Thursday, January 30, 2014

J-League Talent Production Line

J-League Talent Production Line
J-League Talent Production Line

It's becoming somewhat of a ritual, as a new transfer window opens the latest young talent to come off the J.League production line make the now inevitable move to Europe.

The list is almost endless, but with the growing stature of Japanese players in Europe, and the growing desire for players to move abroad, it does create its own issues.

When to go? Where to go? For what price? They are questions fans in Australia have been asking for many years and now, increasingly, are the Japanese.

For every Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda or Yuto Nagatomo there is a Kisho Yano, Genki Omae or Tomoaki Makino. That's not to say they're bad players, they're not, but they have all found themselves back in Japan after short, ill-fated moves abroad. Did they go too soon? Were they not prepared for the cultural shock, both on and off the training pitch?

That is what each player has to factor in when making the decision to move. The latest to make the move is young Kashima Antlers starlet Yuya Osaka, who has moved to 2.Bundesliga side 1860 Munchen.

Keisuke Honda.

Has he moved to the right club? Will he be assured of playing time? Do they play the right football to suit his game and allow him to develop? Is moving to a second division club with little chance of promotion this season the best move?

They are questions that will be answered in time. With a possible World Cup berth on the horizon, he is obviously confident it is the right move at this stage of his career, and hopefully it is for his and Japan's sake.

Not only will he have to adjust to a new country and lifestyle, he has to adapt to the cut throat world of European football, where every player is fighting for survival and his place in the side. You have to impress. It's kill or be killed, so to speak.

While the players have plenty to consider, the other side of the equation is that of the club. How strongly do they hold their ground looking for the right price?

For too long clubs wilted to the demands of overseas clubs, allowing their players to leave for nothing, or for a token amount, to do 'what’s best for Japan'.

But there are signs, pleasing sings, that practice is changing. After allowing Shinji Kagawa to depart for Dortmund for a pittance (just over €300,000), Cerezo Osaka has since found their negotiating skills, getting €800,000 from FC Nurnberg for Hiroshi Kiyotake, while Cardiff City handed over close to €3,000,000 for Korea’s Kim Bo-kyung.

The latest off their production line is the highly talented and sought after Yoichiro Kakitani. The 24-year-old netted 21 times last season and starred for Japan at the East Asian Cup in July, scoring twice in the final match against Korea to seal the title for Japan.

Just recently Cerezo announced they had re-signed Kakitani, meaning that when he inevitably moves to Europe, most likely in the European summer after the World Cup, they will be able to cash in and extract a more substantial transfer fee.

It's what Yokohama F.Marinos did last season when they signed young gun Yuji Ono to a long-term deal, only to sell him to Belgian side Standard Liege a few months later for €1,500,000. Just recently F.Marinos did the same with their latest young star, Manabu Saito, signing him up to a new deal ensuring that they will again get a substantial fee when he moves. Like Kakitani, that will likely be in the European summer.

With players increasingly wanting to move to Europe, clubs need to start looking after their own interests and sign promising young players to long-term contracts in order to cash in when European clubs inevitably come calling. While in the past releasing a player for nothing might have been considered 'doing the right thing', it is actually to the detriment of Japanese football.

Not only does it deny clubs a valuable income stream, it gives the message that J.League clubs are there to be pillaged by European clubs. If clubs think they can get a bargain they will come in droves and before you know it you have a flood of players leaving, with no money coming back into the game.

It sounds obvious, but the more money coming into the club, the more they can invest in the club and the next generation of players. It becomes a cycle, and with clubs like Yokohama F.Marinos in financial trouble, the more money they can garner from player transfers the better.

With this generation of Japanese players being the first to move to Europe in any great number, it is a new situation for the clubs and one they appear they are slowly coming to grips with.

The sudden spike in player transfers has wider reaching consequences too. With the league’s best players now looking to move abroad at an earlier age, you now have 20-30 of the best Japanese players playing abroad, which could ultimately have a detrimental effect on the overall quality of the league.

How does the league overcome this? Would possible solutions are there to ensure the league remains as strong as possible going into the future?

It is an issue I will explore in more detail in my next column. In the meantime the hope of everyone with an interest in Japanese football is that the players now moving abroad become the next Shinji Kagawa or Yuto Nagatomo, taking their careers and Japanese football to the next level.

© Paul Williams & Soccerphile

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Homeland Controversy Why Croatia's Josip Simunic probably isn't a Nazi

Croatian Football

Ozren Podnar

The Croatian international defender Josip "Joe" Simunic is not losing hope in returning to action for the national team in time to take part in the forthcoming World Cup.

The Australian-born player was hit with a ten match ban by FIFA following his allegedly pro-Nazi outburst last November after Croatia's 2-0 win over Iceland in a World Cup qualifier. Simunic was punished for leading the crowd at Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb in a chant with Nazi connotations.

After the match that secured Croatia's place at the World Cup, the supremely popular footballer took a microphone from an announcer and shouted "za dom" (for the homeland), to which thousands of fans responded "spremni" (ready).

The ban, if not overturned on appeal, will most likely put an end to a distinguished international career of the 36-year old after 105 caps for the Vatreni (Fiery Ones), as the Croatian national team is known.

The salute "for the homeland ready" was used by the infamous Ustashe (Insurgents), the extreme right wing organization which ruled Croatia from 1941 until the end of the Second World War in May of 1945.

The full form of the salute during World War 2, in which Croatia was a minor member of the Axis Powers, read "for the Leader and the homeland ready", the Leader (equivalent to the German "Fuhrer") being the Croatian pro-Nazi dictator Ante Pavelic.

Since the Ustashe committed countless well-documented atrocities against the Serbs, Jews, Gypsies and even many left-leaning Croats, any use of symbols reminiscent of their era is very much frowned-upon or outright banned in Croatia, depending on the social context.

The association between the salute pronounced by Simunic and the Ustashe regime was FIFA's rationale for imposing the harsh ban on the player.

"The salute was discriminatory and offended the dignity of a group of persons," FIFA said in the statement announcing the punished."

Older than the Nazis?

However, Simunic and many Croats dispute that the salute as used on the occasion reflected any Nazi sentiments. As the player said after the event, "for me it was just an expression of my deep love of my homeland" and lacked "any hint of hate or violence."

Other people have come forward reminding everyone that the salute "for the homeland..." predates Nazism by several centuries. Indeed, variations of the salute appeared in several literary works from the mid-17th to early 20th century.

The Croatian politician and military leader Josip Jelacic (b. 1801 - d. 1859) is reputed to have regularly used the slogan "for the homeland ready to die" in his addresses to the soldiers during his Hungarian campaigns.

Most famously, a similar salute was mentioned in a well-known opera "Nikola Subic Zrinski" written in 1876 by the Croatian author Ivan Zajc.

The opera tells how Zrinski, a historic Croatian military leader, exhorted his troups before the final charge against the Ottoman Turks in the 1566 Battle of Szigetvar by shouting "for the homeland now let us fight!"

The libretto was written many decades before the Ustashe movement was founded and before any strife between the Croats and the Serbs.

