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Celtic and Europe – The importance of staying involved

Not represented in Europe last week

Last week must have felt painfully empty for Celtic supporters as the Group Stages of the two European competitions started, with the Parkhead club nowhere to be seen. Celtic had suffered the double ignominy of elimination in successive ties from first the Champions League and then the Europa League. They exited the top competition after a couple of docile performances against respectable opposition in Braga. Then against a moderate Utrecht they performed so cravenly that the Dutch club who had fully expected to be eliminated were able to grab the place in the Europa League Group Stages that had seemed to be Celtic’s for the asking.

Celtic supporters have always had a keen interest in European football, an interest fuelled by the club’s successes in the Stein era and sustained by regular European adventures ever since. The club attained great credibility with Final appearances in both major club competitions, most recently the UEFA Cup in 2003. 

Celtic fans - the friendliest in Europe

Celtic supporters used the opportunity to travel widely in Europe accompanying their team to create a top reputation of their own, as the friendliest and best behaved supporters in the world. The objective truth of this claim was confirmed by awards from both FIFA and EUFA following their friendly takeover of Seville in 2003.

Celtic supporters have been welcomed and appreciated wherever they have gone. Their trip to Villarreal in 2004 lead directly to the formation of a 700 strong Celtic Submari supporters Club in Villarreal dedicated to sustaining close and lasting  links with Celtic and its supporters.

 

While St Pauli in Hamburg have made friends all over the world with their special commitment to values based on anti-Nazism, anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-homophobia, they have created a special affinity with Celtic fans because of the recognition of shared values represented by the Celtic support.

 Recent changes to the UEFA Country and Club co-efficients systems mean that it will be even harder for Celtic to qualify for the Champions League next season. Even if they are Scottish champions in 2010-11 they would have to get through two qualifying rounds, at least one against a higher rated club. Second place in the Scottish League will no longer bring any opportunity to qualify for the Champions League.

 Greengreenworld(GGW) feels it is very important that Celtic fans do not respond to their disappointment and disillusionment at these recent qualification failures by turning their backs on the European and World club scene but instead commit themselves to retaining a keen and informed interest. GGW will dedicate itself to helping Celtic supporters maintain an informed interest by providing regular reports on both European Club competitions as well as detailed reports from 5 clubs of special interest to Celtic supporters across the world.

When you are eliminated from a tournament there is always some positive consolation when your conquerors do well, and a more complicated and perverse satisfaction when they do badly. That syndrome was one of the two reasons why all Villarreal supporters were fully behind Zenit St Petersburg in the 2008 UEFA Cup Final in Manchester. So GGW will provide regular reports on on how Braga and Utrecht do in the Champions League and Europa League respectively.

Celtic and Villarreal - friends for ever

In addition GGW will provide regular reports of the European progress on Celtic’s favourite Spanish club, Villarreal as they seek to win the Europa League. GGW knows that ever since the incredible friendship between Villarreal and Celtic supporters started in 2004, a fair number of Celtic supporters have closely followed Villarreal’s continued adventures in Europe, especially when Celtic are no longer in contention. For my book on Villarreal I have interviewed many Celtic supporters who have gone to Villarreal’s European games in both the Champions League and UEFA Cup over the past few seasons, either at El Madrigal or in accessible away games in England or Western Europe. With Celtic out already, a fair number of Celtic fans will use the money they put aside to follow Celtic in Europe to give their support to the Yellow Submarine. Details of the Group Stage games and venues are given in the last GGW post “Villarreal the Good and Bad news”. Details of Villarreal’s opening match in the Europa League will be given in the next GGW post “Villarreal – Fiesta joy turns sour”.

The other favourite European team of Celtic supporters, St Pauli have made a reasonable start to their attempt to consolidate themselves in the Bundesliga after last season’s hard won promotion. GGW will provide regular reports over the next few months on the progress of this struggle for survival, to see if a club with such values can survive in the mercenary and ruthless environment.

