Archive for the ‘Football’ Category


Arsenal update: Sagna exit? New right back lined up, Chelsea’s Nathaniel Chalobah tracked

By Stefano on February 22nd, 2013

So Gunners fans – does Bacary Sagna have a long term future at the club? That’s the question being posed this morning by The Guardian.

The right back,  who was the only member of the Arsenal defence to come out of Tuesday’s game with any credit, is mulling over his future after only being offered a one year extension to his contract.

The big concern is Sagna’s injury record. He has broken his leg twice in two years and given the fact that the player has just turned 30 it seems  that his days at Arsenal may be numbered. The Guardian reckons that PSG will be interested in the player, who has 33 caps for France.

Arsene Wenger has already hinted that Sagna’s future is in the balance. Last week the manager said

“He has criticised his own form recently but the things you never question from Bacary are his commitment, his mental attitude, his desire to win and his intelligence. If he has not been playing as he would expect, it is down to his injury. It takes time to come back, and he has played through a lot of pain – in fact, he is one of the strongest players I have met when it comes to doing that. He’s hugely respected here, and if he’s not at the level we know he can achieve then we are tolerant because we know it’s not down to a lack of commitment. It’s just because he has come back from a long-term injury.”

Arsenal have a potential replacement in Carl Jenkinson, who was superb when asked to cover for Sagna last season. This year his form has been a little more mixed. Sagna is apparently injured at the moment and won’t play on Saturday against Aston Villa giving Jenkinson the chance to remind Arsenal fans what talent he has.

The club are also being linked with another right back in the guise of Feyernoord’s Daryl Janmaat.

According to The Mirror

Janmaat, who has won three Dutch caps, joined from Heerenveen last summer and has been watched by Arsenal who already have a partnership with Feyenoord which has seen them loan players and work together.

The Daily Star reports that Arsenal are planning a shock move for Chelsea starlet Nathaniel Chalobah who is currently on loan at Watford. According to the paper Arsenal believe they can tempt the player, who can start in both defence and midfield positions, to move to North London by offering more regular appearances that he would get at Chelsea. The 18 year old Englishman has been in superb form for Watford this season.



Are young English footballers getting too sidetracked by money?

By Stefano on February 21st, 2013


Raheem Sterling and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain – to name but two young English players  – are they under performing because they have the cash and aren’t hungry enough any more asks Julius…

In Britain alone, youth unemployment stands at 20%. Spain’s youngest workers are only half employed. Greece’s 16-24 year olds are 60% unemployed. Raheem Sterling is on £30,000 a week.

I am part of a generation that is unified in a struggle against poor economic conditions. Whilst I have yet to fend for myself, I am at an age where I can appreciate the value of money. I also know how quickly this appreciation could vaporuise in the face of a lucrative salary at such a tender age.

The latest generation of English teenagers is a talented bunch, most would say. Out of teenagers alone you could field a decent squad, including the likes of Butland, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sterling. But it is of concern to me how players so young make millions so quickly. It cannot be healthy. If you want a chillingly appropriate example, look no further than Michael Johnson. Once touted as a future England captain, the 24 year old is now washed up and without a career. In 2008, he signed a £25,000 a week contract whilst still a teenager, “the world at his feet” in the words of Joey Barton. The pressures of being in the spotlight at such a young age, blended with a bank balance bigger than many local economies, dragged him into footballing anonymity. Whilst this is a complex case tainted with alcoholism as much as anything else the bare bones remain. Rewarding potential rather than achievement was a significant factor in Michael Johnson’s downfall.

Loss of form

Without meaning to be dramatic, a similar path could well be taken by Raheem Sterling. The now-capped winger lit up a dismal Liverpool side with some enigmatic displays, buzzing around the place with a hunger and desire that is so enjoyable to watch. His fearlessness made teams afraid, and all of a sudden the then 17 year old had a valuable bargaining tool. Originally on a £2,000 a week scholar’s deal, professional terms would need to be signed if Sterling was to continue in Liverpool colours. An England cap only strengthened Sterling’s already perilously strong position and the club started to panic. Stories started circling of the two Manchester clubs’ interest, with the likes of Arsenal and Tottenham supposedly waiting in the wings. Whether this was spun by Sterling’s agent or was genuine news is debatable, but nevertheless there was enough uncertainty for the winger to sign a five year, £7.8m deal for his 18th birthday.

And since he signed that contract in December? He’s been practically anonymous. It is basic economy that destroys the legitimacy of communist theory; once the incentive to work has been taken away/satisfied, the performance of an individual is likely to drop as there no longer a reward for exertion. Whilst it is not favourable to comment on the personality of the player himself, handing a teenager £30,000 a week and expecting him to concentrate solely on his profession is like telling a dog to sit and eat his biscuits when a juicy bone is flung his way. The balance between securing the brightest talents for years to come and putting careers in genuine jeopardy is a chord that is rarely struck, if at all.

What is the root of all this? Agents have a grand role in sorting out contracts, so it could be said that dodgy representatives are a toxic presence in the stunting of many young players’ careers. However, it is hard to fault a person for simply fufilling his or her objectives. It is an agent’s right to fight for the best possible deal for any client, which also secures a lucrative deal for themselves. Maybe it goes deeper than that. In a society as monetised as this one, cash is king.

Making it

For many growing up in the worst estates in the most deprived areas, the chance to say “I made it” is ever present in the dreams of many of Britain’s worst off kids. The success of someone’s existence is judged not by the character of the individual, nor is it measured with the importance of being a contributory citizen in mind. Not helped by a get rich quick urban culture, achievement appears to have become what you own as opposed to what you do. This sort of attitude is certainly instilled in the heart of many, and, even if it is realised by few, the lucky ones are at times ungracious in gold. Take Nile Ranger (See above tweeted pic).

