Archive for October, 2007

Top 10 List of Europe’s Most Expensive Benchwarmers (2007-08)

Tuesday, October 16th, 2007

Shevchenko, Podolski, Crouch, Chevantón, Riquelme: these are just a few of the quality players which have been reduced to a benchwarming role in their clubs, as the new season continues. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some of them decide it’s time for a change, and travel to greener pastures: with the January transfer window slowly approaching, my latest Soccerlens article uses some inspiration from Gazzetta dello Sport and takes a look at the ‘Top 10′ of Europe’s biggest benchwarmers.

Note that Serie A players are not included, and the players are ranked by league & transfer fee of their last club change.

Andriy Shevchenko
With Sheva’s biggest ‘enemy’ gone from Chelsea, the Ukrainian striker’s been complaining a lot less lately. However, despite the departure of José Mourinho, it doesn’t seem that the Blues’ new coach Avrum Grant is putting a lot of faith in Sheva either. Roman Abramovich bought the ex-Milan star for €42m, but given the Ukrainian’s shaky match-form the price has now dropped by more than half. One has to wonder in the end, if Shevchenko won’t decide it’s time to breathe some new air.
Peter Crouch
The Liverpool striking force has gotten pretty crowded this season: Dirk Kuyt remained at the club, and the new arrivals of Fernando Torres, Andriy Voronin, Yosi Benayoun and Ryan Babel don’t leave much space for outsiders. As a result, Peter Crouch’s playing time has decreased drastically, and team manager Rafa Benitez has given the striker a starting role in only one game so far. Liverpool bought the ex-Southampton player for €12m… for any club interested, the price hasn’t changed.
Eidur Gudjohnsen
He’s just scored two goals with Iceland, but his team had to concede a 4-2 defeat at the hands of Latvia. Not very good for morale, but even worse if upon your return home, there’s already 5-6 strikers in line ready to play at your club. With Eto’o, Messi, Ronaldinho, Henry, and now Giovani Dos Santos, the space at Barcelona is very very limited. With the addition of young prodigy Bojan Krkic, good Eidur might be having a real problem getting any playing time at all. The Blaugranas spent €12m to buy him from Chelsea, but with Gudjohnsen recently turning 29 his price tag just got considerably cheaper.
Juan Román Riquelme
“El Mudo” is currently involved in a very complicated situation: he’s almost a ‘prisoner’ at Villareal because manager Manuel Pellegrini hasn’t utilized him once. It seems that both men are still in bad terms after a pretty animated discussion that took place over a year ago. Riquelme is still shining with the Albiceleste (he just recently scored 2 free-kick goals in Argentina’s World Cup 2010 qualifier vs. Chile), and dreams of returning to Boca Juniors (where he played the past season, providing boatloads of assists and game-winning goals). However, any destination would do if it means getting away from Villareal and Pellegrini.
Ernesto Javier Chevantón
In August 2006, he transferred from AS Monaco to Sevilla for €8m. Since then, the Uruguayan scored 4 in La Liga and 4 in the UEFA Cup. Pretty average, but not too bad considering the competition for a striker role at the club. Since then however, Chevantón and Sevilla’s relationship got sour: he wanted to go to Recreativo Huelva, the clubs couldn’t agree on a price, and the transfer failed. Such a shame, because the ex-Lecce player was in absolutely storming form while playing in the Serie A. Given his current situation, he could make his return to Italy quite soon.
Miguel Ángel Mista
Atletico Madrid
When the name “Mista” gets mentioned, one immediately thinks about the La Liga topscorer of 2004 (19 goals that year), but even with that resumé a 29-year old will have a hard time finding space, especially in a team who already has Sergio Aguëro, Diego Forlán, Simão, and José Antonio Reyes. He cost Atletico €4m to be transferred from Valencia, and his price tag has varied very little since then.
Andrés D’Alessandro
Only €3.5m: that’s how much Zaragoza paid German club Wolfsburg to obtain the services of ‘El Mandrake’ (or ‘El Cabezon’ if you prefer), who had a brief spell at Pompey in the meantime. Once compared as a Diego Maradona successor (a title hastily bestowed way too many times in this past decade), D’Alessandro’s playing time is currently limited by the good form of Pablo Aimar, offensive midfielder behind Ricardo Oliveira and Diego Milito. He’s had a regular role as a substitute so far, so it’ll be surprising to see him leave in January. He’s definitely not on the ‘unavailable’ list however.
Lukas Podolski
Bayern Munich
The transfer from FC Köln cost Bayern Munich €10m, and it seemed money well invested after his promising performance at the 2006 World Cup. However, his first season at his new club was punctuated by highs and lows, and this season he’s been effectively relegated to a bench role. The reason? Best summarized with 3 names: Ribéry, Toni, Klose. Luck isn’t on Poldi’s side either: Klose’s recent injury took place precisely at the time of the international break, so when the Bundesliga resumes it’ll be Miroslav’s turn once again.
Daniel Van Buyten
Bayern Munich
Last Spring he was scoring against AC Milan in the Champions League, now the Belgian central back has lost his place in the Bayern team: manager Ottmar Hitzfeld is relying more and more on the Lucio-Demichelis tandem, so Van Buyten is forced to watch his teammates from the sidelines. His transfer from Hamburg SV cost Bayern €8m, but it’s unlikely the German giants will let him go, unless a substantial offer comes through.
Marcelo Gallardo
Paris SG
Another one of those Argentines getting labelled ‘New Maradona’ at some point or another. With now 31 years of age, Gallardo is not even a regular starter in Paris St.Germain, a record-beating team which year to year succeeds in getting from bad to worse. Only 1 full 90 minutes match, 5 games as a substitute, but the little Argentine is worth a lot more, despite the age factor. €5m should be sufficient to start negotiations with the Parisian club.

