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.
I’m not ashamed to proclaim my love for the movie The Rock. It’s incredibly cheesy, predictable, and Cage-y– but that’s why it’s so great. Every scene has a handful of quotes you can whip out with your buddies at inappropriate times. (That’s actually a false statement, every time is appropriate for Caging, as it shall henceforth be known). It follows in a fine, underappreciated tradition in film of blatantly trumpeting a San Francisco setting. (The very fact that you’re now associating The Rock with Dirty Harry and Bullit is probably more than enough praise). Sean Connery slaps a ton of people, and I’m not talking about the open-handed kind he reserves for double X chromosomes (isn’t that technically gender equality?).
My only beef with The Rock is the ending. Not only do Cage and Connery avert a terrorist attack and reclaim Alcatraz (uh, spoiler alert?), but Cage is able to cover Connery’s tracks without any resistance as he escapes into the free world… To reunite with his never before seen daughter… While Cage is able to become a father. Whoa, that’s a lot of “happy ending“-ness right there. But I could live with that. What I can’t digest was how the producers decided that wasn’t enough, and gave us one more Easter Egg with Cage discovering who really killed JFK.
Stop. Wait. Really? Yup. See, the lesson here is that sometimes it’s quite possible to have too much good stuff at once. (Ask Nic Cage in real life how having hordes of expensive things has worked out for him). I learned that in 1996 from The Rock, but I finally experienced it for the first time today.
Saturday mornings are a groggy time for me, a combination of exhausting weekdays, late Friday nights, and early AM kickoffs. But I always keep my Saturday mornings reserved for my Liverpool games. Always. Without fail. It’s been difficult over the years and I often struggle to overcome the opportunities for infidelity; but, somehow I’ve always stayed faithful.
I never thought Fox Soccer Channel would be the one to let me down.
Imagine my reaction when I learned at 7 AM today that the Liverpool-Wolves match would NOT be shown live. Man City-Everton got the early game on ESPN and Stoke-Man United got the late game on FSC. QPR-Villa is tomorrow and Norwich-Sunderland is Monday. As for the midday Saturday games? Arsenal-Bolton and Chelsea-Swansea got the nod.
I’m not sure who to blame for the Saturday cluster of games, but what I do know is that Fox Sports had a choice of who to screen. Obviously I’m biased, but shouldn’t Liverpool and Man United be the first names in the FSC teamsheet? Far and away the most successful and supported clubs in the Premiership; matches featuring the Northwest duo should never go unseen. (SIDEBAR: In keeping with my stubborn bias, I already wrote a fist-shaking email to Fox Sports about delaying the broadcast of the Liverpool game).
But the Premier League is changing. 2011/2012 isn’t 1987/1988. Never before have so many viable contenders competed not only for the Premiership crown, but for media attention. Remember when the “Big Four” was new and exciting? Old news now. I hate to say it, but we finally have too many good teams to try to watch. The Premier League status quo is oversaturated with quality now.
United keep trucking along like a steamroller. Chelsea are aging fast, but remain competitive with more cosmetic surgery than a Sex and the City set. Arsenal are garbage, but still try to play sexy. Liverpool are resurging, but look like a kid trying to grow into big brother’s hand-me-downs. Man City is like Lindsay Lohan 2/3 of the way through Mean Girls when she becomes the de facto leader of The Plastics and even makes me feel super intimidated. Tottenham have precariously assembled a balanced squad of match-winners.
Have Seb Coates and Aaron Samuels Ever Been Photgraphed Together? No? Interesting...
For years, fans of the game prayed for Premiership parity. Sure, I have too. The nightmare of every fan of English football is to become as predictable as the 2-man boxing match called the Scottish Premier League (and not just for cholesterol reasons). But be careful what you wish for, because it looks like we’re slowly getting our parity all right. At the expense of being able to catch all your team’s matches live, of course.
And now a few random Saturday thoughts:
…Frontrunners for EPL Player of the Season are David Silva and Wayne Rooney (in that order). Silva has been luminescent and is at the heart of all good things for City. All the strikers at City should be buying him lunch everyday. Seriously, go watch Silva. Then tell anyone who ever dares utter the phrase “too lightweight for the Prem” to get stuffed. Rooney’s goal tally and United’s record automatically get him in the conversation too.
…Claudio Ranieri takes charge of Inter. Nobody is better at finishing 2nd place than Ranieri, which will do fine for Inter this year, I guess… Serie A is so up for grabs this season, it’s not even funny.
…My top five Cage films you can take (kinda) seriously: (5) It Could Happen to You (4) Lord of War (3) Gone in 60 Seconds (2) Leaving Las Vegas (1) Honeymoon in Vegas.
…Taye Taiwo is a donkey.
…Chelsea’s plan to surround Torres with familiars is starting to pay dividends. Meireles and Mata are setting the table for him nicely now. I bet Chelsea get two more Torres support-men this January. RIP Frank Lampard’s career. He might want to start thinking about a move to Spurs soon if Modric goes.
