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And we're back! 2015-16 Season Preview

by Alistair 9. August 2015 10:30

Ladies and gentlemen, we did it. We got through the summer break. It was tough, sure, but it’s over now. You can put down those barbeque tongs, stick the sun lounger back in the shed and forget all about that fence you probably weren’t going to paint anyway. Because this weekend, in stadiums across the country and around Europe, the football – the proper football – returns. And this season, like almost every season before it, threatens to be one of unmissable drama.

With Premier League legends Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and Robin van Persie all parting ways with the English topflight, there’s never been a better time for new icons to emerge and big summer moves aplenty at the Etihad, Old Trafford and Anfield mean there are no shortage of fresh faces among the familiar stars. 

At Stamford Bridge, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea – with leading lights in Eden Hazard, Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas – bid to become the first team since 2009 to defend their Premier League crown. But they face a strong challenge from a reinvigorated Arsenal, perennial contenders Man City and a much-strengthened Man United, who have added over £83million of talent over the summer.

Meanwhile, a Gerrard-less Liverpool have flashed their cash and captured Christian Benteke, Roberto Firmino and Nathaniel Clyne, among others, while Tottenham will be hoping for more of the same from frontman Harry Kane, who emerged as one of English football’s most exciting young strikers following a frenzy of goals last term.

Newly promoted Watford return to the topflight after an eight year exile while Norwich City look promising after their swift return and there’s more than a sense of intrigue about Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth, who were excellent as they romped to the Championship title.

On the continent, there’s more glory expected for Barcelona, led by the irresistible and seemingly unstoppable ‘MSN’ trio of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar. As ever, Luis Enrique’s side will need to see off Clasico rivals Real Madrid but with Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale at his disposal, new boss Rafa Benitez must feel confident of a strong challenge.

The German title race, as in France and Italy, is decidedly less open. With the additions of Arturo Vidal and Douglas Costa, Bayern will be incredibly hard to catch, though Kevin de Bruyne’s Wolfsburg and Dortmund – with hipsters’ choice Thomas Tuchel taking over from former hipsters’ choice Jurgen Klopp – will try their level best to keep up.

Paris Saint-Germain look certain to retain their Ligue 1 crown, as Angel Di Maria joins Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Edinson Cavani and David Luiz – a deep run into the latter stages of the Champions League is the aim.

Juventus will start clear favourites in Italy but the Old Lady has lost some of her favourite sons over the summer with Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Vidal heading away to varying corners of Planet Football. Rudi Garcia’s Roma have been improving season-on-season and could challenge Juve’s dominance should their squad stay healthy throughout the season.

Beside the Premier League, we should look then to the Champions League for competitiveness, where any number of around five or six teams could feasibly triumph. Though MSN make Barcelona the hot favourites, a lack of domestic challenge could help the likes of Bayern, Juventus and PSG, who’ll each be looking to improve on the continent. Whoever wins, we’re doubtless in for a treat as the best in the world vie for the ultimate prize.

 

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Icons' predictions 2015-16 season

by Dan 7. August 2015 09:10

It feels like an age since Chelsea lifted that Premier League trophy, bringing the 14-15 Premier League season to a close. It's been a busy summer for almost every club but here we are, at that exciting stage again; the beginning of a new season! Who will emerge as champions? Which signings will prosper? Which will flop? Here is how everybody at Icons thinks the season will pan out at home and abroad...

 

Edward Freedman, Chairman

Premier League top four: Chelsea, Arsenal, Man City, Manchester United 

La Liga: Barcelona

Champions League: Barcelona

F.A Cup: Southampton

League Cup:  Arsenal

Relegation: Aston Villa, Norwich, Watford.

Surprise Package: Sterling and Harry Kane have poor seasons. At least 2 Premier League managers go before Christmas.

