Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

I'm a couple of days late with the weekly tour of the football blogosphere. Life intervenes sometimes. Bugs me because I watched the Milan Derby and came away with a couple of conclusions: One, when Julio Cesar is on, he's the best in the world (and that's coming from a huge Casillas fan); and Two, Mourinho is just the best. I know people hate him, but him trying to get the crowd on its feet for the final five minutes and those people responding was just tremendous. At least the guy's not a robot.

Off to the races:

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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Benfica Chasing Manchester City's Robinho?
Question Is: Why?

Portuguese sports daily A Bola is reporting that Benfica is chasing Robinho, who is on the fast track out of Manchester City. Read it here in Portuguese.

Robinho's signing by City might be one of the worst financial decisions made by a football club in history; certainly one of the most expensive with the least return on investment. Robinho left Real Madrid in 2008 for City and in less than 18 months cannot even crack the Starting 11.

So the question is, why would Benfica, or even Santos of the Brazilian league, want Robinho's under-performing butt on their sides. Benfica is tied atop the Portuguese league with upstarts Braga and scoring goals by the bushel. How's this: Benfica has scored 44 goals in league play, and another 18 in the Europe League and 6 in the Portuguese Cup. 68 goals in 26 games. Nine times they've scored four goals or more. By the way, have we mentioned Benfica has given up only nine goals this season in the league?

So why mess with this? Why mess with the continuity of a team that isn't afraid to get in a shootout with anyone in Europe right now? Robinho says the last straw at City was new manager Roberto Mancini's offer to have him play every other match. He pouted, said no and is trying to stomp his way out of town.

He told The Guardian:

"The coach was very sincere with me and said that I would play every other match. I told him that would not be interesting to me, it's a World Cup year." He was also disparaging about European coaches. "They choose a formation and want you to play in it, it doesn't matter if you are short or tall."

The question is whether City will indeed let him go since they'll surely be on the hook for some of his salary. Why let him go and get nothing in return? Oh that's right, they're getting nothing now.

EPL Talk has a great analysis of the situation and raises the point again about South Americans' inability to thrive in the Premier League. Though I guess Carlos Tevez would toss some cold water on that theory.

Nonetheless, Robinho is a crazy talent and if Benfica lands him, he becomes the X-Factor in their title quest. He certainly could push Benfica over the top, or he could send them crashing down. Worth watching.

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Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inter's Maicon To Shine At Milan Derby

Sunday is Milan Derby Day when Inter hosts Milan. Perfect time to talk about one--actually two--of my favorite players.

First, some context. I used to be a huge hockey nut; loved the old school Boston Bruins and especially how Ray Bourque, a defenseman, always carried the puck up the ice and set up the offense (shit I'm old if Ray Bourque is Old School). I digress. Bourque had a great motor, was extraordinarily tough and rarely made a mistake. He was always in position on defense and his transition to offense was seamless. He was fearless bringing the puck up the ice, was a precise passer and wasn't shy about shooting and scoring.

So when I see a footballer play the same way for a coach who allows him to express himself on the pitch, then I'm all-in. Of course I'm talking about Maicon, the Brazilian right back who is as much a fixture of Inter's attack as its high-priced forwards Milito, Eto'o and Balotelli. It's thrilling to watch Maicon sprint up and down the right side of the Inter attack, daring opponents to stem his momentum. Often, it ain't happening.

Maicon was huge in the first go-round between these two in August, a 4-0 Inter win. He's a threat to shoot every time he's within range (three goals, 29 shots so far) and he's a better passer. He's set up a team-best five goals and in a Bourque-like fashion, seems to play his best in big games.

Sunday's clash is going to be huge, not only because it's a Derby, but because of how Milan is storming back toward the top in Serie A. Milan is six points back with a game in hand. Beckham is back and Ronaldinho is making a last-gasp dash for a spot on the Brazil team. Thankfully he's not an attacking right fullback because that spot is way crowded already.

