All posts by Patrick Gleeson

Akpan bounces back to the Premier League

I’ve often wondered what happens to youth players when they get dropped from their clubs.  Do they give up completely and get a different job?  Do they turn to crime? Or do they continue to play but tumble down the leagues? Sometimes the first, unfortunately occasionally the second but mostly the last one, is the answer. But every now and then there is a fourth option; they get released, do brilliantly at a League One club and bounce back to the Premier League and score the winning goal against their former side. 

Well most of option four has happened to Hope Akpan (the rest is just me being romantic, or strange, or maybe even both).  He is in the process of signing for Reading after a spell at Crawley Town and his chance to fulfill the other part is on 2nd March when Reading face Everton at Goodison Park.

When I heard that he had been released by Everton I was a little upset. Another quality English youngster not quite making the grade with his home town club, however I clearly wasn’t as upset as Hope himself. I have a friend who saw him trudging home through the back streets of Liverpool still wearing his kit, he looked so miserable that my mate nearly offered him a lift home, but now Hope’s prayers of a career in the Premier League seem to have been answered.  

The powerful, young midfielder played only once for Everton‘s first team, making an appearance in the Europa League before moving on loan to Hull City and ultimately to Crawley Town where he has played forty-seven times, establishing himself as a fans favourite and clearly their best player.

So that’s what can happen when youth players get released from their clubs… There’s always hope.

Peter Stickney

Kieron Dyer is being moved on. But where to?

Harry Redknapp has begun to shape things up at Queens Park Rangers.  He inherited an unwieldy and over-large squad when he took over and his inevitable stream-lining has started.  The first out of the door…?  Kieron Dyer.  The ex-England midfielder, who has played for four clubs during his career and also represented England thirty-three times seems to have played his last game at Loftus Road.

The Ipswich born player has been blighted by serious injuries and bouts of daftness throughout what could have been a glittering career.  He started out for his local club Ipswich Town and quickly gained a place on several Premier League team’s radars as an exciting young talent to watch.  Three years after making his debut as a seventeen-year-old at Portman Road he moved to Newcastle United for £6 million.  He played for the Toon 190 times but his injury and other troubles began there and haven’t stopped since.

He has now only made fifty appearances in the last five and a half seasons.  This is a rather unfortunate tally for someone who travelled to the 2002 World Cup and 2004 European Championships and played a role in the qualification for both of those tournaments.

Never one to shy away from things whether it was on-pitch fighting or alleged off-pitch filming (of the rude kind) he now faces a tough search for a new team.  In order to appeal to prospective employers he could probably do with a new pair of legs.  His old ones had plenty of skill in them but never seemed to be able to stay working for long enough.

Peter Stickney

Napoli, not just the best pizza but the best striker too?

Napoli might be famous for having the best pizza in the world but one member of their football team might also be worthy of a place in the “best-of” ranks.  Do Napoli have the best striker in the world at the moment?  A lot of talk of late has focused on Radamel Falcao, claiming he is the best player available to buy in world football but should that title be bestowed on 25-year-old Uruguayan Edison Cavani instead?

Napoli’s leading light has throughout his club career scored at a rate of better than a goal every other game (just, at 0.52 goals per game).  This stat isn’t just for 10 or 20 games either but is over his 267 club appearances that have yielded 140 goals.  Since being at Napoli his goals haul has been particularly impressive with 91 goals in 118 games in all competitions.

His goals have fired the club to their first silverware of the millennia (if you discount them winning the Serie C1 title in 2005-06 after their relegation due to bankruptcy) last season when they won the Coppa Italia.  But could his goal scoring days in the Gulf of Naples soon be over?

He has been the subject of intense press speculation of late with several clubs chasing his signature, most notably Manchester City.  This speculation peaked recently after his agent revealed to the Sun that his client was likely to leave Napoli this summer.  Manchester City are thought to be lining up a large bid in an attempt to prise him away from Napoli.  He is believed to have a buyout clause of £51 million in his contract and Manchester City’s bid is alleged to be in that region.

But what of his greatness or potential for it?  Footballers, I think, can be adjudged to be great by having either, extraordinary success and continually impressive individual displays at one club in a top league (Lionel Messi, Ryan Giggs, Pele etc) or successes and strong displays for several clubs (Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo etc).  Does Cavani need to move from Italy to secure a place on my list of greats?  I would say yes and strongly believe that if he were to move and win trophies elsewhere he would go on everyone else’s lists of great footballers too.

Peter Stickney

Cristiano Ronaldo – Great player, even greater ego

According to the Metro, the always-modest Cristiano Ronaldo has had some of his stats from last year stitched onto new boots that have been custom made for him by Nike.

He will debut these boots once he and Real Madrid return from the winter break. The magic numbers are 1, 9, 14, 19, 27, 55 and 60.

I think this is what the numbers stand for:

1 – number of people he has truly loved (himself).

9 – number of illegitimate children he has fathered.

14 – number of cars that he owns.

19 – number of bedrooms his pied a terre in Madrid has.

27 – number of pairs of underwear he goes through in a week.

55 – number of games played in La Liga.

60 – number of goals scored last year.

Some of those stats are definitely correct.

Whilst the stat-stitching is a remarkable act of self-obsession, I reckon that he really is good enough to justify it.  Last year’s exploits weren’t a one off and as the saying goes, form is temporary and class is permanent and Ronaldo is a class act. 

