Arsenal miss out on Higuain – Liverpool’s Suarez a gamble

A few weeks ago Gonzalo Higauin’s move from Real Madrid to Arsenal seemed to be set in stone, a case of mere formalities. But yesterday he completed a move to join Rafa Benitez at Napoli. Perhaps over a disagreement on how much Higuain was worth, communications between Arsenal and Real slowed and the Gunners turned their targets to Liverpool’s Luis Suarez. Where Higuain seemed to fit Arsenal character wise, Suarez seems the opposite. Not only is he an on and off field risk, but the chances of them actually signing him are much lower than they had of getting Higuain. But Arsenal’s ponderousness in the market this summer has seen all of the top available strikers already seal moves and it leaves them with near enough just Luis Suarez left to pursue. They’ve resisted the much easier to sign Higuain to go after the more expensive and more risky Suarez and even if they do get him, the gamble doesn’t end there.

Gonzalo Higuain is a world class striker. He has scored 107 goals in 187 games for Real Madrid. He’s proven himself over a much longer period in an elite league and the Champions League than the likes of Falcao, Cavani, Lewandowski and even Suarez and it was a surprise that he was initially only catching Arsenal’s eye. The price of £22m that was originally mooted was always going to be too low and it was suitably rejected by Real Madrid. It seems that when Madrid raised their price, and not just as was reported, because of the Cavani deal, Arsenal backed away. The recipients of £55m from PSG, Napoli then had the kind of money available to go out and sign Higuain themselves. After interest from Juventus had quietened down, suddenly only Napoli were competing for Higuain with Arsenal.

Gonzalo Higuaín

Whether or not Arsenal’s bid for Suarez was initially to try and ruffle Real Madrid’s feathers or not, they have ended up possibly competing against Real for the Uruguayan. Maybe that first bid was to hurry Real in to accepting their offer for Higuain, or maybe it was just an opening salvo in what has become a long drawn out chase. But either way, they’ve gotten themselves distracted with going for Suarez and the reason could be that he is encouraging it. When the offer first came in it was met with befuddlement. Suarez had said he wanted to leave Liverpool to get out of England, but when no serious interest from overseas showed itself, the offer from Arsenal suddenly appealed to him. Perhaps at this stage, what had started as a speculative approach suddenly became very serious for Arsenal. They must have persuaded themselves that they could get him for £40m on the understanding of a release clause and that he was willing to come to the club.

Once they’d come to this conclusion, and decided that they could justify paying the £40,000,001 they thought would get him, they’d laid down arms in the pursuit of Higuain. In the mean time, Higuain, perhaps alienated by Arsenal’s stance, had agreed a move to Napoli who were willing to pay Real Madrid the £32m they asked for. So now, with Higuain in Naples, and Liverpool saying they want £55m because the £40m clause didn’t mean they had to sell, Arsenal are in no man’s land.

Luis Suarez

Higuain is a predator of a striker, a natural and easy finisher who has thrived on the Real Madrid supply line over many years. He is a wonderful professional and team mate who doesn’t get involved in controversy, he just keeps his head down and scores goals. That is exactly what Arsenal needed coming in to this summer and why his possible signing was causing so much excitement. They’d have the man to put in the chances created by Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere. They’d have gotten that for £32m if they’d just given Real Madrid the money before Napoli sold Cavani.

Instead, they are now looking to pay £40m+ to even get a chance to negotiate with Suarez. Suarez, who is banned until October in the Premier League, is anything but a saint either on or off the pitch. He plays on the edge, and although this creates moments of unstoppable skill, pace and goals, it also means he is on the verge of self destruction at all times. I don’t need to list his various travails in England, but with a 10 match ban on his slate, he is one big explosion away from an even longer one.

Suarez is a more dynamic player than Higuain but that dynamism is going to cost a lot more to buy and comes with a huge amount of risk. Arsenal have gotten themselves in a tangle in the pursuit of Suarez, one that might not even end in success if Liverpool stand firm or Real Madrid match any offers, and they might end up buying themselves a beautiful nightmare.

