Is It Only Downhill Now For Athletic Bilbao?

4 09 2012

The journey witnessed last season where Athletic Bilbao – under the stewardship of Marcelo Bielsa – reached two cup finals, helped restore some faith in the Spanish league and reminded a few naïve people that La Liga actually contains other competitive sides; despite the duopoly by Real Madrid and Barcelona. The way in which they tormented the likes of Schalke and Manchester United in the Europa League helped establish them as everyone’s second favourite team, not only for their playing style, but also their policies.

Athletic have a unique viewpoint in the way they run as a club. The notion of the squad only consisting of players with Basque heritage helps connect themselves with the fans and keep regional identity alive. This was a policy mirrored by their rivals Real Sociedad, who eventually adopted the traditionalist format after become furious with Athletic for buying their players. Notably John Aldridge was the first non-Basque player to represent Los Txuri-urdin. Despite the policy being admirable, albeit slightly more flexible nowadays, it has not always been successful. As recently as five years ago the club only stayed up with a last matchday victory over Levante. A trophy has not been paraded around San Mamés for 28 years, since their domestic double in 1984. Historically, Los Leones are one of the greatest teams in Spain. Throughout the 1930’s they amassed seven trophies, including three league titles. They also hold the prestigious award, along with Real Madrid and Barcelona, of competing in every top flight season since the inauguration of the league in 1929.

The style Bielsa has imposed on his team is a mitigating factor in the popularity for Athletic. El Loco, before taking the rein in Bilbao, had used a 3-3-1-3 formation in the World Cup with Chile, which provided an exciting tactical deviation from the norm of 4-2-3-1. The Argentine was hired at La Catedral to enthral everyone with an offensive philosophy. Previous coach Joaquín Caparrós had a more pragmatic approach and despite the stabilisation he instilled, he did not show enough to promise he could progress the team.

A Lot Depends On Whether Bilbao Can Retain Llorente

A Lot Depends On Whether Bilbao Can Retain Llorente

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Alejandro Grimaldo – The Latest Spanish Gem

24 05 2012

La Masia churns out talented individuals on an annual basis, but there is a sense of eagerness when the name Alejandro Grimaldo crops up in Catalonia. The left-back spot has not been a particular position of strength for the Cantera over the past decade, with players like Carles Planas, Oscar Lopez and even Fernando Navarro – despite enjoying remote success once leaving – failing to establish themselves amongst the senior ranks. Since Sergi Barjuán broke through at the start of the 1990’s, the Nou Camp has not had anyone to get excited about down the left flank, with Marc Muniesa being the most recent canterano, but he has a preference to play centrally. Despite this, the emergence of Grimaldo gives Culés hope that they have identified the left-sided Dani Alves.

Grimaldo was signed as a 13-year-old from Valencia in 2008, where he played for Los Che as a left winger wearing the number 10 shirt. His progression has been rapid and he is part of a select group of superstars who are progressing at Barcelona at the moment. Some of his teammates over the past few years have included current Arsenal pair Jon Toral and Hector Bellerin as well as Juventus defender Pol Garcia. The ‘1995 generation’ has swept everything before them at ‘Juvenil’ level including the Nike Premier Cup in Manchester.

Alejandro Grimaldo – The Latest Gem At La Masia

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Malaga Are Finding Out Money Doesn’t Buy Instant Success

1 11 2011

The historically perennial yo-yo club Malaga have enjoyed the riches of being owned by a billionaire since 2010, and their lavish spending this summer whetted the appetites of the neutral fan hoping to see the duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona demolished.

The attraction of ‘El Clasico’ is humongous, but with it sees a Spanish Primera Division struggling for competition because of the financial equality. Television rights are negotiated individually, which has led to the giant separation in revenue, a system which saw Sevilla President Jose Maria del Nido label La Liga as “not the biggest mess in Europe, but in the world.”

Malaga, like Manchester City and Paris St Germain in recent times (although not Getafe) have been lucky enough to be acquired by an eastern tycoon. Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani, a member of the Qatari Royal Family, bought the club from former Real Madrid president Lorenzo Sanz for around €25 million last year, and has given the club a whole new feel.

Ruud van Nistelrooy Is One Of A Number Of Big Name Signings For Malaga

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The Crazy Spending Of The January Transfer Window

13 10 2011

The transfer window is a period the tabloids love with their continuous volumes of rumours to fuel the avid fan with belief his team is going to invest heavily in a top class forward, finally. The window at the turn of the year is traditionally one which sees low costs moves, usually mid-table clubs investing heavily to help avoid the drop. But this January saw an anomaly in England; big signings. Fernando Torres (£50m), Andy Carroll (£32m), Luis Suarez (£22m), David Luiz (£25m), Darren Bent (24m) and Edin Dzeko (£27m) all moved for prices above £20m, in deals you would generally expect to see in the summer. But what was the general trend across Europe?

The difference between the other European nations was drastic. With UEFA implementing new financial regulations next season in which clubs cannot spend more than their annual turnover, it seems the powerhouses of England – riddled with debt – wanted to make one last splurge. Overall in January a reported £225m was spent in the Premier League, a record amount which even surpasses the previous milestone of £175m which was set back in 2008, mainly due to Manchester City’s spending. The Citizens would be part of proceedings once more, but the big spenders were Chelsea. Russian oligarch Roman Abramovic has been reluctant in the past few seasons to invest, hoping the influx of youth signings under Frank Arnesen would be promoted and provide an ending to the Jose Mourinho years of economically draining investments.

Over in Spain money was spent, but not in large quantities. Barcelona’s sole purchase was young Dutchman Ibrahim Affelay from PSV Eindhoven who cost roughly €2m, while Real Madrid’s recruitment was the flimsy loan signing of Emanuel Adebayor from Manchester City. Malaga, under the ownership of a Qatari millionaire, helped spice up the transfer window signing six new players, the most costly being former Arsenal forward Julio Baptista who returned to Spain from Italy for  €3m.

