Nicolas Anelka: The “Quenelle” and how it led to his West Brom demise

With 11 different clubs, spanning over 2 different continents over a 19 year career in the game, its safe to say Nicolas Anelka is not short of being the complete definition of a “journey man” and with controversy never being to far away from the Frenchmen’s life as a professional footballer.

In the South African World Cup in 2010, Anelka let his feelings known to French national team manager Raymond Domenech in colorful fashion saying some unsavory things to thee Lyon legend, which seemed to set the tone for the rest of France ‘s disastrous campaign.

Skip forward just under 4 years later, Nicolas Anelka is back in the Premier League, this time in the a West Bromwich Albion shirt after a relatively uneventful loan stint with Juventus. Steve Clarke’s motives of the signing were questioned, mainly his age in comparison to the amount of wages he would be entitled too, but not many necks were twisted to the direction of the Hawthorns at the time.

5 months into his tenure in an Albion shirt, claims of Nicolas Anelka’s goal celebration in an action packed 3-3 draw with West Ham were adjudged to be what is known as Anti-Semitic hand gesture.

Now, what is known currently at the time about this particular hand gesture which Anelka “performed” per say, the “Quenelle” gesture, which in English, this gesture is quiet candidly translated to “Up Yours” specifically up ones Bottom, or whatever terminology you prefer on using.

You may think, on the surface of this it isn’t that harmful of a celebration right? Not quite.

The creation of the “Quenelle” comes from the comedian, Dieudonne M’bala M’bala. It has used it in more than one context, although most notably uses it in an “Anti-Zionist” context, mainly used in his 2009 European Election campaign for his own Anti-Zionist party.

With football being a worldwide sport, and the Premier League being the embodiment of a worldwide brand, and the Quenelle having such anti-Semitic connotations, then I can completely agree and personally would have imposed bigger sanctions on Nicolas Anelka.

A 5 game ban and a £80,000 fine for a footballer that arguably earns that figure in 2 weeks and is injured currently anyway isn’t a punishment that he cant handle. However, this wasn’t the only consequence Anelka would face.

With West Brom’s main shirt sponsor, a valuable source of revenue for any team in the Premier League, with some clubs receiving up to £20m a season for this spot on a shirt, officially terminating the sponsorship agreement between the two parties at the end of the current season, after the CEO of Zoopla – the popular online estate agency – took offence to the celebration after viewing it as anti-Semitic and with the CEO being Jewish it is easy to understand his decision.

The club therefore indefinitely suspended Anelka while an internal investigation started. This is where the unprofessional side of Nicolas Anelka came out to create havoc. After being given a set of conditions by West Brom , which if followed, would have seen Anelka rejoin training with the first team, yet he declined and decided to cut off any connection he has with a professional football club.

However, West Brom jump to the excuse of termination of contract due to Gross misconduct which will inevitably be appealed and settled in a tribunal. This whole situation appears to be a farce, with Anelka not apologising, he brings down the name of West Bromwich Albion Football Club and also by making such a scene out of the situation.

Announcing his decision via social media and also specifying how Lazio were interested in signing him throughout the January transfer window shows how much disregard he has of a contract. Not only the 13 million Jewish people throughout the world he could of offended with his actions, but he hasn’t even had the thought to apologise for his actions, but states every time that the whole situation was taken out of context.

Taken out of context or not, Nicolas Anelka must take responsibly for his actions and realise how much of a hateful gesture it can be to such a section of the world’s population that have already gone through so much throughout the last 150 years.

Such hate shouldn’t be a part of the sport. Sport has always been something that has brought people together, and I call for stronger punishments on players who involve themselves in such racism activity.

It has no place in society, let alone an international platform of sport.

 

Written by James Clark

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Claudio Yacob: The Baggies’ Bargain Buy

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Asked to think of an English football club signing an Argentine and names like Sergio Aguero & Carlos Tevez will, in all likelihood, come to you fairly quickly. Ask a West Bromwich Albion supporter that same question and chances are, he’ll instantly respond with 2 words, 1 name - “Claudio Yacob”.

A central midfielder in the classic Argentine “Number 5″ mould, Claudio Yacob has caught the eye in English Football and has been 1 of the bargain signings of this current 2012/13 season.

