Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Carlos Tevez, Cristiano Ronaldo & the top 10 longest-running transfer sagas in Premier League history

In every window there is at least one player at the centre of a transfer slugfest, testing the resolve of his current employers while showcasing club loyalty with all the sincerity of an air hostess' smile.

Manchester City's Carlos Tevez becomes the latest in a long line of prolonged Premier League transfer sagas. Following a similar pattern to previous cases, the striker's future continues to remain unclear amid a barrage of speculation and rumour. 

AC Milan, Inter and Paris Saint-Germain make up the three-horse race to sign the Argentine but the trio have weaved cautiously through negotiations thus far. City, meanwhile, insist they will not let Tevez go cheaply, despite his unwillingness to even train with the club.

But while we're all familiar with Tevez's circumstances, the 27-year-old is not the first player guilty of drawing out his own future beyond reasonable lengths, subsequently subjecting us all to the monotony of a 'will he, or won't he?' guessing frenzy.

A stray boot to the face, kicked by Sir Alex Ferguson, left David Beckham with two stitches above his eye and edged him closer to the exit door at Old Trafford in February 2003.

Beckham's future under Ferguson continued to look bleak after the incident as he started on the bench for Manchester United's Champions League quarter-final second-leg tie against Real Madrid, a club strongly linked as a potential destination for the midfielder. Beckham did his chances of a move to the Bernabeu no harm by notching two goals after coming on, one a superb free-kick which left Iker Casillas rooted to the spot.

Despite his performance in April, at the end of the month Real Madrid president, Florentino Perez, claimed the club would 'never, ever sign Beckham', which placed Barcelona as frontrunners for the midfielder's signature.

After another month of speculation, Barcelona's then presidential candidate, Joan Laporta, claimed an agreement had been reached over the transfer of Beckham, although the player's advisors claimed he was being used as a 'political pawn' in the Camp Nou electoral race.

That setback for Barcelona left negotiations clear for Real Madrid, who eventually went on to sign Beckham for £24.5 million in June. Despite appearing to leave under a cloud, Beckham publicly thanked Ferguson for his support, though the United boss later claimed the midfielder 'was never a problem until he got married'.

Gerrard had secured a Champions League winners' medal after inspiring Liverpool to a remarkable comeback against AC Milan in May 2005 and went on to admit he was eager to begin talks over a new contract.

Links from the previous summer with a move to Chelsea appeared to have been banished, as both Rafa Benitez and the club's then chief executive, Rick Parry, urged Gerrard to stay, revealing a contract extension had been offered.

But talks dramatically broke down. Liverpool later issued a statement confirming Gerrard had rejected their offer, while the midfielder added that his intentions to sign a new deal after the Champions League final had changed.

The U-turn reignited Chelsea's interest, sparking a £32m bid from the west London side, while reports from Spain suggested Real Madrid were also weighing up a heavy offer for the midfielder.

But just a day later, Gerrard had a change of heart again and insisted he wished to stay at Anfield. Contracts were reworked and the Liverpool captain signed a four-year extension in July 2005.

Over a year before his confirmed arrival at Stamford Bridge, Ashley Cole, along with two agents, Jose Mourinho and former Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon, were caught in a secret meeting and subsequently fined by the FA in one of the highest-profile 'tapping-up' cases to date.

Arsene Wenger branded Chelsea as 'arrogant' over their illegal attempts to sign the left-back, while Arsenal chairman Peter Hill-Wood revealed Cole demanded a triple-wage increase in order to stay at Arsenal.

Despite signing a contract extension in July 2005, Cole joined Chelsea just over a year later for £5m, with William Gallas moving the other way.

In his autobiography, Cole believes Arsenal 'fed him to the sharks' during the tapping-up case for not publicly backing him over the incident.

"I've never played in Spain and now I never will. This is my last big contract," was Thierry Henry's declaration after signing a four-year extension at Arsenal in May 2006. 

Two days before his commitment, Henry cut a frustrated figure after losing out to Barcelona in the Champions League and the striker fuelled speculation over his future after failing to commit to the club in a post-match interview.

After winning a second runner-up medal just over a month later, this time in the 2006 World Cup final, Henry's final campaign at Arsenal was ended in March due to a groin injury. Following David Dein's departure from the club the following month, Henry admitted he was 'devastated' by the decision but remained adamant he would stay at the Emirates for the remainder of Wenger's reign.

