Yes the list doesn’t contain any English men. Few would even be considered. Yes Messi won it last year. But yes, he will win it again this year. Let’s just refresh your memory about what he’s been up to recently.
Arsenal fans and a delighted manager Arsene Wenger got a look at the future of the club and the English national side last night – Jack Wilshere.
The young midfielder, sent off at the weekend and arrested recently after a nightclub fracas (during which he is believed to have acted as a peacemaker and was not charged with an offence), is raw and prone to controversy already, but if Arsene Wenger can keep him focused on football and becoming a proper professional, the 18-year-old has all the attributes to become what the England team has missed so dearly since he retired at the age of just 28 from the national side, the new Paul Scholes.
Wilshere is believed to be teetotal, meaning that alcohol will hopefully not set him on a road towards a miserable Paul Gascoigne ending and instead could lead to the evergreen Paul Scholes, still dictating games at 36 and with his club struggling to replace him after 18 years at the top.
Last night Arsenal paired Wilshere with their captain, talisman and one of the top midfielders in the world Cesc Fabregas against Ukrainian champions Shakhtar Donetsk. While the Spaniard is unlikely to be at Arsenal next year due to Barcelona coveting him openly and persistently, Wilshere has all the attributes to ensure Gunners fans have a ready-made replacement.
The English man, who made his international debut against Hungary in August, would do well to look at Fabregas as a role model. The Spaniard’s commitment to the club on the pitch since his dream Barcelona move fell through has been admirable. You only need to look at similar situations involving Javier Mascherano at Liverpool and now Wayne Rooney at Manchester United to appreciate the level of professionalism of the club captain.
But Wilshere has certainly learned from Fabregas in a footballing sense. Not only is he prone to the occasional dodgy tackle (witnessed again last night for a challenge which somehow failed to earn him a card) as shown with his late red card against Birmingham on Saturday, but he has an amazing ability to languidly stroke a ball through a opposition defence as though he were attempting it in the park with his friends on a Saturday lunchtime.
Last night’s performance showed every facet of Wilshere that needs to be encouraged and changed at the same time. With Arsenal leading 5-0, Wilshere was often their furthest forward player having started a move before looking to add to his solitary goal. This showed a slight immaturity, in that he lost his position leaving Shakhtar open to attack Arsenal and eventually capitalise (as they did through former Gunners striker Eduardo).
However his goal was a majestic finish, belying his years, showing all the cool of an experienced striker. What he seems to lack in pace he makes up for in balance and touch. Like Scholes, he is unlikely to dribble round five players before chipping the keeper. But he is certainly capable of using his footballing brain to get into positions in the box where he will inevitably profit from Arsenal’s creativity in midfield.
Like Scholes, who used to regularly ghost into the box unchallenged to score for club and country, Wilshere can spot a move before most of those around him on the pitch. And this is at the age of 18.
Arsene Wenger told reporters after the game that Wilshere was ready to be a regular performer for England already. While the Gunners boss has never been shy in this sense, perhaps causing more harm than good by recommending 17-year-old Theo Walcott to Sven Goran Eriksson in 2006, his words will be met with nods of approval across the country following England’s drab scoreless draw with Montenegro last week.
The only disappointing element of Wilshere’s progress this season after his successful loan spell at Bolton last year was his red card on Saturday. Not only because it was rash and dangerous, but it means he will serve a three-game ban and will see his tackling come under scrutiny from referees when he returns.
Paul Scholes is a woeful tackler at the best of times, and one of the most-booked players in Premiership history, but is one of, if not the best English players of the Premiership era. Wilshere has all the elements to become a terrific product of Arsenal’s youth team and to lead the next generation of English players, while entertaining fans at the Emirates each Saturday afternoon.
Some day soon I will write a blog post that doesn’t involve Liverpool. But it’s hard when every day seems to bring a new crisis. But today Liverpool fans are beginning to believe in the future of the club again.
A proposed takeover by New England Sports Ventures, owners of the Boston Red Sox baseball club, was confirmed this morning on Liverpool’s website after the news broke late last night that two investors had bids accepted. But the bid has been delayed by a legal challenge by the ever-classy Tom Hicks and George Gillett.
So now that a deal is finally on the horizon, what are the main questions Liverpool fans should be asking of the new owners?
- Will spending money be made available to put Liverpool back among the European elite?
Too early to say obviously, but here are the main answers from the main men today.
Martin Broughton, Liverpool FC Chairman: “Yes. They don’t want any hostages to fortune, very sensibly, so they’re not going to make any comments about how much or anything like that. But this goes back to the winning mentality. I think the demonstration is: let’s look at what they have done at Boston, what they said in Boston, what they have done in terms of investing in players – and I think you get a high degree of confidence of their willingness to do that.”
NESV statement: “NESV wants to create a long-term, financially solid foundation for Liverpool FC and is dedicated to ensuring that the club has the resources to build for the future, including the removal of all acquisition debt. Our objective is to stabilise the Club and ultimately return Liverpool FC to its rightful place in English and European football, successfully competing for and winning trophies.
