OK, I know in my ‘return’ post I said I was going to leave old news alone. I’d promised I’d keep things fresh by looking at new, fast moving information, and shed my very own light on them. Well, I’m going to slightly break that in order to combine my view on the Mexican game and my beloved Celtic. You see, since I’ve been away the Hoops have announced a link to the Coahuila-based club, Santos Laguna.

As somebody who sees a great deal of Mexican football, I see this a really shrewd move by the board, and am delighted at the potential it offers the club. As we all know, Celtic’s traditional markets have been strangled by the vice-like grip the Premier League holds over the majority of Europe. Greatly inflated fees have quickly spread all across Europe, with even 17 year-old unproven kids being priced at £20m. (Yes, anybody who has seen him can appreciate that Romelu Lukaku of Anderlecht is a wonderful talent, but £20m? I think not!)

This has forced the club to widen the net, and look to markets that would normally be both out of sight and out of mind. So far, Lennon has done reasonably well in the transfer market from very different areas of the world, with the Israeli Beram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre from Honduras being particularly impressive. And this is the right type of market for Celtic to exploit, finding players who are relatively young (Kayal is just 22, and Izaguirre is 24) to bring to Europe, nurture, and sell on for a profit. Indeed, there is already reported interest in Izaguirre from Manchester United, with a rumoured £10m figure for him.

Of course, it is disappointing to think that a club of Celtic’s size will have to become a ‘selling club’, but we have to be realistic. There is no money at all in Scotland, which means the game and the clubs will have to adapt to survive. This means a combination of signing youngsters at a really early age (the Ajax system) and then buying players from leagues with even less finance than our own, and selling them at a huge profit (the ethos of PSV). And of course, if Manchester United will sell Cristiano Ronaldo, ANYBODY is for sale.

What better way then to look to exploit these kind of markets than by taking on a feeder side? A club right towards the top of the Mexican game (they finished runners-up in this year’s Apertura championship, progressed through to the CONCACAF Champions League quarter finals, and won the Clasura in 2008) makes them an attractive proposition for the better players in South and Central America, which ultimately benefits us, too. After all, the better they do, the better the calibre of players available to us through the partnership.

Now as the Mexican Primera is not exactly a regular on European television, many Celtic fans may well be wondering just how fruitful the partnership will be. Are there any players worth signing? Is the Mexican league actually any good, or is this nothing but a publicity stunt? Well, I’ve decided to do my very own little scouting trip to hopefully provide you all with a little more info, and whether in my opinion they’d offer anything extra at Celtic Park.

Oswaldo Sanchez: 37 year old Mexican international goalkeeper. Sanchez has won 98 caps for his country, and played at Santos for four and a half seasons. A decent shot-stopper, but prone to the odd error, especially with crosses. Too old to be a realistic signing for Celtic, with no re-sale value. Worth signing? No.

Jose Antonio Olvera: 24 year old Mexican international central defender. Olvera has won 3 caps Mexico, is good on the ball which also allows him to play in midfield. He’s calm while under pressure , but he’s greatly let down by his lack of size. At only 5 foot 8, he would struggle at the back in the aggressive nature of Scottish football. Worth signing? No.

Uriel Alvarez Rivera: 20 year old Mexican defender. Rivera has yet to win a cap for his national side, but he certainly shows promise. He is strong in the tackle and good on the ball, although he does suffer a little with inconsistency. Perhaps one for the future. Worth signing? Maybe in a few years.

Jonathan Lacerda: 23 year-old Uruguayan defender. At 6 foot 2, Lacerda is certainly built like a defender. Decent in the air, and with an ability to win some vital challenges, Lacerda could be ideal at Parkhead. At 23 he is a great age to sign, but he is currently fourth choice central defender defender for Santos. He’ll need to break his way into the side for a sustained period before he’s even considered. Worth signing? Yes, but not just yet.

