Thursday, 14 November 2013

Wenger needs more from the talented Özil

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Arsenal's Mesut Ozil

The assist master is in the Premier League and forty-two point five million pounds later the reviews have been somewhat mixed. Some for quite laughable reasons and others more justifiable however the consensus on my side is that one of the best players in the world is now in the acclaimed world's greatest league and too much may be expected too soon.

Manchester United fans looked on in awe, first, at the spending power of Arsenal, and second, Fellaini in comparison was nowhere near in the slightest. This signing shocked world football and although it may have seemed a luxury for Arsene Wenger, the statistics don't lie and with 47 assists in two seasons who wouldn't want a player like that? With all the money being spent around Europe, from Neymar (£48.6m), Falcao (£50.6m), Cavani (£55m) to Bale (£85m), other than the Neymar signing, this one stood out. Firstly due to the fact Özil was going to grace the Premier League and secondly for the fact that he's brilliantly ruthless at what he does.

Özil's first game was against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light and for all the expectation, he didn't disappoint. His first touch to bring down a lofted through pass and then the weighted ball to Giroud to score was sublime. His next Premier League game against Stoke at The Emirates yielded two assists and he was the new darling of North London. While Spurs were spending £100m to assemble a squad worthy to finish in the top four, Wenger went out and bought arguably the best creator of goals in the world. Quite the coup. A quiet away performance against Swansea followed which was a precursor to the game against Napoli where he showed the rest of the league, and Europe for that matter, what £42.5m buys you: a fantastic goal, an assist and a man of the match performance in a battering of Napoli at The Emirates. Mesut Özil was here and announcing himself to the world as not making a mistake in leaving Real Madrid for Aresenal. Many in Madrid claimed that he was a coward for leaving and that he should have fought for his place in the team. However the problem stands that if he wasn't to be sold then he wouldn't have left. Quite why Real Madrid decided he was surplus to requirements given his stature in the team might not ever be known. What is known is that his sale funded the purchase of Gareth Bale who is, only now, starting to hit a slight run of form. It's even come to the point where Madrid based paper Marca wrote an article earlier this week titled 'Who needs Özil?'. 

That poses a good question as it's quite clear that Real are scoring just as many goals and the only reason that they're not doing so well in the league was the long term injury to Xabi Alonso. Something that could be seen in the game against Real Vallecano as when he was substituted, Vallecano should have won the game after being 3-0 down. It can be viewed that Özil's stats may have been slightly skewed given that he was passing (for the record these are key passes) the ball to Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet when you take away Ronaldo's goals from Özil's assists statistics, he still had more than anyone in the Premiership last season. To make a comparison, albeit not the greatest one, Özil was assisting Ronaldo, Benzema, Higauin and Di Maria. At Arsenal, currently, he is assisting Giroud. It may not be the fairest of comparisons however it is the reason that he isn't playing at the level required when he has only one recognised striker to assist. Özil's impact since his two goals against Norwich hasn't been at the same level and that is down to personnel. It is only a matter of time before his German counterpart Podolski returns as well as the speed of Theo Walcott. With these two in the side, Özil will shine and his key pass ratio will sky rocket. 

On the other side of the coin, aside from Özil's clear ability, there are some points that have been raised and creating negative press. If you detract from the point that Özil is mostly effective during the first 65 minutes of games and his stamina isn't the best then his big game performance is what's in question. In two meetings with Dortmund this season, Özil was nowhere to be seen and the same can be said against Arsenal's recent loss to the stuttering Manchester United. From his dismantling of Napoli and shining in games against Sunderland, Stoke and Norwich it should not be difficult for a player of this class. What is worrying is the ghost has followed him from Spain: that he can go missing in the big games. As much as many don't want to believe that, games against Liverpool and Chelsea along with the aforementioned two, Özil did very little to justify his price tag. This price tag was Wenger's hope to have more impact in the big games, the games where Arsenal would always lose ground at the top of the table. While the former Real Madrid man should not be expected to single-handedly win every game, it is felt that he still has to deliver more on the big stages.

Arsenal have failed to match teams with high pedigree in Europe and this has left them trailing in the Champions League. Özil was Arsenal flexing its new-found financial muscle and this was a supposed means to an end in that Wenger finally had the resources everyone had been crying out for. He was now able to recruit the talent that can move Arsenal from a team on the fringes to one that can match the heavyweights. It is this level of expectation that is now facing Özil and he seems to be struggling to shoulder this burden. 

Showing the class that he has against Sunderland, Norwich and Stoke should never be looked upon badly however these are games that Arsenal would be winning without him in the side. The price tag involved demands big stage performances and at Old Trafford it could not have been a better place to showcase his talents. However, in what was one of his worst performances this season, Özil was largely anonymous and finding himself dropping deeper and deeper in search of the ball. It isn't fair to say that he had a bad game, this was more of a flat performance against a first half display from a very Evertonian looking Mancester United. Wenger can take encouragement from their second half where they appeared to be gaining some momentum but he shouldn't be castigated for wanting more from his new talisman.

It's harsh to judge him so early on in his career at Arsenal and his glimpses of utter brilliance are reason enough to never lose faith in a player that can make Arsenal, with signings and the aforementioned returns from injury, the force that they have been wanting to be for a number of years.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Playing The Blame Game

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It's Monday morning and the vitriol has started. From the #MoyesOut campaign on Twitter to the fallout in the press for Manchester United's demolition by their city rivals. Watching the game, it was tough to argue with either points and there was an air of ineptitude from the first minute that left a feeling of angst among the United faithful. 

Social media was awash with the rumours that Manchester United's best player is injured and out of the derby. From here the snowball was created and resulted in United's downfall as it looked like this knocked the confidence of the players and it could be seen on the pitch. Other than Welbeck's first minute foray into City's box, at no point did Manchester United really look like a team capable of creating opportunities, let alone scoring and this is a problem that will be inherent for the season unless some changes are made.

David Moyes isn't far into his tenure but he should know better than to blame the players when tactically he was shown up to the world's viewing eyes. He claimed that he has never suffered at the hands of Manchester City in this way when he was the Everton manager and herein lies the problem; this isn't Everton, this is Manchester United, the champions elect. Once the rumours had been confirmed that Robin Van Persie wasn't in the match day squad, everyone had their opinion of what the team should be. These opinions circled around the fact that United would play a variation of the 4-2-3-1 system and no one would have come up with the starting eleven that actually came out. United are a team that relies on old fashioned wing play coupled with overlapping fullbacks that create goalscoring opportunities. However it was the blue half of Manchester that adopted and executed this system ruthlessly and it couldn't have been more ever-present than in their first and fourth goals.

