Euro Football 2007-08 Preview
by rick olivares
from Business Mirror dated August 14, 2007
Business Mirror’s resident football expert, Rick Olivares, puts the 2007-08 season in perspective covering almost every major league in the world.
1. What does the return of Juventus to the Serie A mean for the league?
The Calciopoli is now a thing of the past as are most of the vestiges of the old regime whose lack of respect for the game saw a humiliating demotion to the second division that followed a match-fixing scandal in 2006. Gone are directors Luciano Moggi, Roberto Bettega, and Antonio Giraudo who were at Old Lady’s helm over the past decade or so. Fabio Cannavaro, Emerson, Patrick Viera, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gianluca Zambrotta, and Lilian Thuram are now a year gone dispersed across the continent.
Guiding Italy’s most famous club these days are president Giovanni Coboli Gigli, managing director Jean-Claude Blanc, and new coach Claudio Ranieri who replaced Didier Deschamps after the former French and Juve star inexplicably bolted last May after Juve clinched the Serie B. With everyone almost all gone, Juventus will have to rely on a small core of veterans in skipper and striker Alessandro Del Piero (24 goals) and Frenchman David Trezeguet (15 goals), Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved (11 goals), Argentine midfielder Mauro Camoranesi (4 goals), and the world’s greatest goalkeeper in Gigi Buffon. But their leadership and veteran savvy will be put to the test when they lead their new corps of players including former Udinese striker Vincenzo Iaquinta, Czech defender Zdenek Grygera late of Ajax Amsterdam, Portuguese defenseman Jorge Andrade from Deportivo La Coruna, Bosnian midfielder Hasan Salihamidzic out of Bayern Munich, and Argentine midfielder Sergio Amiron who was with Empoli last year.
The big name players are still around and management has done a marvelous job of surrounding them with talented new players. They have a three-year plan to return to greatness but even now, their foes, particularly current champion Inter Milan, are wary. The champions may have lost Fabio Grosso to Lyon, but if ever, they don’t figure to miss a beat more so since they added David Suazo from Cagliari, Nelson Rivas from River Plate, and Christian Chivu from AS Roma. UEFA champion AC Milan in the meantime still haven’t gotten back Andriy Shevchenko after his poor first year with Chelsea. Carlo Ancelotti lost five players in this off-season and still hasn’t replaced them with any big free agent signings. Brazilian striker Alexandre Pato, from Inter Milan won’t be able to join his club until January 2008.
Despite the demotion, the points reduction, and the dispersal of many of their players, the bianconeri, still won the Serie B (with a slate of 28-10-4) and a promotion back to the top division. Either that says a lot about the state of Italy’s second division or about the 27-time league champs’ resiliency. And Juventus’ three-headed attack of Del Piero, Trezeguet, and Iaquinta will be frightening. Said Ranieri, “It is only when we begin playing if we’ll know how we stand with Milan and Inter, but I can guarantee to people everywhere that we will be playing to win.”
2. Will Arsenal survive the departure of Thierry Henry?
Only if this suddenly young team gets its act together. However, with all apologies to English fans, the only French team in the English Premiere League still won’t lose its Franco influence. Arsene Wegner, in perhaps his last year with the club that he helped define, is still calling the shots, defender William Gallas will be wearing the captain’s armband, and their youthful core of Abu Diaby, Gael Clichy, and Bacary Sagna will help provide great help for this team.
I’m actually surprised that the team didn’t hand the captainship to Cesc Fabregas who led Arsenal last season while the injured Henry constantly groused and failed to provide leadership on and off the pitch. Nevertheless, if Fabregas and Danish striker Nicklas Bendtner, who on loan to Birmingham City last season, perform well up front with Rob Van Persie, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Eduardo da Silva (late of Dinamo Zagreb) they’ll challenge for the Premiership title. But you don’t have to worry about the team’s defense. And watch out for Brazilian Denilson on this squad; he’ll be the team’s x-factor.
I agree with former captain Patrick Viera (now with Inter Milan) who strongly believes that the Gunners have what it takes to survive. "When I left Arsenal I knew they had good quality players in midfield to come in - they had Cesc Fabregas to replace me. You have to remember when Thierry came in he had to replace Ian Wright, which was not an easy thing to do. It is important to know that nobody is bigger than the club itself and I hope Arsenal will keep progressing.”