 

Dan Jamieson CEO and Managing Director

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, Man City, Arsenal, Liverpool

Premier League top scorer: Sergio Aguero

La Liga winners: Barcelona

Champions League winners: Bayern Munich – Pep finally gets it right

FA Cup: Liverpool

League Cup: Man City

Premier League bottom 3: West Ham, Sunderland, Leicester

Positive surprise packages: Everyone is saying Bournemouth so that’s boring, how about Sterling to live up to the price tag? Crystal Palace to push for Europe

Negative surprise packages: Louis Van Gaal to be gone by this time next year having spent a third of a billion pounds on everything apart from what they need

Random predictions: The UEFA Champions League is more enjoyable on BT Sport than ITV and no one misses Andy Townsend

 

Ben Soley, Sales and Marketing Manager

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, City, Manchester United, Liverpool

Premier League top scorer: Sergio Aguero, if he can stay fit

La Liga winners: Barcelona

Champions League winners: Barcelona

FA Cup: Man United

League Cup: Man City

Premier League bottom 3: Watford, Bournemouth, Leicester

Positive surprise packages: Sterling to start 30 games and get double figure goals. Rooney to break England goal scoring record against Switzerland.

Negative surprise packages: Aleksandar Mitrovic (Newcastle United). Depay to have great opening 10 games and then go off the boil.

Random predictions: three managers sacked by Christmas day, Mitrovic to be sent off at least twice for Newcastle, Balotelli to leave Liverpool – celebrations go wrong and fire engines called to Anfield after fireworks mishap.

 

Margaret Plunkett, Head of Customer Service

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United

Premier League top scorer: Hazard

La Liga winners: Barcelona

Champions League winners: Real Madrid

FA Cup: Arsenal

League Cup: Stoke

Premier League bottom 3: Norwich, Leicester, Watford

Positive surprise packages: Jurgen Klopp to manage in Premiership in 2015/16 season

Negative surprise packages: Sam Allardyce to return as Premiership manager

Random predictions: Arsenal to beat Chelsea in a Premiership game to prove Community shield win was not luck or a fluke.

 

Jack O’Neill,  Editorial Intern

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United

Premier League top scorer: Diego Costa

La Liga winners: FC Barcelona

Champions League winners: FC Barcelona

FA Cup: Manchester United

League Cup: Manchester United

Premier League bottom 3: Norwich, Leicester, Watford

Positive surprise packages: Bournemouth to survive by playing positive attacking football. Diego Costa to miss the first month of the season getting a hamstring transplant. Never gets injured again. Jack Wilshere to look on in envy from the Arsenal medical table.

Negative surprise packages: Southampton to become the new Everton and push the top 4 all the way. Everton to become the new Southampton and lose all their best players.

Random predictions: Alan Pardew to lose his cool once again and punch Jose Mourinho on the touchline. Hazard / Oscar / Willian to outscore the Three Amigos in the Champions League.

 

Alistair Hunter, Editorial Intern

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City

Premier League top scorer: Diego Costa

La Liga winners: FC Barcelona

Champions League winners: FC Barcelona

FA Cup: Manchester United

League Cup: Aston Villa

Premier League bottom 3: Sunderland, Watford, Leicester

Positive surprise packages: Bournemouth to escape relegation on the final day of the season; Newcastle and Aston Villa will be reinvigorated – the latter especially so.

Negative surprise packages: Claudio Ranieri will be sacked before Christmas, sending Leicester into a tailspin they fail to recover from. Roberto Firmino will score fewer than five goals for Liverpool, putting more pressure on Brendan Rodgers.

Random predictions: A goalkeeper will score at some point this season. Alan Pardew will have a quiet and controversy-free season.

 

Harm Jan Deuring, Social Content Co-ordinator

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester United, Manchester City

Premier League top scorer: Hazard

La Liga winners: FC Barcelona

Champions League: Bayern Munich

FA Cup: Arsenal

League Cup: Manchester City

Premier League bottom 3: Watford, Norwich City, Leicester City

Positive surprise packages: Stoke City playing Brazilian samba football. Spurs impress with youngest team ever, but will end fifth again.

Negative surprise packages: Liverpool, Southampton

Random predictions: Louis van Gaal will get his own dictionary, Depay will do better than Di Maria.

 

 Scott Hutchison, US Partner

Premier League top 4: Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal, Manchester United

Premier League top scorer: Harry Kane

La Liga winners: Barcelona

Champions League winners: Chelsea

FA Cup: Chelsea

League Cup: Everton

Premier League bottom 3: Norwich, Sunderland, Leicester

Positive surprise packages: Bournemouth stay up, and Matt Richie is the reason why.

Negative surprise packages: Every single signing (aside from Milner) Brendan Rodgers made this summer for Liverpool.

