Speculation, it’s all just a Gray area.

Burnley Football Club have achieved so much more than we should have done at this stage of the season, we have 31 points and are only three points off surpassing our efforts from a couple of seasons ago. It truly has been a phenomenal season so far.

We have been amazing at home, having got 29 of our 31 points at Turf Moor with our away form being nothing short of awful. There have been signs of improvement recently but the most recent performance away at Swansea was poor and saw a dramatic late goal that ensured all points were thrown away.

Our fantastic season has had a few key players, and with Burnley being a club of a small stature in comparison to other Premier League teams, there will be increased speculation as to whether we can keep hold of the players we have.

The key players that are coming under transfer speculation are Tom Heaton, Michael Keane and Andre Gray. All three have either featured in, or been heavily linked to, the England squad and with this will come increased transfer speculation, as purists will argue that little old Burnley should not have three players in the England squad.

tom-heaton-burnley_3435250

It is clear to see why Everton would be interested in Tom Heaton as the ‘keeper position has been the weakest area for them since David Moyes left the club and Roberto Martinez attempted to replace the ageing Tim Howard with the unremarkable Joel Robles. Stekelenburg has been brought in by Ronald Koeman but again, he has not set the world alight and is easily replaceable.

Tom Heaton has been a phenomenal servant to Burnley since joining on a free transfer  from Bristol City, he has become club captain and a fan favourite. In addition to that, he has to have been our most consistent performer over the past three or four seasons and is a key component to our team.

You have to wonder, would it be possible to replace him? Ability wise, you could possibly look at Jordan Pickford from Sunderland but he looks destined for a bigger club than Burnley and also, he wouldn’t replace the influence that would be lost should Heaton leave. I don’t think we would get an offer with a fee great enough to tempt the Burnley board to sell.

Verdict – Irreplaceable and least likely to leave the club.

Andre_Gray_2016

Andre Gray, what a conundrum. Until the last couple of weeks I hadn’t seen his name linked to a move away from Turf Moor but now I barely see anything else. Tottenham Hotspur are considering a bid of around £30m to secure the signing of our key striker, which, if we’re honest, is an astronomical amount of money.

Andre has had a mixed season to say the least, his season has had fantastic highs and miserable lows. Old tweets came back to haunt him just hours after scoring his first Premier League goal against Liverpool in a 2-0 win earlier this season, so the ‘bad-boy done good‘ story was surpassed by the story of a Premier League striker being embroiled in homophobia.

Despite suffering a four-game ban for the abhorrent tweets, Gray has still managed 8 Premier League goals this season, which is a phenomenal return. A brace against Swansea, and a first ever Premier League hat trick for both Gray and Burnley against Sunderland have been the highlights.

There have been concerns about the striker’s consistency this season and his deal does run out in the summer of 2018. If we do receive an offer of around £30m for the striker, it would be very hard to turn down. He is our best striker and that is without question but I think Gray could be replaced, there are strikers out there that could come in and get goals with just as much frequency, so it is possible he could be sold.

Verdict – Replaceable (just about). As likely to leave as he is to stay, however if a new deal is not signed by the end of June, I’d expect to see Gray packing his things and moving on.

Michael Keane

As with Tom Heaton, Everton are the club that are most interested in signing Keane. Whilst there has been talk of him going back to Manchester United or even joining Manchester City, I think the Toffees would be a perfect fit for the centre half.

We have seen Michael Keane mature immensely whilst being at Burnley. He joined as a young centre half with all the potential of a top Premier League player, he had a fantastic pedigree and has gone from strength to strength whilst playing first team football.

He is a player that has outgrown Burnley with our current stature and therefore needs to move on. He has given his all during his time with the club, he has popped up with some vital goals (away at Hull being the most recent) and really should go on to be England’s best centre half. I don’t think any Clarets fan would begrudge him a move away but it is important any potential deal in the summer does not turn into a fiasco.

It is important to remember we signed James Tarkowski for a reason, to replace Michael Keane. Tarkowski is a tank; big, strong, powerful and almost as good on the ball as Michael Keane. He is a ready-made replacement for Keane and this should facilitate a faster sale.

Verdict – Nailed on to leave. Whilst he is our best defender, and with the exception of Steven Defour, probably our best player on the ball, he is not irreplaceable. We should cash in during the summer and focus on strengthening other areas of the pitch (midfield).