It is a perfect example of how money becomes a priority over becoming a good footballer. It’s hard to envisage Ryan Giggs spending his time arranging pieces of paper into a recognisable word. That’s why he is a living legend, and Nile Ranger is not and is unlikely to be so.

It is difficult. As in many industries, regulation would be a big step in ensuring that limitations are there to compliment and harness talent. A cap on the amount a player can earn in his first professional contract would certainly take such a thorny issue out of the hands of agents and clubs, although a restriction on one’s income could be considered an imposition on financial freedom. A way needs to be found of rewarding young players for breaking into the first team but this should not be tainted with the threat of losing your brightest prospects to sides more willing to lavish teenagers with money.

There might not be a clear answer to the overindulgence of teenaged footballers. But cases such as Michael Johnson’s leave many questions.


Chelsea and Man United fans look away now – here are the Premiership’s top 15 turkeys

By Stefano on February 21st, 2013

We’ve all had those moments as football fans. The glare of camera bulbs diminish to reveal your newest signing. Suddenly months of average results, poor finishing and shocking defending melt into oblivion because this is the one… this is THE signing, the one to make a difference, the one to lead your team to glory.

When the penny finally drops varies. It can be as quick as a month, six months,  or after a season of rare glimpses of genius – but at some point optimism is replaced by horror as you realise your team has signed a dud.

So who are The Prem’s biggest flops? I am sure we all have our favourites and interpreting what actually constitutes a “flop” is an interesting debate in itself. Here though I (along with the 20 or so kind folks on Facebook who weren’t slow in coming forward with their opinions) have made a decision based on three key factors.

Firstly in the way that many of us would say Michu was a better value signing than Van Persie given he was 10 times cheaper, then a player signed for £2m and not performing is a lesser flop than a £20m misfit. Of course we must also acknowledge that a £3m signing 15 years ago was big news! Secondly, how big and heralded was the signature… the bigger the reputation, the bigger the flop!

Finally I think the flop-factor must be influenced by the need of the club making the signature. As much as it pains me, Man United are allowed the odd flop as no flop has really affected their trophy haul long term.

So, in no particular order pop pickers here’s your list…

15. Bosco Balaban – After scoring a sack full of goals in the Croatian League – Aston Villa parted with £5.8m of Doug Ellis’s carefully cared for cash in 2001. Two and a half years later, nine appearances and with no goals in that time ( yes nine games only), his contract was cancelled. Clearly Dougie had a rush of blood to the head or signed him on a whim because that does not represent a sound investment.

14/13.Eric Djemba Djemba / Kleberson – Hard to decide which was the worse purchase – so let’s whack ‘em together. 2003, the summer of, and Sir Alex was in need of a replacement for Roy Keane – so both Kleberson and Djemba Djemba were signed. The former was a World Cup winner 12 months previously remember. Sadly for Fergie, but much to the delight of many, both turned out to be utter turkeys. Indeed, both are still happily ploughing their trade today too!

12. Massimo Taibi – Do I need to say anything…. Just the embodiment of a flop!

11. Massimo Maccarone – Remember him? The first player to score an official goal at Wembley which he managed while playing for Italy U 21s? Well after an impressive start to his career at Sampdoria, Middlesboro spent big ( £8m to £11m reported) on the Italian who many thought was “made” for the Premier League. I am certain many Boro fans will hold him in high regard for his heroics in getting them to the Uefa Cup final in 2006 ( and rightly so), but to the rest of us Massimo, you are one big Italian flop !

10. Alberto Aquilani – Here is the tale of a Spanish manager selling one of THE best midfielders in the Premiership and then spending a sizeable chunk on an injury prone Italian midfielder, who actually signed carrying an injury. Rafa Benitez really pushed his devotion with Liverpool fans with this signing. Sure it could have easily come off had Aquilani been fit as there was the odd glimpse of his ability. However given that he has as yet to light up the Italian league we can officially name Alberto Aquilani a massive flop.

9. Seba Veron – A class player, seemingly just not suited to the Premier League – sounds familiar? Well it is possibly never more relevant than in the case of Juan Sebastien Veron who at both Man U and Chelsea rarely showed his talent, and at a combined transfer fee of £50m for the two transfers a colossal waste of money. The sad fact is that despite the immense nature of the flop, it never did any real long term damage to either club in terms of the team and trophy haul – to be fair to Fergie, he knows when to offload.

8. Xisco – Oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, we present to you the Tyneside legend that was Xisco. He was Dennis Wise’s  (teh director of football) gift to the area – costing £5.6m (potentially rising to £7m subject to conditions(!?!)). After a memorable five year spell the adopted Geordie left having amassed the grand total of 1 goal in 9 games.

7. Andrea iIlenzi – Here’s one for the teenagers…. With the “honour” of being the first Italian to play in the Premier League, blazing a trail for the likes of Vialli, Zola and, err Daniele Daino, Andreas Silenzi signed in 1995 for Nottingham Forest for a then substantial fee of £1.8m. So why mention him… well at the time Forest had just finished 3rd in the Premier League – and that same summer sold Stanley Victor Collymore (now known as Call) to Liverpool for £8.5 million. So this was a high profile signing….. and a high profile flop… 20 games in 2 years and 2 goals……. And Forest soon disappeared.

6. Sergei Rebrov – Together he and Andriy Shevchenko formed one of the most destructive goal-scoring partnerships in Europe in the late 90s. Once Dynamo Kiev decided to cash in, Shevchenko arrived in Milan, while Rebrov landed in North London, armed with a record of near 1 goal every 2 games. Well, he was given plenty of opportunities to shine,  but the reality was he just could not settle into the Premier League and a meagre return of 10 goals in 60 games saw him leave to West Ham after a loan spell in Turkey…. Hhhmmm Turkey, most apt….

