Monday, May 19, 2008

Carsley leaves Toffees

Everton have released midfielder Lee Carsley after he turned down a new deal at Goodison Park.

Carsley's contract was due to expire this summer and the Republic of Ireland international has decided against extending his stay on Merseyside.

The tough-tackling midfielder has decided to leave to move closer to his Midlands home and his family with Birmingham and Derby both thought to be keen on signing him.

Toffees boss David Moyes paid tribute to Carsley for his contribution to the club during his time at Goodison Park.

"I'd like to thank Lee Carsley for his years at Everton Football Club. He has undoubtedly been a big part in our success in the last few seasons," Moyes told the club's official website.

"Lee feels he now needs to be closer to his family and everyone at the club fully appreciates that.


"We'd like to thank him he's been a fantastic player on and off the field and he goes with my best wishes and we wish him all the best in the future."

Moyes has been linked with a move for Bordeaux's Alou Diarra as a replacement for Carsley.

Diarra is a former Liverpool player who never made a first-team appearance at Anfield, but he has since established himself as a French international.

Everton could face a battle to sign Diarra with Bordeaux able to offer the player the chance to play in the UEFA Champions League next season.

Real play down Ronnie talk

Bernd Schuster has revealed that he has no intention of launching a summer raid for Cristiano Ronaldo.

The Real Madrid boss insists that he would rather spend his time chasing more realistic transfer targets, as he admits that there is little chance of luring the Portuguese ace away from Manchester United.

Real have been strongly linked with the Red Devils winger in the past, and were even believed to be weighing up the possibility of making a record-breaking £100million move during the close season.

However, with Ronaldo tied into a five-year contract at Old Trafford, and Sir Alex Ferguson unlikely to listen to any offers for his prized asset, Schuster accepts his Primera Division champions will be forced to look elsewhere for new faces.


"I would like to have a lot of players," he said.

"But I don't think that it is possible that Cristiano Ronaldo will be with us.

"I don't waste time on these things. I think about who could come and not on speculation.

"We are going to look at what we need and then see."

Laporta - Ronnie must go

Barcelona president Joan Laporta feels that Ronaldinho needs to leave the club if he is to revive his career.

The Brazilian has struggled for form and fitness this season and has not played for Barca since the loss to Villarreal in early March.

He looked set to move on from Camp Nou in the summer but Milan have not yet been able to agree a fee with Barcelona.

Laporta has admitted that it might be difficult to sell Ronaldinho but he feels it is important for the 28-year-old to start afresh somewhere else.

"He needs a new challenge," Laporta told Catalan television station TV3.

"When a cycle finishes it is normal that the most emblematic pieces also come to an end.

"I would like Ronaldinho to be given a great send-off so that he is remembered for all he has given us and that if he didn't do any more it was because the circumstances wouldn't allow it."


Laporta also accepts there is a strong possibility of striker Samuel Eto'o leaving the club this summer.

Eto'o has been a key figure at Barca since joining the club in 2004 but he has been linked with a number of clubs including Tottenham.

"Eto'o is a player who is loyal to the club colours, who gives so much and who makes you love him," said Laporta.

"He has also been one of the most emblematic players of this cycle and if he has to go then he deserves to do so with his head held high too, and with honour."

No thoughts of Jose

Josep Guardiola will take over as manager from Frank Rijkaard this summer and Laporta insists he was Barca's first choice.

Jose Mourinho was linked with the role but Laporta maintains that neither he nor Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez would have suited the club.

He explained: "We decided that if Frank did not continue then we would choose Guardiola because Pep possessed the necessary humility.

"We didn't think about coaches like Mourinho or Benitez, who are both great coaches, but they aren't right for Barcelona.

"So we told Rijkaard that when he left Guardiola would take his place."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

FA Cup glory for Pompey

Portsmouth ended their long wait for a second FA Cup victory as they defeated Cardiff 1-0 in the final at Wembley on Saturday.

Both Premier League outfit Pompey and their Championship opponents, Cardiff, went into the 127th cup final hoping to follow up previous respective successes in 1939 and 1927.

And it was Pompey who etched their name in the record books for the second time as a solitary first half strike from Nwankwo Kanu proved too much for Cardiff.

The series of dramatic shocks and giant-killings in this term's competition has done much to restore the nostalgic magic of the FA Cup following the 13-year domination of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.

Pompey and the Bluebirds, though, served up an inevitably tense finale as Kanu's goal proved to be the conclusion to the tournament and booked a place in next season's Uefa Cup.


