Sunday, July 31, 2011

Join The INFTH I Know The Score League

talksport.jpg (635×374)In case you haven't heard, Premier League I Know The Score has a new home. Instead of being featured on the official Premier League site, it is now run by British sport radio gurus Talksport.

To join the official INFTH mini-league visit this link, and create an account. Next, type in the code F778B-IOC and you should be set to go.

We look forward to competing with you!

The Chairman will publish his predictions for the weekend of Premier League football every Thursday/Friday.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Bradley The Victim Of The States' Search For Stars

klinsmann0zm.jpg (400×266)Over his five year tenure, Bob Bradley did little wrong. He managed to steer a team currently ranked thirtieth in the World into the World Cup's Round of Sixteen, in addition to taking them to four major finals. No, what Bob Bradley did wrong was that he was always Bob Bradley; a college coach who had done nothing more remarkable than engineer one silver lined season in Major League Soccer

While Bradley coached university teams at the NCAA tournament, his replacement was busy winning World Cups, playing professionally for Bayern Munich and scoring goals in the Champions League. In short, Jurgen Klinsmann was always a star, Bob Bradley was never one.

Americans like stars. From the fifty embroidered onto their national flag, to the name of New York's first Major League Soccer side, it is clear that there is something about the mystical bodies which enchants citizens of the US. They love sports stars too. As part of  Major League Soccer's attempt to popularize their product, they brought in stars, namely, Thierry Henry and David Beckham. In coaching too, the United States have sought stars; Ruud Gullit the prime example.

And now, for the first time, they have transmitted their love of stars to the national side. Mind you, it's not the first time they've tried, Klinsmann had already turned down the job at least once in the years preceding yesterday's announcement. Americans infatuation with stars has led them to convince themselves that they are what is needed to succeed and, in certain ways, they are right. The United States is unique in the fact that when it comes to football, the men in charge have a dual agenda. While nations like England only have to worry about hiring the best man for the job, US Soccer must make sure that the man they hire is both qualified, and capable of improving the soccer brand. Handsome, charming and talented as a player, Klinsmann is the perfect man to further US Soccer's hidden goal. Bradley, bald and boring, just wasn't.

From the beginning Sunil Gulati knew that Bob Bradley was only ever going to be a stopgap, a placeholder as US Soccer searched for a more suitable replacement. Sure he made mistakes; unable to prevent his team from giving up two goal leads on two separate occasions in major finals, and making a vital error in his starting line-up against Ghana. But he has had successes; organizing his team well to grind out a point against England, leading them through to a 2-0 victory over Spain and inspiring a team of youngsters to the 2009 Gold Cup final. However, whatever his achievements or lack thereof, an excuse to sack Bradley would always have been found. Gulati didn't care what Bradley achieved, he only noticed the name, noticed that it was not Jurgen Klinsmann.

As Klinsmann prepares to start his third major coaching appointment, he is lucky in that the road ahead has plenty of room for error. Doubtless, the United States will reach World Cup 2014, and as the next continental tournament doesn't decided Confederations Cup qualification, not until Brazil will the German really be tested. Klinsmann has proved in the past that he has what it takes to inspire a team at a World Cup, though his achievement in 2006 comes with the disclaimer of the competition's location.

In taking over the United States' national team, Klinsmann has taken on the responsibility not just of managing a consistent World Cup qualifier, but of learning about a new league and a new footballing culture. The organization of Major League Soccer disrespects international play, and Jurgen Klinsmann must learn to both accept and navigate around that obstacle.

Over the next three years, all eyes will be on Jurgen Klinsmann. He is the latest in a long line of sporting stars in America, what he does in the future will decide whether or not he retains that status.

Friday, July 29, 2011

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 1 and 2

cristiano_ronaldo_2011.jpg (173×222)2. Cristiano Ronaldo- And so, we have arrived. After counting down for the best part of two months, the series that began the Monday after Barcelona's Champions League triumph concludes here. Not many will be surprised by the final two placings, but nevertheless, there confirmation needs to be made official.

2010/11 was another landmark individual season for Cristiano Ronaldo. Forty goals in the league made Ronaldo the Pichichi winner for 2011, as he surpassed Telmo Zarra to become the La Liga's record single campaign goal scorer. With fifty-three overral, Ronaldo was equally effective in Europe, bagging six in the Champions League and a further seven in the Copa Del Rey.

Hair slicked back, arrogant and petulant as always, Ronaldo enjoyed his most productive season ever last year. However, the Portuguese international took home just a single trophy - and only a minor one at that.

Next year, Ronaldo hopes to finally pip Messi to the game's major honors, something which is certainly easier said than done. Messi has the advantage of possibly the finest support cast of all time, while Ronaldo is left to constantly adjust to the fickle fancies of Florentino Perez.

Lionel-MESSI-balon-d-or-2011.jpg (402×266)1. Lionel Messi- So here he is. The soon to be three time Ballon D'Or winner is INFTH's best player too. Congratualtions, Lionel Messi.

There are few positive descriptors that haven't been applied to Messi over the past year. He is a multi dimensional attacker, the quintissenital modern player; a goalscorer and a creator. With fifty three goals in all competitions, Messi's record is actually marginally worse than Ronaldo's, as he took fifty-five games to get his goals, while Ronaldo took only fifty-four.

However, where Messi stands ahead of Ronaldo is in the haul of trophies that both he and Barca claimed last year; a Champions League at Wembley, and a third straight Spanish league crown.

Despite all his achievements, and the scale of those is unquestionable, Messi was unable to make an impact on the international stage this summer. The little Argentine has failed to score in his last two international tournaments, and I for one sorely hope that those failures don't tarnish the eventual memory of a man who should certainly be regarded as one of the best of all time.

Messi is the best player in the World, and not many would argue with that.

Read more by David Yaffe-Bellany at EPL Talk

Thursday, July 28, 2011

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 3 and 4 Andres Iniesta- Of the top five spots, three and four were the hardest to differentiate. There were only two candidates to decide between, unfortunately, they were a pair so inseparable, that ranks four and three came down to a coin flip.

Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta have won quite a lot over the last few years; two midfielders with varying styles, they are the heartbeat of FC Barcelona.

While Xavi prefers to play the passes from deep, Iniesta works in a more advanced role, either down the center or cutting in from the wing. Since scoring a last minute equalizer at Stamford Bridge in 2009, Iniesta has developed a penchant for finding the net when in matters most; Holland certainly know how Chelsea felt in '09...

Iniesta is not the most prolific goalscorer of his generation, but nevertheless, nine goals in all competitions last season seems fairly low for someone playing in arguably the best attacking side of all time. However, no Barcelona midfielder really needs to be hitting upwards of twenty a season, after all, they have a little man upfront who can more than make up for the deficiencies of his colleagues further back...

At age twenty-seven, Andres Iniesta will compete in one more round of international tournaments before retiring, though, with World Cup and European Championship winners medals already in the bag, the pressure for him to deliver will not be unbearable. At Barcelona too, Iniesta has time to secure a few more major titles before calling it a day; though next season is set to herald an even greater challenge from La Liga rivals Real Madrid. Xavi Hernandez- Possibly the most classic example of a regista that the modern game has to offer, Xavi is the man who keeps Barcelona ticking over. With hundreds of completed passes every game, the little Spaniard is a master prober, the ultimate cause of the inevitable frustration felt by sides trying to get the ball off of the Barca midfield.

