Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saturday Morning Soapbox

One of these people is famous

I was actually going to do a piece about where we watch, and had literally just got home from the Arsenal v. Fulham match when, skimming the local weekly while my morning coffee went to work on my bowels, a pic of El Niño caught my attention.

Oops. Somebody beat me to the punch.

There are pretty much two places in the Windy City that are not part of a chain to watch the beautiful game—Ginger's and The Globe. I frequent the former, our man Ted took in the latter.

The easy thing to do here would be to take a few shots at Cox. It's not the "British Premier League." Scotland and Wales have their own Prems. Additionally, Adebayor's penalty kick wasn't "chipped in." He struck a howler low and to the right. But Maik Taylor, the Birmingham City keeper, guessed correctly and Adebayor had all of about 2 inches on either side of the ball to play with as he slotted it just off Taylor's finger tips and just inside the post.

And really, the average reader might start to wonder why Boston College is playing in the EPL (suck it, Barclays!).

But fuck that. An admitted critic of the game actually dragged his ass out to a bar at 9 in the am (or was it an 8 am kick?) to watch footie live. And holy shit, guess what he found out? That EPL soccer—like almost any sport played at the top level—isn't a boring load of shite after all. That low-scoring doesn't mean low-interest. That 1-1 draws can be painful and agonizing nail-biters for heavy favorites at home. That Torres is really fucking good. That occasionally even soccer produces an orgy of goalscoring, ugly though it might have been for all but the Red Devils and fantasy owners of Christiano Louganis (c'mon, NUFC was without manager and in total disarray). And that, yep, if you can't get your drinking and your sports started early enough on weekends, there is an entire subculture waiting to welcome you into the fold.

Shocking stuff to people who follow the game, I know. But eh, that's soccer in the U.S. You get praise for simply trying instead of blindly accepting the conventional wisdom. Although when you realize that there are 300 million Americans to the rest of the World's 6-plus billion, it should also occur to you that there's nothing conventional about it.

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It seems as though everyone is catching Football Spirit and the opening of the African nations Cup. Why Just this morning, I received the following note from an old friend:








I hope that everyone is as eager for the Games to start as I am. Most of the EPL teams are starting to whine with their loss of players, but some of the more fearsome teams have come from West Africa (Nigeria always seems to stand out). And since sports is one of those healthy (and legal) economic ladders out of poverty, the game has a very serious quality.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Predict-O-Matic for EPL (suck it, Barclays) Week 20

Be careful what you wish for. You peek into the future, you see some scary stuff. These may just look like numbers, but trust us when we tell you that this weekend's scores will ruin lives, wreck careers, and kill coaches. Okay, probably just a coach. And he's a dead man managing for the most part already. But somebody's fantasy team will be saved (especially if they are leaning heavily on the Bs—Bentley, Berbatov, and adeBayor) and lots of people will get drunk and sing, so it's not all bad.

We only predict teams after the fact. It's why we're so good at this.


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Scotland Weekend Preview

A midweek squeaker over Gretna put Rangers firmly in charge at the top of the table, holding a four-point lead over Celtic heading into this weekend. The weekend sees no big tide-turning matches as the teams are paired up across the board. Hopefully we'll avoid frozen pitch syndrome this week. Without further ado, here we go.

Hearts-Hibernian You might think that a match between the two top clubs in Edinburgh would be a people pleaser, complete with fat gate receipts and hearty singing. You'd be wrong. Hearts are in the middle of a most miserable season, while Hibs are trying to shake off the effects of their manager leaving mid-season. Look for a spritely affair on the pitch, with Hibs dispatching the Jambos easily. Prediction: 1-3

Celtic-Kilmarnock I know I've been hard on Killie before, and I should stop. They are never going to be more than they are, a low level team that consistently holds onto its SPL spot. They have been in the top flight for 15 years now, and will probably continue for 10 more. That said, Celtic need points to keep up with Rangers, and with Nakamura healthy, should find them easily. Killie scores early, then lose. Prediction: 4-1

Dundee United-Aberdeen Ah, the New Firm derby. Aberdeen, after a month of poor news updates, has had a wave of upbeat news this week. Calderwood's staying, Aluko's staying, Diamond's staying, and Stuart Duff is coming from the Terrors. I don't know if he will be ready for this weekend, but the message is clear enough. Aberdeen has set itself for the rest of the season, while United lose their longest-serving player. Aberdeen will continue its trend of playing league games close, only to score at the death. Prediction: 1-2

Gretna-Falkirk This is where Falkirk start to falter. They have sold their captain and will slide down the table come spring. Gretna was unlucky not to steal a point midweek, and will add one to their woeful total here. It won't be fun to watch. Prediction: 0-0

St Mirren-Motherwell Motherwell hasn't played a league match since Phil O'Donnell's death. Their manager is rumored to be taking the Scotland job after the season. I don't think the focus is there this week. St Mirren will take all three points in a romp. Prediction: 3-1

Inverness CT-Rangers It sure is nice that Rangers get the extra day to repair that Gretna do not. It won't do them much good. ICT always seem to take points off of the Old Firm at home. This one will be no different. Craig Brewster for Prime Minister. Prediction: 2-2

East Fife-Forfar East Fife have run away with the Third Division title. They are currently 16 points clear with 15 to play. Forfar sit bottom having collected 15 points all season. There is a 53 goal spread on the goal difference between the two. Look for East Fife to pump a few into the net at beautiful Bayview Stadium. Prediction: 4-0

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Tips from the West Ham training ground

Newcastle vs. Bolton 23/10 to draw

Yes, King Kevin is back and the 90s "glory" days will soon be upon us. I know I'm firing up the Blur just thinking about it. Bolton, meanwhile, sold their best player to Chelsea, and have been more or less garbage this season. But the Magpies are more garbage. I wish you could get odds for "most ill-timed injury to Michael Owen." A home draw might actually represent progress for Kevin's boys.