Felipe Baloy: 29 year-old captain of Panama, central defender and club captain. 6 foot 2, and a colossus at the back, Baloy is right out of the Bobo Balde mould. Very mobile, with a desire to get forward, Baloy would become a cult hero at Celtic Park. Only negative is that he is a month away from his 30th birthday, and as such he would have little or no resale value, but this is countered by his qualities on the pitch. Worth signing? Yes, immediately.

Jorge Estrada Manjarrez: 27 year old Mexican international wing-back/ full back. Santos Laguna regularly play with three central defenders, and so I’ve normally seen Manjarrez play as a wing back, but what impresses me most is his mobility. He’s constantly joining attacks, has a lot of ability when it comes to crossing and he even pops up with the odd goal. Only made his Mexico debut in 2010 and suffered an injury, or I suspect he’d have a few more than just one cap. However, once again I think his size would be an issue as he is only 5 foot 6. In addition, he’d struggle to dislodge Cha, Hinkel or even Wilson out of the side. Worth signing? No.

Carlos Morales: 31 year old Mexican international left wing-back/ left midfielder. Morales has won 8 caps for his country, the last one coming in 2005. Another decent player going forward, offers plenty of width and a decent cross into the box, but he struggles defensively. His age works against him, and he’s not a patch on Izaguirre. Worth signing? No.

Jose Cardenes: 25 year old left full back/ wing back/ left midfielder. Cardenes has won two caps for Mexico, and scored on his debut. Cardenes is a real creative force for his side when he plays further forward. Skillfull, quick and with a peach of a left foot, Cardenes is at his best when operating further forward. Great from a dead-ball, his corners are a particularly useful weapon for Santos. At 25 years old, he’s still young enough to be a worthwhile signing. Worth signing? Yes.

Fernando Arce: 30 year old defensive midfielder, has won more than 40 caps for Mexico. Arce is one of the vital tools in this Santos Laguna side, sitting in a holding role alongside Juan Rodriguez. Always available for a simple pass, with the ability to get forward and put the ball in the net. Another small player in stature, but without him, Santos are not the same team. However, Celtic are at their strongest in the middle of the park, so despite his talents, I don’t see him as a real option. Worth signing? No.

Juan Rodriguez: 31 year old central midfielder, has also won in excess of 40 caps for Mexico. Originally broke into the national side on the back of his goal scoring exploits at Club Atlas, where he scored more than 50 goals in 6 years from midfield. He became renown for his set pieces, although he has now become more of a ‘simple stuff’ type player, much like Lennon himself was. Lacks a cutting edge in the tackle, and would probably be another to struggle in the aggressive Scottish game. Worth signing? No

Daniel Ludena: 28 year old Argentine attacking midfielder, who began his career at River Plate. In my opinion, Ludena is the best player at Santos Laguna, and he has been reportedly interesting several clubs in Spain. Ludena is exceptional from dead-balls, very much in the Nakamura mould, and averages a goal every three games from midfield. He has great vision, and regularly unlocks defences with a wonderful through ball. Although not the quickest, he’d slot straight into the Celtic side and stay there. Worth signing? Immediately.

Carlos Darwin Quintero: 23 year old Columbian international striker, wide midfielder. Well, what can I say about Quintero? Easily the most frustrating player in Mexico, Quintero certainly has the ability to be dynamite. He has blistering pace and great skill, and at 23 he has definite potential. However, his finishing is highly erratic, and he frequently picks the wrong option. Think Samaras but about twice as quick and half as tall! Should score far more goals from the positions he finds himself in. Worth signing? Dubious.

Christian Benitez: 24 year old Ecuadorian international striker. Of course, the second the partnership was announced Celtic were linked to the ex Birmingham striker, and for good reason. Benitez was the top scorer in the Apertura on his return to Santos, scoring 16 goals in 22 games, and he also averages a goal every other game for Ecuador. It never quite worked out for Benitez in England, but he is a predator in front of goal and has blistering pace. At just 24, another spell in Europe is certainly not beyond him, and I’d undoubtedly back him to be a success. Would certainly offer another option up front, even if only used as an impact player. Worth signing? Yes.