On the subject of wingers, the constant inclusion of Ashley Young is now worse than a bad joke. Since his arrival at United in 2011 he has never looked up to the task of being a Manchester United winger. Last season he provided three assists and other than 'those' two goals against Arsenal in his debut season, has he ever provided the kind of threat required at this level? More to the point, has he ever made another team worry once they've seen him included in the starting eleven? It is tough to explain Ashley Young when there are players who can change games in the squad. Namely Zaha and Januzaj not even making the bench with Nani keeping it warm doesn't even create conjecture. Antonio Valencia was good against Leverkusen but not great, let's not get ahead of ourselves as this is the same Valencia but with a different squad number. This was just as apparent yesterday as it has been all season bar that one aforementioned game. Given that his shortcomings as an attacking player have been exhausted by all, his inclusion must be merited on his defensive capabilities and with that gone (as was apparent in their first goal), what is his basis for inclusion in the next game?

The use of 'hard working' wingers and a more robustness to the team is how David Moyes is displaying his cautious mindset as a manager. Deploying two like-minded defensive midfielders, one of which is his darling from Everton, and the constant running of Danny Welbeck plus the two attackingly inept wingers is erring on the side of caution. It protects against a loss as opposed to going there to win and these same tactics have been displayed against Chelsea (h) and Liverpool (a) yet only one point has been gained. This is Manchester United, comparisons to Everton are nonsensical and Moyes needs to be shorn of this cautious mindset in order to flourish at this club. Playing 4-4-2 against the riches of Manchester City was a car crash waiting to happen and you have to remember that City paid £30m to put Fernandinho next to one of Europe's best midfielders. (Fernandinho made more tackles/interceptions/key passes than the whole of Manchester United's midfield). After the game Moyes claimed that United couldn't get to grips with Manchester City's midfield and due to that, they dominated the game. What confidence does that instil in the fans? More to the point, what does that tell the rest of the managers in the league? That tactically, Moyes got it very wrong. Playing the way they did was more to combat the way that Manchester City were set up yet Pellegrini set up in only one way; to get a victory. That's the difference here and changes need to come quickly against Liverpool in the cup on Wednesday. This point is further compounded with Tom Cleverley's introduction when United were 4-0 down. As much as it made hearts sink to see Tom taking his tracksuit off, it did bring stability to United. It may have been down to fatigue in the Manchester City team or the fact they were 4-0 up however it gave Manchester United more of the ball in the final third of the game. This change should have been made at half time when it was clear as day that United were being overrun for an entire half of the game. Yet it leads people to think that why was this not foreseen before the match? Welbeck played as a striker, as did Rooney and 4-4-2 does not work away from home to a title rival, it hasn't for a number of years and it didn't on Sunday. 4-2-3-1 is not a cautious formation, it is not entirely attacking either, what it does do is afford the opportunity to manager and players alike to adapt to a football match and it is a shame Shinji Kagawa could not get a game. That, however, is a discussion for another day.

After the game the bile inducing comments about United's opening fixtures were again mentioned by Moyes. "Any manager would have found it difficult taking over the club with that run of fixtures." and "It's been a difficult start - the way the balls came out at the start of the season, I said I wasn't convinced, and I'm still not convinced." were mentioned by Moyes post-game and as embarrassing as the team looked on Sunday, the whole club are looking even more embarrassing citing a conspiracy that has not an ounce of evidence to back it up. To point to this as the reason Manchester United have made their worst start since finishing 3rd in 2006 rather than beat what's in front of them is not an avenue that Moyes can be afforded. Firstly due to the fact he isn't Sir Alex Ferguson who was all for conspiracies against United but namely that he is the manager of a completely different entity to Everton. Claiming that he's not been demolished like that as their manager (which is laughable given their failure to win away to a top 5 club in a decade) has no place in a post-match interview. He has to choose when he's wearing his Manchester United suit or his Everton tracksuit and decisions like that were the reason he's hired so let's hope that he chooses the former rather than the latter going forward.

Caution shouldn't be overlooked however pragmatism is best served with an equal measure of optimism. Now David Moyes's attempts to alleviate pressure on himself has backfired and he looks more out of his depth than he did before he started the job in July. Had he placated the fans by taking the majority of the blame by looking inwardly at his own tactics rather than pointing the finger at his players, this Monday could have looked a whole lot different.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Deadline Day Analysis: Manchester United's failings exposed.

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Finally it has passed; the male's version of Valentines day is now over and the fallout continues on social media. Logging on to twitter in the late hours last night, it was apparent that there was a distinct consensus with how Manchester United handled the summer transfer window. There have been calls for Ed Woodward to resign, Moyes to come out and apologise and Manchester United to admit their failings. None of which will ever come to fruition but that can't hide what has happened over the last two months.

Ed Woodward took over from David Gill as Chief Executive around the same time David Moyes took the reins from Sir Alex Ferguson. At first, this wouldn't have looked as bad a move as it has done with Woodward's expertise in sponsorship acquisitions. His ability to promote the Manchester United brand, currently, is unparalleled however this isn't what was needed in the transfer window. The signings that came in were from around the world but unfortunately couldn't play football: United needed players, not sponsors. They needed a person to promote the club to players and keep the well oiled machine ticking over - spending big on great talent every window to keep the team as a team of winners. However coming out from the window's closing last night, it's obvious that Manchester United's standing in Europe has diminished somewhat and the gleaming powerhouse has lost it's shine.

When Ed Woodward claimed that United had the budget to go in for any player that was needed, he was saying all the right things. It made everyone, and not just United fans, sit up and take notice. It was a statement to the world of football that David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson's departures would not hinder the club at a time when stability and tweaking of the squad was paramount. However now the months have past, his claims were hollow and akin to a politician lobbying for votes and making claim after counter-claim, Ed Woodward had no idea how to handle the behemoth that is Manchester United. Even with David Gill on speed dial, the fumbling around and wince inducing media mentions took away the charisma of Manchester United and left players either wanting to stay at their clubs or go elsewhere. It's easy to say that the transition to the CEO of a club like Manchester United would be a simple one so some caution needs to be heeded here, however there are ways to do things and it seems that mistakes were made, and then the hole that was dug just got deeper and deeper. It's also worth a mention that the spotlight on United is bigger than anywhere else in the country. Due to this alone, the media speculation is unrivalled and creates hyperbolic hysteria that can cloud judgement so a measure of pragmatism is needed here.

