Five players to look out for in France..

As everyone is aware, the Euros or indeed any major tournament offers the chance for up and coming young talent to really announce their talent to a huge audience. You hear stories about these players every tournament – just take a look at the World Cup in Brazil. A young James Rodriguez wowed crowds and earned a huge move to Real Madrid and elevated his career to new heights on the basis of a single tournament. Who could be this years stand out youngsters? Here are five potential candidates I see having the potential to really break onto the big time, along with a rating showing the likelihood of this happening.

Breel Embolo – Switzerland

For FIFA lovers, this name may not come as a huge surprise to you. Rated highly in the virtual world at least, the frontman really does appear to have a great deal of potential in his game. Any striker that can combine both pace and power to good effect usually manage to cause a number of issues for the defenders paid to eliminate this threat. Embolo appears to have these traits already at a young age – with his ability already having attracted the attention of top clubs like Wolfsburg, who bid 27 million Euros for the youngster in January. The only potential drawback is his side Switzerland who may not reach the latter stages of the tournament.

BOY WONDER RATING – 2*

Renato Sanches – Portugal

The man who’s already raised a number of eye brows this year following his high profile move to German giants Bayern Munich. Sanches is a very versatile midfield and can be deployed in a range of roles across the midfield – combining attacking flair with energy and work-rate to match. This synergy of abilities has led to Sanches emerging as one of the hottest young talents across Europe. Portugal are however a squad undergoing somewhat of a transition, meaning it may be one tournament too early for Sanches to prove his worth. He’ll be a big threat though, that is for sure.

BOY WONDER RATING – 3*

Harry Kane – England 

Although most people already have heard of the Spurs frontman – the Euros may well be the tournament that really lifts Harry Kane to the next level. Having already proved a number of doubters wrong by not falling foul of ‘second season syndrome’ Kane is one of the best upcoming forwards in the world game in my eyes. English fans always love an old fashioned number 9 up top and Kane already appears to be the next one to fit that bill if his performances for club and country so far are to be believed. With a strong Spurs contingent behind him, you already feel this tournament could well be made for Kane to make himself an English legend already at such a tender age.

BOY WONDER RATING – 5*

Romelu Lukaku

Lukaku has really made a name for himself already in the English game. His performances this year in a stuttering Everton side have been nothing short of exceptional at times. Having watched him in the game against Bournemouth, it’s very rare for such a young player to have the intelligence and confidence that the big man possesses. Belgium undoubtably dissapointed at the World Cup in Brazil so when you combine the desire to right a few wrongs with the experience and development in Lukaku’s game, I feel this could be a massive tournament for the big Belgian. I’m aware he’s 23, but I feel this is the tournament where he really could prove he deserves the big move he’s been linked with this campaign.

BOY WONDER RATING – 4*

Anthony Martial 

Having already proved a selection of doubters (including myself) wrong following his big money move to the red side of Manchester last year – Martial could well hit the next level on home soil in the Euros. With Karim Benzema ruled out not through injury but through a series of legal misdemeanors – the stage may well be set for Martial to be the main man for the host nation. Under the assumption Mourinho will have huge funds to improve his new United squad, Martial will no doubt be keen to prove his worth to the Special One.

BOY WONDER RATING – 4*

 

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Is it all doom and gloom?

Arguably, we’re currently undergoing one of the most unstable transitions in recent memory. Stability and optimism seems to be an all too distant thing of the past. Take one look at the #readingfc hashtag on twitter and if you don’t feel like having a stiff drink by the time you’ve read 20 tweets then you’re a stronger person than me. Just in case there haven’t been enough people commenting on the current state of the club, I’m going to give it a go.