Hangzhou Greentown stadium - Where the Chinese green and white team play

GGW knows from the positive response to its earlier articles, that many Celtic supporters have adopted Hangzhou Greentown the club captained by Du Wei and that play in green and white, as their Chinese team. At the start of the season it looked as if Greentown would have a difficult time avoiding the bottom two spots they inhabited the previous season only avoiding relegation because two of the clubs that finished above them were removed from the league for corruption. But under Du Wei’s inspired leadership they have steadily climbed up the table and are currently 4th, occupying one of the slots for next season’s Asian Champions League. GGW will provide regular reports on how they do in pursuit of this ambitious goal.

 

 

Many Celtic supporters were stunned by the ease with which Arsenal destroyed Braga to the tune of 6 goals to nil. The Braga team that faced Arsenal was actually significantly stronger than the one that disposed of Celtic. With the money assured by qualification following the victories over Celtic and Sevilla they invested in quality players like goalkeeper Felipe from Brazilian league leaders Corinthians, Uruguayan defensive midfielder Luis Aguair and creative midfielder Hugo Viana as well as a couple of other squad players, Elton and Custudio. Yet this reinforced Braga side was brushed aside dismissively by Arsenal in a way that demonstrated the correctness of the GGW assertion that Braga were not that good a team. So what that says about Celtic is a matter best not pursued too rigorously.

In the Europa League Celtic’s surprised conquerors, FC Utrecht acquitted themselves reasonably well gaining an away draw in Naples and setting themselves up to have a good chance to make the top two in the Group.

Next week GGW will provide fuller previews of both Braga and Utrecht before their second Group games, as well as detail of Villarreal’s crucial home game against FC Bruges

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The Good and Bad News for Followers of Villarreal

Good News

Marchena and Borja Valero two new signings help good start in Europe

The main good news is that Villareal comfortably qualified for the Group Stage of the Europa League. That must count as a good outcome after finishing last season one place below the Europa League slots. After a summer of diplomatic activity UEFA at the last minute deleted Mallorca from the list of clubs accepted for the Play-off Round and offered their place  to Villarreal. This action was taken because over the summer Mallorca had gone into the Spanish equivalent of Administration, using the Ley Concursal to declare themselves effectively bankrupt.

Such has been the European prowess of Villarreal over the past few seasons that Paddy Power immediately inserted them as 5th favourites for the Europa League behind only big guns Juventus, Manchester City, Liverpool and Atletico Madrid.

The Play-off Round draw was kind to Villarreal pairing them with Dnepr Mogilev from Bielorussia. Of the 74 teams involved in the Play-off Round Villarreal were ranked 3rd top under the UEFA coefficient system based on recent performance. Mogilev were ranked 3rd bottom, 72nd  worst of the 74 teams. 

The immensity of that gap proved to be accurate over the two legs. Mogilev were so poor that even the most disillusioned Celtic supporter would have felt confident in putting their house on Celtic to beat this team. And would have got his money back.

GGW had predicted that Celtic would be too strong for Utrecht, a sentiment shared by 90% of Utrecht even after the first leg. Celtic threw it away in the second leg, being craven and incompetent beyond belief, to the surprise and delight of an astonished Utrecht and their delirious supporters. And Barry Maguire delivered on his promise of driving Celtic to the ‘eve of destruction’ with a cracking goal.  Reality returned to Utrecht that weekend as they were hammered 4-0 by Twente in their league game, a reminder that they are not secret world beaters, just a decent enough team very lucky to get Celtic at their absolute worst.

But even that dire Celtic performance would have been enough to see off Dnepr from Bielorrussia. Villarreal spanked them 5-0 in the first leg at the Madrigal literally without breaking sweat on a warm Spanish evening. So overwhelming had been the superiority of the Yellow Submarine, that manager Garrido felt safe enough to send his new recruits from the Cantera to make their European debuts for Villarreal, leaving 5 of their star players in Spain and 4 others on the bench. Again it was really no contest with Villarreal winning 2-1 to end up victors on a 7-1 aggregate, one of the biggest of the round.