Thiago Alcantara was the first name to land on the wheel of transfer fortune for United. What looked like a simple task and what would have been a shrewd acquisition turned out to be nothing of the sort. His €19m release clause was known to the world and for what seemed like his only destination, United were in 'pole position' according to the laughable media outlets in this country. 'Ed Woodward 1 - Every other CEO 0' was the message here but out from left-field, Pep Guardiola stated his intentions and the rest is history. What seemed like there not having a gap to bridge post-David Gill; the chasm couldn't have been wider. The flirting with Thiago was over and the haymaker was delivered:

"The truth is that in no moment did United come to us and talk to us. It came from the press, it was always a lie," said Thiago once his move to Bayern was confirmed.

At the beginning of the window, David Moyes played perfectly into the hands of every United fan when he declared that the midfield is an area of concern and he will do his utmost to address it. Not even being in the stadium let alone the ring for Thiago is a huge opportunity missed. It's easy to say that there could have been other factors involved but an explanation as to what went on wouldn't go a miss. Ed Woodward 0 - Every other CEO 1. 

Then came the bid for Leighton Baines for £12m that was swiftly rebuffed. Take away the fact that Baines is one of the best left backs in the Premiership, £12m is not justified whatsoever. As is well known, when Steward Downing costs £20m, Baines has to cost more than that out of principle. It's a shame that the benchmark has been set in such a way but this derisory bid was the first page in a chapter of events that were about to unfold.

Up next was Cesc Fabregas. A great player and a perfect fit for a United midfield shorn of creativity sans Kagawa. It seemed an odd pursuit given that the player only recently returned to his home town and was now back with his family (players and relatives alike). Why would he leave such a club? The rhetoric aside, David Moyes publicly declared the interest and that a bid was made. After being rebuffed, Moyes came out to say that another bid has been made. This tactic left a lot of fans scratching their head as to why the club are declaring to the world what they're doing in the transfer window when there was utter silence whilst the Thiago furore was taking over. Alas, Fabregas and Martino stated their love for each other and the club and Manchester United moved on, now with two black eyes. 

Then came the bid that many had assumed would happen: the joint bid for Fellaini and Baines. The bid came in at £28m which, going by the original £12m offered for Baines, values Fellaini at £16m. To quote another Liverpool misdemeanour, Jordan Henderson cost £15m so, again, this bid was rejected out of hand. Fellaini was purchased by Moyes whilst at Everton and he came in for £15m so adding £1m to his value after 5 years makes not one ounce of numerical sense. With Moyes having an inherent knowledge of Fellaini/Baines and the workings of Everton FC, it's puzzling as to how it came to this.

Fast forward a week from the original bid of £28m, Manchester United improved it by £7m and came in for a final time to land the two Everton players. Again this was rejected quite swiftly with Roberto Martinez not happy at the manner in which this was taking place. £35m should have been the first offer and maybe the picture would have been painted differently but this was a bid taken to an already angry club. United were a week away from the window closing and no closer to a player coming in. If anything they were further away from where they started due to the nature of their transfer movements.

Around this time there were rumblings coming from Spain that there was concrete interest in Ander Herrera. Now here was a player of fantastic ability, not courted by the majority of big clubs and has a buy out clause of €36m. Herrera ticked all the boxes of a player United's midfield was crying out for, a player that commands the ball and picks the correct pass nearly every time. He was in the top ten for completed passes per game in the whole of Spain and considering that six of those play for Barcelona, it's easy to see why he'd have worked at Manchester United. Couple that with being the most fouled player in Spain, his tenacity to want the ball all the time spoke volumes. Athletic Bilbao are not a selling club, they never have been and they don't want to be. A club that only plays footballers from the Basque region of Spain, there was no way that they'd be held to ransom. Amorebieta, left for free. Their best striker in a number of years, Fernando Llorente, left for free. The stall had been set: Athletic Bilbao will only sell a player if their release clause is met and the player wants to leave, it's as simple a fact as that. 

Deadline day came and went with a flurry of deals and media speculation. Ander Herrera was on the verge of joining Manchester United and Guillem Balague's confirmation of this left the majority wondering 'who will be next'. Of course Guillem Ballague, for all his pundit ability and football knowledge, isn't always correct. Again this time he wasn't as his claim of United activating Herrera's release clause couldn't have been further from the truth. The actual truth was that Ed Woodward was trying to negotiate a lower price to no avail. It's not difficult to see that Bilbao would at no stage budge from their original stance so it's crazy to even go down such an avenue. Albeit whilst this was all going on, United were finalising terms for a £27.5m for Fellaini. £4.5m than his recently expired release clause yes, but had Fellaini been the first choice on the list, this would never have happened. United's midfield is instantly better with the presence of Fellaini on the team sheet. He may not be the superstar that was wanted by the masses, but he's exponentially better than Tom Cleverley in nearly every aspect of the game.

The mistakes that were made this summer were exacerbated by a number of factors. From the public display of affection towards Cesc Fabregas to the insulting bids for the Everton duo it has to be said that lessons must be learnt. Actions such as these have the opposite effect when attempting to lure a player to a side like Manchester United. The star could be fading, or this could be the only way in which one can learn: first a mistake has to be made. January isn't far away and it will leave Woodward/Moyes with four months of extra experience. Experience that is vital at this level and it's quite clear that this amount of stupidity can never happen again.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Three Players David Moyes Should Have Signed

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It's transfer deadline day and Manchester United, after another inept performance, are yet to make a signing that can add any dimension to the squad. Do not let the 4-1 opening day victory over Swansea fool you, Manchester United were not 3 goals better than Swansea. For it not for the ruthless finishing of Robin Van Persie and the teasing increased shooting ability of Danny Welbeck, Manchester United had as many shots as Swansea and less of the ball.

David Moyes claimed at the beginning of his tenure and the transfer window that the midfield was his primary concern when adding any new players to the squad. Fast forward two months and after the shambolic fruitless eye fluttering at Cesc Fabregas, no bid for Thiago Alcantara and missing Marouane Fellaini's release clause date, Manchester United have embarrassed themselves with only a few hours left to complete any deals. This in itself creates a problem as the club will surely be held to ransom by selling clubs and this works two-fold:

1. Manchester United are desperate. Contrary to popular belief, this day is not when bargains are sought by top clubs. This is a time when any club contacted by Manchester United will add many additional millions to the price of the player United are interested in. Why it has taken so long, only the board and David Moyes know and this is a quandary of their own making.

2. A club that sells it's players today will increase prices just for the fact they will face huge difficulties in replacing that player. Deadline day is great for teams outside of the top six but at the top end of the league, inflated prices are de facto.

With so much time having passed and Manchester United linked with nearly every player around, here are the three players that David Moyes should have signed.

