Premier League Summer Transfer Window: Star Signings

The 2019 Premier League summer transfer window has finally shut. In total close to £1.4 billion was spent in the last three months, with the most expensive transfer being that of Harry Maguire who moved from Leicester to Man United for a reported £80 million fee. In this article we will be looking at the five best signings of the window. Before we begin, it is important to note that we are not ranking these in any particular order. The players that have been chosen are those that: firstly, addressed an area of weakness at their new club, and secondly, have the ability to thrive at the club that has bought them- enabling the player to considerably improve the team’s performance.

We will start of with the cheapest and oldest of the five players. Tom Heaton. Heaton joined Aston Villa for £8 million this summer, which seems to be great value for money when you consider both his Premier League experience and goalkeeping ability. In 96 Premier League games, Heaton has kept 24 clean sheets- averaging one clean sheet every four games, an outstanding record for a goalkeeper at a ‘bottom-half’ club like Burnley. Heaton’s best asset is his reliability in goal, making just three errors leading to goals during his three years. He also has outstanding reflexes, which allow him to make saves from the unlikeliest of positions. What is of equal importance are his leadership qualities- he was Burnley’s club captain before he departed, and he will lead the team from the back. Overall, for just £8 million, this has all the marks of a great signing for the Midlands club.

Man City’s new right-back, Joao Cancelo may have cost up to £52 million more than Heaton, but that should not detract from the immense quality that he will offer his new club this season. The fee is believed to be £34.1 million, plus the departure of Danilo to Juventus (as part of a swap deal with Cancelo’s previous club, Juventus)- totalling the complete fee around £60 million. The Portuguese full-back is still only 25, and he will surely be pushing for a place in Man City’s first team. For any player to have the potential to improve the current Man City team, suggests that they have immense quality. Cancelo certainly has that. He perfectly fits into Man City’s philosophy, an attacking full-back who is comfortable giving and receiving the ball. His has rapid acceleration and refined crossing abilities from his stints as a winger at Valencia and Inter. In Serie A last season he made on average 1.4 key passes pet game and 2.4 dribbles per game, high numbers for a full-back. These stats will only increase in an attacking Man City team. Perhaps, he is not as strong defensively, he is prone to committing fouls often, but Guardiola should improve his defensive abilities, as he has done with Kyle Walker. By the end of the season, do not be surprised to see Cancelo ahead of Walker in the Man City right-back position.

Following their heartbreak in the Champions League final to Liverpool, Spurs needed a lift in the transfer window this summer. The signings of Sessegnon and, in particular, Lo Celso add quality to an already great squad. However, it is the acquisition of the 22 year-old box to box midfielder, Tanguy Ndombele that was their greatest addition. A fee of up to £60 million is great value, considering his age and the talent he showed at Lyon in France. One of the most attractive aspects of Ndombele’s game is his adaptility. He can fill in an at central defensive midfielder, as shown by his average of 2.7 tackles per 90 in Ligue 1 last season- 0.4 than Wanyama (Spurs’ highest tackler p/90). He excels most though when he is making driving runs from midfield, allowing Spurs to progress up the pitch. He also boasted a 89.1% pass accuracy last season, which was second only to Harry Winks’ 91.8% accuracy. If needed, Ndombele can adapt to play higher up the pitch too, as he created 1.6 chances per 90 last season, for comparison, Sissoko only managed 1.0 per 90. He is proven at the top level, with his impressive Champions League performances last year against the likes of Man City and Real Madrid. If his is able to match his high-level performances of the last couple of years, Spurs’ midfield will have been transformed.

Another young midfielder joined a London club this window. They starred at the u-21 European Championships for Spain. It is not Arsenal’s Dani Ceballos though, but instead Pablo Fornals of West Ham. The Spaniard signed for around £25 million from Villarreal, and at just 23 he is someone that will only improve. Fornals can play across the midfield- right, left, central, or attacking. He will help West Ham maintain control of the ball and he should link up nicely with their other technical players like Manuel Lanzini, Jack Wilshere and Felipe Anderson. He can also make late runs into the box, either supplying the ball to their new striker, Sebastien Haller or shooting himself. Sceptics may point to the fact that in 50 appearances last season he only recorded five goals and six assists. Despite this, it is important not to become overly wrapped up in goal and assist statistics. Fornals offers West Ham creativity in their build-up play, this is seen through his 1.3 key passes per game in La Liga. This was something that the club have been missing with their previous central midfielders like Obiang and Noble. If he does not score or assists bundles of goals this season, he is sure to have played a key part in creating flowing attacking moves.

The sole striker on this list, is Everton’s new Italian forward, Moise Kean. What is most appealing at this transfer is the potential of Kean. A reported £25 million fee may have some fans scratching their head, as the 19 year-old only made 13 appearances last season for Italian giants, Juventus. However, his young age and recent performances on the pitch should disperse any worries over his price. Despite his 533 minutes of game time last season, Kean scored six goals and made one assists, which resulted in a rate of a goal every 89 minutes. His clinical finishing abilities in the box are something that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Romelu Lukaku to Man United. Although Kean is unlikely to score a goal every 89 minutes in the Premier League, he should heavily improve their attacking options. Furthermore, at such a young age his future re-sell value should give the Merseyside club a healthy profit.  


Fantasy Premier League: Who to buy?

One of the highlights to the Premier League season is carefully selecting your Fantasy Premier League team. With a budget of just £100m to select 15 players, one cannot get overly-excited though. In this article, I will be displaying some very shrewd business you can complete in the Fantasy Premier League, as well as some players you should steer clear of. By following these tips you should be able to amass plenty of points and save your millions for other star players.

Max Aarons

First up, in defence is Marcos Alonso of Chelsea. The left-back will set you back a hefty £6.5m- only Liverpool full-backs, Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander Arnold are more expensive. Last season in the league, Alonso kept 13 clean sheets in the 31 games he played, a respectable total. Although, under new manager Frank Lampard, Chelsea may not maintain such a solid back-line. Furthermore, it is not certain that the manager will pick him. His final tally of four assists is mediocre, especially when you consider the price of the player. It may be more wise to spend £0.5m and get either Alexander-Arnold or Robertson, who got 12 and 11 assists respectively. Whilst, Liverpool will be expected to keep more clean sheets than Alonso’s Chelsea, making the signing of Alonso non-sensical.

