Andrew Gibney is joined by Scott Johnston, David Bevan and Eliot Rothwell as they dicuss this weeks four Champions League games – Chelsea v Man United, Barcelona v Shakhtar Donetsk, Inter v Schalke and Real Madrid v Tottenham.

Eliot gives us an excellent insight into the two remaining eastern european teams left in the Europa League – Dynamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow, we talk about how well Aiden McGeady has settle in Moscow and who the other players are to watch.

Finally we get David’s feelings on the new TV deal that will see English Championship clubs lose out on some well needed revenue.

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A meeting between two of the best footballing sides in the world, a mouthwatering match-up so let our guest writers talk you through it. In the red corner is award winning writer Sian Ranscombe her blog “From a girl who loves the Gunners” is superb. And she hopes her team can follow in her trophy winning ways.

Up until a few weeks ago, I think both neutrals and fans were largely assuming this tie would be a one-way battle won easily by Barcelona. Arsenal have been inconsistent this season and if they can drop points to West Bromwich Albion and Newcastle United, and let leads slip as easily as they have done, what chance do they stand against the mighty Barcelona?

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Been so lazy since the end of the World Cup should have had this on sooner but where would a football blog be without picking my World Cup XI, nowhere, so to fall into line, and probably the umpteenth list you’ve read here’s my team, just a note I have picked this team as an actual team that I would hope has a balance that would work well together, so not England then.

FORMATION 4-2-3-1

For the English media this is been a revelation for anyone who watches football outside of the British Isles it’s a formation you will be well aware of, very successful throughout the tournament and dominating any team that tried to go 4-4-2 against it, I’m sure you’ll see more and more teams adapt to this system throughout the season.

 

“Too inexperience” “They’ll miss Ballack” “Not as good as past German teams” all these things were said about Low’s side before they had even kicked a ball, that all stopped once they played Australia, Low had picked a side with pace, athleticism, a really good team and work ethic, and on top of that he got his tactics spot on for the knockout stages until they came up against Spain, and even having the bravado to come out after the games and explain how he had beaten England and Argentina, I think this shows the confidence in the man, that’s the attitude I want in a leader of men.

Mentions: Oscar Tabarez (Uru) Bob Bradley (USA) Diego Maradona (Arg)

I found this a hard choice, quite a few keepers impressed in the Group Stage, and a few shown in the knockout stages, You have to pick someone that really turns up when it counts, Iker saved Paraguays penalty and Santa Cruz’s chance in the Quarters, then in the Final with Robben through on goal on his left foot, Casillas had the presence of mind to left his leg and provide the vital touch, keeping the game at 0-0 and of course Spain went on to win the trophy surely a pivotal moment and that’s what you want in a Goalkeeper, Stekenlenberg probably had a better final than Casillas, however when he was most needed he produced the good, Saint Iker indeed.

Mentions: Vincent Enyeama (Nig) Maarten Stekelenber (Ned) Eduardo (Por)

I will confess that Jorge is a player that wasn’t on my radar before the World Cup, with every game that I watched he just grew and grew, great performances against France and South Africa, Solid against Korea, he was unlucky to miss out against Holland in the Semi-Final and they really missed him, having to re think the whole system to nullify Robben, If Fucile had been there It would have been a different game I think, came back into the side against Germany and he didn’t miss a beat, Muller didn’t have an easy game, making him come inside more often, Fucile never looked out of position very often, the Porto full back has a good future ahead of him.

Mentions: Fabio Coentrao (Por) Gio Van Bronckhorst (Ned) Carlos Salcido (Mex)

Many sites and pundits I’ve read or listened to have mentioned Gerald Pique quite a few times, for me the rock in Spain’s defence has been Captain Fantastic himself, showing that he can play with the same passion and intensity as he can for Barcelona, he may not have the pace he once had, however his positioning and awareness is top notch, a few seasons ago questions had been asked of Puyol but under Guardiola he has blossomed again and looks like a defender on top of his game.

Mentions: Joris Mathijsen (Ned) Jonathan Mensah (Gha)

At 31 this was probably his last World Cup, with a disappointing season behind him (relegated with Hertha) he came to the tournament with question marks over his ability, I thought he answered all those critics, up against some young forwards Gyan, Defoe, Messi he never looked worried, dealt with all the youthful exuberance with a calmness and typical German efficiency, a nice way to finish his International career with his first goal for his country, and a derserved place in my team.

Mentions: Diego Godin (Uru) Antolin Alcaraz (Par)

High hopes were had for this Ajax youngster, picked him out in my 32 players to watch piece, and he didn’t let me down, look wise past his years, showing good positioning a willingness to get forward, maybe didn’t reach the byline as often as I would have likes but played well front to back, had a very solid final for such a young player, made some great challenges on Pedro and Iniesta and didn’t seem overawed by the occasion, a target now for some big teams, not surprising to be honest.

