Shirt numbers, do they matter? After all, a number is just a number, right? Not to some.

The burden and pressure of wearing a particular number on your back has become so much for some that living up to its reputation has seen players opt to relinquish the prestigious jersey. Take Antonio Valencia as the most recent example. After a poor last season, he decided that he would no longer be wearing the number 7 shirt. Having previously won United’s player of the season award, the Ecuadorian endured an injury-hit season and decided that it would be best to return to his old squad number – 25. This however is not the first or the last time such a bizarre showing of mental fragility has occurred.

The majority of football fans will have been concerned with shirt numbers at some point or another. Be it during the transfer window when all eyes are on your club’s new marquee signing and what shirt number he will wear for the coming season. Or as a computer football manager when engrossed in your eighth season as Sheffield United manager and your chairman has finally allocated a budget that will allow you buy one top player; the burning question remains; what shirt number can I give him?

Arsenal stole the headlines on Deadline Day with the announcement that Mesut Özil would be joining for a club record fee of £42.4 million. The signing of the mercurial Özil has silenced plenty of Arsene Wenger’s critics, even it the huge fee goes against all of his previous norms. The fact is, when a player of Özil’s ingenuity becomes available, you do not hesitate. Man United’s shambolic behaviour in the transfer window perfectly highlighted the consequences of stuttering transfer dealings.

Özil will wear the number 11 shirt for Arsenal.

Özil will wear the number 11 shirt for Arsenal.

Mesut Özil has made Arsenal the fourth club of his already short but glittering career. At 24, Arsenal have got themselves a world class player who has still yet to reach his peak. The Gunners main issue will be delivering trophies to the Emirates and satisfying Özil’s desire for trophies.

The German international has been handed the number 11 squad number for the coming season, a number which he has previously donned at Bundesliga side Werder Bremen. The number 11 shirt has been a particular poisoned chalice in recent years at Arsenal and at the beginning of the Premier League era, the same squad number brought similarly poor returns.A look through the history of Arsenal’s number 11s shows some interesting, fluctuating trends.

In the first ever season of the Premier League as we now know it, Ireland’s Eddie McGoldrick wore the number 11 shirt. The new recruit joined from the then recently relegated Crystal Palace and enjoyed a less than impressive three years at Highbury. He was eventually edged out of the starting XI by Glenn Helder – the man who would also go on to take over McGoldrick’s squad number. McGoldrick played 57 games in total for Arsenal but managed to find the back of the net just once. (McGoldrick won 15 caps for Ireland and was part of the 1994 World Cup squad, although he never featured)

Glenn Helder, a player who in modern terms could only be described as a journeyman endured a similarly dismal spell as Arsenal’s number 11. He played 18 fewer games for the club than McGoldrick but managed the same minimal goals tally.

Glenn Helder took over the number 11 shirt from Ireland's Eddie McGoldrick.

Glenn Helder took over the number 11 shirt from Ireland’s Eddie McGoldrick.

Nicolas Anelka will mostly be remembered for wearing the number 9 shirt at Arsenal but the Frenchman did in fact wear the number 11 for four games at the end of the 1996-97 season when Paul Merson wore 9. Anelka went on to score 28 goals for Arsenal in three seasons.

Marc Overmars and Sylvain Wiltord both became crowd favourites at Highbury. Overmars spent three successful years at Arsenal and like Wiltord scored hugely important goals at Old Trafford to seal Premier League titles for Arsenal. Wiltord may have scored more goals (49) than his Dutch predecessor but Overmars’ rate of 41 in 140 games was superior.


Wiltord returned to his native France when his contract expired but Arsenal fans were about to welcome another star as Robin van Persie joined from Feyenoord and took over the number 11 shirt.

Although van Persie joined the club as a left winger, Arsene Wenger quickly saw fit to convert the Dutch international into a striker, à la Thierry Henry. Van Persie scored 132 goals in 277 appearances, becoming the club’s eighth all time leading goal scorer.

Van Persie however, didn’t always wear the number 11 shirt during his time at Arsenal which brings us back to my earlier point of player’s not always feeling entirely comfortable with the number they’ve been given. For the 2010-11 season, he opted to switch to the number 10 shirt – predominately worn by a side’s main play maker. Incidentally the number 10 has become so prevalent in the modern game that the shirt number has been designated its own position – ‘the number 10 role’.

Van Persie opted to switch from wearing number 11 for Arsenal.

Van Persie opted to switch from wearing number 11 for Arsenal.

As van Persie vacated 11, it was left to Arsenal’s great young Mexican hope, Carlos Vela to take over the mantle left behind by three players who had given Gunners thirteen long years of fulfilling the now much coveted number 11 shirt. But then… then it all came crashing down. Again.

Carlos Vela spent seven years at the Emirates where he played just 29 times and scored 7 goals. After several loan spells and an injury hit career, he departed for La Liga. A highly talented player, Vela lacked the consistency and never really got his Arsenal career off the ground. His departure last year meant that once again, 11 was a free squad number. Enter another South American. Enter André Santos.

Arsenal paid Fenerbache €7 million for the Brazilian international who amazingly has won 24 caps for his country. Deployed mostly as a left back, Santos still gives Arsenal fans sleepless nights, not least for his behavior at Old Trafford last season. Santos who endured a nightmarish first half was seen embracing van Persie and swapping shirts with the former Arsenal player as the teams left the pitch at half time – much to the disdain of the Arsenal faithful.

Santos never endeared himself to the Arsenal fans

Santos never endeared himself to the Arsenal fans

From that moment, Santos’ Arsenal days were always numbered and sure enough, shortly afterwards he was loaned back to Brazil before signing a permanent deal with Flamengo this summer.