What it means Down Under

Still, all of this hardly exonerates Simunic. What comes to mind to most people in the former Yugoslavia upon hearing "for the homeland ready" is not an opera or a 17th century poem.

On the contrary, ever since the World War 2 those words have carried pro-Nazi and pro-Ustashe, rather than artistic or romantic connotations. The veteran athlete should have known that his chants would hurt the numerous descendants of Ustashe victims.

The only question is whether he, in fact, did know. Because, his apologists say, he spent his youth in an environment where certain symbols have acquired slightly different meanings over the past 60-70 years.

Ethnic Croats from Australia, Canada, Argentina and Germany claim that in their communities the slogan "for the homeland ready" lost pro-Nazi overtones long ago, becoming a mere expression of national identity for the people living thousands of miles away from the land of their fathers. A distinct cultural interpretation.

Simunic was born in 1978 in Canberra to a family of Croatian emigrants who, like tens of thousands of other ethnic Croats, fled the poverty and persecutions of communist Yugoslavia in the years following the World War 2.

In 1998 he moved from Australia to Germany and played for Hamburger SV, Hertha and Hoffenheim until the summer of 2011. He was 33 when he signed for Dinamo Zagreb and settled in Croatia for the first time.

Before last November, Simunic had never been linked to a Nazi or a racist incident. He had plenty of chances to get into trouble, having played many times alongside or against Serbs, Jews and black players, but no suggestions of any wrongdoings have emerged.

It is imaginable that for Simunic the salute that brought him into disrepute is just another reminder of the homeland his parents reluctantly left.

Like a flag, an embroidery, a folk costume, a book from a Croatian author brought from the old country. A way of saying "I'm a Croat", rather than a message of hostility against anyone.

Will this distinct cultural interpretation of Joe's salute convince FIFA? Not likely. The ban will probably be confirmed and his international career will finish on a sad note.

Awaiting the final verdict

But, the appeal has already been filed and Simunic said to the Max! weekly he still hoped to be present on the day the World Cup opens on June 12th in Sao Paulo with a duel between Brazil and Croatia.

Last weekend Davor Prtenjaca, the attorney representing Simunic against FIFA, launched an online petition in support of his client under the slogan "With Josip Simunic to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil".

In six days, through January 25th, the petiton on the page was signed by 111,400 people from Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Australia, Germany and other countries with sizeable Croat populations.

Prtenjaca believes this massive support for the player may help him overturn the FIFA-imposed ban and that Simunic will be able to take part at the World Cup after all.

"We hope we'll collect at least 180,000 signatures in support of Josip," said the attorney to the Bosnian online news magazine Fenix. "We wish to show FIFA that many Croats do not share the opinion of those who reported Simunic to the world football authorities."


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

George's Premiership Predictions 28 January

George's Premiership Predictions.
George's Premiership Predictions 28 January

Read George's latest premiership punts for this round's action which sees a Merseyside derby and Ole Gunnar Solskaer back in Manchester to face his old club.

Tuesday 28 January 2014

Norwich City 1 v Newcastle 2
Swansea City 1 v Fulham 1
Man United 1 v Cardiff City 0
Southampton 1 v Arsenal 2
Crystal Palace 1 v Hull City 1
Liverpool 1 v Everton 1

Wednesday 29 January

Tottenham 1 v Man City 3
Sunderland 1 v Stoke City 0
Chelsea 2 v West Ham 0
Aston Villa 1 v West Brom 1

Man United's Transitional Period 10/3 To Last Longer Than Three Seasons

Manchester United hosted Sunderland in the Capital One Cup semi final 2nd leg on Wednesday and lost. The Red Devils are priced at 10/3 not to win a major trophy during the next three seasons.

Spokesman Steve Freeth: "With quotes of 100/1 to retain their Premier League title and already out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle, it is clear that David Moyes looks to have a major rebuilding task on his hands at Manchester United - regardless of Capital One Cup progression."

When Will Manchester United Next Win A Major Trophy?

2013/14 7/4 2014/15 2/1 2015/16 9/2
No Trophy During This Time 10/3

Man Utd 2013/14 Finishing Position

Top 4 11/4 5th or 6th 11/10 7th or lower 7/4

David Moyes To Start 2014/15 PL Season As Manchester United Manager

Yes 1/2 No 6/4

Last time's Premier League predictions


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Manchester City Buy 80% Stake in Melbourne Heart

Manchester City Buy 80% Stake in Melbourne Heart
Manchester City

"We will listen, we will learn and then we will bring to Melbourne whatever is needed."

They are words that will make every other club sit up and take notice. Talk about a game changer!

With the announcement yesterday that Manchester City, which also now own the new New York City FC franchise in the MLS, has purchased an 80% stake in the struggling Melbourne Heart, the club has literally gone from rags to riches.

People were lining up to write their obituaries for a club that has failed to find success on the field, and failed to attract fans off it. And with just one win in their last 20 games many were questioning "where to?" for Melbourne Heart? It was a legitimate question.

They answered that question in emphatic fashion. Now it's not a matter of "where to?" but a question of "how big?" can the club become? With the money of Sheikh Mansour behind them the sky is the limit.

Etihad Stadium & Sport City

City are investing hundreds of millions into a new training centre in Manchester, and are doing likewise in New York, with a new state-of-the-art training ground and stadium to be built. You can bet your bottom dollar that Heart won't be training at LaTrobe Uni, using wheelie bins for ice baths, for much longer.

The new owners will be keen to have a permanent footprint in the city, and with no reason the leave the perfect AAMI Park, a new training and admin complex is surely top of the wish list. And this is where the benefits of the new arrangement will be felt, off-the-pitch. With a modest salary cap in place the new owners can't splash the cash and buy a superstar team. Of course they can spend endless amounts on two marquee players, and with the club no doubt looking to make a fresh start and big impact in Melbourne you can be sure any number of high profile players will be linked to the club.

But as I started on before, off-the-pitch is where the real benefit will be seen. State of the art training and medical facilities, the best off-field set-up, the best coaches and promises to lengthy periods spent at the Manchester City academy in England. This as much as anything will attract players to the club.

Across town at Melbourne Victory we've seen them put their mantle as the league's biggest club, with the best off-field set up, to good use, constantly coercing the league's best players to venture south, Besart Berisha being the latest example. It also helps when attracting players from overseas, players who are often used to the creature comforts of the big European leagues.

If Heart do get new training facilities they will match, or most likely trump, Victory for the best facilities in the league. With the glamour that comes from being owned by a multi-billionaire, players will want to be associated with the club. Just look at how they flocked to Gold Coast with the promise of private jet travel and a fancy resort lifestyle. And while that didn't work out, you get the sense City are in for the long haul, and most importantly they have a wealth of football experience behind them. They've shown they're not afraid to spend money.

With no less than 14 players off-contract at the end of the season they have a wonderful opportunity to make over the squad in one fell swoop. They'll have players and agents banging down their door.

But what of the one ingredient that has really been lacking, the fans? Will this new ownership attract new fans to the club?

That's the $64m, or perhaps $11m, question.

Fans in Melbourne often mock their Sydney counterparts for their fickle nature, and while there is some truth to it, the fact is fans everywhere love a winner and they love to be part of something big. When the two combine it's a formidable force, and that is what we have seen at Melbourne Victory.

