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Oh Joe he didn’t! Kinnear returns to Newcastle as Director of Football.

There is certainly never a dull moment at Newcastle United and with owner Mike Ashley in charge, supporters in the Northeast have seen some unusual moving and shaking over the last few years. The appointment though of former manager Joe Kinnear to the role of director of football is, even by the standard of Ashley’s antics, baffling to say the least.

Newcastle fans, and quite possibly manager Alan Pardew himself, would be forgiven for wondering what’s going on as they find themselves scratching around amongst the disbelief and bewilderment for a reason to be positive about this latest twist. Without wishing do disrespect the abilities of Joe Kinnear, this is an appointment that reeks of agenda, smacks of déjà vu and it seems “captain Ashley has turned on the seatbelt light, we’re about to run into some turbulence.”

The whole phenomenon of a director of football is something that has gradually crept into British club operations from abroad where a senior man, operating above the touchline means the traditional manager’s role is more that of head coach. This new ideology has been greeted with suspicion by both managers and fans alike. The main worry being that the director will interfere with team matters, to the extent that it hampers the manager’s ability to do his job. The fears of course, are often justified and in search of a previous example, we should look no further than Tyneside itself.

Joe Kinnear

Back in 2008 Ashley’s popularity was at an all-time high with the Toon support due to his appointment of club hero Kevin Keegan for a second spell as manager. He had however, also recently appointed former Chelsea captain, Dennis Wise to the director of football role. Before long rumours were circling that Keegan was unhappy with Wise meddling in team matters. He resigned by September, openly citing the interference as a reason and saying players were being bought and sold against his wishes.

So what of Joe Kinnear and his track record? The Irishman has of course, had a good degree of success as a manager. Most of this success though was with his Wimbledon crazy gang back when the Premier League was just a spring chicken two decades ago. His spell at Luton Town could also be regarded as a positive one but the majority of Magpies’ fans will be wondering how in touch Kinnear can possibly be with the modern game due to a couple of lengthy health-related absences.

Now 66 years old, Kinnear is linking up with Ashley at Newcastle for a second time, albeit in a different role. His last spell, replacing Keegan as manager, was mediocre in terms of results and ultimately cut short by his own health problems. It was however packed with controversy and included an infamous foul mouth rant by the Dubliner, aimed at a journalist form the Daily Mirror. What on Earth can we expect this time around?

Directors of football usually downplay their appointment on arrival. Clubs issue statements justifying the position and there is much talk of strengthening links between the manager and the board. The language used is all about supporting, guiding, administering and advising. In general the explanation of the role is vague and maximum effort is made to avoid ruffling the manager’s feathers.

Joe Kinnear though wasn’t beating about the bush. He was making it clear that he would be not only involved in decisions about transfers, but having the final say. It’s hard to know when Pardew first heard of the appointment but here was Kinnear was claiming in his phone interview, that he planned to sit down for lunch with the manager, openly admitting at the same time that he had not yet spoken to him, while effectively announcing on national TV that he would be taking away some of the boss’ responsibilities. The whole thing was just bursting with the aura of a truly public undermining and the hallmarks of a Mike Ashley stunt.

The agenda? Newcastle had a cracking 2011/12 season under Pardew and Ashley rewarded the manager with an unprecedented eight whole years of contract. Now here we are one year on and Newcastle toiled badly last season, Mr Pardew’s stock is lower and his contract still seven years away from a severance free ending. If Mike Ashley fancies another change in manager he will need Pardew to quit rather than sack him.

What makes the whole thing even more audacious is that one Joe Kinnear was installed as director of football at Luton Town in 2001. Almost immediately after appointment, Kinnear demoted the manager and took control of the team himself. Alan Pardew of course will be immune from anything quite so obvious and drastic but you would forgive him for thinking that there is something sinister afoot.

As we wait for Pardew to comment, Newcastle fans can sit and wonder what the future will hold regarding Kinnear’s impact on how the club will operate in the summer transfer market. Perhaps Kinnear will bring experience and a great assistance to the current manager and perhaps Mr Ashley is being shrewd beyond our comprehension. The potential twists and turns in this plot are mouth-watering for a neutral onlooker. Despite all the uncertainty we can rest assured that the immediate future at United will be far from the mundane.

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Nani for sale? Why Manchester United should think again

It looks like this summer, which is already a transitional one at Manchester United, much of the old Trafford faithful may get one of their long held wishes. For a few seasons now, the majority of the Champion’s supporters seem to have been of the opinion that Portuguese winger Nani doesn’t quite cut the mustard. It now seems that the club are ready to let the player go.

