The World Cup’s all-time top goal scorer, Il Fenomeno has decided to hang up his boots, bringing an end to one of the most remarkable careers in the modern game. Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima yesterday announced his retirement from football and although one could make cheap jokes of the proverbial fat man finally singing, to do so would be to mock one of the greatest players of our generation.
Born 22nd September 1976, Ronaldo was raised in the poor suburbs of Rio de Janeiro. Like most children in the area he took to the game of football, hoping to follow in the footsteps of his childhood icon Zico. By the age of 12 Ronaldo was playing for the youth club Tennis Club Valqueire, participating in various youth competitions. As a youngster Ronaldo’s potential was clear to see and his early goal scoring ability attracted interest from a number of Brazilian club across the country. Cruzeiro Esporte Clube were able to see off other rival clubs, paying over $50,000 for the promising striker.
In his breakthrough year Ronaldo scored 12 goals in 13 appearances, helping Cruzeiro to their first ever Copa do Brasil championship. Ronaldo’s talent earned many plaudits and at the age of only 17 he was called up to the national team for the 1994 World Cup. Although watching the tournament from the bench, his appearance in the national team created a stir within the footballing world and after only one season at Cruzeiro, the established European club PSV Eindhoven moved to bring Ronaldo to Holland.
Ronaldo was an instant success, scoring 30 goals, making him the Eredivise top scorer in his first season at the club. His second year was largely disrupted by a persistent knee injury which kept him in the medical room for most of the season but he was still able to maintain an average of nearly a goal a game guiding PSV to victory in the Dutch cup.
Ronaldo’s profile in Europe was growing and in 1996 Barcelona paid a then record fee of £17million to sign the Brazilian. This figure was certainly justified by the striker, who delivered a remarkable 39 in 44 for the Catalan giant’s, leading them to success in the UEFA Cup Winner’s Cup, the Copa del Rey and the Supercopa de España. Ronaldo was La liga top scorer and became the youngest ever player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year at the age of 20.
This incredible year was to be Ronaldo’s only season with Barca as contract renegotiation issues resulted in Inter Milan paying another world recorded fee of £19million to activate the players buy out clause. Again Ronaldo vindicated his transfer figure scoring goals for fun in Serie A. He won the FIFA World Player of the Year for a second time and collected the Ballon d’Or in his first season. Ronaldo was able to overcome the disappointment of the 1998 World cup, where his Brazilian side was beaten by the hosts France in the final, to repeat a second successful season with Milan. He finished second in the FIFA player of the Year and third in the European Footballer of the Year.
Ronaldo was in the form of his life and generally regarded as the best player in the world at the time. Unfortunately this magical period was abruptly ended in the 1999-2000 season when during a match against Serie A opponents Lecce, Ronaldo ruptured ligaments in his left knee. Many speculated that he would never return the same player and after breaking down only 7 minutes into his comeback match, clutching the same knee he had injured almost a year before, there were fears his career could be over.
Amazingly after two operations and months of rehabilitation Ronaldo did return and was included in the Brazilian side for the 2002 World cup. Many considered bringing Ronaldo a risk but the striker silenced any doubts about his fitness, finishing the tournaments top goal scorer with 8 goals including 2 in the victorious final over Germany. He won the World Player of the Year a record third time and was bought for £39million by Real Madrid, to be the spear head of the clubs infamous Galacticos project.
At Real Madrid Ronaldo resumed his incredible goal scoring record, netting a staggering 98 goals in 168 appearances despite spending large periods of time sidelined with further knee and ankle injuries. Ronaldo became a fan’s hero scoring numerous goals against Madrid’s rivals and produced several outstanding individual performances including a historic hat-trick against Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Champions league. After manager Fabio Capello took over at the BernabéuRonaldo began to grow more out of favour due to injury and weight issues.
Injuries continued to damage Ronaldo’s career and after moving to AC Milan for a single season, he returned back home to play for the Brazilian side Corinthians in 2009. Although he helped win a Campeonato Paulista title, Ronaldo was unable to achieve his goal of winning a Copa libertadores with the club and after being eliminated from completion earlier this month Ronaldo announced his retirement. In a press conference the striker indicated that injuries had finally forced him to retire declaring, ‘My body aches. The head wants to continue, but the body can’t take much more.’
Throughout his career Ronaldo was forced to battle obstacles both on and off the pitch with crippling injuries compounded by off the field incidencts and issues regarding his weight and general health. Against all of this adversity Ronaldo was still able to carve out one of the most accomplished careers in football, scoring 62 times for his country adding to his lifelong tally of over 350 official goals.
Ronaldo once said ‘I love to score goals after passing all the defenders as well as the keeper. This is not my speciality, but my habit’; a statement which appropriately summarises one of the greatest goal scorers of all time along with the self-belief required to face all of the challenges thrown in his direction.