If you do not have the funds to fork out on the industrious Liverpool full-backs, then look no further then Max Aarons of Norwich City. Although, this player is something of a ‘wildcard’ considering he has never played in the Premier League, he has been tipped to shine this season. No doubt, Aarons will be a lynchpin of the Norwich defence. He accumulated six assists and two goals in the Championship last season- a useful total. A concern may be that Aarons’ Norwich only managed 13 clean sheets in the Championship last year, so you can expect that number to be halved in this campaign. The greatest pulling factor over Aarons though is his cheap price. At just £4.5m he offers an affordable defensive option, that is guaranteed minutes. Definitely worth a try.

De Bruyne

 By claiming that Kevin de Bruyne is over-priced is meant to take nothing away from the Belgian’s super qualities on the ball. However, at an eye-watering £9.5m, there are definitely better options available. Of course, De Bruyne had injury problems last season. However, the main concern is over his actual involvement in goals. In 2018/19 he managed just two goals and two assists. De Bruyne will often play in a midfield three and dictate the tempo of the match. However, this means that he is often not in the opposition’s box, but in a deeper position. This means that De Bruyne is far less likely to get goals and assists, harming his points total. Whilst, the playmaker is still likely to pick up a handful of man-of-the-match awards, you cannot be certain that his points total warrants the £9.5m you will have to spend on him.

Newcastle’s new £20m signing, Allan Saint-Maximin is nearly half the price of De Bruyne at just £5.5m. As one of the major summer signings, Saint-Maximin is guaranteed a starting spot on Newcastle’s right-wing. Furthermore, his six goals and five assists in 34 games last season for OGC Nice represent healthy numbers. It may be that Saint-Maximin takes a while to get used to the Premier League, but he certainly looks to be worth a gamble, especially considering his more forward position compared to a lot of the other midfielders valued around £5.5m, such as Jordan Henderson, who play in a much more defensive position.

Olivier Giroud

Saint-Maximin’s countryman, Olivier Giroud is guaranteed goals in the Premier League, he has now scored 78 goals in the competition. Despite this, his last season tally was just two goals, which provides much of the reasoning behind his low price of £7m. However, it is likely his fortunes will change for the 2019/20 season. Firstly, Chelsea have a new boss, Frank Lampard, who will probably be looking to the experience of Giroud to lead the front-line amongst a relatively youthful squad. Secondly, both Eden Hazard and Gonzalo Higuain have left the club- two of the main reasons that Giroud’s game time and goal numbers were low last season. Finally, and most importantly, the transfer embargo that Chelsea find themselves in has presented the Chelsea striker with no incoming transfers to push him down the pecking order. However, the return of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi from their loans do offer competition. Still, Giroud’s experience and proven track-record in the Premier League should persuade both you and Frank Lampard to include Giroud in your starting XI’s.

Gabriel Jesus scored five more Premier League goals than Giroud, so it may seem a surprise that I have included the Man City star as over-priced, whilst deeming Giroud as under-priced. The Brazilian will cost you £9.5m, but this seems like an awful lot of money considering that Jesus only started eight games for Man City last season. It is probable that Sergio Aguero will lead the Man City line once more this season, depriving Jesus of much time on the pitch to bag some goals. He may well surpass last season’s total of seven goals, but for such a high price, you need to be sure that you are getting a starting striker that will score on a regular basis. Jesus does not guarantee that.

Moise Kean: Everton’s latest striking sensation?

Earlier this month, Everton signed Moise Kean from Juventus for a reported £25 million fee. At just 19, fans may wonder whether this is money well spent, considering the little experience the Italian international has on the big stage. However, Kean has both the talent, as seen by his consistent performances last season, as well as the experience- he has been playing in Serie A for two years

Exciting signing- Moise Kean

The earliest memory I have of Moise Kean, came in November 2016. A fresh faced 16 year old, coming on to make his debut against Pescara. He taps the hand of the departing Mandzukic, gives him an unwavering smirk and jolts onto the pitch. The Juventus fans go wild. Kean was not an unknown 16 year-old to most of the Turin faithful. The previous season he had blazed Italian youth teams, scoring 24 goals in 25 games, big things were expected of this sprightly, fresh teenager. Even on his debut, a cameo of no more than ten minutes- he impressed. Thanks to that appearance, Kean became the club’s youngest-ever debutant and the first player born in the 2000’s to compete in one of Europe’s major five leagues. Just three days later, he broke another record, becoming the first player born in the 2000’s to feature in a Champions League match- a 3-1 away win over Sevilla. Kean went on to break a hat-trick of records on the final day of the 2016/17 season, as he became the first player to be born in the 2000’s to score a goal in Europe’s major five leagues.

Moise Kean has been seen as the real deal, for at least three years.

And, despite his departure from Juventus, he has continued to live up to the hype. The following season he was loaned out to Italian club, Hellas Verona, where he scored a respectable four goals in 20 appearances, considering he was mostly used off the bench.

However, it was last season where Kean really came to the fore. In Serie A he made 13 appearances and scored six goals and made one assist. That does not tell the full story though. In most games, he was substituted on- an impact sub. The six goals that he scored came in just 533 minutes, a phenomenal record of one goal every 89 minutes. Statistically speaking, Kean looks to be the clinical marksman that Everton have been crying out for since the departure of Lukaku.

Like Lukaku, it is probable that Kean will be deployed as the lone striker. This will be at the tip of Marco Silva’s 4-2-3-1 formation, with Richarlison, Sigurdsson and Bernard all playing behind the front man. Although he is only 19 still, Kean is 6’0 and possesses a broad frame, allowing him to shrug off defenders and hold the ball up for onrushing teammates, something that Calvert-Lewin has excelled at for Everton recently.

