Saturday, August 20, 2011

Farewell Keano

He's left England. He's moved to California. He used to get £52,000. Now he gets $86,500. He's also going to play alongside England record-holder David Beckham. Not too bad for a boy from Tallaght. At 31, with his career slowly coming to an end, Keane has opted to swap life in the dour-weather England for the glitz and glamour in the USA. Now some may assume that he's being selfish and that it's his EIGHT (yes eighth) "childhood club", but there are nothing but positives from his perspective. I mean, how often does it occur that you're offered a job in the Golden State?  

I'll miss him being in England. Ever since I was a young 'un I've always kept an eye out for Keane and how he gets on, goal-wise. One of my first memories of Robbie was when he was playing for Leeds back in the early noughties. He'd made a mockery of the opponents offside-trap and was through on goal with just the keeper to beat. Instead of just the typical 'knock it past the keeper' approach, Keane stepped it up a notch and scooped the ball over the on-rushing keeper into an open net. I remember just sitting there, scratching my head in awe. 'How the hell did he do that?' I asked my brothers. No response.

He continued to renew my interest and by the 2002 World Cup he was in full flight. Here's the scenario: Ireland were one-nil down with just seconds to play when Irish right-back Steve Finnan launched a hopeful punt up-field, fingers crossed that somebody would flick it on. Niall Quinn came to the rescue and knocked it down for Robbie Keane who stole in behind the German defence and steered the resulting shot in off the post.

Goals for Ireland and his 'childhood' clubs came and went, but another one of my favourites (and one of the lesser known ones) was during his first spell at White Hart Lane. He had received the ball from a throw-in - the throw-in was deemed to be awarded to the wrong team originally (Spurs) - on the byline and, in the midst of a 180º spin, half-volleyed the ball over the opposing defender, before a fake shot pull-back against the next. He then had the simple task of a one-on-one which he finished in an ice cold manner. Watching it over, I reckon it was one of those 'you had to be there' moments because nobody seems to truly appreciate it when seeing it on Youtube. I still do, mind you.

On the international stage, Keane is and always has been Ireland's go-to-guy for the best part of a decade. When Ireland needed a goal - he was there. When teammates needed a shoulder to cry on after missing out on qualifying for a tournament - he was there. Even dating back to his debut in 1998 - which he capped off with a brace - Keane has always been a first on the team sheet. A lack of options up-front has seen Keane retain his  place year-in, year-out, and he's definitely made the most on what's been on offer, notching up his 50th and 51st international goals against Macedonia back in June. It's an incredible record for an incredible man. Those two goals saw him climb above world-beaters such as Samuel Etoo, Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba, and take his place among some of the finest international  goal-scorers we've seen grace the game. Another six goals for Robbie and he'll have overtaken Brazilian legends Zico and Romario, and Gabriel 'Batigol' Batistuta.   

Seeing him struggle to even make the Tottenham match day squad last season killed me. For years he was one of the most prolific strikers inside England and last season, with 'Arry at the helm, Keane began just two games, and made a further 5 appearances as a substitute. He was loaned out to West Ham in order to help them beat the drop, even scoring on his debut away to Blackpool. Constant injuries made sure of the season being one of his worst in England to date, and he returned to Spurs on an even sicker note, with West Ham being relegated with 2 games yet to play. His end-of-season record read played 22, goals 2. That, for a proven, successful Premier League striker with years of experience was fairly woeful.

Then, this summer, a move presented itself to Keane so appealing he couldn't turn it down. Tottenham received a deal from MLS outfit LA Galaxy on August 15. Terms and a fee were agreed in record time as Galaxy were battling against the international deadline day clock. They had to make sure Keane signed by 11:59 EST and with a few hours to go, they had their man. Upon joining, Keane made the foolish mistake of claiming it was a "dream move", leaving himself open to ridicule.

What I'm trying to say is, I'll miss Keane. I'll miss the way he'd celebrate a goal by tumbling in iconic 'robin hood' fashion, or the way he'd bring that dreamy wife of his on holidays with him. Keane was always one of my favourite footballers - due to the fact he was Irish? Perhaps - but seeing him move to America cuts all off ties of me being able to watch him on a regular basis. It'll be hard but I think I can manage, especially as he'll hopefully continue to break records for the Irish international team.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

An Interview With Duncan Alexander

We're back, and what better way to begin a season than an interview. But hold on a sec, it ain't no player. I'm not that popular yet (although I would like to be sometime in the future) but it is someone who runs a sports business that is highly regarded as one of the best stats centres in sport. From athletics to volleyball, they cover everything and anything that goes on statswise in between. This past summer I managed to persuade the head of Opta Sports Duncan Alexander to agree to do an interview with the FD. So without further adu, here he is:

1. Hi Duncan, first of all for those who've never heard of Opta
Sports, would you care to explain to the reader what it is your
company does?

Opta are Europe’s leading sports data company. We’ve been collecting football data since 1996 and have the biggest & best database of sports info there is. We work with professional clubs, the media and the betting industry to provide content and analysis in whatever format they require.

2. As Britain's leading football statistician you must be up to your
Eyes in stats. What's a typical day like for you in Opta Towers?

I head up the whole range of content delivery for the UK. That could be something like data feeds to power a website or Chalkboards or creating bespoke features and analysis for television or the national press. Ultimately you’re working with sports data every day and looking for angles and stories that will shine an objective light on the game.

3. Is understanding maths an essential component for working at Opta?

Depends on what your role is really. An understanding of statistics helps enormously, particularly the concept that correlation does not necessarily imply causation. That said, you could be Matt Damon in Good Will Hunting but if you don’t have a robust knowledge of football then you’ll not be any good. A love of the game and an understanding of the trends that are shaping it are key.

4. Opta Sports recently decided to share their information to the
public mainstream when they opened their first twitter account,
OptaJoe, in June 2009. Gathering over 100,000 followers within that
two year time period, do you think Opta have surpassed their

Twitter has been a massive success for us, helping us to connect directly with fans and help the public understand what it is we do. The response we get when there’s an OptaJoe quiz, for instance, are huge.

5. Does Opta have plans to expand their horizons for the new seasons
to the various leagues in Europe / worldwide?

We are always looking to expand the leagues and sports that we cover. We recently became official data suppliers to MLS in America and may look to analyse some South American leagues soon. We already analyse every game in the top-flights in England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France as well as international club competitions and international tournaments.

6. Your twitter bio tells us that you're a Wycombe Wanderers fan. How did that come about? 

My grandfathers supported Wycombe and Chelsea respectively and I got to choose which team to support. More chance of getting to Wycombe games so I went with them, a decision I have yet to regret.