Thiago Alcantara
It was well known to the entire football world that Thiago's hugely decreased release clause was set at €18m due to not meeting the quota of first team games last season for Barcelona. Now any person that has seen Thiago play would have known straight away that this player is brilliant. Samba flair mixed with Barcelona's La Masia upbringing has moulded a player with incredible technique and an astute eye for goal. Thiago's touch and skill is only matched by very few young players in Europe. Now bear in mind these young players would be signed for €30m+, it's crazy to think that Manchester United did not make a bid for him regardless of what the media have claimed. Thiago came out and said United did not show any interest and once Guardiola came out to say Thiago was the only player he wanted, Manchester United were left out in the cold. This is was exactly the type of player that United needed, a player that can unlock defences and play between the lines but without restricting what a Number 10 (ideally Kagawa) would add to the side. Effectively a player that can play between Carrick and Kagawa and this deficiency was as clear as day in the loss to Liverpool at the weekend.

Fabio Coentrao
Patrice Evra is 32. Leighton Baines is 29 in a couple of months. Fabio Coentrao is 25. Contextually, Baines is English and will cost upwards of £25m given what happens in this country with any English player with some semblance of talent. It's clear that United need a new left back to come in once Evra stops playing age-defying football and unfortunately, Baines is not the answer. This is not to discredit his talent but the price to pay for arguably Everton's best player is not the answer to the question at hand. Fabio Coentrao stated at the beginning of the transfer window that he wants to leave Real Madrid. Due to this, a lower price could have been a factor yet no one came in for him. It's been so long now that the player has decided to stay . This is a shame as he hasn't featured at all this season and quality left sided defenders are few and far between. He shares similar traits to Evra with his marauding style and technique on the ball and it's a shame this is another opportunity missed. With Buttner as Evra's understudy, it's a sad indictment for a club of Manchester United's calibre.

Cristiano Ronaldo
Manchester United have more money to spend on players than many think. A club that flirts with the top two places on the income list in football are very rich. Rich enough to pay what it would take to bring back the best player this decade has seen in a Manchester United shirt. United have missed Ronaldo immensely since his departure in 2009, they have won the league in his absence yes, but that's hardly the tall order it used to be with the quality of the league diminishing in recent years. Take a look at last season and a team shorn of a jealousy inducing midfield won the league with relative ease. It's on the European stage that United lack quality and ever since Athletic Bilbao embarrassed them twice in the Europa League, problems have persisted in United's European performances. They lack a quality wide forward and Ronaldo's understudy; Nani and replacement: Valencia are both frustratingly talented but not what Manchester United need. Ashley Young would deserve a mention if he actually knew how to play football at this level so for now, just see this as his mention. Gareth Bale has recently eclipsed Ronaldo as the world's most expensive signing and whether this is deserved or not, Ronaldo hasn't been happy in Madrid for two years. Bale is Ronaldo but 4 years his junior. Quick, strong, technical and with a shot many can't match, they are both vying for the same spot. This was the opportunity for Manchester United to bring home the player that still gets sung about at every home game. The prodigal son needs to return, preferably before he turns 30.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Settling For Moyes

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Having had a chance for the decision to appoint David Moyes to digest for a couple of months now, it still doesn't seem to be the appointment that Manchester United deserved. A pragmatic approach is needed when assessing a new manager however it seems bereft of credence as to why this man has the job of the biggest and most lucrative sports team in the world.

David Moyes is a good manager. He's been described as a 'worker' and there's nothing wrong with that. He has been brought up in the same vein that Sir Alex Ferguson was and again, there is nothing wrong with that. His list of achievements are getting Preston North End promoted and working on a limited budget. Outside of the top 8, which manager isn't working with a limited budget exactly? Is that something to put on a CV as an attribute? It's akin to being close to pay-day and getting lunch from Tesco rather than Pret A Manger. Once again, pragmatism.

Manchester United have a claimed legacy of hiring managers that are there for the long term however it's not hard to look online and notice that other than Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson, the managers in between stayed no longer than 5 years. Maybe that's why David Moyes has been given a six year contract? Who knows but this appointment wasn't sitting well when announced in June and it still isn't sitting well now. Looking from the outside in, I'm sure other teams are envious of the 'long term project' being afforded to Moyes. Case in point being Chelsea prior to re-hiring Jose Mourinho. They could have done with someone like Moyes just to settle the ship and make the team the winners that they should be considering the astronomical amounts of money that has been spent. In light of this, David Moyes at Manchester United just doesn't look right from any angle.

Staunch United fans are built as such to stick by whomever is in charge. That is not a bad thing in any respect. It is why football exists. A team is chosen to be supported and the key word here is 'supported' and regardless of the decisions, the players and manager are backed irrespective of the clientèle. This hasn't been written to create an aggressive response from these fans, in fact they should be applauded for being true to their beliefs when, at the opposite end of the spectrum, football has bread the supporter that is epitomised by Piers Morgan. No more words need to be said about such a person.

The dilemma here is that it is quite clear that across Europe, not one of the top 3 or 4 teams would have hired David Moyes as their manager. To lure players to a club, the footballer looks at the manager first and himself second. If the manager is not going to improve a player's ability then he'll have second thoughts. It's a question that needs to be asked: 'Are Manchester United not making transfer moves or are players just not blown away by the lure of playing for Manchester United under David Moyes?' It's a quandary for any Manchester United fan and it's not just transfer activity that seems to be the main problem. Along with Sir Alex Ferguson moving into the upper echelons of the club; David Gill has also moved on to pastures new. David Gill was one of the best CEO a football team could have asked for and now two novices: Ed Woodward and David Moyes are in charge (along with many other members of staff) of taking the club forward. It's a sad indictment for United in that there has been so much change in such a small amount of time. Now time is all that they have for this project to come to fruition and as Moyes has said, it will take a little while for things to get back to normal for fans and players alike.

Alongside the factors mentioned above, the embarrassingly public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas has been something else out of the norm. It's not normal for the pursuit of transfer targets to be in the public domain so much. The norm is meant to be that the manager may or may not admit that he likes the player and after that, the player signs or he doesn't. The parts that have taken place in between have been cringeworthy. It's not clear as to the strategy here but it's plain to see that it is not working. Fabregas aside, the non-pursuit of the cliché that is Thiago Alcantara was something strange. The media claimed that United were favourites to sign him, only for Thiago's mentor and Agent's brother, Pep Guardiola to come out and say he is the only player Bayern are looking to sign. From there it was only going to end one way, Bayern adding another star to their already star-studded midfield. The odd part of all of this is that after signing, Thiago came out to say that Manchester United didn't make a bid or show any interest at all. Now you can believe who you want but let's just say that Thiago will be one of the best players in Europe very soon and it's a huge opportunity missed if what he is saying is true.

