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Hello,

People who like to keep eye on this site have probably noticed that it has been a while since the last update,  despite the fact that I promised to do Javi Martinez and Ander Herrera reports.

I have watched the players, I have my opinion on them, but sadly I don’t have time to write it down. And current developments indicate that I still won’t have time in future to do that or to check new players.

Why? I go to university which takes a fair bit of my time, but last month I also started my work as part-time foreign football editor for Soccernet.ee and very soon I will hopefully start work for a agency named GT Scouting and consulting s.r.o. And on top of that I am going to have 3-4 training sessions per week as well as a game in my own amateur football career.

I might occasionally still use this blog to voice certain opinions of mine and I will remain active over Twitter, mostly ready to discuss about Italian football.

For me this site has been a success because my mission with it was to get work in the footballing circles as a scout/consultant. I hope to continue my footballing education and maybe in 10 years time I’ve helped some talented Estonian player get their big break and/or possibly moved on to some other position in football.

Thank you for reading,

Tanel Tursk.

 
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Posted by on April 8, 2012 in News Articles, Uncategorized

 

Iker Muniain of Athletic Bilbao and Spain

Iker Muniain - only 19 and already playing third full season as a starter. Picture taken from Goal.com

Iker Muniain is the jewel of Athletic Bilbao. Despite being just 19 years old he has been starting for the club since 2009, making the current season his third as a vital part of the team.

Muniain’s talent has many admirers, but the boy from Osasuna hasn’t rushed away from the Athletic Bilbao and probably will not do so in very close future, even if it would be fair to say no club in the world would say “no” if you asked them “would you take Muniain?”.

The diminutive forward could potentially cover any role in the front three as well as the position of an attacking midfielder. He’s yet another one of Spain’s technically superb talents who also has a really good mentality.

Report on Iker Muniain

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Iker Muniain Goñi
Date of Birth: 19.12.1992 (age 19)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 169 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish senior, U21, U20, U19 and U17 teams

Playing Information:

Main Position: Left Forward
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain / Spain U21 – 49 games, 9 goals, 8 assists, 10 yellow cards, 3940 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 / Spain U19 – 50 games, 5 goals, 3 assists, 7 yellow cards, 3288 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U17 – 41 games, 6 goals, 3 assists, 3 yellow cards, 1680 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (WhoScored.com):

1. 26 passes (81% success rate); 1 long ball (accurate: 1); 2 crosses (accurate: 0); 1 through ball (accurate: 1); 1 shot taken (accurate: 0); 2 successful dribbles; fouled 4 times; 4 tackles; 2 interceptions; 0 fouls
2. No detailed statistics
3. 19 passes (79% success rate); 0 long balls; 0 crosses; 2 through balls (accurate: 1); 2 shots taken (accurate: 1); 0 successful dribbles; fouled 1 time; 1 tackle; 0 interceptions; 4 fouls

Picture taken from Footballfancast.com

Analysis of Muniain’s Performances:

Iker was one of the main clogs in the Athletic Bilbao attack in all those games I saw and he was a constant menace to all the defenders marking him.

He showed great technical skills, awareness, commitment and determination, but obviously he is far from the finished article and could still struggle in a different environment, as his low-key performance against his home-town club Osasuna showed.

Overall he scored one goal in those games, it came against Manchester United. He used his pace to burst into box as United’s Rafael thought he had all the time in the world to get to a rebound from a David de Gea save. The finish itself was nothing difficult or precise, Muniain simply smashed the rolling ball under the crossbar.

Tactically he showed a tendancy to drift inside as the full-back came up from his side (left).

Leaves defenders biting dust

Muniain’s tiny size is a blessing to him, it allows him to be incredibly hard to mark as he has a low centre of balance, he is light and can accelerate as well as change direction at speeds which are unreachable for defenders.

His running style is very intense and he takes a lot of tiny steps when sprinting. I don’t remember him being outsprinted once, even against Ashley Young he managed to be a worthy competitor. Running at high speeds obviously requires him to have a good ball control and that is something which he has developed into near perfection over the years.

One of the most remarkable things about him is that he requires almost no room to turn around, he could turn 180 degrees with a blink of the eye while staying in the same place and his brilliant touch would make sure that the ball stays perfectly in front of him.

He doesn’t rely only on his speed and touch to be a threat – hard work also plays its part. He has very good stamina plus great amounts of grit and determination. He was looking to get at the end of rebounds and get behind the opponent line. He also had no problems getting back to near his penalty area and then back up again without taking a rest for even a second.

Although… tactically, for example blocking opponent passing paths, he could do better and potentially preserve some energy.

This stamina is clear when you see the amount of games he has played already this season (over 50). You’d think he feels a bit tired, but that is not the case.

He did show tiny signs of tiring in later stages of league games however as in the later minutes he lost a yard of pace and that allowed defenders to get more physical with him and then things become quite difficult for Muniain. But it is hard to demand a player to be at his sharpest for full 90 minutes of the match.

This is a pseudo-problem if he improves technically and tactically.

Could he be forced to make mistakes?

I was impressed with the quick thinking and vision of Muniain as he rarely lost the ball and always had an eye on what was happening on the pitch. He doesn’t do “panic passes” to no-where in hope that it finds a team mate. He rarely seems to get himself into such situations, he knows what to do before he gets the ball.

