Monday, 27 August 2012

You win nothing with kids?

With all the excitement surrounding clinical Dutchman Robin Van Persie, Manchester United’s fellow newest recruit, one of the most promising talents in the English game, has almost been completely forgotten about...
The name Nick Powell is one that the majority of Premier League fans may not be all that familiar with however one aspect of football does recognise it very well indeed...scouts. Such rave reviews appearing for club and country on their behalf have resulted in the Crewe Alexandra starlet to be chased by a number of top-flight clubs.

To the point, he was tipped as one of the most sought-after players in the Football League system!

The England Under-18 international has received much attention not only because of his exemplary vision, composure and natural reading of the game but also as a result of his age. Last season, barely 18 years old, the former Sandbach High Student managed to take one of the English Leagues by storm, with a series of eye-catching performances. Most notably a thumping 30-yard belter against Gillingham and a stunning 25-yard volley in the League 2 play-off final win over Cheltenham, to which inspired the Railwaymen to promotion. In this case, awareness was inevitable, just his second campaign in professional football the attacking midfielder has made over 50 appearances for his boyhood club and represented England at Under-16, U17 and U18 levels, his promise clearly spotted at an early age.

A graduate through his home-town clubs famed academy, run by former manager and current director of football Dario Gradi, Nick Powell has been considered as one of if not the best player to emerge from an ever so successful football school that boasts an impressive history of developing players and simply selling them on, ultimately keeping the club afloat. Crewe supremo, Gradi, has spent almost 30 years with the club to oversee the development of a number of gifted players in his time, producing the likes of David Platt, Danny Murphy, Dean Ashton etc, all of whom switched to greater destinations. However, many especially the teenagers mentor, do not underestimate Powell, they believe the current prized asset is more than capable of surpassing those who have rolled off the club's conveyor belt in the past. In fact, he may well be the most prestigious transfer in the clubs history, a proven match winner, so if anything its best to cash in on their key man as much as they can.

To be honest, given his record for unearthing talent, who could argue with expert Dario Gradi.

Little known to Powell the reputation he had built thus far purely justified mass interest to clinch his signature, adding to a popular scouting trend adopted in recent years. In which, instead of splashing the cash extravagantly at known quantities from overseas, a number of EPL clubs rather invest wisely in highly-rated English teenagers touted as the next big thing. It can be seen most notably with Arsenal (Gibbs, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere, Walcott etc) especially in the case of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain whose progression Nick Powell can take further heart from. The young gunner likewise jumped to the Premier League less than a year after helping Southampton win promotion from League One, a division where brawn often outweighs brains. Though, immediately making headlines, he is priceless inspiration to succeed at the top level, as not only did he find himself starting for Arsenal but also England in their opening group match of Euro 2012 against France, making the transition look simple enough. Though for Nick Powell, as many speak glowingly of his potential, there is arguably no higher praise than the belief he could have the same impact of superstar striker Cristiano Ronaldo, especially when it comes from a world-class manager like Sir Alex Ferguson. In a similar situation the Portuguese captain was also 18 when he joined United from Sporting Lisbon back in 2003, with what he personally managed to achieve nothing short of remarkable. Let’s just say after his world-record £80m transfer to Spanish giants Real Madrid three summers ago, Cristiano Ronaldo is now deemed to be one of the greatest players in world no pressure.

A challenge worth rising to...The next Cristiano Ronaldo, Sir Alex Ferguson thinks so...

