Thursday, January 03, 2008

Perfectly Bittersweet Irony from a Forward

My marathon effort has ended. I set myself the task of making a transfer window blog on Boxing Day and finally it is complete with this last entry: the Forwards. Countless hours of poring over form books, tipster sites, videos.....anybody need a new upcoming scout? Seriously though I hope somebody has enjoyed it and maybe learnt something new, or rediscovered an old gem.

Once again I shall begin with a little story. On my final leg of research I was popping by the FIFA website. I know, UEFA yesterday, now FIFA. Anyway I spotted an interesting headline:

Eto'o demands results over style

Er yes. Quite. The Barcelona forward, aptly enough, has decided winning is sometimes more important than pure football. The Cameroonian international has had this epiphany after finding Barcelona seven points behind league leaders Real Madrid. The maxim is eerily familiar to students of Jose Mourinho and his verbal philosophys. Samuel Eto'o's take on the situation was

"We haven't always done things well. At times we are obsessed with passes and maintaining the ball. But if you do not score, it does not matter what else you have done,"

Mourinho's maxim of course was the succinct "Look, we're not entertaining? I don't care; we win."

Perhaps Eto'o has some insider knowledge.......

Ahem, back to the forwards:


26 year old Brazilian international currently on loan at VfB Stuttgart who have the option to sign him permanently this January. Real Zaragoza holds the player’s registration but his loan was nothing to do with his ability; Ewerthon scored 12 goals in his first 37 league games for Zaragoza. That left him alongside Fernando Torres in the scoring charts for the 2005/06 season. Ewerthon was simply pushed out as Sergio Garcia hit form; the sublime Pablo Aimar was signed by the club and then along came Oliveira. A return to the Bundesliga would certainly bring back fond memories. Ewerthon spent four seasons at Borussia Dortmund, scoring 47 goals in 119 league games and winning the Bundesliga along the way. However, he might wish to chance his arm in the Premiership and would certainly interest a few clubs. Sunderland are said to be interested but with Jeremie Aliadiere’s stuttering form and injury woes Middlesbrough could be tempted. Portsmouth, Man City and Bolton could also be in the running particularly if the latter sell Anelka.

David Odonkor

Lightning quick German international wing forward who is currently at Real Betis since his £4million pound move from Borussia Dortmund in 2006. He has not had the best of times in La Liga with only 20 appearances due to injuries. However he should be back to his best come the middle of January after an op back in November kept him out for two months. Odonkor, still only 23 is surely too fast for the more technically minded Spanish league. He was once reported as running 100 metres in 10.9 seconds. A move to the Premiership may suit his talents as a flying winger who can cut inside. While the big four might be reluctant to angle for him Everton could certainly add him to the team of youthful attacking effervescence David Moyes is beginning to erect. Odonkor might also interest Manchester City, Newcastle United and Portsmouth. Real Betis would be reluctant to sell and Odonkor might want to finish the season to prove himself in Spain first. The big plus for any interested team though is Betis are down in 18th in the table and a £6million pound bid could land one a most promising young international.

Njazi Kuqi

The younger brother of Fulham’s Shefki Kuqi, Njazi has some Premiership experience albeit a bad one. Signed by Birmingham in 2005 he left in 2006 after failing to dislodge Mikael Forsell and Emile Heskey. Kuqi is still 24 but his temperament still seems on the immature side, which has led him to be dismissed by Groningen in August 2006. Kuqi currently plays for FC Carl Zeiss Jena in the second Bundesliga but has failed to settle. He would be a cheap addition too as a squad player at a bottom Premiership or top Championship side. Fulham could pair the brothers together. With his brother guiding him and Roy Hodgson, a former Finnish manager, not to mention fellow countryman Antti Niemi, Njazi Kuqi might settle down. The Finnish striker can then show why he was Finland’s under 21 player of the year a mere three years ago.

