Friday, October 31, 2008

Beckham Milan Deal Done; Will He Come Back?

Well, at least tickets hadn't gone on sale yet.

The LA Galaxy pulled the plug this week on their offseason trip to Australia to play Queensland Roar in Brisbane because of David Beckham's decision to train/play for AC Milan starting in January.

Guess we know who's running the show in LA. Certainly isn't manager/GM Bruce Arena, who was flummoxed at the initial reports Beckham may be headed to Milan to remain fit and keep his spot on the England national team. No training facilities in California I suppose; shame.

No, it's Beckham's world and the Galaxy and MLS just live in it.

Yesterday, Beckham crossed all the Ts and dotted all the I's on his deal with Milan. He will be with the club on Jan. 7 and return to the Galaxy around March 19. His first game could be Jan. 11 against Roma; question is whether he'll earn a spot in the Starting Eleven alongside Ronaldinho and Kaka in the Milan midfield. Hard to imagine.

But stranger things have happened. The 33-year-old is clearly on the other side of the hill as far as football years go, and he's not lived up to expectations in LA, nor with England where speculation is well deserved that he's just in it to break the all-time record for caps, and possibly extend that to 125 should he play in the 2010 World Cup.

That's two years away, however, and for the time being, the bigger question is whether he returns to LA after all is said and done. Milan officials said yes on Thursday, pointing out the commitment Becks has made to LA, as well as the endorsement deals he's contracted to. But if history has taught us anything, it's that deals are made to be broken. And if Milan is in position to challenge Inter for the Serie A title, or perhaps more realistically, a shot at an automatic Champions League spot, and Beckham is contributing, would Milan angle to keep him through the end of the season in May? And beyond?

I can't imagine Beckham is anxious to train every day with Landon Donovan and the collection of also-rans in LA. I can't imagine he has much respect for Bruce Arena, otherwise, he would have stayed in town, trained with the club in the offseason and helped promote the game in the U.S. as he promised when he signed. No, instead he's chasing the bigger stage--and that's fine if he weren't so damned insincere about it.

No one's buying his claims of doing this to stay fit for England's sake. For him, it's a chance to play in another major league in Europe, a chance for his wife to stake her claim in Milan's fashion universe, and a chance, yes, to stay within Fabio Capello's reach.

Try not to have an anxiety attack waiting until March 19 to see how this all plays out. Chances are that our gut instinct is right; Beckham won't be back in LA.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Maradona to Coach Argentina;
Is This a Risk Worth Taking?

Never having been to Argentina, I'm not sure I can properly appreciate the adoration and appreciation that exists for Diego Maradona. To an outsider, he's a legendary footballer. His 1986 World Cup performance rivals that of any of Pele's. A true genius with the ball, Maradona elevated Argentina to greatness; I can say I saw him score his last competitive goal for Argentina against Greece in the 1994 World Cup in Foxboro, Mass, below.

But like many legends and giants when they fall, they fall hard. Drugs and other forms of abuse did Maradona in, pushing him to the brink of death on a couple of occasions. He's sought cures all over the world for what ails him, including at the foot of Fidel Castro in Cuba. His insulated little world includes millions of Argentina fans who forgive and forget, which is their right.

But how, oh how, does this fly? How on Earth is Maradona qualified to manage Argentina to the 2010 World Cup? Maradona will reportedly be officially named coach of Argentina today [UPDATE: Apparently, the appointment will be announced next Tuesday], but it's been widely reported that the deal is done. [COMMENT BELOW]

Having never coached outside of stints with two small clubs in the mid-'90s, Maradona has been given the keys to perhaps the second greatest football team in the world behind Brazil. This is a volatile, dependent personality who essentially is going from celebrity movie-star status to the White House overnight. Friends, however, this is no Ronald Reagan.

Maradona can't manage his personal goings-on as he's demonstrated numerous times. How will he function at such a high footballing level? What a slap in the face to great coaches such as Scolari, Aragones, Lippi, hell, even Bruce Arena.

Argentina is third in South American qualifying, six points behind leaders Paraguay, and one back of Brazil for second. The last straw for Alfio Basile was last month's loss to Chile that left Argentina in third. Maradona says he was "seduced" by the offer to coach Argentina. Carlos Bilardo will advise Maradona; Bilardo was Argentina's coach in the '86 World Cup.

Now what do we have here? Is Maradona a figurehead? Is this a puppet regime? Does the Argentina federation think it needs this kind of attention-getting stunt to motivate its players and fans to facilitate qualification for South Africa 2010? Time will tell, and perhaps that's the case, that Maradona's Type A personality will infuse the players to take it to the next level, while Bilardo strategizes behind the scenes.

But is Maradona really worth the bother? One would assume the federation did its homework and understands whether Maradona is a couple of losses away from a devastating relapse. Or do they care?

As the New York Times points out:

There is no denying Maradona’s appeal in Argentina where fans’ adoration has proved ever-lasting, despite his personal problems and clown-like antics. Though his technical credentials may be in doubt. He’s had brief and unsuccessful coaching stints at two clubs in Argentina in 1994 and 1995. In fact, he may very well have spent less time coaching than he has spent in rehabilitation clinics for drug addiction, alcoholism and obesity.

It's a gamble and a potential marketing nightmare. It's also a potential marketing boom. You can bet there's a feverish run on No. 10 jersies in Buenos Aires today. And you can bet that Argentina is the talk of the football world today, tomorrow and the next time the teams reconvene for qualifiers.

But what if the team tumbles? What if they don't make it to South Africa? Was this risk assessed properly. Some fronts say Maradona has the football acumen to make this happen. Well sure, as a player. Great players, however, don't necessarily make for great teachers. Perhaps there's more to Bilardo's presence than meets the eye.

