Who’s to Blame for Soaring Transfer Fees

It’s easy to look at big money clubs and say “You’re the reason that players are getting bought for £50 million and getting paid £200k-a-week when they aren’t worth either.” Football purists will say if it weren’t for oil rich clubs being able to pay clubs those prices for players and giving them ridiculous wages, no one would be asking for it. I’m here to tell you that if you really think this way then you are wrong, my friend.

Sure, we can blame people like Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and the Qatar Investment Authority until we are blue in the face. They throw their money at any and everything they want. It’s true and I’ll admit that.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

However, it’s the clubs selling the players and the agents of those players who are creating “arms” races between the big money wielding powers that be in the football world.

Just take a look at some of the bigger transfer targets of this upcoming summer and the valuation put on them by their current clubs. Napoli demanded that bids for striker Edison Cavani must start at £60 million. Stoke City slapped a £15 million price tag on goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Manchester United made an inquiry for Gareth Bale and Tottenham told them £70 million or keep it moving. Teams are reportedly plotting bids in excess of £80 million for Brazilian star Neymar.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Anytime a player is linked with Manchester United, Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona or any of the football finance giants, the club they would be leaving immediately wants excessive amounts of cash for that player.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe Asmir Begovic is a quality keeper who should be worth a pretty penny but £15 million is a little over the top. Maybe it was a ploy by Stoke to keep buyers at bay, but these days most big clubs will pay that for a player they want.

Manchester City isn’t pricing clubs out of moves for players. The clubs the players are at are pricing clubs out of moves for players. How many Premier League teams can afford Gareth Bale at £70 million? Three. City, United, and Chelsea — and United may be a stretch. And it’s not only limited to big time players, go back and take a look at how much City and Chelsea payed for players who haven’t seen the pitch in months.

As football fans, we need to take a step back and realize it’s not the oil-rich clubs that  created situations like Pompey, Blackburn and Leeds. Selling clubs see these teams getting cash injections and dollar signs flash in their eyes.

So in the summer when Napoli sell Cavani, when Bale leaves White Hart Lane and when Neymar finally makes his move to Europe, don’t blame the clubs that splash the cash for them, blame the club that sold them for that amount.

The Beauty of the Away Goal Rule

In the past few days there has been a lot of talk about whether or not the away goal rule should be done away with, but I have to say that I couldn’t disagree more. It’s easy to say you want it gone when it works against your club, but it wouldn’t be so easy to say that if your club benefits from it.

This week, we saw two big games decided by the away goal rule. Arsenal fell to Bayern Munich in the Champions League after beating the Bavarians 2-0 in the Allianz thanks to Bayern’s 3-1 win at the Emirates. Tottenham defeated Inter 4-4 in extra time when Emmanuel Adebayor scored the only away goal of the tie to move on to the quarterfinals of the Europa League.

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Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is probably ready to launch a campaign to get rid of the away goal rule after his side crashed out of the Champions League against Bayern Munich due to it.

Arsenal supporters hate the rule right now. Spurs supporters love it.

Regardless of which side of the fence you are on, you have to realize that the away goal rule is essentially necessary to two-legged knockout tournament ties. Without it, the away team would put their entire team within 25 yards of their goal and just play for a nil-nil draw in hopes of getting a goal in the return leg at their stadium.

It encourages the away team to be more aggressive and rewards them if they manage to score while on the road and punishes the home team if they concede.

Certainly, the away team is in the driving seat if they do happen to score and it puts the home team at a disadvantage but all they have to do is go and get a goal in the return fixture and the momentum is right back in their favor.

Naturally, we want to get rid of the rule because Arsenal and Inter (along with many other teams throughout the years) were adversely affected by it but that have no one to blame but themselves. If Arsenal didn’t allow 3 goals against Bayern, they wouldn’t have needed to play they way they did Wednesday. If Inter would have scored at White Hart Lane, they wouldn’t have needed to score 4 goals only to get the boot because they conceded in extra time at home.

Doing away with the away goal rule would just do away with entertaining two-legged ties in competitions.

Three Reasons Why the CONCACAF Champions League is a Failure

Hands up, I was not aware CONCACAF’s Champions League was already in the quarterfinals stage. It pretty much just sprung up on me this morning while I was watching ESPN and they happened to mention that the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to beat a Mexican side in the competition. Kudos to the Sounders, but the novelty was quickly lost on me.

If you are not familiar with the CONCACAF Champions Leauge, here’s the rundown. It’s a 24-team tournament with 4 clubs coming from Mexico and the United States; 2 from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama; and 1 from Canada, Nicaragua and Belize. Three clubs qualify from the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship. The rest is pretty similar to UEFA’s Champion League.