The Group Stage draw paired Villarreal, as top seeds, with Bruges, Dynamo Zagreb and PAOK Salonica. I know from my work on my book about the relationship between Celtic and Villarreal that a fair number of Celtic supporters have in the past gone to Villarreal’s  European games, particularly when Celtic have been eliminated.

So the dates to look out for are 16th September in Zagreb,  4th November in Salonika and  15th December  in Brugeswhich is probably the most realistic venue for a quick trip over. The three home legs are 30th September , 21st October  and 2nd December. A very warm welcome is guaranteed to those Celtic supporters who decide to take in any one of the home games, including free beer in the Celtic Submari Penya. So anyone  who had put some money aside to follow Celtic in Europe this season could do worse than follow the Yellow Submarine. GGW will report regularly on Villarreal’s campaign in the Europa League.

Bad News

The main bad news is that Villarreal lost the first game of the new La Liga season, an eminently winnable away trip to Real Sociedad. Villarreal are a far superior team with far better players but a combination of managerial over-caution and bad luck led them to end up losing 1-0. Given that nearest rivals Valencia and Sevilla both won away from home against equally weak opposition, this was a very poor start to the campaign for one of the top 4 Champions League slots.

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Watch out Inter, Inter are coming after you

Inter PA celebrate winning the Copa Libertadores

 Last night Inter PA comfortably won the second leg of the Copa Libertadores Final by 3 goals to 1 and won the giant trophy for the second time in 5 years. As in the first leg, Inter lost the first goal just before half time. But as in the first leg, they did not panic but kept playing calmly and on the hour mark, Rafael Sobis, on from the start in place of the injured Alecsandro, paid of his recent transfer fee with the equaliser that put them back ahead on aggregate. Two further second half goals, by substitutes Leandro and Giuliano, made it very comfortable for Inter and no-one noticed or cared when Chivas got a second in the second minute of added on time.

So Inter won 5-3 on aggregate and captain Bolivar got to lift the massive trophy to the delight of the 50,000 plus Inter fans in the stadium. Giuliano finished up top scorer over the Libertadores campaign, not bad for a reserve midfielder, although he is likely to replace Sandro in the first time line up now that very talented midfielder Sandro is finally released to join Spurs.

The next major goal for Inter is to re-win the World Club Championship they won in 2006 beating Barcelona in the final. This time it is the other Inter, from Milan, they are likely to face in the final in December in Abu Dhabi. Their chances may very well depend on how many of last night’s team are sold to Europe before then. Sandro has already gone and there are rumours that class full back Kleber, whose brilliant pass laid on the first goal last night may follow him. Hopefully the rest of the squad will be retained and maybe even strengthened.

Roth 10 years on he find sthe key to happiness

Manager Celso Roth offers a ray of hope for Arsene Wenger. Like Wenger, Roth’s team always play good football and he has become a highly rated manager. However last night’s triumph was the first time in 10 years he has actually won a trophy to go with the couple of State crowns he won more than a decade ago. No wonder he looked like the cat who finally got the cream.

The Inter win ended a sequence of 3 consecutive defeats by Brazilian teams in the Copa Libertadores final, their bitter rivals Gremio lost to Boca Juniors in 2007, current league leaders Fluminense catastrophically lost to LDU Quito in 2008, and Cruzeiro were beaten in 2009 by Estudiantes. A future LSA will look at Fluminense’s defeat in 2008 and ask if they have finally recovered from their broken heart that almost killed the club.

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Inter seek historic double

Copa Libertadores Final to be settled tonight

Several months ago LSA predicted that Inter would win both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores in the same year. Tonight Inter PA should turn that prediction into reality when they face Guadalajara Chivas in the second leg of the final of the Copa Libertadores in their own Beira Rio Stadium in Porto Alegre. 

Inter won the first leg in Mexico by a 2-1 scoreline that underestimated their superiority on the night. Although Guadalajara took the lead on the stroke of halftime Inter did not panic and kept playing their disciplined organised brand of football. Giuliano equalised in the 72nd minute and four minutes later captain Bolivar clinched a well-deserved victory.