The video made to protest against Tom Hick’s continued messing around with Liverpool Football Club, by Mike Jefferies:
The question now will be whether or not the owners will invest money in the staff and playing facilities and genuinely attempt to win with Liverpool on and off the field.
There is no doubt businessmen only make investments to make money. Owner of the Boston Red Sox, John Henry would have to be a massive Liverpool fan, a die-hard, to invest simply for the sake of restoring glory to the club. He is not.
However Liverpool fans can be reassured that there is money to be made in the club, without Henry pulling a Hicks number and attempting to sell on the club a few years after buying them and saddling them with greater debt. Liverpool are a club supported far and wide but have not capitalised on this since the glory days of the 80s. Manchester United had the right businessmen involved and capitalised to a far greater extent. But there is room for improvement and the new owners can look to the far east where there is still money and make Liverpool rival Man Utd in a commercial sense.
Plus the costs involved in making Liverpool a force again aren’t enormous. The club need five or six very good players, but despite the woes of the last few years, have retained a nucleus of very good players with good players coming through too. Reina, Agger, Skrtel, Johnson, Gerrard, Meireles, Shelvey, Pacheco, Torres can all take the club forward, while the likes of Kelly, Ngog (still only 21 remember!), Amoo, Ince, Suso and Ngoo have exciting futures ahead of them.
Will there be a new stadium, finally?
This is the interesting question with Broughton already hinting that the new owners could look to redevelop Anfield, as they did with the famous Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox.
Whether that is possible remains to be seen. Of greater interest is the rumour that the new owner will look at groundsharing with Everton as a better alternative. Liverpool fans may come around to the idea if it means a much bigger stadium, better facilities and a greater chance of securing tickets for fans.
It will be a big sell though. But then again, so will the new owners.
Real Madrid’s latest (and apparently final) signing has revealed why Jose Mourinho (and not the delightful wages and weather) convinced him to join the club.
Mesut Ozil has completed his move from Werder Bremen to the Spanish giants for a fee of around €15 million and joins German compatriot Sami Khedira as a new signing at the club after impressing in this year’s World Cup. Ozil has been signed with one eye on the future as he is only 21-years-old with a new and shiny six-year contract in the bag.
Speaking at his unveiling today, Ozil said: “I spoke to my advisers and looked at the options but I always wanted to join the best team in the world, and to play under the best coach in the world, Jose Mourinho. I chatted to him and he convinced me. What we spoke about will remain between him and me but that’s why I am here.”
The move will see Ozil competing against the likes of Kaka to try to replace playmaker Guti who left last month. Kaka is currently injured however meaning Ozil will have a chance to impress sooner rather than later. The playmaker also denied reports he refused to train, like any modern-day mercenary footballer would, with Werder Bremen ahead of their Champions League qualifier with Sampdoria tonight.
Ozil was heavily linked with Manchester United and Chelsea before Real Madrid announced he had signed to play in Spain.
All of the Champions League games are delicately poised going into the second legs in a fortnight’s time.
Liverpool, Manchester United and Barcelona are in strong positions having secured an early advantage in their respective ties.
Liverpool produced a dominant performance to secure a 2-0 win over Inter Milan. Having been held by ten-man Inter for 86 minutes, the Italians were on course to pull off a terrific result having defended doggedly from the outset. However goals from Kuyt and crucially Steven Gerrard in the 90th minute, have given Liverpool a terrific platform from which to secure qualification for the quarter-finals. Gerrard’s goal may well prove to be the difference as Inter would surely have settled for a 1-0 defeat. Materazzi’s suspension and an injury to the superb Ivan Cordoba will also give Liverpool hope that they can grab a vital away goal in the San Siro.
The Inter Milan team may well be a much-changed outfit however, with the likes of Viera, Figo and Hernan Crespo likely to feature prominently in the second leg. While Torres was, for the most part, kept quiet by Inter’s excellent defence, the Spaniard will fancy his chances against a weakened defence in the second leg, especially as Inter will have to push far further upfield than they ever did in the game at Anfield.
An 87th minute goal from substitute Carlos Tevez gave Manchester United a vital away goal despite a lacklustre performance. Lyon took the lead early in the second half after United-target Karim Benzema scored a terrific solo effort, with four Red shirts around him the Frenchman somehow shifted the ball from his right foot to his left and belted the ball past Edwin Van der Saar.
In a free-flowing game Wayne Rooney’s 1-on-1 with Coupet was well saved while Juninho went close with a free-kick.
Benzema had a chance to make it 2-0 when he evaded a Rio Ferdinand challenge only for the ever-reliable Vidic to step across and sheperd the forward wide.
Ronaldo had a quiet night but produced a terrific save from Coupet late-on when his free-kick threatened to sneak in at the far post. However when Giggs and Scholes were replaced by Nani and Tevez, United began to look brighter and sure enough when Nani’s cross was deflected by Fred, Tevez pounced on the line to give United a foot in the quarter-finals.