With three Champions Leagues, a World Cup and a European Championsip, Xavi Hernandez is quite simply the finest deep lying creator that the World has ever seen. His composure on the ball is simply breathtaking, his movement off it even more so and only a fool would ever attempt to close him down. Xavi always has options to either side of him, and always an idea running through his head; some of the passes seem pointless, but all are part of his master plan to break down the opponent.

Some people like to point fingers at Xavi, saying that he doesn't score enough. But Xavi doesn't need to score. He plays in a system reliant on the goalscoring of a front three, not the midfield, and has enjoyed extreme success without ever finding the net more than four times in a season. Xavi's role is not to rack up impressive statistics himself, but to allow others to do so; a job on the pitch which reflects his own shy personality. Such a shame for the modest Xavi, that people are beginning to pick up on his brilliance!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Premier League Needs Sergio Aguero

The English rarely get on well with Argentinians. There was the Falklands War, the hand of God, Tevez's betrayal, Simeone's acting, the list goes on. However, while one Argentine dominates a sport with very English origins, the creators themselves are left seeking a sprinkle of stardust, seeking it from an Argentine.

It wasn't so long ago that the Premier League was considered the finest league in the World. Default, no question, argument over. It boasted the best players (Ronaldo, Torres, Drogba), its teams dominated Europe and the English national side was enjoying a golden generation. The best coach in the World was making his name in the league, and the best coach of all time was continuing to succeed in it. All was well.

The seeds of unrest though, were sown on a rainy night at the New Wembley. Walking, sheepishly, down the sidelines, was the English national team manager, he had an umbrella in his hand. After all, it was raining. At one point, it looked as though Steve McClaren would be fine, as a cross from the ageless Beckham was converted by six foot seven striker Peter Crouch. Moments later though, the man under the umbrella wilted. Mladen Petric of Hamburg, had made it 3-2 to Croatia. Twenty minutes on and it was over, England's dream of reaching the European Championships had ended, and with it, a period of dominance. No longer was English football the cream of Europe, the Premier League's lofty status was disappearing just as quickly as hopeful premonitions of glory in Switzerland.

Later that same year, an English team would go on to win the Champions League, beating another English team, ironically enough, on penalties. Manchester United were the champions of Europe, Chelsea were the runners up, both were English sides, so in essence, England were still champions of European football. But were they? That very summer heralded the rise of a new footballing dynasty as, in the absence of England, Spain lit up Europe for a month, cruising to glory in Austria and Switzerland. Less than a year later, virtually the same team of players would be at it again, this time in the club setting. And most importantly, this time against an English team.'s 2-0 win over Manchester United was important in two respects. First of all, it represented the gulf which had emerged between the best in Spain and the best of the rest, and secondly, it was Cristiano Ronaldo's final game for Manchester United. As Barca left United to wallow in their misery, so did Ronaldo, off to the new footballing Mecca, off to Spain.

At the time it was only hinted at, but over the next months hints would turn into questions, and then questions into answers. Suddenly, no one saw England's top division as a quality platform anymore, no one was interested in the passion, the verve and the excitement of Premier League football. Yes, technique, artistry and invention were the new European fads, spreading just as quickly as fashionable clothing styles across a middle school playground.

Next to leave was Xabi Alonso, fed up with life in Liverpool he moved to Madrid. Then Karim Benzema chose to reject Manchester United, he wanted to go to Spain too. Fabregas wished to leave as well, but Arsenal wouldn't let him. Fast forward a year, and Mascherano had left, reportedly, Rooney wanted to follow him. The message had been successfully conveyed; England was no longer the center of the footballing universe. The Premier League's time had ended. It had been a little more than just Andy Warhol's "fifteen minutes of fame," but nevertheless, it would be a fallacy to claim that the league's time atop the footballing mountain was anything more than a stint.

Entering this latest edition of the Premier League, England is still behind. Spain is the premier destination, Barca the world's best club side, and the Spanish national team now, indisputably top of the pile. But there is hope yet. The money infused into Manchester City in September 2008 continues to mature, as does the ambition of its owners. City want more than ever to be the team that breaks Spain's dominance, and financed by an army of Arabs, they have the funds to do it.

In the cut throat world of transfer market dealings, or simply mercato, as it is called in Italian, any scrap, any lead is of the utmost value. Well, City seem to have found their scrap, one willing to forfeit the sun of Madrid for the rain of Manchester. His name is Sergio Aguero. He is Argentine, and he recently outperformed Messi at an international tournament (though then again, so did everyone else who bothered to show up). He was part of an Atletico Madrid side which triumphed over English opposition in the Europa League two years ago. He sleeps with Maradona's daughter.

With his silky skills and jet black hair, Sergio "Kun" Aguero could yet be the savior of English football. He has an aura of excitement about him, a sort of swagger, similar to that of Ronaldo, and there is no doubt that he is one of the World's most sought after talents. However, he was willing to move to England. He was willing to move to a foreign country, speaking a foreign language, and try his luck. In short, he was willing to do what so many stars have been unwilling to do over the past few years. He was willing to join the Premier League.

Whether or not Sergio Aguero rises to prominence in the way that he is expected to, only time will tell. He has big boots to fill in Carlos Tevez, and even greater expectations; ones which are direct products of the favorable reputation he garnered while playing in Spain. Aguero will be expected by the English press, to not only produce the odd, sporadic moment of genius, but also to grind it with the minnows, to perform just as well at home to United, as he does away to Bolton, on a cold, rainy Tuesday. It was with the latter requirement that Robinho failed so miserably, and for the sake of the Premier League, fans must hope that Aguero's path is more successful than that of his fellow South American. Aguero needed to move to competitive a club, but unwittingly, he has fulfilled a much greater need. Perhaps even more than Aguero needs City, the Premier League needs him.

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 5 and 6

5. Nemanja Vidic- Always solid, always dependable, Nemanja Vidic is an absolute rock. One of the most physically intimidating players of modern times, Vidic is consistently impressive at the heart of United's defense.

One of Alex Ferguson's greatest ever signings, Vidic is terrific in the air and menacing in the tackle; an all around top defender.

At the other end of the pitch too, Vidic is a force to be reckoned with, he averages almost five goals a season in all competitions, and usually, they're all with his head.

Vidic's greatest achievement of the last few years though, has been his consistent adaptability. The second spot in United's central defense is rotated around, as Rio Ferdinand is no longer fit enough to play every game. Whether his partner be Smalling, Brown, Ferdinand, Evans or O'Shea, Vidic is always on top of his game- fully committed, a fabulous captain.

4. Pedro Rodriguez- The man Barca fans used to call 'Pedrito' due to his small stature, only started playing at the highest level at the end of 2009. Since then, he has won virtually everything, a World Cup for Spain, a Champions League for Barca, and a few league titles to boot.

Last year, alongside Lionel Messi and David Villa, Pedro started nearly every game for Barcelona, forming an attacking triumvirate to rival the best of all time. Twenty-two goals in all competitions speaks for itself, as does the opener at Wembley, against Manchester United.

Always lively, always ready to receive the ball, Pedro wears down defender through sheer persistence, and is excellent at punishing the smallest error.

Next year, he will face quite a battle to retain a starting berth at Barca, a certain Alexis Sanchez has recently signed for the Catalans, and he will have his eye on a place alongside Messi and Villa.

