Archive for July, 2012



England’s fourth tier is a league infamous for its wheeling and dealing during the close season, and Torquay United fit this image perfectly. Manager Martin Ling has taken advantage of the summer transfer window to fully stamp his authority on a squad he inherited from Paul Buckle in June last year by completing a number of deals, although it is those heading through the exit door at Plainmoor that have attracted the most interest.

Having helped Torquay to defy the odds and reach the play-offs in 2011-12 in his first season at the club, Austrian goalkeeper Bobby Olejnik inevitably attracted interest from bigger sides after being named to the League Two Team of the Year. Less than a month after the end of the campaign he was linked with a host of Championship and League One clubs, and on 18 June he joined second-tier side Peterborough United for £300,000 – Torquay’s fourth-highest fee received in their 113-year history, and a great deal for the Gulls considering they had signed Olejnik for free in July 2011.

Ling oversaw a largely successful campaign last season, and will be looking to build in 2012-13

Ling was still searching for a new first-choice goalkeeper  (backup custodian Martin Rice has never played in a Football League match) when United’s defensive unit was struck another cruel blow. On 27 June, just over a week after Olejnik’s departure, centre-back Mark Ellis joined Crewe for £80,000 after revealing his desire to play in League One.  Having released youngster Ed Palmer, and lost senior centre-half Chris Robertson to Preston North End in January, Torquay were left with just two central defenders – Ling’s former captain at Cambridge Brian Saah, and teenage first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie.

With Ling having further trimmed his squad by releasing  forward Taiwo Atieno and left-back Lathaniel Rowe-Turner, new recruits were both necessary and inevitable, and duly arrived soon afterwards. Former Premier League forward Ryan Jarvis, who had spent the second half of 2011-12 on loan at Plainmoor, joined permanently on a free transfer from Walsall, while ex-Everton trainee Nathan Craig traded a four-month trial for a two-year contract after impressing for Torquay’s reserves.

Before June was out United had replaced Olejnik with the club’s former goalkeeper Michael Poke, who was between the sticks when the Gulls won promotion from the Conference in 2008-09. Ex-Arsenal defender Tom Cruise also signed on the dotted line on Plainmoor, bringing with him an impressive CV that includes a Champions League appearance against Olympiacos and trials at Sampdoria and the New England Revolution.

A further deal were concluded to bring in former Southend captain Craig Easton, who had also been on trial at Torquay in 2011-12, before Ling announced a signing that shocked and delighted the club’s fans in equal measure. Welsh under-21 international Billy Bodin had spent the first half of the season on loan at United, scoring 5 goals in 17 league outings and impressing Torquay’s coaching staff so much that the club made several attempts to sign the winger permanently in January – all of which were refuted by his parent club Swindon.

With a huge difference in valuations seeming to be the problem, both Ling and Torquay fans almost gave up on the deal going through. Thankfully for the Gulls, however, Swindon boss Paolo di Canio publicly suggested “it’s better if [Bodin] leaves” at the end of the 2011-12 season in order to earn more playing time, opening the door once more for a move to Plainmoor. Ling duly obliged and reinvested some of the Olejnik/Ellis cash, offering £70,000 – just shy of Torquay’s club record outlay. The deal was finally completed in early July, adding extra pace and youthful arrogance to the side’s attacking line-up.

All that remained was to replace Ellis, with, as Ling promised, a centre-back with “experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”. Though the transfer took longer than expected, with United missing out on Oxford-bound defender Michael Raynes, new signing Aaron Downes was finally unveiled earlier this week. The former Chesterfield stopper joins after multiple injuries marred his stay at The Spireites, but Ling is confident that the Aussie’s worst is behind him. Should that prove to be the case, Torquay’s watertight backline could be even more stubborn next campaign, but if Downes limps out of a match early in the season, expect United to struggle.

As United breezed to a 2-0 win over Tiverton on Tuesday, the squad looked complete –  Bodin, Poke, Craig, Downes, Jarvis and Easton all featured, and there were no obvious deficiencies in a side that looked solid in all areas. There was just one problem, however:  playmaker Eunan O’Kane was ominously missing from the Torquay teamsheet, and it was later confirmed that League One side Bournemouth had lodged a £175,000 bid that was later accepted.

The £70,000 splashed on Billy Bodin represents United’s heaviest investment of the summer

O’Kane had rejected a move to Crawley Town of the same division weeks earlier, but was tempted by Bournemouth’s passing football philosophy and long-term prospects and decided the time was right to leave Devon after two years at Plainmoor. With Ling preferring to bring in the majority of his new faces for nominal fees – saving the considerable cash accumulated from high-profile sales for the January transfer window – the former Cambridge chief has stressed that O’Kane’s replacement lies within the club’s current squad.

Ling has highlighted wingers Craig and Bodin, as well as last season’s first-choice left wideman Ian Morris, as possible substitutes for O’Kane’s central attacking role that was crucial to Torquay’s creativity last term. Whether any of the trio can fill the Irishman’s boots remains to be seen, but given that Welsh pair Craig and Bodin are both just 20 years old, and Morris has previously been criticized for a lack of guile and penetrative passing, Torquay will do well to emulate last season’s success without their creator-in-chief.

Although the Gulls may struggle to improve upon the fifth-place finish posted in 2011-12, Ling’s men will be out to prove the pundits wrong once more next season, and another play-off place is achievable if Torquay’s squad remains injury-free. Although commonly perceived as one of the Football League’s smallest clubs, the Gulls have reached the play-offs in four of their last five league campaigns. Promotion to League One has eluded United since a one-season stay in the division in 2004-05, and Ling’s Torquay look as likely as any of the club’s previous sides to reach the promised land of England’s third tier.

