Roberto Baggio

Roberto Baggio
Il Divin Codino

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Talent Scout: Leon Goretzka

Leon Goretzka (Germany)
Club: Schalke 04
Position: Midfielder
Age: 18 (06.0.21995)
Previous club: VfL Buchum

Dubbed "the new Ballack" in certain German quarters, the teenage central midfielder is looking forward to continuing his education both on and off the pitch this season.

With just 12 months experience of second-tier football with Buchum under his belt, the rookie joined Ruhr rivals Schalke this summer after they activated a €2.75 million release clause in his contract and he will now look to combine a Bundesliga debut with the demands of his school-leaving exams next year.

On the radar of a host of bigger clubs - notably Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund - the youngster is as level-headed as he is unhurried.

"When such big clubs show an interest you have to be realistic," says Goretzka, who has been a key figure in German representative sides from under-16 and under-19 level. "I'm at a very early stage of my professional career, just a year in, and haven't played a single game in Bundesliga.
"A transfer to Real Madrid was not really worth considering."
"I weighed up all my options and decided Schalke was the club for me. This is the right place for the next step in my career.
"The quality of training will be higher, Schalke are an important club who are always in contention in the Bundesliga and play in Europe, and with Bochum and Gelsenkirchen quite close I can continue at my present school."

An exciting mix of vision, astute decision-making, confidence and maturity, he will initially find himself behind midfield pivots Jermaine Jones and Roman Neustädter in the Schalke pecking order, but his time will undoubtedly come.

"I've never seen a boy of his age with so much ability and desire.," says ex-Bochum director of sport Jens Todt. "He has a genuine shot at becoming one of the world's best.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Talent Scout: Álvaro Morata

Álvaro Morata (Spain)
Club: Real Madrid
Position: Forward
Age: 20 (23.10.1992)
Honours: 2013 Euro Under-21s, 2011 Euro Under-19s

Álvaro Morata, the top scorer for Spain as they won this summer's European Under-21 Championship in Israel, was the archetypal supersub. He scored four goals in five matches, leaving the bench for a spot of opportune end-of-game lock-picking to secure the points.

Whenever Julen Lopetegui's side needed the momentum to swing their way, the coach would turn swiftly to the Real Madrid frontman to help Spain retain their under-21 crown.

Top scorer with six goals when Spain won the Euro Under-19s in 2011, Morata was the essence of time and motion efficiency throughout Israel 2013.

In Spain's opener against Russia he headed home the only goal of the game less than 20 minutes after entering the fray. He then came off the bench against Germany and again scored the only goal of the game, securing all three points in the final four minutes. In the starting line-up for the last group game, versus Holland, he was on target once more in a 3-0 victory over Norway.

Because of his power in the air, his ability as an attacking pivot, good movement and sheer hunger for goals, Morata often has been compared to former Real Madrid and Spain centre-forward Fernando Morientes. But even more satisfying for the youngster are the clear similarities between his career and that of his boyhood hero: Madrid legend Raúl.

Both strikers passed through the Atlético Madrid academy, both made their Real Madrid senior debuts at Zaragoza's La Romareda stadium - Morata's La Liga bow coming back in December 2010 - and both have had the honour of being the top scorer at a European Under-21 final (Raúl finishing top of the competition's goal-grabbing charts in 1996).

Having joined Real from Getafe as a youth, in a perfect world he will become a fully fledged member of the club's first-team squad this season. To do so, he just has to hope that he does not suffer the perennial problems of all Bernabéu cantera (graduates): the big-name squeeze.

Monday, 5 August 2013

New Men, New Strategies

Managerial changes at the Premier League's top three clubs will make for a fascinating season.

In a world in which the rich are getting even richer and success seems increasingly the preserve of a select handful of clubs, this season's Premier League promises a rare openness, with the big three of Manchester City and Chelsea all changing manager. It is an instability that could just open the door for Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and, with a couple more signings, perhaps Liverpool.

For David Moyes, Manule Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho there are tactical issues to be addressed. And it says much for the globalised nature of the modern game that one whose approach seems most attuned to how his new side played last season in the one with no Premier League experience: Pellegrini. With Moyes, of course, the comparison isn't entirely fair, for it is not comparing like with like to look at how he played with Everton and imagine that approach mapped on to United. Moyes did wonders on a restricted budget at Goodison Park, and if his team's football was at times more rugged or more defensive than United fans would like even, at times, more than Everton fans were happy with- then the pragmatism was at least understandable in context.

