Suarez has every right to leave Liverpool – but future stars mustn’t get the opportunity

By Jack Poland

As the increasingly tiresome Luis Suarez transfer saga barrels its way through gossip columns on a daily basis, many Liverpool fans are justifiably concerned about going into next season without their divisive, yet undeniably gifted, forward. Absurd digressions aside, Luis Suarez was phenomenal last season – lighting up even the drabbest of games with his hypnotic dribbling and markedly improved finishing, managing 23 goals in total.

Suarez himself has added his voice to the rumours on so many occasions, that even the self-styled spokesman of all things football Dave Whelan may soon be asking the Uruguayan to pipe down. The lure of Real Madrid and the endless chastisement from the British media are just two of the reasons Suarez has given for considering his future. To the Reds fans though, such explanations are irrelevant. For all the fans care, his prime reason for leaving could be his disappointment with the abomination that is the new away kit – as long as he is not in a Liverpool shirt come the end of his suspension it will certainly be seen as a huge loss and fans will simply learn to move on.

The problem Liverpool supporters may be slowly beginning to learn however, and something that manager Brendan Rodgers must address, is the emerging pattern of star players moving on without having made a lasting impression in terms of honours. One suspects Suarez’s real reason for looking elsewhere lies in his warranted belief that, as a world-class player, he belongs in a world-class team that is challenging for trophies – an explanation that fans, with a heavy heart, must accept. If their star man is to leave this summer, a priority for Rodgers must surely be to not allow a player to be able to use the same rationale in the future. What Liverpool fans wouldn’t give to lay the blame for the departure of a player on the manager (Rafa Benitez – Xabi Alonso to Madrid) or even the player himself (Steven Gerrard almost – 2005) rather than the performances of their team.

Luis Suarez

When Fernando Torres left Anfield for Chelsea, the pain that came with it for Liverpool fans was short lived with the arrival of Suarez from Ajax. The transition was seamless yet the relief merely masked the heavy reliance on their star men. In Torres and Suarez, Liverpool have had the enviable fortune of boasting two 20-goals-a-season strikers amongst their arsenal yet have only managed to win a League Cup since the signing of Torres in July 2007.

If, or when, Suarez departs, the main objective for Brendan Rodgers and managing director Ian Ayre must be to use the vast sum that would come with the transfer to buy players that contribute to the talent that is slowly merging at Anfield in Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge. The reasonably priced signing of Spanish forward Iago Aspas and the potentially canny decision to sign Ivorian stalwart Kolo Toure on a free must surely be welcomed despite those expecting a £40m marquee signing should Suarez depart. A quick glance to the claret and blue section of East London should serve as a reminder that panic buying after the loss of a influential player isn’t always the most sensible option.

In the absence of Suarez through suspension Liverpool began to look like a team enjoying their football, scoring 12 in their last five league games, and although the loss of such a quality player would be a blow, the solution may not necessarily lie in a like-for-like big money signing. In disregarding other needed improvements in the squad they may well deprive themselves of a genuine chance to build a squad capable of qualifying for the Champions League.  Rodgers has to ensure that the likes of Coutinho and Sturridge contribute to the success of the club rather than let them be harvested for two or three seasons just for a Champions League team to prise them away as the endless cycle continues.

As pre-season approaches, Liverpool find themselves in a rare position of stability as many around them go through substantial transitions, and it would hurt fans if this current transfer saga knocks any effort to capitalise on this off course – a hurt that would last far longer than any felt with the loss of Luis Suarez.

Where do Liverpool need to strengthen this summer?

Liverpool have had a wretched record in the transfer market for the best part of four or five years, and it is because of this that they have lost their guaranteed Champions League qualification status. It makes this an important summer for Brendan Rodgers, who has been speaking of the need to add depth to the squad. The poor work in the markets in previous years has left Liverpool with a paper-thin but expensively assembled squad. There were some signs of better decision making with the January signings of Daniel Sturridge and especially Philippe Coutinho, so can Liverpool keep that up this summer and what do they need to do?

Liverpool have a strong first team but almost no depth. The problem is, depth is a hard thing to buy. Can Liverpool buy players of significant quality if they are just coming to push the first team? With the exception of the central defence, maybe left back and a possible Suarez shaped hole there isn’t a glaring weakness in the full strength side. Not one that can be addressed when not in the Champions League at least. The best way to build depth is through the youth system or by relegating previous purchases to depth status. But those previously bought players cost a stack of money so they are constantly chasing previous mistakes.