Can the same now take place across town? The new ownership gives them instant credibility, which is what they've lacked to date. They've lacked an identity. They now have one. If they start winning, play attractive and attacking football and sign a few high profile marquee players then the bandwagon will swell, of that there is no doubt. Just how big it can get remains to be seen, but they're in a much better position today than they were yesterday. And then there's the question of the name.

It really is a no-brainer. The Heart has failed; it didn't obtain any cut-through with the Melbourne sporting public. While it is possible for the public perception of a brand to change, in my opinion it is better to make a clean break and start over. Melbourne City FC has a much better ring to it and just sounds like a respectable football club.

Do they keep the red or do they swap to sky blue like their now-sister clubs? I can't see them not switching. There is precedent in the A-League when Nathan Tinkler took over the Newcastle Jets and changed their kit from gold to red and blue, to match that of NRL side Newcastle Knights, which he also owned. There seems to have been no major fall out from that decision.

Whether that will be the case in Melbourne, who knows, but I think we should start preparing to have two sky blues in the league next season, especially after FFA CEO David Gallop admitted they would be open to a change of name and colours.

With some questioning the league over the last few weeks, this news could not have come at a better time.

Sit back and enjoy the ride, because things are about to change in old Melbourne town (or should that be City!).

Copyright ©  Paul Williams and

AFC Splits into East & West

Asian Champions League
AFC Splits into East & West

Many experts have long suggested that the AFC should split in two and create two separate confederations - East Asia and West Asia.

In a move that surprised many, the AFC has done just that with its flagship club competition, the AFC Champions League. From this year onwards the tournament will be split into two until the Final, still to be played over two legs, ensuring an East vs West final.

The cynic will suggest this is a power play by the Middle East bloc to ensure one of 'their' teams makes the final after East Asia has dominated the competition in recent years. Seven of the last eight finals have been won by East Asian teams, although on only two occasions (2008 and 2013) has the final been an all East Asian affair.

But is it a good move for a tournament designed to unite all of Asia? Is this the first step on the path to a full split of the confederation?

With the tournament just a week away from beginning, with the first play off between Pune FC and Hanoi T&T to take place next Wednesday, I take a look at the pros and cons for splitting the tournament in two. Let's start on a bright note and look at the pros first.

No. 1 - Less travel costs

This is true, without the long intra-continental flights from East to West, or vice versa, the travel burden will be eased. However just how much is a matter for debate. The 'old' editions of the ACL were split East-West through the Group Stage and Round of 16. Only the Quarter Finals and Semi Finals had an open draw.

That meant an even 4-4 representation in the Quarter Finals and it was luck of the draw from that point on. Only three times in the last four years has there been an all East/West Quarter Final. So there will be less travel costs incurred, and of course, less travel which means less stress on the bodies of the players.

Clubs and fans have long complained that competing in the ACL makes it difficult to maintain a strong title challenge in their domestic league due to the travel and physical strain placed upon their players. Less travel will ease that somewhat, but it's still up to the clubs to manage their repspective campaigns appropriately.

No. 2 - Better for TV

Ahh, television. It is the controller of sports in the modern era, dictating timeslots based upon what is best for their ratings. The ACL doesn't have the lucrative television contracts in place for the TV networks to have that much pull, but the split is no doubt better for the various TV networks, allowing games played at a more ideal hour.

For example, in Australia, if Western Sydney were to play Esteghlal, kick off would not be until the early hours of the morning. Only the diehards would be up watching.

By splitting East-West, the TV time slots become more favourable. Now if Western Sydney were to play Guangzhou or FC Seoul the match would kick off at a more respectable time in the evening.

While the ACL might not have the lucrative TV contracts in place at the moment, the AFC will no doubt be looking to increase the value of those contracts over the coming years.

The best way to do that is to get more people watching the games, making it a more attractive product for the various networks. Having games kick off at TV and fan friendly hours is a good place to start.

No. 3 - Guaranteed East vs. West Final

The best team from the East vs. the best team from the West. With the AFC being such a large and diverse confederation having a finalist from each zone ensures interest from each zone until the end.

If all four East Asian teams won their Quarter Finals to ensure an all-East Asian top four the west would quickly tune out. And vice versa.

Of course the ACL is still very parochial, most countries care only for their representatives and this is the big challenge for the AFC, to make fans in Japan, for example, care when all Japanese teams are eliminated. No easy feat.

Now for the cons…

No. 1 - Divides the confederation

Part of the mantra of the AFC, and the ACL, is to unite the confederation. In fact, that's what the logo represents - east and west intertwining. Why then separate the two? How will you increase knowledge and respect for West Asian football in East Asia if you effectively block it out? Asian football right across the continent needs more exposure, not less.

The cultural and linguistic differences between east and west are vast, as are the differing football cultures. That is what the Champions League should be about, exposing the players, fans and officials to a different culture and style, and the teams who tackle and overcome those differences have truly earned the right to face off in the final to be crowned Asian champion.

No. 2 - The two "best" teams?

The final of any competition should comprise the two best teams of the tournament. While that is not always the case, luck and good fortune can always play its part and help propel an inferior team, in most cases that point rings true.

It was certainly the case last year when Guangzhou Evergrande and FC Seoul were pitted against each other. Under the new format that final would not have been possible. While you will, or should, have the best from the East vs. the best from the West you won't necessarily get the two best teams, and the competition loses as a result.

No. 3 - Risk of staleness

The AFC has done a great thing by expanding the qualifying for the ACL to include teams from more nations, but the reality is the gulf in class still exists, meaning that in 9/10 cases the team from the bigger nations will win.

In the case of East Asia that means a competition full of Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Australian teams. Will fans quickly tire of playing teams from the same countries over and over again, especially when knowledge of the teams is so limited? It's just "another" Japanese team or "another" Korean team. Variety is the spice of life and that is what the ACL will lack.

However, by only playing teams from your zone you increase the likelihood of rivalries developing and fans' knowledge of the respective teams increasing, especially if the same teams qualify year-in, year-out. Ask any Adelaide United fan about Gamba Osaka. They may not know much about Japanese or Asian football, but they know Gamba Osaka.

Personally, I fall into the negative camp. I think the ACL should be about uniting a confederation that is already split. I'm not a fan of splitting the AFC into two separate confederations, and this looks like it could be the first step down that path. Instead of retreating to our respective corners we should be opening up Asia and playing as one.

What do you think? Has the AFC made the right move?

Copyright ©  Paul Williams and

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fifa World Rankings January 2014

FIFA World Fifa Rankings
Fifa World Rankings January 2014

Fifa's World Rankings for January 2014 were published on January 16 at FIFA HQ in Zurich, Switzerland. The Fifa World Rankings are now published on Thursday and not Wednesday as before.

Euro 2012 winners Spain are still on top of the FIFA rankings for yet another month and there were no changes in the top 20 positions. Spain are followed by Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Portugal, Uruguay, Italy, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil.

England are 13th unchanged with their last two games successive home friendly losses to Chile and Germany at Wembley.

