Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Real: Making the most of the summer

It's not every too often where we see a manager overthrow a even more powerful member of the club - but it has certainly taken place at Real Madrid, and with Jose Mourinho in charge it was never impossible, never. Jorge Valdano, the Director General and Presidential Aide, was the dominant man at Los Blancos alongside club President Florentino Perez. Valdano could do no wrong. The previous managers had to listen to him, and the staff had to listen to him - the so-called 'Galacticos' produced in Perez's first, and second term, were brought in by Jorge. Who would stop him. Nobody surely? Step in Jose Mourinho. He was a controversial choice, but a good choice concurrently. Just days before he signed for Real he had won the eminent Champions League with Inter Milan, a trophy most correlated with Real Madrid, yet had failed to elapse the round of 16 since 2004. Something had to be done to end the drought, and in came the influential Portuguese manager who had the experience and aura to compete at the highest level.

The first sign of a rift had occurred in the summer of 2010, when Valdano went and brought Pedro Leon from Getafe without Mourinho taking notice, and  it is still known publicly that the pair don't get along with Mourinho being unhappy with the way Leon has conducted himself in an 'arrogant' mannerism. Not only did it happen with Pedro Leon, but it is also evidently known that Jose Mourinho far from being happy with the signing of Sergio Canales, and how he has fared in his first season at the Bernabeu. Valdano and Mourinho were never going to get along, and it hit it's peak in January where Jose was desperate to sign a CF, despite Jorge Valdano stating that they weren't in need of one. It was a classic example of manager vs boardroom, and expectedly it was Mourinho who came out on top, and managed to snap up Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City on loan - a move which brought a flurry of goals.

So why was Jorge Valdano sacked? Mourinho. Without Mourinho, Jorge doesn't get sacked. It isn't perhaps the most logical way of thinking about the circumstances, but when Mourinho signs for a club, he expects the power to be held in his hands. He doesn't want a board-room member, who has never won all those glistening trophies abroad making the key decisions at the club. Jose was brought in to bring the Champions League back to Madrid, and apparently so, it wasn't possible with Jorge at the helm. Perez couldn't afford to sack Jose Mourinho, for sporting issues, and financial ones. When Mourinho wants to go, he goes, and there was no way Florentino Perez was going to risk losing such a highly-rated manager.

Now that he has the majority of the power at the club, his method is simple. He wants the team to be his team. He doesn't want opinions from the hierarchy of the club on what tactics, and what players should be brought in. He wants to manage on his own, and will manage on his own - which is similar to what he has done in the past. That is now achievable with Valdano out of the way.

So what does the summer bring for Madrid. I won't say that they been spending big, as yet, but they are certainly getting down to business quickly, which will suit Mourinho's process of bonding the team together. Nuri Sahin, formerly of Borussia Dortmund, has been brought in for a relatively small fee in contrast to his great abilities. Hamit Altintop has been brought in as a utility player (on a free transfer), who'll fill the gaps in the team when needed. Then there is the former Espanyol winger, Jose Callejon, who had an excellent season in Catalonia. All signings so far have been low-key, but overall impressive.

More signings are on the way. Galactico signings! The electric Portuguese full-back, Fabio Coentrao, is on his way from Benfica for a fee near the region of £22 million. There is also the much talked about Sergio Aguero, who has confirmed that he wants to leave the Estadio Vincente Calderon. There are several teams who would benefit from the signing of Aguero - Juventus, Chelsea, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Barcelona - but it seems as if his heart lies with Atletico's noisy neighbours, Real Madrid.

These two signings are bound to be complete within the next week, or two, but with Real Madrid looking to remain active for the rest of the summer, there is one transfer in which will be bigger than the rest, no matter the price. Yes, you got, shipping Jorge Valdano out - Jose Mourinho's own summer transfer!

Monday, 30 May 2011

Did Man United's naive tactics prove to be their downfall?

