May 2012 Archives
Brendan Rodgers is set to become the new manager in Liverpool. An appointment which should please many fans. Rodgers will have to do a lot of heavy lifting overseeing what could be an accelerated re-structuring of the squad in the off season to bring in more creativity and make Liverpool more nimble and effective up front. But there could be a potentially huge crimp and its name happens to be Louis Van Gaal.
Almost the entire upper management at Liverpool will wear a new look next season and one of those faces could be the former Bayern Munich manager installed as director of football. The autocratic Van Gaal, famed for his zero man management skills, and an outsize presence has indicated his interest in the job but at the same time has shown no inclination to disavow his managerial ambitions. This sets up a coup d'etat situation at Anfield where a young manager like Rodgers will have to work with Van Gaal breathing down his neck. What freedom will he have in the transfer decisions? What job security would he have knowing Van Gaal was just a step removed from manager?
Van Gaal has driven players away. Mark Van Bommel, Lucio, and Luca Toni all left Bayern Munich abruptly because they could not work with him. He's had success, plenty of it because he brings the Ajax- Barcelona philosophy with him and for a disjointed Liverpool this could be the very antidote. But Van Gaal brings all the other negatives too. The technical director is supposed to be a faceless creature not a prima donna who has had his share of famous bust ups with players. Liverpool will be well advised to give up on Van Gaal and repose their trust in Rodgers, giving him free rein in the transfer market and his footballing philosophy which seems to share commonalities with Arsene Wenger. Getting the best out of under rated players and developing a midfield that is pass happy with a corp of strikers who can deliver.
On cue, the chances of Van Gaal becoming part of Liverpool have dramatically receded.
Anti-semitism. White Power. Targeting black players. This is the ugly side of the beautiful game. Sol Campbell is right to be disturbed about it and caution fans who are non-white planning to go to Ukraine and Poland for Euro 2012 to stay home. The families of Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade- Chamberlain are not going.
The canary yellow jerseys were everywhere in the first half. Brazil obviously had done their homework because every time Landon Donovan got the ball he was set on by at least two defenders. The USA were also pinned deep in their half by a physical Seleção who used a full court press. Against the swarm, the three man midfield of Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, and Michael Bradley were not allowed to define themselves like they did against Scotland.
Bradley in particular drifted back deep into areas to assist Edu who was being overpowered by Sandro and Oscar. With Bradley pushed back the creative onus lay on Jose Francisco Torres deployed centrally rather than out on the left as was the case against Scotland. The few times the USA did get the ball not much came of it with Donovan shadowed and Hercules Gomez isolated well beyond the supply line. With Bradley forced to play out of position Torres was tripped up, hacked at, and slowed down by the Brazilians to ineffectiveness.
Gooch's return to the national team pairing up with familiar partner Carlos Bocanegra was not a happy one as his handball was controversially ruled a spot kick offense. Neymar duly converted after Tim Howard went the wrong way. The USA minutes later had a defensive meltdown as Jones failed to get in front of Thiago Silva to challenge him and the defender with all the time in the world directed his header well beyond the reach of Howard.
Just when Brazil looked like they were running away with it the US were able to win the ball back. Bradley now restored up field split the defense with a heads up outlet which found Fabian Johnson arrowing down the left and centering to a quickly reacting Gomez placing himself between two defenders and the goalie to head the deflected ball home. The USA could breathe again as they ended the half on a positive note with Johnson catching the eye with his attacking instincts down that channel.
The second half saw Brazil add to their score as Marcelo who was equal force of nature and street thug initiated a counter which found Neymar cutting back to find the Real Madrid left back who slammed the ball past Howard. It was 3-1 and a mountain to climb. Time was running out for build ups. There had to be speed and instant strikes from set pieces. Klinsmann brought in Deuce and Boyd and suddenly the attack had teeth.
For the next 10 minutes, the USA laid a mini siege on the Brazilian goal. Dempsey floated a clever ball to Gomez who took it wide and smashed it with his right foot but Rafael effected a remarkable reflexive save which pushed the ball towards Boyd whose shot was again stopped by the jackknifing custodian. Moments later from a corner Rafael was able to push a header from Dempsey out. The newbie goalie was having a whale of a game. Luck too played its part as Gooch found the crossbar with his header.
With the USA in full flow, Brazil's final goal was anti-climactic. On a counter again, Marcelo laid off a nice juicy diagonal for newly arrived Alexander Pato to crash home from an acute angle. The AC Milan striker with the lovelorn look and a thickened midriff showed he still has his instincts. It ended 4-1.
Reality check as they say. But the displays by Fabian Johnson and Hercules Gomez were definite positives. Klinsmann shows a lot of faith in Johnson and its easy to see why - he has the speed and the craft to be a genuine wingback. With Timmy Chandler, the left back position now has an embarrassment of riches, a far cry from the endless days of Jonathan Bornstein. Gomez had some excellent moments up front. He has speed and an unflagging motor. There was an incredible sequence where he tracked back all the way to dispossess Neymar. On the other hand, there are obvious questions at the heart of defense - Gooch looked slow and rusty. At right back, Steve Cherundolo is getting on in years and today was overmatched by Neymar and Marcelo who were free to roam at will down that left channel.
Roberto Martinez might have been trotted out to gauge the fans reaction to him. It did not go down well. There was more interest in Andre Villas- Boas but he did not make the short list. However, it now appears Brendan Rodgers, the manager of the Swans is in line to replace Kenny Dalglish.
He is to hold talks with John Henry and Tom Werner today. The Nobody But Rafa crowd appears to be guardedly pleased at the prospect of Rodgers as next manager. Under Dalglish, Liverpool had plenty of possession with very few goals to show for. Rodgers if he becomes the new manager has to continue what he did at Swansea with its emphasis on passing and to improve Liverpool's goalscoring. Above all, the FSG management and the fans have to have patience and faith in the new man. The metrics of a successful season should be based in reality.
Man Utd are very close to signing Shinji Kagawa, the Borussia Dortmund midfielder, as they prepare for a post Scholes - Giggs era (read apocalyptic). He will cost close to £18m. Kagawa is not the star power Utd fans would seek out but at this point getting suckered into competing with City and Chelsea and depleting their financial reserves further is just as important. While everyone's attention is on Eden Hazard, the 23 year old Japanese has put in some very impressive performances in the Bundesliga and shows room for further improvement.
From the You Tube clip, Kagawa comes off as obviously versatile, switching flanks with ease, or pushing up centrally. He's also a goalscorer. What also stands out is that he plays amongst some of this generation's rising stars in that Borussia team. They all make each other look good. Utd at their best are exactly like that. Selfless. Well, there is Nani.
In case you have not been following it, we have the makings of an enormous match fixing scandal enveloping Italian football which might make the original Calciopoli look like a storm in a teacup.
14 players have been arrested which include Lazio captain Stefano Mauri and former Genoa midfielder Omar Milanetto, now with Padua.
In a move that will surely endanger Italy's chances at the 2012 Euro, the police converged on Coverciano, the national training camp to pick up Domenico Criscito for questioning. That ended the Zenit defender's hopes for selection as Cesare Prandelli took a very dim view dropping him from the 23 man squad.
"He would have experienced a pressure that no human being can deal with," Italy coach Cesare Prandelli said of Criscito playing at the June 8 to July 1 tournament. "He wouldn't have been in the right frame of mind. And he could also have been called up by the prosecutors at any time, before a match."
Criscito's house in Genoa was also searched after a series of phone taps revealed contact with Milanetto and a series of text messages from former AC Milan and Genoa player Kakha Kaladze over allegedly fixing the Genoa vs Lazio match in the previous season. He was also photographed meeting with the leader of the Genoa ultras, Fabricio Fileni, and Lazio striker, Giuseppe Sculli over lunch days before the match which resulted in a 4-2 Lazio win.
The defender made the move to Zenit last year after spending three years at Genoa.
Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci is also under suspicion but has so far survived Prandelli's axe.
Antonio Conte, the Juventus manager was also interrogated in relation to his time at Siena. The owner of Siena, Massimo Mezzaroma is also under investigation. Other clubs in the eye of the storm are Atalanta and Novara.
Roberto Di Martino, the chief prosecutor called Siena, a focal point of their investigation.
"There are seven, eight games being looked at and there have been statements that make us think they were manipulated," Di Martino said. "The searches involved players, coaches and directors of the club, including Conte and Mezzaroma."
Much of the investigation centres around the role of a shadowy group of Balkan mercenaries called the Zingaris aka Gypsies, headed by Hristiyan Ilievski who have targeted the Serie and its players paying them off to fix results in order to make large sums on sporting bets. The scandal crossed over to the Serie A after defender Andrea Masiello revealed he was paid €50,000 to score an own goal in Bari's defeat vs Lecce, a result that ensured their rival's survival in Serie A last season. Almost a year has passed by since Cristiano Doni, the former Atalanta midfielder was banned from the sport along with Giuseppe Signori, the former Lazio player on match fixing Serie B matches exposed the tip of the match fixing iceberg.
