Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Gareth Messenger's Top 10 WINOL Non-League Footballers

Carrying on from my last blog on Europe's top 10 Young Footballers to look out for in 2012, this time I have diverted my attention to the lesser known, but nationally appreciated non-league and in particular Hampshire. Of course, I am only basing this on my evidence from WINOL and Sportsweek so the teams involved are AFC Totton, Basingstoke Town, Eastleigh and Winchester City, but Hampshire is home to many well sought after footballers from Football league clubs so let's go!

10. Jonathan Davies
At the age of just 20, Davies' creativity in the centre of midfield has been influential for an AFC Totton side on the march up the leagues. His two goals against Bradford Park Avenue in the FA Cup first round were just a sign of his quality and at this level, Davies is a dominant player in the Evo-Stick South.

9. Mike Green
Joined AFC Totton from Eastleigh, left Totton to join league side Port Vale, but is now back at Eastleigh. A strong, quick left sided player who usually finds himself in the back four, but his return to Eastleigh provided a welcome boost to a struggling Spitfires side. Experience at Port Vale and learning from football league players should pay dividends in his long-term career.

8. Michael Charles

Former Basingstoke and Woking striker Michael Charles (centre of picture) is an important and valuable player for Stuart Ritchie's AFC Totton side. Charles had an outstanding goalscoring record in the Zamaretto South and West league last season. His two goals in last season's Hampshire Senior Cup final against Sholing gave Totton as a whole an extra something to cheer about in a 3-1 win, just days after beating Sholing to the league title. Recent form has been unlike him, with Charles contemplating a loan move away from Totton.

7. Jamie Slabber
Key player for Eastleigh. Slabber's strength and goalscoring ability may him a huge threat for opponents and a vital player for Eastleigh. The former Grays striker had a fantastic season last year but a quiet start this year was the pinnacle for Eastleigh slump in form. His return to form and the arrival of creative midfielder Graeme Montgomery re-juvinated Slabber, and is still an ever-present figure at the Silverlake Stadium.

6. Leigh Mills 
The former Tottenham Hostpur defender was bought for £700k from Swindon Town at the age of just 16 with big things expected for the youngster. Successful loan spells at Gillingham and Brentford made him a target for lower fotball league sides, but his decision to quit professional football and join hometown club Winchester City, under the management of ex-Gills defender Guy Butters, have made him a dominant player in the Wessex League. He is a class above, but Mills' desire to enjoy his football seems settling at Winchester. A club on the up, and a player who should have been, but a player who is now happy nonetheless. Currently holds the captain's armaband at the Denplan, and his versaility to play anywhere in defence and midfield make him an important player in the Winchester side.

5. Graeme Montgomery
Former Aldershot winger Graeme Montgomery enjoyed a successful loan spell at Eastleigh earlier this season, and was later released by the Shots which prompted a permanent move to Ian Baird's side just hours later. An attacking, creative player who also has an eye for goal, and a very talented left boot on him. Changed and out-of-form Eastleigh's fortunes earlier this season.

4. Wes Daly
Former QPR midfielder Wes Daly has provided Basingstoke with a strong, competitive midfield battalion this season, and it's a season which sees them fighting for a play-off place. Frank Gray's young side has a terrific, yet surprising side to this season and even made the First Round of the FA Cup with an away tie against League One Brentford. Daly's contributions have been valuable for The Dragons, a hard-worker, an eye for a great pass, and scores goals. Great signing for Basingstoke but will they keep hold of him next season? Discipline is an issue though, with 10 yellow cards already this season.

3. Jamie White
Unexplainable form from this man. Even at the Wessex League level, nobody can stop this young striker, and the former Southampton forward has certainly made his mark this season. League side AFC Bournemouth have been highly interested in his services, and for a player who has overcome a huge number of career-threatning injuries including broken legs and ligament damage, White's decision to join Winchester is one which is going to boost his long-term praise in the game. Saints have also been linked with a move for their ex-striker, but I doubt White would want to move to a club with the likes of Rickie Lambert, Guly du Prado, Adam Lallana, Lee Barnard, David Connolly and now Billy Sharp standing in his way. Quiet start to his season but has been hot on form averaging TWO goals every game since October. Winchester City have accepted the fact they will lose him. Jamie finds himself at number three in my top 10 Hampshire WINOL players, and maybe his FOUR goals against Laverstock & Ford at the weekend have something to do with that?

