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Simeone, Loew or Ancelotti – who should win the 2014 FIFA Coach of the Year?

By Waddah Hassani

FIFA has announced its final shortlist for the 2014 FIFA Coach of the Year award and it was (sort of) what everyone was expecting it to be; it included Champions League winner Carlo Ancelotti, World Cup winner Joachim Loew and La Liga winner Diego Simeone.

Aside of the detailed statistical comparison provided, who deserves the award the most?

FIFA 2014 COTY Comparison

Carlo Ancelotti: Where do we start? The experienced Italian has literally done it all in 2014, from winning titles, matching records, breaking records, winning over the fans and locker room, to re-inventing players.

Lets start with the titles; Ancelotti has won three titles thusfar in 2014 in the shape of the famed La Decima, the Copa del Rey, and the UEFA Super Cup. This list is very likely to see an addition in the form of the Club World Cup, which Real Madrid will contest in late December.

So, with three titles in 2014, Carlo Ancelotti is the coach with the most tiles won between not just the final shortlist, but the entire 10-man list initially released by FIFA.

Carlo Ancelotti

He also ventured into the ‘record breaking’ path as he orchestrated Real Madrid’s longest winning streak ever in all competitions (currently stands at 17 wins), longest winning streak ever in the Copa del Rey (10 wins), most goals scored in one Champions League campaign (41 goals), being the fastest coach in Real Madrid’s history to reach 50 official wins, and if Los Blancos wins the CWC, he will also be the first coach in the club’s history to win four titles in one calendar year.

He also equaled Bob Paisley’s record of three European Cups won and in the process became the first and only coach to win three European Cups with two different clubs.

The former Chelsea chief has guided Real Madrid to the top of the La Liga table with 10 consecutive league wins and secured the first spot in Group B of this season’s Champions League thanks to winning all the team’s matches so far in the competition.

On top of all that, Ancelotti also ‘re-invented’ players like Di Maria, James, and Isco to better suit the dynamics of the team, which in part lead to them being better overall players themselves. Certainly an eventful year this has been for the Italian mastermind.

Joachim Loew: With Ancelotti you see a lot of records and achievements, but some may argue that all of these feats are not equal to what Joachim Loew has won in 2014; the World Cup.

Loew guided Germany to the World Cup title with consistent, entertaining, direct, and brutal football that ruthlessly destroyed Brazil 7-1 in the semi-finals; providing the biggest ever semi-final result in World Cup’s history and the South American nation’s biggest home defeat ever.

Joachim Loew

While many teams showed promise but eventually delivered below par performances, Loew’s Germany dominated with sheer consistency. They were on point throughout the tournament and deservedly won the title to prove it.

The World Cup is without a doubt the biggest title in world football so winning it in style surely can’t hurt your chances in winning the COTY award.

Diego Simeone: Quite possibly the ‘dark horse’ in this year’s COTY award race, Diego Simeone has to go up against a coach that has won more titles and broke more records than anyone else in 2014, and a coach who has won the grandest prize in football in the shape of the World Cup.

And what does he have to go against them? Just a La Liga title and the Supercopa with Atletico Madrid.

Diego Simeone

On the surface it might not seem enough, but once you realize that Simeone achieved this with a Vicente Calderon outfit that was battling relegation when he was first appointed, you will come to know the magnitude of his achievement.

He lifted Atletico to heights that saw them challenging the two Spanish powerhouses in the form of Real Madrid and Barcelona, and he actually beat them to the La Liga title. Something that hasn’t happened in a decade.

With a budget that pales in comparison to the Clasico giants, and with a squad that may lack the flair of traditional world-class players, Simeone relied on sheer hard work and discipline to battle through the opposition.

This eventually led Atletico to the final of the 2013/14 Champions League where he was just a 100 seconds away from winning the title, and a La Liga triumph that will surely go down in Spanish folklore as one of the most surprising upsets in league history.

On any other year, what Simeone has done might have been enough, but in 2014, with a Champions League winner and a World Cup winner; it may not be the safe to bet on the Argentine.

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Fernando Torres must quit Chelsea and return home – to Atletico Madrid

Much has been written about Chelsea’s Fernando Torres, with the Spain international having to live with a world of abuse from the football community for the last two years. My overwhelming emotion when I look at the Spaniard these days is one of pity. He has lost his pace, confidence and killer instinct, but still has the attributes to play at the highest level. It is now time for both Chelsea and Torres to call for an end to an agonising period at Stamford Bridge for the attacker, and let him return to his homeland.

