Saturday, May 16, 2009

Breaking: Figo Retires From Top Level Football is reporting that Portuguese international Figo is retiring from football. The 2001 FIFA World Player of the Year announced his retirement after his Italian club, Internazionale, sewed up its fourth straight scudetto with a loss by second place AC Milan on Saturday. Figo did not rule out playing in a lesser league outside of Europe.


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congratulations manchester united. **update**

The "O'Shea Spray"

I hate this. It's why I wrote the title in all lower case.

But, congratulations are in order as ManU won its third consecutive Premier League title with a 0-0 draw with Arsenal at Old Trafford this morning. They did what Liverpool couldn't do, beat the teams they were supposed to beat.

Now it's time for the credo of the sports optimist. "Next year." And, hoping Ronaldo ships off to Madrid and Tevez goes elsewhere.

Anyway a few photos after the jump.

Tevez waves goodbye to ManU.

And that was the first time Tevez was given a mirror.

Is frontrunner really an insult to Usain Bolt?


barclay's has its own champagne?

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The Bootroom: Are We There Yet?

The seasons are almost done and the silly season has begun already. But three of the major leagues have as much ending drama as a Judd Apatow movie. Manchester United can wrap up the title with a win against Arsenal or a Liverpool draw or loss. Barcelona can re-claim the Spanish crown with a draw or Real Madrid loss. Inter can wrap up a third straight scudetto with a victory or Milan loss.

If you want real drama you will have to stay away from European peninsulas and islands. The Teuton league has five teams with a mathematical chance at the title. Wolfsburg is in first ahead of Bayern only on goal differential. Two matches remain and this one is a real cliffhanger.

Even the frogs are giving us drama too. With three matches remaining, it is looking like Lyon, the champion for the past seven seasons, will not be raising silverware this season. Lyon has a shot but is seven points adrift of Marseille and Bordeaux. Still no Freddy Adu sighting though, I presume.

After the jump the schedules.

TV Listings.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

7:45 ET Manchester United v Arsenal
10:00 ET Middlesbrough v Aston Villa
10:00 ET Newcastle United v Fulham
10:00 ET Stoke City v Wigan Athletic
10:00 ET Tottenham Hotspur v Manchester City
10:00 ET Bolton Wanderers v Hull City
10:00 ET Everton v West Ham United

Sunday, May 17, 2009

8:30 ET West Bromwich Albion v Liverpool
11:00 ET Chelsea v Blackburn Rovers

Monday, May 18, 2009

15:00 ET Portsmouth v Sunderland

Ligue 1

Saturday, May 16, 2009

13:00 ET Bordeaux v Le Mans
13:00 ET Caen v Sochaux
13:00 ET St Etienne v Toulouse
13:00 ET Grenoble v AS Nancy
13:00 ET AS Monaco v Valenciennes
13:00 ET Lorient v Le Havre AC
15:00 ET Paris Saint-Germain v AJ Auxerre

Sunday, May 17, 2009

11:00 ET Nantes v Stade Rennes
11:00 ET Lille v Nice
15:00 ET Marseille v Lyon


Saturday, May 16, 2009

9:30 ET Hannover 96 v VfL Wolfsburg
9:30 ET Borussia Dortmund v Arminia Bielefeld
9:30 ET VfB Stuttgart v Energie Cottbus
9:30 ET Bayer Leverkusen v Borussia Monchengladbach
9:30 ET Hertha Berlin v Schalke 04
9:30 ET TSG Hoffenheim v Bayern Munich
9:30 ET VfL Bochum v Eintracht Frankfurt
9:30 ET Hamburg SV v FC Cologne
9:30 ET Werder Bremen v Karlsruhe

Serie A

Saturday, May 16, 2009

12:00 ET AS Roma v Catania
14:30 ET Udinese v AC Milan

Sunday, May 17, 2009

9:00 ET Juventus v Atalanta
9:00 ET Reggina v Cagliari
9:00 ET Genoa v Chievo Verona
9:00 ET Palermo v Lazio
9:00 ET Bologna v Lecce
9:00 ET Fiorentina v Sampdoria
9:00 ET Napoli v Torino
14:30 ET Internazionale v Siena

La Liga

Saturday, May 16, 2009

14:00 ET Deportivo La Coruña v Getafe
14:00 ET Osasuna v Sevilla FC
16:00 ET Villarreal v Real Madrid

Sunday, May 17, 2009

11:00 ET Racing Santander v Valladolid
11:00 ET Real Betis v Almeria
11:00 ET Espanyol v Athletic Bilbao
11:00 ET Numancia v Recreativo Huelva
11:00 ET Sporting Gijon v Málaga
13:00 ET Mallorca v Barcelona
15:00 ET Atlético Madrid v Valencia

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Friday Backpasses: Marion is rather useless

Playing Lego Indiana Jones. That's all you'll get for a Facebook status update.

Eduardo is a nice chap [Off The Post]
A look back at the now-defunct Fisher Athletic. Should have kept the lady on [Two Hundred Percent]
Top ten EPL games of 08/09 [The Spoiler]

Vinnie Jones acquitted for South Dakota bar fight [NY Times]
The Guardian has an interesting series for next week [SPAOTP]
Mrs. Arshavin wants C Ronaldo's dirty, sweaty shirt [Dirty Tackle]

A NSFW gallery of Argentine ladies supporting their teams [Football Fashion]

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Know Thy Enemy!

Righto. I have had a couple of weeks to ease my thoughts towards next season and new surroundings. To adjust to the harsh, stark reality that NCFC will be plying their trade, and trying to counter the hoofaneers on offer in League One. And while many of the teams are familiar to old Bigus, as they have graced the Colaship in previous years, many are not. I need to learn more about Brentford and Spectator's Exeter City. As many of you will read my ramblings next season (or else), you too could do with some League One learnings.

Over the summer I will be looking at Fizzy 1 sides and finding out exactly who the f*ck they are!

Join me won't you, as I start with a butchers at....(Drumroll)....Leyton Orient!

Leyton Orient. Brisbane Road. I went there once to see Stevenage Borough play them in a cup tie. Nice day out. Never in a million years did I think that Norwich would have to go there in the league. Leyton Orient was the name that first popped out at me when I looked at the table. Leyton Orient, two words delivering a very unwelcome reality to my footballing door step. Who are these mythical orbicular wanderer's who journey the ranks of lower league football? What can Norwich City fans expect from a visit to this part of Laaaandon? And how will they get there?

Brisbane Road: This is the image I remember from my only visit. A giant block of flats offering a free view to Saturday afternoon offerings.

The O's were founded in 1881 and are currently owned by boxing promoter Barry Hearn. Notable boxers who have fought from Hearns stable include Lennox Lewis, Herbie Hide, Chris Eubank, Prince Naseem Hamed and Steve Collins. Hearn has been supremo at Orient since 1995.

Former players at Leyton Orient include management 'duffer' Glenn Roeder, current Villa left back Nickey Shorey, England keeper Peter Shilton and the incredible QPR legend Stan Bowles. Orient were Shiltons 11th and final club, he retired at 48 years old. The O's all-time top scorer is Tommy Johnson with 121. He netted 35 times during the 57/58 season. One famous local lad is David Beckham who was born in the area and lived there until he was 14 and kidnapped, I mean signed by Manchester United.

Leton Orient's badge. Will 3 points be cake?

So where is Brisbane Road?

The Matchroom Stadium, Leyton.

Leyton is in East London, just south of Walthamstow, home of 90's cheeky boy band 'East17'. The Matchroom stadium has a capacity of 9,271. The capacity record was set back in 1921 when the place held 38,219 for a game with Spurs. The nearest tube station to the stadium is 'Leyton' on the Central line.

