Europa Play-Off Round Preview

Europa Play-Off Round Preview

To some it is the start to a long and arduous journey to the best chance many clubs will have of earning a place in the prestigious UEFA Champions League. To others, it is purely the opportunity to taste a sense of European Cup glory; this is the last round of ties to enter the Europa League.

A total of 29 winners from the third qualifying round and 15 losers from the Champions League third qualifying round will battle it out in a two-legged affair to earn a place in the Europa League Group Stage.

Whilst admittedly it may be a competition to split the neutrals interest, the intriguing nature of this stage of the competition is the matching of some of the continents recently risen minnows with a host of Europe’s so-called “fallen giants”, those clubs who boast a renowned history with an esteemed collection of honours to their clubs’ trophy room (notably AC Milan & Ajax).

The following is a brief preview rundown of each tie; summarising the key facts behind the clashes:

  • FC Utrecht (Netherlands) vs Zenit Saint Petersburg (Russia)- Utrecht are bidding to qualify for the Europa League group stage for the first time since the 2010/11 campaign and will have to be on top form to have any chance of overcoming Roberto Mancini’s Zenit who won the competition in 2008 (known at the time as the “Uefa Cup”) and currently sit at the top of the Russian Premier League.
  • AC Milan (Italy) vs Shkendija (Macedonia) – The only common theme to find between these two clubs is their red and black kit colours. Having completed a host of signings in this summer transfer window, Milan are looking to return to former glories (7 European Cup/Champions League titles). Shkendija, on the other hand have never made it beyond the Europa second qualifying round until this year and are looking to make history by reaching the competition by eliminating one of the giants of the tournament.
  • Ajax (Netherlands) vs Rosenborg (Norway)- Last year’s beaten finalists, Ajax are one of the most successful European clubs having won the European Cup/Champions League 4 times. Rosenborg have never got closer to European glory than when they were knocked out of the Champions League quarter-final in 1996/1997.
  • Altach (Austria) vs Maccabi Tel-Aviv (Israel)- SC Rheindorf Altach finished 4th in the Austrian league last season and are playing in only their second ever Europa League qualifying campaign, having eliminated Chikura Sachkhere, Dinamo Brest and Gent in the three qualifying rounds in the past month. Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s tournament best was qualifying for the round of 32 in the 2013/14 season.
  • Apollon Limassol (Cyprus) vs Midtylland (Denmark) – The Danish side will go into this tie seeking revenge for their elimination by Limassol in the 2015/16 Champions League third qualifying round.
  • Bate Borisov (Belarus) vs Olexandriya (Ukraine)- The reigning champions of Belarus will be looking to secure qualification to have a chance of beating their current Europa League tournament best which they achieved in 2011 when they were knocked out of the round of 32 by Paris Saint-Germain.  Contrastingly, FC Olexandriya are seeking group stage qualification for the first time in their history.
  • Club Brugge (Belgium) vs AEK Athens (Greece)- The runners-up in the Belgian Pro league last season reached the quarter finals of this tournament in 2015 and were beaten in the final back in 1976 by Liverpool. AEK have enjoyed any of their own success with their best efforts in this competition going back to 1977 when they were eliminated by Juventus.
  • Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) vs Skenderbeu (Albania)- Dinamo have made a record 101 appearances in UEFA qualifying competitions and last played Skenderbeu in their 6-2 aggregate victory over their Albanian counterparts in the 2015/16 UEFA Champions League play-offs.
  • FC Domzale (Slovenia) vs Marseille (France)- Domzale are competing in the Europa qualifying rounds for the fifth consecutive season and are seeking group stage qualification for the first time. A tough tie awaits them against Rudi Garcia’s side whose 2004 UEFA cup final defeat is the closest the French side have been to claiming the trophy.
  • Everton (England) vs Hadjuk Split (Croatia) – After a strong summer of investment, Everton will be confident about qualifying for the tournament for the first time in three years. Despite having competed in the qualifying stages of every season, Hadjuk Split have not reached the group stages since 2010/11.
