Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gouging Our Own Eyes Out So You Don't Have To

It's been a while since we fired up the ol' FJM'inator. Maybe it's a sign that the general quality of soccer talk in the US is improving.

Oh, who are we kidding? This is America, we'll never run out of idiots. And, so we give you one Mitch Howard and his attempted analysis—and really, what is that, do they give a Nobel Prize for attempted chemistry?—"Is Portsmouth Better Than the Chicago Fire?"

If you don't know that the answer is "Yes" then, please, follow along after the jump.

Soccer purists tend to exaggerate the reality of the state of American Soccer.

Example please. One. Just one. You're going to make a huge generalization like that as your starting point and not even find one credible source to back it up?

They tend to emphasize the negative when referencing U.S. Soccer and they don’t want to accept the fact that of the world’s greatest Soccer leagues, it is only the upper-eschelon teams that are truly great.

Three things:

First, we're going to have a problem if you insist of using 'Soccer' as a proper noun. It's not one. So, by "US Soccer" I'm not entirely sure if you are referring generally to the game in America or to the sport's governing body in America, the thing headquartered in Chicago. I'm guessing that generally you just mean the sport.

Second, that's close to a tautology. Only upper-echelon teams are great because only teams that are great are in the upper-echelon. Of course we could conceive of a league full of nothing but mediocre teams so that winning that league wouldn't really mean you were a team of much quality. Such a league might have a tiny salary cap, be populated by marginal players, and have a central authority that exercises more power than individual teams. Although we're not sure where you might find such a league.

Third, your two statements have nothing to do with each other. It's like saying "My toe hurts and I don't want to accept the fact that it's raining outside."

In the EPL, there are probably 5 great teams and the rest of them are very good, good and average. MLS teams would be competitive with all of the bottom 15 teams of EPL.

It's actually four. And if Arsenal doesn't address needs in central defense and defensive midfield it could be three by the end of next season. If you think there's five you must be a Tottenham fan.

But 'good' and 'average' are relative to the other teams in what is widely acknowledged as the world's best league (debatable, yes). Here let me do some work for you: David James, Glen Johnson, Sylvain Distin, Niko Kranjcar, Sol Campell, John Utaka, and Nwankwo Kanu all play for Portsmouth.

There is not a single player on the Chicago Fire roster (outside of Brian McBride) who could supplant any of those players in the Portsmouth line-up. Even when Blanco went on loan to Real Valladolid in La Liga he had a very ordinary strike rate of three goals in 23 appearances. So he couldn't hack it in Europe.

So, how is it that MLS teams would be competitive with the likes of Aston Villa or Manchester Citeh? Hell, the New York Red Bulls aren't even competitive with the rest of MLS. They get run off the pitch by the expansion Seattle Sounders, how the hell would they not get dismantled by Everton?

Simply saying something is true doesn't make it so.

"I'm the Queen of Scotland." Hey, awesome. Now I have a vagina. And subjects. This is cool.

The purists want to influence popular opinion by granting God-like status to European Soccer, but the truth is that there are only so many great teams.

If every team were great, how would we even know? Of course there are only so many great teams. "The world needs ditch-diggers, too, Danny."

This standard also applies to the Spanish, German, French and Italian leagues. MLS teams would battle most of the teams well (the bottom 75%), winning and losing close games.

You are fucking high. Or stupid. Or under 12-years-old. And, I hope for the sake of any children you have or might have in the future, it's the first of those options.

Just because the best teams in the top European leagues are better than the teams at the bottom of those leagues, it in no way follows that an MLS team could be competitive with those bottom teams.

The top teams would give a whipping to MLS teams.

This is perhaps the only thing you've said to this point that is accurate.

In terms of the Mexican, Central American and South American leagues, MLS would be competitive with all of these teams with the exception of the top tier two or three teams of Brazil and Argentina.

Well, MLS teams have a horrible record against Mexican teams in the CONCACAF Champions League. Hell, a season after making it to the MLS Cup the New England Revolution was bounced in the preliminary round for the 08-09 CCL. DC United finished dead last in its group, earning only a single point.

The Houston Dynamo were the only MLS team to make it out of the group stages and they were dismissed in the first knock out round 4-1 on aggregate by Atlante, a Mexican side.

So, in one of the few places where we actually have numbers, we haven't done so well. In fact, MLS hasn't even put a team in the final since the LA Galaxy in 2000 (for comparison, even Costa Rica has put a team in the final four times in that span).

As for the rest of South America, sure, the Fire or the Crew might do okay in the Uruguayan or Columbian league. To be honest, I don't know as I don't watch that much Uruguayan or Columbian soccer because, well, it's hard to. FSC broadcasts some Argentine football, but that's about it for the rest of the Americas. I try to stay away from talking about things I don't know much about.

Yeah, subtlety has never been my forte.

It could be that MLS teams have traditionally not played well in CONCACAF because of scheduling or that its relevance was low on the totem pole for general managers, owners and fans.

Wow, a reasonable explanation. Although, save for Ebbsfleet United, fans don't have much say in what competitions a manager should emphasize.

This seems to be changing. There has been a lot more press regarding CONCACAF play this year.

Yes, nothing means that teams will do better on the pitch more than press about an event. I am now going to write 1 million articles between now and next summer about the US Men's National Team thus assuring they will win the World Cup.

The newest CONCACAF schedule was released yesterday. Look for MLS teams to give a good showing.

Based on what? The release of a schedule? The press? This makes no sense.

The truth is that the world’s Soccer leagues play just like MLS does.

That is the farthest thing from the truth. Skill, creativity, touch. The best soccer leagues are littered with players that have all three of these. Watch a couple of MLS games and you'll see that the first touch in the US's domestic league is generally pitiful.

If you mean that MLS and the rest of the world's soccer league play by the same rules, then that would be the only way in which your statement would be accurate.

There is a lot of boring Soccer out there. There are maybe 20 great teams in the world that play with consistent innovation and determination.

This is based on what? Except for 20 teams, the rest are boring? Explain what you actually mean here, then find some way to justify this statement.

The average Soccer league teams play an exciting game only every third or fourth game. It is the rules of Soccer that hinder teams and make their games so dull and lifeless.

So what rules allowed Liverpool and Arsenal to play that insane 4-4 draw at Anfield in the late season? The same ones that make games "dull and lifeless." It's not the rules of soccer that make for a dull game, it's tactics. If a manager wants to park 10 men behind the ball when his side is out-manned, that's a tactical decision. And even then that doesn't necessarily mean a boring match will result.

I'm not going to touch the first sentence. Really, I watched 36 of Arsenal's 38 league matches this season, all but maybe three of them almost resulted in giving me a small coronary. But that's my experience, and I know better than to extrapolate from that to a universal statement about anything.

The great teams can get around the lack of drama from which the rules stifle average and good teams because the talent is so much more superb. For these teams, the matches achieve a higher level of skill and action.

I don't even know what this means.

Don’t fool yourself and don’t believe the hype!

The book of the new school rap game. Writers treat me like Coltrane, insane... Love Public Enemy. Don't think that's what you are talking about here.

Check out the empty stadiums all around the world. These are the homes to average teams who play average. Relegation and promotion doen’t change anything, it only proves the point further. Teams fight to stave off relegation and fight to gain promotion, but the stands still remain half-full or even worse than half-full, regardless.

