Saturday, April 25, 2009

SERENITY NOW!!!



I am not an angry man.

This isn't a mantra; it's truth. Over the years, I've taken strides in hopes of letting that which doesn't truly doesn't matter, slide. For the most part, it's helped. No longer does my throat ache from yelling at idiots making boneheaded choices in traffic. When a complete stranger does something douchey in my presence, I just go about my business. Say the gentleman parked next to me at the grocery store loads his wares into his trunk, takes a look around and decides he can't be bothered to push that grocery cart 20 yards to return it, instead opting to save three calories by leaving it there resting safely in his parking space. Why should I get sucked into his black hole by publicly calling him out on it? ("Wow, that's impressively fucking lazy" has been a favorite.)

No, it's just not worth it anymore; Not to my general demeanor, not to my blood pressure, not to my chakra(s)*. If it really doesn't hurt me, it has to be healthier to just let it go.

Except when I've absolutely had enough. And, let me tell you, I've absolutely had enough.

What is it that's driven me over the edge? Premiership teams.

Or, to be more exact, Premiership teams and their utter insistence on letting Manchester United back into match after match, pissing away whatever lead they have, capitulating to SAF and band of merry douchebags and gifting that Manc scum point after point after point.

Time after time after time, United find ways back into matches in ways other teams don't even dream of continuing to give effort in. Granted, it's the hallmark of champions. I'll give them that. Even my own beloved Liverpool have adopted this mentality on multiple occasions this season, snatched undeserved points at the death. Yet, eventually, you'd think somebody would sack up, if even by accident, and deny United points. Aren't the lot of you tired of seeing this happen time and time again?

Why do you fuckers refuse to just beat this team? (or even hold on for a fucking draw?!)

The latest string of near-misses has made a mockery of this on-going situation. First it was Aston Villa, up 2-1 at Old Trafford, with just over ten minutes left in the match before they flipped the switch from attacking to sitting back to soak up the inevitable United kitchen sink. Of course, His Douchieness scores. Then, in injury time (after SAF gave the 4th official THAT look), a fucking 17-year old finds a winner. What COULD have been three dropped points, what SHOULD have been one dropped point, turns into three gained points for the defending champions.

Onto the next crime scene: The Stadium of Light. Sunderland have fought tooth and nail to come from behind to knot the match at ones. Cisse almost puts them ahead, but finds side-netting. But, the Mackems stick to the script and let that greasy 17-year old claim the lion's share 15 minutes from time.

After United dispatch Pompey in the next fixture, they welcomed Spurs to OT. Coming up on the hour, Spurs have the champs down 2-nil. Shocking right? No, what was shocking was the way the Yids imploded. After a bullshit penalty to pull back a goal, United slot four more past the Tottenham "defence" (including three in three minutes) to wipe our minds clean of any earlier daydreams of a Spurs victory.

It's all just too much. I need some help. The madness has to end. Surely somebody, somewhere, can put an end to it?!

Serenity now.

Serenity NOW!

SERENITY NOW!

HOOCHIE MOMMA!!!


*I have no idea if I used that in the correct sense

Read more on "SERENITY NOW!!!"...

Soccernet Commentary Pulls No Punches

Soccernet's usually banal Gamecast commentary wasn't so bland today during the Manchester United - Tottenham match. As most neutrals or anti-Mancs would tell you, Howard Webb's penalty award in the second half was the turning point in the match, although it can't be blamed completely for Spurs Submissives second half collapse.

I'm still aghast that the Submissives totally blew its 2-0 halftime lead with its goalmouth being more Asia Carrera than Mary, Mother of God, with 5 second half penetrations. It would have at least given my Reds a chance at the title they handed over early this year with a string of epic bedwetting performances. Clearly, the Howard Webb penalty cannot be blamed for the Submissives prolapsed rectum, but it certainly didn't help and is the target of my ire and the Soccernet commentator's fury.

After the jump, a selection of commentator's words...


56' No idea if you are still getting my updates as the robot seems to be taking over but Manchester United have a lifeline after Howard Webb commits the refereeing blunder of the season by handing United a pen that never was.

57' Right, I'm back on apparently. Here's what you missed, a ball from Rooney, a burst into the area from Carrick, a good parry away from goal by Gomes as he challenged the midfielder and then an inexplicable penalty award to Man Utd. Absolutely astonishing.

58' Gomes got a clear touch on the ball, and it CLEARLY changes direction. Somehow, Howard Webb thought it was a penalty, Ronaldo converts and Spurs are fuming. No wonder. Its the worst decision I've seen this season, apart from maybe the Rob Styles decision. Where was that one? Oh, yeah, Old Trafford as well. Pathetic.

60' Don't get me wrong, its not United fault per se. Yes, they may go looking for a penalty but who doesn't. The fact is the referee's are blinded by Manchester United love and keep pointing to the spot. Terrible.

68' Old Trafford goes utterly mental as Rooney crosses to the back post and Ronaldo dives to nod United in front. An assist in their astonishing comeback must go to ref Howard Webb.

69' Well, what with the robot taking over the commentary, Howard Webb handing United a non-existent penalty and the Red Devils scoring two more goals in quick succession everything has gone into meltdown here. What a game!

72' Full credit to United for going goal crazy but there is no escaping the fact that their comeback was launched by one man and one man only, Howard Webb, who is off the map as a credible referee after his major rick.

76' I can't wait to hear what Harry Redknapp has to say after the game. I imagine Fergie will applaud the referee for a "brave" decision.

80' United's fans sing "2-0 and you f***ed it up," which only serves to incense Spurs fans further. Howard Webb will be a marked man after this one feels....

82' There's a carnival atmosphere inside the ground now. This could be the result that seals their title. I winder if Howard Webb will get to lift the trophy with them at the end of the season?

93' Full time and United romp on, but their comeback was started by the referee. Still, they then dispatched Spurs with a mesmerising attacking rampage.

Excellent work sir, excellent work indeed.

The decision was complete nonsense and I'm looking for anything to blame for United's success and take credit away from the squad. I'll refrain from wishing ill-will on them, but I cannot deny it has been on my mind. As for Howard Webb, I would not be surprised to see himself in a spot of bother the next time he ventures into North London.

Read more on "Soccernet Commentary Pulls No Punches"...

The Bootroom: C'mon Exeter!!


See that? Now, that's a proper crest, and it belongs to my beloved Exeter City FC. With all due respect to the Premiership (suck it, Barclays!) and the rest of Europe and even MLS, today is a day for League Two. At least as far as yours truly is concerned.

Much love for Exeter City after the hop, along with the rest of the weekend action (yawn!!).

Now, why should you care about lowly little Exeter? As the Guardian described, the Grecians are a mere six years removed from utter financial ruin. Owners who bilked the club (they were later convicted of fraud), failed celebrity purchases (Uri Geller and Michael Jackson of all people were both linked with the club), and relegation all the way down to the Conference League.

In the intervening years, Exeter have been saved thanks to a supporters trust (member!), they were lucky enough to draw level with Manchester United at Old Trafford in the 2005 FA Cup (gate receipts and the TV rights to the return leg helped wipe out much of the club's substantial debt), and today they find themselves on the cusp of promotion to League One for the first time since 1994. With two matches left to play, Exeter are a mere one point above Bury for the final automatic playoff spot in League Two (top three teams are promoted, next four teams duke it out in a playoff for one additional promotion spot). All credit to manager Paul Tisdale and the players.

