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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brazil are still the team to beat

Going into the season that will end with the World Cup there is one team that stands out above all others - Brazil. Having won the Confederations Cup yesterday with a demolition of Argentina, Brazil are also the Copa America Champions and the reigning World Champions. They have a new generation of players who look almost as frightening as the last generation. We were mesmerised by the likes of Romario, Rivaldo, Leonardo and Ronaldo and we are now being mesmerised by the likes of Kaka, Ronaldinho, Robinho and Adriano.

I remember seeing these new players win the Copa America last year and thought to myself this would be the team that Brazil would send to the World Cup. With the likes of Cafu, Carlos, Emerson and Ronaldo still in the mix, Brazil now have a great mix of experience and freshness.

I know its too early to be making predictions about who will win next year's World Cup, but some people will already believe that Brazil have one hand on the trophy.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

St James' Park getting it together??

The rise and fall in the UEFA Cup, the well-publicised on-pitch bust-up between Lee Bowyer and Kieron Dyer against Aston Villa, the sale of Aaron Hughes to Aston Villa, Andy O'Brien to Portsmouth, the yet-to-be-decided leave of Bowyer to anywhere, much less Birmingham, the signing of Scott Parker, Belozoglu Emre from Inter Milan, Craig Bellamy practically in limbo as he surely must be feeling the pressures of his actions. You can add to this Charles N'Zogbia is in Switerzland at the Court of Arbitration in Sport with Newcastle officials, contesting the case by French club Le Havre that the player should be returned to them for two seasons, and Newcastle seem to endure something of a see-saw ride of club affairs.

Now, looking to get up and get on with improving and strengthening the resolve and preparations at the club for 2005-2006, the prodigal son Lauren Robert, due to go shortly to Portsmouth, speaks out TWICE in a week against manager Graeme Souness and about another Newcastle player, Jermaine Jenas. The fans must be thinking 'when is all this nonsense finally going to end so that this club can get back to focus?'

Robert must have heavily misinformed that becoming a former player meant he was temporarily not under Newcastle's authority for them to act against him, otherwise I cannot surmise why he would speak out as he has. OK, he officially is a Portsmouth player when July arrives, so why not have waited then to voice his opinion and avoid Newcastle taking action? Probably because he is paid well enough to speak publicly that such a fee covers the two week's fine, or the fine is immaterial in comparison to shaming Newcastle United FC. I just feel that these matters need to be dealt with behind closed doors. Robert could not be contained by Newcastle but their reaction, via chairman Freddy Shepherd, simply rebounds back to ignite Robert further.

With Bellamy kepted in limbo, as Celtic have been told he must go completely as another loan deal is out of the question, and possibly, or probably, resigned to training with the youths, Bowyer given the green light to seek another club, and Robert due out by Friday, perhaps Newcastle can very soon channel all attention and efforts positively for the upcoming season. With Bellamy, who is quoted saying that he will never get to sign for a better club than Newcastle, Souness won't renege on his word the Welshman will never play for the club again. With such a stance, Shepherd is behind the Scotsman all the way. So until a club bids for him and signs him, Bellamy seems certain to languish at the club until the end of his contract.

Robert claims Souness achieved nothing at his previous clubs and took Blackburn to the brink of relegation. Mark Hughes has brought a new zest to Ewood Park that saved them from the drop. I recall Liverpool having a now renowned change of fortune when Souness arrived there too. That doesn't mean Souness is due, therefore, to drag Newcastle down the table, and I hope he revives the club this season to the brink of some success, at least for Alan Shearer to retire on. But I sense this season will be one which the chairman wants to see a vast, vast improvement. Or there could be more publicly addressed resentment from other Newcastle players.


Monday, June 27, 2005

Can Stuttgart/Bundesliga fans tell EFT more about Hleb?

I took time out last month to watch the second half of Belarus v Scotland on BBC Scotland. The reason: to scout potential new Arsenal player, Alexander Hleb.

Today, he has been signed by Arsenal. And I would like to ask all Stuttgart/Bundesliga watchers to give EFT their profile on Arsenal's latest signing.

My observation from the one match I've seen him play is that he is a playmaker in the mould of a Dennis Bergkamp. Some have said he is the replacement for Edu, but Hleb did not look like a player who has good defensive qualities.

He has a slender build, dribbled with the ball on a number of occassions, and attempted more through balls in this one match than Niclas Anelka did in his whole career with us. He did not play on the wing, but instead floated in the middle of the park in support of the strikers.

