Friday, June 29, 2012

All the Latest Transfer Gossip across Europe

With the climax of the 2012 European Championships upon us, clubs will have been studying with interest the performance of many of the players who have participated in the tournament.

In addition there has been a lot of media talk regarding the buying and selling of players since the close of last season. Now with player contracts expiring in just 48 hours a frenetic six weeks lies ahead, before the new English football season kicks-off, as players and their agents will officially be allowed to approach or be approached by clubs regarding their availability.

It is pretty safe to say that if a player’s contract expires on the 30th June, and they have not been offered or negotiated a new deal with their current club, then they will be officially ‘on the market’ and looking for pastures new to pursue their careers.

Here is a round up of all of today’s latest transfer gossip:

Is your club involved?

Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City, Arsenal, AC Milan, Porto, Chelsea, Tottenham, Inter Milan, Liverpool, Juventus, Bologna, Ajax, Wigan, Napoli, Real Madrid, Anzhi Makhachkala, Benfica, Deportivo La Coruña, West Ham, Sochaux, Newsastle, Lille, FC Twente, Borussia Monchengladbach, Aston Villa, Feyenoord, Fulham, Norwich, West Brom, Aalborg, Everton, Valencia, Servilla, Huddersfield, Reading, QPR, Sunderland, Southampton, Vitesse Arnhem, Middlesbrough Bordeaux and Celtic........are all caught up in the latest transfer rumours across Europe, as we speak.

Paris Saint-Germain join Manchester City in the race for Arsenal's 28-year-old striker Robin van Persie – Daily Mail, Daily Mirror and

Porto’s Portuguese international midfielder Joao Moutinho (right), already tracked by Chelsea, Paris Saint-Germain and Inter, has been targeted by Tottenham as well. Andre Villas-Boas wants to make the £32m Portugal midfielder Joao Moutinho his first signing at Tottenham – Daily Star and

Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan’s main excecutives have met again to discuss Brazilian international centre-back Thiago Silva's transfer to the French club. The fee is believed to be in the region of €47million –

Long time Tottenham target Diego Forlan has been made available for transfer by Inter Milan. Inter are inviting offers for the former Manchester United and Athletico Madrid striker, who starred for Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, but has failed to reach such peaks in Italy – Corriere dello Sport

Liverpool have fallen behind Juventus in the race to sign 21-year-old Uruguayan sensation Gaston Ramirez from Bologna. The fee is thought to be in the region of £20million – TalkSPORT

Liverpool will move for Wigan forward Victor Moses, 21, if top target Gylfi Sigurdsson chooses Tottenham – The Sun and

Ajax boss Frank de Boer has told Tottenham not to give up on signing 25-year-old defender Jan Vertonghen (right), despite their dispute with the Dutch club – The Metro

Napoli striker Ezequiel Lavezzi is set to complete a move to Paris St Germain early next week, according to his agent –

Brazilian international right backwing Maicon (30), who's is expected to leave Inter, is the latest target of Napoli. He is already being tracked by Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid, Anzhi Makhachkala and Paris Saint-Germain -

Currently on a deal with Benfica until June 2015, Brazilian striker Alan Kardec (23) is likely to be released after having played on loan for Santos during last season, and Deportivo La Coruña have targeted him -

West Ham are trying to sign Tottenham's experienced French centre-half William Gallas, 34, on a free transfer - The Sun

Sam Allardyce is keen to strengthen the West Ham attack with a £5m move foe Sochaux's 24-year-old striker Modibo Maiga – Daily Mail

Newcastle will go back to Lille with an improved bid of around £6m for France international right-back Mathieu Debuchy. Inter Milan are also said to be keen on the 26-year-old – Daily Mirror and

A delegation from Newcastle United have arrived in Holland to open talks with FC Twente over striker Luuk de Jong (right). Newcastle have already seen one bid of €10million (£8million) for de Jong rejected by Twente and they have now reported to upped that to €12million (£10milion). Newcastle are pushing hard for 21-year-old de Jong with German side Borussia Monchengladbach also reportedly very keen –