Manchester City vs. West Ham - Hammers 5/2 to win

Yes, I know I went into the tank for City a couple of weeks ago. And surprise, surprise, they have more or less played like shit since then. These two played in midweek in the FA Cup, and the Hammers would have won if Dean Ashton had any sort of finishing ability whatsoever. The bet here is that the the Hammers carry the game like they did on Wednesday, and actually manage to convert a few chances this time. Plus Nery Castillo is apparently out, so the striking load is up to Rolando Bianchi, the Italian Stallion, who has won fan favor despite less than torrid form.

Liverpool vs. Aston Villa - Scousers 4/6 to win

Yep, I'm backing the home favorites here, a team that has underperformed at Anfield all season long. And Rafa looked downright ornery answering questions about Cali-Klinsi in the wake of the Luton game on Wednesday. But I'm banking that some of that improved goal-scoring form we saw on Wednesday gets carried over to this Monday night affair.

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Yahoo Fantasy Soccer Advice

Short and sweet this week, but first a recap of my rules:

Rule #1: Go outside spend time with your loved ones.

Obviously, you aren't going to follow rule #1 if you have read this far.

Rule #2: Pick players from teams with good matchups.

Last week my recommendations were LIV, MANU, ARS. Obviously, ManU was the only one that came true. Again, I would recommend them as they have a good matchup against just about anyone in the EPL (Suck it, Barclay's!).

This week look at ManU @ Reading, Arsenal @ Fulham, Newcastle home to Bolton (I think the new manager will enliven the squad), Blackburn home to 'Boro, and Chelsea @ Birm.

Rule #3: Don't pick players that won't play.

Check here for injuries. Check here for suspensions.

Rule #4: Don't ever drop Cristiano Ronaldo prior to the December double matches and you should probably have him in your squad.*

I violated this rule after Ronaldo's poor performance at Everton (3 points) and lost out at having him at a discount and failed to bite the bullet and buy him for the double-game weeks. Stupid, stupid, stupid! I don't care what your opinions on him as a footballer, in fantasy terms this guy is money and should be on your team if you can fit him without decimating your squad.

Ronaldo: smiling you to the top of the table

If he costs 31 points, units, dollars, pounds, etc., like right now, it probably isn't a good idea to grab him. But, if he ever gets down to the 23-24 range grab him if at all possible.

*This rule subject to change depending on my opinion about Ronaldo's form, but right now I stick by it.

One other recommendation: take a look at Portsmouth against Derby this week. Derby has scored only 3 away goals and conceded 27. Pompey has only 11 home goals scored and allowed 8. Something has to give and I think it will be Derby's defense even though half of Portsmouth's squad is at the ANC. Benjani Mwa..... was hot earlier in the season and this may be the match to get him going again. He will likely be the focal point along Krancjar. The prices are good on those two as well.

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Eric Wynalda Can Hold On for One More Day

Landon Donovan and Eric Wynalda share the US national team scoring record with 34, and if he scores in Saturday's friendly against Sweden, Landycakes will have the record all to himself.

Except he won't, according to FIFA, which does not recognize last January's friendly against Denmark as a full "A" international. So the goal Donovan scored in that game doesn't count towards the total. As far as FIFA is concerned, Wynalda still holds the record and Donovan is one behind.

The discrepancy occurred because the US Soccer Federation claims the contract for the match states that the match is counted as a full international, while the Danish FA says it's not (Denmark lost the match 3-1, but I'm sure that has nothing to do it).

Given Donovan's age and place on the national team, he's pretty much guaranteed to break the record, whether or not the goal against Denmark counts, so I don't think it's a big deal. Plus, letting Waldo hold on to the record for a little bit longer will probably keep him from eating small children.

Also, nothing says "riding home in mom's car after soccer practice" like this song:

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Zidane to Transfer to US Team

From the Detroit Free Press:

French soccer legend Zinedine Zidane is once again being mentioned in transfer rumours to make his debut on the US soccer scene. Zizou, as he is known the world over, retired from club soccer in 2006 and retired from international soccer immediately after the 2006 World Cup. That was the World Cup, of course, that ended with Zizou being issued a red-card for headbutting Italy's Marco Materazzi and being forced to watch his country lose the World Cup Finals on penalty kicks.
Ever since the end of the World Cup and the implementation of MLS' "Beckham Rule", Zidane has been rumoured to be coming to the US. He has been linked to the LA Galaxy, the Chicago Fire, and even Red Bull NY (who had 2 designated player slots available). However, all of these deals fell through either due to financial constraints or to the fact that Zizou never really wanted to play there in the first place. However, sources close to the Detroit Free Press have indicated that talks are heating up again, and Zizou is very close to signing a deal which will bring him to the Midwest.

Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for the Maestro to arrive!

HT to Bigus Dickus for snapping this photo of Zizou in action at his new home.

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Ta da!

Newcastle United are really milking their appointment of Kelvin Koogan as new manager. He was appointed on Wednesday. Took training Thursday and according to the BBC's dramatic headlines today Newcastle are "poised to unveil" their king and then "parade" him!

I'll set the scene for you. Geordie mug, I mean billionaire backer Mike Ashley will wait in the wings with his curly haired messiah jammed in a box. As the press gathers, thousands take a day off work to stand outside hoping for a glimpse of King Kelvin.

Fireworks will go off and out pops Koogan to rapturous applause. Oooo. Kelvin Koogan. What a surprise! "Watch out United, you are in trouble now! Remember what he achieved at Man City right under your nose? Oh yeah." He will then be dragged around town on the back of a milk cart waving and screaming "I'll love it if we beat them!"

Enough already! This is just an another classic example of how everything on Tyneside becomes a circus. The sooner they realize that they have no divine right to be a Top-4 side, the better. Let Kelvin get to work and get on with it.

Geordie fans have been celebrating as if they have won the Champions League. If this is how they act over Kelvin Koogan, then I would hate to be in town when they release the Byker Grove box set.

I like Koogan as much as the next guy. I think the Premier League is better off for having him in it. But the so-called "Geordie nation" needs to take a chill pill. He is not the Messiah. He is not Capello, nor is he Ferguson either. Newcastle United and the Premier League today are a very different proposition compared to when the former England man was there last.

