Saturday, January 12, 2008

This guy is a better defender than Claudio Cacapa

If this keeps up, he's going on a hunger strike, which would probably put the pie vendors at St. James Park out of business. Now, there's no shame in giving up six goals to Manchester United's fearsome attacking triumvirate. Unless, of course, you have a fan base with delusions of grandeur, an owner who thinks the club should be in the Champions League, and a backline that was revamped this summer for the express purpose of not getting embarrassed. Who would have thought that Titus Bramble would have the last laugh?

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Roed to the playoffs?

When Glenn Roeder was made Norwich boss I was bombarded with emails and texts from friends that went a little like this:

"Ha....Ha......Roeder!! League one for you son! He's shit mate!

Now I publicly reply to those people.....Ahhhhhhhh. Super, Super Glenn. Super Glenn Roeder!

Now for some facts:

Glenn Roeder has been in charge of City for 14 games. Todays 3-1 win away to Barnsley means that he has won 6, drawn 5 and lost just 3. That (according to my fellow Norwich fan LQ) is 23 points from a possible 42. That's 55% of possible points. In comparison Bristol Shitty (who went top - albeit briefly) are converting at a rate of 59% and Palace (who, after thumping Wolves, have just arrived at 6th spot) at 50%.

My boys are now 10 points away from the playoffs. Roeder has started to dispense of the dross Peter Grant brought in and has used the loan market to bring in Matty Pattison (just signed on a permanent basis from Newcastle), Man City wonder boy Ched Evans, Mo Camara (also just signed), Chelsea super kid Ryan Bertrand and Martin Taylor (now back at Bongo FC). Taylor will hopefully be coming back during the window if Bongo vixen Karen Brady plays nice. She tried to push Taylor to join QPR as a favour to her mate (F1 guru Bernie) and slagged off super Glenn through her column in the Sun.

Roeder's positive attitude and loan army has brought football back to Carrow Road after a horrific start to the season that saw Peter Grant get the tin tac, leaving us firmly in the poop with just 8 points and 6 from safety holding up the entire league.

We now sit 10 points from the playoffs and 4 above the dreaded bottom 3.

Glenn Roeder has been nothing short of a sensation. So tonight I will open a beer (or 4) and raise a toast to the man who can while I wait for the phone to buzz with 10 apologies.

Thanks Glenn!

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Friday, January 11, 2008

A little humor to end the day

Today has been unbearably long at work. This video made it just a bit better. I especially like the bits involving the referees.

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Stupidest Piece About Soccer You'll Read All Year

When I'm on the road, which isn't very often because I don't own a car, I get really peeved at rubberneckers. It's like motherfuckers never seen an accident before. But sometimes, I can't help but slow down and admire the carnage. This essay, titled "US football leagues have a long way to go" by Roberto Carlos Alvarez-Galloso is the internet equivalent of the flaming, 20-car pileup on the George Washington Bridge.

AS A supporter of US football (soccer), the question that is always asked of me involves a comparison of USA with countries in Europe, Africa, and Latin America. Every country is different and to compare US football with that of the FA, La Liga, and the Bundesliga would be similar to comparing a pear with a grape.
Except pears and grapes are completely different fruits. Maybe it's like comparing a red grape with a white grape, or an organic orange with a conventional orange. But that's a minor quibble.
It cannot be denied that US football, is still under-par in comparison with other professional leagues. The reasons are many and need to be organized under certain categories.
US folklore tells how the puritans saw the indigenous population play a form of football called "Pasuckquakkohowog" (which means "they gather to play football"), when they arrived in America. The reality points to an inconsistent history of football in America compared to the consistency which has existed in Europe since football was first played in York, England, during the Middle Ages.
Really? York? As they say on Wikipedia, [citation needed]. My knowledge of soccer's origin comes mostly from the History of Soccer DVD set, which clearly points to the establishment of the Football Association in 1863 as the birth of modern football. Until then, the private boys' schools and their old boys played football under different sets of rules for much of the first half of 19th century, and before that, there really wasn't much organized football beyond the semi-organized chaos of folk football.

I Googled "York" and "football" and "origin" and no relevant result came up. I don't know about you, but I'll believe a $100 DVD set over a blogger who doesn't use a single outgoing link.
America had football as a fad sport that was fashionable at times until the World Cup of 1994.
By "at times", you of course mean, "once, during the NASL's peak from the late 70s to the early 80s".
It could be said that until 1994, the USA had a bunker mentality when it came to football, which favoured other sports (i.e.: basketball over football.
But not after 1994!

It could also be said that unicorns are flying out of my ass, and it would have just as much basis in fact as this piece.
These men were taken very, very seriously.

Before 1994, sports commentators in the USA derided football (soccer) as a "sport for those who do not like sports".
And it all stopped after 1994. Frank De Ford is a river in Egypt and Jim Rome is a man of great intelligence and eloquence.

And again, as they say on Wikipedia, [attribution needed]. I Googled to see exactly who referred to soccer as "sport for those who do not like sports", and I came up with jack shit, except to the very article I'm writing about, and mirrors of the same article. Holy shit, this thing is everywhere!
It was after the World Cup of 1994 that the USA started to take football seriously.
So seriously that they waited two more years before launching Major League Soccer! So seriously that MLS had to pay ESPN to carry the games! So seriously that they traveled back in time and qualified for the 1990 World Cup! And won the Women's World Cup in 1991!
The reason: the USA hosted the World Cup of 1994 and they did not want to be seen as "ignorant" and "dumb".
I have news for you. Americans do want to be seen as "ignorant" and "dumb". They take pride in their anti-intellectualism. Did you not pay attention to the 2004 election results?
The FA, La Liga, La Liga Mexicana, and the Bundesliga have been playing seriously and the supporters have been vocal and present.
Meanwhile, the A-League played half-jokingly, with a smirk on its face, while its fans silently supported the league from remote locations.
The leagues of other countries either received support from their fans or in some cases [such as Monaco] from the government.
So the FA, La Liga, La Liga Mexicana and the Bundesliga didn't receive support from their fans? Monaco has a league? Also, government interference in leagues is strictly prohibited by FIFA. Shhh! Don't let them find out!
Another aspect has been the timing of the football season. In Europe, the season lasts from August to April.
I'll need to consult my atlas, but last I checked, Scandinavia and the former Soviet republics were still in Europe. And they play from Spring to Fall, on account of the cold, dark winters.
Mid-December match in Rosenborg.
In the USA, it lasts from April to October with practices and friendly games starting in January.
OMG, you got something right! Rejoice!
Within the USA, there has been a decline in physical education classes as mandated by the budget cuts proposed by George Bush II. With this decline, there has been little exercise and practice of US football [soccer].
Because George Bush II (sic) sits on local school boards and controls their budgets and curriculum? And what budget cuts? Under W's first term, federal discretionary spending went up 33%. He is the most spend-happy President since... shit, he's a bigger spender than Lyndon B. fucking Johnson.

