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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.

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Ashley Williams wants a move to Arsenal or Liverpool – but do they want him?

Ashley Williams has been very good for Swansea in his two years in the Premier League and has apparently caught the attention of Arsenal and Liverpool. Swansea have been adamant that they haven’t had any bids for Williams and are laying down an asking price of £10m to try to put rumours to bed. However, with reports that he may be at the stage where he asks to be allowed to speak to any interested clubs, Williams is pressing ahead with his desire.

Apparently, Williams sees his future at Arsenal. But, there are more than a few questions to be asked as to whether Arsenal are actually realistically in the chase to sign him. Firstly, Williams is 29 years old. Arsene Wenger doesn’t sign 29 year olds. In fact, his almost phobic approach to 30 year olds already at the club getting more than one year contracts has only recently ceased. If he signed at Arsenal, he’d be there for at most three years. Wenger doesn’t tend to do things for three years. It might be a different if he was signing Xavi or Cristiano Ronaldo for three years, but with respect, this is Ashley Williams.

Williams also is not an upgrade on either of Arsenal’s starting centre backs. In fact, he’d probably be fourth in the queue behind Thomas Vermaelen too. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were excellent together last season and formed the second tightest defence in the Premier League. If Williams did go to Arsenal he’d be sat on the bench. Why does he want that? He has certainly been impressive at times in his first two years in elite competition but he won’t displace either starter any time soon. Arsene Wenger has searched for central defensive solidity for many years and now that he finally has it, surely won’t be tempted to mess around with his excellent pairing.

Ashley Williams

The only way that Williams would get in to the Arsenal lineup is if they, for some reason, decided to sell Laurent Koscielny to Bayern or Barcelona, his two main suitors. However, Koscielny has four years left on his contract, and is very happy at the club. Indeed, Arsenal seem to be in a position now where they are looking to push up the table towards trying to win the league. Selling Koscielny will not be part of that plan.

The other teams rumoured to be interested seem to be Liverpool and Everton. Liverpool is logical as Williams worked with Brendan Rodgers at Swansea. However, Liverpool’s ownership are unlikely to sanction a £10m outlay on a 29 year old. The Fenway group have made it very clear that they will only invest in players who they could re sell or have for a long time. They’ve only just sold Andy Carroll at a £20m loss and Williams would lose all £10m of face value that they pay for him. Liverpool haven’t signed anyone other than free agent Kolo Toure over 25 under Fenway ownership. Everton could make sense, but again the price tag is a concern. If it was more like £5-6m they may be able to pay it but Roberto Martinez knows how to find overseas bargains and paying inflated prices for players from English teams hasn’t been a way for Everton to do things in many years.

Ashley Williams may be making a huge mistake in asking to leave Swansea. He is the captain of the club and has grown up with them as they have moved through the divisions. The kind of clubs he wants to move to don’t look to be ideal options for him for various reasons – age, price, need, so it’s unclear how heavily pursued he will be.

Swansea must do whatever it takes to keep Laudrup and Michu

Last season Swansea built on their decent first season in the Premier League with an excellent second season. The keys to this were the off-season appointment of Michael Laudrup to succeed Liverpool bound Brendan Rodgers and the Dane’s top signing; Michu. Laudrup took the possession as a form of defence mantra that Rodgers had used to establish Swansea in the top flight, and added extra width and expansive attacking play. This helped them to a top-ten finish and the first major trophy in the club’s history, the League Cup. Michu cost just £2m and proved to be a revelation, scoring 22 goals in all competitions. Swansea have taken the step from quiet and well run club, to a club that suddenly are supplying top clubs with managers and potentially players. With increased success has come increased attention on the prised assets and they face a battle to keep their two biggest. If Swansea are to maintain their top 10 position it is fundamental that they do so.

Michael Laudrup

Much of Swansea’s rise to success has been built on a philosophical blueprint backed up by consistent and economical recruitment. They have replaced Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers who were poached elsewhere, and continued to grow. But, Michael Laudrup is an entirely different proposition. Having a name like Michael Laudrup attached to them gives Swansea a glamour and prestige that they didn’t have. They have been a respected club for several years, but with Laudrup at the helm they took steps up the prestige ladder. He was able to persuade Jonathan De Guzman and Pablo Hernandez to join from elite La Liga clubs, he kept Michel Vorm and he stole Michu. Laudrup’s recruitment was the difference between Swansea being in the top 10 and not. And it is because of his name, and the regard he is held in, particularly in Spain where he starred for Real Madrid and Barcelona in his playing days. Andres Iniesta calls him the best player off all time. With respect to Rodgers and Martinez, and whoever would replace Laudrup, they don’t possess that pull.