Scotland are in 37th position, down 3 places. The Republic of Ireland are still in 67th place for another month, an all-time low, Wales are in 55th with Northern Ireland down in 90th place, down one spot from last month.

Ranking Team
1 Spain
2 Germany
3 Argentina
4 Colombia
5 Portugal
6 Uruguay
7 Italy
8 Switzerland
9 Netherlands
10 Brazil
11 Belgium
12 Greece
13 England
14 USA
15 Chile
16 Croatia
17 Côte d'Ivoire
18 Ukraine
19 Bosnia-Herzegovina
20 France

Full world rankings

Previous Fifa World Rankings


Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Curious Case of David Bentley

David Bentley

Once touted as a long-term replacement to David Beckham on the right of England's midfield, the career of former Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur winger David Bentley seems to have gone seriously off course, writes Andy Greeves.


Ten years ago, David Bentley scored the first goal of his professional career for Arsenal against Middlesbrough on January 24, 2004. His delicate chip over Boro goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer from the edge of the box spoke volumes for the huge natural ability the 19-year-old midfielder possessed.

Loan spells at Norwich City and Blackburn Rovers followed between 2004 and 2006, in which time Bentley proved that he could compete at the highest level, playing 26 Premier League games for the Canaries, scoring twice and 14 further games at Ewood Park. He permanently signed for Blackburn in January 2006 and within days achieved his career highlight to date - a hat-trick for Rovers in a 4-3 win over Manchester United on February 1, 2006. By this stage, Bentley was a regular fixture in England's U21 team, indeed he was the first Englishman to score at the new Wembley Stadium against Italy's U21 side on March 24, 2007. After an impressive season for Blackburn in 2006-07, he was called up for an England B game and thereafter found his way into England's full international squad with call-ups for matches against Brazil and Estonia.

In June 2007, he was named in England's U21 squad for the UEFA European U21 Championships but pulled out shortly before the tournament began. Then-U21 manager Stuart Pearce questioned the player's commitment and many have done the same think since as Bentley's career has gone off course.

The following year Bentley made his first England start against Switzerland on February 9, 2008 and signed for Tottenham Hotspur for a fee of around £15m that summer. Early displays for Spurs were impressive, including a long range opener in the North London derby against former club Arsenal on October 26, 2008 in a 4-4 draw at the Emirates Stadium. While fellow right-winger Aaron Lennon shone during the 2008-2009 season for Tottenham, Bentley was in and out of the starting eleven. During the same season, he was arrested for drink-driving after crashing his Porsche into a lamp post. Cue The Sun headline 'Smashed Bentley Smashed Porsche'. His appearances during the 2009-2010 were even more sparse, with just 15 league run-outs for Spurs compared to 25 the previous campaign.

He came on as a substitute for Tottenham in their pivatol match away at Manchester City on May 5, 2010 in which Peter Crouch's 82nd minute header saw the North Londoners win 1-0 and qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in their history. Bentley celebrated by throwing a large bucket over Spurs manager Harry Redknapp during a live TV interview. He laughed off the incident and even auctioned his water-damaged suit for a charity. However, those close to the current QPR manager say he was less than impressed by the stunt and indeed Bentley made just league two appearances under Redknapp during the following season.

Rarely starting in the league, Bentley was handed a number of opportunities to play for Spurs in cup games when Redknapp rotated his squad. Rather than perform to levels he set at Blackburn and try to get back in contention for Tottenham's Premier League team, he squandered his chances. Memorable, for all the wrong reasons, was his performance in a 2-0 League Cup defeat at Manchester United on December 1, 2009 when he spent 90 minutes showboating rather than focusing on any end product.

With his Spurs career going nowhere, Bentley was loaned to Birmingham City during the 2010-11 season and West Ham United in 2011-12. Albeit hampered by injury, he only made a total of 18 league starts for the two clubs. He even moved to Russia to join FC Rostov in 2012-13 but made just seven appearances for them and returned on an emergency loan to Blackburn for a spell last year. Having once commanded a single transfer fee of over £15m, the winger left Spurs on a free transfer during the summer of 2013.

Despite being linked with a number of clubs around Europe and America, Bentley started the 2013-14 season without a club and now in the January transfer window, is still available on a free transfer. It will be interesting to see whether the coming weeks offer an undoubtedly talented footballer a way back into the game. At 29, he still has age on his side but the big question potential suitors will be asking is whether he has appetite and application to match his footballing ability anymore.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Giant Killers on the March...Again!

Giant Killers on the March

In 1993-94, English Conference side Kidderminster Harriers made a number for themselves by becoming only the fifth club to make it to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Ten years on, 'Kiddy' are making waves again, having beaten two Football League teams to set-up a Fourth Round trip to Barclays Premier League side Sunderland. Andy Greeves talks to Jon Purdie, one of Kidderminster's class of 1994, about giant killing memories and chances of an upset at the Stadium of Light.

Giant Killers on the March.

"I can't quite get over the fact it was 20 years ago," smiles Jon Purdie, scorer of one of the most famous goals in the history of Kidderminster Harriers Football Club. It was 64 minutes into an FA Cup Third Round tie at St Andrews between Birmingham City of the old Division One (now SkyBet Championship) and 'Kiddy' of the Football Conference with the scores level at 1-1 when visiting forward Purdie has the chance to get a shot in on the Blues goal.

"The second half was very open and goals could have gone in at either end," recalls Purdie on his big moment. "I had a good strike on goal and also got brought down in the box, for what I thought should have been a penalty. For my goal, I cut in off the left-wing and tried to work an opening to hit it a few times before I finally put my boot through it. It flew in and obviously it was an amazing feeling."

Kidderminster goalkeeper Kevin Rose saved a penalty late on to secure a 2-1 victory for the non-league club, whose performance and victory belied the two sides' league standings. "We had a very good side and were top of the Conference at the time, while Birmingham were struggling in the old Division One (now SkyBet Championship),"says Purdie. "Barry Fry had recently come in and was trying to rebuild a squad and sell on players too, so it was like a revolving door at St Andrews. I guess it was a good time to be playing them. Birmingham were odds-in favourites to win of course, but we quietly fancied our chances.

"Birmingham started much the brighter and went 1-0 up after about 20 minutes. We got an important equaliser just before the break though and I can remember the manager saying to us 'they (Birmingham) are nothing fantastic… just go out and play your normal game second half.' He obviously sensed the win and we managed to achieve it."

To get to the Third Round and set-up that trip to Birmingham, Kidderminster had to win three matches. They dispatched fellow non-league sides Chesham United, Kettering and Woking in the Fourth Qualifying Round and First and Second Roads proper to get there.

"When you start out at the forth qualifying round of the competition, you're certainly not thinking of going on a big run in the FA Cup," reflects Purdie. "Just getting to the third round, when big boys enter seems a long, long way away. You're just trying to win each came as it comes and see where it takes you.

"We won pretty convincingly at Chesham United (4-1 to Kidderminster) but I actually got sent off that day, so a day of mixed emotions. We then drew Kettering at home in the first round proper and saw them off with a good performance (winning 3-0). I won the penalty against Woking which we subsequently scored from in the second round. That had been a tough game and one of those where one goal was likely to win it for either side."

