Saturday, March 8, 2008

Mess With the Bull, Get The Horns

In Italy recently, a referee was sent into hiding after thugs beat up somebody who looked like him. Mauro Bergonzi awarded two controversial penalties against Juventus in a defeat to Napoli in October.

"A dangerous incident happened. A group of people encircled someone they thought was a referee, they tried to abduct him and continually punch him. The only thing was he just looked like the referee," Cesare Gussoni told Friday's La Repubblica newspaper.

"He was a bank manager, poor thing, and he managed to reveal this at the end to save himself from more blows. On the advice of the police, the referee was forced to live under protection and went to another province for two weeks."
Juventus, remember, was one of the clubs caught up in the Serie A match fixing scandal and as a result was relegated to Serie B. The lesson here folks, is don't try and fix a match against the match fixers. They have the hired muscle on their side.

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Bigus Tripus, part 3

First full match report up, as they're filing on the way home from the most dismal, dreary part of the Midlands.

So Bigus, how did things go?

Coventry 1, Norwich 0.

Well that was well worth flying 3500 miles for.

If it was not for David Marshall, we would have lost by 4.

Let's start with the first 15 mins. Roeder started with a 5-man midfield who had no idea how to execute that formation, producing nothing but confusion. We couldn't keep the ball for more than ten seconds.

Juan Velasco was skinned twice and the alarm bells were ringing. He then showed Jay Tabb inside, creating a free shot, and that was one-nil. Off came Velasco to cap an outing to forget.

Will we see him again? Let's hope not.

He is not a patch on Otsemobor.

Roeder immediately realized the mistake he had made and changed to a 4-4-2, bringing on Cureton for Camara to keep Dublin company up front. He had been very lonely.

Pearce had replaced Velasco after 20, and Doherty moved to right-back. We were still awful and couldn't produce anything but long hoofs and wayward passes.

The Referee was one P. Taylor and his performance was woeful. He could not get the whistle out of his mouth and stopped the game about 15 times for no good reason. The game had absolutely no flow.

We started the second half a little better and looked as if we were going to get going.... then it happened. A second yellow for Doherty and we were down to ten. He should have gone in the first half as he performed his usual pull-down routine when beaten at the edge of the box.

This time, however, a nothing incident gave Taylor the chance to open his little book once again. Russell argued with him and tempers were up. Taylor had it in for Russell from then on and found a weak excuse to produce a second yellow to him not long after. Nine men.

The game was over. Cureton had a good effort saved at the death but judas between their sticks saved well. It would have been a stolen point and undeserved, but I'd have taken it.

At the end of the day we were crap in the first but the referee ruined any potential for a good second.

The Ricoh is a very nice place to see a game. Its a shame that most people in coventry disagree.

Attendance: 18,000... 3,500 to 4,000 were from Norwich.

Chant of the day: Your ground's too big for you.

- Bigus.

Packimo: not impressed with his first meat pie at an English ground

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Bigus Tripus, part 2

Well, the lads are still going strong, and it's the full Day #1 of the odyssey. They're up, and on their way to Coventry...

10 am. Packimo is feeling a little fragile today. He has discovered a new-found love for bitter. Especially Director's. I too had to bust out the neurofen [Ed Note: Advil]. It was that last Cobra at the Rupa Tandoori that did it! The rupa is my favourite restaurant anywhere in the world and if you are ever in soho then pop up brewer street and give it a go.

There were lively discussions at the table over the Premiership's 39th game. Split decision.

Packimo was also impressed with our trains. He is now going back to NY to demand 40 miles in 23 mins from the MTA.

Packimo is a Spurs fans but he was highly impressed by the Emirates stadium as the train rumbled by... in fact he was so enamoured he forgot to spit.

10:35. Just introduced packimo to the scotch egg.

Note: Bring some back.

- Bigus.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Is There Such a Thing as a £25M Bargain?

See that guy?

That's Fernando Torres. You probably know that if you read this site, but he's really fucking good at soccer. You probably know that, too.

On February 23rd he scored his first League hat trick for Liverpool, then just 11 days later against West Ham, he did it again. And in a sport where a 1-0 result is pretty commonplace, that is just fucking ridiculous.

Evan Stone doesn't score that often.

So God help the Newcastle defense. I mean, sure the first hatty was against 'Boro, but the second one, well, West Ham had been playing pretty well and Robert Green had been maybe one of the 4 or 5 best keepers in the EPL for the first half of the season.

So El Niño, I tip my sombrero to you and your pie. And in honor of your recent badassness we will predict a ridiculous numero for this week's fixtures.

Just a quick note, we actually bothered to check last week's numbers against the results, and even padding with a couple of extra scores, we still couldn't break more than 5 right. Plus, with six sides scoring 3 or better, we totally low-balled it so badly we were barely even close on the rest.

We suck. But at least we're honest enough to admit it.

Here's a peek into this week's crystal soccer ball.


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Sepp Blatter, The New David Stern?

Sepp Blatter's at it again. He might as well change his name to Sepp Blather. So what's the crazy Swiss FIFA President up to now? Well, he wants there to be criminal charges for reckless tackles.

Blatter believes reckless challenges are one of the biggest scourges of the modern game and insists there should be harsh penalties for the perpetrators, including criminal charges where necessary.
Well then.

It is always a good thing to be highly reactionary to traumatic events. It never results in saying stupid things or statements that are not well measured. Here Sepp Blather is making a broad pronouncement that a) he could never enforce and b) is made to appease those who feel wronged by injuries suffered as a result of hard tackles.

The second biggest issue with Blather is the fact that reckless tackles are already punished by the game. Studs up tackles are prohibited and usually accompanied with a minimum yellow card and, when a tackle is particularly poor or mistimed, a red card is not out of the question (see Martin Taylor).

The biggest issue is: who the hell is Sepp Blather, the president of a private organization, to say how sovereign nations are to impose there criminal laws? That takes some some serious cojones.

Whether Blather is correct or not, I see him as acting as a new hamfisted David Stern trying to make his game sexier by eliminating and limiting what a defense can do. After the early and mid-90s NBA defense that really slowed down the game, David Stern started making rule changes to prevent teams from playing such stingy and aggressive defense, so sexy-basketball could attract more viewers.

I see Blather attempting the same, except he is nowhere as adept as David Stern in framing the issues and convincing others that he is correct.

Blather is more George W. Bush than Ronald Reagan.

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Jailed player is owed money... the FA agrees

Sestanovich waits for his check

Here's a fun one. Say you run a company and one of your employees runs into a little bit of legal trouble. When the time comes for them to tell you what's happened, the employee downplays it somewhat and the problem goes away, until you find out what the real crime was and immediately give them their pink slip.

However, they're not going to jail just yet, and the regulating body of your industry forces you to pay the employee you for the time after he was fired and before he goes to prison.

It doesn't sound right, but it is, according to the FA, and the unlucky club forced to cash out a criminal? Non-league Grays Athletic FC.

The club doesn't want to comply, and the FA is on the verge of suspending them for their principles.

Ashley Sestanovich, a body double for Thierry Henry in some Nike commercials a few years ago, was a promising midfielder for Conference side Scarborough. He won an FA Cup Player of the Round award in 2003 for his goal to knock out Port Vale, and had bounced around through several clubs [Sheffield United, Manchester City, Grimsby Town] before settling at Grays Athletic in 2005.

He didn't get a chance to do much there, participating in just three training sessions and 20 minutes in a pre-season friendly, as he was caught up in the planning of a robbery during which a man was killed.

