31 July 2012

The expat boys from Brazil

Brazilian midfielder Renan Bressan plays AGAINST Brazil - FOR BELARUS?!

On Sunday, Belarus took an 8th-minute lead against Brazil in the group stages of the men's Olympic Games football tournament. The goal was scored by Renan Bressan, who was born in Tubarao, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. (For the record, Brazil went on to win the match 3-1.)

Bressan is one of a number of Brazilian footballers playing international football for other countries. And with the issue of eligibility rearing its ugly head again because of the sheer number of ex-Chinese participants in the Olympic table tennis tournaments (like Han Xing playing for Congo - seriously?!), I've decided to look at some of the best - and worst - Brazilian players to pull on the colours of other national teams.

A native of Rio de Janeiro, Eduardo arrived in Croatia in 1999 and was first capped by them five years later. The striker has since reached a half-century of international caps, but a broken leg sustained while at Arsenal stunted his until then fast progress, and he is now at Shakhtar Donetsk.

Mr United Nations himself, Kuranyi was born in Rio to a German-Hungarian father and a mother from Panama, but won 52 caps for Germany, scoring 21 goals. He is now based in Russia, where he plays up front for Spartak Moscow.

PAULO RINK (Germany)
Before Kuranyi and the more recent Cacau, Curitiba-born Rink became a star centre-forward in Germany, for Bayer Leverkusen in the 1990's. In fact, he was so prolific that he won 13 international caps for the Mannschaft. Although he's still only 39, he retired from football some time ago.

In 1958, striker Mazzola played for Brazil as they won the FIFA World Cup in Sweden. Four years later, he was back at the World Cup in Chile - but playing under his birth name in the Azzurri shirts of Italy. His record of 5 goals in 6 games for Italy was slightly better than his Brazil record, which read 4 goals in 8.

Motta's a bit different from the other players on this list, because he did actually qualify for Italy through his family and did not need to be naturalised. Nevertheless, the midfielder featured in two matches for Brazil in 2003 before last year switching his allegiance to the Azzurri. He was part of their squad that reached the UEFA Euro 2012 Final.

Santos, or if you like, Alex, emerged in the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he played in midfield for co-hosts Japan. The former S-Pulse man, who was denied a work permit for a move to Charlton Athletic, went on to win 82 caps for his adopted nation, and is still active today for Nagoya Grampus.

ZINHA (Mexico)
Antonio Naelson is a modern legend at Mexican club Toluca, having featured over 400 times for them since 1999. The attacking midfielder first turned out for Mexico four years afterwards and, 55 caps into his international career, is still part of the squad at the age of 36.

Midfielder Guerreiro had spent just two years in Poland when he was fast-tracked Polish citizenship in 2008 by the then-president, the late Lech Kaczynski. The Sao Paulo Polack played at UEFA Euro 2008 and showed such loyalty to his new countrymen that he buggered off to Greece a year later.

DECO (Portugal)
Sao Paulo-born Deco arrived at Benfica in 1997, and was first given the Portuguese jersey in 2003 when he was at Porto. The brilliant midfielder went on to win the UEFA Champions League twice as well as 75 caps for the Portuguese before returning home to Brazil two years ago.

It will perhaps become a running joke in ten years time that Brazil will have two teams at the 2022 World Cup: Brazil, and Qatar. The 2022 hosts' class of 2012 includes centre-back Marcone and midfielder Fábio César Montezine, and striker Emerson was in the squad two years ago. There will be more in the future, as Qatar tend to favour foreign-born talent over locals.

Central midfielder Senna has spent a decade with Villarreal, and won 28 Spanish caps between 2006 and 2010. An excellent passer of the ball, he enjoyed a wonderful UEFA Euro 2008 but hardly featured for La Furia Roja afterwards. He looks set to stay at Villarreal despite their relegation from La Liga at the end of last season.

In 2003, Togo manager Antonio Dumas decided it would be a neat idea to bring in a number of his Brazilian compatriots, even though hardly any of them had set foot in the African country before! Players like Bill, Cris, Fabinho, Fábio, Hamilton and Mkimba played in a couple of matches alongside Emmanuel Adebayor, but all were swiftly discarded and forgotten about.

ZÉ LUIZ (Trinidad & Tobago)
José Luiz Seabra featured for T&T in a friendly against Azerbaijan in 2005, five years after the left-back signed for Trinidadian club W Connection. He won five more caps but could not play for them at the 2006 World Cup because he wasn't a full citizen. Not long afterwards, he returned to Brazil.

A brief two-year sojourn at Étoile Sahel, which ended in 2000, was enough for Tunisia chiefs to give Santos his first cap for the country - in 2004! The striker has since scored 22 caps in 40 goals, and 'Roadrunner' has since returned to Étoile, where he still bangs in the goals today aged 33.

The former Marco Aurelio became Mehmet in 2006 after five years in Turkey, and the Rio-born defensive midfielder went on to play in 37 international games, with a number of them coming at Euro 2008. The former Fenerbahce star now turns out for Beskitas, but his Crescent-Stars career is over.

With so many Brazilians plying their trade in Ukraine, it's surprising that midfielder Edmar is the only footballer to play in the Ukrainian shade of Selecao yellow. After becoming the vice-captain of Metalist Kharkiv, he won his first and only international cap to date against Sweden last year. Known as Edmar Halovskyi in Ukraine, he recently married a local girl.

Jewish midfielder Feilhaber spent the first six years of his life in Brazil before his family chased the American dream. He first played for Team USA in 2007, having previously turned down Austria. Perhaps best remembered for an unsuccessful spell at Derby County, things have improved for him since then, and at 27, he will surely add to his 39 US caps.

During his nine-year stay at Dong Tam Long An, goalkeeper Fábio dos Santos became Phan Van Santos, and pulled on Vietnamese colours twice during 2008. At 198 centimetres tall, he is a giant in a country where there aren't many, but surprisingly, he hasn't been selected since.

Vietnam veteran: Fábio dos Santos left Brazil for south-east Asia.

30 July 2012

McCammon: Gillingham GUILTY of racism

Mark McCammon has won a landmark racism case against former club Gillingham.

Gillingham have effectively been found guilty of racism after a tribunal made the landmark ruling that Mark McCammon's dismissal by the League Two club was unfair.

The 33-year-old striker took the Gills to court after he was sacked, allegedly for misconduct, last year. McCammon claimed that he and other black players at Priestfield were treated more harshly than white players at the club.

An employment tribunal in Kent agreed with McCammon, leaving the reputation of Gillingham Football Club severely damaged. It is incredible to think that, at a time where about a quarter of English-based footballers are black or mixed-race, racism still exists in British professional football.

Former Swindon Town and Millwall striker McCammon, who has also played internationally for his native Barbados, told the tribunal that Gillingham put him 'through hell' during his three-year stay at the club. One person who bore the brunt of his allegations was the Gills' controversial chairman Paul Scally.

He said that, while he was being treated for an injury, he was ordered to stay behind at the club for four hours longer than other players - on the strict instructions of Scally.

In autumn 2010, Gillingham refused to pay private medical bills - and incredibly offered him an operation on the NHS! Compare that treatment to a white player, who was flown to Dubai for the best possible treatment by a leading physio, and the club footed the bill.

That November came the catalyst for McCammon's dismissal. On the 30th of that month, Kent had been absolutely battered by torrential snow, but Mark - along with two other black players - was ordered to drive to the ground or risk being docked wages. Guess what? None of the white players were obliged to do so!

McCammon confronted the then-manager, Andy Hessenthaler, who reacted angrily to the forward's allegations that he had been "racially intolerant". The player added that he feared Hessenthaler would lash out at him. In defence, Scally accused McCammon of being physically and verbally agressive towards Hessenthaler.

Mark McCammon left Gillingham at the end of the 2010/2011 season. After departing Priestfield, he had brief spells at Braintree Town and Lincoln City.

The Gills were disappointed with the ruling that McCammon's sacking was unfair racial discrimination. Scally said that McCammon's claims were malicious and without foundation, and added that the club had not been accused of racism for 18 years.