Aston Villa are on the brink of signing Feyenoord's Morocan midfielder Karim El Ahmadi for £3million – Daily Express

Fulham, Norwich and West Brom are in a three-way battle for Danish striker Nicklas Helenius, 21, who caught the eye with Aalborg last season -

Fulham want Tottenham's midfield misfit David Bentley, 27, either on loan or at a bargain fee – Daily Mirror

Huddersfield Town have opened talks with Oliver Norwood and now appear in pole position to land the Manchester United youngster. The midfielder has never played a first-team game at Old Trafford and is now ready to leave the club after his contract expired. United will be due compensation for Norwood as he is under 23 -

Reading boss Brian McDermott must beat off West Ham and QPR to sign Sunderland contract rebel Kieran Richardson – The Sun

Sunderland are weighing up a move for 30-year-old defender Carlos Cuellar, who is out of contract at Aston Villa – TalkSPORT

Tomas Sivok's agent claims Premier League duo Everton and Fulham have expressed an interest in the Czech Republic international centre-back. Valencia are also said to be keen on the 28-year-old defender (right), along with their Primera Liga rivals Sevilla – and

Southampton have joined Fulham and QPR in the chase for Vitesse Arnhem's £2m-rated midfielder Alexander Buttner – The Sun

Middlesbrough boss Tony Mowbray has confirmed that he is close to sealing a deal for Argentine midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma. Ledesma, who began his career with Genoa has previously been with QPR and finished last season with Walsall –

Bordeaux’s 28-year-old centre-back Michael Ciani would be open to a move to Celtic according to the Ligue 1 club's president Jean-Louis Triaud. The France international, who has also been linked to Newcastle, Wigan and Primera Liga side Servilla

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Sporting Rich List and Why Women 'Pay' Second Fiddle in the Earnings Ladder

Being a top sportsperson is a sure fire way to get rich!

This week Forbes magazine published a list of the 100 highest paid athletes of 2012, which pretty much confirmed that theory. Let’s now analyse the results, focusing on which athletes and what sports are represented in this inventory of sportspeople with money to burn!

What struck me first was not the obscene amount of money that these professionals earn, rightly or wrongly, for basically doing a ‘job’ they love, but that of the top 100 highest paid athletes, only two of them were women.

Let’s not massage the facts and figures, but without a doubt there is still an irrefutable disparity in remuneration, both in wages and sponsorship, for successful women.

In a nutshell what I am saying is that in the last twelve months, of the top 100 highest paid athletes in the world, only two women had the earning power that has allowed them to dip their toes into the elite pool of sports highest grossing incomes.

Both these female athletes are tennis players.
Maria Sharapova (below right) was 26th overall ($27.9m) and China’s Li Na (right) was 81st ($18.4m). Sharapova, the current French Open champion has long had a coveted portfolio of sponsors that now includes Nike, Head, Samsung, Tag Heuer and Evian. Sales for the Maria Sharapova Collection, her line of products at Nike subsidiary Cole Haan, doubled last year.

Despite the increase in television coverage of women’s sports such as football, rugby and cricket, the gulf in earnings is huge. In the day-to-day workplace it is mainly men who occupy the boardrooms, salaries are disproportionate worldwide and sportswomen are likely to earn less than sportsmen for the foreseeable future, because the market rewards what it considers to be the ‘entertainers’ – men!

It’s the way of the world, but it really hits home when you view the Forbes list and see it for yourself, in black and white.

Turning to the list and identifying criteria among the top earners is actually not as blindingly obvious as one might have at first anticipated.

Athletes from 11 different sports qualified for the top 100. The world's highest-paid athlete is in jail. The guy in second place just lost a world title fight, and the man who held the distinction for a decade is now third.

Tiger Woods has lost his top position, which he had held since 2001, dropping to third place behind boxers Floyd Mayweather Jr and Manny Pacquiao (pictured right). Mayweather fought only two fights in the last year. He spent less than one hour in the ring to dispatch his two foes. His combined payday for the bouts: $85 million. Mayweather maximizes his earnings by acting as his own fight promoter through his company Mayweather Promotions. He collects all of the revenue from tickets, pay-per-view and sponsorships and covers the costs, including the purse for his opponent.
Mayweather is currently serving a three-month jail sentence in Las Vegas for domestic battery.

