venerdì 15 luglio 2011

Swiss Super League 2011/12 Season Preview

At the recent UEFA Under-21 Championship in Denmark, Switzerland finished runners-up, losing out only in the final to Spain – and with seven players from the country’s domestic Super League in the starting eleven. This statistic is a clue to the improving nature of Switzerland’s top flight and, especially, the nation’s ability to develop young talent. Rising stars like Xherdan Shaqiri, Admir Mehmedi, Granit Xhaka, Innocent Emeghara and Fabian Frei showed in Denmark that enjoying regular football with Basel, Zurich, Grasshopper and St. Gallen was a wise choice, rather than heading abroad to warm a bench.

The Swiss Super League therefore is the right place to discover hidden footballing treasures, unpolished gems that could burst onto the big stage. Thanks to the return of traditionally large clubs Servette and Lausanne, 2011/12’s Super League looks set to be more competitive than ever. We preview the new season:

Basel boss Thorsten Fink knows how to win at the death. For the last two years the German has led Switzerland’s richest club to the title in the very last round, pipping Young Boys (in 2010) and Zurich (in 2011) to the post. This season again Basel look favourites and could claim their third title in a row.

Fink has shown that he can mix veteran performers with young talents with skill at St. Jakob Park. The club’s experienced players are best represented by Alexander Frei, a goal-machine few defences in Switzerland are able to stop. Moreover, Basel have a productive youth system that fills, year after year, holes left in the first team by departures to bigger leagues. Goalkeeper Yann
Sommer and midfielder Granit Xhaka are two of the finest in the current crop. At present the only dark cloud on Basel’s horizon is the future of Shaqiri. One of the standout players at the Under-21 Championship, the midfielder has been linked with a move away from the club. If the 19-year-old stays, Basel’s rivals look set to be playing for second place.

Key arrivals: Fabian Frei (St. Gallen – loan return); Radoslav Kovac (West Ham);
Joo-Ho Park (Jubilo Iwata)
Key departures: Franco Costanzo (Olympiacos); Behrang Safari (Anderlecht)
Prediction: 2nd (1st with Shaqiri)

The good news for Grasshopper is just to be lining up in the 2011/12 Super League. Despite serious financial troubles, coach Ciriaco Sforza managed to keep the show on the road while the board struggled to keep the club alive.

After a poor start, Grasshopper moved away from the bottom of the table and ended last season in seventh. Many new impressive recruits have given fans cause to hope for a better campaign this time around, with an eye even cast upwards to a European spot. Striker Innocent Emeghara is expected to continue to develop and lead the team to a much improved season.

Key arrivals: Daniel de Ridder (Wigan); Frank Feltscher (Bellinzona); Iacopo La
Rocca (Bellinzona); João Paiva (Luzern)
Key departures: Milan Gajic (Zurich); Vincenzo Rennella (Cesena)
Prediction: 5th

Challenge League (Switzerland’s second tier) champions, Lausanne hit the headlines in pre-season for their marketing strategy, as they signed deals with two main sponsors (a bank and a supermarket) and opted to switch shirts at half-time.

The club lost two key players in the transfer window, forward Carlos Silvio and Brazilian midfielder Rodrigo Tosi. Consistency and hard work were Lausanne’s strongest attributes last season and coach Martin Rueda hopes this can continue against even better opponents in the top flight. Experienced goalkeeper Fabio Coltorti could be crucial in helping the team to survive – their task looks tough

Key arrivals: Fabio Coltorti (Racing Santander); Frédéric Page (Nuechatel Xamax)
Key departures: Carlos Silvio (Union Berlin); Rodrigo Tosi (Tractor Sazi Tabriz)
Prediction: 10th

Luzern have ordered new manager Murat Yakin to instil consistency in the team and aim for Europe after a rollercoaster campaign last season – Luzern topped the table as the winter break arrived, before suffering a slump and ending sixth.