Geordies need to lower their expectations and fast, or Koogan's third spell at the club will end in far less spectacular fashion than it started. Welcome back Kev!


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Thursday, January 17, 2008

African Cup of Nations: Group C

It's only a few more days until the African Cup of Nations or the African Cup or the National African Cup starts up! To help you keep your Pantsils from bunching up, here's a rundown of the teams that comprise Group C:

Key Players: Samuel Eto'o (Barcelona), Geremi (Newcastle), Alex Song (Arsenal), Carlos Idriss Kameni (Espanyol), Andre Bikey (Reading)

On paper, Cameroon have one of the strongest squads at the African Cup, with quite a number of famous players from the English Premier League (no, not you, Alex Song). And then there is the very-well-known striker for Barcelona whose name is Eto'o and who was recently given a special exemption to play a couple more league games before traveling to join the Indomitable Lions. Eto'o is healthy for once. So, the question is whether Cameroon can come together in time to punt the ball up to Eto'o and hope that he creates a decent amount of goals. Just guessing that'll be their strategy.

As the World Cup Blog has pointed out, Cameroon's new coach Otto Pfister was famous for some interesting fashion choices and/or appearing drunk in public when he was in charge of Togo at the 2006 World Cup. Will Pfister stay sober long enough to guide the Indomitable Lions deep into the tournament? As for the knockout stage, Cameroon will have something extra to play for against Egypt, who were responsible for keeping Cameroon out of the last World Cup.

Key Players: Mido (Middlesbrough), Hossam Ghaly (Derby), Mohamed Barakat (Al-Ahly), Ahmed Hassan (Anderlecht) and a bunch of players from the Egyptian League

Defending champs Egypt don't have a lot of players who you've heard of. Nevertheless, they've won the African Cup of Nations five times, most recently as the host nation in 2006. The Pharaohs will be without the injured Mido and Hossam Ghaly, who needs to concentrate on being a member of Derby County FC (it takes a lot of concentration to be utterly useless). Instead, Egypt will be returning with twelve players from their 2006 champion squad, including Ahmed Hassan, who will be playing in his record-tying seventh African Cup.

A definite underdog to make it past Cameroon and Egypt. Things are bad for Zambia, whose national television station failed to come up with the requisite money to show the African National Cup. And you thought that Direct TV, MLB TV and Setanta were evil monopolies? Tragedy has actually long been a part of Zambian football. Members of the national team were killed in a plane crash in 1993, with family members having to wait almost a decade for answers on what happened.

It's okay, Zambia. You still have Victoria Falls, which I remember from geography class is the largest waterfall in the world.

Although Sudan was one of the teams in the inaugural African Nations Cup and were champions in 1970, this is the first year that the Desert Hawks have qualified since the 1970s. All of Sudan's players come from the Sudanese League and, uh, sorry, but I'm not going to pretend that I have anything else to say on the subject.

Coming soon, last but not least, it's Group D!

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Taylor Twellman Needs a Drink

Taylor Twellman is hitting a rough patch. In 2007, he completed his most productive season in the league since his rookie year, and he was all ready to test the waters in England. And what happens? Last week, New England Revolution rejected Preston North End's $2.5 million transfer bid for Twellman, and he was understandably pissed off about it.

Now we find out, Twellman and his wife Lindsay are filing for divorce. The two married in 2003 and had been dating since high school (awwwwww!). No word on how they are going to split up the stash of unopened Kick Medic boxes sitting in their basement.

So if you're in the Boston area this weekend, give Taylor a call and invite him out for drinks. He could probably use the company. Maybe you could go to a Harvard bar and, I don't know, fuck up some smart kids.

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Greek rivalries turn deadly

In the summer of 2006, I went on a Mediterranean cruise with my family. When we got to Greece, we were in the port of Piraeus, the closest port to Athens. We planned to do the touristy things and climb to the top of the Parthenon, believing we would see more of the city than if we took a bus straight up there. I wore my trusty Charleston Battery shirt, figuring no-one else would be wearing one.

This is the shirt and no, that's not me modeling it.

We walked from the cruise ship to a bus stop, and took a bus into the center of Piraeus. While we were hunting down the train station, I noticed that I was getting a lot of attention paid to me. I was getting jostled right and left, and just generally felt uncomfortable. It came to a head when my wife and I were crossing a street at a crosswalk. A guy, about 40 years old, looking bedraggled and visibly missing teeth, stared me down from across the way. As we crossed, he moved right at me, never blinking. I kept my eye on him and followed his movements until he got right up in front of me. He looked closely at the badge on the shirt, relaxed and kept walking.

I had inadvertently worn the wrong colors in the wrong town. Piraeus is the home of Olympiakos Piraeus, who play in a red and white striped kit. I had worn the colors of AEK Athens, a blood rival of the local club.

AEK's kit. Notice the resemblance?

The ill-feelings I had gotten were real. It had been the equivalent of wearing a Yankees jersey into a Boston sports bar. Well, a Yankees lookalike jersey, but still.

I give you this story as a background for how being in the wrong place in the wrong jersey while in Greece can be dangerous. It can get you killed. Two Olympiakos fans were stabbed, one fatally, after a cup win over Panathinaikos this week. Police deny that the stabbings were football related, but with that country's track record, I would be suspicious. Especially as the deceased had been in trouble for football related violence before.

Today's lesson, then, is don't fuck with a Greek's football club. Trust me, you don't want to face the potential consequences.

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How to Make Enemies and Irritate People

You know, for those of us on the outside, this whole Liverpool meltdown thing has been fascinating. It's got billionaires screwing things up royally, only to put themselves in a position to make 9 figures US in the space of a year. It's had the media going after the coaching style of Rafa. It's had the same media espousing xenophobic views on the ownership situation. I can only imagine how bad it is for those who follow the club. I think it might be like my love for this team, only without all of the expectations taken into this season.