The first issue for Liverpool to solve is the Luis Suarez situation. He has asked to leave and is a valuable asset to sell. If Liverpool can get Real Madrid to pay them £50m they will be very tempted to sell him. It seems increasingly likely that this will be the case so for the sake of argument lets assume that he is on his way, and treat him staying as a bonus for Liverpool.

Brendan Rodgers, Liverpool manager

If Suarez goes then Liverpool will only have Sturridge as a central striker unless they can’t sell Andy Carroll. Liverpool need to find some competition for him to push him to improve. Rodgers has committed to him as their future so they are unlikely to sign a David Villa or Mario Gomez. Soon to be incoming Iago Aspas can operate centrally but isn’t an ideal option due to his lack of size. Perhaps someone like Wilfried Bony of Vitesse Arnhem or even Demba Ba could be bought with a chance to compete to take the spot. That way they wouldn’t have to guarantee it to a new big name and relegate Sturridge to the bench or out wide. Rodgers also needs to get value from Fabio Borini considering he cost £10m

Liverpool had central defensive issues that will only get worse with Jamie Carragher’s retirement. Martin Skrtel, who has been linked with a move away, regressed badly last year and Daniel Agger looks worse when not partnered with a rugged organiser. They’ve signed Kolo Toure, but that isn’t going to get them in to the Champions League spots. Their first choice seems to be Schalke’s young Greek star Kyriakos Papadopoulos and he would be an excellent signing. Schalke are supposedly holding out for £18m for him but at just 21 he offers amazing potential. He’s big, strong, quick and a ferocious defender. He’s not afraid of getting vocal with more experienced teammates either. If Liverpool pocket £50m for Suarez and £12m for Carroll they can certainly afford this. They could then sell Skrtel and still have enough depth with Wisdom and Pearce.

Although he’s done decently enough, Jose Enrique could certainly be upgraded upon. Liverpool could steal a march on Man United and Chelsea by moving for Southampton’s Luke Shaw. Shaw would be given the chance to win the job from Enrique and establish himself as their left back of the future. They’ve got some OK young full backs but no one of Shaw’s calibre.

Liverpool are spending a lot of time adding attacking midfield options, and this has accelerated with doubts over Suarez. Aspas has been bought to play there, Luis Alberto seems to be arriving from Sevilla and Shakhtar’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan is being heavily linked, supposedly close to signing. Rodgers needs all of these tricky technical players to fully implement his system and give Gerrard and Lucas plenty of options to pass to. It’s much easier to rotate these players around in various competitions with Aspas and Luis Alberto battling for a spot next to Coutinho and Mkhitarayan in all likelihood. They’ve also got Downing and Borini to consider here. And then, what of Sterling, Shelvey and Ibe? Loans perhaps?

They may also consider some midfield depth with Lucas injury prone and Gerrard getting on in age. They paid over £30m to get Henderson and Allen so they need to get proper value out of them but neither inspires much confidence in Kopites.

It’s a tough summer for Liverpool. They’ve got a good team with few obvious weaknesses. They can’t afford and lack the Champions League football to attract to huge upgrades like a Cavani, Higuain or Sneijder, who are all gossip column regulars and it is hard to sign sufficient quality to just sit on the bench. This combined with a need to push their young players and lumbering themselves with expensively bought and maintained players from past windows who need game time gives Brendan Rodgers a tricky balancing act to pull off.

Liverpool to sign Iago Aspas – what can the Kop expect?

Liverpool are closing in on the capture of Spanish forward Iago Aspas from Celta Vigo, and unlike the Kolo Toure signing, this feels much more like a Brendan Rodgers move in the ilk of the Philippe Coutinho signing. For Celta Vigo Aspas played near enough as a striker which is represented in his goals tallies over the last few years. He scored 12 in La Liga this year, which was proceeded by a 23 goal season in the Segunda Division, which fired Celta to promotion.

Now, before you worry that his signing will forbear Luis Suarez’s departure, it is important that Liverpool fans shouldn’t expect to see him playing as a striker in England. At 5ft 9in he is far too small to play as the lone striker in Rodger’s 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 system in the Premier League. Quite apart from the presence of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in situ, his talents wouldn’t be maximised as a striker. Instead, he should form part of a very fluid attacking four with the aforementioned strikers and Philippe Coutinho. Presumably this would be with Sturridge up front most of the time with almost total roaming license for the other three.