The reason for the large contingent of fans that want to see the wide man moved on is that Nani can be an incredibly frustrating player. Admittedly his crossing is inconsistent, his form often patchy and his decision making below the standard of other top wingers. Despite his failings, Nani is, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s own words, a match-winner. The 26 year old has pace, trickery and can shoot with both feet. United fans seem to forget that for stages of the 2011-12 season, the former sporting man virtually carried the side. In several games when United were struggling to break down opposition, it was his individual brilliance and flair that unlocked the door. If Nani does end up leaving United this year it will also be with a few spectacular goals in his scrapbook. Frustrating-yes, a textbook confidence player-yes, but United’s worst winger, no, not by a long shot.

Nani

Granted, as an attacking wide man, Nani is a few classes below the Messi’s and Ronaldo’s and Bale’s of this day, but If the club are ready to sell wide players, they should perhaps look at some of their other options first. Antonio Valencia for example had a terrible season. He generally offers a steadier and more consistent option to his team-mate and he applies himself better in his defensive duties. Valencia though, lacks the creative spark offered by Nani. He cannot frighten the full back the way the Portuguese can and the amount of United moves which ground to a halt last season because the Ecuador man put his foot on the ball are countless. Ashley Young is another who failed to deliver last term. Young is more similar to Nani in that he is dangerous in a shooting position and can worry defenders but he has become injury prone, is a year older and failed to net a league goal last term in 17 appearances. Nani scored twice in 10 and Valencia just once in 29.

With Wilfried Zaha arriving and Shinji Kagawa also in the mix for an attacking midfield berth, competition will be fierce but even if Nani doesn’t start he can provide an injection of pace and attacking threat from the bench. New manager David Moyes will of course be forming opinions on which members of his new squad he rates highly and will have his own plans of who to bring in but he would be unwise to dismiss the winger’s effectiveness.

It would appear that Moyes and the club may have already made up their minds with Galatasaray claiming United have set an asking price of £8.5 million. That would surely represent a bargain for any side looking to add some creativity. Nani will never be a Cristiano Ronaldo, but he can be a devastating weapon. United don’t have to keep him but he certainly shouldn’t be the first to leave. His chances were very limited last term and regardless of where he is strutting his stuff come the start of the new campaign fans can expect excitement as long as he gets a chance.

Can Kevin Mirallas help Everton leapfrog Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea for a Champions League spot?

Could Mirallas miracles help Everton Edge out two of the London giants for Champions League football?

Behind Manchester United and City in the Premier League, the other big name clubs find themselves scrapping it out for European football and primarily a top-four spot, which grants entry to the glamour of next season’s Champions League. A first glance at how things currently stand would have most people reckoning on two from three of the big London sides, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal joining the Manchester pair in the top four positions come the final day. Everton though, remain within touching distance and with games against both Arsenal and Chelsea still to come, have to an extent, their destiny in their own hands. While Spurs have just lost Gareth Bale for a couple of weeks, the Toffees by contrast, have an exciting player who may just be hitting top form at the right time.

Kevin Mirallas arrived at Goodison last summer amid what could be described as little more than modest optimism. £6 million isn’t really a figure that sets pulses racing these days in the transfer markets, although by Everton’s standards this could be described as David Moyes splashing the cash, if not maybe even getting a bit reckless. The player was signed on the back of a successful campaign in the Greek Super league with Olympiacos, where he scored 20 times. The problem was though that at that time Mirallas, then 24-years-old, had never come close to that sort of goal tally before, despite having several seasons in the French top flight under his belt. He has also only netted six times in over 30 international caps. Moyes however, rarely gets it wrong with his acquisitions and it seems he may now be placed to begin seeing a return on his investment having shunted the player to a wide attacking role.

Kevin Mirallas

Much has been said of the promise on the horizon for Belgian football and the current talented crop migrating from that small nation to Europe’s big leagues. Eden Hazard was the most high-profile acquisition in the summer and he has certainly made an impact. Jan Vertonghen has consistently impressed for Spurs and Mirallas has even been overshadowed by a fellow countryman at Everton thanks to the swashbuckling antics of Marouane Fellaini. The 25-year-old is now though beginning to revel in his role cutting in from the wing and is starting to look as dangerous as anyone in the league.
Early in the season the Belgian showed promise but injuries soon hampered his debut campaign. His comeback stuttered and he impressed only with a cameo here and a dribble there. The last few weeks however have seen him threaten defences consistently and produce two stunning individual goals against Stoke and Spurs.

Granted the Standard Liege youth graduate did land on Merseyside with a poor goal-scoring pedigree but the Greek goal haul and his exploits in the last fortnight suggest he can finish. Despite this it could be that if Moyes continues to deploy him wide he may get the best results. The 25-year-old boasts pace, excellent close control and has the look of a player who can threaten defenders when cutting inside to run at the backline. He also gives Everton a nice balance with his skill on the right to compliment the link- up between Baines and Pienaar on the left. Getting the ball wide to Mirallas could well be another option Everton can deploy when searching for a breakthrough, an alternative to hoisting the ball onto the chest of Fellaini.

