FOOTBALL MID-WEEK REVIEW featuring the Manchester Derby

As the leagues in Europe begin to hit home stretch, we have been served with top and feisty matches across the top leagues, there is still a lot to fight for especially in Spain and England where the battle for the winners is not yet done and dusted, the DFB cup was in the forefront in Germany whilst France saw the clash of the best two teams in the land, here is a review of all that happened across Europe in the last few days alongside the preview of the Manchester Derby coming up tonight at the Etihad.

Barcelona and Madrid secure big wins: After the El Classico over the weekend which saw Barcelona edge Madrid at the top of the log on head to head basis, though Madrid still have a game in hand, both teams featured in mid week fixtures as they continue their chase for the La Liga title.  As expected, Barcelona thrashed visiting Osasuna by 7 goals to one confirming the team to relegation after just one year of returning to the elite division with the highlight of the game being Javier Mascherano’s first goal in his 319th appearance for Barcelona, Madrid however faced a tricky tie away at Deportivo La Coruna and when the team-list was released with the likes of Ronaldo, Benzema and Toni Kroos absent, many feared manager Zinedine Zidane may have taken the gamble a bit too far, but all that was erased barely a minute into the game as Morata opened the scoring in what turned out to be a easy 6- 2 win with Isco starring as the main man yet again. Granada suffered their third defeat with new manager Tony Adams whilst Leganes halted an 8 game streak without a win with a 3-0 victory over Las Palmas to boost their survival chances.

NFF and AITEO 2.5Bn deal: The NFF yesterday announced a 5 year partnership contract worth 500 million Naira per year with oil and Gas Company Aiteo as Official Optimum partner of the football body, the deal primarily ensures that payment of all national team coaches and technical partnership of the national teams are duly covered over the year.

Big results in Cup games: In Germany, something of an upset was witnessed as Borussia Dortmund stunned Bayern Munich by 3 goals to 2 to secure their place in the DFB Cup final for the fourth straight time, Bayern Munich had led by 2 goals to one at a certain stage but two goals in five minutes from Pierre- Emerick Aubameyang and teen sensation Ousmane Dembele ensured that the Bavarians will not be winning a double this season, Dortmund will now face Eintracht Frankfurt in the final. In France, Monaco featured a much changed team and were thoroughly routed by PSG as the boys from Paris scored 5 unreplied goals to secure a final berth with Angers.

The Premier League: Arsenal earned a hard fought 1 nil victory over defending champions Leicester City courtesy a late minute Robert Huth own goal to win back to back games for the first time since February and maintain their hunt for a champions league place, Christian Eriksen’s belter at Crystal Palace also ensured that the North Londoners remain just four points behind league leaders Chelsea who put up a commanding performance in their 4-2 victory over Southampton, Sunderland are all but confirmed for relegation after suffering yet another defeat in the hands of fellow strugglers Middlesbrough.

The Manchester Derby: All eyes will at the Etihad tonight as the two Manchester teams go head to head in a battle not for the title but for a top four place. A win for Manchester United will see them in the top four for the first time this year and they will be jointly tied on 66 points with Liverpool despite having played a game less, for Pep Guardiola, his first season has not exactly gone according to plans as the team will be finishing the season without a silverware and a top four position is paramount to his plans of restructuring the team come next season. Both sides have injury worries as Jose Mourinho has confirmed that 89M signing Paul Pogba will be missing after he picked up an injury in their last game, he joins Zlatan Ibrahimovic who has also been ruled out for the season and Marcos Rojo on the sidelines, for City, David Silva remains a doubt but Sergio Aguero is in contention alongside Gabriel Jesus to feature in tonight’s game. It’s Pep Guardiola against Jose Mourinho yet again, many will be curious to see how tactics are deployed in this game following how United approached their last big game against Chelsea, It’s a game that could be a decider to either teams fortunes as we hit the end of the season and whilst a draw may not be bad for both sides, the likes of Liverpool and Arsenal will be wishing that one of the sides, especially United drop all three points to enhance their Champions League place. The two sides have met twice already this season, City won the first leg of their Premier League fixture whilst United emerged victorious in the EFL cup, this is their third and final meeting of the season and whilst a top four place may be the ultimate prize, the bragging rights for who owns Manchester is also an appeal as two of the best managers in the world seek to make the most of what has been a below par season in comparison with the standards they have set in their careers.

El Clasico Preview

It is that time of the year again; when the biggest rivalry in club football takes center stage; the El Clasico attracts viewership from all over the world with Billions of people glued to their sits to see to of the most successful teams in the world that parade the best players in the world go head to head. The past week has been one of mixed fortunes for both sides; Real Madrid advanced to another Semi Final of the Champions League while Barcelona got shut out in two legs by Juventus.

