Gareth Bale’s sensational season hasn’t gone un-noticed in Germany. According to today’s Daily Mail Bayern Munich boss Pep Guardiola is lining up a bid to rival the one that which is expected to come from Real Madrid in the summer.
The paper reckons that the ex Barca boss has a transfer war chest of £100 million and that he is ready to fork out half of that on the brilliant Tottenham player. Guardiola apparently has scouts watching Bale and reporting back to him.
Performances like that against Lyon in the Europa Cup are only going to push Bale to the front of the list of Europe’s most wanted. The player signed a four year contract in 2012 and has so far hasn’t had his head turned by big money transfer talk.
Bale said after the game on Thursday
‘I don’t take too much notice. I’m concentrating on every game and just hoping I can keep my form going.’
‘This is probably the best I’ve been playing so far in my career,’ admitted Bale. ‘I’m enjoying my football and the team’s playing well, which obviously makes it easier for me.I’ve just got to keep my head down, keep working hard. I’ve still got a lot of room for improvement.’
Meanwhile writing for The Sun ex Spurs and England boss Terry Venables says that Spurs ambitions must match Bale’s if the player is to stay.
‘I have heard some say that Bale will probably need to quit Tottenham to become a world great like Ron(aldo). But I do not think that is necessarily the case. It just depends on how good Spurs want to become. To be recognised as a top player, Bale will have to play at the highest level and challenge for trophies in club football.
He has previously expressed his desire to take on the challenge of playing abroad in the future. But there is no reason why he could not achieve world greatness with his current club.’
The Europa League generally gets a bad press in England. Whilst teams on the continent tend to take a far more serious approach towards it, it is always viewed through mocking eyes over here. The ‘Thursday night, Channel Five’ songs are used an insult on a regular basis and ultimately it is seen as being a little ‘beneath us’.
I suppose it is part of the insular British mindset but it is an opinion that has always troubled me. I still fondly remember the excitement and glory of the Cup Winners Cup and Uefa Cup and, whilst the Champions League in its modern format has swallowed up everything around it, the Europa League still represents a tilt at European glory.
One of the most common arguments against taking the competition seriously is the strain it puts on your weekend preparations, due to the scheduling of games on a Thursday night. But with the following league games always pushed back to the Sunday, the rest is often no different to those teams competing in the Champions League.
And then there is what I have always seen as the underlying benefit of participating in the Europa League, it is a chance to learn. If Spurs truly have ambitions of becoming a regular Champions League team, which is well within our reach, then it is vital that nights such as the game against Lyon are learnt from.
It is no good simply qualifying for the Champions League if you are unequipped to compete in it. Lyon are one of several teams in this season’s tournament with years of involvement in the elite European competition and the game against them yesterday gave Spurs a real challenge and it is one we learnt lessons from.
It is true that our previous foray into the Champions League was a relative success, halted eventually by the footballing behemoth dressed in white that is Real Madrid. But it was also a rather crazy, helter-skelter experience and one that is probably not repeatable. Instead the club need to learn to play European opposition in a more sustainable manner.
Andre Villas-Boas is a blessing in this regard, since not only does he know the competition well but he indeed won it during his time with Porto. All the noises coming out of the camp seem to indicate this test will be taken on with the utmost respect and I hope that is the case. This could be vital preparation for the big thing next year.
This post courtesy of Pick Our Team is by Marc Braterman. PickOurTeam is a new type of football community giving fans an opportunity to have a meaningful say on the formation and selection of their team. PickOurTeam is the voice of the fans – collecting views on who should play where and ratings on how the players, manager, and referee perform each week. Every match the findings are compiled and presented back to the fans. The article was originally posted here.
One other really great snippet from this morning’s conference which has been picked up by ESPN and others is that Arsene Wenger had admitted that Arsenal were looking to sign Gareth Bale from Southampton, but instead determined Theo Walcott to be the better prospect.
And it is a decision that he doesn’t regret.
