Creditable or Calamitous? Reflections of a Derby Fan on a Season That Promised Promotion

As this 2014-15 Championship season races toward its conclusion, it’s hard to determine whether it represents success or failure for Derby County Football Club. Perhaps any individual assessment depends on one’s glass being generally half-full, or half-empty. As a Rams fan exiled in the Middle East, but able to see many of their games live or recorded in full afterwards, I haven’t made up my own mind on the matter just yet. This article is intended as a means toward that end.

Last season ended in play-off heartbreak. Derby were, of the play-off quartet, comfortably the form side going into the end-of-season event, and swept aside sixth-placed Brighton 6-2 over two legs. In the other semi-final, a dangerous Wigan side, who had earlier defeated eventual Premier League champions Manchester City in an astonishing FA Cup result, were edged out 2-1 by QPR, whose own form had been anything but convincing during the second half of the season. Derby controlled the Wembley final, and seemed almost certain to win when Rangers were reduced to ten men for a professional foul early in the second half; however, not for the first play-off final in their history, the Rams were defeated by a late winner, the product of two substandard pieces of defending and a wonderful finish by Bobby Zamora.

Such was Derby’s style and momentum, so impressive their individual performances – midfield starlet Will Hughes and prolific target man Chris Martin the most prominent among them – that the bookmakers installed the Rams as pre-season favourites this time around. Prospects were boosted still further when George Thorne, composed loan signing and Wembley man of the match, was signed permanently during the summer. Within days, however, Thorne – already no stranger to injuries in his short career – was ruled out for most of the season after damaging his knee in a friendly against Zenit St Petersburg. Appearing not to trust a whole season’s work to his natural replacement, the experienced John Eustace, Steve McClaren was delighted when the club’s player recruitment team snapped up Omar Mascarell, a stylish holding midfielder on the periphery of Real Madrid’s squad. It appeared to be a real coup, although all parties recognised that the Spaniard would need time to adapt to the greater speed and physicality of the Championship.

The season began with a 1-0 win over newly promoted Rotherham United, courtesy of a fine late strike from Irish midfielder Jeff Hendrick; a victory earned, in no small part, by the exciting contribution of new full-back Cyrus Christie, acquired from Coventry City to replace the solid, but now departed Liverpool loanee, Andre Wisdom. Christie’s defending was at least adequate (if not as impregnable as his predecessor), but it was the newcomer’s marauding runs that led many fans to feel hopeful that, far from the position being weakened, Derby might attain to greater attacking impetus from defence this season.

Of more concern, with Eustace out of favour, was the decision to play Hughes in the team’s apparently non-negotiable holding midfield role. While the player was undoubtedly good enough to play there, it was clear that neither of the more advanced players – Bryson, who many had expected to begin the season playing his football for a Premier League team, and Hendrick – could do exactly what Hughes was capable of further up the field. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the slight Hughes was not as comfortable with the physical side of the position as either the stocky Thorne or the guileful Eustace, and found himself almost sharing the position with substitute Mascarell from very early in the season. The Spaniard’s passing and energy did much to compensate for the evident weaknesses that many had predicted in his game: opponents gave him little time on the ball, and he quickly found himself on the receiving end of some rather combative challenges.

There were warning signs for Derby in a spirited but disjointed second league match at Sheffield Wednesday, which ended goalless. A first defeat followed in the next match, as stylish Charlton outplayed their more fancied guests, winning 3-2 and leaving many to wonder when the Rams would hit the performance levels of the previous season. They were encouraged by a merciless second-half display against Fulham, as Derby pummelled the plummeting Cottagers 5-1. Welcome to the Championship.

The Rams then embarked on an unbeaten run that spanned twelve games, including wins against expansive Bournemouth (2-0), Blackburn (3-2), Bolton (2-0) and Reading (3-0) (the latter three away from home); and resilient draws against early leaders and local rivals Nottingham Forest (1-1), and Cardiff (2-2) at home, a match in which the Rams had trailed by two goals. Derby’s comeback that day was begun by a debut goal from a new season-long loan signing from Liverpool: the fleet-footed and direct Jordon Ibe, whose contribution, with hindsight, seems as significant in Derby’s fortunes as was his premature return to Anfield in January.

That unbeaten run was curtailed by dogged Wigan, who belied their poor early season form by coming from behind to win 2-1 at the iPro Stadium. Derby then played two games in West London, hitting Fulham for five again (this time in the League Cup) before once again throwing away a lead against Brentford who, it seems, have never looked back since their last-minute win that day, courtesy of a fine goal from Stuart Dallas.

Derby needed to find their form – and find it they did, deservedly seeing off Huddersfield 3-2, before arguably their finest performance of the season in the annihilation of Wolves, 5-0 at the iPro. In the next match, Craig Bryson, who had so far struggled to reproduce his high standards of the two preceding seasons, scored a beauty to edge out Watford on their own turf. Suddenly Derby looked ready to seize their opportunity and run away with the league, just as their East Midlands rivals from Leicester had done the previous year.

It wasn’t to be so straightforward, unfortunately. The Rams went into their away match at Leeds, a team Derby had beaten for fun in recent seasons, seemingly unprepared for the grit and graft that would be needed to return with the points. They were outfought, and defeated, 0-2. But Steve McClaren prided himself on a team that could bounce back from disappointment, and Derby erupted out of the blocks against Brighton, winning the game with three first-half goals. In the opposing eleven that day was loanee Darren Bent, a wily, seasoned striker unable to convince then manager Paul Lambert of his right to a place in the Aston Villa side. Derby fans would be glad to see more of the discarded Bent very soon.

The following week, Derby were conquered at the summit by Middlesbrough, after a dour display in the North East demonstrated the worst they were capable of; Boro were organised and clinical, and undid Derby in their first attack, with former Rams loanee Patrick Bamford celebrating his opener gleefully – much to the annoyance of Derby fans, who had always had to overlook his affinity for their hated rivals, Forest. The Rams showed more fight and no little skill against a tidy and pressurising Norwich City side a week later, but were fairly denied a win when they conceded another late goal. The pattern of the previous season, in which Derby had become famed for their indefatigable spirit and late goalscoring, seemed to be shifting in the other direction.