Do Manchester City have the best strikers in the Premier League?

New Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is excited about the club’s new strike force. He was asked whether he thought other clubs in the league would be envious of these riches and he said ‘Yes, I think so, it’s very strong…we have four very good strikers and that’s what you need if you play in the Premier League and Champions League as a competitive team’. The new boys Stevan Jovetic and Alvaro Negredo will join Sergio Aguero and Edin Dzeko at the club which now once again has four striker to utilise, a key aspect of their charge to the 2011/12 Premier League title. So, is this the best striking group in the league?

Well, it probably is. Of course, one of the reasons for that is that not many teams are going to be playing with more than one striker at a time which means they don’t need to stockpile them in quite the same way. Only Chelsea could really get in to the discussion over the best group of forwards with City at the moment. Lukaku, Torres, Schurrle and Ba are not far off. In fact, in future, it could become just as good if Lukaku develops as expected. The difference between the two units at the moment is Sergio Aguero. Assuming he can re-find the form that fired City to the title rather than his injury plagued season last time out, he is better than any of the other strikers on the table. At full tilt he is as good as any in the league, including Van Persie and Suarez. By and large, the rest are pretty similar. For the youth of Jovetic see Schurrle. For the power of Dzeko see Lukaku and for the intelligence and work of Negredo see Torres. But it’s Aguero that gives City that extra quality.

Stevan Jovetic

The only other club who boast four strikers that they could start are Man United, but at the moment their group isn’t quite at City’s level. Although van Persie is the best striker in the league, and a fit and in form Wayne Rooney is in the top five, the drop off to Hernandez and Welbeck is much greater than City would suffer if Aguero and his partner were injured.

The big question for City to answer is how they are going to be able to find game time for all these players, but as Pellegrini says, they have two major competitions to try and win, and for that, they will need to keep their forwards fresh. Realistically, Dzeko and Negredo are competing for the same spot as the pivot up front with Aguero and Jovetic in the deeper role with roaming license. Both have the capability to play on the left if needed, although this is a catastrophic waste of Aguero’s talents, it does give them another option.

Last season City’s title defence suffered because of a lack of consistent goal output. They’ve spent over £40m in order to correct that. Now, if one or two of them are struggling for form, they have other quality players to turn to to carry the load. Unlike last season they won’t need to play Aguero in to the ground and they can use Dzeko as an impact sub if that is best for the club. Manuel Pellegrini now has the luxury of a deep forward group which, with the headline act of a back to his best Aguero, looks to be the best in the league.

Should Tottenham, Liverpool or Chelsea be looking at Swansea target Wilfried Bony?

Swansea have been doing exemplary business in the transfer market over the last few years, their headline-grabbing £2m capture of Michu the one that really caught the attention. With that in mind, as Swansea look to be ever closer to signing striker Wilfried Bony from Vitesse Arnhem, the obvious question is; are they getting more quality that clubs at the top of the league should be looking at themselves? In the same way that surely Michu’s 20+ goals could have been of use to Spurs or Liverpool last season if they’d known about him. Perhaps Swansea are sneaking through another bargain signing under the noses of clubs that need a striker.

Bony is, at 24, about to really hit his prime. Last season he scored 31 goals in 30 games in the Eredivisie. Now, that in and of itself is not an indicator for success in the Premier League. However, when comparing Bony to other goal filled strikers who have failed elsewhere, notably Afonso Alves at Middlesbrough, it’s important to see why he is different. The most successful Dutch league exports are those possessed of physical talent, as well as technical ability. Alves and Luuk de Jong for example, struggled because their relative physical talent was no more than average at a higher standard. Uis Suarez and Ruud van Nistelrooy possessed the football intelligence and raw ability to succeed when stepping up.

