Monday, 29 June 2015

Gerard Returns to Merseyside

Liverpool FC could be forgiven for thinking that they had heard the last of a Gerard playing in Merseyside however last month, neighbours Everton snapped up Barcelona under-21 winger Gerard Deulofeu for a fee of €6m euros. But what does £4.3m in old money buy the Toffees and what can he bring to a team whose tactics were woefully exposed last season?

Everton have done more than research their latest acquisition. Roberto Martinez took Deulofeu on loan back in his freshman season as manager and he proved to be a firm fan favourite during his time at Goodison making 25 appearances and scoring four goals, his first being on his debut against Stevenage in the League Cup second round. Gerard was unfortunately injured during part of the campaign but returned to his homeland on good terms with the club and supporters alike. It was assumed that the winger would migrate into the Barca senior squad seamlessly but he was quickly sent back on loan to Sevilla where his form diminished and the wheels were set in motion for an eventual Everton return which seemed to suit all parties.

In terms of position, Deulofeu's arrival will provide some much needed competition in midfield and players such as Leon Osman, Aiden McGeady and to a lesser extent, Steven Naismith will find their favoured positions under threat. It would be an understatement to point out the lack of goals/assists that the middle-men converted last season but for the statistic voyeurs amongst you, not one midfielder in the squad managed more than 3 assists and only Mirallas scored more than 2 goals. That is a woeful return for a team that strives to be a constant mainstay in the top half of the league.

With a potentially fully fit squad plus Deulofeu to play with as August 8th rolls around, Roberto Martinez is in the envious position of having some difficult decisions to make in terms of formation and squad selection. Nearly everyone has something to prove from a disappointing league campaign last season. The fan favourite formation would be 4-1-3-1 with a holding defensive midfielder. That would give Gerard a chance to shine on the right hand side of the field. The other option would be a standard 4-4-2 where he could also play alongside Lukaku as a makeshift forward although Naismith would understandably lay claim to both of those, with workhorse-esque performances 8 goals last year. In form Seamus Coleman may also feel put out as his usual strategy of tearing down the right side of the pitch and attacking the corner of the penalty area could be hampered by the arrival of Deulofeu and that could play a pivotal part in his upcoming decision whether to follow Fellaini to Old Trafford. This must be avoided at all costs and his playing style must be adhered to avoid losing one of Everton's most prized assets.

Over the last few years, Deulofeu has quickly risen through the ranks of Spain's junior squads and is now on the precipice of the senior national side. But as former Evertonian captain Mikel Arteta can attest to in the past, playing well for your domestic side doesn't necessarily win you a call up, especially if you play for an English side. Of the current national
Spanish squad, only four play in England and Deulofeu may learn that only an astronomical debut season would break that trend. The ultimate downside for Everton is that Barcelona have a sensible buy back/first refusal option in place if Deulofeu proves to be a hit. With that in mind, his ultimate dream of playing for the Catalan giants remains somewhat intact. 

Some experts and pundits have lazily dubbed him 'the new Cristiano Ronaldo' and if by some miracle he lives up to that comparison, don't expect to see him playing against Stevenage in a couple of years time.

Adam Yates 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Everton: A season in review

A perfect and somewhat overused analogy to sum up Everton's sophomore season under Roberto Martinez is 'the difficult second album.' How can you top what was accomplished the first time round when the opposition know what to expect? Fans who may have been expecting a season similar to Nirvana's fantastic 'Nevermind' were instead given Coldplay's more tepid 'A Rush of Blood to the Head.'

You don't have to be Gary Neville to analyse the change in fortunes between the last two Everton campaigns. From the lofty heights of fifth place at the end of the 13/14 season, the last venture has resulted in a disheartening 11th. A devastating -24 swing in terms of goal difference and winning an astonishing nine fewer games.

The obvious answer to pose for this dip in form is also an overused one...

Playing in the Europa League.

Tell that to Tottenham Hotspur who not only played the exact number of games in their european adventure but improved upon their domestic position 12 months prior. Sevilla last week retained the Europa League crown and yet still managed to finish 5th in La Liga. The hot theory amongst pundits concerning teams not wanting to participate in a European run resulting in inconsistent form is irritating and insulting to those who don't reside in the top four year in year out.

Back to the toffees whose season's only highlight ironically WAS their relatively strong European run which was eventually cut short at the last-16 stage with an ridiculously poor outing away to Dynamo Kiev. Despite Everton missing out on the quarter finals and beyond, the tournaments top scorer was a blue. Lukaku's eight goals was enough to secure the crown which is proof of our dominance in the group stages which made the eventual exit all the more painful.

