Sunday, December 19, 2010


What an extraordinary story continued to unfold at Manchester City. Their captain and heartbeat has decided he no longer wants to play for them. The same player who forced through the hugely acrimonious move across Manchester, and who has gone onto score 33 goals in 50 games to become an instant legend in the blue half of the city has decided enough is enough.

If we consider the facts, this is no surprise whatsoever. Tevez is nomadic. He hasn’t remained at any one club for more than 2 years and whilst talented has a very high opinion of his own ability and worth. There is no doubt that he works his socks off every time he steps onto a football field. For this he is rightly cherished by the fans who pay good money to see him. There’s nothing more galling than a player who doesn’t appear to be trying hard enough – a criticism often levelled at Berbatov – ironically the player who remained at Old Trafford at the expense of Tevez. Sir Alex risked the ire of United fans by jettisoning crowd favourite Tevez at the same time as Ronaldo. It looks like he got both decisions right. Ronaldo is a supreme talent but he had long made it clear his desire to play in Madrid and Fergie ensured he received the maximum transfer fee. The decision not to pay over the odds to keep Tevez looked misguided but he always knows best and we are now finding out that he was spot on. No player is bigger than the club. Even the biggest clubs.

City fans will rightly point out that Tevez, almost singlehandedly, has led them to the brink of the Premier League summit. It’s true. Chelsea’s implosion and United’s tendency to surrender leads has helped City to remain in touch and after the arctic conditions practically wiped out this weekend’s entire football calendar, City are being afforded the opportunity to hold top spot at Christmas if they beat Everton tomorrow. I suspect they’d take that.

It’s for this reason that Tevez will play rather than be made an example of. I am intrigued to see what sort of reaction he gets. I expect him to put in a man of the match performance. Without him City are a good team, with him they are potentially great. However it cannot be denied he has become a little too central to their quest for success. And this, I’m afraid, is entirely of their own making. Sheikh Mansour has not disguised that he is prepared to pay to win the league. Such a strategy can work in the short term but is surely doomed to failure in the longer term. It breeds the sort of mercenary greed that could ultimately undo all the good work so far this season. Tevez purports to be homesick but does anyone really expect him to return to his native Argentina. He’ll be playing in Spain or Italy during 2011. Another club will take a risk on him. He will let them down too. However, his disaffection at City comes a little early for them. Without him, even the most ardent City fan doesn’t give their club much hope of holding onto top spot in May.

I am and remain a huge fan of Carlos Tevez the football player but not of Carlos Tevez the man. He has proved himself to be a disgraceful human being and I have to pinch myself not to feel sorry for the club he has wronged.

In the mean time Rooney remains at Old Trafford, Torres at Liverpool and Lampard is due back for Chelsea. Christmas has perhaps come a little too early at Eastlands and there will be little sympathy if it all goes horribly wrong.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Will Torres ever rediscover his mojo?

I’m certainly not a Liverpool fan but I am a fan of Fernando Torres. Surprised? Let me tell you why. The typical modern day footballer is greedy and disloyal. Torres is quite clearly neither. Until recently he would quite easily have walked into any side in the world but that hasn’t stopped him from being fiercely loyal to both his hometown club Atletico Madrid and now Liverpool. Misplaced loyalty, some might say. After all, ultimately he is a winner and he wants to win medals, lots of them. Let’s be honest, most players would have long given up on trying to turn Liverpool back into a major force without the right level of support and few would have blamed him for leaving after last season’s woes. Yet he is still there. Massive coup, right? Well maybe not.

There is something very seriously wrong with Torres. He cuts a very forlorn figure and looks a long, long way from the world beater who ended Spain’s misadventures on the world stage with the winning goal at Euro 2008. At that precise moment in time, he was hugely sought after and expected to deliver big things at club level. There have been some highs most notably the way in which he made Vidic, arguably the best and most consistently strong defender in the Premier League look very ordinary, not just once but 3 games in a row. His performances in helping sweep aside first Real Madrid and then Man U in their own backyard made the world sit up and pay attention. Here was a striker destined for greatness.

However his performances at the World Cup were so woeful he made most of the English team look good. OK so Spain won the tournament to follow up the European crown – a huge achievement – but he contributed nothing to it. In fact, whilst he was on the pitch, he was a liability. Seriously. Spain were better off when he wasn’t playing. That’s a real fall from grace. OK so perhaps I am being a little unfair. He had been injured leading into the tournament. He was bound to be rusty. Sure the first 2 games maybe, but the whole tournament?

