Monday, December 24, 2007

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Happy holidays to all football fans. Awesome weekend of derbies and interesting results to cap off the end of the 2007 portion of the football calendar. Here's a quick trip around the football

  • Must Read of the day: Stateside Footy reports that David Beckham will train with Arsenal in the offseason.
  • Excellent recap of the weekend action over 101 Great Goals -- complete with video.
  • F.C. Porto falls, Benfica, Sporting close in Portugal at
  • Footballing World speculates post Inter-AC derby about the future of Ancellotti and the sorry state of the reigning European champions.
  • Oh You Beauty regales in Liverpool's 4-1 win over Portsmouth.
  • Center Holds It's Daily Sweeper is a few days out, but worth checking out, especially the take on Real Salt Lake's future.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Live Blogging: Barcelona-Real Madrid, first half

Julio Cesar Baptista's goal gives Real Madrid a 1-0 lead over Barcelona at Nou Camp--sensational give-and-go with Van Nistelrooy. It's been a chippy game with more fouls/cards than shots on goal. Ronaldinho did get the start despite yesterday's blow-up during training with Frank Rijkaard. Deco is in the Barca lineup too.

  • 42nd minute, Ronaldinho dives in the box looking for a PK. Total act; Ronny stepped on the ball and crashed to the turf. Cannavaro gave him an earful for diving.
  • Real's Wesley Sneijder is having a day at defensive midfield. Puyol, meanwhile, is an attacking threat always; just collided with Casillas.
  • Ronaldinho attacks the left flank of the Real defense to no avail. Pepe and Cannavaro are impeccable.
  • The halftime whistle brings a merciful end to the first 45. Unlike last March's true classico, the skill and passion are out of this one, replaced by chippiness and ugly play. Typical derby.
  • Real carried the half, despite a couple of incursions from Eto. Casillas was brilliant.
  • 22 fouls between the two clubs; two yellows. Five shots on goal. Says it all.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Barcelona's Rijkaard May Banish Ronaldinho for Real Madrid Classico

Frank Rijkaard berates Ronaldinho during training. Ronaldinho walks off the pitch. Rijkaard benches Ronaldinho tomorrow against Real Madrid. Real Madrid beats Barcelona. Ronaldinho heads for AC Milan. Frank Rijkaard is fired. Jose Mourinho is the new coach of the Catalans.

Talk about a neat little flowchart.

Yesterday's training dust-up between Ronny and Rijkaard started with the Dutch coach down on the Brazilian's effort in preparation for tomorrow's "classico." After training, Rijkaard say Ronaldinho was injured and that's why he left, but cameras don't usually lie. The fury between the two was caught on film and it wasn't pretty.

What's uglier though are Barca's chances tomorrow. Not only is Ronaldinho on the reserves, but Lionel Messi is injured and out 4-6 weeks, Deco is likely out for tomorrow as well as Edmilson and Oleguer. Good news though, Thierry Henry is available.

This is an interesting power struggle at Barca. Where will president Juan Laporta fall on this one? Will he back the worldwide superstar, or with the coach that won him the Champions League in 2006? Ronaldinho's departure has been a hot topic for some time and lately, Rijkaard's fate has been a topic of discussion.

For the immediate, however, Real Madrid could be playing with a Cheshire Grin tomorrow and extend its La Liga lead.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Champions League Draw: Knockout Round-of-16

Now it gets good.

The Champions League round-of-16 draw is out and there are some juicy ties awaiting us in February. I'll do a separate post on England's teams. For now, here's a look at the rest of the draw:

Roma-Real Madrid: Roma is the team no one wants to face. Roma is cursed with some odd luck in terms of teams it draws. In Serie A, it's looking up at Inter Milan, which is running away with the Scudetto with 40 points and a seven-point lead over Roma. In its the group stage, Roma ran into Manchester United, which is on an absolute tear and has not lost a game in three months. Francesco Totti has seven goals this season and is among the leaders in Italy. This should be the tie to watch. Real leads La Liga by two points over Barcelona, whom it plays Sunday in the Spanish classico. Real has been nothing if not consistent this season and both teams figure to have their hands full in this tie.

Celtic-Barcelona: Ho-hum, Celtic leads the Scottish Premier League, what else is new? If you dont' follow Celtic or Rangers, what's the interest in Scottish football? Someone enlighten me, please? Either way, Celtic held off Benfica for second in its group and fell two points short of AC Milan. Barcelona may not have Leo Messi back in time for this tie, which could draw these two closer. Barcelona did not lose during the group stage and beat back Lyon to win by four points.

Schalke 04-F.C. Porto: How odd that Germany's best hope for European silverware, heck Germany's best team, is in the UEFA Cup? Schalke has the Bundesliga's top scorer in Kevin Kuranyi and is in fifth right now, six points back of Bayern Munich. Porto is a tall order indeed. Porto has not lost in Portugal and nicked Liverpool by a point to win its group. Porto has Lucho Gonzalez and Lisandro Lopez, a far cry from the Mourinho days, but still formidable.

Fenerbache-Sevilla: Sevilla, two-time UEFA Cup winners, are after the big prize in Europe this team. The Spanish side is strong right up the middle with Luis Fabiano the leading scorer in Spain, Sergio Duda in midfield and Morgan De Sanctis at stopper. Sevilla beat Arsenal in its group. The Turks, meanwhile, were second to Inter Milan and are realtive newcomers to the knockout stages.

Champions League Draw: Knockout Round Analysis -- England

It’s Milan-squared for England’s group-stage runners-up in the Champions League knockout round. Inter opens the round-of-16 at Anfield, while Arsenal heads to AC Milan.

Inter is arguably the best team in Europe through Christmas and it will be interesting to see how much Champions League magic the Reds have in the bag for Inter. Of even more interest will be Liverpool’s form by then, and of course whether Rafa Benitez will still be behind the bench.

Liverpool sits fifth with 30 points and a game in hand. It has lost three straight to English sides, including 2-0 to Chelsea this week in the Carling Cup, 1-0 to Manchester United and 3-1 to Reading in the Premier League. The only saving grace of late has been Liverpool’s 4-0 win at Marseille putting it through to the Champions League knockout round, where it earned its date with Milan.

Rafa, meanwhile, is working Liverpool’s American owners for a new contract and wants them to loosen the pursestrings for the January transfer window. It’s been a bone of contention between the two sides and could ultimately lead to Rafa’s departure from Anfield at the end of the season if not sooner.

Arsenal, meanwhile, lead the Premiership by a point over United and may have lucked out drawing Milan, which has been miserable in Serie A, in particular at home. It’s the biggest mystery in football given that AC Milan is the only European time yet to win a home game; yes even Derby County has this season. Milan’s misery was compounded yesterday losing the first leg of its round-of-16 Coppa Italia match against Catania.

Chelsea won its group and was drawn with Olympiacos. Avram Grant can do no wrong, still having lost only once since taking over for Jose Mourinho, and now earning a fortunate draw with the Greek side. Chelsea hosts the second leg of the tie.