Links Of The Day: July 27th, 2011

Uli Hesse talks nicknames

Jim White on bad boy Balotelli

Lanky Guy breaks down a classic match

A statistical look at Arturo Vidal

Heinze's move to Roma

As always, feel free to comment with your favorite links.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

INFTH Book Review: Forza Italia

Ian Rush once described life in Italy as "like living in a foreign country." Though the statement appears idiotic on the exterior, with due consideration it reveals itself as possibly the most accurate reflection ever made. Living in Italy is like living in a foreign country, and Forza Italia is a story of that very life, a story of an Irish immigrant who faced all the same perils as Ian Rush, albeit as a football reporter, rather than a player.

Perhaps though, the autobiographical element, an over obsession with life in this foreign country, is the book's major flaw; one that tarnishes what could have been an incredible work. Having lived and worked in Italy for nigh on twenty years, there is no doubt that few men are better equipped to write a book about Italian football than Paddy Agnew, yet, after emerging from the pages of Forza Italia, a feeling of disappointment prevails.

Part of this probably has to do with the book's very own identity crisis; it's inability to find a place for itself amidst the smorgasbord of football topics. A thesis it most certainly is not, but neither is it totally autobiographical, nor a history. Forza Italia bites off more than it can chew, it attempts to be everything, every genre, and inevitably, it fails.

Had Agnew simply elected to detail the modern era of Italian football in its entirety, such would have been satisfactory, a comprehensive look at what has been an action-packed time period. However, though Agnew does touch upon 'hot topics' like Silvio Berlusconi, Sven Goran Eriksson and Calciopoli, his writing is continually interrupted with accounts of personal history- anecdotes which are, in all honestly, quite dull.

The book's opening chapter is devoted almost entirely to the writer's cultural adjustment; his struggle for acceptance, money and press credentials. A page or two of this would have been perfect for setting the stage, but a chapter or two is overdoing it- there is only so much of Paddy Agnew's personal life that one can bear hearing about. During his reminiscences, Agnew saturates the reader with pile upon pile of pointless drivel, from discussions of friendly neighbors, to ones of life in an Italian village. To put it bluntly, I don't give a damn where Paddy Agnew's daughter goes to school.

For all its faults, Forza Italia is not a complete failure- when Agnew cares to entertain the reader with thoughts on his own area of expertise, the book improves markedly, and for this particular reviewer, the change in subject prevented abandonment. Yes, when Agnew talks football, he talks about it well, and it is clear that his twenty years in Italy have not been wasted. Hearing an intelligent writer coherently describe the fascinating world of Italian football so well is a privilege to the reader, and I only wish that there had been more of it for me to eulogize.

In terms of thesis too, Agnew excels, explaining how football in Italy reflects the country's culture, merging the beauty of Michelangelo with the cynicism of Machiavelli. Unlike many other football writers, he also manages to paint a realistic, and at times frightening, picture of the country's lower divisions, using extensive interviews with one of football's most unfortunate players to convey the true darkness of life in the darkest reaches of Calcio. Once again though, there just isn't enough of it.

Sporadically brilliant, more than often dull, Forza Italia is a tantalizing read. It combines the mundane with the fascinating- trying to complement what needs not complementing, with drivel that only needs deleting. If ever there were a book in need of a strong minded editor, it is this one.

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 7 and 8

8. David Silva- For many, David Silva's inclusion in the top ten will be seen as ridiculous, a laughable folly on my part, to have him ranked above players like Busquets, Falcao and Villa.

However, Silva is just as worthy a member as any of the top ten, in inspiring City to the Champions League, he did what no other player in the history of Premier Leauge football had ever done. As part of a City team looking to spark a revolution of sorts, Silva was the key man; even more than Tevez, he was the reason for both City's FA Cup triumph, and their ascent into the top four.

Filled with the creative fibers so common among Spanish midfielders of this generation, Silva is a class act, an elegant player, versatile enough to play down the middle or on either wing.

Goals were not his forte last season, but Silva nevertheless had an impact, like so many top class creators, his value goes beyond statisitcs.

Next season, Silva will likely continue to figurehead a team now looking to surpass their achievements of last year, and win the Premier League. Not many would bet againstManchester City and Silva at least coming close.

7. Javier 'Chichartio' Hernandez- Just a few years ago, Javier Hernandez had had enough. Disillusioned by the professional game, Chicharito was ready to retire from professional football. Thank god he changed his mind.

In a game that is all about rises and falls, Chicharito's ascent to the summit of the footballing mountain remains startling- even after signing for United, not much was expected of the Mexican in his first season.

However, expectations were quickly cast aside with regard to "The Little Pea," no one could have expected him to net a header while facing away from the target, and no one could have expected him to score a goal inside a minute, in Manchester United's most important Premier League game of the season.

No, Chicharito was not interested in fulfilling expectations, he was intent on exceeding them, on carving himself a place in the pantheon of great finishers. A poacher to the extreme, Hernandez thrives on goals, and boy oh boy did he see a few of those last year. Starring for both club and country, Chicharito totted up a fair few strikes, twenty for United to be exact, ones which complemented a further seven for Mexico at the Gold Cup.

Chicharito has risen from castaway to iconic figure, from languishing in the Chivas reserves, to starring in the United first team. Assuming his upward trajectory continues, there is no guessing what he might achieve next season.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Balloteli The Victim Must Learn, Or Risk Leaving His Talent Unfulfilled

It was pre season, a tour of the USA, and Balotelli thought that he would have some fun. Through on goal, instead of shooting in an orthodox manner, the enigmatic Italian chose to pull something out of his bag of tricks; a back heel, which for the record, went badly wide. As the youngster strode off, shoulders slumped in the usual arrogant style, it was hard to tell whether he was aware of the tidal wave of rage manifesting itself on the City bench, as Roberto Mancini blew a gasket, maybe even two.

James Milner, in many ways a polar opposite of the player he was about to replace, readied himself on the sideline, preparing to enter for his rebellious colleague. Guilty of nothing more than audacity, Balotelli jogged fitfully off the pitch, steeling himself for the wrath he was about to face. Turns out, Fergie's not the only one in Manchester with a health supply of hairdryers.

Up to this point in the narrative, Balotelli had done very little wrong. Yes, it was foolish to attempt such a trick in a dangerous attacking position, but the game was an exhibition, a platform to exhibit skill and artistry, not to mindlessly conform to a norm set by the draconian teachings of a manager who has lost the flair which made him so notable as a player.

But then, the ugly side of Balotelli reared it's head, the side that led to his fall out with Mourinho and the side that continues to create havoc in the Manchester City dressing room. A controversial figure,  Balotelli needed a low key pre season, but his reaction upon leaving the field insured that he will enter the new campaign amidst a swell of discussion.

A point, a shrug of the shoulders, and a dismissive gesture towards Mancini- Balotelli's actions weren't just disrespectful, they were downright stupid. City knew when they signed the man called "Super Mario" that his relationship with authority had never been healthy, but they couldn't possibly have guessed at the way his arrogant demeanour would undermine what is unquestionably a prodigious talent.

Next season could have been the one for Balotelli. With Tevez all but gone, the stage is clear for someone within the City's ranks to step up and make an impact. Dzeko, though a hit in Germany, is said to be too slow for the league. The incoming Sergio Aguero will take time to adjust, and Emmanuel Adebayor's bridges have not been so much burned, as absorbed into a fiery inferno, before thrust into the darkest ocean.

