Here's an article of mine that was featured in the July edition of '90 Minutes' football magazine.
EPL: 2012/13 - Bigger & Better!
The season upon us
promises to be bigger and better. The stakes are higher. Mediocrity will be
frowned upon and sheer brilliance will be the benchmark.
The Barclays Premier
League might be the most watched football league around the world, but it has
fallen from its status of being the most dominant, on the playing field. Up
until May this year, in recent years, Spanish football has ruled Europe with Spain’s
domestic and club success propelling to a different league altogether. Back to
back Euro Cup wins (not to mention a World Cup in between) for the national
side and two UEFA Champions League crowns for Barcelona in four years demonstrate a
stubborn dominance in the sport.
The English clubs are now
keen to restore their fallen status (Chelsea’s
big Champions League victory to begin with) amongst Europe’s
elite and clearly – to be the best, you have to import the best. Or so seems to
be this year’s blueprint.
So what really is in store
for us this season? Well, to begin
with, Arsenal FC seem to be starting off on the wrong foot with club captain RVP
wanting out, citing differences in ‘ambition of the club’ and how it wishes to
move forward. To replace him, the likes of Giroud and Podolski have been
brought in by Wenger and with the addition of 2-3 more players across midfield
and defense, Arsenal may just go on to have a decent season. Last year, after a
bright start to Champions League, having topped their Group, Arsenal were
demolished at the San Siro by AC Milan in the first knockout round. The
Emirates told a different story however with Arsenal blitz-kreiging their way
past Milan to
lead 3-0 at half time. However, they lacked that one spark that could have
proven to be the ‘coup de gras’ for AC Milan with the game ending at 3-0. Back
then, RVP had it all to do himself with barely a Rosicky or a Walcott to
complement him. The Arsenal attack was built on this dutch goal scoring machine
and on occasions when he misfired, the entire team failed to deliver.
This season however, with Wenger looking to
balance the attack a lot more and spread the play evenly across the field,
Arsenal will not have to solely rely on a number #9 to get the goals. We know
what Podolski is capable off and we have seen flashes of brilliance in Giroud.
Couple this with more signings, potentially of the likes of M’Vila, Gotze and
De Cegile and you have a very good attacking side on display, capable of
playing the Arsenal way in the best possible manner. Defensively too, with a little
more muscle at the centre, the Arsenal back four wont be as easy to penetrate
as they were last season. In all, if Wenger acts quick and does the business in
the transfer market, Arsenal will be a real force to reckon with. In Europe, their style of play would suit them well given
the pace and I don’t see too many teams stopping them on their day. The Italian
teams will be too slow and against the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, a full strength
Arsenal side can never be written off. Expect more success from this side as
compared to last year if the transfer dealings are done correctly. After all,
“In Wenger we trust”. Isn’t it?
Is he the man Arsenal have yearned for since Henry's departure?
in Anfield, Liverpool fans too will be hungry for more silverware this season. I expect Luis
Suarez to have one hell of a campaign. i.e if he stays away from controversy. A
lot will ride on his form and contribution and with the likes of Lucas and
Johnson coming back from injury, with a few tweaks here and there, Champions
League qualification might just be in the offing. A midfield pairing of
Gerrard-Lucas-Dempsey with Borini Caroll and Suarez playing ahead doesn’t sound
too bad now, does it?
on to the reigning champions of Europe, Chelsea FC. What a mad season it was. Now
however, the reset button has been pressed to make way for a mini revolution of
sorts. Club talisman Dider Drogba has moved on to the more lucrative side of
Chinese football while marquee signings - Eden Hazard, Marko Marin and the
recent acquisition of Brazilian starlet Oscar from Intenacional signal a very
clear intent from the Blues side - “We are in it, to win it”.
Roberto Di Matteo seems to
have united this side which not too long ago nearly crashed down like a pack of
cards. Domestically last year, they were in shambles and never really looked
like a dominant force throughout the campaign. However, the signings so far
have been excellent and the starting 11 is already beginning to look
formidable. In fact, if one were to produce a starting line up for Chelsea and
Real Madrid for the coming season, Cheslea would look the better team. What
needs to be addressed quickly though is the growing uncertainity of the senior
lot. Ashley Cole and Frank Lampard who were shunned under AVB’s reign proved to
be the key players that turned the clubs fortunes last time around. Yet, their
futures today remain uncertain. If this is addressed timely and properly, the
Blues might just have the best mix of players in terms of age and experience. The
Blues look like a side to beat for this campaign and we may just have a new
league champion for the third time in a row.