But that's neither here nor there. What does decline in phys ed classes have to do with AYSO, interscholastic sports and ODP, where youth soccer is largely played in this country?
America, fuck yeah!

And what's with this "US football (soccer)" business? Either "football" or "soccer" works - just pick one, goddammit. And you don't need to qualify every mention of the sport with "US". We get it. You're talking about the US.
There is also the mentality in America that football does not need that much of practice. The US Football team learned the hard way after the men's team was eliminated in Copa America 2007 and the women's team was almost eliminated in the FIFA Women's World Cup in the same year.

So they didn't lose all three matches (though acquitted themselves quite nicely against Argentina) because Bob Bradley took an experimental squad that included three uncapped players? It was because they didn't practice much. Got it. And it wasn't because the women's team played an unimaginative style that relied too heavily on a single player, and the coach made a panic move and pulled a goalkeeper who was playing okay? It was because they didn't practice much. And the women's team was almost eliminated? Like, they're still in contention for the cup, even though Brazil beat the US and Germany won the final?
Bob Bradley and Team USA not practicing at Copa America '07.
A major difference between US football and the other professional leagues is the salary cap. A salary cap (also known as wage cap) limits the amount of money that can be used by a professional team for professional salaries. The Major League Soccer (as well as minor leagues within the USA) uses salary cap.
Minor leagues? You mean USL uses salary caps? Because they're such big spenders?
At present, European leagues are considering the use of salary cap. A report from the BBC revealed that the Football league in England and the Series A of Italy were one of the teams considering a salary cap.
Um, what? [citation needed]. One of the teams in Football league (sic) and the Series A (sic) were (sic) considering a salary cap? What's the point of one team considering a salary cap? That's called a wage budget. Every team has one.
It must be remembered that US football and their leagues, like adolescents, are bound to make mistakes but are willing to learn in order to be on par with other leagues. The USA has to adapt to and rid itself of the bunker mentality. We live in a world of open communication and diversity, which includes sports. Football is gaining converts in America and it is the silent majority who are leading the change. It will take time to destroy the walls of prejudice against football but people are attending in ever increasing numbers.
Bunker mentality? Care to expound... wait, don't. You'll make my head hurt more than it already does after reading this paragraph.
All the same, to compare US football [soccer] to the long and glorious history of European leagues is impossible. The USA has to forge its own history.
The comparison is impossible because you're comparing a sport's place in a country (US football) to organizations (European leagues). Apples and oranges. Now, a comparison between MLS and the top European leagues is possible. For example: "The Big 4 leagues are richer and more established than MLS." There. Impossible is nothing.
US football must change its season since it is almost the only country that plays football off-season.
Almost the only country. The only country except Brazil, Argentina, Australia, Japan, Korea, Russia, Norway, Sweden…
The USA should play at the same time as other professional leagues (August) to April) in order to be on par with them.
You're right, switching to an August-April season is the only hope for MLS to be on par with other professional leagues, like the Coca-Cola Football League Two and Serie C.
While budget cuts by Bush II have hurt football (soccer), there has been a general tendency to form football (soccer) groups.
Yes, like the Black Panther Party! Fight the oppressors!
In fact, the Miami FC has a programme of football for future generations where the practice is gruelling and only a few are chosen.
Isn't that, like, every youth academy?

Yet another Bush budget cut.
The US Football Association has similar programmes for the youth where the practice is on a par with other professional leagues. This includes the under-21 teams.
Is the US Football Association affiliated with the US Soccer Federation in any way? And the youth program includes the Under-21 team? Blimey!
The extensive practice guidelines are a result of the lessons learned in 2007 from underestimating the sport after the Copa America 2007 debacle and the FIFA Women's World Cup debacle of 2007.
So the US youth program didn't practice very hard before the summer of 2007. Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Johnson, Oguchi Onyewu and Freddy Adu were all sitting around in Bradenton, sipping mint julep and playing Guitar Hero? Didn't seem to hurt their development any.
I have faith in the US football team; the 21st century will be a time for the USA and its leagues to leave their imprint on the history of this illustrious sport called football.
For example, in a World Cup in the near future, US will go in as heavy underdogs against a tournament favorite and beat them 3-2, and then advance to the quarter-final round, where they hold their own against an eventual finalist. Now, that's an imprint. That just might happen in the 21st century. Can't wait !
A vision of a distant future - what soccer might look like in the 21st Century.

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Who Are: Tottenham Hotspur?

Welcome to a semi-regular feature called "Who Are:" where we introduce you to the EPL (seriously, suck it Barclay's!) teams. Yes, if you're here you probably know them already, but humo(u)r me anyway. Today's edition:

Team Name: Tottenham Hotspur (obviously. What are you, blind?)

Nickname: Spurs; North London Wankers

Grounds: White Hart Lane

Sponsor: (warning: link is NSFW, as visiting a gambling/on-line casino site at work may result in your being fired. takes no responsibility for you getting shit-canned)

Mascot: Cock 'n' balls. What's that? Oh, apparently it's a cockerel on a football.

Coach: Martin Jol. Oops, I mean Juan de la Cruz Ramos Cano (his friends call him Juande Ramos).

Current EPL Standings: 12th place with 24 points.

Most Interesting Statistic: In 91 matches against Arsenal, the tally for Spurs is 24-27-39. HAHA!

Bonus Interesting Statistic: Tottenham has not beaten Arsenal in their last 19 matches in all competitions. Their last win was over 8 years ago - a 2-1 Tottenham victory on November 7, 1999. HAHA!

Players of Note:

(1) Paul Robinson - The England #1 keeper is known for two things - scoring on an 80+ yard free kick, and letting in numerous howlers this season. He may soon be replaced by Jens Lehmann.

(2) Jermaine Jenas - Other than being an asshat for scoring in the Carling Cup tie against Arsenal this week, Jenas is known primarily for his nickname, JJ.

(3) Dimitar Berbatov - Tottenham's most famous player was the Bulgarian Player of the Year in 2002, 2004, and 2005. This is somewhat similar to my run as "Best-Looking Guy My Wife is Married To" in 2004-2008 in terms of difficulty.

(4) Steed Malbranque - Named after a horse.

(5) Robbie Keane - May have taken horse tranquilizers to produce his EPL-leading goal total for this year.

(6) Kevin-Prince Boateng - Does excellent work off the pitch.

(7) Jermaine Defoe - N/A, as the "other Jermaine" was told that he was free to leave Spurs.

(8) Gareth Bale - Youngest ever Wales international selection and Wales international goal-scorer.

(9) Aaron Lennon - Youngest ever EPL selection.

Considering 8 and 9, I do believe that Gary Glitter and Michael Jackson are in charge of transfers for Spurs.

