Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ligue 1 Weekend Review

This weekend's key matchup in Ligue 1 was the Saturday match between Olympique Lyonnais and Grenoble Foot 38, who were both found at the top of the table. The rest of the day featured a series of close matches, while the Sunday matches were exciting as well.

When last we met, the top of the table looked like this: (1) Grenoble; (2) Marseille; (3) Lyon; and (4) Monaco. This weekend's matches made things a little more interesting.

Saturday, August 23:

Havre 0-1 Marseille - Olympique de Marseille continued its good run of form, getting a second win to push to 7 points from 3 matches. Zenden scored in the second half (and picked up a yellow card 20 minutes later) for the lone goal. The match was also marked by 2 yellow cards given to Zubar, with his second coming in second-half injury time. A stupid mistake will cost the defender some playing time.

Le Mans 1-0 Saint-Etienne - Le Mans took advantage of a relatively feeble-looking defense to score in the 38th minute (Helstad). Domenech's surprise Euro 2008 choice, Beftimbi Gomis, looked largely ineffectual up top for Saint-Etienne, putting several shots over the bar, although he did win some free kicks in dangerous spots.

Monaco 1-1 Caen - With Freddy Adu back roaming the pitch, Monaco had the better of this match, scoring shortly after the start of the second half (Nimani). Unfortunately, with only 15 minutes to go in the match midfielder Leko put one in the net for Caen. Leko plays for Monaco. Oops!

Nancy 0-0 Toulouse - In a complete snoozefest, both Nancy and Toulouse booted the ball up and down the pitch to no result. The only entertainment in this match came from a straight red card to Nancy's Dia in the 77th minute for some physical shenanigans in the box after his shot was saved. Didot (Toulouse) managed to pick himself up a yellow card in second-half injury time.

Sochaux 1-1 PSG - Considering that Sochaux is at the bottom of the table, this is a game that PSG had really thought they would win. However, the first half was uneventful other than a yellow card to Makelele in the 16th minute (Claude! That's 2 in 2 matches!). PSG then put themselves on their heels when they gave up a penalty in the 49th minute, which was easily converted by Erding. Fortunately for them, Sessegnon pulled them even in the 63rd minute, although he also managed to pick up a yellow card 10 minutes later to continue the Ligue 1 tradition of goalscorers getting booked this season.

Valenciennes 3-1 Lorient - This match started with a bang, as Valenciennes scored in the 3rd minute (Pujol). They bossed Lorient all over the pitch for the remainder of the half, scoring again in the 32nd minute (Audel). Lorient pulled one back when Gameiro struck within the first few minutes of the second half, but Pieroni put the match away with a 90th minute strike.

Lyon 2-0 Grenoble - Lyon got off to a fast start, with Makoun scoring on a header off their first corner of the match in the 6th minute. The teams then traded several shots for the next 30 minutes, until Benzema received a beautiful ball from Juninho while sitting in the box and pushed it across for a 2-0 lead. The end of the first half and beginning of the second was marked by numerous fouls, with play being stopped several times for "injuries." The rest of the half featured more pressure from Lyon, with Benzema getting off several shots, but the match finished 2-0.

Sunday, August 24:

Auxerre 0-1 Nice - Alaeddine Yahia made a triumphant return to the first team, scoring in the 29th minute to provide Nice with all the firepower that they would need. However, Nice goalkeeper Letizi made things interesting when he fouled Auxerre's Oliech in the box (and picked up a yellow card for his trouble). Fortunately for Letizi, the penalty kick was pushed wide left by Lejeune, and Nice survived the match to take all 3 points.

Rennes 2-1 Lille - Other than the 34th minute Lille goal (Cabaye), there was little of note in the first half of this match. The second half, however, provided enough fireworks to last a few weeks. Early into the half, Rennes got the first yellow card of the match (Fanni), followed swiftly by a double-yellow (one each to Thomert of Rennes and Debuchy of Lille). The 79th minute saw yet another yellow to Rennes (Asamoah), and Lille picked up its second minutes later (Rami). But the best was yet to come despite the fact that Lille felt comfortable up 1-0. Unfortunately for them, Rennes struck in the first minute of injury time (Cheyrou) to tie the game. Sow then scored in the 4th minute of injury time to seal the 3 points (and picked up a yellow card as well) and keep Lille at the bottom of the table.

Bordeaux 2-0 Nantes - 5 minutes into the match, Heurtebis (who was given a yellow card) fouled Bellion in the box. Bordeaux's Fernando Cavenaghi easily converted the penalty kick for a 1-0 lead. The remainder of the first half was marked by numerous fouls, several chances at goal that were very poorly taken, and some relatively easy saves. The second half featured even more fouls, and even fewer adequate shots on goal until Bordeaux went up 2-0 on a Fernando (not to be confused with the above-named Fernando Cavenaghi, whom he replaced) strike in the 86th minute. Despite numerous fouls in the last few minutes of the game, Nantes was unable to turn their opportunities into any goals.

So, after Matchday 3, the top of the table looks like this: (1) Marseille / Lyon, both at 2-1-0 with 7 points and a +5 goal differential; (3) Le Mans at 2-0-1 with 6 points and a +2 goal differential; and (4) Valenciennes / Nice at 2-0-1 with 6 points and a +1 goal differential.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

How'd We Do?

Once again, the UF randomizer has provided the scores for the upcoming EPL games.

Last week's randomizer had a pretty good showing for the first weekend. Generally, it takes a little bit for the randomizer to warm up. It hit spot on in three matches, pretty damn close in six matches, and totally off the mark in one. I think The Likely Lad was influencing the randomizer last week. We'll make sure to keep his grubby little hands away from the randomizer this week.

Predicted scores on the left, actual scores in bold.

Damn we're good
3-1 Bolton v. Stoke (3-1)
0-1 Sunderland v. Liverpool (0-1)
1-1 Manchester United v. Newcastle (1-1)

Pretty damn close

2-0 Hull v. Fulham (2-1)
2-4 Everton v. Blackburn (2-3)
1-1 West Ham v. Wigan (2-1)
2-0 Arsenal v. West Brom (1-0)
3-1 Aston Villa v. Man City (4-2)
2-0 Chelsea v. Portsmouth (4-0)

What the hell were we thinking?
0-3 Middlesbrough v. Tottenham (2-1)

After the jump, the results you should be gambling 1/4 of your life savings on...

This week there are going to be a lot of reverses, lots of scoring and very few draws.


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EPL is #1 (Suck it, Barclay's!)

Back in the nascent days of this site, we took an in-house poll to determine which domestic league was the best overall. The surprising result--a unanimous EPL victory. Perhaps we should not have been so surprised, because UEFA agrees. How can you tell? Because when UEFA released the finalists for player of the year at each position, 17 out of 20 nominees came from the English league.

What does this mean for you, the reader? Not much, unless we somehow attract the EPL's best to our humble site for readership. But, after the jump, I'll handicap the races, and perhaps you can make a few quid betting your friends.

GK: This really should have been Cech's race to lose, but he already lost it with that fumble against Turkey. Otherwise, what do we have? Almunia spent the last part of the season benched and still can't break into the Spain squad. Reina was a big ball of meh last season, and who the hell is Neuer kidding? van der Sar wins by default.

Def: Since he is riding a wave of support for losing the England captaincy to that cunt, John Terry, my money (no actual money) is on Rio. Or, if the 4 Prem players split the vote, then Puyol.

Mid: Let's see, Essien played defense for the last couple of months, Cesc went into a hole after Eduardo's injury, and the rest didn't even make the Euros. For the hell of it, I'm going to pick Gerrard, though Scholes was probably the most steady presence for his team.

FW: Cristiano Ronaldo, 42 goals in all competitions. Even though he's not a Forward, he will win this.

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Welcome to the Jungle: UF Fantasy Footy League

It's Friday and that means The Weekend is upon us. Besides a brief respite from the excruciating minutiae that clutters our weekday lives (or is that just me?) and heavy drinking that is soon to follow (no happy coincidence those two things are side-by-side), The Weekend means footy -- both of the real and fantasy variety.

That's what I'm here to talk to you about today -- UF's Fantasy Football League (and time permitting, a lucrative multi-level business opportunity I'd like to cut you in on). Held through the ever-excellent Premier League platform, our league is off and running, just like it's real-life compatriot (with 37% less whinging).

While we'll likely be recapping the jaw-dropping action of point culmination during the early part of the week, when the new standings are hot and fresh like a Krispy Kreme doughnut, today will serve as an appetizer. So, let's take a look at the teams inhabiting our league and what we might have to look forward to (that is, if you have a gapping hole in your social life like moi). And maybe I'll even drop some golden nuggets of fantasy footy advice along the way.*

(*guaranteed to lead you to mid-table mediocrity. That's right, you can be the Middlesbrough of your league!)