The previous season also
marked the rise of a new force in world football - Manchester City.
Reigning champions of the Barclays Premier League and what a ride it had been.
The blue moon has risen and we are now entering a new
world of football. Bankrolled by an Arab billionaire, the club’s ambition and
ambition alone will determine the level of success they achieve in this
forthcoming campaign. The squad virtually remains unchanged with no major
signings having come in yet. We can however, be rest assured that there will be
Once bitten, twice shy?
Given that Eden Dzeko’s and Carlos Tevez’s
future (with all his shenanigans) at the Etihad seems bleak, we will see a ‘big
name signing’ to partner Kun Aguero up front with of course Italian superstar
Mario Balotelli.. Robin Van Persie’s arrival would be just that. As it stands,
City anyway has one of the best squads in the League but for success in Europe, depth needs to be invested upon. I see them being
a real force in Europe this year and if two or three big names arrive this
summer, expect great things from this Manchester
outfit. Not only will they look to defend their crown but they will look to
march a few steps forward and challenge for the Champions League crown as well.
They have the caliber to absolutely destroy
opposing teams while putting on a spectacle. Their quality of football is
outstanding and the troops they have form a ‘super’ star studded line up,
capable of annihilating the very best. One can only imagine what damage a Van
Persie - Aguero – Balotelli like striking partnership can inflict to even some
of the best in the world. Last year, they failed to even make it past the group
stages with Napoli and Bayern Munich going through instead but this year, we
might just have a whole new definition to the word ‘ruthless’.
Not too far away,
there lies the big daddy of them all. Manchester
United. Sir Alex is determined to put last season’s
massive last-minute heartbreak behind him, and rapidly build towards the
oncoming campaign. United already boast a sizeable squad with the likes of
Nani, Chicharito, Giggs and Rafael potentially making up the bench alone.
Summer signings Nick Powell and Shinji Kagawa only add to an existing crop of
gifted footballers all vying to get a place in the starting eleven.
Their major weakness as exposed by the likes of
Manchester City and Athletic Bilbao last year is
their midfield. They have been found wanting on many occasions and it literally
took a return (retirement) from Paul Scholes to steady the ship last season.
This side desperately needs more in midfield. Sir Alex seems to be deviating
from his age old tonic of grit over flair in midfield. Grit in the form of
Nicky Butt and Roy Keane has now given way to possibly a Kagawa-type spark in
the centre with a quarter-back behind him. Lucas Moura, would be fantastic in
providing some creative flair to the side, a key component that has gone
missing since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo back in 2009. That, balanced
with the industrious efforts of Valencia
on the right flank will provide far more goal scoring opportunities than the
last year’s miserable campaign will be avenged for and Sir Alex has come clean
in his mistakes. Fielding the young too early dug them in. Their #1 priority
will of course be the domestic league and the cups that come with them but they
are a side capable of winning it all in one go.
More goals please!
Defensively, they look solid with captain
Nemanja Vidic returning from a long standing injury. David de Gea has proven
himself as an able keeper between the sticks and with rumors pouring in on
Leighton Baines, the full backs and the centre halves are extremely well
A formidable unit is being raised by the wily
scot and Manchester United could potentially replicate if not better the
success they had in 2008 with a little bit of luck. If rumors do hold out and
Robin Van Persie does make his way to old Trafford, then boy oh boy are we in
for a treat.
It has been quite a season this year in the Barclays Premier League. We are witnessing the dawn of a new era that promises to shatter every existing trend and belief we have had all these years.
We are now entering a new world of football, aren’t we? No more can a six year old child predict a score line at ease. The playing field has finally been leveled. I sit up a little more these days when I see the big four play the lesser sides. Which begs me to ask – Who are the Big Four?