Ahead of kick-off there was heartbreak for veteran striker Robbie Fowler, who has been battling for fitness following hip surgery, as Cardiff manager Dave Jones opted to leave the 33-year-old out of his squad.

Pompey boss Harry Redknapp, who had never previously appeared in a cup final in over 40 years as a player and a manager, named David James in goal following his recovery from a calf problem.

And former Arsenal centre-back Sol Campbell - a two-time cup winner - started after a hamstring injury, while Kanu operated as a lone frontman in the absence of cup-tied forward Jermain Defoe.

The magnitude of a final appearance was more than evident in a scrappy opening but it was Cardiff who enjoyed the better of possession, despite failing to truly threaten James.

Heavy rain ahead of kick-off made intricate passing a difficult task, but it remained Cardiff who looked the most likely to break the deadlock as James saved well from Paul Parry and Peter Whittingham dragged a half-volley wide.

However, Portsmouth then began to find their feet as Sulley Muntari floated a free-kick into the danger area and as Cardiff shot-stopper Peter Enckelman flapped, Sylvain Distin and Kanu failed to convert.

And shortly after Kanu should again have done better as he jinked round a nervous looking Enckelman with trademark quick feet, only to somehow prod his effort against the upright.

Proceedings then returned to a fashion similar to the tight opening half-an-hour with only a tame Pedro Mendes volley, which was gathered by Enckelman, calling either goalkeeper into action.

However, on 37 minutes Portsmouth had their goal as Enckelman again fumbled a low John Utaka cross at the near post and Kanu banished the memory of his earlier miss as the Nigerian reacted the quickest to poke in a volley from close range.

Almost immediately, Cardiff had the opportunity to respond as Parry broke down the left, but his far post cross asked too much of Kevin McNaughton, who could only deflect wide.


With the first half personal address system announcement of one minute added time still echoing around a sold-out Wembley, Cardiff thought they had drawn level as Glenn Loovens hooked in at a corner after James had spilled, but referee Mike Dean correctly spotted that the Dutch defender had used a hand to control the ball.

Soon after the interval, Portsmouth could have doubled their advantage as Utaka raced onto an excellent Niko Kranjcar back heel to centre from the left, but Kanu saw his goal-bound effort deflected wide by Loovens.

Portsmouth began to dominate and Jones recognised his side were losing the battle as he introduced Aaron Ramsey in place of Whittingham in an attempt to threaten in midfield.

Highly-rated winger and semi-final goalscoring hero Joe Ledley appeared Cardiff's best outlet as the 21-year-old's pace visibly troubled Pompey, but James remained a spectator.

Redknapp then opted to shuffle his hand as he replaced Utaka with striker David Nugent and Pompey looked to kill the game off, while Cardiff responded by replacing the ineffective Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with Steve Thompson.

Nugent almost justified his appearance with 20 minutes remaining as he latched onto a long ball from Muntari to warm the palms of Enckelman.

Papa Bouba Diop then earned a cup final appearance as he came on in place of Mendes as Pompy attempted to shut up shop, but soon after Cardiff had their best chance of the half as Loovens nodded just over the bar at a corner.

Loovens' header, though, was to be as close as Cardiff came as Pompey centre-back Distin surged forward from defence and came close to adding a second late on.

But Kanu's goal proved enough to end a 69-year wait for FA Cup glory at Fratton Park as captain Campbell lifted the trophy.

Cristiano Ronaldo - Impossible is Nothing - 07-08 Season

Friday, May 16, 2008

Comment: The Most Underrated Players

Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Kaka, Fernando Torres, Ronaldinho, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Luca Toni, Cesc Fabregas and many more are considered the best footballers in the world. Currently, they are highly rated, highly paid and highly respected and without any doubt deserve this applause.

All of the above mentioned are in top form, with top clubs and in total control of their game. Let’s have a look at those players who are equally excellent as the above mentioned superstars but don’t get their due share as they often go unnoticed. Here’s a list of the most underrated or unsung heroes.

Ricardo Quaresma (Porto and Portugal)

If we have a debate as to who the most underrated player is certainly Quaresma’s name is the first to come to mind. The Portuguese winger would play alongside Cristiano Ronaldo at Sporting Lisbon and took his career in the right direction by moving to Barcelona in ’04.

Destiny wasn’t on his side as he couldn’t find his feet in Spain scoring a single goal in 22 appearances which was followed by a foot injury. This was followed by a move back to homeland as he joined Porto FC and since then hasn’t looked back. He has been a magnificent performer with all the tricks in his bag. His super ball control coupled with the capability to score crucial goals has made him the best player in the Portuguese Super Liga.