So what better than to get yourself fit and then start firing for your club. He owes Liverpool. I applaud his loyalty but he is the talisman and it’s about time he repaid the faith by leading from the front. Liverpool fans should be worried though. He doesn’t look that interested anymore and amazingly he doesn’t look that good anymore.

So, the question is, will he ever rediscover his mojo whilst still at Liverpool? Their fans might believe it blasphemy but if another club is still willing to pay £60m for him, maybe they should be tempted.

Why single out Torres, what about Rooney? Well actually they are both in wretched form. Rooney has been poor for club, though oddly not country so far this season. He is clearly distracted by his off field problems. He too is struggling to shake off injury problems but whilst he is lacking form, he is not lacking desire. However he is in the worst form of his United career and needs to raise himself out of it. A lot is expected of him and he must deliver, else Chelsea will run away with the title this season.

Oh one last thing. Fantasy transfer tip of the week? It’s got to be Peter Odemwingie up front. He looks a class act and is cheap.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Get used to it, money rules

As football finances lurch further out of control, do fans care at all or has winning at all costs taken precedence over common sense and morality?

Sheikh Mansour maybe a grabbing headlines with seemingly endless spending. He may yet buy the premier league title but it is all coming at a terrible cost to football as a whole. Transfer fees are exorbitant because one team are willing to break record after record with weekly wages regularly over £100k a week. And all of this during a recession. We should all be deeply worried but a possible change in the hierarchy of football in this country is compelling enough for now. At the other end of the scale, Liverpool and Man United are carrying huge debts. It is hard to swallow for many fans used to seeing them compete hard in the transfer market but the reality is that money is not available and it sits uncomfortably with most fans that American owners are ruining both clubs. How long, though, before another billionaire decides it’s time to invest in these great clubs. How will the fans feel then? It’s not the solution is it? But maybe that’s what it will take for both clubs to compete at the highest level. Maybe that’s what it comes down to now. This should sit even more uncomfortably with all fans, in my opinion.

City fans won’t care less and perhaps nor should they. Less than 5 years ago they were festering around the nether regions of the lower divisions and a world away from competing for the premier league title so these are truly exciting times. Does it worry them at all that they may be accumulating a squad of mercenaries who will cause untold dressing room unrest or is that part of the overall intrigue. Do they mind that they are fast becoming the most hated club in the UK. Not a bit of it if potential turns into success.

For the rest of us it has become clear that we all singularly want City to fail. In the same way as we all wanted Chelsea to fail when Abramovich arrived on our shores waving wads of cash in our faces. It didn’t take long for cash to turn into prizes but the situation was a little different. Chelsea already had a strong backbone and with clever investment and an outstanding, if arrogant, manager they gelled far quicker than most people expected. City have further to go. There is no spine. Even now they resemble a bunch of individuals all pressed into playing together with little in common except the lure of gold.

So what should we make of City’s rather convincing victory over Liverpool on Monday. On balance I think it says more about the deficiencies at Liverpool than the gathering momentum at City. Liverpool were truly woeful and Hodgson, famed for his tactical acumen in guiding Fulham to last season’s Europa cup final, seemed rather at a loss, a bit out of his depth maybe? Playing two strikers away from home was ill advised against a team set up to build from midfield and utilise their wide players. Liverpool were over-run and out-thought. City didn’t have to try too hard to settle in front of their hugely expectant fans but they will surely face tougher tests this season. The jury is still out.

Elsewhere it was a remarkable weekend for goals. Arsenal played the most attractive football. Drogba was irrepressible. Toon have a new hero at no 9 and United were uncharacteristically sloppy.

In the fantasy stakes, is there any other player in better form than Drogba? Well Gareth Bale, maybe? What is it with the Welsh and left sided wingers? He’s had another stormer in the CL qualifier tonight too. An absolute must.

My other tip is Kevin Nolan. He’s down as a midfielder but is playing as an auxiliary striker. He looks good value on this basis.

There are some tasty looking ‘home bankers’ this weekend for Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs and United. We could witness another avalanche of goals. Long may it continue.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Gameweek 1 - first impressions

A new season always throws up a few surprising results in the first couple of weeks but what has the first round of games told us?

First things first, Chelsea are going to take some beating. Granted, West Brom offered very little resistance but to score 6 goals in the first game when players are supposed to be easing themselves in sends out a clear message to all their title rivals.

