English Football

Story of Maverick’s remarkable achievement with Swindon Town.

On a sunny afternoon of May 6th 2012, an English band ‘Toploader’ was belting out their biggest cover hit ‘Dancing in the Moonlight’ at County Ground in Swindon. On the stage, a non band member in his mid 40s dressed in denims, immaculately fitted chequered Jacket, trademark black leather gloves and dark shades was giving the chorus. His voice was anything but hoarse but surprisingly audience of more than 15000 people loved every minute of it.

And why not?

The concert was a part of ‘Party on the Pitch’, an event that was hosted to celebrate Swindon Town FC’s promotion to League One (3rd tier of English football). And the man who was giving the chorus was none other than their talismanic manager, Paolo Di Canio.

From being one of the teams who played in inaugural Premier League season in 1992-93, Swindon have seen continuous downward journey. In the past five seasons, the Robins have had a whooping six managers and fallen from mid-table stability in the Championship to relegation from League One.

It was not only the promotion that got Swindoners excited, but the manner in which it was achieved was phenomenal. And di Canio – a man who epitomizes intelligence, passion, skill and fierce loyalty was at the heart of it.

Early Sparks

Born into the working-class Quarticciolo district in Rome which was a hotbed of AS Roma support, he chose to follow their bitter rivals: Lazio.

At the age of 17, Di Canio signed up for Lazio’s youth team. Simultaneously, Paolo struck close chord with ‘Irriducibili’ (Lazio’s hardcore ultras which are feared all over Europe) and became their active member. When not playing, he travelled with them to away games. In his autobiography Il Ritorno (The Return), he recollects, “I’ve had bricks thrown at me by opposing fans. I’ve been tear-gassed and beaten by police.” Also he describes being just five yards away when Bergamo chief of police getting knifed.

Known to never hold back his opinions and effectively communicating them to people by all means possible, he has had bust ups with almost every manager he’s played under. Notably infamous spats with Trappatoni at Juventus and Capello at Milan (which literally had ended in exchanging punches) ended his flourishing career in Italy.

Milan eventually sold Paolo Di Canio to Celtic. Having played in combustible Derby d’Italia, Derby della Madonnina and Eternal Deby della Capitale, Paolo relished his chances to play in Old Firm Derby.

For his part Di Canio was a nothing less than a sensation in Glasgow. An outrageously gifted player, the skilful Italian rapidly became the darling of the fans. His commitment to the game and dedicated efforts to consistently elevate his own standards and of his team mates is second to none. Due to his team mates’ standards or lack of it, Paolo was increasingly getting frustrated. In one of the training sessions, Paolo Di Canio stormed off the pitch and let his manager Tommy Burns know in no uncertain terms that he thought the calibre of player he was asked to work with was below him.

In his first and only season at Celtic, Paolo was voted Player of the Year by the fans. He eventually ended up with a row with club’s chairman and was soon traded to Sheffield Wednesday. He took a final dig at the chairman by saying “I don’t play for liars and traitors,”

From Barbarian to Immortal

Under Ron Atkinson at Wednesday, Paolo seemed to flourished and he was a top scorer in his first season for the Owls. His fiery temperament quickly made him fans idol and earned him a nickname ‘The Volcano’. He literally put that name to test in his second season.

In a never-seen-before moment in English Football, while playing at Hillsborough in a match against Arsenal, Paolo Di Canio was sent off and later suspended for 11 matches and was fined £10,000 for pushing referee Paul Alcock.

No wonder Big Ron had once said about him, “I have managed a few nutters in my time, but Di Canio takes the biscuit.”

Paolo was finished at Wednesday and was sold to Harry Redknapp’s West Ham in January. There he cemented his place in the heart of West Ham fans. He quickly established himself as a maverick on the pitch.

His performances earned him high praise and he scored one of the best goals in the history of the Premier League: an exquisite volley in mid-air – for West Ham against Wimbledon in the 1999-2000 season. The extraordinary goal was declared as Goal of the Decade back in 2009.

“Paolo,” said Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp, “did things with the ball that made you gasp. Other footballers would pay to watch him train”.

Another very famous incident took place in December 2000, which many felt was one of the finest example of sportsman spirit in the game, as he made the decision to catch the ball rather than put it into the unguarded net when Everton goalkeeper Paul Gerrard was lying badly injured. As a result he won the FIFA Fair Play award and was lauded for his behaviour. Who’d have thought it?

He again demonstrated his flair for the unconventional by staying loyal to the West Ham fans and turning down Fergie’s attempts to lure him to Old Trafford. “There was no way I could ever have betrayed the fans at West Ham,” he told The Independent. “Football has never been a business. Football is a passion.”

Recently West Ham have opened the ‘Paolo Di Canio Lounge’, within the West Stand of Upton Park as a tribute to their hero.

Il Retorno

By the same time, his boyhood club Lazio were struggling on the pitch and off it. They were broke and unfancied, and a long way from their largesse of old; what’s worse, they were lingering in the shadow of their eternal city rivals, Roma.

Although Paolo had extended the contract with Charlton; he decided to answer SOS from Lazio. He could only apologise to the Charlton fans for his decision: “This is possibly the most difficult career decision I have ever had to make and I can only apologise to Alan Curbishley and the supporters of Charlton, for whom I have the greatest affection,” he said. “The supporters were always right behind me and I hope they will not be angry with me and will understand that, where your family is involved, you sometimes have to do things which are very painful.”

Lazio’s situation at the start of 2004 season was so bad that they only pulled together a third of their squad on the final day of the transfer market. Di Canio chose to accept a 70% pay cut from Charlton just to answer Lazio’s SOS call.

A remarkable incident in his first game epitomized his passion towards Lazio. Paolo di Canio duly started in the season opener against Sampdoria. Paolo released his fellow strike partner Simone Inzaghi (brother of Pippo and even less masculine than him) one on one with the keeper through a back flick. Inzaghi was fouled and earned a penalty.

Inzaghi started walking towards the penalty spot as he was designated penalty taker, but Di Canio already had the ball in his arms. “It is mine. MINE!” he shouted at Inzaghi. A frustrated Inzaghi looked over to the sidelines, where manager Caso is shouting at him to go and take the kick. But Di Canio was in no mood to give up the ball. Di Canio duly slotted the ball away, and he raced towards the Sampdoria fans to celebrate. The rest of the team followed him bar Simone, who stood looking hurt in the centre-circle.

