Sunday, 29 June 2008
Spain were worthy winners. After a rather off-key performance in the quarter final against Spain, I feared that they would not live up to the bar of good football - set by Portugal and Spain themselves, raised by Holland and then by Russia. But the semi final and this evening were two displays of the highest quality. Masters of geometry like no other, they played with a freedom and fluidity no other team could match. It was true tiki-taka as the Spanish have always intended it.
My original and unpredictable team of the tournament
Buffon; Zhirkov, Marchena, Chiellini, Sergio Ramos; Sneijder, Senna; Podolski, Ballack, Iniesta; Villa
My substitutes bench which evolved into a second eleven
Casillas; van Bronckhorst, Puyol, Corluka, Anyukov; Engelaar, Frings; Kazim, Arshavin, David Silva; van Nistelrooy
My players of the tournament
3 Andreas Isaksson 2 Gelson Fernandes 1 Vedran Corluka
My non-City players of the tournament
3 David Silva 2 Marcos Senna 1 Andres Iniesta
Goal of the tournament
3 Ballack vs Austria 2 Sneijder vs France 1 Schweinsteiger vs Portugal
Would have liked to have seen more from...
3 Mario Gomez 2 Cristiano Ronaldo 1 Franck Ribery
I can't remember them being that good in England...
3 Geovanni van Bronckhorst 2 Thomas Hitzlsperger 1 Colin Kazim-Richards
Beard of the tournament sponsored by 'Das Boot'
2 Olof Mellberg 1 Christoph Metzelder
Thierry Henry award for being brilliant 98% of the time but not showing up in big games
Roberto Carlos award for spending so much time attacking that you forget to defend
I've been spending time looking for those games on YouTube, with some success. Here are the Russian Cup Finals:
2006: CSKA Moscow 3 - 0 Spartak Moscow, two goals from Jo
2008: CSKA Moscow 2 - 2 FC Amkar Perm (CSKA won 4-1 on pens), assist and goal from Jo plus penalty
Some more searching this morning has led me to the highlights of the 2007 Russian SuperCup. CSKA beat Spartak Moscow 4-2, Jo scoring CSKA's third and fourth goals. If you can't be bothered to watch the whole thing start from 3:42 to see both goals.
Saturday, 28 June 2008
- If you haven't read my piece on Jo, I recommend it.
- The Russian Premier League is, according to UEFA Coefficients, the sixth strongest league in Europe. Stronger than Portugal or Holland. So for Jo to have scored 30 in 53 RPL games is an impressive record, given the honour bestowed on those who have similarly succeeded in the Eredivisie or the Bwinliga.
- I missed this YouTube earlier, it's from CSKA Moscow losing 4-2 at Inter last year. Run the video from 1:21 and see what Jo can do...
- This is like the other compilation, but a bit more fun.
£19million is an awful lot of money. And nobody really knows anything about him, or at least, not enough to feel comfortable with the amount being spent on him.
Here is some information which will hopefully make you feel better.
Starting his career at Brazilian club Corinthians, he won the Brazilian Cup in his first season playing senior football, in 2002. Increasingly settled into the side, his strike partnership with Carlos Tevez fired Corinthians to the Brazilian Serie A title in 2005. Jo's record for the Corinthians senior team is 13 goals in 81 games. He signed for CSKA Moscow in late 2005, having only just turned eighteen, but not in time to play any part in that year's Russian Premier League - which runs from March to November each season.
Jo won his first trophy with CSKA in only his second game - scoring the winner in the 3-2 defeat of Spartak Moscow in the Russian Super Cup. The 2006 Russian Premier League (from here, RPL) was a further triumph for CSKA and Jo in particular. CSKA won the title by virtue of having won more games than Spartak Moscow, with whom they were tied on points. Jo played 18 of the 30 league matches, and scored 14 goals (including four penalties). He was the second highest scorer in the RPL that year, the winner being Spartak's Roman Pavlyuchenko who scored 18. A perfect first season was capped with CSKA's triumph in the Russian Cup. Jo scored twice in the 4-1 quarter final second leg defeat of Rubin (5-2 on aggregate). After beating Zenit St Petersburg 4-0 over two legs in the semis, CSKA faced Spartak Moscow in the final. In the cup as in the league, CSKA triumphed over their local rivals, winning 3-0. Jo scored twice. Report here. YouTube here.