Lord Herman Ouseley, who is the chairman of anti-racism group Kick It Out, said of the ruling: "It will inevitably have implications for all clubs about the way they treat people and do not discriminate against them on the grounds of race, colour, ethnicity or anything else."

McCammon may well be awarded thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of pounds in compensation. A large fee would seriously dent Gillingham's financial situation, but that wouldn't suffer as much damage as their reputation. They will surely now be charged by the FA or Football League, who might even have reason to take action against Scally and/or Hessenthaler.

McCammon's decision to stand up against the club that mistreated him will give encouragement to other players who have suffered similar treatment. He is the first high-profile professional footballer in England to win a case like this, but he won't be the last.

28 July 2012

Misconstrued Sun headlines #1

The Sun's best sports journalists get to work.

If you are British and have ever had the mispleasure of reading The Sun, you will probably concur with my opinion that its sports coverage is the worst in the country.

Yes, the Daily Star and the Daily Mirror are pretty awful, and The Guardian and Daily Mail have had something to answer for in recent years, but Rupert Murdoch's paper really takes the biscuit. Their articles are full of hyperbole and speculation, but what really takes the biscuit is their headlines, which are often horrific puns which could easily have been written by Gary Lineker.

Some of these can be misconstrued by non-experts and suggest a completely different news story. It is a selection of these, from The Sun's football homepage, which I will show you tonight, in the first of an occasional series where I expose The Sun as the Ali Dia of British newspapers.

What's the actual story? Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger loses his call as speculation about star striker Robin van Persie continues.
What does the headline SUGGEST? Arsene Wenger was left embarrassed when the vehicle he was travelling in during Arsenal's tour of China suddenly stopped - and he had to hitch a ride in (shiver) a Chinese car.

What's the actual story? Sao Paulo warn Manchester United that they must offer them more money if they want to sign Lucas Moura.
What does the headline SUGGEST? Sao Paulo warn Manchester United that they must offer LUCAS MOURA more money if they want to sign him. Big difference.

What's the actual story? Martin Jol's Fulham have a £2.5million bid for midfielder Peter Whittingham rejected by Cardiff City.
What does the headline SUGGEST? Martin Jol doesn't have a clue how to solve the ongoing crisis at Fulham.

What's the actual story? Birmingham City goalkeeper Jack Butland is named in the England & Wales Olympic squad.
What does the headline SUGGEST? Stuart Pearce has handed a surprise Team Merchandise call-up to the former Russia midfielder Vladimir But.

What's the actual story? Lukas Podolski has been given the number 10 shirt at Arsenal.
What does the headline SUGGEST? POD, the star of BBC Three's Snog Marry Avoid (if you ignore the gorgeous Ellie Taylor), is elected as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

What's the actual story? Andre Villas-Boas has criticised Giovani dos Santos for saying that he wants to leave Tottenham Hotspur.
What does the headline SUGGEST? Nothing really, but it's abundantly clear that whoever wrote this particular headline should be banned from Fleet Street FOR LIFE.

And my personal favourite from last season...

What's the actual story? Lionel Messi breaks the record for the most goals scored in a European top-flight season.
What does the headline SUGGEST? Lionel Messi FAILS to break the record for the most goals scored in a European top-flight season.

I'm afraid it's true, Lionel. You DID NOT break the European record.

25 July 2012

Time to euthanise Pompey?

Happier times: but John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood may soon be redundant.

When my family's first cat got very old and very ill, we took him to the vet, who put him to sleep. I say that, because it might soon be time to euthanise Portsmouth Football Club.

Pompey administrator Trevor Birch has said that the club will have no alternative but to close on 10 August if senior players don't agree to transfers or wage cuts.

Following the departure of Luke Varney to Leeds United, Portsmouth now have seven senior players on their books: Tal Ben Haim, Greg Halford, Erik Huseklepp, Dave Kitson, Nwankwo Kanu, Liam Lawrence and David Norris. One of them, Ben Haim, is earning the ridiculous sum of £36,000 per week - forget Premier League wages, this is UEFA Europa League wages! Considering that Birch's wage cap is £5,000 per week, you know just how far Pompey are up the creek.

But it gets worse. Kanu has lodged a claim for £3million in unpaid wages, and Ben Haim - who has become the de facto players' spokesman - says he has lost at least £2.5million, and criticised Birch, claiming that he earns "not less than what I earn". Disagreements between Ben Haim and Birch won't help the chances of an agreement being made between the two parties.

There are two takeover offers on the table at Fratton Park. The first is from former chairman Balram Chainrai's company Portpin, the second from the Pompey Supporters Trust. Both offers depend on the high earners being taken off the wage bill.

But here's the thing. Portsmouth have been failed by the "football creditors rule", which says that before a club can come out of administration, all so-called 'football creditors' (namely players, and clubs that are owed transfer fees) while other debts (with local businesses, charities, etc.) are settled for only a fraction of what is actually owed.

That's right. Millionaire players like Ben Haim and Kanu have to be paid ALL of their wages, while small businesses could end up being paid less than half of what they were due. As a consequence, those  businesses could also struggle financially and even go bankrupt. Unless the players agree to forego some or all of his unpaid wages, the job of rescuing Portsmouth will become exceedingly difficult.

There are three-and-a-half weeks to go until the new season, where Portsmouth - who as recently as 2008 won the FA Cup and reached the final again just two years ago - are due to play in League One. Before their home game against AFC Bournemouth on 18 August, they are scheduled to face Plymouth Argyle in Round 1 of the Capital One Cup four days earlier. Plymouth can sympathise with Pompey's plight, having been on the very cusp of liquidation this time last year.

Plymouth came out of the other end intact, but can Portsmouth? They are in administration for the second time in three seasons, and have had a succession of owners who spent ridiculous money on players, or in some cases did nothing to rectify things. The players themselves won't put their hearts before their wallets and write off their unpaid earnings. The situation looks so hopeless that there's more chance of a Nauru weightlifter winning the Olympic 100 metres final.

This is the point where the Football League can decide to put their foot down and bring an end to the circus, by kicking Pompey out for their own good - in other words, euthanising the cat.

This should be done soon, so that there will be time to undo the relegations of Wycombe Wanderers from League One, Hereford United from League Two, and Hayes & Yeading United from the Conference Premier. If Portsmouth go out on business on 10 August as the administrator has said, with only eight days until the new season, it won't be realistic to rejig the leagues, and League One will be left with a lopsided 23 teams.

Once they're out of the Football League, Birch can wind up the original Portsmouth FC, and the fans will be able to restart the club on a clean slate. Whether they're called Portsmouth AFC, or Portsmouth 1898, or anything else for that matter, they can start afresh in one of the lower levels of the football pyramid. Accrington Stanley, Aldershot Town and more recently AFC Wimbledon have gone down this route, so new Portsmouth will have plenty of examples to follow.

This article may be tough to swallow for Portsmouth fans, but frankly, there's not much point in prolonging the poor cat's suffering. Euthanasia looks like the best option.

24 July 2012

Olympic Games men's football preview

On the eve of the start of the Olympic Games men's tournament, which begins on Thursday, The Daily Transfer Request today looks at the 16 teams hoping to take home the gold medal:

Aaron Ramsey playing for England & Wales. TDTR likes to call a spade a spade.

Star players: Goalkeeper Jack Butland was a non-playing member of England's UEFA Euro 2012 squad, and Aaron Ramsey is the Wales captain.
Over-age players: Craig Bellamy, Ryan Giggs, Micah Richards.
Head coach: Stuart Pearce, better known as 'Psycho', coaches the England Under-21s.
Prediction: Don't rule out gold for Team Merchandise, but TDTR predicts a 4th-placed finish.

Star players: They are captained by Norway-based central defender Stéphane Badji and have Everton's Magaye Gueye up front.
Over-age players: Mohamed Diame, Papa Gueye, Dame N'Doye.
Head coach: Joseph Koto is also the caretaker of the senior team.
Prediction: Senegal are likely to be edged out at the group stage.