Wilfried Bony

Bony is an elite physical specimen. He’s 6ft tall, very quick and strong and has elite balance and spring. It means that not only can he burn away from players when running, he can also more than handle himself in the physical battles. This makes him ideally suited to the Premier League. His canny runs on the shoulder of the last defender were supplied by soon-to-be Chelsea youngster Marco van Ginkel. At Swansea he will have Pablo Hernandez, Michu and possibly a re-signed Jonathan De Guzman picking him out. He could be this summer’s Michu for them. But, should Spurs, Liverpool or Chelsea be having a look?

There’s no question all three clubs are in the market for striking reinforcements. Of the three, Chelsea are probably the least likely spot, but, if they are signing van Ginkel, and considering they have a great relationship with Vitesse, they might want to reunite them in blue. However, with Lukaku, Schurrle, Torres and Ba already at the club, they seem to be trying to sign a proven world-class player like Edinson Cavani rather than another prospect.

Spurs would be a great fit. They want to upgrade on Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, and Bony could well prove to be that. At this stage he’s not really in a position to start every game ahead of those two straight away, but Andre Villas-Boas is an excellent coach and would perhaps feel like he could mould the physically talented Bony in to a complete forward in due course. He’d make great sense for Spurs if they are willing to be patient and let him develop.

Liverpool is an interesting destination for Bony. It seems the Luis Suarez saga has gone quiet at the moment and with the assumption that he will leave now almost taken for granted. But there hasn’t been much news on his possible move. If Liverpool do manage to keep Suarez then Bony isn’t an option. However, Liverpool are trying to build a team to win the league in two years, not this year. This is why they are signing younger, technically talented players that Brendan Rodgers can coach up. Bony has the pace that Rodgers covets and would be able to push Daniel Sturridge to earn the long-term striker role rather than just have it granted to him.

At Swansea Bony would be the starter. They would be signing him in the expectation that he can score 20 goals, which he certainly has the talent to do. Spurs, Liverpool and Chelsea could do worse than look at what Swansea are up to and see whether they rate him as a long-term option.

Does Jon Obi Mikel have a future at Chelsea?

Chelsea fans can be forgiven for watching Nigeria during the Confederations Cup and wondering who the majestic, elegant play maker in the number 10 shirt was. With his inventive range of passing, ability to cover ground, make tackles and interceptions, he pulled all the strings in a dangerous looking attacking unit. ‘He’d be a good signing for us’ you could forgive them for thinking, in need as they are of that type of player in deeper midfield areas. And then the camera zooms in on his shirt. And it’s Jon Obi Mikel. Jon Obi Mikel? So why was he playing like that for Nigeria, but seems to have lost his way at Chelsea? Can he forge a future for himself under Jose Mourinho or will he need to move on?

Mikel played in Brazil like the player Chelsea thought they had signed for £16m in 2006 when he was just 19 and has intermittently shown at Stamford Bridge. Since being at Chelsea he has changed from a buccaneering all rounder to more of a defensive shield, and it doesn’t really suit him. His defensive discipline and intelligence isn’t his strong point. In his more restricted role as a defensive shield he isn’t able to show off his athleticism. He is required to play a very simple passing game at Chelsea, always moving the ball on quickly and easily to his team-mates. For Nigeria he is the absolute fulcrum of the team, with freedom to exploit his physical gifts and show off the kind of creativity and passing that he seemed to have kept hidden at Chelsea. He’s put himself firmly in the shop window with plenty of teams able to find use for him and his suddenly rediscovered talents. But has he also forced his way in to Jose Mourinho’s thinking?

Jon Obi Mikel

One of the few weaknesses at Chelsea is that they don’t have a pure deep lying playmaker. Ramires is an athlete and Frank Lampard is able to grab goals and set a decent tempo. David Luiz has a nice range of passing but doesn’t yet utilise his talents in the way that a Pirlo, Xavi or Schweinsteiger does. Could this be where Mikel fits in again suddenly? He’s been so far off the radar to play this role for Chelsea that it is almost forgotten what abilities he has. He did a good job in a playmaking role with a Nigeria side who showed exuberance and threat in attack. However, his skills are not really refined enough to play the role for Chelsea, and a fresh start makes more sense.

