It is almost three weeks since the European Championships in France came to a climax, a tournament to forget for England and one to savour for the likes of Wales, Iceland and the eventual victors Portugal.
Silly season had began and a few days ago Juventus shelled out a cool £75.3 million for Gonzalo Higuain, making him the third most expensive transfer in history.
In a world which has recently seen major volatility in the global economy following the UK’s surprising exit from the European Union, football’s own economy has not been effected one jot, instead fees for players and their along with contracted future wages have visibly sky rocketed.
Higuain comes with an impressive goal scoring record (36 goals in Serie A last season, a record) and will definitely bolster the Juventus front line. However, he by no means is the first name to pop into your head when you’re thinking of a consistently world class performer, a few individual honours to his name, but nothing ground breaker, he didn’t even feature in last season’s Ballon D’Or squad. Yet still worth upwards of £75 million. On a side note, a deal likely to be around £100 million for Pogba?
Ten years ago that would be unheard of. The mind boggles. However, it just shows just how much money now talks at an elite European domestic level, if teams don’t have the financial backing behind them they will get left behind at the highest level (in the most part – Leicester winning the Premier League will never happen again).
Market inflation is clear to see, to put things into perspective, in 2003 Manchester United acquired Cristiano Ronaldo for £15 million (after add-ons), in 2016, Jordon Ibe signed for Bournemouth for the same price. Now, no disrespect to Ibe, as a player who came through the ranks as a youngster at my club Wycombe before moving to Liverpool, I respect his talent, however, if you compare the two players abilities at this stage in their career, and their possible potential, there is no comparison.
But who is to blame for this baffling level of inflation we now see in the footballing market place? Well, clearly there are multiple factors that have a bearing.
A transfer has three main ‘actors’ – the clubs, the player himself and the player’s agent, all of which have different requirements that should be adhered to in order to complete a deal. It seems to me that clubs are charging more for players to pay for their insane wage bills, as well the shear amount of money at clubs disposal the market level is being pushed ever more skywards. You could argue introducing wage caps would solve this problem, but players will just go elsewhere.
In order to attract world class players you need to offer competitive wages, and with clubs becoming richer and China starting to entice players away e.g. Hulk, Ramires and Pelle to name a few, wages and player prices will continue to rapidly grow, it is a vicious cycle of greed from a player’s perspective. Let’s be honest no player dreams of playing in China.
Greed isn’t a trait that used to really exist in football, players wanted to play football because they loved the sport, they wanted to play for their home team and they wanted to win for themselves and the fans. Back in 1996 Alan Shearer signed for Newcastle, at £15 million it was a lot at the time, a record fee, but the rest as they say is history – an enigma, a cult hero, he cared for the club and the club cared for him. However, these days things are different, players come and go, with many players (and their agents) always looking for that next big pay-day, a reason why China is such a coup for many players these days – who wouldn’t say no to over £200,000 a week to kick the ball about a bit, without having to show any passion or care for the club you’ve signed for. It has become merely a power game – sign a player for obscene money – gain from commercialisation. This is business, not football.
Unfortunately, the ever increasing popularity of football isn’t benefiting football supporters, who dedicate their time and money to supporting a club, but instead football ‘consumers’, those who go to big game once in a lifetime, or sit in front of their Sky TVs week in, week out, those are the people these clubs at the top of the footballing pyramid are catering for – with clubs being obliged to sign big players by these so called fans, only ever seen on YouTube highlight reels, just to keep the peace. With the hardened supporters then having to pick up the pieces in terms of increased ticket prices, and watching eleven players on an ego trip kick a ball about for a six figure sum.
With broadcasters now shelling out £5.14 billion for broadcasting rights – a 71% increase from three years prior – and with Premier League teams seeing between £65 million and £100 million of this figure, you can understand why player prices are rapidly inflating – and why valuations that used to be outlandish now don’t even raise a solitary eyebrow.
Regretfully this is the world of football we now live in, and it is very unlikely to change anytime soon, if anything the 21st century footballing mantra of money buying success and riches will only escalate. Give it 20 years and £75 million for a 28 year old will be a comparative steal.
