Sunday, 3 April 2011

Young Player of the Year - The Contenders


As we come to the business end of the season, speculation begins as to who will take the Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year crowns.

James Milner was the recipient of last year's title earning himself a big money summer move to Manchester City where he is yet to shine.

With this season drawing to a close, here is a run down of this year's contenders for the coveted PFA Young Player of the Year Crown.

Gareth Bale
Club: Tottenham Hotspur
Position: Left Wing

Gareth Bale really started to show the Premier League what he could do towards the latter stages of the 09-10 season, when Harry Redknapp moved the Welshman into more of an advanced left-wing role after a less than successful spell for the youngster in his more familiar full back position.

The former Southampton youngster has flourished in a more attacking role, playing with more space and freedom and being the spearhead for many Spurs attacks throughout the year, and looking to be the natural heir to Ryan Giggs in the Welsh national side.

Some of Bale's performances this season have been nothing short of breathtaking, with the whole world now starting to sit up and take notice after two devastating performances in the UEFA Champions League against Inter Milan, including a hat-trick at the San Siro.

Injuries have hampered Bale as of late and could be a deciding factor when the voting takes place, this coupled with Bale's most impressive performances coming in European competition rather than the Premier League.

Jack Wilshere
Club: Arsenal
Position: Central Midfield

Wilshere has been possibly the most consistent of all contenders in the running for this award, being one of Arsenal's outstanding performers throughout the season.

Since breaking into the Arsenal squad, Wilshere has been tipped for big things, but nobody was expecting things to progress quite as quickly as they did.

A successful loan spell at Bolton Wanderers last season really helped Wilshere settle into Premier League life and enjoy a run of first team action, a move which not only benefited the player, but proved to be a masterclass by his manager Arsene Wenger.

This season Wilshere has eclipsed all expectation showing incredible maturity in his play way ahead of his years, which has in turn captured the attention of England boss Fabio Capello.

Wilshere has now not only established himself as one of the key members of Arsenal's title challenging side, but also has been mooted as England's number one hope for the future, and hopefully the man to break the stagnant Lampard and Gerrard partnership.

Wilshere was the one shining light for Arsenal in an otherwise forgettable night in Barcelona as Arsenal were sent crashing out of the UEFA Champions League, although his domestic performances have been just as impressive.

Without doubt a future England captain, and if he isn't to win the PFA award this year, the smart money would be on him to win it at least once before he reaches the 23 year old age limit.

Javier Hernandez
Club: Manchester United
Position: Striker

"Chicharito" signed for United towards the latter stages of last season's campaign as a relative unknown, with Sir Alex Ferguson citing that they had to act before the World Cup would raise not only his profile but also his value.

This proved to be a wise move as Man Utd fans began to drool with excitement after seeing their latest recruit net goals against both France and Argentina.

A £7million price tag at the time seemed like it could be a gamble for a relative unknown, but after his debut season in the Premier League will now surely be seen as one of the bargains of the century, particularly given the nature of the inflated transfer market.

The man they call Little Pea has netted 17 times in 35 appearances so far for the Red Devils, with 11 of these coming in the Premier League.

The young Mexican has been dubbed as the natural replacement to Old Trafford legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer due to his killer instinct and eye for goal, as well as his ability to impact on a game when coming off the bench.

His frightening speed and dangerous runs have caused many problems for Premiership defences and his recent good form has kept the League's top goalscorer Dimitar Berbatov out in the cold.

A developing partnership with Wayne Rooney looks as though it could be successful for years to come.

Samir Nasri
Club: Arsenal
Position: Attacking Midfield

Nasri's third season in English football has been without a doubt his most successful to date.

The Frenchman's talent has been evident for years, but until now has struggled to keep up his good form on a regular basis.

This season Nasri has established himself as one of Arsenal's key figures, beating Andrey Arshavin to The Gunners wide left position, as well as providing an ample deputy in the middle of the park, occasionally filling in in the absence of Cesc Fabregas.

The former Marseille man has had his most prolific season in front of goal this season for Arsenal finding the net 14 times, with 9 of these coming in the Premiership.