Now it may all be evaporating away for the ownership duo who failed to understand that the laws in England are not the same as the ones in America. It seems that Tom Hicks decided to talk to Jurgen Klinsmann about a potential job opening as the Liverpool manager. While such behind doors talks are de rigeur in American business, in Britain, this is a legal no-no. Rafa can now claim something called 'constructive dismissal' which means that, since a replacement was being interviewed, he was basically fired already. Since he was "fired", he can sue for the remainder of his contract, provided he steps down from the position first.

It really is a no win situation for Liverpool fans. Either you get to keep Rafa (no thanks), or you lose him, pay him for quitting, and have to enter the coaching market at a bad time (I hear Graeme Souness remains available).

Of course, it would never have been a problem if Hicks had kept his mouth shut, but he didn't. He blabbed to the press, on the day Klinsmann was pre-hired at Bayern, that such talks had taken place. Now Hicks' partner is pissed. George Gillett is not mad about the meeting itself, as he was present, but instead at the audacity and stupidity in revealing that the talks were held at all. He is especially angered at the timing, coming as it does right when they are in a crunch to roll over loans used to buy the club. Should they not be able to finalize funding, the two will probably be forced to sell to those Dubai fellas and settle for a purported $300 million payday.

Liverpool fans contemplating another headline on UF

At least there's no way Liverpool loses in the 4th Round of the FA Cup, is there?

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Grand nez, s'en mele

When will that curly mopped French gonad Michel Platini learn to mind his own business?

First he stuck his nose into the selection of England manager and then he tried to change the Premier League, and now he wants to put officials in the penalty box. As I vent, goal line technology is being tested to make sure that howlers like the one at Old Trafford 2 seasons ago never get scooped out of the net again (nice one Roy! Wink wink).

But that's not Michel's plan! Ohhh no....he wants one or two more refs standing in the box, getting in the way!

Adding another ref to the box for free kicks and corners is stupidity personified.

What will happen when one of Bentley's 'bending' in-swingers hits the official's noggin and finds the top corner? One set of fans is going to be pissed when a shot is deflected of the ref's backside and bobbles in or bounces wide.

Mr. Platini was a great player but has been nothing but a pain in the arse to common sense since some moron allowed him to stick his oar into the vast soccer sea. Was it fat Sepp? Bet it was that fat pillock Sepp. It was wasn't it?

Genghis Khan* was a great warlord and a ruthless leader (apparently he could decapitate a fella with his eyes shut) but I don't think he would have made much of a Foreign secretary though.

Platini should be remembered for his mazy runs, that tumble-weed mop on his noodle and the brilliance he showed against Brazil in the '82 World Cup. Quite frankly, he is starting to get on my tits.

Take some advice from the fans, Michel. Va te faire foutre, s'il vous plait.


* If anyone in Asia got the shivers at the mention of his name and hid in a closet, I apologize.

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Tottenham making it rain

Rumour out of Lyon is that Tottenham is going to buy Fred for $18 million. The Brazilian, who supposedly prefers the London club to PSG, would only be the 1,542th new striker brought into the team over the past couple of years.

Ok, thats actually unfair. They only have Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Jermaine Defoe, and Darren Bent at striker.

Maybe Juande Ramos is going to go with the mythical 4-1-5 formation that I've heard is popular in Seville.

Seriously, what this probably means is that Spurs are going to turn around and sell Berbatov to Man U in exchange for the GDP of some small country. His price tag is in the $40-$60 million range, which means it would be a nice bit of business for Juande Ramos.

Ironically, giving the Bulgarian to the Mancs would be the most threatening thing that Tottenham has done to the Gunners in the past decade or so.

Fucking wankers.

UPDATE: Apparently the Fred transfer talks are dead. And Spurs are trying to flog Defoe and Bent to Villa and anyone, respectively.

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Tribe Calls, Derby Hangs Up

Relegation-bound EPL (suck it Barclay's!) squad Derby rejected a proposed transfer from Israeli squad Maccabi Tel Aviv for Benny Feilhaber. Benny, who played at UCLA, is one of the many Americans playing in the EPL cellar. Well, playing isn't quite the right. He has only managed to take the field in 8 matches thus far only starting one.

Feilhaber also happens to be of Jewish descent. Couple that with an ability to play soccer well and how could Maccabi not approach! Alas, it was not to be.

However, Derby executives did say that there has been other interest in Feilhaber.

"There is a lot of interest in Benny in the MLS in the States and it is something that is likely to be pursued, therefore we feel it is in the best interests of the club and the player to get him back with us."

Going back to the MLS? Honestly, that can't be a good move for a twenty-two year-old. He needs to stay in a league where he will constantly be challenged by players better than him. The MLS can't provide that for him. He needs to go back to Germany or play in Holland to get playing time.

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Where has he been??????

The re-appearance of Kelvin Koogan from behind the rock he was hiding is becoming a very strange story. Stranger by the hour. I have just finished watching a video on the BBC website. Mr Koogan says that he has not watched a football match since leaving Man City. Hmmm....Someone better fill him in on what he's missed!

Kelvin old chap. Here's a brief list of players you can expect to come across. Just remember that Albert has retired and Leeds are no longer a 'big club'.

Christiano Ronaldo - Fast twat

Nani - Dodgy-haired twat

Chimbonda - French twat

Fabregas- Flamboyant twat

Walcott - Teenage twat

Agbonlahor - Unpronounceable twat

Nicky Hunt - Nasty twat

Robert Earnshaw - Ugly twat

Andrei Shevchenko - Old twat

Michael Ballack - Useless twat

Wayne Rooney - Chav twat

Javier Mascherano -Argentinian twat

Nemeth - Forgotten twat

Carlos Tevez - Short twat

Lee Carsley - Fat twat

Elano - Tricky twat

Andy Johnson - Diving twat

Freddie Ljungberg - Bald twat

Joey Barton - Violent twat

Dimitar Berbatov - Overrated twat

David Bentley - Underrated twat

Robbie Keane - Irish twat

Jermaine Defoe - Unwanted twat

Ashley Young - Expensive twat

Robbie Savage - Twat twat

There you go Kev. I think you will be alright now. Oh wait...Maybe you should watch some games......yeah maybe alot of games...Good luck now....(under breath) You'll need it!