Manchester United takes on perennial French champions Lyon, and already is boasting about its chances. Club secretary Ken Ramsden was quoted on Soccernet: “[Lyon] won’t be pleased getting us.” He’s probably correct. United has not lost since Sept. 26 (2-0 to Coventry in the Carling Cup) It has lost only once in the Premiership to Manchester City 1-0 on Sept. 19. United’s recent form: seven wins, one draw since tying Arsenal 2-2 on Nov. 3.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

UEFA Cup Loaded With Quality Teams

I've always looked at the UEFA Cup as the N.I.T. to the Champions League's NCAA Tournament; it's nice if my team's in it and contending for the cup, otherwise, who cares.

This year's UEFA Cup, however, may be a different story. It's loaded. Bayern Munich is the big dog, but don't dispel PSV, Marseille, Atletico Madrid, Villareal, Fiorentina, Benfica, Tottenham ,Sporting, Hamburg and a few others that could be considered a contender.

The UEFA Cup was a bigger deal back in the day when the Champions League was the European Champions Cup and the Cup Winners' Cup was still contended. The UEFA Cup was essentially a deeper tournament and its two-leg final always produced a worthy champion.

When the ECC became the Champions League, and the Cup Winners' Cup sadly went away, the UEFA Cup was relegated to a distant afterthought. But if you look at the past winners, include if you wish the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, and you'll see Juventus in six finals, winning three of them. Sevilla has won the last two; Inter and Liverpool have three titles, Parma and Real Madrid have two, among others. Ask them if they'd give those back.

The final two days of the current round of the UEFA Cup are today and tomorrow. The Champions League castoffs join the fray in the next round and that's when the fun starts. The matchups could be juicy and there will be a lot of national pride tossed about.

SoccerOverload has the final day group stage schedules. has previews on each match.

Give UEFA credit for at least trying to inject some new life into the tournament. Next year, there's a new format being introduced for at least three years. Most notably, the group stage will include 12 groups of four teams. Qualification changes too to include domestic cup winners, Fair Play winners and the Intertoto Cup has seen its final days and those teams will be included as well.

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Update: Manchester United Player Arrested in Rape Investigation

Manchester police have arrested United's 19-year-old defender Jonny Evans in connection with a rape that was reported following a team Christmas party at a Manchester hotel.

Evans has [had?] a bright football future. He played at Sunderland last year and has eight caps for Northern Ireland. He's made the pitch three times for United this season.

The entire Man. U. roster was in attendance, sans Cristiano Ronaldo. A 26-year-old woman claimed to police she was raped at the party.

The Times of London is reporting the bash cost the team's top players 4,000 pounds EACH! English lap dancers are expensive. The Tines also reports that Sir Alex Ferguson was reluctant about the party, but gave his OK.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Rape Charge Surfaces Following Manchester United Christmas Party

Ugly, ugly news out of Manchester.

A woman is claiming she was raped last night at a Manchester hotel rented out by the Manchester United players celebrating Christmas. Apparently the entire first team minus Cristiano Ronaldo was present.

The Times of London reports:
"At about 4.15am on Tuesday December 18, 2007, police were called to the hotel on Great John Street to a report that a 26-year-old woman had been raped. Inquiries are continuing.”
These boys know how to throw a party; the story relates that the day began at a casino where the team was joined by a couple of drag queens and strippers before it moved to the hotel in question.

This figures to get worse before it gets better.

Preview: Barcelona-Real Madrid--Will There Be Another Messi-style Breakout?

Hype kills. Just ask most of the Super Bowls and World Series'.

The same goes for football derbies. How often does Man. U.-Liverpool, Roma-Lazio, Inter-A.C., Boca-River or Sporting-Benfica live up to its billing. Not often, but when they do, that's what keeps us coming back.

Case in point: nine short months ago, Barcelona and Real Madrid clashed in what was arguably the game of the year. It was a 3-3 tie but no matter; it was legendary. And it was essentially the worldwide coming out party for Lionel Messi. The Argentine scored three times, each goal more flamboyant and elegant than the previous. This was tying with style and probably established La Liga as the best league in the world, top to bottom. And great players emerge in great games.

Like any other league, La Liga is top heavy, but nonetheless, a multitude of talent is attracted to Spain, and on Sunday, the world will be watching for a replay of the Barca-Real rivalry. Unfortunately, Messi is injured and will miss this game and be out for up to six weeks. Odds are, Sunday will not match the intensity and emotion of that day at Nou Camp, but here's hoping it gets close. Football--sports--is about the big teams, the big games and big performances.

Will there be another break-out performance? If there is, football derbies may just be winning the war against hype.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Liverpool Stadium Plans Downsized; Reds Headed to Canada?

That screeching sound emanating from Liverpool are the brakes being slammed on the Reds' new stadium. Chief executive Rick Parry says the club will go on the cheap for its new ground, downscaling on the initial plans which called for a spectacular 70,000-seat venue that would include an 18,000-seat Kop as at Anfield.

Parry's spin is that the new plans are a "slight downgrade" but the park will still hold 70,000 and the Kop remains.

Wedged in between the lines of this belt-tightening is the budget freeze undoubtedly headed for Rafa Benitez's product on the field. Liverpool's financial woes have been documented and reportedly, Benitez has been told there isn't much in the coffers for potential signings come the January transfer window.

Benitez met with Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet following the Reds' 1-0 loss to Manchester United at Anfield. The loss was Liverpool's second straight in the Premiership. Publicly, Liverpool is saying the meeting was "positive and wide-ranging." The proof will be in the coming weeks and whether Benitez makes any signings of substance.

In the meantime, it looks like Liverpool may be in North America next summer to take on the MLS All Stars in Toronto. WVHooligan reports there may also be a Liverpool-Juventus friendly in Montreal as well, testing the waters for an MLS franchise there?

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Are you over your Grand Slam Sunday hangover? I think it's a bit of a downer scheduling these two mammoth games on the same day, but it's certainly an anomaly in the schedule and hopefully it won't happen too often.

Nonetheless, here are some takes from around the blogosphere on Grand Slam Sunday:


  • Oh You Beauty says it all in the first two words of its post today. A classic that must be checked out.
  • More from the Liverpool end of things at Anfield Talk.
  • Liverpool weren't the only losers of the day; Chelsea dropped three precious points, and Footballing World has it from the Blues' perspective.


Here are a couple of fairly straightforward game recaps from


And finally, rants to remember:

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Friday, December 14, 2007

England's Big Four, Two Games, One Point?

This is a unique round in the Premiership with Liverpool hosting Manchester United and Chelsea visiting Arsenal on Sunday. Yes, the top four cracking heads on the same weekend.

Arsenal leads the way with 37 points, United a point back, Chelsea third at 34 and Liverpool fourth with 30 and a game in hand. The best results from Sunday would be victories for Liverpool and Chelsea which would leave Chelsea and Arsenal tied at the top, United a point back and Liverpool four back with a game in hand. Presuming it's a victory, the Reds would be one point back as well. Four teams separated by a point. Yes.

Also, you could get a Chelsea win and a Liverpool-United draw leaving three at the top tied with 37 points.

