Settling For The Second Best – The January Transfer Window

January is the time for intense transfer speculations and a chance to indulge in tactical transfers as against the splurges of summer transfer window. Gino de Blasio looks at it to see if it is really necessary.

January! It’s a time to reflect; to make promises you won’t or can’t keep. A time for change, supposedly. Yes, January has a way of making the mere mortal look at things differently.

Football is no different in this context. You see, the football season has two silly periods. The one in the summer, where anyone can be bought for the right price; where a club who doesn’t respect financial fair play can go and do what it wants; much to the detriment of the squad, club, coaches and fans alike.

Then there is the second period. January! Yes the January transfer window has become more recognized, more tactical, more important… kind of.

But when you break down the January transfer window, what are you actually paying for?

Ex-Milan striker Pato joins Brazilian club Corinthians

Here’s my issue with the January transfer window. Are you really in a position to be buying the player you wanted, or a stop gap measure until the end of the season?

If a club finds itself buying the player they wanted, then more likely than not there was a pre-contract. A negotiation months before the move ever happened. It probably depended on the results of the squad that they were purchasing the player from. It would ensure that all parties were getting what they wanted, and that, in some ways seems fair. In some ways…

Ba joins Chelsea from Newcastle United

Then there’s the second style of transfer – The stop gap measure. This is where a player who may be in form for one team gets slotted into another, and doesn’t seem to work out for a multitude of reasons. The player may have been excelling in an inferior squad, the player may not be used to the language of the teammates, the player may be struggling to settle down. Most importantly, the player may be playing a slightly different role which, changes everything.

In a lot of ways, the January window is almost like settling for second best. Most if not all managers will do re-structuring or complete overhauls in the summer. That makes sense. They will have a budget, they will free up spaces which means losing players which means extra money. It’s a logical system. But the January window isn’t really that kind of system.

Lucas Moura has been officially unveiled in Doha on Tuesday, following the completion of his €45 million transfer from São Paulo to Paris Saint-Germain

It’s not designed for mass squad overhauls; it’s not really a good fix for teams. It’s a system which keeps some teams happy, but not many. It feels like the January system is designed for twitter speculation at its best.

I say get rid of the window altogether.

Simplify the transfer system, players who are contracted for longer than three years can only move in the summer window. Those who are less than three years can put a request in whenever they want; this frees up the whole football system and adversely brings more stability to clubs rather than simply settling for second best.

Football Italia – The Way Ahead

Italians need to change their game plan. In his continuing analysis of Football Italia, Gino de Blasio shows the path ahead by listing ways in which they can begin to execute it

In my first piece I looked at what I saw as fundamental issues with the Italian game, or rather, “where Calcio’s getting it wrong.” I finished that piece with the promise of “where the Italian game can change and how it should be done, in my eyes.”

So here it is.

1) Stadiums

The current stadiums are fine for a World Cup; in fact they were indeed fine probably until the year 2000. But now, new stadiums have taken the mantle of the biggest, the best and the most technologically advanced.

The thought of having to rip apart the Meazza, or the San Paolo is tear-inducing. These are iconic bits of landscape that resonate with the local communities. However, they seriously need some looking at.

Giuseppe Meazza, San Siro

Take The Allianz or Wembley or even… well, something closer to home, Juventus Arena. They have something in common. Realistic Attendance Seating or RAS, as I like to call it. Put it this way. You open a coffee shop. You know that coffee shop can manage the demand over the year of 10,000 people, so why make it try and accommodate more than that?

It’s a business fallacy. If you can guarantee an 85% attendance rate every match, in a suitable sized arena – say a 40,000 seater with an average ticket price of €35 – that ensures a €1.19 million turnover per game. Yes, admittedly, you could achieve that with a 65% attendance for the same price in a 90,000 seater; however, that would mean attracting 58,500 attendees – that’s 24,000 more people.

And it’s not just an attendance calculation, there has to be a  focus on marshalling and policing as well. It has to be a way to better secure matches from the violent ultras, and embracing new technologies.

2) Keep the Ultras

Everyone talks about the Ultras. The thing is, when you spend time in an ultra curva, you realise that the biggest denominator is actually football. Yes, there are political affiliations with some, there also are elements to the intimidation; but you can’t just chastise a group of extremely loyal fans.

Napoli Ultras

What clubs need to do is better identify and understand the attitude and mentality of the ultra. Fight the problem from within than from outside; educate and address rather than throw into jail and point the finger.

The ultras gave the Italian game flare years ago, now they are more likely to throw them at an official. The issue needs to be looked at more carefully.