5. Winston Bogarde – No relation to Humphrey or Dirk, but whose footballing career in a Chelsea shirt was about as good as these would have been. Bogarde is one of the finer examples of the modern day football conundrum. A product of the famed Ajax youth system, Bogarde was a tough strong defender who joined Chelsea in 2000. And that was that really. He honoured his four year contract, turned up for training, never causing a problem. Well that is aside from collecting a substantially inflated wage. The management at Chelsea would have liked to offloaded him, and he said he’d go if someone matched his wages, but no one could, and he stayed. So in four years he played nine games. That’s a quality flop!

4.Afonso Alves – There is a long list of strikers who have plundered an extraordinary amount of goals in the Dutch League, who then move to the Premier League and find that this is a very different league to score goals in, while there former club counts the £ms!! Dirk Kuyt came to Anfield as a regular goalscorer and never repeated that frequency – but his work rate and knack of scoring important goals keeps him well away from this list and in the hearts of Kopites. However the same cannot be said for Middlesboro fans and Afonso Alves from Brazil. He was reported to have cost Boro a cool £15m from Heerenveen, and came with a record of over a goal a game,. Alves’ job was to shoot Boro into the top half of the Premier League… And in his first full season, Boro were relegated and he disappeared to Qatar for £7m where he since has pottered around a few clubs. For such a high fee and reputation, and for so little impact, Alves can only be described as a flop.

3. Albert Luque – Yes, the North East does feature heavily in the list because those clibs do have the knack of spending big and buying poor. And there is not many finer than Albert Luque from Spain. A so so record of 1 goal in 5 games at Deportivo la Coruna persuaded Newcastle part with a reported £16.5 million – a lot of money to spend on a striker, especially to then play him out wide. Truth is he never really had a chance playing under a different Newcastle management team each week; and 1 goal in 21 games over 2 seasons shows the true waste of money that Luque was…

2. Steve Marlet – If you need a sign of what a gross waste of money Mnsr Marlet was, you may be interested to know that on sacking the manager who paid said over blown fee, one Jean Tigana, Fulham owner Mohammed Al-Fayed actually took Jean Tigana to court for overpayment of a transfer fee ( I’d have Damien Comoli there all week!). Rumoured to have cost around £11m from Lyon in 2001, Steve Marlet was Fulham’s “big money signing” and he failed miserably. 11 goals in 54 games is not as bad as some, but spread over four  seasons that is a poor return.

1. Andriy Shevchencko – From more than a goal every two games with Milan to a goal every 5.5 games with Chelsea and back to a goal every 2.5 games with Dynamo Kiev. Oh and the small matter of £30m fee. One of the best strikers of the modern era (3rd highest Champions League goalscorer) – some of his play in Euro 2012 highlighted the calibre of player he was.  And with all that as ammo, I believe that Shevchenko has to go down as one of the biggest flops of the Premier League era – for the sheer size of fee and reputation he had, we sadly never truly saw the player at his best.

So there’s our list – we could have added loads more and I am sure you can, and you may disagree with the above.  Anyhow, who is odds on  for the 2015 list -  Torres, Carroll, Gyan, Tosic, Nasri, Gervinho…. Watch this space!

David Owens


Arsenal update – Wenger to stay and get huge war chest, Fabregas hints at return and more

By Stefano on February 21st, 2013

According to The Mirror no matter what happens this season Arsene Wenger won’t be collecting his P45. The Arsenal boss will instead be around for next season and will have a large chunk of cash to spend in the summer.

The Mirror reports that a £70 million reserve is ready for the Arsenal boss to spend big on a series of player. However it also says that if Arsenal don’t qualify for the Champions League that sum will be reduced and only a couple of players will be on the way.

The Mirror says that Arsenal insiders are worried about how the fans’ current disapproval of the Frenchman is affecting him.

Its says

The biggest worry is that the fans – who have begun to turn – will carry on making it tough for Wenger if results do not improve.

The Frenchman has looked under increasing strain, yet those closest to him and within the club believe he is determined to ride out the storm and show he can turn Arsenal’s fortunes around before his current contract expires next year.

Meanwhile Cecs Fabregas has re-affirmed that if he ever left Barcelona he would return to The Emirates

He told Sky Sports

“I haven’t spoken to [Wenger] about that but it is good news for me that he is saying things like that because I was sad when I left. When I spoke with [Wenger] I was happy in a way because I was able to shake his hand and look him in the eye. I would have never forgiven myself if I had left in a bad way. [It's an] amazing club that has given me everything.

“I’m just happy that they have a good memory of me. Who knows? In the future I don’t know if I will come back to Arsenal. If one day I had to leave Barcelona, probably the first thing I will look into is Arsenal, but at the moment I’m very happy here. I could not think of a better team for me.”

Finally Sky Sports had got its team of experts, including several ex-Gunners, to suggest what might happen next to the Arsenal boss. All five pinpoint his transfer strategy as being the main reason for Arsenal’s demise.

However Stewart Robson adds that there has been some mismanagement of the side. He points to how nervous the players look and that Steve Bould hasn’t been given free rein to work with the defence.

He believes that it isn’t the team that is weak but the way they are managed.

Arsenal cannot keep selling their best players, but man-for man, there is not that much difference between Arsenal and Bayern Munich. The difference was that one team was organised and the other had no tactical understanding.


Five things Arsenal fans were thinking at the final whistle last night

By Stefano on February 20th, 2013

A few things that Arsenal fans were thinking at the end of the game last night.

1 That this was their last European home game for a while – Many Gunners aren’t confident that Arsenal will over haul Spurs and/or Chelsea and secure a Champions League place next year. So last night could be the last Champions League night at The Emirates for quite some time.

2 That the defence needs a total restructuring – Not just a player or two but complete restructuring. Sagna played well, but the other three were generally very poor. Vermaelen isn’t the player he used to be, Koscielny might not have been fit, but looked sluggish and Mertesacker simply isn’t good enough. The team needs a defensively minded midfielder to add some protection and at least two new centre backs.

