A good piece of business?

Four goals in three games have seen Robin van Persie already begin to repay his transfer fee

 

by Rich Ward

In the wake of Robin van Persie’s very high-profile transfer to Manchester United, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger won praise from all quarters for a piece of “good business”.

The spin was that he had managed to offload an aging, injury-prone striker, with only a year left on his contract, for £24 million.

However, the reality is perhaps a little different. Despite coming with a ‘crock warning’, RVP actually made at least 33 appearances in three of his final four seasons with the Gunners – not to mention his tally of 37 goals in 48 appearances last term.

While it remains to seen whether Podolski, Cazorla and Giroud can provide enough firepower between them to compensate for van Persie’s exit, from Manchester United’s perspective they will be delighted that he appears to have started where he left off last season, with four stunning goals in his last two games.

The irony is that, with Wayne Rooney yet to recover from a deep gash to his leg, Alex Ferguson is currently relying on the “injury-prone” Dutchman to spearhead the Red Devils’ attack.

In fact, so seamless has the former Gunner’s integration at Old Trafford been that Rooney, who even before he was studded against Fulham looked far from the top of his game, might find it hard to get back in the starting XI.

If selling RVP was a good bit of business for Wenger, how must Sir Alex be feeling? Pretty satisfied I’d imagine.

 

About the author:

Rich Ward is a writer, journalist and guitarist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you feel so inclined.

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Harry Redknapp: He’s better than another bloody foreigner

Harry Redknapp: Future England manager?

I think it was that tortuous parody of an adult male Andy Parsons who said the English only like two things: moaning and queuing.  Well now we can add a third element to that holy trinity, namely ‘the established narrative.’

Following the resignation of England manager Fabio Capello (as an aside, how many other countries refer to the head coach of their national side with the problematic epithet of ‘manager’?), and once the Clive Anderson-esque committee-written hilarity of “Italian leaving a sinking ship” one-liners had been all but exhausted, England players both current (Wayne Rooney) and irrelevant (Michael Owen) took to Twitter to assert that Capello’s replacement has to be English.

Owen actually took things a step or two further, extending the ‘must be English’ qualifier to everyone ‘ from players to tea lady’. The latter reference is seemingly either a biting piece of satire on his regular spot away from the pitch or a disgusting euphemism I don’t even want to begin contemplating, while the former suggests he has got us confused with Equatorial Guinea.

Which brings me back, far from neatly, to the original point.

Capello was doomed from the start, simply by virtue of not being English. It’s a Nick Griffin-flavoured variant of the “you’ve never played the game” rhetoric, albeit with even less of an element of control, and ironically levelled by others to whom the description applies. The only semblance of respite is the six-month (give or take) ‘learning the language and culture’ grace period which gets cut short as soon as the wins stop flowing.

The Facebook community ‘Hope not Hate’ prompted irony to spontaneously combust this week when it bid good riddance to “supporter of the Italian far right” Capello (their words) and welcomed in Harry Redknapp as his heir apparent.

This came mere hours after Redknapp’s acquittal from tax evasion charges, implying that ‘legally safe’ is a reasonable qualification for a post when ‘morally sound’ was never even on the radar.

The Tottenham manager is, of course, someone who – upon Ivorian striker Samassi Abou returning to Redknapp-managed West Ham with food poisoning after a trip home – said “He must have eaten a dodgy missionary or something.”

It’s this “he’s a cunt, but he’s our cunt” ideology which gets Jeremy Clarkson an audience of millions and Simon Cowell an actual fucking podium, not to mention the baying masses queuing to get into the warm and have their emotions directed by TV station employees holding up pieces of card. Oh yes, we love queuing.

The only way an England ‘manager’ can survive the press, the fans, and John Terry (not to mention those spiteful foreign tea ladies) is to have already fucked up, been judged, and have no further to fall. Oh yes, and to be English.

Come on down Harry, the floor is yours.

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Links for 09/01/11

With other distractions consuming my attention over the Christmas and New Year period, it has been a while since the last Pele Confidential reading list. As a result, I will bring you an extended selection of articles, from the holiday period as well as the last week.

David Beckham signing for LA Galaxy in 2007 (photo: Jeremy Ryan)

LA Galaxy deserve better than Beckham by me at Footy Matters – Would fans of English clubs stand for the way the former Manchester United man has treated his MLS club?