  • FH Hafnarfjordur (Iceland) vs Braga (Portugal)- FH are looking to become the first Icelandic side to reach a major UEFA group stage and face Braga who have never come closer to winning the tournament than their 1-0 Cup Final defeat to Porto at the Aviva Stadium in 2011.
  • FC Krasnodar (Russia) vs Crvena Zvezda (Serbia) – The Russian side reached the last round of 16 last season (their all-time tournament best), where they were eliminated by Celta Vigo 4-1 on aggregate. Crvena Zvezda who are also known more traditionally as Red Star Belgrade, notably won this tournament in 1991 when they beat Marseille on penalties to lift the trophy.
  • Legia Warsaw (Poland) vs FC Sheriff Tiraspol (Moldova) – Legia were the runners-up in the 2016/17 Ekstraklasa campaign and were beaten in the last round of 32 by Ajax last season. Moldovan side Sheriff have never progressed beyond the Europa group stages.
  • Ludogorets (Bulgaria) vs Suduva FC (Lithuania) – The Bulgarian league champions eliminated another Lithuanian side Zalgaris in an earlier Champions League qualifier this summer. Suduva have battled through three qualifying rounds to reach this tie and are as of yet to ever achieve group stage qualification in this tournament.
  • Maritimo (Portugal) vs Dynamo Kyiv (Ukraine) – Dynamo make the marathon 4,300km journey to Funchal in seek of Europa Group stage football for the first time since 2014. Maritimo are competing in this tournament for the first time since the 2012/13 season after finishing 6th in the Primeria Liga last season and beat Bulgarian side Botev Plovdiv in the last qualifying round.
  • NK Osijek (Croatia) vs Austria Wien (Austria) – The Croatian side are bidding to qualify for the group stage debut, competing at the qualifying stage for the first time since 2012. En route to this tie, Osijek have not conceded a goal. Austria Wien are looking to qualify for the group stages for the first time since the 2013/14 campaign.
  • Panathinaikos (Greece) vs Athletic Bilbao (Spain) – Panathinaikos finished 3rd in the Greek Superleague last year and were eliminated from the Group stage of the competition. 2012 Finalists Bilbao reached the last round of 32 last season, only to be knocked out by Apoel Nicosia (4-3 on aggregate).
  • PAOK (Greece) vs Ostersunds FK (Sweden) – PAOK have consecutively featured in the last four Europa League group stages and face the conquerors of Galatasaray from the second qualifying round, Ostersunds FK; who are enjoying their maiden European campaign, having only climbed from the third tier of Swedish football in 2013.
  • FK Partizan (Serbia) vs Videoton FC (Hungary) – Partizan have not reached beyond the last round of 16 in this competition where they were last eliminated in 2004/05 by CSKA Moscow. Videoton last qualified for the group stages in 2012/13 and were beaten in the third qualifying round last season by FC Midtjylland. These two sides last met in the 1984/85 UEFA Cup third round where Partizan lost 5-0 in Hungary.
  • FC Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) vs AEK Larnaca (Cyprus)- Viktoria Plzen’s best Europa performance came in 2013/14 season when they were knocked out of the last round of 16 by Lyon. They face the Cypriat outfit AEK Larnaca who have only qualified for the group stage once in the 2011/12 campaign.
  • FK Vardar (Macedonia) vs Fenerbahce (Turkey)- This tie is Vardar’s first Europa fixture since their qualifying round 1 exit to Anorthosis Famagusta in 2007/08 and will be playing a Fenerbahce side who are under pressure from their own national press to step up after a poor domestic campaign last year. In the Europa competition, the Istanbul-based side were eliminated by Krasnodar in the last round of 32.
  • FC Viitorul Constanta (Romania) vs Red Bull Salzburg (Austria)- Viitorul were crowned Romanian champions last year and are notably owned by national footballing icon Gheorghe Hagi. They face Salzburg who have had to beat Hibernians and Croatian champions Rijeka to reach this final qualifying play off.

 

Advertisements

Have Barcelona finally solved their right-back crisis?

Have Barcelona finally solved their right-back crisis?

In a summer where many argue that new head coach Ernesto Valverde must spend big to return the Catalonian giants to former glories; some would point out that Barcelona have already ticked off the most essential and pragmatic of signings to repair the most obvious of last season’s squad faculties.

