Will anybody ever buy Everton?

Whilst Leeds United fans can be understandably excited by the signing of Preston goalkeeper Andy Lonergan, the move must surely ring some alarm bells at Everton.

Lonergan spent time at the back end of last season training at Goodison Park and a move was reportedly close to being agreed. However, United have pipped them to his signing, apparently due to the Toffees’ inability to stump up the £200k fee.

Everton’s finances, or lack of them, have been well-documented in the past. A club that has qualified for the Champions League despite a stringent budget, usually signing cast-offs (Phil Neville, Tim Howard, Sylvain Distin), taking a chance on lower league players (Tim Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Jermaine Beckford) or finding a foreign diamond (Fellaini, Arteta, Coleman). It begs the question, why has nobody bought, or at least invested in, Everton?

The Toffees have watched Birmingham City, Blackburn Rovers and Sunderland, amongst others, be taken over. But yet, they are never even linked with an influx of cash. But why is this?

Birmingham’s Chinese owner; Carson Yeung

Birmingham was taken over by Chinese owners, as Birmingham has a high Chinese population. Blackburn was taken over by the Indian poultry firm Venky’s, again, the area is heavily-populated by ethnics, in this case Indians. So that clears those two up, they were both bought by owners who can relate to the demographic of the area. But that doesn’t really help Everton. Liverpool is 94.3% populated by white people, meaning ethnicities are not as popular as in areas such as Birmingham (29.6% ethnicity rate) and Blackburn (27.5% Asian), so foreign owners would not be looking at Everton as a club to buy and promote abroad.

Sunderland were taken over by American Ellis Short, and whilst there are not many Americans in the North-East, Sunderland have one big pull to investors that Everton don’t; a large, new stadium.

The first thing any buyer would need to do is make Everton’s proposed new stadium happen. Whether it is sharing with Liverpool, or a stadium all of their own, Everton need to replace Goodison Park. A renovation and expansion is out of the question due to the amount of residential housing surrounding the ground.

Obviously, the government need to help Everton out and give them permission to build a stadium at the earmarked Kirkby, but a new owner with promises of bags of investment could well twist their arm.

Everton’s planned new stadium

However, manager David Moyes has stated that the club doesn’t need new owners, he’s quite happy with the board he has, just that need substantial investment; something Chairman Bill Kenwright agrees with.

“”New ownership isn’t always the solution to everything. What you want is the right people and the right people are already at Everton. We don’t need new owners; we need an investment of money.” Moyes told The Guardian back in 2011.

Moyes is a huge pull to any new investors. The work he has done on the budgets he has been given is nothing short of miraculous. Any new investor would look to tie Moyes down, and he has personally stated he doesn’t need bags of cash to get the Toffees progressing. Music to the ears of investors.

“Maybe the football team doesn’t need £100m. Maybe the football team needs an amount that would give it a chance to breathe again and grow a little bit more. That’s maybe why we don’t need a zillionaire,” he again told the Guardian.

Another good omen for the Toffees is their youth academy. However, at the moment a bad point is that these talents are often sold on to bigger clubs. The main example, of course, being Wayne Rooney. Sold to Manchester United for close to £30m, the club had to sell him in order to fund Moyes’ push for European and Champions League football.

Everton fans will be hoping that Jack Rodwell will not follow suit. The talented anchorman has been linked to United, but so far, the club has managed to retain him.

However, an impressive season would create more interest in him, and others, and Everton will need new investment to feel they can turn down the big money bids that could come their way.

Jack Rodwell – Will he follow suit?

For an in-depth look at Everton’s finances and the influence that has on their potential buyers, I would definitely recommend you read the brilliant @SwissRamble’s blog. The Everton link can be found here 

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SPL Preview – 2011/2012

The SPL season is upon us after officials moved the start date of the league to this weekend – the earliest Scotland’s premier division has ever begun.

The date has been brought forward to alleviate the amount of midweek games played by SPL teams, whilst also benefitting Scotland’s European representatives by playing competitive football earlier.

Rangers pipped Celtic to the title last season on the last day of the season. However, Ally McCoist has taken over from legendary manager Walter Smith and will have a big job on his hands to replicate his predecessor.

McCoist will again lock horns with controversial Celtic manager Neil Lennon after their spat at Parkhead last season, but Lennon is under pressure to deliver the title back to the green side of Glasgow.

Dunfermline are expected to be the whipping boys of the division, having been promoted from the First Division last season, but St. Mirren and Inverness both look weak this year.

ABERDEEN

This season has all the makings of a season of transition for the Dons. In the summer they’ve lost their captain Paul Hartley, who has retired after persistent knee injuries, and defensive mainstay Zander Diamond, who opted to join League One Oldham after nine years at Pittodrie.

The Dons were on the receiving end of the SPL’s biggest-ever defeat last season as they were crushed 9-0 by Celtic – resulting in Mark McGhee losing his job. The Dons then snared Craig Brown from Motherwell and coupled with youngsters like Fraser Fyvie and Peter Pawlett – the future looks a lot brighter for Aberdeen.

