“It is better to take many injuries than to give one”
The Premier League’s fantasy league has offered a lifeline to users who suffered with log-in problems last week. There will be unlimited transfers up until the Week 2 deadline and the urge to tinker will prove too much for many. The mass clamour for Sergio Agüero is perhaps understandable but there are diamonds in the rough to be unearthed following a spate of early injuries.
Bank on them…
The brightest fantasy managers are always the ones who seize the small windows of opportunity when they present themselves.
These may come in the form of double game weeks or, often, in the form of injuries. Even in week two the latter is already coming into play.
Chelsea today announced that a knee injury would keep Petr Čech on the injury table for four weeks. In his absence, Hilário (£4.5m) suddenly becomes a very appealing option. He will feature in Chelsea’s next two, possibly three league games. They are against West Brom and Norwich at home before a trip to Sunderland in four weeks. Bank on him to record some clean-sheets in the coming weeks.
Manchester United’s defensive injury crisis is good news for the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Fábio and Jonny Evans. The difficulty as always with Sir Alex Ferguson, is second guessing his team selection. Smalling and Fábio started against West Brom but both Jones and Evans came on when Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić departed with injuries. Patrice Evra may return for the game against Tottenham meaning the Champions could name several different starting back-lines. Smalling (£5.5m) will probably fill one of the centre-back berths and Jonny Evans (£4.5m) may get the nod over Phil Jones due to his big match experience. But Fábio presents possibly the best value at £5m. His attacking instincts mean he could be among the assists or even goals. Of course picking any United defender is a risk after horror shows from goalkeeper David de Gea in his first two matches.
Roll the dice…
Cesc Fàbregas is gone and Samir Nasri’s pen is ready for Manchester City’s colossus contract offer. England’s bright hope Jack Wilshere is injured, as is Abou Diaby, and Gervinho and Alex Song will start three game suspensions. The spotlight will therefore focus on Aaron Ramsey (£6.5m). Games with Liverpool and Manchester United are tricky encounters but Ramsey proved he can rise to the big stage by grabbing the winner when the Gunners beat United at The Emirates last year.
It was Ramsey who set up Theo Walcott for the only goal of the game against Udinese in the week so consider him as a relatively cheap choice despite Arsenal’s difficult fixtures.
One to avoid…
United are not the only top club experiencing problems with injuries. Arsenal have kept two clean sheets in their first two games but are now down to the bare bones with Johan Djourou, Kieran Gibbs and Armand Traoré all out. That means that rookie defender Carl Jenkinson (£5.5m), who came on in the win over Udinese is likely to get the nod.
But think twice before plumping for the teenager. There are no guarantees of clean sheets in those clashes with Liverpool and United and sandwiched inbetween that is a trip to Italy for the second leg with Udinese.
For a player who has only appeared once for Arsenal and eight times for previous club Charlton, Jenkinson carries a hefty price tag.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hid three months of his parents, because they saw he was a proper child; and they were not afraid of the king’s commandment
When Bolton boss Owen Coyle grandly declared himself to be the biblical character Moses two years ago, he should have been aware that he was muscling in on someone’s territory.
Days after Coyle preached to the media asking them to shun his ‘Judas’ tag in favour of the Moses moniker, Victor Moses was joining Wigan.
He may not possess the wave-parting abilities of Coyle but his surname puts him one up in the claim to be the North West’s answer to the Red Sea-splitter.
The Nigerian-born striker was tutored at Crystal Palace, the club which nurtured prolific goalscorer Ian Wright. The Eagles knew that Moses was always likely to fly from the nest as his stock grew and he moved to Wigan in 2010, a move which initially surprised.
He was touted by many but opted for what could be construed as one of the least attractive options in Wigan. But in the long run, Moses may reap the rewards. Former team-mate John Bostock has toiled away in Spurs’ reserves and on loan spells since his high-profile exit from Selhurst Park whilst Moses has slowly honed his skills at the Latics. Now, he could be ready to explode onto the Premier League scene.
Roberto Martinez decided to stay at the DW Stadium this season despite perceived interest from Aston Villa. He claimed his stay was an act of loyalty, something which Burnley fans would claim Coyle was adverse too.
But the departure of Charles N’Zogbia, the shining light of Wigan Pier, will test Martinez’s allegiance further. N’Zogbia was their match-winner, in the end, the difference between them suckling on the Premier League teat for another year rather than protecting themselves with parachute payments in the Championship.