Winding our way back to Summer 2014 and things were in very good shape and the Blue half of Liverpool were enjoying a rare sight of a manager doing his deals early. In came the familiar faces of Lukaku and Gareth Barry who had already proved themselves on loan. One for the future, Muhamed Bešić was signed after his impressive showings at the World Cup with Bosnia and Herzegovina.

However by the end of the first month, it was clear where the problems lay. Defence. Everton equalled the worst defensive start over three games letting in 10 goals. Martinez began losing patience in Sylvain Distin, which ultimately led to him being frozen out the team. The English backbone of Baines and Jagielka weren't firing on all cylinders and the fresh faced John Stones was showing raw talent albeit with occasional lapses in decision making under pressure. The defensive errors dropped slightly as the season progressed but the damage was done and this is where strength needs to be added for the upcoming 15/16 season.

Further up the field, things were much brighter. The aforementioned Lukaku finally unpacked his bags at a cost of £28 million and he was shortly followed by Samuel Eto'o on a free transfer. Fans had a reason to believe and with an energetic Mirallas and a resilient Steven Naismith, goals weren't far away. Even Jagielka managed six in all competitions including a season defining equaliser against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby.

Meanwhile, the sensible and exciting passing style from Martinez's first season turned into simply sensible. At times, Goodison Park was unusually vocally critical of this methodology especially as it failed to turn into Premier League points. The Goodison faithful witnessed 7 home runs over the course of the season compared to 13 the year prior and they made it clear vocally that they had noticed. 

What was especially frustrating is that the squad could be considered one of the best in recent years however there were some underachievers including a certain future England captain. As well as Aiden McGeady, Ross Barkley never reached his potential at any point during the campaign. The pundits started making their feelings known and fans began to have a go when Ross made runs at the defence and lost possession.

In the latter half of the season, Everton found a certain level of form but the continued success in Europe always played on their minds. Understandably, finishing 11th isn't all that attractive to the squad's star talent and there isn't a day that seems to go by without the words "sources suggest" followed by either Lukaku, Mirallas or James McCarthy's name. 

Graffiti had also begun cropping up on the side of Goodison asking for the sacking of Martinez but those grumbles are in the minority and I, like many others,  believe that this season was a blip, a pretty big blip but one none the less.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Premier League Goes Bare!

The Premier League announced today that England's top division will be sponsorless after its current deal with Barclays concludes next season. From 2016/17, The Premier League will be the official title of the top flight, the first time it has been without a sponsor since its inaugural season back in 1992.

Sources suggest it's a strategic move to create a 'clean brand' in line with most U.S. sporting organisations such as the NFL, NBA and Major League Baseball however it will still pinch the financial pocket. The last deal made with Barclays resulted in a £120 million windfall for the Premier League and it's uncertain whether this is a permanent move or simply a temporary one until a suitable and respected brand can be negotiated with.

With that in mind, here are five potential sponsors that would jump at the chance at being the masthead to the world's most watched football league.

Sports Direct Premier League

Funded by a £200 million loan paid through Rangers PLC, Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley would take the Premiership to another level. Match day mascots would be replaced by zero hour Sports Direct staff who are available at an hours notice. 

FIFA Premiership

The one thing FIFA needs right now is positive press and getting behind the world's greatest league is a plum move.
Of course there would be some requirements that are non-negotiable.
All newly promoted teams would play their home games in Dubai to expand the worldwide market, all disciplinary hearings would be resolved between 12-18 months and any side that commits a handball must pay £5 million euros to the opposing team to avoid future legal ramifications.

The ITVBe Premmie

The recently launched ITV spinoff channel has not reached the echelons of success since its birth in October 2014. A lucrative sponsorship deal would be a potential goldmine for ITV and also tap into a new market of football fans to its existing and predominantly female audience. Of course the Saturday night highlights programme da' Premmie would be removed from the safe hands of the BBC and placed on the ITVBe channel at the earlier time of 5.15pm presented by Christine Bleakley and Joey Essex. The programme will be followed by the spin off show More of da' Premmie where instead of the actual games, the fly on the wall show focusses on the viewers of the earlier Premmie show and the everyday conflicts that occur. Think Gogglebox but not Gogglebox for legal reasons.