7. What's your most memorable moment whilst donning the colours for the Chairboys?

The standard WWFC answer is the famous FA Cup run of 2001 but I think winning 2-1 at Maine Road in 1999 tops it for me. I had lived in Manchester for three years and seeing my team beat City in a league game was almost beyond comprehension. Can’t see it ever happening again, put it that way.

8. What's your favourite sporting event in the calendar year (doesn't have to be football by the way)? 

The Tour de France by some distance. I’m a big fan of pro cycling and while there are races that are often better than the Tour (the one-day classics, the Giro D’Italia), the sheer size and intensity of the TdF gets me over-excited every year.

9. Since the inception of Opta in 1996 the company's gone from strength to strength to unparalleled strength. What's next on the agenda for Opta Sports?

We have seen a big change in the way that sports data is viewed over the last decade or so. Originally seen as ‘too-American’, statistics are now being used widely by clubs, the media and fans to achieve greater insight. Opta will keep trying to develop products & content that enables people to analyse football, rugby, cricket and many other sports in ever-greater depth but still in an accessible way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

We're Going On Holidays!

we'll be enjoying plenty of these!
Hi, all.

For the past six months, here at the FD, we've entertained you with various articles ranging from match reports, to transfer news, to feature articles, and now we're thinking, after a summer of providing you all with such sweet-ass material - well, we'd like to think so - we're taking a well-deserved break.

Oh, but dont worry. We'll be back at the beginning of August, previewing the new campaign as it draws closer, as well as keeping you informed on the international scene, throwing in the odd interview, scattered with various statistic pieces which we've become fairly fond of of the last few months or so to keep you on your toes.

Until then, you can keep yourselves sane by checking out the archives towards the bottom of the page.

Ciao for now,

- Dylan

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Revisiting the Euros: Denmark Win European Championships 1992

They weren't even supposed to be there. And yet, they somehow defied the laws of the game and won the European Championships. That's football for you.

Danish coach Richard Moler Nielson was on the brink of the sack following Denmark's failed attempt at qualification for the European Championships in 1992. Nielson became sick of seeing this Danish side play beautiful football but lacking sufficient results. He tried implementing his management skills on the team but it resulted in one of their most famed players quitting the international game, in protest of Nielson's playing style. That player was Michael Laudraup. What Nielson, his squad and the media didn't know at the time was that it would turn out to be for the greater good.

Denmark's qualification for the tournament was a mixed bag, to say the least. They began with a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Faroe Islands, followed by a draw with the Northern Irish, then a 2-1 defeat to eventual table-toppers Yugoslavia. The results sparked a drastic change to Nielson's Denmark with Michael and brother Brian Laudrup quitting the international scene and then star players like Jan Molby and Jan Heintxe were subsequently left out of the squad by Nielson due to 'disciplinary problems'. The Danes won all their remaining qualifiers but it wasn't enough as Yugoslavia topped the group thus qualifying for that summers European Championship.

The Yugoslavian team, led by captain Dejan Stankovic, traveled to Sweden to prepare for the tournament early in June. What they didn't know was that they'd soon be dealt an ultimate blow to their European Championship preparations as the civil war back in Yugoslavia had them inexplicably expelled from the competition. Stankovic was given the job of breaking the news to his teammates during a team meeting just ten days before the Championship commenced.

“It was the worst day of my life, and the worst thing is that I couldn’t explain to the players why,” he said. “This is sport, not politics, and the two should never go together. There were terrible things going on in my country and I am deeply ashamed of them. But when I looked at these players, I looked at the way thattheir faces cracked when I told them this news, I wanted to know why Uefa had let things go this far. If they were going to throw us out of the competition, why didn’t they tell us before? We had been training, we were already at the hotel in Sweden, and now we had to go home. We had to go back to reality. And still, nobody would tell me why.”

What was Yugoslavia's loss was Denmark's gain as when Moler Nielson received the phone call asking Denmark to compete at the expense of Yuogslavia, he couldn't have been more ecstatic. He quickly shared the message throughout his team which had disbanded for their summer holidays. The Danes had been keeping a close eye on each installment on what was going on inside Yugoslavia and it was fair to say, some half-expected the Yugoslavian team to be banished from Sweden. Anyway, with only ten days to prepare the Danish side, led by Richard Moler Nielson, set off on a European journey with nobody really expecting them to make an impression.

The Group stage pitted them against outright favourites France,  the much fancied England and host nation Sweden. England were heavy favourites against the Danes in the opening game and so when Moler Nielson's men held the English to a 0-0 stalemate, they had already caused an upset and had one unexpected point to their names. After the triumph in Malmo, Denmark then travelled to Solna to take on host nation Sweden. It was a far more entertaining game than the Danes' previous encounter but the pendulum swung when Sweden took the lead through a Tomas Brolin strike midway through the second half. However, even though they lost Denmark still had a chance of qualifying from the group. All they had to do was bet France in the final group game. In the build-up to the final group game against France Moler Nielson decided to reward the team with a bout of mini-golf, just days before the France game. Oddly enough, the team bonding excercise worked wonders as Denmark defied the odds and caused another upset by beating and knocking out Championship favourites France. The 2-1 win meant that Denmark qualified for the semi-finals finishing under Sweden in group A. Denmark's semi-final qualification in second place meant that they'd be entertaining the winner of Group B, who were the heavily fancied Netherlands.

The odds on the Dutch progressing heavily outweighed that of the Danes, but Moler Nielson's men knew that they had surpassed expectations and anything extra was an achievement in itself at this point. So when Lars Elstrup had caught sight of a Burger King and posed the question to Nielson, the coach felt that his players had served themselves justice at getting this far and treated them to a one-off fast food feast.  They reentered the bus chuffed that the gaffer had granted them their proposal and beknownsted to them they were to return the favour just days later when they took to the pitch against the Dutch.

Denmark had a shock lead barely five minutes in. Brian Laurdup whizzed down the right flank and crossed it for Henrik Larsen who headed home after the cross evaded Netherlands keeper Hans van Breuklen. The Danes were off to a flier and it was fair to say, had ousted the Dutch in so many departments until the equaliser came. Dennis Bergkamp got his name on the score sheet with a strike from just outside the box midway through the first half but that goal didn't stop Denmark from continuing their impeccable Euro journey.  Larsen stole a second goal courtesy of a rare Ronald Koeman mistake and there was now a strong belief surging through the team that they could go on to win this tie. They just had to keep focus and complete the job in-hand. Unfortunately, they couldn't hold on and the Dutch rallied through an 86th minute goal coming from Frank Rijkaard, stabbing home from a corner. Denmark headed for extra-time virtually unsure of their fate as they had to play on with one injured man because they had already used up their substitute limit.

