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Weekend One in the new look WSL with TV analysis and the usual suspects

06/09/2021 - Women’s Football

By Samuel Ketch, Editor-in-Chief

Sky Sports, BBC, and the FA Player – spot the odd one out. 

That’s right, the FA Player may be the one that’s sat by the side of the Women’s Super League for a while but it’s the only one which doesn’t have pre- or post-match analysis. 

Karen Carney and Casey Stoney stood in Sky’s studio on Friday night and – in a clip you can see on social media – discussed Ella Toone’s potential use as a false nine for Manchester United.  

It’s a moment in time for women’s football fans, as they watch the legitimisation of their game. It’s also a moment that feels belated, given the WSL has been – in the same way as the Premier League has been since 1992 – the top tier since 2010. 

The good news doesn’t stop there either. On Sunday it was announced that ITV would be showing the Lionesses fixtures, just like they show the Three Lions. The game grows in legitimacy every time a move like this is made, and with every growth in legitimacy comes more positive steps.  

It’s the perfect circle for the game to grow – the problem is ensuring that the circle has no gaps for the momentum to stop on. 

Anyway, let’s talk more about the action. 

The first round of fixtures for the 2021/22 season saw arguably the biggest clash in the league. Arsenal against Chelsea, at the Emirates. 

When the men’s game is in an international break, the women’s games get moved into the ‘main’ stadiums to try and draw bigger crowds – including those who wouldn’t normally go. 

This weekend witnessed 4 of the 6 WSL games moved. Only Manchester United (Friday night, vs Reading) and Aston Villa (Saturday afternoon, vs Leicester) didn’t move. So Goodison Park (Everton vs Manchester City), the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium (Spurs vs Birmingham), the Amex (Brighton vs West Ham) and, of course, the Emirates (Arsenal vs Chelsea) hosted the WSL for the weekend. 

Friday night, on Sky, saw Man United beat Reading 2-0 at Leigh Sports Village. There has been much controversy, in the women’s game circle of social media, about the lack of coverage for the game from the main Man United twitter account. Not one post, though there was plenty of time for the continued announcement of Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival. 

United’s Kirsty Hanson bagged the first goal of the campaign when Ella Toone split the defence to find Hanson’s run and the Scottish international poked home with the outside of her boot. 

Reading have right to feel aggrieved as, due to the lack of goal line technology, a shot by Brooke Chaplen that hit the underside of the crossbar before coming down landed over the line. It would have levelled the game, but alas it was not to be. 

And when United doubled their lead, there were calls for offside as Leah Galton appeared to be beyond the last defender – but the offside wasn’t given. A nice one two between Ona Batlle and Toone led to the Spaniard putting the ball in the top corner. 

The first of the non-televised games, hosted at the same time as the BBC showed Everton and Man City, was Aston Villa and Leicester. Interestingly Villa’s women play at the Walsall stadium – Bank's Stadium – and this game was played there too, despite the men’s international break. 

WSL newcomers Leicester dominated the first half and eventually took the lead through Natasha Flint’s long-distance strike that Villa ‘keeper Hannah Hampton fumbled. Up to that stage only Hampton’s saves had kept Villa in the game. 

But Sarah Mayling’s brilliant long distance free-kick and Remi Allen’s accidental finish turned the tides in just two minutes for Carla Ward’s team. 

The other early afternoon game, this one on the BBC, was not as tight. 

Man City stated their intent for this campaign with a 4-0 romp at Goodison. 

Goals from Vicky Losada, Janine Beckie, Khadija Shaw and Steph Houghton – a brilliant free-kick, though someone should tell Willie Kirk and his Everton defenders that jumping in the wall can help the goalkeeper out. 

The final game of Saturday saw Tottenham beat Birmingham 1-0 as Kit Graham’s cross became a shot and that was all. There were plenty of chances for Spurs in the game, but a lack of clinical finishing kept this score line down to one nil. 

Sunday, and the biggest game of the lot. 

Arsenal took the lead through Vivianne Miedema in the 14th minute, as she beat the offside trap and slotted home at the near post. 

The visitors levelled before half-time as Melanie Leupolz collected the loose ball from Millie Bright’s shot and played into an open Erin Cuthbert who placed the ball across goal and into the far-left hand corner. 

Beth Mead gifted Arsenal the lead again as Miedema played through two Chelsea defenders for Mead to race onto. The chance looked dead as Mead cut back, but then she unleashed an unstoppable left footed effort at goal. 

Mead then extended the lead when Maya Iwabuchi played her in. Mead tapped the ball past the onrushing Ann-Katrin Berger before taking another touch to lose the tracking defender and rolling into an empty net. 

There was some controversy, as replays seemed to show Mead was offside as the ball was played – but with no VAR, the decision stood. 

Emma Hayes’ team halved the deficit when Cuthbert whipped in a cross and Pernille Harder connected for a thumping header home; but that was all she wrote, as the game ended 3-2 to the hosts. 