2. Michael Gosney
Left footed attacking player Gosney used to ply his trade at Winchester, but they must be kicking themselves after seeing Gosney's meteoric rise in the non-league status. For a player who finds himself just in the Evo-Stick South at Winchester's local rivals AFC Totton, Gosney also works as a Calendar model and Chef at TGI Friday's. Not bad for a player who alerted Millwall and Championship side Brighton in the summer to his ability. Gosney's pace, skill, direct play and accuracy make him Totton's most important and dangerous player. Despite the spotlight being on youngster Stefan Brown during their televised FA Cup match with Bristol Rovers, Gosney's value to the side was not overlooked by the ITV cameras. His two goals and four assists in the 8-1 drubbing of Bradford Park Avenue in the first round of the Cup made his reputation well known, and his 14 goals in the Evo-Stick South this seasno makes him Totton's leading goalscoring, for the third year on the trot.  

1. Shaun McAuley

Now to the winner, and this is one that not many of the WINOL team would probably agree with, but having spent a lot of time filming at Basingstoke I've come to appreciate how important and how influential Shaun McAuley is for Frank Gray's side. His work ethic, his natural ability to pass a ball, and his impressive goalscoring tally make him a midfielder's dream at this level, and his goals have been vital to Basingstoke with Shaun scoring 11 goals in 29 appearances in all competitions. This making him top goalscorer at the club. Not bad for a centre-midfielder. Frank Gray picked him up in the summer following his release from local rivals Eastleigh, and his good relationship with Wes Daly, and fellow midfielder Stuart Lake on and off the field has provided Basingstoke with some strudy strength in the middle of the park. Hard to say what the future holds for Shaun. League football is a big step at the moment, but a fruitful career in the Blu Square Premier is certainly something that his ability can step to.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Gareth Messenger's Top 10 Footballers in Europe to watch in 2012

Forget the names of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney for just a moment, because in this blog I will be listing my personal top ten players for you to look out for in 2012!
The footballing world is a central base for the production and development of youth players from grassroots, to the very top of the game, and this blog will be naming just a few of the best young talents in the world. Of course, the difference in opinions on these stars may shift between the many numbers of you, but for me, this is the current list set in stone by yours truly!

And in order, starting with one of Europe's most sought after young talents in the game this very moment.....

1. Eden Hazard
....And here he is. 21-year-old Belgian Eden Hazard (left in picture) has been recently linked with Europe's top clubs, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Chelsea and more, including a very close link with French club PSG. The Lille winger has been in outstanding form the last two years for the French champions with 21 goals and 16 assists since the start of last season. It would take BIG money to see Hazard move clubs, but the departure of Lille's talisman striker Moussa Sow to Fenerbache may force Hazard to look to the future.

2. Jose Callejon
Despite being in the game for a little while now, 24-year-old striker Jose Callejon has really made his mark at Real Madrid since his move from Espanyol in the summer. Despite Mourinho favouring Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain up front, Callejon has made a real impression on the Bernabeu faithful with 11 goals in just 21 cameo appearances in all competitions. How long before we see Callejon used more than just a piggyback by Jose Mourinho? If his reputation is anything to go by? Not long.

3. Xherdan Shaqiri
One of my personal favourites, and a player I regard as arguably the most versatile and exciting youngster on the planet. I first caught wind of Shaqiri after seeing his cracking strike for Switzerland against England in a 3-1 defeat on home soil. The 20-year-old can play on the wing, at left-back, at right-back, you name it. His speed, agility and skill are a mirror image of Lionel Messi, but Shaqiri versatility and positive influence are what have made FC Basel a strong force over recent months. His contribution in the game which knocked Manchester United out of the Champions' League was crucial. Check out this goal aye?

4. Mario Gotze
Another exciting talent, and another fantastic attacking footballer. Mario Gotze currently plies his trade with German champions Borussia Dortmund but his reputation across Europe grows day by day. Previously mentioned in one of my past blog posts here at - (http://garethmessenger.blogspot.com/2011/03/borussia-dortmund-young-mans-journey.html)- Gotze has been with Dortmund since 2001, and made his debut for the club in November 2009, aged 17. 360 days later he made his first international appearance for Germany emphasising the impact he made on the Bundesliga. This season so far (2011-12), Gotze has been involved in 10 Borussia league goals in just 14 appearances. At the age of 19, will Dortmund be able to keep hold of "one of the best talents that we've ever had", as described by German FA technical director Matthias Sammer.

