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Hooperman flies English cross

Because I support my beloved Scunthorpe, this is probably going to sound like the most biased piece of writing ever; but when the fire is hot you just can’t help to throw things in it… or something like that.

The suggestion is that playing football in Scotland basically means you’re not good enough to play in England. The country’s two best sides are populated with ex-Championship players, unknown eastern Europeans and aging ex-Premiership footballers. I was on-board this generalisation until one of my own fledging heroes jumped ship from the Championship to the SPL, Gary Hooper.

Now I’m no scout and my actual footballing logic has been proved wrong more times than a Darlington promotion push, but I am positive that Hoops is good enough for England. It’s been touted in The Times lately that Capello is considering the former Gravesend striker for the forthcoming friendly against Ghana.

I have seen many footballers tried and failed in the Three Lions shirt, and even more in the claret and blue of Scunthorpe, but watching Hoops was something classy and elegant. I’d say he’s a poor man’s Javier Hernandez, only a little stronger on the ball. It’s far too easy to say the Premier League is a ‘big step’ and that he couldn’t replicate the kind of presence he offers at a higher standard. He has the ability to find acres of space and he finishes more than he misses. He is good with the ball into feet and can head the ball – what more do you want? He is in my opinion the best player to play north of the border since Henrik Larsson, and that’s not a bad comparison is it? He almost single handedly kept The Iron up last year despite being injured for large parts of the season.

What I like even more is if the lad did make it into Fabio’s team, he will join a rare breed of striker to step up all the way from Non-League to full international level… proving wrong the ‘never make it’ theory.

Is Scottish football weaker than the Premiership? Yes. Does this mean that players in the SPL are incapable? Definitely not…

Hooperman and Rooney up front… deadly! Watch this space…

Simon Bourne

http://twitter.com/#!/I3orny



FA cup Review- Manchester United vs Arsenal

The gunners were outgunned yet again in their FA cup match up against Manchester united. The depleted Gunners now have to do without the much improved Johan Djourou who has been a revelation this season. When the two teams were announced I thought to myself “No this cannot be right, SAF’s picked 7 defenders in his first 11”. It was not an error by the broadcaster Fergie did indeed pick a second string team except for Rooney, VDS, Vidic, and Evra. Second string the united team might have been but they put up a very good performance because whatever the gunners threw at them they had an answer for and punished them on the break, twice but it could have been more. Especially in the second half when Antonio Valencia came on and had a very good game as an outlet for united. Mr Wenger has fooled people into believing that defensive football is anti-football .Italy has won so many titles that way. This type of football might be a remedy for people who find it hard to fall asleep but it is football none-the-less.   

 

There’s one question that no one has answered to my satisfaction “Why is Arsene Wenger the best manager of the past decade?”.What ever your answer is Mourinho and SAF beat him on almost all categories I have come up with to try and justify him being elected for this award. So at least Arsenal has the best manager of the past decade according to the International Football Federation of History & Statistics (IFFHS) and they can build on that. I do not mean to sound hypercritical of Arsenal but no one will remember how well they play 50 years from now if they do not get the proof in the form of trophies.

 

For the first time I really felt sorry for the professor as he sat there looking dumbfounded with Arsenal trailing by two goals with a couple of minutes left to the final whistle. What does he have to do to make this team deliver? May I offer a suggestion to Mr Wenger? Stop living in lala land and build your team from defense going forward and not the other way round. Arsenal might go on to win the title(EPL) but that will not change the fact that this team is not good enough to beat the likes of Manchester united or Chelsea when they are on form. I say this because every time Arsenal has beaten any of the big teams in the last couple of seasons they have done so when these teams have had a dip in form. Some people might argue that for one team to win the other has to be poor on the day but when you are considered one of the best in Europe you should able to beat a Manchester United playing at their best and only then can you proudly proclaim to be one of the best. Right now I do not think Arsenal can beat the red devils playing at their best because they could not beat them playing average football on Saturday.

 

Arsenal has a lot of work to do but at least they have great fans backing them. The gunners’ faithful were still in full voice up until the final whistle. March has been terrible for them but there’s no time wallow.

 

Man city is up next for United and whoever goes through between the two will be firm favorites to win the FA cup. It has been a good weekend of football and here’s to another week of the world’s most beautiful game before the dreaded international break.    