He tries tricky things like dummies, chips, backheels, outside of the foot passes and some difficult to execute through balls but pretty much all of the times, when he made a decision in favor of the audacious, it was a right one to make and showed his good vision rather than a need to show of his skills.

To finish the analysis part on a usual note of criticism, I’d have to start off with his end product which is maybe not as top quality as the other parts of his game. I think he could score more, against Manchester United he had many chances and although you could say David De Gea made some great saves, I’d say that the very best of the world wouldn’t have given De Gea a chance to save. Muniain needs to be more calm with his finishes.

But that is not the biggest issue. I wonder if La Liga managers have noticed that Muniain only dribbles with his right foot. I saw very minimal amount of touches with left foot – only one I actually remember was a blocked cross.

He always keeps the ball on his right foot and this could make him very inefficient against an intelligent defender who knows how to close the angle for him to cut inside from the left flank. Things could become even more difficult should some teams decide to double him up.

He wouldn’t be the last very good player who excessively uses only one foot, but it still makes him vulnerable and slightly easier to force into errors.

What level do I think he is:

I think he is good enough to go with Spain to the European Championship. I guess the best player to compare him to at this moment is Dortmund’s forward Mario Götze. I don’t see very much difference in terms of quality, although I’d lean towards choosing Götze for being more of a finished product.

Muniain would be an asset for any club. A starter for the very best teams? Not sure yet, because the game against Osasuna seemed to hint that he could turn to be less efficient against teams that give away little space.

What level could he reach:

He is definitely one of the better youngsters in the world of football at the moment and has potential to become one of the best in the world.

Quality of the superhuman Leo Messi might be too much to hope for, but a notch below, definitely.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 10/10

I think what I said before is sufficient for this rating so I don’t need to repeat myself. He is already playing above 10 million euro player level and will most probably grow to become worth a lot more. Besides, as young player, he wouldn’t command a huge wage at this moment and he could offer a lot of years.

 
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Posted by on March 16, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Mikel San José of Athletic Bilbao and Spain U23

22-year old Mikel San José is showing signs of becoming a good international quality defender. Picture taken from zimbio.com

Athletic Bilbao players are improving fast under the guidance of Marcelo Bielsa and amongst those getting play time in the side of Bielsa is a young centre-back named Mikel San José.

22-year old who was born in Pamplona was part of Bilbao’s academy at young age, but spent 3 years of his career in the youth and reserve teams of Liverpool before moving back to his old club.

Since 2009 he has been a starter for Bilbao and he has had a good season so far and he is attracting the interest of some top teams of Europe.

Report on Mikel San José

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Mikel San José Domínguez
Date of Birth: 30.05.1989 (age 22)
Nationality: Spanish
Height: 186 cm
Current Club: Athletic Bilbao (contracted until 30.06.2015)
National Team: Played in Spanish U23, U21 and U19 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Central defender
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U23 – 29 games, 3 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards, 1833 minutes played
2010/2011: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 38 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 10 yellow cards, 1 red card, 3230 minutes played
2009/2010: Athletic Bilbao / Spain U21 – 32 games, 3 goals, 1 own goal, 1 assist, 10 yellow cards, 2658 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Athletic Bilbao – Real Sociedad 2:0 (Liga BBVA, 04.03.2012)
2. Manchester United – Athletic Bilbao 2:3 (Europa League, 08.03.2012)
3. Osasuna – Athletic Bilbao 2:1 (Liga BBVA, 11.03.2012)

Key Individual Match Statistics (WhoScored.com):

1. 45 passes (73% success rate); 5 long balls (accurate: 1); 1 tackle; 2 interceptions; 6 clearances (effective: 2); 1 shot blocked; 1 foul (1 yellow card); 1 shot taken (on target: 1); dispossessed 1 time
2. No detailed statistics
3. 42 passes (63% success rate); 6 long balls (accurate: 2); 3 tackles; 4 interceptions; 9 clearances (effective: 3); 0 shots blocked; 0 fouls; 1 shot taken (on target: 0); dispossessed 2 times

San José is strong in the air, but bit slow against the faster forwards.

Analysis of San José’s Performances:

San José is a player who seems to have good understanding of his shortcomings. Bielsa’s high energy tactics require a lot from his defenders and San Jose will be well prepared to play at high pace if he should go to a big team.

He was decent in the games I watched him in, but he was still a distance off the best defenders in European football. He doesn’t mess up, but he doesn’t have the ability to completely nullify players either – or to put it simply, he doesn’t do anything special.

Strong in the air, struggles on the ground

San José is a strong defender with a good physical presence in the box, I don’t remember him getting beaten even once in the air, although in fairness, there weren’t too many real challengers either. Osasuna’s two goals were from headers and San José was thereabout when Raul Garcia scored the 2:0 goal, but it was rather the mistake of another player defending against Garcia.

On the negative side, he is not the fastest of player. He can just about keep up with the faster forwards running with the ball, but sometimes he is forced to make a tiny pull or use his strength a bit excessively in order to slow down opponent. But to praise him, he does get close enough to do that, he does it in safe areas with no big recuperations and it is better that he gives away the little foul rather than let the player go.

His statistics also seem to indicate that he has gotten more intelligent with his fouling over the past years with his yellow card amount on the course for a slight decrease this season.

