Monday, February 27, 2012

What has happened to Joan Capdevila? From World Cup winner with Spain to bench-warmer at Benfica

It was the best of times, then, all of a sudden, it was the worst of times. For Joan Capdevila, life took a 180-degree turn in the space of a year. In 12 months, he went from starting for Spain in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands to finding himself on the fringes at Benfica after a free transfer from Villarreal.

But Capdevila's Greek tragedy began during the 2010-11 term, as the 33-year-old fell behind Jose Catala in then-Villarreal coach Juan Carlos Garrido's estimations towards the latter stages of the season. As a result, he also lost his place in the Spain set-up and was forced to consider his options as the campaign came to an end.

For Capdevila, Benfica looked to be the way out of his disappointing situation: the Portuguese club were looking for a new left-back following the €30 million sale of Fabio Coentrao to Real Madrid, and the other player who arrived for the left side of the defence, Lille's Emerson, did not boast nearly as much experience as the Spaniard.

However, things quickly went sour for Capdevila, who was left out of Benfica's 27-man squad for the Champions League qualifiers against Trabzonspor. Back then, the former Villarreal defender played down that situation, and it was suggested that he merely lacked competitive rhythm. 

But the final straw came when he did not make Benfica's final list for the showpiece tournament as Uefa regulations state that a club cannot register more than 17 non-homegrown players. In his place, the Estadio da Luz outfit chose Cesar Peixoto, who was not even training with the first-team squad and ended up being released in January. 

Just 24 hours after the list for the Uefa competition went public, so did Capdevila's agent, who spoke of his client's frustration at his situation and admitted that the player would have left Benfica before the end of the summer transfer window if he knew he would not be under consideration by coach Jorge Jesus. Later in September, the agent confirmed that Serie A duo Napoli and Juventus were targetting a move for the 33-year-old, but neither club have so far made an offer for the player.

The fact is that every time Capdevila has been called to action, he has appeared to be off the pace. Speculation has surfaced that the Spaniard has not been putting enough effort into training as he was convinced that he would be an automatic starter, but this matter has become taboo at the Estadio da Luz.

In early October, a report in the Portuguese press helped to understand why Capdevila may be on the periphery at Benfica. During the summer transfer window, Jesus had set his sights on Malaga winger Eliseu, who can also play at left-back, much like Coentrao. However, given the Portugal international's hefty price-tag, Jesus had to settle for the Spaniard, a player he never wanted in the first place.

With little over two weeks left in the January transfer window, all doors seem to be closed for Capdevila. A transfer to Juventus appears to be out of the equation as the Bianconeri are plotting a move for Sevilla's Martin Caceres. At the age of 33, a return to the Spain national team, for whom he has not featured since March 2011, is also highly unlikely, as Valencia's Jordi Alba has been the undisputed first choice for coach Vicente del Bosque of late. Deportivo La Coruna, where Capdevila played between 2000 and 2007, have been mooted as a solution, but the Spanish defender may have to drastically lower his wage demands to be able to join the Segunda Division side.

From hero to zero, Capdevila has watched his career nosedive spectacularly in little over a year. His future seems to be up in the air, but one thing is certain: his example shows how quickly a player's career can change if a wrong turn is taken.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why Robin van Persie's goalscoring achievement in 2011 is better than Alan Shearer's in 1995

Arsenal striker Robin van Persie may have come up short in his quest to beat Alan Shearer's record haul for goals in a calendar year in the Premier League but the Dutchman's goals-per-game ratio suggests he still surpasses the former Newcastle United forward.

After Van Persie's solitary strike propelled Arsenal past QPR and into fourth, Arsene Wenger conceded his prized asset may regret not being able to trump Shearer's record, while the striker himself dismissed the chase for glory and basked on ending his side's year on a high, after such a woeful start.

But maybe Van Persie was already aware of his phenomenal average scoring rate of 0.97 goals per game over the course of the year. Neither Shearer, nor Thierry Henry, can boast that statistic.

Shearer's record of 36 goals is astounding, coming in 42 games. As is Henry's, of 34 goals in 39 games, giving them ratios of 0.86 and 0.87 respectively, but Van Persie has shown himself to be a much more consistent scorer.

Van Persie's importance for Arsenal has never been highlighted so clearly, and the Dutchman's frequent input throughout 2011 with vital goals has continued to boost Wenger's side.