Why Aston Villa would be the perfect fit for Omar Cummings by me at Footy Matters – A look at how the Jamaican forward would fit into the set-up of the club where he is currently on trial

Major League Soccer should welcome Guille Franco with open arms by me at Footy Matters – An examination of what the Mexican has to offer to the league

Chris Wondolowski: The Carlos Tevez of the MLS? by me at Footy Matters – An assessment of whether the deep-lying forward could replicate his club form to provide the United States with a new avenue of attack

Teal Bunbury will gain a lot from Stoke City rejection by me at Footy Matters – A look at how young talents pften have more to gain from not getting a big move before they are ready

Togo's national team at the 2006 World Cup (photo: the weaver)

In Togolese memoriam by Gary Al-Smith at In Bed With Maradona – an emotional look at the Africa Cup of Nations one year after the tragic attack on the Togo team bus in Cabinda

 

Sir Alex, El Tel and Barca: What If? by Alex Dimond at In Bed With Maradona – a thought-provoking assessment of one managerial decision on the whole spectrum of European football over the last 23 years.

Has transsexuality in football turned a corner? by Chris Ledger at In Bed With Maradona – a revealing analysis of an issue which perhaps has been given insufficient coverage in the past

The revolution must be televised by Juliet Jacques at In Bed With Maradona – an rallying call for the English broadcast media

The saddest thing in football by Domm Norris at In Bed With Maradona – a sensitive approach to the agony felt by fans of Russian club FC Saturn Moscow Oblast

Former Juventus midfielder Pavel Nedved (photo: Mike Brown)

Juventus – Team of the Decade by Liam Apicella at Footy Matters – The best eleven players to have graced the Stadio Delle Alpi in Turin

Why David Beckham to Spurs makes sense by Andrew Fitchett at Footy Matters – What the North London club would have to gain from the introduction of the former England captain

Stevenage have come a long way since they last met Newcastle by Joe Tyler at Footy Matters – An assessment of the progress made by the League 2 club in the decade-or-so since they took yesterday’s Premier League opponents to a famous FA Cup replay

Break-ups to make-ups: On Rooney, Tevez, and letting go by Greg Theoharis at Just Football – The impact on fans of their favourite players moving to pastures new

Why write about football? by Dominic Pollard at Polly’s Pause for Sport – the title says it all, really. A must-read for any budding football writer.

 

 

Premier League Round-up 13/09/2010

This weekend showed once again why the Premier League is so popular, with one of the most thrilling encounters of recent years being played out at Goodison Park.

Manchester United were without Wayne Rooney for the trip to Everton, but – whatever Henry Winter tells you – his absence did not lessen their capacity to win the game. Dimitar Berbatov led the line well and scored the third goal which seemingly clinched victory for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, but Leighton Baines’ crosses caused havoc in the United box, allowing the hosts to score two injury-time goals and salvage a remarkable 3-3 draw.

Ferguson – who later saw his son’s team Preston throw away a similar lead to lose 4-3 at Burnley – must be concerned at his side’s failure to close out games, and he might begin to question the concentration of stand-in defenders Gary Neville and Jonny Evans. While the two are at opposite ends of their respective careers, they are perhaps equidistant from the pinnacle of their abilities.

Michael Essien

United’s late collapse allowed Chelsea to move four points clear at the top of the table with a comfortable 3-1 win against West Ham. Early goals from Michael Essien and Salomon Kalou meant the champions barely had to break sweat, as they sat back and allowed their hosts plenty of possession.

It is difficult to judge Chelsea’s start to the season based on the opposition they have faced so far, but you can only beat what is placed in front of you – something Manchester United have failed to do twice now.

While their rivals continue to hog the headlines, Arsenal are going about their business quietly yet effectively. The odd defensive hiccup remained in their 4-1 victory over Bolton, but Arsene Wenger’s side adjusted well to the loss of Theo Walcott and Robin van Persie.

The scoreline was harsh on a Bolton side very much in the game until the laughable dismissal of Gary Cahill, but Owen Coyle’s side needed to capitalise more on their concerted spells of possession and take the chances presented to them. If you don’t do that, Arsenal will punish you.

The ‘big three’ were joined in the top four by Blackpool, who continued their fairytale start to the season with a surprisingly-comfortable 2-0 win at Newcastle’s St James Park.

Ian Holloway’s men were reliant on goalkeeper Matt Gilks to preserve the lead given to them by Charlie Adam’s first-half penalty, before DJ Campbell sealed the win in stoppage time. Toon Army manager Chris Hughton may be regretting his decision to leave new signing Hatem ben Arfa on the bench, with the midfield trio of Nolan, Smith and Barton failing to provide the necessary creative spark.