The only concern for most fans is the lack of striking options should last season’s top scorer Rene Howe succumb to injury, with Ryan Jarvis the only senior centre-forward in a youthful attacking line-up that also includes promising wingers Lloyd Macklin and Niall Thompson – both of whom boast pace capable of tearing apart even the most organised defence, as Championship side Leeds United found out in a friendly on Friday night.

Even if promotion cannot be achieved in 2012-13, the league season should still be a memorable one for Torquay fans: local derbies against Exeter City, Plymouth Argyle and Bristol Rovers are sure to stir up great atmospheres and crowds of over 4,000 to take in Plainmoor’s new stand, Bristow’s Bench, in its inaugural campaign.

Images: Ling – http://www.thisisdevon.co.uk; Bodin – https://drawley.wordpress.com


Since being introduced to the series in 2004, Career Mode has become one of FIFA’s most popular and impressive features. The sheer variety of leagues, players and options provide never-ending entertainment for the series’ many fans, and Career Mode has stood the test of time to succeed where other features failed.

Although early FIFAs contained a smattering of selected leagues from which the user could play friendlies – including, oddly, the remote Malaysian Super League, which was present between FIFA 96 and ’99 – full seasons with any one club were unavailable, and promotions and relegations were non-existent with no more than one division for any given country.

Youth academies in the earliest form in FIFA 07

That all changed for the better in FIFA 2004, when EA introduced Career Mode. The new feature allowed players to take second-tier clubs into the English top-flight, while season-long stays with teams were also improved, even for leagues where promotion/relegation was still impossible.

Over the intervening eight editions, Career Mode has improved and grown to resemble an all-encompassing feature that can keep users engrossed for months. While early installments may not have held attention for more than weeks at a time, recent FIFAs have boasted Career Modes that offer almost endless possibilities.

A variety of leagues – 29 in FIFA 12 – enables users to assemble international squads, signing players from a range of countries as diverse as Denmark, Brazil, Australia and South Korea. Realistic transfer windows in the summer and January – in which other clubs also sign and sell players – keeps things interesting if your team has been eliminated from the national cups, and, league success permitting, qualification to the Champions League (named “Champions Cup” due to FIFA not owning the competition’s rights) or the Euro League are possible for top-flight clubs.

The game’s transfer market, in particular, has blossomed in recent years to allow users to pick from an assortment of free agents, take young players on loan, or browse potential signings who have been transfer-listed by other clubs. This, combined with FIFA 12’s budget allocation feature, allows players to shape squads to their own liking, and is particularly useful for those starting out with lower-league or impoverished clubs – simply by signing free agents and taking players on loan, promotion can often be achieved without spending a single penny on transfer fees.

The introduction of youth academies in FIFA 07 gave fans of the series the ability to scout and sign young talent. Able to pick which positions the scouted players specialise in – such as defence – allowed users to hand-pick the FIFA world’s most suitable youngsters and future stars. Although this feature was removed in subsequent editions, FIFA 12 saw youth academies return with increased scouting options and a bigger youth system capacity.

FIFA’s current, slick Career Mode interface

It has come a long way in the last eight years, but the beauty of Career Mode is that it still has plenty of room for improvement. The ability to upgrade coaches, physios and transfer negotiators – thereby improving the club in general – was present in FIFA 07 but has since been removed. This, along with a “stadium upgrade” feature would improve the series, should EA wish to do so.

Indeed, the company have confirmed a number of additions to Career Mode for FIFA 2013, including audio updates from other matches, an improved transfer system that allows for player-plus-cash offers and the new ability to change clubs mid-season – something that had been impossible in every previous FIFA game.

Perhaps most importantly, however, EA have revealed that FIFA 13 users will be able to simultaneously juggle jobs at club and international level – something lead producer David Rutter calls “the number one fan request”. Players will be able to manage a country through qualifying campaigns, and the size of the job offered depends on both the club you are managing and how successful you have been. Guide Manchester United to the league title and the England gig could be yours; drive Accrington Stanley to the League Two play-offs and Saudi Arabia may come calling.

Says Rutter: “We’ve been asked to put it in for years, but we’ve really been trying to address the fundamentals and make a really solid mode, before laying in other features on top. We feel we’ve done that now, so we’re ready to add internationals. The idea is that it’s a bit of a meta-game, going on alongside the main game. [International mode] has its own set of screens and its own commentary so it looks and feels very different, and obviously we’re supporting the whole gamut of international tournaments.”

Having watched Career Mode become one of FIFA’s most popular features, and a key factor in the game’s success compared to Konami’s Pro Evolution Soccer, EA have predictably – but shamelessly – begun to charge users for the pleasure of using the long-running mode. Whereas previous editions saw virtual “coins” or “points” built up to unlock other leagues, stadiums or mini-features, FIFA 12 saw the introduction of the “Season Ticket”, which cashed in on the popularity of Career Mode and the Creation Centre. As the series has developed, so has the cost for FIFA fans; the price to pay has run parallel with with the increase in realism – virtual coins have been replaced by real ones.

However, with many other additions also in the pipeline, the future looks bright for FIFA’s best feature. The next decade of installments could see Career Mode become almost a game by itself – it is capable of entertaining fans for a year without all FIFA’s other add-ons. That in itself is fine testimony to a feature that has consistently excelled for the best part of a decade.

Images: FIFA 07 Youth Academy – http://guides.gamepressure.com; FIFA 12 Career Mode screenshot – http://www.jcdesignstudio.co.uk


Torquay United last night continued their 100% percent victory in pre-season friendlies with a 2-0 win over Southern League Division One side Tiverton Town, following a 3-0 defeat of the Royal Marines on Friday. Yesterday’s match also marked the opening of United’s new stand, Bristow’s Bench.

Unsurprisingly, most Torquay fans chose to sit in the impressive Bristow’s Bench, with only a smattering of supporters situated in the Family Stand and even fewer in the Popside. United manager Martin Ling’s decision to play a different XI in each half provided the club’s fans with a chance to see almost the entire squad in action –  including new signing Aaron Downes, whose transfer had only been completed hours earlier.