After the first week, Denver CF sits atop the table with an impressive 69-point haul in the initial outing (sixxxxxty-NIIIINNNNE!). Take that with a grain of salt, though, since Hull currently has as many points as Chelsea.

Sitting second in the table is one of my contenders for Worst Named Team --- 'Ronaldo's Raiders'. Unless the team owner's name is actually Ronaldo (which it isn't, it's fucking THOR! Please tell me that's your actual given name, because that would be sublime), any mention of the Douchebag himself immediately draws my ire. Plus, the Raiders fucking blow. They're like West Ham; plenty of history, including a violent faction of fans, that have completely lost the rudder and are currently adrift in a Sea of Suck.

Right behind He Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken's Pompous Picaroons is another Worst Named Team nominee -- 'ChadBunzFC'. At least this time, the team's namesake is actually a Chad. Yet, anything that conjures up images of a stranger's heiny is lame at best. And apparently, Chad hails from the street and doesn't care about spelling. You see, the 'Z' bestows upon him street cred. Which is something every fantasy footy player should certainly be striving for.

In fourth place resides my last Worst Name nominee -- 'Justified FC'. If manager Tony E meant this to be a Justin Timberlake reference, then I'll take him off probation. Seriously, the kid (Justin, not Tony) oozes talent out his ears (flava infection, maybe?), bathes in pussy and both records are rather enjoyable. Any other interpretation of this team name is unacceptable.

As for Best Named team, I'll rule out my own ('Clash City' being a wonderful Clash reference, thank you very much). I'm partial to our own LB's 'Nunca Caminaras Solo' because I'm a homer (no shame in having to Google it). But, 'Brain Stabbing' has a certain ring to it that I find pleasing. Fan's Attic, you win. 'Cobble Villa', 'Don't Be So Ruud' and 'Where is Watford?' all were in the running as well. Where is Watford? At the bottom of the table, just like your fantasy team.

Taking a look at the make-up of the actual teams, it will come as no surprise that there are certain shared players amongst the competitors. Fernando Fucking Torres leads the front-line for no less than 11 of the 21 clubs. Fabregas, the 2nd leading points getter (behind The Cunt), is employed nine times (and we're all waiting on his fucking ankle to heal). Clichy, a defender who likes to get forward, has found his way onto 7 teams, with Meite (crap defender for a crap team) and Howard (balls! banana! microwave!) are also playing lucky sevens.

Speaking of players, let me take this opportunity to publicly call out Ian for making Stoke goalkeeper Steve Simonsen the captain of his TheoFabregas squad. Are you Glenn Roeder in disguise?

Not that I'm a Special One over here. I'm the only asshole to have made a transfer after the first week. Thanks, Michael Carrick.

So, I'm on the look-out for diamonds in the rough. But, who is going to be the Darkhorse Surprise Player of this season? Well, don't look for any answers today.

#1: I'm hungover and don't have them right now.
#2: There's no way I'm telling this lot in the first fucking post. You'll have to come back.

In the meanwhile, I wonder what happens come Fall when His Douchiness finds his way back into a United shirt. How many of you will pony up the cash to buy the guy who seems to sweat points?

Read more on "Welcome to the Jungle: UF Fantasy Footy League"...

Beware of British Tourists Stealing Your Children

Picture the following, as reported by the Daily Mail: A British couple is on vacation on the Croatian holiday island of Krk (yes, needs a couple of vowels). Just ahead they spot a young child. And then one of them says, "that little girl looks like Madeleine McCann," the world's most famous missing child. The other says, "It does!"

They close in to investigate, snap some pictures from afar, and become more and more convinced that they have indeed finally found little Madeline!

They wait for the right moment, and then they act: the extremely attractive woman who is with the child looks away, and they snatch Madeleine! They're off down the sidewalk, "it's okay Madeleine we've finally saved you!"

And then they realize... this isn't Madeleine. In fact, this isn't a girl, it's a boy. Who looks nothing like Madeleine McCann. Who belongs to a famous Croatian model and Dino Drpic, an international Croatian footballer who plays for Dinamo Zagreb.

Words fail me.

You would have thought that -- for starts -- it might've been a clue that the kid was with his mom, and that his mom was a model!

But, for any British tourists thinking about vacationing in Europe this summer, here's your handy guide:

Madeleine McCann

Not Madeleine McCann
(Dino and Leone Drpic)

Photo of Dino and Leone Drpic from the Daily News, other photos from the Internets.
h/t Cathy

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Thursday Backpasses: Why no Lorrie Fair?

The true "Redeem Team" wins gold at the Olympics [US Soccer]
Brazil's president and media are not happy with their men's Olympic performance [Reuters]
Germany may have a Gretna. They've met the first hurdle of making it to Bundesliga [International Herald Tribune]
Scots boo "God Save the Queen". I blame Glaswegians [ITN]

More below

Man City had to borrow money to pay staff wages. Things are only going to get worse there [Daily Mail]
WAGs at Wembley; Becks drives [Daily Mail]
An in-depth look at the evolution of the fullback position [Sports Illustrated]
Runner-up on the UK Apprentice gets job at Birmingham City, says she would date players. With pic [What's on TV]

And, finally:
President of Sudan gives Egyptian African Cup of Nation winners new cars. Someone is looking to curry favor, hmm? [Sudan Tribune]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: Why no Lorrie Fair?"...

Arsenal: Now with Yet Even More Frenchiness!

Sir Alex tells Mikael Silvestre to sod off.

In an unprecedented move, Sir Alex Ferguson has allowed one of his players to make a move to one of the other Big Four clubs. It was announced yesterday that Mikael Silvestre has signed a 2-year agreement with Arsenal. Having been injured last year, and fallen behind Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic in the starting line-up, Silvestre chose to forego his Old Trafford testimonial and make the move to London after 9 years at ManUre.

Silvestre now will likely join William Gallas in the middle of the defense, along with Gael Clichy and Bacary Sagna on the outsides, to form an all-Bleu back line (much to Wenger's delight). With the departure of Justin Hoyte to Middlesbrough and an injury to Senderos (thank goodness), Silvestre should see significant playing time right away, which was a major motivation for him to make the move to the Emirates.

At the price of £750,000, the Gunners get quite the bargain for a player who was part of 4 EPL titles, 1 FA Cup, and 1 League Cup, in addition to his 40 appearances for Les Bleus. Wenger hopes that the 31 year-old Silvestre's maturity and experience will help bolster his extrememly young EPL side in their bid for renewed glory.

Read more on "Arsenal: Now with Yet Even More Frenchiness!"...

Dispatches from the Relegation Zone

UF has a sterling track record of letting supporters of all stripes have their say-- always with a composed, balanced prose-- on their club. Yes, Bigus and his Canary Love may have slipped through the editorial cracks, but that fact that even three percent of his lust letters to Darren Huckerby actually get posted to the site is proof enough. Shit, my hero Joep wrote like a thousand words on Holland's group stage play during the Euros.

For the reason stated above, and because he's the man, I'd like to introduce you all to Captain Fulhamerica. He's an American ex-pat, living in London, and spending-- like so many other American ex-pats have-- his Saturday afternoons at Craven Cottage. Always a proper footy fan, and something of a 'keeper in his time, the Captain has kept me entertained with his dispatches from the relegation zone for some time now. Enjoy...

Headed home...
They called him "McGod"-- some of them at least-- and now he's gone. The man who for so many seasons near single-headedly kept Fulham afloat is now in Chicago, where we imagine the ghost of Jimmy Bullard will haunt his dreams. It's life after McBride for those crazy Cottagers and their evident despair (wait foooor it...) is a testament to the club's annual flirtation with the drop. The question this season then, as always, is whether Fulham can find some kind of drama that doesn't involve the threat of bus trips to Norwich and Scunthorpe.

(TLL note: the following "interview" has been culled from a wide-ranging email exchange that goes back to before Fulham's Saturday defeat at Hull.)

The Likely Lad: Captain, your thoughts on the upcoming season?

Gera will be our best signing hands down. The guy is an absolute Stud. Captain of the Hungarian team, was by far the Baggies best player last year and we got him on a Free how? Blows my mind. Our wings actually look excellent with Simon Davies easily being our top performer last year and again, Gera is just class.

Now, the Middle is the issue (mid and defending…). Who do we play? We have Bullard (well overrated, yea I said it… takes a mean free kick but that’s it. I've seen him play about 246 stupid balls that have almost and sometimes actually materialised in gift goals for the opposition, been taking loads of stupid shots when we have 1 – 3 people in much better positions on breaks… wouldn’t mind offloading him for 5 million quid if we could get it, given his dodgy knee and all…). Who else – D Murph, who I believe will be captain, he's a little less risky than Bullard, which is both good and bad. Andreasson and Andanik both more defensive minded but both REALLY REALLY good in my opinion… looking forward to watching these two get their time in. Andreasson is our only ‘hard’ guy.

