Monthly Archives: June 2011

Sunderland Rebuilding…Again

Over the last couple of season, Sunderland have been one of the most disappointing clubs in English football. Consistently strong in the opening months of the season, the Black Cats always fall off after Christmas, and end up fighting against relegation. Last year, the team proved themselves capable of beating Chelsea three-nil, yet vulnerable to more than just the odd off day; see under the first Tyne-Wear derby of 10/11.

Over the past couple years, Sunderland have brought in seventeen players, a level of transfer activity which is as unhealthy for the team as it is for the club’s finances. Upfront is where most of the money seems to be going; Darren Bent, Frazier Campbell, Asamoah Gyan, Benjani, David Healy, Dwight Yorke, Michael Chopra, Daniel Welbeck, Kenwyne Jones and Stephane Sessegnon have all come in or gone out over the past two seasons, a group which has been added to further by the signings of Conner Wickham and Ji Dong-Won this week.

With this constant merry go round of players, it is no surprise that Steve Bruce’s team struggle for consistency; too often do they purchase in excess during the January transfer window, and too often do they use the summer as an excuse for a total face lift of the starting eleven.

Already this summer, Sunderland have splashed out on two members of Birmingham’s relegated midfield, Sebastian Larsson and Craig Gardner will both expect to start next season, presumably they will be Bruce’s alternatives to the failed Sulley Muntari experiment and the departing Jordan Henderson. How a Champions League winner and a man who has attracted interest from some of the top clubs in England can be adequately replaced by two players incapable of keeping their former team in the division escapes me.  Moreover, that is half of the midfield changed from last season, and with Lee Cattermole unlikely to avoid red card trouble for any substantial run of games, one further central player will be rotating in and out.

For a team like Sunderland, the only way to advance is to keep a core group of players together for the long haul, and while that is difficult with big clubs constantly poaching, surely Niall Quinn and Steve Bruce could be doing a little bit better. Had Henderson been part of a midfield built for the long term, and not one featuring players like Steve Bruce’s creative band aid Bolo Zenden, then maybe the England international would have considered staying, so as to help Sunderland advance. 

There are clubs in football who have perfected the rebuilding and replenishing cycle, Portuguese giants FC Porto seem to have learned to deal with the departures of important players, but they wield a certain financial clout which Sunderland can’t come close to matching. The Porto model is one that works for them, consistent qualification for major European competition insures that the team can recruit top level talent, while Sunderland can only replace stars with three or four mediocre players.

It seems like year after year, Sunderland are just rotating out average players for other average players, forcing themselves into a perpetual state of renewal that has kept the team’s progress stagnant. Every time the side looks to have made an advancement, they take a step back, something clearly demonstrated by the arrival of Gyan and departure of Bent.

Going into the new season, there is nothing new about Sunderland’s transfer exploits, star players have been offloaded, and replaced by quantity not quality; next year could be another frustrating season for fans of Sunderland AFC.


Messi Ready For International Greatness

It is a subject which polarizes opinion, prompts fits of nostalgia and starts arguments between football fans around the World. Messi’s ascent to the top of the modern game is undoubted, but whether he has surpassed that and moved above some of football’s greatest names is another question. Messi is the greatest player in the World right now, but is he the greatest of all time?

In terms of club success and individual achievement, he tops the lot, but internationally Messi still falls short of players like Maradona and Pele. A Quarter Final exit at the hands of Germany last summer cast more doubt over whether Messi deserves to be placed alongside his two of his South American predecessors, doubt that the Argenitinan will have ample opportunity to quash at the upcoming Copa America.

Having not won an international trophy since the 1993 Copa America, Argentina are desperately in need of success on home soil, success that will only come if Lionel Messi finally performs. Complementing him is an army of attacking talent, players like Higuain, Pastore, Tevez and Milito are all match winners, but none possess the genius of Messi.

When Argentina kick off against Bolivia on Friday, all eyes will be fixed on the little number ten, everyone in the stands on their feet when he receives the ball.