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Wild, Unsubstantiated Speculation: Jens Lehmann

Remarkable that Germany's number one goalkeeper should have such an ignominious fall, but it doesn't help when said goalkeeper has dealt with being benched by being a whiny, pouty, unfriendly cock. Who could I possibly be talking about? Why it's none other than Jens Lehmann! The latest news is that he's turned down a move to Dortmund due to "personal matters." To be fair to Lehmann, and being fair to Lehmann is quite a challenge, those matters likely involve transplanting school-age children away from England.

But let's just speculate for a moment about Premier League teams in need of a new goalkeeper. Hmmmm.... Can't think of any off the top of my head. What's that? Another North London team with a new coach who recently benched the England number one goalie? You know, the guy who consistently makes errors and whiffs on back passes. I'm talking about:

Well, out of the pan and into the fire. Nothing would give this Gooner more joy than Lehmann replacing Robinson and letting in even more soft goals for Sp*rs:

That would be very, very fitting.

[Update: The not-so-reliable WWL's Soccernet is reporting that Lehmann is staying with Arsenal. I'm not sure he actually said that, only that he wasn't going to Dortmund. If Lehmann does stay with the Gunners, less sniping of Almunia would be advised but is somehow still very unlikely.]

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Scotland Weekend Preview

Welcome to the least-attention-paid post of the day. Scotland takes a break from league play (but not from transfer inanity) to grace us with some North of the Border cup action. It's time for the Fourth Round of the Scottish Cup, which is where the Premier League comes in (Does this sound familiar to anyone?). In the interest of maintaining at least some readership, I'll only highlight a handful of the 16 matches.

Queen of the South v. Linlithgow Rose "Who are these teams?", you ask. "Exactly", I answer. QotS play in the First Division, and in recent years they have struggled to maintain their place therein. They do, however, answer to one of the most awesome nicknames in football, the Doonhammers. QotS is not the reason that anyone cares about this match, Linlithgow Rose is. This season is the first time that Junior clubs have been allowed into the cup, and Linlithgow is the only Junior club to make it this far. While I had always assumed that Junior club meant it was strictly for teens, this is not the case. The distinction is in fact that Junior clubs are not in the same league system as the Senior clubs. Linlithgow looks to have a mix of young and old players on their squad. If they win, I'll do a full team profile in their honor.

Falkirk v. Aberdeen Not a cut and paste from last week. Since that 0-0 draw at the same venue, Aberdeen has received word that three first-team players will not re-sign with the squad for next season. This has led to speculation that manager Jimmy Calderwood, also out of contract in the off-season, will move on. Look for Falkirk to end its 17-games-without-a-win-streak to a distracted Dons squad.

Rangers v. East Stirlingshire Easily the mismatch of the round. As I've mentioned before, East Stirlingshire is not so good, finishing at the foot of the entire league for 5 years in succession. Rangers leads the SPL. They saved this game for Sunday so everyone can look and laugh at the slaughter at Ibrox. Luckily for East Stirlingshire, the cup record for defeat is 36-0, something that they are not likely to face.

There are two other all-SPL ties, with Hearts hosting Motherwell, and Hibernian entertaining Inverness Caley Thistle. So it will be a busy football Saturday in Edinburgh.

Update: 7 of Saturday's 15 matches have been postponed due to "Frozen pitch". Kinda like your mom, but with a "p". Also, 10 minutes in, Aberdeen is up 1-2. HA!

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Toilet Flushed!

As of this morning Luton Town FC has reached a new low: manager Kevin Blackwell has given notice to walk in 4 weeks along with staff.

Blackwell's abandonment of the hatters is absolutely understandable. Their best players have been sold. Ten points have been deducted and no one has been paid in weeks.

The fact still stands that Luton Town probably have the shittest ground in the whole country. It may be a shithole but Kenilworth Rd has its place in English football history and folklore. It has character. If you have ever been to Luton, you will know that once you have laughed yourself silly at entering the away stand between two rows of terrace houses, you get to point in disbelief as you mount the stairs to your standing space behind the goal.

You can actually peer right into 3 or 4 houses! The occupants [depending on their mood] wave back as they have their lunch or watch TV. Fans Chant "Who are ya" and "What's for tea?"

You could not make this stuff up.

This is English football at its best and worst. Long before the Romans and the Gilletts of the Premier League, there was Luton Town. They were in the top flight and they hosted top-flight teams on a weekly basis. The possibility that Luton could fold and cease to exist is just another sign of grass roots football being flushed down the bog.

Meanwhile, the very day Blackwell announced that he is to walk, leaving the team manager less and down to its footballing bones, Chelsea announced that they have added 5 million to their offer for French cry baby Anelka adding another chapter to the strikers "I played for them all" biography. Luton fans must feel sick. I know if it was Norwich I would be destroyed!

At this point the fact that none of the top clubs has even contemplated donating a few quid is a fucking disgrace. They have all watched Luton sell the captain, the top striker and the young talent while working the phones to bring in multi-million pound players. Championship sides have been clambering to nab the Luton players for bargain basement prices.

Liverpool were asked to donate the gate money from their FA cup tie with Luton last week and blankly refused. A day earlier new plans for their super new stadium were released. Fabulous new pissers, TVs everywhere and facilities that every fan would dream of. It's a far cry from Luton's seat-less stands, portacabin-style boxes than run down the side of the pitch, the leaky toilets and the obstructed views.

Many teams have recently taken a financial gamble and found themselves in trouble. Luton, however, have been on the slide for a while.

Surely the fair thing to do in this new world of big money owners would be to distribute the TV money in a way that would benefit the financial strugglers like Luton, and the other grassroots, small-town teams that make the FA Cup so magical.

The prize for a spot in the Premier League these days is 60 million quid, making the Championship playoff final the biggest money game in the world. As the rich get richer, the smaller clubs are forced to sell big and risk their futures.

The game is getting away from the small towns. We risk having an NFL style 32-team league in 50-100 years if we are not careful and with it go the local identities, rivalries and passion that make the Football league and the FA Cup what it currently is.

So Chelsea fans and Liverpool supporters: over the next few weeks as your giants of the game buy, spare a thought for the Luton fans who are sure to cry!

- Bigus.

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Yahoo Fantasy Football Advice

Last week's advice was easy as there were no Premiership matches. This week I have to actually think about which players would be a good/bad choice. As I sat around having no life, thinking about fantasy footie, I realized it's absurd I would even think to write this column.

I have no credentials for this....whatsoever. I watch soccer when I can, although it is tough to sit at my computer at 6:00 a.m. to watch sopcast. I have played the game most of my life, but since I am not a professional I imagine my understanding of the game is about on par with others who have played the game. That's about it. In the one full season I played YFF, I acquitted myself nicely finishing third in a league and in the 97th percentile overall and this season I am doing moderately well.