The scandal has gone international with five Hungarians also arrested in their country over allegations of fixing Lazio vs Lecce as well as Genoa vs Lazio. Authorities are also opening up investigations into betting syndicates operating out of Switzerland and Singapore into what appears to be illegal payments and sporting fraud.
Almost 150 other figures connected to Italian football are being questioned over dozens of matches fixed in Serie A. Here is the list.
This is deja vu all over again to the eternal shame of Italian football. On the eve of the Euros 2012 they have to try and answer this scandal on the pitch just like they did in the 2006 World Cup. Daniele De Rossi had this gloomy forecast:
"This time it's worse than 2006. At least for me," Roma and Italy midfielder Daniele De Rossi said. "It's more shocking this time, with the police coming into Coverciano (Italy's training ground) and people I know being arrested. We're going to the Euros with a stain on us."
The French footballer of the year is soon to be a Chelsea man. Eden Hazard, the Lille midfielder with the growing reputation is ready to sign a five year contract which will pay him £170,000 a week. The transfer is worth £35m. In all, with the transfer fee, player wages, and agent fee, it amounts to £78m. If this is true, then about three fourths of the Champions League prize money has gone towards the services of just one player. Oh, well this is Chelsea, and when have they shown an interest in keeping financial perspective?
Hazard had shown an interest in pursuing Champions League football for quite some time and it was inevitable he would move from the Ligue. There was some interest in Arsenal while more increasingly it appeared to be toss up between City and Spurs, two clubs that put Chelsea's Premiership season to shade. Spurs lost interest as their season fizzled and City balked at the his price tag. Moreover, Joe Cole, on loan to Lille appears to have sold Chelsea to Hazard and the London side's Champions League winning response could not have been more perfectly timed to convince him that Stamford Bridge would be his next home. The deal was negotiated by Abramovich and technical director Michael Emenalo and it involves a anticipated £6m payoff to the player's agent.
No official announcement from Chelsea but Hazard jumped the gun tweeting on his account:
" C'est désormais officiel, Eden Hazard portera le maillot de Chelsea la saison prochaine." Roughly translated it means, "I'm joining Chelsea, so you can suck on it, Mwaaahahahaha."
Here is Arsene Wenger's take on Hazard: "His creative ability, his talent for unbalancing opponents, his vision of the game, and his consummate skill in making the final pass all make him an in-demand player."
Roman Abramovich is not resting with just Hazard's signing. Next target, Hulk. Who could be prised from Porto for £30m even though the club has slapped a €100m buy out clause. Remember all the big noise about Gaël Kakuta, Jeffrey Bruma, Patrick van Aanholt and Josh McEachran, academy players touted to make the transition to the first team. It was too good to be true.
Thierry Henry replaces David Beckham as MLS's most highly paid player. The former Arsenal striker earns a base salary of $5m which increases to $5.6m with compensation included. Next in line, Henry's Red Bull team mate, defender Rafa Marquez with a $4.6m salary and no guaranteed compensation.
David Beckham, the top earner the last five years, saw his base salary decline to $3m with another $1m added as compensation, in his new contract. This represents a 40% cut from his previous guaranteed salary of $6.5m. But hey, all is not dark in the Beckham household for daddy gets a bonus carrying the Olympic torch. The MLS players union released their 2012 player wages this weekend:
The MLS top ten:
1. Thierry Henry (Red Bulls): $5,000,000 - $5,600,000.00
2. Rafa Marquez (Red Bulls): $4,600,000 - $4,600,000.00
3. David Beckham (Galaxy): $3,000,000 - $4,000,000.00
4. Robbie Keane (Galaxy): $2,917,241 - $3,417,242.00
5. Torsten Frings (Toronto): $2,000,000 - $2,413,666.67*
6. Landon Donovan (Galaxy): $2,400,000 - $2,400,000.00
7. Julian De Guzman (Toronto): $1,863,996 - $1,910,746.00
8. Danny Koevermans (Toronto): $1,150,000 - $1,563,323.33*
9. Kris Boyd (Portland): $1,250,00 - $1,500,000.00
10. Eric Hassli (Vancouver): $550,000 - $790,000.00
The Galaxy and Toronto boast the most number of players in the rich list but they are at the bottom of the table in their respective divisions. Toronto have scored 8 goals in their 10 matches having won only one of those. Their performance comes with a caveat for Frings and Koeverman have not provided much impact being out with injuries. Plus, MLS couldn't you have rounded off their salaries. Did you owe them for a stick of chewing gum?
The high octane Galaxy have scored only 15 goals in their 13 matches. Pretty shocking.
It's almost as if Landon Donovan is saddled with a reverse Messi problem. He scores more goals for his country because there is better quality in the midfield than his own club. Just look at what he did against Scotland with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones providing that insurance playing just behind him.
The Swiss cut open the German defense like one of their cheeses. To be fair they were missing the Bayern Munich contingent with Manuel Neuer, Philipp Lahm, Holger Badtstuber, Derek Boateng, Toni Kroos, and Bastian Schweinsteiger rested for this match.
Eren Derdiyok scored a hat trick, two of them through headers, as the Germans elected to remain earthbound. Stephan Lichtsteiner also punished them aerially while Admir Mehmedi finished off Marc-André ter Stegen's spill for Switzerland's final score.
Diego Benaglia and the Swiss defense also did not have a good day in the office. Check out Andre Schurrle's shot which was headed straight for Benaglia but at the very end of its trajectory swerved to his left to leaving him stranded.
Football is back on the USA's menu. You can sense the optimism in the players and their growing belief in Juergen Klinsmann.
This was easily the best performance by the MNT since Klinsmann's takeover. Landon Donovan scored a blazing hat trick with his 47th, 48th, and 49th strike and then picked out Jermaine Jones with a beautifully calculated cross for the midfielder's goal. Michael Bradley had a blinder of a match. He was simply outstanding. Check out that fine Donovan chip pass and Bradley's superlative half volley. Jose Torres down the left flank caught the eye with his movement on the ball in a typical mazy run at the end of which Terrence Boyd narrowly missed scoring a goal of his own.
Scotland was hit and hit again by a metronomic one touch football of a quality that would do the legendary 1970 Brazil squad proud. It left Juergen Klinsmann exulting and US fans feeling very, very good about themselves.
For Scotland, the very opposite as Cragi Levein's heaviest defeat left their fans grumbling and longing for the days of Archie Gemmill. I am sure Carlos Bocanegra and Maurice Edu had to lift the sagging spirits of fellow Ranger Allan McGregor who cut a frustrated figure in goal.
Pep Guardiola was given a perfect send off as Barca tore into an error prone Athletic Bilbao defense with ruthless efficiency to win the 2012 Copa Del Rey.
The final was all but over in the first 25 minutes with Pedro opening the account taking advantage of some sloppy defending, Messi getting into the act as Iniesta found him with a pinpoint outlet, with Pedro scoring again drilling the ball past Gorka Iraizoz with a beauty. All before the Basques had taken their first collective breath.
Some unforgettable moments. Including the free for all that broke out at the end of the match. Here is a closer look as Maradona goes all UFC on Bilbao >>
And so the coach of the Blaugrana, the one who won in his four years every title that needed to be won, appears in his final match, the Copa Del Rey finals against Athletic Bilbao today. Josep "Pep" Guardiola comes full circle against a team whose 4-1 defeat gave Barcelona a triple crown and capped an extra-ordinary coaching debut for the 37 year old.
For someone who follows football closely the sight of the pencil slim Guardiola sheathed impeccably in black patrolling the sidelines was something of a given. That is because Barca was not far from our consciousness having become the defining team for many in this generation. All the big games in the world and they were there along with Guardiola, joined at the hip. It will be strange, perhaps unsettling to see him gone even if it is temporary.
This match won't be the blowout it was four years ago. And it shouldn't be. The Basques have to bring the best out of Barcelona and Guardiola because that is how managers are drawn back in, to the smell of a challenge, the lure of silverware, the high of adrenaline pumping at a hard fought match. We hope this match will leave enough pheromones for Guardiola to return sooner than later.
Marcelo Bielsa has a side that is replete with talent. Fantastic wingers in Markel Susaeta and Iker Munian. The centre controlled by the versatile Oscar De Marcos and Javi Martinez linking up with Fernando Llorente, a force of nature when in his element. Off the bench he can count on the impressive Ibai Gomez to support Llorente. The heart of defense looks suspect with Fernando Amorebieta, the weak link who was punished in the 0-3 loss to Atletico Madrid in the Europa Cup finals. In a twist they play the Copa finals at the Vicente Calderon, Atletico's home grounds which could add extra impetus to their performance.
The Basques have won the Copa 23 times second only to Barca's 25 titles. But the last one came in the now infamous 1983-84 finals when Diego Maradona faced off against Andoni Goikoetxea, the Butcher of Bilbao who had broken his ankle the previous year. The match was marred by brutal tackles and at the end a free for all broke out that resembled a UFC title fight.