Despite the Dutch's superiority, the game was taken to penalties after a pulsating extra-time bout and the Netherlands were first up. Ronald Koeman dispatched his penalty, then Larsen levelled things up with a fine spot-kick tucked away into the bottom corner. Marco van Basten then stepped up for the Dutch. His attempted penalty was palmed away by the ever-so remarkable Peter Shmeichel and it was advantage Denmark. Povlsen's subsequent penalty hit the back of the net. The remaining six penalties were all safely dispatched and thanks to Kim Christofe, Denmark knocked out the holders and progressed to final to do battle with the current World Cup champions Germany.

The Danes once again got their necks in-front as John Jensen got them off to a flier with a thunderbolt from the edge of the 18-yard box. The Germany team began to dominate and had it not been for a spirited performance from Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel Denmark would have surely gone behind. Save after save after magnificent save, the Danes were lucky to head into the break with that slim 1-0 lead. The second-half was more of the same as the Germany team huffed and puffed its way past the Danish defence, only to be denied by the imperious Schmeichel every single time. Then it happened. Denmark struck the crucial blow. On 78 minutes Kim Vilfort stole between two German defenders and aimed a left-footed shot in off the post, leaving the Danes virtually assured of European triumph. And when Bruno Galler blew up for full-time, various members of the Denmark team trotted over to congratulate Schmeichel on his man-of-the-match performance. It was a fairytale ending to a fairytale story for the Danes after winning a tournament they hadn't even qualified for in the first place and Moler Nielson had saved his job, for the time being anyway.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Gervinho - Arsenal Target

For a while now, Arsenal, and more importantly Arsene Wenger, have been reluctant in competing for players in the transfer market. As a result, Arsenal have fallen beyond the ranks and had to be satisfied with a 4th place finish, having won only three games since March. If Wenger and co. want to be challenging for trophies next season they're going to have to abandon the youth policy this Summer. I'm not saying they'll be spending particularly large and obnoxious amounts of money but one or two signings in or around the £20m mark would go a long way to securing their ambitions for competing at the top once more next season. According to reports, an Ivorian that goes by the name of Gervinho is "on the verge" of signing for the Gunners. But who exactly is Gervinho?

Well, Gervinho is a winger who plies his trade with Lille in France's Ligue 1. He moved to Les Dogues in 2009  following impressive displays for fellow Ligue 1 side Le Mans. During his first season at Lille, Gervinho scored 13 and assisted 4 goals in 32 games, in the process helping them qualify for UEFA's Europa League the following season. In his second season at the club, Gervinho helped a significant amount in securing Lille's first ever Ligue 1 and Coupe De France double netting 18 and assisting 10 times in their most successful ever campaign. Andrew Gibney of French Football Weekly gives you his view of Gervinho:
He is exceptionally quick, and he combines that well with great upper body strength. That gives him a great base to take on defenders and he usually succeeds in beating his man. During his time at Lille his finishing has improved, with 15 goals and 10 assists this season he is a very dangerous player once inside the box. With the ability to find a team-mate or provide the finish he was one the main reasons Lille finished top of Ligue 1 this year.
Not only does his pace give him the ability to take on players but he also has the intelligence to use it to run in-behind defences and latch onto any passes played through the middle. In Lille’s fluid 4-3-3 system the winger was allowed to drift inside and find the space created by the movement of Moussa Sow and Eden Hazard. This is an ability that would be ideal in the current Arsenal system, the movement of Robin van Persie could benefit the runs of Gervinho and in Nasri and Fabregas they have the players to find his well-timed runs.

However, Andrew goes on to tell us that there are some aspects of his game that need touching up on.

Not everything in 24-year olds game isn’t complete. His style is still very raw, when he is running with the ball he doesn’t always look in control “Bambi on Ice” is a phrase that has been used to describe his running technique. At times his passing can also leave a lot to be desired, not the actually quality of the pass but the timing of the delivery.

But, along with Eden Hazard, success can come at a price. Take former Lille midfielder Yohan Cabaye for example. He's already been snapped up by Newcastle, for the modest fee of £4.3 million. And Gervinho is next on the list to leave the Stade Lille-Metropole. Eden Hazard is also being heavily linked with a move away from Lille. By the time the new season rolls around there will be a lack of strength in-depth for the champions, even with the additions of Dimitri Payet and Marko Basa.

 Payet is an apt replacement for Arsenal-bound Gervinho, who can be described as "quick" and "blessed with terrific technique and dribbling skills". Payet had attracted interest from Liverpool and Chelsea in late 2010 from his shining performances for St. Etienne and even rejected a move to PSG in the January transfer window earlier this year.

Sources say that Gervinho is mightily close to joining the Gunners and if so, will become their first signing of the summer. Wenger will also need to find a replacement for captain Cesc Fabregas if Barcelona can finally get their hands on him after years of yearning for the La Masia graduate.

For one, I think if Arsenal can sign Gervinho, it'd be a great signing and he could partner Van Persie up-front, helping the team as well as banging them in from all angles. Us Premier League fans hopefully look forward to seeing him strut his stuff come August.

An Interview With GibFootballShow's Andrew Gibney!

So I managed to bag an interview with Andrew Gibney, who runs the excellent Gibfootballshow football website over in England. Without ruining anything he's a Lille fan, with a throbbing passion for Ligue 1 in France. Oh and he like's Eden Hazard. Right, you better dive in before I spill anymore:

1. When did you first start following football on a passionate level? 

"Oh god eh. The first thing I remember is Celtic winning the Scottish cup in 1988 and then Italia ’90. I’ve always had a bit of an obsession. I remember for USA ’94 I would do drawings of the all teams strips and colour them in, writing down all the squad lists etc. Then I always realised I would watch any match I could.

I never thought when I was at school that I would write about anything never mind football but about two years ago I started writing down my thoughts, there is an old blogger site somewhere it was just myself and friends who read it, the more I wrote the more I watched.
My wife used to love football, she had a season ticket with Sheffield United for seven years, but I think she hates it now cause of all the games I’ve watch in the last seven years."

2. Where'd you get the idea for the Gib football show?

"Well I used to have a general blog called “The Gib Show” just a place I could write things down, not just football. I then thought I should start one that was just football. I spent ages trying to think of a catchy title but couldn’t find one I liked so I just wedged “football” in the middle and “gibfootballshow” was born.

That was back in October 2009 the podcast wasn’t born until June 2010. I was inspired by the daily World Cup shows from the Guardian and The Times and started looking into if this was something I could do.
There are a few shows at the start that just feature me on my own. Then via twitter I discovered the wonders of Skype and it’s just grown from there. I have always found it more fun to have a chat about football rather than just writing about it, it’s a great way to get things off your chest and have some great discussions (on and off air)."

3. Were you ever expecting it to be such a hit?

"No, never, it’s all a bit of a shock. Not sure why 2,500 people follow me on twitter. The site has had nearly 150,000 hits and over 50,000 unique hits. It’s crazy. I’m just a guy who likes football and wants to share his views and now I have people from all over the world writing articles for the site and I’ve met some great people through doing the site and the podcast."