Talking about signing Theo Walcott from Southampton in 2006 but not taking Bale too Wenger said :
“At some stage, we were looking to take the two if possible. We got Walcott, and I am very happy with that. Look, if I tell you the number of players we did not sign that we should have signed, you will be amazed. It’s the same for every club – you sometimes miss out on players.”
In words that will probably anger a few spurs fans Wenger said that he feels that while Bale is a brilliant player he isn’t the third best player in the world behind Messi and Ronlado as has been suggested by some papers today.
“He has the potential to develop and to get close to the players you compare him to, but Ronaldo and Messi?
“Messi has won two or three Champions League titles. He has won a few championships. He scored more than 90 goals last year. Let’s not go too quick [in comparing Bale to Messi]. You are always very quick here, but let’s slow down a bit.”
Bale was in sensational form for Spurs last night scoring twice in their win over Lyon in the Europa Cup.
Tottenham play Arsenal in what might turn out to the the Champions league fourth place decider on March 2nd.
Arsene Wenger had a pretty busy time of it this morning at the Arsenal press conference fielding questions about upcoming games against Blackburn and Bayern as well as the future of Santos, Villa and more.
Firstly on the injuries, Wenger revealed there was a possibility that Kieran Gibbs could be back in time for the game against Bayern
‘Kieran has a small chance to be fit for the second match against Bayern’
But he also cast doubt on the fitness of Jack Wilshere
‘I will not take a risk [with his fitness], with the rest of the season in mind and what happened before’
As for the game against Blackburn Wenger confirmed
‘The players who will not start are the players who have played many games recently. We are favourites, Blackburn have nothing to lose and they have a squad of Premier League players’
As for Villa, Wenger said
‘I am not on the case. I like the player but at the moment we have some immediate targets’
The door is however still open for Andre Santos
‘Of course he can have a future at Arsenal. That depends as well on the ins and outs during the summer. ‘He moved because he lost a little bit of confidence and he needs to play’
So what do you make of that lot then?
Well it seems that Arsene is focusing much more on the game against Bayern than Blackburn and that Saturday could see some fringe players – Miquel, Rosicky, maybe even Arshavin – get a game.
As for Bayern, the news that Gibbs might be fit is hugely encouraging for Gunners fans. Wenger would have to play Thomas Vermaelen in the left back berth and he is also struggling to get fit.
Personally I think that the comment on Santos makes sense. He has been a good player before, but clearly has struggled this season. He wouldn’t be the first Arsenal player ever to have a drop off in from.
As for Villa, that door it still open, but if I were a betting man the money would be on a younger striker arriving in the summer
The 22-year-old midfielder has been excellent form this season which will be in the minds of the Spurs management team who tried to sign him last summer. The paper says that Arsenal are interested too, but has no source for their story.
The youngster has eighteen months on his contract and clearly has ambition beyond Frankfurt.
“The interest is known to me. I’ll keep my feet on the ground and not start dreaming,” he said.
“Eintracht Frankfurt and I have agreed to postpone the talks so I can concentrate on my football.”
Bayern Munich are also said to be monitoring the player .
This one seems like a long shot for any London team at the moment. The paper doesn’t have any links to either Arsenal or Spurs, so I’d take this with a big pinch of salt. Arsenal, and Spurs are monitoring players all across the continent, but that doesn’t mean that they are anywhere near signing any of them.
Rode would however clearly fit both sides requirements for a tough tackling central midfielder.
It seems that top of Arsene Wenger’s striker wants list these days is not David Villa but Fiorentina’s Stevan Jovetic.The 23 year old has been in sparkling form this season, something which hasn’t escaped the attention of Man City’s Roberto Mancini too. Italian league leaders Juventus are also said to be very keen on the Montenegrin.
So there’s good news for the English clubs as Fiorentina’s sporting director Daniele Prade yesterday admitted that he is unsure of the player’s future
“We will see what happens from here until the end of the season. It depends on where we finish in the league, our goals for the future and other things.”