But that’s a discussion for another day. This year has two ends to it. On one side, two of the three fighting for the title are not teams one would have expected to see 25 games in. Roberto Mancini has built a machine, that is Manchester City. Now seemingly unbeatable in most games, the likes of Silva, Aguero, Yaya Toure, Nasri and the lot have transformed the image of this club and has made it a world class phenomenon that threatens World Domination in the near future. And then you have Tottenham Hotspur. Big things have always been expected of them but like every other, they perish when the time to shine arises. Not this year though. Harry and his men have shown us that quality football and team spirit does exist outside of the Nou Camp. This is not to say that they are as good, but the football on display is as entertaining.
And then of course there is the perennial force of Manchester United. One can imagine the might of Sir Alex’s faction when they seem to be matching the best despite having a comparatively poor season. With an eye for the future, they have managed a few shrewd signings and you can expect the men in red to take it right down to the wire.
Now here’s the other side, the darker side, of this year’s Premier League season - The Relegation battle. Oh, we have such a thrilling plot in the making. With just 13 games to go, we have all of two points separating bottom placed Wigan Athletic and 16th placed Queens Park Rangers. The teams that fit in between are Venky’s owned Blackburn Rovers, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bolton Wanderers.
Wolves only recently sacked their manager of 6 years Mick Mcarthy and the reigns are now under the solicitous hands of caretaker Terry Connor. What will become of them, we don’t know yet but my gut feeling says deadline day relegation.
Verdict – Relegation
Off the six though, the most explosive relegation would be Blackburn Rovers. England has never been known to be kind to their foreign owners and with India in the pairing, that makes it all the more sensitive. Cometh the hour, if Blackburn are doomed to a year in the Championship there will be tension. Fans have already begun talking of a footballing coup of sorts that involves a total buyout from the owners. The players are extremely unsettled and are beginning to treat each game as a potential transfer opportunity. Steve Kean has never looked and never will look a Premier League manager but Yakubu’s arrival has been master class and has signaled a revival of sorts for the Lancashire side. An injury to him now could cost them dear. But then again, Yakubu is no Carlos Tevez. Or is he?
Verdict – Relegation
Bolton got it all wrong in the beginning itself. Their opening day’s 4-0 victory did them more harm than good and they have (IMO) the worst squad this year amongst all. They have been in absolute shambles since the beginning and are left with pretty much everything to do in this last quarter. Will they do it? I definitely think they will. Recent performances include a win against Liverpool and a well earned draw against Asenal. With games against Chelsea, Man City, Newcastle and Spurs yet remaining, Owen Coyle’s men will be fired up to take it to the grave.
Verdict - Survival
Wigan Athletic have disappointed me the most. I have had a soft corner for them from the time they took the league by storm in their first year back in 2005-06. Also, more recently that game against Arsenal when Victor Moses single handedly staged a dramatic fight back to snatch the game at 3-2. Sadly, this has been a season most Wigan fans would like to forget. They have been so miserable this year that they will struggle in the Championship too unless drastic changes with regards to the management as well as players are made next year.
Verdict – Relegation
And that brings me to Queens Park Rangers. Talk about transition and you have Neil Warnock’s men. Oh, hang on, they’ve sacked him too haven’t they? There have been changes galore for this princely London club right from the start of the season. The season has brought with it a change in ownership (Tony Fernandes, Air Asia) as well as the newly appointed manager Mark Hughes. What’s amazing to note is that the side that brought them back to the Premier League is almost an entirely different squad that plays for them today. They spent big in the summer and the line-up now boasts of an experienced Premier League squad. That will cost them. They failed to capitalize on the excitement and determination a newly promoted Championship side would have brought in. Take Swansea for instance. Their style of play though has been entertaining and one that is attracting neutrals to watch. For QPR, recent defeats to Blackburn & Wolves have proven to be too costly. They are yet to play Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea in their remaining 13 fixtures. Survival for this side will be a miracle. It will be interesting to see what happens to the likes of Bobby Zamora, Djibril Cisse, Joey Barton, S.W.Phillips & Adel Taarabt should they find themselves potentially plying their trade in the Championship.
Verdict - Relegation
There are massive heartbreaks in store for thousands of fans all over the world. For some, it’s about winning the title. For some it’s about Champions League qualification while for the rest, it’s about mere survival. Deadline day tears will flow like the ancient rivers of Babylon. Tears of happiness or tears of sadness? Stay tuned for more, because this is going to be one hell of an ending.
Indian Football. Two words that are looked upon with such discomfort and an appalling sense of naivety. Our nation has always been a cricket playing, watching, eating and sleeping one. Football is merely that Sunday afternoon stroll. Truth is, no one cares.
