Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Arsenal Out For Redemption Against
F.C. Porto in Champions League

Who says football can’t teach you stuff?

For instance, once today’s Arsenal-Porto match in Group G is done, we’ll know if the Gunners come equipped with an on-off switch. You know those devices: teams flick them to the “off” position against lesser opponents. They play down to the level of their competition, and usually lose in embarrassing fashion in front of their home fans, only to come back three days later, flick the switch to “on”, and pull off an important win in international competition.

It’s kinda like hitting the Staples Easy Button.

Apparently, that’s what Arsenal has planned for today agianst the Portuguese champions. Don’t believe this? Just ask Kolo Toure. The Gunners fullback says he was scared to play against Hull, the newly promoted team that came into the Emirates on Saturday and pulled out a 2-1 win from under the feet of Arsene Wenger’s men. Toure also says that sometimes people–not the players of course–play out games before the whistle blows. Since reading between the lines should be a requirement for all of us, here’s an unsolicited interpretation of Toure’s statement: Arsenal figured it had the game in the bag, figured it could just roll the ball out and beat Hull, and essentially fell on its face in doing so.

The question today is whether Wenger can locate that elusive “on” switch and get his boys going again in the right direction.

Wenger has already publicly bashed his club, promising changes to his lineup and hinting that Robbie Van Persie, for example, might not have a place in the Gunners’ starting eleven today. Wenger, who said he was physically sick following the Hull defeat, has already pulled back from that notion, mere hours before kickoff. Instead, he’s challenged his players to prove their class and establish themselves as contenders to win the Champions League.

“We had a disappointing result against Hull, but I have been sitting on the bench long enough to know that if we’d played that match 100 times we’d lose it once,” Wenger said.

Fair enough, but even Wenger at his most optimistic has to realize that Porto is no pushover. And even Wenger at his best can’t guarantee that his players will ramp up their play on command.

A perennial threat in the Champions League, Porto has won twice and has two draws in the Portuguese Liga. With eight points, Porto is one point out of the lead in Portugal; it trails Sporting and Nacional. Ironically, Porto travels to Lisbon on Sunday for a clash against Sporting, which hosts Basel tomorrow in Group C. Porto beat up on bottom feeders Pacos Ferreira over the weekend; apparently Porto has no problems locating its “on” switch.

We’ll see if Arsenal can do the same today.

“We learned from the [Hull] game that in fact you need the Champions League focus in every single match. If we are guilty of something it’s maybe not getting our focus to the right level to take our chances,” Wenger said. “I believe we should not make too much of the result. We lost the game but we have enough strength within the club and within the team to deal with that.”

This post originally appeared at Champions League Talk.

Subscribe in a reader

Monday, September 29, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Champions League takes center stage today with all eyes on Arsenal and how it recovers from this weekend's shocking home defeat to Hull--If Arsenal does beat Porto today, and since Hull beat Arsenal, does that mean Hull beats Porto too? Hmmm.
  • Deco really needs to learn how to shut up. At least that's what's going to happen if Arsenal loses today to Porto. Two weeks ago, he was advising Sporting on how to beat Barcelona and we all saw how that turned out. Now he's touting Porto to upend Arsenal today in the Champions League. Premiership Latest has the drudge from Deco.
  • CL The Offside points out that the Group of Death is in action today, and wonders whether French champs Lyon have recovered from its opening match. Lyon takes on Bayern today while Fiorentina takes on Steaua Bucharest.
  • Soccer by Ives has an outlook on every game today and suggests you keep an eye on Celtic, Porto and Zenit today; all three could go a long way toward determining their fate.
  • Champions League 2008-09 Blog has a good look at today's Aalborg-United match. This is Aalborg's second foray into the CL and the first time it hosts United. Aalborg are upstarts in this tournament already, having draw 0-0 at Celtic Park on Matchday One.
  • Soccernews points out that United is undermanned going into Denmark today with Owen Hargreaves and Gary Neville on the sidelines with knee and ankle injuries.
  • Reddevil says Wayne Rooney's goal Saturday could be the turning point for United.
  • Predictions? Someone ask for predictions? Soccerlens delivers some for today and tomorrow's matches.
  • Football Cup League has a roundup of all of today's matches as well; Real at Zenit is the spiciest match of the day.
  • Soccerlens also has a neat look at club sponsorships in the Premier League and some of the unique sponsorship opportunities availble.
  • Like lists? Everybody loves a good list! The Offside tells you 10 things they learned from the Premier League.
  • Serie A Talk has a great look at Milan's win over Inter and wonders if this finally puts Ronaldinho back in everyone's consciousness?
  • Matt Johnston analyzes some news coming out of the MLS owners meeting and illuminates three problems that need fixing.
  • Hitting up Soccer by Ives again, he connects Las Vegas and Columbus, Ohio with the news that a Vegas investment group has its eye on the Crew.
  • It's not a blog, but Soccernet is reporting that former England coach Sven-Goren Eriksson was ready to manipulate the system and get uncapped foreign-born players enlisted on the England national team via a loophole in FIFA regs. Wonder what the reaction in England would have been to that one?
  • And finally, one more from Soccernet to close it out: They're reporting that Arsenal defender Kolo Toure says he was scared to play Hull, which ended up winning at the Emirates 2-1 this weekend. Toure sensed some complacency apparently, and pointed out that sometimes "players play the game before it's started, and that's a problem."

Subscribe in a reader

Mailbag Meandering on Tevez Ruling,
South Africa World Cup, Mourinho and More

I've been rude. Like single dudes who live alone and infrequently receive guests, I don't get many comments on my posts. But to those who do take the time to leave thoughtful--even thoughtless--comments, I should do better to acknowledge them.

So in a shameless attempt to encourage more correspondence with this space, I'm going to open the mailbag this morning and share some of the better comments and attempt to answer each with some analysis, thought and wit.

Here goes:

9lives wrote in response to West Ham, Carlos Tevez Ruling a Dangerous Precedent:
Well written article. I take the viewpoint that the initial ruling was wrong, that a club who broke the rules should have been deducted points. Middlesbrough called off a game about 11 years ago because they had a depleted squad through illness. They were punished with a 3 point deduction that contributed to their relegation. One cannot of course state with any degree of accuracy that a player contributed any more than his potential replacement might have. But that's why rules are there; to maintain an equal playing field and a degree of fairness.
With regards to Atwell's shocking decision last weekend, it's accepted that these decisions even themselves out over the season. All we can do is accept that flawed logic. The Sheffield United case is different - they never had the opportunity to "even" the playing field by recruiting a player who was not entitled to play for them. Cheers.
Reply: Funny how the experts trotted out before Lord Griffiths couldn't manage to keep their own teams afloat as managers; whatcha say Graham Taylor and Frank Clark? As for my writing, me mum was big on penmanship.

