Saturday, June 6, 2009

International Bootroom: The Borat Edition

Yes the European domestic leagues are over, but there's a slew of international World Cup qualifiers this weekend. A full rundown of the highlights after the jump, assuming that you can find any of these on a TV or computer near you.

Have at it in the comments, or feel free to talk about your weekend plans.

Update: Discuss US v. Honduras here as well. Here's a pic from the NY Kid....

Here's more pics from the NY Kid....

Note: These aren't complete WCQ match listings, but what I view to be the best of the bunch. All times are EST. All games are on Saturday.

11:00 am Kazakhstan v. England
11:00 am Azerbaijan vs Wales (Setanta)
1:30 pm Bulgaria v. Ireland
2:00 pm Sweden v. Denmark (Setanta)
2:15 pm Croatia v. Ukraine
2:30 pm Italy v. Northern Ireland (Gol)
2:30 pm Serbia v. Austria (FSC)
2:45 pm Iceland v. Netherlands

8:30 pm USA v. Honduras (ESPN)
9:00 pm El Salvador v. Mexico

3:00 pm Uruguay v. Brazil
5:00 pm Argentina v. Colombia
6:50 pm Paraguay v. Chile

4:00 am North Korea v. Iran (FSC - rebroadcast at 10:00 am)
12:00 pm Qatar v. Australia (FSC)

Also, FSC is showing Real Salt Lake v. Colorado Rapids at 10:00 pm.

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Friday Backpasses: Workin' for the weekend

For you extreme night owls: Iran v. North Korea live on FSC at 4 AM EDT. Hell, by the time I post this, there's only three hours to go.

This goal celebration scares me [ONTD_FB]
The World Cup trophy is going on tour starting in September [World Cup Blog]
Maurice Edu is out for the summer [Soccer by Ives]
More complaining about Bradley [Soccer Training Info]
Originaldo is a great dribbler, as long as no one challenges him [The Spoiler]

PSG's new away shirt has polka dots [Football Fashion]
You want to see some crappy club rankings? [The Offside]
Real Salt Lake's attendance is way down. We thought SSSs were supposed to be money spinners [Salt Lake Tribune]
Dwayne DeRosario is rightly pissed that visiting Real Madrid get grass, but TFC will revert to turf [Globe and Mail]
Catching up with the Iranian-American coaching Iran's National Team [Guardian]

Setanta are attempting to broadcast a cliche-free match [The Offside]
But Setanta may fold soon, possibly leaving ESPN to fill in the gaps [Celtic Offside]

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Friday, June 5, 2009

I'd take one of those Anthracite USA shirts

It's a slow day around UF HQ, and we really don't have a lot going on. We did come across this on the Twitter machine and thought some of you might like to take advantage.

Prem Soccer Shop is offering 40% off of everything plus free shipping (Oops, changed!) if you use the coupon code TWITTER through Monday. No word on what you get if you use UNPROFESSIONAL FOUL.

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Come se dice "Buttock Stabbing" in italiano?

If there is one thing there needs to be more slang for, it is buttock stabbing. Thankfully, the Italians have provided yet another word for this fashionable act.


My best guess on pronunciation, ironically, is poon-suh-cah-tay. But, I could be wrong. Any suggestions are appreciated.

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Hey Look, Financial Windfalls

Despite the heavy debt loads of some individual clubs, soccer's governing body is swimming in cash. From the AP:

FIFA said Wednesday that it turned a $184 million profit in 2008, remaining 13 percent under its own budget and not losing any money on assets during the year. FIFA collected $957 million in revenue, mostly off additional television and marketing deals struck for the 2010 World Cup.
The sport's governing body had revenue of $957M on expenditures of $773M. The profit was summarized by FIFA president Sepp Bladder Blatter thusly: "We are in a sane, one could even say comfortable financial position."

So even as credit is hard to come by and consumer spending has been negatively impacted by the zeroing of pools of CDO's, people still pony up for football. Keep in mind that the GFM didn't really start until late in the year (circa October) and that the subsequent impact on revenues might not take full effect until this year.

Even as Blatter proclaims FIFA are in good shape, it's a bit of white lie. They are already projecting a $560.4 loss for next year as costs for the World Cup kick in. Additionally, most of the revenue (primarily from television) has already been booked.

And there are additional worries for FIFA with respect to the World Cup which could widen the budget gap next season, particularly the specter of commercial partners not meeting contractual sponsorship obligations. FIFA made no specific comments on those partners during their Bahamian getaway. In fact they were so thin on specifics about 2010 that Dutch delegate Harry Been objected to advanced material as it contained just one single page on next year's budget.

But as corporations look at their budgets and look for places to cut corners, lavish sports sponsorships are going to look pretty tempting. Bank of America has already come out and said they are considering not renewing sponsorship of US Olympic Committee.

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Hey Look, Financial Difficulties

While Real Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester Citeh appear to be unaffected by the economic crisis and are connected to just about everybody under the sun as possible transfers, other clubs have not been so lucky. Valencia and Liverpool, two clubs who are no stranger to financial controversy lately suffered another round of finanical embarrassments.

Valencia's well-documented financial struggles have claimed its president, Vicente Soriano. The President had been attempting to sell the land under the Mestalla Stadium to help finance the club's move to a new stadium. This will do nothing but stoke the transfer rumors regarding David Villa, David Silva, and Raul Albiol. Villa has been linked to Real, Chelsea, Citeh, Barcelona and comically, Liverpool. Silva and Albiol have been linked to more clubs because their transfer costs will be significantly less than Villa.

I say comically in regards to Liverpool, because it turns out the holding company of LFC has posted losses of £42m . Predictably, the British rags are claiming imminent financial doom for the Kop and the club sources are playing it cool. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. Hicks and Gillett have been attempting to refinance the £350m debt they hoisted on the club in its acquistion for some time having received a six-month extension earlier this year that expires in July.

Hicks has been attempting to sell some of his other sports interests and even defaulted on a loan payment for those interests in what is claimed to be a strategic decision. Indian and Middle Eastern interests have been linked to purchasing either the entire club or a portion thereof. Who knows if it will happen, but Reds fans would welcome either so long as it stabilizes the situation.

All of this turmoil certainly will not help Rafa Benitez's transfer policies. Rafa probably doesn't have much kitty at this point to acquire his targets and will need to sell assets to get what he wants. The same situation as last summer which caused the transfer sagas to draw out for the entire summer. Not a situation any party wants to recreate as it adds to stress and hampers the negotiation power of the club.

So, all in all, it is more of the same. Expect rumors of Valencia player transfers to fly all summer as the club tries to wring every last dollar out of them and Liverpool to struggle to complete transfers. Also, expect lots of clubs to be linked to acquiring Liverpool players because of the financial issues.

Fun times.

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: Yes, he's 100%

Cristiano Ronaldo voted sexiest by Gay Times. Fist pic of article is awesome [Bild]
Average fan tries to get manager's job at Celtic, gets a nice rejection letter [Celtic Offside]
Another take on an end of season top 10 [Rizzo Sports]
Don't ask why, just enjoy the fact you cover a fun league [Soccernet]

Chelsea sack tap [With Leather]
Michael Owen won a libel case over claim his career was over. Um, how did that happen? [Soccerway]
A poor club in a rich town [Two Hundred Percent]
Scotland by the numbers 08/09 [SPAOTP]
Club by club breakdown of EPL debt [Guardian]
Best chants of the year [Ginge]

Abbey Clancy works out and mimes to Britney Spears. Damn, she's hot [The Spoiler]

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Who Is Soccer's Tank Man?

Not very soccer related, but today marks the 20th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square student protests. It is one of the formative political events of my childhood.
I had just reached double digits in age in 1989 and little did I know the world was about to change more drastically than it had in nearly 30 years. The next six months would mark the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and the beginning of the unraveling of the Soviet Union.

The above image was seen around the world and is seen as a symbol of freedom from, defiance of, and courage in the face of tyranny. Although, China certainly is not a "free" country in Western eyes.