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

That being said, here are five reasons I think the CONCACAF Champions League is a massive failure.

1. There aren’t enough premiere clubs.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Can anyone name 2 clubs from the countries which have two entrants in this competition without looking on Wikipedia or Google? I’m sure there are quality sides in those countries but there’s a reason that only Mexican clubs have won this tournament since it changed to the “Champions League” format in 2008. You’d be better served to cut the tournament down to 8 clubs and jump straight into knockout rounds.

2. The scheduling is poor.

I’m not sure why it is done the way it is, but the competition begins in August which coincides with the beginning of Liga MX’s apertura but comes right in the middle of the MLS’ season. The group stages run until October when there is a five-month break before the knockout rounds begin. It’s hard to keep up with things that are separated by five months. It doesn’t help that one of the two top leagues in the competition, the MLS, does not play for most of those five months.

3. No one cares enough to go to the games.

In the 2012-13 edition of the CONCACAF, there are four teams that have a respectable average attendance — UANL Tigres, Real Salt Lake, CF Monterrey and Houston Dynamo. It’s a crapshoot after that. Six of the clubs averaged fewer than 1,000 fans at their home fixtures. Watching a game in an empty stadium is not entertaining and I could imagine going to a game in an empty stadium isn’t that fun either. Maybe if they said all the games were played behind closed doors, it wouldn’t seem so bad.

Why is AVB Succeeding at Tottenham?

Andre Villas-Boas is one of the brightest young managers in the footballing world, that much is hard to be argued against. He is only 35 years old and has held jobs at some of the better clubs and done reasonably well wherever he has gone. However, following his stint at Chelsea, some were questioning his ability as a manager of a big name side.

There were plenty of reasons why Villas-Boas only lasted nine months at Stamford Bridge. He was too young to lead that club. He didn’t have the backing of the veteran players. His preferred style of player was entertaining but it allowed too many goals. And of course, Chelsea had a string of bad results prior to his sacking.

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Andre Villas-Boas has Tottenham believing they could do something great in the very near future.

All that being said, how is it possible that Villas-Boas has gone to another London club, Tottenham, and had much more success with arguably a less talented team and definitely a smaller transfer budget?

It’s a quite simple answer actually, he isn’t under ridiculous amounts of pressure.

I could just imagine how excited Roman Abramovich was to bring in a young manager who had working under Jose Mourinho, an 88% winning percentage at Porto and a Europa League victory on his CV. I could also imagine that he thought Villas-Boas was going to pull something along the lines of a quintuple.

Don’t get me wrong, Tottenham had Champions League aspirations when they began this season but I doubt Daniel Levy is as tough a boss as Abramovic is. Think about it. Harry Redknapp was given four years as Tottenham’s boss as their best finish was coming in 4th twice and they didn’t win any silverware. Levy probably also learned something from his quick fire decision to sack Martin Jol, but I digress.

Villas-Boas has Spurs playing some of, if not the, best football in the Premier League right now and at some point you have to look to the manager as part of the reason for it. His free-flowing tactics have allowed Gareth Bale to wreak havoc on defenses both domestically and in Europe, giving Tottenham a chance to win the Europa League if they continue this run of form.

Now that he has the supporters, the players and ownership behind him, I believe we will see AVB continue to flourish in his role as manager of Tottenham. They went from a club aiming to finish in a Champions League spot to a club that is a player or two from challenging for much more seemingly overnight with his hire.

A perfect end to this season would be if he could find someway to keep Bale in London for a few more years. Whether or not he does is another story altogether, just know that as of now there is nothing stopping AVB from achieving greatness at Tottenham.

Possible Summer Targets for Manchester City Pt. 2

Read part one here.

Edison Cavani

Edison Cavani is one of the most sought after players in Europe right now and that’s exactly why I think Manchester City should pass on making a move for the Uruguayan striker who currently plays for Napoli.

Napoli knows clubs what Cavani and they know a lot of those clubs have a lot of money so his price tag is outrageous. Don’t get me wrong, Cavani is a game changer, the type of striker that you put on the pitch and he immediately makes a difference. His ability to put the ball into the back of the net is on par with the best in the world and he is selfish enough to make chances from himself.

All that being said, City can get two or three quality players for the price Napoli is asking for Cavani. There are cheaper strikers out there.

Radamel Falcao

Falcao has been linked with every big money club in the world. It doesn’t help that some call him the best pure number 9 right now. Like Cavani, the problem with City pursuing Falcao is that it’s going to cost a pretty penny to get him to the Etihad. With Financial Fair Play on the horizon, the last thing City needs to do is break the bank to reinforce one of the strongest positions on their team.