The 2007 season started with yet another triumph for silverware over Spartak Moscow. The Super Cup, the first match of the season, was CSKA's for the second year running as they beat Spartak 4-2: Jo scoring the third and fourth goals. The Russian Premier League campaign was not quite so successful though. CSKA finished in third place, six points behind Spartak Moscow and eight behind the winners, Zenit St Petersburg. And for the second consecutive year, Jo missed out on the RPL Top Scorer to Pavlyuchenko. Jo bagged 13 goals in 27 in the league: but Pavlyuchenko (and FC Moscow's Roman Adamov) each scored 14. There was no success in the cup either, as CSKA crashed out in the last sixteen to Krylya Sovetov Samara 2-0 over two legs. The end of 2007 did see some European fame for Jo, as he scored in both Champions League group games against Inter Milan. No medals for Jo then, in 2007, although he was rewarded with his first and only international cap in June.
What will (hopefully) prove to be his final year in Moscow has been mixed so far. With the RPL season one third of the way through so far, CSKA are in seventh place, with 15 points from 9 games. Jo has played 7 of those matches and scored 3 league goals. He will leave Moscow on a high though. Just last month, he won his second Russian Cup medal. CSKA faced FC Amkar Perm in the final. 2-0 down with twenty five minutes left, Jo set up Wagner Love for 2-1 before himself snatching a late equaliser, taking the game to extra time. It eventually came down to penalties, and Jo scored his as CSKA triumphed 4-1. It will forever be known as 'the Jo final', and you can see YouTube of the game here.
So in two and a bit seasons at CSKA, Jo has won one Premier League, two Russian Cups and two Super Cups. He has scored 30 in 53 in the league, and 44 in 77 in all competitions. He has twice scored the second largest number of goals in the league (albeit with two players ahead of him in 2007). Moreover, he is clearly a big game player. He scored the winning goals in both the 2006 and 2007 Super Cups, and scored in the Russian Cup finals of 2006 and 2008 - whilst also converting his penalty in the 2008 final shoot out.
If the two cup final YouTubes aren't enough, here is a more general one:
Whilst writing this, I've become very excited about signing him. I hope you now are too.
Friday, 27 June 2008
This time it's AS Roma's Italian defender, Matteo Ferrari, and it's not goal.com but the only slightly more reputable Sky Sports.com:
Skysports.com understands Manchester City have entered the race to sign
Italian Matteo Ferrari....
[He's a free agent after seeing his contract out, apparently Milan and
Juventus are both also interested]
However, City are now ready to enter the chase for the former Parma star as
Mark Hughes looks to reshape his squad at Eastlands.
City are believed to be ready to send an entourage to Italy next week to
hold talks with Ferrari's representatives about a possible return to
He's most famous in England for spending the 2005/06 season on loan at Everton. Having been bought by Roma from Parma in summer 2004, he played one full season for them before being sent to Goodison Park. Injuries hampered his time in England, and no permanent deal was done.
I asked some Everton fans on a forum what they thought of Ferrari, here are some of the responses:
"Classy on the ball, assured and talented. Supposedly a bit sulky behind the scenes. Good signing if you get him."
" liked ferrari put in the best tackle i've ever seen on i think it was aaron lennon. took the ball and sent him flying. i don't know what happened, it was said injuries, it was said moyes didn't like him. everytime i saw him he looked good though, i was disappointed to see him leave, thought he could have been a good player for us."
"He was technically immense but a bit of a liability.He was a lot younger then though so i reckon he could have matured out of his Slaven Bilic type attributes!I was not sad at all when he left. With hindsight though im gutted we didnt keep him for a bit longer and try to shape him ourselves!"
"Isnt he on a free as well? Would be great on a free"
"I'm happy we didn't get him. We proably wouldn't have gone for Lescott otherwise"
"in serie a he is always awful, i don't rate him at all... "
Make of these what you will.
For the past two seasons he's been back up for Chivu and Mexes, managing a respectable forty Serie A and eight Champions League starts in total. But Ferrari has chosen not to renew his deal and to seek first team football away from the Stadio Olimpico.
It's also worth pointing out that he has international experience. Between 2002 and 2004 he made 11 appearances for the Azzurri, but could not displace Nesta/Cannavaro. Could be a good signing if we don't have to pay a fee, especially given how we struggled in the last few months of last season with a lack of cover across the defence.
But as I've been writing this news of a bigger transfer has started emerging...
I think they're very good.
Maybe not as good as last year - although those were a very good set - but it's good to have got rid of that terribly unlucky purple shirt. The black and red shirt is smart. The rumours of an orange European kit are rather worrying though.
The players modelling the kits are no surprise: Micah leading the way, with support from (in rough order of descending prominence) Petrov, Benjani, Elano, Hamann and Onuoha. There have never been any serious doubts about any of their staying.
Hart was modelling the goalkeeper's kit, which doesn't tell that much. Even with the question mark over his future, he's still the goalkeeper most likely to be at City this season.
