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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Football, Money & Financial Fairplay : A Match in the Making..

Money, money, money must be funny in a rich man's world. Money, money, money must be sunny in a rich man's world. And these certainly have become the words of the present footballing scenario. Be it the Russian tycoon or the Qatari Sheik or the American businessman , the game is no longer safe in terms of a financial meltdown. The question is can money buy you a trophy? Certainly not. But money can certainly take you sliding down from where a team can only remain in memories.

The most recent team to be bought by a foreign investor who pumps in huge money is not Manchester City but  Malaga. An unknowingly quiet team bought by a Qatari, Sheikh Abdullah, has suddenly stepped up to sign big names like Ruud Van Nistleroy, Toulalan, Mathijsen, promising big wages and projecting an ambitious project. But unlike Sheikh Mansour at Manchester City, Sheik Abdullah has been careful and smart in the spending of his money. However at Manchester City Sheik Mansour has brought about a revolution,a philospohy which certainly involves buying the biggest of stars to build a team, to guide a project which if doesn't turn successful will push the club into grave misery. Is this buying a club and splashing money on new players and their wages so very dangerous? Certainly it is, if the going gets wrong.

The biggest example of the financial mess is none other than the "biggest" league, the English Premier League. The sunnier side of that apparently hopeless picture is that the English top flight made much more money from television and other commercial income than its rivals, €122m on average; the next wealthiest was the German Bundesliga, whose clubs made an average €79m. Yet despite that commercial advantage, the English clubs were hugely more reliant on borrowed money from banks and club owners than the 714 other clubs combined. English clubs contain on their balance sheets an estimated 56% of Europe-wide commercial debt which is a very worrying sign.According to a report across Europe in 2007-08, overall income rose 11%, but "the huge increase" in wages exceeded it, at 18%. In a bumper time for football, 47% of clubs across Europe lost money, with 22% reporting "significant losses" equivalent to more than a fifth of their income. A huge chunk of the money football clubs make is spent on ever-inflating players' wages which is totally absurd.

Now here comes to picture the 'UEFA Financial Fair Play'. Though I was personally against the concept which amounted to violation of personal spending, the meltdown at Portsmouth, which followed the standard Premier League practice of borrowing from an owner and banks to pay high wages for otherwise unaffordable players, seriously shook the credibility of the English league's model bringing out the harsh reality after some of thier beautiful years in the premier league, made me feel that the rule is for the good of the game. There might be pros and cons associated with it. However the overall good this program will bring forth will benefit the club, players and it's fans.

A look at the Financial Fair play suggests that clubs will be required to break even from 2012-13 , spend no more than the money they make, and not borrow, or have a rich owner putting money in, to scoop up losses and overspending. In the words of Uefa's general secretary, Gianni Infantino "The problem is that all clubs try to compete, a few of the biggest can afford it, but the vast majority cannot. They bid for players they cannot afford, then borrow or receive money from owners, but this is not sustainable because only a few can win." The argument that being financially supported by a single owner is not sustainable because it inflates players' wages generally, then if the backer runs out of money, the club is plunged instantly into crisis is a point which definitely is worth pondering and evaluating. The key thing is sustainability and the The idea of preventing what the likes of Dave Whelan [at Wigan], Jack Walker [Blackburn], Steve Gibson [Middlesbrough], Roman Abramovich [Chelsea] and Sheikh Mansour [Manchester City] have done to take their clubs on is not something UEFA will be looking forward to.

Overall, though, the English Premier League is a great deal quieter about this than it would probably have been two or three years ago, when, with revenues booming, the risks of clubs relying on borrowing or owners had not been messily exposed by Portsmouth and West Ham. UEFA has moved impressively, from initial statements of concern by Platini, who talked of clubs borrowing to buy success as "financial doping" to a workable, practical proposal aimed at helping Europe's clubs live within their prodigious means. By opposing that, and arguing that clubs should still be allowed to be bought and pumped up by owners, the Premier League is swimming against a tide of logic.

