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On Current Form is Harry Kane the Best Striker in the World?

On Current Form is Harry Kane the Best Striker in the World?

Image courtesy of Allan Slank via Flickr

Image courtesy of Allan Slank via Flickr

Harry Kane has had a great September like he always seems to have, but this year has been his most impressive, with the Englishman bagging 13 goals in eight appearances for both club and country. Scoring a perfect Hat-trick against Apoel Nicosia, to then scoring a superb curling finish as he scored a brace against Huddersfield – the academy graduate has left many footballing fans at the end of September pondering the same question: is Harry Kane the best striker in the world at the moment?

Two seasons after many pundits and footballing fans called him a one season wonder, Kane is on a mission to win the Premier League golden boot for a third successive season. He is currently on six in the league this season, which is joint second. Many would say he is a world class striker, competing with the likes of Cavani, Suarez, Benzema, Aguero and Lukaku (among others) is a great achievement, but is the fact that he is English is holding many back from classing him as the cream of the crop. You could argue that he is not currently the world’s best but he could achieve greatness in about 2-3 years. Currently Harry Kane is 24, so to achieve the number of goals he has is a great feat. Many argue that a player reaches his prime at around 27-28 years old, which could mean that somehow Harry Kane’s best is still yet to come.

Some of his statistics are fantastic, having scored 13 goals in a single month means he has surpassed Messi and Ronaldo in this stat, making his tally 23 goals for this calendar year which is nine away from Alan Shearer’s record. Kane will feel like in the couple of months remaining of the calendar he easily could surpass this; especially when he has scored 16 goals in seven away games.

A big impact to Harry Kane’s improvement over the last couple of years is the man managing the team, Mauricio Pochettino, who has taken Spurs from a fifth-seventh team to a positive top 4 team. With positive attacking football being built up from the back, and a great ten players around him, Harry Kane has been able to take his game to the next level. With direct players like Son and creative players like Eriksen and Dele Alli, Kane has a set of players behind him who will be able to give him many chances throughout a game, and most of these chances Kane will take, making a statement on how good he currently is.

So, what can Harry Kane do to be known as a world-class striker or as the best striker in the world – win trophies? Break more records? Or make a move to a bigger club where people are quicker to class players as a great talent just because of the club’s stature.

With Harry Kane scoring a 94th minute winner in a 1-0 win against Slovenia, somehow stretching onto a cross and poking it into the net, followed by a perfect penalty in the 1-0 win vs Lithuania, Harry Kane is carrying on his fine form in October and will hope to do so as domestic football starts again this weekend.

Do Modern Footballers Have Too Much Power Over Clubs?

With Diego Costa having finalised his move to Atlético Madrid, a transfer which he himself has forced through – are players starting to gain a newfound power capable of dictating when and where they want to play?

In January, the striker expressed his interest to leave the club, but Chelsea wanted to keep him for the season and now after months of speculation over the summer, the striker has secured a return to his former club. Chelsea manager Antonio Conte told Costa in pre-season that he was surplus to requirements and Chelsea’s star striker hasn’t been seen since.

The Spanish international was instrumental during last season’s campaign for Chelsea, scoring 20 goals to help them lift the title and this is part of the reason as to why he has decided to spend most of August in Brazil. Feeling that he was mistreated by Conte, Costa decided to take matters into his own hands, speaking to media and press about how he would only move to Atlético. Bids supposedly came through from the Chinese League and Chelsea wanted him to go but Costa refused, showing that in the world of modern football players seem to have more power than the club when it comes to where they want to end up playing.

We have had many examples of player power creating a huge impact on club decisions. During last season, Leicester City sacked Claudio Ranieri – a decision which shocked the footballing world. This was then made worse when it was claimed that key players such as Jamie Vardy and Kaspar Schmeichel had allegedly spoken to the chairman asking for him to be removed from his post.

There were also the examples of Virgil Van Dijk, Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez this summer, with all three wanting to transfer elsewhere but their clubs (Southampton, Liverpool and Arsenal respectively) all fought back, holding on to their players because they felt like they were too essential to let go. However, these players are now just starting to be in contention to play after various reasons for each of them not playing for their clubs for the first four game weeks.

It also now raises the question as to whether these players will perform at the highest level, with fans all knowing that they want to leave. So, in these situations, player power still seems to be a huge problem.

With today’s coverage of modern football, there always seems to be a problem where a player wants to move after hearing that a better club wants their signature. This causes a domino effect, leaving the club in sticky situations that they cannot control. Football chairmen now have a newfound problem which is getting bigger and bigger each transfer window and this problem doesn’t seem to have a solution.