5. Thibaut Courtois
Chelsea's on-loan Belgian keeper Courtois was relatively unheard of when Andre Villas-Boas signed him from Genk in the summer. But a two-year loan move to Athletico Madrid in the summer, (an Athletico looking to replace the departed David De Gea), seems to have paid extra dividends for Thibaut. Courtois has been in exceptional form for Athletico in La Liga and is being widely tipped to make his mark at Chelsea sooner than expected. At 6ft 8, Courtois height is one Petr Cech would fear, but his goalkeeping ability is another that Cech should be wary of with Courtois already heaping the pressure on his under-fire pre-decessor.

6. Iker Muniain
A relatively unheard of footballer outside of Spain, but Iker Muniain's value to the Athletic Bilbao side has not gone unnoticed in La Liga. The 19-year-old made his true mark on the side last season but is again stamping his mark on the ground with the kind of form that has seen him linked with Manchester United and Chelsea. Muniain's creativity and speed him Bilbao that extra spice in matches and have made them one of the trickier matches now in La Liga. With his contract running out in 2015, will Bilbao choose to cash in now? Or will they use Muniain whilst he is at their disposal?  

7. Julian Draxler
Yet another creative midfielder, and yet another European. FC Schalke 04's German playmaker Julian Draxler has found himself heavily involved in the Schalke side the past two years. Despite competition from Jefferson Farfan, Jurado, Raul and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for an attacking/playmaker role, 18-year-old Draxler has found his services in the Bundesliga much more useful than some were predicting. His Champions' League appearance against Man United last season was when the English contingency began noticing him widely, and with a call-up to the U21 squad and already 33 league appearances since his debut in January 2011, could we see Draxler being targetted by one of Europe's bigger sides?

8. Juan Iturbe
Paraguayan side Cerro Porteno was our next port of call. That was until FC Porto snapped him up in the summer. Despite having Paraguayan parents, and playing for Paraguay at youth level, Iturbe has recently declared his desire to play for Argentina and has already been called up to the Argentina youth squads on more than one occasion. Iturbe's similarity to Messi is almost scary, but he has a very similar technique to Sergio Aguero. Small, creative, but a fierce player to have in your squad so Porto will be relishing in his ability. Despite only making three appearances so far since his summer move, Juan Iturbe's 2012 will be the season defining his long-term future at the very top.
9. Erik Lamela
Another Argentinian midfielder in the shape of 19-year-old Erik Lamela. A regular starter for River Plate, but their relegation and his sudden rise to world football made him an instant hit in Europe linked with Real Madrid, Manchester United, Liverpool and Lyon. But it was Italian side Roma who picked him up for a fee which could rise to a whopping 19million euros. Has already made 12 appearances for Roma and a call-up to the Argentina national side for a friendly match versus Paraguay. Big future. Exciting prospect.

10. Luc Castaignos
15 goals in 34 games is what sealed Castaignos' move from Feyenoord to Italian giants Inter in the summer. The 19-year-old striker was certainly a hit in Holland, and his prowess in front of goal also made him a hit with the Internazionale boardroom. The Dutchman is already being tipped for a call-up to the Holland national side already, and despite limited opportunities so far at Inter competing with Diego Forlan, Giampaolo Pazzini, Diego Milito and Mauro Zarate, he has already scored his first goal in just four games, starting just one of them.

Friday, 20 January 2012

ITV Behind the Scenes at AFC Totton

Here are the interviews with some of the guys who worked on the live coverage of AFC Totton's FA Cup Second Round match against Bristol Rovers last month.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Ajmal plants the Saeed of doubt into England

England sure do have a task on their hands. After the first day of the first test between Pakistan and the English in Dubai, it is Pakistan who have gained an early and mouth-watering initiative in the early stages of this series.
Andrew Strauss seeming rather reluctant to pick Monty Panesar, in conditions where England's seamers have struggled in the past. On the sub-continent. An area of the planet where no English bowlers have really set the level of fierce, penetrating fast bowling.
Tremlett, Broad and Bell started after injury scares. As did Kevin Pietersen. Strauss wins the toss, and elects to bat. Mistake Number One. An out of form Jonathan Trott would surely be looking for some big runs to end his worst run of form in an England shirt? Would Eoin Morgan really cement his claim for a place in the Test side? And would the opening duo of Alistair Cook and captain Strauss provide England with the backbone to a steady innings. The Answer? No.