Allegations that the Financial fair play is to stifle the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea are totally unwarranted. The mess at Portsmouth and West Ham are enough evidence that going round the globe to bridge the gap between the top teams will eventually pull you down. Manchester City's £400million, 10-year sponsorship arrangement with Etihad Airways including stadium naming is to be investigated to see if financial fair play rules have been contravened which will certainly seem dictatorial but over a period of time it will be considered a wise move. However It might be said that if clubs have to live within their income, the rich clubs will surely dominate, but that is a separate argument, for  - how to make the sport more competitive again. At present, the rich clubs dominate anyway; the top four clubs in each league make on average four times the money of every other club in their league. Attempting to bridge that gap the English way, by relying on a "benefactor" to put money in, now requires just two words to point out its flaws: Fratton Park.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


Such has been the wealth of riches at Eastlands since Sheik Mansour took over that when Gary Cook was having a lunch with his friend almost an year ago he had the audacity to list down the big name targets on a tissue paper. Those were the targets that would catapult City among the elite, a list which consisted of several top notch players, A list that even created envious glances from the red half of Manchester. City did not have the pulling power of the Champions League then, although the seduction of money would have been hard to resist for the players but the chance of playing in the holy grail of club completion was beyond City’s reach at that time. Some of the targets that Cook had in his mind then were signed and some they got away with.
Times have changed now, City are in the Champions League this season and will be among the direct entrants when the draw takes place in late August for the group stages. They have the might of signing any player in the world right now. The targets that they have been pursuing are strikingly brilliant, they had the ability to blow Barcelona out of the water over the Sanchez deal but ultimately it was the player’s desire to play for the Blaugrana that proved to be their undoing. Atletico Madrid’s Kun Aguero is City bound so has been Samir Nasri [although I do not see that transfer materializing]. A world class left back backup in Gael Clichy has been signed. Dzeko will be in his first full season with the club with a proper pre-season behind him. You could well decide now whether he has been an expensive flop or the hype is really worth it.
The Tevez saga has been really dragging on for an eternity. For all the ability that Carlitos has, it appeared that he had been holding the club to ransom at many times last season, the sheer disrespect he had for Mancini might have been another destabilizing factor and further undermined the manager’s authority over his players, something that others took cue from, you all know who I am talking about, The two Bs, Boating and Balotelli. One has been sold to Bayern and the other is too audacious albeit brilliant talent to do away with. He has that ability to go from the sublime to the utterly awful within seconds that it makes you wonder whether he really is worth the baggage that he comes with.
The defence has been unchanged this season with no one of any importance departing. It will be much more stronger than it was last season, Hart in goal with Kompany, Lescott, the ever so improving buccaneering right back Micah Richards, the returning Kolo Toure, Kolarov and the flying Clichy would provide a lot of stability. De Jong one of the unsung heroes of last season and the emergence of Yaya Toure in the central role in an attacking position will certainly give Mancini a lot of options.
It all comes down to the manager at the end of the day and whether he decides to go with a team of three defensive albeit solid midfielders by taking a serieA approach or be a bit more cavalier by using the wealth of attacking options at his disposal to convert those crucial drab home draws he had last season into strong wins. The pragmatism of the side and their solid organization will hold them in good stead come the Champions League. Make no mistake City will surely be a force to be reckoned with next season. They are already well versed with the financial fair play regulations too; the 400mn pound Etihad deal is a testimony to that. A deal that has sent shock waves across the top hierarchy of Europe. Wenger has been criticizing the deal and their crazy spending but this did not stop him from accepting the inflated transfer fees for his not so good players every one of the last two seasons. Bayern Munich were grumbling about it too but have gone silent since the completion of the Boateng deal.
All those people talking that City will not be in the mix or could self destruct are fooling themselves. Remember that this team has been playing together for over a year now. There have been no wholesale changes unlike last term and there has been the same manager as last season and with Carlitos departing it could give the manager some badly needed control over the players in the quest to win a league title in England. The Blue Moon has already risen whether it will be able to fight off the Red Devilry or get eclipsed by it will be something that we would all be looking out for.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


Name the fans who are the eternal optimists? Who love supporting their club, the ones who travel the entire length of England to see their team get thrashed sometimes and yet will flock their stadium every single game and create a hostile atmosphere for every single visiting team. The only answer that you can come up with are the Geordie fans. These magpie lovers are the eternal optimists, one of the most passionate bunch of supporters you will ever manage to find in the sporting world. They worship their club Newcastle United and don't you dare mention anything about a certain team that plays in a red and white from wearside.

