Saturday, August 9, 2008

EPL Previews: Newcastle United

During the 2007/2008 EPL (suck it, Barclay's!) season, the Toon Army watched the Magpies struggle to finish 12th in the league table, on the "strength" of 11 wins, 10 draws, and 17 losses for a total of 43 points. The return of King Kev to St. James' Park, however, provided the fans with some optimism, and there were high (relatively) hopes for 2008/2009. Unfortunately, this summer has given those fans little reason to think that big things are afoot Upon the Tyne.

The end of this summer period has been marred with talk that owner Mike Ashley is interested in selling the club. Rumours abounded that possible suitors included Reliance Communications owner Anil Ambani (the world's sixth richest man), and a group lead by former Liverpool midfielder Steve McMahon, although both have denied involvement.

Regarding the players, the biggest news has, of course, centered around that irrepressible scamp Joey Barton. After initially being given a suspended sentence for assaulting teammate Ousmane Dabo, Barton was then sentenced to 74 days in jail for assaulting 2 individuals in Liverpool last December. Released on Monday, Barton now faces a 15-match ban from the FA, although he has until August 13th to respond to the allegations.

So, other than Joey Barton, who does Kelvin Koogan have available? Newcastle United Football Club made some minor changes during the summer transfer season. Out are: (1) David Rozehnal (to Lazio); (2) Emre (to Fenerbache); (3) Peter Ramage (to QPR); (4) Lamine Diatta (released); (5) James Troisi (released); and (6) Stephen Carr (released). In addition, Alan Smith has been linked to a transfer to Everton. In are: (1) Danny Guthrie (from Liverpool); (2) Jonas Gutierrez (from Real Mallorca); and (3) Sebastian Bassong (from Metz). Newcastle have also targeted Fabricio Coloccini (from Deportivo La Coruna), and appear close to finalizing a deal.

Guthrie and Gutierrez will provide some offensive firepower as placeholders for the injured Mark Viduka, Michael Owen (seriously? Again?), and Obafemi Martins, while Bassong and Coloccini will shore up the defense. The lone remaining striker is Ameobi, while the rest of the defense consists of Jose Enrique, David Edgar, Claudia Cacapa, Habib Beye, Steven Taylor, and the excellenly-named Abdoulaye Faye in front of keeper Shay Given (backed up by Steve Harper). Once all of the relevant individuals are healthy and caught up to speed at St. James' Park, Newcastle should have a fairly respectable offensive and defensive formation.

Unfortunately for the Toon Army, success in the Premiership requires an efficient midfield, and it is here that Newcastle suffers tremondously. Alan Smith is likely to fuck off to Everton, leaving Geremi, Nicky Butt, James Milner, Charles N'Zogbia, Hillary Damien Duff, and the well-behaved Joey Barton to man the pitch. Although Duff has scored 4 goals in pre-season friendlies, they came in wins against Hartlepool United (4-1, with a hat-trick for Duff) and Valencia (2-1). The lack of a solid midfield will mean that Newcastle will struggle both to produce goals and to defend against a swift counter-attack, which may result in something similar to last years -20 goal differential (45 goals for, 65 goals against).

Even worse for the Magpies is the fact that the rest of their pre-season matches have gone extremely poorly, losing to (and failing to score against) Doncaster Rovers (0-1), Hertha Berline (0-1), and Real Mallorca (0-1). The latter, in particular, may have given Gutierrez pause, seeing as how his former teammates bossed his new ones around the pitch for the full 90 minutes.

Newcastle open their season @Manchester United, v. Bolton, @Arsenal, v. Hull City, @West Ham United, and v. Blackburn. Given their roller-coaster nature, it is possible that they will be 4-2, although it is far more likely that they will be 2-4 (anyone can beat Bolton and Hull City). Ladbrokes appears to be equally unimpressed with Newcastle, having them at 351-1 odds to win the Premiership and 21-1 odds to be relegated. I doubt they will finish that low, and are likely to avoid the race to the drop, but I predict a 14th-15th place finish for the Magpies, sitting on 38 points.

King Kev, however, had better hope that they finish in the top half if he wishes to keep his job.

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Friday, August 8, 2008


I can't get the damn Blue's Clues theme song out of my head. Maybe if I got into a dressing room dust-up, I could be cured.

Nantes player gets kicked in the head, by his teammate [News 24]
Nigeria overrun by fake refs [Nigerian Tribune]
Why do the US Olympic unis not have a crest? [Soccer By Ives]
The EPL does not care about wheelchair people [The Sun]

And, finally:
An interview with Becks. Slightly more interesting than Brad Guzan [Sports Illustrated]

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Championship Preview - Norwich City

This post is going to be a true test of Bigus's ability to be objective. Can I possibly review my beloved Norwich City without turning the team into the wet dream 11? Marching to the Premiership via 100 pts and 100 goals?

I'm gonna try people. I can't promise anything, but I'm gonna try!

It's been a weird and eventful summer for Norwich supporters. We have had bitching, moaning fans lamenting the lack of activity all over the interweb. We've had billionaires sniffing around and trying to take control of the club on the cheap and upsetting the applecart in the process. We waved goodbye to Dion and watched as a Huckerby was sent packing without a send-off. AND, we had a late flurry of transfer activity that inspired us '"I told you so" er's', us optimists, to fire back at the afforementioned bitching moaners! With me? Good.

Optimistic Norwich fans Bigus? What? Yeah we exist... We are the minority and a rare breed. Pessimism rages strong in Norwich, along with a certain dry sense of humor that many of our fellow countrymen don't understand. It's a Norfolk 'thing'. We are generally a County of Cassandra's. Most Norfolk people are not happy unless something is wrong!

So let's have the low down on that busy summer then Bigus!

Lets start with the THAT Billionaire.

People do not become billionaires by being generous do they? No. They try to squeeze blood from a stone. In this particular case our 'hostile' billionaire came with a smile. He used the press to get the fans on board without ever actually telling them that his offer was completely unacceptable or that he had in fact made an offer. Which he hadn't! Crafty old boy is Peter Cullum. The result was dissapointing for me to witness. While the current board have made mistakes in the past, they did not deserve the nasty abuse they were subjected to this summer. Apparently, Delia Smith was upset by much of it and so she should be. In reality, many people were forming opinions, trying, judging and executing Smith with absolutely no evidence whatsoever. Just a few words from an insurance billionaire stating he wanted to give Glenn Roeder 20 million. While this sounds wonderful it does not take care of the club's debt or the shareholders. The truth around this 20 million was also a mystery. Rumors of clauses and loans to be repaid have be circulating. Lack of knowledge did not, however, stop many from directing their anger at Delia.

Delia: Took a battering this summer.

I am not going to dwell on this topic any longer because it's pointless and now over. Needless to say, THIS City fan remembers an empty Carrow Road pre-Delia. THIS City fan also remembers crappy facilities and no player budget. We may have had a tough few years since relegation but Delia and company have built a ground that is filled every Saturday, top-notch facilities, risked money on record transfers such as Dean Ashton and Robert Earnshaw, brought Premiership football and a play-off final. Some people have very short memories indeed. That said, Norwich fans would turn up to see a team of Gary Doherty clones play in cow shed if they had to. Their passion and support can never be doubted. We just want to go up! Oh yeah... and to be entertained while doing it. That Stoke way will just NOT do! Is it too much to ask?

The Huckerby saga...

I'll keep it brief because this topic has occupied space in this part of the web world a few times this summer. Here and here to name two places where you can read more on the subject!

No one really knows why Roeder sent Huckerby packing. Why would you get rid of the most popular player in recent history? A player who entertains with mazy runs and spectacular goals? Sure he had some injury issues last year but not enough to suggest he couldn't be a big part of this years team. Personally, I see a new guy trying to make his mark in a new town. That town had a popular sheriff, one who was very influential with the players and the fans. Unfortunately, Norwich is a one sheriff town. Roeder has pinned the badge on and made that very clear.
Look forward and not back!
The Peter Grant appointment was a wrong 'un and with the sacking of Worthington and Grant, two seasons have been wasted. Recent history, but history all the same. This new season brings a fresh start. Glenn Roeder has spun through the club like a tornado. He has not only replaced the playing staff but lots of key 'players' behind the scenes. Coaches have been fired, a physio sent on his way. Even the kit man was handed his p45. The Roeder era has certainly begun and he has surrounded himself with HIS people. Last season was all about survival. Now is for the re-building and the crack at promotion.