This Bilbao side bears no resemblance to those pugilistic teams coached by Javier Clemente, the manager that Maradona never forgave. This Copa final will be finesse and precision, not brawn and power. The Blaugrana are sure to give Pep Guardiola a send off that he will remember. We have the makings off a classic and the subsequent outpouring off emotion that will move mountains. A perfect segue to the 2012 Euro just two weeks away.
In the senselessness that is Joey Barton, the greatest tragedy is his thinking Twitter is some sort of substitute for actual therapy.
Barton receives a 12 match ban for going berserk on the Premiership's last day after Carlos Tevez elbowed him. In addition he's lighter by £75,000.
The FA increased the suspension after they decided to charge him for attempting to headbutt Vincent Kompany which Barton denies while accepting hacking Sergio Aguero. Can't imagine a sweeter payback to the antics that got Gervinho thrown out when Arsenal met Newcastle in the very first match of the season.
No Twitter response to the match ban from Barton as yet but before the announcement there was this: " We are all just travellers passing on a journey." His QPR career could be at an end. Time to move on.
Here is a chronology of Barton's trail of mayhem >>
There is a new wrinkle in Nicholas Anelka's career which has seen many such wrinkles over the years. He has threatened to retire from his present club Shanghai Shenhua weeks after he was appointed player coach in response to the news that the club is now appointing Sergio Batista as manager.
Anelka was lured last year away from the Premier League after he slid down the pecking order with Fernando Torres and Daniel Sturridge above him. Shenhua is a club with deep, deep pockets with Anelka being paid over $300,000 a week which makes him the fifth richest player in the world. The arrival of Anelka was seen as a precursor to the eventual snaring of his Chelsea team mate and prize Didier Drogba who was not keen on playing second fiddle to Roman Abramovich's desire to see Torres succeed. It was Torres's continued struggle and a Chelsea squad that found goal getting a chore which led to Drogba finding himself back in favour.
Drogba then completed his journey after Chelsea's Champions League win realized his biggest dream. It freed him off any obligation to stay back in the Premiership leaving him free to explore alternatives including his delayed move to join Anelka at Shenhua. However, there is a possibility he may not have Anelka as his team mate if the Frenchman makes good on his threat to leave Shenhua unless the Batista situation is resolved to his liking (Chelsea's player activists rising to the fore again!). Anelka could potentially use Drogba as a trump card to strong arm the Chinese club. Either way Drogba lands up being coached by Anelka (a recipe for some locker room barnstormers between two strong personalities) or face time spent trying to convince a very unhappy team mate to stay.
Shenhua is owned by Zhu Jun, the CEO of The9, an online game developer and operator (they own the Chinese license to World of Warcraft). They trade on NASDAQ under the ticker NCTY. The longest running mystery is how long this company that most pundits have rated a fail can afford to prop up the gargantuan salary that it is paying Anelka ($14 m/ year) and potentially more for Drogba (at least another $14m/year) They lost that much on Q3 losses and another $20m in Q4. Net revenues declined with negative growth earnings and P/E ratios forecast for the next two years. In the last three years they have lost about $150m with 2008 the last year they made a profit (which barely covered Anelka's salary).
The club finished in 11th place last season but the owner has made no bones he wants to overtake Ghuangzhou Evergrande at the top and spending beyond one's means has not factored in yet. This looks like a house of cards, a Portsmouth on steroids, a collapse waiting to happen.
Drogba, a striker of undiminished potency as evinced by his Champions League form, would be advised to tread very carefully. He could spend his last productive years in legal wrangling off the pitch or he could continue to cement his legacy undisturbed in a more settled club or league.
Frank De Boer is the latest to turn down the Liverpool job. So did Brendan Rogers who is going slow with his coaching ambitions. Juergen Klopp on the short list has indicated his future is with Borussia Dortmund. Similarly, Didier Deschamps finds no reason to leave Marseilles. There is no chance Pep Guardiola or Jose Mourinho will coach this club.
The choices boil down to Andre Villa-Boas and Roberto Martinez, with the former being favoured by bookies and fans alike to be the next manager, the latter seen as John Henry's choice. The glaring omission: Rafa Benitez. The former Liverpool manager has been declined even the honour of an interview.
Benitez has not coached since he was fired in December 2010 after his disastrous tenure at Inter. He now lives in Wirral, a Merseyside suburb and has continued his association with LFC having donated close to £100,000 to the Hillsborough Family Support Group dedicated to the 96 fans who lost their lives in the 1989 Hillsborough tragedy.
His heart beats Liverpool red. "I regard Merseyside as my home because of the way my family have been accepted and treated by the people and I know that the group is such an important cause."
Clearly, there is a reason for his hiatus. He wants to coach Liverpool once again. The sheen of the 2005 Champions League win and the 2006 FA Cup victory will never wear off for most fans along with the club's second place finish in 2009, their best showing in the league since the inception of the Premiership.
Most of the later fallout over Benitez stems from his difficulty developing a personal rapport with his players, an obsession with squad rotation and zonal marking, and a lengthening rap sheet of uncovering duds (remember Andriy Voronin?) while inflating the payroll. Many of these personal idiosyncrasies coupled with the club's financial turmoil under former owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett's resulted in a very short sighted transfer policy that saw Xabi Alonso being sold to Real Madrid in 2009.
That decision essentially doomed Liverpool. An injured Alberto Aquilani was kept under wraps and Lucas, Alonso's replacement was nowhere as good as he's now. With the leveraged buyout swindlers spending their living moments selling the club, Rafa was left wielding a carrot. Part of that unfinished business also saw Rafa turn to Kenny Dalglish hiring him to developing homegrown talent.
John Henry, the present owner has reservations over Benitez's micro-managing style as well as his penchant for demanding cash on supply for his transfer choices. This disquiet is not new as Henry in one of his first public statements since his takeover laid the blame squarely on the Spaniard for a bloated squad with little depth. However, with Liverpool having made little gains in the league the last two seasons should shift the onus onto the owner for his managerial choices as well as his decision to bring in Damien Comolli, the man superseding Dalglish to bring in a fleet of high priced transfers with little impact (Suarez notwithstanding) while spending over £100m.
Benitez left no doubts as to what he could have done with that money if he had been manager. Henry might change his tune if AVB and Roberto Martinez fail to impress the owner in their interviews. That is what most fans desire. In their eyes, Benitez is head over shoulders the clear favourite. He deserves to tell his side of the story and to be afforded an opportunity to finish unfinished business.
In case anyone needed convincing Radamel Falcao is nothing if not genius. Cue frenzied transfer rumours. With Chelsea winning the Champions League all roads lead to Stamford Bridge.
Remember Johnny Utaka at Portsmouth? For a brief while he was the Premiership's most exciting player. His brace in the last match against AJ Auxerre secured Montpellier their first ever Championnat. The club coached by Rene Girard overcame big moneyed PSG, the favourites to win the Ligue. Girard on the historic occasion:
" I think it's refreshing. It's good. It revives our football. It shows you don't need to fear anybody", and that money doesn't buy happiness. We're a club made of friends, basically an academy, and finally it worked [for us] with a balanced team."
Earlier, I had written about how difficult it would be to implement financial fair play rules when the overwhelming trope is big spending clubs win titles. City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, come to mind. But there have been bright spots too this season. Borussia Dortmund, Newcastle Utd, and now Montpellier have proven that blank checks do not guarantee success. All three clubs enriched themselves with talent through careful scouting and prudent spending.
Montpellier, a city with a population of little more than 250,000, famous for a world class medical university, home of Rabelais who wrote Gargantua and Pantagruel, now has one more feather in its cap.
This well maybe Edinson Cavani's last match for Napoli. If it is, he made sure the fans remember him fondly. He made that penalty happen heading on a long throw into the path of the cutting Ezeqiel Lavezzi who was upended by Marco Storari. The Uruguayan striker was on the mark with the spot kick.
Napoli sealed the victory with Marek Hamsik's goal as Napoli hit Juve on the counterattack, a strength that they capitalized on time and time again.
Juve were hard done by the referee's decision not to award a penalty with Salvatore Aronica's late tackle on Claudio Marchisio inside the box. Antonio Conte's decision to start with Marco Boriello also did not pan out.
It was also Alessandro Del Piero's farewell match and as he said afterwards this would have been the cherry on the top but Il Pinturucchio was a legend before and after this match.
Two elements of the Italian game seem to have played two very different roles in the Chelsea vs Bayern Champions League final.
Roberto Di Matteo's catenaccio style layered defense that stretched Bayern worked to perfection while Jupp Heynckes decision to pull Thomas Mueller in the 84th minute to preserve a one goal lead proved disastrous.
In October 2010 Wayne Rooney issued a warning to the Glazers to splash the cash to make Utd competitive. He was proven right a year and a half later as City won their maiden Premiership. For their part City were hardly obliging as even before the ink had dried casting their eyes at their favourite supply chain, Arsenal, for the services of Robin Van Persie, ready to send his wages out of the stratosphere.