Playing a major role in Porto’s three title triumphs in as many seasons, Quaresma was named the Portuguese Footballer of the Year in ’05 and ’06 and won the Portuguese Golden Ball last year. This season too, he was a primary reason for Porto’s dominance in the league. Despite such a bright CV, he hasn’t been receiving much applause though recently Real Madrid did show an interest. Personally, I feel Quaresma should use a bigger stage to prove his talent by moving to some of the English, Italian or Spanish giants.

Michael Carrick (Manchester United and England)

An influential holding midfielder and could be said the backbone of United’s midfield. Alert, creative and one of fittest player on the squad but is overshadowed in the presence of Ronaldo, Hargreaves and Scholes. Everything’s right for him – good club, good teammates except for a round of ovation.

Juninho Pernambucano (Lyon and Braziil)

The Brazilian known as the best player not to start for his national team deserves much more credit. Described as one of the most feared strikers from the dead ball situation, Juninho has scored from 36 freekicks for Lyon since ’01. He was never in the limelight and neither drew attention of a European giant in spite of having led Lyon to six straight titles. Juninho is on course with Lyon to win the seventh title and this leaved little doubts in the minds of the reader of him being an underrated player.

Martin Petrov (Manchester City and Bulgaria)

One of the main players responsible for the revival of Manchester City this season, the Bulgarian has quickly adapted to English life. He was easily City’s best player with the maximum assists and five goals to his credit. Don’t you think he deserves much more than a Manchester City?

Andres Iniesta (Barcelona and Spain)

Coming from Barcelona’s youth system, the 23 year old is an exciting player who creates plenty for his mates and scores decisive goals. The presence of Deco, Henry, Messi and Eto’o often lives him in the dark. A few claps for his lively and energetic football would do no harm.

Juan Roman Riquelme (Boca Juniors and Argentina)

This Argentinean has won the FIFA World Youth Chamoionship U-20 in ’97 and was named the South American Player of the Year in ’01. Riquelme was even nominated for the World Player of the Year Award in ’05 and ’06. The midfielder has had a nu8mber of twists in his career after successfully starting out with Boca Juniors. At Barcelona, he was troubled with some family problems and soon moved to Villarreal where he excelled like never before.

He was Yellow Submarines most valuable player and guided them to the Champions League semifinals where they lost to Arsenal. He is Argentina’s creative brain but never got the reward he deserved.

Clichy: I'll 'Leave My Mark'

Mathieu Flamini has already left Highbury for the apparently brighter pastures of AC Milan, while Alex Hleb is strongly tipped to follow him to Italy in the coming weeks.

Full-back Gael Clichy, though, is keen to stem the exodus by inking a two-year contract extension.

Furthermore, the 22-year-old Frenchman wants to create his own Gunners legacy like Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry and predicts big things for Arsenal in the future.

He told the Sun: "We're talking about a further two years and we're at the end of our discussions.

"Everything's going well because my intention is clear - I want to stay at Arsenal.

"I respect Mathieu's choice - AC Milan isn't an opportunity that comes around often.

"But because someone is leaving does not mean I'm going to follow them.

"Even if it's possible to experience great things elsewhere, I am persuaded that with our team we can go very, very far.

"I would love to have a career here like Patrick Vieira or Thierry Henry, to stay many years at Arsenal and leave my mark on the club.

"I've been in London for five years. If everything goes well I will stay here for at least eight years."

Manchester United Target Miguel

The British club are reportedly keen on bolstering their defensive options, with the arrival of a new right-sided defender being a longtime wish of boss Alex Ferguson.

Although Manchester United's number one transfer target was said to be José Bosingwa, Chelsea's quick move for the 25-year-old has made the Scottish veteran turn his attention to the Valencia man.

And Miguel, who has been a first-team choice since moving from Benfica in 2005, has not ruled out a summer transfer despite saying that he is happy with life at Los Che.

Valencia are reportedly going through a financial crisis, and since off-loading some of their main stars seems to be their only option, they should not hinder a lucrative offer for Miguel.

It is understood that a fee of €15 million will be enough to persuade Valencia to allow the Portuguese player, who will be at Euro 2008, to go to Old Trafford.

Man Utd Target Cardiff Prodigy Ramsey

Talented Cardiff youngster Aaron Ramsey is the subject of interest from newly-crowned Premier League champions Manchester United, according to reports.

The tenage prodigy is due to play at Wembley in the FA Cup final against Portsmouth on Saturday, and widely tipped to be named in John Toshack's next Wales squad for the first time, with international matches against Iceland and Holland on the horizon.