From the BBC:

Sestanovich, 26, was convicted of conspiracy to rob a roofing firm in Streatham, south London.

The raid led to the death of Thomas Fahey, 42, who was shot in the chest at close range while visiting his brother at the office in June 2005.

Now Sestanovich was jailed for eight years due to his part in the robbery while the two other men involved were sentenced to life in jail, but because he was still technically a part of the club when his initial arrest occurred, the FA wants the club to pay out $28,000 in back pay and wages.

Understandably, the club is pissed that they're being forced to pay out. Said Grays chairman Mike Woodward:

"I am bitterly disappointed in the FA's judgment, all they seem to want to do is take money from football clubs.

We are being forced to pay approximately £14,000 to a player who only had three training sessions and 20 minutes in a pre-season friendly due to his involvement in a heinous crime which saw a young father shot in cold-blood.

Unfortunately my principles will not allow me to pay this money from either my own pocket, or from the club's, and the directors are of the same opinion. I feel sorry for the supporters of this club but I hope that you will back me on this decision."

You can hardly blame him considering the club is way down on the financial totem pole, and that they're shit out of luck after the FA's ruling. The chairman has put a plea out on the club website for donations or assistance from former players who have gone on to bigger things in order to get this squared away, and for all our sakes, let's hope they do.

If they don't come up with the bread in two weeks, the FA's going to suspend them indefinitely from all football until the money's paid out.

It's absolute bullshit, but that's the FA for you. It won't reduce Sestanovich's sentence at all, but when he gets out, he'll have a check from Grays Athletic waiting for him.

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Suddenly, Scotland!

This week, Taking a look up the kilt of Scottish football

The majority of the Scotland-centric articles I have put up on this site over the last few months have been dry recitations of the game within Scotland itself. In fact, until this week, none of them have really had the special UF flavor. You know what I'm talking about--the deliciously bad decisions that footballers, managers and executives make that we pounce upon with aplomb. Well, it seems that my persistence in writing about the country has paid off because they Scots have rewarded me with three fine stories for today. Inside find out about:
  • The club that could be shut down for not paying for its office supplies
  • The club that will shut down because its financier no longer feels like paying
  • The National Team on the verge of signing up to play a friendly in what would be a politically sensitive situation, something of a trend for the team.

First off, Hearts are in the news today, as The Guardian is reporting that they have been given notice that they may be shut down if they do not pay for office supplies they purchased from Lynch McQueen. Heart's bill? $27,000, give or take. I implore you to look at the Lynch McQueen site. Nothing says "modern web-professional" like citing purchasing statistics from 1999.

Anyway, Hearts spent $20 million on wages last season, and are undergoing $100 million worth of renovations on their home ground, Tynecastle. Their Lithuanian owner, Vladimir Romanov, has a fortune estimated to be around $500 million, so I don't think Hearts are in danger. Still, let this be a lesson to you all. Pay your debts on time, or else the Brits will shut you down.

One team that definitely looks to be shutting down is Gretna. I wrote about their imminent double relegation on Tuesday, but now their future looks much more grim. For the third time this season, Gretna have established a new SPL low for paying fans at a match. 501 punters showed up for their thrice-rescheduled match against Dundee United. After the match, interim manager Mick Wadsworth had some disturbing information to share.

Wadsworth admitted that the club will possibly fold, and may have to do so before the end of the season. Gretna has had some financial problems, but these were supposed to clear up when owner Brooks Mileson left the hospital. Well, he's out and people still are not getting paid. It appears that he is no longer interested in the club and is willing to just see them off. It's a sad state of affairs in the wedding capital of southern Scotland, where it looks like Mileson is getting an annulment from the deathbed club.

Finally, the Scottish National Team has been considering an offer to play their hosts in Tehran, Iran in May. At this point, it's improbable, but it would be a good bookend for another trip Scotland took 30 years ago. This article in the Telegraph highlights another dubious away game decision Scotland made. In 1977, Scotland undertook a South American tour. They played in Santiago, Chile, in the national stadium. This was the same stadium used under Pinochet to house political dissidents before they were killed. Quite often, the killing was done on the pitch itself. The trip at the time was seen as a validation for Pinochet from the Scots. I believe that any game in Tehran will be used in the same manner by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, though with less bloodshed.

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About That "Dreaded" Vote of Confidence

The idea that a vote of confidence, the catchall term for any public announcement by a club front office backing its manager, is a kiss of death is one of those soccer clichés, like "a 2-0 lead is the most dangerous lead in soccer" or "Steven Gerrard is a box-to-box midfielder", that fans and pundits repeat often enough that they have been accepted as truth, reality be damned.

I bring this up, because after Newcastle's heartbreaking/hilarious loss to Blackburn on Saturday, chief exec Chris Mort felt compelled to defend the seriously out-of-his-depth Kevin Keegan. And now that the Newcastle front office has publicly given King Kev the dreaded vote of confidence, or DVoC (pronounced dee-vock), conventional soccer wisdom says Keegan's days at Tyneside are numbered. Or are they?

Before we withdraw from our 401(k) and put down a couple of Euros at Betfair, let's look at recent DVoCs in English football, and how soon the axe fell thereafter.

  • Jose Mourinho
    DVoC issued: April 20, 2007
    League record at the time of DVoC (W-D-L): 22-6-2
    Left club by mutual consent on: September 20, 2007
    League record after DVoC (W-D-L): 5-7-2 (2-5-1 to finish 2006-07, 3-2-1 in 2007-08)
    Period of Dread: 153 days

  • Martin Jol
    DVoC issued: August 21, 2007
    League record at the time of DVoC (W-D-L): 1-0-2
    Sacked on: October 26, 2007
    League record after DVoC (W-D-L): 0-3-3
    Period of Dread: 66 days

  • Chris Hutchings
    DVoC issued: November 1, 2007
    League record at the time of DVoC (W-D-L): 2-2-7
    Sacked on: November 5, 2007
    League record after DVoC (W-D-L): 0-0-1
    Period of Dread: 4 days

  • Steve McClaren
    DVoC issued: October 18, 2007
    Sacked on: November 22, 2007
    Period of Dread: 35 days

  • Sam Allardyce
    DVoC issued: November 26, 2007
    League record at the time of DVoC (W-D-L): 5-3-5
    Sacked on: January 9, 2008
    League record after DVoC (W-D-L): 1-3-5
    Period of Dread: 44

Also of note, poor Sammy Lee didn't even get the benefit of the DVoC before being fired 14 matches into his Bolton stint, and two managers besides Keegan are currently serving Periods of Dread: Gareth Southgate, who received his DVoC on November 13, 2007, and Rafael Benitez, who got his on January 26, 2008. However, Middlesbrough has since lifted itself out of the drop zone, while the ownership is so unpopular that the supporters will throw a shit fit if Benitez is sacked for anything less than going Joey Barton on small Liverpudlian children.

The problem with using the DVoC as any sort of indicator or catalyst is that DVoC only comes at a time of crisis, perceived or real. It's not like Glazer needs to reassure Manchester United supporters that he's 100% behind Fergie. If a situation is bad enough that it warrants a DVoC, a firing is inevitable - the public show of backing merely gives the manager more rope with which to hang himself.

Then again, the DVoC might be significant for its effect on the team's mentality. If a situation is bad enough to require a DVoC, it's either horrible beyond repair or a temporary slump. If it's the former, there's no use keeping the manager around. If it's the latter, it reinforces the sense of crisis but still maintains the status quo, i.e. "The roof is leaking but we're going to keep the it exactly the way it is." At that point, it's probably better to give an ultimatum, or better yet, fire the guy and put him out of his misery.