3) The grassroots are the grassroots

 

We need to drill home the importance of ‘grassroots football’ — how home-bred talent can develop and flourish within the league, and actually I think Italy is one of the better positioned nations right now to do this.

The clubs are financially struggling, and they will continue to do so without the mega oil-rich nations taking over. So they need a plan to generate interest, get better coaches, staff and equipment to analyse and focus on overall player development.

At the last Euro, we saw that the average age of the Italy squad had been reduced; we also saw the second week game of Milan introducing 10 Italian players – something which hadn’t happened since Arrigo Sacchi’s Milan of ‘87.

The game needs more accessibility. In southern Italy, where my family is from, ‘a kickaround in the street’, is still literally the street; needless to say I did get a reputation for smashing more than my fair share of car windows. So there needs to be a look at facilities and opportunities to develop football players and coaches at the same time.

4) Destroy the analysis

Italy has a massive problem. Everyone is a football manager,” said my old coach, Mr. Simone. He isn’t wrong. You will find people analysing the tactical and physical attributes of the game played. This, however, isn’t the real problem.

The real problem lies in the Sunday night analysis, by four major TV stations with guests etc. The over-analysis seeps into the early hours and everyone ends up reiterating what was already said the night before rather than what they saw, if indeed they saw anything to begin with.

Analysis should be left to the football managers and referees; I’m probably asking too much but I can always dream.

5) Open up to new ideas from ‘distant’ neighbours

Ok, by now you must be all wondering what I have been smoking.

I, in all conscience, believe that we can learn in football from other nations too. We can all see what we can do better and what we can avoid doing in the future.

I think these lessons can be learnt from the neighbours in Germany, who have club ownership ideas like no other; England, where TV revenues and sponsorship are masterfully done; Spain, where academies are flourishing with the best and brightest; Switzerland, in how it develops business practices, and the list could go on and on.

I think there needs to be a permanent committee in place which all clubs can approach and make use of each other’s know–how to drastically reduce risk to them and the fans.

Italian football fan

We neither want clubs closing down because of financial mismanagement, nor do we want any more security issues. We need fans to be interacting, supporting and supplying the enthusiasm within the stadium and when they leave, so a new generation can always grow with their team rather than fear its future.

So, those were just a few points, I have a thousand more but I think these first five are ones which need a little more attention now than the others.

The Nowhere Man

Carlos Tevez was the name on everyone’s lips for the entire January winter transfer window. Here Gino de Blasio takes the slide rule to the issue to find out what the hoopla is all about. Catch Gino on twitter @ginodb

All dressed up, nowhere to go

Remember high school? The social awkwardness, the struggle to make friends, the isolation that can encapsulate your dreams being burnt like a second year science class before a bunsen burner? Just like the ugly child who no one wants to take to the end of year dance, Carlos Tevez must have been feeling the same, come January 31st.

So how did one of football’s greatest talents get himself into the social exclusion award of the year category, and will he ever make it out in time for his career to fully shine?

Munich – 27th September 2011

Tevez Ignored Mancini

It was a cold autumn night and Manchester City were playing Bayern Munich in the Champions League group stage. Away from home and under the spotlight of Europe’s footballing elite, Carlos Tevez was going to commit a cardinal football sin – disobey the manager.

In a sideline dispute with City boss Roberto Mancini, Tevez refused to enter the pitch for a substitution prompting an expletive-charged tantrum for the world to see. The Tevez camp had later claimed that it was all due to some miscommunication – Tevez’s English speaking skills apparently to blame for the fiasco, however, that did not stand a chance. The cold Munich night lay witness to a calm Tevez while Mancini gesticulated wilder than any Italian since Nero saw Rome burning.

Tevez sat calmly as Mancini gesticulated wilder than any Italian since Nero saw Rome burning

Tevez didn’t get up. Mancini sat down.

The team talk, the flight home, the interviews with the press – all of these constitute modern day football, a tasteful reminder that not only the player has some explaining to do, but the coach too. But it was to be a sombre Mancini, a man who looked destroyed by the whole episode; the stress taking its toll on his verbal capacity to talk, he nonetheless exclaimed, “Tevez will never play for this club again”. To which a nonchalant Tevez expressed his desire to leave anyway as he is not happy to stay away from his family.

Like all great crimes since 1974, this became known as “Tevez-Gate”.

A two-week ban, loss of wages, exclusion from followed by forced inclusion into training. Carlitos needed a new home; Manchester City had made it as much clear.