Where else to start than Brian McDermott. It’s a tough one with Brian, if you take a step back you can understand both perspectives from supporters. Some believe it’s a result business and Brian hadn’t delivered and other (like me) felt we should have given him more time. If you’re going to bring in a manager in December when realistically we were already losing our grip on the play-off places and expect him to be able to motivate a team mostly made up of loan players – you’re asking too much in my opinion. I am of the opinion that we should have given him until around November. If we’d given him a transfer window to make the squad his own and he’d still not achieved the results then yeah, fair play, he deserved to be out of the job. We’ve been blessed at this club in recent years with success (for a club of our size) and unsurprisingly it has gone hand in hand with a stable setup. Continually chopping and changing hoping for an upturn in fortunes rarely works.

I do appreciate however the logic behind the decision. Bringing a new man in now gives a new approach ahead of the season. If we had persevered unsuccessfully with Brian and been in a situation in November where we were facing another meaningless end to a season – not many people will have been happy. However, Brian wasn’t given the resources to turn things around in the small amount of time he was given. Why bring someone to the club half way through a campaign, not give him any money in January, and then get rid of him at the end of the campaign? Why even appoint him in the first place if this was the plan? Whether it was a mistake or not – hindsight is a wonderful thing. It certainly did more harm than good that’s one thing we can all see now.

Time to have a look at everyone’s favourite people at the moment – the owners. Cynicism and Reading Football Club go hand in hand. I wonder if our fans were so unbearably depressing and cynical back in the late 19th century? I can almost envisage the first ever game at Elm Park being criticised for one reason or another. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of the Thais, but I do feel some of the stick they’ve received doesn’t actually make much sense. The first of which is where is the investment? Well, last year, look at the calibre of players we brought in on loan. Who pays those big wages? Hmm, I wonder. I don’t recall them receiving any criticism when John, Piazon and Vydra were all signed in a small space of time. Funny that. Vydra was a huge disappointment agreed – but how can that be the owners fault? They had the ambition to fork out £2.5m to bring him in on loan – a slightly odd decision, but not one you can use to talk about the lack of investment they’ve put in. They certainly aren’t perfect, but criticising the signings made under their reign seems bizarre considering how happy we all were to see some of the names we had brought in before last year.

My last slight qualm I have with some of our supporters is complaining that we’re already NAILED ON FOR RELEGATION OH MY GOD WE HAVE SUCH A TERRIBLE SQUAD. Take a step back and look at our side. They ALL underperformed last year without doubt, perhaps with the exception of Ali Al-Habsi. But I do genuinely believe we have a basis of a very good side. Quinn, Mcshane, Williams, Obita, Gunter, Al Habsi, McCleary are just some of the players who I think would make it into a lot of squads in this league. Under the right management with a few more smart additions, especially up top, we don’t actually have the worst squad the world has ever seen, contrary to common opinion amongst some of our supporters.

This summer is definitely one of massive transition, and it is slightly worrying seeing the mass exodus of staff especially. I do think if we all just take a deep breath though, and not be drawn into the mass hysteria on social media (that I’ve definitely been guilty of as times) we might just be okay next year.

Why Rashford *MAY* be worth the risk.

With the European Championships fast approaching, speculation is beginning to grow about who is going to fill those spaces on the short flight to France. One name that seems to be popping up more and more is that of youngster Marcus Rashford. Should he really be taken to the Euros at such a tender age however? Well – the jury seems out on that issue, however if he manages to get a couple more in the remaining games – here are 3 reasons why I’d CONSIDER taking him.

1 – OTHER OPTIONS

You’d of thought that at the moment, most people would have three forwards already in their minds for who they’d select for the Tournament. Vardy and Kane seem certainties, and Daniel Sturridge seems to have overcome persistent injury issues for the moment and appears to be playing much like his old self. The last place on the plane is one of debate. The main player who seems to dividing opinion is all-time record goalscorer Wayne Rooney. Would I take Wayne? Well, it’s all dependent for me on how he finishes the season. You cannot criticize his record for the national side, or for United for that matter – but is “reputation” enough to go by? For me, it has to be combined with current form and how he’d fit into the squad. Rooney wouldn’t be the sort of player you’d want to come off the bench to make an impact – he simply isn’t that sort of player. Rashford’s energy and style of play would suit being an ‘impact’ player more effectively. As for Danny Welbeck – I’m sorry, but he hasn’t done enough this campaign for one reason or another to take. I know his record for England is very respectable, but you can’t take him based on that alone.