As soon as Di Canio had finished squabbling with the Sampdoria players post-goal, he raced up and grabbed Simone by the shirt, incensed by his lack of celebration. So furious was Di Canio’s expression that players from both teams raced to separate the two.

William Wallace and “Il Duce”

‘The Volcano’ erupted again January 2005 on the occasion of Derby della Capitale. Paolo scored for Lazio and while celebrating a goal in front of Irriducibili, he raised his right arm to join them in their trademark Roman fascist salute. He repeated the salute twice more in Lazio colours, and as a result he has been branded by some as an ideologically committed, fully fledged fascist activist. There is no denying the DVX tattoo on his shoulder (the Latin appellation for Benito Mussolini) symbolizes the respect Di Canio has towards ‘Il Duce’.

In the wake of this adrenaline boiling derby, it was Paolo’s roommate who suffered most. Apparently the poor chap was made to stay awake all night as Paolo di Canio had watched DVD of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart repeatedly to pump himself up. In the days where players ‘loyalties can be easily bought, Di Canio’s struck ‘Not for Sale’ tag.

A few years ago an Italian journalist asked him about Francesco Totti; a player who achieved, at Roma, the same iconic status Di Canio enjoyed with their detested rivals, Lazio.

“Totti has said that he wouldn’t sit at the same dinner table with me,” Di Canio replied. “I said that was no great loss because if you tell Totti there are tensions in the Middle East, he’ll assume that a fight has broken out on the right side of midfield.”

Di Canio took shelter in the teaching of Samurai Culture to curb his channelize his energies. As a manager he is a less volatile than he was as a player, partly through his study of Samurai culture and the spiritual teachings in the traditions of Hagakure, and Bushido.

The code of Honour and Loyalty was the nucleus in the Samurai culture and the man who lived all his life by it, took no time in adopting it.

New Chapter

After quitting Lazio in 2006 he moved to Serie C2 side Cisco Roma where he got the chance as a player-manager. After hanging up his boots in 2008, Paolo swiftly moved towards coaching. Not only did Di Canio pass all of his coaching badges to UEFA Pro standard at Italy’s Coverciano facility but, according to his biographer Gabriele Marcotti, he topped in all subjects.

A clever footballing brain, immense experience and tactical acumen bolstered Paolo’s resume, but his volatility, eccentricity and a despised political stance meant appointing him at the helm would be a big social and political risk.

With Dietemar Hamman, George Burley also in contention, Swindon’s interim Chairman Jeremy Wray looked for passion, pride and professionalism in the candidates for the position of manager at the club. None other than Paolo fit the bill perfectly and Wray took a massive step into unknown.

His appointment brought in mixed reaction amongst the fans. Many loved the idea of having an enigmatic, animated and furiously passionate character in the dugout but others were sceptical as this was Di Canio’s first management job.

Immediate impact on his appointment was negative as one of the club’s sponsors, the local trade union who paid £4,000 per year as part of Swindon’s many sponsorship deals, pulled out of their long-term partnership with Swindon, citing the reasons of him being a Neo-nazi.

Paolo’s made a nervous start to the campaign as initially he struggled to identify players with right skills and qualities to fit his system. He underestimated levels of League 2 players and brought in many foreigners (mainly Italian) players from the same level. Once he found out the players who were not up to his standards, he quickly let them go. What he brought with him was not only passion, but incredible professionalism and clear vision on how to take the club forward.

A few stars failed  to cope up with tough regime and decided to move on. Di Canio branded them as bad apples and deemed it necessary to get rid of them. Looking at his overzealous emphasis on training and as few days off as possible, Harry Redknapp referred to Di Canio as “absolutely mad”.

From Chihuahuas to Rottweilers.

After thumping Crewe at County Ground in his first game in charge, Robins lost next 4 league games in a row including a fierce derby game against Oxford United, where di Canio was sent off in the stands.

Next game brought a defining point in the Robins’ season. In an ugly incident after the 1-3 defeat to Southampton on 30 August in the 2nd round of the Carling Cup, Leon Clarke who was signed from QPR just 11 days prior took issue with Swindon’s fitness coach Claudio Donatelli and literally abused him over a planned training session in the morning. Di Canio literally leapt to the defence of Donatelli and man-handled Clarke as the Englishman entered the tunnel and told him that he would “not play in my team.”

This incident brought his loyalty towards his staff and dedication towards the job in front of the world. Di Canio held one on one meeting with every player and clearly stated his expectations from them. Swindon won 4 out of their next 5 matches. But when The Robins lost 2-0 away to Macclesfield Town and it brought out rage in Di Canio.

In a post match comment he said, “With some players, if he has a chihuahua character, I can’t make a chihuahua into a rottweiler. He could be a proud chihuahua but he remains a chihuahua. So many players at the moment are Chihuahuas away from home. This is the truth.”

This outburst galvanized the team as they went on 10 matches unbeaten run before Torquay brought Robins down. But the unstoppable Swindon bounced back and won their 10 next League games in a row. Swindon were galloping not only in the League but Paolo’s army marched into Wembley for Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final and slay Roberto Martinez’ Wigan in FA Cup’s 3rd round.

Conquering Trauma.

Paolo Di Canio would’ve taken Newport County’s job in March 2011, but his father took ill and Paolo being extremely close to him, stayed at home to look after him.

In October 2011, prior to Swindon’s trip to Plymouth Di Canio’s father passed away and in an extremely unfortunate coincidence Di Canio’s mother passed away a day prior to the return fixture against the same team as Swindon were inching closer to the promotion.

Paolo did the unthinkable and stayed in England, most importantly was in the dugout as he saw Swindon defeated Plymouth 1-0 at the County Ground.

Having come close to quitting the club, Paolo stayed on to deliver the promise he’d made to the fans in the pre season about promotion. Swindon thumped Port Vale 5-0 in the penultimate match and secured the title.

While Di Canio principles are attacking, he is also pragmatic – and typically Italian. As he told the Independent: “Obviously I’ve always said that I’ll try to play attractive football for this league. I want to win, attack with five players, but also not concede a goal.”

Robin without the Hood

Along with incredible passion, commitment, extremely animated antics in the dugout what Paolo Di Canio brought along with him on the touchline was sublime Italian sense of fashion. On the match days he would always wear Olive coloured beanie hat, same coloured hoodless Military Style Parka and beneath that he’d wear Swindon scarf.

