The Curious Career of Anthony Vanden Borre

3/4/10 – the biggest moment in Vanden Borre’s career.

You’re probably thinking; hang on, he was at Portsmouth then, a side bound for relegation. Well yes, he was. This was a dull 0-0 draw, livened up for avid Gillette Soccer Saturday viewers as Chris Kamara’s inexplicably missed Vanden Borre’s dismissal from the game, in a comedic or unprofessional manner, depending on how you view Sky’s comedy vehicle.

In fairness to Kammy, most people have missed Vanden Borre’s career since he left Anderlecht in 2007. If Football Manager were an indication of how Vanden Borre’s should have developed, then he’d certainly be at a top club by now as Mr Utility Man (he’s definitely better than John O’Shea). But as we all know, a football management simulator is not a good judgement of potential, as much as we claim it to be.

Vanden Borre is a true product of the Anderlecht youth-system having joined them as an 8 year old. He made his senior debut around the same time as Vincent Kompany did but their careers are seemingly poles apart now. Whilst Kompany’s reputation as a tough tackling centre-back is reaching near world-class proportions, Vanden Borre’s career stagnated.

The early signs were promising for Vanden Borre as he made his debut in March 2004. Operating normally at right-back (yet capable of playing right midfield, defensive midfield or even centre-back), Vanden Borre would roam right along the flank, daring opponents to face up to him but the pace of the teenager would leave many far behind. He showed great versatility whenever he was called upon in his rookie years, filling in for other players adeptly.

A month later a shock international call-up against Turkey. To put that in perspective, he had played 5 senior games for Anderlecht and it also made him the second youngest Belgian international of all-time, at 16 years and 187 days. He ended 2003/04 with his first league medal with the club.

Vanden Borre quickly established himself as one of  Anderlecht’s key players – sticking at right back most of the time, pacey with a powerful shot. Several European clubs circled (notably Inter Milan and Ajax) but he favoured first-team action and development in Belgium.

The huge pressure placed upon him took its toll in the next few years. After all when Paul Van Himst refers to you as one of the best talents he’s ever seen, it’s fairly insurmountable pressure. Several niggling injuries saw Anderlecht bring in Marcin Wasilewski in 2007, who quickly usurped him at right-back. Vanden Borre also had personal problems at the time, with his mother falling serious ill in the early months of 2007.

His good friend Kompany still backed him to succeed, even saying “He remains the greatest talent on Anderlecht. The club must adapt themselves a bit also to him.  He plays the best on his position on the middle field. In his position he can become the best player from the history of the Belgium football.” High praise, unfortunately never fulfilled as in the summer of  2007, Vanden Borre headed to Serie A to join Fiorentina who paid around 4 million euros for his services.

Vanden Borre said upon leaving “”It was a bitter end, the Anderlecht chapter is now behind me. But I’m not bitter, I don’t have any hard feelings. I owe the club a lot and I won’t forget that. I hoped for a different ending but that’s life,”

Things in Florence couldn’t have started any worse for Vanden Borre as his mother passed away in September 2007; a traumatic event for anyone to deal with, even harder when you’re only 20.

He only made 2 appearances for Viola before joining Genoa on loan (as they were co-owners, with Papa Waigo going the other way). He was unlucky at Fiorentina, in my opinion, as he was unable to get a game with a incredibly strong defence featuring Per Koldrup and Tomáš Ujfaluši for example.

The short drive north to Genoa in January was an attempt to prove his worth to Fiorentina, but it never really got going there either, failing to impress Italians with his apparent eagerness to get forward and distinct lack of positioning. Vanden Borre couldn’t adapt to the more defensive game in Italy, although not helped by his lack of consistency.

Last season saw him join doomed club Portsmouth. Paul Hart who signed him, said: “Now’s the time for him to come up with the goods. We’re looking forward to being a part of that.” Once again, Vanden Borre failed to live up to the billing although you could argue the chances of succeeding at Portsmouth last year were nigh on impossible given the club’s financial woes, which translated onto the pitch. He made 19 appearances in a threadbare squad, and at least showed some fight albeit in vain.

Genoa severed their ties with Vanden Borre in the summer, leaving him to join Belgian club Genk, hence why this piece has been written. Unavailable to play until this January (after playing for 2 clubs in 2010), Vanden Borre has been training and playing reserve games biding his time. But on Saturday, he should hopefully make his debut for the team against Kortrijk.

