Wednesday, 22 October 2014

There's a new junior blue on the block...



If you know me via social media, you'll already be familiar with the new arrival in my life. For on 18 September 2014 at 04:53, I welcomed my one and only son into the world, Vincent Samuel Albie. I've previously shared my pregnancy experience on my sister blog This Girlie Life, available to read here. You can also read the story about my birth (which lasted for an hour!) and the first moments with Vincent here

It was difficult to put into words just how I felt when I first held him in my arms. I was lucky because I thoroughly enjoyed both my pregnancy and my labour, knowing that it was a pathway to meeting my son and bringing him into the world. The first month of his life has been incredibly fulfilling and full of the most treasured, precious moments. He's the love of my life and we are embarking on the most exciting journey together, one that I've waited for my entire life. 

The first few hours being a Mama

It goes without saying that Vincent is already one of the newest City fans on the block. For the first season in a long while I haven't renewed my season ticket, deciding (sensibly!) to focus all my energies on my beautiful baby boy and giving him the best possible start in life. I will probably have one again in the future, but I don't think it's practical and financially savvy to have kept it, seeing as I wouldn't be able to get to many games this season. For some reason there's a stigma regarding fans who don't attend games and I think if you have a valid reason, it's utterly baffling that you should be lambasted and criticised for it. For the record, if you or anybody else thinks this makes me any less of a fan, please do come and have this discussion with me face to face and I'll be delighted to enlighten you! 


21 weeks into my pregnancy, celebrating City winning the Premier League

Vincent has already had a very City-related pregnancy journey, having been inside me at many games at the Etihad, including when we won the Premier League (when he was in my tummy on the pitch celebrating!) and at Wembley for the Capital One Cup final victory. With his parents both being big Blues, he will be following City for many years to come.

If you're on Twitter and you don't already follow me, feel free to 'add' me at @kippaxgirlemily for updates on life with my little man and all things football-related. As I adjust into life as a Mum I'll be updating this blog as and when I find the time with the usual football articles. I'll also be updating my sister blog, This Girlie Life, with all things baby and life-related. Come and share the journey with me!

Saturday, 16 August 2014

It's baaaaaaaack! Hello Premier League...



FIVE THINGS CITY FANS CAN EXPECT AHEAD OF THE 2014/15 SEASON


It doesn’t seem like two minutes have passed since Vincent Kompany held the blue ribbon-clad Premier League trophy aloft in front of a rapturous crowd at the Etihad Stadium. City had won their second league title in three years, a first under Chilean manager Manuel Pellegrini.  A successful season all round; the League triumph their second trophy this year after they had already secured the Capital One Cup.

But now the 2014 World Cup has been and gone and the 2014/15 season is back with a bang, City will be looking to clinch a hat trick of Premier League titles. The Blues have strengthened during the summer, with signings Willy Cabellero, Bacary Sagna, Bruno Zuculini, Fernando, Eliaquim Mangala all joining the Champions- and Frank Lampard on a six month loan from sister club New York City FC.


It’s always a mean feat trying to predict what to expect from City with the dawn of a new season upon us, particularly with the club being so unpredictable at the best (and worst!) of times.

A new signing…in the form of Stefan Jovetic


Despite the fact that the Montenegrin signed for the Blues from Fiorentina for £22 million before the start of the 2013/14 season, his debut campaign in England was plagued with injury. The 24 year old was hotly tipped for success in the Premier League, but was limited with game time and ended up scoring six goals in an ultimately frustrating campaign for the striker.

But fully rested throughout the summer and injury-free (touch wood!), Jovetic has enjoyed an electric pre-season, scoring five goals in six appearances. He looks sharp, focused and absolutely full of the promise of delivering what was expected of him last summer. It will be intriguing to see how Pellegrini rotates his strike force: with Alvaro Negredo out for three months with a broken metatarsal, the Chilean will choose between Sergio Aguero, Edin Dzeko and the in-form Jovetic to bag the goals for City. With the Montenegrin looking so irresistible, Pellegrini will no doubt be looking to see if he can continue his rich vein of form into the new Premier League season – and beyond.

A tussle between the sticks


Much has been said about the whole Joe Hart saga from last season. England’s number one goalkeeper was ‘rested’ for a few games, with Costel Pantilimon stepping into the fray until Pellegrini felt it right to introduce Hart back into the starting line-up. Pantilimon has since been released by the club and has gone to Sunderland, but the signing of Argentine goalkeeper Cabellero means genuine competition for the goalkeeping spot at City.

