Premier League Preview – 2011/2012 (Part One)

9 08 2011

We are less than a week away from the start of another Premier League season and it can’t start soon enough. Whilst the Women’s World Cup, youth level World Cups and youth level European Championships have provided ample viewing over the summer, nothing comes close to the excitement felt at the beginning of a new league campaign.

The summer transfer window has been a relatively busy one so far which suggests we are in for another compelling and competitive season. The Premier League’s expenditure (at the time of writing) stands at £303.2million, second only behind Serie A whose expenditure is £334million. The net spend, however, offers a totally different outlook with the Premier League’s net spend standing at -£155million with its nearest rival, the Bundesliga, in second place with a net spend of just -£32million. These are the type of figures that suggest an English club has a good chance of challenging for this season’s Champions League.

Now, without further adieu, let’s analyse the first five teams for the coming Premier League season.

Arsenal

Arsenal have experienced a miserable 2011 so far. The Carling Cup final defeat against Birmingham was the beginning of the slide which saw their League and Champions League hopes dashed before finishing the season, which offered so much early promise, in a disappointing 4th position. Their troubles appear to have continued during the close-season with the departures of captain Cesc Fabregas and the influential Samir Nasri edging ever closer. Factor in a tricky Champions League qualifier against Italy’s Udinese and Arsene Wenger has plenty of food for thought. Wenger’s first major foray into the transfer market was to secure the signature of Ivorian winger Gervinho in a deal worth £10.5million and, yesterday, he completed the transfer of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from Southampton for an initial £12.1million. Are his two new signings adequate replacements for Fabregas and Nasri? Absolutely not. They are good signings nonetheless and it will be interesting to see how often they are utilised this season.

The main problem I see for Arsenal is their defensive frailties. Thomas Vermaelen is a terrific defender but he has

Photo of footballer Kieran Gibbs

Image via Wikipedia

picked up another injury during a pre-season friendly which leaves Wenger to pick two from Laurent Koscielny, Johan Djourou and Sébastien Squillaci. None of those three are good enough for Arsenal. There is, of course, still time for Arsenal to beef up their defence and there have been a plethora of names linked with Gary Cahill and Phil Jagielka regularly mentioned.

It’s not just the centre of Arsenal’s defence which needs strengthening. Gael Clichy’s move to Manchester City means the injury-prone Kieran Gibbs (pictured) and returning loanee Armand Traore, if he remains with the club, will be fighting to fill the void and, in my opinion, Gibbs isn’t quite ready to handle the rigours of playing week-in, week-out at the highest level and Traore simply isn’t good enough.

There are a few positives for Arsenal fans this season. Jack Wilshere will continue to blossom and I expect Aaron Ramsey to make a big impact too. He’s a class individual with an eye for goal which should compliment the skills of Alex Song and Jack Wilshere perfectly. Avoiding injuries to key players such as Robin van Persie is of the utmost importance; the squad is not packed with quality and a prolonged spell on the sidelines for van Persie will be a bitter blow to their chances.

Key Man: Robin van Persie

Net Spend: -£15.7million

Prediction: 5th.

Aston Villa

Aston Villa have experienced a busy summer of comings and goings. Alex McLeish left bitter rivals Birmingham City to replace Gérard Houllier as manager and the playing staff has undergone a radical overhaul too. Villa have lost plenty of experienced players this summer with just two signings coming in. Ashley Young and Stewart Downing both left the club for big-money moves to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively, whilst the experienced quartet of Robert Pirès, Brad Friedel, Nigel Reo-Coker and John Carew all left the club on free transfers.

The incoming transfers should excite the Villa faithful despite the outgoings. £9.5million man Charles N’Zogbia was instrumental in leading Wigan Athletic to safety last season and without his goals and assists, it is highly likely they would be playing Championship football this season.  Shay Given is the other signing made by McLeish this season and he replaces the veteran American Brad Friedel who joined Tottenham Hotspur. Given’s acquisition is a very shrewd move. He’s consistently proved to be one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League and, at 35 years old, offers plenty of experience to a side with a good balance of youth and experience. Given was signed for £3.3million and could prove to be one of the best signings this summer.