Vanden Borre was unveiled in September yet has been unavailable until now

Genk have been performing far and above expectations this year with their young squad. Currently 2nd in the league and 6 points off Anderlecht (with a game in-hand), they’ll certainly be there or thereabouts come playoff time. It’s a big game for them, with Anderlecht vs Standard Liege the day after, they could claim back some ground with a Liege win.

But will Vanden Borre’s presence unbalance the side? Early signs suggest no. For one, their manager Frankie Vercauteren coached Vanden Borre at Anderlecht. Secondly, he’s good friends with some of the squad and gives the team a further option in their back four, with Vanden Borre bombing on forward for the defence of Joao Carlos, Torben Joneleit and Eric Matoukou. He’s certainly a useful addition to the Genk team, along with Liverpool loanee Chris Mavinga. Media reports suggest he’s already become a leader in the dressing room too.

You have to feel this move could be Last Chance Saloon for Vanden Borre. He’s been given his opportunity abroad, failed to seize it and returned to the league that made him such a talent. Still only 23 and shaped by tragedies in the last few years, Vanden Borre has to grasp this chance, if he is ever to live up to those early claims of becoming a Belgian superstar. Maybe he might be the catalyst that sees Genk win the league title, above the club that made him.

Here’s a hint of why he was so highly rated circa 2004-2007

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Jon Dahl Tomasson: The Danish Dynamo

This weekend will be remembered as an utter farce from an international perspective. Several English players have retired from international careers, effectively down to said players not being selected for the World Cup. Maybe like some, they thought they weren’t going to be called up. Others effectively threw their toys out of their pram because of a tournament snubbing. At the end of the day, neither Wes Brown or Paul Robinson will be missed from the set-up.

Contrast that to another retirement this weekend. A player who’s contributed so much to his nation and captained his country. That player is Jon Dahl Tomasson.

It’s fair to say that Jon Dahl Tomasson is a journeyman of European football. Having played in Holland, Spain, Italy and England, he’s been recognised as a good front-man in Europe, certainly in the earlier part of the last decade. He’s accumulated several accolades during his career across the continent too, arguably the pinnacle being his Champions League medal with AC Milan in 2003.

But its at international level where the Dane has excelled. He has garnered 112 caps over 11 years with the national side and scored 52 goals.  This makes him the all time cap leader and goal scorer for Denmark. For a man who was often frustrated at club level, frequently left on the bench behind highly rated targetmen (Shevchenko, Vieri, Shearer) he’s done a superb job of flourishing for his country.

In fact, Tomasson’s better position was ‘in the hole’ playing off the front man towards the end of the 90’s but he was forced up front in his time at Newcastle. His finishing and positioning were key aspects of his game. But this proves that Tomasson is very versatile up front and can fit in anywhere. A true team player.

He first came to prominence when Heerenveen bought him from Koge in 1994. He was prolific in Denmark, and helped Koge up the division, scoring 37 in 55.  He was in great form for Heerenveen too, finishing top scorer for them in his 3 years at the club.

Kenny Dalglish decided to bring Tomasson to St James Park in 1997, in hope that he would provide the perfect foil for Alan Shearer. The problems began however when Shearer got injured right at the start of the season, which forced Tomasson to fill his position. But Tomasson failed to adapt to the English game, citing a lack of physicality for this and only scored 3 Premier League goals.

He then returned back to Holland this time at Dutch giant, Feyenoord. It didn’t exactly take long for him to regain his confidence and he led the club to the Eredivisie title, plus a Dutch Super Cup. More was to follow however when he was part of the UEFA Cup winning side of 2002, knocking out Inter Milan and PSV along the way. He scored in the final against Borussia Dortmund as well and was crowned Man of the Match. His link-up with Pierre Van Hooijdonk made them one of the most feared partnerships in Europe at the time.

Summer in 2002 was memorable for Tomasson. He lit up the 2002 World Cup with some fabulous strikes, and finished the tournament on 4 goals. Denmark should have gone further in that tournament but ran into England and capitulated.

This spell was the most fruitful of his career really, but he left on a Bosman to Milan at the end of the season. It’s fair to say Feyenoord have never looked as strong since. At Milan he was a bit-part player in their success after struggling to replace Shevchenko or Rui Costa in Ancelotti’s line-up. But  he still managed 1 in 3 games for the club and was part of a side that won Serie A, a Coppa Italia and a Champions League in Ancelotti’s golden years for the Rossoneri. Not a bad haul shall we say.

Cue the next tournament,Euro 2004 ,where he scored arguably the best goal of his career against bitter Scandinavian rivals Sweden. A powerful half- volley, which is exemplary of Tomasson’s technique and control.