Today, the Grecians host Morecambe, who are a good side and still within striking of the playoffs. A win for Exeter would be a huge step forward, and the locals are expecting a record crowd at the REAL St. James Park. Meanwhile, the Exeter supporters will be keeping half an eye on the scoreboard as fourth place Bury and fifth place Gillingham meet. We're rooting for Bury to lose or draw. So, c'mon you red and white army!! (More Exeter coverage at Exeweb and Kellow's Bootlaces)


And now that you are done reading about Exeter, here's the rest of today's action..... (live broadcasts on major US stations listed, all times EST)

Premier League

Saturday:
10:00 Bolton v Aston Villa
10:00 Everton v Man City
10:00 Fulham v Stoke
10:00 Hull v Liverpool (Setanta)
10:00 West Brom v Sunderland
10:00 West Ham v Chelsea (FSC)
12:30 Man Utd v Tottenham (FSC)

Sunday:
8:30 Arsenal v Middlesbrough (Setanta)
11:00 Blackburn v Wigan (FSC)


The Coca-Cola Football League Championship
(For Bigus... Norwich are off until they host Reading on Monday, but in the meantime we want Plymouth, Forest and especially Barnsley to lose, lose, lose.)

7:30 Barnsley v Wolverhampton
10:00 Blackpool v Nottm Forest
10:00 Bristol City v Sheff Wed
10:00 Cardiff v Ipswich Scum
10:00 Coventry v Watford
10:00 Derby v Charlton
10:00 Doncaster v Crystal Palace
10:00 QPR v Plymouth Scum
10:00 Sheff Utd v Swansea
10:00 Southampton v Burnley
12:20 Birmingham v Preston


The Scottish Cup Semifinals

Saturday:
7:15 Rangers v St Mirren

Sunday:
10:00 Falkirk v Dunfermline Athletic


Coupe de la Ligue

Saturday
2:50 Bordeaux v Vannes OC


Other (Games from the continent and MLS that are on TV and/or look interesting)

Saturday:
9:30 Borussia Dortmund v Hamburg SV
2:30 Fiorentina v Roma (FSC)
4:00 Valencia v Barcelona (Gol TV)
7:00 Columbus v. Chicago (FSC)

Sunday
8:30 Ajax v AZ
9:00 AC Milan v Palermo (FSC)
1:00 Sevilla v Real Madrid (Gol TV)
2:30 Napoli v Inter (FSC)

Read more on "The Bootroom: C'mon Exeter!!"...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Friday Backpasses: Don't be afraid to let them show


Thanks to The Spoiler for linking to this earlier. Yum.

A palate cleanser for the ladies. Special One + Cassano + undies. You've been warned [Off The Post]
Carlos Johnson is in his first MLS season for NYRB. Relevant stats: 3 games, 2 starts, 108 minutes, 2 red cards [NYT Goal]
Bulgarian reporter gets a surprise [The Spoiler]

When will MLS catch up? [Willamette Week]
Portland Timbers to play Bayern Munich reserve squad this summer. Will it include Landycakes? [Oregon Live]
China cheated to win world high school championship [Google]
Hey, it's a podcast! German-focused with some Nives Celsius thrown in [SoccerLens]

Finally:
Melchester Rovers kits through the years. Who are they? Only the best English club of all time [True Colours (and that's why I love you)]

Read more on "Friday Backpasses: Don't be afraid to let them show"...

Quick Throw: Wenger's Wembley Whine Wins

It appears that the Frenchman and the Scotsman have won out. After endless concerns about the Wembley turf last weekend, stadium officials announced today that they'll be digging up the troublesome grass and relaying the whole playing surface ahead of the FA Cup final next month.

A major coup for flowing, attractive soccer!

However, we already know that the final will decided on penalties after 120 minutes of 0-0.

[Guardian Football]

Read more on "Quick Throw: Wenger's Wembley Whine Wins"...

Don Garber Admits MLS Sucks

That's not exactly what the MLS commissioner said. But it's implicit in his acknowledgment that soccer fans in the US would rather watch good soccer than his league:

Exposure to top-level international soccer and foreign leagues via TV and the Internet, combined with the changing demographics of the country, has increased demand for quality “content,” Garber said. This is a new challenge for the league, one Garber didn’t anticipate for another ten years.
Ten years? What has he been watching for the previous decade? He does know that Europe has a good 100-year head start on us (and well as piles more cash), doesn't he?

The article goes on to point out that the league is considering two ways to address the problem. First, increase the number of foreign players. Second, allow teams to sign more designated players.

Funny. He fails to mention a possible increase in the salary cap. Sorry, you're just not going to put a decent product on the pitch, or at least one that will ever compare with the EPL, La Liga, or Serie A (much less Ligue 1, the Eredivisie, or even the better South American leagues) with a $2.2M salary cap. It's that simple. Shit, you try to live off $34K in NYC (as 6 players on their roster currently earn in).

Worse, if you up the number of designated players without allowing for a larger cap, you get the LA Galaxy—a team with 65%* of its salary tied up in two players and the last place finish that goes with that.

The full article is worth a read if only because it paints Garber as an even more puzzling figure. He's not an idiot and he certainly understands where his league sits in the scope of the American sports landscape, but sometimes he doesn't seem to have a clue what he's doing to address the challenges facing the league.

For example, while he fully amits the quality of the game here lags behind other leagues—Exhibit A: last night's borderline unwatchable feature match on ESPN2 between Kansas City and RBNY—he doesn't see expansion as a hindrance to remedying that. Says Garber: “I don’t think we’re near the realm of over-expansion. When is enough? Probably 20 teams in four to six to eight to 10 years.”

But if you've already stretched the limits of the quality you can find in American players then yeah, there's no way adding 60-plus roster spots (expansion already slated for Philadelphia, Vancouver and Portland) will do anything but dilute the already shallow talent pool. Yeah, those $40M checks are probably nice, but if it's just lining owners pockets, it's not doing much for the future of the league.

That doesn't make Garber the first commissioner to talk out of both sides of his mouth but it does make him seem like he lacks a fundamental understanding of how to realistically deal with one of the biggest problems his league faces.

Additionally, the league seems to have a top down approach to building the league (i.e. get stars to draw crowds and hope those starts drag the quality of play upwards). Two problems. First, even when MLS gets "stars" it generally gets them when they are well past their prime. More importantly, though, it doesn't really square with one of Garber's other (somewhat insightful) admissions: “We’re not trying to create soccer fans, we’re trying to convert soccer fans into fans of MLS”

Stars put butts in seats, true. But that's more typical of a casual sports fan who might be interested in checking out the game. David Beckham probably can get that person to open up his wallet and check out an MLS game. But if Garber knows that he's not going to convert regular sports fans into soccer fans, why doesn't he know that savvy soccer fans don't really want to see David Beckham in the US? They know he can't run, can't tackle, can't use his left foot, etc.

Most American soccer fans really want to like MLS and get behind it. They root for it in a way they root for the underdog. But the quality is too uneven. Last year's SuperLiga final was as good as almost anything you'd see in the Colaship. Last night's Red Bull v. Wizards match was borderline garbage.

Teams can build all the soccer-specific stadia they want but simply building them doesn't mean the fans will come... unless there is something consistently worth watching out there.

Maybe the league is banking the increased revenues from those stadia to up player salaries, but Garber shouldn't have to look far to learn the lesson that the stadium is secondary. In baseball, the Pirates have one of the nicer parks in the league, but PNC is empty because the team sucks. Conversely the commissioner can look at his own league. JFK RFK is an awful venue, but the fans turn up because they have a decent side to watch.

*Deliberate hyperbole. For more accurate math, see comments.

Read more on "Don Garber Admits MLS Sucks"...

Didn't Think I Was Listening Did You? Well I wasn't...But My Sister Was.



Oh Friday fun. This is just great. So LBC Radio host James O'Brien is having a chin-wag on his show. Discussing the topical stories of the day. He decides to have a pop at Frank Lampard. You see, he'd read a story in the papers of how Franks ex and his daughters are living in a small flat while Lamps is living it up in his fancy 8.5 million pound town house, rolling around the night spots with his new bird. O'Brien decides to run with it, calling "men who let their children live in inferior circumstances, scum!"

Well, Frank's sister was listening and let me tell you, she was none too impressed. Soon after, Frank is on the phone to the radio station to give Mr O'Brien a piece of his mind.