Iago Aspas

Aspas’ main strengths are his pace, movement, finishing and inventiveness. This is not dissimilar to Suarez or Coutinho. In their base formation, he may well find himself starting in one of the wider positions to allow Suarez or even more likely, Coutinho, to operate in the ‘number 10’ position behind the central striker. This would even work if they do sell Suarez, as Rodgers will no doubt have his eye on a replacement. Either way, it will give Liverpool a buzzing, moving trio behind Sturridge, who will be able to hang around the box and on the last shoulder of the defenders looking for through balls.

Last season, Liverpool’s attack really surged in to life with the January arrival of Coutinho. He immediately got on to the same wavelength as Suarez and at times they looked to be forging a potentially devastating partnership. The problem for Liverpool, and why they suffered several 0-0s, is that this only gave them a central threat unless one of them wondered out wide. Stewart Downing has lost what little pace he had, Suso and Raheem Sterling are very raw and Jordan Henderson is best used in a three-man midfield. It meant that they always had a weakness in one of the attacking spots, and if teams focused their defensive structures towards stopping Suarez, Liverpool suffered. Aspas will give teams something else to think about because he will be a flurry of movement at pace, the two things defenders hate most in an opponent.

The other extra dimension is his finishing ability. Too often the goalscoring burden fell on Suarez last season. Sturridge is a frustrating finisher, equally capable of scoring with all three shots on goal or missing with ten. Coutinho looks capable of reaching double figures if played centrally and now they can add the goals of Aspas. Between them, all of the various options Rodgers used on the right of the attacking trident last year couldn’t muster up double figures, barely even five. Now, they are adding a forward who scored 12 goals in the more tactical La Liga in a team in which he was pretty much the sole attacking threat. At Liverpool, he will initially be seen as the fourth threat; the unknown. This could allow him more space and freedom as the defensive attention is elsewhere.

Aspas should bring goals, intelligence, movement and pace to the Liverpool attack and looks an ideal accomplice to Coutinho, Suarez and Sturridge. He has more than a little Juan Mata to his game, so if he settles in perhaps instead of having the ‘Three Amigos’ at Chelsea, we could be talking about a new ‘Fab Four’ on Merseyside.

Brendan Rodgers needs to target a better run in cup competitions at Liverpool next season

As the dust settled on Brendan Rodgers’ first season in charge at Anfield, the general consensus was that progress had been made.

The Reds finished one place higher than their 2011/12 finish with nine points more than they had accumulated. Rodgers also boosted the Reds’ goal difference by as many as 21, as his side racked up 71 goals, despite playing until January with just one recognised senior striker in the shape of Luis Suarez at the club.

Since the turn of the year results have markedly improved, as well as performances, with Rodgers’ preferred formation giving them a fluent attacking trio, which played its part in romps against Wigan Athletic (4-0), Swansea City (5-0), Newcastle United (6-0), Norwich City (5-0), and Sunderland (3-0).

Brendan Rodgers

Since Rodgers was able to begin adding to his depleted attacking numbers, the Reds have played 17 games, winning eight and losing just three. The most damaging part of their post-New Year run in has been six draws, with the stalemates against Reading and West Ham United particularly galling.

The signings of Daniel Sturridge and Philippe Coutinho have given the Reds an extra dimension to their attack, meaning they are not as overly reliant on Suarez as they were in the dark days of winter.

Former striker John Aldridge spoke glowingly of their impact at the club, claiming that the window had been the most fruitful one since he was signed alongside Peter Beardsley and John Barnes nearly a quarter of a century ago.

“Over time there was real improvement and that was partly due to Liverpool having their best transfer window we’ve had for a very long time,” Aldridge said in his Liverpool Echo column.

“It was probably the best [window] we’ve had since 1987 when John Barnes, Peter Beardsley and myself joined Liverpool.

“Sturridge has really impressed me with his pace and power and his scoring record is excellent. I don’t want to put too much expectation on Coutinho but he is a very special player.”

With a summer transfer window as successful as the winter one, Rodgers will be in a position to realistically challenge for a Champions League place next season. It is a theory club captain Steven Gerrard subscribes to.

Gerrard told the club’s official website: “The football in general that we’ve shown since January, I think we’ve shown Champions League form so I’m very optimistic for next season.