And so Began the Rat Race…

Who was going to take in “the Apache”? More known for his petulance than a history teacher’s velvet elbow padding and more disliked by his manager than the school snitch, Tevez’s saving grace is that when he plays, you forget all of the above.

His work rate is exceptional, his physical diminutiveness compensated by the terrier-like aggression he uses to win and protect the ball; blessed with a hawk-esque vision he can pick out passes from all over the pitch. Any club would find a position for him, even if it meant selling their prized possession to have him.

A Tale of One City, Two Clubs

Italian sports daily Gazzetta dello Sport ran the story of how Tevez was a step away from Milan

Like an after-school detention featuring the misfortune of sitting and watching your teacher’s marks, Tevez was totally powerless. It was to be the red and black half of Milan to make the first move, a proposition that would give Milan arguably the best attack in the world and bolster their domestic efforts by resting Zlatan Ibrahimovic for Champions League appearances. Milan agreed on personal terms with the player and the move seemed imminent, till City put the brakes on it by not allowing a free move on loan, preferring an outright sale.

When Milan failed on their first proposal to capture the Argentinian ace, it was set to start an inadvertent bidding war with local rivals Inter Milan. A move seen by many as one-upmanship due to the technical abilities which Tevez would bring, rather than the cure to the cold Inter had acquired; Tevez was a solution for Milan, not for Inter.

This was all taking place the week of the Milan derby; no longer was Tevez the ugly duckling, he was the one everyone wanted to take to the ball.

Cometh the Sacrificial Lamb

When Milan’s original proposal was rebuked by Manchester City, they knew the only thing that could win over the North West club was going to be an offer that they couldn’t turn their nose at. Adriano Galliani played out a move worthy of “hell hath no fury like a Brazilian scorned”. Using the media, and relations with the new Paris Saint-Germain coach (former Milan manager Carlo Ancelotti) and sporting director (former Milan scout and manager Leonardo), a series of open contacts were made to Milan regarding the sale of

Alexander Pato to PSG, a move that would bring in the capital required to purchase Tevez outright.

This seemed like the gamble of a century – selling the young, talented but injury-prone Brazilian for an older, temperamental and non-tested-in-Serie A Argentine. Add to that, Tevez hadn’t played since September – whatever form he was in, it wasn’t going to be match-ready.

Young, Injury-prone, Loyal, Promising or Mature, Proven, Disharmonious; which one to pick?

It wasn’t to be.

Pato’s sale was blocked at the last moment making Galliani come out of negotiations with Manchester City surrounding Tevez. So neither did Milan sell their star Brazilian nor did they buy the sidelined Argentinian. Nothing had changed, much to the dismay of the Twitter audiences around the globe proclaiming the sale of one, the purchase of another. Tevez was stranded. He was, yet again, the one the cool kids didn’t want in their group.

And Then…

There were flutters, both from PSG and Inter (again) but nothing concrete. The media circle that had encapsulated the story and run wild across Europe never came to fruition. Milan were without their preferred striker from the market (a last ditch effort to get Maxi Lopez from Catania did happen), Inter and PSG re-enforced and sold in different departments.

The sad truth is, however, Tevez only has himself to blame for the debacle. And who knows if time will teach him a lesson in player-manager protocol; he won’t be joining the diplomatic mission, that’s a certainty.

The Curious Case of Il Gioiello di Bari Vecchia[1]

Antonio Cassano has divided opinion like no other modern day Italian footballer. Gino de Blasio goes under the skin of the man to find what makes him tick and why we should pray to see ‘Peter Pan’ again

It was a historic moment. 1982 was a year calcio will never forget. It had taken 12 years for the Italian team to reach the World Cup final, and on July 11, Enzo Beardzot’s team, captained by the legendary Dino Zoff lifted the golden chalice after 44 years. A nation had been re-united under one footballing faith.

As providence would have it, 12 July 1982 was to be the start of another footballing beginning for Italy – the birth of Antonio Cassano.

Humble beginnings

“In school, I would get 2 out of 10 in every subject. A great result if you think about it, obtained through constant hard work. I have been held back six times, between primary and high school”

Born in Bari and raised by his mother, Cassano has proven to be a controversial figure of calcio. Fabio Capello used to call his tantrums and subsequent reactions “Cassanate” (literally translated as “doing a Cassano”); not as a modest term of endearment though.

He has played for his home town, Roma, Real Madrid, Sampdoria and now resides in the bosom of Milan. He has been surrounded by some of the greatest in the game, played with those who have achieved the highest of footballing honours; so why hasn’t the boy from Bari been more recognised?