In the same week that PSG unveiled Dani Alves, Barcelona have identified their replacement for Alves, a year on from the Brazilian’s departure from the Camp Nou. Alves is the contemporary yardstick by which all future Barca right-backs are to be judged, such was his legacy in his 8-year period at the club.

The right side of defence was one of the key areas that was repeatedly exposed in an inconsistent season by Barcelona’s standards; with Alex Vidal falling out of favour with Luis Enrique and then being sidelined by a significant ankle injury; forcing Enrique to use Sergi Roberto as a makeshift right-back.

After many reports of a return for former Barcelona youth player Hector Bellerin, 23-year old Nelson Semedo has been acquired for €30m from Benfica.

Semedo fits the mould of a young Dani Alves, being a pacey, strong, attacking full-back with excellent defensive awareness. However, the young Brazilian’s career progression has been gradual and somewhat slow-burning rather than a rapid rise to stardom.

Having begun his career aged 17 at Sport Uniao Sintrense, the third division side based north west of Lisbon; Semedo earned himself a move to Portuguese giants Benfica only a year later in 2012, signing a five-year deal in the process.

After two years (with one season being spent on loan at Fatima), Semedo progressed to the first-team picture at the Estadio Da Luz by the age of 21 after Maxi Pereira’s move to Porto in the summer of 2015.

The young Brazilian has not looked back in the last two years, being an ever-present in the Benfica side of 2015/16 and receiving his first senior call-up to the Portugal team in October 2015 after a string of impressive early-season performances.

Helder Cristovao, who coached Semedo in Benfica’s B team, believes Semedo is the best long-term replacement for Dani Alves; “I think of all the players they were talking about, maybe Semedo is closest to Alves than the others…He is very fast and Barca play with a high structure and a very high defensive line…He’s very strong on the wing and he’s able to get good contributions with the players infield and on the outside”.

It must also be said that Semedo’s eye for goal is another understated quality in his game. His exceptional left-foot strike in Benifca’s away Champions League group-stage fixture at Besiktas last season is a perfect example of this.

Earning a move to the Camp Nou aged 23 years old is no mean feat for Semedo, but he must continue to develop his game at the pinnacle of the global football stage to ensure a problem area of the pitch is now one of stability, consistency and more for Ernesto Valverde and Barcelona.

Why Hoffenheim have been the overlooked surprise package this season

Why Hoffenheim have been the overlooked surprise package this season

As the European mass media will deservedly accolade the top European performers around the continent this season; that of Antonio Conte’s revolution at Chelsea, Monaco’s outstanding title win and Champions League efforts and even RB Leipzig’s extraordinary first top-flight season; there is another success story from the Bundesliga that has not received the same widespread coverage.

Meet Julian Naglesmann (29), appointed as 1899 Hoffenheim coach on a permanent basis in February 2016; the youngest ever Bundesliga managerial appointment (aged 28 at the time). A truly animated touchline figure; routinely fist-clenching and arm-waving his way through every 90 minute period at the Rhein-Neckar-Arena, willing his team on so.

At the time of his appointment Hoffenheim were in dire straits domestically. 17th in the table and seven points from safety, few would have criticised him at the time for making plans for life the following season in the 2. Bundesliga. Quite the opposite. A remarkable turn of form gleamed 7 wins from the final 14 games, finishing a point above the relegation play-off.

A year on and the club has been transformed. After a 0-0 home draw on the final day to FC Augsburg, Hoffenheim have finished in 4th place; just 2 points behind Borussia Dortmund and will contest a Champions League qualification play-off in August to qualify for Europe’s ultimate competition.

Naglesmann has certainly had limited financial resources to work with since his arrival. In fact, one of the key attributes to the club’s success this season has been his ability to get the best out his arguably average Bundesliga squad, particularly the likes of Kerem Demirbay and Sandro Wagner.

Naglesmann’s most lavish purchase last summer was Andrej Kramaric (£8.5m); the forgotten man of Leicester City, managed of course at the time by Claudio Ranieri.

A fringe player at best at the King Power Stadium, the Croatian made only two appearances in the Foxes’ title-winning season last year. Since his move to the Bundesliga, Kramaric has been instrumental behind Hoffenheim’s success this season with 15 league goals and 8 assists to his name.

