Manchester United have completed the signing of Fulham defender Chris Smalling. The 20-year-old will join them for the start of next season, meaning he will play out the remainder of the current campaign at Craven Cottage.
Smalling has enjoyed a rapid rise to the top after playing for Maidstone until 2008 before joining Fulham and being made captain of their development squad. Since then he has only made two Premier League starts but is clearly a very highly rated young player.
In fact, it is being reported that Manchester United are paying around £7m to secure his services, so it is clear how much Sir Alex Ferguson rates him. Arsenal were interested in the player too, but had their bid turned down by Fulham.
As for Smalling’s two Premier League starts, they haven’t exactly been the most successful for him. On the 28th December at Chelsea, he scored an own goal in a 2-1 defeat and on Tuesday night in the 2-0 reverse at Tottenham, he was partly at fault for Peter Crouch’s opening goal.
However, Ferguson wouldn’t have brought him unless there was something special about him and there is no doubt that he has impressed during his handful of appearances for England’s Under-21 side.
The tussles between the red and blue halves of Manchester have always contained the raw passion and drama that any local clash does.
But given the divergence of fortunes between the two clubs in the past 20 years – City have dropped to as low as League Two while United have conquered Europe – some of the intensity has been taken away as all too often the Red Devils have ruled the roost over their near neighbours.
Instead, clashes with other members of the Big Four – Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea – have taken precedence for United as more than just bragging rights have been at stake.
But since the Abu Dhabi revolution at City, which has seen a huge injection of cash into the club, the “noisy neighbours”, as Sir Alex Ferguson called them, have been making a racket outside the Old Trafford gates.
It is hard to imagine a tougher or more significant run of games for Arsenal. Their next four league opponents are Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool, a season-defining set of matches that is followed by a trip to Porto in the Champions League last 16.
By late February the Gunners could be sitting on the top of the Premier League table and well on the way to a Champions League quarter final place. However, they could just as easily have slipped out of the title race and be facing a European recovery job at the Emirates.
It is for this reason that Arsene Wenger fielded a weakened team in Arsenal’s FA Cup fourth round clash at Stoke City, aware that his squad is ravaged by injuries and would be unable to cope with further setbacks.
It must have been a huge relief for Hammers fans when David Gold and David Sullivan completed their takeover of West Ham this week.
With the side effectively in the hands of an Icelandic state bank, inertia and stagnation were threatening to pull the club apart.
The players, staff and fans had no idea what was going to happen and, although they won’t admit it, I’m sure this will have affected results on the pitch.
But now the uncertainty is over and the club can start to head in the right direction. However, as revealed by the new owners shortly after their deal was completed, the problems inherited from the old regime still remain.
This is no Abu Dhabi style takeover. There will be no war chest for Zola to spend and no debts will be written off as small change. In fact only now is the true extent of the old regime’s lavish spending being revealed.
To say the African Cup of Nations began under a cloud would be the understatement of the year.
The tragic death of Togo’s assistant coach, press officer, and their Angolan coach driver following a machine gun attack put the whole tournament in doubt, with some questioning the choice of Angola as host – especially the use of the disputed and unsettled Cabinda region where the attack took place.
No blame can be attached to the Togo players for pulling out, football is probably far from their minds right now after such a harrowing experience, but the tournament itself should go ahead.
Bolton Wanderers chairman Phil Gartside has every reason to feel pleased with himself. In replacing Gary Megson with Owen Coyle he has made himself popular with the club’s supporters who will welcome the former Trotters player with open arms.
Gartside has done more than act on the demands of fans, although the constant criticism of Megson by many supporters was only going to have one outcome – he was never going to defy the betting odds and remain in his job. In appointing Coyle, Gartside has recruited one of the game’s brightest young managerial talents, a man who has the capability to make Wanderers the Premier League force they were under Sam Allardyce.
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