Thursday, January 19, 2012

We're Now Closed

Heading out to Southern California for a couple of days.  The African Cup of Nations will begin, Manchester City will host Tottenham, Arsenal will host Manchester United, Inter Milan will host Lazio, The Bundesliga will awake from its winter slumber, and much more!  We'll be back Monday to find out what went down.

African Cup of Nations: Elephantine pressure on favourites

The Ivorians arrive at the Nations Cup as favourites for the event - but it's a tag they have carried badly in the past few years. For every Nations Cup since they returned to the competition in 2006, football writers have praised the quality of a squad comprising Didier Drogba, the Toure brothers, Didier Zokora and Emmanuel Eboue etc. - one that has been good enough to reach the first two World Cups in the country's history. Yet this talented generation has gone steadily backwards at the Nations Cup: runners-up in 2006 (albeit losing on penalties), semi-finalists in 2008 and quarter-finalists in Angola last time around - so fuelling the fires of those critics who have questioned their ability to gel into a united side.

The Mill +

Thursday's Rumours


England: Liverpool's poor showing has cost them kit deal, claims Adidas chief

Liverpool are coming to the end of a six-year, £12m-a-season arrangement with Adidas and had opened talks with a view to renewing it, but Hainer is insistent that the Merseyside club have priced themselves out of the market. "The gap between their performance on the field and what the number should be is not in balance," Hainer told Bloomberg. "Then we said: 'OK we will not do it'. That's the end of the story. It all depends on the success and the effort and the popularity, the exposure on TV, revenue you can generate by merchandising.

Liverpool confirm six-year kit deal with American firm Warrior Sports

England: Aston Villa exploring plan to bring in safe standing areas

The campaign for safe standing areas to be incorporated into top-level football grounds has received a major boost, after Aston Villa said they are examining introducing a standing section at Villa Park. Paul Faulkner, Villa's chief executive, told a supporters' consultation group that he recognises fans want to stand, that safe standing areas could help improve the match atmosphere, allow for some cheaper ticket prices, and therefore attract younger supporters currently priced out by the cost of seats.

First XI: Returning Heroes

With the likes of Paul Scholes, Thierry Henry and Jose Antonio Reyes back at their former clubs, we take a look at some of the other players to have made memorable returns.

Adam Digby: Ranieri must make call on Sneijder

The form of both Ricky Álvarez and Inter Milan over the past month is largely and undeniably due to the coaching influence of Claudio Ranieri. But while the displays of the Argentinian starlet must be a fantastic source of pride for the man giving him his chance, they seem set to provide the former Roma and Chelsea boss with his biggest dilemma since arriving at the Giuseppe Meazza back in September. With Wesley Sneijder fit again and in contention for the starting role his undoubted talent demands, seemingly the most natural decision for Ranieri would be to return Álvarez to the bench and restore the player who has become the teams leader over the past few seasons. While the influence of the ageless and incomparable Javier Zanetti cannot be understated, it has been the talismanic performances of the Dutchman that have provided the catalyst for much of the success enjoyed by the Nerazzurri in recent seasons.

Beckham signs new deal with L.A.

Still home...
Resisting the lure of Paris for the sake of his family, David Beckham pledged his future to America's Major League Soccer on Wednesday by signing a new two-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy. The 36-year-old midfielder had been courted by leading clubs across Europe in the months before his initial five-year Galaxy deal ran out in December, with Paris Saint-Germain's wealthy Qatari owners offering the most lucrative deal.

Fourth suspect arrested in investigations for spying for Tottenham

A fourth suspect was arrested Wednesday by police investigating allegations that English soccer club Tottenham spied on Olympic officials during its failed bid to take over the main stadium after the 2012 Games. A 45-year-old man in south London was arrested on suspicion of fraud and an "amount of material was seized" in a search of his residential property, police said. The man, whose name was not released, was freed on bail Wednesday afternoon. The Scotland Yard probe began in August when allegations of wrongdoing in the bidding process were made by soccer club West Ham and the Olympic Park Legacy Company, whose board members decide the future of venues on the site of the 2012 Games. During a London Assembly committee hearing last year, OPLC chair Margaret Ford accused Tottenham of ordering surveillance on all 14 members of the legacy company board.

Spain: Copa del Rey Quarterfinal First-Leg Reports & Analyses

Real Madrid 1 - 2 Barcelona
Sid Lowe at Santiago Bernabéu
Sid Lowe: Real Madrid damage image, reputation and status in defeat to Barcelona

Beer 'must be sold' at Brazil World Cup, says Fifa

JV enjoys a Caipirinha...
Beer must be sold at all venues hosting matches in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, football's world governing body, Fifa, has insisted. Fifa General Secretary Jerome Valcke said the right to sell beer must be enshrined in a World Cup law the Brazilian Congress is considering.