Injuries have of late hampered his season and maybe to an extent Arsenal's title push, with Nasri trying to recapture his early season form just in time for the title run in.

At 23 years of age, Nasri will too be considered for the PFA's main award and Arsenal fans will be expecting to see more of the same next season.

Andy Carroll
Club: Liverpool
Position: Striker

Despite now being a Liverpool player, it is Carroll's hard work and efforts as a Newcastle United player which see him as one of the front runners for this season's PFA crown.

After promotion back to the big time, Geordies were hailing 'The next Alan Shearer' and a hatful of goals from their local hero in the opening weeks of Newcastle's campaign gave them every reason to be optimistic for the future.

Carroll hit the ground running in the first half of the season, and after a successful season in the Championship last season, had to problem carrying his goalscoring form up to the highest level.

An all round athlete, Andy Carroll seems every bit the ideal Centre Forward, strong, good the in the air, able to hold the ball up and he possesses a sweet left foot.

Good performances led to an England call up with Carroll and Rooney looking to be the likely strike partnership for England in the future.

But with the good performances and 11 Premier League goals came the inevitable transfer speculation, and despite Newcastle's reluctance to sell the big man, they could not resist an audacious £35million bid from Liverpool to replace the departing Fernando Torres.

Injuries have hampered his start at Anfield and since his big money January move he is yet to score first goal for Liverpool, despite netting his first International goal against Ghana at Wembley last week.

As the eighth most expensive player of all time surely Andy Carroll must be considered for the award?

Prediction

It has been a particularly encouraging season for young talent, particularly considering that 3 of the 5 front runners for this season's award are British.

While all players have offered a great deal to their clubs this season, many of the players have missed chunks of the season due to injury.

For example Gareth Bale, despite now being dubbed as one of the World's best players, he has suffered as of late from injuries and many of his best performances have come in the UEFA Champions League, whereas this award is more based on domestic performance.

As far as I'm concerned this season's award will go to Jack Wilshere.

Despite being the youngest of the five, Wilshere has been almost ever present for Arsenal this season and has slotted straight into the side without having to be eased in.

His maturity incredible to watch and his movement both on and off the ball allows Arsenal to create chances and link up with his team mates non-stop, much in the same mould that either Xavi or Iniesta would do at Barcelona.

All he needs to add to his game is to chip in with a few more goals and assists which will come as soon as he is the focal point of Arsenal's midfield.

With so much praise and so much being made of his rise, and his emergence as an important player for England, I see Wilshere taking the award, being run close by both Nasri and Hernandez.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Jack Wilshere IS The Future Of English Football

Now the whole Wayne Rooney transfer saga has been put to bed, and has been dealt with, I’d like to turn my attention to another player, one who in my opinion is the brightest young talent in English Football and the most exciting player to come through the ranks, since Wayne Rooney himself.

At just 18 years of age, Jack Wilshere has already established himself as a key player for Arsenal, as well as forcing his way into Fabio Capello’s England, notching up his first cap for his country in August’s friendly against Hungary, making his England’s 10 Youngest player of all time.

Having first seen Wilshere play, during Arsenal’s pre season preparations ahead of the 2008/9 season, I realised that we were dealing with a special player, I just didn’t realise at first just how special.

First team chances were limited at Arsenal and after impressing for the Youth and Reserve sides, as well as during Carling Cup outings, he was farmed out to Owen Coyle’s Bolton Wanderers where he could cut his teeth and get some real Premier League experience.

Despite being the young hand amongst older heads at the Reebok, Wilshere continued to flourish, with performances reminiscent of somebody who was passing on his knowledge to others, and giving the impression this was a league he had be acquainted to for some time.

His impact at Bolton was so big that Owen Coyle tried to keep him for another year, a move that was blocked by Gunners boss Arsene Wenger, who had his own plans for the Stevenage-born teenager.

Wenger, who has a keen eye for youngsters, (no pun intended) is often criticised for the lack of home-grown talent coming through the ranks at The Emirates Stadium, but of late has started to push through some hugely talented British youngsters alongside Wilshere, particularly the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Kieron Gibbs, both also tipped to star in years to come.