After beating Birmingham City, Kidderminster's fans and players alike dreamt of a trip to one of the Premier League big-boys. Instead, they drew Preston North End at home. The Lilywhites are one of English football's giants of yesteryear for sure, twice winners of the FA Cup in 1889 and 1939. During the 1993-94 season though they languished in the bottom division of the Football League. So they were hardly a Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

"Having got to the fourth round, I guess then we were disappointed not to get Premier League opposition," laments Purdie. "At least it was a home draw and a winnable tie against Preston as we saw it. I remember that David Moyes was in Preston's starting line-up that day and they were managed by John Beck, who I hadn't always seen eye-to-eye with during our time at Cambridge. Years later it was satisfying for me to play a good game against a team managed by him and get one over on him. I supplied the ball for Delwyn Humphreys to score the winner." The 1-0 victory over Preston on January 29, 1994 finally saw Kidderminster land a Premier League club in the FA Cup and a Fifth Round visit from West Ham United on February 19, 1994. Tickets for the game sold out within hours of going on sale and 7,850 fans packed into Kiddy's Aggborough ground for the eagerly anticipated tie. 'Cup fever' had officially hit that part of the West Midlands!

"Most people that were at the game against West Ham would have agreed that it was a pretty even affair," says Purdie, looking back on the Fifth Round match. "Towards the end, both teams would have been happy with the replay I think. Certainly they'd have fancied their chances of finishing the job at Upton Park and for us, it would have been a massive away game for us and another good pay day. Unfortunately, Kevin Rose our goalkeeper, who had been fantastic throughout the cup run, made an error of judgement coming for a cross and Lee Chapman was able to score a header to win it for them.

"We'd had a fantastic run and we didn't have any complaints. The only disappointment was matched West Ham on the day and then were beaten by a late goal."

Since Kidderminster's antics of 1994, only two other non-league clubs have since made it to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup - Crawley Town in 2011 and Luton Town last season. "The difference between matches between non-league and league clubs now compared to twenty years ago is most Conference clubs (both Crawley and Luton were professional during the aforementioned cup runs - Crawley are now in the Football League) are professional now. That wasn't the case in my days and most players had main professions outside of football and trained part-time, usually twice a week. Certainly there was a bigger gulf fitness-wise then as there is now."

Kidderminster's run to the Fourth Round this season has captured the imagination of football folk across the UK, with Kiddy the only remaining non-league club left in the competition. They face a visit to Barclays Premier League side Sunderland next in the tournament and despite the Black Cats' poor form this season, a Kidderminster win would still rank as one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history if it were to happen.

"Sunderland will be red hot favourites and you can't see beyond them winning," says Purdie. "The main thing for the Kidderminster fans is for their team to have a big day out and for the club, they will have generated a good sum of money. I just hope the team can give a good account of themselves and indeed non-league football.

"Kidderminster play a 4-3-3 system usually and they have some very good front men. They'll certainly have a good go."

The match will certainly be of real interest to Purdie, who champions non-league clubs having played for the likes of Cheltenham Town (before they were in the Football League), Telford United and Worcester City during his career. Having begun his career as an apprentice at Arsenal, he also played professionally for the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cambridge United (loan), Oxford United, Brentford and Shrewsbury Town.

"After hanging up the boots (in 2000), I took some time out of the game with my young lads growing up," says one-time FA Cup hero Purdie. "When they were aged about 16/17, I got involved again, took my coaching badges and worked at Wolverhampton Wanderers' academy for a few years. Since then, I managed a non-league side called AFC Wulfrunians for a few years and nowadays I coach part-time at Stourport Swfits and work as a business consultant."

Andy Greeves


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Will Australia Finally Embrace Asian Football in 2014?


As the clock ticked over into 2014 it was not just a time of reflection on the year that was, but also a chance to look forward to what lay ahead and make your wishes for 2014. My wish, football wise anyway, is that 2014 is the year that Australia finally embraces Asian football.

Since joining the AFC in 2006 Australians haven't so much embraced Asian football as tolerated it. Asian football has been like the unpopular kid from school living next door that Australia has humoured and pretended to like, but deep down they'd rather be somewhere else, hanging with the cool kids on the other side of town.

Will Australia Finally Embrace Asian Football in 2014?

But that unpopular kid next door is Australia's business partner for life and it is he who will put us on the path to success in the future. The sooner that realisation is made, and the sooner we start respecting, appreciating and working with the kid next door the better it will be for everyone.

Everyone has a role to play - FFA, media, clubs and fans - in developing a new attitude of respect and appreciation for Asian football.

The FFA can start but doing what almost every other nation in Asia has done - introducing the 3+1 system for foreign players in the A-League. Or if they want to remain at 5 foreign players opt for 4+1. Introducing a +1 system will force clubs to look to Asia if they want to fulfil their full quota of foreign players.

It will mean clubs will need to develop scouting networks in Asia, sophisticated ones at that to ensure that get the best talent available. The fact that in a league of close to 250 players there are only 3 players (Ali Abbas, Ryo Nagai and Shinji Ono) from Asia is a sad indictment on the league and how we value Asian football. In fact, with Nagai's loan spell ending this past week that number is now just two. Ono will depart at the end of this season to return to Japan and Abbas is now a naturalised Australian citizen.

By way of comparison, there are close to 30, mostly Japanese and Korean, in the Thai Premier League (TPL). Admittedly the TPL does have 20 teams as opposed to 10 in the A-League. Despite that, there are still significantly more players from AFC nations in the TPL than there are in the A-League.

Just this past off-season Daiki Iwamasa (284 games for Kashima Antlers), Robert Cullen (naturalised Japanese player with 100+ games experience for Jubilo Iwata and 60+ games for VVV Venlo) and Teruyuki Moniwa (172 games for FC Tokyo and 112 for Cerezo Osaka) have moved to the Thai Premier League.

Players of genuine quality and yet I don't think it would be a stretch to say there was zero interest in signing any of them, or players of similar quality, to the A-League. In Japan this year a new rule has been introduced allowing all clubs to sign an extra foreign player, provided that player is from a SE Asian nation. It is part of the J.League’s push into SE Asia.

Last year the league 'gave away' its TV rights to four SE Asian nations - Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. In return the local broadcasters agreed to give commercial slots and sponsorship opportunities to Japanese companies, who pay a fee to the J.League.

Introducing 3+1 means there are greater opportunities for clubs to grow in the region. Would a club be so bold as to go after one of the continents best strikers, Thailand’s Teerasil Dangda? Or target one of the biggest stars in Indonesia, Irfan Bachdim (one of the players to recently trial at J.League club Ventforet Kofu), a man who has 4.2m twitter followers! Although with Bachdim they may have been beaten to the punch, with reports suggesting J.League side Ventforet Kofu will sign up the talented young striker.

Perhaps instead of bemoaning the fact his players have been called up to the Olyroos for a "meaningless" tournament, Newcastle Jets coach Gary van Egmond should have a scout there looking for the best new talent in Asia. We all know how unlikely that is, however.

The media also have their part of play. There is a little bit of chicken and egg here. What comes first? Increased fan interest, which forces increased media interest, or increased media coverage to drive increased fan interest?