Disney League Soccer

The quickest and boldest revamp in the leagues history sees a major rebranding campaign as the Premier League becomes the DLS, all teams are assigned an official Disney Mascot and nickname. All team specific sponsorship deals involving alcohol are banned as is spitting, one footed tackles, bad or moderate language and chewing gum. However ticket prices are lowered, younger fans are encouraged and the football itself is resized appropriately.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Revealed - Sepp Blatter's Diary

The following may or may not be excerpts from the diary of FIFA kingpin Sepp Blatter in the week that shocked world football.

Tuesday 26th May - Tough day. Putting the finishing touches to our annual Zurich conference. Had a good dinner with Jack and Eugenio where we discussed business and our favourite Swiss bank foyers. Had a glass of wine before heading upstairs where I opened yet another present from my new Qatari friends. I get into my silk jim jams and get a rare early night.

Wednesday 27th May - I've had better wake up calls it must be said. I had planned on having a lie in but I heard an almighty ruckus outside my room. I poked my head outside to see what all the fuss was. I saw several American lawmen handcuffing my boys and throwing linen sheets on their heads. They don't deserve to be treated like that. One of the men walked over to me and asked my name to which I responded "Sir, I am the great French actor Gerald Depardieu, kindly remove your extradition order from my gorgeous face." He puffed his cheeks and walked away. I shut my hotel room door and hid under the bed until 1pm. I recited a statement while I was under there and emailed it to my spokesman, Walter De Gregorio. I told him to tell the truth...that we welcome any investigation and that we are an esteemed and moral organisation that focuses on the passion of football and not our own interests. I then had a shower, purchased Ru Paul's Drag Race Season 5 off the iTunes using my FIFA Platinum credit card. Those strange ladymen don't get abused the way I do. They should spend a day in my shoes but I assume they would prefer heels. Hahaha! I'm going to use that one tomorrow in the press conference.

Thursday 28th May - I was supposed to be attending a medical meeting in the morning but I backed out so they could get on with business. Instead I read the papers and saw that everyone was calling me nasty names. That made me angry so I got dressed and decided that I would make an apprarance. I went in the side entrance as there were too many supporters at the front that wanted to cheer me inside. The conference itself was quite boring, I played Angry Birds through most of it. People still play that don't they?

Friday 29th May - Today's the day of the presidential vote. I make my calls to the various organisations stating why they should believe in me and my principles. A lot of them seemed scared of what I would do to them if they voted for Prince Ali. I told them they are free to vote for whomever they want. I made a note of those scared countries just in case. I make my way to the conference and give a rousing speech. The votes are cast and I win the first round but not by enough to win outright. I speak with Prince Ali and offer him a chance to leave with dignity which he accepts. Ali stands down as a nominee. I WON! I can't believe it! I get applauded on stage by my friends and recite an old speech I gave last time. What a day! I'm so happy.

Saturday 30th May - Massive Hangover. I eventually get up at 3pm for a meeting with some of the participants in this Summer's Women's World Cup. They are very pretty and have nice bottoms. I don't tell them that but I sneak a peek as they sign a football that will get auctioned off for charity.

Sunday 31st May - David Gill rang me today to say that he's resigning as Vice President. These Brits are so dramatic, anything that doesn't go their way, they get their knickers in a twist. He can leave for all I care. He threatens that he will try to get UEFA to boycott any future World Cups but I don't believe him. UEFA is like Diet's full of goodness, causes weight loss but ultimately you just wish you had the real thing.

Monday 1st June - The media don't seem to have found anything to talk about apart from the corruption nonsense. It's exhausting. Why can't they all just go away. They seem to be whispering about a $10 million payment that Jérôme Valcke authorised and a potential bribe scandal but I don't see the connection. He simply accepted money in return for a favour. The sponsors of our tournaments are getting upset. I don’t understand why though as they slide envelopes under my hotel room door most days, some of which have money in them which is strange as it’s not my birthday. I keep the money anyway. It’s always handy to have in case I get stopped in the street by one of those guys asking me to help the homeless.

Tuesday 2nd June - Woke up quite tired today. All this extradition mumbo jumbo is rather irritating. I've been the boss of football for over twenty years now and maybe it's time for someone else to realise what a ball ache it is. Besides I can still give my opinions and I'm sure I would be welcome in any future conferences. I've given all my time and energy to this job and now I should concentrate on me. I haven't even seen Mad Max Fury Road yet for Christs sake! Some of my accused colleagues have been assured by the F.B.I that they will show it on the flight to the U.S.