Despite impressing in recent years, it is the beginning of this season 2010/11 which has seen Wilshere really start to grab the headlines and attention. Injuries to Cesc Fabregas and with Aaron Ramsey still recovering from his horrific broken leg, Wilshere perhaps was lucky to earn his chance a little sooner than expected.
His performances so far this season so far however have made him a mainstay in the Arsenal lineup, meaning that once the team is back to full strength, Wenger will have a huge selection headache, with Wilshere really staking his claim to be a central figure in Arsenal’s season.

The one blip so far in the youngster’s early career was his red card last weekend for a challenge on Birmingham City’s Nicola Zigic. Despite this, the situation was dealt with by Wilshere with maturity way ahead of his age, by immediately expressing is sorrow and regret for the challenge.

The timing of this was unfortunate for the teenager, given that the main talking point in the Premier League especially at the moment is tackling, and how the standards in that respect seems to be slipping. Wilshere’s challenge however was merely mistimed and it is clear to see from both the replays, and from both his and his manager’s reactions to this, that there was no intent in the tackle, other than to claim the ball.

He followed this up just day’s later by pulling all the strings for Arsenal in their 5-1 demolition of Shakhtar Donetsk, even scoring himself to prove that not even Europe’s biggest competition is enough to faze him at this point.
Wilshere’s sudden emergence and jump to prominence could be the solution to a great deal of problem’s in this country.

First of Arsenal fans have been left drooling at the wizardry and intelligence of their new boy wonder, who looks set to have a long and promising career ahead of him at The Emirates Stadium.

The same however cannot be said for Arsenal team-mate and current Gunner Captain, Cesc Fabregas, who seems destined to be heading back to his boyhood club Barcelona in the summer.

Although Arsenal fans would love to see the pair playing together for years to come in a midfield partnership that could potentially be as devastating and penetrating of that of Xavi and Iniesta at Barcelona, Wilshere’s recent performances will go along way to easing the minds of fans who were worried about how the club would replace their talismanic captain.

Secondly, and perhaps on a note that will appeal to more fans in this country, we could perhaps be looking at the man who can finally throw some life into Fabio Capello’s England.
For years, fans have been forced to see Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, both terrific players, spoiling themselves to supporters around the country as they continue to prove they simply cannot play alongside each other in England’s midfield.
Wilshere who can play comfortably anywhere across the middle, could be to England’s future and could break up the frustrating Gerrard/Lampard partnership and be the creative spark or whippet in the centre that we have been looking for.

His passing and moving is phenomenal, and while youth is still on his side, has the energy to get himself all over the park, with vision and precision good enough to penetrate the world’s top sides.

There’s no denying that when International weekend comes, it is something that not many Premier League fans look forward to, as it breaks up the league fixtures at what always seems to be a crucial or exciting time, and we are forced to watch a usually fairly dull and lifeless England side, try as they might.

However, it England were to play more attractive style, perhaps a similar style to Arsenal, playing nice attractive, fancy, free flowing football, then it would without a doubt be something fans up and down the country would look forward to. Maybe introducing one player in Wilshere may not be enough to do this and work miracles, but would certainly liven up and inject a bit of creativity and finesse into England.

Personally, I’d love to see Jack playing both for Arsenal and England in an old school Number 10 style role. Being the kind of player who can drop deep to pick up the ball and really run with the ball through the middle, whilst also being the main playmaker and focal point of the team, similarly to that we used to see from Diego Maradona or Michel Platini.

At just 18 years of age, Wilshere still has years ahead of him, and as with any up and coming prodigy, we can expect to see him being rested frequently, particularly this season to avoid burn out or injury, but rest assured, Jack the Lad has a long and prosperous career ahead of him, and could be, scratch that, will be one of Arsenal and England’s key players for years to come.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Fergie Taking Bebe Steps

Manchester United fans will tonight get a chance to catch their first glimpse of summer signing, Bebe.

United travel to Championship side Scunthorpe in the Carling Cup, looking to defend the crown they won by defeating Aston Villa 2-1 at Wembley earlier this year.

Sir Alex has hinted that as usual in this competition, the youth will get their chance at Glanford Park, and the 20 year old Portugese youngster will be looking forward to making his first competitive appearance for the current holders.

