Friday, July 23, 2010

Laurent Blanc Suspends France Team

Laurent Blanc is my new hero.

The new France coach took the best first step imaginable with the national side when he announced that he was suspending all 23 players on the World Cup team for one match. That match is a friendly Aug. 11 against Norway.

France was a disaster at the World Cup, scoring one goal, gaining only a tie as its best result, and had a slew of players refuse to train during the tournament in protest of whacky Ray Domenech, the head coach of the stars who relied on the stars for strategy.

From the French Football Federation website:

''Laurent Blanc was heard this Friday, July 23 by the Federal Council which he presented his staff and his sporting project. He also proposed to the Federal Council, which agreed to retain for the friendly Norway-France, Wednesday, August 11 in Oslo, none of 23 players selected by the official French Football Federation for World Cup South Africa.''

In the long run, this isn't a big deal, but it's an interesting first step for Blanc. If you're going to grandstand out of the chute, then this is the way to do it. Instilling more misery and humiliation on that embarrassing group of players works for me, hopefully it works for Blanc.

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Thursday, July 22, 2010

Why You Shouldn't Care About Media Coverage of Soccer in the U.S.

When people bemoan to me the demise of newspapers, I try to gently tell them that newspapers are a generational thing. If you're younger than, say 50, chances are you get most of your news and information from A) television, and B), the Internet. I don't subscribe to newspapers anymore, I read the free ones online. Who, then, is keeping newspapers alive? Our parents, of course. These are the folks who need the physical ink-stained fish wrapper in their hands every day. These are the folks who don't quite realize that ALL of the news in a newspaper is OLD!

But back to my point; it's a generational thing. And when mom and dad are no longer with us, or get too old to realize they're actually missing their newspaper every day, that's when you'll see newspapers finally die off for good.

This argument is quite useful in many arenas. For example, you can use an offshoot of this argument when dealing with American media types and their slanted, ignorant coverage of football--I'm talking about soccer, the round football. When these old bastards die off, so will the cocky, elitist coverage of soccer in this country. And then, perhaps, the game will get a little more mainstream here. But until then, who cares really? Does soccer need America to thrive? The answer is a simple "No." It's doing just fine without it.

For sure FIFA would like to see millions and millions of dollars pumped into the game, but if that doesn't happen, c'est la vie. They'll survive on euros, yen and any other currency of your choice. That's because soccer doesn't need America. It doesn't need positive coverage from the American media, who amazingly, still to this day, rely on the same crutches they did 20 years ago when covering football. For God's sake, we get it, the field is too big, there isn't enough scoring, make the goal bigger, more shootouts (shootouts?), why do they wear shorts, surprise surprise, it's ahem nil-nil at the half, another game decided by penalty kicks--that's like deciding a game with a home run derby (is it?). We get it: You don't get the game, so the easy way out is to slam it and of course, make fun of the foreigners who love it. That's another crutch these ass-clowns lean on, because you know, they don't speak English and take all our jobs, and oh yeah, build all your schools, churches, playgrounds and roads--and have done so for 100 years.

What's brought this rant about today? Last night's Celtic-Sporting match at Fenway Park. I should have known better than to try to read the coverage from the local media because I knew it would tick me off. Against my better judgment, I'm going to link to the coverage and send them some page views, but I caution you, click through at your own risk. Why? Because you're going to read A) Token stories about the jolly drunken Scottish dudes in Celtic jersies on Lansdowne Street singing tunes and rubbing their stomachs. And in those same stories, you're going to hear from the immigrant Portuguese family, all wearing Sporting jersies, talking about how their daddies and grandaddies loved Sporting from the moment of conception. B) The local columnist's rant about how the game didn't sell out despite the recent World Cup and soccer sweeping the nation--and oh yeah, a few potshots at diving, nil-nil and how they might have ruined the Fenway infield. Did you know the Orioles-Red Sox games this weekend are sold out?

I could have predicted this a day ago, and I wish I'd blogged it because I would have looked like a frikkin genius. I could have also predicted exactly what you wouldn't have read. Namely, any worthwhile insight on either team, both of which are weeks away from starting the domestic season and a week away from starting in Europe. You won't read about the hidden gem that is Georgios Samaras or what a future star Paul McGowan is for Celtic. You won't read about Sporting's promising new signings of Maniche and Pedro Mendes (yes, these ass clowns missed the obvious angle here the Mendes played for Rangers, y'know, Celtic's main rival. Whoops, you didnt' know).

The point is, that it's easy for the American media to take a steaming dump on soccer, because like everything else in life, it's easy to crap on stuff you don't understand. It's hard work sometimes researching stuff on the Internet and trying to produce interesting copy that would appeal maybe to a niche part of your audience, instead of just trotting out the same pablum you always do about soccer.

But the thing is, usually crap helps stuff grow. And eventually crap fades away--dies off, even, generationally--and what you're left with is something better than what you started out with.

Rant Over!

