The Ebony Shoe and The Belgian Lion

The Jupiler Pro League in Belgium is no different from the other leagues across Europe. At the end of the season, the best individuals are nominated for the player of the year, with the league’s finest performer taking home the award. However, in Belgium there are a couple of other awards which are unique amongst their peers, Le Soulier d’Ébène and Le Lion Belge. Le Soulier d’Ébène (The Ebony Shoe) is awarded annually to the best African or African origin player in the Belgian Pro League, and Le Lion Belge (The Belgian Lion) rewards the best Maghrebian (or Maghrebian origin) footballer in Belgium in the three national divisions.


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Free Agent Squad

The 1st July is the official start of the new season. With the last club season a distant memory clubs have been freshening up their squads and releasing player who have come to the end of their contracts. With so many players released what are the options out there. Is it possible to create a squad to compete in the Premier League comprised entirely of free agents? Have a read and see what you think…

*Please note this article was written before Victor Valdes and Mikel Arteta joined Middlesbrough and Manchester City respectively



Undisputed No. 1 is Victor Valdes, the Spanish goalkeeper started his careers at Barcelona and won everything in his time at the Nou Camp. After letting his contract run down Valdes joined Manchester United in January 2015. It was thought fellow Spaniard David de Gea would leave the Red Devils last summer but a proposed transfer to Real Madrid fell through at the last minute. Valdes spent last season on loan to Standard Liege in Belgium, following a dispute with manager Louis van Gaal. Despite van Gaal’s departure Valdes was still released when his contract expired. Back up to Valdes will be provided by the experienced Mark Schwarzer. The Australian was on the books at current champions Leicester City, but didn’t make an appearance during their title winning campaign. Further backup is provided in the form of veteran Steve Harper. After 20 years at Newcastle United the goalkeeper spent two years with Hull City before signing for Sunderland last season.



Kolo Toure was released by Liverpool despite appearing regularly at the end of last season following Mamadou Sakho’s suspension, often in preference to Martin Skrtel. Toure will be joined by Martin Demichelis.martin-demichelis The 35-year-old made over 100 appearances for Manchester City, helping them to three trophies in his three years at the club. Alternatives at centre back come in the form of Brede Hangeland, who spent the last two years at Crystal Palace having left Fulham after the Cottagers were relegated from the Premier League, and Steven Taylor, who departed Newcastle United after making 268 appearances in 13 years at the club. Taylor’s former United teammate, Jose Enrique, offers experience at left back despite being frozen out by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool last season. Former Chelsea Academy graduate Kevin Wright offers youthful enthusiasm having won the FA Youth Cup and the Under-21 Premier League in his time at the club. At right back Joey O’Brien was released by West Ham after five years at the club while while Tony Hibbert has spent his career on Merseyside with Everton.



flamini rosicky

Former Arsenal trio Mikel Arteta, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini come with vast experience at the highest level. Arteta and Rosicky have been plagued by injuries with the latter forced out of the Czech Republic’s Euro 2016 squad with a thigh strain. Other options in central midfield include former Arsenal trainee Steve Sidwell who has played in the Premier League with Chelsea, Aston Villa and Stoke. Nick Powell was signed by Manchester United as a promising youngster from Crewe Alexandra and despite not fulfilling his potential is only 22 years old and has represented England at all youth levels up to under 21 level. Like Tony Hibbert Leon Osman spent his entire career with Everton before being released this summer despite never considered a regular Osman has put in some impressive performances in an Everton shirt and received a call up to England in 2013. Osman’s former Everton teammate Steven Pienaar is also available having been released by the Toffees. During his time on Merseyside the South African made up one of the most effective left sided duo alongside Leighton Baines. On the flank other options are provided by Stephane Sessegnon, the tricky midfielder was impressive when he first arrived in England with Sunderland and last season at West Brom he showed occasional flashes to link up well with Saido Berahino and Salomón Rondón.



Emmanual Adebayor was released by Crystal Palace following a short spell at the South London club. The Togo international is a player who when on form can be unplayable, anyone able to play for Real Madrid and command a £25m price tag must have some talent. To complement Adebayor’s physical presence Peter Odemwingie offers pace and trickery. The Nigerian has spent time in the Premier League with West Brom, Cardiff and most recently Stoke City. Another player currently available is his international teammate and former colleague at West Brom Victor Anichebe. The former Everton man is as strong as an Ox has made it his trademark to pin defenders before turning and shooting. The last man to make up the squad is former Liverpool man Samed Yeşil, the 22-year-old represented Germany up to under-19 level. He was particularly successful in their under-17 team, whom he helped become runners-up in the European Championship and third place at the World Cup in 2011.