Random predictions: Brendan Rodgers is on the hot seat by week 8.

 

Will any of our predictions prove true? Only time will tell...

 

Follow Icons on Twitter for all the latest football news, chat and competitions: @icons_football

 

 

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Icons' 2013-14 Season Predictions

by Al 14. August 2013 08:03

It's that time again. After a summer of European grounds empty but for the odd testimonial match, the new football season returns at last this Saturday (17 August). And not a minute too soon - between Jose Mourinho's surprise Chelsea return, David Moyes' new era at Manchester United and a busy transfer window for Europe's big guns there's a sense that 2013-14 will be the most open and exhilirating campaign in years. But who'll come out on top? Here's the Icons team's tips to succeed.

Dan Jamieson, Managing Director

Premier League top 4:

1) Chelsea 2) Manchester City 3) Manchester United 4) Liverpool

Premier League top scorer: Sergio Aguero

La Liga winners: Barcelona

Champions League winners: Bayern Munich

FA Cup: Everton

League Cup: Cardiff

Premier League bottom 3:

18) Stoke City 19) Hull 20) Crystal Palace

Championship teams to come up:

1) QPR 2) Watford 3) Wigan

Surprise packages: Club - Cardiff City, Player – Coutinho, Kagawa both after taking a season to settle in

Random predictions: Coutinho to be player of the year, Wenger to not be Arsenal manager this time next year, World Cup Final between Germany and Argentina 

 

Kyle Diller, US Marketing

Premier League top 4: 

1) Manchester United 2) Chelsea 3) Manchester City 4) Tottenham Hotspur

Premier League top scorer: Robin van Persie

La Liga winners: Real Madrid

Champions League winners: Bayern Munich

FA Cup: Manchester United

League Cup: Arsenal

Premier League bottom 3:

18) Aston Villa 19) Stoke City 20) Crystal Palace

Championship teams to come up: 

1)Watford 2) Notingham Forest 3) Wigan

Surprise packages: Club - Cardiff City, Player - Wilfried Zaha 

Random predictions: Southampton to finish in the top half of the table

 

Ben Soley, Marketing and Sales Manager

Premier League top 4:

1) Chelsea 2) Man City 3) Man Utd 4) Spurs

Premier League top scorer:  RVP / Aguero

La Liga winners: Real Madrid

Champions League winners: PSG

FA Cup: Man City

League Cup: Arsenal

Premier League bottom 3:

18) Sunderland 19) Palace 20) Hull

Championship teams to come up:

1) QPR 2) Watford 3) Wigan

Surprise packages: Wilfred Bony, Victor Wanyama and Norwich

Random predictions: Steven Caulker to score on his debut, Liverpool fans to spend next summer worrying who will steal Phillipe Coutinho from them, Ben Soley to win the Icons Fantasy League title in April

 

Scott Hutchinson, US Partner

Premier League top 4:

1) Chelsea 2) Man United 3) Man City 4) Arsenal

Premier League top scorer: Aguero

La Liga winners: Real Madrid

Champions League winners: Chelsea

FA Cup: Chelsea

League Cup: Millwall 

Premier League bottom 3:

18) West Brom 19) Palace 20) Hull

Championship teams to come up:

1) QPR 2) Blackpool 3) Leeds

Surprise packages: Luke Shaw, Romelu Lukaku

Random predictions: Rooney scores more goals than RVP in 13-14, Liverpool fans to spend next summer wondering if anyone will (please) buy Phillipe Coutinho from them, AVB gets canned from Spurs

 

Edward Freedman, Chairman

Premier League top 4:

1) Chelsea 2) Man Utd 3) Man City 4) Arsenal

Premier League top scorer: RVP

La Liga winners: Barcelona

Champions League winners: Bayern

FA Cup: Arsenal

League Cup: Swansea

Premier League bottom 3:

18) Hull 19) Cardiff 20) Crystal Palace

Championship teams to come up:

1) Reading 2) Derby 3) Wigan

Surprise packages: Premier League manager sacked within 4 weeks

Random predictions: Rooney transfer to Chelsea

 

Al Horner, Editorial

Premier League top 4:

1) Chelsea 2) Man City 3) Man United 4) Tottenham

Premier League top scorer: Robin van Persie

La Liga winners: Real Madrid

Champions League winners: Bayern Munich

FA Cup: Tottenham

League Cup: West Ham

Premier League bottom 3:

18) Sunderland 19) Cardiff 20) Hull City "Tigers" (Ugh)

Championship teams to come up:

1) Reading 2) Wigan 3) Brighton

Surprise packages: Zaha, Coutinho, Navas

Random predictions: England to miss out on World Cup qualification

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Leo Messi wins European Golden Shoe

by Al 21. May 2012 09:57

Another day, another reason to congratulate the phenomenal Leo Messi. The Barcelona forward has been named winner of the ESM Golden Shoe for his staggering record tally of 50 league goals in 2011-12.