 

Thandaninkosi  Moyo

http://twitter.com/#!/Thandaninkosi



Manchester’s Master Mind

Sir Alex Ferguson is surely the last of a dying breed of the ‘old school’ gaffer. From emotional one on ones with super star strikers to administering the hairdryer treatment on a national icon, no situation has ever left Fergie clutching at straws. In wake of this weekend’s F.A Cup crunch tie with Arsenal, Sir Alex has once again came out smelling of roses. With United’s worst run since 2001 only one defeat away, Ferguson knew at such a crucial stage in the season that defeat simply wasn’t an option. What better way to put his heavily criticised  United side back on track for a treble than by beating their closest title rival with a weakened starting line up and putting his old enemy Arsene Wenger to the sword. Throughout his managerial career Sir Alex has galvanised his team from the clutches of defeat to becoming champions. So what is it that makes Sir Alex such a contributing factor to England’s and arguably Europe’s most dominant force?

The answer is he is loved by some, hated by many, but respected by all. Teams in preparation for a fixture with United don’t just prepare for Rooney, Nani and Berbatov, they prepare for Sir Alex to. It’s hard to pick up a newspaper before a United game and not read about “Fergie’s mind games,” a formidable tactic Sir Alex uses to his advantage often at the expense of his opposite number. Kevin Keegan was a prime example of playing into Fergie’s hands when he broke down live on Sky Sports during the ‘95-‘96 season.  Ferguson had accused teams of “Going easy,” on Keegan’s Newcastle side, this led to the most famous rant in Premier League history.  “I would love it if we beat them! Love it,” still must echo in Keegan’s head when he thinks back to that year. Ferguson exposed how much pressure Keegan’s Newcastle were under after being ten points clear at Christmas. Ferguson made Keegan look unprofessional and in return Keegan made his team look nervous. This showed as even though United wrapped the league up with a 3-0 win at Middlesboro, Newcastle could only manage a draw at home to Spurs. Pressure is now a feature which Ferguson’s United thrive on, as Fergie himself dubbed it “Squeaky bum time.” He has built a reputation for his side to “kick on” in the second half of the season which has helped him secure an unrivalled 11 Premier League trophies.

However it’s not just mind games that make the Premier Leagues most successful manager. Sir Alex Ferguson is the head of one of Europe’s elite sides and can turn teenagers into superstars. David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo are but to name a few. In order to keep these players’ feet on the ground it takes extraordinary man management skills and to axe these players when their ego becomes bigger than the club’s takes courage; two qualities Sir Alex has in abundance. Sir Alex has never been afraid to show star players the exit whenever they forgot who the boss was. Jaap Stam, David Beckham and Lee Sharpe all found out sooner rather than later who was in charge. It’s hard to see how shipping out quality players can strengthen your squad but players who leave United to play elsewhere always find it hard to emulate what they achieved while playing for the red of Manchester. Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to land any trophies so far at Madrid despite being part of a new generation of Galacticos. Jaap Stam was sold in 2001 despite being regarded as the world’s best centre back. He played for Lazio, Milan and Ajax over a period of 9 years, in which time he never won as much as he did in his 5 years under Ferguson.

With the current crop of United players many find it hard to compare them to teams of old. However still on course for a treble, with what has to be said is a mediocre squad in United standards, is a testament to what Sir Alex does for the club. He takes players such as Darren Fletcher and turns them into big game players. He creates a team mentality to win every game and a belief that every game can be won. Ryan Giggs has spent his whole 19 year career under Ferguson and has become the most decorated player in Premier League history, a title he could only have earned at Ferguson’s United.

So the next time managers come out to criticse Ferguson’s “Bill of ilence,” or his “Fergie time referees,”they should think twice they could be falling into his oldest trick in the book. After all they knighted him for a reason.

Christopher Butler



MES QUE UN CLUB

The ability to play with precision at pace combined with incandescent flair, confidence and supreme technicality is a luxury and gift most footballers do not possess.

The club motto affectionately reads “Mes que un club” more than a club, a term which fundamentally underlies Barcelona’s philosophies on youth development, education & charity work.

After visiting the Nou Camp on Sunday 16th of January and witnessing first-hand the brand of unworldly football Pep Guardiola has bestowed upon the Cataluña giants, it is easy to see why they are the considered one of the best footballing teams to have existed.

Whilst snacking on my Spanish Omelette and non-alchoholic Estrella Damm lager it occurred to me that the combination of undeterred hard graft and willingness to seek back the ball from the opposition. A feat drilled into the team by Pep who enjoys a close relationship with his tightly knit squad is nothing short of miraculous. Especially when you combine this with the retention of the ball, the 700 + passes made a game, whilst also an attacking supremacy which more than often results in an average of 3.40 goals per game…

Funnily enough the game I attended resulted in a 4-1 victory against a poor Malaga side which featured the likes of Julio Baptista, Martin Demichelis & Young Spanish talents Sergio Asenjo & Ignacio Camacho whose only goal came from an exquisite free-kick from left back Duda.