Yakin can count on his younger brother Hakan, who remains the most talented player in Luzern’s ranks and one the best passers in the Super League; despite often seeming to operate in slow motion. The main beneficiary of Yakin’s creativity will be Romanian forward Christian Ianu, fully recovered from a bad leg injury that ruled him out of much of the 2010/11 campaign.

Key arrivals: Xavier Hochstrasser (Padova); Jérôme Thiesson (Bellinzona)
Key departures: João Paiva (Grasshopper); Dusan Veskovac (Young Boys)
Prediction: 6th

Neuchatel Xamax
Neuchatel Xamax come into the season under new ownership, led by the controversial Chechen Bulat Chagaev (last May the broadcaster Teleticino reported that the owner had stepped into the dressing room at half time in the Swiss Cup final shouting “I’ll kill you all” to the players, who were two goals down against Sion).

Despite the billionaire businessman stating he has great ambitions for the club, the team does not look much stronger than last year’s outfit; last season Neuchatel only avoided relegation in the last round of games. This season looks set to be another struggle to survive, with new boss Francois Ciccolini (Monaco’s former Under-19s coach), under pressure from almost the first match.

Key arrivals: Logan Bailly (Borussia Mönchengladbach); David Navarro (Valencia);
Victor Sanchez (Getafe)
Key departures: Raphaël Nuzzolo (Young Boys)
Prediction: 8th

The Geneva-based outfit is the second most successful Swiss side behind Grasshopper. Servette ended their season just one month ago, defeating Bellinzona in a playoff to return to the Super League for the first time since being declared bankrupt in 2005.

Chairman Majid Pishyar, an Iranian businessman, kept the promise he made upon becoming owner of the side. “I’ll take Servette back to where they belong”, said Pishyar. Now he must keep them up. The lack of new recruits should not worry Portuguese coach Joao Alves, as his team looks to have enough talent, with Brazilian free-kick master Marcos de Azevedo, left winger Matias Vitkieviez and striker Julian Esteban arguably too good even for the Super League.

Key arrivals: Issaga Diallo (Locarno)
Key departures: None
Prediction: 7th

Step by step, the ambitious and volcanic Sion president Christian Constantin is building a team able to compete with the Swiss giants. After a satisfying 2010/11 season, in which the club won their twelfth Swiss Cup and ended the Super League with the tightest defence, Sion are ready to improve again.

And it appears Constantin has learnt from his mistakes. In recent years the president brought big names to the club, such as Essam El-Hadary, Emile Mpenza and Olivier Monterrubio, but the average quality of the side at the Stade Tourbillon was poor. Things are different now, with former international stars like Gabri and Pascal Feindouno, who have joined a team full of solid performers, boasting Giovanni Sio, Michael Dingsdag, George Ogararu and Andris Vanins. Sion can make a splash this season.

Key arrivals: Guilherme Afonso (Lugano); Pascal Feindouno (Monaco); Gabri
(Umm-Salal); Mario Mutsch (Metz)
Key departures: None
Prediction: 3rd

In the last two seasons Thun’s star was coach Murat Yakin, who first led the club to promotion and then to a comfortable mid-table finish in the Super League. New boss Bernard Challandes has a difficult task to follow, with the aim of transforming Thun into a team able to cement a mid-table spot as quickly as
There are high expectations surrounding the return of Mario Lustrinelli, who was the star of the greatest team in the club’s history that, in 2005, reached the group stages of the Champions League. Last season, Lustrinelli’s goals were not enough to save Bellinzona, but at 35 years old the striker has still proven himself capable of taking enough chances to help Thun survive.