This is high theater and so worth watching over the coming months that it will be impossible to look away--kinda like a train wreck, impossible to look away. Here's hoping Argentina has a "Hand of God" type bailout should it derail.

(BTW, here's Maradona's goal in Foxboro)

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Monday, October 27, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Anyone seen Kenny Dalgleish? Ian Rush? Bruce Grobbelaar (never mind him)?

Is it 2008 or 1978? Bell-bottoms, anyone?

Liverpool is on top of the Premier League and it looks like it just might be there to stay. Not only are the Reds three points clear of Chelsea, but Liverpool did so with a massively important 1-nil result at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's first home loss since February 2004.

Should Liverpool win it all, it would be the club's first championship since the 1989-90 season; where have the days of DIC and Ditch Rafa gone? Hicks and Gillett? How about Kuyt and Torres? Things are lining up well at the Kop End; United is below form through October and Chelsea has more nicks than it can handle right now.

Let's start off this week's trip around the blogosphere with some insight into Liverpool's trek to the top, and toss in some Beckham, Tottenham, Porto and Martin Samuel love while we're at it.

  • Reuters Soccer Blog says Liverpool has the intangibles it takes to be champion. The key is scrapping up points from matches in which it either doesn't play well, or should lose.
  • EPL Talk gets sentimental about the 1970s and '80s teams. Neat video embedded there too!
  • Liverpool Banter points out that now the Reds are on top and in it for the long haul, now if only the calendar would speed up.
  • 101 Great Goals has a ton of links to analyses of Liverpool's win, with perspective on Gerrard and praise for the team that it looks like it will be in the title hunt for Christmas.
  • In the interest of fairness and getting both sides of the story, BlueChampions laments the loss and points out some weaknesses exposed by Liverpool. Question: How does Chelsea not get more than one decent chance on goal in the final 85 minutes of the match?
  • The Soccer-Blog has more on the record-smashing win, and some insight into the Tottenham situation.
  • Speaking of Spurs, Harry Redknapp is now in charge and immediately, the club responds with three points and a 2-0 win over Bolton. Tottenhamhotspur says it's the ideal start if for no other reason, a confidence boost.
  • Spoiler takes Redknapp on full force against the backdrop of his return to Portsmouth to receive an award. Redknapp's comments about managing a "big club" are especially inflamatory.
  • The Offside has a great piece on Redknapp's disdain for sporting directors and whether managers need a boss whose buying players. Interesting points on both sides.
  • Soccernet reports Portsmouth expects an onslaught from Spurs with Redknapp raiding his former club's players.
  • Premier Footy says Redknapp's hiring was long overdue at Spurs. Duh.
  • Calcio1 checks in on the David Beckham-Milan soap opera with a translation of an interview Beckham did with La Gazzetta dello Sport.
  • Soccernews reports Beckham saying the journey to Milan is about avoiding a layoff, and not necessarily for the sake of his spot with England.
  • Serie A Talk has Beckham praising Milan's training methods and points to the longevity of players such as Maldini as further evidence of why he wants to join the club.
  • The Portuguese Liga is upside down. Leixoes and Nacional lead, the former beating up F.C. Porto 3-2 this weekened, despite some intervention from the referees. FootballCupLeague gets us started.
  • Porto the Offside has the ugly details for the defending champions.
  • And finally, Martin Samuel is always a must-read. Here's two for today: the first on Michel Platini and the Champions League, and the second on Tottenham.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Beckham Maneurving his Way
Out of LA Via Transfer to AC Milan

I usually refrain from posting about David Beckham and the LA Galaxy because, well, I usually don't delve into the irrelevant. But this week's events and Beckham's impending loan to AC Milan are wrong on so many levels, it needs to get smacked around.

What started out as an agreement to allow Beckham to train with Milan in order to maintain his fitness and essentially keep his place with the England national team has evolved (deteriorated?) into a full-on full-time role with Milan at least from January (when the transfer window opens) to March (the start of MLS training camp).

Now Beckham signed a massive deal with the Galaxy that could end up being worth $250 million and keeps him in LA through the 2012 season. It was always tacitly understood that Beckham was to be more than a player with the Galaxy, but a brand for MLS. He was to be the magnet for other fading European stars to close out their careers on these shores, promote the game here and abroad, and elevate MLS to the next level--whatever that may be.

Remember Beckham's first match with the Galaxy against Chelsea? Not only was he injured and played only the final 20 minutes, but viewers in the U.S. barely saw any of the match because the cameras were almost exclusively focused on Beckham.

Well, the furor soon died down as Beckham missed significant time with an injured ankle in '07. This season, he's stayed healthy, but made little difference in the overall product other than forcing coach Ruud Gullit out the door. The Galaxy were among the dregs of MLS and one of the few teams not good enough to qualify for the playoffs. To say the shine is off this experiment does little justice to the concept of tarnish.

And what is Beckham's response? Stay here? Train in the offseason with his teammates? Share his experience, training regimen and game-play acumen with America's Team?


"I'm outta here, mates." Beckham wants out. Clearly. He wants to play on the game's greatest stage, which is Europe and not Columbus, Salt Lake City or Foxboro. He wants back into Serie A or the equivalent. He wants in on the Champions League again. He wants to break the all-time England record for caps -- even if it means making token 20-minute cameo appearances in World Cup qualifiers that are long decided.

Beckham's smile and personable demeanor are disarming. He charms you into believing his sincerity. And perhaps at his base, he's a good man. But jeezus, he owes his employers more, doesn't he? His employers being the Galaxy and MLS. His focus clearly isn't on LA and his teammates know it more than you and I do. Why should he be trusted to commit to the club once MLS kicks off again next spring (nevermind whether he'll be back)?