“It’s down to us players to continue what we’ve done in the last couple of months, take that into next season and try to improve. Other teams are going to make signings, strengthen and improve – we need to make sure that we do as well.”

However, for all the progress in the Premier League, there is the lingering disappointment of their weak exit from both domestic cups.

Under Kenny Dalglish last season, the Reds visited Wembley three times, winning the League Cup and finishing as runners up to Chelsea in the FA Cup.

Liverpool were labelled a ‘Cup Team’ from certain sections under ‘King’ Kenny, and their prowess in knockout competitions was certainly impressive. In contrast Rodgers’ side relinquished their League Cup crown by being outclassed 3-1 by his former side Swansea at Anfield on October 31.

Oldham celebrate win over Liverpool

If the defeat to the Swans was dispiriting then the debacle at Oldham Athletic in January left fans seething.

Rodgers fielded a team that contained Suarez, Sturridge and Fabio Borini but the side were bullied by a swashbuckling performance from striker Matt Smith – who walked away with two goals and the Man of the Match award.

The result was undoubtedly the low point of Rodgers’ reign, and something that should be forcefully addressed next season.

Challenging for the lucrative Champions League spots is a prerequisite for the Liverpool manager, a return to the competition that they were such as force in from 2005-2009 is the best way to eventually get the club on solid ground to challenge for the Premier League title.

However, in the wake of some criticism of Arsenal for their celebrations after qualifying fourth, despite failing to lift a trophy for the eight season running, Rodgers will have been made acutely aware of the importance of a cup run.

Premier League preview: A big weekend for Arsenal, Chelsea, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool

This weekend features three massive games in the race for the Champions League places as the season enters its final few weeks.

Fulham v Arsenal

Arsenal’s late season charge to make the top four takes them to Craven Cottage. After a midweek draw against Everton, the Gunners will feel they need three points from this away trip before Manchester United come to the Emirates next weekend.

Santi Cazorla

After their surprise away win at Spurs a few weeks ago guaranteed their Premiership status for another season, Fulham’s season is drifting towards its conclusion with no win in their last three games, which included a crushing home defeat to local rivals Chelsea in midweek. Arsenal’s greater desire and need to win should be enough to see them to a comfortable three points at the Cottage.

Tottenham v Manchester City

A huge game at White Hart Lane as Spurs host the current champions. Spurs have been feeling the pressure once again late in the season with their last two home games ending in defeat to Fulham and a draw with Everton, whilst also crashing out of the Europa League to Basel. This is a big opportunity for them to get themselves back in a prime position for the top four against a Manchester City side who looked jaded in their 1-0 home win over Wigan in midweek.

Gareth Bale

The crowd will certainly be up for this game as well and with the likely return of Gareth Bale, Spurs will fancy their chances of getting a positive result out of this game. City know that they are not going to catch Manchester United and that they have second place pretty much sown up. For them all the focus is now on the FA Cup final and they may make a few changes after playing three games in a week. Spurs know a win is vital as they still have tough away games to come against Chelsea and two teams who are battling for survival in Stoke and Wigan.

Liverpool v Chelsea

Rafael Benitez returns to Anfield for the first time as an opposing manager with his Chelsea side. The Spaniard is sure to get a terrific reception from the home supporters and it will be interesting to see how it affects the Chelsea team. When Gerard Houllier returned with his Aston Villa team a couple of years ago and got an amazing reception Liverpool cruised to a 3-0 victory. This Chelsea team though are a lot more experienced than that Villa side and you would expect them to be able to cope with what is sure to be a passionate atmosphere.

Rafa Benitez

On the pitch Liverpool have won four of their last five meetings in the league against Chelsea and they drew the other. Liverpool have once again saved most of their best performances for games against the bigger clubs this season, even though this may not be borne out by results. Benitez continues to rotate his squad well to cope with their demanding fixture list and their 3-0 away win at Fulham in midweek was certainly impressive, whilst they were unfortunate not to take Manchester City to extra time in last Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. Liverpool’s recent record against the Blues may well swing this game in their favour and Daniel Sturridge may well be out to prove a point against the club who he feels never gave him a proper chance to make his mark in his time there.

By Chris Newman

Fabio Borini’s Liverpool career over before it has started?