In his place, Wigan must find a new star and with limited funds, he must come from within. Step forward, Victor Moses.
“He’s a special talent,” said Roberto Martinez.
“’It’s a real shock to any player to move up to the Premier League, but since he’s been here he’s added maturity and experience to his undoubted ability.
“’Charlie has left a big hole in our team but that vacancy is a big opportunity for Victor and maybe a couple of other players to step up.
“Victor is a different kind of player to Charlie but has the same quality that sets players like that apart from the rest.”
Martinez believes the time is now for Moses and he’s certainly backed that up with some impressive performances as a warm-up act, netting five times in pre-season.
There is plenty to like about him. He is quick and powerful, capable of scoring goals and turning provider for others. He has all the match-winning attributes that made N’Zogbia such a valuable commodity.
In fantasy football, that value is severely underappreciated. Moses is valued at a meagre £5m, the same as Lucas and Nigel De Jong. Whilst those two are regular fixtures for their respective clubs, they’re also prone to allergic reactions and nose bleeds should they venture as far as the opposition’s box. Moses, therefore, is a snip considering his ability to weigh in with goals from midfield.
If you needed further evidence, consider Wigan’s first three fixtures, the three promoted clubs, Norwich Swansea and QPR, two of which are at home. The opportunity is there for Moses to make an instant impact.
Owen Coyle believed he was like the prophet Moses because he led Burnley from the wilderness to the Premier League. Wigan frequently cling onto their place in the latter and the real Moses may go some way to ensuring they don’t find themselves in the wilderness any time soon.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn
(You can view last year’s predictions here)
In comparison with previous years, many of the upper echelon have readily felt the need to reach for the chequebook. Manchester City can now use Champions League football to entice players and the signing of Sergio Agüero is the biggest indication yet that they may about to embark on a serious pursuit for the title. But Manchester United have taken another step in their evolution and last week’s Community Shield proved that they are once again the side to beat.
Champions – Manchester United
The team that recorded its 19th league title wasn’t particularly spectacular and in comparison with previous years, the only fireworks were saved for the title’s presentation. Sir Alex Ferguson’s side were unflappable, churning out victories without the cavaliering style of previous title-winning squads. The winning mentality which has defined Ferguson’s reign was crucial and the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Edwin van der Sar had the nous to see them over the line. Javier Hernández proved to be the signing of the season and Nani’s emergence as a world-class star did inject some excitement.
But Ferguson knew that to stay ahead of the pack, particularly ahead of City, he’d need to reinvest, to rejuvenate. Scholes and van der Sar hung up their respective boots and gloves and squad players Wes Brown and John O’Shea were moved on. In came the fresh talent, Ashley Young, David de Gea and Phil Jones. Furthermore, academy products Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverley have flown home to roost. All are young, promising individuals keen to be moulded by Ferguson, a man who is in his element working with youth.
The voids left by Scholes and van der Sar are concerns. De Gea will be compensation for the loss of the latter and his progress will be one of the season’s talking points. Scholes’ departure may prove an all-together different proposition. Replacing a player with such technical traits is virtually impossible. So United will look to the energetic Anderson to replicate Nani’s breakout season last term and the pre-season promise that Cleverley has displayed will provide further hope.
Few would ever bet against Ferguson and he appears to have the right blend of experience, energy and excitement to stay in-front once more.
Top Four – Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool
Little has been written about Chelsea this term and perhaps that is a good thing. André Villas-Boas is an intelligent man with an incredible football brain but he must be given time and space to work his magic at this elite level. The Portuguese manager built an extraordinary team at Porto but has made few alternations since arriving at Stamford Bridge. However the biggest difference which must occur is internal. They must change their mentality and Villas-Boas seems like the right man to do so. He will be able to call upon title-winning experience and that is the reason why they will be United’s biggest challengers. Like United they will be keen to develop tomorrow’s generation today and Daniel Sturridge, Josh McEachran and the incoming Romelu Lukaku are exciting protégées.
Manchester City will feel that they have a chance to win the league this season but those aspirations may be 12 months premature. The alluring nature of Champions League football will capture plenty of their attention and look at how that deterred Spurs from their domestic campaign. Then there is the small matter of Carlos Tévez. The Argentine forward was incredibly valuable to City’s success last year and should he depart, they must find inspiration elsewhere. Sergio Agüero is a magnificent coup but Tévez’s boots are sizeable things to expect him to instantly fill. There are also lots of City players who are aggrieved at not getting a first-team chance. Those simmering tensions remain under the lid when City are winning but expectation is higher this year and Roberto Mancini may have a revolt on his hands if he doesn’t bring in more silverware.
