Archive

Archive for January, 2012

Who is the greatest footballer of all-time?

January 30, 2012 1 comment

Last week Pele ridiculed the notion that Lionel Messi may be the best player in the history of the game. Many believe the Brazilian to be the greatest of all-time, while some claim that Argentine maverick Diego Maradona is worthy of the accolade. Who do you think is the greatest footballer of all-time?

Categories: Football

What next for Lukas Podolski?

January 25, 2012 2 comments

One story currently dominates the German sports pages: Lukas Podolski’s future. The striker turns 27 this year (in June) and now faces what will arguably be the most important decision of his career, if not his life: stay at his beloved 1. FC Köln or seek silverware in a foreign land? To understand why this is such big news, one must first understand Podolski’s standing in German football and popular culture, and in particular in Cologne.

Lukas Podolski is Germany's most popular footballer (This image is the property of AP)

Strictly speaking, Podolski is not German. He is however, the country’s most popular and most talked-about footballer. Born in Gliwice, Poland to two professional athletes (his father was a footballer and his mother represented Poland at handball) he arrived in the Cologne suburb of Bergheim as a two year old. Podolski has even described himself as Polish and was noticeably subdued when scoring both goals in a 2-0 win for Germany over the country of his birth at Euro 2008. The young striker initially wished to play for Poland and it was recommended in 2003 to then national manager Pawel Janas to call up the young talent. Janas refused stating: we have much better strikers in Poland and I don’t see a reason to call up a player just because he played one or two good matches in the Bundesliga. He’s not even a regular starter at his club.’ Podolski however quickly established himself in a struggling Köln side, scoring 10 goals in 19 Bundesliga games. Whilst this was not enough to keep the club in the top flight, it attracted the attention of the German media and, more importantly, then national coach Rudi Völler. The media saw the youngster as the future of German football and quickly dubbed him ‘Prinz Poldi’ (Prince Poldi). Poland’s loss was Germany’s gain and Podolski made his debut for Germany in June 2004 before going on to make one substitute appearance at that summer’s European Championships. He has not looked back since, representing Germany in two World Cups and another European Championship. As at the time of writing, he had amassed 95 caps and scored 43 goals, making him Germany’s sixth highest scorer of all time. Not bad for a 26 year old.

As a result of his stellar performances for the national team and his affable, approachable manner, the boy from Gliwice has become a national hero across the border in Germany and so the speculation over his future dominates the sports pages. Nowhere is this more the case than in his adopted hometown of Cologne. To say that Podolski is a superstar in Cologne is a gross understatement. His status is akin to that of cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar in India; demigod. He is the face of 1. FC Köln. If there is an advert for the club in a train station or newspaper, you can bet it has Prinz Poldi’s face on it. If a Köln match is advertised on TV, you can bet his image will be used. If someone is walking around the city in a replica shirt, you can bet it has a number 10 on the back. Numerous bands from the area have made songs dedicated to the striker, most notably when trying to lure him back from Bayern Munich, and this year, he was even invited to ride in the so called ‘Präsidenten-Wagen’ at the front of the Carnival parade (this is a huge honour). In short, he is indispensable to 1. FC Köln, not only as a player, but also as a money spinner and marketing tool. This is why Podolski’s reluctance to commit to a contract extension is so worrying for the club.

Will Podolski remain a 1.FC Köln player? (This image is the property of AP)

Poldi’s contract with Die Geißböcke expires next summer (2013) and the club has made no secret of its desire to tie him to a longer deal. Such is the club’s desperation to hold on to its star player, that it is considering trimming its squad in order to accommodate Podolski’s presumed increased financial demands. However, to suggest that the striker’s reluctance to commit to an extension at this stage is financially driven is to do him a disservice. The very fact that Podolski returned to Cologne in 2009 after his unimpressive spell at Bayern Munich shows that money is a secondary consideration as better offers were available elsewhere, but as he approaches his 27th birthday, Podolski is seemingly getting the urge to prove himself at a bigger club.

This is driven in part by his unhappy three year spell at the Allianz Arena. During his time in Munich, Poldi struggled to hold down a first team place and mustered only 26 goals in 106 games. This led to criticism of Podolski, with some claiming he is unable to shine for a team in which he is not the focal point and others claiming that he lacks a so-called ‘big time mentality’. Podolski naturally refutes the claims and has said in recent interviews that he feels he is capable of playing for a big club in England, Spain or Italy and of making an impression there. Perhaps in the back of his mind he feels a need to prove this to himself as well as his detractors. Such comments will do little to allay the fears of the Köln faithful and the reputed attention of several big clubs must surely turn the striker’s head to some extent.