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Why is this Liverpool veteran a key man for Jurgen Klopp?
With the return of Daniel Sturridge and Jordan Henderson to full fitness and regular first-team starts now agonisingly close for Liverpool fans, there is one player who has stayed strong for the Merseyside outfit through thick and thin. Martin Skrtel has been an ever-present for The Reds in the Premier League at the heart of their defence; appearing in all 14 matches and not missing even a minute. Of the outfield players, only Nathaniel Clyne can match this feat.
With Jurgen Klopp less than two months into his tenure at Anfield, the German manager has clearly already identified Martin Skrtel as an integral member of not only his defensive line, but the squad as a whole. The long-serving Slovakian has been on Liverpool’s books for nearly eight years and his influence on the morale of those around him is abundantly clear. Henderson’s injury presented James Milner with the opportunity of captaining his new club but when the former Manchester City midfielder was not present for one reason or another, it was Skrtel who took on the responsibility of wearing the armband.
Recent years have seen the departure of several defensive stalwarts from the club. Pepe Reina, Jamie Carragher, and Daniel Agger were all fine executors of their profession and fan favourites to go along with it. Although Mamadou Sakho is rapidly emerging with the status of ‘cult hero’, Skrtel’s presence at the heart of the back four assists his side as much on the pitch as off it. Liverpool are desperately short of born leaders, but motivating others is not something which troubles the experienced hard-man.
Although he has been the unwanted recipient of a barrage of criticism from some quarters, Simon Mignolet rather surprisingly has secured the greatest number of clean sheets in the Premier League in 2015; currently standing at 14. There is no doubt that the Belgian stopper has improved since his nervy early days on Merseyside, but a far greater factor behind the clean sheet success has been Martin Skrtel. While a goalkeeper is commonly the one to bark out orders to the rest of his team, Skrtel has taken on the role of instructor, ensuring that Mignolet makes the correct decisions when he appears to be faltering. The shoots of recovery have also started in Dejan Lovren’s Liverpool career and were it not for his tough central defensive partner’s guidance, the Croatian’s fortunes would not be looking so rosy.
Commitment and passion are two traits which the number 37 has emerging from his very soul, most noticeable when scoring or putting in a typically thunderous goal-saving tackle. This attitude is evident in every single game in a red shirt, with Skrtel determined not to be bested in every individual tussle or duel. The 30 year old averages more clearances and blocks per game than any of his partners at centre half, with self-preservation rarely anywhere higher than bottom on his list of priorities. This approach lifts the crowd even when their heroes may be lacking in other departments, provoking the much-needed support all around Anfield.
All in all, Jurgen Klopp can continue to look towards Martin Skrtel as a lieutenant, a right hand man, and a trusted ally, for he can be sure of the Slovakian’s unwavering support for the cause.
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Why it isn’t the end of the road for this Chelsea star
Diego Costa took centre stage for Chelsea versus Tottenham on Sunday, despite failing to register a single minute on the pitch.
The Blues weighed in with a much improved display during a goalless draw against the Lilywhites, with Jose Mourinho full of praise for his side’s defensive work rate. However, the club’s performance was largely overshadowed by an incident involving their star striker.
Not only did he refuse to warm up before the match at White Hart Lane, Costa then proceeded to throw away his bib, seemingly in the direction of his manager, when he was not used as a substitute – a sign of dissent that many are suggesting could mark the beginning of the end of his time at the club.
However, if we have learned anything from the Spaniard during his time in England, surely this is not going to be the case?
Costa is a player who thrives off aggression and anger – he excels when captivated by the so-called red mist – and this latest debacle could see him finally return to his goal scoring ways.
While his antics from the sideline detracted somewhat from his teammates performance on the field this Sunday, he will undoubtedly respond positively in the long run.
Costa may only have three goals to his name this term, but, with Chelsea due a positive run of form, it is unlikely he will remain on this tally for long.
Next time he is included in the Blues starting line-up, he will be out to prove a point.
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Could this mistake from Arsene Wenger ruin Arsenal’s Premier League chances?