The Gunners may well have been the Red Devils biggest threat in landing teenage prodigy Nick Powell but it has long been United boss Sir Alex Ferguson’s practice to spot, capture and integrate gifted youngsters to his squad. A reputation still left untouchable, as the firm favourites, Manchester United, wasted no time releasing a statement confirming Powell had passed a medical, penned a four-year contract for an undisclosed fee to join the Premier League giants commencing July 2012. It’s a typical United transfer – a player with undoubted talent, has vast potential to improve and who’s value could easily rocket in the future, so a genuine reason for long-term optimism. Fergie and his coaching team are undoubtedly keen to work with the player closely as soon as possible. In addition, under his watchful eye, Fergie has found a raw talent with a desired combination. Not only does Nick Powell like to dictate matches in the hole just as superstar striker Wayne Rooney but also orchestrate play and act as the catalyst behind attacks rather than the beneficiary like midfield maestro Paul Scholes. So it’s not hard to understand why Sir Alex Ferguson kept tabs on the teenage sensation, determined and decisive during negotiations, it appears the Scot has faith in the teenage sensation to help secure the clubs future, as big as that is.

As the nation’s hottest prospect the name Nick Powell is therefore certainly one to remember!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Is ‘Super Shinji’ more than just a ‘shirt seller’?

As Manchester United seal the deal to sign Japanese rising star Shinji Kagawa the ever expected conspiracy theories begin to emerge that he is purely a shirt seller. The transfer arrives shortly after the Red Devils revealed they had almost doubled their global fan base in the past five years to reach 659 million followers in which Asia serves approximately 325 million of those. The lucrative Asian market holds a host of wealthy countries who frequently track football due to its enormous financial potential in terms of selling merchandise and building a brand. So Manchester United is not only a big football club but also amongst the biggest global brands in the world, already supported by 10 per cent of the worldwide population as its merchandise annually fetches many millions. There’s no doubt Kagawa’s switch to Old Trafford reaps in huge financial benefits as the next big thing is a major celebrity in his home country, so will surely excite the huge Asian fan base. A club of Manchester United’s stature may not need to capture such players for market access but by landing their first Japanese player it surely enables a long-running Asian commercial plan to only advance.

Any new player that the Red Devils capture from the Far East will almost likely raise questions of whether he has solely been bought to boost shirt sales as an iconic figure. This was evident following the arrival of South Korean international Park Ji-Sung from PSV Eindhoven back in 2005 who was initially damned a ‘trophy’ signing, a marketing tool to help sell jerseys. Then again, in Korea it is reported that 29 million out of 49 million are Manchester United fans and Park’s popularity is one of the main reasons for that, though Shinji Kagawa has done more than enough during his two seasons in Germany to avoid the same fate of Park. However it won’t help that part of the club’s summer tour takes them to Asia for pre-season training, even if the destination is actually China and not Japan, they will merely certify themselves as a household name.

United’s newest recruit follows the footsteps of four other Japanese players signed by a Premier league club (Junichi Inamoto, Kazuyuki Toda, Hidetoshi Nakata and Ryo Miyaichi), all of which deliver commercial value yet have failed to make a stamp in the English game, only inviting Shinji Kagawa to prove his worth on the big stage...

He certainly exceeded what was expected once joining German champions Borussia Dortmund from second division, Japanese side, Cerezo Osaka for a relatively small fee in 2010. As the Japanese international quickly played an integral role in Dortmund’s rise to the top of German football, back to back championships were down to his outstanding creative performances. Such instrumental contributions had him named in the Bundesliga Best XI despite spending the majority of his debut season on the sidelines with a broken metatarsal sustained on international duty. The Japanese ace was just as good in the following campaign with the absence of the teams biggest sensation, Mario Gotze, due to injury, he stepped up to the mark in empathic fashion to become the league’s most efficient and best attacking midfielder. During his two seasons he recorded 29 goals, 15 assists in just 70 appearances so boasts an impressive playmaking record that will only be built upon once arriving at Old Trafford as a true champion. The Bundesliga is one of the toughest leagues in Europe to win so having conquered Germany there is nothing to suggest Kagawa will need more time to get accustomed with English football.  
The Kobe born attacking midfielder’s game appears better suited to the EPL anyway so will surely thrive to help United reclaim the title amongst other reinforced squads. In such a prestigious league he will showcase vast football intelligence, creative instinct and lighting quick reactions that have arguably enabled him to become the best Japanese player in Europe. Shinji Kagawa is a phenomenally talented player that Manchester United do not have amongst their current crop in the centre of the field, his vision, trickery and eye for goal would prove to be a vital imaginative presence. The midfield was the main position the Red Devils struggled with last season due to such lacklustre performances though this playmaker can both consistently create and score goals to form a lethal partnership with talismanic striker Wayne Rooney. At the moment, at the prime of his career, Kagawa has promise to bring the best out of his team-mates, capable of linking the midfield and attack from playing either wide or in a more central role as aided by positional smarts.
Not only will he inject youth, pace and natural flair to United’s midfield but also offer tremendous defensive capabilities, instantly pressing the ball with an incredible energetic work rate. A marquee signing such as Kagawa would boost the team’s morale, gel effectively and make strong contributions to signify a strong statement of intent to compete. What's more under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson there isn’t a doubt Shinji Kagawa, 23, will become world class material as handed the weighty No.7 shirt he will soon be the name on everybody’s lips!