Podolski’s form in the current season has been the best of his career and has certainly attracted scouts from some of Europe’s top clubs. He has netted 14 goals in 17 league games and also chipped in with four assists, form which has seen him linked with moves to AC Milan, Arsenal, Lazio, Liverpool, Real Madrid, Tottenham and, most recently, Lokomotiv Moscow. A switch to a number of these teams would give Podolski the opportunity to shine on club football’s biggest stage, the Champions League, and also to compete seriously for silverware. This will be a key consideration for him. Although Podolski has talent to rival almost anybody in the world, his trophy cabinet is not exactly bulging. A move in summer at the age of 27 would give the striker four or five years at a top club to prove himself as a genuine world-class operator and to win trophies, something which will appeal. Importantly, it will allow him to do so during the years that are typically seen as a footballer’s peak. For their part, the clubs in question know that Podolski represents excellent value at £10-15 million.

Podolski has publically stated that he is more than happy to speak to Köln about a contract extension describing them as the ‘erster Ansprechpartner’ (the first point of contact) and seems to remain relaxed about the speculation. Köln’s Sporting Director Volker Finke met with Poldi over the winter break only to be told by the striker that he wanted time to consider his future. He said that he does not wish to leave the RheinEnergie Stadion in the January transfer window as he does not want to jeopardise his place in Jogi Löw’s squad for Euro 2012, a tournament being co-hosted of course in Poland.

Whilst he has not stated that he wishes to further his career by leaving Die Geißböcke, Podolski has certainly dropped hints that his future may lie outside of Germany. Köln may of course decide not to cash in on their prized asset and keep him until his contract runs out should he refuse to sign an extension and so the story may not develop at all this summer.

What is certain, however, is the fact that the issue will continue to dominate the German sporting press until it is resolved, but whilst for fans it represents little more than exciting speculation, for Podolski it is the biggest decision he will face as a footballer. Whether he makes it with his heart or his head remains to be seen.

Name: Łukasz Podolski

Place of Birth: Gliwice, Poland

Nationality: German

Date of Birth: 4th June 1985

Career League Appearances: 228

Career League Goals: 90

Total Career Appearances: 273

Total Career Goals: 108

International Caps: 95

International Goals: 43

Categories: Football

Old Knights in Rusty Armour Ride to the Rescue

January 15, 2012 Leave a comment

This week, anybody could be forgiven for thinking that they have been transported back in time as both Thierry Henry and Paul Scholes hit the back pages after scoring important goals for Arsenal and Manchester United respectively. This is not however, 2002, it is indeed 2012. So just what are a 34 year old Henry and a 37 year old Scholes doing in coming out of the footballing wilderness (MLS and retirement) to help out the two most successful clubs of the Premiership era?

Underneath the stack of jokes about Sir Bobby Charlton being seen warming up at Old Trafford and Nigel Winterburn returning to ease Arsenal’s full-back crisis lies a serious question: why have two of Europe’s leading clubs felt a need to resort to such emergency transfers? Are they papering over cracks which belie fundamental problems at both clubs? Or are they in fact masterstrokes?

In the case of Henry, the answer is relatively straightforward. The Frenchman is an Arsenal legend in the truest sense of the word and one of the most popular players to ever pull on the famous red and white of the Gunners. Furthermore, Henry’s attitude towards the club proves the old adage that ‘love is a two-way street,’ with the player himself stating that ‘when it comes to Arsenal, it is kind of hard for me to say no,’ and describing it as the club he ‘loves and supports.’ In an eight year stint that spanned 1999-2007, Henry terrorised defences at home and abroad on his way to becoming the club’s all-time record goal scorer with 226 goals. These goals helped the club to two Premier League titles, three FA Cup wins and an appearance in the Champions League Final in 2006. As a result, he is afforded a God-like status by the Emirates faithful, as anyone who saw the reception he got when he made his comeback against Leeds United can testify. Add to this the fact that some of Arsenal’s young players (most notably Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere) grew up idolising Henry, and there is a clear ‘lift’ factor.

The deal makes sense for the London club as it is a six-and-a-half week loan deal with an option to extend it to eight weeks. There is however, no commitment on Arsenal’s part beyond covering the striker’s reputed £70,000 a week wages.[1] This not does not amount to a great deal of money by modern standards and averts the need to enter the notoriously difficult and inflated January transfer market. If Henry does provide the fans and the players with a lift and is even able to chip in with the odd goal and/or assist, the deal will represent excellent value for the club. In short, it is a low risk, potentially high reward transaction. It should also be said that it also makes sense for the player as it allows him to attain match fitness ahead of the start of the MLS season.

The loan signing of Henry also represents the solution to a problem; Arsenal’s lack of strikers. Robin van Persie has had to shoulder the goal scoring burden all season, but at least Arsene Wenger had other options in Gervinho and Marouane Chamakh. With both of these players on national duty in the African Cup of Nations, Henry’s loan deal gives Wenger another ‘impact player’ option from the bench and covers the period in which Arsenal will be two strikers down.