This weekend, Roman Abramovich, the original jedi of financial doping finally got the prize he craved from his 1bn fleet of aging superstars revived under a low rent manager. In City's case their first Premiership title ended a 44 year drought while Chelsea tasted their first Champions League success, their finest achievement in their 107 year existence.
These are unmistakably proud milestones in the histories of both clubs. But the inescapable fact is as Simon Kuper correctly points out is money essentially buys championships. This is an almost statistical certainty proven to be true nine out of 10 times. The loser these past weekends was the abstraction of a level playing field. City and Chelsea are propped up by the bottomless wealth of their ownership who underwrite their staggering losses without breaking a sweat. This might be the dawn of a blue moon but City announced a £197m shortfall, their largest since the Al Nahyan's took over. There were more blues for Chelsea as they ended the financial year £68m in the hole. Combined both clubs accounted for more than 50% of the Premiership's £484m deficit between revenue and spending. Sixteen out of the 20 clubs recorded losses. A stark reminder that austerity seems to be late coming to many of these clubs and in a few, not at all.
The broader vision for the implementation of these financial fair play rules was not just a brake on out of control spending. Part of its remit was to encourage clubs to look to their own homegrown talent, to nurture, and bring up the ranks as a means to end living beyond their means. City has in its arsenal a fantastic youth academy of which Micah Richards is one but like Real Madrid's famous cantera they will have little to no chance finding a place in the senior squad as the positions get filled with City's ever widening circle of galactic stars. Chelsea singled out 22 year old Ryan Bertrand's outstanding work controlling Phillip Lahm but the more telling sign was the left back's performance being mentioned as one bright spot. A glimpse into the paucity of options deviling Chelsea in its need to replenish a generation of players on the cusp of retirement or retrenchment. Both clubs seem singularly ill equipped to do so without dipping their hands again into the gaping maw of an insatiable ATM.
These clubs can keep on taking debt as long as they are married to a profit/ loss business parent entity. The Al Nahyan's can shift those receipts into their myriad deals and bury them losing FIFA's accounting trail. There are all sorts of accounting tricks to hide losses and pad revenue through dubious partnerships.
The idea of a level playing field is noble but it is flawed because the ownership structure so loosely regulated in England has been taken advantage of repeatedly. Self realization dawned on Abramovich only very recently when he moved to shift equity onto the club in an effort to bring down debt. The Glazers on the other hand appear to be a spent force and if these numbers are correct are bleeding an astronomical £250,000 a day just to service debt.
There is little chance Utd can keep out City or Chelsea if they so want to corner the transfer market. Oil, gas, and precious metals are not going to be replaced by alternatives any time soon. But just like the debate that is crippling Europe and its governments, is sweeping austerity the answer or is spending your way out of trouble? Liverpool thought the latter was the answer and they did worse while Arsenal opted for the former and has been stuck in the status quo ever since. The dangers of both approaches should be obvious to Utd.
Much of this scrutiny is taking rightly at the EPL, the origin of this wave of heedless spending. FIFA will impose greater transparency and adherence by demanding disclosure statements. A watchdog media and and a public wearying of the disruption to their lives by an ever shrinking pie might keep a notion of fairness alive. However, the wave is now moving offshore to the Russian and Chinese leagues with even fewer insights into the way they run clubs. The success registered by City and Chelsea will embolden clubs like Anzhi whose owner is Abramovich on steroids to issue blank checks to players in the hopes that they too in the not so distant future mount the podium as champions of the world. What will financial fair play rules accomplish when the money trail finally disappears?
Ricardo Vaz Te's 87th minute goal won the match and ensured the Hammers return to the Premiership after spending a season away. Afterwards, Sam Allardyce called Vaz Te the best ever signing he had made. The Hammers join Reading and Southampton as the promoted teams. For Ian Holloway and Blackpool their luck ran out in the playoffs.
Spare a thought for the irrepressible Holloway, the coach who drops eminently quotable quotes. He was this close to rejoining the top league. His most famous bon mot:
"To put it in gentleman's terms if you've been out for a night and you're looking for a young lady and you pull one, some weeks they're good looking and some weeks they're not the best. Our performance today would have been not the best looking bird but at least we got her in the taxi. She weren't the best looking lady we ended up taking home but she was very pleasant and very nice, so thanks very much, let's have a coffee" His reaction to Blackpool winning "ugly" against Chesterfield.
Here is his first press interview. It's a laugh riot.
Suspended captain John Terry who played no part in the Champions League final lifting the Champions League was probably as low as it could get. On the other hand, one cannot but feel happy for Didier Drogba, who lives and dies football everytime he steps out on the pitch. Even his orchestrated dives cannot be grudged. David Luiz seems to be the live wire of the team, hugging, kissing, and playing the prankster. The camera cut away at times to the dejected Bayern players. Those medals must have felt like millstones as they came off second best in their own home.
Michel Platini, the chief activist of the financial fair play rules handing the trophy and it vending its way finally to Roman Abramovich, the man most responsible for football's present day curse of financial doping was a scene dripping with irony. Someday that will make its way to a documentary.
Five years ago in Munich, John Terry was a picture of abject misery, slipping on the slick Luzhniki Stadium turf and missing his penalty as Utd held off Chelsea in a heartbreaking loss.
Today, we saw Chelsea do the impossible as they held Bayern at the Allianz Arena, their home stadium, through full time and extra time for 120+ minutes through so many near death experiences. The 82nd minute goal by Thomas Mueller appeared to have spelled doom but Didier Drogba's powerful header five minutes later off Chelsea's first corner restored parity sending the visiting fans who had gone silent into a screaming celebratory frenzy.
Drogba now turned villain in extra time unforgivably clipping Franck Ribery on the heel bringing him down in the box. There was no doubt it was a penalty as the Ivoirian looked agonized. Arjen Robben who had been having his problems with accuracy all evening elected to go for power and Cech guessed correctly diving to his left to gather the ball resuscitating Chelsea's dreams again. It was then one this feeling that this was going to end very badly for Bayern.
With the penalty shootout tantalizingly poised at 4-4, Bastian Schweinsteiger stepped up to take the spot. There were some doubts with fatigue but the veteran midfielder and a Bavarian legend looked calm in his set up, put Cech at his mercy with a nice stutter step in his run up and then pushed the ball calamitously onto the upright. The stage was set for Drogba who was not part of the Champions League final five years ago to seal the final for the Blues and send Bayern into a world of pain. This might be his final match for Chelsea and if it is one cannot think of a better send off. It also ended Chelsea's five year odyssey from Moscow to Munich, a journey strewn with bitterness and anger at perceived refereeing injustices and close calls.
One also cannot write enough that the only statistic in football that matters is goals. By now one would think the number of times one repeats that axiom would rob it of its potency. And so Bayern found out in the throes off its death spiral that was what they could have done, should have done, but did not do. Opportunities came fast and furious but Mario Gomez, Mueller, and Robben were woeful in their finish. Gomez in particular was abject flubbing three chances in front of goal that the normally sharp shooting German would have put away in his sleep. Set pieces were no better as Bayern racked up 16 corners before Chelsea got their first which produced an instantaneous result.
Jupp Heynckes decision to sub Mueller after he scored to bring in Daniel Van Buyten effectively pushing Anatoli Tymoschuk into a holding midfielder role put the brakes on the Bayern attack and gradually more ground was ceded to Chelsea. It is no coincidence the equalizer was conceded in this reconfiguration. That decision will get much attention. Drogba's decision to clip Ribery was also on hindsight the best thing that could have happened because the winger collapsed with cramps following that and he had to leave. In his absence Chelsea loaded the left flank as Lahm and Robben predictably made their forays into that channel to be stopped by a defense that played its heart out.
David Luiz and Ashley Cole cannot be praised enough. The number of blocks the Chelsea defense made Lebron James eat his heart out. Every time a Bayern player swung his leg there was a blue jersey throwing himself in front of him to neutralize his shot. Barcelona must feel better because they know now this was a Blues team completing its destiny.
This was the second week in a row of nerve wracking, nail biting finishes. Last Sunday saw City stage a miraculous two goal comeback in stoppage time to win their first Premiership title. One cannot think of a more unforgettable season in football's long history. It certainly is in Chelsea's 107 year history collecting the famous double.
What does this mean for Roberto Di Matteo? One cannot think of a better way of rewarding Di Matteo by making his position permanent in what has been a special three months for the club whey turned everything around and marched the other way winning everything meaningful except winning the Premiership. In the end their sixth placed finish in the Premiership did not hurt them one bit. Congratulations!
Fear, loathing, paranoia struck Arsenal when the news broke of RVP failing to renew his contract on meeting with Arsene Wenger and Ivan Gazidis on Wednesday. There is a reason why these are called negotiations and RVP will obviously take into account what the other clubs have to offer so he can come back to the table to see if Arsenal can improve their terms. It's standard operating procedure.