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Handball Thierry Henry Coming to MLS

How about a hand for MLS? Thierry Henry is joining America's first division and I'm anxious to see him lend his touch to Red Bull New York. Finally, a big-time name playing for a big-time East Coast city; not much of a head-scratcher if you ask me. Sounds like a solid plan to bring in the fading French star to a ballclub with a new ballpark in order to generate interest and give the New Yorkers an identity. Can't wait for the ovation--for sure it won't sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.

OK, enough veiled handball references. If you got the sarcasm, 10 points to you for being able to read between the lines. This deal, from a big-picture point of view, is everything that's wrong with MLS. In and of itself, no there's nothing wrong with Henry. He still has his legs. He'll standout with Red Bull NY, score his share and put butts in the seats. A win all around.

But hey MLS, what about all that talk of not turning MLS into the NASL? First David Beckham, now Henry. Paging Mr. Zidane, Mr. Zinadine Zidane? Granted, Henry isn't breaking the bank with his deal, but Beckham's tenure with the L.A. Galaxy was nothing short of disastrous. From Day 1, Beckham chased a coach and had L.A. bring in Ruud Gullitt as his choice. How did that go? Right. Then they stripped Landon Donovan of the captain's armband in favor of Becks, who from Day 1, COULDN'T PLAY!!

Remember his first appearance in L.A. against Chelsea? He was on the bench tugging at his gimpy ankle for 70-plus minutes before he got some token time late in the match. This was and is Donovan's team and for cowardly Alexi Lalas to have done that to Donovan is still unforgivable. And what did Beckham do the first chance he could? Yes, he bolted for A.C. Milan. Why? Again, reading between the lines, he wanted better competition. He wanted a bigger stage in order to keep his spot on the England World Cup team.

Will the former Mr. Nicole Merry disrupt Red Bull to the same degree? Maybe not. Red Bull is MLS' classic underachiever. They've made one final and have been in the playoff hunt a handful of other times. But its desperately lacking a name star--sorry Juan Pablo Angel, as good as he is, ain't a household name. And that's the problem with Henry. His is a household name, and his cache' is what brings him here. Would Thierry Henry have come here five years ago? Nooooooo.

MLS is where good players come to die/retire. Henry will be on holiday here, playing in the second-division for the offseason, hoping for one last fling in Europe with a Tottenham-type of team. He'll sell tickets in New York for sure, and will generate a curiosity factor in other cities, at least the first time around. He'll score some goals and win some games--maybe.

But this isn't a good deal for MLS. In fact MLS, call me when you sign a Thierry Henry type IN HIS PRIME. Until then, I've seen this show before. Not interested.

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Monday, July 12, 2010

Spain Wins First World Cup

Amazingly, English referee Howard Webb did the impossible. By constantly puffing on his whistle throughout Sunday's World Cup final, he managed to create a more shrill sound than the omnipresent vuvuzelas.

Sadly however, Webb's timing, well, sucks.

Yes the Dutch were dirty, just ask Johan Cruyff, but Webb's need to interject himself over and over did as much to take away from the spectacle of Spain's 1-0 extra-time win over the Netherlands. Spain were no saints either. Portugal's Iberian cousins apparently have been paying attention to the master baby-daddy Cristiano Ronaldo, the diver extraordinaire. The drama was in overdrive Sunday night in Jo-berg and the result was a lousy final.

But really, this isn't a surprise. After all, aren't most major tournament finals terrible? They're chippy, dirty and yes, extra-time affairs that rarely live up to the hype. Thank God sex isn't like soccer, otherwise, we'd all be orgasming in the early stages of the event and the big finish we hope for ends up being a limp biscuit.

Spain won its first World Cup, and justly so. Spain was the better team. It was the best team in the tournament, though Germany has an argument there. It's appalling that the Dutch went into the game convinced they could not contend with Spain's patience and precision. They approached the rectangular pitch like an MMA octagon. Nigel de Jong, in fact, took that a bit literally. He should have been red-carded immediately, as should have Arjen Robben late in the extra time.

Look, we're a few hundred words into this post and we haven't talked about the pretty football that was practiced on Sunday. Because between the whistles, magic spray breaks, and embellished pains in the knees and ankles, we tend to forget how every single time Robben touched the ball he did something positive. How many corners did he create? How many breathtaking runs through the impenetrable Spanish defense? And the breakaway that should have been a goal. Good think Ilker Casillas didn't trim the nail on his big toe, eh?

How about Carles Puyol's play in the semis and the final? And what about Sergio Ramos turning the Dutch defense silly on more than one occasion, never mind his header that should have settled things long before Andres Iniesta's goal late in extra time.

And the wonderful Iniesta. Long a favorite here, it was so fitting he scored the legendary winner. How perfect that he played so perfectly the whole match. He and Xavi are the best midfield pairing I've ever seen, and I believe the best teams always win, and the best players always win.

And speaking of winning, Spain is the first World Cup title holder to also hold the European championship. More remarkably, Spain did so winning both championships on foreign soil. The greatest team of our time won the world championship. Like Iniesta, perfectly fitting.

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