Aston Villa do not have the biggest of squads so it is vital to keep their key men injury-free. The form of Darren Bent is paramount to any hope they have on improving on last season’s 9th place finish. His goals will be the difference between the Europa League places or a mid-table finish.

Key Man: Darren Bent

Net Spend: +£23.1million

Prediction: 7th

Blackburn Rovers

1995 Premier League champions Blackburn are in for a difficult season. New owners Venky’s have over-promised and under-delivered on numerous occasions. When they bought the club for £30m at the turn of the year, there was reason for optimism among the fans. The promise of David Beckham and Ronaldinho can be viewed as a publicity stunt by new owners unknown in Britain. Sacking Sam Allardyce and replacing him with the inexperienced Steve Kean was another disaster by Venky’s. It is arguably the second biggest mistake they have made. The biggest mistake can be seen here and it involves footballers and chicken. Feel free to recycle the Paul Gascoigne joke now.

Phil Jones has been sold to Manchester United for £16.9million and David Goodwillie has been brought in from Dundee United for £2million. The futures of Christopher Samba and Nikola Kalinic are still in doubt and there is a worry of where goals will come from. Junior Hoilett and David Dunn will be expected to chip-in with goals from midfield but Goodwillie, Jason Roberts and Ruben Rochina will struggle to carry the burden of leading the line and scoring the goals required to keep Blackburn away from danger.

The Blackburn defence looked shaky after Allardyce’s departure so it is important to keep hold of players like Christopher Samba. If Blackburn are to survive in the Premier League this season, Paul Robinson, Michel Salgado, Christopher Samba, Ryan Nelsen and Gael Givet need to remain fit and in top form throughout the season.

Key Player: Christopher Samba

Net Spend: +£15.2million

Prediction: 16th

Bolton Wanderers

Owen Coyle has done a terrific job since taking over from Gary Megson in 2010. Attractive football as well as a few shrewd signings have revitalised a group of players who seemed disillusioned under the previous management. Coyle has added Nigel Reo-Coker, Darren Pratley, Tyrone Mears and Chris Eagles to his ranks for a combined fee of £2.9million with Ali Al-Habsi, Matthew Taylor and Johan Elmander the most notable departures. It is the latter’s departure that could have the biggest impact on Bolton if a suitable replacement isn’t found. Elmander, along with Kevin Davies and Daniel Sturridge, formed a potent strikeforce with each striker possessing skills to complement the others. It is clear that Coyle is in the market for a striker and David Ngog, Jelle Vossen and Cameron Jerome have all been heavily linked. If a new striker can be signed and the influential Gary Cahill stays with the Trotters I fancy Bolton to achieve another respectable final position.

Key Player: Gary Cahill

Net Spend: +£3.1million

Prediction: 11th

Chelsea

Chelsea start the new season with a new manager in charge in the hope that he can deliver the Champions League for the first time in the club’s history. Andre Villas-Boas is a tactically astute young manager with a preference for the 4-3-3 formation with an attacking philosophy and his promise is clear for all to see. Ever since joining the late Sir Bobby Robson at Porto in 1994 as a 16-year-old apprentice coach, he has gone on to learn from the very best before branching out on his own to receive acclaim in his own right. Villas-Boas was sent by Robson to Lilleshall to study for his coaching badges before becoming an integral part of Robson’s youth team set-up. Villas-Boas went on to become Jose Mourinho’s opposition scout and a vital component in his backroom staff where his tactical prowess and attention to detail was key to Mourinho’s success. Fast-forward nearly two decades and Villas-Boas has won the Portuguese title and the Europa League with home-town club Porto before Chelsea met his £13million release clause to appoint him as Carlo Ancelotti’s successor.