Moreover it was Barcelona’s ability to retain the ball and keep possession in tight spaces which really raised questions about the contrasting styles in play between the Spanish & English leagues. A question so expertly highlighted by Arsenal’s almost depressing demise in the Champions League.

An underlying theme within English football particularly from a young age, is that kids are placed upon an 11-a-side pitch and expected to play. Children are not educated and do not spend enough time with the ball at their feet developing their touch and feel of the ball. An opportunity which is likely to decrease in today’s age of technology with kids increasingly staying indoors.

Guardiola’s seven second rule on regaining the ball is clearly implemented in Barcelona’s ideology; Arsenal could simply not retain possession, a worrying thought considering they are England’s best footballing side and do this week in week out against Premier League opposition.

The contrasting argument to this would be – For all of Barcelona’s possession, chances & wastefulness in front of goal albeit due to the grand performance of Almunia, Arsenal even with 10 men could have potentially won the tie were it not for Bendtner’s woeful first touch.

Even Arsenal’s goal wanted to be headed in by three Barcelona players, perhaps defensive frailties which could be exposed in later rounds, although a quick glance around Europe suggests there are no real contenders for Inter Milan’s 2010 crown other than the ‘Blaugrana’.

Barcelona’s strategy against Arsenal was not dissimilar to their normal approach, however missing two of the finest centre-backs in the world Puyol and Pique they had to employ Sergio Busquets normally a defensive midfielder & Eric Abidal normally a left-back as centre backs, a choice that hardly backfired as Arsenal failed to muster a single shot on target while Barcelona managed 20!

The full-backs Daniel Alves and Maxwell as standard procedure hugged the touchlines, especially Alves who for the majority of the game seemed to be in the opposition’s box. While Mascherano was his dogged self pressing in the defensive midfield position. Arsenal managed to survive for the first 44 minutes as they were not prone to through balls behind the back of the defence as they defended from deep.

Problems arose when the creative midfielders Xavi and Iniesta ran at the defence through the middle as Arsenal’s defenders were largely static due to the emphasis on splitting through balls Barcelona usually adopt with alarming rate, perfectly highlighted in their 5-0 rout of rivals Real Madrid.

Guardiola’s stamp on this team since 2008 where he won the Tercera Division with the Barcelona B team is clearly visible since he took over the first team from Frank Rijkaard where he inherited a largely ill-disciplined squad predominantly in the mould of Ronaldinho, Deco & Eto’o.

The team now which went through a transitional period of getting rid of the dead-wood is now settled and the squad and first 11 has remained mostly the same during Guardiola’s tutelage, a continuing reign which has brought Catalonia 2 La Liga’s, 2 Spanish Supercup’s, 1 Copa Del Rey, 1 Champions League, 1 European Supercup & a Fifa World Club Cup.

Barcelona – A club steeped in rich culture, a club which projects its own morals & values globally & has perhaps the best community based facilities in the world. Barcelona is a family; this is visually portrayed through the player’s intrinsic bond upon the pitch for club & country: Pique, Puyol, Busquets, Pedro, Victor Valdes, Iniesta & Xavi have all been raised the Barcelona way which not only requires immense talent but also an ability to listen & live the correct way and a strong emphasis upon the team rather than individual.

A leaf could be taken from Barcelona’s book in attempts for English football clubs to start investing in youth not only to nurture talent but also educate children and start building bonds between club & community.

As Sir Bobby Robson once said: “You have to understand that Barcelona is a nation without a state, and Barça is its army.”

JOSHUA THOMAS OLIVER BARRETT

Reading’s Tabb Hopes To Go One Better

Reading are determined to go one step further than last year and progress to the FA Cup semi-finals by beating Man City on Sunday.

Royals enjoyed a fine cup run last year, making it to the last eight where they fell to a disappointing 4-2 defeat by Aston Villa.

Midfielder, Jay Tabb is currently ill and is a doubt for Sunday’s game, although if passed fit he is relishing the opportunity to play against the Premier Division’s richest team.

“It would mean the world to get to the semi-finals,” said Tabb.

“The FA cup is still a massive competition and means a lot to everyone.

“We should have got to the semis last year, so hopefully we’ll make up for it this season.”

“I can’t wait. It will be an awesome experience playing at that stadium and against players of that quality.

“We have a genuine chance, though, and you have to enjoy games like this.”