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Newcastle welcomes an old friend back, only to probably kick him out again later

Kevin Keegan: always giving good advice

Kevin Keegan's back on Tyneside, for reasons best known only to himself. It's a well-known convention in sports and horror movies that you never return to a place you once were, as it'll only end in misery, failure to live up to expectations, and possible decapitation.

It's surely one of the hardest places to manage, as demonstrated by recent events there. 30 games and 8 months in charge was all that the boardroom thought Big Sam deserved, despite making it blatantly known that it was a 3-5 year job to turn the club around.

Not counting the ubiquitous caretaker-managers, only one manager since Keegan's departure in January 1997 has been able to oversee more than 90 games in charge, and that was none other than Sir Bobby Robson. Ruud Gullit, Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish, Norwich's middle-aged God Glenn Roeder, all of them tasted the axe or walked out before achieving the dream of a mandate.

As it stands, it's the nature of the game now for all those clubs chasing the dream and allure of the Big 4: we, the boardroom, want results, and we want them badly. Fail to achieve, and the pressure's on, because these days, managers are a dime-a-dozen. There are so many waiting around for work that the second a job pops up, they swarm to it knowing it's another year's pay before the axe swings again.

In Keegan's favour, he has the statistical honour of being Newcastle's most successful manager in terms of wins and losses: in 251 competitive games, he managed a 138-52-62 streak, which translates to a 54% win rate. No-one else, not even Super Joe Harvey, the club's longest-serving captain and manager [and the last NUFC manager to win a major trophy], preserved a record that good. No-one else is even breaking 50%.

Joe Harvey: yeah, he was alright

He also has the backing of a lot of former Magpie players, managers and pundits, all of whom are ecstatic to see him return to the scene of his best managerial achievements. That should certainly help him last a little longer than Big Sam, who was perceived as too "small-town" and conservative in his approach to turning Newcastle around.

Keegan's inheriting a crap team with a history of problems and disputes, along with a host of failed signings held over from Allardyce's vision. He's had a cracking career as manager, but this is a different kettle of fish.

It's going to take an awful lot of work, but one thing is true: it's going to be fucking hilariously good fun to watch.

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He's baaaack

Remember this?

I look forward to more of the same. Welcome back Kev!

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Pepto Bismol is not found in Portugal, instead they have Kaopectate. Perhaps we should export it to them, so that they know what I'm talking about when I say that Benfica's second jersey looks like a bottle of Pepto Bismol going down.
When I was originally alerted to this shirt (thanks Ian), I was nonplussed. I called upon my vast knowledge of all things football (soccer), and recalled quite a few Mediterranean sides use pink in their kits. Then I looked some more. I was entranced by the particular hue of the pink, lighter than most other pink jerseys. I looked at the pattern. I noticed that, when I let my mind wander, I was drawn back to the Pepto commercials of my youth. Well, my youth and adulthood, since they haven't really changed.

Did you see that protective coating action? It seemed to follow along a certain gastrointestinal path. A path that looks exactly like the one on the shirt. Perhaps this is one of those shirts that shows you what it's like inside of the body, kind of like this:

Lest you think that these are just for show, I assure you that these have seen action, albeit not successfully.
Benfica is probably lucky Alexandre Pato was not playing that day, as the wonder kid would have put up at least a hat trick against them. Right, ladies?

Anyway, as an American, I'm just glad I don't have to see Adu in one of these monstrosities. I think he worked out a clause in his transfer contract that said he can only be pictured in the red jersey, and has to be unavailable on pink jersey matchdays. Doesn't change the fact that he is still short as all get out.

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Corruption: as Italian as pizza-flavoured gelato

Actual trophy: second best to trophy wife, but what can you do?

Barely a fucking month into his tenure as England's national manager, and Capello's in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Italian prosecutors launched an inquiry into Capello's earnings as Juventus boss as part of a wider probe into allegations of corruption at the club.
It sounds worse than it is, apparently. Basically, Italian authorities are much more interested in corruption within the club, but the law states that because Capello earned more than 200,000 euros a year while there, he has to be looked at as part of the routine.

Capello's son Pierfilippo spoke to the BBC, maintaining Daddy's innocence:

"This is a simple investigation involving his fiscal position. This kind of investigation is going on with a number of famous people in Italy with big cash flows. They want to understand how he was paid at Juventus. We're very confident about it and comfortable that everything is clear."
Still, it's never good to be associated with corruption. Look at Enron. Look at Bruce Grobbelaar. Look at Volkswagen. Look at Samsung.

Capello is confident the inquiries will amount to nothing, but it doesn't look good on the old resume. Is it too late to chase Guus Hiddink for England boss? He'd be a excellent fi..... oh. Wait. Never mind.

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Words Fail Me

Meet Agorohene, the official mascot of the 2008 African Cup of Nations. IT'S A REALLY BIG BIRD. IT WEARS CROSS COLOURS GEAR AND PLAYS SOCCER. Crap, I need to lie down.

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Not bothered...Honest.

Bury 2 Norwich 1

First came shock. Followed very quickly by a shrug of the shoulders. My beloved Norwich were sent out of the FA Cup last night by struggling League 2 minnows Bury. But this morning I could care less. Not bothered. You see this Saturday's potential point haul means so much more. Were we going to lift the FA Cup this year? Not a hope. More chance of Spurs breaking into the top four sometime before 2025.

