Wednesday, 19 June 2013


Who is he? Where does he play?

Bernard Anicio Caldeira Duarte- known lazily as Bernard, is a 20 year old attacking midfielder who plays in Brazil with Atletico Mineiro. He is a tiny 5ft 4 inches, but there has been no trouble in noticing his talents, as he becomes coveted by many clubs around Europe.

Aww... he sounds so tiny! 

And you sound so patronising! He has experienced problems over his height before, being rejected twice by Mineiro as a teenager and called-back once the directors realised the errors of their ways. He had to receive Lionel Messi-style growth hormone to treat his small size as a child, but similarly to the Argentine, it has not held him back as he has helped Mineiro to a 2nd place finish in the Brasilierao as well as 2 State Championships.

He's been playing well then?

So well that he won the "Revelation of the 2012 Brasilierao" award for best newcomer as well as the Superclasico De Las Americas with Brazil, with whom he already has 3 caps. Combining an quick burst of pace with sublime dribbling skills, Bernard offers his own brand of technical flair to Mineiro's front-line together with Ronaldinho, Jo and Diego Tardelli. It is no surprise to see Mineiro going so well in the Copa Libertadores, having reached the semi-finals. 

And Bernard is playing a huge role?

He is, starting mostly on the left-side of the attack, he is often seen drifting across the fluent front 3 like a troublesome rogue, using a deft touch and close control to link play up in the final third, creating chances with a fine pass, or showing an eye for goal with 20 goals coming from 94 appearances with Mineiro. What he lacks in physical presence, he makes up for with tenacious pressing, refusing to shy away from imposing defenders who he glides past with guile and gifted quick-feet. Bernard's reading of the game and intelligence is surprisingly impressive for a youngster, showing an ability to find space to receive the ball in threatening positions and to also track his man when doing his defensive work, coaches will be highly fond of his diligence off the ball.

You mentioned he was being tracked by a few clubs?

Spartak Moscow saw a £9.8 million bid rejected back in December  whilst Borussia Dortmund are also said to be interested in the Brazilian youngster as they seek to replace Mario Gotze. However, it is Spurs who are said to be leading the race for the left-sided attacker as they have been long-term admirers.  Mineiro are said to be after £15 million for Bernard, who has realistic ambitions of making Brazil's World Cup squad for next summer. 

Not sold: we have a couple of videos for you.......

Tuesday, 18 June 2013


Who is he? Where does he play?

He is another Borussia Dortmund talent to get excited about as, together with Moritz Leitner, he has been billed to become the next big thing at the German club who have harnessed the talents of Mario Gotze, Ilkay Gundogan and Marco Reus. However, Bittencourt won't make his breakthrough at Dortmund, instead choosing to join Hannover 96.

Don't they give talent a chance at Dortmund?

As I've mentioned, of course they do, but Bittencourt joined them from Energie Cottbus last year  in the search of first team football, though with the form of Dortmund's Champions League finalists being so good, Jurgen Klopp has struggled to fit him in, limiting him to 12 appearances in the 2nd team with just 5 in the first team. So, he's gone back on his word and is off to Hannover for 4 million euros.

What will Hannover get from him then?

Bittencourt is a natural left-winger who can operate with both feet, using his intelligence to run into pockets of space in the final third. Standing at just 5ft 7, he is another in the mould of the sublimely gifted short player who take advantage of fine balance to move away from defenders. The 19 year old is also hugely ambitious, refusing to settle for a fringe role at Dortmund and following in the footsteps of 20 year old Andre Hoffman after his move from Duisburg. "He is the best piece of evidence showing young players can find their place in the Hannover team", said Bittencourt.

Hannover and everyone are happy then?

Sporting Dirk Dufner is after they signed somebody who "possess all the skills and talents to become a reinforcement for our team". 

Borussia Dortmund are after they inserted a buy-back clause in the youngster's contract.

Whilst coach Mirko Slomka definitely is after he signed a "fast, good-dribbling" player. 

Bittencourt also is after he said "I have a good feeling that Hanover are now just the right stage for me".

Everybody's happy.

Anything else we should be aware of?

The player is now at German under-20 level after earning 5 caps for the under-17s, though he could still choose to represent Brazil as he holds duel nationality, owing to his Dad, Franklin Bittencourt, the ex-Brazilian pro who now coaches in Germany. Apart from that, he has signed a 4 year deal in Hannover, seeing him in Lower Saxony until 2017.

Anything else? No... watch this then....


Who is he? Where does he play?

Kemen is a 16 year old French attacking midfielder who can play on either wing, off the striker as a traditional number 10, or alongside somebody in attack. The versatile talent formerly played for Metz but is now the latest Frenchman to say "Bonjour!" to Newcastle's revolution de Francaise.