Comings and goings
On the pitch Roeder has made 11 new signings. All of the new guys are challenging for a first team place. To do so he cut 9 players. Huckerby and Velasco (jessh) and 7 kids who were not challenging for a spot in the team any time soon. Outgoing players included the Jarvis brothers (Rossi and Ryan), Andrew Cave-Brown, Steve Arnold and Bally Smart.

After a slow start to the summer Roeders newbies started to walk through the Colney doors. More recently that door has been left open to save the hinges from permanent damage!

Hoolahan: The new Huckerby?

In came the experienced Dejan Stefanovic, the much fancied Wes Hoolahan (ripped City to shreds for Blackpool last season), David Bell, Stuart Nelson and Sammy Clingan. Roeder also opened his little black book to cooerce a few young loans from some top clubs. Ryan Bertrand arrived from Cheslsea (he was here last year and proved to be a super signing). Elliot Omozusi from Fulham, Spurs reserve team captain Troy Archibald-Henville, Omar Koroma from Portsmouth, Arturo Lupoli from Fiorentina and John Kennedy from Celtic. Norwich are still missing a vital piece of the puzzle and will start the season without him.
We are closing in on a big target man! We have been linked with stacks of em... Ameobi, Rasiak, Vaz Te, Howard, Iversen and even Heskey. Roeder says that 2 more are on the way, taking his summer recruitment drive to the grand total of 13. This would be the most new players signed by any Championship team this season. Add these newbies to some of the good players we have, Darel Russell, Lee Croft, Jon Otsemobor, Jamie Cureton and David Marshall and suddenly things look brighter than they have been for a while!

Russell: 4 goals in pre-season.

What's really pleasing is that ALL of Roeders new signings are first team fodder. This gives us depth at every position on the pitch. It's been a while since I could say that!!

While loans are not permanent (doh) they are an excellent way to obtain quality from the Premiership without busting the bank. But Bigus...They will go back to their teams at the end of the year! So what...We go up? Awesome...Thanks for playing...60 million is on the way and the spending can begin. We stay down? Well maybe we can sign some better loans for a promotion push next season...Or get some of these back! It's a win win for me folks. (Sidenote: The popular misconception about loaning a player is that it's a cheap option. It's not really. Loan players from Premiership clubs are on higher wages AND there is a hefty loan fee. That fee is sometimes much more than most Championship teams pay for a player who transfers permanently. )

I digressed a little there and for that I apologise, I tend to do that from time to time. Still there? Good. Back to our new season.

At right back Otsemobor will face competition from the incoming Omozusi. At left back Adam Drury returns from a year of injury hell and finds himself fighting for his place. His spot surely now belongs to Ryan Bertrand. He was impressive last year and will only get better. Out wide there was only one player that would possibly be accepted as a replacement for Darren Huckerby this off season. The fans talked about him constantly. Wes Hoolahan! He will occupy the left wing slot.
On the right Roeder has 3 options. David Bell, Lee Croft and Luke Chadwick. Spoilt for choice. All three would find a place in the starting 11 of most teams in the Colaship. Up top the elusive target man will be sorely missed as City kick off at Coventry tomorrow but in Lupoli they have an exciting young player. Bigus can see him being a great success.
When that target man does finally arrive, Lupoli will be competing for a spot in the line up with Jamie Cureton. An in-form Cureton scores goals for fun, an out of form one misses sitter after sitter. The competition that Lupoli will provide is exactly what is needed.

Omar Koroma is a young Ghanaian forward that Roeder has described as "a beautiful mover'. He arrives on loan from Portsmouth. Pompey boss Harry Redknap sent him our way for some much needed experience. Expect him to be used as a sub this year unless, of course, that 'beautiful mover' shoots his way into the line-up!

For me our weakest area last season was at the back. Shackell switches off for spells and I am not the biggest fan of Gary Doherty. Especially when he gets beaten and pulls down his opponent with a move that Kimbo Slice would be proud of. He should have been sent off on at least 3 other occasions last term. He was lucky indeed! So it makes old Bigus happy to see the experienced Dejan Stefanovic arrive. Sure he is 33 but that Premiership experience will be vital this year. Alongside Dejan? Roeder could play John Kennedy. Kennedy arrives from Celtic after 3 years of injury misery. If he settles in and stays injury free then he could be the guy to partner Stefanovic. The other option is Shackell or the 19 year old Troy Archibald-Henville from Tottenham. Whomever Roeder decides to play, he certainly has choice this year and I hope that the competition will provide some much needed focus. We conceded far too many sloppy goals from a lack of concentration last season!

In Midfield we have added Hoolahan and Bell. Both come highly recommended. We all know about Hoolahan but Bell is a bit of an unknown quantity. We also signed Sammy Clingan. He is a holding midfielder. We haven't had one of those since the days of old three lungs Holt, Clingan played 46 times last year for a team that gained promotion to the Championship (Forest) and they wanted to keep him! So he can't be bad!

So there you have it. We kick off at Coventry without David Bell on the right and missing a big man up top. Add a bunch of players getting their feet wet for their new team and that's us! Is that a worry? I don't think so...We are currently pretty deep and I am more than happy with what we have in the squad. The only downside is that maybe Roeder will tinker because he has the choice! He likes to play just one winger as a rule so having Hoolahan AND Croft in his midfield (during Bell's abcence) may not be in his thinking. If not, expect a 5 man midfield. Last time we played at the Ricoh we were vitim to the Velasco fiasco. Spanish trialist Juan Velasco had such a nightmare that he was pulled off after 20 mins. He never played again! Thank god.

Norwich City class of 08/09

Ok I'm done! Now you are all familiar with the 2008-09 Norwich team. One thing left for me to do here...The prediction!

I can see a target man arriving any day, giving us options up-front, we have 2 'starters' at every position and this could and should be a pretty decent season. I think the top 6 should be a realistic target for a club the size of Norwich with this squad.

Play-offs here we come! Up the City!


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EPL Previews: Arsenal

Arsenal is going to win the EPL (Suck it, Barclay's).

I say that not because I fully believe it, but because I said the same thing about Spain for their Euro preview. I not only nailed that one but maybe in some Heisenbergian way, I caused that one.

So I'm being greedy and going for a repeat. Ergo: Arsenal wins the Prem.

I'm sure everyone is laughing. But about this time last year just about anybody with a pulse and regular access to the Prem was saying Arsenal would finish outside the top four and maybe someone else, like Tottenham, would crack a Champions League spot.

Yet, entering the last weekend in February, there were the Gunners, sitting on top of the table five points clear of United.

Then they played Birmingham City.

And as bad as the hatchet job by Taylor on Eduardo's leg was, the bigger blow that game was the bullshit penalty call awarded to the Brummies in the 89th minute. That set off a string of four consecutive draws, three against teams that finished in the bottom half of the table.

A blown lead at Stamford Bridge to book end the draws and the Gunner's season had gone from celebration to shit before they were even out of March. Some egregiously awful calls both home and away to Liverfourth—seriously, if that ref had one more eye, he would have been a cyclops—in the Champions League and zero cups later, the season was done. In a word: fuck.

So in the off season Flamini walks on a freebie, Hleb fucks off Barca (yeah, that's a quiet town you Belarusian prick), and Adebayor pitches a money fit. Arsenal fans start waking up nightly in cold sweats mumbling, "Spend some money you French twit."

Wenger responds by signing a couple of zygotes and starts accosting drunk couples in bars to see if they are going to fuck without protection because he's already scouted the girl's uterus.

Lovely. Just fucking lovely.

But Aaron Ramsey has looked comfortable in pre-season, while Nasri has looked even better, and frigging sixteen year old Jack Wilshere has looked awesome. Really, he's all of 16. When I was his age I was trying to get into AP Calculus and Amy Ryan's pants, not the starting XI at Highbury.