Moyes’ men are certainly outsiders for a Champions League berth as they currently trail fourth-placed Tottenham by six points, albeit with a game in hand. They are also though, perennial over-achievers who have finished strongly in recent years and if Mirallas can continue his sparkling form they should not be counted out. A surprise win in their next away fixture at the Emirates would blow the race for the Champions League wide open.

Change of Face, Change of Pace. The shift in Strategy of Manchester United’s attack

Change of face, change of pace; the shift in strategy of Manchester United’s attack

When Manchester United sold Dimitar Berbatov last summer it was no surprise given the arrival of Robin Van Persie and the lack of playing time afforded to the former Spurs man over the previous season. It has become a bit apparent recently though that the move signalled more than just a change in terms of bringing in one gifted front man for another. One of the reasons the Bulgarian cited had been given to him by Sir Alex Ferguson was a shift in the Old Trafford side’s attacking ethos. Berbatov had been told that he did not fit in with a move toward a faster and more direct attacking style.

In the derby on Monday night, United’s new methods were particularly apparent and interestingly a slight weakness in the plan was also on display. Many of the Reds’ wide players in particular regularly seem to overrun the ball when sprinting and on several occasions when the home side were surging at the City backline a heavy touch saw the move break down. Rafael was the main offender on Monday, but an out of sorts Antonio Valencia has been doing this for months. Danny Welbeck displays a good first touch at times but at top speed often resembles a cart horse attempting to dribble a beach ball. Ashley Young is not immune, nor is Nani or reserve left back Alexander Buttner.

Dimitar Berbatov

This may seem harsh given how potent United have looked in attack this season with the addition of Van Persie to an already well-stocked squad of strikers and wingers, but it is something that needs to been fine-tuned before Sir Alex Ferguson’s new design is the finished article. Perhaps Wilfried Zaha’s dribbling ability will improve the situation next term.

United sides of old held an ability to patiently probe for an opening. Slow build-up followed by a devastatingly quick interchange would often see defences unlocked after 30 or more passes had gradually pulled them out of position. Perhaps the demise of Paul Scholes has something to do with the death of this style in Ferguson’s plans. Neither Scholes nor Berbatov would have ever made the local sprint relay team, but their styles complimented an ability to attack while controlling possession for long periods.

The Premier League is faster and quicker than ever and even the top European ties are not the games of chess they were 10 years ago. Intensity, if it isn’t king, was certainly eyeing the throne amid the ferocious pace of Monday’s derby. Ferguson is a master of transition and building new sides, but it would be a shame if his current charges could not revert to a more patient approach if need be. In Michael Carrick they have a player who can take on the Scholes mantle in terms of dictating tempo at least. Wayne Rooney and Van Persie seem currently focused on attempting to spin their man or lay the ball off once before making a run in behind.

Perhaps on Monday this was due to specific instructions from the boss but both front men have the quality to get involved in build-up while waiting for the right time to strike. Regardless of how direct United’s game plan is, expect them to continue to challenge, as their ability to adapt has always been one of their greatest strengths.

Manchester United out of the Champions League – expect a red response

United to bite back?

Manchester United exited the UEFA Champions League last night amid a storm of controversy, after a truly dramatic encounter with Spanish giants Real Madrid. The fixture, which saw the return of former Old Trafford idol Cristiano Ronaldo and another top-of-the-bill tactical duel between Sir Alex Ferguson and Jose Mourinho, certainly lived up the pre-match expectations.

What nobody saw coming though, was the actions of referee Cuneyt Cakir. The Turkish official brandished a straight red card for United’s Nani after the winger caught Alvaro Arbeloa with an accidental high boot. The impact of the decision on the home side was brutally clear by the end of the 90 minutes, but as the analysis of the incident spins around Europe, NMO now takes a look at what the turn of events means for the English domestic season.

Fans of Manchester City were likely to have watched on chuckling as United’s European dream came crashing down in shower of perceived injustice. The more perceptive among them however, will know that when that red card came out of Cakir’s pocket it was not just a watershed in the game but also a beacon, signalling the end for City’s aspirations of defending their league title.

Sir Alex Ferguson

While United are galloping 12 points clear at the Premiership’s summit. Roberto Mancini will surely have been clinging to the faint hope that his arch rivals’ European endeavours would prove a distraction, causing them to drop a few points and allow his own side to rein them in.