My prediction? Newcastle will find itself in relegation zone and Keegan will make it to mid-April. Dennis Wise is handed the caretaker role to finish the season, and survive the drop on the final weekend.

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Cassano haters abound

In the wake of Antonio Cassano's little tantrum over the weekend, the Italian FA has banned him for five matches. The consensus is that his actions over the weekend have removed him from consideration for the Azzuri this summer. Donadoni is terrified to mess up the chemistry of the defending World Cup champions, even if it means listening to shifty Argentine carpetbaggers.

A (barely deserving) FIFA player of the year winner talking shit about Cassano, after the jump.

Real Madrid centerback Fabio Cannavaro told the Gazzeta Dello Sport that:

"The real champions are people like Maradona and Maldini, who played fifty games a season at the highest level,” Cannavaro told the Gazzetta dello Sport.

"I have always defended Antonio, but this time he is indefensible. He was wrong. He has impressive quality, out of the ordinary, but just as he is so talented he is so mad as well.

Yeah, Maradona getting sent home from USA 94 because of a little beak seed was very professional. Cannavaro later backtracked and said that no one at the Bernebeu thinks badly of poor Antonio, and he is a stand of up locker room guy. Of course, someone employed by Real Madrid would say that, as they still own his rights and were hoping to flog him off to some Latinophile English team this summer. That $25 million plus transfer fee is shrinking by the day.

We are not budging on our house position. Would Italy really be happier with some chronic underperformer like Gilardino, or some fossil like Del Piero, instead of the electric Cassano? Yes, Luca Toni is great, but what happens if he gets hurt? Let's not forget that Antonio and Francesco Totti enjoyed a fairly good partnership at Roma (until the former left for Spain and firebombed every bridge he could).

Maybe Cassano could be placed under sedation at a mental hospital in Zug until he is needed this summer.

In other Serie A news, Fiorentina dickstomped Everton in Florence yesterday. David Moyes' crew will now need quite the performance at Goodison to advance into the next round of the UEFA Cup.

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Jack Warner's Serbian relatives

The lessons of Jack Warner have gone worldwide. I've been able to break them down as follows:
  1. Take control of a soccer association, either national or, preferably, continental.
  2. ?????
  3. Profit!
Today's A-Plus student is Zvezdan Terzic, the president of the Serbian Football Association. Unfortunately for him, the police in Serbia don't view the outcomes of Mr. Warner's coursework as legal, so Terzic now has a warrant out for his arrest.

Seriously, suits this nice cost money
Terzic is accused of personally profiting off of at least one transfer while director at OFK Belgrade, a position he held from 1997 to 2005. The transfer that the arrest warrant was issued for, is from 1998. This was the transfer of Vanja Grubac to Hamburg SV. Hamburg told Serbian investigators they were obliged to pay Terzic 1.1 million German marks (~$850,000) for the transfer. This is what Harry Redknapp refers to as "Monday".

While Terzic's mess definitely looks bad, it pales in comparison to the scheme launched by Dragan Dzajic, the Serbian NT's general manager. Dzajic and two other officals were arrested last month for skimming approxiamately $9 million dollars off of the transfer of Goran Drulic's $22 Million move to Real Zaragoza from Red Star Belgrade. To do so, they opened a bank account in Drulic's name and forged his signature to withdraw the money. Or, as Harry Redknapp calls it, "every other Wednesday".
Harry explaining where the money came from

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UF Presents: Bigus Tripus 2008

At UF, we're trying to get into the experience business, instead of merely reporting on the sad and the hilarious from the futbol world. Precious Roy has his excellent TWAG column, and we're planning a few field trips for the spring and summer once the MLS season has kicked off.

As such, Bigus Dickus has stepped up and decided to take a little jaunt across to the UK, his homeland [and mine too], to take in 3 games of varying quality and a couple of training sessions at Norwich City over the next 5 days. He has Relegation Zone Mikey, the erstwhile Spurs fan and butt of many jokes in Hirshey's Deadspin column, along for the ride, and they'll be sending field reports from their travels.

Saturday, they're off to see Norwich City at Coventry [been there, the old stadium was great], Sunday it's Spurs at West Ham, no doubt to try and wash off two consecutive embarrassing defeats, Monday it's off to Norwich for their training sessions [and maybe even a stint on Radio Norfolk], and Tuesday night concludes the journey with Norwich at home to Stoke City. Yes, it's the highs and the lows of the EPL and the Championship.

Without further ado: Bigus' first report. There will be more.

Flight left an hour late but we got a touch when they called me up to let me know they were moving me forward to world traveller 'plus' and giving me the entire row! Leg room too! Note: travel with a baby! You also get on first!

Felt bad as Packimo [Ed. Note: RZM] looked on sad and desperate with the fate of one being sat for 7 hours next to a fat old snorer with a Birmingham accent, a weak bladder and no leg room. Gave him the 'come on son' nod and hooked him up.

He was asleep before we took off. Bastard! So was Ivy (see pic). Once we were airborne she retired to her 'crib' which was essentially a box with a blue checked tea towel in it. No expense spared.

Which brings me to the in flight meal: Chicken. One bite. Gone.

Question. Was that chicken? Note: Best not to ask.

Read the Times and noted that Matt Hughes described Chelseas football against Olympiacos as "cold-hearted professionalism" so in other words, "crap".

"The Greeks came bearing the gift of qualification, their ambition so limited that it was a wonder they had travelled at all".
This is my slap to all those misguided Chelsea fans like my mate Q who watches amazing football through his blue-tinted glasses.

"3 nil!" he emails. Get excited when you draw someone good pal. From the look of what's left that will be rather soon! For now, you are Bolton.

Unlike Packimo, I havent slept yet so I look forward to filling my arteries with a greasy breakfast offering upon arrival before taking a nap to prepare for 6 pints and a curry. Packimo is in for a treat. Taking him to one of the best curry houses on the planet tonight after some beers and a catch up with some friends in Laaaandon.

Note: This has been sorely missed.

Tomorrow we will head to Coventry to see Super Glenn's Super Yellows at the Ricoh Stadium. An early start is required to make it to a pub called the Blackhorse in time for United v Pompey and a few beers with some City fans I know from the NCFC message boards.

Sad git I know!

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Thursday, March 6, 2008

Hell Hath no fury like a media-savvy Portuguese manager scorned

Revenge is the biggest driving force in the world today. Call me cynical, but it's surely true. Look at what George Bush does with world politics, or John J. Rambo. Fuck, look at any movie Charles Bronson ever did. He was always on the hunt for some punks who'd fucked with his family.

When you're jilted or left at the altar or double-crossed, it's the sweet dream of payback that keeps you waking up in the morning.

Jose Mourinho knows that pain, and he wants to kill Chelsea FC.

I would love to see him try.

Jose knows the media game, and he's probably been waiting to say this until after Chelsea's recent, perhaps inevitable, pasting of aging Greek side Olympiacos CFP last night. With a lot of disappointing Italian sides and Spanish sides exiting the competition [AC Milan, Real Madrid, Sevilla] recently, he's certainly going to have a lot to job offers to choose from, especially after the Italian press went with the imaginative "AC Milan: The End" headlines following the San Siro loss.

Regardless, Mourinho went on the record saying that he is desperate to knock them out of the Champions League next year and to kill them at Stamford Bridge.

Quoth The Special One:

"I hope to play them next season in the Champions League. If I play them in the Champions League, I want to go there and kill them - that's my message."
It's poetry, it really is.

