Friday, January 24, 2014

Juan Mata Transfer to Ease Manchester United's Troubles

There's a definite sense of building frustration in David Moyes as his starting season at Manchester United has disappointingly unlucky. After failing to defeat Sunderland in their Capital One Cup semi-final, this season looks to be one barren of trophies for Manchester United.

The Champions League is an unrealistic expectation (even if Manchester United should be able to beat Olympiakos), and the Premier League will be a desperate scrap for fourth place against Liverpool, Tottenham, and Everton - all of which are currently above United in the table. All of these sides are hungry for a strong finish to the season, and if you have an idea of who will come out on top you can head over to Betfair football betting to place a wager.

With league and cup troubles mounting, there's some hope for David Moyes as the January transfer window could bring in that creative player which Manchester United is missing (or has on the injury list). Juan Mata looks set to complete his move from Chelsea for an estimated sum of around 40 million Pounds, and some are suggesting that the Spaniard could already make his debut against Cardiff City.

Even if this is a move well-orchestrated by Jose Mourinho (keenly pointed out by Arsene Wenger), by getting rid of a player he's not using to opposition he has already played against twice in the league, it's the type of signing which can re-invigorate United's lifeless campaign. This new signing will ease some of the pressure on David Moyes, and lift some of the creative burden from young Januzaj's shoulders. When also considering that Wayne Rooney could be leaving the club this summer, the 25 year-old Spaniard is starting to look like what could be a pivotal signing for Manchester United.

Moyes will have a few tactical dilemmas to work out, as fitting Juan Mata into United's system could be difficult as Rooney and Robin van Persie look set to return from injury in the coming weeks. The likely solution seems to be a 4-2-3-1, with Mata, Rooney, and Januzaj supporting the lone striker van Persie. Whether or not Mata will be operating in the central number 10 position is questionable, especially seeing how strong Rooney has looked in that role.

The versatility of Rooney, Mata, and Januzaj offer other tactical alternatives, especially in the likely situation that Robin van Persie is forced out due to another injury. While Moyes could bring in Welbeck to replace the Dutchman, a more dynamic and creative solution could be to use Rooney as the central forward with Kagawa slipping into the supporting trio. Perhaps the biggest dilemma for Moyes will be figuring out which two holding midfielders will work best to provide adequate cover for his forwards. With Fellaini returning to training these past few days, pairing the Belgian alongside Carrick or Fletcher could provide Moyes with a fairly balanced formation.

Just how crucial Mata will be to Manchester United's remainder of the season is yet to be seen, however if the player can play similarly to the pre-Mourinho-return days at Chelsea then Moyes will have something to look forward to in the coming months. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Writing and Website Update

Over the past while, I've been slightly neglecting this blog due to a variety of different commitments I've had to maintain. A lot of these commitments are new websites which I'm writing for, and planning a new layout (which is still a far ways away) for Soccer Wrap Up. In the future I'll be making an effort to post at least once a week on SWU, and hopefully with guest contributions this blog can return to having consistent and up to date news and analysis of the soccer/football world.

In the meantime, I've linked my latest articles for the three websites I write for. Give them a read if you're interested, and any comments or criticism are greatly welcomed. You can also keep an eye on those sites for future articles of mine, and for the top quality news and analysis they continuously offer.

World Soccer Talk: Liverpool Held to a Draw after Rodgers' Tactical Misstep
Soccerly: Five Lessons from Seedorf's Victorious Debut
Soccerlens: Inter Milan Struggles as Thohir Must Rebuild

Furthermore, I'm also keeping a small Tumblr going at Loving that Soccer as well as my other blog History of Notes, where I write about music, games, and movies.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Cristiano Ronaldo Wins 2013 Ballon d'Or

After four long years of seeing Lionel Messi claim the Ballon d'Or award, Cristiano Ronaldo has won the 2013 Ballon d'Or. The Real Madrid player finished ahead of Franck Ribery (Bayern Munich) and Lionel Messi (Barcelona), earning the second Ballon d'Or of his career. In an important year for Real Madrid and especially Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo has shown that the competition to be the world's top player isn't anywhere near over, especially with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil approaching.

Alongside Ronaldo and equally victorious at FIFA's award ceremony were Nadine Angerer (Women's World Player of the Year), Silvia Neid (World Coach of the Year for Women's Football), and Jupp Heynckes (World Coach of the Year for Men's Football). FIFA also awarded the FIFPro World XI, which consisted of Manuel Neuer in goal; a back four of Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva, and Philip Lahm; a midfield trio of Xavi, Ribery, and Iniesta; and the deadly attacking trident of Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

Ibrahimovic also won the FIFA Puskas award with his truly awesome overhead kick when Sweden beat England 4-2 in a friendly. A big congratulations to all the winners, it's just a shame we won't be seeing more goals by Ibrahimovic at the 2014 World Cup.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Lewandowski's Bayern Move Shows Money's Influence

Written by Ashwin Raja.

Though it was probably football’s worst kept secret, the announcement that Robert Lewandowski will sign for Bayern Munich at the end of this season was greeted by anger and resentment by football fans the world over. It sparks new life into the age old debate about the influence of money in the modern game.

FC Hollywood, as Bayern are infamously known, are no strangers to pilfering other Bundesliga sides of their top talent. Of their current squad, only three, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Muller are products of their youth setup. This is far below the norms set by other European giants.

