Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Everton's £15million man was not first choice!

Headlines sometimes jump out of the page (well, screen usually these days) and leave the reader thinking "What?" Of course, that's exactly the intention, as the reader will usually want to read the article to find out whether their feeling of disbelief was justified.

I had such an experience a few minutes ago, when a headline popped up from Setanta Sports - "Moyes: £15m man was a Plan B". Now, why should I really be surprised about Everton signing a £15million back-up? Probably because I didn't realise the madness had quite reached the non-top four (plus Man City) sides in the Premier League to this extent.

According to David Moyes, a manager I have a lot of time for, Marouane Fellaini may well have been a last-minute signing after Everton missed out on a number of other targets. Or, at least, he appears to me saying that.

Moyes told Everton's official website: "People will say that Fellaini was a last minute thing and he wasn't on the radar and a lot of that is correct. We were after other people; Mbia, we were after two or three people who we couldn't get. But we weren't sitting about doing nothing. We were looking to see who our next targets were.

"We haven't got a lot of stature in the team. So, our criteria was that we had to get someone who was bigger than what we had. We have a lot of smaller people in the team, Artetas, Osmans, Pienaars, so there were lots of good midfielders about but they didn't meet the criteria.

"Fellaini was one who we knew could do that and we have watched him. His games against Liverpool were very good and that probably tipped us over. We realised then that instead of having the potential, he was there."

So, assuming Moyes is being genuine in that Everton had watched Fellaini, it seems the player's performances against Liverpool tipped the balance. Amusing in terms of rilvarly, but Lierpool really were below par against Standard Liege.

And while £15million may not be much money for the top-four (it won't be once Liverpool are bought out by DIC, which I'm convinced will happen within months), it is a lot of cash for Everton. So was it a signing based on ability and a genuine belief the player would improve the squad, or to placate fans? That's one question destined to remain unanswered.

Milan claim no Chelsea Kaka deal

European football at the highest level seems to have more shady deals, winks and nudges than Gordon Brown and Tony Blair in a fancy restaurant - but the outcome seems to be the same!

In the world of modern football, which is more sport than sports entertainment, many fans enjoy the rumour and intrigue almost as much as what actually happens on the pitch. One rumour still floating about following the close of the summer transfer window is that AC Milan were going to sell Kaka to Chelsea as soon as Andriy Shevchenko returned from Stamford Bridge.

The link between politics and football gets even more entwined in Italy, of course, and particularly with AC Milan. Their president, Silvio Berlusconi, is currently the Prime Minister of Italy. How foreign politicians can manage to balance both is a question I have never found an answer to.

But back to Kaka. Berlusconi has denied any deal was arrange with Chelsea - and, as he's a top politician, we have to take his words at face-value, don't we...?

Berlusconi told Antenna 3: "I have absolutely not promised Kaka to Chelsea. Andriy is a big player and I'm convinced our supporters will be happy to have him again with us."

Coach Carlo Aneclotti also stressed Kaka is a key player. Which obviously goes without saying, but in this crazy media circus has to be said otherwise some hack will make something out of nothing being said.

And then we'll have a Kim Jong-il situation in European football...though that may be taking the politicisation of football theory too far!

Didi Hamann hails foreign investment

Man City midfielder Dietmar Hamann thinks the club's takeover by rich foreign investors is the future of European football. Perhaps if he was a 16-year-old kid starting out and not a 35-year-old veteran, he would think differently!

The former German international, who scored the last goal at the old (read "real") Wembley, told a German website he expects English clubs to dominate the Champions League for the foreseeable future, and warned his countrymen that the gulf between the German league and those in England, Spain and Italy will continue to widen.

Hamman told Sport1: "That (foreign investment) is the model for the future. The fans here are overjoyed, it can only be a good thing for the players and the club. But if things continue, the gap between Germany and England, Spain and Italy will only grow wider. English teams have dominated the Champions League in recent years and will probably continue to do so,"

As an amusing aside, Man City are thought to be weighing-up massive January bids for both Germany international strikers - Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski. Rumours on deadline day suggested they made an outrageous offer for Gomez just before the window shut, only to be rebuffed.

One interesting note in all of this is that the German league system has dropped behind the "Big Three" by quite some margin in recent years, meaning the chances of there ever being a "Big Four" system again are very slim. The only real question is which league will drop next - Spain or Italy?

Hopefully neither will try and compete with the transfer fees and wages - if they do, they run the risk of falling into the same abyss as the English system. Those in control in Italy and Spain would be far wiser to accept English domination for a few years in exchange for being well placed to return to the fore when the Premier League blows up.

Brazil and Man City: The Odd Couple!

I have nothing against Manchester City and Robinho - they just happened to be the first club to be taken over by men with infinite money and their first purchase.

But, even though I am fully aware of the massive pot of gold (or platinum...or oil?!?) now available to the once poor relations of Manchester, I still think I am dreaming when I read reports about a Brazil national team that includes a City player.

The British media must be loving it. A player, based in England, at the peak of their career and playing for Brazil. Given the temperamental nature of South American football, the press must be hoping Robinho acts as a conduit for some juicy stories.

It will get worse in January, of that there is little doubt. Even though many clubs won't want to sell half-way through a season - and surely players will want to finish their Champions League campaigns - Man City will be waving around enough cash to make Fort Knox jealous.

Perhaps there could even be some good in the terminal decline of top-flight football. If the British media decide to start covering foreign leagues and international games more often, fans growing up will realise that the English game is not the be all and end all, and was in fact surpassed decades ago.

Or is that too much to ask...?

Man Utd and Chelsea eye another foreign kid

Football clubs get blamed for the amount of foreign players in the game. While the likes of Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United do cast their nets wide, European Union freedom of employment laws also increase the problem.

Putting politics to one side, though, Man Utd and Chelsea are at it again. This time they are reportedly fighting over a 16-year-old defender from Denmark. Brondy's Nicolai Boilesen has been handed a trial at Old Trafford, but Chelsea are thought to be monitoring the situation closely.

Boilesen told Ekstra Bladet: "It will be fantastic to come to United because they are my favourite club. I am very proud that two such big clubs are watching me. Whether it (his future) is in Denmark or abroad, only time will tell. For now, I am just coming to England to train with United and Chelsea."

What is disturbing is not that this is another foreign player coming to the English game - heck, the odds are he will amount to nothing and we'll never hear about him again - it's his age and the implications training foreign players has on our domestic kids.

The newspaper are always carrying articles about increasingly younger kids being signed by top English clubs, at an age when they should be more worried about passing their 11-plus (oops, showing my age). If a kid isn't in a decent academy by about 13, they have little chance of "making it".

Add the acquisition of foreign kids to the mix, given there are a limited number of places in the top academies, and things look even less promising. How are domestic kids even meant to get to the top in the version of football we now have to endure? And when did it all go wrong?