Star players: Former Lyon defender Hamdan Al Kamali skippers, while Ismail Matar was the best player at the 2003 World Youth Championship.
Over-age players: Ismail Al Hammadi, Ali Khasif, Ismail Matar.
Head coach: Former international midfielder Mahdi Ali has led the UAE to their first Olympics.
Prediction: Winning a point should be a realistic aim for the Emiratis.

Star players: Palermo's Abel Hernández is their next bright young striker, and attacking midfielder Nicolas Lodeiro will want to impress. 
Over-age players: Egidio Arevalo Rios, Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez. 
Head coach: 'El Maestro' Oscar Tabarez is one of the most experienced coaches at the Games. 
Prediction: A squad with plenty of experience should battle its way to a bronze medal.

Switzerland's Innocent Emeghara: so good, they named a smoothie after him.

Star players: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is prolific for Saint-Etienne, and look out for defender Muller Dinda, who is just 16 years old!
Over-age players: Bruno Ecuele Manga, Didier Ovono.
Head coach: Former senior team manager Claude Albert Mbourounot is the man in charge.
Prediction: Gabon have a promising future but will struggle here.

Star players: Tottenham Hotspur benchwarmer Giovani dos Santos is there, and Marco Fabián's record for Mexico Under-23s reads 13 goals in 12 games!
Over-age players: José de Jesús Corona, Oribe Peralta, Carlos Salcido.
Head coach: Mexico's senior assistant manager Luis Fernando Tena is the number 1 here.
Prediction: A Quarter Final finish but no better for the Mexican team.

Star players: Watch out for UK-based youngsters Ki Sung-Yueng in central midfield and Ji Dong-Won in attack.
Over-age players: Jung Sung-Ryong, Kim Chang-Soo, Park Chu-Young.
Head coach: You might remember Hong Myung-Bo's defensive heroics at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Prediction: They've got the potential to reach the knockout phase.

Star players: Striker Innocent Emeghara and right-midfielder Fabian Frei are among those with experience in the main national team.
Over-age players: Xavier Hochstrasser, Timm Klose, Diego Benaglio. 
Head coach: Pierluigi Tami coaches the Swiss Under-21s and is assistant for the senior team.
Prediction: I reckon the Swiss will win their group before being rolled over in the Quarters.

Brazil's Emeli Sandé lookalike Neymar could be the player of the Games.

Star players: Brazilian-born Renan Bressan is a naturalised Belarusian midfielder, and defender Dzyanis Palyakow recently joined him at BATE Borisov. 
Over-age players: Renan Bressan, Stanislaw Drahun, Sergei Kornilenko.
Head coach: Georgi Kondratiev has coached Belarus's seniors for less than a year.
Prediction: Europe's shock qualifiers won't find a way past Brazil and Egypt.

Star players: Two little-known Santos players called Ganso and Neymar will be coming to a major club near you very soon, you can be sure!
Over-age players: Hulk, Marcelo, Thiago Silva.
Head coach: Mano Menezes will be Brazil's coach at their home World Cup in 2014.
Prediction: This is the Selecao's next generation, and the boys in yellow can deliver gold.

Star players: Forward Mohamed Salah is a recent signing for FC Basel, but midfielder Hossam Hassan is no relation to Egypt's greatest ever player.
Over-age players: Mohamed Aboutrika, Ahmed Fathy, Emad Motaeb.
Head coach: A modern legend in Egyptian football, Hany Ramzy won over 100 caps in defence.
Prediction: TDTR tips Egypt to come second in the group before falling short at the last eight.

Star players: Chris Wood has the makings of a potential goal machine, while Jake Gleeson has great potential as a goalkeeper.
Over-age players: Michael McGlinchey, Ryan Nelsen, Shane Smeltz.
Head coach: Englishman Neil Emblen is fondly remembered by fans of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Walsall.
Prediction: The Kiwis could just eke out a 3rd-placed finish in the group.

Spain goalkeeper David de Gea is hungry for gold medals - and doughnuts.

Star players: Defender Johnny Leverón is the Honduran captain, and Andy Najar is a regular on the wing for DC United.
Over-age players: Jerry Bengtson, Roger Espinoza, Maynor Figueroa.
Head coach: Luis Suarez (obviously not THAT one) is a Colombian who has coached Honduras since last year.
Prediction: Honduras will come unstuck in a sticky group and finish last.

Star players: Japan have a number of players based in Germany (the land of Alphaville), including right-back Hiroki Sakai and midfielder Hiroshi Kiyotake. 
Over-age players: Yohei Tokunaga, Maya Yoshida.  
Head coach: Takashi Sekizuka used to manage Kawasaki Frontale in the J-League. 
Prediction: The group match with Morocco could determine whether they make the Quarters.

Star players: Dutch-born winger Zakaria Labyad is a precious talent, and striker Nordin Amrabat has literally just signed for Galatasaray in Turkey's Super Lig!
Over-age players: Nordin Amrabat, Houssine Kharja.
Head coach: They are managed by the experienced Pim Verbeek, formerly of Australia and South Korea.
Prediction: The Moroccans are possible dark horses, but I reckon they'll go out in the Quarter Finals.

Star players: Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea can improve his reputation here, and Chelsea will have an eye on captain César Azpilicueta.
Over-age players: Adrián López, Javi Martínez, Juan Mata.
Head coach: Former Barcelona AND Real Madrid midfielder Luis Milla is the chief.
Prediction: Be very afraid of the Spanish - they've got a gold medal in them, but TDTR tips Brazil to beat them to it!

22 July 2012

Are the Pozzos good for Watford?

TDTR has reservations about Watford's new owner Giampaolo Pozzo.

The way that Watford have started their new era under the ownership of Giampaolo Pozzo and his family is a cause for concern.

The Pozzos bought the club last month from Laurence Bassini. They already own Serie A side Udinese as well as the Spanish side Granada, who just about avoided relegation from La Liga last season.

One of the first decisions that the new owners did was to sack manager Sean Dyche. He isn't the most experienced of coaches, but the truth is that he did lead Watford to an impressive 11th-place finish in the Championship last season, which was three places higher than they managed in their last season under the much-lauded Malky Mackay.

His replacement was the Pozzos' Italian compatriot Gianfranco Zola, who had been out of football since his sacking as West Ham United manager a couple of years ago.

The new chiefs are obviously hoping he has the same impact as Paolo Di Canio has had at Swindon Town - by which I mean guiding them to promotion, and not turning them into a team of Johnny foreigners, but one suspects that the latter is just as likely to happen at Vicarage Road as the former.

Earlier this month, Zola brought in a number of trialists with a view to possibly signing them. They were Czech international Daniel Pudil, his compatriot striker Matej Vydra, and Swiss midfielder Almen Abdi. Pudil is contracted to Granada, Vydra and Abdi to Udinese.

It is quite clear that Udinese is the Pozzos' main club. Giampaolo bought them back in 1986 when they had come off the back of one of Italy's 483 football betting scandals, and over time transformed the Bianconeri into a major Serie A force. Earlier this week, they were given the nod to build a new stadium in Udine, and having made shedloads of money by selling players like Alexis Sanchez and Gokhan Inler, the club has a bright future ahead.

Now a question must be asked - are Watford going to be no better than a feeder team for Udinese? The owners quickly need to persuade fans otherwise, by showing that they care just as much for their new acquisiton as their main business.

The Hornets have also been linked with moves for former Italy strikers Filippo Inzaghi and Alessandro Del Piero, who will no doubt be looking forward to playing on wet Tuesday evenings against teams like Huddersfield Town and Bristol City.

Watford fans welcome new technical director Gianluca Nani.

If Hornets fans aren't particularly worried yet, they might be once they find out that their new technical director is Gianluca Nani. He was the legendary West Ham deal-broker who brought outstanding players like David Di Michele and Savio Nsereko to Upton Park. Shortly after assuming his role at West Ham, Nani helped to get rid of boss Alan Curbishley and replaced him with, yep, Gianfranco Zola.

Since starting work at Vicarage Road, Nani has sold goalkeeper Scott Loach to Ipswich Town and defender Adrian Mariappa to Reading. With his track record, expect Jan Lastuvka and Walter Lopez to replace them.

