Friday, August 1, 2008

Friday Backpasses: Is there a possible Rooney-White Bread joke?

Wayne Rooney to be the face of white bread in England [Brand Republic]
Portland throw their hat in the ring for MLS franchise [MLS Rumors]
Inside look at MLS's international scouting [ESPN]
10 kids to watch in the EPL [Daily Mail]

Yay! More links follow

Nigeria tries to convince Marseille that there is no scam involved in sending Taiwo to China [BBC]
Adebayor too expensive for a move, signs contract at Arsenal. How does the EPL let players get away with wristbands like that? [Daily Mail]
Lilian Thuram forced into retirement when physical scuttles move; finds life-threatening heart condition [BBC]

And, finally:
Your UEFA Cup and Champions League qualifying draws. Think McClaren's chuffed?

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David Bentley Will Be a Big Star... long as Pekhart (seen leering in the background) doesn't kill him first.

Quoteth BBC:

Bentley sealed the win for Juande Ramos' team when Gareth Bale raced down the left flank, cut inside and his cross eventually found its way to Bentley for the easiest of finishes.

The preseason is the preseason is the preseason, as the saying goes. But there's nothing in the sentence above that I wouldn't mind reading over and again for the next ten months... or ten years if you'd allow me a midsummer's day dream. (To have Bale back and healthy-- for the moment-- is a dream. He is big, with pace and a clever left foot that makes one (me) think dirty thoughts.)

But the focus here is David Bentley and what he brings to this Spurs side. We all know he can whip in a cross; and that he may be the heir apparent to old Goldenballs on the right side of the England midfield; and that yes, he may be a bit much at times.

But this year, with this team, he is precisely what the doctor ordered.

The proverbial Boyhood Dream Move can cut both ways, a lesson us forlorn yiddos were taught in brutal fashion this week. It was Off with Robbie and on with The Bentley Era in the space of three days. And you know what, I've already convinced myself that it's all for the best. So let there be no doubt, whomever wears the band, this club flies or dies with David Bentley.

The 23-year-old was not 24 hours a Spurs man before proclaiming that his "heart is at Tottenham." It was a kind thing to say, whether or not you believe him. What's important though is that his locker is at Tottenham, and will be for at least the next five seasons. That Bentley came up through the Arsenal youth system is rubbish for the tabloids to feast on, and maybe even enough to earn him a few Ribbits when he arrives at the Emirates. What I'm feasting on today though, is the attitude. Finally a player who will speak up. Who will provoke. Who might complain. And not with his agent's tongue. Bentley brings some juice to a team that, for all its insistence on "young, English talent," has played with the collective demeanor of an old Italian club since Edgard Davids left the mix.

"It's all there for us," Bentley said yesterday morning.

Fuck yea, it is! (Even if it isn't...)

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Championship Preview - Ip..Ip..Ip..Them.

Ipswich: Desolate town inhabited by rarely accepted mutants.

For those of you that are not familiar with the town of Ipswich I will help you along a bit with a brief history lesson.

Ipswich was founded in 1937 when a government transport tanker carrying nuclear waste accidentally hit a pot hole, swerved and overturned into a ditch. The tanker leaked and fire from the engine caused an almighty explosion that lit up the night sky for all to see. A no-go zone was created and scientists deemed the area to be extremely hazardous. Giant walls were immediately erected and the people behind the boundary were left to fend for themselves.

After 30 years scientists re-entered the disaster zone, which was named Suffolk after the suffocating smell that emanated from the area. Those brave scientists (later awarded M.B.E's) found that the entire population of the area had evolved into a new transmogrified breed of mutated humans.

Taking pity on the seemingly slow and unfortunate creatures a town was created for them to inhabit, and thus, Ipswich was born. Once the walls surrounding the town were removed in 1968, Suffolk 'folk' became victims of shocking abuse and prejudice from the rest of the country, stemming from fear of the unknown.

Map of Ipswich before the Wall was taken down.

Through Government assimilation, it was decided that the best thing to do to help the mutants of Ipswich fit in was to form a football club and allow them to enter the football league. Ipswich Town FC was formed. In 1969 the mutants of Ipswich kidnapped a successful manager named Bobby Robson. Not wishing to enter the town for fear of infection, Robson was sacrificed. He learned to tolerate the locals and actually won them the F.A Cup and the UEFA Cup. Robson was allowed to leave in 1982 to manage England, and was knighted by the Queen in 2002 for his bravery.

Today Ipswich compete in the Coca Cola Championship and have formed a fierce rivalry with the nearby (40 miles) mighty City of Norwich. When these two teams meet, the citizens of Norwich don face masks for fear of infection. Although clear of radiation, the face masks are a stark reminder and a taunt to Ipswich fans of their interesting history. A vaccine was actually administered to the entire country through the water supply in 1966 and since then Ipswich has been clear of infection.

Ipswich Town play in a desolate location in a make shift 'stadium' called Portman Road, and the ground itself was built on the site of the tanker spill. Although now safe, fumes still affect the area and the mutants seem to still suffer effects from these fumes when they are at the site. Symptoms include monkey-like behaviour on match days and a repetitive chanting that no one can understand. Usually there is a large amount of flag waving at Portman Rd as the locals make use of their 3rd and 4th arms.

Mighty Norwich City take on Ipswich Town.

So how will the team fare for its mutant people this year? Well last season chief mutant Marcus Evans bought the club. Evans is very wealthy and made his money selling nuclear waste to the government to be used by the Ministry of Defense.

Evans has started to spend money on the team. Towards the end of last season they signed talented midfielder David Norris, and this off-season they re-acquired born and bred mutant native Richard Wright. Wright had tried to fit in at top flight clubs throughout his career and failed miserably, never truly being accepted at Arsenal, Everton or West Ham.

Other notable signings this summer include Norwich and Colchester reject Kevin Lisbie. Lisbie scored just one goal for Norwich against Watford during a loan spell from Charlton in 2005, and was loaned 5 times beofre settling at Colchester. Ipswich will be his 8th club.

Ipswich also signed Gareth McAuley from relegated Leicester and Pim Balkestein from Heerenveen.

Outgoing players include Sylvan Legwinski, much hated loudmouth Fabian Wilnis, Shefki Kuqi(loan) and the aging Jason De Vos.

Rumor has it that Ipswich may ALSO spend 5 million on Portsmouth failure David Nugent. Nugent will do very well in the Championship, but 5 million for a player who scored 0 goals for Porstmouth after a 7 million pound move from Preston is ridiculous. Still, better their money than mine!

Ipswich supporters will fancy the playoffs this year, realistically they will finish in the bottom half of the table, where they really belong.


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Guzan Gets His Work Permit

Hot off the FIFA wire...or at least into UF's mailbox, US Olympic Keeper and former Chivas USA keeper Brad Guzan obtained his work permit from the "Home Office" completing his transfer to Aston Villa. He is set to join Brad Friedel, another American keeper, at the Birmingham club.

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Derby's Eleven

Derby County were a fun distraction in the EPL last season, mainly due to their commitment to futility. 11 points from their 38 games saw them return swiftly to the untelevised comfort of the Colaship, and it saw their manager get fined for a tirade against Phil Dowd, as well as being caught in a sex tape scandal!

And now, they're enjoying some interesting times once again, as their ex-owner is fighting with the newly-installed American Investment Group! Oh, and they've signed 11 new players since the end of the season.

Remarkable times ahead at Pride Park, that's for sure.

First up, the business business.

It appears that their former chairman, Peter Gadsby, was terminated on Friday. This morning, he made a statement showing his anger at the manner in which he was terminated (perhaps something to do with the persistence he showed in trying to get some investment numbers from the new Yank overlords, and even hinted at possible legal action:

"Following my appointment as a non-executive director at the time of the club’s takeover by GS&E in January this year, I repeatedly sought confirmation that public pledges of an investment of £50m – £18m to purchase shares, £22m to clear debts and £10m for new signings – were being honoured... Right up to the moment I discovered that my position had been terminated, no answers were forthcoming.

Nor was there a single official board meeting at which these crucial matters could be raised, an astounding state of affairs for any company, let alone one facing up to serious challenges in a difficult business climate."

Not particularly inspiring, is it?

His statement continued:

“On several occasions after the takeover, Adam Pearson [Rams’ chairman of football] maintained publicly that the club would go forward “free of debt” as the result of the investment of “substantial new monies” and it was announced that a takeover worth £50m included £10m for new signings.