The phone call. After the jump.



FL: Hallo.

SIS: Frankie babes, some dinlow on LBC been gibbering about how you are a bad dad n' that. Talkin about you dumping Elen and flaunting whatserface all over tahhhhhhhn while the kids live in a small flat.

FL: He's been saying what?

SIS: He called you scum Frank.

FL: Right, get his number naaaaaaaawwwww.

BRIIIIIINNNNGGGG BRRRRRIIING.

Totty at the desk: L.B.C How can I direct your call?

FL: It's Frank Lampard, some plum on the radio right now is calling me scum. Put him on.

TATD: Oh goodness, oh my, oh...Hold please.

Commercial about stair lifts playing...'Is it that time. Sick of falling down the stairs 19 times a week'... (Sorry, got carried away)

JO: Hello.

TATD: You ain't never gonna believe this James. Frank bleedin Lampard is on the blower and wants to talk to you.

JO: Oh Shit..F*#k...Guess you'd better put im on then.



Lampard continued to put O'Brien right...

"I have to wake up and listen to idiots like you say, I read this' and this is what he's doing' and it's wrong. I put up with it and keep my mouth shut. The only reason I rang you is because my sister is distressed and as I said, it's the anniversary of my mum's death. Do you think my sister needs to hear idiots like you saying that on the radio station?"

Good for you Frank! Didn't Mr O'Brien learn that you never believe what you read in the papers!

********UPDATE********
Full call now available HERE.

-Bigus

Read more on "Didn't Think I Was Listening Did You? Well I wasn't...But My Sister Was."...

Chav Mobile

I'll admit that I don't have the best grasp of exactly what a Chav is. I imagine them to be some mixture of Guidos, Ricers and Rednecks. (If I missed offensively naming a similar group, please let me know). Broad, I know, but I'm not British.

Anyway, if Chavs are the delightful mixture that I put together above, then do I have just the phone for them to buy steal. Courtesy of Liverpool FC and Galentia, The Liverpool FC Legends Edition mobile phone.

Chavs aren't Pikeys (I'm on a roll), why would I have them steal it? Well, the price is a tad steep. For just south of £15,000, this phone can be yours. What do you get for such a price? Awesomeness, that's what.

Exclusivity: only 250 will be made
Garishness: Each phone is cased in 18 karat gold
Opulence: 18 diamonds encrusted on the back casing, representing 18 league titles
Useless knickknack: A commemorative medallion featuring Anfield
Small pet coffin: It all comes in a black walnut box
So the obvious joke is that Liverpool have already counted themselves out of the EPL race, because of the 18 diamonds. But we knew that anyway, right?


And if the phone just isn't gaudy enough for you, Galentia offers Bespoke Service, which is Limey-speak for pimping something out even further. As the Galentia website says "(i)t may be just a name added, or perhaps diamonds or different precious metals, but it is your personal taste and vision that can be realised." So if you want Rafa's goatee hair added to your phone, they will do it for you.


Finally, for all of those who stumble across this page looking for an actual Chavmobile, here it is.


Gotta say, I'm impressed.

Read more on "Chav Mobile"...

Phil Gartside Wants to Destroy Football and Get Rich Doing It.



Bolton's Chairman has a new plan, one that would change the structure of the Premier League from one league to two. In his ideal world, there would be no relegation to the Football League and more money available for his comfy non-achievers to not spend on players while not worrying about a loss of revenue via relegation for sucking arse.

Gartside's plan is this: he wants the Premier League scrapped and in its place TWO leagues of 18 with no relegation. He also wants to include Scottish teams Rangers and Celtic. He states that less games means a winter break that benefits the England team.

Ok. Lets address these points shall we?

"You could have 36 Premier League clubs split into 18 and 18, and that would also solve the problems of the winter break and supporting the England team." - Phil Gartside

Mr Gartside could not give two shits about the England team. This is one of many bullshit excuses to cover up his eagerness to prevent Bolton from the threat of relegation while keeping a Premier League income, gates and TV money rolling through the door.

"It would even everything out and it would make it more competitive." - Phil Gartside

Tosh... what Gartside is presenting here is to allow the Boltons, Boros, and Pompeys of the EPL to sit comfortably while not competing with new signings and the pressure of relegation. The outcome will be a huge gulf between the top and the bottom, 10 times what it is today. This plan allows teams like Bolton to save cash on players and effectively get rich while finishing last. In short, the complete opposite of what he says.

Not to mention that by selecting 18 teams, he will destroy lower league football. No path to the top flight, no hope for fans. Taking away the dream of promotion from teams outside of these 36 teams will kill the game. Gates will drop, there will be no interest to show games and clubs will fold. Ok as long Gartside gets to make a buck while signing duffers on a free transfer.


Gartside: Obvious motives.


"We have already got to the situation where the three clubs that go down from the Premier League are usually the three that come up, although a couple of others might sneak in." - Phil Gartside.

Sound the buzzer. That statement is absolute garbage...

Going back to 2002/03, let's look at the teams promoted and relegated.

2002/03: Man City, West Brom, Birmingham up at the beginning of the year. West Brom, Sunderland, West Ham down.

2003/04: Portsmouth, Leicester City, Wolves up. Wolves, Leeds, Leicester down.

2004/05: Norwich, West Brom, Crystal Palace up. Norwich, Crystal Palace, Southampton down.

2005/06: Sunderland, Wigan, West Ham up. Birmingham, West Brom, Sunderland down.

2006/07: Reading, Sheffield United, Watford up. Charlton, Sheffield United, Watford down.

2007/08: Sunderland, Birmingham City, Derby County up. Reading, Birmingham, Derby County down.

2008/09: Stoke City, Hull City, West Brom up.

Thats 17 different teams promoted to the Premier League in the last 7 years.


So what about Celtic and Rangers joining?

Why oh why should Rangers and Celtic join an English league? They are in Scotland. Where they have raped the smaller clubs of Scotland for their best talent and now have an uncompetitive league. They have made their bed and now they must lie in it. Also, the level of football in Scotland is nowhere near the EPL's standard to me, maybe Colaship at best. If you look at the Rangers and Celtic teams you will see players from Scotland, the best available poached from other Scottish clubs and the Championship outnumber players from the top leagues -- EPL, Spain, Germany, Italy -- and players from the top leagues are usually older than Tutankhamen. Let's just check this out for a minute.

Rangers

Allan McGregor, loaned to Dunfermline and St Johnstone.
David Weir, 39 years old, Joined from Everton.
Pedro Mendes, 30, signed from Portsmouth.
Sasa Papac, from Austria Vienna.
Kevin Thompson from Hibernian.
Kris Boyd from Kilmarnock.
Nacho Novo from Dundee.
Charlie Adam, on loan to Blackpool.
Lee McCulloch, signed from Wigan.
Steven Naismith from Kilmarnock.
Alan Gow, on loan to Norwich.
Graeme Smith from Kilmarnock.
Kenny Miller from Wolves.
DeMarcus Beasley, loaned from Man City.
Kirk Boradfoot from St Mirren.
Andy Webster from Hearts via Bristol City.
Christian Dailly, 38, from West Ham.
Neil Alexander, Stenhouse Muir via Cardiff City.
Kyle Lafferty, 3 million from Burnley (Clarets saw them coming a mile away)

That team look a Premiership side to you? They would be destroyed! But in Gartsides World they could impose that dross on your weekend footy watching.

Celtic

Lee Naylor, from Wolves.
Gary Caldwell from Derby.
Bobo Balde, 34, from Toulouse.
Glenn Loovens from Cardiff City.
Jean Doumbe from Rennes.
Scott Cuthbert from Livingston.
Paul Hartley, 33 , from Hearts.
Willow Flood from Cardiff.
Paddy McCort from Derry City.
Georgios Samaras from Man City.
Scott McDonald from Motherwell via MK Dons.