According to some reports, talks are already underway between United and the Bluebirds, but the teenager himself is keeping his feet firmly on Welsh ground.

Ramsey said, "The media stories don’t affect me whatsoever. Obviously I hear about it, I just don’t take any notice.

"Everyone wants to play in the Premiership. It’s probably the best league in the world. But I’m a Cardiff player and I just concentrate on doing my best for the club. I’m just focused on getting into the starting XI this weekend and trying to win the FA Cup."

"People close to me help me keep my feet on the ground. But I’m not the sort of person who will take much notice anyway. I’m level-headed, so I don’t let these sort of things affect me."

Harry Redknapp, manager of Cardiff's opponents, Portsmouth, in the FA Cup final, commented: "Aaron is a very special player, make no mistake about that. He is going to go to one of the big four at some stage of his career.

"There is no question about it that he is of that quality."

Barça And Ronaldinho Ready to Conclude Milan Deal

The Brazilian superstar's future has been hangining in the balance for several months and all parties now want a resolution to be pushed through, according to Sport.

Milan have made the offer of €25m, which is short of the amount Barça wanted but should be enough to see the Blaugrana accept that the move has to go through for the benefit of all concerned.

Manchester City met Barcelona's €30m evaluation of the player, but Ronaldinho stated that he has not desire to go and play in England while Milan are so interested.

It is believed that the player and his family have all become used to the idea that they will be moving to Milan in the summer and are preparing for that and will meet Milan director Adriano Galliani when he jets into Barcelona early next week.

A salary of €9m net awaits Ronaldinho because Milan will have to compensate him for losing his contract for Nike, who are not happy that he is signing for a club sponsored by Adidas, stories in Italy suggest.

The four-year contract on the table will see the 28-year-old able to play and work his way towards appearing at the 2010 World Cup Finals, which will be his last.

Ronaldinho has been excluded from the current Brazil squad by Dunga, however, with the coach not choosing to call up the troubled forward for the four encounters that the team have in the next month.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Zidane: Real Madrid Deserve To Be Champions

Los Merengues were crowned campeones for the second successive year following a vintage season at the top of La Liga. Barcelona hardly posed any real threat to Los Blancos' title ambitions and it was almost a stroll winning the championship.

Zidane believes it was thoroughly deserved and he congratulated the players.

“It’s only right that Real are champions of La Liga, they deserve it,” Zidane told Marca.

“I called them up to congratulate them as soon as they became champions.

“Having played at Real Madrid, I will always keep them in my heart and I am glad for my former team mates.”

Zidane played for Real Madrid between 2001 and 2006 and he became the most expensive player in history when he signed for them from Juventus.

He scored 37 goals in 155 appearances for Los Blancos and he will be remembered for his spectacular volley in the 2002 Champions League final against Bayer Leverkusen.

Big Phil: Ronaldo Simply The Best

Debate on whether the polarizing Manchester United megastar really is the best on the planet never fails to rouse the emotions, but for the coach of Portugal there is no debate.

"According to me, Ronaldo is the best player in the world," boomed Scolari.

"And I hope that he will not just be the best with Manchester United, but also with the national side during Euro.

"Ronaldo has come on a lot as not only a player, but also and especially as a human being.

"However, the national side is not just dependant on Cristiano Ronaldo. If that was the case it would hardly be worth playing in the finals," added the Brazilian, who is desperate to bring success to his adopted country during the big show in Switzerland and Austria this summer.

Ronaldo has amassed an astounding 41 goals during what has been a glorious season for United, but arguably has never quite managed to fulfill his potential on the international stage.

Eto'o: I Want To Play In England

The Cameroon international hasn't had his best season - despite a decent scoring rate - and has recently become frustrated not only with Barcelona's failure to win silverware for the second season in a row, but treatment from the fans.

Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur have been linked with the player, and he has revealed that he would enjoy playing in the Premier League. The timing of this statement is quite ominous, and the former Real Mallorca and Real Madrid man may well be making a move this summer.

“The Premier League is very good,” Eto’o told Sky Sports.

“The English league is of a very high standard and to play there would be fantastic.

“I would love to be the top-scorer there because I am a top level player and I can play well in any country.”

Reports in Italy suggested that Juventus were willing to do a swap deal with Barcelona and offer the Camp Nou side David Trezeguet plus cash for Eto’o.

However, it seems as if the La Liga striker has his eyes set firmly on the Premier League should he leave Spain.

The Blaugrana have had a poor season, and new manager Josep Guardiola is looking to rebuild this summer. That, of course, will involve keeping key players and allowing others to leave. Where Eto'o finds himself amidst this madness remains to be seen.