The Rams began the festive period with a thumping win, 4-0 in the Birmingham snow. That was backed up with a revenge reversal of their 2-0 defeat at Leeds, and an excellent 1-0 win at Ipswich. John Eustace, hardly a fixture in the team, was immense in front of the back four, but his late dismissal and injury – from which he has yet to return despite two operations – would lead the Rams into the East Midlands derby once again relying on the unconvincing Mascarell. Even Forest fans approached the match fearfully. Their side had lost the previous season’s fixture 5-0, and the early season pacesetters now found themselves on a run of eight games without a win. Derby, fortuitously ahead but easily the better team before the break, gave a sickening validation of the phrase «game of two halves», and Forest exulted in a deserved shock win that would prolong the tenure of manager Stuart Pearce for a few more weeks. (This represented a bright side for many Rams fans, who were convinced their rivals’ progress would remain stagnant with the former England legend at the helm). Stunned at forfeiting local bragging rights, Derby fans demanded better, and were rewarded with three straight wins against Blackburn, Cardiff and Bolton.

The January transfer window had brought Bent in without a recall clause for his parent club, as well as Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard, and Hull City’s Tom Ince, who made an instant impact with a fabulous brace in the 4-1 destruction of Bolton. Leeds United captain Stephen Warnock, still not fit after being injured in the Rams’ 2-0 win over his side, came in to «add experience» to the squad, and presumably to spur the unspectacular Craig Forsyth to higher performance levels. An interesting further addition was the Spaniard Raul Albentosa, who Derby’s recruitment team appeared to have been stalking for some time, and who arrived in Derby having bought out his own contract with La Liga team Eibar, for whom he had offered some impressive performances throughout the season. Unfortunately, a niggling injury would delay Albentosa’s league debut for over a month.

Ince found the net again in an encouraging 2-2 midweek draw at top-of-the-table Bournemouth, where the most significant moment of the match would prove the early replacement of nineteen-goal Chris Martin. He would not return for eleven games; suddenly Bent’s loan signing seemed very important indeed, although a slightly different system of attack was needed to accommodate the latter’s style. The Rams approached the following midweek match at struggling Rotherham knowing that a win would take them back to the summit. Yet, once again, they failed to take their chance, with only a spirited fightback earning them a 3-3 draw, having trailed 1-3. Inspired by the return of George Thorne after seven months on the sidelines, Derby then won back-to-back home games against Sheffield Wednesday and Charlton, and found themselves on top of the league for the third time this season. Despite having repeatedly failed to press home the advantages they had gained, the bookies still made McClaren’s dangerous Derby side favourites for the title. They were to be proved emphatically wrong.

What followed resembles the stuff of nightmares for Derby fans. It began with a lacklustre defeat at Fulham, in which now pivotal loan signing Bent limped off, forcing the industrious and vastly improved Johnny Russell to assume a central striking role that he would retain for the next four games, without once finding the net. In addition, Thorne was again out of action, replaced in West London by the still-misfiring Mascarell. Typically, after the Fulham defeat, McClaren demanded a response. He got one, but not a result; the Rams battered Brighton but somehow contrived to lose the match 0-2. The focus intensified on Derby’s defence, arguably culpable for both goals. A performance and a win were needed when Birmingham came to the iPro, and the Rams picked them off easily, strolling toward a 2-0 victory as the match entered the third of four added second-half minutes. A few hearts were aflutter when the unspectacular Blues won, and converted, a penalty; Rams fans redoubled their whistling for full-time, the match length having already surpassed the additional time indicated. Nevertheless, a team with pretensions of winning promotion would surely be able to see the game out. Birmingham equalised in the seventh minute of injury time. The day ended with four teams on 66 points, separated by goal difference. Derby were still «in the mix», but nobody was quite sure how they were going to stay there on current form. And the games were only getting harder.

Derby went to resurgent Norwich the following Saturday with assistant Paul Simpson vowing that it was time to «win ugly» if necessary. Realistically, most Derby fans would have taken a draw, and when debutant Jamie Hanson’s corner was spilled into his own net by England goalkeeper John Ruddy, that’s exactly what they got. Hanson retained his place for the crucial midweek home match against Middlesbrough. Derby were toothless, loanee Lingard missing the best chance to fall to a white shirt. Once again, Boro were resolute; once again, it was Patrick Bamford, object of fear and loathing in Derby, who settled the match with an excellent finish. Derby were rocking.

The final game before the latest international break would take them to Wolves, hapless victims of the Rams’ finest moment of the season to date. McClaren and Simpson warned that the returns of Thorne and Martin may not be risked before the international break, but Bent was back to take his place at the centre of a truly astonishing refereeing controversy. Through on goal, the returning striker was fouled by Wolves captain and last man Danny Batth. Ince swept the ball into the net. The referee, who had already whistled for the foul, disallowed the goal and awarded a free-kick just outside the area. Rams fans watched in horror as the official, smiling sickeningly, refused to find any card in his pocket for the offender, much less the red one he clearly deserved. In some sort of grotesque tribute to John Ruddy, the normally reliable Lee Grant punched the ball into his own net to help Wolves wrap up a 2-0 win and move to within two points of Derby, who were slipping further from automatic promotion with every match. Fans picked the team apart, looking for an XI who could win the next match at home to high-flying Watford, thereby dragging the Rams’ promotion wagon back on track. Full-backs came under fire most of all, and here it was difficult to make a case for the defence. Left-back Forsyth, far superior defensively than in attack (perhaps surprisingly for a former midfielder), had compounded the injustice at Wolves by facilitating their first goal, inexplicably passing the ball to an opponent in a dangerous position. It was by no means the first time the Scotsman’s distribution had been found wanting during the season.

On the other side, Cyrus Christie was a nerve-shredded shadow of his early-season self. His first-half gift to Watford’s Vydra was cancelled out on the stroke of half-time by a Bent penalty, as the Rams’ opponents were reduced to ten men. Christie would not re-emerge after the break. Sadly, nor would George Thorne, attempting his second comeback of the season but lasting little more than twenty minutes. Once again, Derby contrived to throw away a winning position; Watford celebrated their 2-2 draw with delight, strengthening their own push for automatic promotion, while Derby retained their play-off place only on goal difference. The solitary silver lining seemed now to be the brief substitute appearance of Chris Martin, to whose absence so many had attributed the Rams’ slump.

On Easter Monday, with over four thousand Rams fans roaring them on, Derby finally picked up their first win in eight matches, as the talismanic Martin came off the bench to sweep them ahead at lowly Wigan. A typically opportunistic strike from Bent wrapped up the victory, leaving the Rams fascinatingly poised before the following weekend’s home match with Brentford. On paper, it seems the most difficult of the Rams’ remaining five fixtures, of which three are to be played at the iPro. However, with second-placed Norwich already five points ahead, and Watford and Middlesbrough much better placed to take advantage of any slip by the Canaries or leaders Bournemouth, only the most optimistic of Derby fans could reasonably expect automatic promotion at this stage. On the contrary, with Wolves in the best form of the current play-off place occupants, and Brentford able to overhaul the Rams with a win in their head-to-head, Derby still face a fierce battle to ensure their own place in the end-of-season competition that has already caused them so much heartache.