In adopting such a ruthless recruitment policy, Bayern have not only effectively reduced the competition in Germany to a one, or two horse race at best, they are also undermining the faith football fans place in their players. Time and again, players have defied all expectations and moved to the Allianz Arena in search of glory.

Robert Lewandowski’s move will come exactly one year after Dortmund lost another key figure in Mario Gotze to their bitter rivals. Gotze and Lewandowski’s defections are all the more infuriating for Borussia as their claims of “wanting to win trophies” are moot, considering that both Dortmund and Munich have been equally competitive on all fronts for the past few seasons. It is only now that there is a significant gulf between the two clubs.

This is largely attributed to Bayern strengthening significantly both on and off the pitch, as opposed to Dortmund not having made any major signings apart from the up-and-coming Henrikh Mkhtiryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Add to that untimely injuries to several vital cogs in the machine, and what ensues is a nightmare.

Relatively speaking, Lewandowski’s move will not be seen as traitorous as Gotze’s for two main reasons. Firstly, his age - At 25, he is at the prime of his career and a move to Bayern is pragmatic as it coincides with the conclusion of Pep Guardiola’s first season at the club. Guardiola’s Barcelona were renowned for the cutting-edge midfield that made being a striker the easiest job in the world, and with one complete season under his belt, he will have had enough time to implement the same ideologies. It could potentially catapult Lewandowski’s career to all new heights.

Gotze, on the other hand is seen as a precocious talent still in the process of learning his trade. Though his move has not been unfruitful, he could have given a few more years before making such a high-profile move. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, Lewandowski was not a local boy like Mario Gotze. The bitter taste of losing a player in such fashion is something that any football fan never forgets, much less forgives.

There is only one logical explanation that can follow. Money was the deciding factor in these transfers. Borussia Dortmund, though not a poor club by any means, are far less financially equipped than Bayern Munich who have traditionally always been in the top brass, money wise. A telling statistic is that the average player at Bayern earns as much as the highest paid player at Dortmund, if not even more. Thus, faced with the prospect of potentially doubling or trebling his weekly wages, none but the most loyal find it hard to say no.

This conundrum is not exclusive to Bayern Munich. It permeates throughout the footballing universe like an invisible ether, constantly exerting influence, silently but significantly. Money, if nothing else, has served to empower clubs in their Machiavellian quest for power. To quote Frank Galvin from the 1982 film ‘The Verdict,

You know, so much of the time we're just lost. We say, "Please, God, tell us what is right; tell us what is true." And there is no justice: the rich win, the poor are powerless. We become tired of hearing people lie. And after a time, we become dead... a little dead. We think of ourselves as victims... and we become victims. We become... we become weak. We doubt ourselves, we doubt our beliefs. We doubt our institutions. And we doubt the law… 

An increasing number of high-profile, high-net-worth individuals are dipping into the game from all around the world, and gone are the days when a local businessman would solely be the man in-charge.

The said owner believes that he is entitled to do anything and everything to deliver results. As a direct consequence, managers are hired and fired whimsically, and players are signed for astronomical prices. Determined to expand their global reach, clubs have become increasingly disconnected from their local communities. Fewer and fewer players break through the ranks and become world class players, with the obvious exception of Barcelona.

Why? Clubs are not prepared to give their youngsters the time they need as they push for immediate success. Such myopic vision is the root cause of instability. This instability finds its way unintentionally into the international scene as well. The best example is the current scenario in England. With such a large influx of foreign players, the chances that home grown players are given are drastically diminishing.

Among the present top four in the Barclays Premier League, only Liverpool and Chelsea can boast more than five English players in their squad. Contrast this with the top four clubs in Spain and Germany that at least have seven home grown players each. Thus, the selection pool that the manager has available is reducing both in qualitative and quantitative terms, and England’s future does not look too positive.

Having said all of this, there is always scope for change. UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations were enacted with the hope that it would be the proponent of this change. Instead, what has happened is clubs continue to do the same things as before, albeit far more cleverly. They are using the whole institution as a veil to hide behind. If and when real change will be enacted remains to be seen, but until then, don’t be surprised to see more Lewandowki-esque transfers. It’s just the way football is these days.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Portugal Legend Eusebio Dies at 71 Years Old

At 71 years old Benfica and Portugal legend Eusebio has passed away due to cardiac failure. Amongst the vast number of strikers remembered as legends of the beautiful game, few can hold goalscoring records as impressive as Eusebio's. With 733 goals in 745 competitive games, Eusebio's efforts were not only numerous but also memorable.

In the 1966 World Cup it was four goals from Eusebio which lifted Portugal to a historic 5-3 comeback against North Korea. Although Portugal were unable to surpass eventual winners England in the semi-finals, Eusebio's blistering shots and goalscoring ability had entertained and amazed the world.

Eusebio's most memorable playing days were for Benfica, where he scored 473 goals in 440 matches. He claimed the European Cup with the Portuguese club in 1962, and three years later was named European footballer of the year.

Despite being an incredibly talented goalscorer, Eusebio was renowned for his humility and fair-play. Having etched himself into the history books with his performances, Eusebio will be remembered for his complete respect and kindness on and off the field.


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