Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Relax Liverpool Fans; Red Sox Ownership isn't What You're Expecting

OK, so this one is for you Liverpool fan. I'm here to tell you all about the Boston Red Sox and what life is going to be like for you and for your Anfield experience in the coming years. Buckle in boys, it'll be interesting.
First, a little about the Red Sox. Not quite America's team, but nonetheless, very popular throughout the game's history, especially since 1967 when the team went from last place in 1966 to Game 7 of the 1967 World Series. They lost. They lost four Game 7s as a matter of fact (1946, 1967, 1975 and 1986), all the while, their rivals the New York Yankees won a crapload of championships (28 and counting). Think Manchester United of late.

The Red Sox, like Liverpool, were plagued with, let's say awkward ownership and management from the 1940s to the late 1990s, early 2000s. Thomas Yawkey, for whom a street is named in Boston, was a racist. Pretty common knowledge. The Sox were the last baseball team to sign a black player and Yawkey notoriously made it a point that this was the way it was going to be. The Yawkeys and the Yawkey Foundation were in charge until 2002 when current owner John Henry bought the team.

This signaled a rebirth of the Red Sox for sure. Gone were the Yawkeys, taking with them a stale product, an outdated ballpark and a philosophy of profit first over championships. OK if you're running a business, not so much if you're a fan.

Henry and his partners quickly ousted management, brought in a young general manager to oversee player development and signings. Theo Epstein had a fresh approach to baseball and it worked. In 2003, the Sox should have gone--and won the World Series--but were undone by an incompetent field manager in the ALCS (think semifinals). They did win it all the next year, ending 86 years of frustration without a championship. The Sox won again in 2007.

This is great news for Liverpool fans. Granted now, Henry et al didn't come in having to erase the same debt  they will encounter with Liverpool, but they did have to erase years of bad charma and bad blood and infighting between players, management and fans. They invested in good on-field and off-field management, revamped player development and put a good team on the field.

And they didn't ignore the fans, unlike previous ownership, who insisted it was OK that men piss community style in the men's room into what was essentially a massive bathtub with continuously running water that, yes, you guessed it, would overflow whenever it felt like it. Fenway was a dump and its charm as America's best little ballpark wasn't holding much water either.

Henry and company invested in Fenway Park, resisting temptation to build a new park. They closed off the streets surrounding the ballpark, and basically, made it festive out there. Lots of interactivity between fans and the club with booths, food, clowns. You could watch the team's local television show being done live on a stage at the end of one street. Bars and eateries popped up, ironically, all along Yawkey Way and Landsdowne Street. Inside the park changed too. Better food and conveniences were added. More seating in different places too; atop the Green Monster and on the right field roof (an exclusive bar, and seating area, nice take in the summer). Fenway, in many ways, is still a dump. It's almost 100 years old, but at least it doesn't smell like piss and you don't have to stand in it in the men's room.

There are black guys on the team and good food and drink (yes, it's expensive) to consume. It's a good time, albeit a costly day out.

Having never been to Anfield, I can't say if the current experience there is similar to old Fenway. But I can say that Henry and company are A) master marketers and B) want to win. I would guess that when they're able, they'll bring in top-flight management first, scout out the best football players, focus on player development many levels below the senior club and bring back a taste of Premiership and Champions League glory.

It may not be easy and a quick road to the top--and heaven forbid Liverpool is relegated. But  you can be sure that Henry and company won't behave as Hicks and Gillet did, nor will they be the Glazers. Your protests are understandable; you're certainly shell-shocked Liverpool fan by what the Texas twosome did to your beloved club. But rest easier, these aren't the same types of blokes. You might not get a new Anfield right away, but they'll pretty up the one you have, and they'll pretty up the boys on the pitch. Talk to me in 2-3 years when you have some silverware and just gimme a nod and a wink that I was right. That's all I ask.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Wayne Rooney Tumbles from Football's Elite

Colleen Rooney
Has there been a steeper and quicker slide from grace than Wayne Rooney's?

To say the bulldog-ish Manchester United scorer had the world by the short-hairs a year ago is a Biblical understatement. Rooney in the penalty area was an automatic goal. Always in the right spot. Always open. Always scoring. He was destined to be a World Cup hero.

Hero? How about zero?

In the span of nine short months, Rooney has gone from the best forward on the planet, to the planet's most disappointing striker. The goals have dried up. England was a bust at the World Cup. Rooney has a bad wheel and a bad sense of what's right and wrong. He cheats on his wife--with prostitutes--putting his personal life on display for all wave their finger at. The trickle down, coupled with a bad ankle, has made Rooney a pariah.

And to top it off, he and his manipulative agent hold United hostage for the ultimate salary double-down and loud public pleas for more talented players. Nice to hear your team's supposed best player and on-field leader telling you the status quo sucks, and be damned with strangling debt--sign more players.
Rooney is a blockhead, but he scores goals and apparently, that is good enough for Man. U. to be manipulated into shelling out 150,000 a week for No. 10.

In the meantime, United is level with Arsenal in second in the Premier League with 17 points, 5 behind Chelsea. Rooney has one goal in five games. He did not score in South Africa at the World Cup, and has scored just twice since March.

So to recap, Rooney has alienated his teammates, cheated on his wife, was woeful in the biggest event of his professional life and he's rewarded with a 60,000 raise. Only in America, er, football.