With Barcelona three Points adrift of Real Madrid who have a game in hand we take a look at how crucial this game could be for both teams.

Confidence – a tale of different levels

Barcelona might have had a win in between their unfortunately sandwiched square up with Juventus over two legs; that labored 3 – 2 win over Soceidad but it’s glaring enough to observe that the players are not on the wavelength their fans expect. Front trio of Messi, Suárez and Neymar have incongruously turned up for most part of the season, defensively porous and lacking some tactical depth.

Without been mirthful, Barcelona’s Achilles heel this term has been their defensive frailties even an outgoing Luis Enrique looks uncertain at finding a solution to it. Piqué looks here nor there, Umtiti is still an apprentice, Jordi Alba not getting a proper look in, Sergio Roberto even a right back.

Belly of the team is another blot entirely on the team. Rakitic and Andrés Iniesta haven’t played with same energy and guile we are all used to – especially if Sergio Busquets is unavailable.

Unlike Catalonia, it’s a more solid and stable environment in the Los Merengue’s Camp in Madrid. This Real Madrid team looks very gallant not overly in terms of quality but owing to a galvanized concinnity that Zizou has imbibed in it. Every player knows their role and stance in the team as we saw when Isco gave a particularly impressive performance against Gijon which forced Zidane’s hands to start him against Bayern which they won after extra time 6 – 3 on aggregate. While Lionel Messi has struggled in big games this season, Cristiano Ronaldo scored five against Bayern over two legs – you can say who is clearly up for the Clasico

Gaffer’s Stake

The stinging difference between Zidane and Lucho is that the former has been assured of his job whatever happens this season why latter has chosen to err on the safe side and can’t handle the pressure the Nou Camp job entails – a summer exit beckons.

Zidane has managed to use every player to their maximum potential and has tried to inculcate a steely part to his game with the emergence and fantastic play of Brazilian Casemiro conjoined with the recruitment of players from the youth ranks – likes of Marco Asensio joining the mix

Lucho can’t boast of that, he recruited badly, it’s almost a paradox. Paco Alcacer, Arda Turan and Denis Suarez have been either a waste of resources or time. Only Alex Vidal could hold his head high after a shaky start to his Barca career but has been cut short due to a broken leg. Tussling between formations 4 – 3 – 3 and 3 – 4 – 3 is another problem, the latter seems to cage their attacks because it gives the MSN limited space to operate.

With La Masia looking like it has lost its mojo; they obviously need to buy big and smart too in the summer.

In it’s entirety, I expect an explosive game, El Clasico is always a personable fixture to watch. Madrid Left back tagged it as ‘a game the world wants to watch’. That’s the brevity of it but for the first time in a month of Sundays, not many will fancy Barcelona on this one.

FA CUP SEMIFINAL PREVIEW AND PREDICTIONS 2017

The oldest and most glamorous cup competition, the English FA cup returns this weekend with two marquee games parading arguably the best four teams in the country at the Wembley stadium. The competition which has been approached more seriously than in seasons past is in its semi-final stage, hence it is no coincidence that the matches will be parading three teams that are presently in the top four places in the league providing us with an action packed weekend.

League leaders Chelsea take on one of the very few teams that have succeeded in defeating them this season, city rivals Tottenham Hotspurs, while in the other game it is the team that has won the cup the most times and have found some form of glory in this competition in recent years Arsenal up against Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City, here is a preview of what to expect from both games.

CHELSEA VS TOTTENHAM HOTSPURS: So much have been said about how Mauricio Pochettino has built this young Spurs side over the past two seasons, turning them from pretenders into not just top 4 chasers but also title contenders, the manager has rightfully earned his hype and has even been name dropped as one of the likely successors to Luis Enrique at Barcelona, one area he however needs to fix is his lack of titles, whilst the Champions League and the Premier League may be stars too far for him to shoot at, the FA cup presents a perfect ground to add some silverware to his name and with two games standing in his way, there is no better time for Spurs than now. He is however up against Antonio Conte’s Chelsea, the team he defeated the last time both teams met and following Chelsea’s defeat at Manchester United last time in the league, Antonio Conte is out not just for revenge but for redemption, another defeat even if it is in a different competition is the last thing that the blues need at this stage of the season. The last time around, Spurs played with a system that negated that of Chelsea and successfully capitalized on their aerial weakness as Dele Alli helped his side to victory, with Diego Costa seeking an end to his goal drought and Harry Kane back to scoring after his injury, this will be a tight encounter and promises to be feisty and exciting. One should particularly be interested in seeing how Conte reacts tactics wise but the midfield battle of Kante and Matic up against Dembele and Wanyama is probably the department that will decide this game. Very close to call seeing Spurs have won their last seven games in all competitions yet struggled to adjust to life at the Wembley ground which was their home during the Champions league games whilst outside the blip at United, Chelsea have been an unstoppable force and with Eden Hazard, they have a massive chink in their armor, this is one game that may stretch beyond the regular 90 minutes but I will give this to TOTTENHAM.