In remarks to journalists in Rio de Janeiro, Mr Valcke sounded frustrated with Brazilian officials: "Alcoholic drinks are part of the Fifa World Cup, so we're going to have them. Excuse me if I sound a bit arrogant but that's something we won't negotiate," he said.

Geostadia: The Center of the Universe

JV ponders a question...

One of the nice things about living in the Center of the Universe is that there is a continual stream of VVIPs coming through town and sometimes they stop to chat. Such was the case yesterday when the Secretary General of FIFA, Jerome Valcke, took a few hours out of his busy schedule to do some much-needed PR with the international press corps.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Louise Taylor: Papiss Demba Cissé seeks to become Newcastle United's next great No9

Identified by Alan Pardew as the man to replace Andy Carroll, Cissé can form a deadly partnership with compatriot Demba Ba.

England: The Championship players destined for the Premier League

Nathaniel Clyne, Right Back, Crystal Palace

As Norwich and Swansea shine with players making the step up from the Football League, here are six more who could do likewise.

Spain: Copa del Rey Quarterfinal Previews

Who: Real Madrid vs. Barcelona
When: 4pm EST
Where: Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, Spain 
U.S. TV: GolTV, ESPN Deportes

Preview I
Preview II

England: Managers turn on Mancini over his red-card gestures


The Football Association considers Roberto Mancini's habit of waving imaginary cards at officials to be unsportsmanlike, though last night it was the growing criticism from his peers that looked most likely to force him to desist from repeating the gesture. While the domestic game's governing body has no immediate plans to remind Mancini as to his future conduct, hoping that the Italian's club will instead point out that the gesture is not welcome in the British game, the conduct runs counter to the FA's Respect campaign and he may be reminded of his responsibilities in the future.

Chris Coleman will succeed Gary Speed as manager of Wales

Former Wales defender Coleman held talks with the FAW earlier this week after expressing his desire to be Gary Speed's successor. It's understood that he will be confirmed at a press conference in Cardiff tomorrow lunchtime.

Cisse signs for Newcastle

Newcastle have signed Senegalese striker Papiss Demba Cisse from Freiburg on a five-and-a-half-year deal for an undisclosed fee, the Premier League club confirmed. Cisse, 26, has been in superb goalscoring form for his Bundesliga side where he has struck 37 goals in just 65 appearances and Newcastle have sealed a deal said to be in the region of £10 million.

Brazil's Paulo Henrique Ganso feels weight of expectation at Santos

Nicknamed the goose, Ganso's status as Brazilian football's rising star has been usurped by fellow Santos prodigy Neymar.

African Cup of Nations: Previews

It's a tournament perhaps more striking for who isn't there than who is. Of the last nine winners, eight have failed to make it to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea for the 28th African Cup of Nations. There's no Egypt, derailed by the uprising against Hosni Mubarak; there's no South Africa, eliminated by its own stupidity; and there's no Cameroon or Nigeria, eventually worn down by years of confused and chaotic administration. South Africa, which played for a draw in its final game when it needed a win to qualify, having failed to understand the criteria for qualification, take the prize for incompetence, but this Gotterdammerung has been coming for some time. For all the top players leaving Africa, and particularly West Africa, for Europe, the national game has been held back by inept and often corrupt leadership. This is the result. The question is whether those who have risen to replace the traditional giants are any better. Is this a case of a broadening of Africa's talent base, or of the sides who were once good sliding into mediocrity?

Jonathan Wilson's Preview

Group Capsules

Team Capsules

Five Players to Watch

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Sid Lowe in Spain

Atlético's fans finally welcomed home 'El Cholo' on Sunday, and their new coach gave them hope for a more stable future.

Atlético's favourite son Diego Simeone returns to light up the Calderón.

