Thursday, 25 August 2011

My premier league team of the last decade

I am sure that just like me, every football fanatic out there  thinks up ‘best ever’ soccer  teams while going about the daily mundane activities that make up most of our lives. So I thought I’d come up with a Premier League’s best ever. Bear in mind that I started watching the league at the turn of the millennium so don’t expect people like Eric Cantona to make the list. My main considerations, apart from obvious talent, were; a) the players’ influence on his team both on and off the field. b) their longevity and consistency at the highest level. c) the players’ overall influence on the league. Naturally all players came from the so called “Big Four” that we had all come to know until the arrival of the noisy neighbours. So here we go;

FORMATION: Traditional English 4-4-2 with two wingers

Goalkeeper: Edwin van der Saar.

This seems to be the only position where I didn’t have any hesitation whatsoever. Van der Saar seemed to join United a bit late in his career but boy did he shine! His career started at Ajax from where he moved to the Turin giants Juventus. The Old Lady got rid of him to create space for Gianluigi Buffon which wasn’t exactly a bad move at the time because he was only considered a good goalie. I recall one Fulham match against Arsenal during their “Invincibles” season where he just refused to concede and Fulham escaped with a draw in a game they should have lost by a landslide. But it is at United that he really got recognized as world class. By my reckoning, he probably got United at least 10 points a season.

Right back: Jammie Carrager.

Here, I was very hesitant. I had a choice between Gary Neville, Lauren, Sagna and Carra. I know Carrager mostly plays in the middle but over his career, he put in quite a shift on the right. I never really fancied Neville, he just seemed to me like a player who looked good because of the teams he played in. Sagna would make a good case because he’s good on both sides of the pitch but he is hamstrung by playing in trophy-less team. For me, Carrager takes it for his longevity in the game and his leadership at Anfield.

Left back: Ashley Cole.

I don’t think I need to explain this one. Think what you want about the man himself but he has been the best left back in England, and probably the world for a couple of years now and that’s the best argument there is.

Center back: Nemanja Vidic.

He’s commanding in the air. He’s not too shabby with his feet. He’s fearless. And he gets a couple of crucial goals from time to time. Barring the occasional harassment at the hands of Fernando Torres(which doesn’t look likely to happen again), he’s easily been the best defender in the league since the beginning of John Terry’s decline. I’ve always wondered how many more cards he would get if he didn’t play for United though.

Center back: John Terry.

I was tempted to include Ricardo Carvalho who for me was technically a better defender but I finally decided to go with JT. Much as he’s now in decline, there was a time when he was a defensive rock. Besides he’s been Chelsea’s captain during the club’s most successful period so that should be enough to get him a spot on this list.

Defensive midfielder: Claude Makelele

Here I know I’ll come in for a lot of stick from Arsenal and United fans. I thought about it long and hard; Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira deserve a place on any list of Premier League greats. The problem is there are only one defensive midfield place in this formation. In any other formation one or both of them would get a place. The diminutive Frenchman takes this one because of his impeccable positional sense(he just always seemed to be in the right place, to break up opposition attacks, without being blessed with pace and without seeming like a workhorse). In the Mourinho years, Makelele was actually the trigger for  most of Chelsea attacks with his clever short range passing. His only weakness was an absolutely abysmal scoring record, but then again who buys defensive enforcers to score goals? Most importantly, he got that position named after him. I’ve never heard commentators talk of the “Keane position” Case closed!

Attacking midfielder: Paul Scholes

The Kop would beg to differ but this man, for all his mistiming of tackles, is the closest England has ever gotten to having a genuine playmaker. Think of his scooped pass to Rooney for the winning goal against AC Milan in the Champions League everyone seems not to remember United winning because of Kaka’s masterclass that night. Only Paul Scholes, of England midfielders of his generation, could attempt something that audacious! It makes one think he was born in the wrong country.

Right winger: Christiano Ronaldo.