“My greatest dream is to win Copa America.” A way to gee himself up for an upcoming tournament, or an actual slight to the World Cup, it is hard to tell, but you can be sure that this competition is one that Messi dearly wants to win. Standing in his way are the usual suspects, a team of Brazilians headed by youngsters like Neymar and Ganso, as well as a group of overachieving Uruguayans, inspired by a front three as good as any in World football.

For Messi, winning a major international tournament will be his greatest challenge, one that could end up deciding his place in the pantheon of legends. If Messi and Argentina capsize as they did in 2007, then the voices of doubt will begin to approach fever pitch, until they reach a volume that would only be silenced by an unlikely success on enemy soil three years from now.

For now though, Messi must forget about Brazil 2014 and focus on the task at hand. Coming off a wonderful season with Barcelona, he is in a rich vein of form, and is as ready as he will ever be to topple the Brazilians.

Will Argentina win the 2011 Copa America?
If they do, is Messi the best player of all time? Is he already?

Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany @ Red Flag Flying High
Follow him on Twitter @INFTH

Macheda Entering Last Chance Saloon

It is a moment that all United fans will remember forever, one which has gone down in Old Trafford folklore, and helped push Fergie’s men over the line towards title number eighteen. Some commentators weren’t even pronouncing his name correctly at the time, but Macheda’s last gasp winner over Aston Villa in April 2009 was just vintage United.

Since then though, the Italian’s career has entered a bit of a trough, promoted from the reserves, Macheda was only ever able to score a handful of goals for the Red Devils; four in total, two in 08/09 and one last season, to go with one the season before.

This year, the arrival of Chicharito Hernandez pushed the Italian U21 international lower and lower down the pecking order, until Fergie deemed it appropriate to send him out on loan for the remainder of last season. Unfortunately, Macheda’s move to Sampdoria proved ill fated; the young striker struggled for form in a team that was eventually relegated to Serie B. Trying to fill the boots of players like Antonio Cassano and Giampaolo Pazzini proved too difficult for the one time Old Trafford hero, raising doubts about his future filling in for even bigger stars like Rooney and Hernandez.

Now, Macheda has returned to Old Trafford, and delivered a message of intent, stating his desire to remain with the Red Devils. Whether or not United sign or sell a star striker this summer, Macheda will find it difficult to break into the first team, so the chances he is presented with must be pounced upon.

Ferguson is renowned for his patience, he is always willing to give players second chances at proving themselves, and Macheda will need that second chance. A couple of match winning performances two years ago forced a reputation on the lad that he wasn’t ready to live up to, a reputation which has only provoked disappointment.

Not every player is good enough to consistently perform for United, and Macheda is beginning to run out of chances to prove that he is part of that select few. His turn and shot against Aston Villa was one of the most sensational pieces of skill ever enjoyed by the Old Trafford faithful, but there have been too many missed chances and mishit passes since then; mistakes which have frustrated fans that much more due to the Italian’s early exploits.

Alongside players like Welbeck, Diouf and Obertan, Macheda is entering a last chance saloon; one final, golden opportunity to become a key part of the Manchester United squad. What comes of Macheda’s cameo showings in the opening weeks of next season could end up defining his career, he has reached a crossroads, one direction points to glory the other to mediocrity-probably in Serie A.

As the start of the new season draws closer and closer, Macheda must begin to prepare himself for the challenges ahead, and the battle that looms if he is to force his way back into the first team. As a devoted follower of “Kiko” throughout his Untied career, I hope that he manages to impress, and eventually moves alongside Zola in the pantheon of the Premier League’s Italian stars.

Will Macheda play a starring role next season?

This article was originally published by The Chairman/David Yaffe-Bellany on Red Flag Flying High
Follow David Yaffe-Bellany on Twitter @INFTH

Why The Bizarre Fifth Club Is Neymar’s Best Option

Tracked by seemingly every club on the planet, Neymar is fast becoming one of the most prominent young footballers in the World. After electing to spurn the advances of Chelsea last summer, Neymar helped Brazilian club Santos on their way to a first Copa Libertadores crown since the Pele era, a success which has only increased the hype surrounding him. The line of suitors is beginning to lengthen, and it seems it will only be a matter of time before the Brazilian wunderkind departs.