After the match Hayes made a point of the absence of goal line technology and VAR, noting that while they have the product (meaning, the women’s game is a good enough level to be properly funded) they don’t have the equipment. 

The final game of the weekend saw Brighton host West Ham, and despite the visitor's early pressure the game turned on its head when Hawa Cissoko was sent off for handling Brighton’s Danielle Carter’s effort at goal. 

Inessa Kaagman converted the subsequent penalty to give Brighton the lead. Minutes later the lead would be doubled when the ball deflected off Carter and into the path of Lee Geum-min who beat the ‘keeper with a low strike. 

So, all in all, a good first weekend of WSL action in place of the men’s stuff. It’s well worth a watch catching up with the highlights via the FA Player – with individual match highlights, or the whole catchup show. 

Dominant Bradford can't make man advantage pay

06/09/2021 - League Two

By Fletcher Smith, Bradford City writer

Bradford City were unable to take command of the game with their man advantage as Walsall held on to split the points at Valley Parade.

The visitors started the clash with some attacking intent after obtaining a couple of corners but nothing really threatened the Bradford defence.

Eight minutes into the clash the Bantams started to look dangerous. The first chance came for Andy Cook, after Charles Vernam played a brilliant cross to the in-form forward his strike was cleared bravely off the line.

Carrying on with the pressure the Bantams created another chance. This time it was Gareth Evans who attempted an acrobatic effort which was tipped over by Carl Rushworth.

In the 14th minute the deadlock was broken, and it was the hosts who took the lead. Elliot Watt’s first-time strike from 20-yards out arrowed into the top right corner spectacularly.

Derek Adam’s side continued their domination going late into the first-half. Another chance was created by a lovely one-two between Gilliead and Cooke opened up space for a cross, Vernam met the lofted pass but his header narrowly missed.

Two minutes before the break the visitors equalised, Jack Earing scored his first professional goal after converting from close range.

Minutes after levelling the score Walsall’s captain Joss Labadie is sent off for a dangerous tackle on Gareth Evans.

Another chance was created for Cook, the Vernam-Cook partnership worked once again. Andy had a free-header after Vernam’s cross but sent it over the bar.

The hosts controlled majority of possession and attacking intent throughout second-half but the Saddlers were holding firm, denying any clear chances to be created.

The game ended 1-1. The visitors will be absolutely delighted with the point after going down to ten men. For City it'll feel like a loss after dominating the second half and creating many chances.

Sutton made to wait for Colchester trip

04/09/2021 - League Two

By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer

Sutton United will have another week to prepare for League action, as their match, away to Colchester United on Saturday September 4th has been postponed, it was confirmed on Friday evening (3rd Sept)

The following statement, which is available on Sutton United’s official website, reads:

“We have had to inform the league today, that due to the emergence in COVID-19 cases, coupled with international call ups and Injuries in the squad, we would be unable to fulfil the fixture.

The EFL will look into the circumstances surrounding the postponement and a rearranged date for the fixture will be confirmed after consultation with all parties”.

As a result of this, Sutton will stay 24th in the league after this round of matches, whatever happens. The Amber Army’s next league action will be the visit of Stevenage, on 11th September, when the Hertfordshire outfit visit the VBS Community Stadium.

Bantams look to return to winning ways

04/09/2021 - League Two

By Fletcher Smith, Bradford City writer

Bradford City will be aiming to return to winning ways following their 2-0 loss to promotion candidates Leyton Orient at the Breyer Group Stadium. Despite this recent setback Derek Adams side have recorded a 100% record at home in the Sky Bet League Two this season.

Walsall secured their first victory of the 21/22 campaign after a 1-0 victory against Stevenage after a 5th minute strike from Connor Wilkinson.

The player to watch for this fixture is Bradford’s top scorer Andy Cook, who has netted 4 times in 5 games - he will definitely be a threat for the visitors tomorrow.  The former Saddler scored a close-range strike in City’s 2-1 victory at the Bank’s Stadium last season.

The Bantam’s currently have 2 first-team candidates injured, Lee Angol and Abo Eisa are unavailable for this clash. Levi Sutton and Oscar Threlkeld are back into contention after both featuring in Tuesday’s Papa John's Trophy fixture.

Former Bantam, George Miller united with Walsall on deadline-day and is likely to be involved in the traveling squad which could see him debut for the West Midlands side.

A home win for Bradford gives you 7 points and an away win for Walsall claims 25 points.

 

Now more than ever, it’s important we get behind Women’s Football

03/09/2021 - Women’s Football

By Samuel Ketch, Editor-in-Chief

 

The Women’s Super League, the Women’s equivalent to the Premier League in England, has seen plenty of movement of players, managers and even TV channels as the 2021-22 season approaches tonight, 3 September.

The WSL will now be live on Sky and BBC as part of the new rights package that sees Sky pick two games to show exclusively while the BBC get one of their own. The other games will then be shown live, for free, on the official FA Player.

Over the course of a season, Sky will show 44 matches and BBC will show 22 – 18 of which must be shown on BBC One or BBC Two.