His scoring and assists record in the Stuttgart/Bundesliga suggests his value is attributable to supplying others, rather than finishing moves off.

The player he reminded me of was Chris Waddle. Can Stuttgart/Bundesliga watchers tell EFT how correct this writer is with this comparison?

One more question I would like answered: is Hleb suited to the deep-lying forward role in support of Henry in the Champions League?

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Spurs cash settlement for Arnesen below £10m??

Frank Arnesen was at PSV Eindhoven, having risen from assistant coach alongside Bobby Robson to the post of technical director, holding an advisory and managing role over scouting potentials and transfers at the club, for 10 years before Guus Hiddink changed things. While at PSV, Arnesen was responsible for spotting the likes of Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo, Jaap Stam, Mateja Kezman and Arjen Robben. Add to that he brought Eidur Gudjohnsen to PSV and the final piece of Chelsea's curiosity and pursuit jigsaw is there - the last three names are at Stamford Bridge, bring in Frank Arnesen.

With a reputation like that, Spurs seem to have made a potentially talent-developing signing in the form of the Dane, someone who I hadn't heard of before he came to White Hart Lane. He initiated Jacques Santini coming over and his successor and current coach Martin Jol. Spurs now look much more a UEFA place challenging side, at least, than before. They had a staff member who has experience in spotting good talented potential and could be pivotal to Spurs becoming a top six team. Paul Robinson the current England goalkeeper, Ledley King potentially one of the best centre-backs in the league rumoured to be an Arsenal target, Michael Carrick playing well in midfield, Wayne Routledge has pace and skill and is another England player at U-21 level, Jermaine Defoe hungry and lethal upfront and then add to those names Andy Johnson, who arguably could be a better striker for Spurs and therefore England, it looked very promising on the horizon.

Now the right arm of that promising outlook has been poached, and while it seems better in the business sense to negotiate a financial compensation agreement than report it to the authoritative association, which is currently going through a metaphorical washing machine without any water because Faria Alam decides to take them to the cleaners, initial rumours indicate a settlement of around £5m or £6m. That has to be below value haggling. The Dane is worth more than that.

Sorry, Chelsea fans, but your club hasn't been conducting business in the conventions of the game on two occasions, but I sense Chelsea fans will not shed a tear. Business is business, and in the realm of football anything goes as it does in the business world in general in this country. Money and size is power, and if you wish to get ahead of the competition you need to be pushy, demanding, stubborn and ruthless in your application to get there. Off-hand tactics are commonplace, kepted surreptitiously, who will be any the wiser?


Friday, June 24, 2005

Arsenal play Chelsea twice before the Blues reach potential match 50.

Arsenal have been given two opportunities to defeat Chelsea before they reach, and maybe overtake, the magic 49 game unbeaten number set just last year. And I can't help thinking there was more than a computer programme involved in providing this double chance.

As it stands, Chelsea are 29 league games unbeaten since their one and only defeat to Man City in game nine of last season. This is a fantastic run, and one this writer has had his eyes on since April. For in this period they crossed the halfway mark to Arsenal's proud record.

Mourinho has his eyes on the 49 match marker. What other reason could reasonably explain why, after the champiosnhip was one, Lampard and Terry continued to feature despite carrying injuries requiring operations?

In the summer of 2004, I am led to believe that the computers at the FA randomly selected Old Trafford as the destination for Arsenal's potential half-century match. Later on, with the Gunners still unbeaten in the new season, the FA went on to select a referee in Mr Riley that bemused even neutral onlookers with his generous decision-making in favour of the home team. The result: No 50-up for Arsenal.

Did the Premiership hierarchy consider Arsenal's unbeaten run an embarrassment to their league?

This writer thinks this is the great unasked question of last season.

Now, Chelsea are eyeing up a half-century. With this in mind, the FA computers 'randomly' selected Arsenal to play Chelsea TWICE before the Blues potentially reach this mark.

Only ONE other team will play Chelsea TWICE before the potential 50 unbeaten marker is reached: Wigan.

Arsenal, therefore, had a 2 in 19 chance of being lucky enough to be 'randomly' chosen to have TWO attempts at thwarting Chelsea.

And they were given game 2 (31), and game 17 (46). What luck?!

If there is more than simply a computer programme pulling the strings in fixture selection, can I thank him/her for giving Arsenal two cracks at the whip at defending their record. After the OT travesty we were owed this much, but I'm thankful nonetheless.

