Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Addressing the Balance

Arguably, the English Premier League is best league in the world. It’s an incredibly competitive league where the quality is great throughout and the game is played with a great tempo and physicality.

But, there has been something of a moral panic in England in the past few years. There has been a consistent worry about the number of English players playing for the elite clubs in England. To many observers of the game, there is simply not enough English players representing the top four clubs.

The common hypothesis is that as the Premier League has got wealthier the number of English players in the league has rapidly declined. Perhaps it’s agreeable that domestic football has become more international. But the question is, how does England fare to other nations such as Italy and Spain in terms of the number of nationals of the particular country representing their top four clubs?

The FA have tried to minimise the issue. This season, the Premier League has implemented the home grown rule. The rule demands that each team must enlist at least eight ‘homegrown players’ in their official squad list. But homegrown players can include foreign players who have been lived in England since their early teens. So some argue, the homegrown rule is perhaps flawed.

For the analysis, there has been a comparison between the number of nationals used by England in contrast to the number of nationals used by Spain and Italy. This will put a measure to the degree of England’s concern with the number of English players representing the top four.

The teams chosen for the analysis are the English, Spanish and Italian top four of 2009/10 season. This therefore means the teams analysed are the clubs who originally participated in the Champions League this season.

The statistics are based on players who have made appearances for the teams in any of the four competitions (National Cup, League, Europe, League Cup) during the 2011/11 season.


Team No. of players No. ENG players % of ENG players No. of players representing in Europe No. of ENG players representing in Europe % of ENG players representing in Europe
Chelsea 30 8 26% 25 7 28%
Man United 28 9 32% 26 8 32%
Arsenal 31 6 19% 25 5 20%
Tottenham 32 13 40% 23 6 26%
Total 121 36 29% 99 26 26%

One could argue it’s alarming that only one team in England’s top four has a double figure representation of English players. Tottenham clearly have a higher representation of English players compared to the other teams in the top four. In comparison to their North London rivals Arsenal, there is a gulf in difference. Only six players have been of English origin for Arsenal this season. To many, this is an incredibly disturbing statistic.

However, the Champions of England, Manchester United, had the highest domestic bias out of all the top four teams in Europe. So it could be viewed as good that United made it to the Champions League Final this season as they had the highest representation of English players.


Team No. of players No. ESP players % of ESP players No. of players representing in Europe No. of ESP players representing in Europe % of ESP players represnting in Euroope
Barcelona 32 21 65% 26 15 57%
R. Madrid 33 17 51% 26 11 42%
Valencia 28 15 53% 26 14 53%
Sevilla 28 12 42% 26 11 42%
Total 121 65 53% 104 51 49%

There is a frightening difference between England and Spain. All the Spanish teams in the top four were in double figures in regards to the number of Spanish players used. Even Sevilla, the team with the lowest domestic bias, still has a far greater figure than any of the English top four. This demonstrates how poorly English players are being represented in the elite positions of the Premier League.

Furthermore, for Barcelona, Valencia and Real Madrid, more than 50% of the players who appeared for them this season were Spanish. With the English teams analysed, there was not a single team who had anywhere near 50% of their players being English.

Barcelona deserves special praise. They have dominated Europe and Spain with a sensational domestic bias. Real Madrid’s domestic bias is 51% while Barcelona’s domestic bias is 65%. This demonstrates the wide gap between the rivals.


Team No. of players No. ITA players % of ITA players No. of players representing in Europe No. of ITA players representing in Europe % of ITA players represnting in Euroope
Inter 30 7 23% 29 8 27%
Roma 28 12 40% 26 10 38%
Milan 32 16 50% 23 11 47%
Sampdoria 29 18 62% 29 18 62%
Total 116 50 43% 107 47 43%

Even when comparing the domestic bias in Italy, England is severely lagging behind. 50% of the players used for the Serie A champions Milan were Italian, while only a mere 32% of Manchester United players, for example, were English.

The likes of Roma, Milan and Sampdoria have a higher or very similar domestic bias to Tottenham (the team with highest domestic bias for the English teams analysed) This vividly proves not only in Spain but even in Italy, the top English teams are not representing English players as much as the other nations are representing their nationals.

But perhaps, Sampdoria are evidence that too many nationals can be an issue. In the 2009/10 season, Sampdoria finished 4th. While in the following season, they finished 17th and were relegated. This season they had a 62% domestic bias. One could argue that Sampdoria are proof you need a balance between the amount of nationals and foreign players.