I'm just gonna stop... it's getting embarrassing. No offence to these teams, they have equipped themselves for the league they play in.

But why should Rangers and Celtic get a pass and enter this new league at the expense of 2 English teams? If these two want to play in England then they can start at the bottom like everyone else. I have no objections to Rangers and Celtic joining the Rymans League, 3 tiers below the Blue Square. Want to play in the top flight? Earn it.

But Bigus, you are just pissed because Norwich won't be included!

Well, they would likely be included. Norwich have the 16th biggest attendance in the Country and would surely be included in the second league, along with Bolton, whose average attendance is much lower than that of the super Yellows! However, I would loathe to see my team play week in week out with no incentive. Nothing to play for.

Gartside presented his plan to kill football and make money at a meeting 3 days ago. If the other Premier League chairmen have any sense, they will see this stupid, transparent idea for exactly what it is: Self-Preservation, and Gartside's attempt to stabilize his club at the expense of everyone elses.

-Bigus

Read more on "Phil Gartside Wants to Destroy Football and Get Rich Doing It."...

Gang of Four: Great Defensive Midfielders



One more this week to get some momentum, then we're running it weekly on Fridays.


Being a defensive midfielder is a relatively new profession. As tactics guru Jonathan Wilson recently noted in The Guardian, the game used to hum and revolve around the box-to-box midfielder, a wonderfully classic and outdated calling. The very nature of the traditional, square 4-4-2 meant that whoever was filling the middle needed to be capable of moving forward and tracking back. If the player failed to perform both duties in equal measure, the void between defense and midfield was obvious and fairly easy to exploit.

Manchester United had a golden pair in Paul Ince and Roy Keane, a duo that were more than able to tear limb-from-limb in defense before hauling themselves up from the turf to join the attack and bang in goals from long range.

Now, as the demands of the beautiful game have evolved, the CDM is suddenly paramount, and the days of the flat midfield are well and truly over.

If you don't have a solid, reliable defensive midfielder, you're not going to win much. It's that simple.

The best recent example is Tottenham Hotspur. In the first half of the season, the midfield was hopeless, failing to provide tenacity in the tackle nor much energy for invention in attack. The rigor and the pace of the EPL proved to wear them down, as neither Jermaine Jenas nor Luka Modric were suited to perfecting both roles.

Along came January signing Wilson Palacios from Wigan, and the whole dynamic changed; chaos was replaced with balance, and Modric was able to concentrate on his natural attacking role knowing that he had ferocity in Palacios to cover behind him.

The CDM is the silent, consistent bedrock of any half-decent team, and after the jump, we look at four of the best.



1. Fernando Redondo, Real Madrid 1994-2000
Before Javier Mascherano hit the scene, another Argie ruled the roost in front of the back four. Fernando "El Flaco" Redondo (or the White Machine) played unfussy football, controlling games from defensive midfield with his accurate passing and persistence in pursuit of possession.

Hard-working and vastly underrated on a team that enjoyed attacking stars in spades--teammates at Real over the years include Eastern European scorers Davor Suker and Predrag Mijatovic, Spanish legends Fernando Morientes and Raul, Nicolas Anelka, McManaman, and Roberto Carlos--Redondo was, in no uncertain terms, the straw that stirred the drink.

Metronomic from the back, his ability to read the game and dictate the tempo were vital to a Real side that won La Liga and the Champions League twice during his tenure at the club. It was during that 1999/2000 CL run that he turned in one of the best single-game performances ever seen, flummoxing Roy Keane and Manchester United at Old Trafford in a 3-2 victory.

Ironically, he played further forward than normal during that game, and showed no signs of being unable to adjust. Besides running rings around Keane, Henning Berg and a still-maturing Paul Scholes, there was that assist, the backheel flick to himself through Berg's legs before squaring for Raul to tap-in to an empty net, brilliantly described by Rob Smyth as "the champagne moment" and as having "the devasting finality of a perfect conversational putdown."

They won the CL at a canter after that.



Redondo, being South American, was blessed with more grace and ball skill than his successors, and looking at the current midfield balance of the pugnacious Mascherano and the dynamic Fernando Gago, it's safe to say that El Flaco is the perfect amalgam of both; comfortable in that defensive nest, he could kill you with the pass, or, if you dared drop the shoulder and lean in, beat you on the dribble too.

When he departed for AC Milan, he suffered a nasty knee injury and barely featured for the club (just 16 appearances in 4 years), and selflessly returned much of his signing bonus and wages due to not being able to play. Imagine Anelka pulling that one. As such, with those ailments closing his career prematurely, Redondo never quite achieved over his full career what he managed during his tenure at Real.

Watch his calm demeanor in possession, no matter how many opponents lay in front of him. Skilled off both feet, he could find any teammate on the move. An errant pass from El Flaco was inconceivable. Redondo had incredible balance on the ball, and scored several important goals that were merely a bonus atop his other attributes (he tallied just 12 goals in 358 career appearances; 4 in 165 for Real).



The ultras rioted when he was sold to Italy, knowing the full extent of their club's loss. Watching these videos, I know exactly how they feel.



2. Claude Makelele, Chelsea 2003-2008
Poor Real Madrid. They'd already seen the best CDM in Redondo thrive and then leave, and his successor at the club, Claude Makelele, soon followed suit, lured to the lucre of the English Premier League where he'd turn in a phenomenal body of work.

When you consider the greatness of Frank Lampard, you must give plenty of credit to pint-sized Claude who tidied up every midfield scramble without complaint and provided the platform for the Blues' impressive lightning-quick accumulation of silverware.

With Makelele doing the dirty work behind Lampard, Robben and Joe Cole, Chelsea were unstoppable, doing the EPL/Carling Cup double in 2004/2005 and retaining the EPL trophy the following season. Mourinho declared him Chelsea's Player of the Year.

Chelsea are lucky he even ended up there; his crime in Spain was asking for an improved contract, which, in context, is understandable. Team President Florentino Perez was unashamedly assembling Los Galacticos, paying over top dollar for every star he could get his hands on: Figo, Ronaldo (back from the dead!), Roberto Carlos, Guti, Michael Owen, Zidane, and, the straw that broke the camel's back, David Beckham.

Upset at the rejection of his request, he handed in his transfer papers and Chelsea nabbed him for 16.8 million pounds, an absolute bargain. While Perez mocked Claude, calling him "average" and reckoning that "younger players will cause Makelele to be forgotten", his Real teammates knew it was a different story.

Zidane's quote went to the heart of the matter: "Why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?"

His stamp on the game was so emphatic that the CDM position is informally named after him. Essien is the latest Blue to "do a Makelele", and there will be countless more to follow.

In the end, leave it to the notoriously elusive man himself to summize his contributions in defensive midfield:

"I really learnt how to play that role at Real Madrid where, if we were losing 1-0, we would say 'Right, lock up shop'. The four at the back and the one in front of them - me - would concentrate only on defence and let the others go and do what they had to up front. They would take the risks, I would take care of the opposition's attacks.

"In every team you need to know what your role is and one of the keys to my role is to keep the balance of the team right. So when Didier [Drogba] goes here, I do this. When Frank [Lampard] goes there, I go there. Same with Michael [Ballack]. When one person moves out of position, then someone else comes in and covers for them.

"When you play in my position you have to enjoy it. You can't be thinking 'Oh fucking hell, I don't get any goals'. You just enjoy it, you enjoy playing football, tackling, giving the ball. Just enjoy it. When you are small you have to tackle at the right moment. He might be tall, he might be strong but if you tackle at the right moment you'll win it. It's about timing."



3. Clodoaldo, Brazil 1970 World Cup
Considering that the CDM really didn't exist back then, this one is a bit of a stretch, but bear with me! Looking at the Brazilian midfield that year, hands-down the best WC team ever assembled, you'd be hard-pressed to find a matador amid the bulls. Pele in his twilight, Tostao, Jairzinho, Gerson and Rivelino all chomping at the bit to get forward, and Carlos Alberto surveying the fun from defense.