On the face of it, wearing a particular shirt number doesn’t seem to matter all that much. But with more and more clubs retiring shirt numbers in honour of former players and current players feeling the strain of the history of the number so much so that they opt to switch, it is clear that shirt numbers are becoming increasingly more relevant in the modern game.

Mesut Özil takes over the number 11 shirt from one of the biggest transfer flops in Arsenal’s recent history. There is little pressure attached but with the weight of expectation that is on his shoulders, he will be expected to live up to his promise. Özil already looks like a good bet to become one of the greatest holders of Arsenal’s number 11 shirt in the modern era.


Goetze has become Germany’s most expensive transfer of all time

So the Bayern axe wields again as the club announce the capture of arguably Germany’s finest young talents, Mario Goetze.

Bayern Munich’s ethos has always been based around the premise ‘Make yourself stronger while obliterating the opposition’.

Having triggered a release clause in the 20 year-old’s contract, Bayern’s main Bundesliga rivals, Borussia Dortmund, must come to terms with losing their most prized asset. Goetze is expected to link up with Bayern Munich on July 1st for a fee believed to be in the region of €37 million – a deal which would see the classy playmaker become Germany’s most expensive transfer.

The timing of the announcement isn’t exactly ideal as Borussia Dortmund have just relinquished their German crown to Bayern who clinched the title with a record six games to spare – a new Bundesliga record. As well as that, Dortmund are less than 48 hours away from playing their biggest game of the season – a champions league semi final with Real Madrid.

Dortmund have won plenty of plaudits from all corners of Europe over the last couple of seasons. Their manager Jürgen Klopp as well as being the media’s dream, is a highly intelligent, tactical manager. The style of play which he has introduced at the Westfalenstadion has seen him become one of the most sought after managers in European football.

Their league and cup double last season was largely based around the genius of Mario Goetze and the goals of Robert Lewandowski. Such has been Dortmund’s quick rise to the top, their players as well as their manager are increasingly subject to transfer speculation.

Goetze’s deal was confirmed in an official statement by Bayern Munich this morning but you can be sure that this will not be the last of the transfer activity coming out of Dortmund over the coming months.

It is widely thought that Lewandowski has a pre-contract agreement reached with Bayern – a blow which will put an equally massive dent in Dortmund’s hopes of competing next season with the juggernaut that is Bayern Munich. Mats Hummels, the defensive rock of the Dortmund team is another who is a constant source of transfer speculation with Man United continually linked with the German international.

It remains to be seen how much of these large transfer fees will be made available to Klopp for next season – assuming that the charismatic German remains at the club.

Bayern Munich on the other hand have no such problems. Having breezed to their 23rd German title, they were safe in the knowledge that the ‘Pep-Revolution’ is just around the corner.


The signing of Goetze is no doubt, the first of many new fresh faces to join the Bavarian giants. Goetze is enjoying the most prolific stage of his short career and has already scored a personal best of 16 goals this season. He has made 22 appearances for Germany, scoring five goals and is a player who at such a young age, is a real joy to watch.

Pep Guardiola’s most difficult task will be keeping all of these big names and in some cases egos, in check. You need only look through the wealth of attacking options that Bayern already boast to get an idea of the task that he faces.

The likes of Muller, Kroos, Robben, Ribery, Shaqiri can all play in a similar role to Goetze. Guardiola must find the right balance if he is to be able to implement the ‘Barca model’ on his new club. The Spaniard is also said to be a long time admirer of Schalke’s Julian Draxler – a 19 year-old attacking midfielder who is another product of this seemingly never ending German talent producing machine.

It is inevitable that there will be departures from the Allianz Arena. One player who looks certain for the exit door is Mario Gomez with both Chelsea and Man City said to be interested.

Last night’s crushing defeat of Barcelona signalled their intent and it would come as little surprise to see Bayern become the new dominant force in European football. Their rock solid back line was rarely troubled while their attackers flourished in what was one of the most impressive European performances for many a season.

Guardiola is due to take over his duties at Bayern Munich at the beginning of July – the same which Goetze will arrive at the club.

In what is an exciting new era for the club, the same old principles apply as Bayern claim their latest victim.

A 6-1 defeat at home. The pain. The anguish. The sheer negativity. Ireland’s worst home defeat in their proud history. Irish fans were not naive enough to expect Ireland to pull off a victory against a highly talented German side but the atrocity that they were victim to was beyond anyone’s worst fears. And in truth the defeat could have been a lot worse were it not for the Germans taking their foot off the pedal after an hour. They came, they saw and they conquered (not for the first time) an Irish side that was completely devoid of any real direction or leadership. And who is to blame, the players or the manager?

The speculation before the game that Giovanni Trapattoni was setting his Irish side up in a 4-3-3 formation was rubbished after five minutes. Anyone that thought this stubborn, out of touch 73 year old manager was about to deploy a modern and useful formation was living in dreamland. Instead, Ireland lined out in a completely defensive 4-5-1 formation which only served to invite the quicker and more intelligent Germans onto an Irish back four who, with the exception of Seamus Coleman were utterly inept. Time after time, Mesut Ozil picked up the ball and had far too much time to conjure up a defence splitting pass, be it for the outstanding Marco Reus or the seemingly never aging Miroslav Klose. The players of course have to shoulder a proportion of the blame but the manager’s team selection and tactics summed up Trapattoni’s need to to call it a day at this high and demanding level of football.