And no sign of Dunne or Johnson, who would surely otherwise have been there.
I've been supporting Spain all tournament, largely thanks to Sky Sports kindly sending me two (!!) free 'I'm supporting Spain this summer' t-shirts. Hype about first Holland and then Russia means that Spain haven't been too much in the spotlight and have, like Germany, quietly played their way to the final.
But they were really good this evening. It was so satisfying to see Cesc play such a significant role. I feared we wouldn't see him, but Villa's injury meant he got almost an hour of football, in which he turned the game for Spain. It also reminded me how much I love him and why Arsenal are my favourite Big Four side.
It wasn't just about Cesc though; Xavi, Silva and Iniesta were all magical. Any loss from not seeing Arshavin, Zyryanov and others at their best was more than off-set by the form of the Spaniards. And at right back, Sergio 'CorlukaPlus' Ramos, showed Anyukov what being a world class attacking right back means.
I know who I'm supporting in the final.
The first Milito link came with a story on goal.com , which then progressed onto Setanta Sports and Sky Sports. By Thursday lunchtime it was on Manchester Evening News and on BBC Sport's 'Gossip Column' under the 'Latest Gossip' section. This evening it showed up on the Daily Mail's website. All this from one goal.com story!
And the story still doesn't show on Marca.com. So the original source might well be wrong. In which case, all this fuss will have been about nothing.
There is one new story about Milito today, also from goal.com. Apparently Juventus want him. And it's only through looking for stories on this that I finally found a reference to City on a Spanish website about Milito. We are mentioned in this story on AS.com, as a club once interested (along with Spurs) in the possibly Turin bound striker.
(Any Spanish speakers would be very welcome to translate the piece and e-mail it to me)
I will stop at nothing before I get to the bottom of this - and so I have e-mailed Guillem Balague to see what he knows.
Thursday, 26 June 2008
Available for pre-order tomorrow (I'm not doing anything until I know whether Milito is wearing 9 or 10...), it will be officially unveiled on Saturday 19th July, and first worn for the AC Milan friendly on the 9th of August.
I know how much the Milan match means to everyone, and how big it will make us feel that Kaka and Pirlo are playing at City, but shouldn't this season's kit be worn for this season's first competitive matches - the two legs of the UEFA Cup First Qualifying Round, scheduled for the the 17th and 31st of July? What better way of showing that it's just part of pre-season than by wearing the old kit (which I do like, although that's not the point) and treating it like a friendly?
In fact, MCFC are so complacent about the First Qualifying Round that the dates for the Second and Third Qualifying Rounds are pencilled in, so to speak, on the 2008/09 fixtures page on the website! How stupid are we going to look when we crash out to Akranes or whoever, never mind Gomel in the Second Qualifying Round...
Anyway, I've been hoping for ages that the kit unveiling (which, I think, is not tomorrow but in three weeks' time) will coincide (not coincidentally) with the unveiling of a new signing or new contract. Dunne? Jo? Hart? Milito? Johnson? Ronaldinho? These are all possiblilties. I'm getting rather desperate for announcements (I'd even love Danny Mills to sign on for a few more years now), so I'm superexcited about the 19th.
Wednesday, 25 June 2008
This time it's not Espanyol's Pablo Zabaleta but Zaragoza's goal machine Diego Milito, for as little as €8million.
Goal.com claims to quote Marca in saying that:
Negotiations between Blanquillos [Real Zaragoza] and the Blues "are at a very advanced stage."
Milito has yet to comment on any move, however his agent and lawyer, Adrian Faija has admitted that, "Manchester City are the only club to have placed a bid with my client's employers."
Since this popped up on goal.com it's found its way onto Setanta and SkySports' websites. I'm not quite sure how seriously we can take this yet, though. It's certainly not on Marca's website (have a look...), and googling 'Faija Milito City', and looking for Spanish language responses gets you nowhere. I'm not sure whether Spanish newspapers are as good as English ones at putting stories on their websites as soon as they have them - but even if they're not I'd like to think it would have made it onto the internet somehow. (One thing I found claimed that Faija is merely Milito's lawyer, and he has a seperate agent: Fernando Hidalgo. I don't know how important this is.)
But given that it's the first rumour in days, we might as well flirt with it.
It's not the first time we've been linked with Milito. Back in March, rumours started to circulate that Dr Thaksin had put aside a large sum of money for a 'player to fill the stadium'. When Eriksson was told of this, he started looking for a new centre forward. And Milito was one of his targets. Whether this makes this evening's rumour more or less believable, I'm not sure.