This Saturdays opponents Leicester are one place below and only a point back. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to see that a win could see us wave good bye to the thoughts of relegation that threatened our season and signal the start of a surge to the playoffs. Playoffs...Playoffs.....Playoffs? (sorry had visions of the Jim Mora Coors ad)

Am I nuts? No. Not at all. Sheffield Wed have a tough tie with their neighbors in the steel city derby. Preston have a tough trip to Stoke and Scunthorpe will host a reeling Wolves. I expect all three to lose. By 5 pm on Saturday we could be 7 points away from danger and 7 from the coveted 6th spot. To be a Norwich fan over the next few weeks could be very exciting indeed. The next 8 games will be make or break and provide trips to Southampton, Cardiff and Leicester and home games with Leicester, Barnsley, Hull, Preston and Blackpool. If the league form continues and Norwich continue to pick up 55% of league points, as they currently are, under Roeder then the playoffs will be a reality come May. Fact not fiction. AND if super Glenn gets the players in he wants in this January, we could well be in for an exciting time.

With regards to that embarrassing loss last night? Bury deserved it... and good luck to them. Because for them a cup run means so much more than it does for us.


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Chicago Fire Will Steal Your Porn

Insert joke about Blanco getting crappy service

Chicago Fire became the eighth Major League Soccer team to land a kit-font sponsor, getting Best Buy to pony up the cash (and change their logo color to their main competitor's, no less).

Which is great - no matter how you feel about kit sponsorship, that corporations are willing to paying good money to MLS clubs is A Good Thing (as long as your team's uniform doesn't look like this, or say "wanka" or "bimbo").

Still, I can't feel a little ambivalent about the kind of companies teams are partnering with. Best Buy has a pretty piss poor reputation when it comes to, uh, pretty much everything and other MLS sponsors don't exactly make you want to go and turn yourself into a walking billboard:
  • Los Angeles Galaxy: Herbalife, a sketchy nutritional supplement
  • Real Salt Lake: XanGo, another sketchy nutritional supplement
  • Columbus Crew: Glidden, whom you might not know about if you didn't watch Fox Soccer Channel
  • Red Bull New York: Some company that sells caffeinated syrup
  • Chivas USA: Comex, a paint company you definitely haven't heard of
  • Houston Dynamo: Amigo Energy, who, to their credit, is not Enron
  • Toronto FC: Bank of Montreal, who, to their credit, has taken less money from me than Citibank, and has a furry fetish.
Teams that are sponsorless for the 2008 (for now) are: DC United (though they've been repping adidas since forever), Kansas City Wizards, Colorado Rapids, and San Jose Earthquakes III.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

USA-Sweden this weekend

Landon is excited to score some more meaningless goals

In what has become a January "tradition" the USA is playing Sweden on Saturday night at the Home Depot Center in LA suburbia. Because its not an official FIFA date, United States will field mostly MLS players, who have been in camp for the past couple of weeks, while the Swedes will counter with an all-domestic side of their own. So no Zlatan, no Clint Dempsey, no Freddy Adu, which is why the the Home Depot Center will probably be half full. I implore all of you to get drunk and go after the birds instead of staying home to watch what is almost always one of the most turgid affairs of the year. These two played to a rather boring 1-0 decision in Gotheburg in September with full strength sides, so at least this game should be a little more wide open with the second teamers.

Based on who has been at camp, and taking into account the fact that EJ is in London finalizing his transfer to relegation-bound Fulham, here's the starting lineup I see from the US:

Wynne, Parkhurst, Conrad, Dunivant
Donovan, Edu, Clark, Noonan
Twatman, Jozy Altidore

Actually, a quick look to see Jozy, Parkhurst, and Edu might be in order, but once the second half starts and the MLS all star bench rolls in, its time to change the channel.

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Los Angeles gives us one more reason to push it out to sea

Snoop Dogg, hard at "work"

Seeing as though it's been months since he kicked a football with any purpose or meaning, David Beckham, everyone's favorite blond idiot and subject of our thought-provoking point and counterpoint debate this morning, has been working hard on "side projects" [aka wearing underwear, getting photographed, anything but actually playing football], and this one is a doozy.

"The rapper and soccer star - who are close friends - are so addicted to the comfy footwear they are planning to launch their own line of the 'house shoes' when they retire from their respective careers."
And this is the de-facto England captain? Fuck me sideways with the corner flag.

Said Mr. Calvin Broadus, during a rare break from dropping things while they're hot:

"I got David a pair of slippers as a present and he took a picture of him wearing them and sent it to me. I was like, 'They look cool!' We are talking about making a slipper together. So when I stop rapping and he stops playing soccer we can kick back and slip on a house shoe."
Words fail me sometimes. Like now. I guess it helps us understand his motivation and desire to move to MLS.

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Questionable E-Bay Purchases for: The Tottenham Fan

Despite their rabid popularity,* we do not have any Tottenham fans on the UF team. So, as any good Gooner would do, I have taken it upon myself to let the world know of all of the glories that White Hart Lane produces. Today we discuss some items from E-bay that you might want to purchase for that special Tottenham fan in your life.
Item #1: Tottenham Hotspur baseball jersey

Hoo boy, that's ugly.

This beautiful (sic) item will cost you $34 at this time, although there have been 13 bids so you may want to act fast. When the UF team first found this item, we asked ourselves two questions: (1) do the Brits even know about baseball; and (2) how quickly would you get your arse kicked wearing this to White Hart Lane?

Item #2: Spurs "Glory Years" (sic, again) card

Poor spurs - 45 years and counting.

This little reminder of the past will currently cost you $2, and it can be all yours today, as no bids have been placed.

Item #3: A share in Tottenham Hotspur

Caution: Value may decrease significantly.

This item is currently going for the "Buy It Now" price of $58.73, and there are no bids. Buy a share and appoint yourself manager! You couldn't do any worse than Martin Jol (Juande - you're on notice).

Item #4: Spurs 06/07 Year in Review DVD

May contain football-like susbtance.

This item is valued at $31, and there are currently no bids. Take it home and relive the glory of the 2006/2007 season! Thrill to the 59 goals scored by Spurs in their EPL (suck it, Barclay's!) campaign. Watch with nervous anticipation as Tottenham chases the final Champions League spot all the way to the last day of the season. Listen as 60% of the team experiences gastrointestinal distress that they blame on Arsenal. Cackle with joy at the sight of Tottenham falling just points short, and ending the season in 5th place!

