Saturday, March 17, 2012

Del Piero to Arsenal?

Alessandro Del Piero may finally leave Juventus. After two decades at the Turin club, Del Piero, 37, is now looking at ending his career elsewhere and Arsenal is being named as a possible destination.

Unverified reports claim that Arsene Wenger is a fan of Del Piero (who wouldn't be?) and intends to bring the Italian to the Emirates Stadium once his contract at Juventus ends.

According to a report citing the player's agent and brother, Stefano Del Piero, the Italian striker has not been offered a new contract at Juventus and is seeking a move away from  the Serie A.

If it's true that Arsenal have made a bid and a deal works out, Del Piero would be able to offer Wenger's young side a wealth of experience; not many players possess similar technique, vision and creativity as Juventus forward.

Usually deployed as a support striker, Del Piero has scored over 200 goals out of over 500 appearances for Juventus. Del Piero's talents and experience would certainly be welcomed at Arsenal or at any other club, for that matter.

Besides the Gunners, other clubs reported to be in the running for Del Piero is cash-rich Paris Saint-Germain. A move there would reunite him with former Chelsea boss, Carlo Ancelotti, who coached Del Piero when the latter was manager of Juventus from 1999 to 2001.

PSG has been linked with many stars lately including Liverpool's Luis Suarez and Napoli's Edinson Cavani. Even Didier Drogba was rumoured to be interested in a move to Paris. Should PSG go on a shopping spree this summer to strengthen the team, Del Piero may be tempted to be part of the project.

Or, in a third option, Del Piero may choose to end his career earning big bucks at less competitive leagues in the Middle East, the US or China. I just hope he doesn't think of moving to FC Anzhi.

There will be more to come on this in the months ahead. But I'll leave you with one of my favourite Del Piero goals of all time. This beauty was struck in Juventus' Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund in 1997. At 2-0 down, Del Piero was brought in as a second half substitute and the striker scored a sublime back heel goal. Unfortunately it wasn't enough to bring Juve back into the game as the team went to lose the match 3-1.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Has Chelsea finally found its new manager?

And no, I'm not referring to Roberto Di Matteo. If you managed to catch Chelsea's stunning 4-1 comeback against Napoli a few nights ago you'll know who I'm referring to. It was the guy who stood next to Di Matteo barking out orders to the players on the pitch. But for those who missed it, here it is again:

So there you have it. John Terry has now become Chelsea's new manager. You can even see Di Matteo following Terry's instructions. As Robbie Savage pointed out in his column for the Daily Mirror, John Terry has become what Alan Shearer was to Newcastle.

And just as how Shearer became too big for any manager at Newcastle, Terry seems to have assumed a similar role at Stamford Bridge. All future managers at Chelsea who don't get on with Terry will probably face a similar fate to the one that befell Andres Villas-Boas.

Granted, Terry wasn't alone in getting AVB ousted. The other senior players in the team such as Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba seemed to have played a significant role too. How else do you explain Chelsea's sudden reversal of fortune? The team that took on Napoli at Stamford Bridge this week almost bore no resemblance in character to the one that played under AVB.

I would find it hard to believe Di Matteo managed to somehow turn things around in the last few weeks when he was unable to do so as AVB's number two.  So was it player sabotage that got AVB sacked?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Gerrard returns!

Well, OK, this wasn't Steven Gerrard's return to the side. That was last weekend at the 1-0 defeat to Sunderland. But Liverpool's 3-0 victory over Everton marked the return of the Steven Gerrard that was once considered a colossal in English football.

The Liverpool skipper's hat-trick was one for the record books with all three goals executed with perfect precision. And Luis Suarez -who's been able to maintain his own record of being in the news for the wrong reasons - played a hand in all three goals.

In fact, goal number two was created by the Uruguayan striker while the third goal was the result of a neat link-up with Gerrard. It certainly makes you wonder if he would be a better striking partner for Suarez than Andy Carroll or Dirk Kuyt.

I'll post more later but here are some interesting (and really funny) tweets from the Daily Mirror and its readers during the match.

"@MirrorFootball Everton's right-back is a bit apprehensive about going forward...he's feeling a bit inHIBBERTed."