Anyway, Milito's career started at Racing Club in Argentina. He first emerged, aged twenty-one, in the 2000/01 season, scoring twice in eighteen matches. His first full season was 2001/02 when he scored 9 goals in 30 games and was first called up for Argentina. Milito firmly put himself on the radar in 2002/03 with 14 goals in 34 matches. It was halfway through the next year that he got his move to Europe. In January 2004, having already scored 8 in 17 for Racing, he signed for Genoa.
The twenty-four year old settled into life in Serie B instantly. In his first half season in Italy, he scored twelve in seventeen, as Genoa struggled to fifteenth in the league. The next year was the making of him: netting 21 goals as he led Genoa to the top of Serie B. Rule breaking, however, meant that Genoa started 2005/06 not in Serie A but Serie C1 - and Milito was sold to Real Zaragoza.
Milito's first season in La Liga was a triumph. He scored fifteen goals in thirty five league starts for Zaragoza, finishing fourth in the top scorers' chart, and finishing up on the losing side in the Copa del Rey final (losing to Pablo Zabaleta's Espanyol). Milito's zenith came in 2006/07. Twenty three La Liga goals (in 36 games) put him only two behind Ruud van Nistelrooy in the race for the pichichi, outscoring, inter alia, Ronaldinho, Kanouté, Villa and Torres. (See below for YouTube of all twenty five). Selected for the Argentina squad for 2007's Copa America, he managed only one start and one subsitute appearance, but did score in stoppage time in the 4-2 defeat of Colombia in the group stages.
2007/08 saw Milito score a respectable 15 from 33 games - way down the Pichichi standings but comfortably his club's second top scorer. It was not enough, however, to save Zaragoza from relegation. And so here we are.
His scoring record is obviously very good. He settled in swiftly moving from Argentina to Italy and then from Italy to Spain. One possible concern is the rumour that last summer Rafa Benitez thought very seriously about signing him but pulled out because he thought Milito was too slow. But I'm too excited about this rumour to let that bother me.
Milito's 25 goals from 2006/07:
And some of Milito's goals for Genoa:
Tuesday, 24 June 2008
There will actually be an announcement with regards to the kit this Friday 27th
June, so please look on the website and local press for information.
There is already a photo in circulation of next year's home shirt (below), which is only a minor change from this year's. Significantly, both the manufacturer and the sponsor stay the same, despite rumours of both Nike and Singha Beer.
I hope that the shirt announcement will coincide with some playing staff announcements, whether purchases or new contracts. There is talk (admittedly on bluemoon) that the Ronaldinho deal hinges on a deal with Nike - so the two could presumably be announced together. But, to be honest, a new shirt alone would be sufficient to keep me excited about next season.
Monday, 23 June 2008
[Zabaleta] has attracted the attention of Manchester City in recent
As.com now reports that Zabaleta is open to a move to Eastlands, treating
this option more seriously than potential moves to Valencia and Fiorentina.
New boss Mark Hughes has previously watched the Argentina international in
action when at Blackburn Rovers, and in his hotseat at City he now seems set to act on that interest.
How exciting! All the attention on Ronaldinho and Jo risks distracting us from the real tasks Hughes faces: keeping hold of the core of the team (Hart, Dunne, Richards, Johnson) and bringing in reinforcements at full back and in midfield.
A look at Zabaleta's wikipedia profile reveals a bit more. Zabaleta captained Argentina U-20s (a team including Messi, Aguero and Gago) to victory in the 2005 Under 20 World Cup. After a €3million transfer to RCD Espanyol in 2005, he won the Copa del Rey in 2006, but was on the losing side of the 2007 UEFA Cup final.
I love this YouTube clip of him I found. Standing his ground in the face of Robinho's trickery, he wins the ball and then gives Robinho some chat. The sort of toughness we could really do with at CoMS.
Further digging shows that Zabaleta scored the stoppage time winner in the semi final of the 2005 U-20 World Cup, a 2-1 win against Brazil.
Sunday, 22 June 2008
Manchester City feel that everything could be sorted with Ronaldinho next week.
A source close to the negotiations is very positive about the outcome of the transfer. The details of the contract negotiations are advanced, and the fact that Milan seem to consider themselves out of the equation plays in to the hands of City.
Mark Hughes knows it is a risk to take the player and the club will use a huge percentage of its wage money (more than 20 per cent) on the Brazilian, but everybody at City is convinced it is a risk worth taking.
The suggestion that Hughes is comfortable with this plan is reassuring. I had feared it was only Thaksin's plan imposed on top of the new manager.