The cushion between Pele and Alberto was Clodoaldo, the agile, versatile holding midfielder known as "the Clove of Garlic" for his incredible skill on the ball (the idea being that opponents simply couldn't get close enough to him to dispossess, as if he reeked of that pungent bulb).

While strictly you'd consider him a playmaker, I'd liken him to the CDM before such a thing even existed; with Brazil attacking in fives and sixes, someone needed to hold the fort, and while his gifts on the ball were most praised, his gifts in the tackle were just as vital.


4. Gennaro Gattuso, AC Milan 1999-
The Rossonieri's very own red-and-black bulldog, Gattuso's achievements in defensive midfield are hard to ignore. One Serie A title in 2002/03, two Champions League winners' medals (and a runner-up finish in 04/05), a couple of domestic cups and of course, that World Cup trophy in 2006 that owed as much to him as it did his flashier, more refined compatriot (and AC Milan teammate) Andrea Pirlo.

While the world stood on in awe of Pirlo's virtuosity in attack, it was Gattuso's lung-bursting workrate that sustained the nation's success. Never shirking a tackle or a confrontation, he was Milan's Roy Keane, an emotional firebrand that came with a dangerously short fuse. Known as "Ringhio" or "The Growler", Gattuso's unedited intensity fueled the team around him.



Afraid of no confrontation or opponent (infamously, the in-your-face display toward Schalke's CDM Christian Poulsen -- seen in the video around 1:50 -- and the open-hand slap to Zlatan Ibrahimovic's face in a 2005 CL game against Ajax -- seen around 2:40), Gattuso threw himself into every tackle like it was the difference between winning and losing.

The necessity for a Gattuso, crafted in the mold of old-fashioned Italianbruisers like Claudio Gentile and Giacinto Facchetti, is essential in the modern game. As protectorate of his side's more delicate attacking resources, his presence in defensive midfield is not one to be viewed lightly.

Read more on "Gang of Four: Great Defensive Midfielders"...

Quick Throw: Rosicky's surely done at Arsenal

Spectator touched on it yesterday, but the growing murmurs around Emirates are that Rosicky might well be headed for the exit.

He hasn't played a game for the Gunners since January 2008, and with the emergence of Andrei Arshavin, you wonder where he could play even if he did suddenly get healthy.

So now the question is: will he play again, and if so, where? Speculate at will!

[Daily Mail]

Read more on "Quick Throw: Rosicky's surely done at Arsenal"...

UF Quick Throw: Cesc Charged

We are lousy with short posts this morning. Please forgive us.

Cesc has been found guilty of improper conduct by the FA over that incident against Hull City in March. Not for wearing that stupid jacket, but for spitting at Hull assistant Brian Horton. It is expected that Fabs will be banned for two matches. Arsenal do not plan an appeal.

[Setanta]

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Cesc Charged"...

John Mikel Obi John John Obi needs a chauffeur

Poor John Obi Obi John Mikel John Obi. Having been caught back in January for some rather nifty, though horribly illegal, driving under the influence, the Chelsea midfielder appeared in court this morning to get his punishment.


What Obi John's driving might have looked like

Let's just say he'll be spending most of his annual salary on taxis.

Hop to it, Guardian!

District Judge Jeremy Coleman banned him from driving for 15 months and ordered him to pay £1,580 at West London Magistrates' Court. Mikel looked stumped as he was ordered to stop driving.

His solicitor said he would not undertake a drink driving course to shorten the ban because he "would just like to serve it out".
Ouch. Apparently being caught at nearly twice the legal limit (to get technical: 66 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of air... crazy science) gets you a healthy ban.

So, Mikel is car-less for over a year. Thankfully he works in a city known for his mass transit system, although I'd be careful taking the District Line to work; if you miss your stop at Fulham Broadway, the next one is Parsons Green, and then you're in the heart of Cottagers Country.

They don't take kindly to Nigerian defensive midfielders from Chelsea around those parts.

Read more on "John Mikel Obi John John Obi needs a chauffeur"...

Quick Throw: 'Arry and Becks, sitting in a tree

Becks likes Milan. Soon, Becks must head back to LA. Becks has a timeshare deal. After the MLS season, what will poor Becks do to keep Becks in match-fitness ahead of WC 2010? Maybe Becks head to England. 'Arry likes Becks. 'Arry likes Becks a lot. 'Arry gushes about Becks.

Maybe Becks go on loan to Spurs?

[Guardian Sport]

Read more on "Quick Throw: 'Arry and Becks, sitting in a tree"...

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Brainiacs

This is not a fight, this is a Cobra Kai-style leg sweep [Sports Rubbish]
Heather Mitts poses for pictures. Men, you are alerted [ONTD]
Bruce Grobbelaar quits Hell's Kitchen after he couldn't fix the result, or something [Daily Mail]

New Iranian manager played at UCLA and used to scout for the USA squad [NY Times]
American player had a testimonial in Austria [Soccer Training Info]

Finally:
Dundee United likely to lose upwards of a hundred thousand pounds after their post-split SPL match with Aberdeen had to be moved from a Saturday to a Thursday. The reason--no one thought to check the Schedule of Dundee, a First Division club across the street [BBC]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: Brainiacs"...

Gang of Four: Great Individual Seasons

A new semi-regular feature gets its debut today on UF, with some memories of four great seasons by four great players.


1. Ronaldo - Barcelona, 1996/97
Though we have plenty of evidence as to how great the now-fat and hobbled Brazilian was, one season in particular stands out above the rest. Having racked up 55 goals in 57 appearances for PSV over two seasons, his quality was undeniable, but a summer transfer to La Liga, several notches above the Eredivisie in difficulty and quality, would provide indisputable proof.

In just one season for the Catalans, Ronaldo scored 47 in 49 games across all competitions, including the winner from the penalty spot in the Cup Winners' Cup Final against Paris Saint-Germain.

The fit at Barca was perfect; with a bullish midfield of Guardiola, de la Pena, Luis Enrique and Gheorghe Popescu that excelled at relieving the opposition of possession, Ronaldo was supported up front by Luis Figo, another elegant yet predatory forward whose passing provided much of the Brazilian's bounty.

Though the team fell short of La Liga glory by a mere 2 points to Real Madrid (a team blessed with 24-goal Davor Suker and 21-goal Raul), the Catalans completed a memorable treble, lifting the CWC, the Copa Del Rey, and the Spanish Super Cup thanks to Ronaldo's brilliance.



Watching highlights of his antics that season (Part 1 above, Part 2 here), you see what could have been if he didn't suffer several injury setbacks (between 1999 and 2002, he played just 17 games). Bobby Robson, the Barca manager that year (and England boss before that), had the same view: "if he managed to stay free of serious injury, he had every chance of becoming the best footballer ever. And I stand by that."

There are goals to satisfy every sensibility; mazy, Maradona-esque dribbles through a throng of defenders tackling the air, thunderous long-range efforts from all angles, straight sprints to goal finished with a playful tap-in... he was, and still might be, the ultimate human highlight reel.

Of course, Ronaldo is one of the greats simply because he managed to be the world's best in two different eras; once at full health with his lightning speed intact, and again in 2002 without it. Still, for my money, it doesn't get much better than that 1996/97 season. Take 20 minutes to watch his whole oeuvre that season, and I'm sure you'll agree.

If you're still not convinced, watch the goal beginning at 2:11, the one that against Compostela that was replayed everywhere from CNN to Sky Sports. Is there a single opposition player he doesn't beat with the ball at his feet? Robson's stunned expression at the end of it, hands on head and eyes wide, confirms Ronaldo's majesty.



2. Cristiano Ronaldo - Manchester United, 2007/08
I know, I know, I know; he's the worst thing in football. I know he's insufferable, I know he's loathed for his swagger and his swollen trophy cabinet. I also know how much I personally hate him for everything he's done to keep United on top.