ARSENAL VS MANCHESTER CITY

If there is any team that needs a big win, then both sides fit in that category, but maybe Arsenal needs it just a little more, Arsene Wenger has endured his most torrid season yet managing Arsenal and it looks like they may miss out on a Top four/ Champions league place for the first time in decades and fans calling for the manager’s resignation louder than ever before, it is believed in certain quarters that Arsene Wenger may have already agreed to extend his stay at the gunners but the board desires a winning opportunity for this to be formally announced and in a competition he has won twice in the last four years, this could well be the saving grace for him to remind the Arsenal fans that he is still the man they can trust for at least the next two seasons. For Pep Guardiola, things have not exactly gone according to script at the Etihad, getting knocked out in the second round of the Uefa Champions league was not in the plans when he was given the job and fighting for a top four place instead of the league title was the least his intimidating CV suggested, but in his first season, he would be seeking to end it with at least a trophy like he did at the previous clubs he coached and Sunday afternoon provides him with a chance at the only silverware left. The last time both sides met, it ended in a draw though Pep had won their very first encounter but things have changed a lot since then, Manchester City seemed to have found a bit more stability especially with the return of captain Vincent Kompany at the back and Sergio Aguero re-discovering his scoring form whilst for Arsenal, there was a shape change at the back in their last game against Middlesbrough with the manager adopting the 3 at the back system following defensive injuries and this may be the same system to be adopted against City. Will Pep be able to hit a heavy blow to the gunners or can Arsene Wenger sprout his magic yet again, this should be less cagey and surely see plenty goals, really set up for an intriguing game and Manchester City are my favorites to progress to the final.

THE NPFL MUST REMAIN ON TV & THIS IS WHY

A couple of days ago, news broke on various online media and twitter handles that South African Television giants Super-sports who were the official broadcast partners of the National Professional Football League were on the verge of pulling out from their coverage of the Nation’s top flight league. What began as a rumor shrouded in uncertainties took a clearer dimension hours  later with news emanating over dispute in contract agreement or the TV giants seeking a renegotiation in terms of the legal tender to be adopted going forward, though there is no official statement from the LMC or Super-sports on the issue as at the time of writing. Super-sports currently have an exclusive contract to broadcast live matches of the National league alongside highlights in a 4 year deal worth $34MM (about N5.4 Billion) signed in 2015.

So much have been said and reported over the past couple of days but irrespective of what the issues are, planning to run a ‘professional league’ without Television even if it is just going to last for the remainder of the season is nearly unimaginable and the League Management Company (LMC) led by Shehu Dikko have got to do all within its powers to find a resolution with the TV giants and ensure that come the second stanza of the League which resumes in two weeks time, fans, followers and critics of the League have to continue seeing live matches on our screens, even if we stay restricted to one game every week and here are five reasons why;

It has helped put the NPFL on the map: Few seasons ago, we all know a lot of people had lost interest in the Nigerian league, we had all become fans of one foreign club or another and sacrificed our weekends at viewing centers to support our teams, but since the games began to be televised, more people have begun to take interest in the league, more people find themselves tuning to watch live matches and this often leads to a trending topic online as witnessed during the Kano Pillars VS Enyimba game in Kano. TV has helped as a showcasing platform for our players, recently MFM’s Sikiru Olatunbosun’s goal against Rangers got voted on TV giants CNN World goal of the week and the likes of his teammate Stephen Odey has enjoyed calls from fans to be included in the plans of the National team. Sikiru Olatunbosun’s goal is definitely not the best goal that has ever been scored in the league, neither is Stephen Odey the best talent that has ever stepped on the local scene but with Television, comes propaganda, with Television comes a larger viewership, with television comes word of mouth promotion, and this has helped give our players and teams more prominence across various platforms.

Television improves the standards of the game: We will be living in self denial if we claim that the NPFL as it is today can rival other top African leagues like what we witness in Egypt or South Africa, but it will also be unfair if we refuse to acknowledge the growth in quality and improvement that the league has witnessed in various areas especially with the efforts of the LMC. Few years ago, getting away victories especially in the second half of the season was almost an uphill task but thus far this season, we have witnessed the likes of Plateau United and MFM pick up points from away grounds, the first half of the season successfully came to a conclusion during the course of the week and with the second stanza due to commence in a fortnight, a lot is at stake, CAF Competition places as well as survival in the league will be determined, it is important for the league that there are no dark areas and matches are beamed across various stadiums so we can create a worthy Champion of the league who can be true representatives in the continent come next season. Also, Television allows for proper actions to be taken on grounds where crowd violence of poor match officiating is witnessed as you can only mete out punishment on actions that have been seen and properly reviewed.