How has it come to this? And does the season represent a success or a failure for the Rams?

On reflection, it is important to consider the weight of expectation that has hung over the team all season. It is true that Derby were formidable during the latter part of the 2013-14 season, playing some scintillating football, and with an embarrassment of (injury-free) riches among their playing personnel. Yet arguably only Hughes and Russell have improved on their performances of the previous season; the immaculate Thorne has managed only three starts; Martin’s contribution has been blunted by the disastrous timing and duration of his injury; and the likes of Hendrick and Bryson have failed by some distance to match their performance levels of the previous season. Some loan signings have contributed much – particularly Ibe – while others have offered mixed fortunes: the injury-hit but prolific Bent; the frequently fantastic but oft-frustrating Ince, whose ball retention has been disappointing but who has scored some wonderful goals; and Mascarell, possessing all the vision and passing prowess one would expect of a Madrid graduate, but without ever providing a satisfactory solution for the role he was brought in to play.

Most attention has centred around the defence. In stark contrast to last season, during which the names of Andre Wisdom, Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton and Craig Forsyth seldom left the team sheet, McClaren has constantly tinkered with his defensive personnel this time around. Some fans have shown little patience with captain Keogh – possibly something of a hangover from his Wembley shocker – but in reality, the full-backs have proved a weaker link for most of the season. Christie, especially, seems particularly low on confidence, while the more self-assured Forsyth perhaps remains optimistic that his own form is solid enough and will improve still further; however, those who have endured his substandard performances throughout the season will likely have been glad of Warnock’s competent league debut at left-back in the victory at Wigan.

Another bone of contention relates to formation. While Derby have been more than a little unfortunate to experience long-term injuries to three holding midfield players (Thorne, Eustace and Mascarell), the lack of alternative playing styles and formations have also been mooted by fans as sources of frustration and failure to overturn teams that have set up defensively against the Rams and gained their rewards by doing so. The recent switch, through necessity, to a 4-2-3-1 has only added weight to this argument, not least because the defensive contribution of Mascarell has been questionable all season, and has almost certainly exacerbated any problems among the defence personnel. The use of Chris Martin behind Darren Bent has been used only fleetingly (albeit injuries have undoubtedly reduced the scope for this), while there is also a strong case for positioning the incisive passing of Hughes behind the front man, a move that has not been tried at all. This is not to suggest that the fans know better than McClaren; yet fans are certainly in a position to recognise what has not been working for long periods of the season. Managers, like players, can be «lucky» – not just in what they and their teams do, but in how they are perceived. Most things McClaren touched last season turned to gold. Such has been the man’s redemption since his ignominious England denouement, perhaps supporters had become over-confident in his ability. His true managerial performance, perhaps, lies somewhere between those two extremes of appraisal.

The mantra from the club, and the local press, remains that a Derby side returning to their best form are capable of ensnaring a promotion place this season. Some will fear that the likes of Will Hughes will be heading to the Premier League very soon, irrespective of how the Rams fare from now until the end of May.

It is never an easy ride being a Derby fan; one cannot sit back and get comfortable.

Derby have never been about coasting, but the rollercoaster.

Valencia vs Barcelona 12-15-07

Valencia: Canizares, Miguel, Marchena, Helguera, Moretti, Mantoro, Albelda, Joaquin, Arizmendi, Morientes and Silva

Barcelona: Valdes, Puyol, Marquez, Milito, Abidal, Xavi, Toure, Inietsa, Gudjohnsen, Messi and Etoo

Chance for Eidur Gudjohnsen in 30 seconds but he could not find Samuel Etoo as his first touch was not very precise.

Bad first touch by Etoo as Messi found him with only Canizares to beat but he fluffed it in the 3rd minute.

Good chance for Yaya Toure from a corner kick but his header was straight at Canizares and he palms it over in the 9th minute.

Fantastic goal by Etoo, as he skips past the challenge of Marchena and Mantoro; and rifled the shot past Canizares in the 13th minute.

Another chance for Etoo as Puyol won a header and it fell kindly towards Etoo but his header was straight at Canizares in the 21st minute.

Absolutely brilliant 2nd goal for Barcelona as they passed and moved the ball between 6 players, it finally came to Etoo, he passed to Iniesta who passed it to Messi back to Etoo and its 2-0 in the 26th minute.

Another fantastic piece of football from Barcelona, started by Gudjohnsen, continued by Messi to Etoo then to Iniesta, whose cross was just missed by Messi to make it 3-0 in the 31st minute.

First attempt of any note by Valencia in the 33rd minute as Arizmendi cut inside Puyol but his shot was well over.

Another chance for Etoo, as he makes a great run behind the Valencia defence but Marchena was able to stick out a leg to prevent Etoo’s hattrick in the 36th minute.

Morientes has to come off injured for Vicente in the 39th minute.

Etoo is at it again, this time he went through 2 defenders and was just about to release the trigger when a desperate lunge by Marchena stopped him from making it 3 in the 42nd minute.

Lionel Messi is off due to an injury that may be muscular in the 43rd minute replaced by Giovanni.

Half Time

Valencia 0 Barcelona 2

As poor a performance as Valencia have given all season and they have been dire this season to be fair. Barcelona were so superior with Etoo being on supreme form, it was embarrassing.

It was just too easy for Barcelona and some of their players did not have to break sweat. The only downside for them is that Messi went off injured and may miss the big clash next week against arch-rivals Real Madrid.

Valencia can surely not play worse than they have in the 1st half.

Etoo has another chance in the 47th minute after he skipped past a challenge and his shot was straight at Canizares though.

Good defending by Milito to stop Joaquin from putting a cross and the resulting throw-in was hit by David Silva that Valdes saved with difficulty in the 51st minute.

Great shot by Giovanni but it was saved by Canizares in the 53rd minute.

Its 3 -0 with another piece of good passing involving Xavi and Giovanni, who passed unselfishly to Gudjohnsen to just tap home in the 61st minute.

Chance for Valencia from a Vicente free kick and again Valdes fumbles the ball over the crossbar in the 65th minute.

Deco is on for Toure and Mata is on for Joaquin in the 65th minute.

