August 22nd, 2011 by SeveSanchez
May 30th, 2011 by SeveSanchez
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.Tags: Barcelona, Manchester United
May 2nd, 2011 by SeveSanchez
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.
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.
September 21st, 2010 by FabioDicecca
I was recently talking with a friend of mine and we stumbled upon the topic of Champions League soccer. I joked again about how I believed that Roma was going to win it this year. He laughed and said, “You should focus on winning lo scudetto, and leave the Champions League to the big teams [he’s a Juventus fan].” I brushed off the big team comment as ridiculous (since Roma definitely is) and began wondering how important domestic league wins are to CL wins (I’ve been doing a lot of stats stuff lately and yes, it’s kind of dorky). Since the tournaments inception in 1955, there have been 21 winners from 10 different countries. Here is the breakdown of each winner with the year of their first CL win in parenthesis followed by the number of league championships won prior to that (includes year they won CL, if applicable):
Real Madrid (1956) – 5 Milan (1963) – 8
Liverpool (1977) – 8 Bayern Munich (1974) – 5
Ajax (1971) – 14 Barcelona (1992) – 12
Internazionale (1964) – 8 Manchester United (1968) – 7
Benfica (1961) – 11 Juventus (1985) – 21
Porto (1987) – 9 Nottingham (1979) – 1
Marseille (1993) – 8 Steaua Bucuresti (1986) – 11
Hamburg (1983) – 7 Celtic (1967) – 22
Borussia Dortmund (1997) – 5 Red Star Belgrade (1991) – 10
PSV Eindhoven (1988) – 10 Aston villa (1982) – 7
Feyenoord (1970) – 9
I know that there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered such as the year the league was created, the difficulty of competition in each league, the finances of each club, and wins after 1955, but I don’t have the time for that, so this is all you get for now. Overall, the average number of domestic league wins is 9.43 (if we take out Celtic, Juventus, and Nottingham as outliers, the average is 8.55) with the low being 1 for Nottingham and the high of 22 for Celtic. This isn’t great news since Roma has only won the scudetto three times in its history which means we need to win approximately 5 more championships to start to consider CL glory. Hey, if Nottingham can do it, then so can we. Forza Roma!
August 12th, 2010 by FabioDicecca
It’s been a long six weeks, but the wait is finally almost over for soccer to begin again – real soccer, not MLS soccer. The red and orange in my blood has begun to boil in anticipation and, more than anything, I can’t wait for the ritual to begin again: Waking up early on Sundays to watch the games, fanatically screaming and shouting in ecstasy and despair, then going to play on my own soccer team before returning to watch an Italian sports show analysis of the day’s games while arguing both with the TV and my family.
If you haven’t already figured it out, I’m a romanista to the core and, despite the skeptics (yeah, I’m talking to you Seve), I optimistically believe that i giallorossi will win the scudetto. I would even go so far as to say that Roma has the team this year to win the Champions League for the first time in their history. Overall, we have a solid squad with Vucinic and Pizarro in top form, and Menez quickly finding his role in this system. The eternal gladiators of De Rossi and Totti will undoubtedly give everything they have. The biggest question mark is Adriano: Can he get back to pre-drug, hookers, and booze form? Above all, the most reassuring news about the team this year is just the confidence that can be heard in interviews. It’s as if they’ve placed expectations on themselves that they have no doubt they can achieve. No longer is Roma a middle of the table squad, but slowly they have pushed themselves into the top table and will become a mainstay in the champions league for a long time to come. Opponents will enter the arena and here the shouts of the ultras:
“Ma che siete venu’
Ma che siete venu’
Ma che siete venuti a fà!”Tags: AS Roma
May 24th, 2010 by SeveSanchez
Step back one year in time. It’s 2009 and Barcelona have just done the quintuple or 20-tuple or however many trophies the mind can imagine. With the exception of the Catalan club, the English teams once again bossed Europe. The consensus top 5-8 players in the world were either entrenched in La Liga/the Premiership, or clearly en route. Who would’ve thought within 365 days an Italian club would be lifting Ol’ Big Ears in Madrid?