Unfortunately, my scenarios are a longshot. United just might be the best team in Europe and rested most of its Starting Eleven on Wednesday in the Champions League. Arsenal has been a quality team all season long, despite a rough patch of late, the Gunners are home and are getting healthier with Cesc Fabregas, Mathieu Flamini and Aleksandr Hleb in training this week and expected to play.

Caught Offside has some predictions for Grand Slam Sunday

Oh You Beauty previews the Reds-United match

Manchester United Blog
looks at the Red Devils' side

Check out more previews from Arsenal Pies, Soccerlens, and Setanta.

UPDATE: Juan Sebastian Veron rebuffs MLS, D.C. United


Soccer By Ives reports the deal is off!

Kudos to Jeff from Center Holds It for nailing this one: it's been announced that Juan Sebastian Veron will join D.C. United. Jeff blogged this week here at Starting Eleven about the downsides to MLS' designated player rule, and pointed toward this deal in particular. His argument is that MLS teams will start to bring in big-name attractions at the expense of developing younger players.

Veron joins D.C. United for $3 million a year. He leaves Estudiantes de la Plata this weekend and will be introduced Wednesday in Washington. Veron has a checkered history in England. Twice he was transferred for HUGE money; to United from Lazio in 2001 for $57 million, and then in 2003 to Chelsea for $30. Veron never shined for either club.

The bulk of Veron's success came in Italy with Parma and Lazio, and of course with Argentina. He was a member of last summer's Copa America team.

So MLS gets another superstar past his prime, and quickly this league is starting to take on the stench of the North American Soccer League. Are we going to look back on 2007 as the year when it all started to go badly?

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Capello Extending Beckham's England lifeline?

Anyone else shocked by Fabio Capello's inclination to extend David Beckham's national team career? Yeah, Becks is one cap short of 100, but he's also a few legs short of being a viable player again. He can't take two steps without getting laid up for six weeks with a bad ankle, knee or wisp of hair.

The buzzqoute about Capello so far is that he's not one to "suffer fools." Translation: he's going to sweep through the English roster and mold players to his system, not vice-versa. This would figure to jeopardize the national team longevity of Beckham, Michael Owen--maybe even Frank Lampard.

Beckham may have the sentimental vote to get is 100th cap for England and Capello is now likely toss him a bone. But Capello isn't a fan of Becks. He chopped him from the Real Madrid roster toward the end of Madrid's title run last year, and the two did not part amicably. With Capello, no doubt, anxious to put his imprint on this team immediately, it wouldn't be a shocker to see him clean house and impose his will on Day 1.

Yet, politically, it might not be a bad move, Capello may be thinking, to extend Beckham's England career in a meaningless friendly. It's doubtful it would go much further with World Cup qualifying on the horizon. Capello's mandate is qualification at a minimum, especially after the McClaren Euro debacle. He'll need to establish a tenor and a top 15 players fairly quickly; that means cementing his midfield and finding a striker for the longterm.

Should be interesting.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Champions League Makeover: NCAA Basketball Style

About a month ago when I started this blog, I dug pretty deeply into the soccer blogosphere to see what people were doing, some of the approaches others took with different subjects and how it was presented. One of the first great ideas I saw was on Dave's Football Blog. He riffed on some comments from Harry Redknapp about the Champions League needing a makeover. In it, he suggested a new format based on the NCAA basketball tournament; 64 teams, brackets, selection shows, seedings, a Final Four.

Well, today. I play that scenario out. First of all, total kudos to Dave for the idea; it's brilliant. Anyone in the United States understands the mania of the NCAA Tournament, how everyone prints out a bracket, takes part in betting pools, fills out winners for every game and comes up with a champion. Imagine this on a global scale!

So what follows is a potential format based on this year's Champions League. I created four regions and seeded what I figured to be the top 64 qualifiers (there were 78 for this year's Champions League, counting the early qualifying rounds). I also tried to keep participants from the same country from at least the top 16 in separate regions. The format follows the NCAAs; No. 1 v No. 16, 2 v 15 and so forth. There end up being some juicy second and third round matchups and a dream final four.

Below is my format, followed by how I see each region playing out.

  1. Manchester United
  2. Porto
  3. Schalke
  4. Olympiacos
  5. Seville
  6. Ajax
  7. Toulouse
  8. Rangers
  9. Sparta Prague
  10. FC Copenhagen
  11. Zaglebie Lubin
  12. Besiktas
  13. FK Sarajevo
  14. NK Domzale
  15. Linfield
  16. Derry City

First round

Game 1 -- United v. Derry City
Game 2-- Porto v. Linfield
Game 3 -- Schalke v. NK Domzale
Game 4 -- Olympiacos v FK Sarajevo
Game 5 -- Seville v. Besiktas
Game 6 -- Ajax v. Zaglebie Lubin
Game 7 -- Toulouse v. FC Copenhagen
Game 8 -- Rangers v. Sparta Prague

Second round

Game 9 -- Game 1 winner v Game 8 winner
Game 10 -- Game 2 winner v Game 7 winner
Game 11 -- Game 3 winner v Game 6 winner
Game 12 -- Game 4 winner v Game 5 winner

Regional Semifinal

Game 13 -- Game 9 winner v. Game 12 winner
Game 14 -- Game 10 winner v. Game 11 winner

Regional Final

Game 15 -- Game 13 winner v Game 14 winner

Let’s play it out:

United v Rangers
Porto v Copenhagen
Schalke v Ajax
Olympiacos v Seville

United v Seville
Porto v Ajax

Porto v Seville

Regional winner: F.C. PORTO

  1. Barcelona
  2. Lyon
  3. Roma
  4. CSKA Moscow
  5. Liverpool
  6. Celtic
  7. Benfica
  8. Dinamo Bucaresti
  9. Fenerbache
  10. Beitar Jerusalem
  11. Slavia Prague
  12. Bate Borisov
  13. Sheriff Tiraspol
  14. MSK Zilina
  15. Elfsborg
  16. Pyunik

First round

Game 1 -- Barcelona v Pyunik
Game 2-- Lyon v Elfsborg
Game 3 -- Roma v MSK Zilina
Game 4 -- CSKA Moscow v. Sheriff Tiraspol
Game 5 -- Liverpool v Bate Borisov
Game 6 -- Celtic v. Slavia Prague
Game 7 -- Benfica v. Beitar Jerusalem
Game 8 -- Dinamo Bucaresti v. Fenerbache

Second round

Game 9 -- Game 1 winner v Game 8 winner
Game 10 -- Game 2 winner v Game 7 winner
Game 11 -- Game 3 winner v Game 6 winner
Game 12 -- Game 4 winner v Game 5 winner

Regional Semifinal

Game 13 -- Game 9 winner v. Game 12 winner
Game 14 -- Game 10 winner v. Game 11 winner

Regional Final

Game 15 -- Game 13 winner v Game 14 winner

Let’s play it out:

Barcelona v Fenerbache
Lyon v Benfica
Roma v Celtic
CSKA v Liverpool

Barcelona v Liverpool
v Celtic

Barcelona v Celtic

Regional winner: BARCELONA


  1. AC Milan
  2. PSV
  3. Sporting
  4. Arsenal
  5. Marseille
  6. Valencia
  7. Werder Bremen
  8. Spartak Moscow
  9. FC Zurich
  10. Red Star
  11. Shakhtar Donetsk
  12. Debrecen
  13. Dinamo Zagreb
  14. Astana
  15. FK Zeta
  16. Tampere United

First round

Game 1 -- AC Milan v Tampere United
Game 2-- PSV v FK Zeta
Game 3 -- Sporting v Astana
Game 4 -- Arsenal v Dinamo Zagreb
Game 5 -- Marseille v Debrecen
Game 6 -- Valencia v. Shakhtar Donetsk
Game 7 -- Werder Bremen v. Red Star
Game 8 -- Spartak Moscow v FC Zurich

Second round

Game 9 -- Game 1 winner v Game 8 winner
Game 10 -- Game 2 winner v Game 7 winner
Game 11 -- Game 3 winner v Game 6 winner
Game 12 -- Game 4 winner v Game 5 winner

Regional Semifinal

Game 13 -- Game 9 winner v. Game 12 winner
Game 14 -- Game 10 winner v. Game 11 winner

Regional Final

Game 15 -- Game 13 winner v Game 14 winner

Let’s play it out:

AC Milan v FC Zurich
PSV v Werder Bremen
Sporting v Shakhtar
Arsenal v Marseille

AC Milan v Arsenal
Werder Bremen v Sporting

Arsenal v Werder Bremen

Regional winner: ARSENAL


1. Inter Milan
2. Real Madrid
3. Stuttgart
4. Chelsea

5. Lazio
6. AEK Athens
7. Anderlecht

8. Dynamo Kiev
9. Rosenberg

10. Red Bull Salzburg
11. Steua
12. Genk
13. Levski Sofia
14. FH Hafnarfjorour
15. Ventspils
16. Levadia Tallinn

First round

Game 1 -- Inter Milan v Levadia
Game 2-- Real Madrid v Ventspils
Game 3 -- Stuttgart v FH Hafnarfjorour
Game 4 -- Chelsea v Levski Sofia
Game 5 -- Lazio v Genk
Game 6 -- AEK Athens v Steua
Game 7 -- Anderlect v Red Bull
Game 8 -- Dynamo Kiev v Rosenborg

Second round

Game 9 -- Game 1 winner v Game 8 winner
Game 10 -- Game 2 winner v Game 7 winner
Game 11 -- Game 3 winner v Game 6 winner
Game 12 -- Game 4 winner v Game 5 winner

Regional Semifinal

Game 13 -- Game 9 winner v. Game 12 winner
Game 14 -- Game 10 winner v. Game 11 winner

Regional Final

Game 15 -- Game 13 winner v Game 14 winner

Let’s play it out:

Inter v. Rosenborg
Real Madrid v Anderlecht
v. Steua
Chelsea v Lazio

Inter v Chelsea
Real v Stuttgart

Inter v. Real

Regional winner: INTER MILAN


Porto v Barcelona
Arsenal v Inter Milan

Barcelona v Inter

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Here's a quick tour of a small corner of the soccer blogosphere this morning. Lots of good takes out there today; check out all five:

Footballing World: Arsenal need their new Bergkamp to shine against Chelsea

Talking to the Doll (Benfica): Cesar Delgado By Hours

Center Holds It: Gimme a Boswell for a Cochrane

U.S. Soccer Spot: MLS Offseason Full of Excitement: Some Thoughts

Dave's Football Blog: ESPN's Attempt to Take Over World Football

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

England Closes In on Capello for Manager

The BBC and most of the English papers are reporting that Fabio Capello is thisclose to being named England manager and all that stands between Capello taking over is a matter of ironing out some fine print.

So the question that begs asking now that England apparently has its man: What took so long?

Steve McClaren has been gone for close to a month, and it was readily apparent to everyone except Brian Barwick that Jose Mourinho wasn't really interested in the job. So why on Earth did Barwick need to check with his panel of advisers on the qualifications of the candidates? Why did he need to wait for an official proclamation from Mourinho before flying in Capello?

Does Capello feel like he's second choice? Hopefully not. His resume is better than Mourinho's winning seven times in Italy, once in Spain, four Italian Cups, a Champions League and a European Supercup. He says the England job is a dream job, but he doesn't have the support of every Englishman. Some are still hesitant to hire an outsider. From the Telegraph:

LMA chief executive John Barnwell, however, believes that the choice of Capello would show that something is "deeply wrong" with the national game.

"Football is a worldwide game and internationals are about putting the best of your country against the best of another country - that includes players and coaches," he said. If you have to go and hire someone from another country, that devalues what you have done. If we are saying there is no English coach able to do the job then that is an indictment on our game.

"A lot of people in the game are going on about the number of foreign players in the Premier League having an adverse effect on England, and now it's looking as though we are going to appoint a foreign manager. It doesn't make sense."

Also from the Telegraph:

Former AC Milan and England striker Mark Hateley praised Capello but added a warning for England's big names. "Be very worried, be very worried - this man will not suffer fools," Hateley said. "He will drop people. He will bring people in you least expect him to bring in. He's not in this to pick individuals. He'll pick players that will balance up, and that's the problem we've had in the past, the fear of dropping the top stars."

Co-Hosts? Save it for Regis and Kelly

A few days ago, I shared blog space with Jeff from Center Holds It. He posted an entry I wrote on the idiocy of nations co-hosting major tournaments like the World Cup or European championships. It was hosted here; I suggest you check out Center Holds It, it's loaded with great takes on football. By the way, Jeff's post is here.

Below is the entry posted over there:

Soccer’s principal governing bodies, FIFA and UEFA, have fallen in love with the notion of co-hosts for their major championships. Blame UEFA because it was first with Belgium and the Netherlands hosting the 2000 Euro, but it didn’t take long for copycat FIFA to fall in line with the 2002 World Cup taking place in Japan and South Korea.

While it may be a noble gesture to allow two countries to experience big tournaments simultaneously, exposing both to more media attention and the opportunity for massive amounts of revenue, fans are left with a soul-less event. We’re left to suffer with an inferior tournament because of FIFA’s and UEFA’s transparent motives and decision to reward mediocrity.

Look no further than next summer’s Euro; Austria and Switzerland will co-host and also earned automatic qualification for the tournament. Under normal circumstances, neither nation would get in without paying for tickets. Austria has made one previous Euro, Switzerland three. Neither has ever finished in the top four, nor has either made it out of the initial group stage of the finals.

Yet there they’ll be next summer, occupying two spots normally reserved for deserving teams. And therein lies the problem with the concept of co-hosts. If 16, 24 or 32 teams are good enough to qualify for a tournament, and two of the spots are reserved for hosts with no business being in the competition, how does UEFA or FIFA look at Nos. 17, 25 or 33 with a straight face and tell them they don’t belong.

