Tag Archives: higuain

New Coach Gregg Berhalter Looking to Take Columbus Crew into a New Era

Gregg BerhalterColumbus have thrown themselves into the managerial merry go round of postseason sacking and hiring. The franchise have moved away from the Robert Warzycha era and ushered in a new one under the leadership of Gregg Berhalter. While the fashion is to fire and hire, the Crew’s decision is the standout. Warzycha was synonymous with the Crew for eighteen years, starting with his seven-year spell at the club. The new direction emphasized by new owner Anthony Precourt meant there was to be no place for sentiment and history.

The new man chosen for the job holds an interesting record. He was the first American to be hired by a professional European team as a manager. Berhalter’s spell in Scandinavia saw him manage Sweden’s Hammarby IF. He lasted two seasons at the club, going away with an unremarkable record of  18-11-16. This obviously gave the American good experience as the Precourt told of his strengths:

”Gregg’s strong vision, passion, work ethic, intelligence, data-driven decision-making, broad soccer network and playing credentials separated him throughout this search, his unique skill-set gives us great confidence in boldly changing the structure of our soccer operations, with Gregg leading as our first-ever Sporting Director.”

The faith shown in Berhalter is monumental. He is not only head coach, but is also the sporting director. This move means that Berhalter is in total control of player personnel and the decisions surrounding the squad. Berhalter recently expanded on the importance of this decision, telling the local and national media:

“My role will give me the flexibility to structure the technical side of the organization as I see fit. It  will streamline the decision-making process and integrate player acquisition with the technical department. This is, for me, is crucial because we want to be efficient, we want to be able to make fast decisions and we all want to be on the same page. I think tying this together will do that nicely.”

Columbus CrewWhile the club’s ambitions and the job outline is plain for all to see, Berhalter himself has also been open on what he will bring to the struggling team. He’s nailed his colors to the mast of offensive, quick-paced football. While the Crew possess players of that ilk such as Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro, the team was found to be of a pedestrian pace going into many games and this often became their fatal flaw. For Berhalter to implement his style, the side will need plenty of work and lots of changes.

Although the previous may be a concern, Berhalter also has a quality that is extremely rare in MLS. The league has shown that to succeed in MLS you need to have an experience and a deep understanding of the league. As a former player, Berhalter has this. What separates him from the rest is that he has plenty of European experience. This opens the club up to ventures and possibilities from Europe, without the repercussions of the failed Scandinavian experiment that New York had under Hans Backe for example.

Berhalter won’t have an easy task. The Columbus Crew squad can definitely be described as a more defensive than an offensive outfit, and the pieces are there for the new manager to alter. The duo of Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro are attacking delights that most MLS teams would love to have. For the new squad, it is a case of supplementing the duo, and taking some of the pressure off of them both. This could be done with an alteration to the midfield, with the Crew severely lacking guile and creativity on the wings and the center.

On the other hand, Berhalter had lost an integral piece of the Crew before he even began his job, with the announcement of Eddie Gaven’s retirement resulting in a huge blow to the club. The man who was the youngest to reach 250 MLS matches, at the age of 25, takes away a huge amount of experience, leaving a void for someone else to step into. Berhalter will join the MLS club with lots of confidence, but he has a very large task on his hand under a new look, ambitious, ownership that seeks to catch up to the top teams in MLS.

Written by Tom Errington

Napoli and Fiorentina Set to Take Serie A by Storm with Big Summer Signings

NapoliEurope’s ongoing financial crisis is proving to be less influential on major clubs this year than has been the case in previous years. Halfway through the transfer window, many clubs managed to strengthen their ranks, paying top dollars for players with relative statuses, while others are yet to dip in the market.

A quick analysis of the number of arrivals (permanent transfers - loans excluded) in the top 5 European leagues shows that the Serie A has been the most active with 212 players, followed by the English Premier League with 147, Bundesliga with 130, La Liga with 129, and finally Ligue 1 with 121. A lot can be derived from such figures, but what is certain is that Italian teams are starting to realize the importance of spending in competing for silverware, ending Juventus’ monopoly and returning to the summit of European competitions.