When Kenny Dalglish rolled up at Anfield once more last January, the club were in disarray. The King managed to completely transform that and they finished the season looking stronger than almost any other side in the league. They have been one of the most active teams in this transfer window and have made some good if not spectacular moves. Their policy of buying English may cause them to pay over the odds but it is an ideology which proved so fruitful for Dalglish at Blackburn. They also have Luis Suárez who, in my view, is one of the best strikers in the game and may just finish this season as the Premier League’s top scorer.
Many people are predicting Arsène Wenger’s savvy nature will ensure Arsenal don’t drop out of the top four but I’ve seen little evidence that they’ve progressed. Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri could well depart and they are still crying out for an authoritative centre-back, powerful midfielder and experienced goalkeeper. A sadly familiar story is becoming tiresome and Wenger is going to have to fight hard to convince his players, the fans and the media that his philosophy will bring glory to The Emirates.
As for Tottenham, this could be a really difficult season at White Hart Lane. In many ways the Luka Modrić saga is a lose-lose situation. If the Croatian stays, they have a disgruntled player in their ranks. If he departs, Spurs will fall further behind whilst simultaneously strengthening one of their rivals. Then there is Harry Redknapp whose demeanour has become increasingly strange over the past 12 months. He has publically criticised Spurs fans in the media on more than one occasion and appears to have lost a certain zest when it comes to managing the team. Fabio Capello’s heir apparent is probably less than a year away from the England job and it could be difficult for him to maintain focus on events at Tottenham.
Surprise Package – Aston Villa
This summer has been far from a haven for Aston Villa. Chairman Randy Lerner, a man who had previously been heralded for his stewardship, bumbled through the process of hiring a new manager before deciding on Alex McLeish. The former Birmingham boss managed to create a unique sense of togetherness between the second-city rivals in the form of shared hatred of the Scot. McLeish did take Birmingham to relegation last year and any concerns about the new season were further enhanced when Brad Friedel, Ashley Young and Stewart Downing jumped board.
But there are plenty of rays of sunshine emanating from the doom mongering over the Holte End. Firstly, McLeish IS a good manager. He captured the Carling Cup last season and built a solid unit which was difficult to break down at St Andrew’s. A lack of investment proved their downfall but he has already been allowed access to Lerner’s wallet in his new position. Shay Given is a top-quality goalkeeper who is reliable and consistent. His assured performances should bolster a defence which went from solid to porous within 12 months. The absence of Young and Downing will allow Marc Albrighton to continue to blossom and Charles N’Zogbia has the potential to win matches virtually single-handedly as he did countless times at Wigan. Throw in the ever dependable Darren Bent and you have the crux of a decent side.
Villa’s initial run of fixtures is even more heart-warming. They face only one side who finished in the top six last year in their first 11 games and that doesn’t come until October. McLeish’s baptism of fire may prove to be little more than the flickering of a candle.
Relegation – QPR, Swansea, Blackburn
These three will be expecting a dogfight, elsewhere, West Brom have made some clever signings, Bolton should have enough class and Wolves’ squad looks strong enough to remain above the pit. Of the three promoted sides, Norwich could spring some surprises. Carrow Road will be rammed full of partisan crowds every other weekend and Paul Lambert’s squad know nothing other than winning under him following back-to-back promotions. They will be handed thrashings on occasion but should pick up enough points at home to ensure survival. Wigan continue to astound given their tiny stature but Roberto Martínez deserves plenty of plaudits for the side he has built. The loss of Charles N’Zogbia will be felt but there is an infectious excitement about Victor Moses and he should repeat N’Zogbia’s match-winning performances from the left wing.
QPR were magnificent in their Championship winning season but the emotion involved in that triumph may have sapped them. Neil Warnock appears an exasperated man this off-season and hasn’t been backed with the type of funds his owners could quite easily part with. Old-timers Shaun Derry and Clint Hill were stalwarts in the second tier but surely the step up will prove too much. Adel Taarabt and Alejandro Faurlín are wonderful ball-players and in D.J. Campbell and Jay Bothroyd, goals shouldn’t be hard to come by. But will it be enough?
