Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Tottenham Transfers – Will a Di Maria & Coentrao Cause a Bale Out?


The continuing rumor mill in English Premier League circles is if the powerbrokers at Spurs will put pen to paper on a record transfer fee and see their star forward Gareth Bale move to the Bernabau and in the process high five Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao on the way through the door.

The Spurs Chairman Daniel Levy’s position has always been to retain the services and talents of Bale at the club but the pressure from Real Madrid and the huge pay day on offer along with the services of Di Maria and Coentrao could be a carrot that is far too large to push aside.

For Spurs the dilemma facing the club is do they roll the dice and cash in their chips on what will be the biggest pay day for the Champions League starved club or stick with Bale who could deliver them a birth next season? Bale delivered an amazing 21 EPL goals last season that would fill a largest highlights reel. The possibility of Di Maria getting close to those numbers together with signing a striker equal to the class of Bale is rare as hen’s teeth. It has been reported that Tottenham may target Paris St-Germain’s midfielder Javier Pastore if the Bale transfer sees the light of day. Pastore scored four goals for PSG last season as an attacking midfielder but his style and ability to find strikers in space could strengthen the first eleven and sure up things in the middle.

Like any player from park football all the way to the biggest leagues in the world, they are not driven solely by the almighty dollar; they want team success and trophies. For Bale he has been starved of playing in the best club competition in the world that is the Champions League. He can only truly go to the next level if he is playing against the big European clubs and the playing talents on a regular basis. Playing in a team alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, and Xabi Alonso each and every week will help evolve the Bale game into one that will be feared by defensive lines from Spain all the way to the might of the Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund.

One thing is for certain all will be reveled by Levy after he has been forced to make an early return to White Hart Lane to begin the unenviable task of either retaining or succumbing to the almighty Euro. The longer the transfer speculation continues at Spurs the harder things will be for André Villas-Boas to prepare a squad for the upcoming season. AVB enjoyed a fairly successful year at Tottenham upon his arrival from Stamford Bridge but we all know how fickle the fan base at White Hart Lane can be. This year their sole aim will be to finish in the top four whether it be at the expense of their fierce London rivals Arsenal or not.

In recent years it seems that Arsenal’s first priority is always squarely focused on staying in the lucrative European competition in preference to trophies and perhaps that is a good thing for the balance sheet, but like Spurs their fans ultimately demand more and would love the feeling of being able to tweet from the treetops that their beloved has some silverware. The longer a club is out of the Champions League wilderness the tougher the path is to return and be a competitive force.

 The ultimate decision facing Spurs? Do they do the deal and profit from the rich talent that they have worked hard to develop or force Bale to stay at the club hoping that he will deliverer them more goals and success in 2013-14.

 The smart money is that come mid-August, Gareth Bale will continue to wear an all white kit, that’s a dead set certainty!

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Thursday, 25 July 2013

Peter Shilton – His Name Is Listed Under Longevity In The Oxford Dictionary

With 125 Three Lions appearances, Peter Shilton is England’s most capped footballer

(Image Via Talksport)

As a young lad growing up and playing Church soccer with my primary schoolmates, my fascination for the round ball and goalkeeping game grew along with my height.  When overseas sports coverage of football slowly grew in Australia, so did my passion to watch more keepers and how they plied their craft in the toughest and richest leagues in Europe. The first keeper that caught my eye and that of many other football fans was none other than the ageless Peter Shilton.

 His relatively small six foot one frame and dark curly locks dominated League and World football for a career spanning over 30 years and 1005 league games. Shilton still holds the record for the most caps for England with 125 unbeaten appearances for his country.

Shilton’s career commenced after the great Gordon Banks saw something in the young Leicester schoolboy as he trained with the local Foxes team. If only Banks knew that his keen eye for detail and a benefit of hindsight could have prevented his untimely end to his association with his club in preference for the young and promising Shilton. The irony of the careers of Banks and Shilton dissecting is a great one as they are arguably England’s two finest goalkeepers on record.

Shilton’s early career was filled with mixed fortunes as Leicester City was relegated from the First division in 1967, but in stark contrast to the current crop of players constantly chasing fame and fortune, Shilton showed faith and loyalty to his boyhood club that gave him opportunity. This loyalty was warmly repaid as Leicester were lucky enough to progress to the FA Cup final at Wembley and a very green Shilton proudly took part as one of its youngest participants. Sadly and surprisingly it was his only tilt at FA Cup final glory in such an illustrious career, but success certainly came his way over the countless seasons.

The endless statistical highlights litter Shilton’s career like hamburger wrappers floating in the atmosphere long after the stadium has emptied. The few that stand out for me is his fine record in 17 World Cup final appearances for England.  His record of 10 clean sheets in put in perspective as it has only ever been equaled and not eclipsed by the great French keeper Fabian Barthez. Another is when at Nottingham Forest in the First Division season of 1977-78, Shilton helped his club secure the League Championship, combining with a League Cup win at Wembley. Great achievements but what stood out was that he only conceded 18 goals in 37 league appearances in the seasons.

 You are always flirting with death when attempting to compare the players of the past to the here and now but to give a little perspective as to how impressive Shilton’s keeping prowess was that season I will compare the goals conceded to that of the four leading keepers in the EPL, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga in season 2012-13.