For the opening weekend of fixtures, Sky have chosen to put Manchester United vs Reading on Friday Night Football and the huge clash of Arsenal vs Chelsea on Sunday afternoon. While BBC will show Everton vs Manchester City on Saturday.

All six games will be on Footrace, and that will be the case every week of the WSL season.

The top three in the WSL is fairly settled – although one side nearly missed out last year, sneaking in by a single point.

Last year’s champions were Emma Hayes’ Chelsea, who pipped Manchester City on the final day. Arsenal finished seven points adrift which, in a team with just twelve teams, is a considerable drop off – especially considering, in the last non-Covid impacted season – they won the title (2018/19).

Expect these three teams to stay in contention, while you can also expect Everton – who have added the seven or eight key deals that their manager, Willie Kirk, wanted – and Manchester United to be in the mix to try and upset the apple cart in the top three.

United’s new manager, Marc Skinner, has seen a few big names leave but has largely kept hold of his squad. Skinner took over from Casey Stoney after she abruptly left the club which sparked players like Lauren James leaving the club in a mass exodus.

At the other end of the table, Birmingham narrowly avoided the drop last year while Aston Villa, West Ham and Tottenham have good squads theoretically but never caught fire last term.

There will be a battle at both ends of the table, with a wide gap to be expected between the Champions League clubs and the relegation scrappers come the end of the 22nd game week.

Footrace is proud to be providing this opportunity to predict on the WSL games ahead of another Euro hosted – this time entirely – in England next Summer. This is your perfect chance to learn everything WSL related.

PLUS if you fancy yourself as a good narrator, and would want to write about all things WSL – or even better your team – then get in touch with our Editor-in-Chief Samuel Ketch via email (sam@footrace.com).

Happy Footrace-ing, WSL fans. Welcome aboard.

Sutton go on the road again

03/09/2021 - League Two

By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer

The U’s are back on the road this weekend as they make the journey to the JobServe Community Stadium to face Colchester United on Saturday in the first match between the two teams for nearly 3 decades!

Colchester head into this one sitting in 13th Place and are unbeaten in three games following their last outing, a 1-1 draw with Rochdale last Friday. Sutton had competitive success for the first time this season on Wednesday night, as they overcame a young Crystal Palace side, 3-0 in the Papa John’s Trophy. The last action The Ambers had in League action, was last weekend’s heart-breaking 2-1 defeat to Oldham, in which two added time goals saw Oldham steal the points.

Sutton will need to keep an eye on former Ipswich frontman, Freddie Sears in this one. The Colchester marksman has notched two goals in his last three matches for Colchester and will look to cause some more harm to an opposition team again. Shot stopper, Shamal George, formerly of Liverpool has been in good form too for the hosts, with any Sutton forward knowing that top form will be required, if they wish to put the ball in George’s net.

Sutton gave plenty of players their first starts of the season in the EFL Trophy win on Wednesday, Joe Barden limped off with injury in the Palace victory, while Omar Bugiel is away on international duty with Lebanon for the World Cup Qualifiers, who picked up his 8th cap this week!

In terms of Footrace points for the fixture, home advantage is prominent again, with backing a Colchester win earning you 12 points. If you feel the draw is likely, that’ll win you 22 points. If you back an away, Sutton United win however, a mammoth 25 points will be coming your way.

Grading Wednesday’s summer signings

03/09/2021 - League One

By Jude Hall, Sheffield Wednesday writer

To say Darren Moore’s first summer at Hillsborough has been a productive one would be something of an understatement. Following relegation on the final day of the Championship season The Owls have seen a total of 13 departures including long-standing servants like Tom Lees, Keiren Westwood and Adam Reach leaving the club. And in another transfer window where Wednesday found themselves under the constraints of an embargo it looked set to be a measly few month at S6. However, Darren Moore and his staff have seemingly pulled off a transfer window masterclass bringing in 14 new players to Hillsborough on free transfers and loans, with The Owls squad now looking strong in every position, some suggesting it looks even stronger than last year’s championship team. I’ll take a look at each of Wednesday’s new recruits, giving them a grade based on how well they’ve started that Hillsborough and how useful I think they may be over the course of the season.

Bailey Peacock-Farrell: A

It was clear to all involved at Hillsborough that the Owls needed a reliable number 1 between the sticks. With the experienced Keiren Westwood either seemingly injured or frozen out by managers, the gloves were often given to Wednesday academy graduates Joe Wildsmith and Cameron Dawson. Dawson (26) and Wildsmith (25) have both flattered to deceive after some promising signs but also some howling errors in their 129 league appearances between them, with neither convincing enough to hold down the position as their own. 

Darren Moore fought off interest from championship outfit Birmingham City to secure Bailey Peacock-Farrell on a season-long loan from Burnley and immediately gave the new keeper the number 1 shirt. The former Leeds United youth player made his debut at the age of just 19 and went on to make 40 league appearances for the Yorkshire club. In 2019 the Northern Ireland international joined Premier League side Burnley for a reported £2.5 million fee. Signing a four-year-deal Peacock-Farrell is thought to be one for the future at Turf Moor having made just 4 league starts in his two years in Lancashire. 