The teamsheet issued before the game carried one ominous sign, however, with playmaker Eunan O’Kane not even listed as a substitute. Having rejected a move to Crawley in June, United fans and players alike were hoping the midfielder would begin the 2012-13 at Plainmoor, but he was left out last night amid rumours of a £175,000 bid from League One side AFC Bournemouth.

Torquay fans pack the gleaming new stand as the teams walk out

With Torquay’s first half XI a blend of first-team regulars – including captain Lee Mansell and last season’s top scorer Rene Howe – untried youngsters such as Niall Thompson and Kirtys MacKenzie, and new signings Downes and Craig Easton, the Gulls predictably struggled early on against a more unified and familiar Tiverton side which contained Torquay record appearance holder Kevin Hill in midfield.

However, early pressure from the visitors was soon cancelled out by a good spell from Torquay, Howe making a nuisance of himself up front while left-back Kevin Nicholson aimed to use winger Thompson’s pace to good effect with a number of sweeping crossfield balls. The match progressed into an even, entertaining tussle, with chances at both ends  – Tiverton’s Andy Taylor warmed new Torquay goalkeeper Michael Poke’s gloves with a fierce volley midway through the first half.

Despite having previously struggled to impose himself on the game from an unfamiliar central midfield role, Torquay’s Ashley Yeoman broke the deadlock on 37 minutes. Picking up possession on the edge of the Tiverton box, the 20-year-old punished United’s visitors with a low shot that flew under Tivvy goalkeeper Chris Wright.

New centre-back Downes provided further encouragement with a stellar45 minute display, combining assured defending with accurate passing and a calm on the ball unusual for a lower-league defender. Brought after the departure of aerial specialist Mark Ellis – with Ling promising an aerially “dominant”  replacement – Downes won every header and repelled every high ball.

Had Ling not been forced to replace injured right-back Joe Oastler with former Newcastle defender Daniel Leadbitter on the half-hour mark, Torquay’s second-half line-up would have seen 11 new players enter the fray. As it was, 10 changes were made, with back-up goalkeeper Martin Rice replacing Poke, new signing Tom Cruise taking Nicholson’s left-back berth, and 16-year-old apprentice Jake Hutchings occupying central defence alongside Brian Saah.

The surplus of wingers in the second half side – four widemen competed for two spots – meant that United’s regular left- and right-sided midfielders Ian Morris and Danny Stevens, along with new signing Nathan Craig, were forced to alternately occupy unfamiliar central roles.

Torquay captain Lee Mansell (in black) motors through the Tivvy midfield

With Torquay’s first-choice wingers out of the way, much-maligned midfielder Lloyd Macklin was presented with a chance to impress the club’s fans and coaches. He didn’t disappoint. Attempting to force his way back into the first-team picture after being publicly criticized by Ling for his attitude, and subsequently trialling at Conference side Hereford, Macklin did his playing prospects no harm with a fine display.

Tormenting Tiverton’s backline with his electrifying pace, Macklin saw as much of the ball as anyone in the second half, whipping over several dangerous crosses and linking up well with right-back and off-field friend Leadbitter. Sprinting onto a through ball midway around the hour mark, Macklin found himself one-on-one but saw his shot blocked by the solid Wright.

Former Premier League forward Ryan Jarvis, occupying Howe’s role as lone frontman, was guilty of missing a guilt-edged chance soon afterwards, side-footing over the bar from close range. He was almost punished when Tiverton centre-back Dave Kendall headed narrowly over from a corner minutes later.

However, it was United’s night, and the win was assured 20 minutes from time. Leadbitter’s cross was headed against the woodwork by Jarvis, but as Tiverton’s defence breathed a sigh of relief, Stevens nipped in to convert the rebound…via the far post. The remainder of the game was dominated by Torquay, with Macklin almost extending the lead with a powerful drive on 80 minutes, Wright producing an impressive save.

As the clock wound down, Ling took the opportunity to provide substitutes George Artemi and Danny Sullivan with 20-minute cameos, with both youngsters doing well to impress in their short slots. Artemi, a Thurrock centre-half on trial at Plainmoor, was playing out-of-position at right-back, but took advantage of his wide role to embark on a marauding run late on which almost led to a third goal.

Playing on United’s left wing, pacy teenager Sullivan showed glimpses of the talent and form that has seen him net four times in his last two youth team outings. A hat-trick against Kingsteignton’s senior side last week had been followed up by a solitary strike in Torquay’s 4-2 defeat of Pulse Premier two days later – which Ling attended – and more goals could see Sullivan fast-tracked into the first team.

Result: Torquay United 2-0 Tiverton Town

Goals: Ashley Yeoman ’37, Danny Stevens ’68

Officials: Referee – Marc Whaley; Linesmen – Andy Tinkler, Ian Loader; Fouth Official – Sean Rothwell

Teams: Torquay: 1st half – Michael Poke, Joe Oastler (Daniel Leadbitter 30), Kirtys MacKenzie, Aaron Downes, Kevin Nicholson, Niall Thompson, Lee Mansell, Craig Easton, Ashley Yeoman, Billy Bodin, Rene Howe.

2nd half – Martin Rice, Daniel Leadbitter (George Artemi 68), Brian Saah, Jake Hutchings, Tom Cruise, Lloyd Macklin, Damon Lathrope, Ian Morris, Nathan Craig, Danny Stevens (Danny Sullivan 68), Ryan Jarvis.

Tiverton: Chris Wright, Josh Concanen, Lewis Tasker, Kevin Hill, Paul Kendall, Adam Faux, Andy Taylor, Harry Nodwell, Michael Nardiello, Joe Bushin, Josh Searle, Liam Ellis, Tom Tricker, Owen Howe, Tom Gardner, Jules Emati-Emati, David Steele, Russell Jee, George Swain, Mark Saunders.