He doesn’t slide into tackles too often and prefers to stand tall, not rush into winning the ball. This I feel to be  useful in most situations. He was poor in the case of Manchester United’s first goal against Athletic Bilbao where he did slid into a challenge on the edge of the area and failed to get the ball away from Ryan Giggs, who passed it to Javier Hernandez, whose shot was saved, before Wayne Rooney tapped in.

When he is forced to defend one on one, he is often side-stepped or burned for pace if he doesn’t stand very far off the player. But standing far off is a problem, it allows opponent a lot of time to make a pass and at times also opens up an angle for a shot, this is something which happened against Osasuna for example, when he allowed one curling shot from the edge of the area which went just a bit wide.

His reading and positioning skills are solid for his age and with more experience, he should become even more intelligent to make up for his speed issues. He doesn’t get caught out of position and he has the awareness of what to do – for example he managed to force opponents to non-dangerous areas when defending during counter-attacks.

Comfortable on the ball

One sign of a Bielsa trained defender is that San José does try to pass the ball out of defence and doesn’t smash it forward. He is very calm on the ball.

In the latest games his passing success ratio has been quite poor, but over the course of the season it has been a bit better. Still, I could see he’s not entirely comfortable when passing and sometimes he takes poor quality efforts which tend to bobble and are not easy for a team-mate to control. His long balls and clearances are often aimless and far from precise.

Finishing with his technical assessment, his running on the ball seemed a bit awkward and uncomfortable. Once he tries to break forward the ball tends to get stuck under his feet or goes half a yard too far in front of him, forcing him to make an unprecise pass or putting the ball out.

What level do I think he is:

He is a good defender, I like him and I think he does the minimum of what you expect from a defender of a team challenging for a Champions League spot.

And when you consider he’ll only turn 23 in the end of May, then you’d have to say he could even be considered to be amongst the better young defenders in Europe.

With most top teams have aging defenders or quite erratic youngsters, he could be quite a useful addition.

What level do I think he could reach:

I imagine that he’ll improve quite rapidly and could have a real break-through season within next couple of years, depending on where he is playing.

His speed is not that big a problem because he seems to be an intelligent defender who might learn how to get around this problem by using his strength and becoming better at reading opponents.

Young defender like him needs to be in a team that can offer a calm working environment with no instant pressure. At this moment Athletic Bilbao can offer it and if they get to Champions League for next season, he should definitely look to stay there.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 5/10

A good rating for a young defender. He is not a 10 million euro defender just yet, but will probably become one worth more. Could even give him a 6/10 rating, but with defenders the risk is always quite big and depends a lot on the manager I’d have in charge of the team I’m buying him into.

I think he’d fit well into Premier League for example if he was to move in from Athletic, but I see him doing well in other top leagues outside of Spain too, once the language barrier has been overcome.

 
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Posted by on March 12, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Athletic Bilbao week

Hello, with a long wait time for the readers, I am pleased to announce that next week I’m planning to do reports on 4 Athletic Bilbao players. Iker Muniain, Mikel San Jose, Javi Martinez and Ander Herrera will all be up for assessment. Not sure in which order they’ll be posted.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

Shinji Kagawa of Borussia Dortmund and Japan

Shinji Kagawa's contract runs out in 2013. Picture taken from Recklinghaeuser-zeitung.de

Japanese football has really come alive over the last 5 or so years. What once was a country that produced an occasional top league player has seen Keisuke Honda, Shinji Kagawa, Yuto Nagatomo and many others become very well-known names within the footballing circles since 2010.

It is Kagawa who is the cream of the crop, a player who signed with Borussia Dortmund in 2010 as a virtual nobody for European football fans. In Japan he was known, having played for the national team already by that time. He took no time to win over the Borussia Dortmund faithful and soon whole footballing world followed.

His debut season was wonderful, but he is showing this season that he can take his game even further. His form in 2012 has been nothing short of fantastic and he has really been able to step up when Dortmund needed him during Mario Götze’s injury.

Kagawa who’ll turn 23 next month, is someone who most top clubs in Europe have their eye on and his situation at the moment is a bit complicated. He has announced that he wants to extend his deal lasting until 2013, but considering the fact that there is just a little more than a year remaining of his contract, Dortmund will have to take into account the possibility that some big team could make Kagawa change his mind and he might move in the summer.

Report on Shinji Kagawa

Personal Information (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

Name: Shinji Kagawa
Date of Birth: 17.03.1989 (age 22)
Nationality: Japanese
Height: 172 cm
Current Club: Borussia Dortmund (contracted until 30.06.2013)
National Team: Played in Japanese senior, U23, U20 and U17 teams

Playing Information:

Position: Attacking midfielder / Wide forward
Preferred Foot: Right

Statistics For Last 3 Seasons (according to transfermarkt.co.uk):

2011/2012: Borussia Dormtund / Japan – 35 games, 14 goals, 9 assists, 2711 minutes played
2010/2011: Borussia Dortmund / Japan – 37 games, 15 goals, 5 assists, 3 yellow cards, 2835 minutes played
2009/2010: Cerezo Osaka / Japan – 15 games, 7 goals, 1 assist, 1 yellow card, 1120 minutes played

Games Watched To Make The Report:

1. Borussia Dortmund – Hoffenheim 3:1 (Bundesliga, 28.01.2012)
2. Nürnberg – Borussia Dortmund 0:2 (Bundesliga, 03.02.2012)
3. Borussia Dortmund – Bayer Leverkusen (Bundesliga, 11.02.2012)

Picture taken from sbnation.com

Analysis of Kagawa’s Performances:

2012 has been a great year for Kagawa and so were the three games I watched him play in. He started all those games as a central attacking midfielder behind Robert Lewandowski.

