PFA Awards: Team of the Year & Ronaldo wins (yet) again

On April 28, 2008 by

It came as no surprise this morning when I woke up to the BBC Sport headline crowning Cristiano Ronaldo as the PFA player of the year.

The Manchester United winger was the stand-out player this season. I often think that the PFA award is a foregone conclusion and this year was nothing different. His goals from midfield coupled with his general all-round play have been genuinely first rate.

He was in the running to scoop the Young Player of the Year award as well but lost out to Arsenal’s Spanish international Cesc Fabregas. It is just me who thinks that if you are Player of the Year and are eligible for Young Player of the Year then you should automatically win the latter category?

It is like saying that Ronaldo is the best player in the Premiership but when it comes to under-23 year-olds, Fabregas was better than him. It really doesn’t make a lot of sense does it?

The Premier League Team of the Year was as follows:

David James (Portsmouth), Bacary Sagna (Arsenal), Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd), Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd), Gael Clichy (Arsenal), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal), Fernando Torres (Liverpool).

So no Chelsea players made it despite them fighting for the title. Only two players from outside the perceived big four – David James of Portsmouth who seems to of been a shoo-in and Ashley Young of Aston Villa – who has had an excellent season. has put together its Team of the Year:

David James (Portsmouth), Glen Johnson (Portsmouth), Rio Ferdinand (Man Utd), Nemanja Vidic (Man Utd), Joleon Lescott (Everton), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal), Cristiano Ronaldo (Man Utd), Ashley Young (Aston Villa), Emmanuel Adebayor (Arsenal), Fernando Torres (Liverpool).

We’d like to hear your opinions, please put together your Teams of the Year and comment.

Henry back in Gunner Red?

On April 25, 2008 by

Thierry Henry has not even been away a year, but it seems as though clubs are starting to form an orderly queue to bring the French star back to the league.

Newcastle United have been the first to blink with multiple reports linking them to the 30 year-old front man. With attacking manager Kevin Keegan back at the helm, the Toon Army are looking forward to a season of free-flowing football next term and with Henry possibly joining Michael Owen, it would be one of the best pairings on paper in all of World Football.

However the flamboyant Frenchman has told BBC’s Football Focus programme that he is happy in Spain and would only consider a move back to Arsenal should he return to the Premiership. Reports though are strong that he is seriously looking at leaving the Catalan giants and if he wanted to sign for Arsenal, there might just be a spot for him.

As part of the summer merry-go-round, Emmanuel Adebayor is being heavily linked with a move to Inter Milan or Juventus. The Togo front man has flattered to deceive on more than one occasion this season and coach Wenger may be willing to cash in and bring in fresh blood up front.

The first question is whether or not Arsene would welcome him back. They did leave on good terms but in the absence of Henry, players like Cesc Fabregas have stepped up and taken on the mantle of the leader. Several players have said that they felt more freedom to express themselves on the pitch since their former captain has left them.

One other big name striker has been linked with a move to the Emirates over the summer, David Villa. The Spanish international looks set for a move away from Valencia and has publicly stated that it would “be a dream” to play for Arsenal. Coach Wenger has already quashed rumours that the club are well down the road to signing Villa, but chose his words carefully as to not rule out any possible future move for the 26 year-old.

Arsenal need to make serious inroads next season and show themselves to be one of the best yet again. Otherwise changes might rapidly happen at the Emirates.

So Henry back in north London pulling on the Gunners shirt again? You wouldn’t bet against it…

FA Cave – Cardiff’s route to Europe is open

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If Cardiff City walk up those Wembley steps and lift the famous old trophy then their prize will be a place in Europe next season. However this should not be the case

As part of the deal that allows Cardiff and their fellow Welsh teams take part in the FA Cup, they know that if they won, Europe wouldn’t await them. They’ve always been told that the English FA wouldn’t nominate a non-member for one of their European spots, but this year of course, suddenly this rule came under the spotlight.