So, I guess what I am saying is take my advice with a grain of salt. I'm not an expert, I just play one on the internet. Moreover, there are lots of sites out there with far more in-depth analysis than I will ever provide, although, I will certainly cull (steal) from those sites to benefit you. If I say you should do something and it turns out well, I deserve all the plaudits. If I say you should do something and it turns out poorly, blame yourself for listening to some idiot on the internet.

What are you thinking? Listening to some yahoo on a blog. Jeez.

I do have some rules I like to play by that may or may not be helpful. Unless you are Wayne Rooney, you could probably figure out these rules on your own, if you haven't already. These rules aren't hard and fast but I generally like to follow them unless there is good justification otherwise.

That said, what I say means absolutely nothing because this is just a stupid game we all play for fun.

Rule #1 (in no particular order of importance)
So, my first rule to live by when choosing a team: Pick players from teams with good matchups. Duh! So, look for teams from the top of the table playing teams from the lower table. Teams playing at home, etc. Obviously, there are exceptions. For example, the Spurs blow, but they score a ton, so its offensive players are a good choice if priced right. This week I am looking at Birmingham @ Arsenal; Liverpool @ 'Boro; Newcastle @ Man U as good matchups.

I am wary of Arsenal since they have suffered the injury bug and ANC defections, particularly in the defense. Liverpool has been up and down this season but I expect them to come out fired up against a crappy 'Boro. Man U? Well, it is Man U and their offense is incredible and the defense is pretty good too, whereas so much.

Other interesting matchups are:

Fulham @ West Ham - Fulham is really bad, especially on defense, but West Ham isn't much better on defense. Could be a high score here. Look at the offensive players and not the defense. So, Clint Dempsey might be a good bet but he's kinda spendy now.

Tottenham @ Chelsea - Chelsea has been decimated by injury and the ANC so they could be susceptible to Tottenham's potent offense. Tottenham's defense on the other hand is about as impenetrable as Paris Hilton's crotch. Ballack is in form right now as is Berbs. And, Chelsea just signed he'll probably get the start seeing how they have no healthy strikers right now. Although, I wonder how well he will do with very little practice with the squad.

Easy, peasy. Pick the good teams to choose players from and voila, success!

Bonus Rule

Consider yourself lucky and you get an extra, mindblowing, genius rule. Drumroll.....


So, don't pick these guys, who are off to Africa for the ANC:

Toure, Ivory Coast
Eboue, Ivory Coast
Song, Cameroon

Birmingham City
Nafti, Tunisia
Jaidi, Tunisia

McCarthy, South Africa not selected to squad
Mokoena, South Africa

Dioff, Senegal
Meite, Ivory Coast

Drogba, Ivory Coast
Kalou, Ivory Coast
Essien, Ghana
Mikel, Nigeria

Pienaar, South Africa
Yakubu, Nigeria
Yobo, Nigeria
Anichebe, Nigeria not selected to squad

Kamara, Senegal

Sissoko, Mali

Mido, Egypt

Martins, Nigeria
Geremi, Cameroon
Beye, Senegal
Faye, Senegal

Utaka, Nigeria
Kanu, Nigeria
Muntari, Ghana
Traore, Mali not selected to squad
Diop, Senegal

Bikey, Cameroon
Fae, Ivory Coast

Etuhu, Nigeria

Ghaly, Egypt
Zokora, Ivory Coast

West Ham United
Pantsil, Ghana

Camara, Senegal
Olembe, Cameroon

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This stuff just comes to us, folks

This weekend's scores before they happen.

We don't make them up. They are delivered to us, divinely (by which we mean, via gmail).


Update [The Fan's Attic]: We neglected to include one other score from the Overlords. 3-0.

Monday, we'll breakdown how omnipotent our Search Engine Overlords are.

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Rumour Mill, I shun you

Klinsmann's ego was well-massaged as a player, too

Jurgen Klinsmann's heading back to Germany. Somewhere, a dismal city full of drunk meat pie eaters moans at the thought of being one step closer to unveiling the most crooked manager ever as their new sideline sulker.

Meanwhile, you have to applaud what Klinsmann's done for himself as a manager. He's parlayed just under 2 years of managerial experience at the helm of Germany's national team, one that barely needed managing considering all the young talent rising through das ranks into being the first or second name off everyone's tongue when a coaching vacancy opens up.

Gillett and Hicks were randy for Jurgen only days ago, and his name flies around the rumour mill as much as he flew around on the pitch. Amazing.

There are few other careers that provide the same fawning return on such a tiny sample size. [Except for maybe US President. Too soon?]

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Chelsea performs magic trick, makes extra 5 million appear in Megson's pocket

There is no God. Anelka's off again, continuing his tour of English clubs by heading to Chelsea, where he'll do really well and piss off the rest of the League.

At least it finally answers the debate over whether Roman Abramovich has more money than sense.

Enjoy your 12 goals in Chelsea blue before the axe of squad rotation and favoritism rears its ugly head. Also, you lot can surely kiss goodbye to Didier at season's end. We all know the guy hates sharing.

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Queen's Park Chubby Chasers

Queen's Park Rangers co-owner Flavio Briatore prefers English football over Calcio of his native Italy. Why? English football is more open and less corrupt (except for that whole bung business, of course).

He also talks about how you don't see English players "asking an opponent to be given a yellow card" (instead, players will try to snatch red cards out of referees' hands). "The referees are never in question," continued Briatore, "Because they don't feel protagonists."

So how are English and Italian referees different, Flavio? Says Briatore, "In Italy they are all handsome, athletic, telegenic. Here they have tubby bellies and they blow up very little because they are not mad about getting noticed."

There you go folks - overweight, out-of-shape referees make English football the best in the world. Sexy beasts like this guy need not apply:

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Thursday, January 10, 2008

Tips from the West Ham training ground

The Newcastle unemployment line

Watching Sky Sports News, I've just learning that Fulham manager Roy Hodgson is happy that the club are being linked to "quality players" that they have no chance in hell of signing. This coming on the heels of a hilarious interview with Big Sam on his front lawn, where he has committed himself to several weeks of boozing, co eds, and sunburns after getting the sack. Sounds perfectly rational, really. Transfer rumors are coming in thick and fast, and you have wonder if anyone is actually focused on, oh, the EPL games they have to play this weekend. As the blog's resident gambling maven, I've studied the lines intently, all with the goal of taking advantage of the silly season to make some cold hard cash.

Derby vs. Wigan 11/5 to draw

These teams are both miserable, and a 0-0 snorefest could very well be on the cards. It's looking like Derby aren't going to have any of thier new transfers in the squad tommorow, so players who have already been informed they are losing thier place in the starting lineup will get a run out. Sounds great for motivation. Wigan, meanwhile, have particpated in some exceedly unwatchable games this year.