Messi finished four goals clear of last year's winner, Cristiano Ronaldo, to claim the second ESM Golden Shoe award of his career. Messi appeared in all but one of Barcelona's 38 league games this season, scoring six hat-tricks and notching two four-goal hauls. The Argentinian, who previously won the Golden Shoe in 2009/10 with 34 goals, has scored a remarkable 72 goals in all competitions this season.

Despite scoring six more goals than his winning tally of 40 last season, Real Madrid's Ronaldo has had to settle for 2nd place. And to round off a top three of Icons, Arsenal's Robin van Persie came in at 3rd with 30 goals. Manchester United Icon Wayne Rooney, meanwhile, finished 6th with his 27 strikes.

ESM Golden Shoe standings

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona) 50 x 2 = 100
2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid) 46 x 2 = 92
3. Robin van Persie (Arsenal) 30 x 2 = 60

4. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke) 29 x 2 = 58
5. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (AC Milan) 28 x 2 = 56
6. Wayne Rooney (Manchester United) 27 x 2 = 54
7. Mario Gomez (Bayern München) 26 x 2 = 52
8. Bas Dost (Heerenveen) 32 x 1.5 = 48
8= Falcao (Atletico Madrid) 24 x 2 = 48
8= Diego Milito (Inter Milan) 24 x 2 = 48
8= Burak Yilmaz (Trabzonspor) 32 x 1.5 = 48

Rules

Only the leading five countries – Spain, Italy, Germany, France and England – in the UEFA rankings have two as their multiplier. This is to emphasise the difference in (international) performance level between clubs from those countries and those of other nations.

A player cannot play first in a summer league (e.g. Norway) and then in a winter league (e.g. Spain) and combine the points totals for each season.

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Icon Robin van Persie named PFA Player of the Year

by Al 23. April 2012 07:11

Congratulations to Arsenal captain Robin van Persie who has deservedly been named PFA Player of the Year for his scintillating performances this season.

Van Persie has scored a stunning 34 goals in 2011-12 to save Arsenal's season and take them to 3rd in the Premier League. The Dutch master and Gunners captain is now the seventh Icon in a row to win the prestigious award, after John Terry, Steven Gerrard, Cristiano Ronaldo (twice!), Ryan Giggs, Wayne Rooney and last season's winner Gareth Bale.

We are proud to be home to the world's best players, and to have a fantastic, limited-edition range of products adorned with Van Persie's beautiful signature.

We have his trademark adidas boots which you can have framed with either an Arsenal or Holland background. We also have superb photos of him in action for Holland, and one remaining framed photo of him celebrating at the Emirates. To view our full Van Persie range, click here.

Below you can see Robin signing for Icons back in November 2011. Long may our relationship continue!

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Icons Legend of the Week #17: Robin Van Persie

by Al 21. November 2011 11:44

Icons will be conducting an exclusive signing session with Arsenal captain and talisman Robin Van Persie this week. One of the deadliest strikers in the world, we couldn't be happier to have the sensational Dutchman on board. Pre-order signed shirts, boots and photos now and have them in time for Christmas.

Arsenal's Robin Van Persie is blasting his way into the record books. With 31 goals in 29 Premier League games in 2011 – including ten in his last five – the masterful Dutchman is closing in on Alan Shearer's record of 36 goals in a calendar year. 

Van Persie is averaging 1.07 goals per game in 2011. No other player in Premier League history has sustained such a high rate of goalscoring over a full year. Indeed, back when Shearer set the record in 1995, his goals came at the lower rate of 0.87 per game. The same applies for Thierry Henry's 34-goal haul in 2004. In other words, what we are witnessing from the rampant Van Persie is unheard of in the Premier League. Statistically, the 28-year-old can claim to be the best striker the Premier League has ever seen.