 

Background:

Claudio Yacob, born in Carcarañá in the Santa Fe province of Argentina, began his football career with at Boca Juniors’ famed youth academy at the age of 12, but had to return to his family due to homesickness.

After a short break from Football, he proceeded to join the academy of Racing Club de Avellaneda. Dubbed “La Flaca” upon joining Racing due to his shoulder-length hair and thin body, Yacob’s talent was evident, and he was part of a crop of Racing youngsters – including the likes of Atalanta livewire Maximiliano Moralez and current Argentina international goalkeeper Sergio Romero – dubbed “La Sexta Especial”. Progressing through Racing’s youth ranks, Yacob made his 1st-team debut in an away defeat to Club Atletico Banfield in November 2006.

After impressing at 1st-team level, Yacob was called up to represent Argentina at the South American U20 Youth Championship and FIFA U20 World Cup, both held in 2007. Yacob asserted his credentials as another promising “Number 5″ at the U20 World Cup, playing 6 matches and scoring once in Argentina’s triumphant campaign. After a period of steady development in Racing’s 1st-team, Yacob was made captain at the ripe old age of 21, before the start 2008/09 Primera Division season in Argentina.

While Racing ended that season’s Apertura in 14th place, they did much better in the Clausura – finshing 5th. The same inconsistency followed in the following seasons, high or above average placing in 1 half and a below average finish in the other.

The high point in Yacob’s time at Racing came in the 2011 Apertura, with La Flaca leading Racing to 2nd place. Another good moment in 2011 was Yacob’s first goal for La Albiceleste in a 2-2 draw with Ecuador. Sadly, it was to be downhill after the Apertura.

Into the 2012 Clausura, Yacob’s involvement in a controversial incident – swapping shorts with his friend (an Independiente player) – in the Clasico de Avellaneda meant that he never featured for Racing again. While that will sound ridiculous to most fans, we have to note the intensity that exists in South American derby matches.

“I swapped shorts with a friend who played for the other team. But it wasn’t a big deal. It’s just that in Argentina [a derby match] means that it’s your biggest enemy and you shouldn’t exchange, a bit like with Aston Villa and Albion here. The press made it into a problem.” - Claudio Yacob on the “incident”

Despite a sour end to his time at Racing, the ex-captain of Racing probably couldn’t have predicted how well he’d do after joining English Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion. After 7 goals and more than a century of appearances at 1st-team level and 3 international caps, Yacob left Racing Club with no hard feelings against them. He was ready to test himself on the big stage.

“The reason I didn’t play again was because I didn’t want to renew the contract because I was not happy with what they were offering. But Racing will always be in my heart because it was my first professional club.” – Claudio Yacob on his Racing departure

Claudio Yacob’s maturity and leadership qualities stood him in good stead for a move to Europe.

 

Step up – West Bromwich Albion:

After impressing on trial, during the Baggies’ pre-season training camp in Malmo, Claudio Yacob was signed on a Bosman free on 24th July 2012. He was a virtual unknown to the his new team-mates and manager. WBA goalkeeper Ben Foster had never heard of him, while Steve Clarke had never watched him play before. However, giving Yacob his favoured number 5 shirt says it all about the important role he had in manager Steve Clarke’s plans for the coming season.

“I saw Albion playing when I was living in Argentina, even before I knew I was going to sign. And then, when I knew about the interest, I found out more. What I really like is that it is an old club with a lot of history.” – Claudio Yacob’s interest in WBA

“He is an Argentina international with a real desire to prove himself in the Premier League” - WBA Manager Steve Clarke upon signing Claudio Yacob

“I’m really pleased we’ve been able to recruit a player of Claudio’s calibre. He’s been a one-club man in Argentina up to now, having broken into Racing’s first team at 17 and being appointed as their captain while still in his teens. To achieve that at Argentina’s third or fourth biggest club, and then break into the national team with the wealth of talent his country have to choose from, is no mean feat.” – WBA Sporting Director Dan Ashworth on his new signing

After a man-of-the-match performance in a shock 3-0 home win over Liverpool on the 2012/13 campaign’s opening weekend, Yacob hasn’t looked back. After consistently impressive displays in the Premier League, with the exception of an inconsistent 3-game spell when Mulumbu was out, Yacob won the award for West Brom’s Player Of The Month for March 2013.