Villas-Boas’ biggest problem will be the lack of time he will be afforded by owner Roman Abramovich. The Portuguese is under no illusions and acknowledges this to be the case. Abramovich is regularly criticised (and I’m as guilty as anybody of doing this) for the way in which he disposes of managers who have failed to win the Champions League but we must accept that this is his prerogative and part of the deal when a multi-billionaire buys a football club. It is the rough with the smooth that I’ve tweeted about many times before. He’s given Chelsea fans the billions of pounds needed to transform a mid-table club into one competing for major honours year-after-year. On the flip side, he can hire and fire whoever he wants, whenever he wants. That’s the deal on the table.

Villas-Boas has spent a sizeable amount so far. Belgian wonderkid Romelu Lukaku arrived from Anderlecht for £19.3million, Thibaut Courtois also arrived from Belgian side Genk for £7.9million and will spend the season on loan at Atletico Madrid as a replacement for Manchester United’s £17.6million new boy David de Gea, Lucas Piazon cost £6.6million from Sao Paulo and Oriol Romeu is a young defender who set the west-Londoners back £4.4million from Barcelona. The youth movement is something which was desperately needed at Stamford Bridge with many of the current first-team players on the wrong side of thirty. A blend of youth and experience should see Chelsea maintain a strong challenge on all fronts this season. Building the team around Fernando Torres is something which needs to happen; he’s a top class striker who will score goals. If Frank Lampard can remain fit for the majority of the season, Chelsea could well be the team to beat.

Key Player: Fernando Torres

Net Spend: -£17.3million

Prediction: 2nd

All transfer fees correct according to the excellent TransferMarkt. Don’t believe the exaggerated fees you see in newspapers and on Sky Sports News!





22/09/2010 – Wednesday’s Paper Round-Up

22 09 2010

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is keeping tabs on Ajax defender Jan Vertonghen.

DR Congo star Dieumerci Mbokani turned down the chance to join Liverpool this summer – but the Monaco striker has told Reds manager Roy Hodgson he is prepared to play for him in the future.

Liverpool may offload Brazilian midfielder Lucas Leiva (left) to Italian side Juventus in January, with a fee of £7m enough to seal the deal.

Everton have agreed a January deal for 18-year-old Azerbaijan international Araz Abdullayev. The Neftchi Baku midfielder will sign an initial three-year deal, with an option for two further seasons.

Sheffield United have signed Richard Wright on a four-month deal. The goalkeeper was a free agent after leaving Ipswich in the summer.

Portsmouth hope to complete the loan signing of Tottenham defender Kyle Naughton.

Hoffenheim striker Peniel Mlapa admits he is flattered with speculation linking him with a move to Tottenham.

Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas has insisted he is “completely focused” on Arsenal but also hinted that he is still interested in a move to boyhood club Barcelona.

New Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier wants a closer look at midfielder Barry Bannan before deciding whether to allow him to go on loan to Sheffield United.

Celtic are considering a January move to sign frozen out Manchester City goalkeeper Shay Given. (the Sun)

Manager Roberto Mancini has told his Manchester City players to stop moaning about a lack of first-team chances and sort out their grievances with him in private.

The Manchester United hierarchy have decided on a new policy of renegotiating players’ contracts when their current deal has one, rather than two, years left to run.

Manchester United’s Portuguese youngster Bebe will be handed his first taste of competitive action when he features in the Carling Cup tie at Scunthorpe on Wednesday evening.

Former Germany coach Jurgen Klinsmann has revealed that he turned down the chance to coach the United States after the World Cup, having failed to agree terms with the US Soccer Federation.

Celtic midfielder Efrain Juarez has been banned from playing for Mexico for six months along with Arsenal’s Carlos Vela after breaching squad rules with an alleged wild party after this month’s friendly win over Colombia.

Rangers will receive £300,000 from Liverpool as part of Danny Wilson’s summer transfer deal when the central defender makes his first competitive appearance for the Anfield club tonight.

Ghana have targeted Bobby Williamson, who is out of contract with Uganda, as their new head coach after he took his side to an all-time high of 63 in the world rankings.

Spain fear that Cesc Fabregas will miss the Euro qualifier against Scotland on 12 October after the Arsenal midfielder picked up an injury against Sunderland at the weekend.