Etoo comes off for Bojan Krkic in the 67th minute.

Lomban is on for Moretti in the 71st minute.

Chance for Giovanni to make it 4 but as he collceted a pass from Xavi in the 73rd minute but his shot was well wide.

It really should have been 4 as Barcelona started a move from their own half with Deco, who gave the ball to Giovanni and his cross field pass was well controlled by Gudjohnsen; he skipped past 2 challenges, passed a cute ball to Xavi, he went round Canizares, crossed to Giovanni but his weak shot was cleared off the line by Miguel in the 76th minute.

Nice shot by Bojan as he controlled a pass from Xavi well on his chest but was straight to Canizares in the 80th minute.

Half chance for Vicente in the 81st minute as Marquez was very sloppy with his pass out and it went straight to Villa and he passed to Vicente but the angle was too acute for him to score from.

Free kick in a dangerous position for Valencia, in the 90th minute, taken by Vicente, but clawed to relative safety by Victor Valdes.

Full Time

Valencia 0 Barcelona 3

It was too comfortable in the end for Barcelona as Valencia were just marginally better in the 2nd half but still nowhere good enough at the highest level.

There were a lot of good performances from Barcelona players with Gudjohnsen, Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Toure, Deco, Giovanni, Abidal and especially Etoo all in top form.

The only players that came out with any credit for Valencia are possibly Canizares and Miguel, the rest were awful.

Analytics in Football – A Double Edged Sword

Sports as we know it today has come a long way. There were times when watching sports on television was considered a massive step forward in terms of technology. Fast forward 60 years, watching sports on television has become the most basic thing. Today we watch sports on the go on our mobile phones or any device with a screen and internet connectivity. Proud of how far we’ve come, aren’t we? Hopefully I can change your opinion on that by the end of this article.

What is sports all about? Sports is a bunch of people getting together to play a game with pre defined rules and a referee to ensure that these rules are adhered to during the passage of play. I am a sport lover and play sports all time. My love for tennis and soccer in particular cannot be defined. My issue when it came to technology and advanced analytics was with the game of soccer in particular. Soccer is such a beautiful game. The strategies that the coaching staff come up with and the way it is executed on field by the players, it actually is a thing of beauty. I was a soccer player myself (just an average one at that) and have been part of various teams. I know firsthand how strategies are built, how much thought goes into one single run of play.

Enter -> Advanced Analytics

Most of you would’ve seen the movie Moneyball. The movie was based on the book Michael Lewis wrote in 2003. It talks about how a jock turned luminary uses advanced statistics to gain a competitive edge over his better funded opponents. This book brought about a revolution is sports. Fans and boards of soccer clubs didn’t want to settle for subpar statistics or analytics anymore. What Moneyball did is, it took an old cliché – «sports are businesses» and made us move on to the next logical question – «how do we do things smarter?»

Now let’s talk about advanced analytics. Advanced analytics in today’s world plays a massive role in every business sector. Advanced analytics has been a boon for us. Moving from descriptive analytics to prescriptive analytics, we actually have come a long way. In various businesses, where the requirement is demanding, advanced analytics are of utmost importance.

When we look at soccer, its a game that does not require too much machine intelligence, it is a game that needs the human element. When you bring in analytics and technology and try to reduce the human element in the sports, it simply just crushes the spirit of the game.

Relying on analytics heavily killed the Premier Leagues long ball game and brought in the pressing, continual passing tiki-taka. Each league for that matter had its own style of play. The Premier League had the brash and brazen style of football that was termed «The way real men play football». There were beautiful long balls, harsh tackles but all the players just sucked it up, walked it off and it was all up to the referee on the pitch to penalize the offender or not. There were arguments and fights, the passion from the fans was crazy, that was the football that screamed of passion, when players got in the face of other players not fearing punishment. The Eric Cantona’s, the Ivan Genaro Gattuso’s, the Jaap Stam’s of the football world went missing soon enough and the diving and the biting began. Then there was the tiki-taka style of football that was played in the Spanish La Liga, the silky style of play that caught everyone off guard. The legendary Pep Guardiola and his army at Barcelona were the masters of the tiki-taka. There was Real Madrid who were always a star studded line-up with excessive parts of their play relying on lightning quick counters which most often than not left the opponents stunned. There was Manchester United who had their own brand of football being managed by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson. That United team was a team of sheer grit and character. Each of these leagues had their own beauty and the teams had their own style of play.

When you bring in excessive technology and analytics, there emerge sorry technologies like VAR (Video Assistant Referees).

There are 3 stages as to how the VAR works:

Step 1

Incident occurs

The referee informs the VAR, or the VAR recommends to the referee that a decision/incident should be reviewed.

Step 2

Review and advice by the VAR

The video footage is reviewed by the VAR, who advises the referee via headset what the video shows.

Step 3

Decision or action is taken

The referee decides to review the video footage on the side of the field of play before taking the appropriate action/decision, or the referee accepts the information from the VAR and takes the appropriate action/decision.

Now the referee can consult with VAR for basically any doubts he wants clarified. What does this do?

• Removes the human element from the game.

• Takes up excess time and brings too many stoppages within the game, a game that was previously free flowing and continuous.

This makes it similar to Formula 1 racing. The analytics which brought about the fuel weight management systems and the numerous pit stops took the continuity out of the race and viewership reduced with the increase in technology. A pretty similar trend might occur in football if this implementation becomes mandatory.

The Positive Side of Advanced Analytics in Soccer:

Analytics are not all that bad in football. Let’s take the case of when Simon Wilson joined Manchester City in 2006. Simon Wilson was a consultant for an analytics startup called Prozone initially. He joined City to start a department of analytics and hired the best data analysts under him. He wanted to change the way how data was used by football teams. He saw that, after a defeat there was no introspection as to why they had lost and what needed to be done next time. City were a mid table club at that time. In September 2008, when the club was acquired by the Abu Dhabi United Group for Development and Investment, a private-equity outfit owned by a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family, the team suddenly found itself with the resources necessary to mount a challenge for the Premier League. Today, Wilson is Manchester City’s manager of strategic performance analysis. He has five departments under him, including the team of performance analysis, which is now led by a sports scientist named Ed Sulley.

After each match, the team’s performance data would be examined. The list is extensive. Line breaks (a rugby term), ball possession, pass success rates, ball win/loss time ratio were what used to be analyzed. «Instead of looking at a list of 50 variables we want to find five, say, that really matter for our style of play,» says Pedro Marques, a match analyst at Manchester City.