From the outset, I expressed my unhappiness that such were being made without corroboration and was told that corrected figures would be forthcoming later, when all possible sources of new investment had been explored."

So we're looking at possible grounds for unfair dismissal, or some deviation from that if Gadsby himself could only provide evidence that proves what he's saying.

However, the weird turn here is that he also offered to buy back the club from General Sport and Entertainment!

“I sincerely hope that, in making my doubts about an unhappy situation public, I may help to exert pressure on the owners to produce a full and precisely detailed account of the terms of their takeover, of the amount of new monies invested, the current financial position and the identity of the investors, as well as future financial intentions.

Such is my disappointment and sense of frustration about the situation that I now contend that the current owners should either make good their financial commitments to Derby County and provide the supporters with proof that their initial promises have been honoured or give me the opportunity to buy the club back and return it to local ownership more atuned to the needs and expectations of its outstandingly loyal supporters.”

A rather bizarre game of He-Said, She-Said, isn't it?

Meanwhile, the club has been out spending money like Charles Barkley in Vegas, bringing in eleven (!) new faces recently. A week ago, the club added Polish loaner Przemyslaw Kazmierczak (Don't ask me how to pronounce that) to their haul of faces and names who will all need to get acquainted rather quickly:

- former Plymouth Argyle defender Paul Connolly
- midfielder Paul Green (from Doncaster Rovers)
- Watford left-back Jordan Stewart
- winger Kris Commons (from Nottingham Forest)
- Watford striker Nathan Ellington (loan)
- Ex-Sheffield United striker Rob "f*cking useless" Hulse
- Striker Steve Davies from Tranmere Rovers
- Midfielder Ruben Zadkovich from Sydney FC
- Ex-West Brom defender Martin Albrechtsen
- Striker Liam Dickinson from Stockport County

It's a lot of new faces, and almost enough for a brand-new starting XI! (and they just got turned down by a possible 12th signing, Welsh international midfielder John Oster)

Considering the talent of some players still with the Rams, like Giles Barnes, it's fair to assume that they'll bounce back up, but who can say? Let's just hope for their sake that the ownership situation gets sorted before it becomes too distracting. You get the impression that it's going to take a lot to keep Gadsby quiet.

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Becks will finally learn his A-B-Cs...

Grover would be a considerable upgrade over Cronin

... but can Aloysius Snuffleupagus teach him the value of teamwork?

Hopefully this question, along with many more currently burning through my brain, will be answered shortly, with the news that Becks himself will be on Sesame Street. All my life, I've waited for this, and I'm sure Beckham has too. Years of difficult interviews and long words will be nothing compared to this veritable cakewalk. Let's hope he remembers the pinball number count.

After the jump, a preview video, and here's The Offside Rules with a much better picture. If they could recruit Elmo, it would be quite the coup. Finally, a defender more animated than Abel Xavier!

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: short post after a long movie

The Assassination of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford is one damn long movie, let me tell you. Anyway, on to the (lack of) links for tonight.

The travails of refereeing in Canuckistan [My Kawartha]
China has a female Wayne Rooney. Seems more like a female Michael Owen, amirite? [Reuters]
The actual Wayne Rooney gets his PR skills from the annoyed Hollywood set [The Sun]

Sorry. I hope there's more to give tomorrow.

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Championship Preview - Bristol City

Last season the robins surprised everyone and very nearly had enough for a finish that would have seen them in the Premiership. In fact it would have meant back to back promotions! After leading in the Championship they ended up in the playoffs via a 4th placed finish, stuttering a little at the finish line. They dispatched Palace only to have their hearts broken by one Dean Windass at Wembley as Hull claimed their place at the big dance. The fact that they were in the playoffs was quite remarkable. At the start of last season they were earmarked for a bottom 6 finish. Did they overachieve? Was last season a fluke or sign that Bristol gaffer Gary Johnson is taking his team onto bigger and better things?

As I type this I just noticed that Bristol have had a bid accepted for highly rated forward Nicky Maynard from Crewe. This report suggests the offer is in excess of 2 million. That certainly shows the City board have some ambition. Just yesterday they were set to sign Michael Mifsud from Coventry for 1.5 mil. Gary Johnson didn't like his attitude. Apparently a pair of goals against Manchester United is ok as long as you are a nice chap! Johnson pulled the plug on the Mifsud deal. Johnson also put the kybosh on a move for Emad Moteab. Johnson appears to be adament not to let the wrong sort of player infiltrate his dressing room.

"If they are not going to show the right commitment then we've got to look for people who can. If the fans were with me when I talked to our last two targets they'd have agreed - leave them and look for the next one." -Gary Johnson.
Gary Johnson. Promotion king of Yeovil and Bristol!

Vetting his incoming players carefully appears to be a key factor to his success. Johnson obviously runs a close nit bunch and wants to keep it that way. He also has an excellent reputation, just ask Yeovil fans! Bristol supporters need not worry that they have missed out with Mifsud and Moteab, if they bag Maynard they will have another good young striker from the Crewe conveyor belt. Recent gradutaes have included Dean Ashton (3 mil to Norwich) and Luke Varney (2 mil to Charlton).

Last year was certainly a notable one for Bristol City but I fear they will find it a little harder the second time around. Birmingham and Derby have tasty looking squads. Charlton and Qpr will be looking at the top 6 and Sheffield United, Palace, Norwich and Watford will all fancy extending their seasons come May. Even Ip..Ip..Ip..them, also have a shot of the playoffs.

Off the pitch Bristol today announced some board room manoeveurs that could explain the speed of the Maynard signing. A quick sign to show the natives that the changes off the pitch will mean business on it!

Bristol play nice football the right way (no hoofing at Ashton gate!) but Bigus doesn't believe that lightning can strike twice. Last year they were punching well above their weight. In McIndoe they have an excellent midfielder who is very influential in their passing game. Lee Trundle has talent and an eye for spectacular goals but the former Swansea man is getting on in years. I would be really surprised if they managed to repeat their heroics from last term. Looking at the league, it will be harder this year than it was last. Maynard will be a great signing and beacon of ambition but they will need more than they currently have to gain promotion. There's still a couple of weeks so who knows...?Bristol certainly won't be relegation fodder but they won't be promotion candidates either. They will finish somewhere between 8 and 14.


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Things American Sports Could Learn From Soccer: Part II - Relegation

If you have six minutes to spare take in the video.

It's a West Ham fan watching the team's last game of the '06-'07 EPL (Suck it, Barclays) campaign (bonus points if you can ID the guy's shirt).

Entering that game West Ham sat in 17th place (out of 20) on 38 points, three points clear of 18th place Wigan. To add a level of difficulty, the Hammers were playing Manchester United and they were playing them at Old Tratford (Oh, and there was also the specter of the FA deducting West Ham points but that's another story). But United had already sewn up the league title, so save for the known celebration to take place at the end of 90 minutes and that day's ticket revenues, United had little to gain from the match.

So why does one of the worst teams playing one of the best in a game that is meaningless in terms of determining the winner of the league cause one fan to behave as if he auditioning to be the poster adult for either autism or Tourette's? Because in England, in fact across Europe and the rest of the non-football (our kind) watching world, football (the other kind) has something called relegation. And West Ham had to win that match in order to stave off relegation.

For the uninitiated—and yes, I realize this is a soccer blog but sometimes people without the same depth of knowledge on the subject stumble across our posts—relegation is the arrangement by which football leagues punish teams for being particularly bad and reward others for being less bad.

In England, for example, there is a hierarchy of leagues with the Premiership on top. Below that, in subsequent order, are the Championship, League 1 and League 2.

At the end of the season the worst three teams in the Premiership—places 18, 19, and 20—get dropped or "relegated" to the Championship, the next league down. The best three teams in the Championship? They get promoted to a season of trips to (and likely beatings at) The Emirates, Stamford Bridge, Anfield, and Old Tratford. Thanks to an unlikely late season surge they also get to see Craven Cottage—at least for one more year (Woot Fulhamerica!)—although the newly promoted have a decent shot of picking up points there. And they are points they will likely need lest they turn and face relegation right back, as relegation is, in the words of Chuck Culpepper, "a phenomenal beast capable of wreaking fear, envy, shame, insecurity, desperation, horror, humiliation, and class resentment..."