Wolves had the last laugh on Notts Country striker Lee Hughes last night after the former West Brom player revealed a T-shirt with the Baggies’ ‘boing boing’ catchphrase after scoring the opening goal of the Carling Cup tie. Mick McCarthy’s side recovered to win 4-2.

Ghana want ex-Hibernian and Kilmarnock boss Bobby Williamson as their next manager. Williamson previously took Uganda to an all-time high of 63 in the Fifa rankings.

Enzo Fernandez, the eldest son of Zinedine Zidane, is being courted by both the Spanish and French football federations. The 15-year-old Real Madrid midfielder, who has dual nationality, could represent either nation.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.





15/09/2010 – Wednesday’s Paper Round-Up

15 09 2010

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has earmarked Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta (left) as the man he wants to replace Cesc Fabregas – if the Arsenal captain moves to Barcelona in the future.

Fulham are bracing themselves for Arsenal to reignite their interest in keeper Mark Schwarzer in January by lining up a cut-price move for Crystal Palace’s Julian Speroni.

New Aston Villa boss Gerard Houllier looks set to make fitness coach Robert Duverne – who was involved in a heated training ground altercation with Manchester United’s Patrice Evra during France’s disastrous World Cup campaign this summer – his first signing at Villa Park.

Former Manchester United forward Giuseppe Rossi has ruled out a return to the Premier League, saying he wants to remain in Spain with Villarreal. The Italian was a reported target of Tottenham this summer.

Leicester have pulled the plug on a proposed £750,000 deal for Hull City centre-half Kamil Zayatte after problems with the Guinea international’s medical.

Ex-West Brom midfielder Enzo Maresca is eager for a return to England now he is a free agent following his release by Greek side Olympiakos.

Blackpool are plotting a January transfer window move for Portsmouth striker David Nugent after narrowly missing out on the former England international this summer.

Kilmarnock are set to snap up Portuguese striker Rui Miguel on a one-year deal. The former CSKA Sofia player has been training with the Rugby Park outfit.

Former France and Chelsea defender Marcel Desailly is being lined up to become the new manager of his native Ghana after Milovan Rajevac stepped down from the post.

Manchester City new boy David Silva has urged fans to to be patient with him as he adapts to the physical rigours of English football. “Physically, I am feeling better day by day,” said the Spanish winger, a £26m summer signing from Valencia. “I need to get a few more minutes on the pitch to get to optimum fitness levels and I am sure that will happen with so many games coming up.”

Silva’s City team-mate James Milner says the team must learn to win ugly if they are to push for a top-four finish in the Premier League this season. “It might take time for us to play our best football but hopefully we can get results while we’re getting to that stage and keep moving forward step by step,” said the midfielder.

City are to reopen talks with Shaun Wright-Phillips over a new £70,000-a-week contract. The England winger has two years left on his contract but initial negotiations broke down over the length of a new one.

Aston Villa have opened contract negotiations with England winger Ashley Young but the 25-year-old, a target of Tottenham during the summer, first wants to see how the club performs under new manager Gerard Houllier before being rushed into a new long-term deal.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has once again called for officials to protect his players after a tackle from Bolton’s Paul Robinson resulted in an injury to midfielder Abou Diaby, ruling him out of the Gunners’ Champions League game with Braga on Wednesday.

Reading keeper Mikkel Andersen wants to extend his loan at Bristol Rovers until the end of the season.

Mexican midfielder Efrain Juarez has likened his Celtic boss Neil Lennon to former Rangers midfield enforcer Rino Gattuso. “He was the same type of player as Rino Gattuso – strong committed. And that is how he asks us to play,” said Juarez.

Turkish football is in shock after the manager of Mersin Idman Yurdu, Yuksel Yesilova, was stabbed six times by his elder brother during the team’s match with Samsunspor in Turkey’s second tier. In his statement to the police, Yesilova’s assailant said “personal issues” were behind his actions.