The O's nearest local rival is West Ham but games between the two have been extremely rare over the years. However, they did beat West Ham whilst adventuring through their only year in the top flight during the 62/63 season.

This season Orient finished 14th with 56 points. I'll leave you with a gander at local lads East 17. Yes, people actually bought their records. They had several number one hits during a successful spell in the 90's. Shudder.

Deep: For anyone who ever wanted to play a piano, at night, on a football pitch.

Steam: Nice leather cap.


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World's Fastest and World's Best Diver Do Their Best Fonzie

Aaaaayyyyy!! Why are you wearing Rooney's training top?

The long awaited "training session" for Usain Bolt and Cristiano Ronaldo looks to have been more photo op than actual training session. Bolt is in Manchester looking to cash in on his talent in a 150 meter promotional race this weekend and took time out of his busy promotional schedule to promote some more at a United training session on Friday. Bolt will also be at Old Trafford in the director's box as ManU look to clinch the title against Arsenal on Saturday.

From the looks of it, the PR stunt turned into some weird posing competition. Bolt won "The Fonzie" by a hair, but, as seen below, Bolt takes the gold in this event.

No word on whether Bolt offered tips to Ronaldo on how not to be such a wuss.

[Photos: Telegraph; more photos there as well]

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UF Quick Throw: Hahnemann is No Longer a Teammate of Stephen Hunt

Marcus Hahnemann has been released by Reading.

Why do we care about an above-average keeper on a club that just missed out on the promotion playoff final? Because he's American (fuck yeah!). Interesting to see where he turns up in terms of whether it represents a move up, down or laterally.

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Kirk Broadfoot, bad cook

Cooking is a dangerous business, especially when it's mixed with football. Just ask Gordon Ramsey. At best you can face some backlash for your lies. At worst, you could end up in the hospital because you can't even boil an egg.

Kirk Broadfoot, mainstay right back for Rangers and sometime fill-in for Scotland, injured himself last weekend while poaching an egg. It seems that, if you play for Rangers, the ideal way to poach an egg is to put it in the microwave. The downside is that, every so often, the stupidity of doing so explodes in your face when you open the microwave door. So, it's really a Sophie's Choice-style dilemma.

The real issue here, of course, is the article's headline. Zara Phillips is 12th in line to the British throne. In order for her to become a Queen I could really get behind, a massive die off of King Ralph proportions would have to take place. The same is true for Kirk Broadfoot. If Broadfoot is ever to be considered a star, BBC, then about 10 Rangers players would have to die for him to rise to the label. Let's not hyperbolize here, that's not the way the British press works.

Fresh off the press, right as this was going to post, from today's Fiver

4 eggs
225g butter, softened
400g caster sugar
3 lemons, finely grated zest only
375g plain flour
2 tsp baking powder
235ml milk

Method (as favoured by top chef, Pope's O'Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot):

1. Beat together butter and sugar until golden and creamy.
2. Sift flour into bowl.
3. Wonder why substance in bowl is still golden and not flour-white.
4. Look down in direction of feet.
5. Where are your feet?
6. Look back in bowl in search of feet.
7. Look back down at bottom of legs.
8. Realise your feet are buried under a big pile of flour.
9. Go and fetch broom to sweep up flour.
10. Come back carrying mop and bucket.
11. Trip over as walking in straight line makes you feel dizzy, dropping mop and spilling contents of bucket all over floor.
12. Roll around in batter for ten minutes or so.
13. Get up and start to cry. "Ma flour! Ma cake!" The hot tears should clear your face of batter, apart from the small bit on the end of your nose.
14. Stop crying as you realise you are not meant to be making lemon drizzle cake anyway. It's breakfast time!
15. Throw away lemons, baking powder and milk. Pick up egg.
16. Put egg in toaster.
17. Duck as egg fires out of toaster, over head, and smashes against far wall.
18. Pick up egg.
19. Put egg in toaster.
20. Duck as egg fires out of toaster, over head, and smashes through window.
21. Phew, cooking's hot work! Open window.
22. Pick up remaining eggs. Decide to poach rather than toast them.
23. Place pan of water on hob.
24. Remember what happened the last time you tried to poach an egg using this method, and the water caught fire.
25. Put eggs in microwave.
26. Turn up to 11.
27. Take eggs out of microwave and inspect them.
28. Get into hospital-bound ambulance for treatment after egg explodes and squirts scalding albumen and yolk into your face. Did you break the eggs before putting them in? You don't know, do you? Look on the bright side: though you've "got some facial burns" you "should be okay". Also, that last bit of batter's been blasted off the tip of your hooter.
29. Relax. Sit back and listen to the soothing sound of the ambulance siren.
30. Realise that isn't an ambulance siren; you've got into the back of an ice-cream van. Mivvi, please, mister!

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Isn't It a Bit Early for This?

Something called The Frisky has a list of the Ten Craziest Sex Stories of 2009.

It's May. We're not even to the halfway point of '09. Jesus keep your clothes on people.

Anyway we bring this up because our friends Nives Celsius and Dino Drpic have made the list.

If you recall, Celsius (or is it 'Celzijus'?), the Playboy model wife of the Croatian defender, went on TV and bragged that she and Dino had sex on that pitch at Dinamo Zagreb's Maksimir Stadium. The club must have been knowledgeable to some extent as Drpic had even arranged for the lights to be turned on for the pitch promiscuity.

Drpic was shipped out on loan to Bundesliga side Karlsruher SC shortly thereafter.

Just a heads up, the stock photo image that The Frisky used to adorn their list is a bit creepy. We prefer Celsius as pictured above. Or if you're sleazier, there's some added NSFW Nives here.

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Guest Post: Let's all laugh at Arsene, shall we?

Lifelong Chelsea fan (and Norwichomon legend) Lumberjack couldn't resist penning a few smug words about their crosstown rivals. No, of course he's not talking about Spurs. After all, few do.

Been a while since...

God Bless Arsene Wenger. He’s a man with an extraordinary eye for talent, a football visionary who brings joy to the beautiful game and a possessor of the gormlessness about reality that one so traditionally associates with his Gallic brethren.

Arsenal is fine, he says. The kids will get us there, Lord Wenger remonstrates. No need to break the bank, states All High and Mighty Arsene.

And the rest of us just giggle. Since the enormous glory of His Invincibles, the rest of the world has simply regularly Waterloo'd Arse’s Arse.

This season is the glorious pinnacle of the Wenger big tease. A firm 4th place in the Premiereship with a solid and stolid 68 points and a pending thumping at Old Trafford. This form goes delightfully, like a fine Bordeaux with a nice, stinky camembert, with Fourthenal’s wondrous 3rd place effort last season (83 points), their 4th place form in the 06/07 campaign (68 points) and another resounding 4th place finish in the 05/06 season (on 67 points). It’s a Spurs like effort in its waste, except that Spurs did get to put a piece of silverware into the cabinet last year.

Of course, King Wenger wasn’t satisfied with his 4th place laurels in just the Prem. He needed to show that his precocious group of talented children were capable of consistent football, thus they finished an effective 4th in the Carling, 4th in the FA Cup and completed a magnificent quadruple by cementing a 4th place finish in the Champions League.

Is Emperor Wenger disappointed in these fourth place finishes? Is he unhinged by his team’s numbing ability to finish exactly between 3rd and 5th?

Goodness gracious no, and the rest of us could not be more delighted.

Sally forth, Arsene.