In the past 10 years, only three teams managed to win the league title in Italy: Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus. It is not far from the duopoly that has been taking place in a number of European leagues such as Spain, but this fact could be deceiving because even with only three winning teams, the Italian league has been quite an intense competition in comparison with other European leagues.

While Inter’s previous couple of seasons showed a dip in form, Juventus and Milan are still as competitive as ever. Mainly, these three teams have been contesting for the top spot, with a slight involvement from teams such as Roma, Lazio, and Udinese. But this season might witness the emergence of  two new powerhouses in Fiorentina and Napoli which could only make the Serie A more attractive and competitive.

Usually in transfer windows, teams tend to do business in the beginning of July so as to avoid losing primary targets or overpaying for a certain player. While Milan’s director Galliani prefers to wait for the dying minutes of the transfer window to put his touch on any possible deals, the majority of European teams find it more suitable to start negotiations as early as possible in order to pursue alternatives if deals for primary targets fall through. Either way, Italian teams in general - Milan, Inter, and Roma in particular - should get their boots on and get ready to battle if they are to topple Juventus from the Italian football summit and keep up with the progress of Fiorentina and Napoli.

Of the top five teams that notched a European spot last season, Fiorentina and Napoli have been the most active in the transfer market, strengthening with no less than six new players, signaling a clear intention of building a team capable of battling with the likes of Milan and Juventus. It’s a common fact that buying players alone does not, in anyway, suffice in building a successful team or in challenging for titles.

Gonzalo HiguaínThere are many factors that determine the flourishing of a project such as continuity, proper planning, age of players, suitable coaching staff, etc. But when looking at the two clubs from Florence and Naples, one can’t but commend the work that is being put in these two ventures.

While the Partenopei’s extravagant spending this season may have been something unfamiliar in Italy, there can be no doubt that what they invested will only make them a much stronger squad than last season. The captures of Gonzalo Higuain, Jose Callejon, Dries Mertens, Raul Albiol, Pepe Reina, Rafael, and young Croatian starlet Josip Radosevic are amazing additions to an already good squad. What makes this project interesting is that Napoli’s spending spree is far from finished, with president Aurelio De Laurentis confirming a budget of €124 million. Porto’s prolific goal scorer Jackson Martinez could be the next addition to the San Paolo revolution. After the departure of their main star Edinson Cavani, it was only fair for Napoli fans to be pessimistic.

However their controversial president wasted no time in assuring that his team is here to stay, and that their form last season was not an act of luck but merely a stepping stone to reach unprecedented heights. This is why he realized the huge task of replacing a very successful and adored coach such as Walter Mazzari, and while Rafael Benitez might not be everybody’s favorite coach, he surely is a proved winner who knows how to make the most out every situation.

On the other hand, Fiorentina are fast becoming a force to be reckoned with. With the irreplaceable Borja Valero along with Facundo Roncaglia, Adem Ljajic, and Juan Cuadrado pulling the strings, the Viola played arguably the most entertaining football in Italy last season. Also, with Ambrosini, Joaquin, Munua, Mario Gomez, Giuseppe Rossi, and Josip Ilicic added to the Florence battalion, they will have a team capable of surmounting any given task. Bookmakers might write off  Vincenzo Montella’s men following the sale of Stevan Jovetic to Manchester City, but the truth is that the Montenegrin will hardly be missed if the club manages to capitalize on the talents of Rossi, Ljajic, and Gomez.

FiorentinaIndeed, Fiorentina have bagged one of the continent’s most prolific goal scorers in Mario Gomez. Giuseppe Rossi will again be able to showcase his talent after a lengthy spell on the sideline. Adem Ljajic will continue fulfilling his potential and show why clubs such as Milan are pursuing his services. The signing of Palermo’s Josip Ilicic - one of Serie A’s most exciting and creative midfielders - is another impressive acquisition for a team that will be a bit more than a dark horse in next season’s Scudetto race. If Montella continues to show his tactical acumen, the dream of winning the Europa League won’t be far-fetched.