Even though Costa wanted to leave, the way in which the whole situation has been dealt with is messy. If Chelsea could have kept him happy until they sold him he could have still been a key part to Chelsea’s season, but he is unsettled, so even if they wanted to play him, they wouldn’t have been able to because he wouldn’t turn up to training. This type of player power has been one of the strongest ones yet and shows that Diego Costa has not only evolved the way in which players will try and force a move but also shown how much power football players now have.

Will the Relentless Commercialisation of Sport Continue?

The monetisation of sport in the UK is hitting heights in 2016 that were scarcely conceivable just a few years ago.

Football has been revolutionised by the astronomical money that the Premier League TV deals have brought in. Cricket could be next, following a vote by English cricket counties that paves the way to the creation of an eight-team T20 Franchise competition that would be far more geared towards generating revenue.

The statistics are eye-watering. The summer transfer window outlay for Premier League clubs was an astounding £1.165 billion – breaking all previous records. The TV deal in place for the Premier League is worth an astonishing £10.4 billion. Manchester United recently recorded revenue of £515.3 million for 2016 – up from £395.2 million in 2015.

It seems that everyone is a winner in the world of football. Manchester United have the spending power to splash however much they want on whoever they want. Paul Pogba was signed for an incredible £89m – a world record. Pogba’s own £290,000-a-week wages make him the highest paid player in the Premier League. Even his agent, the erratic Mino Raiola, pocketed £20m from the Pogba deal alone.

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

The money set to change hands in cricket is dwarfed by the Premier League, with each country promised a measly £1.5 million a head in TV money – though it’s incredible to think that so much money seems a pittance. Yet consider the model that the English Cricket Board is looking to replicate – that of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and you realise the potential it has.

Cricket is the national sport of India, franchises are owned by celebrities, stadia fill out week-on-week and the biggest and best players are paid very handsomely for their participation. For this reason, it is nigh on impossible for the UK to emulate the IPL from a popularity perspective, or indeed for the money it generates.

The 2016 edition of the IPL was valued at over $4bn – a 19% jump from the previous year. Indeed, according to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the 2015 edition of the IPL contributed $182m to the GDP of the Indian economy. This is all the more remarkable given that the IPL runs for just seven weeks.

The money available for players in endorsements is also spectacular – Indian legend MS Dhoni pulled in $23m from endorsements alone in 2016 – taking his overall yearly earnings to just shy of $30m.

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

If the English version of the Indian Premier League can generate anywhere near the level of interest that the IPL does (a tough task given that cricket is comparatively low down the pecking order in this country) the financial rewards for players are unprecedented. It’ll be tough, but if they get it right, sponsors will flock and with serious financial clout it could really take off.

What this all means is that there is now more riding on sport than ever before. Sport has been elevated from an entertainment and a past time to a full blown and very serious business enterprise.

Brands, marketers, influencers – everyone is going to continue to want a bigger slice of the Premier League pie and other sports are following suit.

Cricket will be particularly fascinating to observe, as the very format of the game is being changed to accommodate fans and create a more marketable brand. T20 is all about excitement and implementing a franchise system will also offer far more lucrative and enticing advertising, sponsorship and marketing opportunities. There is even talk of looking to use a major venue like the Olympic Stadium to host a match – imagine if it came off – making a success of such an event could have a seismic effect on the sport and catapult it back into the mainstream.olympic-stadium

And yet the flip side of this is the risk that is now attached to sporting ventures. There is so much money being poured into sport that a wrong slip can lead to disaster, we have seen examples of football clubs (think Leeds and Portsmouth) succumb to mismanagement of their finances. With more money changing hands than ever before, it is worth wondering considering how long it may be until such a situation arises again.

Reputations also matter more than ever before. With so much money invested in clubs and players, brands and sponsors want to know that their investment is getting the respect and return they feel it deserves. The margin for error is miniscule and the potential ramifications of any mistake are substantial.

There is more at stake for sporting brands than ever before, but what this brings is opportunity. Manchester United are evidence of how a brand alone can now pull in extraordinary revenue, regardless of on-pitch achievements. Whether it is sustainable or not in the longer term, it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Leicester City: From the threat of relegation to the edge of glory in eight months

Image courtesy of Alex Hannam on Flickr

Image courtesy of Alex Hannam on Flickr

The Leicester City fairy-tale rolls on. Everyone said that they’d fade away, that Vardy or Mahrez would get injured, that the squad’s accumulative lack of experience would ultimately cost them England’s greatest footballing achievement. Yet none of these potentially derailing scenarios have come to fruition, and the Foxes sit atop of the pile, five points clear of Tottenham with just seven game weeks remaining. If they do go on and claim the club’s first Premier League title, there is no question that it would be regarded as the greatest footballing story ever known.