Keeping a keen eye on NewsNow for any transfer activity attributed to Manchester United has been laughable and frustrating. From Baines to every available midfielder on earth to Ronaldo. Not one of these has any credibility to it and herein lies the problem. Baines created the most chances in the Premier League last season yet £12m was offered. Liverpool skewed the English transfer market with their penchant for paying 6.3 times the worth of a player and with that in mind, £12m found a swift rebuttal. It's moves such as these that are showing Moyes's naivety at now having money to spend. Other than a back up right back who is sure to go on loan straight away, the only signing Manchester United have made is the appointment of PepsiCo. Now the last time I checked, given that the midfield has publicly been highlighted as an area of concern by Moyes, PepsiCo wasn't and never will be a footballer.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

The Insurmountable Gulf In Class

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England have crashed out of another tournament and chastised in the press for doing so but what expectations were they supposed to exceed? In any age group, other than the media, does anyone actually envisage an England team succeeding at a tournament in the near future? The manager Stuart Pearce has been sacked and the reasoning behind it is that he failed to meet expectations set out prior to this Under 21 tournament. It's times like this that you have to realise that a managerial change means nothing when the talent pool is so heavily restricted and quite frankly, terrible.

If you were not from these shores and you looked at the current crop of English players at this Under 21 tournament in Israel, at no point would you have been worried. Pearce has been deprived of the players he would like to pick and that's where the problem starts. Statistics can show that there were good enough players out there with England having four full internationals in the squad. Four? This four included Jack Butland, Steven Caulker, Jordan Henderson and Wilfried Zaha. None of which would get into the senior squad today. Only Henderson has more than one cap with the fantastically grand total of five and that's a sad indictment for a team such as England.

In comparison to Spain, who won the tournament with ease, they only had two full internationals in Thiago and Isco. Concrete proof that it is harder to win a full Spanish cap. However it is not this statistic that is meaningful; it is that all 11 players in Spain's strongest team play top-division football. That amounts to 371 appearances with 272 of them in the league. Taking it further, nine of the 11 will be playing in the Champions League next season. Put into context, four players in the England team play top-division football with one of them being Craig Dawson. Now of those four players, not one of them plays for a top four club and the accumulated Premier League appearances is 76. With the powers of elimination, that automatically means that the other seven players play in the Championship. Other countries put a huge emphasis on tournament football except England. The FA have said that the senior team take priority but what priority exactly? The team that are struggling to qualify for tournaments? The team that once at the tournament are outplayed in nearly every game then coming home to media castigation every two years? Indeed this is the team that takes priority over any other age group below it. Not to put these players on a pedestal but where were Phil Jones,   Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Jack Rodwell? The latter of which played 5 minutes against Brazil rather than competing in a tournament which would have aided his footballing education exponentially. Using context again, after Spain won the World Cup Juan Mata won the Under 21 Championships a year later. He played in both and at no point is one made more important than the other.

World Cup winner: Juan Mata (13) won the World Cup in 2010 for SpainAnother trophy: Juan Mata lifted the Under 21 title a year after winning the World Cup

It would seem that the stigma needs to be removed in this country that 'dropping down' a level to the under 21s is not a hindrance. Every other country uses it as a vital step in a young player's career whereas in England it is seen as a step that has no means to an end. Case in point being Holland and their use of twelve senior internationals in their under 21 squad. 

It puts many countries in good stead when it comes to tournaments for the lower international levels however it only seems to cause England problems when it comes down to it. The cyclical stages of international football here can be seen as thus: Once problems have been uncovered a scapegoat is then needed. Once the avenue of poor technical ability has been exhausted, the system used by the current manager is then next in the firing line. It is at this stage that the only change is made; to sack the manager, and that's the sad state of a top-down approach to English football. Football needs to be viewed with a bottom-up approach and if that isn't strikingly obvious then the future is not bright, the future is Roja.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Would you sell Rooney for £30m?

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Before getting started and to make it clear, this is not a piece to make Wayne Rooney receive any more vitriol than he already receives. There is no doubting the talent involved here however it has come to a time in the career of England's 'best player' that he has to, along with his manager, assess the situation and what is the next step in his career.

Talking about Rooney's career would be an apt place to start. Can it be viewed as a success? Yes. To think otherwise is, quite frankly, absurd. He isn't viewed in the highest regard by non-Manchester United fans but the other side of the coin is that he isn't held in such esteem by Manchester United fans either. In October 2010, a night that will not be forgotten in the supporter's minds, Rooney issued his threat to quit the club and hold Manchester United to ransom. It is too simplistic to call the guy a mercenary however his ambition seemed to be bigger than that of arguably the biggest football club in the world. At 24 years of age and with only two years left to run on his current deal it was a time when he was the talisman. 'Was' being the clear word here and the reason he could do what he did. To empathise with Manchester United here, what would you do when your best player asks to leave? Let him go or agree to his excessive demands? You do what any sane person would do and give in to such demands when the number 1 globally endorsed English player asks for anything.

As this is being written, the media is awash with articles about Wayne Rooney wanting a new contract. It seems apt that at a time when he could be considered surplus to requirements would he now want to stay at the club. You could even say that his plan three years ago has backfired in the sense that he's not the main man any more; if anything, he is hindering Manchester United. An explanation of this can be called the 'Jenas Theory' (bear with me). Luka Modric signed for Spurs in 2008 and came in as Croatia's next big player. A player that had an attacking mindset with a penchant for creating rather than scoring, he was a player that Spurs really needed in the middle. However Juande Ramos played him as a deep-lying defensive midfielder and Harry Redknapp played him on the left wing. The only reason for this was to not interrupt with the constant inclusion of Jermaine Jenas. In conclusion, Jenas's lack of flexibility and, quite clearly, ability moved Modric around the midfield to play in positions he was not naturally selected for. To apply this to Manchester United is simple and works in two ways:

1. In 2008 when Manchester United won the Champions League, Rooney was Modric and had to move around the midfield/attack to compensate for the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo. Now in theory and in practice, this is the perfect reason to keep Rooney in the side due to his flexibility and footballing ability. The opposite to Jermaine Jenas but very much the same theory. 

2. This current season Rooney is Jenas. A player not at the top of his game and quite clearly hindering the side unless he is playing against a team that is happy to relinquish the ball and have one eye on the next game against a fellow relegation struggler. When he was dropped against Real Madrid Sir Alex Ferguson was castigated in the press. It was clear to see that this was a shrewd move and the team selection worked until that famous red card. Players at the club are playing out of position so that Rooney can remain in the side. However he is much the better player in comparison to Jenas and he has been effective in his link up play even if his goal scoring exploits have had to take a back seat. Summer signing Shinji Kagawa is having to do what Rooney did in 2008 and play out of position to compensate for Rooney being in the side. Kagawa is therefore Modric. 

