Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : August 16th 2013 Contents A47
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LONDON---After scoring 23 goals in his
debut season in England and leading Aston
Villa to Premier League survival, Christian
Benteke returned to offseason training at
Villa and handed in a written transfer
With the World Cup on the horizon, the
Belgium forward seemed to be set on moving
clubs amid reported interest from Tottenham,
Chelsea and Liverpool.
But after a discussion with manager Paul
Lambert, Benteke signed a contract extension
through to 2017.
He has been in tremendous form through-
out the offseason, scoring a hat-trick against
third-tier Crewe and finding the net twice
for Belgium against the United States.
Manager Paul Lambert will look to continue
developing his young Villa side this season.
At times during the 2012-13 campaign, its
potential was impressive; a 3-1 victory at Liv-
erpool and a 6-1 home thrashing of Sunder-
land were particularly memorable.
But a 4-1 loss away to Southampton in
September and an 8-0 thumping at Stamford
Bridge against Chelsea showed that Lambert s
side still had much to learn and relegation
was a real possibility.
A strong end to the season, losing only
twice in the last seven games---to Chelsea and
Manchester United---secured the team s
topflight status and encouraged Lambert and
Villa fans ahead of this campaign.
Lambert has brought more young players
with potential to Villa Park rather than adding
older, experienced ones to the ranks. The 21-
year-old Denmark defender Jores Okore joined
Villa after a season which saw him play in
the Champions League with FC Nordsjaelland.
Antonio Luna, a 22-year-old left-sided
defender from Sevilla, has signed for the club
providing competition for Joe Bennett to make
the starting team.
Twenty-year-old Leandro Bacuna joined
from Dutch team Groningen and adds another
midfield option alongside Bulgarian winger
Aleksandar Tonev, 23, who arrived from CSKA
Sofia. Villa also signed striker Nicklas Helenius
from Swedish side Aalborg. The 22-year-old
signed a three-year-deal.
Leukaemia forces Petrov retirement
Captain Stiliyan Petrov announced his
retirement in May after missing the 2012-13
season as he fought leukaemia. Petrov has
remained at the club, however, becoming an
assistant to development coach Gordon Cow-
ans, and he will pass on his experience to
players passing through the club s academy.
Petrov received huge support from Villa
fans throughout his treatment, with supporters
applauding throughout the 19th minute of
every home match last season---a reference
to his shirt number.
Players staying, players out
Lambert moved quickly to reward last sea-
son s impressive players with new contracts.
United States goalkeeper Brad Guzan and
midfielder Ashley Westwood both signed new
four-year deals. Defenders Matt Lowton and
Ciaran Clark signed new four and three-year
contracts respectively. In terms of notable
exits, attacking midfielder Brett Holman joined
Al Nasr in Dubai after one season with Villa
and Richard Dunne joined second-tier Queens
Park Rangers on a free transfer.
LONDON---Manager Martin Jol has
been busy during the offseason, sign-
ing five players to strengthen his
first-team squad. Goalkeeper
Maarten Stekelenburg arrived from
Roma, replacing Mark Schwarzer,
who signed for London rival Chelsea.
Sascha Reither s season-long loan
from Wolfsburg became a permanent
transfer and defender Fernando
Amorebieta signed from Athletic Bil-
bao. Ghana midfielder Derek Boateng
joined on a free transfer from Ukrainian
club Dnipro, and Adel Taarabt made
the switch to Fulham from second-
tier Queens Park Rangers on a one-
season loan. Reports in the English
media also suggest Fulham could sign
striker Darren Bent from Aston Villa
before its first game of the season away
Aside from goalkeeper Schwarzer s
exit after five years, Jol also decided
not renew the contract of four other
players who featured for the first team.
Chris Baird, Simon Davies,
Mahamadou Diarra and Mladen Petric
all left as Jol made space for the players
he had targeted to bring into the team.
New owners, new era
Mohamed Al Fayed s 16-year own-
ership of Fulham ended in July when
he sold the club to Shad Kahn, owner
of the NFL s Jacksonville Jaguars in
the United States. Khan has taken 100
percent ownership of the club, which
is debt-free. Al Fayed s tenure as owner
saw Fulham establish itself comfortably
in the Premier League. It also reached
the final of the Europa League under
current England manager Roy Hodg-
son in 2010, losing to Atletico Madrid
in extra time.
Key Player: Berbatov
Berbatov scored 15 goals for Fulham
last season and was voted its player
of the season by the club s supporters.
He was the focal point for Fulham s
attack and scored one of the goals of
the season in its 1-0 win against Stoke
against Craven Cottage. A partnership
with new arrival Adel Taarabt, an
attacking midfielder, has potential to
excite the Fulham fans. Taarabt s per-
formances for Queens Park Rangers
were inconsistent last season but at
times he reached a very high level. If
he and Berbatov can combine on a
regular basis they could pose problems
for any defense in the league.
Fulham could surprise a few people
with a fast start to its 2013-14 season.
In its opening nine games, it only plays
Arsenal and Chelsea out of the teams
expected to compete for European
places in the league. If Jol can create
a winning mentality in the early stages
of the season and his best players stay
free from injury, Fulham might fancy
its chances of competing for a top-
seven finish and earning a spot in the
Europa League. (AP)
Villa looks to develop young team
Focus on the English Premier League
Jol strengthens Fulham
with five new faces
Aston Villa's Christian Benteke controls the ball during the English Premier League soccer
match between Chelsea and Aston Villa at Stamford Bridge stadium in London. The new
English Premier League season begins tomorrow. AP PHOTO
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