Skills Show

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Man Utd Celebration from ON the pitch - Closest view

Cech rejects move rumours

Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech has dismissed reports linking him with a move away from Stamford Bridge.

Reports have suggested Cech could be on the move after his agent claimed a mystery club was prepared to £32million for the Czech Republic international.

However, Cech has moved quickly to rubbish the speculation and says he expects to hold talks over extending his contract with Chelsea.


"Contrary to numerous press stories over the last couple of days, I would like to make it very clear to the Chelsea fans that I have no plans to leave the club," Cech told the club's official website.

"My sole focus at the moment is next week's Champions League Final and then the Euros.

"I am very happy at Chelsea. I still have two years left on my contract and I believe the club will sit down with my representatives at the appropriate time to discuss an extension of my current contract."

Fergie faces Euro headache

Sir Alex Ferguson admits that he has some tough decisions to make ahead of the UEFA Champions League final.

The Manchester United boss has the luxury of a fully fit squad to choose from heading into a Moscow showdown with Chelsea on 21st May, live on Sky Sports 1.

Ferguson accepts that some of his players are going to be left disappointed, but knows that having everyone available increases the Red Devils' chances of claiming a domestic and European double.


"I'm travelling to Moscow with 26 fit players, that's unheard of in my time," he tols Sky Sports News.

"But it gives us an incredible chance.

"It makes it difficult for me. I think picking the team will be easier than picking the substitutes.

"I'm going to have to leave some fantastic players out of the squad completely next week, which I won't enjoy doing, but something has to be done."


Having already wrapped up a tenth Premier League title, Ferguson admits that it is time the club began exerting the same kind of dominance in continental competition.

"When you see that Real Madrid have got nine (Champions League) trophies, AC Milan I think have seven or eight, Liverpool have five, Bayern Munich and Ajax four apiece, that's the kind of record we should really have," he said.

"I think that's the one thing which should drive us all on."

Eriksson linked to Mexico

Sven Goran Eriksson could be in line to become the next manager of the Mexico.

Reports on Spanish CNN suggest that the Manchester City boss has already agreed terms with the Latin American country and will be installed as the successor to Hugo Sanchez, after the legendary former striker was fired from the post in March.

However, the director of the Mexican national team Gillermo Cantu has dismissed the rumours and insists that caretaker coach Jesus Ramirez will remain in charge for the foreseeable future.

Best option

"At the last board meeting it was decided that the appointment of a new coach would be handled with care, and we are still working on getting the best option as soon as possible," he said.

"I can also confirm that, despite what has been said, Jesus Ramirez will be on the bench for the upcoming matches against Belize. Nothing has changed.

"In addition, what has been said on television has not been repeated on any other international network, most of all England and Portugal, so for the moment we do not know where this has come from."

Ronaldo rejects Real talk

Cristiano Ronaldo has played down fresh rumours linking him with a possible move to Real Madrid saying he is at the right club in Manchester United.

The Portuguese wizard has been continually linked with a move to Real with recent reports suggesting Ronaldo was open to a move to the El Santiago Bernabeu.

Real sources are believed to have been encouraged in their pursuit of the player after reportedly receiving feeback from Ronaldo's representatives that he would consider a move away from United.

However, Ronaldo has moved quickly to rubbish those suggestions saying he has no plans to leave Old Trafford.

"I'm at the right club, playing with the right players and I learn things all the time," Ronaldo told MUTV.


"That's what great about being at United. I improve all the time and I want to improve every season. I think I'm a better player now than five years ago.

"This season has been a great one for me - I've scored a lot of goals, the team have played very well and we're champions. It's amazing."

Ronaldo, who was inspirational in United's road to the Premier League title, spoke of his delight at winning the league.


"It's a great feeling to win the league - I don't have the words to describe how it feels to be champions, it's amazing," added Ronaldo.

"I didn't think it would go to the final day of the season, but to be honest the feeling is better [to win on the last day].

"When the ref blew the final whistle it was brilliant. We've worked hard for nine months and I feel very proud to be champions."

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wigan vs Manchester United 0-2 | English Premier League

Chelsea vs Bolton 1-1 | English Premier League

Sunderland vs Arsenal 0-1 | English Premier League

Tottenham vs Liverpool 0-2 | English Premier League

Arsenal despair as first Flamini and now maybe Hleb leave the Emirates. Who will be next?

Arsenal fans will be reading their newspapers this morning with a mixture of confusion and despair.

Following the sale of Mathieu Flamini to AC Milan earlier this week, there are very strong rumours that Alexander Hleb is likely to leave The Emirates and head to Italy as well, signing for Inter.

