When Barcelona wrapped up arguably the coup of the transfer window by picking up the world class Thierry Henry for just over £16 million pounds, football fans were both puzzled and ecstatic about the transfer. Yes, they would be able to finally see four of the most formidable attacking players play together for one team- but on the other hand did Barcelona really need Henry? Already possessing Ronaldinho Gaucho, Leo Messi and Samuel Eto’o up front, Barcelona had three players that any team in the world would be happy to have one of- let alone three. Those that watched last season’s title race would surely argue that their defensive needs needed improving much more than their attacking ones, which is why the purchase of Henry was seen as unneeded by many top football pundits around the world (Gabriele Marcotti stated that “where else but La Liga would their [Real Madrid] closest rivals sign one of the greatest attacking weapons in footballing history at great expense despite already boasting three of the best strikers in the world?”). Although Barcelona scored more goals and conceded fewer goals than any other team in La Liga, they finished second, not winning the title due to their inferior head to head record against champions Real Madrid.

Barcelona scored 78 goals in their 38 league games, meaning they scored an average of around 2 goals a game. Their 33 goals conceded meant they conceded an average of just below 0.9 goals a game. If you take these two figures into account, this means that should have (on average) won every game 2-1, so why didn’t they win the title? Obviously in football you cannot win all your games- you will draw some, and yes you will lose some. However, given the fact that Barcelona scored 12 more goals and conceded 7 goals less than champions Real Madrid, this shows that they should have not even let the Bernabeu side close enough to let the head to head results have any meaning on the title race. The conclusion we can draw from these facts is that when Barcelona won games, they won them well yet when they conceded in games, they often lacked the impetus to claw their way back into a winning position. Most would argue that a striker of Henry’s calibre would only help them do this- here I will reason whether Henry’s signing was as needed or not. Read the rest of this entry »

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While the Gunners are currently second in the table, level on points with leaders Liverpool albeit with an inferior goal difference, nearly no one apart from their fans have even mentioned their names with regards to who will be competing for the title come May 2008. Liverpool will finally do it is the cry, or that Manchester United and Chelsea will both recover from their shaky starts to reclaim their places at the top. The young Arsenal side is written off as being too youthful, too experienced- how can they do it when the average age of their first team is so low? Read the rest of this entry »

Ask almost any fan of a club that has done well in their first year after being promoted to the Premiership and their feelings will not be one of anticipation, but more of fear- all due to the condition dubbed “second season syndrome”. Second season syndrome is defined as a downturn in fortunes for a club two years after promotion to the top flight- especially if they have done exceptionally well the prior season. While most promoted clubs often drop straight back down into the division they came from, quite a few have surprised football fans and pundits alike with a brilliant first season- however after expectations are raised, they often struggle in their second year.

The first notable example of second season syndrome that was seen in the Premiership was Middlesbrough in the 1996/97 season. Promoted as champions of Division One in 1995, Middlesbrough shone in their first season- reaching the heights of fourth place in October before eventually finishing well clear of the relegation zone in 12th place. The next season however, despite manager Bryan Robson buying expensive players (at the time) like Fabrizo Ravanelli and Emerson, Middlesbrough eventually slumped to a dismal 19th place in the table and were relegated, starting the trend that would be continued quite a few times over the next decade.

For Ipswich Town in 2001/02, the sudden drop was even more alarming. After being promoted due to them winning the Division One playoffs in 2000, Ipswich shocked the Premiership after storming into fifth place and thus winning a place in the UEFA Cup. Although they qualified for the UEFA Cup again next season (this time via their UEFA Fair Play ranking), Ipswich were relegated at the end of the year- winning just one of their first seventeen Premier League fixtures and eventually going into financial administration.

While the next team to be hit by second season syndrome was not relegated, the drop was still a massive seven places down the Premier League table. The team this time was Manchester City, promoted as Division One champions in 2002. They did well as a team in their first season- eventually finishing a respectable ninth in the table. Their second season, however, saw them sucked into a relegation battle for all but the last few days of the season, finally finishing sixteenth to stay up (and have since pushed on to become a comfortable mid-table team).

