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Lincoln, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom
Senior news reporter at the Grimsby Telegraph, UEA History graduate, former BBC Kick Off sports reporter & Lincoln City fan.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Top 5 Premier League Signings of the Season

The likes of Bebe, Stephen Ireland and Ramires have flopped so far since their moves to England, but which players have had the opposite effect?






Saturday, 4th December 2010
By Matt Scrafton.


This summer saw a significantly reduced amount of money spent on transfers by Premier League clubs compared to recent seasons, yet there were still some top purchases. Here is a list of my top five transfers who have had the biggest impact upon the Premier League campaign so far in the 2010/2011 season.


5. Javier Hernandez - Manchester United - £7m




Relatively unknown prior to his transfer to Manchester United from Mexican side Guadalajara, which technically went though in January, the Mexican arrived at Old Trafford in the summer on the back of some fantastic displays at the World Cup. Hernandez was plunged into the spotlight following the disappearance and alleged "injury" to Wayne Rooney, and didn't disappoint - netting on his debut against Chelsea in the Community Shield, and going on to net four goals in his opening 10 games for United. And some of his goals have proved to be extremely important as well; perhaps most notably his brace away at Stoke City which secured a 2-1 win, as well his first European goal as he led United to a 1-0 win at Valencia. 


4. Alexander Hleb - Birmingham City - Loan




This was certainly a major coup and a sign of raised ambitions for Birmingham City as they managed to secure the services of Barcelona midfielder Alexander Hleb on a season long loan. Although Hleb has failed to open his league account for the Blues yet (scored in the League Cup against MK Dons), his game has never really been about his goals tally - proven by his record at Arsenal, where he only netted 7 times in 89 starts. The Belorussian prefers to play with style, flair and trickery, whilst assisting the forward men and assisting the fluid offensive moves with his incisive passes and impressive footwork. Although Birmingham have yet to see the best of the 29 year old, mainly due to a lack of fitness, Hleb produced a sterling display during City's home draw against Fulham. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come, and the clearly talented ex-Arsenal man continues his good form into 2011. 


3. Maroune Chamakh - Arsenal - Free




Arsenal Boss Arsene Wenger had been monitoring the development of Marouane Chamakh for some time at Bordeaux before he finally decided to seal the free transfer of the Moroccan striker this summer. Chamakh is the sort of forward Arsenal have lacked in the past two or three seasons, as not only does he provide a more physical presence in attack, he also chips in with a more than respectable amount of goals. After 15 games, Chamakh has netted on 7 occasions, whilst also scoring a remarkable 8 goals in 9 Champions League fixtures. Chamakh would have been in this list even had Wenger paid £10million for his services, yet the fact he managed to lure him to the Emirates on a free just goes to show what a good deal this was for the Gunners. 


2. Cheik Tiote - Newcastle United - £3.5m




Defensive midfielder Cheik Tiote was purchased by Newcastle United Manager Chris Hughton in the summer following an extremely successful two seasons at FC Twente, where he won a Dutch League medal, and a string of impressive performances for Ivory Coast at this summers World Cup. Many have suggested Newcastle's impressive start to the Premier League is mainly due to the goals of talismanic striker Andy Carroll. And whilst there certainly holds some truth to that assertion, I'd argue the destroying performances of Tiote has played a more important role. According to the latest Opta Sports statistics, Tiote has completed 91% of his attempted passes so far this season, a stat that Barcelona's Xavi would be proud of. His debut for the Toon away at Everton was a complete success, as he completed all of his 44 passes, made two interceptions and completed all three of his attempted tackles. And his impressive performances have continued throughout the season, which has led to his reported value to have dramatically increased from the reported £3.5million that Newcastle initially paid for him. I would have chosen Tiote as my number one signing of the summer, if it wasn't for the performances and sheer quality of a certain other individual...