Form is temporary but Van Persie – who inherited the Arsenal captaincy from the departed Cesc Fabregas this summer – has maintained this level of performance for nine months now (discounting the close season). This is not simply a man in form; this is a man cementing his status as one of the best players in the world. Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger has always seen Van Persie as the eventual successor to fellow Arsenal and Holland legend Dennis Bergkamp. It is now clear the comparisons are justified.

Van Persie is a graceful player, but the deft touches and subtle movement are complimented by utterly devastating finishing. Van Persie is a master of both power and finesse, and a frequent scorer of stunning goals. His game is varied and unpredictable, and although predominantly left-footed, his right foot – or "chocolate leg", as he affectionately terms it – has become an equally dangerous weapon in recent seasons.

Wenger brought Van Persie to Arsenal from Dutch side Feyenoord at a cost of £2.75m in 2004. He can count that purchase among his very best. While precociously gifted, however, the young Dutchman was temperamental and injury-prone. But Wenger is a man who knows how to extract the absolute best from his players. The ill-discipline has been tempered, and a more mature Van Persie now seems to have put the worst of his injury problems behind him.

Injuries have certainly proved Van Persie's biggest hurdle, and his progress at Arsenal has been stalled on numerous occasions since 2004. Until now, every one of his seasons in an Arsenal shirt has been blighted by injury. He counts a broken toe, a fractured fifth metatarsal, a recurrent knee injury and a twisted ankle among his worst, and has never once finished a season with 30 league appearances. Arsenal will be hoping this is the year that changes.

Injury prevented him from scoring his first goal until January last season, but since the floodgates opened the goals have continued to flow. He finished 2010/11 with 18, equalling the record held by Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry for goals between the turn of the year to the end of the season. That outstanding run also included goals in nine consecutive away games, and he finished only two behind joint leaders Dimitar Berbatov and Carlos Tevez in the race for the Golden Boot, despite only featuring in 25 games.

This season he leads the scoring charts with 13 goals from 12 games. Since surpassing 100 goals for Arsenal in October he has added another 10. He's now left with seven games to score the six goals required to beat Alan Shearer's calendar year record.

Whether he manages it or not, 2011 is sure to go down in Premier League history as Robin Van Persie's year.

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Five of the Best: Chelsea v Arsenal Moments

by Al 27. October 2011 11:28

London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal have played out some thrilling encounters over the years, and with this Saturday's clash at Stamford Bridge in mind, we've been looking back at some classic moments between the two sides. From Kerry Dixon to Nigel Winterburn, here are five of the best.

*Remember to open video links in a new tab.

'Chelsea are back'

On the opening day of the 1984/85 season, newly promoted Chelsea claim to have taken 20,000 supporters to Highbury. 'Chelsea are back', sang hoards of Blues fans as Kerry Dixon smashed the ball past Arsenal goalkeeper Pat Jennings in front of the Clock End for Chelsea's memorable equaliser.

Kanu believe it?

Nwankwo Kanu was capable of amazing things in his pomp, and this brilliant hat-trick at Stamford Bridge in 1999 remains a treasured memory for Arsenal fans. Tore Andre Flo and the unlikely Dan Petrescu had capitalized on some uncharacteristically slack marking from Arsenal's fabled Adams/Keown centre-half axis to put Chelsea 2-0 up, but with 15 minutes to go, Kanu inspired a remarkable Arsenal comeback. A pulsating finale came to a head in the 90th minute when Kanu shimmied past Chelsea keeper Ed De Goey and curled home a sensational winner from an impossibly acute angle.

Winterburn wonder strike

Kanu's 1999 hat-trick was preceded by another dramatic 3-2 Arsenal win at Stamford Bridge in 1997. This match looked destined for a draw when Arsenal left-back Nigel Winterburn (pictured above) - who scored a meager total of 12 goals in 578 appearances for the Gunners – made himself an improbable hero with this spectacular 35-yarder in the 89th minute. Note Emmanuel Petit's cheeky trip on a Chelsea player in the build up at 0.13 seconds.