In my opinion it has to be the latter. There is a commercial interest in FOX SPORTS promoting Asian football. They own the rights to the AFC Champions League, they own the rights to the AFC Asian Cup and they own the rights to the FIFA World Cup qualifiers for the AFC region. It is in there interest for the popularity of Asian football to increase, as it will increase the viewer base for the above-mentioned competitions.

That, sadly, has not been the case, however. FOX SPORTS' coverage has been sporadic at best. It rarely shows an AFC Champions League game that doesn’t involve an A-League team. It rarely shows a FIFA World Cup Qualifier that doesn't involve Australia.

One of the highlights of the Asian football scene in 2013 was the AFC Champions League Final between FC Seoul and Guangzhou Evergrande. Both games (it was played over two legs) were played in front of 50,000+ crowds, and both games were a fantastic advertisement for Asian football. Neither game was shown on FOX SPORTS. This was the first time they haven't broadcast the AFC Champions League Final.

After seven years as a member of the AFC the coverage should be increasing, not decreasing and yet that is exactly what is happening.

There was, not that I saw, any word at all on any FOX SPORTS production about the AFC Champions League Final. Not a word. And this is despite them owning the rights to the competition.

SBS on the other hand, on their weekly show The World Game, dedicated a segment of the hour long program to the AFC Champions League Final and had their reporter, and arguably the best Asian football journalist going around, Scott McIntyre, in Guangzhou for the second leg.

Is it any wonder fans of the A-League teams competing in the ACL are left saying "who?" when the draw is held when there is little coverage of the tournament?

This isn't a problem exclusive to Australia, it's the same right around Asia, but it's one we should look to fix. This year it is quite possible that there will be three A-League teams in the ACL. That means that, for the group stage at least, there will be three games each match day. That's good, that’s already a marked increase on last year. But what happens if/when the Australian teams are eliminated? Does it again disappear from our screens?

This is a tournament that will involve a lot of players who will take part in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup here in Australia. Again, it is in FOX SPORTS commercial interest for that tournament that be a success and attract as many eyeballs as possible. If fans know and are familiar with the players involved then there is more of a chance of that happening. It would be fantastic to see games involving no A-League teams broadcast. For example, I'm sure fans of Central Coast, Western Sydney and Melbourne Victory would be interested in how the other teams in their group are playing, especially when the results of those games could determine whether they progress to the Round of 16.

Why not show the other game from each of those groups each match day? FOX SPORTS will point to poor ratings as an excuse, but unless there is an investment in Asian football to create more interest ratings will always be poor, especially when coverage is so sporadic. And when you show the first leg of the Mexican league final at midday on a Friday afternoon, does the ratings argument really stack up?

And then there are the little things.

Pronunciation of names is a cultural thing that will take time for all Australians to learn. But commentators should make every effort to get the pronunciation correct. Some do, while some just butcher it. Some of the efforts during last year's ACL were just embarrassing. It may have been simple human error, a typo that we all do hundreds of time each year, but in an official press release it shouldn't happen. I'm referring to Adelaide United’s mistake last week, announcing that Antony Golec was off to Chinese side Liaoning Whomin. It is, of course, Liaoning Whowin.

The old 'copy & paste' caught a few people out, who were probably none the wiser, when a few journalists and official twitter accounts repeated the same mistake. Then there was the doozy from the FFA, who expanded their official website last year to become an "independent" news website, rather than just a corporate site.

It included all new sections dedicated to news around the globe, but tellingly when it was launched there was no section for Asia. Europe, English Premier League, all the usual sections were there, but no section for Asia. It was quickly rectified, but it was an oversight that spoke volumes. Again, little things, but it speaks to a greater lack of understanding, knowledge and respect for the game in Asia.

In the world we live in it is the media who set the agenda. What they show is what we discuss. What they discuss quickly become the latest talking points. It is, therefore, the media, and that includes everyone in the broader Australian football media, who need to lead the way in promoting Asian football and encouraging our learning and understanding of this vast continent. That doesn't mean being cheerleaders, but it means making a concerted effort to dedicate time and space to reporting on Asian football, the good and the bad.

With the 2015 AFC Asian Cup on our doorstep there has never been a better time for that process to start, and it is my greatest wish that 2014 will be the year we in Australia starts that process of embracing the wonderful world of Asian football.

Copyright ©  Paul Williams and

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Scottish Premier League News January 2014

Scottish Premier League News December 2013
SPL News


Neil Lennon has dismissed any suggestion that Celtic will be preparing to make a marquee signing in the looming January transfer window - and the Hoops boss isn't of a mind to bring in a box office name on the back of a short-term loan deal.

In recent seasons the Parkhead side have introduced the likes of Roy Keane, Robbie Keane and Freddie Ljunberg at this stage of a campaign, with varying degrees of impact. With Celtic well on their way to a third successive title there would be little need for any further reinforcements other than to encourage more entertainment value for season ticket holders between now and the end of the season.

Lennon, though, is more inclined to look to the bigger picture as he attempts to mould a team for the long-term.

"I don't want to bring in any players like that because it won't serve any purpose going forward," said Lennon. "Any player we do bring in I would like to be permanent." A goalscorer, though, is the priority with the Hoops boss keen to bring in a player who could use the remaining months of the current campaign to bed into the team and therefore be up and running when the critical but early UEFA UEFA Champions League qualifiers begin.

"We are looking but we've not pushed the button on anyone yet," Lennon said. "You know what January is like. Every day a new name will come forward. But we have plenty of options and we would hope to come out of January with a stronger squad than the one we went into it with."

Lennon has been linked with a move for Dundee United's Stuart Armstrong but would not be drawn on the player. "You're always wary that they play well at a certain club and they come here to a different environment with different pressure they're not used to," Lennon said. "You don't just look at their ability but their mental strength as well."

The Parkhead manager has been linked with a number of players, the latest being South Korean midfielder Han Kook-Young of Japanese club Shonan Bellmare, who claims he has already been approached by Celtic.

Egyptian teenager Mahmoud Hassan, Japanese midfielder Hiroki Yamada - who had a trial period at Lennoxtown last week - Icelandic striker Alfred Finnbogason from Heerenveen and USA international forward Aron Johannsson are also believed to be on Celtic's radar.

"We have made strides in trying to get one player in," said Lennon. "We are in talks, but nothing is confirmed yet. People think we have a relatively strong squad. But we don't. A few injuries, and we are looking pretty thin at times. The likes of Scott Brown, Virgil van Dijk, Efe Ambrose, Kris Commons and Fraser Forster have played a huge volume of games - basically a season in half a season for a lot of players.

"A lot of these matches have been high-intensity, pressure games, but I don't want the players to tail off now. Hopefully we can get into the break we are taking to Turkey next month unbeaten, and come back even fresher for the second part of the season."

Scottish Premier League News January 2014

Lennon, meanwhile, has continued to play down any chance of his side going through the SPL season unbeaten.

The Celtic boss has taken great satisfaction from the consistency that his side have shown domestically this season, but he is wary of predicting a whitewash.