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UF Quick Throw: Laursen Forced to Retire

This is a total bummer, but the Villa captain Martin Laursen's knee injury is forcing him into retirement at 31. If you recall, Villa's season started to go sideways (or downward rather) not long after Laursen suffered the injury. At least he'll get to stud for the rest of his life.

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Quick Throw: Wenger's content to say adieu to Ade

May the Summer of the Stubborn Frenchman continue! He's fine with Adebayor leaving, even if it's to Chelsea. Insert something about the youth in the squad, depth, etc.

[Guardian Sport]

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Golaço

Vote for us, we want fourth (again). But know that we would vote for ONTD_FB, if we could.

Video fight! Who has the better footy video for today? [ONTD_FB] or [WAATP?]
In case those videos weren't enough [The Best Eleven]
MLS boy quiz (h/t MLS Rumors) [Cosmo Girl!]
UF favorite c0rrine put up the Liverpool Hillsborough match [Justin]

Bloggin' on badges [ESPN]
FC Dallas aren't adept at this web thing [GTTF]
Rudo y Cursi movie review. Sounds better than Goal! [Pitch Invasion]
With one game left in the season--90 minutes against Sheffield United to go to the Prem--Burnley's 37 year old midfielder Graham Alexander has played all but 26 minutes this season. I'm not sure I've done anything productive for 5464 minutes since August [The Sun]

I'm sure it was next to impossible, but I think Bolton's kit got worse for next season [EPL Talk]

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Super Terrific Update To Steve Cohen Issue

Remember that little Steven Cohen issue that had something to do with Liverpool?

Well, Jack Bell of the NY Times Goal blog has weighed in on the subject, on the side of Steven Cohen. Bell, you see, thinks you either support Cohen or you are a terrorist.

Read more on "Super Terrific Update To Steve Cohen Issue"...

Mikael Silvestre Had A Week To Forget

Mikael Silvestre has probably had better weeks in his life. Which is why he probably shouldn't be telling Arsene Wenger that he needs to "analyse" the weaknesses of his squad. That's kinda like the farter in sixth grade saying, "Do you smell that? It stinks. Did somebody fart?" It didn't work then and it won't work now.

Over the course of the last week he was shown to be old and slow repeatedly in resounding losses to ManU and Chelsea. I expect that had Arsenal's backline not been so thin he would never have seen the grass, but as it was he was out there and his opponents essentially pulled his pants down, kicked sand in his eyes, and then pointed and laughed at him.

How bad was he? Well, I asked some Gooner fans I know about Silvestre and this was the best and most succinct answer I could find:

Honestly, I would rather have had Senderos all season instead.


It couldn't get any worse for Silvestre. Could it?

It could.

Silvestre is the frontman for a charity soccer match, All-Stars for Hope, to be played at Giants Stadium on June 14. It was going to be awesome. There were big stars lined up and everything. Henry, Lampard, Drogba, Rooney, Ronaldo, Anelka, Adebayo, Almunia and PFA Giggs. Pretty awesome, although I wonder if they all would have shown up. Unfortunately, it was announced earlier this week "due to the economic climate" that the event had been cancelled.

This is unfortunate because I think it would have been a success. Maybe these players should just show up for a Showdown in Chinatown II.


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Getting a Jump on the Silly Season

Here's all you need to know about the upcoming summer:

Half of the clubs in Europe are on the verge of selling their players to half of the other clubs in Europe. Africa, Asia and the Americas will also have varying degrees of involvement.

Everything after that is just details.

Sorry, didn't mean to sound like a t-shirt there, but we are alternately amused and bored by the Silly Season. Or course we can't ignore it. After the jump we get the jump on the rumors. The list is by no means exhaustive. It's barely a scratch of the surface, but it's a start. Also, we're not separating fact from fantasy just facilitating the flow.

Forlan to Liverpool. Does that put a dent in a raid on Valencia? And does that mean I have to find links for the ubiquitous Silva and Villa rumors?

Ancelotti to Chelsea. Hey, we're not limited to players.

Rosicky to Arsenal. What, he's been gone two years, so it's like a player transfer, and a Bosman at that. Well played, Wenger.

Tevez to United. For free no less.

Tevez to Citeh. Okay, it's the same link.

Tevez to Chelsea. Yes, that's six months old, but indulge us as we have fun with this one.

Tevez to Liverpool. Also on that link, Valencia (the player, not he city) to United. Downing to Liverpool. Jon Obi Mikel to Mourinho... The Guardian, however, fails to mention where Mourinho is or might be managing.

Diego and Cannavaro to Juve. I can't believe we just sourced sometihng called the Earth TImes.

Sans links (because we're a bit lazy right now) we think we've heard: Bassong and Martins to Arsenal. Ronaldinho to Man City (a particular of the general: Ronaldinho away from Milan). Adebayor to Chelsea. And of course the old stand-bys Gareth Barry to Pool and Cristiano Ronaldo to Madrid.

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Rio, Fiddy and Duffy

Rio Ferdinand's foray into publishing has gone live. It's called #5 Magazine, because that's his number. That's fucking genius.

The digital publication can be found at the egotastic URL of

Eh, I own my real name as a domain name, so I really shouldn't poke fun. However, know what I did? I refused his cookie. Take that.

Anyway, in the first issue, you can read about 50 Cent, Duffy, Mickey Rourke, and Cristiano Ronaldo—oh, we almost care about two of those—and win some tacky King Baby jewelry.

The layout of the online mag is pretty clean. So points for that. And the thing is Flash'ed to the hilt with some well designed interactivity. In terms of content, Harper's this ain't (but LB had nice things to say about the Maradona piece).

Still, they took the 5 theme and ran with it. And kept running long after someone should have suggested stopping. Under music, there are blurbs about five bands; and film, blurbs about five films. Five pics for style, Five quotes from Duffy (she has five thoughts worth reading?), five gadgets, five favorite felching encounters of Ronaldo. So all the content is designed to fit around that meme. It's kind of stupid.

So, recap: Better than average eye candy. Some content you might care about other stuff you might not. Worth a look for the top notch UI, but with every click you support a United player and thus strangle a kitten.

Sunderland fans, please continue waiting for #26 Magazine.

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Shadow formerly known as Shevchenko is going home?

Remember Andrei Shevchenko? I do, barely... he was the guy who tore up Serie A with his scoring 127 goals in 208 games for AC Milan (of course, it was the one he didn't score from the penalty spot in Istanbul that I remember best).

Then he hopped on a plane for London, bound in his new role as Roman Abramovich's precocious, coy lover, one whose record-breaking transfer fee seemed like institutionalized money-laundering after one dismal season in Chelsea blue. His time at Stamford Bridge has been, for lack of a better word, utter shit; 9 goals in 47 games, injuries, plenty of time spent on the bench under Mourinho and Grant, and a rather tepid loan move back to the Rossonieri.

His loan is up, and return to the Chelsea reserves appears likely. But wait! Sheva might finally end his misery with a move back to Ukraine, as Dynamo Kiev are seemingly happy to take the 32-year-old striker with less confidence than someone with ADHD trying to take their driving test.

Shevchenko was the butt of every joke while at Chelsea. 31 million pounds down the drain. Oh, how we loved to see him fail.

The video below the jump is a reminder of just how lethal he was before he came to the EPL. I would post a vid of him succeeding in the EPL, but it'd only be 10 seconds long.

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Why? Because they're fun. Everyone loves a good remix, and Didier is no different.


One More Open Letter to Steven Cohen

(Quick disclaimer: The views expressed in this post are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect those of my fellow UF contributors.)