And yet, from a neutral perspective, it's nigh-on impossible to look at the Portuguese winger's season in '07 and not be amazed. 42 goals in 49 games from the wing, where pace and crossing are paramount, the versatile attacker shrugged off the criticism and the hate to lead United to the EPL/CL double, scoring in just about every way imaginable.



The team assembled around him played their part also, but to discredit his irritating knack of scoring crucial goals would be a mistake. There's the free-kick against Pompey, above. Or the backheel against Aston Villa? Or the crucial late goal against Derby? Or even the first of his brace against Everton?

It didn't matter what approach defenders took to gameplan against him. Isolating him on the wing never worked because of his ball skill with both feet. Fouling him, or any other United attacker, was a mistake because of his mastery from the set-piece. For every action against him, he had an answer.

Having shown his promise in previous years, 2007/08 was when everything finally clicked and rightly so, he cleaned up just about every award there was for an individual to win; all the PFA awards, selection to the UEFA Team of the Year, the FIFPro World XI, Merit Awards, the EPL Player of the Season, the EPL Golden Boot, FIFPro World Player of the Year, the Ballon D'Or, UEFA Club Footballer of the Year, and many more.

Not bad for a guy who didn't score his first league goal of the season until September 29th.

It is a prolific haul that illustrates just what a dilemma awaits Ferguson in the off-season; to sell his arrogance for a pretty price while losing the on-pitch performance, or swallow his pride in order to retain his services. Not an easy choice, by any means.


3. Michael Ballack - Bayer Leverkusen, 2001/02
This one comes with a monumental caveat: Bayer finished runner-up in all 3 competitions that they dominated that season, suggesting that the scope of Ballack's influence wasn't nearly as profound as it actually was. However, that couldn't be further from the truth (though Ballack did contribute to their Bundesliga failure on the last day, scoring an OG in a 2-0 loss where a draw would have given them the trophy). Without Ballack's contributions, they wouldn't have come close to winning anything.

Ballack, another player on this list who has suffered with the injury bug, put together his finest season once he was finally allowed to play the role he was born to play. Having shown flashes of his mercurial ways at Kaiserslautern, Ballack was let loose in attacking midfield, where he'd score 25 goals.

Freed of his defensive responsibilities thanks to the ankle-biting tandem of Bernd Schneider and Carsten Ramelow, Ballack thrived in supporting Oliver Neuville's ponderous efforts in front of him.

Ballack doubled the scoring output of anyone else in the squad, single-handedly dragging his team through the Champions League where they ran out of steam against Real Madrid (after all, who could compete against Figo, Zidane, Raul and Morientes, with Makelele nuking any attack that came near the 18-yard-box?). Oh, and Zidane's wonder goal that killed off the tie.

The quarter-final, 2nd leg at home to Liverpool was the pick of his performances that year; with a 2-1 lead midway through the 2nd half, the Reds missed several glorious chances to put the game out of reach before being overwhelmed by Ballack's constant menace moving forward. Leverkusen ran out 4-2 winners. Liverpool had no answer for his physicality and persistence, but they weren't alone that season.


4. Alan Shearer - Blackburn Rovers, 1994/95
While the biggest talking point that season remains Eric Cantona's kung-fu kick into the crowd during an FA Cup game at Crystal Palace, it's hard to overlook the season's 2nd biggest story: the millions of Blackburn lad and steel magnate Jack Walker helping the local team usurp league holders Manchester United on the final day of the season.

The feat, herculean in context, could have only been possible with Alan Shearer tapping in goals from all angles against any and all competition. (If you want to be cynical, it could only have been possible first with Walker's millions.)

In 1991, Rovers were in the 2nd Division, forever admiring the top flight like a kid stood in the cold looking at toys in a store window, nose pressed against the glass in awe of what was contained within. With Walker's finances, the club spent at a Chelsea-esque rate a full decade before anyone in the soccer world even knew who Roman Abramovich was, buying goalie Tim Flowers for a then-record 2 million pounds, and then smashing their own feat with a 3.3 million pound purchase of Shearer.

In a 4-4-2 with Chris Sutton as his wingman, he was unstoppable, scoring 34 of the duo's 49 goals in the league and despite losing twice in contentious circumstances to United that year, they prevailed.

Easily one of the greats within the 6-yard-box, the comparisons with Gary Lineker, another close-range predator, were completely justified. He appeared to possess a singular skill set on the pitch; lurking around the box for 90 minutes, he put the fear of God into some of England's best defenders of the era, an impossible force to stop.

Make no mistake that Blackburn were the first real "money-built" team of the 90s; yet Shearer, with his personality and character firmly rooted in the working class, made it rather easy to forget.


Read more on "Gang of Four: Great Individual Seasons"...

Your Arsenal Team News Update

No real way to preface this other than to say this is a post with a little bit of team news about Arsenal, and if you don't like Arsenal than don't read.

- Robin Van Persie won't be available against Man U next week. Thankfully though, Almunia, Djourou and Adebayor are fit. I'd expect Wenger to rotate a number of players against Middlesbrough on Sunday, meaning that Ade and maybe Djourou will be on the bench. Just a hunch. [Sky Sports]

- Wenger has confirmed that Gallas and Rosicky "will definitely miss the rest of the season." So that'll make nearly two years that Rosicky has been out, and I doubt anyone would be willing to wager that he's ever going to play again. [Arsenal.com]

- Arsenal's youth team is full of homegrown talent. Take that, Platini! [Guardian]

- An interview with Mathieu Flamini: "Flamini reportedly felt it would cost the Gunners £20 million to sign a genuine replacement, so he wanted that sum spread over a new five-year contract at £75,000 a week." That's simply not how it works, because if Arsenal break their wage structure to pay Flamini than every other player wants a raise too. My take is that Flamini made a huge mistake leaving Arsenal, and Wenger absolutely did the right thing not paying him. You'll see that if Cesc, Ade and Van Persie stick around. They'll look at how Flamini and Hleb left and are now riding the bench and realize they're better off making a little bit less money but being a big part of a team that's on the rise. And if not, than who needs them. [BBC]

- Lastly, Fabregas says that the team needs to do a better job defending. And that, folks, is why he was made the captain.... captain obvious! [Telegraph]

Read more on "Your Arsenal Team News Update"...

Quick Throw: Obafemi sacrifices body for EPL's sacrificial lamb

With Newcastle in the grip of a relegation fight that they'll probably lose*, striker Obafemi Martins has done something rather brave: he's postponing a much-needed groin surgery to try and help them stay up. Never mind that he could suffer long-term damage as a result... I mean, the only healthy striker for the Magpies right now is Michael Owen, so they need all the help they can get.

He won't play every single minute, but will try his best to contribute off the bench wherever possible.

Best of luck, Oba.

[Guardian Sport]

PS. I completely forgot that Martins played for Inter Milan. A real head-scratcher, that.


*(sorry folks, every few years, the EPL has to sacrifice one of its bigger soccer markets in order to satisfy the headline-writers... can't just keep yo-yoing West Brom, after all)

Read more on "Quick Throw: Obafemi sacrifices body for EPL's sacrificial lamb"...

Norwichomon. Sunday: LB


Despite the drunken haze and Low Country malaise of Saturday, the best was yet to come. It arrived at 8.15 the following morning in the form of our obese bus driver, as he turned up, showered, shitted, and ready to navigate us slowly back to London. A quick stop at the hotel before heading to Wembley, the beautiful new jewel in the English crown. (We'll get to that later)

We boarded his tiny van and immediately discharged him of the responsibility of map-reading, because we had the overwhelming feeling that reading a colouring book might have proved too difficult. Bigus knew the roads from his home to the capital very well, and despite every effort by our driver to cock it up, we made the trip in record time.