Let me put it like this; He is the only player to ever win the World Football of the Year award as a Premiership player(although he left immediately afterward. Maybe he didn’t think the best player in the world has any business playing in England but I digress)

Left winger: Ryan Giggs

Marc Overmars featured heavily  in my internal debate but sometimes the numbers speak for themselves. Gigg’s has played, and scored in every Premiership season. He’s also managed to transform himself from a flying winger who left an entire Arsenal defence on their backsides, to midfield general who provides  a steadying hand to the Red Devil’s team as he's grown older.

Striker: Dennis Bergkamp

The Newcastle goal: the turn on Nikos Dabizas. That’s Bergkamp in a nutshell. Not a great goal scorer but a scorer of great goals. It hurts not to include Zola but ‘the Dutch master’ was in a league of his own. In that withdrawn striker role, he just couldn’t be touched.

Striker: Thierry Henry

He couldn’t head and hardly used his left foot. But what he could do, he did very well. When Fernando Torres was asked the striker he thought was the best he had ever seen, he said he thought the Brazilian great Ronaldo was probably the best. He also said he admired Henry more simply because all defenders knew exactly what he was going to do, but he did it so fast and so well they couldn’t stop him. We all knew the drill, he got the ball from the left wing, cut inside his marker and curled the ball with, his right foot, round the keeper into the far left corner. He scored lots of other goals but that was his trademark and he broke many a team’s hearts with that goal. And of course, hi goal scoring record in the league speaks for itself.


1. Brad Friedel
2. Rio Ferdinand
3. Patrick Vieira
4. Gianfranco Zola
5. Alan Shearer

Thank you for reading. Feel free to comment, complain about who I left out and tell me who you'd put in your team.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Is it Lampard's time to go?

Chelsea edged West Brom 2-1 at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.  A stranger to the league would have been hard pressed to tell which team was the title contender and which one will probably be in a relegation battle in May. As everyone with half a brain can see by now Chelsea’s biggest problem is absolute lack of creativity, which I have ranted about before.

Frank Lampard has never been a creative genius. But he has always been mobile, playing the occasional brilliant pass and he’s been a 20 goal a season midfielder for six or so seasons because of his fantastic late runs into the box that gave Chelsea that extra attacking option. That has, in the past, glossed over CFC’s creative deficiency. Now ‘Fat Frank’ has lost the legs and his nickname has never rung truer. Chelsea is now paying for their over-dependence on him.

AVB has clearly been trying to move him to a deep-lying playmaker position. The problem being he’s no such thing. His passing is just average and the range isn’t as impressive as you would get from a Pirlo or a Sneijder. His forward passing game (knock it over the top and see what happens) was tailored for a Drogba-like bully. That partly explains Torres’ malaise, and that is why CFC refuses to give up on the purchase of Luka Modric. The saddening thing is that, because of his seniority at the club, more creative players like Ramires keep deferring to him and giving him the ball at every opportunity. I fear that even the signing of Mata and Modric may not help if this continues. Because these two players are vastly superior, creativity-wise, to anyone at the club, they have to start. So AVB will have to sacrifice someone like Ramires just so Lampard can play and that will be a waste of a midfield position.

 It may be drastic, and I may be proven wrong but I think if Lampard loves the club, he should consider a role upstairs after this season if his ego can’t allow him to sit on the bench. Alternatively, he can be used like Scholes was at United in his final years, play him in the crucial games especially in the Champions League, where his experience would be priceless but use him sparingly in the league. The problem with such a plan would be that AVB doesn’t likely have the testicular fortitude that comes with 25 years in the league and a bagful of trophies, which Sir Alex does. Also, if rumors of player power at the Bridge are to be believed, Lamps could make life difficult for AVB. This is especially possible because one member of the player cabal that ‘runs’ things, Didier Drogba already seems destined to a season of bonding with the likes of Paolo Ferreira, on the bench. A second one on the bench could be sowing the seeds of a revolt. Of course, if AVB benched them and CFC started winning while playing with the panache that Roman seeks, their complaints would fall on deaf ears.
Frank Lampard has been a great servent to Chelsea Football Club and he’s already enshrined in the club’s history, I’d hate to see him stick around and become a hinderance to the club’s progress as it happened with Raul at Madrid.