Another Championship club that was the subject of a foreign takeover was Nottingham Forest, who were purchased by the al-Hasawi family of Kuwait. I think things will run more smoothly for the al-Hasawis than the Pozzos.

The al-Hasawi brothers quickly demonstrated that they genuinely care about the club, and understand the legacy left by the late Nigel Doughty. After sacking manager Steve Cotterill, they resisted the urge to go for a star name and instead hired the excellent Sean O'Driscoll, whose sacking from Doncaster Rovers was in retrospect very harsh when you consider what happened next.

With the right signings, Forest are well-placed for promotion to the Premier League. But with regards to Watford, I'm not so sure about them.

Watford are no strangers to having high-profile owners and chairmen, including most famously the singer Elton John. If this experiment goes to pot, the Pozzos might find that, with the Hornets supporters, sorry seems to be the hardest word.

19 July 2012

A tribute to Ledley, King of Tottenham

Tottenham legend Ledley King retires after a 14-year career cut too short.

On one of the saddest days of Tottenham Hotspur's recent history, their one-club man and former captain Ledley King announced his retirement from playing.

The 31-year-old centre-back had battled on for several years despite a chronic knee injury, but after making 323 appearances in 14 years in the Spurs first-team, he has finally brought an end to his career. He will remain at White Hart Lane as a club ambassador.

King told the Tottenham website: "I have been here since I was a boy, I have always considered it my Club and have always found it hard to imagine wearing the shirt of another team.

“I know that being a one-club man is a rarity these days, but I have always enjoyed being part of the set-up here and the challenge of putting this Club up with the elite where it should be.

“I would like to say thank you to everyone at the club and to the fans. I have missed a lot of football over the years, but the Spurs fans have always been patient and incredibly supportive with me during difficult periods. Sadly my injuries and inability to train have now finally brought an end to my career.”

King will go down as one of Tottenham's greatest players, and also as a wonderful ambassador on and off the pitch. In terms of trophies, he was not quite as successful as Danny Blanchflower, Steve Perryman or Glenn Hoddle, but he was just as proud to pull on the colours of his home team.

It all began for the Stepney boy in May 1999, when the then 18-year-old Ledley made his first-team debut versus Liverpool. A year later, in December 2000, he made headlines by scoring the Premier League's quickest goal. His strike after 10 seconds against Bradford City has yet to be beaten in the competition.

His performances for Tottenham soon attracted the attention of England boss Sven Goran Eriksson, who handed him his first international cap against Italy in March 2002. He went on to play for the Three Lions 21 times, and featured at UEFA Euro 2004, although he flew home from Portugal before the fateful Quarter Final against the hosts after his partner went into labour. He also played in England's opening group game of the 2010 FIFA World Cup against the United States.

King was appointed as Tottenham captain in 2005, but in approximately the 2006/2007 season, his injury troubles began. A knee injury delayed his season, and a broken metatarsal meant that he missed more than half of Spurs' matches during the campaign.

As his knee continued to deteriorate, King's appearances for Spurs became more sporadic, although he did lift the only major trophy of his career in the 2008 League Cup Final against Chelsea. But eventually, the injury got so bad that he required his own exercise regime and couldn't play more than one game in a week.

A lesser man might have decided to call it a day there and then. It is testament to King's character and determination that he continued playing as long as he did. To defy doctors and maintain his playing career for four more years than expected, despite having no cartilage in his left knee, is unbelievable.

An imperious defender of great footballing intelligence, it is one of modern English football's great tragedies that he never reached his full potential. Many people are of the opinion that, but for his injuries, King would have captained England at the last couple of major tournaments instead of Steven Gerrard.

Ledley King the player leaves Tottenham at the right time. Spurs are in a transitional phase, and Andre Villas-Boas now has to pick a new captain. Fellow centre-back Michael Dawson is the favourite to get the nod, but maybe Villas-Boas will offer Luka Modric a little incentive to stay at White Hart Lane by making him skipper.

Ledley was a true Tottenham Hotspur, and he was well-respected even by supporters of rival teams, mainly because he is a genuinely likeable guy. John Terry and Rio Ferdinand keep making headlines for the wrong reasons, whereas King hardly ever appeared in the papers for non-footballing reasons. He was a man that you could definitely describe as class.

I for one wish him well in his new role at Tottenham.

17 July 2012

The best player in Europe is... LES DAVIES?!

Messi's on the left, Ronaldo's on the right, but WHO'S IN THE MIDDLE?

Who was the Best Player in Europe last season?

Most football fans will probably say Lionel Messi. A considerable number will vouch for Cristiano Ronaldo. Many people will plump for Andres Iniesta, with a reasonable percentage of votes going to Robin van Persie.

Now here's another question: How many football fans seriously believe that the best player in European football last season was Les Davies? And no, as far as I'm aware, he wasn't in The Kinks.

That's right, folks. According to the nominations for UEFA's Best Player in Europe award, a 27-year-old Welsh part-timer who makes safety equipment for a living has had a better season than Sami Khedira, Gareth Bale and Sergio Busquets.

Les Davies, nicknamed the Truck, has played for Bangor City since 2007, and last season, he scored 15 goals as Bangor finished 2nd in the Welsh Premier League. As a result, they qualified for the UEFA Europa League, where they were last week narrowly knocked out in Qualifying Round 1 by the European behemoths of Zimbru Chisinau.

'Big Les', or if you prefer 'Fat Les' (he weighs 17 stone), told Sky Sports News: "I'm flattered and honoured to be on such a list. I can't get my head round what's happened in the last few days.

"I don't think it is going to sink in for a long time. To be on the list with those people is unbelievable. Just to be nominated in the 32 is fantastic. I'll take that - I don't think I've got much of a chance to make the top three!"

It's good to see Les has kept his feet on the ground. There's more chance of Nessa Jenkins from Gavin & Stacey winning Britain & Ireland's Next Top Model than Davies being chosen ahead of Messi, Ronaldo, Iniesta, or even Jakub Blaszczykowski.

The shortlist for the award is decided by journalists from all 53 member countries of UEFA. There is one journalist per country, and each hack nominates five players for the award, with their first preference getting 5 points, second getting 4, and so on down to the fifth getting 1 point.

The reason why the shortlist ended up being skewered was the Welsh journalist, Dave Jones of the Welsh Daily Post. Jones attempted to justify his decision to give Davies his top score of 5 points, saying, "Les is an outstanding striker whose reputation has rocketed in the last couple of seasons. Every time he plays for Bangor City in Europe he makes life hell for all defenders."

But if Jones was going to risk the integrity of the Best Player in Europe shortlist, couldn't he have nominated another player from the WPL? Like Rhys Griffiths, who has been the league's top scorer for several years, or Kiwi Greg Draper, whose goals helped The New Saints lift the title? Both would still have been strange choices, but they are perhaps a smidging more deserving of a nomination.

Somehow I don't think Dave Jones will be invited by UEFA to nominate for their awards again. But there's always the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award - maybe he can persuade us to text in our votes for tennis player Evan Hoyt, or rugby union's Aled Brew.

Here are the 32 players that have been nominated for the award, with English Premier League players highlighted in red, and Welsh Premier League players highlighted in blue:
Sergio Aguero, Xabi Alonso, Mario Balotelli, Jakub Blaszczykowski, Gianluigi Buffon, Iker Casillas, Petr Cech, Fabio Coentrao, Les Davies, Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabregas, Radamel Falcao, Joe Hart, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andres Iniesta, Shinji Kagawa, Vincent Kompany, Frank Lampard, Lionel Messi, Luka Modric, Mesut Ozil, Pepe, Andrea Pirlo, Sergio Ramos, Raúl, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, David Silva, Fernando Torres, Yaya Touré, Robin van Persie, Xavi.

The awards ceremony takes place on 30 August. If Les Davies wins, then you'd better alert the Angry Birds about those flying pigs...

16 July 2012

The Spanish are (still) coming!

Teenage starlet Jesé Rodriguez lifts yet more silverware for Spain.

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water... Spain's latest batch of footballing sharks have told their rivals that they're gonna need bigger boats.