Celtic and Barcelona put on a terrific game of football at Celtic Park but with the Catalans running out 3-2 winners, Barcelona will be confident they can secure victory in the Nou Camp, and they are already looking like the team to beat. Despite a disappointing campaign so far in La Liga, Barca have cut the gap on arch-rivals Madrid to just five points and on this display they look like peaking at just the right time.
Celtic took the lead through Venegoor of Hesselink, a terrific header against the run of play. However despite Robson’s goal to make it 2-1, a brace from Messi and a brilliant strike from Thierry Henry leave Barcelona in the driving seat.
Gordan Strachan joked after the game that he wouldn’t put his house on Celtic winning in two weeks time and he’s rarely wrong about these kind of things.
Elsewhere AC Milan and Arsenal played out an entertaining 0-0 draw at the Emirates. AC will be favourites as the old masters denied an exciting Arsenal team. Adebayor’s stoppage time miss will be giving him sleepless nights this week, the Togo striker slamming a header against the bar with the entire goal gaping in front of him…..Chelsea did enough to take a 0-0 game back to London and should progress past Olympiakos. With one eye on Sunday’s Carling Cup Final, Avram Grant rested Terry and Lampard and with one of the strongest squads in Europe, Chelsea should progress to the next phase in two weeks time…… Fenerbache’s 3-2 win over Sevilla makes for a hell of a return leg in Spain. An 87th minute deflected winner means the Turks can progress to the quarter finals for the first time if they avoid defeat in Spain. However, Sevilla will be confident they can turn the game on it’s head at home, and are many peoples’ tips as a dark horse this season…..Roma and Real Madrid served up an entertaining encounter which the Italians shaded 2-1. Despite a strong first-half performance from Real, Roma take the advantage thanks to two Francesco Totti-assisted goals….Shalke 04 lead FC Porto 1-0 thanks to a fourth minute Kevin Kuranyi strike. While the game was always likely to be tight, Shalke are firmly in the driving seat, aware that an away goal will give the Portugese team a mountain to climb. While Shalke’s defence has been their achilles heel so far this season, in Kuranyi they have a top striker and they will look to score and force FC Porto to gamble at the back, having to attack in search of three goals…
Liverpool V Inter Milan
Olympiakos V Chelsea
Roma V Real Madrid
Shalke 04 V FC Porto
The pick of the ties comes at Anfield where Liverpool and Inter lock horns for the first time since their controversial 1965 European Cup semi-final where the Merseysiders took a 3-1 advantage into a second leg that the Italians won by three goals to nil, sealing their place in the final. Allegations of corruption have refused to go away since that night when the referee, Jose Maria Ortiz de Mendibil, allowed two goals that Liverpool felt should never have been allowed to stand. Ian St John also had a goal wrongly ruled out for offside. While the memories of that game still linger in the minds of the older generation of Liverpool fans, Inter Milan fans went out and bought Liverpool replica jerseys by the bucket-load following Liverpool’s 2005 win over their arch rivals AC Milan.
Tonight’s game is likely to be a tight affair with some intriguing battles. When Liverpool last came up against Zlatan Ibrahimovic they knocked Juventus out of the Champions League en route to glory in Istanbul. Sami Hyypia often struggled against the Swede though, and the lanky striker hit a post that night in Anfield.
Javier Mascherano will also come up against some familiar foes in his Argentine teammates Esteban Cambisso, Javier Zanetti and Julio Cruz, who is expected to lead the attack alongside Ibrahimovic.
Meanwhile Fernando Torres will start for Liverpool up front and will be anxious to score on a night that epitomises why he chose to come to Anfield.
Prediction: While many are predicting Inter to come and destroy a Liverpool team lacking confidence, this one should be tight. Liverpool respond well to Champions League adversity and might nick it, 2-1.
Olympiakos V Chelsea
The suggestion is that Chelsea will be resting the likes of John Terry and Frank Lampard, while Nicolas Anelka will drop to the bench to make room for Didier Drogba. Michael Ballack and Alex should return to the starting lineup for Chelsea in place of their captain and vice-captain.
The draws for Europe’s premier competitions have been made and there are some mouth-watering ties in prospect.
In the Champions League, European champions AC Milan will face Premiership leaders Arsenal in the pick of the ties. Arsenal and AC Milan play some of the best football around and the idea of the two clashing is a most appealing one. Arsene Wenger V Carlo Ancelotti. Inzaghi V Gallas. Kaka V Fabregas. Nesta V Van Persie. mmmmmm…….
Liverpool face Serie A leaders Inter Milan. Liverpool will be reasonably pleased with this one as Inter are more than capable of shooting themselves in the foot despite their obvious talents. The Merseysiders will come up against a familiar foe in Hernan Crespo who will be desperate to put one over the team who denied him Champions League glory with AC in 2005 despite his two goals in the final. (click here to see the draws in full)