This theory can be applied to many teams across the globe however this season it could not be more apparent that it seems Rooney's inclusion happens to take the fluidity out of the side. When selected in midfield, he has allowed the attacking players more freedom and as could be seen against West Ham at Upton Park, a poor game for him, his role as Jenas was seen by all viewers and was correctly taken off to let Giggs play on the left and move Kagawa inside. Once this substitution was made the dynamics of the game changed and Manchester United became relentless, even if they were slightly ineffective in testing the goalkeeper more. 

Wayne Rooney is on a claimed £250,000 a week which makes him Manchester United's best paid player  but not paid because he is the best player. It's a sad indictment for a footballer that had so much potential early on. It has been noticed that on many occasions, Rooney returns from pre-season having gained weight. The same happens when he returns from injury and Ferguson's constant response of him needing a few games to get up to speed cannot wash forever. There comes a time when you only need to look to Van Persie for what an athlete should look like. Only two years his senior yet he hasn't an ounce of fat on his body yet having the same diet available to him in England that Rooney has. It is safe to say this speaks volumes of mental as well as physical ability.

As mentioned at the beginning of this piece, this was not written to discount Wayne Rooney as a footballer. It is however a reason for people to see that something needs to change and come the summer it will be more apparent than ever. Manchester United need players to replace Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs and short of stating the obvious, Rooney's move to midfield in October against Newcastle was seen as his second coming. A piece on this blog about looking closer to home for the answer to Manchester United's midfield conundrum sprang to mind against Stoke at the weekend. Alongside Carrick, he was influential and his constant want of the ball worked in his favour. It is this characteristic which works to his detriment when playing as a striker. The 'interfering' with dropping so deep and leaving space in front of the midfield caused more problems than solutions against West Ham. Honing his midfield ability would save United a lot of money in the summer as well as allowing them to spend elsewhere when Hernandez clearly needs games. A return of 16 goals from 28 games this season compounds this enough. Ironically this is the same amount of goals that Rooney has scored even though he's played 3 games more and the majority as a starter. It won't be long before Hernandez's ability to woo any man with his smile will be replaced with demands to play more football and not as a substitute. 30 goals in 46 games for Mexico is not something to take lightly. 

Rooney's demands to sign world class players could not have gone more wrong for him as a footballer. He is not the main striker at the club with Van Persie in the ranks and he is not the trequarista with Kagawa coming in. So where does that leave the player that was held in the same regard as Gascoigne? Or a player that can best Charlton's international goal tally? Only time will tell but if a club offered £30m for Rooney this summer, it wouldn't be a swift rebuttal like it would have been 2 years ago.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

The Boy Who Will Never Be King

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Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro.

The 'second' greatest player in the world and of his generation. Lionel Messi must haunt him on a daily basis as he goes about his business being the best player Real Madrid currently have past, present and future. Comparison after comparison, record after broken record. If you were to feel sorry for one player, Fabrice Muamba aside, Cristiano Ronaldo has to be one unlucky fellow.

He was never to know that during his rise at Sporting Lisbon as an 18 year old that the apparent greatest player of our generation was lighting up Barcelona B in the country next door.

Here is a guy who has 'invented', for want of a better word, his own free kick technique. To the point where players such as Gareth Bale has cottoned on, and himself a talented player, even uses the same posture before the referee has even blown his whistle to take the set piece. This free kick is pretty much unstoppable and shows the measure of a man's willingness to train himself.

The first time that Cristiano was seen on the world stage was when he made a mockery of Rio Ferdinand in a match to inaugurate Sporting's new stadium. Not that this is that hard to do nowadays but when you're that good, to the point where Ferdinand pleaded with Sir Alex Ferguson to sign him, you knew there was a great talent here.

Any fan of English football could see the raw talent that Ronaldo possessed but he brought with him the frailness and a willingness to go to ground at any attempt. This, knee-jerkingly caused the media to get on his back because: 1. He plays for Manchester United and 2. Nobody liked a diving foreigner. Diving is now commonplace in the game and it is no different to claiming a corner kick that never was or the way in which a player will claim he has not fouled a player when he knows he has. The art of misleading the referee has been around for decades. The point here, is that now Cristiano has filled the large boots he created for himself with his extreme ego, now what would you say if he dived during Real Madrid's next game? Probably not much right.

Quite often he is compared to Lionel Messi and that is what humans do unfortunately. To claim something to be better you have to compare it to its nearest rival.  However in this case it is difficult to compare. Ronaldo is older yes and of late hasn't scored as much as Messi however that doesn't make him any less spectacular. Something that sticks out is that Ronaldo played for the U18's all the way to the senior squad for Sporting in one season. Ronaldo was breaking records from the youngest of ages, just like his counterpart. There is no point picking out each record as there are so many but a few are highlighted below:

Beating George Best's tally for a winger in a single season with 33 goals.

First Premier League player to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award.

The fastest player to get to 100 goals for Real Madrid.

First player in La Liga to score 40 goals two seasons in a row.

First player to score against every La Liga team in one season.

First player to score in every final he has played in.

First player to win the European Golden Shoe in two different countries.

He is now on 188 goals in 186 appearances for Real Madrid and that is remarkable in itself. There is only one other player that can match such a goals to game ratio and that's the unfortunate part here. In any other century or dimension, Ronaldo would be the best player of his generation. By quite a distance too. He is the finest specimen you could imagine in terms of physique and mental strength. This has all come from dedication to the sport in which he loves. The media like to paint this comparison with Messi as Good vs Evil and not to take anything away from Messi but he's had his own moments of petulance and cheating throughout his illustrious career. Under Sir Alex Ferguson's tutelage, Ronaldo became a man first and footballer second. Now he is the the most expensive signing in football history with a €1bn buy-out clause.

You can't help but feel sorry for Ronaldo having to watch Messi pick up four Ballon d'Ors in a row when he's done nothing wrong himself. You can say he conducts himself in an inflammatory way however that should not take away from his ability in the confines of a football stadium. There isn't a player as devastating that can add power, pace, strength, agility all into one package as well as become a brand sensation. Make the comparison to Messi and you know who would be the underwear model here.

Gerard Piqué aptly put it like this:

"Ronaldo is the best among humans, but Messi is an alien"

He's not wrong either.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Messi: An ode to the greatest

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In terms of football, the year of 2012 finished moments ago and it was incredible for one reason and one reason only: Lionel Andrés Messi.