I'm sure I can go on for hours about Barcelona's immaculate execution of the Champions League final on Wednesday night - but then again, I already have done. There has been a lot said of the way the Spanish Champions conducted themselves against Manchester United - forbidden was the diving, and the play-acting nonsense, and in came the beauty that we so often associated the Catalan's with. They warranted their medals with that enthralling performance, and there was no argument about it, but I'd like to have a little look at United's display too.

There were people who had the basic feeling that they were simply out-played, which was right.  There were also people who thought that United were brave. Wrong. In what way were United imprudent at Wembley? I'll give them credit for giving Barcelona a decent contest for the opening 15 minutes, but apart from that they genuine failed to show their true colours and could hardly get a kick throughout the 90 minutes. This season we saw Real Madrid and Arsenal fall at the hands of Barcelona, with both teams losing marginally. They were closer to beating Barca than United, yet the word 'bravery' never entered the mind of many people.

Yes, I think we can all recognize that Sir Alex Ferguson installs a winning mentality into his players, and that they never give up until the final whistle (perhaps even beyond that), and we have given them great acclaim for that. However, just because we have been presented with bold attitude throughout the course of the season, it doesn't necessarily mean that Man United were 'brave' in getting beat by the better side. I'm sure Alex Ferguson won't be boasting about their bravery for too long, as he'll be planning on a way to beat them next season.

Moving on, I believe there was a massive factor which played into the hands of Barcelona - the 4-4-2 that United set out to play. It was naive of Sir Alex to deploy such a tactic against a team who particularly favours when the formation is played against them. The United manager decided to play Carrick and Giggs in the center, who were going to go up against the trio of Xavi, Messi and Iniesta. Neither of the pair were mobile and dynamic enough to compete with dancing feet that they engrossed. It's easier to say than do, but maybe if Mr Ferguson applied a 4-2-3-1, or 4-5-1, then it would have suffocated the magician named Lionel Messi who played the role orchestrator, along with his colleagues. In the 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, there were two banks of four which was easily surpassed with the Argentine playing between the two lines. It was all too easy for the Spaniards, and with the bull-dog that is Ji Sung Park playing out on the left instead of having his robust ability in the center allowed Xavi and Iniesta to have all the freedom in the world. Playing a midfield trio of Carrick (playing near to the role of a sweeper), Anderson and Park would have asphyxiated Barca's usual tika-taka approach.

Giggs had a blossoming 6 months before the final in the middle of the park, and shone there against the likes of Chelsea and Schalke, but Barcelona is a completely different animal, and the Welshman didn't have the endurance to keep up with them. This is why I felt it was strangely naive of Ferguson to do such a thing against easily the best team in the world, by playing him in the middle, against quicker and more intelligent players, alongside a similar player in Carrick. The partnership of Hernandez and Rooney was working well, as was the midfield pairing of Giggs and Carrick, but Sir Alex was ingenuous is trying to attack Barcelona, which just doesn't work, barring the odd couple of times. United don't have the talent to beat Barca at their own game, and in thinking that they could proved to be their downfall.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Forget about the comparisons; he is a genius!

The term 'world-class' is being used far too loosely today. I often hear people portray a player as being 'world-class' after only a few successful months, in a spell which they apparently set the football nation alight. I have the freedom to state my opinion, and they have the freedom to state their opinion - but what I don't apprehend is people suggesting that a player is consistently playing to the highest standard (being world-class), yet they'll say so to a similar degree of a player who shines for 3 months out of 9. For example there is Gareth Bale, who had an effulgent period at Tottenham Hotspurs this season where he was setting an example to the rest of the Premier League, and this unsurprisingly led to assumptions that he was this 'world-class' British performer that the country had longed for. He later went on to win the highly ambiguous, yet prestigious, PFA award after going through a spell of ordinary displays.