Swansea finished last season in-form and their Premier League status will probably hinge on Scott Sinclair’s performances. Sinclair set the Championship alight but he has struggled when faced with Premier League defences before. There is still time for Swansea to make some moves in the transfer market but they know they will face an uphill task regardless.
Blackburn are quickly growing into the Premier League’s punch line (see this Venky’s advert for further evidence). They clung on by the skin of their teeth last May and will be grasping for enamel once more. Phil Jones wisely jumped board and there are enough suitors for Christopher Samba to believe that Rovers will need a whole new centre-back pairing. With changes at the back they will need a steady stream of goals and none of the current crop looks good enough to keep them from sinking.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
Picking an initial fantasy team may not make or break your year but it has huge implications for how your season could pan out. The key is not to make too many gambles but given the enforced salary cap, certain risks do need to be made. Consistent performers can still be found on the cheap and don’t automatically assume the bigger names will be the biggest hitters. Here’s my week one guide to the Premier League’s official fantasy game:
Bank on him…
Twelve months ago we were unsure if Given (£5m) or Joe Hart would be Roberto Mancini’s number one at Manchester City. Hart was awarded the title and Given spent the entire 2010-2011 season looking on. He’s now £2m cheaper than Hart and playing for an Aston Villa team which regularly recorded clean sheets under Martin O’Neill. New boss Alex McLeish ran a tight ship at Birmingham and so Given will be considered by plenty this time around.
Roll the dice…
QPR’s Kenny was imperious last year, being voted Fans’ Player of the Year in a QPR team which won the Championship with a solid back-line. The step-up will faze some Rangers players but Kenny’s been here before with Sheffield United. For £4.5m he could be a suitable back-up if you need to free-up money for other players.
One to avoid…
Three Arsenal goalkeepers are valued at £5.5m or above and Almunia (£5.5m) is probably Arsène Wenger’s third choice to go between the sticks. Wojciech Szczęsny should begin as number one with Łukasz Fabiański backing him up. Almunia shouldn’t therefore be considered at all unless either picks up an injury.
Bank on him…
There is no centre-back pairing more familiar with each other than Fulham’s Hangeland and Aaron Hughes. Both collected well over 100 points last year and Hangeland was the second highest scoring defender behind Leighton Baines. Hangeland is an ever-present fixture in Fulham’s team and is always a threat at set pieces. At £6.5m he also represents decent value.
Roll the dice…
There hasn’t been a mass exodus from Arsenal this summer but first-choice left back Gaël Clichy used his searing pace to run out of the Emirates door. The Gunners are in need of a player to fill that berth and Gibbs (£5.5m) looks the most likely to do so having impressed before. Tottenham’s Kyle Walker (£5.5m) is another who may tempt some, particularly after his strong showing at the under-21 tournament this summer. However Gibbs should be a regular starter whilst Walker may share time with Alan Hutton and Vedran Ćorluka.
One to avoid…
The inclusion of the former England captain under the ‘one to avoid’ banner may surprise some but United centre-back Ferdinand (£6.5m) continues to present bad value. His frequent injuries mean he often has spells on the sidelines and he lacks the potency from set-pieces which make Nemanja Vidić, Robert Huth and Leighton Baines so enticing. Need further proof? In his last three seasons, Ferdinand’s managed 69, 49 and 92 points compared to compatriot Vidić’s totals of 148, 94 and 187. Look for Ferdinand’s role to diminish further still with the arrival of Phil Jones and the continued maturation of Chris Smalling.
Bank on him…
Rafael van der Vaart
Last year the big trio, Steven Gerrard, Cesc Fàbregas and Frank Lampard, were poor by their own very high standards. Lampard only showed flashes, Gerrard is returning to a strong squad and Fàbregas may yet start the season at his beloved Barcelona. In the next tier, Florent Malouda blows hot and cold, how Ferguson plans to fit Nani, Ashley Young and Valencia in isn’t clear and Dirk Kuyt may see less playing time. So my reliable pick is Spurs’ Rafael van der Vaart (£10m). Takes penalties and free-kicks, makes goals and is in no danger of losing much playing time to his teammates.
