Monday, 30 May 2011

UEFA Champions League Final - London 2011

Well... Where do I start? What a fantastic game of football. Definitely one of the best matches I've seen, let alone one of the best finals ever. Am I over exaggerating? Not one bit in my honest opinion.

I found the final captivating, and couldn't take my eyes of the Television for one minute. Both teams wanted to win so much, and both managers pledged before the game that both their respective sides would stick their own particular styles of play, their attacking mentalities and their football philosophy.

The result, we were treated to an open, expansive attacking match, between undoubtedly the two best football sides in the world, and the two best managers in the modern game. Sir Alex Ferguson; an established great, and Pep Guardiola; a future great in the game.

Barcelona, as some expected, were clear favourites, although not many people would’ve begrudge Manchester United victory. Barca did however, somewhat unexpectedly, lined up with Javier Mascherano pairing Gerard Pique at centre-back, Dani Alves (who missed the 2009 final due to suspension) playing right-back, and Eric Abidal was lining up a left-back. We all know his inspirational story in the lead up to this final. The rest of the Barcelona side picked themselves.

Manchester United lined up in a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 formation, with Fabio given the nod at right-back as part of a familiar Manchester United back five, Antonio Valencia on the right side on midfield, Park Ji-Sung on the left, ahead of Nani, and Ryan Giggs pairing Michael Carrick in centre midfield. Darren Fletcher wasn’t deemed fit enough to start, and only made the bench, while Javier Hernandez was giving a starting berth up front with Wayne Rooney.

Manchester United started the game, and came flying out of the blocks, but were unable to really test Victor Valdes. It was a case of having all the possession, but failing to really make any real use of it. As what happened in 2009, Barcelona started nervously, but managed to finally get a grip of the game and managed to put considerable pressure on Man United.

The breakthrough for Barca came 27 minutes, whereby Xavi managed to break through the United midfield, and with the defence backing off the midfield maestro (something that was set to be the tone for the rest of the match) Xavi picked out a lovely diagonal pass into Pedro, who calmly side-footed the ball past Edwin Van Der Sar to give the Catalan side the lead.

After taking the lead, Barca released their foot off the pedal, and allowed Manchester United to come back into the game. After 34 mins, capitalising on a Barcelona throw it, Englishman Wayne Rooney picked up the ball mid way through the Barcelona half, played a one-two with Carrick, then a one-two with Giggs, and hit a rasping curling shot into the back of the Barcelona back. A great goal to finish off a great United move.

Level at 1-1, with Barcelona pressing, and around a minute to go before half time, one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen, was Sir Alex Ferguson giving no less than can be described as a “bollocking” to striker Wayne Rooney on the sideline. He had been fuming at Rooney for dropping so deep. Naturally Rooney drops deep, and wants to be involved all the time. That’s how Rooney has grown in to one of the best forwards in the game today, but Ferguson was clearly frustrated.

At half-time, Barcelona had 67% total possession, with 8 attempts on goal, compared to Manchester United two.

The story of the game so far, was Xavi was getting too much space in midfield, Lionel Messi was dropping off the Manchester United defenders and finding space and having a huge influence on the game. Gerard Pique was dominating defensively, while Javier Hernandez was possibly offside more times than he actually touched the ball. Positively for United, Wayne Rooney looked like he could win the game single handily, as he was so amped up for the game. Fifteen minutes for us all to gather our breaths.

The second half kicked off, and unfortunately for Manchester United, it had looked like a long season had finally taken it’s toll. A fatigued looking United side were no more match for the Barcelona side who had just seemingly notched it up to another gear and began to dominate in every area of the pitch. And it due course, nine minutes after half time, Lionel Messi’s growing influence finally took charge, powering home a left footed shot past Edwin Van Der Sar. Barcelona ecstatic, Man United; deflated.

