Saturday, 28 April 2012

Everything You Wanted To Know About Eden Hazard But Were Afraid To Ask!

A lot of names get thrown about every year, there are some players that just live on the back pages, permanently linked with that 'big' move.  For the last few years Eden Hazard has been one of those people, and over that time pretty much every football fan has stated how much they admire him, and made claims about how much he would be of benefit to their particular team.

Not to question the knowledge of other fans, but it does lead me to wonder how many people watch Ligue 1, because to have the knowledge of the player that people claim to have, they must watch Lille an awful lot!  I will hold my hands up and admit that 12 months ago, I was one of those people, I wanted Hazard at City, but I wasn't entirely sure why.  The hysteria around him had got so high, everyone wanted their club to sign him, but if you asked said fan whether he was right or left footed, they would in many cases be unable to answer you.  For that reason, I am going to spread the word, and make it clear just who Eden Hazard actually is, and why he'd be a great addition to the City squad.

We have all read the following admiring quotes from Mancini in recent days:

"I like Hazard a lot. He's a good player, he's young and he would do great things in our team...Given his technical qualities, City would be the perfect destination for him. I know him and have been following him for a long time. He's a player a lot of teams want.".

So what is it about the player that would make us such a 'perfect destination'?  To be quite honest from what I have seen and read the kid has it all.  Capable of playing on either wing, he has that prized asset of being pretty two footed, he may naturally use his right, but he is equally adapt on his left, he is also comfortable playing centrally behind the forward line.  He creates chances no matter where he is playing on the pitch, and he is also not shy of scoring himself, notching up 16 league goals (and 13 assists) this season in 33 appearances, not a bad return for an attacking midfield player.

The Belgian certainly doesn't lack self confidence, some may deem him cocky, but others, and more importantly those that have worked with him believe it is more positive than that, he believes in his own ability and at 21 that is crucial.  The midfielder was fast tracked from the Lille academy into the first team squad at just 16 and became the youngest ever professional player in France.  Hazard is lauded for many parts of his game, he is searingly quick with and without the ball, and with supreme dribbling ability he can create something out of nothing in a flash.  His technical ability is hugely impressive as well, he has a fine range of passing and an excellent strike.  He has been likened to some of the very top players in the global game, similarities between Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are not wide of the mark, the scary thing is that he is probably ahead of where they were at his age.  

All is not so positive however, there are a few drawbacks.  A very important consideration is that whilst he has been dubbed a 'defenders nightmare' and has appeared unplayable at times, this is in a league which does not reach the standards of the English top flight.  There have also been negative suggestions regarded his self confidence, his former manage at Lille Claude Puel, gave some warnings when speaking to BBC Sport:

"Eden's strength is that he never doubts himself...He has so much self-confidence. That enabled him to reach a high level very quickly, but now it's holding him back because he's not pushing himself enough....He has everything he needs to become truly a great player, but he has to understand talent alone isn't enough. You have to work as well and he'll only make the next step if he moves to a more competitive environment.".

This attitude is mirrored by former Arsenal great Emmanuel Petit:

"I always feel short-changed with Hazard...Hazard is a diamond but he needs to be polished by the right jeweller.".

National manager Georges Leekens has also questioned Hazard and suggested that he has a lot more work ahead of him if he wants to be one of the games greats, but, the facts is that noone denies the potential that he possesses.  There is the chance he could go the same way as many of these kids who are told they are world beaters only to stutter, but if that can be overcome he clearly has the potential.

Why though would City be such a good fit?  Well we know that Mancini has a knack of getting the best out of certain players, the improvement of Joleon Lescott, Micah Richards and Gareth Barry confirm that his coaching techniques are of a good standard, so I am confident that he could get the player on the right track and keep him there.

Tactically it is somewhat of a no brainer, we have very little natural width in our squad, Adam Johnson, maligned by many, is in my mind not as bad as many make out but whether he has the ability to ever be a top player I am unsure, Hazard definitely has that though.  Yes, he has a penchant for cutting inside something that makes us tremendously narrow at times but with his 2 footed ability he would always keep defenders guessing as to which way he was going to go.  Perhaps his biggest asset to us as a club though is his pace.  Other than our fullbacks we are not an overly pacey side and that is something that the Belgian would definitely provide, he would commit defenders, and beat defenders, and his playmaking ability could be a joy to watch alongside the likes of Silva, Aguero and Nasri.