Television boosts Revenue and attracts Sponsors: The lucrative deal with Super-sports has made more money available for the teams in the league, the deal has been a form of monetary brick building the gaps between the spending powers of the teams in the league as well as ensuring that the eventual winners of the league have an healthy sum in terms of revenue. Television has also encouraged fans turn-out at stadiums as fans troop to stadia across the country that have been penciled for live broadcast on match-day because there is a belief that with the cameras around, security will be better and the joy of being caught on cameras and beamed on giant screens have improved match experience which has in-turn led to an increase in ticket sales. It has also encouraged companies to get involved with NPFL clubs as we now see more shirt sponsors of teams and more organizations bidding to be league and brand sponsors.

Television has fueled increase in popularity and profitability, it has also inspired various innovations from the broadcasters, the home teams, the fans and has changed the optics of the league especially in the last two years, the league is now being viewed, understood, followed, marketed, packaged, played, officiated, talked about and governed differently.

Arguments have been made in several quarters for local stations to capitalize on the current imbroglio and steal a spot as broadcast partners in the league, many have called for the LMC to partner with the Nation’s largest television NTA, who have outfits in every state of the federation and could transmit via their ”partner” satellite station Star-times to a much larger audience, on paper this sounds like a good idea but I doubt that presently it will yield much, if we remember the league once has a terrestrial deal with African Independent Television (AIT) but this never materialized much, Super-sports have done a decent job thus far and if there is a chance of renegotiating the terms and maintaining the relationship, I will subscribe to that as we cannot afford to allow the league take major steps backward from the goodwill it had gained in recent times, we cannot return to those days when we rely on the pages of sports papers for all the information concerning the league and the longer this blackout persist, the easier it is for fans apathy towards the league to return, for the sake of the professionalism of the league, it must be on TV as soon as the league returns.

Halftimeng Alternate PFA 2016/17 Best Eleven

As always, when the end of the season nears; award and selection fever grips the entire Football fan base; of course we are never able to agree on a selection or awardee that makes everyone happy; it is the nature of us as humans to agree to disagree. Yesterday, The Professional Footballers Association in England released its selection of the stand out players for the ongoing season as voted by the players themselves. As always annually; some players were interestingly left out. One that compounds all human reasoning is Sergio Aguero; how in all the time he has been in the Premier League,he keeps been over looked is quite remarkable. Another has to be Toby Alderweireld; the Spurs defender as been solid and resolute all season; yes Chelsea have had a really good season especially David Luiz, who seems to have finally tracked down the kid with the Play-station pad and has turned out to be a defender reborn (ignore the performance at Old Trafford though).

How was Alexis Sanchez left out this year; despite his Nineteen Goals for Arsenal and been the Gunners best player all year. Please take a look at the PFA Selection (courtesy The Sun) below:

How Sadio Mane makes this list amazes me as well as the two Spurs full backs; don’t get me wrong they have had good seasons; but can you honestly say that Mane has had a better season than Alexis Sanchez or has Walker been better than Antonio Valencia?

How Gary Cahill makes this list has to be one of the wonders of the world; especially considering the likes of Jan Vertonghen and Virgil Van Dijk have had stellar seasons. Well just as the players are entitled to make their own selection; I have decided to come up with an alternative selection of my own.

In comparison to the PFA selection; only one man is constant and he has my vote anytime and any day to be the PFA Player of the year; he is none other than N’Golo Kante. Here’s my alternative PFA Best Eleven:

 

So what do you think? If you disagree with my selection; hit me up in the comments section with your alternate line up and lets have some fun with it.

Five Things we learnt from the UCL Quarter Finals 2nd Legs

The Semi finalist for this year’s UEFA Champions League are now known; yes there have been controversies, ranging from rescheduling of a match after a terrorist attack to refereeing mistakes across all the Quarter Final ties; it did leave a bitter and sour taste in the mouth. The refereeing issues continues to aid the drive and campaign for the introduction of Video technology as it involves goal situations (penalties and offside decisions) and red cards and/or second bookable offences.

In light of all these; there were salient lessons for all to learn from in the second leg matches:

The Experienced over the highly Spirited

Atletico Madrid have over the last five to seven years joined the league of European heavyweights; for double Europa League victories to two Champions League finals in Three years and a stoppage time equalizer away from winning the ultimate prize. Madrid’s second team have gather enough experience and know-how to navigate their way through European ties; so when they came face to face with the highly spirited Leicester City; they took care of business; managing the tie professionally.