When I woke up this morning and trawled through Sky Sports’ transfer headlines, an unfamiliar name popped up around a few that I normally hear a lot about. A Santos representative had confirmed that five clubs have met Neymar’s release clause of forty-five million euros, the first four were Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester City and Chelsea. The fifth was somewhat different, a Russian club; Anzhi Makhachkala.

It seems strange for a youngster to be advised to reject four of the biggest clubs in World Football, so as to join one that isn’t even a powerhouse in its native land, however, Anzhi Makhachkala represents an option that might do wonders for Neymar’s career, and insure that the reputation he dies with is the one that we all expect him to earn.

At age nineteen, a switch of continents, lifestyle and language is always difficult, but for that transition to be accompanied by a place at a high profile club is simply too much for a player as young as Neymar; he would do much better to follow in the footsteps of some of his predecessors to the crown of “hottest young Brazilian talent,” Ronaldo and Ronaldinho. Those two are not often used as blueprints for guiding the life of a young person, but in this respect they set a very good example.

A career in Europe is about steps. For some players, a move directly from South America to one of the major European clubs will end happily, but for others, such a transfer spells trouble. There is no question that Neymar has the talent to succeed at one of the four massive clubs bidding for him, his maturity and temperament though are still concerning aspects of his personality.

Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, upon making a name for themselves in Brazil, started small, Ronaldo at PSV Eindhoven and Ronaldinho at Paris St. Germain, before furthering themselves at teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. Such a route would would be ideal for Neymar, he would have the opportunity to gain experience of a new lifestyle, before throwing himself into the pressured atmosphere of a major European club.

This summer, Neymar will participate in the Copa America, a high level, demanding tournament which would also see his pre season time at a possible new club cut. All the more reason for the Brazilian to resist the temptation of a glamour move, one tired, burned out season could end his career as a top level player in Europe, even if he was set to improve in years to come.

Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely that Neymar will heed my advice; a chance to join Barcelona or Real Madrid in this current era is one that is not often turned down, even if such a decision would be beneficial. In football, one poor choice can ruin a career, so for the sake of Neymar and the talent that he possesses, I hope he makes the right one.

Where should Neymar go?
Where will Neymar go?

Follow me on Twitter @INFTH

De Gea Risk Must Come Off For United

For United fans, the memories of Sir Alex’s last goalkeeping search are ones best tucked away into the same drawer that houses their last two European Cup finals. With Peter Schmeichel departing, United had the mammoth task of replacing one of the best of all time, something they failed miserably at until a certain Dutchman came in to save the day.

Fabian Barthez, Tim Howard, Massimo Taibi… none of them could fill the void, in a period which was stained by mistake after mistake after mistake. A shot squeezing under Taibi’s body embodied the botched search, one which was both frustrating and damaging.

Hoping to have learned from past errors, Ferguson entered goalkeeper search 2.0 this summer following the retirement of the man who finally did replace Peter Schmeichel; Edwin Van Der Sar. Van Der Sar’s time at United was silver lined, four Premier League titles rolled in, complemented by one in Europe, as Van Der Sar’s save in the Champions League final shootout of 2008 brought United their third ever European Cup.

The number of names linked to the newly vacant goalkeeping post at United was unprecedented, it seemed that every goalkeeper who had made one fantastic save in the last decade was a potential target. A few years ago, there was Igor Akinfeev at CSKA Moscow, and more recently, big names like Manuel Neuer, Pepe Reina and Gigi Buffon. However, as is his wont, Ferguson elected to go with a young gun, Spanish U21 international David De Gea.

There is no question that De Gea has potential; he saved a penalty brilliantly in last year’s Uefa Super Cup, and has carved out a decent reputation for himself in La Liga, but is it really an intelligent move for United to go with someone so young? Of all the positions on the football pitch, goalkeeper is the one which rewards youth the least; it is strange for a goalkeeper to peak before his early thirties. It could be with that in mind that Ferguson has chosen De Gea, after all, his best years are yet to come and Ferguson will want to insure that United are the team to enjoy them.