So I ask you, does soccer have its proverbial Tank Man? If so, who is it?

Also, I encourage you to read this post about the four photographers who took photographs of this incident.

[Photo: Jeff Widener/Associated Press]

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Who Should Lose Their Job?

He should be worried.

So, obviously I didn't really feel like discussing it, but Les Bleus lost 1-0 to the Super Eagles of Nigeria in a friendly on Tuesday. Raymond Domenech's back-line selection of Fanni, Squillaci, Escudé, and Evra looked completely outclassed and were lucky to only concede 1 goal. Ray-Ray's response to the loss?

"The players tried to play to quickly, to dribble and enjoy themselves, but they forgot the basics. You can't win a football match if you forget the basics."

Les Bleus will face Turkey tomorrow night in another friendly, and then have 3 WC qualifiers late in the summer - against the Faroe Islands in August, and against Romania and Serbia in early September. Obviously, my thoughts on Raymond Domenech are clear - he needs to go, and sharpish! Apprently I'm not the only one, as nearly 91% of over 7,500 readers of Le Figaro agree with me. As you would expect, the comments on the latter post are thoughtful, mature, and not at all reactionary. Nevertheless, they are correct in calling for his head.

A little earlier today we discussed last night's shitshow v. Costa Rica, and much of our conversation focused on whether or not Bob Bradley was responsible.

So, who needs to go?

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What went wrong and why it hurts

Despite what we may have hoped and what LB believed (forgive him, he's been a bit busy), last night's game was a World Cup qualifier and not a meaningless friendly. So then, it's with wounded pride that some of our American contingent share their thoughts on the shitshow that was last night's Costa Rica-USA match. See if you can spot some themes.

Autoglass was the first to chime in (I know! We never hear from him!), and therefore gets to take the lead. Enjoy them all.

OK, I'm fucking pissed off.

That was a ridiculous, gutless, unprepared, lazy-ass effort. Utterly unacceptable. Bradley should be fired immediately. I don't care if you have to play under fucking water or while being shot at, Costa Rica is ranked 41st in the world and we’re supposed to be top 15 . We're supposed to be a rising power? As Bigus would say...HAHAHAHAHA!!! You don't go to fucking Costa Rica and embarrass yourself.

Gulati is an idiot. We never should have picked Bradley. We'll never fucking learn. We are making no progress. Negative progress. Our best player plays for the fucking Galaxy. The rest of this lot sit on assorted lower division benches (except for my man Super Clint...and
he sucked ass tonight as well).

It makes me insane to think that we are a year from the typical World
Cup hype. How the US can do well. Then we shard ourselves and it reflects badly on the game. US Soccer would be better run by Relegation Zone Mikey.

Dire. A shower. Embarrassing. Unacceptable. This past Saturday, I was at Wembley. Setting aside Chelsea’s beautiful play, let’s focus on overmatched Everton. They worked their asses off in front of the very same keeper, and to the very end of thegoddamn match. In that context, tonight's display just guts me. We have no character, no tactics, no fucking clue as to how to build a competitive program in the game I so dearly love.

It started with El Salvador. We could well lose to Honduras on Saturday. No disrespect to our neighbors to the south, but THESE ARE CENTRAL AMERICAN COUNTRIES!!!! They are practically city-states! Costa Rica were better on every level tonight. We have every goddamned kid in this country playing youth soccer. How does this happen?

The Confederations Cup will be a blood bath. Which makes me happy. At least Sunil can't pretend we're any good. I hope fucking Egypt beats us 4-nil.
Spectator collated his thoughts that he put on Twitter.

One bad game does not make or break anything, but tonight exposed all of the USMNT's weaknesses. They've plateaued over the last six months and if they have any hope of success at the next World Cup (and I would define success as making the knockout stage), they need a new
coach. Bradley has done a good job pulling things together after the WC2006 debacle but he is clueless how to take the team to the next level. The Beasley experiment at leftback is a failure, and Bradley has done a terrible job of identifying potential starters.

The ESPN commentators kept talking about the US team's strength being its defense, but to me that's always been the worst part of their game. Bocanegra and Gooch are mediocre at best, and starting Wynne and Beasley over someone like Spector is just confounding.

I'd like to see what someone like Klinsmann could do with this team. Not saying that the USMNT has enough talent to do anything special, but they need to model themselves after teams like Australia or Egypt -- gritty, committed, and playing to strengths. For the US, that is using speed
and counterattacking. Of course, I fear that it'll just be more of the same going forward because there is a total lack of vision for this team, starting with Sunil and going down the line.

The way that the US was beat on those three goals was terrible marking and spacing. That's down to bad preparation and a failure of coaching, plain and simple. I'm willing to wait and see what kind of reaction there is after this one, but no matter the scoreline if there's another mediocre couple performances all the blame goes to Bradley.

Last thoughts: the US... A few good role players (Dempsey, Howard, Landycakes), a few decent prospects (Altidore, Edu, Bradley, Adu on a good day), lots of mediocre and over-the-hill players. What they are most lacking are leaders.
The NY Kid
A complete shitshow. Anyone remember Project 2010 (that spawned the Generation Adidas program), designed to make the US a threat to win WC 2010? Playing this we are going to get killed in the Confederations Cup this month and we have no shot of even making it out of the group stage in 2010. This lineup was a complete joke - the Bradley nepotism era needs to come to an end, as Michael is far more competent at getting carded than anything else; the DMB at LB experiment is a clear failure; on the big stage Landycakes once again comes up empty (sorry, the PK that you had nothing to do with doesn't count); the substitutions were a failure (why would you take off Torres?).

We can argue about whether Howard should have started at GK given the short turn-around from (and disheartening - for him - result of) the FA Cup, but in his position I would have been screaming my head off at that bullshit defense. Gooch can be imposing, but he tends to get lost; despite his strong start in Ligue 1, the end of the season has clearly demonstrated that Bocanegra is getting a little long in the tooth.

Players I would much rather see in the lineup: (1) defense - Spector, Bornstein, Demerit; (2) midfield - Gavin and Rogers; (3) striker - Cooper. Bradley's team selection has been consistently baffling, and I think it's time for a new direction. It's easy to say that he should be gone if we finish anywhere other than 1st in qualifying, but that doesn't leave much time for the new gaffer to get things going for WC 2010. A loss or draw on Saturday, and Bradley has to go.
Precious Roy
That was bad.

No shame in losing at Costa Rica. The Ticos are almost unbeatable at home. And playing on green concrete doesn't make things any easier for opponents.

The way we lost, however, was an embarrassment. On every level we were outclassed, 0utworked and outplayed by Costa Fucking Rica. There's aren't even any "Yeah, but..." positives to take away. "Yeah but we broke out scoreless streak in San Jose." Bullshit, we got a meaningless PK in second half stoppage time. It was a shellacking.

Preparation—personnel and formation—decisions fall squarely on Bob Bradley; but the effort from the players was equally as poor. Still, it's time for Gulati to start thinking about Plan B (if he even has one). We've taken one point from the last six in qualifying. That's not good.

Last night is done. Spilled milk and all. And at this point I'm more interested in how the USMNT responds. If we lose to Honduras Saturday, Bradley should be jobless on Sunday. If he goes to South Africa for the Confederations Cup after a home loss in qualifying, he'll be taken an unorganized squad that had been drained of any confidence and will be free-point fodder for the rest of our group.

A win on Saturday, that might almost be worse from a longer-term perspective. Gulati will think all is well and Bradley is still the right man for the job. He's not. He's done a good job to this point. Or maybe to some point a few months ago. In the wake of the last World Cup he's stabilized the USMNT but these guys are regressing and younger talent isn't developing. No way to look at last night and think anything else.
The sad thing is, even if we lose at home this weekend, and then fall on our faces in South Africa, I still don't think its enough to get Bradley fired. This isn't like Europe where you would have every newspaper in the country calling for his head. There is no pressure on the federation or Sunil to make a change unless the team really screws up and is in danger of not qualifying. I'm pretty sure they are happy just feeding the bullshit line to clueless mainstream journos who pay attention once every four years that this is the World Cup where the team finally "takes the next step." Even though in reality they are content with just showing up.