If UEFA’s logic, for example, is spreading the wealth and the experience of hosting the tournament, fair enough. But once the host nations are excused after three games, that’s really out the door. Right now, England, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belgium, Norway and exciting Israel are ranked higher than both Austria and Switzerland, and any of them would have a better showing than Austria or Switzerland, yet they’re on the outside looking in because of the decision to have co-hosts.

Sadly, this is a concept that isn’t going away any time soon. Poland and Ukraine are on tap to host the 2012 Euro, and Portugal and Spain are expected to make a bid for the 2018 World Cup [why? Portugal hosted a great Euro on its own in 2004.]

It’s time for FIFA and UEFA to find the courage to turn away these bids. If a country doesn’t have the infrastructure to host the game’s biggest tournaments, than it just doesn’t deserve them. It is doubtful fans would complain about somewhat permanent host nations for the Euro, in a rotation between say, England, Italy, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany. Same goes for the World Cup: Any of those European nations, along with the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, Japan, China and perhaps Australia.

To quote a funny guy: “Two of shit, is still shit.”

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Gerrard [House] Sacked

Someone clearly has access to a Mersyside address book. Steven Gerrard was the latest Liverpool player to have his home robbed while he was on the road.

The robbery took place yesterday during the Reds' 4-0 Champions League win over Marseille. Only problem: Gerrard's wife Alex Curran was in the house when four unarmed men invaded and made off with jewelry.

Already this year, Pepe Reina's house was broken into during a match and Dirk Kuyt's during a Netherlands match. Last year, Jerzy Dudek, Daniel Agger, Peter Crouch and Florent Sinama-Pongolle suffered similar incidents.

Anyone else smell an inside job? Anyone seen Bruce Grobbelaar?

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In

Some quick hits on tonight's show:

  • A take on the Premiership race and Liverpool--Nick think Rafa Benitez is brilliant in Europe, but still hasn't figured out how to win in the Premiership. Losing 3-1 to Reading is a head-scratcher to say the least. Granted it's Liverpool's first loss, but still, Rafa held out Gerrard and Torres in advance of today's Champions League game against Marseille. He's open to this kind of criticism.
  • Manchester United are the boys' current pick to win it all in England. United is scoring four goals a game and has a monster of a team that Sir Alex really has going on all gears. Stephen says United wins the double: England AND Europe
  • Chelsea, meanwhile, remains a bore! Rife with efficiency, Chelsea has lost just once since Mourinho's departure yet has still to light a fire under anyone with its performance on the pitch. Isn't this why Mourinho was let go? BTW, Shevchenko is destined for MLS, Nick says.
  • Arsenal, meanwhile, is destined to drop from the top of the heap in the Premiership. Stephen notes an easy schedule to start the season that is turning around now. Couple that with some crippling injuries and Arsenal is headed for a dip. Will Arsene Wenger spend during January? Maybe a keeper and a center back, Stephen says. Unlike Chelsea, which will be looking for strikers!
  • Nick says he still feels Rafa's on thin ice, and a caller backs him up saying they've spent a fortune on players, disrespected his owners and is losing to the Readings of the world.
Transfer Rumors:

  1. Arsenal needs a keeper and center back; looking at Ochoa of Mexico at keeper
  2. Man. U. needing a striker to move out Saha? Is he too fragile?
  3. Liverpool looking at Gabriele Rodriguez of Boca; the new Tevez?
  4. Chelsea? How about Anelka? Is this Grant's opportunity to make this "his" team and buy a few players to set that in motion? David Villa considering Valencia's mess?
  5. Tottenham has already spent a fortune, but can Juande Ramos squeeze in Alves?

Liverpool Pushes Through in Champions League; Steamroll Marseille, 4-0

Rafa Benitez put it to Liverpool from the moment the Reds stepped into the dressing room at the Velodrome stadium in Marseille today: treat the game like a cup final.

Having been in their share during Benitez's run at Liverpool, the Reds knew the necessary attitude and applied it early and often, securing a 4-0 win on the road as well as a spot in the knockout stage of the Champions League.

"When the manager says it's a cup final situation you know you have got to give everything you've got. From the goalkeeper to the front men, every one of us has done our job. We made it difficult for ourselves in this group. We are disappointed it came down to the last game. We needed to perform tonight. It was a performance full of character and hard work. We knew we'd got the quality so we're very happy with the performance."

Steven Gerrard uttered those words to the Sun following the match. Gerrard set the tone with a fourth minute penalty, which he missed but smacked home the rebound. Fernando Torres, Dirk Huyt and Ryan Babel also scored for Liverpool, which finished second in its group behind F.C. Porto, which blanked Besiktas, 2-0. Liverpool, 2005 winners, will face a group winner in the round of 16.

Reportedly, Liverpool's American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett were in France for the match and are expected to meet with Benitez regarding the January transfer window and Benitez's future with the club. Will they offer him a new deal? Will they spend according to Rafa's wishes? The Guardian has an analysis from this angle.

Is Jose Mourinho Waiting on a Bigger Prize?

Jose Mourinho reportedly took himself out of contention for the England job this week. With A.C. Milan’s shoddy form in Serie A, in particular at home, it seems inevitable Italian will be prominent on Jose’s menu for the next few years; possibly as early as the January break?

Mourinho, through his agent Jorge Mendes, said on Monday that his representatives met with the FA about the job, but ultimately decided against it, though he did call it a “wonderful job.”

It’s a classic negotiating ploy and it looks like Mourinho played it perfectly by feigning interest in the England job while driving up the price with the real apples of his eye: monster clubs like Milan or even Barcelona. I’ve written it before that Mourinho considers coaching on the national level and old man’s gig and that it was unlikely he was ever sincere in his interest in coaching England. Mourinho, in the end, is probably a better candidate than Fabio Capello or Marcello Lippi, if for no other reason, his command of the language and his intimate knowledge of English football.

That said, if Mourinho is some day destined for managing on the international level, it will be with Portugal. Luis Filipe Scolari will be at the helm of Portugal through next summer’s Euro and that will likely be it for the Brazilian. Expect Mourinho to whet his appetite enough on the domestic level until then, before settling in for the stretch run toward the 2010 World Cup.

By then, Portugal will be loaded for a world title and he might be enough to push it over the top. Consider, in 2010, Ronaldo will be dead-smack in his prime at 25 years old; Ricardo Quaresma will be 26; Nani, Miguel Veloso and Joao Moutinho, 24; Deco and Maniche could assume the veteran Luis Figo-type roles at 32. Other veterans will include Ricardo in goal, Paolo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho on defense, and Simao Sabrosa up front.

That’s the real golden generation, and with Mourinho at the rudder, a world title might be in the wings.

Check out josemourinhoblogspot.

101greatgoals has more as well.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Liverpool-Marseille: More Reds Magic in Store?

If Liverpool has more Champions League magic in reserve, it will have to bring it out in force tomorrow in France against Marseille. Sitting 13th in the French Ligue I, Marseille might seem like a pushover for the Reds, who have been in contention in the Premiership since Day 1. But Marseille are no pushovers. It has beaten Monaco and Metz, and tied Lille in its last three domestic matches. In Europe, it has beaten Besiktas and Liverpool and tied F.C. Porto. Marseille needs today’s match as much as Liverpool.