Put a bit more succinctly: Relegation is fucking awesome.

It's also, ironically, the most American of propositions: Work harder and be better and maybe a little smarter than the guy next to you, then reap the rewards. Be complacent and make little attempt to compete, then you simply get less. Hell, "Be complacent and make little attempt to compete" might be Donald Sterling's sports epitaph. Yet the Clippers remain an NBA franchise.

Too bad relegation will never ever happen in major American sports. Not in one million years. That's probably because America won't exist in a million years. There are a few reasons why relegation is almost a non starter today or tomorrow in American sports, though. And that is a damn shame.

Some of the league-specific reasons are practical, unavoidably so. For instance, pro football doesn't have the depth of talent. There aren't even 32 people on the planet who can play the quarterback position well enough to run a football team at the top level. How else to explain Joey Harrington still having a job? Since the NFL-AFL merger every second league—the USFL, the XFL, even the NFL-backed WLAF—has folded. The product just wasn't good enough to sustain interest. So a second tier league doesn't seem financially sustainable.

There is the Arena League, but given the differences in the playing field and the rules, it's almost a different game; and guys like Kurt Warner, who move from one to the other successfully, are the exception.

On the face of it, baseball seems a good candidate. There is already a hierarchical structure to the leagues, however that structure serves a purpose that relegation would undermine. If the Round Rock Express, the AAA affiliate of the Houston Astros, earned promotion to the major leagues what would happen to the organization?

Do the Astros just lose its AAA farm club? I don't think that owner Drayton McLane would be in favor of just forfeiting away his second best group of players to MLB, although, given the nature of the moves made by the last two GMs (especially Tim Purpura), I could very well be wrong here.

Baseball franchises aren't just MLB teams, they are organizations. And the lower parts of the organization exist to help the parent ball club primarily by developing talent. So relegation might be possible, but it's not very practical.

Hockey? Maybe. To be honest I don't know enough about the structure and quality of play in the minor leagues of hockey. But having seen a couple of WHPL games, I can say with about 99% certainty that those teams would get skated off the ice by the third lines of the shittiest NHL teams.

But even if suddenly there were enough people to populate 50 rosters-worth of teams capable of playing largely competitive professional football or baseball did away with its minor league affiliations, relegation would still never happen in America because owners would never allow it.

Imagine the idea of relegation even making the agenda at the next NFL owners meetings. Someone tells Jerry Jones that they want to implement a plan that one day might make his $1 billion asset worth substantially less than $1 billion. Overnight.

The odds of Jones or Robert Kraft, or Wayne Huizenga, or any owner voting for it are zero. Sorry, after the hour of laughter dies down, the odds are zero. Okay, Al Davis might vote for it but only because he's so out of it he's probably thinking he's voting for a proposal to have all of the water fountains at the Oakland Colesium dispense chocolate milk.

Hell, even the MLS doesn't even entertain thoughts of relegation (pussies). It's kind of hard to turn to investors and say, "Hi, you need to pony up a $10M franchise fee." Then put in the fine print. "Oh, and by the way, your franchise might get dropped to a league of lesser quality thereby devaluing it well below the franchise fee you are posting. Good luck!"

There is one place where relegation might be feasible, though.

It's a place of peculiar financial rules, massive exploitation of athletes, hypocrisy, and fans wearing crazy-colored pants. In other words, it's a lot like top flight soccer.

College football already has a de facto tiered system. The six major conferences—the Big 12, Big 10, ACC, Big East, SEC, and Pac 10—essentially put together a cartel to control access to the large payouts of the Bowl Championship Series games. Simply by that act, they have not only defined the other conferences as lesser but also devised a means to keep them that way by making sure they don't get much if any of the money that comes with the BCS TV contract.

There are provisions for teams from non-BCS conference to qualify for these lucrative games, and they have done it (see: Utah (2005), Boise State (2007) and Hawaii (2008)). But it's more of a bone they've been thrown to pacify them and distract them from going to Congress and saying the BCS is anti-competitive.

But what if, instead of pretending like there isn't this formalized inequality, college football embraced the elephant and just divided Division I college football into two tiers. Now, suppose they pair up each of the six major BCS conferences with one from this new second tier. So the Pac 10 gets partnered with, say, the WAC; the Big 12 with Mountain West, the Big 10 with the Mid-American, the SEC with the Sun Belt, the ACC with Conference USA, and the Big East with, well, we're working on it.

You play out the season just like normal, only now, at its conclusion, you have an additional game between the last place team of the BCS conference and the first place team of the D-I Tier-2 school. The winner gets promoted to (or stays in) the BCS conference and the loser gets relegated to (or stays in) the second tier partner conference.

For example, after going winless in conference—and the scenario I'm envisioning here has only conference games count in determining relegation and promotion positions—for the ninth time in the last last 11 season Baylor would have played BYU to see who gets the spot in the Big 12 and who toils in the Mountain West the following season.

The reality is that the novelty of watching lions slaughter Christians wears off pretty quickly. Sure the Floridas, Oklahomas, and Michigans are happy to pick up respective wins (and the cash from full stadia) against the Middle Tennessee States, the North Texas States, and the Appalachian States (oh... oops), but from a fan's perspective, it's really not good sport.

No, what's far more compelling is watching lions fight lions. And if there were a weekend of nothing but Christians fighting Christians, with their BCS conference lives and paychecks at stake no less, that might be an ever better spectacle.

Relegation Saturday. Six games. Twelve teams. Infinite schadenfreude. The televised desperation could translate into ratings topping those of GloboChem™ Championship Saturday.

And it's not just that one weekend. Think of how much more interest a mid-season conference tilt between Northwestern and Minnesota draws when both teams know the winner will have a leg up in avoiding the season ending clash that determines demotion.

The fact is that, over the past half decade, Boise State (WAC) has built a better program than University of Washington (Pac 10). Since 2002, the Broncos are 68-10 and the Huskies a fairly dismal 26-47 with only 1 winning season in that span. The Broncos on the other hand have 4 seasons with 1 loss or fewer. And to show for it, they have exactly 1 BCS bowl appearance, a game which they won over perennial power Oklahoma by the way in one of the most unreal football games ever played by human beings.

Sure you can make the case that Washington played tougher competition week in and week out, but that's precisely the complaint of the non-BCS teams: specifically that they don't get the opportunity week-in and week-out to prove themselves*.

Why shouldn't the Broncos be given that chance? If you pair up the WAC and the Pac 10, relegation and promotion solves this problem. You beat up on the teams in Tier 2, then there is a mechanism that gives that program a shot against the BCS schools. And it does it in the best way possible: by making them a BCS school.

And for teams that suck—hell, Baylor has had more coaches (5) than conference wins (3) since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996—there is a way to take away the BCS conference status they so thoroughly deserve to have taken from them for that sustained sucking.

Relegation Saturday. Having conceived of the idea, I am already pissed that it doesn't exist. Oh, and for any college president reading, this would also mean more money. See, now you're in total favor of it, too, aren't you?

[*Yes, I'm aware Washington and Boise State played last year and Washington won, but I'm dealing in hypotheticals here so I'm going to conveniently hypotheticate that game didn't happen. Even if it did, it doesn't invalidate the idea of relegation.]

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Spurs move too quickly for some

Big ups to Bigus for spotting this gem on, a site that was clearly so confident in their ad campaign that they probably kept the TV off all day yesterday. Oops.

"Memories... like the shadows of my mind..."

On their site, they're still trying to flog 2008/09 Everton shirts with Johnson on the back, along with a big reduction on the neon yellow Lampard Chelsea shirts. (Do they know something we don't?)

However, after the jump, some proof that Robbie Keane is not as perfect as I would love to believe. His singing is worse than Voronin's finishing in front of goal.

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The End Is Near...Isn't It?

Rafa the rat? Something smells funny!

If I stay there will be trouble... if I go it will be double. Well, ok... no it won't, it would be rather nice. Champions league football, more money and a guaranteed 4th place finish in the Prem.

The Gareth Barry saga rolls on. It appears as if Martin O'Neill's latest bluff may have worked. O'Neill has stated that Liverpool had a deadline issued to them to meet Villa's valuation of Barry and it passed. This means that the want-away midfielder stays a Villa player and is no longer for sale. Clever old Martin. Barry is pacing, Rafa is cursing (or is he?).