This is the image we want to remember.

 I personally would prefer a midfield trio of Mikel/Essien, Mata and Ramires or Mikel/Essien, Ramires and young McEchechran with Mata moving up to the front three in the place of Malouda(who is also afflicted with Lamps’ malaise)

Parting shot.

I would like to wish Arsenal  good luck in their do-or-die Champions’ League clash with Udinese tonight. I have never cared for Arsenal but with the state of affairs at that club, they could use a lift. Now to pray that Frimpong doesn’t lose his head and leave Arsenal a man light, away from home. He is a loose cannon that one. Am I the only one who saw him flip off a Liverpool midfielder who tackled him over the weekend?

Monday, 8 August 2011


Finally, football season is back. We can all stop pretending we really love other sports, as we’ve been doing the past 3 months. Yesterday’s Community Shield match was the best season curtain raiser I ever saw in my life. If it’s an indication of anything, it’s that this season is going to be simply brilliant.

Much as everyone including Sir Alex Ferguson tries to downplay the significance of the Shield, I tend to think it is a harbinger of things to come. Last year’s edition had Man U beating Chelsea comfortably, with Chicharito showing off his predatory instincts with a goal that came off his face! Chelsea looked old and bereft of ideas in that game, often resorting to punting the ball to Drogba and hoping for him to turn back the clock. If you think about it, the season followed pretty much the tone of that match. From Sir Alex’s celebration of United’s second goal, one can safely assume he knows the importance of these games, and him saying otherwise is Sir Alex being Sir Alex. He also claims they won’t make another signing this summer! Don’t be surprised to see Mr. Sneijder in Manchester soon.

New boys pushing the old guard.

I am convinced this season’s premiership title will be a straight shoot out between United and Chelsea as it has been for all but one year of the Russian oligarch’s era. I will elaborate.

 Man City will get closer to the throne this season but I reckon they still will not have enough to get a top two finish. I am of the belief that for teams to be successful long term, they need a spine, a group of players who the team is built around, a group of players who hold themselves personally accountable for their team’s success but mostly for their team’s failure. City doesn’t have this as yet. Maybe in two or three years when Vincent Kompany has been captain long enough, and Nigel de Jong and Yaya Toure have gotten the club in their DNA. It goes without saying that the constant chopping and changing the squad and trying buy all the goods in the market, like toddlers, has to stop!

That, unfortunately for the Citizens, is not the biggest hindrance to their title credentials. The biggest obstacle is Roberto Mancini.  First of all, we need to remember that Mancini is not a proven winner. He was handed one Scudetto by a court and won a couple of other Scudetti while Milan and Juventus were mired in all sorts of problems stemming from the Calciopoli scandal that rocked Italian football at the time.

Secondly, Mancini is notoriously tactically rigid even in the face of obvious failure. Take yesterday’s game for example; he insisted on playing two defensive midfielders, de Jong and Milner/Barry to ‘stifle’ United in midfield even when it was clear they had lost that battle in the first 10 minutes of the game. This is a coach who insists on playing counter-attacking football regardless of the opponent or the situation, which explains why they draw so much. Which big team tries to play on the counter against mid-table opponents? Why would any coach boasting such an embarrassment of attacking talents try and play like Stoke?

Despite all this, I reckon City will overwhelm most teams with the sheer amount and depth of talent they possess, with or without Carlitos. David Silva is, to me, has the wisest feet in the league. Kompany will be a rock at the back as always and Kun Aguero and Edin Dzeko are bound to knock in a couple. Of course we can’t forget about Balotelli. When he’s not dreaming up ways to make Mancini lose his hair, he can be devastating. He turns 21 this week. If he’s allowed to drink in America, it should be assumed he has matured. Then again, what do Americans know about maturity?