This is what slow news days are good for [well, there's slow and then there's slow-but-with-Google-Blog-Alerts-not-arriving-daily slow]. Talk shit on each other, make cryptic comments regarding the future, then depart.

Mourinho is the king of slow news days.

[Also, AC Milan wants to re-sign Shevchenko, and Barnsley has beaten Chelsea in the FA Cup before. Ha.]

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Getting to know: Michael Enfield

Yanks Abroad is a pretty decent spot to keep up with various US players as they ply their trade around the world. You get main page updates of players in the top European leagues as America spreads its footballing influence across the continent. In addition, there is this page, a round up of all of the currently tracked US players playing in leagues around the world.

I like to look every once in a while to see just who is least likely to make the jump from internationally playing up to the actual USNT. Is it Kenny Bertz, Grover Gibson, Preston Zimmerman or David Yelldell playing in the 3rd level of German soccer? Or is it Ryan Caugherty, trying to get by in Hungary? Maybe it's Jemal Johnson, currently in League Two in England. Well, for my money, it's Michael Enfield who, at the time of this writing, is barely hanging on in Australia, trying to get back from an injury before he gets cut by Sydney FC.

Before his ACL and MCL injury, Enfield made one full team appearance for Sydney. His signing in Australia can best be described as fortuitous. Enfield played his college ball at UCLA, and was fairly successful. He was drafted in the MLS Superdraft by locals LA Galaxy, but never impressed. After one season with the Galaxy, Enfield was released. Luckily for him, Enfield had a contact down under who could help him.

Enfield had worked with Sydney FC coach Jacob Goren years before when Goren coached Enfield at the Maccabi JCC games. For those soccer fans who are not Hirshey, these are localized Olympic-style competitions for those of the Jewish persuasion. Goren kept tabs on Enfield, and after the player's release from LA, Enfield was invited to a month's trial in Australia.

Once in Australia, Enfield shone. He played in two scrimmage matches against other professional squads, scoring in the first and then assisting on all three goals in the second. Enfield was offered a contract on the spot, signing a 2-year deal. He made his debut against Perth Glory on September 9, 2007, coming on as a sub. In so doing, Enfield was the first Jewish player ever in the A-League.

Later in September, Enfield suffered his injury in practice. Since going down, Sydney has bolstered its midfield reserves, likely pushing Enfield off into the periphery. This is wher he stands today, rehabbing until late in 2008.

All snark aside, I wish nothing but the best to Michael Enfield. He has a tough road back from his injury, then must break back into a squad made better in his absence. It's hard enough to have to chase your dream to the far side of the world, and to get injured while doing so must just suck.

UF believes in you Michael, do it for us!

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Gandhi and Gary Lineker: mortal enemies

Has anyone here ever been to Leicester? It's a cracking place to go watch rugby [my dad has season tickets there], the Indian food is phenomenal, and once upon a time, they had a pretty good EPL football team under now-Aston Villa savior Martin O'Neill.

Well, football is still very much a part of the local consciousness, and it's come to a head this week regarding plans for a new statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the city center.

It appears not everyone's behind the idea, and the alternate proposal for the statue? The whitest man alive, Mr. Nice Guy, and the man whose face sold a million packets of crisps: Gary Lineker.

This is going to be awesome.

Local charity Samanwaya Parivar put forth the application for the Gandhi statue, citing the vibrant multicultural element that Leicester has developed over the last decade. Leicester has a high Asian population, and is predicted to be Britain's first white-minority city in over 12 years.

Said Leicester local politician Keith Vaz:

"Gandhi's philosophy of brotherhood among those of different religions and ethnicity should be honoured and celebrated. A statue of Gandhi will be an excellent symbol of Leicester's commitment to diversity."
Can't argue with that, right?

Unless your name is Lee Ingram, a local who doesn't like the idea of segregating his town with the proposed statue and started the "No Gandhi Statue" online petition.

Ingram is pissed, and wants something different for Leicester:

"Gandhi is a historical figure connected to India. He has no connection to English culture or the English, therefore a statue of him would be more suitably erected in India. This would be yet another symbol of segregation in Leicester and it would be something else for the Asian community. We have local heroes here, Lineker or the writer, Joe Orton."

I've never heard of Joe Orton, but I do know quite a bit about Lineker.

He was England's most beloved footballer for over 15 years, putting in time at Leicester [95 goals in 194 games], Everton [30 in 41], Barcelona [43 in 103], Spurs [67 in 105], and finally, for J-League club Nagoya Grampus Eight [9 goals in 23 games].

Lineker was capped 80 times for England, scoring in more than half of the games he played, and he was known for being a nice guy: in 17 years of football service, he was never shown a yellow or red card.

Since then, he's made quite the name for himself as a pundit and smiling idiot in a plethora of commercials, including putting his name on Walkers Crisps [the salt and vinegar flavour was renamed "Salt and Lineker" for quite some time] for most of the 90s.

Of course Lineker is not involved in any of this, but honestly, this is a fucking hilarious story.

What will prevail: peace and harmony, or an amazing football player? A middle-aged white man, or the figurehead of non-violent protest? The most English footballer ever, or the man who helped drive the English out of India?

I cannot wait to see how this plays out. I'm sure, given the neutered state of political battles these days, that a plan to make two statues will be set in motion, probably side-by-side. Heck, they might even try to have the two statues posing with arms around one another, maybe even a thumbs-up.

So, I put the question to you.

Gandhi, or Gary Lineker: who would you pick, and why?

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This week in Impending Homelessness

These stories aren't much fun, but they're a stark reminder that for all the scarf-waving, shit-talking and trophy-hunting, football is still ultimately a business.

In the last couple of days, I've seen two stories revolving around clubs being forced out of their grounds in the near future. The circumstances and details may be a bit different, but both clubs are surely going to struggle to remain in existence after this.

And no, one of them is not Everton [oh, how I was hoping].

First up, a weird story with so many convoluted details that I barely understand what's going on, where one of the Israeli League's founding members is about to be made homeless.

A judge in Tel Aviv ruled that the club, Hapoel Ramat Gan, must cease operations at their stadium, their home for some 80+ years, and must clear out within 60 days. The judge felt that the club has no right to continue operating there, due to a complicated series of purchases and investments over the last decade by the company that controls the club's assets.

I could try and summarize the whys and wherefores, but you should just read the article instead. It's shit like this that makes me lament a little less about the mountain of shit that's ruining my team at the moment.

In the second story, we can probably kiss goodbye to the Rochester Rhinos of the United Soccer Leagues, who are about to be booted from their $32 million PAETEC Park, a brand-new ground that opened just this past June.

City officials say that the team's ownership group at way behind on tax payments and utility bills, and that the city could seize control as early as this week. The sad part about this is that Rochester is now stuck with a shiny new stadium, and no-one's around to use the bloody thing!

The Rhinos owe NBT Bank about $10.6 million on the remainder of their loans, and it's unlikely that the money will be repaid any time soon. The Rhinos used almost $19 million of taxpayer money to build their home, and they're about to lose it unless new owners and investors swoop in to claim the team and sort out this mess.

Expansion is a tricky business, but you'd think that the team would have the werewithal to check their projected growth and income before conning their way into a brand-new facility. Admittedly I know little about the USL, but that seems like it's almost MLS money [it's only a million dollars less than what De La Hoya just sunk into the Houston Dynamos] being talked about, like getting a Platinum credit card to buy cereal and milk.

Both stories are sad, but like I said: football is ultimately a business. For every smart businessman purchasing power within the leagues, there are a thousand fast-talking halfwits.