Bale is a fabulous player, and I don't intend to use him for my argument to bash him on his head, but he is a key example to my point. The Welshman had a ravishing first half to the season, but his lack of consistency and overall talent refrained me from thinking that he was performing on the same wavelength to Ronaldo or Xavi. The two I named - Ronaldo and Xavi - have the endurance and capability to produce displays of such inventiveness and lust throughout the whole season, therefore they are 'world-class' players, because not only can they do it for one season, but they do it every single year. This, mind, doesn't only go for Bale, but this has also been the issue with the likes of Forlan, Ribery and Nasri, of whom have been named 'world-class' players countless times, yet aren't to that standard yet.

I can name several 'world-class' players currently plying their trade in Europe. There is Samuel Eto'o, Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas, Ronaldo, Villa, Lucio, and many more. Why do I believe these players are in that bracket? The reason why is because they have been sparkling for many years, and show no sign of slowing down either.

Over last few season there has been endless debating on Lionel Messi. You know what I mean - Is he the best player ever? How long can he keep this standard up? 'This guy' is as good as Messi! Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo! Can he cut it in a rainy night at Stoke?

There is no doubt that football supporters will feel the need to question why the Argentinian is that good, but in preference to those questions, why don't we just admit that he is the best player that we have seen for a very, very long time (if not ever that is). Earlier on this season Bale was compared with Lionel Messi. Yes, I repeat, Bale was compared with the best player in the world. Saying such things is reckless and utter nonsense. Why compare a player to a genius triple the player. You don't need to look at Messi's stats of having scored 53 goals in 55 games, and assisting 24 goals, to convince people that he is a living God in football, because his performances over the last three seasons has been nothing short of miracle - not in terms of the unexpected nature of his talent, but in terms of watching a footballer with the talent and humbleness that he occupies.

Ronaldo has been perceived as Messi's greatest rivals for a number of years now. Rival? Not a chance. Messi is undoubtedly the better player, but it's his humility and team - and work - ethic on the pitch that separates them to an even further distance. Last week against Almeria after Ronaldo's shot was blocked off the line with Adebayor following up to score, the Portuguese forward decided to wave his arm in disappointment of the fact that he missed a great chance, and that his team-mate managed to get the goal. That will never be the case with Lionel Messi. He doesn't play for himself - like Ronaldo. His goal-scoring record may advocate to our thinking that he was selfish, but he plays for the team, and that's a major reason why his already highly thought of talents has been boosted.

Xavi and Iniesta are fascinating players, who has the task of supplying the likes of Messi with delicious balls delicately put through the stubborn wall of a defense. The pair, and the underrated Busquets, has enhanced Messi's talents, but thinking that his talents has been created by the playmakers of the Barcelona side is absurd. Messi won't lose his footballing ability without them because he is more than that. He is the best player of his generation because he had the talent and determination to get there. Sure, they are part of the reason why he has scored so many goals, but it's clearly evident that Messi can create his fair share of goals too.

The great Diego Maradona. People say that Messi won't become the greatest player ever to be seen until he wins the World Cup. People say that he must win the World Cup (basically) all on his own? People say he has to go to a team - similar to Napoli in the 80's - and win them the title? People who say this are wrong. I find it a total myth that Lionel has to prove himself at a World Cup to become a player of that endowment. He effectively carried Barcelona to three Spanish titles, two Champions League titles, and many more. Club football is the main process of the sport, and he has done exceptionally well there, and rightfully earned his status that way.

But can he do it in a cold rainy night at Stoke, though? No, because it must be highly difficult for the best player in the world to perform well at a mid-table Premier League side, isn't? It doesn't rain in Spain either, right?

Then there are the more technical issues that are being focused on after his magical display at Wembley last night. Apparently, in the modern game the better pitches and adjusted rules are helping the Argentine to perform to a higher standard. Have they also mentioned that the pace of the game has rapidly increased, and better, more technical footballers are being brought up very well.

