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Where in the World Is…?

Matt Broderick discovers Football Manager
Matthew Broderick discovers Football Manager

Shall we play a game? Let’s play Find the Winning Manager.  Wouldn’t you rather play a nice game of FIFA 2015? Later… let’s play Find the Winning Manager.

It’s not Global Thermonuclear War, but the managerial shuffle  in Europe’s biggest leagues sometimes feels like the end of the world for football fans.  What makes the hiring and firings of managers so frustrating is the constant recycling of coaches who have never won anything.  Nada.  Zip.  Sixty-year-old Big Sam Allardyce is on his sixth English club, four of them in the Premier League. Yet he has won exactly zero trophies.  Tony Pulis? He’s 57 and on his eighth club.   Hull City is 54-year-old Steve Bruce’s seventh club as a manager…nothing.  Let’s not even talk about Serie A…

A club’s choice of manager is an obvious reflection of its ambition, and it has to be disheartening to see your team hiring a gaffer who’s been run out of his previous job.  Yet there are coaches who have winners’ medals for major European and domestic trophies, but are not currently in charge of a team.

So this week, let’s play Find the Winning Manager.  Here are the rules:

1) The manager must have won a major domestic or European trophy in the last 20 years.  That means Champions League, UEFA Cup/Europa League or Cup Winners’ Cup in Europe,  one of the top five domestic leagues (Spain, England, Germany, Italy or France… sorry Portugal) or one of those leagues’ major knockout trophies.  I’m biased so I’ve included the English League Cup, just to show you the dearth of winning English managers.  Oh and Super Cups don’t count.

2) The manager must not be leading a club.  This includes serving as an executive ie. Gérard Houllier at New York Red Bulls.

3) The candidate must be under the age of 65 by the end of the domestic season, just to counter the “oh he’s too old” argument.

Alvarez: Pushed aside by Sevilla

Alvarez: Pushed aside by Sevilla

Antonio Álvarez
Age: 59
Nationality: Spanish
Honours: 2010 Copa del Rey with Sevilla

Okay, we might be starting with a bit of a dodgy example.  Antonio Álvarez was a club legend who became essentially a caretaker manager; he was Sevilla’s assistant coach when Manolo Jiménez was sacked, and took charge of Los Rojiblancos who were in fifth place with 10 games left… oh, and still had to play a Copa del Rey final.  Álvarez led them into a final Champions League position, and then a 2-0 win over Atlético Madrid for Sevilla’s second King’s Cup in four years.   But two nail-biting losses to Braga in UCL qualifying that summer, followed by a 1-0 home loss to Paris-Saint Germain and a mediocre 2-2-1 start to La Liga season, and Álvarez was out.   Who knows how influential he was?  Think of him as a Spanish version of Roberto Di Matteo.

Elie-BaupÉlie Baup
Age: 59
Nationality: French
Honours: 1999 Division 1 Champions with Bordeaux

“*Blitzkreig” Baup won the French league in his first year in charge of Les Girondins, and then leading them to a top-four finish in all but one of the next four seasons, while picking up a League Cup along the way.   But after a disasterous start to the 2003-2004 campaign, Bordeaux let him go.  An unimpressive stint at Saint-Étienne then led to his move to Toulouse in 2006, when he led the constantly relegation-threatened club to third place and a Champions League spot.   He moved onto Nantes and then Marseille, taking over from Didier Deschamps in 2012.  The mighty Marseille had finished a lowly 10th spot when Deschamps left; yet again, Baup moved in and guided his club into a Champions League spot.   But again, poor results last season got him the sack.   He’s been without a job just over a year… surely there must be something for him in England.