The remainder of his club career has been less glittering with spells at Villarreal and now returning to Feyenoord. This World Cup he failed to live up to the pressure bestowed upon him by passionate Danes and he has faced increasing criticism to step down. He finally did so after the World Cup where Denmark were eliminated at the group stage, with captain Tomasson’s solitary goal against Japan.

But you don’t realise what you’ve got til it’s gone. The Danish manager, Morten Olsen called Tomasson ‘the ultimate team player’.

The man himself said: “It was not an easy decision because the national team was a huge thing in my life and I have always been proud of representing Denmark.” He’s got one year left for Feyenoord, so clearly wants to concentrate on club football, in his last season in football.

You’ve certainly done yourself proud Jon. Here’s a tribute to you:

And don’t worry Danes, there’s always Nicklas Bendtner in waiting…..

World Cup Preview – Group F

Once again, we have a scenario of severe overdog versus three other teams scrapping away for the coveted second spot. Holders Italy come into this tournament with accusations of their team being full of veterans and lacking a creative spark. Slovakia make their first appearance at World Cup mainly due to one player shining in their squad. New Zealand reappear amongst footballing elite for the first time since 1982 (where they were destroyed) and hope to upset the big teams. But the most interesting and also harrowing back story belongs to Paraguay.

ITALY

The current World Champions weren’t fancied last time in Germany, and this time they have even less backers at the bookmakers. The main reason for this is Lippi’s reluctance to change his squad. He tried at the Confederations Cup The squad remains largely unchanged from the winning side in Berlin, with hardly any younger players breaking through into the team. On one hand, this means that this side are very well acquainted with each other. But, with an average age of 28.2, it’s clearly a problem. Strangely this is lower than both England and Brazil.

STRENGTHS

As mentioned squad unity couldn’t be any better. This side have played with each other for roughly 4 years, and know their manager’s tactics well. The Donadoni experiment didn’t work out too well, but Lippi knows how to get the best out his team.

Italy have a superb player in every department. Gigi Buffon is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the best pair of safehands between the sticks you could want. In defence, Giorgio Chiellini has managed to become of the best centre-backs in the world. The midfield general Andrea Pirlo has the ability to change games when given license to roam. Up front, Lippi has several options to lead the Azzuri. Alberto Gilardino, Gianpaolo Pazzini and Vincenzo Iaquinta are all superb strikers. Antonio Di Natale has also had a superb year in Serie A and should be given a chance as well.

WEAKNESSES

The lack of creativity in midfield never seemed to be a problem in recent years. But with several of Italy’s midfielder not getting enough playing time this season, especially renowned hardman Gennaro Gattuso, they could struggle to keep the ball. Daniel De Rossi could be the man to hold things together now Pirlo has been ruled out of the first two games. The midfield will have to be strong and powerful if Italy are to go far. With Totti now retired, it makes you wonder where an attacking midfielder will emerge from, Di Natale being the best candidate.

The form of Fabio Cannavaro is also worrying. The 2006 Balon D’or winner has been on a career downward spiral since the last World Cup and it will be interesting to see if the Italian captain can lead his side to glory again.

KEY PLAYER – Andrea Pirlo

I bought a Pirlo shirt for this World Cup. I am constantly astounded by the man; his passing technique is beyond belief at times, a free-kick master and all-round superb player. Nicknames L’Architetto (the architect in Italian), he can play as deep-lying playmaker or an attacking role just behind the frontmen. He will be sorely missed against Paraguay and New Zealand.

MANAGER -Marcello Lippi

One of the best managers in the world and of course has won the Jules Rimet trophy. Slight criticism at his loyal support of Juventus players, when their season wasn’t brilliant. Tactically brilliant but lack of Plan B could prove fatal.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 12/1

PREDICTION – I really think they could surprise some people. If Pirlo’s fighting fit by the time they should meet Spain in the 1/4finals, they could shock the world again

SLOVAKIA

Their first major tournament could be a rude awakening for them. But this side deserve their tag amongst the stable of ‘dark horses’. They qualified with a team of talented youth players  and experienced leaders. They are another team who’ve adopted the 4-2-3-1 system (seems to be an international favourite) and they play that formation exceptionally well. Qualifying saw them gain away wins off Northern Ireland, Czech Republic and Poland. Travelling to South Africa could see that trend continue.

