Monday, 22 September 2014

Forget Manchester City and Chelsea - Manchester United are back.

Manchester United are back.

And back big time.

Not that they were really ever gone mind.

It’s just now the fears of them actually going away have been extinguished.

For anyone who ever had any doubt - Louis Van Gaal gave them one hundred and fifty four million reasons this summer.

Each single reason a pound.

A single currency that appears to be Manchester United’s new way of thinking.

Although very much their old one when you give it a moment’s thought.

A lot has been said about how United have become the new Manchester City.

Or the new Chelsea.

Even the new Real Madrid with the phrase ‘The Galáticos’ being replaced with ‘The Gaaláticos’.

Truth is, they were always that.

They just hadn’t flexed this muscle as often in the previous few seasons.

There were clubs who spent more than United during Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure, sure.

But United were invariably coming from a healthy position of talent.

When they had to spend big to address any discrepancies they may have had - they did.

Sir Alex Ferguson broke the British transfer record five times alone.

Five times.

The only reason it’s not six is because Robinho signed the same night as Dimitar Berbatov.

The Brazilian forward becoming the first major signing to symbolise Manchester City’s ‘buying success’ period.

He cost a mere £1.75 million more than what their city rivals had just paid.

The following summers saw an increase in City’s spending but only because they were starting from a distance back.

They needed to play catch-up first to obtain success before they could try sustain it.

A much more expensive game.

A game of heavy spending that inflation has a habit of distorting.

But just as Chelsea or Manchester City needed to do so of late - United needed to play catch up on Arsenal in the summer of 1998.

It was a huge summer.

A £27 million size summer.

Dwight Yorke, Jaap Stam, Jasper Blomqvist all bought in.

Almost triple the amount spent by their nearest rivals.

An historic treble followed.

A treble funded by the largest outlay any English club had green lighted before.

Manchester City have been the most recent club accused of buying success.

But it’s been a long time since a team hasn’t.

The last of the non ‘big’ teams to win the league was Blackburn Rovers.

Bankrolled by the treasure chest of Jack Walker, they paid huge sums for various players at the time.

The British transfer record was broke to bring Alan Shearer to Ewood Park before they won the title.

Job done.

There’s even teams in the Premier League who have spent massive amounts to ‘buy success’ yet just haven’t achieved the desired results that go with this expression of intended derision.

Liverpool have spent more than Manchester United in the Premier League era.

Tottenham Hotspur have spent more than Arsenal.

The only difference between what they did and Manchester City or Chelsea did is the amount spent in the first few seasons of this ‘new’ money.

Playing catch-up meant they had to spend big to jump up to a level playing field with the established clubs.

But just as this season sees Manchester City spending only £50 million compared to their previous larger amounts - a plateau invariably occurs.

Resulting in spending now that equates little difference to the regular spends of Manchester United, Liverpool, Arsenal or Tottenham of certain periods in the last 22 years.

£154 million was a huge outlay.

And one suspects there will be more money spent come January and next summer.

But it’s no different to breaking the British transfer record to bring Juan Sebastien Veron to the club for £28.1 million in 2001.

Nor is it any different to breaking the world transfer record for a defender when they brought in Rio Ferdinand for £29.1 million in 2002.

Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Ruud Van Nistelrooy the same.

All 5 times Sir Alex Ferguson broke the British transfer record was an example of a big club buying success.

It’s been that way for a long, long time.

Manchester United haven’t become the new Chelsea.

Haven’t become the new Manchester City either.

And they certainly haven’t sold their soul.

They’re just back to their traditional Manchester United selves.

The original big spenders of the Premier League.

Intent on buying success again...

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Mark's Noble Decision

Mark Noble is eligible to play for the Republic of Ireland.

He was born in England.

He has played for England.

He has even captained England.

But his Grandparents are Irish.

According to FIFA, this makes him eligible.

It’s that simple.

If Mark was to play for the Republic of Ireland in their next game against Gibraltar - nobody could have a problem.

Not the English FA.

Not the FA of Ireland.

Neither UEFA nor FIFA.

Nobody could have a problem at all.

Nobody except Mark that is.

After all is said and done, with rulebooks checked and applications processed, there remains only one simple hurdle in the path of the player playing for the birth country of his Grandparents.

Mark Noble does not want to play for the Republic of Ireland.

Or perhaps more pertinently, Mark Noble does not want to play for the Republic of Ireland, yet.

And it’s the use of the word ‘yet’ that has turned this story into a debate.

Dave Kitson was available to represent the Irish national side.

He made it clear from the beginning that he didn’t feel Irish and didn’t feel it would be right to play for Ireland.

He falls into the category of ‘not wanting to play for Ireland’.

So too, do Zat Knight, Anton Ferdinand and Curtis Davis.

All players eligible to play for Ireland.

All players who’d rather have represented their country of birth and were prepared to finish their careers uncapped than represent the birth country of a member of their family.

The difference between all of them and Mark of course, is the little word ‘yet’.

Mark has already told us he would rather play for England.

He has told us this for many years.

And for that he deserved respect.

He was biding his time for an opportunity.

But as the door opened with the retirement of Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, it subsequently closed with the call-ups of Jack Colback and Fabian Delph.

This was the chance Mark had waited for.

Instead it went to two younger, fresher midfielders.

If Mark wants to play international football, he will most probably now have to switch allegiance.

A topic which is not unfamiliar.

The Republic of Ireland have benefited aplenty in the past.

Most nations have at some stage.

Only last year did a tug of war take place between Spain and Brazil for the services of Diego Costa.

The same Spain and Brazil who were favourites to lift the World Cup.

Diego had the opportunity to play for both and chose Spain.

He turned down the chance to play for Brazil in a World Cup in Brazil.

That’s how much he wanted to play for the Spanish national team.