*Not his real nickname, to my knowledge

18FEB11LuisFernandez_800x600_t325Luis Fernández
Age: 55
Nationality: French
Honours: 1995 Coupe de France, 1996 Cup Winners’ Cup with Paris Saint-Germain

Luis Fernández is another example of a young manager whose career sputtered after a flash of brilliance.  The Spanish-born Frenchman left Cannes at 34 years old to coach in the capital, and led PSG to two domestic cups, a third-place league finish, and a Champions League semi-final.   The following year, he would win what is still PSG’s only major European Trophy, the Cup Winners’ Cup.  He then left for Spain  where he guided Athetic Bilbao to its best finish in 14 years.   But a few mid-table seasons later, then a return to PSG,  was followed by some more work in France, Spain and Israel (including with the national team).  Fernández has not managed since 2011; just this week, he told French media that he wants to return to coaching.


pacoflores169Paco Flores

Age: 62
Nationality: Spanish
Honours: 2000 Copa del Rey with Espanyol.

Señor Espanyol himself, Paco Flores spent almost 20 years — off and on — managing at the club’s various levels.  His first real managing job was filling in for the fired Miguel Ángel Brindisi, coming up from the youth side in 2000 to lead Espanyol away from the relegation zone and winning the club’s first Copa del Rey in 60 years.  He then got Real Zaragoza promoted,  and followed that with stints in lower-league Almería and then Gimnàstic, who got relegated in 2007.   Flores hasn’t coached since… and at 62 years old, he may have decided to stay away from the benches.

Gotta love the Predator years...

Gotta love the Predator years…

Ruud Gullit
Age: 52
Nationality: Dutch
Honours: 1997 FA Cup with Chelsea

One of the world’s best players during the 1980’s, Ruud Gullit won trophies in every country in which he played.  But he will forever be in Dutch hearts as the captain of the Netherlands team that won the 1988 European Championship against the hated Germans.  So it was a natural sight to see him transition from Chelsea player to player-manager in 1996.  The move paid off: he led his side to Chelsea’s first FA Cup in 27 years.  But disagreements with owner Ken Bates led to his sacking, despite the Blues riding high in the tables.   Gullit then moved to Newcastle United and lasted exactly one disasterous season, with rumours abounding about Gullit’s “lifestyle” issues in the notoriously fun-filled city.  The Dutchman didn’t get another managerial position for five years, taking over back home at Feyenoord, but lasted less than a season.  Two years later, he moved to MLS, coaching David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy.  There reports of clashes with the team’s big players meant he was out… again after less than a year.  Gullit spent six months in Chechnya (Chechnya?!?) at Terek Grozny but was again shown the door.  That was in 2011… still no takers.

Coming Up Tomorrow:  Five more managers, including a 2014 World Cup manager without a job, and possibly the scariest coach in the game.

Brent P. Lanthier

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Best of the Prem 2014: Everton to Man City

"And then Moyes says, 'Boss, can I have my old job back?"...

“And then Moyes says, ‘Boss, can I have my old job back?”…

This edition features three players  who made the Top 10 of Premier League scorers and who are all headed for the World Cup.  The other two fought to keep their clubs above water… and only one was successful.

Lukaku back-handed Mourinho all season

Lukaku back-handed Mourinho all season

EVERTON
Romelu Lukaku (BEL) – David Who? Roberto Martinez’ reputation as the manager who won a trophy but lost a relegation battle is done.  Gone in a season.  The Spaniard’s brand of attacking football ensured that it wasn’t just the red side of Stanley Park that earned the city’s new nickname of “Liver-lona”.   The goals and the passing were a welcome change from Moyes’ cautious approach… and it was made possible with many of Moyes’ men.  But a trio of loan signings pushed the Toffees into overdrive:  Gerard Deulofeu from Barcelona, Gareth Barry from Manchester City… and Chelsea’s odd-man out, Romelu Lukaku.  Heads shook when José Mourinho let the big Belgian go out on loan again… and then poo-poo’ed his performance.  But surely Chelsea could have used him.  Lukaku scored 16 goals in 32 games, a rate of 50%.  Chelsea’s highest scorer — Eden Hazard — managed 17 in 55 matches.   Martinez will need to bring back Lukaku back to Goodison Park on a permanent basis… or he could go back to being known as the young manager from Wigan.

