Five potential replacements for Mesut Ozil

666970024

Mesut Ozil’s future at Arsenal is just as unclear as fellow teammate Alexis Sanchez and manager Arsene Wenger. The German playmaker has been linked with moves to Turkey as well as a return to his homeland and even Manchester United have reportedly expressed and interest, which would bring with it a reunion with former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho.

 

Should Ozil leave Arsenal in the summer here are five potential replacements for the classy creator:

 640837872

5.

Mario Gotze

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Cost: £30m – £40m

Currently out injured with a metabolism problem, the scorer of the goal which crowned Germany world champions has many hallmarks of Ozil. Gotze is classy with a deft touch and the ability to spot passes which slice open opposition defences. Another hallmark he shares with his fellow German is his consistency – or lack of as it may be. Gotze failed to impress during his spell at Bayern Munich which lead to a reunion with Dortmund.

 

However, the German would offer almost a like for like replacement for Ozil. With the 24-year-old also keen to play in the Premier League he may well be wooed by Arsenal should they express and interest in the playmaker.

 648133794

4.

Ivan Rakitic

Club: Barcelona

Cost: £35m – £50m

The Croatian wizard made Barcelona tick in his early days at the Catalan giants but has since been wildly inconsistent and has fallen out of favour with Barca boss Luis Enrique. Rakitic offered a replacement for long-time metronome Xavi in the heart of the Barcelona midfield along with Andreas Iniesta. That alone speaks to how highly the former Sevilla man is rated.

 

Rakitic has been deployed in a deeper role in Spain but could easily push up the field and influence attacking play more. Arsenal is a club with many similarities to the Spanish powerhouses in terms of their style of play which would suit the Croat perfectly. His elusiveness in between the lines and vision often leaves defenders scrambling and attacking players licking their chops at the service he provides.

 

Rakitic may prove costly but with his pedigree at the top level he would almost certainly be worth the large outlay and with Arsenal making noises that they are ready to throw the kitchen sink at the Premier League next season they may be able to tempt the Barcelona midfielder to London.

 653583884

3.

Bernardo Silva

Club: Monaco

Cost: £55m – £75m

This guy is going to cost an awful lot. Silva is being courted by some of Europe’s biggest clubs and a bidding war could soon ensue.

 

With Leonardo Jardim’s side in vogue with young, exciting players strutting their stuff in both domestic and continental competition, Silva is just one of a handful of sort after players.

 

A classic number ten Silva has been highly praised by former Portugal great Deco, who believes the former Benfica product can be one of the world’s best. With the ability carve open a defence with his combination of exception dribbling and passing the young superstar is a difference maker for his current employers. If Manchester United, Real Madrid and other have their way he will soon be a difference maker for them, too.

 

The 22-year-old Portuguese playmaker has scored six goals to date as well as contributing seven assists this campaign as Monaco continue their charge towards the title.

 

Perhaps a wildcard for Arsenal with them no longer mentioned in the bracket of elite clubs when talking about Europe’s brightest youngsters going elsewhere. However, if they are willing to bid an extraordinary amount and pay the youngster extraordinary wages then they may just get their man.

 592316484

2.

Riyad Mahrez

Club: Leicester City

Cost: £35m – £48m

The Algerian made noises at the end of last season that he wanted to make the step up from The Foxes. However, then manager Claudio Ranieri convinced the playmaker to stay at least one more season to spur Leicester on their maiden Champions League campaign.

 

While the English champions have surprised many with their run to the quarter-finals of Europe’s elite club competition, their form in the league has been dismal – costing Ranieri his job. Mahrez has often looked disinterested during Leicester’s faltering title defence which could be cause for concern for any club interested in the Algerian’s services. However, much like Ozil, his ability should see perspective buyers overlook some of his inconsistencies.

 

At the start of the season Arsenal expressed an interest in the Algerian playmaker, as well as Barcelona, and it seemed to have turned his head. Should Mahrez leave the champions this summer he could well be a replacement for Ozil.