Not for resting on their laurels, Barca poured forward and continued to pummel United. With a brief moment of respite, Ferguson made his move, bringing on Nani for Fabio, with the terribly anonymous Antonio Valencia dropping into the right back position. It’s was to prove a poor move, as immediately coming on, and clearly no switched on, the dazzling feet of Lionel Messi zoomed past the Portuguese winger, and broke down the right hand side, and laid the ball to Busquets who cut it to David Villa, a man who had been criticised for his lack of goals and sloppy performances recently, picked an absolute beauty of finish, bending the ball into the top corner. A sensational finish, and the final nail in the coffin.

The final twenty minutes saw Barcelona do what they do best; keep possession. Manchester United’s only real shout of getting back into the game being a hand ball claim by Ryan Giggs against David Villa, but referee Viktor Kassai wasn’t interested.

After three minutes added time, the ref blew the whistle for full time, and brought down the curtain on one of the best Champions League finals in recent memory. Barcelona players were overjoyed, with every trophy win as important as the last, while Sir Alex Ferguson managed a wry smile on his face, as he clearly felt that Barca was the better side and that his Manchester United side had done him proud. They were indeed, just beaten by the better side.

The full time stats were as follows:

Barcelona 68% possession to Manchester United's 32%
Barcelona had 12 attempts on target, 4 off target, to Man United's 1 on target, with 2 off
Manchester United had 0 corners, compared to 6 by Barcelona
Manchester United committed 16 fouls to Barcelona's 5

Manchester United attempted 350 passes, completing 280. That's 80% completion rate
Barcelona attempted 773 passes, completing 692. That's 89% completion rate

The average age of the Manchester United squad was 29.6 years old
The average age of the Barcelona squad was 27.2 years old

The individual stats are as follows:

Lionel Messi had 5 attempts on goal, with 3 on target, scoring 1 goal
Wayne Rooney had 2 attempts on goal, with 1 on target, scoring 1 goal

The passing stats are in the photo below

Below is how both teams individual's influence in different area's of the pitch

Xavi was the best passed on the pitch, completing 141 of an attempted 148 passes. That's an astonishing 95.3% completion rate. If it wasn't for Messi's influence over the match, he would of been my man of the match. Below is a graphic of all his passes.

All stats courtesy the TotalFootball iPhone App

The reason this game was such high-quality, in my opinion not only because of calibre of players on show, but the way in which both sides conducted themselves. There was no play acting. No long ball tactics. No persistent fouling, no red cards and no surrounding of the referee debating every decision. The latter we saw creeping more and more into Barcelona's methods, evident in previous games in this Champions League campaign, that of which I lost a little bit of respect for them for. However in this game, there was a great degree of sportsmanship from both sides, and this is something that has not been publicised as much as the media, as sometimes it's just too easy to highlight poor behaviour on a football field.

This game of course is a demonstration that at my age, this Barcelona side is the best side I’ve ever seen. The way they attack, press opponents, and the way they just implement their own philosophy on the football field is a joy to marvel at.

Also, let’s not take away from the English side in this final. It’s testament to Manchester United, who played their part, and gave it a real go. Sir Alex Ferguson could have easily packed the midfield with five midfielders, sat deep and waited till the last 20 minutes to throw on both Nani and Hernandez and take an educated risk. In the beginning, he took a small risk playing two forwards, and it unfortunately didn’t pay off.

Barcelona had too much space in midfield, and the United defence were too deep for my liking. When Arsenal beat Barcelona this season, they pressed really high up the pitch, squeezed the midfield, and took risky sharp short passing in order to surpass the Barcelona pressure, and eventually hit them on the counter attack. Ferguson had his own game plan and it just wasn’t the right one on this occasion.

What next for both clubs?

Well this Barcelona team could definitely regain the Champions League trophy, and be the first to do so since it’s reformatting in the early 90’s. There is a mix of youth, experience and match winners in their squad, as well as an outstanding football philosophy and a hungry talented manager in charge. I would be happy to see them dominate over the next few years, because if you love football, then you must appreciate how fantastic this Barcelona team play, and just sit back and take it some the things they do on the pitch.