Now was Balotelli's time, the Premier League his platform, City his team and most importantly, Mancini his manager. Whatever his faults, Mancini commands respect, and must command respect, lest he risk losing a dressing room which is a veritable minefield of egos. Mancini's job is arguably the most difficult in club football, and he is right to be angry at the disrespect of Balotelli. Had Mario at least pretended to repent, all surely would have been forgotten, the incident swept under the rug not to be talked about again.

But apology and remorse isn't part of the Balotelli psyche, after all, throughout his career he has been the victim of a lack of repentance; from the parents who abandoned him as a child, only to come back when informed of his talent, to the supporters who waved bananas in his face at the San Siro. Forever in search of an apology, how can Balotelli be expected to give them out?

However, he must learn. He must learn to control his turmoil and anger, or at least channel them into a more productive enterprise. He must learn to bow to the power of men like Mancini, even if he knows inside that "Super Mario" is in the right. And most importantly of all, he must learn how to do a proper back heel.

Follow The Chairman on Twitter @INFTH

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 9 and 10 Serigo Busquets- Fifty percent of the top ten is made up of Barcelona players, and who could fault that, if anything they are surprisingly under represented.

The best team in the world, boasting the best midfield in the world and Sergio Busquets... the anchor of that very midfield. Without Busquet's hard work in front of the back four, Xavi and Iniesta would be unable to work their magic- he is definitely under appreciated, but definitely the most effective defensive midfielder in the world.

A two time European champion, a World Cup winner and a constant presence at the heart of World football's most accomplished team, Sergio Busquets has it all, and he's not even twenty-five yet.

Like so many of his Barcelona teammates, Busquets has won virtually everything on offer over the period of only a couple years; guaranteeing the Spaniard a place in the pantheon of great holding midfield players.

9. Radamel Falcao- We ran out of superlatives to describe this player long before his goal sealed the Europa League for Porto; Falcao is just that good.

A marksman with the unerring gift to arrive at the right place at the right time, Radamel Falcao was one of the most potent attacking threats in Europe last season. Thriving off crosses whipped into the center, the Colombian scored thirty-nine goals in all competitions, including a record eighteen in Europe.

A treble winner with Porto, Falcao will likely be the man most credited for Porto's achievements last year, he was simply deadly in both league and Europa League, a terror to even the best of defenders.

After seeing manager Andre Villas Boas depart for Chelsea, it initially looked as though Falcao had his heart set on a move to England, however, using their legendary bargaining prowess, Porto somehow managed to convince him to re-sign.

Next season, Falcao will represent Porto in the Champions League, as the treble winners look to prove themselves on the highest of stages. Crucial to their advancement in the competition will be the form of Falcao- a man who has proved on more than one occasion that he has an eye for goal...

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Joey Barton: The Cases For And Against According to The Times, Fergie is about to spring one of the greatest transfer surprises of modern times. Here's our evaluation...

Joey Barton To United: The Case For- In terms of purely footballing ability, signing Joey Barton 
makes sense. Through all of his troubles, no one has ever questioned Barton's talent; the midfielder is a fine passer of the ball, and has the grit so commonly associated with players plying their trade in the lower echelons of the Premier League.

Joey Barton is not Paul Scholes, but his signing would represent the partial filling of a void which has been left empty for far longer than two months. Nobody quite like Roy Keane has played for United since the Irishman's departure in 2005, and not many midfielders share the ex United captain's mettle- certainly not current number sixteen Michael Carrick (Carrick stated when he first signed for the Red Devils that he "wouldn't be him (Roy Keane)" an admission which has proved all too true). Yet, Barton possesses ability on the ball that Roy Keane never had- even the most fervent supporters of the former Sunderland manager would have to admit that he was a little lacking in the technical department. Joey Barton would represent a sort of hybrid of Scholes and Keane- tenacious, and fiery like Keane, yet masterful on the ball like Scholes.

The main case against Barton remains his past crimes, but it would be unfair to judge a footballer solely on his activities outside the confines of the pitch; even through his troubles, Barton was a consistent performer for Newcastle United. Moreover, the former England international has made an attempt to move on from past sins; giving up drink, and taking a more level headed approach to life in general. At only two million pounds, Barton would would be good value for money, and after all, he couldn't perform much worse than Darron Gibson.

Joey Barton To United: The Case Against- Following the retirement of Paul Scholes, Fergie entered this transfer window on a mission. Earlier in the summer, he seemed to be on track in his pursuit of a player to fill the creative void, but since then, moves for high profile footballers like Nasri and Sneijder have petered off. A bid for Barton would be like the raising of a white flag by Ferguson, the effective end of a search for more taletned players, and a death knell to next year's Champions League ambitions.

A former City player, Barton wouldn't be welcomed by the Old Trafford faithful, and his controversial standing in the football world might create divides in what is reportedly a tight knit camp. However, the most obvious reason to steer well clear of Barton is the potential impact he could have on one of United's wayward talents; naughty boy, Ravel Morrison. At an impressionable young age, Morrison needs to be surrounded by sound role models (a species quite prevalent at United) not players with histories of wrongdoing. Reports coming out this week indicate that Morrison has had yet more trouble with the law- this is certainly not the time to expose him to serial bad boy Joseph Anthony Barton.

Conclusion: Certainly, there are strong cases both for and against the signing of Joey Barton, but personally, I see a move for him as a good idea. It is becoming more and more unlikely that United will shell out on Sneijder or Nasri, so perhaps it is time for Ferguson to cut his losses, and settle for a low profile creator. At only two million pounds, even if Barton flopped the financial aftershock wouldn't be terrible, and who knows, he might come good. As for Morrison, the situation could go both ways, Barton has tried to turn his life around, and I think that the vast majority of United fans would like to see Ravel Morrison do the same. Maybe the former Manchester City man could offer a leg up to a United player very much in need of a change in lifestyle.

Follow The Chairman on Twitter @INFTH

Five Things We Learned From The German Super Cup
1. There is life after Manuel Neuer- Talk about a baptism of fire. A local derby, in a packed stadium, with silverware on the line and the big boots of Manuel Neuer to fill, there must have been a few nerves running through the body of Ralf Fahrmann heading into yesterday's German Super Cup. And then the match started. From beginning to end, Dortmund looked the more dangerous team, and Fahrmann had to pull saves out of the locker on several occasions, most notably to palm away a Robert Lewandowski effort late in the first half. Perhaps lucky in that Klopp's side were missing their main finisher, Schalke managed to ride out the Dortmund storm all the way to penalties, where Ralf Fahrmann would really make his mark. Sprawling to save two spot kicks, the German keeper was the hero of the shoot out, a player who will now head in to what could have been a difficult first few weeks of the season, with confidence shooting through his veins.

2. Dortmund have depth at left back- There were several high class performances by players on both teams last night, but only one really stood out to me as the obvious choice for man of the match. Starting at left back in the place of the absent Schmelzer, Chris Lowe was absolutely everywhere, doing well to deal with the considerable threat of Baumjohann down Schalke's right side, and attacking with verve and enthusiasm too. Perhaps not a solid penalty taker, Klopp elected to withdraw Lowe after seventy-five minutes, but the youngster had made his mark, and though Schmelzer will inevitably walk straight back into the team, Dortmund fans can remain safe in the knowledge that they have an able deputy waiting to make an impact.

3. Watch out for Perisic- One of Dortmund's most exciting new signings, Perisic arrived in Germany this summer after starring for Brugge in the Belgian Jubilee League. A gifted attacking midfielder, Perisic showed plenty of spark and invention after coming on, in one instance skinning a defender on the left side of the box, before whipping in a dangerous delivery. After the departure of Nuri Sahin for Real Madrid, it was always going to be crucial for Dortmund to bring in high quality new signings, and Croatian international Ivan Perisic looks just the sort of player to make up for the absence of Dortmund's Turkish maestro.