 

Mahrez is already acclimatised to the Premier League way of playing, technically gifted and with an eye for goal – as displayed during Leicester’s title run he may offer a slight upgrade over Ozil, who is often criticised for his lack of goals for Arsenal.

 

The 26-year-old has certainly see his stock drop from where it was this time last year. Leicester may not be able to command the same fee for the playmaker as they perhaps could have 12 months ago but would still get a handsome amount for their star player. Arsenal would probably be willing to pay the £45m it would take to acquire the Algerian.

 649218792

1.

Isco

Club: Real Madrid

Cost: £25m – £35m

 

The Real Madrid misfit looks set to leave the Spanish capital this summer with a number of potential suitors trailing the former Malaga midfielder. Falling behind Toni Kroos and Luka Modric in the pecking order for manager Zinadine Zidane the frustrated Isco is desperate for first team action.

 

Arsenal would offer the diminutive Spaniard a chance to start games with a void left by Ozil as well as experience the Premier League and – perhaps – be part of a rebuilding process at The Emirates should Arsene Wenger leave the Gunners in the summer, or even if he stays.

 

Isco was heavily linked to Manchester City in 2013 before being tempted to Madrid. Clearly the Spanish international is open to plying his trade in England.

 

Isco may have his inconsistencies but that could be put down to him not getting a run of games in the Madrid team. What is clear, is that when he is on his game he beautifully links defence to attack and can open pick the killer pass which results in a goal.

 

His style of play is very comparable of fellow Spaniard David Silva. If he could replicate anywhere near the standards Silva has set in England then he shall be very well received indeed by Arsenal fans.

 

Weight of pass in the modern game is often overlooked but Isco has the class and technique to perfectly pick out runners without them having the break stride before firing into the back of the net.

 

The price tag may start to rise with rumours circulating that even Barcelona are looking to prize Isco away from their bitter rivals. Arsenal are certainly in the mix, however. A tug-of-war for the 24-year-old’s signature is a likely outcome – in the past Arsenal have often fallen away when the bidding wars start. They did manage to outmuscle Liverpool for the signature of Alexis Sanchez however, so perhaps the Arsenal hierarchy are no longer afraid to go toe-to-toe with other clubs to get their man.

A historic night for Barcelona but PSG’s mental frailties rear their ugly head again

649713146

Sergi Roberto struck with virtually the last kick of the game sending Barcelona through to the last eight of the Champions League. Facing an impossible task of being 4-0 down to Paris Saint-Germain after the first leg and then facing a 5-3 deficit with just 28 minutes remaining Barca needed more than a miracle.

 

However, while the world will marvel at Barcelona’s three goals in the final seven minutes of the match, what should not be ignored is PSG’s mental frailties. It was on a plate for the French powerhouse and it seemed for all the world they would shatter their mental block with manager Unai Emery on the touchline. The former Sevilla manager was seen as the secret weapon to guiding PSG through the tie after going toe-to-toe with Barcelona many times when in charge in Seville.

 

However, it was not to be. Yet another cross examination will be carried out by PSG’s hierarchy on how this collection of extraordinary talented individuals cannot band together and dig in when they are required to.

 

The collapse against Luis Enrique’s side evoked memories of their 2014 capitulation against Chelsea in the quarter-finals. After winning the first leg commandingly 3-1, with Javier Pastore scoring in injury time to ‘all but put the tie beyond Chelsea’, the Parisians collapsed in London as Demba Ba netted an 87th minute strike to send Jose Mourinho’s side through on away goals.

 644794422

In 2013 Paris faced Barcelona in what would soon become a European rivalry. After Blaise Matuidi struck deep in injury time in the Parc des Princes to give PSG a fighting chance when heading back to the Nou Camp the French outfit then shrunk in the spotlight again. After taking the lead through Pastore the Catalans struck back through Pedro. The scoreline will forever read 1-1 and that Barca advance via the away goals rule but the reality paints a different picture, PSG were in control of the game – on a night when Lionel Messi was relegated to the bench, still recovering from a thigh injury. But when the chances came PSG could not take them and inevitably succumbed to Barcelona’s will.

