Emirates Cup Tournament: Grand preview.

Los Blancos going Oranje?
Once it was Barcelona who had the Dutch obsession, starting with Johan Cruyff in the 70s, and rightly so, the widely recognized greatest European player of all time won many trophies in his time in Catalonia and became the bench mark for future generations, much like the late Faas Wilkes before him.
Then came the Louis Van Gaal era, where the Dutch coach tried to recreate his success with a young Ajax team, which won the 1995 Champions League. The trouble is, rather than use training methods and tactics, he bought half the Ajax side and various Dutch players, betraying Catalan tradition and depriving the Barca fans the privilege of seeing local talent thrive in the side.
Players ranging from the De Boer twins to Marc Overmars moved to the Camp Nou, and caused a civil war in the Azulgrana’s minds, torn between tradition and success. And truth be told, it achieved nothing. President Gaspart and manager Van Gaal departed, allowing a new regime to be installed. Laporta brought in Rikjaard, the former AC Milan player, to start the revolution, beginning with removing the overpaid Dutchmen who achieved little in their final seasons.
He brought in fresher legs, but did use his fellow countrymen to form aspects of the squad, with Van Bronckhorst (now Feyenoord) arriving on the cheap and performing heroically at left-back. Then Edgar Davids came on loan from Juventus and added some much needed bite in the Barca midfield, catalysing some brilliant performances in the league, alongside Catalans Xavi, Puyol et al.
And now it is Real who are buying Dutch, with Robben, Sneijder and Drenthe all coming in last year. And if it wasn’t for Ramon Calderon’s obsession with Ronaldo, Van Der Vaart could have joined them in the last week or so. While Huntelaar won’t be arriving at the Bernabeu this summer, having been named captain under the new coach Van Basten and coach Bergkamp, he could do so with the Hamburg playmaker next year with clauses in their respective contracts allowing them to leave for roughly £20m and £1.2m respectively. Yet according to Marca, the Hamburg player will sign for the club next week, after negotiations in London during the Emirates Cup itself.
Perhaps it was the success of clinical attacker Ruud Van Nistlerooy that prompted the hierarchy to sign more of his countrymen, but one thing is for sure, all the signings bar Drenthe have worked very well. The versatile youngster seemed a impulse buy, when Real youngsters, such as Javi Garcia, De La Red, or Bueno, who are equally talented had another block placed in their path to the first team, one that only Casillas, Raul and Guti have successfully reached in the last decade or so.
There were some brilliant performances by Real, not least in the 4-1 mauling of arch-rivals Barca, or the thrashings of Villarreal (0-5) and Valencia (1-5) away, but over the course of the whole season there were several defeats (7) and draws (4) which coincided with Barcelona dropping points consistently in the same period allowing the Whites to extend their lead. Only Manuel Pelligrini’s Villarreal kept a sustained challenge with fewer resources and a smaller squad.
The main objective of achieving a 10th European Cup was not reached for another season as an impressive Roma defeated Real in the second round of the Champions League, thus causing Calderon (who is being challenged by Adriano Galliani of Milan for the Most Annoying Person in European Football) to start a typical media campaign with puppets La Marca, AS and Sport all being used to sign (read: unsettle) Manchester United’s Ronaldo, with the club reporting losses after the departure of Beckham took with him all commercial and marketing opportunities.
The potential big-name signing of Ronaldo is thought to be able to cover that gap and stop the club resorting to emergency loans, as they recently did. The side plays more attacking football than Capello’s cautious side did but has a large amount of defensive solidity with Casillas, Ramos, Pepe, Cannavaro and Henize making up the defence. It is their central midfield which seems to be the weak link, with Diarra and one of Guti and Gago making up the middle. Sneidjer is usually deployed wide on the right, with Robinho or Robben appearing on the left.
Up front is the classy Dutchman Van Nistlerooy, who has scored 41 in just 61 games for the Spanish Champions, who will return to face a side which has been his greatest rival during his Premiership years. Alongside him is Raul, who hit 23 goals last year in his highest scoring campaign for years, and led to the claims that he should have been in the Euro 2008 squad. There is no doubt that Aragones’ victorious squad laid those claims to rest, but the Real talisman will look to reignite them this upcoming season starting at the Emirates Cup.