Ferguson found in his last goalkeeping search, that whether a player is young or old, experienced or inexperienced, they are still capable of dropping clangers; see under both the youthful Taibi and the veteran Barthez.

However, in the end it was a man of experience who came through for the Red Devils, Edwin Van Der Sar had already won a European Cup, and played for Juventus in the Serie A, before he signed for Manchester United. Supposedly in the frame for the goalkeeping post 2.0 were players that had starred in World Cups, won Champions Leagues, and even pulled off blinders against Ferguson’s men, yet it was a man still to play on Europe’s biggest stage who was chosen. De Gea’s impending signing sees Ferguson ignore his success with Van Der Sar, and take a risk on youth; though I guess, that is the Ferguson way.

But what the Scotsman may come to realize as the season draws on, is that promoting youth in the outfield positions is much, much different than placing it in goal. While a mistake put down to youthful exuberance in midfield often goes unpunished, one made in between the goalposts is always significantly more severe.

Last time I raised a concern about the prospect of De Gea joining United I was slated, so I want to make it clear this time that this should not be perceived as a damning verdict on the Spaniard’s career in the sport, merely a warning, that sending a man with only a season and a half of top level experience to his name into the boots of one of the greatest football has ever seen is both unfair to the player, and jeopardizing to the club.

Yes, De Gea might go on to blossom under pressure, rule the roost for decades, and vindicate Sir Alex, proving that his risk had payed off. Yet at the same time, the potential of disaster is there, the potential for another Taibi.

Will De Gea succeed at United?

Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany  at EPL Talk
Follow me on Twitter @INFTH

Forgotten Man Dzeko Ready To Make An Impact

In a season which was remembered partly for the woes of an under performing striker, one other struggling forward was barely mentioned. The trials and tribulations of Fernando Torres’ first season at Chelsea are well documented, his was a year to forget, one marked by a record transfer fee, but only one goal.

However, further North of London, there resided another man equally in need of a break; former Wolfsburg striker Edin Dzeko. Twelve months ago, when players like Sanchez and Young were hardly talked about in the context of a move, Dzeko was the main man, a supposed transfer target of every big time club, from Manchester United to AC Milan and back over to Barcelona. During that window, a transfer did not materialize, but Dzeko needed not worry, within six months he would have his move; to moneybags Manchester City. Already boasting strikers like Carlos Tevez and Mario Balotelli, playing time at City was anything but guaranteed, yet, we all thought that the brilliant Edin Dzeko could handle it, that he would be the next big thing to rock the Premier League.

Edin Dzeko’s nose dive from so hot to so not was a quick one. After impressing in a home game against Wolves, he flopped away at Aston Villa, in a match which was marked by the debut of another big money signing; Villa’s Darren Bent. From then on, Dzeko found that first team football was a difficult thing to find, and while the big Bosnian racked up a handful of goals against opposition like Notts County, Premier League strikes were a precious commodity which he just couldn’t attain. It took Dzeko until the twenty-fifth of April to find his first League goal, a winning one, against Blackburn Rovers.

With the season winding down, Dzeko only played one other consequential part, scoring in a virtually meaningless match at the Reebok on final day, a confidence booster but one which is unlikely to be remembered.

And so the season ended for Dzeko and City, the latter much happier than the former, but hopes still abides within Dzeko, next year he will have the chance to make an impact in the Champions League; a stage which he excelled on when playing for Wolfsburg.

“Form is temporary, class is permanent” goes the saying, and I think that Dzeko has class, the perdurable kind. The Bosnian has a wonderful touch for a big man, but is also dangerous in the air, once he fully catches up to the speed of play in the Premier League, he’ll start to bang in the goals.

Next season, Dzeko may end up playing a much greater role than he did in 10/11, Balotelli is ever inconsistent; and Tevez has still refused to commit either way as to whether he will stay or go. Yes, at the moment, Dzeko is really the only City striker with a clear cut future, even after suffering from such a lack of form last season.

When City kick off against Swansea in August, you can be sure that the likes Dzeko will be complemented by further attacking gems, after all, City have never been particularly shy in their transfer dealings.