…Javier Hernandez, Mr. Sophomore Slump is knocking at your front door. Ms. Injury drove him over.
…Forget Andy Carroll and Sergio Aguero, I know who my favorite £35 million buy this year is: Radamel Falcao. 6 goals in 4 matches for Atletico Madrid.
…My top five Cage films that are utterly ridiculous: (5) Con Air (4) Snake Eyes (3) The Rock (2) The Wicker Man (1) Face/Off.
…Leo Messi has obviously been the best player of the 2011 calendar year, but Luis Suarez will be on the shortlist come December. He introduced himself to England with a bang last January, finishing the season with 4 goals and 5 assists in 13 games. He led Uruguay to Copa America glory in the summer, winning the Golden Ball himself. And he’s off to a great start with Liverpool this year with 4 goals and 3 assists in only 8 matches. And he has the signature moments to back up his plaudits (breakdancing through United, impossible angle at Sunderland, etc.).
…Stoke City, best atmosphere in England.
….There are still four unbeaten teams in the Premier League: Man United (v Norwich, @ Liverpool, v City), Man City (@ Blackburn, v Villa, @ United), Newcastle (@ Wolves, v Spurs, v Wigan), and Aston Villa (@ QPR , v Wigan, @ City). At the beginning of the season, what sort of odds could you have gotten on Newcastle United to be the last unbeaten team in the league? Would you take that bet now?
…Speaking of bets, I’ll give you $100 if you can tell me who’s top of the table in La Liga right now. Wrong. Nope, wrong again. The answer we were looking for is Real Betis. Betis was the correct response. Perfect record so far, and they have a game in hand still.
…My top five Cagings: pretty much too explicit to be published…
Odd-numbered summers are the worst. No World Cups, no European Championships. Nothing substantive to ween myself off the football onto a meager but steady diet of baseball and golf. I mean, there’s the CONCACAF Gold Cup and all, but there’s also Brussels sprouts. Screw Brussels sprouts. Don’t eat them; never have. Don’t trust anyone that enjoys them. I’ve given up on world peace because there are at least 2,537 people out there that “like” Brussels sprouts, and I’m certain I’ll never be able to coexist with such masochistic freaks. Honestly.
But this Gold Cup… I wish I could get into it, but how am I supposed to take the tournament seriously when it doesn’t even give itself that courtesy?
Taking the Gold Cup seriously is like taking 2011 Ice Cube seriously
First of all, look at CONCACAF. It’s manipulated by powerthirsty, corrupt men; operationally, it’s riddled with inefficiency among the lemming-like countries that comprise the organization. It’s basically a human centipede of a football federation. And that’s saying something, considering Sepp Blatter and Jack Warner probably slang tournament venues in the bathroom stalls of the Gentlemen’s Club with Michel Platini on the reg.
Next, spare a moment for the mighty 40 nations in CONCACAF. By my count, there are only 2 teams that can actually win the Gold Cup (US and Mexico), 10 halfway decent teams at any given time (feeling pretty generous here), 27 teams that my high school JV could beat, and 1 country that sounds like a band my dad would listen to (St. Vincent and the Grenadines). No, I didn’t make that last one up.
Now the tournament itself. With only 12 participating squads, that gives us a grand total of 3 groups of 4, each vying for a spot in the revered 2013 Confederations Cup. Put all that together and you have a competition with the prestige of a fecal piñata. Which is precisely how it’s being treated by some of the players. You know how I know the Gold Cup is garbage? Mexico had five of their players suspended and they’re still going to win it. In fact, I hope they do, just to make a mockery of the tournament. They’re off to a solid start, blaming the failed drug tests on eating “bad meat.” (If you’re keeping score at home, Mexico is now tied with Italy’s 2004 Socks Too Tight claim in the “I’m embarrassed at how bad an excuse that is” category).
Besides. Promoting the Gold Cup in June is essentially urinating in the face of the MLS, currently hitting midseason. Think David Stern would allow FIBA to hold a showcase tournament in January? Hey USSF, don’t undermine the credibility of the MLS like this, then whine when people don’t watch American soccer / players don’t want to play here. I want you to make me feel like I’m missing out on something awesome if I’m not tuning in to the MLS. Hook me. I’ll even give you a tip– here’s the bait:
So, how to counter the Gold Cup Blues? Never fear, Old Sanchez has you sorted. I’ve taken the liberty of compiling a nice list of 10 activities to do instead of allowing John Harkes (or whoever) to molest your eardrums with Gold Cup commentary. Consider it an early Christmas in July present. I’ll let you guess which of these 10 I have done and which I have not.