It’s a pity that both they and Man United didn’t get a tougher test in the first game. An easy looking fixture for both against newly promoted teams resulted in very straightforward wins and has told us nothing about their real title credentials.

That said we did witness some impressive performances. Drogba was apparently a doubt before the game but at 32 is in the form of his life and has already hit the ground running. He certainly knows where the goal is.

For United, it was Scholes who stole the show with a masterful performance against an ultimately dispirited Newcastle team who had started reasonably well. I’ve always liked Paul Scholes. He can’t tackle for toffee but just about every other element of his game is first class. His eye for a pass and range of passing is truly world class, even at the grand old age of 35. He has reinvented himself so many times during his career and yet excels in almost every role. A model professional and a one off.

The first game of the weekend paired up the two clubs who raced each other all through last season for the coveted final Champions League spot. Spurs deserved it in the end and had it not been for a stellar performance in goal by Joe Hart, they would have put City to the sword and put down an early season marker. Spurs are a strange club. Hugely exciting at times but ultimately they let themselves down. What, though of City? Well the jury is definitely still out. They played like a team of individuals and whilst it may take a few games to gel into a unit, there were few signs that this team will challenge for the title. I know - it’s really early days - but the massive outlay on multiple players so far does not look as if it has been underpinned by a clear strategy and does look a little kamikaze and haphazard. Their next game is at home to Liverpool. I expect these two to challenge each other closely for a Champions League spot and will watch with interest as they do battle. I genuinely expect Liverpool to come out on top.

Liverpool met Arsenal in another fascinating first weekend match up. A draw may seem a logical result but masks the full story of the game. As the teams emerged for the 2nd half, with the scoreline goalless, Liverpool had been reduced to 10-men with Joe Cole sent off for over-exuberance rather than recklessness. What an anticlimax on his home debut! As is often the case, playing with 10 men galvanised the team and having made a fast start to the half with a classy goal, they settled into a pattern to stifle. Arsenal were hugely disappointing with their response. At half time, they must have felt they could win the game. If any team can suck the life out of the opposition with neat and tidy keep ball, it’s Arsenal. Yet they were utterly toothless and probably didn’t deserve their late equaliser. Cole’s suspension may be a blessing. It takes the pressure off a new system which somewhat nullifies Gerrard’s influence. Whilst Cole sits out 3 games, Gerrard can renew his partnership with Torres. There’s no doubt this suits them both and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Arsenal will be delighted with a point at Anfield. Chamakh did not show a great deal but at least offers them an outlet they have lacked since Adebayor left. With Fabregas and Van Persie both fit they will again mount a decent challenge but they still look a couple of players short of a proper tilt at the title.

Blackpool’s first match in the top flight was wholly unpredictable. Not in their wildest dreams could they have expected to win by 4 goals and be top of the league albeit for a couple of hours before Chelsea stole their thunder. Certainly it wasn’t a result I thought likely or indeed possible. In a previous blog, I wondered whether Blackpool were so ill equipped for this league that they may take a while to win their first game. Shows how much I know. In fairness, no one could have legislated for such a wretched Wigan performance. Next up are Chelsea and I suspect by Monday, Martinez may well be the first manager sacked this season.

And to finish off, a couple of transfer tips for the fantasy football. I might make this a regular feature, despite the relentless mickey taking from some work friends on Goops tips!

This week I’m going for a couple of bargain midfield options – Gary Taylor Fletcher (Blackpool) and Marc Albrighton (Villa) both had very promising debuts at this level and will be new, fresh and cheap.

Til next time.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Premier League Predictions 2010/2011

Less than 48 hours to go and here we go again. Making predictions for the season ahead is a mug’s game. Following a world cup, it’s far too early to tell how quickly players will find their form and teams will gel. So am I just opening up myself to ridicule? Perhaps, but I’m going to have a go anyway.

So let’s dive straight in at the deep end. Who is going to win the league in 2010/2011? It’s difficult to see past Chelsea but after unbridled success last season, cracks have started to appear in pre-season culminating in a lacklustre performance in the Community Shield. We all know, however, that pre-season is not a pre-cursor for the season ahead and the fixture gods have thrown out a very straightforward first 6 games giving them a chance to play themselves into form. On this basis, I expect them to edge it, but it will be close.