Elsewhere Fulham saw off a spirited but indisciplined Wolves outfit at Craven Cottage, in a game which will be remembered for a distressing injury suffered by Bobby Zamora. The England man’s leg snapped under a challenge from Karl Henry, bringing back memories of former Arsenal striker Eduardo’s horrific break in January 2008.

Moussa Dembele

But unlike Arsenal on that fateful day, Fulham were spurred on to record a hard-fought win, Moussa Dembele’s double placating Mark Hughes’ misery somewhat. His opposite number Mick McCarthy, meanwhile, will be concerned that Christophe Berra’s late red card is one of three which could have realistically been awarded against his side.

Another player to see red on Saturday was Sunderland captain Lee Cattermole, who did not even last half an hour against former club Wigan. Two yellow cards in the space of five minutes brought an early end to the combative midfielder’s afternoon for the second time this season.

£13m man Asamoah Gyan still came close to securing an unlikely three points for the 10 men of Sunderland, but his well-taken volley was cancelled out by an instinctive finish from Antolin Alcaraz, who turned in Tom Cleverley’s wayward shot for his first goal in Wigan colours.

1-1 seemed to be the scoreline of the weekend, with Manchester City’s tie against Blackburn and Tottenham’s trip to West Brom both ending in the same scoreline.

City will rue defensive errors and attacking complacency, as they made a meal of coming back into the game after Joe Hart gifted the opener to Nikola Kalinic. Roberto Mancini’s men had 20 shots on goal to Blackburn’s 4, but could not find a way past a determined Rovers back-line.

Chris Brunt

And Spurs were similarly guilty of gifting a goal to their opponents, with a static defence failing to respond when Marc-Antoine Fortune’s shot looped up and spun towards the back post, allowing Chris Brunt to equalise with a rare headed goal from all of a yard out.

Sunday’s televised game was not one for the purists, with Birmingham and Liverpool playing out a dull goalless draw. The hosts had the better chances, but Pepe Reina was equal to everything thrown at him by the Blues, while at the other end an uncharacteristically-negative selection from Roy Hodgson left Fernando Torres feeding off scraps for the most part.

Team of the week (4-2-3-1)*:

Reina (Liverpool); Kaboul (Tottenham), Jones (Blackburn), Dann (Birmingham), Cole (Chelsea); Song (Arsenal), Scharner (West Brom); Arteta (Everton), Fabregas (Arsenal), Adam (Blackpool); Berbatov (Man Utd)

*Team selected ahead of Monday night game between Aston Villa and Stoke

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Premier league predictions 2010/11 – part 2

As promised, here is the rest of my team-by-team preview of the new season.

Manchester City:

Manager: Roberto Mancini

Last season: 5th

Players in: David Silva (Valencia, £25m); Yaya Touré (Barcelona, £24m); Aleksandar Kolarov (Lazio, £17m); Jérôme Boateng (Hamburg, £10.4m)

Players out: Valeri Bojinov (Parma, undisclosed); Gunnar Nielsen (Tranmere Rovers, loan); Martin Petrov (Bolton Wanderers, free); Benjani Mwaruwari, Sylvinho (released).

Silva

It goes without saying that this is a crucial season, both for City and for their manager Roberto Mancini. Anything less than Champions League qualification will almost certainly see him sacked, especially given the £75million worth of new signings. Mancini has sensibly recognised there is no need to tamper with his side’s prolific strikeforce, instead spending most of his money on shoring up an unreliable defence. With more competition for places, the likes of Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott will be looking to improve on disappointing debut seasons, and Mancini will hope his whole team steps up a gear.

Prediction: 3rd

Manchester United:

Manager: Sir Alex Ferguson

Last season: 2nd

Players in: Chris Smalling (Fulham, undisclosed); Javier Hernández (Guadalajara, undisclosed)

Players out: Zoran Tošić (CSKA Moscow, undisclosed); Matty James (Preston North End, loan); David Gray (Preston North End, free); Tom Heaton (Cardiff City, free); Ron-Robert Zieler (Hannover, free); Febian Brandy, Sam Hewson, Scott Moffatt (released)

Hernandez

Last season was a huge disappointment for Manchester United. No one can argue with that. Aside from losing their Premier League crown and disheartening exits from the Champions League and FA Cup, Ferguson’s side simply did not play that well. If previous form is anything to go by, the Scottish manager will not let his side do the same again. The return of Owen Hargreaves will be a massive boost for United, while some of their younger players will have learned valuable lessons from last season, not least Rafael da Silva. If Rooney and Nani repeat their dazzling form of last season, and are joined in doing so by any one of Hernández, Berbatov and Owen, then the title is well within their grasp.