There you have it - Christmas may have passed, but there is always an occasion to kick the Spurs when they're down.

*Not actually popular

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Football Parochialism

Much has been written about the situation enveloping Rafa Benitez, Liverpool, and its owners, Tom Hicks and Roger Gillett. The imbroglio is written about nearly every day and it seems only a matter of time before Rafa is sacked. (We here at Unprofessional Foul are just as guilty of over-wrought and over thought opinion pieces on the subject.) The owners have already inquired about replacement managers and had public spats with the manager.

Whether the fault lay with the owners, Rafa or somebody else is truly a matter of opinion. And the likely truth is that everybody is at fault to some degree. But, one sure thing is the view that Liverpool's situation is a result of the American owners' ignorance of "British football" is a stance borne out of fear, insecurity and parochialism.

The Guardian blogger, Lawrence Donegan, apparently is intrigued by these views and subscribes to the newsletter. His latest foray ham-fistedly espouses these theories.

Great Britain and the United States; two nations divided by an ocean and a wildly differing view of the manager's place in the hierarchy of a sports team or, if you prefer, sports franchise.
According to Donegan, the Americans act as though this were baseball and have shown no respect to Benitez who brought a Champions League crown to Anfield in 2005. Baseball, the American sport, shows no respect to managers and this uncouthness is now being imposed on football.

It's different in the world of North American baseball, where the team manager is the guy who picks the team, executes the match-day tactics and, if he has a strong personality or a death wish, isn't scared to challenge the club's general manager or owners - aka. the real bosses - about the club's signing policies. Nothing more. In baseball, the great managers are no longer exalted, they are treated like day workers, to be summarily dismissed at the owner's whim, as Joe Torre, who brought great success to the New York Yankees, discovered to his cost at the end of the 2007 Major League Baseball season.
And, the coup de grace...

Hicks's "reign" at Anfield has been notable mostly for the obfuscations of his slick PR machine so it would be remiss not to congratulate him for his straightforwardness on this occasion. But in his honesty he also reveals his ignorance of how football works in this country and his failure to realise the most successful clubs are those that place the greatest emphasis on continuity and loyalty. Liverpool fans can only hope that the rumours are true and that he and his cohort sell up and leave town before too much damage is done.
So, let me get this straight. Americans don't understand football and this is why Rafa hasn't so much as sniffed a premiership title in the second half of the season during his tenure. A tenure that has been longer than the owners'. Rafa whines about not having enough talent so the Americans help him out and buy wonder-striker Fernando Torres, Ryan Babel, and Andriy Voronin. And Rafa repays this support by whinging about wanting more loot for the winter transfer season, all while he slowly falls behind in the title race and showing very poorly in Champions League play. This is because the Americans don't understand British football.

Yes, Rafa has brought home Champions League glory, but suffice it to say, the Premiership title is what matters to Anfield fans and the owners want a piece of that financial pie as well. Ultimately, I liken this achievement to something akin to an American franchise posting the best record in the league but failing in the post-season. Great performance but where's the beef?

When exactly is it the manager's fault for poor on-field performance and a clear desertion by the squad of its sideline general. When is it his fault and when will Rafa share in the blame, Mr. Donegan?

Why is it that the Glazers have succeeded in spite of their "Americanosity"? Yes, the Glazers have the same American style. They once threw out a highly successful coach, Tony Dungy, to get a bigger name and hopefully a title. Jon Gruden, the name, delivered the title. So, was it wrong? Maybe, maybe not. But, it was successful.

Why exactly does Roman Abramovich not get the same treatment? He has done the same thing. He undermined and ultimately sacked a Champions League winning and consecutive Premiership title winning manager.

Why does Rafa understand British football? He's not British. Is it because he knows how to whine? Lest we not forget that it was Rafa who started the row when he whinged to the public about his dissatisfaction with the transfer budget. It was he who called them to arms and required them to react hostilely to his disregard for their position as owners. Much of this has been brought upon Rafa's shoulders by his own doing whether it be his words or his lackluster results as of late.

Or is it all just pure condescension and narrow-mindedness where none should exist? It's not like English football has been all that great. The country hasn't won a world cup in 40 years. Its league is great because of the many imports. So, why exactly should one care about "British football"? The one thing everybody cares about in sports is winning and Rafa isn't doing enough of it right now given the talent he has.

This is Britain's sporting version of "you're either with us or against us." Quit chasing the hounds and get off your high horses and step into the modern world. Suck it. Rafa has lost his team. They don't perform for him any more and it is time for a change. It's not the American owners fault, although some blame can be assigned to many parties. How about opening your eyes and trying something new? Change isn't always bad, although I'm sure England would like to live in the past where all its glory can be found.

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Counterpoint: Beckham should not be captain for the Switzerland friendly

Less modeling, more getting back to form, please

Ahh yes, Mr. Beckham. The English golden child of the past decade, creating heroism with his boots and leaving bitter, defeated foes in his wake. Almost. The big furore at the moment is over the role Beckham should play in the England squad moving forward, and whether or not Capello should grant him the joy and happiness of getting his 100th cap immediately, even going so far as to make him captain for the game.

My short answer, to this lovey-dovey, Disney-esque scenario, is this: no fucking way.

Fabio Capello, whether he's aware of it or not, has waltzed into an important job, with the task of curating the National side through a tricky era in an already-sketchy history. We invented the game, and yet constantly find ourselves on the end of a pasting: either it's the silky flair of the South Americans, the ruthless efficiency of the Germans, or the trickery and guile of the Mediterranean nations. Capello has to turn that ship around with a fresh pair of eyes and a new way of thinking.

See? Behind those glasses does lie a pair of balls

England's in the midst of a difficult transition, with a lot of its most experienced players reaching the twilight of their careers, with the rest suffering injury after injury. Thanks to the narrow-mindedness of the last two managers, no contingency plans were ever made, and no plans were made for the inevitable retirement or decline in form of all these 30-somethings. It's been left to Capello to find new players from somewhere, break 'em in, and bring England back to winning ways.