Yes, obviously all this doesn't guarantee he stay on in Arsenal once the season begins but to think he would commit to a new contract within the space of the first meeting is terribly naive. Juventus and Man City are interested and it wasn't long before Patrick Vieira began the "Oh, how could Arsenal leave RVP's future unresolved" line. RVP as per reports is not interested in the Serie and there is little indication he wants to become City's latest in their conduit to Arsenal. A trip to Camp Nou is more to his liking but the Catalans are in major re-assessment mode themselves with Pep Guardiola's abdication and their entire defensive corps in need of an upgrade. It is unclear where RVP would fit in with their plans and budget.
The latest is that all of this will conclude well after the Euros are over. If I were Arsenal, it would be best to hedge bets and not get caught with their collective pants down their ankles like they did last summer. In the meantime, there is plenty of chaff to clear. Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, and Park Chu-Yong need new homes. Will we need a plan B to Jack Wilshere seeing that his return seems to be interminably delayed? There is lots to do before RVP's future is resolved. The idea of a player being irreplaceable is too tethered in sentiment. It would be ideal to have RVP back and recommit to a future at Arsenal but a big payoff in letting him go has fewer downsides if that money can be invested in bringing a crop of new, exciting players to the Emirates. It's all a bit ironical when we say this in Arsenal's contest but look no further than Borussia Dortmund or Newcastle for inspiration.
Let us be anxious. Just a little bit. This is a 21 year old footballer who has already missed a whole season for his ankle problem for which the club and its medical staff seemed to think the cure was around the corner. Now that this injury has kept him out of the 2012 Euro comes the news that he is to undergo a "minor" knee surgery which is a complication arising from said ankle problem.
Jack Wilshere is also the reason why Arsene Wenger and Arsenal will not make any more investment in the midfield. In fact, Wenger was betting on Wilshere rejoining the side in the second half after this January's disastrous start. Till Tomas Rosicky sparked that six match winning streak but again faded as Arsenal went into the mini swoon in end April that provoked so much Champions League anxiety.
We have Aaron Ramsey still feeling the after effects of that Ryan Shawcross bone breaker months after his return. The Wales captain struggled, his timing was off, and in what should have been his forte was supplanted by Song in creating those dial up passes at the cost of defensive duties. Wilshere could also face a prolonged acclimatization even after being declared match fit.
Having two creative cogs coming back after such long injury absences with differing paces of rehabilitation leaves the midfield with too many X factors for the forthcoming season. It burdens a 31 year old with spearheading the attack, a holding midfielder whose first priority should be to protect backfield, and a former Everton midfielder with organizational skills which were only appreciated in hindsight. The midfield is a work in progress and Wenger cannot afford risk keeping it that way.
This is as much the collective failure of a group of high priced players to deliver for their club. Only Luis Suarez justified his transfer fee. But King Kenny had to bear the brunt off a £120m giveaway which in these times is exceedingly tough to justify.
In the end the arrival of Charlie Adam, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, and Jordan Henderson to Liverpool coupled with the long standing injury to Steven Gerrard left all the creation at the feet of Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan almost single handedly kept the club going even as his personality disorder and racial animosities were revealed. Why Dalglish so concertedly decided to go English to replenish the midfield and attack, which proved the side's undoing is hard to fathom given a lot of his success as manager in the late 80's was down to the performances of Jan Molby, LFC's Danish born midfield maestro.
Contrast and compare Newcastle's overtures to foreign talent which brought in Cheik Tiote, Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye, Demba Ba, Sylvain Marveaux, and Papiss Cisse in a rebuild that took a couple of seasons. The decision to look overseas received further impetus under Alan Pardew, a manager famously accused of xenophobia by Arsene Wenger and now it seems can't get his fill of foreign born players.
The payoff has been immense for Newcastle who just about failed to land a Champions League spot. They were done in by Everton on the last day as Nikica Jelavic who had about as big an instant impact as any in the history of the sport stole the show from Papiss Cisse. However, Newcastle are in pole position to challenge the top four hierarchy with arguably the Premiership's most attacking midfield and two lethal finishers.
John Henry is at fault too. The man impressed by Billy Bean's Moneyball approach to baseball didn't seem to follow that philosophy when it came to football. Now, the hunt for a new coach is on. All sorts of names from Andre Villa- Boas to Juergen Klopp is being bandied about. Who knows this might mean the return of Rafa Benitez?
Team unity be damned. Old is gold. We have John Terry back resurrected until proven otherwise in the racism charge against Anton Ferdinand. Fabio Capello was sacked for going rogue on Italian TV but Roy Hodgson brought back Terry to the squad without it raising a cheep out of the FA as he sugar coated it on purely "footballing reasons,"
What is Hodgson building on if you also include Frank Lampard, James Milner, and Gareth Barry? The Ox, Danny Welbeck, Phil Jones are amongst a handful of players as nods to the next generation. Fabio Capello was rightly pilloried for his play safe choices but Hodgson's selections show a turgid, first let me not be humiliated thinking.
If Hodgson had any chutzpah this England team should have been a combination of Wigan, Swansea and Norwich City. They would score more and probably given up more goals but the matches would be entertaining and high paced. Where is Victor Moses? Nathan Dyer? Anthony Pilkington?
Andy Carroll seemed to have perked up in his last few appearances but 31 year old Grant Holt has been perked up since the start of this as well as last season. If Emile Heskey was a perennial favourite till very recently because he casts a shadow on goal for the quicker players to dart in and score then Holt not only gives you that but he scores too.
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Rob Green (West Ham United), John Ruddy (Norwich City)
Defenders: Leighton Baines (Everton), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Ashley Cole (Chelsea), Glen Johnson (Liverpool), Phil Jones (Manchester United), Joleon Lescott (Manchester City), John Terry (Chelsea)
Midfielders: Gareth Barry (Manchester City), Stewart Downing (Liverpool), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Frank Lampard (Chelsea), James Milner (Manchester City), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal), Scott Parker (Tottenham Hotspur), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Ashley Young (Manchester United)
Forwards: Andy Carroll (Liverpool), Jermain Defoe (Tottenham Hotspur), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Welbeck (Manchester United)
On standby: Jack Butland (Birmingham City), Phil Jagielka (Everton), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Adam Johnson (Manchester City), Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea).
Iker Casillas, Real's captain and MC took over centre stage as Sergio Ramos played his understudy. Pipita, CR7, Pepe, Marcelo, and Esteban Granero chipped in with their thoughts as Karim Benzema, Mesut Oezil, and the rest of the non-Spanish speaking contingent skulked around the corners.
All sorts of records were set in Real's title winning season. For the first time in La Liga a side recorded 100 points as the side scored a record 121 goals with 51 of those coming in away matches, yet another record. They also won 32 matches with 16 of those coming on the road, both records.
They had to put up this enviable record against Barca who whilst a notch below their stratospheric standards were no underdogs. The Catalunyans also recorded 114 goals and gave away less with 29 compared to Real's 32 goals. In the end 9 points separated them. While the focus was rightly on these two giants battling away, there was no real suspense left of the nail biting variety witnessed in the Premiership or in the Serie just this week. Real had pulled away a month ago.
The victory also comes at the expense of the other clubs. The redistribution of points and goals scored are a socialist's dream. Third placed Valencia were 39 points behind Real with less than half the goals scored. Yes, 39 points. That was five more points than
the difference between Racing Santander, 16 places removed from Valencia and at the very bottom. In the Premiership Arsenal was 19 points behind City and Utd, a considerably larger margin than usual but were 45 points ahead of relegated Wolves.
There is little doubt La Liga is becoming a soporific for most of us not invested in seeing two heavyweights land below the belt punches but it seems to be creating the phenomenon of other sides scrapping for secondary honours and seeking their fortunes in alternate competition. This is but a theory but measuring up constantly to Real and Barca uplifts the standards of the game on the whole as a Utd side found out against an excellent Athletic Bilbao side in the Europa Cup. The Basques finished the season 10th in La Liga on 49 points, a difference of 40 points between them and Utd who tied on points with City, the Premiership champions.
Yet, the 10th placed Liga team outplayed Utd, the Premiership runners up comprehensively as anyone watching those matches would testify. If this theory is correct than we shall see continued Spanish domination of the Europa Cup if Real and Barca continue their high end polarization of the Liga. This season, three out of the four semi-finalist were from that league and an even better Atletico Madrid side beat the Basques in the finals. Domestic despair, international repair.
The former Arsenal midfielder couldn't sit back and enjoy City's historic season. He had to resort to a cheap shot at his old club underlining that very true adage, "money doesn't buy you class."
He's a footnote in City's season having contributed little to their first ever Premiership title. City forked out over £20m for him and the only visual of Nasri one has is his desperate attempts to run circles around the opposition trying to resurrect that goal he scored against Porto while at Arsenal.
He was seventh fiddle to David Silva, Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson and Mario Balotelli who all scored more goals. Mancini would start him and then yank him out after Nasri's meanderings would go nowhere. His five goals in 30 matches and 2245 playing minutes represents a very poor return on investment. Comparably, his Arsenal career was far more productive at all levels of competition.