Images: http://www.thisissouthdevon.co.uk

Aussie Aaron Joins Gulls


Torquay United have completed the signing of former Chesterfield defender Aaron Downes after the Australian centre-back was released by The Spireites in May. United had been searching for a new defender for almost a month after selling Mark Ellis to Crewe Alexandra in late June.

Beginning his career with the Australian Institute of Sport in 2003, Downes moved into English football with short non-league spells with Hampton & Richmond and Frickley Athletic. Signed for Chesterfield in August 2004 by Roy MacFarland – who had managed Torquay two years earlier – Downes made ten appearances in his first season in League One, scoring twice for his new side.

Downes has plenty of Football League experience, particularly with Chesterfield

The centre-back went on to establish himself as a regular in Chesterfield’s side, playing over 20 times in all but two of his eight seasons – including a 2011-12 campaign in which he joined Bristol Rovers on loan in January. Downes’ downfall is his tendency to pick up injuries – Torquay manager Martin Ling claims “He was going to be a massive product at Chesterfield” were it not for “a couple of bad knee injuries” that have “definitely thwarted his career”.

Following his loan spell at Rovers, Downes was deemed surplus to requirements at Chesterfield and released at the 2011-12 campaign. Unsurprisingly, he interested other Football League sides, and ironically, it was during a trial with Yeovil that Ling spotted his new man. As Torquay’s boss says: “I watched him play for Yeovil in pre-season and they wanted to take him, but as a cover player rather than a starter. I’ve told Aaron I’m looking for a left-sided centre-half and he has played 90% of his football in that position, even though he is right-footed.”

Yeovil’s loss was United’s gain, as Ling swooped to sign a defender who had met his criteria set upon selling Ellis: he stressed the need for a replacement with “experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”. With Downes having amassed 174 Football League appearances for Chestefield at the age of 27, the former Australia under-23 international ticks both boxes.

Though Ling had initially promised the new centre-back would be unveiled in mid-June  – a deadline that came and went with little development revealed – most United fans are happy with their new signing. Downes will begin the season as Torquay’s first-choice centre-back alongside the unflappable Brian Saah, with fellow new recruit Tom Cruise and first-year pro Kirtys MacKenzie providing cover.

Thankfully for Torquay, the limited time Downes has to gel with new goalkeeper Michael Poke and form a cohesive defensive unit before the start of the season is compensated by the fact that the two were both on loan at Bristol Rovers last season. Downes’ new Plainmoor team-mates also seemed pleased with the signing, with left-back Kevin Nicholson taking the opportunity to welcome Aaron to the club, saying it felt “good to have another quality player on board”.

Downes himself gushed: “[I’m] really happy to be joining such a great club…can’t wait for the season to start. Thank you to all Torquay fans on Twitter who have already made me feel welcome.”

Meanwhile, former Rushden & Diamonds defender George Artemi continues to trial at Torquay, and could feature in tonight’s friendly against Tiverton Town. The 19-year-old, predominantly a centre-back, could be signed as cover either for that position or as backup to defensive midfielder Damon Lathrope.

Image: http://www1.skysports.com


Everton attacker Tim Cahill looks set to join Major League Soccer outfit New York Red Bulls after the Goodison Park club announced a deal had been agreed between the two sides. The Australian international spent 8 years at Everton, racking up over 270 appearances.

Cahill began his career at hometown club Sydney United, moving to English side Millwall on a free transfer in 1998. He soon established himself as a regular in the The Lions’ starting line-up, playing 36 times in the league in his second season at the Den. Cahill went on to reach double figures in four of his seven seasons at the club from central midfield, and scoring the winner in a FA Cup semi-final tie against Sunderland – a victory that put Millwall into the Cup final and the following season’s UEFA Cup.

Fox in the Box: Cahill in typical pose

Having narrowly avoided relegation from the Premier League the previous season, Everton boss David Moyes shelled out £1.5 million for Cahill’s services in a bid to climb up the table in 2004-05. It certainly worked – moved into a more attacking role, Cahill was Everton’s top scorer with 11 goals as the side finished in a hugely impressive fourth place.

Scoring a brilliant headed winner against Manchester City in one of his first appearances for Everton set the tone for a largely successful stay at Goodison Park which saw Cahill become a huge fans’ favourite. He scored in three of Everton’s last 5 games of the 2004-05 campaign – his final goal of the season, against Newcastle in the Blues’ penultimate game, sealed Champions League qualification.

The 32-year-old’s departure severs another link to that 2004-05 squad, who’s success Everton have failed to emulate in recent years: there are now just two players – local lads Tony Hibbert and Leon Osman – who were part of the Champions League side.

Although he stands at a modest 5 feet, 10 inches tall (hence the affectionate nickname “Tiny Tim”), Cahill’s impressive aerial ability allowed him to outjump many taller defenders. Thumping headed goals – followed by his trademark boxing celebration – became a regular sight at Goodison Park during Cahill’s eight-year stint at Everton.

One of the club’s most consistent players in recent seasons, Cahill suffered a rare blip in form during the 2011-12 campaign, netting just three times and enduring a goal drought that lasted throughout the whole of 2011. As former Everton defender David Unsworth noted: “Tim’s been a fantastic servant for Everton – a bargain buy. He’s scored many goals but his form has just waned a little bit.”

Recent months have seen Cahill linked with big-money moves to China and the United Arab Emirates, but, having ruled out moves to both countries, the former Ballon d’Or nominee found the chance to join New York Red Bulls too good to turn down. Though the American giants have yet to confirm the deal, a statement released on Everton’s official website last night read: “Everton have agreed with Major League Soccer that Tim Cahill can be transferred to the New York Red Bulls. Tim, 32, will move to the Red Bulls for a nominal fee, subject to agreeing personal terms and passing a medical. He will travel to the US in the next few days.”

