It’s always a shame when a young player has to leave the Premiership before he’s had a chance to really shine, and that’s certainly true of Giuseppe Rossi, particularly as he’s left a club famed for putting its faith in youth.

The thrilling thing about Rossi is that he is a very highly rated young Italian footballer who chose to play in England. Italy usually does a very good job of keeping its most exciting young players under wraps on native soil, and had Rossi stayed at United and been successful it would have represented a ringing endorsement of English football as a real breeding ground for international talent.

This may seem an anomalous observation at a time when the number of English players graduating from the Premiership’s academies is under intense scrutiny, but had Rossi remained in England it would have sent out a clear signal that the Premiership is as good a league as any for the game’s future superstars to earn their spurs.

His departure suggests that even managers like Alex Ferguson will only go so far when it comes to giving youth the chance it so desperately deserves.

No real reason for this, but then it’s not every day you came across footage of an obscure Japanese midfielder scoring a goal from sixty yards.

His name is Mitsuo Ogasawara, he’s 5 foot 8 and he plays for Kashima Antlers. The goal was scored in a friendly against Finland in February last year.

In the ranks of halfway-line lobs, I’d put him above Xabi Alonso and on a par with David Beckham and Rivaldo. None of them, however, come close to this breath-taking OG from Frank Queudrue.

An awful lot of people were quick to scoff when Tottenham parted with £16.5 million to land Darren Bent, but I have a sneaking suspicion he will prove to be a very good signing indeed.

He continued his superb pre-season form with a brace and an assist in Spurs’s 3-0 win over the Orlando Pirates today, and thirty-seven goals in seventy-nine games for low-scoring Charlton proves he doesn’t need many chances in order to score.

He’s athletic, strong, both-footed, good at heading the ball, technically proficient and an accomplished finisher. Not only that, but he’s young (23) and English. Hence the price tag.

His brooding, muscular style and casual self-confidence put me in mind of the currently out-of-sorts Internazionale striker Adriano, and I think the only potential barrier to his success at White Hart Lane will be the amount of time he’s allowed to spend on the pitch by Martin Jol.

Making an impression

July 27 2007

Far be it from me to suggest that new Liverpool signing Lucas Leiva’s claim that he turned down Everton and Man United is anything but truthful, but it seems a remarkable coincidence that the only other clubs to have tried to sign him just happen to be Liverpool’s two biggest rivals.

Mind you, when it comes to winning over the fans, the first press conference is fraught with danger. Who can forget Jonathan Woodgate addressing the Spanish media following his move to Real Madrid and stating how much of an honour it was to sign for a club which had been represented by such legendary players as “Hierro, Raul and… um, many others…”?

Given Steven Gerrard’s suspicious response to Craig Bellamy’s claim of life-long allegiance when he signed for Liverpool last summer, I suppose we should probably be congratulating Lucas for using his imagination.

And if all else fails, there’s always the Graeme Souness approach

Kop That

July 26 2007

Plan of Liverpool's new stadium in Stanley Park

Whatever your thoughts on Liverpool’s new stadium design (revealed yesterday in a planning application submitted to Liverpool City Council), you can’t deny it’s distinctive. Which makes for a very refreshing change.

Too many new football stadiums built in the UK suffer from a distinct lack of character. Even impressive structures like Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium lack the quirks that give a place personality. People often wonder why teams that have recently moved into a new stadium struggle to turn it into a ‘fortress’ right away, but it must be difficult to feel any sense of ownership over a ground that could have been built anywhere and that says nothing about the club it represents.

Of the twenty clubs competing in the Premiership next season, eight (Arsenal, Bolton, Derby, Man City, Middlesbrough, Reading, Sunderland and Wigan) will be playing in stadiums opened in the last twelve years. And although these stadiums are, on the whole, slick and modern and purpose-built, none of them boasts an atmosphere comparable with that of Highbury, Burnden Park, The Baseball Ground, Maine Road or Roker Park (although the atmosphere in Sunderland’s Stadium of Light comes close).

The problem with these new stadiums is that they’re built with such little imagination. Their designers may boast that certain features evoke the traditions of the club’s by-gone glories, but it doesn’t change the fact that they all look pretty much the same – huge, hulking monolithic ‘bowls’ sitting in the middle of out-of-town car parks as if they’ve just landed from outer space.

So credit must be given to Liverpool’s American owners for scrapping the club’s original plans in favour of something strikingly different. The steep, single-tier 18,000-capacity Kop has been designed purely with the fans – and the stadium acoustics – in mind, and that’s how it should be.

The team behind the plans has also dispensed with the typical ‘bowl’ structure in favour of a far more irregular – and thus far more distinctive – shape. It may take a little while to get used to, but Liverpool’s players will undoubtedly benefit. When they step out onto the pitch for the first time they will do so in a stadium that is already uniquely theirs.

Golden Ball-scratching

July 22 2007

I didn’t catch David Beckham’s typically overhyped and underwhelming debut for LA Galaxy against Chelsea yesterday, so I had a look for the match highlights on YouTube today. This is what I found.

You’d think he’d have learnt about the perils of constant media scrutiny by now. Those golden balls are obviously more troublesome than previously thought.

In the blue corner…

July 19 2007

While Sven Goran Eriksson’s appointment as Manchester City manager may have brought a sense of gleeful anticipation to the red half of the city (who took more delight than most in his repeated failings as England manager), his first few signings suggest he’s lost none of the contacts he built up during twenty very successful years as a club manager in Sweden, Portugal and Italy.

Rolando Bianchi arrives from Italy with a big price-tag, but also a burgeoning reputation. Young defensive midfielder Gelson Fernandes is rated very highly in his native Switzerland, and although Geovanni’s stock has fallen in recent years, he’s still the same player who prompted Barcelona to splash out €19.6m in the summer of 2001.

But most worrying of all – from a Stretford End perspective – is today’s report in The Times that Sven is lining up a bid for Olympiacos’s dynamic attacking midfielder Nery Alberto Castillo.

The pint-sized Mexican has pace, superb close control and an eye for goal, and this goal against Brazil in the opening game of the Copa America suggests he can do it against top class defences (although, it being Brazil, I wouldn’t like to emphasise the ‘top class defences’ part too strongly).

United fans will hope it’s just another flash-in-the-plan transfer rumour, but if Eriksson does get his man, he might just provide the kind of inspiration that once made Maine Road rise to acclaim Georgiou Kinkladze.

One suspects City’s goal-scoring woes at Eastlands might quickly become a thing of the past too, provided Castillo fares better than the last Castillo to encounter the light blue half of Manchester.