Maksim Shatskikh

Uzbek international forward who has been voted as one of the top three Asian players in 2005. Shatskikh, besides being a nightmare for commentators to pronounce, scored 27 goals in 35 internationals. He has also scored 87 times in 186 league games (47%) for current club Dynamo Kyiv. That compares fairly well with Kyiv’s most famous export Andriy Shevchenko, who scored 60 times in 117 league games (51%). Shatskikh was ironically the man who replaced Shevchenko when the Ukrainian left for Ac Milan. The 29 year old has also equalled Serhiy Rebrov’s goal scoring record for a season with 22 in the 2002/03 season. The question mark is whether he would move, but at 29 he still has the time to play for several seasons and a chance to play in a top European league might be hard to resist. The 6ft 1.6-inch striker was once coveted by West Brom in 2005 but Uzbekistan’s ranking made a work permit impossible. With Uzbekistan being as high as 45 in December 2006 the Uzbek forward would be eligible this time round for a fee of around £4million. Birmingham, Derby and Sunderland take note.

Giuseppe Sculli.

A 26-year-old Italian on loan at Genoa from Juventus. A former U-21 star he is unlikely to feature for the Juventus first team. However, good positional sense to create space and a powerful header of the ball should see him as a good buy for a promotion chasing Championship outfit. With QPR’s Italian connections they would be in pole position to land Sculli but Crystal Palace and Charlton Athletic could start nosing around.

Future Transfers but unlikely in January.

Dean Ashton

Originally I would not have mentioned the former Crewe and Norwich striker. Recent speculation has suggested that Ashton might be heading out of the Boleyn ground and on to pastures new. The spectre was raised after the West Ham player began to feel restless after coming back from injury and not starting as often as he liked. West Ham’s manager Alan Curbishley has dismissed talk of a rift with the player. Chances are the tension, if any, between club and the 24 year old would be full England international will be smoothed over during this transfer window. The situation will be monitored closely though and if Ashton continues to play cameo roles the vultures might swoop in the summer.

Fernando Cavenaghi

24-year-old Argentine former starlet, scoring 57 goals in 84 league appearances for River Plate. Now at Bordeaux via Spartak Moscow Cavenaghi has scored 6 goals in 18 league games. Cavenaghi can play with both feet, with a good header. He has good positioning sense and a bit of pace but will need to keep an eye on the physical element of the game but certainly a fox in the box player. Cavenaghi also has that ability, like Eduardo for example, to stroke the ball home with finesse. The Argentinean’s next move may well be a big one.

Hugo Almeida

Pacy Portugese powerhouse at 6ft 3, Almeida plays for Werder Bremen. He has scored 7 goals in 12 league matches for Werder and could star at Euro 2008. Yet Almeida is only 23 and like Miroslav Klose may eventually move on to a European giant.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Hearts and Midfielders

Phil O'Donnell's death has bought the issue of heart safety sharply back into focus, five years after the shock loss of Cameroonian international Marc Vivien Foe. The Motherwell captain's collapse from heart failure at the end of December is also an untimely remider of why Uefa issued a statement back at the beginning of that month. In it, Europe's governing football body declared players at Euro 2008 will have to take mandatory cardiac tests before taking part. This was in response to deaths such as Foe's and it is unfortunate that O'Donnell's name will be added to that roll call. All players entering the game are routinely scanned at 16 but the Professional Footballers' Association has called, like UEFA, for more screening to be done at the national and club level.

Hopefully more cases such as two young Accrington players who have continued playing after post screening operations will be the norm and deaths like Phil O'Donnell's will be fewer, if not prevented all together.

Phil O'Donnell

God needed a Captain. He got the best.


I came across the UEFA statement whilst researching players for my transfer window blog series and intended to write that up with Foe in mind. When I heard the tragic news of Phil O'Donnell's I could not believe that it had happened at first. After I realised it was a heart attack, that was even more disturbing. I hope UEFA and the PFA do succeed in making football safer in this area.

I also therefore dedicate the midfielders blog to Phil O'Donnell as one of the most honest of them all.

The midfielders that might impress this January:

Mika Vayrynen

A Finnish footballer who plays for PSV Eindhoven. The 26 year old can play as a defensive or attacking midfielder and can if needed play on the right. He has been capped 24 times for his country and has been linked with a move to Rangers. Vayrynen most recent attempt at a move was to Derby County under Billy Davies back in August. A £2.2 million transfer fee had been agreed when a calf injury quashed the move. Steve Bruce might sensibly try and resurrect the deal, as Davies would have done. Otherwise he might head for Fulham where his former manager Roy Hodgson has just taken charge.