 

This time the autopsy will take on a different manner. No team had ever come back from a 4-0 first leg deficit to emerge victorious in a Champions League tie. Trailing 3-0 it seemed Barca would at least take the game into extra time, and then the Nou Camp fell silent as Edinson Cavani expertly lashed his shot past Marc-Andre ter Stegan putting Paris Saint-Germain firmly back in control and only needing to resist for 28 more minutes with Barca requiring a trio of strikes to get through – even the most die-hard Catalan must have thought it was over. To go from 4-0 to 4-3 with an hour still to play is a collapse in its own right, but to then leave Messi and company needing another 3 goals after Cavani made it 3-1 on the night – and still lose- is a catastrophe like no other.

 

Emery’s stay in Paris may be a short one after domestic dominance is now being challenged with PSG chasing the pack, rather than setting the insurmountable pace, in Ligue 1 and being dumped out of Europe’s elite club competition in the most extraordinary fashion.

 

Perhaps such a failure felt inevitable, Barcelona have rarely felt like the team of five or six years ago, yet all week the players and their manager maintained unwavering faith: “If they can score four we can score six” remarked Enrique with Neymar adding “It is practically impossible. But we cannot give up.” Barca did not give up – in the week Luis Enrique told the press and his players he would be stepping down at the end of the season the miraculous turnaround felt like the players did it for their departing manager.

 

PSG by comparison felt like a 3-1 defeat would be job done, even 4-1 or 5-1. After all they had the all-important away goal and all that mattered was getting through the tie. After realising they were in a game after Messi’s penalty made it 3-0 on the night and had social media exploding with ‘they couldn’t, could they?’ PSG fell complacent – even conceited – after their star striker netted what should have been the final nail in Barcelona’s Champions League coffin.

 

The difference between the great and the very good were encapsulated in 185 pulsating minutes. Barcelona’s stars banned together as a true team refusing to give in – for PSG the questions once again musts be asked of leadership, selflessness and gut. It truly was a night of history for both teams, and for polarising reasons, one they shall both never forget.

 

Weekly roundup

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

Victories for Anthony Joshua, claiming the IBF world heavyweight championship, and Danny Willett at the Masters, being the first Englishman to win the title in 20 years, capped off an excellent week of sport. Here is your weekly roundup.

 

Tuesday saw the return of the Champions League as Barcelona came from behind to beat 10-man Atletico 2-1. Fernando Torres gave them the lead before getting himself sent off for two bookable offences. Luis Suarez then scored a brace to give Barca a slender advantage.

 

An Arturo Vidal header inside the opening two minutes was enough to see Bayern Munich beat Benfica 1-0 at the Allianz Arena in a game which saw soon to be Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola take charge of his 150th game as Bayern Munich manager.

 

On Wednesday Manchester City took on PSG in France in City’s first ever Champions League quarter-final. Joe Hart saved a Zlatan Ibrahimovic penalty as City claimed an impressive 2-2 draw at the Parc des Prince. Ibrahimovic would later get on the score sheet but not before Kevin De Bryune had opened the scoring for Manuel Pellegrini’s side. Adrien Rabiot gave the French champions the lead before Fernandinho struck in the 72nd minute to put Man City in a strong position to qualify.

 

519417568

during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final First Leg match between Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City at Parc des Princes on April 6, 2016 in Paris, France.

Elsewhere the shock of the round came when Wolfsburg defeated Real Madrid 2-0 in Germany. Two goals in the first half from Ricardo Rodriguez and Maxi Arnold were enough to take down Cristiano Ronaldo and company who came into the game fresh off the back of their El Clasico victory at the Nou Camp.