Giampaolo Pazzini Celebrates After Scoring A Goal For His New Club

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Giving Something Back: The Samuel Eto’o Foundation

30 08 2011

Samuel Eto’o. Arguably the greatest footballer Africa has produced, a player who has consistently demonstrated his place amongst the best forwards in European football and three times Champions League winner. His career has been impressive and Eto’o once again stole the headlines recently when he completed a reported €20.5m per season move to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala. But the Cameroonian striker has also delved into the world of charitable work in his home continent and established a foundation for malnourished and uneducated children to seek aid and opportunity.

The Foundation Samuel Eto’o (FSE) has outlined these three principles for the scheme:

  • – “Ensure the minimum conditions for survival and health that will permit further development, in our fight to eradicate poverty.
  • – Provide quality basic education, they can complete and will serve as a tool to achieve a secure social integration.
  • – Promote the opportunity to develop the individual abilities of each child through training grants and aid to support their cultural activities or sports skills.”

The most interesting aspect is the footballing project, with the inaugural academy based in the coastal town of Kribi. Prior to the opening, Eto’o expressed his desire was to expand the idea and locate more academies across the country, stating his yearning to offer opportunities to deprived children:

“As a footballer, the best I can do for youths in Cameroon is to give them a platform where they can learn how to play football and make a living out of it, and be successful in life, for a better tomorrow.”

Gael Etock Was The First Player To Join Barca From The Academy

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The Shrewd Transfer Policy Of Villarreal

29 08 2011

Based in Castellón, the northern district of Valencia; a team whose nickname resides from a Beatles song have been making an impression in Spain and Europe for the past seven seasons. The Yellow Submarines were notoriously a club which hovered around the lower depths of Spanish football and it was not until 1970 before they even reached the Segunda Division. However, since 2000, Villarreal have been a mainstay in La Liga, establishing themselves as European contenders virtually every season. Unlike Alavés, Real Betis or Celta Vigo before them, they have been able to achieve consistency, which the others failed to do with subsequent relegations only years after European qualification. So how has this little team, whose El Madrigal stadium holds only 25,000, been able to punch above their weight?

The strategy has consisted of thorough scouting. South America is a hotbed for talent, with abundance to choose from and players being relatively cheap and Villarreal have found the perfect model to make money. The likes of Diego Godín, Gonzalo Rodríguez, Birmingham flop Luciano Figueroa, Martín Cáceres and Antonio Valencia have all become successful internationals that have been sold for a profit or in Gonzalo’s case, stayed and become a proven talent. With such a vast array of talent, the B team helps to nurture these prospects, and they are now in their third consecutive season in the Segunda Division. Of course by signing youngsters in profusion, you are bound to sign the odd flop. Players like Sebastián Battaglia, Damián Escudero, Mariano Barbosa, Sebastián Viera and American Jozy Altidore did not live up to their potential, but the scheme is generally successful, and you only have to look at the current crop making strides in La Liga like Jefferson Montero, Matteo Musacchio and Marco Ruben to see that the production line is continually developing new faces.

The next stage to help aid these talents in development is sign experienced players who have the hunger, and whose wages won’t strain the club’s budget. Boca Juniors legend Martín Palermo was one of the first to travel, along with teammate Gustavo Barros Schelotto at the turn of the Millennium, but both proved unsuccessful. Juliano Belletti, the man who scored the winning goal for Barcelona in the 2006 Champions League final, got his first taste of European football at Villarreal. Then you have one of the greatest signings in El Submarino Amarillo’s history, Marcos Senna. Plucked from Brazilian football as a relative unknown, the holding midfielder eventually became captain in 2005. His biggest impact perhaps was for the national team. Nationalised in 2006, he became a key figure for Los Rojo for four years, with his greatest moment winning Euro 2008, Spain’s first title in 44 years.

Riquelme Was A Maestro When He Graced El Madrigal

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Goodbye Super Depor, Thanks For The Memories

28 06 2011

Believe it or not, but there was a time when La Liga was contested by clubs other than Barcelona and Real Madrid. There was even an occasion when the Catalans needed a 90th minute overhead kick to secure Champions League football. How times have changed. Only as far back as seven years ago Deportivo La Coruna were Champions League semi-finalists, yet since that day the club has been on a gradual decline accumulating to this season, when they were relegated to the Segunda Division for the first time since 1991.

Their latest cycle in the Primera Division was the most successful in the clubs history; three Spanish Super Cups, two Copa Del Reys and their first La Liga trophy that they won in 2000. In the past 20 years ‘Super Depor’ became everyone’s second team. The Galician side of the early 90’s consisted of experienced players like Luis Lopez Rekarte, Donato, Nando and Adolfo Adana and blended that experience with the youthful legs of Fran, and Brazilian internationals Bebeto and Mauro Silva. In only their second season back they showed how good they would become by qualifying for Europe for the first ever time and consisted of the Pichichi (Bebeto) and Zamora (Paco Liaño) holders.

That form transferred to the next season and they were a minute away from that first La Liga title. Regular penalty taker Donato had been substituted and eventual World Cup winner Bebeto shied away from the pressure having missed his last spot-kick. So up steps Serbian defender Miroslav Dukic, whose timid effort was saved by Valencia keeper Jose Luis Gonzalez. Bribe accusations followed after Valencia’s joyful celebrations; perplexing as they had nothing to play for. Irony and fate made sure that Dukic would get his hands on the title, not with his Depor teammates, but with Valencia in 2002.

Deportivo Celebrate Super Cup Win

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