The striker has been in excellent form this year, and while he has been unlucky to be part of a team that has won nothing since 2005, it is perhaps a home truth that had Van Persie not missed as many games through injury in the past few years, the trophy cabinet at the Emirates would have seen more silverware pass through its doors.

He will surely remain their most influential and effective player for the rest of the season; as Wenger said in his post-match press conference, why would Van Persie suddenly stop scoring when the clock chimes at midnight on New Year's Eve?

If he carries on his scoring form, Arsenal have an outside chance of challenging for the Premier League title. It is unlikely they will win it, sitting nine points behind Manchester City having played a game more, but with some reinforcements in January, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that Van Persie could lead a late charge.

While they won't necessarily need to improve on their starting XI, something that is needed is strength in depth.

Wenger admitted that he may be forced to look for a left-back on loan in January with Thomas Vermaelen suffering a calf strain during the game, depriving him of yet another player who can defend on the left.

The players coming in for Arsenal to replace first-team players are not quite at the level required for a team who want to win the Premier League. They could be in a few years, when the likes of Emmanuel Frimpong [who is joining Wolves on loan for the season] and Carl Jenkinson mature, but until that time they need more players who can change games.

Players like Mikel Arteta, as talented as he is, cannot replace Cesc Fabregas, who departed for his home town of Barcelona in the summer.

Van Persie cannot be relied upon entirely to come up with the goods for Arsenal in every game, which is why he needs to be supported with some quality signings either in January or at the end of the season.

If that happens, Arsenal can truly hit the heights that they were achieving at the turn of the century, when the Invincibles were running amok in the league and dominating English football.

Certainly, the loan arrival of Thierry Henry in the coming days will serve as a timely reminder to Wenger of what his team could achieve with some stand out signings but for now, at least, Arsenal can thank their lucky stars for Robin van Persie. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Is Lampard the answer to Manchester United's soft centre midfield ?

Manchester United struggled at Newcastle, particularly in midfield. Look at their current troubles and why Frank Lampard could provide the answer

United were outpowered in midfield against Newcastle, something which will again be a concern for Sir Alex Ferguson when they face Manchester City. They have struggled to find a settled central midfield this season, fielding 10 different combinations in their 20 Premier League games.

United had just three shots on target against Newcastle, most likely down to the fact that their passing in the home side’s half was dismal — it’s only been worse once this season.

Lampard has scored more goals than any midfielder this season — only Robin van Persie has netted more match-winning goals — and the Chelsea man is also in the Premier League’s top 10 most accurate passers, a list which contains no Manchester United players.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Porto should accept a big-money offer for Chelsea & Paris Saint-Germain target Hulk

All over Europe, clubs are working around the clock to make use of their pennies to sign that one player they hope can salvage their season. And for every club desperate for a boost to their attack, Hulk seems to fit the bill.

After all, the Brazil international is just not your every day attacker: it seems impossible for a man so strong and muscular to have such agility, technique and speed, but the 25-year-old has managed it. Signed from modest Japanese side Tokyo Verdy in 2008, Hulk has become an integral part of the team, and all over Europe clubs are interested in getting their hands on him.

However, Porto have moved heaven and earth to make sure that does not happen. In August 2009, the Europa League holders offered him an improved contract, but in return he had to agree to a €100 million (£82.5m) release clause - a strategy frequently used used by the top Portuguese teams. Ever since then, Porto president Pinto da Costa has guaranteed that the club will not settle for less.

But are the Portuguese champions right to hold out for a figure which would make him the highest-ever transfer in the game? According to a report published by Brazilian accountancy firm Pluri, which is based on objective criteria (age, marketing and physical condition, among others) and subjective criteria (technical quality, tactical discipline, decision-making, etc), Hulk is only the fourth most valuable player in the Brazil national team at €31m (£25.6m) - less than one third of what Porto are demanding.

In addition to Hulk's price tag being unreasonable, there are other variables which Porto should consider when they receive an offer for the powerful striker, the first of which being his state of mind. 

While the player has never said he is unhappy with life at the Estadio do Dragao, his constant come-and-get-me pleas to his big-money suitors show that the 25-year-old believes Porto are becoming a closed chapter for him. After almost four years at the club, he feels he has won everything there is to win with Os Dragoes, including European silverware.