I still haven't decided which camp Tom Hicks falls into yet.

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This Post Brought To You By E.P.T. and Trojan

We here at Unprofessional Foul do not, admittedly, follow women's soccer with any regularity. There are numerous reasons for this, not the least of which is the virtual nonexistence of women's professional leagues, but probably mostly because we are all sexist pigs.

Despite this, I would like to take the opportunity to recognize a story of which I only just became aware.

The US Women's National Team is in Portugal at the Algarve Cup and just trounced China 4-0 in its opening match. While Tina Ellertson (bottom left in the picture) is not a member of the team for the Algarve Cup, she was on last year's World Cup team and has 22 caps, her story is a testament to her strength.

Ellertson, 25, the daughter of Nigerian and Ghanaian immigrants, grew up in Vancouver, Washington. She was a star forward set to attend the University of Santa Clara on scholarship. Back then she was Tina Frimpong. Before she could leave for school, she learned that she was pregnant, which threw a big wrench in her plans. Eventually she ended up at University of Washington and had a stellar career leaving as the school's leading goal scorer.

Male athletes frequently have children out of wedlock when young, but the consequences of these acts are never as severe as they are for women. So, somebody like Darren McFadden can allegedly sire at least two children out of wedlock prior to his senior year of college with little consequence to him. You do not need a lecture about how childbirth affects men and women differently, but Ellertson's ability to raise her child during her formative soccer playing years and still become a world class soccer player is quite remarkable.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

FFA is run by absolute tossers

Remember the Vukovic story from a week ago?

Quick refresh if you don't: Vukovic is an Australian goalie playing in his homeland, and he got himself sent off for slapping a referee after a particularly egregious penalty decision. The Aussie Football Federation [FFA] decided that he was a menace to society, and promptly banned him for 15 months.

Well, his appeal was heard yesterday, and the FFA is determined to come out of this looking like a collective of stiff, reactionary assholes.

After a seven-hour deliberation, during which they probably threw darts at a dartboard for six and spent the other hour working on PR strategies, they reduced his probation from six months to three, but they're still firm on his nine-month ban and they're set on him missing the Olympics.

What a bunch of pricks.

Vukovic was almost a certainty to get a lot of playing time for the Socceroos between the posts, and this was pretty much his last chance to see time representing his country in that competition. You see, the Olympics rules state that any country participating can only use three players over the age of 23, and Vukovic is 22 at the moment, making his chances of future Olympics rather slim.

That's not really a nice way to treat a player who started 14 games of the qualifying campaign, but still, as I mentioned before, the FFA is a collective of stiff, reactionary assholes.

Check the video again, and recap the basic story: he's out of football for almost a year because he slapped a referee's arm.

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Champions League Roundup

Yesterday, 4 return legs of the Champions League Round of 16 were played with Arsenal advancing over AC Milan (2-0 agg), Barcelona advancing past Celtic (4-2 agg), Manchester United triumphing over Lyon (2-1 agg) and Fenerbahce defeating Sevilla (5-5 on PKs). All the matches were closely contested affairs with some spectacular goals.

Note: This post was supposed to have video highlights but the UEFA Gestapo appear to have laid claim to all Youtube highlights. I will attempt to embed some other clips from another source but if they don't work this is why.

I watched the Arsenal match and it was amazing display of cowardice on the part of Milan who played not to lose and in all respects was severely outplayed. Although, despite Arsenal's dominance it was beginning to look like the Arsenal of old--dominating but unable to put the game away.

However, Cesc Fabregas decided to show reappear in the second half after a two month sabbatical with a moment of resplendent talent [accompanied with a bit of good fortune] to score the match-winner. Adebayor did what he could not during the first leg, namely finish a perfect Theo Walcott cross.

Barcelona advanced with a 1-0 victory in the second leg with a Xavi goal. I didn't see the match nor did I hear anything great about it. But, the big news was that Messi suffered his fourth leg muscular injury in three years.

Man U managed to win its record 10th straight CL home match, although it was not the team's best showing. Ronaldo netted his 30th goal of the season to send ManU on to the quarters. I wasn't able to locate a clip of the match that wasn't disabled, but the match sounded really boring so maybe it wasn't worth it.

Perhaps the most exciting match of the day was the Fenerbahce-Sevilla match. Fenerbache led tie 3-2 coming into the match but Sevilla quickly took the initiative with two impressive goals in the first 10 minutes. Alves scored for Sevilla on 35-yard set piece shot that was stunning and Seydou Keita doubled the score with a spectacular run of play shot from a similar distance, although the keeper was at fault on both shots.

Fenerbahce pulled one goal back but Sevilla went into the half with a 3-1 lead and the ability to put the match away. Fenerbahce, however, pulled the aggregate even in the second period and the match remained scoreless the rest of day. In PKs, the Fenerbahce keeper managed to redeem himself by stopping 3 Sevilla shots and allowing the Turks to move on.

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Another week has come and gone, and its back to the much more popular bad/WTF version of this column. This week we set the wayback machine for 1996, the first season of the MLS. As you can see in the above the fold picture, the shirts were almost universally dodgy, and this week's is definitely one of them. A bonus, again, for you, dear reader, in the addition of an eBay auction, meaning that you can, if you desire, get your hands on one of these sweet first-year San Jose Clash jerseys.

Get to it, there's only a little over a day left. How else will you be able to impress your friends with a shirt that features no less that four colors in the pattern alone? Look at those daring angles on the shirt! Try and tell me that a female in your appropriate age bracket would not be impressed when you wear this on a date. You can't, because it can't be done.

Alright, out of the hyperbole and back into the real(ish) world. There were many things wrong with the MLS at its inception. There were no sites with appropriate sized stadiums at the outset, they had that stupid hockey-style shootout to decide ties, and, of course, the eyesore uniforms. I think the league was trying to place itself into some sort of "extreme" sports land, betting the average American sports fan wouldn't follow it. Yep, that's just what I think of when I think of extreme sports--Route One football played in the day during the hot and humid mid-summer months meaning no human could possibly play at a pace rivaling European/South American leagues lest he die in the process. EXTREME!

Rant over, I guess. Before I go, I would like to point out that there was one team that got it right from the outset, and avoided having to move away from an embarrassing first jersey (save changing the Nazi-esque badge).

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Red Bull Gives You Sprains!

(Photo: "Crushed" by Kevin Steele)

Red Bull New York is currently on tour in Austria, visiting the parent company's headquarters in Saltzburg, and played a friendly Monday afternoon against the reserve team of its sister club, Red Bull Salzburg Juniors in what the organizers figured would be a spirited kickaround between corporate brothers in arm.

But they get that Red Bull in them and they get all antsy in the pantsy. Jack Bell of the New York Times, who traveled with the club characterized the match was chippy and ill-tempered, and RBNY speedster Dane Richards had to leave with a sprained MCL.

So it was a good thing we could count on New York captain Claudio Reyna to be diplomatic and even-keeled:

They’re diving cheats,” Reyna said, not mincing words. “The referee lost control, and I told him in German that he had to do a better job. For us, it was really just an exercise and the object was not to get injured. We were just trying to get a game and they were playing like it’s the World Cup.

Michael Lewis of the Daily News got more quotes from Reyna and other members of the New Jersey contingent.

Salzburg beat New York 1-0, but obviously, the big concern for RBNY is the loss of Richards, who is about the team's only source of speed on the right, uh, wiiiing. The club hasn't announced a prognosis, but he will most likely miss the April 5 season opener against Columbus. Kinda makes me glad Jozy Altidore was allowed to skip the Austria trip to prepare for Olympic qualifiers.