Again, he spoke like the team-player he is – “I’m really happy with this award – it is my first here and very important to me. But most of all I want us to finish as high as possible and get used to being one of the top teams in the league.”

Having gone on to form a strong midfield partnership with Youssouf Mulumbu, the tenacious Argentine has been 1 of the key players in the Baggies’ brilliant season and a top half finish looks likely, with 2 league matchdays remaining.

 

Overview:

(Statistics from WhoScored.com – “minimum appearances”. Accurate at the time of writing)

181cm tall and weighing 77kg, Claudio Yacob is of a decent size for a holding/defensive midfielder. What first stands out about his game is his game-reading ability and tenacity.
Though he’s not one for the “flashy” long-range “Hollywood pass”, Yacob is technically proficient on the ball. The Argentine’s 87.5% passing accuracy, placed 34th in the league, is only 0.6% lower than Michael Carrick’s 88.1% and is better than the likes of Arsenal star Jack Wilshere, Yacob’s midfield partner Youssouf Mulumbu, Manchester City’s Gareth Barry and Newcastle’s Cheick Tiote.

Strong in the tackle, Yacob can sometimes be too aggressive, which is evident in his joint-4th highest yellow card count thus far – 7. That said, Yacob has good tackling ability and, at 3.6 tackles per game, is placed 6th in WhoScored’s list. That’s a higher figure than the likes of Arsenal’s Mikel Arteta, Tottenham duo Sandro & Ramires, Newcastle dynamo Yohan Cabaye and Chelsea’s “Blue Kenyan” Ramires.

Other than being good in the tackle, players in Yacob’s preferred defensive midfield position need to have good game-reading ability – ie the ability to make timely interceptions. While the tenacious Baggie has shown flashes of being a good interceptor, that is something he does need to work on.

At 1.5 per game, he’s currently placed 96th on WhoScored’s “interceptions” list. That value is on par with the likes of Nigerian international John Obi Mikel and the aforementioned Barry and Dembele, as well as being slightly better than Spain international Javi Garcia, Liverpool stalwart & captain Steven Gerrard and West Ham star Mohamed Diame.

However, Yacob should improve on his interceptions over the course of next season, as he’ll have 1 season in English football under his belt.

On the bright side, Yacob isn’t easily beaten in 1-on-1 situations, with that occurring on an average of only once per match.

“Claudio’s a typical Argentinian No 5. In his homeland, that is someone who breaks up play and keeps the ball.” - WBA Manager Steve Clarke on Yacob

Yacob’s game-reading ability and selflessness allows West Brom’s fullbacks to get forward and join the attack. Yacob shifts slightly over to either flank when a fullback pushes forward, so as to provide cover against a potential counter-attack from the opposition. The added security at the back has given his team-mates more confidence in attack.

On the whole, Yacob plays a key role at the Hawthorns, being both a key screen in front of the defence and also a link in the transition from defence to attack after WBA have regained possession.

With his adeptness at short passing, Yacob is able to hold the ball and start attacks by effectively releasing the ball to his athletic central midfield partner Mulumbu or his more attack-minded team-mates – James Morrison, Chris Brunt & Graham Dorrans, to name a few.

 

International objectives:

Yacob’s next target will be to get himself in Argentina Head Coach Alejandro Sabella’s plans for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Playing in England has certainly boosted Yacob’s visibility.

Conversely, the competition for the holding midfield spots in Sabella’s 4-2-3-1 system is stellar – such as Valencia playmaker Ever Banega, Argentina’s ex-captain Javier Mascherano, the enigmatic Fernando Gago and veteran Pablo Guiñazú. Sabella might look at a formation change as the Albiceleste defence has had problems.

Long story short – Claudio Yacob needs to focus on his club Football and at least replicate his performances of this season. Do that and he’ll have no regrets. Do that, and he might get a seat on the flight to Brazil next year.