Cardiff’s run to the final has been great for the game, the whole competition has been a breath of fresh air. Should they beat their Premiership opponents on May 17th they will have thoroughly earned the right to play in the UEFA Cup next season.

The problem is the rules are being changed mid-way through the competition. Surely this can’t be the case? How would Cardiff feel if suddenly the FA decided that Jermain Defoe could play in the final despite being cup-tied?

Changing rules mid-way through any competition just isn’t on. The FA said in a statement, ”The board has given full approval for Cardiff City to participate in next season’s UEFA Cup should they win this season’s FA Cup.

Cardiff do deserve to make Europe should they win it but I just can’t get over the fact that rules are being changed. Also in the English FA Cup final, the Welsh national anthem will be sung. I don’t have too much of an issue with that but having read a few forums, then it seems many people do.

This is the showpiece event of the season for the FA and things aren’t going to plan. None of the perceived ‘big four’ are there and now there are issues with two nations being represented in a national final. It has all the makings of a very poor day for the FA one way or the other.

Stale Mate at the Camp Nou

On April 24, 2008 by

They set it up as the game that should’ve been the final. Two of Europe’s finest footballing sides faced off last night in the second Champions League semi-final. What were we treated to?

Another game of dross – just like the first semi the night before.

With beautiful players like Leonardo Messi, Deco, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo on the pitch, you’d expect a game full of wonderful, attacking, free-flowing football.

With just two minutes on the clock, United had already missed a golden opportunity to open to the scoring. Gabriel Milito needlessly left his arms in the air from a corner and when the ball struck them, the referee had no hesitation to blow his whistle and run towards the penalty spot.

Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t exactly showered with cheers as he put the ball on the spot – a Portuguese darling in Spain was never really going to be welcomed any differently I suppose. The United #7 strode up to the ball, the Barca keeper went early, he went the wrong way, but as he turned his head to see the ball flying past him, he also saw it flying past his net and rebound back off the support.

Ronaldo couldn’t believe it, the wolf whistles of derision had been replaced by jeers from the passionate Catalans. Barcelona had been let off the hook in a big way and it was to prove to be a more than frustrating night for the United player.

Barca got into their flow and started to dominate the ball without finding that killer pass. Thierry Henry was left on the bench because of a supposed stomach complaint, which was disappointing for the watching public. The build-up play of the home side was first rate but they were unable to find that killer pass.

Edwin Van Der Sar was not forced into a save of any quality and it was United who had the next real chance of the match. A defensive error sent Ronaldo through, Rafael Marquez got his body in the way and the Portuguese winger went flying. It was a penalty but the ease that Ronaldo went down and his strop afterwards when the referee chose not to give it was petulant at best.

The second half was just as dire. Samuel Eto’o could’ve won his side a penalty but chose to stay on his feet and the chance was missed. Henry came on with a quarter of an hour left and forced the United keeper into his only real save of note.

As the whistle blew for full time, most pundits would give the English side the advantage going into the second leg. However I am of the belief that 0-0 in the first leg is not a bad result for the home side, if they score at Old Trafford next Tuesday night then United have to score twice.

This one still has all to play for, just like the Chelsea v Liverpool tie. Let’s just hope that the games are worthy of a Champions League semi-final this time around.

Riise gaffe gives Blues advantage

On April 23, 2008 by

For the third time in four years, a Champions League semi-final paired off Chelsea and Liverpool. This time however one side did have serious momentum going into the second leg

As time ticked down, Liverpool were holding on to a 1-0 lead, given to them by Dutch international Dirk Kuyt in the first half. The four minutes of added time were up and the Kop were in full voice. Chelsea substitute Soloman Kalou swung in a wicked cross, which the defender had to deal with.

The defender was another substitute, John Arne Riise. The ball was dipping on him and he wasn’t sure how to deal with the ball, he had to do something otherwise Nicolas Anelka was sweeping it home behind him.

Riise chose to head the ball instead of swinging his right boot, it bounced a couple of yards in front of him and as he went to head it clear, it hit the top of his head and flew past his stranded goalkeeper.