1. Catch some of EURO U21. Watch the superstars of tomorrow blah blah blah. Just sit back and enjoy the fact that someone named Xherdan Shaqiri might win the Golden Ball. And maybe Christian Eriksen will finally live up to the hype. Oh, and I saw Spain completely toy with England the other day, only to watch the mustard fall off the hotdog with a late England equalizer. Quick thoughts from that: Kyle Walker is gonna lock down the RB position for Spurs and will shine next season; Juan Mata was so much better than everyone on the pitch, it wasn’t fair– (In these youth tournaments, most players hit the passes that are open to them, but Mata was playing whatever ball he felt like); coming second was Javi Martinez, who Liverpool should’ve been knocking down the door to get post-Alonso; Thiago isn’t fully there yet, but when he blossoms, goodnight Madrid; Diego Capel plays like he was raised by wolves… still.
2. Drink five daiquiris. Yup.
In street clothes, Juan Mata is often mistaken for a pizza delivery boy
3. Stimulate your Page 6 senses with Manchester United’s naughtiest scandals. Not that I’m into that sort of thing, but I bet you are. Some pretty shady stuff going on at Old Trafford. And no, Howard Webb isn’t even involved. Unless, Ryan Giggs…
4. Watch this recent video of Ronaldinho. Then, try to tell me we weren’t robbed too soon of greatness. Sorry to keep harping on this, but I miss vintage R10. The game misses him. Only Zidane could glide like that– who knew that the 2006 World Cup was both of their swan songs?
5. Pick the winner of the 2011 US Open. Golf. Much more exciting than the Gold Cup, and way more difficult. Mcdowell, Oosthuizen, Kaymer, Schwartzel– those are the most recent winners of the last 4 majors. If you tell me you were familiar with them before their wins, you’re a liar. If you tell me you don’t long for dominant Tiger again, you’re a liar. We need a strong Tiger like we need a strong Lebron, Yankees, Floyd Mayweather, Jose Mourinho, and Real Madrid. Who do I like this weekend? Without glancing at the pairings, I’ll take Sergio, Choi, Donald, and Watson. Who knows how it’ll turn out?
6. Prepare yourself for Man City winning the Champions League in the next 5 years. This discount doomsday bunker should pretty much cover it. Because we need to be honest here– who wants to live in a world where City’s C.R.E.A.M. policy is the status quo? (Big ups to my friend Brandt for the bunker find… Actually, since we’re linking to Twitter, I might as well divulge that my college pet, a rabbit called Sanchez, now has his own Twitter account, complete with 7 followers. He lives in D.C. and beat me to Twitter. Apparently he’s a techie but still chews on electrical cords. We of the Sanchez clan have always been enigmas).
7. Take a trip with the ghosts of Judas past. Peep this picture. Can you remember which footballing traitor was the target of this pig’s head and soooo much hatred? Fans bringing livestock to matches might be my favorite part about our sport. Honorable mentions go to the French smuggling roosters into like, every game and some Africans and their goats. And Van Nistelrooy.
8. Rank the greatest “Dirks” throughout history. I’ll give you my top three. Dirk Nowitzki has be King of the Dirks at the moment, finally getting his NBA ring. But more so because Americans finally have a German superhero that isn’t terrifying and totalitarian. Coming in second is Mr. Dirk Diggler– “do you think the bass is taking away from the vocals?” And I’ve got a dead tie for third place between the A-Team’s Dirk Benedict (Faceman) and Liverpool’s Dirk Kuyt (most definitely not-a-faceman).
9. Actually read ESPN Soccernet’s transfer blog. It’s updated minutely and it’s absurd. Silly season is bad enough with a consistency of more credible rumors, but some of these are borderline childish. Here are some of the names highlighted on today’s page right now: Guti, Nuno Gomes, Andreas Granqvist, Mateja Kezman. I need to hear about those players like I need to hear about you and your fiance’s recent trip to wine country. If you’re bold (and immune to Twitter haters) go ahead and venture some guesses about where the popular kids are going. Sanchez to City? Rossi to Barcelona? Fabregas to stay? Modric to United? Mata to Liverpool? Hiddink to Chelsea? Or if you don’t want to name names, better yet…
10. Explain why there aren’t more “proxy” transfers today. Let’s say Real Madrid wanted to buy Messi, and Leo himself wanted the move, but there’s no way in hell Barca would ever make that sale, no matter how unhappy Messi told Barca he was there. So Madrid grab QPR, front them the £110m or whatever it would cost for Barca to sell, then throw in an extra £5m just for QPR. Barca are (reluctant, but) willing to sell their wantaway star to a non-rival club, then immediately (as per their agreement), QPR sells him straight to Real Madrid. Boom. Madrid get their guy, and QPR makes a nice profit and some major press. Are Madrid and QPR being tricksy little Hobbits? Absolutely. But is this proxy deal legal? I think so. Here’s what I’ve found in the FIFA rules and regulations:
Players may be registered with a maximum of three clubs during
one season. During this period, the player is only eligible to play
official matches for two clubs. As an exception to this rule, a player
moving between two clubs belonging to associations with overlapping
seasons (i.e. start of the season in summer/autumn as opposed to
winter/spring) may be eligible to play in official matches for a third
club during the relevant season, provided he has fully complied with
his contractual obligations towards his previous clubs. Equally, the
provisions relating to the registration periods (article 6) as well as to the
minimum length of a contract (article 18 paragraph 2) must be respected.