Spain have won the European Under-19 Championship for the sixth time in eleven years, and the second time in a row. A late goal from Real Madrid's Jesé Rodriguez gave the Spanish kids a 1-0 win over Greece in last night's Final in Tallinn, Estonia.

Jesé ended the tournament as top scorer with five goals - three of them came in a group game against Portugal. The 19-year-old Canary Islands native has received comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo, whom he replaced as a substitute to make his senior Real debut against Real Sociedad back in March. But if Real Madrid's recent record of developing youngsters is anything to go by, don't be too surprised if he gets carted off to Bolton Wanderers any time soon...

In all seriousness, though, Jesé is only one of a few Roja rookies destined for an exciting future in football. English football fans may recognise the names of Manchester City midfielder Denis Suarez and Liverpool forward Suso in the squad, while left-back Alejandro Grimaldo and forward Gerard Deulofeu have been touted as future Barcelona first-teamers for a while.

An equally prodigious member of the Spanish team is their captain (and yet another forward) Juanmi. Like Deulofeu, he was also in their 2011 Under-19 champion squad, and his record of five goals in 28 league games for Malaga is at the very least promising. I should also mention Valencia duo Paco Alcácer and Juan Bernat to complete an octet of Spanish teens to look and listen out for in the future.

This latest triumph got me thinking. What could Spain's starting line-up for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil look like as they aim to lift an incredible fourth major title on the trot?

GOALKEEPER: Iker Casillas
As is typical of Spain nowadays, they have a glut of world-class players in a position, yet there is no debate over who gets the starting place. Casillas has been rated as the world's best goalkeeper for some years now, and has joined the great Dino Zoff on the short list of successful international keeper-captains. José Reina is so unfortunate to be playing in Casillas' era, and David de Gea is in line to be the long-term replacement if he matures and gains more composure at Manchester United.

LEFT-BACK: Jordi Alba
The berth that in Spain's earlier triumphs was taken up by Joan Capdevila is now well and truly Alba's. Barcelona's new signing was effective in both attack and defence during UEFA Euro 2012, and will be 25 when he is expected to board that plane bound for Brazil. Alternative choices, should Alba not be available, include Athletic Bilbao youngster Jon Aurtenetxe and Vila Didac of AC Milan.

CENTRE-BACKS: Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos
Again, not much difference from the class of 2012, but with good reason. Pique has replaced the ageing Carles Puyol as Spain's defensive rock and will be 27 years old, which is the age where most defenders start to reach their peak. Ramos is just a year younger, and seems to have got even better since he got rid of his silly Hanson haircut. His team-mate Raul Albiol is a capable back-up, as will be Víctor Ruiz and Mikel San Jose.

RIGHT-BACK: César Azpilicueta
Some of you might be surprised and be thinking: "What? Shouldn't it be Alvaro Arbeloa?" Even though Azpilicueta has not played for Spain at senior level, and currently plays for Marseille in France's Ligue 1, I've picked him as a dark horse to make the squad - especially if he impresses for Chelsea, who are interested in the pacy youngster. If I'm wrong, the starting place will either stay with Real Madrid's Arbeloa, or even be shifted to Barcelona rising star Martin Montoya.

I'm going to assume that Spain will still be playing 4-3-3 in 2014, in which case Alonso will probably remain on the left of a very central-minded midfield. There are very few players, even including his Spain and Real Madrid team-mates, that can pass the ball better than Alonso, who'll be 32 in two years' time. But in case Nigel de Jong decides that he wants to finish him off, Vicente del Bosque can also call upon Santi Cazorla or Juan Mata.

Busquets' rise from an unknown in 2008 to anchorman in 2012 has certainly been rapid, and you can bet your bottom Euro that he'll still be a starter when Brazil 2014 arrives. At 26 years of age, the Barcelona defensive midfielder will be even stronger than he is right now. Waiting on the bench will be club team-mate Thiago Alcantara, the son of Brazilian World Cup winner Mazinho, and Athletic Bilbao duo Javi Martinez and Ander Herrera.

As successful as he has been for club and country during the last decade, Xavi will be 34 at the next World Cup, and his showings at Euro 2012 suggest that his best days are fading away. Navas is not as accurate a passer as Xavi (but who is?), although the winger's quick dribbling and his ability to get past defenders will make him an asset. Should he not make the grade, there's always the versatile Pedro Rodriguez to turn to, or maybe there'll be a swansong for the great man.

LEFT-WINGER: Andres Iniesta
Without doubt Spain's best player at Euro 2012, Iniesta can play anywhere in midfield, but excelled on the frontline. An exceptionally creative and precise passer of the ball, the former defensive midfielder has very few weaknesses and will be at the usual peak age of 30. Waiting on the wings is the sought-after Athletic Bilbao kid Iker Muniain - the so-called 'Spanish Messi' who recently won his first cap for La Furia Roja and will frighteningly be only 21.

Spain showed at the Euros that they aren't desperate for a centre-forward, but in Villa they have one of the most natural goalscorers in the game. A broken leg did for his chances of featuring at this summer's tournament, but when he recovers, we'll see how little (if any) of his deadliness in front of goal he has lost. With 82 caps and a national-record 51 goals to his name, it's hard to see him not featuring when Spain defend their world title. Then again, Cesc Fabregas didn't do too badly as a makeshift CF, and you simply cannot ignore Fernando Torres.

'Merlin' was magical last season with Manchester City, and also at Euro 2012, so just imagine what he'll be like as a 28-year-old in Brazil! Silva's ball skills and electric pace are just two of his many strengths, and in a couple of years' time, he could have established himself as the Premier League's best player in any position. As for his deputies, Isaac Cuenca is starting to emerge at the Nou Camp, and who knows what'll happen with the aforementioned Jesé Rodriguez?

If there are any players which I have forgotten (and Spain being Spain, there are sure to be many of them), please let me know.

14 July 2012

Call Palace's cheerleaders? Definitely!

Crystal Palace may have finished 17th in the Championship last season, but as far as their cheerleaders are concerned, they qualify for the Champions League.

The Crystals have given male Eagles fans reason to cheer with this video, in which the scantily-clad beauties (all 13 of them) lip-sync to the song "Call Me Maybe" by Canadian singer Carly Rae Jepsen.

The girls followed in the footsteps of Katy Perry, Miami Dolphins' cheerleaders, and everyone's least favourite Canuck Justin Bieber by going viral with their version of the original video.

This video is just a bit of fun to add joy to a pretty humourless week for football... but might it actually backfire? Most of Crystal Palace's players are young heterosexual lads, some of whom might not have partners, and those guys might well be distracted by the cheerleaders!

The troupe captain, Bronia Gosling, thinks that's not going to happen though. She told The Sun, "Everyone's got their own opinion, but I don't think we put the players off at all - we don't go anywhere near them.

"They're there to their job and we're there to do ours. They're professional, we're professional, and we're there simply there to entertain the crowd and give the atmosphere at Selhurst Park a boost."

Being single, I personally would like to ask any of the bevy of beauties to "Call Me Maybe".

Normal football service will resume shortly.

13 July 2012

John Terry cleared

John Terry is not guilty, his reputation is still intact.

Chelsea defender John Terry has been found not guilty of racially abusing Queens Park Rangers' Anton Ferdinand.

After a five-day trial at Westminster Magistrates' Court, Terry was cleared of a racially-aggravated public order offence over the incident, which took place during a Premier League match on 23 October.

Terry admitted describing Ferdinand as "black" and using extreme swear words, but insisted that he was sarcastically repeating a phrase that Ferdinand said that he had used against him.

Chief magistrate Howard Riddle said that Ferdinand was a credible witness, but added that the prosecution had not produced enough evidence that Terry had not told the truth. And in the end, if there's not enough evidence to prove him guilty, he can't be convicted.

The Crown Prosecution Service said: "The very serious allegation at the heart of this case was one of racial abuse. It was our view that this was not 'banter' on the football pitch and that the allegation should be judged by a court. The chief magistrate agreed that Mr Terry had a case to answer, but having heard all of the evidence he acquitted Mr Terry of a racially aggravated offence. That is justice being done and we respect the chief magistrate's decision."

What does this not guilty verdict mean for Terry's career? Well, it will have certainly done his reputation little harm compared to what it would've had he been convicted.