"Absolutely delighted" and "relieved there is resolution and closure to the transfer saga. Now we can all look forward to the season ahead with relief, anticipation and ambition."
-Martin O'Neill on Barry 'staying'!

O'Neill: no nonsense!

O'Neill has talks set to take place with Barry today and the outcome could be that this little saga is over. Villa will surely point out that Liverpool have just spent 20 million pounds on Robbie Keane but have been playing silly buggers over Barry's value all summer. "Dey can't want yer that bad now can dey Gareth?"(Bad Irish accent)

Rafa has spent weeks bemoaning his need to off-load players before he can meet O'Neill's lofty price tag. His window to sign Barry just stopped an inch from the sill and if he is not quick, you can either expect a new contract at Villa for Barry making him their top earner by a lot of weekly wedge, OR maybe even a move elsewhere. Arsenal have been lurking but they too seem reluctant to spend 18 million on Barry [Ed. Note: they could also be hesitant because he's not a French teenager. Sorry, it had to be done.]

If he stays, you can expect a statement declaring dedication and devotion to the Villain cause. Barry will lament his mistake of wanting to leave and will desperately try to get the booing Villa fans back on his side. He will also probably get a hefty pay rise!

O'Neill's bluff is a no win for Benitez as he knows the feisty Villa boss means it... he also knows that if he does really want Barry and decides to stick his fingers on the window ledge, then Liverpool will be subject to sale-of-the-century bids for many of their players as their need to recoup the Barry fee grows desperate. Alonso will be the first bargain for sure.

But consider this... did they really think that Villa would fold? Even as they splashed 20 million on Keane? Seems odd that Barry was their focus for much of the summer only to be left dangling as Rafa emptied his red piggy bank on Daniel Levy's table. Perhaps it's all just a game. Could it be the mother of all smokescreens. Is another midfielder on his way? One that no one expected but many would like if they knew that he was available?

It wouldn't be the first time. Usually managers never announce the targets they really want to get their hands on. How many of you thought Keane was going to Liverpool? That one was right out of the blue and was a done deal in 3 days. Bigus smells a rat here!

Why would Rafa decide to air his laundry for all to see? Sure he has unsettled the player, but he could have done that via his agent... and you know he did! By negotiating the transfer in the open you just alert all of Alonso's suitors to your situation. No wonder he has not been flogged yet. Other clubs are playing the same game Rafa is!

Maybe he really thought that Villa would grant Barry his cut price move, that simple... "You've been a good servant to the club so you have lad... off yer go... 13 million? That's alright..we never spend more tan foive on a player anyways!"(Bad accent again)

The biggest loser?

The only loser here is Barry, as he's the one left to pick up the pieces. But don't feel too bad, he earns enough! One thing is for sure, O'Neill means business and will not risk his plans for the new season. Expect an end to this nonsense very soon!

- Bigus.

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Blanco Suspended For Two Years

Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the Chicago Fire designated player, has been suspended from US Open Cup play for at least two years. You may recall that Blanco was kicked out of a US Open Cup quarterfinal match against DC United earlier this month after punching a DC player in the stomach. It was alleged that after not timely leaving the field Blanco headbutted a DC United official. The Washington Post's Steven Goff has the details:

The USSF's five-member adjudication and discipline panel reviewed the incident this week. The game was not televised, but video taken on the sideline by a United film crew was provided to the panel.

The red card carried an automatic one-game suspension, which will be applied next summer because Chicago was eliminated by United. He cannot play in 2009 or 2010, and longer if the Fire competes in fewer than six games during those two years.

"US Soccer has a well-established hearing process to consider these types of situations," DCU President Kevin Payne said. "We're satisfied the hearing panel did their job and that the punishment is consistent with past, similar incidents."

The question still remains whether MLS will sanction Blanco for his actions. The sideline video will not be released.

Read more on "Blanco Suspended For Two Years"...

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Wednesday Backpasses: Meh

Jens Lehmann debuted for Stuttgart today. Against Arsenal. He lost [Soccernet]
Columnist laments the state of his nation's teams, forgets he's Canadian [Edmonton Sun]
NBC will have a dedicated soccer channel for the Olympics [Soccer365]
You know it's a bad preseason when fans call for you to quit a month ahead of kick off [Sky Sports]

After the jump, the best video you will see today

Sure, they are not soccer players, but they did the Showdown in Chinatown thing, so we give them a pass. Nash and Davis are awesome.

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: Meh"...

Damn It Feels Good to be Joey Barton

Bushwick Bill, formerly of Geto Boys (below)

Ousmane Dabo, formerly of Manchester City (right)

Pick out the Barton victim from the two...

In a stunning development this morning, a professional football player was, for reasons financial and competitive, allowed to keep his place in a team despite a recent assault conviction and subsequent incarceration.

Going against the bedrock moralistic and global tradition of treating pro athletes the same as your average work-a-day hump, Newcastle United Football Club have reinstated Joey Barton. The McDonald's Mauler was let go on a free transfer from Strangeways prison on Monday.

Newcastle officials and owner Mike Ashley had entertained thoughts of letting Barton leave, releasing, or selling him, but were ultimately made to understand that the midfielder was owed another chance, along with £65,000 per week (unless they were willing to sell him at a 50% loss.)

So now with the provision that he limit his ass-baring antics to one, 90-minute period each matchday, and not beat his teammates to near blindness during training, Barton will carry on his delightfully entertaining career with the Geordies and King Kev.

All smiles then, it would seem, but for the corporate crypto-fascists at Nike HQ in Cambodia, Oregon. Those tree-hugging babykillers have ditched young Joey, cutting him off from a lifeblood £40,000 per annum, or less than 2/3 what NFC pays him every seven days.

Read more on "Damn It Feels Good to be Joey Barton"...

An Interview With Gold Medal Hopeful And Tight Wearer Brad Guzan

Unprofessional Foul was extremely fortunate late last week to get the opportunity to have a brief Q&A of US Olympic keeper Brad Guzan. UF got to Brad just before he and the team departed to Hong Kong. Presumably Guzan was in those tights he and Stuart Holden are sporting to the right, since they wore those on the flight over.

I'd like to take this opportunity to thank Brad for taking the time out of his busy schedule to answer UF's question.

After the jump find out about Brad's future in England, his opponents in Beijing and his potential future manager Martin O'neil.

You are in the midst of preparing for the Olympics. How is the training going? What have your days been like? Do you have any good stories or pranks from the camp that you care to share?

The training is going very well. We are just trying to get everyone on the same page as some guys are coming from Europe and some are from MLS. We have been training either once or twice a day and just trying to prepare ourselves for the Olympics.

Besides preparing for the competition, has the team been preparing for other things, like the air pollution we keep hearing about or the different culture? Learning some Mandarin or Cantonese? I can tell you two things in Mandarin-- ni hao (pronounced "nee how") which means hello, and xie xie (pronounced "shyeh shyeh") which means thank you.

Part of the process was to learn about the culture, some key phrases and the life style over here. We are extremely excited to be here and are looking forward to this opportunity. Everyone is going to have to deal with the humidity and air, so we just have to get used to it.

Do you have any positions regarding politics in China? Or have you been told not to discuss those issues during the Olympics?

We are here to play soccer and enjoy ourselves, that's what we are going to do.

The US was drawn into a difficult group at the Olympics along with Netherlands, Japan and Nigeria. What are your expectations for the US team? Will the team win the gold? Or, any medal?

Obviously we are in a very tough group and expect nothing less then 3 hard games. In saying that, we are confident in our abilities and our going to give our best effort.

In your warmup matches against Cameroon and Cote d'Ivoire you will be facing two world class strikers, possibly, in Salomon Kalou and Samuel Eto'o. Kalou is already in the Premier League and rumors abound that Eto'o may move to England as well. And, in group play you will face Premiership players Ryan Babel and Victor Anichebe. Can you describe what your thoughts are about facing these players? Obviously those teams are more than just those players, but it has to be exhilarating and somewhat intimidating to face that caliber of players.

This is why it is exciting to play in the Olympics, you have the chance to play against some of the best players in the world. For me the challenge is exciting and I am looking forward to it.

Which Premiership player are you most looking forward to playing against? Which one do you most want to deny a goal?

All the players in the league are extremely good, that's why that league is one of the best in the world. Hopefully I can go in learn as much as I can and help my team be successful.