"I bet he feels like a right Pienaar after that miss"

 "If this game was a Beatles song it'd be Revolution #9. Loads going on and very loud but not sure what any of it means"

"Note to Andy Carroll: That's the sort of chip you should be interested in. Brilliant goal from Stevie G. 1-0"

"Watching Merseyside derby on Sky 3D. Every time Andy Carroll tries to trap the ball I instinctively move to protect my living room windows"

"For those not watching: Shot of Stevie G wincing as he left the pitch there"

"@MirrorFootball It's the weight of nine mediocre players on his shoulders."

"@MirrorFootball if Andy Carrol scores he'll hold up his shirt and his vest will say "why never me?" "

You can read the rest here

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Song Remains the Same

How quickly things change. Eight months ago, optimism reigned at Anfield. There were new signings and the return of its most celebrated son, Kenny Dalglish. At a time when bitter rivals Man Utd were celebrating a record 19th league title, there was a new sense of belief at Liverpool.

It's now March and after GBP100 million spent on new signings, it appears as though nothing has changed. The faces may be different but the results are the same.

Dalglish' supporters may point to the club's recent Carling Cup triumph as an indication that the Scotsman is bringing Liverpool back to its glory days, which ironically ended after he left in 1990.

But even the staunchest Liverpool supporter will find it hard to include Liverpool's Carling Cup final against Cardiff City into the club's pantheon of legendary finals. The Reds slogged it out against a Championship side for the most of the 120 minutes played at Wembley.

Simply put, would have Man Utd or Man City struggled as much against Cardiff?

So where has it gone wrong?

The club certainly can't be faulted for not having an attack-minded approach this season and yet Liverpool have scored a paltry sum of 30 goals this season which isn't even half of what either Man Utd or Man City have scored so far in this campaign. Even worse is Liverpool's unenviable record of 194 shots off target.

Much of the blame certainly lies with the players. Andy Carroll, Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson can barely justify a place in the first 11 let alone their transfer fees. Then there's the supposed set piece genius in Charlie Adam and yet Liverpool's conversion rate of set pieces still remains abysmally low.

In fact, out of the GBP100 million spent by Dalgish, only Luis Suarez (when he's not getting himself banned), Craig Bellamy and Jose Enrique have impressed at Anfield. And the three of them only cost the club GBP30 million, which is a bargain for three quality players.

So ultimately, Dalglish has to shoulder the blame when his players don't perform. The same goes for director of football technology, Damien Commoli who seems to have the knack for buying expensive English players with a penchant of underperforming at a larger club. Anyone remember David Bentley's stint at Tottenham?

What's the most surprising aspect of all may have been the club's refusal to do any business in January when it was quite clear then that Liverpool needed some new faces to rescue their season.

Perhaps Dalglish believes that sticking with the current lot he's got will bring in dividends sooner or later. Perhaps he believes that Stewart Downing and Jordan Henderson will at some point this season justify their their hefty price tags. And, perhaps, he truly believes that Carroll will score a goal before it's too late.

Speaking of Carroll, it's baffling that he gets 10 minutes of playing time each game (when it's usually too late) and hoping he salvages something. The only way Carroll will ever improve for Liverpool is by giving him more time on the pitch.  Furthermore, Dirk Kuyt may be a hard and industrious worker but he has proven to be much more effective coming off the bench this season than in games in which he's started.

Then there's Liverpool's midfield which has been a weak ling all season long. Last weekend's forgettable display by both Adam and Jay Spearing would have triggered fond memories of the Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano years for many Liverpool fans.

Liverpool still have the FA Cup to play for and, mathematically speaking, there is a chance - albeit a very slim one - of making it into fourth place. But for the time being, until something drastic occurs, Dalglish has a team that doesn't belong in fourth place. Now, doesn't that seem all too familiar?

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Rumour Mill Goes On Overdrive

Speculation over the managerial position at Chelsea seems to have intensified over the last 24 hours. And if any of these rumours are to be believed, it won't be cheap bringing Jose Mourinho back to Stamford Bridge.