Exactly a year to the day, the Leicestershire side were bottom of the Premier League, six points adrift from safety and set for a return to English football’s second tier. However, a remarkable run of seven victories in their remaining nine games saw them comfortably steer clear of the dreaded drop to finish a credible fourteenth. Nigel Pearson, despite his somewhat questionable demeanour in the public eye, did a sterling job. It wasn’t enough to save him, however, and renowned Italian ‘tinker man’ Claudio Ranieri was entrusted with the formidable task of keeping the Foxes in the top tier.

Pre-season odds of 5000-1 to become champions reflected the widely thought belief that Leicester would again struggle, and even the few die-hard Leicester supporters who placed small sums on their beloved side to lift the title could not have possibly believed that they are on the verge of a handsome payday. Yet here we are, eight months later, with Leicester on the brink of the unthinkable.

The meteoric rise of Jamie Vardy from non-league to a Premier league record holder has been the story of the season, with even those in the glamorous film studios of Hollywood taking notice. A feature-length film is set to be made charting Vardy’s success, with his surreal season set to end in France, representing England in the upcoming European Championships. As well as Vardy, it is another relatively unknown player who has made Leicester’s unlikely season possible. Algerian Riyad Mahrez had played in England for two years before this fantastic campaign. Prior to the 15/16 season, Mahrez had just 7 goals in over 50 games for the club. This year, he has 16 goals and 11 assists and is being linked with a move to European giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Whereas Vardy and Mahrez have undoubtedly been Leicester’s two greatest performers this year, it is the work of the entire squad that has propelled them to the top. There are no egos such as Cristiano Ronaldo amongst this group of players. Not one considers himself too big for the club, and the unity between them is evident and a breath of fresh air.

It is not just the players that deserve credit however. Claudio Ranieri, one of the most experienced managers in the world of football, is on the verge of what would be his finest footballing achievement. The Italian, who has managed 16 clubs across Europe without one single league title, was considered a risk when he was appointed, with pundits and fans reacting in a mixed fashion. Yet Ranieri has proved many wrong with his heroics, playing an attractive brand of football as well as being defensively solid.

Ranieri has handled himself brilliantly, unnervingly composed in face of pressure created by the media, and managing to temper expectations by creating self-confidence amongst the players and a conviction in the team’s abilities. He knows when to put his arm over the shoulder and when to shout, proving himself both technically and psychologically. As a neutral, you can’t help but feel emotionally disposed towards him.  If Ranieri goes on to lead Leicester to the title it’ll surely be the greatest managerial feat in modern football.

Gary Lineker reacts to Ranieri's appointment on Twitter

Foxes Legend Gary Lineker reacts to Ranieri’s appointment on Twitter

Even if Leicester do not go on and win the title, it has been an incredible journey. They are all but guaranteed a place in next season’s leading European competition, and if you told Leicester fans at the start of this season that the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Neymar could be gracing the turf of the King Power come the 16/17 campaign, they’d never have believed you. From a business perspective, this season has propelled the club’s image into the top echelons of the footballing world, with supporters globally enthralled by the unlikely underdog story and buying into the ‘brand’ that Leicester City have become.

It is very important to stress that the title is far from won. Ranieri’s men still have a considerable amount of work to do before they can be crowned champions. Leicester must face four teams currently in the top 10, as well as Sunderland and Swansea who are scrapping for their lives at the foot of the table. An away day at Old Trafford will be tough, and can you imagine the story if, on the final day, Leicester face reigning champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge needing three points for the title? What greater incentive would Ranieri, sacked as Chelsea manager in 2004, have to win the championship at his former club in front of the Russian oligarch that brutally axed him as manager of the London club?

Each win sees an influx of belief and a ramping up of the pressure, but they have proved they can cope thus far. They have coped with the pressure well to this point, and with their closest rivals facing some tricky upcoming fixtures, Leicester will ultimately cross the line victorious. Whisper it quietly, but Leicester City are going to win the Premier League.

Steven Gerrard set to leave his boyhood club


Image Courtesy of senior agen,

Image Courtesy of senior agen,

The day that we all knew would come is finally here. Arguably Liverpool Football Club’s best ever player, and one of the greatest servants of the city, is set to hang up his famous number 8 shirt for the final time.

The news that Steven Gerrard is set to leave Liverpool Football Club for the MLS at the end of the season has the city divided. Fans are asking “Is he still capable of competing in the elite Premier League?” and “Surely this can’t be true?”

