Monthly Archives: July 2009

RIP, Sir Bobby Robson

Sir Bobby Robson (1933-2009)

Sir Bobby Robson (1933-2009)

Today, 31 July 2009, Sir Robert William Robson, better known as Sir Bobby or Uncle Bobby, passed away at the age of 76. Although he was English, his influence spread far beyond his home country and included stops at Lisbon, Porto, Barcelona and Eindhoven (twice). He managed England from 1982-90, a period of ups and downs for the national team. He was, as John Nicholson has pointed out, one of the good guys.

I’ll close with a couple of quotes.

Sir Alex Ferguson said, “In my 23 years working in England there is not a person I would put an inch above Bobby Robson. I mourn the passing of a great friend; a wonderful individual; a tremendous football man and somebody with passion and knowledge of the game that was unsurpassed.”

José Mourinho said, “Bobby Robson is one of those people who never die, not so much for what he did in his career, for one victory more or less, but for what he knew to give to those who had, like me, the good fortune to know him and walk by his side.”

RIP, Sir Bobby.

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Saturday Night Links: Burn Notice edition

Because I’m watching the re-broadcast of Burn Notice, one of my favorite shows.

Gianfranco Zola is living in dreamland. He apparently thinks that (a) Mario Balotelli wants to play at West Ham; and (b) Mario Balotelli should play at West Ham. I don’t think he’s going to London.

Aliaksandr Hleb is going to Stuttgart, not Inter Milan. Go figure.

Xabi Alonso wants out of Liverpool and Rafa Benítez wants £28 million from Real Madrid. Which I guess is better than the £30 million he wanted last week. At this point, Real should just pay the extortion fee and move on. Alonso will never be worth £28-30 million but he will be worth £20 million to Real Madrid’s midfield. Meanwhile, Javier Mascherano wants to go to Barcelona. Which means Liverpool is capital-F Fucked.

Everton rejected an £18 million bid from City for Joleon Lescott. That’s a setback for the City building project.

Elsewhere, Rio Ferdinand is confident that the season ahead will be a good one, even after losing 1-0 to Bayern in some sort of tournament I hadn’t heard of until yesterday. I’m reasonably confident that the season ahead will be a good one. I’m interested in seeing how the rest of the summer plays out before making a call on that one.

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So, what’s going on at Manchester City?

Mark Hughes

Mark Hughes

I was clicking through Football Squads today and I noticed just how giant the Manchester City squad is getting. It’s getting positively Real Madrid-ian. There are fully 48 players listed with squad numbers! Holy crap! So the question is, what, exactly, is Mark Hughes thinking?

I think I can safely assume that Sparky didn’t make every call on who to sign. I can’t imagine that a manager would willingly want to deal with the headaches of four diva strikers – Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz, Emmanuel Adebayor, and Carlos Tévez – that were brought in for a grand total of about £120 million. I think we can all safely assume that there is no rotation that will satisfy all of their demands for playing time. This isn’t going to end well unless the teal does far better than I think they will.

Which brings us to the midfield. Gareth Barry is an excellent addition but, of course, they paid too much. (It’s pretty much accepted that Manchester City now has their own price point, much like Real Madrid or Chelsea.) I’m not sure where the offense on the wings will come from – it’s certainly not coming from Shaun Wright-Phillips – but they do have Barry, which is a nice start. Which means they have 4 classy strikers and nobody to deliver them the ball.

Which brings us to the defenders. In short, Manchester City have massive ambitions. That much is evident. The problem is that, while they have Shay Given in goal, they don’t really have anyone in front of him yet. Kolo Touré is a nice addition but he is what he is; what we saw at Arsenal last year is what he’ll bring Eastlands. Wayne Bridge is reasonable and Micah Richards has tremendous potential but with City in win-now mode, will they tolerate his growing pains?

I know Sparky is a good manager but I also know that the Sheik is, in all likelihood, impatient. Therefore Sparky may not have a lot of rope to work with. Which means City must get off to a good start. I don’t know how they’ll do that with no midfield. I suppose they could play the Football Manager-esque 4-2-4 formation.

The best way to look at this, as an observer, is to take a wait-and-see approach. I think City wants to be Chelsea v2.0 but with more than just the instantaneous success. To do that, they’ll have to develop from within as well as bringing in players who fill needs. I don’t think they’re doing that right now. What they have right now is a fantasy team that may or may not work out in real life. After all, fantasy teams are fantasy teams for a reason.

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Saturday Night Links: Monday edition

Zlatan Ibrahimovic presented in Barcelona (Getty Images)

Zlatan Ibrahimovic presented in Barcelona (Getty Images)

Zlatan Ibrahimović completed his move to Barcelona today with a few choice words for Inter in particular and Italian soccer in general. “I was fed up of Italy, of Milan, of your football: you play badly, there’s too much stress.” Interesting. We all know Italian soccer is defensive but Italy is hardly the only country that takes its soccer way too seriously. He probably should have kept his mouth shut and kept on praising Inter chief Massimo Moretti. By the way, that’s a number 9 jersey he’s holding in the picture.

The other half of the swap, Samuel Eto’o, moved, along with the comically astronomical sum of €46 million, to Inter. The Cameroon striker pledged to score at a higher rate than he did in Barcelona (39 goals in 49 games last year). I don’t know what number he’s going to wear. Number 8 is clearly available but Eto’o has a preference for number 9. Does anyone know if number 10 is available at Inter?

Ives looks back at Mexico’s 5-0 destruction of the US in the Gold Cup Final. He seems to think it’s not that big a deal, something I agree with. Mexico was clearly the better team, esp. in the second half.