Pacquiao ranks second with earnings of $62 million. Over the past 12 months he fought Juan Manuel Marquez and Tim Bradley. The bouts netted him $56 million, despite Pacquiao losing his WBO welterweight title to Bradley just a few weeks ago. Pacquiao’s earnings also include money he gets from their broadcast in the Philippines. He also made an estimated $6 million over the past year outside the ring through endorsements. Pacquiao was only ranked 24th last year with $25 million, as he only had one fight during that period and Mayweather was even lower on the list.

Woods’ total earnings dropped $16 million from last year to $59.4 million and have been sliced in half since their peak in 2009. Woods last won a Major in 2008, but despite an increase of $2m in prize money won on the golf course in the last twelve months by Woods, it does not offset the loss of sponsors like Tag Heuer and Gillette. Woods career may be a bit rocky right now, but he was still the highest-paid golfer last year.

Despite a football-obsessed Europe, Americans earn far more than Europeans. European football clubs are developing a culture of selling off their clubs (and in some cases their history) to affluent businessmen from the former Eastern European block and Arab nations, perhaps indicating that those who make a living from kicking a circular leather ball were some of the world’s top earners. This is a fallacy.....because of the top 50 earners on the Forbes list, only four play football (soccer).

They are: David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Wayne Rooney. David Beckham of the Los Angeles Galaxy was 8th overall and the highest ranked soccer player at $46 million. Then followed Portugal and Real Madrid superstar Ronaldo 9th ($42.5m), Argentina and Barcelona magician Messi 11th ($39m) and England and Manchester United talisman Wayne Rooney 37th ($24.3m).

You are far more likely to strike gold if you play American football, basketball, golf or tennis.

Miami Heat star LeBron James (right) ranks 4th overall at $53 million, the highest of thirteen basketball players on the list.

Thirty American football players rank among the highest-paid athletes, which is more than any other single sport. Peyton Manning tops them at 10th overall. The Denver Broncos' new quarterback made $42.4 million during his last season with the Indianapolis Colts, even though he sat out the entire season while recovering from a neck injury.

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was top amongst baseball players and 18th overall with $33 million.

The figures for some sports can appear distorted and this is why? Using tennis as an example, Roger Federer 5th on the list overall ($52.7m), earned 50% more than Rafael Nadal 16th ($13.1m), and twice what Novak Djokovic 61st ($20.6m) made, despite having not won a Grand Slam tournament since early 2010.

Ultimately while the pecking order of success can change rapidly, earning power lags somewhat behind!

Here is a selection of other athletes not already mentioned, and how they have faired over the last twelve months:

#7 Phil Mickelson - Total earnings: $47.8 million

#20 Valentino Rossi - Total earnings: $30 million

#20 Michael Schumacher - Total earnings: $30 million

#24 Wladimir Klitschko - Total earnings: $28 million

#24 Lewis Hamilton - Total earnings: $28 million

#28 Tom Brady - Total earnings: $27.1 million

#48 Luke Donald - Total earnings: $22.2 million

#59 Kaká - Total earnings: $20.8 million

#63 Usain Bolt - Total earnings: $20.3 million

#65 Sergio Aguero - Total earnings: $20.1 million

#68 Fernando Torres - Total earnings: $19.6 million

#78 Sachin Tendulkar -  Total earnings: $18.6 million

#88 John Terry - Total earnings: $17.5 million

#91 Rory McIlroy - Total earnings: $17.4 million

The earnings totals (in US dollars) are derived from salaries, bonuses, prize money, appearance fees, licensing and endorsement income in the 12 months from 1st May 2011 to 1st May 2012. Taxes or agents' fees are not factored into the figures.

Data source: Forbes
My twitter: @BeerFootyBirds

Friday, June 15, 2012

Euro 2012 - My Team of the Week

The 2012 European Championships are well underway, and I must firstly say what an excellent first week to the tournament it has been on the field of play. I would even go as far as to say that it has probably exceeded most people’s expectations as we move into week two.

