29 April 2013

Redknapp is finished, Bosingwa too

Harry Redknapp's days as a Premier League manager are numbered.
I watched the Reading vs Queens Park Rangers game yesterday afternoon. It was so exciting that stopped paying attention after about 20 minutes.

One wouldn't have thought this was a match between two teams battling against relegation. This looked more like a match between two teams that had already been relegated. Unsurprisingly, a game with little in the way of good finishing finished 0-0, and both teams were out of the Premier League.

QPR's toothless performance summed up their season to a tee, and it was also a strong indicator that Harry Redknapp is no longer the managerial messiah that he has long been regarded as.

When Redknapp came to Loftus Road on mid-November, Rangers were winless, and the writing was on the wall unless he could do a Portsmouth with them. In fact, just like he did at Portsmouth, he made the risky decision to spend big.

Redknapp is usually a wheeler-dealer with one of the best transfer records in British football. In January, he threw away that reputation. £12.5million for Christopher Samba, whose performances for the Hoops so far can best be described as mediocre, does not represent good value. Nor does whatever they spent on Yun Suk-Young, who as Soccerbase points out has played as many games for QPR this season as Yours Truly. Even Harry's only free signing, his long-time favourite Tal Ben Haim, has featured just twice in the Premier League.

With the players that QPR have at their disposal, you would expect them to be, at worst, a lower mid-table team in the top flight. But after a dreadful start to the campaign, they never recovered, even when Redknapp was brought in to replace the abject Mark Hughes. His PL record with Rangers has not been great - in 22 games, he's picked up 21 points, with just four wins. With that sort of form, QPR would still have gone down even if Redknapp had come in at the start of the campaign.

At 66 years of age, Redknapp is well into the autumn of his managerial career. He might even have reached winter. He'll doubtless see taking QPR back into the Premier League as one final challenge, but unless he can shift all of the club's overpaid mercenaries like Jose Bosingwa and base his team on solid pros like Clint Hill and Shaun Derry, that's one mission he might not complete.

Talking of overpaid mercenaries, Redknapp might even be one of those that is cut off QPR's ridiculous wage bill. It is a massive risk for any team just relegated to the Championship to be paying their boss a salary of £3million. And if he is axed, which Premier League chairman in their right mind would pay large wages for a manager whose only major trophy was the 2008 FA Cup with Pompey?

I'm willing to eat my words if Harry Redknapp does return to the top flight and keep another team up, but for me, his Premier League career ended at 3:20pm yesterday.

José Bosingwa couldn't care less about QPR going down.
Redknapp probably won't be back in the Premier League, and Jose Bosingwa certainly shouldn't be back judging by his performances and attitude this season.

The Portuguese full-back arrived at Loftus Road this summer after four years at nearby Chelsea. He signed a contract worth £65,000 per week, which on reflection was at least £60,000 too much.

Of QPR's regular starters, Bosingwa has been one of the worst. When Redknapp came in, he identified the defender as a weakness, and dropped him to the bench for a game against Fulham in December. If Redknapp expected a positive reaction, then he was to be left bitterly disappointed as Bosingwa stormed out of the ground. He was fined two weeks' wages and didn't return to the first-team until late February.

Rangers fans will feel that he should never have been recalled after the way he reacted to the confirmation of his team's relegation. While QPR's most passionate supporters were left in tears at the Madejski Stadium, Bosingwa - who was substituted in the second half - was spotted laughing on the touchline.

Redknapp tried to explain Bosingwa's laugh, claiming that a Reading player - possibly his fellow countryman Daniel Carrico - "came up and said something to him". The bottom line, Harry, is that there is nothing to smile about when your team has dropped down a division.

Was Steven Taylor smiling when Newcastle United shipped six goals to Liverpool on Saturday? He wasn't. Magpies defender and lifelong supporter Taylor compared the feeling of being beaten 6-0 to losing a family member. That is what it feels like when the team you love suffers.

Bosingwa doesn't love Queens Park Rangers - in fact, he couldn't give a toss if they lose as long as he receives a big fat payslip every month. Just like many other foreign players that have come to these shores, Bosingwa is overrated and overpaid, and other Premier League clubs should avoid him at all costs.

It is players like Jose Bosingwa that helped to bring down Harry Redknapp's former club Portsmouth, and they could also prove to be the downfall of QPR.

27 April 2013

A warning on Survival Saturday

Stockport County have dropped three divisions in the space of four seasons.
Today is the final day of the Football League season, and no fewer than seven teams are at risk of dropping into the Conference Premier.

It couldn't be much tighter at the bottom of League Two. Aldershot Town and AFC Wimbledon need to win to keep their hopes alive, but if they do, they could drag Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, York City, Plymouth Argyle or Torquay United into danger.

Whichever two teams do go down will be hopeful of returning to the FL via promotion at the first time of asking. Indeed, some teams have swiftly moved up from the Conference Premier into League One, like Crawley Town and Stevenage have done in the recent past. However, if they don't return quickly, the consequences could be dire.

Ask Stockport County fans. As recently as the 2001/2002 season, they were rubbing shoulders with local rivals Manchester City in Division 1 (now the Championship). However, five relegations in the space of 11 years, and just one promotion in that timeframe, have seen Stockport drop from the second tier of English football to the sixth.

Forget Manchester City, the Hatters could be taking on North Ferriby United among others in the Conference North next term.

Just over a decade after they persuaded former England international Carlton Palmer to effectively end his playing days at Edgeley Park, Stockport have been forced to go part-time. It's a sad state of affairs for County, who apart from the 2008 League Two Play-Off Final haven't had too many great nights out recently.

It's not a great surprise to learn that Stockport's decline has been largely down to financial trouble. They spent the entire 2009/2010 season - their last in League One - in administration. Since then, the club has also had a series of short-lived managers, including Dietmar Hamann, who was in charge for only four months in 2011. The most recent boss to lose his job was Darije Kalezic, a Bosnian who had no prior experience in English football and lasted less than two months.

County have been relegated three times in the past four seasons - ironically, a feat that would be matched by Plymouth in the unlikely event that the Devon side are demoted this afternoon.

Despite this latest setback, the current Hatters manager, Ian Bogie, is confident of getting back into the top tier of non-league football. He said, "My budget is competitive, we won't face any full-time teams in this league and I believe we can bounce straight back with the right players on board.

"I have achieved success in this league (Conference North) before on a part-time basis, and I would prefer to be given a healthy part-time budget than a massively reduced full-time budget."

Vice chairman Spencer Fearn also seemed sure that Stockport will be back in national football soon, saying, "Going part-time is, we believe, the right way forward - we were relegated last season despite having a full-time squad.

"This is very much a temporary measure, which we will review when we win promotion."

When we win promotion - that's confidence, for you. Well, good luck to Stockport. It'd be nice to see them get back up the leagues and return to their former status.

I'd also like to wish the best of luck to the seven teams battling against relegation from League Two today, but especially Dagenham & Redbridge (my local Football League club) and AFC Wimbledon (a club respected by so many neutrals).