Defence – Stoor was a huge signing on the right, hope to see him in their over Pantsil. Better both defensively and offensively… no brainer Roy, do the right thing… Konch on the left is decent, a bit overrated as well I think as ive seen him get burned quite a bit last year, but by the end he strengthened up and started making good runs. Hope this keeps up.

In the middle, the jolly giant Hangeland has been quite good actually, another captain candidate, but against the likes of LPool and Manure, he looked crossed up… granted that’s with most teams’ backs though. Hughes – other central defender, hes good. Not Great, but good. Waltzing Mark Schwartzer is money, good upgrade although I did love Keller (TLL note: Dude, seriously?)(almost caught his Jersey when we won at Reading, after our first win in roughly 32,572,468 away matches… cue the Great Escape tune!)

I'd like to see one more signing, another strong center back if possible… we've done a lot of other strengthening in terms of our squad so we have depth, but that's my starting XI.

When the inevitable injuries start piling up, we'll start throwing in our bench, which looks like our starting squad from last year. That's OK, I guess, but I’m not up for another season as frustrating as the last.

Captain Fulhamerica's next paragraph began with the words: "Off to Hull for the weekend..." He then goes on to hedge about how many points he'd expect his lads to take off the newbies, eventually settling on settling for a draw. He also called Gera "The Magyar Magician," which, if Saturday was any indication, may well prove prescient... ho ho! The Captain ended his screed by predicting an 11th place finish (TLL note: Hey, that's my club' slot!)

The Likely Lad: What was that you just said about Bullard? You'd be playing at Coventry... or Norwich if it wasn't for his "246 stupid balls."

The nerve to call this lad unattractive!

Don’t get me wrong. I very much do enjoy Jimmy B, he’s the sweetheart of the team, the jokester, one of those guys that could kick you in the bollocks but you’d have to forgive him just looking at his endearing smile (even though he is quite ugly if I must say so myself).

He’s been our most creative player along with Dempsey, but the ratio of creativeness to goals isn’t too high, to be honest and sometimes quite dangerous as stated before. He works really hard too, constantly all over the pitch but gets caught moving forward too often leaving our mid wiiiiiiiiide open. I’m telling you, pair him up with Andanik in the middle rather than Murph and we might be on to something.

Speaking of Dempsey, remember the Americans? He’ll make a few sub appearances but shouldn’t be starting over Gera. Boca gone, Keller gone, McLegend will be forever missed... and Eddie Johnson: his sole use is for songs along the lines of "Your wife is gonna leave you cos we got two Johnsons"... stuff like that.

The Likely Lad (on Monday): So big fella, how was the trip? Who had a worse weekend, Spurs or Fulham. Tell us of your travels!

The train up to Hull found myself having a few with some Spuds on the way up to Borough. They were optimistic about the season and rightfully so (TLL: The Captain has put off panic mode, for everyone, for this week at least), they agreed that a 12th spot finish would be doable for my (not so) mighty Fulham as well. But we aren’t here to talk about Spuds anyway is we… (TLL: Certainly not. Thank God.)

Lets just hope Roy Roy really does have that much of an impact in terms of the spirit of the lads, as he showed once again his tactics are sub-par. Why on earth would he start Seol? I wasn’t surprised (or happy) to see Bullard and Murph pair up in the middle either, and to be honest after the first 20 minutes I was fairly confident the result would be roughly 5 – 0 to the whites.

Then, as Fulham often do, we stopped playing. Just stopped, played as though we won the match already and stopped going in hard for tackles and the first/second balls other than Pantsil, surprisingly, who seemed to play the hardest along with waltzing Mark Schwartzer…

Nevertheless, we needed a substitution at roughly the 60 minute mark. We all noticed it in the Fulham end. All shouting to bring on fresh legs, maybe spark some inspiration in the rest of the lads but no – then Konch makes the mistake and we're down 2-1. Then the 70th minute, still no subs. 80th minute and still no subs… Taking off Zamora in the 85th minute as your first sub? That’s a fairly shotty job if you ask me. I guess we just have to have faith he’ll sort it out…

Gera – shocking. He could’ve had a hat trick in the first half alone but didn’t even get a shot off. Im still confused about that. Simon Davies, as per usual, good game that goes unnoticed to the untrained eye (BBC and the like…).

Positives from the day – the usual Away banterdom b/w fans. Hull's support were brilliant and got their lads moving. Got me out of my seat more than Fulham did and made the trip worth while, to be honest. There was also that first 20 minutes: We looked like a Prem team who cared as well.

Oh well, in for another frustrating season? I sure hope not… Bring on the Arsenal!!!

So there you have it folks. Direct from the frontline. The battle for 17th place continues on Saturday, at the Cottage, against those ghastly Gooners. Until then, let's send our best to Captain Fulhamerica!

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Arrivederci, Andriy

In slightly sunnier news, we might be seeing the end of the Stamford Bridge love affair between Roman and his misunderstood Ukrainian plaything, Andriy Shevchenko.

We all know loans are the beginning of the end as far as player-club relations go, and there's word that the ink is slowly drying on a deal to loan him out to AC Milan, the club where he enjoyed his greatest personal success. Shevchenko never quite sorted out the goalscoring once he left Serie A, managing to bulge the net just 9 times in 47 appearances since joining Chelsea for a whopping 30 million pounds in 2005.

He was the apple of Abramovich's eye, and the transfer that was supposed to push the Blues far beyond anyone else's reach (they did still win some trophies, but hardly needed Andrei for that). Instead, he was an expensive flop, akin to movies like Ishtar or anything Uwe Boll ever made, and his departure on loan should finally bring this awkward courtship to a close.

He's still revered in Milan, and rightly so considering his track record. Still, I shall shed a tear tonight as Chelsea shed arguably their biggest joke.

After the jump, some videos of Shevchenko in happier days, you know, when he could score goals and get regular playing time.

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That's it... destroy the village

Is there anything at all that's salvageable?

Thankfully, it was only a friendly, but a last-gasp, comedy-of-errors, listless 2-2 draw at home to the Czech Republic is hardly the stuff that builds confidence. Fabio Capello once again ignored all the promises and fantastical talk he wooed the press with upon first being hired, and trotted out a team so devoid of imagination and experiment that Glenn Hoddle could have picked it.

We're 2 years from the World Cup (that is, assuming we make it, ugh), and this is the XI selected by Fabio to get some valuable playing time and experience:

GK - David James (age 38)

LB - Ashley Cole (27)
CB - Rio Ferdinand (29)
CB - John Terry (27)
RB - Wes Brown (28)

LM - Frank Lampard (30)
CM - Gareth Barry (27)
RM - David Beckham (33)

LF - Steven Gerrard (28)
RF - Wayne Rooney (22)

ST - Jermain Defoe (25)

Brilliant, isn't it? The same cast of indentured characters, several of whom will surely be too old to participate in the World Cup itself! Thus, why waste the time? It's not like we need to play it safe in friendlies and make sure we win points... there's none to play for!

The second half saw little improvement, as the players of the future saw the last 20 minutes or so without any real chance to assert themselves on the pace of the game.

It's a very depressing thing to see ones country struggling like this. Years of the same-old, same-old rubbish from a string of uninspired managers who seemingly picked the same 15 players for every match, regardless of domestic form. The sea change for me was the continued selection of Beckham (yes, I know, I dog him frequently), who was rewarded for taking a big payday to play in a more sedate league with plenty more caps for his country, not to mention that the quality of his individual play at the Galaxy has been far from dominant either! (Lest we forget that Huckerby outshone him in their recent meeting)

And yet, nothing changes! The media get sick and vitriolic, Capello answers the criticism and then we sit and watch the entire thing repeated over and over again from match to match.

Capello promised us the world, a brave, exciting new vision of an England team selected on merit, a novelty for us, and the guarantee that new faces and new talents would be given every chance to shine in all these pointless friendlies leading up to our World Cup qualification group.

In reality, we've seen nothing to get excited about. Andorra is just around the corner as qualification begins, but it's not difficult to imagine a match-up much tougher than it should be. And the longer Fabio continues to ride these ineffectual horses into the ground, the longer our disappointment and failure continues.

[The strain was enough for Brian Barwick to quit yesterday... the entire FA should be dismantled and rebuilt again until the national team is something worth cheering about]

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

USMNT vs. Guatemala

An open thread for anyone who wants it. Guatemala have played well thus far, except for the diving. 0-0 after 38 minutes

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This week in offensive comments barely connected to football

Hosts of football shows have a long history of making offensive, off-the-cuff comments (anyone remember the Fox Football Fone-In controversy?), and we can now add football reality show presenter Brian McFadden to the mix.

