Monday, July 7, 2014

Pre-Semis Talking Points


Favorites are 12-0 so far in the knockout stages winning in pretty much any different way imaginable. 12 and 0. WOW.
The 3 pre-tourney favorites are all in the Semis showing why the bookmakers were correct in giving them shorter odds then the best national team of all time.
Costa Rica, who had the 2nd largest odds to win it all after Honduras, just left the tourney undefeated and would possibly be in the semis if a Newcastle player didn't get subbed on. 
Holland's two backup keepers have a 10% success rate against PKs and a 27% success rate. Guess which one came on as a sub.

Brasil is an underdog in a game in Brasil. Re-read that sentence again bc this will be probably the one and only time this ever happens. 
The dumbest rule in all of sports is causing the best defender in the world to miss the semis.
Neymar was almost paralyzed off of a not hard foul after being chopped to shreds all tourney.
Lahm dropping back to RB w/ Boateng at CB and Mertesacker out makes the Germans a lot quicker and better structured. Everyone knows this. But does Lowe? I think yes but Khedira/Schweiny will need to step up at some point.
Will Scolari finally drop Fred and who plays in place of Neymar? I am a big believer in that it's better to play good players out of position then play average players in their correct position so I would go w/ Willian and Bernard w/ Oscar or Hulk playin false 9 but Scolari always plays w/ one good hold up center striker. Germany is extremely susceptible to the breakaway but win everything in the air so this is Scolari's time to potentially do that. 

Di-maria is out but the good news is Aguero is back. But is that really good news? An out of form, not in shape Aguero w/ no Di maria puts even more burden on Messi and may not be the best move for Higuian. Where the fuck is Tevez when you need him?
Dirk Kuyt at wing back has played a vital role in this WC. Who would have thought that 4 years ago? Ya no one.
Argentina is the favorite yet have the inferior coach, have played worse, and are dealing w/ more injuries. Netherlands at +210 or more is a great bet but since I'm rooting for Messi I'm going to stay away.

Friday, June 27, 2014

WC Group Stages Team of Tourney




Unpredictable. Controversial. High-scoring. Chaotic. Beautiful. The World Cup has been all that and more. Undeniably, so far, this has been the best World Cup ever. From Messi’s left footed curlers to Ronaldo’s whining to Jermaine Jones’ wonder-strike to Spain’s implosion to Robben’s runs to Suarez’s bite to Costa Rica’s emergence, this World Cup already has a boatload of memorable moments. We can just hope as fans that the knockout stages get even better.

Team of the Tourney (2nd string)

Because there has been no defense so far, and there has been a strong showing of the 3 man backline (thank you Chile and the Netherlands), I have decided to go with a very attacking 3-2-3-1 formation.

GK- Ochoa (Navas) – Ochoa barely edges out Keylor Navas because of his game of a lifetime performance against the WC favorites. While most of his stellar saves had more to do with luck and being well positioned, the save on Neymar’s header was the save of the tourney so far. Simply world class and makes fans like me confused on why he can’t show these skills for an elite club team. Navas, on the other hand, was stellar for Levante all season (rated #2 keeper in Spanish league this season behind Courtouis) and has remained stellar for Costa Rica’s shock run.

LCB- T. Silva (Blind) – Cheating a little bit here putting Blind slightly out of position but he was absolutely superb against Spain and was solid against Chile and Australia as well. He was one of the young studs to watch for this tourney and has proven why so many top teams are after him. Silva is simply the best defender in the world and will need to play like that in order for Brasil to win it all.

CB- Godin (Hummels) – Yes Godin should have gotten a second yellow for his off the ball bump against England. Yes Uruguay probably would have lost and he wouldn’t have sniffed the team of the tourney (and would have been in my top disappointments list below). But I am not a ref and since that non-call, he has arguably been the most important player so far. He absolutely destroyed England’s front line and made Balotelli look like a middle schooler. Add in his ability to score extremely important game winning goals for club and country and you got a top class defender. Hummels deserves mention as he has fully recovered from his ligament tear and is back to the fantastic form he showed a year ago for Dortmund.

