Saturday, 4 September 2010

The Future is Bright: Darron Gibson (Pt 1/7)

Manchester United have a truly impressive youth academy. In recent years they have produced many players now playing first team football for great clubs. These include Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Darren Fletcher, John O'Shea, Giuseppe Rossi, Ryan Shawcross. All of these players have represented their country and as well as these talents there is Gerard Pique, the Barcelona centre back who won the world cup with country Spain earlier this year and was an ever-present in a team packed with talent. 

Darron Gibson - the young United starlet
Darron Gibson, the Irish central midfielder, is currently one of the brightest prospects in the Premier League. When the never-ageing Paul Scholes (another extremely successful academy graduate) got injured, this gave Gibson a chance to prove himself in the first team last year he took it with both hands. The commanding central midfielder has been likened to the great Scholes and if he lives up to that expectation then he will undoubtedly be one of the finest central midfielders the  Premier League has ever seen. Last season he managed to make 23 first team appearances in all competitions, scoring an impressive 5 goals along the way. Like Scholes during his prime, the midfield general will be looking to score at least 10 goals a season to add some bite to the midfield that the red devils have missed in the absence of 'the ginger prince'.He has been likened to Scholes because of many qualities, mainly because of his tireless energy, enthusiasm in a tackle and a brilliant long distance shot. The young 22 year old has already represented the Republic of Ireland 9 times with the promise of many more. Having worked along side Scholes whilst coming through into the first team, Sir Alex Ferguson could have someone to finally replace the place of the United legend, though they are big boots to fill. This season the Irish international may even be pushing to displace the 'ever-dependant' Fletcher or Scholes if his fitness levels mean that he cannot make it through the whole season. Although Ferguson may choose to wait and use him as a replacement in the case of injury/suspension or loss of form and in competitions such as the League cup where he can gain first team experience. Either way, Gibson looks a great prospect for the future and will almost certainly be at the front of United's plans in the next few years, as Scholes was 15 years ago. He is certainly one to watch.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Is this man Liverpool's answer to their midfield conundrum?

A few days ago Liverpool announced the signing of Raul Meireles, the Portuguese international for a tidy £11.5 million fee. He has been lauded by many football fans as a replacement to previous Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano; but I'm not sure this is entirely the case. Mascherano certainly provided a great service to the club and will be missed because of his energy and enthusiasm to win the ball. However this was his sole job, win the ball, pass it 10 yards and mark a man. This meant he rarely got a chance to make inroads into the opposition penalty area or shoot at goal.

However, cast your mind back to the impressive Xabi Alonso, now showing off his skill in Spain but a former player for the reds. Whilst Alonso had the discipline to hold back and protect the defence like Mascherano did, there was another side to his game. He was a magnificent passer of the ball and, when allowed, he could also shoot from distance and apply pressure to the opposing defence. Liverpool sorely missed this last campaign and attempted to replace the loss with Alberto Aquilani for £20 million pounds, but with repeated injures and loss of form this meant he was often on the bench. His space was filled by Lucas Leiva, who is yet to prove he has what it takes in the Premier League. Alonso's space can now be filled by Meireles, who scored at the World cup for Portugal against North Korea and was an ever present through qualifying and during the tournament. He has the discipline to free up Steven Gerrard allowing him to be more influential going forward in a way Lucas may find hard as he is still learning the game.

I would suggest Meireles would be most effective along side new signing Christian Poulsen who will play the 'Mascherano' role. This would allow Gerrard to support Torres and Joe Cole to be used in a wing position providing some much needed crosses for Fernando Torres and whoever else can get themselves into the box. Overall, there are many benefits to the signing of the central midfielder and he may be a key element in the team if Liverpool are going to turn their fortunes around.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

The Top 10 Best Players up for grabs this Transfer Window but stayed put

1. Lassana Diarra - The French international is, in my opinion, one of the best defensive midfielders in the world. It is a true mystery to me how he was omitted from the French 2010 world cup squad. Apparently told he was surplus to requirement at Real Madrid this summer and clubs such as Liverpool and Tottenham had been linked. He has previously proven he can cut it in the Premier League playing for Arsenal and Chelsea before being a star in the F.A cup winning Portsmouth side of 2008; following this he secured a £20 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid. For me, this player would have been the ideal replacement for Javier Mascherano and added bite to the midfield of Tottenham and would even have been a good signing for Manchester United. If a first team place is given to Sami Khedira rather than the 25 year old, a move will surely be on the cards relatively soon.

2. Charles N'Zogbia - The Wigan man clearly possesses clear quality and won player of the season at Wigan last campaign. A true playmaker who can play on the wing or as an attacking central player. This one looked a dead cert to happen after a fall out with manager Roberto Martinez which resulted in him being dropped and transfer listed. When Birmingham had a 'club record fee' accepted by Wigan many assumed this transfer would happen. However, N'Zogbia's wage demands meant they failed to agree personal terms and the move fell through. Sunderland and Stoke also sniffed around the player, yet no other offer materialised, meaning he is now marooned at a club with a manager he doesn't like and who will almost definitely be fighting relegation this year.