In the First Leg, Leicester were unable to penetrate the resolute defensive set up of the Madrid side; once Atletico took the lead, it was curtains and a great display of game management; Leicester did not have a shot on target all game. Fast forward to the second leg; Atletico got things started early with an early goal from Saul Nunez; but a spirited effort from Leicester City pegged them back for almost the entirety of the second half with chance after chance created and missed. Atletico’s superior experience and know-how saw them through this rather tricky tie.

The Pupil betters the Master

Carlo Ancelotti in delivering Real Madrid’s much sort after La Decima; he had Zinedine Zidane as his right hand man and assistant. On Tuesday; both managers were either side of the dug out urging their teams on. What differentiates Zidane’s Real Madrid and Ancelotti’s Real has to be the injection of youth; Ancelotti isn’t know for trusting young or youthful players in all his career; but Zidane has found comfort in making the likes of Asensio and Lucas Varquez integral members of his team and also making Casemiro the final piece of the Los Blancos puzzle; when previous Real managers preferred to send him out on loan.

Zidane’s triumph helps the French man depart from the past and away from the shadows cast by previous Real Managers; he is a Champions League winner and may likely win La Liga this season. Zidane is his own man and he has made this Real Madrid side his own; showing tactical flexibility in  both legs against Bayern and not been afraid to take those tough decisions.

Fine Margins

In the high stakes Sport of football; the difference between winners and losers has to be the fine margins. These fine margins may be determined by a refereeing decision either correctly or incorrectly called; a manager making a ”tactical” change at either a perceived right or wrong period in a game.

In terms of the Quarter final ties between Real Madrid and Bayern Munich; we had a clash that was decided by fine margins determined by Refereeing decisions. Arturo Vidal was wrongly  dismissed for a second yellow card for a tackle where he won the ball clearly from Asensio. Lewandoski was flagged offside wrongly in the first half and potentially the most pivotal of all the decisions was Real Madrid’s equalizer in extra time; Cristano Ronaldo was clearly in an offside position as he finished calmly to set the eleven time champions on course for another spot in the Semi Finals.

These questionable calls happen regularly in football; what is depressing is the Referees trying to even out their decisions; which for me doesn’t work. If we look at the Real v Bayern tie over two legs; you would see that Bayern too had their share of favorable calls like in the first leg where they got awarded a penalty which poetic justice prevailed or even their penalty at the Bernabeu. Bayern should snap out of it; in totality Real Madrid did more to win the two legged affair.

Monaco’s Youthful Revolution

Paris Saint Germain have spent tonnes of money to be where Monaco are today; yes at some point Monaco under their Russian owner had the same model. Thanks to his world record divorce, a change in strategy occurred and the club from the principality started to focus on the next generation of French youngsters. The likes of Mbappe, Mendy and Thomas Lemar form the core of youngsters that have taken Europe by storm with their fearless approach and smooth attacking play; the likes of Joao Moutinho and Radamel Falcao provide the necessary experience and guidance.

Monaco have scored a 140 goals in all competitions this season; that’s an incredible figure with a month of football still to be played; you write off these youngsters at your own peril. I have said previously that this side reminds me of the Monaco side of 1997 that had Thierry Henry and David Trezequet. The difference between this team and the last Monaco team to get to the final is that side was filled with experienced players all round; the likes of Jerome Rothen, Fernando Morientes with up and comers like Patrice Evra; this could be Monaco’s years.

 

No Scoring Boots

Big plaudits to Max Allegri for the tactical masterclass his Juventus team put on display at the Nou Camp; Catenaccio was reborn again on the strength of this performance, it was a clinic and Barcelona had no answer.

If there was any punter or Tipster service that predicted a scoreless affair at the Nou Camp; that person or service is worth a follow and I would like to have some of whatever they are smoking. For the first time in 50 European games; the Nou Camp witnessed a nil-nil scoreline. What was wrong with players on both sides; on a good day Messi would have scored a Hat-trick and Neymar a brace; Juan Cuadrado and Higuain would have had a goal a piece; but I guess they all left their scoring boots in their hotel rooms.

Poor Records, Representation and Third Party Ownership: The bane of the NPFL

As you may be aware, I am a contributor to some Sports programs on Radio here in Lagos, Nigeria and whilst on air yesterday with Olawale Adigun doing Sportscafe on Top Radio 90.9FM; we discussed the alleged plan of Sikiru Olatunbosun and Steven Odey to go out on trials in Belgium whilst their team Mountain of Fire Ministries Football Club, otherwise known as MFM FC remained in pole position to potentially end the first half of the season as league leaders. Our discussion centered around the impact their departure would have in derailing the MFM FC train and scuttle all that has been achieved by this modest but ”well run” Football club. My take was that the fact that the commercial ownership of the rights to this players is supposedly in doubt constitutes a major problem for the team. Whether we like it or not MFM are not alone in this messy ownership structures which are purportedly arranged as loan transactions; visit any NPFL Club today and the story is the same, 3/4 of the players plying their trade for different clubs in our league are not owned by these clubs. Now do not get me wrong; the loan system is recognized and acceptable worldwide; especially among ”duly registered” clubs not mushroom academies and messy third party ownership arrangement.