One area where Kean outshines Calvert Lewin is finishing ability. Despite both players scoring six goals in their respective leagues last season, Calvert Lewin played 22 more games, and accumulated significantly more minutes. Kean offers Everton a genuine goal threat- last season he had a high volume of shots per 90 (3.1), with most of these coming inside the box, he possesses the typical traits of a proficient poacher.

Kean’s trademark celebration

What is more, is Kean’s handy dribbling ability. He completed 1.39 dribbles per 90 last season, which allows him to get in behind defences by his own accord. If Kean is able to maximise this dribbling ability and consistently finish, then he will become an extremely valuable asset to Everton’s attacking set-up.

Despite these qualities, questions still remain over some aspects of Kean’s game. What is most striking when compared to Calvert Lewin is Kean’s inferior aerial ability. He is a striker that prefer the ball rolled into fit, rather than in the air, where he is less comfortable and less proficient and retaining possession, or even scoring a goal. This may be a problem for Everton, as they had more crosses (814) than any team in the Premier League last season, and they scored the joint third most headed goals (13)- nearly one quarter of their total goals. Perhaps, with Marco Silva, Everton are adjusting their attacking approach to play a shorter passing style of football, and one that gets the centre-forward involved in the build-up, after all that would play to Kean’s strengths.

The argument has also been made that Kean was playing with a higher calibre of player at Juventus. Granted, Juventus’ team boasts some of the best players in the world: Ronaldo, Mandzukic, Pjanic and Bentancur to name a few, but this should not take away from Kean’s ability to finish the chances presented to him. In fact, Kean’s very inclusion in such a talented squad should lay credence to the ability of the young Italian striker, not every 19 year-old can make an impact at one of Europe’s giants. Furthermore, Everton also possess the players that can unlock Kean’s attacking potential. In Sigurdsson they have one of the best attacking midfielders in the league, who has the intelligence to immediately understand the typical traits of his strikers. Whilst Richarlison and Bernard pace and trickery should both create direct chances for Kean, and  draw defenders away from the striker.

Ultimately, Kean should be able to flourish in the Premier League. At just 19 he has plenty of time and room to develop as a striker. He will be tasked with leading the Everton attack this season, a new responsibility which I believe he will relish. If he can replicate last season’s achievements then he is likely to propel Everton into the top six, if not higher. As someone who has watched him develop as a player over the past few years, and also develop as a man (following some of the shocking abuse he received whilst playing in Italy), I hope, and trust that Kean will set the Premier League alight.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words (1)

Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi (L) and AC Milan’s Manuel Rui Costa waits on the pitch as supporters throw flares onto the pitch during their Champions League quarter-final second leg soccer match at the San Siro Stadium in Milan April 12, 2005.

Inter Milan’s Marco Materazzi and AC Milan’s Rui Costa watch on together, as a sea of flares rain down upon the San Siro pitch. Materazzi rests his right elbow upon the left shoulder of Costa, in what was a rare showing of camaraderie between the two teams in this Champions League clash.

April 12th 2005, and two of Italy’s giants faced off for a place in the Champions League semi-finals. The stakes do not get much bigger. Two weeks prior, AC Milan had run out winners in a 2-0 victory over Inter after goals from Jaap Stam and Andriy Shevchenko. Inter were faced with a mammoth task. If there were to have any hope to overturn the first leg deficit, they would need their fans in full voice to push them to victory.

As the match kicked off, the San Siro erupted. The volume only increased after Shevchenko seemingly headbutted, Inter defender Materazzi in just the second minute. Materazzi fell to the floor clutching his head, in typical Italian fashion. Inter’s Ivan Cordoba sprinted towards German referee Markus Merk, pleading for him to send the Ukrainian striker off. Merk did not, but already it seemed that the match was destined to become a battle, played out in a gladiator’s colosseum.

Despite, most of those inside the San Siro cheering for Inter, Milan looked dominant and comfortable, as Clarence Seedorf and Andrea Pirlo controlled the midfield, whilst Kaka broke through Inter’s midfield of Cambiasso and Veron, running at their vulnerable defence throughout the first half. Milan’s inevitable breakthrough came in the 30th minute. Shevchenko rifled home a left-footed shot from the right-hand side of the box, which flew past Toldo, into the bottom-left hand corner of the net. 1-0 Milan, and 3-0 on aggregate. Inter needed to score four without reply if they were to progress. No doubt, the Inter’s fans aggrievement increased following the Ukrainian’s goal, as they felt that he should have not even be on the pitch after his earlier headbutt.

Into the second-half, and Inter became more dominant, as they pressed for an equaliser. However, their powerful talisman, the prolific Brazilian goalscorer, Adriano, was forced off in the opening minutes of the second period. Milan’s centre-back, Alessandro Nesta had constantly been crunching into the Brazilian throughout the match, and his aggression eventually told as the bulky Brazilian crumpled to the floor, following another challenge near Milan’s left corner flag. Inter fans no doubt had further reason to be enraged.

Despite, Adriano’s injury, Inter continued to dominate. Milan looked to gain a foothold once more through the substitution of Rui Costa for Hernan Crespo in the 69th minute, as their midfield failed to replicate the controlling first-half performance.

However, it seemed that Milan’s substitution had failed to neutralise Inter’s constant attacking waves.

A 71st minute corner was met by the head of Inter’s Esteban Cambiasso, the ball bounced into the net. A comeback may be on the cards. 19 minutes to play and three more goals, the San Siro was rocking. The joy was short-lived, however. Seconds later, Merk blew his whistle, as he saw a foul on Milan’s, Brazilian goalkeeper Dida. Inter and Cambiasso were incensed, the Argentine raced over to Merk, wide-eyed and shouting, whilst pinching his fingers in protest of the referee’s decision.

Inter’s fans were similarly enraged. As Dida was readying himself to take the resulting free-kick, the Ultras behind the Milan goal hurled water bottles onto the pitch. However, bottles soon turned to flares, as a sea of smoke began to engulf the air near Dida’s goal. One flare smashed into the Brazilian’s right shoulder, prompting him to roll on the floor in agony. His team-mates dragged him away from the goal, which now resembled a battlefield, the San Siro had truly become a colosseum. Whilst Dida was being treated for bruising and 1st degree burns, the players of both sides stood and watched, as the smoky flares covered the San Siro turf. It is at this point where the photograph of Materazzi and Costa looking on at the smoke-ridden pitch would have been taken.