Despite City being overwhelming favourites, Reading will take heart from their victory against Everton in the last round and last year’s shock 2-1 win at Anfield.

The Royals’ experiences are testament to the old saying that anything can happen in the FA Cup.

But, despite being one game from the semi-final appearance at Wembley and sitting just outside the Championship play-offs, Tabb insists no one is getting carried away.

“We have a chance, they’ll obviously be the favourites, but Liverpool were the favourites as were Everton and we managed to beat them,” added Tabb.

“I’m sure it’ll be a game that whets our appetite to play teams like that week in week out, just as the Everton game did.

“We’d all obviously love to get to the Premier League, but our focus is reaching the play-offs as we’re 10th at the moment.

“We just take each game as it comes.

“We have 11 games left and if we win seven or eight of them then we’ll be in the play-offs.

“It’s dangerous to look ahead to things like that, though, football can change very quickly.”

Tabb is yet to agree a new contract, despite his current deal expiring in June.

The Officials

After attending several of my clubs home games this season I have noticed a trend. It’s not with the players, or the fans but with the referee’s

This seasons I have found myself continuously questioning the referee’s decisions, I know people will say that’s because I’m supporting the home team, but from a neutral perspective the standard of refereeing throughout the championship has been unacceptable.

It’s not just the referee’s though, the linesman’s decision making hasn’t been up to scratch either.

Take Saturday for example, Portsmouth plaid Middleborough, from my seat by the touchline I saw two offside decisions not given, one of them was tight and I’ll accept that it was give and take, but the second was by about three yards, if Middleborough had gone on to score it would of stood. A bitter pill for any football fan to swallow.

Referees are human and as humans they do make mistakes, even in the premiership. Somehow I just feel the difference in the standard of refereeing between the top two tiers of footballs is too great.

The sport we love to watch and play is only as good as the officials who referee the game. We watched on in horror as the last world cup final was officiated by supposedly the best English Referee, who somehow missed De Jong’s Karate kick.

A solution for the issue without introducing technology would be for Referee’s matches to be picked regarding their performances. Depending on how well they and the linesmen perform should dictate the next standard of match they can officiate.

This would not only ensure better referees officiated higher profile matches, but it also gives the Refs some Healthy competition, which could potentially produce better Refs around the country.

I know there are probably other systems that could work, but surely if the powers that be want to keep technology out, then they have to do something to solve the problem and put a system like this in place.

Clubs and countries have all felt the heartache, controversial decisions not going the way they should. How far does it have to go before something is done?  The last world cup saw England and Mexico lose out because of decisions not going the right way.

Whatever is done, It has to be done soon, so that the football fans around the world can start to  trust the referee’s and the decisions they make. 

PFA Young Player Contenders

It doesn’t take a great amount of imagination on the part of readers to reach the conclusion that I might have one or two minor character flaws. As if being a football obsessive recluse who wears glasses and shaves infrequently weren’t enough to have all the ladies banging on the door day and night, a mild tendency to drink more than I should on occasion as well as gamble money that I don’t really have completes my perfect personality. Last night, three of these virtues came together neatly as, over a few too many beers, my friends and I (yes they’re real, stop asking) were discussing why Gareth Bale seems to be such a certainty for PFA Young Player of the Year. (Incidentally, the topic after this was why every one of us was single. No conclusion was reached.)

 The bookmakers seem fairly convinced that Bale is an absolute certainty for the prize with the best odds being 11/4 on. In other words a bet of £5 stands to win you £1.82.* Now bookmakers are people I very much admire because they have a skill I’ve never mastered, namely making money out of gambling. If the odds are so dramatically weighted towards one candidate you can bet your sweet ass that Welshman will be the one to be chosen come mid-April.

 Even in the cold light of day, when the empties on the table offer a grim reminder of the fact that my tolerance is lower than that of the average EDL member, the question seems pertinent. Not that the contribution of Bale to Spurs this season should be downplayed by any means. His performances have been truly inspiring at times. His role in the destruction of Inter Milan in the Champions League was mesmerising. Against AC Milan at White Hart Lane, the fear he inspired was almost palpable as Abate was forced to drop 10 yards deeper to combat the new threat. Nevertheless, has Bale really been so vital to Spurs that he is the unquestionable yoof player of the year? Has the hype gotten so much that all other contenders are merely after-thoughts?

Other potential winners include Jack Wilshire, Nani, Andy Carroll and Samir Nasri. All four have had excellent seasons and it could be argued that they have contributed more to their side’s domestic success than Bale. After all, the award is for the player who has had the best season in English football. Not continental or international football, the best domestic season. Asked to name Gareth Bale’s best performances this season his European games would be top of the list every time. Games that should (in theory) not be considered when deciding who should be PFA Young Player of the Year.

