World Football

B/R Gossip Roundup: United to Back Moyes, Balotelli Spurs Bid Unlikely

BR UK NewsFeatured ColumnistMarch 2, 2014

B/R Gossip Roundup: United to Back Moyes, Balotelli Spurs Bid Unlikely

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    Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images

    The Champions League might have dominated the football agenda, with Real Madrid delivering a masterclass and Manchester United suffering a further jolt, but there is always room for speculation and rumour in among the glamour ties.

    The newspapers have provided plenty of material for us to discuss over the past seven days, with Wayne Rooney, Luis Suarez and Mario Balotelli among those making the headlines.

    Here, we have taken a number of articles from the past week and offered our own viewpoint on them.

Victor Valdes to Liverpool Transfer Rumour Fails to Keep Credibility

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    Alvaro Barrientos/Associated Press

    The future of Barcelona goalkeeper Victor Valdes will be the subject of speculation until the Spain international finally ends it himself at the conclusion of the season.

    The experienced Camp Nou No. 1 is widely expected to leave the La Liga champions in the summer and, according to Charles Perrin of the Daily Express this week, Liverpool are leading the chase for his signature.

    But this really isn't a move we foresee as happening.

    Liverpool are currently being well-served by Simon Mignolet, who is enjoying some excellent form in his first season since joining from Sunderland last year. The Belgium international is still only 25, which represents a tender age in goalkeeping terms, and his displays to date show he could become No. 1 at Anfield for years to come.

    Mignolet is still improving with the Reds, but the signs are there that Liverpool have something good on their hands, akin to long-standing goalkeepers of the club's past such as Bruce Grobbelaar and Ray Clemence. Such figures were the backbone to the Reds' glory years.

    Would Brendan Rodgers really want to upset that with the capture of Valdes in the summer?

    There is no doubt that every successful Premier League squad needs two solid goalkeepers to maintain their challenges for silverware.

    But as an experienced and successful stopper, Valdes would not be a value-for-money capture with the wages he is set to command.

    There would be no argument that Liverpool need a reliable understudy to Mignolet, with Brad Jones failing to impress fully on his three FA Cup appearances this season. 

    But after dispatching Pepe Reina on a season-long loan deal to Napoli this year, it seems clear that Rodgers is not looking for a high-earning back-up to be cooling his heels on the bench.

    And then there is Valdes himself. Is the 32-year-old really looking for a club where he will be playing second choice?

    The Barcelona star has only been prevented from making his name on the international stage by the talents of major names such as Iker Casillas.

    Undoubtedly, Valdes would have been a far bigger global name if he had been born at a different time to the Real Madrid star, and his experience of that disappointment is bound to ensure playing No. 2 to anyone is not part of his thinking.

     

    Believability meter: Very low

    Liverpool are unlikely to be looking for a high-earning second-choice goalkeeper to warm the bench with Mignolet playing well.

    Valdes is no stranger to being No. 2 with his country, and it is not a situation any player will enjoy.

    At 32, the Barcelona goalkeeper still has plenty to offer, but both Valdes and Liverpool will recognise that won't be from the bench.

Luis Suarez High on Atletico Madrid's Summer Wishlist

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    Two big transfer sagas of 2013 look set to be similarly protracted affairs in 2014, as both Luis Suarez and Diego Costa are coveted by some of the continent's very best sides.

    Costa is expected to move on in the summer, with Chelsea considered the frontrunners, per Ben Jefferson of the Daily Express, while Suarez is believed to be Real Madrid's top summer target, according to Jack Wilson of the Daily Star.

    Atletico, however, might be looking to streamline that whole process by selling one of those hitmen...and buying the other.

    On Friday Liam Prenderville of the Daily Mirror reported:

    According to Spanish media outlet Cadena Ser, a series of players' names were leaked after a meeting between [Atletico] club officials to discuss their summer plans.

    And while as many as six players were on the list, Liverpool's Uruguayan hitman was the star name.

    Suarez has made no secret of his desire to play in the Champions League and he looks as if he will get his wish this season, with Brendan Rodgers' men in pole position to finish in fourth.

    However, that may not stop Simeone making a move, which could be funded by the potential departure of Diego Costa.