«With the right data-feeds, the algorithms will output the statistics that have a strong relationship with winning and losing.» Wilson recalls one particular period when Manchester City hadn’t scored from corners in over 22 games, so his team decided to analyze over 400 goals that were scored from corners. It was noticed that about 75 percent resulted from in-swinging corners, the type where the ball curves towards the goal. The next 12 games of the next season saw City score nine goals from corner.

Teams are investing heavily in analytics today and it is working in their favor. Look at where Manchester City are today, sitting atop the Premier League table and not being threatened at all. Look at Manchester United this season, their game has been such where their possession percentages are low but their goal conversions are high. The Manchester Derby on 7th April 2018 saw United have only 35% of the possession but they managed to trump City 3-2. Each team has their set of analysts who provide inputs as per the strength of the team.

Advanced analytics is like the coin Two Face in Batman has, «Heads you die, Tails you survive!»

It can reap crazy rewards from a team’s point of view but at the same time can disrupt the lovely game by bringing in unnecessary stoppages, replays and by taking the human element out of it. The numerous replays and the different angles, show the fans if the referee has made an error or not. Let the error happen, after all to err is human. Refereeing in soccer is not an exact science and it’s all real time. Let there be arguments about a decision, let the passion in the argument come through. Do you want to watch a football match like the El Classico or the Manchester Derby and sit with your bunch of friends and say «it was a very clean game, the best team won!» Hell NO! Don’t drive the passion out of soccer with technology and analytics. Let soccer be soccer and let technology stay away!

EPL Team Profile – Tottenham

The formal name of the club is Tottenham Hotspur Football Club, or Tottenham Hotspur FC. They are also referred to as the Spurs, or the Lilywhites. Founded in 1882 as Hotspur FC, the squad train at their home venue, at White Hart Lane, with its capacity of about 36,000. ENIC International Ltd. owns the squad whose chairman is Daniel Levy. Spurs are managed by Harry Redknapp, popularly known as just ‘Arry. The club enjoyed their best period in top flight English football between the 60’s and the 80’s, and became the first in the 20th century to win both the League and FA Cup, but they are yet to win the Premier League.

They finished fourth in the Premier League standings, last season, their best ever performance in the Premiership. In the three matches played so far in the ongoing season, Spurs have recorded a draw against Manchester City, and a win against Stoke city, both creditable efforts. However, they let themselves down, somewhat, losing 1-0 to relegation favourites Wigan.

Early Season Preview:

The last season saw Tottenham hit a high their fans had been predicting they would, for a long time. Although a top four finish seemed always on the cards, it still caused surprise when Spurs actually got there. The club went into a period of decline under the stewardship of Juande Ramos. So credit should justifiably go to Harry Redknapp for getting the squad back on the rails. The squad that played in the third match of the season against Wigan Athletic comprised: Cudicini, Kaboul, Bale, Dawson, Assou-Ekotto, King, Lennon, Huddlestone, Crouch, Palacios, Defoe, Bassong, Kranjcar, Alnwick, Keane, Giovani, Jenas, and Pavlyuchenko.

In Jermaine Defoe, Spurs have a prolific scorer of goals, the most important ingredient in winning matches. Tottenham have never been short of big name players but have been outclassed where it matters most — in scoring goals. And Defoe is capable of changing that perception, as he proved last season. Last season was the first for winger Danny Rose and he made an immediate impact, with a early goal against Arsenal in the only match he played. This season, Rose should be in the news for Spurs more often than not.

Redknapp has been a little slow working the transfer market. A possible reason for that could be his preoccupation with James Milner’s impending departure for Manchester City. But that hasn’t stopped ‘Arry from acquiring Internacional’s Sandro for £6 mn. There is also talk about a late bid for Real Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart, apart from a shock move for Arsenal striker Adebayor.

Things should become clearer in the coming days about the final composition of the squad, as the transfer window has shut, finally. In spite of their great 2009-10 season and the undoubted calibre of their squad, they could be trumped by the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool, in their bid for a top four spot. Redknapp may also be hoping he has beaten the transfer window deadline with his late offers, as those players could have a bearing on how far Spurs can go the season.

FC Barcelona Successful Season Review 2010-2011

FC Barcelona started their 2010-11 season with the threat of the special one, Jose Mourinho as he eliminated Barcelona last year from Champions League Semi Final by his unprecedented tactics. But Barca have proved their superlative class once again by winning the Double–La Liga Crown–three times in a row with two games to spare and the big Champions League Crown–twice in three years by teaching their opponent a real good football lesson. Moreover, Barca made a spectacular record of 28 matches unbeaten and 16 consecutive league wins in 2010-2011 La Liga season. Barca is now all about»Dream Team.»

La Liga

Barca was dramatically beaten 2-0 at the Camp Nou in their second match against new comer Hercules CF! It was a shock not a fact Barca proved it in their following games. They managed to win the 3rd straight La Liga Crown with two games to spare.

Series of «El Clasicos»

Five «El Clasico» in a season and four of them took place in April-May only in time range of 18 days. In recent history only in 2001-02 both Giants met four times in a season and before that when they clashed more or as equal as this season I really don’t remember.

The 1st«El Clasico» of the season took place on 29th of November. New coach of Madrid, their outstanding performance in the league before this match, tiredness of Spanish players after the world cup etc was major issues before the game. But as soon as the referee whistled to start the battle it was again the beauty of football drawn by none other than Barca players. Barca gave their fans an unforgettable, Five Star performance a 5-0 win against their eternal rival at the Camp Nou on the 111th birthday of the best club in the world. Barca tops the table, 8 points ahead of Madrid with this win and the leading position was as stable as the Everest till the end of the season.

The 2nd«El Clasico» was a 1-1 draw at Santiago Bernabeu while both Messi for the first time scored against Mourinho so did Ronaldo against Barcelona after his arrival at the Santiago Bernabeu. After the match Barca was also eight points ahead of Madrid.

The 3rd«El Clasico» was in «Copa Del Ray Final» so it was a big match for both of them. Mourinho stuck to his super defensive strategy and finally he got a win and a trophy while Ronaldo scored in 102th minutes at Mestalla. Barca possessed 70% of the first half but no real effort before the goal post took place. Barca improved second half, they created chances but all went in vein and it was 0-0 after the 90 minutes. Then Ronaldo scored in 102th minute and this was the decider as Barca failed to score but they kept pushing.