McFadden is a host on the Australian football reality show Football Superstar, a show much like the one in China we reported on UF back in March. The show just finished its first season (don't click that Football Superstar link unless you enjoy spoilers), and McFadden has been doing the rounds on the radio to keep his name out there.

On one such show for New Zealand's More FM, he was responding to a caller who suggested that boys used to wear pink a lot more than girls a few decades ago.

McFadden's response?

"If you are not gay, a man should not be wearing pink. Saying pink is a form of red is the same as saying homosexual is a form of male."
Well then.

And this is coming from a guy who got his start in showbiz as part of a boy band, one of whom was gay?

As expected, there is considerable backlash, and when you think about the kind of mediocre career McFadden's eking out for himself these days, it might even be the end of his run in the media. Loud cries of homophobia abound, but the thing that troubles me is that he's either hypocritical, or extremely lacking in the memory department.

Less than a week ago, the idiot was pictured performing in a concert while wearing pink! It's one thing if his comments come from some hardened, Ted Nugent-esque fortress of imagined moral authority, as at least that opinion can be reasoned with over time (or one would hope), but considering the singer can't even make his own mind up about the color itself, you wonder why on earth he made the comments in the first place!

To play us out today, enjoy the dulcet tones of his former band Westlife's song "Swear It Again", their only song to cross the Atlantic Ocean with any success.

I mean based on his comments, I doubt anything else of him will be coming here any time soon.

[Ed. Note: I realize this is tenuously linked to football, but hey... McFadden does host a footie show]

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

If you saw the games this weekend, you know what I am talking about. Manchester City and Wigan revealed new looks that can only be described as horrifying. Hopefully, they will both be considered bad luck as both teams stumbled in their opening round games.

Join us after the jump for a look at the two worst debut shirts of the weekend.

Manchester City had the worse of the two debuts this weekend, giving up four goals, including an eight-minute hat trick to Gabby Agbonlahor, in losing to Aston Villa. I would like to think that this shirt is the reason why.

Ouch. Orange, with Navy and Yellow piping? Who was the genius that put this together? Someone at Le Coq Sportif is going to have to pay for my eye surgery after viewing this abomination. At best, this is equal to the horrible keeper jerseys that commenter Keith discusses in the comments on this post. The worst part of this jersey for the fan? Those horrible cuffs on the long sleeved version. All of a sudden it's like wearing a sweatshirt down there. No thanks.

Wigan also started miserably this season, giving up two Dean Ashton goals in the first ten minutes on the way to a 2-1 loss. The possible reason why? The players could not bear to look at each other in these shirts in the late British Summer sun.

The worst off in this deal is JJB Sports. I'm sure they pay a good amount of money to be the shirt's sponsor, but the advertisement was unreadable on the TV due to just how bright this shirt is. Sadly, we will probably be seeing a lot of this shirt as the season wears on, as this is the official away shirt for Wigan. We may be spared from further horrors on Citeh's end, as the Orange shirt is Manchester City's third shirt for this season.

Does no one who designs these shirts think to check out what the colors look like on TV before they make them up? Both of these shirts look relatively muted on the internet, but trust me, they are horrors on TV. Thank your own personal jebus FSC has not upgraded to HD.

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Tuesday Backpasses: Retro Thought Alert

Rooney to endorse Mercedes. How long until other chavs start boosting the Mercedes stars off of the cars to wear on chains, a la the Beastie Boys, circa '86? [Liverpool Daily Post]
Tomas Rosicky seems eager for a move [The Sun]
Argentine women get in on the "slit/slant-eye" picture thing [The Spoiler]

Still some more to go

Marc Stein's club is going to be insolvent in five years at this rate [Soccernet]
Ireland to play Georgia at a neutral venue for UEFA qualifying [Guardian]
New US women's league to poach best players from England [Guardian]
Which is sad, because women's football is better than the EPL [Telegraph]

And, finally:
Manchester United fanboys are done with Cristiano Ronaldo. For now, at least [Guardian]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: Retro Thought Alert"...

Becks on Broadway

As if being on Sesame Street wasn't enough for Goldenballs, there is word that the blonde midfielder's storied life and career is being adapted for the stage. Yes, a Beckham musical is being written and readied for a stint on London's West End, thus ousting Legally Blonde at the top of the list of "Most Unnecessary Musicals Ever."

Lord, help us all. We can only hope the comedy factor is so high that they bring it to New York.

From The Telegraph:

"Beckham’s story is a modern-day fairytale of heroes, villains, love, Manchester United and what it means to lead your country," explained Mark Archer, the songwriter behind this celebration of Beckham’s first 33 years. "His rise from obscurity to international stardom, his universally acknowledged gifts as a supreme sportsman, and his Hollywood lifestyle all have the elements of an aspirational fable.

"With football and celebrity now firmly established as new secular Western religions, The Theatre of Dreams is set within a cheering football stadium – the modern-day church. The music is powerful, gospel-like rock to establish clearly football and Manchester United as a religion."

Oh Archer, you think you're so bloody deep, don't you?

Hidden within the thin veil of credibility, the simple fact remains: Archer fancies himself a decent, swift payday. Is there anything in Becks' life that's worth transposing to bad music, glaring lighting and wooden performances? (Besides, perhaps, his entire career in LA that's been staged just like that)

Besides, Archer, what are you really after?
"With half the world supporting United and the rest worshipping Beckham, a musical about the iconic life of the Beckhams would be certain to attract huge attention," Archer added.
A-ha, thanks for answering my suspicions just two paragraphs further down the page.

So what to make of the art itself? Are there any sample lyrics or early glimpses at the musical's structure? Why, thankfully, there are.

From the song The Promised Land, a thoughtful meditation of life in England in the nineties:
Talk about football coming home,
And then one night in Rome,
We were strong, we had grown,
And now I see Ince ready for war,
Gazza good as before,
Shearer certain to score,
And Psycho screaming.

Brilliant stuff. Football's coming home, a nice nod to the Three Lions song for England's Euro '96 campaign, and the rest, while rhyming, sounds utterly un-captivating.

There's more! A look at a song detailing his struggles to perform under manager Glenn Hoddle as France '98 loomed:
You spin me around and point me in the wrong direction,
Always walking over me and putting me down, You treat me like a fool,
You know you have lost affection,
And I won’t play these mind games any more.

While it's surely flattering for Becks and, as the article points out, a sure sign of his place in English affections, is it really necessary? Does it do anything beyond furthering Mark Archer's time in the spotlight and his bank balance? Isn't there something a little absurd about a Beckham musical? Will there be a tune about his days wasting away in Los Angeles?

And, more importantly, if this footballer-musical genre were to really take off, can't we all think of a million footballers worth their shot at Broadway success before Becks? How about Maradona? George Best (although that one might be a tad too pornographic)? Ronaldo?

Who else do you think could be musical-worthy?

In the meantime, we wait and weep at the thought of this overrated bugger getting a lot more media time. Look out for David Beckham - The Theater of Dreams appearing in a theater near you, hopefully never. I pray that this is just an April Fool's a few months early.

Read more on "Becks on Broadway"...

An Interview with Marc Stein: Part II

As promised, herein lies Part Two of our two-part (despite what my friend Lingering Bursitis might have said to the contrary) interview with ESPN's Marc Stein. Part One can be found right here -- or you could just scroll down the page, but that defeats the purpose of hyperlinking, eh?

Again, big thanks to Marc for taking the time to speak with UF!

After the jump, Marc talks about the NBA, blogs and working for ESPN.

Q: One of the interesting contrasts between European football leagues and the NBA is the different systems for player movement from team to team. It seems like each system has its own massive imperfections. In football, you have essentially an unregulated market – no salary caps, with the best players always moving to the best teams for increasingly astronomical sums. In the NBA, the draft and salary caps have done a good job of ensuring parity, but you wind up with lots of purely cap-saving moves (the recent trade involving Marcus Camby being a prime example). Any thoughts about whether the sports can somehow find a happy medium?

STEIN: It's two completely different worlds. So there's realistically no common ground for a happy medium. You can't really compare a 30-team league governed by a commissioner to the comparative confusion of worldwide football and the constant shuttling of players from country to country to country.

I much prefer the salary-cap system, because it levels the playing field to the point that a team in a market like San Antonio can build an NBA powerhouse, which gives hope to fans everywhere. It’s awfully discouraging for clubs like City, Nash’s Tottenham and so many others knowing before a ball is kicked that we’re playing for fifth place at best. But there's little point talking about instituting a salary cap in the Premiership if La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga don't have the same. And even if the impossible happened and Premiership chairmen agreed to implement a cap, how could there ever be a cap that applies across numerous leagues of all shapes and sizes worldwide? It's almost impossible to fathom.