By my glowing review here, you might think young Maicon is a lock at that spot for Brazil. But nay-nay. Don't forget Dani Alves of Barcelona, in my opinion a more dynamic entity than Maicon and a more productive on a better team. Alves and Maicon present Brazil coach Dunga with a quandary for the World Cup this summer. Can he get his two best playmakers on the field at the same time.

I think Alves has--or should have--the edge. The kid, he's two years younger than Maicon, does nothing but cause trouble for the opposition. Granted he's got better attacking options up front and THE BEST midfield in the world in front of him at Barca, but Alves still has to make the initial pass from the back. He has to make a good initial decision, and often times, it's he who is crossing the ball from the right side, or finding his way into the box to score.

If there's a knock against these guys, it's their defense. They clearly think attack first, which is fine if you're a ticket-buying fan, but not so much if you're invested as a teammate or coach. They do give it up on defense more than they should and it's because they're allowed to be so aggressive up front. Clearly it's a tradeoff that Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola are comfortable with.

Otherwise, maybe they can hook them up with a few DVDs of Ray Bourque's greatest hits--and maybe a pair of hockey skates.

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Monday, January 18, 2010

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

Just some random thoughts.

Such as: Doesn't it suck when a tennis major such as the Australian Open loses Maria Sharapova on the first day? I mean, who's watching now?

Football is a game of inches: Ask Dirk Kuyt; one inch to his left, his marvelous header nicks the inside of the post, Liverpool wins and we're talking about one of the goals of the year. Instead, he hits the wood dead-center, Liverpool ties, and the dread and dreariness continues.

And finally, Ronaldinho: Where the hell have you been hiding? Milan ran its offense through No. 80 all afternoon long, scored three goals and had at least a couple more at his feet that he missed. Six goals in two games. Someone wants to play in South Africa.

Now another completely random trip around the football blogosphere:

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Thursday, January 14, 2010

Size Counts When It
Comes To U.S. World Cup Cities

Olympic fatigue.

I'm still laughing over that one.

That was United States Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati's explanation/justification for excluding the USSF's hometown Chicago from its list of 18 potential host cities for the 2018 World Cup. Should the U.S. win the rights to host the games, it will have to trim that list to about a dozen, but there's a lot angst in the midwest and Windy City over the snub.

Pitch Invasion has sources saying that Chicago's presentation to the USSF was weak and Gulati leapt the extra mile to say that was a result of all the wasted effort the city put into hosting the 2016 Obam-, er Olympic Games.

I think the real answer, however, lies in the number 61,500.

That's the capacity of Soldier Field, which was recently renovated. OK, I've been to Chicago many times and seen Soldier Field just about every time I've been to that city. Two things: aside from Boston and San Francisco, Chicago is THE BEST city in the United States. It just has a feel to it. Plenty of great restaurants and things to see. And Soldier Field, while ugly and apparently designed by a 9-year-old with a Lego fetish who likes to stack mismatched architectural elements together, is in a great location and easy to reach. It's in the middle of a bunch of great ethnic neighborhoods (let's hear it for Greektown) and a short cab ride from downtown. This is the essence of a no-brainer.

Only problem is, that pesky 61,500 number.

I'm guessing, and I bet I'm right, that the U.S., should it host the World Cup, wants to blow the doors off the thing with an average attendance exceeding 70,000. Imagine such a thing. It would be tremendous. But at the expense of one of its greatest cultural centers? C'mon Sunil, that's lame.

