Eyes on the Prize

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 29th 2014)

Pared Down

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Hull City paid the price for taking the Europa League lightly. KSC Lokeren progressed to the group stage on away goals, leaving England with just two representatives in the Europa League this season – the one where it really matters. This seasonʼs winners qualify for the Championʼs League. Tottenham Hotspur and Everton are Englandʼs only representatives in the Europa League this season.

Mauricio Pochettinoʼs Spurs team will play Turkeyʼs Beşiktaş, whose striking prowess was bolstered by the capture of Senegalese international Demba Ba in the summer. Belgradeʼs Partizan dropped down from the Championʼs League qualifying stage, but only had the chance to play in the top competition because Serbian champions Red Star were banned after falling foul of Financial Fair Play obligations by failing to pay their debts. Greek outfit Asteras Tripoli completed Group C.

Meanwhile, Roberto Martínezʼ Everton will play Russiaʼs FC Krasnodar, Germanyʼs VfL Wolfsburg and Franceʼs LOSC Lille in Group H. The French team, boasting last seasonʼs record breaking goalkeeper Vincent Enyeama, were beaten by Porto for a place in the Championʼs League group stage.

Pick of the Rest

Defending Europa League winners Sevilla will play Croatiaʼs HNK Rijeka in Group H along with Belgiumʼs Standard de Liège and Rotterdamʼs top team Feyenord. Following Pochettinoʼs departure to Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton lured Feyenordʼs manager Ronald Koeman to St. Maryʼs Stadium. The vacancy at the de Kuip Stadium was filled by Fredericus Rutten. Unai Emery Etxegoien will expect the Andalusian club to dominate Group G despite losing captain Federico Fazio to Spurs.

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Villarreal is the only other Spanish team to make the group stage. They will expect to progress from Group A. Germanyʼs Borussia Mönchengladbach along with Cypriots Apollon Limassol and Swiss outfit FC Zürich complete the group. French outfit Saint-Étienne and Ukrainians Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk will expect to confirm Azerbaijanʼs Qarabağ Ağdam FK as Group Fʼs whipping boys while Internazionale di Milano complete the group.

 

Interʼs Vice-President and former on-pitch icon Javier Zanetti welcomed the draw, but assured us that Inter would not take the tournament lightly. Group K consists of Portuguese club EA Guincamp, Belarusʼ Dinamo Minsk, Salonikaʼs finest PAOK and Fiorentina, still boasting the talents of Colombiaʼs coveted winger Juan Guillermo Cuadrado Bello. Fiorentinaʼs CEO Sandro Mencucci told us, “He [Cuadrado] is one of the best players in the world”. The Viola do not want to sell him and Mencucci refused to put a figure on Cuadradoʼs value.

Controversy

Italyʼs final representative is controversial. Torino got the nod, although Parma have a right to feel aggrieved at being denied their place due to a financial infraction over taxes that they had not been informed of in time to meet the deadline – an utterly absurd situation. Despite the sympathy of Italian courts the sanction against Parma stood and Torino took their plaCIMG9125ce.

Torino could have qualified in their own right if Alessio Cerci had not missed a penalty against Fiorentina at Florenceʼs Artemio Franchi Stadium on the last day of the Serie A season. Cerciʼs tears showed what it meant to him, but the Granata were reprieved by Parmaʼs fate. Torino will face Belgians Club Brugge and the Scandinavian challenge of FC København and HJK Helsinki.

Celticʼs heroic recent performances in the Championʼs League particularly against Barçelona won the Glaswegian club deserved plaudits, but that goodwill was dissipated after a 6-1 thrashing by Polandʼs Legia Warszawa was turned into a 4-4 draw that allowed Celtic through on away goals after a technicality that had no bearing on the result. A Legia player had a three match ban – he actually served it, but the paperwork was defective. UEFA overturned the result, costing Legia their win and the possibility of earning in the Championʼs League. Legia was dumped out of the Championʼs League, allowing a shambles of a Celtic team another chance, which they failed to take. Sloveniaʼs Maribor beat them in Scotland to progress. Celtic and Legia both qualified for the group stage of the Europa League, but the draw kept them apart.