Manager Pellegrini has previously worked with Cabellero at Malaga, the club he was signed from for £6 million. The 32 year old has already stated his intentions, insisting that he is delighted to be linking up with his former manager again, but has also joined the Blues not to settle for a place on the bench, but to challenge Hart and provide genuine competition to be the top stopper.

Cabellero should be at home straight away in Manchester, with his existing relationship with Pellegrini and being surrounded by fellow countrymen Aguero, Martin Demichelis, Pablo Zabaleta and Bruno Zuculini easing his transition from Spain. Having featured in pre-season, it will be interesting to see if he’s a man of his word and can mount a serious bid to overthrow Hart as City’s man between the sticks.

A winning spine


Since City broke their trophy duct back in 2011 by winning the FA Cup, the club have stuck with a familiar line-up. Captain Vincent Kompany has been vital in defence and Yaya Toure crucial in midfield. Then the diminutive Argentine Aguero joined in July 2011 and has been essential to the success of the team, providing us with that incredible moment on May 13 2012, snatching the Premier League trophy away from the clutches of rivals United in the final seconds of the season.

It’s having that consistency (barring injuries) in the line-up that has been pivotal to the on-going success at City. The familiar spine of Kompany-Toure-Aguero, along with other fundamental players like Zabaleta, David Silva, Dzeko and Hart, know how it feels to take the Blues from a side competing for honours to being champions. Keeping that group of players at the club and adding individuals in key positions has been a critical element to the ongoing success and it's a testament to just how valuable this players are that Silva, Aguero and Kompany have all received big money, five year contracts over the summer. 

Whereas last season City’s biggest title rivals Liverpool hadn’t experienced the pressure of a title run-in, the Blues had been there and done it all before – and won. They knew all about coming back from behind, keeping cool heads, remaining focused and fighting until the end. That was the difference. It could prove to be the difference yet again this season.

Yaya Toure in the sky blue shirt


Without doubt, the biggest talking point City-wise during the summer break was Yaya Toure. The Ivorian caused a huge stir by posting a series of cryptic tweets post-season hinting to being unhappy due to the club allegedly forgetting his birthday. City strongly refuted the accusations, posting a video of Toure being presented with a birthday cake and further photographs supporting this.

Toure, aided largely by agent Dimitry Seluk, then proceeded to say he would make a decision about his future at City after the World Cup and promptly closed his Twitter account. After further ramblings regarding racism and tribulations being an African footballer, the midfielder finally put to rest all the speculation in July by announcing that he would honour his contract and stay at the club until 2017.

The whole palaver has been nothing but baffling after Toure enjoyed his most successful season to date at City, scoring 20 goals from midfield. A colossal presence in the side, he has been critical to the club’s success to date. Many fans will be thankful the Ivorian has put an end to the bizarre saga he caused during the summer; no player is irreplaceable, but Toure leaving would have provided Pellegrini with a big headache and a huge void to fill. Instead, the club can now concentrate on their title defence with him at the heart of their midfield.

More drama


As previously mentioned, it wouldn’t be City if they did things the easy way, or as predicted, or in any way conventional. In fact, going on past experience, it wouldn’t be City if they had the Premier League trophy in the bag before the final day of the season. Last season, nobody could’ve really expected the away defeats at Cardiff and Aston Villa, although losing three points at the Stadium of Light has almost turned into a given of recent seasons. The 2-2 draw at home to Sunderland during the final few games proved to be an imperative point gained rather than two dropped when at the time many Blues had given up hope of the title.

But it’s the twists and turns that sets City apart from the rest. The club has a history of sending their fans on an emotional roller-coaster, from the much-maligned dark days of the late 1990s to the journey pre-takeover and beyond. Many of the recent commercially-attracted fans won’t be aware of just what a journey the club has been on to get to this point, many newborn Blues will only have the stories to listen to in disbelief of how sarcasm and self-deprecation carried a lot of City fans through those Saturdays of defeats by Stockport County at Maine Road.

Yet the drama has never once deserted them. It’s a relentless ride that prevents complacency from setting in, always remembering where the club has come from to get to the current heady days. Expect the drama to continue – always expect the unexpected.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

48 Years and Counting...England's Epic Fail in Brazil...





Although the level of expectation was noticeably subdued this year, the whole country still got behind the Three Lions hoping to be pleasantly surprised. Houses and pubs were decked out with flags and bunting, flying the St. George’s cross high as Roy Hodgson’s predominantly young squad faced the tricky task of attempting to get out of a tough group in Brazil. Uruguay, Italy and Costa Rica posed a significant threat to England’s potential progression to the knock-out stages- but nobody could have quite expected what happened next.