Roll the dice…
Every year they’ll be some debate about ascribing certain positions to certain players. Categorising Swansea’s Sinclair (£6m) as a midfielder could be worthy of such debate giving his striking tendencies. The former Chelsea and Wigan man has been highly rated for some years now but has struggled to perform in the top flight. However his form at the tail end of last season suggests he’s ready for another crack at the big time.
There are other gambles which may be worth taking. How about Hatem Ben Arfa at £5.5m? An impressive talent who creates and scores goals, the only question mark is if he will return to the Newcastle team with as much verve after his serious injury.
One to avoid…
Again the very mention of Wilshere’s name here will shock some and he seems a popular option for fantasy players this season. But let’s not forget the England man was ever present for Arsenal last year yet scored just once with three assists. He failed to score 100 points in a very good team, playing more minutes than any other Gunners midfielder. Yes he is cheap (£6.5m), but there’s a reason for this. It may be that Wilshere has a season similar to Fàbregas’ a few campaigns back when he suddenly started scoring frequently but until Wilshere shows some signs of doing so, I’m avoiding him.
Bank on him…
Villa’s Bent (£10m) is the model of point-scoring consistency wherever he ends up. Seventeen goals last year after a mid-season move, 24 the year before that, and 100 points in four of his last five campaigns. Sergio Agüero may take time to adapt to England, Wayne Rooney’s form can be patchy and there may or may not be enough room at Chelsea to accommodate Didier Drogba and Fernando Torres every week. Look for Luis Suárez (£9.5m) to continue his excellent form from last year too; I think he’ll comfortably out-score Liverpool teammate Andy Carroll who costs more.
Roll the dice…
Picking a striker to surprise is difficult but this doesn’t mean one won’t spring up and record a shed load of points. Last year DJ Campbell and Peter Odemwingie defied their valuations and had impressive years. QPR’s Bothroyd (£6m), called up by England last year, could well emulate their achievements. Were Robbie Keane to move within the division he could be an interesting proposition. He has a record of scoring goals wherever he’s gone and £5m represents good value for the man who’s scored more Republic or Ireland goals than anyone else.
One to avoid…
An obvious one by all accounts but Torres’ dire end of season form last year for Chelsea should serve as a warning to fantasy owners. At £11m he carries a hefty price tag and he won’t start justifying that until he starts netting on a frequent basis at the Bridge. Carlos Tévez’s (£12m) desire to remain out of Manchester needs to be considered too. Don’t write him off totally because we’ve seen an unhappy Tévez can still be a valuable asset but that is all dependent on him returning to City.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
“Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, but it sure heats up the blood”
Ladies and gentlemen, the NFL IS back.
The lockout, which began on March 12th, has been the longest in the league’s history. But today, the NFL and the NFLPA (NFL Players’ Association) have agreed to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. The important news is that no regular season games will be lost. Furthermore the astronomical fees that first-round draft picks used to command will be severely reduced.
The league and everyone with any sense of attachment to it will not have appreciated the prolonged period which has seen them jettisoned from the sporting headlines. This is the all-swaggering, hit-somebody-in-the-mouth National Football League. It is a place for the brash, brazen and bolshie not for the silent and secretive.
Yet the lockout ushered in a hush-hush tone. Terms were debated around the table, behind closed doors. I have my own opinions on the American media’s handling of the affair and intend to blog on them at some point in the very near future. My main source of frustration centres around this pertinent question: if a similar incident were to happen in the Premier League, do you think the English media would have seemed so out of the loop? Personally I think the America media purposely gave both sides their distance. They enjoy almost unparalleled access to players, coaches and locker rooms and it’s a fruitful arrangement which they daren’t disrupt. The English media have to make do with weekly press conferences and post-match interviews which, in certain instances, are only hosted by an in-house television channel. Whether intimate access or strong investigative journalism is better for the general public is something to debate elsewhere.
But now football is back, expect the fireworks to light up the sky once more. The absence of any real drama has caused me to yearn for the crazy storylines even more.
I can tire of lengthy transfer sagas quite easily (I’m looking at you Luka, Cesc and Carlos). But the Americans have a way of inducing drama into the mundane. It took three years of Favre Watch for me to finally become exasperated with the depressingly familiar scenario. It’s the little things like telling us Carson Palmer’s house in Cincinnati has been sold or announcing that Brett Favre’s wife had renewed her fitness membership in Minnesota.