RCB- Marquez (Costa Rica’s entire backline) – Marquez has made history by becoming the first player to captain his nation in four WC tourneys. From what he has looked like in the last couple years, I, like many, thought he had nothing left in the tank. Oh how he has proved me wrong. His marshalling of Mexico’s backline and presence in the air has been top notch and at his prime age of 35, that is no easy feat. Costa Rica’s entire defense gets credit here as they have played brilliantly together and thoroughly deserve to be in the knockout stages. Special credit to Giancarlo Gonzalez as he’s been the best of the bunch.

CDM- De Jong (Lahm) – De Jong looks like the De Jong from the last WC. Everyone remembers his flying kick against Alonso’s chest in the final but what people don’t remember was that he, at that time, was regarded by many as the best defensive midfielder in the game. While he isn’t close to the best in the world anymore, he has been in this tourney. Relentless, uncompromising, clever, and fierce- all traits you want from that position. Lahm, who is the best CDM in the world, as this is now his main position, just keeps clocking away. Keeping possession intelligently and winning the ball back repeatable- there is no one better.

CDM- Egidio Rios (Matuidi) – Rios is the destructive bull force that Uruguay has needed in their overall underperforming play. He does all the little things that go unnoticed throughout the game and primarily made my squad due to superb performance against Italy where Italy’s top class midfield couldn’t get a sniff of the match. Matuidi has been doing what he’s done all season for PSG as his all-around play and non-stop motor make him one of the most underrated players in the world. With Pogba and Cabaye not hitting the form they are capable yet, he has kept France on the front foot.

LW- James Rodriquez (Benzema)- James has been the star of the tourney and is showing why Monaco splashed out so much cash for him last year. While different players, he reminds me of A. Sanchez from last WC in that after watching him for 5 mins all I thought about is “who the fuck is that guy”. He has the endurance of a Vidal, the passing of a Pirlo, the dribbling of a Neymar, and the finishing of a Messi. Add in some fine tackling from an attacking player and a header goal to boot, and he is truly a world class player in the making. Oh ya and he’s only 22. Benzema has played up top and on the left when Giroud is in and really should have won the Golden Boot by now.  

CAM- Neymar (Mueller)- And I thought the pressure would get to Neymar. He truly is never frazzled and has shown the world his best in the world dribbling skills (sorry Ronaldo) and intelligent finishing. With Scolari letting him and Oscar change positions all over the pitch, he has been given the freedom to do what he does best- put pressure on the defense. If he keeps up his stellar play, and Brasil gets a favorable call (or two), they should win it all. However, being put in the knockout corner with three other South American teams makes his path a lot harder than the little genius below. Mueller has started up top but looks far more dangerous in support of Klose. He took his goal brilliantly against the USA and will need to keep scoring for Germany to take home the trophy.

RW- Messi (A. Sanchez)- In the first 60 mins against Bosnia, Messi was the worst I have ever seen him. He kept giving the ball away, was unconfident, didn’t have his usual quickness and sharpness, and looked like his nerves were getting to him. People won’t remember those 60 mins but I will. Since then, however, he has shown why many regard him as the best of all time. The drastic difference a brilliant goal makes to a player is shown throughout the history of soccer, but never at this magnitude. Too bad his teammates haven’t shown up yet and Argentina lacks any resemblance of defensive structure for them to win it all. He can’t do it on his own. Sanchez hasn’t hit the heights of last WC where he made his name known but he has still been superb throughout. His stamina, like many of his country mates, is top notch and like Neymar, he just goes to another level when he puts on his nation’s shirt.