Before the game Inter had expressed some worries about having to play on Chivas’s new synthetic grass pitch. But afterwards they were full of praise for the smoothness and trueness of the surface. In a lesson to his soon to be teammates at Spurs, excellent young midfielder  Sandroadmitted that the surface was ideal for playing good football on and that their fears had been groundless.

This 2-1 victory should be enough to guarantee Inter their second Copa Libertadores title in 5 years, having won the crown in 2006 with a two leg victory over Sao Paulo, the side they beat in the semi-finals this time. Several of that 2006 winning team squad, Bolivar, Indio, Fabiano Eller , Tinga, Rafael Sobis and Renan are still with Inter and are likely to feature at some point. Indeed Fabiano Eller is on course to get his third Libertadores winners medal having been part of the Vasco triumph in 1998.

Bolivar, Fabiano Eller, Tinga, Rafael Sobis and Renan were sold after the 2006 triumph but the first two returned  a while ago and the latter three were signed over the summer to be available for the assault on the Copa Libertadores.

Roth - too experienced to allow his side to be complacent

Highly experienced manager Celso Roth will not allow his players to make the mistake of assuming they only have to turn up to win. He will no doubt make them watch the video of Guadalajara winning in Chile in the second leg of their semi-final against Universidad de Chile after a poor performance at home. Under Roth, Inter PA are not an adventurous attacking side in the classical Brazilian style. They are more a well organised, hard working, business-like side who play a cautious 4:4:2 system. In goal Renan is regaining his confidence after a failed adventure in Spain and should keep Abbondancieri on the bench. Right back Nei is solid and left back Kleber is a classy experienced internationalist. At centre back Bolivar and Indio are very sound and are backed up by Fabiano Eller who has seen and done it all in two continents.

It is the midfield that makes them such a successful team. In the more withdrawn middle spots are young  Sandro, already an internationalist and old Tinga just back from Germany and ready to star. Giuliano who will take Sandro’s place when he flies out to join Spurs on Friday has already scored crucial goals in the last two rounds. Two Argentineans Guinazu and D’Alessandro provide the creative genius and playmaking. Up front young Taison plays off the big centre forward Alecsandro and drops back to make a 5 man midfield when Roth wants to consolidate. Rafael Sobis is not yet fully match fit but has more skill and class than Alecsandro and may appear at some point.

This team should be good enough to see off Guadalajara and make their capacity crowd very happy. Even if they blow it, they will be going to the World Club Cup in Abu Dhabi in December since Mexican clubs, playing in the Libertadores by invitation not right, are not eligible to qualify for the World Club Cup representing South America. Inter Milan will be strong favourites to beat Inter PA in the Final of the World Club Cup. But then that’s what the bookies thought in 2006 when they favoured Barcelona to take the crown, but Inter PA beat them 1-0

LSA will report the outcome of the Copa Libertadores Final in the next few days.

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Mano and the Santos Boys restore the smile to the face of Brazilian football

Dunga the scowl on the face of Brazilian football

Most Brazilian football supporters, which is about 180 million people, found the recent World Cup even more disappointing and depressing than the rest of us. Not so much because of the failure of their team, because that’s what a quarter final loss was to them, but by the unwillingness of their team to play the ‘jogo bonito’ (beautiful game) that they believe is their natural birthright. The blame for this double failure is generally placed by most Brazilians squarely on the shoulders of coach Dunga, but it might more fairly belong with the people who appointed Dunga in the first place. Although Dunga had no previous coaching experience he turned out actually to be a very good coach, no surprise to those who knew his game as a very thoughtful, if very hard player. But his personality, as hard as his play, was never going to lend itself to an approach that placed entertainment above success. With his reputation as a player based mainly on his hardness and defensive qualities it came as a surprise to many that as Xavi of Spain broke World Cup passing record after passing record in South Africa, it was Dunga’s records he was breaking. Dunga was a very influential player for Brazil, leading the play from the back. Dunga played in 3 World Cups, lifting the trophy as captain in 1994.