Naglesmann should be hailed as one of the coaches of the season; not only for Hoffenheim’s impressive domestic performance but for his ability to get inside of the heads of certain first team individuals. Take Wagner as a case in point; an individual who has certainly been around the block in Germany having appeared for Duisburg, Werder Bremen (II & first team), Kaiserslautern, Hertha Berlin (II & first team) and Darmstadt since graduating from the Bayern Munich academy in 2007/08. Barely four months younger than Naglesmann, Wagner has flourished under his coach this season, having longed throughout his career for a manager that believed in his ability. Wagner has now received a call-up to the German national side squad for the 2017 Confederations Cup this summer.

Naglesmann had worked for Hoffenheim for 5 years prior to being named as head coach of the first team. He first joined the club as an assistant coach in the academy after having his playing career cut short by chronic injuries problems. His innovative and meticulous coaching methods are reflected not only by the club’s upturn in domestic performance but by the close bond he has with his players.

Naglesmann still underlines the importance behind preserving Hoffenheim as a stable top- flight Bundesliga side and he will realise the need to keeping his young players in check. But there can be no denying the fact he is only one qualifying play-off away from leading the club into their most prominent moment of their history.

Bilic position to be in question after lacklustre second season

Bilic position to be in question after lacklustre second season

It has been a testing season for the fans of West Ham United. After bidding farewell to their beloved Upton Park in a campaign where the Hammers almost earned a Champions League qualification berth, their fans have this year had to become accustomed to new, contrasting and somewhat alien surroundings at their new home at The London Stadium.

Whilst that was never going to be an easy transition, the fruition of their football played in Slaven Bilic’s second season has become the more alarming agenda in East London in recent months. Questionable tactical decisions, an alarming rate of losing games from winning positions, lack of attacking outlets in the team and a very disjointed look to West Ham’s first x11 has resulted in this season proving every bit as uninspiring and anticlimactic as last year’s was exhilarating.

Sitting in 15th place in the Premier League on 39 points, the Hammers appear to have just about secured safety for next year, any other outcome would simply have been a financial calamity with serious implications for the club to ponder in the new stadium. However, one win in the last eleven games doesn’t signify progress for a side that were riding the crest of a wave last year and claimed the scalps of Man Utd, Tottenham, Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal and Liverpool (the last three away from home).

There is a considerable degree of sympathy to be had for Bilic in this difficult season of transition; particularly the 2016 summer transfer window which significantly highlighted the somewhat haphazard recruitment policy at the club. 9 incomings were signed last summer (to improve the squad size in preparation for the Europa League); from 5 different European leagues with only Andre Ayew and a 34-year old Alvaro Arbeloa boasting any Premier League experience. Not only have the majority of the recruits failed to settle, the squad chemistry and unity has been affected, so much so that last season’s star-man Dimitri Payet saw fit to demand a transfer back to his previous club Marseille; a mutiny which the club could only make way for, receiving £25m in January for Payet in the process.

Another cause for bemusement among West Ham fans is the tactical choices in most of Bilic’s squad selections; frequently opting to play experienced players out of position such as the likes of Havard Nordtveid and Jonathan Calleri rather than playing younger squad members like Sam Byram and Ashley Fletcher in their natural positions. Only last Saturday in their 0-0 away stalemate at Stoke, West Ham’s main attacking threat Andre Ayew was withdrawn on 69 minutes with no signs whatsoever of any injury for Mark Noble. Ayew’s clear bemusement at the substitution was evident for all to see.

It must be pointed out that this isn’t the first time a Slaven Bilic side has waned in the final furlong of a season. In 2014/15 at Istanbul club Besiktas, the Black Eagles had spent much of the campaign at the top of the table, but flagged badly in the final third of the season and eventually finished third (eight points behind the eventual champions Galatasaray). Besiktas have in fact gone from strength-to-strength since his exit, currently on course for a second straight Super Lig title in Turkey.

West Ham have three ominous looking fixtures before the owners will review Bilic’s position at the end of season; Tottenham and Liverpool to visit the London Stadium on the 5th and 14th May respectively along with a tough final-day away fixture at Turf Moor. Three fixtures that despite not being so domestically crucial given West Ham’s virtually assured safety, will do so much to shape their future and direction from the dugout. Much to ponder for Messrs Gold & Sullivan.