If Arsenal fail to defeat Chelsea in their two encounters- and the Blues also go unbeaten in the others to reach the 50 mark with a non-defeat away at their neighbours in Upton Park on Jan 2- fair play to them. They are a team that- on the pitch- has my respect. Shame that no Arsenal fans can say the same for Kenyon and Buck.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Gerrard to Madrid as Johnson seeks Palace exit

One football site has reported that the Spanish press are in a mass of speculation linking Steven Gerrard to a move to Real Madrid for £30m plus three of Madrid's B team members - centre back Alvaro Arbeloa, midfielder Javi Garcia and striker Ruben de la Red. The site mentioned only one Spanish sports site, Diario AS, whose pages do state the Galacticos' interest in Gerrard, but isn't everyone interested in Gerrard, were he to be offered for sale?

We are to believe Rafael Benitez is content to sell Gerrard after how much he valued the player after the Champions League final, much less in exchange for three unknowns, two of whom have only had a single debut appearance? And to add more hype to this speculation, Gerrard's agent company, SFX, was stated to have good relations with Madrid, having negotiated the arrival of fellow Brits at the Bernabeu, Michael Owen, David Beckham and Jonathan Woodgate.

The sooner Liverpool FC and Gerrard get down to signing an extension the much better. Gerrard's current contract ends 2007. The way Madrid have performed this season we would be looking at Helguera, Zidane and Raul than anyone from their second fiddle. It would be an insult otherwise. Madrid can have Djimi Traore if they wish to grab anyone from Anfield.

Andy Johnson is possibly seeking a move from Crystal Palace as being in the Championship is said to be detrimental to one's hopes of playing for the national team. Johnson clearly has good potential to play for England since his season at the top has shown but to me it's a shame that one cannot be considered for England if they are playing here but not in the top flight. I suspect Palace fans will not be happy to hear this, Johnson is or would be key for their aims to rise back to the Premiership, especially after resigning to losing Wayne Routledge. Johnson could follow the same way to North London, Spurs seem to be busy in bringing new faces to White Hart Lane.

But what if Johnson was to continue scoring well in the Championship, regardless if it leads to Palace's promotion or not? Does that mean he still wouldn't be selected, even for the subs' bench? Personally, if one is good enough in their position they should be open to selection, whether they may play. The Championship and further below use a number of home grown players in their squads, notably because the equivalent players abroad cost more but a number of prospective players who have been bought into the Premiership emerge from Championship level. Danny Murphy, Ian Rush, Ian Wright, Alan Smith (Arsenal forward). Particularly if, like Johnson, a player has come into the Premiership, has shown his potential and is subsequently relegated with his team. Such a player has to rely on bought by a Premiership team to remain within a chance fo playing for England.


Thursday, June 16, 2005

Lee Bowyer - the outcast of the Premiership?

Latest news today is that Steve Bruce's attempts to sign Lee Bowyer have been scuppered by the less than 1%, it has been stated on the Birmingham FC official web-site, of fans who have signed an online petition calling for the proposed deal to be denied. Fans who feel in opposite to that opinion have voiced such opinion to the local Evening Mail and within the site's fan forum. Clearly the midfielder's reputation proceeds him.

Despite the support received for his officially signed presence at St. Andrews, Bowyer has decided he wishes not to be playing at a club which doesn't want him. Considering it was only less than 1%, so far, who were in dissent to his possible signing, until any other opinions are made clear, 99% are not against him, so to say the club will not welcome him is not exactly true. Were he to play for Birmingham, who is to say he wouldn't play so well as to win over any dissenting fan? But I sense those who are, or were, in dissent are concerned with Bowyer off-the-pitch rather than on, with the exception of his disagreement with Kieron Dyer against Aston Villa at St. James' Park on April 2nd this year.

Let's mention the court case regarding the vicious assault on, particularly, an young Asian male. The overall opinion of anyone following that case was that Bowyer was guilty of some involvement in the assault, despite being acquitted. Why? Because these same people believe he has the tendency within him to be racially abusive. Or failing that, he has the tendency to become violent, that he has a quick temper. I recall when Gareth Barry took Bowyer away from the scene in that game, Bowyer's face had a snarl on it. Interpret that as you wish, it looked more than unsavoury.

Before that in 1996, he was caught on CCTV throwing chairs around a McDonalds outlet in the Isle of Dogs. He pleaded guilty, was fined by Leeds and a magistrates' court, ordered to pay damages to the staff.