1. Rafael van der Vaart - Tottenham Hotspur - £8m



This transfer was exactly the type of player Tottenham were looking for during the summer, as Harry Redknapp looked to secure the services of a genuinely world class player in anticipation of their Champions League campaign. Not only does Van der Vaart have years of European experience, he clearly has bags of creativity and the skill to get into scoring positions, and most importantly, score crucial goals for his side. And all this for £8million meant that Redknapp had secured the deal of the century, never mind this season. And Van der Vaart certainly hasn't disappointed, scoring on 6 occasions in his first 11 Premier League appearances of his career. The Dutchman started life at his new club in the best possible manner, scoring three goals in his first four league games, whilst crucially chipping in with a goal and an assist in Spurs' first two Champions League encounters. Whilst Welsh winger Gareth Bale has taken all the plaudits at Tottenham in recent weeks, the ex-Real Madrid playmaker has ignored the spotlight and gone from strength to strength. 

Other notable absentees who just missed out on my final list of 5:

Ben Foster - Birmingham - £6m
Luke Varney - Blackpool - Season long loan
Marlon Harewoord - Blackpool - Free
Martin Petrov - Bolton - Free
Carlos Salcido - Fulham - £1.6m
Raul Meireles - Liverpool - £11.5m
Marc Wilson - Stoke - £4m + swap
Asamoah Gyan - Sunderland - £13m
Nedum Onouha - Sunderland - Season long loan
William Gallas - Tottenham - Free
Peter Odemwingie - West Brom - £2.5m
Victor Obinna - West Ham - Season long loan
Tom Cleverley - Wigan - Season long loan

Thursday, 2 December 2010

England bid secures just two votes as Russia are awarded the 2018 World Cup

English anger threatens to boil over regarding allegations of corruption and bribery within FIFA


FIFA Chief Sepp Blatter reveals the winner of the vote

Thursday, 2nd December 2010
By Matt Scrafton

England's suffered a humiliating defeat yesterday in their attempt to claim the 2018 World Cup, as they were eliminated in the first round with a measly two votes. Instead, Russia will host the tournament for the first time, after the 22 man committee voted in Zurich earlier this afternoon.

FIFA's decision stunned the England bid team, who had allowed themselves to become hopeful that the quality of the tournament they had promised, along with the work of Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham had put them in a promising position. However, fears that had been expressed by several leading England delegates in recent months regarding the backlash against corruption investigations into FIFA members by BBC Panorama and the Sunday Times, appear to have been proven true.

So why were Russia given the tournament, and not England? And more bizarrely, why were relative minnows Qatar given the 2022 World Cup? I'll try my best to explain my view, here...

Firstly, let's compare the two bids, starting with the winners, Russia:

Strengths


  • Russia have never hosted the World Cup before, something that sits well with FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who prefers to take the tournament to new, up and coming countries.
  • The Russian economy is fairly reliable and strong, meaning stadiums and transport links will be built and/or developed in time. 
  • Football is also becoming increasingly popular in Russia, aided by the relative success of their national side, who sit 10th in the FIFA rankings as I type. 

Weaknesses


  • Huge building programme, either the current stadiums will be upgraded and developed, or new stadiums will be built completely from scratch.
  • Enormous size of the country makes travelling difficult for fans, although the majority of the tournament will be featured in the western European zone.
  • Racism is still a big problem in Russian football (see picture below)
Message to Peter Odemwingie on his departure to West Brom from the fans of Russian first division side Lokomotiv Moscow

So clearly, the Russian bid held some weight behind it and you can see why Sepp Blatter was so impressed. But realistically, is there anything in that bid that England should have been wary of? The only real unique selling point the Russians had was that they had never previously hosted the World Cup before. Which is all well and good, but football powerhouse England have not been given the honours since 1966, a full 44 years ago. 