26 April 2013

2013 TDTR Player of the Year nominees

Last Sunday, I revealed the names of the six players that I will consider for The Daily Transfer Request's Player of the Year award.

I will now look at all six nominees in greater detail, explaining why they have been nominated ahead of other possible contenders.

Leighton Baines is an attacking full-back who has made very few mistakes.
Leighton Baines (EVERTON)

Everton's excellent start to the Premier League season, and their sustained challenge for a European place, was largely down to two players: Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini. The latter would definitely had been nominated if his form hadn't dipped in the second half of the season, but Baines has been consistent throughout the campaign, so he gets the nod from me.

This is Baines' eighth season in the top flight, but this has been the year in which he has firmly established himself as one of the Premier League's leading defenders. You can count the number of mistakes that the 28-year-old has made this season on one finger, and that's why so many people now regard him as being England's best left-back ahead of Ashley Cole.

As well as his defensive qualities, Baines has become well known for his prowess as an attacking full-back. He has scored five PL goals, and created assists for five others as well. His deadliness when it comes to set-pieces, especially free-kicks, has earned him comparisons to another top-class left-back from the recent past, Roberto Carlos. Baines is not quite as renowned as the Brazilian legend, but he has had a blinding season and does not deserve to be off the PFA Player of the Year shortlist.

Left-foot virtuoso Gareth Bale can make a monkey of defenders.
Gareth Bale (TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR)

In the past two seasons, Gareth Bale has absolutely blitzed the first half of the Premier League campaign, and then dropped off in the New Year. You can't say that about him this season. He has been very much the talisman of a Tottenham Hotspur team that is seriously challenging for a top-three finish, and with it, an automatic place in next season's UEFA Champions League group stages.

The former left-back has been converted into a free-scoring midfielder, and his clinical finishing - which was at its best between late January and early March - has put him amongst the favourites to win the PFA Player of the Year. Any out-and-out striker would be satisfied with at least 20 goals a season, but Bale has already found the net 28 times in all club competitions, and he's far from finished.

23-year-old Bale was injured against FC Basel earlier this month, but in his comeback game last Sunday, he transformed a 1-0 deficit against Manchester City into a 3-1 win for Spurs. In recent years, the Wales international has rounded his game and is now seen by a certain Zinedine Zidane as the best player in European football. If that's the case, this might be Bale's last season in the Premier League - with several continental giants ready to offer silly money to Daniel Levy - but what a season it has been!

Eden Hazard has had a very impressive first season in English football.
Eden Hazard (CHELSEA)

Chelsea's biggest signing of the summer has lived up to his £32million price tag so far, and at the age of just 22, the best is yet to come from Eden Hazard. The Belgian is possibly the most controversial selection for this award, but he has demonstrated that he is as prolific with setting up goals as he is with scoring them. Without him, the Blues would perhaps struggle to qualify for the UEFA Champions League.

The attacking midfielder has scored a couple of sublime long-distance goals this season, and his pace can leave centre-backs coming up in rashes. I remember early on in the opening day match against Wigan Athletic that Hazard stormed past Ivan Ramis as if he wasn't there, and then set up the easiest of finishes for Branislav Ivanovic. That was a sign of things to come from a player who, in a few years time, will surely be up there with the very elite.

There was, of course, one blot in Hazard's Chelsea copybook. His mindless confrontation with a Swansea City ballboy in the League Cup Semi Final was a reminder that he's still young and still needs to grow up a little before he can become a Stamford Bridge great. But with nine goals and as many assists in his first Premier League season, this wonderkid is certainly heading in the right direction.

Juan Mata has been involved in nearly 50 Chelsea goals this season!
Juan Mata (CHELSEA)

After winning the UEFA Champions League and the European Championship, and participating in the Olympic Games, Juan Mata was given a well-deserved break at the start of Chelsea's league season. The Spanish wizard has been all the better for it, as after a sublime campaign, he is now seen as one of the Blues' key players. I'd go as far as to say that he is their most important player full stop.

Mata has built on a promising first season at Stamford Bridge, and come out even better in his second. He has scored 18 goals in all competitions, and has made so many assists that I've lost count! The hard-working forward has also built up an almost telephatic relationship with Chelsea's two new kids on the block, Oscar and the aforementioned Eden Hazard. Mata is the oldest of the trio, and even he is only 24, so those three players can form a frightening midfield team for the best part of the next decade.

His passing ability is second to hardly anyone in the Premier League, and a similarly small number of players can have as much influence on a match as Mata. It's no wonder, then, that so many loyal Blues are comparing him to arguably Chelsea's finest ever player, Gianfranco Zola. For a man who looks uncannily like Andre Villas-Boas, who is hardly a legend at Stamford Bridge, that's not bad going.

There are not many deadlier finishers in the PL than Luis Suarez.
Luis Suarez (LIVERPOOL)

In the 1950s and 1960s, Luis Suarez was a creative and high-scoring playmaker for Barcelona and Inter Milan, and was regarded as one of the best European midfielders of his generation. The Spaniard was also a class act. The current Luis Suarez is just as talented a footballer as his namesake, and even more deadly in front of goal, but he also far surpasses the original for controversy.

The Uruguayan forward is, quite simply, the only reason why Liverpool aren't in mid-table obscurity. His tally  of 23 goals in the Premier League this season is surpassed only by a certain Dutchman that I'll be talking about a bit later on. Of those 23 goals, the best came against Newcastle United, when he chested a 65-yard long ball, rounded the keeper and then finished with comfort. It's those moments of brilliance that set 26-year-old Suarez apart from his team-mates.

However, his candidacy for the PFA Player of the Year, and certainly also the TDTR Player of the Year, has been put under question by the fact that controversy seems to follow him. In the past, he's been found guilty of racial abuse, given opposing fans the finger and kept out a certain goal with his hands. Sunday's bite on Branislav Ivanovic will be the final straw for many, but when the decisions are made over who gets the big awards, will his obvious talent shine through rather than his many character flaws?

Robin van Persie has been THE deciding factor in the title race.
Robin van Persie (MANCHESTER UNITED)

Last year, Arsenal's captain Robin van Persie was named PFA Player of the Year, and I was one of those who agreed with that decision. After a prolific first campaign at Manchester United, in which he has won his first English league championship and looks set to pick up another 'Golden Boot', will van Persie be top dog for the PFA and me again?

Holland international van Persie doesn't look like matching his 30-goal Premier League tally from his final year at the Emirates Stadium, but 24 strikes this term have propelled his new club to a commanding victory in the title race. His second goal against Aston Villa on Monday, which effectively sealed the championship, was so sublime that I've agreed to give it a last-minute nomination for the TDTR Goal of the Year.

Something else which stands the 29-year-old apart from his peers is the quality of his shooting. In the PL, he's scored from less than a third of all his shots on target! He's also better than a lot of other leading strikers in terms of creating chances - he has an impressive tally of eight assists so far. As the crucial final piece of the jigsaw that is a brilliant Manchester United team, van Persie is the clear-cut favourite to win the TDTR Player of the Year... but anything could happen before the season is over and I make my final choice!