England were bowled out for a miserable 192. An innings that was saved by the resourcefulness and stubbornness of wicketkeeper-batsman Matthew Prior, and part-time batsman Graeme Swann. England found themselves 94-7, with Pakistani spinner Saeed Ajmal picking five of the seven. Ian Bell's injury worries were certainly proof in the pudding as he went first ball. Cook managed only three, and the erratic Pietersen once again gave the critics something to cheer about after only scoring a painful two runs off 29 balls. Trott looked a mere shadow of his normal self, whilst Strauss' naivity sent his bails toppling to the floor.
Morgan provided a brief test for the Pakistan attack, for which Ajmal happily obliged by dismissing the left-hander LBW for 24. Prior's resurgence though, and Swann's aggravating batting has taken England up to a more respectable total. Prior's battling 70 not out, and 35 from Swann left England 192 all out. A total most England fans would be stunned to se, but one Andrew Strauss and coach Andy Flower have to deal with, and quickly.
England need some early wickets on day two, with Pakistan reaching 42-0 at the close.

The day belonged to Saeed Ajmal though, and on a grander scale Pakistan. The start to this test match has buried any sorrow memories for a country in the spotlight of international cricket. The spot-fixing scandal of Butt, Amir and Asif seems long gone. Pakistan is under a new stewardship, and a new era. Ajmal's match figures of 7-55 off 24.3 overs shows a sheer passion and drive to overcome their problems. This team will centre around the more experienced players, but the chance for the younger generation will soon be approaching. Ajmal has set an example for Pakistan to learn from past human errors, and time to give the cricketing world something to think about.

England certainly have an early problem on their mind, and the decision to leave spinner Monty Panesar out of the team for this test will certainly be banging around in his head for a while, with 9 of the England wickets being dismissed by spin bowlers. England's first day in Dubai has been a horror, and something which must be amended quickly. Maybe Swann will be able to succeed in the same way Ajmal did, or is it time for a seamer to make a name for themselves in the sub-continent? Stuart Broad has a lot of critics to answer to. Chris Tremlett has competition from the likes of Steven Finn and Graham Onions. James Anderson will be looking to continue the form which has made him England's leading bowler, and one of the best bowlers in the world.

So, I leave this message to the England coaching staff and players before tomorrow's crucial play begins. You are the best in the world, you are number one in the world, but my oh my, you have a fight on your hands.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

With great sporting icons, comes great pain.....

Over the last few months, we have seen this great sporting nation rocked by one of the most unrecognised, one of the most inconspicuous, and one of the most character changing conditions in the world...Depression.

Depression, as defined by the World Health Organisation, is: "a common mental disorder that presents with depressed mood, loss of interest or pleasure, feelings of guilt or low self-worth, disturbed sleep or appetite, low energy, and poor concentration. These problems can become chronic or recurrent and lead to substantial impairments in an individual's ability to take care of his or her everyday responsibilities. At its worst, depression can lead to suicide, a tragic fatality associated with the loss of about 850 000 lives every year."

Over the last 12 months, the UK has seen a number of sportspeople suffer from depression, some ending tragically, and others with a light at the end of the painful tunnel. Not only does depression create a bubble of insecurities for the sufferer, but it most importantly gives them a feeling of isolation, that nobody will feel, nobody can help, and they are all alone with no channel to combat against it.
Now, I'm no expert on the disorder, granted, but I've experienced my fair share of people suffering from depression in my personal life, and it has become the inspiration to emphasise the importance of it. I have two family members who suffer from depression, both for different time scales, but it doesn't take long to see how quickly it can affect somebody's persona: the way they act; the way they react; their confidence; their overall happiness; their people skills. But, like any medical problem, it affects us all differently. Some are lucky enough to realise help is needed early, and some have the tree for help, and a system by which they have the support of others, and unfortunatly others do not.

