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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

England's greatest hope sidelined with ankle injury

As Shimer said yesterday, the first leg of the Manchester United-Bayern Munich Champions League quarterfinal match was an instant classic.

Unfortunately for United (and by extension England), they have much more to worry about than the surprising 2-1 loss to Bayern. Superstar striker Wayne Rooney sprained his ankle and he's expected out anywhere from two to four weeks.

It's hard to recall a much crazier finish than Olic stealing the ball from Patrick Evra and scoring the winning goal in stoppage time. Olic's celebration was over-the-top and phenomenal but the most lasting image was that of Rooney limping off the pitch.

Wouldn't you know that Manchester United has one of their biggest EPL matches of the season on Saturday: vs. Chelsea who is one point ahead of them. Rooney has already been ruled out for that, against Blackburn and the second leg vs. Bayern Munich.

Rooney doesn't have any broken bones and he'll apparently be fine for the 2010 World Cup but that didn't stop the bozo British press to declare "England's Worst Nightmare," (The Times); "Pray," (Sun) and "Get well soon, please don't let this be the moment England's World Cup dream died," (Daily Mail).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Coach's Corner: Round 6 with OWU's Jay Martin

1. Clearly the biggest news of the week was the MLS and the Player's Union signing a new five-year collective bargaining agreement. It seemed to be headed for disaster for a while.

What do you think changed?

What did you think of the deal they signed? Is it sustainable long term?

I kept hearing about the awful conditions the players were being put through over the years in terms of guaranteed deals, which was a real point of contention for them in the negotiation. What specifically were they talking about?

What were your thoughts on the Red Bull’s win over Santos hours after the CB was signed?

There were a couple of issues that impacted the final CBA agreement. First, both sides recognized that a strike could end the MLS. The growth of the league has been slow (slower than many predicted), but there has been growth. A strike would have damaged that growth. Second, the league gave in to some of the player’s demands. They held the line on free agency, but gave a little on other demands. They gave enough for the players to save face with the signed agreement

Of course after the fact we hear all kinds of rumors about threats from the owners (Dave Cheketts) to the players etc. The fact is the CBA is a good deal for all and soccer will be played. The MLS must use the World Cup to increase awareness and increase interest.

The Red Bull – Santos games was meaningless. It tells us nothing about either team. Santos did not field their best eleven and Brazilians hate cold weather!

2. What were your thoughts on the new Red Bull stadium? Did it live up to the hype?

Do these stadiums that only fit 25-30,000 fans hurt the U.S.’s likelihood of getting another World Cup sometime soon when countries around the world like England have world class soccer stadiums that seat 60-70-80,000 fans?

The Red Bull stadium is first class and a real soccer stadium. The seats are on the field, there are no obstructions and the fans are covered in the event of rain. It is tremendous.

In terms of a WC bid, stadiums like this will not hurt our chances. You cite big stadia in England as being a problem for the USA bid. Remember that there are only a few of those big stadia in England with the majority of stadia being smaller – like the Red Bull Stadium. Also remember that no other country in the world has as many large stadia as the USA – no one. I suspect the WC games will be played in large stadia.

Also remember that no one “puts on a show” like the US. Both the 1984 LA Olympics and the 1994 WC made a great deal of money for the respective governing bodies. In fact they rank as the highest income producers of any international events. That is what the US sells to Fifa! And after the upcoming fiasco in SA, Fifa will be looking to regain some prestige and money.

3. Quick question about the national team. I think Tim Howard must be under-rated because I see him as a top 5 goalie in the world. I think Brad Friedel is terrific as well, and would be a tremendous back-up. I’ve heard people say they’d like to see him come back to the USA national team and start over Howard, and I think to myself they must be living off what he did for the MNT in 2002. Howard was terrific at the Confed Cup last summer, and to me he’s arguably the U.S.’ best player.

Obviously Bob Bradley won’t replace Howard for Friedel at this juncture I’m almost sure of because of the chemistry factor he’s been trying to build, but who would you take?

Am I over-rating Howard?

I agree about Tim Howard. He is one of the best keepers in the world and getting better. Brad Friedel is good, but he is on the back nine of his career and he would not accept a back up role! His ego would not allow that.

4. Two quick questions about the Bundesliga. Can you talk briefly about what Hoffenheim have been able to accomplish such a relatively short time rising from like Division 7 all the way up the top level and then competing for a Bundesliga title?

And also you mentioned last week about how the Bundesliga has taken steps to essentially promote their league having meet-and-greets with the players. Why doesn’t the MLS take a page out of the Bundesliga book and something like that? It seems almost too obvious – are the MLS people that incompetent and inept promotionally?

Hoffenheim is a great example of the relegation/promotion type of league that (I think) would be great in the US – but will never happen. Can you imagine a small soccer club in Boston; playing in an amateur league suddenly finding financial backing; playing its way through all levels of semi-pro and professional leagues and seven years later ends up in the MLS and actually challenges for the championship? That is exactly what Hoffenheim did with the support of software magnate Dietmar Hopp. Hopp played at the club when he was young. He financed the club and the new stadium. Hoffenheim is more of a regional team than is Bayern or FC Cologne. It draws from the Heidelberg area and sells out every week. The club is a great story. But the story simply underscores the most important ingredient for a sports franchise – money!!

A few years a go the Bundesliga realized the attendance was declining. The young German fan was opting for other recreational outlets (just like our current generation in the US) and not going to games. There were problems in the stands with skinheads etc. The Bundesliga was in trouble. Things had to change. The league created a plan that included; making the game an event and using the players to sell the team and promote the league. Initially the players were hesitant,, but now it is part of their standard contract and they have obligations to promote the club and sport. The fans are back and the attendance is tremendous. It is difficult to get a ticket at most games today!!