Hot on their heels will be Man United. Some experts have been quick to jump on the bandwagon that the empire is crumbling under massive debts. This is partly true. United don’t appear as solvent as they were and seemingly can’t compete for the best players at any price. The irrepressible Fergie doesn’t know when he’s beaten though does he. The scouts appear to have pulled a rabbit out of the hat with Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez. He looks a player. The new baby faced assassin maybe. There hasn’t been this much excitement over a player at Old Trafford for a few years now and he already looks a snip at £7m. Holding onto Vidic is a major coup and should not be under-stated. However there is something lacking and it’s in midfield. There remains an over-reliance on the golden generation of Giggs and Scholes. In the pressure games, there is no midfielder in the current squad who can take the game by the scruff of the neck the way Roy Keane used to. Chelsea have Lampard. Liverpool have Gerrard. Arsenal have Fabregas. United need a playmaker and Ozil would fit the bill but will the funds be released to secure him?

What of Liverpool? There’s a frisson of excitement on Merseyside. Hanging onto Gerrard and Torres is an achievement given their morose expressions at the end of last season. The ‘turning point’ appears to be the signing of Joe Cole. A little too much is being made of this. He’s better than Messi apparently. Don’t get me wrong I think he could be an inspired signing - although he has much to prove as £90k a week is hardly a free transfer – and he will make them a more potent attacking force but the messiah he is not. If Mascherano leaves, as looks likely, their midfield may lack bite and expose them at the back where Carragher is simply not the leader he was. Gerrard proved for England last night that he is most effective as an attacking force. Will accommodating Cole actually negate his influence for Liverpool where his understanding with Torres is their most effective weapon. I expect them to challenge for the top 4 and if they can keep their key players fit, might well challenge for more than that, free from the shackles of a European Cup campaign.

And what of Man City? I have to admit I simply have no idea. They could be title challengers or also-rans. The players could gel or some could get tired of playing second fiddle. Championship winning teams need stability. There needs to be a strong core. Their squad might look impressive on paper but is that enough? Robinho, their marquee signing has fallen out of favour. Bellamy, arguably their star performer alongside Tevez last season, won’t make the final 25 this season. I could be wrong but I think it will be a seismic task to build a team ethic that will be sustained throughout the whole season. They need to make a strong start and the fixture gods have not been kind. Watch this space.

At the other end of the table, Blackpool are relegation certainties. They look so ill equipped to compete at this level, it might be Christmas before they secure their first win. I expect them to challenge for the lowest ever points tally in the Premier League.
West Brom will struggle too. They will play attractive football and that will be their downfall. The classic yo yo club.

The final spot is less obvious. The other promoted club Newcastle will do ok. They should be good enough at home to survive. Wolves and Wigan may be the main candidates. They did just enough last season but maybe not this time.

Here are some of my tips for players to watch this season.

My first is Michael Essien who is Chelsea’s most effective performer on his day. He will feel like a new signing. He is exactly the type of player who can lift a club. A great box to box midfielder and could well make the difference this season.

Next is Marouane Chamakh. Arsenal have lacked an out and out centre forward for a few seasons, a finisher. He should give them more cutting edge.

Joe Cole. Will he flourish or has he been over-hyped. Can he live with the weight of expectation? Robbie Keane couldn’t.

Adam Johnson – City’s most effective signing apart from Tevez. Certainly their biggest bargain. With so many others to compete with, will he get a chance to push on? One of the most intelligent crossers of the ball.

Carlos Tevez. Great first season, much to the displeasure of the other half of Manchester. Rumours City paid nearly £50m for him. Is City just a stepping stone or will he feel loved enough to spur them to glory?

And finally Javier “Chicarito” Hernandez. Even at 21, he looks like breaking into the first team and scoring a lot of goals. Will take some of the burden off Rooney and could be crucial in the title challenge.

I’m probably way off the mark, and only time will tell. Enjoy the season folks.


Monday, July 19, 2010

Top 10 Fantasy football tips

I’ve been asked by a few friends to share my tips when it comes to picking a successful fantasy football team. I’m not suggesting for a minute that I know all the answers but the truth is I always do really well at fantasy football. I’ve won the work league for the last 3 years and the team I pick for Kate in another league has also won the last 3 years in succession. In two world cup FF games I played recently I was 2nd out of a league comprising 20 or more teams in both.

I’m probably setting myself up for a bad year – I’m due one – but here are my Top Ten Rules to picking a decent FF team with a fighting chance from the off.