As for United, Ferguson is not done. He says he still feels good, and isn’t going anywhere. The club have been successful this season, and this defeat is only a small set back. They will surely need to rebuild, as some of the most senior players are reaching the end of their careers. Paul Scholes will probably retire this summer, Ryan Giggs probably has one year remaining at the top, goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar is now retired, along with Gary Neville. Considerable areas of the pitch, which require some considerable investment.

No matter what happens this summer, and next season, both teams can look back on this game with a proud sense of achievement, both of how far they came, and at participating in an incredible game of football. Would we take the same final again next season? I know I could definitely sit down and enjoy a third instalment of these two heavyweights in years to come.

Real Talk Football

Friday, 27 May 2011

UEFA Champions League Final 2011

The line-up for the Champions League final has been confirmed for the past two weeks, and Wembley stadium is all set to host the two biggest clubs in the world, for the most coveted prize in football.

On the 28th May Manchester United will take on FC Barcelona in North London, both teams vying for their fourth European Cup.

There are lots of exciting match ups all over the pitch, including: Xavi and Iniesta vs. Manchester United’s two or three man midfield. Ferdinand and Vidic vs. Messi, Villa and Pedro. Seeing how pantomime villain Segio Busquets handles the movement and creativeness of Wayne Rooney. Even in form striker Javier Hernandez against Barcelona icon Charles Puyol.

It’s intriguing, and the list could go on forever. No one is doubting that this is the best final available, and the two top teams in the world, with one of the greatest managers of all time against a steady rising manager, who is on his own path to etching his name into Football folk law as one of the greatest of all time already.

The main protagonist for Barcelona this season, as usual, has been the World Player of the Year Lionel Messi. His goal scoring record in the Champions League tells only half the story of his influence on this Barcelona side. He has hit 11 goals in 11 Champions League appearances, but his all round performances have driven this Barcelona side forward.

The 23 year old has 49 goals in all competitions this season, coming from 51 appearances. The man who joined Barcelona aged just 13 years old from Argentinean side Newell’s Old Boys, after Barcelona had taken the youngster from the poverty ridden streets of Rosario, took him to Europe, and paid all his expensive medical bills (due to him being diagnosed growth hormone deficiency and threatened to halt his career) in order for him to sign with the club.

He was seen as one of the brightest talents in World football, and he has repaid Barcelona back in kind, with him not only considered as the best in the world, but he's establishing himself as one of the best players of all time.

Already with 5 La Liga titles, 4 Spanish Super Cups, 2 UEFA Champions League medals, a UEFA Super Cup, a Copa Del Rey and a FIFA Club World Cup under his belt, not to mention over 40 individual accolades, Messi is could undoubtedly be the difference maker on the grandest stage.

The main men for Manchester United have been Goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar and Centre-back Nemanja Vidic. These two have played 8 of the 12 possible Champions League, helping them achieve the best defensive record in the tournament, only conceding 3 goals. In those eight games, Manchester United have kept six away clean sheets, making them the first ever team to do so, and subsequently Sir Alex Ferguson’s side have not conceded away from home all competition.

Van Der Sar has previous in this competition, winning the title in 1995 with Ajax, and was a runner-up a year later with the Dutch club. He of course won it in 08’ with Manchester United, saving Nicolas Anelka’s penalty in the shoot out and collecting his second Champions League title. A year later, he was between the posts for the 2009 final 2-0 defeat to Barcelona.

Two time winner, two time runner up. Will is be third time lucky, or unlucky?

Club captain; Nemanja Vidic has been a focal point of the Man United back four for the past four years. He is widely considered as one of the best Centre-backs in the world, and will be playing in his third Champions League final with the Red Devils.

Vidic plied his trade in Russia with Spartak Moscow after establishing himself through the Serbian Red Star Belgrade youth system, turning him into a no nonsense one man wall who takes no prisoners on the football pitch. By any means necessary, Nemanja Vidic gets the job done. Sir Alex Ferguson lamented defensive mistakes as the clubs downfall in their last Champions League final, and he will need to be at the top of his game if he is to stop this free flowing Barcelona attacking side.