Following a brief and unsuccessful spell with Liverpool, Roy Hodgson’s main focus now is bouncing back with The Baggies.
The managerial merry go-round spun once again this week with Roberto Di Matteo the unlucky victim of his West Bromwich Albion team’s dismal run of form. The 40 year-old Italian can think himself desperately unlucky when considering his excellent early season form which included a stunning 3-2 win against Arsenal at The Emirates. The dismissal came as somewhat of a surprise from a West Brom board who in the past have been far more tolerant of managers with worse Premier League records than Di Matteo. It would seem that the club’s inability to sustain Premier League football has become a growing frustration for the men in charge of the West Midland’s club and to oversee yet another relegation, but this time with a more talented squad, would certainly be perceived as a failure. As a result, the axe fell hard on youthful manager Roberto Di Matteo and was swiftly replaced by Roy Hodgson, a man who will have little trouble in empathising with his predecessor.
A mere six weeks ago Roy Hodgson was dismissed as the manager of Liverpool Football Club. An obvious inability to reverse poor results on the pitch coupled with his thoroughly unconvincing ability to manage a club of such enormity culminated in the experienced manager being pointed in the direction of the Anfield exit. It had all gone so wrong for one of the game’s more likeable managers but as seen again this week, with the affable Di Matteo, football management can be a merciless task and if you can’t win games, being Mr Nice Guy holds little relevance. Hodgson’s calamitous fall from EUROPA League finalists with Fulham to EUROPA League qualification chasers with Liverpool has unfortunately tarnished his reputation within the game. He will now attempt to regain the respect of his peers as manager of West Bromwich Albion.
The replacement of Roberto Di Matteo for Roy Hodgson represents a massive gamble for West Brom but the payouts could be enormous should it prove to be successful. Should the board have stuck with Di Matteo there was no guarantee that he would have been able to halt the team’s awful form. In recent weeks he has cut a forlorn figure in the West Brom dugout, possibly due to a lack of confidence in his own managerial abilities but also, as rumoured, because he felt he could no longer motivate his players. His replacement suffered similarly at Liverpool where it was evident in many of his player’s overall performances and their displays of body language that they did not believe in their manager’s capabilities. On the other hand, at Fulham, Hodgson’s players gave everything for their manager’s cause, often putting in performances which seemed far greater than the individual ability that each player had previously shown to have at their disposal.
West Brom’s managerial change ultimately boils down to which Roy Hodgson decides to turn up at The Hawthorns. If Roy Hodgson of Liverpool reappears, West Brom fans should probably prepare themselves for yet another descent into the second tier of English football. Conversely, should Roy Hodgson of Fulham manifest himself in the West Midlands, there could be every reason to expect the club to stay in the Premier League and push on up the table in future seasons. To the joy of West Bromwich Albion fans, the latter seems more plausible. Hodgson’s greatest managerial success, taking into account the resources available, was at Fulham; a club which is similar in stature and ambitions to his new employers. Clearly he is a man who struggles with the expectations of the top clubs, as seen in the past with Internazionale and more recently Liverpool, but he thrives under the role as the underdog as demonstrated by his remarkable success at Craven Cottage.
West Bromwich Albion may have caused a shock by offering Hodgson a hasty return to management following his Liverpool disaster but in him they have recruited last season’s EUROPA League finalist and LMA Manager of the Year. When the 2009/10 season reached its conclusion, Hodgson was seriously hot property following his achievements at Fulham, touted with potential moves to various clubs and even being considered as Fabio Capello’s successor should he have resigned after the World Cup. With this in mind West Brom have pulled off somewhat of a managerial coup and his miserable time at Anfield will soon be forgotten should he start winning games for The Baggies. Although failure may dictate the end of Hodgson’s lengthy managerial career, success could propel the man into a position where once again he can harbour ambitions of managing his country.
- Paul Richards
It is quite astonishing just how quickly one’s perception can change, especially within the fickle realms of football. Just one year ago, Fabio Capello was poised to become the sole figure responsible for restoring the pride of a withering football nation by exhibiting his coaching skills on the grand stage of World Cup 2010. Today he is more comparable to a babbling buffoon than a managerial mastermind. Capello is an erratic manager whose disciplinarian approach and wealth of experience contrived only to cause an unimpressive World Cup campaign of catastrophic proportions. Whilst there is an enormous debate in itself as to whether he should have been allowed to continue in his capacity as England manager, he is the man who has been entrusted by the Football Association to rebuild the nation’s shattered dreams. Even now, some seven months since the shambles in South Africa, Capello’s management of the national team continues to come under close scrutiny, most recently for issues surrounding his selection policy.