I’ve largely been ignoring the Steven Cohen-Hillsbrough controversy, because it only seemed to confirm what I and many others already knew: that Steven Cohen is a jerk. Actually, to be fair, he's not a jerk. He's more of a muppet -- a talking head with a hand up his ass.

The merits, or lack thereof, of Cohen’s comments about Hillsbrough have been well explored elsewhere. For instance, Tim Vickery had probably the most articulate response, which at least the folks at World Soccer Daily had the good sense to re-post.

I, however, would like to respond to Cohen’s recent statements in the L.A. Daily News. My open letter after the jump.

Dear Stevie,

You might not care who I am, but know that I'm one of the people who you have permanently turned off. As I watch you flail through a controversy that was solely of your own making, my reaction is to simply turn away, to say I've had enough and don't want to hear what you have to say anymore. So, you might be curious to hear why.

But first, let’s get a little bit of context out of the way.

Please turn your Wayback Machine to sometime in 2006. I happened to be watching Fox Football Fonein when you and your then-cohost Nick Geber got into a typically inane argument. As I recall, the discussion was about the state of English football. When the talk became more and more heated, you decided to wind up Geber. That’s when you said that Liverpool supporters were responsible for two of the biggest disasters in football history, both starting with the letter H. I distinctly remember that there was a twinkle in your eye, and you let out a chuckle, because then you weren’t making a reasoned argument. No, you were just trying to turn the knife into your co-host’s back.

It was mission accomplished because Geber was visibly aghast, genuinely offended that you had in fact “gone there.” But you didn’t back down, and at the end of the show you even said something about being entitled to your opinion. Amazingly enough -- and your “amazement” is a theme that runs throughout this letter -- lots of viewers were offended. So you were forced into an on-air apology the next week, not completely contrite but still acknowledging that you had made a mistake. Fair enough, you went too far on this one occasion, but you made your mea culpa. Lesson learned. Moving onward, right?

Nope, it turns out that you were just biding your time. I can only guess what you were thinking. Maybe it was genuine hurt that you had been publicly shamed? Maybe you knew that rehashing this “debate” would get your name in the press? Maybe you even thought, and presumably still think that you have a genuine point to make? In any case, you decided to wait until the 20th anniversary of Hillsbrough to again bring up that Liverpool supporters weren’t sharing enough blame for the disaster. (Audio here, during which you can audibly hear co-host Kenny Hassan cringing.)

I personally find your comments to be more inane than offensive, although they strangely remind me of Father Charles Coughlin and his argument that we have to "blame someone” (quick hint, it was us the Jews). But, leaving that aside, what I take issue with are your recent comments where you decry the response that you’ve received:

"I've seen the Taliban less defensive," Cohen said. "If this was being done in Afghanistan or Pakistan, we'd call these people terrorists. A lot of them are little cowards hiding behind their computers.

"(But) I feel my life and my livelihood is at stake."

Some e-mails compare Cohen's comments to blaming the victims in the World Trade Center for Sept. 11.

"You almost wonder what they are protesting so much?" Cohen said. "Why do they care so much about what some nebbish in California in a soccer wasteland thinks? This is terror tactics from one club's fans that are hypersensitive."

* * *

"I adore this country," he said. "I don't care for Rush Limbaugh, but I'd defend his right to say it."

He knows that in his native England, he would already be fired.

"I'd be lynched (in England)," he said. "The English media are being scared off this story."

Here begins my lesson. Let’s call it a lesson in free speech and your role as, yes, a public voice. In the same way that your Englishness makes you an expert on football, my Americaness makes me an expert on free speech.

Now, I will not in any way defend death threats against you or your family. That is not the sort of “discourse” that has any place anywhere, period. And I know that your quotes are mostly responding to the worst of the worst. But I do see much more in your words, and I find your attempt to cloak your Hillsbrough comments in the garb of free speech to be what is doubly offensive. You are just utterly and completely in the wrong on this one.

The way I see it, you have lumped together death threats with people trying to take away your “livelihood.” In other words, you equate making a death threat with voicing strong opposition to you and with trying to get your advertisers pulled (they aren't nameless, by the way -- I found them right here and here, as a matter of fact). When you respond by comparing these people to the Taliban and terrorists, you expose yourself as just plain foolish. Allow me explain to you what freedom of speech really entails.

I assume that you and many of our readers fundamentally support the idea of free speech. That’s great, but free speech only means the freedom from having the government define what you can and can’t say. There are of course limits on that freedom (obscenity, defamation, threats, etc.) that we sometimes must balance, but this is the basic framework. In other words, free speech is about having the right to speak without the government choosing sides or telling you what is right and what is wrong. That is why the KKK, who everyone finds abhorrent, still has the right to march in my town square. If the government prevented them from marching, it would be picking sides. Still with me?

Now, in response to your Hillsbrough comments, some Liverpool supporters have started a campaign to boycott your show and to pull your advertisers. The thing is, Steven -- and here comes the crucial point -- they are exercising the very same freedom of speech that you are pretending to defend! This is the epitome of the marketplace of ideas in action.

You, on the other hand, are the one who has a forum to speak your mind publicly on a regular basis. What forum do people have when they disagree with you? Well, one forum is to put their effort and their dollars where it counts to counteract you. So when you become defensive and compare the Liverpool supporters to terrorists, you are truly doing this entire process a disservice. Freedom of speech doesn’t just mean shrugging and saying you have the right to your opinion and everyone else can go fuck themselves (and that's essentially what your response has been). It means that, when you have a public platform to speak, you have to live with the consequences if you cross an invisible line. Your job, as a broadcaster in the public eye, is to know where that line is. Just ask Don Imus.

Now, to bring this discussion back to the beginning, you started the whole adventure on shaky grounds to begin with. On some level, you had to have known people would be offended, both by repeating the "spread the blame" comments and also due to your timing with the 20th anniversary. So what exactly was your point anyway? What does your statement accomplish?

The thing is, Steven, the reason that people are coming after you so strongly on this one is the same reason that many people fundamentally can’t stand you. Everything you do is always about you. "Why are they trying to take away my livelihood." If you could only display an ounce of genuine humility and contrition, this would have ended weeks ago. And no, calling yourself a nebbish doesn’t work when in the next breath you label your enemies as “hypersensitive terrorists." But we both know that you aren’t capable of such a leap. If you really had some self-awareness, you would have never made the comment in the first place.

You are just far too smug, arrogant and self-righteous to act otherwise. That is the true shame, because you are one of the few, if not the only regular football commentator in the United States. If you really cared about what that entails, than you would realize that your position carries responsibility. If you really wanted to spread the love of the greatest sport on Earth, than you would do your job with the respect that it deserves. That means having respect for your audience. In the end, you may survive this sorry episode. But have you learned this lesson? Sadly, we both know the answer to that question.

So, even though I am a Sirius subscriber, I won't be tuning into World Soccer Daily anymore. And I won't be watching Fox Football Fonein as long as you are on the program. If I have been able to get anything across to you with this letter, it's that I agree with the Liverpool supporters. You have broken the public trust and you no longer deserve to have an audience. You simply haven't earned it, and you haven't shown that have the mental fortitude to bear the responsibility. My refusal to tune in to your programming is what free speech is really and truly about.

I realize that this was a rather long letter, but you can see that I'm somewhat incredulous that I have to explain these things to you, nebbish in the wasteland that you are.

Yours sincerely,

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Ligue 1 Mid-Week Review

Matchday 35 in Ligue 1 was pushed to mid-week due to the Coupe de France finals this past weekend, with 1 match on Tuesday and the rest on Wednesday. Apparently some of the players were upset at missing out on Salma Hayek, because these matches featured quite a few cards and many goals scored in anger. The result of the week goes to Sochaux-Montbeliard, who destroyed Monaco 3-0 to move out of the drop zone.