Beckham is clearly the most important guy in MLS, more so than commissioner Don Garber, and certainly more so than LA coach and general manager Bruce Arena, the guy who is supposed to be Beckham's immediate superior, who admitted as much that he's been in the dark regarding the entire transaction. Arena said:

"On the surface, it sounds like an odd proposition. I don't see where that benefits MLS or the Galaxy. I don't know if there's anything true in the rumor. The first I heard about it was today (Wednesday)... but I would think [given] the position the Galaxy is in and [the fact that] we're rebuilding our team and trying to have a successful year, it would seem very odd to me if we were loaning out our top players at the start of the season. It would seem pretty odd to me to operate that way.''

Arena knows this is a mess, and he's preparing himself and the team for the fact that Beckham likely won't be back come March, especially if Beckham has any degree of success in Italy and Milan is contending for the title or a Champions League spot.

Arena knows that this will be the greater degree of embarrassment for the league and the Galaxy. Beckham will come and go as he pleases, daring MLS and LA to stop him. He's working on an exit strategy--and at the same time, MLS is the biggest loser here. They're a pawn. It's Beckham's world, and they're just paying the bills.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

UEFA's Tacit Compliance
with Racism a Sad Story

It's a pretty safe bet Madrid's Vincente Calderon Stadium will be at capacity today when Liverpool visits for its Champions League Group D match against Atletico Madrid. Shame.

You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and UEFA will never get a second chance to make its first major stance against racism in Champions League football.

By now the chain of events leading up to today's match is well chronicled: At Atletico's last Champions League match against Marseille, police inside Calderon were accused of being "heavy-handed" with Marseille supporters in the stands; it was said the club failed to adequately secure the grounds, Marseille's journey to the stadium or the press area. In the meantime, Atletico supporters are accused of levying monkey chants against toward the field, Marseille supporters and two black journalists.

Initially, Atletico was facing a two-match Champions League ban at its ground and a requirement to play those matches at least 300 kilometers from Madrid, but UEFA wasn't punishing them for the racism charges. No, it was for the lax security and general unruliness at the ground and outside. Ultimately, UEFA conceded to pressure from Atletico and Liverpool and only fined Atletico. UEFA said it wouldn't be fair to the Liverpool supporters who had made travel arrangements to Madrid to reschedule their itineraries.

UEFA cleverly tried to disguise the fine (punishment?) as a statement against racism, but don't kid yourself. It's kinda like the American Congress when it stuffs unrelated budget cuts, taxes and mandates into major laws as concessions to the other party in order to get the bigger initiative through the legislative process. It's a joke, and accepted with a wink and a nod. UEFA punished Atletico, but it said nothing against racism here, even in the statement on its decision. It's kinda like putting a rapist in jail on a parking violation, and justifying it by saying "Well, at least he's off the street!"

What happens if today the monkey chants start again in force? Spain and England don't have the best football relationship; for example, England won't play an international friendly at the Barnebeau. What if the Spanish hooligans--an no we're not indicting the whole population of Spanish fans; we understand it's the actions of a few that sully the whole--use the spotlight of a major international competition and a worldwide TV audience to really spread their poison?

Well UEFA has an answer! It's put it all on referee Claus Bo Larsen who has been told he can put a stop to the match if the racial taunts begin. Sad. Imagine a testy atmosphere, and the referee sends everyone home before the show is over? The consequences might be too horrid to imagine.

There is no right answer here, well not today any way. UEFA missed its opportunity two weeks ago to enforce the stadium ban, or at a minimum, play it in front of an empty house--granted that doesn't look good on television.

One thing in favor of things being tranquil today is the heavy Spanish flavor to the Liverpool team, from manager Rafa Benitez to Fernando Torres, who unfortunately for him won't play today due to injury. That could keep things in check. And hopefully, the club responds with heavy security and heavy marketing to fans, stressing that it's a good idea they behave today.

Sad. We haven't said a word yet about how interesting a matchup this is. Not only is there the Spanish connection at Liverpool, but Atletico has been a dangerous side so far. It started the LaLiga campaign strongly and is 2-0 in the Champions League with convincing wins over Marseille and PSV Eindhoven.

Sad. Football continues to be a political platform. Football has also become a stage for hate. Football is under seige, and when powerful organizations such as UEFA tacitly captitulate as it has in this case, problems are far from resolved.

This post originally appeared at Champions League Talk.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Champions League: Which Teams Need to Win

To use a golf analogy, the teams in the group stage of the Champions League make the turn today and tomorrow with the completion of the first three games of the group stage. And while it's early, for some teams, it's make-or-break time.

Group by group, here's an analysis of who needs to win:

Group A:

ROMA Needs To Win: Misery may love company, but it seems to love Roma too. Last weekend's humbling 4-0 home defeat to Inter Milan is hardly the way Roma wanted to head into the lion's den known tomorrow as Stamford Bridge. Roma also had to shudder at Chelsea's 5-0 smashing of Middlesborough with what essentially a B team. Still, a good result keeps Roma in the hunt. And you can bet that Roma hopes Cluj wakes up from its dream campaign in Europe soon.

Group B:

ANORTHOSIS Needs To Win: Yes the team from Cyprus, y'know, those guys who are leading Group B. Anorthosis has a win and a draw over Bremen and Panathinaikos, but its most crucial match is today against Inter at the San Siro. Mourinho says his team is cautious about the match, and well it should be. Minnows can bite, especially in a tournament such as this; over-confidence is a killer.

Group C:

SPORTING and SHAKTAR Need To Win: If ESPN had any stones, this would be the match it would televise on Wednesday. This match, as well as the return leg in Lisbon on Nov. 4 will surely be bookend epic battles. These two are fighting for second behind Barcelona in the group, with Basel already all but an afterthought. Both clubs have 3 points. Sporting pounded Basel a month ago, while Shaktar lost a heartbreaker to Barcelona. Sporting may suffer from its lack of meaningful activity coming into this one due to the international break and having played only a domestic cup match.