3. Robbie Keane - I really thought Robbie Keane would add to the lengthy list of clubs who have already had his name at one point on their books. There were no shortage of rumours: Wolves, Newcastle, West Ham, Aston Villa, Besiktas and even Fulham in the last few weeks but somehow a move just never materialised for the Republic of Ireland captain. Now Keane will seek to prove he is good enough for the Spurs first team again, with Jermain Defoe needing an operation on his groin that will leave him out for 'at least a month' it is likely Keane will play alongside Crouch/Pavlyuchenko (the two won't bond together) this is his ideal opportunity to prove why he is still at the club. 

4. Shay Given - Arguably one of the best goalkeepers in the premiership last season, he is truly unlucky to have the ever impressive Joe Hart at the same club as him who will undoubtedly pin down the England national number one spot for years to come. Given himself is not used to being second in line, and has consistently been one of the best keepers in the premiership for almost 10 years now and will either have to displace the in-form Joe Hart or probably choose to leave the club at some point. Possibly the possibility of a great season for City after all the players they brought in persuaded Given to turn away from offers from Arsenal and Fulham this transfer window. However, if he fails to regain the number one jersey I doubt he will hang around too long as the 33 year old cannot have too many years at the top of his game.

5. Roque Santa Cruz - Some people claim this player is overrated. However I think the opposite, he is underrated. He impressed in his first year at Blackburn, scoring 20 goals at a strike rate of 0.5 per game he was linked with a move to Liverpool among others. However, he resisted and stayed at Blackburn with manager Mark Hughes. But when Hughes departed in 2009 Santa Cruz soon followed after a season with injuries and being unsettled. This did not take away the fact that he is a powerful front man with a natural eye for goal when he has his confidence and could lead a line comfortably or play off a striker in the Premier League despite being imported from Bayern Munich, a feat some struggle to achieve. This year he was linked again with Liverpool, Fulham, Lazio and even a return to Blackburn but apparently no offer was on the table so he remains at the City of Manchester. With Roberto Mancini unlikely to include the 29 year old in the 25 man squad for the premier league, my tip is a move in January for the Paraguayan.

6. Mark Schwartzer - Another goalkeeper, possibly the one transfer everyone just assumed would happen. The 37 year old was the subject of speculation throughout the summer with talk of him going to Arsenal. However, the 2 million that was offered was not remotely what Fulham were hoping for. After initial rejection Arsenal made a new offer... for exactly the same money. Apparently a 4 million pound offer was lined up late on but then  an injury to keeper David Stockdale and lack of time to bring in a replacement meant an anti-climax on the deadline day as Fulham were not interested in selling the player. The fact Arsenal missed out on the Australian means that Manuel Almunia will consider he has been given a ninth life by Arsenal which he surely must grasp with both hands before January or Arsenal will finalise a deal any one of Schwartzer, Given, Hugo Lloris or any other of the vast amount of names that will come under speculation.

7. Ryan Babel - Although this may surprise some people I believe this 23 year old is a real talent. There was much drama surrounding him on the last day when he was reported to be in a helicopter to London to sign for Tottenham for a mere 5 million. Then this speculation turned to West Ham as people said he would be used as bait to lure Carlton Cole to Anfield. However he then announced through his Twitter page that he was committed to Liverpool and was not going anywhere. I wonder how many more times the former Ajax starlet will have to commit his future to the club because manager Roy Hodgson seems to have his doubts about the Winger/Forward. With a rocket shot and such speed I believe Liverpool would be wise to give the young Dutchman a chance or risk losing him soon.

8. Carlton Cole - Possibly one of the biggest anti-climax's on Transfer deadline day was Liverpool's search for a Forward player to support Fernando Torres. With 3 hours to go until  the deadline Liverpool publically put in a bid for the strong, England international and it appeared they had chosen him ahead of targets such as Mario Gomez and Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Then they helicoptered Ryan Babel (see number 7) to London to add to the negotiations as a possible swap. However Babel informed them that he was committed to Liverpool and did not think West Ham could fulfil his contract requirements. With the Merseyside club unable to produce the finances without the player swap this meant after hours of negotiations and a move looking certain the deal collapsed. Unless Cole improves his goalscoring record between now and January a repeat approach is unlikely to be tried in my opinion.

9. Scott Parker - Another West Ham star, the midfield maestro was incessantly linked with various clubs namely Tottenham and Liverpool who were both in search of a central midfielder. Despite the owners and the manager stating he was not for sale Tottenham's search for a central midfielder made them make a £10 million offer for the 29 year old England international. The Englishmen finally put pay to all rumours when caught driving into West Ham's training ground and telling Sky Sports that he was going no where which meant the club had rejected whatever approach Spurs had made for him. If West Ham are fighting relegation in January and Parker is approached by another club then they could struggle to hold on to him but before then he is committed to a future at the Hammers 

10. Shaun Wright-Phillips - Yet again another Manchester City 'reject', laughable considering he was included in the England world cup 2010 at the expense of the widely praised Theo Walcott and team mate Adam Johnson. However this year the plucky winger is faced with a true challenge as he will have to fight his way past David Silva, Adam Johnson, James Milner and Mario Balotelli who will all be playing on the wing or supporting Carlos Tevez in the wide positions further forward. Speculation of a move to either Liverpool or Arsenal was strong mid-way through the Transfer window with both of these clubs promising consistent first team football and, in Arsenal, Champions League prospects. But possibly the money and the challenge of this new look City side has persuaded him to stay along with Given and Wayne Bridge who are all now unlikely to hold down regular first team positions.