KEY MAN: Youl Mawene – The Dons need someone to replace Diamond and, if the Frenchman can keep himself fit, he could be the prefect man for the job.

CELTIC

After losing out on the title on the last day, Lennon’s charges will be looking to go one better this season.

Main signing Victor Wanyama will add a lot of energy to the midfield and will be popular with fans after choosing the shirt number 67 – a tribute to the Celtic side that won the European Champions Club Cup in 1967.

Lennon is looking to add some more experience to his young team, but with a years added experience, the likes of Biram Kayal, Emilio Izaguirre and Gary Hooper should all be looking to push on after very impressive first seasons. Izaguirre’s form was supreme and Arsenal and Liverpool are rumoured to be looking at the Honduran full-back, who was named PFA Players’ Player of the Year.

KEY MAN: Gary Hooper – Hooper scored 21 goals last season, taking only 30 shots to do so. With more experience under his belt and an England U21 call-up, Hooper could be the key to firing Celtic back to the top of the SPL.

 DUNDEE UNITED

Despite the season starting early to help Scotland’s European participants, United went out on away goals against Polish team Slask Wroclaw last night.

However, manager Peter Houston was full of praise for the team: “If I get the same effort through the SPL season we’ll be back in Europe next season,” he said.

One big positive for United is they have somehow held on to main striker David Goodwillie. English interest was said to be big in Goodwillie, who Rangers are still sniffing around, and the striker will be a huge asset for United if they can still keep hold of him.

A positive for United is the acquisition of ex-Liverpool prospect Gary Mac-Kay Steven. The winger has great pace and can out in good crosser and Goodwillie and Jon Daly should find themselves attacking a lot of balls this season. He will need to have a good season as United have lost Craig Conway to Cardiff. Conway was integral to United’s European qualification and a massive part of the way they played.

United have also lost Morgaro Gomis to Birmingham and midfield partner Prince Buaben to Watford, so replacing these two will be crucial to Houston. Signing Willo Flood from Middlesbrough will help fill one void.

KEY MAN: David Goodwillie – Providing they can keep hold of him until the window shuts, Goodwillie will be the key man in firing Dundee United back towards the European berths.

DUNFERMLINE

The Pars are odds-on favourites to go straight back down again this season, but they have made some shrewd acquisitions this summer and will be looking to consolidate this season.

Nomadic goalkeeper Paul Gallacher and centre-back John Potter were both part of a St. Mirren team that last year avoided relegation and that experience could be crucial this year.

Andrew Barrowman will give them some much-needed firepower up front, and the ex-Birmingham trainee has SPL experience with Inverness.

But biggest key could be retaining the destructive services of Gary Mason in midfield. Mason has a plethora of SPL knowledge and his influence in the middle of the park will be huge if Dunfermline are to stay up.

KEY MAN: Gary Mason – The Pars are planning to cause a few surprises this year and Mason will be integral to how their season shapes up.

 HEART OF MIDLOTHIAN

It’s never quiet at Hearts, and this summer was no different. Firstly, midfielder Ian Black has been set a trial date for an accusation of possessing cocaine – the hearing will take place in October.

And if that wasn’t bad enough, Hearts also had to suspend promising full-back Craig Thomson after the 20-year-old was placed on the sex offenders list after pleading guilty to ‘lewd, libidinous and indecent behaviour’.

On the pitch, things haven’t been much better. Lee Wallace has left Edinburgh and joined champions Rangers.

However, they have managed to sign John Sutton from Motherwell and Kilmarnock’s inspirational Moroccan Mehdi Taouil, both on free transfers.

Reinvigorated by the appointment of Jim Jeffries, Hearts would march on to finish third last season as Kevin Kyle and Stephen Elliot terrorised SPL defences. Jeffries, who switched to a successful 4-2-3-1 system, seems to be able to restrain owner Vladimir Romanov’s unerring desire to get involved and that has so far worked wonders.

A season in Europe awaits, with a tie against Hungarian team Paksi next up, and it will be interesting to see how Jeffries juggles his side.

KEY MAN: David Templeton – The winger was a nightmare for full-backs from both flanks last year and his mazy runs and directness will be key this season too.

HIBERNIAN

The main talking point at Easter Road this summer has been about the manager, Colin Calderwood. Birmingham and Nottingham Forest have both expressed an interest in taking Calderwood on as their assistant manager and the former Spurs defender has hardly been vigorous in denying an interest.

The return of club icon Garry O’Connor was Hibs’ main piece of business this summer and an acquisition that should excite the clubs fans. However, Hibees have lost out to St. Johnstone in the race to sign former Celtic striker Cillian Sheridan after taking him on trial.

Easter Road will also be missing Derek Riordan this season after he agreed a deal with Chinese outfit Shaanxi Chanba.

Hibs fans will be desperate to see performances pick up this season. There was a time when Hibs were in danger of being relegated, a January upturn in form managed to save them, but losses at the end of the season to an already condemned Hamilton was a sharp reminder of what this season could hold for them.