Despite his promise, Henry completed his move to Barcelona in June 2007, while Wenger insisted there was no animosity between himself and the forward following his exit.

A blistering record of 42 goals in a total of 48 appearances for Manchester United in the 2007-08 season initiated Real Madrid's interest in Cristiano Ronaldo, although after winning the Champions League with Manchester United at the end of the campaign, the forward insisted he wanted to stay at Old Trafford.

United, agitated by Madrid's public attempts to lure Ronaldo, filed a complaint to Fifa during the summer which was later dismissed. Ferguson reiterated the forward will remain at Old Trafford for the following season.

Speculation continued to increase and in response to claims that United and Madrid had made a secret deal to sell Ronaldo to the Bernabeu the following summer, Ferguson said: “Do you think I would get into a contract with that mob? Jesus Christ, no chance. I wouldn’t sell them a virus."

Ronaldo's last game in a United shirt came in the 2009 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, and transfer tittle-tattle sparked once again as a summer of uncertainty loomed.

Florentino Perez, who returned as Real Madrid's president, vowed he would not to be deterred by Ronaldo's hefty price tag, though his words were put to the ultimate test after securing the services of Kaka for a reported £56m in June.

Later that month, Ronaldo expressed his desire to leave Old Trafford and United accepted the £80m bid lodged by Real Madrid. The forward was unveiled officially in July, arriving at the Bernabeu for a world-record transfer fee.

The back-and-forth nature of transfer talk involving Cesc Fabregas became almost metronomic throughout the midfielder's proposed switch to Barcelona. 

Hill-Wood started off proceedings in April 2010, claiming Barcelona had assured the club they would not submit a bid the following summer. Txiki Begiristain, Barcelona's former dealmaker, dismissed any promise had be made and a £27m bid launched in June was met with a resounding rejection from Arsenal.

Fabregas insisted he wanted his future to be decided before he left for Spain's World Cup campaign but Barcelona remained firm on the midfielder's valuation, while a host of the Camp Nou playing personnel, notably Gerard Pique, Xavi and Carles Puyol, publicly courted the Arsenal captain.

Fabregas, meanwhile, confirmed he would remain loyal to Arsenal (despite being pictured in a Barcelona shirt whilst celebrating Spain's World Cup victory) and stayed at the Emirates for the following season, although his final campaign under Wenger was blighted by a persistent hamstring injury.

As the transfer window approached, Fabregas admitted he held talks with Wenger over his future, but the Frenchman remained firm, labelling Sandro Rosell's claim that the midfielder's valuation had decreased as 'disrespectful'.

Barcelona opening gambit of £30m was rejected in June, and Arsenal maintained their resilience. Puyol went on to liken Fabregas' situation at the Emirates to that of a prisoner but the midfielder seemingly put an end to speculation at the start of August by confirming his commitment to the club.

But Fabregas' statement of intent did little to dissuade Barcelona and the midfielder went on to leave Arsenal for £35m, signing a five-year deal at the Camp Nou.

A showcase of a club's resolve to retain their prized asset, Tottenham stared in the face of increased bids, transfer requests and public wantaway declarations from Luka Modric to keep the midfielder at White Hart Lane

Chelsea initially lodged a bid of £22m which was rejected by Spurs, while a £27m improved offer, which was also declined, sparked an official transfer request from Modric, as the Croatia international claimed the club's chairman, Daniel Levy, had broken a gentleman's agreement to sell him to a bigger club in the summer.

Both Levy and manager Harry Redknapp continued to stand firm over Modric, as the Spurs boss continually referred to the Tottenham chairman's no-sale stance when questioned on the midfielder's future.

Tottenham's resilience, which was tested one last time after a deadline-day bid of £40m from Chelsea, paid off as Modric admitted he would stay until the end of the season, but talks over an improved contract have yet to evolve into an official commitment from the 26-year-old.

Perhaps Arsenal should have paid the price for failing to renew Samir Nasri's contract, as Manchester United and Manchester City closed in on the France international, whose deal at the Emirates was due to expire in June 2012.

Paul Scholes declared Nasri had the ability to fill the role he had retired at Old Trafford at the end of last season and the void in United's midfield suggested the 24-year-old had the chance to become a pivotal figure in Sir Alex Ferguson's plans.

But the financial clout of City eventually prevailed as the midfielder moved to Eastlands for a reported £24m fee, while picking up a salary which dwarfed the contract offers from United and Arsenal.