CF- Robben (Van Persie)- Someone still needs to come up with a name for these virtuosos- The Dutch Duo, The Flying Dutchman, The Roasting Robbens,…. Anyways, Robben gets the nod over Van Persie due to Van Persie’s suspension in the final group game (FIFA needs to change this rule already). Both have been absolutely brilliant for the Dutch, scoring some phenomenal goals and allowing Van Gal to play the perfect defensive counter attacking tactic that suits them best. As Robben’s gotten older, he has somehow transformed himself into Usain Bolt and has gone on the best solo runs of the tourney. His ability to run at full speed with the ball and still have precision/power with his left foot makes him impossible to defend and is only surpassed by Messi. Somehow, at the age of 30, when speed dribblers are almost always at their decline, he is playing the best football of his career and has been a complete joy to watch.  

Biggest Disappointments- ESPN’s analysis crew, Africa, Fabio Capello (really couldn’t get out of that shitty group), Palacios’s tackling, Song, Balotelli (great against England then horrible in last 2 games), ESPN again, having to listen to Alexi Lalas, Messi’s teammates and coach’s lack of defensive shape, Croatia and Bosnia (and kind of England) getting screwed by refs, Ronaldo (a happy disappointment for us USA fans), the abrupt end of Spain’s Reign, ESPN one more time for hiring guys who can’t speak English.

My take on Suarez ban- FIFA should not have banned him from any club level games. There are definite legality issues here that will only cause more controversy. I would have banned him for 1 year of International play and that is it. 1/1 odds he gets sold to Madrid or Barcelona which will only make the situation even more complicated.

Special last shout out to CONCACAF for the absolutely superb out of nowhere performance so far. Unlike Nigeria, the USA, Mexico, and Costa Rica not only all deserve to be in the knockout stages, but have progressed in 3 of the top 4 groups in the tourney. This is truly a special achievement.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The World Cup of Holy SHIT Everyone’s Injured

Now that we are two days away, and all of the top teams have one of their attacking superstars injured or hurt except for Brasil, it seems that everyone and their mother is predicting Brasil to win it all. Honestly, I don’t blame them but I have never been one to go with the favorite. The pressure, combined with Scolari’s stubbornness to play the guys he favors (Oscar/Hulk over Willian, Paulinho/Gustavo over Ramires/ Fernandinho), and Julio Cesar in goal, is enough evidence for me to go with someone else.

Predictions (in order from first to last)

A-     Brasil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon
B-      Spain, Chile, Netherlands, Australia
C-      Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
D-     England, Italy, Uruguay, Costa Rica
E-      Switzerland, France, Ecuador, Honduras
F-      Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia, Iran
G-     Germany, USA, Ghana, Portugal
H-     Russia, Belgium, South Korea, Algeria

Yes I was completely biased in my predictions of USA and England advancing as Portugal and Uruguay are better teams respectively, but I’m rooting for them and there’s always a couple crazy upsets so fuck it.

Best Bets- Brasil ties Croatia +430, Ghana ties USA +220, Italy ties England +210, Portugal ties Germany +250, Iran ties Nigeria at +240, Italy wins it all at 25-1, Golden Boot to Higuain at 20-1, Muller at 25-1, Jackson Martinez at 80-1, Eduardo Vargas at 150-1

As seen above, I love the first game ties as most teams play more cautious and there are a boatload of 0-0 and 1-1 draws. I am not sure why Higuain is getting so little love for the golden boot as Messi will be threading balls to him all day, Argentina should romp their group, and Aguero isn’t fully fit. If Chile were not in one of the scary 3 (Group B, D, and G) Vargas at 150-1, and Chile at 40-1, would easily be my favorite bets. Vargas at those odds is still great.

Final Four
Belgium over Brasil 1-1 win in PKs
Argentina over Spain 2-0

Final
Argentina over Belgium 2-1

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Manchester United v Fulham Player Ratings



Manchester United survived a far more nervier finish than they would have liked as David De Gea struggles continued.  RVP popped up for a trademark classy goal, but did precious little else, and Wayne Rooney picked up a bizzare gash which will somehow keep him out for a month, and the best player on the field was not wearing a red shirt.