 

Thierry Henry celebrates his winning goal on his second Arsenal debut (This image is the property of The Daily Mirror)

Whilst it is clear that the Frenchman is not the player he was during his first spell in London, he is still capable of contributing as a bit part player. Henry’s own stated aim is to help the club, not to ‘try to be a hero’ and in one 20 minute cameo, he has already shown that he will add a touch of class to Arsene Wenger’s team. Having seen the likes of Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh thrash at chance after chance, the crowd was growing frustrated, fearing an unwanted replay at Elland Road. Cue the entry of the man dubbed ‘The Bearded Warrior’ thanks to his new facial hair. Henry got one chance in the game and finished it with aplomb. Alex Song’s delightful slide-rule pass was right in to the path of Henry and the returning striker took one perfect touch to get the ball out of his feet before calmly slotting the ball in to the far corner, thus firing the Gunners in to the FA Cup fourth round. In doing so, he showed a composure Arsenal had been lacking in front of goal. Yes, he looked overweight and at least a yard slower than the last time he graced the Emirates, but that simple control and finish proved that some things do not dull with age. If Henry is able to pop up with just two similar contributions in the league, Wenger and the Arsenal board will see the loan as a great bit of business.

Two hundred miles north at Old Trafford, another club legend has made an even more unexpected return to action, Paul Scholes. Whilst Thierry Henry is still an active football player and therefore a loan signing, Scholes has re-emerged from self-imposed retirement. Following United’s comprehensive defeat to Barcelona in last year’s Champions League final, the midfielder decided to call time on an illustrious career with his place as a Manchester United all-time great already cemented. He subsequently took up a coaching role with the club’s reserve team as he contemplated a career in football management.

Fast forward to Christmas 2011 and there were one or two murmurs that Sir Alex Ferguson may try to persuade Scholes to lace up his boots as United struggled with something of an injury crisis. Not many took the rumours seriously so it was a huge shock when it was announced before the FA Cup third round tie with local rivals Manchester City that Scholes was in fact on the bench. In fact, Wayne Rooney said in his post match interview that the players did not even know until they were in the dressing room at the Etihad Stadium. In a similar manner to the Henry announcement, this gave the fans and players a huge lift with Ferguson stating that it had been kept top secret so as to create that effect. It certainly worked.

Scholes entered the fold as a 59th minute substitute and immediately looked like somebody who had not played for eight months. The man famously dubbed ‘Sat-Nav’ for his pinpoint passing ability gave the ball away on several occasions and was at fault for City’s second goal. He did however, show signs of bringing an assuredness to the midfield once United settled on playing out for a 3-2 win.

Even more surprising however, was Scholes’ inclusion in the starting eleven for the league match versus Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford. Given his relative lack of match practice and fitness, the midfielder had been seen as a man to come off the bench when required. Ferguson evidently feels otherwise and his decision was vindicated. Just as 75,000 fans were growing frustrated at seeing United waste chance after chance (including a penalty), Scholes rolled back the years, appearing in the box to turn in Wayne Rooney’s cross from eight yards out. The goal calmed United nerves and they eventually went on to secure a comfortable 3-0 victory. This all-important first goal, coupled with Scholes’ control of midfield proceedings, already has many naysayers eating their words.

 

Paul Scholes is overjoyed to score the opener against Bolton Wanderers (This image is the property of The Daily Mirror)

Much like Arsenal’s acquisition of Henry, the move represents potentially excellent value for United. No fee is involved in bringing a player out of retirement and he is, in all likelihood, on a pay-as-you-play deal. If Scholes can help United to lift the Premier League trophy in May, it may just go down as one of the greatest ‘transfer’ masterstrokes in living memory. That is however, a big if.

Whereas Henry’s deal at Arsenal has a pre-determined timescale, Scholes’ reintroduction to first team life at Old Trafford does not and this is perhaps the most worrying aspect for the club’s fans. United have, in all honesty, been in need of a so-called ‘A-list midfielder’ for the last three years and the fans have seen nothing come of rumours linking Wesley Sneijder, Mesut Özil, Eden Hazard, Mario Götze, Luka Modric and many more with a move to Old Trafford. Ferguson’s line continues to be that there is no value in the transfer market but that flies in the face of the £18.9 million and £16.5 million purchases of David De Gea and Phil Jones last summer. Many fans and members of the press continue to express doubts about the financial situation at Old Trafford as the club continues to feel the strain of high levels of term debt and The Sun recently fanned these flames of doubt by claiming that the Scholes move was borne out of financial necessity. According to the newspaper, United’s early exit from this year’s Champions League will have a huge financial impact. Furthermore, it also claims that the transfers of Javier Hernandez, Bebe, Anders Lindegaard, Ashley Young and Phil Jones are all accounted for in this financial year (July 1 2011-June 30 2012) which means that the club will have to shell out £55,127,000 in transfer and related fees during that period, almost £44 million more than in the previous year.[2] Whether or not this is the reality behind the Scholes decision only the Manchester United money men really know, but it will do little to alleviate the fears long held by certain sections of the Old Trafford faithful. Sir Alex Ferguson cannot however, worry about this and if Scholes is able to help United control games and perhaps even contribute with the odd assist or goal, nobody will be laughing or speaking of desperation come May.