He seems to have a relative amount of freedom in the Jürgen Klopp team as he sometimes exchanges positions with Lewandowski even while at times also dropping deeper than the two central midfielders behind him. He also drifts freely from one side of the pitch to another.

He scored three goals in those games, including a double against Hoffenheim. His impressive performances made him the man of the match in my eyes in all of those games where he was clearly the most talented player on show.

Messi-esque dribbler

Kagawa is small player and this gives him an advantage when it comes to balance and he uses his this very well.

His dribbling and movement is very similar to Argentine superstar Leo Messi who he has also be compared with. He has shrugged off those comparisons himself, but they are not far off. He needs to show far more consistency, but in a single game he is very capable of being almost unplayable.

He is able to shrug off a lot of challenges, the ball sticks to his feet, he has a fast turn and his acceleration is superb, all those things apply even in the later stages of the game when you’d forgive him for being a bit tired.

It was this acceleration and brilliant close control that played a part in his goals. For his first goal against Hoffenheim, he left one defender for dead with a few steps in the box and for the goal against Leverkusen, he got the ball 25-30 yards from goal, sprinted past one defender and then stopped suddenly in the box to take out another defender before finishing with left foot.

Opponent defenders simply could not handle his acceleration as he constantly left them chasing shadows with or without the ball. He was always looking to get free and find as much free space as possible. His determination and work-rate also seems to confirm the stereotypes about hard-working and disciplined Japanese once again.

Coming back to physical side, the small stature does create a few problems. When he loses his concentration, he sometimes lets the defenders closer than he should and then he is weak against the incoming challenge. Playing in a league where defenders go through the back more often than in Germany could require some adapting time.

Another thing on the negative side is that he should challenge opponents with the ball more often. At times it is better that he chooses to stand off and look to block the passing opportunity, but there are moments when you’d want him to challenge for the ball and get closer to the opponent. He is fast enough to nick the ball away from an opponent if the opponent miscontrols the ball even slightly.

Good passing and vision

Kagawa is also an intelligent player. While he does an occasional dribble, he only does it when he has calculated the situation. You don’t really see him trying to get through a wall of 3 players, in such a situation he calmly tries to find a way to pass the ball to someone, even if it means going back.

There were at least two occasions in the box where he had a ball in a reasonable shooting position but with lot of opponents ahead of him. Many players would have blocked their brain from receiving any new information and tried to get the shot away, but he calmly understood what was going around him and rather than trying to squeeze the ball through the tiniest crack in the wall of players ahead, he passed the ball to a completely free player who opponents had forgotten about as they all chased down Kagawa.

His passing is top quality, especially quick short passing. He is also capable of seeing and executing the more difficult passes. He played a few incredibly well-executed through balls that split the opponent defence and were also perfect for the players chasing them down as they could take the ball in their stride.

Kagawa is capable of playing with both his feet, but when dribbling he tends to use his right foot quite excessively. For his size, he also has good heading technique. He might not jump very high, but he is not afraid to play with his head, giving precise flick-on’s or heading down the ball perfectly for a team-mate.

Kagawa’s constant movement and determination to get rid of defenders sees him get a lot of chances in the box and luckily for Dortmund, he is also a good shooter. He doesn’t have a rifle on his right, let alone left foot, but he gets his shots on target and doesn’t snatch at them.

What level do I think he is:

I think Kagawa is a top class player who, in this time with top teams lacking quality, could walk into starting line-up of all teams expect the two Spanish giants. But even in there he wouldn’t look out-of-place.

He could become more prolific and time will show whether his brilliant series of games since last December is good form or is this now the standard of Shinji Kagawa.

What level do I think he could reach:

There is not room for improvement for Kagawa in terms of future, but time will show how he reacts to new challenges and if he keeps up this performance level.

He has potential to be the player to build a top team around and will be interesting to see whether he will stay in Dortmund or go to some richer side outside of Germany (or Bayern).

I see in him a player who could score as many as 30 goals per season from attacking midfield position behind a lone striker like he is now at Dortmund. Or even better, he could play the so-called “fake number 9″ role.

If I had to pay 10 million euros rating: 10/10

Kagawa is a young player with brilliant ability and technique. And on top of all that, he is the best player from a country with a very passionate and big market.

If he leaves Dortmund, whoever signs him and keeps him for a long period will reap the financial benefits even when he has been gone. And who knows, maybe with the growing number of quality Japanese players, that club could look to sign another Japanese starter to cement their place as number one club in the Japanese market.

Here is a player who is as good as the likes of Eden Hazard or any other young player the big teams of Europe are chasing, he is potentially cheaper (although more than 10 million euros surely) and his marketability is far bigger.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2012 in Big Reports

 

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Deconstruct and reconstruct – what Inter should do

Before signing anyone, Inter needs to look at who he doesn't need in its starting line-up or in its squad.

Inter’s Jenga game has led the faults of the team to show faster than expected and a project of deconstruction is needed before reconstruction.

After losing by three goals to Bologna at home, Inter has possibly managed to swoop even lower than many thought to be possible. Seven wins in a row under Claudio Ranieri seems like a distant memory and what at one point looked like a possible Scudetto challenge has now turned out to fall apart so dramatically that Inter has got little to no chance of making next year’s Champions League.