Everton vs. Man City 2/1 City to win
This is probably the game of the weekend in the Premiership. Having already gone in the tank for the Citizens last week, I can't very pick against them now, can I? Meanwhile, hilarious rumors have cropped up linking David Moyes to the vacant job in Geordieland. Planted by Sven, perhaps?

Sunderland vs. Portsmouth Keano 8/5 to win
With the bookies having 'Arry as the odds on favorite for the toxic waste reclamation project at St. James Park, and half the team away at the African Cup of Nations, this looks like a place for Pompey to slip up. ****Sky Sports Breaking News: Newcastle to make an official move for 'Arry**** See, Pompey are proper fucked this weekend. Maybe they can stop their bus at Tyneside and drop 'Arry off before the game.

Enjoy the games.

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Newcastle's brown

Not pictured: success. Or foreigners.

Fat Sam is gone, perhaps unfairly, but gone all the same. The void left by his bulbous body on the sidelines is far from being filled; the rumour mill went bonkers yesterday, spouting out several names, many of which have already hinted or gone on record as saying they're not interested.

But really, is it any wonder? Who would want that job right now?

Shearer has been quickest to talk himself down from the hot seat, and our favourite ginger wheeler-dealer down south is briskly doing the same.

Mourinho? Children, please. This is a job we're talking about, not a hobby. Perhaps if the Magpies had 50 million pounds in the bank to spend on transfers, and the team was in decent shape already, he'd be on it like Spaniards on paella. [Any anyway, we all know Jose's really saving himself for Rafa getting fired, so he can sulkily take over a team that arguably requires much less work]

The product on the pitch isn't especially bright, either. When you boast the likes of Shola "My Hobby is putting the ball over the bar" Amoebi on the books, there isn't much room for excitement.

Viduka's over the hill and perpetually moaning, your captain's about to pack off for the ANC, Joey Barton's a failed project, Duff's slowly coming back from injury, Nicky Butt fouls more than he does anything else, and Michael Owen's a hobbled shadow of his former self.

All the newer faces shipped in from Europe to shore up that defense -- Abdoulaye Faye, Jose Enrique, Cacapa, Beye, Rozenhal -- have failed to adjust to the EPL thus far, something that surely hastened Allardyce's exit.

The team is also mired in the sticky mess of Fat Sam's cautious, unimaginative style of play that's better suited to the Lancashire coal mines than the turf at St. James's.

Add it all together, and it's hardly a great incentive to rush to Tyneside and assume power, but you wonder who'll take the bait.

Alan Shearer could never be considered as a serious option, simply because he doesn't know the first thing about managing a team [see: Gareth Southgate]. He was a superb player who did it all on the pitch, but he'd be better served starting small away from the spotlight and working up to the EPL if that's a career path he wants to take, following the example currently being set by Paul Ince at MK Dons. And honestly, considering Shearer's comfortable niche as yet another bland face with an accent on BBC's Match of the Day, are we really surprised that he's in no hurry?

Regarding 'Arry, he's got a much better side down at Fratton Park and no real need to move. I'd take Portsmouth over Newcastle any day. Young team, tons of foreign talent, and decent chemisty. Pompey even cast the first stone in issuing a formal statement echoing that sentiment, despite all the media hubbub to the contrary.

Any other names? The same old procession follows:

Martin Jol, who I'm sure is eager to fail somewhere else in the EPL right now

Jurgen Klinsmann. Just curious, but has he ever gone on the record as being even remotely interested in coaching anywhere in England?

Marcello Lippi. We all love fish and chips, but the food's better in Italy, not to mention the ladies. Jumping from a World Cup win with Italy to the grim English North-East is suicidal.

Mark Hughes. Possible dark horse [sorry, grey horse], but he's just about grabbed a mandate for himself at Ewood Park, and moving to a shambolic Newcastle team would be a backward career move.

Steve McClaren. Don't call us, we'll call you. The fella under the umbrella during that dismal night against Croatia shouldn't worry about his phone ringing off the hook just yet.

The short-term future looks grim for the Magpies, but it'll get better over time. Look on the bright side, after all: Kevin Keegan's shooting up the ranks at the bookies.

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Crime: You Can Take a Scouser out of Liverpool... Part 2

Remember how Liverpudlians can't ever escape the city's criminal elements? That goes for adopted Scousers too - former Everton loanee and Valencia player Manuel Fernandes was arrested last week for stealing a watch at a nightclub.

As soon as that news broke, who comes out and swoops him up on loan? Everton, of course.

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Celtic Signs Ninja

Koki Mizuno, a 22-year-old Japanese winger, is now free to join Celtic after he was granted a work permit by an appeals panel after his initial request was denied (non-EU players have to have played 75% of his country's senior 'A' matches in the last 2 years; Mizuno is uncapped).

Which is great for all parties concerned, I guess, but I just love this picture of him as he's boarding his plane to leave Japan.

Update: Figure since most people haven't seen the kid play, I should include a YouTube clip (standard caveat: YouTube can make Gary Neville look like Garrincha).

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The African Cup of Nations: Group A

It’s time for that bi-annual event called the African Cup of Nations or the African Cup or the African National Cup or, as it is known in England, the “Bi-Annual How Soon Until My Favorite African-Born Player Returns to My Favorite English Premier League Team* a/k/a the Bi-Annual Excuse for Why Fat Sam and Harry Redknapp’s Team Is Under-Performing.” What do you need to know about the, uh, African Cup? Most importantly, it is held in the middle of European leagues’ fixture schedule. This wouldn’t be a big deal if, as all seven fans of Major League Soccer would tell you, Europe followed the MLS schedule. But, for some reason European leagues insist on playing through the winter. European leagues have shown no desire to re-arrange their schedule to accommodate the African Cup. And, no, the African Cup can't be re-scheduled for the summer because everyone knows that's monsoon season.

* Unless you support Man U, Liverpool, Man City, Aston Villa or any number of other English teams that won’t lose any important players to the Cup. And no Mohamed Sissoko doesn’t count. Racists.

But the African Cup of Nations is, after all, a competition with teams and players and winners and losers. It’s been held every two years since 1957. The host nation has won the past two competitions (Tunisia in 2004 and Egypt in 2006), making this year’s host Ghana the favorite to hoist the trophy. On a somewhat serious note (sorry!), for all the annoyance that the African National Cup causes to European club managers, it does give African players a chance to try out for European clubs. And then there are all of those nationalistic reasons, what with Africa having a billion people (I looked it up!). In other words, football isn’t all about the dollars and cents, and the pounds and pence.