Monday, 4 June 2012

Hulk Has Hopes High

Next season we may see one of Europe’s hottest young talents take the Barclays Premier League by storm. It’s no surprise Givanildo Vieira de Souza, also known as Hulk, has been linked with almost every top football side the world has to offer as he rather quickly grabs attention and stimulates interest of onlookers. Once this Brazilian international exploded onto the football map, initially in Japan before moving to Portuguese side FC Porto in 2008, his name may have raised a few eyebrows but his attributes have had jaws dropping ever since. As the nickname suggests not only does Hulk have immense strength supported by his stocky build but incredible speed and dazzling skill along with an absolute bullet of a left foot shot striking fear in the eyes of goalkeepers. As demonstrated by his statistics, in the last two seasons alone he has been in impeccable form, scoring 57 goals, providing 36 assists in 91 appearances, simply a goal machine. In addition he is packed with creativity, capable of tactically pulling defenders out of their positions as he persistently flies across the field in order to create space for his team mates to take advantage. This new found deadly consistency has officially made Hulk one of the world’s most wanted attackers, an instrumental figure with some truly magnificent performances for Porto in their success of the Portuguese Primeira League title, the Portuguese Cup and the UEFA Europa League. With his agent stating he will definitely be moving this summer it’s about time this class act made a step up to one of Europe’s biggest clubs...

A player of Hulk’s ability would surely become a huge hit in the EPL. So perhaps the news that the UEFA Champions League winners Chelsea have agreed a £38m deal to sign the striker comes less of a surprise. Although subject to confirmation there is little doubt Stamford Bridge will be home to the exciting prospect sometime soon, a player who has long been in their sights. Although having a hefty price tag, this man-mountain of striker is worth every penny as when he receives the ball great things can happen like his agent Theodoro Fonseca states:
“For any club, Hulk provides goals, pleasure and titles and those are priceless.”
So it would be a wise decision from the Blues if they were to capture a player of this quality, as he can certainly provide that missing spark, ready to make an impact in a more prestigious league. The Porto sensation would prove to be a great asset to the club by potentially driving them forward into the top four again, as he excels on either wing and as the main striker, a nightmare for defenders. He would ultimately be part of a dangerous Chelsea attack, adding serious firepower this marquee signing will partner fellow winger Juan Mata to deliver more pace and attacking prowess to the field of play. The powerhouse of Hulk has the capability of scoring from anywhere, he tends to cut inside and find space to unleash a rocket before burning defenders down the sideline, a true playmaker. The West London side look set to have a strong team heading into the 2012/13 season, the offensive midfield trio of Hulk, Eden Hazard and Mata will shape a formidable threat and may give frustrated Spanish star Fernando Torres better supply in the hope he will rediscover his goal scoring form.