Speaking to the club’s website, Ferguson said:

“A lot of my young players will play. Bebe is training very well. He’ll be involved tomorrow night.”


Bebe has received a lot of media attention since his surprise summer switch to Old Trafford after his new manager admitted that for the first time he had splashed out on a relative unknown who he had never seen play before.

After being highly recommended by former Assistant Manager, Carlos Queiroz, and reported interested from Real Madrid, United splashed out for the attacker, paying £7.4million to Vitória de Guimarães for his services before he had even made a competitive appearance for the club.

Despite his apparent talent and skill which attracted Sir Alex to sign the former Portugese Homeless World Cup star, recent reports have suggested that he has failed to live up to his heavy price tag.

In games for Portugal Under 21’s and Manchester United Reserves, Bebe’s performances have been heavily scrutinised and now judging eyes will be cast over him tonight, with the pressure on to repay the United faithful in his first game.

With Michael Owen already assured of a start up front, and Federico Macheda and Javier Hernandez also vying for striking places, it remains to be seen whether Bebe will be deployed from a wide position, or whether he will make a late arrival from the bench.

Either way, the youngster is fully capable in his own ability and is looking forward to having a successful career at Old Trafford.

“I am going to be a brilliant player for Manchester United. Sir Alex has told me he is very happy with me and he wants me to train more and get into the first team.”

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Gary Ablett Interview


Ahead of already relegated Stockport County's match against Huddersfield Town, I spoke to Hatters boss and former Liverpool defender Gary Ablett about the game itself, his thoughts on a difficult season and the future of the cash strapped club.



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Matthew Tait Interview


This week I caught up with Sale Sharks and England Centre Matthew Tait ahead of the Sharks huge relegation clash with Newcastle.

Matthew told us about the game itself, how he feels about playing against his brother Alex, and where his only future lies....

Friday, 2 April 2010

Rooney's loss is Berba's gain


As Manchester United stumped to a largely unimpressive 2-1 defeat to Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena on Tuesday, they left the stadium not only knowing that they would have to overturn the scoreline at home next week, but knowing they would have to do so without their 34 goal talisman, Wayne Rooney.

The in-form United and England striker signalled to the bench that there was a problem in the final minute of the game, and scans have revealed that Rooney has suffered ankle ligament damage, which will leave Rooney out of action for around three weeks.

While fans are praying that their converted scouser will be back in time to face Manchester City at Eastlands on 17th April, they have already come to terms with the face that he will be missed for the return leg with Bayern, as well as Saturday's crunch league tie at home to Chelsea.

Step forward... Dimitar Berbatov

United's record signing, although in good form as of late, tends to be overlooked by Sir Alex in many of the Reds' big games, with Wayne Rooney normally preferred as a lone striker.

As with many key clashes this season, many will expect to see Ferguson deploy the 4-5-1 formation again, and opt for more strength in the midfield and aiming to control the game from there.

With injuries to the likes of Rooney and Owen, Berbatov will be seen as United's only real viable striking option, particularly for their next two fixtures, with the inexperienced Diouf and Macheda only expected to feature late on if needed.

Despite having been in good form this season, many United fans will still feel that they have perhaps not yet seen the Bulgarian at his best, and recapturing the sintillating style of play, seen in his Tottenham days.



In fact, Berbatov has split opinions amongst United fans, with often his laxidasical approach at times criticised for not working hard enough for the team.

What must be remembered is that Berbatov's touch and control is second to none, and he is as intelligent a footballer seen at Old Trafford since the likes of Eric Cantona and Teddy Sheringham.

Berbatov, although may not always be seen busting a gut to reach the ball, or breaking much of a sweat, his input should not be under-rated. Berbatov came 2nd in last season's Premier League assist table, and despite not scoring quite as many as Rooney this season, or Ronaldo last, his input into the teams style of play and fluidity should not be taken lightly.

Injuries to Wayne Rooney and Michael Owen, will mean that Berbatov will have to adapt again, with more expected of him in the mean time. The games will give him the chance to prove that he can not only play second fiddle to Wayne Rooney, but he also be there to drive the team forward in a similar fashion.