Let’s not forget who we are talking about; before his misadventures at Chelsea, Fernando Torres was one of the most respected and deadly strikers in world football. With the Spanish national side Torres has won two European Championships and a World Cup, and is his nation’s all-time third top goalscorer currently.

Fernando Torres

With Atletico Madrid and Liverpool, the forward was at times unplayable, and he was awarded third place in the 2008 Ballon d’Or behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. But, there is no denying that the wheels have come off for Torres since his move to London.

He is not the first big-name forward to underachieve at Chelsea – look at Andriy Shevchenko; widely regarded as one of the most lethal hitmen to grace European football in the modern era, the Ukrainian had a similar experience at Stamford Bridge.

Whether it was the astronomical price tag hanging over his head, the constant media scrutiny or just bad luck, Torres must now draw a line under his time at Chelsea and look to get back to his best elsewhere.

And where better than where it all started, at Atletico Madrid. The Vicente Calderon outfit have come on leaps and bounds since Torres donned their red and white strip; they used to be a mid-table side but in the modern day they are looking almost certain to achieve Champions League qualification for next season.

Fernando Torres at Atletico Madrid

One player that has been critical in this has been Colombian marksman Radamel Falcao; but the South American looks likely to leave the Spanish capital for Manchester City, PSG or even Chelsea this summer.  Torres is the ideal replacement.

Coming into a city and club that he knows, with a manager in Diego Simeone who he has played alongside, means there can be the familiarity that breeds comfort. It was at Atletico that he made a name for himself; it is there that he can re-find the player that was once awarded world acclaim.

In terms of Torres’ time in England, we should remember him in his Liverpool days; devastating pace, scoring from impossible angles and torturing defenders, not his nightmare at Stamford Bridge.

Europa League final: La Liga’s second tier Athletic Bilbao and Atletico Madrid fight for glory

Whilst much of the talk around Europe over the last couple of weeks has been about Barcelona and Real Madrid’s inability to reach the Champions League final, two of the teams in their shadow have made sure that there will be one all-Spanish final this season. Atletico Madrid and Athletic Bilbao will meet in the Europa league final on the May 9th in Bucharest.

Atletico’s season has been turned around by the appointment of Diego Simeone in December, after a run of poor form in the league that left them in danger of not qualifying for European football at all next season. As things stand now though they are in fifth place and still have a chance of getting into fourth and with it Champions League football next season.

Los Colcheneros have not finished outside the top 10 since 2005 and have twice finished inside the top four. Their consistency is even more remarkable considering the almost constant sales of their best players such as Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero and Diego Forlan. Also in this time they have proved their strength on the European stage by winning the Europa League in 2010 and then beating Champions league holders Inter Milan in the Super Cup later that year.

The main man behind Atletico’s success this season though is their new scoring sensation Radamel Falcao. Signed for a club record €40 million in the summer of 2011 after an incredible record of 73 goals in 83 games for Porto, he has lived up to expectations. His record of 33 goals in 46 games this season has proved his ability and the Colombia international is still improving. If Atletico have long-term ambitions to break into the Primera Division top four again and stay there, they must keep hold of players like Falcao.

Atletico’s run to the final has been fairly comfortable and scare free. They comfortably finished top of a group containing Udinese, Celtic and Rennes, before cruising past Lazio, Besiktas, Hannover 96 and maybe a little surprisingly, Valencia, winning home and away in every round.

There is no doubt they will face a stern test in the final though in the form of Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao. Former Argentina and Chile coach Bielsa joined at the start of this season and has turned the San Mames outfit into one of the most exciting and attacking teams in Europe. This style of football, which has already been compared to Barcelona’s, has seen Bielsa linked with the Chelsea and Camp Nou jobs in some quarters. Since finishing 17th in 2006-2007, the Basque team have made steady improvements year after year and currently sit tenth in the table; the appointment of Bielsa may be the final piece of the jigsaw.

Bilbao’s improvement this season was evident in the Spain squad for the friendly against Venezuela. Javi Martinez, Andoni Iraola, Fernando Llorente and Iker Munian were all included with only Barcelona having more players from a single club in the squad. Much like Atletico though, Bilbao must hold on to these players if they have long term ambitions of making the step up to Champions League football, but with a number of English clubs already being linked with 19-year-old Munian, Llorente and Martinez, this may be difficult.