Its been a quite a ride for the magpies in the premiership after their return from the championship last season, finishing comfortably in mid-table, dominating teams at their St.James Park fortress and boasting of a home record second only to Manchester United. If only life could have been rosier off the pitch as well.....but life is never dull at tyneside. To start with the club boasts of an owner who surely wont be winning any popularity contests. Then there is the manager merry go round that keeps happening so often that there are times when you wonder how many managers does the team go through every season, And just for the record Newcastle United went through no lesser than 5 managers in their last 2 seasons in the Premier League. Mike Ashley who first showed hesitancy in updating the contract of the magnificent Hughton who had won them the Championship unbeaten at the first attempt and then appointing Alan Pardew, who at that point was jobless caused an uproar at tyneside last December. The geordie fans were outraged when the fan favorite Hughton was sacked and since this was not the first in a list of a no.of scandalous decisions that Ashley has taken since he bought the club, there were mass protests. Ashley's head was been called for, there was a dressing room unrest. And along came Pardew and brought with himself a sense of calmness and discipline and a stern determination to win over the geordie fans and it took him no time to win over them. Steely performances, hard earned grit and resilience at home made them very difficult to beat, none of Liverpool, Manchester United , Chelsea or Arsenal could beat them at home. The game against Arsenal when they came back from 4-o down to draw 4-4 will go down in geordie folklore, It was one of the greatest comebacks in modern day premiership history. Add to that an unbeaten record against rivals Sunderland, 35mn pounds of cash from Andy Carroll sale and the summer looked really sunny in the transfer market at tyneside last May.

Since then there have been some very big decisions that have been made regarding players and clearly there has been an emphasis on youth. Sale of crowd favorite and club captain Kevin Nolan has created a mixed response from the fans, after all he was their top scorer last season. Possible departures of Assist in chief Joey Barton, dynamic left back Jose Enrique look imminent. To top it all there have been no signs that the 35mn pound cash windfall of Carroll sale will be spent on players. While Sylvaine Marveaux was a free agent, Demba Ba signing was from the cash the club received for staying in the premier league. The voices coming out from the club insisting that the Carroll sale money will not be invested on players has hardly improved spirit of the fans.

Pardew wants to stamp his image on the team and wants to build a dynamic young side. Winger Sylvaine Marveaux joins his French counterpart, the fit again Hatem Ben Arfa. You have a fit again Dan Gosling who can play anywhere in the midfield or also as a full back, A very promising young juggernaut in Cheik Tiote, A reborn Jonas Gutierrez whose flagging career was revitalized by Pardew in the second half of last season and surely a blueprint of the team that the manager wants starts coming into picture. Defensive reinforcements are needed and they are reportedly set to go head to head with Sunderland for the signing of departing Manchester United defenders Jon O'Shea and Wes Brown.

There is a new Newcastle United team that is being built by Pardew, how well he does in his first full season at tyneside will be very crucial. He very well knows that this could well be his very last chance of managing at the top level as he continues his search for the next player fit enough to wear that legendary no.9 shirt.

Fabregas, Nasri, Ashley Cole - a list of footballers seeing which no gooner would dare say that Wenger knows best. But don't be surprised either if Fabregas or Nasri realise that the grass is not always greener on the other side. Hope they still have a certain former Barcelona B team player Alexander Hleb's number with them.
I am still trying to explain to myself why has Wenger been reluctant to shell out a few extra pounds in wages to Samir Nasri to convince him that he is at the right club and at the right moment in his career.
Can anyone please bring back the Santos president from the dream world that he currently lives in. 40mn+ euros for a player who until recently had not played in one competitive game for his country is appalling to say the least. I have run out of adjectives on that one.

Fantasy Formations: Brasil

There has been so much talk of the shortcomings of Brasil, or Brazil which ever suits better, after their first Copa America match against Venezuela. Being a blogger, my views on this matter are nothing different. However, it's always a pleasure to chalk out formation boards for the Selecao as the resources, in the form of players, are always rich in this country.

After the failings of Kaka in Dunga's 2010 World Cup squad, Paulo Henrique 'Ganso' was given the privilege, or burden, of the N0.10. This is never an easy job, when you wear the famous yellow jersey. Many were left disappointed by the trequarista's performance in the first match. Valid, considering how immobile Ganso was. Already consisting a front three of Neymar, Pato and Robinho (in the order from left to right), it was unnecessary for Ganso to be found in much advanced positions more often. Not only did he struggle to find space, it also created a huge gap between the defensive midfield and attack. This made Ramires cover lot of ground but with more Venezuelan midfielders to deal with. One has to wonder why Ganso was not dropping deep enough. Like how he plays for Santos, this would have made him seek the ball more often and, importantly, enabling him to create space to spray passes around. At 21 years of age, he still has a long way to improve but passing the judgement on him after just one big match would be highly unfair.

