Month: February 2016

The Big Chinese Takeaway Should Be Taken Seriously

The latest English transfer window may have closed, but where one door, or window, closes another one opens, and the Chinese Super League is making one hell of an impact in Europe.

Eyebrows have been raised by the big-name additions of Ramires from Chelsea, Alex Teixeira from Shakhtar Donetsk who was a target for Liverpool and Atletico Madrid’s Jackson Martinez who all left for China for £25 million, £38 million and £31 million respectively.

Another Chelsea man, Oscar, was also subject of a whopping £75 million bid from Jiangsu Suning who are the team that lured Ramires and Teixeira to the Super League as well as Manchester City flop Jo for a more modest £8 million.

Fredy Guarin, who was touted for big things while at Porto but struggled to make much of an impact at Inter Milan, completed a switch to Shanghai for $11 million (around £7.5 million) and Shenhua can also boast Demba Ba and Tim Cahill as members of their squad.

Other big names include ex-Arsenal man Gervinho who is now at Hebei CFFC along with Stephane Mbia who will be remembered by fans of QPR, although probably not fondly, and former Tottenham midfielder Paulinho now plys his trade at Chinese champions Guangzhou Evergrande along with Martinez.

It is not just players that have made the move to Asia though. World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002 Luiz Felipe Scolari is the manager at Evergrande, journeyman Sven Goran Eriksson is the man at the helm of Shanghai, Chelsea legend Dan Petrescu is boss of the mega rich Jiangsu and one of the few Chinese players known to English fans, Li Tie, has been in charge of Hebei since August of last year. Guus Hiddink announced he had offers from China and even Jose Mourinho’s name has been banded about as a possible arrival.

Super signing: Ramires at Jiangsu

Super signing: Ramires at Jiangsu

So why is the Super League now…well, the super league?

Xi Jinping, President of China no less, happens to be a big football fan and is sick of watching his nation fall behind in the football world and has demanded the clubs spend big to attract the globe’s top talent.

The Guardian report the riches are coming from business men who are using the sport to improve their political relations and Jinping was in the UK as part of a state visit in October last year and paid a visit to Manchester City, despite being a fan of their rivals Manchester United.

Are the Chinese actually interested in the league though?

Damn right they are. From this season onwards clubs in the Super League are set to receive around $200 million (£134 million) a year as part of a five-season television deal package worth around $1.25 billion. In the 2015 season the clubs were awarded just $9 million which signals the rapid growth. To put that into some sort of context the Premier League’s three-year television deal is worth £5.14 billion which dwarfs the Super League in many respects, but the Premier League is 24 years old, the Super League has not even reached puberty yet, being just 12.

Why is the Super League different to MLS or Qatar?

Well, squad restriction is the best place to start..and China is more relaxed. American squad rules are complicated to say the least, but the headline is that MLS clubs are only allowed three “Designated” players which would be your high profile ones of Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, Thierry Henry and the like. In China you are allowed five non-Chinese players but at least one still needs to be Asian – South Korean, for example. Three plus the non-Chinese Asian are allowed in a match day squad. The Qatari league allows four foreign players with at least one being Asian.

MLS players also have a wage cap whereas Super League teams can spend whatever the hell they want and it is not unfair to say that they have been.

The national team front would also be a major difference. The Chinese FA has launched a campaign to get the national side to where they believe it belongs and in January 2015 they reached the quarter-finals of the Asia Cup – their best performance in a decade. They won all their group games but lost to hosts and eventual winners Australia.

China is planning a bid to host the 2023 Asia Cup, and Xinping has ordered that football be more prevalent in schools…and when you are a country with a population of an estimated 1.357 billion surely some of them could and will be top footballers if brought up with the sport from a young age.

Qatar already have the rights to host the 2022 World Cup, for now at least, but their approach of moving young players from African countries to Qatar so that they can citizenship before 2022 is not exactly the traditional method of grassroots.

Soccer is growing in the U.S slowly but surely, although it is still seen as a women’s game in the States due to the apparent ‘no contact’ nature of the sport – and this is highlighted by 26.7 million Americans watching the Women’s World Cup Final (won by the USA), but only 17.3 million watched the men’s team at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Is the Chinese model sustainable?

Looks like it. When you have got big business men along with the fifth richest man in the world involved, you always have a chance.

Do not be surprised if this time in the next few years, maybe even next year, you are sat in-front of your television set glued to Guangzhou Evergrande vs Jiangsu Suning and watching the players your club were after in the summer.