Half an hour later the match resumed, with Milan substituting Dida for Christian Abbiati. Unsurprisingly, flares continued to be thrown on the pitch, and the match was abandoned after just one additional minute. UEFA awarded AC Milan a 3-0 victory and fined Inter £132,000 and forced them to play their next four European home games behind closed doors.

“Two or three hundred hooligans were involved in throwing the flares.” Milan police spokesman Paolo Scarpi said: They have been caught on video camera – they were the usual hotheads from the Inter sector.”

This match perfectly symbolised the state of Italian football in 2005, and something that remains prevalent today. Large parts of the game were filled with attacking class and defensive brilliance- a game including the likes of Nesta, Cordoba, Maldini, Cambiasso, Cafu, Seedorf, Adriano and Shevchenko to name a few, meant it was not a surprise to see such quality. What is more though, is the crowd trouble and controversy which has always gone hand-in-hand with Italian football. Although it may display the passion of the Derby della Madonnina, it harms the prestigious legacy of Italian football.

Beneath the Badge (2): SC Bastia

SC Bastia are a French club based in Bastia, situated on the island of Corsica, which is located southeast of the French mainland. Despite the club playing in Ligue 1 in 2017, they now find themselves plying their trade in the Championnat National 3 (French 5th division). This was enforced by the French Football federation, following the club’s financial difficulties. The club’s current plight is an antithesis to the success of the Corsican club’s golden period in the late 70s, when they reached the UEFA Cup final, eventually losing out to Dutch side, PSV.

Current Bastia badge

Unsurprisingly, most of Bastia’s fans are Corsicans- they often display their independence. For some in overly adverse ways. Many Bastia fans booed La Marseillaise (French national anthem) before the 2002 Coupe de France final. There seems to be a divide between the Corsicans and mainland France.

This divide, and a history of struggle can be seen through the club’s badge. The current version depicts a moor’s head with a white bandage (or necklace) wrapped tightly around the forehead, tied together by a knot below the temple. Behind the moor’s head is an outline of a castle, which is surrounded by blue. The castle represents the Castello di Bastia, but what is of more significance is the iconic moor’s head. This same head can be found on the badge of Bastia’s neighbouring clubs, also found in Corsica- Gazélec Ajaccio and AC Ajaccio (as well as that of Cagilari FC, found in Sardinia, displaying the close links Corsica has to Italy). Whilst there may be a competitive rivalry amongst the three French teams to be able to claim that the each is the dominant football team of Corsica, it seems as if they are more united with each other more than with mainland France. The answer for this lies in the history of Corsica. In 1729 the Corsican Revolution began, in an attempt to break free from the rule of Genoa, Italy. Directed by Luiggi Giafferi and Giacinto Paoli, and then by Paoli’s son, Pasquale Paoli. In 1755 the Corsican republic finally claimed it independence, and it remained such until 1769, when the island was once more conquered, this time by France. In 1760, General Pasquale Paoli ordered the necklace to be removed from the head and the blindfold raised above the eyes- the position of the necklace now. His reason, reported by his biographers, was that: ‘The Corsicans want to see clearly. Freedom must walk by the torch of philosophy. Won’t they say that we fear the light?’. Paoli was issuing a call for Corsican defiance and freedom, something that still rings true to this day. There is even a militant group- the National Liberation Front of Corsica (FLNC), which pushes violent action for Corsican nationalism.

Flag of Corsica pre-1755
Post-1755-69, 1980- Corsican flag

The moor then is clearly important for Bastia in the way it represents freedom and independence for the island- it has featured on the SC Bastia badge since the 1980s, and one would think it is not going anywhere soon.

Recently, the club has found itself in trouble with the French Football Federation. In 2017 ultras invaded the pitch during a home game against Lyon, where several of the visiting team’s players were attacked. As a result the team were handed an automatic loss, the club’s supporters were banned from travelling for Bastia’s next three away games and Bastia’s director Anthony Agostini was suspended for six months. Significantly, this happened in the home game following Bastia playing behind closed doors, as Nice’s Mario Balotelli was subject to racist abuse. Whether this is an ill-mannered and barbaric call for Bastia and Corsica’s independence, or just the mindless act of a minority of ultras, there seems to be a deep divide between Bastia and France, one that can be traced back to the rebellious image of the moor’s head fixed on Bastia’s badge.  

Beneath the Badge (1): Watford FC

Watford FC are a Premier League football club founded in Watford, Hertfordshire. The club secured promotion to the Premier League in 2014-15 and have been competing in England’s top division since, they even reached the FA Cup final last season, eventually losing out to Manchester City. The club was founded in 1881 and fused with Watford Rovers to eventually establish Watford Football club as we know it, in 1898. Before then though there were internal disputes over whether to change them name to Watford Herts (for Hertfordshire). In the years following its formation, Watford FC often played in a blue kit. This changed in the late 1950s when they chose to sport gold kit and black shorts- the colours that are found on Watford’s badge today. Following the switch to gold and black the nickname of ‘The Hornets’ quickly stuck, following a popular vote by the supporters’ club. This remains in place today, epitomised by Watford’s mascot- ‘Harry the Hornet’.

Watford’s last blue kit (1959)

It may seem puzzling then, that whilst Watford are nicknamed ‘The Hornets’, that their current badge displays no hornets. The most recent Watford badge depicts a red stag’s head at the centre of a pentagon, which is split into black on the left side and yellow on the right side. This badge has not always been present, however. From 1968 through to 1974 Watford adopted three different badges and whilst they all contained the yellow and black colours seen today, the stag was discarded for a hornet. However, since 1978 the club has chosen to stick with what looks like a moose, but what is actually a stag. The reason for this is based upon Watford’s location in Hertfordshire, a county in England that is known for its vast stag population. This harks back to Watford’s earlier days where the stag was placed on the 1950 and 1958 badge. Even Hertfordshire County Cricket Club shares an image of a stag, or a fallow deer- it is an image that has become synonymous with Hertfordshire.