In Fabio Capello’s first post-World Cup interview he was harassed by the press for answers as to how he planned to counter-act the decline which had become apparent within the English national team. He responded with a disjointed and seemingly random list of untried English players, amongst those, Fulham’s ‘one season wonder’ and severely injury prone, 29 year old Bobby Zamora. The future at this stage looked bleak and uncertain for English football and it was largely accepted that the farcical way in which the team was organised would continue for a while longer yet. The former Real Madrid, AC Milan and Juventus manager continued his bewildering and desperate selection policy by gifting debuts to Bolton’s combative 33 year old Kevin Davies and Championship standard front-man Jay Bothroyd. Whilst admittedly the talent pool of English players has been rapidly evaporating, the phrase ‘scraping the barrel’ springs to mind.
However, despite some truly inexplicable call-ups, Fabio Capello is beginning to stamp his authority on the game once again largely by selecting players based on their club form rather than reverting to the so called super-stars who failed so miserably at the World Cup. His willingness to explore new alternatives is a necessity at this present time in English football. The once aptly named ‘golden generation’ are swiftly becoming ‘the olden generation’ and fresh talent must now be integrated into the squad, a method which Capello has almost immediately put into practice. Thus far, there have been debut appearances for a list of talented young individuals including Adam Johnson, Jack Wilshere, and Jordan Henderson. When England travel to Copenhagen this Wednesday, they will be escorted by Kyle Walker, the latest young player Fabio Capello is hoping can contribute towards a more exuberant England.
Fabio Capello has long been looking for a player to justify his sporadic selection policy and he may just have uncovered the answer to his problems in 20 year old Walker. He is a player with very limited Premier League experience, amassing just a handful of first team appearances at Aston Villa, and as a result he remains an unfamiliar figure to many football fans. However, his recent surge into top flight football is by no coincidence, this player has exceptional talent and a truly mouth-watering amount of potential. Much credit must be given to Capello and his scouting team for identifying Walker’s England credentials based on so few appearances.
Should Kyle Walker get his chance, and eventually he almost certainly will do, England fans should expect an uncompromising defensive full back, with an enormous leap and electric pace. Whilst defensively he is formidable he is equally adept going forward. His marauding attacking runs into the opposition penalty area frequently cause havoc whilst he also wields a ferocious shot. During his time at Queens Park Rangers earlier this season he was often used as the primary attacking outlet, which is highly impressive for a full back, a position which is more associated with defending than attacking. He was twice named as man of the match for Q.P.R when playing in front of the live television cameras, an indication that Walker’s ability was already at a level greater than the second tier of English football. Once his loan with the R’s had expired he was instantly taken by Premier League club Aston Villa and his two goals in four appearances were enough to earn him his first senior England call-up.
Not only Walker, but also players such as Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere and Adam Johnson represent a positive ray of light for English national football but only if they are managed correctly. It would be unwise to start dishing out exaggerated labels once again like ‘the golden generation’ or drawing comparisons with past greats. These players must be allowed time to become stars and perhaps one day they will be. Fabio Capello may not be around for long but he has initiated a new dawn within the England team, one which fails to reward players for past glories but instead acknowledges form and potential. Long should this system continue if we are to go any way towards repairing the damaged infrastructure of English football. As for Kyle Walker fate appears firmly on his side. England’s greatest modern day right back, Gary Neville, retired from professional football last week coinciding with Walker’s first England call-up. Maybe, just maybe a new star has been born.
- Paul Richards
The England international’s move to a club placed considerably lower than his former side in the Premier League table remains mired in controversy.
Predicting the course of football is a virtually impossible and quite frankly pointless task. Often, if followed closely, trends emerge within the game. Barcelona, for example, will win nearly every match that they play, this due to the fact that they currently boast one of the most formidable teams of all time. So when it came to contemplating whether Barcelona would overcome the might of Spanish second division outfit Real Betis, you would have been verging on insanity to suggest anything other than a Catalonia triumph, especially considering the fact they demolished the same team by five goals at the Camp Nou just a week earlier. As it happened, Barcelona contrived to lose this game by three goals to one, a result which included a penalty missed by the best footballer on the planet. As previously stated, predicting football is pointless. This largely because just when you think you have it sussed, Darren Bent moves from European hopefuls Sunderland to relegation threatened Aston Villa. It’s a funny old game.