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El Tigre will likely be leaving Atletico Madrid in the summer and Manchester City may be one of his landing spots.

The Colombian also known as El Tigre can do it all and do it all well. He’s garnered a reputation for leading his club to Europa League titles but Manchester City is aiming a little higher than winning the Europa League.

Falcao would be an instant improvement to any club, but City’s current striker situation does not demand they go out and spend €80 million on a forward even if the last forward we got from Atletico Madrid led us to a Premier League championships.

Jesus Navas

Jesus Navas, currently playing for Sevilla FC in La Liga, has been getting a lot of spin in the rumor mill recently, connecting him with a move to Manchester City. Again, this is a move that I don’t think City should make.

Don’t get me wrong, Navas is a great player and would do well for most clubs but I don’t know where he fits into City’s future plans with a player like Isco also likely to move from his club this summer. Navas will be 28 soon and the Blues need to look towards the future with their purchases.

Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez is another player who has recently begun to be linked with a move to the Etihad. The 24-year-old Chilean striker seems to be angling for a way out of the Nou Camp and clubs are lining up to get him.

Known for his speed, dribbling and creativity with the ball, he could wreak havoc on the most disciplined defenses as he has shown many times during his time with Barcelona. Pairing him with Sergio Aguero could be both positive and negative as the two players have very similar play styles.

However, if City were to go out and get a forward, Sanchez should be closer to the top of the list as he won’t cost an arm and a leg to get.

Christian Eriksen

I know Christian Eriksen has been linked with a move to the other side of Manchester more often than he has been with Manchester City, but damn it if there is a player City needs to break the bank on, it is him. The Ajax product recently put clubs on alert when he refused to sign a contract extension with the club, possibly angling for a move to England in the summer.

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Bringing Christian Eriksen to the Etihad could set Manchester City up for a long run at the top of the Premier League.

Roberto Mancini and the City technical staff got an up close look at how talented this guy is during City’s two games against Ajax in the group stage of this year’s Champions League. He’s already a great midfielder and he’s only 21 years old. Just take a look at the hundreds of highlight videos on YouTube.

Eriksen is creative enough to operate in David Silva’s stead or alongside the Spaniard. His ability to put corners into threatening positions would work wonders for players like Vincent Kompany, Micah Richards, Yaya Toure or Javi Garcia. The possibilities are endless.

Mauro Icardi

Sampdoria’s Mauro Icardi has been getting plenty of looks from Manchester City. The Argentine striker is the Serie A club’s leading scorer at the tender age of 20 years old. Roberto Mancini, who played for Sampdoria for 15 years, personally went down to Italy to watch him play. That has to account for something.

However, I think €13 million is a little too steep for a player this young.

Neymar

Come on… you knew he’d be here eventually. If a club has the cash, then they will be linked with potentially the next great player from Brazil. He’s been linked for years with a move to Barcelona but I think the right people could convince him that going to England would be better for his career.

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Neymar to Manchester City may be a pipe dream, but don’t rule it out until his transfer saga is over.

Like some of the other players on this list, there is no need to talk about how good Neymar really is. His skill with the ball at his feet is second to none and his clinical finishing makes you wonder how is it possible for someone so young to be so good.

Obviously, his price tag is high but with his contract running out Santos may be forced to sell him on before he leaves for free. I’m inclined to believe that his original 2014 timeline for a move to Europe will actually be the summer of 2013.

Marquinhos

Marquinhos has been making the headlines a lot for his near-flawless play for Roma this season. It’s not shocking for a new defender to come into a team and play well, but it is shocking for a player who is two months shy of his 19th birthday to be doing what Marquinhos has done.

His ability to read the game is better than some defenders ten years his senior. He’s the type of player that cleans up mistakes before they turn into goals, something that he has done on more than a few occasions this season. With Joleon Lescott possibly on his way out, Marquinhos can come in and give Manchester City two great young centerbacks to build for the future.

Jetro Willems

Jetro Willems has previously been linked with a move to Manchester United as they tabled a €10 million bid for the young Dutch left back, but I think the guys in blue should make a move for him this summer.

Sir Alex Ferguson called him the “next Patrice Evra.” Well, some called Matija Nastasic the “next Nemanja Vidic” so it’s only right that Manchester City gets another young player who has been compared to some old guy currently playing for the enemy.

Gareth Bale and Wayne Rooney

The reason I put these two together is because it is highly unlikely that Manchester City could get either one of them.

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Is Wayne Rooney the next player to leave United for City? It’s not as unlikely as it sounds.