Are you a fan of Mexican football? I’d love your feedback either here or follow me on Twitter.

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To many, the display of the Mexican national side was a real surprise in the last World Cup. They were grouped with the host nation South Africa, the finalists of the previous tournament France, and Uruguay, a side containing two of the most lethal front men in European football. Let’s be honest, we didn’t expect much. Indeed, I naively expected the French to just turn up and beat them as any side containing the likes of Ribery, Govou, Anelka et al should be good enough to beat almost anybody, shouldn’t they?

How pleased I was then when Domenech’s dour, boring side was put to the sword by a display of wide open attacking football, led from the front by the Manchester United-bound ‘Chicarto’ Javier Hernandez. As somebody who now watches a LOT of Mexican football, I’m delighted to say the domestic league is full of players with bags of natural ability, and the attacking flair the national side displayed so well that night in Polokwane resonates throughout.

For those who don’t know, South and Central American leagues run rather differently to those in Europe. There are two championships consisting of one game against each side contested every year, the ‘Apertura’ (roughly translated as ‘opening’) championship in the first half of the season, and the ‘Clasura’ (closing) in the second. This is an idea that has many flaws (can you imagine having two champions a year in England or Scotland? Nor me) but it is done for the purposes of continental football. Mexico enters club sides into the CONCACAF Champions League from one championship, and the much more prestigious Copa Libertadores in the other, and because of this, the two championships per year system works really well. However, it also includes a play off system to decide the league champions- something which fans of Cruz Azul would berate bitterly.

Over the course of the season, ‘Los Cementeros’ were far and away the best side in the country. In 17 games they lost just twice, once to bitter city rivals Club Universidad Nacional (otherwise known as the Pumas) and surprisingly against strugglers Necaxa. However, they put closest challengers Monterrey to the sword away from home, as well as securing a comprehensive victory over Santos Laguna, the side who would ultimately finish third in the league. At the same time they progressed through the group stages of the CONCACAF Champions League with consummate ease, even having the comfort of fielding reserve sides along the way.

The next line may not help my argument with the more cynical amongst you, but I was greatly impressed with the front line, largely led by former Derby County flop Emmanuel Villa. (Yes, I know, bring on the abuse. It can easily be countered with two words: Diego Forlan. He didn’t really enjoy his time in England either, but he’s now one of the most respected strikers in the game. But I digress…)

While the Argentine was not prolific (seven goals in 22 appearances) he was very much the focal point of their attack, bringing the likes of winger Christian Gimenez, and fellow forward Javier Orcozo into the game. Gimenez in particular was very impressive, the former Boca Juniors man scored 10 goals and made countless others, but the battling qualities of Villa were there for all to see.  They were also solid at the back, conceding just 13 goals in the 17 games, and with former Sevilla and Racing Santander midfielder Gerardo Torrardo sitting in the midfield, they looked every inch like champions.

However, if there’s one thing that this Cruz Azul team struggle with it is definitely knock out football. This is the side who has lost both of the last two CONCACAF Champions League finals, the last one to a goal three minutes into injury time against fellow Mexican side Pachuca. It was perhaps inevitable then that they would fail when the play offs came about, but defeat to their city rivals must really have stung. Pumas finished 7 places and 14 points adrift of ‘El Azul‘, and despite securing a 2-1 win away from home, they were beaten 2-0 on their own patch, making the league form ultimately for nought.

Second placed Monterrey would eventually benefit in the play off final, inspired by reported Manchester United and Liverpool target Humberto Suazo to a 5-3 aggregate victory over third placed Santos Laguna. In my opinion, Chilean striker Suazo would be an inspirational signing for a top European side, and the amount of times I witnessed him turn games on their head with a piece of brilliance was truly incredible. The 29 year old would finish the campaign with 15 goals, one behind former Birmingham striker Christian Benitez, who scored 16 for Laguna.