Sanchez perhaps, could be the man to set up Dzeko’s first goal of the new season, and who knows, it might be Modric who he goes to celebrate with! Whatever the supporting cast, mark my words Dzeko will be a star, class is permanent and the man from Bosnia has plenty of it.

Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany at EPL Talk

Gold Cup 2011: Team Of The Tournament

A terrific tournament, capped off by a fabulous final, the 2011 Concacaf Gold Cup produced some stunning performances; here are the best of the lot.

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard- As ever, Tim Howard was right on form in the Gold Cup, saving the United States on numerous occasions during their early tournament woes. One stunning reflex save in the opening minutes against Jamaica was indicative of Howard’s effort all tournament long, he is the latest in a long line of brilliant American goalkeepers, and hopefully, he will keep goal for the States for many years to come.

Left Back: Carlos Salcido- A starter at Fulham, Salcido reaffirmed his classy reputation with another stellar series of performances. He has been a stalwart member of the Mexican defense for years now, starting all six games at the Gold Cup, he shone on attack and in defense. Though he was forced to come off with an injury early on in the final, Salcido will still take home a winners medal, something that he should be very proud of indeed.

Center Back: Felipe Baloy- The highlight of Panama’s Gold Cup was their 2-1 victory over the United States, and the Panamanians have Baloy to thank for that, as well as most of their other successes. A tough central defender, Baloy takes no prisoners, and was able to shut down the US forward line on one, and almost two, occasions. At age thirty, Baloy is a journeyman defender, but he will be remembered for the rest of his career, for that fabulous performance against the United States.

Right Back: Steve Cherundolo- The only consistent performer in defense for the United States, Cherundolo was by far the United States’ best performer at the tournament. The captain of Hannover in Germany, Cherundolo has plenty of high level European experience, and he kept a steady shift every time he played for the US. Bombing forward when he could, Cherundolo was also a threat on the attacking side of things, throwing in accurate crosses for the likes of Altidore and Dempsey to feed off of.

Left Midfield: Andres Guardado- The Mexican attack was filled with guile and creativity, qualities perfectly embodied by Andres Guardado. Capable of sprinting down the line or taking the ball inside, Guardado was a threat every time he had possession. Three goals from a wing position is an impressive return, and his strike against the USA was arguably a game turner, though admittedly, had he missed a goal probably would have come from elsewhere. Next season, you can be sure to see Guardado changing clubs, he is just way too good to play in the Segunda Division for Deportivo.

Center Midfield: Jermain Jones- Without having played in a major international tournament before, Jermain Jones acquitted himself quite well for the United States of America. Sitting alongside Michael Bradley in defensive midfield, Jones was at the heart of every midfield battle, intercepting passes, and breaking up play with his wonderful tackles. Despite not being known for his goalscoring, Jones did come up with a crucial strike for the United States; his deflected effort in the quarter final against Jamaica crucially opened the scoring.

Center Midfield: Gerardo Torrado- Another player accustomed to sitting deep in midfield, Torrado started virtually every attack for the Mexicans, picking the ball up off one of the central defenders, and spraying passes out hither and thither. With players of the quality of Dos Santos, Barrera and Guardado on the wings, Torrado’s accurate passes out wide were very effective weapons; ones that caused problems to every team that came in Mexico’s way. On the defensive side, Torrado also excelled, knicking the ball of attacking midfielders, and sliding in with tackles that instantly destroyed promising looking attacks.

Center Attacking Midfield: Clint Dempsey- Dempsey is the best American player of his generation, experienced at the top level of the game and a consistent performer for the National Team. With three goals, Dempsey was the United States’ top goal scorer, chipping in with strikes against Canada, Jamaica and Panama. However, Dempsey’s usefulness in attack extends outside his ability to find the back of the net, the American is capable of dictating an attack, as well as finding a crucial pass, an aspect of his game demonstrated by his assist on Landon Donovan’s goal against Mexico.