Beckham, in my mind, represents the Old Guard. As soon as Capello took over, Beckham rushed to the media with platitudes and kind words for Fabio, singing for his supper and beginning his own public campaign to keep his international career going. If Capello falls for it, he's a fucking idiot.

Yes, it's a friendly, and yes, it's a long time before the next World Cup and Euro qualifiers, but fuck, this is THE time to start auditioning new blood! Don't kowtow to players dictating their own destiny! Take the squad into your own hands and assert yourself from the get-go, because Capello's going to need all the time he can get to find young English players and forge them for the stress and spotlight of national football.

If Beckham's honest, he doesn't deserve to play for England right now, at least if we're deciding these things on a merit basis. He moved to the US for nothing but money, and he hasn't played in a meaningful game in months [training with Arsenal doesn't count, and really, aren't the LA Galaxy mad to do so?]

To add fuel to the fire, general opinion wants him to be captain. Why? He barely deserves a spot on the bench, let alone the muted glory of being skipper for his 100th game. Yes, it's poetic and cute, but fuck poetry, and fuck cuteness. The majority of his run in an England uniform has been mediocre at best, and while he's had several memorable moments [I do love him for the free kick against Greece], he's had several bad ones too [I hate him for the kick on Diego Simeone and the resulting red card in the 1998 World Cup 2nd round].


I feel that the reason he's even gotten to 99 caps is because we've had a string of managers who didn't have a fucking clue [Glenn Hoddle, Kevin Keegan, Eriksson, McClaren... anyone care to argue?]. His skill suffered greatly once he skipped out of the country to ply his trade elsewhere, but he maintained his place for the last 3 years or so because of the lack of imagination in squad selection.

There are only 4 players to reach 100 caps for England, as Spectator pointed out, and Beckham's right there on the cusp. Bryan Robson made it to 90 caps. Michael Owen, for all his injuries, made it to 88 [scoring 40 goals in the process!]. Gary fucking Lineker only made it to 80. The list of players stuck in the 70s is insane: Stuart Pearce, John Barnes, Terry Butcher, David Seaman, Gordon Banks!

If Lineker didn't make it, Beckham certainly shouldn't with such ease

If they didn't get there, Beckham should thank his lucky fucking stars that he's on the cusp as the product of brand name and poor managing over the last 4 years when his selection certainly wasn't on merit.

And now we're here, and Beckham wants the armband and wants the spotlight, because up to this point in his career, he's gotten everything he ever wanted.

I say no, David. Forget what you did for us 4 years ago and let's look at what you did for us lately [Croatia]. You've got to earn it, lad, and not simply because you've gotten this far and then you've said a lot of things in the media about what a good guy you are. That isn't earning anything, mate.

I'm not saying he shouldn't get that cap eventually, but not now.

Work hard, keep your mouth shut, and you'll get there eventually.

This is Capello's moment in the spotlight.

This is his team now, not yours. Remember that.

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Point: Beckham Should Be England Captain for the Switzerland Friendly

See that guy? He's David Beckham. Currently at 99 caps, only one away from joining the pantheon of Billy Wright, Peter Shilton, Sir Bobby Charlton and Bobby Moore. The only men to make it to 100 caps for England. And you're worried about him getting the captaincy of a meaningless friendly against Switzerland in a few weeks! And why is that game meaningless?

Oh Hi I Upgraded Your National Squad

I know, England needs to look to the future. Capello needs to develop new talent. Giving Beckham the armband is a big step backwards and a huge mistake. Blah blah blah blah BLAH BLAH BLAH! Look, England, you have absolutely no chance of winning the World Cup any time soon. You won't be winning the European Championships, if and when you qualify. Your best players are constantly injured (Rooney, Terry), your attacking midfielders play exactly the same position (Lampard, Gerrard), your role players are constantly injured (Hargreaves, Owen, Cole), your goalkeepers stink (Almunia?), and your best defender is a disgrace (Ferdinand), oh and is also constantly injured (Ferdinand).

At most, England can hope for a gutty quarterfinal exit at World Cup 2010. You'll be lucky if England becomes respectable during your lifetimes! It's not like you are sitting on tons of upcoming talent, just waiting there to get called up. Yeah, yeah.... I'll give you Richards, Wright-Philips, Agbonlahor, Young, Bent, maybe Walcott someday. But you know what? Beyond that, here's the next generation of England nationals:

Steve ginger-fucking-nut Sidwell. Which brings us back to Beckham. What is Beckham? He's the face, he's the brand, he's an overrated movie staring a pre-anorexia Keira Knightly, he's all flash and a few fancy set pieces, and goddammit you need him more now than ever because what else do you have to build on but the past? You invented football (or Association Football or even socceras it's called during the 2-minute ESPN Deportes newsflashes) and the rest of the world perfected it. Beckham is your link to the mythical past, the gilded age, to a perfect past with no awareness of a world outside the chalk hills of England.

I will never forget this story I heard from a friend living in England. She was on the Tube circa-2002 and saw this young mother with her 3 year-old son who had a faux-diamond earring, and the young mother says to the lady next to her, "Oh he's my little Beckham he is."

Face it, England, you need Beckham. It doesn't matter whether you lose to Switzerland (and believe me, you won't because none of the players want to face the wrath of Capello, which is what made McClaren such an awful pick for England manager -- no matter the sport, players need a modicum of fear and/or respect for their coach or it all falls apart). Imagine the good will and dancing in the streets when Beckham takes his rightful place as one of the greatest players to ever don an England kit, whether or not he even is one of the greatest English players.

Here is a man with a lot of good looks, a lot of good sense, a sturdy right foot, and about two working synapses in his brain, and he's become the most well-known Englishman in the world. If Beckham gets the captain's armband, for the brief moment before the beginning of the match everything will be right for the world: Posh gets a bit of face time to help sell a few more Spice Girls concert tickets, Beckham gets cap number 100, and Capello gets a lot of good will from the supporters.

All for just one meaningless friendly. And then Capello can get back to trying to polish the turd that is England's national team.

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