Losses to Lecce, Roma, Novara and Bologna as well as drawing to Palermo 4:4 at home, have led to dissatisfaction within the Inter fans and almost all of the disappointed has deservedly been vented at the management, more specifically towards Massimo Moratti and to lesser extent, the technical director Marco Branca, the former player, who has gotten a bit of a reputation within the Nerazzurri faithful for literally going on holiday during the middle of the summer market period.

Inter’s mishaps have been caused by years of mismanagement that has led the club to a situation of being forced to play Jenga game. Take out Samuel Eto’o and the tower is starting to shake, take out Thiago Motta and the tower collapsed.

You could excuse Inter management for selling them, I would’ve done the same in their situation – the offer for Eto’o was in all honesty too good to refuse and Motta was begging to leave. As addition, in case of Motta, Inter bought an interesting replacement in Fredy Guarin, but this is where the praise ends.

Already when speaking of Guarin, I don’t think he is actually capable of filling Motta’s shoes, rather he is someone who would be a good partner for a player just like Motta.

Football is not a Jenga game which you should play until the tower collapses and then start over, in football you can get new pieces which you don’t have to put on top of the tower but rather into the empty spaces below. You don’t necessarily need to put them into the place where you took out Eto’o or Motta. You need to put them into places which make the tower stronger. Inter has failed to sign anyone over last two years that makes the core of the team stronger, rather they’ve been adding new pieces on top of the tower, further destabilising their tower.

The game of Inter has been missing the two because they and Sneijder were the only class players who want to inject and are capable of injecting pace into Inter’s game, they want to go forward and not wait around. Something the current side can be described with is lack of urgency – in last games they have always been almost walking pace with passing, movement, taking throw-ins and so on. That is until they’ve managed to fall behind after a defensive mistake. Only after that do they start to push hard, but by that time it is too late as the opponent has parked the bus and Inter’s attacks looks toothless, with the only hope being that Sneijder can pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Inter needs to deconstruct

Now, casting aside the Jenga-tower analogies to explain the management of the squad and moving to practical matters regarding the future. What stands ahead for Inter is a period of reconstruction, but before that, the current team needs to be deconstructed to its very core. All sentimentality must be cast aside except for players like Javier Zanetti, Esteban Cambiasso and Diego Milito, who could be given a role in the squad for their past achievements and their importance to the team as whole, but under no circumstances a guaranteed place in the starting line-up.

When we look at the goalkeeping position then one feels that this is the position where there is no need to panic with Julio Cesar not really to blame for the crisis. He still has to ask from himself: “Am I doing everything possible to command the defence ahead of me?” Besides him, Inter still has 50% of Emiliano Viviano and promising goalkeeper Francesco Bardi is currently playing on loan in Serie B.

Now moving on to defence and the frailties start. Maicon is the player who has gotten off with the least blame in comparison to what he deserves in this crisis. His contribution to the team this season has been very minimal and seems to be the example of bad ageing. These days, all he has to offer to the team are his crosses – in attack he struggles to get past anyone and this powerful running was a big part of his playing style. Also when I’d say his decision-making and passing has been poor, I’d be being generous. And on top of all that, he struggles to get back to defence. He is a player that can be sold for decent money while getting rid of a good chunk of wage.

In central defence the old heads of Lucio and Walter Samuel have also began to show the old legs and without the Argentine, the defence falls apart completely. Together, those two are reasonable but they need a lot of help and cover from the midfield and take one of them out, replace with someone else, and it is a disaster.

Speaking of the young players, the project of Andrea Ranocchia seems to be heading towards disaster and the stories about new signing Juan Jesus are ones about a tactically very incomplete defender. Judging by how Inter’s coaching staff has failed to improve Ranocchia, it is a claim that causes worry for those hoping that Juan will become a very good defender. From other potential central defenders, both Cristian Chivu and Ivan Cordoba will leave in the summer.

At left-back Yuto Nagatomo is a player who offers a lot in attack and a lot of heart in defence, but with him, the defence looks even less solid because it seems as if he still lacks intelligence in defence and possibly physicality too.

In midfield things are very complicated. Assuming Inter wants to play with 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 in the future (because it is the preferred formation in modern football), there are some doubts whether there is anyone in this team who is currently capable of playing the role of a pure central midfielder or defensive midfielder at high level.

I doubt january signing Angelo Palombo will be signed on a permanent basis and Dejan Stankovic will be leaving too. That leaves Joel Obi, Esteban Cambiasso, Andrea Poli, Javier Zanetti and Fredy Guarin. Joel Obi is clearly not capable of playing at this level for now as for me he is a good example of a player running around and having no idea about what he is doing.  He needed to be loaned out during the January window.

Cambiasso is not capable of providing both offensive and defensive contribution at the same time and he is not the best passer of the ball. Javier Zanetti is simply not a midfielder and although he always plays a reasonable game, he should be kept away from midfield as he is far too reserved and cautious for that role. The duo started also against Bologna and they clearly offer a little threat in terms of attack from midfield and while trying to attack, they leave spaces they are uncapable of covering in defence.

On the positive side for the Nerazzurri, Andrea Poli has been one of the only bright spots in this time of crisis for Inter and Fredy Guarin is yet to show himself. Inter might let one of those leave after the loan deal expires in summer, but sending Poli away looks unlikely and Guarin will probably be good enough too.