Yet here we are, basting in Jose Mourinho’s arrogant soundbites as Inter celebrate their 2-0 triumph over Bayern Munich in the Champions League Final. Let the record show that they only barely pipped a Roma side about as frightening as Roy Hodgson’s accent to the Scudetto… Inter Milan, 2010 Champions of Europe… Who saw this coming?
I didn’t. No way. Last summer I was on hand to watch Inter lose to Chelsea in a meaningless exhibition, and wrote about how unimpressed I was. To be honest, I still don’t know what to make of it. I can’t downplay the significance of winning the CL, because it’s simply a massive feat that we’re lucky enough to witness every year. But I was hardly blown away by Inter, the way we all were by Barcelona last year. Nor was I inspired, the way I was watching a miraculous comeback (choose 1999 or 2005, whichever shade of red you prefer). So let’s briefly revisit Inter’s triumph. Because also to our good fortune, it’s an interesting and convenient segue into this year’s World Cup.
Here’s what I know:
1. Inter’s Path to the Final. Inter did not have the easiest path the Final. That privilege belonged to Man United. Check out the teams blocking United from playing in Madrid– AC Milan, Bayern, and Lyon. I wish I hadn’t already used my “scary as Hodgson’s accent” joke. But wait, you say, what about the group stages or the actual Final? Look, I’m not saying tricky groups are never drawn (see last year’s Real-Juve-Zenit group), but generally if you can’t get out of your group then you’ve got bigger problems than advancing in the CL (see Liverpool this season). And with the Final, it’s simply a matter of all bets being off. It’s one match in a neutral venue, the grand stage, anything can and will happen (see Man United-Bayern 1999 or Liverpool-Milan 2005).
But Inter definitely had a path suited to their strengths– organized, intelligent, efficient, and led by a Special manager. CSKA Moscow were merely inferior, and Mourinho didn’t muck around. The games were boring, predictable, and exactly as successful as he planned them to be. 1-0 Home, 1-0 Away, bingo bango.
But Chelsea. Chelsea Chelsea Chelsea. Every knew it was coming, right? For as quickly as Abromivich’s revolving door swings at Stamford Bridge, the current Chelsea squad is still very much Jose Mourinho’s. All that bull about his shadow over the club vanishing after winning the Premiership this year– I don’t believe it for a second, and neither should you. This was the team he built and the team that was his to destroy. Add to fact that Carlo Ancelotti habitually keeps Jose’s pocket warm and you knew the Portuguese would not be denied his revenge.
Still, Barcelona might be the most intriguing case. Even now, I don’t think you can call Inter superior to Barca. I could make excuses about injuries (and I do when I’m debating the greatness of Ibrahimovic), but despite them I still think Barca are stronger in all aspects. And how many times do we see teams park the bus only to have Leo Messi run a train through it? Why should Inter, in the CL Semifinals, succeed where so many others had failed? The answer is so simple, I’ll let my man A.I. tell you.
Practice. Although Inter may have been outfoxed by Barcelona in the group stages, they were able to take exactly what they needed. Two times they’d seen what the Catalans were about, how they plied their trade. Perhaps even more importantly, they lost their fear of Barca. The 20-tuple aura was old to them, last year, tired, yawn-worthy. Maybe even a little overrated? Who knows, but I genuinely feel that Barcelona win the CL if Inter hadn’t faced them twice already. (Note: I know the “practice games” argument could be used for Chelsea, but A) c’mon, pre-season doesn’t count and B) I think the Jose against his old team factor dwarfs all else).
2. Do Bayern Win with Ribery? No way to tell. He’s a great player, no doubt. But if there’s one thing I can say about the “most important players to Bayern” list, it’s that Ribery wasn’t number one this season. Arjen Robben, at times during both the Bundesliga and the CL, simply hoisted the Bavarian squad on his back. The easy answer says to look at Bayern’s tie with Man United, and note how it was only a late, brilliant strike from Robben that even saw them advance. But look closer at that match, and you’ll see two Ribery shots that barely missed the back of the net. A few inches different, and maybe Ribery shares the top “importance” spot with Robben. Besides, every team wants its best players in their biggest game. And he certainly would’ve given Maicon a lot more to think about instead of bombing forward as the highlight reels can attest.