The big sticking point for Jovetic is that he wants to play in the Champions league. Fiorentina are currently sixth in Serie A and battling with the two Milanese clubs for fourth place. If they aren’t successful then Jovetic may choose to force the club’s hand.
Obviously not qualifying for the Champions League would also rule out Arsenal, who face Bayern Munich in the next round of the competition on Tuesday, too.
This Saturday Arsenal welcome Blackburn Rovers to The Emirates for an FA Cup clash they are desperate to win. The FA Cup remains the bit of silverware most likely to end the club’s seven your trophy drought.
Yet Arsene Wenger has plenty on his mind when it comes to deciding who is going to start in the line up. For three days later Arsenal face a much tougher challenge in the guise of Bayern Munich who visit The Emirates for the first leg of their Champions League tie.
Wenger also has quite a few players coming back from injury, so he needs to decide does he risk them against the Championship side on Saturday and keep them for Bayern game.
Thomas Vermaelen – He is looking quite good and is possibly back for Saturday. He should be in the squad.
Jack Wilshere – He is having tests today [Thursday] and tomorrow. He is looking better. He is still a doubt for Saturday. He’s got a kick on the thigh.
Laurent Koscielny – That is a problem. He has a test today and tomorrow exactly like Wilshere.
As for the others
Ramsey is alright. Sagna is alright. Jenkinson is suspended. Diaby is available again and all the other players are alright.
The really good news than is Thomas Vermaelen’s recovery. It would make seen to put him on the bench and save him to play at left back in the Bayern game.
If we consider that Koscielny is likely to be a non starter on Saturday and that he need to be preserved to play alongside Mertesacker on Tuesday, Wenger could try Miquel against Blackburn. Monreal will be able to play left back and Sagna at the right.
If Wilshere is left out of the squad then Arsenal’s midfield could be Arteta, Cazorla, Diaby with Walcott and Podolski on the wings.
Wenger can also pick Gervinho, who had a splendid AFCON and could well feature.
Is this the end of the David Vila to Arsenal story? It certainly feels as if it might be that way.
Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo, which has been reported in the UK here, has stated that Barca have put a €20m price tag of their star striker – way more than the £10m (€11.5m) that Arsenal were reported to have bid in the transfer window.
So if Arsenal want to land the striker they will have to smash their transfer record to secure a player who will be 32 in December.
There’s still plenty of the season left and Villa may yet platy an important tole for the Catalan club’s bid for La Liga and The Champions League, but if that is not the case the striker, who has struggled with injuries, is very likely to push for a transfer.
The player was apparently very keen to move to London, but the chances of him becoming a Gunner now see remote. It could be a last desperate attempt by Barca to get as much money for the player as possible, so it will be fascinating to see how clubs respond.
Arsenal’s talismanic French man is apparently keen on a third stint at the club. At a press conference this week he reiterated his desire to be involved with Arsenal in any role
‘All I know is that I will be involved in the game for sure and hopefully be involved with Arsenal because that is the heart talking there, that’s the team that I support. Forget about me as a player, that’s the team I support.
‘In any type or shape, if I can go back to the club I would love to do it, but it’s not up to me. That would be a desire, more a desire than something that can be officialised, I still have two years playing here and then I will see.
‘But I would definitely love to be back with Arsenal.
Henry was also dismissive of Arsenal fans who have been critical of Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger this season.
‘For me, it is difficult to hear, difficult to see, but for me the boss will always be Arsene – always great for me and I know what he has done for the club,” he said.
From this point it is hard to see exactly where in the Emirates management structure he would fit. But many Arsenal fans would love the idea of their favourite son returning possinbly as a manager in waiting under Arsene Wenger’s tutelage.
One player who won’t be returning any time soon is Barcelona’s midfielder Cesc Fabregas. The Spaniard has been to several of Arsenal’s home games this season and watches each game on television. There were rumours that he might even be considering a loan move back to his old club.