Steve Sidwell

Former Reading midfield maestro who moved to Chelsea at the beginning of the season. Ostensibly signed as cover for the departures of Michael Essien and Mikel John Obi for African Cup of Nations duty appearances have been slim. The 25 year old seems to have been a casualty of the Mourinho fallout as Avram Grant often leaves him as an unused substitute and only gave him a 45-minute run out against Fulham. Sunderland have expressed an interest and Roy Keane will certainly admire his fighting qualities. As an admirer of Sidwell I hope any move would be a loan deal and only completed on the last day of the transfer window. For his career Sidwell may well take any opportunity to play consistent football.

Rafael Van der Vaart

A long admired talent throughout Europe Van der Vaart has been one of the focal reasons for Hamburg’s challenge for the Bundesliga this season. His move from Ajax for 5.5 million euro in 2005 was a shocker; most people believed he would choose one of the top European clubs. Now speculation is rising again the Dutchman might finally make that move. At just 24 years old he is already a seasoned international with fifty appearances to his name. Hamburg angered Van der Vaart by turning down a £15 million move to Valencia last summer. He had set his heart on a move to Spain. Despite claiming he will stay with Hamburg until the end of the season a January move for a player who has scored 87 goals in 201 games for club and country is likely. Chelsea have been said to have prepared a £20 million bid with Frank Arnesen and Henk Ten Cate having strong links to Rafael’s former club Ajax as player and coach respectively. Another manager who may move for him though is his former Ajax manager Ronald Koeman. Now at Valencia Koeman may decide to resurrect Valencia’s interest as he rebuilds Los Che. As for Van der Vaart himself, he has recently expressed a desire to move to the Stadio delle Alpi. Claudio Ranieri is known to be an admirer of the Dutch player. This could be the transfer saga of January.

Diego Ribas de Cunha (Diego)

One of several Brazilians with the shortened expression of Diego, de Cunha is a midfield magician of attacking flair. He has drawn lazy comparisons with his Argentine namesake and had interest from Barcelona and Real Madrid last season. Tottenham Hotspur however were interested in him as far back as 2003. Diego has gone on to prove their initial enquiry, turned down at the last minute by then club Santos FC was on the money. The 22 year old was the Bundesliga Player of the season for 2006-07 and has won many player of the month awards. Tottenham are looking to swoop for him again although an initial rumoured bid of £18million has been rejected. Diego’s refusal to sign a contract extension beyond 2010 though has raised transfer expectation with Liverpool also looking towards the Brazilian. With 22 goals in 50 games for Werder Bremen it is little wonder he is being linked with one of the top four. With a price tag of £18 million Diego looks likely to end up in hotter climes unless Levy does splash some cash, which he has ruled out thus far.

Johann Vogel

The Swiss international was earning his crust at Real Betis last season but has become a free agent after leaving the club by mutual consent. The 30 year old who got to the semi finals of the champions league with PSV in the 2004/05 season is a versatile defensive midfielder. Vogel’s range of passing and ball holding abilities make him a fantastic addition to any team for balance. At a high profile enough club he could rename his position the Vogel position, taking that honour from Makelele. As a free agent he can join any club he wishes. Having 90 appearances for his country, his international and European experience, add weight to a CV that includes a stint at AC Milan. Everton are the favourites to land the Swiss with most rumours suggesting he is a dead cert to sign. If he does not turn up at Everton, Tottenham might be interested, as he would make a great shield for a reorganised defence and a foil for Diego if Tottenham land the Brazilian.