That fee is believed to be in the region of £1 million, representing a decent return on Everton’s original investment, but many supporters feel Cahill’s success over the years should have warranted a larger sum. Tim will join fellow ex-Premier League players Teemu Tainio and Thierry Henry – captain of the Red Bulls – at the Eastern Conference table-toppers, but is the only Asian member of club’s squad.

Current Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard enjoyed a 5-year spell at the side, then known as the New York/New Jersey Metrostars, between 1998 and 2003.

Image: http://www.thesun.co.uk

Artemi on Trial


Former Southend defender George Artemi has confirmed that he is currently on trial with League Two side Torquay United. The Gulls are known to be on the lookout for a new central defender to replace Mark Ellis, who left for Crewe Alexandra in June.

Although Torquay boss Martin Ling is desperate to sign another defender before the start of the 2012-13 season, many fans will be surprised to learn of 19-year-old Artemi’s trial – Ling had promised the new centre-back would have “experience and at least 100 games of professional football under his belt”.

Artemi at Rusden & Diamonds in 2009

That Artemi has spent most of his senior career in the reserve teams of professional clubs or playing in non-league suggests that either Ling thinks very highly of him indeed, or sees the ex-Rushden & Diamonds man as a third-choice centre-back. The Gulls completed the signing of former Arsenal youngster Tom Cruise in late June, and Cruise’s ability to play on the left side of defence or midfielder means that Artemi could take his place in United’s central defensive roster – with Cruise now seen as cover at full-back.

Beginning his career in Leyton Orient’s youth system, Artemi was part of Ling’s regime at Brisbane Road when the manager spent six years at the club between 2003 and 2009. A former captain of Orient’s youth sides, Artemi trialled with Rushden & Diamonds in the 2008-09 season, and, after impressing for the club’s youth team, made his senior debut aged 17 in a Hillier Senior Cup clash with Kettering Town.

Although he has a distinct lack of Football League experience, Artemi is no stranger to the rough-and-tumble of men’s football – described as a “strong, no-nonsense centre-back” by Diamonds, he faced 6ft strikers Anthony Elding and Moses Ashikodi on his debut for the club, and has since enjoyed loan spells further down the football pyramid with Great Wakering Rovers and Malden & Tiptree.

Following a trial with Southend in March 2011, Artemi signed a contract with the Roots Hall club, but he found first-team opportunities hard to come by and, after more loan spells, was released at the end of the year. Artemi, of Cypriot origin but fluent in Spanish, joined Bishop’s Stortford in January 2012, but would spend just two months at the club before leaving for Conference South outfit Thurrock in March.

Relegation-threatened Thurrock had little chance of survival – they would ultimately be relegated in the first week of April – and Artemi was handed his debut in March, starting against mid-table Weston-super-Mare in a 2-2 draw. Though the result was a good one for Thurrock on their travels, Artemi was replaced just 14 minutes into the match and failed to appear again in 2011-12.

Should he join Torquay on a permanent basis if his trial proves successful, Artemi will complete a hat-trick of players on the club’s books with Cypriot heritage. Left-back Alex Avraamides and 15-year-old midfielder Charalambos Mouzouros are both members of United’s youth team, and both impressed in the U-18 side’s 4-2 victory over international academy Pulse Premier on Friday.

With the Gulls also linked with Morecambe centre-back Chris McCready and ex-Crawley stopper Pablo Mills, it seems unlikely that Ling would take the risk of having Artemi, untried in the Football League, in his starting line-up. However, the youngster could provide valuable cover across the backline and act as back-up to the first-choice pairing of Brian Saah and the expected signing of a new, experienced centre-back.

Image: http://www.thediamondsfc.com


Dutch international Luuk de Jong has signed for German side Borussia Mönchengladbach for a fee in the region of €15 million, following months of speculation linking the forward with a move to Die Fohlen.

Beginning his career with De Graafschap in 2008, de Jong took just 14 Eredivisie games to attract the attention of bigger Dutch clubs. Having already contributed vital assists and crucial goals – including a spectacular overhead-kick winner against Heracles Almelo in March 2009 – de Jong established himself as one of the country’s brightest young talents, and few were surprised when FC Twente swooped to sign the forward in April 2009.

De Jong poses with his new shirt

Two assists on his debut, an 8-0 cup rout of SC Joure, set the tone for a prolific spell at the De Grolsch Veste stadium. Over the next three years, de Jong netted 39 times in just 76 league games – a strike rate of over one goal every other game. His goals powered Twente to the Eredivisie title in 2009-10, and he was the club’s top scorer in the following two seasons.

After a brilliant 2011-12 campaign in which de Jong scored 25 league goals in 32 appearances, Twente manager Steve McClaren and president Joop Munsterman appeared to be resigned to losing their star man. Believing the 21-year-old was headed for the Premier League, McClaren told the Daily Mirror: “Luuk is an English style striker, made for English football. I am just ­desperate to keep him for one more year, but I ­realise that will be difficult. Luuk is big, strong, brilliant in the air and scores goals so easily. He has every quality a top class striker needs to have for a big club.”

With many European clubs rumoured to be interested in the Swiss-born striker, Munsterman slapped a hefty €15 million (£11.7 million) price tag on de Jong – a figure that put off some potential suitors, including English side Newcastle United. Having offloaded last season’s top scorer Marco Reus to Borussia Dortmund for €17.5 milli0n, Borussia Mönchengladbach had money to spend and needed to invest in a goalscorer.