Anonymous wrote in response to Unrest Around 2010 World Cup in South Africa Mounts After President Resigns:
The fact is that SA has its fair share of issues to overcome - but the country is about far more than the sum of its problems. SA is still the closest any African country will get, in a comparison to 1st world hosts. The importance of bringing an event like this to Africa is not so much about providing a spectacle for rich countries, but about providing sustained upliftment for a society whose largest problems can all be traced back to poverty. Whatever the cause of that poverty, the fact is that the only way out of it is forward movement, not retrospection and nay-saying.
So you might need to take a little longer to get to your game - but think about the guy who had to drive you there, his family and his children. Think about the fact that he will be earning a living because of you.
Isn't it maybe worthwhile putting the good of a nation, and it's people before your personal schedule? It is easy to stand on the fringe and criticize, rather show your support for a collective effort and commit to attending the event.
Reply: True, this is a character boost for South Africa, and if the tournament goes off without a hitch, likely it would spur a spike in tourism and bump the economy a bit. But let's inject a bit of realism via rhetorical questions here: Is the World Cup going to solve South Africa's poverty crisis? Or crime? No one wants to yank the World Cup away for the sake of doing it; no one! But isn't a just black eye to the country if the infrastructure isn't ready and organization is a shambles?
As for me getting to the games on time, I'll be plopped on my couch watching the matches -- unless of course you're offering to bring me over. I accept...

Jonathan Wallace wrote in response to: Mourinho: Master Manipulator, Master Manager, Masterful
Exactly! Its nice to see someone else appreciate him for what he represents. Unbridled confidence. If more people possessed it, the world would be a better place for it.
Reply: I'll say it again, Mourinho is a manager of men, and not necessarily always his own. He's picking scraps with guys from clubs big and small; Juventus' Claudio Ranieri was his latest target. Apparently, Jose doesn't think Ranieri speaks the English too good. Classic.
And no, Jonathan Wallace is not my brother, father, nor is he my uncle.

And finally, Aravind responds to Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup:
Pretty impressive collection of blog posts. Well done dude. I'm subscribing.
Reply: Awesome Aravind; consider yourself an army of one. And no, Aravind is not my brother, father, nor is he my uncle.

Subscribe in a reader

Friday, September 26, 2008

Jack, Chloe and 24 Teams in the Euro

24? The only 24 I want see has that crazy Chloe hacker chick and Keifer Sutherland saving the day with his man bag full of junk and the cell phone battery that won't die.

24 teams in the Euro?

No thanks.

But starting in 2016 and beyond, that's what you're going to get. Franz Beckenbauer confirmed it yesterday that UEFA today will ratify that the European championship finals will expand to 24 teams, up eight teams from the current 16.

Talk about messing with as close to football perfection as you're gonna get. Talk about fixing something that ain't broken. Euro is a steadfast second to the World Cup in terms of competitiveness and fan interest. Some, dare say, that it's a better tournament. And in many respects, it is. With four groups of four and the top two in each group advancing to the quarterfinals, you have perfect synergy. You have three group games that are intense and leave no margin for error. Toss in the fact that the groups aren't watered down with minnows, and you have the "perfect tournament."

But we're talking like fans, aren't we? We're not talking like executives, big shots with debts to a ledger sheet. Money talks and Euro swells.

With 24 teams, the tournament grows to 51 matches vs. the 31 we have now. Of the 53 teams that make up UEFA, close to half will now make up the continental final. Suddenly, UEFA has turned into the NHL and NBA, where everybody is invited to the playoffs.

So kick back and get ready for Andorra, Malta, Cyprus and a host of former Soviet republics to challenge for spots in the Euro finals. At least England and Ireland have a better shot of getting in--if that's a bright spot.

Subscribe in a reader

Thursday, September 25, 2008

West Ham, Carlos Tevez Ruling
a Dangerous Precedent

Other things Carlos Tevez is responsible for:

Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Goldman Sachs, AIG, cicadas, Hurricane Ike and this nasty scratch on my arm.

If he's the sole reason Sheffield United was relegated, then surely, he's the reason all those oil refineries shut down in the Gulf of Mexico and gasoline hovers near $3.75 a gallon where I live. It's his fault my 401K is shit and why hundreds of bean counters are collecting unemployment today.

Surely it's his fault. Just ask the geniuses who applied the most flawed of change logic models to Sheffield United's arbitration hearing. Sheffield was relegated on the final day of the 2006-07 season as Tevez potted the game-winner at Manchester United to seal Sheffield's fate in the standings. Earlier West Ham had been fined 5.5 million pounds for fielding Tevez and Javier Mascherano who were declared ineligible because of some shady and complicated transfer machinations.

Sheffield officially went down because of Tevez's final-day heroics, but surely there had to be a dozen other games that season where some striker missed a sitter, or some defender blew coverage on a corner that cost the team points. The absurdity of the ruling and the compensation reportedly headed to the club is criminal.

Martin Samuel in the Times of London today brilliantly lays it out with an appropriate dash of sarcasm, wit and biting truth. He shines a dim light on the tribunal led by The Right Honorable The Lord Griffiths that made this decision. It's a must read; here's a taste:

"Yesterday, a tribunal led by Griffiths found that one player - Carlos Tévez - had decided the Premier League relegation issue in 2006-07, as fact. Not as opinion. Not with any vague doubt that the hundreds of other footballers, managers and coaches who were involved might have had some impact, too. Not with any pretence to evaluate their presence. Griffiths said that Sheffield United went down because of Tévez. He, and two friends, then replayed the season in their mighty minds and, despite all of this action taking place in a hypothetical dimension, prepared to hand down a finite punishment, payable in hard cash. Be warned, this is what happens when you invite lawyers to the party."

More importantly, what Samuel lays out later in the piece is that the precedent has been set that relegation could be taken away from being decided on the pitch. Last Sunday's Reading-Watford fiasco where referee Stuart Atwell awarded Reading a phantom goal on a sequence that no more threatened the Watford goal than I did from here 3,000 miles away.

So what happens if Reading keeps another team from promotion to the Premier League by one point, as Samuel asks? Back to the courts we go? What happens if a hard foul costs a club its star player and said club falls 3 points short of the Premiership title? Lawyers on speed dial?

