Category Archives: The Overrated Player

Roma’s new number 6 – A look at Kevin Strootman (Video)

They may have lost one of their rising stars to Ligue 1 champions PSG, and their keeper to west London club Fulham, but the forthcoming season is looking up for AS Roma after the acquisition of Dutch midfield enforcer Kevin Strootman. The 23-year-old, already hailed as the reincarnation of the retiring Mark van Bommel, is a solid addition to the capital side which already boasts the talents of the loyal Daniele De Rossi and growing fan favourite Michael Bradley. And with ageless genius Francesco Totti taking care of the creative side of things, aided by the mercurial Erik Lamela (and when he’s bothered, troubled yet gifted striker Pablo Osvaldo), this could just be the Giallorossi’s year. 

The Dutch Under-21 captain will become the first Roma player in a decade to don the number 6 jersey that was retired in honour of its last wearer. After 13 years of faithful service, Brazilian 1994 World Cup winner Aldair hang his boots in heart-warming ceremony at the Stadio Olimpico. Since then the 6 shirt was withheld, but now it will drape the young shoulders of the Oranje midfielder, exerting a weight of expectation on them. But from his powerful, composed displays for former club PSV and on international duty, there’s no doubt that the Stadio Olimpico terraces will open its arms to the new 6. Here is a glimpse of the man in action.   


Gael Kakuta: Chelsea FC’s Forgotten Man

It is still fresh in the minds of anyone with the slightest interest in the Premier League the hoops Chelsea FC went through six years ago to secure the services of the then-16-year old Gael Kakuta. The player himself had a hand in forcing his move from Ligue 1 side Lens and was in turn fingered by FIFA, receiving a heavy fine and four-month ban. Chelsea was also ordered to fork out a not-insignificant 100,000 euro sum for convincing Kakuta to do the unthinkable to cross over to where the grass was greener. But after a legal crossfire between Chelsea and the football governing body, bans were lifted and fines scrapped, paving the way for a long and blissful union between club and player.

Not so. The frustrated Frenchman can count the games he’s played with the Chelsea first team on his fingers. He would, on the other hand, have trouble achieving the same fete if asked to enumerate the jerseys he’s played in, including away kits, since his dream club started shipping him out on loan. Things were not always this way. I can hear Kakuta sighing to a scribbling journo at some corner of the Vitesse training grounds as he pieces together the details of the love affair gone sour. Indeed, the Chelsea-Kakuta union got off to a flying start, with the player impressing in his time as a youth team player. He was deservedly named the academy’s best player for 2007-2008 and had first-teamers like Michael Ballack gushing with praise.

But after playing his first EPL game towards the end of 2009, he would have to wait until September 2010 to play his next one. Reading the writing on the wall, the teenager began to agitate for a move away from the bridge. But instead of obtaining a transfer, he began a series of loan deals, first to CFC’s West London neighbours Fulham and then further afield to the Reebok Stadium. In January last year the Frenchman found himself crossing the Channel again for another season as a loanee, this time to another Ligue 1 outfit, Dijon. August saw him head to Eredivisie side Vitesse Arnhem, joining another Chelsea player Patrick van Aanholt.  But after helping the Arnhem-based outfit get a foot into Europe, there was no welcome home party waiting for him in London, even with the return of the manager who pursued him so relentlessly. It was recently announced that Kakuta is set for another season in the Dutch league.

Given the disenchantment the winger expressed in a March interview, it’s surprising that he agreed to another loan deal. Speaking to The Sun, the 22-year-old declared he had fallen out of love: “I don’t dream about Chelsea anymore- I used to, now I know better.” With the slew of recent signings and the very public pursuit of Wayne Rooney, you wouldn’t bet on Kakuta’s chances of action in a Blues shirt improving next season. So why not live up to your word, Gael, and take the plunge off the Bridge? 

Another Happy Reunion As Rafa Gets His Man – A Look At Pepe Reina

Everyone loves a happy reunion from time to time. There were some tear-stained cheeks in London when Chelsea’s prodigal son returned, the vagaries of life at the Bernabeu having seemingly mellowed him. Don’t call me the Special One, he said with a beatific smile, call me the Happy One. Well, another tear-jerker is set to take place in Naples as long-serving Liverpool custodian Pepe Reina rejoins his former Anfield gaffer Rafa Benitez.

Now, in theory, the reunion will be short-lived as Pepe’s move is but a loan deal ostensibly aimed at keeping Liverpool’s balance sheet healthy. But the reality of the matter is that barring a long-term injury or a spectacular drop in form, newly-signed 25 year-old Mignolet is not going anywhere soon. Reina’s reign as the Kop’s first-choice keeper has come to an end and any thoughts of him returning to depose the Belgian are useless flights of fancy. The rekindling of this Spanish bond is clearly not taking place under the happiest circumstances.

The hero in this bittersweet tale is Brendan Rodgers. Burning to save the now deposed number 1 the ignominy of watching next year’s World Cup from a couch or barstool, the Liverpool head coach crafted the loan arrangement. But this mercy mission may still end up being a labour in vain given Iker Casillas’ stranglehold on the Spain number 1 jersey. And given Casillas’ imminent return to the Real Madrid starting XII following the ‘Hounded One’s’ move back North after Spain spat him out. Still, I’m sure Reina would take watching his teammates attempt to defend their crown from the dugout than from home.