Special mentions
Like with the PFA Player of the Year award, I could only have six nominees for the TDTR Player of the Year gong. If I could have picked eight, then Swansea City's Michu and Everton's Marouane Fellaini would also have been in the running for sure.

Michu cost Swansea just £2million and came into England as a free-scoring attacking midfielder. We didn't know exactly how free-scoring he would become. He was the first goalscorer of the new Premier League season, and in all competitions, he has found the net 21 times in 38 games. His impact on English football has been so great that he has even been considered for a Spain international call-up, despite playing just one season in La Liga before moving to the Liberty Stadium.

Marouane Fellaini has been one of Everton's star attractions for five years now, but this season, he's taken his game to a different level. The versatile midfielder has racked up 11 goals and five assists in the Premier League, and being 6ft 4in tall, he is also a constant aerial threat. The Toffees may miss out on UEFA Champions League football this season, but I'm confident that the big-haired Belgian will be playing in that competition very soon.

Michu and Fellaini can both consider themselves very unlucky to have missed out on a big award nomination, but their disappointment will perhaps spur them on to play even better in the future.

22 April 2013

Classic Sky Sports News

Sky Sports News then...
...and Sky Sports News now!
I don't know if you've noticed, but Sky Sports News has introduced another new look today.

The new on-screen graphics look very crisp and much clearer than before. All in all, it looks great! I'm surprised that they've introduced it now, right at the finishing straight of the football season rather than in the off season like they usually do, but maybe they've got something even better planned...

It's a far cry from 1998, when most of the Premier League's players were still English, the glamorous female presenters of today were still at school or university, and it seemed that only the Japanese and the Americans had HD TV. But some things never change, like Mike Wedderburn presenting in the mornings. You can watch the very first promo video, featuring our Mike, on the wonderful TVARK.

Indeed, TVARK - just like YouTube - has plenty of Sky Sports News videos from days gone by, so it's worth a look if you want to reminisce about when the likes of James Munro and Dan Lobb were presenting.

As this year marks the 15th anniversary of the launch of Sky Sports News, I think this is as good time as any to look back at some of the channel's most memorable moments.

When I started watching SSN in the early 2000s, it looked very much like this: very white, very blue, and not exactly great in HD. However, it did have some fantastic intro music! Here's a typical introduction from 2004, before they replaced it with The Chemical Brothers, and before Di Stewart left to become a below-average golf presenter instead.


Two years on, and Sky Sports News looked even bluer! This is a 2006 interview with Macclesfield Town's new manager at that time, a certain Paul Ince.


In 2009, Ed Chamberlin was just another news presenter in the Sky Sports ranks. Here, he made a classic blooper, trying to interview the Steve McClaren's FC Twente manager Steve McClaren when the wally with the brolly was talking to another journalist! It didn't stop him from getting the top job of anchoring Sky's Premier League coverage two years later, though.


Soccer Saturday has been part of the Sky furniture since long before News Corporation's TV arm even thought about a 24-hour sports news channel. Jeff Stelling and the gang have been entertaining us for close to two decades, and one of Soccer Saturday's all-time highlights is this great moment from 2010:

To this day, I don't believe Chris Kamara has ever known exactly what happened at Fratton Park on 3 April 2010!

Of course, though, it wasn't all fun and laughter on Sky Sports News. One of the most memorable moments I've ever witnessed on SSN was Yorkshire football reporter Bryn Law breaking down live on air when talking about his recently-deceased friend Gary Speed in 2011.

Sky Sports News has always been well-known for giving jobs to young and attractive female presenters, and the queen bee of them was without a doubt Georgie Thompson. Georgie was, especially in the mid-2000s, the poster girl of the channel, until she started dating Dec out of Ant & Dec and started believing in her own publicity. Here she is on her final SSN shift in December 2011, as Julian Warren and Jim White give her the perfect send-off.

Thompson moved on to Sky's new F1 channel for the 2012 season, but she has since left the corporation and is expected to join BT Sport in the next few months.

And finally, here's something from earlier this season, as Jim White makes light of Joey Barton's French accent and Kirsty Gallacher can't contain herself.

Weekend reflections #19

Today, The Daily Transfer Request looks at Luis Suarez's latest controversy, and assesses the contrasting fortunes of Manchester's top two. We'll also be wondering if Queens Park Rangers can get out of freefall.

Would you like fries with your beefburger, Mr Suarez?
Bite me!
You can say what you like about Luis Suarez as a footballer, but as a man, he is certainly far from brilliant.

During the second half of Liverpool's 2-2 draw at home to Chelsea, Suarez seemed to feel a bit peckish, and had a bite at the arm of Blues defender Branislav Ivanovic in the Chelsea penalty area. The Serb was far from pleased to be on the Uruguayan's lunch menu, and Ivanovic showed referee Kevin Friend the bite marks on his upper arm. Friend didn't take any action.

But whenever Suarez has been hit by controversy, he has more often than not followed it up with brilliance. Liverpool were trailing 2-1 at the time of the big incident, but Suarez saved a point in the seventh minute of injury time, scoring an equaliser with almost literally the last kick of the game.

The Reds had got a draw, but - rather ironically - Suarez could have cost them that point. Early in the second half, Liverpool's Daniel Sturridge converted the Uruguay international's cross to cancel out Oscar's first-half opener for Chelsea. Five minutes later, though, the Blues had a penalty when Suarez handled a corner, and Eden Hazard made the most of the resulting spot kick.

In the space of 52 second-half minutes, including injury-time, Luis Suarez had turned from hero to villain, and then back to hero again, but he is almost certainly the villain of the piece now.

Pundits were very quick to condemn the 26-year-old's actions. Former England defender Warren Barton, now a soccer pundit for Fox in the US, said, "The FA and Liverpool have an obligation to do something about this, and do something pretty strong.

"It's not the first time (that he's bitten a player). It's not a person that's just lost his cool. This is an attempt to try and bite someone. I've been in the game for 20-odd years and I know you get frustrated, and you want to tackle or hit someone, but to go and bite someone? Come on."

As Barton and many other pundits, like Sky Sports' Jamie Redknapp, touched on, Suarez has previous when it comes to nibbling at opponents. In November 2010, two months prior to his big-money transfer to Liverpool, the then Ajax striker received a seven-game ban for biting PSV Eindhoven player Otman Bakkal after being sent off.

Suarez has also committed plenty of other indiscretions during his two years at Anfield. He's been accused of diving countless times, and also of stamping on an opponent and cheating to score a goal. That's bad enough without even mentioning his eight-game suspension for racially abusing Manchester United full-back Patrice Evra in 2011.

If he can pick up an eight-match ban for one act of racial abuse, what will he get for his second act of biting an opponent? The ban he receives this time around might be so severe that he might have to consider taking up another sport to pass the time before he comes back!