4. Huntelaar has got to get his act together-Klass Jan Huntelaar seems only to deal in spurts. Like a young Wayne Rooney, Huntelaar is either very hot or very cold, on a drought, or on a spree, there is no middle ground for the Dutchman. Already he has failed to impress at a collection of European clubs, Real Madrid and AC Milan both saw him come in and out of their respective revolving doors. Going into next year, Huntelaar will want to impress Dutch coach Bert Van Marwijk, as a starting place for the Netherlands in the 2012 European Championships is most certainly up for grabs. However, though it is important not to read too much into games like that of last night, Huntelaar will have to improve if he is to push himself into a permanent spot in Van Marwijk's starting eleven. Ineffective for most of the game, the Dutch international was subbed off during the second half, ending a highly subdued performance- one that will discourage Schalke fans hoping to see him at his best next campaign. It is about time that Huntelaar let his talent be known to the World, for too long has the striker been dubbed as a player with the "potential" to deliver the goods- this year he will have to prove that he is more than just another player not good enough to make it outside the Eredivisie.

5. Barrios can't get back soon enough- Dortmund were the by far the better team in last night's match, but yet, they failed to penetrate what is hardly a water tight Schalke back line. Chances were created alright, with players like Gotze, Kagawa and Gundogan on top form opportunities will always present themselves, but the reigning champions failed to put the ball in the net. Robert Lewandowski was particularly profligate in front of goal, but all members of Dortmund's attack were guilty of missing chances. The obvious reason for the lack of finishing power is the absence of Lucas Barrios, who is currently preparing to represent Paraguay in tonight's Copa America final. No doubt, Barrios will be allowed an extended break upon returning from the Copa, meaning that he is likely to miss the start of the new season. Someone must step up in front of goal for Dortmund, or the opening weeks could prove very tricky indeed.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Taarabt, And Two Other Guys Who Stayed the life of a Premier League player, there almost always comes a time when a move away looks to be on the cards- until they realize that a transfer from the club they love would leave them eternally homesick. Or that that the Arab guy who promised them 150k a week was actually an ex News Of The World reporter...

1. Adel Taarabt- After being "on the verge" of a move to PSG for several weeks, QPR announced today that Adel Taarabt is going nowhere. The ex Tottenham flop was the top performer in last year's Championship, but he strikes me as exactly the sort of player for whom a move up a division would be a step too far.

As with plenty of failed moves, the public is left to wonder what exactly went wrong. We know that French clubs are willing to gloss over teeth disorders, see under "Cissokho, Aly," so it is curious that his move to French football fell through. Maybe he prefers the food in England. Or maybe the beaches. Or maybe PSG saw highlights of his fleeting appearances at Spurs...

Okay, fine, so QPR say that it was they who blocked the move, but why then was Neil Warnock so committed to passing Kieron Dyer off as an adequate replacement.

2. Steven Gerrard- "Steve Gerrard, Gerrard, he kisses the badge on his chest, and hands in a transfer request, Steve Gerrard, Gerrard..." So goes Manchester United fans' favorite song about their rival's beloved captain, one inspired by a move to Chelsea which never quite happened.

At one point, the English international looked set for a move to Stamford Bridge, only for the transfer to fall through. So why didn't Gerrard join Chelsea? As we all know from watching England, the scintillating combination of Gerrard and Lampard in midfield is one which would surely inspire if replicated at the club level, and the prospect of frequent trips on Roman Abramovich's yacht must have been enticing too. But, Gerrard loves Liverpool, and he probably wouldn't have settled away from the friendly faces and violent DJs so prevalent in Bootle.

3. Wayne Rooney- Last autumn, Wayne Rooney wanted out. He wanted out more than anything in the World, he wanted out so badly it hurt. But yet, he still plays for Manchester United. Unlike Taarabt, there has emerged a clear reason for Rooney's stay: it's green and Carlos Tevez really likes it.

It would be harsh to blame Rooney entirely for the debacle which rocked English football last fall, no doubt, he was the victim of an unscrupulous agent, the vicious English press and Fergie's hairdryer.

But goals had been hard to come by in the weeks preceding his tranfer request, and that could only have been because he was playing for a lousy team short of ambition and unwilling to delve into the transfer market. Oh yeah, and Rooney wanted to play for a club with really committed fans, ones willing to tattoo his face all over their backs even before he signed.

INFTH Book Review: Brilliant Orange Winner's book isn't just about Dutch football, it's about Dutch life, culture and geography; about how football's greatest teams were created by a country's neurotic genius.

Winner's argument is one that has been made before, and will likely be made again, that the essence of a footballing style is dictated by the country that harbors it. Through analysis of architecture, geography, politics and a vast assortment of interviews, Brilliant Orange explains why Dutch football is what it is.

Written by an author who has professed his love for all things Dutch on numerous occasions, Winner's passion for the subject of his writing is clearly expressed, and makes for a highly enjoyable read.

In the book's introduction, Winner explains that although Brilliant Orange is a book about Dutch football, mentions of politics, art and the Second World War far outweigh those of Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven. A concession that might put off many football fans thinking of reading the book, it would be a fallacy to say that Brilliant Orange frequently veers away from football- even when Winner delves into art, politics and geography, the relationship to football, and the thesis of the book, remains clear.

From the glory days of Ajax in the 1960s to the Dutch World Cup tragedies in '74 and '78, Brilliant Orange attempts to explain the major events of Dutch footballing history- probing into why the superb Holland team of the 1970s never won a World Cup, as well as detailing the origin of Ajax's "Total Football."

However, while Winner's arguments about the constant presence of space manipulation in Dutch society are fascinating, the book really comes into its own during the discussion of Holland's losing habit- why the series of fantastic teams produced by the Netherlands are incapable of winning international competitions on a regular basis.

To find the answer, Winner carefully analyzes Dutch society, explaining how things as simple as the presence of Calvinism in the Netherlands, can contribute to the downfall of a Dutch team.

In what is a scintillating final chapter, Winner delves into the issue of penalty shoot outs, i.e. why Holland always lose them. Featuring an interview with a penalty expert, Winner clearly explains the innate problems in the Dutch attitude which contribute to consistent spot kick disappointment.

The thoughtful and intelligent analysis used to seek the reason for Netherland's losing habit is not atypical of the entire book. Using simple yet beautiful logic and deduction, Winner manages to arrive at conclusions about Dutch football which are both well conveyed and highly plausible. Even for those unaccustomed to talk of architecture, anarchy and canals in the context of football, Brilliant Orange is still a fascinating book, one which over the years has become an ever present in the football enthusiast's typical library.

Before it's publication in 2000, the World was waiting for a book like Brilliant Orange.  Dutch football remains the most enigmatic species in the sporting universe, making a complete study of it all the more difficult.

A stimulating read, Brilliant Orange is a well researched, cleverly thought out book- rich in detail and imagery as well as humor and voice.

 Brilliant Orange is available on Amazon

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 11 and 12 Nuri Sahin- The best player in last year's Bundesliga, and the latest edition to Real Madrid's ever expanding squad, Nuri Sahin is now a member of the INFTH top 100.

A creative midfielder with touch, vision and an eye for goal, Sahin was Borrusia Dortmund's key man last season. Everything that happened in the latter third of the field went through Sahin, he was very much the main man, the most important member of a terrific Dortmund squad.