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Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Dear God Do Not Watch This

Sports is dangerous.

And it might be a small wonder that with athletes getting bigger, faster, and stronger all the time that devastating injuries don't happen more often.

After the jump is a skiing injury suffered over the weekend by Matthias Lanzinger of Austria. I beg of you not to watch it (especially the second half of the video that is in slow-motion).

Lanzinger had part of his leg amputated as a result of the injuries. What's this got to to with football? Not much, but as bad as the Eduardo injury was, this is a reminder that it could have been worse. Much, much worse.

Eduardo will walk again and most people in the know (doctors presumably) anticipate his playing again.

Lanzinger is not so fortunate. Again, fair warning has been given. This is gruesome.

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When one relegation becomes two

Gretna FC, best known as the only Scottish club to win three consecutive promotions, have had all kinds of problems this season. They started off with a coaching debacle, struggled to pick up any points as the season wore on, had payroll problems last month, and now face double relegation. The best part? Reading in between the lines of the article and the problem, it seems that they will fall two divisions whether or not they do enough to survive in the SPL. And you Scousers all thought you had a problem club to support.

Gretna, 11 points from safety with 11 games to play, are almost certainly going to be relegated from the SPL the normal way. According to the SFL, which administers Scotland's First, Second and Third Divisions, they won't be welcome in the First Division either. It seems that two seasons ago, in order to be granted promotion from the Second to the First Division, Gretna promised it would renovate its home park to better accommodate the crowds, especially the away fans, at that level. They did not. In fact, Gretna were seconds away from automatic relegation last season because of their stadium, when James Grady fired a winner against Ross County that put the Black and Whites in the SPL.

The SPL, who had previously approved a groundsharing plan with Inverness CT sharing Pittodrie with Aberdeen, agreed to let Gretna share Fir Park with Motherwell while Gretna's ground got updated. As mentioned above, the renovations are not happening, and now, the SPL will no longer allow groundshares. Fir Park took too much of a beating being used every week, and as the weather turned bad over the winter, too many games were postponed for unplayable pitches. To try to avoid this happening again, the SPL is doing away with groundshares.

So, it comes down to this. Gretna, whose Raydale Park is not up to SPL standards, will be relegated even if they amass enough points to stay up. The SFL, who run the First Division, will not allow Gretna to be in that division either, pushing them down to the third flight. Gretna, with aging owner Brooks Mileson, will likely sink back into football obscurity, at least until they get another footballing doctor to score their goals, now that they sold off the one they had.

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TWAG: Like the Gunners, This Post Is Better Late Than Never

[Note: This week's TWAG was actually a TWAF as I was in Austin (Fadó) and not Chicago (Ginger's). A tip of the hat should go to the Austin Arsenal fans for putting together and collectively signing a get-welll poster for Eduardo. Nice touch, guys.]

Here's how bad it was. We cheered wildly the 60th minute substitution of Niklas Bendtner. Something is rotten in the Emirates when Adebayor's Danish punching bag is suddenly seen as hope.

It was already bizarro Saturday morning for the Gunners. They looked the slower team. They were spraying balls errantly across the pitch. They even put the ball into the wrong goal in the 27th. It was oddly appropriate, though, that Senderos beat Almunia to the short side from an Agbonlahor cross.

Agbonlaholyfuckmynamedoesnotflowoffthetounge had spent the early part of the match turning every counter into a chance to school the Swiss defender. Since the Villa forward couldn't seem to finish himself, Senderos just did him the favor to hasten the inevitable.

And with that own goal, the fairy tale seemed to make the inconvenient acquaintance of reality. The glass slipper didn't fit. The frog was still a frog after being kissed. And Snow White stays in the coma.

Oops. Fuck.

The "Do it for Eduardo" sentiment wasn't going to put balls into nets and United's march to the title seemed like an inevitability. Any doubt of that could be dismissed simply by looking over to the other half of the bar where the Red Devils were methodically dismantling Fulham. The accompanying cheers from the bar were frequent, regular, and irritating.

And as the clock wound and wound, those United fans had started to drift over from their half the bar in anticipation of a delicious climax to the morning. Seven days before the Mancs were 5 points adrift and down on goal differential. Now they were literally moments away from being back atop the table—level on points but ahead on GD (go fuck yourself until you figure out how to defend, Mr. Keegan).

There were more rationalizations than scoring chances: the injuries were piling up; the loss of Eduardo was too much of an emotional blow; many pundits had predicted we wouldn't even earn a Champions League spot, so we had really overachieved to this point and that should be enough; Senderos was bound to be exposed eventually; Cesc hasn't done shit since December; too many fixtures not enough bench; the Milan muff wasn't a freak accident and Adebayor's haircut really had killed his ability to head the ball down etc.

It was more depressing than watching a crowd emerge from a Larry the Cable guy performance.

Whoever said a tie is like kissing your sister was not a futbol fan.

Bendtner's last minute goal to level felt more like plowing Diane Lane from behind.

Not a bad turnaround of disposition as a couple of minutes before I was contemplating shoving my breakfast fork into my cheek to alleviate the pain of watching the game and the Prem slip away.

The last meaningful touch of the Villa game might be the most important point the Gunners collect all season. Sure, it's only a point and the lead over the Mancs is all but gone, but from a psychological perspective it could be huge.

And Wegner knew it. The fact that he had any reaction much less the Tiger-esque fist-pump should probably tell even the casual fan that he understood how much the season was slipping away.

In the 80th, Wenger brought on Denilson and Gilberto. I heard some guy over my shoulder say, "He's going for it." Sure, what choice did he have? It wasn't like there was anything to be gained by only losing 1-0 at home.

Goal differential might well be the difference between 3rd or 4th or, more importantly 4th and 5th, but with the two dick stompings of Newcastle by United, Wegner can't be thinking that there's much reward in just limiting damage.

Still, this wasn't the normal push-people-forward kind of go for it. With the two Brazilian subs the Gunners had gone to a 3-4-3 but the way they aligned was more effectively a 2-5-3.

I'm not sure exactly how you say "Fuck it" in French, but "deux-cinq-troi" is probably a reasonable translation.

It might be an overstatement to say that if Arsenal hold on, the Prem was won with Bendtner's goal. There's too much futbol left and the fixture at United is six points waiting for the taking.

And we'll see more in a couple of hours if there is a lasting uplift that carries over from the draw to the San Siro. But if nothing else, fuck it felt good to watch the smug and self-sure Mancs scurry back to their corner of the bar knowing that they were still looking up at the Gunners. And tenuous the hold might be, it's still a grip.

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Ronaldinho Now Going Door to Door

Remember Ronaldinho? The guy who was the hot shit in all of soccer before Kaka and Messi came and took his mojo? Well, he's back! He might only be the fourth-choice forward at Nou Camp, but he's #1 in the eyes of the folks at Amway Corporation, who signed up Ronnie to endorse Nutrilite, its non-FDA approved nutritional supplement brand.

You can watch his new commercial, which looks suspiciously like the old Nike Freestyle spot, except without the Afrika Bambaata-scored beats, Savion Glover's choreography or, you know, the general awesomeness that comes from not being affiliated with Amway.

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Cassano takes crazy pills

Well, it was bound to happen.

After I sang the praises of Sampdoria striker Antonio Cassano last week, he managed get himself red carded and threw one hell of a temper tantrum on Sunday. Apparently he remains as combustible as advertised. Hey, but he did score the equalizer against Torino.