Also I think its time to say that our Golden Generation of prospects is turning out to be underwhelming. Freddie can't even see the bench at Monaco, Jozy can't play for a second division side in Europe, and Bradley put up one of the flukiest seasons ever two years ago in Holland. And looking down the line, I'm not sure who we have waiting in the wings that is capable of doing much. I really like Torres and think he he should play more, but other than that I'm pretty uninspired. WTF ever happened to Danny Szetela, anyways?
The Fan's Attic
I watched about ten minutes of the match and I have never been happier that my wife forced me to watch So You Think You Can Dance. There were more laughers in that match by US in those ten minutes than your average Judd Apatow flick. There were more US missteps than the George W. Bush administration. The lineups made as much sense as Joaquin Phoenix's career change. The backline was a soft as Kim Kardashian's. Remember, I only watched ten minutes.
I saw the 3-4-3 and I had such high expectations. The problem is that I did not pay attention to the personnel. Neither did Bradley, I think, and the end result is what we all saw. Let's look at the personnel decisions.

Tim Howard is undoubtedly the number 1 for the US, but he just played a pretty big game on a pretty hot day in London. And lost. So he couldn't have been in the best mindset for the long (and slower) east to west flight. Not to blame for the first two goals, but his positioning was terrible in the third. Perhaps starting Guzan would have been better? Brad would have been rusty, though, so that's probably a wash.

Marvell Wynne, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra, Demarcus Beasley
The painful back four. Wynne's strengths are his leaping and speed. Neither helped tonight. Plus, he has not been playing for Toronto in the last couple of weeks because of injury.
Onyewu has always been the big central back who sometimes gets lost. No change in Costa Rica.
For a captain, Bocanegra was mostly invisible. He had an early-season renaissance at Rennes, but this was a guy who got deep benched by Hodgson at Fulham last season. Maybe the European season is too long for him?
The less said about Beasley the better. His touch was awful. He hasn't featured for fucking Rangers in months. A very, very odd choice for left back.
The center two are ultimately hard to quibble with, but both had off games. Wynne was out of his depth. TFC have tried to get anything out of him by putting him up front recently. Should not have even been selected.

Pablo Mastroeni, Michael Bradley, Jose Franciso Torres
Torres bailed out on defending the first goal. Mastroeni then fell down. Boom, 1-0. A disastrous start possibly caused because two players who are not used to each other thrown into playing a system they are not familiar with at this level. That's down to coaching and selection.
Torres played very well, once he settled down. At 21, and with only two previous USMNT matches under his belt, he needed that time to settle. Too bad that by the time he did, it was 2-0.
The pairing of Mastroeni and Bradley works best with at least four in the middle. Both are holding/defensive minded and need a sparkling offensive middie to advance the ball. Tonight that should have been Landycakes, but no, Donovan was up top.

Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore
We love Jozy. He's the Haitian Sensation, after all. But the only playing time he has had in '09 is for the USMNT. Xerez, the second division Spanish club, did not see fit to put him on the pitch. Plus, he just had toe surgery. He should have been, at best, a late sub.
Did Deuce play? No American is more exciting when on his game, nor more frustrating when off. Dempsey, more than most, benefits from good link up play through the midfield. There was no chance of that last night.
Let's face it. Landon is a middling player. He can do wonders, but will also lose the ball from benign defending. At least he didn't blow the PK.

Sacha Kljestan, Freddy Adu, Charlie Davies
Kljestan subbed in for Torres at the half and disappeared. He was winded by the 70th when he meekly let Herrera around him to score the third goal of the night.
Since we have all been following NYK's France reports, we know Adu has not played in forever either. It showed.
Davies has heart, according to Lalas. I just say he is dirty. Should have been sent off within two minutes of being in the pitch for a petulant kick to the nuts.

It's not the end of the world. We probably should not have expected even a point from Costa Rica. The problem is the way the US lost. It was a flat effort of a confused team. Where that blame lies, well, you can probably guess how we feel. This is a team hampered by their own
country's lack of a decent league, by injuries, by inactivity and by the calendar.

Saturday needs to be a bounce back. Three points will put the US halfway home with 10 points. Good, but not great. A draw, and the US is starting to sweat. A loss would mean that the US likely wakes up Thursday in fourth place. I say a loss or a draw and Bradley has to be gone. For now, replacement should be on the table anyway.
Anyway, those are our collective takes on the game last night. Now, watch out for Bigus to come into the thread and make fun of us all for gnashing our teeth over a loss to Costa Rica. Just remind him of Croatia at Wembley and he might pipe down.

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Football Been Barry Barry Good To Him

Stunningly, Gareth Barry isn't well liked around Birmingham these days.

Posters of the recent Citeh transfer have been defaced like the one above. Another has "Show me the ££" scrawled on it. Sounds like something you say to a fat girl but maybe that's something lost in translation from English.

Sure Villa fans are heartbroken, but they are also idiots.

Wither one David Taylor:

Another fan, David Taylor, 29, an electrician from Great Barr, who was outside Villa Park yesterday, said: "I can't understand how he can come out publicly saying he wants to leave Villa to play Champions League football and then join a team that aren't even in the Europa Cup. It just proves it was about the cash all along - he really is a money-grabbing traitor.
I'm willing to bet that if another employer offered to double Mr. Taylor's wages he would bolt his current employer toot-de-suite (get it, bolt?).

Seinfeld was pretty much right. If you're a fan, you're pulling for laundry. The sooner you accept it, the better your life becomes. Bonus for Villa fans, two other teams share your exact same color scheme in the EPL next season. So if you're really that upset at losing Gareth Barry you can switch allegiances without even really noticing.

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Nives Celzijus Munches Carpet

UF WAG fave Nives Celzijus was caught eating carpet by the German tabloid Bild.

What? You actually thought they caught her playing for the other team? Given her past proclamations, I guess that isn't too big of a leap. I'm sorry to disappoint.

Thankfully, Nives only suffered a small bruise. No doubt thanks to her prodigious sweater bumpers (NSFWish). Now if you can only tell me why the duct tape in the above picture is there.

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Watch Out For The T-1000 Diego

Brazilian, former Werder Bremen star, and soon-to-be Juventus player Diego was caught by the German rags cutting a rug with Sarah Connor. It was during Diego's going away party on Sunday.

Connor is actually not some militaristic survivalist but a German pop-singer formerly married to American Marc Terenzi. Interestingly, Diego and Marc look quite similar in John Stamos-guido way.



Diego was likely still celebrating his club's German Cup (DFB-Polkal) win on Saturday.

It's always disconcerting seeing Germans in large groups before people on balconies

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UF Power Poll: La Última

You can celebrate now boys, you've topped the UF Power Poll!

After months spent yo-yoing with Manchester United, our final rankings place Barcelona at the undisputed height of European football. On a neutral ground, with competent officiating, the Catalans devastated the English champs, the scoreline-- just 2-0-- belying United's epic capitulation. As for the rest, our panel mostly recognized the champions of Europe's foremost leagues (sorry Standard Liege, not a vote forya), so please welcome German legends Wolfsburg and French giants Bordeaux to our final account of the season that was...

1) Barcelona - 1.00 (1st, 1.38)

Funny to think how close Barca came to bowing out at Stamford Bridge. If Iniesta pokes that ball just a bit off point, we're probably talking about United's second straight title.. or worse, Chelsea's first ever. It wouldn't have taken much. There would have been no Guardiola Gladiator video, no Catalan midfield majesty, and no Drunk Messi. One shudders at the thought.

So raise a glass to the Barcelona class of 2009... Blau-grana al vent, un crit valent, Tenim un nom, el sap tothom: Barça! Barça! Baaarça!!!!