It was a thoroughly entertaining campaign, with football played at a sky-high tempo and thunderous challenges in pretty much every game I saw. The Clasura is now underway, and it seems that Cruz Azul are still struggling to deal with the Apertura disappointment. Although they were to begin the new season with a comprehensive 4-1 victory, they were thrashed 3-0 by Atlante in their second match. (And trust me, NOBODY should lose by three goals against Atlante!)

This past weekend was my first opportunity to see Cruz Azul since they lost to Pumas, and it was perhaps inevitable they would face their city rivals again. Once again, Villa was instrumental up front, grabbing the opening goal and giving the Pumas backline a problem all evening long. Cruising 2-0 up at half time, it seemed that the ghost had been put to rest, normal service resumed. Indeed, 30-odd thousand ‘El Azul’ supporters certainly seemed to think so as they taunted their rivals.

However, 20 crazy second half minutes saw the game turned on it’s head, with a brace from Juan Carlos Cacho on his return to his old club, and a header from captain Dario Veron. Azul showed great character to equalise with less than ten minutes to go, but they will no doubt be left feeling frustrated by their inability to avenge their defeat.

I’m intrigued to see if they can pick themselves up, or whether they will endure a disappointing Clasura, but I’d suggest their priority may well switch from the league to the Champions League. They face fellow Mexican side Santos Laguna in the quarter finals next month, and the prospect of a semi final against Monterrey afterwards, so a record sixth Champions League trophy is well within their grasp.  If I was a betting man though, I’d suggest more disappointment beckons for Enrique Meza’s men in both fields.

Are you a fan of Mexican football? Who do you think will be the star of the Clasura? I’d love your feedback either here or follow me on Twitter.

Greetings all. Once again, I feel the need to apologise in the opening line of my blog, and there are certainly some metaphorical cobwebs to blow away. A little self loathing, and even more self doubt have kept me away from this place, but no more (there’s only so much Football Manager a man can play in a day after all!) I also need to hold my hands up and admit that my later blog entries had gone a little stale. I had lost my edge, largely because I was blogging about old news. Lesson learned, methinks.

So plenty has happened since I’ve been away. Celtic have got themselves right back into the title race, Notts have  had to sell their most influential play maker, and Darren Bent has proved beyond reasonable doubt that too many Premiership footballers are mercenaries. But that’s not fresh news, you can read about it anywhere you like. No, instead I’m going to talk about something a little more personal.

As some of you may know, I’m fortunate enough to do a job I adore for a living: I get to commentate on football from all around the world. I think it’s time I started to talk about those games here, so expect a post in an hour or so.

Until then, this might interest you. If you fancy a free ticket to a Football League match, keep your eye on this page.

Catch you all very soon.

Perhaps it was because I’ve barely seen Celtic this season as most of my weekends are spent commentating. Perhaps the league table caught me off-guard, with 8 wins from 8 games. Perhaps it was sleep deprivation, combined with a portable flux capacitor and I thought I was about to watch the 2001 team. (OK, maybe not that last one.) Whatever it was, I woke up on Sunday certain we were going to witness a performance from Celtic, and that Lennon’s side would go a long way towards healing the pain of last year. What we got was more of the same.

I’ve seen a few accounts post-match, many of them hysterically blaming Willie Collum for his ridiculous penalty decision. Sure, he got that one wrong, and yes, it was a sore one to take. At 2-1 the game was wide open, but at 3-1 we needed a miracle. However, that doesn’t quite tell the whole tale.

I’m very unhappy to say this, but if I remove my green-tinted specs I will begrudgingly admit that Rangers dominated the game, and we got exactly what we deserved. Tactically, Lennon got it wrong, but he was let down by his experienced players all over the park. And it simply wasn’t good enough. Let’s look at Lennon first.

The system he picked was a head scratcher for me. Going for 4-4-2, but with Maloney and Stokes as the wide men meant we were effectively playing 4-2-4. Against a side with a 5 man midfield, we were always going to get over-run. We did.