Madrid have been quiet on the transfer regarding actual signings rather than media-fuelled stories regarding a certain Portuguese attacker, with Ezequiel Garay, the Argentine central defender of Racing Santander, who has a penchant for taking penalties signing before being sent out on loan to his former club. Ruben de La Red has been bought back from Getafe after an impressive season, and is being touted for £9m as Real look to solely profit on his success.
While their second league victory in the last two years looks impressive, one must realise it was the poorest La Liga in years, with perennial underachievers Atletico Madrid actually reaching the Champions league spots. They are continued to evolve their style of possession football, and the indicators point to something that is close to what the Dutch managed to play in the group stages at Euro 2008, but with a stronger holding midfield partnership.
The Spanish Champions won their first fixture 3-2 against Austrian side Linz, and after the Emirates Cup, will face Independiente Santa Fe in Columbia, Frankfurt, Valencia in the Super Cup and Sporting Lisbon in the Santiago Bernabeu trophy, before kicking their season off to defend their title.
It will be a good test for Arsenal, against a style of football which they prefer, with more space afforded to the Gunners, it will be rematch against between two improved sides since the wonderful matches in the Champions League in 2006.
New Guard in for Old Lady
The Old Lady of Turin is proving once more to have her effect on Ranieri’s squad, with a number of hugely talented youngsters either being sold or having to haggle for better contracts despite their great talent, which propelled the side from Serie B to a Champions League spot on their return to Serie A.
It seemed the Calciopoli scandal would have little effect on the football side of things, as Juve continued their tradition of success, even after the departure of several internationals. Yet such achievements and pressure on young shoulders, doesn’t seem to have had any effect on the management, who are buying older, more experienced players instead.
Palladino, who Arsenal were once reported to have an interest in, has moved to Genoa on a co-ownership deal, while Nocerino has moved to Palermo, Rey Vo lpato has signed for Bari. Giovinco returns from Empoli, having shined on loan, the little trequartista, is currently in contract negotiations, with Arsenal once more reportedly standing by. Others such as De Ceglie and Marchisio are also fighting for their places in the new-look squad. Juventus would be foolish to let these starlets leave as they have let others do so. Unfortunately, these youngsters will be at the Olympics in Beijing, and so the Emirates will not be able to witness their talents.
Albin Ekdal, the 19 year old Swedish playmaker has been impressive since signing from the Swedish side Brommapojkarna (tongue-twister or what?) this summer. It is hoped he will add creativity to the midfield with signings such as Tiago Mendes and Sergio Almiron not being the answer. The latter is being mooted for a move to either River Plate or Napoli, having been unable to make the step up since his move from Empoli. Alberto Aquilani of Roma has been named as a possible transfer target, as Ranieri shapes his squad for a title challenge next year as Serie A looks to have four title competitors for the first time in three years.
Like Real and Arsenal, central midfield is their problem area, with Sissoko and Poulsen both defensive minded players. The latter, famous for his tough approach to the game and spats with Totti and Kaka, was met with a poor reception, as the Juve fans protested against his signing, unaware of his technical qualities, exhibited in the 30 yard lofted pass to Iaquinta for his goal against Inter in the TIM Cup. The Danish battler will prove a tough test for any opponent and will look to win over fans with an impressive pre-season alongside Sissoko, the former Liverpool midfielder, who is one of several players dubbed the ‘new Vieira’. The Italians will have a tactical, structured style on display, one that arsenal will face next year as they look to break teams down with different options.
Yet while the future of the young, Italian talents are looking bleak, Juventus has strengthened the best strike-force in Italy, with the addition of the Brazilian Amauri for a lofty £18m fee, who is one of the rare battering-ram type forward in the game today, with Adebayor, Drogba and Adriano some of the few attackers in this mould. The Brazilian from Sicily has begun his pre-season with the Old Lady in some style netting five goals against amateurs Mezzocorona, in a 7-1 win, showing his full array of skills in an exhibition of varied finishing, including a back-heel for his fifth.