History of Watford’s badge
Current badge

Last year the club raised the question to the fans to design their own badge, calling it: ‘Designs on the Future’, the new badge will be introduced for the 2020/21 season. It may not be too long before we see the hornet once again taking its place on Watford’s crest. It seems once more than Watford’s image will continue to change and evolve.

Boavista FC: How the ‘textile workers’ fashioned the most recent Portuguese underdog story and their more recent decline

The 1999/2000 season in the Primeira Liga finished in a similar fashion to all the previous campaigns. Sporting Lisbon won the league, four points ahead of Porto, and eight points clear of Benfica. It seemed evident that for the next season the top of the league would paint a similar picture- only differing if the top three were to juggle positions. This had been the case for so long in Portugal- the last a team outside of the ‘Big Three’ won the league was back in 1946 when CF Belenenses were champions. This was soon to change, however.

The famous chequered Boavista badge

Boavista FC were founded in 1903 by British entrepreneurs and Portuguese textile workers (hence the chequered pattern). They have yo-yoed through Portugal football division, but they remained firmly in the Primeira Liga in the decades leading up to the turn of the millennia. Boavista’s success in the league did not come to fruition overnight. Their fortunes gradually improved thanks to chairman Valentim Loureiro, who was at the club between 1972 and 1995. Eventually his son, João succeeded him- it was here when the club’s golden hour had begun. João Loureiro appointed former FC Porto and Portugal midfielder, Jaime Pacheco as their manager in 1997, and soon the club’s league position ascended. They were the team that occupied the place below the ‘Big Three’ in 1999/2000. Despite their position in the league granting them entry into the UEFA Cup Qualifying Round, there was a mild sense of disappointment surrounding the club. The previous season Boavista had finished second to Porto, accumulating 71 points in the process- 16 more than they managed in the preceding campaign. Still, Boavista’s back-to-back finishes in the top four showed that they were a club on the up and ready to challenge for titles, although, it still seemed unlikely that they would ever get their hands on the coveted Primeira Liga title.

Pacheco’s team certainly had talent. Boavista’s goalkeeper, Ricardo, went on to make 79 appearances for Portugal. At the heart of their defence was Pedro Emmanuel and Litos, with the former going on to win the UEFA Cup and the Champions League. Boavista’s midfield was equally talented- the diamond jewel of it was Bolivian midfielder, Erwin Sanchez, dubbed as ‘Platini’ for most of his career- indicating the South American’s skilful and graceful style of play. At the base of the midfield was the Portuguese pair of Rui Bento and Petit- who provided an added industry to the team. The latter would go on to play 148 times for Benfica and 57 times for Portugal. The more eccentric players came in the forward positions, Duda, Silva and Martelinho, who offered pace and creativity going forward. Pacheco had created a wonderfully balanced team, filled with dynamism, ingenuity, and a resilience that made them incredibly difficult to beat, and clinical going forward.  

Despite this, the club at the time were still in the shadow of the ‘Big Three’ in Portugal. Midfield starlet Nuno Gomes was sold to Benfica, as was the proficient forward João Vieira Pinto. Meanwhile, young forward Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was sold further ashore- to Leeds. It did not seem that the club was soon to break the power-fold that had been present for over 50 years in Portugal. The fact that many of their players were poached by other clubs was unsurpirisng given how well the Boavista team had been performing, and the lack of financial might that the club had to keep their star assets when bigger clubs came calling. In Portugal, Boavista were dwarfed by the ‘Top Three’ in terms of finances. These clubs could offer players greater salaries, as well as higher quality training facilities. The record transfer fee of Boavista by 2000 contextualises the lack of funds available. They spent €700,000 on Elpídio Silva. Benfica’s record transfer fee by 2000 was in excess of €6.7 million spent on Brazilian midifielder Roger. The gap between Boavista and the top teams in Portugal was profound- making their achievement even greater.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink playing for Boavista

So how did they do it? It started with a win, a convincing one, beating Beira-Mar 4-2. This was immediately followed up by an emphatic 4-0 drubbing of União de Leiria. A draw and defeat followed, but the club responded like champions beating Benfica 1-0. In what proved to be their crucial part of their season- Boavista went on a 15-match unbeaten run, crucially during this period they were able to beat the city neighbours, and closest challengers FC Porto, once more the scoreline read 1-0, thanks to a 31st minute goal from Martelinho. Following a defeat to Braga at the beginning of the year, the club once more responded by not losing in 12 and winning 10 of those games- accumulating 32 points from a possible 36. They had wrapped up the title with a game to spare, which no doubt allowed everyone associated with Boavista to breathe easy, as they faced second placed FC Porto on the final day of the season. Despite FC Porto thrashing Boavista 4-0, the league title was already secured and the shackles were off- the club had made history.

Boavista fans celebrating the 2001 Primeira Liga

There were several key parts that made the Boavista machine tick. The defence was solid and robust, and they conceded five goals fewer than any other side, and four of those goal came after the title was already secured. Going forward the team was also clinical, scoring 63 goals. The vast array of goalscorers that Boavista had typified the collective spirit and attitude of the team. No player scored more than 11 (Silva, Duda), but the whole was greater than the sum of its parts. The quality of hardwork and defiance definitely was not lost on Pacheco and the Boavista team. Capello later remarked that, ‘no other club in Europe runs as much.’

Boavista’s famous Primeira Liga win was the pinnacle of their success. Although, they did not immediately fall off the pace, the club started to regress in the following seasons. A respectable second place finish in the 2001/2002 season may have suggested that the club would become a staple at the top of the Portuguese league, as the club amassed 70 points, and conceded a mere 20 goals. Furthermore, their Champions League campaign put them in the limelight on the biggest European stage. Two draws against Liverpool, as well as victories over Dynamo Kiev and Borussia Dortmund enabled Boavista to progress from the Champions League first group stage. Despite failing to qualify from their second group stage, the Portuguese club put in a respectable performance, but fell short to Manchester United and Bayern Munich. Boavista did progress further in European competition in 2002/2003- this time in the UEFA Cup, but the club were knocked out of the semi-finals by a late Henrik Larsson goal, which prevent an all-Oporto final. This success was not shared on the domestic front, as Boavista slumped to 10th place.