Now there are some who may say that the system was changed early on with the Maloney injury. They’d be right, but the problem there was we still had both Samaras and Stokes playing wide. Both out-and-out strikers, neither were going to be useful in the midfield battle. Indeed, we were lucky not to lose Stokes just a couple of minutes in for a horrific challenge. Then of course we persevered with Glenn Loovens at the back, and if he’s actually a professional footballer then I’m a Dutchman.

I think Lennon should have predicted the inevitable Rangers formation and looked to play with 3 central midfielders, with Ki and Juarez playing in front of the back 4, and Ledley as a ‘box-to-box’ player. At Cardiff, Ledley was renowned for getting ahead of the front men and scoring goals. The type of player we have been missing since Stan Petrov left for Aston Villa, yet I believe we are not seeing the best of him thanks to our system. He almost reminds me of Paul Hartley: a player we signed as a great attacking midfielder, yet we played him as an anchorman. Too early to tell with Ledley, but speaking as someone who watches a lot of the Championship, I thought he was wasted protecting the back four.

And now, onto Samaras. People who have ever read my posts before will know that I’m hardly the big Greek’s biggest fan. He leaves me tearing my hair out at just how frustrating he is. I just don’t know how he can be so brilliant one week, and the next he’d struggle to get a game for Lincoln City. On Sunday he was just simply abysmal.

So much time was spent screaming at him. He dallied on the ball, didn’t see simple passes, and his ball retention was non-existent. There was a little drama involving Lee McCulloch in the first half, with the Rangers man lucky not be shown a second yellow. However, if Samaras had been on his game he would have slid Hooper in before McCulloch had a chance to make the challenge, got himself into the box and we may well have scored. And there were countless times he did this. Rather than taking a simple pass to slide the full back in for a cross, he tried to cut inside, or just took too long and the momentum was gone.

Then onto our defence. The first goal was an absolute shocker to concede, especially so early into the second half. All the momentum we had gained from Hooper’s goal right on half time had gone, and it was simply because we didn’t have the nous to deal with a high, hopeful cross into the area. Can you imagine that cross coming in with big Bobo back there? Or even Mjallby? (I’d suggest registering big Johan as a player again, just so we can have SOMEBODY who’ll put their body on the line at the back.) Quite simply, that kind of cross should be dealt with by Loovens and Majstorovic all day long.

And if the first goal wasn’t bad enough, the second was a real howler. I’m a firm believer in only passing the ball back to the keeper when you absolutely have to, as all they ever tend to do is boot the ball upfield. Majstorovic didn’t have to, he had time to clear the ball himself. Instead, he caused unnecessary pressure by knocking the ball back to Forster, and we all know what followed. Such a poor goal to concede, and it really knocked the stuffing out of us, and Rangers just got stronger. I’m not going to go into the penalty decision, because it has been done to death, but we were never going to come back after it.

All in all, it is more fuel to those who say that Lennon is yet to win a match “that matters”. At the moment, it’s hard to argue with them. Ross County, Braga, Utrecht and now Rangers really do take the shine off his previously unblemished league record. Fortunately, it’s a cup-tie on Wednesday and an immediate opportunity to put that right. I’d suggest that we will.

I’d also suggest that the next time we come up against Rangers we’ll be much more balanced as a side. Lennon strikes me as the sort of manager who’ll learn from tactical errors, unlike his predecessor who blindly stuck with the same players and system, even when it was blatantly failing. And despite all my negativity throughout this post, it is just three points. By the time the next derby comes around, our newer players will be even more settled, and with more experience of what it actually means to play for Celtic.

This championship is a long way from being over, and we’re right in the hunt. Keep the faith, Bhoys and Ghirls. There’s a long way to go yet.

Easy come, easy go…

October 26, 2010

I’m still in a state a shock. No, not about Celtic’s dismal defending against Rangers yesterday, that I expected (and I have a post on that coming!) Instead, I’m shocked that while watching said Old Firm game I received a text message from a mate saying “Shorty’s been sacked!” I know I should never be surprised by anything in football, but I was certainly caught off guard here. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed, too.