Competition for his signature is obviously strong, he has been linked with Arsenal for years, but whether they could compete financially seems unlikely, United are very interested in his signature, as are Spurs and Chelsea.  Clearly we could offer the best deal, but with Real Madrid sniffing around we could face stiff competition there.  In fact it could be the Spanish giants that offer our biggest competition with the clubs sporting director, Zinedine Zidane, saying that he would sign the player 'with his eyes closed'.

Hopefully that has offered a little insight into the much talked about youngster, I think it is crucial to take the positive of the player, there are clearly drawbacks, but the kid is 21 and has the world at his feet, it would be strange if he wasn't a little bit overly self confident.  I personally can see him at City, and the player dubbed 'the right footed Messi' by ex-Marseille coach Rolland Courbis would light up Eastlands and the Premier League in my opinion, a truly mouth watering prospect.

Friday, 20 April 2012

6 Of The Worst City Players. Ever!

Understandably lots of City fans are worrying and stressing about the title, but don't lose sight of the bigger picture, things are pretty amazing right now.  The majority of my life supporting City hasn’t been in the slightest bit glamorous, I wasn’t around for the good times, so my City history is more Christian Negouai and Neil Heaney than it is Colin Bell and Neil Young.

So as we look forward to a bright and exciting future, I think it is important to remember the past, and remember the bad days because after all that makes what is currently happening all the more sweeter.

I have decided to compile this list and look at the 6 (yes I know 6 is a random number!) worst players that I think have representing the club that I love during my lifetime watching City.   Think how great David Silva looks now when he’s compared to dross like Jason Van Blerk, so without further ado, here are in no particular order the 6 worst players to represent City in my life time:

Ged Brannan –  1997 – 1998 – 42 Appearances & 4 Goals

Brannan began his career playing for Tranmere and he spent a 7 year period settled with the club.  After making 238 appearances for the side he made the ‘big move’ to Manchester.  He was signed by Frank Clark for £750,000 when City were in what is now the Championship, he was supposed to be one of the players that would help fire the club back towards the Premier League, sadly this never happened.

Clark brought some really poor players to City, in fact that period of our history is littered with some awful names, a few of which feature on this list.  Brannan was a midfielder, and was soon relegated to the role of backup player, he simply wasn’t very good.  He remained at Maine Road for just over 12 months before he was farmed off to Motherwell for £375,000…what a piece of business that was.

Steve McManaman - 2003 – 2005 – 35 Appearances & 0 Goals

City needed some flair and some invention and Kevin Keegan thought the former Liverpool player could provide that.  Signed from Real Madrid, he made his debut in a game against Aston Villa and he was outstanding, but it was all downhill from there.

Looking back on it now, it could be argued that he had a positive effect on some of the youngsters coming through at the time, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton and Stephen Ireland all probably learnt from him, but on the pitch he was a total waste of time.  Often referred to as Steve McPointyman because of his infuriating spells stood trying to orchestrate moves with his hands, waving like some sort of conductor, his impact was minimal at best, and sometimes it was like playing with 10 men.

It just never really worked, he lost his place to Wright-Phillips and then he just came in and out of the side to little effect.  Obviously in his day he was far from a bad footballer, but at City he was abject and other than his debut he brought absolutely nothing to the team, a sad sight all round!

Lee Bradbury - 1997 – 1998 – 40 Appearances & 10 Goals

At the time, the joke went ‘What do you get if you remove the ‘R’s’ from Lee Bradbury’s name?’.  Sadly the punchline pretty much summed this deal up.  Signed from Portsmouth again by ‘legend’ Frank Clark for £3million when the side was in Division 1, he was another of the big signings expected to help City back to the big time.  Much like Brannan it never happened, he never really settled and the former solider didn’t last long.  

He was relegated with City when they dropped down to Division 2, and things got no better at all, not long into the new season he was sold to Crystal Palace for £1.5million.  He was a bit of a failure there as well however and he was ultimately sold back to Portsmouth for £900,000.  He bounced around the lower leagues for the most part of his career and after a year in management at Bournemouth he now finds himself without a club.