3 That Wenger needs to go – Maybe not today, or even if Villa beat Arsenal on Saturday, but at the end of the season. Piers Morgan might been advocating his removal now, but I think that a lot of Arsenal fans think he deserves the chance to try and turn things around this season. He could then leave with a degree of dignity in the summer. Arsenal need to be thinking about his replacement now.

4 The board that runs their football club is a shambles - Installing Silent Stan was a defensive move to prevent Usmanov from taking over. Kroenke has kept his part of the bargain by keeping quiet and letting the current team manage the club. However they simply aren’t up to the job. There’s no real leadership and no significant injection of cash and Arsenal need those to compete. If Usmanov was the controlling shareholder and brought Dein back they would have both.

5 Wilshere could become the new Gerrard - By that I mean the only realty outstanding member of a largely mediocre team. A player whose loyalty keep him at the club but who would achieve more if he left.


Arsenal update: Tracking Lyon’s Gonalons and Grenier and Bayern’s Gustavo

By Stefano on February 19th, 2013

Arsene has probably got other things on his mind tonight, but maybe tomorrow he will be back to planning on how he will re-shape his squad in the summer. That’s actually assuming he is still holding the reins at the Emirates – you can now get 12-1 from Ladbrokes on the Frenchman leaving or getting sacked.

Caught Offside have picked up on a story from French site Mercato365 claim that Arsenal scouts were watching a couple of players at the Lyon Vs Bordeaux game last night.

Top of Wengers’s list is likely to be defensive midfielder Maxime Gonalons – a man who could be seen as a replacement for Alex Song. the 23 year old is captain of the Lyon team and has played six times for France. He is noted as being a player who is very defensively minded.

Chances are though that another player caught the Arsenal scouts’ eyes last night – Lyon’s playmaker Clément Grenier. The player scored twice and set one goal up. He is quick, creative and versatile.

Lyon are doing fairly well this season but financial issues might mean they have to offload a few of their key players in the summer. Both could be good buys for Arsenal, that is if Newcastle don;t get there first.

According to Goal Wenger is also interested in Bayern Munich’s Brazilian star Luiz Gustavo as another possible replacement for Song. The player has a £15 million price tag is unlikely to play tonight – he is behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Javi Martinez in the running – and may not have played as often as he would have expected for the German side.

He would be a quality buy and potentially could be a key long-term pillar of the Arsenal midfield.


Christian Benteke’s agent has big plans for the player. Arsenal and Spurs take note

By Stefano on February 19th, 2013

There has been a bit of a buzz about the future of Aston Villa’s Christian Benteke. Now his agent seems to have poured a little more oil on that fire by suggesting that his charge is ready to take the step up to the next level.

The Mirror also suggests that Spurs are now odd-on favourite to land the player who is also being linked with Arsenal and Chelsea.

Benteke’s agent Erik Kismet : “It is normal that if you go to a club and do well, then other clubs will show an interest.

“Christian has shown that he can play in England so why not take the step up to the next level if the opportunity is there?

“At the end of the season, interested clubs will talk to Villa, but it has to be right for Villa, the buying club and Christian.

“If all three parties are agreeable, something could happen, but right now his focus is on Villa, helping them stay in the Premier League.”

Both Spurs and Arsenal are very likely to be chasing a new striker in the summer and Benteke, who has proved he can play in that arena by scoring 15 goals so far this season, will come at a premium given his record. Villa boss Paul Lambert says it will take a lot of money to prise the player away from Villa.

However if Villa don’t win that relegation battle then his exit would be a near certainty.

The player could do a great deal to endear himself to Spurs fans by scoring for Villa against Arsenal when the two clubs meet in the Premiership at The Emirates at the weekend.


Dani Alves urges Barcelona to sign Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere

By Stefano on February 19th, 2013

Yesterday it was Thomas Vermaelen’s turn to be linked with a move to the Nou Camp, today it is Jack Wilshere. For Danio Alves has been saying how much he would love the English midfielder in the Barca team, possibly as a replacement for Xavi or Iniesta.

Thierry Henry, Cesc Fabregas, Emmanuel Petit, Alex Song and Marc Overmars have all, made the move to the Catalan club in recent years and now Alves believes that his clubs should be in for the 21 year old.

Alves told reporters in Spain (which was reported in the UK by Goal)

“He is a great player who we have met playing against Arsenal and without doubt he can reach the height of the players we have here at Barcelona like Xavi and Iniesta.”

“He has a lot of quality and a great personality. If I was given the chance to choose, he is a player that I would sign for Barcelona.”

Alves also saw Wilshere close up during the recent international between Brazil and England.

Wilshere, who signed a new contract last year, is obviously going nowhere for now. However were Arsenal not to qualify for the Champions League on a regular basis it would be clear that there would be plenty of clubs ready to taker the player.

The Daily Mail reports on the parallels between Wilshere and Bayern’s midfield maestro Bastian Schweinsteiger. The paper notes that in many way they are very similar players and that…

Bastian Schweinsteiger once sparkled in the gloom for Bayern Munich and Germany much as Wilshere does now for Arsenal and England.

The midfield battle between Wilshere and Arteta and Schweinsteiger and Kroos tonight will be a fascinating one.


Arsenal update: Season ticket weirdness, Wenger does Taxi Driver, but Bayern boss backs him

By Stefano on February 18th, 2013

Phew – what a day. It sounds like one that Arsene Wenger won’t want to remember. In case you missed it, earlier in the day Wenger had a bit of an incident that the Arsenal press conference.

There’s a blow by blow account at The Guardian, but the fury appears to have been sparked by what Wenger called ‘wrong information; in The Sun that negotiations had already started with Wenger over a new deal, with his current one set to expire in the summer of 2014.

Now most managers would be keen to trumpet new contract negotiations, but not under fire Arsene.

