EuropeÆs Starting XI

By Paul Kennedy
Managing Editor, Soccer America Magazine

Barcelona, winner of the UEFA Champions League and SpainÆs La Liga, heads the list of EuropeÆs championship clubs. Our Starting XI of league champions should play major roles in the new European season that begins soon.

HISTORY. Most of BarcelonaÆs titles have come in bunches: 1948-49, 1952-53, 1959-60, 1991-94, 1998-99 and now 2005-06. Only four times has Barca failed to win a title defense. Its 18 titles still leave it far behind Real Madrid with 29.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. BarcelonaÆs 2006 La Liga championship is a testament to the coaching of Frank Rijkaard, who has won two titles in three seasons as coach.

He came in for heavy criticism during BarcaÆs 2004-05 title campaign after Chelsea knocked it out of the Champions League in the second round, but there was nothing to fault Rijkaard about how he managed the 2005-06 season.

Barca ran away with the La Liga title, winning by a 12-point margin over Real Madrid, and also captured the Champions League crown. Along the way, it gained revenge for its loss to Chelsea, beating the Blues when they again met in the second round.

NEXT SEASON. A big reason for BarcaÆs double was its depth, and it has few holes to fill going into next season.

With Henrik Larsson returning to Sweden and Argentine Maxi Lopez on the way out, Rijkaard needs another striker to back up Ronaldinho and Samuel EtoÆo.

It was rumored to be pursuing UruguayÆs Diego Forlan, who starred for Champions League semifinalist Villarreal, and ChelseaÆs Icelandic striker, Eidur Gudjohnsen. One critical departure was that of Rijkaard assistant Henk ten Cate. The former NASL player was named Ajax coach. Ten Cate will be replaced at Barca by another former NASL player, Johan Nesekens.

HISTORY. After going 50 years between titles, Chelsea has now won back-to-back titles. In addition to three league titles, the Blues have won three FA Cups, three League Cups and three Community Shields.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. The Blues were never challenged, opening with nine straight wins that gave them a nine-point lead by mid-October. After that, they werenÆt nearly as dominating as they were in 2004-05 when they won by a 12-point margin over Arsenal and conceded only 15 goals. It wasnÆt until the 37th matchday of the season that Chelsea clinched the title with a 3-0 victory over Manchester United.

NEXT SEASON. Chelsea will again be the EPL favorite, but it has a long way to go if itÆs to dominate Europe, as evidenced by its second-round exit to Barcelona in the 2005-06 Champions League.

The acquisitions of Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko will close the gap with Barcelona.

Chelsea did not disclose the fee it paid to buy the Ukrainian Shevchenko from AC Milan, but it said it broke the previous club record of $48.8 million paid to French club Lyon for Ghana midfielder Michael Essien last August. Ballack signed with Chelsea as a free agent from Bayern Munich.

ChelseaÆs other major signing was Ivorian striker Salomon Kalou from Dutch club Feyenoord. The Netherlands hoped to field Kalou, younger brother of Ivory Coast star Bonaventure Kalou, for the World Cup, but Dutch authorities refused to speed up Salomon KalouÆs naturalization request.

HISTORY. Juventus won its 29th Scudetti and its fourth in the last five years. The ôOld Ladyö of Italian soccer ranks first in league titles ahead of AC Milan (17 titles) and Inter Milan (13).

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. Juve has led Serie A every week for the last two seasons, Fabio CapelloÆs term as coach. It opened the 2005-06 season with nine straight wins and finished with 91 points, a Serie A record, but it had to wait until the last day of the season to clinch the title.

With eight games left, Juve had a 10-point lead, but five straight ties made the 2005-06 Scudetto a race between Juve and AC Milan. Juve finished with a three-point lead over Milan after both teams won their final game.

One of the Juve heroes was Alessandro Del Piero, who became the clubÆs all-time leading scorer. His 12 goals gave him 194 for his career.

Other key players for Juve were Frenchman David Trezeguet (whose 23 goals gave him 125 all-time at Juve) and Argentine-born Italian international Mauro Camoranesi (11 assists).