Our ‘Top 10 List’ ends here, but there’s several other names that could be added to that list.

For example Roberto Soldado (the ex-Osasuna star which is struggling really hard to find playing time among the Real Madrid galacticos) or Mohamed Kallon (who lost the confidence of AS Monaco coach Ricardo Gomes, and is trying to find a transfer to the Premiership). There are also names such as Nuno Valente (Everton), Patrick Müller (Lyon), or Georgios Samaras (Man City).

In light of the January transfer window, there’s some real bargains to be made…

Italy-Scotland: Daniele De Rossi’s Impressions for the Decisive Euro 2008 Group B Qualifier

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Last call for Euro 2008: November 17th may be over a month away, but for Roma and Azzurri midfielder Daniele De Rossi the battle’s already begun. De Rossi will be stepping onto the grass of Stadio Artemio Franchi in Siena for the first time as Azzurri captain Wednesday (given the many absences of the usual starters), when Italy battle South Africa in an international friendly. However, all of the midfielder’s thoughts are already directed towards the decisive match against Scotland.

Daniele De Rossi, age 24“It would be extremely serious if we didn’t qualify for the next Euro championships.” says De Rossi. ”Playing in Glasgow will be like playing a final, we are Italy and we’ll have to stand firm”. With technical superiority on one side, and home advantage on the other, Rossi explains: “We are the world champions, our opponents can’t be on the same level as ours, we will try to make good use of our qualities. (…) The atmosphere in the stadium will be 100% directed towards the home team, fans who’ll be chanting for the full 90 minutes.”

Rossi continued: “Italy will have to go to Scotland with the mission to impose its gameplay, trying by all means necessary to win the match. Our objective is simple: win, even if that means enduring some pain.” Regarding the recent not-so-spectacular performances of the Azzurri, De Rossi replied: “Italy will never have the sparkling playing style of Barcelona. It just isn’t possible, we are lacking the time to be beautiful and entertaining. But we will always play good matches, like we did against Georgia, although it won’t be easy finding space when a team barricades itself into its own half. But we are not trying to play with style at all costs, but simply trying to find the easiest road to get to the finish.”

