Interesting little piece on the alleged referring bias toward Manchester United. Check it out here.
Surely the FA is too incompetent to engineer any sort of ongoing conspiracy? However, even the most loyal United fan wouldn’t deny Alex Ferguson’s reputation as a bully who uses the media to try to influence decisions. But where do you draw the line between a manager’s mind games and unethical competitive advantage?
Of course, while we debate refereeing, David Gill (yes, the CEO of Man United who’s been at the club 15 years) carries on as vice-chairman of THE FOOTBALL LEAGUE! I’d happily award the Paragraph d’Or to anyone who can explain how that is not a conflict of interest.
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”
No, that’s not the setup to a chavtastic Suarez/Evra joke (bummer?), but the iconic opening line from Stephen King’s Magnum Opus, The Gunslinger. It’s one of those hooks that reels you in with a sort of tenacity unseen since Scorpion from Mortal Kombat. It’s simple yet brilliant. It pretty much captures the feeling of every Premier League fan on the eve of our new season.
This Saturday the campaign kicks off, hopefully picking up where the last one left off, which was approximately on the edge of a cliff in the middle of a tornado on the back of a lightning bolt. Imagine the first time you saw a picture of a cat on the interwebz, then multiply it by Gandalf and throw in a few Cruyff turns, and you understand the sort of epicness we’re dealing with here. Fergie’s “You bred raptors!?” look as Aguero stunned his side, City fans celebrating with shamelessness that would make Chris Bosh uncomfortable, mighty Man United disappearing into exile to lick their wounds, Roberto Mancini vindicating his poofy haircut and scarf — we had it all. Why not have it all again?
Oh yeah. There were just a couple things separating last season from this one: EURO 2012 and the Olympics. If you missed any of the Euros, feel free to peruse the site since I LIVE-CHATTED EVERY SINGLE MATCH! Seriously, I did EURO 2012 to death. We laughed and cried together, she broke my heart a little, and now I’m ready to move on with my life. In fact, I basically did a runner as soon as Spain lifted the trophy. See, Olympic soccer is like the summer reading you get assigned in high school. It doesn’t require a ton of your time and some of the stories sound genuinely interesting, but after finals you’re so burned out that you never end up checking them out. That’s right, I just called out every single person in the world for neglecting their summer reading (I Know What You Didn’t Do Last Summer?). But I did manage to squeeze a few minutes of Olympic action onto my plate, and I’ve thrown my thoughts into an abridged section with a killer, witty name.
What I Learned from the Olympics
Neymar is the truth. So many times with these Brazilian wonderkids it’s like summoning Bloody Mary trying to get them to show up when you finally have a chance to watch them. Neymar was already looking at us in the mirror when we walked into the bathroom (super creepy imagery — befitting of a man that adorns his nose with the most awkward apparatus ever). Sure, he had to settle for a Silver Medal, but he proved that his talents are very much real and as special as they’ve been hyped. I’m not denying the huge risk it will be for a European club to claim him, but the ceiling on this kid is in the Ronaldosphere.
Someone get Ballack's stylist on the scene!
The English FA at some point made a pact with the devil. Maybe it was for the 1966 World Cup, maybe it was in the 1990s for all the popularity and revenue of the Premier League, maybe it was for Beckham’s hair, but for England/Britain to continually torture themselves with penalty shootout heartbreaks, well, I’m pretty sure Satan is quarterbacking that thing.
Carli Lloyd has been the most important player for the US Women’s Team for the last couple years now. Her goals in the Final merely cement that fact, and earn her some long overdue recognition. Hope Solo makes headlines with quotes, Abby Wambach with beast mode, and Alex Morgan with a goal/hearthrob combo. But it’s Lloyd who runs the show with intelligence and grace, setting tables and throwing shapes. Not unlike a boss. Also, props for a hearty challenge for the title of “Summer 2012′s Most Popular Carli,” which seemed all but locked up a month ago.
Gaston Ramirez — What are you? Are you supposed to be a midfielder or a winger? Are you good or overrated? I still can’t tell. In fact, the whole Uruguayan performance was confusing. What?
Despite winning it all, there isn’t a single player from the Mexican team I have tagged for immediate superstardom. The strength of their results came on the back of composed defensive play, which is about as Mexican as Pork Lo Mein. Great team effort, but not many little peas ready for being plucked by the European status quo. Not yet.
Of course, no new league campaign would be ready for launch without the off-season jockeying. So far it’s been more bark than bite, but that usually just means we’ll get a flurry of chips splashing the pot right before the transfer window shuts. [EDITOR'S NOTE: This was written before Arsenal agreed to sell RVP to Man United]. Naturally, I still have some snarky Off-Season Awards to hand out to some well deserving winners.
