Wednesday, 27 February 2013

M'BAYE NIANG

Who is he? Where does he play?

He is one of AC Milan's new guard, an 18 year old French striker who is beginning to make his mark on Serie A with a few powerful performances which suggests he will be a star for a considerable while yet.

Milan's future is beginning to look very bright then eh?!

With Mario Balotelli and Stephen El Shaarawy firing in attack, then it can be argued that it is looking very rosy indeed for the Rosaneri (good eh?) and although Niang still has too settle for a reserve role among the talented attacking trio, his substitute appearances this season, of which he's made 4, alongside 6 starts, has shown he will grow to be an impressive talent over in Italy.

Furthermore, he has a delightful mohican hair-do, fitting in nicely with the eccentric hairstyles of his two young Italian strike-partners.

So then, what does he give a team?

A great deal of pace which means Masimiliano Allegri sees fit to introduce Niang on to the right-wing when opposition defences are tiring, despite his natural position being a centre forward. He likes to cross the ball, as well as dribbling inside to release shots at goal. He has yet to score for Milan but it's things like this, which demonstrates his pure power, that shows his worth to Allegri in the long-term.

As well as playing as a striker leading the line, or on the wing like Allegri thinks, his technical quality allows him to also be a threat when dropping off into the hole to feed passes through to the front line. It is this versatility which raises the prospect of Milan fielding Balotelli, El Shaarawy and Niang as a front 3 eventually in the future. Allegri must be purring at the thought.

Where did he come from?

He was a product of Caen's youth academy who took him on when he scored an impressive hat-trick during a trial. This was written when the striker was 16 giving an insight into the robustness of the striker who also keeps defenders on their toes with intelligent movement off the shoulder. It also brings an interesting comparison to Thierry Henry, relating to his fondness in starting runs on the flank, utilising his pace and power to full effect as he cuts inside. 

That article mentions Senegal? What's the score on that?

He's recently made a few appearances for the French-under 21s which suggests that is where his loyalties will lie in the long run, but with the shadiness of FIFA's rule on international legislation, who knows? 

ANTOINE GRIEZMANN

Who is he? Where does he play?

After heading to Spain yesterday for one young Frenchman, we are off there again for another one, more specifically 21 year old Antoine Griezmann who plays on the wing for Real Sociedad and has a rather luscious head of combed-over blond hair.

It's good that we've established his hair colour.. so.. plays on the wing?

He does yes, or that's where he's spent the majority of this season playing for Sociedad, on the left side of the attacking midfield 3 in a 4-2-3-1 formation. He's appeared 12 times in that position this season, but he can also be deployed to the right, centrally, or even as a centre-forward. 

Sounds versatile? So what does he offer?

A great deal of technical skill, pace, a good ability at crossing and a penchant for cutting inside to get shots away. It's his ability in the attacking areas around the box that has seen him register 5 goals and 2 assists this season, together with a passing accuracy of 81.6% that is in keeping with Phillipe Montanier's fluid attacking 4 with one-touch lay-offs and neat interchanges.

His ability isn't restricted to just attacking ability either, Griezmann is well disciplined in a defensive sense, offering an impressive shield to Alberto Di La Bella at left-back. 

I like the sound of him... any chance of him leaving Sociedad?

The Basque club have done superbly this year and sit 6th in La Liga very much on the up. However, there is word that scouts have picked up on Griezmann's impressive performances over the course of the season, having made 22 in total, and Spurs are apparently targeting the 21 year old, who was a graduate of small-town club EC Macon over in France, as a possible replacement for flavour of the month Gareth Bale.

Would they sell?

Having only been back in La Liga for 2 years (he won the Segunda division with them in 2010) , Sociedad are still a modest club and could be tempted with a sizeable offer of, say £7-10 million. Yet, it may not be as simple as that, as faced with questions about reported interest from Barcelona, a greater indication that most of his burgeoning talent, he said “I want to stay and progress where I am. I don’t want to leave here to sit on the bench. I need to play regularly and that would be impossible at Barca.” 

After being rejected from numerous Ligue 1 academies for being "too small", there is a feeling that the attacking midfielder does genuinely feel he owes the club a great deal of loyalty, having likened the club to "his family". It is a testament to his worth that he has already played 120 times for Sociedad despite only being 21.

Level headed lad then?

Yeah, as long as Sociedad keep hold of the nimble attacker who stands at a diminutive 5ft 9 inches, they will have no limit to their ambitions. Plus, he now appears regularly for France's under-20 side, having won the under-19 European Championship on home soil back in 2010. 

He is athletic, well-balance and incredibly talented, but you just can't overlook that blond hair.




Tuesday, 26 February 2013

SEBASTIAN RODE

Who is he? Where does he play?