Sidwell's ginger superpowers couldn't save Fulham from the drop

Sidwell’s ginger superpowers couldn’t save Fulham from the drop

FULHAM 
Steve Sidwell (ENG) – Let’s just come right out with it:  Fulham were awful.  The Cottagers woefully capitulated, six seasons after Woy’s Great Escape in 2008. From 2009 to 2013, they finished no lower than 12th.  This was the little club that could.  But going through three managers in a season — the last being known as a touchline tyrant — and you have to think morale and attitude is going to suffer a wee bit.   However, Steve Sidwell held his head up and led the team in scoring, as well as fouls committed.  He gave his all in a losing effort, unlike £11m Kostas Mitroglou, who only played a single game.

Elmo: A Tiger on the wing

Elmo: A Tiger on the wing

HULL CITY
Ahmed Elmohamady (EGY)  – A Steve Bruce-managed team tends not to be a forward’s paradise.  Hull City did not break that mould… with no player scoring more than five goals.  But even though Ahmed Elmohamady only put two past England’s goalkeepers, Bruce remembered what ‘Elmo’ does from his time at Sunderland.  The Egyptian runs and cuts up the right side, stretching defenders’ lines while his team mates get into position.  Let’s see what he can do on Sunday at Wembley.

Unbelievable... for so many reasons

Unbelievable… for so many reasons

LIVERPOOL 
Luis Suarez (URU) – In Liverpool’s annus mirabilis, one man leads the way.  Love him or hate him (and there are many people in either camp), Luis Suarez is one of the top five players in the world right now.  What other player — who isn’t named Ronaldo or Messi — could miss the first six matches of the season, and then go on to tie the Premier League’s record for goals in a 38-game season?  If Steven Gerrard is the heart of the club, and Brendan Rodgers is its brains… then Suarez is the Liverpool FC’s cojones.

Toure puts "The Man" in Man City

Toure puts “The Man” in Man City

MANCHESTER CITY 
Yaya Touré (IVO) – On a side containing some of the most expensive players in the world, how does one pick the best? Actually, it wasn’t that hard.  This team was supposed to dominate in the post-Ferguson era of the Premier League — and it did in spots — but many personnel underperformed at times (losses to Villa and Cardiff, only one point off of Sunderland, failure to beat Chelsea).  Luckily for new manager Manuel Pellegrini, he had Yaya Touré.  The big Ivorian was the man in the middle, City’s version of Steven Gerrard who pulled his team up by the suspenders when it faltered.  Touré led his club in Premier League goals and is the first midfielder to score 20 since Frank Lampard.  He’s fun to watch… unless City are playing your team.

Brent P. Lanthier

Up Next: Manchester United to Stoke City

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Best of the Prem: Newcastle United to Sunderland

Mere seconds later, Chelsea staff tried to explain to Frank that there was no chocolate inside…

Part three of the series comes in the shadow of some event that occurred in Munich, where Chelsea won some minor trophy or other.  Congratulations to the Blues on their European victory (he mumbled, with his head tucked into his chest as he half-heartedly kicked at stones).

And now for something completely different…

Demba, take a Ba… er, bow…

NEWCASTLE UNITED
Demba Ba (SEN) – When the Geordies sold off Kevin Nolan, Jose Enrique and local hero Andy Carroll, the St. James faithful screamed for owner Mike Ashley’s head.  Fast forward a year, and Ashley looks like a genius.  Part of that is down to the arrival of Alan Pardew.  But the purchase of Senegalese forwards Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse for a pittance was a revelation.  And while Ba’s production tapered off with Cissé’s arrival in February, it was because Ba was willing to play the no. 10 that created Cisse’s industry in front of goal.  Note that you didn’t hear as much as a little Ba peep about the position change either…

Canary at the goal line…

NORWICH CITY
Russell Martin (SCO) – You have to give credit to Paul Lambert.  He could have parked the bus and hope that Norwich hovered above the relegation zone.  Instead, the Canaries played the same free-flowing football as they did in their Championship campaign, finishing a very decent 12th.  The downside was that their defence had to endure a few humiliations.  But right-back Martin was ever present, playing out of position in the centre, where he withstood more than one onslaught.  Sure, Grant Holt scored the goals but Russell Martin typifies Norwich City’s season… and he hasn’t requested a transfer either.