Manchester United

De Gea- 4 - The inconsistency continues. He seems a bit skinny for a keeper, doesn't he? And if you can't grow a full beard, then just keep the peach fuzz at home, (speaking from experience here)

Rafael- 5 - For all that he offered going forward, he was equally a defensive liability.  Showed his inexperience again by committing two inexcusable fouls in the dying moments.

Carrick- 4 - Some defensive midfielders make great center backs, some do not.

Vidic- 6 - Hardly called on to defend, classy own goal.

Evra- 6.5 - The type of performance we've come to expect from Patrice. Always offering that out ball for his midfielders.

Cleverley- 7.5 - Took advantage of the acres of space given to him. Distributed nicely. Not as much a defensive liability as Scholes either.

Anderson- 3.5 - Looked tired after 30 minutes, couldn't believe Fergface left him in as long as he did.  Not sure if God himself could have stopped Dembele today, but didn't do himself any favors for repeatedly diving in.

Valencia- 9 - The rating is as much a reflection of Briggs poor afternoon, but you can't ask anything more from your winger than to consistently deliver inviting balls which is exactly what he did.

Kagawa- 8 - No problems adapting to the prem so far, he's been given the keys to the offense.

Young- 5 - Excellent chipped cross to set up third goal, but that was one of the few highlights in what was otherwise a fairly forgetful afternoon.

van Persie- 6 - Brilliant goal, otherwise a peripheral figure. Never really linked up with Kagawa.

Fulham

Schwarzer- 5.5 - Could have done better to prevent the rebound leading to the second goal.

Riether - 7 - In the right place at the right time every time, brilliant last ditch defending.

Hughes - 6 - Mostly reliable, a few miscommunications with his partner.

Hangeland- 6.5 - Has grown accustomed to life in the Premiership, provides a great calming influence on his teammates, and isn't bad on the ball either.

Briggs- 3 - Yes Valencia is a handful, but continually allowing him to fizz balls in cannot be your strategy, simply over-matched.

Duff- 6 - Great goal, was the benefactor of an awesome deadball routine which I wish we saw more of.

Diarra- 5 -Useful in a tackle, but sub-par on the ball

Dembele- 10 - The kind of player that shows you a glimmer of the ball, and then takes it away, must have evaded 20 challenges using the same trick. But what earns him the rating is how many times he won the ball back for his team. Strong, pacy, just outstanding.

Kacaniklic- 6.5 - Got the better of Rafael more than once. Wish we'd seen more of him on the ball.

Ruiz- 5 - Doesn't quite have the physicality for these types of games. Clever player, but needs to work harder on defense as well.

Petric- 6.5 - Made the most of what limited service he had, and won the free kick for the first goal.

Man of the Match - Dembele
Flop of the Match - Anderson
 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Newcastle v Spurs Player Ratings



Both teams will need to improve if they want to come in 4th or 5th in the league again as they last year. A dressed-down AVB's Spurs looked like a team who had just lost one of the top 5 players in the league and are still struggling to find their feet.  Gylfi Sigurdson was certainly not the answer to their prayers they might have hoped him to be on this day.

While Alan Pardew was cementing his reputation as classiest manager on the British Isles, his team were lucky to come away with three points in what was a somewhat static performance.  They should be sending a Christmas card to Rafa Van der Vaart who didn't do his defensive reputation any favors by gifting the magpies what would be the winning penalty.


Newcastle

Krul - 6.5 - Excellent shot stopper, begs questions as to his foot-skills.

Simpson - 6-  Did well after an early yellow card, Bale did him a favor by drifting inside.

Taylor - 7.5 -Rock solid at the back, him and Coloccini have to be in the conversation for the leagues top pair if they can stay on the field.

Perch - 6 - Looked rather comfortable at CB where he'd looked like he didn't even belong on the pitch in years past. Safe to say he's shed the title as worst player in the Prem.

Santon - 5.5 - Was done in by the tricks of Lennon, but who wouldn't be?

Tiote - 7 - Imagine him when he's fit.

Cabaye - 4 - Failed to get involved in the game and his delivery wasn't great.