Winners of the actual tournament Germany, had two Polish born players.

Runners-up Argentina had a Frenchman.

Third place Netherlands had players born in Portugal, Canada and Switzerland.

But for every Miroslav Klose, Lucas Podolski and Gonzalo Higuain - there is a Kevin Prince-Boateng.

Mercenary extraordinaire.

At the age of 27, he has amassed a grand total of fifteen caps for Ghana.

Seven of which came in World Cup tournaments.

Five in World Cup build up games.

And only three other ‘non World Cup related’ appearances.

You get the feeling if he was in Mark’s situation, he might wait until the Euro 2016 campaign starts to show more than just promise.

No show of national pride like in the case of Diego, who turned down the opportunity of playing for his country of birth at a World Cup in his country of birth.

You don’t get much more noble than that.

Not every switch of allegiance is as extreme a case of course.

For every Kevin-Prince, there is a Kevin Kilbane, a Clinton Morrison and a Paul Butler.

The question of Mark’s ability compared to these guys should be asked.

Not his ability on the football pitch mind.

His ability to affect the Irish squad.

Of which he can affect massively.

Just maybe not in a positive way.

Or just maybe not in a positive way, yet...

Monday, 1 September 2014

Does England Have The Premier League?

The hyperbole machine is in full flow this month.

We’ve been told the best league in the world has returned.

We’ve been told the most entertaining league in the world has returned.

We’ve been told the most competitive league in the world has returned.

Problem is - We’re just not sure if it’s returned to England.

The Premier League hyperbole machine will tell us it has of course.

They’ll tell us just about anything about how eminent the league is.

But it continuously fails to mention the most pertinent description it can offer - the best branded league in the world.

The Premier League has an awful lot going for it.

Most fans.

Most watched.

Most money.

Off the pitch it’s unbeatable.

It’s on the pitch the problems lie.

Season after season the best the Premier League has to offer seems to be off to La Liga.

Cristiano Ronaldo was the first major talent to leave in recent seasons.

Manchester United’s main man.

He was followed by Cesc Fabrages.

Arsenal’s main man.

Gareth Bale then picked up both player of the year awards.

Then promptly picked up and left.

The trend continued this summer when multiple player of the year award winner Luis Suarez landed in Barcelona.

Yet when we look at the reverse transfer dealings, it’s not the top players or star men of Spanish clubs that head for the shores of England.

As usual, Diego Costa aside, it was another summer of England’s finest picking off what Spain’s finest decided to cast off.

Barcelona decided Cesc Fabregas was surplus to requirements after they signed Suarez.

Alexis Sanchez too.

Much like when Bale arrived last summer and Mesut Ozil was allowed to leave, this year it was the turn of Angel DiMaria who was free to go.

Available for transfer only after Real Madrid had sufficiently bolstered their squad with the best there was to offer.

When it comes to individual awards, the English league’s top players rarely feature either.

Since 2010, only Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic have made the FIFPro team of the year.

Not that the Germans or Italians have featured prominently either.

It’s the Spanish who have dominated completely.

Of the 44 players chosen since the turn of the decade, 34 have come from the Spanish league.

32 players more than the ‘best league in the world’.

Of course, It’s not just the players who make the league.

The teams are primary.

And right now it’s hard to look past the elite of the Spanish and German leagues.

An all Spanish affair in the final of the Champions League last season.

An all German affair the season before.

In fact, if it wasn’t for Chelsea flying the flag for the Premier League, it would be pretty poor reading in the Champions League over the past three seasons.

Manchester City have gone out in the group stages twice and the last 16 once.

Manchester United have gone out in the group stages, the last 16 and the quarter finals.

While Arsenal have not made it past the last 16 any of the seasons.

Even Chelsea, with their triumph 3 seasons ago have exited the competition at the group stage too.

Hardly statistics to back up the title of best league in the world.

Hyperbole will argue that the Premier League is more competitive of course.

It’s only the big two in Spain and the big one in Germany.

A quick look back over the last 10 years reveal otherwise.

All three countries have had a dominant club in the league - Manchester United (5 times winners), Barcelona (6), Bayern Munich (6).

Followed by a secondary team - Chelsea (3), Real Madrid (3), Borussia Dortmund (2).

And some less successful clubs - Manchester City (2), Atletico Madrid (1), Wolfsburg (1) and Schalke (1).

Tough to argue it’s more competitive when only 3 teams have won the league in the last 1o years - the same as it’s La Liga counterparts and 1 less then the Bundesliga.

The battle for the Champions League places, or top four, is even less compelling reading.

Only 7 teams have qualified from England in the last 10 years.

The supposedly less competitive nation of Germany has had 9 qualifiers.

The supposedly even less competitive Spanish league has had 12.

Examining the top 4 of each league last season pours further cold water on the argument of competitiveness.

The top 4 in the Premier League dropped a combined total of 125 points last season.

Only 3 points more than the combined total of the top 4 in both Spain and Germany - equal on 122.

Hardly convincing evidence that the other leagues are dominated by just the elite.

A look further down the league tables suggests the strength lies in the other two leagues as well.

In the last 3 seasons 5 teams from Spain have made the semi-finals of the Europa League, winning it twice.

Just the 1 English representative here - Chelsea again.

In the week that Hull City crashed out before the group stages even begun, it was another reminder of what little success English clubs have had of late compared to their Spanish counterparts.

It’s not all grim reading of course.

The likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal are still up there with the best in the world.

Likewise players such as Angel DiMaria, Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez.

Even the clubs that have competed in the Europa League from England are good clubs who have had success in the past.

All pointing to England’s elite competition being one of the best in the world.

But that’s not being questioned.

The English League is no doubt up there with the best in the world.

It may be that it’s just not the premier league...