13 August, 2007

Make or Break

Welcome to the section of the site where I highlight those players whose careers in the Premier League might well be coming to an end…and also those guys who have something to prove after disappointing performances last year…plus the injury-prone who might have to call it a day…oh, and Titus Bramble because he is simply the worst professional footballer I have ever seen and it baffles me that people keep paying money for him rather than just using him for compost.

Michael Ballack

It still doesn’t really make any sense, but somehow Ballack transforms into a different player when wearing a Chelsea shirt; one that wouldn’t deserve his place in my local pub team. His performances at the highest level over the years for club and country have shown what incredible talent he possesses, and you certainly don’t get to be the captain of Germany by being rubbish, but unfortunately he gave Lampard a run for his money in defining the term “anonymous” last season…and that’s saying something.

Seemingly tailor-made for our country, it often takes foreign imports a year to adjust to the Premier League, so if Ballack’s keen on staying for a third season he needs to hit the ground running in August and seriously perform.

Andrei Shevachenko

As with Ballack, I still cannot get my head round how Sheva went a full season without showing much of what the whole world knows he is capable of. His club record up until last season speaks for itself, and the Talismanic affect he has on the Ukranian national team is incredible, but still he struggled to make an impact last year. Maybe he wasn’t fit, maybe he didn’t settle in London, maybe he just felt insulted being asked to play second fiddle to an arrogant flash-in-the-pan like Drogba…whatever the reason, he must perform well early otherwise I fear he’s back off to Milan next year with his tail between his legs.

Shaun Wright-Phillips

You could’ve said last season was SWP’s make or break year, but since this website didn’t exist then, it wasn’t officially. Now however, after a summer of rumours connecting him with various big European clubs, SWP must either make himself one of Jose’s ‘undroppables’ or bite the bullet and leave, its that simple. After an excellent preseason and a great opening showing, where his provision was excellent, he has taken a step in the right direction. He’s already lost all the confidence that came with being a big fish at Man City, and any dreams of international glory, but he still has the ability left to be an exciting player at the top level. The amount of quality wingers at Chelsea is daunting, sure, but SWP was probably the most effective wide man in the country three years ago, and if he really wants it, can be again.

Steve Sidwell

Winner of this season’s “Shaun Wright-Phillips Award for Lack of Ambition”, Sidwell has had two phenomenal years and could’ve walked into almost any other team’s starting eleven. Instead, he took a huge pay rise to sit on the bench at Chelsea to waste away his career until he gets bored. Oh well.

Michael Carrick

Despite ending the footballing year in the kind of form we all knew he was capable of, Carrick is undoubtedly under pressure from the arrival of Owen Hargreaves, the man whose place he also competes for at international level. The passing and vision that made him such a success at Spurs was starting to come back by the last months of the 06/07 season, but you can’t help but wonder just how Carrick will fit into a front six that will presumably now have to accommodate Nani and Anderson, along with Hargreaves, Scholes, Ronaldo and Rooney…

Alan Smith

At the time of writing, ‘Smudge’ is being linked with a move to Newcastle which would probably be the best thing for him at the moment. His ability or passion have never been in doubt, but injuries have unfortunately rendered the Manchester-based portion of his career pretty void. With the huge influx of players there over the last few years, I don’t believe Smith can keep up any more, but a chance of scene and new group of teammates might re-invigorate him into the bloodied scrapper we all know and love.

Jermaine Pennant

One of those guys who never really showed that much but continued to be highly rated just because he was once at Arsenal, Pennant will struggle to get a game in the new look Liverpool next season unless he hits a serious peak of form. Despite impressive performances the year before at Birmingham, he did nothing but underwelm at Anfield last year and must try harder if he doesn’t want to be pushed out the back door and forgotten about altogether. An England call-up may beckon, due to Cojones d’oro’s injury.

Keiran Richardson

Again, I never had a particularly high opinion of the guy to start with, and his cousin has driven me the point of wanting to remove my own eyes and ear drums on the clips I’ve seen of her, but Richardson still could do well at a club with lower expectations. Under Roy Keane at Sunderland, if he is even going to produce something and shine, this is the season.

Thomas Rosicky

Although he would make a very convincing woman, Rosicky is actually quite a good footballer, as shown at last year’s World Cup, however, he didn’t quite click in a disappointing Arsenal team last season. Perhaps without the disruption and distraction of Henry, they may fare better as a team, but Rosicky is among a group of players at the club who definitely have something to prove this year.

Alexander Hleb

Now I can’t really figure out Hleb. I honestly don’t know what he does or what he is supposed to do; every time he receives the ball, he does the same little shimmy then loses the ball. He’s not particularly strong, he’s slow and he’s not a great finisher, but occasionally he can produce a piece of dribbling magic that will create something. This upcoming season, consistency is key, and if he can find his role within this new Arsenal we could see the player Wenger thought he was signing. From his start to this season and his goals against Inter and Fulham, he could develop into the key scoring midfielder in Wenger’s Henry-less side.

Emmanuel Eboue

After being told two years ago by every single Arsenal fan on the planet that he was the best right-back in Europe/the World/all of Time, last season Eboue delivered one of the poorest individual performances that I can remember. Defensively inept, he was also very ineffective going forward, failed to mark at corners and with the promising likes of Hoyte coming up through the ranks, he could well be on his way soon if things don’t change. Good points are that he does look a lot like Kanye West and is apparently a complete joker, akin to Jimmy Bullard.