Prediction: 1st

Newcastle United:

Manager: Chris Hughton

Last season: 1st (Championship)

Players in: James Perch (Nottingham Forest, undisclosed); Dan Gosling (Everton, free)

Players out: Jonny Godsmark (Ashington, free); Max Johnson (Inverness Caledonian Thistle, free); Michael McCrudden (Derry City, free); Wesley Ngo Baheng, Nicky Butt, Frank Wiafe Danquah, Darren Lough, Callum Morris (released)

Gosling

About a year ago, Newcastle United seemed to be in complete disarray, losing 6-1 to Leyton Orient just weeks before their Championship campaign. But then something clicked, and they brushed aside all competition, racing to the title. Credit must be given to Chris Hughton for getting a group of players used to playing at a higher level to give their all in the second tier. They have enough quality and enough know-how to stave off relegation this time round, but without the funding for further signings Newcastle look unlikely to trouble the top half of the table.

Prediction: 14th

Stoke City:

Manager: Tony Pulis

Last season: 11th

Players in: Florent Cuvelier (Portsmouth, undisclosed); Carlo Nash (Everton, free)

Players out: Andy Griffin (Reading, nominal fee); Diego Arismendi (Barnsley, loan); Ibrahima Sonko (Portsmouth, loan); Steve Simonsen (Sheffield United, free); Nathaniel Wedderburn (Northampton Town, free); Amdy Faye (released)

Fuller

Last season’s improvement on an impressive debut Premier League season was a bit of an illusion, and Stoke will do well to avoid resting on their laurels. Their 11th place finish was achieved largely due to the paucity of the teams below them, and even then Tony Pulis’s side needed a couple of results towards the end of the season to steer them away from danger. A relatively small squad may struggle if players start to pick up injuries, but they should have enough grit and determination to keep their heads above water. It looks like the board have given Pulis some money to spend, and a strike partner for Ricardo Fuller will be high on his list of priorities after the Potters only netted 34 goals last year.

Prediction: 16th

Sunderland:

Manager: Steve Bruce

Last season: 13th

Players in: Simon Mignolet (Sint-Truidense, £2m); Marcos Angeleri (Estudiantes, £1.5m); Titus Bramble (Wigan Athletic, £1m); Ahmed Al-Muhammadi (ENPPI, loan); Cristian Riveros (Cruz Azul, free)

Players out: Lorik Cana (Galatasaray, £5m); Daryl Murphy (Celtic, £1.4m); Nyron Nosworthy (Sheffield United, loan); Roy O’Donovan (Coventry City, free)

Riveros

2009/10 was a season of two halves for Sunderland, with an impressive few months overshadowed by a seemingly-irreversible slide down the table in the new year. One would hope Steve Bruce has recognised his side’s faults, and indeed he looks to have spent wisely so far this summer. If the strike-partnership between Darren Bent and Kenwyne Jones kicks into gear properly – and with Riveros’s distribution there is no reason for it not to – this should be a comfortable season for the Black Cats.

Prediction: 9th

Tottenham Hotspur:

Manager: Harry Redknapp

Last season: 4th

Players in: Sandro (Internacional, undisclosed)

Players out: Lee Butcher (Leyton Orient, free); Sam Cox (Barnet, free); Jimmy Walker (released)

Sandro

Harry Redknapp was recently ridiculed by opposition fans for suggesting Tottenham could win the league this season, but in truth such outlandish statements may be just what the club needs. While a Premier League title may be beyond Spurs, Redknapp is surely aware of the need to spend big to even maintain the club’s place in the top four. With Manchester City breaking the bank once again, Spurs’ efforts to repeat last season’s achievements are very much under threat, and it is important for chairman Daniel Levy to appreciate that – unless he makes more funds available – 5th place is not a terrible result given the strength of their squad.