"To go through a league season is virtually impossible but where we are at the minute is very pleasing," said Lennon. "The attitude of the players has been fantastic. People will look at the Scottish game and talk about the level of competition. But I've got to make this season better and the only way to do that is to instil a certain mentality, a will to win and a determination to not get beat. We've just had a Champions League campaign which wasn't as good this year compared to last season. But we have set the bar very, very high." While Lennon will look to bolster his squad in January, he will not recall Tony Watt from his loan spell at Belgian club Lierse.

20-year-old Watt scored twice as a substitute for Lierse in their 3-0 Boxing Day derby victory over Mechelen. It was a perfect response to recent criticism of the player's attitude from Lierse coach Stanley Menzo who had raised doubts over whether Watt would remain with his club for the rest of the season.

Lennon agrees that Watt has issues to address but intends to leave the Scotland Under-21 international striker where he is for the moment. "I'm not of a mind to bring him back just yet," he said. "We've loaned him for the year and I'd like him to see that one out. We couldn't put him out on loan anywhere else if he does come back, so that's not crossed my mind.

"I wasn't aware the Lierse coach has had a pop at him publicly. I'll speak to Tony over the next week or so, see how he is feeling and what the situation is. There's an immaturity about Tony and the reason for putting him on loan was to see life at a different place. If it's not going well, then he needs to knuckle down and make it work. The onus is on him. "He can be a difficult boy at times but there's no malice in him or anything like that. When he's finished at Lierse, he will still be part of our plans for the future. There's no question that Tony has ability. He's raw and just needs to polish it off a bit - and polish himself off as a fully rounded figure. He's not a man yet."


Ibrox manager Ally McCoist has admitted that had he been at the peak of his playing career when Rangers went into liquidation he may well have been tempted to head out of the club. That was the situation faced by the likes of Steven Naismith, Steven Whittaker and Allan McGregor - all of whom were publicly criticised by McCoist for not moving their contracts from the old club to Charles Green's newco 18 months ago.

At the Rangers' AGM, McCoist again took a swipe at those players who had 'headed for the hills'. However, when asked if he would have remained if the club had gone bust in 1992, McCoist said: "I don't know what I would have done.

"It's the easiest thing for me to say that I'm a Rangers man but I don't know. Nobody would know. People have made decisions, choices, and they have to live with them. "Some of the boys crossed over and moved, some moved before it. I'm a big boy and I'm not going to look back and start criticising people. That's life. You make decisions and it would be wrong for me to comment on a hypothetical situation like that.

"I don't know but I don't think anyone can argue that I've made many mistakes. But I've always tried to do what's right for the football club and I'll continue to do that. I wouldn't want to move back into hypothetical 1992 situations."

Meanwhile, McCoist was irked as his side lost their 100% League One record after a Boxing Day draw against Stranaer.

McCoist insisted he 'couldn't give a monkey's' about any chance of a flawless league season disappearing, with his anger reserved for a dismal display and the poor concession that proved so costly.

"I'm certainly of the opinion that Stranraer more than deserved their point for their overall performance.But, from our point of view, it wasn't good enough. "The players have got a lot of praise for going on a great run since the start of the campaign, but even they would admit that display wasn't good enough. We deserved the criticism. I'll be 100-per-cent honest with you, I actually couldn't give a monkey's about the record. I'm not interested in it. I'm only interested in the level of performance that we gave - and that was very disappointing."


Tynecastle boss Gary Locke has insisted that he wishes to remain in the managerial seat at the trouled Edinburgh club for as long as possible. Thrown into the job on the back of administration and a 15-point penalty, the 38-year-old then had to deal with a transfer ban. His skeleton squad of kids have been rooted to the bottom of the Premiership table since the start of the season and are now staring certain relegation in the face. But the thought of quitting the club he loves hasn't entered his mind, despite the constant off-field problems that have engulfed him during his time in the job.

Administrator Bryan Jackson has given Locke his backing and made it clear he wants him to stay and guide the players through the most turbulent period in the club's history. "It was a relief to hear that from Bryan," said Locke. "I'm working under extremely difficult circumstances but I won't dwell on it. I know it's part of the job and I'll have to deal with it.

"I haven't thought about quitting, not at all. Don't get me wrong, it's been tough as we're in this position with such a young team and it's hard to compete at the highest level. "But I love my job and love working for Heart of Midlothian FC. That will never change because it's a great honour to be the manager.

"I'm a positive person and despite the current predicament of the club it's all about making sure we come out of it and get back to where we should be in Scottish football.

"Of course I'd stay if we were in the Championship next season. I love it here. It has been a difficult season but the most important thing is that the club is still here and it survives. "If the club survives, that's an achievement in itself and then we can look to rebuild. "Obviously it becomes harder for me when we lose players to injury and illness.

"But we just have to keep working. Listen, we were in a horrendous position in the summer, but we're still here.

"Most Hearts fans realise that's the main achievement. And even now, we're still not out of the woods, there are important meetings to come that could make or break this club. Hopefully it will be positive."

Locke admits it would be pointless to try to negotiate his future at the club, while its long-term survival is still in the balance. It's the same with his players who are out of contract.

And despite the Foundation of Hearts being confident of a takeover, the Jambos boss says he has enough on his plate just trying to pick up points on a Saturday. He said: "I haven't discussed my future at all. The club is still in administration and nothing can be done off the pitch until the new owners come in.

"The players are in the same situation.

"We have a lot out of contract in the summer and it will get to the stage where they'll want to know about their futures.

"Unfortunately, with the predicament we're in we can't sort any of that out right now."


Thursday, January 9, 2014

Clint Dempsey Loan Should Spark Form for the American Ahead of World Cup

Clint Dempsey Loan

Any time a major star of the MLS decides to go on a winter loan, eyebrows are raised all throughout the country. There is that uneasy feeling that perhaps American soccer is not good enough to satisfy the player, there is concern that perhaps the loan could morph into a permanent move, and then there is always that fear that the player could suffer a traumatic injury.

Such a tragic event forced David Beckham to miss an entire season for the LA Galaxy and the World Cup in 2010, when he was hurt on loan with AC Milan. But now Clint Dempsey, the shining beacon of American soccer, has decided to head out back across the pond to play for Fulham in the English Premier League again. What could this move possibly hold for the future of the player and the World Cup hopes for America?

Clint Dempsey leaves Spurs

At first glance the Clint Dempsey loan is a bit heartbreaking. Here is the finest player of the country, just 6 months removed from his massive big money move to Seattle Sounders, now turning his back on the club to play again at Fulham. You begin to wonder whether his heart was truly in the move back to the MLS. His play with the new club evidenced that doubt as well. Although he is such a highly touted player, his first appearances at Sounders hardly went as planned. He scored just 1 goal in 12 appearances and the team lost in the MLS playoffs. He never really got into form and failed to truly connect with his new teammates. By heading back off to England during the MLS offseason he gives off the vibe like he is simply too good for this new team.