Liverpool are under a transitional period under Brendan Rodgers, with new players arriving at Anfield and a push to get back into the top four reckoning. One such player brought to Merseyside in an attempt to bring back the glory days was Fabio Borini, the highly rated Italy international. However, after poor form and repeated injuries, will the Reds look to cut their losses this summer?

The 21-year-old looked like an astute signing when Rodgers brought him to England in the summer. The Northern Irish boss had worked with Borini at Swansea in a successful period in Championship football, and since then the forward was making waves in his homeland. A solid season for Roma returned nine Serie A goals and a claim for inclusion in the Azzurri national team.

Fabio Borini

With solid goalscoring records at age-grade level for Italy at under-19 and 21 levels, Borini looked to have all the attributes to make him a hit at Liverpool. However, the Kop were not impressed by their new striker at the start of the campaign, with Liverpool relying on Luis Suarez as a solitary outlet to bring goals.

Since then two long-term injuries have kept Borini out of action and on the treatment table. However, a Liverpool squad that looked devoid of attacking options at the start of the campaign is now sufficiently bolstered. With the additions of Philippe Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge in January and the emergence of Suso and Raheem Sterling, the Reds have more offensive impetus than at the start of 2012/13. Andy Carroll is also out on loan at West Ham and could yet return.

With this in mind there is every chance that even if Borini does get himself fit before the end of the season, he will struggle to command a starting place in the side. With Rodgers surely looking to bolster his squad further in the summer, a question mark hangs over Borini’s head. With players of superior quality in his squad, the Northern Irish manager may feel that the Italian has simply not worked out and would benefit from a move back to his homeland.

Liverpool – an added spark in the race for the Premier League top four

Over recent seasons it has been predominantly five main teams fighting it out for the top four places in the Premier League. Manchester United, City and Chelsea have ambitions of winning the division, while north London rivals Tottenham and Arsenal battle each other for the fourth place and Champions League qualification.

Admittedly Newcastle were a result or two short of breaking into this tight-knit group last term, and Everton are now aiming higher this season. However, a real shot in the arm to the Premier League’s top-four race could be the seemingly rejuvenated Liverpool.

Since the Merseyside club dropped out of top-four contention in 2009-10 with a seventh placed finish, virtually at no time have the Reds looked like they have the quality or consistency to challenge for Champions League qualification; until now. With Brendan Rodgers’ principles starting to be adopted by the playing staff, slowly but surely, Liverpool are starting to look like a side that could play in Europe’s top tournament once more.

Liverpool celebrate

Since the start of the Premier League in 1992-93 until the 2009-10 season, the Reds finished in the top four 12 times out of 17. A club with such a massive fanbase, triumphant history and 18 top-flight title wins under its belt has expectation to live up to, especially amongst the Kop faithful.

Inconsistency is still not totally eradicated from Liverpool’s game, but results and performances are starting to look up. In seventh place currently and nine points behind fourth-placed Spurs, having played a game more, it will be a big ask for the Anfield side to make the Champions League qualification places this term, but not impossible. However, come next season the club will look to breach the top four.

Given the quality of players at the Reds disposal it is not inconceivable that they should be in the running for the top four. In Daniel Sturridge they have a proven goalscorer, Luis Suarez possibly the best striker in the land and Raheem Sterling a diamond in the rough. Add to this the potential of Philippe Coutinho, enterprise of Lucas Leiva and experience of Steven Gerrard. With a more-solid looking rearguard and the limitation of individual errors from Pepe Reina, Liverpool have the potential to be as good as they have been in years.

The 49 goals they have scored in the Premier League this term is more than Manchester City and Tottenham; the club is seemingly on the up and if another quality signing or two is added in the summer, Brendan Rodgers’ men will look to start better in 2013-14 and challenge for a place amongst the big boys.

Team GB: What are their chances at the Olympics?

With the current campaign over, all eyes are turning to the summer’s international tournaments to fill the off-season void. Euro 2012 comes first in June, before the exciting prospect of Team GB competing for gold at the Olympics. With some of the traditionally bigger nations not present at the competition in London, the home representation will be one of the favourites to claim gold medals, but who will be playing and can they go all the way?

Firstly it should be stated that Team GB manager Stuart Pearce has been in contact with potential players about their interest in competing at the games, with a shortlist of a whopping 80 players being compiled. The squad must be completely 23 years old or under, with leeway for three overage players. Team GB will be comprised of athletes from England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, and any player who represents England at Euro 2012 will not be considered.