I guess the last question may be a bit premature, since your work permit hasn't come through yet. What is the current status of obtaining your work permit in England? Do you expect for that to be resolved shortly or at least before Villa's season starts?

Everyone is confident that the work permit will go through, but only time will tell.

Obviously American goalkeepers have a record of success in Europe, and England in particular. What do you think has led to this success? And, why has the US not had the same success with "field players"?

I think it is very tough for any player, field player or keeper to go to Europe and be successful. The level of play is very high and the quality of players is very good. Hopefully I can just follow in the footsteps of the great American players that have come before me and keep the doors open for other younger players as well.

It looks like Brad Friedel is going to move to Aston Villa as well. Do you know Brad? Have you talked with him about potentially being teammates? What have you two discussed? How would being his teammate benefit you?

I have only heard great things about Brad and given the chance to work with him, I think I can learn a lot. He is an outstanding keeper that has proven himself not only in Europe but on the international stage as well.

It seems that all American keepers abroad have to shave their heads, are you going to do the same?

We will cross that bridge when I get there.

A number of Americans have played and are playing in England now. Who have you spoken to about moving to England? What have they told you to expect? Has Brian McBride given you any tips? What are you most looking forward to if your move to Villa is finalized?

I have spoken to a lot of the European guys and everyone has just given me little tips here and there. Nothing specific, but just great advice. I'm looking forward to helping my team be successful in any way I can.

Martin O'Neill is a very highly rated manager. Did you speak to him before agreeing to the transfer? What did he say and did he tell you what his plans for you were? Do you think you will see much first team action this season?

I have spoken to the manager and like in any situation, I'm going to go in, work hard, learn as much as I can and try to get better.

What do you think of the Olympic outfits you received on Thursday? Are you styling?

The outfits are pretty cool. [Ed. Note: The picture to the right from Guest of a Guest are leaked images of the Ralph Lauren Opening Ceremony duds.]

There is some debate in soccer circles about the benefit of American players going to Europe and leaving MLS behind. Some think it may be good for the individual players but is detrimental to MLS. Would you agree or disagree with this position?

I think each situation is different and has to be looked that way. Ultimately it comes down to the player making that decision. I think the MLS is getting better and the level of play is better, but still compared to the top leagues in Europe it still has a way to go.

[Photo Credit: Tights photo and pollution photo both courtesy of the US YNT Blog. Olympic outfit photo courtesy Guest of a Guest.]

Read more on "An Interview With Gold Medal Hopeful And Tight Wearer Brad Guzan"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

This, my friends, will be the day you remember forever. The day you look back and thank your holy stars that you alighted to this blog and found this page. The day that you will place your fateful bid on the most heinous collection of shirts that has ever hit the ebays. This is the day that changes your life.

In case you think this is nothing but hyperbole, I, and your future kids, implore you to look inside.

That's right, this auction gives you the right to own like six of the most horrible shirts ever, and one Real Madrid one, at one time. The best part? Even a fatty like me can fit into most of them. Yep, an all XL auction.

So, let's break it down. As mentioned, there is a Real Madrid shirt here. Nothing too fancy, just white with purple. Serviceable, if that's your thing.
Also serviceable is a green Liverpool shirt from when adidas put the big three stripes on the shoulder. Bonus points for the Candy sponsorship.

Then it gets really bad really fast.

The Arsenal green and yellow flying V shirt. It looks like an African print gone horribly wrong. Never has a red badge and sponsor had such a hard time standing out on a shirt.
What else is there that I spy? Why it's the bright yellow Tottenham shirt. This is the type of shirt that makes kids cry at Christmas, wondering why Santa was so mean to them.
Ooh, look, the Dutch '88 shirt! Except that it's not. It's a knock-off without any sort of manufacturer's markings. Also, the badge seems like an iron-on that's the wrong color. It's even worse than the '88 shirt.
Then there is a Scotland shirt which can best be described as a look better off forgotten. It's like a pattern that over the hill golfers would wear on a shirt to try to appear edgy and get the beer girls to notice them.
Next, there's an England abomination. Without resorting to a color thesaurus, I'd say there are about 5 different light blues on this shirt in no discernible pattern and no set shape. This is what Michelangelo's splatter sheet looked like in the Sistine Chapel.
Finally, an Ireland keeper jersey. Who the hell buys a keeper jersey for anything other than function? Well, Spike Lee did it, but he's not that far ahead of the fashion queue is he?

I'm spent, but before I go, I have to point out two more photos from this auction. To give more detail to the shirts, the seller put picture up of them showing two shirts at a time. Two of these pairing confused me.



The auction ends on Sunday. Get in while you can.

Read more on "The Good, The Bad, The WTF"...

ForFar too bad!

Naughty, naughty, very naughty!

Scottish Division 3 minnows Forfar have been fined $8,000 for having an awful disciplinary record last season.

Last term Forfar were awarded 82 yellows and 11 reds! That's 2.2 yellow cards a game and a dismissal every 3 games or so.

So what could possibly make Forfar see red? Having to live in Forfar? Looks like a nice little place to me. The ground?

Station Park: Dump, but not cursed!

Sure it's a bit of a dump, but could having to play here be the cause of 11 sendings off? Is the place cursed? Nope..appears not but they do like to curse their bad luck, or inability to hit the target!

Such a haul of cards can only be attributed to one cause: Forfar are known as the 'loons', and that reputation must be upheld at all costs...8k? Pah!


Read more on "ForFar too bad!"...

This Week in Hemophiliac Soccer Camps

I know I'm going to hate myself for this, but I promise I'll tread carefully. You see, our friend Beckham is going to do some very nice things for some very grateful children; I just hope he shows up this time.

From the release:

This summer 50 young people with lifelong medical conditions will be fulfilling their dreams with a trip to the David Beckham Football Academy in Greenwich, London. Haemophilia Society Chief Executive, Chris James says:

"All the young people are affected by bleeding disorders like haemophilia, which means that their blood doesn't clot properly. They often suffer painful bleeding and miss out on the sports, hobbies and school trips that their friends can do. That's why the Haemophilia Society will be taking the 50 youngsters on the trip of the lifetime between August 11th and 14th 2008. Although most of the young people need regular injections of medication to stop their bleeding, they will train with a team of coaches hand-selected by David Beckham himself!

"On their three-day trip, they will get the chance to know other young people who understand what they go through, learn about how to cope with their lifelong condition, and play football in the world-class facilities of the David Beckham Academy. It's the first time so many young people with bleeding disorders have gone on this kind of trip, which has been made possible with the sponsorship of Bayer HealthCare."

Yes, Beckham's coaching sick kids this summer, presumably once the Galaxy are knocked out of contention for the MLS title.

It's a grand move for Becks, a guy I really hate to speak fondly of, although I hope he turns up unlike an incident last month with a birthday party he was slated to attend; the bastard didn't turn up despite being paid for the privilege of his rather bland company. [This was the link, which now appears to have vanished into the ether, making me look like a slanderous idiot]

I hope the camp goes well, and that they can learn a lot from one of the biggest stars in the game. That being said, I hope he's not teaching them this move:

[Ugh, I need a shower after this one. I feel unclean. Make jokes so I don't have to!]

Below, Bigus' rendering of what the camp might look like:

Read more on "This Week in Hemophiliac Soccer Camps"...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday Backpasses: Me love you long time

Becks sells out. Condoms in China, that is [London Frequently]
Giggs hates the money-grubbing ways of his contemporaries [Wales Online]
Heart of Midlothian have to pay up for discipline problems, again [The Herald]

more stuff down below

Barry transfer to Liverpool dead, now the taxman is coming for him [Guardian]
Poland's top league was supposed to start last weekend. It didn't. Match fixing investigation from three years ago stopped it [Soccerway]
Iraq looks for backdoor back into WC qualis [Guardian]

And, finally:
Jens Lehmann will never quit football [Soccer365]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: Me love you long time"...

Bucket of Gold 1, Rainbow 0


The deed is done. Tottenham's de facto skipper is off to Anfield after six stellar years at the Lane. It is a bitter day for us Spurs types. Guys like Berbatov are always on their way out, but Robbie Keane had become a club fixture, someone I truly believed would finish up in North London... the testimonial, the whole business. Silly boy I am. The feelings are hard, but I don't wish Keano any gruesome injury or disease. Failure, yes, but nothing like a degenerative knee condition or late onset asthma. And certainly not Jermaine Pennant.