With nine goals and thirteen assists, Sahin's stats don't truly illustrate the immense impact he had on the 10/11 Bundesliga, his significance to the title's eventual destination went far beyond numbers.

Signed by Real Madrid very early in the transfer window, Sahin will have the opportunity to prove himself as a top class player next year; only the best excel at the Bernabeau, and clearly, someone thinks that Sahin is one of the best.

The Turkish international will have plenty of players to compete with for a position in central midfield, men like Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso will not give up their spots easily. David Villa- There will be a lot of Barcelona players featured between now and the end of the countdown. European champions, champions of Spain and clearly the best team on the planet, Barceloan boast the best players too.

2010/11 was by no means a vintage David Villa season- in fact, for periods last year the prolific Spaniard struggled for goals. However, despite his mid season drought, Villa still finished the year with nearly a goal-in-two ratio in all competitions; not bad for an underperformer.

Alongside Lionel Messi and Pedro, Villa was a member of a dangerous Barcelona front three- one which ripped Manchester United to shreds in the Champions League final.

A scorer in the final, 10/11 was the season which finally heralded the arrival of some club silverware into David Villa's trophy room, having won everything on the international stage, the striker can now boast of club success too.

Next season, Villa will almost certainly remain at the Nou Camp, and almost equally certainly win a few more titles, after all, he plays for Barcelona.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Romeu Is A Transfer Saga Time Bomb most clubs like to loan out their youngsters, Barcelona prefer to sell them. Not all of them mind you, Xavi, Iniesta and Messi were kept without sale, while the sight of Carlos Puyol playing for anyone else would surely sicken fans of the Catalan giants.

However, not everyone occupies the same esteemed position as players like Puyol, Messi and Xavi; Gerard Pique for instance, was sold to United, and Cesc Fabregas to Arsenal.

The pair met with differing levels of success; Pique was deemed surplus to requirements at Old Trafford, as Fabregas excelled at The Emirates.

While central defender Pique returned to Barca in 2008, the club are still enthraled in a long winded saga designed to engineer Fabregas' return to his "home," in a story more worthy of "saga status" than any other which has inflicted itself upon our attention spans.

I for one, am well sick of the constant Fabregas stories- I've had enough of seeing shirts shoved onto him, Barca players wooing him and Arsene Wenger getting defensive. Well, I'll still have to deal with Wenger being defensive even after the transfer is completed!

Unfortunately for me though, Fabregas is unlikely to be the last player involved in a massive tug of war involving Barcelona and an English club, just this week the seeds of future controversy were  sown.

In the market for a defensive midfield player after Michael Essien's injury, Chelsea look set to finalize the purchase of Barca youngster Oriol Romeu for five million euros. At age twenty, Romeu has the potential to develop into fine player for the Blues- then again, he also has the potential to not develop at all.

As much as I hate to wish ill to a young player, Romeu is set to become one of the few recipients of my genuine dislike, through no fault of his own of course, just because he's ex Barca. If Romeu excels, and he certainly has the ideal footballing platform to do just that, then we will see another Fabregas- it's an absolute guarantee.

As mentioned before, Barca have developed a habit of selling youngsters, yet they never seem to truly accept that a former academy prospect is no longer their player; much in the way that J.K. Rowling's goblins coveted Gryffindor's sword...

Romeu will be no different to Fabregas. If Sky Sports is to be believed, then Barca are already preparing for the inevitable- placing a clause in the youngster's contract designed to make a move back as feasible as possible.

For those of us who hate sagas, and I count myself as one of that number, Romeu's move to Chelsea is bad news; his is a ticking time bomb, and it's only a matter of time until it goes off.


INFTH Top 100: Numbers 13 and 14 Alexis Sanchez- How appropriate, that Sanchez's name should come up right after completing his move to Barcelona. Yes, following a two month long saga that involved Napoli, Manchester United, Manchester City and Barcelona, Alexis Sanchez has finally officially transferred to the European Champions.

In the wake of a season like the one he enjoyed last year, it's no surprise that Sanchez is one of the most wanted player in Europe- alongside Antonio Di Natale, the Chilean formed perhaps the most potent strike force in all of Serie A.

Sanchez's speed, strength and trickery are all reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo, though of course, he still has someway to go in terms of goalscoring. Twelve goals last season isn't a bad total, but Pep Guardiola and the rest of Barcelona will expect him to find the net more often next year.

Sanchez has the potential to be a brilliant signing for Barcelona, he will offer them a plan B- another option in attack, when tiki-taka fails them.

13. Edwin Van Der Sar- What more can you say about this guy? An absolute legend of the game, Van Der Sar was by far the best goalkeeper in the World last season, and that at the ripe old age of forty. a magnificent career however, Van Der Sar has chosen to call time on his playing days, looking to spend more time with his family. There is no doubt that the big Dutchman could have played on for at least another year, he was as agile as ever last season, showing all the athleticism of youth, to go with the experience of old age.

A horrible mistake early in the season  raised questions about his capabilities as United's number one, but Van Der Sar soon proved all his doubters wrong, putting in consistently good performances from then on.

The game will be worse for the retirement of Edwin Van Der Sar, he was always a model professional, a terrific player, and a fine ambassador of the game. Next season, he will watch as youngster David De Gea steps into his boots, and will take note of, perhaps with satisfaction, at how large those boots turn out to be.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Join The INFTH Premier League Fantasy League, it's that time of year, the anoraks are getting their notebooks out, the fans their pints of beer- the Premier League season is just weeks away.

Fantasy Premier League has opened for the new season...

Complete with a total face lift, the World's greatest fantasy game is back up and running and INFTH wants you to join them in preparation for the new season.

Click this link to reach the Premier League fantasy home, follow the on screen directions to create your team and then click on the "Join Leagues" tab. Choose "private league" and enter the code 70292-26112 to join the official INFTH fantasy league!

We look forward to seeing you...

City's Stockpiling Destoys The English National Team an era where monetary incentive all too often comes up trumps over the traditional values of the beautiful game, perhaps it is no surprise at all that England's finest are willing to flock towards the City of Manchester Stadium- and then are unwilling to flock out.

City's activity over the past few years has crippled the transfer market. Unable to compete with the Citizens' wages, no clubs have been willing to take on the team's forgotten players, leaving a whole host of talents out in the cold. Men like Adam Johnson, Shaun Wright Phillips and James Milner are stuck with no prospect of consistent playing time, nor one of a move that would be as financially satisfying as their current deal at City.

Unable to gain consistent first team action, the trio of players have stagnated over the past few months, to the detriment of not only their own careers, but the English national team as well.

Milner was a consistently strong performer for England leading up to his move from Villa, a player who could be relied upon to put in a steady shift- if admittedly, little else. Wright Phillips, the weakest of the three, was always guaranteed to make at least the bench for England, and at the start of the season, Adam Johnson looked to be a man ready to fire England to Euro 2012.

Falls in grace have followed their patchy seasons though, with Johnson and Wright Phillips almost totally usurped by Young and Downing, while Milner has fallen behind Theo Walcott in the race to earn Fabio Capello's starting nod.

However, this summer there could be some light at the end of the tunnel, as a transfer carousel prompted by high profile signings in Liverpool and Manchester has begun to pick up a little velocity. Charles N'Zogbia's impending exit will open a wing spot at Wigan, while Aston Villa may still be in search of wide men, even if former Newcastle player N'Zogbia is signed.