Out of all the Spanish and Italian teams analysed, one team had a domestic bias which is even worse than some Premier League clubs - Inter Milan only fielded seven Italian players this season. Only Arsenal had a poorer domestic bias. Furthermore, when Inter won the Champions League in 2010, there was not a single Italian player in their starting eleven for the final. Perhaps this is a worry for Italian football. It could suggest that Italian footballers are becoming over-looked. However arch rivals, Milan are proof that this is not the case. After all, they were highly successful this season and they used 16 Italian players.

The statistics prove two things. Firstly, that English players are not given a sufficient chance on the largest club football stage. While in contrast, it could also suggest that English players are not good enough to play at the top of club football. Perhaps one would have to agree with this as if the English players were good enough to play on the top level, they would play. The simple fact there are only a handful of English players representing England’s top teams clearly indicates that a majority of the English players are simply not good enough and there are better players from different nationalities.

Perhaps the dearth of English players at the higher end of the Premier League I could provide an explanation to why English players are viciously over priced. In past few years the asking price for English players has risen beyond belief. The prices could be inflated due to the fact there are not many English players at the elite clubs. Therefore meaning that English players who are credible for the elite clubs are often rare, thus explaining their inflated price. Furthermore, one could even argue the new home –grown rule in Europe and in the Premier League has further inflated the price of English players. It is depressing but the nationality of a player can often inflate the price.

However, more has to be done to improve English players. After all, managers pick the players on terms of their ability. If an English player is good enough, he will play in the team. It is simple as that. But a majority of the time, English players are falling short at the higher end of club football. English clubs need to further invest in their academy’s and look to develop the players technical levels. The clubs need to take more of an interest and a more active role on the grass roots level. The English kids of tomorrow need to be instilled with a structured philosophy of how the game should be played and why it should be played in such a way. This will develop the youngsters understanding and reading of the game.

The stats prove England are lagging behind their rivals, and they have reacted far too slowly to the problem. In England’s top four, there is almost certainly one Spanish or Italian player per team. Yet in Italy and Spain there aren’t any English players in their top four sides.

The English clubs need to take a far more proactive role in their attempts to make the English players more suited for the elite clubs in England. But sadly, as the stats prove, the Spanish and Italian players are streaks ahead of the English players at this moment of time.

This piece was first published on Back Page Football

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Sunday, 26 June 2011

Why Norwich city will face the most danger next season

There is a saying that growing up too quickly, can be one’s downfall. The same notion is often carried forward in business. If a business grows too quickly, it can often lead to the business having extreme growing pains, leading to the company collapsing.

Perhaps, this idea of growing is also true in football.

No one can deny that Norwich City have had a fantastic season. The feat of back to back promotions is a sensational achievement. Only last season the team were in League 1, and not to mention that next season, the club will find themselves in the promised land of the Premier League.

However, the club is in real danger next season.

There are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, the Premier League is a very different beast to the Championship. This is probably stating the obvious. But the Premier League has far more quality players and the pace of the league is electrifying. But of course, all the teams promoted will struggle next season. This is almost inevitable.

Although Norwich have proved they are a decent side, the Premier League could be a step too far for the club at this time. This is due to a variety of reasons. Building a team that can sustain its Premier League status takes years. You need players who are of Premier League quality; along with this you need players who have Premier League experience. This is vital, as it enables a mixture between quality and experience. Norwich at this period do not have this balance. However, there are some very decent players at Norwich, such as Grant Holt who is a great asset to the club.

Furthermore, Norwich’s incredible growth rate could effect the club’s development strategy. After all, even the most positive Norwich city fans would hardly believe the team would gain a back-to-back promotion. The club’s new Premier League status could have changed the priorities and abrupted certain strategies of the club. It could potentially make the club spend money which in fact they may not have. Thus having a severe long term effect on the club.

Alternatively, the club could buy players on impulse thus failing to scout the players sufficiently. This is a possible scenario, as the club may feel they need to buy players quickly to facilitate their Premier League mission. This in itself could deflate their chances in the Premier League, as they may buy players who are not suitable for the club.

The club’s mentality will have to change very quickly too. The team’s expectations and performances will have to rise dramatically. Certain players may not be prepared or able to rise to the demands.

However, what’s positive is that Norwich are willing to spend. It is crucial they buy players who will help them stay in the Premier League. But at the same time, the club needs to spend within their means. The club cannot afford to disrupt their long term future.

In the past few years, the teams who have unexpectedly been promoted, they are often the same teams who find themselves being prone to be relegated quickly. The likes of Blackpool and Derby come to mind.

The positive aspect for Norwich city is that the team are working incredibly hard to maintain their key assets. Not only this, the club are also looking to invest in the team.