KEY MAN: Colin Calderwood – Hibs have had nine managers since 1996 and the club is crying out for stability. They need to keep hold of him, get the best out of O’Connor and hope Paul Hanlon and Callum Booth can shore up the defence.

INVERNESS CT

Terry Butcher has worked nothing short of miracles since taking over at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium, but faces an uphill struggle this season after losing a raft of players.

11 players have exited Caley in the close season, the biggest of those being Adam Rooney. The Irish striker scored 21 times last season and has earnt himself a move to Birmingham City – something I don’t think any Caley fans will begrudge him.

This loss has been offset by captures of young exciting winger Aaron Doran from Blackburn. The Irish youngster was on loan last season at Inverness and Butcher has secured his permanent services this summer. He is joined by Northampton’s Billy McKay who Butcher claims to have received “excellent reports” on. Gregory Tade has also joined from Raith Rovers, but the striker has a reputation for being inconsistent.

Butcher is livid with the early start date for this season’s SPL and has branded the decision “farcical”, whilst claiming that most squads in the league are “nowhere near complete”

KEY MAN: Gregory Tade – It wouldn’t be harsh to say that Caley’s hopes of remaining in this division rest firmly on his shoulders. Bought to replace Rooney, he needs to fill the Irishman’s boots very quickly to save Inverness.

KILMARNOCK

Killie find themselves in the same boat as many other clubs this summer. They’ve found themselves losing players on free transfers, and they seem to be all the key players.

Alexei Eremenko was up against Emilio Izaguirre for Player of the Year last season, but his loan has expired and he has returned to Metalist Kharkiv (where he has been told he can leave). To rub salt into Killie’s wounds, Celtic and Rangers are both said to be looking at the Finnish star.

Captain Craig Bryson has left to join Derby County, however, Killie managed to bag £350k for him. Taouil has joined Hearts on a free.

Kenny Shiels has therefore had to shop around on a small budget as he prepares for his first full season in charge. He snapped up Gary Harkins from Dundee and he will be tasked with filling Eremenko’s considerable absence after regular goal scoring seasons, albeit a division lower than this.

Danny Buijs has joined from ADO Den Haag and will be a fantastic acquisition to the middle of the park. A real battler he can be a driving force for Killie this season.

Paul Heffernan has joined and will try to replace Conor Sammon, who joined Wigan Athletic in January.

KEY MAN: Gary Harkins – A tough task for someone making the step-up in class, but Harkins has to try and replicate the effect Eremenko had on Killie.

MOTHERWELL

Motherwell were left in the mire last season after Craig Brown jumped ship and joined Aberdeen. Stuart McCall took over and managed to steady the ship.

His task has been made immediately harder by losing top-scorer John Sutton to Hearts, but he has compensated for that by bringing in Michael Higdon from St. Mirren. Higdon scored 14 goals in the league last year and Motherwell will be hoping he can replicate that form.

The main concern for McCall would be that his squad is only 23-men deep. A few injuries could really put pressure on the Well.

KEY MAN: Chris Humphrey – The pacy winger seemed to regain his best form under McCall last season and he is crucial to Motherwell this year. He’ll have Nicky Law breathing down his neck for a place but Humphrey needs to supply Higdon and Jamie Murphy with all the ammunition they need. If he does, Motherwell could find themselves in the European places.

RANGERS

It’s been a quiet off-season at Ibrox, which was unexpected after the takeover of the club by local businessman Craig Whyte. He promised Ally McCoist funds to strengthen and has been true to his word, yet he refuses to pay over the odds for players meaning only Lee Wallace and Juan Ortiz have joined the Gers.  Former fans favourite Carlos Cuellar is in talks with the Gers after having a £2m bid accepted by Aston Villa. However, McCoist has stated he wants the deal wrapped up quickly. Whyte’s shrewd approach meant the club missed out on Israeli striker Tomer Hemad.

On a good note, Steven Davis has signed a new deal at Ibrox and Kirk Broadfoot has returned after eight months out injured.

Alejandro Bedoya will join Rangers in January on a free transfer and the American should be an exciting prospect. St. Johnstone’s Murray Davidson has also been subject of a bid from rangers, but that has been rejected by his club.

KEY MAN: Ally McCoist – No task in Scottish football could be bigger than trying to succeed Walter Smith. A few more signings will be needed if McCoist is to challenge Celtic and juggle a European campaign too. Key to that will be Nikica Jelavic who has shown in his debut season he can tear apart any defence north of the border.

ST. JOHNSTONE

Losing Michael Duberry was surprisingly a blow to Derek McInnes’ team, but he has been replaced by Frazer Wright who should slot into the vacant spot comfortably.

Key player Murray Davidson is subject of a bid from Rangers and the former West Brom midfielder will be desperate to keep hold of Davidson. Another Davidson, Callum, has returned to the club from Preston and the penalty specialist will be looking to make the left-back spot his own after Danny Grainger joined Hearts.

David Robertson joins from Dundee United and he will bring some craft and attacking intent to the St. Johnstone midfield.

KEY MAN: Cillian Sheridan – Providing Murray Davidson stays, the Saints can look forward to consolidating for another year. However, to do this, goals will need to be scored. Carl Finnigan and Sean Higgins have been bought in, but neither have the pedigree to score a lot of goals – meaning Sheridan will be the main man.