The reason his future is being questioned is doubts over how much funding he will be given. Laudrup jokingly said he needed £200m to take Swansea to the next level and although that figure was tongue in cheek, the sentiment is representative. Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins has said that:

There are substantial funds available to strengthen our squad over the summer while we are also in the privileged position, because of the way we’ve managed our finances over the years, that we do not need to sell anyone to fund those new recruits

Swansea have built themselves up through financial prudence and excellent work in the transfer market. The question for Laudrup is; how much further can he take Swansea? Barring some spectacularly good signings, it’s hard to see how they can ever get themselves much higher than they got last season. They don’t have the budget or size of clubs in the top seven which means they finished second in the mini league last season. There’s nothing to say they can’t force their way in with more good signings, but only Laudrup has the reputation and pull to achieve those. Without him, they could be looking backwards rather than up.

In Michu’s case, his presence at the club in to next season would prove Jenkins’ words. Unless they get a mind blowing offer from a Champions League type club there is no reason for them to sell. He is their poster boy for their excellent transfer business as well as being a key contributor on the field. Goals are the hardest thing to find in the mid level of the Premier League, and they have a goalscorer in Michu. If they sold him Laudrup would follow no doubt.

Sometimes the grass isn’t greener elsewhere and as a manager who has been through turbulence and job loss before Laudrup would be well advised to sit tight and keep growing Swansea in his own image. He is adored and if what the chairman says proves to be the case, well backed. He is the key to their top 10 future but if his demands put the club’s future at risk, or would mean shelling the policy that brought them here, it’ll be a tough summer.

Tottenham’s Bale, Liverpool’s Suarez and Manchester United’s Van Persie – but where is Swansea’s Michu?

The nominees for the Premier League Player of the Year award have been named, with a notable absence amongst the six candidates. All the discussion about the accolade have rightly focussed on Tottenham’s Gareth Bale, Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and Manchester United’s Robin van Persie, however the addition of Juan Mata, Michael Carrick and Eden Hazard leaves me scratching my head that a certain Spaniard missed out.

I am not saying that Michu of Swansea City should be awarded the Premier League Player of the Year awaed, however the versatile attacker has had a fantastic debut season in England and was certainly great value for a nomination. It will boil down to Bale, Suarez or Van Persie, however Michu’s excellent season should have been acknowledged with a nomination.

Michu

Carrick has long been the unsung worker in the United midfield, and is only now being recognised for the tireless work he puts in and the range of passing he brings to the soon-to-be champions. Juan Mata has grown in stature this season and deserves his place in the six. The ex-Valencia playmaker has been superb throughout the season and will play a key role in Chelsea’s attempts to forge a Premier League title challenge next season. Hazard at times has shown brilliance, especially towards the start of the season, however I feel he has not done enough to warrant a place on the shortlist.

It is unfortunate that bargain £2 million buy Michu is not included. He has netted 21 times in all competitions for Michael Laudrup’s men, 17 in the league, and been a figurehead in the Liberty Stadium side overcoming the often tricky second season to become a well-established Premier League side. He also played his part in the club winning the Capital One Cup, the first major trophy in the Welsh club’s history.

Michu was never going to be the Player of the Year, but a nomination would have been just reward for a cracking debut campaign. The fact that he plays for one of the less glamorous sides in the division has clearly worked against him, the powers that be should have widened their net to include the likes of the Spaniard in their shortlist.

Arsenal must beat Swansea or Tottenham and Chelsea could be uncatchable

Arsenal take on Swansea at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday afternoon in what will be a tricky and tightly-fought encounter for the Gunners. With elimination from the Champions League confirmed in midweek despite a valiant effort in Munich, Arsene Wenger will now have to focus his energies on making the top four and qualifying for Europe’s premier tournament again next term.

The way things stand it is not looking great for the north London side. Local rivals Tottenham and Chelsea stand in the Emirates Stadium side’s way in their bid for re-entry to the Champions League, with a five-gap margin between fourth and fifth place. Spurs have opened up a seven-point gap over the Gunners after their north London derby triumph at White Hart Lane.