Quiet Game Champion: Carlos Tevez. When we were children, we used to play something called the Quiet Game just get the obnoxious kid in our class to shut the hell up. Basically, we sacrificed our own affinity for any conversation to get said child to keep his mouth closed. It was like a reverse psychology filibuster — very much ahead of its time. Congrats to Tevez who manged to go an entire 3 months without making a sound about his future. We needed that. Runner-up goes to Robin van Persie, who has actually kept his class intact despite being bid for like the sex traffickers in the penultimate scene in Taken. [Minus 50 points for going directly to a rival of Arsenal, but at least he didn't whinge about it all summer].
Most Dedicated to Keeping One Token Asian in the Squad: Manchester United. If you ship out Ji-Sung Park and bring in Shinji Kagawa, does the tree make a sound? Oh, and if you’re a lonely male age 18-100, do a search on Kagawa’s girlfriend. Imagine the possibilities for locker room banter.
Worst Opinion on Football: Usain Bolt. First of all, just because you’re faster than a cheetah in a Fiat, that doesn’t mean you can walk into one of the best football teams in the world. Doesn’t work that way. But more importantly, Ronaldo isn’t better than Messi. He’s just cockier. And I think I’m starting to hate you for trying to make “Ronaldo v Messi” a thing again. Stop trying to make “fetch” happen!
Laziest Scouting Departments: PSG and Tottenham. Here’s how they scout. Wait until the rumors circulate about who Man United and Liverpool want to buy. Go buy them first with more money. Simples.
Most Played Out Phrase: Tiki-Taka. Tiki-taka is to football what YOLO is to mankind. So, once it’s universally accepted as worthless I’ll try to bring it out to hurt people’s brains.
Living on a Lifeboat Excludees: Joe Cole, Bebe, Marouane Chamakh, John Obi Mikel, Roque Santa Cruz, David Bentley, Alberto Aquilani. Congratulations, guys! The world would be a much better place if you never existed at all. Okay, that’s a little harsh, but your Premier League teams certainly dream of the day they no longer have to employ you and your wages.
Most Likely to Have Been Built by Geppetto: Joe Allen. So Liverpool’s summer signing is a midget with an enormous nose, but somehow I’m the bad guy for pointing out the elephant in the room?
Raspberry Beret Award for Cleverness: Eden Hazard. There’s a terrific lyric in Prince’s cult classic that goes “She wasn’t too bright/But I could tell when she kissed me/ She knew how to get her kicks.” This pretty much sums up Hazard, who made himself out to be a bit of a bellend this summer with his Lebron-esque antics (understatement, no?). But boy can he get his kicks. Hazard is built for one thing, and that’s fashioning goals on the pitch.
Champions – Manchester City
Last year, City had to claw their way to glory on judgement day, a marvelous achievement for a perennially disappointing club. This time, I see them doing the proverbial electric slide to the finish line. They’ve lost nothing from last season, but haven’t won enough to be complacent yet. Also, I think the EUROs were huge for Mario Balotelli’s confidence (poor guy really needed an ego boost). I’m expecting less Mario Clownpants and more Mario Bossypants now. Also, Mancini should have a better grasp in how to rest Silva to prolong his shelf life. No rebuilding for City, just reloading.
Runners-up — Chelsea
Chelsea in “spend silly money” shocker, right? Well, the European Champs have been busy beavers this summer, most notably recruiting Eden Hazard, Oscar, and Marko Marin. (And by recruiting, I mean inviting players to dive into Abramovich’s pool of money like Uncle Scrooge from Ducktails). But they’ve been excellent signings as far as talent goes. Unfortunately, I think Drogba hasn’t been effectively replaced by the Torres/Sturridge partnership, and that will prove the difference between toppling City and chasing them.
3rd Place — Manchester United
Kagawa has been excellent for Dortmund and I expect him to do well in a United shirt…. That’s about the extent of my positivity for the Red Devils this year. After having their hearts ripped out at the death, how will they respond? And while Fergie stockpiles wide boys, his central midfield gets thinner every year. Scholes (and Giggs) are fighting Father Time, Fletcher’s health is unfortunate, and Anderson has never become the player he was billed as. Any knock to Carrick or Cleverly will put United in dire straits. That said, they’re still United so by decree of the FA they will grind out results and finish in the top 3. [Okay, obviously the RVP signing is huge, but what are the chances he plays out of his mind AND stays injury free like last year? There's a term for people who predict injury on someone and it rhymes with "trucking tanker," but I just don't see him making it to May unscathed. Sorry].