It’s very hard to say to the rest of the Chelsea squad that the player who used to be their shield, is suddenly their main passing presence. Having played with him for several years, it’s going to be too hard to change the mindset of the squad to go from trying to receive the ball from him to suddenly looking to pass to him.

Mikel needs to be signed to be the main man somewhere else. Galatasaray have been linked but the transfer fee was ridiculous. There’s no way Galatasaray can say on the one hand that Wesley Sneijder can be had for £16m and then immediately spend it on Mikel. Chelsea could probably demand something like £8m though which is a fair price for a player who hasn’t consistently shown that he can do this role for a while at club level. He probably needs to leave the Premier League for a slower environment. Serie A would seem to be a perfect league for him where his physicality would be an advantage but the pace of the game is slower to give him more time.

Mikel really needs a fresh start and an opportunity to be the main man somewhere else. He does an OK job as a screening midfielder for Chelsea but no more. His defensive nous hasn’t really improved so he isn’t an optimum solution for the club. A move elsewhere, and a chance to show the kind of skill he showed in Brazil would suit him more.

Aston Villa, Newcastle or Norwich: Where will Darren Bent play his football next term?

Darren Bent has always scored goals, wherever he has been. For whatever reason he isn’t held in the esteem of the likes of Jermain Defoe or Peter Crouch, but he has an excellent goalscoring record. He is a victim of his own type; the player who ‘only’ scores goals. Because his touch isn’t pretty and his game is based on pace and goal getting, he can be a bit frustrating. For this reason, he’s only had a brief spell with Spurs as a chance at a top club. Even there his record wasn’t too bad, but it is remembered more for the glaring misses, chances that Harry Redknapp’s mother could have scored, than his near one goal in three 25 goals in 79 appearances. Compared to Peter Crouch at Spurs (24 goals in 93 games) it’s not too bad and only marginally less than Jermain Defoe’s goals per game ration at the club.

But aside from that Spurs spell, his ratio has been nearer to, and often better than, one in two, the holy grail of the striker. His career ratio is one goal every 2.3 games. Which compares favourably to the likes of Robbie Keane (1:2.7) Crouch (1:3.3) Defoe (1:2.4) and even Wayne Rooney (1:2.2). Bent has always shown pedigree and always scored goals. And yet he is not thought of as being in these players’ calibre.

Darren Bent

Aston Villa paid Sunderland £18m for Darren Bent in January 2011 to help them out of a relegation battle. He rewarded them with nine goals in 16 games over the rest of that season. He was then in and out of the team, many suspecting it was to avoid paying Sunderland extra money, but still managed nine in 22. However, last summer saw the arrival of Paul Lambert and the pursuit of a different transfer policy. With him came youth and lower wages. And most importantly, Christian Benteke. The young Belgian surged in to the team and with Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor either side, gave Villa a dynamic front three. But no place for the £18m man Bent.

With this in mind, and Villa’s desire to keep trimming the wage bill, Bent looks almost certain to leave this summer. There should be no shortage of takers, but where will he end up?

Newcastle have been linked most prominently in the press and the arrival of Joe Kinnear has added to this. On the understanding that he wants a striker and will prioritise the domestic market, Bent looks like an obvious solution. Never mind his ex-Sunderland days, they need a goalscorer. Much will depend on the future of Papiss Cisse though. Bent will not move anywhere that will result in him sitting on the bench. But Newcastle pay Cisse to be a starter. There is only room for one.

Norwich are making a real effort to improve their goal getting and the pace and movement of Bent will look very dangerous next to the equally swift Ricky van Wolfswinkel. Norwich have some nice creativity in wide areas with Robert Snodgrass and Anthony Pilkington but need pure goal scorers. Bent is capable of getting them 15-20 with good supply and he’d be a nailed on starter.