There are those of us that are not wanting to let our captain go, feeling there is still more left in the tank. This season Gerrard has shown his class with his dead ball skills, netting another world-class goal in Europe and continuing his great penalty record – scoring two goals against Leicester at the weekend, taking his tally to 23 goals out of 30 penalties in the Premier League. The Liverpool captain still has so much to offer; his invaluable experience, leadership and knowledge of the game will be a huge loss to the team on and off the pitch.

Then you have fans on the flip side, who will be looking to the future of the club and will argue that Istanbul was ten years ago and that, as amazing as that night was, we need to move on. Everyone can see that Gerrard isn’t the player he once was and, granted, there have been some average performances by the Liverpool captain this season. But at this stage in his career, we can’t expect him to turn out the world-class performances we have all become accustomed to.


Image Courtesy of aFootballBlog,

Image Courtesy of aFootballBlog,

Whichever side that you sit on, the Premier League will have lost one of the greatest midfielders the world has ever seen. If we want to see Gerrard running down a ball before burying it in the back of the net like he has done on so many occasions – Olympiacos and the 2006 FA cup final against West Ham spring to mind – or delivering world-class cross pitch passes, and picking up players anywhere on the pitch as he leads the line, then we’ll have to catch it on ESPN as of next year.

The biggest question is ‘How do we replace what can’t be replaced?’ Back when Kegan departed in the 70s, fans wondered who would score the goals…..enter Kenny Dalglish, the only player that can challenge Gerrard for the affections of the Liverpool fans. But that was then and this is now. Brendan Rodgers has been questionable in the transfer window and looks set to be under the scrutiny of the Anfield faithful, should he not find a suitable replacement or not let the captain go without a fight.

No matter what happens at the end of the season, we’ll all be able to look back on what has been one of the greatest footballing careers. And the fans will always thank Gerrard for the memories and for the famous nights in Europe that he delivered, time and time again. Good luck Stevie G – you’ll never walk alone.

More of our football stars should have media training

Reputation PR football The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation on Flickr’

Super Bowl XLVIII will soon be here, following all the build-up, showmanship and usual interest in the half-time show.

This year’s match-up is between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, and it is billed thus: Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object.

The Broncos has the best offence in the NFL, the Seahawks the most brutish defence. For those who enjoy American Football, it should be utterly compelling.

If you have ever been in the US when the Super Bowl is on, you ‘ll know it is a fantastic event, even just to watch on TV while you’re there.

I was once lucky enough to be in the US in the weeks prior to the big game and caught a lot of the build-up.

What stuck in my mind was not so much the fantastic game, but a performance I saw the New England Patriot’s star Quarter Back Tom Brady give.

Brilliant Brady

The brilliant Brady predictably ended up being named the MVP in the game as his Patriot’s narrowly triumphed over the Carolina Panthers (it was the Super Bowl also known for Justin Timberlake being party to Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction in the half-time show).  Brady has been a force in American Football and is one of only two QBs to lead their teams to five Super Bowls (the other being John Elway).

But it wasn’t his performance in the game to which I am referring, but a press conference he gave in the days before.

I remember watching the TV as he sat on a top table, facing a pack of sports journalists, not only from around the USA but the world.

Brady sat there alone, no press officer or PR man in sight (unlike the army of aides Premier League stars have on hand when they are facing the media).

Tom brady The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of WEBN-TV on Flickr’

Flying solo, he handled question after question with aplomb. He engaged in tactical discussion, faced the tough questions head-on, spoke his mind and was able to share light-hearted moments with the media.

It was nothing short of fantastic.

When I compare that to the way our footballers deal with the media, it really puts us to shame. Not just the players but as a nation.

Brady’s chat was cliché free, comfortable, and more importantly, confident. Most footballers stumble over their words with sentences littered with well-known but forever dull football parlance. Less a game of two-halves, more a tale of two very different cultures.

For a more in-depth look at how the NFL differs in the way it treats the media and is actually written into contracts, you can read this excellent Football Writers’ Association blog here.

Media Obligations

The thought of players being obliged to speak to the media is outlandish here in the UK. Sure, there are obligations which come with TV rights etc, but the system in the States is far superior, certainly from a fans’ point of view.

Some would point to the fact that Americans, as a people, are just far better than we Brits when it comes to talking. That is no slight on either us or them.

The FWA blog rightly points out the college system in the US. Not only does this expose players to the media, but while they are learning their sporting trade, they are continuing with an education.

Most football players in the UK are plucked from school as teenagers before signing pro forms when they are 17 or 18.

Media Training

NFL Logo, Reputation PR The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of C_osett on Flickr’

But when it comes to sports stars, the fact that the NFL players are media trained is a huge factor.