ST. MIRREN

Losing Michael Higdon to Motherwell could be a really big blow to St. Mirren as he scored a huge percentage of their goals last season.

They have looked to replace Higdon by signing veteran Steven Thompson from Burnley, Nigel Hasselbaink from relegated Hamilton and by turning Paul McGowan’s loan move from Celtic into a permanent deal.

Gary Teale has been bought in to add some craft down the wings, but the Scotsman has lost the pace that made him so lethal in his younger days.

Dutch defender Jeroen Tesselaar has joined after impressing manager Danny Lennon whilst on trial.

He will compete down the left-side with Graham Carey who was allowed to leave Celtic despite having a year of his deal left.

St. Mirren avoided the drop only due to the ineptitude of Hamilton last season and will need to do better this year as Dunfermline don’t look set to prop up the table.

KEY MEN: Lee Mair & Steven Thompson – A -24 goal difference was dangerous last season so both ends need improving this season. Lee Mair is vice-captain and needs to show organisation, desire and leadership at the back. Thompson will be the most experienced of St. Mirren’s forwards and he still has the ability to bag goals at this level. He will be useful for Danny Lennon’s team both in the air and on the deck.

SEASON PREDICTIONS

WINNER – CELTIC – McCoist’s first season in charge, coupled with a slow summer means Celtic should pip them to the title this season. Providing Lennon can keep hold of Izaguirre, Kayal and Hooper before the English transfer window closes they should have too much this season, especially with an extra year’s experience under their belts.

RUNNERS-UP – RANGERS – Nothing should stop the usual two-horse dominance of the SPL.

EUROPA LEAGUE – HEARTS, MOTHERWELL – Dundee United have lost too many players this summer to make a charge again. Hearts should cruise to third spot, leaving 4th up for grabs. A big season from Jamie Murphy and Michael Higdon should ensure enough goals to finish in the last Europa League place.

TOP SCORER – GARY HOOPER – Hooper scored 21 goals from 30 shots last season, showing his deadly finishing prowess. If Celtic can get him the service, he is guaranteed to score goals.

RELEGATED – ST.MIRREN – They will be pushed hard by Inverness this season, but St. Mirren are my tip to go down. They nearly went last season and have lost their top scorer.

Bosh enjoying being back home; Wade closer to MVP; Mavs’ support steps up

Big games from Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh weren’t enough for the Miami Heat as Dallas Mavericks tied the series 2-2 with an 86-83 win in Texas.

Bosh scored 24 whilst Wade kept up his claims for MVP by dropping 32 points. But this game was won by the Mavs’ bench who had to be in top form with All-Star Dirk Nowitzki ill.

Nowitzki was suffering with a fever which reportedly reached 102 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), but he started the game with a fire in his belly, as oppose to his head, draining the first three buckets of the game to give the Mavs an early 6-0 lead after only 1:25.

http://www.nba.com/video/channels/playoffs/2011/06/07/0041000404_mia_dal_play1.nba

The fever may have then kicked in though as Dirk would only make another two points before half-time.

Heat fought back from their deficit but their shooting was poor. By the end of the first quarter, their field goal percentage was a meagre 29%. However, what helped them pull level was that they were getting offensive rebounds from their missed shots. (They had nine at the end of the first quarter) They were being converted and, coupled with poor Dallas shooting also, the Heat were somehow level at 21-21.
Dallas should have been out of sight, but they were being their own worst enemies and missing easy shots. The main culprit was point guard Jose Barea, making his first start of the finals series, he was getting good looks, the most notable being an open lay-up, but was failing to convert. He also missed two free-throws in the first quarter to go with a field goal ratio of 1/5.

In the second quarter, Heat started draining more of their shots, whilst Mavs had set-up a high-pressure defence, but was still giving away easy looks, allowing Miami to increase their field goal percentage to 45% by the buzzer.

Chris Bosh was heating up and had a variety of shots in his locker before half-time. Bosh, who grew up in Dallas but was never a Mavs fan, was driving to the basket, winning tips to score and even knocking down mid-range jumpers. He ended the half with 16 points and a field goal ratio of 8/12, which was already level with his series average of 16.3 points. By contrast, LeBron finished the half with just four.
Dallas set-up a high-intensity defence to try to combat the Heat’s flow and this allowed them to get more turnovers and they began to score more fast-break points to keep in touch with Miami. Jason Kidd even managed to take a big charge, showing just how tenacious the Mavs were being. Tyson Chandler was also beginning to win the battle of the boards and was preventing Miami from getting the offensive rebounds that were killing the Mavs in the first quarter.

However, their ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ defence was evident as they allowed LeBron James to set-up first Wade and then Joel Anthony for easy uncontested jumps.

http://www.nba.com/video/channels/playoffs/2011/06/07/0041000404_mia_dal_play6.nba

This was being combated by the Mavs’ bench, notably DeShawn Stevenson who made three straight buckets from outside the Arc to keep Mavs in touch. Stevenson ended the half with 11 points and 4/5 field goals, whilst Jason Terry had finally stepped up in this series and had eight points at the interval, where the Mavs were down 47-45.