Group D:

PSV EINDHOVEN Needs To Win: With Marseille on the docket today and the Frech club less than inspired, Eindhoven needs a precious three points tomorrow to keep pace with Liverpool and Atletico--two teams in top form right now. A draw does neither Eindhoven nor Marseille any good. Liverpool and Atletico meanwhile, has the makings of a classic, though Liverpool could be dragged down by injuries.

Group E:

CELTIC Needs To Win: With Manchester United finding its pace--surprise surprise that it coincides with Ronaldo finding his form and Rooney finding the back of the net--Celtic cannot be looking forward to today's trip to Old Trafford. Celtic has one point from the first two matches, and cannot afford to lose today and be six points--or two matches--behind United with three to play. The math, in that case, just does work in Celtic's favor, especially with Villareal having a sitter today against AaB.

Group F:

FIORENTINA Needs To Win: Fiorentina has an opportunity today to make waves in this group with its visit against shaken Bayern Munich. Fiorentina has two points from two matches, even with Lyon, which figures to get a result against Steaua Bucharesti today. Bayern is struggling, having taken only three points from its last four matches in Germany. It leads this group with four points. A Fiorentina win certainly makes the final three matches much more interesting. Fiorentina is three points out in Serie A and has won three in a row.

Group G:

FC PORTO Needs To Win: If for no other reason than confidence in this group, Porto needs to win today at home against Dynamo Kyiv. Porto has regained the lead in the Portuguese first division, but its 4-0 drubbing last time out at Arsenal was humbling and revealing. Porto is vulnerable and cannot afford another slip, especially with an Arsenal win today basically pushing the Gunners through to the next round.

Group H:

ZENIT St. PETERSBURG Needs To Win: The darling UEFA Cup winners of 2007-2008 desperately need to get going in this group. With zero points from two matches, Zenit certainly welcomes Bate Borisov today to Russia. With Juventus hosting Real Madrid, Zenit quickly needs to close the gap on the top two, or else it will indeed be defending its UEFA Cup triumph--maybe.

This post was originally published at Champions League Talk.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Monday, October 20, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

The admiration (manlove?) for Jose Mourinho at this space is no secret, but the "Special One's" latest bombast that he would like to, or will, some day return to England, even makes us wince. Less than six months on the job at Inter, and Jose is already looking for his next paycheck? If I'm the brass at Inter, I'm not exactly crooning in my cannoli this morning. Jose is a winner, and bad for his employers, he knows it. So likely, most of his hot air is treated as such, but it must be tough to market a club whose coach is looking back toward his "unfinished business" in the Premier League--and everyone knows he's destined to reign on the Portugal bench someday. Wonder if Carlos Queiroz's current struggles there may hasten his arrival?

Food for thought as we traverse the football blogosphere this morning.

  • The Spoiler speculates that Mourinho might consider the Tottenham job. Um, doubtful son. This fish is too big for your tiny frying pan.
  • Inside Soccer World puts Mourinho's return date to England as 2011. Phew, one year before the Myan calendar says we're all caput. Plenty of time to win that elusive Champions League with an English club.
  • "I have a contract. I'm happy with Inter." Soccer Weblog attributes that to Mourinho and asks the $64,000 question: Is he trying to convince us, or himself?"
  • True Blue Football Crazy speculates Mourinho may be waiting for SAF to call it quits. Hope that coincides with 2011 timeframe.
  • Ah, nope, forget it. Wrighty7 has it. It's Arsenal, not Man. U., you know, because it's Arsene Wenger's pact that's up in 2011. Phew, glad that's straightened out.
  • Moving on from relevant to irrelevant, David Beckham may be training with AC Milan shortly, y'know, to stay in shape. Inside Soccer World reports that Beckham is doing so to keep spry and keep Fabio Capello's attention. Becks is three caps shy of the England record.
  • YoungGuns says Arsenal wants Beckham to train again with the Gunners. Wenger says Beckham's professional influece had a positive effect on Arsenal's young players who are currently contributing to the big club. Beckham trained with Arsenal prior to the current MLS season.
  • The Offside speculates about Beckham's true motives here, whether it is about maintaining fitness, or whether he's angling for a way out of LA.
  • CarlyLovesUnited says Milan wanted Beckham after his stay at Real Madrid. Darn, if only those Damn Yankees hadn't got in the way.
  • EPL Talk has a solid analysis of the situation at Tottenham and the angst against Damian Comolli, and not the disinterested, dispassionate Juande Ramos. Interesting.
  • Buzzin Football asks if Tottentham is too good to get relegated. A great coach once said about his team "we are what we are." Seems to apply here. If it walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, well then, Tottenham is going to get relegated.
  • CaughtOffside reports that Ramos is worried he'll be called to see chairman Daniel Levy this week. Sounds like going to the principal's office.
  • Villa the Offside ponders why the Premier League is turned on its ear. Hull in third? Tottenham at the bottom. WTF?
  • Speaking of Queiroz--we did, right? reports Gilberto Madail has given Queiroz the dreaded vote of confidence. Baseball fans in America know what that means for their teams' managers when that happens: "Mr. Queiroz, please report to the Principal's office!"
  • Oh You Beauty recaps Liverpool's raucous win over Wigan.
  • And finally, the Champions League resumes this week; in case you missed it and want to catch up on what's been happening, Champions League Talk has a good recap of recent news.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Friday, October 17, 2008

Argentina Coach Basile Resigns
After World Cup Qualifier Loss to Chile

The first major casualty of World Cup qualifying happened yesterday when Argentina coach Alfio Basile resigned following a rough 1-0 loss to Chile. Argentina trails the South American group leaders Paraguay by seven points.