Austrian club FC Salzburg, little known Romanian outfit FC Astra from Giurgi, and Croatiaʼs Dinamo Zagreb provide the opposition for Celtic in Group D. Meanwhile, Ukraineʼs Metalist Kharkiv, Hull Cityʼs Belgian conquerors KSC Lokeren and Turkish outfit Trabzonspor are Legiaʼs opponents in Group L. The Europa League Final will be held in Warsaw this year.

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Disrespect?

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 29th 2014)

Poor Relation offered Riches

The Europa League is still seen as the poor relation of the Championʼs League. To some clubs it is seen as a distraction – at best a poor consolation for missing out on the Championʼs League. Last season when asked by us what Chelseaʼs objectives for the season were José Mourinho quipped, “to not qualify for the Europa League”. He then expressed satisfaction that the aim had been achieved.

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Spain and Italy among others take the Europa League more seriously. Few can forget the drama provided last season. Stéphane MʼBiaʼs last gasp winner at Mestalla took Sevilla to the final in Turin where Béla Guttmannʼs ghost toyed with poor Benfica again. Unai Emery Etxegoienʼs Sevilla triumphed on penalties after a bore drawn in Turin. Nevertheless the emotion and drama of the Europa League at least matched the Championʼs League. Still itʼs not enough. This year the winners will join the Championʼs League at the very least at the final qualifying stage for the group phase.

Distraction?

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“If we were to get to Europe it would be a good European tour and I think thatʼs one of them where obviously we wouldnʼt go into the competition expecting to win it, but it would be a good few weekends out for the fans”, Hull Cityʼs captain Curtis Davies said after reaching the FA Cup final last April. They qualified. Only Belgian outfit KSC Lokeren stood between them and a European tour.

Davies promised that unlike some English teams previously Hull City cared about the Europa League and would take it seriously. Their Egyptian winger Ahmed Elmohamady backed him up. Davies insisted that the Europa League is not a distraction.

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“I wouldnʼt say so because when I was at Birmingham and we were in the Championship and in the Championship you play 46 games, so obviously we played 46 games and we played 8 games in the Europa League and then we got to the play-off semi-final, so it was no distraction for us”, Davies told us. “It didnʼt take away from us. Itʼs more of the fact that youʼre playing catch-up in games in terms of you might three games behind the rest of the field, but itʼs no distraction and I think if youʼre winning games it breeds confidence, so if you can go in those games and win then I donʼt see why you canʼt be happy”.

Tigerless

Hull City looked forward to playing in Europe despite losing two cup finals last season, they were given the opportunity. Beat Lokeren and the European tour was on. A 1-0 defeat in Belgium left a far from unattainable task, but the dream ended before it started. Lokeren got a crucial away goal.

Robbie Brady got both Hullʼs goals, but resting key players cost them dear. Allan McGregorʼs error in Belgium in the first leg proved costly as did the red card shown to Yaninck Sagbo.

Ultimately the Europa League was disrespected. Despite beating Belgian outfit Lokeren 2-1 Hull Cityʼs European adventure ended before it got started. Steve Bruce and Hull City fans can at least console themselves with a pair of astute signings ahead of the Premier League campaign. Former Spurs captain Michael Dawson joins Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone at the KC Stadium.

Uruguayʼs forgotten striker Abel Hernández Platera awaits a work permit after leaving Sicilian club Palermo. Hernández rejected Benfica for Hull. Their conquerors were drawn against Ukraineʼs Metalist Kharkiv, Turkeyʼs Trabszonspor and Polandʼs Legia Warszawa, who were controversially ejected from the Championʼs League.

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Newcomers handed Plush Group

By Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 28th 2014)

Mixed Bag for English Clubs

Bulgarian first-timers to the Championʼs League, Ludogorets, were handed a plush group of fixtures as defending champions Real Mardid – ten times winners were paired with five times European champions Liverpool, returning to the top flight of European football in the post Suárez era. FC Basel 1893, who defeated Chelsea home and away last season before losing their the Pharaohsʼ prize asset Mohammed Salah to the west-Londoners, make up Group B.