The sheer idiocy of this situation is stunning. Sports is supposed to be self-regulated, and to go outside long-established perimeters is disrespectful to the game, fans and obscene. Shame on Sheffield United for pursuing this in the courts, and shame on the FA for not exerting more pressure to put a halt to this fiasco. The line in the sand has been drawn, and this situation just invites anyone to step right over it.

Subscribe in a reader

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Unrest Around 2010 World Cup in South Africa Mounts After President Resigns

It's going to take more than a dopey leopard mascot to ease the anxiety and uncertainty over South Africa's bid to successfully host the 2010 World Cup. Political reasons have marred this endeavor from the beginning, and you can be sure contingency plans are in place to hold the tournament in the U.S. or Germany, or somewhere else that's prepared in case it gets yanked out from under the South Africans.

The latest blow came yesterday when President Thabo Mbeki and 11 members of his cabinet quit their posts, including finance minister Jabu Moleketi, who was running the books for the World Cup. Not good.

Worse yet, Moleketi oversees construction of physical and transportation infrastructure and he has hinted he won't continue in that role under a new government.

FIFA, meanwhile, is saying it's a manageable situation and it's already talking with a possible replacement, African National Congress boss Jacob Zuma. BTW, Zuma is being prosecuted on corruption charges.

Nothing like a stable atmosphere for your organization's biggest event, which just happens to be the world's biggest sporting tournament behind the Olympics.

Not only has government unrest cast a pall over the organization of the Cup, but violence against tourists is a perennial problem. Yet, South Africa continues to put on a happy face and play down these problems. It is also ignoring the governemnt's support of Zimbabwe and its dictator Robert Mugabe; some liken this situation to the attention the plight in Tibet drew during the Olympics. The New York Times op-ed page has addressed this issue and called for the Cup to be removed from South Africa unless Mugabe step down.

It's sad that football has to become a political stage, and it's something to be avoided, usually at all costs. But the 2010 World Cup has disaster written all over it. FIFA is steadfast in keeping the tournament in South Africa, but at what cost? Will tourists be in danger by the out of control crime? Will the infrastructure be a nightmare, and transport between venues impossible? Does the fact that the tournament is allowed to remain in South Africa indicate a condoning of the political and oppressive situation in the country by FIFA and football fans as a whole?

These are difficult questions that no one is answering. South Africa has 21 months to get its act together; may sound like a long time, but that clock is ticking--loudly.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mourinho: Master Manipulator,
Master Manager, Masterful

With a journalism background, I'd like to think I'm pretty sensitive to B.S. I'd like to think I have this little internal sensor that goes off whenever someone is trying to sneak one past me. Most times, I'm on the money.

Can't the same be said for the rest of humanity, unfortunately.

While most people can be cynical, very few do it professionally.

That's why it's astounding the uproar and attention a pissing match between Inter manager Jose Mourinho and Catania chief executive Pietro Lo Monaco gets in the press and on message boards. Mourinho is probably a better manipulator of the media and fans than he is a football manager -- and that's saying something.

Mourinho won't likely win any sportsmanship awards, but when it comes to gamesmanship, he's an ace. Immediately his antics deflect attention his way, and away from his players. When he rebuffs Catania as an also-ran in Serie A (they are, aren't they?), he becomes the story and not the fact that his team barely slipped past an also-ran on a phantom goal. Manipulation.

Plus, he's gosh-darned entertaining. Take this gem about Lo Monaco from Gazzetta dello Sport:

"Monaco who? I known Bayern Monaco (Italian for Bayern Munich), Monaco of Monte Carlo and the 'monaci' (Italian for monks) of Tibet, the Monaco Grand Prix. ... If this Monaco wants to get on the front page, he should know I don't hand out free publicity. I don't like to instigate, but I don't like to be provoked. And I know I'm someone who sells, who gets attention. Take that Lo Monaco. He got himself on CNN for free. Fantastic, no?"

See, I don't mind the bravado. I don't mind the bluster and I don't mind the "Special" claims. Why? Because he walks the walk. What's the famous Chelsea t-shirt? 6 Trophies, 3 Seasons? Tack on two titles in Portugal, a domestic cup there and oh yeah, the UEFA Cup and Champions League title, and the guy has plenty to boast about.

So why does it bother us so? Why don't more people find him refreshing and entertaining? I'm not a Porto fan, nor an Inter fan; I guess I am a Mourinho fan. And it's probably because I like big personalities, I like winners and I like people who back it up. I don't like underdogs and minnows spoiling the World Cup by somehow sneaking in via Oceania and then losing all three group matches 4-nil. Not my idea of fun.

I've said my piece, but I'll leave you with a final thought from Mourinho:

"In whatever work you do, you can't be afraid of risks or anyone. It's normal when an architect finishes a projects he thinks it's an incredible masterpiece, even if we look at it and think it's very ugly. That's the professional life of someone in a competitive job. It's a life philosophy. I respect everyone. Actually, it really upsets me when people say Mourinho is the best coach in the world. I really don't agree. But I don't think anyone is better than me at my job."

Subscribe in a reader

Monday, September 22, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Chelsea gets the final word against Manchester United; Nigerians want to buy Newcastle; and Maradona and Mourinho? Let's leave it to this week's jaunt around the football blogosphere to tell the story:
  • EPLTalk has a great recap, and points out how quick ref Mike Riley was with the whistle, probably out of respect for the FA's new, well, Respect Campaign.
  • LivingTrueBlue laments the loss of Deco during warmups, and the injury to Ricardo Carvalho in the opening minutes of the match.
  • And now from the impartial side of the street, we have Truly Reds pinning the draw on referee Riley.
  • BleacherReport takes a few shots at Riley too. Who knew officious was a word?
  • AmericanSoccerReader talks about the Chelsea home unbeaten streak that remains intact after Kalou's goal.
  • Preetesh has 10 observations on the match for you too.
  • As for Newcastle, check out Soccerlens for a look at the offical bid by the Nigerian group for the club.
  • NVA Management apparently has deep pockets. Who knew a mid-tier Premier League club was such a good investment?
  • Caught Offside points out that Mike Ashley may be desperate to unload Newcastle, but not for just any old offer. He wants 400 million, about 50 million more than NVA has offered.
  • Apparently, Maradona to Inter as a South American scout has been confirmed. The OriginalWinger has the story, and notes that Maradona's daughter is expecting with Sergio Ageuro's baby, and coincidentally, Aguero is the apple of Inter's eye.
  • Same story from Fan Nation.
  • Nothing new in this Soccernet piece, except that Maradona is 47; somehow, I thought he was older. Being fat and a junky will do that for a guy, I guess.
  • Since we've done our share of Milan bashing, here's a link from Mcalcio on Milan's 4-1 thrashing of Lazio.
  • MLS Rumors has 10 questions with Revolution's Shalarie Joseph.
  • Oh You Beauty previews Liverpool's Carling Cup match against Crewe this week.
  • And finally, kudos for the Benfica site Talking to the Doll for its first anniversary!

