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Friday, June 5, 2009

The Three-Transfers Road to Improvement: Manchester City

another article i wrote on bleacher report

At the halfway mark of my series, I look at the team that finished 10th in the league—Manchester City. Ideally, City would have wanted to finish in the European spots, but I'm sure that for a first season, the management and most fans would not be too disappointed with 10th place.

However, I think some players' performances would perhaps be a source of disappointment to the fans, and I will be addressing them in this article.

City definitely need to strengthen in the summer to push themselves into the European spots. Central midfield would have been one of the areas I would have focused on, but with the signing of Gareth Barry, that position is now good to go. The other positions that definitely require strengthening are...


On paper, this department is well stocked. Richard Dunne, Micah Richards, Vincent Kompany, and Nedum Onuoha have been used here, and all have performed well for City at a certain point of their careers.

However, for two of the above, their best has not been seen for the whole of season 2008/2009. I am referring to Dunne and Richards.

While Richards is still young and can perhaps improve with the appropriate guidance, Dunne looks to be past his prime.

For a player who already had the pace of a 129-year-old tortoise with three broken legs prior to the start of the season, he seems to have lost a yard of pace in the past year, and that has made him less effective as a defender.

For City to progress in the league, replacing Dunne is crucial. A top-class defender should be added to the ranks so that he can guide the likes of Richards and Onuoha along and aid them in their development to become first-choice centre-backs in future.

I would suggest Manchester City sign Porto's Bruno Alves. He is similar to Dunne in that he is a good defender and is very strong, and thus would be well-suited to the English Premier League. While not exactly boasting Theo Walcott's pace, he is definitely faster than Dunne.

More importantly for City, Alves would bring with him a wealth of European experience, which would be useful when they finally qualify for European competitions.

Money should not be a problem for City, and Hughes should be able to convince Alves to take up a new challenge, having won enough championships with Porto.

Should Alves prove to be impossible to tempt over, then Hughes can use his ex-Blackburn connections to go for Christopher Samba.

The giant Blackburn defender has shown that he is a real warrior, and with the current City side being accused of lacking a solid spine, the signing of Samba would definitely go some way to changing that view.

I don't think I even need to assess whether it's possible to prise Samba away from Ewood Park.


Currently, Shaun Wright-Phillips occupies this position. While he is definitely good enough for a team trying to qualify for Europe, his replacements, Kelvin Etuhu and Darius Vassell, who have been used there in the past, are definitely not.

As such, a right-winger should also be one of the top priorities on Mark Hughes' shopping list.

One of the best right-wingers in the Premier League currently is Antonio Valencia. He definitely will not be remaining at Wigan for next season, and it has been reported that Real Madrid tabled a bid for him a few weeks back. However, if that deal does not materialise, then I think City have a good chance of signing him.

They are certainly a club on their way up and would present him with an opportunity to play with better players. Money is not a problem for them, and any deal would probably benefit Wigan, Antonio Valencia, and Manchester City.

If Valencia is snapped up by another club, then City could perhaps set their sights on Joaquin from Valencia—the club, not the player.

Valencia missed out on the UEFA Champions League, and Joaquin might well decide that it is time for a new challenge and become part of this huge project going on in Manchester.

Since joining Valencia, Joaquin has not reproduced his Real Betis form but still remains a quality player. A tricky winger who likes to reduce opposition left-backs to mere spectators on the pitch, Joaquin would be a fantastic acquisition if he can find his form again.

With Valencia reportedly in financial trouble, they might be willing to cash in on Joaquin, and Manchester City will definitely have the ability to match any asking price.


It may seem strange that I am pushing for Man City to sign a striker, despite them having nine players who can play there. They are Robinho, Craig Bellamy, Valeri Bojinov, Felipe Caicedo, Ched Evans, Benjani Mwaruwari, Daniel Sturridge, Jo, and Darius Vassell.

Of the nine, Sturridge has rejected a new contract and looks likely to leave. Vassell is clearly not good enough for a club with City's ambition. Caicedo and Evans could potentially come good, but City need to be in Europe quick and cannot rely on them for goals. Jo cannot get along with Mark Hughes and will probably be shipped out.