But, the Canaries incredible, yet quick growth could be a stuttering factor for the football club in the Premier League.

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Friday, 24 June 2011

Six things Andre Villas-Boas must do at Chelsea – in roughly chronological order.

  1. Break the association with Mourinho

Even The Special One, with all of his pomp and arrogance, was referred to as “The Translator” when things didn’t go to plan. Mourinho’s stint at Barcelona was variously described as anything from Bobby Robson’s translator, to assistant manager. The fact that Villas-Boas was Mourinho’s assistant at Porto, Chelsea and Inter. It will weigh heavy on people’s minds, and Villas-Boas will need to mark his boundaries quickly. Many of Mourinho’s signings remain at Stamford Bridge, and others that were favourites of his. Players such as Drogba, Terry, Lampard, and Kalou will remember him from Mourinho days, and he will either have to immediately command their respect, or else there will be a problem with player power. Mourinho combated player power by ensuring that no ego was bigger than his own. His “Special One” press conference is rightly legendary. Villas-Boas has already sought to distance himself and differentiate himself from Mourinho. He achieved this by opting for a far lower-key initial press statement of “don’t expect something from one man”. Unfortunately, that is exactly why Abramovich has paid £13.3 million to buy out his contract at Porto. Abramovic expects Villas-Boas to deliver. The national press is already full of comparison pieces about Villas-Boas and Mourinho. The comparisons even go down to the way that both managers foster close relationships with their players.

  1. Find replacements for Terry, Lampard and Drogba

John Terry is only 30, but he is showing signs of creakiness already. He was never one to rely on pace, admittedly. But when the little pace he has goes, he needs to be moved on. Most central defenders would be hitting their peak at his age, but John Terry seems to be past his.

However, more to the point, he’s a disruptive influence in the dressing room. Having publically stated that he would welcome the appointment of Guus Hiddink, Terry has let it known that Villas-Boas was not his first choice.

Drogba is also one of the most outspoken players in the dressing room. His powers have waned over the last two seasons, he’s no longer the force he was on the pitch. At 33, he’s in the twilight of his career, and may want to return to the French League for a swansong of sorts. One player already linked with Chelsea is Columbian 25 year old Radamel Falcao, who has scored 73 goals in 85 appearances for Porto in the last two seasons – including a record 18 in 15 in the Europa League.

Lampard is another who’s powers are on the wane. Replacing Lampard is less of a political issue than it is in the case of Drogba and Terry. Frank Lampard undoubtedly has a huge influence on the dressing room, but is also known to be a highly intelligent professional. Lampard in his prime never missed a game, and could guarantee 20 goals a season. His replacement is more of a tactical renewal, with another of Villas-Boas’ Porto stars Moutinho touted as his successor. The Portuguese midfielder is more versatile than Lampard. He also shares with Frank Lampard an apparent imperviousness to injury.

Villas-Boas will no doubt wish to bring players in, and will be backed in the transfer market by Roman Abramovich. My guess is that he’ll look to replace the aging spine of the team, and with that he’ll ensure that the biggest voices in the dressing room are his men, not Mourinho’s. He needs to get his buys during the summer, so that they can gel with the existing players.

  1. Hit the ground running

Managing a top side in the Premier League is not an easy thing to do. Managing Chelsea in particular is turning into somewhat of a poisoned chalice. Just ask World Cup winning manager Big Phil Scolari, he was ousted before completing a season. With a billionaire owner who appears to be becoming increasingly restless and ruthless, and has proven that he’s prepared to fork out the money required to get rid of people before their contract runs down.

  1. Win over the media

Sorry to mention him again, but Mourinho is the man with whom the parallels are being drawn. The media’s obsession with Villas-Boas being a “Mini-Mourinho” will not satisfy itself until he proves otherwise, or implodes under pressure. Mourinho had the press pack hanging off his every word and Villas-Boas will do well to avoid trying to be him. And he seems to be doing this already. An interview with Chelsea TV quotes him as saying “Don’t expect something from one man”, and he comes across as very quietly self-confident. But, pressure in England is far higher than in Portugal. The scrutiny of the media has often proved too much for some managers of big clubs, some are merely perplexed by it all.

Villas- Boas is young, good looking, stylish and intelligent – I hope for his sake that he’s given some time to establish himself.