As the quarter-finals of the World Cup get underway, the majority of the England players are sunning themselves on various beaches across the globe. Arriving home under a bleak and dark cloud of failure, the squad could only muster one point in what was a hugely disappointing campaign. Defeats to both Italy and Uruguay left England having to rely on other results going their way, a beacon of faint hope that was promptly extinguished when Italy failed to beat Costa Rica. Their final game – a formality after the previous defeats – saw England crawl to a lifeless 0-0 draw against Costa Rica. An uninspired, dull, tactless, goalless draw that epitomised England’s contribution to the 2014 World Cup in 90 monotonous minutes and raised multiple questions as to what the future holds for the national team. 

 

It’s hard to dissect what went wrong for England when barely anything went right. It was widely discussed that Hodgson had opted to pick a squad based on young talent, choosing to take midfielders Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard as the ‘veterans’. But the inclusion of talented youngsters in the squad encouraged a certain degree of optimism: Raheem Sterling, Ross Barkley and Luke Shaw all names emerging as the future for England with the potential to surprise gave grounds for hope. Sterling certainly didn’t disappoint, particularly during the 2-1 defeat to Italy and for spells drove England’s attack with pace and flair. Ross Barkley, mainly used as a substitute, looked lively and showed flashes of inspiration. But it was too much, too soon. Although it’s undoubtedly great experience for the youngsters, it was always going to be a tough ask throwing them in at the deep end in what, for most of them, would have been their first taste of a big international tournament winning full senior caps for their country. 

 

A lot of questions have been raised over Wayne Rooney’s inclusion in the starting line-up. Yes he set up Daniel Sturridge’s goal during the Italy game and yes, he scored against Uruguay. But that goal was a side-footed tap-in that would have been scored by any player in that position at that very moment. Excuses were made for Rooney when he was played out of position but overall his performances during the three games were largely ineffective. After an uninspired club season, are his best days behind him or will he use the experience to push on and be a driving force under new manager Louis Van Gaal at Manchester United next season? 

 

Love him or hate him, John Terry was one of the best defenders in the Premier League last season. His solid partnership with Gary Cahill attracts the plaudits and would have been a secure option for Hodgson – if Terry wasn’t retired from international football. Terry, along with Ashley Cole, were unavailable for selection. With no consistent back four, Hodgson fluctuated between Leighton Baines, Cahill, Phil Jagielka, Glen Johnson, Shaw and the much-berated Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. The defence has been the main bugbear for England, attracting a world of criticism, and it was largely ineffective, sloppy defending that led to England’s downfall throughout the tournament.


It’s always difficult to question an individual’s desire, but Steven Gerrard was hardly entering the tournament in the most ideal frame of mind. Slated for his now infamous slip that contributed to Manchester City pipping Liverpool to the Premier League title last season, by the time the Costa Rica game came round, Gerrard looked spent, both physically and mentally. Aged 34, he has already spoken out to say he will take some time to consider his international future after the side’s abject failure in Brazil. There’s no questioning Gerrard’s capabilities and skill, it had just been a difficult end to the season for him, one that was wasn’t helped with his misconstrued header that gifted Luis Suarez his second goal against Uruguay during their 2-1 victory. Similarly, Lampard will also be mulling over his future for England, with a move to the MLS for club football looking likely for the 36 year old. 

 

It could be down to not having enough winners in the squad. Only a handful of players have won silverware with their club teams, the same can apply to playing in the Champions League. Fingers have been pointed firmly in the direction of the influx of foreign players participating in the Premier League, therefore making it more difficult to breed English youngsters. Playing with confidence, or lack of, could have also been a decisive factor. There was no belief. It’s almost psychological: nobody expects anything from us, nobody is anticipating us to progress, so we don’t have to go full throttle. People’s expectations may have been subdued, but all we wanted to see was effort, passion and exertion. Go out there and give it the best you can do; then at least if it’s not good enough there can be no complaints. 

 

Instead of being a force to be reckoned with, England were a spent force. A side that nobody feared, with no bite, no fight and no pride. Back home after three games and no wins, they are the squad that has earned the unenviable title of the worst ever World Cup showing in the history of the national team. The FA has already given Roy Hodgson a vote of confidence, backing him to lead England through to Euro 2016. Is he still the man for the job? Was he ever? Roy will be hoping that the young Lion cubs he took to Brazil will grow in stature, experience and confidence by the time the tournament in France comes around.  They will have to channel this bleak feeling of failure and use that as motivation to succeed, to build their confidence and to up their game from Average Joe’s to World Beaters. Only then will they stand half a chance against even half-decent opposition.

 

By the time Euro 2016 comes around it will be 50 years of hurt. It never really stops us dreaming though, does it?