With the possibility of two-leg quarter and semi-finals now eradicated, the Old Trafford side will be able to fully focus on regaining the crown that was so dramatically snatched from them within the final minutes of last season. Expect Ferguson to field strong sides now in all of United’s league fixtures until the title is claimed, which could well be before the end of April. The top two of course, still must meet for a second time this season, with City scheduled to make the trip across town on the April 8. Had United progressed to the quarter-finals this crucial six pointer would have fallen bang in the middle of their two European ties. This would surely have been an advantage, which has just been removed from Mancini’s list of reasons to be cheerful.

Looking for more immediate potential fallout we should search no further than Old Trafford this coming Sunday. Chelsea are the visitors in an FA cup tie which represents the Blues’ last realistic hope of silverware this season. It is a all too well known a fact that when Ferguson’s United are knocked down they get back up again and the backlash for whichever side happens to be in front of them is usually severe. As the Madrid players celebrated, Ferguson was incandescent with rage. United players lost their cool and wrongly vented their frustrations with Mr Cakir. If Rafa Benitez was looking on he would be right to be concerned as before him was the perfect example of the old cliche; a wounded animal.

That animal will take to the field against Chelsea on Sunday and it would be foolish to think that United players will be wallowing in self-pity. Fergie is likely to freshen his side. Rooney will surely return and we will see a line-up with a simple brief: attack with ferocious intensity.

The impact of United focusing solely on their domestic challenges is likely to spread down the table. Arsenal, Chelsea and Aston Villa all have league fixtures that would have coincided with United’s Champions League schedule if they had continued in the competition. Each of those clubs must surely now feel the chances of much needed points in those games has just diminished slightly.

It is easy of course to look at the what ifs but we can briefly consider this United side and whether or not they were strong enough to compete on three fronts and repeat the treble success of 1999. The answer, ultimately, is of course no but had the Cuneyt Cakir shown yellow rather than red, the class of 2013 would most likely still be on course to scale similar heights.

The midfield quartet of Giggs, Scholes, Keane and Beckham probably sets the 99 side apart from the current crop but the United of today has more strength in depth, a formidable lead in the league and with Barcelona’s progress uncertain, had Fergie’s charges gone through, they would be looking like the team to avoid. Unfortunately for those still to play them in the league this season, avoidance is not an option.

Remy Remedy?

Is the Frenchman’s arrival part of Harry’s magic fix or the epitome of January desperation?

Premier League relegation candidates Queens Park Rangers have confirmed the signing of Loic Remy from Ligue 1 title chasers Marseille. It had emerged over the weekend that Newcastle had agreed a fee with the French side and that a deal was close only for the league’s bottom club to hijack the move.

But should the Toon Army really be that disappointed at missing out and should hoops fans be getting excited that Remy could be the key to survival? The forward’s form in the first half of the season certainly suggests not.

The January market is constantly referred to as over-inflated and the transfer of forwards in particular often points to clubs willing to spend big and take risks in search of a magic fix. Forwards score goals, goals win games and that is ultimately the difference in who gets relegated and who qualifies for Europe. A couple of winters ago this striker shuffling reached a crescendo with the huge deadline day deals involving Fernando Torres and Andy Carroll.

Loic Remy

Loic Remy’s solitary league goal this season in 14 appearances should do little to alleviate the relegation concerns of the QPR faithful. A club record £8 million has been spent on a player who is badly out of form and surely this is a sign that Harry Redknapp is gambling and gambling big-time. Remy also arrives at the age of 26 and is a player who Premiership clubs have been linked with for several seasons. Interesting that it is only now, mid-season, that a deal has been agreed to take the France international to the premiership and also that it appeared only to be the bottom side and another who had just lost a forward against their will, that were in the chase.

It’s also worth questioning the former Lyon and Nice man’s decision in picking QPR over Newcastle. Granted Harry Redknapp may have been a factor, there is the opportunity to live in London and Rangers are showing signs of revival but which team is more likely to be in the Pemiership next season? Is Remy merely looking to put himself in the shop window?

Maybe this is unjustified apprehension and the 26 year old is to be believed when he says he is looking forward to the challenge. He also mentions that he spoke to both Redknapp and owner Tony Fernandes at length and that they gave him “the right motivation to play for QPR”. Is that motivation the challenge of avoiding relegation and progressing form there or is it merely superior wages to those offered by Newcastle?

Regardless of his poor form and the reasons behind his choice of club, Remy has got some credentials to justify his transfer fee. Last season he scored close to a goal every two games for l’OM and those exploits helped him extend his tally of France caps to 17. He also has a previous track record of hitting the ground running. He scored six times in his first seven games during his spell at Nice. If he could replicate that it would help the survival fight no end. He has also bagged a couple of goals in the Europa League this year.