4th Place — Arsenal
I was really looking for a way to justify Liverpool getting 4th, but I can’t do it. Not yet. (If they somehow pull off Nuri Sahin, Clint Dempsey, and Cristian Tello, I’ll edit this to sneak Liverpool in 4th). Leave it to Wenger, whose superstar striker is on the menu of every big European club [like, uh, United], to go and have himself a prodigious transfer window. Giroud, Podolski, and Cazorla leave the Gunners in capable hands as RVP jets. A maturing Oxlade-Chamberlain and the return of Wilshere to fitness will prove to be keys to a top 4 finish. The voyeur does it again folks!
Don’t Get Too Attached, Because… – Southampton, West Brom, QPR.
I was hoping to squeeze Aston Villa into the relegation zone with some “Too Big to Fail” jokes, but I think they’ll be safe this season. To my displeasure, I’ve had to select Southampton for extinction. I enjoy having the Saints in the top flight, perhaps irrationally optimistic for Le Tissier mock 2, but they’ve punched above their weight to get back, and I think it’ll be a quick return to the Championship for the southerners. Queens Park Rangers held onto the Premier League with their fingernails last year, and I’m doubting they can do it again. 21 losses and -23 goal difference is hard to just turn around with confidence; the Londoners are going down. And West Brom? I’ll be celebrating their demise should it come to fruition. Mid-table Master Hodgson had them finish 10th last season, but he’s got the England job now and I’m praying for a rapid fall from grace for the Baggies.
20 Players to Watch
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Arsenal: Breakout season predicted by many for the young Englishman. Looks like Arsene Wenger is ready to give him the golden ticket. Nobody is doubting his nickname, The Ox, but often youth is a double edged sword. Is there anybody who loves kids more than Wenger, the perpetual tickle monster?
Ron Vlaar, Aston Villa: The Feyenoord stalwart will make his Premiership debut for a team that desperately needs him to hit the ground running. No pressure, Ronny, just go out and make sure nobody scores on your team, kthxbai.
Just Vlaar, baby.
Eden Hazard, Chelsea: When you pay so much money for someone entering his peak, you expect instant greatness. And before you start saying “he cost the same as Andy Carroll,” he doesn’t. He’s on about £250k a week, or 3 times the wages of one A.C. Feel poor yet?
Nikica Jelavic, Everton: The Croatian striker with a West Hollywood haircut was talismanic for the Toffees last year. Can he pick up where he left off?
Moussa Dembele, Fulham: For a couple years I’ve been bigging him up, and while he’s looked sharp, he’s lacked the numbers to make himself a star. Props to his agent for circulating a rumor that Real Madrid are after him — that takes some doing. But it’s time to put up or shut up.
Fabio Borini, Liverpool: The new boy with a dagger between his teeth is on Merseyside for one purpose only — get the ball in the net. Liverpool were the most wasteful club with created chances last season, so Borini ought to have himself a host of opportunities. That’s the theory, at least.
David Silva, Man City: Last year’s uber maestro, can he do it again? City better hope he does, as they rise and fall with Silva’s waxing and waning form. And the Spaniard will certainly be a marked man by every British lad with a shaved head in the League. Keep your eye on him. He’s like a heartbeat.
Robin van Persie, Man United: Assuming the deal doesn’t fall through, RVP is as good as Fergie’s. He was the most lethal man in the League in 20122/2012, can he and Rooney actualize the most mouthwatering FIFA partnership? Hope the United physio has cleared his schedule!
Cheick Tiote, Newcastle: Speaking of injury woes, I give you Tiote! Pound for pound one of the most effective players in England, any sustained challenge from Newcastle for a European spot depends on his fitness. And how fun is his name to pronounce? Rolls off your tongue like Limoncello.
Grant Holt, Norwich City: Because I had to pick someone? No, the English striker encapsulates everything that is a journeyman footballer. If you ever want to learn some obscure British geography, take a look at his club career. That said, he found the net 15 times last year in his first stint in the Prem.
Don't look at his forehead! Too late.
Adel Taarabt, Queens Park Rangers: There were so many options for QPR; quite a dirty dozen ensemble they’ve got going on there. But for me it’s the Moroccan magician who’s the key for QPR’s hopes this year. He loves to score a cracker and shows up against the big teams — that’s how you make sure you’re on my list, son!
Pavel Pogrebnyak, Reading: The Russian striker stunk up EURO2012 but I SWEAR THAT’S NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE, BABY! If Reading truly is a league of nations (Australia, Wales, England, Turkey, Scotland, Jamaica, Antigua, Ireland, Mali, Latvia, Iceland, Denmark, Grenada) then it only makes sense that the Russian will unite them all at his service. In Soviet Reading, goals score Pogrebnyak!