Nasri's parting shot directed at his former club hit out at the Emirates board for restricting Wenger in the transfer market. Arsenal may have considered themselves fortunate after making over £10m on a player who had only a year left on his contract.

Wesley Sneijder constantly remained open to a potential move during last summer, even up until August 30, the Netherlands international claimed a deal could be struck in the closing stages of the transfer window which would to bring him to Old Trafford.

Ferguson, however, remained coy throughout the process, refusing to be drawn into speculation. After the close of the transfer window, the United boss insisted the 27-year-old 'was never an option' when targeting a midfield replacement for the retired Scholes.

Sneijder later revealed he was close to joining United and would have had no objections to a move to the Premier League.

Trouble had begun to brew as early as April 2010, less than a year into Tevez's arrival at Manchester City.

The Argentine had criticised Mancini over his training methods but worse was to come as the club rejected a transfer request from the striker in December and followed up eight days later with a statement suggesting Tevez had withdrawn his initial plea, with the forward pledging his commitment to City.

Speculation continued to mount and in June 2011, Tevez spoke in an interview about how he would not return to Manchester 'not even for a holiday'. The striker followed up with a subsequent statement issuing his desire to leave Eastlands in order to be closer to his family.

Corinthians appeared to be the perfect suitors but despite an agreement being reached between City and his former club, Tevez's transfer to the Brazilian side fell through. Inter, Real Madrid and a return to Boca Juniors remained possible destinations but a deal failed to materialise.

Tevez remained a City player but was stripped of the captaincy by Mancini and was limited in his appearances by the form of Edin Dzeko, Mario Balotelli and summer signing Sergio Aguero.

Tevez's next move was to spark a one-man mutiny as he refused to come off the bench during City's Champions League defeat to Bayern Munich. An angry Mancini vowed the Argentine would never play for the club again, while his fine of four weeks' wages as a result of a club investigation was halved by the Professional Footballers' Association.

Since the beginning of the January transfer window, City have fired a warning shot to potential suitors by revealing Tevez has lost £9.3m in wages, fines and bonuses this season after going on strike.

Despite the revelations, Inter, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan remained undeterred in the race to sign the Argentine, although the latter have already broken off negotiations with City previously this month after Alexandre Pato confirmed he was staying at San Siro.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

How Tottenham have turned their season around since August's Manchester City humiliation

When Manchester City arrived at White Hart Lane on August 25, Tottenham were simply not ready.

Spurs' start to the Premier League season - a home game against Everton - had been delayed by the London riots, and so Harry Redknapp's side faced the big-spending club on the back of a convincing 3-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford, in which Jermain Defoe led the line alone, Luka Modric was inconspicuous by his absence and the defensive onus in midfield fell to the inexperienced Jake Livermore.

Meanwhile, Roberto Mancini's side had signalled their early intent with an emphatic 4-0 victory over Swansea City, in which debutant Sergio Aguero came off the bench to score twice, before putting another three past Bolton Wanderers.

City were not expected to brush Spurs aside given the tight nature of the previous meetings between the two, but Mancini's men were rampant in north London, as Edin Dzeko scored four and Aguero grabbed another, with David Silva and Samir Nasri the masterminds behind a thoroughly convincing 5-1 victory.

Modric had attempted to pull out of the game, Peter Crouch, isolated up front, could not impose himself on the visitors - nor could Gareth Bale or Aaron Lennon. Spurs looked streets behind the league's pacesetters.

However, Redknapp maintained he could turn the fortunes of his side around if he were able to bring in the key transfer targets he had identified.

And, once Scott Parker and Emmanuel Adebayor were signed, sealed and delivered to White Hart Lane, Spurs barely looked back.

The impact of both players was instantly felt, as Parker marshalled the midfield at Molineux against Wolves, and played in Adebayor to open the scoring in a 2-0 victory, with Jermain Defoe grabbing the second.

The signing of Parker was allegedly met with some hesitance by Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, given the player's fairly advanced age and fee on the back of a heroic season with relegated West Ham which saw him emerge as the English football zeitgeist, but the 31-year-old has since shown his value to the team time and time again, proving particularly influential in home wins against QPR and Bolton.

It is the England international's industrious, tireless efforts that have freed those around him to play to their fullest, particularly the likes of Bale and Modric.

Parker's introduction to the Spurs side also coincided with the return to fitness of Ledley King, who has been in and out of the team, but has proved to be an integral player during Tottenham's run of good form.

