Virgil van dijk is the favourite to win world player of the year- but does he deserve it?

The FIFA world player of the year now known as the childish title of ‘The Best’ has been announced. The nominated players have been whittled down to 3 players, 2 attackers and one defender. Liverpool’s Virgil van dijk is the favourite to scoop the award and he will have to fend off competition from the usual suspects in Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, but who out of the three of them deserve the award, and does van dijk deserve it overall anyway?

Messi and Ronaldo seem to have won the award more than me and you have had hot dinners. This year was partly successful for both. Messi won the league with Barcelona and scored 36 goals in the league, his 4th best record and 51 goals in all competitions. He had some wonderful memorable games both in the league and the Champions League, but ultimately Barca came undone, their fall from grace against Liverpool will live in the memory for some time, 3-0 up in the first leg they went to Anfield and lost 4-0. All of this plays against Messi’s greatness, and it’s fair to say that even though he is the best player in the world techincally, in 2019 this wasn’t his best year.

Ronaldo made the switch to Serie A to play for Juventus and the old lady as they are known romped home to an 8th Italian title in a row. Ronado helped that cause and was a major factor. He scored 21 goals in the league, which was good for Italy but still his lowest league total in 10 years. He boosted his chances of winning this competition when Portugal won the first ever UEFA Nations League beating the Netherlands in the final. But there would still be disappointment as Juventus mainly brought in Ronaldo to win their first Champions League since 1996, he was not able to achieve that as Juventus were knocked out in the quarter finals against a young Ajax side.

And now to Virgil van dijk who was utterly brilliant for Liverpool last season, not only did he defend in a world class manner he also knew how to pop up and score the odd goal too. Liverpool won the Champions League and came 2nd in the league, only by 1 point as 97 points and losing just 1 game all season was not good enough to beat Manchester City in a quite epic battle.

Liverpool conceded just 22 goals in the league last season which was the best defensive record in the top tier. Out of the 3 players chosen for the award it seems clear that van dijk deserves it, just over Ronaldo. But let’s look more into this, and wonder if FIFA have got the top 3 players chosen wrong and why is van dijk being chosen out of the Liverpool’s other defenders?

When we look at the Fantasy statistics from last season, the three chosen should have been Lionel Messi, Dusan Tadic and Mohamed Salah, with Messi winning. Although one must remember that these points are based on league form only. Virgil van dijk on league form only would have finished in 13th place. Though it should be noted he was No.1. in the category of defenders.

van dijk finished with 119 points whilst his team mate and defender Andrew Robertson finished with 118 points, and yet both had 21 clean sheets and Robertson had an incredible 11 assists to van dijk’s 2, although van dijk garnered a lot of points from scoring 4 goals. Still the case for Robertson to be included as one of the nominee’s in player of the year is strong, and one can wonder with all validity why he wasn’t.

We could go one better and wonder why Liverpool goal keeper Alisson wasn’t included. He got more points than van dijk last season and was surely instrumental in Liverpool’s fantastic league run and Champions League win. Given it was his debut season with the Reds he was superb and kept 21 clean sheets. Does he get punished because he didn’t score enough goals? That sounds as silly as it seems.

Anyway van dijk has been chosen to represent the Liverpool team and he probably does deserve the award. He has been more consistent and will be a top player for a good 5-6 years yet. Even Messi and Ronaldo won’t be able to stop him winning the award this year.

 

FIFA are correct to uphold decision to ban Chelsea for two transfer windows and Sarri should be happy with the outcome

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Chelsea have been told by FIFA that they will indeed serve a two window transfer ban which was imposed on them earlier in the season for breaching signing of youngsters and that means the club will not be able to sign any new players until the summer of 2020.

Chelsea will appeal to the courts of attribution but could be likely to lose. Whilst Chelsea should be punished, one cannot get away from the fact that UEFA are not promoting the game in the right direction. Unless one truly hates the club does anyone associated with football want to tie two hands behind a clubs back? Chelsea could win the Europa League enter the Champions League and not be able to buy any new players. Basically killing their chances of winning the competition before they have even started.

On top of that Chelsea have the problem of Eden Hazard their star player who looks like he will be leaving the club in the summer to join Real Madrid. This was further highlighted when the star player was seen nodding his head in a no fashion when fans asked him to stay at the club last week.