I will concede, though, that the NBA's salary-cap system will look plenty flawed itself if teams in Europe start consistently outbidding our teams for players. But we're not even close to there yet, with all due respect to the Childress Movement. All the talk about 50-mil-a-year offers for Kobe and LeBron, furthermore, is WAY premature. There's simply no proof yet that teams abroad can pay that kind of money, before we even get into some of the other obstacles . . . like the fact that Greece is a marketing wasteland for basketball players and can't possibly appeal to LeBron. Until we see hard evidence that there will be offers sufficiently rich and sensible for a LeBron or a Kobe or even a borderline All-Star to leave the NBA in their title-contending primes, keep me in the Believe It When I See It camp. I just can't forget how reluctant some guys have been to play in sensational cities like Toronto and Vancouver. Now they're going to flock to Europe for money we don't really know exists?

Q: Another contrast between the NBA and European football is the playoffs v. promotion/relegation system. I love the NBA, but even I will admit that the playoffs have become interminable and the end of the season rendered meaningless, especially for teams trying to gain a better draft pick. On the other hand, the EPL remains competitive throughout the season and relegation battles often take on just as much importance as matches at the top of the table. The playoffs are obviously the NBA's cash cow, especially in terms of TV coverage, but is there any chance that the NBA could emulate football and try to make the regular season more meaningful?

STEIN: Don't think it's a problem exclusive to the NBA. I imagine baseball seasons feel pretty empty when your team is out of it in July. I naturally love the promotion/relegation concept, but the reality, as you know, is that we're again talking about two completely different worlds. England has 92 professional football clubs operating independently and lots of leagues below the four main divisions. We've got nowhere to relegate our teams and no pool of promotion candidates because of the affiliated minor-league systems in major US team sports. They've got us beat on this one. By a mile.

Q: Greg Lalas recently criticized you for not covering football in addition to basketball. Is covering football something that you've ever considered? What about an EPL power rankings column?

STEIN: I read Greg's piece and your recent interview with him and I appreciate the fact that he went back and acknowledged that I'm not some "mainstream sports guy" who had a soccer epiphany. I covered soccer in the mainstream press before his brother ever pulled on a national-team shirt. I covered the US national team extensively from 1987-91 for The Orange County Register, back when my man Paul Caligiuri's goal in Trinidad put US soccer back on the international map . . . and back when the sport was such in this country that a college kid like me could walk into the newsroom of the second-biggest paper in California and talk his way onto the beat of a World Cup-bound team. I didn't get to go to Italia '90 -- don't know that I would have been sent even if I was out of college -- but I did get to cover the '94 World Cup for the Los Angeles Daily News right after my first few months on the NBA beat.

There were simply NO papers in the States back in those pre-MLS days where you could make a living as a full-time soccer guy. (Almost the same held for tennis, which was actually my “first” sport, apart from the New York Times and LA Times.) Some of my closest soccer-writing pals from that era -- like Steve Goff (Washington Post) and Scott French (MLS Magazine and another alumnus from the Cal State Fullerton journalism factory) -- are still going and have my full admiration for putting up with years of snubs from their editors and the countless desk shifts they had to log for the right to occasionally do some soccer to make it to an era where there actually is an MLS beat.

But when I got the chance to cover the Clippers, as a 25-year-old, I could barely contain myself. I think I was the youngest traveling beat writer in the league at the time and it was an absolute dream come true, because the NBA was by far my favorite big-league sport. The NBA, soccer and tennis were my three sporting dreamlands and I was determined from a young age to make it in one of those arenas as a journalist. I was fortunate enough to get an extensive taste of covering the latter two sports while still a student at Fullerton and then got my big break NBA-wise when then-Daily News sports editor Tod Leonard (another soccer sympathizer) did some shuffling and threw me onto the Clips. Some 15 years later, this really feels like what I was born to do. I think I knew it on my very first road trip, too, looking at all the conventioneers in the hotel and thinking: "All these chumps have to sit in some dreadful all-day presentation and I'm going to an NBA game. I am indeed the luckiest man on the face of the Earth."

I initially wanted to be a baseball writer like everyone else in my sports-writing generation (and several generations before that) but quickly found that the NBA was where I belonged. Basketball had the more interesting, revealing and unpredictable characters, all playing a game so athletically tasty that me and my high school buddies taped SportsCenter every night so we never missed the highlights, all of which seemed to be within an arm's length from what were often sensational seats on press row, all in a sport that was global like soccer. (One reasonably why Nash is so popular with footballers around the world is that footballers generally LOVE the NBA.)

Most importantly in my case, I fell harder for the NBA after I started covering it and once I started meeting the people. Turns out that I love talking hoops as much as watching hoops. Not sure why, but sports like baseball and boxing, which I inhaled as a kid, didn't work like that for me as a writer. I was a total Strat-O-Matic baseball seamhead by the age of eight, but my interest in baseball now is reduced to taking my sons to the odd game and buying hats and plastic helmets that I liked in the '70s and '80s. Basketball, by contrast, became even more of a religion after I graduated to beat writer.

However . . .

I can't deny that, like Greg did, I have asked myself once or twice if I should have found a way to do more footy along the way. It’s really not even possible any more in this era of specialization, but it is true that mixing in more soccer somehow -- I think covering the U.S. men's and women's teams at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 for The Dallas Morning News was my last extended exposure to footy on a media basis -- would have been a great way for me to give back to the sport I love so much.

Soccer is still (and might always be) struggling for a foothold in this country and needs more journalists who truly love it to help in the fight for exposure. This is obviously not a problem at ESPN, where we have an army of soccer guys. In general, though, there's still only a small handful of American sportswriters championing the beautiful game's cause. And that’s an issue for the sport to deal with just like the struggle to attract the best athletes.

Q: That said, what's the best and worst thing about being an NBA reporter for ESPN?

STEIN: Best thing? How much time do we have? I don't know that I could aptly describe what those four letters have done for me and countless others who left the newspaper world for Bristol. All the different platforms . . . resources . . . audience size . . . creativity . . . access . . . reach . . . our constantly evolving technology . . . my colleagues on's NBA squad. I could go on and on.

There are only two negatives. 1) Time on the road gets harder and harder when you've got two growing little champs in the house who are looking for Daddy. 2) The NBA calendar is as non-stop as any in sports. We go from Oct. 1 through late June, then it's the draft one week after the Finals . . . and then free agency and summer league starting July 1 might be the busiest time of all. One of my favorite GMs has a great saying that he loves to trot out at summer league when we’re all in a gym in July for hours at a time watching summer hoop that isn't always of the highest standard: “Life’s not bad, boys. We’re on expense accounts watching basketball.” I realize that no one who has to go to those hotel conventions with the overhead projectors wants to hear about our “grind,” but I remember a great line Dan LeBatard had in an interview with The Big Lead where he basically said that sports writing, compared to doing TV or radio, does hurt sometimes. Especially when you’re an obsessive freak-show perfectionist like I am. The writers who are good AND fast – Mark Whicker from my hometown OC Register is probably the first who comes to mind in this category – are my absolute idols. This gig would be even greater if I could be more like Whick and less like the guy who spends 10 months at a clip overthinking comma placement.

Luckily for me I have an unbeatable method for getting refueled. Last thing I do before NBA training camps open is to sneak over to England for about a week to pretend I live there and go to a mess of games all over the Northwest of England. There’s no sightseeing or socializing or any of that proper travel nonsense. It’s a 100 percent soccer trip. And September is a great time because there's almost a game every single day between the various leagues and cups. I love going to a little place like, say, Crewe on a Tuesday night for a Carling Cup game and seeing all the strange looks when folks get introduced to this crazy Yank who came to their small stadium in the middle of nowhere on his vacation.

Q: We'd be remiss if we didn't ask you about the supposed controversy between the Mainstream Media(tm) and the Blogosphere(tm). It seems to me, at least, that on a good day the two complement each other quite well. Blogs are more interested in amusing coverage but also directing traffic and holding the MSM somewhat accountable, whereas the MSM has the vast resources to do the actual reporting that's impossible for kids working in their parents' basements . . . although, to be fair, most of us at UF have just recently managed to move out of our parents' houses and some of us even have day jobs! So what do you see as fueling this debate?

STEIN: Arguably no one is more sensitive about being criticized than us paid critics in the media. Therein lies some of the tension. Media types are being called out louder than ever for their mistakes and watched very closely. Too closely in some cases, but like you suggested: We’re being held accountable like never before. Yet I think it's also true that there are a handful of bloggers out there who love telling each other in print how much smarter they are than us old-school fossils whose reporting still supplies much of what is dissected in the blogosphere. So heads naturally butt.