McGeady reacts to Toni Kroos’ goal for Germany in what was a record home defeat for Ireland (c) Niall Carson/PA Wire

The discontent amongst the Irish fans hasn’t just occurred over night. Those that were of the opinion that the Italian did “fantastically well to get Ireland to Euro 2012 in the first place” are again on a planet closer to Felix Baumgartner’s realm. Chants of ‘Ooh Trapattoni, he used to be Irish but he’s Italian now’ could be heard throughout Ireland’s Polish nightmare in the summer. Last month’s lucky escape in Kazakhstan rubbed salt into the wounds while the record home defeat was the icing on top of a managerial campaign that has long outstayed its welcome. Trapattoni’s last five competitive games have resulted in one win and four defeats which coincidentally is the exact same record as Jack Charlton had before he was given the boot. Other former managers like McCarthy, Kerr and Staunton never had a record as poor as that. And this discontent reached the Irish camp itself on Sunday evening when Stephen Kelly reportedly had to be persuaded to board the plane to the Faroe Islands following a row with assistant manager Marco Tardelli-another who hasn’t exactly enamored himself to the Irish public. Kelly is one of many decent Irish players to have suffered under Trapattoni’s reign. It can’t be easy for a Premiership player to see the likes of O’Dea and McShane get more game time than you. Kelly’s frustration will be fully understood by any Irish fan who has had to endure this negative style of football for the last four years.

What next for this Irish side? The small matter of a trip to Torshavn to face the Faroe Islands on another plastic surface which only opened last Wednesday. Trapattoni faced the media in today’s press conference and was as defiant as ever. When asked would he still be the manager at the end of this qualifying campaign he replied, “I don’t know. But why change? We have lost just one game.” Just one game? Ah, so the delusion continues. “This is a game we must TRY to win.” The Faroes are ranked 158th in the Fifa World Rankings. Above them are countries like Curaçao, SãSão Tomé e Príncipeo Tomé e Príncipe and Suriname. With all due respect, not only do I struggle to pronounce those countries but I have never heard of them as a footballing side. Trap’s mentality that Ireland must “try” to  win the game sums up his negative and dour attitude. Ireland and their manager should be going into a game like this, confident of putting three or four goals past a team that is largely made up of part timers. The most damning aspect of his press conference however was when he attempted to make excuses for the dismal showing against Germany last Friday night. When explaining to reporters the reasons for the defeat he was quick to point to injuries, “if you have no the pen, no the computer, can you write? can you write?” Another one of Trap’s mind boggling statements that only serves to fuel the fire for those who are gunning for him. Ireland were missing Dunne, St-Ledger, Whelan, Doyle and Keane all of whom were part of Ireland’s summer failure. Maybe Trap should have looked at himself and in particular at his team selection and the players who he himself chose to leave out.

The fact is that Ireland are no world beaters but the young emerging talented players that Trapattoni has at his disposal is a lot better than that of most countries in the world. Take Greece for example, they continually qualify for major tournaments and put up far better displays than Ireland have done under the current managerial set up. No one can tell me that Greece are a better footballing nation than Ireland. We have plenty of young, exciting talents coming through the ranks but at the moment they are not being integrated as they should be. Even at 6-0 down, the manager was reluctant to use his bench and only gave Robbie Brady ten minutes in the closing stages. Having been outstanding against Oman in a recent friendly, Brady again showed his quality in just ten minutes on Friday night. His sumptuous cross for Keogh’s consolation is a sure sign of things to come from this brilliant talent in the future (assuming he is given the opportunities).

And so onto Trapattoni’s team selection for Tuesday’s crucial tie with the Faroe Islands. He makes three changes from the side that started against Germany. Wilson comes in for Ward (who again proved his inability to play at the top level), Brady starts in place of Fahey (looked completely out of his depth when coming up against some of the world’s top midfielders) , while skipper Robbie Keane comes back into the starting XI instead of Cox (who was played out of positon and was hugely ineffective). The most alarming aspect of Trap’s selection is the fact that the calamitous Darren O’Dea retains his starting place while Premiership regular Ciaran Clark again has to make do with a place on the bench. It is at least a welcome sight to see Coleman retain his place while Brady is also given a chance to impress. Shane Long is once again shunned in favour of Walters. Although I am a fan of the Stoke man, I definitely would have preferred to have seen Long start this game. Long is just one of many players to have been out of favour under Trapattoni.

Man United’s Robbie Brady will make his first competetive start for Ireland on Tuesday (c) Tumblr

Ireland went into last Friday’s game as massive underdogs with nothing to lose. Come Tuesday evening the roles will be reversed and Ireland will be expected to (dare I say it) comfortably pick off a side languishing 130 places below them in the world rankings. The artificial surface is again sure to cause plenty of problems but if Ireland go into the game with the same attitude as they did against Kazakhstan then they could be in for another tense affair. It is important to get the ball on the deck early and play it around the opposition. But of course that will probably go out the window when Ireland look to play route one balls all day up to Walters for Keane to feed off. Trapattoni survives to fight another day and let’s face it, with a contract until the end of 2014, he is sure to have plenty of more days left at the helm. Plastic surface or not, Ireland are a professional outfit who in reality should have no problem in beating a side like the Faroe Islands. And they will do so. The question is, how will they choose to go about it?

Ireland team to play Faroe Islands: Westwood, Coleman, O’Shea, O’Dea, Wilson, Brady, Andrews, McCarthy, McGeady, Keane (c) & Walters.

Kick off 19:00, Tuesday.

