Saturday, May 9, 2009

More Sadness...

On top of the Arsenal fan committing suicide this week after the club's CL's loss, it appears a key cog of their North London rivals has suffered a tragic loss. Tottenham midfielder Wilson Palacios has finally learned what happened to his little brother, who was kidnapped two years ago, as Honduran officials have located what they believe to be the remains of Edwin Palacios.

The younger Palacios had been missing for two years, although Wilson was paid a large ransom. Apparently, the remains were located after two people arrested admitted to the crime. Palacios obviously sat out Saturday's draw against Everton.

Truly sad.

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The Bootroom: Bolding Boldly Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

This will be a bit of an abbreviated effort today because last night I went with Bigus to see the Star Trek movie. My verdict is a solid B+. Bigus got hung up on some of the large plot holes and is closer to a B/B-. (Headline fixed... I told you it was an abbreviated effort!)

So, turning to footy, Sunday is the Manchester derby as well as the London derby between Chelsea and Arsenal. Oh, and on Saturday some team called Liverpool plays West Ham. Not that it matters, because Man U has already won the title. Full fixture list after the jump, along with your comments.

All times EST....

Premier League (suck it, Barclays)

10:00 Blackburn v Portsmouth
10:00 Bolton v Sunderland
10:00 Everton v Tottenham (FSC)
10:00 Fulham v Aston Villa (Setanta)
10:00 Hull v Stoke
10:00 West Brom v Wigan
12:30 West Ham v Liverpool (FSC)

8:30 Man Utd v Man City (Setanta)
11:00 Arsenal v Chelsea (FSC)

Other games...

12:20 Burnley v Reading
2:30 Lazio v Udinese (FSC)
4:00 Valencia v Real Madrid (Gol)
7:00 Columbus v Kansas City (FSC)
9:00 Houston v Dallas (ESPN2)

9:00 Chievo v Inter (FSC)
11:00 Werder Bremen v Hamburger (Gol)
1:00 Barcelona v Villareal (Gol)
2:30 AC Milan v Juve (FSC)
3:00 Atletico Madrid vs Espanyol (Gol)
6:00 Chicago Red Stars vs Sky Blue FC (FSC)

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Friday, May 8, 2009

Friday Backpasses: He only strikes at night

Just in case you didn't get enough gifspam yesterday [ONTD_FB]
This should make it all better. English bookie refunds Chelsea bets [The Offside]
At least Chelsea didn't get put out by an inanimate object [101 Great Goals]
Best player in the world World Cup [Who Ate All The Pies?]

Cech wants video replay now [Guardian]
Conspiracy theorists are having a field day with this [The Spoiler]
Boston Breakers photo shoot video [Football Fashion]
Ben Olsen is scary [Ginge Talks The Footy]

Andres Iniesta has made a habit of beating Chelsea at the death [Off The Post]

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This Man Hates England

That's Culture Secretary Andy Burnham and he wants English clubs who collect buckets of cash from their Champions League success to give it to shitty clubs.

Burnham has got shitty club Wigan chairman Dave Whelan on his side:

It is not a Premier League at the moment. There are the top four, some in between and the rest at the bottom struggling to stay in the division. We need an equal distribution of finance for the health of the league. We have to be fair because we are all in the same league and we all appear on the television. Manchester United or Chelsea need somebody to play on the television, so we are as entitled as they are to the money that comes.
Whoa, whoa... the English are socialists? When did this happen?

There are actually two issues here. One is the redistribution of Champions League money, the other is that of television money.

Currently 50% of the TV revenue is split evenly between clubs. The remaining 50% is then split evenly into two pools of 25%. One pool is paid out depending on the previous seasons' finishing spot. The other is paid out according to how many times a club is shown on live TV.

The distribution of £900M in TV money, that might be something for the clubs to look into if they feel it is not being equitably divvied up. But Burnham actually wants to curb the dominance of the Big 4.

We can't figure out if he's either an idiot or an asshole. So, should parsimonious Arsenal give money to Manchester City because the latter's multi-billionaire owners insist on having an overmatched manager (should have played Elano more, Sparky)?

We should add we think revenue sharing in the NFL was a stroke of genius and it's one of the reasons that the NFL is king in the US. But there is a massive difference between American football and world football. Nobody but Americans play the former. So, the US holds a monopoly on leagues. If the NFL wants to cripple the Cowboys to help the Panthers, that has no additional repercussions on the world's sports stage.

England doesn't have a football monopoly. If they want to force United to give money to Stoke so that Stoke has a better chance of beating Untied in the future, that's quaint but it would wreck English football in the medium term as less money for United means they will have a harder time competing with F.C. Barcelona and A.C. Milan going forward.

Each of the last three seasons, the EPL has had three of the four Champions League semi-finalists, unless Burnham can also get Spain and Italy (and Germany, and the Netherlands, and Portugal, and so on) to similarly redistribute wealth the English can say goodbye to that type of dominance. And that ultimately hurts the Premier League more than it helps Stoke.

Just our $.02, but, full disclosure, we're also largely supporters of Big 4 teams here (Arsenal, Liverpool, and a rogue Chelsea fan). Oh, and note to Whelan: it doesn't matter what you do with money, you're always going to have four teams at the top, some in the middle and then some teams fighting to stay up.

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Summer is Here, Woodgate Tips Spurs to Crack Top Four [next year]

The annual summer speculation that THIS will indeed be the year Spurs finally breach the Top Four has begun a bit early. The studly Jonathan Woodgate is the first to broach the topic in 2009, some 3.5 months ahead of next season's opener. With current form that would have Tottenham in the 5th position if the campaign had not begun until New Year's... and at least a few new "established" players set jump on the Harry bandwagon before 2009-10 kicks off, I'd have to say he won't be the last either.

Quoteth Woody:

"I want to finish as far as we can up the league," Woodgate said. "The aim is always to get in the top four and the Champions League... We'll see how we do. It's going to be a better team next year, you can see how the team has changed under the manager we have now."
Sounds good to me.

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Warning. No Really, Warning...

This is really, really, REALLY disturbing but someone at ONTD has posted video in the follow up to the story of the Arsenal fan in Kenya that committed suicide after their Champions League loss on Tuesday.

The poster makes note that through babelfish they picked up that he might have had a bad bet, or that he was already depressed. We said we had hoped that the loss itself wasn't the sole reason for this and there might be something else going on, but that doesn't make it any less awful. Really, it's disturbing. But click here after you've given serious thought as to whether you really want to see this or not.

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Gary Megson Cares Not for Self Respect

Stupid Fucking Bolton manager Gary Megson wants to prove that if you can kick a football there is no limit to how shitty of a human being you can be. Translation: yeah, they might sign Joey Barton

The manager confirmed "an interest in Newcastle's rebellious midfielder."

Johnny Lydon was rebellious. Barton is worthless scum.

In May of last year, Barton was sentenced to six months after beating the shit out of a bystander outside of a Liverpool McDonald's (disturbing video here). While he was serving 77 days of that sentence he was given a four month suspended sentence after he admitted to assaulting former teammate Ousmane Dabo during training.

Still, Barton was allowed to return to play in the EPL (suck it, Barclays) for the '08-'09 campaign. He made his season debut as a second half sub against Arsenal and had been on the pitch all of about 30 seconds when he tried to put his foot through Samir Nasri's femur.

Barton's Wikipedia page must be edited by his mom as it laughingly described the incident thusly: "Shortly into this return game, Barton was involved in an incident with Samir Nasri, putting in a hard but fair challenge, for which the referee did not give a foul."

That's because the ref didn't see it.

Earlier this month, Barton took out Xabi Alonso with a two-footed, studs-up tackle that drew a straight red. Newcastle manager Alan Shearer subsequently suspended Barton indefinitely and told him to stay away from the relegation-threatened club.

Barton is worthless. Megson just lost any respect he might have garnered from us for making Stupid Fucking Bolton seem less stupid and guiding them to a place where they're not even in the relegation picture with a month left on the schedule.