 

Gary Neville’s Managerial Career is Fascinating for the Neutral

Ears were pricked in England when footballer-turned-pundit Gary Neville was announced as the new manager of Valencia in early December and the ex-Manchester United right-back has certainly got people talking – although not particularly in a good way.

The appointment of Neville by the Spanish giants was an intriguing one considering the reputation Neville had earned for his analysis on Sky Sports’ flagship Monday Night Football show in which he dissected the weekend’s football with on-the-pitch adversary but off-the-pitch friend Jamie Carragher. Could he live up to the hype? Had Sky Sports produced the next big thing in management? Had a future England manager been found?

So far, the answer is an unequivocal ‘no’. The current England coach has guided his first club to a grand total of zero wins from his first eight league games, suffered defeat at home to Lyon which resulted in Los Che exiting the Champions League at the group stages and in his most recent game, Barcelona annihilated the 2004 La Liga champions 7-0 at the Nou Camp in the Copa del Rey semi-final first-leg.

Twitter was awash with criticism for Neville, citing that punditry is a lot easier than being a manager, which alluded to a Jose Mourinho quote when Neville was initially unveiled as the Valencia boss.

“On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen.”

Neville’s standing as a pundit is expected to take a hit as a result of his poor start to life in management with the fickle nature of the football fan quick to jump on his failings, but the reality is that Neville was and is the finest footballing mind that we have had on T.V for a long while, possibly ever.

Having only retired in 2011, Neville’s inputs are fresh and genuinely insightful and this should not be forgotten purely because he has as yet failed to practice what he preaches. Film reviewer Mark Kermode cannot act and X Factor judge Simon Cowell cannot sing. Neville could play and pundit, and his managerial career is still young.

What is fascinating about Neville currently though is his press conferences as he is still behaving like the man of Monday night.

"On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen."

“On the bench, you cannot stop the video, touch the screen and make movements happen.”

This is incredibly refreshing to the fans and to the media who are so accustomed to tired cliches and empty statements, but Neville is genuine box office, even if it is due to unfortunate circumstances.

Following Wednesday’s walloping at the hands of Barcelona, Neville was seething at his squad and commenting like he was pointing at a tactics board as opposed to being sat at a desk while being peppered by the world’s press.

“I won’t sleep well tonight, I didn’t like what I saw, the Valencia fans didn’t deserve that tonight and we’ve got to recover incredibly quickly,” Neville said

“I wish the (Real) Betis game started in ten minutes, it’s going to be a painful three or four days. I know that. (This is) one of the most painful experiences I’ve had in football, they happen, I had some as a player, and now I’m experiencing some as a manager, but belief in myself is fine, I’ve got no problems with that.”

When asked whether he was considering resigning, a flat “no” was the response as the chewing gum in his mouth seemed to be masticated a little bit more intensely and the stare started to glare much like the only club manager he ever worked for – a certain Sir Alex Ferguson.

He was also quizzed on what he would have made of the result had he been a pundit, and, after a minor display of annoyance doubting the originality of the journalist’s question he responded:

“I would have been critical. I sit here as a coach and I won’t go into detail like I would if I was a pundit, but that was a really poor performance from us tonight. Forget the scoreline. Tonight for some reason we went back a step, a big step.”

It is now up to Neville that his next step is a forward one with a much-needed win against Betis on Sunday, otherwise the step after that could be one back into the Sky Sports studio with Carragher.

John Terry: A Tribute to Mr.Chelsea

Chelsea’s 5-1 win over MK Dons in the FA Cup on Sunday was instantly forgotten about by anyone that has a connection with the team from west London as and when their club captain John Terry announced that he will leave Stamford Bridge at the end of the 2015-16 season.

MK Dons were not even in existence when Terry made his senior professional debut as a late substitute in a League Cup match against Aston Villa at the tender age of 17 in 1997. Six years later he would be appointed captain of his beloved Blues, four years after a brief loan spell at first division side Nottingham Forest.

Terry had benefited from years of tutoring from 1998 World Cup winners Marcel Desailly and Frank Lebouef who both, like Terry, were tough, combative, no-nonsense centre halves who it is evident provided the iconic defender with many of the qualities that endeared him to the Chelsea faithful.

He first wore the armband in 2001 when he was only 21 years old – showing maturity and leadership well beyond his years.

It was Desailly that Terry took over the role as captain on a permanent basis from in 2003 following the Frenchman’s retirement and the decision to name Terry as skipper was the first of many seismic impacts Jose Mourinho made at Chelsea during his first stint as manager.