For a new squad, in a new division and under a new manager, I’ve thought we’ve been doing alright. A couple of good solid performances at Wolves and Peterborough, as well as the demolition of Yeovil have shown real potential in our squad, and if we’d had a bit more luck we’d be flying high. Perhaps it is because of Short’s previous connection to the club, but I was personally willing to give him the time to provide us with some much needed stability.

There have been a few dissenting voices towards Short from the first day of the season, but I myself thought that given a bit of time, the side would come together. Indeed, the majority of Notts fans I’ve spoken to this season seem to have had the same opinion, so yesterday’s news came as a shock to a few of us.

Even more disappointing though was the news that Dave Kevan had also lost his job. Dave was a vital part in last year’s promotion, holding the playing squad together while we went through manager after manager, and throughout the turmoil at board level. From what I’ve heard he was very popular with the players too, so it does then seem a little harsh for Dave to be removed from his position.

However, I can see the other side of the coin. We clearly have a highly ambitious chairman, who has the best interests of Notts County at heart. If he didn’t then he wouldn’t have pumped so much money into our beloved club, sold a business for the sole purpose of adding extra funds to the club’s budget, or bought Nottingham Rugby, for that matter. It seems he’s looking to protect that investment, and rather than let too much time slide by, he’s made the decision quickly. Ultimately, this suggests he believes he made a mistake in appointing Short in the first place.

Many of us can make a defence for Short, beginning with just how unlucky we have been under him. So many games we’ve dominated, playing good football in the process, but just unable to take our chances. If we’d scored a second against Colchester the game was in the bag. Sheffield Wednesday were there for the taking as well, and if we’d taken one of our many chances in the first half we could easily have gone on and scored two or three. That’s just to name two matches. However, football is a results business, and “what ifs” ultimately don’t win points.

As a fan I have to trust the chairman’s judgement, something which I’m certainly prepared to do. Now we have heard that the new man “will be an experienced head”. A wise decision I believe, but it has to be the right appointment. I’m not convinced by many of the names I have heard mentioned so far, but I’d suggest there is somebody already lined up. I believe Kevan lost his job because most managers these days expect to be able to bring in their own back room team, or at least an assistant manager. I just can’t see any other explanation, so if you have one please feel free to enlighten me.

So now we have to ask just who is next? I’ve heard a few people suggest Paul Hart, but I’m not convinced that would be the right move. Peter Reid would be a strange one for me too, and some of the other names in the mix are just ‘pie in the sky’. Gordon Strachan? Phil Brown? Never going to happen. I think Paul Ince would be a decent shout, as would Alan Pardew. An outside bet for me would be someone like Micky Adams, who has Port Vale flying in League Two, and who has experience in all four divisions. However, I’m not convinced he’s a big enough name for Ray Trew’s ambitions, so perhaps I should raise mine accordingly. In that case I’d go for Alan Curbishley, but I just couldn’t that happening (see above ‘pie in the sky’ statement!)

Ultimately I’ll back whoever comes into the club. What we need is a manager who will come in and tighten the defence up, and demand more from our front players. We need to turn these good performances into victories, and as much as I accept that Steve Cotterill is ancient history at Notts, I can’t help but think if he’d been in charge we’d have at least six extra points thanks to his demands of the players.

All I would personally ask is that Tony Mowbray gets nowhere near the Meadow Lane hotseat, and I hope Middlesbrough hurry up and appoint him. Nine months of Mowbray as a manager of your team is enough to provide a major dose of the blues to even the most optimistic supporter. For it to happen to both of my clubs within twelve months may see me off to the doctor for a course of valium!

If you need convincing otherwise, YouTube has dozens of examples of Celtic’s dismal performances last season. Get some popcorn and settle down for a true horror show. Just make sure you tell me first so I can hide behind the couch…

Hello again, dear reader. My apologies for such a substantial delay in posting, I’m pleased to see my good friend Mr Mantle has kept this place ticking over, but it’s about time I played my part.