Chelsea were always going to welcome back their captain with open arms, guilty or not, and now there is no doubt over whether he should still wear the armband. But Terry will undoubtedly have been under more than a little stress because of this trial, and the Blues have reportedly allowed him to go on holiday with his family instead of joining the club's tour of the United States.

When this case first blew up, Terry's captaincy of the England national team came under scrutiny. In February, the FA took matters out of Fabio Capello's hands by stripping him of that honour - a decision that infuriated Capello so much that he resigned as manager. The Italian effectively said that Terry was innocent until proven guilty, and now that he's been proven innocent, should he get the armband back?

If so, it would be his third stint as England skipper. Back in 2010, he lost the armband over an extra-marital affair with Wayne Bridge's ex-girlfriend. My personal opinion is that Steven Gerrard should keep the England captaincy, largely because of his admirable performances at UEFA Euro 2012, although Terry was similarly impressive at that tournament.

Now that the law court has delivered its verdict, it's up to the FA to decide what they do next. There is somewhat of a precedent, as Liverpool's Luis Suarez received an eight-match ban for his slur aimed at Manchester United's Patrice Evra.

But of course, there are some differences between these two cases. Suarez used racially-aggrivated language, but in a naive way, and wasn't too aware about the consequences of what he said. Terry, on the other hand, knew exactly what he was saying, but Ferdinand's evidence wasn't as conclusive as Evra's.

John Terry is not a racist, but as the CPS said, his language towards Anton Ferdinand was not just 'banter'. It's hard to imagine that he will get off completely scot-free.

10 July 2012

Queens PARK Rangers have arrived

Park Ji-Sung's talkin' 'bout a QPR revolution.

Football is a game of two halves. One half is all that is needed to make or break a team.

The last 45 minutes of the 2011/12 Premier League season, on 13 May, were certainly make or break for Queens Park Rangers. At half-time, they were trailing 1-0 at title-chasing Manchester City, while Bolton Wanderers were defeating Stoke City. The only combination of results which could have relegated QPR was a defeat for them and a win for Bolton, and that was what was happening.

Shortly after the restart, Djibril Cisse pounced on a defensive error from Joleon Lescott to equalise. Then, Jamie Mackie stunned the home supporters at the City of Manchester Stadium by putting Rangers 2-1 up.

Of course, you know what happened next. But in that second half, QPR showed why there were a worthy addition to the Premier League, and even though they lost, an equaliser from Stoke meant that Mark Hughes's men deservedly stayed up.

If, at the Britannia Stadium, Jonathan Walters had missed his 77th-minute penalty, or if his earlier goal had been chalked off for a clear foul on Bolton keeper Adam Bogdan, QPR's brave effort against City wouldn't have been enough. They would have been back in the Championship, right here, right now. The QPR revolution that began with Flavio Briatore's takeover in 2007 would have crumbled, or at least gone back to the drawing board.

They would certainly not have even attracted the players that they have bought ahead of their second season back in the top flight. Players that, if they gel together quickly, can fulfil the ambitions of Rangers' new Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes.

Hughes wasted no time in bolstering his squad with a couple of players that he had coached at his previous clubs. Former Blackburn Rovers defender Ryan Nelsen is that strong centre-half that QPR have been crying out for, and if anyone can revive the career of ex-Fulham striker Andrew Johnson, it's Sparky.

Then came Robert Green, who remains one of England's best goalkeepers (although to be honest that isn't really saying much), and on-loan Manchester United full-back Fabio da Silva. But yesterday, Rangers made their most exciting signing yet - a player who, like Fabio, has graced Old Trafford for some time.

The signing of South Korea midfielder Park Ji-Sung from United for £2million could well turn out to be one of the bargains of the summer. In Park, the Hoops have a very versatile and intelligent footballer who is also exceptionally fit and hard-working. At 31, he's getting to the peak of his career, and his arrival at Loftus Road is a game-changer in more ways than one.

When Park first came to Britain in 2005 as Manchester United's new signing from PSV Eindhoven, there were some critics who thought he was only there to make up the squad and sell shirts in Asia. A record of 27 goals in 205 appearances during seven seasons with the Red Devils is evidence enough that the sceptics were totally wrong.

He is by far their most significant signing so far, but you can be darn sure he won't be their last. They have plenty of dead wood to shift, and once they've done that, don't be surprised if they make an even more earth-shattering signing before 31 August.

When QPR bosses like chairman Fernandes and vice-chairman Amit Bhatia say that Park's acquisition is "momentous" and "a statement" of the club's ambition, they are not just talking hyperbole. Queens Park Rangers have well and truly announced their arrival on the Premier League stage, and they are adamant that they will be here to stay.

8 July 2012

GW @ PNE: u r fired.

Preston manager Graham Westley texts his players

Preston North End manager Graham Westley sure has a lot of class.

Earlier this week, he effectively sacked eight of his players with a text message telling them to stay away from training! Among the players who have been given this 'e-45' are Paul Coutts, Iain Hume and Barry Nicholson.

Here is what must be the world's second-longest SMS (I'll tell you why later) in its full glory. If you're a stickler for good spelling and grammar, look away now.

Lads. U are one of 8 players that I expect to have left the club by the start of the season. Accordingly, as u hve previously been told, you will be joining a special training routine pre season and will not be included in the 1st team training at PNE. Your training begins on tuesday july 10, and not july 3. I will send more details nearer the time. You are free to meet prospective employers between now and then. Please inform me b4 u attend any meeting. Do not attend the club training ground please and do not go abroad. U may be required on the same day to attend a transfer meeting. Details for July 10 will be with you in due course. In the meantime, please keep following the pre pre season work u were given. GW

Whatever happened to one-to-ones and actual conversation? Even when John Sitton wasn't happy with a player, at least he told him to his face!

Westley's honesty and forthrightness is refreshing in an era when there are too many managers that are what he would probably call spineless softies. But this is not the first time that he has irked his players since his arrival in January.

Graham has a nice message for his captain

During his first week at the club, he sent Preston's players an even more long-winded text message - at 2:15am! Here it is:

A Manager's first week at a club is difficult for everybody. There is loads of apprehension,uncertainty and change. I promised honesty and I will always do my best to give that. Certainly,i will open my door 4 a chat abt anything on yr mind or if i hve sumthing u need to know. I will be constructive with u all; my job is to get u all playing to yr best level ever. This week,yr work has been on Team,Tactics,Technical,Personality,Character,Menta lity,Physicality. Hopefully,things that hve been done or said to u or others have helped u learn.Hopefully,u are starting to feel how i/we work.
Today there are 2 debutants and 2 more lads who weren't on field last saturday in the starting 11.
My sides are renowned for being strong,organised,physical/athletic. Thezy always are. Also,although nobody ever talks about it,my sides play intelligent,purposeful football,working the ball,dominating possession and crushing opponents. We win games mentally,technically,tactically,physically and thru strength 2gether. My aim is my next medal. My aim is my next win. My commitment is every ounce of sweat,brain and blood.
I am sure you are with me and I am truly looking forward to working with u all.
Let's get going. Sorry so late! Been tapping yr numbers into my phone!
Team 2moz will be Stucks::McLean,Morgan,Carlisle,McAllister::Mayor,C outts,Andy Proctor,Parry::Jervis,Jamie Proctor.
We will build on a solid defensive platform by working the ball fwd thru the thirds with purpose and positive intention. These went to carlisle and got hammered. Let's introduce the new PNE in style. Clean sheet. And pain for their net. 1pm in the Players lounge ready for action.

Wow. And what's more, that late-night team-talk worked so well that they got duffed 2-0 by Leyton Orient. Results continued to worsen, and in April, Westley accused four members of his playing staff of leaking team details to Sheffield Wednesday.

At the end of an average first season in League One, he sacked 14 Preston players. Eight more now appear to have gone, and another player - former England goalkeeper Richard Wright - has left after a week apparently due to 'homesickness'.

Westley did a wonderful job at Stevenage, taking them from non-league to League One, and building a team that is continuing to move forwards under new boss Gary Smith. But at North End, he already seems to have lost the dressing room. He is under pressure to deliver results in the early stages of this season, having won just three out of his first 21 games in charge.