The 4th «El Clasico» was in the much awaited Champions League Semi Final. First leg one was at Santiago Bernabeu. Mourinho criticized Pep Guardiola harshly when Guardiola commented on disqualifying a goal during the Copa Del Rey Final. Right after Mourinho left the press conference Guardiola replied it fast and furiously like never before as he used the «F word.» This incident added an extra spice before the battle. At the battle field we saw the reflection of Guardiola’s anger while Barca players were rushing all together towards the referee as soon as any foul committed by any Madrid player. Barcelona were playing their natural attacking game and Madrid were stuck to their defensive plan. It was 0-0 after the half time. When two teams headed to the dressing room Pinto extra goal keeper of Barca got a red card and there was a clash between the some players of both team. On the hour mark Pepe committed a foul against Dani Alves and the referee booked him a straight red card–Barca’s plan did work. But from the replay we could easily saw that it was master piece acting from Dani Alves. Mourinho also got a red card when he gave an illegal gesture to the referee. Then Barca took the advantage of 10 men and Messi scored 76th minute and he doubled it by a pure magic in 87th minute and the later was undoubtedly one of the best goals of Champions League history. After full time it was a huge advantage of 2-0 and Barca was almost through to the final.

The 5th «El Clasico» was a cruel formality as it was like more than impossible to keep Barca away from Wembley when they had 2-0 away goal advantage. It was 1-1 draw at Camp Nou. Barca scored first and Madrid equalized. Mourinho was not even in the gallery during the match. Barca was off to Wembly.

Champions League

It would be an injustice to Barca if I don’t mention the game against Arsenal. Cesc Fabregas once again played for the losing side. Arsenal had 2-1 home advantage but they failed to utilize it at the Camp Nou where they were humiliated last year by 4-1and all goals scored by the little Argentine wizard Messi. This year Messi once again made the difference, his first goal showed the world that his skill is limitless. Arsenal made an incredible record breaking the record of more than one thousand matches in the Champions League. In this match they were unable to take a single shot in the target! The score line was 3-1 and the sole goal was an own goal scored by Sergio Busquets.

Champions League Final–Obviously it is considered to be the biggest match of a season. Barca players labeled the match as their last Champions League Final of their life as Guardiola did so back in 1992 at Wembley where Barca had won their first ever Champions League Final Trophy. Sir Alex Ferguson labeled it as the «Final of the Decade.» Some said it would be «Dj vu» of 2008-09 season others said ManU got better. When the match begun first ten minutes ManU gave Barca a real good challenge but then it was again the beauty of Football at his supreme level, Manu became the bus stander once again. The game ended 3-1 and it could have been worse a lot. The game is now considered the best ever Champions League Final in terms of the class of Football by any team.

Finally, It was another successful mission of FC Barcelona. They got the Double and created few team and individual records in this season. They are now the very close to the «Dream Team» while some people have already expressed that they are the»Dream Team» or better than that! But one thing is for sure that Lionel Messi is getting closer and closer to stop repeating the question «Who is the best player of all time Pele or Maradona?»

The Brainpower of Soccer Players

So if you’re one of those people that think athletes are a bunch of «dumb jocks», think again. There’s research that has come out and has been published in Men’s Fitness Magazine that’s saying that soccer players are outperforming the public in mental abilities.

The research that’s been done by Swedish researchers set out to see if their mental capabilities like executive function could determine how they could perform on the field. Executive function includes activities such as working memory, like what you use to make a phone call. Executive function also includes creativity and multi-tasking, which are skills that are absolutely essential for a soccer player to be successful on the field.

When the researchers set out, they tested the Swedish professional league players, from the elite division on down and compared the findings to those of the public. Mental functioning tests were performed with the findings showing that the elite players were able to score the best on average on the tests.

So what does this research tell us about soccer players?

1. You have to be able to think quickly to play at a high level.

2. You need a creative mind that always leaves your opponent guessing.

3. You need to think in other people’s ‘shoes’ to anticipate plays.

The game of soccer is like almost any sport. Find the open space and attach it. Pass to the open guy. Take smart shots.

But to truly be one of the best, you need to be able to think at a higher pace. And not just think at a higher pace, but make smart decisions quickly while having to control a ball on your foot. Easier said than done.

So let’s take a look at Spain, the 2012 European Champions. A good portion of their roster comes from either Real Madrid or Barcelona, with a few other teams sprinkled in here and there. Spain has been able to win the last 3 major tournaments which is almost unheard of. In this day and age, it’s unprecedented.

If you really dig deep into the Spanish team, you’ll find that a major impact on the championship side are Barcelona bred. These players hail from La Masia, a breeding ground for top level talent looking to play for FC Barcelona one day.

The reason these players are able to play at such a high level is in large part due to their top level training that they receive on a daily basis, but also the type of education they receive at La Masia. They don’t just teach the game of soccer, they teach their players how to think and to be able to interchange positions on the fly. The other thing they’re taught is how to be good people, which is something that gets overlooked too often in competitive sports.

So if there’s anything to take away from this article, it would be this: GET AN EDUCATION.

FIFA World Cup 2010 – Ivory Coast Vs Portugal Preview

Take the most successful team of the world, ever, the strongest team of Africa, and one of the most competitive European squads, put them all together, and what do you get? The group of death!

Brazil, Ivory Coast and Portugal cannot afford to take any match in group G lightly, including the one against  the relatively weak North Korea, the 4th squad in the group.

Tuesday’s match between Portugal and Ivory Coast promises to be one of the hardest fought group matches and perhaps the most intriguing of all.

Ivory Coast  coasted through their qualifiers with Drogba scoring six goals. In contrast, Portugal barely qualified having to  engage in a play off with Bosnia.

Ivory Coast have suffered misfortune ahead of their opening match at the World Cup, with their star Didier Drogba fracturing his arm in a warm up against Japan.

Though he is said to be recovering after an operation, Drogba could sit the first match out.

Drogba is among the world’s best goal scorers, and his absence will hurt Ivory Coast who will look to  another Chelsea star Salomon Kalou to keep the scoreboard ticking.

Ivory Coast manager Eriksson will rely on his strong midfield comprising Yaya Toure and Zakora, and speedy winger Eboue, apart from the in form Tiote who plays for Dutch champions FC Twente.  If Drogba plays, they are likely to concentrate on feeding him.

Kolo leading the defence are other reliable players who have distinguished themselves for Ivory Coast, in the past, as is Arsenal full back, Emmanuel Eboue, who is coming off a successful club season.