Die Fohlen had finished in an impressive fourth place in the 2011-12 Bundesliga, and their success and ambition clearly tempted de Jong once the club had met Twente’s €15 million valuation. Indeed, the frontman admitted he would forego personal success at his new club for the benefit of his new team: “I would be happy to give up the [top] scorer’s title if it meant challenging at the top of the table. The club has made the right steps with its transfer. Maybe we can win the league in the next five years. I didn’t sign until 2017 without having any long-term objectives.”

Relieved to have finally completed the signing of de Jong after months of speculation, Mönchengladbach sporting director Max Eberl smiled: “”We are very pleased that it’s now a done deal after all, and that Luuk will be able to travel to our training camp in Tegernsee on Friday. In Luuk, we have secured the services of a very talented striker who already has plenty of international experience under his belt with Twente and the Dutch national side, despite his tender age of 21.”

Recording a strike rate of at least a goal a game for each of the Dutch youth teams he represented at international level, de Jong was handed his senior Holland debut in 2011. He was named in the country’s Euro 2012 squad, but despite the Oranje’s disastrous tournament, was left on the bench for all three group stage games.

Image: http://topnews.in


Brazilian side Botafogo have completed the signing of Uruguayan wonderkid Nicolás Lodeiro from Ajax for an undisclosed fee. The deal was confirmed on Botafogo’s official website on Friday, and Lodeiro will link up with his new team-mates after the Olympic Games.

Making his debut for Uruguayan giants Nacional aged just 18, Lodeiro enjoyed national honours in his second season in senior football as Nacional won the Primera División in 2008-09. Although still a teenager, Lodeiro played in 25 of Nacional’s 32 league fixtures that season, earning rave reviews and showing maturity beyond his years.

A 2011 Copa América winner, Lodeiro has a fine international pedigree

After helping his side reach the semi-finals of the Copa Libertadores in 2009, Lodeiro began to attract interest from a number of European clubs and few were surprised when the midfielder left for Dutch giants Ajax in January 2010. Although linking up with compatriots Luis Suarez  – who had recommended Nicolás to Ajax boss Martin Jol – and Bruno Silva somewhat softened the blow of having to leave his home continent, Lodeiro predictably struggled to make an immediate impact at Ajax, only making ten appearances in all competitions.

Included in Uruguay’s 2010 World Cup squad, Lodeiro did little to boost his chances of first-team football at the Amsterdam Arena by first becoming the tournament’s first player to be sent off, and then picking up an injury that kept him out for the entire 2010-11 campaign.

To his credit, Lodeiro recovered to make 12 Eredivisie appearances for Ajax last season, scoring his first league goals for the club and also netting against Dinamo Zagreb in the Champions League. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late to save his Ajax career, and the Dutch giants have allowed Lodeiro to leave as they prepare to defend their league title in 2012-13.

Five years ago, Lodeiro’s decision to leave Europe for the Brazilian top-flight would have been viewed as a huge step backwards, but the league has markedly improved in recent years as national heroes return home to end their careers and Brazil’s youngsters now choose to bide their time at home rather than rushing into an ill-advised move to Europe.

In joining Botafogo – currently just one point shy of fourth place and a Copa Libertadores berth – Lodeiro follows in the footsteps of Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf, who left Europe for The Lone Star at the start of the month. The fanfare surrounding the former AC Milan and Real Madrid schemer, who still dominates Botafogo’s official website over 20 days after joining, will take some of the pressure off Lodeiro.

At the age of 23, Lodeiro has played just 81 games at club level – Seedorf has made over 800 appearances. Named as Man of the Match in just his second senior appearance for Uruguay, Lodeiro clearly has talent, and moving back to South America can help him settle and rediscover the form that led him to Europe in the first place. He needs more first-team football, and Lodeiro is more likely to play regularly at Botafogo than Ajax.

A statement on Botafogo’s official website said: “Botafogo closed on Thursday the signing of Uruguayan Nicolas Lodeiro, 23. The player, who signed for four years with the club, is meeting with the Uruguayan team in preparation for the Olympics in London, and [will] submit to Botafogo after the competition.”

Image: http://fifacats.blogspot.co.uk


Torquay United’s youth team today recorded a 4-2 victory over touring side Pulse Premier in a competitive match at Bovey Tracey. Although the game was billed, rather misleadingly, as a friendly against a New Zealand youth team, Torquay’s actual opponents were Pulse Premier – a programme designed to provide youngsters aged 16-19 and released by various professional clubs with a route back into the game.

Among Pulse’s starting XI was a familiar face for Torquay’s team – burly forward Sean Latimer had previously spent two years at Plainmoor, being released in March 2012 despite scoring twice for the club’s youth team against Bristol Rovers the previous month.

Torquay launch an attack during an even first half

Despite the security of being fixed up with a professional club, Torquay’s players were just as keen to impress as their Pulse Premier counterparts, with United’s youngsters hoping to follow in the footsteps of Niall Thompson and Kirtys MacKenzie, who both made the step-up to Torquay’s first team at the end of last season.

Promising forward Thompson was in attendance at today’s fixture and was soon joined by United boss Martin Ling and assistant Shaun Taylor. The opening exchanges were scrappy, with the two teams both battling to establish early control. Pulse’s high pressure meant much of United’s possession came deep inside their own half, with vocal goalkeeper Sam Shulberg seeing as much of the ball as any of his outfield team-mates, playing in a fluorescent yellow strip.

However, it was Shulberg’s mistake from a routine cross late in the first half that enabled Pulse to break the deadlock. The goalkeeper, of Northamptonshire origin, failed to collect a ball whipped into the box, and it was former United man Latimer who pounced for a simple tap-in.

Latimer’s physical presence provided a tough challenge for impressive Torquay centre-back Scott Beattie, while Pulse’s attacking line-up also boasted a Gervinho-esque midfielder whose pace often threatened to beat United’s backline in the first half. Though not, as promised, hailing from New Zealand, Pulse’s partisan defence included an Asian centre-back and full-back, whose tidiness and ball-playing tendencies compensated for a lack of aerial ability and height.

