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Kicking and Screaming

If you want blood, you got it.

There was certainly no shortage of blood-letting again in the Premier League this weekend, as some teams scored at will:

– Chelsea has run rampant over the dregs of the division, following their 6-0 drubbing of West Brom with the same scoreline against sorry Wigan, who lost 4-0 to Blackpool in Week 1.

– Blackpool came crashing down to earth when they had their arses handed to them by Arsenal, 6-0.

– After doing a number on West Ham in the first week, a James Milner-less Villa was sent to the showers by new boys Newcastle… again, 6-0.

– Once-mighty Liverpool (well, not lately, I admit) were sent crawling back to Merseyside after losing to New Chelsea, er, Manchester City, 3-0.

For Liverpool and Aston Villa, success has been fleeting of late. The parallels are too hard to ignore. Both are massive clubs that are now in the hands of American owners, unwilling — or unable — to spend Big Four money (and make no mistake, yesterday’s loss is a clear sign that Liverpool are no longer a top-four club). Both have had their managers leave in the off-season, unhappy with the economic restraints on their team. And both have had to deal with wantaway players whose contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Milner suits up for City

I can’t help thinking that Villa’s humiliation is the end result of Milner’s long, drawn-out transfer saga with Premier League poachers Man City. The Blue Side of Manchester have been kit disturbers since Sheikh money started to roll in. Martin O’Neill was furious last year after Citeh-slickers started to whisper in the ears of Gareth Barry, tempting him away from the Midlands.

Or just ask Everton’s David Moyes. Joleon Lescott made it clear that his one-off fluke season was good enough to earn him a spot at a “bigger club.” Contract? Schmontract. Away he goes, and it took until after Christmas for the Toffees to get over the loss and settle into a new groove.

But it’s one thing to bitch and moan about where you work, it’s another not to show up at all. Yesterday, perpetual cry-baby Javier Mascherano decided he would not play for Liverpool, in light of the club’s refusal to accept an offer from Barcelona.

How ironic is it that one of the players offered up for the Argentine is Alexander Hleb. You’ll recall the Belarusian went to the Nou Camp two years ago, after pouting his way out of Arsenal. He failed to find a spot and is now transfer bait. Clap. Clap. Clap.

The Reds won’t be bullied into the deal. Good for them.  But this trend of leaving teams when things aren’t going your way is disturbing. Barcelona and Real have been the biggest offenders lately, trying to tempt players to switch shirts: think Mascherano and Fabregas this year, as well as Ronaldo and Alonso in seasons past. But Manchester United have also been known to upset the football cart, as did Chelsea when Russian mob oil money started to flow in.

The Bosman rule was created so that players could have a say in where they went… either by leaving on a free, or by nixing a deal to another team if they didn’t like it.

But stomping your feet and refusing to play when you’ve signed on the dotted line is bad for your teammates, it’s bad for the fans and it’s bad for the game. It isn’t just bad business…

It’s a bloody disgrace.

Brent Lanthier

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Consider the Gaffer

"I'm thinking of a player between 1 and 10..."

The half-truths, the innuendo, the egos… I can’t wait.

Mad Men’s season premiere is tonight.

But there is also this nebulous time in the football world — after the World Cup, but before the league seasons start — where players, agents, managers and the media all say the most outrageous things in the hopes that they’ll come true. It’s very Geppetto-esque… like wishing that Cristiano Ronaldo will someday become a real boy.

'Arry orders another drink before speaking to the press

First of all, managers are scrambling to strengthen their squads, while hoping to outsmart their opponents. Witness ‘Arry’s backhanded compliment towards Manchester City.

The gaffers also have the task of trying to keep their stars happy and at home. Arsene Wenger has had to beat off Barcelona with a stick for Cesc Fabregas.  West Ham has had to put a ridiculous price tag on Scott Parker.  And sadly, some clubs are willing to pay absurd amounts just to pry a player away, with Manchester City assuming the role of Cheslea, circa 2004 — or Real Madrid, years 2000 to the present. More on them in a second.

Of course, some managers get by on good old-fashioned wits and salesmenship. Just ask Joe Cole.  But even though Roy Hodgson has done a little bit of transfer magic, it still might not be enough to keep Fernando Torres on Merseyside. And before you can sweet-talk a player, you have to be able to actually talk to him first.