Free agency will begin this week and there are plenty of players who will be looking to move or at least substantially increase their back accounts. There are, in the shape of, Nnamdi Asomugha, Peyton Manning, Sidney Rice, DeAngelo Williams, Ahmad Bradshaw, Randy Moss, Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, some massive free agents capable of turning around many team’s fortunes. But there is considerably less sand in the egg timer this time. Envisage the furore on the final day of football’s transfer window and translate that madness to the free agency stampede this time around.
The starting pistol has been fired but the marathon of the off-season has been reduced to an 800 metre dash. As Jason La Canfora stated: “every hour is of the essence with clubs trying to cram what could normally be done over weeks into hectic days”.
We may have lost no actual football action but the fans have been short-changed this offseason. Ladies and gentlemen, American football IS back. Time to indulge on the madness.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
This is the first in a brand new series called “Dear Diary, a week in the life of…” which will take a satirical swipe at the escapades of a football figure in the news. Wes Brown opens up this new feature following his move from Sunderland and speaks of his desire to leave behind John O’Shea who had other ideas…
Dear Diary, I expected this week’s entry to be a lot more positive. Finally, after years of having to put up with John O’Shea, I managed to leave him and join Sunderland.
Next day, I switch on Sky Sports News and who do I find parading round in a Sunderland strip? Sheasy. He’s grinning like a moron. I barely lasted a day without him.
I’d told Sheasy I’d been picked to go to the World Cup and being Irish he had no idea it wasn’t on this summer. Danny Welbeck told me all about Sunderland, said it was far enough away so Sheasy wouldn’t follow me. I thanked Danny for his Catch Me If You Can DVD as I left United.
Sunderland seemed an obvious choice. I like Steve Bruce and he’s impressed with how many England caps I’ve got. If he kicks off I know I can keep him quiet by telling him I’ll give him one for free. Can’t believe that tactic only worked for Darren Fletcher and Andy Goram at Old Trafford.
I’ve wanted to leave ever since Paul Scholes announced his retirement. It’s no fun being ginger at the best of times but once I knew I was going to be the only one left, things changed. Had a bit of a chat with Wayne Rooney about how we were easy targets for abuse on the hair front now. He went for a hair transplant; I decided I’d just go to Sunderland. At least I’ve got Jack Colback here to keep me company. Told him I’d batter him if he dyes his locks, think the message got through.
I met some of the boys in the canteen on my first day. Lee Cattermole crushed a Capri Sun with his hand and told me he’s going to break my nose. Anton Ferdinand assured me it’s a sign of acceptance and told me I should see what he says to those he doesn’t like. I felt uneasy but laughed it off.
Next day Sheasy signed and the atmosphere changed. I heard some murmuring as I went into the canteen; it’s Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley blaming me for bringing him here. Am guessing the grapes that hit me came from them. Am guessing the flying chair which just missed my head came from Cattermole.
Onto training and Sheasy stuck to me like glue. It’s like when your mum tells you to walk to school with the nerdy kid because she’s friends with their parents. Meanwhile he tried to recruit people for the Ireland squad. Asking Steed Malbranque if his parents are from Cork is one thing but mentoring Asamoah Gyan on a river dance is a bit far. Cattermole told Sheasy he’s going to break his nose. I’m not sure it’s a term of endearment this time.
After training Sheasy told me Darron Gibson wants to follow him here. He said it’s really annoying when someone just follows you round everywhere. He has no idea.
Debating whether to offer Cattermole a few of my England caps to ‘sort’ Sheasy out. If Gibson gets here too it’s going to be unbearable.
You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.
“Where there’s a carcass, there will be vultures”
The story is one you’ll recognise. An upstart team with some promising players makes an impression and quickly becomes ravaged by the circling behemoths. If you don’t have money, if you don’t have power, if you don’t have prestige, it’s only a matter of time before Europe’s elite ruthlessly come knocking. If you can’t beat them, buy everything they possess.
The impression that F.C. Porto made last year was always likely to pique the interests of the vultures. They secured a treble and went unbeaten in the league, smashing multiple records in the process. They had a young, bright manager, a talented squad and a real chance of winning next year’s Champions League. Then Chelsea came knocking and the door predictably opened.
Porto know the price of success all too well. They were the last major surprise winners of the Champions League when in 2004, José Mourinho team’s dispatched Monaco with consummate ease. His starting line up had ten Portuguese players and although most were acquired, it was a reflection of the country’s strength at the time. But Roman Abramovich and Chelsea’s millions soon plucked Porto’s ripest elements, starting with Mourinho himself.
