Monthly Archives: August 2010

Manager a-go-go, part deux

US manager Bob Bradley

Now that Martin O’Neill has left Aston Villa, speculation turns to his replacement. According to the Daily Mail, Sven-Gören Eriksson, late of the Ivory Coast, and United States manager Bob Bradley are the favorites. If Villa owner Randy Lerner thinks Eriksson can do anything for his squad, he hasn’t been paying attention. On the other hand, Bradley is interested in the position and would, in fact, be a far better choice. Additionally, the US Soccer Federation’s silence is indicating that it wants to go in another direction (convenient because Bradley’s contract ends on 31 December).

So, who should replace Bradley on the US sideline? The top choice, in my opinion, is Jürgen Klinsmann. He lives in California and has an American wife. He likes living in the US and led the Germans to a fourth-place finish at the 2006 World Cup. He is the only choice, especially since Guus Hiddink is off the market.

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Filed under CONCACAF, Premiership

Classy Krulak trashes O’Neill

Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa (Getty Images)

Of course he’d pop off like this: Aston Villa director Charles Krulak has said that Martin O’Neill fancied himself bigger than the team. Furthermore, Krulak said, O’Neill was too cowardly to stay and correct his mistakes in the transfer market.

I’m sure Krulak was doing owner Randy Lerner’s bidding, because Lerner and O’Neill have not had a good relationship for a long time. Instead of taking the high road, Lerner and Krulak descended to the low road and blamed the manager (in truth, O’Neill’s transfer record wasn’t perfect, but he is a good manager) in an attempt to take the focus off, what else, finances.

I’m sure there’s more to this than meets the eye.

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Where’s Özil going?

Mesut Özil during the 2010 World Cup

In general, I’m willing to let Sir Alex Ferguson do what he will when it comes to transfers. With a few exceptions, he generally makes the right call (a bad transfer is, for example, allowing Gerard Piqué to go to Barcelona). However, I think anyone who called themselves a fan of United needs to call for a bid for German playmaker Mesut Özil. Especially since Barcelona apparently registered a bid between €12 and 15 million (and, apparently, it was accepted though I can’t find any confirmation of either the bid or the acceptance). Fergie needs to trump that with a bid in the range of £14-16 million.

I get that Ferguson is pleased with his squad. I am, too: it’s a good squad that thoroughly handled Chelsea in the Community Shield. But there are weaknesses, mainly at central defense and in the midfield. While I’m not sure what’s going to happen with the former, I do know that the latter can be fixed (along with the curious reliance on the aging in dog years Paul Scholes) with Mesut Özil.

Sure, Özil is the flavor of the month but his track record (13 goals in 95 appearances for Werder Bremen and steady improvement during Germany’s run during the World Cup) speaks for itself. He can help United now and in the future. He’s not quite a finished product, but he fits the profile of Fergie’s recent additions, and will definitely improve.

Let’s not let him go to Chelsea or, worse, Barcelona (where he would sit on the bench; if I was him, I wouldn’t go there. But that’s just me).

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Martin O’Neill unexpectedly quits Aston Villa

Martin O'Neill at Aston Villa (Getty Images)

Five days before the Premier League’s season begins, Martin O’Neill quit his role as manager of Aston Villa. Graham Taylor speculates it’s over the transfer policy (i.e. his best players being sold without his consent).

It is, perhaps, more a symptom of the manager’s loss of control. As more wealthy owners buy clubs, they become increasingly willing to enforce their will. Take Roman Abramowich’s early days at Chelsea. He wanted to assemble a fantasy team of high-profile players. Look how that turned out. (Well, actually, it worked out pretty well, but because José Mourinho was the manager. But they didn’t get to the Champions League final until 2008, when Carlo Ancelotti was in charge.) Abramowich’s spiritual successors are the owners of Manchester City, Tottenham, and, of course, Aston Villa.

Thus, as clubs become vanity projects, managers lose control. Stability is the first victim and, as I’ve mentioned before, stability is perhaps the key to long-term success. A lack of stability also means that the owner will be unable to attract quality managers. And without a quality manager, quality players won’t come, either. (Lack of European competition also means those managers and players won’t come.)

Abramowich learned from his mistakes and now lets his soccer people make their own decisions (aside from a general directive to play attractive soccer, which Ancelotti blithely ignores). Time will tell if others learn a similar lesson but, for now, it cost Villa a pretty good manager.

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Toronto FC 2-1 Chivas USA

Dwayne De Rosario tangles with Ben Zemanski of Chivas USA on 7 August 2010

Toronto FC General Manager Mo Johnston is an interesting man. He’s constantly tinkering with his roster, sometimes for good, mostly for ill. One of his moves that belongs in the former column is trading Brian McBride to Chicago for Chad Barrett. Now, Barrett has been maddeningly inconsistent since 2007, but some sort of switch was flicked this year: he’s scored 6 goals in MLS, including one in yesterday’s victory over Chivas USA.