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Get ready for three weeks of total football...Copa Do Mundo 2014 is here!





Get your bunting up, your replica shirt at the ready and the beers on ice- the 2014 World Cup is almost upon us. For the next three weeks, the eyes of billions of people from across the globe will be focused on Brazil for what is the biggest tournament in football, with 32 countries set to compete for the honour of winning the infamous gold trophy. 



A galaxy of elite players from a variety of leagues has descended on Brazil to showcase their talent on the most prestigious stage of them all. From Real Madrid’s Ronaldo to Barcelona’s Neymar, the best of the best will be hoping to impress where it matters the most. The cream of the crop will perform in the depths of the rainforest, near the beaches of Copacabana and Ipanema and in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer in the country that didn’t invent football- but reinvented it.




But who’s got what it takes to become the 2014 World Cup Winners at the Estadio Maracana in Rio De Janeiro on July 13? Here’s my take on the top five favourites to win it in the South American sunshine…



Brazil



The tournament favourites with a distinct advantage- it’s on their turf. The Samba boys represent football for a country where it’s played barefoot in the street and on the beaches. The sport runs through their veins- and boy do the Brazilians know how to play it. Five times winners, the last time they won it was in 2002 in Japan, when they beat Germany 2-0 with both goals coming from Golden Boot winner Ronaldo.



Guided by Luiz Felipe Scolari, Brazil go into the competition with two warm-up wins to their name and are huge favourites to storm Group A, with games against Cameroon, Croatia and Mexico. But class oozes through the team in every position, from Davi Alves, Thiago Silva and Dante to Willian, Fernandinho and star man Neymar. When it clicks, it really clicks and makes for a wondrous spectacle- but will the pressure of being the home nation and favourites prove too much?



One to watch: It has to be Neymar.

Outright odds to win it: 3/1



Argentina



The Argentineans will be buoyed by the fact that they are familiar with the climate and they will be focused on getting one over the neighbours in their own back garden. The last time they won it was back in 1986 in Mexico for the second time, largely thanks to a star turn by a certain Diego Maradona, but with back to back wins in the warm up fixtures and a squad brimming with world class players, Alejandro Sabella will know his team is in with a real shot of lifting the gold trophy.



Group F has been relatively kind to Argentina, with games against Iran, Nigeria and Bosnia & Herzegovina. When you’ve got Angel Di Maria, Gonzalo Huguain, Sergio Aguero and Ezequiel Lavezzi amongst your arsenal, anything is possible. But it’s captain Lionel Messi that the team will be relying on to deliver the goods. Having never scored a World Cup finals goal, everybody is aware of what the striker is capable of conjuring up. If he turns it on, expect Argentina to shine. If it clicks, there’s no reason they can’t go all the way.



One to watch: Of course it’s Lionel Messi.

Outright odds to win it: 4/1


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

The Champions travel to Brazil to compete to become...Champions...




 

It’s credit to the strength and depth of talent that’s in City’s squad that they could almost field a full starting line up of internationals who have been called up for their respective countries for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A trio have been included in the Argentina squad: defender Pablo Zabaleta, defender Martin Demichelis and striker Sergio Aguero. A duo for England: goalkeeper Joe Hart and midfielder (not defender) James Milner. Bosnian striker Edin Dzeko and midfielder David Silva for Spain both also get the nod.  Defender Vincent Kompany, Ivorian Coast powerhouse Yaya Toure and Brazilian Fernandinho also feature in their countries squads. 


It’s a commendable mass of talent who will all be competing in the World Cup off the back of a double trophy-winning season, but there are notable omissions. Samir Nasri’s absence for France caused uproar, particularly after the impressive season the midfielder’s had. Instead he’s enjoying a summer in Los Angeles with his girlfriend (he doesn’t look too upset!). Both Jesus Navas and Alvaro Negredo were named in the preliminary squad for Spain, but failed to make it onto the plane. 


But out of the 10 Blues heading to South America, who are the top five to look out for during the tournament? With the bar set so high, it was difficult to narrow it down to just five, but these are the players I think will have the biggest say for their countries on the biggest stage of them all. I originally included England goalkeeper Joe Hart, but opted to go for players who’d feature for countries we’d most likely see progress the furthest in the competition. Ouch…


Yaya Toure - IVORY COAST



The Ivory Coast international couldn’t be going into the World Cup in finer form. 31 year old Toure is on the top of his game, having ended the season third best goal-scorer in the Premier League with 20 goals, a mighty haul from midfield. Capable of producing those something out of nothing match-winning moments, Yaya’s unique blend of strength, power and ability often results in incredulous goals and commendable assists. An international veteran of sorts, having played for the Elephants for 10 years and played in five Africa Cup of Nations tournaments, this will be the third World Cup for the midfielder. Expect the unexpected when it comes to Yaya- but I expect him to be the heartbeat of the Ivory Coast side.