Ireland face Jogi Low’s Germany on Friday night in their second Group C game of their 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. Following last month’s 2-1 stuttering win over Kazakhstan, Irish fans will be hoping for a marked improvement in the level of performance shown by Giovanni Trapattoni’s men. Ireland go into the game as massive underdogs against a highly fancied German side. With a whole host of injuries in the Irish camp, Extra Time questions whether this will in fact be somewhat a blessing in disguise as the stubborn Italian manager will be forced to try new players and who knows, maybe even some youngsters.

Glenn Whelan was the latest Irish player to pull out of the squad after Richard Dunne, Sean St Ledger, Kevin Doyle and James McClean were already sidelined due to injury. The injuries to the first choice central defensive pairing means that there will be a new look Irish rearguard. The likelihood is that John O’Shea will shift from full back to central defence alongside Darren O’Dea. The former Celtic man, now plying his trade in Canada with Toronto FC will need to step his game up massively as he faces some of Europe’s hottest talents. O’Shea’s switch means that Stephen Kelly is likely to slot in at right back. Seamus Coleman is also an option but as we have seen so often in the past, Trap doesn’t seem to rate the Donegal man that highly, so the chances of him starting the game are quite slim.

Whelan is one of many who misses out for Ireland on Friday but is it a blessing in disguise?

Whelan’s place in the starting XI will almost certainly go to James McCarthy, which can only be viewed as a positive change. McCarthy is vastly inexperienced at this level but he is once again proving in the Premiership week in week out that he is more than capable of holding his own against some of the league’s top midfielders. Friday night will see the Wigan man come up against arguably the best central midfielder in Europe, Bastian Schweinsteiger. Kevin Doyle misses out with a thigh injury but again, I feel that Doyle isn’t as big a loss to the team as made out by plenty of the media this week. Okay he was the game changer in the win over Kazakhstan in scoring the stoppage time winner and also winning the penalty that led to Ireland restoring parity late on but he has been in wretched goal scoring form for his club, Wolves. He managed a dismal four goals last season in the Premiership and five the season before that. He has begun life back in the Championship in similar vein having notched just one goal in nine games. It was not that long ago when Doyle was being linked with the likes of Arsenal but he has gradually been declining over the past couple of seasons. Don’t get me wrong, he still has an important role to play within the Irish set up and their hopes of qualifying for Brazil but when there are two strikers who are playing regularly for a Premiership side, I feel they more than deserve their shot in the side. Both Shane Long and Jonathan Walters will be hoping for the call to start against the Germans and both are more than capable of unsettling their back four.

Robbie Keane and Aiden McGeady both linked up with the squad following lengthy flights from Los Angeles and Moscow respectively. Both took full part in training in Malahide this week, which will come as welcome sight for the manager following so many withdrawals of key players. One player who was given time to “rest” was Ireland’s new first choice goalkeeper, Kieran Westwood. A rest? Westwood is yet to feature at all for Sunderland this season which in itself is very worrying for Irish fans but to see him not taking part in training but instead working in the gym is very odd indeed. Ireland likely starting XI is: Westwood, Kelly, O’Shea, O’Dea, Ward, Cox, McCarthy, Andrews, McGeady, Walters & Keane. The back four and the goalkeeper are certainly the worrying aspects of the team, especially with the attacking threat that this German side pose.

Westwood sat out training as he was “resting” but yet has not featured for his club all season (c) Uefa

So who exactly do Germany have in this extremely talented young side? Right through the spine of the team they are strong and powerful. From Manuel Neuer to Mertesacker at the heart of the defence, right through to Schweinsteiger running the midfield and the diminutive but brilliant goal scorer Miroslav Klose, this German side are littered with quality players in every position. The younger generation that are coming through are equally as good as the old guard but manager Jogi Low has integrated them in such a way that their quality is shining through anytime they are given the opportunity to impress. The likes of Mario Gotze, Thomas Muller, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos and Andre Schurrle are all battling it out for a starting role in this attacking German side. Marco Reus is one particular player to watch out for. Reus was hotly tipped to be joining Chelsea during the summer transfer window but opted instead for Borussia Dortmund. His goalscoring performance last week against Manchester City proved exactly why Chelsea were so keen to add the youngster to their side.

Marco Reus (right) is one of the many brilliant youngsters in the German side that Ireland face on Friday night (c) UEFA EURO 2012

Ireland go into the game with absolutely nothing to lose with all the focus and attention on Germany. Irish fans will at least be hoping for an improved performance from last month and indeed from the disastrous Euro 2012 campaign. Ireland’s assistant manager Marco Tardelli insisted this week that Ireland would not be playing for a draw. “We will try to win, it’s normal for us. If we can win against Germany, it will be important for the team and for the country.” I think I speak for the majority of Irish fans when I say that Ireland would gladly take a point against Germany on Friday night. As previously mentioned, Germany go into the game as massive favourites but Ireland will happily play the role of the underdog in front of a packed Aviva Stadium and who knows, may even upset the odds.

On a damning afternoon late last year (20th December 2011) the Football Association (FA) handed Liverpool striker Luis Suarez an eight match ban and a £40,000 fine for breaching Rule E3(2). The rule states that footballers and indeed anyone involved in the professional football game should not use “abusive and/or insulting words and/or behaviour”. The rule goes on to say that this abuse should in no way be “reference to a person’s ethnic origin, colour or race.” After some controversy Liverpool accepted the ban and decided not to appeal against the punishment. The FA had made an example of the Uruguayan and justifiably so. The benchmark had been set by England’s football authorities.