  1. Entertain

Porto’s unbeaten league campaign of 2010/11 produced 73 goals from 30 games. They conceded only 16, giving them a goal difference 27 higher than second placed Benfica. This is where Villas-Boas can really show his form, and step out from Mourinho’s shadow. His favoured formation at Porto was an attacking 4-3-3, and the players are there at Chelsea to be able to play any formation the manager asks them to – they certainly get paid enough to anyway! Villas-Boas will want to play the game his way, and that should make for exciting times at Chelsea. Villas-boas is famed for his meticulous approach to the game. Nothing is left to chance, and he develops game plans to exploit the opposition’s weaknesses.

  1. Win everything

That means everything.

With an aging squad, a club might be expected to go through a transitional period of a season and a half, before the manager brings in enough of his own players and staff to get things running the way he wants.

However, this is not the case with Chelsea.

Abramovich will want to see returns this season. Some of Villas-Boas predecessors have been fired for not winning silverware in a season. Avram Grant was sacked for almost delivering. A League Cup final defeat by Tottenham, a Champions League Final defeat in the most agonising of circumstances, and a second place in the league wasn’t good enough.

Abramovich has only given the Villas-Boas a three year contract, so I’d expect that he’d want to see the Premier League title back at Chelsea within the first two years, along with the Champions League that has so far evaded him.

There is absolutely no doubt, Roman Abramovich cares about reputations. He’s brought the most hotly tipped managerial talent to Chelsea. But as he’s proven time and time again, he’s got no qualms about destroying reputations if he doesn’t get what he wants – and that’s a success in Europe.

This piece was written by Thomas Nash, you can follow him on Twitter - @MrThomasNash

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Thursday, 23 June 2011

The Premier League Free Transfer’s XI

The transfer window’s official opening edges closer. There are a number of great free transfers who have been told, ‘thanks but no thanks’ by their former employers. However, it seems that this year that there are many good players being released from Premier League clubs. Perhaps this emphasises the ever growing quality within the Premier League. But, here at The Football Front, we have made a dream team squad consisting only of released Premier League players!

GOALKEEPER – Marcus Hahnemann (Released from Wolves) – The old American goalkeeper has been pretty decent for Wolves in the past two seasons. He has come into the side and has made some telling contributions. He is a goalkeeper who knows how to turn up for the big matches and can often have games where he is just so difficult to beat. At 39, he is even by a goalkeepers standard a pretty old folk. But, his experience and ability makes him the best released goalkeeper by far.

RIGHT BACK – John Paintsil (Released from Fulham) – The energetic full back is a good player. Defensively he is solid and you always expect the Ghanaian to support the attacks from the right. Perhaps his final ball and his crossing isn’t incredible. Furthermore, Paintsil’s last season was marred with an incredible three own goals. It’s something which must make the Fulham fans cringe with anguish. But his energy and good positional play makes him a very good free transfer.

Here is his funniest own goal.

CENTRE BACK – Jonathan Woodgate (Released from Tottenham) – Again, another quality free transfer. But the issue with Woodgate is that he is incredibly injury prone. But when this guy is fit, he is a very competent centre back. The club that eventually takes on Jonathan Woodgate would be taking a massive risk. Injury has blighted his career. But, if he does regain fitness, he will walk into most Premier League teams.

CENTRE BACK – Mathew Upson (Released from West Ham) – Upson had a poor season last year. One could argue he didn't recover from his woeful performances for England in the South Africa World Cup. But, when this guy is on form, he can keep the best strikers out. Furthermore, Upson possess leadership qualities and is a very good organiser. He can help keep his defence stay strong and focused. At 32, he maybe losing he legs. But, he can still do a decent job with some Premier League sides. All he needs is a good kick up the backside.

LEFT BACK – Jonathan Spector – (Released from West Ham) – Spector had a decent season last year. His versatility makes him a good free transfer. He has proved he is decent in the full back postions, but he can also do a job in a midfield role too. The American can pass the ball very well and has a great deal of creativity. This helped him shine in the centre of midfield. Spector’s versatility along with his ability it makes him a player which certain Premier League clubs will be seriously considering.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD - Abdoulaye Faye (Released from Stoke, now at West Ham) – Although he is 33, this guy is still tough as nails. His no nonsense and physical approach makes him a tough opponent. Faye is a hard tackler who is dominant in the air. His physical presence makes him a very practical player, as he can stop his man or alternatively break up the play.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD - Tamir Cohen (Released from Bolton) – Cohen found it hard to get into Bolton side last season. However, his ability is still there for everyone to see. Cohen is a midfielder who can pass the ball reasonably well and he has the creativity to execute his passes too. Not only this, Cohen has proved he can be a clinical finisher too. It’s clear the Israeli is a dynamic player who can find spaces if given the time. There will probably be a queue for this guy..but not in the Premier League.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD – Zoltan Gera (Released from Fulham) – This guy is a seriously good player. He is a highly technical player who can operate in small places. Furthermore, he can be relied upon to exploit gaps in order to make something happen. Although his time at Fulham has been mainly coming off the bench to make an impact, this guy has proved time and time again that he is the man who can score crucial goals. His instinctive play makes him a big threat.