Ich bien ein das YoungStarrSpotter! We're starting this one off with a douse of amateur German  as we head off to Eintracht Frankfurt, with nowhere more-German sounding than that place, to find 22 year old defensive midfielder Rode.

Quit with the language lesson, get on with it...

I will do, since moving from Kickers Offenbach in 2010, Rode has made 55 appearances for the Eagles, emerging as yet another fantastic young German talent *sigh* making his way in the Bundesliga. Like Toni Kroos, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus et al. he has recently broken into the German under-21 squad and could be joining those players on the club scene as Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich have both been reportedly interested in his services.

German product stays in Germany... boring...

Ah well, there could be a twist in the story as the Sun have claimed Arsene Wenger is looking to spend some of his gigantic profits on the well-rounded midfielder who can maraud forward just as comfortably as he can patrol the deep areas of midfield. To bring the midfielder to Arsenal, Wenger is believed to be willing to spend £7.5 million and with Rode's contract due to expire next summer, Frankfurt are resigned to selling their prodigy. Rode has also previously rolled out the seemingly popular quote of "jumping at the chance to play in the Premier League" which may also run in Arsenal's favor.

So what can he offer Arsenal?

Intelligent passing and clever runs forward, which may sound like another Mikel Arteta or Santi Cazorla with whom Wenger has already swelled his technique-heavy midfield, but he has an impressive positional sense and his 22 appearances in the Bundesliga this term have yielded an average of 3 tackles and 2.3 interceptions per game. As well as protecting the back four alongside club captain Permin Schwegler, he can also launch attacks with an admirable passing completion rate of 84%. His energy and dynamism in bursting forward can link the midfield and attack too, which is increasingly important in the modern game.

£7 million is beginning to feel a little cheap...

It is actually, he has been an ever-present in Frankfurt's league campaign so far and has consistently produced impressive performances as a ball-winner who, with a small frame of 5ft 10, can spring away from the attentions of opposing midfielders to burst into advanced positions and supply attackers. His job is primarily based on keeping the midfield in shape, as can be seen in the video below.






GEOFFREY KONDOGBIA

Who is he? Where does he play?

He is Sevilla's versatile, physically-imposing central-midfielder who came from the same Lens youth academy that produced Noulan Roux, Mohamed Diame, Raphael Varane and Adel Taarabt to varying degrees of success. Like the rest, Kondogbia left northern France and tried another country, going to Spain for a small fee of 3.5 million euros.

How did they get him so cheap?

Juventus and Napoli were both rumoured to be interested in the Frenchman before he left for Sevilla with doubts circling around his attitude. A bizarre story in which he produced a dyslexic driving license when driving without a permit only served to compound complaints of egotism on the pitch and suddenly he was leaving for a new future in Seville at the age of 19.

Has he grown up?

You can argue he has. After making a pre-season debut at left-back, he has played mostly in defensive midfield, offering a tough-tackling influence at the heart of manager Michel's side. He has progressed into the long-term replacement for Seydou Keita whom Sevilla have searched the past couple of years for. He has made a total of 17 appearances so far, impressive for a debut season in a new country, picking up just two yellow cards, suggesting his lack of discipline has died out.

So he's impressing then?

He is, strong at winning the ball back, releasing it quickly with sharp passing, he is the steel alongside the passing influence of Gary Medel alongside him. His reading of the game is very impressive, leading to effective positioning when protecting the back four with an athleticism that allows him to patrol the deeper positions. One weakness is that sometimes he can be over-committed in the tackle, leading to persistent fouls and cheap free-kicks. That will surely improve as he matures further.

I take it his frame helps?

As with all solid defensive midfielders, his strong physique of 75kg to compliment his rangy 6ft 2 inch frame means he can compete with drive and energy in the "engine-room" of midfield against the smaller, nimble technicians that litter La Liga. With his height, he can also be a threat at set-pieces with 9 goals in his short career so far. Most of them have been in youth levels for France however, where he has represented his country right through to under-20 level. Surely a cap in the full-senior squad won't be too far away if he keeps impressing in the Spanish Primera.

I would mention how Kondogbia is an African-born French product, coincidentally fitting in with the strong, athletic and robust characteristics that have been a staple of French football in recent years, Laurent Blanc got into trouble for that y'aknow.......

But I will show his man of the match performance vs Grenada






Wednesday, 20 February 2013

CHRISTIAN ERIKSEN

Who is he? Where does he play?

He is the 21 year old quick-footed attacking midfielder who, after emerging at Odense in Denmark, went to Ajax to receive the latter years of his football education and it shows. Two footed and skillful, it looks emphatically like the Ajax print of footballing genius is marked on him somewhere, perhaps on his lower back or his shoulder.

I think we've heard of him before

You may have done, he's been in the Ajax first team since breaking through as an 18 year old back in 2010 and has already represented Denmark at the World Cup of 2010 (where he was the youngest player at the tournament) and Euro 2012. In a friendly match with England in 2011, Eriksen proved his quality with a man of the match performance in which he hit the crossbar and left Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand salivating over his talent.