Arsene Wenger

With Chelsea and Tottenham playing at home to West Ham and Fulham respectively on Sunday, the gap will most likely be widened further should Wenger’s men drop points in Wales. Arsenal lost the corresponding fixture at the Liberty Stadium last season and were also beaten 2-0 at home earlier this term; Swansea have continued their excellent form since then.

A first major trophy in the club’s history has been a fine reward for Michael Laudrup’s men after another excellent season, and before the game the Welsh outfit are only seven points adrift of Arsenal. The likes of Michu, Jonathan De Guzman and Pablo Hernandez will cause a threat to the visiting rearguard, while reported Gunners target Ashley Williams will marshal the hosts’ own defence.

Despite Arsenal have a slightly easier run-in on paper than the two sides above them, one feels that this is a must win game for the Gunners. Should they lose to Swansea for the third consecutive time it is feasible that Chelsea could be eight points clear of them, Spurs ten, and at this late stage in the season it would be extremely difficult for Arsenal to claw that back.

Ashley Williams – the answer to Arsenal’s defensive problems?

After Arsenal lost out to north London rivals Tottenham in the derby on Sunday, much has been made of the Gunners’ central defensive partnership. With Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon scoring virtually identical goals within the space of two minutes, the Emirates side’s backline has come under criticism. Swansea captain Ashley Williams is being linked with a move to Arsenal in the press to plug the apparent void, but is the Welsh defender the answer?

On Sunday Arsene Wenger opted to partner Per Mertesacker with Thomas Vermaelen in the heart of his backline. Both players have come in for criticism over their tenures in north London, and the defending for Spurs’ two goals was very basic to say the least. With Laurent Koscielny on the bench and seemingly not a more robust option than the previously mentioned duo, most Gunners fans would welcome a new signing at the back in the summer.

Ashley Williams

Mertesacker has struggled since his move from Werder Bremen to the Premier League, with clumsy touches and a lack of genuine pace being exposed in big games. Vermaelen, despite excellent performances at times and the versatility to play at full-back also, is too inconsistent and not the leader that Arsenal need.

The pair were largely disorganised against Tottenham, with captain Vermaelen failing to stand up and command his back four. The relatively inexperienced Carl Jenkinson and new signing Nacho Monreal needed guidance, which was not forthcoming. For all his technical abilities, the Belgian stopper seemingly lacks the authority of great Arsenal defenders of old such as Tony Adams, Steve Bould or Martin Keown.

In that respect, Williams could well fill the void. The Swansea man has been the defensive figurehead of the Liberty Stadium side’s rise to prominence in the Premier League, and has played a key role in thwarting improved attacking opponents at the top level. He commands the respect of his teammates, is vocal and has been one of Swansea’s most consistent performers since their promotion from the Championship.

However, with the gap between Arsenal and the top sides appearing to grow year-on-year, the Emirates faithful will be crying out for a big-name signing to really prove that the club are eager to get back in the Premier League title reckoning. With no disrespect to Williams, who is a competent and able performer at this level, he is not a Nemanja Vidic, Vincent Kompany or John Terry.

All over the park Arsenal lack leaders, with Jack Wilshere the only real dominant force in their team. The massively successful Arsenal teams of old were built around strong defensive characters, which are lacking in the modern day team. One has to question whether the signing of Ashley Williams is going to help the Gunners take the next step in their progression, and whether he is any better than the players that Arsenal already have.

Can Brendan Rodgers’ appointment restore Liverpool’s former glory?

It has been two very different seasons for managers Kenny Dalglish and Brendan Rodgers, with a disappointing eighth place finish for the Anfield outfit – scraping silverware in the Carling Cup – whilst the Swans of South Wales have comfortably survived their first year of Premier League football. However, the 39 year-old Northern Irishman will face one of his biggest challenges yet as the new Liverpool manager.

Brendan Rodgers has had a fantastic year, managing Swansea City, and no one could have predicted the outcome of their first season in top-flight football since 1983.  Swansea caused many upsets against the big teams including wins over Manchester City, Arsenal and a 1-0 defeat of Liverpool on the last day of the season. Often called “The Welsh Barcelona”, due to their unique approach to possession football, not to mention Leon Britton, who is Europe’s most accurate passer above both Xavi and Andres Iniesta; Rodgers has developed a style of football based on starving the opposition of possession, relieving pressure with the ball, and sustaining patient build-up play until forwards, Danny Graham, Scott Sinclair, and Nathan Dyer, can produce something special in the final third.