Another source of tension: Good bloggers and fan sites can cover their local NBA franchise in ways that the local papers cannot. They generally don't have the insider access for newsgathering that the papers have, but when it comes to pure coverage of a game they have more eyes, no space limitations, no deadline issues and no traditional "rules" to handcuff them. Team blogs and fan sites are also great at finding every printed word and video clip about their teams, which adds another layer to their coverage. So just speaking from an NBA perspective -- since the blogs I read most are NBA-related -- traditional media types have been steadily forced to raise our games to deliver stuff that reader doesn't already know yet. I see that as a good thing and take it as a personal challenge. Some of my peers apparently don't.

I would classify myself as a fairly voracious reader of a small collection of blogs from the NBA, sports media and footy worlds. I like, as much as anything, how they save me time by finding and linking stuff I might not have otherwise seen and send it right to my RSS reader. One of my favorite things about Henry Abbott’s work at TrueHoop is that he somehow tracks down links and passages that might not have made it onto the daily rumors page at, which anyone who has anything to do with the NBA reads every morning. That's impressive . . . and incredibly helpful.

My complaints about the blogosphere are the old standbys. It's disappointing when the coverage gets too personal or spreads wild speculation, but that’s something that the people we cover in pro sports have to deal with on a daily basis. No one ever said that the sports media would be immune to the same treatment.

And I know I wish I would have had the blog outlet when I was a newspaper beat writer. It gives you so many more options. Marc Spears in Boston, Brian Windhorst in Cleveland, Jonathan Feigen and Fran Blinebury in Houston, Ira Winderman in Miami, Ken Berger in New York, Paul Coro in Phoenix, Sam Amick and Scott Howard-Cooper in Sacramento, Doug Smith in Toronto, Ross Siler in Utah . . . those are some newspaper guys just off the top of my head who have a fun blog touch and have made good use of the immediacy advantage that blogs have over papers. My old paper in Dallas has a dedicated Mavs blogger (Tim MacMahon) who, in addition to his own commentary, does a great job of finding anything and everything worth reading about the team and putting it in one easy place to find. My old L.A. pal Tim Kawakami, meanwhile, is a full-time general columnist for the San Jose Mercury News who happens to churn out about 25 blog posts a week. Many of them are Warriors-related and any Dubs fan would tell you they're absolutely must-read.

You hear lots of complaints about how independent blogs don't face the consequences faced by their mainstream counterparts when they're wrong or over the line and how they lack the proper training, contacts and journalistic checks and balances to be treated as an equal. And maybe there are some cases where all that's true. But I don't think it's our place to worry about how the readers classify every blog they encounter. This is a free country and people can start their own website if they have something to say. I’d like to think the audience can generally determine for itself what's what and who's who.

Q: Next to being on the same field with Steve McManaman, Robbie Fowler, Steve Nash and Thierry Henry, was being canonized by the Onion the greatest achievement of your career?

STEIN: I was certainly honored to see's NBA Power Rankings acknowledged by The Onion and more amazed by how many people saw it and e-mailed me about it. This season will be my seventh doing the Power Rankings and the interest in them, knock on wood, only seems to be growing, with John Hollinger’s daily computerized rankings definitely adding to the interest and debate. But with all due respect to the satire press, I can't quite put The Onion in the same sentence as playing with Growler and Macca. Like I said way, way, way too many words ago at the top: I've had far more fun than I deserve over the years, but lining up with legends like that for the Showdown in Chinatown is pretty much in a category unto itself.

Marc Stein writes about the NBA for and also appears on the WWL's television and radio programs. If Man City really do spiral down this season, please think good thoughts about him.

Read more on "An Interview with Marc Stein: Part II"...

Let's Try This Again

Apparently there are second acts in English life. Failed Three Lions captain John Terry has been re-awarded the armband on a permanent basis by manager Fabio Capello. The Italian said Terry edged out fellow center half Rio Ferdinand on the strength of the little man's BIG personality.

Sure to be some strong feelings about this decision, so what do yooooou think? Is the Brave One the Right One, or has Capello made like his new captain and slipped up in a big spot?

Speak out!

Read more on "Let's Try This Again"...

Bun Fight At The Olympic Feed Corral

One bun too many?

Even in the world of elite Olympic athletes, there are athletes that receive the fawning fan treatment from their fellow Olympians. Kobe, Lebron and the other USA Men's Basketball team are just some examples. Apparently, Ronaldinho, the Brazilian soccer star, is also one of those select few.

This year the Brazilian men's team is staying in the Olympic Village since previous squads staying outside the village have not performed up to expectations. The new lodging arrangements have caused some issues for Ronnie. I'll let his teammates explain:

"We have to form a circle to protect the man but the battle is being won, the security has been well organised," midfielder Diego told reporters.

"There's a bit of a bun fight at meal times but everyone is helping out."
Thankfully, the Brazilian squad is there to help out Ronnie get through the bun fight--seated.

Rather than stand in line, Ronaldinho goes to a table where he is surrounded by other players and has his food brought to him.
If he got off his duff a little bit people would be less concerned with his fitness. In fact, his teammates should tie a bun to a string on a stick and lead him around to get him some exercise.

Read more on "Bun Fight At The Olympic Feed Corral"...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Monday Backpasses: Ronaldo wins another award

We'll start tonight's wrap up with rumors and fact of Americans switching clubs.

Benny Feilhaber, he of the one wonder goal and little else, moves to Denmark [American Soccer News]
Eddie Johnson in Cardiff City's sights [The People]
Lazio after Onyewu. Should get along famously with right wing ultras there []
C. Ron wins a "Gay Icon" award []

More two lines down

Mrs. Wayne Rooney sick of her mooching brother-in-law [Fametastic]
Ives Galarcep looks at the USA-Guatemala WC qualifier on Wednesday [Soccernet]
It costs over $25k a year to get Sky in a pub in Britain. Unsurprisingly, subscription rates are going down. Is this the beginning of the end of the big money era in Brit football? [The Guardian]

And, finally:
"Hoops" Cardillo set to start writing for AOL Fanhouse. Hope those guys have expanded their bandwidth for his arrival [That's On Point]

(We're kidding. We wish the best of luck to Cardillo)

Read more on "Monday Backpasses: Ronaldo wins another award"...

Jonathan Glassgate

The BBC article on England's training for their upcoming friendly with the Czech Republic is pretty standard stuff. Ashton and Carrick are hurt. Bent and Crouch are off. Ho hum.

But, hello?, what's this with Jonathan Woodgate?

The 28-year-old defender was excused a session at Arsenal's London Colney facilities because of his history of fitness problems.

What's this? He's excused, not because he's hurt, but because he gets hurt a lot? What, he gets hurt so easily that he might get a knock in training? Whaaaa?! Couldn't they at least give him one of those "don't hit me" red jerseys quarterbacks wear?

Now, certainly, Woodgate has a history of injury problems at Newcastle and Real Madrid. And he has a wide, if perhaps unfair, reputation for being fragile. But he's avoided those issues for the most part his last two seasons with Middlesbrough and Tottenham. So I guess this caution is for his injury problems from years back?

Why is Jonathan Glassgate even on the squad? If you can't risk him in training, why risk him in a friendly? Jonathan assures the staff that he will be available against the Czechs. You know, because he's not actually hurt or anything. Just, um, resting up. Kicking back. Taking it easy. Avoiding any unnecessary risk is all.

Spurs supporters, currently licking their wounds after a comprehensive loss to Middlesbrough to start the season, are counting on a back line anchored by Mr. Glassgate and Ledley King (who has his own, and more recent, history of injury)...

Good luck with that! (Spurs supporters may feel free to have at me for the Carling Cup Final. Johnny certainly wasn't hurt that day.)

Read more on "Jonathan Glassgate"...

An Interview with Marc Stein: Part I

When Lingering Bursitis and I had the honor and the pleasure of attending the Showdown in Chinatown a while back, little did we know the mileage we’d get out of that chance encounter on a warm, summer day. As you may recall, one of those who took part in the game was ESPN’s Marc Stein, by day an NBA reporter, but also a lifelong footy fan. We have to admit that we were a little jealous of Marc, getting the opportunity to run around with Steve Nash, Thierry Henry, Robbie Fowler and the rest. But, it turns out that there couldn’t have been a better representative for us, the fans.

Marc Stein recently took some time out of his hectic schedule covering the NBA to answer some of our questions about football and various other topics as well. A big thanks go his way. Marc is what we, in the business, like to call a real mensch.

Find out why after the jump in Part I of our interview.

Q: You already covered your experience at the Showdown In Chinatown for but how exactly did you get involved in the game. And about how long did it take you to say "yes" to playing?

STEIN: Apologies first of all for the link you've included and foisting so much on the public about this already. But I think anyone who's heard anything about this day of fantasy football can understand why I can't stop talking about it.