NEXT SEASON. Juventus is at the center of a scandal involving match-fixing, illegal betting, manipulation of referee assignments and false bookkeeping.

The central character is Luciano Moggi, JuventusÆ former general manager. Among other things, Moggi is accused of rigging refereeing assignments to favor Juventus.

Possible punishments being mentioned include banishing Juventus to Serie C1 (third level). FIFA president Sepp Blatter has asked that Italian authorities decide by July 31 whether to sanction Juventus or other clubs.

HISTORY. Lyon has won five straight French league titles ù the only five in its history. Marseille is the only other club to win five straight titles, but it was stripped of its fifth title in 1993 for the VA-OM matching-fixing scandal.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. The exodus of French stars abroad has pillaged most French clubs. Lyon, on the other hand, has recruited astutely on the international transfer market.

It lost Ghanaian Michael Essien on a $48.8 million transfer to Chelsea but picked up Portuguese Tiago in exchange. The Portuguese midfielder had an excellent season.

Striker Fred had a good enough first season at Lyon to earn a berth on BrazilÆs World Cup team. He was one of three Lyon players to go to the World Cup with Brazil along with defender Cris and midfielder Juninho Pernambucano.

NEXT SEASON. Some are calling the 2006 Lyon team the greatest French club of all time, but the season wasnÆt without disappointment. Once again, it failed to get past the quarterfinals of the UEFA Champions League.

Coach Gerard HoullierÆs biggest need for next season is a striker. Norwegian John Carew wasnÆt the answer last season. Among HoullierÆs targets were Portuguese Pauleta, La LigueÆs leading scorer with 21 goals for PSG in 2005-06, and Frenchman David Trezeguet of Juventus.

LyonÆs pre-World Cup signings were Jeremy Toulalan from Nantes for $9 million and Swede Kim Kallstrom, acquired from Rennes for $7 million.

HISTORY. Bayern Munich won the Bundesliga title for the sixth title in the last eight years and 20th time overall. It also won the German Cup to capture its third double in the last four seasons.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. A fast start ù six straight wins to open the season and 14 wins, two ties and only one loss at the halfway mark ù put Bayern in the driverÆs seat.

Dutchman Roy Makaay and Peruvian Claudio Pizarro combined for 28 goals. In his last season at Bayern before joining Chelsea, Michael Ballack scored 14 goals.

BayernÆs season wasnÆt all positive. Goalie Oliver Kahn made a series of errors that would result in Germany coach Juergen Klinsmann picking ArsenalÆs Jens Lehmann over Kahn to start at the World Cup. Young midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger was wrongly accused by a German publication of being part of an illegal betting operation.

NEXT SEASON. Ballack left for Chelsea on a free transfer, but Bayern coach Felix Magath feels BallackÆs departure could actually make Bayern less reliant on providing crosses to the middle.

Bayern quickly moved to tie its other players up to long-term contracts. Kahn will remain at Bayern through 2008, Brazilian star Lucio, Paraguayan Roque Santa Cruz and Argentine Martin Demichelis re-signed through 2009, Frenchman Willie Sagnol got an extension through 2010.

BayernÆs major pre-World Cup transfer was that of Lukas Podolski. The 21-year-old striker left FC Cologne to be reunited with Schweinsteiger, his best friend on the Germany national team.

HISTORY. Porto from the north and Benfica and Sporting from Lisbon in the south have dominated Portuguese soccer, winning 70 of 72 league titles. Benfica is first with 31, followed by Porto with 21 and Sporting with 18. Belenenses (1946) and Boavista (2001) have one title apiece.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. The post-Mourinho period at Porto didnÆt begin well. The Dragons have had four coaches since Jose Mourinho left for Chelsea two years ago after leading them to the UEFA Champions League title.

The situation finally stabilized when Dutchman Co Adriaanse came over tiny Dutch club AZ, which he led to the semifinals of the 2005 UEFA Cup.

Most of the star players from the 2004 championship team left. Only Ricardo Costa, Jose Bosingwa, Benny McCarthy and Vitor Baia, who lost his starting job in goal to Brazilian Helton, were still around.