So, as long as Messi didn’t play an official match for QPR, it would work out. Surely there are plenty of small clubs that need all the money they can get, that they would be willing to serve as a go-between for big clubs? So why aren’t we seeing proxies left and right? Too much hassle? Damage to a club’s reputation? Individual league rules? Potential for legal disaster and/or swindling? All I know is that it ain’t for lack of money. Oh no.
The transfer market is upon us and open for business. So put that coffee down. Coffee is for closers.
It was about one hour before kickoff of the 2011 Champions League. That’s when the very first question popped into my head. Little did I know that my fragile brain was soon to be inundated with inquiries into the circumstances surrounding this momentous match.
“What on earth is Alex Ferguson thinking?”
That was question numero uno, when the Manchester United teamsheet was announced. Giggs and Carrick as your central midfield? Game over. T’was it for me. Barcelona have possibly the greatest passing game ever and that’s what you march out to combat it? Right there went any chance United had. Gone. It was like Fergie wasn’t sure if he wanted to attack Barca or defend them– his indecision soon becoming his most catastrophic mistake. You either pack 5 in your midfield with Anderson and Fletcher, or commit to wing play with Nani/Giggs instead of Park and maybe find a spot for the retiring Scholes. Fergie essentially did this instead.
And what now for Dimitar Berbatov? A few days ago Fergie was trying to help him the Premiership Golden Boot outright, but the Scot couldn’t even squeeze him on the substitutes bench? No wonder the rumor is that Berba didn’t even care enough watch the game in the stands… And how do you like this for a double dose of CL irony: Fergie picked Owen over Berba in case he needed a jammy late goal, then leaves Owen on the bench in that exact situation! And, for a manager whose greatest strength is man management, Fergie might have just shoved the Bulgarian out of the United door. At least he has a future in Hollywood.
At kickoff the game had already become a spectacle, then as a contest it immediately turned into a farce. United with only 37% possession, 0 corner kicks, 1 shot on target (the offside goal), fewer than half the number of completed passes as their opponents, some 4 km fewer run Barca, and so on. I cant lie. It was joyous to watch as a Liverpool supporter, but in some ways mind boggling as a football fan.
What took Wayne Rooney so long to reach this form? For 3/4 of the Premiership season he was MIA, then he finds his legs– and some goals –during the final stretch as United finish winners. For me, he was the only Man United player that actually had a “good” game against Barcelona. I suppose you could make the argument that his offseason shenanigans impacted his play, but it feels too simplistic an explanation. I can’t wait to see what my Manc friend Ravi says about it. But check this out.
Maybe Rooney plays his best when he’s angry, under-appreciated, doubted, and not expected to be the best player on the field? Think about it. During his Everton days he was still fiercely trying to prove himself to the footballing world. Same circumstances at Euro 2004, on a more global scale. Played brilliantly. Every international tournament since then he’s done nothing to live up to his reputation (unless you’re talking about his renowned temper). At Man United, he was always second fiddle to Ronaldo. Again, Rooney was brilliant. But now that he’s supposed to be United’s best player, alpha dog, mack daddy– he bottles it faster than a Belgian brewmaster.
Here’s the wrinkle. During the 2009-2010 Premiership season (Ronaldo already at Real Madrid), Rooney scored 26 goals en route to winning PFA player of the year. Of course, Chelsea pipped his team to the title, making this theory more wrinkled than Gordon Ramsay (pre Botox, of course). But isn’t it possible that Rooney was still playing in the shadow of Ronaldo? That he still felt like he needed to prove himself? Just like this year, when the doubts and whispers around him grew, BANG! Stunning bicycle kick winner against Man City. Playing against Messi? Take this! Think abut it. Then think about it some more and get back to me.
How will Van der Sar be remembered? A steady Dutch legend with elegant hands? I suppose I hope so, but I have a feeling that will depend on David de Gea or whoever replaces him. Still, I wonder how much his performance in this Final will sway that opinion too. Brad Friedel, in his embarrassing, wannabe English faux-accent, said Van der Sar couldn’t have done much better to stop the Barca goals. Look. I’m no goalkeeper, but it sure appeared that he should’ve stopped at least one of those. You never know how these things change… things.
Still, I can’t say a bad word about Barcelona. They were never losing to Manchester United.
Last summer I secretly hoped that Real Madrid would overpower them in both La Liga and the Champions League, but the writing was on wall in Mourinho’s blood back in November when Barca clinched the Clasico 5-0. And watching the Catalans play, how can one hate on the sublime? Their subtle movement off the ball, their satiny control, their patience– all of these things epitomize the perfectly crafted approach Barcelona take to the game.