For about 70 minutes, TFC dominated Chivas. Aside from two stretches at the beginning of each half, Chivas never really had a chance. Which is par for the course at BMO Field (TFC are unbeaten there this season; now, the road is another story, but I digress).  The Reds even scored off a set piece (Nana Attakora scored his second career goal on an insanely long throw-in; I was impressed by the beginning and the end of that play). Chivas converted a wrongly-awarded penalty kick after Barrett’s second half goal had put them up by two.

Still, TFC isn’t perfect. Before the game, Preki was asked what the squad needed to improve. He waffled and mentioned wing players, which is a legitimate concern. From my point-of-view, TFC needs consistency. And scoring. Shockingly, the former leads to the latter. I like the new additions (Mista and Maicon Santos) because they bring energy and creativity to the attack. Johnston needs to get rid of Nick Garcia, because he sucks at everything. Attakora shows signs of developing, which is good. Hopefully, there are players in the TFC Academy nearly ready to push for spots on the big club.

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Marginal players quit England

Wes Brown, one of the rare times he's worn an England shirt (Getty Images)

So acceptably decent goalkeeper Paul Robinson announced that he is retiring from international soccer because he’s a fringe player in Fabio Capello’s squad. Of course, he’s not that good, either. So there’s that. And then Peanut Head joined him a few hours later. Well, at least the latter told Capello in person (both were called up for next week’s friendly against Hungary).

It’s not like either is a big loss for England: Robinson is a third-string keeper on a second-team squad while Peanut Head barely made the squad as Don Fabio looks at different and younger players. So the world looks on and shrugs and moves on.

Of more interest is Don Fabio’s squad, which includes teenager Jack Wilshere, as well as Kieran Gibbs and Theo Walcott. This is a good thing: Capello needs to know which of the younger players will be key players at Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014, and their respective qualifying campaigns.

Hungary won’t provide much of a challenge, but it should give Don Fabio and idea of who can handle some of the media circus around the England national team.

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Whither Barcelona’s reputation

Could Barcelona really be just another club? Could it be that it’s being dragged into petty politics, just like other clubs, and tapping-up targeted players, just like other clubs? It’s sad, but that just might be happening.

I’m not sure what former Barcelona president Joan Gaspart was thinking when he revealed that he wanted either Arsène Wenger or Fabio Capello to manage the team in 2001. What difference could that make to Barcelona in 2010? Apparently, both Arsenal (Wenger) and Roma (Capello) refused to allow Gaspart to interview their managers. How is this news? So one of the big clubs in the world wanted to attract a highly-respected manager. That’s not a surprise. The only reason Gaspart would go public now is to embarrass Barcelona’s current leadership. And that’s just dumb (unless he wants to be president again). So, there’s no point to his revelations.

Cesc Fàbregas, Arsenal captain and Barcelona targer

Of more concern to Barcelona’s fans are the near-constant tapping-up of Fàbregas for the last two years. He’s from Barcelona, participated in the youth system, and he wants to play there again someday. But he’s 23 years old and he has a long career ahead of him. He’s also Arsenal’s captain, which raises another large problem.

Canadian basketball player Steve Nash could have done what so many did before him: demand a trade when it became clear, after the 2008-09 season that the Phoenix Suns were rebuilding. But he realized that he couldn’t lead if he did so, and signed a contract extension. As a result, the Suns had a good season and Nash remained in his leadership position. Which brings us to Fàbregas.

He needed to come out and say he was staying at Arsenal for the foreseeable future. That wouldn’t have ended the speculation (I’m certain Barcelona would have continued tapping him up) but it would have made his own position clear. And it would have ensured his leadership position in Arsenal’s locker room, especially important since he is the captain.

At the same time, Barcelona should have stopped its pursuit sooner (it has apparently conceded defeat, for now). First, they have two extraordinarily gifted midfielders in Xavi and Andrés Iniesta, neither of whom are retiring anytime soon. So, there is no place for Fàbregas on the pitch (witness the Spanish national team’s first XI). Second, he’ll cost a fortune (assuming he is actually available, which he’s not). Thus, it would be a vanity signing and nothing else.

Barcelona doesn’t have the financial resources to make vanity signings; it’s not Manchester City. Barcelona’s weaknesses (primarily depth and, perhaps, reliable scoring) need to be addressed more than adding another midfielder. That, combined with Gaspart’s ill-timed and ill-conceived revelation, make Barcelona just another club. It needs to be above the fray in order to be mes que un club.

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