The Daily Express claims Jose Mourinho would be willing to move back to Chelsea only if the Blues offer him a salary of GBP12 million a year. Mourinho is currently the highest paid manager in the world with a reported annual salary of GBP11.2 million.

But Roman Abramovich will have more to worry about that just Mourinho's salary. The Daily Express further claims that Mourinho will want full control of Chelsea's transfer policy and the first player he'll bring in will be compatriot Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid.

If you recall, Ronaldo cost Madrid GBP80 million in 2009. Judging by the Portuguese star's form of late, a potential transfer to Chelsea would cost Abramovich in excess of the GBP80 million Madrid paid Man United.

Still, Mourinho and Ronaldo at Chelsea would certainly turn things around.

But there's more!

In addition to Ronaldo, the Daily Star say Mourinho would return to Chelsea for a second term only if the club acquire Napoli's highly-rated Edinson Cavani.

Cavani, if you remember, scored a goal and created another in Napoli's first leg Champions League last-16 fixture against Chelsea. I guess the new philosophy is if you can't beat them, buy them.

The Daily Star also says that Mourinho has another pre-condition to returning to Chelsea: Fernando Torres needs to be sold first. Talk about being demanding.

Last but not least - and this is just for laughs - another former Chelsea manager, Avram Grant, has decided to defend Abramovich amidst the various criticism being hurled at the Russian billionaire in the wake of Andre Villas-Boas' (AVB) sacking.

"Chelsea it is not about training and playing games and then going home, it is about so much more than that.

"Abramovich does not like sacking managers. But he is passionate about football and as much as he wants stability, if he can see the club is not going in the direction he wants he will act," he said, according to a report in the Sun.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Who wants the job in hell?

Former Chelsea manager, Phil Scolari believes the Blues' next manager will face hell at Stamford Bridge, much like he did during his short tenure at the club.

Scolari, a World Cup winner with Brazil in 2002, was unceremoniously sacked after a string of bad results in 2009. And now with Andre Villas-Boas (AVB) becoming the latest victim in Roman Abramovich' favourite past time of changing managers, Scolari believes the next person to take up the hot seat at Chelsea is in for a 'helluva' a time.

Well, I don't think AVB will be describing his time at Chelsea any differently.

Another former Chelsea player, Gianluca Vialli, has questioned the wisdom in appointing Roberto Di Matteo as the Blues' interim manager until the end of the season. Like I pointed out in my previous blog posting, Vialli thinks its odd that Chelsea are looking to AVB's deputy to straighten things out despite the fact that he was part of the coaching staff that oversaw Chelsea's decline.

Some other reports suggest that Di Matteo's appointment could have an adverse effect as he's disliked even more than AVB was by the players.

I'm sure Abramovich and the Stamford Bridge hierarchy realise that Di Matteo may not be the man to turn things around and unless they bring in someone else, they may end up with the unenviable record of sacking two managers in a season.

Of course, there is the possibility that the man they want isn't currently available. It's hard to imagine either Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola leaving their respective jobs at Real Madrid and Barcelona mid-season to tackle an endless array of problems at Stamford Bridge. And Chelsea's saviour in the past, Guus Hiddink, currently has commitments at Russian side, FC Anzhi.

So that leaves very few candidates that would meet Abramovich' standards. Rafa Benitez and Fabio Capello are two adequate managers available who could salvage something for Chelsea this season but it remains to be seen if the Blues will consider hiring either one.

No matter what decision is made by the club, one thing is clear at the moment: Di Matteo is not the answer to their problems.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

AVB sacked!

As expected, Chelsea have sacked Andre Villas-Boas following the club's defeat to West Brom on Saturday. The Blues have appointed assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo as its interim manager until the end of the season.

Reports by Soccernet indicate that the former Liverpool manager, Rafa Benitez, was the favourite to take up the job. However, there were apparently some disagreements over the length of the contract with some reports saying Chelsea were looking at a contract for the remainder of the season while Benitez wanted a longer contract.

Still, it would be a surprise if the club decides to hold of its search for a new manager until the end of the season. No one knows how Di Matteo will perform but considering the fact that he was part of AVB's coaching staff that got the Blues into the mess they're currently in, I'd say Di Matteo won't be bringing in the results.