Basile has a history with Argentina as manager, taking them to the '94 World Cup in the U.S. where they were dumped out in the second round. His second tenure began after the '06 World Cup; he guided Argentina to the Copa America final last year, where as favorites they were hammered by Brazil, 3-0.

Speaking of Brazil, it can't seem to find a way to score goals, especially at home. This puts its manager Dunga in shallow water as well. Dunga couldn't guide Brazil past Colombia this week at home, settling for a 0-0 tie. You know that doesn't sit well with the home fans, especially after stomping all over Venezuela, 4-0, on Sunday.

The Goodbye Dunga chants were out in full force, and who could blame the fans after having to sit through another goalless performance at home, the team's third straight.

It's probably a matter of time before Dunga joins Basile on the sidelines. Diego Simeone is considered a front-runner to succeed Basile, among others.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Carlos Queiroz Under Fire for
Portugal's Humiliating Draw v. Albania

No chance Big Phil Scolari would back out of that Chelsea deal and retake his place on the Portugal bench?

That's the question fans and media are asking today, 24 hours after Portugal's humiliating scoreless draw at home in a World Cup qualifier against 10-man Albania. Yes, Albania!!

Carlos Queiroz is closing in on Public Enemy No. 1 status in Portugal--and it's well deserved. In the span of less than four months, he's dragged the Euro '08 quarterfinalists and World Cup '06 semifinalists down to also-rans in a very winnable World Cup qualifying group.

Portugal has one win in four matches and hasn't scored since its 3-2 loss to Denmark Sept. 10. The Sept. 6 4-0 win over Malta seems like a lifetime ago. Probably worse for Queiroz who was somehow the natural successor to Luis Filipe Scolari, by far the most successful manager in Portugal history. Scolari took this team to the '04 Euro final in his first major tournament, shook up the Golden Generation of Figo, Baia, Rui Costa et al and brought forth the best of the current Golden Children of Ronaldo, Nani, Moutinho, Maniche etc.

And in a flash -- it's gone.

Yesterday's dreadful performance is being damned as one of the worst in the country's football history. Maisfutebol writes:

“It hurts to write it but it has to be done. Portugal drew nil-nil against Albania… I’d like to end this piece with the reaction of the Portuguese Football Federation head, but he left the stands well before the end of the game. Indeed, after watching this display one felt like running away.”

Is it too early to make the move on Queiroz?

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WAGs Won't Be Wagging
England's Dogs Any Longer

WAGs, otherwise known as wives and girlfriends in football circles, gotta love 'em.

Well maybe not if you're Fabio Capello.

Rio Ferdinand said ahead of today's World Cup qualifier in Belarus that Capello has clamped down on the WAG culture surrounding the England team Ferdinand said the WAG scene, the fashion showdowns and see-and-be-seen atmosphere was particularly circus-like during the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

''We became a bit of a circus, if I'm honest, in terms of the whole WAG situation. 'It seems like there was a big show around the whole England squad. It was like watching a theatre unfolding and football almost became a secondary element to the main event. People were worrying more about what people were wearing and where they were going, rather than the England football team. That then transposed itself into the team."

England made the quarterfinals in Germany, but Ferdinand made it sound like WAGs were front-page news more than the players. No more under Capello.

"This regime is very water-tight. If I'm honest, it feels as if we're going in the right direction. I don't want to speak too soon, but you can see we're at the start of something and, hopefully, there'll be bigger rewards than what we've had in the past.''

Hard to argue with the results with England scoring 3, 4 and 5 goals a game in its qualifiers and leading its group. Today is a sturdy test for England, and if the come up short, they sure can't blame the WAGs.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

World Cup Qualifiers:
Which Teams Need to Win

It's time to play: Who Needs to Win?

Very simply ladies and gentlemen, with another bout of World Cup qualifiers on the docket tomorrow, we're going to look at some of the fixtures and the standings and determine which are the big games. The rules are simple: Look at the standings, look at who's sucking wind, look at the fixtures, look for juicy matches, correlate the toughness of the match with the team's position in its group. Voila! Who Needs to Win!?!?!?

Group 1:

PORTUGAL Needs to Win. The World Cup semifinalists and Euro quarterfinalists host Albania tomorrow, and with four points from three matches, they're not exactly covering themselves in glory. Granted, there's plenty of talent and money injured and on the sidelines. Ronaldo has been limited in his playing time, and Deco and Carvalho out with injuries as well. But this is as close to a gimme, a sitter if you will, that Portugal is going to get in this group--outside of Malta (anyone remember Baron Mikel Scicluna, the wrestler from the Isle of Malta?). Expect Portugal to stomp on Albania; anything less than 3-0 is unacceptable.

Group 2:

SWITZERLAND Needs to Win. The Euro hosts gave a decent accounting of themselves during the continental championships and if they expect to contend for a spot in South Africa, tomorrow's match in Greece is crucial. The Swiss are in third place with four points, three behind Israel. This is doable for Switzerland, but it needs to upend the group leaders in Greece. Israel travels to Latvia, and while Israel is talented, a road match is a road match. An Israel win and a Swiss loss, and this group could be decided.

Group 3:

CZECH REPUBLIC Needs to Win. This is the easiest of the groups to pick out. The Czechs are a world power in football, and have had noteworthy results in the Euro and World Cup. But with one point after three matches, the Czechs need to get it in gear. A good place to start is with its home match tomorrow against Slovenia, which is tied for first in the group with Poland with seven points.

Group 4:

RUSSIA Needs to Win. The darlings of Euro 2008, surprise semifinalists, need to recover some points after losing to Germany over the weekend. Russia is fourth with three points, and looking up at Wales, Finland and Germany in the standings. Russia hosts Finland tomorrow; should tell us a lot about the heart of this team.