Marching into the Saint’s Manager’s Office

Following Ronald Koeman’s appointment at Everton Southampton are looking for their fourth manager in less than four years. Koeman left the club in a healthy condition following a sixth place finish in the Premier League, the Saints highest ever, and a record 63 points. Despite this the former Dutch international opted to head to Merseyside to succeed Roberto Martinez as Everton manager. A recent takeover at Everton by Iranian Farhad Moshiri, and the potential for investment in the squad may have tempted Koeman as last year was the Toffees second successive season finishing outside the top half of the table.


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One for the Neutral

One of the tightest relegation scrap has been somewhat overlooked by the 3 way race for the title between Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City.

Who do you THINK will win the title? And who do you WANT to win the title?

The merits of all three teams have been discussed, from the strengths and weaknesses of each side, to the key players and the respective sides run in. All facts can build a conclusive answer to who you THINK will win the title.

What about who do you WANT to win the title? Obviously the fans of the three teams left in the hunt for the Premier League will want their team to win, but what about everyone else, the neutrals.

While previewing the recent match between Liverpool and Manchester City Gary Neville said “Choosing City or Liverpool to take the title is like ‘choosing which bloke nicks your wife.” This is probably a similar opinion to all other Manchester United fans who would class the Sky Blues and The Reds as their biggest rivals.

Everton, who are having a fantastic season and challenging for the final champions league place are Liverpool’s cross city rivals. Their defender Sylvain Distin was quoted as saying some Everton fans would rather forgo a 4th place finish if it means Liverpool didn’t win the league.

“We’ve spoken about it with some of the staff and said, ‘what if we have to beat (Manchester) City to be in the Champions League but by doing that Liverpool win the league?'” Distin said.

“The funny thing is, some people would rather we don’t get Champions League as long as they don’t win the league. It’s mad.

“Personally I’d rather be in the Champions League. You can’t miss a chance for that. It would be amazing for the city if both clubs made it. I think deep down both sets of fans would like it if both clubs were in it.”

I’m not sure most Everton fans would agree with that sentiment. Surely the opportunity to play against Europe’s elite sides and attract the best players to the club is better than seeing your neighbours slip up.

What about everyone else? Those who don’t have a direct rival involved in the race? Some might say that they want Liverpool to win it as the team has played the best attacking football in the division and that Steven Gerrard deserves to win the league for the years of service to his hometown club. Despite this there will be those who are old enough to remember Liverpool’s dominance of the domestic game in the 70s and 80s and have enjoyed the barren years since there last championship in 1990. This is probably a similar feeling a younger generation are having what Manchester United struggle this season.

If the neutral isn’t endeared to Liverpool, what about Chelsea? The Blues were always likely to be challenging once Jose Mourinho returned to the club. Despite the self-proclaimed Special One’s insistence that they’re not contenders, they are right in the mix. Good or bad, everyone will have an opinion on the Portuguese manager. Some will think he is a charming genius with great tactical acumen, while others will despise his mind games and arrogance. There is no doubt he will have some bearing on neutral’s opinion of Chelsea.

Finally Manchester City, perennial title challengers thanks to the investment for Sheik Mansour. That would be the first reason why the neutral wouldn’t be routing for City. The same could really be said of Chelsea with Roman Abramovich still making the occasional splash in the transfer market. Manuel Pellegrini, is really the polar opposite of Mourinho, a calm self-effacing character who philosophy on the game is to attack and score goals. While everyone does have an opinion on Mourinho, few will feel strongly about the Chilean either way and is unlikely to make too many enemies, other than the Chelsea manager.

So for the neutral, who do they want to win the league? A lot will probably say Liverpool but on the other hand quite a few would say they wouldn’t want the Reds to end 20 years of hurt, and would rather it be either shade of blue.

One for the neutral, who do you want to win the league?


Let me know @bewareflyingfootballs

The Alternative League Table – Part 1

The idea of this list is to rank Premier League clubs based on who ran each club. The focus isn’t just on the money that is spent on wages and transfers fees. Obviously finances dictate what team’s objectives are and have a large say on where teams eventually finish. This list aims to show the impact each owner/chairman has during their time at the club. The first instalment contains my choice on who I believe are the 5 best run clubs in the division. Let me know if you agree @bewareflyingfb

1 Huw Jenkins – Swansea City

Huw Jenkins has overseen a remarkable rise at Swansea having taken over the team in the old Division 4 when the club needed a final day win against Hull in 2003 to actually stay in the league. Since then the club has had the most successful period in its history, being promoted to the Premier League, winning the League Cup and qualifying for the knock out stages in Europe. The meteoric rise has also seen the club move from the Vetch Field to the Liberty Stadium, it is a credit to the board that in that time the club have continued to progress on the field and the financial health of the club has remained in a strong position. The chairman has always backed his managers, breaking their record transfer last summer with the arrival of Wilfried Bony for £12m. Jenkins selection of managers has been faultless with Michael Landrup’s predecessors including Roberto Martinez and Brendan Rodgers. They both moved onto bigger teams but the philosophy of the Welsh club has remained and that is down to the direction put in place by Huw Jenkins and the Swansea board. In a structure more similar to German football the supporters trust have a 20% share of the club.