The bottomline: He wanted more money and nothing he does can ever whitewash that fact.
Holding up that sign earned Carlos Tevez a slap on the wrist. It's all a bit ironical considering Tevez's own career was almost over 6 months ago after he refused to play Bayern.
An enraged Mancini vowed he would never play for City as the club readied his transfer in the January window. Only problem: no club would touch him with a barge pole except for a bizarre offer from Corinthians which fell through when his former club quibbled over his escape clause. Why waste precious money on someone whose attitude to the sport seemed to be dictated by whimsy and fugue. What followed was purgatory before City's Premiership title chase stalled badly and they desperately sought a consistent goalscorer.
To be fair, this was not Tevez's own sign. It was handed to him by a fan but he holding it up was a blind spot in self awareness. The sign is thought to be a riposte at Sir Alex's comments three years ago when he was asked if he thought United would be underdogs to City. "Not in my lifetime," he said.
As the Guardian points, Joey Barton's hysterics gave City the extra time they desperately needed to transform their fortunes. Conversely, Barton going neanderthal also sank United's Premiership hopes. If I were him, he would be well advised to steer clear of anything movable that Sir Alex could get his hands on.
And a corollary to this all. Could there be any more significant elbow in the history of the Premiership as the one Carlos Tevez landed on Barton? The Argentinian did not contribute anything with his feet but his elbow, now that is immeasurable.
What a bittersweet final day for Juve fans as their side got to lift the Scudetto and beat Atalanta, 3-1 in the season's last match. It was also the last day for Alessandro Del Piero, their talismanic striker, who spent almost his entire career at the Old Lady, spanning 19 years.
Del Piero made 704 appearances and scored 298 goals becoming the club's top scorer. Against Atalanta he bowed out in style scoring the second goal and was subbed off in the second half as an emotional Juve stadium kept giving him a standing ovation after another for the remainder of the match. Not a dry eye to be found.
There are very few left in the sport for whom the pride taken in playing for one club trumps every other consideration. Del Piero wore his Juve heart out on his sleeve. He was also a goal manufacturer par excellence. No two goals Del Piero scored were alike. This article celebrates the extra-ordinary talent of 'Il Pinturicchio', the Little Painter who painted his canvas of goals with such artistic flair.
One cannot forget with the distraction of the Calciopoli scandal swirling around, Del Piero along with Gianluca Zambrotta returned to Italy in the midst of their 2006 World Cup campaign to be with Gianluca Pessotto, his Juve colleague who was seriously injured after falling out of an office window in what many think to be attempted suicide. He then came back to score Italy's second goal in the semi-finals against Germany. In the final match he put Italy on top in the PK shootout coolly slotting his attempt.
This season wasn't just Del Piero's swansong. A generation of Serie talismans are retiring including Pippo Inzaghi, Gennaro Gattuso, Alessandro Nesta, and Clarence Seedorf. It will be unsettling to not see these familiar faces we have grown old with on the pitch when next season rolls around. The Serie was the exception to the no league for old men. Truly an era is ending.
Ben Foster's injury withdrawal an hour before kick off turned out to be the best thing in Arsenal's afternoon at the Hawthorns. The Gunners actually turned in a poor display but sparsely played Martin Fulop who was Foster's stand in gifted the visiting side all their goals.
Yossi Benayoun deserves credit for following through after Fulop came rushing out of his line to collect and then checked himself realizing he would be out of the box. The result was a massive error in judgment which Benayoun deservedly punished.
This being Arsenal all WBA had to do was to counterattack to send the defense into a swoon which James Morrison duly did sending Shane Long, miles offside for the equalizer. This has been a season of edge of the seat matches but it has also been stuffed with the most horrendous refereeing mistakes.
More grief lay in store as Morrison taking advantage of sloppy defending again sliced Arsenal open and this time it was Graham Dorrans with a snappy finish. But the ineffectual Fulop again came to the rescue before half time as his limp hand to Andre Santos's crashing shot deflected the ball inoto the right hand corner.
We weren't quite full up on the incompetence. Not just yet.
After resumption, Fulop jumped out to what should have been an easy collect off a corner but incredibly resorted to a double fisted punch that traveled back towards Laurent Koscielny which the Frenchman turned into goal. It turned out to be the match winner. But before that Kieran Gibbs effected the single most important piece of defensive work blocking Bill Jones when he looked all set to score. An on edge Wenger on the sidelines who was alternately hugging Pat Rice and walking off could finally rest.
Nice follow through as the players gave Rice a warm send off. He's been subjected to a lots of criticism including from yours truly but on this day he deserves all the respect and gratitude for his years of service dedicated to the club first as a player and then as a coach. Pat Rice, thank you for all the memories!
Arsenal finish third and if we cast our eye back at how we started our season we can say without sentiment that this was one incredible finish. Third place means we automatically qualify for the Champions League next season whatever the outcome of the final on May 19th. Spurs on the other hand will be sweating just a bit. St Totteringham's day came late this year but it did finally come.
Man Utd did their part as Wayne Rooney scored against Sunderland and then held on to win. It all looked good as City stared at defeat against QPR at the Etihad with three minutes left. Fans began clapping expectantly as Sir Alex paced around awaiting a possible 13th Premiership title. Then came the news City had snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
QPR went down to City but in the end it did not prove costly as Bolton could not pull off a win against Stoke so they remain promoted. But no thanks to Joey Barton. This man is a disgrace to his team and the sport. This match should have been spent marshaling players for a huge match instead the demons inside this George Orwell quoting hack got the better of him. Look at him maliciously kneeing Aguero in the back and then just going berserk at being caught out like a child.
It's all the more sweet because Barton's antics got Gervinho sent off when Arsenal met QPR very early in the season. It was a miserable start for the Cote D'Ivoirian earning him a three match ban. Here Carlos Tevez got under his thin skin by elbowing him and the rest as they say is history following Barton's self implosion. The FA should ban him for six.
Amazing, amazing last day. What a nail biting finish! City looked done for as full time went by and they were a goal down to QPR. They had to score twice to win the title with about 3 minutes left in stoppage as United were winning away at Sunderland.
10 man QPR were proving extra-ordinarily tough to break as City swamped them but kept running out of ideas. The body language of both players and fans was terrible. Would Mark Hughes exact revenge on his former club and be canonized at Old Trafford?
Somehow, somewhere, like the phoenix, all in the last three minutes, City managed to rise as Edin Dzeko rose to score a stratospheric header from an umpteenth corner and then Mario Balotelli while going down managed to feed Sergio Aguero who side stepped Anton Ferdinand neatly and launched the winning rocket. Instant pandemonium. A few hundred miles away, United who had just won the Sunderland match and were ready to celebrate had to hold everything back. Spare a thought for their jangled emotions.
That goal by Kun Aguero will be played and re-played from the pubs in Bangor, Maine to the Kamchatka peninsula. Balotelli carted off as a villain in the Arsenal loss will not get enough credit for that heads up piece of opportunism.
Congratulations, City for coming through finally in a season with enough twists and turns to make a sloth dizzy. Eight points down a month ago and City's team spirit fraying visibly this was a courageous comeback after being written off. We can talk off the £1bn price tag of winning the Premiership but what doesn't get talked about enough is Roberto Mancini's nightmare dealing with gargantuan egos and managing players in a perpetual state of revolt.
City deserved it in the end. Does this mean the start of a Blue Moon era? Nothing would be sweeter to a City fan but as the Premiership showed time and time again this season, there is no team that will give them an easy pass.
They have RVP in it so that must mean he's not going to Juventus. Wait, they had Fabregas a year ago too and look how that turned out.
Theo Walcott gets a lot of face time and reveals a new talent for taking free kicks against some immovable props. He seems to have it a wee bit harder against actual flesh and blood opposition.
Sczczesny dents Wenger's car in the end at which the Polish goalie skedaddles out of sight which can only mean one thing. The other Polish goalie is coming back. Yes, Lukasz Fabianski.
The kit actually looks very nice. But in the end this is geared towards fans paying lots of money to keep up.
This is a long overdue move. Pat Rice was joined at Arsene Wenger's hip as his assistant, an association that dates 16 years since the Frenchman joined the club. He has been part of Arsenal's glorious past as well as its less stellar present. But it is clear that Arsenal need to reverse course with some new thinking especially when it comes to the defensive end.
There have been times this season when Arsenal's defense stood out looking sharp and pre-emptive but as demonstrated against Norwich, Blackburn, Wigan, Swansea, QPR (take your pick) it has been more undisciplined and reactive. With such massive variations in performance there is no possibility of a default setting. But the statistic of 47 goals conceded stands out as another egregious example of a defense gone bad. Arsenal will not win any future Premierships if this continues.
At the heart, Arsenal rely on a centre back pair in Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny who show the requisite skills individually but in conjunction seem to be at odds. Vermaelen in particular with his attacking instincts gets caught out of position frequently and his method then to tackle his way out of that jam are sometimes subject to a referee's worst interpretation. Per Mertesacker suffers from no illusion going forward but he is about a step slower for the pace of the Premiership. Johan Djourou waxes and wanes in his performances and he and Vermaelen get shunted around depending on injuries and the exigencies of a team involved in multiple competitions.