The third started with Nowitzki feeling refreshed and he managed to grab more rebounds at the start of the quarter than he had in the whole of the first half. However, as in the first, he began fading due to the fever and even managed to miss a free-throw – the first he had missed in 39.

Shawn Marion was taking it upon himself to be the Dallas outlet in Dirk’s absence and he was playing aggressive basketball in the third. At one point ‘Matrix’ even won his own rebound from a shot and managed to tip it in.

Dallas had started this quarter better and this was partly due to a great tactical switch by coach Rick Carlisle. Throughout the series, the pick-and-roll’s have been set by Nowitzki, but he switched this to Tyson Chandler. This allowed Dirk to be more open, and more closely defended, leaving space in the middle. Barea was exploiting this and was finally finding his shooting game. He was able to penetrate the Heat defence deeper and was bursting into the paint and scoring easy points.

However, half-way through the third, Barea needed a break, and when he went off Mavs’ missed his pace. Kidd, despite being a fantastic passer, hasn’t the sleight of foot of Barea and this slowed Dallas’ general play down.
Heat began to fight back, and one of their bench men wanted to get involved. Mario Chalmers, who has had a great series for a second-choice point guard, managed to notch up his sixth assist of the night during the third and was part of the 8-1 run at the end of the quarter which dragged Miami back into the lead by 4.

This run also included the play of the night, an ‘alley-oop’ set-up by James and emphatically finished by Wade, who was still quietly picking up points.

http://www.nba.com/video/channels/playoffs/2011/06/07/0041000404_mia_dal_play14.nba

But as has been pointed out by everybody this season, Dallas are no strangers to a comeback. Miami knew that after Game Two, where they lead by 15 going into the fourth but still lost, and this lead was even more fragile.
Heat got a few early points to put the Mavs nine points down with 10 minutes left on the clock, but Terry responded with two quick buckets (after being aggravated by Chalmers) and the lead was cut to five.

Another Carlisle masterstroke was implemented for the fourth, as Dallas went to a zonal defence to stifle the middle of the court and the paint for easy points. This forced Miami to take jumpers and three-point attempts, something they were failing to convert.
In fact, they were shooting that poorly that they went five-and-a-half minutes in the final quarter without scoring a single point. Couple this with the Mavs’ brilliant defence causing five turnovers (they had 0 in the third) and the comeback was well and truly on.
Dwyane Wade was trying to single-handedly prevent the onslaught and came up with two huge blocks on Tyson Chandler – swatting the ball away over-the-rim for one and getting fingertips on another. However, Chandler picked up yet another rebound to slam home and Wade was livid with his team-mates.

Chandler was playing brilliantly and finishing with a double-double of 13 points and 16 rebounds.

Dirk was turning up in the fourth and as the clock ran down, he was becoming more pivotal with every play. With only 29.3 left on the clock, Mavs were one point up and had an inbound pass. Kidd found Nowitzki and as he allowed the clock to run down he was marked by Udonis Haslem, who had done a great job on Nowitzki all night. However, Dirk, knowing his jumper was a bit off, went to the basket and made a clutch two-pointer to give the Mavs a three-point lead with 14.4 left.

Wade managed to grab a quick two to leave 9.0 on the clock and as Mavs inbounding to Terry; James fouled him and sent him to the line. Terry nailed both of his clutch free throws, leaving Miami three behind again with 6.7 left.

However, the inbound pass to Wade was mishandled and the opportunity, along with the match for the Heat, was lost 86-83.
Nowitzki headed straight down the tunnel at the end, but his 10 points in the fourth, despite having a huge fever, were crucial.
However, on a night when Dirk couldn’t be the main man, the rest of the team stepped up to the plate. Terry finished with 17 points, Marion 16, Chandler 13 and Stevenson 11.

The series is now level at 2-2 and Thursday night sees the last game of the series at Dallas, before a potential two games in Miami.

Iceland: the new Germany?

On Monday, England’s future stars lost to their Icelandic counterparts in what many deemed a shock result. But to those who have kept up with under-21’s qualifying campaign, Iceland beating a bigger nation could not have been any more expected.

A lot of talk this week in the English press has been about Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll potentially playing for the under-21’s this summer in Denmark. Should they choose to participate, they could once again come up against the Icelanders.

Iceland qualified for their first ever under-21’s tournament, albeit through a qualifier, at the expense of Germany. The reigning champions. The same Germany whose conveyor belt of youth talent embarassed England in the last World Cup. The same Germany whose youth system England fans have roundly called upon our FA to copy. Many would have had the Germans nailed on to qualify from the group that also featured San Marino, Czech Republic and Northern Ireland.

The impressive Czech’s topped their group, and Iceland finished second, setting up a two-leg qualifier with Scotland to see who joined them. A 2-1 victory in Reykjavik was followed up by another 2-1 victory in Edinburgh to send the Icelandic’s through.