We have seen this within sport, and how quickly and unrecognised depression is within a hobby which is loved by billions across the world. The general opinion of sportspeople is that they are machines. Robots. Not human? Well, the truth is they are human, and like any ordinary human, sporting greats do share the same experiences as us "ordinary" people. Despite our devoted passion for sport and our desire to win, surely the health of a human being is of the upmost importance? Do remember, this blog is not to preach on the medical condition, or to even come close to saying I know what sufferers are going through, because truth has it, no, I do not know. I can't describe the mental pain others are enduring. This blog, is simply a view on sport, and despite our craving for success as sport lovers, the question we have to ask ourselves....To a person, is winning really that important?

Gary Speed's tragic death at the end of 2011 is probably one of emotional, and unexpected stories. A football manager, at the peak of his coaching career, and changing the dynamic of the Welsh national side sadly committed suicide. And nobody knew why. My blog on Speed's death will illuminate my readers more - (http://garethmessenger.blogspot.com/2011/11/gary-speed-gentleman-of-football.html), and three years ago, German goalkeeper Robert Enke, who would have been number one choice at the 2010 World Cup, committed suicide at the age of 32 after stepping out in front out a train. That same day, he told his wife he was off to training for his club side (Hannover 96) and gave his child a kiss. There was no training that day, and Enke's silent battle against his illness is just another example of how critical the issue is. It is a killer, and a silent killer. Robert Enke kept his depression secret, and believed he had the pure strength to battle his illness alone. It is another painstaking argument that people could be the solution to battling depression, but it can also be the problem. Enke needed people to talk to, yet he felt he could turn to nobody. Gary Speed was the same. So are people just as important in helping, just as they are important in conflicting the mental damage?

As recent as the last week, former footballer Dean Windass has told of his struggle against alcohol and depression, and admitted he attempted to commit suicide twice. Once by taking pills, then another by attempting to hang himself. He was stopped by friends and family. Windass has admitted he needs help, and he needs to announce his problems as part of the cure. From a personal point, the stunning revelations shocked me. I've always seen Windass as a fighter. A sturdy, strong striker and character and an outgoing personality. Was I wrong? Or was I just naive enough to think that somebody of his reputation on the field,could surely not suffer off it? The truth is he does. As do many others. Of different ages. And the shocking truth is, the most unexpected case on my sportsperson list, is yet to be revealed.

Today in rugby union, it was revealed that former Sale Sharks winger Selorm Kuadey has died at the age of 24, after apparently taking his own life. Kuadey spent five years at Sale before injury forced him to retire in 2011. He then moved into a career outside of rugby, achieving a first class honours degree in human biology and infectious diseases at the University of Manchester. He had also recently started his own new business. But it does raise the question whether his sporting career was a contributing factor to Kuadey's tragic death. At such a young age, and a bright, intelligent human being with a big career ahead of him, did the sudden disappointment of injury thwart his ultimate dream, and was it this dream all he wanted? His retirement in 2010 was certainly a major setback in reaching that dream, but more an intellectually switched on human being, has the pressures of sport taken its toll on, once again, the very fragile human mind?

And, now to the most fascinating story I have seen on the topic of the depression. I won't go into much detail, but despite his size, personality and quality on the field, cricketer Andrew "Freddie" Flintoff will always be seen as the "soft guy" of cricket. Always caring, always working, always looking out for others. Flintoff's career was one which will be unrivalled for a very long time. But who? Who knew? This character and this man loved by millions of cricket fans could find himself on the front line of the battle against depression. This article is a fantastic insight into how we perceive sport, and how it creates more problems, and than it does resolve the problem.


For the direct link to the documentary on Freddie Flintoff: Hidden Side of Sport - http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b019gbpk/Freddie_Flintoff_Hidden_Side_of_Sport/

The documentary is an outstanding look into the world of professional sport, and even though we regard them as machine, emotionless and powerful, Flintoff meets with fellow sporting pros to discuss the serious effects of depression.

We can help the people who suffer from this powerful illness. It's an overwhelming stat that around 121million people worldwide suffer from depression. So what can we do to help ease their suffering? And it puts into context on the topic of sport, and how sport is a may be a release for sufferers, but at the top levels, depression is an overwhelming worry, an issue, a problem. It has even become a killer, and earlier I mentioned whether winning was important or not? But now, I simply ask: Is the relevance of sport important? Do the pressures of professional sport create more problems than joy? And, does success and fame and money really, really bring you happiness?