The writing is surely already on the wall, and if Graham Westley is still manager of Preston North End by the end of this season, anyone who has bet on that outcome will become exceedingly rich.

And before I go for tonight, may I just mention that Preston North End's chairman is Peter Ridsdale? Brace yourselves, Lilywhites fans. The long road to League Two beckons.

5 July 2012

Premier League merry-go-round

Since the end of last season, there has been a managerial merry-go-round spinning around in the Premier League.

No fewer than six teams have changed their managers, while European champions Chelsea toyed with the idea of replacing theirs. Today, we look at all seven clubs and assess whether they've hired the next Arsene Wenger or the new Les Reed...

Outgoing manager: Alex McLeish
Incoming manager: Paul Lambert

Aston Villa should have known what they were letting themselves in for when they hired Alex McLeish, who took Birmingham City down into the Championship, at the start of last season.

You can make all the excuses you like in support of Big 'Eck - the sales of big-name players like Ashley Young, overreliance on youngsters, the absence of Stilian Petrov - but the truth is Villa should not have finished just two points above the relegation zone. McLeish was never popular at Villa Park, and his sacking came as no surprise.

Enter the man who propelled Norwich from League One to 12th in the Premier League, McLeish's fellow Scotsman, Paul Lambert. He is just the right man to take a team that was on course for the Championship back up the table.

The young coach was a breath of fresh air in the PL last season, fielding an attacking-minded Norwich side full of hungry British players plucked from the lower leagues. With a decent transfer kitty, he can do something similar to bolster Villa's thin squad. Defensive midfielder Karim El Ahmadi could be the first of several wise acquisitions made by Lambert.


Outgoing manager: Roberto Di Matteo (interim)
Incoming manager: Roberto Di Matteo (permanent)

After sacking your manager in March, his replacement gets your team back on track with an excellent run of form which culminates in the most unlikely victory in the UEFA Champions League Final. What do you do?

If you're Roman Abramovich, you sack him. Thankfully, Abramovich didn't, and Roberto Di Matteo was in fact given the Stamford Bridge reins on a full-time basis. After all, it would have been an appalling decision to dismiss a fans' favourite, and the first man in Chelsea's history to lead them to Europe's top prize.

Now, though, Red Rom has to KEEP HIM. If the going gets tough, don't tell Di Matteo to get gone. Don't tell him that he's just keeping the seat warm for Josep Guardiola. Chelsea need a stable manager to have sustained success, and the young Italian should be here for the long-term.

Chelsea don't look like Premier League title contenders yet, but Di Matteo can oversee a transitional period from the old guard of John Terry and Frank Lampard to the new breed of Marko Marin and Eden Hazard.


Outgoing manager: Kenny Dalglish
Incoming manager: Brendan Rodgers

As far as second comings are concerned, Kenny Dalglish's at Anfield was about as successful as Kevin Keegan's at Newcastle United and the movie Grease 2.

Dalglish spent vast amounts of money on players that weren't necessarily worth it, like the £35million striker Andy Carroll. An 8th place finish led Liverpool fans to conclude that King Kenny was not the messiah, but a very bad manager.

With their one-time Kop idol gone, some fans quickly set about criticising his replacement. Of course, Brendan Rodgers doesn't warrant that, having turned Swansea City into the PL's equivalent of Barcelona. In their first season back in England's top flight, the Swans came within one goal of finishing in the top half.

Ulsterman Rodgers is another forward-thinking young coach who, if given time by Liverpool's American owners, could become a shrewd investment. If he brings in the right players to fit his tiki-taka-esque philosophy, silverware might soon be on its way.


Outgoing manager: Paul Lambert
Incoming manager: Chris Hughton

After losing Paul Lambert to Aston Villa, Norwich needed a new manager who could achieve their next objective, namely establishing the Canaries in the Premier League.

Chris Hughton was very harshly sacked by Newcastle United in December 2010 and surprisingly replaced by Alan Pardew, although in retrospect, that was a gamble which paid dividends for the Magpies. Hughton resurfaced at Birmingham City, where he led a downbeat Blues side through choppy financial waters and into the Championship play-offs.

It was no surprise that the Premier League soon came calling, and less so that it was Norwich who wanted his services. Hughton comes across as one of the genuine nice guys in football management, and his man-management skills will be very useful at Norwich. I predict a very bright future for the boys in yellow.


Outgoing manager: Brendan Rodgers
Incoming manager: Michael Laudrup

On 16 May, Swansea lost their 'Swanselona' architect Brendan Rodgers to Liverpool. There was a great fear that if the Welsh wonders hired the wrong manager to replace him, it would undo all of Rodgers' hard work.

In the end, they plumped for Denmark legend Michael Laudrup. Surprisingly, this is Laudrup's first stint in British football, and up until now, he has had a managerial career that has been steady but not brilliant. His most successful spells were with Brondby and Getafe.

Laudrup is held in such high esteem in footballing circles that the Swans may be able to attract better players than they previously could, and his attractive playing style is very similar to Rodgers'. They might not enjoy as much success as they did last term, but it's also unlikely that Swansea will suffer from second season syndrome, which often ends in relegation.

Verdict: JURY'S OUT.

Outgoing manager: Harry Redknapp
Incoming manager: Andre Villas-Boas

6 February 2012 might go down as one of Harry Redknapp's better days, but it won't be too fondly remembered by Tottenham Hotspur supporters.

On that day, Fabio Capello resigned as England boss. Spurs were unlikely title contenders, but with Redknapp hotly tipped to replace Capello, their form plummeted and they ultimately missed out on UEFA Champions League qualification. It was very much lose-lose for 'Arry, who didn't get the England job, and then was sacked by Spurs with 12 months of his contract left to run.

It's hard to figure out why Tottenham should sack Redknapp immediately, instead of holding onto him for one more year and then approaching Guardiola. His replacement was 34-year-old Andre Villas-Boas, who crumbled so spectacularly when faced with managing Chelsea's old guard, who weren't much younger than him.

Villas-Boas can go on to become an outstanding manager in the future, but I feel that he would have been better served managing in somewhere like Serie A before returning to England. Inter Milan would have been a perfect fit for the Portuguese.

Tottenham's decision to appoint Villas-Boas is, at the very best, a risky one. Tottenham could genuinely win the Premier League one day with him at the helm, but I fear that he'll let his ego get the better of him again. That could drive Gareth Bale and Luka Modric away from White Hart Lane, and then you'd have a real recipe for disaster.

Verdict: BAD CHOICE?

Outgoing manager: Roy Hodgson
Incoming manager: Steve Clarke

Roy Hodgson is the main reason why West Bromwich Albion are on their way to becoming part of the Premier League furniture instead of footballing elevators, so when he took the England manager's job, the Baggies had a big hole to fill.

The man to fill it was managerial novice Steve Clarke, who as a coach has worked alongside a number of bosses, including Ruud Gullit, Jose Mourinho and Kenny Dalglish. He has learned his trade at several clubs, and he'll have his own plans for West Brom.

It's hard to tell whether Clarke's transition from a number 2 to a number 1 will be successful. One thing you can safely bet on is that Albion will be more sturdy in defence. The Scot is a former defender himself, and keeping things solid at the back will probably be quite high on his list of priorities.

Verdict: JURY'S OUT.

2 July 2012

UEFA Euro 2012 Team of the Tournament

My Euro 2012 Player of the Tournament is, er, Alan Rickman.
As UEFA Euro 2012 comes to an end, The Daily Transfer Request starts up with a look at the best players of this summer's European Championship.

TDTR has picked its team of the tournament, together with explanations, as well as dishing out a few other awards.

Casillas struggled in the first game against Italy, whose keeper Gianluigi Buffon could easily have been in this XI. But normal service soon resumed for the Real Madrid shotstopper, who made a number of great saves on his way to five clean sheets in a row. The Spain skipper has not conceded a goal in knockout international football for six years, and will be rightly regarded as the best goalkeeper of his generation.