Thumbs down for QPR, indeed.

QUEEN’S PARK RANGERS
Bobby Zamora (ENG) – Zamora was having a decent season… until he moved up the road to QPR during the transfer window. But who else do we pick? Helguson, maybe? Cisse showed flashes of brilliance when he wasn’t sitting out suspensions. Taarabt or Barton? I think not…  Zamora it is, then.

Etherington’s bored face

STOKE CITY
Matthew Etherington (ENG) – I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Stoke City aren’t that good.  The myth that they are tough to break down is bull. Their defence was in the lower half of the table, and their keepers faced a barrage of shots. Meanwhile, their offence was the worst in the league, save for one of the Potters’ bright lights: Matthew Etherington.  The winger ran at defences and provided crosses… well, as much as Tony Pulis let him.  Etherington should have received at least an invite from Roy Hodgson, especially when you consider who will be playing on the left for England this summer.

Sessegnon loves Sunderland… and jazz hands.

SUNDERLAND
Stéphane Sessègnon (BEN) – When Steve Bruce picked Sebastien Larsson from the ashes of Birmingham City’s season, I thought it was a shrewd move… and the Swede didn’t disappoint.  But Sessègnon (who is from Benin.  Where is Benin? It’s not quite Togo, it’s not quite Nigeria… but it comes with a slice of cantaloupe at the end) was the engine for Sunderland.  He scored the same amount of goals as Larsson but set up many more, including two in an effort against Manchester City that almost derailed the Citizens’ championship run.  The club awarded him Player of the Season and it was well-deserved.

Brent Lanthier

Up Next: Swansea City to Wolverhampton Wanderers

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Best of the Premier League: Manchester City to Sunderland

Bent's departure left a bitter taste in Bruce's mouth.

They are now the Kings of England, the most winning club side in domestic history. But Manchester United captured their 19th league title with arguably their weakest side since they started claiming silverware again in 1990. Here is my pick from that team, along with four others.

Tevez: The footballing version of Kung-Fu's Kane...

MANCHESTER CITY
Carlos Tevez (ARG)— Should he stay or should he go? Despite clashing reports of where Tevez will play next season, there was no doubt that the Argentine was the head of a very gifted (and expensive) class. He shared the Golden Boot with Dimitar Berbatov this year, but it just feels like Tevez deserved it more. He scored more in all competitions… and he scored in more games as well.

Vidic won Barclay's Player of the Season

 
MANCHESTER UNITED
Nemanja Vidic (SER) — It may seem strange to not pick a Golden Boot winner on a Championship team, but Berbatov seemed like a poacher to Vidic’s Big Game hunter. The Serb terrorized attacking opponents, while scoring five of his own. He has eclipsed Ferdinand in the backfield, earning him the captain’s armband.
 
 

Nolan keeps puffing away for the Geordies

NEWCASTLE UNITED
Kevin Nolan (ENG) — Nolan’s production tapered off after the departure of Andy Carroll, and he missed the last part of the campaign through injury. But the former Bolton player captained the newly-promoted Magpies to 12th place (it would have been ninth if not for a collapse on the final day to West Brom). Many argue that a club as big as Newcastle should aim high… but this is a team in constant chaos with a nefarious owner. A glut of young options in Fabio Capello’s midfield means Nolan will likely never earn an England cap. Pity.

Slack-jawed Shawcross is bound for Europe

STOKE CITY
Ryan Shawcross (ENG) — Here’s a shock: Stoke’s best player is a defender. Tony Pulis’ side is boring and negative, but they got the job done. Shawcross captained the Potters to a surprise FA Cup final, earning them a taste of Europe next season. Shawcross was one of the most penalized players in the Prem… fitting for a Stoke team that puts the Pulis in “pugilist”.

Will Henderson follow Bent out the door?