Wenger responded by saying

“That is the wrong information and I work for 16 years in England and I think I deserve a bit more credit than wrong information that has only one intention: to harm. If it is good information which comes from nowhere it is all right but this is wrong information that comes from nowhere and it is completely wrong.”

As the Guardian then reports Wenger got in to an exchange with a journalist and even added a bit of Taxi Driver speak.

“I look at you not because you give information, I do not know if it is you, I do not know where the information comes from. Why do you look at me? I just thought you had given this information out.”

The journalist apparently responded that he was looking at Wenger because he was at his press conference…

The beleaguered Arsenal boss did get a bit of support today from his opposite number at Bayern.

At his press conference this morning Jupp Heynckes seemed to blame the Arsenal commercial management and not Arsene Wenger for the club’s decline.

You have to take into consideration that Arsenal are competing with teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City,’ he said.

‘The way I see it, over the years they have been selling their best players whereas the other teams get in these world stars. If you have to compete with that I don’t think it is fair to blame Arsene Wenger.

‘Wenger is a great coach. You see the way his teams play. Arsenal has a lot of tradition and history. They play attractive football.

‘If you take away the game against Blackburn they have been very positive. They’re fifth in the league. They will be a very difficult opponent for us tomorrow.’

Finally a really good spot by the chaps at Anorak who have noticed that Arsenal tend to talk up their transfer war chest every time season ticket renewals come around.

It links to The Telegraph who this morning reported that Arsenal have a £70 million war chest to spend in the summer, and this a couple of days after it opened season ticket renewals.

Apparently a similar story ran in February last year also just before season ticket renewals opened. And as for that war chest – it didn’t really get spent now did it?


Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny misses training – who might Arsene play tomorrow?

By Stefano on February 18th, 2013

Some very worrying news for Gunners fans on the eve Arsenal’s games against Bayern Munich. There are reports that French centre back Laurent Koscielny missed training this morning because of ongoing problems with a calf injury.

It has to be said that Koscielny looked fine against Blackburn (fitness-wise) and that this might just be a precautionary move by the Arsenal medical team.

However if Koscielny does miss tomorrow then Arsene Wenger has a tricky decision to make. It will mean that Thomas Vermaelen will be needed to partner Per Mertesacker at centre back, creating a problem as to who will play at left back?

Wenger could move Sanga to that position with Carl Jenkinson at right back, or he could draft in Ignasi Miquel.

Either way it wouldn’t be ideal given Bayern’s awesome firepower


Arsenal update: Goalkeeper gossip, Wilshere on Chelsea and why Wenger might drop Giroud

By Stefano on February 18th, 2013

There’s lot of Arsenal news this morning with the papers dominated by recriminations over the defeat to Blackburn and previews of the game on Tuesday against Bayern Munich.

Jack Wilshere has been talking eloquently about both subjects.

On the Blackburn game Wilshere said

“It’s obviously disappointing to go out of the FA Cup. We know what this trophy means in England and we wanted to go all the way.

“We created a lot of chances we’re just disappointed we couldn’t put it in the net. “They probably created one chance and they got a lucky goal but that’s the FA Cup. Giantkillings going on all the time in this cup and it happened today.”

On the game against Bayern, Wilshere said that he hoped the Arsenal team would find inspiration from an unlikely source – their West London rivals Chelsea

“They weren’t having a good season and ok they got a bit lucky in some games but they showed great character and we need to do that now. We need to come together as a team. We’ve got good leaders here we’ve got a good team atmosphere and I think that’s going to help us now.

Meanwhile Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger has tackled the Chelsea issue straight on saying that the German side are much stronger this season. He told The Daily Mail.

“We are hungry to win the Champions League. This team have been to the final twice and didn’t win. We have more experience and we’re moving towards our aim. Compared to the final against Chelsea, we are stronger. We have more good players and we are stronger on the bench. This is a crucial point.

“In the final, Chelsea brought on Fernando Torres and Florent Malouda and that helped them win the game. That’s a big difference to last season. We have more options to change.”

The Guardian has a round up of all the latest Arsenal related transfer news. Not that any of it is what you would call proper news. The big issues seems to be around the future of Wojciech Szczesny. Is Arsene in for a new keeper? Well according to The Guar the main names in the frame are Barcelona’s Victor Valdes and Liverpool’s Pepe Reina. Both of which seem pretty unlikely.

Finally Goal has an interesting take on who might play for The Gunners against Bayern. It is pure speculation of course but the website thinks that Wenger might drop Olivier Giorud, who had a turkey on Saturday, and play Theo Walcott down the middle.

Its rationale is this

Arsene Wenger believes his strongest offensive weapon in the last-16 first-leg encounter is a pacy, mobile front three that can hit the runaway Bundesliga leaders on the counter-attack. The Arsenal manager is believed to be leaning towards starting with a front trio of Theo Walcott, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, although he could revise his plans following training on Monday.

Goal also thinks that Aaron Ramsey will get a start too which would explain why he didn’t play on Saturday.

I think there might be legs to this one. Bayern are probably more susceptible to pacy players who catch them on the break rather then old school strikers like Giroud who could be easily marked by their superb defensive paring.

We will find out soon enough.


Rumours of Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona? The Arsenal captain’s curse again!?

By Stefano on February 18th, 2013

Here’s an interesting question for Arsenal fans. Would you cash in Thomas Vermaelen for a Barca player or two?

Well that’s the rumour that has been picked up the Daily Mirror which suggests that the Catalans are lining up the Arsenal defender as a replacement for Eric Abidal who is unlikely to return to to-level footballer after his illnesses.

In return The Mirror suggest that Arsenal will be offered several Barca players including David Villa.

The paper says

Wenger has gone cold on the idea of signing Barcelona striker David Villa. However, the Spanish giants will try to reignite his interest if it will help get a deal for Vermaelen done.