Bacary Sagna is still one of the best right backs in the business but he faces a long off season re-fracturing his right leg. At left back Kieran Gibbs and Andre Santos have shown they don't fear going forward but the problem lies in their more porous ability to stop counter attacks. With Arsenal's midfield looking less incisive and assured in possession, Alexander Song has thrust himself into the role of creative spark with more pronounced forays into the top third. Unfortunately, Song has shown to be more remiss in controlling the backfield in the absence of Mikel Arteta or an off day from the former Evertonian.
Last year it was set pieces that deflated Arsenal's season. This year they have considerably improved in that department but a soft midfield highlighted Arsenal's Achilles heel against strong counterattacking teams that break in numbers. When you play such a high line and compress the field you're playing percentages. There has to be a corresponding recognition that it takes inches to be onside. Maintaining a defensive shape and being disciplined is key to dealing when losing possession which has plagued the Gunners more so than any past season (the passing accuracy has been the lowest in years). The sight of so many sides floating a long ball down the centre or quickly snapping to the flanks to surge upfield while Arsenal gather their defensive wits has become all too familiar.
These are some of the vexing issues that Steve Bould faces in his role as Wenger's new assistant. However the biggest challenge he faces are two fold.
One, chart a course to bring back the philosophy that defense can be used to subjugate and win matches. This is nothing new to Wenger. It was the way Arsenal became ascendant in the late 90s for about six years. The 2004 Invincibles share a stunning resemblance to this year's unbeaten Juventus side. Plenty of creative wheels but more so an intimidating, forceful back line that buckled the knees of the opposition with each tackle. Teams were afraid of playing Arsenal. After 2005, defense fell of Wenger's radar and it coincides with Arsenal's dip in fortunes.
Two, to get Wenger to invest in defenders who make that transition possible. This is easier said then done with a manager as stubborn, thrifty, and micro-managing as Wenger. But Bould also has the luxury of hindsight having seen the after effects of seven years of short termism. The Arsenal manager's choices in this critical area have been scattershot, built on expediency, and the economic bottom line. Bould cannot afford to be a rubber stamp in Wenger's budgeting and has to be a forceful and independent minded advocate of bringing backfield quality to the Emirates. Pat Rice was hired more for his ease working with Wenger and not for any fresh insights or activism. Bould along with Tony Adams, Nigel Winterburn, Lee Dixon were part of the famous four that brought Wenger his first success in the Premiership. It was a template for future success.
Athletic Bilbao with 60% of the possession was the better team but Atletico with Radamel Falcao and Diego had all the individual brilliance. The Colombian was virtually unstoppable in front of goal proving too strong and too quick for the Atletico defense. His first goal in the 6th minute came after his skittering feet kept Fernando Amorebieta indecisive and in a flash while the defender pondered rolled the ball to his left foot and smashed it into the upper right hand corner of the far post.
The second goal was even better as in the 33rd minute Arda Turan's cross found Falcao taking the ball one way and then dragging it back with his right leg leaving three defenders in disarray before turning on the ball with his left and hammering it past Gorka Iraizoz. He almost got a hat trick in the 79th minute but the upright denied him.
In the 85th minute Diego receiving the ball at centre decided to roll on forward on his own as he jinked his way past the unfortunate Amorebieta to send in an acutely angled shot past Iraizoz.
This was billed as a showdown between Fernando Llorente vs Radamel Falcao but it was no contest as the Athletic Bilbao striker was ponderous and sloppy while equally Falcao punished each defensive lapse with ruthless efficiency.
Athletic have already qualified for the Europa Cup next season as Barca their opponents in the Copa Del Rey final have themselves qualified for the Champions League. Atletico on the other hand are just two points off fourth placed Malaga and have therefore a very good chance of entering Europe's top competition. Diego Simeone and Marcelo Bielsa, both in their first season, have done a yeoman's job with these clubs to take them this far.
Congratulations to Atletico Madrid! A tip of the hat to all other teams for their attacking and skillful football that made following the Europa Cup such an enjoyable experience.
After two years one still doesn't quite know why Venky's decided to takeover Blackburn. The one thing that has been established unequivocally is that they did not do it because they loved football. The other imperative of raising the company's profile internationally by investing in a brand is also not being borne out by their step sisterly treatment of Rovers.
Step sister maybe an apt description of the way Anuradha Desai, Venky's CEO seems to have chosen in dealing with the club. Paul Hunt, Blackburn's deputy CEO in an extraordinary letter leaked to the press documents a 10 point proposal of how to reverse the club's course. In it he reveals how the ownership kept the board of directors at arms length, failed to take steps to sack Steve Kean, and almost brought the club to bankruptcy. Here is an example of Venky's disinterest and apathy.
" Regular visits to meet the owners in India. Six months after his appointment as deputy CEO, Hunt reveals, he has not met Desai."
Now they stand relegated from the Premiership for the first time in 11 years following their loss to Wigan on Monday.
The result leaves Chelsea with no choice but to win the Champions League final against Bayern if they have to make it back to that competition next season.
Not the best day for Ross Turnbull in the office. Petr Cech's stand in was nowhere to be found when Daniel Agger scored his header and his terrible give away to Jonjo Shelvey resulted in another goal. Jordan Henderson took full advantage of John Terry's slip and scored Liverpool's third goal with a top notch finish. The Chelsea captain had a forgettable outing yesterday looking lost, bewildered, confused and any other synonym of clueless one can come up with.
The highlight was a superb Luis Suarez run down the margins of the right flank staying on his feet to take on three and sometimes four defenders to slalom his way towards goal before scooping the ball deliberately onto Michael Essien from a tight angle for Liverpool's first strike. If there were awards for MENSA moments in football, Suarez would have walked away with it a dozen times this season. But as much as Suarez thrives on being improvisational, he's shown himself to be a dud when it comes to the simple direct approach. In the early minutes he nutmegged Terry with breathtaking ease creating acres of space to operate in front of goal. An expectant Liverpool crowd waited to uncork their champagne only for Suarez to anti-climactically shank his shot miles wide.
Fernando Torres was booed unmercifully in his Anfield return but he provided yet another shot that carromed off the crossbar. Is there any other striker other than RVP where that structure has been the cause of so much grief? He was not the only one wishing to vaporize metal as Stewart Downing found the upright in his spot kick and Branislav Ivanovic was similarly denied with his header off a corner. Ramires pulled one back but this was a day for the Reds to effect a payback for the FA Cup loss.
Liverpool did a huge favour to Arsenal, Spurs, and Newcastle by ensuring Chelsea finish out of the top four for the first time in the Roman Abramovich era. Andy Carroll showing signs of life finally augurs well for Liverpool in this surprisingly strong showing. Daniel Sturridge, not so much for Chelsea.
There was better news for the Gunners on Sunday after their infuriating draw against Norwich.
Two former Arsenal players exerted equal and opposing influences on Spurs performance against Villa. Ciaran Clark's shot deflected off William Gallas's head to balloon past Brad Friedel as Villa went ahead. Alex McLeish took out his match notes to check off that play exactly the way he planned.
A Spurs loss to Villa could mean Arsenal could potentially escape with a draw against West Brom in their last match and book their entry (depending on goal difference) to next season's Champions League as the third place team even if their rivals won their last match against Fulham. Emmanuel Adebayor's penalty spot conversion leave Arsenal without that luxury if Spurs win at White Hart.
Spurs played a man down after Danny Rose received a red card for a two footed tackle on former Spurs player Alan Hutton.
The scramble for third is understandable given the fact Chelsea if they win at Allianz Arena (and this as good a time to say never say never) will get one of the CL spots as the champions. Which leaves the Premiership in a state of flux with neither the title decided and a four way fight for third spot with Arsenal, Spurs, Newcastle, and even sixth placed Chelsea in with a good chance.
Locking third is essential for Arsenal otherwise they could run the risk of being blindsided on 19th May. The Gunners swoon comes at a terrible time.
This was less clear cut than Andy Carroll's goal claims which were denied a day earlier in the FA Cup final. It's hard to say if Christian Abbiati was able to parry the ball out before it completely crossed the goal line. In the end it did not really matter as Inter were able to win the match by some distance and the title came to Juventus a week earlier than planned.
Meanwhile as we debate whether the ball did or did not, the organization called FIFA seems to be in no hurry crossing the line on goal line technology.
Mirko Vucinic's cool finish and Marco Borriello's strike ensured Juve's 28th Scudetto as Inter played spoiler in the San Siro derby. It was their first Scudetto since the 2006 Calciopoli scandal saw them stripped off their title and resulting in relegation.
The title was also coach Antonio Conte's first and it came in his debut season with Juventus. The new stadium has also proven a lucky charm as the club compiled an unbeaten record. And Andrea Pirlo in his new home moved from one winning team to another in consecutive years. Talk about charmed. At times Juve struggled to score but they relied on Europe's stingiest defense to tide them through. Congratulations!
