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.


Transfer tales: Kevin Doyle and Shane Long – Reading

Reading have had great success in the 21st century with bargain signing; Nicky Shorey from Leyton Orient for £25,000 in 2001, made over 250 for the Royals and represented England on two occasions and was the first Reading player to be capped by England since Herbert Smith in 1907. Or Dave Kitson, bought for £150,000 from Cambridge in 2003, scored over 50 goals for the club, helped secure promotion to the top flight for the first time in the club’s history before being sold to Stoke City for £5.5million. However, in my opinion, the greatest transfer in Reading’s history has been that of Kevin Doyle.

Doyle and Long
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How United can go Dutch with Van Gaal, Giggs and the class of 92

Next week Manchester United are rumoured to announce the appointment of Louis Van Gaal as their new manager. The Dutchman has been the favourite for the job ever since David Moyes was sacked last month. Ryan Giggs has overseen the first team as caretaker manager for the past two games and will continue to do so until at least the end of the season.

Giggs has bought in ex-players Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes into his coaching set-up, alongside Phil Neville, who was also part of Moyes’ backroom staff. If Van Gaal is to be Manchester United’s next manager it will be interesting to see if and how the ‘Class of 92’ will figure in his plans. The current Netherlands national team manager is assisted by his ex-players from Ajax, Patrick Kluivert and Danny Blind and he may want to bring in his own men to Old Trafford next season.

Van Gaal first made his name as a manager at Ajax, winning the Champions League in 1995 with a squad largely consisting of home-grown players such as Edwin van der Sar, Clarence Seedorf and Edgar Davids. This famous generation of academy graduates had a similar impact as ‘The Class of 92’ at Manchester United, who went on to dominate the Premier League and snatch the Champions League from Bayern Munich’s grasp in 1999.

The Amsterdam club haven’t been able to reach those heights since which led to Cruyff offering some outspoken views; criticising the board, the lack of youth development and managers, despite not being at the club in an official capacity. However in the last few years they have reclaimed their place as the strongest club in the Netherlands with four consecutive Eredivisie titles. This recent success his coincided with the revolution at the club, with Johan Cruyff overseeing return of great players from their past running the club, including Edwin van der Sar as Marketing director and Marc Overmars as Technical director.

Giggs spoke about returning to a Manchester United style of performance which had been lacking following Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. In his first press conference as caretaker he said, “”It is my philosophy and it is Manchester United’s philosophy.” The return of former players at Ajax has seen a move back to a style of play which they are famed for and is part of their DNA. The first team is coached by Frank de Boer, in his first senior managerial role and support by former team-mates Dennis Bergkamp and ex-United defender Jaap Stam. Cruyff has described this team as the “technical heart” of the club.

Before working with the first team de Boer and Bergkamp were training the youth teams, where they had come through some 25 years previously. Following a similar path, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt have been working with the youth and reserve teams before stepping up to the first team to support Ryan Giggs.

Following his retirement last summer Sir Alex Ferguson is currently Director at the club where he won 38 trophies in 26 years. The former manager played a crucial role in the arrival of David Moyes from Everton last summer, showing how much authority he holds at the club. Despite the appointment of his fellow Scot not proving to be successful he will have a large say in who is managing the team next season. Success as manager has earned him legendary status at the club, where he has an almost God-like status with the fans.

Cruyff has a similar iconic status at the Amsterdam ArenA. As former player, coach and now advisor Cruyff has played a major role in Ajax’s history, as well as its future. When he wasn’t part of the set-up at the club he was always very outspoken with his views. Now that he is back at the club he has re-established the “Ajax Way” and has others who share his philosophy in crucial roles at the club.

In his advisory capacity at Ajax he is in communication with de Boer and his backroom staff. In an interview with David Winner, author of Dennis Bergkamp’s excellent biography, Stillness and Speed, Cruyff “warned them (current manager and coaches) never to blindly implement anything I say” instead “listen to me and then make their own decision.” However the Dutchman went onto say “decisions will never be different from the way I think about things, because we think exactly the same way about the main principles.”

Critics of Cruyff may say that he has more influence than someone in just an advisory capacity and that his former players are implementing his orders, and that he is a sort of puppet master. However the principles of the club which he has spoken about were originally from his former manager, the legendary Rinus Michel.

Before his retirement Sir Alex Ferguson implored the fans to support Moyes and he obviously wanted him to succeed. It will be interesting to know what he thinks of Van Gaal as the decision to appoint the Dutchman won’t be exclusively Ferguson’s choice as the previous appointment appeared to be. If things were to go wrong for the new man the fiery Scot may be more outspoken in his views of the club. However he is unlikely to be too critical of the club as he has been in charge for so long and may be culpable for some problems such as an ageing squad and lack of youth team talent.

 At United Giggs, Scholes, Butt and Phil Neville knows what it takes to play at the top level. Frank De Boer, Bergkamp and Stam have shown that despite a lack of coaching experience, with the right guidance, they can successfully manage a huge club like Ajax. United may go for Van Gaal now but with Giggs and co in the coaching set-up they may have someone who knows United better than anyone else.