Wayne Bridge's finest hour

A sensational late winner from a Chelsea left-back this time. Remember when Wayne Bridge used to play football? His career hasn't exactly blossomed in recent years, but on the night of April 6th 2004 he made himself a hero. With extra-time looming in the second-leg of this Champions League quarter-final at Highbury, Bridge came galloping forward, exchanged passes with Eidur Gudjohnsen, and drilled the ball into the net to send Claudio Ranieri's side through to the semis.

2007 Carling Cup Final

Chelsea's Didier Drogba has dominated this fixture in recent years, netting 13 goals against the Blues' London rivals. Indeed, the likes of Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker will be breathing a sigh of relief at the Ivorian's suspension this Saturday. This Carling Cup final back in 2007 was marred by a mass brawl that saw three players sent off in injury time, but the lasting memory for Blues fans is the Drogba brace that cancelled out Theo Walcott's opener to hand them a 2-1 victory.

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Icons Legend of the Week #16: Nicolas Anelka

by Al 25. October 2011 11:05

After a career punctuated by ill-discpline and controversy, Chelsea's Nicolas Anelka seems to have finally found his feet in West London and put his stormy past behind him. On Saturday the Frenchman will line up against Arsenal, the club where it all began.

It was in February 1997 that Anelka first arrived on English shores. Newly appointed Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger paid £500,000 to take the highly rated 17-year-old from Paris Saint-Germain to North London, and it proved a typically shrewd acquisition.

Anelka made his first team breakthrough during Arsenal's double-winning 1997/98 season (pictured below) following an injury to Ian Wright. He became an important first team player, scoring his most important goal for the Gunners in their 2-0 FA Cup final victory against Newcastle United. The following season Anelka continued to excel, scoring 17 Premier League goals and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year Award. 

Arsenal failed to secure any silverware that year, however, and as Anelka sought a move to a bigger club, the fans turned against him, nicknaming him "Le Sulk" for his perceived lack of enthusiasm. Unfortunately, in the years that followed, Anelka would prove that this ill-discipline was far from a one-off.

So it was in the summer of 1999 that Anelka moved to Spanish giants Real Madrid for a huge £22.3m fee. Precociously talented, the Frenchman looked to have the world at his feet, but despite a bright start at the Bernabeu, his fiery temperament and bad attitude proved his undoing. He left Madrid for old club PSG for £20m after just one season, having fallen out with teammates, fans and new coach Vicente del Bosque. Once banned for 45 days for refusing to train, Anelka was deemed surplus to requirements at the Bernabeu despite playing a crucial role in Real Madrid's successful 1999/00 Champions League campaign.

Anelka made a return to the Premier League in 2002 when he joined Gerard Houllier's Liverpool on a short-term loan, but when Houllier opted against signing him at the end of the season, he ended up at Manchester City for another large fee, this time £13m. Anelka settled in at Maine Road nicely, top scoring for the club with 14 goals in his first season. He bettered that total the following year, but in 2005 the nomadic striker moved to Turkish side Fenerbache for £7m.

After Fenerbache it was Bolton Wanderers. Anelka signed for the Trotters for £8m in 2006, but after a season and a half and an impressive 23 goals, Chelsea came in for him with a £15m bid and Anelka joined his eighth different club, and his fifth in the Premier League.

Anelka took time to settle in at Stamford Bridge, but in 2008/09 he impressed with a total of 25 goals. He has gone on to become an important player for the Blues, and in the 2009/10 season he formed a devastating partnership with Didier Drogba, firing the West Londoners to a Premier League and FA Cup double, his first since his Arsenal days.

Anelka made his France debut way back in 1998 and scored 14 goals in 69 caps, but it is not an international career that will be remembered fondly. Anelka caused a storm of controversy at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when he was sent home for verbally abusing coach Raymond Domenech. He received an 18-game international ban for his actions, but claimed he had already made his decision to retire before his ban was announced.

In total, seven different clubs have paid a total of £86.8m for Anelka since 1997. His controversial past does not mask his wonderful talent, and the 32-year-old is no longer the trouble-maker he once was. The argument that he could have made more of his career is a strong one, but Anelka has still proved himself to be one of the most dangerous strikers in Europe. When he takes to the field against Arsenal this Saturday, he will have another opportunity to prove his doubters wrong. 

