Weekender: Pots, Pearce and the Grim Reaper
1) Young guns fire at old pots
Arsenal hosting Stoke this weekend pits the Premier LeagueÃ¢ÂÂs greenhorns against its gnarly old veterans. Averaging 24 years of age, Arsenal have started 13 different players under the age of 21 so far this season Ã¢ÂÂ while Tony Pulis has yet to start a single under-21 so far, the only Premier League manager to do so. Then again, Stoke are sprightly wet-ears compared to Levante, who last weekend fielded the oldest team in la Liga history: nine of starting XI were over 30 and the back five alone totalled 170. The club doctor has put the side's good start down to pizza and beer.
LA LIGA LOCA Levante's special snacks
2) Tricky Dicky Nixon: Man City's derby dominator
It's hardly Any Given Sunday or Braveheart, but ahead of their Old Trafford trip this weekend Roberto 'Bobby Manc' Mancini could be forgiven for showing his Manchester City players the recently televised film Frost/Nixon. Something about Richard Nixon seemed to inspire City to Mancunian dominance: from the moment he ran for US President in early 1968 to his shamed resignation in August 1974, City triumphed on six out of seven visits to Manchester United Ã¢ÂÂ but since Nixon left office, they've only one there onceÃ¢ÂÂ¦
VIDEO VAULT Fifty years of Manchester derbies
NEW ISSUE The Battle of Manchester plus much more
3) Pass and move, pass and moveÃ¢ÂÂ¦
All hail Bradley Johnson. The recent England call-up the only Premier League midfielder to have covered 12km or more in every game he has played, but he's not just a roadrunner: he is also the top passer at Norwich this season with 343, a whacking 72 more than any other Canary. And that, folks, is how you pass and move from non-league loanee to international recognition within five years.
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4) Pearce: not a tournaments man?
Never one to shy away from a challenge, Team GB's Olympic football boss Stuart Pearce may need to sharpen up his tournament record. Despite leading England to three U21 European Championships in his time as boss, Pearce has mustered just four wins from 12 games at the finals, and one of those required penalties. The U21s did reach the 2009 final, but that ended in the tournament's biggest ever final defeat as England were swept aside by a rampant Germany: sound familiar?
INTERVIEW Stuart Pearce One on One: "I was a nautical tw*t, probably"
5) They could've come in a taxifÃ¢ÂÂ¦
For Man City fans this Champions League lark is all fresh and exciting, but it's less of a draw for Villarreal. City fans have snapped up all 1,400 tickets for their forthcoming Champions League trip to Spain's east coast but when the sides clashed in Manchester this week, Villarreal brought a mere 17 fans. Maybe, despite their Anglophile nickname El Submarino Amarillo (the Yellow Submarine), they just don't like English clubs: after all, Villarreal's last two Champions League campaigns have been ended by Arsenal, in the 2006 semi-final and 2009 quarter-final.
FFT TRAVEL GUIDE Villarreal, Valencia & Spain's east coast
Despite league starts strong enough to impel pundits to say "two-horse race", Manchesters City and United were still seeking their first Champions League victories. Both had to sweat before sealing three points Ã¢ÂÂ United through two Wayne Rooney penalties at Otelul Galati, City at home to Villarreal courtesy of a last-gasp Sergio Aguero strike after some nifty work from James Milner.
On Wednesday, headlines heralded two astonishing things. Firstly, ÃÂ£50m frontman Fernando Torres SCORED TWO GOALS as Chelsea mercilessly slapped Genk around for an hour and a half (winning 5-0 in the process). Not only that, but Arsenal WON A GAME AGAINST SOMEBODY HALF DECENT thanks to Aaron Ramsey's last-minute strike in Marseille. Less surprising was the sexy opener scored by Andres Iniesta in Barcelona's win over supermodel soundalike Viktoria Plzen.
Meanwhile, in the Championship, table-toppers Southampton improved their chances of back-to-back promotions followed by a speedy relegation with a 1-0 win over closest chasers West Ham, while Steve Cotterill's Forest debut was a 2-0 win over previously unbeaten Middlesbrough, achieved with neither brolly nor cod-Dutch accent.
Then in Thursday's not-at-all-anticlimactic Europa League action, Spurs overcame Rubin Kazan, Birmingham won at Club Brugge, Celtic drew at Rennes, Fulham were beaten by Wilsa Krakow and Stoke won 3-0 against Maccabi Tel-Aviv, who went down to 10 men after defender Yoan Ziv made did a Fergie and comically hoofed a boot at the linesman.
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Why Premier League greed will kill the Football League Ã¢ÂÂ and England
The Grim Reaper was welcomed in by the Football League this week. Under financial pressure from the Premier League, who threatened to remove their vital annual ÃÂ£5m youth development funding, the 72 clubs voted to overhaul the academy system as part of the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP).
Unveiled in January by Sir Trevor Brooking and passed by Premier League clubs in June, the EPPP aims to revolutionise youth football but could rip the heart out of the Football League, leaving teams that consistently produce quality youngsters, such as Crewe Alexandra and Crystal Palace, with very little to show for their endeavours.
Currently, tribunals set compensation for players under the age of 17; this week, Chelsea paid MK Dons ÃÂ£1.5m rising to ÃÂ£2m for 14-year-old Oluwaseyi Ojo. Under the EPPP, standardised compensation will mean that big clubs can buy any under-17 footballer they like for well under than ÃÂ£200,000 Ã¢ÂÂ reducing trickle-down economics to a barely dripping tap.
Compensation is higher for better academies, which will now be stratified with the top category costing ÃÂ£2.5m per year and requiring 18 full-time staff. Even outside a recession, there aren't many Football League clubs able to afford that Ã¢ÂÂ especially if to cover costs, they would have to sell 20 top-rated 17-year-olds every single season.
If (or rather when) this leads to the closing of many Football League academies, the EPPP becomes counter-productive by significantly reducing the number of players coming through academies. Only those players deemed good enough in their early teens by the big clubs will survive; the others, previously picked up by smaller clubs, will drift out of football altogether.
So there'd be no academies to produce Ashley Young (Watford), Joe Hart (Shrewsbury), Chris Smalling (Millwall), Darren Bent (Ipswich), Gareth Barry (Brighton), Kyle Walker (Sheffield United) and Leighton Baines (Wigan, after being released by Liverpool at 17) Ã¢ÂÂ not to mention all the players produced by the excellent academies at Middlesbrough and Southampton, whose jewels would be snatched for far less than the recent going rates.
The days of seeing the local boy make his debut, or getting that shiver down your spine as you see a 17-year-old talent for the first time on a wet and windy night at Gresty Road or Selhurst Park, may well be over. The Reaper is on his way to your club, and it would appear you have little choice but to open the door and welcome him in.
Ã¢ÂÂ Aaron Cox, FourFourTwo.com writer
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