Both goals on that night in Scotland were scored by ex-Reading man Gylfi Sigurdsson, the pioneer of Iceland’s golden future. Sigurdsson left Berkshire last summer and moved to Hoffenheim in Germany for, by Championship standards, a huge £6million fee.

Sigurdsson is joined in the youth ranks by West Ham’s Holmar Eyjolfsson (scorer of the winner vs England), Coventry’s Aron Gunnarsson, AZ Alkmaar’sKolbeinn Sigthorsson (Iceland’s top scorer in qualifying) Hibernian’s Viktor Palsson and Viking’s Birkir Bjarnason. All together, they make a strong spine to Iceland’s youth set-up and the senior team for years to come.

This was the team that “surprised” England at the start of the week. Anyone who watched the game will know that Iceland carried the greater threat throughout the game. They play a stylish brand of attacking football. They pass well and aren’t afraid to shoot from range (all four goals in the two legs vs Scotland were from outside the box).

This attacking mentality was evident when they played Germany in the group stages in Hafnarfjordur. They took apart the reigning champions as they destroyed them 4-1, opening the scoring early through Bjarnason. They were pegged back by Germany just after half-time, but this just spurred Iceland on and two quickfire goals were rounded off by Alfred Finnbogason (impressive against England also).

It was not as if the Germans were taken by surprise either. This game happened five months after Iceland came from behind twice in Magdeburg to draw 2-2, without Sigurdsson.

Iceland have scored their way to Denmark next year, scoring more than anyone in qualifying (33 overall). A 2-6 win in Coleraine over N.Ireland was added to emphatic wins over San Marino (8-0 at home and 0-6 away).

The senior team failed to qualifiy for the 2010 World Cup, finishing bottom with 5 points of their group with only one win, and are currently in the same position in their Euro 2012 campaign. They have played four games so far and have only one point on the board, making qualification near-impossible.

However, judging by their performance at youth level, the focus of the Icelandic FA is on developing these youngsters for a future assault on Europe. Many of the squad who have qualified for this summer’s tournament will be too old to represent them next season, and it is hard to see all of them not making the step up. They could fall flat on their faces and find the step up in class too much, or they could be like Sigurdsson who has taken to it like a duck to water. I’m more inclined to think they’ll do the latter, and that is why we shouldn’t be surprised if Iceland soon turn into the new Germany.

Douglas Costa: Fergie’s biggest miss?

It’s not often Sir Alex Ferguson misses a trick. And it’s even rarer he swallows his pride, admits he was wrong, and makes it right. But that’s exactly what Fergie is rumoured to be doing this summer.

Rewind two years and you will have seen Manchester United being linked with then-18 year old Douglas Costa of Gremio. Dubbed ‘the new Ronaldinho’, Sir Alex looked set to bring the Brazilian wonderkid to Old Trafford, only to back out at the last minute. That left Shakhtar Donetsk to swoop in and take Costa to Ukraine for a bargain €6million.

His move from Gremio automatically drew comparisons to the clubs most famous ex-player, Ronaldinho, but Douglas Costa has more to his game than ‘Ronnie’. Whilst they both possess fantastic dribbling skills, Ronaldinho never had quite the same quickness across the ground as Costa. He seems to effortlessly glide across the pitch, shifting inside and out with no hesitation, his balance being one of his best attributes. To watch him dribble, he is more similar to Robinho. But his captain at Donetsk, Darijo Srna, thinks he is even better than that:

“I’ve never seen such lightness of play, he is on a par with (Lionel) Messi. The speed at which he takes players on is out of this world,” Srna told uefa.com

“He can take three players on with ease. Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool have all watched him. he is destined for a big club,” Srna added.

Add to this his deadly delivery from set-pieces and outstanding all-round technique and you begin to question just why Fergie didn’t snap him up when he had the chance.

After an initially slow start for Mircea Lucescu’s team, Costa finished his first season in the Ukraine with eight goals, most coming as a substitute, as he made 26 appearances for the Pitmen. This season has seen Costa cement his place in the starting line-up and make his Champions League debut. He has scored two goals as Shakhtar progressed to the quarter-finals and been impressive in almost every game.

A goal in 0-3 away win at Braga coupled with two assists catapulted Costa into the eyes of Europe’s watching giants. Sublime reverse passes for both assists the evidence of his fantastic vision. This performance was added to by a wonderful bending strike in the Olimpico against Roma. The goal epitomised Costa as he picked the ball up ten yards inside the Roma half, dribbled to the edge of the area, cut in onto his magical left-foot (though he is proficient with both) and curled the ball into the far corner past a despairing Doni.

It’s the sort of goal that would have made Fergie spit his Famous Grouse out as he watched from the comfort of his home.

And, unlike countless numbers of his compatriots, Douglas Costa is not a man for the spotlight, or the nightclubs:

“I’m someone with a very strong personality, I’m quite introverted,” Costa told FIFA.com

“I had quite a tumultuous start to my career, but I learned from that. Now I try not to get involved in any hype whatsoever,” he added.