Oh, Blackburn Rovers and Sam Allardyce might also be interested in Barton, be we already didn't care much for Big Fat Sam

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A Spanish Summer

This Summer Barca will be catching fish.

The UF house appears to be a tad slow today, kind of a Friday-morning-your-senior-year-of-college-slow except the cause now is not alcohol rather it's work. The most toxic substance known to man. To help you avoid this toxic substance, I bring you information that will help as you try to make more summer vacation plans.

Barcelona has announced plans for a summer tour of America. Only three dates are scheduled, August 1 against LA Galaxy, August 5 against Seattle Sounders. A third date is not as of yet scheduled but presumed to be another "West Coast" team. That only leaves San Jose or Chivas for true west coast teams at the MLS level. I doubt that the club would play any USL sides, but I could be wrong. Though likely not.

No Unprofessional Foul Up is planned but I encourage readers to take up the slack.

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Gang of Four: Great Solo Performances in Vain

For all the individual skill and class on display in soccer, we are frequently reminded that ultimately, it's still a team game, requiring maximum effort from the full XI in order to achieve the desired result. Single players will rise above the white noise to turn in a remarkable day's work, as is their wont, and yet, not all of them get to enjoy the win or lift the trophy.

Today, a firm salute to a quartet who did everything they possibly could to win, only to fall short.

1. Kaka - AC Milan, Champions League Final 2004/05
For 45 minutes, the Brazilian libero reigned supreme, casting a spell over the crowd at Istanbul and perplexing the eleven Reds selected to halt his charge. Leading up to the game, the seemingly lop-sided nature of the fixture was analyzed ad nauseam, and nine pundits out of ten singled out Kaka as being the man to watch and the man to beat.

In the first half, he was untouchable, running rings around the Liverpool midfield. Steven Gerrard, the man chosen to smother him for 90 minutes, was left for dead.

Months after the game, Gerrard recalled his experience:

"Kaka was a great player, I knew that. Anyone who starts for Brazil must be special. But not until I spent that half, running around after him, chasing his shadow, did I appreciate how quick he was in possession. Never in my career had I encountered anyone as fast with the ball at their feet. Kaka was lightning."
Anyone with a pair of eyes could confirm as much. After Maldini's early strike, Kaka took over, setting up Crespo's brace with a pair of devastating passes; the first, a delicate, cushioned chip to release Shevchenko (who in turn found Crespo with ease on the pullback), while the second was even better. Receiving the ball deep in his half, Kaka shrugged off Gerrard's advance and spun clear, threading the ball through two Liverpool defenders for Crespo to tap in.

The margin of error was minuscule; on second view, Carragher's despairing lunge comes within millimeters of deflecting the pass off-course. Kaka's passing accuracy was unparalleled.

Even after Liverpool's legendary comeback midway through the second half, Kaka wasn't done. It took another Carragher lunge to pick the ball off his feet when a goal appeared likely with 10 minutes to go. In the 88th, he came within inches of diverting a Jaap Stam header into the net, but it wasn't to be.

He even coolly converted his penalty during the shoot-out, but the combination of Liverpool magic and Andrei Shevchenko's stunning profligacy in front of goal, even more remarkable for his stature as THE best striker in the world that year, meant that the baby-faced Brazilian would get nothing more than a runners-up medal.

2. Michael Owen - England, 2nd Round v. Argentina, World Cup 1998
In just his 9th game for the national team, Michael Owen was unconcerned with the decades-old rivalry between the two nations. He could barely remember the Hand of God, and on his display over 120 gutbusting minutes, he showed that he didn't much care.

Liverpool fans knew what the youngster was capable of, but it was the world's turn to have a look. Within just the first 16 minutes, he'd made mincemeat of the resolute Argentine backline. In the 10th, Owen earned a dubious penalty having spun Roberto Ayala more times than a pig on a spit. Shearer duly converted, but 6 minutes later, it was all down to the pint-sized striker from Bootle.

Beckham's long, hopeful pass from midfield sprung the greyhound from his trap, and from there, it took 10 seconds to play out: ghosting past Jose Chamot, feinting inside a dumbstruck Ayala (not his best game in blue and white, obviously), before cutting the ball back to his right foot and uncorking a wicked, rasping shot past a helpless Carlos Roa.

With the game locked at 2-2 in the second half, Owen would have several more chances to etch his name in English lore, blazing a shot just over the bar deep into extra time. Inevitably, as all England games in World Cups do, it was settled on penalties, and while all around his teammates were missing theirs, Owen showed no nerves for an 18 year old, blasting it into the roof of the net.

That day, there was little more Owen could have done; as the world remembers, it was Beckham's dismissal for a petulant retaliatory kick on Argie captain Diego Simeone that cost them the game.

Looking at the crocked mess that Michael Owen has become in the decade since, it's so tempting to imagine what could have been.

3. Ian Wright - Crystal Palace v. Manchester United, 1990 FA Cup Final
At the turn of the 90s, United were slowly becoming the juggernaut they are today. It wasn't an easy development; their progress through the FA Cup was a rollercoaster; a trio of 1-0 wins over Hereford United, Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United, a 3-2 away win over Newcastle at St. James's Park, and a 6-goal thriller semi-final with Oldham that needed a replay to settle the score.

The final would be no different, thanks to their plucky, tenacious opponents.

Crystal Palace, fresh up from the then-Second Division, had endured a difficult season themselves; an early 9-0 thrashing at Anfield set the tone for their struggles. They finished 15th, but not before becoming the first club to pay a million pounds for a goalkeeper, the soon-to-be chubby legend Nigel Martyn.

In the semis, Palace got revenge against Liverpool on a neutral field, beating them 4-3 at Villa Park, setting the stage for a memorable Wembley day out against the men from Manchester.

The game turned out like both their semi-finals; ex-Spurs defender Gary O'Reilly nodded in a free kick within the first 20 minutes, his effort cancelled out 10 minutes from half-time by a header from Bryan Robson, United's midfield metronome.

Both sides came close to blowing the game open in the second half, but United took the lead on the hour mark with permed Welshman Mark Hughes' low finish from Neil Webb's right-wing cross. Needing some inspiration with 20 minutes left, Palace turned to the bench and summoned Ian Wright, their ace up the sleeve. Wright was sublime for Palace over 5 seasons, scoring 89 in 225 games (he'd score 185 in 279 for his next club, Arsenal), but his 1989/90 season was derailed midway through by a twice-cracked shin bone.

Having barely recovered from the injury to make the subs list for the Final, manager Steve Coppell brought him into the fray and was immediately vindicated; he was on the pitch less than 4 minutes before he found space between Phelan and Bruce to latch onto the ball, turn Bruce inside out and knock him over before finishing low underneath the keeper for a gorgeous solo goal.

Wright's second goal came within seconds of the beginning of extra-time, showcasing his opportunism in and around the 6-yard box. John Salako's deep floated cross from the left froze the keeper, allowing Wright to ghost in at the far post with a sliding volley that nearly broke the net.

United would equalize via their own talisman, Hughes, and in the land before penalty shoot-outs, United won the replay 1-0 five days later.

Wright was still too fragile to start the replay, and Coppell hauled him on midway through the second half hoping for similar heroics right after United's goal. Alas, it was not to be, and Sir Alex Ferguson hoisted a trophy that many say preserved his job at Old Trafford. Imagine what could have been had Wright and Palace turned it around.

It was the closest that Palace had come to an FA Cup win since reaching the semi-finals in 1976; despite Wright's superhuman efforts, they would not end the season "Glad All Over."

4. Gerd Muller - West Germany v. Italy, 1970 World Cup
It's so hard to feel sympathetic for a German player, and not just any German, but their most celebrated, prolific striker of the last 50 years. Muller was a born scorer, his instincts better and sharper than any hoof-footed defender of the era.

In the "Game of the Century", the two defenses showed little regard for fortitude, resulting in a five-goal extra time that left the 100,000+ crowd in Estadio Azteca gasping for air. Never mind the altitude and searing heat; it was the pinball nature of the scoring that knocked the wind from their sails.