But again, who knows? Monsieur Ribery has found his name recently in the wrong sorts of tabloids, and you never know how those heavy issues carry over onto the pitch. (NOTE: This France squad is going to be an absolute soap opera in South Africa. Angry Muslim WAGS, inter-squad romance with a single prostitute, an incompetent superstitious manager ["Leo's don't make good defenders"], and the whole world believing the French cheated their way into the World Cup. John Terry and Ashley Cole should send them a card. Can’t wait).
3. There’s Something about Samuel Eto’o. Had he scored, he would’ve been the first player to net in three CL Finals. As it stand, he’s still won all three he’s played in. Even better, he’s easily one of the most compelling footballers I know. Look at the last couple years of his life.
He survives the regime change at Barca, somehow outlasting Ronaldinho’s jack-o-lantern grin, and all those distracting rumors of being unwanted. He then scores 36 goals as Barcelona do the 20-tuple, despite (apparently true) whispers how his own teammates can’t stand him. Then Barca do the unthinkable by shipping off a crucial part of their juggernaut team to Inter for Ibra + 40 million Euros. Now this is key, for two reasons. First, Txiki Begiristain might have the largest set of cojones in football for this move. Second, this 100% guaranteed doubled Eto’o's intensity.
Think about it. You score 36 goals, win everything, then your club tells you that not only do they not want you, but that there’s a striker worth €40m more than you. Any competitive athlete would use this as extra motivation, right? But this is Eto’o. It’s more than motivation, it’s personal.
Back when he was on Real Madrid’s books, he got 3 appearances and 0 zero goals in 2 years. Simply put, he never got a chance. They sell the striker who wasn’t good enough for them to Mallorca, and he never scores fewer than double digit goals per season ever again. And what’s his trademark? Banging them in against Real. When Barca win the first of their La Liga titles, he draws controversy by singing anti-Real songs into the microphone. (See such hits a “Real, cabrones, Salute the Champions” and “Guti is a Gay”).
I truly believe Eto’o does not become the player he is if he hadn’t been so blatantly spurned by Madrid. The same player that refuses to bring his family to matches because of racist abuse, feeds on turned backs. The same striker that was labeled a bad teammate in Catalonia, selflessly worked up and down the wing , out of position, en route to a CL trophy for Inter. Hell hath nor fury like a Samuel Eto’o scorned.
4. The Strange Case of Javier Zanetti and Esteban Cambiasso. It’s criminal, absolutely criminal. And no, I’m not talking about Maradona’s beard, which deserves its own website. The fact that Cambiasso and Zanetti will be watching the World Cup from their televisions is unthinkable. If anyone knows how two key players in a Champions League winning side can be omitted from their national squad, please email me. Up until Maradon’as reign, Zanetti was the rightful captain of Argentina, and a consummate professional for both club and country. El Diego took away his armband, his starting spot, and now a place in South Africa. Cambiasso, scorer of the third best goal at WC2006 (1. Maxi Rodriguez against Mexico 2. Philip Lahm in the opener), suffered the same fate.
Argentina have possibly the easiest group with Nigeria, Greece, and South Korea. Then they would play someone from the third easiest group of South Africa, Mexico, France, Uruguay. (Italy, Paraguay, New Zealand, Slovakia has got to be number 2). In a World Cup, that’s all you can ask for. For the first time in as long as I can remember, the Argies actually have a favorable draw. And with Messi + the players available, anything less than a deep run must be considered failure. They’re basically in the quarterfinals before they can even digest their empanadas.
But Maradona goes and selects about 20 attackers and three defenders. He leaves two of the most crucial elements of Inter’s treble-winning positional shape, JZ and EC, at home. I’ll give Maradona one thing, he’s certainly put his stamp on this squad. It’s his and nobody else’s. And I sure hope he’s happy with aged 36 Martin “3 Penalty Misses in 1 Game” Palermo. (No way he actually plays in SA, right? RIGHT?!). Diego has lost the plot so far that I almost want to put money on Argentina to win it all. He’s just that crazy, and there’s something so provocative about him in the World Cup. Can managers test positive for doping?