As for the move to Liverpool, you can see why American owner John Henry has appointed Rodgers as the new manager, despite considering the options of Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Martinez and Fabio Capello. When it comes to developing young British talent, Rodgers is the man you want. Starting as a youth team coach for Reading, and then moving to manage the youth team at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, Rodgers will be able to bring the best out of the Liverpool youngsters who have endured a below par season including Jordan Henderson and Andy Carroll – the collective sum of around £50m.

As well as his experience in coaching youth players, Liverpool fans will be wondering if Rodgers will implement his entertaining brand of passing football into the Liverpool game, and if he will bring players over from his former Welsh side. 23 year-old Scott Sinclair, homegrown Joe Allen, and Icelandic superstar Gylfi Sigurdsson – who has not yet officially signed for Swansea after agreeing a fee of £6.8m – could be favourites to make a move considering Liverpool’s problems in midfield. The former Reading and Watford manager will bring with him first-team coach Colin Pascoe, match-analyst Chris Davies and conditioning expert Glen Driscoll to help him in his new start at Anfield.

On the other hand, it will be Rodgers’ first experience of managing a top-class team and their progress in Europe next season will be a real test of the Northern Irish manager’s ability not only to play in the Premier League, but to battle and win the Europa League. Unlike any club he has managed before, Rodgers will have to deal with big personalities such as Merseyside legend Steven Gerrard, and the controversial Luis Suarez.

To conclude, there is no doubt that Brendan Rodgers will be paramount to fixing the errors and mishaps of an unsatisfactory and forgettable season for Liverpool. He will have much to write about in his little notebook this summer and will hope to capitalise on a bigger budget than he’s ever had before. He might be praying that he doesn’t end up being just another Kop flop.

By Jacob Tucker

Manchester City, Newcastle and the biggest Premier League winners of 2011-12

A fantastic last day of the season capped off one of the most memorable Premier League seasons in the recent memory. 2011/12 has had it all; a topsy-turvy title race that literally went down to the wire, a bitter battle for the top four, heroics in the Champions League and a breathtaking relegation battle. Now that the dust has settled, here are Ninety Minutes Online’s top five winners of 2011/12.

Roberto Mancini’s Manchester City mindgames

An incredible title race has been consisted of champions and perennial favourites Manchester United being confronted by cross-town rivals Manchester City, with the noisy neighbours claiming victory on a captivating last day. The Etihad Stadium outfit looks almost unstoppable at the start of the season, with Sir Alex Ferguson’s men struggling to keep up at times, before the Red Devils recaptured the advantage and found themselves eight points clear at the summit. After a derby victory for City, the battle went down to the last day, with two goals in stoppage time by Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero against QPR unbelievably giving the Citizens their first top-flight title since 1968.

Ferguson is usually the king of managerial mindgames, but on this occasion the imperious Italian has seemingly got into the United players’ thoughts, and City provide worthy winners of the 2011/12 Premier League.

Alan Pardew and his Newcastle team

Despite missing out on the top four with a last-day defeat by Everton, Newcastle have been exceptional under Alan Pardew this season, and have defied the odds to be in the race for Champions League qualification. The likes of Cheik Tiote, Demba Ba and Yohan Cabaye have proved to be astute signings, whilst the January acquisition of Papiss Cisse has resulted in a new number nine hero for the Tyneside club.

Pardew and his side must be given credit for finishing above the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool this season and providing some exceptional football at times.

Newly-promoted sides

Norwich, Swansea and QPR faced an uphill battle to stay in the Premier League this season, and many prophesised a speedy return to the Championship for the trio. However, all three sides have proved that they are good enough to cut it in the top-tier, and will look to push on next term. Swansea have been one of the teams of the season, and an 11th place finish, with a stylish brand of football to boot, is an exceptional achievement. Norwich, led by talisman Grant Holt, were not far behind in 12th and also claimed some scalps this term.

Meanwhile, although QPR escaped the drop on the last day, the Loftus Road club have beaten Arsenal, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool to show their worth. All three will provide motivation to Southampton, Reading and either West Ham or Blackpool for next season.