Now there have been a few interesting topics since I’ve been away: Capello and England, Danny Murphy’s mouth, Marlon King’s return to the game and Arsene Wenger’s ‘war on tackles’ to name just a few. However, in this week there is only one place I can start: Wayne Rooney, and Manchester United.

I see Mr Mantle has posted on the topic already this week, clearly taken in by the idea that Rooney was away to pastures new. Now I never totally accepted that idea, and the reason why was Fergie himself. Normally when a player crosses the manager at United he is out the door in less time than it takes Rio Ferdinand to say “drugs test”. However, the key was in Ol’ Red Nose’s language: “my door is always open”.

Let’s be honest here. If this whole argument was about money, there’s no way Rooney would have wanted to leave. Manchester United, no matter how much debt they are in, can and will match anybody in the world as far as wages for top players go. Anybody. And that includes both Manchester City and Chelsea, as well as Real Madrid and Barcelona. When this is considered, you have to assume that there is something else in this whole stance.

It is easy to say (indeed many already have) that Rooney has disrespected the fans and the club by his stance. Perhaps my views are because I’m not a United fan, but I entirely disagree with Hayward and his ilk. I think Rooney’s stance showed him to be at one with the United support, positioning himself with the green and gold campaign seen in Old Trafford each and every week.

“But Mike, he asked to leave…” I hear you ask. Indeed, that he did. But what better way to criticise the club’s owners by demanding a transfer, even when you don’t actually want to leave? If that isn’t a big “we’re going backwards” type of statement, when the best player at the club publicly questions the ambitions of the country’s biggest club, I don’t know what is.

This time last year, Rooney made a public statement which said that he wanted to stay at United for the duration of his career. Had that really changed in just  12 short months? Of course not, and despite the off-field activities of ‘Shrek’, United was as good for him as he was for them.

So now United fans feel let down by Rooney. What I have to ask is ‘why’? Because he questioned where United were going? Because he felt United couldn’t sign the kind of player that’d take another European Cup to Old Trafford? Because he questioned whether United could attract the best players in the city of Manchester, let alone England? Where have we heard this before? At last, one of your biggest players has come out and said exactly the same message as you have all been giving out for years.

Much like Liverpool under Hicks and Gillette, the debt at United is gradually strangling the club. The money that is generated through the turnstiles, the TV revenue and merchandise is now being spent on servicing the ridiculous-near BILLION pound debt acquired by Mr Glazer, rather than being reinvested into the squad or (heaven forbid) reducing ticket prices so ordinary fans can turn Old Trafford into the cauldron of noise it should be (think Celtic Park on a European night.)

I’d suggest United fans should use this as a springboard to continue the campaign to rid the club of the Glazer family. Continue to question the ambition of the club under the Americans. Continue to ask why Fergie isn’t given the kind of cash to match your “noisy neighbours”, especially when you consider how much is made by the United ‘brand’ (I now feel very dirty, thanks.) And continue to ask how you can replace Cristiano Ronaldo with Nani.

Although I do have to be honest here and admit that I find the state of United quite amusing. It’s almost like Fergie is playing a real life game of Football Manager, selling all his best players and signing Steve Guppy in their place. As to whether this is good for English football though is certainly open to debate…

Quite rare I delve into the world of Serie A or La Liga on this blog, but the news of one major transfer between the two leagues this week has me relishing the prospect of watching AC Milan this season. Of course, the player in question is none other than the enigmatic figure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. If you haven’t seen the news, he’s been allowed to leave on a season-long loan, with a transfer fee arranged for next summer of €24m. And just because I like videos, here’s one for you to enjoy.

He is the ultimate opinion divider, is “Ibra”. On his day the big Swede is utterly unplayable, scoring goals from anywhere, and at 6 foot 5 with hugely deceptive pace, he is a handful for any defender in the world. Couple that with his undoubted technical ability, it is easy to see why some rate him as the best centre forward in the game.