The key to PortoÆs success in 2005-06 was its midfield, led by Argentine Lucho Gonzalez, the clubÆs leading scorer with 10 goals. He played alongside Brazilian Paulo Assuncao in the middle of midfield with Portuguese Ricardo Quaresma and Brazilian Jorginho on the wings.

PortoÆs top young player was striker Hugo Almeida, who starred on host PortugalÆs team at the 2006 European U-21 Championship.

NEXT SEASON. Porto needs help up front. Two of the big names it was pursuing were Dutchman Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink of PSV and LyonÆs giant Norwegian, John Carew. Ricardo Costa, Bosingwa and McCarthy, on the other hand, could all be leaving.

HISTORY. PSV remained the dominant team in the Netherlands, winning its sixth Eredivisie title in the last decade. Its 21 titles rank second behind AjaxÆs 29. PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord have won every Dutch title except one since 1964.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. PSV won the 2006 Eredivisie by 10 points over second-place AZ ù though Ajax joined PSV in next seasonÆs Champions League by winning the new Eredivisie playoff.

The ease with which PSV won was a surprise because it had lost many key players û Park Ji-sung to Manchester United, Lee Young-pyo to Tottenham, Mark van Bommel to Barcelona and Johan Vogel to AC Milan ù after the 2004-05 during which it reached the semifinals of the Champions League.

American DaMarcus BeasleyÆs second season in Eindhoven was difficult. BeasleyÆs playing time was reduced during the second half of the season after the arrival of Australian Jason Culina and Ivorian Arouna Kone. American teen Lee Nguyen left Indiana University for PSV after his freshman season and was good enough to earn his first pro appearance in the spring.

NEXT SEASON. Ronald Koeman left Benfica to take over as PSV coach following Guus HiddinkÆs departure. Hiddink, who doubled as Australia national team coach, will coach Russia after the World Cup.

Veteran Phillip Cocu, 35, agreed to stay one more season at PSV to groom the clubÆs rising stars. Ismail Aissati, 17, was the most exciting player at this YearÆs European Under-21 Championship. Aissati and Ibrahim Affelay, both Dutchmen of Moroccan origin, Kone and Nguyen are all part of PSVÆs youth movement.

HISTORY. OlympiakosÆ 2006 Greek title was its ninth in 10 seasons. It had previously gone a decade between titles. ItÆs won 34 of the 70 Greek league championships. Olympiakos also won the Greek Cup to win its second double in a row and 12th overall.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. Norwegian Trond Sollied was brought in as coach from BelgiumÆs FC Brugge, and the transition was seamless.

Olympiakos got off to a sensational start by beating archrival Panathinaikos, 2-0, on the road to open the 2005-06 season. In its other major derby, Olympiakos won, 3-1, at AEK Athens in October.

The key to OlympiakosÆ success was its midfield. At 34, Brazilian star Rivaldo remained at the top of his game, earning a one-year contract extension. Serbian winger Predrag Djordjevic was again the top foreigner in the Greek league, leading Olympiakos with 15 goals. In his first season at Olympiakos. Ivorian Yaya Toure emerged as one of European soccerÆs best young central midfielders.

NEXT SEASON. Olympiakos was hoping to sign Yaya Toure to a long-term contract after rejecting a $15 million offer for Toure from Arsenal, where his brother, Kolo, plays. The Piraeus club was active before the World Cup lining up reinforcements for next season. Sollied used his Belgian connections to sign Croatian goalie Tomislav Butina from Club Brugge, Polish defender Michel Zewlakow from Anderlecht and Ivorian midfielder Marco Ne fom Beveren. French defender Didier Domi was acquired from Espanyol, and Moroccan midfielder Abdeslam Ouaddou was signed from French club Rennes.

HISTORY. Anderlecht has won 28 league titles, more than twice as many as Club Brugge in second place with 13 titles. All of the Brussels clubÆs titles have been won since the end of World War II.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. Anderlecht edged American Oguchi OnyewuÆs Standard Liege after a long battle that went down to the end of the season. Standard led going into the New Year, but AnderlechtÆs mid-season training camp paid big dividends. ôNever has a mid-season camp helped so much,ö said Anderlecht president Roger vanden Stock. The key win was AnderlechtÆs 2-0 victory over Standard in late April.