    Suarez was the subject of a bid of over £40m from Arsenal last summer, while there have been reports that Liverpool will agree to sell him—at a suitable price—should he fire the club back into the Champions League, per Wilson at the Star.

     

    Believability Meter: Low

    What club in European football would not want to sign Luis Suarez?! Of course Atletico Madrid would target the Uruguayan, should he be available.

    The problem, however, is that Suarez has elevated himself into a bracket where there are realistically only two or three clubs (Real Madrid, Barcelona and, if we exclude other Premier League sides, possibly Juventus) that could hope to attract him.

    If Liverpool fail to qualify for next year's Champions League, but Atletico do, then the Spanish club might have a chance of replacing Costa with the Uruguayan—if they can find the extra cash involved from somewhere.

    In all likelihood, however, if Suarez ends up in Madrid this summer it will be with the city's other club. Roberto Soldado, also linked with Atletico in recent days, per John Cross of the Daily Mirror, would seem a more realistic target.

Mario Balotelli's Future Is Always Doubtful, but Spurs Are Unlikely Suitors

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    Antonio Calanni/Associated Press

    Blessed with one of the most "energetic" agents in the game, Mario Balotelli's future never seems to be too far from the headlines regardless of how settled he is at his current club.

    Mino Raiola may be an expert at getting his clients the biggest moves around Europe and the best deals in contract negotiations (Zlatan Ibrahimovic is another client), and it seems the agent might be working his magic behind the scenes during what is a disappointing season for AC Milan.

    Milan look unlikely to qualify for next season's Champions League, and that has only led to increased speculation surrounding Balotelli's future, with reports this week that both Arsenal and Tottenham are interested in a summer deal.

    The Daily ExpressBen Jefferson reported:

    The Gunners have been linked with a £40m move for the former Manchester City striker, backed by new kit provider Puma, who also have a sponsorship agreement with Balotelli.

    But according to reports in Italy Tottenham also have their sights set on the unpredictable frontman.

    And with Lamela struggling to adapt after making a £30m move from Roma in the summer Spurs sense an opportunity to get one over on their fierce rivals.

    Signing Balotelli would certainly be a coup for Spurs, especially if they managed to offload Erik Lamela—who has endured a torrid first season in English football—for anything approaching what they paid for him.

     

    Believability Meter: Low

    Balotelli seems to fit the profile of a top player who will move around a fair amount during his career, but even with AC Milan currently struggling, his allegiance to the club (as a boyhood fan) would seem likely to buy it some leeway in that regard. 

    Arsenal may well have the funds to sign the striker but it seems likely Arsene Wenger would want to steer clear of a player with Balotelli's reputation, even if he appears to have calmed down somewhat in recent times.

    Spurs, meanwhile, will surely struggle to attract the Italy international without Champions League football to offer.

United to Keep Faith with Moyes

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    David Moyes is a man under pressure at Manchester United. That is absolutely obvious following an abject season that has left them well off the pace in the Premier League and on the brink of Champions League elimination.

    United’s 2-0 loss to Olympiacos earlier this week piled more pressure on Moyes. It led to at least one bookmaker to suspend betting on the next manager to be sacked, while reports on Twitter swirled as to the manager’s future. The rumours about his demise proved unfounded, but the newspapers continue to trot out speculation about the Scot’s future.

    On the back of Sir Alex Ferguson having been well-backed to ride to United’s rescue, the Sunday Mirror’s Simon Mullock moved to shoot that piece down by stating the Scot had no intention of returning to the Old Trafford dugout.

    Ferguson has been a regular feature at United games this season, leading Bleacher Report's Rob Dawson to suggest he was casting a shadow over Moyes’ tenure.

    There may be a school of thought that Ferguson’s presence at games is not helping Moyes, but that would be a shortsighted view. Having spent his working life in football, Ferguson has every right to go to games—especially to watch a club he is so closely connected with.

    Ferguson’s presence at games cannot be blamed for United’s struggles. The issues are far deeper and will need addressing over a period of time.

    At 72, Ferguson bowed out on a high with a Premier League title. It will take United some time to rebuild, and he probably doesn't want to devote himself to that. 

    If it’s not Ferguson, then who? The Sunday Mirror’s Dave Kidd suggests current Netherlands boss Louis van Gaal could be in the frame to succeed Moyes. Van Gaal is to step down from the Dutch national job after the World Cup, and he has already flirted with Tottenham.