You hit a nerve with me. I sent you an editorial I wrote about this some time ago. Use it or quote it if you like. In the early days of the MLS there was never a problem getting players to come to my camp, or come to meet the OWU team, in fact some of the guys trained with our team in the off season. The Crew played at OWU every year. We made it a “Meet the Crew” Day and had a few thousand fans at Rike watching the game. After the game there was an autograph session , pictures etc. Great promotion. Today, I can’t get a Crew player to walk across the street without payment. They are missing an opportunity. Every league (yes even the NFL and NBA) had growing pains and called upon the athletes to help sell themselves. When I was playing basketball in Boston in high school, our coach would call the Celtics and we would have one of them come to practice. We had Bob Cousy, both Joneses, Larry Siegfried, John Halicek etc.. And these guys were winning 11 championships in 13 years at the time! The MLS players want Kobe-esque money right now. The League has a long way to go. Bayern plays over 50 games a year throughout Bavaria to keep fans happy. The MLS should learn a lesson.

5. Lastly as I mentioned last week I want to start breaking down some of the major players before the World Cup. We talked a bit about Germany before, now I’d like to go over Brazil – not necessarily my favorite team, but one I think every soccer fan has to enjoy to watch, and if Germany doesn’t win I generally root for them.

To me Dunga has taken the flavor, the expression, the joga bonito “play beautifully” out of the team to an extent. Their latest friendly a couple of weeks back vs. Ireland was clinical, but not Brazilian. Granted he has to deal with more egos and more pressure than any other manager in the World knowing that not only must Brazil win the World Cup they must look good doing so too, but I couldn’t understand some of Dunga’s selections.

I can’t for the life of me understand why he keeps selecting Adriano. This is a guy, who has continuously battled alcohol problems and it has showed on the field. This is a guy that quit Inter Milan because “he lost the love of the game.” This is a guy that completely failed to show up at the last World Cup, and looked just as fat, and out of shape as Ronaldo without the ability to finish like Ronaldo (not to degrade Ronaldo too much because I think he’s the greatest forward ever, but if he wasn’t chasing the all-time goals record at the last WC I don’t think he would’ve had a sniff of the field. What’s your opinion on Adriano?

There are some peculiar moves Dunga has made that have puzzled me. For instance not just selecting Maicon over Danny Alves, but not finding a spot for Alves anywhere on the pitch. I understand that Maicon plays more defensively, i.e. gets back better – but Alves is the best right back in the world right now and is the best since Cafu was manning the right flank for over a decade. He draws a lot of attention away from Messi at Barcelona and I would think Dunga could find room for him if not at right back perhaps at right mid. What’s your take?

The knock on Brazil (whether right or wrong) has always been that they are not disciplined – especially in the defensive third. In soccer there is a thin line between discipline and creativity. Coaches must be careful not to trample on that line and Brazilian coaches have the most difficult job in this regard. The coach who made the biggest impact in changing the Brazilian “style” is Carlos Alberto Parreira in 1994. He organized the defense for Brazil and was criticized just as you are criticizing Dunga. In order to win today the Brazilians have to change a little. The other soccer powers are better than before and are very organized. The 1970 style Brazil play will not win today. In fact Arrigo Sacchi called the 1994 Brazilian team, “…the most organized in history”. That system was based on a flat back four, a positional passing game with the counter attack and changes of rhythm while in possession. They won the WC.

All good coaches have a philosophy. That philosophy is certainly influenced by the culture of the country and the history of soccer in that country. But no two coaches will have the same philosophy – even if they come from the same country!

A key element of a coach’s job is to evaluate and assess all the players available. He then selects the players he feels best will “interpret” his philosophy. You need good players and team players and you CAN NOT CHOOSE the same type of player!! That won’t work. Brazil has many players who are the same. That complicates the selection process.

In 1971 when I was living in Munich, I met German National team coach, the late Helmut Schön. He taught me a lesson I have never forgotten. He said there are different types of players:

· Personality player: the player everyone remembers he puts his stamp on the game. These players are very rare. If you have two of them, put them as far away from each other as possible on the field.

· Creative player: Very technical, maybe the playmaker – I call them “pink shirts”. They will play a game and have no dirt on the shirt. But they are indispensible. They move the ball around.

· Fighters: The dirtbags. Their shirts are dirty in warm ups. They do the dirty work. They must be paired with the creative players

Players can be a combination of the above (except personality players). Coaches must put players on the field so they play together and not play against each other. Two creatives next to each other are a problem etc.

My point? Be careful before you criticize selection. Dunga knows his philosophy and knows the players better than you and I. Your comments are in the context of YOUR philosophy of what you want for a team – not Dunga. The Brazilian coach is in the toughest position of all WC coaches…



In what was a truly thrilling game, Bayern stole a goal at the death 30 seconds before the game finished. With Gomez dribbling in, Rooney tripped up the German forward and in the process looked to have badly sprained his ankle.

The ball then slipped through the Man U defense and it appeared as if they were waiting for the referee to blow his whistle for a foul. However, it was not given and Olic stole the ball off Patrice Evra's foot, dribbled past one more defender in the box and slammed it across his body with his left foot into the far right netting.

Olic was carded after taking off his shirt but, Bayern steal the win much in the same fashion the Red Devils did so to Munich 11 years ago in the UCL final, 2-1.

An amazing finish to an amazing game and an incredibly important goal considering Munich were trailing for the first 77 minutes of the agme.

On the other side of the quarterfinals in France, Lyon beat Bordeaux 3-1.

Gomez shows why I hate his game

Mario Gomez just showed why I hate his game, the guy disappears in big games. Yes he may be hurt, yes he may have only played in the last 20 minutes of this game as a sub. But there is a huge BUT, he should have buried a shot and instead let it go wide and missed a chance that he should have finished.

Vidic slams it off the bar

After conceding a free kick of their own which was deflected out for a corner, Bayern was nearly penetrated again by a Vidic blazing header off a corner by Ryan Giggs, who had just come on for Nani. We are in the 85th minute.

The equalizer is found

After Gary Neville gave away a dumb free kick with an intentional handball 25 yards from goal, Franck Ribery just tucked home the free kick after it took a deflection in the 77th minute, 1-1.

Bayern still knocking at the door

Altintop just weaved in and out of traffic in the box and hit knuckling volley that Van der Saar just put his hands out to stop, another great BM chance. Rooney then nearly caught Bayern on the counter, and then right back up the pitch Van Bommel came flying uncorking a shot from 22 yards out that again Van der Saar punched away.

The pace of the game is break neck right now.