In the Daily Mail this morning, Emmanuel Adebayor is quoted as saying, “Pay up, or I’m off.” He is said to be demanding eighty thousand pounds a week in order to stay.

Real Madrid have made it clear that they will do all they can to lure Cesc Fabrigas to the Bernabau this summer. Fabrigas has said he is happy at Arsenal but will he remain so if Flamini and Hleb and maybe Adebayor all jump ship?

Over the past couple of weeks, when asked if he would be investing in the transfer market, Arsene Wenger has said that his biggest challenge would be to keep his current squad together. It is now clear what he meant, and it seems that he might not be able to meet that challenge.

Arsenal’s season blew up in Wenger’s face when a run of only two wins in eleven games saw their challenge for both the Premier League and the Champions League fall apart, when they had been in a great position to win both just a few weeks earlier. The question has to be asked now what came first? Did the run of poor form cause unrest, or did the unrest cause the poor form?

We shall probably not know the answer to that question until somebody writes an autobiography and tells us what went on behind the scenes. One person who did write about their time at Arsenal was England left back Ashley Cole, or Cashley Cole as he is now known. In his book he explained that the main reason he left Arsenal was because he felt he was worth sixty-thousand pounds a week and Arsenal offered him only the ‘insulting amount’ of fifty-five thousand. I’m not surprised he left! Fifty-five thousand a week is hardly worth getting out of bed for! That extra five thousand a week would have kept him out of the poverty trap!

Famously Arsenal do not ‘spend big’ in the transfer market and they do not pay the same levels of ridiculous wages that some of the other clubs do. It could be that this policy will backfire on them as their best players look to go elsewhere.

So, why do these players want to leave? We are often told by players and pundits that ‘it isn’t about the money’. We are told that players want to be challenged and to play at the highest level. They want to go as far as they can in the game and the money is secondary.

I’ve always questioned this view and the current goings-on at The Emirates would suggest that I am absolutely right to do so.

Which league in Europe is the top league to play in at the moment? Yes, that’s right, the English Premier League. Which country is most likely to produce the teams that compete in the latter stages of the premier European competition? Yes, England again. Which teams are almost certain to be battling for the honours, domestically and Internationally in England? The big four of course, which very much includes the Gunners.

So if Flamini, Hleb and maybe Adebayor and Fabrigas want to challenge themselves at the highest possible level in Europe, why would they want to move elsewhere? It can only be for one of two reasons. Either the atmosphere at the Emirates is so terrible that they need to get away, or, more likely, they are going purely for the money.

Flamini has moved to Milan who are by no means certain of a place in next season’s Champions League. How can that possibly be a career enhancing move? Hleb is talking about Inter who were easily disposed of by a Liverpool team who have finished some way behind Arsenal in the League. Career enhancing? I don’t think so.

The players are maybe just going where the money is, which is probably why so many overseas stars are playing in England already. The big clubs in Europe have seen the success being achieved by the English game and the English clubs and are now offering even sillier money to attract the best players. Whilst we talk about greed and lack of loyalty, we should maybe put ourselves in the shoes of the players.

I write for Soccer News and I am a very loyal person. If another organisation offered me a ridiculous amount of money to write for them and leave Soccer News, would I take the moral high ground and turn it down through loyalty? Think about who you work for. If a similar company offered you twice the salary to do the same job, would you not jump at the chance?

Maybe we are all a bit naïve to think that footballers should show a higher level of loyalty than the rest of us would be likely to do.

The only thing against the argument I have put forward is the fact that these guys are already earning sixty-thousand pounds a week! Just how much money can you spend? Surely, if you are already financially secure for the rest of your life, you would be looking to test yourself at the highest possible level.

For some reason, these players do not seem to feel that they are getting what they need at Arsenal. Is it purely financial greed or is there something more sinister behind what is going on?

Manchester Uniteds' debt,analysed

The author is a financial analyst.

It has been some time that people have been talking about a financial crisis in-the-making at Old Trafford. There are also those who insist we are already seeing one. The team, however, is doing extremely well on the pitch. That suggests, at least from a financial point of view (perhaps not conclusively though), that players are happy with their wages. After all, the club spent 74m on wages and salaries in 2006-07 (majority of which must have gone to players).

Even football clubs like Manchester United can hardly rely on money from T-shirts, posters or footballs – they really have to sell football – in the ground and on the TV. For Manchester United that makes up ¾ of their revenue which is showing excellent growth (30% year-on-year). Compared to previous year, the administration has done a great job in keeping a lid on operating expenses (despite the widespread belief that Manchester United uses a Russian cheque book too). The club has grown from a position of gross loss (persistent gross loss is an outright indicator of a failed business model) to a modest gross profit.