2 – “Bursting” onto the scene

When you look at some of England’s most successful strikers in the last 15-20 years, two of those really made their name at a tender age in a big international tournament. Michael Owen terrorised defences in the 1998 World Cup, and only an unfortunate injury stopped Wayne Rooney in his tracks at the Euros 12 years ago. Rashford has that opportunity this year. He doesn’t seem intimidated by the big stage, he has similar confidence levels to the aforementioned players – and given he’d probably be fourth choice striker, pressure on him wouldn’t be too overbearing. He’s definitely a player for the future, should he keep up the form he’s shown so far in his United career, but why not give him a go to demonstrate his potential? He’d certainly play with a lot more freedom than Rooney for example, who’s performances at major tournaments is always scrutinized beyond belief. Rashford could give it his best shot, knowing full well the expectation will be on others to get the goals for the side.

3 – Quality

Contrary to the more cynical footballing supporters, I genuinely believe Marcus Rashford does have a natural ability and eye for goal that could well be developed with good management to make him a top class player. His strike against West Ham in the FA Cup showed not only his self belief to attempt it in the first place, but also genuine striking ability to finish with such class. One or two goals can be seen as a flash in a pan, but the consistent high level of goals he’s scored so far could well be rewarded with an England call up. One thing is for certain, if his call up for the Euros isn’t – and that is his ability to be in the right place at the right time, his ability to run and finish and a run of form he’s shown since his first call up – is no accident. I’m not trying to say he’s the best thing since.. Well, Harry Kane? But I do believe he’s shown excellent ability so far – and I can’t see how you’d call up Welbeck or Rooney over him BASED ON CURRENT FORM.

The question on everyone’s lips is whether Roy Hodgson will indeed pick a player based on form or on proven ability. If it was form, Rashford should be in the squad. However, given the fact Hodgson has hinted his hope that Jack Wilshere will be fit for the tournament, I’d expect it to be on reputation. If he doesn’t get the call up, a follow up of this run of form next season may well build up his reputation so even Roy can’t ignore him for Welbeck.

 

 

Football’s Greatest Mavericks.