The Line-up

Now, there are three major questions regarding the two line ups on this game.

Firstly, whether Darren Fletcher is fit enough for this game. The news today was that he trained away from the main group of players, with the likes of Bebe and Obertan, so there is real talk of him being on the bench for this game. So my pick would be Giggs, Carrick and Park as a three in midfield, with Valenica on the right, Rooney dropping from the forward position to play slightly left, and the explosive Hernandez up front. Fabio gets my shout at right back ahead of O’Shea.

The second question is whether Rooney and Hernandez will partner each other up front as a pair, or with Rooney playing off the Mexican, and moving to the left, or with Rooney playing as the sole striker and/or Nani playing left wing, or Anderson playing in the centre midfield. So many decisions, I asked four Manchester United fans, and none of them came up with the same staring XI.

The final question mark over this game is regarding Eric Abidal. If Pep Guardiola deems him not ready for this huge game, Puyol will play left back, just as he did so well against Real Madrid. Mascherano has been playing centre back recently, and according to Revista de La Liga, he is expected to partner Gerard Pique, with Busquets’s playing in his more familiar midfield role.

The Stats

Manchester United won their first European Cup in 1968, at Wembley Stadium.

FC Barcelona won their first European Cup in 1992, also at Wembley Stadium. A 21 year old Pep Guardiola, featured in the win. He of course, is now Barcelona manager.

Sir Alex Ferguson will be looking to win his third Champions League title, putting him level with fellow football managing great, Bob Paisley.

Lionel Messi has 11 goals in the Champions League this season; he needs just one more equal Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record for most scored in a single campaign.

Edwin Van Der Sar will be the oldest winner of the Champions League should Manchester United be successful this Saturday, surpassing AC Milan legend Paolo Maldini.

Carlos Puyol will make his 101st Champions League appearances, playing in the final this Saturday.

Whoever wins this game, will win their fourth Champions League title, taking them level with AFC Ajax and FC Bayern Munich.

This is the third straight final featuring two domestic champions. Barcelona won La Liga and Manchester United won the Premiership respectively.

All stats via, and others online sources.

This is Manchester United’s third Champions League final in the last four years, and Barcelona’s third in the last six years. Football biggest competition, is taking place on the biggest stage, Wembley; the home of football, and one of these two brilliant with leave London as the champions of Europe.

Who do you think will win the Champions League Final? Cast your vote in our poll, and leave your predictions below.

Real Talk Football

Monday, 16 May 2011

The Plight of West Ham United

This weekend was a defining moment in the Premier League season, as with one week of matches left to play, West Ham’s slim hopes of hanging onto their Premiership status finally evaporated as Avram Grant’s side surrendered a 2-0 lead, and ended up losing 3-2 to relegation rivals Wigan Athletic. Hence condemning themselves to fall through the trap door and into The Championship. Relegation.

Consequently The Hammers sacked their manager less than an hour after the 3-2 defeat, four months to the day after Avram Grant was expected to be sacked (after the 3-0 defeat to Arsenal and replaced by Martin O’Neill). This was not to be, as O’Neill turned down the opportunity, and the owners left Grant with 14 remaining Premier League games to save West Ham from relegation.

The records for those 14 games were as follows: DWLDWWDLLLLLDL, 3 wins, 4 draws and 7 defeats. It’s fair to say, relegation form.

What caused the Hammers downfall?

For me; an average manager. Avram Grant’s record in the English football; is rather hit and miss. He took over from Jose Mourinho at Chelsea in 2007, and guided to West London club to their first ever Champions League final, which they lost on penalties to Manchester United. They then ended up as runners-up in the Carling Cup final, and ultimately runners-up in the Premiership as well.

Grant was then sacked due to his failings, receiving much criticism from fans, who claimed his side was boring, while Chelsea players were quoted openly criticising Grant’s outdated methods.