Oh, and Adebayor? He's still a Gunner. Van Persie navigated the Euros without getting hurt, so he's good for at least the first 10 fixtures of the season. By then Eduardo might be walking again. And what if Walcott finally has a breakout season? Because he'll be getting fed by Cesc in the midfield. Jesus Crispies, even Bendtner has been menacing in exhibitions. And I almost forgot Carlos Vela, who has been scoring more than an electrified scoring machine on the scoringest day of the year.

I mean, why the fuck would Wenger go splashing cash around just for the sake of splashing cash around? The Gunners going forward are still talented as all get out and it is going to be a thing of beauty to watch.

Yeah, yeah. They don't give style points (but if they did we'd be looking at like a 5-peat on the treble). You've got to put the ball in the back of the net. And pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, pass, miss will make 08-09 look a lot like 07-08. And the backline is still a concern. I mean Senderos is still a Gunner. And that can't be good for anyone, even Senderos.

But so far this year (which hasn't even started) sounds a lot like last year when, at this time, there was lot of talk about Arsenal's rivals and lots of handwringing going on at the Emirates.

So yeah, Arsenal is going to win the Prem. And they are going to look good doing it.

Fuck, now I've gotten myself all excited for the season. Hurry the fuck up, Mr. Calendar, I've got some football to watch.

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SPL season preview

The SPL kicks off this weekend, one week before England launch their top league. Inside, we'll take a quick look at the ins and outs of all the SPL squads, and make rudimentary, and probably laughable, guesses of where the teams will finish.

Also, I will wax rhapsodically about Aberdeen and their chances this season. It's what I do, deal with it.

As the BBC so helpfully points out, no team other than Rangers or Celtic have won the league title in 23 years. That's not likely to change this time around. The so-called New Firm teams, Aberdeen and Dundee United, would seem to have the best shot at pulling any surprise, but don't count on it. You can get odds of 200 to 1 for Aberdeen and 250 to 1 for Dundee United. Those are both wasted bets. 500 to 1 for either, I would take. Unfortunately for those who follow Kevin Malone's advice for life, there are no 10,000 to 1 shots out there.

Aberdeen are a team of two minds this offseason. The Dons unloaded a full XI of talent (if one were to play a 6-2-3), but also brought in five new players to fill in the emptying spots. Since Jimmy Calderwood has been in charge, Aberdeen have been frustratingly consistent. Consistent that there will be an inexplicable slump somewhere in between October and March that will force the fans to reassess their expectations for the team's finish.

Last season, Aberdeen had that slump from the time they qualified for the knockout rounds of the UEFA Cup until they needed to scrape together a couple of results in a row to make the Top 6 split. The season was capped nicely for Dons fans by getting a win against Rangers to knock the hated Huns out of any chance of winning the league title. Expect a similar campaign this year with a thinner, but more finely tuned, squad.
Prediction: 4th


Celtic didn't fuss much with the squad that won their third consecutive SPL title last season. The big addition is Giorgios Samaras from Manchester City. Their losses of personnel are minimal as well, though Bigus will have a keen interest in one of their loan-aways, John Kennedy, who will ply his trade in Norwich next season.

Wee Gordon Strachan has a magic touch with the Hoops. In three seasons at the helm, he has delivered three SPL titles. Celtic tend to start slowly in the league, then win everything at the end of the season. I think this season will mimic the '06-'07 campaign when Celtic won the league by 13 points. The biggest obstacle may be team chemistry, as there are a lot of players rumored to want out.
Prediction: 1st

Dundee United

United may rue the loss of Mark Kerr to Aberdeen, but many pundits who know better than I seem to think that the Tangerines offseason signings will more than make up for their admittedly large losses. Look for Craig Levein to keep up his club's impressive home defensive form, while trying to improve on their woeful overall away form. They should do so, and, given some luck, could pluck away second spot from Rangers.
Prediction: 3rd


Falkirk were the busy bees on the offseason signing front, apparently offering contracts to anyone who seemed likely to sign. The net result is a team that could finally break into the top 6 of the SPL. This is a team on the rise, and is problably the only "smaller" team in the top flight that seems to be in good financial standing. They will approach the 33 game mark firmly on the bubble to make the Top 6, and I think this is the year they do so.
Prediction: 6th

Hamilton Academical

All the chatter I have seen seems to place Hamilton at the foot of the table. In a way, they seem to look a little like Gretna from last season. They are a team good enough to make the SPL, but not good enough to stay there. Unlike Gretna, this is a young team that got to the SPL. If the youngsters are still developing, they could pull off some late season surprises. Unfortunately, it may not be enough to get out of a presumed early season hole. Signings have been minimal and cosmetic, at best.
Prediction: 12th

Heart of Midlothian

Hearts have been a club full of promise since Lithuanian Vladimir Romanov took over in 2005. While Hearts supporters may have hoped this super-rich Eastern European businessman would do wonders for their club, it hasn't panned out. Quite frankly, owning Hearts seems to be a business deal only, and as long as the investment is safe, there is no need to do anything further.

In the offseason, Hearts offloaded a fair amount of players while bringing in only one player of note. Let's face it, Romanov does not care about the feelings of the Hearts' faithful, and the club's results will continue to mirror this. As a coupled aside, Hearts could also be on the receiving end of some extra ire from Rangers this year, as Romanov also owns the club, FBK Kaunas, that knocked the Blues out of Europe.
Prediction: 9th


Hibernian went out of Europe even quicker than Rangers, losing 4-0 over two legs to Swedish club Elfsborg in the Intertoto Cup. The Intertoto Cup is a bit hard on Scottish clubs, as they are placed in a region with Scandinavian clubs who are in mid-season while the Scots are out of season. So, don't read too much into Hibs looking awful last month.

Hibernian kept their core squad intact in the offseason, and should be a lock for a Top 6 showing. They do give the impression, at times, of a team falling apart at the seams. Mix in the fact that Mixu Paatelainen is not the most technically nuanced manager out there, and I foresee a little struggle for the top half finish, perhaps even being pipped by Falkirk for fifth.
Prediction: 5th

Inverness Caledonian Thistle

Inverness' manager Craig Brewster pulled a few miracles out of the hat last season, and will need a few more this season to stay out of relegation troubles. This is consistently a thin squad to which Brewster will wish he could insert a slightly younger version of himself into, because goals will be hard to come by. They will likely escape the drop, but it won't be by much.
Prediction: 11th


As anyone who read my SPL updates last season will know, I'm not too big on Kilmarnock in any fashion. An 11th place finish last season only helped fuel this distaste for the club further. Things should be a good bit more rosy this time around for Killie, as they strengthened their team in the offseason. This will be a team that puts together solid runs coupled with some surprising wins through the year, a la ICT last season. It won't be enough to get into the Top 6, though.
Prediction: 7th


It has to happen, doesn't it? Not to keep dredging up the sad days, but at some point this team has to be affected negatively by the passing of Phil O'Donnell last December. A spirited finish to last season sees Motherwell going to Europe this year, but I think that the team will suffer domestically for their European adventure.

The team remains largely unchanged from last season, and that should be a positive. They will, however, have to maintain their focus at all times. If something starts to go wrong, it could all fall apart very quickly for a team where nearly everyone still has a heavy heart. I see them just missing the Top 6 cutoff, and sliding down over the last five matches into their final placement.
Prediction: 8th


Well, the shine is off this club, isn't it? Losing at the first hurdle of the Champions League with the very same tactics that took them to last season's UEFA Cup final sees Rangers without any further European dates to worry about. There are already grumblings out there about the status of Walter Smith's job as well as fans unsure of Smith's big offseason signing, Kenny Miller.

The problem with missing out on Europe is that Rangers are said to be losing $25 million from not making the group stages. That could turn the club into a major seller in January, especially if Celtic waltz away from them early. Second is likely for this club, if they keep their personnel. However, if they engage in a fire sale, Dundee United could overtake them.
Prediction: 2nd

St. Mirren

Finally, it's the end. The Saints are a tough one to figure out. They have been very active in both buying and selling in the offseason, looking to improve on the 10th place finish from last time. Don's count on it. It looks like they have been selling young and buying old. Maybe it is for a one or two season push up the ladder, but such wholesale changes will take time to gel, if they do so at all. The Buddies will frustratingly mimic last season's finish in the end
Prediction: 10th

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: It's (no longer) a mystery

Light post tonight. We are still hungover from the early morning wake up call.