You want genius, sometimes you have to live with insanity.

YouTube goodness after the jump.

Ummm, yeah. So he's still a little crazy. But intensity is good, right Mr. Donadoni? Actually if Cassano keeps this us there is probably not much hope for a call up to the Azzuri squad this summer. Even his prospective teammates are throwing him under the bus. Juve midfielder Mauro Camoranesi told reporters that:

“Cassano has exceptional quality,” the Argentine-born winger admitted. "But I wouldn’t have wanted him in the World Cup squad in Germany – that’s all I’m going to say.”
Sour grapes people, sour grapes. Since we love a little crazy here at UF HQ, we are now officially endorsing Cassano for Euro 2008, and our new weekly "CassanoWatch" feature will monitor his progress.

Va fanculo indeed, Mr. Referee.

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This week in Everton news

Even though I hate this team with the fire of a thousand suns, they're worth a post every once in a while simply because UF is a blog that believes in equal-opportunity piss-taking.

In Tim Cahill, they have their own version of Joey Barton, and David Moyes has already begun the limp mindgames that will surely plague the final 10 games of the season.

After the jump, a few paragraphs of stuff about a team that I wish didn't exist.

Tim Cahill scored a goal this weekend, and a decent one at that. In amongst his usual goal celebrations of punching out a corner flag, perhaps the best, even match for his pugilism, he showed off a neat bit of mime and crossed his arms in front of his waist, as if he were wearing handcuffs [we can all dream, can't we?]. It was a heartfelt, although perhaps ill-conceived, show of support for his brother Sean, who was jailed in January for Grievous Bodily Harm and sentences to 6 years behind bars.

According to the BBC, Cahill's brother attacked a man leaving him partially blinded, as CCTV controllers spotted him kicking the victim twice in the head as he lay on the floor in a semi-conscious state.

Tim's struggled for form since the new year and his goal on Sunday was his first since the end of December, thus giving him the opportunity to break out his show of solidarity.

The referee saw nothing wrong with it, and the FA generally only step in if it's deemed that an abusive gesture was used.

Everton defended him, and rightly so, stating that his celebration is a personal matter.

I can't blame Cahill for showing his support, a la Nelly and his magic bandage under the eye. Heck, it's not even the worst goal celebration on Merseyside after Robbie Fowler's attempt to snort the goalline a couple of years ago, and Bellamy's golf swing last season that referenced the time just the previous week that he'd attacked teammate John Arne Riise with a golf club.


Meanwhile, David Moyes has decided to kick-off the turgid shit-talking campaign with an interview on Monday with the BBC, and his remarks that local rivals Liverpool should finish fourth in the league.

Quoth the psychological one:

"We are doing everything we can to make a fight of it but Liverpool have to be favourites, still. We have been consistent but for them fourth would be expected. The bookies are right to make them favourites."
It's simple, it's to the point, and it's quite tame.

The underdog tag is thrown around by everyone in sports, providing great drama for the media and great annoyance to the rest of us. These days, teams are dying to be at the short end of the stick in order to exceed the low expectations they deliberately set themselves. It happens all the time in the NBA and NFL, and it's generally irritating, so the fact that it's Everton doing it just amplifies the irritation factor.

I begrudgingly respect Moyes as a manager, considering the superb job he's done in bringing in a host of castoffs and rejects from far afield and molded them into a tight, efficient team. I'm not buying his underdog bollocks though. They're fourth, they're three points ahead of us, and they're not fooling anyone.

However, I will give him credit for stoking the fires early for the big derby on March 30 at Anfield, when I will surely be three sheets to the wind and cursing everything in sight whether we win, lose or draw.


See? I can even write about Everton. It's not exciting [much like their style of play], it's not particularly fun, but it's good to know that I'm capable of doing so if it has to be done.

Now to go wash my hands.

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Better Know a Traore Part Deux

I would like to think that the Traores are kind of like the Flying Wallendas. But sadly, I think that they are not.

I got stuck with four of the more obscure Traores. This, however, won't stop me from presenting Part 2 of a 3 part series entitled "Better Know a Traore," with bits of knowledge found from the far reaches of the Internet!

Issiaka Traore
Nationality: Mali
Position: Goalkeeper
Born: March 2, 1980
Current Team: No clue
Noteworthy: Was sent off against Germany in the 41st World Military Football Championship in 2005.
Existing Video: nada

Mamary Traore
Nationality: Mali
Position: Defender
Born: April 29, 1980
Current Team: Unknown, but used to play for Grenoble Foot 38 (French Ligue 2) and Proodeftiki (Greek Third Division)
Noteworthy: Not so much
Existing Video: None

Ousmane Traore
Nationality: Burkina Faso
Position: Defender
Born: March 6, 1977
Current Team: Union Sportive Royenne (which play in something called the Championnat de France Amateurs 2 Group A, which is the fifth division in France)
Noteworthy: Nothing, really
Existing Video: Zip

Iya Traore
Nationality: Guinea
Position: Freestyle street performer!
Born: November 27, 1986
Current Team: Performs freestyle football professionally
Noteworthy: Has his own web page and once met Jacques Chirac!
Existing Video: Oh yeah!

Read more on "Better Know a Traore Part Deux"...

Chelsea, meet American Idol

This is a singing competition, not a dancing competition! Oh wait, no, it's a football competition. Dribble more and call us in the morning.

As anyone working in an entertainment industry might know, trying to find talent is hard. Simply, there aren't enough hours in the day to go out, search, solicit and canvas for fresh faces and diamonds in the rough.

To remedy the problem, they create shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent, whereby the undiscovered brilliance comes to them! That way you do less work, you get to make fun of the oddballs, and occasionally you might find someone incredible who you can immediately take credit for unearthing.

It's a phenomenal system, and Chelsea's finally cottoned on, with the news this morning that they're setting up a reality show in China to find the next big Asian soccer star. And, the top 4 get to come to Stamford Bridge!


According to the Times Online, Chelsea will give trials to four Chinese youngsters after agreeing to partner with the Super Soccer Star programme, broadcast across the region on Guangdong TV Sports Channel.

They're desperate to get some presence in the world's most populous nation, as well as boosting their profile across the whole of Asia with this move. It seems a little cynical that this might be the answer, but, as we know, it's all about media management these days, and the possible drama that could come about when hundreds and hundreds of aspiring soccer players try out for Chelsea brass. I'm not entirely sure how much involvement the Blues will have over the show until the winners come over to the UK, nor just how they're going to be associated with the program besides having their fucking badge plastered everywhere.

The show will start airing in Southern China next month and take place over 13 episodes. It's open to players aged between 14 and 16 [sorry, distant Asian relatives of Danny Almonte], and the four most talented players will then get coached at Chelsea's academy at Cobham.

Peter Kenyon, obviously aiming to fill Simon Cowell's shoes, gives a wonderful soundbite:

"We are delighted to be involved in such an innovative project that helps us deliver on our continuing commitment to promote grass roots football amongst youngsters in China."
[I might believe that if TV cameras weren't rolling while you deliver on that "commitment".]

I wish I had a subscription to Guangdong TV Sports Channel, so I can watch the fun take place without having any idea what's being talked about. Chelsea could find the next Drogba. Then again, they might find the next Shevchenko.

Which outcome carries better ratings?

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*That would be "rolling on the floor getting ass beat", which is how Benjamin Evans, a former soccer camp coach in Ambler, PA will be spending most of his next 3.5 to 7 years, after he was found guilty of soliciting oral sex to a 13-year-old player he met at the camp via text messaging.

