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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.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Surprise at Newcastle scouting highlights deficiencies elsewhere

Newcastle's extensive scouting should be an expectation of all Premier League clubs, not a solitary and surprise exception

Source: metro.co.uk
Written by Matt Scrafton.

All hail Graham Carr!

The Newcastle United chief scout has been all the rage recently with 'le Toon' raiding France during the January transfer window while spending the equivalent of an average English midfielder.

Considering the relatively low wages on offer in Ligue 1 (PSG aside), young French players will always jump at the chance to ply their trade in the Premier League (Loic Remy, anyone?).

Moussa Sissoko has made an immediate impact after joining from Toulouse for a fee believed to be as low as £1.8m, scoring two in the 3-2 win against Chelsea and providing a stunning assist on his debut against Aston Villa.

Fellow Frenchmen Mathieu Debuchy, Yoan Gouffran, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and Massadio Haidara also arrived in the north-east as Alan Pardew's side bid to steer away from the relegation zone. Those four, along with Sissoko, were signed for a combined fee believed to be around £16m. Prudent indeed.

Carr was said to be responsible for these signings, along with the likes of Yohan Cabaye, Cheick Tioté, Tim Krul, Hatem Ben Arfa and Papiss Cissé who helped Newcastle to a 5th place finish last season. The scout has extensive knowledge of the French and Dutch leagues, with Carr himself stating he scouted Tioté for four years before the Ivorian eventually signed in 2010 for £3.5m.

Carr is a vital part of Newcastle's backroom staff - why else would the club offer him an eight-year deal? But my concern lies with the rest of the Premier League clubs and why they're not behaving in a similar fashion. I mean, it's hardly rocket science - buy good players for the cheapest possible price, non?

Of course Newcastle aren't the only club acting sensibly when it comes to the transfer market - Swansea and West Brom are also ideal examples of prudent and practical scouting. Signings like Chico Flores, Pablo Hernandez and Ki Sung-Yueng were made for nominal fees at the Liberty Stadium, while Baggies midfielder Claudio Yacob was signed on a free from Argentina. Both sides have benefited as proven by their current league positions.

The sheer magnitude of money involved in the Premier League has seemingly brought with it apathy and laziness. Why put the hard yards in scouting young and hungry players when you can simply knick overrated English talent from other teams in your league for a small fortune?

Take Liverpool, why send scouts to France, Holland, Belgium etc when you can watch Match of the Day once-a-week and sign Jordan Henderson on the back of it?

Okay that's a bit harsh, Henderson has improved as of late. But £18m, really?

It speaks volumes that Graham Carr's name is often touted as a scouting genius for simply doing his job. In that case - what the hell are the other scouts doing?

It seems the need for instant success has put several clubs off signings players from around the world despite the prices likely to be far lower. Take Stoke for example - on the whole they've opted to sign low-risk players that were already proven in the Premier League. I'm thinking Peter Crouch, Wilson Palacios, Robert Huth etc. That's fine, but it usually comes at a price.

Given that ludicrous salaries are handed out without a moments notice, you'd imagine all established Premier League clubs would already have an extensive scouting network in place. It should merely be an expectation - the status quo - not something that comes as a surprise.

Monday, 7 January 2013

An alternative 2012 World XI

FIFA decided to produce an all La-Liga XI for their annual Ballon D'Or 'team of the year' awards. As usual I disagree with the line-up, so here's my alternative offering...

By Matt Scrafton.

Iker Casillas (Real Madrid)

Casillas had a memorable 2012 as he captained Spain to a historic third consecutive major triumph whilst helping Real Madrid capture their first La Liga title since 2008. Despite the 31-year old suffering a disappointing end to the year when José Mourinho controversially dropped him for the 3-2 defeat against Malaga, San Iker still deserves his spot ahead of the likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Petr Cech and Manuel Neuer.

Stephan Lichsteiner (Juventus)

The Swiss full-back established himself on the elite stage for the first time in his career after remaining an ever present in the Juventus side that clinched the Serie A title so convincingly in 2012. His iconic, marauding runs into the opposition half were a vital component of Juve's first Scudetto triumph since 2003.

Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund)

The 24-year-old German produced yet another year of fantastic defensive performances, helping his side secure their second consecutive Bundesliga title. The former Bayern Munich youth player also deservedly forced his way into Germany's starting eleven at Euro 2012, playing all 450 minutes of their campaign whilst drawing high praise for his performances. Hummels narrowly beat Manchester City skipper Vincent Kompany to this spot, who would have been certain of inclusion was it not for his disappointing downturn in form this season.

Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus)

The defensive stalwart was the backbone of Juve's Scudetto triumph, joining Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli in Antonio Conte's highly successful back three. His tough tackling style won many admirers outside of Italy during Euro 2012, adding to his already high stock as one of the finest defenders in world football.

Ashley Cole (Chelsea)

The oft-maligned English left-back was arguably Chelsea's finest performer during their Champions League adventure, with the limelight focusing on Didier Drogba and John Terry instead. The former Arsenal man put in career-defining performances when he subdued the likes of Lionel Messi and Arjen Robben in the final stages of Chelsea's historic triumph.

Andrea Pirlo (Juventus)

The Italian bearded maestro finally received widespread mainstream attention in Britain after a highly impressive Euro 2012 campaign with Italy - with his Panenka penalty against England turning heads. The deep-lying playmaker also remained Juve's stand-out performer during their 49 game unbeaten streak, making a mockery of AC Milan's decision not to renew his contract in 2011.

David Silva (Manchester City)

David Silva narrowly beats his compatriots Xavi, Juan Mata and Xabi Alonso to claim the final midfield position. The 26-year-old was an ever present for City during their title winning season - their first title in forty-four years - making 17 assists and deservedly receiving a place in the PFA's team of the year in the process. Silva also scored two and made three assists as he started all six of Spain's Euro 2012 games, also scoring the decisive first goal in the final.

Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona)

The diminutive midfielder proved once again he's the man for the big occasion, putting in a man of the match performance in Spain's 4-0 defeat of Italy in the final of Euro 2012. Iniesta provided a highly impressive 23 assists last year, with 11 coming in the first half of this current season - more than any other player in Europe's top five leagues.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)

Any other year, Ronaldo's 60 goals during the 2011-12 season would have guaranteed him the Ballon D'Or award, but more on that later (see below). The former Manchester United man almost single-handledly dragged Madrid to the La Liga title, which included the all-important winner against Barcelona in April that virtually secured the title for Madrid, as well as scoring three important goals for Portugal in Ukraine & Poland during the summer.

Lionel Messi (Barcelona)

This one doesn't need much explaining. 91 goals in the calendar year, 22 assists in 69 games, his fourth consecutive Ballon D'Or. Need I say more?

Falcao (Atletico Madrid)

The Colombian is more than deserving of his spot in the genuine FIFA XI given his astounding year of scoring feats, which included a hat-trick versus Chelsea in the Super Cup final and another two against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final. The Atletico man scored 44 league and cup goals in 2012, making him the most prolific out-and-out striker on the planet.

Honourable mentions to: Petr Cech, Manuel Neuer, Gianluigi Buffon, Vincent Kompany, Sergio Ramos, Phillip Lahm, Xabi Alonso, Xavi, Juan Mata, Yaya Toure, Mario Gotze, Sergio Aguero, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowksi and Robin van Persie.