Fast forward ten short months and the FA have dished out what they believe to be just punishment to former captain and English Braveheart, John Terry. The ongoing, mind numbing Terry saga rages on. The incident in question dates back to the 23rd of October of last year when John Terry is accused of branding QPR defender Anton Ferdinand “a fucking black cunt”. On Thursday last, Terry was hit with a mere four game ban and fined £220,000 for racial abuse. Terry admitted using the word “black” along with highly offensive swear words but claimed that he was repeating what Ferdinand had already said to him. The Chelsea stalwart has already been proven innocent in a Court of Law which many felt should have freed him of any answering to the FA. However this wasn’t to be and he now must face the consequences.

John Terry arriving at Westminster Magistrates Court where he was found not guilty of racism charges (c) scottgair2009

What will have shocked people is not that Terry was found guilty but rather the leniency in the punishment he received. Suarez always played the dumb card in using language barriers as his main excuse for what he did. He maintained that his repeated use of the word “negro” was meant in a friendly manner. Make up your own mind. But this is not the issue at hand. The FA are supposed to lead by example and have always been advocates of the ‘Kick Racism Out of Football’ campaign. How they can dish out half the length of ban for a similar offence is something which we must wait for in the panel’s written report. Most people will already have made up their own minds by then. As far as the majority of football fans can see, Suarez was made an example of in the hope that the future conduct of football and its players would not be brought into disrepute. Little did the association know that it would be the country’s captain that would be the one to bring it all back home again. On Sunday last, Terry stepped down as England skipper which in itself would suggest that the air of inevitability surrounding the FA’s case reached the Terry camp as well as the rest of the world.

Joey Barton who himself is no stranger to controversy was hit with an unprecedented twelve game ban as well as a £75,000 fine in the final game of last season when he let loose on the Champions elect. Barton’s case was not of racial abuse or anything of the sort but rather violent conduct. The severity of Barton’s ban was completely justified and was accepted by Barton. John Terry received a third of the ban that Barton did for calling an opponent “a fucking black cunt”. Now what kind of example is that setting for the youth of today? The youngsters that know no better and take Terry for solely the footballer that he is, idolise and go out on the pitch be it a Saturday or Sunday morning and try an emulate their hero’s behaviour. What I can see here is that, in effect the FA have branded the racial abuse of another player worthy of just a third of the punishment (in terms of suspended games). And I am sure there are plenty out there who share the same view. Barton, like only he knows best took to Twitter after the verdict was made public and in a flurry of angry posts made his feelings known to everyone, including the FA. Barton fumed; “Well I think that proves a lot. What an absolute farce. 12 games for violent conduct and only 4 for that. FA should be embarrassed“. Barton has divided opinion throughout his blighted career but for once, I think the majority of the footballing community will be echoing his comments. 

Another example which paints Terry’s ban in its truest light is the four game ban handed out by the FA to Sir Alex Ferguson in 2009 following his comments about, in his eyes, an “unfit referee”. Again, this ban was completely merited and few would have argued with the severity of it at the time. But when racism is put on the same level, you have to question the FA’s policies. The average red card in England is punished with an automatic three game ban which only serves to further highlight the ineptitude of the FA and their decision making.

The financial ban that Terry recieved is about six times Luis Suarez’s which has also confused many. The reasoning behind this as I myself learned today is based on the way in which regulatory panels take into account how much the player in question earns in a single week. But as we all know, the money is completely irrelevant considering the colossal figures that the top Premiership players earn. One former manager of Terry’s was again quick to jump to his defence after Thursday’s verdict. Jose Mourinho in an interview with CNN said; “Probably, he had a racist comment or a racist attitude against an opponent and, sometimes in football, we look to our opponents in the wrong way.” For a manager and a figurehead in the calibre of Mourinho to come out with such a despicable comment is stomach churning. It is attitudes like this which seem to paper over the cracks of the major underlying and serious issue of racism. And this papering is one of the major reasons why authorities have struggled so greatly to remove racism from football once and for all. Obviously this is a huge task and who knows, it may never happen but one can try. One particular red top (The Mirror) in their paper today even went so far as listing the “redeeming features of the ‘generous’ John Terry”. Some of which include how much of loving father he is!

Evra shakes the hand of Suarez who had been found guilty of racially abusing him a year previously (*BRIO*)

The racism issue is as strong as ever in football, whether we like it or not. English football has long looked upon itself as being above all of that with the likes of the Spanish and Italian leagues being branded much more severe. But the fact is that racism’s malignant nature is very much prevalent in the English game right now. The abuse which Oldham’s Tom Adeyemi suffered at Anfield last January reduced the youngster to tears. If this is what the future of English football holds, then it is in a grave state. With Suarez and Evra at least shaking hands and seemingly putting their differences behind them, there is at least hope. The FA’s leniency in John Terry’s ban has already damaged their own reputation in regard to their viewpoint on racism. What remains to be seen is if Terry himself furthers what is remaining of his very much fragmented character by fighting against this seemingly lost cause. What is clear though, is that after the issues that have gone on in the last few years, the English game has a considerable way to go before ridding itself of this vile racism stigma.

When Yaya Toure signed for Manchester City for £24 million in the summer of 2010, a few eyebrows were raised. Firstly at the substantial fee paid for him and secondly, many wondered where he would fit into the City side. Toure was born in the Ivory Coast where he made his professional debut at 18 with Ivorian club side ASEC Mimosas. He is the younger brother and team mate of Kolo while their youngest brother Ibrahim is also a professional footballer, currently plying his trade in the Egyptian league. The Toures have always spoken of their strong family bond and this was seemingly one of the main reasons why Yaya opted to leave Barcelona and join the Man City revolution: “I saw a lot of things in the press about why I left Barcelona. But for me, I wanted to play with my brother Kolo, one time. In football, you do not know what will happen tomorrow and (to play with Kolo) was very important to me.”