Games Played
Goals Conceded
First Div. Peter Shilton
EPL Joe Hart
1.905 m
Bundesliga Manuel Neuer
1.93 m
Serie A Gianluigi Buffon
La Liga Thibaut Courtois
1.98 m

It will be argued that the quality and caliber of strikers in the First Division in 1977-78 don’t compare with the likes of the Lionel Messi; Robin van Persie, Gareth Bale and Luis Suarez but even so, food for thought considering that Shilton gives up 5 cm in height on his nearest rival, and also the advances in boots, quality of grounds, training methods.

Shilton’s career has marked by plenty of highlights that would make a healthy and entertaining YouTube package, but I still find the goal he saved on the end of a sharp header from Coventry City’s Mick Fergusson a no better example of reflex keeping. If not for the poor grainy standard definition TV days, this amazing feat of keeping would form the part of any cable network’s highlight reel to introduce the game of the week.

Here is a poor quality YouTube version of that wonderful effort:

Its certainly not surprising that Peter Shilton played his part in one of the most spoken contentious moments in football history…”The Hand of God” incident at the 1986 FIFA World Cup hosted by Mexico. Tension was abnormally high in the quarterfinal match up between England and Argentina only four years on from the Falkland Island conflict. Shilton played no other part on the controversy but to attempt a save by advancing out of the six yard box to greet Maradona who was running toward an awkwardly bouncing clearance from mid-fielder Stephen Hodge. Both players leapt, Shilton to punch the ball clear and Maradona seemingly to head the ball, but it was obvious from the many replays that he did in fact use his hand to score the goal that helped end England’s tournament.

The massive controversy otherwise soured a game where Diego Maradona’s brilliant and bamboozling individual effort to score Argentina’s second goal was ultimately judged years later to be the FIFA “Goal of the Century”.

Shilton will be long remembered as one of England’s finest keepers but it was his efforts despite his small stature for a keeper that inspired many young footballers of the day to choose the often thankless and much maligned position between the sticks in favor of the glamorous and predictable life of a goal driven striker.

Do yourself a favor a check out some of the vision of Peter Shilton at his best for England and his many club sides most notably Nottingham Forest and Leicester City. You wont be disappointed by what you find despite the unattractive quality and hazy television pictures of the 1960s and 70s through to the more recent 1980s.

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Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Clean Sheet 22

Cech 1….2? Chelsea F.C. A sound move for Schwarzer?

It is certainly a long way from the Colo Cougars in Richmond, New South Wales to Stamford Bridge for Australia’s goalkeeping guru Mark Schwarzer, but in his opinion he still feels he has the game to challenge current incumbent Petr Cech for the number one position at Chelsea F.C.  The one thing he may find difficult is re-wiring his brain from driving to The Bridge each day instead of the more familiar riverside Craven Cottage.

As we all know things at Chelsea are always about as static as a cheap nylon rug, so there are no certainties that Schwarzer will see much game time in the first team knowing Cech has been an instrumental figure in trophy success for “The Blues”. One of the huge variables in Chelsea’s ongoing football equation is their innate ability to throw reason and common sense thinking out the window along with mountains of European currency. The return of the “Special One” José Mourinho will obviously see the potential for a shake up of team lists as he looks to stamp his own unique mark back on the club he has had so much success with.  

The big question is will Mourinho tinker with things in the six-yard box? His time at Real Madrid saw a much-publicised fall out with arguably the best keeper in world football Iker Casillas and sparked the beginning of the end of his tenure at the Bernabeu. I’m sure he will be keen to avoid too much controversy and personality clashes, but as it is Jose Mourinho, headlines tend to follow him around like a bad smell. It will be no different as he returns to gold fish bowl world of the EPL.

Let us look at how last year’s stats measured up between the two glove men and see if any can assist Schwarzer in gaining any game time over his dressing room rival Cech.

Both keepers played 36 games in the EPL last season with Cech dominating in the wins department with comprehensive 22 to 10. Cech’s healthy clean sheet tally of 14 also out shadowed the fine efforts of the ever-consistent Schwarzer, who recorded eight for the Cottagers. Schwarzer was certainly the busier of the two at the coalface having to deal with more than a hundred more shots than Cech.  Even standing back to back, both men stand at the same height with only Cech gaining the slightest advantage courtesy of his easily recognisable protective headpiece. One stat that any keeper in the world would love to own is Cech’s EPL record for the fewest appearances required to reach 100 clean sheets. He brought up that little milestone in only 180 appearances. A stat guaranteed to make any keeper stand up and notice.

Stats always need to be put into perspective as the numbers don’t always indicate what the keeper is seeing n front of him. For Chelsea, Cech has the benefit of a defensive line that boasts the likes of Terry, Cahill, Luiz and Ivanovic. I wonder if Schwarzer had that sort of cattle ahead of him at Craven Cottage just how more balanced the stats would be.

For now Schwarzer will be in unfamiliar territory as the obvious second choice keeper, but it is widely known that Mourinho never talks in those terms and prefers to promote his cattle as equals in order to squeeze out as much competition for the every position as possible.  In the EPL it has never been about simply managing the first team but the entire squad and the ups and downs of form, failure, fatigue and fame. Something that is even more difficult to do at Chelsea given the enormous ego of their wealthy owner Roman Abramovich.

Back in Australia there are many who see Schwarzer’s move to Chelsea as a step backward in his preparations for Brazil and are also calling to now deliver the succession plan for his eventual replacement. For now his record speaks for itself at international level and there wouldn’t be many Australian keepers that would challenge his service as well as his results.  Personally I would like to see the FFA invest more dollars into finding out they can have Schwarz cryogenically frozen or at the very least pass on some of his goalkeeping DNA so that our goalkeeping stocks remain healthy for many more World Cup campaigns to come.

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