Dunga proved a successful coach with victories in the America Cup in 2007 and the Confederations Cup in 2009. For most of his time in charge Brazil were in the number one ranking produced by FIFA. Nor was he as negative and defensive a coach as his public image would suggest. He generally played with two forwards up front supported by at least one attacking midfielder, usually Kaka. He sometimes even flirted with two forwards and two attacking players, before he ran out of patience with Ronaldinho. But generally there was a cautious element both to his selections and to the style of play of his team, with always two defensive midfielders carrying out the duties he used to perform. Most Brazilians had their worst pre World Cup fears confirmed by Dunga’s selection of players for the trip to South Africa. He stuck with the unloved Felipe Melo and veteran Gilberto Silva in midfield and left out the best defensive midfielder in Brazil, Hernanes, a far superior player. He left out Adriano up front, probably correctly given his renewed problems with drink. But more controversially he omitted young AC Milan star Pato and plumped for the more pedestrian Grafite. He omitted Ronaldinho no longer the World’s greatest player of 4 years ago but still capable of flair and magic. But worst of all he left out the two brightest new stars of Brazilian football midfielder Paulo Henrique Ganso and forward Neymar who had driven Santos to Sao Paulo State triumph alongside their loan signing Robinho who Dunga did include. A great campaign had been launched in Brazil to take a chance on these two. It was supported by Pele amongst others. The very volubility of the campaign probably doomed it, since Dunga with his perverse streak was not going to be seen to be dictated to by anyone, certainly not everyone.

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Celtic on the Eve of Destruction says Barry Maguire

Barry Maguire qualifies for Eire

 Young Utrecht midfielder Barry Maguire believes that the pressures on Celtic in their upcoming Europa League tie will be much greater than on his own team Utrecht, since failure to qualify for Europe this season would leave Celtic on the Eve of Destruction. Utrecht are not expected to qualify so the pressure on them will be much less, which Maguire believes could give the men in red and white an advantage. Maguire, a promising young player, should be of particular interest to Celtic supporters given his links with the Republic of Ireland. Although he regards himself as Dutch and proud of it, through his Irish father Maguire is eligible to play for Eire. In January 2009 he was selected for the Eire Under 21 squad but withdrew the day before the game saying he still hoped to play for Holland one day. Maybe the tricolours on show at Celtic Park might help him reconsider his allegiances.

The second level of joke allusion in the title and opening paragraph of this article will almost certainly be lost on most of the GGW readers, who probably weren’t even born in 1965 when “Eve of Destruction” became the most political ever number one hit song, with its heartfelt worries about the consequences of war and nuclear weapons on the future of the human race. If you don’t know the song, either get your rocker grandfather to play it for you or google ‘Barry McGuire Eve of Destruction’ and listen to it. Then remember that failure to qualify for Europe though a disaster is not really the end of the world.

FC Utrecht underachievers hampwered by debt

Utrecht are the great underachievers of Dutch football. They come from the fourth largest Dutch city but have never remotely equalled the big three, Ajax Amsterdam, Feyenoord Rotterdam and PSV Eindhoven, who have all won the European Cup/Champions League as well as many Dutch titles and Cups. Utrecht have won the Dutch League only once, in 1958, as DOS Utrecht before the 1970 amalgamation produced one single Utrecht club, FC Utrecht. They have won the Dutch Cup three times, most recently in 2003 and 2004. But that team was ripped apart by debts of over 40 million euros and Utrecht have never recovered financially or on the park. When you consider the paralysing effect of a £30million debt on Rangers, then it is no surprise Utrecht have struggled to overcome their level of debt. It has been left to smaller clubs like AZ from Alkmaar and Twente from Enscede to provide the opposition to the Big 3, the “best of the rest” that Utrecht feels is their birthright. Like Rangers Utrecht are not really in a position to sign players and other than two young Australians unlikely to face Celtic, the side has not been strengthened for the prospect of European football. Indeed the squad has been weakened from last season with the loss of several experienced squad members.