Alba was the left-back-shaped final piece in the Spain jigsaw, and he showed why Barcelona are spending £11million on him. At just 23 years old, he came here as an international rookie, but his consistently brilliant performance belied his lack of experience. The energetic full-back was solid in defence and powerful on the attack, with the second goal in the Final being his crowning glory.

Hummels came into this tournament with a growing reputation at Borussia Dortmund but with relatively little international experience. Joachim Low's gamble on the 24-year-old paid off - his centre-back partnership with fellow youngster Holger Badstuber was solid, and Hummels made a number of crucial well-timed tackles. The Semi Final against Italy wasn't exactly a career highlight, but he was otherwise outstanding.

Pepe can be a very aggressive player, particularly when playing for Real Madrid, but he was once again the bedrock of Portugal's surprisingly sturdy defence. He got their campaign up and running with a goal against Denmark, and that was the start of an excellent tournament for him. Against Spain, he marshaled the back-line with aplomb, and after shutting the opposition out for 120 minutes was unlucky to lose a shoot-out in which he scored.

RIGHT-BACK: Theodor Gebre Selassie (CZECH REPUBLIC)
There were a number of full-backs that impressed at the Euros, but this previously little-known Czech stood out - and not just because of his ethnicity. Gebre Selassie showed he had the pace and stamina of Haile to get forward and create plenty of attacking chances for his team-mates. Perhaps an ambitious team from one of Europe's top four leagues should take a punt on the Sloven Liberec defender.

LEFT-WINGER: Cristiano Ronaldo (PORTUGAL)
We've waited so long for the Real Madrid man to stand up on the international stage - and he did this summer. Two woeful performances versus Germany and Denmark were followed up by a display of individual brilliance against Holland, scoring twice to get the Portuguese into the last eight. Ronaldo was by far the best player on the field against the Czechs, and with his silky skills, he showed why he can turn an average team into a very good one.

Despite the outcome of the Final, if one player had a stranglehold on this tournament, it would be Juventus's Andrea Pirlo. In the Quarter Final against England, Pirlo put on a display of passing that only Xavi can come close to, and he was instrumental in the Semi versus Germany. Other highlights from the undisputed player of the tournament were the free-kick he scored against Croatia, and of course, that 'Panenka' penalty over Joe Hart.

England's Steven Gerrard would have been in my XI had Iniesta not been so consistently excellent throughout Euro 2012. The Barcelona ace played arguably the best football of his career, as he oiled the Spanish tiki-taka machine and hit more than his fair share of defence-splitting passes. The diminutive midfielder, who scored Spain's 2010 FIFA World Cup-winning goal, played an even more significant role in this year's dream team.

The exciting young winger replicated his early Manchester City form in Spain's 4-0 demolitions of the Republic of Ireland and Italy. His pace left opposing defenders for dust, and with two well-crafted goals, he showed why the Spaniards don't really need a centre-forward from the onset. The Semi Final against Portugal was not his finest hours, but there are signs that Silva could become a massive football superstar in the next few years.

Bayern Munich's prolific striker Gomez used to wilt in big international tournaments, but this year was different. He bagged all three of Germany's goals in their opening two group games, and could surely have scored more - particularly if he played for more than ten minutes against Greece's shoddy defence. Now aged 26, he may well be hitting his peak form at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where the Mannschaft will be heavily fancied.

FORWARD: Mario Balotelli (ITALY)
For the most part, it was Super Mario rather than Bonkers Balotelli that came to the European Championship party. Things started poorly for Manchester City's enigmatic striker, but after his stunning overhead goal against Ireland, things clicked into gear for him. He went two better in the Semi Final as he knocked out Germany with a stunning brace, but sadly for the Marmite man, he couldn't quite win the Henri Delaunay Trophy or the Golden Boot.

WORST TEAM: Republic of Ireland
BEST GOAL: Andrea Pirlo (ITALY vs Croatia)
BEST MATCH: Portugal 3-2 Denmark

1 July 2012

Espana: numero uno.

Iker Casillas: "We've been here before, haven't we?"
Spain are the European champions for the third time after their astounding 4-0 win over Italy in the UEFA Euro 2012 Final.

Goals from David Silva, Jordi Alba, Fernando Torres and lastly Juan Mata gave the Spaniards a hat-trick of international trophies - an unprecedented achievement that puts them in the bracket of world football's greatest ever teams.

Much criticism has been directed at La Furia Roja's tiki-taka style of play, which was at its deadliest at UEFA Euro 2008 but this year has even been described as boring. Truth be told, Spain did not perform particularly well in four of their first five matches. But the very best teams get results without being outstanding. The greatest teams save their very best performances until the very last game.

Statistically, Spain were even better this year than at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where they ground out 1-0 wins in the knockout stages. Their goals scored to goals conceded tally for Euro 2012 was an impressive 12-1 in six matches (compared to 8-2 in seven matches at the 2010 Worlds).

The manner in which the Spanish despatched Italy in the Final is comparable only to Brazil's 1970 World Cup winners, who blitzed the Azzurri 4-1. This was a team playing out of its skin against another world-class side.

Vicente del Bosque took a risk by not fielding a natural centre-forward in the final, but the Spanish are so chock-full of attacking talent that they are the only team in the world that don't really need a striker. When del Bosque did bring on a striker, Torres scored the third goal and created the fourth. The Chelsea man showed great teamwork in snubbing the chance to win the Golden Boot outright by setting up club team-mate Mata instead. In the end, Torres did get the Golden Boot on a tie-break, and rightly so.

After the final whistle blew, there was a nice touch to the Spanish celebrations, as the players' kids came onto the pitch to join their dads' party. Another emotional moment saw a couple of the players wearing T-shirts in tribute to the late former Liverpool and Real Betis defender Miki Roqué, echoing memories of 2010 when they honoured the similarly tragic Dani Jarque.

At the start of the European Championship, many people (myself included) thought that Germany's exciting team would take the trophy and kick-start their dominance of the world game. But with two Euros and one World Cup under their belts, we have to admit that Spain are still top dogs.

Congratulations to del Bosque's men on a fine win, but now attention turns to Brazil, where in just 711 days time, the 2014 FIFA World Cup will get underway. If Spain could lift yet another trophy in Rio de Janeiro - the stomping ground of Pelé, Rivelino, Jairzinho et al - there would be no doubt that they are the greatest team EVER.


Italy's Mario Balotelli and Spain's Sergio Busquets will meet again tonight

Welcome to The Daily Transfer Request. And no, this isn't a blog about Carlos Tevez... but it is about football.

With less than three hours to go until the Final of UEFA Euro 2012 kicks off, we've decided to enter the fray in time for the new season. A new season that, believe it or not, begins in just four days time with the first qualifying rounds for the UEFA Europa League. Gosh, those footballers never get no rest, do they?

But what is The Daily Transfer Request, and who is this fat, 20-something Essex boy typing this on an Alienware laptop?

Firstly, let me introduce myself. My name is Christopher (or Chris for short), and I have been a massive football fan since the age of eight. I have wanted to be a football journalist since the age of 14, and that desire led to me creating this blog.

I should also immediately declare that I am a supporter of Arsenal (a love affair which began jointly because of their Double-winning team, and also the fact that my father follows them). Don't think for one minute, though, that they will receive any special treatment in this blog just because of that. When writing for TDTR, I consider myself to be a football fan first, a journalist second, and a Gooner last.

The Daily Transfer Request will deliver the big (and the not-so-big) football news stories when they happen. Because this is technically the off-season, things will start off a little slowly, but they'll pick up as the new Premier League season approaches.

TDTR will mostly focus on the Premier League, the Champions League, and international football, with the odd sojourn into lower league and European football.

There will also be plenty of my football-related opinions. Who's made the best transfer deals? Who should be in the England squad? Who in their right frame of mind would want to sign Joey Barton?

And, considering that there's plenty of comedy to be found in modern football if you look closely, I'll also have some humorous articles lined up for you.

There's plenty to look forward to here, and I hope you enjoy reading this blog as much as I do creating and writing for it.

P.S. I'm going for Spain to beat Italy 2-1, with Mario Balotelli EITHER scoring a goal or getting sent off.