As season went on, Swindon Town’s merchandising store was getting flooded with the requests for Di Canio style Parkas. Di Canio starting the tradition of waving the scarf in front of fans after every home game and fans would respond with great verve and energy.

Next season will bring new challenges. Paolo will need new players who can help not only maintain his standards but surpass them. Di Canio must make sure the impact of ‘Second Season Syndrome’ is kept to minimum. Paolo’s contract with Swindon is only with 2 years and he’s kept mum about renewing it, leaving fans and his players in limbo. (This was at the time of writing the original article in May, now he has extended the contract with Swindon Town till 2015).

With a Hammer’s crest tattooed on his left bicep, there’s no secret that Paolo would love to manage West Ham one day. Now Hammers back in the Premier League under Sam Allardyce, Di Canio must focus on Swindon.

He “Came, Saw and Conquered”. And yes, he “danced in the moonlight” too.

I would like to thank @STFCgj and @lairy_official for their valuable inputs for this article.


A different outlook towards European transfers from 2011-12 season.

For football fans the season of 2011-12 has been nothing less than iconic. If enthralling finish to the season finale was an icing on the cake, then it was the transfer activity that helped to bake such a delightful cake. The gossips and speculations which were started during the preseason were more than enough to last till midseason window, also some of them are still going on. In terms of player transfers, this season has been record-breaking.

Never before football world has seen so much of money being spent on the players transfers. Not only cumulative expenditure by European clubs on sheer acquiring players was astonishing, the sheer volume of player movement was higher than before.

Most of the clubs in the various leagues haven’t been able to balance between expenditure and income through the transfers. Very few clubs have actually registered a profit purely through buying and selling their players (not considering profits through any other source)

Have a look at the staggering figures above. English Premier League which is considered as one of the best football leagues has become a major attractive product even for the players. 518 players arriving and 479 players leaving in 20 Premier League clubs (albeit players going/returning from Loans are included) give the perfect testimony of how much cut throat competition is amongst the players willing to succeed and how little margin available for the players to establish themselves in the league. English clubs have shelled more money than any other club in Europe or probably in the world as well.

Rapid globalization of the sport and incredible money there’s on the offer though ever improving television deals, sponsorship deals and corporate tie ups means clubs must strive hard to elevate their performance on the pitch and bag more and more success.

Success at any COST has become mantra in football as even Dutch sides, usually famous for exporting their talent have signed in 259 players and let go of the same number. Although their selling power isn’t what it used to be, as they could muster only 111m £ from their sales, they’ve signed the players for far less average value than of any other league.

Billionaire’s Clubs

Much credit for this frenzied activity across European football can be given to changes in clubs’ ownership. Oligarchs and Petroleum tycoons have set their eyes on football as their muse and have gone on acquiring stakes in various clubs across Europe and pouring in their money in order to make these clubs the European powerhouses.

Being acquired by Sheikh Mansoor from Abu Dhabi’s ruling family, Manchester City have not taken a break from their last season’s spending spree and continued to pour in money in the transfer window. Chelsea hasn’t stopped doing so since 2004 by grace of their Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich. Well, both the clubs finally reaped some rewards though. Paris Saint-Germain in France, Málaga CF in Spain who have recently been acquired by Middle Eastern oil rich sheikhs, have started to flex their muscles and recent exploits of Russian “Goldmember” Suleyman Kerimov in war-torn town of Makhachkala meant all these went on to pour incredible money in the club and lure players by giving them ridiculously high salaries.

This money indeed opened the opportunity for minnow clubs to put their best players in the showcase and sell them to big clubs to earn a fortune and invest that money to improve their training facilities and youth setups. Not to say, money which has been earned by selling players isn’t always entirely poured into upgrades but sometimes that money can help club secure their survival and sometimes Chairman takes it in his pockets to pay is personal debts (Mr. Glazer)

Big Stats

Have a look at the clubs who topped the in their leagues in terms of spending money and earning money. Amongst all the big spenders, only Juventus could manage to win the league title where as in France it was PSG’s title to lose and they did exactly that. Chelsea’s spending did not buy them a league title but their old guard bought few years ago won them the Europe’s biggest trophy.

In Spain surprisingly Atlético de Madrid outspent traditional big spenders Real and Barça. Also they’ve been only club in Europe who topped their league in terms of spending and earning most money on transfers. Arsenal filled up their coffers by cashing in on Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri. Lille topped in Ligue 1 last season by selling Cabaye, Rami, Gervinho and Moussa Sow, and it is certain that they’ll earn more money this season from only 1 player, Hazard.

FC Utrecht in Holland sold their starlet Ricky van Wolfswinkel to Sporting Lisbon, Strootman and Mertens to PSV and spent that money to buy Alexander Gerndt from Helsingborgs of Sweden which turned out to be Holland’s most expensive import of the season.

The table below shows European leagues’ top imports, exports and top inland transfers.

Balázs Dzsudzsák was transferred from PSV to Anzhi in August for 12.5m £ but played in only 8 games before breaking a collar-bone during a match against Rostov. Although the injury was supposed to keep him out for remainder of the season, he was transferred to Dinamo Moscow in January for 16.5m £. He made his début in March for Dinamo and played in 9 games.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic had already moved to AC Milan from Barcelona in 2010-11. But this move was on loan with an option to make a move permanent at the end of the season. Having scored 21 goals and 13 assists in total 41 appearances in his first season for Milan, they wasted no time and purchased Zlatan for 21m £.

Out of these expensive imports from each league Only Kun Agüero managed to win a League title and ironically it was Kun himself who dramatically scored a winner in dying seconds in final game to win the title on goal difference.

Falcao on the other hand did not win league title as Atlético Madrid finished 5th (44 points behind Real Madrid). But he played an instrumental part during Atlético Madrid’s Europa League win over Athletic Bilbao where he scored a cracking brace in the final.

Following table shows how many players from these 7 leagues were transferred to foreign clubs.

Although England have relied on their neighbours Scotland for fringe players, they turned to Spain for their marquee signings, spending more than 7 times money than they paid for players coming from Scotland.

English teams signing players on high wages mean the chances of quality players leaving England is very remote as they really can’t be afforded anywhere else. English clubs sold only 8 players to Russia and managed 41.5m £. Out of these 8, Yuri Zhirkov and Christopher Samba were sold to heavy spenders Anzhi for 13m £ and 12.5m £ respectively.