Bent’s swift departure from the Black Cats followed his shock transfer request on Sunday night. When participating in his first interview as an Aston Villa player, the striker indicated that he had been made aware of the interest shortly after the Tyne-Wear derby and immediately mustered the desire to force the transfer through. This decision alone seemed incomprehensible to Premier League enthusiasts for a plethora of reasons which all seemingly culminated into one. With Sunderland performing considerably better than Aston Villa in the league whilst clearly showing serious ambitions of European qualification the only feasible explanation remaining suggested that Darren Bent had been lured to Villa with the prospect of greater financial rewards. When Bent was inevitably accused of this in the same interview, he was quick to cite his transfer to Tottenham Hotspur in 2007, a decision he had made despite the tantalising wages he was supposedly being offered to join West Ham United. So if Bent was not enticed away from The Stadium of Light by the superior wages on offer at Villa then why did he make the move?
A large degree of the surprise surrounding this move can be attributed to the fact that Darren Bent appeared truly settled whilst playing his football for Sunderland. For long periods he seemed as if he was thriving within a team where he was clearly one of the more talented players, much as he did during his earlier years as a professional footballer at Charlton Athletic. The club rescued him from a less than convincing spell at Tottenham Hotspur, where he was often weighed down by the high expectations of being the club’s most expensive player and was overshadowed by the exquisite talents of Dimitar Berbatov. It was ultimately Harry Redknapp’s mismanagement of the player which signalled the end of his time at Spurs, a mistake which his new employer Steve Bruce was keen not to emulate. Bent was made the centre of attention at Sunderland, employed as the primary source of goals and often rewarded with the captain’s armband as a consequence of his influential performances. Bent went on to repay his manager’s faith in him by notching 32 goals in 58 appearances for the Black Cats. It remains baffling that he would opt to leave the club whilst it was still doing so much to enhance his own career.
Bent’s prolific goal scoring record eventually earned him a recall to the England set-up. On a personal level, the player’s talents were being recognised and heralded on the international stage for the first time in his career. His return to the England squad provided him with the opportunity to get his first goal for his country, which came last year in a qualifier against Switzerland. His club were writing their own success story too. Sunderland were proving to be a formidable team in the Premier League, with an impenetrable record at The Stadium of Light and the highlight away from home of thumping Chelsea 3-0 at Stamford Bridge. Bent’s career was at an all-time high and with the glass ceiling removed, he seemed destined for more successful days in the North East. His departure to a club of a similar stature rightfully left a bitter taste in Steve Bruce’s mouth.
Reflecting upon his time at Sunderland it is hard to detect an obvious reason for his departure, especially to a club who are deeply mired within a relegation battle. Bent has stated that he feels Aston Villa are lying in a ‘false position’ but whether that is the case or not, if they remain in the same form they have been in since Gerard Houllier’s arrival as manager they will drop into the Championship. If the player truly thinks that he is making a positive move to Aston Villa then he must be lacking any sense of logic. Although Villa may one day return to the top six of the Premier League they must now face a rebuilding period, repairing a squad which has aged and lost a considerable amount of talent. Sunderland on the other hand are far more equipped for a European challenge which only serves as yet another perplexing factor in the player’s decision to move.
Overall, the transfer does not reflect well on Darren Bent. He shows little remorse for leaving the club that revived his career in a less than favourable state. His comments about joining Aston Villa because they are a bigger club are misplaced and his claims that he has not moved for the increased salary are disingenuous. Steve Bruce revealed the club had talked him out of a move to Fenerbahce in the summer; a club who notoriously hand out high wages to any mercenary willing to leave Europe’s elite leagues for high payouts. The fact that they targeted Bent, and were almost successful, reveals a lot about the character of the player. Conveniently, it also brings to a halt any inquest into why a player of Darren Bent’s quality would swap a team of European challengers for a dejected group of relegation candidates.
- Paul Richards
With a figure exceeding 800 goals in under 600 appearances, Josef Bican is undoubtedly one of the most under-recognised goal scorers in football
The art of goal scoring is the single most sought after attribute in the game of football. Forwards who can score goals on a consistent basis are seen as invaluable and rarities possessed only by the top teams around the globe. Goal scorers have always been icons for the beautiful game and when considering the all-time greatest football players it is difficult to look past the historic top goal scorers such as Pele, Cruyff and Maradona.
Even today, the generally accepted best players of the modern game, Ronaldo and Messi, receive much of their plaudits on the back of their incredible scoring records over the last two seasons; Ronaldo netting 66 goals in 73 appearance and Messi 75 in 86. However, these magnificent goal scoring feats could be somewhat over shadowed when compared to the largely unknown achievements of a forgotten striker in history books of football. Czech-Austrian forward Josef Bican is estimated, by respected footballing statistics, to have scored over 800 official goals in under 600 competitive matches making him the most prolific scorer in football history to date.