Norwich City FC. They suck (as NCFC's unofficial US-based blog we're all too aware of this). They just got relegated out of Colaship to League One. They pack Carrow Road with 26,000 fans (capacity) week in, week-out. They'll do the same one division down.

Derby Couty, they suck, too. But one of the reasons they were bought by their American owners was the loyal support of the fan base. Plenty of mediocre teams fill their respective stadia. Sure plenty of good Serie A teams have problems selling out, but this whole line of thought has nothing to do with whether an MLS team would be competitive in a top European league to begin with.

Are you trying to say that poor attendance correlates with bad soccer? Because that would support the notion that MLS is terrible. If you want an empty stadium—as for some reason it seems important to you—go check out FC Dallas.

The U.S. team will make next year’s World Cup and has a decent chance to make it through to the second round.

What does the USMNT have to do with the relative competitiveness of MLS? Besides nothing, I mean.

The second round would mean that the U.S. is one of the top 16 countries in the world.

Not really. It depends on the draw, and other random variables. The Aussies probably weren't one of the best 16 teams in the world when they made it to the knock out stages of the last World Cup.

With a big upset, the U.S. could make the quarter-finals. This is awesome that the U.S. has a chance to make it so far into the World Cup, most countries would die for the opportunity just to qualify.

And with four big upsets, we could win the World Cup. And I'm going to write 1 million articles about it, so it's going to happen!

So where does the U.S. rank in Soccer?

FIFA says we're 14th. That's about to drop once our 3-0 pasting in Costa Rica gets figured in, along with the likely humbling we're in for at the Confederations Cup.

It’s doing well.

Ranking aside, we haven't performed well on the world's biggest stage. We had one good World Cup in 2002, and a decent showing when we hosted in 1994. Again, the Confederations Cup will be the best litmus test of this ahead of the next World Cup. Our group has Italy, Brazil, and Egypt in it. Would any reasonable person with a functional knowledge of soccer expect us to advance from that group?

The national team is solid and its leagues, MLS and USL are improving. But if MLS fails, and it very well could in the next 3-5 years, the U.S. Soccer world will turn upside down.

Where does this assertion that the league "very well could" fold in the next "3-5 years" come from? And what does it have to do with whether the Fire could beat Pompey?

Is there a single statement in this entire piece that actually supports the idea that an MLS team could be competitive in a top European league? What's the point of this piece, other than to annoy reasonably intelligent people?

You know what we really learned from this?

There are twenty-plus comments on this nonsense. Jesus, we're going to start writing the craziest shit and fill it with borderline non-sequiturs. You've been warned.

But our page views are about to skyrocket.

Read more on "Gouging Our Own Eyes Out So You Don't Have To"...

Random EPL Sighting Possible In Rhode Island

This is completely random, but it appears Manchester United midfielder Nani, who is looking to fill the shoes of the recently departed Cristiano Ronaldo, will be in Rhode Island tomorrow. Nani is bringing along his countryman Ricardo Vaz Te, a winger for Bolton Wanderers of the Premier League. The two Portuguese will be on hand for the Day of Portugal celebration for Rhode Island.

Apparently, June 10 was the Day of Portugal holiday celebrated by Portuguese speaking areas around the world and this weekend there will be additional celebrations in Rhode Island.

If anybody wants to or can make the trek to Rhode Island, there is a UF post in it for you.

Nani and Vaz Te are scheduled to be a part of the soccer demonstration during Youth Day portion of the celebration. Joining the two Premier League players will be Nani's cousin Fabio Ivan who was the reason Nani is even attending. Ivan plays for the USL PDL Rhode Island Stingrays club. Nani will also be on hand to sign autographs at a Stingrays match Saturday evening.

If we had known about this earlier and you are under 21, you could have registered for the soccer demonstration. For more information on Youth Day go here or here.

Read more on "Random EPL Sighting Possible In Rhode Island"...

Friday, June 12, 2009

Friday Backpasses: This guy

USA to get new playtoy. Will he be more Wegerle or Sanneh? [SBI]
Grosetto had four players sent off in a promotion playoff match [The Offside]
Seattle fans become the 4chan Ebaum's World of MLS All Star vote flooding. MARBLECAKE [Seattle P-I]

Adios, Rob Styles [Daily Mail]
Any MLS squad is better than or equal to the Bottom 15 of EPL? [Major League Soccer Talk]

Making fun of Newcastle double on The Spoiler #1 #2

Read more on "Friday Backpasses: This guy"...

Your Big, Shiny, Friendly Confederations Cup Preview

Behold, the trophy up for grabs. No, it's not an Atari joystick circa-1985

We're bad at prognostication. It comes with the blogging territory; after all, if we were good at this stuff, we'd have cashed in our Blogspot aliases and joined Miss Cleo's merry traveling band of 1-800 crystal ball carriers and fairground fortune tellers.

And so, the Confederations Cup is finally here on Sunday. We've previewed all the teams and all the individuals involved, so it's time to make some bigger guesses about what'll actually happen. Then, when we liveblog the action from start to finish, you can tell us how misguided we were in every single comments section.

Who's Winning This Mickey Mouse Thing, Anyway?
Folks are well and truly divided. The fashionable ones among us (u75, Spectator, Autoglass, NY Kid, Likely Lad and yours truly) are siding with the Spaniards. After all, they provide most of the world's costliest players, so why not? All eyes on La Liga when it comes to fancy transfers and big, big money.

Precious Roy fancies the hosts South Africa to pull off some pre-WC magic/witchcraft, while Fan's Attic chooses the Brazilians to thrive. Nuttiest of all, Ian raised his head from a bunch of finance books to offer an Egypt tournament victory, although it's not too outrageous. They're a low-key, well-organized team with the benefit of being picked from mostly two clubs (El-Ahly and Ismaily), a formula that worked nicely for Turkey in the Euros and Greece in Euro '04.

On the sarcastic side, Bigus thinks the winners will be countries who said South Africa can't hold a tournament, whatever that means.

Pass Me a Brown Paper Bag, Lest I Hyperventilate
For shocks, opinions are divided into two camps: those expecting single-game upsets, and those fancying a dark horse or two escaping the group round.

On the 90 minute tip, u75 reckons the USMNT can shake off some dire recent form to topple the Azzurri, and Precious Roy is sticking with his South Africa love over the Spaniards. Not entirely unreasonable.

The real fun is reserved for those looking at the bigger picture. Ian and Spectator think Brazil will dilly-dally and fail to qualify for the semi-finals (Spectator foresees a similar fate for Italy), and I think Iraq will survive Group A. Looking to incite rage among our hardcore USMNT supporters, Autoglass thinks the US will fail to get any results, whereas the rosy-tinted brain of The Likely Lad reckons that same Yankee Doodle Collective will advance out of their group.

The NY Kid and Bigus Dickus take a tongue-in-cheek approach: the former predicts that Bob Bradley will murder Rossi, while Bigus thinks that every single player in the tournament will avoid two of South Africa's primary exports, robbery and murder.

Top Players!
Finally, things get more uniform, and divvied between the usual suspects.