Forbid all the comparisons trying to engage people in thinking that Lionel Messi isn't all that just because of a few minor factors. He is the total footballer, and I've accepted that with open arms. It's a privilege to witness such a magician on a regular basis. Enjoy what Messi has to offer, because we may never see a player like him again!

Barcelona - Are they more than just a club?

This is a preview of the standard of writing that I'll be offering. This article has been published on quite a few websites, and it's one of my favourite pieces, which is a good way to get the site off and running.

FC Barcelona. They are recognized by football fanatics as the God’s of football. The Spaniard’s elegant, precise and immaculate nature of the passing game is pure brilliance and something which is widely appreciated everywhere – even by people who aren’t dedicated to the sport. Their tendency to arouse people from different cultures around the world is breathtaking, and by keeping their highly thought of performances consistent, it only moves them up to another level. A level of where not many teams have gone before.  Barcelona is the cream of the crop, and it will take no shortage of a miracle for teams to compete with them on a regular basis.
Some of the sport’s finest players have graced the alluring Nou Camp pitch. Michael Laudrup, Johan Cruyff and Diego Maradona, are a few of many who had become legends in Catalonia.  Cruyff’s “Dream Team” in the early 90’s were perceived as the new football giants of two decades ago, with the current Barcelona manager, Pep Guardiola, being the linchpin in the great side. However – not to disregard the team of the 90’s – the latest update of the “Dream Team” is certainly an advanced edition.
Mastered by former player, Pep Guardiola, Barcelona has stepped up a gear, and produce football you could only dream of playing. In every game the Spaniard’s play, you examine Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi bringing back their La Masia days by dribbling around opponents effortlessly, whilst looking for team-mates in tight positions. Why do they pass to their mates in tight positions you may ask? It’s trust. Trust which takes years to form. They trust each other to kill the ball with a deft touch and move play on within a second.
That brings me to my next point – La Masia – the academy that produces everything great and dandy in football. Right? La Masia isn’t a norm. It isn’t every day that you hear about an academy so controversial, yet so illustrious. The exquisite farmhouse on the perimeter of the Nou Camp has functioned as a factory of talent since 1979, and has produced some of the world’s most iconic players (perhaps even the best ever in Lionel Messi). FIFA last year named the three best players in the world. The names, you ask? Xavi, Iniesta, and Messi. Yes, some of the crop from La Masia that has grown into the world’s biggest harvest. They are mastered from a young age in how to adapt to the tika-taka that Barca faithful are in need to see.
Young boys are being trained with the utmost intensity and dedication to make the top level, but their feet are solidly kept to the ground. Not by nails, but by having to be educated. They are transported to city schools around Barcelona every morning, which is surely an attempt to mix them  with the children not so fortunate and talented as they – the scholars – are. There is no higher or lower class. Each, and everyone of them is equal, and the hierarchy stance is in the club boardroom, and not with the children.
La Masia only costs five million to run a year, but the income of money if everything goes to plan is absolutely priceless. When a Barcelona newcomer steps into the first team from the B team he will instantly have the technical ability and work ethic to fit into the side, as he has learnt from all the years beforehand what is needed to succeed at the club. Succeeding at the club will only bring fame and fortune; not only to the club, but to the player himself.
Despite the positive talk about arguably the best academy in the world, there has been some controversy concerning Barcelona and La Masia. Tapping up. Does that ring any bells? With La Masia being filled with hundreds of artistic like footballers every year, it is almost a certainty that clubs from abroad will have interests in many of their young stars. Barcelona has publicly shown their outrage through Barcelona President, Sandro Rosell. That was evident in late February when he had this to say about Arsenal’s signing, Barca youth product, Jon Toral: “We are two philosophies – ours is to invest in La Masia, and the other is to fish around Europe for kids of fifteen like Arsenal”. That quote from the President is highly questionable considering the nationalities of some of the players who ply their young trade at La Masia.
The exciting Park Sheng Yo, is currently in the Barca youth system, but is thirteen years old and of Korean descent. Now, isn’t there is whiff of hypocrisy coming the way of Sandro Rosell?  Isn’t that “fishing” around Asia? I doubt he would see it in that way and the inevitable excuse would be that the child wanted to join the undisputedly best team in football. Sure, it may be legal, but Arsenal’s successful attempt to lure Jon Toral to the Emirates was also perfectly legal yet was spat on by a sceptical comment by Rosell. What should this dubious argument conclude to? From my personal assumption, Barcelona do assemble bunches of ballerina-esque footballers, but needs to understand that if you take skilled children from all over the world, then there must be interest from other big European clubs for the best of La Masia. Football isn’t only seen as a passion anymore, it’s now commonly indentified as a business. 