Boavista’s Duda battles for the ball with Liverpool’s Sami Hyypia

Whilst the club enjoyed some success on the pitch, they were struggling off it. Winning the Primeira Liga and competing in both the Champions League and the UEFA Cup meant that the club had to give out improved contracts and big bonuses. The poor financial situation was compounded by the need to construct the new club stadium (Estádio do Bessa XXI) in time for Euro 2004 which was to be held in Portugal. The Portuguese government failed to live up to the financial support that it had promised for the stadium, and the club plunged into debt.

In 2004 Pachecho was let go by the club, as they once more lurked in the mid-table of the Primeira Liga. But worse was yet to come. In 2008, via the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’, it had emerged that both FC Porto and Boavista FC were involved in the alleged bribery of referees in the 2003/04 season. In 2008 Boavista were relegated to the Liga de Honra (Second Division), due to the verdict that the club had ‘coerced’ match officials in three Liga games, versus Belnenses, Benfica and Académica. Former president João Loureiro was suspended for four years, and the club was fined €180,000.

A long five year spell, battling in both the Liga de Honra and the Segunda Divisão (Third Division) finally came to an end in 2014, when the Portuguese Professional Football League made the decision to promote Boavista back to the Primeira Liga following several judicial reviews, as the club leapt forward two divisions. Around the same time João Loureiro rejoined the club, and he helped to cut the debt from the ‘Golden Whistle Enquiry’ in half.

Boavista still sporting their balck and white cheques.

Under the guidance of former midfielder, Petit, Boavista finished a respectable 13th in the 2014/15 season, as the club looked to consolidate their Primeira Liga status. Since then performances have gradually improved as the club has gone on to finish 14th, 9th, 8th and 8th once more last season. And whilst the club are miles away from winning the Primeira Liga, fans will be grateful to experience the top Portuguese division once again. Meanwhile, it seems that the ‘Big Three’ are set for another spell of dominance- no club other than Sporting, Benfica and Porto have lifted the trophy since Boavista’s triumph at the start of the millennium.

Arsenal’s Transfer Conundrum: A Potential Solution?

The 2018/19 season was to say the least, a struggle for Arsenal. Although they improved on the 2017/18 season points total of 63, amassing 70 points, questions remain to be answered. They conceded the same amount of goals (51) as the season before- 1.34 goals per match, which was the 9th worst record in the league, whilst their xGA was 54.1, the 11th worse in the league, clearly their defensive frailties cannot be put down to bad luck. Despite this, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang finished as the top-joint Premier League goal scorer with 22 goals, and fellow forward Alexandre Lacazette was both a productive goalscoring and creative force. Anterior cruciate ligament injuries to both Hector Bellerin and Rob Holding no doubt hampered the defence, which was ruthlessly exposed, especially towards the tail end of the season, with consecutive defeats to Crystal Palace, Wolves and Leicester, where the team conceded 9 goals.

Arsenal players react to conceding at Stamford Bridge

Arsenal manager Unai Emery has always favoured a 4-2-3-1 formation in his time in Spain, France and Russia, using a system that relies on heavy pressing, overlapping full-backs, and a defensive pivot at the base of the midfield. It is this system predominantly considered when looking at potential players to join Arsenal. He typically signs players who still have a high potential, usually acquiring players in the early to mid-20’s. These factors, along with Arsenal’s relatively restricted budget will be considered when evaluating potential incomings.

Upon analysing Emery’s squad for the 2018/19 season their seem to be multiple areas in the team that need upgrading or greater cover, the most pressing positions that Arsenal should strengthen in the next month are right-back, centre-back, left-back, central midfield/box-to-box, and a wide midfielder.

At right-back, Bellerin’s long-term injury will keep him out until mid-October, and Carl Jenkinson should be deemed surplus to requirements. Although Ainsley Maintland-Niles filled in adequately following Bellerin’s injury, right full-back is not his natural position. He was exposed vs West Ham in January and most notably the Europa League final, where he needlessly conceded a penalty. Although both athleticism and determination allowed Maintland-Niles to recover at times, it would be best to find a competent natural right-back cover for Bellerin, who is comfortable playing in defence.

What may be a greater worry though for Arsenal are the problems at centre-back. Shkodran Mustafi was arguably Arsenal’s worst performer last season, especially when facing Crystal Palace at home. Sokratis offered some defensive solidity, although he could often be caught out of position and had a poor disciplinary record, on top of this he is now 31, and questions lie over how long he can last at the top level. Moreover, club captain, Laurent Koscielny recently refused to travel to the U.S with the team, as he attempts to force a move to France. Still, Arsenal have promising options at the centre of defence. Rob Holding was in fine form before his season-ending injury and should play at the heart of the defence when fit again. Kristian Bielik who spent last season on loan at Charlton also offers much promise, a ball-playing central defender that can also fit in central midfield, Bielik was Man of the Match in Charlton’s League 1 promotion play-off and starred at the Euro-u21 championships for Poland. Despite these options, it would be advisable that Arsenal brought in a ready-made centre-back who has played at the top European level to partner Holding this season.

RB Leipzig’s Nordi Mukiele would be able to solve issues for Arsenal both at centre-back and right back, as he can play well in both positions. His main strengths are through balls from defence and passing out from the back, a player that likes to also dribble out of defence. Mukiele is also aerially strong, something that Arsenal can lack and at only 21, he still has a high ceiling, enabling the club to potentially make profit on the player in the next 5-10 years. Although it is his adaptability that may be what is most appealing to Arsenal, due to their supposed lack of funds. Mukiele is able to solve two of their greatest defensive issues, as both a competent right-back and centre-back. Out of the 14 starts he made in the Bundesliga last season, 5 games were at centre-back and 9 were at right-back. Transfermarkt valued the player at 15 million euros (at the point of 5/6/2019), so he should not consume an enormous amount of Arsenal’s reportedly small transfer budget. His malleability, age, and reasonable price should make Mukiele an enticing prospect for Arsenal.