Wednesdayites can be mistaken for being slightly weary of the 24-year-olds lack of first team football in recent years, along with his share of critics from his time with Leeds. However, the 6’4 ft goalkeeper has brought an air of confidence back between the sticks at Hillsborough, keeping clean sheets in his first four games. Peacock-Farrell looks a different animal to the younger keeper saw at Elland Road and has played a huge part in Wednesday’s solid defensive record, memorably making a stunning penalty save in The Owls 2-0 win over Yorkshire rivals Rotherham. All the early signs suggest Darren Moore has made a superb selection for his number one this season, earning a grade A from me, had it been a permanent deal the Irishman would have got top marks. 

Jack Hunt: B 

They say you should never go back to an ex. But after an already incredible transfer window, one of the world’s biggest names made a dramatic return to his old club. That’s right, Jack Hunt re-signed for Sheffield Wednesday. After an up and down three-year stint at Ashton Gate, Hunt was released by Bristol City on a free and with just one recognised right-back in their ranks the Owls swooped in for the 30-year-old, again fending off championship interest in the shape of Cardiff and Blackpool. The Englishman made 95 appearances in his first spell at Hillsborough, before appearing 109 times in a Robins shirt. With bags of championship experience whilst still possessing his best traits of pace and attacking nous, Moore has himself a fantastic right-back at this level who knows the demands of playing front of the Hillsborough crowd. Whilst some may take slight issue with age as well as possible high wage demands, I see this one as a very solid signing. With Hunt you’re getting a player who can be a fantastic attacking outlet as well as an experienced defender who will give his all for the club. 

Jaden Brown: B+ 

Following his release from Huddersfield Town, Jaden Brown signed for The Owls on a free providing valuable cover at left-back, a position Wednesday have been short since Morgan Fox left in the summer of 2020. The former Tottenham Hotspur youth player made 28 league appearances for the Terriers before his switch to Hillsborough where despite taking the number 3 shirt has been utilised regularly on the wing so far this season. 

Brown gives an injection in pace as well as youth at a good age of 22 with his best years ahead of him. Previously an England u18 player Brown represents a good bit of business for The Owls coming for free able to play multiple positions down the left, with championship experience and plenty of time to improve yet. The Ex-Huddersfield man looks a decent signing and has gave a good account of himself in his early Wednesday career.

Lewis Gibson: C

21-year-old defender Lewis Gibson joined The Owls this summer on a loan from Premier League Everton. The centre half has previously had a stint at League One level with a loan to Fleetwood Town where he made 9 appearances. Gibson also gained championship experience in a loan move to Reading last campaign where he played 13 times. 

With Dominic Iorfa, Chey Dunkley and Sam Hutchinson all having their injury problems in the past, Gibson could well prove a smart signing to provide cover in the centre of defence. The Evertonian is yet to appear for Wednesday having missed pre-season but still remains a much needed name to give The Owls plenty of depth at the back. 

Dennis Adeniran: A*

Darren Moore added Dennis Adeniran to his midfield on a free transfer this summer after the player was released by Everton. The former England under 17s player made his professional debut at the age of 17 for Fulham before moving to Merseyside. 

The 22-year-old enjoyed a season long loan at Wycombe Wanderers in the championship last season where he made 21 league appearances. Since signing at S6 Adeniran has fast become a popular figure amongst the fans, putting in tireless performances in Wednesday’s midfield also grabbing a Hillsborough goal when The Owls beat Yorkshire rivals Doncaster Rovers 2-0. 

Adeniran is at a great age with time on his side and coming to the Steel city on a free makes it a strong capture from Darren Moore, before the player had even kicked a ball. On the pitch, the former Toffee has made a fantastic start to his Wednesday career and already looks to be a fine player. 

Lewis Wing: A

Wednesday surprised most when they secured the season-long loan signing of Lewis Wing from Middlesbrough. One that many saw as a real coup for The Owls, Wing has countless championships experience with his parent club having played 80 times scoring 12 goals, including some stunning strikes. 

The 26-year-old enjoyed a loan stint with Rotherham United last term, with the midfielder impressing enough for The Millers’ manager to try and re-sign the player this summer. However, Wing chose to cone to Hillsborough and hasn’t looked back since, putting in some strong performances at the heart of Wednesday’s team. 

Many Middlesbrough fans seemed confused when Wing departed after featuring heavily in preseason and possessing enough quality to apply his trade at championship level. In League One with Wing and Bannan, Darren Moore has a midfield which many will see as far too good for the third division and could help them control most games this year. The former Yeovil loanee has been quick to showcase his passing range at Hillsborough and looks as though he will be a quality addition for The Owls. 

George Byers: B+

George Byers joined Wednesday on a free transfer from Swansea City this summer. The 25-year-old played in 56 league games for the Swans finding the net on four occasions before moving to South Yorkshire. More recently Byers had a short loan spell in the third tier with Portsmouth, making 14 appearances for Pompey last season. 