Right Midfield: Giovanni Dos Santos- The man of the match in the final, Dos Santos ran rings around the US defense, causing Jonathan Bornstein all kinds of problems down the right. His solo goal which capped off tournament victory for Mexico, was simply stunning, a combination of skill, poise, speed and sumptuous vision. The United States just couldn’t deal with his pace in the final, pace that had ripped apart lesser foes all tournament long.

Forward: Luis Tejada- Luis Tejada contributed to all of Panama’s Gold Cup highlights, scoring against the US, equalizing in the Quarter Final and then scoring the winning penalty in the subsequent shootout. Tejada’s consistently impressive performances for Panama will insure that he goes down as one of the most legendary footballers to come out of that country, he should be proud of his and his nation’s effort at the finals.

Forward: Chicharito- What more can I say about this guy that hasn’t been said already? Pace, movement, quick thinking he has got it all, and a winners medal for his troubles too. The tournament’s top scorer with seven goals, Chicharito didn’t actually find the net in the final, but his superb through ball for Barrera was absolutely crucial. Officially named as the player of the tournament, it’s difficult to argue against him, he is one of the best strikers in the World, and is set to enjoy success at club and national level for the next decade at least.

U21 Euros: Team Of The Tournament

David de Gea SpainOver the course of a fantastic couple of weeks in Denmark, we have had the pleasure of watching some of Europe’s finest young stars grace the international stage; here is the best eleven.

Goalkeeper: David De Gea-  It’s no secret that David De Gea will be signing for Manchester United in the next couple of weeks, and it is also no secret that he is a fitting successor to Edwin Van Der Sar. The goalkeeper put in a very solid shift for the Spanish U21s, despite spending large periods of the game under no pressure, he was able to come up big when it mattered most. A penalty save against Ukraine was probably the highlight of his tournament, there is no doubt that he played a massive role in Spain’s success.

Left Back: Didac Vila- For a long time, the weakest position at both of Spain’s top two clubs has been left back, but the play of Didac Vila has offered hope that the national team will avoid a similar fate. Fantastic going forward, Vila has a brilliant cross in his locker, as demonstrated when his whipped delivery was met by Herrera for the opening goal against Switzerland. In defense, Vila was not overly taxed by Spain’s opponents, but when called upon he stood up to the task, and shone out especially in comparison with the shoddy center back pairing that proved to be Spain’s Achilles heel.

Center Back: Phil Jones- Another man who will be plying his trade at Old Trafford next season, Phil Jones was one of the few players to impress as part of what was a woeful England side. Alongside fellow United man Chris Smalling, Jones looked solid in defense, and composed when bringing the ball forward, both attributes of the typical modern center back. Jones has been compared to John Terry by certain members of the British media, and there is no doubt that he shares Terry’s remarkable leadership skills, Jones led by example in every game, even when he wasn’t wearing the captain’s armband.

Center Back: Timm Klose- For me, this position was a tossup between Swiss defenders Klose and Rossini. Both were absolutely terrific throughout the tournament, keeping four straight clean sheets before a Herrerra header finally breached their fortress. The pair looked impressive in the air and calm on the ball, players capable of starting attacks, but also of breaking them up. The Klose-Rossini axis is one that we will hear plenty from in the future, Switzerland are famous for their watertight defenses, and players like Klose will help to maintain that reputation in years to come.

Right Back: Martin Montoya- Much like left back Vila, Montoya is a typically attack minded full back, capable of delivering a dangerous cross, but also of shutting down an opposition winger. Posed with the considerable threat of Innocent Emeghara, Montoya kept his focus against the Swiss, and turned in an impressive defensive shift. The next Sergio Ramos perhaps…

Left Midfield: Innocent Emeghara- Emeghara was a player I mentioned a couple times throughout my analysis of the tournament, and he is a player who may well have earned himself a lucrative summer move. A very tricky dribbler, Emeghara scored a solitary goal at the finals, but nevertheless caused enough of an impact to warrant inclusion on this list.

Defensive Midfield: Javi Martinez- Already a World Cup winner, Javi Martinez was one of the most experienced players in the Spanish squad, and his big game savvy showed on countless occasions throughout the tournament. Martinez has the ability to dictate the tempo of matches through his decisive passing and dribbling, and the Athletic Bilbao player can also mix it in the tackle too. His superb defensive job on Xherdan Shaqiri helped to prevent Switzerland from gaining any kind of attacking momentum, I could see Martinez doing similarly effective man marking jobs for the senior team in the future.