Kaka, BRA - u75, Autoglass, Fan's Attic
Pato, BRA - Precious Roy
Xabi Alonso, SPA - Spectator
Xavi, SPA - Likely Lad
David Villa, SPA - The NY Kid, Ian
Robinho, BRA - Lingering Bursitis
"Gilberto Silva at the card table" - Bigus Dickus (can you tell he put the effort in?)

Top Scorers!
Rossi (the bastard), ITA - u75
Pato, BRA - Precious Roy
David Villa, SPA - Ian, Spectator
Fernando Torres, SPA - Autoglass, Fan's Attic, The NY Kid
Mohamed Zidan, EGY - Lingering Bursitis
Robinho, BRA - Likely Lad

The Likely Lad, while killing time until his heroin dealer turned up, added two more categories despite not being asked to.

Top Twitterer - Freddy Adu
Best/Worst Obnoxious Italian Pleading Face - Luca Toni

So there you have it! The fun begins this weekend, and we'll be covering it all (as if I didn't say that earlier): liveblogs, wrap-ups, gossip, etc. I mean, what else will we do until mid-August?

Give us your predictions in the comments!

Biggest Shock-
Best Player-
Top Scorer-

Any exposition or other awards are welcome, too.

Read more on "Your Big, Shiny, Friendly Confederations Cup Preview"...

Confederations Cup Profiles: Brazil

Beware the Dunga: easily the least Brazilian soccer player ever

What tournament do you get for the country that's won just about everything? You get them a spot in the Confed Cup, and you watch them flounder, wrecked by complete and total lack of interest.

Brazil could win a tournament like this at a canter, but they likely won't, using it instead as a nice warm-up for the final run of World Cup qualifiers to blood in the youngsters and keep their established stars in match fitness.

In short, the Confederations Cup is to Brazil as the Carling Cup is to Manchester United.

To be honest, Dunga and his cohorts would be well served in taking this tournament somewhat seriously, having experienced some difficult form of late; 0-0 home draws to Bolivia and Colombia in WC Qualifying, a 1-1 draw in Ecuador, and a difficult 2-1 win at home to Paraguay are just some of their travails over the 2008/09 season. But they likely won't due to the upcoming slate of qualifiers; while they do still lead the CONMEBOL standings, a Liverpool-esque 6 draws in 14 games means they're not exactly firing on all cylinders.

So what does this have to do with the upcoming trip to South Africa?

Well, it's likely they'll phone it in considering the need to save their good form for the World Cup run-in. The selected squad is a hodgepodge of the established (Gilberto Silva, Lucio, Kaka, Robinho, Maicon) and the next gen (Nilmar, Pato, Felipe Melo), and although the average age of the squad trends old, there's still plenty of liveliness in their expected 4-3-3 formation.

It's a luxury for Brazil to have so much attacking power at their disposal, and they'll be crowding opponents' penalty areas all tournament long. However, such is their supreme confidence that they will struggle on, saving their top gear for the return trip to South Africa in 2010. Plus, Dunga isn't the world's most electrifying tactician (he's still showing the scars of being lumped in with that dour 4-4-2 his country used in Italia '90 to underwhelming effect), so that only adds to the odds that we'll not be so dazzled when they take the field.

I mean, when the chips are down, will Kaka really jeopardize that shiny new deal at the Bernabeu to toepoke in the winner under heavy pressure? Or Robinho, a guy who rivals Berbatov for an shockingly low effort-to-talent ratio? If anyone propels the yellow and green to victory, it'll be the guys who don't have established resumes to fall back on just yet.

Prediction: Semi-finalists with ease, though I wouldn't be surprised if they fall to Spain or Italy when it counts, two countries that seemingly need the wins for World Cup confidence more than the Selecao do.

Read more on "Confederations Cup Profiles: Brazil"...

UF Poll Time!

We've had a quick little debate in the email threads today and thought we would open it up to you. Bigus got a new England shirt today and, after we made fun of him for it being a Rooney shirt, let slip that it has his surname on the back. After some chiding, BD says that he could never get another team's players names on his shirt since he does not support those teams. The comeback was that National Teams don't transfer their players, so you'll never be as embarrassed as you would by a Keane Liverpool shirt. Then, of course, there's the third option--no name at all.

So what do you say? Is it OK for an adult to get their own name on a shirt, the actual player name or a blank? Spam the poll as much as you want.

Read more on "UF Poll Time!"...

Confederations Cup Profiles: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Remember holding the Argies to a nil-nil draw at Giants Stadium last summer?

Originally the task of writing up the U.S.A. profile was going to go to Bigus, because we thought it would be funny to see what an Englishman a Norwichomon would have to say about our beloved boys in red, white and blue. But life intervened and the task fell to yours truly.

As I now sit here writing, my first thought is: What can I tell you about the USMNT that you don’t already know? Well, I’ll try my best after the jump.

Let’s start with the basic facts. The last time the U.S. qualified for the Confederations Cup was in 2003, when they went 0-2-1. After loses to Turkey and Brazil, the U.S.'s one draw was nil-nil against Cameroon in the final group game, when Cameroon had already qualified for the knockout round (i.e., nothing to play for and we still couldn’t beat them).

This year, the U.S. appears at a definite crossroads, with many signs pointing south. The loss last week in Costa Rica still stings and seemed to expose many if not all of the USMNT’s flaws, including the total disappearance of Landycakes and Dempsey as on-the-field leaders. But with the win at home against Honduras, things took a slight turn north, with the emergence of the Jonathans (Bornstein and Spector) at wingbacks and Ricardo Clark as a legitimate hardworking holding midfielder.

Clark in particular was a revelation and I hope and pray it wasn’t a one-game blip. Defensive midfielder is the most underrated position in football, especially in international matches – how will Spain fair without Marcos Senna doing all of the dirty work in the middle of the pitch? (Of course I’m not claiming that Clark is anywhere near Senna’s league, just saying.) Speaking of dirty work, losing Brian Ching still hurts, a lot. Jozy isn’t quite ready for primetime and Conor Casey hasn’t played on the national stage in eons. As always the task of creating goals will fall upon Donovan and Dempsey, not to mention set pieces. When you consider the U.S.'s lack of proven goal scorers and their proclivity for defensive lapses (thank the Lord for Tim Howard), well, things could get quite ugly.

The most troubling thing about the USMNT is the fact that, since recovering well after the debacle at the 2006 World Cup, they’ve plateaued at best, and at worst they have regressed. (Remember Project 2010? Oy!) This is why a decent showing at the Confederations Cup is so crucial. And by “decent showing” we do not even mean getting out of the group stage, because Italy, Brazil and Egypt will be tough, tough matchups. We mean looking competitive and having merely a chance at winning. In other words, looking like a team that deserves its place with the big boys. Is that too much to ask for?


To summarize, the bar is set really, really, really, really, really low for the USMNT. I doubt you’ll find anyone not named Sunil who is legitimately optimistic about their chances. But who knows? This is sometimes a fluky tournament, with players starting to think more about holiday than the action on the pitch. A lucky bounce here or there and the U.S. could pull off an upset or two and make it into the knockouts. Bob Bradley will be hailed as a genius, and all of the U.S.’s flaws will be swept under the rug until the 2010 World Cup. Or, more likely, all of those flaws will again be plan and visible in vivid ESPN HD.