Laurent Charvet - 2000 – 2003 – 23 Appearances & 1 Goal

Charvet was one of the players that Joe Royle brought to a resurgent City for their first season back in the Premier League, he had previously played for Newcastle and had been fairly impressive, his time with the blues however would never meet those standards, in fact he didn’t even come close.  He was meant to replace a hopelessly out of form Richard Edghill but he never really secured the place, in all honesty he was pretty woeful.

When City were relegated back to Division 1 at the end of the season, Kevin Keegan took over and employed a 3-5-2 formation with wingbacks, Charvet was again given a chance to impress but he failed to improve and he soon slipped behind a very young Shaun Wright-Phillips and a resurgent Richard Edghill in the pecking order.  He remained at the club until 2003 by which time City were back in the Premier League but in those 3 years he managed a meagre 23 games, he eventually moved back to his native France to play for Sochaux.

Gerry Creaney - 1995 – 1998 – 21 Appearances & 4 Goals

There are some very good reasons why City slipped down the leagues and had to endure the dark days, one of those was gross miss-management and some of the worst transfer deals in the history of football, Scottish striker Gerry Creaney was part of just one of those deals.  City had Paul Walsh and Uwe Rosler leading the line, goals were flowing under Brian Horton but they were still slipping down the Premier League.  

New chairman Francis Lee decided to sack Horton and bring in his mate Alan Ball, Ball decided that free scoring Portsmouth player Gerry Creaney was capable of playing at a higher level, and so a £1.5million deal was put together to bring him to the club.  Only it wasn’t just money that was used, Ball also threw fan favourite Paul Walsh into the mix and thus one of City’s worst ever transfers was completed.

The club were relegated that season with Creaney making no impact whatsoever, he managed a lacklustre 4 goals as City went down with a whimper.  The player never really had a career after that and bounced around the non-leagues, but he will always have that season in the top flight to remember, its just a shame the City faithful have to remember it as well.

Barry Conlon - 1997 – 1998 – 8 Appearances 0 Goals

Now generally I have tried to focus on players that played a fair few games for City as opposed to people who came in and were so bad they never really played, but Conlon couldn’t be missed out.  I remember watching Barry during his brief stint at Maine Road, and seeing him roll around the pitch made me think that I too could be a professional footballer, he was really dire!  The third player to make the list from the same era, but easily the worst.

The striker arrived at City from QPR and he made just 1 start and 7 substitute appearances.  The important thing to remember about this period in the clubs history is how ridiculously short of money they were, and yet Frank Clark threw about what we did have like confetti on carthorses like this.

After he left City he plied his trade almost exclusively in the lower leagues and to be fair he never really excelled anywhere.  I had the misfortune of seeing Barry again last season during a fruitless spell at Stockport County where he managed 0 goals in 10 games…his contract was terminated after a few months.  He recently signed a deal with a Belgian lower league club, where he will be mostly getting to know the local Belgian beer i’d have thought.

So there we have it, there are other awful players that have been at City over the years, but for me, these are the worst that i've endured.  Therefore just remember next time you are at Eastlands and you feel the need to rant about Gareth Barry misplacing another pass, it could be worse, we could still have Ged Brannan scampering around the field!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Rumour Mill: X-Rated Tackler Part Of Double Raid on European Giants?

It isn't just newspapers that carry (make up) the biggest pieces of transfer speculation, a whole host of websites also make it their job to cobble together some of the most scurrilous rumours that you could ever wish to find, and one of the leading lights (worst offenders) in this is Tribal Football, or Tribull Football as it is more commonly known.  This time though they might be onto something as they report that David Platt flew out recently to watch the players in question.

Quite why he needed to do that I am unsure since the team in question were Benfica, who were recently at Stamford Bridge, but I suppose money is no object so a return to Lisbon would probably not disappoint.  The game he watched was the Lisbon derby (Sporting triumphed 1-0) and the players he was there to watch were Spanish midfielder Javi Garcia and Belgian utility man Axel Witsel, the aforementioned x-rated tackler.

Both players are more often than not used in central midfield, Garcia, however has also been used at the heart of the defence, and Witsel, known for his combative attitude has also been deployed on the right side at numerous points in his career.  Garcia began life at Real Madrid, but soon moved onto Osasuna where he began to develop, he then returned to the Spanish capital but soon became surplus to requirements thus triggering his move to Benfica.  The player has been linked to numerous English clubs for quite a period of time with Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United supposedly interested in his services.  Interestingly he signed a new deal with the Portueguese club in March, signing up until 2018, but whether this was just a way to boost his transfer value come the Summer is unclear.  