How did it happen? Dismayed as I am that one man can be so good at both footy and hoops, I have to give Nash all the credit. It was all his idea (with some encouragement from his trusty Italian sidekick Simone Sandri, no doubt) to let me bring the level down a few (dozen) notches, ensuring that I would be there to chronicle it all but as much because he knew how much it would mean to me to be out there. I've covered Nash at close quarters since he dribbled into Dallas in 1998 and we hit it off largely because of soccer, which is the sport he'd rather talk about 11 times out of 10. He was introduced to Fowler and McManaman years ago, quickly became close friends with them . . . and has since heard ad nauseum from me how those two are two of my absolute, all-time favorites.

Let’s just say that Nash must have realized that he’d lose me forever as his Ahmad Rashad -- when I'm not working as Nowitzki's Ahmad Rashad, of course -- if I wasn't allowed to sneak out there somehow.

Q: Will you be trademarking the term "Plimptonian Power Rankings?" If not, you probably should, even though I'd guess very few readers have any idea what you were talking about.

STEIN: Really? Inhabitants of the modern-day sports blogosphere don't know George Plimpton? A major disappointment, if true.

For the kids out there: Plimpton is the undisputed, legendary father of participatory sports journalism. Please read his Wikipedia page immediately.

[Ed.: I probably should’ve given readers far more credit. As an aside, the first time I heard about George Plimpton was when my Mom told me that he hit on her when she was working at NBC in the 1960s!]

He actually did full-length books on his experiences, but I've done OK for myself with probably more dabbles than I deserve in the Plimptonian realm. Besides the two other cameos I described in the article -- playing for a week with indoor soccer's Dallas Sidekicks and trying to return Roscoe Tanner's serve on three different surfaces -- I've also shared some interesting court time with Elgin Baylor and Pete Sampras . . . and was once paraded on the Maine Road pitch before a night match with a City scarf held over my head like a new signing. That was for an article I was invited to write in the Manchester Evening News.

I know, I know: I've actually had WAY more fun than I deserve.

Q: I thought it was interesting that some NBA players who were rumored to be involved in the Nash/Claudio Reyna match (Nate Robinson, David Lee and you mentioned Joakim Noah) weren't there. Did their teams pull the plug or was it more scheduling conflicts?

STEIN: No idea what happened to Nate and D-Lee. All of a sudden they went from available to unavailable. At least with Noah there's a story. Joakim called Nash when he read about the game on Page Six in the New York Post, told Nash he was dying to play and then called shortly before kickoff, apologizing for missing "yesterday's game." He had the wrong day somehow.

Q: I think everyone who was there agreed that Jason Kidd, among the NBA players, was the biggest revelation on the football pitch. Watching Kidd play, I couldn't help but think that he would've been an amazing professional soccer player, with the same athletic skills, vision and playmaking . . . plus at 6-3 he'd actually have a height advantage. What's your take on the argument that the United States would produce more top soccer players if student-athletes didn't gravitate towards other sports?

STEIN: I had to apologize to J-Kidd because I had it totally wrong in my preview story for Never knew he had a soccer background and I made it sound like he had never kicked a ball in his life.

As for the bigger issue . . .

I don't know that I have anything profound to say beyond than the obvious. Soccer just doesn't have a big enough profile in this country -- and you have to wonder if it ever will -- to consistently attract the Kidd-level athletes. You'd like to believe that a country this big could hook, say, 50 of the best athletes under any circumstances. Or at least 20. But America is just totally unlike almost every other nation around the world, where soccer is generally the runaway No. 1 sport. What's the ceiling for soccer here with so many sports ahead of it in the queue and so many choices? I honestly don't know that soccer has moved up much in my lifetime.

Q: Changing topics slightly, when did you become interested in football, especially your beloved Manchester City? And how closely do you follow the Premier League during the season?

STEIN: Apologies, again, to anyone who has already been subjected to this sad, geeky, long-winded story.

My brother and I are the first generation in our family born in the States, so footy is the sport my father grew up with in Romania and shared with us. I was first exposed to English football when I was 11. We made frequent trips to Israel to see family in my youth and the only sports publication in English that you could find in the Holy Land in those pre-internet, pre-cable times was SHOOT! For those that don’t know, SHOOT! was a famed kiddie soccer mag that had heavy involvement from all the big England stars of the day and was published mostly on a weekly basis for a good 40 years before meeting its tragic demise in June as yet another victim of the unforgiving world of modern publishing. I will always hold it dear because SHOOT! immediately became my bible to get through the summer. I milked every word out of every issue.

Knowing nothing about the geography or the history of the English game, I was going to have to pick a team some other way from all the names and clubs I was suddenly trying to learn on the fly. On the back cover of my first issue, pictured in stunning sky blue, was City defender Tommy Caton doing a Q&A. City's kit had a strong resemblance to the shirt worn by my AYSO team back in Southern California -- except ours was one of those cheapo light blue mesh shirts with all the little holes and a white v-neck – so that’s the glamorous story of how this City fan was born.

The choice obviously stuck. And in what I consider to be a true sign from above, I made this call without even knowing that City had won the FA Cup in 1969 one day after I was born. Once I eventually discovered that bit of trivia, I realized that me and City were meant to be.

But it was pretty tough to follow English football back here in the States, in my experience, until the early 1990s . . . even though my dear Uncle Josef in Israel arranged for me to receive SHOOT! by mail in California through my teens at a ridiculous cost. As a kid, Toby Charles’ unforgettable broadcasts on Soccer Made In Germany and games in Spanish (starting for me with the 1982 World Cup) were the standout international footy programs I remember watching, overshadowing some sporadic coverage from England on similar UHF stations in SoCal. I more clearly remember subscribing to Sports Channel America (which I think is now basically Fox Sports Net) around 1991 or 1992 (for about $10-12 extra monthly on the cable bill) because they had an English footy highlights show every week. Then the Internet arrived and the world amazingly and mercifully started shrinking. Every season it wonderfully gets a little bit smaller, too. Example: Just in the last month I’ve watched both legs of City’s first UEFA Cup qualifying tie against a tiny team from the Faroe Islands and a preseason friendly against AC Milan on internet feeds that come from I don’t know where. I don’t know that you could have done that as recently as two years ago. I love this game!

In adulthood I'm your basic Premiership snob/geek who can't find much time for the MLS, but I also have an equally deep (and disturbing) love for England's lower divisions. I'd rather watch club football than international football any day of the week and I'd rather watch a League Two or Carling Cup match on Setanta than a La Liga game. Don't ask me to rationalize any of this because I know I'm a freak. I guess I just grew up reading so much about English football -- without actually being able to watch what I was reading about -- that even clubs in England's lower leagues have mystical qualities in my twisted world. City also spent three long seasons in England’s second and third tiers in the late '90s before the club started to rebound, which took me to some remote outposts that only cemented my Football League fetish. Sixfields Stadium in Northampton, for example. I've indeed been there to see City in what is now known as League One; it's one of the roughly 40 or so professional football grounds in England that I've been to in the past decade-plus. Like I said . . . total geek.

How closely do I follow the Premiership now? Closer than I want anyone to know. Closer than my family can stand. Let's just say that no one in the United States finds a way to watch more of the three daily helpings of Sky Sports News that we get over here than me.

Q: What do you make about the Thaksin Shinawatra/Sven-Goran Eriksson drama at Man City?

STEIN: It's nothing, sadly, that I didn’t expect back when Frank, as we call him, got the club. I always feared, with all the potential pitfalls attached to Shinawatra’s legal situation, that City could end up worse off than we were before he took over, which was an absolutely excruciating time in the last days of Stuart Pearce's regime. I dearly hope I’m just being my usual paranoid, worst-case-scenario self, but the developments coming out of Eastlands are ominous, to put it charitably. And you get conditioned as a City fan to wonder when the next crisis will hit.

As for Sven specifically, clearly he didn’t deserve to go. The man only had us in the top five for half the season and did the league double over U----d, after City had gone nearly 40 years without beating our neighbors twice in the same season. If I must be honest, I was not a fan of his football, like a lot of City fans, largely because Sven insisted on playing a dour system (only one man up front) even at home. But let's face it: He was absolutely fantastic in his first season, results-wise, getting a team full of new players to gel so quickly. Sven also had an undeniable presence that was even more impressive than the top-10 finish. Not Mourinho-like, obviously, but Sven gave City unmistakable credibility, especially in the area of player recruitment. He could call any player in the world and at least get that player to take his call. Don't know if City has ever had another manager with that kind of juice.

That said, I'm a pretty big admirer of Mark Hughes, in spite of his U----d connections and last week's slip up to whatever the hell that Danish team is called that Danny Califf plays for now. He’s a rare breed (top young British manager) who’s joining the club with the most underrated, on-the-rise youth academy in England (reigning FA Youth Cup champions). So I fall into the camp of City fans who have their fingers crossed that we might have gotten away with one when Frank was able to convince Hughes to come to Eastlands after forcing Sven out prematurely. I think Hughes is good enough to solidify us as a top-six or seven side, but that naturally depends on Shinawatra's troubles going away or someone with money coming in to rescue him.