We are proud to be ignorant. That is the most disgusting part of it. We put on this tag of ‘Oh we’re so poor’ and “We don’t have the money’ even when we have some of the richest men in the world living in the same country as we do. Why is it so? The AIFF needs to really be given a hiding. We have such tremendous potential and yet we are still ranked at 139! (I doubt there are even more than 150 countries on this planet!)
And if money really is a problem, then why are African nations doing so well? Their GDP’s are nowhere close to ours and yet they are the ones playing this year’s World Cup. As for India, we are ‘ecstatic’ simply being in the Asian Cup. We must be eager for more. Not content with what we have! Because then we're content with nothing.
Start attracting sponsors for god’s sake. I know it is not an easy task but then improve your marketing skills. Our country has some of the best institutions in the world. Start recruiting better from now on. Get rid of these ‘Babus’ who are still sitting on top treating the sport like it still belongs to the British era.
Make us ‘want’ to watch the I-League. Right now, we just simply do not. For starters ESPN, if you are listening, please save us from the Zee Sports broadcasters. The commentary and presentation of the ‘I-League’ is extremely shabby and truth be told, plain boring. This may sound utterly ridiculous and stupid but bring in Mr. Harsha Bhogle. His voice is one that every Indian can relate to and after all, he did host the World Cup 2006 now didn’t he.
Why do we pick Arsenal & Man United over Mohun Bagan & Dempo!
We support the Arsenal’s, Chelsea’s and Manchester United’s only because we like what we see. It is not because we hate Indian football. The quality of football, the media circus, the pitches, the aura surrounding it – bring that to India.
Bring in the passion. Bring in the excitement. In the English Premier League when a goal is scored, the commentators go absolutely ballistic. In the Spanish League you must hear the trance some of these commentators get into when their side scores. We need precisely that.
As for the infrastructure. My oh my. Where do I even begin! And forget about the AIFF now. Why aren’t private companies coming up and supporting more clubs. Indian Football needs more Sesa’s, NISA’s and Lajong's to make it look pretty. Did you know, that a certain I-League club Shillong Lajong FC actually attracts a whopping 30,000 spectators every game. That’s more than a host of English, Spanish and Italian based clubs even manage to pullout. ‘That’ is the way forward.
After all, if we are to talk about India making it to the World Cup Finals, and reach the same level that cricket is at, get the country to give a damn first!
Wayne Rooney In The Write The Future Nike Advertisement
This new Nike World Cup advertisement - Write The Future, really got me thinking on how big this World Cupreally is, not just for the fans but for so many players as well. we are in that era of the modern game where just one flash of brilliance is enough to set you up for a lifetime. One upset is all it takes for a country likeHonduras or Algeria to be elevated onto a global platform with the whole world applauding them. Their future, is now.
Now let us flash back a little. Germany 2006, the venue for the Fifa World Cup had a lot of stars in the making. Back then, who was Franck Ribery? Who would have imagined a random pick by Domenech would go on to become such a big superstar. The same goes for a lot of other players too. For them, they were playing back then to be the stars of today.
The Future Is Now, we are living the promises of the last world cup.
Quite simply, its Make or Break. In that Nike ad (write the future), I enjoyed the Rooney bit in it. Yes, from being Knighted by the Queen to becoming a groundsman living in a trailer might seem a little far-fetched but it sends the message across dosen't it? I even love the way Cannavaro was 're-invented'! From being brandished a 'has been' with no club willing to sign him, El Capitano (in the ad) literally transforms back into the superstar he was in the years gone by. His future too depends on now.
What is also very interesting is that the World Cup is finally becoming a 'global' event. Not that it wasn't in terms of viewership but now its in the form of the team rosters as well. Asian and African nations were always 'making up the numbers' in every major World Tournamnet so far. Not anymore. They are only getting stronger and stronger. Ivory Coast, Ghana, Japan, USA, South Korea, South Africa will more than just be filling in slots in this year's tournament, amd I firmly believe that the future of the many World Cups that will be held over time is in their hands only.