Key arrivals: Mauro Lustrinelli (Bellinzona); Christian Schneuwly (Young Boys)
Key departures: Timm Klose (Nurnberg); Nick Proschwitz (Paderborn); Ifet
Taljevic (released)
Prediction: 9th

Young Boys
Young Boys are aiming for a first title since 1986 and chosen to make real the dream is Christian Gross. The former Tottenham Hotspur manager dominated the last decade in Swiss football, winning four championships, four cups and mounting a fairytale run in the Champions League in 2002. It therefore came as little surprise to see Young Boys turn to Gross to replace Vlado Petkovic,
sacked after failing last season.

The club have been busy in the transfer window as they attempt to bridge the gap between themselves and reigning champions Basel. Standing out above all others though is starlet Nassim Ben Khalifa. Voted best player at the 2009 FIFA Under-17 World Cup, Ben Khalifa returns from a disappointing time in Germany, where he warmed the bench for both Wolfsburg and Nurnberg.

There are great expectations too surrounding Danish midfielder Alexander Farnerud, who had a superb impact in Swiss football upon arriving last January from Brondby. Young Boys are undoubtedly Basel’s main opposition for the title.

Key arrivals: Nassim Ben Khalifa (Nurnberg); Raphaël Nuzzolo (Neuchatel Xamax);
Michael Silberbauer (Utrecht); Dusan Veskovac (Luzern)
Key departures: Thierry Doubaï (Udinese); Senad Lulic (Lazio); Christian
Schneuwly (Thun)
Prediction: 1st

Last season Zurich were surprisingly in the title race until the very last round. The main reason the side could not hit the target was the real lack of a prolific goalscorer. This problem, Zurich hope, will be solved by Admir Mehmedi, who shone at the recent Under-21 Championship and is expected to enjoy a breakthrough season.

Alongside Mehmedi, coach Urs Fischer can count on experienced performers like right back Philippe Koch, playmaker Xavier Margairaz and all-round midfielder Dusan Djuric. Whether this is enough of an improvement to win the title is open to question; Zurich will give it their all though.

Key arrivals: Milan Gajic (Grasshopper)
Key departures: None
Prediction: 4th

Fonte: Inside Futbol

venerdì 8 luglio 2011

Il fantasma di White Heart Lane

Prima di Roy Makaay, un altro “Fantasma” si aggirava sui campi d’Europa. Accadeva nei primi anni Sessanta, quando John White e il suo Tottenham Hotspur dettavano legge in patria, riuscendo anche a mettere in bacheca un trofeo internazionale di prestigio. White era ribattezzato “The Ghost” perché in campo correva talmente tanto da sembrare in grado di “materializzarsi” sempre nei pressi del compagno in possesso del pallone per ricevere il passaggio. Un giocatore che ragionava in termini di spazio ben prima che Johan Cruijff, il suo Ajax e la sua Olanda mettessero questo concetto alla base di una delle ultime grandi rivoluzioni nel mondo del calcio. Avrebbe potuto diventare un grandissimo, John White da Musselburgh, paese a una manciata di chilometri a est di Edimburgo. Lo ha tradito un destino crudele e la passione viscerale per una delle più innocue discipline sportive conosciute: il golf.

Non promettono niente di buono i nembi color grigio scuro che la mattina del 21 luglio 1964 si profilano all’orizzonte sui campi da gioco del golf club di Crews Hill, Enfield, sobborgo metropolitano a nord di Londra. Pioverà cani e gatti, così dicono gli inglesi quando si aspettano acqua a catinelle. White però non ha voglia di rientrare subito. Ancora un tiro, dice. Vuole completare la buca. Magari sarà un birdie, oppure addirittura un eagle, o forse dovrà accontentarsi del par; nessuno lo saprà mai, perché inizia a diluviare. White tenta di trovare un riparo sotto un albero, ma viene colpito da un fulmine. Muore sul colpo. Ha 27 anni, lascia una moglie – Sandra, figlia dell’allenatore in seconda degli Spurs Harry Evans – e due figli piccoli. In realtà il numero corretto dei suoi bambini è tre, ma dell’esistenza di Stephen Roughead-White, concepito da John nel cui periodo in cui prestava servizio militare a Berwick nel KOSB (King's Own Scottish Borderers, divisione di fanteria dell’esercito britannico, sezione scozzese), si verrà a sapere solo quarant’anni dopo.