Late yesterday rumors swirled of a DC United signing whose "nationality will surprise". Whether it was surprising or not after the jump [Fan Nation]
New FIFA rankings out. Mexico get what they deserve [FIFA]
Chelsea have a new target [Soccernet]
Former college soccer player does the idiotic in China. Seriously, it will be much harder to raise awareness from solitary in a Chinese jail, dude. [Oregon Live]

Sorry to make you click just for this, but dammit, I promised a jump.

DC United's new GK is a 31 year old Liberian. His pro career largely consists of back up roles in Switzerland. [American Soccer News]
Crayton's wiki here

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Things Americans Are Good At

This is actually pretty cool (even if it's ultimately an ad for a company that is currently exploiting workers across the Pacific Rim).

And nice job to Bradley for his pwnage of Adu, but if there is one thing that Americans probably don't need to practice it's hitting the post. Seems we've got that one mastered already.

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Luciano Moggi may never cheat again, at this rate

You remember Luciano Moggi, right? He's the guy purported to be behind all of the match-fixing shenanigans at Juventus that had them stripped of a couple of titles and sent down for a season in Serie B. Moggi collected a five year ban for his efforts at the time.

Now, some news has come to light on just how far and wide the scandal went, as Moggi has received an additional 14 month ban for futzing with some cell phones.

Now, I don't know if Moggi was inspired by the third season of The Wire, but I like to think that he was. I can just see this weathered mini-Berlusconi watching the Baltimore based series and saying, "That's it! I'll switch out SIM cards just like Stringer Bell."

So, yeah. Moggi started up an illegal wireless network, and dragged others down with him. One of those is Angelo Fabiani, who was the director at Messina. Messina's fate? One year removed from Serie A, they have given up their professional status and have been sent to the purgatory of Serie D, the Conference of Italy.

Also, some of the SIM cards showed up in the hands of various referees. Though no names have been released, the refs have been handed fines. I would hope that a continuing investigation into the refs' actions is ongoing.

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The Barcelonas are good at the footballs

While I wasn't able to get my own pictures due to the fact that I was covering the event for two different outlets, I did manage to get more than enough words.

It was a surreal experience dipping into the concrete bowels of the Meadowlands, getting my computer scanned, and then heading up into the hushed corridors of the press box, where some journalists spent more time refreshing the Mets score on their laptops than watching the masterclass unfold beneath them on the crude patchwork turf.

It was a neat reminder of what soccer is fighting with for attention in this country; at least the product on the field was good, wasn't it?

It took the Blaugrana just 24 minutes to canter out to a 3-0 lead, and if it weren't for some schoolyard finishing, they could have gone into halftime with 3 or 4 more. In short, Barcelona were breathtaking, a refreshing contrast to the insipid performances by Everton and West Ham in their own recent US excursions with the new season approaching.

Guardiola put close to a full-strength XI out in the first half, and they ran roughshod over the Red Bulls; Puyol and co were defending on the halfway line as Angel kept getting caught offside with the long ball, and when Barca had the ball, they constantly threatened. Hleb (I hear some UFers booing) was a persistent menace on the right side and worked well with the attack-minded Daniel Alves.

Xavi and Iniesta controlled the midfield with crisp, incisive passing, including Iniesta's perfectly-weighted through ball splitting the defense to give Eto'o the easiest of finishes.

Quick summary of goals:

Barca 1-0 RBNY (Xavi 17") - Alves whipped a cross in from the right, and Xavi met it with a diving header unmarked at the edge of the 6-yard box. Goldthwaite and Parke left him all alone to power it into the top-left corner.

Barca 2-0 RBNY {Eto'o 18") - RBNY lose possession immediately from the restart, Iniesta gathers the ball, advances 10 yards untouched, and threads the ball between Mendes and Parke for Eto'o, who slots it under Conway from the edge of the box.

Barca 3-0 RBNY (Marquez 24") - Short corner on the left from Xavi to Iniesta, and his pacey cross was flicked on by Marquez through Conway's hands. No time to react to the change in direction.

Barca 3-1 RBNY (Stammler 30") - An alarming blunder from Valdes as he let Dave van den Bergh's speculative cross from the left splutter through his hands, giving Stammler the simple tap-in.

Barca 4-1 RBNY (Eto'o 43") - Best goal of the match. Hleb trickery on the right, cuts inside and breezes by two defenders, threads it to Eto'o near the penalty spot. His first touch beats his marker, and with his second, he slides it under the advancing Conway.


Barca 4-2 RBNY (Rojas 60") - Another Valdes mistake! Of course he won't be castigated too heavily for it now, but if he's pulling these at the Bernabeu in March, it'll be an entirely different story. A deep, low cross from Parke on the right side skids under his dive, giving Rojas an empty net to drive the ball home.

Barca 5-2 RBNY (Suarez 80") - Puyol, now playing on the wing of all places, pulls a nifty move down the right to feed Suarez for a clinical finish.

Barca 6-2 RBNY (Pedro 85") - Suarez turned provider, beating his man for pace down the right side and cutting the ball back to Pedro on the penalty spot, who curled it inside the right post.

The second half provided a gentler counterpoint to the first as Guardiola made six changes, deputizing all his field marshals with their younger, sprightlier understudies, but the Blaugrana still bossed the tempo of the game even with so many adjustments. Bojan showed flashes of his promise, and Toure Yaya proved more than able in handling the controlling midfield duties. The late Barca goals were more a product of conditioning than inventiveness as the tired Red Bulls team struggled to finish out the game.

The crowd was just a drum-head shy of 40,000 and dominated by Barca fans, and a random count of one corner yielded neutral fans (yes, saw some Chelsea and LFC Torres shirts amid the crowd) than even the Red Bulls faithful. The mind boggles as to why there weren't more! The weather was perfect, and one of the world's best clubs was in town!

Once the whistle mercifully brought the match to a close, we filtered back downstairs into the cavernous corridors at field level and joined in the circus for a while. John Harkes took time away from the air-conditioned microphone room to engage in conversation with cougar-esque groupies, and of course, the obligatory Claudio Reyna sighting just off to the side from the press line. He and Steve Nash were deep in conversation, and it had me wondering: if Nash does put a good chunk of money into MLS somewhere along the line, do you think Reyna will find himself with a swanky job in Nash's organization? It's hard to envision Claudio disappearing from the New York scene, but then again, his retirement wasn't exactly full of happiness and sunshine, was it?

And then, perhaps the most surreal sight of all; Xavi, the tiny Eto'o, and Iniesta, all quickly-showered and anxious to get back on the bus, being frisked and scanned with those metal detector batons that infringe upon you at airports. Even someone's elderly mother was briefly searched and her ID scrutinized as Barcelona tried gamely to head back to the hotel.

I couldn't figure out how this worked: was this the Meadowlands security making sure they didn't steal any memorabilia, or was this Barca security making sure no superfans were able to sneak onto their comfortable coach?

It was a jarring end to the night, but one that made perfect sense. In a way, it was small revenge for the frisking they'd inflicted on the Red Bulls all evening. From there the line for interviews was ponderous and slow, and with all the players and coaches releasing cliches into the night air, it was time to exit.

Read more on "The Barcelonas are good at the footballs"...

Shanghai Surprise

Well this is likely to get messy.

Sorry, couldn't resist.

But perhaps the ruling earlier in the week by the Court of Arbitration for Sport that clubs did not have to release players for the Olympics wasn't translated into Spanish as the one of the key figures in the row, Lionel Messi, was on the pitch for the Albicelete's Olympic opener against the Ivory Coast.

Barcelona wanted Messi in club colors as they have a Champions League qualifier that overlaps with the Olympic schedule, while Messi wanted to play in the Olympics to fulfill a boyhood dream of winning a gold medal.

Thing is this wasn't a sneak attach as Argentine coach Sergio Batista said that, even after the CAS ruling, Messi would play.

Good thing for the Albiceleste as Messi netted the first goal then, late in the second half, did all the hard work that led to the Argies 86th minute match winner. Messi got loose deep on the left side and let fly with a howler. The Ivorian keeper was able to get a hand on the ball, but it deflected right in front where Acosta poked it into an open goal: 2-1 Argentina.

Update: Apparently, Barca is totally cool with Messi playing, meaning that ultimately this story boils down to: "Soccer player plays soccer." Awesome.