Both deals do, on the face of it, smack of desperation and many will continue to view them as little more than that. They could however, prove to be two highly cost-effective moves that add experience and a touch of class to two teams with designs on English football’s biggest prizes. If they help the clubs achieve their aims, it will be hats off to the two grandfathers of Premier League management. Even if they do not, neither club will have lost anything. As such, both are calculated risks, which is more than can be said of forays in to the January transfer market. Just ask Chelsea and Liverpool.


[1] Returning legend Henry to accept Arsenal offer… and he will wear No 12 shirt: Daily Mail 30th December 2011: www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-2080044/Thierry-Henry-wear-No-12-shirt-Arsenal.html#ixzz1jX9Ygb17

[2] Romance helps United pay Bills: The Sun 13th January 2012: Dan King’s Sport Uncovered | The Sun |Sport|Football

Categories: Football

Aaron Rodgers: Big Shoes Successfully Filled

January 14, 2012 3 comments

Back in October 2010, I wrote an article titled Aaron Rodgers: Filling Big Shoes in Green Bay (https://npwsport.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/aaron-rodgers-filling-big-shoes-in-green-bay) in which I outlined the size of the task the Californian faced in trying to replace the legend that is Brett Favre.

Less than 18 months on, the Lambeau Field faithful have forgotten all about Favre and his position as Green Bay’s demigod has been usurped by Rodgers. This is some achievement given that Favre played as a starter for the Packers for 16 seasons, led them to two Super Bowl appearances (won one, lost one) and set a whole host of NFL records in the process. So how has the unassuming University of California (UCal) alumnus managed to fill Favre’s shoes in such a short space of time?

Well firstly it must be said that Rodgers is a supremely talented quarterback in his own right. In fact former NFL wide receiver and NBC commentator Chris Collinsworth described him as being ‘born to play quarterback’ and anybody who has witnessed Rodgers’ performances over the last three seasons would find it impossible to disagree. It is still a mystery to many why Rodgers slid down the draft order to 24 back in 2005 and to this day, Green Bay can still not believe its luck in having snared such a precocious talent with such a low pick.

Most importantly however, Rodgers has delivered on the promise he showed as a young quarterback at UCal. After patiently waiting for his opportunity to replace Favre, Rodgers has lit up Lambeau Field with a string of amazing performances and, crucially, last year delivered the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory since 1996 with an MVP performance. In doing so he matched Favre’s tally of Super Bowl rings and having led the Packers to an astonishing 15-1 record this season, few would bet against him making it two in a row, a feat Favre failed to achieve when losing to a John Elway inspired Denver in 1997. If he is able to accomplish this, he will most certainly, and quite justifiably, be seen as a bigger legend and better player than the great number 4.

Aaron Rodgers has had arguably the best season by any quarterback in NFL history

 

Whilst it is fair to state that Rodgers has not single-handedly led Green Bay to a 15-1 season, it is impossible to overstate just how successful his season has been from a personal perspective, particularly considering that he was rested for the last game against Detroit and so played only 15 games. His tally of 45 touchdowns has only ever been bettered by three players (Dan Marino 48, Peyton Manning 49, Tom Brady, 50) and six interceptions is one of the lowest season totals in NFL history. Add to this a pass completion rate of 68.3 percent and you have the highest season passer rating in NFL history with 122.5. This has made Rodgers the overwhelming favourite to win the league’s MVP award and far surpasses anything Favre ever achieved in his time at Lambeau Field (his best rating was 99.5 in 1995). In fact, it would not be overstating the point to say that Rodgers’ 2011 season will go down in NFL folklore as possibly the greatest ever by a quarterback.

None of this will however mean anything to the superstar quarterback if Green Bay’s trip to the playoffs proves fruitless. Rodgers will be itching to win a second Super Bowl ring and ensure that the Vince Lombardi Trophy remains on display at Lambeau Field. He will undoubtedly be aware that he will need to maintain his almost superhuman level of performance throughout the playoffs if Green Bay is to achieve this goal as they continue to struggle to gain yards on the ground and allow more points than coach Mike McCarthy is happy with. You would however be a fool to write off Green Bay’s chances, especially with Rodgers pulling the offensive strings. If he lifts the trophy at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 5th, we will have witnessed the birth of a true NFL legend and he will not have just filled Brett Favre’s shoes, he will have replaced them with his own pair, a pair which may prove impossible to fill.

Categories: American Football