There have been some surprise results, a selection of excellent goals with the majority of matches so far being contested competitively and in a good spirit. With fourteen games completed thus far, incredibly there has not been a goal-less game. Mentioning that statistic is surely the journos kiss of death as England meet Sweden and the Ukraine face France this evening!

Based on what I have seen up to now I am going to try to put together ‘My Team of the Week’ based on all the fourteen games I have watched. I find this is an incredibly tricky and challenging assignment as it is a very subjective topic. However I will do my best to justify my selections in whatever means I seem fit. 

Stephan Anderson: Denmark

The biggest upset of the tournament occurred on the second day when Denmark, the 1992 European champions, defeated an utterly wasteful Dutch side. Netherlands had 28 attempts on goal, which gives a measure of their dominance, but Stephan Andersen kept up the fine tradition of Danish keepers to keep them scoreless. A lot of credit must go to Danish defence also but on multiple occasions Andersen was there to deny the Dutch. 30 year-old Anderson had one of the best individual displays of the tournament so far, and although Denmark lost 3-2 to a late Portugal goal on Wednesday evening, it looks like the underdogs of Group B, could emerge ahead of Portugal and the Netherlands from the ‘Group of Death,’ and cement a place in the quarter-finals if results go their way this Sunday.

Fábio Coentrão: Portugal 

Fábio Alexandre da Silva Coentrão is a 24 year-old who plays mainly at left-back for Real Madrid and Portugal. Although Portugal lost their opening group game against Germany, Coentrao was terrific in his side's narrow defeat to Germany and, along with Pepe, leads the Portuguese back line both in defence and attack. Where Pepe was culpable for letting Mario Gomez drop off to score Germany's headed winner, Coentrao rarely put a foot wrong all night. He has brought his club form at Real Madrid into Euro 2012 and offers a genuine threat when going forward. Strong in the tackle and electrically fast, he will be one of Portugal's key men in this championship. On Wednesday Portugal bounced back to beat Denmark 3-2 in an exhilarating game and Coentrao provided an assist for the winning goal three minutes from time.

Mats Hummels: Germany 

Hummels helped Germany keep a clean sheet in their opening game of their campaign on Saturday. Against a solid Portuguese team that featured La Liga's second-highest goal scorer in Cristiano Ronaldo, the German back line was solid and commanding. The man at the centre of it was Borussia Dortmund defender Mats Hummels. Although relatively new to the German team, having only been capped 15 times, his tackling, positioning and composure on the ball make him one of the standout performers so far in Euro 2012.
A rock at the heart of a German defence that has conceded just one goal in their opening two group games against strong opposition in the shape of Portugal and the Netherlands. He has made 17 clearances, four behind Poland’s Marcin Wasilewski.

Jordi Alba: Spain

The Valencia full-back is the unsung hero in the Spanish defence. Alba is part of a side that has conceded just one goal in their opening two games, and has completed 156 passes . Despite the absence of Puyol through injury, Alba alongside Pique, Arbeloa and Ramos is a major player in a superb quartet of Spanish defenders.

Philipp Lahm: Germany

Incredibly he's only 28, although it seems like he's been playing for Germany for an eternity, but the Bayern Munich and German captain Philipp Lahm is the consummate professional. He stared the tournament with a clean sheet and an excellent performance in their win over Portugal. Again he was sublime in Germany’s victory over Holland. Lahm's has the ability to rise to the big occasion is one of the main reasons why he features here.With a combination of attack and defence, he's a hybrid player who adds an extra dimension to Germany. His 88 caps show his importance to the Germans and he will continue to add to that total if Germany can keep their unbeaten run intact.

Alan Dzagoev: Russia 

Dzagoev has netted three times for Russia in their opening two games. The 21 year-old has been pivotal for Russia and his performances haven't gone unnoticed. His pace, touches and his ability to time his runs have caused all sorts of problems for the Czech Republic and Poland back lines in the opening group games.
The CSKA Moscow man was a menace throughout his time on the pitch against both sides and capped a hard-working performance with two well-taken goals against the Czech Republic in the opening game of the tournament, followed by the opening goal in their 1-1 draw with co-hosts Poland. Statistically: Five shots on target scoring three goals.