High praise indeed... so what can he do?

He is in the same mould of Cesc Fabregas and Jack Wilshere in the way he can sit comfortably in central-midfield and burst forward to create in attack. The Dane is brilliant at turning away from his markers with his slight 5ft 9 inch frame offering an impressive level of balance, and he can easily thread a pass through the eye of a needle to make chances for others. In this year's Champions League he tallied 4 assists in 6 games.

Can score too?

He can. 10 goals this season has bought his total tally up to 27 but with a grand total of 48 assists so far in his short career, it is clear where his prowess lies. He has the tricks, the poise, the direction to beat defenders in order to offer a big threat in the final third. His recent goal against Waalwijk, in which he cut in from the left across two men before shooting with his right foot, is indicative of what he can do. He can also play centre-forward too, in that new-fangled "false-nine" position tactics-enthusiasts all seem to love.

Ajax have financial problems don't they, will he have to leave?

You are correct again, well done! Yes they do, and Eriksen has already sent the transfer rumour mill crazy by stalling on a new contract.  It does look like a move beckons for the young Dane in the summer as clubs including Spurs, who reportedly made a move for him last August, queue up over themselves to pluck the player who has drawn comparisons to previous Danish genius Michael Laudrup.

Liverpool?

Yep, well he's technically gifted, young, able to play in a variety of positions and can attack with devastating force, so Brendan Rodgers is inevitably being linked. Eriksen is contracted to 2014 at Ajax so he won't be available for free, but a club may be able to lure him away for a reduced price given the uncertainty over his contract.

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

MAURO ICARDI

Who is he? Where does he play?

He is a 19 year old striker currently playing for Italian side Sampdoria. He was born in Argentina, was once on the books of Barcelona and is now banging goals in for fun on the banks of the Mediterranean sea.

He scores a few then?

Yep. He has 8 from 12 games in this year's Serie A, and Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini was in attendance for his latest strike, the third goal in a 3-1 win over Roma on Sunday. It is believed his contribution made a lasting impression on the City boss who could use one of his many pots of Qatar-originated cash to make a bid for the striker in the summer.

What's he like?

He's a striker in the mould of..... well.... let's say Dimitar Berbatov mixed with Carlos Tevez, armed with the fancy tricks and licks that allow him to link play, he also moves right across the front line with intelligence and pace, creating space for others. He also stands at 6ft 1 inch, making him an imposing frame which allows him to hold the ball up in forward positions. His finishing is very impressive, as is his threat on the counter attack.

He's only 19 though?

He is, but that hasn't stopped Napoli and Inter Milan chasing Icardi's signature, the latter seemed very close to a deal for the young striker but Sampdoria's director Rinaldo Sagramola told Gazzetta Giallorossa this week that those reports were "untrue". Napoli have also expressed an interest and are planning to meet with the Argentinean's representatives ahead of a possible summer move.

But Manchester City?

Manchester City... well... Roberto Mancini did speak typically openly and candidly about Icardi after he watched him on Sunday, "l must say I liked him" was the line that had many gossip columnists reaching for the Biro to create the link between Icardi and Manchester City as they chase a possible replacement for Mario Balotelli. Wherever and whenever moves, you can bet your house it will be for a far sight more than the 400,000 euros Barcelona flogged him, rather unbelievably, for back in 2011.

NOTE: FOR FURTHER READING, YOU CAN PERUSE THIS ARTICLE WHERE THIS GUY LIKENS HIM TO GABRIEL BATISTUTA

PIERRE-EMERICK AUBAMEYANG

Who is he? Where does he play?

He's a 23 year old striker from Gabon who started his career in Italy with Milan, went on a few productive loan spells as a teenager and is now playing in Ligue 1 of France, inevitably meaning he is a rumoured transfer target for French enthusiasts Newcastle United.

Who does he play for then?

He plays in the luscious green of Saint-Etienne and has scored a total of 29 goals from 79 appearances since joining them back in 2010. His 9 goals this season has put him on the radar of many potential suitors, as well as annoying many football scribes who have to keep repeating his difficult, triple-barreled name in gossip columns around the country.

Oh dear... I can see that being a problem if he comes to England..

Indeed. Aubameyang has proven his ability in wide positions as well as through the middle and his versatility, allowing him to play right across the front three, will make him a very attractive proposition for a Premier League club. From first struggling with profilgacy, he has improved his finishing a lot and can now be deadly in front of goal, both with his head and his feet. His impressive pace also carries a threat on the counter attack and in direct running at defenders, where he likes to cut inside to get shots away, he can be extremely dangerous when in full flow.

Milan must regret getting rid of him?