“It’s a difficult job to get into the Argentina side but he can do it if he produces performances consistently.” - WBA Manager Steve Clarke on Yacob’s international prospects

 

Look to the future at West Brom:

Where his future at the Hawthorns is concerned, La Flaca has been talked about as a possible future captain at the Midlands outfit. He has shown that he has leadership qualities, as seen in his time at Racing, and he’ll gradually assert himself(in a good way) in the squad as each week passes.

“I can see sometimes in training that he’s really wanting to say some things and he can’t quite communicate that at the moment, but he is working really hard at his English and I think within six months he will be able to get his ideas over a lot better. I do think there is a possibility of a future captain there. Having been captain of Racing Club, I think he’s got ideas and leadership qualities about him that will progress even more when his English becomes even better.” - WBA Assistant Manager Kevin Keen on Yacob’s prospects

 

Transfer front:

With his Spanish roots, he wouldn’t count as a non-EU player. That makes him an attractive target for European clubs who are looking for a holding midfielder, as the Argentine wouldn’t take up a non-EU spot on the squad list. Valued at €4.5m on Transfermarkt, at the time of writing, that would be a probable transfer fee interested clubs would have to pay.

That said, the precarious financial situation in most major European leagues, coupled with the bumper new Premier League TV deal (which takes effect in 2013/14), makes it unlikely that most interested parties will meet the Baggies’ demands. Financially, WBA do not need to sell.

“I just think I’m doing my job. It’s easy to play for the Albion because I’m happy and I’m at home here.” - Claudio Yacob’s opinion on WBA

Quite clearly, Claudio Yacob is happy to play for West Brom. However, the opportunity to play UEFA Champions League Football is sure to entice Yacob to leave The Hawthorns. The Argentine has been linked with a move to Atletico Madrid, who will be in the Champions League next season(2013/14).

Furthermore, Atleti’s Head Coach Diego Simeone has built up such strong foundations at the Vicente Calderon that Atleti are likely to be a fixture in La Liga’s UCL spots for at least the foreseeable future. There’s another angle to this link. Diego Simeone has managed Yacob before, when the former had managerial spells at Racing Club in 2006 & 2011.

With Yacob’s aforementioned hopes of wearing the Albiceleste colours in next year’s World Cup, a move to Atletico Madrid and the prestigious stage of the Champions League will definitely increase his chances.

If Los Colchoneros do indeed formalise their interest in La Flaca, no one can begrudge him making a step up.

Regardless of whether he stays, Claudio Yacob has been a bargain buy for the Baggies.

“Claudio joins us with a great CV and is a terrific passer of the ball. He’s a holding central midfielder who sits in front of the back four and controls the play. Claudio’s also good at breaking things up. I believe he will be a great asset for us.” - Steve Clarke couldn’t have been more right.

 

Written by Mark Ooi

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Match Preview: West Brom vs Arsenal

Saturday and we are back to football ways, Arsene Wenger’s in-form Arsenal side visit The Hawthorns for an epic Premier League clash against Steve Clarke’s inconsistent West Brom team.

West Brom would be looking recover from that embarrassing loss against West Ham. Their display was similar to the Reading outfit that visited the Emirates ; committed a high number of individual errors and were also too aggressive. Although, they were a bit unlucky as they created tons of goal scoring opportunities through individual skills but couldn’t convert them into goals. Overall, they were poor and Steve Clarke should be looking  to instill some belief to a side that dominated possession but ended up losing by a fair margin.

For Arsenal, the incredible win against Bayern in the UEFA Champions League looks to have spurred the Gunners, who gained 3 successive league wins. Their mouth-watering display against Reading hasn’t come unnoticed ; they created a high number of chances relating to their possession, even though they were caught offside often, Arsenal played very well in my opinion and should have scored more goals anyway.

After losing to Arsenal in the first leg of this fixture, West Brom have managed just 5 wins out of 16, so for that, I choose to label them as “inconsistent” despite their barnstorming start to the season.

 

Team news

West Brom

Highflying goal scorer Romelu Lukaku should be available. The Belgian, on loan from Chelsea, has scored 13 goals for the Baggies this season and is currently the highest goal scorer in the team. Not also forgetting goalkeeper Ben Foster who has performed heroics between the sticks. Other than that, the team looks okay  and should be ready to give Arsenal a torrid time at the Hawthorns.