Second half underway

Didn't take long for the action to pick right back up where it left off in the first half. Bayern had two solid opportunities to bulge the ol' onion bag, as Ribery set up Olic which was denied by Van der Saar and then Van Buyton, whose shot was blocked on the ensuing corner.

Somehow Rooney actually just missed an open strike

Martin Demichelis is having a nightmare performance for Bayern in the back middle. He just missed on another cross from Man U's Darren Fletcher allowing Rooney a bit at the apple again from inside the 6, luckily Rooney did not have a great strike and Jorg Butt made the stop in goal.

A cracking game on the other side of the side of the quarterfinals

Lyon are up 2-1 inside the first 35 minutes on Bordeaux on the other side of the quarterfinals.
Olic just missed a golden opportunity for a tap in to tie the score. After Ribery's cross was parried out by Van der Saar, Altentop hit a volley that bounced twice and should have been buried at the back post. A very free flowing match, there will be more goals to be had.

Good game

There have been a few glorious opportunities since the second-minute strike. Bayern has come close a couple of times, once off a deflected Ribery strike that Van der Saar handled and just moments ago on an other-worldly chip from Ribery to Altentop, but the Turk could not handle the pass. Altentop who has not played much this year looks very rusty crossing the ball and finding space on the right flank.

Rooney also almost got clear for another shot on net, but the center defense which slipped earlier allowing him to tap home his volley, blocked his latest strike efforts. Nani also had a great effort after some beautiful combo passing on the right side of the box, but in the end the ball got somewhat under his feet and he could not get a clean strike. Still 1-0, 26 minutes in

Electrifying start

Well Mt. Washington just became Mt. Everest for Bayern Munich.

Wayne Rooney just scored his 34th goal on the season after Man U earned a free kick in the right corner. The ball took a bit of a deflection but Munich somehow let Rooney slip free at the back post after one its defenders slipped. All he had to do was volley it in from inside the six yard box. 1-0 Man U in the second minute

LIVE BLOG: Bayern Munich vs. Manchester United... stay tuned

The epic rematch both teams have been waiting for since Teddy Shiringham and Ole Gunnar Soleshaer sent the Red Devil fans into oblivion with two late goals to win the Champions League final.

Well the big news on the day is that Arjen Robben is out with a groin issue, which could be a major issue considering Bastian Schweinsteiger is out with a yellow card suspension and Mario Gomez is also out with a calf problem

The first tie comes from Munich so perhaps Bayern can overcome this handicap, but it will be a major test coming against perhaps the hottest team in European football going right now and certainly the best striker in the world in Rooney.

Stay tuned all afternoon for updates.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Scoring a hat trick in 12 minutes? So easy even a Caveman can do it

I had DVR'd the Wigan-Manchester City game this afternoon but I turned it on in about the 68th minute and boy was I in for a treat.

Manchester City striker and one of our current favorite strikers in the world (see Carlos Tevez All-Stars) Carlos Tevez saved his team with three goals in 12 minutes as Man City turned a tight game (and must-win) into a laugher.

With the win, City vaulted over Liverpool into fifth place in the EPL. They're two points ahead of Liverpool and two points behind Tottenham (who's in fourth place).

Conversely, Wigan is just two spots ahead of relegation (16th place) and four points ahead of Hull City (18th place).

Wigan defender Gary Caldwell had received a red card in the 55th minute (for a rough challenge on Tevez) which left Wigan with 10 men for the rest of the match.

Tevez finally came through in the 72nd minute after Wigan striker Paul Scharner and goalie Vladimir Stojkovic ran into each other, allowing Emmanuel Adebayor to tap it forward and then Tevez put it in the vacant net.

Two minutes later, Tevez finished a Adam Johnson cross that was flicked on by Vincent Kompany. He proceeds to run to the end line and take off his shinpad which has his new baby's name on it. How cute.

In the 85th minute, when Tevez gained possession in the attacking third, you had to know that he was going for the hat trick (ie. he wasn't going to pass it). After faking out Scharner and Titus Bramble, Tevez put his shot far post for the hat trick.

That celebration was even more mint as he jumped over the advertisement boards and into the loving arms of City fans. And that's how you celebrate a hat trick.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Is this real life?

From the You've Gotta Be Kidding Me department, Ivory Coast finally figured out who would manage them at the World Cup this summer and their choice is whom Shimer would call a Uberbozo: Sven-Goran Erikkson.

Last seen leaving Mexico City in the dead of night when he had the Mexicans poised to fail in qualification for the 2010 World Cup, the former English coach has once again landed on his feet with a cake job with one of the real contenders (that nobody talks about) this summer.

This baffling hire is good news for the rest of Group G: Brazil, Portugal and North Korea and the remaining 28 teams in the 2010 World Cup. If there's anything that this Swedish clown knows how to do, it's messing up a team with loads of talent. He did it in England, he did it in Mexico and no doubt he'll do it in South Africa with my beloved Elephants.

It's hard to screw up with a team as talented as Ivory Coast with studs like Didier Drogba (Chelsea striker), Kolo Toure (Manchester City defender), Emmanuel Eboue (Arsenal midfielder) and Salomon Kalou (Chelsea striker) in your dressing room but I'm confident that Erikkson will somehow find a way.

This all begs the question: how do worthless managers like this keep finding cushy jobs? I'm obviously in the wrong field.

Friday, March 26, 2010

A couple of great goals from the week

Fresh of his spectacular laser shot to send Chelsea packing in the Champions League, Samuel Eto'o had this bicycle goal vs. Livorno the other day in Inters' 3-0 win as an encore.

Ronaldo, the king of the step-overs with the quickest feet I've ever seen, also uncorked two "bamboozlers" yesterday on a free kick and then the step over... Check out the second goal at the 2:45 mark, I just wish I could find Ray Hudson's call of it, it's genius

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Top Managers

Who are Your Top Gaffers in the World ?

With all the buzz around who’s the best player on the planet currently ( three camps Rooney, Messi, and at this point third wheel Ronaldo) it got me to thinking; who’s the best at managing these great players? Now there seems to be a trend where all the best managers, at least from this mans opinion , are seemingly on the club side which if given some thought makes sense seeing as how that’s truly where the big money is especially annually. That being said I picked my top 5 managers in the world at the moment....