Josef “Pepi” Bican was born on 25th September 1913 to a poor Austrian family. Bican was brought up in the poverty stricken area of Vienna and his ‘rags to riches’ fairy tale ticks the opening box of spending his early childhood honing his footballing skills on the streets without any form of boots or shoes. One of Bican’s earliest experiences with the game was one of tragedy, losing his father who suffered a fatal kidney injury during a football match when Bican was only 8 years old. With his mother working in a restaurant kitchen, Bican was forced to help support his family from an early age. Four years after his father’s death, Bican started playing for the Hertha Vienna junior team where a sponsor of the club offered Bican a shilling every time he scored - money which was much appreciated at home. With this extra incentive Bican quickly became one of the clubs most promising youngsters and it was not long until the bigger clubs became interested in the starlet forward.
Rapid Vienna, one of the biggest clubs of the area, spotted Bican’s talents and offered him a full time contract. Rapid were so impressed and desperate to hold on to the young player that by the age of 20 he was earning 600 shillings a week, this at a time when the average worker would be lucky to get 5 shillings a day. Bican certainly repaid Rapid on the pitch scoring a staggering 108 goals in 49 top flight competitive matches, winning two national titles in the process. Bican became a great all-round player, able to score with both feet, and a tremendous athlete able to run the 100m in a reported 10.8 seconds.
Bican made his international debut at the aged of 20 in 1933. He led the attacking line as part of the Austrian Wunderteam in the 1934 World Cup. Austria reached the semi-final where they were knocked out somewhat controversially by the host nation Italy who incidentally benefited from a strong backing by Mussolini.
In 1937 Bican decided to leave Vienna and subsequently joined Czech club Slavia Prague, bringing with him his incredible ability to score goals. In 217 appearances Bican notched up 359 goals for the club becoming a fans hero. He was the league highest scorer 12 times and the European top scorer in five consecutive seasons. Supporters often paid to attend training sessions just to see Bican who would entertain the crowds with his tricks and skills. Famously, Bican would knock placed milk bottles off the frame of the goal from the edge of the penalty area and it was said on a good day he would only miss one in ten strikes.
Several of Europe’s biggest clubs were interested in acquiring Bican for obvious reasons, however he turned down teams such as Juventus for fear that Italy might be taken over by communists. He stayed in Prague where, ironically the communists came to power in 1948. Bican refused to join the communist party, just as he had refused to join the Nazi’s in Austria, but attempted to ease relations with the regime by joining the working class club of Vitkovice Zelezarna.
In 1951 Bican was forced to leave city after an incident with the communist party. After being persuaded to take part in a May Day parade, the crowds of people decided to forgo the intended cheers of “Long live President Zapotocky”, the local communist leader, and instead only the cries of “Long live Bican” could be heard. This did not sit well with the regime and Bican was escorted to the train station and told never to return. Bican re-signed for his old club Slavia Prague, which was now Dynamo Prague, ending his career with the club in 1955.
At the time of his retirement Pele was heading for his 1000th goal and journalists were searching for other players who had reached this landmark. Many players and fans proposed Bican who they claimed scored over 5,000 career goals in total. When asked by reporters why Bican hadn’t drawn more attention to his achievement he simply replied “who’d have believed me if I said I’d scored five times as many goals as Pele?”
The easiest and most fundamental way to judge a striker is on their goals-to-game ratio in competitive matches and on this logic there is simply no one better than Josef Bican.
Kenny Dalglish may signal new hope for Liverpool fans, but it will be a scrap to recover the ground lost this season.
When Roy Hodgson’s usual Friday press conference was cancelled last week, it was an ominous sign for the 2010 LMA Manager of the Year. Twenty-four hours later he had been replaced by Liverpool legend Kenny Dalglish, hoping to turn his former club’s fortunes around. For many, the new manager’s first game in charge, away to the Premier League leaders in the FA Cup third round was essentially a write-off. However, in a game of very little football and several major refereeing decisions, Liverpool showed enough to suggest they can recover.
Of course, the game was over after two minutes. Daniel Agger clipped Dimitar Berbatov’s ankle as the striker approached the byeline, the Bulgarian lost his balance, Howard Webb pointed to the spot and Ryan Giggs cooly converted. Many called for a dive, but the forward is not known for his dishonesty. It was a soft-goal to concede, a rash and unnessesary tackle by the defender, but despite the early set back Liverpool played well in the opening period. Pressing United high up the pitch, it was a tactic that effectively stifled United’s midfield, until Steven Gerrard made another rash tackle on the half hour mark and saw red. Their opponents a man down, United comfortably passed the ball for an hour with no real need for any cutting edge.