Guitierrez - 7.5 - Endears himself to his fans by applying his defensive insticts, and is a handful going forward down the left wing as well.  His brief cameo at center mid in the second half highlights his versatility, great player to have at your disposal.

Ben Afra - 8.5 - Rumored not fit to play beforehand, he was in fact the difference in this match. It remains to be seen whether his African strikers can get on his wavelength.

Cisse - 4.5 - Dissapointing.

Ba - 6.5 - Save from an incredible finish, Ba too offered little impact to the game, though he was at least more willing to try and find space.

Anita - N/A - First game jitters for sure.

Spurs

Friedel - 6 - Like a bottle of wine, old Brad.

Walker - 7 - Never realized he had such a long throw on him as well, as if he doesn't have enough tools already.

Kaboul - 6.5 - Much improved last season, and showed a newfound poise on the ball we haven't seen in years past.

Gallas - 5.5 - Shaky at times, but just about got the job done to use one of my least favorite cliches.

Assou-Ekoto - 7.5 - Played some delightful diagonal balls, and offered the width when Bale drifted inside.

Sandro & Livermore - 5 - One of them needed to be a bit braver.

Sigurdson - 5 - What do you know about pressure?! He knows something of it now.

Lennon - 8 - I maintain that Aaron Lennon should be starting for England no questions asked.

Bale - 7.5 - Needs to resist the temptation to drift inside.

Defoe - 5 - I wouldn't trust Jermain Defoe as a lone striker no sooner than I'd trust him to hand in his homework.

Man of the Match - Ben Arfa
Flop of the Match - Cabaye

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Chronicles of Euro Cup 2012

From guest writer Aaron Segal- 




I am writing this with the intent to share the experience of Euro Cup with all of you who care about soccer want the unique perspective I was able to get during my most recent trip to Europe 2012 (and because Deyan asked nicely). While there is plenty I missed, particularly in the beginning and the end of the tournament, hopefully you enjoy the stories of what did happen. Plus this should be fun…

As the tourney opened I was painfully stuck working. Quick background, I now work for a global education company and was given an assignment to go to Rome for 10 days to meet as many teachers and student groups as possible to meet and greet, make sure everything was going well, schmooze and buy stuff for VIPs. Afterwards I flew to Poland…Opening night I was meeting a group for dinner but did manage to take out a group of the adults on the town. We got back just in time to watch the Russian demolition of the Czechs. Funny how that ended up working out…

The next day I finished work in time to get to Piazza di Campo de Fiori to watch the beginning of the Netherlands v. Denmark. You would not believe how many Dutch fans were randomly in Rome but you probably can believe how much they stand out in a crowd. In the Piazza every bar/restaurant has tvs that are facing the square and there are distinct areas devoted to certain countries that are marked by flags. I sat with a cute Dutch girl and started talking about the potential the Dutch clearly had to make an impact on the tourney. For those who watched this game, it was the beginning of the end for the Dutch. Plenty of good possession and individual skill but completely lacking teamwork, especially in the final third. Surprisingly, the Dutch I spoke with after the game were not upset about losing at all; they were more upset that they didn’t play well together. They calmly said, “well, now we need to beat Germany.” Yikes, that’s optimism.

Again fail as I had to meet a group outside the city during the Italy v Spain game. This blew and I was pissed. I went to the restaurant half an hour early so I could watch the first 30 minutes in a side room with the staff before the group came into the restaurant. It was still kind of visible so I was jumping up from the table strategically to check the score and watch replays when something had clearly happened. I did however make it back to an Irish pub in Rome for the Ireland v Croatia game. Despite the enthusiasm and drinking ability of the Irish fans, they never stood a chance and I was impressed with Croatia (and very much looking forward to attending Spain v Croatia).