 

Catalans Dragons fired an emphatic warning to the rest of Super League on Thursday as they dominated Hull KR from the first whistle and cruised to a 40-0 win at the KC Lightstream Stadium. Catalans ran in seven tries with five different scorers, Jodie Broughton getting a brace.

 

In darts Phil Taylor became the man to beat as he collected four points to move three points clear at the top of the Betway Premier League. The Power played twice on the night first dismantling an out-of-sorts Gary Anderson 7-3 before resisting a late James Wade charge to beat ‘The Machine’ 7-4. Earlier in the night Wade was in focused form as he defeated Raymond van Barneveld 7-4. Robert Thornton made Michael van Gerwen sweat as he valiantly fought back from 5-1 down to go within one leg of snatching a point. Ultimately the ‘Green Machine’ kept his nerve to run out a 7-5 winner, his first victory in three weeks.

 

Hull FC added to the Huddersfield Giants’ misery on Friday as they defeated the Giants 37-20 at the KC Stadium. The game was finely poised at half time with Hull holding just a two point lead over Paul Anderson’s men, 18-16, before a second half flurry saw off Huddersfield – who are still at the foot of the Super League table.

 

Elsewhere St. Helens beat the Warrington Wolves, 22-25, in one of the games of the season at the Halliwell Jones Stadium. Saints had to resist a barnstorming comeback from the Wolves as they lead by 11 with just eight minutes left. However Warrington fought to the death with two tries in the last six minutes left Saints clinging on for victory.

 

Saturday saw Anthony Joshua crowned the IBF heavyweight champion as he stopped American ‘Prince Charles’ Martin in the second round. Joshua floored the champion twice in the second as he caught Martin with a thunderous right hand. Joshua came down to the ring in white robes paying tribute to his hero Muhammad Ali and now looks set for a date with Tyson Fury as their rivalry heats up.

 

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

xxxx during the xxxx at The O2 Arena on April 9, 2016 in London, England.

Saturday also saw Andy Carroll fire a hat-trick as West Ham came from 2-0 down to draw 3-3 with Arsenal. The Gunner’s faint title hopes were completely extinguished as they relied on a Laurent Koscienly header to rescue a point.

 

Newcastle’s survival hopes now hang by a thread as they lost 3-1 to Southampton. Crystal Palace finally halted their rotten run of form with a hard fought 1-0 victory over fellow strugglers Norwich City.

 

Bournemouth all but officially relegated Aston Villa as they beat the Villains 2-1 at Villa Park. Elsewhere Swansea beat Chelsea 1-0 as Gylfi Sigurdsson’s goal ended Guus Hiddink’s 15-game unbeaten run. Manchester City came from behind to defeat West Brom 2-1 in the evening kick off with Samir Nasri scoring the winner just after the hour mark. Meanwhile Watford and Everton shared the points in a 1-1 draw.

 

The weekend was capped off with Danny Willett becoming the first Englishman to win the Masters in 20 years. Willett capitalised on favourite Jordan Spieth’s meltdown on the 12th to claim his maiden major title at Augusta.

 

520337848

during the final round of the 2016 Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club on April 10, 2016 in Augusta, Georgia.

Sunday saw Leicester City move closer to an incredible title triumph as they downed Sunderland 2-0. Jamie Vardy scored a brace to end his seven match goal drought as The Foxes briefly moved 10 points clear.

 

Tottenham Hotspur then closed the gap back down to seven points as three goals in six minutes saw them complete a comfortable 3-0 victory over Manchester United and dent their top four hopes. Goals from Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld and Erik Lamela kept Spurs just in the title race.

 

Liverpool thrashed Stoke City 4-1 at Anfield to leapfrog their opponent into eighth place. Super sub Divock Origi scored twice after Alberto Moreno and Daniel Sturridge goals sandwiched a Bojan strike for the visitors.

 

If Spurs win the title Wenger must go.