You would ask; why am I so worried and concerned about this matter, well I could direct you to my Twitter Bio which shows that I am desirous of being an Intermediary; but that’s not the main reason, my main beef has to do with the amount of financial benefits our ”Professional” football teams are allowing to waste away by getting into these useless arrangements. Growing up in the 1990s; My father would buy the now defunct Sports Souvenir and I would go to the local league segment especially at the beginning of the season to read the transfer news. For those older than I am; they can correct me if they may; but I remember Ike Shorunmu signing for 3SC for One Million Naira at the time; that transfer was echoed all over the press; it was a major milestone for our league at the time. Today, what do we have? A shambles of a Local transfer system where player movements are mainly captured as loans or the player hops and leaves his previous team to join the next highest bidder with little or no transfer fees captured nor earned. What we do not realize is that the future of this players is been damaged with this practice and the financial responsibility side of the game is completely eroded.

You would ask what do I mean the players future is damaged; well in putting together an International transfer; there’s a document called the player’s passport; it is a document that shows all the teams the player has featured for from the age of twelve this helps eventually in computing whatever solidarity payments or training compensation is due the clubs that helped train the player; but no; because we do not keep this records appropriately nor document these transactions our local clubs lose future revenue that they can get from having a player feature for them at some point in time. The League Management Company still has a lot of work to do in terms of regulating clubs and transfer of players; it is not enough to supposedly implement the Transfer Matching System when documentation is poor, there are no intermediaries involved and the transfers are mainly or in most cases only loans. When was the last time; we heard Mr. X moved from Wikki Tourist to FC Ifeanyi Ubah for XX Million Naira? It doesn’t happen anymore. Just look at the transfer of Chisom Egbechulam to a Swedish club on loan and all the issues that happened with his proposed move to Club African in Tunisia; imagine the amount of money Rangers would have made from that player at the time; if you dig deeper you will find that he may not even be owed by Rangers.

Our Clubs and the LMC talk about getting listed on the Nigeria Stock Exchange; we are at least ten years away from achieving this is if this is the way we run our clubs. Interestingly; I wrote something recently on the pros and cons of that initiative (Read Here). We find ways of scaling through CAF’s Club licensing hurdles; only to go on the continent to embarrass ourselves with poor travel arrangements and inability to feed players prior to a continental engagement; who are we fooling? We forget that developing a buoyant and robust transfer system ensures that our clubs are more financially responsible; creating a major income stream for them in Local and foreign currency. Just look at how Brazilian and Argentine players are exported to main stream Europe for huge transfer fees; with a little research you would see that Income from Football constituted 2% of the entire Brazilian GDP; whilst the Brazilian GDP as a whole grew by 4%; Football’s GDP grew by 5.6%; we are sitting on a gold mine that we are not aware of. Yes our players may not be as good as the Brazilians which is debatable but harnessing the income potentials in Football and Sports in general serves as an extra stream of Foreign exchange which is lacking as we speak as our players are transferred to Europe for peanuts because they do not have proper representation and the general greed of our Football administrators.

The time has got to come where the LMC in conjunction with NFF first sanitize the player transfer market locally; where we are able to capture how much exchange hands between our clubs; which gives us an idea of the economic value of transactions done locally (Transfers between English Premier League Clubs has crossed the One Billion Pounds mark). This can first be achieved by limiting the number of loan transfers first; giving a clear picture of who owns this and that player; shed a light on those that represent them; by ensuring that each player has a representative either a Lawyer or a duly certified or accredited football intermediary of course by the NFF and if the agent is foreign; he must have obtained a license from the NFF to transact business or signed a sub-agency contract with a locally certified Intermediary; that way the authorities can track the process of transactions and create a proper football economy.

So for example; Rangers puts in a bid of Ten Million Naira for MFM FC’s, Onuwa Chukwuka; MFM accepts the bid, with Onuwa duly represented by an intermediary; a contract is drawn up with the player earning N500,000 monthly after tax deductions; the intermediary/lawyer earns 3% of the player’s monthly salary which is N15,000 monthly. What has happened here is a creation of a football economy; where jobs or livelihoods are created. You must also understand that the player has the right not to have professional representation; hopefully he doesn’t live to regret that action.