Rio Antonio Mavuba

A true international from the moment of his birth, Mavuba, his passport says he was “born at sea”. Mavuba is now a French international, having become a citizen in 2004. His father was a player for Zaire at the 1974 World Cup and his abilities as a defensive midfielder have seen him touted as Makelele’s heir apparent for the French team. As a 20 year old he made his debut for Bordeaux and immediately became a fixture in the team before his move to Villareal in the summer. Mavuba, 23, has made six appearances for France since 2004 but only one for Villareal this season. This has prompted Mavuba to get itchy feet, desiring first team football in the run up to Euro 2008. Unsurprisingly Villareal want to hold onto the player, publicly to compete in the UEFA cup, Copa del Rey and Primera Liga. Privately the bean counters in charge of the Yellow Submarine know a good Euro 2008 for Mavuba will see his price rocket. Rio Antonio has been linked with Manchester United and Juventus in the past, but Fiorentina have moved into pole position in trying to sign Mavuba. Everton though might try to sign him as Lee Carsley and Thomas Gravesen are beginning to feel the effects of one too many midfield clashes. Portsmouth too might persuade Mavuba to help them challenge for European places particularly with Papa Bouba Diop and Sulley Muntari leaving for the African Cup of Nations. One problem could be the transfer fee; Villareal paid around £11million for Mavuba, they will want to at least recoup the outlay. Chelsea could always go and buy Makelele’s replacement. Then again they let Makelele’s ‘son’ Lassana Diarra move to Arsenal for peanuts.

Shao Jiayi.

27-year-old Chinese international who plays for Energie Cottbus in the Bundesliga. Jiayi has scored 8 goals in 35 internationals and is regarded as a dead ball specialist. Energie Cottbus are just a place off the bottom of the Bundesliga and Shao might be persuaded to move abroad. The attacking midfielder is a natural left footer and could be a decent squad player for one of the relegation threatened sides, Derby, Sunderland, Wigan Birmingham or Fulham. Alternatively he could move to one of the leading Championship sides for example Watford or Charlton. Jiayi should be available for around £3-5 million.

Stephen Appiah

A Ghanaian international constructive deep midfield player, who currently plays for Fenerbahce. Whilst on loan at Brescia in 2003 he scored 7 times in 31 matches and currently has 15 goals in 65 league matches for Fenerbahce in. Appiah has been capped by his country 53 times with 13 goals and was part of the Ghana side that made it into the second round at the World Cup. He was part of the Juventus team that won the scudetto for the 28th time. Unfortunately this was later stripped due to the corruption scandal in Italian football. The Ghanaian captain is currently his country’s footballer of the year and has been linked with a move to Juventus. However West Ham, Everton, Arsenal and Portsmouth have all been linked to the 27 year old who would cost around £5-7 million. A knee injury has just been confirmed which means his move will probably be delayed if at all to the summer.

Future moves but unlikely in January.

Frank Lampard

Yes. I know, let’s start with a big one. Wow where does that come from? Well first of all, stranger things have happened in football. Thierry Henry professed his undying love forArsenal. After the Champions League defeat to Barcelona he was pretty adamant he was staying put. Fast-forward a year and Henry was involved in a £16 million move to Barcelona. So Lampard’s protestations that he wants to stay at Chelsea forever may be good intentioned but I’ll believe it when he retires from football still at Chelsea. Lampard’s agent claimed a deal had not been signed last summer because Peter Kenyon had not sat down with them. The same agent said a deal would be signed during that pre-season. The contract still appears to be in the briefcase without F.Lampard on it. At the end of this season Frank Lampard will be entering a phase where Chelsea can no longer be bullish about a transfer fee and could hold the club to high transfer demands. If they break down a host of European clubs could come calling like Barcelona and Juventus. Lampard’s decision to stay depends on two key factors and a third lesser one. Where Mourinho ends up next, how Fabio Capello picks his England team and his last big move; a chance to play in another top European League and prove himself? If Mourinho ends up at Barcelona, Frank Lampard will swiftly follow. If Mourinho ends up at AC Milan, which might be a possibility if AC make a hash of their games in hand, there will be a tug of war with Juventus. If Fabio Capello plumps for the favoured option among pundits-Gerrard no Lampard, Frank will see even less reason to stay. Indeed, it would be an incentive to show he can play abroad and win his place back that way. Next summer he could leave for £8 million. After all Pavel Nedved retires at the end of this season, Frank would be a good replacement.