Will these players move come the summer transfer window, nobody really knows but with expiring contracts and as it’s now easier than ever for a player to manufacture a move away from a club anything can always happen. As Sean Dyche has said, other managers looking at our players and tempting them away with media releases is something we cannot control but I have faith in Dyche and the Burnley board to do the right thing for the club, as they have always done.

Personally, I believe that both Andre Gray and Michael Keane will leave the club in the summer but with reported sums of around £20m-£25m it might not be the worst thing in the world to have them leave. Arguably, neither are irreplaceable and we would effectively have £40m-£50m to spend on a striker, as we have a somebody ready to step up and take Keane’s place.

What do you think? Will we see any of the much touted trio leave Turf Moor this summer? I would really appreciate your thoughts on this, so get in touch!

Zlat’s all folks!

Today saw the final of the English Football League (EFL) cup, where Manchester United scraped their way to the trophy by beating a valiant Southampton side 3-2.

If I’m honest, the word ‘valiant‘ does not really do Southampton justice, perhaps considered as plucky underdogs before the game, it should be noted they hadn’t conceded a goal in the competition prior to Zlatan scoring a free kick in the 19th minute.

Southampton started brightly, continually pressing Manchester United and forcing them into more and more rushed passes with possession frequently being lost. It culminated in a disallowed Gabbiadini goal in the 11th minute, Cedric had cut inside following a mistake by Rojo and played a ball across the front of the goal, which Gabbiadini slotted home well. The decision was understandable, as Bertrand was in an offside position when the ball was played across, but it was a mistake that would prove pivotal.

This was a well crafted move from Southampton and showed just how well-drilled Claude Puel had his side, using their width and the lack of willingness in Martial and Mata to continually track the runs of Bertrand and Cedric to great advantage.

The first goal of the game was from a free kick that was rashly given away by Romeu, he had no business to slide in on Ander Herrera in a position that was just under 30 yards from goal. Zlatan did what Zlatan does, but not without a little help from Forster who was slightly late in setting off to try to make the save.

Southampton then resumed their pattern of play, continuing to be the better side, as they were for much of the final. Against the run of play, Jesse Lingard slotted home in the 38th minute. It was an extremely composed finish from a player that is yet to prove he is of sufficient ability to be a consistent Manchester United player for years to come.

Despite being the better side, it appeared as though Southampton would be heading into half-time 2-0 down, however that was not the case. On the stroke of half time, Southampton pressed home their advantage of having good width, matched with a great delivery from the right hand side by Ward-Prowse. Smalling missed the near post interception, and Bailly attempted some form of ‘Moonwalk‘ which Gabbiadini slipped behind and finished neatly through De Gea’s legs.

During the first half, Tadic kept finding space between Manchester United’s central midfielders and their centre halves, something that saw Michael Carrick introduced at half time for an understandably quiet Juan Mata.

This change did absolutely nothing to stem the flow of the game, Southampton again started the half brightly, creating good pressure and having a flurry of corners. It was from one of these corners that Gabbiadini tucked home what should have been his hat trick. It was an extremely composed and great finish, hit on the swivel and past an onlooking David De Gea.

From this moment, neither team really grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck. Controversy was almost afoot in the game, when Romeu and Herrera went up for an aerial challenge; Romeu’s elbow connected with Herrera’s face. The Saints midfielder had already been booked, and the Manchester United players again made their feelings very clear to Andre Marriner, but the referee stood firm and simply warned Romeu. The right decision in a cup final.

Manchester United found themselves in a similar situation, where Lingard had a little nibble at the heels of a very dynamic Nathan Redmond. It was almost identical to his first half booking but Marriner simply warned Lingard and allowed the game to continue. I thought the game was officiated extremely well by the referee, despite the pivotal offside decision.

All in all, Southampton were the better side, but finals especially are not about the performance and all about the result. It was an 86th minute corner that saw Southampton being undone. They had pushed players forward in the hope to win the game, and whilst admirable, this left them light at the back and Manchester United moved up the field with great purpose. Martial showed very good footwork and played the ball out to Herrera, all the while, Zlatan was drifting into what must have seemed like an acre of space in the middle of the box. Herrera needed to deliver and he did, drifting the ball perfectly on to Zlatan’s head, and from that moment there was never any doubt. The back of the net rippled, and broke the hearts of Southampton fans and players alike.

The ‘Ibrahimovic effect‘ has been profound, the big Swede has got 26 goals already this season, which for a free transfer is phenomenal. He has to be one of the best signings ever made by a Premier League side, the goals he has scored, impact in the dressing room and on the pitch have been vital. Mourinho made some big statement signings in the summer, with the club breaking the record transfer-fee on Paul Pogba, but it is consistently Ibra that shines and it’s frightening to think that he has missed some guilt edged chances throughout the season.