Subscribe in a reader

Friday, September 19, 2008

Chelsea-Manchester United Preview:
Make-or-Break Match for United?

Has there been a more important September clash than Sunday's Chelsea-Manchester United match? Not in recent memory if you bleed United red.

United is already six points in arrears of Chelsea, which stands top of the Premier League table with 10 points. Chelsea in in top form and coming off a 4-0 Champions League win at home against Bordeaux, and will have John Terry on the pitch after his red card last weekend against Manchester City was rescinded.

With Chelsea's momentum, a victory over United will give them a nine-point edge over the reigning kings of Europe, it would be difficult to see Chelsea giving back three games to its most dangerous rival. History shows us too that Liverpool will eventually fade and Arsenal will run out of fresh resources once crunch time in March, April and May arrives.

Is it a stretch to say Chelsea wins the league title tomorrow with a win? Well, sure, but maybe not in the long run. Does Chelsea, inspired by the Scolaris, Decos and Bosingwas, as well as Lampard playing on top form, Terry's reinstatement and Didier Drogba's eventual return, even have three losses in them this season?

Injuries and other intangibles aside, the answer just could be 'No'.

Nonetheless, United is likely to make this a game to remember regardless of the outcome. Cristiano Ronaldo, who returned early from an injury to play Wednesday in a 0-0 draw against Villareal, has already said that any Chelsea attempts to reinjure him will be repaid with goals. Despite Ronaldo's return, United still won't have a complete team on the pitch. Dimitar Berbatov is a game-time decision with an injury and Nemanja Vidic will serve a one-game suspension.

Chelsea, meanwhile, has had no trouble scoring goals or winning games. But manager Luiz Filipe Scolari is already playing down the quick start, especially after Chelsea's win Wednesday; a classic tactic.
"Maybe against another team we would have received more punishment because we lost many balls in the middle. It is dangerous for us. But it is important to start with a win because in this compeition, you never know what will happen. You can see that when Cluj beat Roma. That is a warning for us for the next game."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

UEFA Champions League: Matchday One Schedule

Today's Champions League schedule (all games begin at 2:45 p.m. ET):

Group E
Manchester United v. Villareal (ESPN2, 2:45 p.m. ET)
Celtic v. AaB

Group F
Steau v. Bayern Munich
Lyon v. Fiorentina

Group G
Porto v. Fenerbahce
Dynamo Kyiv v. Arsenal

Group H
Juventus v. Zenit St. Petersburg
Real Madrid v. BATE

John Terry Red Card Rescinded;
Chelsea Captain Available for Manchester United

Sunday's Premier League clash of the titans, the Champions League final rematch, the latest game of the century between Chelsea and Manchester United, was tossed a bit of drama today when John Terry's red card--issued last weekend against Manchester City--was overturned.

Sir Alex Ferguson is raging today, hours ahead of United's Champions League opener against Villareal. The target of his ire is Keith Hackett, general manager of the Professional Game Match officials board. Hackett overruled referee Mark Halsey's decision to toss Terry. Halsey, apparently has been demoted to the second division this weekend. Ferguson was quoted in several English papers today:
"If it had been Manchester United, Hackett would not have done this. In future, if referees are seen to make mistakes then this (demotion) is going to have to happen all the time."
This is dangerous precedent on the FA's part, but in this case, Hackett is correcting an injustice. Terry deserved a yellow at best, and not the red and corresponding three-game suspension that would have started this weekend against United.

Chelsea manager Luiz Filipe Scolari meanwhile says he's surprised--pleasantly for sure. He told the Guardian:
"That would only happen in England. Anywhere else the referee is a god and it's finished. It's a surprise, but a positive surprise. The Football Association have their men who understand that the referee is not god. They make mistakes sometimes, like I do and the players do."
The Offside has a poll up on the decision; and says he's on the fence on the decision.
BleacherReport is shocked, but thinks the right call was made.
Soccernews brings some perspective to the discussion.
World Soccer Guru says Terry is a cheater.

Subscribe in a reader

Champions League: Cluj Shocks Roma;
Sporting Stutters at Barcelona

So shoot me! I picked the wrong minnow.

I put all my eggs in Sporting's basket, and the boys from Lisbon cracked every single shell with a performance in which they were intimidated, overmatched and underwhelming. UEFA Cup here we come? Probably.

No, I should have bet on the Romanians; they never disappoint. CFR Cluj are the darlings of the Champions League now after yesterday's tremendous performance in Rome. This is how you go into the home of a giant and take them down--injuries notwithstanding for Roma.

Cluj walked into the Stadio Olympico and walked out with a 2-1 win, putting them second in Group A behind Chelsea, which destroyed Bordeau, 4-0.

Cluj owned the second half and the result probably should have been more lopsided than a one-goal victory. Not that anyone in the town of Transylvania is complaining (too cliche?).

The critics today are talking more about Roma's problems, especially on defense where Roma has conceded eight goals in four matches. They're talking about injuries to the Roma back line and their talking about the death of Roma owner and the possibility of a takeover.

A Goal.com column today isn't buying all the excuses:
This poor attitude and lack of accountability will only continue to hurt the club. The attitude existing towards these smaller clubs must be changed. That Roma have gone ahead three games in a row and then failed to win them all against inferior opposition is unacceptable, but of course it ‘cannot be explained’ and ‘things will turn around soon’.
It may be a short ride for Cluj, which takes on Chelsea next, but for a day these guys are kings of Europe and deservedly so.

As for Sporting, the other minnow playing yesterday with a chance to escape the group stage for the first time, well they were sad in the first half, and not much better in the second. Sporting stacked 9, 10, 11 men behind the ball, and still inexplicably allowed Lionel Messi space to abuse them on the right side, and Thierry Henry openings on the left to get off quality chances. Rafa Marquez's goal in the first half was an abomination of poor defense, yet Sporting was down only 1-0 at the half.