Torquay’s main threat, meanwhile, came from pacy winger Danny Sullivan. Fresh from bagging a hat-trick in United’s confidence-boosting 4-0 defeat of local men’s side Kingsteignton Athletic two days earlier, Sullivan would again get on the scoresheet against Pulse.

To their credit, Torquay soon recovered, with their short passing beginning to create a number of one-on-one opportunities. It was through one such chance that the Gulls equalized, but parity was not to last long. Minutes later, evading a couple of challenges on the edge of the Torquay box, Latimer found space to curl a brilliant effort beyond Shulberg and into the top corner. If the forward had set out to prove a point to his former employers and team-mates, first-half evidence suggested his mission was complete.

However, once again refusing to lay down, Torquay equalized in a matter of seconds, tearing through Pulse’s defence straight from the restart. Half-time arrived with the teams level, a fair reflection given the similar shares of possession and shots on goal.

United youth-team coach Geoff Harrop demanded more from his players in the second half, and, with the introduction of a few fresh legs, he was duly rewarded. Torquay enjoyed the better chances of the second half, with Pulse’s early athleticism and tireless running gradually fading as the game wore on. Withdrawing Latimer, Pulse’s standout peformer, midway through the second 45 further reduced the visitors’ attacking threat.

Pulse’s ex-Norwich right-back Joyal Gurung keeps a close eye on United goalscorer Danny Sullivan

Around 60 minutes had elapsed when Torquay took the lead for the first time in the match, Pulse’s goalkeeper repelling one shot only to see the rebound dispatched beyond him. Though Pulse continued to threaten occasionally – with Shulberg forced into two impressive saves in close proximity – United began to assert control, particularly in the latter stages of the game.

Cypriot left-back Alex Avraamides, who had shown glimpses of skill going forward, was joined by compatriot Charalambos Mouzouros who entered the fray around the 70 minute mark for a brief cameo appearance. Although just 15 years old, Mouzouros’ obvious ability meant his performance was on par with his team-mates – most of whom are two years older than the midfielder, who was rumoured to have interested Italian giants Roma before joining Torquay.

Torquay’s diminutive right-back, having also entered the game late on, did well to not only impress going forward but to score in the last few minutes, surging forwards before squeezing a shot between goalkeeper and post from an improbable angle. The final whistle sounded soon afterwards to confirm a relatively comfortable win and well-earned win.

Result: Torquay United Youth 4-2 Pulse Premier

Date: Friday, 20 July 2012

Venue: The Recreation Ground (Bovey Tracey)

Referee: Robbie Herrera (Torquay)

Attendance: c. 25

Pulse Premier line-up: Sinan Satlik, Joyal Gurung, Charlie Bristow, Minchim Choi, Jamie Clare, Matt Cooper, Sam de St Croix, David Koula, Sean Latimer, Josh Wright, Tai Chan.


GALLERY:

Torquay goalkeeper Sam Shulberg (pink) prepares to make a save

Ling, Taylor and Thompson watch on from the stand

Pulse build from the back

An animated Geoff Harrop dishes out the half-time team-talk


He may have only won 11 caps for Antigua and Barbuda, but Reading midfielder Mikele Leigertwood has done as much as anyone to boost the tiny nation’s profile and appeal to European audiences.

Born in the London borough of Enfield in November 1982, Leigertwood began his career with capital-based team Wimbledon in 2001. 56 league appearances, as well as a brief loan spell at Leyton Orient, in his three years at the club showed experience and reliability beyond his years, Leigertwood’s spell at Wimbledon was hampered by the side’s financial woes.

Having entered administration in January 2003, the Wombles were forced to flog every first-team player capable of commanding a fee. Although he survived the fire-sale’s first throes, Leigertwood was eventually offloaded in January 2004, joining Crystal Palace for £155,000.

Battling injuries and relegation at Palace

The midfielder became Palace manager Iain Dowie’s first permanent signing for the club, and made ten appearances in the remainder of the 2003-04 Championship season as the Eagles flew into England’s top-flight via the play-offs. Although he was just 21 at the start of the next season – only Palace’s fourth in the Premier League – Leigertwood proceeded to feature in the majority of the club’s league fixtures in 2004-05, even scoring his first goal for the club against Tottenham Hotspur in January 2005 from close range.

Unfortunately, Palace were relegated on the last day of the season, missing out on survival by just a single point. Leigertwood remained at Selhurst Park for 2005-06, and enjoyed increased playing time – 30 appearances in all competitions represented his best return for Palace.

Following the Eagles’ 3-0 play-off defeat to Watford, Leigertwood found an offer from newly-promoted Sheffield United too hard to refuse. He signed on the dotted line at Bramall Lane for £600,000 – a fee only necessary as he was under 24 at the time. 21 league appearances in his debut season for The Blades followed, but, in a scarcely believable development, Leigertwood was once more relegated from the top-flight on the last day of the season – by one goal. It was a relegation Sheffield United fiercely contended, the club infuriated by West Ham’s controversial purchase of Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano – the former player scoring the goal that kept The Hammers up at United’s expense.

Despite looking set to remain at Bramall Lane for the 2007-08 campaign, Leigertwood would play just two games of the new season before joining second-tier rivals Queens Park Rangers for £900,000. Although this move looked to be a backward one in some aspects – QPR would finish just six points clear of relegation, while Sheffield United were four points shy of the play-offs – the transfer resulted in more playing time for Leigertwood. The midfielder would play in at least 87% of QPR’s league fixtures for the next three seasons, maturing into a reliable holding player capable at both ends of the pitch: Leigertwood netted 12 times during his stay at Loftus Road, the most he has scored for any one club.