The 25 year old would clearly not come cheap, and considering his position there are other people I would prefer us to make a move for first, and I am sure that the City hierarchy feel the same way, as a backup plan I have no complaints but I would rather see us move for Javi Martinez or even long term Arsenal target Yann M'Vila, if moves for these should fall through, Garcia would be a good addition to our midfield.

Onto Witsel, a truly controversial player in the past.  When he was at his former club, Standard Liege, he formed a pretty impressive midfield partnership with Steven Defour and Marouane Fellaini.  Great things were expect of the trio and Witsel was the last to leave, moving to Benfica at the start of this season.  During his time in his homeland the 23 year old gained a reputation for his hard, almost aggressive tackling, the red cards followed and the player was widely criticised for lacking self control.  His most infamous dismissal resulted in a 3 month ban after he broke the ankle (assaulted) of Anderlecht defender Marcin Wasilewski, seriously look it up on youtube, its pretty vile.  Unfortunately for Witsel after his ban, he was sent off again against Anderlecht for another particularly brutal challenge.  Things got no better when he received his 3rd set of marching orders against Cercle Brugge for another shocking tackle on Brazilian Renato Neto.

Clearly there were many questions about the players temperament and seeming lack of control, in fact these doubts overshadowed what a superb prospect he appeared to be.  Since he moved to Benfica he seems to have improved his attitude, and has impressed greatly being viewed as one of the best players in Portugal.  If it weren't for the questions over his attitude and professionalism he would have moved to the Premier League a long time ago, he has been courted by Manchester United and it would now appear that City are showing interest as well as Chelsea. 

When I wrote recently about Nigel De Jong I said that he filled a vital role in some ways, we need that bulldog in the middle of the pitch to get about and win the ball back, but in other ways he didn't have the all round game that we needed.  Witsel would be an upgrade on that should be manage to curb his aggression.  He has the energy and ability to win the ball but he also has the technical ability to then use it in a more meaningful way than the Dutchman can currently.  

Any move for these 2 would not be straight forward, obviously when you are looking at bringing in players of this quality you will face competition and it is no difference in this case.  Of the 2, I would be incredibly interested in Witsel should he continue to control himself on the pitch, as for Garcia, well he is a good player but there are other options out there that I would rather see us pursue.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Steve Bruce in Talking Sense Shock!

Did anyone hear Steve Bruce on 5live on Saturday? 

I was driving to the game and had radio 5 on. Long story short, Bruce was on and he was asked about City and our recent dip in form. He essentially said that early in his United career, the 91-92 season to be precise, that United did something very similar to what we are threatening to do now. They lead everyone throughout the first half of the season, but after Christmas the wheels came off and they ultimately finished behind Leeds.

He blamed this on the pressure of being so close to winning the title, and on the fact that the club hadn't won it for so long that it all built up and became too much for them to handle, so they threw it away. He likened it to our situation and I thought he made a lot of sense. His final point was that the year after, they all sat around before the first game and said they weren't going to let it happen again, and he said they learnt so much from the previous year that it helped them go out and secure not just one title but championship after championship. Obviously he likened it to us and said that the squad will be more experienced with the pressure, but more importantly so will the fans and everyone working/involved in the club and that next year we will be an even better proposition.

Normally I would totally disregard anything that the man utters, but his comments made a lot of sense to me, I know we have title winners in our squad (the Toures, Nasri, Clichy) but the vast majority haven't won a huge amount, so this is a huge learning curve. Sure our frailties since Christmas could be down to the wrong tactics, or bad management, but for me, every time I see us playing lately I see a team short of confidence and belief, and a team that is struggling with the weight of expectation.

So to sum up, after hearing what Bruce had to say, I genuinely believe we will come back next year better equipped mentally than we are now, and I think we will win the league in style. We are still gaining that winning mentality, and we will continue to develop and improve. As dire as Saturday was, we came from 2 goals behind to take a point, we wouldn't have done that a few years ago, we also came from behind against Chelsea and Stoke, again those are games that we would have lost 18 months ago. I genuinely believe we are starting to get the right mentality and we will learn from our mistakes this campaign, there, now how is that for a bit of positivity?