Since they last shared a dressing room four years ago life has continued on more or less an even keel for Pepe Reina while his former boss has endured some dramatic twists and turns. Even as Liverpool has slipped from the EPL top five and inches closer to the mid-table no-man’s-land, Pepe has retained his starting berth. With this in mind I guess the severing of ties and removal of Reina from the comfort zone he had cultivated over eight years can be taken as a sign of dissatisfaction in the Merseyside outfit’s boardroom with the status quo, or decline, I should say. Rafa’s recent past, by contrast, has seen him endure two sackings and win three trophies. If his two year contract at Napoli is not renewed, the heavily decorated coach may well become the Nicolas Anelka of football managers.     

Know of any other heart-warming footie reunions? Let us know.

Could this be the next Xavi? (Video)

Few footballers have the ability to dictate the pace of a game like Xavi Hernandez. The Barcelona stalwart patrols the centre circle with the swagger of military commander, ordering the ball to go long or short using his impossibly precise feet. Not only is he able to release an attacker at a moment’s notice, he manipulates the shape of the team on the park with his intelligent movement, making his defence difficult to breach and that of the opponents more vulnerable.

But just breaking into the Atletico Madrid first team is an 18-year-old pretender to Xavi’s throne; Oliver Torres. Apart from the fact that the team was Spain’s Under-20 side and that the number on the back of the shirt was twice the figure on Xavi’s, it was hard to pick the two apart. Perhaps the number is justified as being more than a decade younger, Oliver probably does twice as much running as the Barcelona midfield maestro. Or at least runs twice as fast. Anyway, young Torres undoubtedly proved himself a key component in the Spain engine room; tidily retaining possession and acting as a supply line for Jese Rodriguez. He also has the knack for dropping deep into defence to retrieve the ball and launch attacks.

The Spain U-20 gravy train may have stopped at the quarter-final stage, but we should expect to see more of Oliver. Diego Simeone is not one to hand out first team appearances to just any odd youngster. Feast your eyes on the future of tiki-taka.

A closer look at the Arsenal target who looks to be Madrid bound (Video)

Among the key ingredients of the Spain Under-21 World Cup victory was a similarly indispensible cog in Real Sociedad’s surprisingly successful season. His name is as treacherous for non-Spanish tongues to pronounce as his importance in linking defence and attack; Asier Illarramendi. While the limelight was hogged by the prolific Alvaro Morata and the magical Isco, the 23-year-old defensive midfielder helped ensure that Spain conceded only two goals in the entire tournament. But far from being your average hatchet-man, Illarramendi displays an intelligence and awareness on the park that puts him in the rank of Xabi Alonso.

Indeed, there are unconfirmed reports that the youngster is on his way to the Bernabeu to replace the aging Alonso. Some go as far as saying that the only thing remaining is an official announcement. The vociferous rumour mill has made the Real Sociedad president Jokin Aperribay come out to inform all and sundry that Real Madrid are yet to meet Illarramendi’s €30 million release clause. But with Aperribay complimenting Madrid for ‘behaving very well during negotiations so far’, surely it’s only a matter of time before Illarramendi is paraded beside his U-21 teammate Isco in the all-white strip. In fact word is Kaka’s number has been set aside for the soon-to-be Los Blancos midfielder.



Should Newcastle be worried about losing midfielder? Paris Saint-Germain lurk (Video)

Laurent Blanc has declared his admiration of Newcastle midfielder Yohan Cabaye publicly, to the ire of Alan Pardew, his manager. Squawking like a hen over chicks that a circling hawk has its eye on, Pardew termed the newly-signed PSG gaffer’s remarks ‘disrespectful’. He insisted that the expression of interest should have been made through a phone call or an official bid. Given the Frenchman’s outstanding contribution to the Magpies cause in his first season, one can understand Pardew’s apprehension. He supplied the prolific Papiss Cisse with a good number of the 13 goals he scored in his debut season at St. James’ Park and added a couple himself.

Cabaye proved himself a key player for Newcastle and when he succumbed to a groin problem in November, the dearth of creativity in the Geordies’ play was all too glaring. Not only does the Frenchman do the sexy bit, he also pulls his weight defensively, getting stuck in as uncompromisingly as Paul Scholes would. He really is your model box-to-box midfielder. Only one that doesn’t quite get the credit due him.

Pardew is justified in fearing a swoop like the one Chelsea carried out on Demba Ba in January, just when the Senegalese striker was beginning to find the form that had eluded him the previous season. Especially when it involves such a classy, committed player of Cabaye’s calibre. Here’s a teaser of what Pardew risks losing if Blanc has his way. And if the Edinson Cavani capture is anything to go by…

Opening remarks: what Europe’s new gaffers had to say

David Moyes has begun life as Manchester United’s gaffer by griping about the fixture list. Over the past few years he’s never seen Man Utd have a more difficult start to the season, he says. Should we then assume this transition of power at Old Trafford has been longer in the pipeline than we thought? Or why would the Everton manager so assiduously monitor a team’s fixture list which is not even among his team’s recognised rivals? Anyway, that’s beside the point. What impressed me about the Scot’s brief moan was how much it made him sound like his predecessor. It was typical Fergie – minus the quivering jowls and purple nose, but ‘Siralix’ all round, accent included.  