For more on why I'm not angry please follow the jump.

You know Robbie, if you wanted a Liverpool tracksuit so frickin’ badly, I’m sure Mr. Levy would’ve gone out and fetched you one from the Adidas outlet. But there was more to it than that, I'd guess. Boyhood dreams— those lazy afternoons in the potato fields, with nothing but a picture of Kenny Dalglish and tin of Vaseline— and the £80,000 per week. The cash must have played at least a bit role in this loathesome affair? Kind of like Chris Cooper in "Adaptation." And lest we forget The Champions League Football, oh how you aging stars love the “the promise of Champions League football.”

As a Spurs fan, and UF’s singular pillar of Yiddo pride (though drawing strength from BerbaBent), I’m not gonna dooooo, what you all thiiiink I’m gonna do, which is, you know… FLIP OUT! No, I’m being quite clear-eyed, open-minded, and level-fucking-headed about this turn of events. Keano is gone, along with his hundred goals and all the boxing man bullshit. It’d be a waste to dwell on the purely sentimental, ya know, my personal shit— our near simultaneous arrival at White Hart Lane (He came over from Leeds in the summer of 2002. I had been there in heart and mind since the summer before.)

I liked Keane then, and did until a couple weeks ago, for a pretty childish reason. He scored goals. Yes, Gooners, this is something that some of us neanderthals still enjoy. In fact, I enjoyed Keane’s time at Spurs entirely because he scored goals. That is the point of the game after all. We all like a nice kick-around and some nifty footwork and passing, but in the end it’s about the goals. Ronaldo (fat and soon-to-be-fat), Beckham, Romario, Maradona, Pele, Chinaglia (forgive me), Best— all players with wide-ranging, breathtaking skill, but sharing a common thread. They put the ball in the net. This makes fans happy. Simple. Sentimental.

Keane’s a goal-poacher, as the saying goes, unfit to lick clean the boots of those guys listed above, but he can play a bit too. No wing force, as some Redheads would like to believe, but he’s got guile and some pace, enough at least to run Khalid Boularouz out of England. I expect he’ll be 60 percent the player Liverpool is expecting unless they get some support out wide. Robbie will be dreaming of Aaron Lennon after a couple months of Jermaine Pennant.

For the Juande and the Lads up the Lane, this is no shock and should not be treated as such. If Berbatov slithers off as expected, Spurs will be minus a vicious strike-force, but plus a fair sum of sterling. How that money gets spent will be the final chapter in this frustrating, but still unfinished course of events. The nattering nabobs on this blog promise me the cash will be splayed about with abandon. Panic spending (Pavlyuchenko!) More 5’7” wingers! It concerns me, no doubt. This team needs two strikers (to go with Bent, who will have his chance) another, bigger midfield player (Bentley, which should happen), and some defensive cover.

So as I told Lingering last night, with only the slightest bit of hyperbole, the Mona Lisa wasn’t shit until Da Vinci got around to those eyes and that smile. Hopefully Juande and Levy have some colors left on the board.

And a final note to you Scouser punks, as The Wolf might say: best not start sucking each other’s dicks quite yet, gentleman. There’s only ooooone Jermaine Pennant— and after that, not much else.

Read more on "Bucket of Gold 1, Rainbow 0"...

The Real Mouth of the South.

I was absolutely dumbfounded this morning when I saw the arrogant, ridiculous comments that Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon made yesterday. This clumsy, loud-mouthed arse clown really needs to learn when to keep his mouth shut. 16 Premier League chairman would love to help him do that, I am sure.

The forever attention seeking Kenyon thinks that clubs outside of the Premiership top 4 need to "get their houses in order" if the perceived lack of competition in the Premier League is to be addressed.

Un F------ believable. Where does this man find the balls? So how do you get your house in order? Well if you are Chelsea here's how...

1: Sell out to a billionaire owner.

2: Hike up the ticket prices and screw the fans who have been coming for years... Start by selling F.A Cup tickets to corporate 'fans' while the real ones line up on the street for 24 hours unaware that will be disappointed.

3: You spend, spend, spend! Spend aforementioned billionaire's money. Lots of it. Spend 578 million quid. In doing so, you over-inflate the market so other teams cannot compete with your billionaire's fantastical urges to taste victory.

4: You tap up young players that have signed for someone else so they go into hiding while you use your financial muscle to obtain the player and dispute his previous agreement with fancy high priced lawyers. Pay the kid more than your rival was offering and shower his dad with gifts. (allegedly!)

5: Be sure to pay the highest wages in the land for your new superstars. Out do all-comers and pay crazy wages for squad members who ride the bench. Pay top dollar for you megastars while they play in front of an old stadium filled with corporate arseholes who think Gianfranco Zola and Peter Osgood are on the pitch.

6: Sit back and watch as over 500 million quids worth of transfers, agent fees and wages choke spectacularly in the Champions League final after losing out on the Premier League title days earlier.

Kenyon's large mouth needs to be sewn shut. He is to football what Chemical Ali was to Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

Without a billionaire using your club as his personal plaything, the reality of "getting your house in order" involves paying bills based on income. Based of affordable wages and transfer fees financed with money from the gate, the club shop, local advertisers and from television appearances.

It also involves spending what you can afford and not threatening your clubs financial future by burdening it with debt. If you are Bolton and play to smaller gates in a small town, running your club sensibly, how can you possibly compete with a megalomaniac billionaire who sits in his luxury pulpit scanning the team sheet as I scan my fantasy baseball team online? It's simple...You cannot.

Kenyon is an irresponsible moron. A smarmy bald mouthpiece. His outbursts are an embarrassment to common sense an his harmful echolalia threatens every club in the country that manages on a budget supported by reason and business sense, without a billionaire to pay the bills! Kenyon lives in the World of pure fantasy. A world that Newcastle, West Brom and Stoke City know nothing of.

Peter Kenyon is so far removed from reality that his ginormous noise making funnel threatens grass roots football and small clubs in every town and city across the United Kingdom.

This northern monkey douche bag has no idea what football is about. Well Peter, put down your 10 quid cup of coffee and listen up.

It's about Hull reaching the Premiership.

It's about Reading reaching Europe. Barnsley making the semi of the F.A cup, remember that pal?.

It's about Yeovil with back to back promotion seasons.

It's about Jimmy Glass and Dean Windass.

It's about local heroes offering hope in return for a lifetime of loyalty, a concept that Chelsea's corporate crowd will never understand.

It's not about fantasy football for the self indulgent few who can afford to buy Kaka for their own personal kicks. It's about people. The people who spend their hard-earned money on the latest Doncaster Rovers shirt and the Charlton fans who scrape the pennies together so they can travel to Sheffield with their kids.

Its about a filled-to-capacity Carrow Road, a full London Rd and a full St James's Park. St James's Parks in Newcastle and Exeter. It's about kids believing in their local team and believing in the players that wear their badge. It is not about one man's desire for success, turning a football club in south London into a mere facade of what it really is and has been.

Chelsea's history is long gone. They are now just an emotionless entity that represents all that is wrong in football. They make a farce of the game by splashing several hundred million on the World's best players who play Champions League ties in front of 5000 empty seats that cant be given away over the radio.

Kenyon needs to get his own house in order and sell out Stamford Bridge for Champions League and League Cup games before opening that gaping hole in his face every 5 minutes to point out everyone else's problems.

If Abramovich died tomorrow, Chelsea would be done. They would not be able to buy the players, pay the wages and afford to wave their middle finger at the supporters they have shafted in recent times. They would need every dime. The players would be gone, the caviar-munching Zola watchers would be gone, the facade would be lifted and Chelsea FC would fall back to earth with a bump. The international shirt sales would decrease as glory chasers is the U.S and the Far East look for new winners.

If "getting your house in order" means risking 100 years of history, local pride and the collective passion and joy of a community then Kenyon can keep his house. Because it's one built on a foundation of bullshit instead of concrete.

- Bigus.

Read more on "The Real Mouth of the South."...

Wherein Greg Lalas Disagrees With Me

Recently, I hit up Greg Lalas--former professional soccer player, writer, provocateur and general soccer aficionado--for an interview. After a few technical difficulties, I managed to catch the white whale. He graciously answered all of my questions and challenged me to a duel some of my positions. It is also apparent there is no bigger advocate of American soccer than Greg Lalas which is something it needs. Something UF does not do well with, but should try harder.