4. As well as running the Gibfootballshow, you also contribute
heavily, as well as being co-editor, to the French Football Weekly
football blog. How's that gone for you so far?

"FFW has gone really well. The site started just as a vehicle to push the podcast that myself and Chris Oakley began recording in February. The show has been a success I think, there are no other English language Ligue 1 podcasts out there so we have filled a little hole in the market.

In the past month I have begun building the website up and it has been a huge success. Unfortunately Chris had to give up the podcast but I have found a replacement, his first show will be in July, and I have also brought in another writer. So now the site is a three person effort and this month has been huge.

We have been publishing profiles of the players linked with moves to English and a variety of other stories, to give you an idea of the success we’ve had. From February to May the total views came out as 4,500 which I was happy with. In June alone we’ve had over 10,000 views which is just out of this world.
With a team of three behind the site now, plus other providing some extra content we are very excited about the upcoming season."

5. You're obviously very interested in Ligue 1, following Lille and
such. When did you first begin supporting Les Dogues?

"Eh the Lille thing started around 2005. I had seen bits and pieces of Ligue 1 but never really paid any interest. It started with a friends mum bring me back a Lille scarf from France and I got intrigued and investigated the team, liked what I saw and carried it on from there. Over time I began to be obsessed by the league and fell in love with Lille."

6. Who's your favourite player in the world right now and why?

"Oh that’s a tough one. I suppose the best player on the planet to watch right now is Lionel Messi, he is just phenomenal and you’d pay anything to watch him live. Outside of Messi and inside France well everyone knows my love of Eden Hazard and part of me can’t wait till next season when he moves and everyone gets to see what I was going on about all this time. Away from Eden I love watching Mamadou Sakho at PSG he’s phenom in the defence, and I really enjoyed watching Dortmund this season they played football the right way."

7. And finally, what are your plans for the future Andrew?

"Well with GFS the plan for this season is to have a big group of writers including myself to keep the articles coming. I will be continuing the Yorkshire Football Weekends and writing about them.

The podcast will hopefully go from strength to strength we have some ideas up our sleeves and are looking forward to the season.

Over at FFW we think World domination is on the cards, no only joking. The aim is to be a well-respected place for information on the French league and it’s players. My ultimate goal is to gain Media access for Euro 2016. The podcast will kick start with myself and new co-host Jonathan Johnson, hopefully continue where we left off, bringing more interviews hopefully with some players and provide an enjoyable show that people will want to listen to."

Friday, June 24, 2011

Andre Villas-Boas Factfile

Andre Villas-Boas was born in Porto, Portugal on 17 October 1977.

Andre developed a passion for football quite early in his life and his interest was partly aided by the fact that Bobby Robson had moved into his apartment block, Villa-Boas being just 16.

He sent a letter to Robson outlining why he should be playing Domingos Pacienia. Robson was so impressed by Villas-Boas' passion and knowledge of the game that he sent the Porto native off to Lilleshall in England to get his Uefa C Coaching license. At the time the legal age for such a license was 18 but Robson pulled some strings and got Villas-Boas the head-start that he craved so much.

After he completed his coaching courses, Robson employed him as part of Porto's youth team scouts and Villas-Boas remained at Porto when the 'Special One' Jose Mourinho arrived. Mourinho obviously saw something very special in Villas-Boas and he chose the now Chelsea manager to head the 'OOD' department at Porto. The 'OOD' was simply the 'Opponent Observation Department' which consisted of Boas drawing up a secret-style dossier on opponents that Mourinho's men would be facing in the coming days. He mimicked the feat at Chelsea when Mourinho brought him to London, including this dossier in a match against Newcastle back in 2005. Mourinho tried bringing his fellow Portuguese man when he left for Inter Milan but Villas-Boas refused the offer and decided to try his hand at management signing a contract at Portuguese Premiera side Academica de Coimbria in late 2009. Academica had failed to win any of their seven league meetings at the time of signing Boas but things were about to change.

In his first season in management, Villas-Boas guided them to a respectable 11th, a decent league outcome considering they were teetering in the doldrums at the beginning of the season. He also guided them to a semi-final in the Portuguese League Cup, eventually losing out to FC Porto thanks to a late goal from Mariano Gonzalez.

However, Porto president Pedro Pinto had seen something in Villas-Boas' exciting brand of football while in charge of Academica and snapped him up in June of last year, hoping he could steer the club back to the top.

Villas-Boas broke many records at Porto, whilst still in his first season coaching the club. For starters his Porto side carried through the Primeira Liga without a loss, accumulating a record-breaking 84 points on their way to being crowned champions. He now also holds the record for the youngest manager ever (33 and 213 days) to have won a European trophy following Porto's success in the Europa League final against Braga in Dublin back in May. These feats inevitably put him on the map for all the top European sides and after a lengthy spell with Guus Hiddink dominating the headlines, Villas-Boas landed the Chelsea job on Wednesday 22 June, the Londoners paying in excess of £13 million for the services for the Portuguesian.

Villas-Boas has been repeatedly likened to Jose Mourinho for the way he entered the football world (both of them never playing professional football, both coaching Porto to League and Europa/Uefa Cup success) but the 33-year-old insists that he will not be a 'one-man show' unlike Mourinho.

"I was appointed for human qualities," Villas-Boas told Chelsea TV on his arrival. "I don't see the game as a one-man show, I see the game as the getting together of collective ideas and good players. "The most important thing is to motivate the players to get their ambitions right, to reflect again on what the club has achieved in the last six years and we need to keep this route to success.

"It is a clashing together of two good organisations and in the end it is the relationship between all of our players that can lead us to success, and that is what I want to work on."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Legends Of The Game: Nat Lofthouse

Name: Nat Lofthouse
Club: Bolton Wanderers
Country: England
DOB: 27/8/1925

 Lofthouse was what they called a one-club man. He dedicated the entirety of his career to the Trotters since he joined them at the tender age of just fourteen. He made his debut at sixteen but had to wait a further five years, when the war had ceased, to make his first league appearance for Bolton in 1946 when he matched his debut with two goals against Chelsea in August of that year. Although it wasn't until the 1950's when he became known on n international scale.

Lofthouse togged out for England for the first time in the early 1950's when England entertained Yugoslavia at Wembley. Lofthouse scored, and went on to claim one of the best goals-to-game ratio in the history of the international game, boasting a sensational 30 goals from just 33 appearances for the Three Lions. He is best known for his imperious performance against a formidable Austria side when in 1952 he fearlessly ran half the pitch, enduring all kinds of horrible gamesmanship from the Austrians, before scoring and being knocked unconscious by the Austrian keeper, earning him the heroes nickname the 'Lion of Vienna'. He once described himself as a battering ram, and others, such as teammates and coaches, couldn't disagree usually showering the Englishman with praise whenever they spoke about him. Former teammate Tom Finney listed Nat's attributes as ‘speed, fearlessness, a hard shot in either foot, good heading ability, and a robust frame to stand up to all the physical stuff'.