When Yaya put pen to paper on a five year deal at the Etihad stadium he became the first ever Premier League player to earn £200,000 a week. Many of the cynics will cite this as the major reason why he decided to leave the Catalan giants. But the truth is, Toure found himself down the pecking order at the Camp Nou. With the emergence of Sergio Busquets from the Barca academy and the arrival of Argentinean central midfielder Javier Mascherano from Liverpool, Toure saw his chance to leave for a new and exciting project and grabbed the opportunitiy with both hands. The fact that Kolo was already playing with City obviously had a major bearing on his decision and of course the temptation of being paid in excess of £200,000 just served to put to bed any remaining doubts that he may have had.

Yaya Toure pictured here during his infamously “completely average” trial for Arsenal in 2003

Unknown to many, Yaya in fact had a trial with Arsenal way back in 2003. He was played in a trial game against Barnet and surprisingly found himself playing as a striker. Arsene Wenger has long been praised for his eye for young talent and justifiably so. But he could not see where Yaya would fit into his first team and in fact described his performance as “completely average”. In 1962 Decca Records infamously stated that “The Beatles have no future in show business”. Wenger’s damnation of Toure echoes Decca’s snub as Toure has gone on to become one of the best midfielders in the world.

Toure has made 67 appearances for his country Ivory Coast (c) menosultra

Toure had stints in Belgium, Ukraine, Greece and France before moving to La Liga. Having spent three seasons with Barcelona, Toure enhanced his reputation and was wanted by some of Europe’s top clubs. Toure was mainly used by Barcelona as a holding midfielder where he was relatively effective but always showed plenty of promise in his desire to push further forward. Under Pep Guardiola, Toure was given a pretty strict role in the Barca midfield. Essentially it was his job to break up play and allow the midfield magicians like Xavi and Iniesta to work their magic around him. In 74 appearances for Barcelona, he only managed to score 4 goals. What was seemingly unknown to Guardiola and Barcelona was that Toure had plenty more to offer rather than just sitting in front of the back four.

Toure was restricted in his holding role at Barcelona under Pep Guardiola (c) marc_tacoma

It didn’t take Toure long to make his mark on the Premiership with some incredibly powerful performances. He began his City career in the same position as he took up with Barca but fortunately for the Manchester club, he was played alongside two other holding midfielders in Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong. This allowed Toure slightly more freedom than he was previously afforded but he was still rather restricted in his attacking threat. Roberto Mancini is a notoriously defensive minded manager who likes his sides to set up in a certain manner. But gradually Toure ventured further forward and began scoring more and more goals which forced Mancini to rethink Yaya’s position. He finished the 2010-11 season with 10 goals in all competitions which incredibly is almost as many as he managed in three years with Barcelona.

Toure’s impressive debut season in England was topped off when he scored the only goal of the game in the FA Cup semi final against rivals Manchester United. He went on to repeat the same feat again at Wembley this time in the Cup final against Stoke City when he scored the only and decisive goal that won City the Cup and in turn ended their 35 year wait for a trophy. If ever there was any doubting where Toure’s best position was, he proved that he is most certainly an all round midfielder but is at his best when he is powering forward from midfield. His ability in front of goal is second to none and he has perfected the timing of his runs into key positions. At the end of the 2011 season, Toure was awarded the African Footballer of the Year which in itself is a brilliant achievement but is made even more impressive when you consider that the 12 previous awards had gone to strikers.

Yaya has always said that older brother Kolo (right) had a major influence over him signing for City (c) SportsEncounter

The 2011-12 season began with many people favoring City for their first league title in 44 years. In a topsy turvy season for the Sky Blues, Toure was again immense in central midfield for them. Just like his previous season, Toure rarely missed a game and was one of the first names on the team sheet for Mancini’s side. With an early exit from the Champions League, City firmly set their sights on the Premiership title. As well as being a ‘man-mountain’, Yaya is also deceptively quick for such a big man. He seems to have a never ending engine which quite often gives him the edge over tiring opponents in the latter stages of games. City eventually went on the claim the title but the influence that he had over their success cannot be understated. Not always grabbing the headlines, Toure quietly went about his business with consistently brilliant performances. In the penultimate game of the season, he scored a late brace against Newcastle which put the destination of the title firmly back in City’s hands and the rest is now history.

Since his arrival in England, there is no doubting the fact that Toure is a different player than that of his days with Barcelona. He has become the perfect box-to-box midfielder and is now living up to his younger billing of ‘The new Patrick Viera’. Toure is one of the most complete players in World football today. He has pace, power, strength, an eye for goal but most importantly has that ever burning desire to win. It is not often that Wenger gets it wrong but nine years on from his “completely average” trial, I wonder what Mr. Wenger makes of that decision now.

Toure seen here celebrating one of his three goals already this season (c) The Footballist

Toure has picked up from where he left off last season having scored in the Community Shield as well as notching 2 goals in the first 3 league games. Incredibly enough, he is still just 29 and has a couple of more years left at the top level. We have seen how the likes of Paul Scholes can adapt his game but still be highly effective. City are favorites to retain the title this season and if Toure can remain fit, they will have every chance of doing so. After all, the ‘Human Train’ is on a one way ticket to success.