Americans Abroad

Those are currently the four most important words for a few players who are on the verge of bringing a new wave of American talent to England. U.S. national team midfielder Robbie Rogers and center back Tim Ream appear destined to take their careers from the confines of Major League Soccer to the English stage. Rogers already has agreed to a deal with League Championship side Leeds United, while Ream has been inching ever-so-close to a move from the New York Red Bulls to Bolton. The relegation-threatened club, which also employs on-the-mend American Stuart Holden, just lost starting central defender and English international Gary Cahill to Chelsea in the transfer market and has been on the hunt for Ream for some time. U.S. forward Edson Buddle may also be in the mix for a move to England after his agent, Richard Motzkin, revealed that the player was at Everton on trial this week as he seeks a move from FC Ingolstadt in Germany. Should the trial go well and manager David Moyes feel that Buddle is an answer to the team's scoring woes, the forward would join former Los Angeles Galaxy teammate and on-loan Toffee Landon Donovan at Goodison Park along with American goalkeepers Tim Howard and Marcus Hahnemann. Before all of that can happen, though, there is the matter of obtaining the work permit, a must for non-European Union foreigners who wish to be eligible to compete in the United Kingdom like the three players hope to do.

Raphael Honigstein in Germany

You don't often see soccer clubs talking up the impact of one of their rivals' new signings while the rivals in question are downplaying the move as "business as usual." Yet, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund have found themselves engaged in exactly that curious dialogue after Borussia Mönchengladbach attacking midfielder Marco Reus recently announced that he would move to the German champions next summer, snubbing an offer from Bayern in the process. Dortmund will pay the contractual release clause of €17.5 million ($22.1M) for the 22-year-old, who has scored 10 goals in 15 matches this season. As the richest and most successful club in the Bundesliga, Bayern is not used to missing out on a target -- especially when the player in question is young and German -- and the disappointment soon gave way to a number of less than subtle digs. "Maybe he was afraid he wouldn't play (in our team) because we already have two good wingers," mused Bayern's Arjen Robben, one of the wingers in question. A day later, well-respected Kicker magazine revealed that Reus had asked for a guaranteed starting berth at Bayern. The story was undoubtedly sourced from Munich and designed to cast further doubt on the player's ambition.

Jonathan Wilson: Spurs have yet to win over skepticism about title credentials

White Hart Lane, a raw February night in 2004, Tottenham against Manchester City in the fourth round of the FA Cup. Kevin Keegan's job as City manager entering the game was under threat. When Spurs took a 3-0 first-half lead and Joey Barton was sent off for dissent after confronting the referee as the players walked off at halftime, Keegan himself admitted he was looking for the number of the nearest Job Center. 3-0 up with a man advantage? It takes a special kind of ineptness to blow it: a blend of brittleness, complacency and comedy haplessness that was the preserve of only two teams in the country. Spurs were one of them (City, oddly, is the other). Sylvain Distin pulled one back for City three minutes into the second half, and the script from them until Jon Macken's 90th-minute winner was inevitable.

The Mill +

Tuesday's Rumours


Tim Vickery in South America

Pep Guardiola as coach of Argentina's national team? It was an idea floated recently by Argentine FA boss Julio Grondona, but as nothing more than a pipedream.

It is very, very hard to imagine Argentina having a foreign coach. Same with Brazil. The idea was debated briefly in the Brazilian press just over a decade ago. But that was in exceptional times, when the national team were in danger of not qualifying for the 2002 World Cup.

Over recent decades there have been very few foreign coaches in Brazilian or Argentine club football - those that took the plunge were usually gone sooner rather than later.

Everton hand trial to United States striker Edson Buddle

Everton are giving the United States international Edson Buddle a trial this week. The club's manager David Moyes is keen to increase his options up front and he is taking a look at the 30-year-old striker, currently at FC Ingolstadt.

Paolo Bandini in Italy

Inter looked impenetrable against Milan and it is testament to the work of Ranieri that they are now an outside bet for the scudetto.

Claudio Ranieri's fortified Internazionale enjoy princely derby win.

England: Monday's Premier League Reports + Table

Mancini does the red card wave yet again...

Wigan Athletic 0 - 1 Manchester City
Daniel Taylor at the DW Stadium
Henry Winter at the DW Stadium

 Manchester City21163251571641
 Manchester United21153348522032
 Newcastle United2110653630255
 Stoke City21867302231-9
 Norwich City21777283236-4
 Aston Villa21597242327-4
 West Brom216411222030-10
 Queens Park Rangers214512171936-17
 Wigan Athletic FC213612151842-24

The Trawler: Forest fires, Good Evans, Jewell row

Welcome to The Trawler, your weekly submersion through the teeming waters of life in the Championship, League One and League Two. You might be surprised what you find down there.