Mentions: Phillip Lahm (Ger) Sergio Ramos (Esp) Maicon (Bra)

I must confess I had not seen much of Bayern Munich this year, only the 2nd half of the later stages of the Champions League so I was unaware of how good Bastian had performed in his newly found position for his club, so seeing him play there for his country was new to me, and boy did he impress, always making sure he had time on the ball, the ability to beat a man to find more space, his passing was deliberate, some of the runs were superb exemplified by the run for Friedrich’s goal against Argentina, a joy to watch in the middle of the park, so commanding for what is still a young player.

Mentions: Mark Van Bommel (Ned) Michael Bradley (USA)

The heart of the Spanish engine room, I would call him the Leonardo Da Vinci of the Tiki-Taka masterpiece, so eloquent on the ball, made more passes than any other player in the tournament, I don’t remember a bad one, doesn’t break forward as often as he used to, he does find space better than most players in the world, just a joy to watch.

Mentions: Gilberto Silva (Bra) Raul Meireles (Por)

Big decision to make with this pick, could have easily been Wesley Sneijder but I think everyone got a little carried away with his performances, Mesut however took the World by storm, not a name everyone knew before the tournament his name is on the lips of the world now, great movement, vision, pace to beat a man, a youthful exuberance and naievity which makes him so dangerous.
Mesut has the world at his feet, I hope he can go on to delight us in future World Cups and seeing him develop more this season in the Bundesliga for Bremen (hopefully!)

Mentions: Wesley Sneijder (Hol)

This was a very hard decision, not whether Andres deserved to be in the team, but where to play him, I could have chosen him to play in Xavi’s role, Oezil’s role, which would have given space to Thomas Mueller, I think however, this decision for me brings balance to the side if it was an actual team, like he did for Spain Iniesta starts on the left but he has a license to roam into the midfield and provide support but is very active at breaking forward into the box and down the channels, lovely passer of the ball, finds space with ease, the awareness to know where and when to make runs is incredible, and compliments this with his goalscoring abilty, they say playing with great players makes the game easier, Andres must make it very easy.

Mentions: Robinho (Bra), Carlos Tevez (Arg), Jean Beausejour (Cho)

If the interest in the Spanish forward wasn’t already sky-high his move to Barcelona brought even more attention, after the first game when Spain failed to score and no one on the Spainish team impressed, it was Villa who announced the team to the tournament with his goal against Honduras, collecting the ball from the left, beat 2 men and his shot found the top corner, a quality goal that just summed up Villa’s excellence, he went on to score 5 goals in the tournament and was so important to the Spain team, without him they would not have reached the final.

Mentions: Luis Suarez (Uru), Asamoah Gyan (Gha), Luis Fabiano (Bra)

Voted player of the whole tournament and a very worthy winner, not only an excellent footballer but comes across as a really nice guy also, dangerous on both feet so I have no trouble playing him on the right, has the ability to come in off either flank, find space and if you give him space outside the box he will score goals, specialist from Free Kicks as he showed, the one person in the tournament that tamed the Jabulani ball, Captain and Cheerleader for his Country, a tremendous players, finally getting the Worldwide recognition for all his hard work, 2 Golden boots for his goals in La Liga and now a Golden Ball for his performances in South Africa.

Mentions: Thomas Mueller (Ger) - was so hard to leave him out, Arjen Robben (Ned), Lionel Messi (Arg)

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So I have to admit when Germany beat England 4-1 I think happy would be the tamed down version of how I was feeling, and as a Scotsman I’m sure you can forgive me of that, we don’t like to hear the media blab on about how good the Premier League is which means England will win the World Cup so when they get knocked out, I think the other Home Nations and Ireland have a mini celebration of their own, now I get a little grief for the “England Bashing” but it’s how I was brought up so it’s not going to change, I live in England, I work in England, the girl I’m marrying is English, it’s just the media really, good to see them knocked down a peg or two.

The one great thing that has come out of the English defeat was the self defecation of the English football system, youngsters not getting a chance, too many foreigners, and the way kids get taught etc. Everything that is needed to create a successful football legacy was deemed to be sub par in the English game, surely though the other Home Nations can be put into the same bracket, we all have the same set-up and if England are being criticised for not bringing through youth, then what can be said for the rest of the teams on the two Islands, Once upon a time top English teams were littered with Scottish, Welsh and Irish players, nowadays they are found at the bottom edge of the Premier League and in the Championship which is no shame as they are good leagues, not quite the same as when Dalglish, Souness, Strachan, McAllister even Charlie Nicholas graced the best teams in the league, right now in the teams that finished in the Champions League places you can find, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Jonny Evans, Darron Gibson, Gareth Bale and Robbie Keane who of course graced us with his presence in the SPL for half of this season, so out of the top 4 teams, only two of them had players from the other home nations and Ireland, and the list isn’t very long, what has gone wrong with British football.