Hey, sometimes this shit happens while we're asleep. We'll take credit just for finding soccer on TV at 7 am on a Thursday.

Read more on "Shanghai Surprise"...

EPL Previews: Wigan - More Midfield, Same Defense

Wigan Athletic F.C. is will begin its fourth successive season in England’s top division. It is also only their fourth season ever in the top flight. Wigan has finished 10th, 17th and 14th in its first three seasons and will likely stay up again for several reasons.

First and foremost is that they have a huge homefield advantage. It’s not because the fan support is great, rather it is the fact that come mid-winter the pitch is a giant mudbog. The JJB Stadium is shared with the Wigan Warriors rugby team. The resulting doubled activity slows the pitch and takes away some of the speed and skill advantages of the bigger clubs.

Second, the club has a very talented midfield. Last year’s signings Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia played quite well. Welsh winger Jason Koumas also had a great season until, for some unknown reason, new manager Steve Bruce decided to sit him on the pine. My fantasy team hated him for this, but even when Koumas came on as a sub he was dangerous. This offseason the Latics have also signed Olivier Kapo for additional midfield support from Bruce’s last squad Birmingham City. Bolstering an already good midfield.

Up front, and I’m not sure this counts for a reason why they will stay up but, Wigan will likely put out old standby Emile Heskey, who is serviceable, and Amr Zaky, on loan from Egypt, who has already put two in the net for Wigan in the preseason. Zaky has scored 27 goals in 48 international appearances and scored 22 goals for club in 54 club appearances. He is there to score goals and he is already off to a good start.

Third, manager Steve Bruce has proven a good manager for the lower level clubs. He should continue his shrewd gameplans and signings.

There are reasons why Wigan may go down. Foremost is my prediction they will stay up. I’m bound to jinx the club. Second, is Titus Bramble. I know the man helped Wigan tie Liverpool last season, but he really isn’t very good or at least he is mistake prone. Bramble is emblematic of Wigan’s defense, i.e. not very good. Wigan had a -23 goal differential last season, while not Derby County bad, it puts them 18th place for the league. The only way that improves is if the offense can pick up the scoring since the defense isn’t getting any better.

Overall, I predict Wigan stays up with a 15th place showing.

Read more on "EPL Previews: Wigan - More Midfield, Same Defense"...

Just Something To Keep In Mind When Things Do Go Wrong

Maybe the folks at MLS are smarter than we think. Sure signing an international superstar would certainly raise the profile of the league, but Darren Huckerby really isn't enough to take the MLS to that next level by himself.

No, if the MLS wants to get to that place where its stars can start populating communities with enough babies to open an elementary school, they need to go where only the big boys go. Yeah, they need a labor dispute.

It's a ways off until the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) expires at the end of next season (2009), but with the SuperLiga as the backdrop—and we promise this is the last SuperLiga post—MLS and commissioner Don Garber might have not only found themselves a camel, but gone ahead and placed the first straw on its back.

Just prior to the start of the SuperLiga competition, the league told the players that the winning team's share of the $1M prize money would be $150,000.

That didn't go over too well with the players, who probably thought that, because they were playing in a million dollar tournament, they would be receiving a million dollars. That might have been unrealistic, but the resulting spat has given the average fan a bit more of a window into the autocratic iron gloves the league brass likes to don.

God, that's an awful mixed metaphor.

But as a result of the spat, MLS Commissioner Don Garber started talking. And, while he might not have been wrong in anything he said regarding the CBA, he certainly has shown he's no Carnegie protege.

First, he pointed out that Pachuca C.F., the 2007 SuperLiga winner, only gave its players $300,000 of the prize money. Actually, Garber just said that someone else said that's what happened. Here's the quote:

“According to the president of Pachuca, their players did not get $1 million dollars; they got $300,000. There’s bad information to begin with. So it would be in everybody’s best interest if the facts were promoted instead of rumors. It’s frustrating.’’

Fair enough, but I couldn't find any source (in English or Spanish), where that was substantiated by or attributed to Pachuca chairman Jesus Martínez.

Second, Garber pointed out how fucking magnanimous MLS was being in the first place by unilaterally deciding to cough up half of what their non-union Mexican equivalents offered. According to the league's collective bargaining agreement, MLS isn't required to even pay players for SuperLiga at all. Again Garber:

"Within our CBA, there is a separate agreement on bonuses for compulsory tournaments and it is up to the league's discretion to even pay bonuses for non-compulsory tournaments. SuperLiga is non-compulsory... We opted to pay, of the million-dollar prize money that goes to the winning team, $150,000 to the winning club [players], which we thought was fair and reasonable, matching the prize money for the MLS Cup."

Third he said, "Nanny nanny boo boo."

That's not actually true. But you can almost picture it.

Anyway, the tournament proceeded without much incident. Then prior to last night's final, in a show of player solidarity the Houston Dynamo and the New England Revolution came to their own agreement about the players' share of the money, specifically that they would pool the first and second place player payouts and split them.

Then Garber, showing the kind of deftness one only acquires with a degree from the Stalin School of Public Relations replied, "No, you're not." Actually he said the following: "That's not something that is permitted in the CBA, it's not something we are going to allow... We will pay the prize money as it was originially dictated as determined by MLS ownership."

The strange thing is the decision by the players to pool the money wasn't that big of a deal, at least financially, and had to be more of a symbolic gesture than anything else.

Do the maths: It's $150,000 to the winners and $100,000 to the runners up. So by pooling the $250,000, the winning team is giving up all of $25,000, which amounts to less than $1000* per player.

That seems like a pittance for Garber to risk pissing off the entirety of the league labor pool over, especially considering that CBA is going to be re-B'ed after the 2009 season.

Okay, there's a CBA in place and for better or worse, the players agreed to it and the league is going to proceed without violating the law at all (I think, I'm not a labor lawyer) but maybe upsetting the people who play the actual games. But then Garber says something peculiar. When asked about where the $1 million goes—and excuse me for quoting Garber so extensively but when someone is starting to dig his own grave, it's kind of hard to show proper retraint—he explained:

[The $1 million] goes to the club owner. It's no different from a NASCAR tournament where the team owner wins prize money and the team owner has a driver under contract, and whatever his agreement with that driver is is what that driver receives.

That's peculiar because according to this NY Post blog, that's exactly what two of the MLS teams (players) involved in the SuperLiga tried to do—negotiate an agreement with their owners. But Garber and the league put the kibosh on that.

The Post reports that DC United and the Dynamo (both AEG owned) tried to cut separate deals, deals in which the teams offered the players 50% of the purse money. MLS blocked that and the players filed a grievance.

So if NASCAR is MLS, the team owners are the MLS clubs, and the drivers are the players, then what is Garber in this analogy, besides an idiot? Correct me if I'm wrong but by Garber's example what MLS did would be like if NASCAR instead told its team owners how much they could give their drivers.

Again, the CBA is up at the end of the 2009, and if there is a dispute that results in an interruption of play, then you might find the seeds of it in the 2008 SuperLiga pay kerfuffle.

Any thoughts this might be wiped away with the good feelings after last night's top quality match where the Revs beat the Dynamo 6-5 on PKs died pretty quickly with the trophy presentation. Steve Ralston took the cup from Garber and couldn't get off the podium and away from him quickly enough. The message from the players couldn't have been clearer: "Give us the trophy and go fuck yourself."

*Correct me if I'm wrong but the full first-team squads in MLS is 28 players.

Read more on "Just Something To Keep In Mind When Things Do Go Wrong"...

Beijing Balls

We don't want to ruin this for those of you planning to watch on tape delay, so here are some non-spoiler nuggets from this morning's USA v. Japan Olympic opener...

Why it's important to have good wing play...

-The entire game was played in a haze not unlike after halftime at the Super Bowl, when the remnants of the firework show cloud the field.

-Japan has players named Honda (2) AND Toyoda

-The Hemingway of Modern Football, Brad Guzan, must have trashed his memo on "The Olympic Spirit."

-If you weren't 100 percent certain, I did some heavy-duty research and found that Beijing is 12 hours ahead of us. Now you know.

-With the competition heating up in the following matches (Holls next), this match against a middling Japan team was a definite must-win for Jozy and the Lads.