Surely the situation is a harsh one for the club who, yes, should receive a ban this summer but not extended to two windows. Ideally why not fine the club £500,000 and give back to hospitals or put back into the grassroots of the game. After all the ban won’t hurt as much as not being out of a little pocket for the club.

Of course the good news if the club are to be banned for purchasing players is that Maurizio Sarri’s job will be safe. It was oddly under threat a few months ago, even though he has steered Chelsea to a Europa League final, a Carabao Cup final and a top 4 place ensuring Champions League football either way next season, that’s not too bad for your debut season surely?

Still who will want to join the club now knowing you can’t buy any players for over a year? That would be like playing Monopoly and going round the board several times until your rivals all have the properties they want. In that sense Sarri suddenly holds all of the cards and with a strong link to Roma, Sarri may just think enough is enough and walk in the summer if he is not being respected at the club.

For now Chelsea are doing well, but the future hardly looks bright.

 

Will Arsene Wenger go out of football with a bang or a whimper?

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Arsene Wenger has been out of football management for nearly a year and there doesn’t seem to be any indication that the former Arsenal manager will be finding a new job in dugout anytime soon.

This seems like a sad state of affairs for the Frenchman who won countless trophies in his career, most famously of course for the Premier League side Arsenal. But is this how the script ends for Wenger or will he take one last management job?

Wenger has deserved his years break and has flown to Africa to support George Weah’s football projects, done some media work and this weekend he will present the Coupe de la Ligue trophy to either Strasbourg or Guingamp in Lille. This is all very well but surely there is a burning desire to get back into managing a team.

After all Wenger seemed all go for his next project six months ago, where he said that he would be back in management by the beginning of 2019- that came and went. There were also links to Bayern Munich, which hasn’t at present come off.

The fear is that with Wenger being 69 he will not manage again which seems unfortunate on a lot of levels. Not least because his time at Arsenal just faded from ultimate glory to a whimper, failing even to qualify for the Champions League, and whilst Wenger remains a successful manager it may just be that it is his final years with the Gunners that will be best remembered.

By taking the plunge to manage again he could reinvent himself and it would feel like a fresh move. By not his thoughts will be loyal to Arsenal which he served 22 years and it just could be his line of thinking. But it does feel as if there is unfinished business with Wenger- the problem is that he may not be able to see it.

In recent weeks Wenger has been linked with ‘upstairs’ technical roles at both UEFA and FIFA- again is this really what he wants? Taking such a job may sound prestigious and hands on but isn’t it just akin to putting a once great horse out to pastor?

Whilst Wenger is pushing 70 he is also a man who has kept good health and looks great for his age and mentally aware, that’s why it is also unfortunate if he is to spend his remaining days as technical advisor and not have one last crack in management, if he takes roles with UEFA and FIFA it will feel like a wasted opportunity.

How can Barcelona’s Lionel Messi only be the 5th best player in the world?

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The awards season can usually give us surprise leanings and results, although at least for the past decade the winner’s have usually been right. But 2018 can be seen as an exception. Lucas Modric swept all before him in 2018, not trophy wise with his club and country but on a personal level trophy wise, but did he truly deserve accolade after accolade? Then there was the quite bizarre announcement at the Ballon d’Or awards that Lionel Messi wouldn’t win, ok this was half expected given that Messi had not won other awards, but then they went one step further and gave him 5th place, really, 5th place.

First let’s analyse why Modric should never have won the trophy. To do this we first must point out that Modric is a superb player who had a great year. This included being a part of the Real Madrid team that won the Champions League for a 3rd time in a row. And then being a part of the Croatia team that got to a World Cup final. Those are fantastic achievements. But at the same time it also disregards Real Madrid’s domestic season, fought over 38 hard games and 9 months, where they lost the title once again to Barcelona. Indeed Madrid didn’t even finish 2nd and trailed Barcelona by a whopping 17 points. But in a World Cup year- why should that matter?

If the awards were to be influenced by a World Cup why didn’t Antoine Griezmann win the trophy? A player who was influential in the World Cup knock out goals, dominant and confident in midfield and scoring important goals and winning the World Cup. Was Europe on the awards minds? Well be mindful that Griezmann won the Europa League and then when his side Atletico met Real in the Super Cup clash, Atletico won that too.