Another factor i noticed in that game was the lack of creativity in the central midfield. Hernanes would have nicely fitted the bill. Even though he plays as a trequarista for Lazio, he was known as the deep lying playmaker of the 'Pirlo-mould' during his days at Sao Paulo. On the first board is my view of Brasilian starting eleven in a more compact 4-3-1-2. Yes, no Neymar in the starting eleven as in my opinion, he would be much more effective in a substitute role for game-changing situations. Real Madrid left back Marcelo was omitted by Mano Menezes but has found a way in my eleven for his more offensive approach! Another reason for choosing Marcelo is that it would get the best out of Pato as he can drift wider, similar to how he plays for Milan. Even a super sub Neymar can interchange mouth watering one-two passes with Marcelo (much more skilled than Andre Santos).

This tactical board illustrates the passing movements and postion of players in possession of the ball. The yellow dotted line shows the probable player movements, yellow line marking the passes and the white line representing the crosses. This is the formation where Hernanes comes handy, a midfielder who can shift the balance of play from left to right at ease. If Ganso drops deeper, Brasil can dominate more in the midfield with possession and create chances with patient buildup. Well, it might not go according to the plan but I've a Plan B too!

If Ganso becomes less effective, Brasil can play a trequarista-less formation with 4-3-3. Neymar can start on the left, Hulk on the right of front line with Pato; a much improved Lucas, Hernanes and Elano in midfield. This formation can yield a fine balance between the wings and center. Pato is also capable of playing as a false9.

I still find the criticism on Dunga's team unfair. His was a compact and defensively solid side, unlike their rivals Argentina at the World Cup. True, he might have selected some out-of-form players and left the in-form players at home, but his style was more 'European' and if Kaka had a half decent World Cup, things would have been very different. But then, you expect someone who was crowned 'World Player of the Year' just a few years ago, to deliver it on the big stage. Not convinced yet? Ronaldo in '02 World Cup!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Andrés Villas Boas to Succeed in The Quest for the Holy Grail ?

Chelsea was like an army without it's king post the sacking of Ancelloti, and this added to the worries of it's people(say fans). The anxiety had started to increase as several names began doing the rounds and when it seemed the old war horse Guus Hiddink would relinquish his post as Turkey's national manager to lead Chelsea back to glory, in steps Abramovich with his magic wand..Kaboom.. And Chelsea get a new manager in Andrés Villas Boas. (I like Abramovich's magic. He always keeps you flabbergasted. You never know who comes and who goes.)

A young manager in Andrés Villas Boas might just be the tonic Chelsea need at the moment. After having the tried and tested men at the Bridge, Abramovich certainly has surprised everyone by choosing the underdog to lead a team desperate to claim the Holy Grail. Jose Mourinho delivered it with 2 teams and Carlo Ancelloti has secured it twice. But at Chelsea everyone has stumbled and fell right on their face while chasing the coveted dream. Will AVB be another of Roman's victim's or will he make Stamford Bridge all of his own? Let's see.

Old AV of 2005 & New Villa-Boas of 2011
Andrés Villas Boas or AVB or Villas Boas as he is refered to is no stranger to the Bridge or the players who currently are at the Bridge previously having played under Jose Mourinho. His transition from being Robson's protege to Mourinho's spy is something worth mentioning. Under Mourinho his role as an opposition scout was praised as his in depth analysis, detailed dossiers and a collection of DVD's on the opposition helped Jose and the players a great deal. AVB starting his career all the way down in the organizational chart and reaching a stage where he has the whole team looking upto him is something which will connect him very well with the team including the backroom staff.

Since his appointment as Chelsea manager everyone has an astonishing look on their face with a question on their lips. Is this the next 'Mourinho'? This is something everyone needs to understand and avoid. AVB has built his own stature and reputation and trying to compare his achievements with the 'The Special One' is disrespect to both the men. When you never hear someone say that Mourinho can do a Fergie or maybe comparison's between Ancelloti and Capello being carried out, then why do fans put needless pressure on a man who has his own inviduality. Saying this I would like to point out that he could go on to be one of the best in the job. Starting so early, so young, certainly gives you an advantage over others.