2) Manchester United - 2.09 (2nd, 1.63)

Shame really that this year's edition will be remembered by many for their listless performance in Rome. In a way it's a credit to United that a season in which they've won three trophies, including the league, might still leave a bad taste in the mouths of the team, supporters, and pundits. With Tevez on his way out and Ronaldo feeding the boss to the lions and Berbatov being Berbatov and Rooney being inconsistent as ever and Rio getting older and the Old Guys getting older and Hargreaves career in doubt, it's a mystery what United will look like next year. Sadly or not, when all's said and done, they'll probably look like Champions again.

T-3) Chelsea - 3.55 (3rd, 3.88)

A lovely finish to the season for the Chelsea boys. Whereas the finale was a stain on United's year, the Blues were able to wrap up an uneven campaign in a pretty yellow bow-- kind of like how Lampard tied up the Everton defense on his shocking FA Cup winner. But even Frankie Boy's left-footed magic can't overshadow the Scolari disaster and that fateful evening at Stamford Bridge. The first part they were right to correct as soon as they did, the only regret being that they didn't begin the season with The Goose. It's fair to say they'd have finished no worse than second in the league if Hiddink had managed a full season. As for the Barcelona game, let's just say there were bad calls in both directions, and even if Chelsea should have had a PK here or there, the game was STILL there to be won. The actions of the players during (Ballack!) and after (Drogba!) the game make you wonder if this group will ever have the stones to bring home trophies on a consistent basis.

T-3) Liverpool - 3.55 (4th, 4.13)

The most impressive second-place side in recent memory.

A thoroughly weird season for Liverpool ended with a meaningless beatdown on Spurs, to whom Liverpool returned their prized summer signing not six months after he arrived. Such a piece of mismanagement as the Keane transfer saga could have derailed a lesser side, but Liverpool made a habit of sticking around to the end. But their refusal to die was only matched by their refusal to thrive. The Reds drew seven of ten matches from December to February, right when United were down and tired from a hopelessly clogged calendar. In the end, we'll have to look back on Rafa's odd impression of Martin Luther and the 95 Theses and wonder if that was the moment Liverpool's title drought was assured one more, dry year.

5) Inter Milan - 5.00 (8th, 8.8)

Jose Mourinho's new club were almost always in the middle third of our top ten. Oddly or not, had we done this last year, we probably could have said the same thing of Roberto Mancini's club. Inter cruised to the Scudetto, their fourth straight if you count 2006, when Juventus were scandalized and relegated. Their best chance for a special season was extinguished at Old Trafford, when they were thoroughly outclassed by a United side that might have been on their heels. They wouldn't be the last to almost beat the European champs, and in the process of failing to do so, one has to wonder if Zlatan's magic just doesn't translate to the quicker Champions League competition. Though largely out of the early rumor mill, it will be interesting to see which old favorites Mourinho can prise away from the English game. (If he wants Jermaine Jenas, I'll drive him to Milan myself. Muntari can come back to London with me...)

6) Wolfsburg - 12.91 (unranked)

Remember when that team, the Hoff, were ruling the German roost? Seems like years ago. The UF faves drifted after losing their Serbian striking sensation to injury during the winter break. But even with Ibisevic healthy, you have to doubt they had the depth to sustain their incredible first half form. With the Hoff faded and Bayern too stuck up in their own glory to let the manager get on with it and win them a title, it all came down to the German Wolves, who won their final five matches by a combined score of 21-2. In such a tight season, undoubtedly the most closely contested among the big Euro leagues, Wolfsburg finished on a big high.

7) Arsenal - 13 (5th, 4.88)

If we gave a trophy to the Seventh Placed Side in our end-of-the-year Power Poll, then Arsenal would have finished this season with their first trophy since 2005. Alas, we do not. And so the Gooners mark another year as the most influential and beautiful and unfulfilled club side in Europe. The finest performance by an Arsenal player in 2008-09 came from Theo Walcott, who at the time of his display was proudly wearing an England shirt. Even then, there is that little Arshavin fella-- who might dispute my claim from a sentence before-- and his epic display at Anfield on April 21. Now if Wenger can only shush his mangy todger and sign some men to play his byootiful game... Naaaah, he'll prob just sell Cesc to Barcelona and use the proceeds to snatch up all the Bar Mitzvah boys in Europe.

8) AZ Alkmaar - 13.09 (7th, 8.13)

Alkmaar won their first Eredivisie title in 27 years, their first trophy of any kind in 26, and for their troubles, they lost manager Louis van Gaal to title-starved Bayern. The Dutch side was a staple in this list for much of the season, largely due to their incredible six-month unbeaten run. They went from September 13, 2008 to April 18, 2009, without losing a league game. The champs only took four points from their last four matches, but the work had been done-- mighty Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord had all taken a back seat to the club with a home capacity of just 17,150.

9) Bordeaux - 13.27 (unranked)

It took all 38 matches, but Les Girondins finally clinched the Ligue title with a 1-0 win over Caen at the weekend, along the way ending Lyon's bid for an eighth straight. So, errrr, standby for the NY Kid's impassioned celebration of the new French champions, coming soon to the comments section located just below!

10) Porto - 13.45 (10th, 13.45)

Rounding out our final edition are the Portuguese champions. They notched a domestic double and earned their sixth league title in seven seasons. Most remarkable though was their Champions League assault on Manchester United. They held on for a 1-1 draw at the Theatre of Dreams, then looked as likely as anyone to knock United off in the return fixture. In the end, it was Ronaldo's strike-- the best all year?-- that did them in. But the Dragons' aggression earned our respect. Their form from the first kick means they were the tenth best team in Europe for 2008-2009.

Read more on "UF Power Poll: La Última"...

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

USMNT v. Costa Rica Open Thread

Ian already covered all of the basics of tonight's World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Costa Rica at the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa. Here's how the US Soccer Twitter feed described the scene:

All that's left now is for you to leave your comments! Oh, but don't forget that the game was moved to ESPN2. The World Wide Leader hates you and your DVR machine.

U.S. starting lineup after the jump.

Howard, Wynne, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Beasley, Mastroeni, Bradley, Torres, Dempsey, Donovan, Altidore. Subs: Adu, Bornstein, Clark, Davies, DeMerit, Guzan, Kljestan.

Ching out with a tweaked hamstring.

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The Good, The Bad, The WTF

We don't talk a lot about Northern Irish football here on the site. In fact, if it weren't for a link to this fine lovely in Backpasses a while back (NSFW-ish), then I don't know that the subject of the IFA premiership would have ever come up. Hideous at just a glance, this Glentoran shirt reveals some special surprises with a longer and closer look.

Glentoran are one of the big two in Northern Irish football, along with Linfield (the team in the above link). The 1960s were the international high water mark for the club. In successive years, the club played Panathinaikos, Antwerp, Rangers and a Eusebio-led Benfica to tight losses. In fact, Glentoran were the first team to lose out on the away goals rule, which happened in the Benfica tie in 1967. Not bad for a team described as part-timers. Glentoran also had a North American presence at the time, running the Detroit Cougars franchise in the ill-fated United Soccer Association in 1967 (Aberdeen were the Washington Diplomats).

That's all very well and fine, but in 1992, Glentoran wore this shirt:

I've said it before. You have to be careful with red and green. Too much of both and you look like Christmas, or worse. This is worse. That design on the green is just plain bad as well. What's with that, you ask? Let's see:

Hey, sublimated print! An old favorite (which seems to be making a comeback, BTW). And why does it look like a builder's logo? In all honesty, I would look at this and think a roofing company was behind the club. But that's not all. They may be tucked away in the picture, but this is the Umbro style that had lace-up at the neck. Cantona may have been able to pull off the Manchester United version, but I doubt anyone with similar continental flair played for Glentoran at the time. They just need to stick with something like this, and be done with it.