The FA can take action against Suarez because Kevin Friend didn't, but the worrying thing is that, if Friend had seen the incident and merely booked the striker, the FA's disciplinary panel would've had their hands tied behind their back. Justice will surely be done in this case, but there are plenty of other cases in which the FA have done nothing because they don't want to undermine the referee (cough Sergio Aguero). That flaw in the disciplinary system must be dealt with ASAP.

As for Suarez, he has proven once again that he is just as horrible an individual as he is an excellent footballer. If you want to put money on him winning The Daily Transfer Request's Player of the Year award, I can give you odds of 1,000,000,000/1 right now. There's more chance of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

Manchester United midfielder Michael Carrick: a PFA Player of the Year nominee.
Champ20ns
It is likely to be officially confirmed tonight, but there was never any real doubt that Manchester United would win the Premier League this year.

After losing the title in such dramatic fashion last season, Sir Alex Ferguson's team were determined to set things right. Like many great sportspeople and sports teams, they have roared back, looking even better than ever.

Tonight, United are at home to relegation candidates Aston Villa, the team who gifted them their first Premier League title in 1993 and could hand them their 13th, two decades on. 17th-placed Villa are unlikely to put up much of a fight at Old Trafford, so it looks inevitable that the Red Devils will secure their 20th league championship here and now.

United have been absolutely clinical this season. In 33 games, they have notched up 26 wins, 3 draws and just 4 losses. The summer signing of Robin van Persie from Arsenal has helped them to reach 75 goals - some way short of the 89 they managed last year, but still nine ahead of their closest rivals on that statistic, Chelsea. What's more, if they win their last five matches, they'll set a new PL points record of 96.

I've always seen United as having a much better team than Manchester City, and that has been evident throughout this season. That said, some of their younger first-teamers have excelled as individuals in this campaign. Goalkeeper David de Gea finally seems to have settled in as United's number 1 after a shaky start, and Rafael da Silva is now firmly established as first-choice right-back.

Some have said that this current squad is better than Ferguson's Treble-winning team of 1999. I say that's hogwash. They've been made to look dominant because Manchester City have been so slack at times, and of the class of 2013, I believe only van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Nemanja Vidic would've been good enough for the squad from 14 years ago.

However, you can't deny that Manchester United are worthy winners of the Premier League in 2012/2013.

Heaven knows that Roberto Mancini is miserable now.
Lacklustre City
I've just said that Manchester City have been slack at times in this Premier League season, and yesterday was a case in point.

With 16 minutes to go at White Hart Lane, City were 1-0 up against Tottenham Hotspur. Gareth Bale was hardly being noticed, and the noisy neighbours' even noisier neighbours were having to put their title celebrations on hold for another week.

Seven minutes later, it was all change. In the 75th minute, Bale's trusty left foot provided Clint Dempsey with a cross to tap past Joe Hart, and the Tottenham fightback was on.

Four minutes later, two of Andre Villas-Boas' substitutes dealt a massive blow to City's title hopes. Lewis Holtby supplied a pass to Jermain Defoe, who jinked past Citizens captain Vincent Kompany and curled home for 2-1. City centre-back Kompany was inpenetrable for the first five-sixths of this match, but all of a sudden, he and his team-mates didn't look like they could protect a kitten, let alone a lead.

The Spurs comeback was complete on 82 minutes, with the help of another Villas-Boas sub. Tom Huddlestone hit a killer through-ball to Bale, and with a cool chip over Hart's head, the Welsh wizard wrapped up all three points. Three important points that, on the day of reckoning, could see Tottenham in the UEFA Champions League.

That was only City's fifth league defeat of the season, but here's the problem - they've drawn, and in this case lost, too many games from good positions. They have lost concentration far too regularly since 13 May last year, while United have had their eye on the ball ever since their surprise opening-round defeat to Everton.

It was City's lack of concentration that cost them a famous win at Real Madrid, and ultimately, a place in the Champions League knockout stages. It could also be their undoing against Wigan Athletic, a team that every man and his dog expects to be beaten by the Sky Blues in next month's FA Cup Final.

Other things have contributed to the champions' downfall. They haven't spent wisely, especially not with signing English midfielders Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair. Rodwell's season has been devastated by injury yet again, and Sinclair has been very anonymous since he disappeared from Swansea City.

Manager Roberto Mancini has made tactical blunder after tactical blunder, and Hart has been more butterfingers than safe hands in goal on a number of occasions. Even selling Mario Balotelli didn't change City's fortunes.

When the season is over, Manchester City could be Premier League runners-up and FA Cup winners. That is never enough for Roman Abramovich, so will it be enough for Khaldoon Al Mubarak? If not, the Citizens' greatest manager in decades could be packing his belongings 12 months after his greatest hour.

Queens Park Rangers are coming to Dean Court and London Road next season.
Hoops in a vicious circle
If Harry Redknapp can save Queens Park Rangers from relegation, then he'll probably be the greatest manager that has ever lived.

But after a 2-0 home defeat against Stoke City left his team 10 points adrift of safety with just 12 left to fight for, even Redknapp gave up the ghost. "It's almost impossible now, for sure," he said of survival. It will be absolutely impossible if Aston Villa stun Manchester United tonight - a Villa win would condemn both QPR and Reading to Championship football next season.

To be fair to Redknapp, he has done his best to get QPR out of their rut. The writing was on the wall as early as last autumn - they took until December to register a PL victory, and after 34 games, they have managed just four wins in total.

Since their 2007 takeover by Flavio Briatore, QPR have spent vast amounts of money, firstly to get themselves into the Premier League, and then to try and establish themselves as a top-flight force. The first mission was completed after four years in 2011, shortly before Tony Fernandes took the helm. The second objective, trying to build on their last-day survival from last season, has been very difficult.

On paper, it should've been much easier, considering the number of top-quality players that they have in their ranks. Some of their signings have performed brilliantly - namely Julio Cesar, Loic Remy and Andros Townsend - but others haven't.

The hard-working Park Ji-Sung was meant to be their captain marvel, but he has been so far from marvellous that he is considering retirement at the end of next season. His Korean compatriot Yun Suk-Young has done precisely nothing since his arrival in January. Esteban Granero, David Hoilett, Stephane Mbia and Christopher Samba all came in with big reputations - none of them lived up to the hype.

There are so many underperforming players on such high wages that relegation to the Championship would leave QPR in a potential financial quagmire. What's more, Fernandes has pledged to leave if Rangers do go down, so he'll be under pressure to stand by what he said and sell up.

With a massive wage bill to cut, and possibly a new manager to appoint if Redknapp is sacked, QPR are certainly not in a good position to go straight back up to the Premier League. Indeed, it's more likely that they could go into freefall.

Blackburn Rovers had a big-money takeover and tried to get into the Champions League - they could be in League One next season. Portsmouth had great ambition and lots of investment from a series of multi-millionaires - they'll be spending next term in League Two. Who's to say that Queens Park Rangers will be the latest former top-flight club to slide down the divisions?