Since the start of the 2012-13 season, the number of Champions League places allocated to Serie A clubs was reduced to just three. This is mainly due to the drop in coefficient points due to the result of poor performances from Italian clubs in European competitions. Without diving into the debate of whether this is a justified criteria to prevent great teams such as Inter, Milan, and Juventus from participating in Europe, we can’t deny that such a decision has affected Italian football greatly, and the burden of putting Italy back on the map is a task assigned to all Serie A clubs with no exception. As much as Italian football needs re-developing and re-organizing, they are in dire need to ply their trades in Europe’s big competition in order to further their progress.

In 2001, Zinedine Zidane’s departure to Real Madrid signaled the beginning of a new period for Juventus. The Italian club invested money from the sale to build a dominant project that managed to impress, with the purchases of stars like Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram, Pavel Nedved, Marcelo Salas, and Enzo Maresca.

Are Napoli and Fiorentina on the verge of doing something similar this summer after trading Edinson Cavani and Stevan Jovetic to PSG and Manchester City? Napoli’s last Scudetto title was in the 1989-90 season, while Fiorentina’s last was in 1968-69. With Juventus, Milan, Fiorentina, and Napoli arguably on the same level, and Inter and Roma slightly trailing, this season could bring about the dethroning of a strong Juventus and the much needed emergence of the Serie A.

Written by Hassan Chakroun

Real Madrid Striker Gonzalo Higuaín Signs for Napoli in €40m Deal

Gonzalo HiguaínWith Napoli’s top scorer from the last three seasons, Uruguayan international Edinson Cavani, having left the club for big-spending Paris Saint-Germain in a £54 million move, the Italian team looked to be in need of a new talisman to replace Cavani. That is, until Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain was confirmed as a new signing by the Serie A club this week for a fee believed to be just over £34 million, the most expensive transfer in Napoli’s history.

It’s fair to say that it will be very difficult for any player to come in and replace Cavani, who had been an integral cog of an improving Napoli side for the last three years. The Uruguayan led them to second place in Serie A last season, behind the superb Juventus, in addition to bringing European football to Naples in each of his three seasons. His goal-scoring record of 78 goals in 104 league games for the Azzuri certainly didn’t go unnoticed away from his club, and he attracted much attention from some of Europe’s top sides in the summer of 2012 and the year after. Indeed, he was chased by Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Chelsea this year, before he recently sealed his move to Paris.

This departure left a big hole in Napoli’s squad, and they evidently needed a world-class player to fill it. Eventually, this gap was filled by Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain, although other strikers were also linked with a move to the San Paolo such as Edin Dzeko of Manchester City. However, these reports did not come to fruition, and instead they moved for Real Madrid’s Higuain, who had been an impressive part of Real’s side for the previous six years, scoring 107 league goals at one of the world’s top sides.

It’s also fair to say that few would have expected Higuain to make the move to Naples this summer. For much of the window so far, the French-born 25-year-old had been linked with a move to the Premier League to join Arsenal, and at times this deal did look to be close. However, different valuations of the player by the two clubs meant that the deal failed to materialize and left Higuain open to the move to Italy instead.

Gonzalo Higuain is one of a number of top players to transfer to Italy from other leagues around the world this summer, among the likes of Kevin Strootman and Carlos Tevez (to Roma and Juventus respectively). He also joins several new arrivals at the Partenopei, joining the likes of Jose Callejon and Raul Albiol, who both signed for the Serie A runners-up from Real Madrid this summer. Napoli’s spending this summer has totaled to over £60 million, and they certainly don’t look to be done yet, after being left with a vast sum of money from the Cavani deal.

Gonzalo HiguaínI think it’s fair to say that this transfer has to be considered a coup for Napoli. As good as they’ve been at times in the last few years, they still aren’t as big as some of the clubs who’ve been linked with the Argentina international, and as such have done very well to seal his signature and tie him to the club for the next five years. If he’s able to recreate his spectacular form with Real Madrid, he certainly will have turned out to be the right replacement for Cavani, although there’s quite a long wait until then.

