Friday, 27 January 2012

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.


DAVID BECKHAM TO REAL MADRID, 2003


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 front-runners 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'.

STEVEN GERRARD TO CHELSEA, 2005


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.

ASHLEY COLE TO CHELSEA, 2006


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.

THIERRY HENRY TO BARCELONA, 2007


"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.

CRISTIANO RONALDO TO REAL MADRID, 2008-2009


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.

CESC FABREGAS TO BARCELONA, 2010-2011


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.

LUKA MODRIC TO CHELSEA, 2011


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.

SAMIR NASRI TO MANCHESTER CITY, 2011


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 TO MANCHESTER UNITED, 2011


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.

CARLOS TEVEZ TO AC MILAN, 2012


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.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Uefa.com users’ Team of the Year

The Wales international has been recognised for an impressive 2011, while Barcelona and Real Madrid dominate the selections with five and three nominations apiece

EPL: Gareth Bale - Wesley Hoolahan Norwich City v Tottenham
Tottenham star Gareth Bale is the only Premier League player to be included in Uefa.comusers’ Team of the Year, with the side dominated by Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The Wales international winger has been recognised for his impressive form after European football’s governing body had asked readers of its official website to vote for the best players of the calendar year 2011.

Over 4.5 million votes were cast, with eight of the 11 places filled by representatives from the Spanish giants.

Bale becomes the first Spurs player to be included in the site’s Team of the Year, which has been compiled each year since 2001, as well as the first Welshman.

The former Southampton youngster has scored 11 goals in 28 appearances across all competitions so far this season as he aims to fire Harry Redknapp’s side towards the Premier League title, and enjoyed an impressive Champions League campaign last term.

"It’s great to be recognised in such illustrious company, and the fact that it’s voted for by fans across Europe makes it a special honour," Bale said of his nomination on Tottenham's official website.

"But as I’ve said all along, I’m part of a team here at Spurs and any recognition I receive is down to my team-mates as much as anything that I do individually.

"The team has been playing really well and we’ve all played a part in that."

Lionel Messi led the way for Barcelona as they saw five of their side included in the list, with Dani Alves, Gerard Pique, Xavi and Andres Iniesta also selected and Pep Guardiola also recognised as the best coach of the year.

Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo was voted to partner the Argentine in the side’s hypothetical forward line, with team-mates Marcelo and Iker Casillas also featuring, while Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben and AC Milan's Thiago Silva take the final places in the line-up.

Uefa.com users’ Team of the Year 2011 in full:
Iker Casillas (Real Madrid);
Dani Alves (Barcelona), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (AC Milan), Marcelo (Real Madrid);
Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Xavi (Barcelona), Iniesta (Barcelona), Gareth Bale (Tottenham);
Lionel Messi (Barcelona), Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Steve McManaman picks his key battles ahead of El Clasico

Jose Mourinho's side take on their rivals at the Bernabeu on Wednesday in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final, with the most pivotal personal clashes singled out

Steve McManaman, Real Madrid, Marc Overmars, Barcelona, 2002

Ask Steve McManaman about El Clasico and he will waste no time in telling you about his goal against Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final in 2002.

The former midfielder learned all about the fierce rivalry during four years at Real Madrid between 1999 and 2003 having perviously turned down a move to Camp Nou when playing for Liverpool.

On Wednesday, McManaman will be watching the latest instalment of El Clasico when Real Madrid take on Barcelona at the Bernabeu in the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-final.

Cristiano Ronaldo v Dani Alves


"Ronaldo is the perfect modern-day footballer: tall, strong, fast, good in the air and he’s got a great shot on him. I love watching him in full flight but I think suggestions that he is a bit of a flat-track bully are fair.

"I thought he was poor in the last game against Barcelona and he looked very frustrated. He wants to be driving in from the left and running at Barcelona, not tracking back to defend because Dani Alves keeps bombing forward. I think both players will let the other go defensively because they are so attack-minded and then it’s down to who can do the most damage.

"Ronaldo will obviously have happy memories of the Copa del Rey last year and, with home advantage, I have a feeling he will score on Wednesday night."

Angel Di Maria v Eric Abidal


"I really like watching Di Maria play and I think he’s become so important for Real Madrid in the final third. Whether Barcelona play a back four or a back three, Eric Abidal will be on the left side and he’ll be responsible for dealing with the Argentine.

"Unlike Alves, Abidal won’t push Di Maria back, so this is more of an ‘attack against defence’ battle. I like Abidal, he’s a very accomplished defender, but for whatever reason he’s considered the weakest link in an unbelievably strong Barcelona side.