Gareth Bale has been linked with moves away from White Hart Lane for some time now, but I think that Luka Modric’s inability to settle in at Real Madrid has disenchanted him with the prospect of playing for Los Blancos. Recently, it’s been rumored that Bale intends to stay in England for at least another year.

Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney has also hit the rumor mill after being left out of United’s starting lineup against Real Madrid in their Champions League tie this past Tuesday. Rooney has been effectively replaced by Robin van Persie and the last time Fergie said he wouldn’t sell a player, Cristiano Ronaldo left for Madrid.

Possible Summer Targets for Manchester City Pt. 1

With the 2012-13 Premier League season closer to reaching its end, most teams are going to start taking a closer look at their squad. Manchester City, as they shouldn’t, have not conceded the title race to city rival Manchester United yet but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a look at possible transfer targets this summer.

It is likely City will receive a large influx of cash with players such as Edin Dzeko, Samir Nasri, Kolo Toure, Joleon Lescott and even Carlos Tevez receiving their walking papers as well as the residual effects of selling Mario Balotelli to AC Milan in January. With that in mind, some of the big names being linked with the blue half of Manchester may not be so out-of-reach.

Miralem Pjanic and Erik Lamela

The Roma pair have been garnering a lot of attention with their play for the giallorossi in Serie A. Pjanic, who joined Roma from Lyon in 2011, has settled into a starting role at the Stadio Olimpico after beginning the season on the bench. The 22-year-old Bosnian international gained a reputation for being deadly from set-piece situations and having very good passing skills.

On the other hand, you have Erik Lamela. I think that Lamela, 20, could be one of the next great Argentinian players and what better way to indoctrinate him into that role than by playing him alongside the likes of Sergio Aguero. Lamela’s shooting, dribbling and speed make him an asset to any team. Just ask Roma how useful he has been this season, scoring 11 goals for them this season.

Rumor has it that City is preparing a double swoop for both Lamela and Pjanic, but as they continue to impress it will be tougher to get both of them in one deal. City may have to settle for one.

Paul Pogba

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Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba could become the perfect defensive partner for Yaya Toure at Manchester City.

The former Manchester United youth player has hit the ground running in Turin, making many highlight reels with his strikes from well outside the box. But don’t let his flashy goals fool you, Pogba is a defensive tank who can control the game in the middle of the park with well-timed challenges. Hell, just his presence might scare off a few smaller midfielders.

Pogba can fit perfectly into City’s formation next to Yaya Toure or Javi Garcia. With Pogba on the pitch, Toure can make those marauding runs he has become so famous for or if he replacing Toure then Garcia can focus on defending while Pogba gets forward.

City’s defensive midfield has been noticeably weaker without Nigel de Jong this season so if there was one buy they need to make then it is bringing Pogba to the Etihad.

Isco

Malaga is in a tough financial situation. The last time a Spanish club was in a tough financial position, Manchester City got David Silva from Valencia. Isco has all the trappings of the quintessential Spanish midfielder. He can pass, he can shoot and he can orchestrate the attack. Silva will always be City’s little Spanish magician but it doesn’t hurt for him to have an understudy.

With Nasri likely returning to France in the summer, bringing in Isco could finally give City the creative player opposite of Silva that strikes fear into opponents. The thought of Isco and Silva playing behind Aguero and a few of the other players on this list is frightening even from the perspective of a City supporter.

Gonzalo Higuain

We love our Argentine strikers at the Etithad, so much so that City is being linked with out-of-favor Real Madrid forward Gonzalo Higuain. You don’t have to look far to see how good Higuain is. He’s a do it all player who has been gold for Los Blancos when he has gotten a look into the squad. However, Karim Benzema has displaced him in the starting XI and it may be time for Higuain to look elsewhere.

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A swoop for Gonzalo Higuain could be a stroke of genius for Roberto Mancini and form a formidable partnership with countrymen Sergio Aguero.

I think this would be a perfect deal for City as Higuain won’t carry the price tag of a Edison Cavani or Radamel Falcao but comes with all the quality of someone worth three times what he is. There’s only one player who has a better goal-per-game average at the Bernanbeu and Cristiano Ronaldo isn’t someone you mind coming in second to.

Robert Lewandoski

Robert Lewandoski is preparing to leave the Bundesliga and Borussia Dortmund want Edin Dzeko who recently said he wants to go back to the Bundesliga. Sounds like a perfect deal to me, what about you?

The 24-year-old Polish international has been linked with a move to Manchester so much that it started to get old except that was before Manchester United decided to go break the bank on Robin van Persie. Lewandoski has a few more years left in him than van Persie and a few fewer trips to the physio’s table.