White viene acquistato dal Tottenham nell’estate del 1959 per 22mila sterline, nonostante il manager degli Spurs Bill Nicholson non fosse rimasto particolarmente impressionato dal ragazzo quando lo vide all’opera nel Falkirk. “Troppo magro, non reggerà a lungo i ritmi e la fisicità del nostro campionato”. Lo convincono Dave Mackay, compagno di squadra del ragazzo in nazionale, e la notizia che durante il periodo nel KOSB White era uno dei più forti corridori di corsa campestre di tutto il paese. In poco più di dodici mesi uno dei talenti più promettenti del calcio britannico passa così dalla seconda divisione scozzese, nella quale aveva vestito per tre anni la maglia a strisce giallo-nere dell’Alloa Athletics, alla First Division inglese. A Londra White trova un Tottenham reduce da un disastroso piazzamento al 18esimo posto (il campionato era a 22 squadre) dopo aver perso nel corso della stagione il tecnico Jimmy Anderson per problemi di salute. Lo aveva sostituito Nicholson, che dopo aver debuttato con un roboante 10-4 ai danni dell’Everton non era riuscito a mantenere elevato il livello di prestazioni della squadra, rapidamente eclissatasi nella mediocrità. Un inizio davvero poco memorabile per colui che sarebbe diventato uno degli allenatori più longevi e vincenti di sempre nella storia degli Spurs.

Oggi White sarebbe definito un calciatore totale, di quelli che riescono ad offrire un rendimento elevato in qualsiasi posizione del campo vengono schierati. Lui inizia come interno sinistro di centrocampo, poi passa all’ala destra per terminare, nella stagione del double campionato-FA Cup, interno destro. Da lì non si sposta più. Lo scozzese garantisce corsa, dinamismo, visione di gioco, creatività, profondità e un’ottima capacità di calcio con entrambi i piedi. La sua stagione d’esordio si chiude con un bottino di 28 presenze e 5 reti, unito alla soddisfazione di far parte dell’undici titolare che nel replay del quarto turno di FA Cup travolge 13-2 il Crewe Alexandra, stabilendo il primato (tutt’oggi imbattuto) della più larga vittoria di sempre degli Spurs. L’anno successivo è già tempo di double: il campionato viene vinto con 8 punti di vantaggio sullo Sheffield Wednesday, mentre nella finale di FA Cup gli Spurs, pur favoriti, devono sudare parecchio per piegare il Leicester City di Gordon Banks, rimasto oltretutto in dieci dalla metà del primo tempo per l’infortunio di Len Chalmers (all’epoca non erano consentite sostituzioni). Terzo club a centrare la doppietta dopo Preston North End (1889) e Aston Villa (1897), il Tottenham è la squadra dello scozzese Dave Mackay, polmoni d’acciaio e grinta da vendere; del nordirlandese Danny Blanchflower, capitano della squadra, fonte primaria del gioco degli Spurs, mirabile dispensatore di assist e giocate di classe; dell’ariete Bobby Smith, 176 reti con i londinesi; e ovviamente di John “The Ghost” White, l’uomo-ovunque.