Robinho, Bellamy, and Bojinov are the only strikers who seem to be able to match the ambitions of the club. However, Robinho's best position is on the left wing, where he can cut in with great effect, while Bellamy and Bojinov seem to play best with a big guy partnering them, as they are unlikely to win many headers.

Their pace would be best utilised if they had someone big to flick the ball on for them to chase.

For that reason, I think Manchester City should try to sign Roque Santa Cruz. Strong in the air, good on the floor, he would be the perfect partner for players like Robinho and Bellamy.

Besides, we have all witnessed the fantastic understanding between Barry and John Carew at Aston Villa in the season just past, and should Mark Hughes sign his former employee, then they could perhaps try to replicate that, as Santa Cruz definitely possesses the necessary attributes to be the "Carew" for Manchester City.

Another possible target would be Pavel Pogrebnyak. Tall and strong, Pogrebnyak also boasts an excellent goal-scoring record in Russian and European football. He has been tipped to be the next big thing in Russian football for the longest time, and City might want to take a chance on him.

I say "take a chance," because there is no guarantee a player signed from a foreign league will be a success.

So those are my suggestions for Manchester City to sign in the summer. With the backing of some of the richest people in the world, they will be favourites to land any player they are interested in.

However, they might have to persuade the top-class players to come to a club where they do not already have Champions League football, and that will not be an easy task.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Three-Transfers Road to Improvement: West Ham

another article i wrote on bleacher report

This is the ninth instalment of my "Three Transfers" series, and today we shall take a look at Gianfranco Zola's West Ham.

Tipped to do badly under a rookie manager, West Ham have exceeded all expectations to finish in ninth spot in the league. That this was achieved without their star striker Dean Ashton, who was ruled out for the entire season through injury, makes the achievement even more admirable.

West Ham also had to sell another of their prized assets, Craig Bellamy, in January, so to achieve a top-half finish is really quite something.

However, I think that there are a few areas that West Ham could definitely strengthen, and I will discuss them in this article.


Without doubt, this area has to be strengthened. Currently, the players who can play there are Matthew Upson, Lucas Neill, James Collins, James Tomkins, Daniel Gabbidon and Jonathan Spector.

Of the six players listed above, only three can be considered to be good defenders. I am referring to Matthew Upson, Lucas Neill, and James Tomkins.

Matthew Upson's quality is undoubted. Strong in the air, good on the floor, he is one of the best defenders in the league.

James Tomkins has shown in the matches he has played, that he has the potential to become a good player, and as such, should remain at the club.

Lucas Neill is also a fine player, but unfortunately for West Ham, his contract is running out soon, and having recently rejected a new contract, he might not be a Hammer for much longer.

As the centre of defence is crucial to any team's chances of success, I think West Ham need to focus their summer spending in this department, by making a centre-back their top priority.

A possible target would be David Wheater from Middlesbrough. A commanding presence in the air, Wheater looks like he has the potential to be even better than Matthew Upson. With Boro relegated to the Championship, they might not be able to stand in the way of a move for Wheater from a Premiership club.

Another possible signing is Rangers defender Madjid Bougherra. He recently helped Rangers to pip Celtic to the domestic double, and is a quality defender. Not one to ever shy away from a challenge, Bougherra would definitely be a good partner for Upson. The problem here is that Rangers are in the UEFA Champions League next season, so it might be a little difficult to entice him to come to West Ham.


This season, Behrami, Neill, and Spector have been used in this position.

Behrami has performed well, but to me, his best position is right-wing, as he does not have the defensive awareness necessary to be a good right-back.

Lucas Neill, as mentioned above, is a fine player, but his contract runs out, and might not be there much longer.

Jonathan Spector is a decent player, but is not first-team material for a team that is chasing European football.

As such, a right-back is someone West Ham should be looking to sign.

In my opinion, the ideal right-back for West Ham is Gianni Zuiverloon. An explosive player with exhilarating pace, Zuiverloon seems tailor-made for West Ham's brand of slick, attacking football.