Manchester City, yet to excel in Europe, have another tough ask. Pep Guardiolaʼs FC Bayern München are the class of Group D, but CSKA Moskva (Moscow) and AS Roma will provide tough opposition. Chilean forward Alexis Sánchez, Arsène Wengerʼs marquee signing for this season will hope to guide his new team past former winner Borussia Dortmund. SC Galatasaray and RSC Anderlecht complete Group D.

2012 champions Chelsea, boasting the return of the legendary Ivorian striker Didier Drogba, face Kevin-Prince Boatengʼs Schalke 04 along with Sporting Club de Portugal. Sloveniaʼs NK Maribor complete Group G. The victory of the Slovenians in the last round of qualifiers avoided the embarrassment of an undeserving Celtic finding a way into the Championʼs League group stage despite by thoroughly outclassed by Polandʼs Legia Warsaw.

Celtic were fortunate to be given a reprieve despite being thrashed by 6-1 on aggregate by Legia, due to the Poles fielding an ineligible player for a couple of minutes of a dead return fixture. A bureaucratic error to be sure, but a classic case of the punishment exceeding the offence. The Scottish champions failed to benefit from their good fortune. Celtic were defeated at home by Sloveniaʼs NK Maribor who took their place in Group G.

Curses

The beaten finalists in the last two Europa League finals, Benfica begin their latest effort to defeat the Curse of their legendary coach Béla Guttmann in Group C in a tough group against and AS Monaco, recently shorn of the Golden Boot winning Colombian maestro James Rodríguez, but still boasting the services of fellow Colombian Radamel Falcao, whose efforts to join Real Madrid seem plagued by Guttmann at his malevolent prime.

Falcaoʼs former club and last yearʼs beaten finalists Atlético de Madrid will face competition from Juventus, Olympiacos and Malmö, as they bid to make club history with a first triumph in Europeʼs top competition. They have a tough group to negotaite, especially after selling prized striker Diego Costa to Chelsea along with defender Filipe Luís Kasmirski. Coach Diego Simeone faces a tough test from teams whose radar are set to ensure Atlético will not evade it.

Fresh from evading the consequences of the serial breach of the rules on transfers of youngsters from foreign nations Barçelona by splurging in the transfer market ahead of the inevitable and fully deserved ban – they knew they were serially breaching that rule – the Catalan giants crammed a couple of years worth of transfer activity into this window. Paris Saint-Germainʼs Zlatan Ibrahimović will play against two former clubs – the Catalan giants and Ajax as well as rank outsiders Apoel of Cyprus in Group F. Porto are the top ranked team of Group H. Ukraineʼs Shakhtar Donetsk will provide the stiffest competition for the Portuguese according to UEFAʼs ranking system. Bilabaoʼs Athletic Club and Belarusʼ Bate Borisov complete the Group.

Awards

For the first time ever the Womenʼs Best Player in Europe Award was presented along with the menʼs. Last yearʼs inaugural award was won by Germanyʼs goalkeeper Nadine Angerer. The repeating champions VfL Wolfsburg provided all the three nominees. Swedenʼs Nilla Fischer and Martina Müller lost to the clubʼs captain Nadine Kessler.

Bayern Münchenʼs flying Dutchman Arjen Robben was nominated along with his team-mate Germanyʼs World Cup-winning sweeper/keeper Manuel Neuer. They were beaten by record-breaking marksman Cristiano Ronaldo, who paid tribute to his team-mates at Real Madrid. The former Manchester United star couldnʼt resist a swipe at Liverpool. Ronaldo pointed out that when Liverppol beat Real 5-0 on aggregate, it was different as he wasnʼt playing for Real then.

Football Returns – And Not Before Time

By Segun Odegbami © Segun Odegbami (August 21st 2014)

The Morning After

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It is the morning after. I am counting the number of the victors and the vanquished! I am quite aware that the premiership is a marathon race and not a sprints event. In a sprint a fractional faulty start would have a catastrophic consequence. Not so in a marathon.