Four candidates in the frame to replace Enrique at Barcelona

Four candidates in the frame to replace Enrique at Barcelona

On the evening after Barcelona’s 6-1 hammering of Sporting Gijon came the announcement that many quarters of the Spanish media were expecting to be made from the Catalan club (admittedly closer to the season end) that manager Luis Enrique would be leaving his post at the end of the season.

As unusual as it is to broadcast a decision of this nature after such a resounding victory, it must be said that after the 4-0 first-leg away reverse in the Champions League to PSG and continuous conflicts with the local Spanish press, many felt this announcement would only be a matter of time.

Despite this first-leg battering, Barcelona produced one of the most spectacular comebacks ever seen in European Cup history overturning the four goal deficit to beat PSG 6-1 in Catalonia with three goals scored in the last five minutes of the game in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Away from the CL, the season is far from over for Enrique’s men. Still in the title race (leading Real Madrid by one point who have a game in hand), with a Copa Del Rey final against Alaves to contend, the former Barcelona midfielder has a chance to end his managerial stint with the Catalonians with a treble.

Having pointed to one of the identical personal reasons for his departure as his predecessor Pep Guardiola citing weariness and mental fatigue after three seasons in the role, it is debated as to which personality that will have the stomach and endurance for this pressured managerial position. The following 4 names are being touted as the most likely replacements:

Ernesto Valverde

One of the early favourites for the job. Valverde has been in charge of Athletic Bilbao since 2013 and has since led them to Champions League qualification, a Spanish Super Cup victory over Barcelona and a Copa Del Rey final.

A diplomatic character who has played for Barcelona in his career for two seasons and who will not be afraid to make important squad decisions to reinvigorate an ageing Barcelona team.

In addition to his achievements at Bilbao, his side became known for an intense pressing game, much akin to that of Mauricio Pochettino’s current model at Tottenham Hotpsur. However, his record at the clubs he has coached (particularly Bilbao and Olympiakos) also implies he brings a stout defensive resoluteness to sides.   At Bilbao, a team that had conceded 65 goals in La Liga under previous coach Marcelo Bielsa, let in only 39 under Valverde – going from 12th to 4th in the process.

In Greece, Valverde delivered three titles at Olympiakos over three seasons, with an attacking possession-based philosophy that produced a 68% and 75% win rate in his two spells respectively, signifying the level of dominance Olympiakos enjoyed under Valverde.

A well-rounded, calm and collective individual whose excellent media-relationship skills makes him the typical “Barcelona fit” required to occupy the hot-seat and be the front-facing figure at a club surrounded by such complex internal politics within the hierarchy.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 8/10

Jorge Sampaoli

Since joining Sevilla last summer, Jorge Sampaoli has impressed with the 2016 Europa League Champions, particularly improving their domestic performance in La Liga, so much so that they are competing with La Liga giants Real Madrid and Barcelona in a three-horse title-race (Sevilla currently sit 4 points off leaders Barcelona).

He made his name with the Chilean national team, famously claiming a Copa America title in 2015.

The frenetic, bold and attacking style seen at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan this season has won the hearts of many a football neutral this year and will no doubt result in many Barcelona fans calling for the Argentine to make the move across Spain to take their club forward to future glories.

The Barcelona tradition of appointing managers either from within their internal coaching structure or previous players may work against the possibility of an approach as the Sampaoli fits neither category, having had no previous association with the club in his career to date.

An outspoken and passionate individual, whether or not he will fit the mould of FC Barcelona can only be decided by the boardroom.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 7/10

Ronald Koeman

Having played for the club for over six years between 1989 and 1995 and with an impressive managerial CV, the Dutchman will inevitably be linked with a hot-seat vacancy at the Camp Nou.

Having managed at a host of renowned and esteemed European clubs in his seventeen-year managerial career including PSV, Ajax, Valencia and Benfica, the Dutchman would bring a wealth of experience to Barcelona.

Two successful spells at his first English Premier League club Southampton resulted in a 7th and 6th league table finish, both in campaigns where he had to contend with the sales of many of his star players from the club.