He goes on to say that a potential spoiler could be the replacement of Joan Laporta by Sandro Rosell as FC Barcelona President. Rosell is said to be close to Ronaldinho, and could even overrule Guardiola and ensure his staying at the club.
But interesting news nonetheless. Read it HERE.
Thursday, 19 June 2008
The only quarter-final between two non EU members may also be the least competitive. Turkey's six points could easily have been one: late goals providing the winner against Switzerland, and both equaliser and winner against the Czechs. Croatia, in contrast, are one of the three nine point teams, having breezed past Germany amongst others.
Croatia have the tournament's best manager (pace Guus Hiddink), and one of the best players in Modric. I hope Modric won't be at Tottenham for more than a few years, because if he is then they'll be in the Champions League and City certainly won't be. More importantly, Croatia have the one remaining City player in the tournament (unless Arshavin signs very soon...), and Corluka's been doing well enough to impress Mark Hughes but not so well as to attract big bids from any massive clubs.
I imagine that Croatia will be too good for Turkey. And if Turkey have exhausted all of their luck currency, Croatia ought not to have any serious problems.
The hardest to call of all the quarter finals. Portugal have played some wonderful football in flashes, but have not hit the heights of Holland. Germany, coming into the tournament as favourites, have put out one good performance and two poor ones. But, to draw upon clichéd footballing stereotypes, we can always rely on the Germans to up their game when it matters. Equally, these fancy Iberian sides can play some beautiful football in the group stages, but choke in the knock outs.
Seriously though, it's going to be tight. I can't see Nuno Gomes getting much out of Metzelder and Mertesacker, but that's not where the game will be won. Given how stupid Torsten Frings was made to look by Luka 'the new Deco' Modric, he will have to be on top form not to be humiliated by the real Deco tonight. The combination of Deco, Moutinho, Ronaldo and Simao are masters of footballing geometry, and the aesthete within me hopes that they triumph over the more industrious Germans.
The Podolski/Gomez/Klose combination up front looked explosive against Poland but has been poor since. Moving Podolski up front with his Bayern Munich teammate (although that distinction will soon be meaningless amongst German forwards) might be the best idea, or even one forced on them by injury. Similarly, the Portugal back line has been inconsistent. Germany could score none, or three, quite easily.
So what to predict? My £5 on Portugal at 7/1 pulls me one way, national stereotypes the other. Last time Michael Ballack and Cristiano Ronaldo went head-to-head, one scored a penalty and lost the European Cup, the other missed his penalty but took home the medal. Maybe the anger and bitterness will drive Ballack into a certain place this evening. If it does, Germany could march on to the semis.
Wednesday, 18 June 2008
- A rumour in The Mirror today which, if true, is great news. Unfortunately I never believe anything I read about City in The Mirror since the 'Richards Transfer Request' story and I can't in good faith change that simply because the rumours I read I want to be true. So I'll wait until I see them grinning and shaking hands with Hughes on mcfc.co.uk.
- The unexplained delay in the Jo transfer is now explained. It's a shame that Cook felt he could confidently declare Jo's imminent arrival despite this issue, but in terms of the transfer itself it's not a big deal. The deal for Jo was started when SGE was still in charge, and it seems as if Hughes was presented with it and asked if he was ok. Given the massive cash outlay, it's perhaps better for Hughes to be actively choosing his strikers rather than being presented with them: Santa Cruz, Podolski or whoever else could all be better options.
- Ronaldinho seems to drag on and on. Even though Cook ought to be the ideal man to untangle all of his various sponsorship deals it might simply be too big a task. And the arrival of Scolari at Chelsea further complicates the situation. I haven't yet seriously thought about the potential transfer, because I was so incredulous about the rumours for so long. So if it doesn't happen, even from this point, I think I'll be ok with it.