Mourinho becomes the first Manchester United manager to win a trophy in his first season, and that is some feat. Granted the squad that has been assembled has cost a lot of money and until recent cups, hasn’t delivered a great deal but you can’t help but feel Mourinho is getting a grasp of the task at hand and how he will move the Manchester United squad forward, and how he will go about winning their first title since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.

efl-cup

Wayne Rooney – English Premier League or Chinese Super League?

There has been an intense speculation regarding the future of Wayne Rooney in the past few days, although it should be noted he has come out and said he will not be leaving Old Trafford, as it is an exciting time to be with Manchester United. The question remains, how long will this be the case?

The speculation is that Wayne Rooney, Manchester United and England captain would be leaving our shores for the Chinese Super League before the end of their transfer window on the 28th of February. Indeed, his agent has been out in China to speak with the appropriate representatives regarding this move and, as is usually the case, there is no smoke without fire.

I want to take a bit of time to discuss the career of Wayne Rooney and the way in which he is viewed by sections of the media and football fans across the country. His career has not run without its fair share of controversy, whether it be his personal antics with women of a certain age or berating the England fans that had travelled to South Africa to watch an abject draw with Algeria. That being said, he has often shown fantastic ability and has racked up some phenomenal stats!

In 50 years time, when you look back on the career of Wayne Rooney purely on paper, he will have a claim at having been the most successful career of any England player to have played the beautiful game. He currently has 119 caps to his name, which is second in the all-time list, and only six behind Peter Shilton. Further to this, he has scored more goals than anybody else for his country, having surpassed Bobby Charlton in 2015.

If you add to this the fact he is one of the most decorated club players ever, and has won every club competition possible with Manchester United, again having surpassed Bobby Charlton’s goalscoring record, this time for Manchester United, in early 2017, he has had a phenomenal career and it is hard to believe that he is only 31.

However, there are some quarters that do not view Wayne Rooney’s career in the way the stats read, and rightly so. He is a professional footballer, currently earning in the region of £300,000 per week to play for arguably the biggest club in the country, but his performances for them have generally been below par. Add to that, no stand out England performances since Euro 2004, it is difficult to judge the manner in which he should be viewed.

He has never truly shown up for his country, and appears to have stumbled over the line for the records he has achieved, much like a worn out marathon runner, which he may well be, as he debuted what seems like a life time ago and has never had a long period of rest from the game.

Setting my stall out, I believe he is a phenomenal player and I would go as far as saying he is the best footballer that England has ever produced (again this is heavily influenced by his stats). I have wanted him to regain the kind of form that saw him scoring goals such as the volley against Newcastle United just seconds after arguing with the referee. The kind of form that he showed when he burst on to the scene for Everton scoring a fantastic goal against Arsenal, alas that has not yet happened. Fans of Wayne Rooney will probably have to accept this will not happen again, as he is now a different kind of player, one that has to rely on his football intelligence to produce performances but, again, this is yet to materialise fully.

Wayne Rooney is currently in transition, I do think he needs to pick his poison. In a sense that he either needs to try and morph into Zlatan, a man that will be the main striker and whilst they want to win, they also know their place is up front and battling with the centre halves. Or the other option is that he demands to drop deeper, and attempts to become a Steven Gerrard type player, but he might not have defensive mind or ability for that.

Whilst there would be a large amount of suitors for Rooney, they would have to be able to pay his hefty weekly wages and stump up a healthy fee, which Manchester United are likely to want before letting him go. Also, seeing Rooney leave would surely end his international career, as Gareth Southgate cannot continue to pick a player that is plying their trade in a league with such a poor standard.

The stats should speak for themselves, yet they do not. Rooney is full of passion and desire but is marred by poor form and the questionable tactics he used to obtain a bumper contract at Manchester United. I do not feel people will look back upon Wayne Rooney and miss him, in the same way players like Scholes, Gerrard and Beckham will be missed.

It would be the end of an era not only for Rooney himself, but also Manchester United, their fans and the entirety of English football. It could also see the beginning of a shift in world football power, with more and more British players potentially looking to leave to maximise their wealth in what can be such a short footballing career. Whatever happens, the whole of English football should salute his career but this cannot be guaranteed.

manchester-uniteds-wayne-rooney-during-training