Valon Behrami did well at right-back, mainly because of his explosive pace, which also helped to cover some of his defensive deficiencies. With the signing of Zuiverloon, it will be like putting Behrami at right-back, except this time, the defending is better. An added advantage of this move would be the freeing up of Valon Behrami to play in his favoured wing position.

Unlike Newcastle and Middlesbrough, West Bromwich Albion probably do not need to sell all of their players, but they will struggle to hang on to Zuiverloon should an offer from West Ham come in.


Currently, the only natural left-winger in the team is Luis Boa Morte, who has never lived up to his transfer fee. He promised much with his arrival, but in reality, he has never put in a good performance since becoming a Hammer.

Junior Stanislas, Jack Collison and Savio Nsereko have also been used there this season. However, none of them are natural wingers, and besides, they are still young and relatively inexperienced, so they should be given time to improve themselves before being played in the first team regularly.

As such, I would suggest that West Ham attempt to sign Jonas Gutierrez. He loves to run with the ball down either wing, and has shown a tendency to cut in, and would be well-placed to do that on the left wing. The Argentine international would bring energy and flair to West Ham, qualities that Gianfranco Zola would definitely admire.

Once again, coming from a relegated club, Gutierrez would definitely be allowed to leave, as his wages are on the high side, and Newcastle aren't exactly rolling around in truckloads of cash.

Another suggestion for their problem left-wing area is Stephen Hunt from Reading. With manager Steve Coppell having left the Madejski Stadium, I expect to see quite a few players leaving Reading in the summer.

Hunt would be a good addition to West Ham, as they are a hardworking side that attack with flair, and Hunt definitely has the attributes to succeed there. He never stops running, and is able to come up with the occasional moment of quality to excite the fans. He would probably come a little cheaper than Jonas Gutierrez as well, although there is quite a clear gap in class.

So that's it - my suggestions for Zola next season. As an Arsenal fan, I can appreciate teams that like to pass the ball around with flair, and I hope whoever West Ham sign, they can continue playing with the same flair they did this season.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Three-Transfers Road to Improvement: Tottenham

Another article i wrote on bleacher report

This is the eighth part of my "Three Transfers" series, and the focus is now on Tottenham Hotspur, the geographical arch-rivals of Arsenal.

I say "geographical," because they have never really challenged Arsenal in the league since Wenger's arrival. The closest they came to finishing above Arsenal was a few seasons back, when the chef I paid cooked up a heartwarming (and stomach-upsetting) meal of rat faeces pasta for the Spurs players, and they went on to lose their last game meekly to West Ham.

On paper, Spurs have a squad that should be finishing higher than the eighth position they ended up in. They got off to a torrid start this season, and at one point, there was even talk of relegation. Of course, that was never going to happen, but certainly, looking at the squad, I can see a few areas where they could improve.


Gareth Bale and Benoit Assou-Ekotto are both good going forward, but crucially, both do not have the required defensive awareness (at least not yet), to succeed in the top flight as a first-choice left-back for a team chasing European football.

This is definitely the weakest link in the Spurs team, and if Redknapp does not fix this in the summer, the Tottenham defence will continue to look shaky and flimsy next season.

In my opinion, Spurs should go for a no-nonsense type of defender, as their attacking options are good enough to create chances, so their defenders should just stick to the most basic task of defending.

Someone in the mould of Hermann Hreidarsson would be good, but obviously the man from Iceland is too old to be considered as a potential signing.

A realistic target would be Stephen Warnock from Blackburn Rovers. He is a reliable defender, and while going forward is not his strongest point, stabilising the defence is far more important for the Spurs team to succeed.

With European football unlikely to arrive at Ewood Park in the near future, a chance to move to the capital, and a higher possibility of featuring in European football, could appeal to Warnock. Wages will definitely be much higher as well, so all that remains is whether Blackburn will sell.

Tottenham apparently need to sell before they can buy, but with Harry Redknapp looking keen to clear out most of the squad, I am pretty sure they can raise enough money to prise Warnock away from the clutches of the walrus-lookalike "Big Sam" Allardyce.


As mentioned above, Tottenham's best season was quite some time back, when Michael Carrick was still at White Hart Lane. This is no coincidence.