515730242

during an ArsENAL press conference ahead of their UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg match against Barcelona at Camp Nou on March 15, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.

With the title race increasingly looking like a two horse race between Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspurs, Arsenal and Arsene Wenger yet again find themselves in turmoil at the business end of the season.

 

This was seen as Arsenal’s best chance to win the Premier League with Manchester United and Chelsea falling way behind the pack. What was not anticipated was the consistency of both Leicester’s and Spurs’ title charge further highlighting Arsenal’s shortcomings and putting Wenger’s position under even more intense scrutiny.

 

Wenger is staring another trophyless season down the barrel. Expected to be officially dumped out of the Champions League on Wednesday by Barcelona and suffering a shocking home defeat to Watford in the last eight of the F.A. Cup. Arsenal are expected to resume their ways of scrapping for the final Champions League spot for next season. What would compound his misery is if Claudio Ranieri and his Leicester team manage to do the impossible. What would be truly devastating would be if White Hart Lane is the destination of the Premier League crown. Mauricio Pochettino’s men currently sit five points off the summit of the table but eight games left there are sure to be plenty of twists and turns ahead.

 

Spurs have been irresistible at times during this campaign with budding superstars sprouting in every position: Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Danny Rose, Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen to name just a smattering of the supremely talented squad. Pochettino in many ways is different to Arsene Wenger but what he has done is mount a serious title challenge by: blooding young English players, played attacking football, competing on multiple fronts, signing the right players and playing some beautiful stuff on the deck. These are all traits synonymous with Wenger and his title winning sides of the previous decade.

 

Should Spurs complete their mission to become champions they will have done it with an old Arsenal model. While Wenger stands defiantly in the face of his shortcomings and defends his team for their underperformance Spurs have pushed along full speed ahead with no sign of excuses to be seen.

 

While Arsenal have consistency frustrated in the past four years the notion has always been “they’re just one or two players away”. For many years they have been seen as the only realistic North London team to mount a serious title challenge. However now even their crown of being the best team in North London has been taken from them and should Spurs win the league it will could be the final nail in the coffin for Arsenal fan’s patience with Wenger.

 

When Petr Cech came in for a bargain at £10m – early on in the summer window too it’s worth adding, the consensus was that Wenger, along with the rest of the Arsenal board were really going for it and would bring in one or two impact players. Unfortunately their conservative nature in the window surfaced it’s head again and now entering the final eight games the same problems still arise: they need a top class forward. Olivier Giroud scored his only goal since January in a 4-0 F.A. Cup replay win over Hull and a holding midfielder should have been recruited in the summer as opposed to January.

 

Wenger has also been guilty of keeping players at Arsenal who simply are not good enough to fulfil the squad needed to compete on all fronts. Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini, Tomas Rosicky and up until the summer Wojciech Szczesny have all been allowed to stay with the squad and have been tasked with playing some big roles in big games. Pochettino has not been afraid of selling players who could be classed as a liability in favour of more stable contributors.

 

However, in light of extraordinary developments in Harry Kane, Alli, Dier and to an extent Ryan Mason. What is more gut wrenching for Wenger has been his inability to do the same with the likes of Theo Walcott, who looks to have hit his celling as a player, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who is following an eerily similar path to his England team mate.

508017056

during the Barclays Premier League match between Norwich City and Tottenham Hotspur at Carrow Road on February 2, 2016 in Norwich, England.

 

Although Spurs have always played attractive football the knock on them was that they fade towards the end of the season and have to settled for fifth or sixth position – no chance of that happening this term as Pochettino’s clever management of his squad has seen them boldly maintain their assault on the Premier League.

 

Back to back F.A. Cup victories have afforded Wenger more patience from the fans that the Gunners are returning to the glory years of 1998 and 2004 but yet again they have been exposed to lacklustre performances and confidence issues heading into the final third of the season.