When looking higher into midfield, Wesley Sneijder is still a class player and Riccardo Alvarez has a lot of talent.

Attack is a big problem. There is no player really capable of playing on the wide forward position and this is a huge problem for any team trying to play decent football unless you have a someone like Zlatan Ibrahimovic upfront and a midfield capable of covering a lot of ground.

When looking at this season’s arrivals then I’d start with Diego Forlan whose first season has been ruined by injuries. Should a good offer arrive, Inter should let him go as signing him was a mystery for me in the first place, although I expected him to stay fit and be better when playing. Mauro Zarate will certain leave once his loan deal is over after showing incapability of improving his poor decision-making and tactical discipline.

Talking about the younger players, sending Coutinho out on loan to Espanyol was a very bad move in short-term as he is one of the few with tool-kit to play wide, Luc Castaignos is a very talented forward whose going to fit very well into a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation (only as the central forward) and young Davide Faraoni, who used to be a defender, is showing promise out wide.

Of the two older central forwards, Diego Milito looks to have discovered his form and age effect on the physical side of his game is not that important, therefore he should be capable of carrying this attack as striker for one or maybe even two more seasons. However Giampaolo Pazzini is someone who is very ill-equipped to start in a big team – his role should be that of an impact sub, the guy you throw on as extra striker when you need a goal or when you have the opponent pushed into their box. All around, his stamina is poor, he is quite slow, not very impressive technically and lacking vision as well as passing ability.

And before starting with reconstructing the squad, it is quite clear that in summer Claudio Ranieri will (have to) leave unless he produces a miracle in the Champions League or in Serie A. Even with all the problems caused by the management, he has once again ended up showing that he lacks something to really control a big team. It is inexcusable for him to lose to the likes of Lecce, Novara and Bologna in space of one month even with the handicapped squad he has, even more so after he himself had shown that those players can win.

The reconstruction phase – manager

The four or five names that should be in the heads of Inter management for the role of the manager are Jose Mourinho, Pep Guardiola, Andre Villas-Boas, Francesco Guidolin and Fabio Capello. Minus Guidolin, it is not even guaranteed that any of those targets are available or would want to come, but it is possible that at least one of the three formerly mentioned guys would be open to the challenge in summer. A very brilliant option would be Cesare Prandelli, but barring an incredible flop by Italy in the Euro 2012, he will not be available.

The obvious preference of Moratti and Inter fans would be getting back Mourinho if there was any chance of it, but from the five above, it is Guardiola who could be the best option because this team needs more than the injection of life Mourinho could offer, it needs to build a team that will not collapse should it manager leave and that is not expecting to win every trophy it hunts in the first season. Pep has shown in Barcelona that he is a smart manager who is open to new ideas and capable of embedding young players. It is clear that he is also hungry to prove himself outside of Barca and Inter would be a perfect test of his ability if they can offer him the support in the market, the interest of both parties to reach a union in the future is also something that has figured in the European media for a couple of years now. However he is still considering a contract extension from Barca.

The options of Mourinho and Guardiola would probably be the best, but not necessarily because of their ability but because they are one of the few managers who’d get free hands in making changes within the team. Other managers shouldn’t have such restraints, but the reality of how Inter works is like that.

Of others, Villas-Boas is familiar with the surroundings at Inter and the players and is probably the most likely of all the five options because as things stand, Chelsea might very well cast him aside in the summer even if Roman Abramovich has supported him. His struggle during the first season in Premier League is something Inter has to take into account, but Inter would be a slightly different project and building more from the ground up and with less initial expectations than Chelsea. The issues within the squad are much more clearer to the directors and even more so to the fans, because of that Inter’s management cannot expect people to look the other way just by hiring a top class manager.

The idea of Guidolin hasn’t been tossed around much, but when studying his CV, there are a couple of bumps along the road as you’d expect from a well-travelled manager, but overall picture is very good and in Udinese he has shown great capability to fit his squad to the players he has, changing his style if necessary and creating a compact unit without requiring much time. He is someone who definitely deserves a chance at a big team eventually.

Option of Capello is something that Moratti has wanted for years and he is another one whose opinion would be taken into consideration at similar level to the one of Guardiola and Mourinho. And on top of that, he is brilliant at getting the results in the league. On other side of the coin, there would probably be some second thoughts from Inter management when actually putting a team together for him as expecting Capello to stay for the long run is very optimistic.

The reconstruction phase – players

To reconstruct the team, Moratti will once again be forced to find a way to invest his own money into club, but the fact, that the club cannot buy without going into red, is a caused by the lazy financial management of the team and Moratti will have to face the consequences of his own lack of action in the past or choose the way of club backing down from the big game for at least a few years in hope of building a side through the academy and raw talents.

When you looking at the current side, only Julio Cesar, Wesley Sneijder and Diego Milito of the best starting line up are the one’s who I’d consider as starting material for next season. That pretty much says that the current back-bone of the team is very fragile. Javier Zanetti could still play, but he should be a left-back or a right-back and there needs to be a manager with the balls to bench him if there are better options. Then there are the likes of Lucio, Walter Samuel and Esteban Cambiasso who still have something to offer if the new coach manages to create a solid unit, but they need to be very heavily assessed.

The likes of Andrea Poli and Fredy Guarin could be tried together in midfield at some point this season and also both should get a chance to play alongside Cambiasso in a midfield duo with Cambiasso as a pure defensive midfielder to see how he does and how the defence behind them does.