Muller, to his credit, did all he was there to do: put the ball in the goal, lather, rinse, repeat. The extra time wouldn't have happened if it weren't for that most German of occurrences, the injury-time equalizer (see: 1966 for more evidence). Up to that point, the Italians had been cruising, but Karl-Heinz Schnellinger's awkward-looking goal (did he mean to head it? did he slip and sidefoot by accident?) gave us the extra half-hour. And, as the cliche goes, what a half-hour it would turn out to be.

They were ugly goals -- the first, a scramble over Enrico Albertosi as he failed to smother a corner, the second a header from 5 yards as the defense froze -- but they kept the Germans and their wounded hero, Franz Beckenbauer (playing with a fractured shoulder in a sling), in the hunt until Gianni Rivera's fine winner in the 111th minute.

Their contributions to this epic contest are forever recorded in history, as is their defeat. Muller's performance should never have been allowed to occur, but that's what makes it so great; given the opportunity, he pounced like he did his entire career (to the tune of 489 goals in 565 club games, 68 in 62 for West Germany).

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UF Quick Throw: Walcott Not Getting Out of Cape Cod (or the Emirates)

Theo Walcott signs a new deal. Still can't run at people.

No specifics. Just says "improved terms" and "long term."

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Hearts Fans Do Not Appreciate You Celebrating Your Goal

Your good thoughts for Aberdeen, though appreciated by me, did not work. A 1-1 draw isn't the end of a challenge for Europe, but it does make the prospect very unlikely. However, there is a new possible team to overtake for a Europa League spot. Hearts, which looked comfortable in third at the time of the split, are a team adrift. They are scoreless in 338 minutes and winless in a month.

The latest setback occurred last night when hosting Edinburgh rivals Hibernian. The accounts I have seen have said the game was a dour affair hurt by a gusting wind and low visiting attendance. The play was pretty bad as well, apparently. The lone goal went to the visitors, of course, courtesy of a 79th minute penalty by Derek Riordan. That's when the match really came to life, though not in the usual way.

Riordan celebrated his goal (he also earned the penalty) not by running to visiting Hibs fans behind the goal on the right side, but to the left of the goal in front of Hearts fans. He then made two gestures that are seen worldwide after a goal. First, he put his fingers to his lips to shush the home crowd. Then, Riordan kissed the badge on his shirt. For at least a couple of Hearts fans, this was too much.

Hibernian defender Ian Murray was hit by a coin thrown from the stands seconds later as he was celebrating alongside Riordan. That wasn't the end of it, however. Immediately after the coin hit Murray (which was caught by Setanta cameras, by the way) Riordan turns around and finds an angry Hearts fan bearing down on him. The fan probably would have been able to hit Riordan at full speed, if not for referee Steve Conroy stepping in at the last second. The fan is then escorted off the field by a Hearts player, and is seen reaching for his mouth, feigning as if he had been hit. That's right, the fan was playacting for a card on Riordan. The camera then cuts to a steward wrestling another incensed Hearts fan off of the pitch.

Hibs gaffer Mixu Paatelanien had the run of the presser afterwards and let the assembled newsmen know exactly what he thought. He thought that Tynecastle had too few stewards present both by his bench and in the corner where the post-goal incident happened. He got in some good one-liners too. When asked about the apparent danger to Riordan, Paatelanien quipped "I wasn't really worried. I always trust that our players are a bit quicker and fitter than their supporters. Maybe not braver." Then, in response to the coin hitting his captain, the manager replied "He's fine - the coin is in his pocket now, knowing him." Great stuff.

Oh, it almost slipped my mind. We have video of the entire incident--the penalty call, the goal, the celebration and the mini pitch invasion. Aren't we just swell to you? The penalty call is at 0:07, the resultant kick is at 1:14 and the celebrations kick off from there. You can see Murray flinch from the coin at 1:33 and the fan runs up on Riordan immediately after. Enjoy!

Great stuff. Conroy jumping in to save Riordan is reminiscent of the last great drunken pitch invasion that I recall. That was Denmark-Sweden in a Euro 2008 qualifier. There, referee Herbert Fandel had just sent off a Dane when a fan jumped out of the stands to confront the ref. As for the rest, just watch the video. That's a lucky, lucky man.

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: A helluva ban

Chelsea Gif Madness! [ONTD_FB]
Is this the new Philly badge? [The Offside]
What do you do when the refs forget the coin for the coin toss? Rochambeau [101 Great Goals]
Somewhere, Joe Strummer is smiling [NYT Goal]

SAF's grandson got seriously injured in a car wreck right before the CL Semi second leg [Daily Mail]
The Next Great Shoulda Been a Star for the US has chronic knee problems at 15 [World Cup Blog]
Two playoff teams in lower level Italian league get into a fight [Dirty Tackle]
Here's a thought-provoker: who is Newcastle's player of the season? [Goal]

A "not high profile" player has been suspended by the FA for six months over a positive cocaine test. Your mission--find out who it is. Whether or not you photoshop his head on Tony Montana is up to you [Guardian]

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Hey, look! Non-CL stuff!

Please, please, please don't blow it tonight

I'm sure you all know this, but it's a pretty big weekend in the SPL. So big, in fact, that it starts tonight with not just one, but two matches. The rest of the weekend's slate finishes on the actual weekend. Weekend.

First of all, let's talk about the scheduling oddity that in no way was planned. Basically, there are three derbies this round, two natural and one media created. Tonight, Hearts and Hibernian take part in an Edinburgh derby while Dundee United and Aberdeen contest the so-called New Firm derby. That leaves--which those of you playing your scorecard at home already know--the Old Firm derby between Rangers and Celtic for Saturday.

Why oh why are there two matches on a Thursday night, you ask. Well, that's apparently down to the SPL not paying attention. Dundee United's main rival, Dundee FC, play in Scotland's First Division. Dundee FC's park is right across the street from United's. Dundee FC has had a home match scheduled for Saturday since the fixture list came out last summer. Even though United claim to have told the league about this conflict, no one seemed to note the clash until one day after the post-split schedule came out. That was the day the tie was rescheduled for the preceding Thursday, or tonight to you and me. The downside, for me at least, is that tonight's game--possibly the most important this season for Aberdeen--will not be televised (and therefore not streamed) since the Edinburgh tilt is the initially scheduled game for TV tonight.

So, yeah, it's a big game tonight for Aberdeen. They currently sit four points and three goals in differential behind tonight's opponent for the last Europa League spot from Scotland. A win tonight for the Dons could propel them into Europe. A draw or a loss and the hope is basically gone. United still have both Rangers and Celtic to play as well as a match against a Hearts club looking to hold onto third place. Aberdeen also have Rangers and Hearts left, but could--with a win tonight--leapfrog United with a further win over a playing-out-the-string Hibs side. It's a longshot, but it's there. Just wish I could watch it.

As for why Rangers and Celtic, the two clubs vying for the SPL title once again, play each other this early when a final day showdown could easily be scheduled--think Liverpool-Arsenal from Fever Pitch--well, it comes down to nervousness. Since the split has become part of the SPL schedule, the two clubs have routinely asked the league to refrain from making them play each other on the last day of the season. Oh, and the Glasgow police request the same, since a title-deciding, one-off match could incite some mayhem in the city.

Saturday's match will most likely decide the title. A win for Celtic would almost certainly wrap things up, as a four point lead with three games remaining should make them uncatchable. A draw or a Rangers win would keep the title race closer, but, honestly, whoever is in front after this weekend will probably win the title with only a few worrisome moments.

Anyway, at 3 PM EDT, Dundee United and Aberdeen kick off. I ask all of those who don't have a proverbial dog in the fight to help me out and say a little "Mon the Dons" to yourself during the game. Every little bit helps, yeah? Also, if you'd like, you can follow along here, assuming the page updates by then.

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LEAVE HIM ALONE! You are lucky he even performed for you BASTARDS!