It means they are equally comfortable in front of a camera or a reporters’ Dictaphone. They can handle most things which are thrown at them.

Fans might say they do not want their heroes coming across as too polished as it means they are not being themselves. In fact, one Premier League club’s media head honcho once told me that he didn’t media train his club’s players because they preferred them to give ‘organic’ interviews.

I beg to differ. Media training actually helps those who receive it – be it a top football player, a company CEO or a charity campaigner – be themselves. It gives them the tools to be confident enough to make their point naturally, to not stumble over words, to take a positive role in interviews rather than being lead through them. Interviewees are not being themselves and are certainly not communicating properly when they are getting in a nervous muddle.

It is true that some players are naturally better than others at speaking to the media. Some already have an eye on a job in the media after they finish playing and Gary Neville and Lee Dixon, in particular, have shown how to take punditry to the next level.  David Beckham’s whole image improved at around the same time he got better at handling interviews.

Making comparisons with a super-star like Tom Brady is tough on anyone, but there has to be a yardstick.

Often with the media, you get one chance to shine.

Leaving dealing with TV, magazines and newspapers to chance really isn’t an option.  A footballers’ coaching should also include media training.



Confessions of a Championship football fan


Image Courtesy of Gruppo Manfrotto,

Image Courtesy of Gruppo Manfrotto,

The SkyBet Championship is the strongest second-tier league in world football and in my opinion, it offers entertainment on a par with, if not better than, the Premier League and top-tier leagues across the world.

I realise that the latter is a bold statement. It could be said that my enthusiasm for the Championship stems from the cumulative effect of having to accept, season after season, that my beloved Ipswich Town will be spending yet another season as the longest-serving Championship club. 12 years and counting we’ve been there, dating back to when the league was still named Division 1. But regardless, these have actually been a thoroughly enjoyable 12 years, (albeit slightly frustrating at the same time).

And by ‘entertainment’, I don’t mean to compare the quality of football in the Championship with that of the Premier League; to do so would be to spark unnecessary debate with the Chelsea fan to my right and the two Spurs fans I live with every day. But what I do emphasize is the fact that there are more components to Championship football than many Premier League fans will realise: capricious results, passionate fans and tactical innovation to name just a few.

Saying that, Championship football is unpredictable. It has arguably become a bit of a cliché and has actually been challenged by the consistent results of Nottingham Forest, QPR, Blackpool and Leicester, who many punters currently back as a safe bet on their weekend accumulators. But who can say that they predicted Burnley to be sitting pretty at the top of the table after 12 games?

I’m not saying that the Premier League is too predictable, for the nature of this year’s season has so far blown that theory out of the water. When Championship fans turn up on match day, however, they do so without any preconception as to the final outcome. A couple of back to back wins can see a team climb from 19th to 9th, just as a team leading the pack ten games in can end up in a relegation fight 30 games later.

We could further credit the Championship by saying the reason for the fluctuating results in this season’s Premier League is partly down to the endeavours of two of last season’s promoted sides; Cardiff and Hull. Apologies, Palace fans. The Championship certainly teaches players to work hard and play honest football, which can pay dividends in the long run.

A great example of this are Swansea City, who have become the go-to example of how the game should be played since emerging from the humble roots of the Championship in 2011. They have not looked back since. In contrast, I find it thoroughly enjoyable to see a team like Bolton, who overstayed their welcome in the Premier League until 2012, now struggling to stay afloat in the Championship.

Matchday is every football fan’s highlight of the week. But if I was to give someone their first taste of English football, it would be at a Championship match. While I wouldn’t say no to 90 minutes in a padded leather seat at the Emirates, I would rather spend that time on my feet in the Bobby Robson Stand at Portman Road, where non-stop chanting and obscenities are the norm.

The great thing about a Championship game is that you are surrounded by highly-knowledgeable, passionate fans, who have followed their team up and down the Football League all their lives. They are quick to comment and brilliantly critical. Of course, honest and passionate fans exist in their thousands in the Premier League, but when comparing my Premier League and Championship match day experiences the latter comes out on top. And that’s not just for the price of the pies.

Once the fans of the 22 Championship clubs have accepted the fact that they will not be achieving automatic promotion to the Premier League, usually around Christmas time, the fun part starts; the race for the playoffs. This battle for 3rd-6th place in the table, in my opinion, generates far greater competition and passion than the race for 5th place in the Premier League, which to be honest is a bit of a damp squib in comparison. There is more at stake in the race for the playoffs. The glamour and financial benefits of the Premier League await the lucky team to go up. (And let’s be honest, there is a certain amount of luck involved).