GK: Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Luis Robles (Kaiserslautern)

Def: Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA), Danny Califf (Midtjylland), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege), Heath Pearce (Hansa Rostock), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Marvell Wynne (Toronto FC)

Mid: Freddy Adu (Monaco), DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers), Michael Bradley (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Ricardo Clark (Houston), Benny Feilhaber (Aarhus), Sacha Kljestan (Chivas USA), José Francisco Torres (Pachuca)

For: Jozy Altidore (Villareal), Conor Casey (Colorado), Charlie Davies (Hammarby), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles)

Read more on "Confederations Cup Profiles: U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!"...

Real Madrid's Secret Printing Press

So Madrid has spent just over €160M over a few days for two players. How much is that?

It's €160M, duh.

But for fun let's do a compairson. Ready? For that same amount of money Real Madrid president Florentino Perez could have paid every MLS teams' salary bills for the next seven season (6.8 seasons actually, and it's assuming no designated players). Wasn't that fun?

Yeah, not really. I'm sure they could have fed half of Mali for that amount as well. Or bought 17 villages in Bhutan the complete 'Homeboys From Outer Space' on DVD. Etc., etc.

It's a mind boggling amount of money. And it's just the transfer costs. Madrid still have to pay Kaka's and Cristiano Ronaldo's wages. So where does all that coin come from? Funny you should ask...

First off, Madrid is a very rich club. Forbes ranks them 2nd behind only Manchester United in its annual list of team valuations. Additionally, they have higher revenue and less debt than the Mancunians.

Two things: First, any list that has Newcastle worth $300M can only be taken so seriously. Second, unless Madrid is planning on unloading a couple hundred million Euro worth of its own players. the club's valuation alone wouldn't explain where all of this money is suddenly coming from.

There are other explanations for that.

Unlike England where the league negotiates its TV rights, in Spain clubs are free to negotiate their own individual rights. Apparently Real Madrid is pretty popular in Spain as they were able to secure a six season deal for €1.1B (or about $1.4B) with Mediapro. For comparison the same folks paid FC Barcelona €600M for five years (somewhat interestingly, Mediapro is a Catalan company).

Assuming straight line payments, that means a little over €157M for Madrid every year in domestic TV money. As another comparison, EPL money gets a team in the neighborhood of €35M.

This comes with a big caveat. First this is for the current contract that runs out next season. So, the number is about to go up. Plus the money isn't evenly distributed, you get more for being a bigger draw. So United, Arsenal, Chelsea, and Liverpool are probably up somewhere closer to €50M. Stoke, eh, they're getting less (and apparently aren't spending it on more pitch real estate).

Point being: Madrid have a lot more money than their Spanish (and English) counterparts.

But media reports have circulated around the Spanish capital of new Real Madrid president Florentino Perez having €300M to spend (over half of which he's already dropped on Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo). So even if every penny of Real's TV money went to transfer funds, that only covers a little over half the supposed transfer till.

Where does the rest come from? Good question. That one is also a head scratcher for Barca's economic director Xavier Sala i Martin:

I do not know where the €300 million that Florentino Perez thinks he has for signings actually comes from. He says he will recoup it by selling replica shirts and so he will have to sell 30 million of them. That is impossible.... Someone is going to have to give them money and it would be good if he explained it. How can it be that a football club has so much money to spend, bearing in mind the current economic situation in the country and the politics of credit restriction in place in all banks?
Translation: Shenanigans.

Sala i Martin is wrong. Madrid don't need to sell 30 million shirts. They just need to sell one really, really expensive one. In reality, some of the money will come back in merchandise sales as the Daily Mail points out shirt sales jumped 137% during the 4-year stay of David Beckham.

Moreover, as was pointed out by a commenter, Real are a social trust, and as a result aren't necessarily subject to the same laws and pesky regulations that might hamper their stature and status.

So, this whole thing is just who knows who. Then, over here, you have favoritism.

Real Madrid doesn't need to put up collateral or service debt. Their debt is held by local banks or creditors and those banks are often chaired by people allied with the club's interests or, it not, they come under political pressure not to put economic pressure on the club. And if Real Madrid need a line of credit, then apparently, hey, there's €300M available.

And they must need it as Perez believes they have to "do in one year what [they] would normally do in three."

Another bit of peculiarity is that, according to Sid Lowe this time the money is from a Catalan bank, La Caixa (is that Catalan for 'the box'?)

No wonder Sala i Martin is pissed, it's his people (Mediapro, La Caixa) bankrolling his biggest rivals' quest to get the band back together. Maybe someone should remind him that they paid nothing for Andres Iniesta and they have the big ears trophy. Oh, and he lives in Barcelona. That should assuage things for a bit.

Read more on "Real Madrid's Secret Printing Press"...

Africa News Roundup

Lost in the hullabaloo of the Ronaldo transfergasm yesterday were a few stories from Africa worth noting.

  • Zimbabwe's U-17 youth soccer team was invited to the 2010 Junior Olympics as the African representative. Why? Because Zimbabwe was the only team not caught using overage players that used players of the proper age. Henrietta Rushwaya who claims this invite is a vindication of the decision to follow the rules as though she had to struggle with that choice. You might recall Rushwaya is the soccer chief who likes to sleep with her country's national team players.

  • The Premier League trophy made a trip to Uganda recently much to the delight of the Ugandans. While Uganda may be a third world country, it's smack talk is certainly first rate as a 19 year-old Ugandan laid the smack down on Steven Gerrard bunny hard core style (H/T ONTD FB).
"I'm so happy," beamed 19-year-old Daniel Okei. "I thought that trophy only existed on TV. But now I've been closer to it than Steven Gerrard ever has!"
  • Swaziland soccer "star" Mduduzi ‘Aghahowa’ Mdluli was arrested for stealing a light bulb. Aghahowa had just purchased his booze from the liquor store and had bright idea as he walked out to steal the light bulb. Or perhaps the light went out in his head and he wanted to replace it. Or maybe it was for his Uncle Fester trick. I have no idea.

Read more on "Africa News Roundup"...

Confederations Cup Profiles: Spain

Simply the best.

It's been 32 games and nearly that many months since the Spaniards lost a football match. In that time, they've won their first international tournament since the 1964 European Cup (which they hosted) and established "La Roja" as a model of attacking, attractive footy. So it's little wonder they enter this spring's Confederations Cup as favorites, and not just speculative or fashion favorites like in the past. Spain in 2009 are the book's pick, the conventional wisdom, currently listed at 6/4 to win a trophy in South Africa.

Fernando Torres, David Villa, Xavi, Sergio Ramos, David Silva, Iker Casillas... what could possibly go wrong??

The Spanish team at Euro 2008 earned its Champagne reputation. They were fun to watch, even as they scratched their way past the killjoy Hun in a tight final. Ask ten fans which player they remember most fondly from that team and five will say Villa (all those early goals), two will pick Xavi (voted best, the maestro), two will say Torres (the cup final winner as a lone striker)... But just one (me!) will say Marcos Senna.

I'm not there.

Yes, Marcos Senna. With a suspect center backs behind him, attack-minded full backs shooting up his flanks, and quick and brilliant but small attacking midfielders playing in his path, Senna was the rock, the guy who let Xavi and Iniesta conjure up their tricks.