Having signed a three-year deal with Everton last summer, Barcelona would be forced to pay a substantial compensation package to the Merseyside club for Koeman.

Many feel however that it may prove too great a step up at this moment in time; particularly as many in Spain remember his unsuccessful spell at Valencia in a campaign where his side plummeted to 15th in La Liga and had finished bottom of their Champions League by the time the Dutchman was dismissed.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 5/10

Mauricio Pochettino

The current Tottenham Hotspur manager is a dark-horse in the running. Having transformed the North London club into a title-chasing outfit has been no mean feat.

With a strong ideology for an intense, high-pressing attacking style, many would argue that the Argentine would be an excellent fit at Barcelona.

However, repeated failures to progress to advanced rounds in European competitions has cast doubt over the psychological toughness of his side and one may feel this may be a jump too steep too early in Pochettino’s career.

Likelihood of a Barcelona approach- 5/10

 

Bundesliga round-up

Bundesliga round-up

Bayern boss Hamburg

Robert Lewandowski scored a hat-trick as Bayern Munich crushed Hamburg 8-0 on Saturday afternoon to celebrate Carlo Ancelotti’s 1,000th competitive outing as a head coach.

The current German Champions put in a domineering performance at the Allianz to ruthlessly dispatch relegation-threatened Hamburg, a week after their off-colour performance against Hertha Berlin in a 1-1 draw.

Robert Lewandowski was Bayern’s saviour in that fixture and he was in an imperious mood on Saturday, notching his hat-trick by the 54th-minute to increase his goal tally for the season to 19, joint-top scorer in the Bundesliga along with Pierre Aubameyang.

Other goal-scorers in Munich’s dismantling of Hamburg were Arturo Vidal who opened the scoring with a powerful drive on 17 minutes, David Alaba, Arjen Robben and a brace from young Kingsley Coman.

Sitting five points clear of 2nd placed RB Leipzig with one hand firmly in the Champions League Quarter-Final (following the thrashing of Arsenal in Munich); Ancelotti’s doubters from pre-Christmas are diminishing by the week.

Leipzig continue remarkable season

RB Leipzig produced a dominant performance to see off Cologne 3-1 at the Red Bull Arena to maintain pressure on leaders Bayern, in a season where they are continuously defying expectations in their first-ever Bundesliga campaign.

Leipzig overpowered and outplayed Cologne from the kick-off and within 5 minutes Emil Forsberg notched his seventh of the season after he was played in from Timo Werner following a weak clearance from Cologne goalkeeper Thomas Kessler.

The trio of Forsberg, Werner and midfielder Naby Keita was proving too hot to handle for Cologne and on 34 minutes Keita’s cross was inadvertently turned into the net by Cologne defender Dominic Maroh to put Leipzig in control of the encounter.

Cologne briefly retained a hope of taking something from the game after Yuya Osako scored a close-range finish in the 53rd minute but shortly after Timo Werner grabbed his 13th of the season to clinch the points for Leipzig who are unbeaten in every game they have scored in the Bundesliga this season.

Dortmund strengthen grip on third

Borussia Dortmund won away from the Westfalenstadion for only the second time since November after beating Freiburg 3-0 at the Schwarzald-Stadion thanks to goals from Papastathopoulos Sokratis and a brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.

In his 150th Bundesliga appearance, Sokratis opened the scoring for the visitors on 13 minutes when the Greek defender headed into the net from Marco Reus’ whipped free-kick into the penalty area.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang stole the show in the second-half, notching his 18th of the season on 55 minutes after tapping home following some bamboozling midfield trickery from Marco Reus to play the Gabonese forward through.

Aubameyang was again on the scoresheet shortly after, 20 minutes from time to seal the points for Thomas Tuchel’s men, converting a tap-in from Erik Durm’s cross.

After a shaky first-half of the season, Dortmund appear to be finally getting into full stride and are on course for an automatic Champions League spot following this commanding performance in Tuchel’s 100th Bundesliga victory.