Would a team under Hodgson have fared any better under such circumstances? Whilst far from outstanding, the Liverpool players performed to the standard expected of a team that still contains some world-class players. Particularly in defence, there was a competency about the side that was absent under the previous manager. Whether this was down to the boost of a new manager, the fear of being humiliated by their arch-rivals, or simply the replacement of Paul Konchesky with Fábio Aurélio, is difficult to call. One thing is for sure: a defeat for Dalglish is considerably different to a defeat for Hodgson. Dalglish is blessed with the approval of the Liverpool fans, something that Hodgson never experienced. There is something of a similarity to Alan Shearer taking charge of Newcastle in 2009. To an extent, it doesn’t matter what Dalglish does - there is a feeling that the man who won three First Division titles is the best thing for the club. Nobody could do a better job, even if they are relegated.
If distributed correctly, Liverpool have a first eleven capable of finishing in the top six, if not the top four, but their squad still lacks depth and coping with this will be Dalglish’s hardest challenge. Whether he still has the guile to spot a player in the modern transfer market remains to be seen. He may choose instead to attempt to spark some life into some of the talented but ellusive players already on the Liverpool books, namely Ryan Babel. His introduction in the second half against United was one of instant impact - the Dutchman was physical, direct and the clearest goal threat Liverpool posed all game. He has a new chance under Dalglish. That said, he had a new chance under Hodgson, one that he did no appear keen to take. And he’ll have to quit moonlighting as a photoshop artist.
- Jack O’Halloran
Blackpool continue to upset the odds as they work to prove that the team bears more importance than the individual.
The rise of Blackpool football club was initially viewed as somewhat of a phenomenon. Most fans of the game have simply treated their ascent to the Premier League as a footballing anomaly, the likes of which will probably not occur again for many years. However, the minnows from the seaside have made it to 2011 without ever falling into the relegation zone and have regularly forced themselves into the top half of the table, with early season highs of second place. The Tangerines are currently sitting pretty in thirteenth place, joint on points with the almighty Liverpool. With a few games in hand over their nearest rivals Blackpool are looking very well placed to upset the odds and survive the threat of relegation. It is now time to abandon any preconceptions made about the lack of quality at Blackpool Football Club for irrelevant reasons such as the size of their stadium and lack of a prestigious history. Ian Holloway has built a very effective team at Bloomfield Road.
The Blackpool success story has arrived as a consequence of the imbalance of wealth which exists within English football. It is true that certain clubs, such as Manchester United and Liverpool, have always had more money available for the acquisition of players; however the sheer enormity of wealth which has been bestowed upon Chelsea and Manchester City in more recent years has caused an overly inflated market within English football. With seemingly average players, such as James Milner, moving to the top clubs for fees which in the past would have bought you any player in the world, it had become obvious that it would be virtually impossible for the smaller clubs to acquire talented individuals for anything that even remotely resembled value for money.
Blackpool have indirectly profited from this over-inflated tranfer market. The financial constraints which existed within the club meant that entering such an expensive market would be hugely inadvisable. Consequently, the club were forced to work with the resources which were already internally in existence. The Blackpool transfer policy was now directed towards assembling and uniting a team of players whose individual talents were not glaringly apparent but collectively, their stock was much higher. Their team was initially tipped for relegation into League One in the 2009/10 season. This was largely due to the fact that they had appointed a manager, in Ian Holloway, who had recently overseen the demise of Leicester City but also because they had not strengthened their squad as significantly as their league rivals.
Ultimately, these supposed faults manifested themselves as strengths. Ian Holloway had learned how destructive a negative approach to football could be and had reinvented himself upon an attacking philosophy. As for the team, a few clever additions such as Charlie Adam and David Vaughan were added to a core of familiar players with limited football ability but a great team ethic. The value of persisting with a familiar unit of players was ultimately proven as Blackpool gained promotion by, rather ironically, beating a team of talented individuals in Cardiff City, to gain promotion to the English Premier League.
As the average player continues to command extortionate amounts of money in the transfer window ‘the Blackpool effect’ will become a lot more frequent within the game. Only the seriously rich will be able to attract the real game-changing players therefore it would not be such an awful idea for the lesser teams to follow the blueprint of Blackpool’s success. In fact, a similar transfer model has been put into place at both Leeds United and Norwich City. Following relegation into League One, both of these clubs refused to press the panic button and splurge in the transfer market in an attempt to gain the upper hand in a league in which both clubs were significantly larger than the majority of their rivals. Instead they retained the core of their team and gained promotion back into the Championship, continually growing in strength by remaining loyal to their starting eleven. Neither side made massive changes in the build up to this season and both now find themselves on the cusp of a return to the Premier League.