Ironically, having helped stabilise Rangers and establish them as one of the Championship’s better clubs, Leigertwood fell out of favour in 2010-11, the season the side won promotion to the Premier League. Being farmed out to Reading in November 2010, around the time of his twenty-eighth birthday, proved to be a blessing in disguise: forming a central midfield partnership with Jem Karacan, Leigertwood soon proved so invaluable that his loan was extended to the end of the season.

Ultimately, The Royals missed out on following QPR to the Premier League with a play-off final defeat to Swansea in which Mikele played the full 90 minutes. It would be the 2011-12 season, however, in which Leigertwood would really make a name for himself at Reading. Joining the club permanently in August 2011, he became an indispensable fixture in Brian McDermott’s starting XI, playing 41 of Reading’s 46 league games.

“The Premier League’s that way, Mikele!” Leigertwood has enjoyed success at Reading

With Leigertwood’s permanent services, Reading conceded ten fewer goals than in 2010-11, but it was not just his defensive abilities that shone through. Vital strikes against promotion rivals Southampton, Leicester, Blackpool and West Ham helped his side to the league’s summit, but Leigertwood’s finest moment in a Reading shirt was still to come.

On 17 April 2012, the table-toppers had the chance to secure promotion to the Premier League against Nottingham Forest with three games remaining. A predictably tense match ensued, with only a win being enough to warrant Reading’s planned promotion party. The 80 minute mark came and went with the match still goalless, prompting even the most optimistic fan to prepare themselves for one more nervous game. Promotion banners were folded away, pessimists headed for the exits.

However, one man had other ideas. Just nine minutes remained when Leigertwood pounced to fire home Ian Harte’s free-kick, prompting scenes of pandemonium and jubilation around the Madjeski Stadium. A mass pitch invasion followed; Leigertwood, having been, as BBC Sport called him, “the hero”, was carried off by hordes of grateful supporters. He later told cameras he was “delighted” to have scored the winner and the goal that clinched promotion, calling the amazing scenes at full-time “a crazy situation” and laughing “I got picked up in the air…people were trying to take my boots off me!”

The lynchpin of a team who’s average age is just 24, the 2012-13 season will be Leigertwood’s third in the Premier League. Expect him to play a big role. While his previous career has seen him move clubs frequently, Mikele seems to have found his home at the Madjeski.

Leigertwood was first approached to play for Antigua and Barbuda in June 2008 by then-national team coach Willie Donachie. A former Manchester City left-back himself, Donachie was attempting to bring some much-needed quality to the country’s squad by calling up players of Antiguan or Barbudan descent.

Although he was forced to turn down Donachie’s initial approach due to the team’s fixtures clashing with a wedding he had to attend, Leigertwood was eager to be involved in international football and soon afterwards took advantage of four-match Football League ban during his time at QPR to link up with Antigua’s 2008 Caribbean Championship squad.

Making history with Antigua and Barbuda

Making his debut in a 3-2 loss to Trinidad & Tobago, Leigertwood made sure he was on the winning side on his second appearance by scoring the opener in a 2-1 defeat of Guyana. With the midfielder’s help, Antigua and Barbuda progressed to the finals of the competition after finishing as runners-up of Group H, clinching their spot in Jamaica with a thrilling 4-3 win over St Kitts & Nevis.

Drawn in a tough group containing Cuba, Guadeloupe (both of whom would reach the semi-finals) and Haiti, the squad struggled to compete without Leigertwood, whose league commitments in England had ruled him out of the finals, held in December. Antigua and Barbuda picked up two points in their three games, earning creditable draws against Haiti and Guadeloupe, but were sent home early.

Leigertwood returned to international action in November 2010, helping the Benna Boys reach that year’s Caribbean Championship by playing in a qualification win over Suriname and defending well to earn valuable draws against Dominica and Cuba. Once more, however, he was unable to play in the tournament proper, and once more Antigua and Barbuda were eliminated in the group stage.

The midfielder’s last five national team appearances have all come in 2014 World Cup qualifiers, enjoying slender wins over Curaçao and Haiti, as well as suffering a 2-1 loss to the latter team in November 2011, before returning to the side last month. Although a 3-1 loss to the USA and a goalless draw with Jamaica may not look particularly inspiring results, the Benna Boys have run two of North America’s best teams very close – a position that may not have been achieved without Leigertwood’s experience and leadership.

An article on Reading’s official website expressed the club’s pride in Leigertwood having “ma[de] history for his country” by leading Antigua and Barbuda to the next round of World Cup qualifying, going down in the nation’s footballing history for being part of the country’s squad to do so.

Ironically, Leigertwood’s relative fame means his off-field actions have helped Antigua and Barbuda just as much as his on-field performances. Since Mikele accepted an invitation to represent the country, fellow English-born footballers including Macclesfield’s Kieran Murtagh, Wycombe’s Marvin McCoy, ex-Oldham forward Josh Parker, and, most notably, Leigertwood’s former Championship colleague Dexter Blackstock, have all agreed to join Antigua’s squad.

Blackstock – a Nottingham Forest forward who has scored over 75 goals in England’s professional leagues and cups – will bring goalscoring prowess to the tiny, overachieving country with a population of just 89,000. The other players recruited from the English leagues will not be available all year round, but will make Antigua and Barbuda’s squad more solid and professional.

Having significantly improved a squad that previously only consisted of locally-based players, Mikele Leigertwood has paved the way for European-born footballers to represent Antigua and Barbuda internationally. His role in the team’s upturn in fortunes should never be underestimated, and, when Leigertwood and his new recruits are all available, Antigua will be able to field a team with six England-based professionals – forming a side that will be a force to be reckoned with.

 

Image: Leigertwood at Crystal Palace – http://www.holmesdale.net; Leigertwood at Reading – http://www.getreading.co.uk; Playing for Antigua and Barbuda – http://www.zimbio.com