Number 5
Pep Guardiola

The current manager of what most people regard as the best club side in the world Barcelona. Pep lead his boys to one of the best single club seasons in history winning every competition and Cup entered by the side. It’s easy to discredit Pep given the star studded and well rounded team he has at his disposal. But anyone who’s ever coached knows many of the most talented players are also the most difficult to mold and control under the greater good of the team. He has helped nurture Leo Messi into arguably the best player in the world all the while keeping the team first. You can noticeably see the pressures of leading Barcelona getting to Pep as he seems to of aged 10 years over the last 12 monthes. Many even speculated Pep might take a leave of absence after this current season, however Pep to the delight of fans and media alike re-upped his contract at the Nou Camp. Few can deny his status as a top manager in the world for he yet again has Barcelona top of the table in Spain and in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, if he can somehow lead the Catalans to another brace he will have lead the first team to defend their Champs League title and solidified his lure at Barcelona . Few managers have more asked of them and deliver like Pep for that he is certainly a top 5 manager at the moment.


Number 4

The Gus is loose Hiddink AKA “The Flying Dutchman” AKA “The Potato”

This was incredibly difficult for me and somehow I think Shimer calling it blasphemy if Gus was at number three sold me on him at Four but I’m still not sure but since it‘s best at the moment I‘ll let it slide. Gus has really done it all as far as managing goes he began his legacy at PSV Eindhoven where he lead them to 3 league titles including the 1987 league title which was coupled with winning the Dutch Cup and The European Cup the first treble in the club’s history . He then went on to manage Fenerbache in Turkey, which would help him find his newest undertaken the Turkish national team Job. Valencia was his next stop where he helped shape a Valencia side that played a highly up tempo offense gaining him the nickname “The Flying Dutchman“. Although he did not lead Valencia to as much success as many anticipated his seeds are still seemingly felt at the club which still plays his high octane countering soccer. He became the Dutch national team coach in 1994 four years later in 1998 he lead them to the semi finals of the World Cup were they lost to eventual champions Brazil (cue the baby cradle goal celebration). He then bounced from Real Madrid to Real Betis never really finding a fit until he wound up landing the now infamous South Korea job. This was a team that had not won a single World Cup game in 5 tries. He lead the team again like his dutch side, only with a quarter of the talent, to the semi finals where they fell to Germany. This is to date Hiddink’s greatest trick in my opinion. He is still considered a “ national hero” in S.Korea and for good reason as one of the hosts of the tournament incredible pressure was on the side to for once play good ball and not get blasted out of the tournament. Hiddink then went back to PSV where he won another 3 league titles two cups and took yet another Gus lead team to a major semi finals in the champions league. At this point its fair to say Hiddink could easily of retired and been one of the best to picked up a clipboard and dish out orange slices. He instead undertook the task of coaching two teams fulfilling his contract with PSV and taking the Australia job, yet another team that had never truly had any great success on the global level. All he did was do what the Gus does ( say that 3 or 5 times fast whichever brings more difficulty for you) put the Soccerroos in the world cup advanced them past the knockout stage and left with nothing but praise. In 2006 he took over the Russia Job and he took the team to the best result they’ve had in any major tourney since the iron curtain was lifted or something like that. Yet again bringing a team to the Semi finals of a major tourney this time the 2008 Euro Cup. He then single handedly saved Chelsea’s and Drogba’s self respect when he finished the last 3rd of the season salvaging a FA cup for them and righting the ship at the Bridge at least for 8 months or so ( golf clap for JT and Ashley Cole classy fellas). Oh ya all the while Gus kept up with his Russian coaching duties. He now turns his sights on another ship that needs to righted the Turkey team which many of us I’m sure remember being one of the better sides in the world. They failed to qualify for this world cup so his task will be yet again to fix a team and get them deep into a tourney, which seems to be the GUS special.

Number 3

To the Delight of Shimer

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger is at this point very much a one club guy. He’s made his name at Arsenal and will more than likely never accomplish what he has there anywhere else. He began his senior team managerial career at Nancy ( chuckle) where it would be fair to say he had very little success over the course of his three seasons. He followed that up with a very success stint at AS Monaco , the club that Wenger began to put his name on the map at points being linked with a move to German giants Bayern Munich ( Shimer loves it ). Instead in true Wenger fashion he took his own route and found himself in the Japanese J League with Nagoya Grampus Eight where he had great success. He became the first ever foreigner to claim the manager of the year award for the league. After Bruce Rioch was sacked in 1996 Wenger headed the list for the vacant Arsenal Job and in September of 96 the Wenger era for the gunners began. In just his second season at the club they enjoyed a English double the winning the FA cup and League title. The following season was that of near misses in league and cup alike. The following year with some key additions wenger once again brought the double back to the gunners. In four seasons Arsene had put Arsenal atop the premiership. His crowning season came two years later where his gunners won the league title without losing a single game the entire season, this was in many ways the end of one era and the beginning of the new age gunners. With the budgeting of a new stadium the major transfer funds afforded to Arsene dried up in comparison to the big spenders in Europe. Wenger began to mold what his club and he as a manager truly epitomize even now frugality with a keen eye. He not only has a keen eye for young talent but he seems to know exactly how long to hold onto talent and when to get rid of them when their stock and talent seem at the perfect apex. He according to many in the know is one of few managers who turns a profit on key signing for any major club spanning Europe. He approach insists on playing the game in a dare I say majestic fashion that more of a Spanish side than English. Generally having very few English born players in his side which of late has cast the ire of the FA on him. The FA are Pondering the implementation of a rule demanding each premiership side has a certain amount of UK born players on it. Wenger has never walked to the beat of anyone else and this is why he still is one of the best managers in the world.