Roy Hodgson

With Fabio Capello’s decision to walk away from the England manager’s post, a media frenzy has brewed over who the man to lead the Three Lions to Euro 2012 would be. With Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp the frontrunner and favourite, the press had us believing that it would be a matter of when and not if the White Hart Lane supremo took charge.

However, Roy Hodgson’s excellent achievement of lifting West Brom to 10th in the table has been recognised, and the Hawthorns man will now lead England to Ukraine and Poland.

Football

Football has been a massive winner this term, as the 2011/12 Premier League season has been the most competitive, spell-bounding and enthralling campaign for many a year. Whether it was the race for the title, five teams slugging it out to stay in the division, the heroics of the new boys or the quality of the sides in the top six, 2011/12 will take some beating next season.

Honourable Mentions

  • Roberto Di Matteo – The Italian has completely rejuvenated Chelsea since taking over from Andre Villas Boas, and after winning the FA Cup is 90 minutes away from lifting the Champions League crown.
  • Paul Scholes – The ageing veteran came out of retirement to show that he still has what it takes to compete at the top level despite his age. Rumours are circulating that Roy Hodgson will take Scholes to Euro 2012.
  • Arsene Wenger – Many had lost faith in the French manager at the start of the campaign when the Gunners lost four of their first seven games, but Wenger has led the club to a third-placed finish despite the criticism.
  • The FA Cup – With the emergence of the Champions League, over recent seasons the FA Cup has had to take a back seat, but some enthralling games between the nation’s best teams have been a joy to watch this season.
  • David Moyes – The Scottish coach continues to overachieve despite a shoestring transfer budget at Goodison Park, and leading the Toffees to seventh place is an excellent return.

Published – Soccerlens

Jelavic, Cisse and the Premier League’s top five January 2012 transfers

Gylfi Sigurdsson -Swansea

The perfect signing for Brendan Rodgers – the Icelandic playmaker and set-piece specialist is a bright prospect and since signing from German side Hoffenheim on loan, Sigurdsson has gelled straight into the midfield three alongside Joe Allen and Leon Britton, scoring seven goals and claiming two assists in 14 Premier League appearances. His fantastic free-kicks and long-shots makes him a joy to watch and keeping the 22 year-old Scandinavian at the club on a permanent deal will be high on Rodgers’ to-do list.

Steven Pienaar – Everton

30 year-old Steven Pienaar has made a stunning return to Everton, once again acting as a vital asset to the Goodison Park outfit. With his slick ball control and vision, the South African is a player of quality and experience, fitting smoothly on the left of David Moyes’ 4-4-1-1 formation. After a disappointing year with Tottenham, a loan spell with his former club is exactly what he needed, and it will be interesting to see if the north London outfit will want the attacking midfielder back in the summer, or whether he will get a permanent deal with the club that seems to suit him the best.

Nikica Jelavic – Everton

The Croatian hitman has become a fans’ favourite after bagging ten goals in 13 games for the Toffees, including a brace in the magnificent 4-4 draw with Premier League champions Manchester United. After signing from the financially-endangered Rangers, Nikica Jelavic has been vital in Everton’s Premier League campaign, and although still failing to beat bitter rivals Liverpool, David Moyes will be hopeful that they can finish above the Reds for the first time since 2005.

Pavel Pogrebnyak – Fulham

Although suffering a brief injury spell, the Soviet powerhouse, nicknamed Velikiy Po – Po the Great – became the quickest player to reach five goals in Premier League history, scoring five goals in three consecutive matches, including a perfect hat-trick against Wolves. Pogrebnyak has fitted straight into Fulham’s aesthetic style of play, leading the front line with his muscular strength and a fantastic eye for goal. After the departure of veteran Bobby Zamora, Pogrebnyak was the perfect replacement; Martin Jol will want to keep the Russia international at Craven Cottage, but his stint could potentially end in the summer.

Papiss Cisse – Newcastle

After setting the record for the highest scoring African player in a single Bundesliga campaign, Papiss Cisse joined Newcastle from Freiburg for around £10m. Since signing for the Tyneside club, the 26 year-old has made a scintillating partnership with international comrade, Demba Ba, and they will be looking to bag a spot in Europe’s most prestigious tournament next season. There is no doubt Cisse was keen to get to work alongside his Senegalese counterpart and the two upfront have become a force to be reckoned with in the Premier League – in particular Cisse, who has scored eleven goals in eleven games for Alan Pardew’s men.

By Jacob Tucker

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