Before we jump into the interview, I want to take a minute to promote a couple of Greg's recent pieces that are excellent reads. The first, the Bill of Rights of American Soccer fans. The second, a Bill of Responsibilities for American Soccer Fans.

After the jump, Greg on Beckham, Donovan, dating a Lazio fan, and our favorite Chris Mannix.

Clearly you have a unique background as a soccer writer since you played in college and professionally, but did you ever envision having a writing career? Did you plan for this while in college? You now write for several outlets,,, and NYTimes Goal Blog, how did you end up doing this?

Luck and connections. To be honest, I never really envisioned anything as a "career." But I did a lot of writing, and have been doing so since I was a pipsqueak. In college, I wrote a lot of really bad poetry and some semi-decent short fiction. Then, even when I was playing, I was writing. In 1996, while I was playing with the Tampa Bay Mutiny, I had a short play produced by the Source Theater in DC.

After I retired in 1998, I left soccer behind totally. I went to grad school for creative writing, and stumbled into a job at a magazine in Boston. But the soccer itch came back. In 2003, I was living in Greece, freelancing and writing, kind of off the grid. I decided to move back to the States, to New York, and the first thing I did was to get a hold of someone at and ask about writing for the site. They said sure. My first piece was a profile of Freddy Adu, who I met up with the day before he was drafted. He was great. So I wrote a column for, "The View from the Cheap Seats," for about a year, and everything snowballed from there. Next thing I knew, I was doing the TV for the Revolution.

After I wore out my welcome at MLSnet -- calling for a sitting coach's head in an article on the league website didn't sit well with certain people...but come on, Andrulis needed to go! -- I started writing the "Outside the Box" column for then I took over USA. I've only written for for special events, like this past Africa Cup of Nations.

Your brother, Alexi Lalas, is a US soccer legend and the current GM for LA Galaxy. Does this relationship help or hinder you as a writer?

Both. Being his brother has gained me access to things that many journalists don't have access to, like sources, etc. But it's a hinderance because there have been people in the past who love to slam anyone who might appear to have an advantage. Truth is, advantages come in various ways, and I think at this point, I've proven to the people who matter to me that I am a good journalist.

Also, has your brother always been so outspoken, for example his comments comparing MLS to the Premier League?

I'm not sure what comments you're referring to, but I'll surmise they are things like "MLS teams could compete in the EPL." Well, I don't think that's so outspoken because he's right. And he's not the only one who says it, by the way.

A lot of Englishmen I've talked with -- at least the ones with open minds -- say similar things.

What amazes me is that many of the people who slam Alexi for comments like that have never stopped to say, "Hey, Alexi played at the highest levels in the world, including the World Cup and Italy's Serie A. Maybe he knows a little something about this." Now, sometimes his mouth bites him in the ass, but that just goes with the territory of being in a high profile position. My favorite quote of all time: "To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing." That's from Elbert Hubbard.

This is the quote I was talking about from Alexi:

"The fact that a segment of the world worships an inferior product in the Premiership is their business,'' Lalas said in an interview with The Guardian published Tuesday.
I think that it is fair to say that calling the Premiership and the quality of play in the league inferior to any other league is a bold statement. Especially considering the Champions League play the past few seasons. It is without a doubt one of the strongest leagues in the world. And, while the best of the MLS teams might be able survive relegation, it is safe to say, in my opinion, that none of them would contend for a spot in Europe. Just my opinion.

Yes, it is a bold statement. And yes, the EPL is without a doubt one of the strongest leagues. But in terms of actual soccer, it's overhyped and overpriced. No, MLS team would contend for Europe. Very true. But then, I repeat, the New England Revolution, arguably MLS's best team right now, carries a salary of around $2 million (they don't even use the whole cap available to them!), and yet, I would argue, they could contend with teams in the middle of the EPL. That says something pretty profound.

Either MLS is better than most people believe, or the EPL is not as good as everything thinks. Outside the top four and then a revolving three teams after that, the EPL is pretty mediocre. Same goes for the other leagues too. Same goes for MLS, for that matter. Unfortunately, these arguments will never be solved until the teams play against each other in a meaningful way. Maybe the CWC in 2009, if an MLS team can win the CCL.

Soccer is definitely on the rise in the states. It is more commercially viable, MLS is looking like a good investment now, and soccer is receiving more coverage than ever before, but it's not a finished product yet. What are your opinions on where the sport is headed in the US and how it needs to improve?

More money. More exposure. More fans. These are all chicken or the egg things, though. Ultimately, time seems to be the final arbiter of soccer's success. When more Americans know the game and understand its nuances and beauties, soccer's popularity will explode.

Also, in a decade or so, many of the old-school Baby Boomer sports editors at newspapers and TV channels will move on and younger, more soccer-savvy guys will take over. That will help.

Finally, there's the youth development. And it's a strange seeming paradox that I think will work best. When the US starts to consistently export young talent to Europe, like Jozy, our reputation globally as a soccer nation will improve. After that happens, players will be less reluctant to come here and play.

Along those lines, what does the U.S. need to do to develop better players?

I think we're developing pretty fantastic players.

At Unprofessional Foul we have had several email discussions about the poor track record the U.S. has in developing highly-skilled players. There are certainly well conditioned and skilled players but nothing coming close to world class, except for the goalkeepers.

So you don't consider Landon Donovan a world class player? I do. I think often we are too enamored of European and South American players and don't realize just how good some of our players are.

I think we do have a track record of developing highly skilled players. What we don't have is a track record of developing players who can step onto Europe's fields and be very good for a long time. This is why Brazil and Argentina are so revered, because for more than 50 years, their players have proven their worth. But on the face of it, is Alexandre Pato $20 million better than Jozy Altidore? No. It's just that Brazilians have a better track record of succeeding in Europe than Americans do, so it's a better risk, which means a higher transfer fee. Then there's the other issue: When you say "skilled," do you mean a Messi type or a Ballack type?

I get what your saying about "world class" players, but no, I don't think Donovan is world class when he can't get pitch time in Germany and wants to go home. Yes, he is skilled. Much more skilled than the majority of MLS, but he's not great. But, I'll say he forfeits any right to be called world-class when he decided not to stick it out in Europe. He's a big fish in a little pond now and that's how he likes it. At least Riquelme showed his talent and ability before packing it up to go home.

But why does he have to show his talent in Europe? What if Donovan shows his talent in the international game? Is Cuauhtemoc Blanco world class? Was Carlos Valderrama? Check out Pibe's record in Europe--he pretty much flamed out in Europe. Was Marco Etcheverry world class? Never played in Europe. Or a guy like Martin Palermo, who also barely had a career in Europe but is a legend in Argentina. And those are just some of the modern examples. It's absurd to say this, considering the eras, but Pele never played in Europe.

Are the MLS Academies and US Soccer Development Academies the answer?

Not necessarily. They are a start, though. It comes down to having coaches who encourage players to express themselves. But you also need the non-Ronaldinhos -- guys like Marquez and Makalele and Nesta. It'll come.

And maybe I am a bit enamored with European soccer, but we certainly haven't produced any elite players other than goalkeepers that could be considered for an all-league team in the best leagues in Europe (Brian McBride being the one exception I would think of). Maybe I should have said elite rather than world-class. Maybe Adu and Altidore will be there but they really haven't proven anything on the big stage yet. Heck, Adu had trouble getting off the bench at Benfica, although he did have coaching changes to deal with.

Freddy's gotten a bum deal. I hope Monaco works out for him. He's had so much pressure to deal with, and, if you look at it objectively, he's handled it amazingly well. I still think he will be a star -- and world class -- when all is said and done. But when thinking about his "trouble getting off the bench at Benfica," it's tantalizing to compare him to guys like Messi and Pato and other young studs.

Thing is, we only ever notice the ones that rise to the top from their respective countries. There are a hundred Messis and Patos out there, but only these two become international stars. The US, on the other hand, only has a few guys. We don't have a critical mass yet. Hell, we don't have any mass yet, although it's changing. After all, we now have a $10 million 18-year-old player. And Bradley is another one. And even Rogers, if he does well in Beijing, could move. Once we get more youngsters over there, we'll start to see some of them rise to the top.