I’ll speed up a little bit here because even with maximum creativity license, I was still watching games on Tv’s, cool part was that it was at night and in Italy. England v France attracted some fans but they got along (oddly) so nothing interesting happened and the game wasn’t that good. Afterwards I went to this really cool neighborhood called the Travestere in Rome which you should check out if you are there. Kinda like an Italian hipster neighborhood without any of the negative hipster traits. In part due to this find I really enjoyed the Ukraine v Sweden game. Also because of the throwback for Sheva.

Moving ahead, Blaszkowski’s goal was sick and I only caught the end of the much anticipated Germany v Netherlands bc of evening work. The last 20 minutes were really entertaining as the Dutch fans started to get really excited but ultimately they were let down tremendously. Also screw Portugal for scoring late against the Danish.

So 3rd match day of round 2 I flew to Krackow. Krackow is really small and really old (not destroyed in WWII) and has beautiful Polish girls. There is one main square where all of the night life is and there were flags announcing Euro Cup everywhere. Every single tv in Poland was playing each match all tourney long. They were such proud hosts that it was genuinely pretty heartwarming. I watched the Spanish rip Ireland apart as once again the Irish fans got drunk and silly but couldn’t compete. Vodka and beer are dangerously cheap in Poland and I ended up seeing a friend from work, completely randomly, and raged with jubilant Spaniards all night. My Spanish was flowing…

I’ll save specific site seeing stories for another time as this is explicitly a Euro Cup thing. Next set of games began after we dragged ourselves very hungover through a couple of walking tours of the old town and Jewish quarter of Krakow. France and Ukraine had that stupid rain delay which threw off the timing of what I think was a Friday night. Anyways, I was hanging out with some dude from LA who just got a massive severance from some defense contractor and was down to party. We went to this outdoor bar in the square showing the game where Trotsky and Stalin (or whatever his name was at the time) used to sit and rip vodka shots, this felt cool… Possible game of the tourney for me between England and Sweden, not necessarily in terms of quality but in terms of drama. I was rooting hard for Sweden because I was headed to Sweden on the day of the last round of matches and it would have been sweet if that game had meant something. Cue Welbeck’s cheeky finish and the last Sweden match didn’t matter.

Now for the GOOD STUFF (sorry it took so long). Train to Warsaw arrived at maybe 4 pm. The Warsaw FanZone was right next to the train station so I check it out before going to drop my bags off at the house I was Couch Surfing at. Went downtown to the main area again and walked all the way to the stadium, very legit. Also, seemingly very easy and cheap to get a ticket to Russia v Greece but I preferred to watch the final Poland match with all the Poles. Lots of Russians in town though and a weird vibe after the rioting the previous round. Side note on what happened; apparently it was some kind of national holiday so the Russian federation submitted a proposal to allow the supporters to march down to the stadium. Many Polish people said this would be a bad idea… So during the march, Poles would put scarves over their faces, go in for a few slugs and then bounce, remove the scarf and act like nothing happened. Clearly the police got involved and it was shown all over the news. Oh well.

Anyways, I end up meeting the couple I was staying with and after debating where to watch the match, the wife and I won out and we decided to go to back to the FanZone. Marek, the husband, was convinced it would be too crazy…def correct. At around 7:30 it took almost an hour of strenuous pushing, mob style, to get through the doors of the FanZone. I shit you not, this was highly unsafe and stampede like. You saw the big pictures on TV, half of Warsaw was in the FanZone. Once the fear of death/missing the game was quelled by getting inside I took a look around. The pictures I took don’t do it justice but some of the aerial shots we saw on the screens do. Imagine not a city block or two closed but the majority of the downtown area. There were I think 7-8 screens the size of an intersection with people as far as the eye could see facing each screen. They were positioned so that there were many city blocks facing each screen. 100% of people were wearing red and white. Almost everyone had a scarf, face paint and any number of other silly costumes. Very music festival-esque. Unfortunately, despite a strong start, Poland deprived us of what would surely have been one of the craziest parties anyone has ever experienced. Bummer.

Next day, just watched the games with Mark, the Polish homie, all the while discussing what could have been. He was bummed.