Attacking Midfield: Ander Herrera- Without a doubt my player of the tournament, Herrera looks every bit a player of the caliber of Iniesta and Xavi. His controversial goal set the ball rolling for Spain, and fittingly, his headed effort proved to be the winner in the final. Herrera boasts a delightful range of passing, to go with a real eye for goal, and ability to spot space and then move into it. Next season, Herrera will join up with the aforementioned Javi Martinez at Athletic Bilbao, I expect nothing but excellence from that duo in the 2012 edition of La Liga.

Right Midfield: Juan Mata- A left footed creative player, Juan Mata is versatile enough to play on either wing or through the middle. At times during the tournament, it felt simply unfair that a player his ability was allowed to participate in a youth competition, against Ukraine he was particularly deadly. The outright top assist maker, Mata’s inclusion on this list is a given, he is a player of exceptional talent who did not disappoint when on show in Denmark. Rumors are circling around that he could be headed for Liverpool, and personally, I think the Reds would struggle to find a better signing than Juan Mata.

Withdrawn Forward: Xherdan Shaqiri- Quite simply, this lad is irresistible, a joy to watch, but a menace to defend against. His quick turns and bursts of pace are reminiscent of Messi, as is his shooting, which is just deadly from almost any range. Though he scored just the one goal, Shaqiri’s overall contribution to the Swiss attack cannot be lauded enough, he was the man that everything went through, their star player and most influential playmaker. Reportedly available for only seven million pounds, Shaqiri would be an ideal acquisition for a whole host of European clubs, expect to see him playing at a high level team next season.

Center Forward: Luis Adrian- The golden boot winner, Adrian just had to be added to this list, he was clinical in front of goal, a pestilence to every defense he played against. After scoring twice in Spain’s second group game, Adrian exploded all over this tournament, netting again against Ukraine, before scoring two vital goals against Belaruse in the semis. In the final, Adrian was kept largely quiet by an impressive Swiss center back paring, but he should be forgiven for that, after all, without his late equalize in the semi there wouldn’t have been a final for him to under perform in.

Just Missing Out…

Chris Smalling
Thiago Alcantara
Borek Dockal
Iker Muniain
Kyle Walker
Fabian Lustenburger

Spain Set For Another Decade Of Dominance

Spain celebrate Under 21Could ever beautiful football be this grim? What was no doubt another masterclass in the Spanish art of tiki-taka, is for many an ominous sign of the future; the senior European champions are now U21 European champions too.

Undaunted by the terrific exploits of their elder counterparts, the Spanish U21s were up for the challenge of taking Europe’s most prestigious youth title right from the get go, when they were unlucky not to beat a woeful England side. That match gave us just a little sample of what was to come, more of that brilliant Spanish possession football, more of that dire England long ball play.

It seemed that for every star in the senior Spanish squad, there was a counterpart in the U21s, Adrian for Villa, Mata for Iniesta, Martinez for Xavi… the list goes on. Those familiar with the Spanish youth game will tell you that at all levels, Spanish teams try to replicate the Barcelona style, playing elegant possession football, as wearing on the opponent as it is delightful on the eye.

Too many victorious U21 sides have gone on to flop on the true international platform, but the similarities between this team and the current World champions indicates that for the side’s best performers, moving into the senior team will be a seamless transition. Already, players like Mata and Martinez have World Cup winners medals, and others like Herrera seem destined to play a part in successful Spanish national sides of the future. Up front, top scorer Adrian looks capable of filling in for the unconvincing Fernando Torres, while in goal David De Gea has a bright future too.

Spain will doubtless enter Euro 2012 with much of their current senior squad still intact, so we may have to wait for World Cup 2014, before we see some of the class of 2011 make their mark on a major international competition. As I mentioned before, players like Javi Martinez could end up filling in for the aging Xavi, while others like Thiago and Jeffren will likely have gained first team football by 2014, a platform that would set them up nicely for a place in the squad.