Moving into specific players, unlike the '06 World Cup, this one has the potential to transform existing superstars into world class legends. The likes of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Wesley Sneijder aren't yet at the same level as Maradona, Pele and Zidane. The future, that is 'Estadio Cristiano Ronaldo'and 'Sir Wayne Rooney' relies completely on them being able to deliver now.
As for the upcoming 'potentials', it's time to make money son! With the inflated transfer market and ridiculous wages that players are being pampered with, one decent tournament is enough to set you up for a life time.
Flashing lights, red carpets, luxury cars, etc all await you at the end of this long tunnel called the 'World Cup'. Marek Hamsik, Carlos Vela, Yoaan Gourcoff (check spelling) and Milos Krasic are all set to be driving Bentley's to their million pound homes in the future.
This is me being an obedient fan of Nike and literally 'Writing The Future'as I see it. Predicting the future should not be too tough these next two months. It is time now for the stars of the 2014/18/22 World Cup to show us their faces. Will Ghana be World Champions? Will Messi retire a legend? Will Carlos Vela make his dream move to Barcelona?
England are arrogant. Every game they go into, they exude this sense of superiority and naivety which has always worked against them in the past. Take a look at Brazil. When they play football, they are very humble. They ‘respect’ their opponents. The English are more likely to be spitting on their opponents and dishing out the choicest slang at the referee. It is this arrogant attitude that I feel is costing them big time.
Let me remind you all, that it is ‘only’ their league that is doing so well. Not the national team. And there does not have to be any link to either. Reason being that the English Premier League is flourishing only because of the massive influx of foreigners who are really lighting it up.
Individually, England are a group of stars. But as a team, they are no more than a Russian Circus. Capello has done well so far to shatter all dressing room hierarchy’s and bring everyone down to the same level. Gary Neville is not the dressing room boss anymore. Chelsea & Liverpool players do not sit separately at the mess anymore. It is a blessing really that an Englishman isn’t running (or ruining) that team anymore. Your place in the side depends purely on form. No past achievements or boardroom strings. Oh and what beats it all is the recent Capello ruling of ‘No WAGS’. Brillante Signore Capello!
Do Not Mess With Me!
Now moving on to England’s chances for the World Cup let me put things straight. England are by absolutely no means the ‘Favorite’s’ to win the cup. It is absolutely ridiculous that they are being called so. Spain are European champions, Brazil are South American champions and, Italy are former World Champions. What are England? Well, quite frankly (no pun intended) they are a side that did not even make it to the Euro’s.
England do have hope though. I will not completely rule out their chances as they yet have certain players who I believe can make the difference. And these players are all going to get their chance this time around due to Capello’s smart selection policies.
The players I am talking about are not your Terry’s or Gerrard’s or Ferdinand’s. I am talking about Aaron Lennon, Darrent Bent, Joe Hart and James Milner. They will shine this summer. They have been amazing this season and if they are able to carry their form to the World Cup, England might just have a chance in there somewhere. Wayne Rooney will perform no doubt. But I still have my doubts on Frank Lampard who does seem to be found missing when it comes to national duty.
So Mr. Capello, go ahead and play the so called ‘B-grade’ players this summer. They will take you places.
Watch Out For The Mighty Dutch!
After an entertaining cameo in the Euro’s, Holland will look to shake off their ‘inconsistency’ tag this summer at the World Cup. They are a side with incredible potential and yet they somehow manage to consistently be inconsistent.
A good thing for the Dutch side this time is the fact that a good number of players are in top form coming into the World Cup. Wesley Sneijder as well as Arjen Robben have been awesome to watch this season. And to be fair, they were awesome even at the Euro’s in 2008. But it’s not just the two of them.
Dirk Kuyt has probably been Liverpool’s only consistent performer this term. His hard work may not have paid off much for Liverpool but the Dutch could use a few more Kuyt’s. One more revelation this year has been Nigel de Jong. He has been the spinal cord for Manchester City this season, absorbing every attack with his fine defending and been an attacking threat with his excellent sense of positioning. With him in the centre along with Wesley Sneijder, opposing teams are going to have to cut through steel to get past them.
Beware The Mighty Dutch!
A small mention for Robin Van Persie who has been on the doctor’s table for a good part of this season for Arsenal but has yet impressed when given the chance to. After all, you might be rooting for the Brazil’s, Spain’s, Italy’s and Argentina’s but in all this just remember to spare a thought for the Mighty Dutch!