After Russia, English clubs sold 27 players to Spain for cumulative 31.5m £. Well, out of these 27, Cesc Fàbregas’ transfer to Barcelona fetched 30m £.

Bundesliga players don’t really move to English Premier League. Out of 22 players sold to English clubs, only 7 players were fetched money. Dissecting further, out of these 7 players, 3 were signed by Arsenal for their youth team. Only Papiss Demba Cissé, Per Mertersacker and Pavel Pogrebnyak have made their mark as regular first team players.

German clubs have shown faith on their neighbours Austria, Holland, Switzerland, Poland and Czech Republic as out of 339 players signed from foreign clubs, 137 were signed from these 5 leagues. Only 35 players have been signed from France (17), Italy (10) and Spain (8).

Let’s have a look below on the season’s top 20 transfers and see how they fared.

1) Falcao: Having seen Kun Agüero and Diego Forlan in the summer Atlético Madrid spent 41.5m £ Falcao and were repaid every penny of it. In his first season in Spain, Falcao scored 24 League goals and 9 Europa League goals. He continued his lethal scoring in European games as he helped Atlético to win their second Europa Leaue title in 3 years. By achieving this feat, Falcao won back to back Europa League titles.

His lethal scoring means Atlético Madrid went on 9 matches’ unbeaten streak out of which 7 were victories. During this streak he scored found the net 8 times and provided 2 assists. His heroics in the League and Europe mean he has successfully put himself on the radar of major buying powerhouses. Chelsea might launch a bid for him.

Score: 9/10

2) Kun Agüero: Manchester City’s 39.5m £ were paid in most sensational fashion as he scored a vital winner in the last seconds which ended City’s 44 year wait for the League title. Kun scored a brace on his début against Swansea and never looked back. Although initially taunted for scoring only at home games, his 9 out of 30 goals in the historic season have come away from home.

Somewhat failed to shine in Champions League, Agüero has a challenge in front of him to score against big guns playing away from home. 23 league goals, 8 assist and 5 MoM awards meant an incredible transfer hit.

Score: 9/10 

3) Javier Pastore: Initially linked with all the big European clubs, Pastore was sold to Nuevo (oil) rich PSG for 37m £. 22-year-old Javier Pastore scored 13 goals and provided 6 assists in the league.

Pastore’s performances have been inconsistent over the season but at least he seemed to have chosen the right club. Big money signing like him meant he got plenty of playing time in PSG. PSG’s ambition backed by Petro dollars from Sheikhs means more quality signings will be made over the summer.

Pastore too, hasn’t impressed in Europa League this season as PSG crashed out in the group stages. If Pastore manages to play in maximum games, he’ll continue to flourish.

Score: 8/10 

4) Cesc Fàbregas: Cesc’s transfer saga must’ve been like one of those never-ending daily soaps. When he put a pen to paper and officially wore Barça jersey, there were many doubts on how he will fit in Barca’s tiki taka system considering Iniesta – Xavi’s irreplaceable duo and emergence of Thiago Alacantara.

But he proved his doubters wrong as he slotted in very well in Barca’s system. Till February, he had scored all of his 15 goals and was Barca’s 2nd leading goal scorer behind Messi. But since his last league goal has come on 9th January against Espanyol.

Towards end of the season Cesc had been extremely wasteful as he squandered a lot of importannt chances. He has a lot to prove to Barça faithful and repay their faith.

Score 6.5/10

5) Fábio Coentrão: When Coentrão arrived in Real Madrid with a 26.5m £ price tag, he was seen as a complete solution to left-sided defensive problems. But after initially featuring in Real’s all the matches and playing complete matches, Mourinho seemed to have lost faith in his abilities as Coentrão was overlooked in the favour of Marcelo.

Coentrão only started 12 league games and 7 Champions League games during his first year in Spain. Clearly a case of lost confidence, unless he shines in Euro 2012, his place in Mourinho’s starting line up will still be in a limbo.

Score: 5/10

6) Samir Nasri: He went to City for winning the titles and that’s what he did after moving from Arsenal for 24m £. He played a vital role in City’s first ever Premier League title.

He scored 5 goals and provided 9 assists and started 26 games for City in his first season. Although his goal scoring record in City has not been more prolific than in Arsenal, but in City goal scoring was primarily taken care by their forwards. Whenever Nasri got to play in City’s star studded line up, he made sure that his performances didn’t go in vain.

Score: 8.5/10 

7) Samuel Eto’o: Check The website basically a great humiliation tool which shows you by how much money he’s earned since your’ve entered the website. You may close the website for your pleasure but he’ll still keep on earning that money for his prowess.

When unknown Anzhi Makhachkala appeared in the news and their plans to lure Eto’o to Russia, the world maybe laughed on them. But before everyone could realise, Eto’o was off to Russia in a 24m £ deal which’ll offer him 350k £-a week salary.

Since scoring on his début to salvage a draw for Anzhi, Eto’o scored 13 goals in 22 League matches. Anzhi’s inconsistent league form prevented them from mounting a serious challenge for European competitions.

Only few months in Russia’ Eto’o was linked with a loan move to Inter and a move to MLS. Although nothing like that happened, but he’s now linked with PSG.

With Guus Hiddink in charge of Anzhi for the coming season, it is yet to be seen whether Eto’o sticks around for pure footballing reasons or answer’s PSG’s call.

Score: 6.5/10

8) Juan Mata: Undoubtedly Chelsea’s best signing since few years. He’s been an absolute catalyst and a perfect bridge between Chelsea’s slow defence and quick counter attacks. It’ll be wrong to judge Mata’s contribution just in terms of stats.

His all-round game surely brought much more to Chelsea than just 6 goals and 13 assists. His vision, passing, through balls and finishing certainly makes him one of the scintillating player to watch.

Mata has surely justified his 23.5m £ price tag by playing key role in Chelsea’s historic Champions League winning season.

Score: 9.5/10 

9) Alexis Sánchez: Like Pastore, Udinese’s versatile striker Alexis Sánchez was coveted by almost all the major clubs who were trying to lure him into big money signing. But he finally he answered Barcelona’s 23m £ call.

Even after his move, there were lot of doubts on how much playing time he’ll get in the presence of Villa – Messi – Pedro. Injuries too did not help his cause much as he was sidelined twice for lengthy spells.