Number 2

Sir Alex Ferguson

Wait he’s not first ? Nope sorry Alex I guess your just not ‘ Special’ enough for my top spot. Where does one even start when considering the accolades and credentials of the King of Manchester. Do we start with the 11 Premier League titles ? Or how about the 5 FA cups ? Perhaps the 5 league cups ? No , no it’s the 3 champions leagues he’s won . Perhaps it’s the almost second to none youth academy ( Wenger is somewhere with a Cheshire smile) that he’s incredibly hands on with that groomed that 1999 golden age squad that won the treble, a team almost hand grown by Alex and staff. Or maybe we should go back further when he managed Aberdeen for 8 seasons winning 3 league titles, 4 Scottish Cups, 1 Scottish league Cup and a UEFA Cup ( old champions league ). Yea he did this with Aberdeen not exactly Rangers or Celtic. This is already tiring….. I think we get it about this guy he wins a lot. Its easy to see that Sir Alex is probably the greatest coach ever to do it. But my list is all about now and for now he’s number 2 sorry gaffer but you get all the talent easy because your you and that works against you here.

So without further Freddy Adu the Best Manager in the world …..

Number 1

There’s Only 1 Special One Jose Mourinho

One word to begin any conversation about Jose, Charisma, an abundance of it actually. Jose’s never lacked confidence at least what I can remember of him and judging from what I’ve seen there’s no evidence of him lacking self belief. He’s perhaps the best sound byte in the business, easily the greatest sideline antics of any coach you tube his famous celebrations. But showmanship is not all he brings to the table. His managing credentials are up there with anyone in the world. Leading the Portuguese side Porto to the Champions league title against Sir Alex’s Red Devils is still his best trick. A team on paper that was indeed over matched came in tactically stronger, sounder and more driven, the result one of the biggest upsets of recent memory in the biggest tourney annually. The year prior he won the league title along with the UEFA cup. Jose made an even bigger splash at Chelsea where he put them on top of the table two years in a row along with winning an FA cup and a league cup within 3 seasons Jose had won everything possible in England. He moved his circus to Inter Milan in Italy where he won the league his first season and has a firm grasp on not just the title but another shot at the Champions League title having brought his Inter team to the Quarterfinals this season. Jose has won 14 Cups and league titles in his 8 years of coaching hard to argue with that type of success. His tatical approach and getting the most out players coupled with his media savy give him the edge over every other coach for me in the world.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Midweek musings

So it's kind of a slow news cycle this week with the Champions League and Europa Cup on holiday, or at least taking a week off before they have at each other again next week.

But here's what is going on around the globe right now...

Gianfranco Zola is most likely the next name to be on the chopping block following West Ham's horrific defeat at the hands of Wolverhampton, 3-1, which had been phrased a "must win" match by United's new owners David Gold and David Sullivan, who had bought down United's £110 of debt with an influx £50.

Pressure is ever mounting on the club and Zola, who have now lost 5 straight game and sit just three points clear of Hull and Burnley in the relegation zone. Chants of "you're not fit to wear the shirts" rang loud and clear at Upton Park.

The biggest problem may be that West Ham could become the next Portsmouth. Already virtually crippled financially should the team be relegated, which looks like it could be enivitablity due to the sluggish display of form lately and no Carloz Tevez to come in and save the day this year, West Ham as a club would lose £60 million.

Harry Harris story on ESPNsoccernet described the dire situation perfectly in a couple of paragraphs, "Time is running out, the drop is looming ever closer, and it remains to be seen how much longer Gold and Sullivan can give Zola with so much at stake. Potentially the very survival of the club is the issue, not just their Premier League status.

"The owners described the possibility of relegation as "Armageddon" and the club are now facing that reality unless they act to stop the rot. They almost seemed to be having a board meeting when the third goal went in as Sullivan and Gold were chatting to those closest to them in the directors' box. They all seemed extremely agitated.

"Gold and Sullivan expected at least four points from Tuesday's game with Wolves and Saturday's clash against Stoke, but that is not going to happen."

As the lone voice of opposition to his club's buying practices, Andrey Arashavin has been spouting off the same rhetoric most Arsenal fans have called for the last few years - to buy more players to compete against the big boys of England and Europe for more trophies.

Yesterday he bemoaned his club for selling off both Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor in the summer and only replacing them with one player Thomas Vermaelen. Despite the fact that Arsenal are only two points adrift of Manchester United in the English Premier League and now in the Elite 8 of the Champions League, Arshavin believes Arsenal need three and perhaps four more players to realistically compete each season, according to another ESPNsoccernet story.

"I am still of the opinion that to win trophies Arsenal needs more players,'' Arshavin is quoted as saying in the Sun. "There is the simple fact that last summer we sold two players and bought only one. So there is an obvious deficit of at least one. Then we lost Van Persie, Gibbs and Ramsey for a long time. So for me it is natural we need new players.

"Without the variety of players we have less diversity in attack. That allows our opponents to read our combinations more easily. Finally, it results in less ball possession for us and our defence comes under more pressure.

"The Premier League is very interesting, at least as long as we continue fighting to win it. But without new experienced players, real stars, it will be difficult to achieve success. Ideally we need three or four such experienced players and then among our youths there should be guys who are not only good at playing football but have real character.''

And it takes a big man to admit he is wrong, but I may have been premature to elevate Wayne Rooney above Lionel Messi in the debate about the best players in the world. I remain firm in my belief that Ronaldo, Messi, and Rooney are the top three best by a wide margin and that if you were starting a club you would be supremely happy to have any one of the three, but Messi is showing in the month of March why he won the Ballon d'Or as best European Footballer and Fifa World Player of the Year last season.

Messi has had a rich run of form lately - actually that does not even begin to describe what he has done - the little man from Argentina had been Superman quite simply. Up until Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored a 90th minute penalty (set up by a run of Messi) Messi had scored all eight of Barcelona's league goals in the month of March - eight straight including two vs. Almeria, a hat trick vs. Valencia, and a natural hat trick in the first half vs. Zaragoza over the weekend. And that does not count the two he poured in vs. Stuggart last week in the Champions League as Barcelona breezed to a 4-0 pounding of the German side at the Nou Camp.

Messi has 34 goals on the season for Barcelona and 25 in La Liga. Here are the highlights of his brilliant work over the weekend, check out the second goal, special comes to mind.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Charlie Davies' War

People who bitch and moan about the trivial nature of Twitter should really visit Charlie Davies' page. He's not exactly Deepak Chopra, but every damn thing he writes is inspirational. There's nothing I've read over the past three or four months that's put me in a better mood than Davies' Twitter feed.