It may sound controversial but Modric sweeping the awards was set in stone after the World Cup final where FIFA gave the sympathy award of best player at the tournament to Modric, who had just lost the World Cup. Had Croatia won it, Griezmann would have won best player- do we need evidence? Go back to 2014 when Lionel Messi won the best player award when his Argentina side had lost the final to Germany. The look on Messi’s face said it all.

Now to Messi himself and how could he have come 5th in the world? On his day he is a better player than the four that finished above him. But what else could have been the reason? Over Modric there might be a case given that Modric won the Champions League and got to a World Cup final. Although Messi can claim to have won the league and cup, so a domestic double and let’s not forget at his age of 31 he just averaged his best ever games to goals ratio.

Next up is Cristiano Ronaldo, again a Champions League winner. But Messi has that double and a personal better season over him and both did not do well at the World Cup. Griezmann and Mbappe follow next and they did have a better season than Messi trophy wise with World Cup, Europa League, French League and domestic cups between them and yet they only finished 3rd and 4th.

The awards season used to give the best out to the best players. This year that trend has shifted mostly because new blood was wanted after Messi and Ronaldo dominated for a decade, but although Modric is a very special player, Griezmann or Mbappe should have won the award and Messi certainly shouldn’t have been out of the top 3.

Caution should be applied as Gareth Southgate’s England reach UEFA Nations League semi finals

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England have had a superb calendar year which has culminated in reaching their second competition semi final in a row, the UEFA Nations League after this summers World Cup. Ironically to do so they had to beat Croatia, the team that they lost to at the World Cup.

The game against Croatia which was held at Wembley Stadium in London was awash with revenge, but it was the away team that took the lead, and with just thirty minutes left it looked like England would yet again lose to the World Cup runners up. But an equaliser followed and Harry Kane got the winner and it’s true that the weight of that World Cup loss was lifted.

The nation is lifted and England will now go to play in the semi finals in Portugal next June- their opponents will not be known until December when the draw is made.

The press have put down England’s opponents. Croatia have been called wannabe’s whilst there was plenty of jibes at Germany after they were relegated from League A. The question though is does any of this really matter? After all Croatia did knock England out of the World Cup and did reach the final. Germany won the World Cup in 2014, and although they have had a rough 12 months will bounce back. Some respect needs to be afforded to these teams.

Imagine if England go on to win the Nations Cup, it would be the first real trophy England would have won since winning the World Cup in 1966- no we are not going to count the Le Tournai tournament in 1998 where the winning captain Alan Shearer had a face like thunder. If England win, the country may just go into hyperbole. But hold your horses, this isn’t the European Championships and it isn’t the World Cup, it is just a glorified competition borne from UEFA that just adds more football to an over inflated season.

In some ways you can’t blame coach Gareth Southgate and the players- they play too win, and there is a trophy and prestige to be won. You beat who is in front of you and now there is an extra final to be played, so of course you are going to take it seriously. But should pundits and fans? Does there not come a time where we can separate the competitions that matter? If we fixate over every small competition are we all just settling for second best? So if England do win it, congratulations, but hopefully there won’t be an everlasting love in, after all it is a competition that just feels like batched glorified friendlies with points.

Southgate is a good coach, a good listener and has a real chemistry with his players. This squad wants to play for him, and let’s not be churlish here, England does have a very good team, good enough to win Euro 2020? Right now that would be in balance, but in 2 years time with progress made and no hitches, England have every chance. Don’t fall for second best has to be the mindset here. Play these games, win them and move on to what really matters.

 

Germany’s latest woes in the UEFA Nations League should spell the end for Joachim Low

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Germany, the great international side that are usually compared to the very greatest footballing nations in the history of football have been relegated in the UEFA Nations League.

What this means is that the team cannot win the next edition of the new international cup set up by UEFA. This is all by and large and the competition is still under scrutiny as to whether nations are really taking this seriously. After all it isn’t the World Cup or European Championships and feels like glorified friendlies. Still whichever way you look at it relegation means you are not getting results and this has been a quite woeful year for the Germans so accustomed to winning.