The young defenders like Andrea Ranocchia and Juan cannot be managed like every other squad member, the coaches need to make an extra effort to prepare and improve those players, most importantly their intelligence on the football pitch. Something Mauro Tassotti does with defenders in Milan very well. Same can be said about Yuto Nagatomo defensive abilities, because currently the tactical instability his inclusion creates almost outweighs what he offers in attack.

The young attacking players like Davide Faraoni, Coutinho, Riccardo Alvarez and Luc Castaignos should be a part of the team but not integral parts of it for now. Maybe someone like Mourinho could also turn the very raw potential of Joel Obi into something useful. In youth team there is the attacking midfield talent of Daniel Bessa that definitely needs to be looked into and Giampaolo Pazzini is a decent substitute to have.

When counting all those outfield players together, there are two full-backs, four central defenders, three central midfielders plus Obi, five attacking midfielders/wide players and three centre forwards. It has to be noted of course that Maicon will probably stay and Diego Forlan too, but overall, the situation of what Inter needs does not change. They offer extra options in already covered areas where we can improve with or without them.

Full-back situation: There is a need for a starting quality full-back with the best possible immediate impact solution being a pair of Javier Zanetti and a new, good right-back or left-back. There has been talk of Aleksandar Kolarov and Mauricio Isla, but the later has also shown to be great in central midfield this season. The option of Isla is something that has interested Inter for a long time and having him replace Maicon in starting line-up would be a good move. I would bring in Isla and use Javier Zanetti as left-back while assessing how Yuto Nagatomo improves in defensive department before going in for a left-back.

Centre-back situation: A player who could start at top-level is probably needed, but the difficult part is finding one that fits with who we have in this team. Someone with intelligence, physical presence and no non-sense type of defending is needed, someone similar to Andrea Barzagli, who has become an important cog in the Juventus team this season.

Central midfield situation: The pairing of Poli and Guarin is interesting, but in my opinion the midfield would benefit most from someone who can replace Motta’s passing ability and who can get the ball moving forward quickly. It wouldn’t hurt the Inter management to see if Nuri Sahin is available for a decent price in the summer as he is clearly struggling to get playing time in Real Madrid. The other option is to get a player who has great work-rate, physical abilities and who offers good defensive intelligence with decent passing ability (someone in the style of Yaya Toure) and pair him up with a similar player.

Attacking situation: The attacking midfield position is set with Wesley Sneijder, should he stay. There are also Riccardo Alvarez, Daniel Bessa and Coutinho who have the talent to become great playmakers but need guidance, patience and time. Coutinho can also offer an option out wide and so could Bessa. The striker position is also set, especially when Diego Forlan stays.

But there is still need for players capable of playing out wide and this is where another long time target Ezequiel Lavezzi is almost the perfect man for the job. Lucas Moura could also be brought in for the other side for not necessarily immediate impact. But whatever is done a payer of proven quality like Lavezzi is a must.

One other player who could be brought in (back) is Goran Pandev who in fairness is a good supporting player. If you expect him to carry the team then you are in for a bad surprise, but when is the second or third act in a counter-attacking team, his work-rate and running ability, paired with tactical discipline and reasonable technical side, makes him a good asset whose contribution might not be very obvious but it’s still there. His second season in Inter was not easy, but he is playing well again in Napoli. However, it does look likely that Napoli will buy him on permanent basis, or at least they should if they have the option.

Inter must accept that in order to build a team with a long future and a team which can be succesful already during next season, they might be forced to find a way to spend roughly 20 million euros on defence, another 10 to 15 in midfield and 25 to 50 million in attack to get in one top class wide forward and maybe a dazzling, more unpredictable young talent with potential for becoming the commercial face and fan magnet of Inter.

Bit of that spending could be recouped by sales and also by cutting the wages and being reasonable in wages being handed out but on another note, Poli and Guarin also need to be bought outright.

Is Moratti willing to splash out the amount close to 100 million euros in the summer? I guess he already knows the answer in his head, but for wider public, it is unknown. The summer ahead will be decisive for Inter, while I’m sure there are cheaper options and ways out there to do the necessary rebuild, I am also not so sure if Inter’s management and Moratti can afford to think outside the box at the moment. Unlike in the past, the fans have grown used to winning and they are unlikely to be patient when Inter is in a similar situation again next season.

For last two years, Inter has brought in players who don’t come with big reputation, now it is time for them to bring in players who will come in with the goal of them being starters from the off and for a period of 4-5 years. Only this way will the managers of the team stop preferring the senators of Inter just based on what they have done in the past.

And whoever arrives, individual quality alone will never be enough, the manager needs to knit them together into a good unit. Therefore it is necessary that Inter no longer waits until the last-minute to make half of its deals but rather knows already by the end of the season who he wants to get and who will leave.

 
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Posted by on February 18, 2012 in Other Articles

 

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Zeman’s crazy football is pushing Pescara towards Serie A

I wrote this for FootballSpeak.com

Zdenek Zeman is one of the better known managers of Italian football and after some years away from the Italian game, he returned in 2010/2011 season to manage his former club Foggia for a spell with mixed fortunes. But it is this season in Pescara where he is having an impact on the Italian game again.