Stoke have to be in play for Bent. New manager Mark Hughes needs to add goals to an otherwise awful attack and Bent gives them the kind of poacher they don’t have. They’ve got a group of variously talented strikers but none are pure goal poachers. They also need to add players who can make chances mind, but what few chances they do get need someone to put them away. They’ve got some money to spend too.

Hull are a decent outside bet as it was under Steve Bruce that Bent enjoyed his best form for Sunderland. They need to show the kind of ambition to persuade him to come though, but if they can add a few creative players they might be able to persuade him.

Whoever gets Bent is in all likelihood getting a bargain. Villa are not in a strong negotiating position given that it’s pretty common knowledge that they want rid. A bid of £5-6m could end up getting the buyer a 15 or even 20 goals striker with the right supply line and total confidence in him to let him start every week.

Why Paulinho should choose Tottenham over Real Madrid

Tottenham and Real Madrid seem intertwined this summer when it comes to the transfer market. We all know about the Gareth Bale saga but recently Real have also emerged as suitors for Spurs’ midfield target, the Brazilian Paulinho. It looks increasingly like Paulinho may choose Spurs, and if he does it would be an excellent decision. Not only that, but perversely for Spurs’ fans he would actually be doing Real Madrid a favour if he decides to move to London. With Real Madrid making big statements about Bale having to request a transfer and previous tension over similar tactics with Luka Modric last year, Spurs losing Paulinho to Real would near enough set Bale’s future at Spurs in stone. If Real pinched what looks like Spurs’ number one transfer target, it would only harden the already tough resolve of chairman Daniel Levy to keep his star Welshman.

Paulinho

As far as Paulinho is concerned though, a move to Spurs is a better idea than Madrid. Paulinho needs to be playing first-team football in this year of the Brazilian World Cup to keep his place in the team. He’ll get that at Spurs, but not necessarily at Real Madrid. At Spurs, the only player of a similar type is Mousa Dembele. Paulinho drives through midfield with authority, has a nice range of passing and has also shown that he can score goals as well as being defensively tenacious. He is a complete modern midfielder, able to do everything Spurs need of him in the Premier League. It would depend on what system Spurs are going to be playing next year as to whether he is in a two or three man midfield, but he has all the tools to play with Sandro and Dembele is some combination. He would immediately become the main man, the guaranteed starter.

At Real Madrid this would not be the case. Real’s personnel means they are likely to play a 4-2-3-1 system in which Paulinho would have to compete for one of the two spots deep in midfield. Real already have Xabi Alonso, Sami Khedira and Luka Modric that they are struggling to find game time for. As the new man Paulinho would probably start at the back of that particular queue and may not be able to force himself in to view in the major games. The glamour of Real Madrid is an enticing prospect, but the reality can be very harshly different. When even the likes of Gonzalo Higuain and Mesut Ozil are struggling to get in to the first team despite years of Champions League experience, it will be hard for Paulinho to swan straight in to the side.

Spurs are trying to show that they are serious about getting in to the top four once more. Over the last few years they have made some real quality signings for good value. However, this summer it is important that they are making the signings without having to sell anyone. Although he hasn’t shown any sign of wanting to leave, it is still vital that Spurs show Bale that they are doing everything they can to get back to the Champions League, and Paulinho would be a great start.

Newcastle United have the talent to get back to the top six

With all the furore and confusion caused by the appointment of Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, it is all too easy to get pessimistic about Newcastle. But the reality is they have the quality in their squad which would be the envy of most clubs. At their strongest, their starting eleven is at least the match of Liverpool and Everton, maybe even a Bale-less Spurs. The majority of their first team have been linked with Champions League clubs on the back of their 2011/12 fifth-place finish. In January they added to that core with France’s first choice right back, two other French internationals and the captain of the defending French champions. The first team is loaded with talent, and with a couple of careful additions, they can easily get back to the top six. Of course, with Newcastle, there is always a tendency towards self destruct. The appointment of Kinnear doesn’t undo the quality they have though. As long as he doesn’t do something ridiculous like sell them all.