In the past few Premiership transfer windows there has been a steady inflation of prices paid for players. And in particular, in British players. This close season saw the trend continuing with Chelsea, Man City and United all spending huge amounts of cash. Will these huge fees pay off? Only time will tell. This summer however we did also see some brilliant deals done for a fraction of these inflated prices. The managers who managed these somewhat ‘bargain coups’ were the ones who were willing to look further afield rather than to the over priced British youngsters who appear to have fallen victim to these ridiculous valuations that are placed upon them. We have selected a short list of five players whom we feel were the biggest bargains of this summer’s transfer window. To make it a bit more interesting we have also drawn comparison between each player and a similar player that was bought in the Premiership for a large sum in the past year.  We have also drawn up a poll at the end of the article so make sure you have your say on who you feel will the biggest bargain of this summer’s transfer window.

Michu (Swansea City) – Signed for £2 million from Rayo Vallecano


Jordan Henderson (Liverpool) – Signed for £16 million from Sunderland

New Swansea boss Michael Laudrup wasted little time in snapping up Michu for just £2 million. The Spaniard somehow went under the radar of Europe’s top clubs even though he scored 15 La Liga goals for a side that finished in 15th place last season. Michu has taken no time at all to settle in to life in Premiership, having scored 4 goals in just 3 games.  The 26 year old is a powerful unit but is also a very accomplished finisher. At just £2 million he is already looking like money well spent with people wondering how Laudrup managed to sign him for such a low fee. Laudrup has spent two years in Spain managing both Getafe and Mallorca and has obviously been keeping a close eye on the players who aren’t grabbing the headlines by playing with the top teams. When we look at the knee-jerk reactions to managers in England and how they are so willing to spend huge amounts of cash on an English player if he has had a decent run in the first team, it is no wonder that players like Michu are being snapped up by managers who are exploiting other markets.

Jordan Henderson was signed for £16 million by Kenny Dalglish in last summer’s transfer window. Henderson had been impressive with Sunderland but many eyebrows were raised when Liverpool chose to spend that amount of money on a player that was still relatively unproven. Henderson has since spent a season at Anfield and has had absolutely no impact on the first team. Instead, he has found himself being shifted around from position to another, most of which clearly haven’t suited the type of player he is. He is yet to feature this season under new boss Brendan Rodgers which will be a worrying sign for the youngster. Liverpool have also let the likes of Adam, Aquiliani and Spearing go and Henderson has still found himself on the bench. There were hopes that Henderson could develop into a more attack minded central midfielder at Liverpool but such is the amount of positions he has been played in, it is impossible to know where he fits in best. When you consider that Michu was £14 million cheaper than Henderson, there is no debating where the value between the two lies. In just 4 Premier League games, the Spaniard has arguably already had more of an impact than Henderson’s entire first season for the Reds.

Michu has already scored 4 goals in 3 games for Swansea and was signed for just £2 million (c)

Clint Dempsey (Tottenham Hotspur) – Signed for £6 million from Fulham


Jack Rodwell (Manchester City) – Signed for £12 million from Everton

Clint Dempsey’s transfer saga was one of the most drawn out of the summer. Dempsey tried everything within his powers to force a move to Anfield but in the end found himself ending up at White Hart Lane. Aston Villa and Liverpool both came in with bids of £4 and £5 million repectively but unsurpsingly failed to sign the American. Dempsey has long been a highly consistent goal scoring central midfielder both at club and international level. In the 2010-11 season, he scored 12 league goals while last season he managed to better his tally by bagging 17 goals for Fulham. For a player of this calibre to be sold for just £6 million in today’s market is astounding. At 29, Dempsey definitely has another few seasons at the top level and will be a great asset to Spurs. Liverpool were the long running favourites to sign him but amazingly were unwilling to make an advance on their £5 million bid. When you consider the amount of money that they have thrown around in the past year, it seems ridiculous that they were so reluctant to splash out on such a proven Premiership campaigner. With Liverpool so light on strikers until at least January, their decision to not further their bid for Dempsey could well come back to haunt them.

Rodwell made the big decision to leave Goodison Park and join the League Champions Manchester City. Rodwell has been hampered by injuries throughout his career and has yet to fully make his mark on the Premiership. Many will have questioned Rodwell’s motives for moving to the Etihad as the youngster is by no means guaranteed his place in the starting 11. Rodwell will have been thrilled to have seen one of his rivals Nigel De Jong depart for Milan but Roberto Mancini moved quickly to sign Benfica’s Javi Garcia for £16 million on deadline day. Rodwell has featured in City’s opening 3 league games but made mistakes on the opening day against Southampton which led to a goal and also gave away the free kick that resulted in Luis Suarez scoring for Liverpool. One wonders if Mancini looked at Rodwell’s early performances and decided to move for Garcia who has been very impressive in Portugal in the past few seasons. Rodwell could well see limited game time at Man City and had he remained at Everton would have seen far more playing time which would have enhanced his England chances. As it is he faces extremely stiff competition at City and may only become a bit part player. A £12 million squad rotated player or a £6 million Clint Dempsey? I know who I’d prefer in my team.

Dempsey has long been a consistent scorer at the top level and for £6 million is a great bargain (c) Bill Ward Tampa Tribune

Robert Snodgrass (Norwich City) – Signed for £3 million from Leeds United


Matt Jarvis (West Ham) – Signed for £10.75 million from Wolves

Snodgrass has long been tipped for a move to England’s top flight and with Leeds again failing to clinch promotion last season, it was inevitable that a Premiership club would snap up the Scot. Snodgrass has scored consistently for Leeds both in League One and in the Championship. It goes without say that the step up to the Premiership is huge but the early signs are very positive. Snodgrass has started all three of Norwich’s league games and has been their best player in each. He has already gotten off the mark with his late equaliser against Spurs on Saturday and has shown glimpses of his quality from set pieces. Snodgrass scored 13 goals in last season’s Championship which is an excellent return for a wide midfielder. New Canaries boss Chris Hughton has been a long time admirer of the Scot and for just £3 million has bagged himself quite a bargain. Snodgrass has looked extremely comfortable on the ball and looks like he has been playing in the Premiership for many a year. We fully expect Snodgrass to kick on from here and would not be surprised to see the Scot hit at least double figures for the season.