Newcastle have found time to sign somebody this week?

Yeah, it seems like not everybody there is preoccupied by the ultra-insane decision to appoint the loony Joe Kinnear as Director of Football, and instead have pressed ahead with the acquisition of this French under-17 international. Kemen, who was born in the Cameroon and lists Barcelona midfielder Alex Song as an idol, is the latest on scout Graham Carr's list of imports from France.

He won't go straight into the squad though?

It's highly unlikely considering the player's age though with Newcastle's penchant for the utterly ridiculous, he'll be starting every single game next season. We joke of course, Kemen is still a raw talent, strong, athletic, powerful and comfortable on the ball, he will be kept in the development squads until time is ready to step up. Kemen's talent was spotted as an 8 year old by La Garenne-Colombes before he moved to Elite 14 in AC Boulogne Billancourt. There he was recruited by Metz.

He's in the France youth squads right?

He is, having represented the under-16s six times, Kemen has moved into the under-17 bracket, earning 3 caps so far and playing in this year's under-17 European Championship. A very highly rated youngster across the Channel, the 16 year old has been dubbed the "great hope of Metz", or now, "formerly the great hope of Metz".

How much will he cost Newcastle?

Reports suggest that Kemen has indeed past a medical and now compensation needs to be agreed between the two clubs. It is believed the figure will range between 400,000 euros and 1 million euros, which is pretty costly for a teenager. Though, Metz could probably ask for £49 million when dealing with the much-deluded Kinnear.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013


Who is he? Where does he play?

Xabi Alonso went from the heart of the Basque country with Real Sociedad all the way to the very top of the game with Spain's World Cup winners, now Asier Illaramendi is following him as the heir to the throne of the Spanish metronome. 23 and a graduate of the potent Sociedad academy, the small defensive midfielder is passing his way to greatness.

Not hard to guess what he does then....

Just passes, passes and passes the ball. Besides Markel Bergara in Sociedad's 4-2-3-1 system, the deep-lying Spaniard attempted a mammoth attempted 1606 passes last season and completed 1296 of them, giving him a pass percentage of 81%. He created a total of 33 chances though the majority of his work is done deep in midfield, where he is tasked with winning the ball back (121 tackles in total) and moving it on. His gifted use of the ball helped Sociedad qualify for the Champions League as Phillipe Montanier's men completed a superb year in La Liga.

So just like Alonso then? 

He is blessed with intelligent use of the ball but, rather like Alonso, the defensive side of his game usually goes underrated. Last season he intercepted attacks at a rate of 2.3 per game, totaling 75 and suggesting he is adept at nipping attacks in the bud with fine reading of the game and positioning. His work-rate is also very commendable, showing willingness to win the ball back for his team, though he needs to work on his discipline, 49 fouls and 11 yellow cards suggests he can be slightly over-enthusiastic.

Currently out in Israel with the under-21s isn't he?

He is, chalking up a pass percentage of 93% out there, "you can take the midfielder out of Spain" and all that..... but cringe-worthy adages aside, if he wasn't competing with such sublime talent, he'd probably be worthy of a place in the senior squad. He now has 14 caps for the under-21s after representing the under-19s and the under-17s before that, with the latter he finished runner up in the U-17 World Cup back in 2007.

Will he stay at Sociedad?

He is contracted in San Sebastien until 2018 and Sociedad now have the lure of the Champions League to offer him, so the odds on him staying will be pretty good, though that has not deterred Real Madrid who seem desperate to land Illaramendi. The release clause in his contract stands at 30 million euros and rightly so given the quality he has shown. Manchester United and Chelsea have also been linked with the player, summed up in this neat little article.


Who is he? Where does he play?

That, for once, isn't just the banal recurring question we use to get this gig on the road, it is a rather difficult poser. The thing is, nobody is really sure. We know he is a 19 year old Serbian striker but we don't exactly know what club he plays for.....

Huh? Of course you do! You know how to use the internet, right?

Yes, of course we know how to use the internet, but it's the web that has been spreading a web of Markovic-related confusion over the past week. The striker has been playing for Partizan Belgrade, where he has just come off a season in which he scored 7 goals and assisted 7 in 19 league games, but Chelsea have apparently signed him, only to loan him to Benfica for 2 years. However, this has been disputed by Benfica who claim they have signed him out-right on a 5 year deal.

Oh right... yeah... confusing... so what does he offer?

Pace and a hell of a lot of it. Being just 175cm tall, Markovic possesses fine balance and a turn of speed that is comparable to lightning and is effective on the counter attack. However, his main position is not on the shoulder of the defender, instead he has been deployed on the right, the left and behind the striker as a trequarsita. His pace is effective in moving between the lines, dragging defenders around as he searches for space, though his finishing needs work, as he utilises fine intelligence to drift into threatening positions but struggles to take the majority of his chances.