The last example of second season syndrome that I will give you is the season of 2006/07, where not just one, but two teams struggled in their second season. This time both teams were not relegated- but a struggle of such great magnitude looked almost impossible after their successful first seasons in England’s highest division. West Ham United and Wigan Athletic, both promoted from the second tier in 2005. West Ham finished ninth in their first year as well as reaching the final of the FA Cup (and thus qualifying for the UEFA Cup), but in their follow up season were almost certain to be relegated until an exceptional run of form by Argentine striker Carlos Tevez. Wigan Athletic went from tenth in their first team to surviving due to goal difference on the last day of the season- despite keeping most of their star players.

While all this does is highlight the difficulty of going from a side promoted to the Premiership to a comfortable mid table side in the top flight, fans of those clubs about to celebrate their second season should still have faith- there are survivors, as West Ham, Manchester City and Wigan Athletic have shown, and the former two at least are almost certain not to go down this season.

When Arsenal were drawn against Sparta Prague in the Champions League qualifiers, most, if not all Gooners predicted a relatively simple, yet physically testing passage to the group stages of Europe’s elite club competition. At the end of the two legged contest, they were proved right- the Gunners winning 2-0 away from home courtesy of goals from Cesc Fabregas and Aliaksander Hleb, while later beating the Czech side 3-0 at the Emirates stadium after Rosicky netted against his former club and then Fabregas and Da Silva finished them off. During the Champions League draw, Arsenal could have drawn the likes of Lyon and Valencia; however the eventual outcome was Czech side Slavia Prague, Romanian side Steaua Bucharest and Spanish side Sevilla. Here I take a look at how those sides got into the Champions League, as well as what kind of threat they will pose to us.

SK Slavia Praha (Slavia Prague)

Although the Czech side beat Dutch giants Ajax to take their place in the Champions League group stages, they should not pose much of a threat to the youthful Gunners. As the Gunners have already beaten Czech champions Sparta to reach the same stage as the lesser known Slavia Prague taking care of their lesser known counterparts should not prove a problem for the likes of Rosicky, Fabregas and van Persie. For the weak Arsenal side of yesteryear the away match would have been a problem; however the Arsenal side of this season has shown that it is ready to scrape it out with the kickers of the football world and should find them as much as a problem as Sparta were to beat. Slavia got into the group stages of the Champions League by beating Ajax 1-0 in the Amsterdam Arena and then taking them back to the Czech Republic and winning 2-1. While in the past Slavia had players such as Karek Poborsky, Patrik Berger and Pavel Kuka, their most threatening player of the modern side is Vladimir Smicer. Although Smicer has already picked up a Champions League winners medal during his time at Liverpool, even scoring during the remarkable comeback against AC Milan, he is on the wane as a player and the likes of Gilberto should be able to shackle him with ease.

Most notable player: Vladimir Smicer

FC Steaua Bucureşti

Steaua Bucharest broke into the group stages of the Champions League by beating Belarusian side BATE Borisov 4-2 on aggregate. After a thrilling 2-2 draw in Belarus, Steaua comfortably ran out 2-0 winners at the Stadionul Ghencea (stadium) in Bucharest. Steaua Bucharest are the most successful domestic side in Romania’s football history, having already won twenty-three National Championships, twenty Romanian Cups and the European Cup in 1986. While they will prove a harder task than Slavia, they will not be the hardest team Arsenal will have to face this season and if Arsenal are not careless at the back and keep it tight, they will do well against their Romanian opponents. In history their best player would have to be current head coach Gheorge Hagi- regarded as the best player to ever play for Romania. At the present moment, star players include Nicolae Dica, a promising striker wanted by the likes of Benfica and Aston Villa during the summer transfer window; Mirel Radoi, a strong, powerful defender that can play all across the backline; and Valentin Badea, a technically gifted striker that Steaua coach Becali said would eventually become Romania’s top striker.

Most notable player: Nicolae Dica

Sevilla FC

Sevilla are a side that love to come out and the beautiful game as it should be played. A great side to watch going forward, Sevilla surprised many last year when they competed in an astonishing title race with the Real Madrid and Barcelona- despite spending much, much less than the other two clubs. Having won the UEFA Cup for the past two years in a row, as well as picking up the Copa Del Rey and the Spanish Super Cup, Sevilla are blessed with an array of talent. Possessing the likes of Fredric Kanoute and Luis Fabiano up front, Jesus Navas and Renato in midfield as well as the dynamic Dani Alves in defense, they are a side that has quality in all areas of the pitch. Their best player has to be the Brazilian fullback Dani Alves, a player that orchestrates the majority of their attacks from his position at the right side of the defense- his brilliance causing owner del Nido to put a £27m price tag on his head to ward off potential buyers. Sevilla got into the group stages of the Champions League by beating Greek side AEK Athens 6-1 on aggregate, winning the first leg 2-0 at home and then destroying AEK 4-1 during the second leg in Greece. While Sevilla’s abundance of quality all over means they will prove a testing team for the Gunners, Sevilla love to come out and attack- and more often than not Arsenal beat those kinds of sides.