Oh You Beauty has its take on the Reds’ possible Starting Eleven:

Finnan Carragher Hyypia Arbeloa
Benayoun Gerrard Mascherano Babel
Kuyt Torres

With Agger and Alonso out, it’s arguable that this is Liverpool’s strongest XI. The only differences I contemplated were Kewell for Babel (I’ll still argue that Babel is better served coming off the bench, but he didn't feature at all on Saturday) and Voronin for Kuyt, as Voro’s done well in previous European games.

Of course, that means this probably won’t be the team, but I can’t see that many changes even if it’s not. Other than Babel and Voronin, Lucas and Riise are probably in contention, but I don’t see room in the starting line-up for say, Crouch or Sissoko, both of whom played 90 minutes on Saturday. We certainly won’t see a line-up like the one against Marseille at Anfield.

Personally, I’m rooting for the story. ESPN2 has the game live at 2:30 p.m. ET and there would be nothing better than tie score in the 80th minute and the two teams desperate for the goal that puts them through to the knockout stages. Liverpool thrives once the Champions League hits the final 16, and going in as a No. 2 seed, the Reds are bound to draw a tough foe in the next round. If it gets through, don’t be surprised to see Liverpool soar through to the final four; and how about a semifinal quartet with heavy English: United, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal? Sweet dreams; I think Inter, Real and Barca would have something to say about that.

Guest Post: MLS Designated Player Distracts Teams From Real Needs

I don't do nearly enough on MLS over here, but you'll get your fill today courtesy of Jeff over at Center Holds It. He and I are swapping posts this week; could be a regular happening too. He's already posted my entry over on his blog, my take on what I believe to be the idiocy of nations co-hosting major tournaments. I invite you to link on over there and have a read after, of course, you've digested Jeff's entry below.

Incidentally, if anyone else would like to post here and host one of mine, speak up! Here's Jeff's post:

Like a lot of people employed by Major League Soccer (MLS), as well as thousands of us observers, I’m still trying to sort out what I think about the designated player rule. But I’m also finding that the more I think about it, the more complications, big and small, that I see.

The latest one came to me as I reviewed DC United’s season, specifically, as I considered where they needed to improve their team. That’s on defense, as I see it: United has plenty of offensive firepower, but a variety of defensive issues have thwarted their “real” championship bids for the past two seasons (e.g their shot at MLS Cup). And, according to what I’m seeing, it’s a lack of organization that plagues this team as opposed to a problem with the individual parts. So, under normal circumstances, DC would go out and find a player - logically and/or ideally, the best one they could find and afford - to organize their back three, or four...or whatever it is they’ll play in 2008.

But, according to credible reports, the team is about to use their designated player slot to sign Juan Sebastian Veron, a midfield player who will more likely than not feature in their attack. And that’s the problem with the designated player rule: it distorts teams’ priorities, pulling their attention and resources toward “sexy” players when they’re not necessarily a given team’s first need. To put this in more concrete terms, DC United is on the verge of acquiring Veron when it’s someone closer to Lubos Kubik they’re needing.

Take away the question of what a specific team needs and Veron is precisely the kind of player for which the designated player rule was created: high-profile, exciting, and so on. That’s just another part of the rule’s complicated effect on roster decisions. Quite apart from his injury woes, Claudio Reyna’s designated player status caused a minor controversy (add the injuries and you’re getting into major controversy territory). Between Reyna’s position not generating a lot of eye-catching statistics and his limited capacity for putting butts in seats (“the greatest holding mid in U.S. history? Sweet!”), he’s immediately raised the issue of whether the “special money” spent on him tallied up in terms of increased attention and revenues. It almost becomes a question less of what your team needs than who it is they can get and how well he sells. And facts are facts: it’s hard enough to push a holding midfielder; what chance does a defender have?

This isn’t a strict either-or proposition, of course; for instance, there’s nothing to stop DC United from both signing Veron and rebuilding their defense. And, if you check the comments in my DC United review, you’ll see a fairly sound theory for how Veron could help keep pressure of DC’s defense (I’m not sold, but that’s another post). But that may or may not work out, so this remains a proposition of allocating finite resources. With their balance tilting toward forwards and midfielders - hardly irregular, but DC’s might tilt a little more than most (take away Vanney’s $237K chunk and the rest of DC’s defense pulls down $225K combined) - that leaves them fairly little money to leverage into better individual players, never mind the player DC needs - e.g. someone with the experience and savvy to make those players work. That Veron will add more than $125K to the midfielder/forward side of the equation only complicates things a little more.

So, that’s what I’m seeing: DC has a need and money to spend to fill it, but there’s this weird rule in place - that’s the DP rule - that muddies the logic of the rebuilding process. The more I think about it, the more the designated player rule looks like a marketing vehicle that should be replaced with a higher general salary cap.

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Fabio Cappello Opportunistic in Defense of Real Madrid's Raul

Real Madrid seven points clear in LaLiga after its 1-0 win over Atletico Bilbao, but the real noise coming out of Spain is courtesy of former Madrid manager and England contender Fabio Capello.

Capello, firing back at his former bosses in Spain, says it was he who rebuffed efforts to loan out the Spanish legend. Capello claims management was down on Raul, that is performance on the field didn't match his salary. Not to mention that he is old [29!]. In hindsight, Capello was correct. Raul is second in the scorer's table in Spain with 9 goals and Madrid is on track for another championship.

Capello wrote in a column this weekend in an Italian paper:

"In the first meeting I had with the club president (Ramon Calderon) and the technical staff I expressed my doubts about what they told me and said that a 30-year-old player of his class and personality was vital for the team. But they told me he was a player in decline."

Soccerlens has a good take on Raul, noting he's been with the club since 14 and that Capello was firing back at criticism leveled by Madrid brass.

Capello is trying to look noble in defending and propping up a football great, who by the way, needs no help in either department. One has to wonder if Capello would have written the same thing if Raul had one goal and minimal playing time this season?

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Arsenal Loses; But is Gunners' Ship Sinking?

The inevitable happened: Arsenal lost. Liverpool too. There are no more unbeatens in the Premiership and the Gunners' lead is down to one.

'Boro handed Arsenal its first setback this weekend, 2-1. Arsenal is in the midst of a four-game swing away from the Emirates and is headed for a crucial top-of-the-table clash with Chelsea, sans Drogba unfortunately. Arsenal too is shorthanded. Flamini, Hleb, and Fabregas are hurt and it's unknown how many will be back for Chelsea on Sunday.

Gunner Blog runs down the excuses in short order for you, even insinuating that Toure was tired three minutes in against 'Boro and that led him to concede a penalty and the first goal of the game. At least Arsenal fans aren't panicking, nor should they. It's one loss and Arsenal is still top of table. United is coming on strong, but for now, all is well.

Arsenal Pies, however, is stirring things up. He wants Jens Lehman in goal Wednesday in the Champions League and ultimately reinstated as No. 1. He recalls Lehman's lament of early this season when he said Manuel Almunia had never won a big match for Arsenal. With Chelsea looming on Sunday, does Arsene Wenger have a choice to make here? Does Lehman deserve a chance at least Wednesday?