With this preamble out of the way, here’s part one of a four part series running down the sixteen teams that comprise this year’s Cup, starting with Group A:


Key Players: Michael Essien (Chelsea), Sulley Muntari (Portsmouth), Stephen Appiah (Fenerbahce), John Paintsil (West Ham), John Mensah (Rennes)

As previously mentioned, Ghana are the host nation and the clear favorite to win the Cup. The Black Stars were dealt a blow when captain Stephen Appiah suffered a knee injury. Yet, Appiah was still placed on the team’s roster for motivational reasons by manager Claude Le Roy (who looks like the love child of Peter Gammons and an oven mitt):

Could there be a proverbial Willis Reed moment for Appiah in the knockout stages? If not, Ghana is still loaded with tons of talent, especially in midfield with the powerhouse duo of Essian and Muntari. The Black Stars are a very strong team, as evidenced by their good showing at the 2006 World Cup, and they will have a powerful home-turf advantage.

Key Players: Youssef Hadji (AS Nancy), Badr El Kaddouri (Dinamo Kiev),

The Atlas Lions last made it to the finals of the African Cup in 2004, losing to hosts Tunisia. They have long been one of the stronger African sides, although have also been long inconsistent. Of course, the team instead blames poor refereeing for their exits from the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and from the 2006 African Cup. In their favor, Morrocco will be fielding pretty much the same squad as have appeared during the past few years. As long as they can make a decent showing against Ghana and hold their own against Guinea and Nigeria, the Atlas Lions will likely be in the knockouts.

Key Players: Bobo Balde (Celtic), Pascal Feindouno (AS Saint-Etienne)

Even though Guinea has never qualified for the World Cup, the nation has a long tradition of football success especially in the 1970s.

All you Reds faithful (Red faithfuls?) will surely remember Guinean national Titi Camara who scored a goal for Liverpool on the day his father died. Of course, this was in 1999, and Camara was sold to West Ham in the off-season where he is generally considered one of their worst signings ever. But Liverpudians are sentimental and they still hold a place in their hearts for Titi – that place being somewhat close to their love of robbin’ wif der mates.

And then there is the sad story of Ousmane Bangoura, the midfielder who was part of the Guinean national team until he had his eyeball ruptured in a Chinese Super League match in 2006.

Guinea's Bangoura blinded

As for this year’s crop, although Guinea reached the quarter-finals of the African Cup in 2006, they now have a combination of older players and younger, inexperienced players. Many -- and by many I mean phantom people on the Internets -- were surprised that Kaba Diawara (former Arsenal), Sambegou Bangoura and Ibrahima Yattara, all reasonably talented attacking players, were omitted from the team omitted. In this case, manager Robert Nouzaret is going to war with the army he wants, not with the army he has. Guinea will nonetheless likely struggle to make it past Ghana and Morocco into the knockout stage.


Key Players: Collin Benjamin (Hamburg)

Namibia are the perennial “just happy to be here” team in Group A, this being only their second appearance in the African Cup of Nations. To make things worse, the Brave Warriors’ beloved manager Ben Bamfuchile passed away just before the new year. Plenty of adversity for Namibia, then.

Enough pseudo-punditry from the so-called experts for now. Coming up in parts 2, 3 and 4.....

Group B: Nigeria, Cote d'Ivoire, Mali, Benin
Group C: Egypt, Cameroon, Sudan, Zambia
Group D: Tunisia, Senegal, South Africa, Angola

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Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Beckham Plays Nice, Shares Well With Others

From Sky News:

David Beckham says his former Manchester United team-mate Gary Neville is such a good friend he would trust him with his wife Victoria - even if she was naked. Speaking at a gala evening for the Football Writers' Association, the LA Galaxy midfielder said Neville is one of three people he considers as his best friends. "They are the three that I would trust with my wife naked," he said. "That's how good they are as friends."He did not name [the other two].

Ah, yes, of course - "My wife naked in a room with another man? No problem!" One would presume that the other two men that Becks trusts with his naked wife are Micah Richards and Jonny Evans.

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Allardyce Gone

Sky Sports is reporting that Sam Allardyce has been let go Actually, they are not sure if it was a firing or resignation. For their part, the club has announce "Mutual consent". I'll leave the pontificating to those who do well with that sort of thing, but I will gift you this photo of Big Sam in happier times.
Sky Sports
Bring on the Mourinho rumo(u)rs.

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Sometimes you get lucky. When I was searching for a new shirt to use for this week, I came across two winners from the same club. Bear with me as I present to you the horrors of Oxford United.

In the early '80s, Oxford United rode successive promotions up to Division 1 in the English tier, the equivalent of today's EPL. Today, they are not so good, sitting out of the league and mid-table in the Conference. I mention this as a warning. Terrible things can happen to your squad when you wear fantastically ugly shirts. You will drop divisions for this kind of thing.

So, there it is. No warning, I just dropped it right on you. Did it take a second or two for you to comprehend what you were seeing? Did the horror slowly dawn upon you that this was not just one bland, yellowy-fleshy color, but instead a collection of stripes? Do you see how the stripes are ordered? I see: White, Old Bubble Gum, Sunshine, Piss. Then it starts over. The picture above does not do complete justice to the pain foisted upon the OU support. No, for that you have to see the shirt with its sponsor.
Take it in, boys and girls, Wang Computers. I'm sure you can't read the 'Computers' part, so I filled it in for you. What you can read easily from a distance is 'Wang'. Wang Wang Wang. That's so fun to type, I'm going to make it a tag. What's not fun about Wang is wearing it on a shirt when you are an impressionable young lad. A lad who gets bullied by older kids for wearing a shirt that says Wang on it. Bullying that leads you to stop supporting the club because of embarrassment. Boom, 20 years later, your club is sitting four divisions lower because you lost a generation of support.

Okay, so that's a hypothetical scenario which leans heavily on a Slippery Slope argument, but I'm just going to move on. I promised you two shirts, and two shirts I give to you.
Dammit, this one hurts my brain. Whereas the Wang shirt could be classified as 'The Bad', this one gets all of the 'WTF' tag it can handle. And that W isn't just for What, I'd also use it for Who, as in "Who the fuck thought that this was a good idea?" You know what this shirt reminds me of? Galaga. I see both the player's ship and the eagle thing coming down to tractor-beam your ship. I like Galaga, I hate this shirt.

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Your Carling Cup preview

Hey, if Osama Bin Laden is a fan of Arsenal, then its not too far fetched, right?

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Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Fun with Punditry

The new Boy Band debuts... meet Bland in Demand: Shearer, Lawrenson, Lineker and Hansen

[Far be it for me to imitate Fire Joe Morgan, but let's face it, there's so much FJM-ing to be done in the futbol world]

Alan Hansen, come on down! You've been writing a regular column for BBC Sport for some time, and yet your imagined New Year's resolution to make sense when you write/talk is already showing signs of failing.