These stats suggest that the striker has the ability to make Harry’s gamble pay off and although the signing appears a little desperate at present, Redknapp usually gets things right when it comes to the transfer market.

What next though for Newcastle’s hit-man hunt? There is a definite air of disappointment around the failure to retain the services of top scorer Demba Ba and Alan Pardew will be keen to ensure the window doesn’t close before he can bag a replacement. Last season the January arrival of Papiss Cisse in the Northeast had an immediate impact on the club’s fortunes and while a similarly successful signing might be unrealistic Newcastle’s current plight dictates that a deal must be done. Peter Odemwingie is thought to be available at the right price and journeyman Darren Bent is known to be keen on another move. The movement of strikers though in January is akin to the toppling of dominos and clubs are rarely keen to do business until they have a replacement ready.

By Francis Johnston

Benitez, AVB or Rodgers? Premier League sack race

With Mark Hughes and Roberto Di Matteo already having lost their grip on the managerial merry-go-round long before the start of the imminent ‘silly season’, it’s time to consider who might be next in line. Crucial festive fixtures and the January transfer window are looming large and both are huge factors for managers looking to keep their jobs. Santi Cazorla’s hat-trick on Monday night only confirmed Brian McDermott’s place at the front of the grid but here NMO looks at all the runners and riders.

Brian McDermott

McDermott took over as bookies favourite to be next shown the door after his Reading side succumbed to fellow strugglers Southampton a few weeks ago. The stats for last season’s Championship Manager of the Year make grim reading and only serve as a stark reminder of how tough life can be in the top flight. The Royals have lost six on the bounce but perhaps most crucially three of those defeats have come against the teams around them, leaving McDermott’s side looking isolated from all but QPR. Only results can help the boss improve his chances. Unfortunately it’s Champions Manchester City up next. Boxing Day though sees the first of two home games against Swansea and then West Ham. At this point it looks like at least one win will be required to ensure McDermott escapes the axe before New Year.

Martin O’Neill

When Martin O’Neill arrived at Sunderland expectations were high. Fans in the Northeast felt, and probably rightly so, they were getting a manager who was capable of taking the club to the next level. Over a year now since the Northern Irishman took control and things have yet to turn out as planned. Sunderland have won only three times this season and the fact that O’Neill has been at the helm for some time makes the lack of progress even more difficult to take. There is no doubt Sunderland must improve and improve quickly if the former Villa and Celtic boss is to remain in charge. Plenty of money has been spent over the last 12 months and O’Neill will surely be making the case for further outlay but you get the feeling that unless the Black Cat’s form picks up then he may not be there to see it happen. The next fixture against fellow-strugglers Southampton is huge.

martin-o_neill_2081658c

Roberto Mancini

He may have clinched a historic title for the Citizens last season but clearly the majority believe Mancini’s position to be precarious. Mega-rich City have unquestionably made progress in recent seasons but whether that rate of progress is fast enough to satisfy the owners that the Italian can get the best from his phenomenally expensive squad is unclear. The manager escaped the chop after City’s dismal exit from the Champions League. The silver lining for Mancini perhaps, is the failure even to qualify for the Europa League, allowing his charges to focus fully on retaining their domestic title. The fact that he remains currently is indication that it will be the Premiership showing that ultimately decides his fate. The recent derby loss to United only tightened the noose while the former Azzurri man continues to grapple with multiple issues such as the twin terrors of Tevez and Balotelli. Despite this Mancini will remain at the helm as long as City remain within striking distance of table topping United.

Rafa Benitez

Rafael Benitez

Although only in charge for a matter of weeks, it is easy to see why Rafa is fairly short odds (10/1 with some bookmakers) to be gone as quickly as he arrived. Chelsea fans were less than hospitable in welcoming the former Liverpool boss to the Bridge and owner Roman Abramovich is certainly not one to hesitate in wielding the axe as Roberto Di Matteo would no doubt testify. Of course the odds are short because Benitez has only been officially confirmed as boss until the end of the season. One can’t help but think the appointment is perhaps merely a last experimental attempt by the owner to inject life into his £50m project within a project, the much discussed Fernando Torres. Benitez’s start has been poor and he missed an opportunity to bring back the feel-good factor that enveloped the club at the start of the campaign by failing to secure the World Club Cup. Torres though has at least bagged a few goals. Time will tell if Abramovich will allow his temporary manager to spend money in the transfer window. Despite all the questions raised by his appointment the Spaniard will surely at least see out the season barring any spectacular downturn in results for the European Champions.