There’s a chance that Higuain could reach the cult status with Napoli that Diego Maradona did after signing from Barcelona in the 1980s, for what was at the time a world-record fee of just over £11 million. He then brought Napoli their first ever Serie A titles (in 1987 and 1990) and also became the club’s all-time leading scorer, with 115 goals in all competitions in Italy. He became such a legend at the club that they even decided to retire his number 10 shirt in his honor. However, he ended up leaving the Azzuri in shame, after serving a drugs ban for cocaine. Even with this, he upheld his reputation as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.

It would take a lot of work for Higuain to reach the heady heights of his compatriot Maradona, although if he were to do it, it would surely seal his name as one of the true greats in football, and would mean he’d be remembered for generations to come. You have to remember, some believe Maradona was the greatest of all time, better than players of Pele’s calibre. To surpass this stature would take a truly great player.

I think that with this signing, along with the other ones they’ve made this summer, Napoli stand a real chance of winning their first league title since 1990. They’ve used the funds from the sale of Cavani very well and are among several clubs who could realistically challenge for the title next year, such as Fiorentina, Roma, and AC Milan. These clubs will be looking to take the crown off of Juventus, who’ve won the last two league titles but have also strengthened themselves in the last month or so.

Only time will tell if Higuain has made the right choice in moving to Naples instead of to London or staying in Madrid. I think there’s a very good chance that this move will work out for him, and not only will he win silverware with his new club, but he will also gain a very high status among his new fans, maybe even reaching the talismanic heights that Maradona reached with the Napoli faithful. It’ll certainly be an interesting campaign for the neutral to watch as Napoli try to build on the successes of last year.

Written by Ben Warner

Liverpool Send Goalkeeper Pepe Reina to Napoli on Season-Long Loan

Pepe ReinaSerie A runners-up Napoli have made a show of their ambition for the future with the signings of Liverpool goalkeeper Pepe Reina and Real Madrid striker Gonzalo Higuain. Higuain was a reported target for Arsenal, but after Real Madrid apparently upped their asking price, the Neopolitan club stepped in with a £32 million bid. Arsenal have instead set their sights on Liverpool’s star forward Luis Suarez with an audacious £40,000,001 bid for the Uruguayan’s services.

For some Liverpool fans, the departure of Reina on a season-long loan marks the end of an era for the Merseyside club. Reina was one of the few members of the 2008-09 Liverpool squad, the last one to finish in the top four of the Premier League. Only talismanic captain Steven Gerrard, Lucas Leiva, and Daniel Agger remain from that squad, and with Liverpool only managing 7th last year - behind hated rivals Everton - it is hard to see the Reds troubling the Champions League places in the next few years. The club has declined since the departure of manager Rafael Benitez, with whom Reina will be reunited at Napoli for the first time since then.

Reina joined Liverpool from “The Yellow Submarine” Villarreal in 2005 and has gone on to make almost 300 appearances for the club and 28 for Spain. Despite being widely regarded as one of the finest goalkeepers in the Premier League, Reina only won four trophies in his time at the club - the FA Cup, League Cup, Community Shield and UEFA Super Cup - as well as “Player of the Season” in 2009-10. Liverpool fans will have many fond memories of one of their finest goalkeepers, but his standout moment was in his first season, specifically the FA Cup final against West Ham. After Steven Gerrard had equalized in stoppage time, the game went to penalties, and although Sammy Hyypia missed for Liverpool, Reina saved three of the four West Ham penalties to clinch a famous cup victory.

Pepe ReinaReina will replace Morgan de Sanctis at Napoli, but it is not his departure that has the Napoli fans most worried. Superstar Uruguayan striker Edinson Cavani has left for PSG despite Napoli’s second-placed finish last season, with Argentine finisher Gonzalo Higuain his replacement. Despite his consistent goalscoring for Los Blancos - 107 in 190 appearances - he was never the perfect fit for the club, hardly a Galactico like Cristiano Ronaldo or Karim Benzema.

Although originally from Brest, France, he was granted Argentine nationality in 2007 and made his first appearance for the South Americans in 2009. He has since gone on to score 20 goals in 32 appearances for his new nation, although as with Ronaldo at Madrid he is usually outshone by his international teammate Lionel Messi. He will do well to emulate Cavani’s 38-goal season, but with the reliable Goran Pandev and improving youngster Lorenzo Insigne to back him up, he shouldn’t find goals too hard to come by in a declining Serie A.