Football has had a fair share of mavericks in its long and illustrious past. Players who excite and frustrate in equal measure, players who never reach their full potential for one reason or another, and players who are simply unmanageable. Whether their performances aren’t worth making the back pages, sometimes their lives are worthy of the front pages. Who are football’s best “mavericks” however? Here’s some of the best, in no particular order. Enjoy.
George Best
Where else to start? George Best was a man who was a new breed of footballer back in the 60s. He had everything, and boy did he like to celebrate it. Blessed with charm, wit and good looks combined with a love of entertaining and incredible natural ability, Best was a character always destined to catch the eye of anyone lucky enough to have seen the genius at work. Unfortunately his demons took control eventually, leading to his premature death at the age of 59. However, George Best invented the footballing maverick. You’d do well to find anyone who’d of preferred him any other way.
Diego Maradona
Alright, so the bloke was a cheat. Lets just get that out the way for starters. His handball against the mighty English in the World Cup was possibly the most unjust event in the history of human civilization, but hey.. I’m not bitter. You do just have to take one glance at the goal Maradona scored four minutes after the famous “Hand of God” goal to see why he’s so well regarded. Incredible close control, speed, flair and technique combined with confidence in his incredible natural ability. Off the field issues, most notably his enjoyment of a certain powder, led to the gradual deterioration of the master’s career, however on his day I’d argue only two players have ever reached and surpassed his level. Fair play Diego, you weren’t half bad really. Even if you cheated.
Paul Gascoigne 
One of English football’s most popular players, Gazza had everything you’d expect someone who’ve found their way onto this list to have. A hugely loved players amongst supporters for his passionate displays whilst he donned the Three Lions jersey (none more so than his reaction to a booking in the semi final in 1990.) His love of the nightlife throughout his career did see him appear on numerous front pages during his time at the top. Unfortunately, it appears Gazza is still struggling with alcoholism in 2016, with more stories beginning to circulate documenting his struggles on the rocky road to recovery. I’m sure football fans not just in England but around the world will be hoping he returns to full health as soon as possible.
Mario Balotelli
Well, it seems we’ve already ran out of popular mavericks in this list. Mario Balotelli is a player with undoubtable quality, as he has demonstrated at points throughout his career. Despite this, Mario’s career is definitely at risk of crumbling should he not improve his attitude. The last two years for example, his maiden season at Liverpool and loan spell at AC Milan have been.. Well, how can I put this? Shite. That’ll do. A man who’s previously thrown darts at youth players, donated £100s to homeless people, gatecrashed a female prison, lit a firework in his bathroom or struggled to put a bib on definitely needs to get back on the straight and narrow should he wish to get his career back on track.
Rene Higuita
This bloke was, no matter how you look at it, a proper bloody lunatic. When a players most notable footballing memory is a completely unexpected scorpion kick at Wembley, you know you’ve left an odd imprint on the footballing world. Still, you think that was strange. Higuita spent time in prison in 1993 for his involvement in a kidnapping, and was involved in cocaine trafficking alongside notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar. The chap was mad sober on the pitch, imagine if he’d had a line or two before getting between the sticks?! Scary, scary prospect.
Len Shackleton 
One of the earliest “entertainers” of football, Len Shackleton certainly had a personality about him. He wasn’t a poor player however, he netted six times on his debut for Newcastle. However his antics whilst he was playing were what he was well remembered for. Some of his most notable actions include combing his hair mid game, playing a series of one-twos with the corner flag and sitting on the ball during the game. His approach to football, slightly unprofessional shall we say, did restrict his national appearances to just six.
Vinnie Jones
Perhaps not one of the most memorable of “mavericks”, and no where near in the same bracket as some of the players on this list, but his love for hurting opponents as much as possible was truly admirable to lovers of violent football. Whether it was having a cheeky touch of Gazza, or this tackle..
And what a tackle that was. No booking, either.
Jose Luis Chilavert
To be fair, I think my favorite aspect about this chap is how strangely satisfying his name is to say. Try it. Anyway, the Paraguayan keeper graced the South American football scene for around 20 years, finally retiring in 2004. Although not much of those two sentences have provided much insight into why he’s made this list, admittedly. Well, Jose managed to find the net 58 times in the space of his club career, as well as 8 times for his country. Not bad, to be fair.
Apologies if I have missed anyone out – I’m sure I probably have. Hey ho.

Ballon D’Or Reaction

So Cristiano Ronaldo has won the most prestigious award in the footballing world. Congratulations to Ronaldo, thoroughly deserved. I don’t think many people will see this award as a surprise but some of the awards ceremony raised some eyebrows. Some of the omissions into the team of the year are utterly bewildering to say the least, I’m going to go through a couple of these.. You lucky lucky people.

Firstly, the defence. Now obviously FIFA are the governing body of world football and as such have fantastic judgement on the best players in the world. BUT DAVID LUIZ?! Excuse me. David Luiz? This man is an incredibly unpredictable centre back and at times arguably is erratic. He did have one particularly good moment, a wonder free kick at an incredibly important time of Brazil’s World Cup campaign. This however was equaled out by a less than convincing performance to say the least against the Germans in the World Cup semi final (which is being incredibly kind.) Silva’s inclusion in the squad is a little less questionable but other player’s could have more than easily gotten a place over Silva (Godin and Hummels to name two of these.)