Today, your Carling Cup semi-final preview gave us just enough of your heady journalistic blend: a teaspoon of technical knowledge, a pinch of prediction, and a gallon of complete aimlessness. Sure, the Carling Cup isn't that prestigious anymore since it became swamped with branding and the Sir Alex-led practice of putting out 2nd XIs throughout the competition, but make no mistake, Hansen's got his finger on the pulse:

"But when you get to the semi-finals and there's a place at Wembley at stake, then suddenly it becomes a much bigger competition. The players involved on Tuesday and Wednesday will certainly be feeling that way."
Genius. The competition becomes more important, the closer you get to actually having a chance to win it!

But there's more. Hey Alan, what can we expect from the Everton v. Chelsea encounter?

"Don't forget that Everton have already drawn 1-1 with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this season, so there will be no question of David Moyes's side going into the game with any fear. It will be a lot tighter than a lot of people are expecting."
Brilliant insight! I was fully expecting a 7-0 whitewash, statistically defiant in the face of current form, injuries and the results of previous fixtures.

Regarding Arsenal v. Spurs, Hansen offers several other, utterly useless nuggets of insight:

"If, as we expect, Arsene Wenger perseveres with his policy of playing the youngsters and reserves and Tottenham play their full-strength first team, then you'd expect Spurs to win.
But then again, you might have thought that last year.
On paper, Spurs should have won those games, but the kids at Arsenal are no mugs and should not be taken lightly. I don't think Spurs will make that mistake this time around."
Dare I ask the expert for a score prediction?
"Ultimately, if Spurs defend properly then they've got every chance, but if they play poorly at the back as they have done at times this season, then there's nothing there for them."
Amazing. If Spurs prevent Arsenal from scoring, they themselves have a chance to win. But, if they defend badly, they will lose.

It's a frequently-witnessed event in punditry: the column that meets word count targets and yet fails to deliver any information that isn't common sense or plainly obvious. Everton/Chelsea is apparently too close to call, whereas Spurs' hopes of victory are directly connected to their ability to defend properly.

Alan Hansen was a tremendous player for my mighty Reds. He defended with aplomb and tenacity, and yet, any effort he made to push forward and dribble the ball frequently ended in disaster and embarrassment.

I dare say Hansen's record with the written word is following this same trend.

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Gang signs everywhere on the pitch!

If you're anything like me (cynical, getting older, scared of change), you've undoubtedly been thinking to yourself, "What's up with all these EPL players flashing gang signs after scoring goals?". According to the BBC, Micah Richards, Andy Johnson, Titus Bramble and Marcus Bent have all been caught flashing the same sign.

How can they get away with this? Are they trying to start an "A" gang to compete with America's Bloods and Crips? The scary answer below.

Sorry for the Sun-style scare-mongering, but dammit it's fun.

The answer is yes, and no. It's all a part of hyping up A-Star Global, an initiative started by some mostly lower-level English footballers to give young'uns a chance to be something other than gang members and louts. Or something like that. I read it is a chance for kids to be in an anti-Gang "Gang" without all of the nasty beat-ins (and fun, guns and money). Kinda like this, but with less hands-on involvement.

God, this was a lot less fun to explain than it was to worry about. If you need me, I'll be at home continuing to be cynical about the nature of footballer's after-hours ventures.

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Crime: Once a Red, Always a Red

Livepool's favorite son and Cardiff striker Robbie Fowler's house was robbed over the weekend.

This goes to show, even when you leave Liverpool, Liverpool, or at least crime targeting Merseyside footballers, doesn't leave you. Since 2006, no fewer than seven Liverpool players and two Everton players have had their houses burglarized while their team was on the road.

Which begs the question - are thieves just figuring out that when teams are playing away, the players aren't home? And have the players considered spending some of their considerable income on security, considering their travel schedule is published to the entire world? I like what former US keeper Kasey Keller had in Germany - his house had a moat and a drawbidge.

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Strange I Can't Find 'Wilco' Listed Anywhere in the Table

Well if you got only shitty gifts for Christmas, you're a Scouser, and you're a Wilco fan; or if you're a Wilco fan and don't mind being mildly associated with Liverpool, you might want to treat yourself to this.

I've sketched out the Venn diagram. That's six people willing to pony up the $16. And I think five of them blog here.

Maybe the band is trying to encourage rioting at its shows. Toughen up its image.

Although I'd recommend bringing Jay Bennet back instead (Sorry Nels, you've got serious skills, but you kind of made "Via Chicago" sound like a Steely Dan song live).

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EPL Tap-Ins

Liverpool make their grand run at greatness, signing what will be their most expensive defender in club history. And it's someone we've never heard of. As Rafa sings for his job, Martin Skrtel, the 23-year-old Slovakian defender, is being shipped in from Zenit St. Petersburg for 6 million pounds.

Good luck with that. We can kiss Hyypia goodbye [and rightly so], the latest in a long line of past-it defenders we've passive-aggressively put out to pasture. [Paging Stephane Henchoz, paging Stephane Henchoz...]

Robbie Savage is leaving Blackburn for Derby. The annoying midfielder with annoying, flowing blond locks has only started 10 games for Rovers this season, and his irritating style of play will fit in well with the Rams.

Paul Jewell summed it up best when speaking on his new signing:

"I hated Robbie Savage when he played against me. He is one of those characters you despise when he is playing for the opposition but you love when he is on your team."
Couldn't have said it better myself.

Jermaine Defoe has been given permission to leave Spurs, which is not something he wanted to do in the first place.

"He called me into his office and told me. I thought it was a joke. I thought he was going to say I would be starting against Arsenal in the Carling Cup."
Candid Camera was not present for this conversation.

Thanks to the goal-bagging of Berbatov and Keane's ability to win penalties [but not score them], Defoe is the odd one out up front, and Ramos is alright with letting him go. Aston Villa will surely make a run, and expect all the big clubs to offer 2 million pounds more than Defoe's worth in their bids to retool before the stretch run.

Newcastle's signed a 17-year-old defender from lower-league Swindon Town. Big Sam is surely safe!

Continuing the trend of signing players we've never heard of, Hatchet Harry is wheeling and dealing again, bringing a young Swiss striker, Danijel Subotic, in from Basle. It's a three-and-a-half year deal, which Harry's looking forward to:

"He was recommended to us so we brought him over for a few days' training and he did well. We've taken a gamble on him and hopefully he's one for the future."
Why am I not surprised at his approach?

Remember Laurent Robert? Yeah, neither do I really, although he did manage to piss off Graeme Souness and Bobby Robson during his time at Newcastle, which is an extremely difficult task. Well, he's back to the EPL, set to sign a deal with Derby through the end of the season. Said Jewell:

"I'm convinced we'll get the best out of him here and if we do, we'll have quite a player on our hands."
Yeah. Because Derby is where players bring their best.

Drogba's at it again. He echoed his desire to leave Chelsea in the summer, mainly because the new manager doesn't massage his gargantuan ego like Mourinho did.

Finally, Chelsea's bid for Anelka has been reported at 11 million pounds, the one that Bolton promptly turned yesterday, and one that brought the boo-boys back out of the woodwork.