An own-goal at the very end of the game and suddenly the balance of power shifted. The first leg being at Anfield was an advantage for the side from west London.

By winning the toss and making Liverpool shoot towards the Kop end in the first half, they had won the first psychological battle. By scoring in the last minute, they fired the final shot that’ll linger in the air for eight days.

The game itself had been about as exciting as most pundits thought it would be. At half-time the ITV punditry team of Mark Hughes and Andy Townsend alongside presenter Steve Rider raved about what a good first half it had been – were they watching the same game as the rest of the watching world?

I know they are trying to keep people from turning over, but it felt insulting to my intelligence. People knock the BBC, but if a game is bad then Alan Hansen and Alan Shearer will happily state so.

The only real action in the first half had been a couple of half chances for Joe Cole, which he failed to connect cleanly with. There was a chance for Fernando Torres, but the Spaniard took an extra touch which allowed Petr Cech to narrow the angle. Then came the two interesting incidents of the half.

Didier Drogba was put through and was bundled to the ground by a Jamie Carragher challenge. The question was whether or not the defender got a touch on the ball, replays were inconclusive but if he didn’t, then it would’ve been a free kick and the Liverpool player may well of seen red.

Liverpool’s goal came from a very soft free-kick given away by Michael Ballack. Chelsea had around 42,978 chances to clear it but chose not to and Dirk Kuyt fired a shot between the legs of the giant Chelsea keeper to put Liverpool ahead just before the interval.

The second half saw both sides have a couple of chances but nothing spectacular until the final play of the game. It was just another dull encounter and maybe we were spoilt by the Liverpool v Arsenal game in the previous round, but I just didn’t enjoy the game as a spectacle or as a game of football.

I’ll no doubt watch the second leg next week but if I didn’t have Sky+ then The Apprentice might well of won out.

Never write off Michael Owen

On April 22, 2008 by

When he burst on to the scene at the 1998 World Cup with that goal (with fantastic commentary by Brian Moore and decidingly less insightful punditry from Kevin Keegan) against Argentina, the future was bright for the fresh-faced Michael Owen

For the past ten years he has been England’s talisman, scoring big goals in big games for both club and country. He has long been seen as one of the first names on the team sheet for his country but in the past few months, things have changed for the 28 year-old.

Another new manager has come in on the national front in the form of Italian Fabio Capello. When he signed up for the role, Owen was still recovering from injury and he seemed to be well down the pecking order. Some pundits and fans were starting to knock Owen, believing that his best days were behind him and a return to former glories was just wishful thinking.

At his club side Newcastle United however, there had been a change of manager as well. Geordie hero Kevin Keegan had come back to try and restore the attacking football of the early – mid 90’s. After a sticky start, Keegan went back to basics, he used the attacking strength at his disposal to fire Newcastle away from trouble.

Michael Owen slotted into a wide position in a front three with Mark Viduka leading the line and Obafemi Martins on the opposing wing. Suddenly Newcastle transformed into life and more importantly Owen was back and firing on all cylinders.

He has reinvented himself from the off the shoulder striker that tormented defences for the first half of his career. His intelligence is vastly underrated by most, his vision is sublime, his finishing in unerring. When this man is full of confidence and playing with a smile on his face, he is one of the very best.

If England are going to win anything in the next few years then the most important single player is Michael Owen. If he’s fit and healthy, he is the one player who can carry the England team on his back. Gerrard can do it for Liverpool but not for his country, the same charges can be laid at the feet of Frank Lampard and Wayne Rooney. However Michael Owen has done it at the very top level time and time again.

The 2010 World Cup will be held in South Africa and if an England player is to lift the trophy, then Michael Owen needs to be involved and needs to be involved in a very big way.