At the start of the season, every team is aiming for automatic promotion to avoid the lottery of the playoffs at all costs. Come May, however, you would be crazy to not want to be involved. Even for a neutral observer, the playoffs are as exciting as an FA Cup final, with an atmosphere to match the final of the Champions League. But, as Crystal Palace have so far shown in the Premier League this season, sometimes the experience of getting there is better than actually being there.

Premier League fans may believe that tactical innovation is a phrase reserved for managers such as Pellegrini, Mourinho and Wenger, but, as a spectator in the Championship, you’d be unlucky to witness three successive games in which the manager didn’t shuffle the formation or style of play. The pace of the Premier League actually lessens the scope for these sorts of changes, yet the sufficient quality of Championship players combined with a slightly reduced game speed and wide range of teams, allows for managers to switch things around almost weekly to cater for the demands of each match, at a much lesser risk than would be the case in the Premier League.

It is also great to see Championship clubs embrace the domestic talent which they have coming through their respective academies. A promising 17-year old English striker from the academy will generate just as much excitement amongst Championship fans as a world-record signing would do in the Premier League, and often these home-grown talents go on to become some of the most successful players in the league. With so much talk about the importance of domestic talent in the media at the moment, we should look at the Championship as a positive example (except for perhaps, Watford).

For all I have said, it remains my dream to see Ipswich return to the top flight, even if for just one season. Come on you Blues!

Back Of The Net! Man United Launch On Twitter

Back Of The Net! Man Utd Launch On Twitter

Alex Ferguson has barely exited the Old Trafford doors and change is already abound at Manchester United…

On Wednesday morning, the club launched their official Twitter profile to amazing success. By lunchtime, the Red Devils had close to 200k followers despite tweeting just 5 times. Their debut tweet simply read: “New era. Same spirit. The season starts here. Let’s do this.” They’ve already been getting to grips with social media, creating several Vine videos covering the team’s pre-season tour of Asia.

For a club as big as Man United, it’s astonishing that they’ve taken so long to join the social network; Arsenal top the Premier League Twitter table with 2.5m followers, closely followed by Chelsea and their 2.3m followers, so the champions have a bit of catching up to do. But if today’s surge in followers is anything to go by, it shouldn’t be long before they lead the way in social network.

Alex Ferguson was a vocal critic of Twitter whilst United manager, brandishing it a “waste of time” so perhaps his infamous hairdryer could be felt as far away at Old Trafford as the Social Media desk, for they’ve obviously decided to wait for the Scot to retire before launching on the social network

As is the case on the pitch, Man Utd will have to play catch-up with Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, with both clubs having 8.5m and 9m respectively. United, of course, have a massive following on Facebook. Their 33m fans make them the 3rd most popular sporting brand in the world behind, you guessed it, Madrid and Barcelona. They do however trump the likes of the LA Lakers (16m fans), the New York Yankees (7m) and hated rivals Liverpool (12m), who surprisingly are the 6th most popular sports brand in the world on Facebook.

The return of the Premier League, a welcome relief for England football fans

For anyone and everyone that follows football, the return of Premier League football this weekend will be a welcome one.

There’s something about international breaks that stop the blood from flowing and create an air of inevitability for England. Cue a 1-1 draw with Ukraine on Tuesday night in front of a frustrated, half-empty Wembley stadium. “Same old England” were the words echoed around all four corners of the ground after another less than convincing performance.

You would think that the sell-out crowds at the Olympic stadium over the last month would have inspired people to go and support their national football team and would have gone some way towards reigniting that sense of hope that maybe, just maybe, this might be the start of things to come for a World Cup-winning England…. I’m afraid we’re not feeling very confident.

While there is undoubtedly an emergence of young talent coming through the ranks, with the likes of Oxlade -Chamberlain, Welbeck and Cleverley all making names for themselves, we are all too often witnessing players who promised so much, delivering, in reality, very little in an England shirt….Wright Phillips, Lennon and Walcott to name just a few.

This has arguably been the greatest summer of sport for Britain. London 2012 unearthed some of the finest Olympic and Paralympic athletes who epitomised the ‘Great British’ spirit, courage and determination. Add to this Andy Murray’s heroics at Flushing Meadows to end the elusive wait for a men’s singles Grand Slam champion for 76 years, and it is difficult to deny that 2012 has, so far, been the year of UK sport. But the nation was brought crashing back down to earth on Tuesday night when it was reminded just how frustrating it can be to watch the three lions in action.

Whatever happens in Group H you would expect England to qualify for the World Cup in Rio in two years’ time.  England should be competing at major international tournaments, so to even debate whether they will or not seems wasteful. Qualification should be a relatively straightforward task.  But with that said, it is difficult to look far beyond another quarter-final, or a semi-final exit at very best in Rio 2014.