5. World Cup Commercials. Am I the only person massively underwhelmed by the World Cup commercials this year? Is there anybody out there? At halftime during the CL Final I probably saw Nike’s “Write the Future” three times. Add that to the 30 texts I’ve received asking “how awesome is it,” and I think I’m ready to declare myself the only person unimpressed. It’s okay, mildly entertaining, but kilometers from the greatness we’ve seen in World Cups past.
First of all, I liked it much better when it was called “Take it to the Next Level.” It also features some players that will not being going to South Africa– but I’ll even let that slide. What I want to know is where’s the drama, the ingenuity, and the “why didn’t I think of that” factor? Remember classics like “Good vs Evil,” “Edgar Davids Stealing from Ninjas,” “Scorpion Cage,” and of course, “That Airport One.” If you aren’t playing in bizarre venues and circumstances, we might as well just watch the actual matches. Even those fake Ronaldinho and Jose + Ten ones put “Write the Future” to shame.
Then, there’s the FIFA on ESPN commercials. It’s a shame I have to say this, because the country of South Africa has such an emotional and powerful history, but it’s bursting out of me. The “Robben Island” spot (U2 in the background, political prisoners starting a league), seems like a knockoff of the 2006 commercials. I mean, it basically is, down to the song. Perhaps if we hadn’t witnessed this phenomenal spot 4 years ago, or this one, we would better appreciate “Robben Island.”
When I watch those two 2006 commercials, I remember why I fell in love with the game, and why I die every four years only to be reborn again.
Some of my high school friends, whom I haven’t seen in awhile, invited me to play in a pickup league. It’s five minutes from my house, perfect pitch, and normally my idea of a great time. But I had to decline, because the thought of missing a single game in South Africa is simply too painful. It’s the World Cup, and no sporting event comes close to it. 18 more days.Tags: Cambiasso, Champions League, Eto'o, Inter, Ribery, WC2010, Zanetti
March 30th, 2010 by SeveSanchez
…In just one day. It took 11 years, but it appears that Bayern Munich have finally taken their revenge on Manchester United. Fabio Capello is somewhere currently making his worried face (not to be confused with his identical ecstatic face); English tabloids are ordering Chinese food; get ready for the blitz.Tags: Champions League, Rooney, WC2010
February 25th, 2010 by SeveSanchez
Those were the infamous words of Jose Mourinho in March 2008, after the end of his tenure as Chelsea boss. Last night, he finally got his chance. His Inter side hosted the Londoners in the first leg of the Champions League knockout tie. And as it appears, he may be halfway to his wish.
A 2-1 home victory could hardly be described as murder, but from my perspective it clearly looked substantial enough for an old Assault & Affray cautioning. Here’s what I took from watching a real balls-out-of-the-bath match (thoughts completely unedited, for your pleasure):Champions League, Chelsea, Inter
February 20th, 2010 by SeveSanchez
Arsene Wenger admitting that players he has managed have taken bribes? I mean, like a very big deal? Interestingly, in his remarks he claims he isn’t “paranoid,” but the fact that this isn’t igniting a firestorm would seem to suggest that most people perceive him as such? Think about it.
And even more puzzling, how did Wenger manage to catch his players taking payment when he can’t even see a foul on the pitch?Tags: Arsenal, Bribery, Wenger
October 20th, 2009 by SeveSanchez
Many apologies for not posting this weekend, but it was a rough one for me on a personal note. I turned 24, Liverpool blew it, I contracted swine flue, and my Dodgers blew it. Now I’m not one to employ cross-sport references, because I think it cheapens each of its own qualities (apples and oranges, right?), as well as makes football purists gag on their pies, but flipping between Liverpool and Dodger games the last few days has left me unable to tell the difference.