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USA Costa Rica Preview

Tonight, the USA travels to Costa Rica to play the Ticos in World Cup qualifying. The game was moved forward from next week due to the Confederations Cup (get excited!), and is the only international in the world being held today. Obligatory shambolic preview, after the jump.

The US National Team hasn't taken a point in Costa Rica in qualifying since 1985, and after the uneven performance against El Salvador on the road, it's questionable whether or not that streak is going to end tonight. Landycakes and others have said that they will benefit from the experience gained in the comeback to tie. But the Ticos, second place in the group, have only lost one game this decade at the Estadio Saprissa. So its not surprising that veteran Pablo Mastroeni is widely expected to see time in the midfield tonight alongside Michael Bradley.

Elsewhere, Jonathan Spector is expected to get the start at right back filling in for Steve Cherundulo, and the Beasley-as-a-left-back experiment is likely to continue. Despite injury concerns, Jozy also looks set to start, but Bob Bradley has already been complaining about the artificial surface. "I think for the most part the players will tell you that the game is not the same on artificial turf," he told the LA Times.

The game has been moved to ESPN2 from ESPN, and pregame coverage kicks off at 9:30 pm EDT. Chances of a liveblog are pretty slim at this point, but do join us for what promises to be a truly spectacular open thread. Start placing bets on many times John Harkes compares the crowd at the Saprissa to "his time in England."

Image from the invaluable MNT Blog.

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Remember him?

Hey American readers (and possibly others): you remember this commercial don't you?

This was the main commercial that Nike ran leading up to and during the 1998 World Cup in France. While I recognized many, but not all, of the players at the time, one guy I did not know, but felt compelled to watch, was the guy dribbling down the people mover--Denilson. He was an up and coming player, just 20 years old, who had just been a part of the then world record transfer fee when Sao Paulo sold him to Real Betis for about $32 million. Yeah, he never lived up to that.

Denilson started his career at Sao Paulo and racked up nearly 60 goals in 110 games. He got his first call up to the Brazil squad in 1996, the year he turned 19. Two years later, Denilson made the move to Spain, and then everything fell apart.

Denilson was on the books at Betis from 1998-2005. Including the one season he was out on loan to Flamengo while Betis dropped to Spain's second division, Denilson scored 16 goals in 197 matches. That's really not good for a striker, especially during the prime years of his life as far as football is concerned. Betis finally unloaded him to Bordeaux, where he lasted one season. He popped up again in MLS in 2007, but failed miserably again. Where does one go after failing at MLS? Vietnam, apparently.

Yes, the big news out of Vietnam today is that fallen star Denilson has signed with--get this--Hai Phong Cement FC, which it appears can be shortened to just Cement FC. If you want to see how to produce a groan-worthy headline with that information, just go check the linked article's headline. Great job Soccernet.

The shocking thing, for me, is that Denilson is just 31. I don't know if I expected him to age faster because of his absence off of my radar or what, but the idea that a 31 year old with a World Cup winner's medal is plying his trade in Vietnam just seems pretty damn odd. The article does mention that he will be paid better than the current high wage in Vietnam--$10k a month. So, he's got that going for him, which is nice.

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This Should Help The Debt Payments

Manchester United will announce the largest sponsorship deal in football when they unveil a 4-year £80M deal with Chicago-based Aon Corp.

Aon engages in risk management, insurance brokerage services and consulting services worldwide (sound familiar?). But really, who the fuck cares? Outside of Carlsberg I can't think of a single shirt sponsor whose products I've consumed.

From the Guardian: "United have been scouring the globe for a new sponsorship deal since their current sponsors, AIG, the American insurance company, announced it would not be renewing its £14m-a-year deal when it expires at the end of the 2009-10 season."

So, US taxpayers are on the hook for another season, then the Glazers really get to cash in.

But here's a fun story that we hope is somehow symbolically prophetic.

The Aon Center in downtown Chicago was originally the Standard Oil Building. When it was completed in 1973 it was the world's tallest marble-clad building, with a facade of 43,000 slabs of Italian Carrara marble.

Too bad the marble used proved to be too thin. A year after the building's completion a slab detached and went through the roof of the nearby Prudential Center Annex. Eventually the entire building had to be refaced and from 1990-1992 every single marble slab was replaced with white granite at a total cost of $80M (over half the original cost of the building).

There's a little bit of fudging here as Aon didn't take over the name of the building until 1999 (and wasn't even the primary tenant for a couple of years after that).

But hey, Sir Alex is already showing an Achilles loyalty to aging players like Scholes and PFA Player of the Year Ryan Giggs, and if Ronaldo leaves, or if he dooesn't but the Portuguese split in the locker room festers... We're just saying, there might be cracks in the facade.

It's wishful thinking. But sometimes there is an ironic elegance to life.

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Sixteen Year Old Salisbury'd

That's Buster Bluth.

No, it's actually James Riverso but man, the resemblance is uncanny. He is the head women's soccer coach at LeMoyne College. In addition to his duties as coach at the Syracuse school he also coaches a local youth soccer team.

Isn't that nice?

No, it's allegedly creepy. Riverso is another in the seemingly endless line of alleged sexual predators who are drawn to coaching soccer. "Police say [he] sent text messages of a sexual nature to a 16-year-old girl he was coaching as part of a youth soccer program."

He's now on paid administrative leave as he's facing 11 felony counts and 11 misdemeanor counts for endangering the welfare of a child.

Again our standard here is that if the person got caught doing something completely stupid, then we'll post it. Sexting a 16-year-old when you're 28, that qualifies.

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WWOS: Who Would Obama Support, Part Deux

It has been rumored previously that US President Barack Obama is a West Ham fan. UF doesn't buy that rumor, but was not able to come to a consensus on which club he would support. Although, the Arsenal argument was rejected rather dismissively.

However, at this time further evidence has come to light suggesting he may have more than a passing familiarity with Anglo-Franco club of North London. In a NBC News special on the Obama White House, the cameras caught the President's knowing glance of a young lad in an Arsenal kit, a Titi jersey no less.

This evidence surely should put to rest all speculation, right? No. Well, then lets just add this to the silly season rumors.

Check out the video of the event here (4:34 mark) or here (6:26 mark).

Or just watch this video.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Tuesday Backpasses: I would like PES so much better with full licensing

It's no Reggie Bush and David Beckham, but it's still kinda fun.

PES 2010 trailer out. Yes, we know you like FIFA better [The Offside Rules]
Mad Jens has mad thespian skills [The Spoiler]
When you celebrate your championship, please make sure your bus truck can hold everyone without crashing [101GG]
South American soccer is crazy, but you knew that already [Dirty Tackle]

Are you excited for tomorrow night? Don't be [Ginge]
Man U's worst XI under SAF [SoccerLens]
Tony Adams is the only person in the world who thinks this might happen [Sky Sports]
If this were really going to happen, why sell Kaka? [Soccernet]
Update on that coach who told his team to quit during the shootout. Prognosis: Negative [SoB]

Your irregular Steven Cohen update. Follow stuff here [Boycott Steven Cohen]
Now, Cohen is reduced to begging [Empire of the Kop]

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With Fate of Game Hanging in Balance Nothing Will Happen

Because when there's shit to get done, the shit goes down to the Bahamas.

Yep, the FIFA Congress is being held at the Imperial Ballroom of the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island.

Imperial. Atlantis. Paradise.

Truly this is the world's game.

Anyway, a bunch of billionaires, ex-players, federation presidents, Olympic representative, and other lovers of perks and patronage are holding a get together starting tomorrow (Wednesday) to discuss things that actually matter to the game. Even money is that almost nothing changes. "Hey guys, we could discuss ways to make the games better, or we could use our billions to impress chicks in bikinis."