 

Fans, pundits and ex-players now feel it is time for the Frenchman to gracefully step aside and usher in a new era at The Emirates Stadium. Wenger, since the day he arrived at Arsenal, has always stressed that winning is important but winning with style is everything. To win and give the fans a show is the ultimate goal of the once revolutionary manager and his philosophy is being exhibited perfectly – but in the white strip of Tottenham. Perhaps the ultimate insult.

 

Although the rush for big reputation managers such as Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Carlo Ancelotti has passed there are still names out there who could step into the big shoes that Wenger would undoubtedly leave. Wenger would still have a big market – in the past Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have made no secrets of their admiration for the Arsenal boss and with Zinadine Zidane’s future at Madrid still not clear a manager of Wenger calibre would appeal to a club obsessed with big names.

 

Perhaps this Wenger-Arsenal marriage has finally run its course and all that is left is the very uneasy divorce procedure. Fans want him out now but their anger will surely intensify should they see their neighbours picking up the biggest domestic prize around while the Gunners are left with nightmares of what could have been.

 

Time to refesh the City cycle.

143605714

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

Sir Alex Ferguson once remarked that football worked in cycles – this coming after he saw his Manchester United side thoroughly outclassed 3-1 by Barcelona in the 2011 Champions League final.

 

Back then one Pep Guardiola side was reaching its peak, and still continues to dominate today, while the current Bayern Munich manager’s future side is starting to slip away from theirs and the time has now come for a change and to say goodbye to some club legends and refresh the cycle. Manchester City’s seasons has stuttered and faltered more and more as this campaign has gone on. Although many still have them as favourites it’s clear that the squad needs more than just tweaking.

 

With Guardiola’s arrival imminent the timing seems perfect for City to usher in a new era and go from domestic contenders to European powerhouses. The Manchester City owners look to be slowly starting to look towards the new superstars of the club with the addition of Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bryune but Guardiola and the City hierarchy will have big decisions to make regarding the Yaya Toure, David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and captain Vincent Kompany – the backbone of Manchester City’s title winning teams. Forget Sergio Aguero – he is going nowhere.

 

Kompany and Zabaleta have been at the club the longest as they came to Manchester during the 2008/09 transfer window and are the only survivors from the Mark Hughes reign which kick started the City revolution. Kompany has become more of a liability in recent years and have left City looking shaky at the back. The same theory always surfaces that when fit he solidifies their back line, but that “when fit” status is becoming few and far between. Now at the age of 29 and with his history of calf and hamstring injuries his best days may be behind him but he could still turn a very healthy profit in the transfer market. The days of a true captain’s, performance such as the one he turned in when he scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Manchester United in a highly charged derby in the middle of a full throttle title race, are becoming more faded as the weeks go by. Kompany could still play a role for City but with his injury problems it would be more squad players less mainstay in the sky blue back line.

Zabaleta by contrast does not suffer from the same injury problems that his club captain does but father time is catching up to the Argentine defender. Full backs over 30-years-old are not favoured with their pace on the decline and inability to get up and down the pitch, attacking and defending, with the same exuberance they once did. Zabaleta possesses one of the best deliveries from the right hand side in the Premier League and has bombed back and forth giving the left hand sides of the opposition nightmares with his whippet like stamina and bulldog like tenacity. The Argentinean can still do just that but at a much slower rate and with the league seemingly getting quicker in the wide areas by the year there can be no room for slow full backs.

 

Both Kompany and Zabaleta have been great servants to the club but with high class young defenders now making their mark in world football: Raphael Varane, Aymelic Laporte and John Stones to name a few the time may be right to let the pair go. Of course Guardiola may choose to keep a few to help him translate his message to the rest of the squad. However, Guardiola has shown a ruthlessness to remove players who are a shadow of their former selves – just as he did with Bastian Schweinsteiger after he claimed the German World Cup winner could no longer stay fit enough. A new era in the blue half of Manchester looms.