With injuries really starting to pile up at Arsenal, the sight of their superstar forward clutching his hamstring during their draw with Norwich must have been a dagger to the heart of The Emirates faithful. Alexis Sanchez’s impact on Arsene Wenger’s side is almost immeasurable and it is quite possible that this will become only more evident in the weeks to come when he is unavailable for selection. Could Wenger’s decision to start the Chilean against The Canaries be the moment which derails Arsenal’s Premier League title challenge for another year?
As is often the case, the more skilled a player is, the greater the demand that is placed on their body by the manager as they feel they cannot afford to be without him. With Arsene Wenger however, it is not quite as clear cut as that. Since his arrival on these shores, the Frenchman has been aware of the impact of pushing members of his squad too far and in the previous campaign, notably granted a rest to Alexis over the busy festive period. You have to feel that this break was of paramount importance in his outstanding second half of the season in 2014/15.
With this in mind then, should Wenger have taken a firmer stance and left his main man at home in London, regardless of Alexis’ pleas to the contrary. After the match against Norwich City, Arsenal’s boss attempted to justify his decision by stating: “I would have rested him but he said he was fine to play”. While it is important to listen to a player’s personal opinion of the situation, when Wenger himself admitted that the number 17 had experienced “a little hamstring alarm” after bagging a brace against Dinamo Zagreb, surely all necessary precautions should have been taken?
Thierry Henry; Arsenal legend and Sky Sports pundit, was also fairly scathing of Wenger’s tactics involving the Chilean. The former number 14 pointed out: “Even when the game is won, sometimes he will still go and put some pressure on teams”, whereas an approach with a little foresight should lead to the thinking that: “With 20 minutes to go at 3-0, you can give him a little rest”. Alexis is notoriously keen to play through the pain barrier; a trait which is admirable and is part of what makes him such a prodigious talent but in this instance, may prove to have been his downfall.
Since Arsenal’s second consecutive triumph in the FA Cup in May 2015, Alexis Sanchez has been utilised extensively for club and country. 18 appearances have come in an Arsenal shirt in 2015/16, added to the 11 for his national team since the summer. Crucial to Chile’s Copa America triumph, Wenger suggested that he would be given an extended rest before the start of the season but low and behold, the dazzling dribbler was present during the final of the Community Shield and has been ready to perform ever since. With the sheer volume of games; in most of which he completes the full ninety minutes at an incredible intensity, a break-down was simply inevitable. Sanchez continually either returns from international duty or leaves to play for Chile with reports of niggling muscular complaints but never seems to receive the blatantly required rest. This is decidedly poor management above all else.
The month of November is statistically the worst in the calendar for The Gunners under Arsene Wenger in terms of Premier League points accrued, averaging a measly 1.59 per match compared to the annual high of 2.22 in March. Could it be that his inability to manage the squad to protect against debilitating muscular injuries leaves the remaining talent very thin on the ground? This season alone for example, crucial members of the first team who are unavailable for selection include Laurent Koscielny, Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin. The manner in which this phenomenon keeps repeating itself season after season means that Wenger’s approach needs to be examined.
Alexis Sanchez seems certain to miss at least a few weeks’ of first team action, and there is shortage of important games on the horizon for Wenger’s side. Rapidly approaching is the must-win Champions League clash in Greece against Olympiakos and Arsenal will seemingly have to achieve their aim without Alexis; a much more difficult task. Could Wenger’s decision have jeopardised their progression out of the group in Europe’s elite competition? Furthermore, before the calendar year is out, The Gunners have to travel to title favourites Manchester City and to the home of the challenging Southampton. It is likely that their number 17 will be missing here too, with such an absence being crucial in Arsenal’s efforts to keep pace with those at the top of the league.
Nonetheless, although Wenger’s instinct will be to select Sanchez as soon as he declares himself fit to play, caution must be advised. His importance to the side is vast but even that is not worth risking an even longer lay-off. The potential recurrence of the hamstring injury is likely to be more damaging than the last and could leave Alexis on the side-lines for months rather than weeks. If Arsenal are to have any hopes of sustaining a Premier League title challenge, they must play their cards right and not be held to ransom by an exceptionally enthusiastic Alexis Sanchez.
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