Tadanari Lee, Southampton: A newer signing for the Saints, many are hoping that the former Japanese prodigy is HUGE in the UK. He signed in January and got injured in March, but his lone goal won the Strike of the Season. Let’s see it then.
Peter Crouch, Stoke City: If only because it’s like watching a Daddy Longlegs play with a beachball. Crouch, like Tadanari Lee, normally gets on the scoresheet with gusto– a rarity for a squad as thuggish as Stoke.
Seb Larsson, Sunderland: The Swede with the golden peg (and head) is now a fixture for Sunderland. Every time he lines up a free kick, fix your eyes nowhere but the action. He’s a gem that shines too brightly to be next to Scotland.
Michel Vorm, Swansea City: The outstanding goalkeeper last term, his performances perhaps inflated the rave reviews his teammates won with their possession. If he’s anywhere off his game, Swansea will look like a pack of ponces.
Gylfi Sigurdsson, Tottenham: Well, I’ve got to see what the fuss was all about. Is he still a goalscorer extraordinaire, or will he be found out in a top side? Also, if he had a son named Steve, would the child’s name be Steve Gylfisson? Someone let me know.
Romelu Lukaku, West Brom: If he is indeed the striking future of Chelsea, certainly he’ll do the business for the Baggies. A word of advice though, don’t try to be Didier Drogba, Just be Romelu Lukaku. You’re welcome, Chelsea fans.
We get it, Kevin. You're superman.
Kevin Nolan, West Ham: Kevin Nolan, ageless wonder. As soon as he climbed triumphantly out of his mother’s womb, he immediately was given the captain’s armband. At his first birthday, he climbed to head his piñata open and Sam Allardyce cried tears of joy. Hammers fans must love Kevin Nolan.
Antolin Alcaraz, Wigan: There’s something about the Paraguayan defender that makes him a centerpiece of every Wigan match. He’s a lightning rod for altercations, goals at either end of the pitch, and just general uproarious activity. If you’re forced to watch a Wigan match this season, see what I mean. Tell me I’m not right.
Honorable Mentions: Lukas Podolski, Marc Albrighton, Oscar, Steven Pienaar, Mahamadou Diarra, Luis Suarez, Yaya Toure, David de Gea, Papiss Cisse, James Vaughan, Joey Barton, Danny Guthrie, Kelvin Davis, Robert Huth, Connor Wickham, Leon Britton, Jan Vertonghen, Peter Odemwingie, Alou Diarra, Jean Beausejour.
There are some things that are guaranteed to happen over the course of a Premier League season. Fouls will be debated… Wenger will conveniently miss incidents… Howard Webb will be accused of favoritism… David Luiz will begin every tweet with #geezers #hellogeezers… Points will be stolen… Bartons will be banned… Posts will be rattled… managers will be sacked… Balotellis will steal headlines… Cats will invade pitches (okay, maybe not every year)…
But there is still so much more to come that none of us can predict. Can’t wait. Who knows how the story of the season ends? Who is this man in black and why is the gunslinger chasing him? Who will score the goal of the season, blow the biggest lead, or impress out of nowhere? Couldn’t tell ya. I’ve made my picks, given my previews, now I get to sit and watch and enjoy the drama as all my bets go down in flames. Love it. All I do know is that I couldn’t stand to miss a single minute of the madness, and when it’s all over I hope I live to tell those younger than I of the great Premiership Season of 2012/2013. And if I sound something like this, even better:
The Premiership Title: Level on 86 points, Man City (v QPR) has a goal difference of +8 on Man United (@Sunderland). Basically, as long as City equal or better the result in the United game, they’re champions. It would take a bucketload of goals for United to win the crown by overcoming City’s goal difference, should the club both win/lose.
Champions League: Three teams battle for that last two places. On 67 points, Arsenal can clinch with a win or draw @ West Brom. Spurs (66 pts) can clinch with a win v Fulham. Newcastle (65 pts) must win @ Everton and have Spurs draw or lose, or Arsenal lose. Should Newcastle draw or lose, Arsenal and Spurs walk into the CL regardless of the outcome of their own matches. Got it? Yeah, me too.
Relegation: Adios to Blackburn and Wolves. The final, unwanted spot is still up for grabs. A win or a draw for QPR (37 pts) will guarantee survival. Unfortunately, they play at City. On 35 points, Bolton must win at Stoke and have QPR lose.
Of course, you also have to give props to John Terry for making a similar effort at WC 2010. And by similar I mean far less effective but far more salmon-like.
But if we’re on the subject of an entree denying a goal, look no further for the number one spot. I cannot confirm that Blackburn and its sponsors had anything to do with the production of afore-linked video. (Anfield Cat, you’re off the hook for today).