Unfortunately, he also has his days where I swear he’s actually a hybrid of Delroy Facey and Vinny Arkins in disguise. A very questionable temperament and a complete lack of work ethic don’t do him any favours, and it is these character flaws which have let him down in Spain. As a result, his €69m transfer from Inter Milan to Barcelona hasn’t quite worked out, despite scoring 21 goals for the Spanish champions last season.

There are a few facets of this story though that really interest me. The first is just how Barcelona can allow themselves to simply brush off a loss of €45m without a care in the world. This is the club who recently reported a post-tax yearly loss of €77.1m simply allowing the player  to leave the club for next to nothing, only recouping part of the frankly ridiculous fee for him next summer. That is the same player who officially commanded the second largest transfer fee ever paid only 12 months ago. Granted, they will be relieving their wage bill of a reported £200,000 a week, but the signing of David Villa and Javier Mascherano hardly represents a club attempting to downsize. Indeed, the rumours are still there that they want to add Manchester City’s Robinho to their squad (who ironically is also interesting AC Milan) which is a serious increase in their wage bill.

The second is the fact that Ibrahimovic won nearly everything there is to win in Italy with Milan’s city rivals, yet like many ex Inter players before him, he now finds himself in the red and black of the Roseneri. I fully expect Ibrahimovic to deal with the abuse that comes his way, but again it is another test of his temperament, one which many others will expect him to fail.

I have read many opinions already on this matter, calling Ibrahimovic a “bigger flop than Shevchenko” but is that really accurate? I’d argue it’s wide of the mark, certainly. As a centre forward, your first job is to put the ball in the net. As already stated, he did that 21 times last season. Ah, you might say, surely these 21 goals came against the smaller clubs? Well, no. He scored both goals against Arsenal at the Emirates in the Champions League Quarter Final, and the winner against Real Madrid in the ‘Classico’ at the Camp Nou. Put that next to ‘Sheva’s’ nine goals in two seasons, and it’s clear to see who was a bigger disaster.

Thirdly, you have to wonder if Milan’s new coach Massimiliano Allegri knows exactly what he’s getting, and if he can motivate Ibrahimovic the way that Mancini and Jose Mourinho managed at Inter. Allegri was a strange appointment by Milan, another young manager following on from Leonardo and as a result, no  real experience at a top club. Mancini was also a young manager, but he was also a top quality player, which I suspect will have helped him to manage Ibrahimovic. Of course, after Mancini came Mourinho, who I think could turn Emile Heskey into a winner, let alone ‘Ibra’.

Just how Allegri builds his side will also be paramount. Whilst Milan have an ageing squad, they also have a few egos, not least Ronaldhino. With the rumours of Robinho also arriving at Milan, and the certainty of Pato starting every week (note the transfer window is still open as I type this!) you have to wonder exactly what Allegri has in mind. If he makes Ibrahimovic his ‘main man’, I’d expect to see him flourish once again, but if he’s playing second fiddle to ANYBODY, he may struggle.

So the time has come then to nail my colours to the mast and answer the title of this post. I am absolutely in the flawed genius camp, and I really hope he is a massive success back at the San Siro. As good as Barcelona are, I found his signing to be a strange one as they clearly don’t play with a target man. David Villa, who they have since purchased, was more of a Barcelona-type player, as was Luis Fabiano or even Robin Van Persie, but something about Ibrahimovic didn’t quite seem to be a natural fit.

Indeed, he might have been better off at Real Madrid alongside Higuain and Ronaldo (imagine that!) but I expect to see him scoring blinding goals once again this season. However, if he fails back in Italy, we may see him gradually slip away from Europe’s elite clubs and end up as just another mercenary at an Aston Villa or similar.

I’m sure I won’t be alone in hoping against hope that’s not the case, and that Ibrahimovic finishes his career at a club worthy of his brilliance. Or that he flops massively in Milan and arrives at Celtic Park for nothing next summer. One can hope…