After a year away from management, he took over at south coast club Portsmouth, replacing the sacked Paul Hart. Now he was managing a side that had massive amounts of financial trouble, legal wrangling and issues regarding ownership of the club. Despite all this, Grant led Pompey to the FA Cup final, where they were runners-up, losing 2-1 to Chelsea.

Despite the excellent cup run, Pompey finished bottom of the Premier League with 19 points (a 9 point deductions due to administration) and subsequently ended up in The Championship.

Next for Avram, was the West Ham job. He was appointed by new owners David Gold and David Sullivan, who decided to sack fan favourite, the man who saved them from relegation last year; Gianfranco Zola.

Avram Grant struggled to gain the confidence and admiration from West Ham fans, with his lack of tactical knowledge and any sort of game plan was evident at various points throughout the season. Grant seemingly gives off the impression as more of a motivator than a football coach.

Terrible signings in transfer windows

It’s fair to say, all the troubles with West Ham begun when they were overtaken by Eggert Magnusson in 2006. During the Icelandic businessman’s time at the club, he was executive and non-executive during his tenure, and infamously oversaw the signings of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano (which were later deemed illegal due to third party ownerships and the club was fined for).

Players like Julian Faubert, one of the most promising French wide-men in recent years, was converted from a right back, to a right midfielder then back to right back again. He has failed to reach his potential since being at the club, and spelt an ill fainted loan spell at Real Madrid midway through his time at West Ham.

The next name to highlight was Freddie Ljungberg, was one of the worse signings, who was given a four year contract despite his well documented problems, and big wage demands. After one year, this contract was terminated, for a sum believed to be around £6 million.

Kieron Dyer; another injury prone player with big wage demands. According to one source, he earned £83,000 a week, £424,000 a season in image rights, and £100,000 in loyalty fees. During four seasons at the club, he has only played 30 times. Absolute shambles.

Diego Tristan, 3 goals in 14 games, and Davide Di Michele, 4 in 30 games, were brought in for the 2008/09 season and justified their wages helping the club reach 9th place in the league, performing brilliantly under Gianfranco Zola and assistant manager Steve Clarke.

After the fantastic 08/09 season, Gold and Sullivan took over half way through the 2010 season, and this marked the start of a resurgence in West Ham’s problems. Three signings on the last day of the January transfer window displayed a sign of things to come. Benni McCarthy, Ilan and Mido.

Mido was a well known flop on these shores, and was reportedly only paid £1,000 a week. A bargain? Not really, he only played nine games, and didn’t score a single goal.

Ilan came to England with his best year’s way behind him. His goal return was okay, scoring 4 in 11 games, but injuries and open criticism of the manager Gianfranco Zola, it was clear Ilan’s time in England was going to be a short one, and displayed another example of a poor signing backed the West Ham board.

Benni McCarthy was one of the most impressive strikers in Europe during the early 00’s, but his career was in decline during the latter period of his career at Blackburn. At the age of 31, he joined West Ham for £2.5 million and will go down as one of the worst transfers in Premiership history. He racked up just 14 appearances in one year, was persistently fined for being overweight, left out of the 25 man Premier League squad list for this season, and never scored a single goal for the Hammers. He was reportedly paid £38,000 a week, and was on a two and a half year contract. His contracted was terminated in April.

This poor calibre of signings continued this season, such as loan signings Wayne Bridge and Robbie Keane who both failed to make an impression, looked more interested in there bank balance rather than the fate of the club. Subsequently it ended up with the Hammer failing to learn their lesson, and they’ve consequently ended up paying the ultimate price.

Honourable mentions

With Scott Parker winning the Football Writers Player of the Year Award, it’s evident that his sensational performances this season where the only reason the Hammer lasted as long as they did. Parker pretty much carried the team for much of the season, while his inspirational captaincy and work ethic rubbed off on fellow players.