21 April 2013

2013 TDTR Awards nominees

Manchester United striker Robin van Persie: Will RVP be my MVP again?


It's that time of the year where the football community gives out its annual awards - and at The Daily Transfer Request, we're not going to be any different.

Today, I am pleased to review the list of nominees for the 15 TDTR Awards to be given out this season. When the Premier League season ends in four weeks time, on 19 May, I will announce all of the winners, and indeed the losers in the case of some awards.

But who are the contenders? Well, here they are...

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Leighton Baines (EVERTON)
Gareth Bale (TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR)
Eden Hazard (CHELSEA)
Juan Mata (CHELSEA)
Luis Suarez (LIVERPOOL)
Robin van Persie (MANCHESTER UNITED)

I will explain my nominations for the Player of the Year award in a separate article next week. For now, you can vote for your own Player of the Year using our poll.

(WORST) PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Fabio Borini (LIVERPOOL)
Jose Bosingwa (QUEENS PARK RANGERS)
Esteban Granero (QUEENS PARK RANGERS)
Danny Guthrie (READING)
Ivan Ramis (WIGAN ATHLETIC)
Markus Rosenberg (WEST BROMWICH ALBION)

TEAM OF THE YEAR
Everton
Manchester City
Manchester United
Swansea City
Tottenham Hotspur

MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Steve Clarke (WEST BROMWICH ALBION)
Sir Alex Ferguson (MANCHESTER UNITED)
Michael Laudrup (SWANSEA CITY)
David Moyes (EVERTON)
Andre Villas-Boas (TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR)

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
(All nominees born on or after 1 June 1991)
Ben Davies (SWANSEA CITY)
Romelu Lukaku (WEST BROMWICH ALBION)
Matija Nastasic (MANCHESTER CITY)
Oscar (CHELSEA)
Raheem Sterling (LIVERPOOL)

VETERAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR
(All nominees born on or before 31 May 1980)
Julio Cesar (QUEENS PARK RANGERS)
Sylvain Distin (EVERTON)
Steven Gerrard (LIVERPOOL)
Tim Howard (EVERTON)
Frank Lampard (CHELSEA)

DEVIL OF THE YEAR
Craig Gardner (SUNDERLAND)
Matthew Lowton (ASTON VILLA)
Stephane Mbia (QUEENS PARK RANGERS)
Steven Pienaar (EVERTON)
Luis Suarez (LIVERPOOL)

CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Almen Abdi (WATFORD)
Charlie Austin (BURNLEY)
Matthew Connolly (CARDIFF CITY)
Thomas Ince (BLACKPOOL)
Glenn Murray (CRYSTAL PALACE)
Matej Vydra (WATFORD)

SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
Bradford City reach League Cup Final
Celtic stun Barcelona in Champions League
Everton start the season strongly
Luton Town knock Norwich City out of FA Cup
Richard Wright signs for Manchester City

MATCH OF THE YEAR
Arsenal 7-3 Newcastle United (Premier League)
Borussia Dortmund 3-2 Malaga (Champions League)
Manchester City 2-3 Manchester United (Premier League)
Reading 5-7 Arsenal (League Cup)
Real Madrid 3-2 Manchester City (Champions League)

GOAL OF THE YEAR
Hatem Ben Arfa (NEWCASTLE UNITED vs Aston Villa)
Andy Carroll (WEST HAM UNITED vs West Bromwich Albion)
Jermain Defoe (TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR vs West Ham United)
Cameron Jerome (STOKE CITY vs Southampton)
Robin van Persie (MANCHESTER UNITED vs Aston Villa)*
Jonathan Walters (STOKE CITY vs West Ham United)
* Given a late nomination for this award on 26 April

MERIT AWARD
Huw Jenkins (for overseeing the transformation of Swansea City)
Ross County & St Mirren (for standing up for fans and vetoing ridiculous Scottish league reconstruction plans)
Stiliyan Petrov (for bravely battling leukaemia throughout this season)

WORLD STAR OF THE FUTURE
(All nominees born on or after 1 June 1993)
Lucas Digne (LILLE & FRANCE)
Julian Draxler (SCHALKE 04 & GERMANY)
Viktor Fischer (AJAX & DENMARK)
Lazar Markovic (PARTIZAN BELGRADE & SERBIA)
Charis Mavrias (PANATHINAIKOS & GREECE)

WORLD TEAM OF THE YEAR
Barcelona
Bayern Munich
Corinthians
Manchester United
Paris Saint-Germain
Real Madrid

WORLD PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Radamel Falcao (ATLETICO MADRID & COLOMBIA)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN & SWEDEN)
Andres Iniesta (BARCELONA & SPAIN)
Lionel Messi (BARCELONA & ARGENTINA)
Manuel Neuer (BAYERN MUNICH & GERMANY)
Cristiano Ronaldo (REAL MADRID & PORTUGAL)
Luis Suarez (LIVERPOOL & URUGUAY)

Feel free to have your say in the comments section if you disagree with any of my nominations, or indeed believe that I've omitted anyone.

19 April 2013

TDTR Awards: The story so far

It's almost time for TDTR's very own Oscars... sans Seth MacFarlane.

The PFA have announced the nominees for their annual football awards, and it'll soon be time for The Daily Transfer Request to follow suit.

On Sunday, I will reveal the names of those in contention for no fewer than 15 awards, with nominees picked by an elite judging panel of esteemed football experts... by which I mean just myself. Then, on the final day of the Premier League season, I will confirm the winners and losers.

Although this will be the first time that my personal football awards are made public on the interweb, I've actually been giving them out, figuratively speaking, since 2005. Chelsea captain John Terry was my first Premier League Player of the Year, although I'm sure he was more honoured to receive that accolade from his fellow professionals than from a 15-year-old schoolboy!

Ahead of the announcement of the nominees for this years's TDTR Awards - or, if you like, the FULLERs - I'll fill you in on all the previous winners and wieners from the past eight seasons.

PLAYER OF THE YEAR
This is the premier award, going to the player who, in my opinion, is the best of the Premier League season.
2005: John Terry (Chelsea)
2006: Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
2007: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United)
2009: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
2010: Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
2011: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
2012: Robin van Persie (Arsenal)

The story so far... The former 'Big Four' have had a firm grip on this award, although surprisingly, only one player has taken it home twice, that being Cristiano Ronaldo. Robin van Persie could repeat that feat this year, and also become the first winner with two different clubs. I haven't even nominated a goalkeeper since Chelsea's Petr Cech in 2005 - will that change this year?

(WORST) PLAYER OF THE YEAR
This is the one award that no player wants to win! The award goes to who I believe is the Premier League's worst player this season.
2005: Mauricio Pellegrino (Liverpool)
2006: Jonathan Stead (Sunderland)
2007: Souleymane Diawara (Charlton Athletic)
2008: Robert Earnshaw (Derby County)
2009: Fabricio Coloccini (Newcastle United)
2010: Alberto Aquilani (Liverpool)
2011: Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal)
2012: Roger Johnson (Wolverhampton Wanderers)

The story so far... Liverpool are the only team who have had two different players 'win' this award. Two ex-chumps have moved onto better things, with Fabricio Coloccini getting very close to a Player of the Year nomination last season and Souleymane Diawara establishing himself as a key part of Marseille's defence.