Prediction: 5th

West Bromwich Albion:

Manager: Roberto di Matteo

Last season: 2nd (Championship)

Players in: Gabriel Tamaş (AJ Auxerre, £800,000); Steven Reid (Blackburn Rovers, free); Pablo Ibáñez (Atlético Madrid, free)

Players out: Jonathan Greening (Fulham, undisclosed); Borja Valero (Villarreal, loan); Joss Labadie (Tranmere Rovers, free); Robert Koren, Filipe Teixeira, Andwélé Slory (released)

Tamaş

Roberto di Matteo may not have any top-flight managerial experience, but his signings and style of play suggest he may be more capable of keeping the Baggies in the Premier League than previous boss Tony Mowbray. Tamas impressed both on loan last season and in Euro 2008 for Romania, while Reid and Ibáñez are dependable individuals with experience at this level. Albion have a large squad with a number of internationals, and – more importantly – they have a team spirit to go along with their individual quality. It is this which will help them grind out those much-needed 1-0s come March and April.

Prediction: 17th

West Ham United:

Manager: Avram Grant

Last season: 17th

Players in: Pablo Barrera (Pumas UNAM, £4m); Frédéric Piquionne (Olympique Lyonnais, undisclosed); Thomas Hitzlsperger (SS Lazio, free)

Players out: Bondz N’Gala (Plymouth Argyle, free); Guillermo Franco, Ilan, Josh Payne, Danny Kearns (released)

Barrera

It is a strange thing to say given their lowly finish last season, but West Ham’s success this campaign depends greatly on their ability to keep hold of the core of their first team. New signing Hitzlsperger may be able to provide the creative spark which was often missing under previous manager Gianfranco Zola, but Zola’s replacement Avram Grant seems to be bringing in new faces simply to complement the likes of Scott Parker and Carlton Cole. If the squad remains in one piece, last season’s relegation scare should be avoided relatively comfortably.

Prediction: 13th

Wigan Athletic:

Manager: Roberto Martínez

Last season: 16th

Players in: Mauro Boselli (Estudiantes, £5.8m); Antolín Alcaraz (Club Brugge, undisclosed); James McArthur (Hamilton Academical, undisclosed); Ali Al-Habsi (Bolton Wanderers, loan)

Players out: Titus Bramble (Sunderland, £1m); Tomas Cywka (Derby County, free); Tomas Kupisz (Jagiellonia Bialystok, free); Mario Melchiot (Umm Salal, free); Nick Meace, Paul Scharner (released)

Boselli

Wigan have flirted with relegation for several years now, and I for one do not expect this year to be any exception. They have the individual quality to unlock matches, as they showed in their remarkable comeback against Arsenal last April, but their remains a defensive frailty which leaves Martínez’s side vulnerable to the odd momentum-sapping defeat. While Alcaraz looks like a great signing, the departure of Bramble, Melchiot and Scharner leaves defensive cover rather thin on the ground, and the Latics’ fans will be hoping new man Boselli doesn’t take too long to adapt to the Premier League.

Prediction: 15th

Wolverhampton Wanderers:

Manager: Mick McCarthy

Last season: 15th

Players in: Steven Fletcher (Burnley, £6.5m); Adlène Guedioura (RSC Charleroi, undisclosed); Jelle van Damme (Anderlecht, undisclosed); Steven Mouyokolo (Hull City, undisclosed); Stephen Hunt (Hull City, undisclosed); Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (RSC Charleroi, loan)

Players out: Chris Iwelumo (Burnley, undisclosed); Jason Shackell (Barnsley, undisclosed); Andrew Surman (Norwich City, undisclosed); Nathaniel Mendez-Laing (Peterborough United, loan); George Friend (Doncaster Rovers, free); Daniel Jones (Sheffield Wednesday, free); Mark Little (Peterborough United, free)

Hunt

Wolves were relatively comfortable last season, at least in comparison with their fans’ expectations before the campaign. However one should not ignore the fact that a number of teams were incredibly poor, and their tally of 38 points may have seen them relegated in other circumstances. With teams around them strengthening, the counter-attacking style employed so effectively towards the end of last season may be less successful, and boss McCarthy will need to be prepared to abandon his usual style if he wants to make effective use of new signings Fletcher and Hunt. With the energy and enthusiasm of players like Matt Jarvis perhaps unlikely to carry the same impact as last season, Wolves may lack the quality to stay afloat for a second successive campaign.