Rule 1: Pick 2 or 3 star performers

You won’t win anything unless you have a couple of star players no matter how much they eat into your budget. If you go back through the archives, there are a handful of players that are must haves. Chelsea’s Lampard, Liverpool’s Gerrard, United’s Rooney and Arsenal’s Fabregas are expensive for a reason. They are worth every penny, as they are guaranteed to score bumper points. You can’t afford them all so pick the couple you want and run with it. They need to be your first picks so you know how much budget you have left to play with.

Goops’ Tip 1: Pick the star players who are also penalty takers as this will invariably mean a better goals return. All four of the above fall into this category.

Rule 2: Home pedigree and experience counts

It’s often tempting to pick exotic sounding summer recruits, especially after a major championships, who have performed well in other countries. They are often overpriced, though, and I tend to avoid picking them at the outset and look to see how well they settle into the Premier League.

Goops’ Tip 2: Avoid new Man City signings. You don’t yet know who will start nor who will perform. David Silva sounds tempting but pass him by.

Rule 3: Don’t invest all your budget on your strikeforce

Rooney, Drogba and Torres sounds brilliant but in reality it means the rest of your team would be absolute dross. Strikers score goals, sure, but they don’t dictate play or knit it together. Goal-scoring midfielders are the real gold dust.

Goops’ Tip 3: Many fantasy football games award additional points for man of the match performances. Try and find a player from a ‘smaller’ team who is likely to be a continual stand out player who has a strong chance of getting a few MOTM awards.

Rule 4: Don’t bother with a ‘big team’ goalie

Contrary to rule 1 where it’s worth investing in some star names noting these are invariably strikers or midfielders, when it comes to the goalie, save a bit of cash. OK so the likes of Cech, Van der Sar and Reina might keep the most clean sheets but the return on investment is poor due to the compromises you have to make elsewhere. It’s better to find a team that tends to keep things tight and who have a decent goalie in their ranks. Many fantasy football games award bonus points for the number of saves made – mid/lower table teams’ goalies tend to have more to do.

Goops’ Tip 4: Look for a team who have a strong home record. It doesn’t matter if they concede the odd goal away from home but if they keep things tight at home, the ratio of clean sheets starts looks promising. Joe Hart at Birmingham last season was a classic example of this.

Rule 5: Look for value from promoted teams

Whilst in Rule 2, I speak of the value of Premier League experience, every promoted team has a couple of gems and they are usually priced keenly. Newcastle Utd, for example, return to the PL with a point to prove and some decent players and one or two will come good

Goops’ Tip 5: Only punt for a midfielder or striker from the promoted teams. The defenders are likely to concede a few until they adjust to the pace of the PL so avoid them at the start.

Rule 6: Can you find a goalscoring defender?

Last season Arsenal’s Thomas Vermaelen became a favourite pick quite quickly after banging in a few goals in the first few months. Hard to find but if you spot one then you’ll probably be quids in until everyone else transfers them in.

Goops’ Tip 6: Try and establish who the penalty takers are for each team. Chances are there’ll be one who’s a defender e.g. Graham Alexander of Burnley last year.

Rule 7: Use your transfers wisely

There’s often a temptation to make wholesale changes to your team in the early weeks. Tweak your team by all means but try and avoid too many changes as some of your original picks may come good. Sit tight and let everyone else panic.

Goops’ Tip 7: It’s usually obvious who a must have player is – especially the cheaper one’s so make sure you jump in and get that player on board early.

Rule 8 – Put club allegiances to one side

I know a couple of people – mainly Liverpool fans – who won’t contemplate having a Manc in their fantasy football team. Grow up. That attitude is the fastest route to failure. It’s only a game so get over it and pick the best players for your team.

Goops’ Tip 8: After a terrible world cup showing, a few players have got points to prove this season. I expect most of them to come good.

Rule 9 – Be careful to only pick players who play

There’s no point picking Giggs if he’s only going to play one game in 3. You only get points from those players who play so don’t just pick players on name and previous reputation.

Goops’ Tip 9: The biggest waste is from the big clubs with big squads. If you don’t know who’s going to start up front for Man City this season then it’s probably best to avoid them.

Rule 10 – Use your head

Defensive midfielders are cheaper than attacking midfielders for a reason. The latter are far more likely to score points. A few years ago, so many people picked Roy Keane because he was Roy Keane failing to get the point that he hardly scored any points.

Goops’ Tip 10: Do your homework. There are some bargains out there who will ultimately differentiate you from others in your league. You just need to pick the right one’s.

OK, so it’s not rocket science but these rules have served me well over the years. Good luck with 2010/2011. Bring it on!