Barcelona have already put around £40million aside for new signings in the summer and that pot will grow if they can offload Villa, versatile defender and midfielder Adriano and young forward Cristian Tello.

Vermaelen, 27, is under contract at Arsenal until October 2015.

So Arsenal fans what do you think? Might this be a sensible move for Arsene Wenger? It is clear that Thomas Vermaelen isn’t the commanding figure he was a couple of seasons back. There are even those who think that the Arsenal captain isn’t part of the best defensive pairing which they believe to be Mertesacker and Koscielny.

Then again it would be tough to replace a player with his skill and experience.

It is interesting too that this could end up being another example of the curse of being captain, for several players that Wenger has given that role to has left the club not too long after.


Five conclusions from Arsenal’s FA Cup disaster

By Stefano on February 17th, 2013


Although a feeling of discontent has been fermenting at The Emirates for several seasons now it is not too often that you hear boos at the end of a game. I heard boos yesterday, a lot of them.

As has been endlessly documented by the media in the last twelve hours Arsenal’s failure to push past Championship side Blackburn Rovers now means it is very likely it will be eight years without a trophy.

For as club the size and the stature of Arsenal is that acceptable? I am not entirely sure. Remember the Gunners went years in the 80s without a trophy and nineteen years in the 70 and 80s without a league title. No club has a divine right to silverware.

However, as has also endlessly been pointed out ,Arsenal fans pay handsomely for their lack of success. They left a beautiful historic stadium several years ago as they were told that the club needed bigger revenues from home games or else they wouldn’t be able to compete. It must feel like they have been sold a pup.

Personally I don’t think that the club is in crisis just yet. A sizable defeat to Bayern on Tuesday followed by losing at home to Villa – now that would be a crisis.

So what went wrong yesterday. Here are five conclusions.

1 Wenger got his team selection wrong – Personally I do not feel like he got it too wrong. The team that started should have been way too strong for Blackburn, and that really was a fluke result. Given his concerns about Jack Wilshere he should not have started. As for Theo and Santi, yes they could have begun the game, but in Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Tomas Rosicky Arsene had two high quality ready-made replacements. Perhaps the big mistake was not playing Podolski as he has linked so well with Giroud of late. But then Gervinho had a great AFCON, so you can see why Wenger was keen to give him a full game.

2 Arsenal didn’t actually play that badly – Ok so who you going to blame? The defence? They were fine apart from one misunderstanding. The midfield? Diaby had a solid game and had several shots on target and was unlucky not to get on the score sheet. Rosicky played reasonably well and Aterta was solid. What let Arsenal down yesterday was their front three.

3 Arsenal are paying the price for not buying a striker – If I had been Wenger I would have told Barca that unless Villa joined Arsenal on a loan deal with an option to buy in the summer that he would never sell them a player again and that any Arsenal player who might be Spain-bound would be heading for Madrid. Even without Villa Wenger and his team had thirty days to find a striker and failed.

On one level you have to admire the belief that Wenger has in Giroud. It is clear that buying a proper RVP replacement – or even an second string striker – would have unsettled him. The French striker is though a work in progress. He has a good goals to chances ratio, but the diffuclty for me is his lack of pace, and perhaps more importantly his positional sense, means that he just doesn’t get into enough goal scoring positions. Yesterday Arsenal seem to be just peppering the Blackburn box with passes and crosses, but no one was there. Giroud may end up as an Arsenal legend, but at the moment he has a long way to go. Ironically Arsenal’s likely failure to qualify for the Champions League will mean that the high profile clinical striker won’t come anyhow. One last thought. What happens if Giroud sustains an injury against Bayern? Who will lead the line then?

4 Something is not clicking with Alex – Remember when AOC first played at The Emirates? His confidence was infectious. He seemed to have a huge amount of self belief. That confidence seems to have been dented and yesterday he was once again a shadow of the player Arsenal fans got so excited about last season. I am sure that he will be an integral part of the team going forward, but there is clearly something that isn’t quite right.

5 Wenger doesn’t really care that much about the FA Cup – At the press conference he stated the importance of fourth place. The tragedy is that I think if you gave Arsenal fans a choice between winning the FA Cup and missing a CL season and finishing fourth they would plump for the former. And as important as that Bayern game is he must know in his heart of hearts that Arsenal are not CL contenders. On the way home fro the game I heard some fans talk about how excited they were about Tuesday. Not that Arsenal would give the Germans a game mind, but to see the team that they think will win this year’s CL. Now that’s sad, really sad.

Anyway, what do you think? Did Arsene get the team badly wrong? Is he right to have so much faith in Giroud? Let us know in the comments.


Did Everton and Arsenal pay the price for their FA Cup cynicism?

By Stefano on February 17th, 2013

Perhaps I am an old fuddy duddy, but it made me want to feel very queasy listening to David Moyes and Arsene Wenger talk in their pre FA Cup weekend press conferences. I am not a fan of either clubs, but if it was my manager I would feel the same. How dare a manager of a club, especially the size of Arsenal and Everton, tell fans that their priority is not winning a trophy but finishing in the top 4, so the money comes rolling in…. So much for the fans giving their loyalty and support day after day and their hard earned cash week in week out – you’d think a day out at Wembley and a chance of a trophy would be a priority as a chance to say thanks. Alas no, the modern day club is all too caught up in reaching for the pot of gold in the vein hope it will happen.

So, no real problem with Wenger and Moyes being honest – that’s one thing, but in one day they have knocked further nails into the coffin of the FA Cup. Surely someone somewhere can get in amongst the Premier League managers and tell them a decent bit of PR will cost them nothing… not only that, what sort of message does it send out to fans? Football is about winning – winning honours, and as yet I have not seen any club have an honours roll that includes finishing 4th in the Premiership – perhaps someone will soon.