Most notable player: Dani Alves

This Champions League group certainly has the potential to be interesting- to state the obvious we could slip up in any of our games yet we could also win them all. A win at home followed by a draw away to each of the other teams should be enough, although if we want to finish top perhaps we should be looking at taking maximum points from the Slavia and Steaua Bucharest encounters (and take a draw at the very least in Spain). While last season’s Champions League campaign was a bit shambolic, one only hopes we can do as well as we did in 2005/06- and not just reach the final this time, but win it as well.

Throughout the history of football, there have been many innovative ideas. Deciding to disallow the use of the conventional backpass to the goalkeeper, putting numbers on shirts, even the intense physical conditioning that a lot of the top level managers use have all contributed to make the sport the spectacle it is today. In the past few years, one of the things in football that has caused the most amount of debate is take-overs by “foreigners”. Whether it’s Thaksin Shinawatra at Manchester City, Malcolm Glazer at Manchester United or Roman Abromovich at Chelsea, most businessmen that have taken over clubs in the recent past have courted controversy at one point or another. In the past, most football clubs were owned by fans of the club itself- no it seems that more and more businessman looking to make a quick buck or for a real time version of popular computer game Football Manager. Now, it seems like ordinary fans will be able to actually have a say in the running of a club. MyFootballClub, a website set up by former football journalist Will Brooks claims that common football fans will finally be able to effect decisions of a club- be it who to sign in the transfer market, selecting which players will feature in the first team or the amount of money put into the youth fund for the coming season.

The site charges a fee of £35 for all those wanting to take part (£7.5 for administration of the MyFootballClub Trust while £27.5 goes into club expenditure) and members get to vote on which club they would like to see taken over. Currently leading the list is League One club Leeds United, with Nottingham Forest and Cambridge United in second and third place respectively. Although the website is keeping the number of people that have signed up a secret so that clubs they were negotiating with would not know the extent of their wealth, 53,051 members had signed up as of July 31st- making the total value of the company worth £1.46 million at the very least. Now that all the facts have been sorted out, this writer will give his view on whether he feels that the idea is a good one or not.

While the idea of “the people” running a football club may be a sound one in principle, a look at nearly any football forum on the Internet will tell you that most of “the people” are lacking a few brain cells. The very fact that a club like Leeds United, a team that was given a fifteen point penalty for financial issues leads the list of clubs to purchase speaks for itself- as do the listings of Arsenal and Manchester United (two clubs that would cost over £1 billion to purchase) at 9th and 11th place respectively shows that voting even in large numbers can sometimes produce futile results. Also, while the MyFootballClub scenario allows your vote to be counted, it is unlikely that a solitary vote in 50,000 people will make a large dent in the decisions you want to affect. There are official fan forums of teams that ask you to contribute ideas as to how the team can be improved and they are often free to join- what difference does MyFootballClub offer you, apart from charging you £35 to voice your opinion?

Although a fee of £35 seems a fairly cheap price to join the service, which as MyFootballClub says is “less than most Premiership tickets” as well as the price of a “football manager computer game”, what benefit does joining the service give you? Whereas football manager computer games can be played for hours on end, and going to a football match allows you to see your favourite team in the flesh, how does joining what is effectively a glorified fan forum create any more ‘fun’ that a free online message board would do? As MyFootballClub have not even selected the team they are going to purchase yet, those fans that have already paid up could be hugely disappointed if their dream to control the decisions of Leeds United turned into a reality of controlling the decisions of non-league side Cambridge United. Since football is a very passionate sport, it is nearly impossible for those that have a true interest in it to generate support for another team. Why then, should fans of the club that MyFootballClub will purchase waste money on a team they were never interested by in the first place?

Even though it must have seemed a good idea when Will Brooks concocted the MyFootballClub scenario, in reality there are just too many problems and too many drawbacks for it to work smoothly. While fans would get to ‘own’ a football club for probably the first time in their lives, there are many ways they could satisfy their passion for the sport, and spending £35 on MyFootballClub is certainly something that will bring them a great deal of satisfaction.