Monday, 16 June 2008
One of our top scorers, but still, I think, a disappointing season. Played a few games up front but had most of his starts in right midfield. He's just not a winger; certainly not one for a UEFA Cup qualifying team. And it's not like he's a lazy goal-getter who doesn't want to track back - his work rate is fantastic, it's merely an issue of quality. Those five misses in the 1-1 at Derby County were the nadir, but that one chance in the 0-0 at Fratton Park wasn't great either. I fear his work rate and selflesness will endear him to Hughes. C
Benjani (13, 3; 0, 0)
Signed out of desperation in the dying hours of the January transfer window, as bids for Anelka, Podolski, Milito or whoever else failed. And at just over £1million for each league goal, he's doing better than Bianchi. Always worked hard, and in the last few games looked to be slowly settling into the lone striker role. Never seemed likely to tear teams apart, but maybe just a good buy in the circumstances - for the goal at OT if not much else. B
Bianchi (7 (12) 4; 3 (2), 1)
5 goals for £8.8 million tells a story, but not the whole one. It didn't take very long (two games) for Eriksson to go for Bozhinov up front instead of the Italian; his next preference was clearly Mpenza. Over time Mpenza and Vassell proved themselves even less equipped for the role than Bianchi, and a relatively successful spell in December suggested that he might turn into a good buy. But non-footballing factors seemingly played too strong a role and he went back to Lazio in January. He looked like a good footballer in difficult conditions: not adjusting to life on or off the pitch. But if his first six months were such a bad experience, I'm not sure how worthwhile it would be to bring him back to City. All we need now is that €11million back... C
Mpenza (8 (7), 2 ; 2 (1) , 1)
Bought in similar circumstances to Benjani not quite twelve months previously - the team in freefall, foreign strikers misfiring, urgently needed someone to lead the line. Both scored a few goals but couldn't save the manager. Mpenza started this season far down the pecking order, but injuries and poor form saw him get his fair share of appearances. In fact, our very best football this season - Fulham A, Newcastle H, Middlesboro H (nine goals in three games seems impossible looking at the second half of the season!) was with Mpenza up front. Will always be a hero for those goals in spring 2007 - if he goes to Bolton and comes back next year he'll get the reception he deserves. B
None of the others played enough to deserve a whole paragraph. But, in order of ascending optimism: Samaras' time is over as a City player - he admits this and is desperate to stay at Celtic (a few successful years will hopefully see him brought to England, where he will inevitably fail again...). £6million not very smartly spent. Hopefully not following him out of the door is Bozhinov. Recent media (ok then, goal.com) reports say he's thinking of going back to Italy. I still have good memories of those twenty minutes at the Boleyn Ground ten months ago, when he looked world class. I hope Hughes knows enough about him to keep hold of him. It's unlikely that Hughes knows much about Nery Castillo, given his four starts in four months at the club. He probably looked best on the right wing, but the nasty injuries make me reluctant to judge too firmly at this stage. Daniel Sturridge will hopefully play some role in Hughes' plans - if he stays fit I'm sure he will benefit from the UEFA Cup adding (if we do well) twenty more games to the calendar, like Anichebe has done at Everton. The other youngsters, Etuhu and Caicedo, may not be so lucky.
Sunday, 15 June 2008
One of the better buys. It's nice to have a top quality foreign player at the peak of his game - our imports are usually 'one last paycheck' types (Tarnat, Trabelsi, Corradi....) or Football Manager signings (Samaras, Vuoso etc). For his monthly world class performance, Petrov is a joy to watch. West Ham away, Fulham away, Newcastle home, Blackburn home, Man Utd away are the ones that stand out to me, but there are certainly others. He's just too inconsistent, though, to be Player of the Season. When it's not going his way he's bad tempered, and is prone to doing very stupid things; his three game suspension after that red card against Everton came at exactly the wrong time. Can't wait to see him next season though. A-
Ireland (32 (1), 4; 5 (1), 0)
Seems to divide City fans like no other player. I'm a big fan. Only Petrov, Dunne and Corluka started more league games, and Ireland played all over the pitch. In Autumn he was a better right winger than we had all year, when Eriksson chose Vassell instead he was moved inside. He was brilliant doing a spoiling job alongside Gelson at OT, and then had some great games behind Benjani at the end of the season: Portsmouth at home was probably the best I've ever seen him play. It's true that he was inconsistent and occassionally went missing: but given how much he was moved around, and how he relies on others to do work for him (this is not a criticism in itself, Messi relies on Toure and Xavi to win the ball for him...), I think he had a good year. B
Elano (29 (3), 8; 4, 2)
The hardest to judge. For a few months, sublime. Drifting around behind a centreforward (either Mpenza or Bianchi), he was magical. The goals all stand out, but there's DVDs worth of material - flicks and passes up there with the best of Benarbia or Kinkladze. And then for some reason, the flame died out. Whether it was the weather, fatigue, or an injury picked up on international duty, I'm not sure. By the end of the season we had to ask whether it was the first few weeks which were the break from the norm? It's this reversal of the traditional pattern which is so difficult: starting with dazzling skills before struggling to fit in to the culture or weather - it's so counter-intuitive. Judged as a whole, his season was a triumph: top scorer and most assissts, with a few goals and performances to live long in the memory. But why the decline? A-
Hamann (26 (3), 0; 5, 0)
Until March or so, my choice for Player of the Season. He'd had a terrible year in 2006/07 (this is the time in the calendar that 'last year/season' is confusing to the point of being meaningless), and so when he was linked with 1860 Munich in the summer I was hoping he'd go. What we'd underestimated was the extent to which Hamann was unsuited to Pearce's Mike Bassett type tactics. Asking him and Barton to cover every blade of grass was never a sensible use of his talents. But as an unmoving pivot, balancing the weight of our midfield and forwards on his shoulders, Hamann was exceptional. Playing exactly to his strengths; breaking down attacks, taking the ball of the back four, moving it on simply and effectively, not crossing the halfway line, buying free kicks etc etc. He slightly ran out of steam by the spring - was dominated by Steve Harper at the Madjeski in March and from then on Eriksson decided to work on forging the Gelson/Johnson partnership. A-
Johnson (23, 2; 2, 0)
When fit and focussed, probably our best midfielder. There were times in Autumn when it was genuinely like watching Gerrard: not just big and quick and powerful and hardworking (although all of those), but cocky and precocious and elegant - remember, appropriately enough, Gerrard's humiliation of Hamann in the 5-1 seven years ago. Box to box sprints all game are one thing, but box to box struts...