MATCH DAY! I took a train to Gdansk from Warsaw, about 5.5 hours and got in at 2:30. I figured I would check into my random hostel and then check out the Old Town before getting into game mode. Not possible. The entire city was already FLOODED with Spaniards and Croatians just raging. Interestingly enough and a very positive dynamic to step into, they got along quite well and everyone was being extremely gracious towards the Polish hosts. Everyone of every language knew the chant of “POLSKAAAAAA biały i cerwony” This was included in the mix of every other chants throughout the entire day. The next 4 hours consisted of beer drinking, singing, dancing, occasionally starting random conversations (Spanish to Spaniards and English to Croatians). Everyone was deliriously excited and it was here that I vow to attend every international soccer tournament possible, period. It’s just the f’ing best atmosphere possible! Also really funny were the many chants of “Arrivederci Italia!” Come on entertaining 2-2 tie!!

Getting to the stadium was easy but time consuming as Gdansk is a small town and not used to transporting 40,000 spectators from the main area to the  brand new stadium about 5 km away. Side note, no idea what this stadium will be used for in the future, seriously…
Once I got off the train and started following the hoard of people towards the stadium we finally got a glimpse of the stadium. Sooooooooooooo sick. I was a little nervous as I still needed to pick up my ticket from the UEFA version of will call but that process was actually really easy. Ticket in hand, I giddily went toward the stadium finishing the last beer of the game, beer inside is non-alcoholic, silly. I tried to walk around and take pictures of everything so I could share it with everyone; I think I did an ok job. Walking in I realize that my ticket is literally on the midfield stripe and row 25! This is what buying “section 1” gets you. I got inside in time to check out warm-ups and am only reminded of the Barca games I used to see of the skill and touch of all the players. The Spaniards are playing the fastest games of 1 touch keep away that is humanly possible. For anyone who has ever played the game seriously, it is humbling.

The entrances are chilling and the stadium is pretty much full. Advance planning and knowing where your team will be helps out the euro fans. The game itself was one of Spain’s “boring games” where all they did was artistically pass the ball around with incredible touch and control. They controlled everything. The pace of the game was so leisurely that we might as well have been relaxing on the Costa del Sol with a table of sangria, just like the Spanish prefer. The only real break in Spain using superior skill and lackluster ambition was in counter attack. Luka Modric is spectacular and clearly a world class talent. He took the ball and flew past people to create the only real Croatian chances of the match. I will be furious if he moves to Madrid and I am forced to hate him.

Spain casually decides to win the game at the end and completely screw over Croatia. Kind of a bummer for the Croatians and messes up the friendly dynamic of earlier in the day but nothing bad happens. Probably 30 minutes after the game and just as everyone is getting on the trains it starts to rain as hard as humanly possible. After seeking cover in the underground train station of the old town people start to venture out into the rain because there is no beer in the underground train station. This creates a dancing street party of Spaniards, very fun but very wet. I have no idea what this town of Gdansk is actually like because this experience was so unique to this particular day.

I’ll stop here because the next day I flew to Sweden and nothing particularly unique to Euro Cup happened here. I watched the Sweden game at my friends apt in Stockholm and everyone wished the game had mattered. If you like blondes, move to Sweden immediately, it’s all true!

On that note, I hope you enjoyed reading this and see you in Brazil!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

James Milner: (Aston) Villian or Victim?



Would I rather be a fringe player on a perennial title contender or a star man on a mid-table side?  
This is hardly a question unique to one player, but no man illustrates this dilemma better than James Milner. Here is a player who has been described promising, inspiring, frustrating, and currently: disappointing.  And this is a man who should theoretically be in his prime at 26 years old.  Let's have a a look at his CV shall we:
  • 2002 - Crashed on to the scene at age 16 for Leeds, youngest player to score in the Premier League at the time. 
  • 2004 - Sold to Newcastle for £3.6 million at age 18, showed glimpses of promise but wasn't given enough opportunities to become a mainstay in the side. 
  • 2005 - Loaned to Aston Villa, continued to improve, is one of the few bright spots on a poor team, announces desire to make loan permanent with hopes of becoming regular starter
  • 2006-08 - Returns to Newcastle, enjoys his two successful campaigns and starts the majority of games, integral to Newcastle's success
  • 2008-10 - Signs permanently with Aston Villa for £12 million, is a key piece of a formidable Aston Villa squad
  • 2010-12 - Signs for Manchester City for £24 million,  sees gradual decrease in role as Man City beef up their squad and pedigree.