Last season was somewhat anomalous for Newcastle. They didn’t build on the fifth place in the summer and when key players were injured or out of form in the early season, panic set in. The first choice team was excellent, but the depth was poor. When Yohan Cabaye is out and replaced by James Perch, there is going to be an appreciable drop off. They did their best to rectify the problems in January, but a big influx of players is always hard to bed in. Never mind mid-season. Alan Pardew didn’t quite seem to know how to use all the players at his disposal and at times they were tactically disjointed. He was caught between trying to infuse the new players and keeping loyal to some old favourites.

Alan Pardew

Playing Cabaye and Moussa Sissoko in the ‘number 10’ role didn’t really work. Sure, Sissoko scored some goals early on, but it’s not his role. Cabaye is a deep playmaker and Sissoko a Yaya Toure like box-to-box bulldozer. Neither have the subtlety and probing ability to play so high up the field. They are the club’s best two midfielders, and he tried to use them further up the field to give them greater influence, but the way to use them most effectively is in their best position. Their best ‘number 10’ could be the bizarrely under utilised Sylvain Marveaux. When he played, he was inevitably involved in goals. He’s not a hard worker, but his floaty, pacey style, combined with a lovely passing range makes him a true threat.

Newcastle can then use Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran as their wide forwards in a 4-2-3-1 and that gives them genuine pace and width. Rather than using Sissoko and Jonas Gutierrez, one out of position and one who works hard but doesn’t possess flair or pace, Alan Pardew needs to use his two quality weapons. Ben Arfa has been linked to Chelsea and PSG and when he was younger Gouffran was linked to Man United. They’ve got the ability to score 7-8 and make 10-12 each, and that would put them with the top names in that area of the field. With Papiss Cisse upfront bringing his strength, pace and beautiful technique, it would give Newcastle more than enough ammunition. Kinnear wants another striker for some reason, but Cisse has enough class. He needs to be trusted and provided with plenty of supply to thrive.

The concern last year was the defence, but again there is class there. Mathieu Debuchy and Davide Santon are top notch at full back and a now refocused Fabricio Coloccini is one of the better centre backs in the league when on song. Tim Krul could be a top five keeper in the league if he keeps improving. There is however, a big problem next to Coloccini. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa had a few good games, and Steven Taylor is hugely popular but both are erratic and error prone. Newcastle need to invest in a reliable presence. If, as is rumoured, Kinnear has vetoed signing Twente’s commanding Douglas it is a ridiculous decision.

With all this talent on board, Newcastle have more than enough talent to reach the top six. If Pardew uses his players properly, and trusts them to play to their strengths, they can show why they finished 5th. However, this all depends on the new director of football not doing anything rash. They’ve got the talent, they just need to trust it and add sensibly in the manner they have in the past few years.

Could Manchester City regret selling Carlos Tevez?

Man City have agreed to sell Carlos Tevez to Juventus for about £9m. The interesting thing is that all the reporting of the deal is focusing on how City are justifying such a small transfer fee, a loss of £16m on what they paid, because they save £17m on wages and bonuses.

City need to be compliant with UEFA’s new Financial Fair Play rules. It’s also why they have backed out of the Edinson Cavani negotiations as the price climbs up to £50m. All very responsible, but all caused by strange decisions in the past in the markets. City have essentially had to sell Tevez and not replace him with Cavani because of deals like spending £34m on Fernandinho. £24m on Lescott. £16m on Javi Garcia. They’ve backed themselves in to a corner and now not only do they no longer have Tevez, there isn’t any sign of a replacement on the immediate horizon.