And, while King has failed to feature consistently since his first appearance of the season against Wolves, Spurs have benefitted from the improvement of Younes Kaboul, who looks a different player to the one who first arrived at White Hart Lane in 2007, while Kyle Walker has firmly established himself as the regular first choice right-back over Vedran Corluka, and is surely an England hopeful.

How close Parker actually came to having a different central midfield partner at White Hart Lane is anybody's guess, as the Spurs hierarchy must surely have been tempted to part ways with Modric following a big-money offer from Chelsea.

But Levy and Co. have reaped the rewards of holding onto their man since the possibility of leaving the club dissipated.

In fact, it took Modric little time to put his desire to leave the club behind him, as he fired in after just seven minutes in a sumptuous display in the 4-0 victory over Liverpool, and has since proved himself to be everything the previous seasons had suggested he was - unflappable on the ball, with remarkable vision and a deftness of touch replicated only by the world's finest midfielders.

Equally impressive has been the evolution of Bale from direct left-sided winger to adaptable modern forward.

The Welsh international had hinted at having more to his game than an almost-unstoppable dribble and a decent shot, but this season, Bale has been afforded the opportunity to express himself in a free-flowing, interchangeable Spurs front line, often occupying the space behind or alongside Adebayor, and on the right hand side.

Against Norwich City at Carrow Road, Bale was excellent in something of a free role, and his second of two goals, bursting straight through the gut of the home side's defence before delicately chipping over John Ruddy, summed up the season he is having.

The part Adebayor has played in the resurgence of course, cannot be ignored. The Togolese striker is far more adept at holding up the ball and involving his team-mates in play than Defoe, who has actually scored more goals in all competitions this season than the former Arsenal man. It is his link-up play with Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Lennon that arguably makes him first choice over his competition.

That City could afford to loan Adebayor out to Spurs, whose title credentials they must surely have doubted at the time, while still subsidising his wages, is testament to the strength in their frontline, and the task Spurs are faced with in attempting to keep the likes of Aguero and Dzeko quiet on their own patch.

Indeed, Tottenham face a huge task in upending the league leaders, who boast a 100 per cent record at the Etihad Stadium.

But Redknapp's charges will feel better prepared for the challenge than they did back in August.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The reasons why David Beckham decided to stay with LA Galaxy

Most human decisions involve several interchanging factors that influence the process, especially when involving career and location. David Beckham's choice to remain with LA Galaxy was no different. 

After lifting an absolving, redeeming MLS Cup in November 2011, the English midfielder weighed up his free agent options throughout December. 

"I just needed a break," Beckham said. "I needed to get away, to rest my body and then to decide what I felt was the right move."

Beckham and his family decided to shun lucrative offers from Europe and to remain California, and Becks' return became official on Thursday when he was presented at the Staples Center. 

Let's delve into some of the reasons that came into play during the decision process: 

1. Family first

"My family and my children are the most important thing to me," Beckham said. 

After five years, the family is settled in California. Harper Seven, Beckham's first daughter, was born here last year. The three older brothers are entering formative scholastic and developmental years, and the family didn't want to uproot them. 

"Me and Victoria had talked about it many times," Beckham said. "Our oldest son was a big part of it as well. He's 12 years old. He's at the stage in his life where he needs that stability in his schooling."

2. The lure of Los Angeles

Los Angeles doesn't hold the same mesmerizing aura in person as conveyed in film or song. It's grimier and dirtier and more dilapidated and the traffic is awful. But that's true of any major city, including Paris.  

In the end, LA worked as a net positive in Beckham's decision. A few hours from their home in Beverly Hills are mountains. In the other direction is the beach. In the middle were ample opportunities for the family to build a life worth keeping. 

"We believed in our city," Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke said. "In LA we're proud of the environment we've created here. It's a great place to live. 

"We knew there were a lot of people tugging on [Beckham's] sleeve, but we also knew it'd be hard to replace LA."

One man's maze of concrete highways is another man's home. And home is something very hard to give up. 

"We've been happy here for the past five years," Beckham pointed out. "Why change something that works? The kids love living here, I love living here. Los Angeles has been amazing to us as a family."

3. Olympic pining

Much of the criticism leveled at Beckham, especially during the early years of his MLS contract, was that he cared more about playing internationally than in a Galaxy uniform. 

Though less of an issue since his Achilles injury pushed the 36-year-old irrevocably off of the England national team roster, the club versus country debate has cropped up again. Beckham desperately wants to play in the 2012 London Olympics. 