RIGHT MIDFIELD – Seb Larsson (Released from Birmingham, now at Sunderland) – Another high quality free transfer. This guy has a great cross, a great pass and a great footballing mind. His time at Arsenal as a youth player really comes out in his style of play. He is an extremely technical and versatile player who can deliver superbly from set pieces. Furthermore, his free kicks aren’t bad either.

LEFT MIDFIELD - Diomansy Kamara (Released from Fulham) – Although Kamara seems to have a problem with consistency and staying fit. However, when he is fit and firing, he is a pretty effective player. His finishing can be clinical and he's known for scoring important goals. A few clubs will be seriously considering whether Kamara is worth the risk, but if he can have stay injury free for a year, he could be a good asset.

CENTRE FORWARD – John Carew (Released from Aston Villa) – Big John Carew is a handful of a player. His psychical ability makes him a nightmare for defenders. Along with this, his aerial dominance makes him a strong threat in the air. Although Carew is renowned for his aerial dominance and his strength. His finishing must not be forgotten too. You can expect Carew to finish off a few chances with his feet.

At 31, Carew still has a little left in his locker. But in the past, his stupidity has often lost him his place or even cost him his job at certain clubs. However, his ability could make him a risk worth taking.

Here is a visual of our free transfers XI.

Andre Villas - Boas Scouting report v Newcastle 2005

This is incredible. Below is a scouting report from the new Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas. The report is highly in-depth and is intriguing to read.

This document really gives you an insight to the level of preparation and the high degree of tactical scouting which is done in professional football. Not only this, the document also shows the sharp tactical acumen of Villas-Boas.

If you're interested, Chelsea won the game Villas-Boas was scouting by 3 goals to nil.

Boas leaked report
View more presentations from 03akkasi.

Here is a larger version

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Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Matty Burrows two sensational goals

Matty Burrows, the Northern Ireland player is well known for his sensational goals. The Glentoran striker scored two goals in 2010 which were both absolutely beautiful. Check them out below.

The Quest for the Holy Grail taken to a new level

Apart from the joy of football, every club in the world has one thing in common – to be successful.

To have their name in bright lights, carved into the history books for the rest of the world to see. People will do almost anything to achieve success, whether it is by buying the best players or hiring the best managers. What do people want after taking their first bite out of the success cake? They want even more success.

However, what follows is greed, jealousy and lust. But there are some people who relish and crave all of that. Namely Mr. Roman Abramovich.

Abramovich took over Chelsea Football Club 8 years ago and has been the sole reason as to why The Blues have been so successful. The Russian businessman has continuously plunged money by the lorry load into the club, and they have gone on to win 8 major trophies since his tenure started.

However, all 8 of the major trophies have come in England. 3 league titles, 2 FA Cups and 2 League Cups to be precise. Despite spending approximately £600 million on Chelsea since his arrival, they have yet to win a competition in Europe. Their sole aim to win the Champions League hasn’t been accomplished yet.

It’s the one box that remains un-ticked.

Mr Abramovich has tried everything. He brought in Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti, who have both won the Champions League with previous clubs. But both managers ultimately failed in bringing the Champions League to Chelsea. In between these two was, Luiz Felipe Scolari – a World Cup winning coach. Scolari was appointed, and sacked after 6 months. With the exception of Mourinho, who left by mutual consent, the other two were sacked for not winning anything, or not being in a quick fix position to challenge for anything. The price of failure is ridiculously costly.

Roman Abramovich is well known for being quick to pull the trigger to sack his managers. However, he’s also quick to pull the cheque book out to sign players, strikers in particular. Here are a few to reel off: Anelka £15 million. Drogba £24 million. Shevchenko £30 million. Torres £50 million. On these four alone, that’s £119 million pounds. £119 million pounds on four human beings!

Yet, that still didn’t get him what he wanted.

Notably, the fact Chelsea lost the 2008 Champions League final. It simply couldn’t have been made up. The final was being held in Moscow, a place Abramovich calls home and it was the trophy he has craved ever since he bought Chelsea. Furthermore, Abramovich had his ‘yes man’ manager in Avram Grant. Chelsea were also against their arch rivals, Manchester United. It was supposed to be Chelsea’s day, yet no one sent Cristiano Ronaldo or Edwin Van der Sar the script.