Roma’s Daniele De Rossi and Francesco Totti with the 2006 World CupThe Roma midfielder had a few words on non-Azzurri related matters as well, starting with his team’s next Serie A game. On the fact that Roma-Napoli may have to be played behind closed doors, Rossi commented “Soccer needs people that love their club team in an intelligent way. There are no appeals on that matter, you either possess certain values or you don’t”. On Alberto Gilardino: “He’s a great striker who’s undergoing some difficult times. There’s a lot of pressure playing for AC Milan, but I’m convinced he’ll return to his form and play a vital role for the Azzurri in the future”.

On Antonio Cassano: “I was glad to hear he is praising Roma’s current playing style. For me Antonio’s a great talent, he could have been a regular in the national team for 6-7 years by now, but nothing is lost yet”. On Marcello Lippi: “I had a very good experience with him, he gave me a lot both as a soccer player and as a human being. It will be impossible to forget him. Now Italy has another team manager, and I hope he will do just as well”.

It all begins with Italy-Scotland…

Italy-South Africa: Practice Trials for Wednesday’s Friendly Match

Monday, October 15th, 2007

Italy FIGCFollowing the important 3 points obtained against Georgia on Saturday, Donadoni’s team is getting ready for midweek action against South Africa, the Italy friendly match in program at Siena. With the Don’s decision to rely essentially on newcomers for this, it will be time for experimenting, both to test out new players and new formations.

Early tests of the Monday training sessions seem to point towards a 4-3-2-1 “Xmas tree” formation, utilized a few times before during the Euro 2008 Qualifier campaign. Based on the evidence of the practice match, the starting line-ups for Wednesday should be Amelia Zaccardo, Gamberini, Bonera, Chiellini De Rossi, Montolivo Foggia, Rosina, Mauri Lucarelli.

Pasquale Foggia in the match against GeorgiaFor today’s practice, Donadoni made his players go through some drills, testing the tactical set-up, and pitting up offensive players against defenders. To finish off, a 10 vs. 10 practice match in which vice-coach Mario Bortolazzi also took part. During the test-match, a slight scare for Pasquale Foggia, who had to be stretchered off due to an eye contusion, after a challenge with Andrea Dossena.

Italy’s doc, Andrea Ferretti, declared at the end of the session: “Foggia experienced an ocular trauma to the right eye, and we will have to call upon a specialist’s opinion. He will determine if the player will be able to be utilized for the match on Wednesday”.

Marcello Lippi Returns! Well, He Said So At Least…

Sunday, October 14th, 2007

Marcello is ready, and all he’s waiting for is a phone call. He’s only asking one thing: his new project will have to be a serious one. “Right now I’m available” said Lippi in an interview to Italian radio station Radio Deejay. “If a serious club, with a serious team, and a serius program contact me, I’ll be ready.” When asked on who will make his come-back first between him and Fabio Capello, Lippi replied smiling: “Me, I’ll come back first”. :)

After a year spent enjoying his World Champion title, the ex-Azzurri manager wants to wear his coaching tracksuit once again. “I realize that since the season is already 2-3 months underway, it’ll be difficult receiving a proposal now, but in a few months’ time I’d like to come back, in order to prepare for the next season. I will return if I find a serious club with a clear project in mind, people with which you can establish a friendly relationship. I wouldn’t mind an experience outside of Italy, for as long as the same criteria I’ve just outlined apply.”

Lippi talked a little bit about Alessandro Del Piero, and the delicate situation the Bianconeri captain is having with his contract renewal negotiations at Juventus: “I think that both parties are handling the matter like they best see fit” explained Lippi. “I think Alex represents Juventus across the world: when people say ‘Juventus’ they think first and foremost of Alex Del Piero, but that’s all I will say on this subject.”