Mark Noble is another player who can hold his head up despite the despair at Upton Park, along with January signing Demba Ba, who has shown he can definitely score goals at this level.

Valon Behrami, Kieron Dyer, Julian Faubert and Luis Boa Morte are all players who will certainly need to be offloaded in order to clear the wage bill.

Matthew Upson, Fredric Piquionne, Demba Ba, Thomas Hitzlsperger, and regrettably Scott Parker are expected to leave the club, as top flight clubs will be interested in this batch.

It remains to be seen whether Robert Green will leave the club, as it seems there may not be a large queue of suitors for the 31 year old as first thought, as his high profile errors have somewhat reduced his value.

The likes of Jonathan Spector, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Zavon Hines, Carlton Cole and Freddie Sears should all stay at the club and prove their worth, not only owing it to the fans but at the very least to themselves.

Finally, the reason this is such a important issue and that big of a disappointment is because West Ham are a club ingrained in proud tradition and football history, and despite not being a main stay in the English top flight, its owed to their great fan base that they are rewarding with an excellent manager who has a point to prove himself and improve the state of affairs at the club, and most importantly take the Hammers back into the Premiership.

As for now, disappointingly for these great West Ham fans, it’s no less that then the clubs owners deserve with their shoddy control of the club.

Who do you think will take over at West Ham? Do you think David Gold and David Sullivan have been detrimental to West Ham’s cause? Leave a comment below and let me know what your thoughts are

Real Talk Football

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Heurelho Gomes – A Part of the North London Goalkeeper Crises

“He’s a great shot-stopper but...”

For Heurelho Gomes, and Tottenham fans, this is an all too familiar phrase used by pundits and even opposition football fans when describing the 30 year old Brazilian. He joins the ever growing list of Premiership goalkeepers, who have made mistakes on the grandest stage, and it seems that the problem for Gomes is, he makes them far too often and the patience of loyal Sours fans has finally run out.

For some goalkeepers, it is a rarity that they make a mistake. Take Pepe Reina for example, the Liverpool keeper scored a calamitous own goal against Arsenal on the first day of the season, and has since gone on to have a faultless season. Manchester United’s instrumental goalkeeper Edwin Van Der Sar made a mistake against West Brom earlier in the season, this my friends, is a collector’s item.

Look no further for a team with highly publicized goalkeeping problems than North London rivals; Arsenal. They’ve had so many issues with that goalkeeper position this season; they’ve used five different ‘keepers. Lukasz Fabianski was the number one, but injury saw his season end prematurely and young Polish stopper Wojciech Szczęsny, then was seen as the great new hope, took the vacancy. However injury slowed his season, as well as the huge mistake in the Carling Cup final defeat to Birmingham help put a black mark on his claim for the number one shirt. Manuel Almunia hasn’t looked the same player as he was two seasons ago, and is on par with Gomes in terms of mistakes in important matches. Last but not least is Jens Lehmann, who put down his slippers and cigar, came out of retirement and answered Wenger’s call, and added his experienced presence to the Arsenal dressing room and even managed to play a game.

It’s no coincidence that Arsenal have missed out on “four” trophies this season, Tottenham got spanked and dumped out of the Champions League, missing out on fourth place as well, that the goalkeepers of each respective club taking the flack for most of the disappointment.

And it’s no coincidence that both Harry Redknapp and Arsene Wenger will both be vying for a new goalkeeper this summer, no matter how many sympathetic words they have directed to their prospective number ones.

Is Gomes as bad as people have been making out? I mean Brazil has a history of eccentric goalkeepers, prone to big mistakes, yet sensation shot stoppers. Flapping at crosses, yet displaying excellent reflexes and agility. Hélton of FC Porto is a good example, as well as AC Milan legend Dida. Both brilliant shot stoppers, but prone to mistakes at the highest level.

The pressure definitely seems to affects Gomes, when he’s under the cosh; it seems he folds all too easily and ends up spilling a ball into the net.