You know what, Didier Drogba? I could not agree with you more. What we saw at Stamford Bridge yesterday, both during and after the game, was indeed "a f#$%cking disgrace!" The diving belle of Chelsea's attack put on an unprecedented show of postgame histrionics, and that's saying a lot considering the flopping and whining that mark just about every game in European footy these days.

I've never seen an athlete-- a professional athlete... an adult!-- carry on like that or scream obscenities INTO THE CAMERA on the field. Quite simply, it took the beloved drama we've come to expect from these European games and warped it all into some dark, stupid maudlinism. "Dream Team" would've written off Drogba's performance as too kitschy. But the rot goes deeper...

Precious Roy did a pretty comprehensive recap of the Chelsea players' commentary back at 10 am. Naturally, their anger, the frustration of once again crashing out of the CL in spectacular fashion, has triggered some less than professional, if not downright ugly responses by the players, Drogba of course being the prime culprit. Nevermind the referee missed as many calls for the Blues as he did for Barca-- who actually had a man sent off. Chelsea's loss was their own, and Drogba's rage should be directed at a mirror, not a camera.

But this isn't about Chelsea. It isn't about Barcelona. It's not about Gerry Pique's hand or Eto'o's elbow.

It is about the constant nattering that follows, and often precedes every big match. It's either Ferguson, or Benitez, or Wenger, or _______, or all of them, all at the same time, playing these [cue: euphemism] mindgames... and when the game is done and the score settled, so begins Act Two: the recriminations and posturing and blame.

And it's all centered on one man. The lowly referee. Corrupt scourge. Impotent blowhard. In this case, it's Tom Henning Øvrebø, the overmatched knucklehead who, by various estimates, failed to do his job properly between four and 424 times in 90+3 minutes yesterday in London.

Is it possible that Øvrebø and all his colleagues are just THAT BAD? Perhaps there are just not enough decent officials in all the sporting world to continue playing these games?

Or maybe, just maybe, today's players have made it impossible for guys like Øvrebø to do their jobs. Swans like Drogba and Ronaldo and Henry (in the WC Final, no less) and a million other footballers in a million different games from the Prem down to the Conference and all the way out to Turkey have made such a habit of dropping and whinging that it must be impossible for a single human being to distinguish the real infractions from the embellishment and playacting. In the end, it has a chilling effect on the ref and his willingness to blow his whistle and point to the spot.

Øvrebø should look at the ball bounce calmly into Pique's outstretched hand and make his call without a thought... a reflex move like Valdes flashing his arm to deflect Drogba's free kick. Yes, there is some nuance to the decision, but I promise you it was not the fine print of the rule book that clouded the Norwegian's gleaming dome. He was asking himself, "Did I really see what I just saw?" And whatever the answer, by the moment it was settled, too much time had passed. The play had moved on and the whistle, swallowed.

So please, leave Tom Henning Øvrebø aloooooone! He's a creation of our game. To hate him is to hate all modern football.


Quick Throw: Chelsea and Drogba speak

As you'd expect, it's rather dour, muted and contrite (and also not very convincing).


'I was very upset at what happened during the game, but having seen the pictures on TV I accept that I overreacted.

'I also fully accept that the language I used did not set a good example for those watching at home, especially children. I regret that in the heat of the moment I let out my incredible frustration and disappointment in this way, and for that I apologise.' And here is the rest of it."
Follow the link for Chelsea's prepared response that took 'em all day to write and revise and fine-tune and focus group and tweak and rewrite entirely and recover an old draft to work from and tweak some more and pore over and discuss and eventually release.

[Chelsea FC]

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Dear WSJ: Sit Down and Shut Up

Our normal targets for the Fire Joe Morgan treatment are other blogs, or the occasional religion professor, and so today makes for a real treat: the professionals at the Wall Street Journal. You see, the Rupert Murdoch-owned rag has produced a very weird, slapdash effort to explain football to the Brooks Brothers crowd. And while well-written (i.e., no typos!!), it is still quite worthy of ridicule.

The original article can be found here. Let’s just say this effort exploded on the launchpad. Line-by-line analysis can be found after the jump.

Let's start with the title, shall we?

Taking a Stand in the Grandstands

Bleh. More like taking a dump in the headlines. And the subhead is even worse....

Overseas, Sports Fans Take to Their Feet; Not in the U.S., Where 'Everyone Thinks They're King'

And here we see the fundamental problem with this article, the cheap “Americans and English are different!” Yeah, yeah, they say crisps and we say potato chips. They have cricket and we have baseball. They have a queen and we have Brangelina. CRAZY!!!


Austin Kelley, huh? Nice name. Oh hey look there’s a picture!

Chelsea fans in 2005, above, stand at a soccer match in London.

First off, why did the WSJ use a picture from four years ago? Second off, the only reason that the Chelsea supporters are standing is because Fat Frank just scored a goal. Trust me, they were sitting on their hands just prior to and just after this picture was taken.

In the U.S., go to almost any professional sporting event and look in the stands -- just about everyone sits. But at soccer matches throughout the world, many fans prefer to stand.

What a weak-livered lede, complete with qualifiers... “just about everyone” and “many.” But of course not everyone, no! That would simply be going way too far.

This is also a good time to mention that the entire premise of this article is just plain wrong. I can personally think of about a million U.S. sporting events, especially at crucial times in games, when the “fans rise to their feet as one.” So much so that this has become a sportscasting cliche. And not every football game is 90 minutes of standing, roaring cheers. How about when Sir Alex Ferguson called Old Trafford "funereal?" When I think funereal, I don't exactly think vertical position. But we are dealing with broad generalities here, let’s not get too hung up on such details, right? Please, let’s allow our humble writer to continue....

The tradition of standing is so entrenched that games like Tuesday's UEFA Champions League semifinal at London's Emirates stadium often elicit battles between ticket-holders who want to stay on their feet and security guards who want them to relax a little.

“Hey buddy, why don’t you relax a little and sit down?” At least the writer discussed "battles" between supporters and security guards without mentioning hooligans and riots. Also, quite interesting that the author would mention the Champions League... Maybe because FSC just won the TV rights? You can almost hear the editor saying, “Hey Austin, go write something about soccer, maybe about how Americans and English are different or something.” "Sure thing boss!! Uh, what's soc-cer?"

In fact until the 1990s, stadiums in England included large standing terraces where spectators were treated like cattle. In America, however, custom and shouting have always kept people down in front at big-time baseball or basketball games.

Here is my biggest gripe about this article: absolutely no discussion of Hillsborough or Heysel except for a passing mention below. You would think that a legitimate news outlet would lede with an explanation of why English stadiums no longer feature terraces, which is the crucial part of this story. But no, the discussion of changes to stadium designs comes far below.

And in the meantime, the author decided to quote not one, not two, not three, not four, but FIVE independent sources for this lame-ass article. Remember when you were in college and you were on page 18 of your 20-page paper, and it was late and you wanted to go to sleep but you had to come up with two more pages, so you threw in a bunch of block quotes? Yup.... That's what's in store ahead.

"I don't see myself going to watch a game and sitting down," says Oscar Zambrana, a Bolivian-American in Virginia who runs the D.C. United supporters' group, La Barra Brava. "To me sitting down is kind of boring."

That’s the sort of hard-hitting journalism that wins Pulitzers: Oscar Zambrana from Washington, DC, thinks that sitting down is boring. Oh, and notice that he's an MLS supporter? Last time I checked MLS was in the United States. Just saying.

To explain the gulf in fan behavior, historians point to everything from labor laws to gender roles to cultural expectations.

Really? We’re conducting a sociological study now? In the Wall Street Journal?? Okay, well, let’s hear it.

It goes back to "the middle ages, when the nobility sat and the common plebs stood," says Rod Sheard, senior principle of the leading sports architecture firm Populous and designer of the Emirates. "All of America is nobility. Everyone thinks they're king in America."