The Bianconeri defeated Dortmund 3-1 with ease despite being behind in their preparations in comparison to the German side, with Iaquinta (2) and Amauri scoring. And we haven’t even mentioned Trezeguet and Del Piero, who together netted 41 goals in Serie A. The TIM Cup saw Juve face last years Emirates Cup entrants Inter and a rejuvenated Milan, with Iaquinta defeating an anxious Inter, who had new signings Muntari and Mancini debut for the side but not perform well. They only lost to Milan on penalties after a 2-2 draw, and this highlights the strength of the side with two different XIs taking to the field in two 45 minute games.
In defence, Juventus has Giorgio Chiellini, one of few players from Italy’s Euro 2008 squad to come out with any credit, having come in after the disastrous partnership of Barzagli and Materazzi collapsed against Holland. Ironically, he was the man whose tackle put Cannavaro out of the tournament, but several tackles, interventions and clearances from the Juventino’s boots begged the question as to how the Azzurri ever did without him. The converted left-back is now partnered by Mellberg, formerly of Aston Villa, in what looks to be potentially a tough defensive partnership to break down.
And who can forget the £32m man defending the net for Juve in Gianluigi Buffon. The classy stopper became a national hero in 2006, and reaffirmed his class with a fine stop from Adrian Mutu, the Fiorentina striker, in their second Group game against Romania. Smart signings such as Grygera from Ajax have added depth to the side but not all signings have worked out well. Jorge Andrade has been desperately unlucky in fracturing his knee-cap, is out for a second consecutive season.
Juventus will be a completely different proposition from the side dismantled with ease in March 2006, with younger, more agile players replacing the old guard. The match between the two sides is likely to feature younger players and the odd veteran in Juve’s case, with the first-teamers saved for the Sunday. Either way it looks very exciting.
A Familiar Face Returns
The big man returns to the ground of the side against whom he had little to no success (unless you can call a draw a success for Spurs). Yes, Martin Jol is back, but only to face Real and Juve as Arsenal will too. He was an entertaining manager, with his first game that memorable 5-4 win at White Hart Lane, but as any fan would say, his dismissal from Tottenham was handled with a lack of class attributed to Daniel Levy, who reportedly informed him of the news before the game against Getafe which he lost 2-1.
In leaving Tottenham, he gained a certain amount of credibility by taking Hamburg to 4th spot in the Bundesliga, after the previous coach Thomas Doll was sacked after a 1-1 home draw in February 2007 with Energie Cottbus left Hamburg bottom of the Bundesliga table and obviously proved to be the last straw for the club’s board. He inherited a talented side and managed to revive their fortunes, with the main aim probably being a title challenge and Champions League football. His reception will be interesting, that is for certain.
There are a number of well-known players in the side, with many reputations enhanced after Euro 2008. Ivica Olic, the tireless Croatian forward, is supported by the classy Van Der Vaart, who is wanted by Madrid right away, but Hamburg rejected the bid, with Didi Beiersdorfer, the Sporting Director, claiming the offer was ‘absolutely ridiculous’. Others include Joris Mathijsen, the centre-back, who is partnered by the talented but injury prone Vincent Kompany.
The Belgium stopper is what many claim to be the tall commanding centre-back who is needed to stop certain types of goals, namely direct aerial balls, but personally, Cristian Zapata of Udinese is the answer, with Kompany being hyped up by fans of the ‘Football Manager’ series, when it is likely he could be a Younnes Kaboul style mistake, but these are concerns that are probably exaggerated.
Jol, who still has a permanent residence in London, will move to Hamburg this summer. His side have started preparations for the new season well, defeating Manchester City 1-0 at the HSH Nordbank Arena, with Mark Hughes side only recently beginning their pre-season. New signing Jonathan Pitroipa, a left midfielder, scored the only goal of the game in the sweltering heat.
It is easy to argue that Hamburg are the weakest of the four sides, but with practically two different sides taking to the pitch on both days, nothing is certain. The games will be key in preparation for all the teams and goals are likely to come. After this two day event, Arsenal will look to further challenges against sides of European pedigree in Ajax and Se villa, with one more signing set to be made, and hopefully it is a partner for Fabregas in central midfield.
All that’s left to be said for this coming weekend is: Come on Arsenal!
TOMORROW : JOSH BENSON’s Analysis of the individual games

LOGIN to Comment
LOGIN to Comment