It is also debatable whether Hulk is 100 per cent committed to Porto after watching Radamel Falcao leave the club in the summer, while every offer that arrived for him was immediately rejected. His contract shackles him to the club and it is with little surprise that his focus has been questioned this season as Vitor Pereira's side have been world's apart from Andre Villas-Boas' 2010-11 team.

But even more important than Hulk's mindset is the club's financial state. In the season in which Porto have spent the largest sum in their history - €42.5m (£35.1m) - in acquisitions, they bowed out of the Champions League in the group stage and do not look life a safe bet for the Portuguese Liga title. Last season saw Porto make just €7.8m (£6.4m) from their Europa League campaign, which shows that big-money opportunities only lie in Europe's premier club competition.

With Porto currently in the market to sign a new striker after their disastrous handling in their search for Falcao's replacement, the club may soon have to sell some of their biggest assets to balance their books, and Hulk is topping the list. The club's finances have made headlines in the last months after they fell behind on payments for Santos' Danilo and for Standard Liege duo Eliaquim Mangala and Steven Defour. Porto are starting to earn a reputation as a bad buyer and they will need to raise funds in the summer to rebuild the squad after an early exit in the Champions League.

Even though Hulk is their best player, Porto will have to consider parting with the 25-year-old, otherwise they risk watching him grow unsettled. Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain are known to be tracking the striker, and Porto should not think twice if an offer in the excess of €40m (£33m) comes along - and there is still plenty of time before the end of the winter transfer window to find a replacement for the Brazilian.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

What happened next for Canales, Drenthe, Gago & Garay - how Real Madrid's summer exits are faring at their new clubs in 2011-12

For some players, Real Madrid is the pinnacle; the club brings out the best in their abilities and raises their game to a whole new level. For others, it's just too much of an ask and they are forced to search for success elsewhere.

Six players left the Spanish side last summer, be it to seek experience before returning for a second chance in the future, or to start a new chapter at a new club.

Here,take a look at the fortunes of those footballers who departed the Santiago Bernabeu in the summer.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Ajax that could have been, had they been able to hold on to their stars, From Zlatan Ibrahimovic to Luis Suarez

Ajax go into Tuesday evening's Champions League match away against Olympique Lyonnais knowing that a win or a score draw would send them through to the knockout stages of European club football's elite tournament for the first time since 2005-06.

The Amsterdam giants were one of the dominant club sides in the 1990s and reached consecutive finals in 1995 and 1996. Nevertheless, they have since failed to make a real impact in Europe due to various reasons.

That doesn't mean that Ajax no longer produce some of the world's finest talents though as key players at clubs like AC Milan, Inter, Liverpool and Manchester City all have a history at the Eredivisie champions.

Take a look at those who left the Amsterdam ArenA in recent years and puts together an export XI that would pose a stern test for any opponent. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Urby Emanuelson, Ibrahim Afellay & Luis Suarez - How the former Eredivisie stars have fared since their 2011 January transfers

Whereas the big clubs from England, Germany, Italy and Spain are usually looking forward to the opening of the January transfer window right from the moment the summer market closes, their Dutch counterparts are shivering with fear when New Year's Day draws closer.

Unlike for the teams from the so-called big leagues, the winter transfer window is hardly an opportunity to add to their ranks for Eredivisie sides, but it's more of a 31-day fight to keep their star players on board.

In 2012, to date, only VVV's Nigeria international Ahmed Musa has left the Dutch top tier for greener pastures as he signed a five-year deal with CSKA Moscow. Nevertheless, AZ midfielder Pontus Wernbloom is close to a winter move as well, and several more players could be on their way out of the Eredivisie in the upcoming weeks.

Regardless of what happens in the remainder of the January window, though, it's unlikely that last year's dramatic exodus will repeat itself in 2012. With Ajax star Luis Suarez and PSV skipper Ibrahim Afellay, the league's two absolute star players moved to a bigger competition, while Netherlands international Urby Emanuelson left Holland as well. However, the trio have enjoyed mixed fortunes since saying farewell to the Eredivisie. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Hhow Barcelona's summer exits are faring at their new clubs in 2011-12

After leaving the best club in the world, the only way is down. But not all players produce their best in the intimidating environment of the Camp Nou, where pressure to perform is at a high and where only the very best is good enough.

Now let's examines the recent trajectory of half-a-dozen players who waved goodbye - at least for now - to the Catalan club in the last transfer window.

* Barcelona retain an option to buy back the player in future



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