Barcelona’s world player of the year Lionel Messi will be taken by helicopter to a mystery London football pitch to take part in a kids’ match as part of a competition organised by a football boot manufacturer on Wednesday.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.





20/08/2010 – Friday Transfer Talk

20 08 2010

Paul Konchesky has been offered a new contract by Fulham to keep him out of the clutches of Liverpool, who are preparing a £3m bid for the English left-back.

  Dirk Kuyt’s agent, Rob Jansen, claims the Liverpool striker (left)  is considering a reunion with former Reds boss Rafael Benitez at Inter Milan. Jansen claimed there is “real interest” from the European champions and added: “There is also the possibility that a player from Inter could be included in the deal.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger will turn his attentions to Bordeaux’s France international defender Michael Ciani, 26, if his bid to land Sevilla centre-back Sebastien Squillaci fails.

Tottenham are set to offer £6m for Everton midfielder Steven Pienaar, who has just one year remaining on his contract, and secure the services of Read Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra on a loan deal.

Santos president Alvaro Luis De Oliveira has offered 18-year-old playmaker Neymar a new and improved contract to try to keep him out of the reaches of Chelsea.

Birmingham are poised to make a £6m move for Tottenham defender Alan Hutton.

Carlton Cole insists he is happy at West Ham and will not be joining Liverpool this summer. The striker has been strongly linked with a move away from Upton Park to Anfield.

Spurs face a battle with Spanish side Seville in a race to sign Barcelona’s former Arsenal winger Alex Hleb, who went on loan to German side Stuttgart last season.

Liverpool boss Roy Hodgson has confirmed he is considering the possibility of sending midfielder Alberto Aquilani out on loan in an effort to help him play first-team football.

Aquilani’s agent insists the player will remain at Anfield but that is not preventing Juventus from lining up a bid for the Italian.

Real Madrid midfielder Rafael van der Vaart (right) is eyeing a move to Manchester United after becoming one of four players put up for sale. The Dutchman said: “If you are leaving Real Madrid, there is only one club that is not a step down – and that’s Manchester United.”

Blackburn are set to sign Jonathan Greening from Fulham on a season-long loan. The former Manchester United midfielder, 31, is not in new Fulham boss Mark Hughes’s plans and Rovers have been cleared to speak to him.

Bolton’s versatile midfielder Matt Taylor is a target for West Ham and Blackburn, despite the £2m-rated star signing a new contract last year.

Birmingham want to secure a deal for Wolfsburg striker Grafite but obtaining a work permit could be a problem. The 31-year-old Brazilian has scored 50 goals in 79 games for Steve McClaren’s side but only has four caps.

Manchester City fans may be a little concerned after reading Roberto Mancini’s latest managerial ambitions in his homeland. The Italian, who led his team to a 1-0 win in the Europa League play-offs on Thursday, said: “You cannot say no to the national team. I would love to coach Italy one day.”

Chelsea’s 21-year-old defender Sam Hutchinson has been forced to retire because of a chronic knee injury. First spotted by Jose Mourinho, now at Real Madrid, he made his senior debut aged 18 against Everton in 2007 and played four times for the first team.

Dimitar Berbatov has painted himself as Manchester United’s modern-day Eric Cantona. “Football is like art and my aim is to create beautiful things on the pitch to help the team be successful,” said the Bulgarian, who has also drawn caricatures of team-mates Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic.

For full stories, head over to the BBC website.

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The Race for Fourth

24 03 2010

As the race for fourth place hots up, it is looking increasingly unlikely that Liverpool will finish in the coveted fourth Champions League qualifying spot. Currently lying in sixth place in the Premier League and having played one game more than fourth placed Tottenham and two games more than Manchester City and Aston Villa, it looks an increasingly uphill battle. That said, a look into the remaining fixtures perhaps suggests that Liverpool’s run-in is more favourable than that of our rivals.

The Champions League Trophy: The Race for Fourth.