Due to injury to David Villa, Sánchez got to play more games than he might’ve anticipated. Messi’s sensational form meant Alexis’ good performances often went unnoticed. In his injury marred first season for Barça, he managed to pay 31 games and score 15 goals and provide 5 assists.

He’s young and can play everywhere in attack. If he can keep himself away from injuries, he can surely be one of the great talenst to watch.

Score: 7.5/10 

10) Zlatan Ibrahimovic: What to say about him? Moody, Maniac but Maverick nonetheless. He spearheaded AC Milan on his own and launched a serious title bid for consecutive Scudetto with AC Milan. Prior to finishing second in this season he holds a unique record of wining 7 league titles in last 7 years with different teams.

Although not his first season in Milan as he’d spent a previous season on Loan, he technically became Milan player this season when his loan deal was made permanent by Milan. He scored 28 goals in the league and 35 in total and finished as Serie A’s top scorer.

There are still question marks over his temperament. But surely ranks as one of the best strikers in the world football at the moment.

Score: 8/10

11) Stewart Downing: In 36 League games only thing he’s got to show is 72 shots and 19 of them on target and No goals or assists. Even for him it must be difficult to remember what he actually did in Liverpool.

He was the most expensive English player to be transferred this season for 20m £. But under his presence Liverpool broke their barren trophy spell and won the Carling Cup. Probably this is his biggest contribution. He can be used as a lucky charm in the coming season.

There’s nothing more to say.

Score: 4/10 

12) Romelu Lukaku: Top scorer in Belgian league at the age of 16, Lukaku was a hot prospect and when Chelsea signed him for 19.5m £, it was certain that he would go on to lighten up the Premier League.

But he was completely overlooked by AVB till he was in charge of Chelsea. Even after Roberto Di Matteo took over, Lukaku could not knock the doors of the first team.

He’s still 19 and with a monstrous physic and power, the future is still bright for him, provided he gets the opportunities.

Score: Hate to do this, but an absolutely zero impact in his season, 4/10

13) Manuel Neuer: His first season in Bayern colors has been poor for Bayern in terms of results. Not to say Neuer has been fantastic in the season. At 19.5m £ transfer fee, he became world’s 2nd expensive goalkeeper behind Buffon.

After his mistake on 1st day cost Bayern a home defeat, he went on to keep clean sheets in next 12 consecutive games, beating Bayern’s record.

An excellent shot stopper and great distributor of the ball, Neuer’s vulnerabilities in coming off his line were exposed at times. Bayern’s penalty shoot out hero in the Semi Final, scored a penalty in Final’s shootout but he was let down by rest of his team mates who couldn’t convert their penalties.

By keeping 17 clean sheets in the league he ensured Bayern conceded least goals in the Bundesliga.

Score: 7.5/10

 14) Santi Cazorla: Has to be Málaga’s player of the season. Santi Cazorla sealed an 18.5m £ move from Villarreal in the summer. He figured in Málaga’s all 38 league games.

Santi being a versatile midfielder played in every position in the Málaga’s midfield. Having a squad built around him, Cazorla fulfilled the role of playmaker to the best.

He scored 9 goals and provided 5 assists and ensured Málaga finish 4th and qualifies for next season’s Champions League qualifiers. Week in- week out, he produced consistent performances on the pitch regardless of Málaga’s inconsistent form. Santi probably is an only Non Barca-Madrid player who can claim his place in La Liga’s team of the season.

Score: 9/10 

15) David de Gea: When Sir Alex Ferguson signed this lanky 20-year-old goalkeeper from Atlético Madrid for staggering 17.5m £, he was convinced that David de Gea will successfully replace Van Der Saar. But De Gea took a long time to adjust with physical style of English football and his vulnerability against long shots was exposed in his first ever game.

He made a lot of mistakes early in the season which resulted in letting in lot of goals and even United’s untimely exit from the Champions League. De Gea improved with every passing game. He showed tremendous shot stopping abilities and good concentration and helped United to mount a serious title challenge for the League.

But he still needs to improve tremendously to be considered as one of the best goal keepers in England and Spain.

Score: 7.5/10

16) Phil Jones: Jones is another youngster bought by United with a long-term vision to replace Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. United splashed 17m £ for this versatile 20-year-old player from Blackburn. Jones’ versatility might’ve counted against him as he played in Central defence, Right back and Centre midfield positions.

After showing scintillating form early in the season, Jones suffered recurrent injuries which hampered his growth in the 1st year at Old Trafford. Later on in the season, Jones showed the signs of lacking confidence in him own abilities.

Jones is very comfortable on the ball and is good likes to dribble in the opponent’s box every time he can. Although he’s one for the future, his first season has been of mixed performances

Score: 7/10

17) Balázs Dzsudzsák: Hungarian marksman Dzsudzsák  has been double transferred from PSV to Anzhi to Dinamo Moscow in the same season costing Anzhi a 12.5m £ and Dinamo a 16.5m £. Due to his injury he missed most of the season at Dinamo.

Despite getting 630 minutes in 9 matches after his injury, Dzsudzsák is yet to open his goal scoring account.

Unfortunate lad, but he’s got to justify his price tag in coming season.

Score: 4/10

18)   Ashley Young: 3rd of United’s summer signing, Young too suffered lot of injuries in his début season at Old Trafford. Young has been excellent on wings but at times he’s been very ordinary.

Although he could play in only 25 matches (19 starts), Young scored 6 league goals and provided 7 assists.

With Valencia cementing his spot on the right-wing, Young has to fight Nani for the permanent berth on the left-wing. To succeed at United, Young has to show consistency in his performances.

Score: 6/10

19) Jordan Henderson: Liverpool spent 16m £ for this youngster from Sunderland. Although it appeared that he’s been played out of position far too often, he actually has started 20 out of 31 games in his favoured Central midfield position.

Another failed signing from Liverpool’s “Moneyball” experiment, Henderson can compete with Downing for ‘Wasted Resources of the Year’ award.

Henderson’s previous season in Sunderland was really good and he successfully orchestrated their midfield.  He couldn’t find any rhythm what so ever in Liverpool jersey.

Score: 5/10

20) Gökhan Inler: Inler’s acquisition for 15.5m £ from Udinese was final piece in Napoli’s jigsaw. They needed a midfield dynamo to back their attacking trio of Cavani, Lavezzi and Hamsik. Inler provided just that.