Wembley, from afar. Oh, how lovely you are

And then, to Wembley, and what a sight it is. For a country so utterly hopeless with architecture, where hastily built housing estates dominate, the imposing sight of the new Wembley on the hill and its brilliant, cantilevered arch thing that serves no real function other than aesthetic (so forward-thinking, I know), is breathtaking. You soon forget what a pain in the arse it is to get there, what with heavy delays and overcrowding on the Tube line out to the stadium, and once we were liberated from our fart-stale van, a good mile out, we set about the backroads through an industrial estate to Wembley itself.

The first sight upon getting there was a large group of Man United fans, and the sight brought back nauseating memories of LFC/Man U games at Anfield. Even though the Carling Cup final opponents were Spurs, this particular rabble were singing and dancing songs about the Neville brothers and hating Scousers. It struck me as odd at the time, but in hindsight, those trollops can only focus on one team at a time, and regardless of their opposition, it always comes back to the Scouse.

It reminded me why I hate the Mancs; their missing genes and missing teeth are just the tip of the iceberg. On a proud day out, they waste their oxygen yakking about Liverpool. Granted, since then, our lads have spanked them in their own backyard, so maybe their songs come from a place of insecurity.

But I digress. This is about Tottenham, and their proud day out at Wembley!

We passed their encampment, a squalid little pub/bar with two floors and a front that made it look like a cross between a B&B and a halfway home. With police on horseback all over the place, the best we could hear were their Yid chants as they drank and drank at the wrong end of the stadium.

Moving around the front, we finally let RZM in on the secret: we were sitting in the Spurs Friends and Family section, in seats our friend had managed to procure from Jonathan Woodgate. I'm not sure what it says about Wooders that his allocated seats were so easily given away, but it was enough to send RZM on a punching frenzy. First, the air. Next, each one of us. That's just how he shows his affection, I suppose.

We got in and immediately set about sampling the pies. The bar was raised quite high by Delia the day before; after the Chicken Balti that was superb, Wembley's mass-produced stodge department had a cracker of their own in the ominous "meat" pie. Easily the highlight of the pie samplings we enjoyed on the trip, despite probably containing enough spare parts of animals and medieval butchering to fill a thousand outraged PETA propaganda videos. Another pie in quick succession and a couple more lukewarm lagers served in plastic cups (never trust a Yid with glassware) before we took our seats.

Walking up the passageway out to the stands is my favourite part of seeing live sport. The noise is tinny and funneled into your face as you get closer to the light, before it hits you full on like a Bigus curry fart once you see the pitch. It was gorgeous, as you'd expect; lush, pristine, well-groomed, and ready for the 120+ minutes of football that was about to take place.

The section of seating was right next to the media section where, in their little gated enclosure, the journalists and columnists would sit and watch, unimpressed, while their assistants frantically typed their reports for them and watched the replay monitors (we'd frequently get up and crane our necks to watch replays, something the giant screens at either end of the stadium didn't do too often). It's also the place where the pundits would horrendously misgrade the players for their performances, giving Jermaine Jenas sevens and eights where half that would have been more appropriate.

Look at the Spurs fans! They're easily distracted by big, wave-able objects, and good thing too!

Back to the pre-game; it appeared that the Spurs fans won the early merchandise game, as the Yids were decked out with big blue-and-white Spurs flags while the Mancs weren't to be trusted with such potential weaponry. It wouldn't take much to snap the wooden dowel in half and start spearing hapless North Londoners, and so, they were merch-free (or maybe they couldn't afford it?). As the teams came out, the stadium was packed to capacity, with the Yids going through the chants (including, bafflingly, "Super Pavlyuchenko" ad nauseam), flags raised high and waved as one would expect.

The Satanists affirm their allegiance via group spelling

The ad wizards at Carling had young ladies prancing across the pitch with giant Carling balloons, attached to which were small banners for each of the players starting the game. Each player had their own balloon, their own little banner thing, and their own disinterested, over-primped teenage girl doing the walk. It was as if the two giant Carling balloons, the center-circle Carling banner, and the pitch-side Carling hoardings wasn't enough. With every big sporting event, the corporation's gotta represent!

Ready to go...

And so, to the game itself. 'Arry was the first manager to leave his dugout recliner in order to gesture wildly at his lads, while Fergie sat back like you'd expect him to, comfortable in his old age and safe in the knowledge that his team, at half-strength for the final, didn't need much prompting.

Surprisingly, it was a decent 0-0. United had the lion's share of the scoring chances, mostly from broken play and wild shots from distance, while Spurs had only two real bright spots: Luka Modric and Aaron Lennon. Jenas was a depressing specter in midfield, doing nothing to halt United's advances. Lennon showed pace and menace down the right-wing, giving the English a glimmer of hope in the "who will replace Becks on the right?" stakes, although it didn't matter how hard he tried, for Super Pavlyuchenko and Darren Bent were fucking hopeless. Reduced to cantering in pursuit of long-balls from the back four, Pavs' most significant contribution was a free-kick from 25 yards that nearly broke the big screen high above goal.

So much for this bet. Money wasted!

King and Woodgate were more than equipped to deal with Danny Welbeck, and while Assou-Ekotto gave Ronaldo miles of space to collect possession on the right, he always managed to do enough on his heels to disrupt the stepovers.

Plotting how to choke the life out of the midfield...

For United, their youngsters showed why they're not quite there yet, while several of the fringe players were equally anonymous. Tevez ran a lot to accomplish little; Nani was average, as was most of their midfield. Once Ferguson brought on Anderson to switch to a 4-5-1, 'Arry dutifully followed suit and any fizz in the game was quickly released. Both teams clogged the midfield and played the hopeful cross-field passing game in an attempt to get round the back.

O'Shea should have been sent off, and Ronaldo was booked for a dive-that-wasn't after BAE hacked him down at the edge of the box.

The Redknapp Salute!

From there, it always looked like penalties. Despite late cameos from Bentley (crap) and Bale (surprisingly good on the left-wing; perhaps he should never play full-back again?), we closed with the inevitable; United, replete with slick technological advantages, won easily on penalties, including the hilariously poor effort from David Bentley. Why he moved to White Hart Lane, I'll never know.

RZM was despondent and quiet, despite several loud bursts of expletives at Bentley throughout extra-time; they were even more hilarious considering Bentley's folks were perched right behind us, muttering and sighing into their scarves. You know it's bad when even his family betray the same lack of confidence in their progeny as the 40,000 Yiddos packed around them.

Ronaldo's ready to shoot... wish he'd missed

Losing on penalties left him mute, and so we filtered out and battled the masses while trying to get down to Holborn so Bigus could do beers and banter with some old friends. On the tube away from Wembley, a proud, rugby-obsessed father sat opposite RZM and me, with his smug, red-headed daughter snuggled next to him. Over the course of the 30-minute ride, she near reduced our Yid to tears with her barbs, for which he had little in the way of G-rated comeback. A depressing end to a disheartening day.

Rooney's face should never be on the big screen

Pies, penalties and David Bentley.

We closed the night with bitters, soju and Korean food before decamping to the hotel for a nightcap and a few short hours rest. It didn't matter, as we missed our flight home.

All in all, Norwichomon was a raving success, and I look forward to next year, ever hopeful that we'll squeeze in a trip to Anfield. My digestive system is grateful for 11 months of rest in the meantime.

Don't forget to pay your respects to England legend Bobby Moore on your way out!

Read more on "Norwichomon. Sunday: LB"...

Breaking News: Saints receive their penance

As expected, Southampton will be docked 10 points for breaching league rules about insolvency. It's a big blow for the Saints, as they now have absolutely no chance of avoiding relegation (they were 4 points from safety with 2 to play).

One weird note: if they manage to finish out of the relegation spots somehow, the deduction is put in effect, but should they drop, the penalty will be applied next season as they battle in League One. I don't remember that being the standard, but it bears keeping in mind for the team as they still have something to fight for this season.

More importantly, this means that Norwich must focus on one thing, as two relegation spots are effectively set: the mission to overtake Barnsley! Come on, Canaries!