TEAM OF THE YEAR
This award goes to the Premier League team that I think has been the most outstanding this season.
2005: Chelsea
2006: Chelsea
2007: Manchester United
2008: Manchester United
2009: Manchester United
2010: Chelsea
2011: Manchester United
2012: Manchester City

The story so far... Every year without fail, the Premier League champions have also won this award. Therefore, you won't be surprised to learn that Chelsea and Manchester United have dominated the list of previous winners. Last year saw Manchester City break the stranglehold, but will anyone stop United from claiming their fifth award this term?

MANAGER OF THE YEAR
This award is given to the Premier League manager who, in my opinion, has done the best job this season.
2005: Jose Mourinho (Chelsea)
2006: Martin Jol (Tottenham Hotspur)
2007: Steve Coppell (Reading)
2008: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
2009: Roy Hodgson (Fulham)
2010: Harry Redknapp (Tottenham Hotspur)
2011: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United)
2012: Alan Pardew (Newcastle United)

The story so far... After Jose Mourinho and Martin Jol took the first two Manager of the Year awards out of these shores, the next six winners have all been British. A certain Sir Alex Ferguson is the only boss, to date, to have won more than once. Could his double become a treble in 2013?

YOUNG PLAYER OF THE YEAR
This is for the young bucks - the winner is, in my opinion, the best young player of the Premier League season. Nominees for this award must be aged 21 or under at the end of the season (1 June).
2005: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
2006: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
2007: Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
2008: Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal)
2009: Jonny Evans (Manchester United)
2010: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
2011: Gareth Bale (Tottenham Hotspur)
2012: Danny Welbeck (Manchester United)

The story so far... Well, well, well: three double winners! It was the Rooney and Fabregas show for the first four years, and Gareth Bale was the head boy at the turn of the decade. None of the previous winners are eligible in 2013, so there'll be a new victor this year.

VETERAN PLAYER OF THE YEAR
This is for the golden oldies - the winner is, in my opinion, the best older player of the Premier League season. Nominees for this award must be aged 33 or over at the end of the season (31 May).
2005: Alan Shearer (Newcastle United)
2006: Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
2007: David James (Portsmouth)
2008: David James (Portsmouth)
2009: Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United)
2010: Shay Given (Manchester City)
2011: Edwin van der Sar (Manchester United)
2012: Paul Scholes (Manchester United)

The story so far... It's not a great surprise that goalkeepers have traditionally well when it comes to this award. David James and Edwin van der Sar have both won twice, although there's no chance of either of them getting a third win. Again, Manchester United have had the most wins - noticing a pattern, here?

DEVIL OF THE YEAR
There's no set criteria for this award. The winner, or more appropriately the SINNER, is a Premier League player that has been particularly ill-disciplined or just generally nasty this season.
2005: El Hadji Diouf (Bolton Wanderers)
2006: Arjen Robben (Chelsea)
2007: Joey Barton (Manchester City)
2008: Kevin Davies (Bolton Wanderers)
2009: Marouane Fellaini (Everton)
2010: Ricardo Rocha (Portsmouth)
2011: Lee Cattermole (Sunderland)
2012: Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)

The story so far... Eight years, eight different recipients. A couple of clubs have had the indignity of seeing two of their players named as the biggest sinner - Manchester City, and Sam Allardyce-era Bolton Wanderers.

CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYER OF THE YEAR
It's my only lower-league award, and it goes to the most outstanding player in the Championship this season.
2005: Nathan Ellington (Wigan Athletic)
2006: Phil Jagielka (Sheffield United)
2007: Gareth Bale (Southampton)
2008: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
2009: Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
2010: Kevin Nolan (Newcastle United)
2011: Adel Taarabt (Queens Park Rangers)
2012: Rickie Lambert (Southampton)

The story so far... Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (remember him?) is the only player so far that I have picked as the Championship's best player on more than one occasion. The man who won the award the season before Ebanks-Blake hit top form, Gareth Bale, has done pretty well for himself since he excelled in the second tier as a 17-year-old.

SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
This award should be sponsored by Ronseal, because it does exactly what it says on the tin. The most surprising moment of the football season gets the award.
2005: Liverpool reach Champions League Final
2006: Burton Albion hold Manchester United to draw
2007: Reading storm up the table
2008: Kevin Keegan back at Newcastle United
2009: Joe Kinnear joins Newcastle United
2010: Fulham reach Europa League Final
2011: Manchester United sign Portuguese forward Bebe
2012: Manchester clubs flop in UEFA Champions League

The story so far... The first winners, Liverpool, won Surprise of the Year before that memorable night in Istanbul. Since then, two Uniteds have surprised me more than once for the wrong reasons... Newcastle for two shock managerial appointments, and Manchester for a couple of cup horror shows and a dreadful signing.

MATCH OF THE YEAR
Introduced in 2009, this award is given to the most classic match of the season, in my opinion at least. Matches from the Premier League, FA Cup, League Cup or UEFA Champions League are eligible.
2009: Arsenal 4-4 Tottenham Hotspur (Premier League)
2010: Arsenal 2-2 Barcelona (Champions League)
2011: Inter Milan 4-3 Tottenham Hotspur (Champions League)
2012: Manchester United 1-6 Manchester City (Premier League)

The story so far... Arsenal were the great entertainers in 2009 and 2010, and a year later, their North London rivals triumphed with a spirited performance in Milan. City's derby thrashing of United was the best match of last season, but what about this year?

GOAL OF THE YEAR
Introduced just two years ago, this award goes to the scorer of the most outstanding goal of the Premier League season.
2011: Cheik Tiote (NEWCASTLE UNITED vs Arsenal)
2012: Hatem Ben Arfa (NEWCASTLE UNITED vs Bolton Wanderers)

The story so far... This may be a young award, but it has very much been nominated by Newcastle. Cheik Tiote won for his stunner against Arsenal which turned a 4-0 deficit to a 4-4 draw. Another Magpie, Hatem Ben Arfa, then took the spoils last year, but only because team-mate Papiss Cisse's fluke goal against Chelsea came too late to be nominated. Guess who one of the favourites for THIS season's award is? Hatem Ben Arfa.

MERIT AWARD
This is another young award, which I only began giving out in 2009. It goes to the team(s) or individual(s) who have set an inspirational example for their peers in the season just gone.
2009: Luton Town
2010: not awarded
2011: Howard Webb
2012: Fabrice Muamba

The story so far... Luton won in 2009 for bravely battling on in League Two, despite a ridiculous 30-point deduction. Nobody was deemed worthy of the award a year later, so the next recipient was Howard Webb, for becoming one of world football's leading referees. Fabrice Muamba is the most recent winner, for reasons which I am sure you will know about.