Arsene Wenger

It’s almost unthinkable that Wenger should be considered at risk. The Frenchman these days seems constantly referred to as weary or beleaguered. Some bookies have him at 14/1 to be the next out of a job but the reality is that if his 16 year tenure is about to come to an end it will more likely be because the man himself has had enough. Recent weeks have seen the Gunners boss referred to as a dictator in the media and there have been rumours of a rift with his assistant Steve Bould. Surely it’s unlikely that an ultimately successful coach who has brought wonderful talents and a beautiful footballing ethos to the club could be sacked. There is no doubt though, that the current days are some of the darker ones Wenger has experienced during his reign. He continues to defy the odds and nurture young talent, maintaining the clubs Champions League status while repeatedly being forced to sell his star players. Arsenal must find some resilience in order for their form to improve. If they can close the gap on the top four then surely the media interest will subside and Wenger might find himself re-invigorated.

Alan Pardew

It was always going to be a tall order to improve on last season’s campaign for the Toon. Many anticipated that Pardew’s over-performing squad would be thoroughly raided during the summer but that failed to materialise. Newcastle managed to keep all their main assets. Still though, this season has been much worse than predicted and the drain of continental football has had the classic effect on the Magpies’ league form. Given the scale of his previous success Pardew will be afforded time but if Newcastle are still languishing in 15th come say, February then he will no doubt find himself on thin ice indeed. Owner Mike Ashley has a fairly ruthless reputation when it comes to firing managers and you get the feeling that although Pardew impressed last year, eighth or ninth place would be the bare minimum required this time around. Ashley may permit some spending in January but with no obvious priority areas, the manager will merely be looking to add strength in depth for when his side resume European competition.

Brendan Rodgers

This time last week, things were going alright for Brendan Rodgers. In between bouts of keeping his fingers crossed that Luis Suarez remained fit, the Northern Irishman must have taken time to reflect that Liverpool’s home form was solid and that if they could just pick up some more points on their travels and buy another striker then he would be onto a winner. Then Aston Villa, who until Saturday couldn’t score goals to save themselves, came to Anfield and helped themselves to three in front of a stunned kop. The good momentum gained in previous weeks vanished and the 39 year old’s side were left wallowing in 12th place. Most Liverpool fans are not expecting to be winning leagues right at the moment and probably not even considering Champions League football but Rodgers simply must do better. So far this season Suarez has carried the side and the need for another forward has been painfully clear. There are a few rays of light, the emergence of Raheem Sterling for example, the fact that Gerrard is currently injury free and that Rodgers has at least been partially successful in his attempts to forge an attractive attacking side. People will understand that his team remain a work in progress but if results don’t improve the club’s American owners may be left with little choice but to wield the axe.

Nigel Adkins

Nigel-Adkins-006

With Southampton hovering only just out of the drop zone the former goalkeeper is predictably considered one of the managers under threat. Thankfully for Adkins he has something some of his counterparts don’t; low club expectations. On the Saints first season back in the big time the supporters and the board will no doubt be satisfied if the 47 year old can ensure the club’s Premiership status is preserved. 17th place come May will be fine for Adkins and that’s where his side currently sit. The South coast outfit have shown encouraging form of late with three wins in five. If Adkins builds on this momentum and perhaps makes a couple of shrewd additions in January then he could still keep Southampton safe and keep his job in the process.

Martin Jol

In terms of the Premier League, Fulham are not really that big a club, therefore 13th position in the table should be perfectly acceptable. The problem for Martin Jol is that fans at Craven Cottage have seen their side exceed expectations in recent years and have become used to the idea of mixing it in the top half on the fringes of European football, and playing decent stuff in the process. At the moment the Dutchman is doing just enough to keep the wolves from his door as while they are having an unspectacular season by their recent standards, Fulham are in no immediate danger. The weekend’s defeat to QPR may have sounded a few alarm bells though and the Cottagers are not on a good run. Jol should be ok for now and could be allowed to add to his squad in January but he must find some consistency sooner rather than later.

Andre Villas-Boas

It was never going to be easy for AVB. The Portuguese arrived fresh from a doomed spell at London rivals Chelsea to a frosty reception from the Spurs faithful. This was always going to be somewhat of a transitional season for Tottenham and the fans begun it still smarting from the loss of former boss Harry Redknapp and midfield playmakers Modric and Van der Vaart. Villas-Boas as a young, foreign manager still has a long way to go to proving himself in the Premier League and a fairly shaky start did him no favours. A historic win at Old Trafford however, bought him some time and the form of both Gareth Bale and Jermaine Defoe have helped Spurs gradually ease themselves into the top four. Apart from somehow snatching defeat from the jaws of victory against Everton the results for AVB have been encouraging of late. With Arsenal stuttering and Liverpool floundering, the White Hart lane outfit currently look favourites for fourth spot. For the 35 year old former Porto boss this presents an opportunity to right the wrongs of his Chelsea spell. Unless his side slip out of top four contention his job looks secure.