Whether Blackpool can be considered pioneers of this system is obviously debatable. I am definitely not suggesting that they invented the concept of ‘the team’ as since the initiation of football, highly effective teams have been recording success throughout the game. However, the current trends that exist within the English game suggest that success is directly related to a clubs outlay on talented players. For Blackpool to have crafted a team of players whose individual talent should be seeing the majority of them playing no higher than The Championship, to be competing with some of the best players in the world is truly commendable. A real victory for teamwork and comradeship and it is a welcome change to applaud the merits of a united group rather than the exceptional individual. Blackpool may just have instigated a shift in emphasis away from the importance of having great individuals and towards the importance of having a great team.
- Paul Richards
Roy Hodgson’s tenure as Liverpool boss is on life support, and a 2-1 home win against Bolton is by no means a panacea for his ills.
Six disappointing months since the departure of Rafael Benitez, no remnants now remain at Liverpool Football Club of the early optimism and promise granted by new ownership, new management and new recruits. Indeed, Roy Hodgson’s appointment was received with much fanfare in post-Benitez euphoria and this blog (and this writer) was no exception.
It all seemed a good fit - Liverpool were in decay, slipping from a second-place finish in 2009 to seventh in 2010, and it was Hodgson, the architect of Fulham’s recent European triumphs, that was brought in to stop the rot and restore Liverpool to their position amongst England’s elite. The caveat, though, was that Hodgson would not be afforded the small fortunes imparted to Liverpool managers past; his shrewd man-management and maximisation of marginalised talents were the motivators behind his appointment.
Since, Hodgson has appeared to be out of his depth, struggling to align the crucial cogs within the club and unable to grasp the system with which his squad might work best. With success on the pitch becoming increasingly infrequent, confidence has drained. His fostering of talent is conspicuous in its absence in nearly every performance this season. His subtle man-management has come to nought.
The nadir of his reign came last week with the 1-0 defeat to Wolves, where the Anfield faithful watched the likes of Gerrard, Torres and Cole fall to a side bottom of the table and previously unable to muster a win against Liverpool in 27 years. Coming from behind on New Year’s Day to beat a troubling Bolton side has given Hodgson a brief respite, but the result is not fooling anyone. Something at Liverpool does not compute and the new owners now have a short window in which to commit to a decision on Hodgson’s future.
It all looks rather bleak, but the decision is not a clear one. Hodgson has cut a helpless figure on the touchline and in interviews this season, but he is not fully culpable for all of Liverpool’s misery. The quality of the squad he inherited had long been under a sustained period of dilution due to scattergun transfer policies, both with the inflow and outflow of players, and Benitez’ deficiency in buying suitably. How Hodgson would love to turn back the clock and have Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano in his side. Instead, his budget constraints have forced him to scour for players in much the same fashion as he would have at Fulham. Enter Paul Konchesky, Christian Poulsen and Milan Jovanovic who are all well below the standard expected of Liverpool. Admittedly, Joe Cole and Raul Mereiles have shown promise, but Hodgson has yet to get the best from them.
Hodgson’s future ultimately depends on the board’s propensity to push the panic button. If relegation is a genuine fear, wholesale change at the top may be the preferred option. However, this seems unlikely. What does seem likely is that Liverpool will continue to perform at their current rate, which is strikingly similar to how Fulham performed under Hodgson’s stewardship. Hodgson’s footballing philosophy looks ill-suited to the global aspirations of a club like Liverpool, but for now, the club would be shooting themselves in the foot in dismissing him. Some transfer funds this month may help Hodgson in implementing his vision at Liverpool, but either way, he deserves until the Summer to prove whether this is possible or not.
- Ciarán McManus
Could Edin Dzeko prove to be the final piece in the Manchester City jigsaw?
With a limitless war chest of transfer funds, it is no surprise that Manchester City have become the first team to make a serious move in the soon to open January transfer window. Equally unsurprising is the position targeted for improvement. As a consequence of a supposed lack of firepower at Eastlands, City have made a move for one of Europe’s most sought after attackers. Despite a multitude of strikers including Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli, the team have only managed 32 goals this season, 7 less than pace setters Manchester United, having also played two games less than The Red Devils. This total looked far less convincing before an awful Aston Villa team visited Manchester on Tuesday and were soundly beaten by four goals. With the second best defence in the league it comes as no shock that City enter the transfer market with their sights solely set upon attacking reinforcements.
Currently, Carlos Tevez would appear to be the only player with the capacity to produce the goals which could fire City to the Premier League title. Other players such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Mario Balotelli are capable of exhibiting the occasional flash of brilliance but becoming overly reliant upon them could prove an unnecessary risk, especially given the fact that the funds are available to recruit a more reliable source of goals. Had Tevez actually followed through with his desires to leave the club, City would have been seriously lacking in potency, a fear which has spurred the club into transfer action, looking initially to the talents of Wolfsburg’s explosive Bosnian, Edin Dzeko. Should the club secure his services, Manchester City would have acquired a player of true quality and massive potential.