The upcoming games against Chelsea and Bayern could make or break The Reds' season, and there will be alot of pressure on the Bulgarian captain. United are by no means a one man team, as many ABU's will seem to suggest, but nonetheless, United fans would be much more confident going into the game with a fully fit and in form Wayne Rooney, but for now they will have to put their trust in Berbatov, and he is going to have to show he is ready to repay the £30.75million transfer fee paid for him.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Garry's Cooking Up A Recipe For Disaster


Despite being by far the world's richest football club, Manchester City have managed to do what they do best, and again make things hard for themselves.

City's problems lie much deeper than just who they can spend £50m plus on in the forthcoming transfer window, or whether they will be playing Champions League football next season, but more the fact that just when they seemed to have found something that vaguely resembled stability at the club in Mark Hughes, he was shown the door.

The reason behind the recent problems at the club? Hughes? Robinho? More money than sense? No, the main reason behind the circus that is Manchester City is none other than its own bumbling ring-leader, Garry Cook.

The man trusted with the everyday running of the football club seems to have been intent on putting himself in the spotlight since his arrival at the club in 2008.

For the record, this is the same man who recently was booed by his own fans after welcoming Uwe Rosler into the Manchester UNITED Hall of Fame... Shall I go on?

As the richest club in the world, Manchester City have every right to expect fame, fortune and most importantly of all, success.

However, this is not something which would take place overnight. And after going through various managers over the last few years, City seemed like they may have finally found the stability they craved in Mark Hughes.

Granted, they may not have been winning as many games as they would have liked this season, however they have only as far lost 2 games this season in the Premiership, 3 less than their Manchester rivals.

But with Garry Cook at the helm, he would never let potential success get in the way of making a name for himself. Since arriving from Nike in 2008, the man has been content on putting his name in the spotlight, with the only obvious reason, being that he can soak up all the plaudits when something finally does go right.

However, as the old saying goes, 'With great power, comes great responsibility.' Something he has yet to come to terms with. After failing to land Kaka as promised last January, Cook was quick to blame anybody else but himself.

However, more amazingly for the man can normally be seen hugging his latest signings, or paying thousands of pounds on advertising campaigns to try to wind up Man Utd fans, was his final treatment of Mark Hughes.

It is still unclear as to whether Hughes had learned his fate before his final game, a 4-3 victory over Sunderland, but one thing that is clear is that Cook was not the one who was man enough to lay the cards on the table.

Later that night, City announced that Roberto Mancini would take over from Hughes, meaning a press conference, and for Cook, a new opportunity to take centre stage, and that he would do on this occassion.

Cook announced at the unveiling that Mancini had not been contacted until after the 3-0 loss against Tottenham just days before, a notion which Mancini later contradicted, stating that he had spoken with City executives two and a half weeks before.

Since then, Cook has received large amounts of criticism for the treatment of Mark Hughes, so much so that he tried to take pressure off himself, first by attempting to ban certain questions from the press conference, and next, by banning the media from City's Carrington training ground.

The appointment of Mancini brings about question marks in itself. Does he posess the managerial quality City are looking for? Will he be able to improve on Mark Hughes' Eastlands tenure? Or was Cook just intent on bringing in a well known, European name?

I would suggest the latter.



Cook has later admitted that the club were looking for potential successors to Hughes in the summer, with many big European names thrown into the mix as potential replacements, including the fan's number one choice, Jose Mourinho.

Instead, Cook could not wait until the summer to put his name in the spotlight again, and appoint another big name at the club.

The club moved to appoint Mancini, who tasted success in Serie A with Inter, clinching three consecutive Scudetto titles.

However, this may not be as attractive as it may seem for City fans. Not only was he gifted a team that was clearly stronger than the other teams in the league, but he was given one title due to the Italian match fixing scandal, after Juventus were stripped, and another title was made much easier given the fact that Juve had been relegated and other teams docked points for their involvement.

It remains to be seen whether Cook's latest signing will be a success or not, but one thing that is for certain is that Hughes' tenure came to an unfair and abrupt end, and while Cook is given the power to have control at Eastlands, Manchester City Football Club will be in danger.

The bottom line: The wrong man was shown the door at Man City.