 

The most interesting and perhaps most explosive decision will be made over Toure. Guardiola and the powerful Ivorian have a chequered past, their clash of personalities was sighted as one of the main reasons he swapped the Nou Camp for The Etihad Stadium in the summer of 2010. Toure has been unstoppable in City’s two title winning seasons but since their last triumph in 2014 Toure has been more responsible for costing his side points rather than earning them. Take another look at last week’s defeat to Tottenham, it was the former Barcelona man that lost possession and then left a gaping hole for Erik Lamela to run into – teeing up the winner from Christian Eriksen. Toure has cut a picture of frustration and absolute awe in his six years in England, when he wants to he can rip a team apart with ease and on his best day looks every bit as good as Patrick Vieira did when in his prime at Arsenal. Now at 32 the rangy Ivorian’s best days may be behind him and the City chiefs could look to move him along while they can still get a respectable transfer fee for him. Guradiola may look to offload his former player as soon as possible to avoid possible friction – it’s well documented that the Bayern boss does not deal well with confrontation – Paul Pogba could fill the mould of Toure in both physical size and skill set.

 

186795104

Generated by IJG JPEG Library

One wildcard in the whole matter is David Silva – another member of the 2010 transfer class to come to Manchester City. Silva is so often the catalyst to get Aguero and company rolling but his style of play may not exactly fit that of his soon to be manager. The Spanish wizard looks every bit as capable of adapting to the new regime that will come in summer but his ability to tire coupled with Guradiola’s demand that his teams press relentlessly may seem his playing time slide considerably. Silva has floated his way between the lines of Premier League defences for six years and in the process has floated his way into the heart of every City – and general football fan’s – hearts. A true bargain in 2010 at £24m, when compared to 24-year-old number 10’s go for in the current climate it really is a snip. Although just 30-years-old Pep may look to bring in a younger more energetic playmaker who close down as well as play the defence splitting pass.

 

The former Barcelona boss may not sell any of the true spine of the City team and other outgoings are very likely with fringe players likely to be sold to fund moves for some of Europe’s elite. The new evolution of Manchester City is on the horizon and it seems more likely than ever that some of their players, who have made themselves City and Premier League legends, may have to move away and pass the torch to the new wave of Citizens.

 

Lonely at the Top

15925949

A few years ago I was given a book for Christmas. Recently I reread the book in the season of festive memories. Long gone are the days of remote control fire trucks and shiny new bikes. The book was not the latest in technology or what would have been on many children’s letters to Santa. However, it was a door into a world of one of the most iconic footballers in my lifetime – possibly ever; it was a portal in which I could get lost in a world of wonder, memories and understanding. The book I refer to is Arsenal & France legend, Thierry Henry’s biography “Lonely at the Top.” Written by French journalist and a close personal friend of Thierry’s, Philippe Auclair the book is a moving account of how Henry was indeed, lonely at the top.

 

The book is about a lot more than football. Thierry Henry was his own prisoner and warden it would seem at times, what we consider footballing genius he would consider little over adequate. It is a story of how a flawed genius was found very lonely at the pinnacle of football immortality. A tale of how one man who gave pleasure to so many others and made the beautiful game truly beautiful was tormented by his quest for perfection in all aspects of football.

 

He is a man who has never been completely at satisfied with himself or his performance on the pitch and even now off . The man who I, and millions of others, watched destroy defences week in week out was merely just a one part of his complex DNA. Henry has faced many controversies during his illustrious career and at times in the book I questioned my affection for the Arsenal great. In fact what the book did do is enhance my love for one of football’s most feared strikers for over a decade, starting as most (auto) biographies do there are many detailed accounts of Thierry’s childhood. You get the sense that Henry’s quest for perfection and being his own biggest critique came from his father, Tony, who pushed Henry relentlessly to do better. More than that he believed he always knew what was best for Thierry, as a lot of fathers do of course. His father made life very difficult for Thierry when his football career was little more than fleeting, he would shout at coaches. He also acted as Henry’s agent with his bulldog style aggression and one particular chapter of the book involving a proposed transfer it highlights how his father, with all the good intentions in the world, only made Thierry’s career harder to mould.