How good was he? I mean, Luis Aragones loved him.

But Marcos Senna will not be in South Africa. He's injured, and for that matter, so is Iniesta. Spain have enough playmakers to push on through the Barca man's injury, but one has to wonder if they have the metal to replace Senna. Neither Busquets-- a good ball-winner, but young-- or Xabi Alonso can play "the Senna role."

That said, they don't need to be as good, or play the exact same game to repeat last summer's result. They have some options now. The first possibility is that someone steps up Senna's absence. Not an impossibility, but again, who? Convince me. Another is that they score more goals... kick it around like Barca... the Cruyff Defense. This squad is built to score and with the confidence they're likely to build against the Group A minnows, it could be enough to carry them on their way.

And speaking of.. That draw is of a particular advantage to the Spaniards. Their group includes Iraq, New Zealand, and hosts South Africa, who'll likely be eliminated from a semi-final place by the time the teams meet on June 20, in the final group match.

Managing it all is Vicente del Bosque, a quiet fella who knows how to handle supreme talent, as evidenced by his supreme results with Real Madrid galacticos teams from 1999-2003. Del Bosque has brought his "A" team to Africa, and given Spain's recent run of international success-- the Euros, then Barca-- you have to think they are serious about keeping the streak alive.

Prediction: An easy first round draw sees Spain matched up with the second seed in Group B, which I think will be a surprise Egypt or USMNT. No matter, it will be on to the final and a matchup with... Italia! And like in Vienna's Ernst Happel Stadion a year ago, the Spaniards will prevail.

More predictions from the UF squad later in the day.

Read more on "Confederations Cup Profiles: Spain"...

What Will Real Madrid's Roster and Lineup Look Like Next Season?

Galacticos 2.0?

Florentino Perez is clearly playing fantasy football in the real world right now with the mega-signings of Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka in the past few days. It also does not appear he is finished collecting superstar players Galacticos 2.0, with David Villa, Franck Ribery, Xabi Alonso, Nemanja Vidic and Javier Mascherano all still rumored to be moving to the Bernabeu this summer, with the Villa move looking ever more likely these days. So, what will his new manager, Manuel Pellegrini, have to play with at beginning of next season? And what his favored lineup be?

Perez has said he will trim 10 players from the current roster to make way for the new signings. Whether this means he will cut down the squad size or Perez intends to sign 10 new players is not clear. Although, it likely means next season's roster will be smaller than this season's.

The Blancos roster at the end of this season looked like this:

12 Agus D 16 Gabriel Ivan Heinze D
28 Alberto Alberto Bueno F 20 Gonzalo Gerardo Higuaín F
27 Chema Anton D 19 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar F
5 Fabio Cannavaro D 24 Javi García M
1 Iker Casillas G 12 Marcelo D
13 Jordi Codina G 21 Christoph Metzelder D
18 Ruben De la Red M 2 Michel Michel Salgado D
6 Lassana Diarra M 35 Miguel Palanca F
6 Mahamadou Diarra M 17 Daniel Parejo M
15 Royston Ricky Drenthe D 3 Pepe D
25 Jerzy Dudek G 7 Raúl F
18 Julien Faubert M 11 Arjen Robben M
8 Fernando Rubén Gago M 9 Javier Saviola F
29 Gary Gary D 4 Sergio Sergio Ramos D
14 Jose Maria Guti M 10 Wesley Sneijder M
28 Marcos Ramiro Tebar M 22 Miguel Torres D
23 Rafael Van der Vaart M 17 Ruud Van Nistelrooy F
26 Velayos D

Dudek, Salgado, and Cannavaro are gone, but Ezequiel Garay returns from loan and you must add Ronaldo and Kaka to the list as well.

So, who gets culled from the roster?

It won't be a firesale because Real can afford to keep the players but there might be some discounts to be had and players will certainly want to leave for more playing time. Ruud, Heinze, Robben, Van der Vaart and Sneijder have all been rumored to be leaving. In fact, the Dutch contingent in Madrid could be nearly wiped out this offseason.

It is looking very likely that Villa will be coming in, so it makes it much more likely that Ruud, who is coming off an injury and is getting up there, and Saviola, who barely had any playing time this year, will on their way out. Huntelaar, while a new acquisition, could also be shipped on his way, but I think it unlikely.

Current midfielders at the Bernabeu should be very worried about their status. Kaka will take up the starting central attacking midfield position and everybody else will be second choice and deservedly so. Van der Vaart, who likes the central role with either have to slide over to the wings for playing time or sit back in a reserve role. Guti, the long-time Blanco and vice-captain, would likely be a much more willing reserve.

Ronaldo will take up a starting winger position meaning Robben, Sneijder and Van der Vaart will all have to fight for time on the wing. If Real signs up Ribery this will mean only more competition. This would seem to add credent to Van der Vaart leaving Madrid and likely either Robben or Sneijder leaving for greener pastures. My money would be on Robben leaving since he can only play on the right side, whereas Sneijder is a bit more versatile. None of these three will like severly reduced playing time that next season will likely bring if all remain.

In the defense the only likely exit will be Heinze due to his age. This is the one area where Real Madrid does not have a surfeit of talent and will likely bring in another central defender and left fullback (Raul Albiol? Vidic? Who else?).

As an LFC fan, I would swap Alonso for Gago and Sneijder/Higuain if Perez wants Xabi so badly. Fair deal if you ask me.

With so much offensive firepower, what do you think the preferred lineup for Pellegrini will be?

My best guess would be a 4-2-3-1.


Sneijder - Kaka - Ronaldo

Diarra - Gago

Marcelo - Metzelder - Pepe - Ramos


Read more on "What Will Real Madrid's Roster and Lineup Look Like Next Season?"...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Thursday Backpasses: What will have happened by the morning?

A couple of quick updates to previous posts to start tonight.
1) Setanta may have found some money under the cushions, or an investor [Guardian]
2) Gooch may not be a Brummie after all. Fulhamerica is looking to get the band back together, so to speak [Sky Sports]

My thoughts, in other blog form. Why don't UEFA have preliminary qualifying rounds? [When Saturday Comes]
Roundtable discussion on the state of the USMNT [Avoiding the Drop]
Steve Nash is F'ing awesome [ONTD_FB]

Get ready, Edmonton, for Everton [Edmonton Sun]
"Star" in Swaziland arrested for stealing a light bulb [Swazi Observer]
Charting the rise of England's record transfers [EPL Talk]

Two more video wonders, loosely related.
Kid! [Dirty Tackle]
Goal! [The Beautiful Game]

Read more on "Thursday Backpasses: What will have happened by the morning?"...

UF After Dark: The Greatest Day in the History of Football?

We are, as always, merely following in the footsteps of our BFFs Dirty Tackle and ONTD, but seriously.... WTF? Cristiano Ronaldo's day included: (1) transferring to Real Madrid for a world record fee and (2) shagging Paris Hilton, of all the people in this world.

Mind boggling. But in some ways, it also makes perfect sense. Which just makes it all even more mind boggling.

So there you have it. The Cristiano Ronaldo transfer covered from every single angle, from high brow to low brow. This is why we love football.

Read more on "UF After Dark: The Greatest Day in the History of Football?"...