Didier Zokora

Following reported bidding wars, Zokora was supposed to be the real deal; a new Viera but this time playing for the white side of North London. However, he turned out to be…well, nothing really. Apart from the fact that he has probably the least accurate shot in the top flight, and may well be the sweatiest man in history, there’s very little to say about him. Yes he was technically on the field for most of last season, but what he actually did is anyone’s guess. If Spurs are to genuinely compete for that hallowed fourth place finish this year, he simply must do more.

Jermaine Defoe

Of the fantastic young English crop that grew up together at West Ham over the years, Defoe was always the one who looked most likely to really kick on and make an international impact. However, he must now look at the likes of Ferdinand, Carrick and Joe Cole and wonder what happened. Fast and direct with a fearsome shot, its hard to see where Defoe went wrong. For the last two years he hasn’t looked interested, and his laziness did not unnoticed by Jol who used him only sparingly last season. Now, with the excellent Keane, Berbatov and Bent as competition, will he even figure at all? In the above picture, it appears that one of his fellow strikers has just squeezed his lemon and the juice is now running down his leg.

Mido

Sure he’s a pretty likeable guy who has flashes of brilliance, but Mido was a resounding failure last year, becoming a figure of fun even to the Spurs fans who so adored him the season before. As with Richardson, perhaps a move to Sunderland is exactly what he needs for a bit of motivation to perform, and alongside the rapier sharp Chopra, he could still form a very dangerous partnership on these shores.

Mark Gonzalez

Gonzalez is another funny one. Ridiculously fast and with a sledgehammer for a left foot, he just didn’t seem to settle last year and panicked when given an opportunity to shine. Again, consistency is the key if he wishes to find a place in the new Liverpool team this season, and if he can get back to basics, running at people and delivering quality into the box, then he could find himself playing a lot more this year than last.

Dirk Kuyt

Kuyt is a great player, with boundless energy and fight but he was brought in as goal scorer, someone who would net 25-30 league goals and raise Liverpool to the level of Chelsea and Man United. Hopefully it will alongside Torres that Kuyt will find his feet in England and together they could be the most deadly duo since Blackburn’s glory days in the mid-90s where the S.A.S. ram rampant. Additional kudos as ever for having the same first name as Clive Cussler’s legendary hero Dirk Pitt though.

Joey Barton

Its hard to disassociate the footballer from the man and objectively comment on Mr Barton since in my opinion he is among the most objectionable players in the world. Having been at Newcastle only a matter of weeks, he has already been in numerous spots of bother, falling out with teammates wherever humanly possible. If anyone can reel in his borderline personality disorder though it’s Big Sam, so let’s hope for the sake of youth player’s eyes in the north east, he can do it and we’ll see the best of Barton this year outside of the safety of Man City.

Scott Parker

Despite looking impressively like a World War 1 fighter pilot, Parker certainly has something to prove next season at new club West Ham. Underperformed in an admittedly frustrating Newcastle team last year, Parker could once again find his feet in this rejuvenated West Ham side, and fill the passionate void left by Reo-Coker.

Nigel Reo-Coker

Unless his performances regain the level of two seasons ago, Reo-Coker will join an increasingly long line of England under 21 captains who failed to make any impact on the proper international stage. His potential is enormous, but last year he simply did not look interested, even when his teammates were rallying around the incredible Tevez to ensure survival for West Ham. Now at Villa, if anyone can bring the best out of him again it is the Martin O’Neill, and full England caps may once more beckon.

Freddie Ljungberg

No-one can deny that for a couple of years Freddie was among the best players in the country and even Europe, while part of a sublime overall team all at the peak of their careers. Now however, he is a pale shadow of the red-haired maestro he once was, visibly winding down over the last couple of seasons happily cashing his cheques without breaking sweat. As with many players on this list, hopefully a change of scene will kickstart at least a flash of a last hurrah before he retires to bisexual decadence and ambiguous underwear ads.

Michael Owen

A true prodigy when he started out but people forget that that goal against Argentina was almost ten years ago now, and those interim years have not been too kind to ‘young’ Michael Owen. He’s one of those guys we all want to do well, but you just get the feeling he might be cursed in some way. If ever there was a chance to fulfill all that potential however this is it; the Newcastle squad looks impressive this season, and alongside someone as dynamic as Martins, anything could happen.

Jeremie Aliadiere

He was at Arsenal for something absurd like 15 years, without ever really making an impact that wasn’t related to his tongue-twisting name, but maybe at a club with slightly less pressure, he might perform. Or not. To be honest, I think he’s rubbish.

Darren Bent

Now some of you might think this is a strange inclusion but bear with me. Coming from Charlton, where there was little expectation, to Spurs where all eyes on a top 4 finish, Bent simply has to deliver. Add to that the huge price tag, competition for places and the pressures that come with being on the cusp of an England team place, and this truly could be the formative year of bent’s career. Either that or he’ll do a Defoe and settle for mediocrity.

Dean Ashton

Following a difficult season on the sidelines with injury, Ashton has been in impressive pre-season form with West Ham. In the build-up to last year’s World Cup, his name was being touted by many as the ideal strike partner for Rooney, a new Shearer. He still has that potential, but very few players manage to regain their previous form after such an extended period out of the game at this level.

Titus Bramble

Owner of the most impressive child-bearing hips in the country and also the least co-ordinated running style this side of Special Olympics, it can only be through a deal with the devil that Bramble is still a professional footballer. This showed when he crashed his car into a house, but didn't even have the decency to be over the limit, like any other self-respecting player. Every season of his career has been make or break. Why? Because he is just so obviously shit.



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