But, just like a teenage Gerrard, niggling muscle injuries that won't go away are seriously hampering progress. Two months out with a groin strain, then 45 minutes back playing, and then another two months out. Upon returning he was never quite the same, and rumours of an attitude problem persist. Very promising, but an awful long way to go. B+
Gelson ( 21 (5), 2; 3(3), 0)
The one Eriksson buy I most want to us to keep next season - I feel like he could grow into a special player for City in the years to come. Took a few months to settle in, but started almost every game in 2008. Increasingly came to dominate midfields in the absence of Johnson and Hamann. Strong, quick, energetic and a real leader, the Patrick Vieira comparisons are inevitable. Currently getting some very useful experience in a major tournament, but fortunately not so impressive as to attract buyers. The worst thing about sacking Sven is losing the contacts that picked up players like Gelson. B+
Hart (26 League appearances, 0 goals; 6 cup appearances, 0 goals)
The find of the season. Was probably, at least in fans' expectations, third choice at the start of the season. Seized his chance ably, surprising everyone with his quality and his consistency. I don't think I can remember one costly mistake (almost conceded a hilarious own goal in one of his first matches, home to Newcastle in October). Made some wonderful saves. A
Schmeichel (7, 0; 0, 0)
Given the metaphorical Number 1 jersey in August, and did well to concede only two in his first six games. But the three let in at Fulham had, in fact, been waiting to happen for some time and was then dropped. Never looked like getting back in the team: serious question marks over whether he's got what it takes. B-
Isaksson (5, 0; 1, 0)
Like last season, got injured at unfortunate teams and then saw an unrated English 'keeper surprise everyone and keep him out of the team. Impresses whenever called upon, even managed to look competent whilst conceding eight against Middlesboro. B
Dunne (36, 0; 6, 0)
Not my Player of the Season. Was probably as good this year as he's ever been, though, in that we got the traditional combination of 60% competence, 20% heroism and 20% Titus Bramble. We do need him to stay, for his leadership qualities and stability, and because of our paucity of defensive cover. But let's not pretend that he's our best or even second best defender. B
Corluka (34(1), 0; 6, 0)
The most consistent of Eriksson's buys, and the most likely to turn into a long term servant of the club. Reminds me of Rio Ferdinand from about 2002: has everything one could want in a defender, whilst also being a genuine footballer. Like Rio, though, he is afflicted by occasional lapses in concentration. The final equaliser in the 3-3 at Craven Cottage and Fulham's first at CoMS seven months later both came from simple errors. Also needs to work out whether he's a centre-back or a full-back. A-
Richards (25, 0; 4, 0)
Had the attention taken from him by the success of the new buys in the first few months of the season. Whilst the press were talking about Elano and Petrov, Micah was forging a centre back pairing with Dunne just as strong as that which the captain had with Distin, which had four years of joint experience behind it. Only when he injured his knee in the Spring did we realise how much we missed him. Signing that new contract was one of the best things to happen this year. A
Garrido (21 (6), 0; 2, 0)
More promise than achievement this year. Was in the side for the most successful period of the season in August and September, before making way for Ball. Like Ireland, he represented Eriksson's preference for those with 'footballing brains' ahead of players with the hard edge needed to do well in the Premier League. His linking up with Petrov is always good, but still has to prove he's tough enought to play full back every week. A measley £1.5m means he still gets the benefit of the doubt though. C+
Ball (19 (9), 0; 6 (1), 0)
Deserves credit for changing Eriksson's mind in late Autumn. Was always solid at left back but never exceptional. Filled in at centre back late in the season when everyone else was injured. Fits the stereotype of a 'player Mark Hughes would like' in my mind; but we'll have to wait and see how much he's involved next year. B-
Onuoha (13 (3), 1; 4 (1), 0)
His best season yet, but still beset by the old problems. In and out of the team for the first few months (the fact that Richards and Corluka are both better right backs and both better centre backs than Nedum didn't help), he was finally settling in before a nasty shoulder injury put him out at the worst possible time. As such, he has still not quite convinced (me, at least) that he ought to be first choice defender for a top half Premier League side. He just seems to get caught out too much. Aston Villa or Newcastle beckon? C
Sun Jihai (7 (7), 0; 2, 0)
My heart sinks every time I see him on the team sheet. It's not just that he's a poor winger, a bad full back and an atrocious holding midfielder (although all of those things are true), but that he's so terribly unlucky. The own goal at Derby, the penalty at St. Andrews: it's almost as if the Gods of Football are punishing us for the sin of picking him. I guess if we sign Ronaldinho then Jihai would cease to be our main source of foreign income, so we could finally send him to Burnley or wherever. D
Wednesday, 4 June 2008
- Sven had to go. His position was completely untenable. The players demonstrably didn't want to play for him anymore. I think on a personal level it was unfair to Sven to make him do the Far East tour, and that keeping him hanging around was maybe rather graceless, but that's a minor concern.