-Balboa and Dellacamera are about what you'd expect with the announcing. Not horrendous, but really, if I need this much explanation about the very basics of what I'm watching (football), then I'm probably not watching in the first place.

-Italy and Brazil won their openers.

U.S. results after the jump...

The USMNT beat their Japanese counterparts 1-0 on a goal from Stuart Holden in the 47th minute. Japan keeper Shusaku Nishikawa got a finger to the ball, taken off a clear cross from Marvell Wynne, but there was enough mustard on the shot and it trickled on past the line.

That's about all. Guzan picked up a yellow for wasting time toward the end. Freddy Adu and Michael Bradley were also booked. Jozy (for McBride), Feilhaber (for Hero Holden), and Szetela (for Robbie Rodgers) all got into the game after the 74th minute. We'll follow up on what the guys thought of the weather once the post game pressers are done. Until then...

Read more on "Beijing Balls"...

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Wednesday Backpasses: See You Next Tuesday

Charlton fans are awesome at spelling and calisthenics [The Spoiler]
Maurice Edu vlogs! Discusses the smog of Beijing with fellow soccer Olympians []
The Offside gets some questions in at the Malaria No More thingy [The Offside]
Someone called Sanchez Watt scored a goal for an Arsenal youths short-sided squad yesterday. We're nicknaming him "Dirty" [Soccernet]

Yay! There's more below!

Blackburn will sign any Santa Cruz they come across [Sky Sports]
Jose Antonio Reyes may move to yet another team [Soccerway]
Rangers set to lose about $25 million for blowing it against Kaunas yesterday [BBC]
Well, I'll give them this--if they are right, they can lord it over everyone. Otherwise, this is hyperbole beyond belief [Sportingo]

And, finally:
Last month I wrote that 22 of League Two's teams would not have to worry about expulsion from the league because the two drop spots had already been sealed. I was premature.
Rotherham United docked 17 points for failing to leave administration properly. Let the race for 22nd commence [Eurosport]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: See You Next Tuesday"...

Championship Preview - Q.P.R

Money, money, money... must be funny, in a rich mans world!

That ABBA classic should become the new anthem at Loftus Road, as Q.P.R. have got the dough and they are not afraid to spend it. Sensible spending, I might add!

Since being added to Flavio Briatore's and Bernie Ecclestone's portfolio, Q.P.R. have been building a team for a promotion push. Lots of players arriving and a few loans pried away, one would guess, using a rather well-connected contact book. Funnily enough Bernie and Fabio's player-collecting has been of the realistic fashion; it appears that they're not keen to bust the wage structure (I'm sure it's risen a bit) and screw the club's financial future. They are actually running it as a business instead of a fantasy football team unlike their unpopular neighbors a few miles to the Saaaaath!

Racing stripes under Briatore and Ecclestone.

So what have the hoops been up to this summer, lets have a butchers!

Out: Jason Jarrett, Zesh Rehman, Danielle Nardello, Johh Curtis, Marc Nygaard, Nicky Ward, Stefan Postma and Robert Malcolm.

In: Peter Ramage, Radek Cerny, Matteo Alberti, Emmanuel Ledesma, Samuel Di Carmine, Adam Boulder, Kaspars Gorkss, Lee Cook and finally Daniel Parejo from Real Madrid.

Fabio has been using his international contacts book and added some excellent players, but will they fit in to English football? Madrid rate Parejo highly but how will he rate in the tough Championship? Same can be asked of Di Carmine (who is a promising young forward from Fiorentina) and Ledesma from Genoa.

Q.P.R. made some significant signings last year and finished 14th. This year they have found even more quality and look to have a very nice squad indeed. Add the new players to the likes of Rowan Vine, Akos Buzsaky, Mikele Liegertwood, Hogan Ephraim and Martin Rowlands and the team looks pretty deep.

In Gorkss and Fitz Hall they have an excellent spine to what could be a flair side this year. Young Angelo Balanta is a Colombian winger who looked a good player at the end of last year, he will fancy more appearances this year. He is certainly one to watch along with Parejo. Ramage arrives from Newcastle and while he may not be considered good enough for Kelvin Koogan, he will fit in nicely here and be an excellent addition at this level. Cerny was at Spurs last year and replaced Robinson when he started to drop the ball... no he really did! Cerny should be solid between the sticks and could probably play in the Premier League for a team in the lower half.

Q.P.R. also replaced Luigi Di Canio as coach at the end of the season and hired journeyman Ian Dowie. This is my only doubt to their success; Bigus thinks Dowie is highly overrated and brings very little to any team (except unwanted attention around Halloween). Dowie has managed 6 clubs at just 43 years old.

Dowie: Face for radio.

If Q.P.R's talented squad can gel, they will certainly be dancing at the play-off party come May.

Prediction? 5th.


Read more on "Championship Preview - Q.P.R"...

Fantasy Football Update

Just a reminder, UF has set up a Yahoo Fantasy Football group for the upcoming EPL season. All of the details are in this post. If the group fills up I will likely set up another group.

Read more on "Fantasy Football Update"...

Tree Falls in New England

It was the two best teams in their league. They have met to decide the last two championships. And they have built a fierce rivalry—one that gets played out with the utmost of sportsmanship, but these two teams go at each other. And hard.

The match-up was the closest thing to a classic that the fledgling league and even younger competition could hope for.

And fucking nobody saw it.

Last night's attendance at Gillette Stadium for the 2008 SuperLiga Final between the Houston Dynamo and the New England Revolution?

A paltry 9240. Paraphrasing a dead comedian: I've had more people than that in bed before.

And seeing how the US broadcast rights were held by Telefutura and no Mexican team was in the final, the ratings were probably equally as crappy.

A good round up of the match, won 2-2 (6-5) by the Revs, can be found here (or if you want the story from the losers' side it can be found here).

But "losers" is an unfortunate term to hang on the Dynamo because both teams went at each other. The first half in particular was end to end. Both teams were still going in hard on tackles even in the extra periods. And penalties went to eight rounds before Corey Ashe pushed his attempt over hit the bar.

It was the best possible advertisement for club soccer in America, even if the copy was in Spanish. So why did fewer people see the final than saw the second shooter on the grassy knoll?

The SuperLiga has not been without its detractors. The MLS teams complained about the money: specifically that the players' cut of the winners' $1M in prize spoils was only going to be $150,000 (More on this later, as it was clear that the players wanted nothing to do with Don Garber during the trophy presentation).

The Mexicans teams complained (and other parties have agreed) that without any of the matches being played in Mexico the playing field was tilted. And speaking of playing fields, many of the pitches in the States were a step shy of being Scottish (i.e. "Not Scottish = Crap").

There was also some whinging about the obscure tie breaking rules. This was also almost exclusively from Mexican quarters as there was some confusion as to whether Chivas de Guadalajara understood the tie breakers. We blogged about it not being the standard goal difference, and while it did involve going step by step through the criteria to make sense of them, they were readily available for all to peruse.

I found them after about 20 second's time and three mouse clicks. I'm thinking if there is $1M on the line, I could probably take the time to make sure I knew the rules. They might have been confusing, but they certainly weren't hidden. And I'm willing to guess if they were likely given to each club. Meaning they didn't need to do anything but read them.

But none of these have taken away from the quality of play, which is what ultimately should drive interest. The only remaining complaint—that it's the preseason for the Mexican teams—would (and certainly does) impact that, but both leagues have agreed to the dates, so if that's really problematic, that's something that should be within their power to address going forward.

Such is the plight of soccer in the US. Goldenballs can Favre the whole of MLS, but when the two best teams square off, it still doesn't draw. Pointing fingers for that is another post. So, consider this a "heads up" for when Houston and the Revs meet a third time to decide the MLS Cup because that's the only silver lining left.

Read more on "Tree Falls in New England"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF **UPDATE**

Just four weeks ago, I introduced you to the Dundee shirt with the names of season ticket holders all over it. At the time I thought it was a one-off. Nope. It seems Xara marketed those abominations to anyone that wanted one. We'll get to that in a minute, but first I want to tell you how I found that out.

One of my local youth clubs took its U13 and U14 squads to Ireland and England this summer. I've put the link in before, but for refreshers sake, here is the blog they set up to document the trip. I was perusing the site last night when I clicked the link to the Picasa album of their trip.