The 18 cities, in alphabetical order, are:

  1. Atlanta
  2. Baltimore
  3. Boston
  4. Dallas
  5. Denver
  6. Houston
  7. Indianapolis
  8. Kansas City
  9. Los Angeles
  10. Miami
  11. Nashville
  12. New York
  13. Philadelphia
  14. Phoenix
  15. San Diego
  16. Seattle
  17. Tampa
  18. Washington, D.C

It's hard to argue with the list, especially from the stadia perspective. Most of them are modern, new and huge. The locations? Eh, not so much. Let's take Tampa, for example. The most recent Super Bowl host and former home of the Tampa Bay Rowdies (do they still exist?), but why give Florida two cities? Miami works just fine, trust me. And Baltimore and Washington, D.C.? For those of you outside the U.S., you could spit from the Baltimore airport and get FedEx Stadium wet with snot. Baltimore has been a great venue for international tournaments and supported these phony summer Chelsea v. the World events, but so has D.C. (does any MLS team have better fan support--and isn't RFK the unofficial home of the U.S. men's national team?).

Which brings us to Phoenix, Atlanta, Kansas City and Indianapolis. Here's the proof in the pudding that it's all about the venues. Phoenix has the best stadium in America, I'd say. It's a retractable roof; the grass is real and on wheels and spends that day outside in the sun and comes in for games. Nice. But Phoenix? A football hotbed? Well, maybe, but not the kind of football we're talking about.

Atlanta? Oh My God. That city has had one of the most successful baseball franchies in the last 20 years, and consistently could not sell out playoff games. Imagine? It's generally considered the worst sports city in the country. Plus they're talking about a dome -- the massive Georgia Dome, plastic grass and all. No thanks.

KC, huge venue. Old venue. Loud venue. Great NFL fans. But a soccer city. Not sure about that one. Again, size counts here. Same goes for Indy and Lucas Oil Field. Another retractable roof. More plastic grass. More about the big venue.

Chicago has a beef. They've been done wrong by the USSF and it's not going to be righted apparently. Maybe the Windy City can get a few years' worth of good sleep and rid itself of its Olympic fatigue, and of course, tack on another 10,000 seats somewhere and maybe, just maybe, Sunil Gulati will reconsider. Somehow, I think not. Methinks he's a size queen.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Divorce: Sporting Leaves
Manchester United for City

Where, oh where, will Sir Alex Ferguson poach from now?

Apparently it's about to become official that Manchester United's longstanding player-poaching relationship with Sporting Lisbon has ended and that Manchester City is at the ready to step in to use Portugal's best developmental system as its farm team.

The Guardian reports that since Sporting pushed back on giving up Miguel Veloso to United (how dare they!) their arrangement turned sour. Sporting, according to the report, had to inform United of any bids on its players and give SAF right of first refusal. Sporting blames Carlos Queiroz for screwing up the deal. It says the former United assistant in 2007 starting wooing Veloso and Sporting became upset that it was unsettling the youthful star and disrespecting the agreement between the two clubs, the Guardian writes.

United countered that it wants out of the deal anyway because it's restrictive. It also, laughably, cited that the deal impacted any negotiations between United and Benfica. HAHA. Essentially, according to the article, United says its cutting ties with all the deals put in place by Peter Kenyon's regime.


City, meanwhile, is ready to swoop in and poach the next generation of Ronaldos, Nanis, Figos, Futres.... well you get it, the list goes on and on.

From the Guardian:

City have already put in place a deal to take Tobias Figueredo, a 15-year-old midfielder rated as one of Sporting's more promising players, as part of the chief executive Garry Cook's pledge to bring elite youngsters into the club academy and develop them as Champions League players of the future.

Why do Sporting supporters sit still for this? The cycle continues as Sporting's formula for developing young stars remains viable and the For Sale sign is always up at Alvalade. The return, meanwhile, is paltry. Sure the money is good, but it flies back into the club's coffers just to sustain this rush-to-market business plan. The product on the field never sees a return, unless of course, it's a youngster who is being showcased for a season or two before he's physically mature and football-savvy enough to contribute to a championship run. That of course happens when he gets to MANCHESTER!!

Maybe someone closer to the club's financial situation can clarify this for me, but why can't their be room for both? Why can't they continue to invest in the Academy and produce players, and yes, sell them as is their right -- and still buy an occassional player who can, you know, play at a high level???!!!