The complaints also start “It’s those foreigners coming here for big money ruining our game…” Now there is part of this that’s true, the amount of foreigners that have come in has increased year after year and this has taken places away from British players, I have no problem with players the likes of Didier Drogba, Cesc Fabergas, Cristiano Ronaldo and the like, these players are at the top of their game and enhance the league in so many ways, the same as Brian Laudrup and Henrik Larsson did for the Scottish League, however I have a problem with teams bringing in mediocre European or South American players and they sit on the bench get a few minutes here or there and earn good money for the minutes they get, there are a few reasons why this happens.

# 1.Foreign players cost less.

 Look at West Ham this January brought in Benny McCarthy, Mido and Ilan all signed up to score goals.

Benny McCarthy – 5 games – 0 goals

Mido – 9 games – 0 goals

Ilan – 11 games – 4 goals

So 25 games between the 3 and only 4 goals scored, and luckily for West Ham they stayed up, Mido was on loan, Ilan was on a free, and McCarthy cost around £2.25 million, so they got 3 players for just over £2m and they got them 4 goals, around £500,000 not actually that bad a business deal without taking wages into account.

# 2. British Players cost too much

Steven Fletcher – 8 goals in 35 games for Burnley, personally think he had a great season, really stepped up from his days at Hibs and performed at a great level, but he only got 8 goals, and he has just moved to Wolves for £7 million, that’s a lot of money for someone had has a worse goals per game record than Ilan.

Ched Evans – 4 goals in 33 games for Sheffield United, there was great promise for this guy when he was at Manchester City, The Blades paid 3 million pound for Ched a big sum for an unproven player and not exactly the return you would hope.

What I’m trying to prove here is that even though everyone wants teams to play more English/British players it’s not always easy or cost effective, it’s easier to sign a foreigner pay less upfront and get a decent return, why shell out more money for a similar return just to help out the game.

It reminds me of the transfer of Roberto Rios from Real Betis to Athletic Bilbao, Rios was a decent defender but not brilliant, a few teams had shown an interest and were quoted about £4million, then Athletic Bilbao came in for Rios, Rios born in Bilbao interested the Bilbao side with their Basque only policy, Betis uses this to their advantage and charged Bilbao £9 million, a big jump from £4mil, however Betis took advantage of knowing Bilbao had a weakness with their policy.

I can see the same thing happening in England with this new 25 man squad quota with 8 home-grown players, either teams will buy foreign but earlier like Fabergas and bring them through, or the big clubs will get taken to the cleaners and charged extra for any English players they show an interest in, because the smaller teams know they need to buy English, It’s a vicious circle, and I’m not sure how you break it.

Poor Coaching

I think what the Premier League are trying to do with this rule is encourage teams to bring through their own players, develop them and therefore not need to buy expensive foreigners unless of course they are at the top of their game. All in all this is a good idea, however there needs to be a lot of changes to the way British football is run before we will see any effects, there have been many stats thrown about with the number of UEFA trained coaches in this country compared to the other top nations, it’s a disgrace that there are not more properly trained coaches, there is a great chapter in the book “The Italian Job” by Gabriel Marcotti and Gianluca Vialli about the famous Italian training centre, the name escapes me just now, but all coaches are made to go their for a 2 year course to learn the intricacies of the game and make sure they are fully prepared for life as a football manager, there needs to be something put in place like that in this country, don’t just give people like Gareth Southgate a job because he was a player, he should have been made to go away learn his trade and build his way up, and now he’s a pundit for ITV, not a successful career in management.

A few years ago I looked into doing a UEFA badge as a means of maybe getting a job a some level of football club, the price I found was £2000 compared the level 2 Basketball Coaches licesne I am soon to go for which costs £160 and will give me the ability to coach any Basketball team in Europe, just a little bit of a difference, so I don’t blame people for not jumping onto these course, so what are the other countries doing right that people are jumping on them, it’s not like the credit crunch only effected the United Kingdom, something is wrong somewhere.

When I was a kid playing football, training consisted of running, conditioning work more running and maybe at the end if you were good you got to play with the ball, I was picked at a Centre Half because I was fat, surely putting me against usually the best and fastest players upfront is not a good idea, I was actually better on the right as I had a decent right foot, once came on as a sub, set up two goals, next game I was back in the centre of defence.

The one thing I was told when playing at centre half was “if the ball comes to you, just hit it as hard as you can up the field!” what a genius my manager was.