This is all good. But here comes a mighty financial challenge (note: I do not want to carelessly use the word “crisis”). The club incurred financial costs of 81m. That is more than what the club has paid the people who make this club – the ground staff, administration and of course players. This is, at least in an academic sense, a highly inefficient and unsustainable cost structure. But there are worse and more practical issues here.

Despite closing the acquisition transaction in the preceding year, the club incurred more debt and re-profiled existing loans this year. Pricing that Manchester United has received from financiers is not going to make things any easier. And given the deteriorating financial health of the club, overall credit tightening and the very nature of the risk financial institutions have taken on red devil’s football, finance costs will only increase.

If you doubt that then there is one simple explanation I can give.

The collateral offered to financial institutions is 425m of “first fixed and floating charge over fixed assets”. A charge is a piece of paper that gives legal claim to bankers over collateral in an event of default. But Manchester United only has 252m of tangible assets, the rest are largely intangible. In other words, this acquisition exposes banks more than Glazers themselves. The Glazers simply bought the club on bankers’ wallet, and if push comes to shove, they will handover the “soccer club” to banks, endure manageable loss, swim back home and watch “football clubs” play in America. Now wouldn’t a bank squeeze every penny out of Manchester United after taking such a risk on it?

Let us say, my view so far has been very subjective. Then let us look at some crisp objective facts. Financial institutions do not like to keep their credit lines evergreen for corporate customers unless the business model is one of low risk (e.g. a heavily regulated power utility). One day all banks will ask Manchester United to repay the principal amount which currently stands at 666m.

A very dirty (read: conservative) multiple of debt-to-free cash flow (using current figures for both debt and free cash flow) stands easily above 25x! This is too high, even with all the grace period in debt maturity schedule. Going forward, this multiple must come down or the club will be at mercy of financial institutions (whether or not they agree to rollover). What are the possible ways of doing it?

Stop piling more debt - not possible until the club makes enough operating income to at least repay its finance costs i.e. interest cover above 1x. Currently, this ratio stands at 0.23x.
Continue to post solid revenue growth e.g. at least at least 15-odd % each year. Keep up the branding. Media money is all about that. There is a reason why TV in Malaysia will not pay 2 cents for covering a Derby match.
Win competitions. Duh!
Become more efficient i.e. increase its operating margin. The current 9-odd % is not going to work.
Buy like Wenger, not like Abramovich. The club does not have financial liberty as many would think.
A 194m accumulated loss on the balance sheet has reduced Glazer’s equity to only 80m (year-on-year 42% decline). This is alarming. Imagine, if loss in financial year 2008 is going to be anything above 80m (2006 loss: 135m; and let us say, Glazers don’t bring in more money from America), the club will have negative equity. In English that means bankruptcy for Manchester United where banks are involved. For clubs where no banks are involved, and Russians are involved, negative equity does not matter because the owner pays for his hobby, not the banks.

Even in the beginning of the article I clearly said, this is a challenge and not a crisis. One has to understand the buyout of Manchester United. These leveraged acquisitions, a couple of years back when things were not as bad, were in fashion. Financial institutions make good money in these. Where time is merciful enough to pan things out more or less the same way as those Excel sheets suggested in investment banks when the deals are struck, the equity investors (like Glazers) in these deals make money for their generations to come.

But huge risks are involved. There are too many assumptions, from the club itself to the economy at large. If you ask me in a nutshell if Manchester United is heading for a serious financial crisis – I will say it is not so certain at the moment. Glazers should really kneel down and thank the outstanding team and some great fans who continue to buy season tickets despite $120+ crude oil and a terribly confused Brown-Darling-King tripod.

The greatest positive surrounding all of this is the debt profile – the club does not really repay any principal in the next 5 years. That is a good breathing space. But even then, for this Glazer deal to let Manchester United live, this club needs to grow really badly. Did not we all think Manchester United is an enormous club? Size is relative. You are only as big as your debt makes you look.

Barcelona humiliated in Madrid

Real Madrid celebrated their 31st Liga in style by thumping rivals Barcelona 4-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu. This will have to go down as the most one-sided clasico since Ronaldinho destroyed Madrid’s defence in November 2005. How times have changed since then. Ronaldinho is only in the news now for his off the field antics, while Madrid have formed a solid compact unit that has won La Liga at a canter.