It's quite remarkable when you consider Sporting in the 2000's actually reached the UEFA Cup final, won two league championships, three Portuguese Cups, two League Cups (for what that's worth), four domestic Super Cups and a big handful of preseason tournaments (Vigo, Iberian Cup, Guidiana).

By comparison, Benfica won the league twice, one Portuguese Cup, one League Cup and one Super Cup and were pretty dismal in Europe.

FC Porto did much better, with six league championships, four Portuguese Cups, a Champions League win, a UEFA Cup win and an Intercontinental Cup win. No comparison. And why? They reinvest in the product on the field. Not in washed-up South Americans who can't get a sniff of top-tier clubs in their respective home leagues.

Someone needs to look at this as collusion and needs to look closely at the money being exchanged here and where it's going. It sure ain't going back on the field.

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Monday, January 11, 2010

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

The Guardian and many other outlets are reporting that Togo's request to rejoin the African Cup of Nations has been rejected by the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The team's bus was machine-gunned by terrorists on Friday; three people in their convey were murdered by the terrorists operating under the guise of acting as Angolese rebels.

Togo's team had flown back to its home nation for a three-day period of mourning and petitioned the CAF to rejoin the tournament afterward. The federation rejected that plan today and says Togo's group in the tournament will be three-headed between Ivory Coast, Ghana and Burkino Faso.

This is the saddest day in football in a long time. It's not getting enough attention, and that's squarely because this is a small African nation taking part in a tournament, that while is of high quality, isn't seen in large measure in Europe and certainly not in the U.S. Imagine if this had happened to any of the major European national teams? I dare say the African Cup of Nations would be on hiatus right now; make book on it.

That said, we're wearing our black armband as we take our weekly trip around the football blogosphere:

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Friday, January 8, 2010

Terrorism Hits Football
as Togo Bus in Machine Gun Attack

Terrible news ahead of the African Cup of Nations. A bus driver was murdered and two players from the Togo national team were shot and injured during a machine-gun attack against their bus today.

An ESPN report says Angolan rebels are responsible for the attack, which happened on the Congo border. The tournament begins Jan. 10 in Angola.

The two players injured are reported to be GSI Pontivy goalkeeper Kodjovi Obilalé and Vaslui FC defender Serge Akakpo. Seven from the Togo party were injured and the Angolese bus driver killed. FC Nantes striker Thomas Dossevi told Radio Monte Carlo:

"We were attacked like dogs and had to hide for 20 minutes under the seats to avoid the bullets. We were shot, although we had two police coaches on our sides."

Six months shy of the World Cup, this will surely add to the trepidation and regret in some circles about putting the World Cup in Africa. Not only have political and infrastructure problems cast a shadow on the tournament, the threat of violence in South Africa was always a brooding issue. The attack on the Togo bus, whether random or targeted, isn't going to reassure anyone headed to Africa for the tournament.

It's terrorism, plain and simple. The rebels almost surely targeted the bus for political or social reasons, or just to get some attention to whatever their cause is. How sad that a highly anticipated tournament, one marked in the past by skillful, intelligent football that has evolved into a showcase for African players and nations, now will be known for this kind of terrorism.

Where is the security for these players? How can any club want to sanction sending players they've invested millions in to the tournament if their safety cannot be guaranteed. Who wants to be a pawn in a political struggle, or worse, a war. This is an ugly situation and a threat to the personal safety of high-profile footballers. FIFA has to intervene and demand from its member nations a highly evolved baseline of security for all its players and associates. They are becoming viable targets for terrorists such as these rebels.

It's a sad day, and hopefully, this is the end of it. Hopefully.