UF Quick Throw: Lest You Think Real Are Done

There is this fresh from the Guardian. The money quote:

"The answer [from Valencia] was 'no' because negotiations with Real Madrid are very advanced," [Chelsea scout Juan Cruz] Sol said. "So there's no possibility Villa will go to Chelsea because he wants to go to Real Madrid."
It's been a crazy day. We're currently trying to figure out who's out at Madrid and what the starting line-up looks like next season. It's like playing fantasy futbol and it's only crazier if they land David Villa. Our collective thinking in a post tomorrow.

At least it hasn't been a bore waiting for the Confederations Cup to start.

Read more on "UF Quick Throw: Lest You Think Real Are Done"...

C-Ron to Real: The Implications at both ends

As one would expect, the C-Ron transfer shenanigan is consuming all other soccer news in its path, devouring smaller stories as ferociously as Janice Dickinson sucks up lines of cocaine from her kitchen table. Yes, it's finally over. A team has sold a player to another team, and we must sit back to avoid overdosing on the hyperbole. But we cannot!

Given that C-Ron is not your average player changing hands in a summer transfer (sorry, Gareth Barry; did you notice less journo flacks at your first Citeh press conference this morning?), there's an obvious and massive knock-on effect for both sides of this nifty slice of business.

For United and Real Madrid, things are about to change dramatically. Precious Roy already took a wonderful look at it from the money side, and now I fancy examining the consequences on the pitch.

Manchester United: the band loses its egotistical lead singer
For the Reds, the immediate future is obvious; they're losing an incredible amount of goals from a wide position. 91 in three seasons from their best offensive producer, their free-kick genius, and their versatile winger who also thrived in a center-forward role that Ferguson tried towards the end of the season.

The void is massive, and the wishlist of suitors who are capable, willing and able to fill the role (not without a massive favor from any of Europe's great domestic clubs who might be content to sit on their stockpiled stars) isn't very big at all. After all, who would dare be the team to immediately improve a franchise that sorely needs the help up front? Not to mention that every player they covet (Ribery, Villa, Aguero) has countless other suitors.

Simply put, C-Ron is as close as it gets to irreplaceable these days. While the Era of the Individual, that hazy, highlight-packed period that really kicked off in the late 90s, is still present, the team dynamic and proliferation of tactically-astute managers has lessened its impact.

In spite of the shift, C-Ron is/was one of those precious few who could lift his team out of the doldrums created by negative gameplans, and without him, United look a lot more one-dimensional. They will struggle to pull through some matches without Ronaldo's ability to provide spark, something he did just as much on the field as he did off.

Consider that Man U scored just 68 goals in the EPL this past season. It's still a proud figure, but it's the lowest tally to spur an EPL trophy march since 1992/93.

And so, who will provide the goals? Wayne Rooney is a great player, but he is not industrious enough to play provider and scorer all for himself (one of C-Ron's many talents included taking enough pressure away from his batterymates).

Carlos Tevez? His workrate and effort eclipse that of most in United's squad, and yet his natural style of play has been stifling to that of Rooney, considering the two are so similar. Oh, and this is without mentioning that Tevez is a dead cert to leave Old Trafford, having been relegated unfairly to the second or third string.

Dimitar Berbatov? Perhaps one of the EPL's laziest players, so unflinching in his sloth that those sublime moments of individual skill are, when he can be bothered, that much more breathtaking. However, through analytical eyes, it's clear he is not providing an adequate return on the investment.

Danny Welbeck? Federico Macheda? Woefully unseasoned for a full season of title-chasing strain and stress, despite the Hollywood-esque entrance made by the young Italian.

With this loss, United will need to show their defensive strength more than ever, as it might be the biggest weapon they still possess. When you consider that C-Ron is arguably the best player in the world operating today, there can be no sufficient replacement. Ferguson has done this sort of thing in the past, selling big-name stars to the surprise of many (Andrei Kanchelskis, Ruud van Nistelrooy, David Beckham), but none of them have had the singular importance to the team -- all preening, sulk and arrogance aside -- as Cristiano Ronaldo does.

United fans should console themselves with the assertion that his poisonous ego was detrimental to the Red Army's movement, although when the well of goals runs dry, that will not be a very comforting mantra. For all his petulance, it's hard to argue that Ronaldo didn't get the job done when asked.

Real Madrid: Florentino Perez isn't a fan of Moneyball
However you choose to look at it, this is good business for Real Madrid. It helps to re-establish their credibility once more as a domestic and European force, it aids the rebuilding process of their worldwide brand (it had been six or so years between Galacticos cycles), and it reinvigorates a league that could really use a legitimate dramatic counterpoint to the homegrown, grassroots might of Barcelona.

Florentino Perez has achieved all of this with just two signatures -- 2007's World Player of the Year, Kaka, and now 2008's World Player of the Year, Cristiano Ronaldo.

We know from the last galacticos incarnation (think Sealab 2020, but more attractive) that it can work -- they won two league titles in three years before their dismantling -- but this time around, they must address their woes at the back, as well as figuring out just how all the jigsaw pieces will fit together.

Having tons of offensive firepower and might doesn't automatically crown you King of the World. Brazil 1982 was full of stepover kings and electrifying strikers, and yet all it took was a well-drilled, hungry Italy to topple them because of their frailty at the back. It happens all the time, in that respect; the rush for superstars is so heady and intense, like a heroin addict fiending for the needle, that the unglamorous behind-the-scenes fortification is neglected.

Their backline was shown to be paper-thin in the Champions League, and will be again unless changes are made. Iker Casillas is only 28, but his workload between the posts must make him feel twice as old. There's Sergio Ramos, a right-back who rarely bothers to defend. Heinze and Salgado are both approaching being put out to pasture, Marcelo is inconsistent and prone to being caught too far forward, and then Pepe has shown his fondness for violence when frustrated and flustered at the back.

It's an awful platform for which to help Kaka, Ronaldo and company do what they need to do moving forward; one wonders just what money they will spend on the blue collar improvements they will sorely need.

And then there's the tactical question; just how do you make everyone work together? Looking at their squad, they're logjammed at every position, and it'll take some masterful work by whoever steps through the revolving managerial door to keep everyone happy for more than a season and a half.

Good business, to be sure, but an acquisition that brings with it a parade of questions and quibbles that need to be addressed. After all, Ronaldo's desire to move wasn't just for the improvement in weather. He craves the success that he enjoyed at United, and then some.

Read more on "C-Ron to Real: The Implications at both ends"...

Soccernet is a Neverending Font of Fun

So while perusing the spectrum of Ronaldo news today we came across this. Not the "Look at me, I'm worth £80M" pic, but checkout the table for what Soccernet says is the 2008-2009 season (click on the pic for a better look).

We're not sure what's more impressive:

1) Arsenal finishing 1st and 6th.
2) Liverpool finishing 2nd and 3rd.
3) A League One team finishing 9th (Yet somehow behind Everton with more points).
4) Newcastle not in the relegation zone.

Well done, ESPN. That's a lot of astonishing for one table. At least Tottenham's position seems about right.

We now await to hear what your afternoon talking heads say about the Ronaldo transfer while they pretend that they don't know absolutely nothing about soccer.