WORLD TEAM OF THE YEAR
This award goes to the most outstanding team from anywhere in the world this season.
2005: Chelsea
2006: Barcelona
2007: AC Milan
2008: Manchester United
2009: Manchester United
2010: Inter Milan
2011: Barcelona
2012: Real Madrid

The story so far... Barcelona and Manchester United are both double winners, and either team could get their third World Team of the Year nod in 2013. Most of the nominees, and indeed all of the previous winners, come from Europe, but any non-European team which reaches the FIFA Club World Cup Final is automatically entitled to a nomination, so that means Corinthians are one of the outsiders for this year's accolade.

WORLD PLAYER OF THE YEAR
It's the big one. This award goes to the player that I believe has been the best footballer in the world this season.
2005: Samuel Eto'o (Barcelona & Cameroon)
2006: Ronaldinho (Barcelona & Brazil)
2007: Kaka (AC Milan & Brazil)
2008: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United & Portugal)
2009: Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina)
2010: Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina)
2011: Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina)
2012: Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Argentina)

The story so far... Four different winners in the first four years, and then one footballing phenomenon cleans up for the next quadrennial! Senor Messi is odds-on to be named as my World Player of the Year for an incredible fifth successive season, but Cristiano Ronaldo still has a reasonable chance of upsetting the applecart.

There will also be one NEW award introduced this season, to mark my awards' first year on The Daily Transfer Request...

WORLD STAR OF THE FUTURE
This is like a global version of the Young Player of the Year award. The winner is the player who I believe is the best teenage footballer anywhere in the world this season. Nominees for this award must be aged 19 or under at the end of the season (1 June).

Come back here on Sunday to find out who I've nominated this year!

13 April 2013

Bittersweet symphony

Sweet: Callum McManaman books Wigan Athletic a second trip to Wembley.

Wigan's most famous sons are perhaps the 1990s alternative rock band The Verve, whose biggest hit was "Bitter Sweet Symphony".

Bittersweet sums up my feelings after witnessing Richard Ashcroft and co's hometown club reach the FA Cup Final at the expense of Millwall. It feels sweet because a team that has only been a Football League member for 35 years has made it to the biggest game in English football, but it also feels bitter because Millwall fans have once again sullied the reputation of their beloved club.

I'll start with the sweet. Wigan Athletic played in an unfamiliar red strip in their first FA Cup Semi Final, but it certainly brought them plenty of luck at Wembley Stadium, where - of course - another team had some pretty good fortune with it 47 years ago.

The first goal took a while in coming, but they broke through after 25 minutes. The two best Latics players on the day in my opinion teamed up perfectly on that occasion, as Arouna Koné's lofted cross was clinically finished by Shaun Maloney.

Millwall battled on, particularly in the second half, when Wigan goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi was forced into a number of crucial saves to keep the Lions at bay. The Omani international has been replaced as Wigan's first-choice keeper in the league by on-loan Joel Robles, but when it comes to the FA Cup, Al Habsi is still the number 1, and he once again performed brilliantly.

With 12 minutes to go, Wigan wrapped it up with a goal from their youth team product Callum McManaman, who has certainly made his mark on top-level domestic football this season, as Massadio Haidara will testify.

Reaching the FA Cup Final represents the fulfilment of the dream of many Wigan fans. Those who were around 40 years ago witnessed their team play at Wembley in the FA Trophy Final, which they lost in extra time to the now-defunct Scarborough.

Back in those days, Wigan Athletic were a non-league club playing Northern Premier League fixtures at Springfield Park. They tried (and failed) to win election to the Football League no fewer than 34 times, and even tried to enter the Scottish League in 1972! Six years later, they finally got their wish and replaced Southport in the Football League.

Wigan managed to win promotion to Division 3 after just four seasons in Division 4, but when they were relegated back to the bottom tier in 1993, life became tough for them. It wasn't until 1995, when footballer-turned-businessman Dave Whelan purchased the Latics, that the club's fortunes turned around again.

Athletic were promoted back to the old Division 3, which was then called Division 2 and is now League One, in 1997. A couple of years later, they moved into the house that Whelan built - the JJB Stadium, which has since been renamed as the DW Stadium. They then entered the Championship in 2003 before reaching the promised land of the Premier League in 2005.

Wigan have defied the odds to stay in the PL for eight consecutive seasons, and they have also experienced a major cup final, the 2006 League Cup Final, which they comprehensively lost to Manchester United. But the FA Cup Final is a different kettle of fish. Four decades after playing against teams like Ellesmere Port Town, Netherfield and South Liverpool on a regular basis, Wigan are now preparing for the biggest match in their history against either Chelsea or Manchester City, back at the 'Venue of Legends'.

The Latics fans at Wembley behaved with a lot of dignity, which is more than can be said of some Millwall 'supporters'. Everything was hunky dory until Wigan went 2-0 up, at which point some 'bushwackers' decided to mark Baroness Thatcher's death by repeating some of the thuggish scenes of some Lions fans during the Thatcher era.

Groups of spectators in the Millwall sections of Wembley fought with police officers, not to mention themselves. Stewards took time to try and control the violence as women and children were left in tears. When ESPN showed pictures of a young Millwall-supporting girl crying, that really made me question my continued backing for a club that I have supported since a school trip to The Den a decade ago.

"Why do I bother supporting them now?" I asked myself. I would always try to defend my second team whenever the issue of Millwall hooliganism is brought up, and the problem with violence isn't as bad as it was in the 1980s, but I can't defend them on this occasion. This was an FA Cup Semi Final at Wembley for goodness sake! The least one would expect from the 30,000-odd Lions at the national stadium was that at least 99% of them would be on their best behaviour.

I should stress that the Millwall players are totally blameless, along with the majority of their supporters. But the people that I really feel most sorry for are the chairman John Berylson, CEO Andy Ambler, and the other directors and executives at The Den who try their level best to make their south London club famous for all the right reasons. Their hard work is being done by a thuggish minority who try to break their compatriots' noses and take police officers' helmets away from Wembley as souvenirs.

Sadly, newspapers like the Daily Mail will take this as an opportunity to tar all Lions fans with the same 'bigoted violent fascists' brush, when in fact they should be congratulating Wigan on a magnificent achievement.

Wigan Athletic do get a lot of stick for having a controversial chairman, a half-full stadium and a squad that has more nationalities than Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's children, but they really are living the dream. They are an inspiration for any regional league team who, 40 years down the line, will want to be even half as successful as the Latics are now.

Bitter: Millwall fans drag their club's reputation through the mud once more.

8 April 2013

So solid Crewe

Crewe Alexandra celebrate their victory in the Football League Trophy final.

It's hard to find anyone who has a bad word to say about Crewe Alexandra as a football club.

That's why it was so pleasing to see Crewe add a trophy to their cabinet yesterday when they defeated Southend United 2-0 to take home the Johnstone's Paint Trophy. Their victory at Wembley was their first in a national cup final, if you disregard the two Welsh Cups they lifted in the 1930s.