Of course that was over 10 years ago and I really hope the standard and method of coaching has improved, from what I hear from Kids, Dads and some research etc for all the good coahces there are out there that are trying to play the game the right way, there are still a large majority that play the old fashioned way, pump the ball forward and chase after it

Basketball Priciples

Now I’m 28 so it’s been a while since my football days, however I have the honour right now of learning to be a Basketball Coach for Leeds Carnegie, been going for a year now, and It’s such a different mindset, we pride ourselves on player development, not on the results we get, we had an Boys U13, U14 and U15’s team and a U14 girls team, and out of the 4 teams we probably lost more games than we won, however we had 25 players go on to play for Yorkshire, which is a vindication of how we go about setting up our teams, they may not be the best teams but as individuals they are fundamentally sound and when they grow up to be 18/19 or older and hopefully go on to bigger and better things, they will be able to learn all the team principles they needs because they will have the fundamentals locked down.

From what I can see this is not what is taught in football, players will skill and individual talent are known as “greedy” “selfish” players and they need to be more team oriented, and the skill and expression is drilled out of them from the ages of 12/13 onwards then when they get to a higher level they all play the same way have the same British mentality, and yeah they might go on to be good footballers, however we will never see a player of the likes of Iniesta/Messi come through that system.

I am not saying the Basketball system is perfect as lots of teams don’t have the same principles that we do at Leeds, and most have a very “British” mentality, small players are bad, big and strong players are could, and they very quickly type cast players before they even develop, looking at the Dutch performance last night in the World Cup final looking at Van Bronckhorst got me thinking of his adaptability, started off if I’m right at Feyenoord and could play Right-Midfield, moved to Rangers, played more centrally, then onto Arsenal, became more of a fullback, then last night he started the World Cup Final at Left Back as the captain of his country, how many British players could have adapted like that, I like to think it’s the Dutch mentality of “Total Football” and interchanging positions that gave him the ability to adapt and continue his career, it seems players like James Milner that can play more than one position baffle the football hierarchy the ability to perform and multiple positions seems to hinder his chances at playing, a ridiculous notion a very British notion.

Size isn’t everything

While looking at the England Basketball website a few months ago I saw an advertisement for players interested in playing for England, the advert said something like, “If you are over 6’ 4’’ and would like to try out for the English team please register your interest here” Now I find that all wrong, you can have all the height in the world but no matter how tall you are, if you’ve not got it, you’ve not got it, what about the 6 foot 2 kid sat at home that reads that, wants to have a try, but because of his height no one will even look at him, what an awful thing to do, yes height is important, it is not the be all and end all, we have a kid who is 5 foot 8 and can touch the rim, and we have a 6 foot 3 kid that can reach the same height, the smaller kid is much the better basketball player and I have high hopes for him, he will need to grow though, however at 14 he’s got plenty of time.

We have got very lucky in the past 2 weeks a kid who is 15 his started coming to our team, he played in Sheffield last year, and stands at a huge 6 feet 8 inches tall, a coaches dream, has some knee problems but he can play, now the problem is at Sheffield he’s only been taught how to be a big man, moves under basket etc, Yes he is the biggest players in our team, however he won’t always be, at 18 he could be playing with two 7 foot giants and no longer able to play the big man, he’ll need to show what else he has, that’s why we teach all the kids the fundamentals of every position, we have a kid called Roshan, he’s that small when he wears the shorts it looks like he’s wearing trousers, however if you give him the ball under the basket he has the moves to outwit the biggest of defenders, now if this kid stretches to near 7 foot, he has the skill set to play any position he wants.

Now lets relate this back to football, look at the World Champions, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, Navas not the biggest players in the World, and I can guarantee if they had been British not a chance in hell they would have been allowed to play in the centre of midfield, they would have been classed as wingers, too small for midfield too small to be a striker, and they’re skill and artistry would have been lost to the game, and what a travesty that would have been, the same has happened with Joe Cole, great on the ball, lovely passer, where do England play him, Left midfield, personally I’d give him a role similar to Pedro for Spain let him come inside create things and you’d get the best of him, don’t confide him to the wings, the same principles apply to Cristiano Ronaldo an out and out winger, I remember when he scored a header at Euro 2004 the shock in the commentators voice, a winger won a header, surely not, overlooking the fact he’s 6 foot 1 and good in the air, the mindset of he’s a winger what’s he doing heading the ball.

Bright Future?

Lots of things have to change in this country, the coaching, the academies, the influx of foreign players, however before all that changes the one thing we need to change is the backward thinking that does and always will exist in this country, if nations like Uruguay and Slovenia both with tiny populations can achieve success on the greatest football stage, there is absolutely no reason that with the right structure England, Scotland even Wales and the Irish teams can’t achieve similar results.

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