For those who do not follow the Bundesliga, or the Bosnian national team for that matter, Edin Dzeko is a fantastically talented player, capable of scoring a variety of different goals. He does not specialise in being a powerful target man nor can he be pigeon-holed as a tricky pace-man. Such is the unique talent of this man he can offer all of the above. Dzeko, with both his head and feet, is a finisher of the highest order and certainly warrants the reported 35 million pounds price tag. His scoring record speaks for itself with a highly impressive 66 goals in 111 games for VFL Wolfsburg, an all time record for any Wolfsburg player, and 17 goals in 31 appearances for Bosnia and Herzegovina. These are all factors which have contributed to a list of accolades for the player including: Bosnian Footballer of the year twice running, Bundesliga Players’ Footballer of the Yearand even a prestigious Ballon d’Or nomination in 2009. Perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that he has achieved all of this at the mere age of twenty four. Edin Dzeko is a player with the world at his feet.
Perhaps an equally exciting aspect of Edin Dzeko is that his ability does not end with his exquisite capacity to score goals. He sports a combative style, high on work rate and bravery, largely as a consequence of his early career playing as a central midfielder. Carlos Tevez aside, Manchester City are lacking this work ethic at the top end of the pitch and whilst Mario Balotelli claims himself to be the second best player in the world, incidently behind only Lionel Messi, his abhorrent lack of enthusiasm will only serve as a hindrance to his own ability in the intensity of the Premier League. Dzeko’s seemingly imminent addition to the Manchester City squad will bring fierce competition to Eastlands with the emphasis heavily falling upon Roberto Mancini to unite a rogue group of talented individuals. If he can do this, Manchester City will have to be considered as serious title contenders. The idea of Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko in the City attack will be a fearful prospect for all of their rivals. The impact of such an efficient pairing could very much be the catalyst for high profile purchases throughout January. The question now is; who will flinch next?
- Paul Richards
Arsenal’s performance hints at a corner turned, but is offset by Chelsea’s slump starting to look serious.
This was, in fact, the second time this season that Arsenal have put three goals past a title-chasing rival, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this feat makes the Gunners the clear-cut favourites for the title. But their 3-0 demolition of a Manchester City side at a one-man disadvantage for the best part of 85 minutes in October told us little about Arsenal’s title credentials.
You could pass a similar, if perhaps harsh, indictment on the Gunner’s performance yesterday evening when a Chelsea side far removed from the double-winning powerhouse of last season capitulated under sustained pressure from sprightly opposition. Carlo Ancelotti’s team looked as good as it ever does on paper, with the vital vertebrae of Frank Lampard slotting back in to the tough spine of the team and Didier Drogba seemingly up for tormenting Arsenal’s backline once more, but despite the deep reserves of experience possessed, Chelsea’s well of mental fortitude remains dry.
Mainstays John Terry and Ashley Cole performed solidly, but Chelsea lacked confidence in all areas of the pitch, with the physical presence of both Michael Essien and John Obi Mikel being nothing more than ghostly. That they were outplayed by an immensely talented but ultimately lightweight midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song is telling. Arsenal dominated possession in the midfield, but were gifted the ball as often as they won it.
With their best team not up for the task, Chelsea’s plan B, or C for that matter, was never forthcoming. For all of the club’s past riches, Chelsea’s bench was a sorry sight, consisting of four yet-unproven academy players and no recognised striker down to both Nicolas Anelka and Daniel Sturridge picking up late injuries.
Whilst Ancelotti may yet get Chelsea’s season back on to a stable trajectory with some shrewd man-management and a purchase or two, it seems safe to say that Chelsea are no longer the best team in the country. They are now merely amongst a small handful of the country’s best teams, which includes but is certainly not topped, not yet anyway, by Arsenal.
Despite Chelsea’s failings, it should be remembered that Arsenal still had work to do in beating tough and hardened opposition so effortlessly. This was perhaps Arsenal’s most Barcelona-like demonstration yet; Chelsea were pushed and pressured into unforced errors and sloppy passing in every area of the pitch, mistakes on which Arsenal swiftly capitalised. Dropping the lackadaisical Andrey Arshavin to the bench paid great dividends as Theo Walcott stepped up and justified his selection from a starting berth, using his threat and pace to pin back Ashley Cole and put him under constant duress. The dynamism and work rate of the entire side was maintained to the final whistle, where it seemed a possibility that they may crumble after conceding.
The challenge, though, that Arsenal now face is to foster their new found swagger so that it may still be present on April 30th 2011 when Manchester United visit the Emirates, and going on Arsenal’s recent history, the challenge they face may be just as monumental as the one faced by Chelsea.
- Ciarán McManus