Doubtful. Arsenal has been the team to beat this season in the Premiership and Wenger won't panic in the midst of a tough stretch, where again, Arsenal has lost ONLY one game. Reactionary managers who take their advice from fans soon find themselves sitting with the fans.

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Friday, December 7, 2007

Hope Solo Mending Fences with U.S. Women's Team

Associated Press has an informative interview with Hope Solo, the U.S. women's keeper banished from the team following her abrasive comments after the U.S.'s 4-0 loss to Brazil in the World Cup semifinals.

Solo's story has been hashed and re-hashed. She spouted off after Ryan's head-scratcher of a roster move, inserting ancient Brianna Scurry between the posts in the semifinal in favor of Solo; not to mention the fact that the U.S. had not been beaten in 50 matches. Scurry was abysmal, the U.S. was equally pathetic, and excused from the World Cup. Not surprisingly, Ryan did not survive his blunder, despite his stellar record.

Solo's father had died in June and she wanted desperately to win the World Cup for him. It's a sad tale especially after the U.S. gets so far on Solo's goalkeeping, and she was snatched away just as things were getting good. The rest of the interview covers her attempts to mend fences with her teammates and re-establish herself as the U.S.'s No. 1 keeper as it tries to secure a spot in the Olympics.

All well and good, but the interview I want to read is with Greg Ryan. Now that a few months have passed and he's had time to reflect on the mess he made, perhaps he'd care to reflect on the biggest coaching mistake in football history? Yes, that's not hyperbole; I think it's the biggest blunder of all time when you consider the stakes. If it were the men's World Cup, we'd still be talking about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Jose Mourinho and England: A (Not-So) Perfect Match

Jose Mourinho wants the England job. Jose Mourinho doesn't want the England job.

John Terry wants him. Michael Essien wants him. Brian Barwick wants him--maybe--if John Toshak says it's OK.

The FA's floundering over naming a replacement for Steve McClaren is getting comical, especially as word filters out about the ad hoc advisory board Brian Barwick has assembled to consult on whether Mourinho, Fabio Capello or Martin O'Neill are qualified. If your phone is ringing, it could be ol' B.B.

In the meantime, crazy like a fox Mourinho is using all his special powers to manipulate the process. He allows his press advisor/agent/lacky/friend Eladio Paremes to leak word that he'd be honored to be approached by England. Taking the job is another thing entirely.

Mourinho has said that coaching national sides is an old man's job and he's not ready for that stage of his career--yet. Mourinho has unfinished business in club football. He wants another Champions League title, preferably with a Barcelona or A.C. Milan club of that stature. Clearly, he's using the FA to pump up potential offers from the real apples of his eye.

Barcelona is an interesting option. They continue to flail in Spain and Frank Rijkaard's days maybe numbered. There's a lot of "special" on that team already with Messi and Ronaldinho; adding Mourinho completes the picture nicely, no?

In the meantime, England's hopes are high Mourinho returns in some fashion to their country. Apparently, football is not as interesting as it used to be.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Betting Scandal Envelops Liverpool Win over Besiktas

Have Asian mobsters gotten to players on the Besiktas team? Could be; Europol is investigating Liverpool's 8-0 Champions League win over the small Turkish side, whose players are not in the same tax bracket as Anfield's boys.

Big money came in on "the over" for last month's group stage match. Liverpool hammered Besiktas and still has a chance to hop into the knockout stage because of its outrageous goal difference heading into next week's final group stage matches.

Were Besiktas players on the take? Did they lay down? If Michel Platini had enough to turn it over to Euro authorities, maybe they did.

No one is talking right now on either side; Liverpool says it hasn't been contacted--but why would they. You can't bribe someone to win in football!! The scary thing is that frequency with which this is being made public. None of us should be naive to think betting doesn't influence sport. But it's getting to levels where major matches are being impacted and big money is moving. Worse is the intimidation and blackmail levied against players from smaller organizations.

It will be interesting to see how UEFA reacts in the longterm here. It has a lot to lose obviously if the integrity of the game is in question. But a more important issue is on the people level. What will it do to shelter players and clubs from the influence of organized crime? How can it safeguard its product from these influences?

This should be priority No. 1 for Mssr. Platini.

Here's some history: Good read on the 1915 British football betting scandal.

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Euro 2008 Draw Analysis: Group A

So I'll refrain from more talk about how this draw was rigged [yeah, yeah, putting Italy, France and Holland in the same group sends one of the big boys home early, but with 16 teams, something like this was inevitable; the tournament starts with the knockout round and it's there the top eight are guaranteed a spot]. I'll dive into Group A where Portugal, the Czech Republic, Turkey and Switzerland are nested.

Portugal was less than enthralling as it slogged through its group in qualifying for another continental championship. I still shake my head how '04 Greece beat this team twice--how on earth did they win the final in Lisbon against that team of studs? Finishing second to Poland and edging out Finland--which still had a chance to sneak in if enough cards fell in their direction!

Portugal has been gigantic in the last two major championships, reaching the '04 Euro final and the '06 World Cup semis--which I still say it should have won. Italy may still have won the final, but Portugal was the better team.

It should win this group with ease, but can Portugal turn it on at will. They have a year to fine-tune things and this figures to be Scolari's swan song with the team. Do they win the whole thing for him on the way out? You gotta figure Jose Mourinho is in for the 2010 World Cup, that Scolari's would have had enough by then, especially if they don't win next summer, that he'd be excused from his duties?

The Czechs, meanwhile, are always in the hunt--they were semifinalists in 2004 and are always one of those teams to avoid. They won their qualifying group--edging out Germany--and are solid front to back. They'll be a year older next summer, and that's not good news for a veteran team. Jan Koller can still score goals and Tomas Rosicky bears watching in the midfield. And don't forget a healthy Petr Cech.

If these two take care of Turkey and Switzerland, then the Portugal-Czech game on June 11 is irrelevant.

Turkey, though, is the wild card in this group. This ain't the same team that finished third in the World Cup of '02. Heck, they're probably through in this tournament because of having the good fortune of being seeded in a group with Norway, Moldova and Malta. Someone had to get through!

The Swiss, well, the Swiss are in because they're the hosts. Same goes for Austria. Let's have the joint-bid discussion another day.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In, Part II

Inter-Roma play tomorrow in Italy, and Inter figures to start pulling away. Stephen says Juventus is a sham team and "punching above its head" in third place right now. Roma, however, has Totti back, is second in their Champions League group and one of those teams no one will want to play in the knockout round. Roma closes out against Manchester United and one has to wonder about potential trouble given last year's mess. The game is meaningless since things are settled in that group, and hopefully the English fans stay away. AC Milan, speaking of messes, are a mile back in Serie A and one has to wonder how long it takes for them to again shift focus toward the Champions League?