Manchester City are for me favourites to clinch fourth place, largely due to them having nothing else to compete for and they have six of their remaining nine league games at home where they are yet to be beaten. They have two games in hand on Liverpool and one on Tottenham and despite the saying that you would rather have the points on the board, I fancy City to win their games in hand. This said, they still have to play Everton tonight, as well as their last five games being against Manchester United, Arsenal, Aston Villa, Tottenham and West Ham on the final day of the season, who themselves will be scrapping for their Premier League status. By no means are these easy games for City but if they have genuine aspirations of finishing fourth and even higher next season, these are the type of games they must find a way of winning.

Number One: Mancini's side are in pole position to challenge Europe's elite.

Moving on to Tottenham who have today announced the signing of Brazilian midfielder Sandro from Internacional. They face Fulham in the FA Cup replay at White Hart Lane tonight with the winner facing crisis-club Portsmouth in the semi final. Their Premier League race for fourth run-in is as difficult as Manchester City’s. Trips to Sunderland, Burnley and Manchester City, in what could essentially be a Champions League play-off, are tough enough yet they also have to face Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal in consecutive matches. Their record against the ‘big three’ is not too impressive and I struggle to see them picking up more than three points against the sides currently above them. When this is considered with their recent spell of injuries to key players such as Roman Pavlyuchenko, Jermain Defoe and Aaron Lennon, I think their most realistic chance of having a successful season is to win the FA Cup and qualify for the Europa League after a year without European football.

Defoe, with 17 Premier League goals, is out for three weeks.

This leads me on to Aston Villa who have already booked their place in the FA Cup semi final. I struggle to see them finishing fourth as for one reason, I don’t think their squad is big enough and they are suffering from a loss of form, particularly at home where they have won just once in their last six. Their squad is thin in the sense that when Gabriel Agbonlahor gets injured, they often resort to long balls for John Carew or Emile Heskey despite on their day playing attractive football. Their run-in is more favourable than Tottenham’s and Manchester City’s but they must still face City away, the only side yet to be beaten at home this season, as well as a trip to Chelsea and the Midlands derby with surprise package Birmingham City. Much like Liverpool last season, defeats haven’t been their downfall but they are picking up too many draws with the latest at home to local rivals Wolves proving this point. Villa have lost half as many games as Liverpool yet they have won two less. Their inability to turn these draws into wins could prove costly and I can only see them finishing seventh. The return of key players at Everton could even see them push for a top seven finish. As a result, like Tottenham, I see their best chance of having a successful season being an FA Cup win and Europa League football again next season.

The strain begins to show: O'Neill looks on as Villa drop two points against Wolves.

This leaves me with Liverpool. A season that offered so much hope after last season’s second place finish saw us crash out of the Champions League early and lose to Arsenal and Reading in the Carling and FA Cups respectively. The two-legged Europa League clash with Portuguese side Benfica is fast approaching and this is the last remaining trophy to aim for. However, given our current financial situation, a fourth placed finish would be received as warmly as a trophy itself. Our run-in is perhaps on paper the easiest out of the four sides battling for fourth with Chelsea the only side left to play above us. Yet our away form this season is woeful; we have only won four games away from Anfield so far. Four draws and eight defeats tells the rest of the story and proves this is where our weakness lies. Birmingham away will be a tough game after they came close to beating us at Anfield and will surely want revenge for David Ngog’s late dive that cost them all three points. However, the trip to St. Andrews aside, our only other two away games are Hull City and Burnley. No disrespect to either side but if we do not take six points from those two games then we simply do not deserve to finish fourth. Our remaining home games see us entertain Sunderland next before three visits from London sides Fulham, Chelsea and West Ham United. On paper, it looks like five or six wins from the final seven fixtures is not unrealistic. Football, as I’m sure you’re aware, is not played on paper.

The fitness of Gerrard and Torres is vital if Liverpool can maintain their push for fourth.