With all due respect for the guy who designed the Grove, this has got to be the most asinine explanation ever for why Americans sit at sporting events, assuming that they even do sit, or used to sit, or always sit, or whatever. You can almost imagine Mr. Sheard receiving an email from Austin seeking a quote, and thinking, “Eh, I’d love to get my firm’s name into the Wall Street Journal, but what is this reporter talking about? I know, I’ll just say something about nobility and kings.” And then the quote even made it into the sub-headline!

Indeed, 19th-century baseball fans in the U.S. quickly developed higher standards for comfort than British soccer fans, says Steven Riess, author of "Sport in Industrial America, 1850-1920." "I think there was a sense of entitlement for American leisure clients that they didn't have in Europe."

Okay, and now our fair author is firmly going with this line of investigation. It’s Sociology 101 meets football, on the pages of the Wall Street Journal no less. Seriously, I thought that Wall Street had repudiated such soft sciences. Where's the discussion of supply-side economics??? Oh, hey there it is....

Baseball owners, in the American entrepreneurial tradition, helped create these expectations, by aiming at the tea-and-crumpets crowd, not the "rowdies." William Cammeyer, the man who is often cited as the first person to sell tickets to a baseball game, saw the civilizing and profitable effects of seating.

Uh, really? "The tea and crumpet crowd?" Is that the tea and crumpet crowd that usually reads the WSJ? Also, when I think about the Brooklyn Dodgers I always think tea and crumpets, certainly not Hilda and the Brooklyn Sym-phony. But okay, baseball owners wanted to make money by marketing toward the wealthy. Fair enough, I guess. Maybe this analysis is only a little bit off. It could always be worse, like using Lexis-Nexis to look up an old article from the 19th Century....

"A long wooden shed has been erected," the Brooklyn Eagle reported when Mr. Cammeyer opened his Union Grounds in 1862, "and benches provided for the fair sex." Women were the harbingers of respectability and higher ticket prices. "Wherever their presence enlivens the scene," the newspaper opined, "there, gentlemanly conduct will follow."

Was this whole exercise just an excuse for Austin to use the word "erected?" But, thank you for confirming that baseball in the 1860s was misogynistic. Very newsworthy that.

Quite a few people still stood at these early games, sometimes in the outfield. In St. Louis there was a beer garden in right field where players would have to retrieve the ball among the idle drinkers (the garden was in play). But as baseball's popularity grew, the owners were intent on providing more and better seats. When Albert Spalding rebuilt Chicago's Lakefront Park in 1883, he added plush luxury boxes with armchairs and curtains to shield kingly spectators from the sun and wind.

"Spalding was one of the folks who was pivotal in making baseball more like high-end entertainment," says Robert Trumpbour, author of "The New Cathedrals: Politics and Media in the History of Stadium Construction." "He tried to push the prices upward. He would argue that baseball players are every bit as entertaining as a Broadway show, and people pay a premium for that."

That's expert number three if you are keeping track at home. Austin really bringing his "A Game" to investigative journalism.

British soccer developed very differently. The clubs, some of which were started by workers from the Thames Ironworks (West Ham United) and the Woolwich Arsenal (Royal Arsenal), were usually partnerships controlled by local directors, not entrepreneurial owners, and the games were held on Saturday afternoons when laborers were given a half-day off.

Thank you Wikipedia for confirming where the names of a couple football clubs came from. And sure, there are absolutely NO entrepreneurial owners in the English Premier League today! Oh, and no effort to make money either. No sponsors on kits, no sponsors on the names of trophies, no sponsors on the name of the league (suck it, Barclays). Oh wait, we are still talking about the HISTORY of football. Because that has so much relevance to today, and because I'm sure that Austin will tie this all together in the end (I'll give you a hint, he doesn't).

The early stadiums were designed to pack in as many fans as possible and were far from luxurious. Many of them were designed by one man, Archibald Leitch, a Scottish architect who cut his teeth building factories. Mr. Leitch's Stamford Bridge, the site of Wednesday's Champions League semifinal, had only 500 seats when it opened for soccer in 1905, but it had room for 90,000 standing. (It maintained standing sections until 1994.)

With only a few paragraphs to go, we've finally taken our historical study all the way up to 1905. And Will Leitch's relative had something to do with Stamford Bridge? I guess I did learn something new.

"The working class in the 19th century and 20th century," says Gary Armstrong, who studies sports sociology at Brunel University in London, "didn't have a great deal of expectations about public facilities. They'd go from working in a coal mine or a factory to standing up often in an inch of mud in the winter."

Expert number four. And yet I still have no idea what this is all about, other than that the history of football was tied to the working class. Fair enough point, but the connection to standing/sitting is still flimsy, flimsy, flimsy!

In Britain, shoddy conditions soon became integral to the fan experience. Fans flocked to the big matches partly for the pleasure of being uncomfortable together. At the 1923 FA Cup final, some 200,000 spectators packed into the new Wembley Stadium, which had seats for about 35,000.

"It became exciting to be standing amongst people and to be part of that huge humanity," says Mr. Sheard, who designed today's Wembley with 90,000 seats and no standing room. "You're almost swept away into a different world for that hour and a half.... You're part of this huge sweep of humanity that's chanting and yelling and singing."

This is the only part of the article that captures any sense of real difference between English football and American sports, yet it is buried two thirds of the way in.

For the most part, spectators at NBA or NFL games plant their fannies and chow down on hot dogs. Now soccer fans are beginning to follow suit. After a series of disasters in standing terraces in the 1980s, many top European leagues, including the English Premier League and the UEFA Champions League, outlawed standing-room sections. Clubs have also enforced new rules to keep people in their seats. British fans haven't taken it lying down, though. Protest groups have formed, including "Stand Up Sit Down," which would like to re-introduce "safe terracing" in Britain. A 2007 survey by the Football Fans' Census showed 92% of 2,046 English fans supported their effort.

Again, not sure I buy the argument that American spectators (hey that's me!) always sit, but if they do maybe it's because Americans tend to be overweight? Hey, it's just as stupid an explanation as this article. Hire me, the Wall Street Journal!

In other countries, stadiums with standing sections are still common. In Germany some new high-tech venues, like the Allianz Arena in Munich, have incorporated standing terraces that can be converted to seating for UEFA Champions League games.

Safety may not be the main issue. "Standing terraces can be designed to be just as safe as seating," says Mr. Sheard. "There's just not the incentive to do it." Seat assignments allow for more accurate surveillance and crowd control, and they fit in with the newer, more corporate stadiums.

Uh, okay... Basically not paying attention at this point.

Plus, it's harder to see the game when you're standing in the middle of a crowd of sweaty fanatics singing, "Who ate all the pies?" Not that it matters much to some soccer fans.

As if anyone reading the Wall Street Journal would have any idea what this means.

"I don't particularly watch the games," said Mr. Zambrana. "I always have my back to the field, leading the chants...."I can watch the game when I get home."

Except that Mr. Zambrana IS AN AMERICAN TALKING ABOUT MLS GAMES!!! It all falls apart again. What a hack job. The Wall Street Journal should truly be ashamed. Look folks, this isn't all terrible, but it's a sliding scale. We just expect much better from a legit news outlet.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D8

Page D8 huh? Okay, maybe this explains everything.

Read more on "Dear WSJ: Sit Down and Shut Up"...

A Game in Hand is worth two in real life

The Scottish Souse stretches his arms before another barcrawl

United are marching towards another Premier League title, buoyed by the strength of their squad and the unerring confidence of the collective. It is, begrudgingly, a sight to behold, especially as witnessed at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.

With Ronaldo shooting from all angles, seemingly unable to miss, and the tireless hustle of Wayne Rooney, it's become dispiriting for the chasing pack who, even when given a small window of opportunity to make up ground (I'm looking at you, Liverpool), have never quite been able to get within touching distance.

For all of United's irritating, frustrating might, I'd argue that one force has been far stronger this season, looming large over the heads of fellow title chasers, gnawing
at their spirit.

Despite the fact that United's squad have played 61 games already this season, it's the one they haven't played that has made the biggest difference.