From Centre Midfield position, Inler averaged 2.8 tackles and 2 interceptions per game. He also averaged about 50 passes per game with 86.5% success rate. Considering Napoli’s counter attacking style these stats shows Inler has proven to be good initiator of attacks.

His both goals came in the Champions League and at the crucial moments. Inler gave consistent performances despite Napoli’s mixed results.

Score: 7/10

Real Madrid finally won League title after 4 years, Manchester City won it after 44 years. Montpellier won their first ever Ligue 1 title and Borussia Dortmund won League and Cup double. In Holland Ajax won their 30th League title.

All these teams will be looking to freshen up their squads by bringing in few new faces where as Barcelona, Manchester United, PSG, Bayern will be looking to avenge their league defeats by revamping their squads.

New season is certain to break more transfer records. We just have to see how many of them rise up to the occasion and deliver; else we’ll still be singing “Oh Caroll!”.

Traditionally, Last month of the year and the first month of the following year, bring cheer, joy and hope to the people around the world. Nothing different when it comes to football.

While rest of the Europe use this time as a Winter Break to freshen up their leagues, allow teams to make tours to middle east and mint money, England and Scotland pile up the fixtures on the Boxing day, New Year’s eve and 2nd day of the year and following weekend. Large crowds are drawn away from home to the stadiums to they can enjoy Festive Season with their mates, over the beer rather than spend time with the families.

As people flock in the stadiums to enjoy more and more football, 11 men on the pitch and the one in dugout, start to sweat over the games coming thick and fast. With Pride, Glory, Promotion, Relegation, Local bragging rights at stake, Managers can’t wish for anything else but to scrape through this period with minimum injuries and maximum possible points.

This season teams will be playing played 5 League matches and a Cup game between 17th December – 8th January span. These 5 games can define your season. You can break away from your nearest rivals, either to the summit or away from the abyss, or you can blow up the lead or get sucked into the relegation battle.

Before getting in that fixture frenzy, Man City (38 Pts) and Man United (36 Pts) were split by 2 points at the summit while Bloton (9 Pts), Blackburn (10 Pts), Wigan (12 Pts) made the bottom three and Wolves, Sunderland (14 pts) and West Brom (15 Pts), were lurking just above the relegation zone.

Out of these 8 placed teams City, United, Bolton, Wigan, Sunderland and West Brom are yet to play their 5th fixture of this frenzied fixture pile up. And this is going to turn out to be significant.

Currently the bottom six of the table has been occupied by Bolton (13 Pts), Blackburn (4 Pts), Wigan (15 Pts) at the bottom three, new entrant QPR, Wolves (17 Pts) and Sunderland (21 Pts) occupy 17th, 16th and 15th place respectively.

Now looking at the remaining fixtures of this frenzied last round, Wigan will play Sunderland at Home tonight, Tottenham will host West Brom and Everton will host Bolton on 5th Jan.

Resurgent Sunderland, under Martin O’Neill has picked up 7 points in their last 4 games (L,W,D,W) and I fancy them to go to Wigan who have picked up just 3 points (D,D,L,D), and take all 3 points. These 3 points will take Sunderland to 24 points and will see them propelled to 10th Position and Wigan will be rooted to 18th place. A draw will see Sunderland climb up just 1 place to 14th but a win for Wigan will get them out of the relegation zone and move up on 16th place, pushing QPR in the relegation zone.

Wigan will be hoping that Sunderland will be tired after playing on 1st Jan and beating Man City with the last kick of the match.

Everton will host Bolton, who are rooted down the bottom of the league. A win for Everton or a draw will change nothing in the table (which I think will be the scenario). But a Bolton win will still keep them in the relegation zone but from bottom of the league to 18th place.

Wolves have shown a promise in patches but have picked up just 3 points in last 5 (L,D,D,D,L). Their next 5 fixtures are Spurs (A), Villa (H), Liverpool (H), QPR (A), West Brom (H).

While Norwich, Swansea have shown incredible promise to stay up in the League, QPR will be looking forward to buy more fringe players and make a desperate attempt to improve the disastrous form (1 point in 5 games). QPR’s next 5 fixtures are Newcastle (A), Wigan (H), Villa (A), Wolves (H), Blackburn (A) and I think they have a best chance of pulling out from the relegation zone.

I hope Blackburn and Bolton, traditionally combative teams, will keep trying hard and picking up points here and there and sneak out of the drop zone. But it might just be too little too late.

Bolton’s next 5 fixtures (post Everton trip) are against Utd (A), Liverpool (H), Arsenal (A), Norwich (A), Wigan (H). Blackburn will play with Fulham (H), Everton (A), Newcastle (H), Arsenal (A), QPR (H). I can see Bolton have a chance of picking up 4 points and Blackburn 3. Wigan’s next 5 (post Sunderland trip) are Man City (H), QPR (A), Spurs (A), Everton (H), Bolton (A) and might pick up 3 points. 

I reckon that will not change the scenario at the bottom.

I was hoping that the teams in the relegation zone and just above drop zone would be showing a spirit and some true grit. I was hoping that after every match day, bottom of the League Table will keep on shuffling.

None of that has happened so far but I haven’t given up the hope yet.

Hope 2012 gives combative spirit to the bottom 3 and spices up the relegation battle.

Some player catches your eye in some other league, or you read about some player somewhere and he sticks in your mind. Come transfer window and he’s linked with Tottenham Hotspur.

Spurs have been known are shrewd merchants when it comes to player transfers. Under the strong Chairmanship of Daniel Levy, Spurs have not only able to attract loads of fringe stars year after year, they also have enough financial power to retain their good players till the optimum North London shelf life and sell them to other clubs and make enough profits.

Year after year they keep on doing this business and posses a large squad of international stars.

I had an irresistible urge to go back 5 years and check all their incoming and outgoing players. I also checked on the number of appearances and tentative profit.

Lets go year by year.



Players In: August window: 8

Notable purchases:

Tom Huddlestone – Derby County, (est. £2,500,000)

Paul Stalteri – Germany Werder Bremen, (undisclosed)

Aaron Lennon – Leeds United, £1,000,000

Wayne Routledge – Crystal Palace, £1,250,000

Lee Young-Pyo – PSV Eindhoven, (undisclosed)

Jermaine Jenas – Newcastle United, £7,000,000


Players In: January window: 3

Notable purchases

Danny Murphy – Charlton Athletic, £2,000,000

Players Out: January window: 5

Notable sales

Sean Davis, Noé Pamarot, Pedro Mendes – Portsmouth, £7,500,000 pounds combined.