Not since Euro 96 have England reached the semi-finals of a major tournament (and if Paul Gascoigne was two inches taller we would probably have gone on to win it). Of course, everyone remembers the heartache of 98, losing to Argentina on penalties. Yet most of us seem to forget that England should have been out of sight in that game, had it had a full complement of players on the pitch for the entire 120 minutes…..(mentioning no names, Mr Beckham). And then there was that famous rush of blood from Phil Neville, conceding a penalty in the dying seconds against Romania to send us packing from the group stages at Euro 2000.  At the 2002 World Cup, there was genuine hope that Sven’s men could finally go all the way but they came up against champions Brazil and were beaten by the cross come shot from Ronaldinho.  Sigh. ‘Oh, what could have been’ we hear you say…

Defeats to Portugal in 2004 and 2006 on penalties will be remembered for the involvement of one player, Wayne Rooney. The injury in 2004 probably cost us a place in the semi-finals; the curse of the metatarsal striking again. And the reason for what happened two years later? Only Rooney will know. Another error, this time in the form of Rooney stamping on Portugal defender Ricardo Carvalho, resulting in a sending off and suddenly England were in the familiar position of being sent packing, just as our penalty voodoo continued. In 2008 we didn’t even qualify, lest we be reminded, is that rain we hear?

In 2010 we were outplayed and outclassed by Germany, despite a Lampard shot clearly crossing the line (and yes we are still waiting for goal-line technology Fifa…..)

You can see the pattern that’s forming here.  In football, you make your own luck and there is no denying that England has had its fair share of bad luck in recent times. But the likes of France, Italy, Holland and Spain – serial underachievers in the past – have all delivered in the past and won the silverware that their talents deserve. England, meanwhile, have not even come close.

The third best team in the world according to Fifa. Keep on dreaming, we say.  Back to the Premier League we go, the best league in the world…

 Words by Dan Apostolos

Paradise is the future of football, as the countdown begins to the new Premier League season

Premier League

The countdown to the 2012/2013 Premier League season reaches a climax this Sunday as Villa Park plays host to the traditional Premier League curtain raiser, the Community Shield. Last season’s FA Cup winners Chelsea take on Premier League champions Manchester City.

The new season promises to be one of the most fascinating of all time, if last season’s nail-biting conclusion is anything to go by. 1,066 goals were scored last season, the highest in the Premier League’s 20-year history. So far 19 out of 20 clubs have made new additions ahead of the new season in the quest for glory; the only club not to sign any new players yet, surprisingly, is Manchester City.

The Premier League champions are keen to bring Arsenal captain Robin Van Persie to the Etihad Stadium this summer but are taking a pragmatic approach to their transfer window dealings. City’s bulging squad and Uefa’s impending financial fair play rules have seen the champions play a waiting game before making a move. They expect to sell either Edin Dzeko or Carlos Tevez, so this may just happen before they make room for Van Persie.

It is likely that the reigning champions will opt not to add to the existing squad. But, then again, why change a winning formula? City will be looking to progress further in the Champions League this season so maybe, just maybe this might impact on where they finish in May.

In any other season a disappointing sixth-place finish in the league, and a massive 25 points behind champions Manchester City, would have been seen as a massive failure, but winning the FA Cup and Champions League double made sure it was one of the most successful seasons in Chelsea’s 107 year history.  Fresh from winning the Champions League in May after a dramatic penalty shootout victory against Bayern Munich, Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has regained his appetite for the Premier League title challenge. Indeed Di Matteo will be relishing the opportunity to construct a team bolstered by so many mouth-watering new arrivals. So far Chelsea has splashed almost £40 million on brothers Eden and Thorgen Hazard, along with the £25 million pound deal for Brazilian wonder kid Oscar.  Germany international Marko Marin has also been added to the squad for a more respectable £6 million.

We expect the boys from Stamford Bridge to challenge for the title next season and will undoubtedly witness a few more signings before the transfer window closes at the end of August. Deals for Wigan forward Victor Moses and Spanish U21 Marseille fullback Cesar Azpilicueta look likely, along with perhaps another world class striker, as the Londoners attempt to wrestle back the Premier League crown.  Munich will forever go down as one of the greatest nights in Chelsea’s history but the size of the task that now awaits Di Matteo is arguably greater than that which he took on last year. The real challenge, it seems, lies ahead of him.