Before Christmas, United took a trip out to Asia for The Club World Cup, a gloriously empty and unnecessary tournament that provides money, minimal excitement (just look at the teams involved!), a slew of meaningless trophies -- not just a "Golden Ball", but a "Silver Ball", a "Bronze Ball", and then a Top Scorer Award (something I thought the "Golden Ball" would have covered, but there you go), a Fair Play Award (lame), and then a Winning Manager award, something I reckoned might be folded into the actual trophy for winning the damn thing.

In short, it's a FIFA moneyspinner and a way for them to keep the outlying soccer federations happy via bags of unmarked banknotes and suit pockets lined with gold. It says a lot that the tournament disappeared for 4 years only to reappear in newer, shinier, shittier form.

Anyway, I'm backing off the main point here. The Club World Cup gave United a fortnight's break from the frosty rigors of the EPL. While their biggest challengers were suffering and playing in games of consequence, Fergie's lads put their feet up and prepared for two difficult matches against Gamba Osaka and LDU Quito.

Then, upon their return, they slowly, diligently set about making up their missed matches in order to catch up with everyone else. Or not.

You see, they were supposed to play Wigan in the EPL on December 20th, a date slap-bang in the middle of their Club World Cup jaunt. And so, while other fixtures were rescheduled due to their participation in 9,161 competitions this season, this hanging chad of a home game with Wigan Athletic has been allowed to carry over into the middle of May.

By all intents and purposes, that's a fucking disgrace.

The psychological impact of a game-in-hand is immense in any sport. Opponents know that their own team's record only tells half the story when trying to keep pace with other title hopefuls. Well, it's nice if Liverpool or Chelsea win this weekend to close the gap to 2 points, but that gap is essentially 5 points pending United's tidy sweep-up of their game-in-hand. And so it goes, and so it goes, and so it goes.

While other teams have played massively condensed fixture lists in order to keep up (I believe Arsenal played a stretch of 5 games in 12-15 days at one point because they were behind in FA Cup games or Carling Cup games or something? Gooner fans, help me out here), United's dalliance with Wigan has been allowed to surf over the masses to the end of the season.

How does something like this happen? Are the two clubs immune from a mid-week fixture? How can the EPL justify their season going for the better part of five months with an asterisk hanging over its biggest club? I mean, while Liverpool, Chelsea and others have done their part in handing the title to United via draws at heartbreaking times, it could have all been so different if everyone was playing week-to-week and having the same number of games played by that Monday.

The perceived injustice stings that much more when you consider how bitter and angry Fergie gets about the fixture list to begin with. Remember back in January when he was ranting about playing all the Big 4 clubs away from home in the first half of the season? Yeah, he isn't bellyaching so much about that now.

To add to the bitterness of this article, the game-in-hand is against Wigan, coached by United's cuddliest defender of the 1990s, Steve Bruce. I'm sure that game will be as hard-fought as Dancing With The Stars.

So while we wait for United to complete the inevitable, let's not overlook the game-in-hand. Whereas baseball does this sort of thing all the time due to rain-outs, they end up compensating with double-headers. Not only that, but one game amid 162 doesn't stick out nearly as much as one game amid 38.

Next time Fergie opens his whisky-rotted mouth and comes up for air to gripe about his team's mistreatment, think of the game-in-hand. It's been a godsend for United, considering now they get to play it when it no longer means a thing.

Read more on "A Game in Hand is worth two in real life"...

It's All San Andres' Fault: A Second Semi-Final Redux

Didier Drogba has placed blame for Chelsea's Champions League exit squarely on his shoulders after his failure to score at the Nou Camp when he got in alone on Victor Valdes.

Just kidding. Chelsea players are all about Øvrebø.

Here's a link dump in the fallout of Barca's extra-time leveler at Stamford Bridge yesterday. Click bonanza after the jump.

Chelsea players now saying there were "six or seven" decisions against them. Pretty sure by next week, it will be between 15 and 20.

Graham Poll counts four. Also the only person in London not selectively forgetting that Chelsea received a bad decision gift with Abidal's sending off. Webchat with Mr. Three Yellows is here.

Pique admits his handball could have been legitimately given, then tells Chelsea to fuck off because they got all the calls at the Nou Camp.

Sun says Drogba attacked ref and is facing a ban.

Drogba consoles self after loss by dating a man. Great pic of Ballack flashdancing with Øvrebø.

The ref had to be smuggled out of the country due to death threats. Stay classy football fans. (Oh, and now UEFA has put a gag order on Øvrebø to stop talking about the match).

No shit? headline on this one. We just wanted an excuse to mention Guardiola. Was his sideline sprint more Mourinho at Old Trafford in the CL, or Slaven Bilic from last summer's Euro?

Anytime it's a choice between 'conspiracy' and 'incompetence' always pick the latter, people.

Finally, we end with this nugget from England's Brave John Terry: ''I am fully behind Didier Drogba for the way he reacted. The man wants to win. You can see the passion that he played with during the game and the passion afterwards."

Clearly, EBJT wasn't paying any attention the entire management tenure of Phil Scolari when Drogba couldn't even be bothered to mail it in. Anyway, that's the crazy person that Terry is backing up top. "You're not angry, you're just pointing. 'Hey you, I know you. I know you.'"

Thanks to Sarah for another fantastic animated gif. And here are some decent bonus pics here, here, here, and here.

Read more on "It's All San Andres' Fault: A Second Semi-Final Redux"...

Quick Throw: Upton Park to go belly up?

Say goodnight to West Ham's Icelandic owner Bjorgolfur Gudmundsson, as he announced liabilities of 301m pounds this morning and that a group of his creditors, led by Icelandic bank Straumur, will be taking control of the club shortly.

Long story short, a bank he had a significant stake in collapsed, and now he's in the shitter and might even lose his house.

Not sure this means for West Ham in the long term (they should be able to keep their Europa League spot pending UEFA review of their financial paperwork), but I can safely say one thing: fire sale!

[Guardian Sport]

Read more on "Quick Throw: Upton Park to go belly up?"...

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: Crazy, man

ballack goes nuts
If you enjoyed this fine gif, thank Sarah for sending it along.

Boo! My favorite league to watch any match from has re-upped with GolTV [SI]
If there's a cheerleader face off, I understand if you choose FC Dallas, but the Dynamo girls look like they could do some damage [Football Fashion]
Didn't Ryan Giggs used to have a natural sweater? [Kickette]
Hugh Jackman must be looking for press for something. Here he is with Originaldo [Dirty Tackle]

U-17 Euro Championships about to kick off. How will Arsenal cope? [Daily Mail]
How wearing a soccer shirt is different in America [Weekend Warrior]
Don't like the PFA picks? Fill out your own ballot [Avoiding The Drop]
Devastating lightning strikes are not limited to African football pitches [Sports Rubbish]
Middlesbrough set to fight exorbitant fine in injury case [Guardian]

This is unfortunate timing, Chelsea fans, but it couldn't be ignored. And no, there was nothing Cech could do on that goal. Anyway, Chelsea may be searching for Cech's replacement, and have their eye on a curiously surnamed Argentine. [Dirty Tackle]

Read more on "Wednesday Backpasses: Crazy, man"...

More on the Van Basten fallout

Our friend Joep Smeets was available for comment to give us some insight into the mess at Ajax... COME ON YOU LIMBERGERS THIS WEEKEND!


Quite a few of my friends support Ajax, but none of them share an opinion about van Basten’s decision to leave his post one game before season’s end. One friend is disappointed, another one relieved. One is angry and another one resolved.

The decision follows a 2-6 loss at PSV in week 32, which killed off any title aspirations they may still have had and a 4-0 loss at Sparta, which lost them second place and the Champions League qualification.

Whether they’re angry or disappointed, when asked to look at Ajax’s season objectively, all of my friends agree results like these sound like reason for dismissal. But like I wrote in my Season Review, Ajax could not afford to fire van Basten for several reasons.

After years of hastily changing coaches, Ajax resolved to appoint someone for the long term. They went with van Basten, a child of the club and furthermore fresh off a pretty spectacular display at the Euros. They gave him a virtual carte blanche regarding staff and transfer policy, which is an usual position of power in Dutch football.