Against Blackpool he goes from zero to hero, then back to hero in the matter of minutes, saving a penalty and then conceding one moments later from the resorting corner. Against Real Madrid he is at fault for letting a tame Ronaldo shot past him, in both legs of the Champions League quarter final. He rolled the ball out against Manchester United, hoping to take a free kick; Nani took the ball amidst all the confusion and put the ball in the net. He made two big mistakes against Chelsea this season, one against Drogba, and most memorably against a soft Frank Lampard shot which he fumbled past him into the net. He’s let a 25 yard shot from Ashley Young squirm under him, given away a ridiculous penalty against Udinese, and even fumble a Fulham cross into his own net. The list goes on and on.

Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp recently stated that Gomes will be his number one until the end of the season; however a “back” injury was the supposed reason for his exclusion from the Champions League decider against Manchester City, in which Italian Carlo Cudicini impressed, his performance was seen as breath of fresh air, and made you wonder why on earth this man warms the bench!?

Cudicini was thrown into the starting XI, to make his first Premiership start in four and a half months. He was as impressive as we all remember; turning back the clock and giving the kind of performance he gave on numerous occasions during his time at Chelsea. Despite the 1-0 defeat where he was beaten by a Peter Crouch own goal, Cudicini was lauded.

The only set back for Cudicini becoming in his quest to be the undisputed number one, is that he is turning 38 in September, and it seems he has one more season left in him at the most as the Spurs reserve ‘keeper. It also appears that Redknapp see’s him as the back-up goalkeeper anyhow, and while he is never one to shy away from the transfer market, will look to sign a new goalkeeper in the summer.

Names such as Ben Foster, Shay Given and Marten Stekelenburg have all been linked; because Gomes’ mistakes have been deemed far too costly, and even the fans have had enough.

One thing’s for sure; it will not only be Sir Alex Ferguson shopping around Europe and looking for a new, first class goalkeeper this season.

Who do you think Spurs should sign this summer? Do you think they should stick with Gomes? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think

Remember to follow me on twitter @RealTalkFB

Real Talk Football

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Zlatan Ibrahimović - Great or Overrated?

This weekend, Serie A round 36 commenced in Italy, on a warm spring evening in Rome, AC Milan took on AS Roma knowing that thanks to their hefty eight point cushion between them and closest rivals Internazionale, just a solitary point was all they needed to take away from the Stadio Olympico in order to wrap up their first Serie A title in seven years.

Milan went on to draw 0-0 with Roma, completing their task in very Italian fashion, doing all that's necessary in order to ascertain the result. This point gave them a 9 point lead ahead of rivals Inter, and subsequently wrapped up their 18th Scudetto.

The match itself was an entertaining spectacle with standout performances from Roma defender Juan, and AC Milan goalkeeper Christian Abbiati, who made very important saves during the 90 minutes.

However one of the most impressive stat to come out of Milan's triumph was that 29 year old striker Zlatan Ibrahimović becomes the first player to win eight league titles in a row and more impressively he has done it with five different clubs (four if you’re excluding the Juventus scandal). A phenomenal achievement.

Ibrahimović is quintessentially one of those players who if he is playing against your club, you hate him, or if he’s playing for your club, you love him!

Another interesting note is that Ibrahimović seemingly gets no admiration from Football pundits, legends or fans outside of Italy, Sweden or Holland. Some fans believe he's "a lazy individual", a "showboat" or "one trick pony" and fans fail to take a shine to the Swedish, mainly because of his arrogance. Alternatively, some fans believe him to be one of the best strikers in the world, and his ability, and medals tally supports this theory.

They say that in order for a striker to be considered great, they must have a degree of selfishness, arrogance and of course the ability. Zlatan has these three elements in abundance, as well as the titles to back this.

Ibrahimović is two inches shorter then Peter Crouch (6ft 5in), but isn't slow by any stretch of the imagination, as he has acceleration, pace and a fantastic balance. He has great shooting technique, power and can ping the ball with either feet. A man with his height, of course is great in the air, but has great flair and dribbling technique with the ball on the ground. Finally his control and first touch are second to none, and his technique is astounding. For me, he has all this ability and is almost the complete striker.