Tuesday, May 12th:

Lyon 3-0 Nantes - Lyon started early in this match, with a Juninho cross headed by Ederson to Makoun, who scored with a header of his own, in the 7th minute. In the 14th minute another Juninho cross was headed by Cris, but Nantes GK Alonzo was up to the task. A few minutes later the ever-dangerous Juninho lashed a free-kick that Alonzo did well to stop. The 2nd goal came in the 34th minute after some excellent work from Delgado, Benzema and Juninho, who set up Makoun for his brace with an easy tap-in. Nantes had their only shot in the 50th minute, with a Moullec volley going just wide. The final goal came in the 79th minute when Kallstrom sent in a cross for Mounier to finish off with a header.

Wednesday, May 13th:

Auxerre 2-0 Grenoble - Auxerre dominated this match from the beginning, allowing Grenoble only 3 shots (with only 1 of those on goal). In the 5th minute Jelen went down in the box after contact from Grenoble GK Wimbee and was awarded a YC for simulation amid calls for a PK. In the 10th minute a corner from Pedretti was sent just wide by Chafni. The goal finally came in the 37th minute when a shot from Pedretti was pushed out by Wimbee, but only as far as Jelen for the finish (cementing his GSTGC award for the week). Just 2 minutes later Jelen was easily in on goal, but he passed to Chafni who hit the post. Grenoble got their lone shot in the 60th minute when El Moubarak was stopped 1-on-1 by Auxerre GK Sorin. Jelen completed his brace in the 74th minute when Pedretti split the defense and sent the pass through, which he completed with a lob of Wimbee.

Le Havre 2-4 Saint-Etienne - The former Ligue 1 power got a vital win to stave off relegation against Le Havre, who confirmed their own relegation with the loss. Saint-Etienne opened the scoring through Ilan, who was left unmarked in front of goal in the 4th minute. Le Havre responded in the 12th minute when Diallo sent home a corner from Noro. They then took the lead in the 18th minute after some miscommunication between Saint-Etienne GK Janot and his defender Bayal left Sambou to easily send home his header. Le Havre should have gone up by 2 goals in the 35th minute when Diallo was in alone on goal, but he put his shot straight at Janot. Bayal made up for his earlier defensive miscue in the 47th minute by heading home a corner from Payet for the equalizer. Saint-Etienne then should have taken the lead in the 60th minute when Gigliotti lobbed Le Havre GK Placide, but his shot was cleared off the line by Baca. The lead did come in the 69th minute, when Mirallas hit a stunning strike from 40 yards past a flat-footed Placide. The final goal came in the 92nd minute when substitute Riviere beat Placide to a long pass.

Le Mans 0-1 Paris Saint-Germain - In a closely contested match that saw few fouls and an equal number of shots on goal for each club, it was PSG who took the 3 points after holding on to an early lead. Despite playing without leading scorers Hoarau and Giuly, PSG got their goal in the 18th minute when Kezman finished off a cross from Sessegnon. In the 31st minute Rothen was stopped by Le Mans GK Pele, who also stopped Luyindula in the 53rd minute. Just 2 minutes later a Coutadeur free-kick was headed barely wide by Lamah, and in the 65th minute Cerdan had his shot tipped over the crossbar by PSG GK Landreau. Kezman could have had a brace in the 77th minute, but Pele was once again able to tip the shot wide. The match ended in a bit of controversy as there was a collision between Le Mans forward Helstad and PSG defender Ceara with no PK given in the 85th minute.

Nancy 2-2 Lorient - Despite being thoroughly outclassed, Nancy managed a draw thanks to a defensive gaffe. The 1st goal of the match was an OG from Lorient defender Saifi, as he inadvertently headed a cross into his own net in the 27th minute. Nancy were put on the back foot, however, in the 35th minute when Ouaddou received a straight RC for a bad tackle on Gameiro. This didn't seem to faze his teammates, as Sami scored on a bicycle kick in the 48th minute to take a 2-0 lead. The afore-mentioned Gameiro had the last laught, beating Nancy GK Gregorini 1-on-1 in the 53rd minute and completing his brace in the 82nd minute after Obertan had hit the post.

Nice 0-2 Marseille - Marseille got their 5th win in 6 matches to stay atop the Ligue 1 table despite only taking 2 corner kicks to 8 from Nice. In the 17th minute a nasty ben Saada free-kick was stopped by Marseille GK Mandanda, and Niang made them pay in the 26th minute by dribbling around 3 defenders and finishing easily. In the 30th minute ben Saada forced another save from Mandanda on a free-kick. Marseille got the final goal in the 60th minute on a quick counter-attack started by Mandanda and finished with a pass from Taiwo that was headed home by Brandao.

Rennes 1-0 Caen - Caen looked listless in this match, and if not for GK Plante the final scoreline would have been much worse. In the 17th minute ben Khalfallah had their best chance, hitting the crossbar. In the 22nd minute Asamoah forced a save from Plante, as did a volley from Pagis in the 27th minute. After the restart Deroin had the only remaining chance for Caen, but he was stopped by Rennes GK Douchez. The goal came in the 60th minute when Hansson headed home a cross from Mareveaux.

Sochaux 3-0 Monaco - Sochaux came out playing for their lives, and this evidenced by their pace and aggressiveness. In the 6th minute Perquis hit the bar, and 1 minute later Erdinq forced a save from Monaco GK Ruffier. In the 26th minute Martin sent home a low shot from close range. Park almost equalized in the 30th minute, but he was stopped by Sochaux GK Richert twice in quick succession. Immediately after the restart Monaco took a 2-0 when Modesto scored an OG while trying to clear a cross under pressure from Sverkos. The latter got a goal of his own in the 71st minute off a well-struck free-kick. Freddy Adu watch: On the bench, no PT. But he'll be back at Benfica soon!

Toulouse 0-0 Lille - Ligue 1-leading scorer Gignac almost increased his tally early in this match, hitting the side netting and forcing a save from Lille GK Butelle. In the 24th minute Balmont sent his shot just wide, and the clubs went into the half looking listless. Early in the second half Bastos was stopped by Toulouse GK Carrasso in quick succession, while Cabaye had his volley also stopped by Carrasso. Lille had 2 late chances to steal the 3 points, but Debuchy was stopped by Carrasso, and Hazard hit the post.

Valenciennes 1-2 Bordeaux - In a match that became increasingly contentious, Bordeaux gained a vital 3 points to keep pace with Marseille atop the table. In the 6th minute Audel had his header saved by Bordeaux GK Valverde, who was able to relax for most of the rest of the half. In the 22nd minute, however, Valverde was helpless to stop a PK from Danic after the latter had been fouled in the box by Chalme. Bordeaux began to exert some pressure, and Fernando headed home a Gourcuff free-kick in the 38th minute for the equalizer. In the 55th minute Gouffran forced a save from Valenciennes GK Penneteau, and shortly after Valenciennes gaffer (rumoured to be on the short list for the PSG position) was dismissed from the touchline. This proved to be a fatal distraction as Chalme sent in a cross in the 83rd minute that Gourcuff finished with a beautiful diving header. 2 minutes later Valenciennes were down to 10 men when Tiene received his 2nd YC, and Pieroni put them down to 9 men in the 91st minute (when Penneteau also received a YC) by collecting 2 YCs in the same minute.