Elsewhere in Germany

-Mainz moved up to 10th in the table after an impressive 2-0 away win at Bayer Leverkusen to increase the growing pressure on Roger Schmidt. Defender Stefan Bell opened the scoring with a bullet header in the third minute from Levin Oztunali’s corner before the provider turned scorer with a free-kick that deceived the Leverkusen back-line and found the far corner on 11 minutes. After being torn apart on their home patch by Atletico Madrid in the Champions League midweek game (a tie that is virtually over with the Spanish side boasting 4 away goals), Schmidt’s position is being questioned by many quarters of the German media with his tactics and relationship with his players in doubt.

-Werder Bremen’s 2-1 victory over Wolfsburg on Friday night courtesy of a Serge Gnabry double in the first-half has spelt the end to Valerien Ismael’s short spell in charge of Wolfsburg who sit just two points above the relegation zone. Ismael lasted 15 Bundesliga games in the job having initially only been appointed on an interim basis on the 17th October following Dieter Hecking’s (the now Monchengladbach coach) sacking.

Hammers exit the latest unhappy saga in a turbulent career for the talented Payet

Hammers exit the latest unhappy saga in a turbulent career for the talented Payet

West Ham’s sale of Dimitri Payet to Marseille for the figure of £25m was confirmed by the East London club on January the 29th. The 29-year-old’s legacy status with the West Ham United fans has transformed from messiah to pariah in the past two months at the club in a period where they needed him most. Payet has delivered a series of poor performances and his body language has shown nothing short of complete disinterest. However, this is not the first time in Dimitri Payet’s career that he has displayed an unprofessional attitude to force a move away from a club at the time.

After a remarkable first season in the Premier League where he was named the Premier League’s Player of the Year at the London Football Awards as well as claiming West Ham’s annual Hammer of the Year trophy, Payet signed a 5-year contract extension in February 2016 that increased his wages to £125,000 a week. Not only did West Ham heavily reward the player for his outstanding first season impact in the Premier League, they put him onto a global stage in one of the world’s top league’s and in doing so earned him a national team recall from France manager Didier Deschamps.

West Ham fans revered him. How sour it turned this campaign.

This season has seen Payet show glimpses of his clear world-class talent with exceptional goals against Middlesbrough and Liverpool but for the most part fail to match the playing standards of his first season at the club. When Slaven Bilic confirmed to the press on January the 12th that the player did not want to play for the club any longer and had gone on strike, all knew there would be no going back.

At the tender age of 16-years-old, Dimitri Payet from the small French island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean, had his first major opportunity in mainland France to break into professional football at Le Havre spurned after four tumultuous years where his difficult character was criticised by senior coaching figures at the club as well being accused of a lack of motivation. Payet was thereafter forced to return to the island of Reunion in 2003 and subsequently joined AS Excelsior.

On 18 May 2010, Payet who was then playing for Saint-Etienne, was involved in a notable physical altercation with teammate and captain Blaise Matuidi during the team’s 1–0 defeat to Toulouse. Payet was on the receiving end of scathing criticism from teammate Yohan Benalouane for displaying a lack of aggression at the time and was then confronted by Matuidi. Both quickly went face-to-face with the Payet delivering a blow to Matuidi’s head before the two were separated by referee and teammates. Payet was subsequently substituted and fined by the club’s president.

The following year, after impressive form for Saint Etienne and English interest from Chelsea and Liverpool, Payet sought for a move to Paris Saint-Germain in the wake of a reported bid from the Parisian club in January 2011 (pre-PSG’s Qatari ownership). Saint-Etienne rejected all interest only for Payet to consequently refuse to turn up for training and was demoted to the reserves.

Turning 30 years of age in March, Dimitri Payet is in danger of seeing a career so full of unquestionable world-class flair fail to reach the heights (domestically) that his talent warrants. He has left the Premier League; one of the world’s finest leagues to return to Ligue 1; a division where he has grafted and plied his trade in for the majority of his career, largely out of the limelight. Links with leading global clubs such as the likes of Real Madrid and Chelsea will die down; his chances of maintaining a first x11 spot with the French national team could also arguably be affected in the long-term, with younger pacier options coming through the French ranks playing at bigger European clubs. This is not an individual who has been dealt a hard hand by the footballing world; his career path has been predominantly determined by his mental attitude throughout; a symptomatic issue surrounding the modern-day footballer in recent years.