In the final 45, things perked up a bit, but Samuel Eto'o earned and convered a penalty kick for a 2-0 edge before Tonel booted home a Miguel Veloso free kick; why did Veloso and Helder Postiga begin the game on the bench? This team had not played since Sept. 1. Xavi's goal late put the game away and made the 3-1 final.

It was a topnotch performance for Barca and a cliched, pitiful showing for Sporting. Intimidated from the start, they played as if they were intruding on hallowed ground and certainly did not play for any sort of result.

Oh You Beauty has the goods on Liverpool's 2-1 win over Marseille.
Chelsea FC Blog recaps, well, you can figure it out...
Mcalcio takes you inside Inter's road win at Panathinaikos.
Soccer By Ives has the whole deal.

Monday, September 15, 2008

UEFA Champions League: Matchday One Schedule

Today's Champions League schedule (all games begin at 2:45 p.m. ET):

Group A
Chelsea v. Bordeau (ESPN2 live)
Roma v. CFR

Group B
Panathinaikos v. Inter
Bremen v. Anorthosis

Group C
Basel v. Shahktar
Barcelona v. Sporting (ESPN Classic, delay, 5 p.m. ET)

Group D
PSV v. Atletico
Marseille v. Liverpool

Can Sporting Upend Barcelona and
Escape Champions League Group Stage?

What do Werder Bremen, Villareal, Atletico Madrid, Panathinaikos, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille, Dynamo Kyiv, Celtic and Fenerbahce have in common (hint: the answer is not “They’re all in the Champions League group stage which starts today”)? Give up?

Well, all of these clubs are in fact in the group stage of the Champions League, but the answer is that all of them have escaped the group stage at one point or another. Sporting Lisbon, however, is another story. Perennially a contender in the Portuguese top division, Sporting’s European history has been mediocre at best. Discounting its 1964 Cup Winners Cup title, Sporting has been to the Champions League four times and never had a sniff of the knockout stage. Its best showing in the old European Champions Cup was in 1982-83 when it reached the quarterfinals, losing to Real Sociedad.

This year may be different. There may be light at the end of the tunnel for the Lisbon club. Sporting begins group stage play Tuesday at Barcelona, and despite this difficult challenge out of the blocks, Sporting was given a favorable draw. FC Basel 1893 and Shakhtar Donetsk round out Group C, and one would have to figure Barca for clear sailing to the knockout round and Sporting and Shakhtar duking it out for second place.

But how about Sporting for favorites to win the group outright? How about a true underdog pulling a shocker?

All we can judge is today, but today, Sporting might be a more well-rounded deeper club, Lionel Messi not withstanding for Barcelona. Sporting has won its first two matches in the Portuguese Liga and knocked off F.C. Porto for the Portuguese SuperCup to open the season. Sporting had a fruitful offseason, signing Helder Postiga Marco Caneira, Leandro Grimi, and re-signing Fabio Rochemback. They also have had another year of maturity for standout youngsters such as goalkeeper Rui Patricio, fullback Ronny, strikers Yannick Djalo, Rodrigo Tiui.

And speaking of seasoning? Joao Moutinho and Miguel Veloso were kept from the plentiful pockets of Inter Milan and Manchester United respectively in the offseason. For the first time in a long time, Sporting has managed to keep some homegrown talent from fleeing for greener pastures–at least temporarily.

Sporting is an interesting package for Barcelona to contend with. The Catalans had a tenuous offseason to contend with as new manager Pep Guardiola settled in. Ronaldinho is gone (some may say that’s a plus), and Messi, Samuel Eto’o, Carles Puyol, Thierry Henry, Iniesta and Rafa Marquez remain. Yet, Barca has gotten off to a putrid start under Guardiola, losing its La Liga opener to promoted Numancia and battling Racing Santander to a 1-1 draw this weekend. Worse yet, new signee Alexander Hleb from Arsenal will miss the Sporting match with an ankle injury.

If nothing else for Sporting, this year’s draw is a lot less cluttered with billion-dollar clubs. Last year, Sporting had to contend with Roma and Manchester United, and the year before, Inter and Bayern Munich. In Basel, Sporting sees a familiar opponent having wiped out the Swiss club in the UEFA Cup. Shakhtar, the kings of the Ukraine, are an unfamiliar foe.

Should Sporting gain a result Tuesday and Barcelona continues to be a shaky proposition in a difficult La Liga, Sporting could be poised to surprise and win the group.

This post originally appeared on Champions League Talk.

Starting Eleven RSS

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

So what was The Story of the weekend: Liverpool getting over the United hump? Mourinho's first Serie A win courtesy of a phantom goal? Or Real Madrid getting it done against Numancia, the same team that knocked off Barcelona in the season opener? Or Milan losing again; wither Carlo Ancelotti. Let's address in this week's trip around the football blogosphere.
  • Liverpool beats back United 2-1, overcoming a 1-0 deficit after three minutes. The Reds did so without Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard, despite both declared fit. Sportingo says Michael Carrick's injury and Edwin Van Der Sar's flub on Wes Brown's own goal made Rafa Benitez's day.
  • United has no time to wallow in defeat with Villareal waiting in the wings for this week's Champions League opener. The double winners have four points after three games. Sir Alex says they'll bounce back.
  • Cristiano Ronaldo, meanwhile, says he'll be fit for Villareal, and believes the fans will still love him despite his pining for playing time in Madrid.
  • The Days and Nights has a nifty recap of the game. Buttermilk chicken counts as takeout in England?
  • Kabian says Liverpool was more physical than United.
  • A Liverpool Thing says pride and determination--and not form--was the difference in the Reds victory.
  • And finally, Oh You Beauty likes Mascherano for man of the match, with Alonso a close second.
  • As for Inter, The Offside will take three points any way they can get them--phantom goals or no.
  • Jose Mourinho isn't making any friends at Catania. Inter won 2-1 with 10 men and Mourinho laid down the barbs, calling Catania's Giacomo Tedesco a diver. Soccernews has the details.
  • More from Mourinho: He says he could have played in goal and the result would not have been a different one. How special! Read more at The World Game.
  • At the other end of Milan, well not really the other end, but you get what I'm talkin' about, AC has two losses after two matches and they're already talking about who may replace Carlo Ancelotti. Frank Rijkaard anyone?
  • Milan GM Adriano Galliani says Ancelotti "better stop losing." Cagliari is the only thing keeping Milan from the bottom of the table.
  • Reuters Soccer Blog covers the story too.
  • Kaka The Offside chimes in, pointing out that Kaka, Ronaldinho and Shevchenko were in the Milan attack. Just sayin..
  • To be fair, Ronaldinho The Offside says it can't judge its favorite player because, well, he was just non-existent. Sounds like the rest of the Milan lineup.
  • Real Madrid 200708 points out that Madrid playing in its first home game lived up to its billing as a potential goal-scoring machine. Defense? Well, that's for another day. Consider this: Numancia was missing three strikers for the match--and still scored three goals.
  • Madrid Galacticos is working on his Spanish, and says Real Madrid resembles Brazil. OK.
  • Soccerlens covers the news that Newcastle is for sale, and asks whether Toon fans are happy Mike Ashley is on the way out?
  • EPL Talk has more on the Newcastle-Mike Ashley story, plus offer a transcript of his statement announcing the club is for sale.
  • And did we mention Chelsea beat down Manchester City? Cash beats, well, cash. Read an unbiased account at Blue Champions.
  • EPL Talk covers the Blues' win, and points out that neither Joe Cole nor Frank Lampard were worse for the wear after playing Wednesday against Croatia. Lampard's left-footed goal with a screamer and a beauty.