Pundits and people alike all talk of the greatest of all time or asking whether he is better than Cristiano Ronaldo, that's where people's perceptions are in the wrong place. You need to ask yourself, can he get better than the level he is at right now? He hasn't won a world cup single-handedly like Maradona or had the luck to play alongside some of the world's greatest players for Brasil like Pele but here is someone that just scored 91 goals in one year. It wasn't in an unknown league on the sub-continent, this has occurred for the best team in the world as the world's current best player. Surrounded by some of the current greatest players of this generation he has excelled in a role he has carved out for himself: the lynch-pin  the focal point, the false nine, the free role, the 'Messi role'. This is not a place to waste time making comparisons but to reflect on what we have available to us right now. Could you imagine what it would be like being born 20 years from now and not growing up having seen Messi play? This is a huge reason just to admire and be happy with what we have and not to make him something he isn't or get caught up in time wasting conjecture.

The Beginning

Lionel Andres Messi was born June 24th 1987, to Jorge Messi and Maria Cuccittini in Rosario, Argentina

Lionel Andrés Messi was born 24th June 1987 in Rosario, Argentina. He was the younger of two brothers and had most of his upbringing delivered by his Auntie Marcela and Grandmother Celia. His parents were busy working day jobs making ends meet so it was up to his wider family to introduce him to football and become the catalyst in making him the player he is today.

His first football coach at Grandoli Sports Centre No 8 was urged to play Messi by his Grandmother. After some persuasion, Messi's Mother allowed him to play, but in the age group above. It was this acceptance from his Mother that let his coach, Oscar Lopez and other children from the neighbourhood see what a special talent he was. His first action with the ball wasn't your usual one. Sat in the middle of the pitch playing with stones until the ball bounced towards him. He jumped up, controlled the ball and dribbled it away in the same vein you see now for Barcelona. He may not have scored that day but from then on he turned into a goal machine playing with the older boys.

"He seemed to create pictures of what he wanted to do in his head and then make them reality on the pitch. He was just born with this talent. You can't teach it." Jorge Lopez

That's the thing, you can't teach it. All the great players were great before we all knew it. Training can help you hone your accuracy or strength but natural ability is exactly that.

A shy, caring, unnaturally small boy but with courage and determination that left an impression on anyone that met him. Messi is the same now as he was 20 years ago back in Rosario. It is this humble-ness that leaves you in even more admiration of him as any other player would have let it get to their heads and tarnish their reputation as a person first; footballer second. Messi's stock was rising and it caught the eye of Newell's Old Boys number two coach Claudio Vivas who made the trip to the training centre in the heart of Rosario. It was here that he saw something special as Messi was now under the stewardship of Grandoli Sports Centre No 8's new coach Gabriel Digerolamo. He was putting a team off 11-12 year olds together and was asked if he had space for one more. From there, the rest was history.

"He was from another world. He dribbled with the ball so closely it was like watching someone who had been given years of training in how to do it. He played like he does now, dribbling and scoring lots of goals. He was brilliant at anticipating what his team mates, his opponents and the goalkeeper would do." Gabriel Digerolamo

Digerolamo went down the unusual route of playing Messi as a sweeper. An astute tactic when you get past the surface as with the ability that Messi has, it was the natural place to put him as he could dribble past the entire team from the half way line which is not dissimilar from what occurs at Barcelona from time-to-time. Messi's next coach played him as a defensive midfielder and it was from here that he would go on to score over 100 goals that season and for the following seasons after.

Every coach that had the honour of honing Messi's talents all had the same worry; Messi was far too short for his age and he wasn't growing like the other boys. While playing for Newell's Old Boys, the doctors at the club urged Messi's Parents to speak to a child growth expert. After a year of examining Messi, Doctor Schwarzstein had found the hormone deficiency that was hampering Messi's height and began a course of injecting the missing hormone. Over the next two years, Messi grew at a 'normal' rate and his confidence increased in line with his height. However at a pricey £300-£650 per month, which wasn't a problem during the 90's as it was covered by the Government, but come the year 2000 Argentina was in the midst of quite severe fiscal troubles. Without this funding Messi's treatments could not be paid for by his family and Newell's couldn't help him either. River Plate were very interested in Messi's services but weren't in a financial position to cover the treatment. The only team that showed a concrete interest and were willing to fund his medical bills were Barcelona after Scouts had become aware of Messi's talent. They offered Messi a trial and after a family meeting and the famous 'napkin contract', Messi and his Father moved to Spain.

"In Barcelona, on the 14th of December of 2000 and in the presence of Josep Minguella and Horacio (Gaggioli), Carles Rexach, FCB technical secretary, it commits under his responsibility and despite some views against it to sign the player Lionel Messi, as long we stick to the amounts agreed upon."


At 13 years old, this was the first time that Barcelona had signed such a young talent from abroad and it wasn't long before he was turning heads at La Masia. Growing up alongside Gerard Pique and Cesc Fabregas, they formed a formidable side in the youth leagues and while Pique and Fabregas moved to England, Messi made his official debut as a 16 year old in 2003 against Porto. It wasn't until the 16th October 2004 that he started breaking more records in becoming the youngest player in La Liga when he made his professional debut against Espanyol.

Replacing Deco, this picture is more poignant that it initially may seem.

Messi then became the youngest scorer in La Liga for Barcelona when he scored his first professional goal against Albacete in 2005 at the tender age of 17. It is quite interesting to note that Messi also played for Barcelona B during this season and scored 6 in 17 matches in the Segunda División.

The Start Of Something Special

The 2005/2006 season was the season that Lionel Messi signed a contract extension as a first team player and let him play alongside the best player around at that time in Ronaldinho. They forged quite the partnership and Messi received a standing ovation when he was substituted as the fans recognised the shining star within their squad. Messi's season ended prematurely when he was injured against Chelsea in the Champions League at Stamford Bridge. The tournament that Barcelona ended up winning that season.

“Every time he plays, Leo Messi reminds me more of Maradona, both left-footed and short, Messi is the best player in the world, along with Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo. For us it is not a surprise. Since he began to come and train with us and we knew we would go down this path. Someday I will explain that I was at the birth of one of the footballing greats: Leo Messi.” Ronaldinho

Messi started the next season a stronger player and it was this season he established himself as a first-team player. Anyone involved in his past knew that this was always inevitable but to displace current members of the Barcelona squad, on paper at least, seemed difficult. It was this season that his scoring exploits became apparent and he ended the season with 14 in 26 matches. He starred in El Clasico, scoring a hat-trick to give 10 man Barcelona the draw in a fantastic 3-3 match. 