Lofthouse plied his trade at Bolton for 14 years, between 1946 and 1960, scoring over 250 goals in the process. Idolised by Trotters fans everywhere, Lofthouse managed to score in every round of the FA Cup back in 1956 on their way to the final where they surrendered a 3-1 lead inside 50 minutes to hand England's most prestigious cup to Blackpool and Sir Stanley Matthews. However, their disappointment was short-lived when two years later they reached the final again, this time their opposition was the Manchester United side who had lost several players in the Munich Air Disaster which occurred in February of that year. Lofthouse bagged a brace as the Trotters picked up their fourth FA Cup and first piece of silverware in 31 years.

Lofthouse received many accolades in his time as a player, including footballer of the year in 1953. He officially retired from the game at just 33, partly due to an ankle injury, although continued to play until December of that year when he played his final game for Bolton against Birmingham City. Lofthouse stands seventh in the list of English football's top division goalscorers.

Tributes poured in for Bolton's record goalscorer when he sadly passed away earlier this year in January. Bolton chairman, Phil Gartside, led the praise for Lofthouse saying that "He was a one-club man and our football club meant as much to him as he did to us." Manchester United legend Bobby Charlton was also quick to praise Lofthouse's contribution to the game.

"The first time I saw a professional game was at Newcastle and Nat Lofthouse was playing," Charlton told BBC Radio 5 live's Sportsweek programme. "They were talking about him as this youngster that had just burst on to the scene and he was fantastic. "He was a leader, he had fantastic ability in the air and he was strong. He was a talisman. "I played about four of five games with him with England at the end of his career and I felt that he was the one that was in charge. "I know a lot of people in the game of football will be very, very sad today about Nat Lofthouse, who was a great player without any question.

 BBC Radio 5 live chief football correspondent capped off a remarkable tribute to the former England star when he said that Lofthouse was the "Alan Shearer of his day.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Window of Opportunity for Arsenal

It's been more than six years since Arsenal last won a trophy. Whether its been down to a desperate case of the  unlucky's, lack of desire or lack of commitment - nobody knows. What we do know is that Arsene Wenger has chosen nurturing talent ahead of competing for major trophies. We know what Wenger's trying to do and he's won many plaudits with his Barcelona-like approach to the game but there comes a time when you haven't won a trophy in over six years people start to doubt your ability to manage at the highest level. I know I have.

Since 2005, we've seen a steady decline to the Gunners' challenge for silverware and its mainly been down to the loss of several major players. Often, when a major player parts the club that they made the biggest contribution at, the result usually sets their fans into a state of frenzy. But on more than one occasion they - the club - seem to pull through. Just look at Marseille post Jean-Pierre Papin or Juventus post Zinedine Zidane par example. Incredibly, Marseille won the inaugural Champions League following Papin's departure and Juventus won successive Scudetto's when Zidane left. Although for Arsenal, when Viera, Pires and Henry parted terms with the Gunners, their one-time dynasty had come to an abrupt halt. It was a sad end to what was a team labelled the 'invincibles' back in 2003/04 but it was time to rebuild and reshuffle for coach Arsene Wenger. He had a difficult job on his hands. He was given the unearthly job of rebuilding - and somehow topping - a squad that had gone 49 league games unbeaten - a near impossible task for the Frenchman. He chose not necessarily to dive into transfer market head-first but to build his squad by terms of indulging in the youth team. 

Of course Wenger decided to dip into the transfer market, excuse the contradiction, - mostly reinforcing his front-line with players such as Eduardo, Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri -  but he had other ambitions of how his Gunners could pursue silverware. That season prior to the purchase of Samir Nasri, 2007/08, had seen Arsenal finish an agonising three points behind rivals United and if they could find an apt replacement for the great Henry we could've seen them go the extra mile and reclaim what was rightfully seen as theirs. Cue the arrival of the youthful Mexican Carlos Vela. Unfortunately for him, a work permit was rejected and he was left out in the cold.

That next season the Gunners finished 4th with a total of 72 points - 18 points behind winners Manchester United - and were an abysmal 11 points worse off than the previous season despite the recent acquisitions. Arsenal couldn't seem to get a break and although they held a Champions League place the fans weren't happy. Neither were the players. They shared the disappointment at not having won a piece of silverware on more than one occasion, most recently captain Cesc Fabregas voicing his frustration on just going out and winning trophies instead of nurturing young players. He said, back in February in an interview with Spanish magazine Don Balon: "You enjoy yourself, during a phase of the championship - like this year, for example, when we were still in four different competitions. And you say to yourself 'here I have everything!' But then that final point is missing and it's then when you have to make a decision: either go out and win or develop players."

This summer could be the summer that Arsenal reverse their misfortune. But they must keep the selling to a minimum - most notably Cesc Fabregas. The La Masia graduate is an integral part of the club and he's facing the daunting prospect of leaving Arsenal and joining home team Barcelona in a bid that could be in excess of £30 million. We've heard continuous appeals from Barca players on why Cesc should rejoin the Blaugranas. Fabregas isn't the only player that's essential to keep at the Emirates this summer. Playmaker Samir Nasri has attracted a vast amount of interest from clubs abroad including, and most notably, Manchester United. The French international is creeping towards the last year in his contract and if both parties can't agree a new contract by the time season 2011/12 rolls around, the Gunners could face losing him for next to nothing next summer.

When those two scenarios are done and dusted, Arsene will then make his move in the transfer window. The Gunners are in dire need of a partner to assist Robin Van Persie as well as a central defender to cover for anybody that may become injured / sold. Their targets are rumoured to be, in defence, Blackburn's Christopher Samba, who handed in a transfer request in January, and Bolton's very own Gary Cahill, who picked up his first England cap in last year's 4-0 win over fellow Europeans Belarus. Up front, there's been rumours flying all around the place and Gervinho has been in the thick of things these past few days. There was even talk of him in London for a medical last week. Unfortunately, the rumour never materialised and all hopes of signing of Ivorian were dashed after there were reports that Lille had apparently agreed a fee with Newcastle to sell him late last week.

Say they do sign Samba, Cahill and maybe an attacking player capable of lending a helping hand to RVP,what will their fans expect? Well, primarily, as I've already stated, Champions League qualification is a must an what follows could be unprecedented. A title challenge would be welcomed as would a decent cup run but what's wanted more than anything is the capture of a major piece of silverware and it could very well happen this season if Arsenal can collect a few signings and somehow forge their way past the big guns.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Will Brucey Be Able To Cope?