If any of the three remain (and it looks very much like at least two of them will), a season of struggle will doubtless be in store; with City hot in pursuit of Samir Nasri, another wing spot will be taken up. In a new look City midfield, there will be no place for players like Johnson and Milner. Silva, Barry, De Jong and Nasri are set to be the midfield four next season; if Mancini even chooses to go with four in midfield that is. If is far more likely that the Italian will arrange a formation perhaps even more destructive to the hopes of his English players- a front three featuring Aguero, Nasri and Toure, with Silva in behind would leave no room for out and out wingers like Johnson and Wright Phillips

What is even more alarming about the situation at City is that midfield is not where England's finest are being wasted the most often; it is at the back where the real tragedy lies. Once touted as a future England captain, Micah Richard's fall in grace over the last few years has varied directly with the waves of new players flowing through City- unable to find consistent minutes, he has fallen out of national team contention.

Jolean Lescott too, is another victim of the City curse, he signed from Everton for big money several years ago, only to see Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure take over as the preferred center back pairing. Only a couple of weeks ago, young Slovenian defender Stefan Savic was signed from Partizan Belgrade; a move which shows how little patience Roberto Mancini has for Nedhum Onuoha. Loaned out to Sunderland last season, Onuoha excelled under Steve Bruce, yet is still unable to break into the City side.

With Kolo Toure set to return next season, the sole man left to wave the English flag at the back could end up being Joe Hart- a Savic, Toure, Kompany, Zabaleta back line is certainly not out of the question.

In fact, if things continue to go in the direction they have been heading, City could find themselves with Hart as the only Englishman in their starting line-up, though even that might not last long; Hart's form over the last few months of 10/11 was alarmingly inconsistent.

The constant rotation of ranks at City has left more than a few lost at sea, let's hope for England's sake that Richards, Lescott, Johnson, Onuoha, Milner and Wright Phillips all know how to swim.

What is the best option for City's forgotten men?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 15 and 16 Wayne Rooney- Even a pitiful first half of the season couldn't stop Rooney from breaking into the top twenty. The England striker is still the most talented player of his generation- despite his hankering for prostitutes.

A striker with unique vision, fabulous touch and an eye for goal, Rooney's late season renaissance helped to inspire United towards number nineteen; but his year did not come without its controversy. Shocking revelations about inappropriate extra marital exploits forced a mid season vacation, while demands to leave United did nothing to improve standing with the fans.

However, after signing a new and improved deal at United, Rooney's season turned around, and he finished the year with a respectable sixteen goals- many of them vital. A hat trick against West Ham was seen as a turning point in the title race, while a late penalty against Blackburn on the season's penultimate weekend insured that United would secure a fourth title in five seasons.

Now tied down for several years, Rooney will remain at Old Trafford for some time, however, as Simon Kuper mentions in his book The Football Men, it is likely that Rooney's latest contract rebellion won't be his last. Gerard Pique- From Old Trafford reject to one of the most successful players in footballing history, Pique's rise in the game was as surprising as it was steep. Surplus to requirements at Manchester United, Pique was shipped back home to Barcelona, in what must be seen now as the greatest ever career move.

As good on the ground as he is in the air, Pique starts as many attacks as he stops- acting as a terrific outlet from Barcelona's defense. Over the course of the last couple years, Pique has forged an outstanding central defensive partnership with Carlos Puyol- one that has seen both players collect two Champions Leagues, three Spanish Primeras and a World Cup and European Championship double. Not bad for a lad who had his position in Manchester usurped by Jonny Evans.

In many ways, Pique has reached the peak of his career; it is highly unlikely that the defender will enjoy a three years better than the ones he has just experienced. The Spaniard has won absolutely everything under the sun in Spain- a haul that merely complemented a fine collection of trophies gleaned during his time in England. Oh yeah, and he sleeps with Shakira.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

INFTH Book Review: The Football Men

The Football Men, isn't really a Simon Kuper book. There's no complex mathematical formula used to support its ideas and there is little mention of wars or dictators either.

Nevertheless though, Kuper's unusual book bears all the hallmarks of a product of one of this era's great sports writers. It's well written, clever and funny, sure to keep even a reader jaded by the inept autobiographical skills of footballers hungry for more.

A collection of profiles, the book doesn't have to be read in any specific order, however, it is organized chronologically; starting with profiles written in the late nineties, and ending with some only months old.

Detailing the lives and professional travails of some of football's most well regarded people, The Football Men seeks to understand the man within the player- what sort of person exists behind the veil of jerseys, names and numbers.

Interestingly, Kuper doesn't limit his research to just players- profiles of well known managers, stadium architects and even film directors are all included.

If one criticism could be levelled about the content in part one, it would be that the profiles felt, well, a little out of date. Of course, in picking up the book you accept that what is about to be read won't feature cutting edge commentary on the very current affairs of footballer, but rather that the book will be a refreshing chance to review past perspectives, and gain an even more thorough insight on the players mentioned.

There are of course, times when Kuper clearly gets it wrong in his profiles- pronouncing the 2008 Champions League final as Drogba's farewell match for example, or his predictions that in the mid 2000s, Michael Owen was entering the peak years of his career. However, there were times when a momentary salute to Simon Kuper's expert divination had to be in order- he tipped Ruud Van Nistelrooy for success before he started banging in the goals for Manchester United, and foresaw the departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea several months in advance of the Portuguese's acrimonious exit.

Some certainly, might find it dull to read rehashed, out of date descriptions of the game's stars, and I too entered with similar apprehensions. However peculiarly though, the book and its subjects still took on a place in an intriguing and thought provoking plot, one that wasn't the slightest bit tarnished by my knowledge of the eventual ending. Simon Kuper manages to turn well documented stories into captivating versions of his own, accounts of players' lives that are complemented well by his wisdom and insights.

Revealing talks with Sven Goran Eriksson and Lothar Mattheaus are complemented by a stunning evaluation of some of English football's giants. It is here, in part two, where Kuper's narrative becomes reminiscent of his earlier works- the writer draws logical and intelligent conclusions based on his knowledge of the social and economic background of  players, as well as their actions in later life.

A very funny writer, Kuper's natural humor becomes more obvious in this book than perhaps it could in his more complicated theses- something which adds an extra dimension to the writer's already very accomplished style. Thankfully, Kuper doesn't fall into a trap frequented by too many profilers scattered around numerous fields- despite his obvious occupation with the life of the footballer, Kuper manages to deliver intelligent, unbiased opinions on the subjects of his writing, castigating Ashley Cole for instance, while at the same time eulogizing the many virtues of Arsene Wenger (okay, I did say unbiased but we all know Kuper is a sucker for stat lovers...).

Where the book moves into the realm of uniqueness previously explored in Kuper's past works, is in its descriptions of 'the other football men.' A film director, a statistics expert, an architect, a professor and Franz Beckenbauer- the five men detailed by the book's fascinating third part. Unlike coaches, players or even referees, these 'football men' are of a much less fashionable variety, and good, well researched reporting on them can be difficult to find. Certainly, no one could accuse the book of being poorly researched, and Kuper is probably the perfect man to go out and discover football's less illustrious characters. Before reading, I had heard of none of the men listed apart from Der Kaiser, yet afterwards I felt like I knew them all quite well.

For a fan just getting into the game, or for ones who wish that a fifty year addiction was possible to break, this book can contain appeal. An introduction for some, a rehash for others, there is no question that The Football Men is worth a look.