That’s what happens when talented teams try to do too much. They end up making decent opposition look like a combination between Ivan Drago from Rocky IV and this. The Dodgers have the best team in the NL, yet there’s still fear of the Phillies evident since last year’s massacre (2008 elimination was on my actual birthday, so you’re noticing a pattern here). They try to pitch too cleverly to the big bad batters and now all of a sudden even the Philly Phanatic is sitting on a 3-1 fastball with RISP. Now all of a sudden they find themselves down 3-1 in the series. You don’t micromanage and over-adjust, you do what has successfully gotten you where you are.
Which is why I have a hard time having a go at Rafa Benitez, despite Liverpool supporters petitioning the visiting Lyon side to leave behind a guillotine. (And that in itself is saying something, considering the man ended the Dark Age of Liverpool via his Champions League triumph in 2005. But 4 straight losses for the ‘Pool is something anyone under 25 doesn’t remember, so I’m also sympathetic to them). Rafa has always stuck to his guns no matter what the criticism. Remember when his ‘rotation policy’ was all the rage? Well it still seems alive and well, if only as unreported as it was during his title winning seasons with Valencia. And now with every pundit slashing his ‘zonal marking?’ Where were these experts during Liverpool’s shutout campaigns and consecutive Golden Gloves for Pepe Reina? Zonal marking was what Rafa used to great success and he’s not changing his mind now.
And so it goes with the team Rafa sends out every week this season. A year ago Liverpool had the best side on the country, and only a little less than clinical finishing against the minnows prevented their record from upholding it. So Rafa maintains the same idea today, with a little more aggression against the must-beat teams. Only his team isn’t built to function the same way thanks to transfers and injury. Still, while the grander scheme of Liverpool’s state can be blamed on misfortune and finances, there are three readily fixable aspects of Liverpool’s game.
- Overcommitment in Defense. It’s effective to press good teams because they need time and options to dictate a game; but it’s terrible against decent-to-poor sides. Liverpool make average sides look like Barcelona by rushing straight forward to close down the ball. Why? By pressing so urgently, big gaps open behind the defenders and the simplest thing to do is play the ball forward. Some counterexamples aside, it’s the hallmark of an uncultured or inferior team to try to advance the ball as directly forward as possible. If you don’t believe me, go to any schoolyard (just leave the van at home, okay?) and watch them play. In doing this, Liverpool takes the decision making away from the ball handler instead of forcing him to make the error. The Fix? Patience and defensive shape. What, you thought it needed to be complex?
- Obtuse Passing. By giving the ball away as cheaply as Liverpool has this season, they not only sabotage any possession-based attack but exacerbate mistake #1. Now we knew the passing game would take a hit with Alonso’s departure, but heavens to Bafetimbi, is Aquilani needed badly. Mascherano lacks the skill to spray the ball around and Lucas the confidence- no good for a midfield pairing. The Fix? Break out the old fashioned passing patterns in training. Don’t play the ball so readily into narrow danger. Make better use of the first touch to set up he next movement. Don’t let the ball get stuck indecisively underneath you. It’s not rocket surgery.
- Lack of Belief. That mix of swagger and defiance, passion and faith- gone. At this level, you don’t play like a champion unless you believe you’re a champion. The ego and audacity is a necessary purchase for top players; they must believe every time they’re on the pitch that they are right and when things don’t go their way it’s an egregious injustice. Even Mourinho and Fergie have adopted it to their managerial style to success. The Fix? The fix is the easiest to do yet the hardest to describe. I don’t know the players personally, I don’t know what motivations they respond to. But Benitez, Gerrard, and the leaders of the team must find a way to restore the spirit that epitomizes Liverpool.
That’s it. How easy was that? I could even tell you which player selections give you the best chance at those goals (hint: Riera to crush teams and Benayoun to unlock them), but I’ve got to save something for Rafa to figure out. He’s got a managerial job to save. And save it I believe he will, as soon as he realizes the difference between his team for the best opponents and his team for the rest. Soon being the operative word, Rafa, por favor. I’d really love to write about a different team next week, but you don’t give me much of a choice.
Okay, now is when you may hit me with your best balloon goal jokes.