The Juliper League title made up for a dismal campaign on other fronts. Anderlecht was upset by last-place Second Division club Geel in the first round of the Belgian Cup, and it again finished last in its group in the UEFA Champions League.

NEXT SEASON. Anderlecht will need a makeover during the offseason. Vincent Kompany, 20, is one of the most sought-after defenders in Europe and will probably leave during the summer. Swedish winger Christian Wilhelmsson was rumored to be headed to the English Premier League. Gone for sure were Pole Michel Zewlakow, who signed with Olympiakos, and Swedish midfielder Par Zetterberg, who is retiring.

Anderlecht signed Egyptian captain Ahmed Hassan on a free transfer from Turkish club Besiktas. Belgian defender Jelle van Damme was acquired from Southampton after spending a year on loan to Werder Bremen. Anderlecht also signed Argentines Lucas Biglia (Independiente) and Cristian Leiva (Banfield) and Moroccan Mbark Boussoufa (Gent).

HISTORY. CelticÆs title was its 40 Scottish league title in 2006. As Rangers fans will quickly point out, that still leaves Celtic a distant second in all-time Scottish championships behind Rangers with 51 league titles. Celtic or Rangers has won every Scottish league title in the last 21 years.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. Manager Gordon StrachanÆs first season at Celtic didnÆt start well. Celtic was knocked of the Champions League û it lost the first leg of its qualifying series to Artmedia of Slovakia, 5-0 û was held to a 4-4 tie by Motherwell in the Scottish Premier League opener and lost its first Old Firm game of the season to Rangers, 3-1. Edinburgh club Hearts was the surprise leader for the first half of the season, but Celtic pulled away after coming back to beat Hearts, 3-2, on a pair of Stephen McManus goals on New YearÆs Day. Celtic was helped that Hearts self-destructed, changing managers in October and again in March. Still, Celtic president Brian Quinn gives all the credit to Strachan. ôHe should have gotten more praise than he did,ö said Quinn.

NEXT SEASON. ThereÆs no guarantee that Rangers, which finished third behind Celtic and Hearts, will again have a subpar season, so Celtic must be aggressive on the transfer market. Moreover, leading scorer John Hartson (16 goals) and Stilian Petrov (10) are leaving and Irish veteran Roy KeaneÆs future at the club is uncertain. The Hoops have signed Gary Caldwell and Derek Riordan from Hibs and Kenny Miller from Wolves, but more signings should be forthcoming.

HISTORY. GalatasarayÆs Super Lng title was its 16th Turkish league title, tying it with archrival Fenerbahce for the most titles. Galatasaray won seven championships in a span of 10 years from 1993 to 2002, but its 2006 title is its first in four years.

CHAMPIONSHIP RUN. It was a turbulent season, to say the least. Galatasaray paid the price for overspending in the late 1990s and began the 2005-06 season with debts in excess of $140 million. Players went several months without being paid.

A planned boycott of their January camp in southern Turkey never materialized, but players went on strike in February after Croatian defender Stjepan Tomas and Serbian midfielder Sasa Ilic were paid. Tomas, Ilic and other foreign stars such as Colombian goalie Faryd Mondragon and Cameroonian defender Rigobert Song could have left the club in mid-season, but they stuck around to help it win the championship.

The race went down to the last day with Galatasaray beating Kayserispor, 3-0, and Fenerbahce tying Denizlispor, 1-1, to give Galatasaray the title by two points.

Much of the credit for the championship run goes to Belgian coach Eric Gerets, who held the team together in difficult circumstances.

NEXT SEASON. Veteran Turkey striker Hakan Sukur re-signed with Galatasaray for another two seasons after calling the 2006 championship the most meaningful of his Turkish career. Gerets was hoping to add a midfield specialist. One name being mentioned was Dane Thomas Gravesen (Real Madrid), also a Celtic target.

(This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)

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