They have uploaded thousands of photos of the trip. There are sightseeing photos as well as photos of the matches. Some of the highlights include taking in the sights at Anfield, hanging on Bill Shankly (I think, I'm not a Scouser), and a tour of Old Trafford. Probably as exciting for them as my trip to Pittodrie a couple of years ago, but that's their loss for thinking the middle of England is exciting.

Anyway, it was looking through that Manchester day's gallery that I came across pictures of CESA taking on some lads from Tranmere Rovers. I noticed that the shirts that Tranmere were wearing looked interesting, and somewhat familiar. No way. It couldn't have happened again, could it?

It most certainly had. The twist on this shirt is that, instead of being open to only season ticket holders, anyone with a tenner could have their name on the shirt. I don't know about our readership (though I have a good idea), but I would pony up twenty bucks to get "Ben Dover" or "Mike Hunt" on there in a minute.

There is something different about this shirt, though. Unlike the Dundee model, this one is well done. The coloration looks good, and when you see a close up, as you do here
you see that the manufacturer took the time to use both capital and lower-case letters. The end result is that the shirt just plain looks good. Which is more than one can say for the club's previous attempt, which looks just like that Dundee one from before. Good job, Xara. Though, I would be really bothered if I put up my cash only to find my name buried behind the sponsor. How would the world ever know the greatness of Harry Butz if all you can see is Ha▌▌▌▌▌ut▌?

UPDATE: Bigus let me know the Norwich did a similar name shirt for their centenary last season. Is there no end to the madness?
The result? The Norwich shirt just looks dirty at a distance.

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

That's more like it!

> Number 1 in the diving world baby!

You may remember that last week Bigus declared that the world had truly gone mad. Fulham were going to pay Everton 13 million smackers for Olympic diving champion Andy Johnson. Well, it appears that the Cottagers have come to their senses and realized that a diving cheat is only worth 5.5 million! OK... The medical showed he had a bum ankle, probably caused from all that flopping in the box!

To celebrate the world coming back to order I have added the video below to show Fulham fans what they can expect this season from their new acquisition...

Stand back Hodgson..Give him room.


Read more on "That's more like it!"...

Barca doesn't care for the Olympics

The men's Olympic soccer tournament, comprised mostly of U-23s with a few overage players, kicks off tomorrow (today? Monday? time zones confuse me), and Argentina are the hot favorites. The roster for the Albiceleste includes such notables as Javier Mascherano, Ever Banega, Fernando Gago, Juan Roman Riquelme, Sergio Aguero, and Lionel Messi. Trouble is, Messi is made of glass and Barca doesn't want him to play in the tournament, and the club just won a court case backing its stance.

FIFA and Sepp Blatter had required clubs to release any eligible U-23s for the tournament, but the Court of Arbitration in Sport ruled against their Swiss bureaucratic colleagues. According to the BBC:

The court ruled there was "no specific decision of the Fifa executive committee establishing the obligation for the clubs to release players under 23 for this tournament."

A statement added: "Cas calls upon the goodwill and the good sense of Fifa and the clubs to find a reasonable solution with regard to players who wish to represent their country in the Olympic Games."

Of course, FIFA's windbag in chief was not pleased by the decision.

In response to the decision by Cas, Fifa president Sepp Blatter said: "Fifa is surprised and disappointed by this decision, but we respect it.

"Nevertheless, I appeal to the clubs. Let your players take part in the Olympic Games. It would be an act of solidarity in perfect harmony with the Olympic spirit.

"It would be wonderful for the players, for the fans and for the game itself. I regret that the Cas has not taken the Olympic spirit into consideration."
First of all, I'm shocked that Sepp would actually stand up and defend an event that doesn't line his (or FIFA's) pockets. Blatter has always tried to keep the Olympic tournament small-time so as not to take any glory from the World Cup. For his part, after the ruling Messi told his coach that he wants to stay in Beijing and compete in the tournament. I'm not sure how he is going to do that if Barca won't let him. I imagine its like when I tell my boss I'm planning on going on vacation for three weeks instead of working during a big deadline. For some reason he always makes me cancel my plans. Ogre! Expect Messi transfer rumors to begin leaking out by next week.

Read more on "Barca doesn't care for the Olympics"...

At it again!

Never far from controversy, Craig Bellamy has made the news again. Not for his pre-season goals but for allegedly, verbally abusing a female Ipswich fan as his West Ham side beat the scummers (Ip..Ip..Ip..Them!) 5-3 in a friendly on Monday night. Ashton scored a hat-trick (he also hates Ipswich). Get in Deano!

The woman claimed that Bellamy responded to her "on yer way Bellamy" (reportedly!) with a tirade of foul language.

West Ham have backed their man after reviewing the incident which 'happened' as Bellamy was walking along the sidelines on 22 minutes after being substituted. Bellamy is said to have kicked the advertising boards before the getting involved with the bin lady.

Now no one can blame Bellars for having a go at an Ipswich fan but C.B has certainly been no stranger to trouble.

There was assault in Newcastle City center, threatening behaviour at a Cardiff nightclub, the alleged attack of one John Arne Riise with a golf club (before the own goal!), an alleged 'chair throwing' incident involving Geordie coach John Carver, the $160,000 fine for calling Graeme Souness a liar (I have no problem with that one), a tunnel row with Terry McDermot and more recently he was cleared of assault in a nightclub involving a female 'admirer'.

Wow, has he been busy.

Bellamy when it all began.

Bellamy had so much potential as a teenager. He was an instant success on the pitch; off it, he was always cocky and a bit of a lad. Norwich coaches found him a real handful, but he was super talented and fast. Boy was he fast!

These days people don't remember that, he is known for the trouble that follows him more than he is for the football, and that's a shame.

At 29 Bellamy has a few years left and another chance to leave all the trouble behind and show the Premier League what a great player he can be. Whether he will take that chance this season or not remains to be seen.


Read more on "At it again!"...

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Tuesday Backpasses: Do they have a Liverpool Hospital in Oslo?

Steven Gerrard limps off in friendly with likely groin problem [Soccernet]
Henry not as open when talking about coming to MLS this time [NY Post]
Italy will let you sue and win when you are offended by other team's banners [Guardian]

More below

Jared Sebastian Leto loaned out to Olympiacos, Scousers happy not to lose him completely to passport problem [Sky Sports]
A reasonable foreigner look at MLS [Goal]

And, finally:
Rooney likely to miss start of season because of bug picked up in Africa [Soccernet]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: Do they have a Liverpool Hospital in Oslo?"...

UF Yahoo Fantasy Footie League

The Premiership season is just around the corner. You know what that means....Fantasy Football (feet not hands)...and UF has got you covered. The official game of UF is the Yahoo Fantasy Football game. Why is it the official one? Because I deemed it so. Now, no more questions.

Here are the details:

Group Name: Ronaldo's Servitude
Group ID #: 5785
Password: saf
Sign up here and see if you can top the league. There may or may not be a prize involving more than pride in this one, although we are still waiting for the Euro Fantasy Game Winner to Cash in his prize, a free post on whatever he wants.

If this group fills up, I will probably start another group. Or maybe not. I'm lazy like that.

There is also an unofficial UF league with the EPL Fantasy game, here. Code: 247966-56569

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Naughty nurses (well, nurses' unions)

(I WISH this story was going along those lines...)

Well, naughty in the sense of embezzling money to fund after-school soccer activities. Then this story warrants such a headline!

From the shore of Australia, we find this wonderful gem:

"NURSES have demanded their union chief resign after the union sponsored his daughter's soccer team with funds from their membership fees.

The NSW Nurses' Association donated $5000 to the Hills District Women's Football Club, which has the Beaumont Hills Lady Hawks in its ranks. One of the team's star strikers is the daughter of Brett Holmes, the association's general secretary.

The sponsorship deal was funded from the Nurse Power Fund - a financial reserve raised through member contributions."

Oops. Now I'm all for parents supporting the extra-curricular activities of their children, but surely this goes a bit too far?

Understandably, the nurses are pissed:

"RPA emergency nurse Cate Cunningham said nurses felt "disillusionment and disgust".