But when will the finger point to coach Joachim Low. Low has been in charge of the national side for an incredible 12 years- surely his tenure is up now? In that time he has won the ultimate prize- the World Cup in 2014 as Germany became the first ever European side to win it in South America when that edition was held in Brazil.

Many expected Low’s time was up this summer when Germany exited the World Cup in Russia at the group stages. It was the first time in 80 years that Germany had done so and pardon the pun was a new low for the national side. His sacking seemed inevitable and yet the German FA gave Low the choice- he remained in the hot seat.

Low has done fantastically well for the national side, reaching the European Championship final in 2008 and making the latter stages of major competitions but surely now is the time to walk.  Since the World Cup things have hardly improved for Low with just 2 wins from 5 games and now failure in the Nations League.

What Germany need now is another strong character in order to qualify for Euro 2020 which shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Low has actually done very little wrong in his time with the national side and him stepping down should just be an occurrence of time, and he has certainly had his. It would be a major surprise if the FA do not take action and let him go if he doesn’t want to.

If anything Low who is almost 60 needs to give others a chance and there are a lot of ex German players now that are reaching that age where they would like to give the national team a decent shot. Change is needed because if not the great German side may just stagnate, something that we couldn’t see coming in a generation. Low’s time is up.

 

Do the world’s best players really have to play in Spain to win FIFA World player of the year?

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Chelsea star Eden Hazard who has been linked with Real Madrid joked about it in a press conference and many professional footballers have brought it up in recent weeks that to win the best player in the world award you have to be playing in Spain, but is that true?

A quick glance at who has won the player of the year in recent seasons would suggest that it is very true that players have come from Spain. A player has not won the award outside of Spain since 2008. Meaning that the last 10 winners have come from players playing in La Liga.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi has 5 of those wins and ex Real Madrid player Cristiano Ronaldo has 4 wins. Luka Modric broke the mould this year in winning the award now called FIFA The Best awards. Modric incidentally became the first player to win the award that wasn’t Messi or Ronaldo since 2007.

So yes on reflection it does seem that you need to play in La Liga, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Anyone that has followed football throughout the last decade could not have ignored the achievements of both Messi and Ronaldo who have brought the game onto another level. Had one been playing in Spain and one in Italy as they do now we could be sure to think that the awards would have been split between those countries. Simply put these two players have been so good that the awards could not ignore them and it is just coincidence that they both played in Spain.

Since 2008 Messi and Ronaldo have dominated football and have won 49 trophies between them including 8 Champions Leagues. They have scored countless goals the likes we haven’t seen since the 1950s and have dazzled with their play. Both players have simply been very deserving of their achievements and awards.

Hazard may have been joking or he may have not but one of the huge factors that other players from the major leagues have not won the award in the last decade is that awards tend to also go to how your team has performed. It’s why even though Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah came third in the voting that he was never realistically in with a chance of winning the award, as Liverpool won no trophies last season.

Hazard probably has little chance to win the award next year given that Chelsea are competing in the Europa League. Even if they win it there is no guarantee the award is coming his way, you only have to ask Antoine Griezmann about that, who won it last season with Atletico Madrid.

To win the award you must perform exceptionally well, be an attacking player and your club really has to win the Champions League and that is the real definition of winning the award not what country you play in.

 

Vitolo a 3 bandas

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No es un secreto el interés de Simeone por Vitolo. El Cholo lleva 3 temporadas tratando de fichar al internacional sevillista pero, por un motivo u otro, no lo ha conseguido… hasta ahora. Puede parecer que este año sea más complicado, dado que el Atlético no puede inscribir jugadores nuevos hasta el próximo 1 de enero por la sanción de la FIFA. Pero no, los colchoneros se guardan un as en la manga. Continue reading

Cristiano Ronaldo wins Ballon d’Or for the 4th time ahead of Lionel Messi

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In the end as Cristiano Ronaldo held up his 4th Ballon d’Or it was no surprise to anyone in attendance that the Portuguese star was voted in as the best player in the world. Indeed if any other player had been chosen the fallout could have lasted until next December.