Costa has been a part of Brazil squads and training camps, but has yet to make an appearance for A Seleção, but his involvement in the training camps show he isn’t hindered by playing in Eastern Europe: “Given that I’m so far away in the Ukraine, it makes it even more pleasing that A Seleção haven’t forgotten me,” Costa said.

Along with Brazil, there may be a Scotsman in Manchester who hasn’t forgotten about you either, Douglas.

DJ Campbell : The Premier League’s newest poacher?

I was travelling back from France when I heard the news. Birmingham City, on deadline day, had signed DJ Campbell from Brentford for £500,000.

At the time, it stunk of desperation by Blues. Campbell had recently scored two goals against Sunderland as The Bees took the Premier League side’s scalp in the FA Cup. I had watched that game and felt he looked dangerous that day, but didn’t think he could do it at the top level, despite a wonderful first goal.

Sure, he had shown great composure and finishing ability, but Brentford has bought him for £5,000 from Yeading – surely he couldn’t cut it in the Premier League? At first, I was correct. But now, four years later, DJ Campbell is proving me wrong.

At the time of his move to Birmingham, Steve Bruce obviously felt otherwise.

“He is someone who is quick, direct and young (Campbell was 24 when he signed.) He is a bit raw but he has a good eye for goal and is an exciting player,” Bruce told the BBC at the time.

Blues were a Premier League outfit at the time, but Campbell didn’t get too much game time that season. In fact, he scored his first goal for Birmingham against Colchester United in a 2-1 win the following season. That season, DJ started 24 games and managed to bag an impressive 12 goals in all competitions as Blues were promoted at back to the Premier League at the first time of asking.

However, that was to be it for Campbell and he was sold to Leicester City for an initial £1.6million. A series of loan spells, including two at Blackpool, meant that Campbell never got settled enough to make an impression at City.

The second of his loan spells at Blackpool turned out to be the making of Campbell. Bought in by boss Ian Holloway to help maintain a surprise play-off push, Campbell made 18 appearances and scored 11 goals, including a hat-trick against Nottingham Forest in the second leg of the play-off semi-final. All three of Campbell’s goals that day were finishes that any player would be proud of.

His first was a deft chip over the onrushing goalkeeper, his second came after a neat one-two with Stephen Dobbie and a composed curling finish with his weaker left foot. But his third was what Campbell has been all about this season, Dobbie struck a shot from the edge of the area which Lee Camp parried out, but DJ reacted quicker than anyone else to simply tap-home and complete his treble.

This was the loan spell that convinced Holloway to splash out £2million in the summer to make Campbell a permanent Tangerine. Not bad going, especially as Holloway had said in the past:

“When DJ Campbell goes for £2m – and really he’s only played in Birmingham City’s reserves and Brentford’s first team – it’s absolute madness.” (BBC Sport column, 2007)

And the money looks to be well spent, as Campbell has flourished this season, complemented by Blackpool’s fresh and attacking approach to Premier League football. On his Blackpool ‘debut’ Campbell scored the Seasiders’ second goal in a 0-2 away win at Newcastle. He received the ball to feet, spun his marker and fired in with his left foot from the edge of the area.

It was a month before Campbell struck again against Aston Villa and another month before he scored the winning goal for ‘Pool away at Stoke. The goal was made due to fantastic positioning and anticipation from Campbell. Charlie Adam fired a tame shot into the box and Campbell managed to stick his leg out in front of the Stoke defender to poke home – a predatory strike.

That seemed to be the catalyst for Campbell’s season and the next weekend he followed his winner against Stoke up with another two clinical finishes away at Sunderland.

His first was a cross flicked on and Campbell came alive, as he always seems to, in the six-yard box and sidefooted home.

His second was a counter-attack at the end of the game, but still showed fantastic movement by Campbell. Matt Phillips broke down the right and crossed to the back stick where Campbell had sprinted to finish again.

Guardian chalkboard vs Sunderland

This chalkboard, with thanks to the Guardian for providing, shows that DJ isn’t afraid to have a shot from distance, but that he comes alive in the area. Notice how his two goals have come from his movement and positioning inside the six-yard box to find himself where the ball lands.

Campbell hasn’t looked back since that winner at the Brittania and last night against Liverpool made it two in two at Bloomfield Road. DJ again came alive in the area against his old team Birmingham City, latching onto a Gary Taylor-Fletcher knock-down, he had the composure to control the ball on his thigh before firing into the far corner.

Last night’s goal against Liverpool showed that Campbell has all the instincts to become a top Premier League poacher. A cross into the box was nodded back across the goal by Ian Evatt and Campbell once again found himself in the right place at the right time to score with a diving header.

Guardian chalkboard vs Liverpool

This is Campbell’s Guardian chalkboard from last night’s game against Liverpool. The shot from the edge of the area was a blocked shot, but all the other shots Campbell had during the game came from no further than 12 yards out. The white spot denotes where DJ scored from, showing that his diving header was directed back across Pepe Reina and into the far corner, something which takes great technique and control.

Campbell’s ability to score from inside the box with his right foot, left foot and now his head has proved that he deserves his place in the Premier League and could be the man to score the goals to ensure Blackpool keep their top-flight status.