In partially related Ronaldo news, everyone within a two mile radius of him probably picked up an STD this morning when they went out for their morning paper.

Just kidding. Nobody gets the newspaper anymore. The STD epidemic in LA is probably imminent though.

Read more on "Soccernet is a Neverending Font of Fun"...

Confederations Cup Profiles: Iraq

Robert Evans coaches soccer?

Dunno if anyone noticed, but I took some time off to welcome my first child, a wonderful lad named Xabi Fernando Stevie Bursitis, into the world. Amid the dirty diapers and crying fits, I slowly return to blogging.

They have an Uday, but no Qusay, and thanks to the presence of ageless, well-traveled coach Bora Milutinovic (remember him, US fans?), Iraq are ready to challenge for the scraps thrown their way in the Confederations Cup.

To some, the Serb Bora Milutinovic is known as the Miracle Worker, but I prefer to call him the Team Whisperer. He's managed 8 different countries during his 32-year coaching career, and he's always looking for the next difficult project to turn around within a 3 year contract. Renowned for being the only coach to take 5 different teams to a World Cup, not to mention being the first coach to take four different teams beyond the first round, with Bora Iraq are in good hands for their first big test on the world stage. After all, if he could launch China and Costa Rica into World Cup lore, why not this bunch?

First off, they're built for the long haul; just 7 of their 23-man squad is over the age of 25, meaning that the core of youth is there to be refined and honed over the coming years. Let's not think that they're going to win any World Cups or anything, but it's good preparation for making a run for the knockout rounds, or possibly pulling a Turkey or Greece and carving out some decent results.

Of course, I have no idea how good any of these guys are -- the entire squad is basically spilt between clubs in Iraq, Iran, Qatar and Saudi Arabia -- but the well-drilled team mentality is sometimes enough to shock a better team that may be individually more skilled, but rather sloppy as a team. It's easy to forget that Iraq pulled down a 4th place finish in the 2004 Olympics, as well as a 2007 Asian Cup trophy.

They are led from the frontline, with captain Younis Mahmoud (28 goals in 70 games) and Emad Mohammed (23 in 76) providing the pyrotechnics, and their starting XI has the luxury of longevity -- 10 players have 45 caps or more -- which can be a good thing when looking to pull an upset. As Senegal proved in the '02 World Cup against France, or Cameroon in 1990 against Argentina, it only takes one goal.

Iraq have a leg-up in Group A as only Spain are likely to romp, meaning they could shock the Kiwis or the South Africans and maybe sneak into the knockout round.

In fact, I'll call this my LB Upset Special; look for the Lions of Mesopotamia and their FIFA Ranking of 77 to push on and escape the group stage. Milutinovic is the king of working wonders with limited resources, and the Confederations Cup, a lazy summer tournament where stars try gamely to avoid shocking injuries, should provide the perfect platform for some shock results.

Read more on "Confederations Cup Profiles: Iraq"...

Cristiano Ronaldo And Why Jon Gruden Knew His Sale Was Inevitable

So Crissy is off to Spain and United are £80M the better for it.

That gives United a nice little kitty to swing with in the transfer market. Who will they target? Tevez? Ribery? Villa?

How about nobody?

Yes. Nobody. Okay, it might only be nobody of consequence. There could be a £5M youngster here or a cheaper veteran there (can Arsenal sell Silvestre back to United for a bag of magic sand?) but United might not have the equivalent of a blank check to go spend now that they've unloaded Cristiano Ronaldo.

Why not? Because there is the most gigantic white elephant in all of football poised precariously over Old Trafford.

Lest people forget, United are carrying a massive amount of debt, £699M. And unlike Chelsea's quasi-fictitious debt, United's is real. In other words, they owe it to people that want it back. Really, there's been plenty of ink this week about Hicks and Gillett and Liverpool's finances, but United have over twice the debt of Liverpool FC (I believe the Guardian had LFC's at roughly £320).

United had a pre-tax loss of almost £45M last year. That's with the club's debt rising each of the last two years. I seem to recall when I found any detailed numbers for the club (maybe from two years ago—and pardon my not digging this up right this moment), the only reason they were cash flow positive that year was because they had rescheduled some debt and pocketed the difference to fund operations.

In other words, and this is just an example, instead of owing £300M over 5 years at 7% they said to some lender "How about you give us an additional £100M and we'll owe you £400M but we'll pay it back over 7 years but at 9%." And the lender said, "Okay."

United is worth a ton, but they owe a ton. In fact they've got something like £175M of the debt financed at a crippling 14%. And you can't just look at it and say "Well they owe £699M but the team is worth twice that, so they are fine." The largest asset on the United books is "Goodwill" which, as an accounting term, is simply the amout you paid above book value for something. So United's biggest asset is simply how much the Glazers were willing to overpay for the club.

What's more important than the book value for United as a going concern is the marginal cost of operating the club, and given the negative cash flows, it's greater than the marginal revenue the club is generating.

Think about the Liverpool situation. Liverpool is worth more way more than the £300M-and-change it owes the banks. Hicks and Gillett think it's worth more than that, which is why they borrowed that amount. They figured they would make enough to pay it back. The bank thinks its worth more than that. That's why they took the club as collateral. As a banker, you wouldn't secure a loan with an asset that's worth less than the money you are lending.

Liverpool's problem isn't the value of the club. The owners might be forced to sell because they can't cover the marginal costs of operations (specifically they don't have the cash on hand to make a very large debt payment due to their banks).

A potential buyer also knows what the club is worth. But they also sense that the owners might be fucked and that the banks don't really want to own the club. So they are biding their time so they can wait until the owners are forced to sell at a heavy discount (if it gets to that), or until after the banks take it over and want to unload it so they don't have to deal with running a football club.

Okay, so what's happening at United that is all that different? They are operating at a loss and their debt is going up year after year. What if they were to miss the Champions League. All of the sudden a huge chunk of change is gone. Now maybe they can't meet their debt obligations and suddenly find themselves in a situation similar to Hicks and Gillett.

Once you get down to it, what are a football clubs real assets? A stadium, the shirt sponsor, media rights, the brand... what else? A buyer for United isn't going to say, "Well, you paid £X in goodwill, so I'm certainly going to pay more than that." No, they are going to wait until the club is fucked as possible and try to lowball every place they can.

There is just less talk about the Glazers and United than there is Hicks and Gillette at Anfield because the former have done a much better job of being opaque and keeping their names out of the papers. But things might not be so rosy at Old Trafford.

For a hint of how things might be in the Glazer's financial house, take a look at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the other pro sports organization owned by the Glazers.

The Bucs have out-and-out released high-priced veterans, fired coach Jon Gruden and his hefty contract and replaced him with a complete (and much cheaper) unknown. They have moved training camp from Disney/Orlando back to Tampa to save money and they even canceled the club's Christmas party to save money.

The Buccaneers have more money under the salary cap than any other team in the NFL this off-season. Most teams clear cap space to go out and sign high-priced free agents. Not the Bucs, they haven't signed anyone of note (or cost). They are cutting costs. Period.

The Glazers can let the Bucs go to pot and not invest money in them for a few years because they won't get relegated out of the NFL. Just doesn't happen. Even if the Bucs become the Detroit Lions for a few seasons, fans will still turn up and the enormous TV contract will still put money in the Glazers' pockets.