Group 5:

BELGIUM Needs to Win. Belgium? Aren't they in second place, you ask? Aren't they within striking distance of the group leaders and European champions Spain, you ask? Yeppers. You Bet. And they host Spain tomorrow too, and better win. Victory puts Belgium in first in the group by a point and more importantly keeps space between itself and Turkey, which must go to Estonia. Turkey needs to win there too for many of the same reasons, but Belgium more so with Spain on the docket.

Group 6:

ENGLAND Needs to Win. England is winning; it's scoring goals; it's beating the teams it has to beat. Plus it leads the group. So why does it need to win? Lots of reasons, namely consistency and confidence. Wayne Rooney needs to keep scoring. Frank Lampard needs to keep playing brilliantly in the midfield. Steven Gerrard needs to keep getting out of Lampard's way. England travels to Belarus without John Terry and Ashley Cole. This won't be easy, but they need to find a way; otherwise, the noose is going to tighten.

Group 7:

AUSTRIA Needs to Win. Austria only because France and Romania are off. Austria was the little engine that could at Euro, taking Germany to the wire before faltering. Austria hosts group leaders Serbia. The hosts trail the leaders by two points, and a win here is crucial.

Group 8:

TOSSUP. I want badly to say Italy, but at home? Against Montenegro? If it's not 2-0 at the half, and 5-1 at the finish, the Italians should be ashamed. No, it's likely Bulgaria, which has two points and has to stare up at Ireland ahead of it in the standings. Bulgaria hosts Georgia, and should get the job done, and it better, because Ireland hosts Cyprus.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Monday, October 13, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

There's some seriously weird karma floating around England. Lose John Terry. Win over Kazakhstan. Lose John Terry and Ashley Cole. Who knows what's coming against Belarus on Wednesday.

England slammed the Borats, 5-1, on Saturday in its World Cup qualifying match. No need to pore over every detail, but this one was close until the visitors tired and England's talent and superiority buried them with three scores in the final 20 minutes.

Belarus is a different creature; and Wednesday's road game could foster a different result.

Therefore, in the interest of timeliness and voyeurism, let's relish the impending doom and misery of England's football fandom--and do so through this week's journey around the football blogosphere.

  • More Than Mind Games has some insight into Scotland-Norway and England-Kazakhstan, and rightly points out that Ashley Cole's gaffe took some pressure off Matthew Upson's performance.
  • The New York Times Goal blog has a player-by-player review of the U.S.' shellacking of Cuba, 6-1.
  • Speaking of karma; Fabio Capello, Rio Ferdinand and others have tsk-tsked the ticket-buying public for booing Ashley Cole. How dare they? Check out the Reuters Soccer blog for more.
  • More on Ashley Cole from 101 Great Goals. Odious?
  • Times have changed. Players have forsaken their "benefit of the doubt" in favor of HUGE contracts. Prospect Magazine has some excellent analysis of the dynamic between fans and players, and the disconnect that exists.
  • EPL Talk says it's madness to boo Cole.
  • More Ashley Cole bashing: 4Sportsake says it's not out of order to boo Cole despite the apologists.
  • Enter the apologists: OnlineGooner. Imagine if England had lost.
  • More from EPL Talk; For those of you who watched England on Fox Soccer Channel, you noticed that there was no live commentary. Nick Webster and Warren Barton did the pre-game analysis, and the play-by-play was more of a discussion between the two in studio; no switchover.What do you think?
  • Another good read: Soccer Weblog looks at an officiating experiment in a U-19 tournament where two extra assistant refs are on the pitch.
  • Did we mention the U.S. beat Cuba to advance in CONCACAF's mysterious qualifying tournament? Soccer News Brief has a good rundown.
  • Soccernews covers the angles on Brazil's rout of Venezuela. Kaka scored once and set up another. Robinho had two of the "sublime" variety.
  • 101 Great Goals has links to all the goals from South America, including those Robinho tallies.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Capello Puts Gerrard and Lampard in Their Place

Steven Gerrard gets his wish and will play in his preferred spot today against Kazakhstan, but not after a dressing down from Fabio Capello that he will not tolerate players pining for their favorite positions.


So which is it? Do players play where you want, Fabio? Or do they play where they want?

Gerrard whined after England's 4-1 over Croatia that he'd played in his favorite center attacking mid spot only handful of times in his international career. Capello prefers Frank Lampard there and Lampard was stupendous against Croatia. It's a nice problem for Capello to have, and perhaps his strategy will play in his favor.

Has Gerrard earned this nod? Sure. And Lampard is no slouch either.

No the real winner is Capello who has put his foot down and finally addressed a problem he could not allow to linger longer. From the Independent:

Either Lampard, aged 30, and the 28-year-old Gerrard, prove finally that their brains do not automatically turn to shredded wheat whenever they simultaneously pull on the shirts of their nation or they go their separate ways. One is to the wasteland of unfulfilled potential – the other is to some justification of their vast reputations, to which Lampard did add, let us be fair, a little flesh in Gerrard's absence during the impressive victory over Croatia in Zagreb last month.

Says it all.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Friday, October 10, 2008

Injuries Plague European Giants
Ahead of World Cup Qualifiers

World Cup qualifiers aren't extraordinarily exciting, but since the domestic leagues are taking an international break for matches tomorrow and Wednesday, we might as well look at them too.

In Europe, the big deal centers around who isn't playing, rather than who is. John Terry is out for England against Kazakhstan at Wembley tomorrow and Belarus in Minsk on Wednesday, while Henrik Larsson will miss Sweden's match with Portugal and Gianluigi Buffon and Mauro Camoranesi are on the bench for Italy against Bulgaria and Montenegro.

Big names, but is it a big deal?