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Total Revolution at Villarreal brings first trophy

Villarreal CF The changing of the Guard

Consider this Villarreal lineup. In goal the safe and dependable Diego Lopez. For the back four at right back the highly experienced Javi Venta; at centre back the fabulous Double G force, Godin and Gonzalo, internationalists both; and at left back Marcano, a Spanish Under 21 internationalist.

A defensive midfield pairing of Marcos Senna, star of Spain’s Euro 2008 championship victory, alongside Eguren, a Uruguayan internationalist. Two highly skilled Argentinians in offensive midfield, Ibagaza and Escudero.

Further forward, an advanced midfielder Robert Pires playing behind the sole front man, the hard working Joseba Llorente.

That is a better side, certainly a better balanced side, than many of those played last season by Pellegrini’s replacement Valverde. Valverde’s teams never seemed to know exactly what he wanted them to do and how he wanted them to play. The team outlined above would know how to play the Villarreal way, after all except for  Marcano, all had been managed by Pellegrini and taught his ways.

 Yet not one of these 10 outfield players will be part of new Manager Garrido’s top team for the coming season. Indeed 8 of them have already left the club over the summer and the other two, Senna and Gonzalo Rodriquez,  have both had pretty clear messages that they are not part of Garrido’s first eleven, or in Gonzalo’s case not even part of the first team squad.

Godin Villarreal sell one of the top centre backs in the world

Of the 8 departees the most mourned and the most missed on the pitch will be Diego Godin. Godin was Villarreal’s best player last season, topping the Spanish statistical charts for successful tackles made, and generally proving his class as one of the best half dozen centre backs in world football. This status was confirmed in the World Cup where along with ex-Villarreal star Forlan, he helped guide Uruguay to the semi-finals. Last season President Fernando Roig had given hints that Godin might be sold but only if some club matched his valuation of 25 million euros. Now Godin has gone, to Atletico Madrid, and yet the Villarreal coffers have not been swelled by anything like that amount of money. The transfer arrangements have been complicated and shrouded in secrecy but it would appear that only about 7 million euros have actually come to Villarreal. Apparently Atletico Madrid have bought only 50% of the player for just under 10 million euros, with a commitment to buy the other 50% next summer. And it emerged that Villarreal only owned 70% of Godin in the first place, hence the diminished amount actually received.

There is some surprise that he has been sold to Atletico, given the grumblings all last season about Villarreal being handicapped by not yet receiving all the transfer fee agreed for Forlan, sold to Atletico in summer of 2007. And in letting them have Godin they have strengthened one of their direct rivals for those essential Champions League places, in their area of greatest weakness. Surely it would have been better selling him to an Italian or English club?

Frankly none of the other 7 will be greatly missed. Robert Pires was a great player with Villarreal and last season he had patches of inspired form and even scored some crucial goals. But even as a great Pires admirer, a s a man as well as a player, I cannot really argue with Garrido’s decision that his era at Villarreal was over. He would have been interested in going to Celtic but the thoughts there appear to have been that at pushing 37 he was too old. But Celtic could surely use a man who can hold the ball and pass it intelligently, controlling his side’s play  even if only in 45-60  minute bursts. It is a surprise, to Pires as well as others, that no other team has sought to access his fine football mind for one last swansong.

Javi Venta, a great club servant had overstayed his time at Villarreal. Marcano impressed Valverde but no-one else and has been lent to Getafe where he will play in the first team. Ibagaza and Escudero were both major disappointments last season. Eguren fell victim to a fatal combination of his ill-disciplined anger at Valverde’s incompetence and to the full maturation of Bruno into one of the best holding midfielders in Spain. Llorente was a grafter who would run all night for you but he blatantly lacked the class and control required at the highest level.

Other than Godin the release of the other seven brought in little hard revenue. Javi Venta, Pires and Ibagaza went free, out of contract. Marcano brought only a small fee for his loan. Llorente and Escudero brought in 5 million euros between them with more to come later if Boca purchase the other 50%. So overall only about 12.5 million euros was raised, but at least many of the highest earners were removed from the wage bill.