So, after Matchday 35 the top of the table looks like this: (1) Marseille, with 71 points on a 20-11-4 record and a +29 goal differential; (2) Bordeaux, with 71 points on a 21-8-6 record and a +27 goal differential; (3) Lyon, with 64 points on an 18-10-7 record and a +19 goal differential; and (4) Paris Saint-Germain, with 63 points on a 19-6-10 record and a +13 goal differential.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday Backpasses: Yes, this is the video I meant to embed

I'm not entirely sure how to follow that up, but here goes. We are always taking submissions for stories to link to. Please send them to the usual email address.

Best Player In The World World Cup has kicked off. Go vote [WAATP?]
More voting! Best Arsenal home shirt from 1969-present [SPAOTP]
New Liverpool away shirt looks like a faded black T [Football Fashion]
And Bayern get the Chelsea breastplate [ONTD_FB]

Daniel Agger lives in a bad neighborhood [Click Liverpool]
Michael Essien has no wife, now quit acting like one [Off The Post]
Current USA U-20 and U-18 rosters [SBI]
Things I wouldn't consider doing: Looking at the MLS CBA [Match Fit USA]
Steven Ireland would fit in well at one of my local trailer parks [Kickette]

Christian Vieri has released his own brand of condoms. Out a bulge in that ol' onion bag [The Spoiler]

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Premiership Time of Death: Approximately 4:50 pm EST

Some of you may have noticed that Wigan was hosting Manchester United today. Well, at approximately 4:50 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, Michael Carrick put away the decisive goal for United. Fair play to Wigan for taking an early lead, but as usual the evil Man U has prevailed.

With United only needing one point from their remaining two matches to capture a second consecutive trophy, we're ready to call an end to the 2008-09 Premiership title race. All that's left of this season is a relegation battle, FA Cup final and Champions League final, and then of course summer transfers.

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Quick Throw: The Battle for Arsenal is heating up

In a very quiet move, the American Stan Kroenke has purchased a few more shares in Arsenal to push his total ownership to 28.3%, significantly ahead of the tubby Uzbek Alisher Usmanov.

Under financial rules, once any shareholder reaches a 30% threshold, they are obliged to launch a takeover bid. You get the impression Usmanov will be trying to maneuver soon.

Still, one thing's for certain; it doesn't matter who owns the club, as they'll be unsuccessful in motivating Arsene Wenger to spend money.

[Guardian Sport]

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

Dammit. I thought I had found them all. But no. There was one team that wore plaid well before everyone else. In fact, by my count, they wore it almost 40 years before the plaid shirt craze started in Scotland. Dundee FC, the pride of Tayside (not really what they are called) and Bobby McMahon's favorite club (yep), wore this week's abomination back in 1953.

I have to admit that I had my doubts about this shirt actually having existed. Toffs says that the club wore this shirt on a South African tour back in the middle of last century, but the Dundee website makes no mention of what surely would have been a groundbreaking tour on their official website. It wasn't until I did a little digging that I found confirmation, though the colors are a little different (to my eyes). Anyway, without further ado, here it is.

Hmmm. Black, red and teal. What better way to stoke interest in your club abroad, one whose proud history has featured a dark blue kit since the 1880s (regardless of what the badge says above), than to put together these colors in plaid? What kind of branding and marketing genius put it together? I understand the idea of playing to stereotype on the tour, but why not make the plaid in blue, white and maybe a little red?

The answer, if there is one, may lie in historic family colors from the area. Unfortunately, I do not know. I do know that the city's flag and crest are blue and white, so it could not have some from that. If someone has an answer, I'd surely like to hear it.

This shirt does deserve some merit as it is the first (as far as I can tell) to use a plaid pattern in Scotland. But what, really, does that mean? To paraphrase the old joke, first is really no better than second at the Special Olympics. OK, that's harsh on the Special Olympians. I have had some rewarding days volunteering at the Special Olympics. I see no reward in wearing this shirt.

But wait, there's more! In a teaser to a long, upcoming post (or even a series of posts), good ol' BD sent me some pictures of shirts from his closet. Betcha didn't know that Norwish also fell for the plaid craze, did you? Well, you would if you are a Norwich fan of a specific age, I guess. Anyway, East Anglia was a hotbed for the tartan look too, apparently.

But that's not all! It seems that plaids are not dead in the modern day. This week, Celtic released their new European kit for 2009-10. While it's not the shirt that will be plaid, the shorts will be. Please, oh please, let this be the start of a new and wonderful trend.

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Please Style Your Hair Appropriately for the Confederations Cup

The 2009 Confederations Cup is being held in South Africa from June 14th through June 28th as a "dry run" for WC 2010. Stadia need to be ready, crime needs to be dealt with, hookers need to be clean, and hair needs to be appropriately styled.

According to Ideate (a blog dedicated to small businesses in South Africa), adidas' Kopanya campaign encompasses not only the creation of a match ball inspired by African art, but also ads using "barbershop signage as an African art form." Apparently it is considered a measure of fame if you have a particular haircut/hairstyle named after you so adidas has put together this series of ads based around famous players.

The Kaka: Emo mop-top on the pitch?

The Xavi and the Gerrard: Spiky speed?

The Morris, The Pienaar and The Fanteni: The herd mentality?

We're 92.6% certain this is some not so subtle pseudo-viral marketing thing. Fortunately for adidas the posters are pretty sweet, but we do have some questions:

1. Last time we checked, England weren't playing in the Confederations Cup, so why is Stevie G present? Is it because he is one of the centerpieces of their footy adverts?

2. If adidas is using players from teams not even in the Confederations Cup, they are certainly missing the opportunity to explore some better hairstyles. We think they should add Cisse, Fellaini, and Sagna to the mix.

Any other suggestions?

[HT to: Frankie J - who knew this guy read UF?]

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Quick Throw: UEFA dragging heels on Euro 2012 announcements

We all know that WC 2010 is still in shambles, so it's no surprise that Euro '12 is in an equally disheveled state as UEFA announce today that they're likely to delay the naming of other Ukrainian host cities for the tournament. The capital, Kiev, and Donetsk (home of Shakhtar) are confirmed, as are Polish cities Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw and Gdansk, but the committee in charge still hasn't figured out the final two locations.

I'm assuming this is to give all cities under consideration more time to arrange and stack their bribe money in neat piles before putting it in the proverbial briefcases.

[Guardian, via Reuters]

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Guest Post: Eladio looks ahead to next season's Champions League

The rules, they are a-changing. With CL qualification and organization undergoing a summer reshuffle, it's going to take a genius to figure it all out. Well, we couldn't get one of those, but we could secure longtime UF commenter Eladio to do all the heavy lifting.

The first two-thirds of the 2008-09 EPL (Suck it, Barclays) season had many storylines, but the one that kept my interest for most of the time was the battle for 4th place between Aston Villa and Arsenal. (By the way, did anyone see this video of Mr. Tom Hanks on Jonathon Ross’s show, explaining why he’s an Aston Villa supporter? Also – I think he said “723 crack footballers”, not “crap footballers”. Anyway, it remains to be seen if Keith loves him or not. Also, his impersonation of fans who tell him “Forrest Gump” is their favorite movie – hilarious.)

Once Villa went into their March swoon and Arsenal starting showing signs of a backline (albeit against 723 crap footballers), the Gunners locked up 4th place and everyone seemed content for a month or so.

But then, in an effort to boost ratings for meaningless, late-season matches, TV pundits started bringing up the battle for 3rd place between Arsenal and Chelsea, mentioning over and over again that the new UEFA Champions League qualifying rules are changing drastically for 2009-10, and that 4th place will no longer be the cakewalk it has been for non-automatic qualifiers in years past. I paid little attention to the white noise, as I’ve been conditioned year after year to care only about 4th place.