- Hughes is the best possible candidate. Of all the mentioned/plausible names (I go as far as Scolari and maybe Mancini but not as far as Mourinho), he was the best. His knowledge of the Premier League, his success in the transfer market, his motivational techniques, the fact that he's a born winner (2 Premier Leagues, 4 FA Cups, 2 League Cups and 2 Cup Winners' Cups as a player) make him extremely attractive.
- Hughes is the anti-Sven. Eriksson was cool, quiet and thoughtful. Our football was slow, measured, intelligent, focussing on ball retention above all. Hughes is loud, temperamental, maybe rather brash and plays quick, direct, 'British' football. This will have an inevitable knock on in terms of the playing staff: I can see him being a big fan of Petrov, Richards, Ball, Gelson, Dunne (if he stays), maybe even Vassell or Benjani. Less popular may be Ireland, Hamann, Elano, and maybe even Corluka. I'd like to think Corluka would have got a serious telling off for his costly mistakes, Fulham home and away in particular.
- The new regime: Hughes and Cook, seem very serious about new signings. Jo next week (why not now?), and who knows after that? I'd like Roque Santa Cruz, would really like Bentley and haven't actually thought about our signing Ronaldinho in a serious enough fashion to have a real opinion. But the Thaksin Daily Mail interview (what a triumph of PR!) seems to suggest there's going to be real movement.
- I'm no longer concerned that we'll go down, or go bankrupt, or go out of the UEFA Cup before it really starts any more. I'm a very long way away from making predictions for the 2008/09 season, but I have a sense that things will be ok.
- Happy and excited as I am by today's events, I can't quite shake off the sense that none of this should have happened.
The quality itself is important, but insufficient. What made it such good sport?
The answer probably lies in the drama. The nature of the game as the Champions' League final made it more dramatic than it would otherwise have been. There were lots of chances etc at the Luzhniki, but there have been more dramatic matches this season. It is as the European final that everything means more, the stakes are higher, everything is a little bit more intense.
The number of pendulum swings, of turning points both taken and missed (Lampard's shot that hit the bar was a turning point, he simply failed to turn) was tortuous. The missed chances, for United in the first half, for Chelsea in the second, and then scattered through extra time.
And the penalty shoot out. Simon Barnes wrote a piece about what the penalty misses tell us about the missers, which is worth reading. I agree that the fact that Ronaldo, the best player in the world, the man whose final this could have been (in the 'Gerrard Final' sense), but wasn't, missed, means something. I think its something to do with failing to reach the summit? Or to do with being so great, that he gets consumed by narcissism and makes a mistake? But that can't be right: Ronaldo has always done silly penalty run ups. In that sense, it was an accident waiting to happen.
John Terry is different. Whilst Ronaldo has a timeless talent, Terry is very much about being in the right place at the right time. He dominates contexts. When you need him most, he's there to clear Giggs' shot off the line. Which is what makes his penalty miss so fascinating. Looking back on it, it was too obvious. For John Terry, 'Mr Chelsea', the man of steel, to score the winning penalty in the Champions' League final, was too good a story. It was too much of a front page photo, too Roy of the Rovers, too much of an image the Sky Sports montageurs would imprint on the collective football consciousness for years to come.
I hope I've got a bit closer to justifying previous claims.