This was a gripping match that turned on a number of hotly debated events. In between there was plenty of good football to be found. At the end Inter ended the theatrics of who would be Serie champions as Juventus did their part against Cagliari to earn the Old Lady their 28th Scudetto.
Under Andrea Stramaccioni, this Inter team comprising a core of hard nosed veterans and an outer layer of youth, has shown a positive response. The first half saw AC Milan coming off a distinct second best. Ricky Alvarez and Fredy Guarin were lively, Diego Milito was probing, and Wesley Sneijder showed glimpses of his former exalted form. The much berated defensive unit demonstrated resilience leaving Ibrahimovic with little to do up front.
Milito predictably shot them ahead with an opportunistic flourish as Walter Samuel's ricochet fell to him in front of goal as the AC Milan defense fell asleep. Thereafter it was Inter all over Milan who held on grimly.
There was plenty of dramatics in the first half as Lucio had a goal disqualified for being inches offside. Even more controversially, Esteban Cambiasso's header appeared to have crossed the goal line before Abbiati got his hands to it. Another ghost goal in a season seemingly full of them.
Parity was restored in controversial fashion as Kevin Prince Boateng flying ahead to gather a heavy touch was apparently felled by Julio Cesar in the box. Replays clearly showed he got all the ball. The clearly aggrieved goalie then tried getting into the head of Ibrahimovic with some in your face time. The Swede showed a zen like calm to take the penalty giving vent to his inner goon after the conversion.
Seconds into the second half in a basketball like diagrammed play, Ibra latched onto an angled cross by Robinho, showing a nice first touch to create space and then chipped the ball past Cesar. Inter went into overdrive looking for a response. Milito again came up with the answer as he was pushed by Abate from behind and the striker milked the moment and the spot kick. Minutes later Alessandro Nesta was adjudged deliberately using his hand to obstruct Giampaolo Pazzini's header for the evening's third penalty. Milito duly completed his hat trick. The match's remaining highlight was supplied by Maicon whose thundering flyer took Amelia by surprise.
Inter look like a team that has restored its purpose under Stramaccioni and they have some of the building blocks to keep themselves in the top echelon. Much work needs to be done to rejuvenate an aging defense. AC Milan's emphasis on the industrial and workman like worked against them when what they needed was a creative spark to lift their side this evening. The addition of Mark Van Bommel and Kevin Prince Boateng reflect the direction taken by this club.
Yaya Toure was a one man wrecking crew in City's win over Utd on Monday without scoring a goal. Against Newcastle he continued in the same vein and scored a brace. The first was a sublime piece of precision and placement. Roberto Mancini won the tactical battle against Sir Alex and this time too his decision to take off an ineffective Samir Nasri and introduce Nigel de Jong to patrol the backfield gave free rein to Toure's attacking instincts. The change paid off handsomely.
Newcastle's blue eyed boys Hatem Ben Arfa, Demba Ba, and Papiss Cisse were kept on a leash by a steel trap City defense and when they did get the ball they did little.
With this win City are almost there in their pursuit of their maiden Premiership title. They have QPR to face in their last match. That opens up the delicious possibility of former manager Mark Hughes who left Eastlands under a cloud to play the part of a spoiler. But QPR also have plenty of dog in this game as they battle Blackburn, Bolton, and Wigan to stay promoted.
Ramires was always a motor, a non-stop blur of pumping legs and arms. But his lack of a footballing brain always seemed to get in the way of that perspiring flourish. No longer. The Brazilian has shown a number of world class finishes in huge matches. He got the Blues off to a rollicking start by gouging Liverpool for speed and then fooling Pepe Reina by going for the near post. That was the sum of the first half. After the break Didier Drogba doubled the account sweetly nutmegging Martin Skrtel to send the ball crashing past Reina. Liverpool had a lot of the ball but were sparse on attack till Kenny Dalglish sent in Andy Carroll in the second half with about 30 minutes left to make this a match.
With the news that Liverpool was just a day away from bankruptcy, the pony tailed poster boy of unbridled capitalism and living beyond one's means showed some sparkling skill to give Liverpool hope in the 64th minute. That moment also showcased Jose Bosingwa's defensive liabilities. The Blues were given a lifeline when Petr Cech stopped Caroll's header in the 81st minute before the ball disappeared beyond the line. It was an incredible save.
This was Chelsea's third FA Cup title in four years. A tribute to one of English football's most self aware teams. It is not going out on a limb to say in Chelsea's context the path to their success goes through the players, less the coach. Roberto Di Matteo's laissez faire attitude has paid off but the real reason for the club's revival has been ending the state of player revolt under AVB. The class of 2005 is going to provide this sport's coaches and administrators after they end their playing career. Liverpool's woes are largely down to their fleet of underachieving players and attacking inefficiency. Luis Suarez always gives them a pulse but the rest of the vital signs are missing.
The FA Cup final had its most controversial moment in the 81st minute when Andy Caroll rose above Branislav Ivanovic to head the ball towards goal. Did all of the ball cross the line before Petr Cech got his hands on it? Assistant referee Andrew Garratt made that crucial determination and it was in favour of Chelsea.
From the replay it would appear he made the correct call. Great goalkeeping by Petr Cech and props to an unsighted Ivanovic reacting in time to deny Kuyt the rebound off the crossbar.
Arsenal had just one clear remit left after all the other title hopes dried up one by one. Booking a place in the Champions League. That was as Arsene Wenger put it as good as playing for a title. Over the years one has learned what is most obvious to most is not so clear on a visceral level to Arsenal. There is obvious cognition at the importance of such matches but there is a clear disconnect when it come to actual execution. In a rare instance United were guilty of it against City this week and their slump comes at terrible time. But Arsenal have elevated the form of perpetual self unawareness to new heights.
Today, the Gunners played as if this was the beginning of the season. Their naivety patently obvious, their profligacy never more stunning. Wojciech Szczesny was guilty of giving up the first and third goal while the defense was equally culpable in leaving him exposed. Pat Rice has yet to figure out the defensive shape that can stop a strong counterattacking team that breaks in numbers. Playing a high line with two attacking centre backs when Arsenal's midfield cannot assure the requisite ball possession is a recipe for repetitive future disasters. Norwich had time and space to operate at will on the break as Arsenal's defense looked lost and befuddled.
What is even more maddening is that for every stroke of brilliance in crafting their goals there was an equal and opposite display of incompetence that gifted Norwich's strikes. After Yossi Benayoun's dastardly piece of skill set the Emirates afire, Song and Vermaelen were nowhere to be found when Wes Hoolahan steered a speculative shot at Szcz which the Arsenal goalie muffed up badly. The Norwich striker looked disbelieving at his slice of good fortune. Vermaelen was similarly AWOL when Grant Holt launched a shot that deflected off Kieran Gibbs and over an out of position Szcz as Norwich added to Hoolahan's strike. Holt had telegraphed his intention way in advance but Gibbs decided on a half hearted attempt to block the shot.
At the attacking end, in the same vein, Arsenal were less clinical as somehow Tim Ruddy became a bullseye for all their shots on goal. RVP had about four clear looks at goal with Ramsey also demonstrating why he couldn't hit a barn door on a clear and sunny afternoon. Ruddy to be fair was outstanding as custodian especially in the closing minutes as Arsenal took a buzz saw to their defense. It took a special Song on the dime delivery to RVP's left foot to conjure up the equalizer. The midfielder had a part to play in opening up the Norwich defense a little bit later for RVP's brace. What appeared to be Arsenal's get out of jail goal was not to be as five minutes later as Ramsey flailed at a tackle and Steve Morison was sprung free down the right. His angled shot squeezed past Szcz who infuriatingly remained vertical and the far post. Szcz earned his reputation as a shot stopper but today's match showed nothing of those skills.
The absence of Mikel Arteta was palpable. The Evertonian brings an organization in the back of midfield that Song seems to have abdicated for the eye catching pass and his forays upfront. Aaron Ramsey continues to struggle with the pace and even his tracking skills seem to have deserted him. There was a casualness to Arsenal's effort that seems to entirely miss how monumental the stakes were in this match. Spurs have regained form at the right time and Newcastle have found their purpose or should we say papiss. By Sunday evening, Arsenal could find themselves in fifth and looking at the Europa Cup. What that means to the future of Wenger and RVP, the two names that leap out if it does happen, remains to be seen. But one cannot see the top scorer being entirely enchanted at remaining a club that lives now to be an economic model and not seeking football glory. Wenger on the other hand needs to look hard at himself as a manager living off the fumes of past success and never seems to have a plan B.
For their part Norwich did exactly what they have done that has brought them much success. Hats off to them. They have shown the heart and the skill to remain in the top league. Paul Lambert take a bow. The neutrals had a match that was a torrent of missed opportunities, near penalty calls, delectable goals, outrageous defending, and a clash of wills.