Prediction: 19th

So, in the unlikely event that all my predictions come true, the final Premier League table will look something like this:

1. Manchester United

2. Chelsea

3. Manchester City

4. Arsenal

5. Tottenham Hotspur

6. Everton

7. Liverpool

8. Aston Villa

9. Sunderland

10. Bolton Wanderers

11. Blackburn Rovers

12. Birmingham City

13. West Ham United

14. Newcastle United

15. Wigan Athletic

16. Stoke City

17. West Bromwich Albion

18. Fulham

19. Wolverhampton Wanderers

20. Blackpool

A world cup to forget?

I hope you haven’t forgotten about the World Cup just yet – I know I haven’t. Last week I presented my team of the tournament, and now I will bring you a team of players who disappointed during the tournament.

While my team of the tournament used the much-lauded 4-2-3-1 formation, the nature of this team leads me to use the 4-4-2 which many(perhaps prematurely) now feel has had its day.

Goalkeeper – Robert Green (England)

Club: West Ham United. 11 caps (0 goals)

It may seem unduly harsh to select a goalkeeper who only made one mistake, but Green’s error is thought by many to have set the tone for England’s poor World Cup performance.

In a tournament where many ‘keepers were remembered for their impressive stops, individual mistakes stand out more than ever. This is especially true when – as was the case with Green – the individual in question is not given time to atone for his mistake.

With David James moving ever closer to retirement, both England and West Ham will hope the former Norwich shot-stopper recovers from the media scapegoating to reassert himself as first choice for club and country.

Right-back – Jonas Gutierrez (Argentina)

Club: Newcastle United. 19 caps (1 goal)

Just as fans of West Ham United gasped in shock when their right-back Lionel Scaloni kept former Argentina captain Javier Zanetti out of his country’s World Cup squad in 2006, Newcastle fans will have been surprised to see Gutierrez take Zanetti’s place this time around.

This is not merely because Newcastle had played the previous season in English football’s second tier – Gutierrez was signed with the club in the Premier League and was clearly too good for the division below. Rather the surprised glances came because the player known as ‘Spiderman’ had made his name as a winger, not a right-back.

The supposedly versatile 27-year-old was found out in the opener against Nigeria, and by the time his country’s final group game came around he had been replaced by the lumbering and one-dimensional Nicolas Otamendi. Given the way in which Otamendi himself was destroyed by a fluid German attack, Diego Maradona will surely be ruing the decision not to include a natural right-back in his squad.

Left-back – Patrice Evra (France)

Club: Manchester United. 32 caps (0 goals)

While France may have made hard work of qualifying for the tournament, they were still expected to cruise through a relatively easy group.

It is common knowledge that a lack of leadership – rather than a paucity of talent – is often responsible for Les Bleus struggles, but the quiet and understated Evra was supposed to provide a calming influence as captain.

Few could have predicted what would follow. Two games and one much-publicised clash with a fitness coach later, and Evra was stripped of both the captaincy and his place in the team. There have since been suggestions that the defeat against Mexico will prove to be Evra’s last game for his country, with former stars including 1998 World Cup Winner Lilian Thuram calling for him to be dropped indefinitely.

Centre-back – Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

Club: Al-Ahli. 136 caps (2 goals)

Yes, the clues were there before the tournament began. Cannavaro’s decision to move to the United Arab Emirates suggested – at the age of 36 – the former Juventus captain felt he was no longer up to playing in Europe’s top leagues.

But few could have predicted the ignominy of his, and Italy’s campaign. Despite being more than matched in the opener against Paraguay, fans still expected the Azzurri to bounce back, as they have done many times before.

An embarrassing draw with New Zealand, during which Cannavaro was hopelessly exposed for Shane Smeltz’s goal, was the antipasti. What followed put to shame the defensive solidity on which the country’s success has been founded. The 3-2 defeat against an uninspiring Slovakian outfit may well go down as the moment at which Cannavaro – and the class of ’06 in general – were forced to give way to a younger and hungrier breed.

Centre-back – Simon Kjær (Denmark)

Club: Wolfsburg. 11 caps (0 goals)

How do you go from being one of the hottest defensive properties in world football to making an uninspiring move to a Europa League side? Well, why don’t you ask Simon Kjær – he should have the answer.

Just months after being sweet-talked by Sir Alex Ferguson in advance of a potential move to Manchester, the Danish defender is packing his bags for Wolfsburg.

The former Palermo man was hardly helped by an error-prone Danish defence, but he did nothing to suggest he had the solidity or leadership qualities required to succeed at the highest level, although – as you and I well know – one tournament rarely tells the whole story.