But now that the 3rd place is out of reach and the silly season is almost upon us, I thought I’d look into these new UEFA rules and see what the difference between 3rd and 4th really means.

Before looking in to 2009-10, I wanted to revisit the old rules for getting in to the CL. Up to last year, places 3rd and 4th in England went directly into the 3rd (and last) round of Qualifying for the CL. This qualifying round included all teams that went through the 1st 2 qualifying rounds of the CL and those who got the free bye to the 3rd. However, once all teams got the 3rd qualifying round, UEFA seeded those teams. From a large document on the UEFA website entitled “Regulations of the UEFA Champions League 2008/09”, section 8.0.1, they state:

The UEFA administration seeds clubs for the qualifying rounds and the group stage in the UEFA Champions League, in accordance with the club coefficient rankings established at the beginning of the season and with the principles set by the Club Competitions Committee. If, for any unforeseen reason, any of the participants in such rounds are not known at the time of the draw, the coefficient of the club with the higher coefficient of the twoclubs involved in an undecided tie will be used for the purposes of the draw.
Because of this seeding, the 3rd and 4th placed teams in England (and the other major leagues) were not in huge danger of facing a tough squad.

In August 2008, 3rd place Arsenal faced Twente Enschede, the 4th place club from the Eredivisie, and 4th place Liverpool faced Standard Liege, the Champions from the Belgian First Division. Because of the seeding neither team was in danger of facing other teams in the 3rd round of Qualifying -- such as Atletico Madrid, Juventus, or Barcelona – so they had an easy go of it. (Oh right – Liverpool needed a Kuyt goal in the 118th minute of the 2nd leg to get through... oops.)

Nevertheless, the 3rd and 4th place teams from England were not in tough straits in getting to the group stages.

With the 2009-10 CL season, the rules of qualification have changed. (The UEFA website has a good outline of who gets in by each country’s FA association here)

First off, there are 22 automatic qualifiers to the group stages: 21 as outlined on the page above, plus the Title Holders. Now that it’s a foregone conclusion (no, not David Brent’s band) that both ManUre and Barca are going to qualify by winning their respective leagues, I believe this means there will be another automatic group qualifier from somewhere else.

(I can’t find any information on the UEFA site as to who would move in to the group stages, but in 08-09, they had the following “provisional” comment: Scottish champions Celtic also began in the group stage as United were already qualified through after winning the English title, hence PFC Levski Sofia moved forward to the third qualifying round and Wisla Kraków and MTK Budapest were excused the initial stage.

So based on this, I’d guess that the next country down the list that doesn’t get automatically into the group stage (which happens to be Belgium) will now get an automatic entry to the group stages. But that’s just a guess.)

The other 10 qualifiers to the group stage come through preliminary qualifying this summer, but those 10 are split into 2 groups: the “Champions Path” and the “Best-Placed Path”. Each “path” (which sounds like the Cult of Platini – “Follow the path and eternal enlightenment will be revealed – but not if you speak English”) will contribute 5 teams each.

Here are the qualifying rules for each “path”, from the UEFA website:

• Champions Path
The first qualifying round comprises three two-legged ties involving the champions of the countries ranked 48 to 53 in UEFA competition. The winners of those ties progress to the second qualifying round where they are joined by the champions of the 31 countries ranked 16 to 47 (except Liechtenstein). The victorious sides from those 17 ties join the champions from the associations ranked 13 to 15 in the third qualifying round, with the winners of those ten pairings reaching the play-off round. These five play-off ties will take place on a home-and-away basis with the winners qualifying for the UEFA Champions League group stage.

• Best-placed path
The third-placed side from the sixth-ranked member association, plus the runners-up from the associations ranked 7 to 15, start the competition in the third qualifying round. The winners of these five ties progress to the play-off round, where they are joined by the fourth-placed sides from the associations ranked 1 to 3 and the third-placed teams from the associations ranked 4 and 5. The victorious teams from the five play-off ties qualify for the UEFA Champions League group stage.

What this means is that those in the Champions Path will face each other, and those in the Best-Placed Path will face each other, but never the twain shall meet (until the group stages). Arsenal will obviously be in the Best-Placed Path, and thus, I wanted to see what this might look like. Based on the criteria above, it will/could look something like this below.

(NOTE: All teams I included are based on CURRENT league standings, though some were from tables in another language that I couldn’t understand, so no guarantee these are correct.)

Best Placed Path, Third Qualifying round includes these 10 teams:
#6, 3rd place: Dinamo Moscow (Since the Russian League ended in November, Dinamo Moscow are confirmed here.)
#7-Romania, runner up: Unirea Urziceni
#8-Portugal, runner up: Sporting Lisbon
#9-Netherlands, runner up: Twente Enschede (McClaren alert!)
#10-Scotland, runner up: Celtic
#11-Turkey, runner up: Sivasspor
#12-Ukraine, runner up: Shakhtar Donestk
#13-Belgium, runner up: Standard Liege
#14-Greece, runner up: PAOK Salonika
#15-Czech Republic, runner up: Sparta Prague

These 10 will participate in five, 2-legged ties. These 5 winners will then join the next 5 qualifiers of the Best-Placed Path group, and these 10 go to the “Play-off Round”, with another set of 2-legged ties. These next 5 qualifiers would be:

#1-England, 4th place: Arsenal (Confirmed here.)
#2-Spain, 4th place: Valencia
#3-Italy, 4th place: Fiorentina
#4-France, 3rd place: Lyon
#5-Germany, 3rd place: Hertha Berlin

So let’s look to see how many “Danger” teams would there be that Arsenal might have to face. Of the first group of 10, I’d rate 3 of them as “Danger”: Portugal-2nd; Scotland-2nd; Greece-2nd. I would also say that ALL the other 4 clubs that advance directly to the playoff round would be classified as “Danger” as well. (One could argue about Fiorentina or Berlin; however, I would say that there’s just as good of a chance that a team like Juventus or Munich could wind up in those spots as well.)

Then I would use an assumption that only 2 of the 3 “Danger” teams from the 3rd Round make it through to the Play-off Round. (I tried to figure out the % chance that 2 of the 3 would play each other, which would automatically knock off 1 team, and then decided that even if all 3 had ties against weaker teams, there’s a chance that at least 1 of those 3 could lose – and I came up with a figure of 2.4 teams to advance, which is ridiculous as 2/5 of a team would lose anywhere around the world – I mean, Norwich has proven that this year -- so I went with two.) This means that Arsenal would be in the Play-off Round pool with 9 other clubs – 6 of whom would be classified as “Danger”. (And yes, I know the “Danger” classification makes it sound like I’m on Bush’s Homeland Security Team, but bear with me -- I’m almost done.)

All this means that Arsenal has around a 67% chance of being drawn against a tough opponent in the final play-off round for CL group stage qualification, whereas in previous years I’d say that the chance of being drawn against a tough opponent was less than 20% -- and even that might be generous.

I would wager that these new UEFA rules make the difference between finishing 3rd and 4th FAR GREATER than the difference between finishing 2nd and 3rd in past years. In fact, just look at the quality of teams that may have to play each other in late August this year: Arsenal; Valencia/Atletico Madrid; Juventus/Fiorentina; Bayern Munich/Hertha Berlin/Stuttgart; Lyon/PSG; Celtic/Rangers; Sporting Lisbon.

Considering that the vast majority of CL revenue is based on making the GROUP stages, I think the accepted wisdom that finishing 4th is the most important spot in the League Table (after winning the league and avoiding relegation, obviously) is going to have to be changed to finishing 3rd. It isn’t an easy waltz into the group stages for the 4th place club in the EPL anymore – and in some years could easily mean a contest against a side such as Inter Milan or Real Madrid.