SUNDERLAND
Jordan Henderson (ENG) — You can’t help but tie Sunderland’s fortunes to the departed Darren Bent.  Before he left, the Black Cats were chugging along in a very nice seventh place.  But then he went south, and so did Sunderland’s fortunes.  The good news is that Steve Bruce was able to rely on young Henderson for the entire season.  The bad news is that the big clubs are knocking on the door of Wearside… and Henderson may follow them through it.

Tomorrow: Tottenham Hotspur to Wolverhampton Wanderers
Wednesday: My Premier League Starting XI.

Brent Lanthier

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The Best of Times, The Blurst of Times

Do Wolves have any legs left?

Call it the Year of the Keystone Kops… a season where clubs have been stumbling over each other to fail.   So forget about Manchester United’s mediocre march to the title (and don’t tell me they’re up for the double by winning Big Ears.  If Schalke doesn’t surprise them, Real or Barca will certainly dispatch them with maximum efficiency).  Forget about Arsenal finding new and novel ways to self-destruct, sending Arsene Wenger further along the road to Nutterville. Chelsea are old.  Man Citeh’s millions couldn’t buy a team.  ‘Arry’s mighty offence petered out.  Liverpool were already falling down the hill.  And as usual, David Moyes’ Everton started too late to matter.

So with the exception of the FA Cup final — whose implications for Europe require an engineering degree to calculate — I’m watching the relegation battle that potentially involves half the league.

Two points separate seven teams: Newcastle, Aston Villa, West Brom, Fulham, Stoke City, Sunderland and Birmingham.  All sit relatively safe.  Next are Blackburn and Wigan in the two spots above the relegation zone that currently contains Blackpool, West Ham and Wolves.  Newcastle and Villa (at 10th and 11th, respectively) have reached the so-called magic number of 40 points.  For the others, the next 5-6 games are critical.

Wide-eyed Woy widing high at WBA

I’m going to go out on a limb and say West Bromwich Albion are safe.  Saturday’s loss to Chelsea was their first under Roy Hodgson, and no club has scored more since his reign began. 

Hodgson’s legacy of going for the draw seems to be lingering at Fulham under Mark Hughes.  The Cottagers’ next two games are at bottom Wolves before they host Bolton, who are woeful on the road.  They should hit the 40-point mark no problem.

Stoke City and Birmingham are the Premier League’s little European embarrassments.  Birmingham is already in the Europa League, via their Carling Cup win… but whether Stoke qualifies is still up in the air.  If they win the FA Cup final, they are in.  If they lose but Citeh qualifies for the Champions League, they are in.  Otherwise the spot goes to the sixth-placed team… I think… carry the one…

Either way, both have not been playing well as of late, with each team only winning two games in their last eight.   The bad news for Stoke is that they must face three other relegation battlers — Blackpool, Wolves and Wigan — plus Arsenal and the aforementioned Citeh.  Birmingham must also face teams fighting for a spot in Europe.  I think they will both stay up… only because there are teams playing worse.  But if they drop, it means two of England’s three Europa clubs won’t be playing in the top-flight at home.

That leaves six teams fighting it out for three spots above the drop.  Wolverhampton Wanderers are 20th, but they will leapfrog Wigan into 17th if they win that game in hand against Stoke.  Many pundits say Wolves are too good to go down… and they took some serious scalps this season.  But despite their recent form, every single one of their remaining games is against a struggling club.  It could be tough going for Mick McCarthy’s men.

Bruce wonders where it went wrong

At the beginning of the season, I picked Wigan Athletic to drop, partly because they barely missed it last year… but mostly because I was irritated that such a small, unsupported club was taking up a Premier League spot.  They also have to play several games against strugglers… as well as a surging Everton.

West Ham United sit 19th.  I thought with the addition of Demba Ba, they might have a fighting shot at making it out alive.  But they remain ensconced in the drop zone due to their inability to go for the jugular.