Right-midfield – Franck Ribéry (France)

Club: Bayern Munich. 48 caps (7 goals)

At this World Cup, the stage was set for Franck Ribéry to finish a disappointing season on the highest of high notes. Not disappointing on the pitch, although Bayern’s domestic double was achieved largely in spite of the French winger, but disappointing in a personal sense.

His achievements at club and international level were first blighted by a knee injury, and then by a prostitution scandal which rocked the French football scene.

International team-mate Karim Benzema had a similarly frustrating 12 months, but while the Real Madrid striker was left out of the World Cup squad – allowing him to take time out to confront his troubles – Ribéry had no escape. His abject performances in South Africa suggested one or more of these issues were still playing on his mind, and questions still remain as to whether he will ever be able to recapture his previous form on the pitch.

Left-midfield – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Club: Barcelona. 49 caps (13 goals)

All things considered, Messi didn’t play that badly in the World Cup. He lit up proceedings against South Korea as Diego Maradona’s side destroyed their Asian opponents, and showed some good touches against Mexico in the last 16.

But fans and pundits have come to expect more of the enigmatic Argentine. He netted 47 goals in 53 games for Barcelona this season, including splendid hat-tricks against Arsenal and Valencia.

Yet when the world was watching, he failed to reproduce the same goalscoring form, culminating in his nation’s 4-0 loss at the hands of Germany – a loss which he could do nothing about.

Central midfield – Frank Lampard (England)

Club: Chelsea. 82 caps (20 goals)

Frank Lampard should count himself lucky referee Jorge Larrionda failed to notice his shot crossing the line in England’s loss to Germany. Why? Because now fans will remember his campaign in a more positive light.

Now when asked about Lampard’s performance in years to come, people will mention his disallowed ‘goal’ and not his complete absence in his country’s first three games.

This is not the first time the midfielder – almost untouchable at club level – has failed to perform on the world stage. It seems he is so used to being the focal point of the side at Chelsea that he has forgotten how to work for his team-mates.

No doubt he will become a world-beater again when he returns to Chelsea for the new season, free from the shackles of significant responsibility.

Central midfield – Steven Pienaar (South Africa)

Club: Everton. 51 caps (2 goals)

If the host nation South Africa had any hope of reaching the last 16, they would need their most famous footballing expert to pull the strings right from the get-go.

Sadly for them, Pienaar never really got out of first gear, and as a result South Africa lacked the creative spark needed to separate them from the other teams in group A.

While the opening draw with Mexico and the narrow victory against a French side in total disarray gave fans of the Bafana Bafana something to shout about, hard graft and enthusiasm will only get you so far. With Pienaar unable to impose his nous and footballing intelligence on the game, Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side got about as far as they could.

Striker – Wayne Rooney (England)

Club: Manchester United. 64 caps (25 goals)

Those making excuses for England’s poor performance at the World Cup have blamed the arduous Premier League season. However that is only part of the story as far as Wayne Rooney is concerned.

Rooney’s injury problems have been well documented, and many England supporters were relieved when he picked up a knock a few months before the start of the tournament.

Unfortunately, far from getting the much-needed rest enjoyed by the likes of Arjen Robben, Rooney was forced back into action far sooner than Fabio Capello would have liked. Still, with his team-mates offering little in the way of service, there is no guarantee that a fully-fit Rooney could have done any better.

Striker – Fernando Torres (Spain)

Club: Liverpool. 80 caps (24 goals)

Never before can I remember a striker featuring in every game for a World Cup winning country and having less of an impact.

Torres looked out of his depth, failing to score and failing to complete a full 90 minutes at any stage of the tournament. While his team-mates brushed aside their opposition en route to winning the World Cup, the Liverpool man was barely an afterthought in discussions of their success.

And just to cap it all, he picked up an injury in the closing stages of the final which will put a dent in his preparations for the new campaign.

Substitutes:

Fawzi Chaouchi (Algeria, goalkeeper) – Gaffe in opener against Slovenia effectively sealed his country’s fate

Glen Johnson (England, right-back) – Horribly exposed in defeat against Germany, ordinary going forward and absent at the back

Nemanja Vidic (Serbia, centre-back) – Far from his normal imposing self, gifted Germany a penalty in Serbia’s only win

Jean Makoun (Cameroon, central midfield) – Failed to impose himself after an impressive season for Lyon

Kaka (Brazil, attacking midfield) – Allowed himself to be bullied by opponents too easily, although his red card against Cote d’Ivoire was harsh

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, winger) – Victim of an overly-defensive set-up from manager Carlos Queiroz

Vincenzo Iaquinta (Italy, striker) – Static and lumbering, should have been replaced by Fabio Quagliarella far sooner.