If more evidence was needed that Spain’s future could very well be silver lined, then it was provided by the performance of other traditional power house nations. Big players like Germany, Holland, Italy and France all failed to make it to the finals, while the only other major participant, England, flopped terribly. The English could learn quite a lot about how to structure a footballing system by observing the Spanish, from the basics of tiki-taka, to the more ingrained qualities of Spain’s footballing structure. The English long ball approach is an embodiment of what is wrong with development of players in that country, there is no plan, no preferred style of play, and no coaches able or willing to develop young talent to the level that it is done in Spain. Hit and hope, that is all football in England is, hit and hope.

There is no question that the people of Spain are enjoying a golden era of football, it is unlikely that a team with the cohesiveness of Spain 2010 will grace the World stage again in our lifetimes. However, coming up are a new class of youngsters, and only time will tell whether they can prove the above premonition to be horribly wrong.

Davies Fine Sets Impossible Precedent

The issue of diving is one that has dominated football discussion for as long as I can remember. There was Eduardo’s flop against Celtic, Krasic’s ban and Ronaldo’s antics against Bolton, all events that added fuel to the fire of football’s growing anti-diving sect.

In Major League Soccer last weekend, diving once again raced to the forefront of fans’ minds, as Charlie Davies’ late flop earned DC United a game changing penalty away at Real Salt Lake. Remarkably, that was the second occasion this season that Davies had dived to win a penalty, with the American striker also guilty of simulation in a match against LA.

With Davies replying to RSL defender Chris Wingert’s finger pointing and accusations with the words, “that’s football,” talk turned to a potential punishment, a way to scare off “cheaters like Davies who ruin the game.” However, those who criticize Davies fail to realize that what the striker did was no different than what defenders like Chris Wingert do on a weekly basis, foul. Every time a defender races away from the scene of a crime with his hands held in the air, cheating is occurring, the same cheating that has made Charlie Davies the target of this ridiculous witch hunt.

Yesterday, Charlie Davies was issued a fine as punishment for his actions, with the league claiming that Davies “intentionally deceived the officials.” There is no doubt that the accusation is correct, but until the league begins to fine all those players who seem almost permanently prone in that ridiculous posture of innocence, the punishment is unfair. There is nothing wrong with fining a player for cheating, but if such a punishment is instituted, then all cheating must be sanctioned, not just that which had a direct influence on the result of a game.

For all those RSL fans who are still prattling along about their disgust for Davies’ actions, perhaps a reflection on your own team should be had. Real Salt Lake are not a team anymore guilty of cheating then the next one, but there still does lurk a deceptive quality within their ranks. Players like Nat Borchers and Jamison Olave frequently have their hands, wrapped all over opposition strikers, only to let go and leave their arms hanging, high in the air when the referee turns around. Such forms of petty cheating are conceived with the full intent of tricking the referee, yet they are not frowned upon as much as others.

Yes, diving is a type of cheating which more commonly effects the outcome of a game, but if cheating is what the public are angry about, then the outcome of the deceptive action should not be a concern. Referees are tricked just as much when a holding midfielder feigns innocence after aiming crass intimidation tactics at the opposition’s playmaker, as they are when that very playmaker dives to win a penalty.

All cheating, no matter the end result, is in essence the same and deserves the same treatment. I was angry when I saw what Davies did to earn his team a result away at Real Salt Lake, but I was still angrier when I heard of his punishment. A 1000$ fine is by no means enormous, but the fact that punishment is being handed out for an act of trickery, sets a precedent that will be impossible to maintain. Every defender, caught on camera committing a brazenly obvious foul, yet failing to inform the referee of his wrong doing would have to be punished, a ridiculously time consuming venture, but one that would have to be made for Charlie Davies’ treatment to be considered fair.

Diving is not something to be encouraged, but it simply cannot be punished if other forms of cheating are not equally dealt with. So, for now, we’ll just have to put up with players like Charlie Davies, and hope that someday a player’s conscious dictates their actions, overriding their desire for victory.