Perhaps it is all just a sign of what is wrong with the game we love – I say game, it ceased to be that some time ago. A Carling Cup and FA cup final appearance was never enough for the Fenway boys at Liverpool – they wanted top 4, so Kenny Dalglish was sacked and in came Brendan Rodgers to finish probably lower than last season.

Laughably Spurs did finish 4th but that was not enough for Daniel Levy, who wanted a longer term vision or whatever – anyway, Harry was dispensed with and in came AVB. It is just all so wrong. Whatever your club, ask yourself what memories come to the fore as a fan… it is winning, trophies, the captain holds that cup aloft, silly jigs around the stadium and drunken players atop the bus next day….. Not the board of directors smiling to themselves dreaming of the riches of the Champions League….

This is why I believe that Wenger and Moyes should be charged with bringing the game into disrepute – for disrespecting fans, showing a distinct lack of understanding of what fans want… Arsenal fans ask yourselves – trip to see Bayern Munich, trip to Wembley to try and win a trophy. Everton fans – a qualifier in Vilnius or a trip to Wembley?? For Arsenal fans Wembley is a distant dream again anyhow.

Over to you!

features, Football

Why Chelsea have the best celebrity fans – but Arsenal get the Hollywood A List

By Stefano on February 16th, 2013


Simon Poulter of the always excellent What Would David Bowie Do? on football’s oddest celebrity fans – not that Noel is odd…

Good Evening…er….Molineux

Shortly before referee Massimo Busacca got the final Group B match of the 2006 World Cup underway – pitching Sweden against Sven Goran Eriksson’s England – I suddenly became aware of having my photograph taken. Quite a lot.

A large number of people in front of my friend ands I at Cologne’s RheinEnergieStadion were snapping away as if we were royalty. Rock royalty.

Three minutes into the game, Peter Crouch came on to replace the already-crocked Michael Owen. From behind me came an explosion of Mancunian fury: “What the fook is ‘e doing?!”. It was Noel Gallagher. For the next 30 minutes, up until Joe Cole settled everyone’s nerves with a quite spectacular goal, almost every England touch was described invariably by the guitar god to my stern as “shite”.

As every football fan knows, The Bloke Behind You is always the best source of entertainment. And thus Noel proved to be. You sort of wished he could be behind you at every match. Except that would mean taking out a season ticket at Manchester City.

Raquel Welch and Chelsea?

Chelsea regulars like me rarely go long without a celebrity sighting: I recently had a ‘moment’ when Mick Jones (the punk icon, not the lead singer of Foreigner) pitched up two rows behind me in the Upper East Stand of Stamford Bridge. During Chelsea’s ‘Swinging London’ era, it was commonplace for the ultra-fashionable to fit in an afternoon watching Chopper Harris kick lumps out of Billy Bremner’s shincaps (reciprocated in kind, of course).

It was rumoured that Sophia Loren was a fan, that Raquel Welch had shown up during shooting of One Million Years B.C. (hopefully not in the chamois bikini she wore for that film), and that even Steve McQueen had once paid a visit.

Today you will most certainly see the likes of Suggs (supplier of Chelsea’s 1997 official FA Cup song, Blue Day), Tim Lovejoy, Johnny Vaughan, David Baddiel, Fiona Phillips, Alec Stewart, Sean Locke, Phil Daniels and, occasionally, Damon Albarn shuffling out of (and into) the Bridge with the rest of us mere mortals. Lord Dickie Attenborough remains the club’s Life President, and he has certainly not been alone in the luvvies patronising the club.

Canadian rocker-come-photographer Bryan Adams, who lives on the Chelsea Embankment, is also an occasional patron of Chelsea. The diminutive Canadian once stood in front of me at an FA Cup Final involving Chelsea, trying to disguise himself with a fishing hat and a trenchcoat, while oblivious to the fact the six-foot blonde he was with was drawing attention his way in any case. Still, hats off.

From Madonna (Guy Ritchie allegedly introduced her) to presidents (Clinton, while an Oxford Student) and prime ministers (John Major), Chelsea has attracted plenty of celeb interest over the years. But the club is far from alone.

The FA Cup usually flushes them out. Sometimes, without any effort. The BBC’s traditional pre-Cup Final coverage always includes awkward interviews with scarfed-up TV personalities desperate to appear down with the beautiful game.

Chirpy Scouse comedians

If Liverpool are involved, you can bet the house on Jimmy Tarbuck tearing himself away from the golf course to ‘ho-hoh’ his way through a few gags about Bill Shankly and John Lennon.

Speaking of the latter, conspiracy theorists have noted that, for a city like Liverpool, with two major football clubs separated only by Anfield Park, The Beatles were clever enough to avoid swearing any allegiance to either the Red or the Blue team. George Harrison was once quoted as saying dryly: “There are three teams in Liverpool and I prefer the other one.”

Pop and football have, at times been strange bedfellows. While Paul Heaton’s patronage of Hull City should never been in doubt, Michael Jackson’s support for and even vice-presidency of Exeter City is one of the more bizarre tales of music and the beautiful game coming together. Jackson was once paraded at half time at Fulham by his friend and club proprietor Mohammed Al-Fayed. Curiously it prompted a verse of “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles”. Can’t possible imagine what they meant.

Perhaps the most famous – if unlikely – rockin’ football fan has been Elton John. At various times, Sir Elt has been chairman and proprietor of The Hornets, though today he is a happily settled Life President alongside Graham Taylor, his team manager during his periods of proprietorship.

Another unlikely club boardroom visitor is Robert Plant. Percy is a lifelong Wolves fan, and, since 2009, a very involved club vice-president. Odd to think that he has no interest in reuniting Led Zeppelin permanently, but he’s happy to administer the half-time tombola at Molineux.