It’s the three remaining clubs that have the most to worry about.  Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool and Sunderland have been dropping like stones.  Blackburn have performed poorly since the departure of Big Sam Allardyce.  Blackpool and Sunderland seem to be on opposite sides of a mirror.  The Black Cats haven’t been the same since they lost their best player in Darren Bent; the Tangerines have suffered without cashing in on Charlie Adam.  Out of the three clubs, only Blackpool has won a game since the end of January.

In such a topsy-turvy season, I still think we are in for some surprises on the final day of the season… on both ends of the table.  It’s either the best season in years… or English football is at it’s most mediocre.

By the way, here are my picks for the drop: Wigan, Blackpool, West Ham.

Brent Lanthier

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World Cup Payday

The best way I’ve heard the World Cup described is that it’s a sprint, not a marathon. In a sport where the best players on the biggest club teams often have to play a 50+ match season, seven games over a month isn’t a lot — and it may not be the best way to judge a player’s ability.

Scouting for the big clubs is a now a world-wide affair and it’s rare that a player is unknown.  But a great tournament performance can be too irresistible for some teams to pass up. Sometimes it works… and sometimes it doesn’t. Witness then-Liverpool manager Gerrard Houllier’s ill-chosen signings from the 2002 Senegal team.

Still… if you base it on their World Cup performances, here’s 10 players who have earned a change of scenery.

Forlan's Golden Ball may earn him a golden handshake

Diego Forlan (URU)
Current Club: Atletico Madrid
This tournament’s Golden Ball winner, Forlan is coming off a Europa League win as well. He has excelled since leaving the Premier League and says he won’t go back. Look for Juventus to make an offer as Atletico tries to raise funds for defensive players.

Luis Suarez (URU)
Current Club: Ajax Amsterdam
Suarez played well off of Forlan, and scored some lovely goals before the hand-ball “incident”. He is rumoured to be a part of Ajax’s restructuring i.e. massive sell-off that already has Martin Jol seeing red.

Maxi Pereira (URU)
Current Club: Benfica Lisbon
This writer’s pick for right-back of the tournament, Pereira ran rampant on the flank. He scored against the Dutch, while clocking up 66 kilometres in six games. With natural fullbacks at a premium in the Prem, perhaps Senor Pereira might head north for the winter…

Carlos Salcido (MEX)
Current Club: PSV Eindhoven
The left-back led his national team in shots at this World Cup, including a close one off the crossbar against Argentina. A highly-rated player, even ‘Arry tried to sign him.  Rumours are that Roberto Martinez will try to bring him to Wigan.

Fabio Coentrao (POR)
Current Club: Benfica Lisbon
Only 22 years old, Coentrao was amazing on the left flank, slotted in as a fullback but playing like a winger. There is already talk that fellow countryman Jose Mourinho will pluck him from Lisbon and drop him into Madrid. Rumours are also swirling that Chelsea buying him as a replacement for Ashley Cole.

Justo Villar (PAR)
Current Club: Real Valladolid (Spanish 2nd Division)
Villar allowed only two goals all tournament — and one of them was David Villa’s weird-ass goal that went off the post three times. Villar also blocked a re-taken penalty kick and, in the match against Japan, denied the swarming Keisuke Honda a goal. Plus, he’s wanted out of his newly-relegated club since last season.

John Mensah (GHA)
Current Club: Olympique Lyonnais
What are the odds? Ghana’s central defence consisted of Johnathan Mensah —  who plays for Udinese — and Lyon’s John Mensah. Confusing, non? What’s not confusing is John’s next probable destination. He played 15 games for Sunderland on-loan last season — even scoring a goal and Steve Bruce would like to bring him back.  But it would likely have to be on loan again because of Mensah’s injury problems.

Robinho (BRA)
Current Club: Manchester City
Robinho spent last season on loan back in his native Brazil, due to a falling out with Citeh manager, Roberto Mancini. After a very decent performance alongside Luis Fabiano, it’s likely that Robinho will never return to Manchester. There are rumours he could be used as trade bait for Inter Milan’s Balotelli, or to pry young Brazilian star Neymar from Santos.