Creating a football economy will make clubs more financially responsible; accountable to government, regulators, individuals, church or corporate owners; allowing them to have forecast and budgets which would include projections for revenue that would have potential player sales as an integral part; that way we can build a viable, robust and financially vibrant league. When clubs own the commercial rights of their players; it allows for them to plan, regenerate for the future; project potential earnings especially for those that have active academies; this way there will be no issues relating to who owns who whilst allowing them to estimate appropriate values to this players, this can only happen with strict adherence to accountability, records keeping and implementation of all rules and regulations guiding the clubs and the league in general.

 

***Pictures courtesy twitter.com, goal.com and premiumtimesng.com

Halftimeng Premier League Muppets of Week 33

What is always amazing in selecting the top performers of the week along with the Muppets of the week is the chance of been a top performer this week to been a Muppet the following week. Yes there are some players who have made it a weekly affair to produce poor displays. The player of interest this week is Fraser Forster of Southampton; top performer last week; absolute Muppet this past weekend. The selection this week has some unusual names; never would I have thought the day would come that Eden Hazard, probably the best player in the Premier League along with one of the best Marksmen in the League; Diego Costa would find their way into the Muppets list.

Eden Hazard’s performance of content, surprised many pundits as he just seemed to accept he wasn’t going to get the better of Ander Herrera; which for a player who wants to be considered among the top five players in the world is not good enough. The likes of Nacer Chadli, Marc Pugh, Lee Cattermole also join the Muppets list for this week.

The biggest Muppet of them all has to be Middlesbrough’s Adama Traore; for the love of God, who is his hairstylist? How do you feel comfortable leaving your house with that Mop on your head. The former Barcelona Academy player continues to show why he couldn’t make the grade at the Nou Camp; as far as I am concerned he put every foot wrong as the North East side tried in vain to level matters against visiting Arsenal.

Here’s my selection for Muppets of the week for Week 33 in the Premier League in a 4-5-1 formation:

Halftimeng Premier League Team of Week 33

Jose Mourinho just loves to blow title races open; he has been here before, remember Chelsea’s visit to Anfield as Liverpool chased the title. The Portuguese coach made some changes to his lineup, even fielded the youngster Thomas Kalas in defense on that faithful afternoon when a legend slipped on his heels as the Reds lost the title that year to Manchester City. 2-0 was the scoreline that faithful day; same was the scoreline on Sunday afternoon at Old Trafford as Manchester United opened the door for Tottenham Hotspurs to have a chance at winning their first Premier League title. Ander Herrera and Marcus Rashford were the standout performers from a truly solid, tactical team performance.

Heung Min Son and Tottenham got us off to a pulsating weekend of goals as the White Hart Lane club scored four goals in back to back games making it seven wins in a row and their twelfth straight win  at home. The white side of London are gradually about to abolish St. Tottenham’s day. The rest of the top seven onslaught continued with varying degrees of wins; Liverpool survived the torment that comes with visiting Tony Pulis’s West Brom. Vincent Kompany put up a captain’s performance scoring his first goal since August 2015. Everton continue to push Manchester United and Arsenal close with Phil Jagielka delivering a solid and stead performance for the Toffees.

In the bottom half of the spectrum; Crystal Palace continue to accumulate points in their bid for survival as Christian Benteke leads the line expertly. Hull City’s Harry Maguire continues to get more admirers with his solid defensive performances and overall attitude towards the game.  Stoke City got back to winning ways with a solid performance led by Xherdan Shaqiri to ensure they continue to consolidate their position; he is joined by Łukasz Fabinaski; who had another man of the match performance between the sticks as Swansea lost away to Watford.

Here’s a full breakdown of my top performers this week below in a 3-4-3 formation:

5 THINGS WE LEARNT FROM MAN UTD V CHELSEA

So the biggest game of the weekend in The Premier League lived up to its billing in several ways, Manchester United went into the game on Sunday having failed to get a victory in their last 8 games against Chelsea with 4 wins and 4 draws. This season alone has seen United lose twice to Chelsea, in the Premier league first leg tie and FA cup quarter final fixture. Jose Mourinho up against Antonio Conte in what is fast becoming an intense rivalry and the Italian gaffer seem to be winning on all turns including running away with the league, but with Tottenham on a good run and Chelsea conceding goals non-stop, Sunday’s game held a lot beyond just three points and cometh the hour, cometh the man Jose, United were 2-0 winners after 90 minutes with goals from Marcus Rashford and Ander Herrera coming in each half to re-ignite a slim title fight for the likes of Tottenham Hotspurs and continue United’s push for a top four finish, here are 5 things we learnt from the game;
1. Jose still got it: Recently, a lot of people had begun to question the ability of the self-styled Special One who some even termed ‘Special Once’, Manchester United were failing to win games especially at Old Trafford and even though they were difficult to defeat leading to a long unbeaten run, they were not scoring enough goals to close the gap and stake a top four place, many blamed his tactics, some questioned his game management abilities whilst others criticized his failing to get the best out of his players whilst always eager to throw his team under the bus in the media. His initial encounters with Antonio Conte since the Italian’s arrival in England have ended with him on the losing side on both occasions especially with the memories of the first leg spat lingering, and whilst Antonio Conte seemed to have found balance and the right system for his team, same cannot be said for Jose.