Were it not for the freakishly good Lionel Messi, Ronaldo would be the player that we would be talking about above all others, he would be the one to have claimed consecutive Ballon d’Ors and been rewarded with Carte d’Or and won the Palme d’Or. 

A man of ego, but man what a player.

Peter Stickney

Luis Suarez is a disgrace

Is there a more repugnant character in world football than Luis Suarez?

I have found him particularly hard to stomach ever since he stopped a shot on the line by handling the ball during a World Cup quarter-final against Ghana. Then, to make matters worse, after being sent off he cheered ecstatically as Asamoah Gyan missed the ensuing penalty.

Now he has found another way to turn scores more fans against him. His blatant handball against Mansfield Town in the third round of the FA Cup as he scored the goal that ultimately knocked the Blue Square Bet Premier side out.

I am not sure that there is a decent bone in this man’s body. Cheating against sides that are of an equal stature is bad enough, but to cheat against a non-league side is totally disgraceful.

In many of these occasions he doesn’t just disgrace himself but he disgraces his managers and colleagues as well, as they choose to stand by him. Why did Kenny Dalglish and the rest of the Liverpool players think it wise to stand by someone who had been banned for using racist language? Why is Brendan Rodgers now choosing to stand by him saying “it’s not his job to own up.”

I firmly believe that this level of continual amoral behaviour in football is what is rotting the core of the game. Yes, the officials should have spotted it but there is a greater responsibility that falls on the shoulders of the individual involved. He could have stopped, he could have admitted he was cheating but instead he put the ball in the net.

Nothing in football will change until the footballers change themselves.

Peter Stickney

Are long-term deals the new big money transfers in these times of austerity?

With the news today that Phil Jagielka and Ryan Shawcross have committed themselves to their clubs on long-term contracts, I wonder whether tying players to long deals has replaced buying players for huge fees.

Perennially cash-strapped Everton manager David Moyes will be delighted to have secured Phil Jagielka, and Tony Pulis will no doubt be equally happy to have kept hold of Stoke‘s club captain, Ryan Shawcross, but will this transfer window be the first where contract deals out-do cash moves?

I think that the answer is yes.  Any evidence? Well Arsene Wenger is still desperately trying to stick a pen in Theo Walcott’s hand, long enough for him to scribble his name on a contract, and this follows shortly after the Arsenal manager managed to tie up five other players on big contracts; Jack Wilshire and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain et al. 

So unless Manchester City, Chelsea and the ever cash-loose Liverpool (£20 million for Jordan Henderson, £19 million for Stewart Downing and £35 million for out-on-loan Andy Carroll) get involved, I think we will see one of the quietest transfer windows for a long time.  I think many clubs in the Premier League believe that player stability breeds club stability and if you can keep a group of players together for long enough, you might just get something going on.

Obviously hurling a shed-load of money at the problem can yield trophies. For example Manchester City’s title win last season but I don’t think that that is the way forward. Hopefully many Premier League managers will agree with me and baton down the hatches during these cash-strapped times.

Peter Stickney

Do Chelsea really need Demba Ba?

With Chelsea having just triggered the release clause in Demba Ba’s contract to potentially draw to a close the protracted transfer saga that has surrounded him it’s worth asking, “is he worth all the hassle?”

Well, for starters, this season Newcastle have scored twenty-six goals in the Premier League and Ba has scored half of them, and in the time that Demba Ba has been in the Premier League, only Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have scored more goals.

The Senegalese international is a big, burly-bully of a player and he matches this aggressive style with a high level of skill and pace. The perfect combination for the Premier League, you would like to think, and if he does join Chelsea, he will surely be seen as an ideal replacement for Didier Drogba.

Crucially, and especially at this time of year, his national team is currently banned from appearing at the African Cup of Nations due to the rioting witnessed during a recent play-off against Cote d’Ivoire, so whilst many African players will be away representing their countries, Demba Ba will be free to continue to terrorise the defences of teams throughout the Premier League.

Whilst I think that having a release clause so low that you are, by implication, either continually wrangling for a move or a new contract and upsetting things, is pretty poor form and disrespectful to your club. However, I do believe that he might just be worth the hassle and it seems highly likely that Newcastle United are soon to find out how much of a gap he leaves. 

Peter Stickney

Who is top of the pile in Manchester?

Hollywood came to the Etihad Stadium yesterday to see Manchester City play Stoke City.  David Hasselhoff, Tom Cruise and Robert Duvall were in attendance to watch the reigning champions of the Premier League put three past Stoke and keep up the pressure on league leaders Manchester United as they bid to become top dog in the city.

But how well are Manchester City really doing? Everything football-related in Manchester is a competition, so who is winning? Well, in terms of celebrity spotting, their recent show is some pretty good form. The Blues of Manchester are clearly winning that competition but what about other aspects of those two great clubs? 

Capacity: Old Trafford – 75,811.  Etihad – 47,805.

Construction cost: Old Trafford – £90,000.  Etihad – £154 million.

Most expensive ticket: Old Trafford – £52.  Etihad – £58.

Number of toilets per person: Old Trafford – 1:1000.  Etihad – 1:500.

In Top Trump terms things would be hard to call, but on the field things are easier to see. For all of Manchester City’s noise and celebrity endorsement they have a long way to go to catch up with their neighbour’s haul of silverware. They will continue to push United all the way this season and Mancini will drive his talented charges into battle but to truly begin to turn the tides, I think Mancini will need to wait until Ferguson has left the stage. 

Until then he’ll just have to be happy to be top of the celebrity spotting league.

Peter Stickney