Champions League Semi-Final Previews

On April 21, 2008 by

The Champions League has once again turned into a tour de force for the English clubs, with three of the semi-finalists coming from these shores. looks forward to the games

Liverpool v Chelsea (Tuesday ITV1)

Liverpool and Chelsea meet for the third time at this stage in four seasons. In the first game Liverpool took the spoils with a goal that never was. In the second the game went to the dreaded spot kicks. It should’ve been Jose Mourinho v Rafael Benitez III but sadly the stone-face Avram Grant will be sitting in the Chelsea dugout.

The main change this time around (apart from the managerial one) is that the second leg will be at Stamford Bridge and not Anfield. This is a huge advantage considering Liverpool’s exemplary record in European games in front of their home fans.

Chelsea have not impressed in recent weeks with a series of lacklustre displays. The charge that is often being levelled at Avram Grant is his inability to win the big one, well over the next nine days he’ll play both legs of the Champions League semi-final and on Saturday lunchtime entertain Manchester United at home in the league. I think that by the time everyone wakes up next Thursday morning, we’ll know what the future holds for the man.

Liverpool though don’t have it all plain sailing in the background either. With the boardroom at war and the manager not sure whether he is coming or going, all the focus has to be on the pitch to see if they can reach the final for the third time in four years.

Frank Lampard is available for the blues but Didier Drogba is still rated as doubtful with a knee complaint. Liverpool will welcome back talisman Steven Gerrard following a neck problem that kept him out of Saturday’s trip to Fulham. predicts that it’ll be three out of three for Rafa’s boys – and this time there will be nothing controversial.

Barcelona v Manchester United (Wednesday Sky Sports 1)

United are coming off a disappointing draw at Blackburn in the league but go into this tie as heavy favourites. Barcelona have flattered to deceive all season long and this is set to be their last hurrah before a mass squad exodus, which’ll include the manager, in the summer.

Manchester United have no new injury worries ahead of the game. Edwin Van Der Sar who missed the Blackburn trip is expected to play in goal. Barcelona welcome back Leonardo Messi to the squad – the Argentine playmaker returns after a thigh injury to bolster coach Frank Rijkaard’s options ahead of the tie.

Sir Alex Ferguson has only the one Champions League final appearance under his belt, a surprisingly low amount considering the teams he has put together. His current crop are arguably better than the 1999 version that lifted the trophy in that dramatic finalé at the Nou Camp.

Thierry Henry is well known over here in the UK as a class player, but his season at Barcelona has not gone exactly to plan. The Frenchman has been unable to settle in the Catalan capital and hasn’t set La Liga alight like most envisioned him doing. This is his chance to once again show off his talents to the watching world and possibly help his chances of a move back to the Premiership in the summer. predicts an All-English final – with Manchester United joining Liverpool in Moscow on May 21.

Game on for the title race?

On April 19, 2008 by

Just a few days after Chelsea seemingly threw away their shot at the title, they were given a second chance by a Blackburn team notorious for their performances at home against title chasers.

Chelsea had done their business in a less than impressive way by beating Everton on Thursday night. Now they were watching, hoping and praying that Blackburn could do them a favour. A goal mid-way through the first half from Santa Cruz put the home side ahead, but United had a decent penalty shout turned down by referee Rob Styles, when Wayne Rooney was challenged in the box by Steven Reid. Rob Styles’ name may well feature in this blog again before I’ve finished…

Moments after he had a penalty appeal turned down, Rooney launched into a challenge which on another day could easily of seen him sent from the field in disgrace. Then just a minute later he was kicking out at another Blackburn player – it seemed like he had lost his head and it wasn’t to be his day.

The second half though saw a completely different game and the last twenty minutes reminded me so much of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea. When his teams were behind late in the game, they seemed to just go through the gears and produce wave after wave of attack.

United had two good penalty shouts turned down by the aforementioned Styles, one for a foul on Ronaldo and another for a quite clear handball by Brett Emerton. Rooney and Ronaldo both spurned chances; the latter had seen Brad Friedel stop him on no fewer than three occasions when it seemed for all the tea in china that the net was going to bulge.