Matt Jarvis signed for West Ham during this summer’s window for quite a significant fee (£10.75) especially for a player who has had just one decent season which it must be said was in a Wolves side who were atrocious. Another English youngster who has become a victim of the highly inflated English market, Jarvis will already be under massive pressure before he has even kicked a ball at Upton Park. Jarvis scored 8 league goals for a Wolves side who were eventually relegated to the Championship. His performances were rewarded with an English call up but since his one and only cap back in March, Jarvis has been nowhere near the English set up. It remains to be seen whether or not the winger can live up to his price tag but we feel that for £3 million, Robert Snodgrass is a much better option. Snodgrass is a key fixture in the Scotland national side, which will only improve his game. For almost a quarter of the price, he certainly proves that there is value in the market if a club bides its time.

Snodgrass signed for Norwich for £3 million and could prove to be a brilliant bit of business (c) avaleisure

Pablo Hernandez (Swansea City) – Signed from Valencia for £5.5 million


Stewart Downing (Liverpool) – Signed from Aston Villa for £20 million

Pablo Hernandez is one who has long been on the radar of some of Europe’s bigger names. His performances in the Champions League have drawn particular attention from some of England’s top clubs. In particular his displays against Man United and Chelsea in the past few seasons have attracted many suitors, none of which were willing to cash in on the Spaniard. Admittedly his goal return is not as good as it should be for a player of his quality but Hernandez has plenty of assists to his name. Hernandez is primarily renowned as a winger but can also operate more centrally off the main striker. In a sense, he has been unfortunate to be playing in an era where his national side are littered with high class players who play a similar role. Hence why he has only made one International appearance. Hernandez is another brilliant coup by Michael Laudrup who has clearly done his homework on the Spanish transfer market. If Laudrup can get Hernandez and Michu linking up, Swansea’s style of play could become even more attractive than last season. At just £5.5 million, Hernandez has all the necessary credentials to become a top player in the Premiership.

Downing was another English player to arrive at Anfield in a big money move under the Dalglish era. To say Downing was a flop in his first season at Liverpool would be an understatement. In 36 league appearances, the winger managed a grand total of 0 goals and 0 assists. For £20 million, one would be hoping for a slightly better return from an attacking player. Amazingly enough, Downing has in fact made 34 appearances for England. What is not surprising however is that he is yet to find the back of net. Like his team mate Henderson, Downing has failed to feature in the league under new boss, Brendan Rodgers. He has been used in the Europa League as a full back which makes one wonder who it was that saw it fit to splash £20 million on him. Again if we compare the value in the market abroad, Hernandez has arrived at Swansea for a quarter of Downing’s fee. Although he has yet to prove himself in the Premiership, he doesn’t have to do much to improve on Downing’s abysmal Liverpool record.

Hernandez is another shrewd signing by Michael Laudrup (c) Kwmrm93

Dimitar Berbatov (Fulham) – Signed from Manchester United for £5 million


Andy Carroll (Liverpool) – Signed from Newcastle United for £35 million

Berbatov signed for United back in 2008 for a massive £30 million and four years on, Fulham have now snapped up the Bulgarian for a fraction of the price at just £5 million. Berbatov isn’t to everybody’s taste which is understandable but the striker’s goal scoring record speaks for itself. When given a consistent run in the first team, he has always scored goals be it in German or in England with Spurs and United. In United’s 2010-11 season, Berbatov scored 20 goals which saw him become the club’s top scorer for that season. When you consider that the likes of Rooney, Ronaldo and Tevez were in the same side, that was quite an achievement. Fulham have bagged a top goal scorer at a very reasonable price. At one stage it looked like Berbatov was nailed on to be signing for Fiorentenia but in a dramatic U-turn has opted to sign for the West London club. With the likes of Rodallega and Petric now at Craven Cottage as well, Martin Jol will be faced with a pleasant selection headache. Berbatov is almost certain to be the first choice striker and if Fulham can get him the ball to his feet, the Bulgarian could easily prove that he is still more than capable of a decent goal return.

No Premiership over priced player list will ever be complete without a certain Andy Carroll. Carroll signed for Liverpool last year in a deal worth a colossal £35 million, which is the highest amount ever paid for a British footballer. The big striker managed just 4 league goals in 35 appearances last season and has just been loaned out to West Ham by Brendan Rodgers. You have to feel a degree of sympathy for Carroll as he never asked to be signed for such a large amount. I don’t think there’s anyone out there who ever felt that he would be worth anything close to the fee paid by Liverpool. The fact he has been loaned out already proves how he doesn’t feature in Liverpool’s future plans. Carroll will be out to prove a point at Upton Park where West Ham’s style of play will no doubt suit the big target man. Berbatov for £5 million. Carroll for £35 million. It doesn’t take a genius to work out where the value for money lies in this example.

Berbatov has linked up with Martin Jol again, this time at Fulham (c) Catatan Bola Photo Gallery

And there you have our choice of this summer’s five biggest bargain transfers. Who do you think will be the biggest coup? Or have we left anyone out? Have your say below.