  • One vote for the Premiership as the world's most competitive league. But what the callers are missing is that the question is really asking about the depth of the league, not the dominance of a top three or four teams.
  • I don't know if I'll hang in for the whole show, but I know they have favorite announcers on their agenda tonight. I want to go old school for a minute. Anyone remember Toby Charles and Soccer Made in Germany. I was really young, but I remember watching this match-of-the-week style show every Saturday afternoon and Toby Charles' voice was awesome. He really helped introduce football to me and the Bundesliga as well. I did some Googling on Toby and he retired a couple of years ago at age 68 for health reasons. Cheers to Toby Charles, here's hoping he comfortable.
  • I liked Seamus Malin back in the day because he seemed to really know the game, at least more than his American counterpart doing the NASL or US men's telecast. His lost a bit on his fastball of late, but still a quality announcer.
  • This brings us to Derek Rae. Hmm. I'm just not sure about Derek; I swear that accent is phony. I know he's from Scotland, speaks German and rolls his Rs with the best of them, but his schtick seems like pretense. He's a big fish in a small pond that is football on ESPN. He's found a great niche for himself, and I guess he's the best we've got. But watch a game on FSC from England for example, and the gap is considerable between Rae and the best of the rest.
  • And let's not even start on ol' Tommy "Onion Bag" Smythe.

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Live Blogging: Fox Football Fone-In

The show kicks off with talk about the match-fixing allegations in Europe and how the matches in question were in Eastern and Southern European nations, particularly the former Soviet states. Stephen also notes reports of odd betting patterns from the Far East--Hong Kong, Singapore.

So far only minor Euro qualifiers, Intertoto Cup matches and a Champions League qualifier are under investigation, but this opens a nasty can of worms. A former betting shop employee rang in with some interesting comments, in particular one where the house would stop taking bets once a weird pattern is noticed; too much liability to assume.

Clearly, without a goalie or referee, or both, in the bag, a scheme has no hope. And this story has no legs unless some major names fall. Much like steroids in baseball, no one cared until a connection was made to Barry Bonds.

  • Is the Premiership the most competitive league in the world? That's tonight's poll question.
  • Euro predictions: Stephen--Germany; Nick--Germany. Dark horses--Croatia and Italy [Don't see how the world champions are dark horses, but...]
  • Kaka is the Balon d'Or winner but Stephen says he won this game for his performance in the second leg against Manchester United in the Champions League. Nick says Ronaldo was the best player in the world while Stephen counters with Riquelme, counting his international duties as well. Remember his performance at Copa America? But that reasoning falls short -- this is for European performances. Messi? Nick slams his Hand of God goal and says that cost him. Ronaldo finished third behind Messi, but he's probably the best choice. United doesn't win the Premiership without him and he's carrying the team in the Champions League right now.
  • Callers aren't falling for the poll question. Right now they say the Premiership is not the world's most competitive.
  • Messi is the most exciting, dynamic player from a fan's perspective, a caller says, but Ronaldo is probably more deserving--and he's right.
  • Another good point: Milan was docked points on match fixing and was able to focus solely on the Champions League, which also helped Kaka's visibility to win such an award.

United They Stand? United They Poach?

Manchester United's poaching at Sporting Lisbon is heating up. President Filipe Soares teed off on former Sporting and Portugal manager Carlos Queiroz, Sir Alex's henchman, for comments Queiroz made about Miguel Veloso, Sporting's young defender.

It's no secret Veloso is the latest apple of Ferguson's eye, and brashly, Queiroz said so recently. Soares swears Sporting will reject United's overtures once the Silly Season starts in January. We'll see about that one. The 20 million euros Veloso would likely fetch would nicely fatten up Sporting's coffers.

United has successfully used Sporting as a farm club: see Ronaldo, Nani.

Soares said: "[Veloso] has a contract and he's going to honor it. He will not be for sale in the January transfer window. He'll only be sold when someone pays his £20million buy-out clause. Carlos Queiroz is an employee of Manchester United and made an unacceptable insinuation."

Queiroz didn't stop at Veloso, however. He said Joao Moutinho, Porto's Ricardo Quaresma, Bruno Alves and Bosingwa are also United prospects.

A cap on foreign players in England doesn't make much sense if you're looking at it from a capitalist's point of view, but this will definitely fuel more debate over whether the proposal has viability.

I'm not going to get on my soapbox about the Sporting Academy; you can search my blog for more comments. But jeez, this is starting to look like collusion between United and Sporting, and the conspiracy theorist in me says Soares is calling foul with tongue in cheek. Sporting has never had a problem selling off the best of its crop, why start now?

Pontape na Logica has more on this (in Portuguese).
Maisfutebol has a Q&A with Queiroz (in Portuguese).

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Monday, December 3, 2007

England's Next Manager is?

Martin Samuel of the Times of London is quickly becoming a must-read in my daily Web surfing. His take on the FA's search for an England manager is spot-on, as usual. I'll let Mr. Samuel tell it:
If [FA chief executive Brian] Barwick genuinely needed a third party to tell
him that José Mourinho and Fabio Capello are half-decent managers, he should
not be in the job. If he required an outsider to vouch for Martin O’Neill,
he has not been paying attention. Barwick acknowledges that the
process for selecting the last England head coach was wrong, but has failed to
appreciate that no single procedure will be right every time. The key is to
respond to events. As befits a football job, this is about tactics. Barwick’s are all over the place, like the bloke he appointed to succeed
Sven-Göran Eriksson.
For those of you not paying attention, it's been two weeks since England was eliminated from the Euro 2008, and more than a year since Steve McClaren started sucking as England manager.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Euro 2008 Draw Analysis: Group of Death

Waking up early was worth it Sunday morning. Not necessarily because the Euro 2008 draw was sitting there waiting for me on ESPN2, but mere for the entertainment value of watching eight grown men swirl hollow soccer balls about a bowl and pull out the names and group placements of the 16 Euro finalists.

When you see watch these things, it's difficult not to by cynical. When the balls are emptied and you see suspicion manifested as hosts Austria are paired with Germany and Switzerland paired with Turkey. Austria isn't long for the tournament, but gets its glory day with Germany for the sake of the tournament. Same goes for the Swiss, its gets a rematch on home soil with Turkey; remember Turkey players attacking the Swiss during a World Cup qualifier two years ago?

Then we get a legitimate Group of Death. Granted, with 16 teams, it's difficult not to get some juicy pairings, but c'mon: Netherlands, France AND Italy? Italy and France, for some reason, are conjoined at the touch line. Roberto Donadoni said it flat-out: "I had a feeling it would turn out this way." And Holland, well Holland is always in the Group of Death. Remember last year's World Cup: Argentina, Holland, Ivory Coast and Serbia.

This is excess at its best--or is it worst? Rather, well, I'll say it: this is rigged. It's well thought out, well planned and well executed. I don't buy the luck-of-the-draw explanations. I won't swallow that Dino Zoff wasn't a pawn in UEFA's game! No, no, no. There's a master plan at work here.

opens against Romania and Italy tangles with Holland. France then gets Holland, while Italy has its turn against Romania, setting up the World Cup final rematch between Italy and France. Thank God this game cannot go to penalty kicks! Anyone seen Zizou? If the game's lacking any drama, maybe France can pry the gifted one out of retirement.

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