Chelsea haven’t been back to a Champions League final since.

The failure in the Champions League or in other campaigns have not stopped Abramovich from splashing the cash. Torres was bought for £50 million in January, but has only mustered a meagre one goal in 14 league games. This has led Abramovich to completely reform the Chelsea staff, both coaching and playing. Tottenham’s Luka Modric has been pinpointed as the man to get Torres to score again. Romelu Lukaku and Neymar have also been linked, and guess what positions these two play? Striker! Of these two, Lukaku seems a more viable acquisition, and the club are in talks with him.

News has broken out that Andre Villas-Boas has been appointed, at the cost of about €15 million (£13.2 million) and the expectation levels will be even higher for him following another seemingly huge shopping trip. What adds to the pressure is whether or not he can match or better what the last bloke who went from Porto to Chelsea. You know; that guy who wears a scarf and a beautiful coat – goes by the name of Jose?

Carlo Ancelotti’s dismissal sends a clear message. The message reads - win the lot or be sacked.

The quest for the Holy Grail has been taken to a whole new level.

This piece was written by Christian Brown, you can follow him on his Twitter - @Chris78901, Chris also writes for Football Speak too. All of Chris' work is on his blog, 1-chris78901.

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Monday, 20 June 2011

Raheem Sterling v Rwanda U17

Raheem Sterling is a kid with bags of potential. He is the kid most Liverpool fans are excited about. At under 17's level, he looks a band apart from his team mates and opponents. This goal in the Under 17 World Cup emphasises that point.

It's just wonderful.

Sterling, 16, will most likely make his debut for Liverpool next season. His progression this season has been incredible.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Eternal Struggle

The hardest thing to do in football is win your domestic league. You can hide from no one. You must play everyone else in the competition twice home and away. You do not have the luxury of knocking a team out of the running permanently after one meeting. You must perform consistently week in and week out just as every Champion before you has done.

However in the land of Spain, there is a manager nown as the Special One. His managerial post is that of the World’s biggest club, Real Madrid. Perhaps being at the World’s biggest club it therefore means there are greater expectations.

However, Mourinho’s objective remains simple: beat Barcelona.

Many bloggers, writers, pundits, journalists and fans have speculated on how you beat Barcelona over a 90 minute match or a two legged affair.

But none of us dare to answer the question: ‘how do you beat them in a league campaign?’

Florentino Perèz had to come up with a plan in which to do so, he initiated the plan of bringing Josè Mourinho to Los Blancos. This was then fo

llowed with the signings of Mesut Ozil, Sami Khedira, Angel Dì Maria and Ricardo Carvalho. These new Galacticos saw Real Madrid crowned as the Copa Del Rey Champions for the first time since 1993. They reached the Champions league semi finals for the first time since 2003 and they finished with a stunning 92 points along

with being the division’s top scorers with 105 goals.

The only problem was Barcelona were better.

So now Mourinho’s reign as Real Madrid boss is a year old. He has said his teams improve in his second season in charge. His second season at Porto saw him lift the Champions League trophy as well as finish as domestic champions. At Chelsea, his second season saw him win the Premiership in an even more dominant fashion than the first. While with Inter Milan his second season resulted in 3 trophies for Inter and this includes a Champions League trophy.

So here comes lucky number 2 for Jose.

But how can he best Barca over the course of 38 games? He has started his manoeuvres in the transfer window, with the removal of general manager Jorge Valdano. This probably is sufficient evidence to suggest that Jose Mourinho will have more say in club arrivals in comparison to any other Real coach in the past. Real have already sealed the signatures of the Turkish pair Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop. Emmanuel Adebayor is expected to follow soon and make his loan move from Manchester City permanent.

With Gonzalo Higuaìn and Karim Benzema in the ranks Adebayor may play the role of super sub should Real be chasing a game. He showed in his loan spell that he can start games and score goals in the absence of the first choice strikers.

The only two statistics Real Madrid trumped Barcelona in were; goals scored and aerial duels. Barcelona were not even in the La Liga’s top 6 in the latter statistic. Scoring goals and aerial duels are the first two things you will read on Adebayor’s CV/Internet dating description. He is by no means a big signing like Beckham, Ronaldo, or Zidane. He is a squad player, of the calibre like Solskjaer for Man Utd or Kalou for Chelsea. If Real Madrid want the La Liga title back, Adebayor is a must.