Nordi Mukiele could offer stability at centre-back and right-back. (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Although the Arsenal centre-backs were heavily criticised for the porous defence last season, the overlapping full-backs provided little cover. Particularly on the left side where Sead Kolasinac typically plays, the Arsenal defence was continuously exposed. Although he provided an admirable 5 assists, his crossing was inconsistent at best, this was seen in the Europa League final where he missed opportunities to pick out Lacazette and Aubameyang with a simple pass. Meanwhile, long servant to the club Nacho Monreal is now 33 and may soon be on his way out, posing a problem for Arsenal at left-back.

Kieran Tierney seems to be the name most mentioned with filling the left-back role this summer. The Scottish international has been a stalwart in the Celtic backline. Tierney is still only 22 and has already been playing professionally for 5 years. He carries a similar dynamism to Kolasinac going forward, and although he may not possess the same physical strength, his low-crossing abilities seem superior. More importantly for Arsenal, Tierney is seen as a more consistent defender, and someone who will not be caught as high up the pitch on such a regular basis, as Kolasinac was. It is rumoured that Tierney would cost around £25 million, which may seem a steep figure- it would make Tierney the most expensive outgoing from the Scottish Premiership. Despite this, his age and ability can provide up to 10 of a quality left-back option, something that has not been properly resolved since the departure of Gael Clichy.

Kieran Tierney, Celtic

The end of this season brought the curtain down on Aaron Ramsey’s long and successful Arsenal career, as he regrettably joined Juventus on a free transfer, following his contract expiration. This has left a hole in the centre of Arsenal’s midfield that needs to be filled. No matter whether Emery favours the 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 or the 5-2-1-2 there is always a spot vacant for either a box-to-box midfielder or an attacking playmaker. Mesut Ozil has struggled under Unai Emery’s pressing tactics, and the manager’s preference for the ball to be pushed out wide, rather than through the middle. Joe Willock offers much promise, and his performances in the first team last year have led to him deservedly being included in the Arsenal squad on their tour of the U.S. However, it would be a tall order for Willock to fill Ramsey’s boots. A potential signing that could solve both the Ramsey and Ozil conundrum at Arsenal is Rodrigo De Paul. Last season at Udinese De Paul amassed 9 goals and 8 assists in 36 games, having 2.4 shots per games and 2.7 key passers per game, as well as 2.3 dribbles per game. In comparison, Aaron Ramsey only manage 1.2 shots per game, 0.9 key passes per game and 0.4 dribbles per game. Similarly, Mesut Ozil averaged 0.5 shots per game, 1.9 key passes per game and 0.9 dribbles per game. De Paul offers an aggressive attacking midfielder who possesses both the quality to run the ball out of midfield and hold the eye for a pass. His ability to play in central midfield, like Ramsey, also offers an adaptability that Ozil does not possess. However, what is of even greater appeal is his ability to play out wide, like he did at Valencia. Like Mukiele he may be able to cover two positions for the price of one. De Paul, when not playing in central midfield will be able to compete on the wings with some of Arsenal’s younger talent, such as Alex Iwobi, Reiss Nelson, and recent signing Gabriel Martinelli. The price may still be an issue though. Despite De Paul not being at a European giant, but rather a relatively cash-strapped Udinese, the club will likely demand a large fee in excess of 30 million euros, as De Paul performed effectively for Argentina in the Copa America this summer. Therefore, if Arsenal are to make a deal happen, they must be willing to spend a great part of their reported budget.   

Rodrigo De Paul, Udinese

Considering the time left to make deals happen, and the supposed lack of finances that Arsenal possess, these three deals offer both good value for money, youthful players with a greater potential, as well as their ability to support other positions that the club may not invest in. The total of all three transfers, were they to happen would accumulate to around £65-80 million, which is equivalent to the reported fee that Crystal Palace are demanding for Wilfried Zaha. However, it seems that Arsenal are to look outside of the Premier League if they want value for money, and their desperation to sign Zaha should by no means take priority over Arsenal’s vulnerable defence, which is the main area of the team that needs reinforcement.

Paris FC: The Forgotten Club of Paris

The 2018/19 football season ended for PSG with a sense of underachievement once again. Despite comfortably winning Ligue 1 with 91 points, the team crashed out once more in the Champions League, losing on away goals to Manchester United. Their misery was further compounded by defeat to Rennes in the Coupe de France final, despite holding a 2-0 lead. However, their not-so noisy neighbours- Paris FC have had an equally heart-breaking end to their season. Although their story is not so well known.

In the Quarter-final play-off for promotion to Ligue 1 Paris FC found themselves 1-0 down to Lens, thanks to a misplaced pass in midfield and an incisive breakaway that resulted in Thierry Ambrose slotting the ball home from 10 yards. However, with seconds to play Paris FC substitute, the Bosnian Marko Maletic, latched on to a flick-on and rifled home from a tight angle to make the score level and keep the Paris FC promotion dream firmly alive. This elation soon turned to despair as they crashed out to Lens on penalties, with Romain Perraud (who is now at Celtic) hitting the right post with his spot kick. Paris FC, literally inches from a possible promotion to Ligue 1, truly displaying the fine lines of football and how a season can be made or broken on one kick. Still, Paris FC should not look back on the previous season with too much gloom. The club finished 4 places better off than the previous season, moving from 8th to 4th and held the best defensive record in the league conceding just 22 goals in 38 games, a record even Atletico Madrid would be proud of. Certainly, their Parisian home, the Stade Sebastien-Charlety, in the 13th arrondissement of Paris, proved somewhat of a fortress, conceding 6 goals in 19 games and losing just once to eventual runners up, Brest. These achievements are not to be taken lightly once analysing the club’s woeful 47-year history.