Phil Ball in Spain

Next week is the real Jornada 19, the week that defines the true half-way of the league programme, so I'll wait until then to do the traditional 'half-term report'. Next week is also a bit special because the opening games that should have been played back in August, which were called off because of the players' strike, will finally make their belated appearance.The Jornada 20 games will therefore be flung forward to early May. Clear as mud eh? Well - the reason's fairly straightforward. The Spanish league plays its paired-up games in strict parallel rotation, unlike many European leagues. So if you play Levante at home on the first weekend, you'll play them away again on the 20th, in a mirror-image second half to the season. So Jornada 20 needs moving, or else all the teams would be playing each other consecutively over two weekends - an interesting prospect but one that would be almost unprecedented in modern professional football, I imagine. The scene has been further complicated by the latest caprice of the gods, pairing up Real Madrid and Barcelona for another Clásico-fest, this time in the quarter-finals of the Copa del Rey.

Monday, January 16, 2012

England: Monday Night Football Preview

Wigan Athletic vs. Manchester City

The Mill +

Monday's Rumours


England: Premier League Weekend Review, Reports & Analyses

It was a mixed weekend for Paul Scholes, Thierry Henry, Robbie Keane and Mark Hughes as they made their respective returns to Premier League action. Manchester United hauled themselves level with table-topping Manchester City, Arsenal suffered yet more misery on the road, Aston Villa were held on home soil and Queens Park Rangers started life under their new boss with defeat on Tyneside. Victory for Newcastle kept them in the top-four hunt, Tottenham missed the opportunity to keep pace with the leaders, Chelsea ground out a welcome three points, Norwich's fairytale run continued and Blackburn hauled themselves out of the drop zone.


Liverpool 0 - 0 Stoke City
Andy Hunter at Anfield
Richard Jolly at Anfield

Tottenham 1 - 1 Wolves
Paul Doyle at White Hart Lane

Chelsea 1 - 0 Sunderland
Kevin Palmer at Stamford Bridge

Manchester United 3 - 0 Bolton Wanderers
Kevin McCarra at Old Trafford

Newcastle 1 - 0 Queens Park Rangers
Henry Winter at St. James' Park

Swansea City 3 - 2 Arsenal
Richard Williams at Liberty Stadium

Best and Worst of the Weekend

Five Things We Learned

Team of the Week

Garth Crook's Team of the Week

Former Hull City striker Dean Windass admits he tried to kill himself

Windass said he could not cope after finishing his career and began drinking, often consuming 15 pints of lager and lime. He said his marriage broke up and, with little income, estranged from his family and grieving for his father John who had recently died, he decided to kill himself.

Spain: La Liga Weekend Round-Up

That guy looks familiar...
Real Madrid stretched their lead at the top to eight points over Barcelona thanks to two goals in the final 18 minutes of the game at Real Mallorca. In the night's other games, Valencia suffered a shock defeat, Rayo Vallecano recorded an away win at Granada while Espanyol held Marcelino's Sevilla to a draw and Getafe snatched a point at Real Zaragoza.


Italy: Serie A Weekend Round-Up

AC Milan lost top spot in Serie A to Juventus after suffering defeat to derby rivals Inter Milan on Sunday evening, while Roberto Donadoni made a winning start as Parma boss against Siena. Elsewhere, Lazio ended a winless run against Atlanta to strengthen their position in fourth, UEFA Champions League contenders Udinese were shocked by Genoa, and Lecce moved off the bottom of the table with a win at Fiorentina. Cesena picked up an important victory against fellow strugglers Novara, and Palermo's travel sickness continued as they lost at Chievo.


Italy: Diego Milito strikes as Internazionale claim victory in Milan derby

Internazionale denied Milan a chance to take top spot in Serie A by winning Sunday's city derby courtesy of a second-half goal from Diego Milito. After Juventus had slipped up in a 1-1 draw with Cagliari Milan had the chance to take over at the top but Milito struck in the 54th minute to secure victory for Claudio Ranieri's side, their sixth win in succession to move within six points of the summit themselves. The match, and result, provided the clearest affirmation yet that Inter have returned to form following their dire start to the season.

Gary Cahill's move from Bolton to Chelsea completed

Chelsea have completed the signing of centre-half Gary Cahill from Bolton Wanderers for a fee of around £7m. Cahill, 26, passed a medical on Saturday, before attending Chelsea's 1-0 Premier League win over Sunderland at Stamford Bridge. "Chelsea is a massive club that looks to win trophies season in, season out," said the England defender. "It is a big opportunity for me to be a part of that. Opportunities like this you can't turn down," he added.

The Fifth Official

Few of us like Mondays but The Fifth Official does, for it brings with it a chance for him to point the finger and laugh. Here he pulls out the pretty, the puzzling and the downright pig-ugly from a week brimming with potential victims.