"Di Maria has the dribbling ability to cause him problems, especially when he cuts inside and looks to slide passes to runners or get a shot on goal."

Xabi Alonso v Xavi


"These are the two metronomes for each side, they boss the midfield. Barcelona don’t have the same rhythm without Xavi and Real Madrid need Xabi Alonso dictating in the middle of the park.

"They have slightly different styles but are equally effective. Xabi Alonso will look to fire quick passes out wide and into feet, but he relies on movement in front of him and doesn’t like to take too many touches on the ball. Xavi, on the other hand, will be drifting all night looking to pick up the ball and make angles with short, quick passes.

"It’s an interesting mix of styles between two of the best passers in the game - and you can see why they complement each other well for Spain. If Xavi wins this battle, Barcelona will control the game and probably pick up a win ahead of the second leg."

Marcelo v Alexis Sanchez


"Alexis Sanchez has really impressed me with the way he’s adapted to playing for Barcelona. Big names have found it hard in the past but he’s been superb in the last couple of months and he popped up with an important goal against Real Betis at the weekend. His pace on the run and off the shoulder of defenders gives another dimension to Barcelona’s play.

"He will look to pin back Marcelo if he plays wide right and the fluidity of Barcelona’s attack means he will be a handful.

"I can understand the comparisons between Marcelo and my old team-mate Roberto Carlos because he’s quick, skillful and loves to bomb forward. But I worry about his defending one-on-one and if he’s caught out Barcelona could have the ball in the net within seconds."

Pepe v Lionel Messi


"No-one man can mark Messi, we know that. It will be up to the whole of the back four, plus Xabi Alonso and Lassana Diarra, to make sure he is denied any space to work his magic.

"The issue for Real Madrid is that Messi is just impossible to keep quiet for 90 minutes. Even if he has an average game by his own standards, he can pop up with a moment or two of quality that decides the match.

"I’ve singled out Pepe as the key battle as I can see Messi targeting the centre-back on the run. Pepe seems to lose his head a bit in the Clasico and if he makes rash challenges, he will either end up in the referees’ notebook or Messi will skip past him."

the psychological problems Real Madrid must overcome in order to beat Barcelona

One of the world's top sports psychologists, Rhonda Cohen, provides her expert opinion on why Jose Mourinho's men struggle to meet the challenge of facing the Catalan giants

Clasico : Real Madrid - Barcelona : Coentrao, Iniesta, Di Maria

December 10, Santiago Bernabeu. The first Clasico league match of the season. Real Madrid, top of the table and able to move six points clear of Primera Division champions Barcelona at the summit with a victory, have all the incentive they would ever need to reverse their recent underachievement against their oldest adversaries.

Many commentators bestowed the contest with an additional emphasis, believing that in a year where the concept of the Clasico became over-familiar to many, this would prove to be a watermark. A changing of the guard. Madrid, a team on the rise, would make tentative steps towards a new order in Spain, and potentially in Europe. The outcome of this encounter would represent the moment when Mourinho made good on his vow to usurp the Catalans.

Thirty seconds in, and it seemed that the observers were being proven unmistakeably correct. Karim Benzema lashed into the roof of the net, setting the scene for a victory that would be remembered as the moment that the pendulum swung back to the capital after resting on the east coast for three long seasons.

We now know, of course, that fate, intention, destiny, designated a different path. Despite their explosive prologue, the denouement revealed Barcelona as the victors once more, and Madrid exposed as pretenders to, rather than vanquishers of, the dominance of Pep Guardiola's side. His Clasico record as a coach now reads played 12, won 8, and lost only once.

On fine margins, football matches can be won and lost. Yet, on that day, Madrid's manner of defeat seemed as grounded in psychological submission than physical and tactical endeavour. Have Los Blancos been stricken with an inferiority complex when facing the European
GUARDIOLA - CLASICO RECORD AS BARCA COACH
GAMES
WINS
DRAWS
LOSSES
12
8
3
1
champions, and does this, above all else, affect their ability to overcome what has proven to be such an immovable obstacle in recent times?

With the Spanish giants set to meet once again on Wednesday in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarter-final, Rhonda Cohen, a leading sports psychologist and head of the London Sport Institute at Middlesex University, believes that Madrid's players have reached a mental state where being able to defeat Barcelona is a concept that they struggle to truly believe in.