Liverpool has also made some impressive signings over the past half a year. Suarez has real quality though he also occasionally visited by the Balotelli disease (He got a 10 game ban in the Dutch league for biting an opponent!)  I think they’ve improved enough to get back in the top four. I have my reservations about Andy Carroll though. He strikes me as a typical run of the mill English striker; he can get 15 goals a season, a few England caps, not a big team striker, very overpriced and ever so slightly overrated. Darren Bent 2.0. This means Suarez is going to have to carry the slack most of time and the team’s fortunes will probably be tied to his.

Top two clash.

From United’s overrunning of City, I think it’s safe to say, they are going to be the team to beat this term. It also seems like they won’t have a slow start as was the case last season. Ashley Young looks like he was made for Old Trafford and the other new signings seem to have settled. That Cleverly kid may render the Sneijder transfer a waste. I personally think United don’t even need Sneijder in the first place. They have traditionally been a wing-play team and I have never known them to have the ball hogging playmaker that Sneijder is. They tried that with Juan Veron and we all saw how that worked out. The way I see it, that team is fine as it is. Chelsea have their work cut out this season just trying to live with the Red Devils.

He has it all to do.

If any team can do it, Chelsea can. Three words: young Portuguese tactician. Another three: Andre Villas-Boas. The one type of manager that Sir Alex hasn’t had to compete with, over his long tenure at OT, is the 'tactician'. Most of the managers Fergie routinely has for breakfast are more of man managers like himself. One can make a case for Mancini and Ancellotti but we have already discussed the former’s rigidity and the latter just never had the authority, or backing to make the required changes. AVB seems to have been given the license to mould his own team and implement his ideas in a way that his predecessor only dreamed about.

The only time Fergie has been up against a real tactician in the last 25 years, was when another young Portuguese tactician arrived to manage CFC. In truth, that was the only time Fergie’s hegemony over the EPL looked like it was in real jeopardy. Since the dawn of the Premiership era, United had never gone more than two years without a title. If they didn’t win one year, they’d win the next. It was a sure deal; you couldn’t bet on Utd two years in a row and lose twice! That was until Mourinho came onto the scene and won two consecutive titles, with record points totals and goal hauls. I dare say Abramovich’s trigger happiness preserved United’s hegemony. If AVB is anything like the advertised, Fergie has another thing coming. That all depends on which side of his gold-plated bed the Russian oligarch wakes up, of course. The right one, and we have a dynasty. The wrong one and we are back to grim faced Israeli undertakers stalking the touchline, or worse...Micheal Emenalo.

Final thoughts.

Predicting results of events with so many variables is always a difficult task and almost always involves some form of luck but I’ll give it a try, based on current squads and with all factors remaining constant.

One of Man United or Chelsea will win the league. As a CFC fan, I would pick my team, but if I had to stake my house on it, I would go with the Red devils, and hate myself for it. City will take third, a slight distance off the pace. I strongly believe Liverpool will have enough quality to dislodge Arsenal from the top tier. If Spurs hold on to Modric and buy a striker who actually knows where the net is, they could beat Arsenal to fifth, or even challenge for fourth with Liverpool. Spurs have the added advantage of being out the Champions League which makes them a wildcard. I will not go into Arsenal’s problems because I wrote a whole article about that at the end of last season and I haven’t see any changes, in fact, things seem to be getting worse. Players are being held hostage, in hope that they develop Stockholm_syndrome.

At the end of the day, football is entertainment. I am sure this season will be as entertaining as any. I also found that playing fantasy football helps relieve negative tension built over the soccer season. If your team loses over the weekend, you can always have Chicharito as a striker in you fantasy team and collect you a turn of points. It gives you some bragging rights with your mates. Arsenal fans, you can’t afford not to play fantasy football!