From the report:

Authorities were alerted to the situation when the girl and her parents went to the Horsham police on Aug. 6 to report that an adult coach at the girl's soccer camp had been sending sexually explicit text messages to the girl and attempting to meet with her for sexual purposes, according to the criminal complaint.

This was the second year the girl came into contact with Evans at a soccer camp that was held on the grounds of Temple University's Ambler campus, according to the complaint. The pair had several text message conversations in 2006 but those exchanges stopped when the girl's mother learned of them.

On Aug. 2, 2007, the last day of camp she attended last year, Evans again began texting her, the complaint said. He suggested having oral sex with her, adding that she would receive a $100 allowance if she was skilled, the complaint said.

Yikes. All sarcasm aside, I really am glad this guy's off the street and registered a sex offender.

He was arrested the way these guys always seem to get caught, driving himself to a sting thinking he'd get some action (should've driven to Switzerland instead). Evans reportedly told the police, "this was the stupidest thing that I ever did," to which we say, "No shit." I mean, text message? If you're going to do suggest doing something illegal, why would you use a method that leaves the record of everything you say, and can be easily read by other people, say, parents who pay the bills?

My sympathy of course is with the victim, who has had to go through a terrifying ordeal, having had entire text message conversations read out for the entire courtroom to hear. The poor girl.

Read more on "OMG, ROTFGAB*"...

Spray tan comes to Loftus Road

Would you buy a car from this guy?

The Guardian ran a story today about Flavio Briatore and his new toy, Queen's Park Rangers. It was framed as your typical fish out of water story. You know, glamorous Italian buys lower league club, brings style to the bottom of the Championship. The piece also plumbs the depths of naivety on occasion. Pretty women with big sunglasses in the directors box! Rich people wear nice clothes! Flavio impregnated Heidi Klum! After the jump, what Flavio & Co are really up to, and why other London clubs should be worried.

QPR are a West London club with a mildly illustrious history, winning a League Cup in 1967, and a reputation for a bit of hooliganism. They also had a Lou Dobbs moment last year and brawled with the Chinese U-23 national team. At times in the 1980s and 1990s they were probably on par or better than most of their local rivals, notably Chelsea. They finished fifth in the inaugural season of the Premiership in 1992. After they were relegated in 1996, QPR slid all the way down to what is now League 1. The club's finances mirrored the shoddy state of play on the pitch, and QPR even went bankrupt in 2001.

Into this environment came Flavio Briatore, Bernie Ecclestone, and recently Lakshmi Mittal. Flavio is one of slimier team bosses in F1, which is quite an accomplishment given the shark pit that is the modern pit lane. He was actually running Benneton's retail operation in the United States in the late 80s when the Benneton family took over the struggling Toleman team. Briatore became team boss in 1990, enjoying great success thanks to Michael Schumacher, a bunch of cheating, and the death of Ayrton Senna. Flavio was sacked in 1997, but returned to the team when Renault took over in 2002. He then won two more titles due to the fine driving of Fernando Alonso. Flavio, at the very least, has a well deserved reputation as a pretty good talent spotter, taking both Schumacher and Alonso under his wing very early in their careers.

The day job: models in Monaco.

These days, running an F1 team isn't enough for the perma-tanned Italian. Thanks to the fortune he has somehow managed to accumulate from his time in Formula 1, Flavio now owns a ridiculous game lodge in Africa, a new clothing line, a night club in Sardinia, and god knows what else. He has also engaged in a bit of model sportfucking, having relationships with Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, and others.

In August 2007, Flavio teamed up with Ecclestone, who has managed to trouser a couple billion pounds from his shrewd exploitation of F1's tv rights (picture Roger Goodell, but if half of the NFL's tv rights revenue went directly into his pocket), to buy QPR. The cost was somewhere around 14 million pounds, which is like couch cushion change for these gentlemen. Lakshmi Mittal, multibillionaire owner of the eponymous ArcelorMittal steel empire, has since bought 20%. In combined financial might, the trio blows Roman Abramovich out of the water. Like many of his previous business deals, Flavio is the frontman for richer financial backers.

The new regime installed Luigi de Canio as manager before the start of this season, and he has QPR playing some attractive but inconsistent football. QPR beat Championship leaders Stoke 3-nil on Sunday at Loftus Road and currently sit 15th in the table. Obviously they won't be pushing for promotion this year, but our rather wealthy protagonists didn't buy QPR for the midweek fixtures at Leicester City.

What is it with Italians named de Canio and salutes?

Flavio told the Guardian that "'[w]e have to take it slowly, step by step. I don't want to go up to the Premiership and come straight down again like an elevator. Little by little. That's the way to become a protagonist in English football." So clearly they are gunning for promotion next year! If they do make the Premiership, it wouldn't be surprising to see them open up the purse strings a little more. After all, what's the point of owning a club if you can't impress your billionaire friends with your all-Brazilian $200 million midfield. There are also rumors that the new owners are looking to either renovate Loftus Road or move to a new stadium. Either way, it would be exciting/terrifying if another club with wealthy backers had delusions of glory and really splurged on the transfer market.

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A Slight Stench of a Fix in Japan

At first glance, this weekend's Xerox Super Cup, the curtain raiser for the J-League season in Japan, seems to have been a case of a card-happy referee gone wild. Emperor's Cup winner Hiroshima San Frecce defeated J-League champion Kashima Antlers in a match that featured seven yellow cards, three red cards, a dubious penalty, retakes in the shootout and a pitch invasion.

But Ken Matsushima of The Rising Sun News doesn't think it's bad officiating. He suggests, no, he's convinced that a fix was in. Why? Because he knew the scoreline before the match. Hours before the kickoff, he posted on the message board:

Two possibilities -- a blowout win for the Antlers, or a nailbiter that might even go to PKs
Ill go with the latter. 2-2 in regulation time.

He goes on to explain, "From what I’ve heard, there have been some very large bets in Hong Kong on that score line."

The referee, Masaaki Iemoto has a reputation for being card-happy and being easily rattled. In fact, he developed such a reputation for poor officiating that in late 2006, Japan Football Association actually suspended him and sent him to Hong Kong for retraining.

Now, I'd normally dismiss suggestions of corruption in a case like this - they tend to come from sourgrapey homers or conspiracy theorists who can't fathom that a less talented team can beat a better team on any given day (in this case, the freshly relegated San Frecce knocking off the champs). A 2-2 result would be pretty hard to arrange, and the referee did send off players from both sides. Once you get to penalty kicks, it's a total crap shoot.

But it's not some internet John Doe running his mouth. Matsushima is the author of the one of the widely read English language sites on Japanese soccer, and he didn't just take a wild guess. If we are to take his word (and I don't see why we wouldn't), he knew that it would either be a clean match or a 2-2 draw ending in penalties. That's more than a little freaky.

We're obviously keeping our eye out to see anything comes out of the gambling angle, but in the meantime, enjoy these highlights from Iemoto's officiating career:

In this clip, you'll see the forward lose his balance in the penalty area. Iemoto awards a penalty and books the defender for... something.

Apparently, the #2 in white committed a bookable offense. Try to see exactly what he did, because I can't tell.

A Kawasaki goal against Urawa is disallowed for.. huh?

Later in the same match, the Kawasaki striker (#27) accidentally kicks the Urawa goalkeeper (in blue). The goalkeeper and his teammate attack the Kawasaki striker while he is on the ground, so naturally, the Kawasaki player is sent off while a yellow card is given to the goalkeeper.

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