Wenger also said last year
“I’m not convinced Fabregas won’t come back here one day. He’s an Arsenal man. He loves Arsenal. He watches every Arsenal game. Barcelona was his home town where he grew up and you have to accept this, especially as Barcelona are the best team in the world.
“He won’t return in the next two or three years but, after that, maybe.”
However Fabregas has underlined his desire to stay at Barcelona.
He told Spanish paper El Mundo Deportivo:
“I went back to Barcelona to stay forever, if possible. I fight with all my might to stay here as long as possible. I’ve already lived experiences abroad and I have done well.”
Yesterday we mentioned how Arsenal and other clubs were tracking Celtic’s Victor Wanyama. Now it seems that one of his team mates might also be mulling over a move to the Premiership.
Gary Hooper, who is you your remember was the subject of five failed bids from Norwich during the transfer window, is rumoured by the Metro to be ready to push for a move to the Premiership with Spurs his chosen destination
The Metro says
Hooper is understood to have made it clear to manager Neil Lennon that he won’t be signing a new contract at Celtic, and was reportedly promised a summer switch if he didn’t push through a transfer last month.
The ex-Scunthorpe striker duly obliged, and despite Liverpool, Newcastle and a string of Russian clubs all showing an interest Hooper has told his agent to try to negotiate a switch to Tottenham.
Hooper was on the books at Spurs as a youngster but never quite made the grade there. Having been a success in the Champions League this season with Celtic Hooper would quite possibly get a second shot of the competition with Spurs, providing they continue their current vein of form.
Spurs apparently made enquiries about the player on transfer day but were put off by the English stars £10 million price tag. It seems that they may be ready to pay the money this time.
It is depressing news for Celtic fans, but Hooper has made it clear that he has ambitions to play more regularly for the national side and the BBC acknowledged on Tuesday England boss Roy Hodgson is only an occasional visitor to Glasgow.
Meanwhile The Express is suggesting that Spurs are also going to chase another one of their winter transfer targets in the summer. Roma’s Pablo Osvaldo has scored 11 times in 18 games this year but the Express says Roma are willing to sell him because of his poor disciplinary record.
Top tip. If you are starting a band now try choosing a name that begins with the letter B. Think about it. From The Beatles to Blondie via The Bee Gees, Blur and Beach Boys, so many of the greatest bands ever starts with that letter.
You might also consider investing in a season ticket at The Emirates too. For it appears that among Britain’s rock royalty at least, the Gunners have the most celebrity fans.
In a not very scientific survey I took 12 key British bands and noted the footballing preferences of their key members.
Some, like Oasis and Pink Floyd are well documented. For others I had to dig deep into the dark recesses of web chats, local news stories and more. If you have any hearsay, gossip or best of all evidence about the footballing affiliations of the people featured in the pages that follow please add them to the comments.
Anyhow, Arsenal just about shaded it as the most supported team. What is odd though is that Man United have so few big rock stars among their fans. Thom Yorke is rumoured to be a fan as is The Verve’s Richard Ashcroft and a Stone Roses member or two, but that’s pretty slim pickings for one of the most popular clubs in the world. * UPDATE The Happy Mondays too.
Anyhow here is the list. And before you ask yes I know Coldplay and Mumford and Sons should probably be on this list. For the record Marcus Mumford supports AFC Wimbledon and Chris Martin possibly supports Exeter City.