    Kidd, though, claims Van Gaal is keen on forging a managerial dream team with Frank de Boer at Old Trafford.

     

    Believability Meter: Low

    Van Gaal would surely jump at the chance of taking control at Old Trafford. But we just don’t see that chance coming any time soon.

    United opted for Moyes last summer as Ferguson's replacement, and the club must have known that the squad needed an overhaul. That did not happen, and the team has struggled as a result. 

    The Red Devils enjoyed a sustained period of dominance after keeping faith with Ferguson, so they know the value of continuity. They will not tolerate a long period of mediocrity, but Moyes will surely be given more time to revive their fortunes—which makes a summer managerial change unlikely.

Wayne Rooney Must Break England Goalscoring Record to Ensure Legacy

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    It might not have been the most earth-shattering news of all time, but England manager Roy Hodgson's assertion that Wayne Rooney could break Sir Bobby Charlton's long-standing goalscoring record deserved some attention.

    Paul Joyce of the Daily Express reported Hodgson's view on Monday after he attended the Euro 2016 qualifying draw in Nice, France.

    The former Liverpool and Fulham boss believes Rooney should be using the forthcoming campaign as a catalyst to become the country's leading scorer at international level.

    Hodgson is quoted as saying:

    He's definitely up there in terms of international goals.

    If I was to ring Wayne up and say, by the way, you're close to Bobby Charlton's national scoring record, he might say... 'I know'.

    But we're going to be together for a longer period of time and that kind of thing might crop up in an everyday conversation and it's quite good to have that.

    Rooney recently signed a bumper deal with Manchester United. That did not go unnoticed by some Crystal Palace fans during the Premier League game at Selhurst Park recently, as noted by The Guardian.

    The Old Trafford striker is hoping to cement his legacy at the club in the coming years, but he must also consider Hodgson's words on the Charlton accolade.

    With England grouped with Switzerland, Slovenia, Estonia, Lithuania and San Marino, no amount of "we must not underestimate the opposition" comments will disguise the fact that the Three Lions should qualify with ease.

    Manchester United legend Charlton struck 49 goals for England, a record which has not come close to being bettered since Gary Lineker retired from the international arena in 1992 just one behind. Rooney, 28, has scored 38 goals for England, leaving him with just 11 more to find to equal Charlton's all-time best, which was set in 1970.

    Ask any football fan how many goals Charlton scored for Manchester United, and only a handful will know the answer.

    Ask the same question over his England goals, and you can guarantee that far more will have the correct response because of its national coverage over the years.

    Rooney might be looking to make club history with United in the coming years, but he can ensure immortality by breaking through the Charlton ceiling with the Three Lions.

     

    Believability meter: High

    Hodgson is spot on with his assessment that Rooney can break the goalscoring record, but the striker's desire to cement his legacy will be more easily attained at international level than at Old Trafford.

    Charlton's record has been standing for well over 40 years now, and Rooney is in prime position to break it. He can't squander this chance. 

Overseas Friendlies Plan Surely a Non-Starter for Manchester United

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    Michael Regan/Getty Images

    Saturday saw The Guardian print an interesting story by Jamie Jackson about how Manchester United are planning for life without Champions League football, should they fail to qualify for the competition next season.

    If, as looks increasingly possible, United fail to qualify for any European competition, then they might look to play a series of lucrative overseas friendlies, as Jackson explains:

    For reaching the Champions League last-16 last season United received £28.9m from Uefa, plus around £2m per home game from ticket sales. With the club having played four matches in that campaign at Old Trafford—three group games and the second last-16 leg—that means United earned nearly £35m from the competition.

    United are working on a loss of around £20m for failure to play in either of Uefa's club competitions and believe playing friendlies overseas during the gap in their schedule will help recoup a sizeable proportion of this.

    United played a testimonial in Saudi Arabia, in January 2008, for the former Wolverhampton Wanderers reserve team player Sami Al-Jaber. The team jetted out to the Middle East directly after a Premier League game against Reading on a Saturday for the friendly two days later in what was a 6,000-mile round trip.