This is from today:

Never Have I been so happy to be so tired!! Ran 3 miles yesterday & 4 miles today!! Ball work this afternoon. Loving fitness. Let's go!!!!

Certainly, my hopes are high. Probably too high. But at this point, any kind of career resuscitation by Davies is gravy. His mere survival was miraculous. All Associated Press stories about his car crash seem to end the same way: "His injuries included two broken bones in his right leg, a broken and dislocated left elbow, a broken nose, forehead and eye socket, a ruptured bladder and bleeding on the brain." Insane, right? Davies, shockingly enough, is training with FC Sochaux.

He may or may not make the World Cup squad. Even if he doesn't, it's been fascinating watching him improve. His optimism -- via his Twitter voice -- is palpable. Then again it has to be to even think about returning from the injuries he sustained.

From March 18:

It's official! I'm done with rehab!!! Leaving for Sochaux tomorrow! Who said I couldn't be back training so soon!? Let's go!! God Bless!!

This is a 23-year-old who only six months ago was traveling in a car that was sheared in half. To say that he's happy to be back doing what he loves is beyond an understatement. Most people (including myself) use Twitter to unload bits of driftwood that have been floating around in our brains. A lot of it is for our own amusement. But everything, and I mean everything, that Davies has written recently has been worth digesting. It just seems so organic, at least relative to the drivel I'm used to looking at.

From March 8:

Staying focused over here. I'm getting after it. Starting to touch the ball more & more in my rehab. I hope all is well! Bless!

Again, maybe I'm being too optimistic here. But it's hard not to be when Davies is involved.

Coach's Corner: Round 5 with OWU's Jay Martin

1. You mentioned in one of our earlier Q & As that something like only 3 or 4 teams made money last year in the MLS. Why don’t the owners or their lawyers say we will open the books and show you the players the losses or why is someone not asking to see the books?

Would that be too much of a black mark on the league?

Only Seattle and Toronto made money last year. Getting owners to open the books has been an issue in every strike in professional sports. You can hear the NBA players now and NFL. The owners will never open the books. There are some tax rules and advantages that owners get (i.e. Stienbrenner used the Yankees losses against his ship building firm for years!!). Open books will not happen!!

2. One of the more interesting U.S. player-related stories right now is Landon Donovan’s situation with the L.A. Galaxy and his loan spell to Everton. He’s clearly finally made it in England after three previous unsuccessful spells in Germany.

The Galaxy want him back, no debate as long as there is no strike. Landon said Monday he wanted to stay until the end of the season in England, but that he would do what his domestic club the Galaxy wished.

The only way he continues his stint at Everton continues is if the MLS goes on strike and that would only be after he had returned across the pond all the way back across the U.S. to the West coast. To me that seems silly.

I think there comes a time when you outgrow something, and Donovan has outgrown the MLS, he needs to stay in England. To me the Galaxy don’t have the player’s best interests in mind, they are only looking out for themselves.

Do you think the Galaxy are being unreasonable or doing you think they are making the right stand?

If you were the MLS commissioner, what position would you take?

How much did David Beckham’s “I’m just going to AC Milan through March, oh then wait until the end of the season, oh wait I’ll be back in the summer for the second half the year” run-around hurt Donovan’s chances of staying in England?

It is more important now that Donovan stay with LA – Beckham is out and will never be the player he once was. So, LA needs Landon. He did well in England because he is athletic and fit and fast. The Bundesliga is a technical – tactical league; the EPL is fast paced and athletic. The atmosphere at Everton is much better than the atmosphere in LA. Donovan had it all going his way; good team; very good coach; doing well and loved the atmosphere!!!

He struggled in Germany because every training session in Germany is a war…or as Jürgen K said, “Nasty…” That environment beats you up if you are not used to it. That is why Podolski left Bayern Munich, he could not compete in training. Landon had similar problems. David Moyes is a very good coach and creates an environment that is competitive, challenging but not as much pressure. In LA there will be no pressure in training.

But LA and the MLS need him NOW.

3. There have been plenty of arguments in recent years as to which league is the best in the world. For my money the English Premier League is still the best slightly ahead of La Liga.

Which league would you take as your top billing?

If you were trying to develop a young player from the U.S. where would you say would be the best place to develop his talents?

Would you say playing in multiple leagues is a good thing like learning the defensive tactics of Serie A, going to England to play the fast pace offensive game they play?

Ah yes which league is better? Don’t be too quick to say the EPL is the best for money – THEY ARE LOSING MONEY!! But they are entertaining and now that there are international managers and more international players, the league plays a better brand of soccer – at least the top 4 or 5 teams do!

The Bundesliga has actually surpassed the EPL for average attendance in the past five years AND not one club is losing money! The Bundesliga has a smaller percent of international players and, as a result, appeal to the fans. The B’liga teams have initiated campaigns at each stadium for the fans to meet the players. It is working! You can’t get tickets to Bundesliga games. And there is some parity in the league. FCBM is still the best, but there have been four different champs in the last 6-7 years!! There is no “Big Four” like the EPL. So the Bundesliga is first, La Liga second, EPL, Serie A, Erdviese.

As far as developing a player? My choice would be Holland or Germany. Both countries actually teach players how to play (we can talk sometime about the coach v trainer problem). Both have a well thought out, tried and true method for the players to learn. The difference between the US players and the Dutch last week was enormous. Simply put, the Dutch and Germans can play the game. They combine high technique with tactics and fitness. I think both are a bit behind with the mental side of things. But to learn how to play??? Go to Holland or Germany.

As far as multiple leagues go, that was once the rule in European soccer. Many Dutch, German and English players traveled and played in different countries. Klinnsman says that is what made him a complete player. It is more difficult to do now, so you don’t see it as much.

4. You also mentioned in our discussion about the single-entity format and the debt problems the English Premier League are struggling with last week that all the other teams in Europe are competitive for the big trophies.