 

Arsenal

The competition in the squad is getting feisty and that has seen top players stuck to the bench. Arsene Wenger message is loud and clear: You need to be at your top game and work very hard to make the starting line-up irrespective of your position in the team.

Aside Nacho Monreal limping off at the Reading game and a definite doubt ahead of this encounter, the squad looks in good shape and it would be interesting to see if Wojciech Szczęsny is welcomed back into the squad.

 

Last 5 matches for each side

West Brom League Form : WLWDL

Arsenal League Form : WLWWW

 

Predictions

This sort of fixture has been noted to produce incredible moments and goals. Expect the Baggies supporters to roar from start to finish. If Arsenal are on their top game and dictate possession, then they can cause problems for the hosts.

 

Predicted scoreline: West Brom 1-2 Arsenal

 

Written by @femi4arsenal

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Chelsea: The Lukaku Predicament

Around this time last year, many Chelsea fans were scratching their heads thinking “why pay 20 odd million pounds for a player who is sitting on the bench” in reference to Romelu Lukaku. Now, many of the same Chelsea fans are desperate for him to return.

Lukaku’s loan move to West Bromwich Albion has worked out better than most people imagined it would, especially with the presence of proven Premier League strikers like Peter Odemwingie as well as the experienced and cultured Markus Rosenberg. However, despite not starting particularly many games at first, Lukaku’s superb substitute appearances swiftly put him in West Brom’s starting eleven on a regular basis. Currently, the Belgian striker sits on 13 goals in the Premier League and is one of the league’s most feared strikers.

What makes this whole Lukaku saga so interesting is the fact that neither 50 million pound man Fernando Torres, nor January signing Demba Ba look anywhere near as deadly right now as Lukaku does. Torres has had yet another disappointing and highly unconvincing situation despite a decent start, while Ba has only shown flashes of the form that led to his January move to the West London club. Theoretically, Lukaku should walk straight into the Chelsea team when he returns this summer, although there are some doubts about that.

After all, many feel Chelsea managers feel they often have to play Torres in order to satisfy notoriously hard to please Roman Abramovich (see Roberto Di Matteo). Rafael Benitez has generally gone with Torres in most of the games Chelsea have played, although in some of the bigger games such as the one away to Manchester City on February 24th, he went with Ba. So far, I’d class the signing of Ba as unsuccessful.

Despite a superb debut away to Southampton in the FA cup in which he scored twice, he has been largely unimpressive, and hasn’t looked truly into the game at times. The same problem exists and has existed for over two years now with Fernando Torres;  just not being part of the game.

When Chelsea signed Ba, I thought things would be different. After all, Ba was full of confidence after a superb first half of the season at Newcastle, and there was no reason why he would need any time to develop. Chelsea’s 4-2-3-1 formation with Oscar/Moses, Hazard and Mata has a very similar setup to the one employed by Newcastle with the likes of Hatem Ben Arfa, Yohan Cabaye and Sylvain Marveaux to switch around and create.

But for some reason, Ba hasn’t found himself in many good positions. When he is in said positions he generally takes the chances, but in terms of getting them, it’s not really happening for him.

So will Lukaku be any different? I have some doubts. Lukaku is a powerful target man, who is magnificent in the air, but Chelsea’s trio do not tend to put in a great deal of crosses. Lukaku’s footwork is still top notch, but not as good as his aerial ability. In order to get the absolute most out of Lukaku, Chelsea will probably have to slightly alter their style. However, all of Chelsea’s creative players do have excellent technical ability and I see no reason why they can’t adapt.

The real issue is whether the Chelsea manager at the time will be entirely comfortable with having a then 20 year old striker leading the line while Torres sits on the bench, as I can’t see the Chelsea number nine leaving just yet.

If I were Chelsea, here’s what I would do: sell Torres, keep Ba, buy a young, bright talent such as Jackson Martinez or Léo Baptistão from Rayo Vallecano. Falcao would be too expensive and is in his prime, and I think Chelsea need a younger player. Having Lukaku as well as one of these live wire, young players would set Chelsea up perfectly for the future, and would lead to a few games for the highly rated Islam Feruz who is currently impressing immensely in the Chelsea youth team.