Marchena come to teach Villarreal how to win medals

To replace these 8 departures only two new faces have arrived at the club. Carlos Marchena the crude but determined warrior from Valencia who brings with him winners medals not just from the World Cup and Euro 2008 with Spain but also the Spanish League, the Spanish Cup and the UEFA Cup with Valencia. Marchena has more medals the rest of the Villarreal pool of 25 players put together and it is President Roig’s fervent hope that this proven ability to win will rub off on his new team mates. He is not as gifted or as subtle as either of the Double G duo, but he is probably more determined than both put together.

The other new face belongs to Borja Valero. Some might call him a West Brom reject but last season on loan at Mallorca he was the key influence in their very successful season. He ended up as the top rated player in the whole of Spain, above all the super stars of Barcelona and Real Madrid in Don Balon’s annual ratings. That ranking meant that over the last 6 seasons Villarreal have had 4 of the top ranked players Riquelme, Santi Cazorla, Senna and now Valero. Quite a record.

The money Villarreal spent on these two signings took around 7.5million of the 12.5 received from outgoing players, leaving the club with a transfer balance of around 5 million euros net profit. A useful contribution in the new era of austerity preached by Roig.

But the true story of the summer ins and outs is the ten players who have been added to Garrido’s first team squad at no extra cost. All ten of these newcomers have been promoted from last season’s Villarreal B team, who finished 6th in the Second Division at their first attempt despite Garrido regularly weakening the team by pulling key players away to sit on the first team bench.

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Last word on the Braga fiasco

 

Braga deserved to go through

Last night provided further proof that money and tradition are not everything in football and that hard work, discipline and good organisation can still bring rewards.

 Braga are a good, well-organised team who play to a defined pattern and work hard to implement the instructions of their top class coach, Paciencia. But they have no top class players, they lack creative inspiration other than Alan in midfield,  and they have no class goalscorers upfront. They are unlikely to progress to the Group Stages whichever of Ajax, Sevilla, Spurs, Werder Bremen or Zenith they draw in the playoff round. They are less good a team than they were last season and they are unlikely to finish in the top 3 in the Portuguese League.

Yet this team played Celtic off the park over 180 minutes. A Celtic team with a stronger player pool and reinforced by better quality and much more expensive signings. The explanation for this  lies with organisation. Paciencia is a very good coach. For over a year now he has trained his players thoroughly in the pattern he wants them to play, and every player knows their role and what the coach and their teammates expect of them. They are solid in defence with two strong centre backs well protected by two holding midfielders. Their new left back, known as Elderson now despite playing in the World Cup twice as a substitute under his Nigerian name, emphasised by comparison how Celtic still have not solved their left back problem.

Alan the classiest act on the park

 Alan in midfield has genuine class and when required can push up as a third forward. Upfront they are pedestrian although Paulo Cesar took his goal well and can also function in midfield. So they can fluidly change quickly from 4:4:2 to 4:3:3 or 4:5:1 depending on circumstances and the coach’s command. As  a team this group of players is stronger than the sum of their parts which is not a statement anyone would make about the current Celtic squad.

It remains to be seen whether Lennon has the tactical nous and sophistication to create systems and patterns for his players that will enable such a statement to become true for them. Unfortunately he does not really need to do so to triumph in Scotland given the paucity of opposition. Strong motivational skills would probably suffice in that context. But if Celtic are ever going to become a feared name in Europe again he will need to make them a far better organised team, with their own distinctive patterns of play. If he wants a leader on the park he could do worse than consider a previous GGW suggestion and rescue Hugo Viana from what looks like a year’s well paid exile with Valencia’s reserves. It would be ironically appropriate if he could provide for Celtic the kind of midfield leadership and inspiration that took Braga to their current heights.