Subscribe in a reader

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Quaresma brings Porto feel
and win to Inter against Catania

Inter squeaked past Catania on Saturday on an own goal and a phantom goal, all with 10 men and a distinctive Jose Mourinho feel to the men in blue and black.

Inter was extremely patient, extremely deliberate during its home opener, taking the three points not only in Mourinho's home debut, but Ricardo Quaresma's first match for Milan.

The former Porto star figured in both goals. With Inter trailing a goal, Quaresma's cross bounded off a defender to level the match at 1-1. Later, a Quaresma throw-in was headed awkwardly off the back post. The Catania keeper caught the ball seemingly on the line; no television replay showed much, and certainly not the entire ball, over the goal line. It was a bit of a gift for a team that has certainly embraced its coach's vision for how the game should be played.

Milan ran the tempo to its pace despite being a man down. Mourinho did a good job moving his players about, taking full advantage of Quaresma's speed and flair on the lines and Ibrahimovic's power and presence in the middle of the field. Maicon Douglas is a horse on offense and I have to see more of Alessandro Mancini. The kid's a star in the making and he came into the game late and created nothing but trouble for Cataina's back line for the final 15 minutes of the match.

Inter's going to be a force, and the clear-cut favorite, to win Serie A again. Is this the team, however, that brings Mourinho back again to the Champions League winner's circle? Already a winner with Porto in 2004, Inter travels to Greece to meet Panithanaikos in its group stage opener Tuesday. Inter is the class of its group, which also includes Werder Bremen and Anothosis. Tuesday's match sets the tone early since the Greeks are probably Inter's biggest challenge in the group.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Gerrard, Torres Ready to Return for
Liverpool against Manchester United

Yes Manchester United fans, you will have Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres to kick around tomorrow when Liverpool hosts United at Anfield.

Gerrard, fresh off of groin surgery, and Torres, recovering from a hamstring ding, have been cleared in anticipation of tomorrow's derby. That clamor you hear are the Mercysiders jigging themselves silly.

Gerrard's return is an eye-opener. He was expected to miss this game and the Reds' Champions League opener this week. It will be interesting to see how much he plays against United. Expect him to start; whether he finishes is another story.

Rafa Benitez will have a full side against United with the Reds atop the table with Chelsea.

"[Gerrard and Torres] came through a full training session this morning. It wasn't a very hard session, but they will both be in the squad. It's important for us to have these two players of quality who can change a game. I'm not surprised they are available because the medical staff have done a good job and the players have been working really hard with the physios to get fit."

Not to fall into the trap of over-hyping games in September, but this is a big one (duh). United has four points from two matches, and dropping three more tomorrow won't be good for its overall title hopes, and may indeed rush Cristiano Ronaldo back from the sidelines. Sir Alex Ferguson says Ronaldo is fit and will return for this week's home Champions League match against Villareal at Old Trafford. Like Gerrard, Ronaldo's recovery is ahead of schedule.

Liverpool needs to win if it's going to snap its Premier League title drought. With Chelsea having beefed up, the Blues may be the bigger target this season. But there's something to be said for moral, emotional victories. United are a big hurdle for Liverpool, one that needs to be leapt at home.

With United certainly slumping out of the gate, this might be a likely outcome. The difference may rest on the bench, not where Gerrard and/or Torres may be sitting, but in Benitez. The Liverpool boss isn't the best game-day guy in the Premier League, and in a close match, how he moves the chess pieces may dictate the outcome.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Brazil on the Brink; Dunga on the Doorstep

Brazil is doing a twisted version of the Samba in South American World Cup qualifying, and the guy on the hook, naturally, is coach Dunga.

Going goalless last night against Bolivia in Rio de Janeiro is just the latest chapter in the Brazilians' trials on the World Cup trail. Brazil trails Paraguay in the standings, even with Argentina and four points behind the leaders. Things are not well. Ronaldinho is a ghost; promising stars such as Amauri remain on the bench and the natives are restless

"Goodbye Dunga" chants rained down on the coach as Bolivia pushed forward, trying to stun the hosts with an away victory. To his good fortune, Bolivia could not score. But neither could Brazil against a 10-man Bolivia courtesy of Robinho, whose Academy Award diving performance earned Ignacio Garcia a red card.

Argentina's 1-1 bottom of the barrel Peru was worse, and a Godsend for Brazil, which would have been in third place had it not been for Johan Fano's goal in the closing seconds of injury time.

Most critics say Dunga is not long for the Brazil bench and drastic changes are needed--don't expect Dunga to step aside voluntarily--before Brazil somehow finds itself staring at the unthinkable--ousted from the 2010 World Cup before it even starts.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Conserve Energy: Ignore Ho-Hum World Cup Qualifiers

For a variety of reasons, I'll spare you the boredom of previewing any of Wednesday's World Cup qualifiers. Yes, Croatia-England is intriguing and Portugal-Denmark could be worth tuning in to as would Turkey-Belgium and even Macedonia-Netherlands given the hosts' win over Scotland.

Sure, I'll be looking for the scores tomorrow night, and so will you. But really, I won't devote much more energy to it. You see, we're still basically 14 months away from settling on the final 32 for South Africa and today, there are just too many Armenias, Macedonias, Honduras' around for my liking. I don't like underdogs. I don't really like upsets. And I don't give a damn most of tomorrow's games. Call me next summer when the games matter.