I would argue the opposite. The last three UCL seasons three EPL teams made it to the semifinals (2009 Arsenal, Chelsea, Man U) (2008 Chelsea, Liverpool, Man U) (2007 Chelsea, Liverpool, Man U). And since Porto won the UCL in 2004 there has been at least 1 Premier League team in the UCL final.

Granted the EPL teams don’t always do as well in the Europa tournament, but you look at a result like Thursday’s 3-1 Juventus win over Fulham in Turin. Granted it’s a 2-goale win, but Juventus is supposed to be one of the biggest clubs in the world and one of the top 2 or 3 clubs in Italy, and they can’t even beat the 10th place team in England by more than 2 goals at home – that says something to me.

What are your thoughts about the competitive balance and the EPL clubs arguing you have to spend to stay competitive?

I think since the Bosman ruling, competitive balance is better all over Europe. Don’t put too much stock in the Fulham v Juve game(s) the last two weeks. Juve is not a good example. As a team they are struggling and as a league Serie A is as uncompetitive as it has been in a long time – although Inter have a path to the UCL final.

The top 4 or 5 in the EPL do very well in Europe, but they are going broke! Liverpool and Man U have huge debt; Abramovich had to bail out Chelseas with over 50 million Euros. Only Arsenal is solvent and they can’t win anything!

But overall there is better balance.

5. I also noticed that you danced a little around the Terry question from last week about stating what you would actually do if that situation presented itself at OWU. You gave some good insights as to how personal matters do rear their ugly heads on the pitch and how the Dutch have tried to build their teams around better chemistry now – I think the Dutch are trying a new approach now because they’ve never won a World Cup despite their tremendous talent over the years and the personality clashes they’ve had in the locker room.

But I’ll give you a little easier question so you don’t have to throw OWU under the bus – what would you have done if you were Capello the England coach after this scandal broke?

Granted there are lots of factors to take into account. Terry is a Fifa best XI player in the world and maybe the top center back in the world. England were also a heavy favorite to lift the cup for just the second time, but now they appear to have some serious cracks in their defense.

Do you think he did the right thing in dropping him as captain, but keeping Terry on the roster?

Before I address the Terry issue, a word about the Dutch. The reason the Dutch haven’t won the WC and, in fact, won only one major trophy – Euro 88 is not soccer related, it is part of the fabric of the culture…and most Dutch will agree. Read the book Brilliant Orange it will explain the whole thing. It will be tough for them to ever win a big one. The culture prides itself on THE INDIVIDUAL not the team (like the Germans!!)

I stick by my words of last week. Terry is a problem for Chelsea - now he is whining about the officiating v Inter – nothing is ever his fault) and England. Terry’s indiscretions are about his ego. Capello did the right thing – yanking the arm band. That is a suitable slap to his ego.

When dealing with an important player on the team; what is the impact of dropping Terry to the other players? Why should Capello punish Rooney et. al. By dropping Terry and reducing the chance of English success? By dropping him as captain he was punished and the England team can move on.

But, I think he has done irreparable damage to the English team! They will not be the same.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Verbeek sick of chasing dingos off the practice field

Nothing like a lame duck coach heading into the World Cup to really fire up your team.

Such is the scenario facing Australia as they get set for South Africa's 2010 World Cup knowing that head coach Pim Verbeek is leaving the Socceroos after the tournament.

The Netherlands native formerly coached South Korea and he's had a nice run with Australia, helping them reach their highest ever FIFA ranking (#14 in September 2009). It's the third overall time Australia has qualified for the World Cup and the second straight tournament that they'll be a part of.

During qualification for the World Cup and next year's Asian Cup, Verbeek led his team to a 15-8-4 record in 27 matches.

"It has been a very difficult decision for me after more than two years, but it is time for me to look for a new challenge,'' said Verbeek. "I have enjoyed every minute of being head coach of Australia and we achieved some fantastic results including qualifying for the World Cup and the Asian Cup.

"It is a good time to make this announcement so we can now focus completely on preparing everything perfectly for the upcoming World Cup in South Africa. We will do everything right to prepare for this tournament to get the best result possible.''

Best of luck to Verbeek and his boys as they're in a tough group D with Germany, Serbia and Ghana. They start off with the Germans on June 13.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Disaster averted, MLS and players sign new collective bargaining agreement

The MLS Player's Union, which was set to start before the Seattle Sounders were to host new expansion team Philadelphia Union this coming Thursday, announced today just after 1 p.m. they had reached a new 5-year collective bargaining agreement.

All along the players complained that the MLS single-entity format was hindering the players' ability to make more money essentially because the league negotiated all deals, the players wanted greater free-agent rights and a higher percentage of guaranteed deals.

As has been greatly reported by ESNPsoccernet and other websites the following paragraph was one of the Players Union's biggest argumentt, "Player income averaged $147,945 at the start of last season, according to the union. But the median -- the point at which an equal amount make above and below -- was $88,000 for 323 players listed."

This Associated Press story highlights all the items that were worked out and settled between the players and the league. Some interesting stuff with some of the main stipulations being nearly all players will have guaranteed contracts and although the players did not gain free agency, they will receive greater rights at the expiration or release of their contracts

But with so many clubs in MLS reportedly losing money in recent years, only time will tell if the league can afford to sustain this sort of most likely increase in players salaries along with a continuously expanding league. It would not surprise me if in five years when this CB is coming to an end that there is another bitter standoff between the players and owners with instead of a potential players' strike like this go around I would suspect the owners' will contemplate a lockout.

While we're also talking about the MLS, and instead of being all doom and gloom, Kyle McCarthy of wrote a piece about five of the league's most influential players, and he listed the Revolution's Shalri Joseph No. 2 behind Landon Donovan. Joseph, who has trained at the Topsfield Indoor Arena on several occasions - I know because I worked there - will need to have another huge season for New England because of the losses of Jeff Larentowicz, Steve Ralston, and Jay Heaps.

These European draws are for the birds

David Villa is about as happy with his Europa League draw as I am with the Champions League draw - Bayern vs. Man U, Arsenal vs. Barcelona in the quarterfinals come one and two French Ligue 1 teams playing each other - complete joke.