Concerning the Serie A league, Lippi spent a few minutes talking about Genoa and Napoli. “Genoa is being very well coached at the moment (note: by Gian Piero Gasperini), they’re playing attractive soccer, and bringing enthusiasm for all the public of Genoa and Serie A alike. As for Napoli, they have an excellent coach who has won 3 league championships in a row (note Edy Reja, who brought Napoli from Serie C to Serie A in recent years), so I think it would be normal not to disturb his work right now.”

On Antonio Cassano, Lippi was supportive: “When he first appeared on the scene of Italian soccer he blew everyone away when his talent, and convinced us he could become a star. After that, for various reasons most of which are unknown to me, he got a bit lost on the way. He’s still very young though, so he still gives me the impression he can reach that stellar level everyone expects. It’s up to him. The Sampdoria environment can give him some help, not only because of the city but also because of the quality of the people he’s working with. Walter Mazzarri is a good coach, and so are the club and the players. It’s the right dimension that will help him come back to his previous levels.”

When asked about the lack of new talent in Italy, the Italian coach replied “We have the best U21 team in the world, they always win and even if they don’t win they demonstrate to have incredible strength. They’re consistently first in Europe, and that almost always translates to being the first in the world. We have great players.”

To the many hoping that he will one day come back to coach the Azzurri, Lippi left a glimmer of hope. “Coming back to the National team? I’m leaving the door open. I have learned this much from life: never say no. Let’s hope that things will go well, starting with Italy’s qualification for Euro 2008.” Amen to that, Marcello…

Italy-Georgia: 3 points in the bag, but what a boring Azzurri team

Saturday, October 13th, 2007

Euro 2008 - Group B Standings after game 10In soccer, there are two kind of supporters: the first type watches the sport because of love for the beautiful game, and thus doesn’t care who wins or loses for as long as the matches are entertaining. And then there’s the type who above all wants its favorite team to win, and if they also play spectacular soccer, that’s a bonus. The Italy-Georgia match of Saturday evening will have no doubt pleased the latter type, but deeply disappointed the former.

One goal in each half (by Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Grosso) was sufficient for the Azzurri to obtain a 2-0 victory over a very modest Georgian team, one that seldom stuck their heads close to Gigi Buffon’s net. Meanwhile, the other matches of favorites & co-leaders of group B Euro 2008 qualifiers, saw Scotland vanquish Ukraine 3-1 at Hampden Park, while France traveled to Faroe Island to steamroll the hosts 6-0. At the top of group B, nothing’s changed: Scotland is still 1st with 24 pts, Italy 2nd on 23, France 3rd on 22. We’re getting close to D-Day…

Euro 2008 Qualifiers - Italy 2-0 Georgia

donadoni_georgia.jpgTactically, before the match the biggest question to answer for Roberto Donadoni was the choice of Vincenzo Iaquinta’s replacement (the Juve striker had to be sent home this morning due to increasing flu symptoms). The Italian coach decided to pick Fabio Quagliarella, who went on to complete the attacking trio made up of Luca Toni and Antonio Di Natale. Also, despite his precarious form, Lyon’s Fabio Grosso was chosen over Giorgio Chiellini for the left-back role, a move which actually turned out to be a winning one. On the other end, German coach Klaus Toppmoller fielded a compact Georgian team, whose formation was as difficult to read as the names of its players are difficult ot pronounce. Because of their limited technical baggage, the visitors essentially had to rely on a tight defensive mesh, and hope to hit the Italians with whichever break they could get.

Gattuso is getting frustrated… Italy can’t seem to pierce the Georgian linesThe first few minutes of the match passed by exactly according to expectation: constant double-teaming on Luca Toni, and iron-tight pressuring of the Azzurri ball possession in their defensive third. From the initial phases, you’d actually have to wonder if the word ‘catenaccio’ didn’t have some very ancient roots somewhere in Tblisi. Anyways, while the visitors’ choice to concentrate all their efforts in defense resulted in very few (read: none) scoring opportunities for Georgia, one would have expected the Azzurri to try something more to break the deadlock. Unfortunately, despite the usual ‘grinta’ exhibited by Gennaro Gattuso, and the excellent energy and cover work of Massimo Ambrosini, the Italians couldn’t manage to create any sting.