Better yet, call me when FIFA fixes the qualifying faux pas that is the current system.

I railed about the ho-hum nature of the qualifiers on Sept. 4. But I thought I was alone. As I started poking around the net and listening to the World Soccer Daily podcast, I found that I wasn't.

In fact, it was there I heard a reasonable alternative to the current glut of qualifiers. Basically, the idea goes, in Europe any way, that the 16 teams that qualify for the Euro essentially qualify for the final round of World Cup qualifiers. In the interim, the minnows slog it out to join them in a final 24.

Not only does this raise the intrigue and the stakes for Euro, but cuts down on the already murderous schedule players have to endure. Clubs would prosper with healthier, more available players and we would be spared tragedies such as what befell Michael Essien and Chelsea. Essien tore his ACL (ask New England Patriots fans what an ACL is; they're well-versed) during a qualifier for Ghana against Libya. Essien is probably done for the better part of a year.

Do we really need the Andorras of the world in the way? Faroe Islands? Do we watch the World Cup to see these guys? Honestly, no. Put them on a figurative raft, let them beat each other over the head to determine who survives--and ultimately led to the slaughter against the 16 best Europe has to offer. And then, and only then, if Iceland gets into the World Cup will they get a tip of the cap.

Until then, I'll see you next summer.

Subscribe in a reader

Champions League TV Listings

ESPN has announced its broadcast lineup for next week's openers in the group stage of the Champions League:

Sept. 16

ESPN2: Barcelona-Sporting, (live), 2:30 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Barcelona-Sporting, (live), 2:30 p.m. ET
ESPN Classic: Barcelona-Sporting, (live), 5 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Chelsea-Bordeaux, (delay), 4:45 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: PSV-Atletico Madrid (delay) 7 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Panathinaikos-Inter (delay) 9 p.m. ET

Sept. 17

ESPN2: Real Madrid-Bate Borisov, (live), 2:30 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Real Madrid-Bate Borisov, (live), 2:30 p.m. ET
ESPN Classic: Real Madrid-Bate Borisov, (live), 5 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Juventus-Zenit St. Petersburg, (delay), 4:45 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Dynamo Kyiv-Arsenal (delay) 7 p.m. ET
ESPN Deportes: Manchester United-Villareal (delay) 9 p.m. ET

One thing is clear: My cable provider has to start offering ESPN Deportes.

Subscribe in a reader

Monday, September 8, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Four fun facts to start the day:
  1. West Ham wants Slaven Bilic.
  2. Slaven Bilic says England stinks.
  3. Croatia will win its World Cup qualifying group, says Slaven Bilic.
  4. Slaven Bilic climbs into bed with his players when they are stressed.
And now onto this weeks Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Cannavaro Return Lone Shred
of Interest Among World Cup Qualifiers

I'm trying awfully hard to give a damn about any of Saturday's World Cup qualifiers. Looking at the 24 matches on tap, there isn't a shred of appointment television among the bunch. It's the first day of qualifying, and 18 months from now, we won't remember any of these matches, unless of course, Andorra smacks England around, Malta beats up Portugal, or Germany forgets to get off the bus in Liechtenstein--neither of which I expect to happen.

If there's a shred of interest anywhere, I give you the Cyprus-Italy match. This is Italy's first match in anger since Euro 2008, and it will have captain and stalwart defender Fabio Cannavaro in the starting 11. Recall, Cannavaro tore ankle ligaments days before Italy's first match at Euro, tearing Italy's chances for winning right along with it.

This is the beginning, not only of Italy's 2006 title defense, but of the Azzurri's redemption on many fronts. Luca Toni played at the Euro, but you wouldn't know it. He was miserable, like the rest of Italy's attack. He too is returning from an injury, so it's unlikely he'll be very effective; this is more of a fitness match if he plays. But longterm, Toni and Cannavaro have to play well for Italy to make a dent in South Africa (duh!).

Oh by the way, this is Marcello Lippi's first qualifier since winning the whole thing in 2006. Lippi was recalled to the bench as manager after Roberto Donadoni's short and forgettable tenure which ended once Italy was eliminated from the Euro in the quarterfinals. Lippi, as any coach worth his salt, is already playing up the opponent he knows his team can handle. He told Reuters:
"Cyprus is an insidious trip, they are a national team that play well and we'll face them on a field without much grass. We'll have to be careful."
As for Germany, the big news for its road match is that Bastian Schweinsteiger is back in the starting 11 in place of the injured Michael Ballack. Schweinsteiger is pretty tough, and has a neat knack for scoring or setting up devastating goals. Apparently, he has some maturity issues that he's working hard to overcome. OK, whatever. Cutting through the coachspeak, Schweinsteiger is playing because Ballack is not in top form right now. He wasn't going to displace Ballack at the Euro because Ballack was probably playing better than anyone at the time. It's that simple.

For your reading pleasure, links to more on the World Cup qualifiers:

Bleacher Report on England and Andorra
Road to 2010 on African qualifiers
Four-Four-Two on European qualifiers
France World Cup Blog on France and Austria

Starting Eleven RSS

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Spending the Arsene Wenger Way
Pound-for-Pound Nonsense

Arsene Wenger is so tight with Arsenal's cash, you'd think he was spending out of his pocket to acquire players, purchase light bulbs and wash kits.

Of course I'm being sarcastic here, he's handed a budget from the board and spends accordingly. None of us knows what that budget is, or what Wenger's orders are on how to manage it. Therefore, his frugality leaves him open to too much speculation and criticism from Gunner fans.

Publicly, Wenger deplores the raging spending sprees clubs are currently enjoying. He says they're fiscally irresponsible, welcomes UEFA's investigation of clubs' ledger sheets and says those non-tightwads should be given the boot from competition until their balance sheet, well, balances.

Is his thinking out of line?

Tough call. Part of me thinks that clubs are independent for-profit entities that should use whatever strategy at their disposal to win games, championships and notoriety. If they want to spend themselves red, then have at it, but don't ever come looking for bailouts.

On the other hand, clubs are not like enterprises that operate within an industry. Companies are not bound to an over-arching structure such as a Premier League. Pro sports is one case where the sum of the whole is greater than its individual parts. Teams have to exist within the Premier League and contribute to its overall health by putting the best product on the field; if one leg fails then all suffer.