But putting emotions aside and looking deeper into the move paints a brighter picture, especially for him personally. Since the Sounders season ended in early November, Dempsey has been out of action for roughly two full months. There is certainly no risk of burnout here, especially considering the light scheduling of MLS games. The player needs to get into form ahead of the most important tournament in his career: the 2014 World Cup. There is simply no better way to prepare for an international competition than by competing against the best players in the world. With Fulham, Dempsey will have the opportunity to go against some of the best players around, many of whom will also be at the World Cup in June. And by limiting his exposure to the EPL to just two months, Dempsey will be less likely to get injured than if he would have stayed with Tottenham this year and exposed his body to the physical league for nine straight months ahead of the tournament!

When Clint Dempsey returns to the Seattle Sounders in March, he will hopefully have found some decent form and will be able to start strong in the MLS season. With the World Cup approaching in the summer, he should be completely ready for the tournament and playing near his peak abilities. It is a smart plan and probably the best move for him and the American National team, who need their top players to be playing their best to have any hopes in Brazil. Remember, a tricky draw put the USA in a group with Germany, Ghana, and Portugal. The team will surely be put to the test from day 1!

Such a move was actually done to perfection in 2010 with USA star Landon Donovan. Having played most of his career with the LA Galaxy, Donovan sought to face top competition by joining Everton, also of the EPL. The energetic forward played very well against the English competition and truly got into his stride ahead of the 2010 World Cup, where he played exceptionally well in South Africa. Following in those footsteps, we could see Clint Dempsey return to his top form in the next 2 months.

But this move will certainly be a challenge. Although Fulham is struggling right now, they have an abundance of world class players at the forward and midfield positions. Players like Dimitar Berbatov, Steve Sidwell, Pajtim Kasami, Adel Taraabt, John Arne Riise, Darren Bent, and Bryan Ruiz are all known professionals who can steal the show on their given day. Dempsey will have to fight to earn a spot in this side.

The real problem for Fulham in the league this year is defense. They have conceded a league high 42 goals this year. The acquisition of Dempsey ignores this problem. Perhaps the team simply feels they can outscore everyone! While chances may be limited with so many good options up front, Dempsey could possibly make an impact as a substitute and spark some life into this struggling team. In the least, Dempsey will be training week in and week out with Fulham, enabling to still play against these star players and top training ahead of the World Cup. However, there is no substitute for playing in competitive matches, and Demspey will surely be eyeing some game time during this loan.

Fortunately, Dempsey already made his debut this weekend by playing the entire FA Cup match against Norwich. While the game ended in a draw, he played well and looked match ready and capable of making plays, which is what Dempsey has come to be known for. But what excites this writer most about the return of Clint Dempsey to Fulham is the opportunity of Americans to watch their best player play in a top league again. People were certainly surprised that he moved back to the MLS last August, especially given that the transfer was just 1 year removed from his declaration that he wished to play in the UEFA Champions League. While those dreams failed to materialize, the player is a true talent that deserves to play with the best. For American fans, the time has arrived to become a Fulham fan for 2 months so you can watch this player shine. Hopefully Clint Dempsey will inspire a productive loan period with Fulham and get himself readied for upcoming World Cup!

© Nicholas Spiller &

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pohang Steel Korea Title

Pohang Steel Korea Title
Pohang Steel Korea Title

It was not only the most dramatic last day finish in the K-League's 30 year history but it is not easy to think of a better end to a season anywhere. Just to recap: Ulsan Horangi were five points clear at the top of the table with just two games remaining. The penultimate match came down the road at Busan, a team with nothing to play for. Ulsan took the lead on the south coast but then lost the game late on. Still, there was one more game left and it was at home to second-placed Pohang. A draw would do the hosts while the red and black visitors needed all three points.

In truth, it was a dull encounter. Ulsan didn't attack as they usually do and Pohang struggled to penetrate the blue ranks. That all changed in the 95th minute of the final game of the season. There was a massive scramble in the Ulsan area. It was ugly and perhaps it was right to be ugly but the entire stadium held its breath as the ball bounced around the area. In the end, and it really was the end, Kim Kwang-seok scuffed a shot into the net. Five thousand Pohang fans went mad. Ulsan supporters watched in stunned silence. Suspended striker Kim Shin-wook had left the stands to make his way to the bench, putting on an Ulsan shirt on the way ready to celebrate. By the time he was pitchside, it was all over.

Three down, one up

Daejeon were dead and buried long before the end though came alive in the last few weeks to give fans something to cheer about. Daegu played some good football at times but were just too vulnerable at the back and took the second automatic relegation spot. Gangwon FC had been in great form to climb away from that drop zone but the play-off against Sangju Sangmu from the second tier went badly. A 4-1 defeat in the away leg left Gangwon with too much to do at home and the 1-0 win was nowhere near enough.

Good Draw For National Team

Belgium, Algeria and Russia. The nation was very happy with the World Cup draw on December 6 and it offers a real chance of progression though the other three members of Group H will probably be saying the same.

The only downside, apart from the lack of glamour and excitement that a draw with one of the really big boys offers, is that expectations in the Land of the Morning Calm took a serious leap as fans work up on a chilly Saturday morning in December. Even that may not be a bad thing. A little pressure never did anyone any harm and this is the World Cup after all. Next on the agenda for coach Hong Myong-bo is a January trip to Brazil and the United States. Hong will take 23 players, 20 from the K-League and three from the J-League, to South America for an eight-day training camp to get a taste of the conditions and then head north to Los Angeles and three friendly games against World Cup opposition - the United States, Mexico and Costa Rica. These matches and camp are a great chance for some domestic talent to show the boss that they deserve a place on the plane when it really matters in June.

Ki on form

Ki Sung-yeung has been in great form for Sunderland and at the end of the year had the highest pass completion rate of any player in the big leagues. A fine festive period was capped with the winning goal at Everton as the struggling Mackems pulled off a surprise result. The midfielder has continued to shine in the north-east and fans are clamouring for the club to make his loan move from Swansea a permanent deal. That may not suit either player - who does not know what league Sunderland will be playing in next season - or Swansea - who may take another look at Ki.

Coaching Changes

The biggest one is the resignation of Ulsan coach Kim Ho-gon after his team fell short of the title in surprise fashion. After taking the Tigers to the Asian title in 2012, he will be missed. Seongnam City have gone for experience in a big way and appointed legendary coach Park Jong-hwan at the age of 75. Park was popular, a legend even, in the nineties as the club picked up titles at home and in Asia. It remains to be seen how he will be thought of when his three-year contract ends just two years short of his 80th birthday.

China crisis?

Dejan Damjanovic
Dejan Damjanovic

Chinese Super League clubs have been sniffing around the K-League with FC Seoul struggling to keep their best players. Dejan Damjanovic, the top scorer in the league for the past three seasons, impressed Jiangsu Sainty so much in last season’s Asian Champions League that they paid over $4 million for the 32 year-old’s services. Seoul’s captain Ha Dae-sung was soon heading to Beijing Guoan for $4.8 million and there have been plenty of others linked with moves to the western shores of the Yellow Sea such as Mauricio Molina and Sergio Escudero in Seoul alone.

Elsewhere, Lim You-hwan has left Jeonbuk Motors for Shanghai Shenxin, though the defender had fallen out of favour at the club, while striker Kevin Oris is also in demand.