Lewandoski doesn’t provide the height that Dzeko has but he makes up for it in sheer scoring ability. In 33 games this season with Dortmund, Lewandoski has found the back of the net 23 times. How’s that for efficiency?

Will Hughes

City put in a few bids for Will Hughes in January but Derby County were reluctant to let the 17-year-old midfielder go to the Etihad. I think we’ll see City send a few more bids Derby’s way in the summer.

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Will Hughes could be one of England’s next big stars but the question is, what Premier League team is going to shell out the cash to get him first?

Hughes has received high praise from all corners as he has settled in quickly at Pride Park despite his age. English U-21 manager Stuart Pearce was impressed has been impressed with his ability to keep the ball and pick out passes.

He might not be able to break into City’s lineup at 17, but after what Matija Nastasic has done at the Etihad at only 19 I’d say what’s the harm in bringing him in sooner rather than later.

Stay tuned for part two where we’ll take a look at the usual suspects linked with a move to Manchester City as well as a few guys I think we should take a look at.

When Will the MLS be a Major League Success?

This weekend was the first weekend of the MLS’ 2013 season and I have to say that I’m still left unimpressed by the product being put on the pitch by the United States and Canada’s top tier football league.

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MLS Commissioner Don Garber thinks his league will be one of the best in the world in 10 years.

The story of the North American Soccer League’s mercurial rise to fame and eventual flaming out is well-known, well-versed and has continued to cast a shadow over the MLS for much of its history but at some point you have to get a little more aggressive in building your brand. After all, MLS commissioner Don Garber reiterated his plan to have the league be considered one of the best in the world by 2022.

Hopefully it isn’t as ill-fated as the USSF’s “Project 2010,” the plan to make the US men’s national team good enough to be competitive in the 2010 World Cup.

Unfortunately, Garber doesn’t have David Beckham, who now plays for Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1, in his underwear on billboards to bring women to LA Galaxy games and the other European retirees in the MLS don’t have the star power to do what Becks did.

Promotion and Relegation

Currently, there is no promotion and relegation in Major League Soccer. Some people think that’s perfectly fine but I think that’s one of the major problems with the league and the entire USSF pyramid.

People will argue that teams in the NASL (2009), the USL Pro and Canadian Soccer League don’t have the financial backing to survive in a top level league but we’re talking about the MLS. The MLS where there are clubs that can’t fill their stadiums for semi-final playoff games.

Promotion and relegation will allow the pyramid to be built from the ground up instead of the top down as they seem so keen on doing. The lure of possibly playing at the top will bring in new, ambitious owners to the clubs at the bottom. Imagine a Mark Cuban or Jerry Jones-esque mogul coming in and taking over a club like the San Antonio Scorpions. They’d go from NASL club to MLS champion in a matter of months.

Of course, the MLS would also have to get rid of their single-entity model.

Salary Constraints

This comes directly from the downfall of the original NASL. The league grew quickly and the New York Cosmos had some of the best players in the world on their squad. However, the free spending also caused its eventual demise.

The MLS keeps a lid on their clubs spending in an effort to prevent the same thing from happening to their league but when those same clubs go to compete in the CONCACAF Champions League, they have a fraction of the financial power that the teams they are competing with have.

Compare Liga MX’s ability to keep Mexican-born players in Mexico to the MLS’s inability to keep American starlets in the United States — a problem which probably also stems from the single-entity model. Guadalajara in Mexico is a huge club and the parent club of Chivas USA in the MLS, but Guadalajara isn’t able to feed their club in the MLS with the funds necessary to become of the top sides in Major League Soccer.

A little financial flexibility and our players wouldn’t be running to the Premier League, the Bundesliga or the Tippeligaen.

Playoffs

Yes, the playoffs is what makes the MLS American. Americans love to see teams go head-to-head and settle things on the field. We love to see upsets and all that good stuff but I think that’s a problem.

Playoffs create the chance for clubs that have not performed well to get hot at the right time and win the championship. I love that in the NFL but keep it out of my association football. Leagues in Europe may not have actual playoff systems to determine their champions but those clubs still settle it on the pitch.

What do you call it when every team plays every other team twice home and away? A round-robin tournament, that’s what.

People would be downright outraged if Liverpool was crowned Premier League champions — obviously Liverpool supporters wouldn’t be — at the end of this season because they snuck into a playoff and happened to hit form at the right time.

Obviously, there are good things about the MLS and of course there are more negatives, but to think the MLS will be a world class league by 2022 is bending the meaning of world class a little too much.