Celtic are guaranteed a seeded place in Friday’s Europa League draw which means they should avoid all the class teams there including Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa, Juventus, Porto, Atletico Madrid, Villarreal and PSV Eindhoven. The full picture will not become clear until after tonights third round qualifying ties are completed but most of the non-seeded teams should not cause even the current Celtic team too much trouble. GGW would suggest that 4 to avoid in Friday’s draw are Borussia Dortmund, Montpellier, old foes Rapid Vienna and the PAOK Salonica team that almost eliminated Ajax. Also  arrange of competent Eastern European teams.

GGW will provide  a full profile of whatever opponent does come out of Friday’s draw

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Braga-ing rights still up for grabs

Braga 3-0 up but not definitely through

Greengreenworld made a classic mathematician’s error in its last post “Celtic to get Braga-ing rights”. It concentrated on a thorough examination of one side of an equation while making only a sloppy assumption about the other side. Even after last Wednesday’s performance against Celtic which resulted in that 3-0 win, GGW sticks with its conclusion that Braga are not as good a team as they were last season. GGW is confident they will not finish in the Top 3 of the Portuguese League this coming season and would happily take bets on that topic from any Celtic supporter who feels otherwise. Braga are a decent, well-organised team who play to a defined pattern and work hard to implement the instructions of their top class coach. But they have no top class players, they lack creative inspiration and they have no natural goalscorers upfront. If they qualify for the Playoff Round of the Champions League none of the seeded teams will fear being drawn against them. In assuming Celtic should prevail against them, GGW made certain assumptions. One was that the Celtic of this new season would be a better team than the Celtic of last season. GGW assumed that this improvement in one side coupled with the deterioration in the other, would tip the balance of what last season would have been a tie that Braga might have been expected to win, into a situation where Celtic would be seen a s the more likely to prevail. Part of this expectation was based on the assumption that Celtic’s close season recruitment was of a significantly better quality than Braga’s. Cha Du-Ri , Efrain Juarez, Joe Ledley and Daryl Murphy have much more class and international experience than Leandro Salino, Rodrigo Lima, Elderson and Helder Barbosa. Indeed Elderson, a Nigerian, is the only one with any international experience. Another assumption made was that Celtic’s quality of pre-match friendly games was against sufficiently better opposition than Braga’s had been. Teams like Manchester United and Sporting Lisbon and two match fit MLS sides Philidelphia and Seattle were all better than Athletic Bilbao the only serious opposition faced by Braga. But the most important assumptions were that new manager Lennon would have worked out that he had the better side and send his team out mentally and physically prepared and organised to prove their superiority, and that they would work harder than the Portuguese to get the kind of result their superiority warranted. (continue reading…)

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Celtic should get “Braga-ing” rights ok. Braga not as good as last season

The resemblance to Arsenal is deliberate - but ends with the strip

Braga do not have a playing squad brimming with international class talent. There was not a single current internationalist in the squad for the Presentation Game against Athletic Bilbao that was their main preparation game for the tie against Celtic now fixed for Wednesday 28th July in their AXA Stadium.

In building their squad Braga have relied on the close links between Brazil and Portugal and no less than 15 of the squad likely to face Celtic were born in Brazil. But none of them are good enough ever to have played for the country of their birth.

 There is no doubt that last season, 2009-2010 Braga were a team that played football that was both effective and attractive. But that team has been dismantled. International class goalkeeper Eduardo has been sold to Genoa. The two classy attacking full backs, Joao Pereira and Evaldo have both been sold to Sporting Lisbon. Most importantly the midfielder behind their most constructive plays, Hugo Viana has left, recalled by Valencia. Valencia do not want him but neither Braga nor even Sporting Lisbon who expressed a strong interest, can afford to buy him. His spell in the United Kingdom with Newcastle United was not a total success but Viana is that rare creature a creative midfield player capable of bursts of genius and Neil Lennon could do worse than consider him as a more constructive and harder working option than McGeady or Nakamura. To add to Braga’s midfield loss, Viana’s water carrier from last season, Mossoro, is seriously injured and will not play against Celtic. So 5 of last season’s team have gone, including their 3 international class players. And the good news from Celtic’s point of view is that not only do the individual replacements not have the same class, the effect of the loss on the team’s cohesion and understanding has been considerable. (continue reading…)

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