Portugal have had their share of injury woes, their Manchester United winger Nani the latest casualty with a collarbone injury sustained in training. Benfica midfielder Ruben

Amorim has replaced Nani. This adds up to an additional load on Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, the captain of the side. Ronaldo has not scored for Portugal since Euro 2008, and he will be desperate to end the goal drought.

Before his current goal drought began, Cristiano Ronaldo was considered by many  as the world’s best player, with great dribbling skills, speed, and a happy penchant for scoring especially from set play situations.


Portugal will depend on Atletico Madrid winger Simao to reduce the pressure on his captain. Chelsea’s Ricardo Carvalho along with Pepe and Bruno Alves comprise a reliably strong defence.

Apart from an experienced midfield comprising Meireles, Deco and Mendes, Portugal has a solid defence, which will be bolstered further if Pepe is fully fit.

With a cloud over Drogba’s participation, Portugal enjoy a marginal advantage that is in turn offset by Ronaldo’s indifferent form. It’s hard to see a result in this match. Both teams might actually be happy to share points.

Remember When You Heard That Jose Mourinho Had Parted Company With Chelsea

It was with great shock that I received the sudden departure of «the special one» from Chelsea Football club, this morning.

I had predicted that he would not last the season when I was previewing the premiership but it still came as a surprise.

The reason I thought he would go was football related because I could not for the life of me think, why Chelsea ever thought they were even remotely close to Manchester United last season but chose not to make significant signings this season.

I was flabbergasted that they only brought in Claudio Pizarro, Steve Sidwell on a free and Tal Ben-Haim. None of those players in my humble opinion is likely to add anything really significant to a championship chasing side. They even managed to lose Arjen Robben in the process to make them worse.

I have never been a fan of the way Chelsea played under Mourinho with the emphasis on Drogba muscling his way round defenders and Lampard coming in from deep. Mourinho may have further irritated with his constant harpings that after a while, became tedious.

But there is no escaping the fact, that he was the finest tactician in the premiership by a long way and possibly in the world. Some myopic people would argue that he was successful because of Abramovich’s money. Having money does help but does not get you success, as Real Madrid and Inter Milan would testify to.

Barcelona won the champions league and the La Liga title 2 seasons ago and deemed it fit to spend money on Gianluca Zambrotta, Lilian Thuram and Eidur Gudjohnssen to make them even stronger but they did not win anything last season.

Newcastle have spent money over the years and they just have 2 FA cup final appearances to show for it. Mourinho, in just 3 seasons, had won the premiership twice, Coca cola cup twice and the FA cup. His Chelsea side has gone from being soft away from home to be the most feared ruthless machine in premiership history and are unbeaten at home in 64 matches, which is an English record.

He has reached the Champions league semi final twice only to be defeated by Liverpool through a controversial goal and on penalties that everyone knows is a lottery. What some of his critics fail to understand is that a lot of his buys are vastly overpriced like £12 on Paolo Ferreira for instance.

Again it is not like Chelsea are the only ones that spend big, Manchester United have spent £30m twice on Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, £18 on Michael Carrick and £17 on Owen Hargreaves. You have to be rich to spend those sums on players that are nowhere worth that kind of money.

As a matter of fact the only manager that has not spent big to gain success is Arsene Wenger and that is mainly because he does not have that much money to spend and when he does splash out, it tends to be a waste like £8m on Francis Jeffers!

It does not matter how much money you spend but whether you spend the money wisely.

Not necessarily getting the best players and the most skilful but also getting players that would gel with one another, players that are ready to do battle for you and you should be able to create an atmosphere that is to most of the players’ liking.

I think Mourinho did that to great effect at Chelsea. My only big problem with him was his favouritism of some players over the others.

I do not subscribe to treating people differently and I did not like the way he was always putting the likes of Lampard, Terry, Cech, Essien and especially Drogba over the others.

His treatment of Shevchenko was extremely shabby as he should have shown Shevchenko more respect and understanding instead on continually undermining a great player. But Chelsea, in my opinion have committed an almighty blunder and only time will tell how big a blunder it was to get rid of the most successful manager in their history. The winners are Rafa Benitez and Arsene Wenger because they now know that instead of 2 teams standing in their way, it is now just Manchester United, as I don’t really see Chelsea mounting a serious challenge with their current crop of players.

On a side note, a lot of women would be very upset that they would not be getting their regular dose of oogling Mourinho. I have never come across any other manager with his effect on the ladies.

Messi Is a Better Player Than Cristiano Ronaldo

After losing the Player of the Year award (Ballon d’Or) to Lionel Messi for four consecutive years Cristiano Ronaldo won the accolade in 2013. This and the great start Ronaldo has made in the new season have livened up an old debate as to whether he is a better player than Messi.

The discussion has focused on a particular set of statistics, namely, goals. To the extent that the data can help us to hazard an educated guess about player performance, Messi is the better of the two at club and international levels.

However if goals are used as the criteria to compare players it is not sufficient to look only at the number of goals scored. You also have to break down the conversion rate into such things as whether the shots are from inside or outside the area, the goal expectation i.e. whether an average player would score given the chance presented and the quality of the opponents.


The findings of a recent mathematical study were published in the Washington Post which showed that in 2009 to 2013 Messi’s average chance quality (i.e. quality of chances created) was higher than Ronaldo’s. Ronaldo had more shots but were mostly from long distance and he only scored 30 goals from 587 such shots whereas Messi scored 28 goals from his 287 long distance shots. Messi was more efficient because a higher percentage of his shots were converted i.e. 9.75 % to 5.11%.

The study found that Messi is better at getting into goal-scoring positions since he had 29 danger zone shots (from inside the area) to Ronaldo’s 20.

Messi is also a better finisher. In the period 2009/10 through 2013/14 Messi averaged 40% more goals than expected goals compared to Ronaldo’s 20% (see WASHINGTON POST – Despite great season, Cristiano Ronaldo is not better than Lionel Messi; by Michael Caley, November 7, 2014).

Last season Ronaldo broke the norm and outscored Messi. This propelled him to win the Ballon d’Or in 2013. But this has to be looked at in light of the fact that Messi missed a part of the year through injury and when he resumed playing he almost caught up with Ronaldo’s tally of 31 by scoring 28 by the end of the 2013/14 season.

Also, in the current season Ronaldo has made a great start by scoring 12 non-penalty goals to Messi’s 7. A plausible explanation for this is not that Ronaldo is now a better player but it is attributed to the changing roles of both players at their respective clubs.