2 Peter Coates – Stoke

Having supported the club since he was a boy local businessman Peter Coates became the majority shareholder at Stoke City in 1989. He oversaw the club’s move into their new stadium in 1997. The Brittannia cost £14.7m to construct and has arguably the best atmosphere in the Premier League as well as possibly being the coldest due to a lack of corners. After selling the club to an Icelandic consortium for £3.5m in 1999 Coates returned 6 years later buying the club back for £1.7m as well as clearing debts of £3.3m. Coates said he bought the club back against his better judgement as the club was in a mess. He was disappointed with his previous time there and felt there was unfinished business. Tony Pulis returned to the club as manager for a second time which at the time wasn’t a popular decision. However the Welshman oversaw promotion to the Premier League and establishing Stoke City as a top flight side. The appointment of Mark Hughes to change the style of the club could be questionable but Coates has always backed his managers with cash including a club record £10m for Peter Crouch in August 2011. His commitment is unquestionable as is his desire to see the club doing well in the Premier League for the local area which has been hit economically in recent times.

3 Sheik Mansour

It is hard to look beyond the vast sums of money that Sheik Mansour has poured into Manchester city since taking over in 2008 but off the field there are large scale projects with the academy and training facilities at the Etihad. The superstars that have been bought in helped delivered their first trophy in 35 years and was followed by the league title a year later. The club is looking to expanding on a global stage and compete with the likes of Manchester United and Arsenal and have announced the formation of a new team in the USA, New York City Football Club. Foreign ownership can often be looked on with suspicious but Sheik Mansour has pumped a lot of money into the club and appears to be in it for the long haul. However the implementation of UEFA’s financial fair play initiative will certainly affect the amount of money that can be thrown around, however the team recent progress in the Champions League will bring additional income. Another source of additional income came from selling the naming rights of the City of Manchester Stadium to Etihad Airlines, who were already kit sponsors. The £40m a year agreement appeared to be rather inflated especially in comparison to Arsenal’s contract with Emirates, which includes a shirt deal worth £150m over 5 years with stadium naming rights until 2021.

4 Crystal Palace

Steve Parish headed a consortium of local businessmen who took over from the flamboyant Simon Jordan, after the club had been placed in administration. Parish’s first objective was to buy back Selhurst Park from Lloyds Bank, much to the fans pleasure. Following Dougie Freeman’s departure to Bolton last season Ian Holloway was bought in and guided the club to an unexpected promotion via the play-offs. They didn’t have the same financial clout as their competitors so had to source players from the lower divisions and outcasts from their rivals. They found the league tough which resulted in Ian Holloway offering his resignation, the following press conference with the departing manager showed that both he and the chairman felt it was the best move for the club. Parish moved quickly after the debacle at Cardiff to appoint Ian Moody as Director of Football, quickly followed by Tony Pulis, as Holloway’s successor. Pulis’ was quickly linked with the job and Parish even alluded to him as being the ideal candidate having experience fighting relegation in the Premier League. The move took longer than expected which suggests that Parish had to convince the ex-Stoke boss of a move to Selhurst Park. Both he and Moody could prove to be shrewd moves by Parish with the team showing signs of improvement giving fans reason to be optimistic about the future of the club.

5 Bill Kenwright

Everton are a club which spends within its means, therefore the money that the fans want to spend isn’t alway available. This has kept the club on a sound financial footing and when there is the opportunity to back his manager in the transfer market Bill Kenwright has done so. For example Mourrane Fellaini arrived for £15m in 2008 before leaving for Manchester United at a £12m profit with the money being reinvested with the purchase of James McCarthy from Wigan for £14m. The fact that Everton have established themselves in the top half of the Premier League despite not have the financial capabilities of their rivals can be put down to the backing of previous manager, David Moyes. In the 2003/4 season Everton had a poor season finishing 17th, other chairman would have sacked the manager but Moyes kept his job and the following year they were rewarded with a 4th place finish and champions league qualification. Once it was established that Moyes would be replacing Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford Kenwright moved quickly to appoint Roberto Martinez as the Scot’s successor. This represented a bold move by the Everton board as Martinez had just overseen Wigan’s relegation to the Championship but the gamble has paid off as Martinez has built his playing philosophy with the solid foundations left by David Moyes. This season the new design of the club’s badge was released but the feedback was negative so the club agreed to edit it and gave the choice to the fans.