Arsenal clearly illustrate this from the marathon race of the EPL last season when they started off disastrously with a loss at the Emirates to Aston Villa. Many did not think they could recover from it but a few matches down the line they not only recovered but began a sensational climb that would see them come within touching distance of winning the league trophy but for some injuries to key players and a dip in form (probably due to fatigue) to their talisman – the man that anchored that resurgence – Mesut Özil.

The Missing Elixir

After last Saturday, Manchester United FC must now be taking some consolation and lessons from Arsenalʼs experience. They have also started the 2014-15 Barclays Premier League on the worst possible note – losing their first match on home ground, under the tutelage of a manager whose credentials were considered good enough to succeed the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson.

To the horror and consternation of their supporters Manchester United FC put up an ordinary performance that left their millions of global fans wondering where Sir Alex kept the concoction that made Manchester United FC a fighting machine throughout his time as manager! This used to be a team whose cutting edge was fighting until the last second. The number of matches won in the last few seconds, or minutes of many of their matches, is innumerable.

Last Saturday night the team looked like a wandering ghost of its past. Ok, so, it is still only the morning after the first round of the league. It may be premature to start to draw conclusions, even though the twilight of dawn may already be revealing the faint outlines of what the rest of the season may look like. 

So, Manchester United must be looking at the script of the Gunnersʼ formula last season. Doubt, fear and worry have crept into their pre-season excitement and the magical turn-around promised by Louis Van Gaal’s entry.

What happens this weekend when they face Sunderland FC away from home is going to be critical. Will the great Manchester United recover? That is the million-Dollar question that has everyone of their millions of supporters worldwide tottering on the edge of anxiety.

I have only one comment to make from my observatory. Manchester United may consider looking closer at the performances of David De Gea Quintana since he joined the team last season from Atlético de Madrid. Every team that will win the championship must have a very safe pair of hands in their goal! De Gea has been ‘leaking’ at the wrong times. I need not say more!

Quick off the blocks – Manchester City and Chelsea

On the other hand their city rivals, Manchester City FC came off the blocks steaming! Their two-goal margin against Newcastle United was emphatic. It sent a clear message to the rest of the league and testified to their current status as defending champions. They simply took off from where they left off the last season, with an even stronger and more confident squad.

But Chelsea look impressive too. With the introduction of Diego Costa at the head of the attacking pyramid Chelsea have injected pace, sharpness and very intelligent movements off the ball in attack that will drastically alter the style of the team. We saw it already in the first match. They played masterfully like champions!

The Blues change their style!

Only José Mourinho’s Chelsea FC bettered the start of Manchester City FC with a highly entertaining performance in the match against Burnley FC that had everything including some beautiful goals.

One goal, in particular, will resonate for the rest of the season – a beauty that came off the boots of André Schürrle from a series of quick interchange of passes from midfield involving Cesc Fàbregas and Eden Hazard,  seamless movements and a final superb visionary lob that tore apart the helpless and hapless defence of Burnley FC, the German striker was left clear to deliver a low cross from the right flank to the far side of goal beyond a bewildered Newcastle goalkeeper Tim Krul. It was a superb goal signalling Chelsea’s intent to be serious contenders again for the title.

My only comment on Chelsea is their refreshingly different style this time around. Far from their usual boringly defensive system that had typified Mourinho’s philosophy in past years, we saw an uncharacteristically freely attacking Chelsea playing at an incredibly delightful fast pace.

Beyond that, Mourinho has typically again commenced his mind games. He delivered the first salvo at a recent press conference with some snide remarks aimed at his greatest threat to the league title this season – Arsène Wenger!

Wenger has not responded. I guess his players will do the replying for him on the field when both their teams meet.

The Gunners on course!

Arsenal FC played well last weekend. But they were lucky to have won their first after struggling against a hard-fighting Crystal Palace FC until the dying seconds of the match.

The presence of Alexis Sánchez to compliment the array of attacking options (Aaron Ramsey, Olivier Giroud) has added an exciting new dimension to the front-line. Alexis’ dazzling pace, dribbling skills, superb vision and finishing power up front will pose plenty of trouble for most opposing defenders.