In a season of ups and (considerably more) downs and despite remaining optimistic it appears that the “Top Four’s” stranglehold over the Premier League is about to be broken for the first time since Everton finished fourth in the 2004-2005 season. The current squad have of course been there and done it before on club football’s biggest stage and this experience could prove vital. If we stay injury free and move on from “Rieragate” then who would bet against the masters of the comeback? Istanbul alone proves that anything in football is possible. I think it will almost likely go down to the wire but despite Rafa’s promise of a fourth placed finish; it is no longer in our hands.

Mark Jepson





The Transfer Market

15 01 2010

The ‘Rafalution’ has certainly gone under the microscope at the minute and the media seem ever so keen to highlight his poor signings. Now, I’m not going to defend some of his signings as I’m sure you would agree that Nunez, Josemi and Kromkamp sent most fans into a cold sweat every time they made an appearance. However, when considering some of his poor signings against the flops bought by other top 4 managers, you will realise the media are being a little unfair.

Yes I could give a mention to Fergie, Wenger and Abramovich/Kenyon’s flops too. Crespo, Shevchenko and Veron or Kleberson, Djemba-Djemba and Taibi are all far worse signings than some of Rafa’s and a lot costlier too. However, Rafa seems to bring a lot of criticism on himself. His stubborn persistence with players such as Lucas Leiva (whose birth certificate I would like to see) separates him from the rest. If Ferguson makes a mistake, they are almost always sold on, more often than not for profit I hasten to add. The same with Chelsea to a degree, if a player is just simply not good enough, he will be sold, or in the case of Hernan Crespo be loaned out for about 3 years! Chelsea don’t have to worry about flops as much however due to their unrivalled wealth, or at least it was unrivalled until Manchester City’s owners graced our shores. It is this where I feel Rafa is being a little harshly treated. His ‘eye for talent’ is something that is also often challenged. I can assure you that there is nothing wrong with his eye for talent, he just does not have the financial means to always sign who he wants. It is for that reason that he ends up signing second or third choice players who are often gambles. Inevitably, gambles do not always pay off. Rafa has identified David Villa, David Silva, Daniel Alves, Simao Sabrosa, Sergio Aguero (before he signed for Atletico) among others as potential signings so there is nothing wrong with his eye for talent. However, when Rick Parry was at the helm and our worrying financial situation these were unrealistic targets. Instead he ended up with Jermaine Pennant, who was deemed to not be good enough for Arsenal yet we signed anyway, as well as Mark González, Fernando Morientes and Andriy Voronin.

Benitez has more often than not got it right when he has been able to spend big although he has had to sell before he can buy in the summer gone by. Can people really argue with the signings of a certain striker named Fernando Torres? How about Pepe Reina, Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, Daniel Agger and Glen Johnson? I’m sure regardless of who you support you would not be disappointed to see anyone of these on your club’s team sheet. Furthermore, he’s trying to restructure the youth academy which, in my opinion, was long overdue. Although I’m not sure whether he should be getting involved in this area of the club, things certainly seem to be improving. As Gerard Houllier once said about the academy, ‘I’m not expecting the next Steven Gerrard, but I wouldn’t mind a few Jamie Carraghers.’ I feel Rafa has echoed those sentiments, and although there will never be another Steven Gerrard, he is slowly introducing one or two young players who are most definitely prospects. Martin Kelly’s man of the match performance on his debut against Olympique Lyonnais shows this. Furthermore, Jay Spearing made his debut in a home tie against Real Madrid. Gone are the days of rolling out McManaman’s, Fowler’s and Owen’s year after year, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Although it may seem hard to believe, I’m not so pro-Rafa that I would defend him whatever happens. Six defeats in a season that is still only in October is by no way good enough. However, as I may just have mentioned once or twice, we are rather struggling somewhat in terms of finance. Would it really be wise to sack him at the cost of around £20m? That is the sort of figure he would get as he only signed his latest deal on the 18th March 2009. Then a new manager arrives with a whole array of new ideas that would probably take another 5 years to implement fully and by that time Gerrard and Carragher will either be gone or well past their best. I guess what I am trying to say is that it was only a few months ago that Rafa led us to four points from winning the title and although Alonso has gone, not much else has changed.

Mark Jepson








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