Speculation is rife that Abramovich wants Barcelona's Pep Guardiola at Stamford Bridge. Indeed, the Russian billionaire has wanted Guardiola's brand of free-flowing and attacking football implemented at Chelsea for a long time and who better than Guardiola himself. But would Guardiola leave Barcelona for the Blues? And unless Abramovich is willing to grant Guardiola a sizable transfer budget, would Guardiola be able to turn things around?

Let's not forget the fact that among the managers Abramovich has fired since Jose Mourinho left include a World Cup winner (Phil Scolari), a two-time Champions League winner (Carlo Ancelotti) and a Europa League winner (AVB). Just hiring another big-name manager with an extensive trophy cabinet is not going to change things.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Rafa for Chelsea?

Yup. The Blues are getting desperate. With Andre Villas-Boas' days at Stamford Bridge numbered, the question now is when the Portuguese manager will get the sack and who will be brought in to salvage Chelsea's season.

That man is apparently Rafa Benitez.

The former Liverpool manager has been unemployed for the last 15 months and would offer Chelsea a wealth of experience and a keen understanding of the English game, something that seems to be severely lacking in the current man in charge of the Blues.

Furthermore, Benitez' penchant for rotating players may actually work at Chelsea which has a large (albeit aging) squad.

And perhaps that most attractive proposition of bringing Benitez in - at least in Roman Abramovich' eyes - would be in reviving Fernando Torres career at Stamford Bridge. To date, Torres most successful period of his career was under Benitez at Liverpool.

In my last blog posting, I wrote about the similarities between Torres' and Andriy Shevchenko's tenure at Chelsea. And just like how Mourinho got sacked for failing to utilise Shevchenko, it looks as though his Portuguese compatriot and former assistant is about to get the boot for failing to get the best out of another marquee signing.

I'm sure there will be more on this story in the coming days.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Further Down The Spiral

Someday soon, Stamford Bridge is going to be known as the place where world-class strikers go to become shockingly bad.

It's been over a year since Fernando Torres' record-breaking move to Chelsea and in that time, we've witnessed a truly class striker disintegrate into yet another one of Roman Abramovich's expensive flops.

Perhaps Alan Shearer put it best in his column for The Sun when he said Torres, of late, has avoided placing himself in goal scoring positions for fear of missing them.

"He looks shot and needs a cut-price move away," Shearer added.

All strikers need to score to keep their confidence level up and Torres is no exception but by agreeing to that ridiculously expensive move to Chelsea last January, the Spaniard voluntarily signed up for a world of pressure and expectations.

Very few players have managed to get through the pressure unscathed. Zinedine Zidane was one. And more recently, Cristiano Ronaldo, has certainly lived up to his billing as the most expensive player in the world.

But some players aren't just meant to be record-breaking signings. Just look at Andy Carroll who was brought in to replace Torres. 

And as if things weren't bad enough, the internal turmoil plaguing Chelsea at the moment is set to delay a potential career-reviving return-to-form even further down the road. You almost feel as if Torres is part of some strange reenactment of Andriy Schevchenko's disastrous tenure at Stamford Bridge.

The similarities are uncanny.  Like Torres, Schevchenko arrived at Chelsea on the back of a record-breaking deal and a goal-scoring record most strikers take a lifetime to achieve.

Furthermore, both players were bought by Abramovich and not their respective managers.

Schevchenko, or Sheva as he is fondly known, was forced upon Jose Mourinho and some believe his refusal to give the Ukrainian more time on the pitch cost him his job. In Mourinho's defense, he saw little reason to play a striker who didn't score goals.

Similarly, it is believed that Torres was signed by Chelsea without Carlo Ancelotti's recommendations. Ancelotti, like Mourinho, ended up losing his job not too long after (although in his defense, he gave Torres more game time than Mourinho ever did with Sheva). 

If anything comes from this, one hopes that billionaire owners stay out of the transfer business and just let their managers make the decisions. In fact, it's time they stop meddling and treating their football clubs like they would in a fantasy football league.