Where I part company with Wenger and UEFA president Michel Platini is when they say it is cheating to rack up insurmountable debt. United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool are deep in debt for a variety of reasons. Yet things are unlikely to change so long as lending instutions farm out the money, the clubs make the payments and the product on the field remains stellar.

Once United hits relegation because it can no longer afford the Ronaldos and Berbatovs of the world, then perhaps the tune will change. It's already happened to a lesser degree in Spain to Celta Vigo and Portugal with Boavista. Valencia is in financial peril as well in Spain.
"I think teams who have deficit should be kicked out of Europe. The only way to go is that there is a control over all of Europe, and I think it will go that way whether you like it or not. UEFA will bring in a control of the management of every individual club and every individual club will be controlled."
Again, I part ways here with Wenger's socialistic view. Just look at MLS' single-entity situation; is that what he wants? One structure where the federation owns and manages all the clubs and transactions? Teams are strangled and cannot drastically improve their situations. Development is encouraged, but still falters. Interest--and money--is subsequently lost hand over foot.

I think Wenger and Arsenal's board need to steer their own ship, and let those who are destined to fail to do so. So be it. If fiscal respnsibility is Arsenal's choice, then so be it. Sign marginal players, keep the ledger balanced and appease shareholders and lenders with profits and on-time payments. What Wenger wants is for UEFA to legislate the approach to management he has chosen, and create a level playing field, one in which Arsenal could thrive. This club hasn't won a trophy since 2004 and a major European cup since 1994. Maybe he wants some outside help to return Arsenal to the top? Maybe the debt service on Emirates is the real chokepoint here. Maybe Wenger should not be so disingenuous when he says he wants clubs in debt kicked out of Europe. If that were the case, he'd be mighty lonely--and oh yeah, on the outside looking in too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

The Premier League--and the city of Manchester--may have a new superpower if the sale of City to Dr Sulaiman Al-Fahim's Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG) goes through in short order. The news broke in tandem this weekend with City's scoop of Robinho from Real Madrid, beating out Chelsea for the services of the Brazilian.

Al-Fahim has already set a target for his new toy: get into the 2009-2010 Champions League, which means a top four finish this season. Interesting. Whom does City intend on displacing? Defending European champions Manchester United? Chelsea, the uncrowned kings of Europe? Liverpool, a melting pot of a squad built for Champions League success? Or Arsenal, the fiscally responsible giant that plays the prettiest football in the land?

Here's all you need to know about Al-Fahim's intentions:
"A place in the Champions League is quite a jump from last season, but we are ready to sit down with the manager, find out the players he would like, and bring the right players into the club."
Money talks baby. So let's dedicate the start of today's trip around the football blogosphere to Al-Fahim and his buying power (no, my blog is not for sale..., well, maybe...)
  • Oliver Kay at the Times of London has a Magnificent Seven Mr. Al-Fahim could set his sights upon.
  • Caught Offside confirms City is planning an offensive on the top four.
  • EliteFootballTalk urges the top four to move over, there's a new giant in town. Kinda reminds him of the day in 2003 when Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea.
  • Spanish Football Sports throws some much-needed perspective into the Robinho-to-City deal, namely that Robinho has been remarkably average at the Barnebeu. Check it out; good stuff.
  • The Guardian blog, meanwhile, points out that City's acquisition by foreign interest drew much less scrutiny than last year's DIC talks to acquire Liverpool. Perhaps any ship in a port is better than one steered by Thaksin Shinawatra.
  • On any other day, Manchester United's signing of Dimitar Berbatov would have garnered huge headlines. Today, it's buried. Soccerlens has it.
  • EPL Talk has more comparisons to Chelsea and proclaims City has bought itself into the top four.
  • EPL Talk also has the news that Kevin Keegan's days at Newcastle are numbered. UPDATE: Keegan has been sacked.
  • Reuters Soccer Blog worships at the Berbatov altar, recalling his four-goal performance during Spurs' 6-4 win over Reading last season.
  • There's another intersting entry at Reuters making a case for the transfer window to remain open indefinitely.
Enough England already. Milan is still reeling from its loss to Bologna.
  • MCalcio has a great analysis on the strategy and thinking for Milan, especially in its offseason moves acquiring Ronaldinho and Shevchenko in particular. The pegs were in place, the thinking sound, and it practice, it failed miserably Sunday to a gutsy team.
  • AC Milan The Offside points out that ball possession wasn't an issue for Milan, instead it was about finishing, and even fitness.
  • Milan wasn't the only big team to lose its opener Sunday to a newly promoted team. Barcelona was upended by Numencia. All About Barcelona puts the blame on new coach Pep Guardiola; is it too late to bring back Frank Rijkaard.
  • Talking to the Doll has a recap of Benfica and Porto's 1-1 draw.
  • Speaking of Porto, Ricardo Quaresma has finally moved to Inter Milan. Football Transfer points out that an Inter midfield of Quaresma, Alessandro Mancini, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic tops Milan's Ronaldinho-Kaka-Shevchenko trio.
  • Portugoal looks at the bright side for Porto: Close to 31 million euros in spending money.
  • Closing it out, Soccerlens has the top 10 transfer deadline talking points.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Manchester has Monopoly on Transfers:
Robinho to City; Berbatov to United

Monday was Labor Day in the U.S., but it was Europe's clubs hard at work shuffling players and contracts before the slamming shut of the transfer window.

The biggest winner is clearly Manchester City which snared Robinho from Real Madrid, and away from Chelsea for 32.5 million pounds. This news came on the heels of an announcement that Abu Dhabi United Group will buy the club from human rights violator Thaksin Shinawatra.

The greatest irony is that Robinho's first showing in a City sweater is against Chelsea on the 13th. ESPN reports that Real did not want to sell the Brazilian to Chelsea, despite Robinho's pleas to move to Stamford Bridge. City's emergence into the deal was a welcome sight for Real, Soccernet says.

Real coach Bernd Schuster did not want to lose Robinho, and tried to head the deal off at every pass. "He's a great kid, but badly advised," Schuster said.

Robinho's is not the only saga to end Monday. Dimitar Berbatov finally joined Manchester United, for less money than Robinho (30.7 million).

Berbatov brings some much needed offense to United, which awaits Cristiano Ronaldo's return from an ankle injury. Ronaldo said this weekend he hopes to be back by the end of the month, far ahead of schedule.

United has not had the best start in defense of its title, most recently, losing the UEFA SuperCup to Zenit St. Petersburg, 2-1, on Friday.