Moyes played 4-4-2 or 4-4-1 (the difference between which is often in the eye of the beholder) in the vast majority of his games in charge of Everton. It's not a huge leap from that to the 4-2-3-1 United played most of last season-and in many games United played a 4-4-1-1/4-2-3-1 hybrid with Wayne Rooney advanced of the two wide creators.

At Everton, Moyes, was flexible enough that at times-admittedly, usually because of injury-he would play Tim Cahill as a false nine. His side often played quite narrow through the midfield, with Steven Pienaar tucked in on the left to allow Leighton Baines to overlap, with either Kevin Mirallas, Steven Naismith or, occasionally, Leon Osman on the right - all of them players who naturally drift infield.

At United, Moyes' wide options- Antonio Valencia, Nani, Ashley Young, Danny Welbeck and Shinji Kagawa - are all more inclined to stay high and wide, so that will require an adjustment on Moyes' part.

More significant than the shape, though, is the style. Only Newcastle United and Fulham played more long balls per game than the 64 that Everton recorded last season, while only Manchester City, Arsenal and Southampton played fewer than the 59 per game recorded by United. Everton come under pressure and have to clear their lines quickly more often than United, and their midfield is not as technically accomplished. But that is just another adjustment Moyes will have to make. And that, in a sense, is the problem of appointing a manager who has experience of the Premier League but not of working at a club that expects to win every game and whose fans demand that their side takes the initiative.

Pellegrini has the opposite problem. He has coached regularly in the Champions League- and achieved remarkable results with Villarreal and Málaga- but has no experience of the Premier League.  History is not exactly awash with 59-year-old who have moved into a new culture and prospered, but English football is less idiosyncratic now than it was, say, the 54-year-old Slovak coach Jozef Vengloš took over at Aston Villa for one miserable season in 1990.

Pellegrini takes charge of a well-balanced squad with a rare mix of physical and technical attributes that has undergone sensible remodelling over the summer. The arrival of Fernandinho should lessen the burden on Yaya Touré as the more progressive of the two midfield holders, while Jesús Navas offers pace and penetration wide. City chief executive Ferran Soriano had promised three or four big-name signings, insisting that the focus this term would be on making the squad better rather than bigger-an acknowledgement that the transfer dealing of last summer had the transfer dealing of last summer had been flawed. So far he was delivered on that, with centre-forward Álvaro Negredo the third signing, and Stevan Jovetić being lined up from Fiorentina.

There was much mockery of City's hierarchy for explaining that Roberto Mancini had been sacked because they wanted a more "holistic" approach, although it's hard to know why. It surely makes sense for every section of a club to be puling in the same direction, and the appointment of Pellegrini is part of that. At Málaga, his preferred system was a 4-2-3-1, while at Villarreal he tended to use a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 with two holding players. City's squad seems ideally suited to playing that way, with two of Gareth Barry, Touré, Javi Garcia, Fernandinho and Jack Rodwell sitting, and two of Samir Nasri, James Milner, David Silva and Navas wide.

Mourinho is unusual in offering both top-level Champions League and Premier League experience. Instead, the issue surrounding him, as so often at Chelsea where owner Roman Abramovich has consistently eschewed anything resembling a holistic or consistent policy, is that the players in the squad don't necessarily fit with his preferred style of play. The 4-2-3-1 shape the squad lends itself to is the same as the one he employed at Real Madrid - even if he did prefer a 4-3-3 in his previous stint at the club.

Interim boss Rafa Benítez did instil a certain discipline at Chelsea last season-in some ways transforming Eden Hazard into a player who tracked back-and Oscar is as a hard-working a central creator as there is, but this is still a squad made up primarily of neat, technical players rather than the more muscular figures Mourinho has traditionally preferred. Certainly if John Obi Mikel leaves, there is desperate need of an enforcer at the back of midfield.

And the really is the fascination of this season of the three arrivals on the benches of the big clubs, Pellegrini seems the new manager best suited to his squad, yet he is also the one least familiar with English football.