With such a wide span of players to pick from, predicting the Team GB squad is difficult, but there are a number of players who have been mentioned and are seemingly eager to compete. David Beckham has been a high-profile name mentioned as a possible captain, however Pearce recently admitted that the LA Galaxy midfielder’s inclusion will be decided on form and fitness. Welsh midfielders Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have both been raised as possible candidates for inclusion, and the north London duo would add much-needed quality to the side. From Northern Ireland, Manchester United defender Jonny Evans had been touted to be included but this has been ruled out by the Red Devils, whilst the likes of Barry Bannan and Grant Hanley are potential Scottish inclusions.

The majority of the squad will be comprised of English players, with youngsters on the verge of the senior squad for Euro 2012 potentially taking part. Jack Wilshere has not been ruled out by Pearce in playing, despite the Arsenal man’s long-term injury concerns. The likes of Daniel Sturridge, Kyle Walker, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tom Cleverley will wait to see if they are needed in Ukraine and Poland, and if not could feature. Finally, Jack Rodwell has been ruled out of Euro 2012 through injury, but could well play in the games as part of his rehabilitation and recovery. With Pearce as manager, former or current England under-21 players could make up a bulk of the 18-man squad.

But can they lift the gold? One of he factors working against the side will be lack of preparation time, and the fact that most of the players will never have played together. However, along with Spain and Brazil, Team GB will be one of the frontrunners for victory, as the rest of the 16 teams seem beatable on paper. Team GB have been drawn in Group A alongside Senegal, Uruguay and the United Arab Emirates, with their first game against the African nation on July 26th.

All-in-all, glory for Team GB at the Olympics would be a real milestone for the game in the United Kingdom, and an excellent collective and personal achievement for the players. With a raft of Premier League talent likely to make up the squad, there is no reason why the hosts will not celebrate glory in the final on August 11th.

Published – 2012 Olympics Blog

England vs France: The key battles in this Euro 2012 grudge-match

England have been drawn against old enemies France in Group D of Euro 2012, and the clash on June 11th will have a major bearing on each side’s chances of progression in the tournament. With a month to go before the nations do battle the Three Lions are slight favourites, but it should be a close encounter. With Sweden and Ukraine in the pool also, both teams will look to get an early advantage in the competition.

With the domestic campaigns drawing to a close in the Premier League and Ligue 1, Laurent Blanc and Roy Hodgson will have their squads for the tournament all but decided, with a few decisions potentially still to be made. Les Bleus coach has named a strong looking provisional squad, with a raft of English-based players included, whilst the West Brom man has revealed that he will name his contingent on Wednesday.

Despite the full tournament squads yet to be announced, the main players for both sides are known and will play a key role in deciding the outcome of the encounter. France have a good blend of young talent and experienced heads, and their strength lies in central midfield and in a couple of talented individual attackers. The battle for possession in the centre of the park will be a key element to deciding the outcome, with Blanc able to choose from Yohan Cabaye, Yann M’Vila, Alou Diarra and Morgan Amalfitano in the heart of his midfield. Scott Parker will have a role to play in breaking up the French passing game, whilst the likes of Steven Gerrard or Frank Lampard will look to mix it with their opponents.

French matchwinners include skilful wingers Franck Ribery, Samir Nasri and Hatem Ben Arfa, whilst the goalt-hreat will be provided by Karim Benzema. England’s full-backs must monitor the widemen carefully, with a big responsibility falling on Kyle Walker, Micah Richards or Glen Johnson’s shoulders to shackle Bayern Munich superstar Ribery. The centre of the English defence will also be wary of giving Benzema space, as the Real Madrid man is one of Europe’s form strikers currently.

Going the other way, new boss Hodgson will be without his talismanic forward Wayne Rooney due to suspension, and has key decisions to make in attack. With Darren Bent still on the sidelines with injury and on the borderline of missing out, no other centre forwards shout out as sure things. Hodgson will consider the likes of Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and maybe even Peter Crouch to lead his line, but the English attack will be limited due to Rooney’s absence.

The eventual England squad should have pace to burn however, with widemen Ashley Young, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon all with the necessary speed to harry the French defenders. There is also a case for Paul Scholes’ inclusion to add a bit of creativity to the side, but Hodgson will look to his wingers to provide the necessary penetration.

The game is sure to full of natural pride and passion, but England must compete with the technical abilities of the France side to get a result. The odd goal may well decide this game, but it should be an exciting and enthralling match.