Ashley using some logic… for once.

Let’s make this clear from the off. I do not agree with Newcastle United ‘s decision to sack Chris Hughton. I do not agree with the way they have treated the man who rescued them and prevented them from turning into one of football’s ever-increasing ‘fallen giants’.

But, I can see a logic as to why Newcastle chairman Mike Ashley would think Hughton is not the right man to consolidate The Magpies back in the Premier League.

After Geordie hero Alan Shearer failed to keep Newcastle in the highest echelons of English football two seasons ago, Hughton was given the task of guiding Newcastle back to their rightful divison. Originally given the role in a temporary basis, the decision of Ashley not to sell the club to local businessman Barry Moat back in October 2009, coupled with a promising start to their Coca-Cola Championship campaign, meant that Hughton was handed the reigns on a permanent basis.

Newcastle’s passionate support were originally sceptical about a ‘Southerner’ taking control of the club, just as they were about Ashley and the ‘Cockney Mafia’ buying the club, and many of them wanted Shearer to take the role.

However, after countless hours on the training ground, Hughton revived the passion and belief of his squad and lead them to the Championship title, narrowly missing out on Reading’s 106 point record in the process.

But this was when alarm bells began to ring. Hughton was offered a contract extension, but one presumes it was hardly in line with his Premier League counterparts, and Hughton rejected this. Ashley immediately withdrew the offer and said that a new deal would not be spoken of until the New Year.

Hughton, effectively, was back ‘on trial’ at the club.

Ashley had been stung by Sam Allardyce when he had to pay him £3million to terminate his deal, and it is evident he does not want to commit to another long-term, big-money deal.

The season could not have thrown up a tougher start though, Manchester United away. A fixture they lost 3-0. all could have been different had Andy Carroll scored a great chance to put the Magpies in front, but on such moments are games against the big boys won and lost.

The first game of the season at St. James’ Park could hardly have gone any different. A 6-0 mauling of Aston Villa left the Geordie faithful flying high. But nothing pleased the fans more than the Tyne and Wear derby victory over Sunderland. Kevin Nolan scored a hat-trick as Newcastle ran riot over their neighbours.

Add to that a recent 0-1 victory against Arsenal at The Emirates and a 1-1 draw at home to Chelsea, and you would think everything was rosy at SJP.

These are all the points that the media focus upon when analyzing the dismissal of Hughton, but look a bit closer at their other results this season, and it all starts to turn a bit sour for Hughton.

A 0-2 defeat at home to supposed relegation rivals Blackpool was followed up at home by a 1-2 defeat to Stoke City. The Potters are not to be taken lightly after a few years of consolidation under Tony Pulis, but if Newcastle want to follow the mould of teams such as Stoke, they would have been looking to take something from that game.

The next home game wasn’t much better. They found themselves 0-2 down to Wigan after two goals from ex-Newcastle winger Charles N’Zogbia. They eventually showed enough character to bounce back and draw the tie 2-2, but the game would have been viewed as a chance to pick up three crucial points.

It’s not so much the fact they took only one point from nine in these games, but more important was that they dropped points, at home, to teams who they will expect to be in and around them come the end of the season. Wigan have been poor all season, Stoke were in turmoil at the time of the game and Blackpool’s bubble could burst at any time. These points could be the difference between staying up and being relegated come May.

I won’t ignore impressive away victories over Everton, and less impressively, West Ham, but after these results came yet another home loss, this time to Blackburn Rovers – another team the Magpies were capable of taking points from.

As we stand, Hughton has been dismissed by Newcastle United with the team occupying 11th place in the Premier League and looking more Jekyll and Hyde than a Robert Louis Stevenson novel, an achievement not to be sniffed at.

He has turned Andy Carroll into an England international and an exception to the rule that ‘white men can’t jump’, whilst he has also rejuvinated the career of serial criminal Joey Barton (who has assisted over half of Carroll’s goals). He also has a contender for signing of the season in Cheik Tiote, the Ivorian holding midfielder who has broken up attacks in a fashion that Claude Makelele would be proud of.

But all this begins to count for nothing when you throw away points at home like Newcastle do. As glamorous as the results may be, would Geordie fans swap their Emirates victory for a win over Blackpool at home?  And would they rather have drawn with Stoke or Blackburn than Chelsea?

As a Birmingham fan, I have been told countless times that we must win the ‘mini-league’  that develops at the bottom of the table in order to stay up. This means that Newcastle’s poor home form and toothless performances against lesser clubs must improve quickly.

Can Newcastle afford to rely on beating the bigger teams this season and base their season on picking up points away from home? Neither of these scenarios will last all season and it is then that Newcastle will regret not beating the likes of Blackpool, Blackburn, Stoke and Fulham at home.

Ashley has called for a manager with a bit more Premier League experience and I can see why. Any manager worth his salt will realise that the important fixtures are those against relegation rivals, not away days to London.

Maybe Hughton could have rectified this home form by the end of the season, but if he couldn’t, Newcastle could easily have slipped back to square one and Hughton would then have left the club in exactly the same position he picked them up from.