Paul Lambert

It’s interesting how one man’s disaster can be another man’s saving grace. Villa’s shock win at Anfield was a massive boost and has given Lambert a good deal of breathing space. The fact, however, that some bookmakers are offering odds of as good as 50/1 on the Glasgow born boss to be next to bite the bullet is bemusing to say the least. Especially with his Villa Park charges currently toiling only three points above the bottom three. Villa’s more solid form of late has admittedly seen the Scot’s chances improve but if his side are to climb the table he will need to address a problem that has plagued Villa since long before his own tenure. They simply don’t score enough goals. Before last weekend their grand total was 12. With Darren Bent out of favour, Benteke and Weimann promising but inexperienced and Agbonlahor frustratingly inconsistent Lambert will surely be knocking on Randy Lerner’s door about a new striker come January. Whether Lerner will trust the manager long enough for that to happen remains to be seen.

Arsenal’s Giroud, Top Gunner?

Can the Frenchman’s new found form propel Arsenal into the top four?

As understatements go, to say that Olivier Giroud had big boots to fill when he arrived at Arsenal in the summer would be something of a ground-breaker.  The departure of club talisman and top goal scorer Robin Van Persie to rivals Manchester United had left a sour taste in the mouth of most fans around the Emirates and the comparatively low key purchases of Giroud and fellow front man Lukas Podolski did little to quell the resentment. There was a feeling that even if the new acquisitions performed to the peak of their powers the sale of RVP would still find the club left wanting in attack.

Giroud, signed from Montpellier not long before his 26th birthday, was seen as a particularly low profile arrival given that he has been something of a late bloomer at the top level. The forward finished Ligue 1 as top scorer with 21 goals last term as Montpellier won their first ever league title. This contribution though, was the first of any note from the Frenchman in a top European league. Arsenal fans thought better than to get too excited about a player who until 2010 had spent most of his career in the lower reaches of French football.

The Grenoble youth academy graduate predictably struggled to adapt to the school of hard knocks that is the Premier League and as Arsene Wenger continued to back his forward in the press, Giroud continued to draw a blank on the pitch. Finally in hisseventh league appearance he found the net against West Ham. Cue prolific scoring streak? Unfortunately not, the striker continued to stutter and his adaptation to the English game has been painfully slow for Arsenal fans. In recent weeks however, the former Montpellier marksman has upped his game and the goals have begun to flow. £12 million (half of the fee received for Van Persie) is now beginning to look like more shrewd business from Wenger and Giroud is beginning to look every inch the Premiership predator.

Three goals in his last two league outings along with strikes in the League Cup and Champions League have seen the forward gather momentum, the difference, that most precious of striking commodities: confidence.  Arsenal’s historic league cup comeback against Reading could be viewed as the catalyst for Giroud who scored that night, a night that the second half performance from the Gunners simply oozed self-belief.

Several other factors have perhaps contributed to the striker’s change in fortune. The likes of Lukas Podolski ,Theo Walcott and Santi Cazorla have helped share the goal scoring burden and Podolski in particular, bagged a few goals early on in the season to help fill the gap left by Van Persie. Cazorla too has been a striker’s dream, reveling in the Arsenal ethos of pretty attacking play and forging opportunities for those ahead of him.

Arsenal though, remain far from the finished article, and inconsistency blights their ever watchable style. Wenger continues to work wonders during the summer transfer months to maintain a top four status while regularly being forced to sell his best players.  With Giroud though, there is a sense that there is a lot more to come and that Wenger may have someone who can add bite to Arsenal’s bark. While he may not have the class of Van Persie, Giroud has the look of a clinical fox in the box. The striker’s second against Fulham epitomized the man, having seen his initial effort hit the post he decided not to dwell on what might have been but took up a textbook position to head in Walcott’s cross when the ball came back into the box. The importance of his determination, confidence and form, if it continues, to Arsenal’s hopes of securing a top four finish both this season and in the future cannot be understated.

By Francis Johnston

Manchester United miss out again as Lucas Moura joins PSG revolution

The decision by teenage Brazilian star Lucas Moura to join Paris Saint-Germain instead of Manchester United represents another significant coup for the oil-rich French side while simultaneously putting a dent in Sir Alex Ferguson’s summer transfer endeavours.

The move will no doubt drag up memories for many United fans and possibly even Fergie of a failed pursuit of one Ronaldinho Gaucho back in 2001. PSG won the race to sign that particular Brazilian too and Ferguson was again beaten to the punch as the player joined Barcelona two years later. Ronaldinho was then crowned FIFA world player of the year in both 2004 and 2005. Whether Lucas Moura’s quality is enough to scale these dizzying heights remains to be seen.