Nicholson rinforza ulteriormente la squadra nella stagione successiva con l’acquisto dal Milan di Jimmy Greaves, ex bomber del Chelsea che a Milano aveva impiegato poche settimane per pentirsi di aver lasciato Londra. Oltretutto il feeling con il tecnico Nereo Rocco, ma anche con al dirigenza rossonera, non decollava, e pertanto alla prima occasione il bomber fa le valigie e torna a casa. Nicholson versa nelle casse del Milan 99.999 sterline perché non vuole che “Greaves senta la pressione di essere un giocatore da 100mila sterline”. Il bis però arriva solo in FA Cup (3-1 al Burnley in finale), mentre in campionato è l’Ipswich Town di Alf Ramsey ad aggiudicarsi la volata finale. Una delusione per gli Spurs che si somma a quella dell’eliminazione in semifinale di Coppa dei Campioni contro il Benefica: i lusitani vincono 3-1 a Lisbona e passano in vantaggio anche a White Heart Lane, salvo poi subire il furioso ritorno dei padroni di casa. A pochi minuti dalla fine però i sogni del Tottenham di andare al replay si infrangono sulla traversa colpita da Mackay. Finisce 2-1. White e compagni devono però attendere poco più di dodici mesi per diventare la prima squadra inglese a vincere in Europea. Il 15 maggio 1963 al De Kuip di Rotterdam gli Spurs travolgono 5-1 l’Atletico Madrid nella finale di Coppa delle Coppe. La rete del raddoppio la firma White, con un sinistro chirurgico che passa attraverso una selva di gambe prima di insaccarsi in rete.

“White era un grande talento”, ricorda il compagno di squadra Cliff Jones. “Potrei paragonarlo a Glenn Hoddle, con la differenza che John non aveva giornate storte nelle quali non riusciva a entrare in partita. La sua filosofia era semplice: se non hai la palla, mettiti nel posto giusto per riceverla. E andava proprio così: ogni volta che alzavi la testa, vedevi John White pronto a dettare il passaggio”. Nel corso della sua carriera con gli Spurs, White ha totalizzato 183 presenze e 40 reti in campionato, più 17 (con 6 gol) nelle coppe europee. Con lui la squadra ha centrato due terzi posti, un primo, un secondo e un quarto. Poi è arrivato quell’incidente tanto assurdo quanto inaspettato…

Fonte: Guerin Sportivo

giovedì 7 luglio 2011

Man Utd legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer makes waves at Molde

It is often said that there is no place like home. And perhaps this is truer nowhere more so than in management, where patience and the support of a partisan crowd are often crucial for a rookie boss. This is something to which Norwegian Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can easily attest.

Last January the former Manchester United striker left the Red Devils, ending a 14-year association to take up the job of head coach with Norwegian Tippeligaen outfit Molde. Widely known as “the city of roses” due to its thriving and lush rose gardens, Molde is where Solskjaer began his initial trek towards stardom, representing the club for the first two seasons of his professional career. 31 goals in 42 games secured a dream transfer to Old Trafford as Manchester United paid £1.5M for the, at the time, almost unknown striker on 29th July, 1996. 15 years later, Solskjaer has gone back to his roots.

Solskjaer’s introduction to the dugout was far from easy, with Molde heavily beaten (3-0) by newly promoted Sarpsborg 08. Little by little however, the new coach has been able to put his side back on the right track, instilling his philosophy – an attacking attitude mixed with consistency and a winning mentality.

A lack of cautiousness had cost Molde the title in 2009 despite the team playing the best football in the Tippeligaen and in 2010 the club’s results were too up and down to avoid a disappointing mid-table finish. The troubled season was summed up by a 3-3 draw grabbed by Lillestrom at the Arke Stadium after Molde had amazingly led 3-0 heading into injury time.

One of Solskjaer’s main aims at Molde has been to help the club rediscover the superb football last played two years ago – but this time without falling away at the business end of the season. It is a mission that is half-accomplished, with MFK currently leading the league after 15 games, three points ahead of Tromso and Alesund at the time of writing, albeit having played two matches more than the first. A 2-0 win over Sogndal on 19th June put Molde top of the Tippeligaen pile on the same day as the club’s 100-year anniversary was celebrated. And momentum has not been lost. In their last two outings, Solskjaer’s men proved once again that they must be considered as serious title contenders by beating domestic giants Valarenga in Oslo, before following up that performance by crushing Alesund 5-2 at the Arke Stadium – with four goals from Senegalese striker Pape Pate Diouf.