When he said, “I’m not convinced that’s the way the balls came out the hat when that was getting done,” I half expected the Moyes mask to be ripped away to reveal Man U’s legendary gaffer, the way the bad guys were finally revealed in Scooby Doo. I now fully expect Moyes to pen a deal with Wrigley and discover a fault with his eyes for which he needs glasses. And now we learn that Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs will be there to oversee this transformation. Hmmm.

Laurent Blanc started by making a wish, which unlike those made while blowing birthday candles, he said out loud into a forest of microphones. “I would be happy to have him as part of my squad,” the new PSG coach declared in rapid-fire French. The ‘him’ referred to in the statement is last year’s Serie A Golden Boot winner Edinson Cavani. Et voila! It is now all but confirmed that the Uruguayan goal poacher is heading to Paris for more than glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. While the former France boss is alarming neighbours as he criss-crosses his yard in cartwheels of delight, somewhere in Naples a goatee-wearing Spaniard with a new Europa League winner’s medal is wondering why his wish was ignored. Yet the recipient of the wish was seated at his elbow when Rafa made it. While the said Cavani was down in Brazil plotting how to rain on the Seleção parade, Rafael Benitez was in a presser, nudging his new president, Aurelio De Laurentiis, to do everything save glue Cavani’s bottom to the dressing room, to keep the striker. “…because he’s an important player for us…” Rafa kept repeating with a lump in his throat that wouldn’t go away.

Back to Manchester, and another freshly unwrapped manager was surreptitiously begging for time, a commodity the man he’s taking over from was granted very little of. “…we have great players and we can reach important titles in the next 3 or 4 seasons here in Manchester…” said Manuel Pellegrini in a relaxed, sun-drenched MCTV interview shortly after being unveiled.  Roberto Mancini took three seasons to win the league title with the Sky Blues but that was after he had won the FA Cup in the previous season. So Mr. Pellegrini had better have a magic wand hidden somewhere that will turn last season’s fat-and-happy, disinterested lot into glory-hungry youngsters in the next few weeks.

Or he could just hire a couple of goons to go over to Munich in balaclavas and pinch the ‘big ears’ from the Allianz Arena. 

Premier League shake-up in west London

When I heard that US international Carlos Bocanegra was heading back to the MLS, I thought he would be doing so with the doors of Craven Cottage closing behind him. But while I was asleep the man had contracted Anelka-siosis and been to France, Scotland and Spain. It was from the newly relegated Racing Santander that the former Fulham defender was crossing the Atlantic to return to his home state of California and join Chivas USA. Now, it’s not the adventures of a US pro footballer in the sunset years of his career that I wish to elucidate. The Bocanegra story simply alerted me to a summer clean-out taking place quietly in West London.  

It really is out with the old and in with the new at the Cottage: new shirt sponsor, new kit manufacturer, and new pre-season destination; Costa Rica, home of their creative engine, Bryan Ruiz. But more importantly, a good number of the fading veterans have been shipped out and more sturdy versions of them installed. The Bernabeu’s former midfield terrier-in-chief Mahamadou Diarra and Greece’s Euro 2004 hero were among a dozen players whose contracts were not renewed. The latter’s lot may not be as bleak as it appears with A-League outfit Melbourne Victory reportedly interested in his services. Escaping from the perpetual gloom of London to the sunny shores of Victoria’s capital does not constitute a death sentence by any stretch of the imagination. Plus there is the bonus of meeting for drink-ups with other former greats of Alessandro Del Piero’s ilk.

Also pulling off the Fulham jersey, and gloves, is long-serving keeper Mark Schwarzer who is in the top 10 list of those who’ve played the most EPL games. But at 40, he is not yet ready to call it a day and is keeping his ear cocked for offers after declining the 1-year deal Fulham had offered him. Playing second fiddle to the incoming Martin Stekelenberg wasn’t how he was going to bow out of the beautiful game. Apart from the ex-Roma number one, Fulham have brought in Ghanaian stopper Derek Boateng and former Athletic Bilbao centre back Fernando Amorebieta to help stiffen the spine of Martin Jol’s attack-minded squad.

To improve the attack Jol intends to reel in 25 year-old winger Bakary Sako from Wolves to add to the talents of Ruiz, Alexander Kacaniklic, Karim Frei and Damien Duff. Damien Duff? Perhaps Sako’s arrival will signal the end of the Irishman’s days as the Cottagers’ first choice left winger. He is 34 after all, and not everyone is Ryan Giggs. Now what remains to complete the shake-up is a more energetic replacement for John Arne Riise and we might be looking at a side that can sustain a good start to a season. Not begin losing utterly winnable fixtures and sinking into the murky relegation mire before limping back to safety at the 11th hour. Spend wisely Jol, and don’t be afraid to lighten the wage bill where it’s called for.