So we don't know who he plays for, or where he plays... great...

Benfica will be a great help for the next stage of his career, with Markovic claiming compatriot Nemanja Matic has recommended Lisbon to him;

“Even today I spoke with Matic and he was telling me that Benfica is a club with more fans, very organized and with plenty of history, and he wished me the best of luck in this important step,” Markovic told Benfica TV.

It is certain that Markovic will be playing his football at Benfica next season, but if the words of Partizan club president Dragan Djurcic are anything to go by, he will be on loan from Chelsea.

And how's he doing for Serbia?

Fine.. he has taken just 2 years to rise from the under-17s to the senior team, with whom he now has 7 caps. Playing usually as a second striker, he has 1 goal to his name, coming against Chile in a friendly. 

As we have mentioned, Markovic's pace can be deadly on the counter attack, as seen here in Partizan's Europa League game vs Inter Milan, which can be seen here

It was a performance that caused Inter Milan coach Andrea Stramaccioni to call him a "player with exceptional qualities and impressive acceleration" whilst Javier Zanetti said he was an "interesting player who impressed me"

And if that isn't praise enough......................

Monday, 10 June 2013


Who is he? Where does he play?

He is a Uruguayan 20 year old right-back who will be a trivia-fan favourite for years to come as he becomes David Moyes's first signing as Manchester United manager. Remember the name, Guillermo Varela, as the man who Moyes made his hugely-awaited impact at Old Trafford with by signing him for an undisclosed fee from Penarol.

He must be pretty darn good then, non?

He seems to be. It was Sir Alex Ferguson who first glanced his gifted eyes towards the South American, inviting him for a 2 week trial in the beginning of May, which went quite well according to the player;

“I have trained with the first-team. I am very happy and I was received very well. It was a surprise to get the chance to test with Manchester United. I’m glad and happy, and grateful to Penarol who allowed me to travel. I was treated so well and Chicharito helped me a lot. The work outs were short but very demanding.”

He must have impressed, as United saw enough to make a permanent move despite the youngster only turning out for Penarol once. Though the coach of the Montevideo club, Jorge Da Silva, believes he deserves the move; 

"This is what he deserves. It is a shame to see him go but you can't deny him the opportunity to join a club like this."
Ah interesting, United scouts found the Da Silva twins....
So we can't really argue with them and the logic behind it appears to be cover for Rafael who has had to settle for the understudy of usual-CBs Phil Jones and Chris Smalling over the past two years. It seems like Moyes wants genuine cover in the position and sees Varela, who offers pace and a fine reading of the game according to MUDHF, as a good choice. Like Rafael, he also shows a willingness to bomb forwards and join attacks, vital to the Manchester United game-plan.
It's unlikely we'll see him soon in England, we'll have to be patient.
That's likely to be true, though Varela does have 9 caps to his name for the Uruguay under-20 side and he will be playing in this summer's u-20 Championships in Turkey. If you are eager enough, you can watch him there, hugging the touchline in his wide right-back role.


Who is he? Where does he play?

Destro is a 22 year old Italian striker who has already broken into the full Azzurri squad and has just moved to Roma on a permanent basis after spending last year on loan at the Stadio Olimpico. He will be hoping to build on his good form in a bid to make next year's World Cup.

His route to Roma was a bit confusing wasn't it?

Yes it was. After starting off with Inter Milan where he impressed with the youth teams, Destro joined Genoa as part of an exchange deal for Andrea Ranocchia. After spending a year with Genoa, he was off to Siena for a 1.5 million euro co-ownership deal. He scored 12 goals for them, attracting the interest of Roma, who forced Genoa to buy him back fully off Siena, before he was loaned to Roma for 11.5 million euros. He hit 6 goals in 21 games in the capital, sparking Roma to make the deal permanent for an extra 4.5 million euros. 

Understand that? No, me neither.....

So Roma seem to rate him then?

He was signed originally as a replacement for Fabio Borini who left for Liverpool and it is possible to see the resemblance. He is technically gifted, able to glide into space to create chances for others, he provided 20 last season, and an 81% pass success rate is impressive for a player in the final third. Although his year in Rome has been slightly disappointing in terms of goals, Destro's main strengths lie with his pace and finishing, best shown by his prolific time at Siena.

That was noticed by the Italy side, right?

He has represented, and scored, at every national level from the under-16s upwards, even managing to hit 16 goals in 14 games for the under 19s. After this good form, he was included in Cesare Prandelli's 32-man provisional squad for the under-21 European Championships, but missed the final cut. He has since earned 4 caps for the full-squad, making his debut in the 1-2 defeat to England and scoring his first goal in a win over Malta in qualifying for next year's World Cup in Brazil. Destro is currently out in Israel with the under-21 squad, hoping to start a pivotal year in good form.