Michael Brown – Fulham

Transfers in: – £13,750,000

Transfers out: + £7,500,000

Total spending: – £6,250,000



Players In: August window: 8

Notable purchases:

Benoit Assou-Ekotto – RC Lens, £3,500,000

Didier Zokora – Saint-Étienne, £8,600,000

Dimitar Berbatov – Bayer Leverkusen, £10,900,000

Mido – Roma, Undisclosed

Steed Malbranque – Fulham, £2,000,000

Pascal Chimbonda – Wigan, £4,500,000

Players Out: August window: 8

Notable sales:

Stephen Kelly – Birmingham City, £750,000

Michael Carrick – Manchester United, £18,600,000

Andy Reid – Charlton Athletic, £3,000,000

Players In: January window: 3

Notable purchases:

Adel Taarabt – RC Lens, Undisclosed

Ricardo Rocha – Benfica, £3,200,000

Players Out: January window: 3

Notable sales.

Calum Davenport-  West Ham, £3,000,000

Transfers in: – £32,700,000

Transfers out: + £25,850,000

Total spending: – £6,850,000



Players In: August window: 5

Notable Purchases

Gareth Bale – Southampton, £5,000,000

Darren Bent – Charlton, £16,500,000

Younes Kaboul –  Auxerre, £8,000,000

Kevin-Prince Boateng – Hertha Berlin – £5,400,000

Players Out: August window: 5

Reto Ziegler – Sampdoria, Undisclosed

Mido – Middlesbrough, £6,000,000

Danny Murphy- Fulham, Undisclosed

Players In: January window: 4

Chris Gunter – Cardiff, £3,000,000

Jonathan Woodgate – Middlesbrough, £8,000,000

Alan Hutton – Rangers, £9,000,000

Gilberto – Hertha Berlin, £1,900,000

Players Out: January window: 4

Notable Sales:

Wayne Routledge – Aston Villa, £1,250,000

Jermain Defoe – Portsmouth, £7,000,000

Transfers in: – £57,500,000

Transfers out: + £14,250,000

Total spending: – £43,250,000



Players In: August window: 10

Notable Purchases

Luka Modrić – Dinamo Zagreb, £16,000,000

Giovani Dos Santos – Barcelona, £5,000,000

Heurelho Gomes – PSV Eindhoven, £7,800,000

David Bentley – Blackburn Rovers, £15,000,000

Roman Pavlyuchenko – Spartak Moscow, £14,000,000

Vedran Ćorluka – Manchester City, £8,500,000

Players Out: August window: 12

Notable Sales

Teemu Tainio – Sunderland, £5,000,000

Paul Robinson – Blackburn, £3,500,000

Pascal Chimbonda – Sunderland, £5,000,000

Robbie Keane – Liverpool, £19,000,000

Steed Malbranque – Sunderland, £7,000,000

Younes Kaboul – Portsmouth, £6,00,000

Lee Young-Pyo – Borussia Dortmund, Undisclosed

Dimitar Berbatov – Manchester United, £30,750,000

Players In: January window: 5

Notable purchases

Jermain Defoe – Portsmouth, £9,000,000

Wilson Palacios – Wigan Athletic,  £12,000,000

Pascal Chimbonda – Sunderland, £4,500,000

Robbie Keane –  Liverpool, £12,000,000

Players Out: January window: 7

Transfers in: – £104,500,000

Transfers out: + £68,750,000

Total spending: – £35,750,000 



Players In: August window: 7

Notable Purchases

Kyle Walker – Sheffield United, Undisclosed

Peter Crouch – Portsmouth, £10,000,000

Sébastien Bassong – Newcastle, £8,00,000

Niko Kranjčar – Portsmouth, £2,500,000

Players Out: August window: 15

Notable sales

Didier Zokora – Sevilla, £7,500,000

Darren Bent – Sunderland, £10,000,000

Pascal Chimbonda – Blackburn Rovers, £2,000,000

Kevin-Prince Boateng – Portsmouth – £4,000,000

Players In: January window: 1

Younes Kaboul – Portsmouth, £8,00,000

Players Out: January window: 2

Transfers in: – £28,500,000

Transfers out: + £25,250,000

Total spending: – £3,250,000



Players In: August window: 3

Sandro – Internacional, £6,000,000

William Gallas – Arsenal, Free

Rafael van der Vaart – Real Madrid, £8,00,000

Players Out: August window: 5

Notable Sales

Adel Taarabt – QPR, £1,00,000


Players In: January window: 2

Notable Purchases

Steven Pienaar – Everton, £1,00,000

Transfers in: – £18,500,000

Transfers out: + £1,050,000

Total spending: – £17,500,000


In 2011-2012, Spurs have added Brad Friedel (Aston Villa, Free), Scott Parker (West Ham, £5,500,000) and Emmanuel Adebayor (Manchester City, on Loan) and have sold Woodgate (Stoke, Released), Jamie O’Hara (Wolves, £5,500,000), Robbie Keane (L.A. Galaxy, £3,500,000), Alan Hutton (Aston Villa, Undisclosed) and Palacios, Crouch to Stoke.

Now in January Tottenham are linked with Alessandro Del Piero, Amauri, Chris Samba and even bringing David Beckham back to England.

After a whirlwind of transfers seeing 59 players coming to White Hart Lane and 74 heading out in last 5 years, Harry Redknapp seems to have finally settled on his squad.

GK     Heurelho Gomes

GK     Carlo Cudicini

GK     Brad Friedel – 14 Starts

DF     Younès Kaboul – 14 Starts

DF     William Gallas

DF     Sébastien Bassong

DF     Michael Dawson (vice captain)

DF     Vedran Ćorluka

DF     Ledley King (captain) – 9 Starts

DF     Kyle Walker – 13 Starts

DF     Benoît Assou-Ekotto – 14 Starts

MF     Tom Huddlestone

MF     Aaron Lennon – 9 Starts
MF     Scott Parker – 12 Starts
MF     Rafael van der Vaart – 10 Starts
MF     Luka Modrić – 12 Starts
MF     Gareth Bale – 14 Starts

MF     Niko Kranjčar

MF     Danny Rose

MF     Jake Livermore

MF     Sandro

MF     Andros Townsend

MF     Steven Pienaar

FW     Roman Pavlyuchenko

FW     Emmanuel Adebayor (on loan from Manchester City) – 12 Starts

FW     Giovani dos Santos

FW     Jermain Defoe


Now since Harry Redknapp has finalized his squad and identified the pivotal stars, Spurs will have to do desperate attempt to hold on to them and attract new players.