Some would point to the 19-year-old’s price tag, reported to be in excess of £35 million, as being vastly over-inflated for a youngster who has yet to be really tested outside of South America. It seems though, that United may have been willing to part with a similar figure for the player’s services before the Parisian outfit intervened.

Moura’s agent, Wagner Ribeiro, claims that Sao Paulo and United had reached an agreement over the teenager and that they were ready to finalise the move before former Brazil hero turned PSG director Leonardo convinced the player to join the newly bulging squad at the Parc des Princes.

There has been no comment from Old Trafford confirming that they were close to landing the player but Sir Alex had taken the unusual step of admitting interest in the Sao Paulo man and the papers had speculated over the player’s transfer to United for weeks. His decision therefore represents a blow for United who seem intent on adding another creative midfielder to their squad.

Shinji Kagawa has arrived from Borussia Dortmund and Nick Powell has joined from Crewe but many United fans are demanding further investment in the middle of the park and it would seem that the manager agrees given his failed pursuit of Moura. Unfortunately for Ferguson this is the second time United have lost a transfer race this summer with Eden Hazard electing to join Chelsea.

With the old Trafford supremo a keen advocate of getting value for money rather than bolstering his squad unnecessarily, those sections of the United support clamouring for a significant midfield arrival should not hold their breath. The Manchester outfit however, continue to be linked with a range of players and some sections of the press have pointed to a move for Ajax’s Christian Eriksen or Isco from financially troubled Malaga. Should the long serving boss identify either man as a viable option then supporters will be hoping that he can seal a deal at the third time of asking.  United also look keen on strengthening in other areas with the Robin Van Persie saga trundling the media also reporting a lingering interest in Everton’s Leighton Baines.

PSG meanwhile continue to up the ante in the European transfer market as they look to claim Ligue 1 for the first time since 1994 and challenge Europe’s big guns in the Champions League. Argentine Javier Pastore was the first real statement of intent arriving last summer but this transfer window has seen the French side really move things up a gear with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Ezequiel Lavezzi and now Lucas Moura, who will remain in Brazil until January, all added to what must surely now be an impressive payroll.

Manchester City Kommitment – Captain’s new deal critical for champions

Belgian defender’s new six-year deal could be most crucial summer signing for City.

The recent news that Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany has signed a new six-year contract with the club is a massive boost for the champions, who have so far yet to make a significant impact in the summer transfer market.

City have dominated most of the recent transfer windows with Roberto Mancini clinching successive big-money signings in order to bring trophies to a previously success-starved club. Now with a first league title for 44 years in the bag, the spending spree looks to have slowed and Mancini, who recently signed a new contract himself, now seems intent on locking in his best assets, while perhaps looking for just a few key additions to ensure that the Citizens retain their title and challenge for the Champions League over the coming years.

Club captain Kompany was arguably City’s most important and consistent performer in the league last season as they finally wrested the Premiership from Manchester United’s grasp. His imperious performance and headed winner against their bitter rivals in the derby at the Etihad Stadium perhaps summed up his importance to Mancini’s side.

The Belgian scored a superbly chipped second goal as City beat Besiktas 2-0 in their  pre-season friendly in another typical all-action performance. Contracts as long as six years are very rare in football these days and the deal signifies City’s appreciation of the 26 year old’s abilities, as they secure his services for the best years of his career.

Kompany actually joined the club during the Mark Hughes era in 2008 and has steadily developed into one of Europe’s top defenders while City have made the transition from big-spending pretenders to the throne into champions. The Belgian has now set his sights on winning more titles with City and competing for the Champions League. He has also spoken of his pride at captaining the side.

There are rumours abound that fellow centre-back Kolo Toure could be set to leave the Manchester club after failing to win a regular place in the side since his drugs ban. With Kompany and Joleon Lescott now established as Mancini’s first choice pairing, Turkish side Bursaspor are said to be chasing the Ivorian.

With Bayern Munich thought to be keen on midfield battler Nigel De Jong and the pantomime surrounding Carlos Tevez’s future refusing to subside, Kompany’s commitment will be a huge boost to the light blue faithful as City gear up for their title defence.

It is still more than likely of course, that Mancini will add to the squad before the transfer window shuts and City have been confirmed as one of at least three clubs chasing Arsenal star Robin Van Persie. Gone are the days of several huge deals during one window though, as Mancini is now looking to fine-tune a successful squad rather than build one from scratch. Due to their sheer spending power, we are used to seeing the Manchester outfit linked with every star in Europe but from now on it could well be that the most crucial signatures could those retaining their established first-team names.

By Francis Johnston

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