That City have sold Tevez isn’t a massive shock. After going AWOL in the title-winning season his time was always going to be limited. However, despite this, he was a consistent performer last season. Never quite reaching the amazing levels of his 2010/11 campaign, but a reliable presence nonetheless. What is surprising though, is that he has been let go at a time when the game of musical strikers is well under way around Europe. In the spring City were linked with Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani. Barring a dramatic chain of events, they’ll get neither. They won’t get Robert Lewandowski and they won’t get Luis Suarez. They didn’t get involved in the bidding for Gonzalo Higuain and Real Madrid haven’t given any indication they would sell Karim Benzema.

Carlos Tevez

Now, in Sergio Aguero they have a truly world-class striker already. Edin Dzeko cost £24m and has shown that he can score goals. After that though, with the departures of Mario Balotelli and Tevez, the four strong forward line is down to two. They have the highly regarded John Guidetti waiting in the wings but do they want to rely on him? City want to win the Premier League and the Champions League, they can’t do that with two forwards. They couldn’t do it with four, let alone when shorn of two of those.

There are still a few options for them to consider. If they wanted to replace Tevez’s deeper creative game, Fiorentina’s Steven Jovetic offers similar qualities, albeit at £20m+. As they seem to be missing out on Isco, they could involve themselves in the bidding for Christian Eriksen of Ajax or perhaps Schalke’s Julian Draxler. Again though, both would carry significant costs. If they are looking for a pure goal scorer, they can look at Sevilla’s Alvaro Negredo or perhaps even David Villa. They may even be tempted to have a look at Christian Benteke.

By selling Tevez, City have gotten rid of an off field headache for themselves, but an on field headache for opponents. By selling him, and in all likelihood missing out on Isco to Real Madrid, they are going to have a creativity hole to fill. As things stand, their quite shallow squad has been made thinner. At the moment, if Aguero is starting with David Silva, Jesus Navas and Samir Nasri behind him, the next man up is Scott Sinclair.

Sessegnon availability indicates change of priority at Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland

Paolo Di Canio’s Sunderland is going to look rather different to Martin O’Neill’s. Since his arrival, Di Canio has very strongly prioritised hard work, fitness, energy and passion. That doesn’t sound too different from O’Neill though right? O’Neill became unpopular because his team was playing an uninteresting, uninventive, unsubtle and ultimately, unsuccessful brand of football in which honesty and effort was put to the fore of the game plan. Nothing summed this up more than the January signing of Danny Graham for £5.5m. A hard working good professional certainly, but not the right man to add fizzle and goal power to a moribund attack. Indeed the one man in the Sunderland squad who offers a bit of something genial and different is Stephane Sessegnon, and now the Italian has made him available for transfer. Is this a surprising move? Or is it just the next step of Di Canio’s purge of the squad he inherited?

Sessegnon’s 2011/12 season saw him score eight goals and make a further 12. He was one of the under the radar stars of the season, providing sparkle and production in his role behind the central striker. Last summer he was talked about as interesting Arsenal, PSG and Marseille. But this summer he is surplus to requirements. He must have had a terrible 2012/13 season then? Well, the odd thing is, the answer to that question is yes and no.

Stephane Sessegnon

The stats took a slight downturn; seven goals and six assists, but the perception of Sessegnon as something of a spent force came more from the fact that as Sunderland’s only creative player, when he struggled the whole team did. The burden of expectation to make things happen fell solely on him more often than not and although he wasn’t really that much worse than in 2011/12, the slight dip in his form, allied to big drops elsewhere exacerbated his apparent decline.

James McClean regressed horrendously last season, his run fast and hard and smash the ball towards the goal game was easily nullified once his debut season novelty had worn off. Adam Johnson’s one trick of cutting in from the right to try and bend in a shot resulted in some good goals and a solid nine assists but it all added in to the one dimensional play that plagued Sunderland all season. With no central midfielder capable of passing the ball, and both wingers struggling for consistent threat, the only imaginative presence was Sessegnon. It meant that for teams defending Sunderland, taking out Sessegnon as a threat meant they ran out of ideas. Short of giving it to Johnson and hoping he could do something or that when fit, Steven Fletcher kept scoring with every single shot he took, they couldn’t score goals.