And because these games take place in August (the playoff rounds will be completed by 8/26/09), there would still be time before the transfer window closes for a player to request/demand a transfer to another team that did make the CL group stages. (Although, this would require the player NOT to have played in the Play-off Round; otherwise they’d be cup-tied. At least, I believe so.)

Thinking back to Arsenal, might someone like Fabregas or van Persie request NOT to play in the Play-off Round (and in years past Wenger has definitely played a lesser squad in these prelim games, albeit against weaker competition) in case Arsenal is knocked out prior to the Group Stages, thus leaving them open to a transfer to a team that did qualify? Just more things to worry about during the off-season.

Platini: dreaming of paths that could potentially screw the English

Quickly, I also wanted to touch on the “Champions Path”, as I think this change also impacts the group stages. The Champions Path includes the winners of the leagues that are ranked #13 thru 53 (San Marino – GET IN!), and they all enter the competition at various stages based on their UEFA ranking. By separating out these clubs from the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishers from the better country’s leagues, UEFA is ensuring that at least 5 clubs from countries with weak football leagues will be in the group stages.

Let’s just look at teams ranked 13-20 to get an idea of who they might be. (Again, based on the most recent standings, and no guarantee these are correct.)
13 – Belgium. Anderlecht
14 – Greece. Olympiacos
15 – Czech Republic. Slavia Prague
16 – Switzerland. FC Zurich
17 – Bulgaria. CSKA Sofia
18 – Norway. Rosenborg
19 – Denmark. FC Copenhagen
20 – Austria. SV Red Bull Salzburg

Now I don’t want to slag off any country’s league champions. Good on you for doing the best you could do in the league you happen to be in. But is there anyone out there who WOULDN’T rather play any of these teams instead of any of the teams I outlined above in the Best-Placed Path? I didn’t think so.

I’m sure Platini would spin these changes to say that they’re trying to open up the competition to a wider array of countries. This will definitely do that, but it’s also going to give the Champions & Runners-up of the top country’s leagues a much easier chance of advancing to the knock-out stages. They’re basically making the gap between the top and bottom of the groups wider. And in my opinion, these new rules will make the group stages less competitive, and a lot more boring (if that's even possible).

Finally, one other change to the CL schedule for 2009-10 that I found interesting.

The 1st Knockout round (after the Group Stages) will be split over 4 weeks instead of 2. In years past, these 8 ties would be played over 2 weeks, meaning that 4 games would be played on a Tuesday, and 4 on a Wednesday, and then do it again the next or 2 weeks later. Because only 1 game could be shown live, 3 games would either not be shown, or shown on tape delay. In the 2009-10 1st Knockout round, 1st leg matches will be played Feb 16, 17, 23, and 24, and the 2nd legs will be March 9, 10, 16 and 17.

This means that only 2 games will be played a day, and that 4 games will be televised live instead of just 2 – and they just doubled their TV revenue. (Although this might also mean a lot of Twente/Bordeaux and Besiktas/Rosenborg matches as well. You’ve been warned.)

So there you have it. I have no doubt that there at least 1 of the teams from the top 5 leagues in Europe who will be out of the Champions League before the group stages in the coming year, and possibly as many as 3. And then everyone will realize what I’ve come to see: 3rd place is the new 4th.

Read more on "Guest Post: Eladio looks ahead to next season's Champions League"...

UF Quick Throw: Gunn Confirmed for Canaries

Bigus is a happy man today, as the Norwich City board have confirmed that the management trio of (most importantly) Bryan Gunn, Ian Butterworth, and Ian Crook will be on board for the 2009-2010 season.

Delia and the rest held a press conference at Carrow Road to announce their plans for the upcoming League 1 season as the Canaries look to jump right back into Championship football in order to preserve Bigus' sanity.

[Management Trio Confirmed]

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FC United pull a Radiohead

FC United: far from shaky in the Northern Premier League Premier Division

The non-league club born out of anti-Glazer sentiment, FC United, has decided to mimic Thom Yorke's master scheme in sales, allowing fans to set their own price for season tickets. They're recommending 90 pounds (160 bucks?) as a minimum, and will evaluate the plan after a month's trial.

No word yet if the club is also adopting Karma Police as its team anthem.

It's a bold move for the grassroots club, currently operating in the Lancastrian shadow of two of the sport's biggest spenders. After all, with the world's economy still struggling, sports teams need to compete with more innovation than ever before when it comes to trying to get money from your pocket.

They're not offering season tickets for free (after all, they don't have the accumulated wealth of Yorke and co. following a string of hit albums), but they're setting recommended minimum prices and hoping that enough spend on either side of the 90 pound mark to keep the club running.

Says FC United general manager Andy Walsh:

"The Premier League clubs have put up prices regardless of the ability of people to pay. Those that can afford to pay continue to pay and those that can't fall off the end. Ultimately that will undermine the game of football, which has always been about inclusivity, not exclusivity.

"For many, when prices go up there is no alternative. We've demonstrated there is an alternative model that puts the supporter at the very heart of the football club rather than on the fringes."
Considering that they've managed average attendances of more than 2,500 throughout their four-year existence to date, it's an idea so wild it might just work.

For the sake of grassroots soccer's survival, let's hope that it does.

Read more on "FC United pull a Radiohead"...

Quick Throw: Man United miss out on a trophy!

While Ryan Giggs was given the Mickey Mouse trophy of individual accolades, the PFA Player of the Year, it's clear that the people who are paid to watch the games and write about them know who really has been the best this season: Steven Gerrard. (This handy breakdown of the pairs' achievements in the EPL in 2008/09 makes it clear)

The award makes him the first LFC man to lift the trophy since the amazing John Barnes in 1990, and it's totally deserved. Shame about that EPL trophy though (f*ck!).

[Daily Mail]

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Sky Blue FC Gets First Win

Yours truly stayed home sick yesterday (awesome!) and caught the replay of the Sky Blue FC - Chicago Red Stars from Sunday. It was matchday five in the inaugural season of the WPS and Sky Blue FC earned its first win 2-0 over previously unbeaten Chicago Red Stars. It wasn't a bad game, but something kept bothering me.

See that pic up there? Which team do you think is Sky Blue FC? Nope, not the team in the light blue uniforms, the ones in all orange. Strategy or irony? You decide.

And that concludes UF's semi-regular coverage of WPS.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday Backpasses: (Real) SLC Punk!

Is MLM punk, too?

The campaign to get Mark Cuban to buy FC Dallas has begun [GTTF]
Henrik Larsson is kind of a dick [Off The Post]
Media scare gone too far. Japanese women cancel game in Utah because of Swine Flu [Salt Lake Tribune]
Becks is running some clinics on how to talk in a disconcertingly high voice this summer [Soccer Training Info]

Ledley King's drinking fun could lead to a quarter million dollar fine from Tottenham [Daily Mail]
That referee with the nulls in his name speaks [Guardian]
Steve Coppell resigned at Reading [Guardian]
Akon to record WC2010 anthem, molest little girls [World Cup Blog]
Eric Abidal: The Anti-Mr. Clutch [The Offside]
Werder keeper makes sure Hamburg know just who beat them twice in a week [Dirty Tackle]
Another look at attendance figures in MLS. Verdict-yuck [The 90th Minute]
Tevez likes to booty shake [Who Ate All The Pies]

Cristiano Ronaldo has package envy. Plus, it's a contest [ONTD_FB]

Read more on "Tuesday Backpasses: (Real) SLC Punk!"...