Xavi: Spain

A master class from Barcelona's Xavier Hernández Creusi, ensured the Spanish got it right as they secured a point against a defensively solid Italian outfit and then tore the Republic of Ireland to pieces last night, helped by an Irish defence that was made to look woeful as Spain danced their way to an emphatic winXavi controlled the tempo of the Spanish attack through quick feet and vision and at times had the Irish back line mesmerised. The midfielder broke the record for the most passes in a European Championship game during the defeat of Ireland. The Spaniard accrued 136 passes in that one game alone, surpassing Ronald Koeman’s previous best for the Netherlands. In Spain’s two group games so far Xavi has made 243 passes, 60 more than his nearest rival Denisov of Russia. 11 of those passes have been key passes or led to goalscoring opportunities and Xavi has also contributed 13 crosse. In fact of the top ten passers of the tournament so far, 7 of them are Spanish.

Bastian Schweinsteiger: Germany

Renowned for his ball control, precise passing and his ability to tackle makes him one of the best midfielders in Europe. He has played a big part in Germany's first two games with a dominating performances first against Portugal and then providing the through balls for both Mario Gomez's goals in against Holland. His midfield partnership with Mesut Özil is one of the best in the tournament and with striking options in the Podolski, Klose, Götze,Muller & Gomez, Germany look the biggest threat to the current World and  European Champions Spain.

Václav Pilař: Czech Republic

The 23 year-old Czech Republic midfielder has helped his side to second place in a group where all the teams can still qualify for the quarter-finals. The Wolfsburg midfielder statistics read six shots, five on target and two goals. He scored in the opening day defeat to Russia and again in the win over Greece.
There are many permutations in this group but a win against Poland will see the Czech Republic automatically qualify, but the Czechs can also qualify if they draw against Poland and Russia win or draw against Greece.

Mario Gomez: Germany 

Contributing with a vital header in the 1-0 win over Portugal, Gomez followed up by netting twice against Holland in a famous 2-1 victory. The feelings are if he keeps up the form he's showing he may well end up with the golden boot and help fire Germany to the final in Kiev. Gomes has fired six shots in his two tournament games, four on target and scored three goals, which is an incredible conversion rate. To put that in perspective Robin van Persie has had the most shots, eleven, six on target and scored just the once!
For the record Russia’s Aleksandr Kerzhakov has had no shots on target but the the most shots off target with ten. The phrase “left his shooting boots at home” springs to mind!

Mario Mandžukić: Croatia

The 26 year-old Wolfsbug and Croatian striker has put his side in a commanding position in Group C following a good win over Ireland and an excellent draw with Italy. Their final group fixture is against holders Spain on Monday. Both teams have four points and a draw will see them both qualify.
Mandžukić’s pairing with Tottenham’s Luka Modrić is the fulcrum of the Croatian midfield and they are the key to a successful campaign. So far in two games Mandžukić has an impressive three goals from four attempts on target.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Under the radar - Rising stars to look out for at Euro 2012

The UEFA European Football Championships is the main football competition of the men's national football teams governed by UEFA, and has been held every four years since 1960.
In all, 27 nations have appeared at least once in the final tournament. Of these, only twelve have made it to the final, and nine of them have won it at least once. With three titles, Germany is the most successful European Championship team. Both Spain and France have won the tournament twice, with Spain the current holders. No team has ever won consecutive titles.

The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly referred to as Euro 2012, will be the 14th European Championship of its kind. The finals will be hosted by Poland and the Ukraine between the 8th June and the 1st July 2012. It is the first time that either nation has hosted the tournament.

With the Euro 2012 tournament now only days away it would be easy to select a world-beating squad of stars appearing at Euro 2012. No doubt the likes of Casillas, Buffon, Lahm, Cole, Ramos, Sneijder, van der Vaart, Schweinsteiger, Pirlo, Xavi, Robben, Ozil, Benzema, Van Persie, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo would be among some of the first names on any team sheet.