AVB certainly hasn't had a game on the sidelines at the Bridge yet but surely is making his impact felt off the pitch after he cancelled Chelsea's friendly with Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem citing reasons that the training woudn't be good enough for the senior players to get in shape. Such serious commitment to training might certainly be of help to the squad on match day. He is also in the process of shaping his backroom staff  having released the assistant first-team coach Paul Clement, the fitness coach Glen Driscoll and the club doctor Bryan English . For a guy who started his career working a lot of time behind the scenes, he surely knows how important it is for him to get his support staff right. One shouldn't doubt him and Abramovich would like AVB's no nonsense attitude which is why he would have been bought in the first place in addition to his impressive managerial display at Porto.

A lot of players still hanging around have been there from the time AVB was in the role of opposition scout. And without a doubt many have reached a age from where the performance on the pitch is only gonna get slow and weary. It will take a huge task for AVB to not only rebuild the team for season 2012 but also the long term future. Roman will be ever ready to splurge money for new players but AVB might realize that in the benefit of the club it would be right to promote the club's youngsters, some of whom have moved on to other clubs for lack of opputunities at Chelsea. It's time to start preparing for the 'UEFA Financial Fair Play' which dictates that you spend only how much you earn. And if additional money is used to buy new players Chelsea might be in a spot of bother when the rule is implemented.

Chelsea's present
 AVB has always been a follower of 4-3-3 and if he decides to go with the available squad then for sure he will have the 4-3-3 in place as Chelsea have always been comfortable playing in this formation. The kind of manager AVB is he will give Cole and Ivanovic full freedom to attack down the flanks which Cole especially has always been wanting and something which he likes. Essien as a holding midfielder has always been crucial in moving the ball to attack while also defending when the ball gets in his half. The midfield isn't a problem but the attacking 3 is always a confusion. Preferred Sturridge and Malouda to support the player in a striking position, a role on the pitch which is certainly gonna give AVB a big headache as his predecessor. Drogba was always better off playing with Anelka as a striker out of position. With Torres included it's tough to have both of them on the field as Torres likes someone to play him the ball whereas Drogba is an all in out striker which surely is a tough ask on him.
Chelsea's hopeful future
On the new players front Chelsea haven't signed anyone yet, but they would do good on buying Aguero, Moutinho and Thiago Alcantara. 3 young guys are surely going to increase the pace and agility of a Chelsea squad which has most of it's players on the upper side of 30. These 3 choices are made considering the present squad in mind. An overhaul of the entire squad is impossible and highly inadvisable. They will fit into the current system which is why I have selected the 3 to be the men Chelsea want. Aguero is a perfect fit considering he can play as a striker who can support Torres. He can play the ball on his own , attack deep into the opposition's defence and also provide to the hungry striker lurking close to goal. Both of them having played together at Atletico Madrid can only help matters to get better. However with him appearing to be closing in on Juve, Chelsea have to perform a trick to bring him to Stamford Bridge. AVB's preference for Falcao might also not support this cause. Moutinho might be a surprising choice for many of you but surely he is an apt choice. He isn't a youngster but has bloomed into a central midfielder who can play in any midfield position, including the flanks and as an attacking or holding midfielder .Perfect to Chelsea because of the fact that at Chelsea there isn't a real midfield tactician. His box-to-box dynamism is impressive and he could be a wonderful midfielder at the Bridge. Thiago Alcantara needs no introduction after his freekick in the final of the U21Euro 2011 sealed Spain's win. A look at the free kick and surely you would want this kid to be on your side. Currently at Barca this lad plays in a CM position. Chelsea needs someone who can make the CM position his own. And Thiago matches what Chelsea is looking out for. With Chelsea's freekick specialist Lampard and Drogba , both no younger than 33 Thiago could fit into that role as well. At 19 he could be the youngster Chelsea have been missing. An increase in his buyout clause from ₤30million to ₤90million could be AVB's reason to forgo the young lad.

In bringing AVB to Stamford Bridge Roman Abramovich has made a gamble, but a calculated gamble. A man who had the education of a Bobby Robson, has learnt things from Jose Mourinho is definitely a good man to be at the helm of Chelsea. Is this a 3-4 year programme against the one where he has to win something in the 1st year is something we don't know yet. Will AVB manage to impress the Chelsea fans and the owner? It's a tough ask, a tough challenge, something the Chelsea faithful wish and hope he can live upto.