But van Basten inherited a squad that was meagre to say the least. His additions didn’t perform up to expectations either. Mickey Sulejmani, brought in for a record 16.5 Million Euro, obviously misses the outstanding support of Liverpool target Daniel Pranjic at Heerenveen.

Robbie Wielaert, who was brought in from FC Twente in the winter break to add leadership to a young defence has looked lost while his old team didn’t suffer in the slightest under his absence. Oleguer has looked disinterested and only turns up for European fixtures. Ismael Aissati was marred by injury. Don’t even get me started on Evander Sno.

Heavily depending on the maddeningly inconsistent Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, Ajax lacked an idea of what it actually was they were doing all season long. There was no consensus starting eleven and the contrast between the hungry attitude of the team in European competition with their lethargic play domestically was enormous.

Furthermore, van Basten showed the same subtlety in dealing with individual players as he had done during his time at the Dutch national team, which is to say not very much at all. When goalie Maarten Stekelenburg went down injured and inexperienced replacement Kenneth Vermeer did well, Stekelenburg was unceremoniously benched upon return, only to see Vermeer crumble under the pressure of being first choice.

Leonardo, a striker who performed well each time when called upon from the bench wasn’t awarded with a first team place long enough for it to become a national discussion.

A legendary striker in his day, he was never the tactician who set out the lines for his team, nor was he a team player, let alone a team leader, but rather an eisenlgänger who was as gifted as he was disruptive. Van Basten’s reputation as a world class player is justified and many believe he was shocked by the lack of quality of his own players.

Never a great communicator, he failed to instil his own winning mentality in his team. Through all this, doubt about whether van Basten was the right man for the job remained, apparently also with San Marco himself.

Read more on "More on the Van Basten fallout"...

CL Open Thread: Barcelona v. Chelsea

Oh Oh Leoooo-OHHH! And whoever's in Barca's central defense! OH!

When Luis Enrique speaks [in metaphorical terms about football and sexual ecstasy], people listen. He's promised the world a display of "Orgasmic" footy from his Barca squad (he coaches the reserves) today at The Bridge. Is it Delusions of Pleasure... or a top line to the magic the Catalans have in store today for Chelski and the world? Present party is hoping Leo and Sammy spray Cech wet with attacking grandeur, but the more reasonable sorts among us (looking... looking... they're here, I swear) have a feeling it won't cum quite so easy. Chelsea have a way of toughening up in these spots.

So here we are, just 15 minutes to kick. It's 0-0 after the first leg at the Nou Camp. A win or goal-scoring draw puts Barca through. Chelsea need to win to book their title rematch with United. And then there's always the possibility of PKs after another impotent, scoreless draw. We go flaccid at the thought.

Lineups después del salto!

First-- Michael Ballack, Nicholas Anelka, Alex, Dani Alves and Sergio Busquets are all on Darren Fletcher Alert-- one yellow and OUT for the final.

Second-- Questions! Will Thierry Henry man up and play? (Answer: NON) Who will play center back for injury and suspension-ridden Barcelona? Rafa Marquez is out with that knee injury (is it no longer even a chuckle-worthy irony that the most dangerous place on the pitch for a footballer is that spot five yards clear of other players and the ball?) and Captain Carles Puyol misses out after collecting one too many yella cards. It'll probably be Gerry Pique and Eric Abidal/Yaya Toure. (Answer: TOURE) That's my wild guess at 1.45 pm et. By the time you see this there will be an actual lineup right below...

right here...

So it goes:

For Chelsea--


Bosingwa, Alex, Terry, Cole

Essien, Ballack, Lampard, Malouda

Anelka, Drogba

Subs: Hilario, Ivanovic, Mikel, Kalou, Belletti, Mancienne, Di Santo

For visiting Barcelona--


Alves, Abidal, Pique, Toure

Busquets, Keita, Xavi, Iniesta

Eto'o, Messi

Subs: Pinto, Caceres, Gudjohnsen, Bojan Krkic, Sylvinho, Alex Hleb, Pedro

Already y'all, we are off in a just a few minutes. Let's hope for a nut-busting second leg. (You promised, Luis!)

Read more on "CL Open Thread: Barcelona v. Chelsea"...

CL Preview, 2nd Leg: Barcelona cometh

Frank Lampard: excited. Possibly suffering from lockjaw.

When flair and class descends on the Stamford Bridge grass, we must hope and pray it doesn't end in 0-0 again. After all, the other semi-final provided way more goals than I expected (sorry, Gooners), so it seems criminal and unfair that a match involving Barcelona, scorer of 156,413 goals this season (at least 91,673 of those provided by Lionel "God" Messi), should give us nil-nil over 90+ difficult Nou Camp minutes.

What say you, folks? How about more dumb reasons why either side might win?

- Lampard/Drogba in good form
- Far better at grinding out 1-0 wins than Barca

- Away goals, baby! Just need one
- They have a La Liga defense... nuff said

NY Kid
1. The French tandem of Anelka and Malouda [Ed. Note: He's totally kidding]
2. Abramovich and the Russian mafia want it that way

1. Titi, Messi and Eto'o are unstoppable up top
2. Pep Guardiola dresses nicer than Guus Hiddink

1. Full squad, in form, at home vs. Puyol and Marquez out.
2. Hiddink shut them down at the Nous Camp, this hasn't been done.

1. Barca remindes us in Madrid that they are the rampant side in Europe this season, the first leg aside.
2. Messi, Eto'o and Titty can't be held for 180 minutes, can they?

- Because the football gods want a soul-crushing Man U-Chelsea final

- Because the football gods exist

The Fan's Attic
Michael Essien


Precious Roy
The Baby Jesus hates me.

They'll probably get some room to operate as Chelsea can't play for a goalless draw again (unless they want to put their fate on EBJT's penalty-taking foot again)

Read more on "CL Preview, 2nd Leg: Barcelona cometh"...

Dear Wankers: Know the Rules!

Dear RVP: You almost missed it.

Alright, you all knew it was coming. The Gooners among us have crawled back out from under the blankets and are once again able to converse (if by converse you mean yell obscenities at Ronaldo). There is not much to say from our perspective regarding the traveshamockery at the Emirates last night. Manchester United dominated our injury-riddled squad (yes, I'm allowed to throw in the qualifying statement) and full credit to them for making it to Rome.

Everyone is, of course, conversing about the Darren Fletcher penalty and red card. And sickeningly, most people are saying that it was an undeserved card and some are even so deluded as to say that it was not a PK.

Off the Post has video of the incident, and labels that video "Harsh, very harsh" arguing that "Darren Fletcher gets his foot to the ball before making contact with Cesc Fabregas." claims that "television replays seemed to indicate that Fletcher's challenge in fact resulted in his touching the ball, making it legal."

The Independent tell us that "Fletcher's red card for what looked like a fair 75th-minute challenge on Cesc Fabregas is unlikely to be rescinded."

The Telegraph (apparently run by SAF), states unequivocally that "A glory night for Manchester United was blemished when Darren Fletcher was controversially ruled out of the Champions League final after being sent off during an emphatic semi-final victory over Arsenal."

[NOTE: All emphases are mine - I'm trying to make a point here!]

Only Graham Poll (yes, yes - he of the 3 yellow cards) got it right, noting:
"When commentators and former players say: ‘He got the ball, it can’t be a foul,’ they are wrong. Even though Fletcher got a slight touch on the ball, Rosetti felt it was impossible for the Manchester United midfielder to avoid taking his opponent in the follow-through. Therefore, he had no option but to dismiss the Scot."

How do I know that Poll is correct? Because FIFA tells me so. On that page you will find a link to a PDF version of "The Laws of the Game." Turn to page 33 of that PDF to sections entitled "Law 12 - Fouls and Misconduct", with subsections on "Direct Free Kick" and "Penalty Kick" and you will find:

"A direct free kick is awarded to the opposing team if a player commits any of the following six offences in a manner considered by the referee to be careless, reckless or using excessive force:

� kicks or attempts to kick an opponent

� trips or attempts to trip an opponent

A penalty kick is awarded if any of the above ten offences is committed by a player inside his own penalty area, irrespective of the position of the ball, provided it is in play."