With Hamit Altintop, Real have purchased a right sided player rich in technique who can play at full back or on the wing. Like Adebayor we won’t see him start ahead of other attacking midfielders like Ozil, Ronaldo or Dì Maria. But we will see him here and there and he will give Real Madrid more attacking options on a wider level in every sense of the word. Given Sergio Ramos is Real Madrid’s most booked player of all time we can expect to see Hamit fill in at right back once or twice as well. There is one other reason why he can help Real Madrid win the league. This:

A rumour that appears to be gathering truth is the one surrounding the Brazilian wonderkid Neymar. Real Madrid revealed last week they were close to signing him back in 2005. But contractual issues prevented Neymar putting pen to paper. Since then Neymar has played his football with Santos in Brazil. His tricks, flamboyant style and his mask helped him score 24 goals in all competitions this season. The 19 year old is a player well ahead of his time.

It is expected Neymar will become a Galactico after the Copa Libertadores final. This signing will be more for the future one would imagine. But, if he does sign, he will certainly help Real Madrid in their pursuit of the Catalans.

As mentioned before scoring goals for Real was not a problem, defending them wasn’t too big of a problem either. After all, they only concede 33 goals in last seasons La Liga campaign. It’s a better defensive record than Manchester United. The only team who had a better defensive record in the Spanish League was....well, you know who it was. Barcelona conceded only 22 goals last season. This is the kind of defence Mourinho will be looking to build. At right back he now has Altintop as along with Alvaro Arbeloa and yellow card collector Sergio Ramos. At the core of Madrid’s defence they have Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Raùl Albiol. Behind these high class defenders is the Spanish captain Iker Casillas. So the obvious area in which Jose will look to tighten up his back line is at left back.

Marcelo has just enjoyed his best season at the Bernabeu in terms of goals scored and matches played. He does however lack some position awareness which Sky’s Graham Hunter stated the only solution was to equip him with a Tom Tom sat nav device. Even then he is a liability. Given the attacking talent Real possess and the further quality they may purchase do they really need a full back of this nature? They probably don’t, at least not as a regular first team player. If Real want a left back who can gallop up the left hand side without neglecting his defensive duties maybe they should take a closer look at Gael Clichy. Arsenal appear to be willing to sell the highly rated Frenchman.

Hypothetically Real Madrid can win the league with these arrivals and affordable departures:


Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City)

Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund)

Hamit Altintop (Bayern Munich)

Neymar (Santos)

Gael Clichy (Arsenal)

Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)


Esteban Granero


Ezequiel Garay

Fernando Gago

Lassana Diarra

Jerzy Dudek

Must stay:

Ricardo Carvalho

Sami Khedira

Karim Benzema

Sergio Canales

The latter two lists are players that have been speculated to leave. Obviously the rest of the squad is a ‘must stay.’

Only time will tell if Real can trump the team which many call the greatest club side of all time.

However, Jose Mourinho is like a virus, he grows stronger over time so does his teams. Dì Maria, Ozil, Alonso, Ramos and the great Cristiano Ronaldo will all improve next season. I won’t say all this will result in Real Madrid once again becoming La Liga Champions but it will give them a very good chance.

If you were to ask me do I THINK Madrid could win the La Liga title? I would have to say yes.

Below is my Madrid XI with players Mourinho has at his disposal.

This piece was written by Kevin Leonard, you can follow him on his Twitter - @megatronSTALIN, Kevin regularly writes for Away Goals too.

Things you may like to read

Andrea Pirlo – a true legend of the game -

Jose Mourinho, the ultimate manager? Or the ultimate journey man? -

Just how good is Gary Cahill? -

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Why England should take their best players to the European Under 21 Tournament

England stars Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll have been omitted from England’s Under 21 squad. This has been the most controversial aspect of England’s Under 21’s preparation so far.

But it’s clear both men should have gone.

There are a number of benefits of participating in this tournament.

Firstly, the players will gain even more international experience. This is absolutely crucial. It means the players will gain further understanding and confidence in England’s tactics and strategy. The more decisive the understanding is, the better a player can perform on the senior international stage. England must capitalise on these opportunities.

Furthermore, playing in the U21 has many psychological benefits too. The players will develop mechanisms on how to how to deal with the pressures of playing various large international games within a short space of time.

However, not only this, the players will also develop a personal system to deal with the logistics of large tournaments. This will make the youngsters have relative experience of the football tournament environment. So some aspects of large tournaments will not be viewed as ‘new experiences’ for the youngsters.

The likes of Mesut Ozill, Sami Khedira, Thomas Muller are all examples of the benefits of participating in the Under 21 tournaments. All three players were crucial figures for Germany in the last World Cup. One could argue, their brilliant World Cup performances stemmed from the experience they developed and gained whilst participating in the U21 tournaments.