.

.

The man with many shades

.

That match against Inter

It was a 30 yard pass, a pass which  an 18-year-old Cassano, in his debut season in 99-00 with Bari, saw and swooped on; the ball bounced; he controlled with the outside of his boot; it bobbled in front of him. Laurent Blanc cuts across, but to no avail, Antonio sweeps between two Inter defenders before taking aim and firing the shot home.

“If it wasn’t for that game against Inter I would have become a thief, or worse, either way, a delinquent. A lot of people that I know have become involved in that life. That game my talent shone, and it took me away from a future of potential s**t”

It would be fair to say, that match against Inter put Antonio squarely on the map of calcio. Being a prodigious talent from a humble background, the media frenzy it would cause and the subsequent future it would provide him, must now be a distant memory.

Roma calling

It would be with a move to Roma that Cassano would begin to make his name, and stake his claim of being one of the best talents in Europe. But it would be under the guidance of Fabio Capello, and friendship of Francesco Totti that Cassano would go through the highs and lows of top flight football.

With Totti, there would be a telepathic link between the two. When one moved into space, another would feed the ball, it would be some of the best attacking football that you could witness, although blighted by some performances that you wish you hadn’t seen.

But it was to be his relationship with Capello that would be the beginning of the end for his time at Roma. On more than one occasion, (approximately 20 times), he told him to f**k off. He missed training sessions and even incurred the wrath of club president, Rossella Sensi for reasons unknown.

And then there was Real Madrid…

“I used to play between market stalls, everyone wanted me in their team and I would bet 10, 15, 20 thousand lire on the team that I would play on. I wasn’t cocky, I wasn’t stupid: I wanted the money, I had to give myself the best odds.”

 His move away from the eternal city came as a shock to many, but a surprise to few. His temperament had gotten to the likes of Capello and other team mates including his closest friend Totti with apparent training ground bust-ups. His lack of conformity annoyed the echelons at the top. Real came calling and he succumbed, being the second ever Italian player to sign for them after former Roma teammate, Christian Panucci.

.

.

In his Real Attire

.

But his time was to be fraught with injury, poor performances and famously gaining weight leading to subsequent fines for every kilo over his established playing weight. And then Real appointed Fabio Capello, as their manager. He was yet to meet his old coach, and in an infamous youtube moment, Cassano was caught mimicking Capello, leading to the slippery path of exclusion, suspension and contract release…

Sampdoria, no really, he went to Sampdoria

Well, where else could he go? Cassano was derided by the press and his lack of playing time at the end of his Real Madrid days were detrimental to securing a top tier team; no offence Sampdoria fans.

His time though was to be fruitful. He quickly became a local legend. His displays of the Cassano of old was lauded by everyone, even if his temper at points got him carded and a shirt throwing incident landed him a five match ban. But his first year provided the highest point for Sampdoria since winning the scudetto in the early 90s, a return to European competition was awaited.

His second season was more of the same. Sterling performances with costriker Pazzini saw him produce some of his best displays, leading many to compare the partnership to that of Mancini and Vialli. Sampdoria finished fourth, a Champions League playoff followed, only to end in disappointment for the blucerchiati.

It was to be his third season that the good old Antonio showed the attitude that had left him out of the national team. Following a heated debate with the club president, Cassano had his contract terminated, and subsequently a sporting tribunal saw that Antonio couldn’t play until January 2011 when….Milan came calling.

Buongiorno[2]Milano!

“I was poor, I want to be precise, in my whole life I have not worked a single day. I don’t know how to do anything. Up to today I’ve spent 17 years being a scoundrel and spent 9 being a millionaire. I still have 8 years to balance up the books.”

Antonio moved from Sampdoria to Milan in the January transfer window of 2010, for a fee yet to be understood by NASA scientists! The complexity ensured Milan paid little, very little for the jewel of Bari, but it was a risk. Could he guarantee the talent without the tantrum? Could Milan manager Max Allegri and co. keep him away from straying?

It was to be the case. Cassano was instrumental in the second half for Milan in the 2011 season. Providing movement and goals at the front, he eased the burden on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Pato, linking brilliantly with anyone he played with. His talent was at the forefront, with Milan’s environment of highly decorated former players and staff, keeping him out of trouble.

A temporary set back

And so it was to be the start of a second season that “Fant’Antonio” was to begin displaying the best his abilities could provide. Recalled to the Italy squad under Cesare Prandelli, and providing a flux of assists for club and country, it seemed we were all being treated to the Cassano we knew he could always be.