When the Starting XI for Sundays game was reeled out, many Manchester United fans were already throwing in the towel with their leading marksman Zlatan Ibrahimovic and arguably the most creative player in the team Mhkitaryan both left out on the bench and starting berths given to the likes of Ashley Young, Darmian, Fellaini and Jesse Lingard, but the supposedly weakened team produced one of the best performances of the season getting the better of the league leaders for the entire duration of the game. Jose served a master class, setting players to do proper man-marking jobs, capitalizing on the pace of his young forwards to unsettle Chelsea’s back line and reducing Chelsea to no shots on target all game. United were able to keep the Blues key-men quiet for 90 minutes, Hazard barely had a sniff, Costa’s only attempt was a 46th minute shot which was well wide off target, Matic and Kante got bossed in the midfield and we saw Antonio Conte struggle with a response switching formations all through the game but couldn’t get his team going like we have seen him do all season. Chelsea may well still go ahead and win the league, Antonio Conte deservedly would still get all the plaudits due his way but for Jose, he needed a big win, he needed to prove that tactically, he was still special and on a day when Goliath invaded his home, he brought out a performance of champions.

2. Ander Herrera is the Fireman: Getting to do the same job where he got sent off last time out looked like a poison chalice for the Spaniard, especially when the job is to stop the in-form and PFA Player of the season contender, Eden Hazard, my initial thoughts when I saw Herrera slotting into center back and right back during the early stages of the game was that we were limiting one of the few creative talents in the starting line-up to a defensive job, but Ander proved that he was a man of many talents, called a ‘fireman’ in his days at Bilbao, proved it on both ends of the field in Manchester, whilst totally subduing Hazard on one hand, he still found time to put up a solid midfield performance battling the likes of Kante and Matic, lay a beauty of an assist for United’s opener and also grab his first goal in over a year in the early minutes of the second half which was massive for the teams plan going into the second 45 minutes.


3. Fast and Furious starring Marcus Rashford: If he had been handed the MOTM award, no one would have complained, the teenager was immense all game, ran his legs out, bullied players who were more muscular than he was, tucked in some defensive duties when needed, his understanding with Jesse Lingard worried the Chelsea back-line, he brought his skills, pace, commitment, fast thinking into a big game and one area of his game that seemed to have struggled in recent times was his goal scoring and when that pass from Ander Herrera broke to him, many wondered if he had pushed the ball away from goal too much, but the young lad was calm, mature and decisive in scoring the opener which settled the nerves of the team and the home fans.


4. A bad day in the office for Conte: Antonio Conte started the season on an unsure ground, his first season in England and many wondered if he would be able to replicate some of his Juventus magic in The Premier League, after suffering defeat to Arsenal, he made that switch to a 3-4-3 and the fortunes of the team changed afterwards, game after game, they built a system and tore their opponents apart but just when the finish line is being sighted, the team is showing signs of fatigue and giving some hope to title chasers Tottenham Hotspurs. Key to Chelsea’s glorious form is the fact that they have been involved in very few competitions and thus have been able to consistently maintain the same starting XI in most games, but recently we saw them lose Victor Moses and when they had to put in a different player even in the same system, they struggled and even lost to Crystal Palace, just before kick-off yesterday, they lost Marcos Alonso along with Thibaut Courtois and this again unsettled the system as Zouma could not cope in the 3 man back-line and Cesar Azpilicueta being shifted to the left wing didn’t quite work out well, we even saw Victor Moses moved to that position but clearly it showed that for the system to work, certain set of players have to play in it and if Alonso’s injury lasts beyond one game, Conte may have to consider a different plan to see his team beyond the line.
5. The race is on: I fully expect Chelsea to still go ahead and win the league with six games left to play, but when Tottenham romped to 4 nil win over Bournemouth early Saturday afternoon, gaffer Mauricio Pochettino said he was glad his team had played first and laid the gauntlet whilst awaiting the Chelsea game the following day, but no one can deny that at this stage, it is not signed and sealed yet for the Blues, a gap that at a stage was at 13 points have now been reduced to four points, whilst Spurs have the more difficult fixtures, they are the team in form and with momentum on their side, wins on tough grounds cannot be ruled out and if Chelsea don’t recover from their key injuries and put up unimpressive displays like this especially with tricky ties against Everton and Southampton still to play, we could just be in for more excitement going into the final days of the season.