If the stories are true about Shinawatra wanting or needing to sell the club . . . don't make me think about what happens next. But that’s life as a City fan. It’s a roller coaster that never lets you off. As legendary striker Franny Lee famously said back in the club’s glory days -- and I'm paraphrasing here to Americanize his quote -- City would have an overflowing trophy case if they gave out cups for screw-ups.

Q: Do you think Ronaldinho would have worked out at Man City?

STEIN: Nope. No chance. Ronaldinho surely thinks he’s still too good to go from Barca to City. Factor in the ridiculous money we'd have been risking and it only could have ended in tears.

Part II of our interview with Marc Stein is on its way tomorrow!

Read more on "An Interview with Marc Stein: Part I"...

Aussie Rules Rioting

Opening weekend in Australia's A-League was full of excitement, especially the rivalry match between Sydney FC and Melbourne Victory. No goals, but plenty of excitment--from the fans--as supporters brawled in stands. There were no flares or thrown chairs or thrown toilet seats, so it's clear Australia, surprisingly, is in the minor leagues for soccer riots.

I always look for the video on these riots, and I found it on the YouTubes with the title "OMG INSANE SOCCER RIOT CRAZY VIOLENCE MUST L@@K." When it's put that way, I don't see how I could refuse.

Video after the jump.

Right now, I am calling on the Aussies to step up the rioting to levels commensurate with its history as a penal colony for Imperial Britain.

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Probably Want to Hire Some Smarter Copy Editors

Uh, how the fuck did, Cambodia (see above) make the Olympic soccer tournament, much less make it out of the group stage and into the quarters?

Oh right. They didn't. In fact, Cambodia totally sucks at football, currently holding down spot number 183 (out of 207) in the FIFA rankings.

Clearly this is a mistake as Brazil was matched up against Cameroon, an entirely different country on an entirely different continent, in the quarterfinals of the Olympic soccer tournament.

My initial reaction was that somebody working at wherever Comcast buys this service from (TV Guide?) is really fucking stupid and when they saw the country abbreviation on an information sheet someplace reading 'CAM' they assumed it was for 'Cambodia.'

But then I thought that, given how fucking stupid Americans are when it comes to geography in particular, whoever had the job writing this copy probably didn't even know there was a country called Cambodia. Instead they saw 'CAM' and checked it against an alphabetical list of countries. When they came to 'Cambodia' they simply stopped and didn't bother to look at the next item on the list.

That's plausible except for the fact that the abbreviation for Cameroon is 'CMR' not 'CAM.'

And you'd have to be phenomenally stupid to get from CMR to Cambodia, because, while Cambodia actually does have an Olympic delegation in Beijing, they don't have an 'R' in the name of their country.

America, trying to live up to every stereotype about it.

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Ligue 1 Weekend Review

Every weekend (if I feel like it), I'll provide a weekend wrap-up for all of the Ligue 1 happenings. I'm sure that the Venn diagram of people interested in these results would have an overlap of 2, but I'm going to do it anyway. Why? Because I have no life. Join me after the jump for all of the fun results.

Saturday, August 16

SM Caen 3-1 Valenciennes FC - This game was over before it started, with Caen scoring all 3 of their goals before the 30th minute. Valenciennes responded right before the half, and then everyone slept through the second 45 minutes with the exception of 2 yellow cards to Caen (1 to goal-scorer Eluchans - he's a double threat!).

Lille (LOSC) 1-3 Le Mans - After an early goal from Halsted, Le Mans got a brace from Maiga sandwiched around Lille's lone goal from Bastos (who also picked up a yellow card - these goal-scorers were snippy!). Of note for our EPL (suck it, Barclay's!) - former Liverpool scrib Le Tallec also picked up a yellow card. Wonderful contribution to the match.

FC Nantes 1-1 AS Monaco FC - Monaco scored very early (Meriem, at 4 minutes), and Nantes got a later goal from Keseru, but this match was more notable for the 7 yellow cards given out (including within a 5 minute span).

Nice 2-1 AS Nancy Lorraine - One of the more entertaining matches of the weekend, the scoring was opened by Nice (Remy, in the 34th minute) but Nancy equalized on an injury-time PK in the first half (taken by Gavanon). Nice escaped with the win on a 90th minute strike from Traore.

AS Saint-Etienne 2-1 FC Sochaux-Montbeliard - Saint-Etienne scored both goals early on a Matuidi strike and a well-taken Feindouno PK. Sochaux kept it respectable with a 75th minute goal from Perquis.

Toulouse 2-1 Havre - Yet another game with an early goal, as Alassane struck for Le Havre in the 11th minute. They were unable to hold on to the lead, however, as Toulouse slotted home two goals in the second half (Congre, Gignac).

Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 Fc Girondins de Bordeaux - The lone goal in the match came in the second half on a 53rd minute strike from Hoarau. Claude Makelele managed to entertain the crowd by picking up a yellow card in the first half.

Sunday, August 17th

Grenoble 1-0 Rennes - A 21st minute goal from Arkour was all that Grenoble needed to down Rennes, and the rest of the match was marred by boring, slow-paced football. Carlos Bocanegra got the start for Rennes, but did nothing notable.

FC Lorient 0-0 Olympique Lyonnais - In a poor result for Lyon, they were held to a scoreless draw by Lorient. Although Juninho, Toulalan and Benzema all started, there was a relative lack of offense for Lyon, particularly in the second half. However, Fabio Grosso and Sydney Govou both managed to pick up yellow cards.

Olympique de Marseille 4-0 Auxerre - L'OM bossed Auxerre all over the pitch after scoring an early goal (Niang in the 17th minute). The second half was marked by more dominance, as Marseille managed three more goals (Grichting OG for Auxerre, Grandin, Zenden) and made the Auxerre squad look like a reserve side.

So, after Matchday 2, the top of the table for Ligue 1 is: (1) Grenoble; (2) Marseille; (3) Lyon; and (4) Monaco.

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EPL Weekend Thoughts

A few quick thoughts on how our teams fared this weekend, and what stood out from the games that I watched. If you haven't seen the matches yet, don't go any further.

The Gunners among us were not too thrilled with a 1-0 win over West Brom, but we were excited that the goal was provided by Samir Nasri. 1 game, 4 minutes. Welcome to the EPL (suck it, Barclay's!) my good lad. Was West Brom that good? No, the Gunners were that lazy (at least that's what we're telling ourselves).

The Red Scouse escaped against Sunderland with a 1-0 win thanks to a goal from Torres in the waning minutes. The pretty-boy should have scored earlier, but his strike bounced off Robbie Keane, who was rushing in to take the shot. If that's a sign of things to come, then Rafa should be very worried. It's worth noting that Torres scored after Keane had been subbed off.

Tottenham went down 2-1 to Middlesbrough. Fitting that 'Boro took all 3 points, as they scored all 3 goals in the affair. Defender David Wheater (who?) scored the first goal, and Mido scored the second only 4 minutes later. An own goal from Robert Huth provided the final margin. The Likely Lad shed tears of sadness.

Our very own Autoglass is the happiest man today, as Chelsea dismantled Pompey 4-0 to begin the Portuguese era at Stamford Bridge. Goals came from Joe Cole, Nicolas Anelka, Fat Frank, and Deco. Congratulations, you wankers.

As for the minnows of the group, Bigus' Canaries drew Blackpool 1-1. After Ben Burgess gave the lead to Blackpool on a PK, the Carrow Road faithful were rewarded with a 74th minute strike from Darel Russell.

Thoughts from the other games:
Everton 2-3 Blackburn - Roque Santa Cruz remains lethal up top for the Rovers, but the points were Everton's to lose. And they did.

West Ham United 2-1 Wigan Athletic - Dean Ashton looked impressive, scoring a brace, but was injured during the match. Amir Zaki looked like he could make quite a bit of noise in the EPL this year, scoring 1 goal and having a good chance at 3 others that went wide.

Manchester United 1-1 Newcastle United - Obafemi Martins started off the season well, and looks in fine form to score 10-12 goals this season. Darren Fletcher equalized for ManUre, meaning that he is not allowed to score again the entire season.

Aston Villa 4-2 Manchester City - After John Carew opened the scoring for Villa, Elano equalized for Citeh. Then, within an 8-minute span, Gabby Agbonlahor drank Citeh's milkshake, scoring an unbelievable hat-trick. Corluka finished off the scoring for match, giving Manchester City their second goal late in the match. Of note, Tal ben Haim looked absolutely pants as he was bossed around the pitch by anyone and everyone.

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