He was like a conductor, orchestrating the moves in the middle of the park. He rarely ever lost the ball, and could see passes that the other midfielders currently there can't.

Wilson Palacios is a fantastic battler, and will never shy away from a challenge, but he cannot be relied upon as the creative hub of a team.

Similarly, Jenas and Zokora will give you non-stop running and energy, but they lack the vision to start moves the way Carrick did.

Perhaps a case can be made for Tom Huddlestone, who has the vision and the technique to spray the balls around, but unfortunately, he has been largely inconsistent, and cannot be relied on week in, week out.

One option is to move Luka Modric into the middle, with two midfielders in Palacios and Jenas behind him to do the dirty work. Modric possesses everything you need in a creative midfielder, and I think he would be a huge hit in the centre of midfield, floating around creating opportunities for his teammates.

That would leave a hole on the left wing though, with Modric currently being played there quite often. This will be addressed in the next position that I will talk about.

Meanwhile, in terms of possibly signing a central midfielder, I think Spurs could target Rafael Van der Vaart. Disgruntled at the lack of first-team opportunities at Real Madrid, Van der Vaart could well jump at the opportunity of joining a club as glamorous as Spurs.

He could perhaps see himself as the man to lead Spurs back to Europe, and if that's the case, then Tottenham will be very lucky indeed.


Currently, Modric occupies the position most of the time, with Gareth Bale and David Bentley also taking up that spot.

David Bentley has proven that he is definitely not suited to playing on the left wing, as he has struggled to have any influence in games when started there.

Gareth Bale has a good left foot on him, and as he does not seem to be very good defensively, playing him at left midfield seems quite wise. However, he is still young and inexperienced playing there, so should not be a first-team option.

Tottenham have been linked with Stewart Downing for ages, so they might be in for him again this summer.

However, there are two problems with this.

One, Stewart Downing is ruled out with injury 'til the January transfer window, so Spurs might want to wait till January to make their move.

Two, Downing's best attribute is his pin-point delivery. Who in the Spurs front-line is equipped to take advantage of that though?

Pavlyuchenko is probably the only one who can claim to be good in the air, and even then, he isn't the best. Let's not even try to imagine Robbie Keane or Jermain Defoe beating Christopher Samba to a header.

So, I think Spurs should try to sign Martin Petrov. He would be perfect for them, as he would run down the left flank, beat a man, and provide good cut-backs for the strikers.

Alternatively, he can put his left foot to good effect and take long shots. He is an explosive player, and Tottenham would be frightening to defend against with Aaron Lennon and Martin Petrov on the flanks.

If Spurs cannot get Petrov, they could try getting Royston Drenthe from Real Madrid. Unused and unhappy, Drenthe would possibly arrive on a cut-price deal, and he has the advantage of being versatile, as he has featured at left-back and central midfield before.

Being an Arsenal fan, I dearly hope that Spurs will not sign any of the players listed above, as it would undoubtedly strengthen them. Here's hoping they end up signing Mikael Silvestre and Abou Diaby instead! For £100 million too!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The Three-Transfers Road to Improvement: Fulham

another article i wrote on bleacher report

In the seventh part of my "Three Transfers" series, I will be taking a look at Roy Hodgson's Fulham. Narrowly escaping relegation last year, Fulham have achieved a level of consistency in the league this season, that has seen them finish in seventh place, which is really, the highest they could realistically aim for, given their limited resources.

As with the Everton article, it might be difficult to strengthen this side, as they look solid in most positions, and money isn't exactly available in truckloads. Here's where I feel improvements can be made.


Currently, American Clint Dempsey is being played out of position at left wing. He has been doing a decent job out there, with his tremendous work-rate, and knack of getting into good goal-scoring positions.

However, I think Fulham would be better served if they had someone who can naturally take the ball down the wings and deliver good crosses like Simon Davies on the right. With Dempsey in the team, Fulham sometimes lack width, and that forces Paul Konchesky to push up in support, leaving the defence rather exposed to a quick counter-attack.

With the other option in the squad being Julian Gray, who has only made one appearance for Fulham, clearly, a natural left-winger should be near the top of Roy Hodgson's summer shopping list.