When Mesut Özil finally returns to form and gets back into the team, the full potency of the new Arsenal FCʼs attacking arsenal will be revealed for all to see.

Liverpool FC – again?

I have deliberately not written anything about Liverpool FC so far this season because I do not see them, still, as possible champions. They won their first match at home against Southampton FC but did not look really convincing.

One of the most successful teams in the history of English football have had their ups and downs in past seasons. In 2012 crept like thieves to win the League Cup but have not maintained that sparkle until last season again when with the mercurial Luis Suárez they could have stolen the championship title at the tail end.

They have joined Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal at the top of the league table as day breaks on the championship.

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So far, so good, the EPL has lived to expectations!

Real outclass Sevilla

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (August 12th 2014)

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Cagey

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Despite a typically cagey opening where chances were at a premium, it was Real Madridʼs World Player of the Year Cristiano Ronaldo who grabbed the headlines with a brace that defeated the obdurate defensive display of the Andalusian club. Gareth Baleʼs homecoming was overcome by a fine display by Toni Kroos. Germanyʼs World Cup winner belied his recent move, looking as though he was born and bred in Madrid.

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Club legend el Buitre (the Vulture) was impressed. “Well, they did it very well today”, Emilio Butragueño told us. “In fact, both Kroos and James [Rodríguez Rubio], they play a great game. Iʼm sure in the following weeks theyʼre going to get better, because they need time to adapt themselves to their team-mates. Iʼm sure that theyʼre going to gel with their team-mates. Well, we are optimistic about the future”.

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Ronaldoʼs first effort was a weak shot after 3 minutes that posed no threat to international colleague Beto (António Alberto Bastos Pimparel) – the hero of Sevillaʼs Europa Cup penalty shoot-out triumph in Turin last May. Baleʼs hopes for a penalty after clashing with Sevilla captain Federico Fazio were waved away by referee Mark Clattenburg after less than ten minutes. Ronaldo won a 13th minute free-kick after bamboozling Coke on the left wing. Ronaldo brushed aside his team-mates and took the free-kick himself. It deflected off Coke, brushing the roof of the net.

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By his own exceptionally high standards the Colombian phenomenon James Rodríguez had a disappointing match, but provided glimpses of his undoubted ability – he has only had a week and a half as a Real player. Rodríguez almost provided the assist for the opening goal. His cross from the left wing was enticing, but the angle at the back post proved too tight for Bale.

It took almost 20 minutes for Sevilla to pose any kind of threat to Iker Casillasʼ goal. Casillas has been below his usual high standards last season, but proved on top of his game when required tonight. A swift break found Vitolo on the left of the area. Vitoloʼs shot was pushed round his near post for a corner by Casillas. It was the closest to a goal up to that point, but against the run of play.

Five minutes later Ronaldo ought to have opened the scoring. A sumptuous 40 yard pass by Fábio Coentrão spread play to Karim Benzema on the right wing. Benzema squared it to Ronaldo who turned and shot. Beto saved well to deny the World Player of the Year.

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Resistance Cracks

Three minutes later Bale crossed from the left wing to the back post. Ronaldo stole in to sweep past Beto to give Madrid the lead. Rodríguezʼ free-kick was met by Pepe, but his header was easily dealt with by Beto. Rodríguez, eager to impress made a complete hash of his defensive clearance, but Daniel Carriçoʼs shot was deflected over. There was still time for Vitolo and Daniel Carvajal to be shown the yellow card before Clattenburg ended the first half.

Sevillaʼs task soon became harder as Ronaldo gave Portugalʼs first choice goalkeeper Beto no chance when found on the left of the area by Bennzema less than 5 minutes into the second half. Ronaldo acknowledged Benzemaʼs crucial role in providing the assist in his celebration of the goal.

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Despite requiring goals Sevilla continued to absorb the pressure and were indebted to Beto for keeping them in the match with a fine save to deny Benzema after Coentrão and Ronaldo had combined to create the chance for the French international to test him. The rebound was squared by Coentrão, but eluded everyone. Beto was required again midway through the half after Rodríguez controlled Baleʼs pass on the edge of the area. His half-volley was well saved by Beto.