Summer signings like these often prove a club means business in which Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich has made it perfectly clear with a serious statement of intent. In total this mega signature has Chelsea’s summer spending spree at the 80m mark as they have already snapped up Belgian star Eden Hazard for £32m and German international Marko Marin for £8m with many more great names expected to join the club. Despite their Champions League triumph there is a plan to rejuvenate the ageing squad, after finishing sixth in the League last season they are in need of a vital boost on and off the field. The Blues are yet to appoint a manager on a permanent basis, though former Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola remains the ideal candidate the future of interim manager Roberto Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to two titles, is still unclear.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Hero or Villain?

What do you do with a player that has bags of potential but also pockets full of attitude? One week he scores an emphatic winner the next his maverick actions see him sent off. With more entertaining tabloid stories than performances on the pitch. But locked and loaded with a talent to be admired. Do you let them play or call it a day?

Well I present to you... Mario Balotelli. 

Currently playing with the Premier League’s big money spenders, Manchester City, this Italian forward is blessed with pace, strength and ... oh attitude. It’s no argument that ‘Super Mario’ provides a great source of entertainment both on and off the pitch. Acquired with a skill to both delight but also infuriate fans and football managers. He’s a rare breed that can have you changing your opinion from one game to the next. However apart from all this lies a unique talent packed with creativity, determination and promise to be a complete forward.
This talented yet controversial striker gets enough criticism but little praise (even though he doesn’t help it). A look at why he’s a highly regarded footballer should be highlighted...
Within his early career, immense technical ability earned Mario Balotelli first team football quite frankly everywhere. It didn’t take long before Italian giants Inter Milan, gained interest and put pen to paper with the prodigy. He made his first team debut for Inter Milan at only 17 in a championship final. Though it was the season of 2008 which saw him capture people’s attention, scoring two great goals against Juventus in the Italian Cup, the media went crazy praising his “phenomenal” skills. Within the Coppa Italia, he bagged 4 goals resulting in the top scorer (well joint with Cruz and Iaquinta). His first Champions League goal against, bare with me, Anorthosis Famagusta of Cyprus made Mario Balotelli the youngest player to ever score in the competition. At 18 years and 85 days he beat the previous record set by Obafemi Martins (remember him?). The quick success gained huge praise while at Inter, his unique characteristic of scoring as well as making goals, had many comparing him to the likes of Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane!

Fast forward a few scraps, stories and actual years we see ‘Super Mario’ rightfully leaving Inter to be reunited with former boss Roberto Mancini. Settling together again at multi-millionaire football club Manchester City. It’s fair to say his time so far at the Etihad has been a rollercoaster, from scoring incredible goals, named man of the match and City’s new threat to countless suspensions, attitude strops and tabloid stories. His trait seems to be score then get sent off, perform sublime skill then commit violent conduct, most of the time leaving his team in a right pickle. Even though the fiery striker has had a mixed time so far with English Football, Roberto Mancini has continued to back Balotelli to deliver the goods. I mean he did win the Golden Boy Award (best young player in Europe). Last season he notably helped City lift the FA Cup after 35 years, he led the attack and played an instrumental part rewarded with man of the match several times. Skip a few more months, we see the Italian scoring left, right and centre, proving to be on fire right now (still having time to taunt fans).
In conclusion, Mario Balotelli is a footballer that can divide opinions across the game, either one of the hottest young strikers around or he has us waiting for self destruct mode. You may disagree but he has the capability to become the worlds very best and Italy’s future sensation. We don’t need another pantomime villain, that role’s nailed by El Hadji Diouf. If he realises the gifts he posses, the strengths that make him stick out (agility, speed and power) then there is no doubting a top class striker will rise and shine. (As long as he stay’s clear of the mafia, bibs, stops flaunting his wealth, taunting fans, using the line ‘Because I can’ and never does a back heel shot again that is).
A phenomenal talent but overshadowed with a varied temperament. I leave you with the wise words of one Marcello Lippi to base you final view though.
Balotelli is too immature, cocky, and inexperienced, and although he has all these defects, he still seems to be Italy’s brightest young star for the future”.