Anyway Villa and his Valencia boys have to play fellow La Liga club Atletico Madrid in their Europa quarterfinal match. The other games that will take place on April 1 and April 8, Fulham v. Wolfsburg, Hamburg v. Standard Liege, and Benefica v. Liverpool.

The semifinals will pit the winners of Hamburg/Standard Liege v. Fulham/Wolfsburg and Valencia/Atletico Madrid v. Benefica/Liverpool. Some big clubs and big players are out there, and perhaps now that Clint Dempsey is healthy he can help Fulham continue their dream run in European action - they face a tough test in Grafite's Wolfsburg team, who won the Bundesliga just a season ago.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Champions League quarterfinal draw

The Champions League quarterfinal draw was today and while it sets up some juicy matchups in the next round, it's also rather anti-climatic as it pits powers against each other.

On March 30-31, Lyon plays Bordeaux, Bayern Munich plays Manchester United, Arsenal plays Barcelona and Inter Milan play CSKA Moscow. The second leg of the quarterfinals is April 6-7.

The semifinals begin April 20-21 with Bayern Munich/Man U vs. Lyon/Bordeaux and Arsenal/Barcelona vs. Inter Milan/CSKA Moscow. The second leg of the semifinals is April 27-28.

The quarterfinal matchup that I'll be looking forward to the most is Arsenal hosting Barcelona in Thierry Henry's return to North London vs. his old club. It's also a rematch of the 2006 Champions League final won by Barcelona.

The hits keep on coming for England

Tottenham and English striker Jermain Defoe is out for the next couple weeks after pulling his hamstring, according to his club manager Harry Redknapp.

Injuries never come at opportune times but Defoe is having the best season of his young career. He leads Tottenham this season with 23 goals in all competitions and he joins an already lengthy injury list at White Hart Lane that includes Tom Huddlestone, David Bentley, Aaron Lennon, Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate.

Tottenham is having a wonderful season as they're currently in the coveted fourth spot right now in the EPL which would qualify them for the Champions League next season.

The Spurs travel to Stokke City this weekend for what is a very winnable game despite their shortage of strikers.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

BREAKING NEWS: Almighty upset

This is upset week, the week where you NCAA brackets go to die No. 14 seeds over No. 3 seeds, heart-attack finishes and dagger shots. And that's just basketball.

But for those of you at work or watching basketball all day, you probably missed the biggest upset of the week, which happened just minutes ago in West London at Craven Cottage.

Down 3-1 on aggregate to Juventus after the first leg in Turin, Italy - Fulham came from behind at home today after David Trezguet scored the first goal the match just two minutes into the game. Bobby Zamora and Zoltan Gera scored each later in the first half and Juventus captain Fabio Cannavarao picked up a red card in the 27th minute for a take down of Gera as the last defender.

From there Fulham came on like gang-busters the rest of the way. Gera equalized on the aggregate score just four minutes into the second half on a PK after Diego was adjudged to have played the ball with his hand. And in the 82nd minute, American substitute Clint Dempsey hit the chip of his life and the biggest goal he's ever scored for his English club, neatly placing the ball over the Italian keeper from the right side of the box into the far upper left 90 - a magical goal.
The final 4-1 Fulham, the final on aggregate 5-4 Fulham. An upset of epic proportions and one of the greatest wins in Fulham team history.

Earlier in the week Inter Milan sent ripples through the Champions League when the "Special One" - Jose Mourinho - returned to Chelsea and handed the Blues a shock 1-0 defeat at home and sent them packing for the Champions League season on the 3-1 aggregate victory.

Samuel Eto'o, who has been a Chelsea killer his whole career, did the Blues in with a piece of sublime skill taking Wesley Sneijder's pass touching it once before slipping it in the near post. Here's the clip:

Sevilla also suffered a shock defeat at home to CSKA Moscow, the first in over 40 games in Europe at home for the Spanish side, 2-1 due to an absolute collosal error by their keeper Andres Palop, which also sent them packing for the Spring.

Barcelona and Bordeaux each took care of business yesterday as they were expect to, and the final 8 were set for the quarterfinals - Manchester United, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Lyon, Inter, CSKA Moscow, Barcelona, and Bordeaux now will wait for the reseeding.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Hull appoints Sloth as its new manager

Hull City hired Ian Dowie aka Sloth as its new manager on Tuesday night as they try to avoid relegation in the EPL.

Dowie signed a short-term deal for the remaining nine games of the season and one can only hope he brings some of his Goonies magic.

He was a hot coaching commodity after successful stints with Oldham and Crystal Palace, but then his star started to fade as he failed in Charlton, QPR and Coventry.

Most recently, Dowie was Alan Shearer's right-hand man at Newcastle and that clearly didn't go too well as Newcastle was relegated while he was there.

Dowie's appointment has not been met with universal approval by the fans but he said: "My message is it's about us winning games. I believe I know the training ground, I believe I can get players playing attractive and open football. This needs to be a real cauldron. We'll be working every hour God sends.''

Whenever, Wherever, We're meant to be together

I know you've all been breathlessly waiting for the announcement of the World Cup kickoff concert in Johannesburg and ladies and gentleman, the news is finally here .

Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas and Shakira are the artists you've heard of while the concert also will feature a strong African presence with South African folk singer Vusi Mahlasela and Malian artists Amadou and Mariam.

South African rock bands BLK JKS and The Parlotones also will perform as the country prepares to be the first African host in the 80-year history of the tournament.

The event takes place June 10, the day before the first match kicks off. And if you're wondering, basically the only reason I mentioned this is because Shakira is in my current Top-5, just a complete dime, and this allowed me to post a picture of my favorite Colombian.

Wayne Bridge, not loving life either

One can't mention John Terry these days without also talking about Wayne Bridge.

Proving the world is not a fair place, Bridge is doing arguably worse than even Terry. The Manchester City defender and former English defender (who refuses to play on the national team with Terry) had to have hernia surgery yesterday which will cause him to miss a month of action.

Bridge had just recently come back from a knee injury which shelved him for 13 games earlier in the EPL season.

Manchester City is battling for the fourth spot in the EPL standings, which would enable them to qualify for next year's Champions League. It would also throw a curveball into the Big 4 of English soccer: Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool.