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.