Attack

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Benzema and Luka Modrić wasted excellent opportunities to extend Realʼs lead, blasting well over when well placed. With less than ten minutes remaining Grzegorz Krychowiak kept Sevilla in with a chance denying Ronaldo in full flight with a superbly timed tackle to thwart the danger. It set up a frenetic end to the match as Unai Emeryʼs team finally tested Realʼs defence and keeper.

With two minutes of normal time remaining the ball broke to Krychowiak, just inside the area. His powerful shot was parried by Casillas at the expense of a corner. Less than a minute later substitute Diogo Figueirasʼ shot was deflected for a corner as Sevilla piled on the pressure resulting in Carlos Baccaʼs injury time shot from the edge of the penalty area being blocked by Sergio Ramos. A rapid counter-attack released Bale for the final effort of the match, which Beto saved.

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No Expense Spared

At £364m this was the most expensive football team ever assembled. At that price there was no excuse for failure and they didnʼt. The Copa del Rey and Championsʼ League winners face a tough test this year. Success is demanded, especially after such an outlay on talent, but after the historic La Décima has their hunger been sated.

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Butragueño is having none of it. “Every season we start the same”, he told us. “We have to fight for every title to try to do our best and we know itʼs going to be difficult, because there are great, great teams in Europe and in Spain and we know that we have to play very well to perform at a very high level if we want to achieve our goals, so we have just started the and then itʼs step by step”.

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The legendary striker want more from his beloved team – much more. “Well, weʼre really happy”, Butragueño says. “Weʼre delighted with the performance of the team. I think we well deserved the victory tonight and taking into consideration that some players started practice one week ago, we did well and now we have to prepare the proper way for the Spanish Supercup, which we are going to play next week”.

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Protection (Part Two) – Archive

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.

Derek Miller

Selfish

Former professional footballer and FA coach Noel Blake1 has a different outlook to that of the Director of Cardiff Citys academy, Neal Ardley (for further information on Ardley’s opinion see https://empowersport.wordpress.com/2014/08/12/protection-part-one-archive/) – one he admits is selfish.

While academies and centres of excellence just want the best players regardless of nationality or racial origins, Blake wants more from them. He wants English academies to develop English talent.

“From a selfish point of view I wouldn’t want foreign boys to come to the academy anyway in all honesty, because this is England”, he told us exclusively. “Obviously I’ve got a selfish point of view. I want to see English players developed in England. At the appropriate time – senior level – fine, but I don’t think our academies should be encouraging young players from far afield, who can’t play for the national teams, to come to England. I don’t think it’s right.”

Developing Young English Talent

Blake wants English academies to concentrate on developing English players. “Forget that I was working for the FA, because I was saying this before”, he said, “I had a couple of foreign boys in the academy, but they played for their nation. The fact of the matter is as I have said previously and I stand by this statement, I wouldn’t like to see our academies or youth development programme flooded with non-English players, because for me we’ve got to get back into a system where the English players come through our academy system”.

His main concern is ensuring that young English talent comes through and benefits first and foremost from the academies and centres of excellence of English clubs. “My views are in terms of youth development programmes”, said Blake. “I don’t think it would be wise for young players from further afield to be allowed academy places, so I can’t sit here and endorse twenty or so foreign players coming to our academies”.

Quality Imports

But Blake has nothing against foreign players in principle. English leagues have benefited from top foreign talent. Gianfranco Zola was one of the most skilful foreign imports, becoming a Chelsea legend in the process. He helped to bring through young players at Chelsea. Zola remembered when he was a young player in Italy and had the opportunity to learn from top foreigners that made Serie A the envy of Europe at the time.

Zola found himself denied opportunities at Napoli because he was behind two foreigners in the pecking order – one was the Brasilian, Careca. The other was one of the greatest footballers ever to play the game – Diego Armando Maradona. Zola makes no complaint about it. They were better than him at the time and he had the opportunity to learn from them in training. It made him a better player.