Last season, Steve Bruce's Sunderland finished a solid tenth with 47 points - their best finish to a Premier League campaign since 1999/2000. It was a squad that boasted the likes of Darren Bent, Jordan Henderson, Danny Welbeck and Kieren Richardson but this end-of-season transfer chaos has began to spell the end for this hard-labouring side.

First there was the mammoth signing of Darren Bent by Aston Villa back in January which saw the Black Cats receive a modest £24 million. Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn said at the time of selling Bent that "We are not going to replace someone like him perfectly in the next 10 days. We might find a bit of a solution, we'll see." They neglected to reinvest straight-away and they paid the price as their much hoped Europa League spot went a-begging as they picked up only 10 points in their final 14 games prompting an inquest from Quinn. The fans seemed to be aiming the misfortune at the departed Bent who left Tyneside after netting 11 goals up to January which had boosted the Black Cats' European qualification hopes. Bent then went on to score a further nine times for the Villains.

Bent had been the focal point of Sunderland prior to the season's eclipse and much attention was focused around him as he had scored 25 goals the previous season for the Tyneside club. His departure left a gaping gap to fill and the attention then shifted onto Gyan and Co as they were prepared to salvage what was left in their season. Cue a desperate run of results that saw Sunderland win only three out of their last fourteen league games and they slumped to tenth, a position they would have delightfully obliged to accept at the beginning of the season.

This summer has already seen yet another face leave Tyneside with the news that Jordan Henderson is set to join Liverpool, leaving yet another hole in Sunderland's team to fill. Yet another mammoth £20 million bid seemed to good to resist for Bruce's side as well as obtaining Liverpool's French U-21 international David Ngog as part of the proposed deal. Henderson, one of England's most sought-after youngsters, had been part of the Sunderland youth academy since he was seven and was being chased by big clubs such as United and Liverpool. Bruce has promised to reinvest the money from Henderson's fee into their transfer kitty for the summer as they look to fill the cracks that are currently occupied in the team. One such target includes Birmingham's Craig Gardener, who's looking for a move away from the Midlands after the Blues' relegation and he'd come quite cheap considering Birmingham's current dilemma as they prepare for life in the Championship.

As well as losing Bent and Henderson for next season, Bruce also looks set to lose John Mensah, Sulley Muntari and Nedum Onuoha, who are all due to return after their respective loan deals (and David Meyler to injury), but above all Danny Welbeck, who was a pivotal figure in the Black Cats' climb up the table in last season's campaign.

One suspects that unless Bruce prepares sufficiently for next season then he'll have some job on his hands keeping the Black Cats up and preparing for seasons to come.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Keane For A Move Away From Tottenham

Keane, centre, has fallen out of favour at White Hart Lane. Photo: Inpho
Robbie Keane has a dilemma on his hands. Having spent the latter part of the season in East London with West Ham, Keane now faces the daunting task of returning to Tottenham and forcing a way back into the Spurs set-up for the upcoming Premier League season.

Prior to his Winter loan move, Keane had begun in just a mere two games for his beloved Tottenham and made a further five substitute appearances as Harry was beginning to lose faith in the Irishman. He was left to warm the bench for those other games. One can only wonder where it all went wrong for poor old Robbie?

A few years ago, Robbie was a joy to watch in the Premier League. His best season, 2006/07, saw him net 22 goals in just 31 appearances for the Lilywhites. Now that's a return. Except, that was the best it was going to get for the Irish record holder. He played consistently and maintained his superb goalscoring form scoring 19 times in 41 appearances and the following season he could only manage 12 in 35, slowly deteriorating into what striker we're used to seeing this current day.

During that season where he only scored 12, he had swapped London for Merseyside, donning the famous red of Liverpool whom he said that he's been a fan of all his life, and he was looking forward to carving out a successful career for Liverpool. It took him 10 long matches - 706 minutes - of football before he finally opened his account for the Reds. He went on to score soon after vs Arsenal and a few more times but was left to rue a disappointing season when just six months later he returned to Tottenham, hoping to break the first team like he had done first time round.

He was once again resorted to warm the bench for the 2009/10 Premier League campaign and Celtic lured him to Parkhead in January as he spent the season from January in Scotland. It was there and then he forged a resurgence in form. The Irishman opened his account from the spot during Celtic's 4-2 away win at Kilmarnock and the 30-year-old struck gold as he then went on to score 16 goals in 17 SPL + Scottish Cup games for the Bhoys. It was a fantastic comeback in form from Robbie however, Celtic made a rash decision in choosing against the option of buying him as his loan came to an end, insisting he was "way out of their structure financially."

So he once again returned to Spurs hoping to reestablish a connection with Harry Redknapp but was again left frustrated as Redknapp reorganised his strikers pecking order with Keane last resort. It was harsh on Keane having proved himself just 6 months earlier but obviously Harry failed to see why Keane would merit a place in his first eleven.

Keane was shipped out to Blackpool in January 2011 having only started 2 of Tottenham's 20 League games and scored on his debut for the Hammers against the rapidly faltering Tangerines. He then received an injury blow and was out for several weeks before returning and scoring once more to cap off a miserable season for the Irish captain. He finished the 2010/11 campaign with one of his worst seasons in club football with a total of two goals scored in sixteen fixtures. 

So what's next for Robbie? Well, if his performances for Ireland are anything to go by he's still a quality striker. The Irish skipper has netted seven goals in his last ten appearances for Ireland. Maybe that'll be the form that sees him bounce clubs once more, with the rumour mill churning out that QPR are set to launch a bid for him after sealing a return to the Premier League having been absent for the better part of a decade.

Wherever Rob ends up come the Summer one hopes that he can rediscover that once majestical form and spearhead yet another triumphant goalscoring season, be it for QPR, West Ham or Tottenham.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Barcelona Overcome United To Win The Champions League

It was an inevitable result wasn't it? I, being a United fan, had stupidly chosen head over heart and as a result ended up sticking a bet on David Villa to score in the 90 minutes with Barca ending worthy winners. I felt dirty immediately afterwards but I maintained I was being 'realistic'. When I told my friend of the bet he was inquisitive to why I lodged a bet AGAINST my own team. That word 'realistic' came up again and he just shook his head in disappointment. It really was an act of greediness - agreed - but I felt that no matter how United performed Barca would prevail as the winners. And that's what happened.

When news broke late in the afternoon that Darren Fletcher was beginning the game on the bench for the Red Devils question marks flew around the world suggesting that Sir Alex would choose lacklustre midfielder Darron Gibson or would he lean towards Giggs and Carrick trying to stifle Barcelona's irreplaceable midfielders Xavi and Andres Iniesta. There was also questions over how Sir Alex would go about stopping Argentine wizard Lionel Messi who was intending on breaking his duck on never scoring on English soil last night.