Bringing Lukaku back and selling Torres is definitely a risk. But to be honest, I think anyone that genuinely expects Torres to return is, essentially, kidding themselves. The presence of Torres has done little other than divide the club’s fans, and his time is up for me.

So, please Mr. Abramovich and the Chelsea manager appointed from this coming August:  Give Lukaku a chance, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, he has all the ability in the world to become Chelsea’s main man.

 

Written by Joshua Sodergren

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West Brom: Can they keep it up?

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For years, West Brom were known as the Premier League’s “boing boing club” with reference to the fact they always seemed to get relegated and then swiftly get promoted. They only managed to end this unwanted track record with a respectable 11th place finish in the 2010-11 season, in a season which started with Roberto Di Matteo in charge, but finished with Roy Hodgson as manager. In Roy Hodgson’s one and only full season in charge of the Baggies, the 2011-12 season, his side made a small improvement, finishing 10th.

However, under the guidance of new manager Steve Clarke, West Brom have made vast and highly significant improvements. One of the best elements of West Brom’s team last season was their defence. The centre backs Olsson and McCauley meant West Brom were always tough to beat, while Youssouf Mulumbu grafted in midfield. But Clarke has looked at these solid areas, and improved them in the process. There is more width, more attacking options and more shape to the West Brom side.

The results speak for themselves in some ways. They have beaten Liverpool, Chelsea, Southampton and Everton to name a few. The win over Liverpool was probably the most impressive of these victories as they demolished the Reds 3-0 on the season’s opening day. Offensively, they possess many threats, all providing something slightly different. Peter Odemwingie is a typical goal scorer, always on the end of things, Shane Long uses his energy and pace to stretch defences, on loan striker Romelu Lukaku uses his brute strength to outmuscle defenders, and Swedish striker Markus Rosenberg offers yet another goal scoring threat.

Just like last season, there is a heavy reliance on the attacking midfielders such as James Morrison, Graham Dorrans and Chris Brunt. In short, based on the evidence of the past five months, Steve Clarke has made West Brom better in most ways, slightly better in some ways, considerably better in others.

So to answer the question in the title, how far can West Brom go?

Well, if they continue with their high fitness levels and tactical shape, they could well do what Newcastle did last season and force a surprise Europa League place. However, in the past two games, cracks have appeared. Teams have begun exposing West Brom spacious defence and as the Baggies have started attacking teams more, therefore meaning West Brom’s centre backs have to track back more, and something they are not really used to.

However, Steve Clarke has shown plenty of tactical brilliance to give West Brom fans plenty of optimism for the season ahead.

 

Written by Joshua Sodergren

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Romelu Lukaku: On-loan Chelsea man settling well at West Brom

Romelu Lukaku

He’s not dubbed ‘the next Drogba’ for nothing. Romelu Lukaku is perhaps the rawest of talents in the Premier League and has a big future ahead of him.

A strong part of the recent Belgian revolution in the English top-flight, the 19-year-old striker joined the Albion in early August on a loan deal from Chelsea. He struggled to cement a starting position in the team following a big money move from Anderlecht.

West Brom coach Steve Clarke promised Lukaku would taste first-team football at The Hawthorns. The move suited both parties, Albion needed an extra forward.

And he has settled into life with West Brom very well. His robust and powerful approach has had defenders – top level ones at that – shaking in their boots, more than avenger slots shake off big money bonuses. He’s a menace.

Having made his debut in the opening day of the Premier League season against Liverpool as a substitute, it could not have gone better. He scored to cap off what was a sensational 3-0 win for the Baggies, and the Albion faithful instantly took the big man.

He’s made four appearances, and his second league strike came against Reading. Lukaku can finish, hold the ball up and when given a yard of space will engineer some sort of a dangerous chance.

It’s a real shame it’s only a loan signing. Understandably, Chelsea want to retain one of their brightest youngsters – and they will be no doubt be delighted with the start he’s had to his West Brom career.

 

Written by Nathan Carr

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