Thierry Ambrose celebrating after scoring vs Paris FC

 This brings us back to Paris-Saint-Germain, the football team that dominates Paris. This was not always such a formality, however. In an attempt to propel the quality and audience of football within Paris, Paris FC was launched in 1969. The club then fused with Stade Saint-Germain to form, the infamous Paris Saint-Germain. However, the clubs divorced in 1971, as the mayor of Paris refused to support a non-Parisian club, as they had been situated in the Saint-Germain-en-Laye suburbs. Surprisingly maybe, it was Paris Saint-Germain coming off the worst off out of the two clubs. Paris FC held both its Ligue 1 status and the right to play at the Parc des Princes, whilst Paris Saint-Germain were demoted to the French Third division. So how have the tables turned so dramatically between the two clubs? One factor is the contrasting fortunes of the clubs following the split. Paris FC were relegated after two seasons, whilst PSG gained promotion to the top division in the same year, which also led to their acquisition of the Parc des Princes over Paris FC. PSG have remained a mainstay in France’s top league ever since, although the same cannot be said for their neighbours in the 13th arrondissement.

Ever since their relegation in 1975, Paris FC have only been back in the top division of France for one season. The club was even in the Championnat de France amateur for six years, before their overdue promotion to the National division in 2006. So how did one of Paris’ clubs become a European superpower, whilst her ex-partner struggles in the lower divisions of French football.

Although it is difficult to identify specific points in analysing any club’s progress, there are aspects of Paris FC which have, and continue to hold the club back from its ambition of competing in Ligue 1. The average attendance at the Stade Sebastien-Charlety in the previous season was a meagre 3,849, despite the stadium holding a 20,000 seat capacity. Although an improvement on the 3,072 average attendance in 2017/18, this was only better than six other teams in Ligue 2. Interestingly, Parisian club Red Star FC had the lowest attendance of all teams in Ligue 2, suggesting a deep-rooted problem in the popularity of Parisian clubs outside of PSG. The low attendance seems unsurprising for Paris FC however, when considering their stadium. Stade Charlety has been shared with Stade Francais Rugby Union club, Paris Saint-Germain Rugby League club, Paris Universite Club and Paris Saint-Germain Feminines. The stadium also has an athletic track surrounding the pitch, which dilutes any atmosphere created, and hinders the experience and enjoyment for Paris FC fans watching.

Stade Charlety

President of Paris FC, Pierre Feracci is open to the idea of renovating the stadium before the club are promoted, although this could be an arduous and expensive process that could see the club selling their key assets in order to keep Paris FC financially stable. Nevertheless, the issues surrounding Stade Charlety do not seem to be taking a hold of the current group of players. The aforementioned solitary loss at home, suggests that last season the team firmly considered their stadium home.

A second issue, which the club have already identified and attempted to resolve is the constant stream of youngsters who have left the club in their early years, leaving for little to no money, and going on to move to big European clubs. In 2018, the club moved into a new training ground in southern Paris, costing 7 million euros. Feracci, as quoted in The Independent stated: ‘We had arguably the worst infrastructure of any Ligue 2 club; now it’s among the best. I think in the next four to five years our training ground will be one of the best in France’. Feracci went on to say, ‘We’ve got four high-quality pitches, including a hybrid, heated one… Orly has added so much energy and vitality to the club.’ How does this help them attract and keep any young talent that they hold? Their professional accreditation from the French Football Association last year allows the club to make better contract offers to young players, so they are less likely to move on in hope of a better deal. Feracci (again in The Independent) lamented that ‘in the ten years I’ve been here, 15 to 20 youngsters between 11-19 have left the club every year… We couldn’t offer professional contracts before the age of 20, and we lost players at a younger age, too.’

It seems for a club like Paris FC the prospect of young talent is more important than most French clubs. At the 2018 World Cup 52 players were born in France, more than any other country. For example, Mehdi Benatia was born in France, but chose to represent Morocco due to his parents. Out of the 52 players born in France, 15 were from Paris. There has been an increase in the amount of Parisian both in the French team, and Parisians participating at the World Cup between 2002 and 2018. As the graph shows, 3 Parisians represented France in 2002, which increased to 7 in 2018. Similarly, 7 Parisians were at the 2002 World Cup for all countries, compared to 15 in 2019. What is potentially even more enticing for a club like Paris FC is the estimated worth of Parisian talent. Players from Paris at the 2018 World Cup had an accumulative worth of 483 million euros (according to Transfermarkt values- taken 5.6.2018). This is nearly triple the value of what players from London at the World Cup were (167 million euros). Although Paris FC is unlikely to have too many players competing at the World Cup in the near future, they are sure to take optimism from the deep pool of football talent that Paris holds.

Graph indicating number of Parisians at the World Cup between 2002-2018
Player value by country at 2018 World Cup (credit to RunRepeat)

Paris FC have seen this Parisian talent first-hand with a number of players starting their career with Paris FC before jetting off elsewhere. Former Liverpool defender and PSG captain, Mamadou Sakho was at Paris FC from age 6-12. Strasbourg right-back Kenny Lala was at Paris FC from 17-19, and Red Bull Leipzig defender, Nordi Mukiele was at the club from age 7-16. These are just a handful of players that Paris FC could not keep hold of, and who left the club for no major profit. Transfermarkt shows the current value of the three players to total 44 million euros, and while it is ambitious to believe that Paris FC would be able to hold on to these players long enough to make that kind of money, it is certainly reasonable to think that the club could have made a healthy profit if they were able to hold on to their assets.

Nordi Mukiele, formely of Paris FC playing for RB Leipzig in the UEFA Europa League (Photo by Matthias Kern/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Now, with the professional accreditation from the French Football Association for the clubs new training ground, Paris FC will have a better chance of holding on to their youngsters. The future looks brighter than the past for Paris FC, thanks to their new infrastructure, allowing the club to offer youngsters professional contracts before they reached 20. Their ability to keep hold of youngsters and offer better facilities at their training ground may be the crucial push which propels the forgotten Parisian club back into Ligue 1 after their 40-year absence.