You can see him in action here; for Siena 2011/2012

                                               and for Roma 2012/2013

Wednesday, 5 June 2013


Who is he? Where does he play?

He is a versatile Greek 21 year old centre-defender playing in Germany with Schalke. However, he's not your ordinary Greek 21 year old centre-defender, oh no. There is something you should know about Papadopoulos, he's crazy!!

Crazy!? In what way?

Schalke fans call him "verruckt", "crazy" in English and he departed Olympiakos, with whom he impressed through the youth set-up, by saying they were just a "stepping stone" in his career. Normal Greek players see Olympiakos as the zenith of the Greek game, but Papadopoulos clearly isn't normal, the man who believed his talent that much he gave Greek coach Fernando Santos a dressing down in front of the team when he was left out of the first two games of the Euro 2012 tournament.

Nothing wrong with a bit of self-belief...

Not when you are just on the fringes of the national side and have to accept your position as a youngster. Though he did make his breakthrough in the tournament, in the final group game with Russia, and concreted his position in the side since then, he already has 16 caps. Stavros Drakoularakos, a writer for Greece's largest sports website Sport24, sees him as a "captain of the future" for the national side, but he would probably tell you he is ready to be captain now".

So is he right to be that egotistical?

Being tall, powerful and quick, it would take a bold soul to argue against his inflated hubris. He challenges for every high ball, winning 30 of his 36 aerial duels in the Bundesliga last season as well as 36 of his 37 tackles which gave him the second highest tackle-success rate in the German top division. If that is not indicative enough of his imposing solidity, he also topped the clearances-per-game chart with 6.51 and the interceptions-per-game chart with 3.77. Drakoularakos is a critic of his passing, saying he "needs to work on his distribution to become one of the best defenders in Europe", though an 89% pass completion rate this season suggests he already adept at building the ball from the back.

He probably would have had an even more successful season had knee surgery obliterated the second half of his campaign. 

Liverpool are closing in on him, we believe?

Yes they are, Brendan Rodgers seeing the Greek as a potentially gifted addition to his back four, with his electric pace also allowing him to implement the higher-defensive line he has been so-far unable to utilise since taking over at Anfield. Though with Schalke having qualified for the Champions League, the player's agent Paul Koutsoliakos has said he is "perfectly happy to remain in Gelsenkirchen, though he seems to have his heart set on a move to Merseyside having traveled over to watch them play Fulham in the closing game of the season. 

The Sun believe he will cost around £15 million and Liverpool will face competition from Athletico Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City

Monday, 3 June 2013


Who is he? Where does he play?

The Netherlands will be hugely excited by the emergence of Feyenoord's 21 year old centre-half. The heady days of Jaap Stam and Ruud Kroll have been replaced by the mediocre times of Joris Mathijsen and Johnny Heitinga. But now, brace yourselves, because it's the time of the solid, imposing De Vrij.

So what does he offer at the back?

A remarkable positional sense that allows for a high interception rate and an impressive ability for man-marking such is his fine reading of the game. His intelligence has been the defining feature behind his quick rise through the Feyenoord youth set-up, being allowed to skip the under-16s before representing the under-17s immediately. Since emerging in the full-team in 2009, De Vrij is now club captain after Ron Vlaar departed for Aston Villa.

One for the future then?

Very much so, and now. Not only does De Vrij cut an extremely resolute and firm figure at the back, his 6ft 2 inch frame allowing him to be a major force in the air, but he is also adept at playing the ball out from the back, like all good Dutch centre-halves are expected to do. He can block, tackle, pass the ball effectively short and long and he has already represented Feyenoord 116 times, so he has experience to compliment his footballing qualities.

Almost the perfect-centre half then?

Luis Van Gaal certainly seems to think so, having called the centre-half up to the provisional Netherlands squad for last year's European Championship. After missing the cut, De Vrij returned to play in a friendly against Belgium before installing himself as the first choice centre-back in Van Gaal's current set-up. He also won the Thorbecke Lyceum Sports Talent award back in 2009, which we won't explain, we'll just let you read about it.

Feyenoord finished 3rd didn't they? Will he be off?

With Everton and Liverpool both interested, you probably would think so and a move did seem likely to happen before the 21 year old showed a decent sense of logic by signing a new deal with Feyenoord, allowing him another year in the familiar setting of the EreDivisie before next summer's World Cup. If his form continues, he will be in Brazil. Keep an eye out for this talented, complete centre-half.

If you can't wait until then, watch this video.