STRENGTHS

If Slovakia are to get anywhere in South Africa, their hopes seem to rest on one man, Marek Hamsik. The Napoli man is hot property and shows flashes of brilliance regularly. Other quality players include Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel, who’s figthing to be fit for the tournament and former Chelsea and FC Twente player Miroslav Stoch. Skrtel’s well known for his aggressive tackling and he will have to be at his best if Slovakia. Stoch on the other hand has been superb for Schteve McClaren’s side who won the league.

WEAKNESSES

Not a lot of the first team are given enough chances at their respective clubs. A good example of this is Manchester City Vladimir Weiss Jr who always gets a free pass into the side because of Pop. He’s been on loan at Bolton and failed to impressive.

This may sound fairly obvious but if Hamsik doesn’t turn up, then neither will Slovakia. He’s the link-up man and is the catalyst in their play

Could Marek frustrate the Italian old guard?

KEY PLAYER – Marek Hamsik

Marek Hamsik is a world class player. That’s according to manager Vladimir Weiss. He’s been targeted by Man City and Chelsea, the latter surely interested now they’ve released Michael Ballack. Constantly threatening and creating, he’s one of my players to watch this tournament

MANAGER – Vladimir Weiss Snr

Possibly the most popular coach at the World Cup after bringing this small nation to it. He’s also the youngest coach, meaning he has little experience. Should be commended for bringing the best out of a set of substitutes.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 200/1

PREDICTION – Group stage exit unfortunately. Too many players aren’t match fit.

PARAGUAY

To say the Paraguayans have had a nightmare 2010 is a bit of an understatement. Star player Salvador Cabanas was shot in the head (the bullet still lodged in his skull) in a Mexican bar in January. He’ll miss the tournament but the other players will hopefully strive on in honour of their team-mate.  Cabanas was almost a Wayne Rooney type player in their team, so manager Gerardo Martino has been at work frantically trying to find a new system.

STRENGTHS

Up front may be missing Cabanas, but the back up option aren’t too shabby. Bench-warmer Roque Santa Cruz is a accomplished finisher but will be put on the right wing in the 4-3-3 formation. In the centre will be Borussia Dortmund’s Valdez who might be familiar to England fans after he was impressive in 2006 against them.

The defence was key to them progressing out of the South American qualifying group. The centre backs, Paulo Da Silva and Caceres were very strong and didn’t ship many goals. They even got a draw away against Argentina and were narrowly beaten by Brazil.

WEAKNESSES

The midfield doesn’t look great, with no real player standing out. First choice goalkeeper Justo Villar certainly has had practice at Valladolid this season, but does he have enough quality to stop the Italians. I don’t think so.

Fitness concerns run rife through the media especially over key wing-man Oscar Cardozo.

KEY PLAYER – Oscar Cardozo

An absolute goal machine for Benfica. A prize asset for them although his goal scoring record for country isn’t as stunning. If he performs well, expect interest from all over the Premier League. He is a major doubt however.

MANAGER – Gerardo Martino

Great tactician and a believer in attacking football. He also gets the best out of young players.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 50/1

PREDICTION – Should make it out of the groups, but will run into the well-oiled machine known as the Netherlands.

NEW ZEALAND

For a small nation devoted to rugby, making this year’s World Cup was a tremendous achievement. Aided by Australia’s defection to the Asian zone, New Zealand’s route to the World Cup included facing the footballing heavyweights of Fiji and New Caledonia. The friendlies recently have been the best indication of what  ‘The All Whites’ can offer this summer, and with a 1-0 win over Serbia, they have a reason to be optimistic of an upset. On the flipside, their Confederations Cup exploits last year were terrible after being smashed 5-0 by Spain. Tournament football can be  a cruel mistress at times.

STRENGTHS

  • Organised well in defence, considering their talent pool isn’t great (mostly A-League players).
  • Captain Ryan Nelsen is a tough brute of a centre-back.
  • Have little expectations placed upon you could take you far.

WEAKNESSES

  • Erm, no real potency up front. Only scored one goal in the playoff against Bahrain. Their best striker is Rory Fallon who plays for recently relegated Championship side Plymouth
  • Or midfield creativity

KEY PLAYER – Ryan Nelsen

Blackburn’s instinctive centre-back led his nation this far. Will have to be at the top of his game against far superior sides. His experience in the Premier League is vital to a team full of lower league players.

MANAGER – Ricki Herbert

Ricki Herbert unveils disappointing puppet show

We’re ready. I can’t wait for the opening game. The battle cry from Herbert ahead of the kick-off. Typical Antipodean, all talk little substance.

ODDS OF LIFTING THE WORLD CUP – 2000/1

PREDICTION – Small fish in a big pond. Predators will take the All Whites apart.