Once again in line with Wednesday’s soft embargo, Byers coming for no transfer fee makes it a fairly low risk move for The Owls and is another with his best years ahead. Alike most in the squad, Byers boasts plenty of experience at a higher level than League One and already looks more than capable in his first few appearances for Wednesday. The former Swansea man brings more strength in depth in the middle, adding another forward-thinking midfielder with an eye for a pass. George Byers looks a very decent recruit at S6 and can count himself unlucky not to have scored the goal of the season so far against Morecambe last weekend when he rattled the post from distance. 

Marvin Johnson: C+

Experienced winger Marvin Johnson added his name to an exclusive list of players to have worn the colours of both Sheffield clubs when the former Sheffield United loanee signed a deal at Hillsborough this summer. 

Following his release from Middlesbrough, The Owls signed the 30-year-old to add to their collection of free transfers this window. Johnson, another with championship interest before penning a deal at S6, played in 42 of Boro’s 46 league games last season scoring 3 goals as Neil Warnock’s side finished mid table in the second division. The versatile Englishman who can play down either flank as well as left-back, will be another player able to bring an abundance of nous having made over 100 championship appearances along with playing experience in the Scottish Premier League and at non-league level. The wide-man made just 11 appearances in a Blades shirt and will be hoping to have more of an impact with his new club on his steel city return. 

So far Johnson has filled in where needed for Darren Moore’s side and is yet to really nail down his place in the side. The former Oxford United player will be keen to show more of what he’s capable of following his first Wednesday goal against Newcastle U21s in the Papa John’s Trophy last Tuesday and could yet prove to be a very useful player to have in the squad over the course of the season. 

Theo Corbeanu: C+

Theo Corbeanu joined Wednesday’s list of loan signings this summer when the Wolves winger agreed a season-long deal at Hillsborough. The 19-year-old is a relatively unknown talent having made just one senior club appearance before his switch to Sheffield, but is thought to be very highly rated at his parent club. 

The Canadian youngster impressed at under 21s level, so much so that he even got a callup onto the international stage. Corbeanu scored four minutes into his Canada debut at just 18-years-old earlier this year, when he came off the bench in a 5-1 World Cup qualification win over Bermuda. The Wolverhampton Wanderers winger was later called up to the Canadian Gold Cup squad this summer, making three substitute appearances in the tournament and scoring a goal in Canada’s 4-1 triumph over Martinique. 

Canada progressed as far as the semi-finals before being knocked out by 11-time winners Mexico. Due to his involvement with his nation Corbeanu missed preseason and therefore didn’t feature for The Owls until this week. The young attacker made his debut in Wednesday’s defeat to Morecambe and then played the full 90 as Darren Moore’s side beat Newcastle u21s in the EFL Trophy. Early signs suggest that Corbeanu could potentially be a very exciting positive player out wide and may have a breakthrough season at Hillsborough. However, with the player coming on a loan and with plenty of competition for places, Darren Moore isn’t too reliant on the youngster making this another risk free signing. 

Olamide Shodipo: B

Sheffield Wednesday added further depth out wide with the acquisition of Olamide Shodipo on loan from Queen’s Park Rangers. The 24-year-old enjoyed a fruitful spell with Oxford last campaign, helping the club secure a League One playoff place grabbing 10 goals in the process. The Irish winger is yet to breakthrough to the first team at his parent club having made 27 appearances in his six years at Loftus Road. After a productive loan in the third tier it looked as though Shodipo may get his chance at QPR this season but Mark Warburton was happy enough for the attacker to go back out on loan. 

Olamide Shodipo made his Wednesday debut in The Owls’ League Cup opener against Huddersfield but was substituted in the first half following a hamstring injury. After missing the first few weeks of the league season, Shodipo looks set for a return to action after the international break. Able to play down both sides Shodipo is direct, brings pace, skill and potentially plenty of goals. Coming in on a loan this is another low-cost deal for Mr Chansiri and if the winger can replicate last season’s form he could be a fantastic addition to the squad, especially if it were to help The Owls back to the Championship. 

Sylla Sow: C

The largely unknown Sylla Sow agreed terms at Hillsborough this window coming on a free transfer after five years in Dutch football. Possessing the ability to play on either wing as well as through the centre, Sow scored seven times in 48 appearances at Eredivisie side RKC Waalwijk before his move to England. 

The Dutch forward scored a debut goal on Tuesday night as Wednesday thumped Newcastle U21s 3-0 in the Papa John’s Trophy and looked fairly sharp throughout the match. The 25-year-old is another that joins The Owls at a decent age and is largely seen as a bit of a wildcard. Again coming in at a small cost if the attacker succeeds it’s a masterclass of a signing, if not there isn’t too much lost for Wednesday. 

Florian Kamberi: C

It was no secret that Darren Moore was on the hunt for a strike this transfer window with Callum Paterson the only recognised centre forward fit ahead of the new season. Florian Kamberi was the first of three out and out number 9s to join The Owls this window, with the signing on loan from St. Gallen. 