They pulled out a major rabbit out of the hat by signing Rafael Van Der Vaart on the transfer deadline day and have shown massive resolve by keeping Luca Modric in the club.

Spurs are riding high on 3rd position in the league till today and have a good chance of qualifying for the Champions League.

Don’t be surprised if Spurs decided to do a massive clean up of the fringe players and do a revamp. Apart from who is coming in Manchester United, my eyes will be on the transfer activities by Spurs for sure.

My take on Swansea City’s season so far.

Well, I like watching Swansea and I think they’ll stay up in the Premier League. And I’m not saying this because my dad’s cousin sister lives in Swansea and her husband, being an Arsenal fan, has given me Man United jerseys, T-shirts and even Socks.

My prediction is purely based on their performance in 16 games. 8 Home and 8 Away.

Beyond everyone’s expectations, Swansea are sitting comfortably in 12th position with 18 points after 16 games. They have won 4, drawn 6 and lost 6. All of those 4 wins have come at home, along with 1 loss and 3 draws. Swansea’s away form has been nothing but disaster. They have lost 5 and drawn 3 games. 

It is important for any club to keep your starting XI play together for most of the season except in case of tactical changes, injuries and suspensions. And it is a dream for any manager to have their best players in the starting XI, injury free and without suspensions.

Swansea have just managed to do that. They have used only 24 players for their 16 games. Only Man City, Norwich and Wigan have used lesser (23).

Their back four has been consistent for most of the games with Rangel (13 starts), Ashley Williams (16), Monk (10) and Neil Taylor (15). The U-21 Steven Caulker has replaced Gary Monk for the last 6 games and has helped to keep 4 clean sheets.

Talking of clean sheets, their £1,500,000 signing Michel Vorm has been excellent shot stopper and has quick reflexes. He has kept 8 clean sheets, making Swansea, the only team along with Man United to have kept maximum clean sheets so far in the season. As far as the returns of investment is considered, 8 clean sheets in 16 games is a perfect answer.

The midfield too has been consistent. Nathan Dyre, Leon Britton, Joe Allen, Mark Gower and Wayne Routledge have started maximum games. Scott Sinclair and the summer signing Danny Graham have featured up front.

What has impressed me is their passing game and fluidity in passing, which got them their nickname Swanselona. The passing accuracy too has been incredible for a newly promoted team.

The problem area, however is the goals. For all their passing in defense and midfield, the shots on goal have been less. In 16 games, they have fired only 167 shots (90 on target and 77 off target), lesser than Blackburn, Wigan and Bolton. Scott Sinclair has fired 45 out of 167 shots in 16 appearances (27%, 23 on target and 22 off target). Their main striker Danny Graham has fired 27 shots in 14 appearances (16%, 10 on target and 17 off target). What that means is out of 22 out field players used by Swansea, 43% of the shots have been fired by these two and rest 57% by 20 other players.

The conversion of Shots on target to goals too has been low. Danny Graham is the leading goal scorer having scored 5 (out of 10 shots on target) league goals, followed by Scott Sinclair on 4 (out of 23 shots on target). 3 of Sinclair’s goals have been from the penalty spot. 

They have scored just 16 goals in 16 games. The average of goal per game still might sound decent, but the reality is different in Home and Away games. 10 out of 16 goals which The Swans scored, have come at home. Out of these 10, 3 have been penalties. Swansea have failed to score in 4 of their home and away matches. Just 6 goals in 8 away matches is low.

They are defensively solid at home, keeping 6 clean sheets and letting in just 2 goals. Only one conceded against Man United has resulted in a their only home loss. 

On road the situation is worrying though. In 8 games, Swansea has shipped 18 goals, averaging 2.25 per game and have kept only 2 clean sheets (at Ainfield impressively and St. James’ Park). Michel Vorm has been busy in the away fixtures. He has made 58 saves in 8 away matches (7.25 per game), compared to just 33 saves in 8 home games (4.13 per game).

Swansea’s remaining 3 fixtures are against Everton (Away), QPR and Spurs (Home), before the reverse fixtures start. As far as the form of these teams are concerned Swansea can expect 4 points out of 9, which can propel them to 22 points, leaving them to get 18 points in 19 remaining games.

It is true that you will not lose if you don’t concede goals but it is certain that you will not win if you don’t score them.

Okay. Mario Balotelli. These two words are enough to sum up the title of this post. You can go on and on with his controversies, antics on and off the pitch and ice cold celebration after scoring goals.

On 24th July 2011, in a pre season friendly against LA Galaxy, Mario was substituted by Roberto Mancini in disgrace.

The striker had gone clean through on goal a few minutes earlier but, rather than finishing off an easy chance, he turned full circle, flicking the ball behind his legs and trying to score with a backheel. It was a remarkable act of self-indulgence and, as the ball went wide, several of his team-mates, particularly Edin Dzeko, were seen remonstrating with him.

See the clip here.——->

Balotelli then became involved in a touchline row with his manager, Roberto Mancini, and angrily threw a water bottle on to the pitch after taking his seat among the substitutes.
Have you heard something like this on the International stage? That too, in the context of World Cup? And, surprisingly by a Legend? Unthinkable in the modern football but not impossible since Mario is around.
This is not about Mario. This is about Brazilian legend Garrincha.
In 1958 he was selected to play in the World Cup in Sweden. In their last warm-up match the team played against Italy’s Fiorentina and beat them 4-0.

Garrincha scored the final goal, going past three defenders including Robotti. With only the goalkeeper to beat he sold him a dummy and faced an open goal.

Robotti chased back, but instead of shooting Garrincha elected to go around him once again before walking the ball into the net. Although the goal was stunning it incensed his team mates and more importantly his coach Vicente Feola.

See this clip of the goal here. ——–>

Feola was so furious with Garrincha and decided not to play him for Brazil’s first two matches in the World Cup. He returned in the game against Russia (then U.S.S.R). Brazil ultimately went on to win the World Cup and Garrincha was named in the All Stars team.
Genius comes with the arrogance, and arrogance comes with a price.