Who else but Ronaldo who not only won the Champions League with Real Madrid in 2016 but also claimed an historic international trophy when Portugal won Euro 2016. This summer’s win over host nation France in the final was Portugal’s first ever major trophy. Whilst the competition will be littered with memories of Ronaldo’s drive and goals it will also be remembered for his encouragement managerial style from the sidelines in that final when he had to leave the pitch after an early injury.

And then there are the goals which Ronaldo of course loves, he has scored 51 so far for club and country this year and scored this season alone two hat tricks and counting. Real Madrid who are currently six points clear in La Liga are on course to win the league for the first time since 2012.

In winning the trophy it meant that this was the 9th year when only two players had picked up the top prize, either Ronaldo or Messi. Messi has five titles. The last player to win outside these two was Kaka in 2007 when he was playing for Italians AC Milan.

Barcelona’s Lionel Messi had to settle for 2nd place, but the truth was that the Argentinian would have already had an inkling of what was to happen. This despite winning four trophies in a year including the league and Copa del Rey Cup double and a FIFA World Club Cup. The problem though was that Messi who also scored more goals in this calendar year than Ronaldo could not fix the problem which was Atletico Madrid in the Champions League. Here Barca predictably limped out as champions to Diego Simeone’s tactics.

The misery continued when at international level Messi had the superb opportunity to win the Copa America with Argentina. But alas Chile who had beaten them also in 2015 were victorious and this led Messi to retire from international football- this lasted only a few months though.

Antoine Griezmann was deservedly in third place. The young Frenchman was a breath of fresh air at Euro 2016 and led his nation to the final where they ultimately but narrowly lost to Portugal. But this couldn’t take away that Griezmann with his dashing fair hair and an appetite for goal was one of the lasting memories of the tournament. Griezmann was also pivotal for his club side Atletico Madrid emerging as a star despite losing another Champions League final to their bitter rivals Real Madrid.

The full Ballon D’or list:

1 – Cristiano Ronaldo

2 –  Lionel Messi

3 – Antoine Griezmann

4 – Luis Suárez

5 – Neymar

6 – Gareth Bale

7 – Riyad Mahrez

8 – Jamie Vardy

9= – Pepe

9= – Gianluigi Buffon

11 – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

12 – Rui Patricio

13 – Zlatan Ibrahimovic

14= – Arturo Vidal

14= – Paul Pogba

16 –   Robert Lewandowski

17= – Dimitri Payet

17= – Toni Kroos

17= – Luka Modric

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World Cup 2018 qualifying round-up

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Europe kick started the qualification process for the 2018 World Cup over the weekend and there were some interesting results and ties. Here is a quick look at what happened:

England started their campaign with a hard fought 1-0 win over Slovakia. The game which was England manager’s Sam Allardyce’s first in charge looked to be heading for a dour 0-0 result when Adam Lallana struck deep into injury time. This win should give the team a vital boost.

Northern Ireland who had done so well to qualify for Euro 2016 impressed in their first qualification match as they came away from a tricky Czech Republic tie with a point. The game ended 0-0 and that should be seen as a very good result considering that they were away from home.

Scotland who are vying to get to their first World Cup in what will be 20 years made heavy weather of opponents Malta early on but then ran out 5-1 winners away from home. Malta had 2 players sent off during the match, but still this was the perfect start by the Scots.

German press was not happy with their team’s performance which they described as sloppy despite the big score. The World Cup champions won 3-0 over Norway and appeared to be in cruise control- this backlash seems to show high expectations for the Germans.

San Marino almost avoided defeat but ended up suffering a 1-0 defeat to Azerbaijan. Denmark got a much needed home win over Armenia by the same score line.

There are still 9 more games to go for some of the teams and much more twists and turns to finally knowing who will join Russia at the World Cup. Matches continue this week where we will see some mouth watering fixtures such as Croatia v Turkey. Israel v Italy should be an interesting encounter also. Spain will fancy their chances when they take on Liechtenstein at home, not only should the team win but pundits will be expecting many goals also.

Gareth Bale will hope to lead out his Wales side when they open their account at home against Moldova. The Welsh side are experiencing perhaps their best form of football in their history and are aiming to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in what would be 60 years.

The World Cup qualifiers will continue in November and the rest of 2017 before being finalised sometime in next October.

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