With the addition of Neymar and Luis Suarez on the flanks of Barcelona’s 4-3-3 formation Messi now plays a deep-lying playmaking role which has led to his goals trending down while his assists are going up. His goals per game fell from little under 1.50 in the season 2012/13 to 0.86 in 2014/15 while his assists in 2013/14 was little under 0.50 and rose to 0.86 in the current season.

At Real Madrid the trend was the opposite. With the recent addition of Gareth Bale and James Rodriques in the midfield Ronaldo is now more of a striker and less focused on distribution. He now takes more shots from inside the penalty area and in the current season his 12 non-penalty goals except for 2 were from inside the box. His goals per game rose from 1.00 in 2013/14 to 2.20 in 2014/15 while his assists in the same period fell from 0.25 to 0.17 (ESPN FC GLOBAL- Realigning Stars: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo face changing roles; by Michael Cox, October 23, 2014).


Messi has a better strike rate than Ronaldo. The all time stats for all competitions show that Messi has 44 goals from 95 caps (0.46 goals per game) whereas Ronaldo has 51 from 116 caps (0.43 goals per game) (INTERNATIONAL STATS – November 8, 2014).

World Cup – Messi also surpasses Ronaldo with 5 goals from 15 caps (0.33 goals per game) to Ronaldo’s 3 goals from 13 caps (0.23 goals per game) (INTERNATIONAL STATS etc.).

Messi’s record is very impressive. In 2014 he led Argentina to the final, was voted Man of the Match in 4 games (the most of any player in the competition) and won the Golden Boot as the best player of the tournament.

Contrary to what some critics say he was the most deserving of the latter award. He had the most impact on the competition as Argentina would not have progressed to the final without him. He was the joint highest goal scorer with 4 goals and assists, created the most chances, had the most successful dribbling runs, made the most deliveries into the box and produced the most through balls of any player.

In contrast, Ronaldo has a sorry record. He has only scored thrice and against weak opposition, namely, a penalty against Iran (2006), the sixth goal in a 7-0 win against North Korea in 2010 and a late goal against Ghana in 2014. In the last tournament his only real contribution was an assist against the USA.


Messi has more career goals for club and country. He has a total of 420 goals in 564 games (or 0.74 goals per game) while Ronaldo has 449 goals in 702 games (or 0.63 goals per game).

The important difference is that the Argentine has more game changing goals and against stronger opposition. His goals are directly associated with winning titles in La Liga, Champions League victories, Olympic gold medal matches and Youth and Club World Cups.

For example, as at March 24, 2014 for Barcelona he has scored against the best teams namely, 21 against Real Madrid (Barcelona’s fiercest rival), 20 against league champion Atletico Madrid and 18 against Sevilla (most successful club in Andalusia). In the Champions League he has 12 against German teams, 8 against English teams and 5 against Italian teams. And in the World Cup 2014 he scored 4 match winning goals.

Ronaldo on the other hand has failed to score in decisive matches and succeeded in scoring multiple goals against weak teams not only with his club but with his country. For example, in the English Premier League for Manchester United he only scored 2 goals in 9 games against Liverpool (United’s fiercest rival) and scored 1 goal in 15 games against stalwart Chelsea.

In the Champions League for United he failed to net in his first 26 games and although he scored in the final in 2014 for Real Madrid he had little impact in the other final in which he played in 2009 in a 2-0 loss to Barcelona.

In Spain in his first 9 games against Barcelona (Real Madrid’s main rival) he scored just 3 goals.

In the World Cup he has a sorry record which was discussed above and in the European Championship he has 6 goals against minnows Greece, the Czech Republic and a weak Holland team and underperforms against strong teams like Germany and Spain.

All in all the stats show that Messi is the better player because he is better at getting into goal scoring positions, is a better finisher and is a more efficient goal scorer. Messi has an age advantage because he is 27 and Ronaldo is 29 and though it is likely that both will still be playing for a few more years the Argentine will have more time than Ronaldo to extend his record of achievements. In the meantime the debate goes on.

Victor A. Dixon

November 20, 2014

Next Stop Premier League?

With the World Cup now having been and gone we could have expected an influx of summer performers to the Premier League clubs as has happened following recent World Cups and European Championships. This summer though, movement has been slow. The highest profile move to a Premier League club thus far was the recent announcement that Chelsea’s Joe Cole is transferring to Liverpool. Whilst Cole fits the criteria of a World Cup performer this move was likely to have been initiated before the World Cup and based on reputation rather than World Cup matches.

The financial climate of the Premier League has changed considerably with public records of large leveraged debt at Manchester United and Liverpool, Arsenal have never been traditional big spenders under manager Arsene Wenger and the situation at Chelsea is uncertain but it is clear that Roman Abramovich has slowed his spending in the last two seasons. This leaves Manchester city has the obvious candidates to spend big on World Cup stars whilst Spurs may want to consolidate there new standing as a top four side with some new faces.

With many of the fancied players (Kaka, Messi, Drogba, Rooney, Ronaldo) relatively under performing this summer the World Cup the hottest property is Germany’s Mesut Ozil. The speedy 21 year old is contracted to Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. With Michael Ballack gone from the Chelsea midfield they may see his replacement at International level this summer as the man to fill the gap at Stamford Bridge, however Chelsea interest in a player is likely to stir attention at Manchester City who have so far spent big money on Spain’s David Silva, Germany’s Jerome Boateng and Ivory Coasts Yaya Toure. However Ozil is likely to attract interest from mainland Europe too. Whilst he may not fit into the Barcelona midfield with their interest firmly on Fabregas he may be a target for fellow giants Real Madrid or closer to home Bayern Munich.

Uruguay surprised many this summer with the stand out performers being strikers Luis Suarez and Diego Forlan. Forlan is tried and tested in the Premier League when he found life tough to cope with at Manchester United scoring just 17 goals in near 100 appearances, he may get a second chance with another club if he can be tempted to leave the Spanish league that seems to suit his style of play. Suarez netted a phenomenal 49 goals for Dutch side Ajax and should Ajax manager Martin Jol make the rumoured switch to Fulham then don’t be surprised to see his star striker follow him to Craven Cottage.

World Cup’s gone by have been an opportunity for African players to showcase their talents to the watching football world, however this time around with the exception of Ghana, African performances were subdued so a minority of players are likely to have stirred Premier League interest. Of course, a large majority of Ghana’s squad already feature in European leagues so are likely to carry the inflated price tags that has Premier League chairman running scared of.

So to conclude, a slow start to the transfer window (with the obvious exception of Manchester City) and don’t expect things to change too quickly, it is likely to be a pre-season of consolidation and looking within teams own youth ranks rather than a vast period of recruitment.