Christoph Preuß

German defensive midfield player who can also operate in defence Preuß plays for Eintracht Frankfurt. Despite his defensive position he is renowned for a bicycle kick-winning goal against Bayern Munich. The 26 year old would be a good squad player for a team in the middle of the Premier League like Tottenham, Aston Villa, Portsmouth and Everton or a first team man for Wigan, Birmingham, Middlesbrough or Bolton. Preuß would command a relatively small transfer fee of around £1million.

Sergio Raul Torres

A real Boy’s Own story for this Argentinian. After 2 seasons at his hometown club, shrimps Banfield de Mar del Plata, young Raul Torres decided to up sticks and come to England and play professionally. Undeterred by a knock back from Brighton and Hove Albion he played for non-league Basingstoke. Here the then opposition manager John Gorman spotted him in a pre-season friendly against Wycombe Wanderers. He has since played 48 league games scoring two goals. Torres has extended his contract at Wycombe until the end of the season but will be aiming to help them get into League One. The 24 year old will be keen to test himself at the next level and if Wycombe fail to gain promotion might jump on a free to Leyton Orient.

Sam Needs to roll the Dyce and January defensive options

Big Sam has had the dreaded vote of confidence from his chairman. By now that has become football code for "borrowed time". The problem for Sam is Newcastle are a club in a hurry. A bit like England they have allowed other teams to move quite a way ahead of them but refuse to accept it. When Sam says he needs five years he is probably right.

When was the last time a manager got five years? With the admirable exception of Arsenal most clubs seem to be happy on the trigger. More worryingly for Sam Allardyce though is some of his signings have failed to live up to their billing. Claudio Cacapa is supposed to be a great centre back but at the moment needs time to bed in the Premiership. Joey Barton.....well enough said.

Add to that Sam seems to have failed to adjust to managing a club of Newcastle's size. At Stamford Bridge on saturday he rightly went for the draw at the start. If the linesman had been on point and not in fairy land that's what he would have got. Yet there was a period of about twenty minutes in the second half where I was expecting him to bring on Mark Viduka and maybe Owen as well with orders to push on. Frankly there was a spell where Chelsea looked fairly suspect at the back and a bit more adventure from the manager and Newcastle might have grabbed the lead. Instead he left the Owen substitution to fifteen minutes to go, with a return from injury perhaps sensibly so. However leaving Mark Viduka warming the bench until the 89th minute was nonsensical. Allardyce must grab a result of some sort in tonights game, another loss and he could be on the brink.

Talking of defences here are some defenders that might strengthen back lines around the country.

Nigel De Jong

A 23 year old Dutch defensive midfielder or right wing back. He currently plays for Hamburg SV in the Bundesliga with 43 appearances since his move from Ajax in 2006. He has just the one goal for Hamburg but it was an important one. He scored the winning goal that consigned Bayern to their first defeat in the Allianz Arena in March 2006. His qualities have seen him called up to the Dutch squad, making his debut as a twenty year old against France in a friendly. He has since made 19 appearances for his country. Overlooked for Euro 2004 and a knee injury keeping him out of the World Cup he will surely be one of the stars of Euro 2008. He cost Hamburg SV 1 million Euro and with Hamburg four points off the top of the Bundesliga a move is unlikely. However a move now will probably cost at least £10 million but that price may rocket after the Euros. Clubs such as AC Milan, who need to start replacing their ageing back line, could move for him but De Jong may also interest Chelsea and Manchester United.


An imposing 6ft 4in 81kg Brazilian defender who plays in the Portugese SuperLiga for Benfica. He has been admired by some for his aerial defending, others for his ability to read the game and position himself in the right place at the right time. The 26 year old can also crop up with important goals when needed although his 10 goals in 146 games for Benfica suggest Luisao keeps them for very worthy occasions. The central defender has played 22 times for his country with two goals. He has been linked with a move to Juventus in a part swap deal with Tiago. Arsenal reportedly showed an interest in the past with a £9million pound bid but with William Gallas now at the club that seems unlikely. However, Liverpool, Newcastle United and Portsmouth could have interest in Luisao. The main problem for the last two will be the likely asking price around 15 million Euro.