No one can deny the press and certain English clubs have over inflated the Under 21 selection debate. They have presented their ideas as if England are the only nation in the tournament taking relatively experienced youngsters to the games.

This is clearly incorrect. After all, Spain are set to take; Juan Manuel Mata, Sergio Busquets and Iker Munain. All of these players have featured heavily for their clubs this season. Yet, their clubs and the Spanish press are not making a massive fuss over the issue. One could argue they are solely considering the player’s development and looking to further improve the player. The same mentality can be found in Germany. The national team, in Germany holds far more value over club football and this is understood by the German clubs. But it seems with some of the English clubs they look to protect their own interests rather than the overall development of the player.

Furthermore, Christian Eriksen, 19, has played 47 games this season. While Jack Wilshere, also 19, has played 49 games. In the case of Eriksen its proof that Wilshere isn’t the only player who could go to the Under 21 tournament with a great number of games under their belt. Both players have clearly admitted they want to play in the tournament. Whereas, the two clubs hold different views. Ajax understands Eriksen’s desire to play and wish him the best. While, Arsenal have taken a hard line approach and are unwilling to see their player learn and develop their international game.

It’s incredibly frustrating for England in the long term, as they cannot maximise on the player’s international experience.

A common criticism of the summer tournaments is that the players are unable to get a complete rest. Thus resulting in the possibility of the player burning themselves out or getting injured. This is agreeable. But every year, no matter who the player is, certain English clubs continuously complain. If the player is 26, the club will be angry if the player gets injured. But at the end of the day, it’s a foreseen consequence of international football. The players are aware of this risk too. But they want to represent their country and play football at the highest level.

The clubs need to respect the players’ wishes. After all, they are doing this because they have a passion for the game and their country. This should be encouraged and credited, not hindered.

One must remember, letting these talented youngsters play will not only benefit their clubs, it will benefit a nation.

Things you may like to read

England’s new 4-3-3 system, the platform for English success? -

Why Emile Heskey’s Premier League days should be all but over -

Why Kevin Davies should be in contention for the England squad -

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Football Tweets of the week 02/06

We're back with some funny football tweets!!

  1. Some say that Sepp Blatter's behaviour has crossed a line. But thanks to his refusal to allow the relevant technology, we may never know. - @NickMotown – A Fantastic tweet, simple as. This was tweeted after Sepp Blatter’s latest antics this week.
  2. @RobbieSavage8 just recovering after your expert analysis on MOTD destroyed my confidence.............if only you'd give me some tips? - @Joey7Barton – A fantastic tweet by Newcastle’s Joey Barton. This stems from Joey Barton arguing he was the best English midfielder in the Premier League (clearly not) and Savage, on Match of the day criticised Barton and explained why he isn’t the best.
  3. @Imogen_Thomas it's alright love. He managed to remain anonymous all evening! - @BrianDurand56 – Sensational tweet! @BrianDurand56 tweeted this after Man United’s demolished Barcelona in the Champions League final.
  4. Ryan Giggs what a career. Has been in 7 FA Cup finals, 5 league finals, 3 champions league finals and 1 Big Brother quarter finalist - @DavePaylor – A cheeky little tweet!
  5. #thingsRedknappwilldoinhisfirstweekatChelsea compare Torres to his Sandra - @the1steleven – Absolutely hilarious tweet, it originates from Darren Bent missing a glorious opportunity and Harry Redknapp stating his missus would have finished it.
  6. I've just downloaded the new FIFA to my laptop but it won't work. It keeps saying that it's corrupt. - @MrSeppBlatter (Not the real Sepp Blatter!) – This tweet was kind of inevitable right!?
  7. ITV2 confirm their new series based on the trials & tribulations of the FIFA Executive committee will be called The Only Way Is Ethics. - @MattCrivelli – Great tweet regarding the news that Fifa are to hold an investigation about the bribery scandal.
  8. You lazy git RT ‘@themichaelowen Prefer playing less often in a top team than every game in a poor team.’ - @piersmorgan – This is funny, because we all agree with him!
  9. Actually, the easiest way to stop Messi is to make him believe he's playing for Argentina. - @ILoveReal – This was tweeted prior to the Champions League final, but it probably does work!
  10. Redknapp is the only man on the planet that could bankrupt Abramovich. -@yorkshiregunner – This was tweeted after Harry Redknapp reportedly emerged as a candidate for the Chelsea job.

Things you may like to read

Why Michael Owen’s tweets are doing no favours for himself -

Football Tweets of the week 03/03 -

How Twitter has changed the spectation of football for the fans -

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