Buy The Football Men on Amazon

Links Of The Day: July 19th 2011

The Chairman talks Dannys at EPL Talk

Will Tidey on the WWC

Match fixing in South Korea

The Swiss Ramble on Manchester City's New Stadium Deal

Red Flag Flying High on the legend that is Bryan Robson

Rory Smith on a striker swap happening in Manchester

Comment with any links you deem worthy for inclusion.

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 17 and 18

18. Nani- Nani stated sometime at the beginning of last season, that his goal for the new year was to be included in the shortlist for European footballer of the year. Well, after starring for both United and Portugal, reaching a Champions League final and stamping his name all over the Premiership, his chances of achieving that goal have improved immeasurably.

After improving towards the end of 09/10, much was expected of Nani in 2011, and the Portuguese international was desperate to perform after having his World Cup dreams dashed by injury.

Scoring a healthy total of nine goals in the league, Nani was one of United's best performers throughout their successful campaign, winning the Manchester United's Players' Player of the Year award at the end of it.

Honestly, the only surprise about Nani's trophy haul at the end of the season was that it did not include a PFA Player of the Year gong- ridiculously, he wasn't even nominated for the award.

Internationally, Nani has begun to shine brightly over the past few years, and 2011 was no different, with the winger outperforming the more illustrious Cristiano Ronaldo. As of yet, Nani has not played in a World Cup, but hopefully, we can look forward to seeing him on show in 2014.

17. Dani Alves- Dani Alves is the best right back in the World. A classic rampaging full back, Alves is capable of producing at both ends of the pitch, and has been a vital part of Barcelona's rise over the last three seasons.

Not many players ever win the European Cup, but Alves is one of the few who can say he has- twice. As part of probably the best back four in Europe, Alves and Barcelona once again swept aside all competition last season, cruising through to Champions League glory.

With Alves bombing forward to support a magnificent front three, Barcelona managed to consistently perform despite Mourinho's introduction into the equation at Madrid. This Barcelona stops for no one, not even the Special One.

A fantastic free taker, Alves embodies everything good about Brazilian footballers. He has skill, speed and flair, while also possessing the toughness and defensive nous necessary to make it as a top defender in Europe. As mentioned before, Alves has won the cup with the big ears twice; only a fool would bet against him adding to that total.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Tevez Saga Must Be Ended Promptly

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly." Football clubs don't have an awful lot to learn from Lady Macbeth, but her commentary on haste is one sentiment that they would do well to take note of.

Speed has forever been, and will continue to be, a crucial part of football. However, despite the presence of flying wingers and lightning quick strikers in the game, speed in the transfer market seems to be a commodity more precious than that possessed by men like Walcott and Ronaldo.

Clubs over the years seem to have developed a nasty habit of delaying things a little too long, waiting  until five to eleven on transfer deadline day to conclude a deal that could have been finalized weeks earlier. A lot of this obviously, is down to the clubs' determination to navigate through an assortment of bluffs and counter bluffs, designed to squeeze every cent out of a player, while at the same time confuse the watching public as much as possible. And of course, to get on Sky Sport News' rolling transfer bulletin at least five times a week.

However, those savvy enough seem to have realized the importance of concluding dealings quickly; Manchester United have already signed three players, insuring that the entire squad will enjoy pre season together. On the other hand, Tottenham haven't learned from their past mistakes- Luka Modric's saga is becoming reminiscent of that which involved Dimitar Berbatov.

If there is one club that really should be experienced in the execution of a deal though, it is the very one for which heeding Lady Macbeth's message is the most crucial; the bully on the transfer playground, Manchester City.

To say that City have been profligate in their spending over the past couple of years would be a gross understatement- if I had added an 'inho' to the end of my name, then I'd probably be earning 50k a week there right now!

But this summer, the situation is different. Unlike in past years, there is no room for error; if the Tevez deal isn't concluded promptly, then City's entire season could be derailed. The last thing Roberto Mancini needs heading into the new year is an unhappy player, or even worse, no player at all.

Wait too long, and the start of the season will be rolling into view- recognized strike force or not. It is vitally important that the Citizens find an adequate replacement for Tevez, but that process must be concluded within the next few days.

Unlike in past years, City have something to lose heading into the new season, a status that must be upheld if the owners' grand vision is to be fulfilled. Like it or not, it was a player that didn't want to be there who was crucial to City's rise last campaign, and unless his exit is dealt with efficiently and effectively, then it is that very player who could see City fall back to their position of old.

The pit falls of a transfer saga which drags on all summer long have already been explored by countless numbers of clubs. Most recently, Tottenham Hotspur learned what it was like to start a season with limited numbers of strikers, when they sold Dimitar Berbatov on transfer deadline day, leaving no time for a replacement to be found.

While I doubt that City's potential plight would be that extreme, they still have something to learn from the failures of  England's fifth best team. Even if a replacement was acquired before transfer window's end, Mancini would likely find it difficult to mold together a team before City's opener against Swansea. At this point in their development, it is crucial that City settle rather than continue to rebuild- a late signing is exactly the sort of business they need to avoid.

In light of news of Corinthians's denial of an agreement in fee for Tevez, City's prospects have significantly darkened; Tevez must be offloaded soon, but Corinthians are clearly ready to drag the transfer out for as long as necessary. Whether or not the officials upstairs at Manchester City are prepared to handle a situation of this importance could end up defining the club's season; about forty-five days remain in the transfer window, too often do clubs leave things to the last forty-five minutes.

INFTH Top 100: Numbers 20 and 19

20. Luka Modric- For me, despite being the subject of critical acclaim from various highly regarded football people, Modric remains one of the most underrated players in the world. A classic regista, Modric dictates play better than anyone else in the Premiership, and was the main reason for Spurs' brilliant run in last year's Champions League.

Despite not boasting the most impressive goal statistics, Modric is an important cog in Tottenham's attacking machine; his diagonals to players like Bale and Lennon were important in a number of goals scored by the Lily Whites last season.

A wonderfully technical player, Modric can dictate the pace of a game with his touch and movement; a fabulous asset, especially in Europe.

Despite failing to propel Tottenham into next season's Champions League, Modric was one of the players of the season in England last year- after a poor opening season the Croatian has come on leaps in bounds over the past two campaigns.

The subject of a twenty-seven million pound bid from Chelsea, Modric has made his desire to leave White Hart Lane clear, and a move to West London does appear the next logical step in the Croatian's career. However, Spurs are unwilling to let their star player leave, meaning that Modric is set for a long summer of negotiation...

19. Edinson Cavani- One of Europe's hottest properties at the moment, Napoli's Edinson Cavani was arguably the most dangerous attacking player in Serie A last season.

Thirty-three goals in all competitions is an impressive haul for a player plying his trade away from one of Europe's major clubs- along with Lavezzi and Hamsik though, Cavani helped the Azzuri compete with their more illustrious rivals.

Finishing third in the league, Napoli and Cavani qualified for next year's Champions League; an exciting achievement, though for a while the club held Scudetto ambitions.

A Uruguayan international, Cavani scored in the third place game at last year's World Cup, and is currently on show for his country at the Copa America; a tournament that the Uruguayans are now favorites to win after three high profile exits. Crucial to their chances there will be the form of Cavani, who has failed to live up to expectations thus far.

Despite enjoying so much success last season, Cavani has not been the subject of much transfer speculation, and the striker looks set to remain in Naples for at least another year.