Immediate success followed as Mourinho’s men won a League Cup and Premier League double with Terry leading a team that fought the league crown off Arsenal who the year before had gone through an entire season unbeaten. It was Chelsea’s first top division title in 50 years and ‘JT’ won a number of personal awards too – he was named the PFA Player of the Year, the Champions League Defender of the Year and he also earned a spot in the FIFA World Team of the Year. His finest moment on a personal point though would perhaps be his dramatic header in the topsy-turvy 4-2 Champions League win over Barcelona in the last 16 of the Champions League which, prior to 2012, was probably the finest European night in Chelsea’s history. Prior to Terry’s header Chelsea had raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes but conceded two via the enigmatic Ronaldinho and were heading out – but the skipper’s winner from a corner with just 15 minutes remaining booked a quarter-final tie against Bayern Munich.

barca

Bolt from the Blue: John Terry’s late header wins it for Chelsea

Domestic trophies would continue to pile up. Back-to-back league titles were secured in the 2005-06 season and, despite not being able to retain the championship for a third year, Chelsea did win the 2007 League Cup and the first FA Cup final at the newly-built Wembley Stadium with a 2-1 win over Manchester United.

Silverware eluded him in the 2007-08 campaign but his determination for more medals never wavered. In December 2007 Terry suffered three broken bones in his foot and was expected to be ruled out for three months – he captained his club in the League Cup final against Tottenham Hotspur two months later, demonstrating his commitment to any cause Chelsea were a part of as well as his own desire to win every match and trophy possible.

Another FA Cup would follow in 2008-09 and his third Premier League medal would be hung around his neck in Carlo Ancelotti’s first year in charge at Stamford Bridge, as did FA Cup number four a year later. During the summer of 2009 Terry was constantly linked with a move to Manchester City, who had recently been taken over by the Abu Dhabi United Group, and his loyalty ‘was tested, as was the nerves of his fans, but a new deal was eventually signed, much to the relief of anyone who supported the team who dons the darker shade of blue and the legendary status of the captain and leader was only increased.

Ancelotti would be sacked just 12 months later after a trophy less campaign, but the finest accolade of Terry’s career was just around the corner.

Andre Villas-Boas’ tenure at Chelsea would be a turbulent one – and one that Terry received criticism for apparently leading a revolt against the inexperienced Portuguese coach, but the sacking of ‘AVB’ led to the hiring of Roberto di Matteo and the first ever Champions League win in Chelsea’s history, although their captain missed the final due to kneeing Alexis Sanchez in the lower back in the semi-final second-leg at the Nou Camp. That did not stop Terry donning full kit and lifting ‘Ol Big Ears’ with vice-captain Frank Lampard. Also, you guessed it; the Blues would also win another FA Cup.

Although Terry missed the Munich final, his leadership throughout the campaign was pivotal. Chelsea could have gone out in the group stages if they lost their last game against Valencia, but a win secured top spot in the group and then dramatic wins were needed in the last 16 against Napoli, Benfica and Barcelona, with Terry being a rock at the back in a tireless performance in defence in a 1-0 win over the Catalan giants in the first leg in the English capital.

The Rafa Benitez interim era was a tough one for at Chelsea. The fans hated a man who in the past had taken digs at the club for waving plastic flags at Champions League matches and John Terry especially never warmed to the Spaniard as the ex-Liverpool boss was sceptical he could play twice a week.

Someone would end up being proved wrong though, and it was not Terry. Mourinho’s return to SW6 would not end with a trophy in his first year back, but it did see the rejuvenate of Terry to the first-team fold as the captain played in 47 games and 34 out of a possible 38 of these in the Premier League.

It would be the season after though that Terry would really show Benitez what he was missing.

Chelsea romped to the Premier League title; clear of nearest rivals Manchester City by eight points, and lost only three matches and Terry played every single minute of every single game. Two games a week? Easy.

Winner: Terry's fourth and final Premier League trophy.

Winner: Terry’s fourth and final Premier League trophy.

This season has been a difficult one. Mourinho has been sacked, fans have booed their team off and the Premier League champions at the time of writing sit in 13th, making them the worst holders in recent memory, but there has been one constant in all of this – the never-say-die attitude of one John George Terry.

Terry’s goodbye at the end of the season will be a heartfelt one and one that many fans will struggle to get over. The club has lacked leadership following the departures in recent years – the likes of Petr Cech, Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba, and Terry’s contract not being renewed signals the last of the ‘old guard’ leaving.

Terry said in his leaving statement that: “The club will move on. No player is ever bigger than the club. Ideally I would have loved to stay, but the club is moving in a different direction” – maybe not a direction a lot of fans will like.