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Thursday, January 7, 2010

Five Silly Season Football Transfer Rumors

Since it's the Silly Season, we're grinding the rumor mill over here at Starting Eleven:
  1. Rafa Benitez will not be fired at Liverpool. Instead, to solve the club's ever-inflating debt, LFC will be sold to Barcelona and Liverpool will officially become FC Barcelona-Liverpool. See, since Barcelona pulled out of its MLS-Miami deal, they have all this petty cash hanging around. And see, since Liverpool has Benitez and mostly all these Spanish player, see, it makes, like, y'know, total sense.
  2. Sporting Lisbon, keeping with its fine tradition of cultivating and selling off its best young players, will package Miguel Veloso, Joao Moutinho and a slew of future Figos and Ronaldos to Manchester United. See, Sporting needs new fields at its storied Academy and real estate is expensive in Portugal. And, see, United always pays top dollar. You get it...
  3. Landon Donovan will extend his deal with Everton to the end of the Premier League season. A la Becks, Donovan wants to stay in shape and maintain his spot on the U.S. National Team. Sources inside the Everton camp say, however, the real reason is that Donovan is so little and cute, the big burly Brits like to just pick him up and carry him around.
  4. Chelsea is expected to file an injunction against its African players Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Flourent Malouda, Salomon Kalou and any others who may ditch the Blues for a month to play in the African Cup of Nations. See, the Russian oligarch who pays the bills wants to win the Premier League and the Champions League and I guess this is the first time he took a close look at his roster and realized that the bulk of his best players are GOING TO BE GONE for the toughest stretch of the league season. You don't mess with the Oligarch, man.
  5. And finally, Real Madrid, desperate to play in the Champions League final being held in its home stadium, has put out formal offers to every big club in Europe to sign its best players. It's just business man, just business.
If you have the inside poop on any rumors, post them here or shoot me an email. Rafa thanks you!

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Starting Eleven Football Blog Roundup

I'm really becoming a Gabriele Marcotti fan. He writes for the Times of London and most of the time makes me think outside the box about football. His latest column "Overspending belongs in same bracket as drugs and diving" is another of his pieces that makes you go hmm.

He's proposing that football clubs spending outside their means is akin to cheating, either via steroids or Ronaldo-esque diving. He wants us all to take another look at the accepted practice of buying players with money that clubs don't have -- good players -- and questions why that isn't the same as Thierry Henry's double-dribble against Ireland.

He's given it a buzzword--financial doping. And that's likely to give some steam to this movement that overspending is not just irresponsible, it's cheating. I've always been a staunch supporter of clubs running their business as they see fit. And if that means running it into the ground, so be it.

But I think I'm slowly changing tack on this. Not sure. Sport is big business, but yet it isn't. It's confined within a larger entity [clubs within leagues] and there's an overarching presence that supposed to govern the whole enterprise. Short of a salary cap, how are we going to prevent this oligarchy of clubs winning every piece of silverware they choose, while the majority of the remaining lot is a pathetic collection of wanna-bes and never-will-bes.

Just wanted to give you something to chew on as we peruse the football blogosphere this week [and rather than go to the flavor of the day, I'm starting with some friends and personal favs]:

  • EPL Talk is loaded this week with some Leeds United talk, a peek at Liverpool's third kit and FA Cup talk. But the best of the bunch might be a rant on ESPN's score ticker during Premier League broadcasts. I'd be happy if ESPN shut off it's damned autoplay function on online videos.
  • MLS Rumors is always fun, and today you can find out which MLS teams are playing in some Disney tournament and just where oh where is Freddy Adu headed now. Jeez, isn't he about at retirement age yet?
  • Oh You Beauty has a thorough review of Liverpool's 1-1 FA Cup draw with Reading, as well as some midseason stats for you numbers folks.
  • The Arseblog covers the Gunners' FA Cup win this weekend. Too bad he didn't see the game; click through to find out why.
  • John Terry, according to, wants to win the FA Cup again. How lovely.
  • TotalBarca has a guest post on Pep Guardiola and 12 reasons why he's so awesome [knee pads not included]
  • More on Pep: Is he a fluke? That's being asked. No. Really. It is being asked.
  • If it's the Silly Season, then the for sale sign is up at Sporting Lisbon. Miguel Veloso to Barca? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

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