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 4

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 final instalment contains my choice on who I believe are the 5 worst run clubs in the division. Let me know if you agree @bewareflyingfb

16. Malcolm Glazer – Manchester United

To buy the club in 2005 Malcolm Glazer had to borrow money placing the club in huge debt. This was extremely unpopular with the fans and even resulted in the formation of FC United of Manchester. The fans who remained at Old Trafford showed their disgust at the American’s ownership by wearing green and gold scarves, to represent the colours of the club when it was first formed as Newton Heath. There were rumours of a takeover bid from a group of wealthy businessmen (“The Red Knights”) however this never came to fruition. Despite the animosity towards the Glazer family United have remained at the top of the English game. They have been able to support Sir Alex Ferguson and now David Moyes including breaking the club’s record transfer when they bought Dimitar Berbatov from Tottenham Hotspur for £30.75million in 2008, as well as the impending move for Chelsea’s Juan Mata. During their time at Old Trafford the debt has reduced thanks to worldwide sponsorship deals negotiated by Edward Woodward who replaced David Gill as Chief Executive last summer. This season the club have struggled in the league but the Glazers haven’t been affected by calls to sack Moyes. If the club don’t finish in the top 4 it may have bigger implication to finances than it would at clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City.

17. Ellis Short – Sunderland

Sunderland’s lowly position in this table can largely be attributed to the fact that little is reported on owner Ellis Short and the running of the club. Since taking charge of the Mackems in September 2008 Short has financed transfers totalling £177m with this being offset by sales resulting in a net investment of £55m over 6 seasons. During his time at the club they have remained in the top flight but have flirted with relegation on a few occasions. Each time the manager has lost his job as a result. Steve Bruce was sacked in November 2011 being replaced by Martin O’Neil, who came in and saved the club from relegation but didn’t last the following season. Bruce has returned to the Premier League with Hull while O’Neil has taken charge of the Irish national team. The appointment of Paolo Di Canio was risky as his only previous managerial experience was with Swindon Town. This experiment lasted less than a year with the Italian’s sacking coming with rumours of players’ unrest at strict rules and with the team winless in the first 5 games of the season. Results have picked up following the arrival of Gus Poyet with the bonus of a place in the League Cup final. Off the field Sunderland have a partnership with Invest in Africa as well as the Foundation of Light scheme which helps people in the north east of England.

18. Daniel Levy – Tottenham

“Tough negotiator” are two words which are most commonly used to describe Daniel Levy, infamous for playing hardball and getting the best deal for the club. When it became clear that Gareth Bale had his heart set on Real Madrid Levy ensured that they would have to pay top dollar to get their man, eventually having to fork out a world record £86million. When Luka Modric wanted to join Chelsea Levy stood firm and stated the Croatian was not for sale at any price, before selling the next year to Real Madrid. Despite spending over £100m the team was still under construction with the season already underway. Even if Levy and owner Joe Lewis got the best deal financially it appeared to have an impacted the team’s preparations for the forthcoming year. Levy prefers working with a technical director and head coach rather than a manager. Only Harry Redknapp could be described as a traditional manager. Martin Jol and Juande Ramos worked under Frenchman Damien Comolli and Andre Villas Boas reported to Franco Baldini. Jol was sacked in 2007 despite consecutive 5th place finishes, Redknapp left by mutual consent after twice breaking into the top 4 and leading the club to the Chanpions League knock out round and following a record points haul Villas Boas was dismissed after big defeats against Manchester City and Liverpool. Tim Sherwood has been appointed Head Coach until the end of next season and it remains to be seen which direction the club is heading.

19. Assem Allam – Hull City

As so common with many other clubs Hull City were in financial peril before Assem Allam take over the club in November 2010. Allam originally from Egypt studied in Hull so it seemed that he already had an affinity with the area and would have the club’s best interests at heart. He soon dispensed of fan’s favourite Nick Barmby and appointed Steve Bruce. This proved to be a shrewd move as his experience took the club back to the Premier League. Allam backed the manager in the summer with the arrival of a number of players with top flight experience including the club record signing of Tom Huddletone. The club has made a strong start to the season but off the field controversies have overshadowed this progress. Assem announced at the start of the season that he planned to rename the club Hull Tigers. This was extremely unpopular with the fans who have voiced there discontentment chanting “City ’till I die’. Assem’s response was ill advised to say the least commenting in a newspaper interview that the Hull City supporters “can die as soon as they want, as long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football.” This was a disgusting retort and showed a lack of respect of the fans of the club who pay vast sums of money to watch their team play.

20. Vincent Tan – Cardiff City

Where to start with Vincent Tan? Firstly changing the team’s colours from blue to red, the logic being it’s considered a lucky colour in Asia and would therefore attract more fans from the Asian market. Secondly, redesigning the club’s emblem with a dragon replacing the traditional Bluebird. These decisions were disrespectful of the club’s tradition, but as he owned the club Tan felt he was entitled to do so. Malky Mackay won the Championship meaning Cardiff became the second Welsh team in the Premier League. To compete in the division a number of players were bought in, however Head of Recruitment Iain Moody was fired last October because too much was spent. Surely Tan would determine how much money is available and have the final say on transfers. Manager and owner’s relationship deteriorated to such a degree that Tan emailed Mackay with the message resign or be sacked. The backlash from this was huge and Mackay was afforded a stay of execution following the reaction of the Cardiff supporters. However this was a brief reprieve and another defeat against Southampton the next week led to the end of the Scot’s tenure. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has funds in this month’s transfer window as Mackay was told there would be no signings as he had overspent in the summer.