Considering they did for a paltry 1.8 million euros you would think they are. He's also proved a vital asset for his country too, scoring 3 goals as Gabon made the quarter finals of last year's African Cup of Nations (he missed the decisive spot-kick as they crashed out). Not to have his confidence knocked however, he donned his outrageous £2,500 diamond-encrusted boots  and fired Saint Etienne to fourth in Ligue 1.

Fourth? It might be hard to buy him then?

Well yeah, it is reported that Newcastle have previously failed with an £8 million bid for the striker, rejected on the deadline day of January as Saint-Etienne's European hopes remain solid,  but they will go back in for him in the summer according to the Metro. Aubameyang has already announced his desire to leave the club in the summer, so that may make things easier for Mike Ashley, Derek Llambias and co. but they my face competition for his signing in the form of Aston Villa and Manchester City. 


Thursday, 7 February 2013

NEILTON

Who is he? Where does he play?

He's a young versatile forward playing for Brazilian club Santos, he has stupid hair, sublime skills and an eye for goal. He has been dubbed "the next big thing" in Brazilian football, but where have we heard this all before.... hang on.....

Are you writing about Neymr again?

Nope, I'm writing about Neilton who just so happens to be a doppelganger for the 21 year old wonderkid who seems bound for Barcelona. In Neilton, Santos have a natural heir at 19 years of age, and even though the young pup has vehemently maintained the similarities end at the hair and the pretty tanned face, nobody can escape the comparison in talent that was so obviously evident as the 19 year old prodigy tore Palmerias apart at junior level the end of January.

Are clubs chasing him like they are Neymar?

Oh yes, top European clubs are attracted to talented Brazilians like the Tory Government are to U-turns, or at least the British tabloids claim they are; Chelsea and Manchester United are currently watching Neilton as he plays in the Copa Sao Paulo Under-19s' tournament, according to the Mirror anyhoo. Roman Abramovich, the wily old Russian oil dealer, has sniffed the bargain of Neilton's reported £5 million release clause and has started monitoring his progress with all the tact of a Soviet spy. 

Hmm... isn't it a bit too soon for a move?

Well yeah, judging by the lack of research available on Neilton, he hasn't quite yet gathered the same level of hype and adulation afforded to Neymar, who was tracked documentary-style by ITV in Brazil's friendly with England on Wednesday night. You can read an in depth account of his breakthrough hat-trick against Palmerias here  and you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that this lad is going to be a star, just like Neymar....

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

NEYMAR

Who is he? Where does he play?

Like he needs any introduction, despite never playing domestic football outside of his native Brazil. He is Santos's wonderfully talented attacking midfielder/ winger/ second striker/ attacking genius. Be prepared to get the balloons and cakes out as today is his birthday, he's 21!!! YAY!

Congratulations to him! So, he's pretty good then?

He is. The Paulista is not the most of accessible of competitions so not many European observers would have seen regularly the brilliance that sees the skunk-haired magician adorn so many Ballon D'or lists or be a perennial competitor for FIFA Goal of the Year gongs and such. He has won 3 straight Campeanatos with Santos and has a list of honours as long as your arm, you can read them on wiki.

I wanna see more of him!

Well you can this Wednesday as he is expected to take the field for Brazil as they face England at Wembley, whilst many long-term thinkers will be salivating at the thought of Neymar gracing his home World Cup next year as he attempts to prove he is worth the hype, something that Barcelona have already reportedly bought into. The Catalan club have apparently agreed a deal with Santos that will see Neymar join Messi and co. in a heavenly-type XI in 2014.

What can we expect from him then?

Supreme confidence first of all, that allows him to run at defenders and twist them inside out like they've been placed in a mangle. He has a wonderfully low sense of gravity that enables him to turn away from markers as quickly as a flash, so expect him to be hacked at by the English defenders who will have their hands well and truly full. He can finish with ruthlessness as he uses his pace to spring away from the shoulder of the back-line but he seems to be far better dropping off between the lines to link the play with outrageous touches and passes.

Just think of Neymar as all the qualities expected of an attacking player amplified by 10 and blended into one good-looking, tanned amalgamation of a striker.

He gets fouled a lot then, I take it?

Brazilian defenders have always been well-built physically, but Neymar doesn't seem to be phased by the rough treatment they often have to revert to as the player attempts to run rings around them like Sonic the Hedgehog if he was skillful with a football. He has matured a lot in recent seasons and, like his Argentinean counterpart, Leo Messi, usually just gets up, gets on with it and more often than not, his technical quality will have the last laugh.

Does he score a lot for Santos?

Well, he has 128 goals in 207 games for his club as well as 17 in 26 games for his country. His fruitful form has continued this year as he has hit 16 goals in 20 games for Santos so far. Don't be surprised if tomorrow night Neymar shows he can be the beacon of the new Luis Felipe Scolari era as the Selecao take on Roy Hodgson's England.