A sample of people whose lives are better than yours:

There is no shortage of maneuvering at this gathering. Frank Lowy, chairman of Australia's soccer federation, brought his 240-foot yacht into Bahamian waters and is said to be lobbying for a World Cup. A stream of people at dinner Monday waited to greet London Olympics organizing committee head Sebastian Coe. He, too, is trying to lure a World Cup to his country, either the 2018 or 2022 tournament.
Anyway, items on the agenda include: changes to the Olympics, the 6+5 rule, drug testing rules, the 2018 and 2022 World Cups (although no lobbying is supposed to take place), and goal line technology. But first... the whores!

No matter what happens, if anything (or nothing) the Bahamians will be happy to have been talked down to for the duration of the activities.

Just one question: Why the fuck does FIFA need to bring "10 tons of material" from their Zurich headquarters?

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UF Quick Throw: Kaka to Real Madrid

According to this.

We're pretty sure that we ran a 'Kaka to Citeh' post in January, so take this with as much salt as you like. One thing in its favor is that there were reports of nuevo presidente Florentino Perez being seen having dinner with Bosco Leite, who is both father and agent of Kaka, last night.

[Update: More thorough report from the Guardian here. Basically the deal is close but the commission due Leite is holding it up.]

[Updated update: We've balked at updating this a couple of times already because once we think something has happened, something changes. Huh? Dirty Tackle has the best run down. Take it away, boys.]

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This is why I don't ride the bus

Rangers may have pulled off the Scottish double this year, but some fans probably wish they had missed out on the SPL-clinching game at Dundee United. In a story that seems so last month here in the US, 13 fans from Dunoon took a bus to watch their team play, and now all 13 have swine flu. Or, if you prefer (as I do), Pig AIDS. Either way, all 13 are now scary statistics for the media to throw at you.

So, yeah, stay off the bus if you can. Especially three hour trips with lousy, drunken Scots with poor hygiene and poorer taste in teams. This advice alone is proven to add three years to your life expectancy.

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UF Quick Throw: Gareth Barry to Citeh Is a Done Deal

The Beeb is saying that the transfer has been completed for £12m. Barry was out of contract next summer, so it's actually a high transfer fee. Reportedly will earn £100,000 a week.


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A Billion Here, And Billion There And Pretty Soon You're Talking Real Money

The 20 EPL clubs are running massive debt. Yeah, tell us something we don't know.

Okay, the total debt is estimated at £3.1B.

The accounts for the clubs, mostly documenting the year to May, June or July 2008, show that the FA chairman, Lord Triesman, significantly underestimated football's indebtedness when he cautioned last October that debts in the sport as a whole, including the Football League and the FA itself, were at £3bn.
Two things: A) So those numbers are at least a year old, meaning they pre-date the evaporation of the global pool of money. B) The total number doesn't really offer an insight into any given club's ability to service its debt.

The really impressive part of this is the total debt owned by the Big 4 of United (£699), Chelsea (£700), Arsenal (£416), and Liverpool (£280). That's £2.096B or 67.6% of the cumulative league debt.

Holy fuck.

A couple of notes. First, Chelsea's debt is quasi-fictitious. It's mostly an unscheduled, interest-free loan that owner Roman Abramovich made to the club. He could just forgive it and Chelsea would be almost debt free. The debt stays on the books because if he ever sells the club, Abramovich wants that money back (there's a provision that if the club is sold, that money is due to him in something like 30 or 90 days). In fact in the face of pressure from the league, Abramovich already converted some of the debt to additional shares in the club (which we once postulated it just meant he diluted the per-share value of his holding in the club).

Arsenal's debt seems pretty alarming for a club that is thought to operate on the cheap. Most of that is a result of the financing for the construction of the Emirates. The good news is that the new stadium gives the club fantastic cash flows to service that debt. The bad news is that the Highbury development isn't selling units as anticipated with the housing downturn.

The other thing that's worth mentioning (and sorry that I can't source this, but I do remember coming across this someplace) is that an official with the club had noted there is a firewall between the Highbury development and the club. So, there is likely a completely separate entity like the Highbury Flats Development Corp or something that isn't linked to the club in any way. So if the development goes belly up, it doesn't mean the club operations take a hit and they have to sell off players because condos are sitting empty.

As for United, man it'd be nice to get better visibility as to what their situation is vis a vis the Glazers. For a hint at what might be going on, its worth taking a peek at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Glazers other pro sports holding. The Bucs let go of a high-priced coach and replaced him with a cheaper unknown (seriously, I have no idea who the current coach in Tampa is without having to go look it up), they cut several higher priced veterans, and they didn't make any splashy free agent signings. Basically, they are cutting costs. In fact, if you look here you'll see that the Bucs have the most amount of room against the NFL's salary cap—$46M*—essentially meaning they are spending less on players than anyone else in the league.

Normally teams try to free up cap space to go sign free agents. But, as was noted, the Bucs really haven't brought in anyone of note. They are simply not spending money. And they wouldn't be doing that if they were awash in cash. Just saying.

[* Actually, that number depends where you look. One source had it at only $41M, but this page here which is on the NFL's official website has the cap-space number at $61M, which would mean an additional free $15M for the Glazers to spend elsewhere.]

[And there's also this little tidbit from the Pewter Report which indicates the Bucs have moved training camp back to Tampa from Orlando/Disney to save money. Also of note, the Bucs even canceled their Christmas party and have laid off "a large number of employees."]

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I'm baaaack!

Had TFA not had a torn MCL, this would have been him on vacation.

I have returned from my self-imposed exile on the isle of in Puerto Vallarta. Because I know you care, it was lovely, warm, and full of booze and good eats. I am swine flu free and clearly the banditos did not kidnap me. All in all, a successful vacation.

I was off the internet grid, but had the hotel TV. Thankfully, there was plenty of soccer on Mexican television, but it was in a language I do not know. It was incredible to flip on the tube and see a primetime talk show on what seemed to be major channels talking futbol. Games were plentiful on the tube, except they were mostly Mexican league games. At one point I watched highlights of a game that looked like it was played on a high school but not as well attended as a high school game.

I had no trouble finding a place to watch the CL Final, I just had to walk down to the hotel bar by the pool where people were congregated. I just hope soccer news hasn't gone on summer holiday like it seems to have done in the past couple weeks.

I even saw a local youth club practicing on the beach one evening.

After the jump, scope out some more beach soccer with some fine talent. Be forewarned it is NSFWish.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Monday Backpasses: Anyone heard of this Conan guy?

Late notice: Last Facebook power poll of the season. Go do it. TLL promises not to get sick and forget about it this time.

Gerrard+Iniesta>>>>>>Messi+Ronaldo [SoccerLens]
It's been so long since Amr Zaki scored, he has forgotten how to celebrate safely [The Spoiler]
Peter Crouch finds his smurf doppelganger [Dirty Tackle]
All of Robin van Persie's injury troubles are caused by his teeth [Soccer 365]

Tevez to go to Citeh to spite United [Soccernet]
New blue Marseille kits are worse than ever before [Football Fashion]
This is the video that Guardiola uses to pump up his Barca players [Barcaloco]
Setanta is f---ed. Again [Guardian]

Some Power rankings to guide you. Liverpool #1? That will make some here happy [Eurosport]

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Altidore to Madrid!

And that's the most midleading headline ever on UF, but this might impact the Haitian Sensation in some way.

As expected, Florentino Perez (re)took the presidency of Real Madrid. He was the only candidate on the ballot. An orgy of spending will ensue.

Surrounding his ascendency are rumors that he will bring pretty much everyone to Madrid. Everyone being Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Ribery, Xabi Alonso, and David Villa. Perez is also going to mandate that La Liga games be allowed to play multi-ball to keep everyone happy.

The only person actually brought in thus far during the hours-old tenure of Perez is Manuel Pellegrini (pictured above), the (now) former Villarreal manager. Pellegrini replaces Junade Ramos who replaced Bernd Schuster who was fired for sucking.

As recent as Saturday, Pellegrini said he had had no contact with Madrid. Today, he's the new manager.