    While that exercise yielded the club around £1m, during the six intervening years the increase in social media and new pay-per-view models means they could expect to earn considerable sums from other friendlies, beyond any appearance money offered by the hosts.

    The move would seem an inventive way of utilising Manchester United's prestige and brand recognition (which will take longer to depreciate than their standing on the pitch) to continue to maximise their financial incomings.

    The concern, however, will be how the travelling and other logistics of such undertakings will impact the club's bread and butter—the Premier League.

     

    Believability Meter: Medium

    It is not difficult to believe that United, while looking at ways to earn more money, would have circled overseas friendlies as an area for expansion. If they miss out on the six-plus Champions League games they would usually expect to play in any given season, then that is potentially six dates in which they could be playing money-spinning friendly games.

    The problem, of course, is that the travel required for such games—likely to be in the Middle East, Asia or North America—could well adversely affect their performances on return to England, a turn of events that would be little more than a public relations disaster.

    There is surely almost no chance of the club playing six friendlies on the six different Champions League matchdays.

    Having said that, the calendar does occasionally throw up a window where such games might be possible—for example, the recent period that saw United go on a midseason training camp to Dubai (although that was helped by them being out of the FA Cup). Friendlies in such a window would be feasible, if still fraught with some difficulties.

    If it comes to it, United are likely to play, at most, three or four such friendlies in any given season—depending on how they are faring in domestic cup competitions.

Chelsea Criticism by Roberto Martinez Will Not Spark War of Words with Mourinho

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    Alastair Grant/Associated Press

    No matter what happens between now and the end of the season, few Everton supporters will denounce Roberto Martinez's first season in charge as anything other than a success.

    The former Wigan Athletic boss swiftly wiped away any lingering question marks about replacing David Moyes with a swaggering brand of football and a notable foray into the loan transfer market in the summer.

    Romelu Lukaku, Gerard Deulofeu and, notably, Gareth Barry have all made their mark on the first team this season, while the players who worked under Moyes have adapted well to Martinez's demand for a passing game.

    What has also been interesting is the reaction of other supporters to Martinez and his likeable, laid-back attitude in pre- and post-match interviews.

    So his outburst following the late defeat at Chelsea last weekend, as reported by Dave Kidd of the Sunday People, came as a surprise to many.

    After a harsh free-kick was awarded against Phil Jagielka in the build-up to John Terry's 93rd-minute winner, the Spaniard was quoted as saying:

    Chelsea have an incredible know-how of how to win dead-ball situations. They use every trick in the book.

    Ramires was looking for contact when he won the free-kick and it was very soft. The same sort of thing happened four or five times in the second half.

    It was impossible for the referee. I can’t blame (him) because would he have needed magic to know whether to award free-kicks or not?

    It is no coincidence that they have been unbeaten (under Jose Mourinho) for 74 League matches at home. It can’t just be that they have played well at home every single match.

    I couldn’t see Chelsea scoring from open play, but they kept winning free-kicks.

    Martinez has not been renowned for losing his temper or displaying any kind of emotion, and there is no suggestion his words were delivered with venom.

    But the frustration of losing further ground in the race for the Champions League places was clearly a factor.

    Everton had largely dominated the game at Stamford Bridge and victory would have enhanced the team's burgeoning reputation under the former Swansea midfielder.

    That Martinez did show his claws was indication enough of the frustration he must feel at the club's current dip in form in the league.

    With Lukaku ineligible and Deulofeu only returning from injury, Everton were still able to put up a genuine fight against Mourinho's team. In itself, that is no mean feat.

    But Martinez will recognise that the loss of Lukaku, particularly in recent weeks, has served to underline a lack of depth in his squad. The odds were already against him when Lacina Traore was injured in the warm-up, but Steven Naismith proved a capable deputy even if the Blues were unable to find the net.

    However, it is unlikely we will be seeing any long-term damage to the relationship between Martinez and Mourinho in the wake of the Everton manager's words.

     

    Believability meter: Medium

    The thought of Martinez losing his temper is scarcely believable at the vast majority of times, and the reaction to the loss at Chelsea was merely an instinctive move by the Everton manager.

    But the Goodison Park boss must be feeling the frustration of a relatively thin squad as he chases the top four.

    Indeed, his first flash of criticism for an opposing team was more indicative of his disappointment rather than any serious character flaw.

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