Ideally, I think Fulham should pull out all the stops in a bid to acquire Martin Petrov from Manchester City. Since he returned from injury, appearances have been few and far between, and it is still unclear if that is because he is rusty, or because he is no longer an integral part of the team.

In any case, with Manchester City probably going to buy 269 players this summer, Martin Petrov might be viewed as dispensable, and if so, Fulham would really improve their squad with the addition of an explosive and exciting player like Petrov.

If that deal doesn't work out, Fulham could set their sights a little lower and perhaps try to sign Chris Brunt. He has a good left foot, a bit of pace, and most importantly, is a hardworking creative player. Creative players are seldom hardworking, so he is a bit of a rare find.


The Fulham squad has a fair few of players in this position. Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Olivier Dacourt, and Andranik Teymourian. Out of the four players listed above, Olivier Dacourt looks like he is past his prime, while Andranik is perhaps good enough to be a substitute, but is certainly not first-team material in a side playing in European competition.

Dickson Etuhu has done well this season, adding energy and bite to a midfield that has lost Jimmy Bullard. Danny Murphy has been outstanding as usual, as the creative hub of the team, and so his place in the team should still be reserved for him, despite him being on the wrong side of thirty.

With the demands of European football next season, it would be unwise and unrealistic to rely on Murphy and Etuhu to play every three days. As such, Fulham will probably have to shop for a central midfielder to share the minutes on the pitch with the other midfielders.

With Middlesbrough being relegated, Fulham could do with one of either Didier Digard or Julio Arca. Arca is the more versatile of the two, having played at left back and left wing earlier in his career, and thus is the Argentine equivalent of Gareth Barry. Didier Digard is a combative midfielder who is able to pick out a pass, and I think if he remained fit, Middlesbrough would not have gone down. That they had to play Matthew Bates in the centre of midfield really spoke volumes about their lack of quality in midfield, and it was no surprise that they went down.

Both of them are likely to be available for a low price, as Boro will definitely have to reduce their wage bills by selling their top earners. Personally, I think Arca will be the better signing, because of his versatility, and also because he is more inventive, meaning Fulham do not have to rely on Danny Murphy to create chances.


While Fulham have more than a few strikers, with Zamora, Johnson, Kamara and Nevland fighting for two spots, none of them can be considered as good enough for a top six team.

In particular, Bobby Zamora has come in for criticism this season, after registering a paltry two goals for his side in an entire season. Sure, his hold-up play may be excellent, but he has also registered only two assists all season. So he's not a creator, and he certainly isn't a scorer, but yet he's in the first team as a striker. Hold-up play is important to a team, but wouldn't it be better if Fulham got someone who can do both (ie hold up play, and score more than two goals a season)?

For that, I suggest Fulham consider taking Mark Viduka to Craven Cottage. Still good despite his age, he holds up the ball excellently as well, and unlike Zamora, he does not take 52 million chances before finding the net. He is very clinical, and with his contract surely not going to be renewed by Newcastle who are struggling to keep afloat, Fulham could nip in and pinch Viduka away on a free transfer.

If that move doesn't materialise, Fulham could go for Mido. This will be a bit of a gamble, considering Mido is a striker who seems to perform based on his mood, and has been known to have an attitude problem. On his day though, he is unbeatable in the air, and has very good technique, making him a very difficult striker to mark. With Boro being relegated, I'm sure Southgate will be willing to let him go.

Another Egyptian also springs to mind when thinking of strikers. Amr Zaki was in fantastic form for Wigan at the start of the season, and although that fizzled out after mid-season, he is undoubtedly a good player. With Steve Bruce unwilling to make the loan deal permanent, Hodgson could perhaps take a gamble on Amr Zaki to be the man who will get him the goals.

Having done admirably to reach the Europa League, Fulham will have to be wary of letting their European commitments distract them too much from the domestic league. A deep squad will definitely help, so I think Hodgson has to address the depth of his squad as well. If Fulham somehow manage to secure the signatures of the players listed above, I think they could be next season's Aston Villa, ie threatening to break into the top four.