Terry has a bad back and this forces Fabio Capello to insert a newbie alongside Rio Ferdinand in the middle of the England defense. Matthew Upson, Joleon Lescott and Wes Brown are the trio from which Capello will choose. Terry has been ailing for a while; he played limited minutes against Cluj in the Champions League for Chelsea, and played with a brace against Aston Villa.

Luckily for England, it should be able to handle Kazakhstan sans Mr. Terry; but haven't we heard that before? Emile Heskey is also shaky for England with, yes, a bad back, despite his promise to complement Wayne Rooney up front. You'll remember, Capello went for Heskey over Michael Owen, a standard among English strikers and a favorite of previous regimes.

As for Terry's spot, Lescott seems to have the nod, but his case isn't a superb one. He's in the middle of an Everton defense that has conceded 16 goals so far. One more note, England has lost just one competitive match with Terry in the Starting Eleven; four of nine without him.

Other games of note:

  • Germany hosts Russia
  • Poland hosts the Czech Republic
  • Romania hosts France
  • Estonia hosts Spain

In South America, where the top four automatically qualify for South Africa, the logjam tie for second between Brazil, Argentina and Chile figures to continue as all three play teams lower in the table. Argentina is the only team staying home, it hosts Uruguay, while Brazil travels to Venezuela and Chile to Ecuador. Leaders Paraguay are at Colombia; Paraguay leads with 17 points, four more than Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

I'm amused. I have some great people who visit my personal space here on the Internet; and they come from all over the world. I have guests from Singapore, China, South America, Turkey, Africa and lots from the U.S. I'm so humbled and tickled that I have such a diverse readership and I hope they leave my site somewhat satisfied. It's cool, really.

I try to give you some bang for your buck, either via a definite opinion on an issue, entertaining art work or a poll that you feel compelled to answer. I don't do anything with the results, but I do check them a lot. The most recent poll I put up--which is still here, for a few more days anyway--asks you to pick the best football league in the world. I listed everyone I could think of that might be of interest of someone, and included the always-valuable "Other" button to cover any that I missed.

And really, to no one's surprise, the Premier League was the runaway winner. Of the 58 votes case, 37 voted for the English league. While this is not a scientific sample by any means, I think it's on the money. LaLiga finished second with six votes and closing in fast was MLS with five.

Yes, MLS.

And for a while, MLS was tied for second.

So what does this say, boys and girls? Well, some analysis of the comments I get from my readers tells me that I have a somewhat educated bunch of surfers who happen here. It's unlikely they think MLS is anywhere near the third best league in the world. So this tells me that my visitors have a sense of humor, a sense of sarcasm and self-deprication--and I love that. I kinda wish they'd made MLS No. 1.

Hell, why not? MLS has to be No. 1 in something.

Enough ranting, here's this week's trip around the football blogosphere:

  • EPL Talk is a must-stop today. Gaffer chimes in on Michel Platini's continued war against English football, especially foreign ownership and foreign players making up the bulk of the rosters on these clubs. Again, is this free enterprise or not? If these clubs want to spend outside of England and bring in talent from Qatar or Quebec, isn't it their privilege? You want to enforce parity Platini? Bring in the salary cap.
  • Just like Fox News, we're fair and balanced here. Soccernews is with Platini, and he's not happy about it.
  • EUFootballBiz checks in of the talk of UEFA wanting to ban clubs in debt.
  • RedCafe, a Man. U. lovefest, points out that Premier League clubs are the biggest offenders. Duh.
  • MelbourneVictory lays out the gruesome debt numbers.
  • And for you salary cap lovers, I bring you MLSTalk, which asks the question: Is MLS Really Competitive?
  • MLS Rumors says UEFA may be looking at the MLS model. Really?
  • 101 Great Goals questions the viability of South Africa as the World Cup host.
  • Some People Are on the Pitch has something different, an analysis of the top division in Israel, and a look at some of the goings-on in Germany. Anyone manning big bridges for Jurgen Klinsman's car?
  • US Soccerspot takes a look at the USL title game and Puerto Rico's chances in the CONCACAF Champions League.
  • blogs about Platini today as well, and points out that Platini laments the lack of identity the English clubs have. Riiiiiight.
  • Revisiting Newcastle, the NUFCblog looks into player recruitment executive Tony Jiminez's departure. Sounds like this is the first step toward good health for Toon town.
  • Newcastle United Mad, meanwhile, takes a shot at Spurs' players whining that some in the press have labeled them a laughingstock. Toughen up says NUM.
  • Some actually thought Joe Kinnear's profane outburst last week was a good thing. Right Footballpools?

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

UEFA Cup Draw: A Tasty Treat

The re-branded UEFA Cup may play second fiddle to the Champions League, but it continues to be a tasty alternative to its big-eared cousin.

The draw was held this morning, and if you're into conspiracy theories, then an anti-England bias is your flavor of the day. Sarcasm aside, the groups are brutal and ultra-competitive for all the competitors. Manchester City has some miles of travel on its docket with trips to Germany, France, Spain and Holland. Tottenham too; Spurs bound for Russia, the former Yugoslavia, Italy and Holland. Same goes for Portsmouth and Aston Villa.

As is custom, if we're looking for a Group of Death, may I suggest, well Group A. Not only is the nouveau riche of City in the Group, but the equally dangerous Schalke, Racing Santander, Paris St. Germain and FC Twente.

Here are the groups:

Group A
Schalke 04
Paris St Germain
Racing Santander
FC Twente

Group B
Hertha Berlin
Metalist Kharkiv

Group C
Partizan Belgrade
Standard Liege

Group D
Spartak Moscow
Dinamo Zagreb
NEC Nijmegen

Group E
AC Milan
SC Braga
Vfl Wolfsburg

Group F
Slavia Prague
MSK Zilina

Group G
Club Brugge
FC Copenhagen

Group H
CSKA Moscow
Deportiva La Coruna
Lech Poznan

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Friday, October 3, 2008

Joe Kinnear: Newcastle's Loon at Toon

Was it a meltdown? A calculated ploy maybe?