What's more, they did it with a core of youth academy graduates. Their captain Luke Murphy is one of them, and he set the ball rolling with a sublime opening goal after six minutes. The 23-year-old midfielder, who has made over 150 senior appearances since his debut in 2008, is a Cheshire boy born and bred.

Crewe's other goal came four minutes into the second half, and it was scored by their star striker. Max Clayton was born in the north-western railway town, his father Paul also represented the Railwaymen, and his brother Harry is on their books as well.

In 68 senior appearances, Clayton has scored 13 goals, and he is still only 18 years of age. It's no wonder that more and more people are starting to hear more about this sublime talent, but he's not quite a household name yet. When announcing yesterday's result on Absolute Radio, DJ Mark Crossley (no relation to the former Nottingham Forest keeper) referred to Max as 'Adam Clayton'.

Murphy and Clayton will surely be in demand when the transfer window swings open ahead of next season. They could very well follow in the footsteps of another Crewe youth starlet who scored in a major Wembley final, and get a big-money move to the Premier League.

It was the League Two Play-Off Final on 27 May last year when Alex midfielder Nick Powell introduced himself to top-flight suitors with a stunning strike against Cheltenham Town. Powell, then 18, had scored the 16th goal of his first season as a first-team regular. A few days later, a little known manager called Sir Alex Ferguson asked Crewe if he could sign Powell for his Manchester United side. They said yes, and got around £3million in return.

A few months later, Crewe sold another graduate - midfielder Ashley Westwood - to Aston Villa on deadline day. Westwood has been one of the few shining lights in a dark season overall for Paul Lambert's Villans.

Thanks to the money that their youth players generate in transfer fees, the Railwaymen are considered to be one of the most financially-stable clubs in English professional football. Indeed, they are one of those Football League members that have never entered administration, because they spend very prudently and focus on developing youngsters through the academy.

That is a legacy of Dario Gradi, who was manager between 1983 and 2007, and then again between 2009 and 2011. Gradi is still at the club as technical director, and to say that the Italian-born Londoner is popular at the Alexandra Stadium is like saying that a few people have heard of Barack Obama. To Alex fans, he is almost a deity.

Gradi promoted, and still promotes, attractive technical football at Crewe, and he also promoted countless teenage talents to the first-team ranks during his tenure. The most successful products of the club's academy have included Dean Ashton, Seth Johnson, Rob Jones, Danny Murphy and David Vaughan. Gradi also helped turn Neil Lennon, David Platt and Robbie Savage into stars after they were rejected by bigger clubs.

Gradi's managerial mantle has been taken up by Steve Davis, architect of last season's promotion to League One. After winning them their first major trophy, Davis and his team will now conclude a league campaign in which they look to set to finish comfortably in mid-table.

Davis' class of 2013 is full of Alex academy stars. Byron Moore, the scorer of Crewe's other goal in that Play-Off Final, started against Southend. He came through the youth team, as did Harry Davis (Steve's son), Kelvin Mellor and Matt Tootle. Add in Murphy and Clayton, along with the three substitutes, and that's nine youth products out of the 14 players that took part in yesterday's match.

It would have been 10 out of 14 had tragedy not struck defender Adam Dugdale on the eve of the trip to Wembley. Adam and his partner Nicola sadly lost their newborn son Jude recently, and fans from both Crewe and Southend paid tribute to the Alex number 6 by applauding and chanting his name in the 6th minute.

Crewe Alexandra are as family-friendly a club as they come in the Football League. They have been around for 136 years, but still have a very bright future to look forward to. With their emphasis on developing young players and playing attractive football, they are sure to pick up plenty of new admirers over the next few years.

RIP Margaret Thatcher

This is a football blog, but I'd like to break away from that for one moment, and pay tribute to Baroness Margaret Thatcher, one of the most important figures in my country's recent history.

The former British Prime Minister died this morning of a stroke aged 87. She was not only our first female PM, but she was our longest-serving PM of the 20th century. When I was born on 11 April 1990, she was in the last few months of her 11-year reign.

Mrs Thatcher was a very divisive figure, but for many people (me included), she will go down in history as one of the United Kingdom's greatest Prime Ministers.

Margaret Thatcher: 1925-2013.
RIP Mrs Thatcher

1 April 2013

FIFA in new racism controversy

Frankfurt's Alexander Meier was upset by taunts from Furth supporters.

FIFA have today been urged to act following another case of racism - this time, in the German league.

The incident happened in a Bundesliga match between Greuther Furth and Eintracht Frankfurt. After Alexander Meier scored in the 69th minute to give Frankfurt a 3-1 lead in a match they would eventually win 3-2, he was hit by an array of insults from Furth supporters.

At one point, Meier was close to tears as he was relentlessly abused by home fans - just because he is 196cm (6ft 5in) tall.

Some of the insults that Meier received included "Eiffelturm" (Eiffel tower), "Holzfäller" (lumberjack), and "Wie ist das wetter da oben?" (How is the weather up there?). Later on, fans at the Trolli Arena sang, "Es gibt nur ein Peter Crouch!" (There's only one Peter Crouch!) A few other insults are too vulgar to print, even when not translated from German to English.

After the gamr, Meier wrote on his Twitter account, "Ich habe noch nie so in meiner karriere angewidert." (I have never been so disgusted in my career.)

An investigation into the incident has found widespread abuse of tall players by fans of Greuther Furth. On one fans' forum, a supporter wrote, "Furth is proud to be full of short and medium-sized players. We will never accept any tall ******s in our team!" Another fan of the 'Clover Leaves' typed, "These tallies should go back to where they come from!"

These Greuther fans are perhaps unaware that the number 29 in their squad, goalkeeper Issa Ndoye, is 202cm (6ft 7in). He hasn't played a single minute in the league this season.

This isn't the first time that Furth have been embroiled in a racism storm. A 2010 DFB-Pokal Quarter Final at Bayern Munich was marred by sickening chanting from the visiting supporters. Some Bayern players were taunted for having free earlobes as opposed to attached earlobes, and captain Mark van Bommel was abused because he wasn't blue-eyed. At the time, the DFB launched an investigation, but then quietly shelved it.

This time round, the DFB are determined to find and punish those involved, and a Bundesliga spokeswoman said, "Racism in any form is very serious, and we will punish any team whose supporters are found guilty of it. We will seriously consider deducting league points from any team involved in bigotry."

FIFA's General Secretary, Jérome Valcke, will today have to answer some tough questions to allay concerns that football's governing body is soft on racism. This latest incident is particularly untimely because FIFA President Sepp Blatter is due to make a surprise visit to Craven Cottage, where he will attend Fulham's Premier League match against Queens Park Rangers tonight as a guest of perhaps the Cottagers' most famous fan, 6ft 7in Richard Osman from the TV show 'Pointless'.

To view and hear footage from Greuther Furth vs Eintracht Frankfurt, click here. (WARNING: This link contains scenes of a disturbing nature.)