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Champions League 2011/2012: Group Stage Preview

by Al 12. September 2011 11:12

The UEFA Champions League group stage gets underway this week. Read on for Icons preview of the four English team's groups, as well as Barcelona and Real Madrid's. Will Barca reclaim their title? We can't wait to find out!

Barcelona – Group H – AC Milan, BATE Borisov, Viktoria Plzen

Holders Barcelona kick off their Champions League defence against reigning Serie A champions AC Milan in the standout fixture of the group stages. No side has achieved back to back Champions League wins since Milan in 1990, but this year Barcelona are huge favourites to replicate that feat.

Seven-times Champions League winners Milan have outstanding European pedigree, and with Zlatan Ibrahimovic making a return to his old club, the battle for top spot in Group H promises to be an interesting one.

Two minnows make up the rest of the group. Serbia striker Mateja Kezman, formerly of Chelsea, is the biggest name on the books at BATE Borisov, whose home ground holds just 4,500. The Belarusian side reached the group stage in 2008/09, but this is completely unknown territory for Viktoria Plzen. The Czechs saw off Rosenborg and FC Copenhagen in qualifying, however, and could push BATE for 3rd-place Europa League qualification.

 

Manchester United – Group C – Benfica, Basel, Otelul Galati

Sir Alex Ferguson will have been pleased with this draw. With key players David Luiz and Fabio Coentrao recently departed to Chelsea and Real Madrid respectively, Benfica are not as strong as in recent seasons. Paraguayan striker Oscar Cardozo remains a threat for the Portuguese runners-up, but a rampant Manchester United, with 18 goals in their last four games and Wayne Rooney in irrepressible form, will be confident of overpowering them.

United new boys Ashley Young and Phil Jones will be making their Champions League bows, but Sir Alex's new look young team still has enough experience in its ranks to ensure that the transition is easy.

Swiss Champions Basel are the group's pot three representative, and unknown Romanians Otelul Galati make their debut appearance in the competition having won their first Romanian title last season.

 

Real Madrid – Group D – Lyon, Ajax, Dinamo Zagreb

Jose Mourinho was brought to the Bernabeu to overhaul Barcelona both domestically and in Europe. It's a tough ask, but Real Madrid's group draw shouldn't give him too much to worry about.

Although the summer passed without a marquee signing, Real Madrid have the resources to win this group without too much difficulty. Lyon have proved a testing opponent in the past, but depsite being unbeaten in Ligue 1 this season, they may not prove as dangerous as they once were. Eredivisie champions Ajax are capable of playing attractive football and, like Lyon, they will fancy their chances of finishing second in the group. Dinamo Zagreb - the club from which Spurs' Luka Modric and ex-Arsenal man Eduardo da Silva emerged - will be hostile hosts in Croatia, but they would do well to threaten the top two.

 

Chelsea – Group E – Valencia, Bayer Leverkusen, KCR Genk

In Group E Michael Ballack will make a return to Stamford Bridge with Bayer Leverkusen. Chelsea, who have won seven out of nine Champions League openers, will be hoping Fernando Torres can continue to build on his improved form this season, despite being dropped for their game against Sunderland at the weekend.

Unai Emery's Valencia will be their toughest opponent. The Spaniards have started strongly this term, taking six points from their opening two La Liga games. Their biggest threat is former Getafe striker Roberto Soldado, who scored 24 goals in his first season with Valencia. He has notched four in two games this time around, including an opening day hat-trick against Racing Santander. Juan Mata, meanwhile, will be returning to the Mestalla just weeks after departing for West London. Belgian side Genk are the fourth side in the group, meaning Chelsea have avoided any long distance away trips.

 

Manchester City – Group A – Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Napoli

With four wins from four in the Premier League and a debut Champions League campaign in the offing; these are exciting times for Manchester City. What's more, with six goals for his new club already, £38m signing Sergio Aguero has taken no time at all to settle in. As newcomers to the Champions League, however, they were placed in pot three for the draw, meaning a tricky group was always on the cards.

2009/2010 runners-up Bayern Munich have started the season under new manager Jupp Heynckes in unstoppable form, and their 7-0 demolition of Freiburg at the weekend made it four wins in a row for them too. Towering striker Mario Gomez has smashed an incredible seven goals in his last two games.