The 6’2 ft striker’s goal return isn’t one to hang your hat on if you look at his previous numbers. No goals in 11 outings in his latest loan with Aberdeen and the 26-year-old is yet to score for his parent club having played just eight games for the Swiss Super League team. The forward’s best record came for Scottish Premier League side Hibernian where he bagged 20 times in 67 games. 

However, once again this signing comes with little disruption to Wednesday’s finances whilst giving Darren Moore plenty of strength in depth. The striker has shown glimpses of quality in his career, hitting a purple patch in a 14-game loan spell at Hibs scoring 9 times before signing permanently at Easter Road. And with further strengthening up front providing plenty of competition for places, Wednesday may just be able to get the best out of Florian Kamberi. 

The Swiss has already opened his account in blue and white scoring at the New York Stadium in The Owls’ South Yorkshire derby win and has shown plenty of signs for optimism in his first few appearances. Again, with more than enough options up front Darren Moore won’t be solely reliant on Kamberi this season meaning the forward may make a very useful squad player this campaign. 

Lee Gregory: A

Despite the addition of Florian Kamberi, Wednesday were still screaming out for that all important goal scorer and Lee Gregory may just be that man. The former Sheffield United academy player made his return to the Steel city signing for The Owls from Stoke on a free transfer. The 33-year-old boasts a lethal goal-scoring record, especially in League One. The veteran forward has over 150 career league goals scoring 82 times in 129 appearances for Halifax Town before his big move to Millwall where he netted 64 times in 204 games for the London club. At this level alone Gregory has 35 goals in 78 League One games. Mouth-watering numbers for Wednesday fans.

Despite missing preseason Gregory was quick off the mark at Hillsborough, scoring the match-winner in his first start for The Owls as they beat Fleetwood 1-0. Wednesday’s new number nine doubled his tally the following weekend as The Owls beat Rotherham United. 

The Sheffield-born striker knows what it’s all about at this side of the country and will be eager to fire Darren Moore’s side back to the Championship, with the frontman telling the club’s media that their aim is to win the league. Although age may not be on his side, the former Derby loanee is far from done yet and looks to be that all illusive goal-scorer that Wednesday have lacked for some time. 

Saido Berahino: C

Possibly Wednesday’s most talked about signing this year saw Saido Berahino make a return to English football as he took a paycut to join The Owls for a free transfer on deadline day. Renown for his eye-catching breakthrough at West Bromwich Albion, Berahino scored 14 Premier League goals in the 2014-15 season, attracting interest from some of the big six. After West Brom refused to sell the player, the Burundi forward’s career at the Hawthorns went downhill with the striker unable to replicate his early form before moving to Stoke City for £12 million in 2017. 

Berahino struggled to make his move a successful one, with the player unable to score a single top flight goal for his new club in 28 games. The former England u21s international did eventually break his Potters duck as he scored three times in Stoke City’s first year back in the Championship. After a failed move with Stoke Berahino has spent the last two years applying his trade in Belgium. 

The 28-year-old has just 10 goals in 58 Belgian first division games but is keen to resurrect his career in England. Having previously worked with the player at West Brom Darren Moore may well know how to get the striker firing again. In a Podcast interview with Rio Ferdinand 6 months ago, the Burundi international spoke highly of The Owls manager saying he had kept in contact with his former Baggies coach. 

It is widely reported that the Ex-Stoke striker has taken a pay-cut in order to get his chance at Hillsborough, with the player seemingly having a change in mentality. This move is another that is of little expense to Sheffield Wednesday and could prove to be an excellent piece of business or amount to nothing. It is certainly one of the more interesting signings of the summer. 

Overall: A

All things considered, Owls fans can be very pleased with their window and optimistic of the season to come. Despite a soft transfer embargo Darren Moore has managed to assemble a deep squad full of genuine quality players at this level. The Wednesday camp has a nice mix of experienced professionals along with younger, hungrier up-and-coming players who will be keen to impress. Furthermore, the club deserve huge credit for securing the likes of Josh Windass, Dominic Iorfa and Barry Bannan on longer deals, fighting off strong interest in the players. A great window at S6 with a lot to be optimistic about at Hillsborough. 

Mbappé, Kane and the summer of the gentleman’s agreement

02/09/2021 - General

By Sam Ketch, Editor-in-Chief

The summer transfer window of 2021 will go down in the history books as one of the most staggering of all time. 

Lionel Messi traded Barcelona for Paris, Cristiano Ronaldo traded Turin for Manchester, Harry Kane did not trade London for Manchester, and Kylian Mbappé couldn’t trade Paris for Madrid in time. 

There have also been the huge moves of Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid to PSG), David Alaba (Bayern Munich to Real Madrid), Rafael Varane (Real Madrid to Manchester United), Jadon Sancho (Borussia Dortmund to Manchester United), Jack Grealish (Aston Villa to Manchester City), Romelu Lukaku (Inter Milan to Chelsea) and many, many more. 