The NYT had an interesting little piece on the infamous Barca youth academy. It’s not about winning matches, but rather the style which the club believes offers the best route toward winning. That’s what the academy teaches all of its players. And the players have listened. Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets, Pedro, Messi– all came through the Barca academy. This current crop of superstars were not purchased or manufactured, but groomed and educated. Above all else, the Barca sense of style was their bread and butter. Now the table is set and the great feast is ready.
As a Crewe Alexandra coach once told me, “I ******* love it when a plan comes together like that!” And who am I to argue? Even Barca’s manager, Pep Guardiola, is an academy grad. Barcelona have never compromised their principles and now all their recent success vindicates their faith in The Barcelona Way.
So, where does this put Lionel Messi in the pantheon of the Greats? He’s already top ten material. His resume is all there, headed by his ridiculous goal tally (100 in two seasons!?) and club accomplishments (too many to list). At this point, all that’s missing is leading Argentina to a World Cup then he’s definitely up for debate as the Greatest Of All Time. But there’s so much that can derail him from that path, that the awful feeling in my stomach won’t even let me mention specifics. Just understand that we have been here before.
I remember a few years ago in Ronaldinho’s heyday, he said something along the lines that it wasn’t enough for him to win, but he had to give the world a performance that they’d never seen before. At the time I thought it was awesome, like this:
But now it’s actually quite heartbreaking. I can’t think of those words and not hear lonely shades of Cobain’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” “Here we are now / entertain us.” Maybe the bucktoothed one overachieved, winning the World Cup too early in his career. I don’t know. But at some point, he started to play against his own legend. “And I forget just why I taste / Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile.” His love for the actual game dwindled as his downfall began, and he covered it up by delving deeper into life’s joys extraneous to the game. Drinking, eating, partying, women– a Georgie Best special. As Ronaldinho lost his passion for football, I suppose he had to channel it somewhere else. Before we knew it, Ronaldinho was running on empty and finished as a top player.
There’s nothing to suggest Messi will overindulge in the same way as R10, but I worry what dark flaw goes unseen whenever the world watches such obvious genius in the little Argentine. Could not winning the World Cup for awhile actually be a good thing for Leo’s hunger and passion for the sport, and therefore his status as an Immortal? Maybe, like the uber-patient approach the Barcelona academy takes in farming players, Messi must wander the wilderness for years before getting his World Cup. Maybe that will keep him sharp when his explosiveness starts to fade and he must find new ways to remain a world class player. Maybe Ronaldinho was just a prophetic forerunner, John the Baptist heralding the approach of Messi Christ. Maybe Messi will one day retire as the G.O.A.T. Games like the 2011 Champions League Final make me want to believe.
And watching Messi’s Barcelona slaughter United without mercy (get it?) got me thinking about this year’s Premiership even more. How did this Manchester team win it all? Okay, I suppose I know the answer, but I wouldn’t be a proper Liverpool fan if I didn’t ask it. We stayed in the dressing room until January. Chelsea more or less did the same. Arsenal dropped way too many ugly points. Spurs overexpanded their empire (classic mistake) and their own ill-fated CL run took a heavy toll on their league performances. City are still about one season away from being a major powerhouse.
United won the domestic title this year by default, really. Go ahead, tell me how bitter I sound. But last I checked, 80 points would not have won the English top flight any time in the last ten years. Force feeding myself doses of United’s finale against Blackpool, someone asked me why, aside from Liverpool’s dismal first half, I thought this was one of the worst Premiership seasons I’d ever seen. “It has been so competitive,” I was told. “Anyone can beat anyone.”
Any other year and I might share the enthusiasm for a mercurial league table, but not this year. Not the season in which Man United win their 19th title to move one ahead of Liverpool.
A club overtaking Liverpool with #19 should be like a lion bathing in zebra flesh, undaunted and regal. What we saw instead was a warm kitten creeping passed the others to the finish line. Manchester United’s performances this season made me wonder, “Is this the very best of English football?” Where was the sense of earning and accomplishment? Give me a season like 2008-2009 when Liverpool and United came down to a photo finish, and I will salute the champions as worthy. But not like this.
I know United fans probably don’t care how they won it, but shouldn’t they?
The CL Final on Saturday only cemented that notion, with the curtain being thoroughly pulled away on the wizard of Oz. Except in this case the wizard was naked and deformed and kinda looked like a platypus. Barcelona displayed the genuine mark of a great team in embarrassing Manchester United, rather than one pretending to be great. Don’t tell me United fans haven’t realized that their bluff has been effectively called.
Why didn’t more English clubs come out and attack Man United this year? Do the Red Devils win too many games on reputation alone, and if so, when will that overreliance come crashing down on them? Is Fergie really as inept a tactician as we witnessed against Barca? If he didn’t learn from Rome 2009, then how are we to believe he has now after Wembley? What’s next for the Messi show? Is there anything next year that could possibly top this? So many questions! The start of the new season can’t come fast enough– let’s hope the answers aren’t too far behind.