Darren Fletcher: (1) tripped his opponent; and (2) was inside his own penalty area with the ball still in play. Ergo, a PK. He was also the last defender on a clear goal-scoring opportunity. The latter, when committing a foul deemed deserving of a PK, receives a RC.

Explain to me again how this isn't a PK?

So, you think it wasn't a PK?


Read more on "Dear Wankers: Know the Rules!"...

This is Just Sad

One of Bill Shankly's more colorful if not likely misquoted lines goes something like: "Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that."

Here's the thing about that: it's wrong. It really is just a game. In yesterday's Champions League semi-final there was a place in the final at stake. And outside of a large pile of money and and even larger trophy, not much else.

That's what makes the following story so hard to fathom:

[Suleiman Alphonso Omondi], an Arsenal fan in soccer-mad Kenya hanged himself following his team's 4-1 aggregate drubbing by arch-rivals Manchester United in the Champions League semifinal, police said on Wednesday.
According to one of his friends, they had been watching the match at a local pub, and after the final whistle Omondi left crying. Police said he had hanged himself in his Arsenal shirt.

This is just really, really sad. No other word for it.

We live and die with our teams at UF, but thankfully only do so in a figurative sense. Yesterday was rough for the Gunner-loving contingent over here (and obviously across the world) but our "death" ends at the disappointment of watching your rival have its way with you while you kind of lay there and take it.

So yeah, this is sobering. Maybe the guy had other things going on in his life. Let's hope that an Arsenal loss wasn't the sole reason for his hanging himself. Not that that would make it less sad. There's another season starting up less than four months and, unfortunately, Omondi won't be around to witness it.

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UF Quick Throw: Le Guen Out at PSG

Paris Saint-Germain have confirmed that gaffer Paul Le Guen will not return next year. This confirms speculation that had been mounting since a 1-0 loss to Rennes that Le Guen's contract, which ends on June 30th, would simply not be renewed. Although PSG barely avoided relegation last season, they currently sit 4th in Ligue 1 and look likely to retain a CL spot.

Le Guen, who had previously managed Rangers and Lyon (including 4 straight Ligue 1 titles from 2002-2005) had been increasingly at odds with PSG president Sebastien Bazin. Various sources have tipped current Valenciennes coach Antoine Kombouare, a former PSG player, as his replacement.

[Paris Saint-Germain and coach Le Guen to part company]

[PSG confirm Le Guen's departure]

[Ludovic Giuly surprised at announcement during run in]

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Good morning, or should I say Góðan morgun? I'm not entirely sure, as Toot & Puddle have not visited the Faroe Islands yet. Once they do, I'll be sure to get it correct. Until then, I'll just have to guess.

One thing I won't have to guess about is why B68 Toftir play in a stadium that holds 7000 people when the town itself only has 1200 inhabitants. Svangaskarð used to be the national stadium for the Faroes until Tórsvøllur opened in Tórshavn in 2000. Confused on how to read any of that? If you are, then good, that was my intention.

B68 are so named, in part, because they formed in 1968. They are a yo-yo team these days, hopping in between the Faroe Premier League (Formuladeildin) and the First Division (1. Deild). That wasn't always the case. B68 won the Premier League title three times in the 80s and 90s, the most recent coming in 1992. They did not, however, win a title in this week's shirt, nor did they deserve to.

The obvious question here is why did Umbro choose to trot out this shirt as a template for anyone else? Making the mistake once is bad enough, but why sell it to anyone else? And who signed off on this for B68? Yucks all around.

As for the shirt, my gripes are the same as they were for Ajax. Triangles, rhombi, and pinstripes. No good can come out of these, and nothing is changed here. I will say that this shirt looks even worse, just because the club crest is so lame and generic. My youth club teams did better than that. Barely, but they did.


In an attempt to cleanse the palate, I offer you what I think of whenever I see this club's name, the song 68 by Jawbox. This version is inferior to the Savory+3 version, but good nonetheless.

You know what--F**k it. This is now a Jawbox video post.

Now that I've totally done it, I'm going full rip off and saying thank you for your continued support of Unprofessional Foul. I'm such a tool.

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Quick Throw: Van Basten Out at Ajax

Marco Van Basten has stepped down as Ajax manager after failing to qualify for next season's Champions League. It's the first time since 2005-06 that the Amsterdam club has finished outside the Eredivisie's Top Two.

For more on a queer year in Dutch footy-- No Ajax, Feyenoord, or PSV qualifying for the CL... Steve McClaren carried off the field by supporters (as opposed to a lynch mob)-- please read the great Joep Smeets' Season in Review.

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Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tuesday Backpasses: Honk

Look, you can kick the ball all you want to, but if you finish a tackle that is potentially injurious, then it's a foul and a card. If you're the last man back, it's a red card. Why so many people being so thick on this?

The cup final in Greece was a hell of a game [Avoiding the Drop]
Someone named Jack Rodwell plays for Everton. He has one hot WAG in training [Daily Mail]
Porto fans knock off CR7 store in Madeira [Dirty Tackle]

Keepers of the world, please do not assume because the ball hit the crossbar that you are in the clear [The Offside]
What will American soccer look like in ten years? [Match Fit USA]
Some highlights of a TV personality watching his club go down in flames on the last day in League One [Off The Post]

A far reaching talk with the guy who owns all things New York Cosmos [This is American Soccer]

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CL Open Thread: Arsenal v. Man U

Arsene and SAF Do Their Best Impression of Ronnie and Reggie Kray

Well, today is the proverbial biggest game of the season for Arsenal and Manchester United. The preview and inevitable pre-game transfer rumors are both out of the way. Now it's time to get down to business.

As the irrepressible Arseblog said in his call to arms: Manchester United are not our rivals, not our competitors, not our peers: they are the enemy. Treat them as such.

Lineups and your comments after the hop.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Djourou, Gibbs, Walcott, Fabregas, Song, Nasri, Van Persie, Adebayor. Subs: Fabianski, Eboue, Silvestre, Diaby, Denilson, Vela, Bendtner

Man Utd (4-5-1): Van der Sar, O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Fletcher, Carrick, Anderson, Park, Ronaldo, Rooney. Subs: Kuszczak, Rafael Da Silva, Evans, Giggs, Scholes, Berbatov, Tevez

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Dear Arsene: Our Strikers are Idiots

Ade and Little Nicky discuss their scoring prowess.

Having locked up 4th place (and the corresponding Champions League spot for next year) this past weekend, Arsenal turn their focus to this year's Champions League. Their match today against ManUre (more on this later today) is clearly the most important match of their season with respect to their own ambitions. Down 1-0 after the trip to Old Trafford, the Gunners come into the match today essentially wanting a 2-0 victory. Thus, it is the perfect time for 2 idiot strikers to speak up.

Ahead of such an important match you would think that the Arsenal players would want as little distraction as possible. So what did Ade and Bendtner do? They opened their fat mouths.

For his part, Adebayor has let everyone know that he was very close to signing with the Rossoneri last season, and still maintains contact with club vice-president Adriano Galliani. Even better, considering today's competition, was this statement:

"[AC Milan] have won the Champions League on seven occasions whereas Arsenal have never won it."

Thanks for pointing that out! Not that we're playing a CL semi-final match today or anything.

Little Nicky Bendtner, on the other hand, is still at it trying to convince everyone that he is capable of becoming one of the best strikers in the world. His ego was once again unfortunately inflated due to bringing his season tally to 14 goals in all competitions with the 3-0 victory over Pompey this weekend. Yes, Nicklas, we are aware that you score ugly goals in matches that are of little importance against shite competition. Congratulations. Unfortunately, this is far more common:

As our own Precious Roy noted, consider this post null and void if either/both score a brace and bring us to Rome.

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