Strangely, though, for what is to be considered the national sport, football has not been as prominent in the lists of pop star likes and dislikes as one might expect. There is, of course, Rod Stewart and his tearful support for Celtic (mostly manifested from a distance, seeing as Rod lives in Los Angeles for most of the time), while there is the dubious example of Chiswick-born Phil Collins supporting QPR in the 70s (though Brentford would have been closer) before pitching up at White Hart Lane some years later as, apparently, a Spurs fan.

London clubs, in generally, have rarely struggled to attract the great and the good to their terraces.

Chas’n'Dave and co

Spurs have been spectacularly blessed with famous supporters, ranging from the hardcore like Bruce Forsyth and cockernee-kneesup merchants Chas’n'Dave, to actor Warren Mitchell (whose TV character Alf Garnett was, famously, an ‘Ammer), the Colombian literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Patsy Kensit, er…Ray Liotta and Norway’s King Harald V.

White Hart Lane could also easily open a musician’s enclosure, where you could expect to see Jeff Beck (even though he comes from Chelsea country, Carshalton), Adele (well, she’s everywhere else), the former S-Club 7 person Rachel Stevens, Andrew Ridgeley, The Jam’s Bruce Foxton (Paul Weller, for the record, is a Chelsea boy), All Saints’ Shaznay Lewis, Emma Bunton and Paul Young, clearly defying the attention of his hometown club, Luton. Somewhat disturbingly, Status Quo’s Francis Rossi is a Spurs fan, despite coming from Crystal Palace territory.

Hollywood A Listers at The Emirates

Across north-east London to the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal boasts a very different celebrity clientele altogether. You could start with the unexpected – Dale Winton (although with his skin hue, he’d be a better fit with ‘The Tanners of Leatherhead FC) – before noting Arsenal’s affinity with the North London literary set (obvious example being Nick Hornby, on whose football obsession formed the basis of an entire writing career) as well as decidedly un-blokey media types like Sir David Frost and Piers Morgan (the target of much Twitter sledging by Lord Alan Sugar).

The problem with Internet-based research is that you never know what is merely plausible and what is utter nonsense. With Arsenal, there’s a thin line between the two. Because, if you were to believe it, the club has a solid following of Hollywood A-listers: Demi Moore, Matt Damon, Spike Lee, Sarah Michelle Geller, Kevin Costner, Keanu Reeves, Jackie Chan, Owen Wilson.

London, it would seem, holds a disproportionate dominance of clubs with celebrity support, or at least clubs with prominent celebrity support. For every singular Sean Bean supporting Sheffield United, or Stephen Fry following Norwich, Arsenal could – like Spurs – fill an entire section with thespian talent: Colin Firth, Gillian Anderson (well, she did grow up in North London), Saffron Burrows, Hugh Laurie (oh, don’t you pray for the day “Is there a doctor in the house” bellows from the Emirates tannoy system?), pasty-faced vampire Robert Pattinson, national treasure and Bubbly Blonde™, Barbara Windsor, Idris Elba (who grew up in West Ham country with a Manchester United-supporting father). Music is no stranger to the Gunners, either, with Roger Daltrey (despite hailing from QPR territory), Roger Waters, Mick Jagger, Kemp brothers Gary and Martin, and John Lydon old holding a candle for the Gunners. Preposterously, Jay-Z and Sean ‘P-Diddy/Puffy/Puff Daddy/Whatevernext’ Combs are all said to be a fan of Arsene Wenger’s red-and-white army, though what evidence exists to support this claim remains to be seen.

I started this section on famous Arsenal fans by mentioning the bizarre notion that Dale Winton is amongst their number. Let me close with the equally strange by suggesting that there is some evidence, somewhere, that Arsenal have drawn the support of both the Queen (yes, she of the Olympic parachute stunt) and her Action Man grandson, Harry. Making no leap whatsoever between the Prince and this next example, it is also understood that Osama Bin Laden was a Gooner. And, no, I didn’t mean “goner”.

Around London, there are obscure pockets of celebrity club endorsement: Leyton Orient, so often the forgotten son of London football, claims the comedian and Fighting Talk regular Bob Mills as it’s most prominent fan; Crystal Palace has David ‘Kid’ Jensen, while Fulham has ‘Diddy’ David Hamilton, who also works as the club’s half-time announcer.

Beyond London, beyond even the Midlands (Frank Skinner, Adrian Chiles at West Bromwich Albion, Jasper Carrott at Birmingham), we return to the north-west.


Manchester’s two main teams have enjoyed no end of attention from celebrities, ranging from the genuinely passionate (Gallaghers Liam and the aforementioned Noel – who now must have separate boxes at Manchester City) to the suspiciously arriviste (Justin Timberlake, once photographed in a Man U beenie hat).

Compared with Arsenal, Manchester United doesn’t fare as well as you’d expect for celebrity fans, or at least fans who are out in the open. Prominent supporters include Ian McShane, whose father played for the club, Angus Deayton, the Guildford-born smart-arse, Sweden’s Ulrika-ka-ka-ka-ka-ka Johnsson, chirpy Oxford musical contrarian Thom Yorke, and Eammon Holmes. Man U’s celebrity ranks were recently augmented by Usain Bolt, who regularly tweets manically about the Reds, and was – possibly jokingly – offered a trial by Sir Alex Ferguson, presumably eyeing fastest man on the planet as a long-term replacement for Ryan Giggs.

So, with the FA Cup stirring back to life this weekend, with clubs like Luton (former TVam presenter Nick Owen and, famously, Eric Morecambe), Millwall (principally, Danny Baker) and Barnsley (Darren Gough, Sir Michael Parkinson) entering fifth round ties, be on the lookout for ITV cameras hunting high and low for bescarfed, rosette-adorned celebs, and be waiting, equally, for unfunny comments from Messsrs Chiles, Dixon and Southgate in the studio as a consequence.

To discover which teams British Rock Royalty,  from The Beatles to Coldplay, support go here

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