Peter Crouch has joined Tottenham from Portsmouth. I like the big awkward lug and think he’ll do well with Spurs.

Florentino Pérez says Real Madrid have to clear some players out. No shit, Sherlock. A.C. Milan are apparently interested in Klass-Jan Huntelaar, who is a very good striker but not nearly as good as the really rather awesome Karim Benzema.

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Gold Cup Final 2009: A series of unfortunate events

Giovanni dos Santos

Giovani dos Santos

Watching the Gold Cup Final on Univisión is a somewhat unsettling experience. Aside from the alarming lack of HD, it’s a bit like being a non-Cubs or non-White Sox fan and watching a game on WGN: the announcers are so patently biased that it renders their analysis pointless. The Univisión announcers were clearly rooting for Mexico from the beginning, apparently unaware that a good number of Americans (and Canadians) can speak Spanish. But that is, in reality, just the latest in a long line of weirdness by Univisión’s announcers.

The real problems with the game were two-fold. First, the referees were terrible. They missed calls left and right, most egregiously when a penalty was called on Heaps (it was Giovani dos Santos who was committing the penalty) and when not one but two Mexican attackers were clearly offside on Mexico’s second goal (see edit below). Get those calls right and it’s 1-0 for Mexico in the 70th minute, not 3-0. Not only that, but Jay Heaps’ second yellow was complete uncalled for. That only continues a recurring theme: CONCACAF officials, in general, and Gold Cup officials in particular, are terrible.

Second, the US played a monumentally bad second half. I don’t know what happened but everything went wrong. The back four, in particular, were terrible. They were burned time and again by Mexican attackers, esp. Giovani dos Santos (who looked like a real attacking player for the first time in two years), and their offside trap was painfully ineffective. I sincerely doubt that any of them will be suiting up for the US anytime soon.

That brings me to the midfielders. Stuart Holden played the entire match too narrow. He has speed and skill and should have been wider to create space for Kyle Beckerman and, more importantly, Brian Ching. Ching and every other forward was also ineffective. I doubt Ching’s World Cup hopes were helped by this match.

In the end, even a heavy 5-0 loss isn’t that big a deal considering that the US fielded a B-team and nobody really cares about the Gold Cup. I was, however, disappointed that so few US fans were at Giants Stadium. Mexican fans badly outnumbered them. For shame! Can any hard and fast conclusions be formed from this match or this tournament? I’m reasonably certain that none of the US defenders will play for the national team again anytime soon. I’m also reasonably certain that Brian Ching’s World Cup dream crashed and burned. More players hurt their causes here than helped though some will surely recover. I only hope that the A-team, which will be called up for the 12 August qualifier in Mexico, knows they have to avenge this loss.

EDIT: 29 July 2009, 1:15am

Thanks to reader Greco, my understanding of the offside rule has been enhanced. As is clear by the illustration, the Mexican attacker in the offside position did not play the ball until he had re-established his position onside. That makes his touch legal and thus the goal stands. I stand corrected and in debt to Greco for his pointing this out.

offside rule

And, for those are masochists (or for Mexico fans to revel one last time), the video highlights:

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What does the World Football Challenge mean?

Frank Lampard scores (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Frank Lampard scores (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

So what does the World Football Challenge mean, in the larger sense, for soccer in the US?

1. Attendance through 12 games was 670,000 and tickets were selling for 10 times face value. What does that tell you? It tells me that US fans will pay to see the best teams and players. But that has been clear since the 1994 World Cup. It also tells me that European teams are taking these games seriously.

2. MLS needs to stop expanding and develop the grassroots game. The best way to do that is to integrate USL-1 and USL-2 and improve loaning and player-development deals. It also needs to clarify its relationship with the NCAA. Most of it, it needs to develop and retain good American players will utilizing the DP slots more effectively. At its best, the slot is a way to generate good publicity and to help the team take a significant step forward. At its worst, the slot is a financial boondoggle. It’s up to MLS GMs to make sure it’s the former rather than the latter.

3. All those fans who are going to the World Football Challenge need to wake up and support their local MLS teams. That esp. goes for all the fans of Mexico who believe they are above MLS; they’re not. If they love soccer, they’ll watch it be played at its highest level in this country, even if they do, for some godforsaken reason, like América. Scratch that: América can keep all their fans. Every other one should check out FC Dallas or Houston.

4. All of those fans who are going to the World Football Challenge need to support the Gold Cup. It’s only natural.

The World Football Challenge is instructive in that it shows there is a kind of soccer elitism in the US. They will
come out for the best club teams and their players but they will not support their own league. If they ever want to
see the best players and best club teams every week, like the NFL or the NBA or MLB, they must start supporting MLS.

Alexi Lalas said that in 1994 he saw tonight coming (75,000 people at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD) even then. But what he saw coming was not 75,000 people showing up for a friendly between an English team and an Italian team. No, he saw 75,000 coming to see American players. And that day isn’t here yet.

So, how do we get rid of the elitism? Through exposure. MLS needs more than one game per week on ESPN. It also  needs local television exposure and it needs to be on networks. I’ve no idea why ABC and ESPN don’t show a Saturday double-header every week during the summer. In addition to the momentum gained by World Cup Qualifiers and the Confederations Cup, it would build good momentum for MLS.

Have at it, ESPN.

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In which we all laugh at Sven

Sven introduced at Notts County (Getty Images)

Sven introduced at Notts County (Getty Images)

Sven-Gören Eriksson is going to manage League Two side Notts County. That’s a fall from Serie A and the English national team.

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