He eventually moved to Parma and was a great success there before being forced out of the club by Carlo Ancelotti – the Chelsea manager accepts that he made a mistake letting Zola go. Parmas loss was Chelseas gain, but Blakes concern over foreigners is not at first team level.

It is domestic talent in English academies that Blake wants to protect. “In terms of senior players that’s a different matter”, said Blake. “If the club then want to sign senior players at first team level, that’s down to them”.

But if a European club had the opportunity to sign a schoolboy Lionel Messi or Cesc Fàbregas, should they refuse? Barçelona didnt and nor did Arsenal and nor would other clubs when offered the chance to sign such talent so cheaply. They could have waited, but the price would have been significantly higher and thats the bottom line.

1After seven years as an FA coach including spells in charge of England Under-19 and Under-20, Blake left in June 2014. He joined Blackpool despite the chaotic situation at that club.

Protection (Part One) – Archive

Editor’s Note

This article was originally published in the magazine in May 2010. We republish it now as we think it is topical that even with rules in place the big clubs – in this case FC Barçelona – are being treated differently to smaller clubs like Cardiff City and FC Midtjylland.

Derek Miller

by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar (May 14th 2010)

Opportunities

Cardiff Citys academy has to operate under the rules governing all academies or centres of excellence. Under-14 year-old players must live within an hour commute of the ground, whereas Under-16s have an extra half hours grace. There are loopholes’ in the system, although these favour the richer clubs.

Families can be relocated with jobs provided, but only wealthy clubs can afford to do this – ironically because they want to avoid paying fees to a smaller club that developed a player. Even clubs like Barçelona – one of the biggest in the world – has lost talent in this manner. Cesc Fàbregas is the most famous player that Catalunya’s top club lost to the English Premier League.

No Angels

But Barcelona are no angels. They have scouts all over the world – other top clubs do as well – and if they spot a player they believe will make the grade, they too will flex their muscle. This was how the world’s greatest player Lionel Messi left Newell’s Old Boys in his native Argentina in 2000 for Barcelona’s academy – la Masia – a stone’s-throw from the Camp Nou.

Messi and his family left for the city that the architecture of the great Antoni Gaudi dominates – lured in part by Barcelona’s promise to provide treatment for the young superstar in making’s growth hormone deficiency. And Messi is far from the only player that Barca has done it too.

So how can smaller clubs compete, both with the lure of playing for bigger clubs and their financial clout? The answer is they can’t can’t – they have to compete within their price range and spend shrewdly at every level, especially after the experience of Danish club FC Midtjylland.

Foreign Links

Cardiff City is a small club. Last year they comfortably broke their transfer record by over a million to sign Michael Chopra from Sunderland. The fee was £3m. They compete on the pitch through a strong youth policy and wise spending and investment in talent. They start early. Even their academy has to find ways to recruit top talent and cling onto it without breaking the bank.

We have a lad from Canada – a goalkeeper”, says the Director of their academy Neal Ardley1. “We just set up a little link with a club over there and they look to send some players over for us to have a look at once in a while, but that’s just purely neutral, giving players an opportunity to see what level they’re at”.

Different Rules

This is not the only foreign link that the Bluebirds academy has. “The only other foreign area we’ve gone into is over in Ireland”, Ardley told us. “We’ve got a lad from Northern Ireland and a lad from Southern Ireland and we’re trying to create links with clubs over there. What we’re trying to do is create a link with the clubs. We can maybe give some of their players a chance to come over and see if they’re good enough”.

But it is not a one-way thing. The Irish clubs benefit as well. “We in turn come over there and coach and coach-educate,” said Ardley before a note of frustration creeps in.

I know that UEFA are trying to put rules in place that even if the two clubs agree that they want to do this little system, there’s got to be compensation, which would take Cardiff out of the equation really in many ways”, Ardley said. “For me that’s the wrong rule because it comes back to the big clubs win again. The clubs with the money can afford the compensation and will get the best players”.

1Ardley was appointed Director of Cardiff City’s the day after his retirement in 2007. He stayed until 2012 when he became the manager of AFC Wimbledon. He is still their manager.