In an already career defining season, Messi went on to score one of the best goals that anyone has ever seen and he didn't help the 'New Maradona' tag he had been labelled with. Against Getafe Messi took the ball from the half way line, beat 6 players and slotted home with ease. There have been comparisons with Maradona in the past but this goal was nearly identical to the goal Maradona scored against England in the 1986 World Cup.

The following 2007-2008 season saw Messi start to receive the plaudits that he deserved. The Spanish press were calling for him to be named the best player in the world and various figures in football echoed those sentiments. However he finished third in the Ballon d'Or behind Kaka and eventual winner Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi suffered a fourth thigh injury in three seasons and it kept him out of the side for quite a while. There were claims that his hormone deficiency was the cause however since then there has not been a recurrence and that's for the better of everyone. Messi finished the season with 16 goals and 13 assists, the former number continued to grow and it still is.

In 2008-2009, Messi took the number 10 shirt from the departing Ronaldinho. Along with taking the number, he also inherited his responsibility. Anyone with an ounce of knowledge knew that this would never be an issue for Messi and it couldn't have been compounded better with another record-breaking season on the way. Messi scored 9 Champions League goals, won his first Copa Del Rey, scored twice in a 6-2 Real Madrid battering and scored in the Champions League final to give Barcelona the final cup to claim a historic treble. This was the first time that it had happened in Spanish history and Messi went on to finish the season with 38 goals and 18 assists in all competitions.

After his exploits the previous season, Lionel Messi won his first Ballon d'Or by beating Cristiano Ronaldo by quite some margin. It was during the 2009-2010 season that he helped Barcelona win the European Super Cup and the World Club Cup, capping off an amazing calendar year for Messi. Under the stewardship of Guardiola, Messi was moved into the centre as a 'false-9' and went on to have another prolific season.

"He is a unique player. The best player I've ever seen and I think we'll ever see." Pep Guardiola

He's been called the best for a number of years now and when a player of Guardiola's calibre can have such superlatives, it is only correct that a €250m buy out clause was included in Messi's contract extension. He signed until 2016 and has always said that he never wants to leave Barcelona. When you're on such a tangent as a player, there's no reason to leave when you have Xavi and Iniesta playing with you. 

Messi went on to win the FIFA World Player of the Year title as well as scoring his first 4 goal haul in a single match against Arsenal. Those Champions League goals took Messi past Rivaldo as the competition's top scorer for a Barcelona player. He also equalled Ronaldo's record of 34 league goals and for a second year in a row was named La Liga's player of the year. His goal and assist tally for this season finished on 47 and 11 respectively.

Season after season Messi has improved and has not stopped breaking records. The 2010-2011 season was no different in helping Barcelona have a 16 match unbeaten run. In April of that season he surpassed his 47 goal tally from last season and went on to score a colossal 53 goals as well as providing 24 assists. On the way to this figure, Messi scored one of the greatest and my personal favourite El Clasico goals (albeit in the Champions League). 

Messi went on to score 12 Champions League goals that season which is only 2 away from the all-time record of 14 by José Alfatini. His exploits did not go unnoticed by the Ballon d'Or panel, which awarded him the accolade for the second year in a row.

A Record Breaking Year

The 2011-2012 season became one of folklore for many reasons but one that's been highlighted continually in the press. From numbers alone, Messi has got better and better year on year and there is no one out there at his level. The start of this season saw Messi score 3 against Real Madrid to help lift the Spanish Supercup and then score again in the European Supercup to claim that trophy too. 

You'd think there wouldn't be many more records to break but it was this season that he overtook Lázló Kubala as Barcelona's La Liga (132) and all competitions (194) top goalscorer. It wasn't long after that he scored his 200th goal for Barcelona and it's crazy to think he has achieved this at the tender age of 24. Messi won his second World Club Cup and again shined by scoring two and overshadowing the prodigious talent that is Neymar. Messi then broke another record by becoming the first player to score 5 goals in a Champions League game in a 7-1 demolition of Bayer Leverkusen. 

It was in March of that season that he became Barcelona's all time leading goalscorer by scoring his 233rd goal in all competitions. He then equalled the Champions League record of 14 goals mentioned earlier. Had he not missed that penalty against Chelsea, he would have most likely put Barcelona through and beat that record also.

In May during the run up to the end of the season, Messi overtook Gerd Müller's record of 67 goals in a season by scoring a hat-trick against Málaga. It was his seventh hat-trick of the season and confirmed him as the best goalscorer in a single European season. He went on to score in the Copa Del Rey final, winning Guardiola his last trophy as Barcelona manager and finished the season with 73 goals and 29 assists in all competitions. His La Liga tally was 50 and 16 respectively.

To cap off his most amazing season yet, Messi won the Ballon d'Or for the third time in a row (equalling Platini) and was named UEFA's Best Player in Europe. He beat his compatriots Xavi and Iniesta to both awards, to which he said was for them as much as it was for himself.

The current season is only half way through but it wasn't without its records. Messi surpassed Pelé's record of 75 goals in a calendar year to move within 9 of Gerd Müller's record. In December Messi scored twice against Athletic Bilbao which helped him equal César Rodriguez's record of 190 La Liga goals for Barcelona. It wasn't long before he surpassed both Müller's and Rodriguez's records by scoring another brace against Real Betis. Müller's was a record that stood since 1972 and it's a privilege to have been around to witness such magic. 

"My record stood for 40 years - 85 goals in a year - and now the best player in the world has broken it, and I'm delighted for him. He is an incredible player, gigantic." Gerd Müller

Messi's goalscoring exploits did not stop here as he ended the calendar year with 91 goals, a feat I can only see be bettered by Messi alone. He was then again rewarded with a contract extension until 2018, at which point he will be 31 and no doubt have broken a plethora of records.

All of Messi's 91 goals can be viewed here. What a player.

Lionel Messi is the best player in the world and that is undoubted. To compare him with Cristiano Ronaldo, who himself is a brilliant player, is nonsensical. Playing the numbers game, it is clear to see who is the better player but it's not always about that. Messi has the balance, touch, speed and agility of a player that hasn't been seen for decades. He resembles what Maradona showed the world during his time in the game but do not mistake this as a comparison to who is the better player. This isn't about that. This is about realising what we have right now and appreciating that he is the best at what he does.
It must be irksome for great players of the past however Johann Cruyff said it best:

“Messi obviously could not be compared to me as he is a completely different type of player; he is more in the mould of Maradona. What everyone should be especially happy about is that every era has its own heroes. Why would one be less than the other? Pele was a hero in his time, I was in my period and Messi’s time is now. He is a joy to behold. Instead of comparing, we should just be really happy that we are able to enjoy players like Messi and Ronaldo today.”