Yet the most dominating phrase of all has been ‘gentleman’s agreement’. A nonsense phrase, given that a gentleman’s agreement is just an understanding between two parties – it's not an agreement, nor between gentleman when it happens in football. 

Harry Kane tried his hardest to push through his transfer to Man City. His agent, who happens to be his brother, went for the masterplan of saying Daniel Levy and Kane had an agreement that Kane could leave – but Kane also had years left on his contract, and Spurs had no need to sell their talismanic number nine. 

Kane pushed and pushed, he didn’t turn up for training for days after his holiday and was not included at all in Spurs’ opening day victory over, ironically, Man City. He’s since had to do a gigantic U-turn - the likes of which Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party would be proud - and say he’s staying because of the fan's reaction to his cameo appearance in the Wolves game. 

Now, we hear PSG saying they have the same concept of a gentleman’s agreement with Mbappé. The PSG hierarchy will be desperately hoping that their agreement is more legitimate than Kane’s was, and that Mbappé and his agent – who are also his relatives, as with Kane – are far less successful in pushing him out of the door before the season is through. 

Real Madrid and Florentino Perez, the leaders of the European Super League fiasco, said that they desperately needed money – hence their heading up the breakaway competition. But, within six months, they are now able to make an offer of £140m for Mbappé? Something seems fishy to me. Where has the money come from? 

An interesting twist in this saga would be for PSG to accept an offer, given that Madrid said they don’t have the cash. That would upset the Mbappé camp once the Madrid representatives run out on the deal with their trousers falling down, as they declare they don’t have the finances to make the French superstar a Galactico. 

Many publications have examined the deal, pointing out there are two rather stupid parties involved in the deal. One is not accepting offers in excess of 100 million euros and the other is making those offers. Mbappé sits impatiently in the middle, trying to forego his chance to play with Lionel Messi to move to Madrid sooner instead of waiting a year. 

His impatience, though, has yet to reach Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo levels. 

Kane actively decided not to go back to training, while Ronaldo said goodbye and packed his bags before an offer had even been made to Juventus. Mbappé, at least, has turned up to training, started matches and scored goals – all while hoping that his representatives, PSG and Madrid could sort a deal in the summer window. 

It’s a fascinating phenomenon of the modern transfer, though, that Mbappé and Kane are relying on informal agreements rather than formal details. Jack Grealish, for example, had his pre-agreed contract clause that let him leave to City this summer for £100 million. Plus, even when things were moving slowly, he turned up post-Euro holiday and trained with his former teammates – he did not feel he had to engineer a deal. 

Perhaps the most impressive deal of the whole window, for traditionalists like me, was Danny Ings’ move to Villa Park. 

It happened at a point when the news cycle was dominated by Grealish’s move, but the details of Ings’ transfer were so unknown that Villa didn’t even have the obligatory picture of a player holding some merch while wearing a new piece of kit. 

That’s how the best transfers are done, if you ask me – the very old sounding 21-year-old. In quiet, without a lot of faff and speculation. 

Take the announcement of Rafael Varane (and, to a lesser extent, Joe Willock) on the Old Trafford pitch minutes before their opening game of the season. It was basically done for weeks, but no announcement had been made making it officially official. Then out comes the Frenchman, with his new shirt enhanced by the addition of ‘R. Varane 19’. 

It’s a hit-and-miss for me. Not on the pitch, it’s definitely a very good signing for the Red Devils. But the announcement is one of the biggest wins the team could get, it made Old Trafford electric... However, the amount of talk around the deal made it feel like it had been done for far too long for such a performative announcement. 

It feels like the golden ticker tape of Sky Sports News now is permanently inscribed with player names and clubs who are interested. There is no place for the surprise deal. It must always be the developing story: from first contact to confirmation, every step is monitored and commentated on by Sky Sports’ ‘crack-team of experts’ despite the real desire from football fans everywhere for these deals to be more surprising and startling. 

The world of football transfers will forever be moved by this summer.  

The idea that a club’s greatest ever footballer, who had never played a (senior) game for another club, could depart for free to another super club on the same continent will now not seem so far-fetched.  

The concept of a gentleman’s agreement will be no more, every player looking to make a move happen will ensure they have a signed piece of paper that they can flaunt. 

The world’s greatest players no longer require huge sums of money in transfer fees. They will move for free when they want to. Sergio Ramos, Gigi Donnarumma, Gini Wijnaldum, Lionel Messi... All went to one club, all went for free. Mbappé could do the same next year, Ronaldo could have done the same. 

Transfer fees are now just there for buying out contracts, not trading commodities as owners would hope. Footballers will now use their nous to manoeuvre deals that earn them the largest signing on fees, agent fees and wages (Aaron Ramsey, we all see what you did). 