The Special One starts his freshman season at Real Madrid, with pockets as deep as he had when he was in London’s West End.   So of course, the media has linked Jose Mourinho to everyone in the football world, on every team, ever.

Meanwhile, the man who wanted Mourinho’s new job — but got his old one instead — will have to show that he can build on last year’s treble success, and basically not f#ck things up.  Good luck, Rafa, you’ll need it.  And you thought the English press was bad… look for more rants this season.

The one manager who has remained suprisingly quiet in all of this is Sir Alex Ferguson.  True, he had to offer Dolph Lundgren-look-alike Nemanja Vidic a new contract to keep the other vultures away.  But SAF has only bought two players — Javier Hernandez and Fulham’s Chris Smalling.  Maybe Sir Alex is revelling in the fact that Manchester United only had five players away at the World Cup — six, if you count Hernandez — and none of them made it out of the second round.  Get yer rest boys, yer going to need it.

Speaking of Sir Alex, At The Rails’ own Ian Harrison wrote a lovely piece on the man for Toro Magazine on Fergie’s ties to our home and native land.

But until the leagues begin, I’ve got a bit of Mad Men to watch. And now for a gratuitous picture of Christina Hendricks.  Because I can…

Football? What football?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Starting XI

Brent Lanthier

After one of the closest seasons in years, the EPL produced some breakout superstars, as well as some familiar faces who are almost guaranteed to perform.  Here is my dream team for 2009-10.


Brent’s choice for Player of the Year. Sorry, Wayne…

GK: Joe Hart (Birmingham City)
Despite facing the third most shots in the League, Hart still had the second best save percentage, and starting every game in his loan to Birmingham. At 23, he is simply a better keeper than Shay Given, which says a lot. Look for Man City to tighten up at the back as Hart returns to Lancashire.

On the bench: Brad Friedel (Aston Villa), Petr Cech (Chelsea)

LB: Patrice Evra (Manchester United)
France’s newly crowned capitaine, Evra is a left-back who is a pure defender. Fierce and fiery, the Senegalese-born defender has disrupted the attack of many a right winger this season, and turned play around quickly on the counter-attack.

On the bench: Leighton Baines (Everton)

CB: Richard Dunne (Aston Villa)
One of Martin O’Neill’s most important pieces of business last year was the purchase of Manchester City’s former captain, Richard Dunne. The mighty Irishman is simply scary, but he’s also a leader on the pitch and proved invaluable in Villa’s drive for European football.

CB: John Terry (Chelsea)
Despite all of Captain Schtupping’s off-field problems, Terry eventually regained his composure to captain Chelsea to the rare double. Despite the unfortunate game against Everton, despite the sending off against Tottenham, and despite the poor showing against Inter Milan, Terry is still the bedrock of one of the best defences in the Premier League.

On the bench: Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jody Craddock (Wolverhampton)

RB: Carlos Cuellar (Aston Villa)
The Spanish defender is a centre-half-cum-right-back, a common occurance in a league that seems to have little regard for the position. Picked up by Villa from Glasgow Rangers, Cuellar is the only member of Martin O’Neill’s preferred starting XI to not have been capped by his country. Villa will likely buy a natural RB after South Africa, but Cuellar has done an admirable job out of position.

On the bench: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

LW: Florent Malouda (Chelsea)
This Frenchman experienced a rebirth under Carlo Ancelotti. He was utilized as defensive midfielder — and even a left back — under Avram Grant and Big Phil Scolari. But this season, he had 14 goals and 10 assists, and was an important part of Chelsea’s double-winning season.

On the bench: Ashley Young (Aston Villa)

CM: Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Twenty-two goals and 14 assists, Lampard is the complete player, year in and year out. He’s the engine of HMS Chelsea.

CM: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
Arsenal’s captain and best player at only 23 years old, the Gunners suffered when he got injured. Arsene Wenger needs to hang on to the Catalan in order to maintain his club’s Champions League spot.

On the bench: James Milner (Aston Villa), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)

RW: Antonio Valencia (Manchester United)
This Ecuadorian had a bit of a slow start, but he came round once the season began to pick up.  The mirror image of Ryan Giggs on the right side, Valencia is a playmaker, spraying the ball with lethal accuracy, while picking up a smattering of goals along the way.  Wayne Rooney has said that Valencia is the reason why he scored so many goals this year. Shades of a posh former United player….

On the bench: Dirk Kuyt (Liverpool)

F: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
What else can be said about the Scouser in Manc clothing? He runs at defenders, he never gives up, he finds ways to score. One of the best players in the world.