 If we look at a few statistics, we see how vital the other players have been to their respective teams. Nani has contributed 9 goals and 13 assists from 25 games in the league so far this season, the major creative force for a side still competing on three fronts. Despite being out for a large portion of the season, Andy Carroll’s 11 goals for Newcastle could well be the difference between a comfortable mid-table finish and a relegation scrap, not to mention his all round performances and phenomenal transfer fee. Wilshire and Nasri have both been crucial to Arsenal’s season even if it ends without a trophy.   

 Indeed, even looking beyond the favourites there have been some excellent breakthrough players this season who could claim the award. Marc Albrighton from Aston Villa or Seamus Colman at Everton have enjoyed promising starts to their careers while both Rafael da Silva and Chris Smalling for Manchester United have been superb in some big games for the league leaders.

 I would not suggest that Bale doesn’t deserve the award. He’s been very good and his value has skyrocketed in the last 12 months. Interest from clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United and Inter Milan speaks volumes. But he has not been the most important player for Spurs this season (for my money that title goes to Luka Modric, who’s been utterly fantastic) nor will has he dragged the team to victory single-handedly in domestic games. Nani, Nasri and Carroll have all at times been the critical difference between zero and three points. The hysteria surrounding Bale has obscured the achievements of a number other excellent young players currently emerging in English football.

*Odds taken from Victor Chandler

David Alelman



Crunch time

The Barclay’s Premier League’s table shows Manchester United 1st on 60 points with 29 games been played and Arsenal behind them in 2nd place on 57 points with them playing 28 games, but could the title race hot up even more over the next few weeks?

Chelsea are 4th in the table with 51 points, just 9 points behind leaders Manchester United with a game in hand over the club, but the game in hand isn’t the only thing that could affect the title race.

As it comes to crunch time for teams in the league some managers may find it difficult to end the season on a high note due to injuries to key players.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United squad has been hit with injuries in the past couple of weeks with crucial games coming up. Star winger Nani was injured in their last league game against Liverpool where they lost 3-1 away from home. Jamie Carragher made a rash challenge on the winger and now he’s expected to be out until the United’s game against West Ham on the 2nd of April.

Sir Alex has also had to find a replacement for centre back Rio Ferdinand who is still sidelined with a calf injury. The weekend’s game against Arsenal in the FA cup saw Chris Smalling put an impressive performance up against Arsenal’s strikers Robin Van Persie and Marouane Chamakh. But in future games could Smalling’s lack of experience be a problem for the red devils?

Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t the only manager with injury problems. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has a few injuries worries himself. His captain for instance. Cesc Fabregas passed a late fitness test when the gunners went to the Camp Nou to play Barcelona but was ruled out against Manchester United on Saturday. His hamstring problem is still a reoccurring issue, which means he will be a big miss for Arsenal as they look to push for their first league title in 7 years.

Other big losses for Arsenal are goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny, a player that has forced his way into the first team this season but is out for six weeks after suffering a dislocated finger against Barcelona and defender Johan Djourou who is set to miss the rest of the season with a dislocated shoulder. Both players putting on performances that have impressed on the pitch when given their chance by the manager. With Thomas Vermaelen still out with an Achilles problem, Arsenal fans could see Sebastien Squillaci and Manuel Almunia back in the starting line up.

Manchester City haven’t been hit to hard with injuries over the past couple of weeks, but have been hit with suspension as their defender Kolo Toure failed a drug test. He’s been suspended from all competitions until his hearing with the FA but is likely to face a two year ban if found guilty. A player with his experience, quality and leadership will surely be missed by any team and replacing him will be difficult but something City will need to do if they want to challenge for the top spot.

Last by not least Carlo Ancelotti’s Chelsea team. They’ve been lucky enough to have some of their vital players coming back to the squad in the up and coming weeks. David Luiz, one of their January signings, is one of the players who is still suffering a hamstring strain but could be back for the important game against City.

Fellow defender Alex is just coming back from an injury and will start training next week, whereas Yossi Benayoun has already started training again. Also, midfielder John Obi Mikel has recovered from his knee injury and has started training with the squad again and may be available against City.

With the top 4 clubs suffering injuries and suspensions to important players who will keep their focus and lift the Premiership crown at the end of the season? Will we see any upsets by other teams in the league? All I know is that we are in for an interesting couple of weeks for top flight football in England.

 By Jordan Brown