To address your "skill" question, I would say both. No US player has ever dominated a midfield like Ballack does even now at 31. Reyna did well, but was never at that level consistently. As for Messi, maybe Altidore will be that, but those two are about the same age and Jozy hasn't done what Messi has.

See above. I'd argue that Jozy has done in MLS what Messi has done in Liga. Different scale, I admit, but still something impressive. Now that he has the chance to try his luck at the next level, we'll see just how good (or overhyped) Jozy is.

But, when I say highly skilled I am talking about the best of the best like Messi and Ballack. Have we had anybody come close to that level, ever from the US? I don't think so.

I agree. We haven't. But here's another thought: Messi and Ballack are great because they have great players around them. This is something Alexi and I have often discussed, how these great players we see, although certainly terrific in their own rights, are also buoyed by the general skill level around them. But if you surround a good MLS player with good talent, he will be good too. Could he be great?

Think about this: Joseph Ngwenya, the Zimbabwean striker who used to be with Houston and then went to Austria, where he basically flopped, is right now training with Bayern Munich. He played on Friday in the German SuperCup against Dortmund. How can this be? How is this guy from MLS, from the US college system, and a flop in Austria, now getting time with one of the best clubs in the world? Well, partly, it's because of his relationship with assistant coach Martin Vazquez (former Tampa Bay Mutiny player, Chivas USA assistant coach, and college coach). But it's mainly because they think that Ngwenya, surrounded by good players, can have an impact. Strange, huh?

There are rumors that ESPN may be pursuing EPL games in the near future and changing ESPN Classic to ESPN3 and focusing it on soccer. Unprofessional Foul has debated whether this is a good or bad thing. What is your view? Is this a positive for soccer in the US? For the MLS?

I've heard this same thing. I think it's a great sign about the popularity of soccer if a juggernaut like ESPN realizes they need to get into it even more than they already are. But I worry about the lack of competition in the soccer TV space. I don't know if they are going to be acquiring FSC's rights or Setanta's. But either way, there might end up being less soccer on TV because of it. On the other side, I think it's a positive for MLS, sure, because it will better educate the American public about the game. That's certainly good.

The old adage is that any press is good press, but it seems you're not of that opinion. You called out in your last piece Marc Stein and your fellow writer Chris Mannix for their recent writings on soccer. Although, I must note you have amended your opinion on Stein subsequently. Unprofessional Foul found the Mannix piece reprehensible and did a quite long post on it. Why do you think the Mannixes of the world continue to write this tripe? And, do you care to expand your criticism of Mannix and Stein?

I realized after the fact that I was unduly harsh on Stein, which is why I added the endnote to that article. I knew he was a soccer fan, so I should've cut him some slack. I didn't particularly like his article. It was really well written, but it just proved precisely how soccer is a sideline for him. He's a great writer, and I'd love to see him doing more soccer writing, real soccer journalism. But he knows what pays the bills.

Mannix...I think I said it all in my article -- and I commend SI for running my slam of one of their big-name guys. (Although I was pissed that the magazine ran a letter that praised the article then said, "But I still hate soccer.") Basically, pieces like Mannix's are obtuse journalism that comes out of the uncreative minds of the aforementioned old-school editors.

Media outlets will need to change their attitude about soccer or be left behind. Globalization means that the worldwide juggernaut that is soccer is slowing taking over the States, and that includes the media.

I would be remiss if I didn't ask you about your Wikipedia entry. "His Major League Soccer career consisted of only five games played, 100 minutes, one weak shot on goal, and one foul committed." Did you do that or did a friend?

I didn't do it. And my friends are technological morons. They couldn't create a wiki page even if they were promised a one-night stand with Jessica Alba for doing it. And, is it true? Yes, however, that "weak" shot missed the upper 90 by a few inches. At least, that's how I remember it.

Who is your favorite player to cover?

Jimmy Conrad. He's clever, well-spoken, honest, and, as he'll gladly tell you, good looking.

Your least favorite?

Beckham. He's a poster boy for staying on message by spouting out cliches and platitudes.

Is the Designated Player a good development for MLS? Why or why not?

Hell yeah! Why? Because we get to see the likes of Juan Pablo Angel instead of Sergio Galvan Rey.

Some quick hitters and we're done. 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1? 3-4-1-2

Best league in the world? La Liga

Favorite all-time player? Michel Platini

Favorite current player? Matt Reis

Landon Donovan—fraud or real-deal? See above.

Do you still own any of your brother's CDs from his band? I played bass in his band, so, yes, I have a few.

What club(s) do you support? Panathinaikos. Pame oi Prasinoi!!! Also Roma, because I dated a girl from Rome for a little while -- although she was for Lazio.

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The Suze Orman Show: Football Edition

Some of you may be familiar with Suze Orman. Flip on CNBC any evening or weekend and she's the loud-mouthed blonde with the Meredith Baxter (formerly Baxter-Birney... sad that I know there's a difference) haircut. Despite her volume control problems, Ms. Orman is knowledgeable enough with the personal finances and devotes a portion of her TV show trying to talk financially-retarded Americans from plunking down $30K for a life-size replica of the 'Lost in Space' robot or some other glue-sniffing-inspired purchase. (seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?)

With transfer fees on a continuous climb -- summer in and summer out -- it's time for ol' Suze to take a break from helping IRA-challenged rubes (the Roth-type, dummy) in order to apply her talents to the world of international football.

Cue an overly orange Suze sitting behind her desk, ready to pounce.

Welcome back to the Suze Orman show... On the phone with us now is Ramon from Madrid. HELLO Ramon, what is it that you want to buy?

Hello? Hello? Suze?

Yes, Ramon. I'm here. Turn down your TV and talk to me on the phone. What is it that you want to buy?

Yes, Suze. What I have my eye on is a thing of beauty, the brightest jewel that outshines them all!

You want to buy a jewel? Is it for your wife? Let me tell you, Ramon, us girls LOVE OUR JEWELRY!!! So, what is it? A diamond? DIAMONDS ARE A GIRL'S BEST FRIEND. But, if you buy your wife one, you'll be a close second!

**annoying laugh**

No no no no no. It is not a piece of jewerly. It is the best footballer in the world. The boy who would look splendid in white.

I'm sorry, Ramon. I thought we were talking about diamonds, but you want TO BUY A PERSON?

Not just a person, the best footballer in the world. Cristiano Ronaldo.

Oh... Well... How much does a Cristiano Ronaldo cost?

Well, he is not for sale. Yet, I would say no club could resist an offer of 76 million Euros!

76 MILLION EUROS!! THAT'S ALMOST 120 MILLION DOLLARS! Ramon! **slaps the table** RAMON! 120 MILLION DOLLARS? Unbelievable. **rolls her eyes** Now, can you actually afford this?

We can afford whatever we please. Although, the true price would likely be 90 million Euros.

150 million dollars!! RAMON, ARE YOU LISTENING TO YOURSELF? The price just WENT UP IN TWENTY SECONDS!!! How about your debt? What does the club owe? What kind of assets does it have?

Assets? We are the world's most important club. Real Madrid is second to nobody. We can buy whatever we want whenever we want. Real Madrid will not be denied.

Now, Ramon. Madrid is beautiful. I LOVE SPAIN. TAPAS!!! YUM!!! But, how can you justify spending that kind of money on one player? What if he doesn't kick the ball like you want him to?

He does not kick the ball, he caresses the ball and makes the ball do his bidding. Ronaldo will perform. There is no doubt.

IT'S 150 MILLION FOR ONE PLAYER!! Can he really make that much of a difference? Will you win your championship now?

Actually, we stood triumphant in La Liga last season.

I fail to see how this is a wise investment, Ramon. And, how will this go over with your other players? Are they all this expensive? Do you spend like this often? TELL ME RAMON, HOW MANY OF PLAYERS COULD YOU BUY WITH THE MONEY YOU WANT TO SPEND NOW?

I do not know. I am not good with the simple math. But, it is of no regard. Manchester United will not sell him to me. They say he is not for sale. I cannot accept this. He is not a slave.

Yet, you want to buy him like one?

Only to free him.

Well, Ramon, I don't know what to tell you. YOU CAN'T BUY WHAT'S NOT FOR SALE! Are you listening to me? Now, go buy your wife some jewelry!

Yes, you are right. I should pay 100 million Euros for him. Thank you for endorsement of my idea, Suze.

Read more on "The Suze Orman Show: Football Edition"...