Manchester United, meanwhile, look to be building for the future. Shinji Kagawa and 18 –year-old former Crewe striker Nick Powell are so far the only new additions to Sir Alex Ferguson’s squad. With doubts over the future of Portuguese winger Nani and the inevitable exit of forgotten man Dimitar Berbatov,  there is certainly room for another face or two before the start of next season.  The on-off move for Brazilian midfielder Lucas Moura, meanwhile, looks as though it may last a little longer than expected, with strong interest for the player from big-spending PSG.  Croatian playmaker Luka Modric, on the other hand, is desperate to leave White Hart Lane and may well be the perfect addition to the United squad.  We would be less than surprised if he finds himself at Old Trafford next season and he could well be the type of creative player that United is missing. This move is made perhaps more likely still, given the reluctance from Real Madrid to meet Spurs’ £40 million price tag.

And on the subject of Spurs, new boss Andre Villas-Boas will be looking to build on last season’s fourth-place finish, as talk of the title once again echoes quietly around White Hart Lane, following last season’s post-Christmas exploits. For the second summer running, want-away midfielder Luka Modric is desperate to leave the club for pastures new. Spurs will be hoping that the matter can be resolved, sooner rather than later, so that the AVB revolution can begin at the lane. At this stage, moves for Moutinho and Hulk are only speculative but if the club can successfully sign a few top players to add to its existing pool of players which has been bolstered by the impressive signing of Glyfi Sigurdsson, then Tottenham will fancy their chances at finishing in the top four again and returning to the Champions League once again.

Across London, Arsenal have made three high profile signings already this summer: in Germany international Lukas Podolski, France forward Olivier Giroud, and Spanish forward Santi Carzola from Malaga.  However, the future of last season’s top scorer Robin Van Persie remains the most talked about transfer at the Emirates. A likely outcome is that they will opt to sell their most valuable player, the type of decision that Arsenal fans have become accustomed to in the last few seasons, having waved goodbye to the likes of Henry, Fabregas, Nasri (and the list goes on). The sense of déjà vu may well leave a sour taste in the mouth of many an Arsenal fan if Van Persie is indeed, the next on the departures list.

But it may well be another frustrating season for the Gunners, especially when you take a closer look at the signings they have made so far. Bags of firepower have been added to the team sheet but there is a very real danger that the side will become unbalanced and will be left wanting at the back. Unlike Chelsea and Man City, Arsenal arguably lacks the strength in depth to sustain a title challenge to the end of the season. Nevertheless, the club’s seven-year trophy drought will undoubtedly spur them on and if Wenger enjoys better luck when it comes to injuries and Van Persie stays, then Arsenal’s new front line would be a match for any strike force in Europe. Finally, Carzola is an incredibly gifted footballer and could just be the signing of the season.

Despite the decline in success over recent seasons, the Liverpool manager’s job remains one of the biggest challenges in club football. Now, Brendan Rodgers must bring the glory days back to Anfield. He has been widely acknowledged for the job he did at the Liberty Stadium and for the brand of football he brought to the Welsh side in their first ever season in the Premier League, but it remains to be seen whether he will have quite the same success at Liverpool. And when it comes to the players themselves, Andy Carroll’s future at the club is also in serious doubt. For now, Carroll is a Liverpool player but for how much longer, well your guess is as good as ours! Having enjoyed a strong end to the season and a great deal of success at Euro 2012, there is a strong case for holding onto Andy Carroll. Much has been made of him not fitting into Rodgers’ style of play and the ethos that the incoming manager seems intent on introducing to the club, but if Carroll leaves, Liverpool will be very light at the top, particularly given the departure of Dirk Kuyt and the impending return of Craig Bellamy to Cardiff. Some consolation for Liverpool fans?……at least Luiz Suarez has signed a new contract.


The Premier League clubs have travelled the four corners of the globe in preparation for the big kick-off on August 18th. Six have been east to Asia, six to America and the rest have spent time in Europe

There was once a time when pre-season preparations consisted of brutal training sessions in the community park and round the world tours of the local non-league outfits. But, today, the need to sell a team’s ‘brand’ to new overseas markets has seen clubs travelling further and further afield for their pre-season training. This summer, Premier League teams have clocked up over 186,000 air miles to fulfil warm-up fixtures overseas.
Paradise is where the future of football belongs, with every club in the top flight chasing the same global recognition. Like any major brand, football clubs are looking to attract new sponsors and then use these new relationships to help them gain greater exposure (and more long-term support along the way). So, for now at least, the positives of the far-reaching pre-season tour are understandably outweighing staying at home to prepare in familiar surroundings.

Only time will tell who will win the Premier League next season but the main contenders will be under no illusions as to how important it will be to get quickly out of the blocks and hit the ground running. The wait is almost over as we get set for another fascinating season of football and, no doubt, a fair few surprises along the way.

Words by Dan Apostolos