Toni just missed a golden opportunity…The first ‘opportunity’ (if one may call it that way) was a 25m shot by Fabio Quagliarella, miles over the bar. The Udinese striker is having quite a poor run of form at the moment, a situation which was only made clearer by tonight’s performance (poor shooting, and an average contribution to the team effort, at best). In contrast, despite the asphyxiating man-marking he was being subjected to, Luca Toni demonstrated once again that he is an irreplaceable piece in the Azzurri squad: the target man transformed every aerial ball sent to him into a playable pass for his teammates, and often created danger himself due to his presence on high crosses. On one of such crosses at the 27th (courtesy of a great delivery by Di Natale), the Bayern man had the perfect opportunity to open the score for the Italians, but his headed effort hit the post and rebounded clear! 4 minutes later, another good chance for Toni (this time from an Andrea Pirlo free-kick cross) was sent slightly over the bar.

Totò Di Natale in actionWhile Quagliarella was still trying to find himself, and Luca Toni was being… well… Toni, what about Totò Di Natale? The remaining piece of the Azzurri attacking trio was doing what he does best: constant changes of pace, exploiting his agility and technical baggage, and one-touch passing trying to open up space. The Udinese striker had a very good chance at the 37′ minute mark, following an average defensive clearance of the Georgian team, but his left-footed volleyed effort from 15 yards was over the bar!

Andrea Pirlo’s free kick mastery strikes againAs is often the case in such a tightly closed match, the salvation came from a set piece opportunity. 30 meters out, Andrea Pirlo delivered one of his specialties, and produced the goal to put the Azzurri in the lead. The Georgian goalkeeper Georgi Lomaia was a bit naive at getting completely surprised out of position, anticipating the cross to Toni.  Before the half ended, Lomaia amended for his mistake by parrying away another good Pirlo FK effort. 1-0 at the break.

With their team in the lead, you’d have expected the Azzurri to play more relaxed and be a little more daring in the final third of the field. Not so. Instead, the Italians still stubbornly refused to challenge their opponents one-vs-one (sound familiar?), and constantly slowed the game down by passing back to their defenders. Donadoni was desperately trying to get his full-backs (Oddo and Grosso) to overlap on the wings, in order to create some crossing opportunities, but even that didn’t work. The Milan right-back notably was having a very poor night in terms of passing delivery, his crosses always falling short of the mark or being too long.

Quagliarella had a poor match tonight…Toppmoller tried to use what little ammo he had available to give his team a few hopes (out Mchelidze for Kenia, 16 year-old prodigy and recent Schalke 04 acquisition), but with little effect. Not that the Azzurri were doing much to contribute, mind you. Donadoni, on his part, finally decided to take out Quagliarella and give Pasquale Foggia a chance to play. Cagliari’s nº10 was evidently too excited with his Azzurri shirt debut, because he lost the ball too many times due to excessive dribbling, but one of his (deflected) crosses almost made it to Luca Toni, who couldn’t connect with the ball. On the ensuing corner the Bayern man was ready however, but Lomaia showed some great reflexes to stop the ball.

Fabio Grosso and Luca Toni celebrate the 2-0 goal for Italy5 minutes from the end, it was time for Fabio Grosso‘s return to the Azzurri goalscoring chart, his latest tally (I’m sure you all remember) being the game-winning-goal vs. Germany in 2006. Despite tonight’s goal wasn’t as beautiful (or as capital) as the one he produced in the World Cup semi-final, it was pretty nice nonetheless. The Lyon man first had a good chance from outside the box (his shot heading for the top corner) which was deflected away by a defender, but minutes later brilliantly set up by Luca Toni, made no mistakes in the 85th: controlling the ball, Grosso waited for the keeper to make his rush and chipped him onto the far post with a beautiful scooped shot. 2-0 Italy. Decidedly the only exciting moment in an otherwise very drab match.

 Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio
 Georgian Football Federation
GOALSCORERS: 43’ Pirlo (I), 83’ Grosso (I)
ITALY (4-3-3): Buffon – Oddo, Panucci, Barzagli, Grosso – Gattuso, Pirlo, Ambrosini (88’ Mauri) – Quagliarella (71’ Foggia), Toni, Di Natale. (bench: Amelia, Bonera, Chiellini, De Rossi, Lucarelli). Coach. Donadoni.
GEORGIA (4-4-2): Lomaia – Khizanshvili, Shashashvili (61’ Kenia), Asatiani, Salukvadze – Tskitishvili, Kirkvelia, Menteshashvili, Kankava – Michedlidze (61’ Siradze), Demetradze (85’ Jakobia) (bench: Makaridze, Kandelaki, Kvakhadze, Tatanashvili). Coach: Toppmoller


General impressions

I don’t know how to feel, quite honestly. I don’t know if I should feel resigned to the fact Italy just can’t perform well against ‘small’ teams, and the fact that we make our lives complicated when they shouldn’t be, or if I should feel angry that it’s not just an Italian ‘custom’ to underperform against teams like the Ukraine or Georgia, but rather indicative of a bigger problem at the root (be it tactical choices, team’s motivation, or whatnot). Regardless, it’s safe to say we played poorly tonight. Once again, we were confronted to an opponent that had obvious limitations technically (compared to us), and when everyone expected us to turn on the style, we simply grew content of the lead and the rest was pure administration.

I will give Georgia one concession: they defended well. They had limited resources, and tried to play however they could and limit the damage. However, Italy’s performance was insufficient. I’ll repeat what I said for the game against Ukraine: we have players which are good enough to attempt more one-to-one dribbling challenges, we can’t always wait for Camoranesi to do that kind of thing. Foggia tried a little bit today (but awkwardly), Di Natale even less (his were essentially accelerations)… I want more, please Azzurri, give us more!

Luca Toni, stay healthy we need youRegarding the defense, not much to say. Called into action very rarely, the center-backs did well (Panucci especially). Buffon had one save to make the entire game I think. Pirlo: great free kick, poor passing (for his standards) today… way too many wasted balls. Luca Toni: a monster… always fighting for the ball, winning most of his duels, and I think he lost only one ball the entire match. Italy can’t play without him.

Who will make it out Group B in the end? Really hard to say: the rankings are the same they were before today, in order Scotland, Italy, France separated by 1 point each. Italy’s next game against Scotland will be absolutely vital, because I expect nothing less of the Scots than to beat Georgia on their next game. Meanwhile, France is playing Lithuania at home (should be another easy 3 points), so it’s all come down to the next match for the Azzurri.

Note: At the end of the match, Donadoni revealed the call-up list for the friendly match against South Africa on Wednesday. The Italian coach obviously wants to try out a few new faces before the final Euro 2008 qualifiers rush, because he called up a boatload of newcomers, among which Paolo Cannavaro (Fabio’s brother), Antonio Nocerino, and (finally!) Alessandro Rosina. 

Here goes the full list:

Goalkeepers: Amelia (Livorno), Curci (Roma)
Defenders: Zaccardo (Palermo), Mesto (Reggina), Bonera (Milan), Gamberini (Fiorentina), P.Cannavaro (Napoli), Chiellini (Juventus), Dossena (Udinese)
Midfielders: De Rossi (Roma), Palombo (Sampdoria), Nocerino (Juventus), Montolivo (Fiorentina), Semioli (Fiorentina), Foggia (Cagliari), Mauri (Lazio), Rosina (Torino)
Forwards: Lucarelli (Shakhtar Donetsk), Gilardino (Milan), Iaquinta (Juventus)