"Hopefully I'll be involved in the Olympics," he said. "I want to be part of the GB team. I've never played an Olympics personally. I know how exciting it is for our country and our nation to have the Olympics in the east end of London, especially for me growing up in the east end of London."

Beckham even went as far as to suggest that if he doesn't make Stuart Pearce's playing roster, he may join in some sort of coaching or ambassadorial role. 

At the Galaxy he's guaranteed playing time if fit (and sometimes even if not). At Paris Saint-Germain or a Premier League club, that isn't the case. Even if Beckham's ability or drive can't be questioned, why risk missing out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity? He'll be 37 in May; there will certainly never be a chance for him to play in the Olympics again. 

Additionally, MLS's awkward schedule actually works in Beckham's favor in this instance. European leagues will have completed their seasons and entered the summer break by the time the Olympics roll around. Beckham, meanwhile, will be in midseason form with the Galaxy, raring to go. 

As for AEG's role in allowing him dispensation to join Team GB if called up? 

"There's another part of this: We're very active in the Olympics," Leiweke said. "A long time ago we made it clear that we were going to do anything to support the Olympic games in London. 

"David being there is important to us. So we were going to be 100 percent supportive, that was never a question. Even if David didn't ask it, we were going to give it. We want him there. That was never an issue, ever."

4. Growing the game Stateside

"I don't think that my job as an ambassador of the league is finished," Beckham said. 

Immediately following the official announcement of Beckham's new two-year contract Wednesday, rival MLS clubs began trumpeting his upcoming visits to their cities. It's clear Goldenballs is still the golden ticket when it comes to selling tickets in America. 

The Galaxy likely would not have been able to replace his crossover and mainstream appeal, let alone his midfield playmaking duties. 

As soccer continues to carve out its niche in the American psyche, Beckham didn't feel like his role was done. 

"In the last year definitely, in the last two years maybe, I've seen the growth, I've seen the interest change, I've seen the excitement around the country, and I don't want to leave that yet," Beckham explained. "I want to be part of that going forward."

Since Beckham joined the league from Real Madrid in 2007, five new teams have joined MLS. Empirically, MLS is a growing league. 

"We know that David's first love in his life is his family, but he loves playing the game of soccer," Galaxy head coach Bruce Arena said. "That means that the Galaxy had to be right for him, and the league had to be right. By David coming back to LA he confirms that MLS is making progress, he believes in this sport in America and he believes in the Galaxy. That's important."

5. Ownership option

MLS will likely add a 20th team overall in New York soon. After that, Beckham has a contract clause to buy a franchise at a discount price upon retirement. 

"Everybody knows I have the option of owning a franchise," Beckham admitted. "That excites me."

Leiweke provided more details. 

"He has the right, and he's made this very clear to us so we had to sort this through, that he's going to exercise his option to be an owner in Major League Soccer," Leiweke said. "Unless I'm mistaken, that's his future once he does make a decision to retire. We've structured the league, and the partners in the league have structured that option, in a way that will allow David to become a partner in the league and to operate and run his own franchise."

Most players move into coaching after retirement. Beckham mentioned some such as Paul Scholes who miss the camaraderie and competition of playing, and make returns. Coaching at least allows for some sun on the training ground every morning. 

But apparently ownership appeals to Beckham more. It's not a completely novel notion: Michael Jordan was perhaps the most high-profile athlete to move from the court to the boardroom. 

"He spends a lot of time talking to me about the business side of it," Leiweke said. "David's really smart. He's a very good businessman and he's a tough businessman. I have a lot of respect for the kind of owner he's going to be. 

"He's a very shrewd guy. He understands talent. He's out, as we speak, helping Bruce with a couple players we're trying to bring here. 

"It took one day to get Robbie Keane because David Beckham picked up the phone and recruited him."

6. Money versus ball

When Beckham first joined the Galaxy, AEG greatly inflated his wages in a press release by including potential endorsement money. The company is taking the opposite tact this time around, lowly admitting that others could stump up more coin. According to reports, PSG offered $18.7 million for an 18-month contract. 

Though details weren't revealed, Beckham likely won't see that amount for his full two years in LA. 

"We had confidence he'd make a decision as a dad before he'd make a decision as a businessman," Leiweke said. 

Other factors ended up weighing more than the financials, and in the end Beckham decided to keep his family in Los Angeles. 

"On New Year's Eve we had a glass of wine and I thought, 'We're too happy to move.'"



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