 

Throughout the detailed account of Henry’s life, especially in England, you get the sense that he was a gentleman, a man who made time for others, even the English press. One specific entry is after an Arsenal match he stops in the pouring rain to conduct an interview with journalists, he brings with him an umbrella to shelter himself and a few of the press and cracks light jokes as they all prepare to record and take notes. In today’s game I look at very few players and think they would conduct themselves in such a manner. Not only that but the image of Henry compared to that of many footballer’s is one that scream class rather than this “swag” that has got the fashion market jumping. You often see football players dressed in all manner of whacky clothing and their attitude reflects their dress sense, questionable. However Henry’s attitude and dress sense went hand in hand, class and sophistication all the way, Auclair writes with sniper like precision on not only Henry’s attitude on the pitch but his class, grace and humbleness off it.

gun__1239184979_henry_realmadrid

 

Auclair paints a picture in the middle chapters of the book, when Henry’s Arsenal career was coming to an end, that the French marksman’s aura was in danger of becoming tainted, his body language painted a picture of a lonely man, a man who was no longer interested in football, I get images of a man who looked like he had fallen out of love with the game. Many emotions are painted in the book from Henry’s standpoint as a leader, a man, a team mate and an icon. As captain he was never one to point and scream and shout, he was more within himself, focusing on what he needs to do better, rather than what the team needs to do better. Selfish that may sound but Henry the perfectionist had no time for Henry the leader.

 

Philippe gets the best out of his French connections and recalls Henry’s tales with the national side with such analysis and poise that reading it I almost believed I was a fly on the wall. Henry had to constantly fight it seems to be in the national side, as a younger man his competition was Nicolas Anelka, a player whom many believed had just as much, if not more ability, than his French teammate did. As Henry developed and became one of the more experienced heads of the national side he constantly battled with out of control head coaches, a governing body (FFF- French Football Federation) in disarray not to mention a whole nation of angry Irishmen and women all lusting for his blood after a fateful world cup playoff game in which Henry cut a very remote figure after the final whistle blew. Henry always seemed to stand alone, in his days at Monaco he was seen as a prodigy, yet the powers that be never saw him as the answer to their problem. During his days at Juventus the young French winger (Arsene Wenger converted Henry into a striker) was often isolated on the pitch in terms of being marked and isolated off it as he was feeling homesick.

 

The final chapter in the book is one of pure beauty, this I will admit to sending shivers up my spine as a fan of Henry, football and Arsenal. It recalls The King’s return to Arsenal on loan over five years after his last appearance in a Gunners shirt. The stage was the F.A. Cup 3rd round against a tough Leeds United side. With the game at 0-0 the Emirates Stadium erupted when number 12 came on, sure his pace was not as electric and he was sporting a beard, a far cry from his usual clean cut look. But it was still Henry, the book creates artistry within the closing pages, so much so that I had to watch Henry’s comeback goal in that game just to drink in the sheer joy that a once isolated, perfectionist never felt. Being such a phenomenal player Thierry Henry, unintentionally, almost became a victim of his own success. Suddenly everything he did was magnified and there was no hiding place for a man who was once considered the best forward, even the best player, in the world. Arsenal beat Leeds 1-0 in Henry’s return. His celebration was one that you will seldom see him do again, he simply ran, like a child would sprint downstairs on Christmas morning, towards Arsene Wenger, he was embraced by everybody. He beat his chest, beating the Arsenal crest with pride and passion but above all else, with joy. The euphoria was visible to see for everybody, he was no longer seeking perfection, Henry was just seeking pleasure and enjoyment and that he received. For the first time in his career Thierry Henry was not a footballer, he was simply an excited fan who felt acceptance, joy and pride.