It has been reported that Higuain’s presentation at the club has been cancelled but members of the Italian media don’t seem to be reading too much into it. Elsewhere, manager Rafa Benitez is reported to have made a “monstrous” offer for young PSG midfielder Marco Verratti and an approach for Porto’s Jackson Martinez is rumoured, so Napoli could be a dark horse in this year’s Champions League and real contenders for the Italian title. One thing however is certain: at a club where Diego Maradona is worshipped as a deity and the chairman once unveiled a new signing in a lion mask, it certainly won’t be a boring ride.

Written by Sam France

Why Arsenal Need to Win a Trophy in the 2013/14 Season

ArsenalWhenever I used to hear the name Arsenal Football Club, I used to think titles, trophies, and competitors. But that has all changed. They are without a trophy in the last 8 seasons, and with the players manager Arsene Wenger has had at his disposal, you just wonder, how? It is difficult to give a definitive reason as to why this has happened. The expectation levels at this club are very high, and some fans have, in recent years, grown increasingly frustrated with the lack of silverware at the Emirates.

They have also lost some of their star players because of this, most notably, Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, and Robin van Persie. They have all since gone on to win league titles with their respective clubs. They have also had to face not being able to play Jack Wilshere due to his injuries. They had their “Golden Age” when they had the likes of Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira etc, but these are players haven’t really been replaced by Wenger and it is one of the reasons they have struggled in each competition in terms of their own competitiveness and flair.

They have always been near the top of the Premier League table, or thereabouts in terms of a title challenge, but in recent years, they have fallen at the final few hurdles and have had to settle for either a 3rd or 4th place finish. This, in my eyes, is not good enough for a team that has won the Premier League title 3 times. They may have been competing with the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea, but there are really no excuses for a title challenge only lasting for 3/4 of a season.

In terms of a good Champions League run, this is something which may need extra investment in to be real contenders for this trophy. Let’s be truthful, the draw may not have been too kind to them at times, but it is the “luck of the draw.” Depending on whether you finish 1st or 2nd in your group can have a huge impact on who you face in the last 16.

Some of their players haven’t got the extra bit of Champions League experience under their belts, which has hindered their progress at times, but it is also something I feel Wenger needs to look at and have a re-think about his transfer targets. Meanwhile, the League and FA Cups have fizzled out too early for Arsenal. They haven’t had any real chance to lay down a marker to their rivals by putting in brilliant and consistent performances.

ArsenalPicture yourself as an Arsenal fan, knowing that your club hasn’t won a single piece of silverware in the last 8 years, consider Arsene Wenger’s options as well in that time, would you be happy? I certainly wouldn’t be. Arsenal are one of the biggest clubs in Europe, and a club that size should always be competing for the top trophies on offer to them.

But in fairness, they have declined as a club. It is a totally new-look Arsenal to what it was 2-3 years ago. They have the likes of Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere etc. all making an impact of some sort. These players are very experienced, whether that be in Europe or in England, they are experienced. They need to stand up and be counted now though, since they need a consistent run in a cup and a very good season in the league in which they are genuine title contenders. Even if they don’t win a trophy, it will certainly ease some of the mounting pressure on the players to be successful. It will be a sign that the club is going in the right direction and is progressing instead of declining.

When you look at who Arsenal are interested in - Suarez, Rooney and Higuain - it is certainly a sign of intent from Arsenal, but you have to think, would those players really join a club like Arsenal? But what necessary signings do they really need? Well, when you look in the current transfer market, who is out there for Arsenal? They do definitely need another striker to bolster their attack. Higuain is very much affordable, and he does actually seem interested in a move to the Emirates. He is a player that would improve the Arsenal squad and possibly make them a more threatening side once again.

They don’t really need that much tweaking, but whatever tweaking does happen, it will be for the better. It should improve the squad. With that, I see no reason why Arsenal cannot challenge for the title this season, and if all goes well, the Gunners may be in for exciting times ahead for their future.

Written by OneFutbol