berbatov kept telling us he had 'a dream'. Well, good for you Dimi. You had a dream with a few extra noughts added to your bank balance. But did Spurs have a dream too? You got your way but your poisonous presence at the start of the season, the brooding and the reluctance to play, has cost the club that believed in you."

Venables also praised Tottenham supremo Daniel Levy, writing how he has "got to know him (Levy) over the years and got to like the way he thinks - and the dreams he had for Tottenham, too".

Three cheers for Venables for speaking out. As he rightly says, it is easy to always blame the men-in-suits but the mercenary players in today's game, who can't be satified with earning more than the average UK wage each week, really have a lot to answer for.

On a positive note, for Spurs fans at least, Berbatov has looked terrible since moving to Old Trafford. Perhaps he can't play without smoking a packet or two of cigarettes every day...?!?