But it was to be a return from an away match against Roma that saw the Italian football world stunned. Cassano suffered an ischemic-based stroke. His life momentarily threatened, his career was instantly put on the back burner, for club and ultimately country. Whilst the prognosis remains a minimum six month absence from the pitch, it has only recently emerged that Antonio was seen back in training with the Milan squad, only three months after prognosis.

“The football gods have decided that this is to be a temporary setback” said one Milan fan on twitter. But now, with the prospect of Cassano back on the pitch sooner rather than later, if football miracles can happen, please dear universe, let this be one of them.


[1] The Jewel of Old Bari – a nickname of Antonio Cassano

[2] Good Morning!

Attack Wins Games, Defence Wins Titles

The concept of sound defense winning titles is preached in almost every sport, from the junior game right up to the professional level and one which can help mould a style of football on the pitch. However, with the likes of Barcelona creating ‘a new breed of football’, can the foundations of defence over attack be applied in today’s game?
The principles of defending haven’t changed since the sport became what it is today, but what has changed is the game itself. The modern game is visibly quicker, more fatiguing (an average of 32% more games played now than 15 years ago) and some argue, more psychological. What this implies is that traditional tactics are changing, and with that, the type of players who fulfil various roles.
Is defending the sacred ground for winning championships? The statistics would have you believe they are. If you look at the last three years of clubs winning in their respective countries of England, Spain, Italy and France, you will note a ringing truth, fewer and fewer goals are being conceded.
So what’s the cause for this? If we were to look at the tactics, then the answer is not so simple. The traditional 4 – 4 – 2 required little to no attacking play from the centre backs. Attacking if any, from the back would come from corners, where a defender’s general height and strong heading ability would come into play. Movement was mainly lateral with only the wing backs bringing play forwards directly from the keeper.Today however, a defender has to be as versatile as a Swiss army knife. Comfortable with the ball at his feet, he needs athletic ability to bring the game forward, quickly and consistently from the keeper. Fullbacks are used more frequently providing runs, crosses and overlaps, and centre backs are no longer the nose bleeding sufferers if they venture past the 30 yard mark. Possessed with greater physical and technical ability they are makeshift playmakers on counter attacks.The partnership of the Milan centreback duo last season was a pleasure to watch. Both Alessandro Nesta and Thiago Silva contributed to this level of play. In the final Milan Derby last season, they played a high line to nullify the threats at ease and to launch easy counter attacks.
What about goalkeepers? They are after all the ‘extreme defender’. Gone are the days of ‘vanilla’ goalkeepers, now you have to be a ‘sweeper’ goalkeeper. Distribution is the key and releasing the ball quickly and accurately, both with hands and feet is even more important today than when the back pass rule was introduced. A good release and you allow the team to quickly build momentum, retain possession and expose space. A late or misplaced pass can come back to bite you. One may consider Víctor Valdés, Edwin Van der Sar or Iker Casillas as the best exponents of the quick pass.
To conclude, the modern game leaves gaping holes in defensive capacity rather than add to them.
The Bigger Picture
Defense doesn’t end or rather begin with the players nearest the keeper; if you analyse any match in the modern game, the defence begins in the middle of the park. If you don’t believe me, think of the space between midfield and defence, and ask yourself, why are midfielders more exposed to overloading defensive duties?
The modern approach to allow the full backs full freedom to go up and down the pitch as much as possible requires that you have at least one midfielder providing suitable cover that opens up when either central defender goes to cover the full back, effectively creating a fifth defender, but one that evens the playing field when faced with a counter attack.
So the conclusion is defending has become something of a united focus rather than a single tactical instrument in a match. The question then remains, ‘does a good defence really win you leagues?’
If we go back to my earlier example of all the teams in those 4 leagues, yes, they all had a low number of goals conceded, but they also had very high goals scored. So strikers, creative midfielders and yes, even defenders are earning their money in getting the goals to win the coveted titles at the end of the season.
But this is where the beauty of the modern game lies. No longer are talented defenders limited to clearing attacks. They are becoming responsible for them. They can dictate rhythm, pace and orchestrate movement throughout the game. The technically able can provide passes through the middle of the park. The physical defenders can provide further attacking options whilst possessing the ability to track back and stop play from building and the tactically minded ones can read the game from the back and implement changes.
So does defence win leagues? Yes, a disciplined defence can win you leagues, but by being better in attack….if that makes sense!

Gino de Blasio studiously analyses Italian and English football. He has recently become a qualified coach and talks tactics until the cows come home. You can follow him on twitter @ginodb