Europe 4-0 England: Champions League round-up

Now the dust has settled on the Champions League quarter-finals, with no English teams making it to the final four, it is time to reflect on the reasons for Arsenal and Manchester United failing to progress.

Arsenal’s exit is the more understandable of the two, considering their injury problems. As if Cesc Fabregas’ broken leg wasn’t enough of a setback, Arsene Wenger’s side was forced to make do without their defensive leader and their main creative influence, in William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin respectively.

Gallas’ absence was the most significant. Time after time a lack of communication between the Gunners’ back four cost them dear, with Emmanuel Eboue’s positioning for the clinching fourth goal symptomatic of a makeshift defence ill-equipped to deal with the movement of Lionel Messi and Bojan.

Arsenal's back line had no answer to Lionel Messi

Although Nicklas Bendtner led the line admirably at the other end, he was well marshalled by Gabi Milito and Rafael Marquez, whose performances simply emphasise the strength in depth which separates the Catalans from Wenger’s young squad.

In the end Barcelona’s convincing victory was little surprise, and Arsenal will need to draw on all their reserves when they visit White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

But if Arsenal’s departure was somewhat expected, Manchester United’s exit from the competition at the hands of Bayern Munich comes as a minor shock.

The main talking point before the game was Wayne Rooney’s inclusion in the starting line-up, and I feel Sir Alex Ferguson made the right move in risking his star man.

This may come as a surprise considering Rooney’s rather subdued performance, but the sad truth is United have no other individual who comes close to worrying defences in the same way as the England frontman.

Despite not being directly involved in the moves leading up to Nani’s two goals, even an injured Wayne Rooney was enough to keep opposition defenders on their toes. Indeed it was perhaps Bayern’s overestimation of the 24-year-old which freed up so much space for his Portuguese team-mate.

Rafael’s sending-off was of course a factor, but one might wonder why Ferguson reverted to a 4-5-0 formation when his lone striker’s ankle injury flared up.

The answer to this can be found by looking at the impact made by Dimitar Berbatov when he finally took to the field with 10 minutes remaining.

Berbatov thrives on the space created by a strike partner, and his own minimal movement means he often struggles as a lone frontman. With wingers Nani and Antonio Valencia overworked to the point that the former was seen visibly gasping for breath after one lung-busting run, the Bulgarian was required to make space for himself and fight for the ball. He is unlikely to be seen doing this at the best of times, and last night was no exception.

Sir Alex Ferguson will surely deny it, but yesterday’s elimination offers proof – if any was needed – that Carlos Tevez should still have had a place at Old Trafford.

United’s success this season has been based around a fully-fit and on-form Wayne Rooney, with no ready-made replacement in the same mould.

Rooney’s game is so strong because his goalscoring and link-up play is complemented by a willingness to chase every ball and never let the centre-backs settle. For the entire second half yesterday, the often-shaky Daniel van Buyten and Martin Demechelis were allowed time and space to get forward, with only the occasional burst forward from Nani and Valencia causing them problems.

United saw before the break how the Bayern centre-backs struggled with the movement of their front three, and if they could call on someone like Tevez, rather than Berbatov and the ineffective Ryan Giggs, we might have seen a contest in the second half rather than an attack-versus-defence encounter in United’s half of the pitch.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s reluctance to call upon Federico Macheda and Mame Biram Diouf, coupled with Michael Owen’s season-ending hamstring injury, suggests the Red Devils could not afford to lose both Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo without bringing in an experienced replacement.

Mame Biram Diouf was not even named on the bench last night

It is all well and good having talented youngsters on your books, but if you are unwilling to utilise them in high-pressure situations it seems ridiculous not to augment the striking talent at the club, even if just bringing in someone on a short-term deal, as they did with Henrik Larsson in 2006.

Instead of making excuses about refereeing decisions or about Bayern players crowding around the official in a manner not dissimilar to previous United sides, Ferguson needs to have a look at his own shortcomings.

His side had no response to a Bayern side lacking their own one-time talisman Miroslav Klose, and whose star men Ribery and Robben underperformed save for one crucial moment of genius.

For all the intelligence of Ferguson’s initial approach to the match, at this level of football you need to have a Plan B which you can rely on.