His Pescara side is playing the style of football typical to a Zeman team, exhausting and all-attacking. They have scored 55 goals in 25 league games, this is 14 more than the Reggina side who has scored second most goals. This has enabled Pescara to go on top of the table despite the fact that with ultra-attacking football, the defence is leaking goals left and right (36 conceded so far).

Ciro Immobile is the star of the side. Picture taken from fantamania.blogosfere.it

Ciro Immobile is the star of the side. Picture taken from fantamania.blogosfere.it

I have seen them play on four occasions this season and during the first time their extravagant attacking style failed big-time as Torino managed to be tighter in defence than other Serie B teams and also use the defensive fragility of Pescara to win the game 4:2. In other games they managed to win and do it quite comfortably.

Whether they can keep their top spot and continue to out-score their opponents is a big question, but while having Zeman back in Serie A would be fabulous, one has to wonder how would the Pescara team look like after the summer transfer market.

Why? Because even more exciting than their attacking are some of the young players who enable for them to play in this way effectively. There are four under 21-year old players who have gotten a lot of attention while being a big part of Zeman’s side.

Two of that quartet played with Zeman already in Serie C1 in the Foggia side last season. One is 21-year old central midfielder Moussa Kone and the other 20-year old Lorenzo Insigne, a young wide player who is owned by Napoli.

It is possible that Insigne will no longer be loaned out by Napoli next season as he has had an impressive spell with Pescara, setting up many goals and also scoring 9 himself.

Insigne is of similar size to Parma’s atomic ant Sebastian Giovinco and the playing style is quite similar too. The difference is that Insigne is more of a dribbler and more comfortable out wide. But I am of belief that Insigne would struggle to make an impact in Serie A right now. Technically he is very talented, but his decision-making is not good and he has the tendency to dribble into trouble. He likes to cut inside, but it is annoying to see him try to go past 3-4 players who have closed down all the space for him to move into. And he also tries risky, unnecessary passes which are often not very well executed.

Sometimes he can dribble past many players and make a pass that would make Xavi proud, but he is exactly the player who looks world-class on YouTube but a huge downgrade from that in real life. But don’t get me wrong, he does have the potential to go places.

Another big talent in the side is Marco Verratti, this 19-year old central midfielder has played in Pescara for a long time and the Zeman-era has had both positive and negative effects on him.

He is a similar player to Fiorentina’s Riccardo Montolivo in terms of style. He is the buffer between Pescara’s defence and attack. He picks the ball from deep and his small stature enables him to change direction quick to get the ball to team-mates in good attacking positions.

His passing range and ability is good with his trademark being a chip over the top of defence. On other hand, sometimes his vision and decisions betray the age. He also struggles with the first touch on occasions.

The problems of being in a Zeman are apparent in the defensive side of his game which might not be improving fast enough. His contribution in defence is small and is often so comitted to attacking that he cannot get back to help his defence while his position should require it. As addition to lack of tactical discipline, he is also lacks a cold head when defending.

There have been rumors linking him to several clubs, including Roma. Serie A is probably waiting for him next season, but which club remains a question. I think he needs one or two years in the relegation fighting/lower mid-table level before he is ready for a more ambitious club. But then again, Roma wouldn’t be such a bad option with their Barca project, should they renew their interest in him. After all, he is one of the better young central midfielders of Italy.

The guy who is stealing all the headlines is named Ciro Immobile. The striker who is owned by Genoa and Juventus, has been a true breakthrough star this season.

He scored just 2 goals in Serie B last season and his chances at Juventus first team didn’t produce much, but under Zeman he has become a the best striker in Serie B despite being just 21 years old.

The surname of Immobile does not do him much justice as it is almost opposite to his qualities as a player. He is hard-working and sharp, causing menance within opponent ranks for whole 90 minutes.

He is very similar in style to Diego Milito, another player who scored a lot of goals in Serie B in one season where he was in Genoa. And he might enjoy a similar rise to fame too as it is probable that he will play for Genoa in Serie A next season, same club from which Milito earned his big move to Inter in 2009. Immobile has the potential to reach those levels.

He has shown incredible versatility as a striker. He has scored with either feet and head. He can get the shot away from a bundle of players in the penalty area, he often gets himself in positions to score tap-ins, he gets behind opponent defence, outsprints the defenders and scores the one on one and he is also being capable of hitting the ball well from long-range.

He has 17 goals to his name in 22 matches and looks like he could be knocking on Cesare Prandelli’s door already for the 2014 World Cup.

He has his flaws he needs to fix. Most importantly, his passing ability is not on the same level with the better strikers of the Serie A. On positive note, the signs are there that he’ll improve in that department. He is already half way there as he is linking up very well with his team-mates. If you want to know more about him, read my scouting report here.

The Pescara side looks as if it has had a great impact on Italian football already. The attacking players in that side are gaining confidence and quality very fast and it very likely that players like Insigne, Immobile and Verratti could all become part of the Italy squad within next 5-6 years. Just have to hope they will be taken care off better than the 80’s generation of Italian players have been.

If the Pescara side gets promoted, the likes of Verratti and Kone will remain and possibly Insigne’s loan will be extended, but it is hard to see Pescara keeping Immobile in the squad beyond this season. Should they not get promoted, it is still likely that we’ll see the bigger talents of the squad in Serie A next season.

For now, it is enjoying to see them play in Serie B too and hopefully none of those players get thrown into the deep part of the pool too soon.

 
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Posted by on February 2, 2012 in Other Articles, Uncategorized

 
 
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