His talismanic influence on the clubs he has been at, is testament to how much of a quality player he is. Since turning professional aged 18, at the time playing for his local side Malmö in Sweden, he has gone on won 16 major honours with four/five different clubs (Ajax, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan and Juventus; if you’re counting the Calciopoli incident). He has also won 16 individuals titles since turning professional.

Since Ibrahimović left AFC Ajax in 2004, in a spell that was littered with controversy (having a pair of scissors thrown at him by team mate Mido) and the brilliance. Subsequently the Dutch giants haven't won an Eredivisie title since then. Of course Ajax will win another league title, but the influence of Ibrahimović in that side, lead them to winning the title was undeniable.

At Juventus he won two Serie A titles, which were consequently revoked due to the Calciopoli match fixing scandal. Nothing of which, was to do with Ibrahimović surely? Absolutely not. He still went on to the field week in, week out, notching up 26 goals in 91 games over two seasons. His change of play changed, and was more of an attacker rather than an out and out striker.

At the start of 2006/07 season, he joined Inter Milan, and despite the lack of competition due the bans handed out by the Italian Football Federation due to the Calciopoli scandal, Inter Milan won three titles in a row with Ibrahimović leading the line.

His excellent performances for Inter Milan caught the attention of Barcelona, who was looking for that central striker to play as part of their three pronged attack. So he joined in a transfer worth around €66 million in exchange for Samuel Eto’o and Alexander Hleb, plus a transfer fee.

He was widely criticized during his time at FC Barcelona, despite scoring 16 goals in his first season and the winner in El Clasico. He won five trophies in one calendar year. Barcelona was a juggernaut and was unstoppable at the time, and Ibra was unlucky not to win the Champions League trophy.

After his 13 month stay in Spain, his relationship with manager Pep Guardiola declined, twined with criticism from the press and fans, he left him seeking a new home.

So he took his bag full of medals, and jetted back to Italy, some would say his second home. He joined AC Milan on a season long loan with an agreed transfer of €24million.

AC Milan hadn't won a title since the 2003/4 season, and boss Massimiliano Allegri brought in the big guns, Robinho on loan from Manchester City, Antonio Cassano from Sampdoria and of course Ibrahimović from Barcelona.

Milan lead from pretty much the start of the season, and Ibrahimović was inspired form, adding to his array of sensational goals and assists. He’s leading the clubs goal scoring chart this season with 20 goals in 40 appearances (with two games remaining). A stimulating signing, which gave the desired results and Milan’s first piece of silverware since 2007.

Over his career, his transfers have totalled at a sum of more than €138million. He has scored a believed 200 goals in 429 appearances. He has also won 66 caps for Sweden scoring 25 goals, and is the national team captain.

Here is his list of awards:

- Eredivisie 2001/02, 2003/04
- KNVB Cup 2001/02
- Johan Cruijff Shield 2003

Inter Milan
- Serie A 2006/07, 2007/08, 2008/09
- SuperCoppa Italiana 2006, 2008

- La Liga 2009/10
- Supercopa de Espana 2009, 2010
- UEFA Super Cup 2009
- FIFA Club World Cup 2009

AC Milan
- Serie A 2010/11

- Serie A 2004/05, 2005/06 (both revoked)

If you think I’m overrating the Swedish international, then I'd advise just taking 10 minutes to check out some of his unbelievable goals. I guarantee that if you’re sitting on the fence in your opinion over Ibrahimović, then your opinion will alter to either to joining the masses the either loving or hating Ibrahimović.

Either way, Ibrahimović’s track record, the facts, figures and footage of his goals prove that he is great player, and the matter of whether he is overrated, is surely a matter of opinion.

What are your thoughts on “The Magician”? Do you think his criticism is justified? Do you think he is a great player, or just one who was at the right club at the right time? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think

Real Talk Football