On the field, to add to the Kieron Dyer moment, there is also the stamping incident during the UEFA Cup match against Malaga at Elland Road on December 12th 2002, on Gerardo. Perhaps another moment in the heat of the game, for which UEFA banned him for six European games. Just before that incident, in 2002, The FA banned him for six Premiership games when he elbowed Gary McAllister, who was then at Liverpool (miss you, McA!).

Steve Bruce is adamant Bowyer is the right man for Birmingham's midfield, despite his history. For me, he was certainly a valuable player for Leeds, tremendous late running from midfield similar to those we witness with some awe by the Arsenal players and a tenacious appetite in his competitiveness. From the verge of a promising England start to scrapping with a teammate, Bowyer now cannot step anywhere without his past going before him.

Newcastle United FC were content Bowyer initiated the April 2nd incident, which he did, but I believe both he and Dyer are guilty of that moment, as it takes two, and Dyer aimed a punch as well. Had Dyer continued on focusing on the play rather than turn to Bowyer to confront him, it may not have happened. But because it is Lee Bowyer with a bad history, he is being persecuted. I believe the CPS have considered or are considering a case against him for that incident, more fuel to the fire.

For me, as a result of his history, Bowyer should take the opportunity given to him by Birmingham. Steve Bruce has developed the club from Division One status to the top and they finished 12th 2004-2005. It would be a new slate, both the manager and chairman David Gold are behind him and he could actually prove how he is a better behavioural player.


Friday, June 10, 2005

UEFA Champions League decision - to have been expected

The decision by UEFA to allow Liverpool into the forthcoming Champions League season has been met with some trepidation, particularly from those associated with the club, but it is one to have been expected. Liverpool will have to endure six games, three qualifers, before entering the group stage. Of course, that is if they win the qualifiers. Yet given that we had not qualified via our domestic position, we shouldn't be complaining about where we start. I would have preferred we were not allowed in, for the sake of the rules and adhering to them for the fair running of the competition, and also because I feel Liverpool now should build towards winning the Premiership. But whatever comes our way, we will prepare and face it.


Friday, June 03, 2005

Arsenal incited Cole to the push?

One suggestion I heard on the radio is that Arsenal had forced Ashley Cole to seek elsewhere for the pay rise he wanted, why he was found to have come into contact with Jose Mourinho and Chelsea with a view to a transfer. The theory is Arsenal know Cole is one of the best left-backs, perhaps attacking left-backs is nearer the mark, in Europe, yet they are not prepared to give him the rise he wants.

I don't see this view as being probable. I sense that Cole knows his reputation is as one of the best in his position and as a result he should be in the earning bracket as Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry and Sol Campbell, the three main players who are on something in the region of £60,000 per week. Arsenal aimed to matched this figure less £6,000, double that which Cole was already on but that seemed insufficient, at the time, for Cole. Chelsea get to hear that Cole is not happy with that offered at Arsenal and could look for a way out for the right price. A meeting is arranged.

I wonder if the public holding of the meeting is significant. Could Cole have wanted the meeting to get back to Arsenal, to urge them to reconsider their offer to him? Perhaps Jose Mourinho and Peter Kenyon attended to hear what Cole and his agent Jonathan Barnett had to say, rather than to seek a deal? Or, plain and simple, word got to Chelsea that Cole wasn't happy with that offered to him and he would be prepared to listen to any other offer nearer to the figure he wanted. Chelsea are the only team, much less London team, that could match Cole's request.

The thing is the practice of approaching players who are still in contract without permission from that player's club, with the view of establishing an agreement in principal on terms, is not uncommon. Strict punishment should be meted out to help reduce its occurrence, and that meted out by the Premier League is paltry to the guilty party. What if this was to happen between two Championship teams?

Even after the decision was given, I would have expected a statement from the concerned parties. Cole could have apologised to the Arsenal fans for having to see him put through the inquiry, thank them for standing by him during the remainder of the season, than k the management for standing by him, and announce his intention to seek advice in regard to a possible appeal, as he strongly and vehemently denies any wrongdoing in the matter.

Chelsea apologise for nothing, they're not harmed. They could say they vigourously deny the decision found by the Premier League and intend to appeal against it. Chairman Bruce Buck considers that the rules governing speaking to players in contract should be relaxed a little by extending the period a player can talk to a club, or vice versa, in the last season of their contract. Currently, a player in such a situation can speak to foreign clubs after January 1st of that last season. English players can only to this after the 3rd Saturday of May.