Bilbao’s route to the final has been nothing short of exceptional. After coming top of a relatively easy group with the exception of big spending Paris Saint-Germain, they have upset some big European names in the knock out stages. After winning through on away goals against Lokomotiv Moscow they caused the upset of the competition by knocking out Manchester United. Incredible attacking performances home and away gave them victories in both games and in truth the 5-3 aggregate scoreline could have been much worse for the English champions. From then another high-scoring victory over Schalke followed although they did need a late Llorente goal to get past Sporting Lisbon in the semi-final.

There is no doubt that this could be one of the biggest seasons in Bilbao’s history with the chance of a cup double as they meet Barcelona in the Copa del Rey final later this month. Victory in both of these finals will certainly put Athletic Bilbao’s name on every European football fan’s lips.

Both teams attacking styles will surely mean a great spectacle and an open game in Romania’s capital city on Wednesday and it may come down to a battle between two of La Liga’s best strikers in Falcao and Llorente to determine who takes the Spanish bragging rights in Europe this year.

By Chris Newman

La Liga’s dominance in the Europa League a lesson for the Manchester clubs and Tottenham this season

La Liga’s dominance of Europe’s second most prestigious tournament should serve as a timely reminder of what the Premier League is missing out on.

This week sees the return of the Champions League, with much of the attention focusing on Chelsea’s clash with Barcelona, while Bayern Munich face off against Real Madrid.

Yet for all the glitz and glamour of the tournament, just 24 hours later, another set of European fixtures could make for interesting viewing.

On Thursday evening, Atletico Madrid and Valencia will play in the semi-final of the Europa League while Athletic Bilbao head to Portugal to face Sporting Lisbon.

The line-up stands as a testament to the depth in quality that exists in Spain with Atletico and Bilbao reaching this stage of the competition after navigating a tricky group and knock-out phase.

This was undoubtedly evidenced during Bilbao’s demolition of Manchester United. Entering the competition after being dumped out of the Champions League, United were fortunate to escape with a 3-2 defeat at Old Trafford in the first leg, but even then manager Alex Ferguson sensed the tide of the tie was against them.

Speaking to the BBC then, the Scot admitted that, “They were the better team,” with the second leg to come looking “uphill fight.”

The comments spoke volumes for the quality of Marcelo Bielsa’s Bilbao team, given number of times Ferguson has come out fighting when the Reds have faced seemingly insurmountable odds. They were quickly confirmed too with a 2-1 defeat in the return fixture.

Yet in truth, Spain’s continued love affair with the Europa League should come as little surprise to those who have followed the competition over the years.

From Sevilla’s back-to-back wins in the mid-2000s to the more recent win for the likes of Atletico Madrid and with notable runs for the likes of Espanyol, Getafe and Villarreal, Spanish league sides have always taken a keen interest in the pursuit of the trophy.

It is an understandable focus too, with much of the domestic game swallowed up by the dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona.

But despite the notable similarities in the English game, with the economic powerhouses of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City dominating proceedings, Premier League perceptions of the competition portray it as a nuisance.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp described the competition as “a killer” to his side’s chances of competing for Champions League qualification warning “Thursday and Sunday every week…you’ve got no chance in the Premier League with that”.

Yet the relative progress of a Stoke City team with far less resources than the likes of Tottenham, alongside solid league form, indicates that this may be an incorrect assumption.

Spanish clubs are not the only nation reaping the benefits of Europa League football either, as Germany continues to enjoy relative success in the tournament, with the unfancied Hannover 96 and Schalke 04 progressing to the quarter-finals stage via the group stage.

Is it any coincidence then that Spain, Germany and other Europa League enthusiasts Portugal, excel most at international level?

Encouraging English participation in this tournament could make for a more rounded domestic game, and could offer some solace for fans tired of the continued chase for the so-called ‘success’ of finishing fourth in the Premier League.

Fulham’s previous run in the competition demonstrated the thrills and passion that the Europa League can bring to fans and the game as a whole with few Cottagers fans able to forget the famous victory over Juventus en route to the final.

For the English game to reap any notable reward from the tournament though, a change of perception is required among the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham.

The Europa League is no killer – it could breathe new life into the English game.

By Jack Beresford

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