Of Porto’s line up that evening, Paulo Ferreira, Pedro Mendes, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho soon followed Mourinho out of the door. Maniche and Costinha lasted 12 more months, Derlei slightly less, Carlos Alberto slightly longer. It was a similar story for Monaco. Fernando Morientes, Jérôme Rothen, Ludovic Giuly, Édouard Cissé, Hugo Ibarra and Dado Pršo all played that night and didn’t return for the next season.
The Valencia squad which reached back-to-back Champions League finals in 2000 and 2001 was also picked apart, bit by bit. After reaching the first, promising midfielders Javier Farinós and Gerard went to Inter and Barcelona respectively. They were also unable to keep hold of Claudio López, the Argentine moving to, at the time, big spending Lazio. After the next final two more important cogs were displaced. Manager Héctor Cúper was snapped up by Inter and the much sought after Gaizka Mendieta joined Lazio.
Valencia’s financial problems have been well documented but they managed to win the next two La Ligas and the 2004 UEFA Cup under Rafa Benítez. Had Valencia kept that squad together, the landscape of La Liga may look very different today.
Other back-to-back finalists Ajax suffered a similar dissection. The squad which won in 1995 immediately lost Michael Reiziger to Milan and Clarence Seedorf to Sampdoria to add to Frank Rijkaard’s retirement. But it took another 12 months for them to lose the core of that side.
After the 1996 final, when Ajax were beaten by Juventus on penalties, Winston Bogarde, Patrick Kluivert, Edgar Davids and Nwankwo Kanu swapped Amsterdam for Milan, Kanu to Inter, the others to A.C. Milan. Finidi George opted for Spain and Real Betis and Marc Overmars, who missed the final through injury, showed up at Arsenal. Manager Louis van Gaal went to Barcelona just 12 months later. Three years after the final, none of 1996’s starting line-up, including Edwin van der Sar, the de Boers and Jari Litmanen, remained.
Ajax’s golden generation flew from the nest and they’ve never returned to the heights of that period in the mid-90s. Europe was surely theirs for the taking had that generation stayed together.
As Porto are about to prove, it’s not just Champions League finalists who are vulnerable to the bigger vultures. The excitement around the Zenit St. Petersburg team who lit up the 2008 UEFA Cup was soon curbed after key figures Andrei Arshavin, Anatoliy Tymoshchuk and Pavel Pogrebnyak left Russia within 12 months.
To a lesser extent Marseille, who reached the 2004 final, lost their impetus when Mathieu Flamini and Didier Drogba came to the Premier League. Alaves, who enthralled us all with a magnificent final against Liverpool back in 2001, soon lost their lynchpins Javi Moreno and Cosmin Contra to Milan.
The Parma side that won the 1999 UEFA Cup would surely have gone on to compete for major honours for many years had they remained together. Playing for them that night were Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Fabio Cannavaro, Roberto Sensini, Juan Sebastián Verón, Enrico Chiesa and Hernán Crespo. Sensini, Chiesa and Verón then all left and Crespo followed them the following summer, all four joining other Italian clubs. Buffon and Thuram went in 2001 before Fabio Cannavaro departed in 2003, again staying within Serie A. Unlike those involved in the Zenit and Ajax exoduses, these were not prompted by players wishing to join more established footballing leagues. Parma competed in the Champions League in 2000 so for those who initially fled, it can’t have been motivated by wanting to play at a higher level either.
For this Porto squad, who towards the end of last year looked every bit as good as every other European side, the horse bolted when Villas-Boas wound up in West London last week.
Had this Porto side stuck together, Villas-Boas, backroom staff and all, who is to say they wouldn’t have replicated Mourinho’s achievements in 2004 and followed up a UEFA Cup (now Europa League) title with club football’s grandest prize? As it is, Villas-Boas’ exit is likely to scupper any hopes of that.
The 33-year-old has his knife out and is feasting away at the Porto carcass. He’s already picked off the grisly bits, acquiring backroom staff members and now the meatier sections of Radamel Falcao, João Moutinho and Hulk are primed to be ripped off.
So instead Porto will be forced to rebuild, albeit with the coffers substantially boosted, and we will be robbed off seeing a new, exciting force try to smash the Champions League monopoly which has seen the same final repeated in the last three years. It’s all rather depressing really.