When the teams were finally announced there was an instant shock from both camps as Barca captain Carlos Puyol had been left on the bench - due to not being fully fit - and Dimitar Berbatov had been excluded from the United match day squad, replaced by veteran Michael Owen. Darren Fletcher also began the game on the sidelines for United, as Fergie had opted for an original 4-4-2 formation with Rooney and Chicharito employed up front as they were given strict orders to heckle the Barca players from the off. Barcelona displayed their traditional 4-3-3 with the only change being Mascherano in centre-back in place of the half-injured Puyol.

The opening ten minutes were arguably the most interesting of the game as both teams were pressing vigorously, trying relentlessly to regain possession of the ball which would subsequently be relinquished of soon after from waves of high pressing up the field.

However, after this frivolous opening exchange the pressing game soon died down - well for United anyway - and Barcelona began to string passes after passes, continually forcing United into gifting possession away time and time again. The Catalans were rewarded for their persistence with a goal just shy of the half-hour mark. Xavi, as resilient as ever, strolled through midfield and found Pedro on the right who controlled the ball and hit the back of the net after his right-footed shot left Edwin Vader Sar rooted to the spot. United then responded emphatically with Wayne Rooney grabbing a much needed equaliser just seven minutes later. The Englishman picked up the ball on the right side of midfield, played a neat one-two with Ryan Giggs before swiping home past Victor Valdes to level the playing field.

The half ended one-a-piece with United the happier team going into the break as they know themselves that they were dominated in about every department by a Barcelona team on the verge of greatness. However, Sir Alex would have to deliver one of his most inspirational team talks to date if his United side would defy the Catalan side and claim their 48th piece of silverware of the Scot's reign.

Both sides came out to a rapturous reception from their respective fans and Barcelona continued where they left off, pressing United into near-death. As a result, it was Barca who retook the lead thanks to a magical Messi moment. The 23-year-old Argentine picked up the ball 35 yards out before prancing forward unchallenged and unleashing a dipping, curling shot that evaded Van Der Sar and broke Messi's duck of not scoring on English soil in over 900 minutes. The response was inevitable.

United failed to ignite in the second-half and were second best to everything they contested which resulted in another Barcelona goal, the goal that effectively ended the contest. Man of the match Messi danced expertly past Nani on the right-wing before dashing into the box where the ball found its way to David Villa on the edge of the box. He controlled it and wrapped his foot around the ball so perfectly that the ball found its way nestled into the top right-hand corner. 3-1, game over. It was a contest for about 70 odd minutes or so but Villa's goal helped Barca to their third Champions League final victory in five years and its fair to say that they are up there with the greatest clubs in the history of the game.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Revitilised Liverpool Ready To Start Challenging Again

January 8th, 2011. Roy Hodgson's just been given the boot by the Liverpool board after guiding them to within four points of relegation and is immediately replaced by Merseyside legend 'King' Kenny Dalglish. His first game is an almost impossible task away to Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup. Things don't go according to plan and a first-minute penalty was enough to see United through although they were somewhat helped by the harsh sending off of Liverpool skipper Steven Gerrard. Dalglish had only been in-charge for the best part of a day and somehow he managed to already better the job previously done by Hodgson. Not many fans knew this would signal the start of a revival from the Reds but with King Kenny at the helm anything is possible.

It took time for Dalglish to finally feel at home again at Liverpool but when those Reds hit form there were no stopping them. The results that followed that narrow defeat away to United was an unforeseen defeat at Anfield by relegation threatened Blackpool and then they were held at Goodison in a four-goal thriller. The next game against Wolves initialised the upward curve in Liverpool's season. They were magnificent, Fernando Torres specifically, as they cruised to a 0-3 win against Wolverhampton Wanderers. After that it was another win, this time facing off against Fulham. Then it was Stoke, the game to which Luis Suarez opened his Liverpool account and after that it was Chelsea who arrived to town, looking to catch United at the top. A Raul Meireles goal midway through the second-half decided the fixture and Liverpool were on a run of five wins in their last six. They were rapidly propelling up the Premier League table and in a matter of three or four matches they were back challenging for a place in Europe. It was very much down to the man of the moment Kenny Dalglish. The man who led the Merseyside club to an incredible seven league titles, as well as three European cups and five domestic cups. The King was back, but could he keep up the form that had been long overdue for the Reds?

The answer was yes and FSG rewarded him - as well as first-team coach Steve Clark - with a new three-year deal keeping him at the club until 2014. On the last day of the season Liverpool were facing stiff competition from European rivals Tottenham for that much coveted 5th place. Liverpool travelled to the Midlands to do battle with Aston Villa while Tottenham were at home entertaining relegation threatened Birmingham. Spurs began the day with a one-point lead over the Merseysiders and by the end of the day the Londoners retained their Europa spot with a hard-fought 2-1 win over relegated Birmingham.

So King Kenny's Liverpool failed to qualify for a European competition, so what? Dalglish took on a hell of a job when accepting the proposal and the initial aim was to get as far up the table as he could, and he did just what the doctor ordered. Giving first-team debut's to youth academy graduates such as young John Flanagan and Martin Kelly prove that Liverpool have more than enough to contend at the highest level even without influential skipper Steven Gerrard as he'd been out for long periods of the season.

 This revitalised Liverpool team look European worthy now thanks to Kenny's return and with a Summer of recruiting ahead of them, next season promises to be an exciting one, whether they contend for the Europa League, Champions League or the title.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Super-Injunctions Should Be Banned

Former Big Brother star Imogen Thomas has been barred from revealing the Premier League footballer she had an alleged affair with.

For a while now, people have been complaining about these 'super injunctions' granted to big TV personalities/footballers to protect their family man image in front of the public domain. Alas, last week when an anonymous citizen created a twitter account and allegedly tweeted several different stars who were given a super injunction, things got a little out of hand. Within hours the account had amassed tens of thousands of 'followers' and at the time of writing this, it holds more than 109,000 fans.

These 'super-injunctions' are a problem in this modern era. For those of you unaware of what a super-injunction is, it is a gagging order granted a judge that bars the media from exposing the details of the story as well as forbidding any mention of the story itself. Super injunctions have been in existence for years but yet they are only coming into the mainstream now.

The twitter user, which I cannot name for legal reasons, tweeted six times all within a 10-minute time frame about stories which had previously been prohibited from entering the public. John Terry is the biggest story to date who held a 'super-injunction' preventing the media publishing any details about his ex-teammates wife Vanessa Perroncel up to when it was decided that the injunction was dropped in late January 2010 as Terry had only sought to keep his sponsorships and kit deals instead of remaining as an iconic football family man.