Because of The Times
The modern transfer windows have become dominated and ultimately driven by insatiable media speculation which in turn fuels several select clubs' lavish spending and egregious stockpiling of talent to the extent that there are always a few newly signed players that will start their campaign with only an outside chance of breaking into their new teams' starting XI.  We cannot take the misinformed assumption that regular football is the goal of every player as countless careers have gone to fester and rot away on the benches of big name clubs.  I know that I would not like the idea of never getting to play a meaningful game if I were a professional, but that is an article for another day.  Yes, much like the ill-informed, starry-eyed NCAA freshman who hires an agent only to not be selected in the NBA draft, this ridiculous state of affairs has robbed some of the more naive players entire years of their career .  This problem is not new of course, but it has only become more visible as the financial distance between the haves and have-nots is more exaggerated and the UEFA's laughable "financial fair-play" (rule/slogan/mantra/credo, I don't even know what to call it but unenforced) continues to claim its victims.

Manchester City have quickly added themselves to the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Liverpool as some of the worst offenders in this area that spring to mind in the last decade.  These clubs quickly pounce on want-away  signings fresh off their best full season to the promise of playing time, a focal role, and champions league football (well, not in Liverpool's case) only to find themselves firmly rooted to the bench on matchday.  Like the spinning of the wheel, each year these signings raise eyebrows and beg the question: how the hell is he going to get minutes in that squad?  (I'm looking at you, Romelu Lukaku)

But you really can't blame the clubs for this policy as the laws of transfers clearly allow this unregulated behavior.  Although managers might be guilty of misleading players in terms of playing time, it is the players who all too often more than happy to oblige, perhaps living under some egotistical cloud of their own perceived abilities and stature. There are of course other considerations to factor: age, international future, position depth, etc.

Enough is Enough
How long will a young James Milner persist with Manchester City before he reaches his breaking point?  At what point does reality set in?  How long does one stick with the big club?  Shea Given, like many others before him, had to swallow his pride and take a familiar trip down the M6 to Aston Villa where he'd be assured of first team action.  
Although we cannot completely dismiss the factors of age and positions, (goalkeeper being the extreme exception in terms of playing time) one could posit that these two men found themselves in similar situations at the beginning of last year's campaign, on the outside of the Manchester City starting 11 looking in.  Given left, Milner stayed.  Given is the everyday keeper for the previously respectable Aston Villa, (before Alex Mcleish got a chance to inject his odious brand of crosstown Birmingham style football and almost got them relegated).  But Milner is sadly stuck in this fringe role at Manchester City and seems unlikely to break free of its shackles unless he would leave the club.  The problem he faces if he leaves is that this would be seen as detrimental to his career and as a failure in too many people's eyes and perhaps even his own.

The hard truth of the matter is, James Milner simply is not good enough to start every game for today's Manchester City.   Such is the culture that encourages footballers like him to jump at every opportunity to move on to a bigger club at any cost. There is not enough room at the top of this pyramid for every player to thrive.  What makes these players stay? For those that insist on plodding away and making the odd 15 minute Carling Cup cameo you have to assume that the answer to this question is the same answer to many others in this world. To quote DJ Shadow, "It's the money."

Will Milner return to Villa Park for the third time? Or will he add himself to the likes of Sean Wright-Phillips, Nuri Sahin, Alberto Acquilani, and who will join this unenviable list of under-utilized, unfulfilled stars?   Only time will tell, but a safe bet is that many will be temporary Mancurians and Madridistas.