Villarreal and Napoli are the other teams in Group A, meaning there will be no easy games for City. For Spanish side Villarreal, former Manchester United striker Guiseppe Rossi continues to attract interest from Europe's top clubs with his excellent scoring record. Napoli's main threat, meanwhile, is Uruguay striker Edison Cavani.

 

Arsenal – Group F – Marseille, Olympiakos, Borussia Dortmund

For all the negativity that currently surrounds Arsenal, it should be noted that this is their 14th year in a row in the Champions League group stage. Only Real Madrid and Manchester United boast better records.

Group F provides some tricky away games for Arsenal's young squad, but with new signings Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker adding some experience and know-how, the Gunners will be confident of progressing to the knock-out stages.

Arsenal travel to Bundesliga champions Dortmund for their first game, where 19-year-old German prodigy Mario Goetze pulls the strings in midfield, and Neven Subotic and Mads Hummels keep it tight at the back. Didier Deschamps' Marseille will be another difficult away test. The Velodrome is renowned as one of Europe's most intimidating grounds, but as a connoisseur of French football, Arsene Wenger will be aware of the threat posed by L'OM. Greek champions Olympiakos, despite being drawn in pot three, are the weakest team in Group F.

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Forward(-thinking) Friday: Arsenal's new number eight, Mikel Arteta

by Al 2. September 2011 05:17

Although not a 'forward' per se, Arsenal's new number eight Mikel Arteta is this week's pick for Forward Friday.

The departures of Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri to Barcelona and Manchester City respectively left a creative void in Arsenal's midfield. A £10m transfer deadline day signing from Everton, Icon signee Arteta is the man charged with sparking the Gunner's back to life, and filling the sizeable boots left by his Catalan compatriot.

The 29-year-old, from the Basque city of San Sebastián in Spain, made over 200 appearances for Everton over the course of seven seasons. Few Premier League players have matched the consistency of the stylish Spanish playmaker, and he arrives at Arsenal with the pedigree and experience to help the Gunners put a turbulent summer and nightmare start to the season behind them.

Like Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, Arteta came through the respected Antiguoko youth academy in the Basque Country. While his close friend Alonso would eventually sign his first professional contract with Real Sociedad, a 15-year-old Arteta was snapped up by Barcelona.

He was a regular for Barcelona B, but was unable to make the step up to the first team due to fierce competition for places, and in 2000 he was sent for the first of two seasons on loan at French side Paris Saint-Germain. Arteta's performances in a deep-lying central midfield role behind a young Ronaldinho in the 2001/02 season provoked interest from a host of clubs around Europe, and in 2002 he signed for Walter Smith's Rangers for a fee of £5.8m.

In his first season in Glasgow, Arteta helped Rangers to a domestic treble of the Scottish Premier League, Scottish Cup and League Cup, and was named their young player of the year. A regular for the Spanish under-21 side, he seemed destined to break his way into the senior Spain side. His second season with Rangers was blighted by injury, however, and in 2004 he made a return to La Liga with Real Sociedad, where he hoped to be reunited with old friend Xabi Alonso. Alonso left the club for Liverpool, however, and after a disappointing season with Sociedad, Arteta jumped at the chance to follow him to Merseyside with David Moyes' Everton.

Arteta moved in next to Alonso in January 2005, initially joining Everton on loan. In July, however, he completed a permanent £2m transfer and signed a five-year deal. It didn't take him long to acclimatize to life at Everton, and in his first half season he featured regularly as Everton ensured Champions League qualification with an excellent fourth-placed finish.

Between 2005 and 2007 Arteta was among the Premier League's standout performers, winning Everton's Player of the Season award in consecutive seasons. Moyes' decision to push Arteta further forward to the right-side of midfield had proved an inspired one. With an excellent eye for a pass and formidable set-piece delivery, he was the Toffees' creative hub, contributing goals and assists in equal measure. His intelligent and technical approach is perfectly suited to the Gunners' style of play, and Arsenal fans are rightly optimistic about the impact he can have in North London.

Spain's midfield options are so outstanding and varied that despite his obvious guile and talent, Arteta has yet to win a call-up to the national side. With the opportunity to showcase his ability at Champions League level with Arsenal, however, that could be about to change.

We at Icons conducted our latest signing with Mikel on 11th September 2008:

If all goes to plan for the Spanish maestro, we will be quick to arrange another signing session with him, this time in red and white.

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