F: Didier Drogba (Chelsea)
His World Cup-ending injury is a loss to football fans everywhere. This year’s Golden Boot winner simply wills his way into the box. His humanitarian efforts alone would make him easy to cheer for, if he didn’t pout so much, or engage in so many false theatrics.

On the bench: Darren Bent (Sunderland), Carlos Tevez (Manchester City)

That’s it for the Prem until next month. We’ll see how the trades play out over the summer. Enjoy the World Cup!

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Best of the Prem: Arsenal to Bolton

Brent Lanthier

Oh look, I finally put my name on an article! This is a five-part series on picks for each Premier League team’s player of the season. The reasons why they were picked, what the future holds for each player, as well as their World Cup prospects (if any!).

In the fifth piece, I’ll pick my Team of the Year, as well as Player of the Year. Most of you won’t be happy….

Arsenal: Francesc Fabregas (ESP)
The Gunners’ captain missed the last six weeks of the season with a broken fibula and his team definitely missed him. Arsenal only won two of their last seven games, including a humbling 4-1 loss to Barcelona, followed by losses to hated rivals Tottenham at the Emirates… and then to lowly Wigan.

Future: There are reports that Arsene Wenger called the Catalonian at home in a last-ditch plea to keep him from bolting back to Barcelona.

World Cup-bound? Yes. But this EPL Player of the Year candidate will likely start on Del Bosque’s bench, behind Barcelona’s formidable midfield duo of Xavi and Iniesta.

Aston Villa: Gabriel Agbonlahor (ENG)
“Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby, Gabby Agbonlahor. He’s f#cking fast, he’s f####cking faaaaaast.”
Sung to the tune of Karma Chameleon, the Villa fans colourfully sum up the skills of the speedy scorer. Agbonlahor led the club in goals, on a talented team that should have scored more. Critics say Gabby himself should have done better, given the amount of times he went through defenders. Brad Friedel gets honourable mention here: he faced more shots than 75% of Premier League keepers, yet Villa was fourth in goals against.

Future: Rumours of a move to Man City are likely just talk for Agbonlahor, a native Brummie.

World Cup-bound? No. There’s really only three spots up front after Rooney. With Jermaine Defoe playing the role of speedy striker, teammate Emile Heskey adding some heft up front, and Darren Bent having both speed and size, Agbonlahor never really stood a chance.

Birmingham City: Joe Hart (ENG)
An injured Shay Given means Man City will recall on-loan Joe Hart. But what a season. Birmingham was expected to rebound back to the Championship. But despite facing the third-most shots in the Premier League, Hart backstopped Brum to eighth place, with the Blues being especially stingy at St. Andrew’s.

Future: The numbers say Joe Hart is a better keeper than Shay Given, and he could be one more important piece in Man City’s Champions League puzzle.

World Cup-bound? Yes, yes, yes. This writer thinks Joe Hart will get the Go signal from Don Fabio, over Robert Green and too-old Calamity James.

Blackburn Rovers: Ryan Nelsen (NZ)
It was a toss-up between Nelsen and the resurgent David Dunn. But in the end , the 32-year-old captain for both Blackburn and New Zealand won out. Hard without being dirty, the central defender was third in scoring on a typically boring Allardyce team.

Future: After Rovers’ surprising ninth-place finish, Big Sam is unlikely to deal his defensive lynch pin. However, an exceptional showing by New Zealand in the World Cup could thrust Nelsen into the spotlight, and onto the auction block.

World Cup-bound? Yes. Nelsen will be the All Whites’ keystone in South Africa.

Bolton Wanderers: Jussi Jaaskelainen (FIN)
Owen Coyle escaped the drop when he swapped Lancashire clubs, and he can thank Jaaskelainen for helping him escape again. The big Finn faced more shots than any other keeper in the Prem. But it’s not a good sign for a side when their best player is the goalkeeper. Despite Bolton’s 14th place finish, they’ll likely have to battle local rivals Wigan to avoid the relegation next season.

Future: Jaaskelainen has been Bolton’s go-to man for a decade. With over 400 games under his belt, the Finn should retire in the black and white.

World Cup-bound? No. Finland failed to qualify on the back of losses to Russia, and a draw against Liechenstein. Jaaskelainen retired from international competition at the end of qualifiers.

Up Next: Burnley to Hull City

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