She states: "It is really difficult with regular adversaries as you develop a brain pattern that is hard to break. It is even a learned helpless. You don't ever think you can win and that negative energy keeps you down."

After Benzema had fired in that blistering opening goal, rather than engage with the momentum that they had formulated, Madrid regressed, allowing Barcelona back into the contest. When Xavi's deflected effort moved the visitors ahead, any positivity that Madrid had retained seemed to diminish. Barca thrived in the tangible change in attitude from the pitch, the bench, and from the stands, and Cohen feels that harmony among all concerned is a necessity in order to reverse the trend.

"The best thing they can do is to switch off the way they perceive their opponents," she continues. "Imagine them as adversaries that can be beaten, imagine them in a way that takes away all the perceived power that they currently hold over them. This is a case of what the players think as a team and as a unit. They need to work together and see their collective energy as destroying their Goliath."

V
MOURINHO & GUARDIOLA


Rhonda Cohen, sports psychologist:

"When others out-psych you as in this case, it knocks your confidence and you also can over-think. You don't ever think you can win, and that negative energy keeps you down. It is always harder not to think about something. [Mourinho must] stay in the present - think about having confidence and moving forward."


And what of Jose Mourinho? The master media manipulator, the most self-assured of individuals, has undergone a marked change in approach to these matches in the past 12 months. During the frenzied 17-day Clasico bubble at the end of last season, the Portuguese pained to paint his side as the victimised party for maximum impact, and he pushed the previously unflappable Guardiola to engage in a expletive rant in response.

The words of Pep, branding Mourinho the f****ng boss of the press room, stunned the Special One, and since the unsavoury altercation with Tito Vilanova in the Spanish Supercopa in August, he has became more philosophical than confrontational.

All in the mind | Cesc and Barca may have created a mental block in the Madrid camp

The Copa del Rey is next up, and despite the fact that Madrid lead in the title race and remain capable of winning every competition they are involved in, Mourinho's inherent faith in his team's ability to best Barca seems to have been jolted. A case in point was his lack of reaction to a tactical alteration by his opposite number last December. Guardiola shuffled his pack, shifted Dani Alves into an advanced position, dropped Sergio Busquets deeper, and allowed Cesc Fabregas to maraud forward.

Substitutions aside, Mourinho failed to counteract these measures, and his team ultimately paid the penalty. A combination of Barcelona's continued success and Guardiola's vitriolic riposte may have suitably shaken Jose's reactionary qualities. Have mind games in this case backfired on him?

Cohen opines that an over-analysis of what has come before could be a contributory factor. She adds: "When others out-psych you as in this case, it knocks your confidence and you also can over-think. It is always harder not to think about something.

"[Mourinho must] stay in the present - think about having confidence and moving forward."

V
RONALDO V MESSI:
CLASICO RECORD SINCE 2009



Games
10 10
Goals37

Then, the case of Cristiano is one that Madrid must seek to resolve. Rampant against La Liga's mid-tier sides, he generally cuts a strangely subdued figure when up against Lionel Messi and his companions. Ronaldo is cut from the same boastful mould as his coach, but in the past few weeks a susceptibility to stinging criticism has distracted him, and it originates from two glaring misses in the December derby.

A first-half strike flew wildly off target, then a simple header when his side trailed 2-1 glanced harmlessly wide. These are the chances from which the former Manchester United star has cultivated his reputation, but when facing the Blaugrana, Copa del Rey final aside, he is consistently overshadowed by Messi. The Bernabeu have responded negatively to Ronaldo, arguably for the first time since his arrival in Spain, and with even legendary figure Alfredo Di Stefano apportioning a degree of criticism at the door of the Portuguese, it is understandable that the player has concocted a mental block when taking on Barca.

Cohen feels his problem is a circular one; in trying so desperately to succeed versus the best there is, his anxiety is proving to be counterproductive.

She concludes: "[Ronaldo must] think of all the times when the fans have been on his side. Keep those thoughts of what it will feel like when everyone returns to support you.

"We all swim upstream from time to time; [Mourinho] has to encourage him to let it go. Be in the present, every dribble, every ball ,every kick, every pass. Play for the moment."

Madrid's paradox is that their desire to overcome Barcelona, to firstly claim silverware, then create a similarly lasting legacy, is erecting a deep-rooted mental barrier that must be breached. Their five-point domestic advantage means that they have the opportunity to commence the tectonic shift from Catalunya to the capital - but their biggest obstacle may not be their opponents, rather, themselves.