Well, well, well. We have so much to talk about, don’t we? Gotta confess– I wasn’t really feeling the month of April, but how can you not like the way May has already started to blossom?
Most importantly, a global terrorist gets his comeuppance. No, I’m not talking about Osama bin Laden. I’m talking about Alex Ferguson. Bang, a 0-1 defeat at the Emirates and all of a sudden there’s a title race again. Sure, a ridiculous non-penalty call on an obvious handling by Vidic almost spoiled the Arsenal victory, but we’ve become accustomed to such decisions when Manchester United near the end of the season. For an extended laugh, Google Fergie’s comments on the aforementioned handball. Part of me (the smallest part) wanted to see Arsenal get screwed, just so we’d be treated to another petulant Wenger outburst. If Kenny Dalglish was willing to tell Arsene Wenger to “p*** off,” you can bet Fergie would spew some colorful verbiage in the Frenchman’s direction.
Earlier in the day, Liverpool handled Newcastle the way Andy Carroll handles Strongbow tallboys. Dalglish currently has Liverpool operating with the precision of a Japanese bullet train, only more aesthetically pleasing… like the Coors Light train. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that right now Liverpool look like they can run the train on just about any team. Then again, it’s not too difficult when you’ve got Luis Suarez sparkling out there and the opponent’s only response is to throw on Kuqi. Can’t you imagine Alan Pardew looking around his bench, down 0-3, only to find assistant John Carver nodding solemnly back at him? “Send in the Kuqi!” yells Pardew.
Frat Soda: Now Being Served on the Geordie Shore
Credit King Kenny for making the FSG transition at Anfield a smooth one. Since he became manager of Liverpool on 8 January, he’s taken 30 points from 15 games, second in the Premiership only to Chelsea. Liverpool’s +18 goal difference during this time? Again only second to Abramovich’s boy toys. Liverpool have: only conceded 4 goals (all penalties) in the last 9 games, scored 11 goals in the last 3 home games, achieved 10 clean sheets under Dalglish, and taken 10 out of 12 points off the top four since Christmas. Nothing boosts confidence more than sound math.
These stats are especially impressive given the injuries Liverpool have dealt with in the second half of the season. Carroll sporadically out, Gerrard and Kelly out until summer, Johnson out, Aurelio made of antique glass, Agger made of Aurelio… At one point a couple games ago, Kenny fielded 4 teenagers in Liverpool’s (victorious) lineup. Squeezing that much utility out of virtually unknowns is *gasp* Ferguson-esque. (Can someone think of a joke about “Robinson and Flannagan” sounding like a bottle Fergie usually squeezes his booze out of? Thanks!).
Don’t worry, I’ve got Liverpool’s summer plan sorted if they want to extend this “Era of Boss Feelings.” It’s so naively simple, it’s like a junior high summer plan. Lift weights, learn karate, impress that girl I’ve got a crush on in September.
Sell the dead weight. “Um, everyone who’s worth their wages, please step forward. Not so fast, Joe Cole.” 90k a week for some garbage displays isn’t cutting it. If Liverpool could actually find someone to pay a transfer fee for Cole, it would be a con of Ali Dia proportions. Paging Adriano Galliani… Also, Poulsen, Konchesky, Insua, and crew? I hate you.
Recall Alberto Aquilani. Looking more likely with Juve refusing to pay the preset fee to make him theirs permanently. That’s some serious hardball they’re playing, considering he’s a contender for their player of the season. But I’m not complaining; give Kenny ten minutes with AA and the Italian will be spraying those champagne passes (“he don’t buy no drinks from the bar”).
Buy Fabio Coentrao. With no disrespect to Jack Robinson, who could become the future, Coentrao is everything a modern leftback should be today. Pacey, clever, deadly in attack, tireless in defense, and homies with Raul Meireles. With Coentrao, not only do you shore up the LB spot, but you essentially add a left winger for only 2/3 of the price (£20m-£25m). It’s criminal he’s still playing in Portugal since the World Cup.
Buy Alexis Sanchez. Look up his stats for Udinese this season. It’s ridiculous. (25 games started in Serie A, 12 goals, 5 assists, and a whopping 108 fouls suffered for the playmaking winger). No, what’s ridiculous is how under-reported he is. He should be getting double the attention Marek Hamsik received for Napoli the last two years. He is single-handedly making Antonio Di Natale relevant again. I’m telling you, the 22-year-old is poised to make the next jump into Ribery/Silva/Ronaldo stratosphere… I sure hope it’s with my team. (Acquirable for £25m-£30m).