Marco Zoro

Another Benfica player, who is able to play as a central defender or on the right, the difference is Benfica are keener to listen to offers for him. A statement on their website says 24 year old Ivorian Zoro has fallen out of manager Jose Camacho’s plans. A return to Italy is not unlikely but the fact Zoro was at the centre of a race taunt furore from Inter fans whilst at Messina suggests he would prefer a move elsewhere. His wage demands are likely to be fairly high which could leave him open to a move to English football. Newcastle, Sunderland and Derby in the Premiership could all do with defensive cover, although the wage demands might preclude all but Newcastle. Will Mike Ashley let Sam loose in the transfer market after the strange disappointment that is Claudio Cacapa? A fee of around £5 million is likely to be enough to prise him from Benfica after his 1.8 million Euro move from Messina at the beginning of the season. A dark horse contender for his signature however could be QPR, newly minted and with Italian connections.

Igor Mitreski

A 28 year old Macedonian defender from the Bundesliga who runs out for Energie Cottbus. Cottbus are currently 17th in the Bundesliga and Mitreski may well fancy a move to a mid table Premiership club. The central defender could help cover Portsmouth’s African cup absentees or Bolton to move back up the table. With suitable wage increase and release clauses he might even be persuaded to help shore up Derby and Sunderland’s weak back lines.

Tobias Rau.

A once highly rated Bayern Munich left back who has had bad luck with injuries trying to restart his career at Arminia Bielefeld. The 25 year old defender could be persuaded to pit his wits in the Premiership as his current team are 14th in a league, which is nowhere near as competitive. He could be a target for Derby, Sunderland or a highflying Championship team for example Charlton. QPR’s bankroll and project might also appeal.

Fabricio Coloccini

Argentinian international defender, winner of the FIFA World Youth Championship and part of the Olympic gold winning Argentine team in 2004, Coloccini is a seasoned professional at the top level. The centre back, who made two appearances at the last World Cup, is still only 25. Currently playing for Deportivo La Coruna in the Primera Liga, he is four years into a six-year deal. Coloccini has been linked with Liverpool in the past and with his team one place above bottom, he will be eager to see European Cup action. Juande Ramos may be tempted to bid to pair him with Ledley King in what would be an impressive centre pairing at Tottenham. A return to Italy and AC Milan where he played one game for the Rossoneri could be in the offing as Paolo Maldini stares retirement down in his farewell season.

Bernard Mendy

Admired as a real French right wing defensive maestro, Bernard Mendy has been at the club he supported from childhood, Paris St Germain for seven years. Mendy spent a year on loan at Bolton Wanderers, whereupon, he so impressed then Bolton manager Sam Allardyce, Big Sam moaned at the lack of funds to buy him. The 26 year old has been linked with a small money move to Liverpool or Celtic. Sam Allardyce could do worse than try and twist Ashley’s arm to land his one time loan star. Due to his contract running out at the end of the season Portsmouth might also try and wheel and deal him in as cover.

Paul Stalteri

Tottenham Hotspur’s right back has slipped down the pecking order with the arrival of Pascal Chimbonda under the Martin Jol regime. With new manager Juande Ramos sure to bring in new blood the 30 year old might find his role as cover eliminated altogether. A former Bundesliga winner and Premiership experience may appeal to clubs lower down the table such as Sunderland, Derby, Wigan and Birmingham. Fulham might however have the best chance if Stalteri decides he wants to remain in London. Otherwise a return to the Bundesliga might appeal maybe in a swap deal with Coloccini.

Future moves to look out for but unlikely in January are:

Gael Givet

A 26 year old centre/left back signed for Marseille this summer from Monaco. Marseille’s faltering form may see the Frenchman move on.

Vincent Kompany.

21 year old Belgian centre in the Bundesliga. Chelsea among others courted him but after dismissing the Mourinho regime as a “football factory” the Belgian joined Hamburg SV in 2006. An integral part of the surprise package SV have become in the Bundesliga. Hamburg however have failed to remain a consistent threat over the years and a similar fall in fortunes could see Kompany seek fresh pastures in Italy or England.

Sebastian Squillaci

French international playing for Lyon since his 2006 move. The 27 year old centre is assured of challenging for domestic honours again. With Lyon’s wonder team broken up over the last two seasons Champions League glory however, despite going forward to the second round, will remain elusive. Further break up of the team could include Squillaci looking for a new challenge.

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