The most interesting tidbit from the AP story is this: "Recent reports have said incoming Real Madrid president Florentino Perez plans to present Pellegrini on Tuesday and Milan's Kaka as the club's new star player Thursday."

That's complete nonsense. Kaka will actually move to Dinamo Bender in Moldova.

See how easy it is to make "reports"?

Anyway, expect a Galaticos redux at the Bernabéu as this is Perez' second stint at the helm of Madrid. He takes over in the wake of December's hilarious vote rigging scandal perp'ed by Ramon Calderon (recap here if you need it).

Perez first presided over Madrid from 2000 to 2006 when they bought Beckham, Zindane, Originaldo, Mikey Owen, Luis Figo, and maybe some other people to fill out a squad.

So what's this have to do with Jozy Altidore? Pellegrini was instrumental in bringing the young American to Villareal. Of course he was also likely part of the decision to loan him out to Xerex where he never even got in the squad (we don't think). But hey, the summer is all about rampant speculation.

While it would be totally cool to see a 'Merican Meringue it ain't happening and, if anything, this puts Altidore's status at Villarreal that much more in doubt.

Still, it might behoove Madrid to develop some cheap younger players. Because while they've been running through coaches and trying to drain the Eredivisie, their rivals in Barcelona have been paying €0 for players like Andres Iniesta because they brought them up through the youth system.

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Ancelotti Will Get £1M To Do The Impossible

Newly minted Chelsea manager Carlo Ancelotti has a £1M bonus in his contract if he can keep John Terry upright on penalties win the Champions League while at Stamford Bridge.

When you consider the probable price tags on the players Ancelotti's new club's captain is already telling him to sign—Ribery, Villa—then the bonus seems downright quaint.

Then again, when Satan Claus owns your club, signing the two biggest transfer targets on the market isn't that ridiculous. Even as a relative pittance, the £1M is probably going to stay in Arbramovich's pocket. The backroom talk on UF today was pretty much consensus'ed on Ancelotti not lasting the season at Real London Chelsea.

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You Want A Pisa Me?

After a 1-0 loss to Brescia over the weekend, Pisa were relegated to the Italian third division. Serie C? No, it's something called the Lego Lega Pro Prima Divisione.

This being Italy, of course Pisa supporters took the loss and subsequent demotion with the usual blasé attitude. From a poorly Google-translated piece in Il Messaggero:

Sale also the budget of the wounded are 35 police officers forced the medical care after the launch of dense rocks, road signs and objects from the Nerazzurri ultrà. The police officers and carabinieri were struck while trying to prevent the entry to the dressing room after fans angry pisan for relegation.
The Italian papers stay pretty narrow in scope of their reporting, but about 200 Pisa supporters had tried to smash down the doors to the locker room after the loss. Apparently they were under the mistaken notion that if they beat the players senseless they would no longer be relegated.

Italy, where genius happens.

Thirty five police officers were wounded in the melee. And there was a total of nine rioters arrested, three from yesterday and an additional six were picked up today with the assistance of stadium security camera footage.

This has carried over to the national team in that the local Ultras have issued a comminque saying they are so sad they do not want to Azzurri to come to Pisa to play their scheduled friendly against Northern Ireland this Saturday.

Shouldn't this work the other way? If you're a Nerazzurri Ultra you've already established that favoured teams that don't win risk grievous bodily harm, can't think of a time to ever see a more motivated national squad come to town.

Italy, where geniu... Oh, we already said that.

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England! Scotland! Excitement!

Feeling a bit bored today? Fancy a matchup between England and Scotland? If both of your answers are yes, then Hallelujah! do I have something for you. In the first meeting between the neighbors at any (male) level in 10 years, the two will play today at 2 EDT in a U-19 Euro qualifier. To add a little spice, the winner of the match goes on to the full tournament. It's too bad the British press doesn't care.

Looking for any information on this match, I went to all of the usual haunts. Nary a word anywhere. Heck, even the sites I use for keeping up with scores--the sites that claim to give you all of a day's fixtures and scores--did not have anything on the competition at all. A Google News search for England Scotland Euro brings only two hits from the last twenty-four hours. The original article I found, and the FA website.

I have no link for it, but I do remember reading a FourFourTwo article a couple of years back which highlighted England's problems with youth tournaments. Namely--they ignored them because they weren't as good as the continental teams at that time. The article implied that this was partly to blame for the current state of the England squad (missing out on Euro 2008 and all that). Is the lack of coverage, then, an intentional head in the sand effort by the press? Probably not, I know, but I would still think it merited at least some ink.

Anyway, the game breaks down like this: if England win or draw, then they advance. Otherwise the Scots will head to Ukraine in July for the finals with a win. Both team have beaten their other two group opponents, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, already. England enjoy a one goal better differential.

The game is at Sheffield United's Bramall Lane tonight. The FA website says that Setanta will be showing the match, so keep an eye out for a feed. Otherwise, the UEFA page for updates on the match is here.

Here's hoping for a Scottish win. I'm going to go put on one of my hideous Scotland shirts now.

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Spain Plus Scandal Equals Meh

With three matches left in the Spanish second division season, Real Zaragoza seems like a decent bet to get promoted back to La Liga. They currently sit 3rd on 74 points and hold a five point lead over 4th place Hercules.

How a team named Hercules isn't competing for a European spot out of Spain every year is a post for another day. This is about Real Zaragoza and how they are maybe cheating:

A number of players from Spanish second division outfit Castellon have revealed that they were offered money to lose a league game earlier this season, according to a report... several of the Valenciana-based team told [newspaper] El Mundo that attempts were made to try and pay them to lose against Real Zaragoza.
Oops. The game in question ended in a 1-1 draw. So if any money changed hands, it didn't really accomplish its mission.

The Goal piece elaborates that accusations in Spain's Segunda are not uncommon, citing a report that players at Gimnastic de Tarragona had also been offered €300,000 to throw a match. Peculiarly, a few Google searches using "Gimnastic de Tarragona" and variants of "match fixing" and "scandal" only turned up the Goal post and a Yahoo article referencing it.

There was also the match on last day of last season between Tenerife and Malaga where the former was allegedly paid to throw the match to the promotion benefit of the latter (and at the expense of Real Sociedad). That allegation had a little more teeth to it as audio circulated of phone call between an ex-Tenerife player telling Sociedad president Iñaki Badiola that he took €6,000 or €7,000 to throw the match.

The most shocking thing about this? The premium on match fixing really went up 5000%? In this economic climate? No wonder Spanish clubs are going broke.

Anyway, yeah allegations are cheap and easy, but for fun, let's see if we can't stoke the innuendo anyway... As a mid-table team without much prospects of going up or fear of going down, Castellon would make a nice suitor for a match fixing scandal.

And our work in Spain is done for the day.

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QT: Carlo Ancelotti to prowl the sidelines for Chelsea

It looks like it's a done deal, that Carlo Ancelotti will be leaving Milan and heading to Chelsea. Signing a three year deal, he leaves the Milan squad in tears. We expect Chelsea to be chasing the Champions League next year. Our Chelsea fan boy is still asleep on the left coast of the united states, and unavailable for comment.

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Ligue 1 Weekend Review

It all came down to Matchday 38, and Bordeaux took care of their business with a 1-0 victory over Caen, securing their 1st Ligue 1 title since 1999 and relegating Caen in the process. Elsewhere around Ligue 1 a few results went the wrong way for some clubs, causing PSG to miss out on European competition.

Saturday, May 30th:

Caen 0-1 Bordeaux - Fighting to stay up in Ligue 1, Caen certainly gave Bordeaux their best effort in this match, but the title-winning/relegating goal came from a former Caen star. In the 6th minute Gouffran had his shot saved by Caen GK Plante, and shortly after ben Khalfallah's vicious volley was stopped by Bordeaux GK Rame as the clubs traded opportunities. In the 45th minute Jussie hit the post, but Bordeaux would get their goal almost immediately after the restart when a Gourcuff free-kick found Tremoulinas, who crossed to Gouffran for the headed goal. The latter almost had a brace in the 69th minute, but he was stopped by Plante once again. Caen had 1 final chance in the 83rd minute, but Yatabare had his point-blank shot saved by Rame.