Vincent Kompany - BELGIUM



Captain for both club and country, Vincent Kompany is a solid and much-respected defender. The 28 year old led City in a double-winning 2013/14 season and will be taking his consistent form to Brazil, having been named in the PFA Team of the Year for the second time. Belgium are regarded as many as being the dark horses of the tournament: the Red Devils are fifth favourites to win the competition behind Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Spain. Such an occasion calls for a cool head, so Kompany will need to make sure his temperament is in check and his tackling is spot on. He has been an ever-present in the warm-up games, comprehensive wins against Sweden, Luxembourg and Tunisia. This will be his first major international tournament – a major chance to showcase his capabilities amongst the elite.



Sunday, 8 June 2014

One Night In Turin, The Tears of a Clown...




  
When you say the name Paul Gascoigne, what’s the first thing that comes to your mind? Those tears in Italia ’90? His amazing volley against Scotland in Euro ’96 and subsequent dentist’s chair celebration? When he ruptured his knee ligaments during the FA Cup Final against Nottingham Forest in 1991? His ability and some of his thunderbolt goals?



Or is it when he turned up to comfort murderer Raoul Moat with a fishing rod and a bucket of chicken? His boozing with best friend Jimmy ‘five bellies’? When he ‘booked’ the referee during his Rangers days? When Vinnie Jones grabbed his testicles? Or the much-publicised alcoholism and family problems that have blighted Gazza throughout his life?



Gascoigne's career has always been touched with genius yet plagued with controversy and injuries. He came from a working-class background in Gateshead and had a love of football from the age of four. At the age of 13 he joined Newcastle as an apprentice and three years later, in 1983, had signed for them. He captained the youth team in 1984/85, who went on to win the F.A. Youth Cup.


His debut for Newcastle came as a substitute against Queens Park Rangers in April 1985 and it was on Tyneside where Gascoigne began to really establish himself. He was a tenacious, gutsy midfielder who was strong with sublime attacking flair. In the 1987/88 season he was crowned Barclays Young Player of the Year and had attracted the attention of several clubs, notably Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur. Although he was a Geordie through and through, Gascoigne thought the time was right for a transfer to further his career. He had scored 25 goals for Newcastle in 107 appearances, and was sold to Tottenham in the summer of 1988 for a British transfer record of £2.3 million.


Wednesday, 4 June 2014

We Are The Champions...Again!



 WE SEE THINGS THEY'LL NEVER SEE: PREMIER LEAGUE CHAMPIONS SEASON REVIEW 2013/14
 

Although the final day didn’t quite encompass the unequivocal drama experienced two seasons ago, when Martin Atkinson blew his whistle to signal full time, the outpouring of emotion at the Etihad Stadium was parallel to that witnessed on that special day. Thousands took to the pitch in euphoric glee. Grown men swept their children up and raced towards the turf, couples held hands, helping each other over the electronic advertising boards and groups of friends held aloft triumphant signs. Complete strangers embraced on the turf, delighting in unbridled joy. It had happened again.


Their team, my team, Manchester City, had just been crowned Premier League Champions for the second time in three years. It’s a feat the fans of this club can never get used to. Based on the evidence witnessed so far, there’s certainly a justification for such occasions to become the norm.

The club started the season with a new manager- 60 year old Chilean, Manuel Pellegrini. Having had success in Argentina, spells in La Liga at Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga had ended trophy-less. The previous season ended in disappointment for the Blues: beaten by Wigan 1-0 in the FA Cup final, manager Roberto Mancini left by ‘mutual’ agreement amongst a cloud of negativity surrounding dressing room unrest rumours. It was hoped Pellegrini would bring a more ‘holistic’ style to the dressing room. Nobody quite knew at the time what defined holistic: but if holistic is in fact defined by winning two trophies in your debut season in a new league, he most certainly delivered.


There had been no denying the quality that City had possessed through the season. After a shaky start, with away defeats at Cardiff and Villa, and a calamity mix-up at Stamford Bridge between Joe Hart and Matija Nastasic that gifted Chelsea three points, City really turned on the charm. Big scoring wins against Spurs, Norwich and United impressed and a 6-3 victory over fellow title challengers Arsenal left pundits and critics alike purring. Teams began to look intimidated, often fearful, when it came to playing against City. The football on display: inventive, inquisitive, imploring and incisive, was a delight to behold.