Okay, you’ve been good, here’s a hilarious compilation of Chris Kamara. (Don’t worry, in case you’ve been wondering, the Greatest Goals competition will return soon enough). This is the type of reporting we need in the States. He’s like Charles Barkley on ten cups of tea– double lumps of sugar, of course.
Now we can talk about Osama bin Laden. Props to President Obama and SEAL Team 6 for taking him out the old fashioned way. Still, I can’t help but miss the days of Bush and Cheney. If bin Laden had been found on their watch, he would’ve been brought back alive… and severely waterboarded at Guantanamo.
The thing about Osama bin Laden was that he gave Americans –and most of the world, I suppose– a single, identifiable person to hate for recent global terrorism. With him gone now, who is the poster child to blame for our feelings of hurt and xenophobia? Kim Jong-il, Muammar Gaddafi, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have never made their beef directly personal with America by bringing it to our shores. Fingers crossed, they have yet to bring pestilence and destruction stateside.
Perhaps our energy and resources will now go towards checkmating the individuals that still actively plan and execute acts of terrorism. (Bin Laden, after all, had little-to-no involvement in Al-Queda strategy after9/11). Maybe the hunting of these men will be reinvigorated with the fervor we gave to tracking Osama bin Laden? I just know that as long as he was alive and missing, we could never prioritize our focus on finding the active strategists; not in the mind of the American public, at least.
And that is how Jose Mourinho is like Osama bin Laden.
Just as bin Laden knew that a successful 9/11 would forever put the target on his back, Mourinho openly makes himself public enemy number one with his barbed comments. Undoubtedly, Mourinho has brought negative aspects to the game– the Anders Frisk incident, horrendous sportsmanship, egomania, undesirable football tactics, to name a few –but to his people he has become a genius, a hero, in the same way bin Laden was to his people through his successes. By courting the controversy himself, Mourinho renders his opponents unable to focus on his team– just him. So love his success or hate his persona, Mourinho knows exactly what he’s doing going to war with Barcelona.
As for the rest of the season, here are my thoughts:
Fernando Torres, how you feelin’, big guy? You could finish the season with just 1 Chelsea goal; you could finish the season with a Champions Medal by scoring a winner against Man United. You could be the goat or the hero, depending on how this final month goes. Still, only you will know in your heart that you will never be the same player since you sold your soul to the devil. And you didn’t even get a rad motorcycle, Ghostrider style.
Speaking of the title, who the hell will win it anyway? Head says United, heart says Chelsea, history says United. At least it will be interesting to the very end, unlike in the Bundesliga where it’s a two week bender for Borussia Dortmund. (Dortmund, huh? Who knew that was the answer?).
Lionel Messi. Wow. He’s scored already 52 goals this season along with 24 assists. Humans don’t do those things. He’s a genie in a bottle. When he wins a World Cup for Argentina, he will be considered the greatest of all time. Do you understand what that means? Any chance you get to see him play, take it. He’s breathtaking, the way he wins matches. I could go on all day. Don’t take my word for it though, take Ray Hudson’s.
The Marco Di Vaio Award for “How Does this Old Guy Keep Doing it?” goes to 33-year-old Raul, who just edged out Di Vaio himself (currently 19 Serie A goals). In his first season with Shalke, Raul has notched 18 goals while helping his club reach the Champions League semifinals. Congrats, Grandpa. You’ll be getting stuffed on Wednesday though.
English people love the Royal Wedding because it’s the closest England will get to winning the World Cup again.
Finally, if there’s one player to watch this summer, it’s Santos striker Neymar. He’s flirting with Balotelli levels of crazy, and he’s even more talented than his Italian mental institute roommate. Some club will spend a fortune to bring him to Europe, and when he comes he’ll bring more baggage than Johnny Cage brought to the Mortal Kombat tournament. But with no World Cup, no European Championships, and no Olympics this summer, I’m happy to settle for a little Brazilian Roulette. Copa America begins on the 1st of July.
So you stuck around for Part Two. I congratulate you on that; this is where we peer inside a large Liverpudlian skull and do our best to figure what precisely Wayne Rooney was thinking when he handed in a transfer request. Easier said than done, I’ll admit – “Rooney” certainly sounds Irish enough to me, and I know what Freud said about the Irish being completely impervious to psychoanalysis. But let’s give it a go, shall we?
Let me repeat the crux of Part One: United fans really loved Rooney. I wasn’t pontificating on recent United history solely to show off. As I said, Rooney was the first United player since Cantona to be both a superstar and a true fan favourite. It’s not hard to see why. He had that magical combination of tremendous skill, incredibly energy (fans of the English game, for better or worse, gravitate to these players. See entry “Carlos Tevez”), and most importantly, a heart-on-the-sleeve loyalty to the club (again, see “Carlos Tevez”…or not). Frankly, the fact that Rooney’s quite hideous to look at didn’t hurt either. He’s just a normal bloke, really, except for being a tremendously gifted footballer. None of that Ronaldo pretty boy nonsense.
