Hello to anyone reading this!
I had no idea it had been so long since I had committed anything football related to keyboard, but that is a pretty good reflection of how little has happened in the world of football over the last month.
The Euros ended first with a surprise, but then very predictably. Portugal were unlucky to lose to a Spain side they had largely nullified until extra time, before the tactic of trying to save Ronaldo’s ego for the glory of the fifth penalty rather spectacularly backfired. Italy continued their amazing tournament record against a surprisingly naive German side, with two excellent goals from the ever compelling Balotelli, thus overachieving all the way to the final, where their partially injured and aging midfield ran out of legs against a Spain side with more world class ball-playing midfielders than the rest of Europe combined, and the popping of Thiago Motta’s hamstring ended the final as a contest on the hour mark. Bizzarely the tournament ended with a Spain Striker, Torres, as golden boot scorer, despite his team only playing a centre forward as a sort of amusing occasional diversion.
All in all Euro 2012 was a successful tournament, with less violence and ill-feeling and rather better football than anyone had expected. Which so far has to be said for the Olympics, despite the best efforts of LOCOG to turn Londoners against the games. Danny Boyle managed to create an opening ceremony full of charm, humour, sentiment and a healthy dose of fromage, as well as championing the NHS, racial and sexual equality and all that we Brits tend to like about ourselves. It, far more than expected was aimed at us, rather than the world audience, and we loved it. Well most of us – The Daily Mail weren’t so keen http://botherer.org/2012/07/28/the-daily-mail-and-how-an-nhs-death-means-racism-is-fine/ .
So far the Olympic football, both mens and womens, has been good fare as well. In the women’s game, the traditional powerhouses of Brazil, Sweden, USA are dominating, with the surprise women’s world cup winners Japan also starting well. Team GB has two wins out of two and have qualified, which is just was well as the outstanding Brazil team, led by arguably the best player in the world, Marta, are their final group opponents. In the men’s tournament, pre-games favourites Spain are out after two losses. Having dominated with largely the same group of players through every age group, Spain were no match for the powerhouses of Japan and Honduras (though they should have had a penalty and hit the woodwork three times). The other possible favourites, Brazil, are great going forward (and with a front line of Neymar, Hulk and Pato you’d hope they would be), but are suspect in defence having scored six conceded three to date. Nothing else looks clear cut at this stage but overall the quality of the football has been very good, with last night’s three-one win for Team GB over U.A.E having really good attacking play from both sides. This had the extra bitter-sweetness of seeing how good Giggs would have been for England if his parents separation had not encouraged him to turn his back on England, having been a star at schoolboy level as Ryan Wilson.
With three weeks separating the European Championships and the Olympic football tournament, the transfer market was expected to burst into life with all the top clubs splashing the cash, a feeding frenzy only encouraged by Robin Van Persie’s every so gracious statement of intent. Which hasn’t really happened in the top Leagues around Europe. By far the biggest story has been the sale of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic by Milan to the Oil funded resurgence of PSG. I guess Zlatan hasn’t won the French league yet, and they are probably paying him his weight in liquid gold every week. Elsewhere Jordi Alba concluded his already rubbers stamped move from Valencia to Barcelona. A good signing for Los Cules, being an excellent young player in a position they really needed to strengthen.
In England, Chelsea continue their complete reversal of previous policy by stockpiling lightweight nippy ball playing midfielders, with the young Brazilian playmaker Oscar joining for about £25m, and also snapping up Eden Hazard’s younger brother Thorgen from Lens, meaning they have bought 4 potential number 10’s in a summer to add to Juan Mata. Not sure I fancy Josh Mceachran’s chances of getting game time this year. West Ham have been the only other noteable spenders in recent weeks, adding to their earlier acquisition of Diame by picking up Modibo Maiga, an attacking player from Sochaux who failed a medical for Newcastle in January. Other signings include the final conclusion the lengthy transfer of Jan Vertonghen from Ajax to Spurs, where he joined Gylfi Siggurdson who managed to break two different gentleman’s agreements with Swansea and Brendan Rogers, Ex Chelsea youth player Fabio Borini joining Liverpool for about £10m, and Hugo Rodellega ending up at Fulham on a free transfer. Add Park-Ji Sung from Man Utd to QPR and Tim Cahill to New York Red Bulls and that’s your lot.
From an Arsenal perspective, I’m not sure how I feel about this. Spurs and Chelsea getting stronger is not a good thing, but for the former much depends on them getting the Adebayor deal done or spending all the cash from Modric’s inevitable departure. In Chelsea’s case, the question for them is how successfully can they complete the transition of playing style that their signings suggest they will be making. Villas-Boas attempts were destroyed by the senior dressing room egos, so Di Matteo has to hope Drogba’s departure addresses that balance.
The other thing to have mixed feelings about is Arsenal’s own transfer situation. Podolski and Giroud were sealed some time ago, and since then its been all quiet. Despite van Persie’s obvious desire to leave, it seems no one has put in a proper bid for him, leaving that situation still unresolved, and getting rid of the fringe players remains a problem. Denilson has been loaned out to Brazil again, the mysterious Botelho returned to Brazil without ever getting a work permit, but enjoying a lot of parties and damaging a few police cars in his time, and Vela finally concluded his permanent transfer to Spain (complete with buy back fee and sell on clauses). The unwanted big earners of Arshavin, Chamakh, Bendtner, Squillachi and Park remain, and until one or more leave, the manager has one hand behind his back. It seems that the club is trying to buy Santi Carzola for the second time in two years, but that transfer is entirely dependent on Malaga’s own internal financial and ownership situation. I feel he would be an excellent signing, with pace, vision, and good technique for passing and shooting with either foot, but its partially out of Arsenal’s hands to influence. We’ve also been linked with a loan deal for Nuri Sahin from Real Madrid, but unless there was an option to buy, I’m not sure it would make a great deal of sense for the club.
No doubt we will end up picking up someone we’ve never heard of, who will either be brilliant a la Vieira or will disappear quickly, a la Bischoff.
The manager does seem to be a little more circumspect regarding promising youngsters, and you can see why. The trip to Asia for Friendlies in Malaysia, China and Hong Kong, may have been primarily a PR exercise, but as well as helping Diaby’s rehabilitation, it gave useful game time to some of the youngsters on the fringes of the squad. There were no revelations of a Jack Wilshere level, but the likes of Aneke, Afobe, Yennaris, Bartley, Miyaichi and Miquel all looked bright in patches and could make the squad with more seasoning on loan or in the league cup. I’m not including Oxlade Chamberlain, as even though he is younger than all of these, he is an England international already and cannot be viewed as an unknown quantity. Perhaps the young player who caught the eye most was the sparingly used Thomas Eisfeld, our January signing from Borussia Dortmund’s reserve team. He scored two simple goals in three late substitute appearances , but impressed more with his movement, touch and composure. Still a little lightweight, and by all accounts a shy individual, but he is deceptively quick and seems to possess a calmness that one sees in great players. If he keeps injury free, I can see him having an impact on the squad as the season develops.
Lastly, I have to admit to a certain amount of enjoyment of a certain Scotsman playing for Liverpool clogging a certain Welshman from Spurs during a pre-season friendly. Perhaps if Gareth Bale hadn’t feigned the severity of his injury to cry off the Olympics he would be becoming a hero, rather than being injured for a second time by the loose studs of Charlie Adam in a meaningless pre-season friendly. Certainly his much publicised outrage in the press this morning (compare the reaction to the Shawcross tackle on Ramsey), is missing the several different delicious layers of irony to be tasted in this crunching tackle cake.