Deployed as a left winger in a 4-3-3 system, Diouf is one of Molde’s key players. Two years ago he formed a perfect partnership with countryman Mame Biram Diouf, who was later sold to Manchester United following several scouting excursions from Solskjaer back to his homeland; at the time the Norwegian had been serving as United’s reserve team boss. Pape Pate Diouf could not follow up his blistering 2009 however, with a number of physical problems interrupting his progress in 2010. The Senegal man hit the ground running this year though, rediscovering his touch in front of goal, scoring 12 goals in 14 games.

Molde can also be grateful for keeping hold of another Senegalese – Makhtar Thioune – as an outstanding 2009 campaign was not enough to seal a departure from Norway’s top flight. Like Diouf, Thioune struggled to repeat his heroics in 2010, but Solskjaer’s arrival has reinvigorated the 24-year-old. The midfielder is now crucial to MFK’s play, ruling the centre of the park along with veteran Magne Hoseth (Molde’s top scorer four times and the club’s top provider in 2010).

In recent years Molde have striven to build a tradition of developing good strikers. After Mame Biram Diouf, last year the club took in another Senegalese, Baye Djiby Fall, on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow and the 26-year-old duly finished as Tippeligaen top scorer. To fill the hole left in the middle of the attack by Fall’s departure, Solskjaer raided relegated outfit Honefoss and captured Ivorian Davy Claude Angan. The striker had arrived in Norway in 2008, joining Lyn (the former club of Molde team-mate Daniel Chima Chukwu; a 20-year-old forward with breathtaking vision and a big future in the game). Angan has made an impact at the Arke Stadium, finding the back of the net seven times in the current season.

Solskjaer attracted some scepticism within Norway when he announced he had returned home to collect silverware with Molde. “I signed a four-year contract with an ambitious club”, declared the former Champions League final-winning goalscorer. “I am satisfied because we have a good team with loads of potential and I am confident that we can win the league in my time at the club.” If Solskjaer makes good on his promise it will be a first ever national title for Molde, who have won two Norwegian Cups and finished as top flight runners-up seven times.

While Sir Alex Ferguson was Solskjaer’s mentor as he took his first steps into coaching (“Twenty seconds after I told Ferguson I couldn’t play anymore”, said the Norwegian, “he offered me a new job, asking if I would join his coaching staff”), the former Norway national team boss Egil “Drillo” Olsen also played an important role in the striker’s development. “Olsen is fantastic at motivating players and making them believe they can do it”, remembered Solskjaer, who was in “Drillo’s” Norway side that defeated Brazil at the 1998 World Cup.

“If a player has the right attitude, he can learn a lot from Olsen’s way of coaching and managing – and that’s what Solskjaer did. He has a good football brain and he’s down to earth”, commented Stale Solbakken, another former Norway international who played under “Drillo”. Last season Solbakken led Danish giants FC Copenhagen to an impressive march to the Superligaen title, setting four records along the way, and to the Round of 16 in the Champions League; another good example for Solskjaer to follow. It seems that, regardless of whether Molde can maintain their momentum, the former Manchester United man is looking every inch a diamond in the rough in the dugout.

Fonte: Inside Futbol

martedì 5 luglio 2011

Vado in Messico (e gioco bene solo lì)

Quando giocavano nella cantera del Barcellona gareggiavano nel numero di iperboli ricevuti. Discutere su chi tra loro due fosse il più forte era come interrogarsi sul sesso degli angeli. Poi è arrivato il momento più delicato, quello del passaggio definitivo nell’età adulta del calcio. Dove non si gioca più solamente contro i coetanei, la pressione si decuplica e alle proprie spalle spuntano già i nuovi fenomeni del domani. Una giungla nella quale il talento, se non adeguatamente coltivato e incanalato, rischia di perdersi in mille rivoli.
(Articolo completo su Il mondo siamo noi).