The big yank then made a quite breathtaking save to deny John O’Shea from two yards out. United were rampant knowing that a defeat would suddenly not just bring Chelsea right back in it, but possibly even make them favourites for the league. From the resulting corner though Carlos Tevez headed home from a Paul Scholes flick-on and United had their valuable point.

With three games left, United lead Chelsea by three points and get to travel to Stamford Bridge on Saturday lunchtime. With United having a substantial lead in goal difference, even a defeat at Chelsea doesn’t hurt them if they beat a woeful West Ham side and a Wigan team who’ll hope to be safe by the final day.

Manchester United should still win the title but that Carlos Tevez goal might just be the most important one of the season. Had they lost today then suddenly a very mediocre Chelsea side had their title fate in their own hands.

Manchester United deserve to win the Premiership, of that I have little doubt, however it would’ve been nice to see them lose today, thus making next Saturday’s showdown all the more important.

Shut up Tom

On April 18, 2008 by

It has only been 14 months since Liverpool fans rejoiced at the news that Tom Hicks and George Gillett were buying the club. Since that day however, the two men have very publicly fallen out, approached another manager and one of them has told the chief executive to quit.

It certainly hasn’t been the future that Liverpool fans envisioned.

What is pretty clear is that the current situation is unworkable. One of the two men have to leave, most fans seem to want them both gone. DIC (Dubai International Capital) have long been waiting in the wings to buy the club, but for some reason they’ve been unable to sort a deal with either Hicks or Gillett and no progress has been made.

The latest episode of this long-running saga has been Tom Hicks stating that Rick Parry should quit. Now Parry has the support of the majority of the board and that of his co-owner George Gillett, so by making his opinion public, he is once again at loggerheads with his partner.

Liverpool are one of the biggest clubs in the world. They are a global brand that is recognised across the planet. The current situation is all very messy and is dragging a great club through the mud.

What the club needs is firstly for everyone to stop talking in public. Having these feuds airing to the masses helps no one. Secondly one of the two men has to agree to be bought out, the fans would prefer Hicks to go but in all honesty want them both out of the club. The problem is no-one knows what DIC would be like at owning the club.

The fans got burnt when Hicks & Gillett came in, they wanted they and they got them. Manchester United supporters didn’t want the Glazer family involved in the club, but they have helped lead them back to the top of the Premiership tree. Sometimes getting what you want doesn’t work out. Hopefully for Liverpool fans, the next owner will treat the club with the respect that it deserves but for now…

Just shut up Tom.

Local Boys Done Good

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I think it’s appropriate for an Aldershot based company to open up its football blog with a story about the local club. On Tuesday night Aldershot Town returned to the Football League just sixteen years after Aldershot FC had folded.

They dominated the Blue Square Premier all season long and have been atop on the pile since early October. Promotion seemed to be more of a ‘when’ not ‘if’ question and so it was as a Scott Donnelly strike was enough to earn the all important point for the shots. 898 travelling fans joined in the celebrations down at St. James’ Park and hundreds more at bars throughout the town and across the country on Setanta Sports.

I saw the finale, including a poorly timed attempt by the touchline reporter to interview Aldershot manager Gary Waddock deep in injury time, seriously, that was never going to work. I also saw and heard several fans chanting Aldershot songs walking down the road whilst I was trying to get to sleep.

Aldershot Logo

The club can now build for an exciting future back in the Football League. With large crowds already adorning the Recreation Ground, they have the scope to make a serious impact on the league. With a big catchment area being between London, Reading & Southampton, the club can attract new fans with this recent success.

Those locals who aren’t big fans are traditionally fans of the big London clubs or Portsmouth, despite the town being nearer to other places with league clubs. These are the fans that the club will be hoping to pick up; a lot of people are getting disillusioned with the prices of top flight tickets and the chance to support a local league club will tempt people in.

Finally just a big congratulations to the club; from chairman down through the manager, the players and the fans. I have enjoyed my few trips to the Rec this season and no doubt will be popping down on occasions next season. Already next Tuesday’s home game with Weymouth is selling out fast, so if you want to celebrate the clubs success then get tickets now!