[Editor's Note: I can vouch for Ravi's longtime disdain for Ronaldo. Never have I seen such an anti-celebration from a United fan when Ravi witnessed Ronaldo score a goal for his team. The look on his face alone was what got me through the 2007-2008 season.]
You see, there are two types of United fans in the world. There are those who follow United because we’ve been tremendously successful. Let’s face it, we all like to be winners. Who knows how it would have turned out for me if United hadn’t won the league the first year I supported them? Maybe I would have said “Enough of this rubbish.” But I doubt I would have, because there is the second type of fan, who is enamoured of history and tradition. And part of that tradition is Manchester being an industrial town, full of ordinary, hardworking people. I’ll admit that I’ve never been, so maybe this is just a romantic image I’ve got in my head. Nor should I pretend that this goes only for United and Liverpool. Every team has its diehards, and its fair weather fans. Such is the sporting life. But do yourself a favour and go re-read Seve’s recent piece on the difference between Chelsea and Liverpool, and you’ll understand why I’ve always gotten along better with Type 2 Liverpool fans than Type 1 United fans. And for like-minded United fans, no-one appealed better to those instincts than Wayne Rooney.
I think Rooney understood this. The affinity was mutual. So why would he endanger that legacy?
The question isn’t purely rhetorical by the way. I have gone over this question many, many times in my head, trying to see it from different viewpoints. Seve asked me for my reaction to this saga five months ago, and if I’d been honest, my first reaction was unprintable, but something along the lines of “Greedy bastard.” Like most first reactions, it was visceral – and far too simplistic.
As fans, we project our love of the club on the players (and expect them to feel the same way). Yet there’s a strange contradiction in how we feel. We feel cheated and let down because most of us wish we were good enough to play at the top level. But we completely ignore the fact that if we were actually good enough to play professionally, we would probably act the same way they do.
The standard argument goes something like this: Professional athletes have a narrow window in which to capitalize on their prodigious talents. They have families like you or me, and want to provide for their loved ones.
The standard riposte is this: “Yes, players have a right to earn as much as they can, but when is enough enough?”
Sure, he wanted more money. But as with most human endeavours, football players see themselves in relative terms. It wasn’t necessarily the money Rooney craved but the symbolism of him being installed as the club’s top earner – proof of the ushering in of the Rooney Era. Of course, it’s a strange way to show your desire to be the club talisman by handing in a transfer request. But I believe him when he said he never wanted to leave. Where could he possibly have gone? There are few clubs that offer a better chance of winning titles, and none of those realistically had the financial firepower or desire to launch a big bid for Rooney (City – money, but less likely to bring titles in the near term; Chelsea – not significantly more money or brighter near term outlook; no Italian clubs with real money; no Spanish club that really seemed to need him.)
And even if you still think Rooney is just a mercenary, one thing I simply cannot tolerate is fans going to his house to threaten him and his family. That element crossed the line between “Passion” and “Lunacy”. I have never understood fans who send death threats to players and referees. Sure, it’s nice to quote (misquote actually – look up the actual quote!) Bill Shankly on football being more important life or death, but fans who threaten violence do a great disservice to the memory of actual tragedies in the sport’s history, like Munich or Heysel.
Please don’t get me wrong. The Rooney affair has left a very bad taste in my mouth, and he has a long way to climb back into the pantheon of United greats. That goal against City helped a little – but not much, truth be told. He was playing a very dangerous game, and one that English football fans have much less patience for than cynical American sports fans. But fans are a fickle bunch themselves. These days, everyone and his mother seem ready to knight Ryan Giggs but I’ll never forget him being booed and written off in 2003. I’ve even heard fans demand Alex Ferguson be sacked – apostasy of the highest order, if you ask me.
Again, we’re all bloody hypocrites, the lot of us. I’ve taken a somewhat charitable view of the whole affair because it’s been five months, Wayne stayed, and we’re still top of the league. If he’d gone to City, and they were top of the league, maybe I’d be parading outside his house with a hood over my head.
But there is one reason above all others why I have sympathy for Rooney’s actions: He said what nobody wanted to hear. Most United fans, including me reacted with indignation – how dare he say this club isn’t good enough! And even more so given the subpar season he had produced up till that point! Five months on though, I realize this: The truth of the message does not depend on its source. It would have been nice if he hadn’t been asking for money while launching the criticism, but surely the cracks have only become clearer in past 10 days. Really, I wish I’d gotten this piece out a little earlier – I look far less prescient after two damaging losses to close rivals. I’m not one to overreact to minor blips, but the signs have been painfully clear since Ronaldo and Tevez left.
So where does this leave us? Awaiting Part Three, that’s where. In the next (and final) installment of the Rooney Saga, I want to dissect the current United team a bit more, and how Mr. Rooney fits in to this picture. Love him or hate him, Rooney is a United player, and bringing out the best in him will be crucial if this team is to rekindle the spirit of ’99.