In the midfield, Angel Di Maria joins Toni Kroos and Andres Iniesta. Kroos has had a fantastic year and his inclusion hasn’t raised a huge number of alarm bells. Di Maria was instrumental in the second half of Real Madrid’s campaign last year, and Iniesta has been a man who has always shown class and skill in his game. Di Maria has however not had the best of starts to his Manchester United career. He hasn’t been poor by any stretch of the imagination, but it may not have been what United fans expected for £65 million and one of the world’s 3 best midfielder (supposedly.) Only 3 goals and no major honours for Iniesta makes you somewhat question his inclusion. Who could have been more suited to these positions? Well, I think Hazard may have been a deserved inclusion based on his performances, and Paul Pogba also enjoyed a fantastic 2014. These two could have got in.

The three forwards include the two best players in the world without a question in Ronaldo and Messi. Arjen Robben is certainly up there with the world’s best and I think his inclusion didn’t raise that many arguments considering his contribution to his club and national sides. He could have been replaced however by Aguero, Bale or even Ibrahimovic without huge controversy. All could make a case for a deserved inclusion.

Two particularly interesting things that have come out of the awards ceremony are the worrying signs around our national team manager and also the alarming exclusion of any Athletico Madrid players/management. Madrid did fantastically to break the domination of the other side from the capital and the Catalonians. Simeone could have easily won the coach of the year award for that alone. No players from this successful side made it into the team of the year and only Courtois, a now Chelsea player, made it into the reserve team of the year. This is a shambolic response from FIFA to Athletico’s wonderful year. Hodgson also voted for his world player of the year as Javier Mascherano. I’ll leave you all to to make you’re own opinions on this matter, but it’s safe to say I think it’s an absolute farce of an opinion. Each to their own and all that.

Why Steve Clarke has already proved to be the right man for the job.

Following a satisfying win against Huddersfield in the Third Round of the FA Cup, Steve Clarke has got two wins out of four under his belt. Lots was made of the changes he planned to bring in when he took over the reigns at the club and the start he has made at the club suggests they’re already working well.

I think the nicest thing to see is the improvement in the defence. When you asked any Reading fan following the difficult defeat against Cardiff what they thought of Alex Pearce, you may not have had the most complimentary answer. That’s football, we are all guilty of a little bit of fickleness, myself included. However since the change in manager, Pearcey has looked more like the player once linked to a move to Liverpool of all clubs. He has epitomized the improvement in defence, the structure seems to have returned to the back four. They are battling hard and seem to be a lot more organised. We didn’t concede against Huddersfield, the only goal conceded against Norwich was controversial to say the least and Watford are a very good team who scored a very good goal on the counter. Three out of four of the games I have been very impressed with the back four. Okay, we conceded 2 down at Brighton and were all dissapointed to not hold onto all 3 points, but that’s arguably been the exception (despite gaining fewer points against Watford. None.)

In the midfield as well I have been impressed both going forward and defending. When I have seen us play against Watford and Norwich, okay I was dissapointed at the lack of goals against Watford but you look at what we are starting to do and its promising. Seemingly, the days are gone of meandering around the back four before a long chipped ball which rolls harmlessly out of play for a throw. The pace on the counter coming from midfield is notably different than under Adkins for the majority of this season, which has most notably seen with very impressive performances by Robson Kanu. It seems the midfield are pushing up a lot higher, pressing and seeming increasingly committed in their tackles and attitudes which is a fantastic sign. This can only be aided further with the return who has played with his heart on his sleeve for years, Jem Karacan.

One hopeful area I think we need to improve into is the forwards. Is Glen Murray that man? Well, I think he was a good player during his time here and did what we all know he has done his whole career, score goals. The price of £3m that is being suggested on social media is too high for a player of his age, with all due respect to the big man. I would like to see a more pacey and creative player being bought into the club. Who? Well, that very much depends on whether for a start we get Drenthe off the wage bill and then have the financial power to reinvest. Perhaps dip into the loan market? I think that may be a better idea personally, and then go again in the summer.