On the 7th September 2006, Barcelona had given evidence of the club saying,  “more than just a club”, by signing a highly moral boosting partnership with Unicef. This sent waves of truly beholding messages throughout sport. One of the biggest clubs in the world was going to donate just more than one million pounds a year to have “UNICEF” – a charity which supports the world’s destitute children. This deal wasn’t about the money; it was a brilliant manoeuvre by FC Barcelona to spread the word – that they were more than just a club. This was to be the first sponsorship on the Barcelona shirt in their entire history, and it was going to a charity in need to nourishment.

As financial ruin was beckoning for the club in the summer and Barcelona had to act fast. They were three hundred and sixty nine point five million in debt. How does a club of that stature get into such tremendous financial debt announced in the summer? Only the experts know this, but a club earning massive sums of money shouldn’t even get close to such a situation.
In early July, financial news came out of Catalonia which pretty much surprised everyone. They were seeking a one hundred and thirty million loan to fight their short-term money problems, and this prompted the newly appointed Sandro Rosell to blame the appalling debt on the previous regime where Joan Laporta was in charge. Wouldn’t it have been feasible for Rosell to move on from the past and blame the ruins in secret, rather than going to the media to share his concerns? Back to the point, Barca had failed to pay their players and staff, and needed a quick solution to that problem. Barcelona agreed that Dmytro Chygrynskiy wasn’t up to any good following his move from Shakhter Donetsk in the summer of ’09, and sold him back to his former club for half the fee they paid for him the year before.  The sale did bring some much needed money to the club, but the crisis wasn’t going to be solved by just one transfer.
At the end they did get the loan, but serious action had to be taken so that the debt in the summer was to never get into the same position once more. After losing more than sixty four point thirty six million in the 09/10 season, Barcelona acknowledged that they had to look at other sponsorships in search of funds and paying off debt whilst being exempt for debt in the foreseeable future. This led to an unsurprising deal with the Qatar Foundations for a record one hundred and twenty five million (a year) deal, who had connections with Guardiola, with him being an ambassador for the successful Qatar 2022 bid. Barcelona say that they hope that Unicef will still play it’s part as a logo on the shirt, but having two sponsorships on the shirt is doubtful and I certainly won’t be taken aback if Qatar Foundations were to be the sole sponsor on the famous Barcelona shirt.
What does this tell us? I’ve just spelt it out really. Barcelona was in such desperate needs that they had to take desperate measures by ditching their morale-boosting Unicef sponsor as their prime sponsor in search of a big money Qatar deal. Sure, Barcelona will still sponsor/be sponsored by Unicef, but they assuredly weren’t on Barca’s mind when they were signing the deal. When things were going great, the Spaniards could show off and show their class by signing an admirable deal with Unicef, but when the going got tough Unicef went right off the minds, and in came Qatar.
Barcelona in a way is more than a club. They have a basketball, handball and hockey team, but as a football cub they really contradict each other. The club is one big oxymoron. On the pitch, they invent enticing football – football that isn’t often seen– and to see displays of such magic and classiness every week makes us very lucky football fanatics indeed. But off the pitch, and into the boardroom, there is a big mess to be sorted out and there is another accident waiting to be happen at the ever controversial Nou Camp.