When The Beatles were growing up in the 40s and 50s the team you supported in Liverpool said a lot more about you than just your football preference. Religion played a role too with most Protestants favouring Liveropol and Catholics choosing Everton. Hence given the Beatles upbringing you'd expect John and Ringo to be Reds, George to be a Blue and Paul - who was from a mixed family - supporting both. It is not surprising then that in the early 60s Brian Epstein told the band to keep any football affiliations to themselves as not to alienate anyone. There are endless online debates about what teams The Beatles supported but the truth is that the Fab Four weren't really that interested in football. John, we can surmise, was if anything a Red. It was almost certainly at his insistence that one Albert Stubbins, a red-haired Liverpool striker , appeared on the Sgt Pepper sleeve. His dad was a Red too. There is quite a lot of evidence that John enjoyed a kick around. Pete Best (an Evertonian) recently said that Lennon was the best footballer in the band. However he didn't seem that interested in watching the game. Interestingly though the cover of his 1974 Walls and Bridges album has a painting he did as an 11 year old which features the FA Cup final from that year which was between Newcastle United and Arsenal. Ringo has apparently become more of a Red as he has got older (his kids are fans), though his step dad was an Arsenal fan and used to take him to see The Gunners when they played in Liverpool. George seems to have had zero interest in football which just leaves Paul. Ultimately he clearly has a thing for both teams but when push comes to shove he is a Blue. He once said - Here’s the deal: my father was born in Everton, my family are officially Evertonians, so if it comes down to a derby match or an FA Cup final between the two, I would have to support Everton,” he said. “But after a concert at Wembley Arena I got a bit of a friendship with Kenny Dalglish, who had been to the gig and I thought, ‘You know what? I am just going to support them both because it’s all Liverpool and I don’t have that Catholic-Protestant thing.’ So I did have to get special dispensation from the Pope to do this but that’s it, too bad… but if it comes to the crunch, I’m an Evertonian.” If we ignore Pete Best then Liverpool FC just about edge this one then.
Commiserations to Celtic who were pretty unlucky and the victim of some iffy refereeing in their Champions League game against Juventus last night.
But with progression in the CL unlikely and a rather uneventful stroll to the Scottish Premiership a cert again next year the English vultures are starting to circle.
And top of the list of players who could be heading south is the Kenyan Victor Wanyama.
According to The Mail Arsenal apparently had the powerful holding midfielder watched last night and are mulling over a move for him in the summer.
The club are painfully aware that they have never replaced Alex Song and although Mikkel Arteta and Aaron Ramsey can both play in the holding role they lack the physical presence required when Arsenal need to be more defensively minded,
I must admit to not having been to too many of Arsenal’s away Champions League games, but when we drew Real Madrid in in 2006 a trip to the Bernabeu seemed like too much of an opportunity to miss. A huge game in Spain against a very strong Madrid side. Besides I did enjoy watching real at the time. And anyway I have never had any affection at all for Barcelona. The way in which the club seemed to be constantly circling round out best players (both then and now) made me a clear White when it came to El Classico.
It was a strange time for the Gunners. Like a lot of Arsenal fans at the time I was amazed by just how good we were domestically yet baffled that we couldn’t translate that form into European success. And that made the Highbury faithful quite realistic/cynical (delete as you see fit) when it came to the big European nights.
I remember arriving outside the stadium that day imagining that we might just sneak a draw but fully expecting to be sent home with our tail between our legs by a Real Madrid team that included Raul, Zidane and (the porky) Ronaldo. Fortunately we were spared Beckham who was getting over an injury.
Besides no English team had come to the Bernabeu before and won. Even though Arsenal had perhaps the best striker in the world at that time, Thierry Henry, at the peak of his powers, it was still massive ask.
To make matter worse if I remember rightly it was quite a make shift team too, with no recognisable left back – sound familiar? – Mathieu Flamini filled in. Jose Antonio Reyes, who was mid way through his last season at the club and would be Madrid bound in the summer – also started, and in the middle of the park was young Spanish midfielder called Cesc Fabregas.
Nevertheless when the game kicked the team seemed possessed. Henry should have scored with a header early on and Ljunberg and Reyes both went close.
Half time came and I still couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Then things went crazy. Two minutes after the re-start Cesc Fabregas intercepted a pass and threaded the ball through to Henry. The Frenchman then muscled his way past a couple of defenders, held off Sergio Ramos and planted an angled shot that gave Iker Casillas no chance. It happenned so quickly after the break that quite a few Arsenal fans missed the goal as they were still not back in their seats.
There then followed what was possibly the longest forty odd minutes of my life as Madrid pushed forward to try and grab an equaliser, but failed to get past the Arsenal defence.