 

The problems behind Premier League’s travel ban on Brazilian footballers

02/09/2021 - International

By Maurício Alencar, Brazilian football writer

If you put Boris Johnson, Gianni Infantino (President of FIFA), Richarlison, Richard Masters (Premier League CEO), and Alejandro Dominguez (President of CONMEBOL) in a room together, you will find some awkward stares and wry smiles being exchanged. The Premier League recently announced that clubs would block players from travelling to UK red-list countries (which means players would have to quarantine for 10 days in a hotel alone upon return) for the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers. All South American countries are red-listed countries. This caused Gianni Infantino to send a letter to the Premier League and English football officials ‘calling on a show of solidarity from every member association, every league, and every club’ to allow exemption for players to travel for World Cup qualifiers. The government refused the request. It’s a power game between hopeless governing bodies.

Aston Villa have backtracked on the agreement, allowing their Argentinian players Martínez and Buendía to travel. Those selected to play for Brazil are stuck in Liverpool (Roberto Firmino, Alisson, Fabinho, and Richarlison), Manchester (Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, and Fred), Leeds (Raphinha), and London (Thiago Silva). The Chilean football federation has asked FIFA to punish Watford and Blackburn for not releasing Francisco Sierralta and Benjamin Bereton. Brazil are assessing their options for the meantime. 

Boris Johnson and the England FA have potentially compromised the success of their 2030 World Cup bid. FIFA deceived themselves into a false sense of authority. And South American football’s export successes have been undermined by Eurocentric power plays. Brazil have recalled (the un-incredible) Hulk to the national squad ahead of matches against Chile, Argentina, and Peru.

Brazil comfortably lead the Qualifiers table by 6 points. Although there’s little at stake for the Seleção, and given players would have to quarantine in low-quality hotels with no spas upon return, it’s not the biggest deal in the world. However, careers are short; players justifiably want to play in those yellow shirts as many times as possible in these years. The current climate is a sign of Europe’s usurpation of power in all matters football, and the absence of Brazilian football’s power in world football politics. 

Many of the Brazilian players of the past would not have had to deal with having to sit through long-haul flights from Europe watching films to pass the time. Yes, there is some pride in seeing Brazilian players add enticing flavours to European football, and Asian football, and football in the Faroe Islands. But there’s also a more palpable feeling of saudades, of longing for the days where the Brazilian league had some international pedigree, and also of some resignation in seeing Brazil’s best clubs, like Flamengo, be made up of veterans and other washed-up players who had played in Europe for years before, like Filipe Luís and Kenedy, rather than the best.

One solution some Brazilian clubs are considering involves creating a “breakaway super league” with significant investments from an American investment company. This phrase is a traumatic one for English readers, but the nature of it is to emulate the formation of the Premier League in 1992. Kudos to the conflict between Brazil’s football federation and the Premier League. So much for keeping Brazil’s elite footballers at home, fans in the country may not like the cultural degradation of the league in practice so much. Other constructive solutions are possible. 

The tensions between South American football and governing bodies in Europe puts into clear perspective the disadvantages of the exportation of young Brazilian talents to other continents. The weakness and vulnerability of Brazilian footballers’ power in the negotiating rooms is just as clear to see. The Brazilian football federation (CBF) or CONMEBOL must show their own ‘show of solidarity’ for the continent’s own football, especially in a situation where there is an incentive to respond. One regulation which could go some way in improving the quality of the country’s football is increasing the age at which players move to Europe; Neymar left Santos at the age of 21, rather than 18, ready to perform at a world-class level. Yet, instead of phoenix-rising from the burning wildfires that is Brazilian football in its current state, you can expect the continent’s footballing bodies to be unreliable, corrupt, pragmatic, and also let super-reliable FIFA do some of the dirty work on their behalf.

Olafoe Makes Sutton Return

01/09/2021 - League Two

By Finley Chung, Sutton United writer

There was some deadline day joy for Sutton United supporters as the club confirmed that Isaac Olafoe, a hero of last season’s promotion campaign, has returned to the club on a season long loan from Millwall.

‘Tanto’, as he’s affectionately known to the Sutton faithful, has penned a one-year loan deal at the VBS Community Stadium. This marks his third year on loan at Sutton, his first being the curtailed 2019-2020 campaign where he only made 5 appearances for The U’s. Last season though was where he really made his name. 14 goals across 37 matches for Sutton United in their historic promotion season saw ‘Tanto’ become an instant hit with the Gander Green Lane faithful. Millwall manager, Garry Rowett was keen for Olafoe to get out and keep putting the ball in the net, speaking to the South London Press this week, Rowett said, “The safest bet is for him to go out and play some games”.

Speaking to Sutton United’s website, U’s manager, Matt Jay spoke on the move, “I’m delighted to get Tanto back after he done so well for us last season with his goals being so crucial to our Championship success. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury in pre-season, so he won’t be available for a couple of weeks but we’re looking forward to seeing him in Sutton colours very soon. I would like to thank Millwall, especially Harvey Bussell for their help arranging the loan”.

Olafoe joins fellow new recruits, Joe Kizzi, Enzo Boldewijn, Ricky Korboa, Donovan Wilson, Richie Bennet, Filip Chalupnizcak, Alistair Smith and Adam Lovatt at the VBS, looking to help Sutton defy all the odds and escape relegation from League 2 this season. If he can match his form from last campaign, The U’s could be a real handful for some sides.

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