I for one agree with the public that these super-injunctions should be brought into exile. Its showing favouritism to big stars in the sport and it once again arises the whole debate of how well known people are treated superiously to normal people. Big sports personalities have an image to protect and when they commit a cowardly act such as cheating on their wife with a mistress or something of the sorts, they have the chance of keeping that in the dark by means of this world renowned 'super-injunction'. Us 'less important citizens' are in danger of immediate circumstances if word gets out of our mistake as we don't have this privilege unless we fork out a load of dosh. Its only fair if we get the same chance as those footballers do or else all hell will break loose and the court system will implode quite stunningly.

Monday, May 16, 2011

5 Moments That Defined United's Season

They're champions. For the nineteenth times. And thoroughly deserved. I took a look over the big moments that took their toll on United's record breaking season:

Man Utd 3-2 LFC

Well you didn't expect me to leave this out, did you? It was an unexpected goalfest between the two rivals and even more unexpected was the dazzling hat trick from the Bulgarian Dimitar Berbatov which inevitably decided the game. In the weeks that had passed United had forfeited many a leads, including the two goal leads they held at both Goodison Park & Craven Cottage of which they squandered and when Steven Gerrard equalised late from the spot it seemed this match would be heading the same route had it not been for a late winner from Berba to steal all three points. Undeserved, maybe, but this was a sign of things to come that would the Liverpool's 18 title triumph come to an end.

Aston Villa 2-2 Man U

United's away form continued to spiral and at Villa Park, conceding twice to Stewie Downing and Gabby Agbonglahor, they had their first defeat of the season virtually staring them square in the face. United, however had other plans and were left to dig deep when youngster Federico Macheda and ruthless centre-back Nemanja Vidic both netted late on to salvage a well-earned point for the visitors. The Villains could've felt they'd been hard done by but then again, this was only the beginning of things to come from a hell of an eventful season for the Reds.

Blackpool 2-3 Man Utd

This game defined the definition of champions. Blackpool, like Aston Villa, had taken an early two goal advantage and went in to half-time seemingly cruising along. 70 minutes had been played and United still hadn't shown up when BAM, out of nowhere, Dimitar Berbatov pulled one back and reduced the deficit to just one goal. Blackpool's flaky defence then crumbled under the copious amounts of pressure United were applying and United scored twice in the final 15 minutes to claim a victory almost as significant as those famous Turin and Barcelona comebacks. It was a pivotal moment in the title race and one which inevitably extended their unbeaten record in the League to twenty eight ames.

West Ham 2-4 Man Utd

Again a comeback of similar proportions to that of Villa & Blackpool, we were inching ever closer to the business end of the season. It was the same ol' story for United as their awful away form made yet another appearance which handed the Hammers a much needed two-goal lead heading into the break. United were 13/2 at the beginning of the second half to stage a much needed comeback and at the time of their first goal they were priced at 18/1. A spectacular hattrick by the in-form Wayne Rooney paved the way for a United fightback and Javier Hernandez scored late-on to rub salts in the wounds for the poor Hammers. United had shown 'the stuff of champions' as they say, and there was no doubt that they would inevitably go on to win the league if they kept showing this kind of spirit when they went behind.

United 2 - 1 Chelsea

36 seconds was all that it took to break the deadlock in this title-deciding game. A delightful through ball from Ji-Sing Park released Javier Hernandez who kept his cool and slotted it past the hapless Cech as United began to run riot. Just twenty one minutes had elapsed when United doubled their lead through Nemanja Vidic when he headed home from a Ryan Giggs corner. Frank Lampard cut the lead into half when he scored from the spot midway through the second-half but it wasn't enough as United virtually secured the title for a record nineteenth time. Their home form went unrivalled among Europe as they dropped only two points - to West Brom - and claimed a monumentus 52 points from a possible 54 points on offer (assuming they beat Blackpool next week). Their away form was one of concern and having only taken 5 wins from an offer of 18 away fixtures, they depended heavily on their title rivals dropping points in order to obtain the coveted number nineteen title and in the process knocking Liverpool off their perch.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Chicharito The Revelation To United's Season's

As the old cliche goes, a picture says a thousand words.

When Javier Hernandez first descended upon Old Trafford last July after a successful World Cup with Mexico, not much was suspected of the young hitman. In fact, he was largely seen as just a back-up for Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney. But as the season progressed and Berbatov's form melted faster than a 99 in the blistering Summer heat, Sir Alex decided to give Mr Hernandez, his eager 21 year old, a taste of Premier League football and from that moment on he never looked back. Despite featuring mainly as a sub up to October, fans were already relishing the prospect of him partnering fellow hitman Wayne Rooney in a 'relationship made in heaven'. It took time for this relationship to blossom but when Sir Alex finally began to give Chicharito a run of games, he took chance after chance after chance. At one point, he even boasted 10 Premier League goals from just 14 shots on target.

February rolled around and after scoring consistently from cameos off the bench, Sir Alex decided to hand the Mexican a rare start in the match vs Wigan at the end of the month as a reward, and trust me it had been a long time coming. The resulting performance from the 'Little Pea' signalled the beginning of the end for Berbatov and his United career as Javier netted twice and grabbed a MOTM award as United ran out comfortable winners 4-0. Lord Ferg then decided in favour of Chicharito for their next game as they travelled to Stamford Bridge to lock horns with Chelsea. However, Hernandez was foiled by a resilient Chelsea defence and was subsequently chosen on the bench for the next game at Anfield. Berbatov moaned and slouched his way across the pitch throughout the game and so when Hernandez was introduced at half-time, it would've seemed that his positive influence would be able to breed new life into the United side continuing their awful run on the road this season. Hernandez went on to score in injury-time but the match itself ended 3-1. Hernandez was then regiven his first eleven place vs Arsenal next weekend, and again for United Champions League match vs Marseille at Old Trafford. Much to Berbatov's dismay, the Little Pea bagged a brace along with yet another MOTM award. 

Since the beginning of February, Berbatov has only managed a mere two goals. Only two bloody goals. Javier Hernandez on the other hand has mustered 9 in 17 games. The thing about Berbatov was that although he has scored 22 goals this season, a large portion of them came in games where he scored 5, 3, 3, and 2. So if you take them away we have a total of 9 goals scored in 35 appearances. That's averaging just under a goal every 4 games. He's dangerously inconsistent. So inconsistent there are already reports linking him elsewhere due to Hernandez's prolific record.

What Hernandez has done since arriving is nothing short of remarkable. Scoring 20 goals in your debut season is a tough enough assignment but for a team with the calibre of Manchester United? Wow. In fact, the last United player to score twenty goals in his debut season was none other than Ruud Van Nistelrooy himself. And what a revelation he turned out to be, eh? 

United fans can already smell the desperation that reeks from Berbatov's dressing room and unless he can pick up some consistency, he can call it quits on his United career. "Moan all you want, it wont change my mind" was a phrase my mum used to coin every now and again when I was a kid and I figure it fits the bill perfectly for the Bulgarian's scenario.