Published – Ghana Soccernet

The Loan Debate: Is it good for the parent club?

With Fifa Financial Fair Play coming into effect and extortionate transfer fees blighting some clubs’ efforts to reinforce, the tried-and-tested loan system is an option can make or break a team’s season. One only has to look at the track record of young players evolving into top-class athletes whilst on loan deals, or a club being boosted by a temporary signing. It’s seemingly good for the player and parent club, as first-team football leads to development, and the smaller team gets the benefit of having a player they most likely couldn’t buy outright.

However, the loan system is not perfect, seems only to work when there is a match between the player and both his clubs and has a number of negative countering factors.

Pros

There is no doubt that loaning a player can make his career, as he returns to the parent club revitalised and improved after a run of regular football. The list of players to have undergone this process is startling, with three recent cases catching the eye:

  • Jack Wilshere – A promising youngster when he left the Emirates Stadium to join Bolton in 2009-10, he returned to the north London club ready to play an important role for club and country. Would he be the player he is now without the six-month spell of regular Premier League football at the Reebok Stadium?
  • Kyle Walker – Bought by Tottenham back in 2009, the young full back was not immediately considered by Harry Redknapp, and spent short spells at QPR and Aston Villa before becoming an ever-present at White Hart Lane this season.
  • Daniel Sturridge – Signed by Chelsea from Manchester City, youthful Sturridge could not get a game under Carlo Ancelotti and was loaned, again to Bolton. Eight goals in twelve games showed that the attacker was ready for regular Premier League inclusion, and he is now a key player at Stamford Bridge.

The list continues; Danny Welbeck and Jonny Evans at Manchester United, Jermian Defoe at West Ham, Aaron Ramsey at Arsenal, Joe Hart at Manchester City – plenty of young players have cut their teeth elsewhere and gone on to become international players.

In fact, looking at the England squad for the international fixture against Sweden in November 2011, 16 of the 25-man squad have been subject to loan deals. This spans back years and decades, with David Beckham’s successful stint at Preston North End in 1995 proving this is no recent phenomenon. The case of Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham shows that bringing in an experienced head on loan also works. Robbie Keane has looked sharper than ever since joining Aston Villa and inspired Celtic fans by scoring 12 goals in 16 games back in 2010.

The player’s wages are generally taken on fully or partly by the loaning club, so everyone’s happy. Right?

Cons

Despite the advantages of the loan system, sometimes for one reason or another it just doesn’t work. There are also a number of negative factors that must be considered when sending/taking a player on a temporary basis.

Arsene Wenger has strong opinions on the loan system, and despite taking advantage of it in the cases of Ramsey and Wilshere, he has seen the other side of the coin with a number of other players. Brazilian youngster Pedro Botelho was bought by The Gunners in 2007, but since has been loaned out to five different Spanish teams with little or no benefit to Arsenal. Samuel Galindo is a Bolivian defender signed by Arsenal, but was not granted a work permit. He is in his second loan spell in Spain, and struggles to get any regular football, the same is the case with Wellington Silva, who is now at Alcoyano.

It’s not all roses for the club getting the player on loan either.

  • Overdependence – An overdependence on temporary players is seemingly occurring in the lower leagues, as a team can bring in up to five loan players at any one time, almost half a team. Add to that the fact that the parent club can generally recall the player at any point, and it makes for a shaky alliance.
  • Is he ‘our player’? – The fans at times struggle to feel any real loyalty or bond with players who will be leaving in six months, and depart the club after showing any semblance of form or ability. The loanee’s motivations will always be questioned also, as he naturally will be more interested in putting himself in the shop window and progressing with the parent club than aiding his temporary team’s plight.
  • Youth systems – A loan deal may well benefit the parent club’s youth system, but what of the lesser of the two clubs? Wilshere’s loan to Bolton or Walker’s to Aston Villa, although successful for the duo, is stopping another home-grown young prospect from progressing at the Reebok Stadium or Villa Park.
  • Knock on effect – With the sheer number of players on loan, it is only natural that a team’s season can be decided by the actions of a temporary player. This also applies not only to the team the player goes from or to, but others in the division.

Arsene Wenger’s main gripe with the loan system is typified by the example of Adebayor, who helped Spurs challenge for the Champions League spots, but wasn’t available to potentially derail Manchester City’s title charge.

Published – Soccerlens

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