When the final whistle went the travelling Gunners – there were about 3,500 of us, were ecstatic. Yet that excitement was tempered by the fact that we knew we had to go through all it again at Highbury. Fortunately a very edgy game finished 0-0 and Arsenal progressed on their way to their first and only Champions League Final.
After the final whistle I caught a glimpse of Beckham and also Júlio Baptista. Nicknamed the Beast he had already been linked with a move to London and would join the Gunners in part exchange for Reyes that summer. Sadly he remains as one of Arsene Wenger’s most disappointing signings, though his goal tally of 10 in 15 games wasn’t disastrous.
If anything the Madrid game was the one in which Arsenal fans started to believe that they could actually challenge Europe’s finest. The confidence levels for the next two games against Juventus and Villreal was sky high and really the team should have won the final in Paris.
It is a moot point whether the Madrid of 2006 would beat today’s team. Back then they had great strength in depth, though they didn’t have the brilliantly unpredictable Ronaldo (just the porky one who was past his best by then).
Three years later Liverpool became the second English team to win at the Bernabeu thanks to a headed goal by (kind of) Arsenal legend Yossi Benayoun. Incredibly the Reds beat Real 4-0 at home, which underlines just how far the Merseyside team has fallen in less than four years.
I wonder if United will become the third English team to beat Real in their own back yard? I wouldn’t bet against them.
A week today Arsenal take on Bayern Munich in what is one of three classic Champions League encounters involving British sides this month. Having won their group, and also knocked Arsenal out before, the in-form Germans will start as clear favourites but Arsenal will hope to make things very tricky for them with a decent win at The Emirates.
On the injury front there’s good news and bad news for The Gunners. Jack Wilshere is apparently fine after only suffering a dead leg against Sunderland. He is in theory available for the game against Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup this weekend, but I would be amazed if he didn’t start on the bench.
Meanwhile Laurent Koscielny has recovered from a minor calf injury and he is also expected to be available for the Blackburn game to play alongside Per Mertesacker.
So where though does this leave Arsenal’s other main injury doubt Thomas Vermaelen?
As you may recall Arsenal have a massive problem at left back against Bayern with Gibbs injured, Monreal cup tied and Santos now back in Brazil. Vermaelen has played at left back before and would be a dead cert to start. Goal reports that he is back in light training this week, but with the prospect of Arjen Robben bearing down on him it is a big ask to start back against Bayern.
Wenger could play Sagna at left back, with Jenkinson on the right, or alternatively use Spanish youngster Ignasi Miquel.
It is a really tough call for the Arsenal manager.
They have Rooney, Hernandez, Wellbeck and some Dutch fella. You would have thought that the last thing that Man United needed in the summer was a striker. However during the winter transfer window there were plenty of rumours that United had already done a deal to sign Robert Lewandowski from Borussia Dortmund.
The story is back in the news again this week with differing reports from Germany about where the player’s future will be.
On Saturday German legend Lothar Matthaus claimed that the deal had already been done to sell the player to Bayern Munich
As ESPN reports Mattheus told Sky the only question remaining was whether the Poland international, who has also been strongly linked with a move to Old Trafford, joined the champions-elect in the summer or when his deal expires in 2014.
“I have heard that Lewandowski and his management have already reached an agreement with Bayern,” Matthaus said.
“His contract runs out in 2014. Dortmund could cash in on him in 2013. They would get a high fee – I have overheard something like €25 million to €30 million – or he could join Bayern on a free in 2014.”
However Bayern President Uli Hoeness has a different view,
He told German paper Abendzeitung: “If Lothar confirms this, then soon he will be the general manager at Bayern.”
Matthaus then struck back telling Sky
“Uli Hoeness also knows I have been in the business for 30 years now. I have good contacts, not only domestically but also internationally. A reliable source – one who would know – told me that Lewandowski will join Bayern. If you have such information – and in this case I am no coach, but a pundit – I have the duty to pass this information on. If I am wrong, I will apologise to Uli Hoeness.”