However, dig a little deeper and there's a whole host of new talent that could emerge at this summer's European Championships. Here's the Beer, Footy and Birds guide of 'rising stars' to watch out for at the Championships. These players will be hoping to make a significant impression on the big stage in Poland and the Ukraine.

Lukas Piszczek (Poland)
Current club: Borussia Dortmund / Position: Defender
Age: 27 / International debut: Feb 2007 v. Estonia

Originally a right-winger or striker, the Polish internationals career has really taken off since switching to right-back during the 2009-10 season whilst at Hertha Berlin. Since Borussia Dortmund signed the Pole on a three-year deal in May 2010 his career has continued to flourish. Piszczek (right) has missed just three league games in two seasons since moving to Borussia Dortmund, winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles, alongside fellow internationals Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski, who have all featured heavily for Dortmund. His attacking prowess saw him score four times and provide seven assists for Dortmund, and he will be pivotal to the co-hosts chances of progressing in what looks like a very open group featuring Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic.

Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
Current club: CSKA Moscow / Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 26 / International debut: April 2004 v. Norway

A regular starter for CSKA Moscow since he was 17, Akinfeev is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the constant subject of big-money transfer rumours. Akinfeev is captain of CSKA and has helped his club win numerous trophies including the UEFA Cup, three Russian Premier League titles and the Russian Cup on five occasions. He was at his best at Euro 2008 when he posted two shutouts and helped Russia reach the semi-finals.

Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
Current club: Ajax / Position Midfield
Age: 20 / International debut: March 2010 v. Austria

The Danish star is one of the brightest prospects in Europe, making up for his slight build with his imaginative and creative play in the centre of midfield. A product of the revered Ajax academy, Christian Eriksen has been closely watched for a few years now. He has helped Ajax to back to back Dutch league titles and was named Dutch Football Talent of the Year and Danish Footballer of the Year in 2011. Linked with big money moves to a variety of Premier League sides, should he have a successful tournament it's almost inevitable he will be on the move this summer, despite being contracted to Ajax until 2014

Kevin Strootman (Netherlands)
Current club: PSV Eindhoven / Position: Midfield
Age: 22 / International debut: Feb 2011 v. Austria

PSV Eindhoven's 22-year-old captain Kevin Strootman (right) has become the lynchpin of PSV’s midfield since joining in June 2011 from FC Utrecht, in a joint deal with Dries Mertens for 13 million Euros. He started out playing just off the striker as at Sparta Rotterdam but has since flourished in a deeper role, He has been called 'the new Roy Keane' in some quarters, having quickly established himself as a key player for both club and country. Strootman is vying with Manchester City's Nigel de Jong for a starting role, having only made his debut in February 2011. The classy midfielder has been linked with a big money summer move, with both the Milan clubs and Manchester United just three of the sides hoping to secure the signature of the Dutchman.

Yann M’Vila (France)
Current club: Rennes / Position: Defensive Midfielder
Age: 21 / International debut: Aug 2010 v. Norway

The Rennes holding midfielder has played for France at every youth level before making an accomplished senior debut in Laurent Blanc's first game in charge, against Norway. He was a regular in France’s Euro 2012 qualifying group, which saw them lose only one of their ten group games. Known for his all-action style of play, he has been described as a player with excellent defensive abilities who is often instrumental in building-up attacks from the back. He boasts a fantastic work-rate, and is robust in the challenge with his impressive physical strength. M’Vila was awarded a place in the French Ligue 1 team of the year for the 2010-12 season.

Rasmus Elm (Sweden)
Current club: AZ Alkmaar / Position: Midfield
Age: 24 / International debut: March 2011 v. Moldova

Elm (right) has been dogged by injuries in recent years. However, in the past season he has been lauded by fans and press alike, and Euro 2012 might be the former Sweden U19 captain’s chance to shine on the international stage.
Plying his trade with Dutch Eredivise side AZ Alkmaar Elm made 36 appearances for AZ this season and netted 13 goals. Elm and AZ are thought to have agreed terms with Liverpool and it is likely the 24 year-old could join up with the Anfield outfit after the tournament for a fee reported to be in the region of £8 million.

Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)
Current club: Dynamo Kiev / Position: Midfield or Forward
Age: 22 / International debut: Sept 2009 v. Andorra

Should Andriy Shevchenko's fitness problems prevent him from making an impact, his Dynamo Kiev team-mate Andriy Yarmolenko may be the best alternative. The talented 22-year-old is capable of playing up front but it is on the left of a front three where he truly thrives, as his blend of pace, power and exceptional close control prove to be a devastating mixture. Yarmolenko scored on his full international debut against Andorra in 2009, but still took part at this summer's European Under-21 Championships in order to gain tournament experience.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Current club: Borrusia Dortmund / Position: Forward
Age: 23 / International debut: Sept 2008 v. San Marino

Poland's outstanding player and biggest goal threat, Robert Lewandowski arrives at Euro 2012 in the form of his life. He was voted the Bundesliga's Player of the Year for 2011-12 after firing Borussia Dortmund to the domestic double. His hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the German Cup final took his tally to 30 goals in all competitions (plus eight assists). His form and fitness are absolutely critical to Poland's chances - they have no other forward in his class. Lewandowski, who usually plays as a lone striker for club and country, was given his international debut in a World Cup qualifier in 2008, and took just nine minutes to get on the scoresheet.

Mario Götze (Germany)
Current club: Borussia Dortmund / Position: Attack Midfield
Age: 20 / International debut: Nov 2010 v. Sweden

Although Germany have midfield talent in abundance, Mario Gotze’s spellbinding performances for Borussia Dortmund, helping them to a second consecutive Bundesliga title, will further bolster Germany’s claim to be among the tournament favourites. Götze (right) a product of Dortmund's youth academy has quick feet, flawless technical skills and endlessly creativity. As a 17-year-old in his debut season with Borussia Dortmund, he contributed 5 goals and 15 assists as they won the Bundesliga title during the 2010-11 season and he’s retained the trophy with them again during 2011/12. Despite missing a sizable chunk of last season due to a hip injury, he was still able to score 5 times and set up 5 for his team-mates in a mere 15 league appearances. He also became the country’s joint youngest ever goalscorer when he netted against Brazil in August 2011, aged 19 years and 68 days old and you can be sure he will be eyeing equally as big scalps this summer. With the attacking midfield flair of Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, and Lucas Podolski at his disposal, it will be interesting to see how German manager Joachim Loew will accommodate the youngster into an already star studded midfield.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Babe of the Month - Keri-Anne Payne, British Olympian

Keri-Anne Payne was born in Johannesburg, South Africa to British parents. She started swimming aged four, and was noticed aged eight by British Swimming's national performance director Bill Sweetenham at a training camp in South Africa. As a result, the family returned to the UK to live in Heywood, Greater Manchester, when she was 13 years-old.

Keri-Ann will be going for gold at the London Olympics #focused

Keri-Anne broke through into senior swimming just two days after her 17th birthday when she won 400m Freestyle gold at the European Short Course Championships in Vienna - her first senior international meet.

After finishing fourth and sixth in the 800m Freestyle and 400m Individual Medley events respectively at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Payne turned her attention to open water events.

At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Keri-Ann won the silver medal in the inaugural 10km marathon swim. As one of the most memorable events of the Beijing Olympics, the marathon swim led to an explosion of public interest and participation in open water swimming events in the UK and worldwide. She also swam for Team GB in the 200m and 400m individual medley events.

Keri-Anne's stature in this exciting new sport of open water swimming heightened when she was crowned world champion at the 2009 World Championships in Rome.

Keri-Anne, British Swimmer & the face of Max Factor

Payne continues to combine open water and pool swimming and captured her first senior long course medal in the pool at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, claiming bronze in the 400m Individual Medley.

In 2011 in Shanghai, Payne reclaimed the World Championship in the 10 km Open Water event, becoming in the process the first British athlete in any sport to confirm qualification for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games. 

Keri-Anne follows the Sale Sharks Rugby Team. Her favourite film is The Count of Monte Cristo and she is a fan of the band The Killers.

You can follow Keri-Anne at her official website