But seeing as Chelsea do not lose out as a result of the inquiry, my focus is mostly on Cole, the player. Manager Arsene Wenger has stated he wants Cole to stay, while Cole remains silent. If an appeal is forthcoming, how high will it go and if it spills into the season, where would Cole's focus be? What is the likelihood that Wenger will drop Cole and plug instead for Gael Clichy, if there is an appeal, to avoid Cole playing while not concentrating on the pitch? The left-back may well feel slightly aggrieved at the Premier League decision, but wider implications are yet to surface. Particularly from the stands.

This is becoming a sticky affair for Arsenal more so than for Cole. One of their best players is in a position to turn renegade and that cannot aid preparations for the season. The old adage that an unhappy player should be allowed to leave resonates once again. With Vieira, Flamini, Silva and Fabregas, Edu could be allowed to leave. With Cole, Clichy is the only alternative. Who will give in? Wenger will continue to play Cole. Cole will play on while Arsenal either offer more or release him. I sense that Arsenal will see how the coming season goes, and if there is still a stalemate at the end they'll release him this time next year.


Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Chelsea, Mourinho and Ashley Cole verdict

Eventually the Premier League have decided that Ashley Cole was guilty of accepting an approach by Chelsea to discuss a deal, and was fined £100,000. The Premier League said the fine was appropriate as "it is unlikely that Ashley Cole will ever be tempted in this way again". The player may well instruct a defence of restraint of trade under employment law, where he may argue he has a right to look elsewhere for employment.

Jose Mourinho was found guilty for his role in the approach and was fined £200,000. Chelsea Football Club were fined £300,000 and had three points suspended, meaning that if they commit another similar offence in the coming season, they will be deducted said points.

Cole was found to have breached of rule K5, prohibition of a player approaching another club in view of negotiating a transfer. Chelsea were found to have breached rule K3, prohibition of speaking to a player who is still in contract with another football club and without that club's permission. Mourinho was found in breach of rule Q, similar to that of K3 for Chelsea.

Well, big deal. Chelsea lose £300,000, Mourinho £200,000, Ashley Cole £100,000. These days the fortunes and finances of players and managers means that those fines can be paid easily. Cole is said to be unlikely to be tempted to be involved in such a thing again, because I assume the fine would be larger. Does that make a difference? The only snag is that Arsenal are aware he encouraged the approach, and he had been in contract talks with Arsenal around the time the approach happened. In other words, Cole wasn't happy with that offered by Arsenal and instead became involved with Chelsea, London rivals for the Premiership crown and owners of current gloating rights. What does it say about Cole's respect and honour for Arsenal? Does he now want to discuss contract issues again with a view of agreeing terms or is he content for his current contract to run out and he leaves? Or perhaps he will encourage Chelsea again, this time for Chelsea to ask Arsenal permission and make sure any approach is made legally (within the Premiership rules)?

Personally, I feel any defence Cole wishes to argue regarding free movement for work within the EU will fail.

Mourinho fined £200,000. Big deal, he pays it, he can do so. He may not be interested in Cole anymore. He made the approach (Peter Kenyon was said to be involved but he is not a player or manager so no decision was considered regarding his role), was exposed and is fined. He moves on. He was interested but Cole cried when it was exposed, so Mourinho now looks elsewhere. He doesn't want a cry baby, he wants strong rugged players with plenty heart and valour. £200,000? Mere flick of a finger and a fly is shifted off Mourinho's shoulders. That's how much £200,000 means.

Chelsea fined £300,000? If £200,000 is a mere fly to Mourinho, £300,000 is the proverbial water of a duck's back to Chelsea. If I wish to mock the punishment meted by the Premier League, what would I do instead? For Chelsea, their fine should be more and they should be docked points, not have them suspended. Fines should be means-tested for all guilty parties. Cole's fine should be more, where he is instructed to pay punitive damages to Arsenal.

The parties involved were clear as to what they were doing and made little secret about it. I personally wouldn't arrange to meet in a public place and risk being spotted and recognised. Liverpool were found guilty of the very same thing regarding Christian Ziege, who was then with Middlesbrough. Liverpool were fined £20,000, the heaviest fine until today's decision. And to think that the Premier League made the enquiry when Arsenal made a formal complaint in February. Is that to say, despite press reports stating that the meeting occured, the Premier League wouldn't have investigated until the player's club complained?



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