But if they don't pour money into United, they'd be screwed. There's no safety net the EPL. If that side drops from the Top 4 or doesn't advance in the Champions League, the hit to their revenues could be significant. So there is a very real possibility that the Glazers have to use the savings from Tampa to subsidize the massive debts of United.

The selling of Ronaldo, it might have less to do with his petulance and any personal conflict with Alex Ferguson than it does with the Glazers' finances.

If I were a United fan, I might not be alarmed but I'd be concerned and would certainly start paying a lot more attention to what's happening in South Florida and start asking some questions about the ownership of my club. You might not be able to draw a direct line from Tampa to Manchester, but it is more than just peculiar the way the Bucs are suddenly being run.

That's what also makes this sale so intriguing. With Ronaldo in the line-up that team is almost a lock for finishing 1 or 2 in the league and making it into the group stage of the Champions League. Without Ronaldo in the side, that team looked absolutely pedestrian (remember they drew at home to fucking Newcastle then struggled to win at Portsmouth when he was out).

How much is that worth to the club? More than £80M?

This is still Manchester United. They have the best manger in the game and they are still loaded with talent. But they are also losing the best player in the game. Suddenly deep cup runs and parking atop the league table become much more difficult tasks for United. And without the money from those extra games servicing £699M becomes more difficult. What if, without Cristiano Ronaldo, United finish next season like Arsenal finished this season? Fourth place, no trophies, no Champions League final. Do they forgo more money than they made in the sale? Did they pay down enough debt for it not to matter?

If you look into the numbers United are not rock solid financially as what they are doing isn't sustainable indefinitely. Moves this summer might be done more out of financial necessity than European glory.

Of course if United turn around and spend every last cent of the Ronaldo transfer fee to bring in players then this is all off the mark. Now that the Red Devils have accepted Madrid's truckloads of cash, what happens next will say more about the Glazers than they have ever said about themselves.

Read more on "Cristiano Ronaldo And Why Jon Gruden Knew His Sale Was Inevitable"...

The Good, The Bad, The WTF

I hate it when this happens. You get so busy with other things that you forget what day of the week it is. That happened to me yesterday, which is why a Wednesday came and went without a weekly installment of this recurring feature. My apologies to anyone who noticed and cared. Of course, if you did not notice or care, then my apologies for wasting your time with this paragraph.

Torquay United are coming back to the Football League after a two-year absence. The Gulls finished bottom of the table in 2007, 13 points adrift of safety in League Two. They nearly bounced right back up in 2008, finishing third in the conference, but were beaten out in the playoffs by Exeter City. Last season it was Torquay's turn to go up through the playoffs, a feat accomplished after a 2-0 win over Canbridge United.

Before their woeful 2006-07 season, Torquay had been in the Football League for 80 consecutive seasons, despite never advancing higher that the third tier. That's pretty impressive. Of course, if it were up to me, I'd have kicked them out of the league in 1992-93 for wearing such an ugly shirt, and a cheap ripoff at that.

Here's what I don't understand. It's obvious that this shirt is trying to use the same Umbro template that showed up in Northern Ireland, among others, at the time. Unfortunately, Torquay must not have been able to afford paying Unbro prices, so they got a knockoff from a company that advertises team kits in the back of football magazines. This shirt is so cheap, there is not even a manufacturer's logo on it. It's almost like No Logo got published a decade earlier, if you disregard the shirt sponsor and team badge. Oh wait, the manufacturer logo is on the sleeves. Yeah, so, not so much then.

As you can barely see in this closer view, there is some kind of pattern-within-a-pattern thing going on. Doesn't make it any better.

The real crime, as far as I am concerned, is how this shirt minimizes the team badge. If you did not know better, you'd feel safe in an assumption that the badge is the manufacturer logo, probably some company that starts with an M. Coincidentally, Matchwinner made this shirt. Perhaps that was planned on their part?

As an aside, the movement ascribed to No Logo never really took off did it? Besides Radiohead, did anyone take this manifesto seriously? Corporations have their logos in more spaces than ever before. Perhaps it's time for a fresh sequel from a less earnest, more thoughtful author who self-publishes instead of using a publisher who put their logo on the front cover. Just a thought.

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

Football Diplomacy

More football, less Holocaust denial

The U.S. and China had ping pong diplomacy in the 1970s, could the U.S. and Iran now have a little bit of football diplomacy? That might be part of the logic behind preliminary discussions between U.S. Soccer and their Iranian counterparts to hold a friendly in Tehran in late 2010 or 2011.

In fact, a national team friendly would be the second football-related gesture aimed to bring the two nations closer. In March, the Guardian reported that Persepolis and Esteghlal, the two largest Iranian club teams, might come on a tour of the U.S.

As always, it's nice to see two countries trying to put aside their differences on the football pitch.

And, if you’ve been watching or reading the news lately, you know that Iran is holding elections tomorrow and there is a decent chance that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be unseated. This follows President Obama's historic speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. Stay tuned for this developing story.


Read more on "Football Diplomacy"...

Hey Look At That!

I just happened to glance at our World Cup countdown widget over on the right and way down towards the bottom and what do you know? It is 365 days until the first match of World Cup 2010. Kickoff will be at 16:00 local time in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Personally, I cannot wait and neither can the South Africans, which is why they have planned festivities for the today.

At precisely 16:00 (if I have done the proper math it should be just about the same time as this is posted), South Africans across the country will stand up and blow a vuvuzela (that's the horn-like item they blow at soccer games seen in the picture on the left) and then sing the country's national anthem.

I'm imagining millions of South Africans tooting their zuzuvela's at that precise moment. This is something I really want to see pictures of today. That is your job today, find me pictures of these events.

Just to make sure everybody knows about this, a five-minute countdown will occur on radio stations in South Africa.

Capetown is going one up on everybody with festivities and noisemaking starting at noon.

Oh joyous days are the World Cup. Last time I watched every minute of every match. Some of it had to be taped and watched later, but I saw every last minute of even the dourest games. Alas, I do not foresee myself having the time to do that this time around. That's what happens when you are not unemployed during the World Cup.

Read more on "Hey Look At That!"...

QT: Man U sends Ronaldo to Real Madrid

Sir Alex has reached the end of his rope it seems, and has shipped the petulant striker to Real Madrid for 80 Million Pounds. I'm sure he's miffed that he was worth less than Kaka, but they can perhaps compare which bath soaps help soothe their skin after a tough match. No word on what the Manchester United fans are doing right now, other than convincing themselves that a Rooney is better than a pretty boy.

Read more on "QT: Man U sends Ronaldo to Real Madrid"...

UF After Dark: Sophie Houghton Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving

I'm not gonna do much exposition here because there is so much material I don't know where to begin. See that above, that's a Myspace message from Sophie to her amore, Federico Macheda from last night. Flawless logic if you ask me.

I also learned that Sophie was Miss Intercontinental Liverpool this year. It does look like she received high marks in school according the Miss Intercontinental webpage. And, she considers herself bisexual according to her a Myspace profile.

It also turns out Sophie has two other Myspace pages. After the jump, more pics, a lot more pics. More to come tomorrow as well.

Read more on "UF After Dark: Sophie Houghton Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving"...