The last topic of discussion I’d like to touch on is Royston Drenthe and the decision both Clarke and the whole club are going to have to make on his future. Would I like to see him back? If he could behave himself, he would be a fantastic asset to the club. But, I simply don’t think that is a risk worth taking. When our midfielders are all fit, it is an area we are blessed with talent and depth it (one of the few!) Do we need the risk of Drenthe disrupting that? I don’t think so for what he could provide. A showman, but not a team man, and that isn’t either what we need or I think what Clarke would want. I could be wrong however.

There we go. Happy Saturday all, here’s hoping for a good draw tomorrow.

This seasons most underrated stars.

Hello everyone! I hope you’re well. This is my first post for a few days because, unless you’ve been living under a rock, there was a certain day that fell a couple of days ago which you’ll be fully aware of. I hope everyone had a fantastic Christmas and are continuing to enjoy the festive period as much as I am.

Soppiness aside, let’s talk about this blog. Following the boxing day football, I noticed a number of players really haven’t been getting the recognition they deserve this year. Therefore, I felt a blog post was in order on this topic. Here is my top 5 unsung heroes of the season so far in the Premiership in no particular order.

Nemanja Matic

In a Chelsea side who appear to be blowing away all in their path so far this season, it is very hard to pick out one individual star. Hazard and Costa appear to claim most of the plaudits and for good reason, they’ve been absolutely outstanding all year. However one man who I don’t feel has got the recognition of some of his peers is Nemanja Matic. I think Matic has been one of the stand out players for the club this year, and is so much more than a player who breaks up play. He has a fantastic engine in him, his tackling is up there with the best in the league and he sure can place a pass or two. He may not be in the most glamorous positions on the pitch but my oh my, Mourinho’s team are a much better side with the Serbian on the pitch.

Jose Fonte

Everyone has been surprised by two teams this year, and one of them are Southampton. Given how little were expected of the Saints in comparison to how they are now performing, you could make a case for a host of Saints players to be included in this list. One man who I think deserves his place more than anyone arguably is Jose Fonte. At the heart of a defence who have been rather consistent throughout the year Jose Fonte has proved himself as a more than effective centre back in the whole which was left by Dejan Lovren. Fonte has demonstrated great athleticism, tackling, leadership and agility in the heart of the defence throughout the year and that’s why I’ve included him in this list.

Gylfi Sigurdsson 

There has been a fair bit of discussion about the Icelandic midfielder but I think even despite this he hasn’t got the credit he deserves. Okay, so he is the star man of the team admittedly. But you cannot take away what Gylfi brings to the Welsh side. Linking up brilliantly with Bony up top contributing with nearly double figures in terms of assists. He also brings a real shooting prowess to the team, demonstrating but some of his sumptuous free kicks which have contributed to his handful of goals this year. You just have to look where Swansea finished and how they were performing last year, you can see just how much Gyfli gives to the Swansea starting eleven.

Aaron Cresswell

It is never easy to make the step up from the Championship to the Premiership but a man who has made this transition almost seamlessly is West Ham full back Aaron Cresswell. Much has been said about West Ham’s brilliant start to the season and a man who I think sums it up is Cresswell. Perhaps not the most glamorous of players in one of the least glamorous  positions on the pitch who has been quietly and efficiently going about his work in an effective manner. Solid at the back and a real alternative option going forward, Cresswell should be very pleased at how he has performed at the start of his top flight career.

Michael Carrick

Last on my list is Michael Carrick. It cannot be considered a coincidence that Carrick has returned from injury just over a month ago and the Red Devils have won 7 out of there last 8 goals looking considerably better at the back despite the lack of experience in the defensive areas. Carrick has been a quietly calming influence and has continued the form that has surrounded him for most of his career. Never one to set the world alight and claim all the headlines, Carrick has been hugely impressive wherever he has been asked to play. One stat that really sums up this is Carrick has a passing completion ratio of over 90% despite playing in a whole host of different positions.