The Barcelona players suffered the shame of having to applaud their rivals onto the pitch, but by the end of the night this humiliation was nothing compared to what they experienced over 90 minutes. from the beginning Diarra, Sneijder and Gago ruled the midfield and even Leo Messi was kept completely out of the game as Barça’s midfield players struggled to connect with the forwards.

Raul put Madrid in front in the 13th minute after Guti had exchanged passes with Sneijder, Marquez challenged Guti but the ball broke free to Raul who whipped in a low shot past Valdes. Barça appealed for a foul by Guti on Marquez but the referee Perez Burrull was having none of it. If Barça had complaints about the first goal, they were incensed by the second. The ref blew a foul after a blatant dive by Sergio Ramos in front of Abidal. Barça were so disturbed by the decision that they forgot to mark Arjen Robben who was free to head home Guti’s free kick.

Frank Rijkaard then decided to put on the young Mexican, Giovani Dos Santos, in place of Gudjohnsen and Barça switched to a 4-2-4 system which only helped Madrid to dominate more easily. Guti and Robben had efforts saved by Valdes before half time. At the break Sylvinho came on for Rafa Marquez and Eric Abidal switched to centre back, but Madrid were now threatening to run riot.Diarra forced another save from Valdes in the 53rd minute and soon after Sylvinho made a last ditch intervention to prevent Marcelo from scoring. Sylvinho was injured making the tackle and had to be replaced by Edmilson.

In the 60th minute Ramos had a shot cleared off the line by Xavi after Valdes failed to hold a corner, but shortly after Diarra made a great run down the left before setting up Higuain who had just come on for Robben, and with his first touch he beat Valdes to make it 3-0. Marcelo nearly made it four soon after but this time Valdes came to the rescue with a fine save.

Messi made his first decent run in the 71st minute but Bojan wasted the chance created. Schuster then decided to reward Raul by taking him off to a standing ovation and Van Nistlerooy came on in his place. Withion a minute Puyol was penalized for handball in the area, although it seemed a clear case of self defence, and Van Nistlerooy stepped forward to make it 4-0 from the spot.

As the Bernabeu chanted for five, Leo Messi came alive with two fantastic runs that brought fine save from Iker Casillas, then in the 87th minute Messi threaded a pass through to Henry who finally beat Casillas for a consolation goal. In injury time Xavi chose his moment to tell Perez Burrull exactly what he thought of his decision making and was duly sent off. It was a shame the ref was so bad because Madrid thoroughly deserved the win and with a little more luck could easily have won the game 6-0 or 7-0. The day after the game Barça’s president Joan Laporta confirmed that Pep Guardiola will take over from Frank Rijkaard as first team coach for next season.

Meanwhile, Villarreal guaranteed themselves second place and automatic qualification for next season’s Champions League with a 0-2 win at Recreativo, Nihat and Guille Franco scoring the goals. Atletico Madrid made a big step towards the Champions League when goals from Agüero and Forlan gave them a 0-2 victory at Espanyol. While Sevilla kept up their challenge with a 0-3 win at Racing Santander with two goals from Fazio and a third from Renato.

At the other end of the table things are looking bad for Osasuna after they lost 2-1 at Mallorca. Güiza scored again for Mallorca before Portillo gave Osasuna some hope, but Valero scored Mallorca’s winner in injury time. Osasuna are level on points with Recreativo, and one point above them is Zaragoza who went down 1-0 at Valencia through a goal from David Silva. Valladolid are still in danger after their 1-1 draw at Betis, Mark Gonzalez put the home team in front but Victor equalized for Valladolid.

Valencia and Getafe are almost safe now after their victories. Getafe came from 0-2 down to beat Almeria 4-2, Crusat and Paunovic scored first for Almeria before Albin, Del Moral, twice, and Granero turned the game around for Getafe.

In the other games this week the already relegated Murcia lost 1-2 at home to Atletic Bilbao, and bottom club Levante went down 1-0 at Deportivo. Levante’s players made a protest for having not been paid in months, and when Deportivo kicked off the Levante players all stood together at the centre circle and did not move. Depor’s forward Sergio took the ball towards the empty goal before deliberately shooting wide to loud applause from the crowd.

Top Six: Real Madrid 81, Villarreal 71, Barcelona 64, Atletico Madrid 61, Sevilla 58, Racing 56.

Bottom Six: Valladolid 43, Zaragoza 41, Recreativo 40, Osasuna 40, Murcia 30, Levante 26.

Top Scorers: Güiza 25, Luis Fabiano 23, Raul 18, Agüero 18, Nihat 18.

Mr woo again

Mr woo amazing freestyle

Ronaldo my season my style