Grenoble 0-1 Sochaux - In a fairly even match Sochaux did enough to ensure they stayed up regardless of results in other matches. In the 14th minute Akrour volleyed a shot which elicited a brilliant save from Sochaux GK Richert. In the 17th Akrour was in 1-on-1 but put his shot directly at Richert, and in the 27th the former hit the post. Sochaux finally began to push back, with Erdinq shooting just over the bar in the 37th minute. Just 6 minutes later Erdinq dispossessed Akrour and dribbled the defense before easing past Grenoble GK Wimbee. Sochaux thought they had a 2-0 lead in the 60th on a Sverkos volley, but the goal was disallowed for offsides. The final opportunity of the match also went to Sochaux, as an Erdinq lob forced another save from Wimbee.

Lille 3-2 Nancy - Lille went ahead early and finished late, after Nancy had equalized, to move into a Europa league spot for next year. The match was a back-and-forth affair throughout, although Lille started more quickly. In the 7th minute Cabaye put his shot into the side net, and minutes later Hazard had his goal-bound strike deflected out be a Nancy defender. The opening goal came in the 12th minute when Vittek had an easy finish on a through-ball. 2 minutes later Vittek dispossessed Ouaddou (after some poor control from the latter) and passed to Rami for the 2nd goal. Nancy finally struck back in the 41st minute when Ouaddou atoned for his defensive lapse and shot home from a corner. The second half began much as the first, with Cabaye and Balmont both coming close to giving Lille a 3-1 lead. In the 65th minute Hadji beat the defense and finished clinically for the equalizer, but Lille would regain the lead in the 75th minute when Plestan headed home a corner for the win (picking up the final GSTGC award of the season).

Lorient 1-1 Le Mans - Lorient had 69% of the possession and Le Mans were far more foul-prone (11, to only 4 for Lorient) but the match ended in a draw. With few chances for either club, Le Mans struck in the 17th minute when Gervinho released Helstad on goal, and the latter finished with a low, hard shot. Lorient also scored on their first opportunity, when Ciani headed home a corner in the 36th minute. The latter looked to have a brace in the 58th minute off a Le Pen corner, only to have his header tipped onto the bar by Le Mans GK Pele. Le Mans should have taken the lead minutes later when Gervinho headed a Le Tallec cross toward the goal, but the shot was cleared off the line by Lorient defender Genton. The final chance came in the 75th minute when Le Tallec put his shot straight at Audard.

Marseille 4-0 Rennes - Marseille, hoping for a Bordeaux loss, came out of the gate on fire looking to push their goal differential past Les Girondins. In the end it didn't matter, but L'OM certainly put on an offensive clinic. The first half, however, featured only shots pushed wide and numerous saves from Rennes GK Douchez. The opening goal came in the 53rd minute Kone volleyed home a pass from Cheyrou. In the 57th minute Kone was the provider, leading Niang for an easy finish. Just 1 minute later Kone struck a nasty shot off the post, which bounced into the goal off Douchez for an OG. Niang completed his brace in the 72nd minute after some excellent work down the side from Cheyrou for the final goal.

Nantes 2-1 Auxerre - Despite their win, Les Canaris were relegated but they finished their season in style. In the 12th minute Klasnic sent home a cross from Capoue to give Nantes the early lead. In the 17th minute Dudka missed the equalizer, hitting the post. Disaster almost struck in the 30th when Auxerre defender Hangbart barely escaped an OG trying to head out a free-kick. Berthod equalized in the 48th minute after Oliech had dribbled through the midfield and laid off a perfect ball. Nantes regained the lead in the 52nd when Bagayoko finished off a pass from N'Daw with a shot that caromed in off the post. Auxerre had a chance to equalize again late in the match, but Kitambala sent his shot wide.

Nice 0-0 Le Havre - Bottom-dwellers Le Havre could not muster a shot on goal, yet managed to eke out a draw against a mid-table Nice club. In the 7th minute ben Idir hit the bar, and in the 11th minute Diallo sent his shot over the bar despite an open goal. On the other end of the pitch a shot from Modeste beat Le Havre GK Van Hamel but hit the post, maintaining the draw. In the 71st minute Adeilson was stopped by Van Hamel, while in the 73rd minute Lesage hit the crossbar for Le Havre. Nice had 2 final chances, but Adeilson was twice denied by Van Hamel. At the end of the match Nice gaffer Frederic Antonetti, who is own his way to Rennes, was given an ovation by the home supporters.

Paris Saint-Germain 0-0 Monaco - With the results of this match and others, PSG find themselves outside of European competition by 1 goal. This means that Valenciennes gaffer Antoine Kombouare, confirmed as PSG gaffer for next year, will have only domestic competition on which to focus. In the 15th minute Leko saw PSG GK Landreau off his line, but his lob went over the crossbar. In the 34th minute Landreau made an excellent save on Pino, and 5 minutes later Giuly found himself stopped by Monaco GK Ruffier on the other end of the pitch. In the 60th minute Traore deflected a Pino cross onto the post for a near-OG, as Landreau was well-beaten by the deflection. PSG had a final chance in stoppage time, but Armand hit the crossbar. Freddy Adu watch: Freddy was nowhere near the pitch, as he was in Miami training with the USMNT, having been named to the 24-man roster for the Wed. match against Costa Rica and the Sat. match against Honduras.

Saint-Etienne 4-0 Valenciennes - Saint-Etienne got an emphatic victory to ensure that they will play top-flite football next season, downing an outclassed Valenciennes club 4-0. In the first 10 minutes of the match Mirallas forced 2 saves from Valenciennes GK Penneteau and hit the post once as signals of intent. He then turned provider, sending in a cross in the 14th minute that Ilan volleyed home. In the 23rd minute Gomis had his header stopped by Penneteau for the final realistic opportunity of the first half. Within the first 5 minutes of the second half Penneteau was forced into saves on Machado and Payet, and the floodgates opened for Saint-Etienne. In the 53rd minute Payet had his shot parried away by Penneteau, only to have Gomis put in the rebound. Gomis finished his brace just 4 minutes later on a nice through-ball from Sall. The former then provided the assist in the 67th minute, putting Mirallas in on goal for an easy finish. Gomis could have had a hat-trick late in the match, after beating most of the defense, but he hit the post.

Toulouse 0-0 Lyon - An early free-kick was headed towards the goal by Makoun, but Toulouse GK Carrasso was equal to the task, as he would be all match. A few minutes later Benzema was in 1-on-1 on Carrasso, but the latter did well to make the save. In the 37th minute Lyon were down to 10 men after Mensah was awarded his 2nd YC for a bad tackle on Gignac. At the start of the second half a Braaten free-kick was headed wide by Cetto, while in the 60th minute a Fofana header was stopped by Lyon GK Lloris. This was followed shortly by another 1-on-1 breakaway for Benzema, who was again stopped by Carrasso. The final opportunity came for Toulouse, as Gignac and Sissoko combined for a shot from the former that was saved by Lloris.

So, after Matchday 38, the final Ligue 1 table is: (1) Bordeaux, with 80 points on a 24-8-6 record and a +30 goal differential; (2) Marseille, with 77 points on a 22-11-5 record and a +32 goal differential; (3) Lyon, with 71 points on a 20-11-7 record and a +23 goal differential; and (4) Toulouse, with 64 points on a 16-16-6 record and a +18 goal differential.

Toulouse finish tied on points with: (5) Lille, with a 17-13-8 record and a +12 goal differential; and (6) Paris Saint-Germain, with a 19-7-12 record and a +11 goal differential.

Bordeaux, Marseille and Lyon will appear in Champions League play next year, while Europa League spots go to Toulouse, Lille, and Coupe de France champion Guingamp.

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