Mesut Ozil (GER)
Current Team: Werder Bremen
Everyone and their mother seem to be keen on Germany’s playmaker. The 21-year-old Ozil has been valued at 15 million pounds by Bremen. After scoring a goal — and helping on three others — he may be worth it.

Klose may still have wind in his wings...

Miroslav Klose (GER)
Current Club: Bayern Munich
This old warhorse had a great World Cup, scoring some unattractive but not unappreciated goals. He has vowed to remain in Munich for the last year of his contract, but after only starting 12 times last season due to injury, Klose has a tough fight on his hands. A stellar domestic season by first-choice Ivica Olic — and an astounding international debut by Thomas Muller — means it may be in Klose’s best interests to find another team.

Brent Lanthier

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Best of the Prem: Sunderland to Wolves

Brent Lanthier

Here are my final picks for each club’s player of the year.  Get your own blog if you don’t like it.  I’m just kidding, please don’t stop reading ours. I have to send my imaginary kids to private schools…

Sunderland: Darren Bent (ENG)
Deemed surplus to ‘Arry’s requirements at Spurs, Darren Bent pulled a Tevez and shot out of the gates. The former Charlton player proved Redknapp — and his grandmother — wrong by coming third in the Premier League’s scoring race. In fact, his 24 goals accounted for half of the club’s production for the entire year. He was the only Black Cat to start every single League game.

Future:  Without Bent, Sunderland has no offence — Kenwyne Jones notwithstanding — and Steve Bruce knows it.  He’s not going anywhere.

World Cup-bound? No. Bent made Capello’s premliminary 30-man squad.  But he didn’t do much in the game against Japan, and likely blew his chance to impress Don Fabio, who was probably always going to take Heskey instead.

Tottenham Hotspur:
Jermain Defoe (ENG)
Spurs’ remarkable season saw them win admission to Europe’s top club competition for the first time in almost a half-century.  So it was always going to be a tough choice on who to pick, but White Hart Lane’s tiny prodigal son was just a bit special on a talented team. Defoe played only 17 full games all season, yet he scored twenty-four goals in all competitions. Sweet revenge for the player who was pushed out by Robbie Keane and Berbatov, both of whom wilted after seeking out greener pastures.

Future: Seemingly safe at Tottenham, Defoe seems to follow Redknapp whereever he goes.  So if ‘Arry gets it in his head to move again…

World Cup-bound? Yes. Defoe will likely start on the bench, but could be used as fresh — and fast — legs against tired defenders.

West Ham United: Robert Green (ENG)
I’ll repeat my warning: Beware when the best player on your team is your goalkeeper. The Hammers were dangerously close to the drop for much of the season, and it cost Gianfranco Zola his job. West Ham were a half-decent team on paper but failed to meet the sum of their parts.  But Green kept them in it, despite facing a barrage of shots.

Future: Let’s hope Avram Grant builds a half-decent defence in front of him.

World Cup-bound? Yes. He’s wearing the number 12 but could be England’s number one on June 12th. Only Fabio knows.

Wigan Athletic: Titus Bramble (ENG)
Yes, I’ll say it again. Titus Bramble. A central defender on the league’s second-worst defence? Check. A name who still causes Newcastle fans to shudder? Yep. But Bramble seems to have drastically improved his concentration under the stewardship of Roberto Martinez. Rodallega barely scored in the new year and N’Zogbia played with flair. But Bramble did his job for Wigan this season, clearing the ball when he had to, and generally not f#cking up.

Future: After being run out of Tyneside with pitchforks and torches, Bramble may have found a home, even if they get relegated next season.

World Cup-bound? Good God, no.

Wolverhampton Wanderers:
Jody Craddock (ENG)

You know your offence is pitiful when a 34-year-old centre back is your second-leading scorer. Club captain Craddock scored five of Wolves’32 Premier League goals this season. The fans’ Player of the Season, Craddock is a dependable defensive general who does his job.

Future: Craddock just signed a one-year contract extension with WW.

World Cup-bound? No, but he could have gotten a glimpse, just for fun.

That’s it for the best of the Premier clubs. Up next, I’ll give you my Starting XI.

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