Di Canio is trying to change this, but Sessegnon seems to fall foul of him mostly because of his lack of top end pace and even more because of his dubious work ethic defensively. The problem Sunderland could face though, is that their problems last season didn’t come from defensive or effort issues. They tried hard, but they didn’t have the variety and subtlety to get them out of trouble. Selling Sessegnon means that the club lose their one player capable of sparkle. Yes, he doesn’t run hard, he doesn’t press hard, but he can make something out of nothing.

The squad Sunderland are building next season are going to be modelled on the German model of pressing high, pressing constantly and breaking with speed. Clearly, there is no place for a meandering Sessegnon in that. But if Di Canio is copying Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, he needs to remember that they have the likes of Mario Gotze, Marco Reus, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Franck Ribery. Players of exceptional quality on the ball. Not just fast players and hard working players.

It seems as if Di Canio’s recruitment is swapping the strong, try hard qualities of Martin O’Neill for a team of athletic, try hard players, looking to press and squeeze at all times. But if he doesn’t add any quality and class it could be swapping one kind of inefficiency for another.

Is Alvaro Negredo an option for Tottenham?

It speaks for the quality that Spain have in their squad that Alvaro Negredo is currently their fourth choice striker. Last season he scored 31 goals and also has two more 20+ goal seasons in the last few years. At 6’1” he has good size, and as you might expect of a Spaniard, excellent touch and technique. It is these qualities that have seen him catch the attention of Spurs, and plenty of other clubs around Europe. Having seen Sevilla sell Jesus Navas, he has told the club that he wants to leave in order to play in the Champions League. With big Champions League clubs with space for a new striker thin on the ground, Spurs should not be intimidated of making a move for him.

Spurs need a goalscoring striker more than anything. The inconsistency of Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor is one of the reasons they couldn’t quite get in to the top four last season. They both have their strengths and at times scored spectacular goals, but neither of them are consistent. Neither can be relied upon to get the club in to the Champions League. They need less of the spectacular and more of the consistent, the clinical. This is where Negredo fits in. He doesn’t have the raw pace of Defoe or genial feet of Adebayor, but he is a relentless goal scorer. He scored 17 goals in 20 league games for Sevilla in 2013 including four, three and two-goal outbursts. This is exactly the kind of reliability Spurs need.

Alvaro Negredo

Unlike some other options Spurs have been linked with, Negredo is no one-season wonder. In the 2010/11 season he scored 29 goals and in 2008/09 he scored 21. In between he got 14 and 15 goals respectively. So even on a relative down year he’d still have been the second highest scorer at Spurs last season. He has good size and strength for the Premier League, having played most of his career as a lone front man in front of three attacking midfielders, which is exactly what Spurs would need him to do.

Sevilla don’t sell cheaply but a bid of £20m would give them a big decision to make. Although they are not desperate to sell, they have always been willing to for the right price. Navas was sold to City and they sold Sergio Ramos to Real Madrid for big money. It’s a lot of money for Spurs to be paying but if they have serious intentions of keeping Gareth Bale and getting in to the Champions League, they need to make moves like this. Negredo doesn’t have the raw physical talent of a Christian Benteke or Leandro Damiao but Spurs have been down the athlete route many times before. They just need someone to put the ball in the net from the endless supply provided by Gareth Bale.

Of course, this sort of quality won’t go unnoticed. Negredo has made it clear he wants Champions League football but that somewhat limits his potential landing spots. Atletico Madrid are known admirers and are looking to replace Radamel Falcao. There’s a possibility that a sale of Robert Lewandowski could see Borussia Dortmund attracted but beyond that, short of a move to Russia, the Champions League options are limited. Although there is one other Premier League club who could be a dark horse. If Chelsea miss out on all of their other targets they can’t be discounted.

However, Spurs are in a very strong position to attract Negredo. It’s pretty much a fight between them and Atletico in all likelihood and the prospect of being crossed to by Gareth Bale should be an enticing one.

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