Or is this just me being arrogant? Well, let's evaluate what the English had to offer:

Strengths

  • Strong technical bid, judged as low risk by FIFA inspectors
  • Excellent stadiums already in place, only 2 of the required 12 stadia would have to be developed/built (any two from Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and MK Dons)
  • Premier League's global reach, England and it's football is known throughout the world
  • No major transport issues
  • Commercially and financially viable
Weaknesses

  • FIFA's reputation was damaged by the allegations of corruption by sections of the British media. Whilst England's complaint against Russia was in poor taste.
  • Embarrassment of the high profile resignation of Lord Triesman from the committee, as well as the relatively meaningless "handbag scandal"
  • The probability that a World Cup in England in 2018 would not change English attitudes to football, the love and passion for the game is already as high as it could possibly be. Sepp Blatter is keen to promote the game in new areas of the world where the sport might not be as popular, ie. Korea & Japan, South Africa, and now Russia. 


Despite the interference of the media and several embarrassing allegations and 'scandals', I'd still suggest that England had the strongest bid available to the FIFA delegation. Or is that just me and my bias? Probably. But it's hard to deny England's deep romantic love and passion for the sport. The Premier League is among the most celebrated, entertaining and quality leagues in the world, while many argue that it's the best, but I'll leave that for them to decide. My ignorance of certain European leagues means I can't come to such a conclusion, but certainly, it's extremely viable to argue the case for that point. Furthermore, our attendances and crowd participation of the sport of football is unrivaled. Okay, the Premier League are second to the German Bundesliga in terms of the number of fans that go to matches, but they can't compete with us in terms of the popularity of our lower leagues. The Championship (English Second Division), is the fourth most watched league in Europe, a stat that never ceases to amaze me. Another stat that proves the passion of the game over here is the attendance of the League Two (Fourth Division) play-off finals of the last three seasons, all three of which totaled more than 25,000 on each occasion. I could reel out stat after stat to prove my case, but you get the general image. There aren't many nations (probably only Germany) that could rival us when it comes to sheer passion for the 'beautiful game'.

So that leads me to ask, just why England haven't hosted the tournament for over 44 years? It's an interesting question, especially when you take into account the likes of Mexico and Germany have hosted it twice in far smaller periods of time. Does Blatter value the importance of taking the World Cup to relatively new, up and coming nations, more than he does bringing the tournament to the nations that really appreciate the importance of the game? I have no qualms with FIFAs quest to honour their pledge to give smaller nations a chance to host the prized possession that is the World Cup. But surely they also have a responsibility to give nations like France, Italy, Germany, Argentina, Brazil and of course England the chance to showcase the tournament to their passionate fans, whilst proving just how much they really do love the sport? Blatter has already given the tournament to Korea & Japan, as well as South Africa in his tenure, and yesterday awarded the tournament to two other relatively smaller footballing nations in Russia and Qatar.

Sorry, I didn't just type Qatar did I? Oh yes, that's right. FIFA preferred Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, as opposed to Australia or USA. This is a nation whose football side sit 110th in the FIFA World Rankings. A country with the minute population of 1.9 million, that's the equivalent of merging the cities of Birmingham and Sheffield. A nation who has publicly spoken out against Israel, due to their religious ties - what would happen if they managed to qualify? A country who won't allow drinking, and women to reveal any skin on their bodies apart from that of around their eyes. Now I don't want to sound too much like a Daily Mail writer, I'm sure there are solutions in place for these problems. But it's undeniable to notice the sheer bizarreness of this decision.

Qatar, just like Russia, also happens to have several rich oil reserves. I'm not suggesting certain FIFA members took bribes, am I? Watch this video, and it'll give you an idea of the type of men the bidding teams were dealing with:

video


According to the vile man featured in this video, Jack Warner, FIFA is 'transparent'. Despite several investigations proving exactly the opposite to this claim, Sepp Blatter and FIFA refuse to take action. I'd really love to hide my bitterness at losing the bid yesterday, and admit that we lost to a better bid. I really would. But, unfortunately, I don't think that's the case. I'm not one for conspiracy theories, but I'm fairly certain the delegates decisions were influenced in one way or another. For a footballing nation of England's prowess to recieve only 2 votes, yes two (one of which was from the English delegate), from the 22 delegates, is nothing short of a joke. I just hope the British media now increase it's interfering investigations and explore FIFAs corruption, not just because England lost the bid, but for the good of our beloved sport.