Nah, I'll vote for sheer stupidity.

Newcastle United interim manager Joe Kinnear is a prime example of why first impressions are so important and ultimately what happens if you don't make a good one. During his first meeting with the English press yesterday, Kinnear dropped 50 expletives, many of them personal diatribes against the reporters who have been covering the disaster at Toon this year. Most of the 50 were heavily laden F-bombs, and a couple of C-bombs. Click here if you want to read the transcript of Kinnear's exchange.

Kinnear accused the writers of undremining his position at Newcastle, and counterattacked their disbelief that on Kinnear's first day on the job, he didn't have the first team players at the park for meetings, introductions etc. Kinnear says he was meeting with the coaches, chairman and owner. "What are you? My fucking secretary?" Not exactly a classy way to address legitimate questions about--again--the first impression he made with his players. This guy needs help with first impressions, eh?

Kinnear was belligerent from the outset and wouldn't let up. The reporters had questions about the length of his contract: Six weeks? Eight weeks? Will the club be sold in the interim? The more they pinged in, the worse he got; threatening legal action, calling them slimy, calling them the C-word. It was ugly.

Worse, it doesn't help what is already at tarnished product, which in case Kinnear hasn't noticed, has a big FOR SALE sign on the front door. Oh BTW, the South African consortium interested in buying Newcastle, was in town yesterday for negotiatins. I wonder what the chairman thinks of his antics? I wonder whether the players think this guy is a loon; how can they trust him now?

In case you're wondering, Kinnear said he will hand-pick the reporters he speaks to in the future and told the rest to f&*k off.

But the real star of the day has to be the Newcastle press officer. I wonder who gets fired for this first: Kinnear, or this loon?

On several occasions, rather than trying to diffuse the situation by, well, ending the press conference before it dove to such depths, his attempts to intercede included a plea to keep the cursing off the record. To quote Joe Kinnear, "What the f*&k?"

"Let's get on to football. Let's have an agreement that everything said so far, if anyone has got their tapes on, it's wiped off and we're not discussing it."

Oh I hope some pops this on YouTube if for no other reason to see the snickering on the journalists' faces when those lines get blurted out, and to see this press officer go pale as Kinnear drops 50 F-bombs and C-bombs. 101 Great Goals has the audio. Priceless.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Chelsea's Drogba Injured;
Sidelined Six Weeks, Maybe Longer

Didier Drogba could be out of the Chelsea lineup until early December, and possibly longer, after suffering ligament damage during yesterday's goalless draw against Cluj in the Champions League.

John Terry and Brazilian defender Alex were also injured during yesterday's match, making the Chelsea bench much deeper and more expensive than the product that's already on the field. Note that Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole and Michael Essien are already down.

Drogba has missed the first five weeks of the Premier League season recovering from offseason knee surgery.

The Blues lead the Premiership, but that is a tenuous advantage at best now and puts manager Luiz Filipe Scolari in the spotlight more than ever. A longtime international manager, Scolari hasn't had to make these kinds of day-to-day decisions in a long time. With the winter transfer period coming up, Chelsea could be an active shopper.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Can Cluj Take a Bite out of Chelsea?

How cliche that Transylvania is the setting for today's Champions League encounter between Cluj and Chelsea, given of course that it's Oct. 1 and we're about to be bludgeoned for the next 31 days with the images and sounds of Halloween. Just check out the nearest Target or Wal-Mart if you don't believe me.

The ironic thing is that Chelsea likely has that uneasy queasy feeling in the pit of its collective stomach heading into its Group A match--and it's got nothing to do with being a few kilometers from Vlad the Impaler's shack. No, it's more likely due to the fact that underdog Cluj, fifth in the Romanian table, likely isn't sweating this match. Cluj are the darlings of this tournament having conquerered Roma on Matchday One, winning 2-1 at the Stadio Olimpico.

Coming home against the 2007-08 Champions League runners-up should be a breeze.


Well, on another day, maybe not. Today, maybe so.

Chelsea is minus four key performers coming into this match, namely Deco, Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole and of course Michael Essien-- all hamstrung with injuries; Essien for the season. That's a lot of expensive meat on the bench for the Blues so far from home. Expect Didier Drogba back in the Chelsea starting eleven today and his running partner up front will be Salomon Kalou. Jon Obi Mikel will get the call in midfield likely alongside Michael Ballack and Frank Lampard. Surely Chelsea has enough to stave off the upset; unless of course it falls victim to the same complacency that did in Arsenal against Hull over the weekend. To its credit, Arsenal rebounded in a huge way yesterday, slamming F.C. Porto in London, 4-0.

Manager Luiz Filipe Scolari is saying the right things about his opponent, but understands that semantics don't suit up on the pitch.

"We will treat [Cluj] with total respect. Any team that can win 2-1 at Roma will be dangerous in this competition," he said.

And speaking of saying all the right things, Cluj striker Yousef Kone says Chelsea is four times stronger than Roma right now, making the home team's job--well--four times more difficult.

“Chelsea are a football machine. In the end it's 11 against 11 and the pressure will be on Chelsea, not on us. If they beat us, it would be normal. If we beat them, it would be something fantastic," he said.

So will we see something fantastic? It will be a dramatic, hostile setting for Chelsea against a confident team playing in front of a crowd that is dreaming of an upset. This is Scolari's first test of his managerial mettle at Chelsea--yes even more so than the game against United. He has to move the chess pieces tactically and confidently and the players must execute. Otherwise, Cluj will be in command of the group and Chelsea and Roma will be hammering on each other for second place in the group.

This post originally appeared at Champions League Talk.

Subscribe to Starting Eleven