But Arsenal will have to up the ante if they want to better last year’s fourth place finish in the premiership. Said new skipper Gallas, “If we want to win, we’ll have to be ruthless in our attack and take a lot more chances. Last year, we were tentative (with Henry out for most of the year) and we were waiting to see who’d step up. This year we truly will see what we’re made of.”
3. Will Real Madrid stave off Barcelona’s challenge?
For much of last season, Real Madrid had to contend with the white hankies of disenchantment and the boos that rained down from the Bernabeu. When the club resurrected itself in the last third of the season to rally and snatch the league title from Barcelona on the last playing day of the year, only then did the crowd began to cheer lustily.
Much was made about the boring football and the alienation caused by former coach Fabio Capello and club president Ramon Calderon. With Fabio named as the scapegoat, Madrid has brought in Getafe coach and former Madrid player Bernd Schuster to man the hot seat. In the weeks afterwards, Madrid courted Kaka, Cesc Fabregas, and Xabi Alonso who all rejected the overtures.
But they didn’t do too badly having picked up striker Javier Saviola from Barcelona, defender Christophe Metzelder from Borussia Dortmund and central back Pepe from FC Porto. The latter two will help plug the hole vacated by longtime backline stud Roberto Carlos who is now with Turkish club Fenerbahce. And there’s the return of forward Roberto Soldado who was on loan to Osasuna last year. If Soldado has the kind of year he had with Osasuna where he scored 11 goals, he will provide plenty of relief for Ruud Van Nistelrooy who enjoyed a rebirth of sorts at Madrid. The last of their high-profile pick-ups is Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder brought in from Ajax Amsterdam where he scored 57 goals in 187 matches. He’ll be providing relief for Emerson, Guti, and Fernando Gago.
RUUD VAN NISTELROOY
Barcelona on the other hand swiftly addressed its lapses on defense by bringing in midfielder Yaya Toure from Monaco and defenders Gabriel Milito from Zaragoza and Eric Abidal from Lyon. And despite everyone wondering how on Earth Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi, Samuel Eto’o, and Thierry Henry will share one football between themselves, if you saw how they played so far in the off-season, Frank Rijkaard’s club will be very dangerous. Does Real Madrid have enough to challenge Barcelona? Yes they do, but look to the Catalan club to take back the title.
4. Can Bayern Munich return to the top of the Bundesliga?
BAYERN MUNICH 2007-08
One of Germany’s greatest footballers ever Rudi Voller was asked if current national team member Michael Ballack is one the fatherland’s greatest footballers. Voller who scored a lot of goals for his club and country didn’t miss a beat when he answered with a very excited “yes.” If that is so, then you know what the Bavarian club was missing last season when Vfb Stuttgart took the Bundesliga title (Bayern finished fourth in the league standings with a 18-6-10 record) and Munich didn’t even make the Champions League. Ballack’s new club on the other hand, Chelsea, won the FA and Carling Cups, finished second in the Premiere League and the semi-finals of the Champions League.
This off-season, club management decided that their stinginess cost the team so they went to the bank and spent L50 million on acquiring French attacking midfielder Franck Ribery from Marseille, and strikers Miroslav Klose (60 goals in three seasons) from Werder Bremen, and Italian Luca Toni (47 goals in three years) from Fiorentina. If anything, Ribery, who I thought would be moving to either the Premier League or the La Liga is a huge catch. He was easily one of the big stars to emerge from the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. His ability to mount an attack will make him a prized addition to Bayern.
The Bavarian side is also a reunion for its World Cup stars in Lukas Podolski, Miroslav Klose, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm and goal keeping stud Oliver Kahn who is on his last legs. Klose, the Golden Boot winner of the last World Cup and Toni will be of huge help to Podolski who struggled in his first year with the club. Plus old reliables Willy Sagnol, Ze Roberto (who returns the Bayern after a year in Santos FC back in his homeland of Brazil), and Lucio.
Coach Ottmar Hitzfeld has been handed a powerful line-up and here’s where you hear that they’ll emerge as Bundesliga champions once more.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Euro Football 2007-08 Preview