Are Chelsea trying to buy the league by throwing all this money around? Honestly, who cares? It is a successful gambit? [See: New York Yankees, 2000-present]

Joe Cole has an opinion, that's for sure:

“It riles me when people talk about Chelsea buying the league. I’ve never seen a pound note scoring a goal and I’ve never been at a club with as good an atmosphere."
Yeah, and I've never seen 30 million pound notes joined together and covered in a Chelsea uniform score so few goals, either.

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FIFA's War on Garlic

Japan and Kawasaki Frontale striker Kazuki Ganaha is appealing the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to overturn his doping suspension for using steroids human growth hormones garlic intravenous infusion.

Well, no, garlic is not a banned substance, but intravenous treatment of any kind is banned by the J-League, in line with FIFA's anti-doping rules (which means you probably won't see Bob Bradley call up Britney Spears any time soon).

It's really too bad, because the club gave Ganaha the garlic IV to treat influenza, not for any kind of performance boost. If only there was a way to take garlic in some way other than by IV, like, oh I don't know, orally.

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Leprechaun Golden Showers

This little American leprechaun to the right is Malcolm Glazer, owner of Manchester United and the NFL Tampa Bay Buccaneers. And, apparently, he pisses gold and his pot runneth over.

Manchester United are on the verge of announcing a significant increase in annual turnover, with the total figure believed to be close to £245m.

A season that saw United regain the Premier League title and reach the semi-finals of the Champions League has contributed to the latest surge in revenue, which completes a £70m increase the last five years.

I don't know why anybody cares about ManU having copious amounts of dessert. A limey friend of mine says that turnover means profit in Britain. (Well, why the hell didn't they say so? They should speak english over there.) My handy dandy internet browser also found me a currency converter that shows that (funny little sign)245 equates to about $480 million (U.S.). So, Glazer made nearly a half-billion dollars last year, which just about makes him a decent looking guy.

By Mark Cuban's calculations, Malcolm Glazer's dick has grown nearly five inches this year, which means its bigger than Arsenal's but probably still smaller than Real Madrid's.

Four months ago Arsenal reported a turnover of £201m, in the process claiming to have become Britain's richest club. United's announcement reveals the depth of the club's irritation: for the first time its shirt sponsorship deal with Nike has been factored into the equation. As a result United are once again the unquestioned No. 1 in the Premier League rich list, and have hurdled back into second place behind Real Madrid in the global rankings.
Well, that's a relief. I was just devastated that ManU wasn't the richest Premiership club. Now they can go out and spend £25m on Berbatov.
UPDATE: As noted in the comments, turnover may not in fact equate to profits. If that is the case, I don't know how ManU can claim to be the richest club in England without revealing its profits. Also, Mr. Glazer may have suffered some shrinkage, as it were, due to this revelation. A lady friend of mine now says Mr. Glazer sounds less cute than he did previously.

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Monday, January 7, 2008

Getting to Know Your Old, Racist Teams

It's not often I come across something as strange as this squad, but when you are surfing Wikipedia's defunct English football squads page, you are bound to come across something good.

The Zulus were one of England's first professional squads. In a time of hard-line amateur play, this caused a bit of a stir. What made The Zulus truly stand out was their *ahem* commitment to playing the part. From the Wiki:

They played in an all black kit and decorated themselves with beads and feathers. Instead of using their own names they also adopted Zulu names such as Ulmathoosi.

Lest you doubt that this was not quite the sight, let's take a look at their garb.
While there is no mention of these guys (all English players, of course) playing in black face, they did have a few other ornamental touches. notes the following:
. . . these highly experienced footballers (who also used assegais and shields as part of their regalia) performed tribal dances before each game.
Eventually the team was forced to disband, as their Professional status caused the local amateur teams to fall by the wayside. An important local tournament had to be canceled in 1881 because there were not enough amateur players to field teams. On the upside for all of us at this blog, The Zulus can be cited as an early force of change for moving the game from its amateur roots to the lovely money-grubbing game we all follow slavishly today.

Image liberated from

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The Serie A returns this weekend

Due to lack of fan support and bad TV contracts, Italy's glamor clubs have been purchased by oil sheiks and forced to compete in elimination matches to win back their freedom.

This post was originally meant to go up over the weekend, but then I got drunk and spilled a bottle of wine on my laptop. Waiting for the barbaresco to evaporate and my computer to resume normal service gave me time to ponder further the subtle brilliance of the football played in the Serie A. Yes, it's boring, corrupt, crime-ridden, and full of shitty teams. But the World Cup Trophy, the CL Trophy, the World Club Championship, and the reigning FIFA Player of the Year all reside in Italy.

In terms of actual action you didn't miss much, because the fucking Italians even out-French the French in terms of not working. The Serie A has been off since December 22, and doesn't resume until the weekend. While the EPL's finest have been playing a marathon schedule in freezing cold weather on terrible pitches in front of less than enthusiastic support, Italian footballers have been enjoying a bit of R&R in Dubai.

To remind those who haven't been paying attention, Inter are currently running away with the league, sitting on 43 points, seven up on nearest rivals Roma. Juve are third, despite slumming it in Serie B last year. The only real shock has been the terrible play of the newly crowned World Club Champions, AC Milan, who currently sit in 12th place, 25 points behind their cross-town rivals. Inter underlined the point on the last weekend of play in December, when they beat the Rossoneri 2-1 and pretty much ended any wild thoughts that Silvio Berlusconi had about a miracle second half run to claim the Scudetto.

The story of the season so far has been the play of Inter Milan, who have only lost one game. And yet the casual observer/EPL fan probably can't even name two players in the starting eleven. In fact, most Italians probably can't either, given the lack of Italian players on the team. Everyone knows about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but then the mind draws a blank? Cambiasso, Julio Cruz, Zannetti, Emerson, Vieira, Figo. The latter two have been hurt and not really contributed much to the team's success. An injury to Walter Samuel means that Marco Materazzi (check out this video of his finer work) will get to show off some of his diabolical tackles to worldwide audiences. Perhaps Inter can put together a decent run in the Champions League, which they haven't won in 42 years. They play Liverpool next month, and Scousers should start sweating already.

With the league pretty much decided, the rest of the Serie A lacks a bit of sizzle. Sure, its nice to see Totti leading Roma to strong second place. But the real intrigue surrounds AC Milan, who will unveil over hyped wunder-Brazilian Alexander "the duck" Pato to the world this weekend. Milan have been mostly terrible this year, and if the poor form continues, the rumors that a certain J. Mourinho could be taking over the manager's job will only intensify.

[Max Bretos]See Carlo Ancellotti's last game, and Pato's first, on Sunday at 2:30PM ET on Fox Soccer Channel. Yesssssssssss!!!![Max Bretos]

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