"When we heard at Thursday's branch meeting our fighting fund money was being used to sponsor a women's football team we were speechless. Then on Friday, news filtered through that it was Brett Holmes's daughter's team," she said. "I can't tell you how angry and upset we all are. This has never been reported to members."

Mrs Cunningham said the branch meeting had been held to address the union's willingness to fritter away valuable workplace entitlements in exchange for a "pissant pay increase" of 7.8 per cent over two years.

"We were all sitting there, wondering how on earth our union could have left us in such a mess … then it was casually mentioned a women's football team had been kitted out with cash deducted from our own wages," she said.

The sponsorship was approved at the association's council meeting on November 29. The successful motion read: "The NSWNA contributes $5000 in sponsorship to the Hills District (Female) Football Club for the 2008 year from the Nurse Power Fund."

The message here is simple: don't join unions. That 5-minute addition to your lunchbreak is definitely nice, but it gets ugly when you suddenly find your dues paying for knee-high polyester socks and half-time oranges.

Perhaps the best quote was saved for last, from the guilty party himself, chairman Brett Holmes. When quoted that he was going to defend the $5000 outlay, he had this beauty:

"We have a turnover of $24 million. We can't go to our members about every dollar spent."
Indeed Mr. Holmes, indeed. Good luck with finding a new job... hopefully there's some money to be made in the selling of 2nd-hand football equipment until an HR executive comes-a-knocking.

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When A Regular Beating Just Won't Do

I have got to hand it to Sunday Soccer League players. They create some of the most hilarious stories out there, especially when violence occurs.

On Sunday, a perfectly genteel Australian man (perhaps not) was kicked out of a match for fighting with another player. Alright, simple enough, but it gets better. Not satisfied with getting a red card for his troubles, the man decided to up the ante.

Both players were sent off, but police say the 32-year-old man walked to the carpark and returned carrying a metal tyre lever.

It is alleged he then confronted his 42-year-old rival and hit him with the lever several times, breaking his arm.

Not being Australian, I wasn't quite sure what a "tyre lever" was, but I was sure they didn't know how to spell tire. I assumed the story meant a lug wrench and that the device was mistakenly identified as a tyre lever (or in proper American, tire iron), which as everybody knows is a tool used to pry the rubber of a tire away from the rim on a tube tire, like bikes have but haven't been on cars since the 1950s or so. Tire irons are small little pieces of metal, unlike a lug wrench (seen above), lot likely to break somebody's arm.

But, I digress, the man was arrested and the victim was sent to, of all places, Liverpool Hospital. You see, even all the way on the other side of the world, Liverpool means one thing: criminals and violence.

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Championship Preview - Charlton Athletic

The Valley...Looks like it could be another year of under-achievement!

Not that much to say about Charlton except that there is a big sale going on and they have been flogging some of their top players in what appears to be an attempt to balance the books. Charlton failed to reach the promised land last season, finishing 11th, and so it looks as if they've decided to settle for life in the Colaship and recoup some money.

Not what Bigus was expecting at all. I had not paid much attention to Charlton this off-season until now, but I expected a few in and a push for the playoffs this season. Lets have a closer look at the comings and goings...

Out: Marcus Bent (on loan last year), Sam Sodje, Leroy Lita (loaned from Reading), Madjid Bougherra (to Rangers for 2.5 million), Chris Iwelumo (to Wolves), Patrick McCarthy (to Crystal Palace), Greg Halford (loaned from Sunderland, moved to Sheffield United), Ben Thatcher (Free agent to Ip... Ip... Them) and Chris Powell.

In: Oh dear... Mark Hudson (from Palace), Stuart Fleetwood (from Forest Green).

Not a happy chappy...Pard's.

Addicks boss Alan Pardew seems a little unhappy at all of the exits at the Valley...

"The agenda that I was given this year was a bit of a shock to me, especially the financial situation we're in which wasn't made clear to me,"
There is no doubt that Charlton will miss Bougherra, Halford, Iwelumo (46 games last term), McCarthy and the out-going Zheng Zhi (7 goals from midfield last season). Pardew admitted today that Charlton were considering a bid made for the Chinese national team captain (look out for Zhi in the Olympics starting this week!).

Varney: Needs to find his Crewe shooting boots.

Pardew will need to sign a couple of players fast and return to his contact book to bring a couple of loans in. Lita won't be returning though, Reading have joined Charlton in the Colaship and his goals will be needed for their promotion push.

Ambrose, Faye, Holland, Fortune and Varney are all good players but they will need to step up and stay fit for Charlton to have any hope of the playoffs. Varney especially. He has only managed 8 goals in 40 games after a 2 million pound move from Crewe.

My prediction? 9th.


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Barca's Stroll in the Park

Football may not save lives, stop wars (permanently), or raise the dead, but for an hour last night it did something no less remarkable: it stopped traffic in New York City.

The event was an FC Barcelona "light workout session." As you'll see in the pics, the players had just wanted to go for a run and stretch ahead of tonight's charity event and Wednesday's friendly with the Red Bulls at Giants Stadium. It was all very much under the radar, excepting the 150-deep Catalan press crush, and per UF's resident police source, Sgt. (ret.) Peter Meehan, conceived in the simplest terms: the lads needed a jog, so why not Central Park?

Where would the miracles end? Indeed, for the better part of 15 minutes, at Central Park's North Meadow Park, The Likely Lad and a retired NYPD sergeant enjoyed a chat about the game, the department's barnstorming football division, and even some Major League Soccer.

Sgt. Meehan, a left back on the pitch, at no point threatened to arrest me or issue a citation, and if he had any mind to beat my ass senseless just cos he could, the sarge kept it well concealed-- better, say, than his colleague's pistol. (If there's anything more terrifying than Carles Puyol's face, it's a plainclothes cop with a gun on his hip.)

The festivities began at about 6:15 on the outfield grass of one of the park's western-most softball diamonds. And though it wasn't quite The Beatles on the Roof, the crowd grew as the session went on, and by the time the players were exchanging shirts with the NYPD team, there were a sizable crowd of Barca fans crowding the security perimeter.

The Sarge wouldn't tell me long they'd had to plan, but promised that there was considerable surveillance. If anything happened to one of these guys, he said, "it'd be an international incident." Fair enough, though perhaps a bit overconfident. They had, after all, allowed a known Spurs fan just inches from Thierry Henry.

It may appear that "Titi" is reaching down to sign a football for a young fan, but I assure you that he is in fact stealing the boy's lollipop with his left hand and fondling him with the right. It was an old trick the frenchman learned "with the mister, back in ze Monaco team."

The only people not surprised by the timing/location/general loveliness of the evening were the Catalan press. They, like most of the players, were equally unnerved and confused by the softball game on the adjacent field. What began as curious interest turned to fear after a foul ball scattered a camera crew. Abidal in particular was horrified by the ladies' softball... you'd think he was watching a pack of lemurs feast on babies' feet.


"They ran for a bit, stretched too, then Americans chased them up the park!"

A Hard Day's Night

IMPRESSED... (the Sarge and Mr. David Villa, who explained his unauthorized presence behind enemy lines simply, "I'm friends with Xavi!" "Shabby? This is fun." "Yes, Xavi!" "Ok. Smile!"

Doin' it fer the kids


Mr. David Villa was a sneaky fucker. He was all over the place, even without the precious pass for which I so carefully connived. Below you can see him setting up to drop a bag over Puyol's head.

A bit more background before I dump out the rest of the picture album...

The workout was arranged in concert with the NYPD Soccer club, which travels around the world on their own dime to play games and do humanitarian work. The Sarge was very serious on this point and if you visit their website (linked up top) you can get an idea of the excellent stuff they do.

As a little kicker, the cops even got to "exchange shirts" with the Barca boys and pose for these lovely snaps. The Barca photogs actually put out their butts for this bit. (The Likely Lad was nearly decapitated in the ensuing rush.)
Ok now, I know you stopped reading after the headline, so here's the rest of the art.

The Cops make their approach...

No No No, Zis shirt ees too small. I will bring to Arsene then for dee boyz

A Pair of European Champions...


The Layers of Modern Society... Three-deep: The Schmucks (in the background, in centerfield, and me); The Rich Men; The Muscle (paid to keep A & B apart):

Alas, There Will Be Running

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