[BBC News]

Read more on "Breaking News: Saints receive their penance"...

SI wastes their soccer coverage for the year

Soccer in the USA struggles enough without Sports Illustrated blowing their soccer attention span on perhaps the dumbest, least interesting quote from the EPL's dumbest, least interesting player.



I guess a thoughtful, long-form essay would have been too much work, right? Yeah, best to stick to the humorless tangle of words uttered by Philip Neville.

To whoever said that US sports writers don't care about our sport: consider this proof that they do! Well, at least when it suits their filler material at the front of the mag.

Read more on "SI wastes their soccer coverage for the year"...

UF Quick Throw: Keane to Ipswich

Roy Keane will indeed take over at Ipswich. The former United player took Sunderland from the bottom of the Championship to the Prem in one season. Kept him there the next, then quit halfway through this season. Ipswich are probably expecting something similar, but maybe planning on avoiding being left at the altar, as they gave him a two year deal. The club fired manager Jim Magilton by phone Wednesday after he failed to earn a spot in the promotion playoffs.

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Keane to Ipswich"...

The Daily Fail: Wednesday

Time to introduce a new semi-regular feature, titled "the Daily Fail." I unofficially started doing it earlier this week, but now it's time to make it official, or at least slightly more official.

Basic idea is covering the bad or just plain amusing headlines and articles in the footy press. Kind of like what the BBC does each morning, only much less comprehensive and with far more fail.

This morning's entry comes from Sky Sports. Your headline:

Double injury blow for United


Please make it Rooney and Ronaldo, please make it Rooney and Ronaldo, please make it Rooney and Ronaldo, please make it Rooney and Ronaldo, etc etc.

Nope!! Ha ha Sky Sports tricked you! Turns out it's just Neville and O'Shea. But, Sky Sports, tell us how exactly is it a "blow" when the two players in fact blow??


(More of these daily fails are to come as often as I can find them, which is where I need your help! If you spot anything craptastic out there in the football press, be sure to drop me a line -- unprofessionalfoul [at] gmail [dot] com.)

Read more on "The Daily Fail: Wednesday"...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: Nice socks

Liberally borrowed from Off The Post. Repaid with another link.

Stevie G needs to go through Cotillion classes to learn posture [Off The Post]
What Bigus was creaming himself over today [NCFC]
Has Mr. Harrod's authorized illegal payments to players? [Dirty Tackle]

Man U, like the Yankees, are raising prices next season [Guardian]
EPL players who play for clubs close to where they were born [The Best Eleven]
That bar where Gerrard totally beat up that other guy is losing its alcohol license [Champion]

Finally:
Would you buy one these scarves. Knowing you, as I do, you totally would [The Spoiler]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: Nice socks"...

You're Fired!



Job security and football management certainly don't go hand in hand. In such a results driven business no one is safe, which is why it will be no surprise (?) to find out that this year, no less than 33 League managers in England have been given the boot since the start of the season. That's over 30% of all football clubs in the 4 divisions of professional football.

The complete list of canned coaches after the jump.


Kevin Bond – Bournemouth
Alan Curbishley – West Ham
Keith Downing – Cheltenham
Alan Buckley – Grimsby
Geraint Williams – Colchester
Glen Roeder – Norwich
Martin Ling – Leyton Orient
Jan Pootvliet – Southampton
Tony Adams – Portsmouth
Luiz Felipe Scolari – Chelsea
Russell Slade – Yeovil
Micky Adams – Brighton
John Sheridan – Oldham
Paolo Sousa – QPR
Jim Magilton – Ipswich
Lee Sinnott – Port Vale
Steve Holland - Crewe
Alan Pardew – Charlton
Danny Wilson – Hartlepool
Paul Ince – Blackburn
Gary McAllister –Leeds
Simon Grayson – Blackpool
Colin Calderwood – Nottingham Forest
Paul Fairclough – Barnet
Jimmy Quinn – Bournemouth
Jimmy Mullen – Walsall
Iain Dowie – QPR
Juande Ramos – Spurs
John Ward – Carlisle
Aidy Boothroyd – Watford
Stan Ternent – Huddersfield
Simon Davies – Chester
Maurice Malpas – Swindon

Napoleon said "A leader is a dealer in hope". That certainly applies in the football business where hope is king and most managers ride their luck trying to bring it. I can't remember a year where more managers were sacked. Are football fans and clubs just being impatient or are the standards of managers at the lowest level they have ever been? You decide.

-Bigus.

Read more on "You're Fired!"...

Wednesday Open Thread

Huh. There are two matches today as well. While there is little to no hope that either of these will capture the imagination the way yesterday's Liverarse second half did, we will still play attention.

Unless the games suck, then we can get on with everything else.

Anyway, lineups and your comments are found after this link.

Spartak London-Everton (FSC)
FA Cup final preview, more or less. At least this one won't go into extra time
Spartak: Cech; Ivanovic, Alex, EBJT, Cole; Ballack, Essien, Lampard; Drogba, Anelka, Malouda. Subs: Hilario, Di Santo, John Obi Mikel Obi John, Kalou, Belletti, Manicienne, Mellis.
Everton: Howard; Jacobsen, Lescott, Yobo, Baines; Osman, Castillo, Neville, Pienaar; Jo, Cahill. Subs: Nash, Hibbert, Jagielka, Saha, Vaughan, Rodwell, Gosling.

Manchester United-Portsmouth (Setanta)
An easy win, right? Not much reason to even pay attention.
Man U: van der Sar; Neville, Vidic, Evans (rapist), Evra; Fletcher, Scholes, Anderson, Giggs; Ronaldo, Rooney. Subs: Kuscz..., Berbs, Carrick, Nani, Rafael, O'Shea, Tevez.
Pompey: Calamity; Johnson, Campbell, Distin, Hreidarsson; Davis, Mullins, Hughes, Belhadj, Nugent; Nacho Pete. Subs: Begovic, Pennant, Pemarot, Utaka, Cranie, Kanu, Basinas.

Read more on "Wednesday Open Thread"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

I have to admit, I am at a loss. Usually I can come across these shirts and, within a couple of minutes of googling, know who they belong to. Not this time, though. Instead I have a pretty bad shirt with no idea who it belongs to. So I need your help. Tell me which team sported this beauty shirt.


Yowza. How's that for a design? It looks like someone sponge-painted the bathroom, then leaned against the wet wall with this shirt. Plus, as an added bonus, there are some fossils on the bottom right of the shirt. I can't really tell what they are, but they're interesting to look at nonetheless. The real fun of this shirt, though, comes when viewed from a second angle.


What in the hell? All of a sudden, with a different angle from the light, this shirt turns into snakeskin. Turn this shirt into a pair of Bon Jovi boots (Wanted Dead or Alive era), STAT! I am confused and intrigued by this early-90s era Puma innovation. Why didn't this take off with other teams? As we've seen before, sublimation was all the rage, why not sublimate being a rattler?

Back to the request. The page I got this from lists this as being the 1990-91 shirt for something called BNZ Swarovski Innsbruck. Unfortunately, when you search "BNZ Swarovski Innsbruck", the only site that comes up is the one linked above (and, eventually, this page I'm sure). A wider search shows that a team called FC Swarovski Tirol once existed in Innsbruck. That team became FC Tirol Innsbruck (a team which has since folded), but no logo exists that matches what is on this shirt (assuming the S with a dot is a logo and not a sponsor). I would have believed this was the team, but there is also a WSG Swarovski Wattens that still exists. Their badge and colors do not match either, so I'm not sure.

All of that said, when FC Swarovski Tirol existed, they did take on Liverpool in the UEFA Cup back in 1991. Perhaps some nice Scouser can dip into the way back machine and remember/find proof of playing a team in this shirt. Unfortunately, all I've been able to find so far is a matchday programme which has no pics of the visiting club, at least on the cover.

Happy hunting, and thank you.

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