Monthly Archives: November 2010

Who’s going to push the panic button?

In case of emergency...

Amazingly, Manchester United came back from 2-0 down to draw with Aston Villa 2-2 at Villa Park. But United were lucky: Villa attacked from the beginning and outplayed United the entire match. Which means, of course, that the English media and a lot of US columnists will wring their hands. So, let’s step back and see the pros and cons of pushing the panic button.

Reasons to push the button:

1. No wins away from home. United have been in positions to score, but haven’t been able to finish teams off. Why is that? Perhaps it’s complacency, but I think it has more to do with lack of squad depth and disharmony.

2. No reinforcements. Wayne Rooney’s hissy fit last month brought into relief the lack of spending. In principle, I understand Sir Alex’s desire not to overspend. In reality, he clearly has no money to spend. It appears as though the Glazer takeover debt is finally coming home to roost.

3. No speed and no creativity. Let’s get one thing straight: Nani will never, ever be a consistent performer (unless that performance is dramatizing fouls). Park Ji-Sung is a nice player with plenty of industry, but he’s not going to float beautiful crosses. The speed comes into play at the back. Having one center back with no speed is fine; two is too many. Add to that the fact that the left and right backs have neither the speed nor the skill to keep up with Aston Villa and United has major problems.

4. Poor transfer decisions. Bebé for 7 million? Smalling for 10 million? No move for Özil at a cut-rate price? No move for van der Vaart, available on the cheap?

5. Playing not to lose, rather than playing to win. In the Manchester derby, United adopted a defensive posture despite controlling large portions of the second half. Against Villa, United was attacked from the beginning and had no response (at least until Macheda’s laser in the 81st minute, which appeared to flick a switch in the team). It looks like United is rattled, and that’s not a good thing for such an ambitious club.

Reasons not to press the panic button:

1. Sir Alex Ferguson still runs the show. Twenty-four years in charge with amazing success means he has a lot of leeway.

2. An ability to come back from the brink. United have an amazing ability to come back. In the match today against Villa, they came back from 2-0 down. They’ve done that more than once this season alone. Perhaps it’s not complacency, but an unwillingness to fight until it’s absolutely necessary (which may, in fact, be a bigger problem).

3. The kids might actually be okay. Gabriel Obertan looks like he’s developing (which only took about three years). Federico Macheda’s development curve, on the other hand, looks like the last two years of the Dow Jones index. Javier Hernández was an excellent piece of business. The downside? None of those are defenders or creative wing players.

By numbers, the cons outweigh the pros, but I’m still not ready to push the panic button. United will not win the league this year (barring some major changes in January, which aren’t going to happen) but all is not lost. At least not yet.

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Canada loses Bunbury

Teal Bunbury plays for the Kansas City Wizards

Perhaps “lose” is the wrong term, since Canada never really had him in the first place. Like Jonathan de Guzman and Asmir Begović (and, to a lesser extent, Owen Hargreaves) before him, Teal Bunbury – a young, promising striker currently playing for the Kansas City Wizards – chose his other nationality. In this case, that means the United States. Make no mistake, this is a serious problem for the Canadian Soccer Association, and it doesn’t look like it’s being taken seriously.

I realize that de Guzman, for instance, never really wanted to play for Canada. He was going to choose Holland (unlike his brother) from the beginning, assuming Holland wanted him. The same is true of Hargreaves, who was always going to choose England (and, really, choosing England over Canada, esp. when you were good enough to start for England in the World Cup, is a no brainer). I have no issue with them for that. I do have issues with both Begović and Bunbury because they both suited up for Canada at various points. They both waffled (esp. Begović), and, in the end, they both set Canada back.

Begović, for example, would be Canada’s starting keeper today. Bunbury, although only 20, would certainly be in the game day roster, and likely see a lot of action (Ali Gerba, Olivier Occean, and Iain Hume [though I’m a huge Hume fan] aren’t getting any younger or better). Bunbury’s father, Alex, played for Canada and scored 16 goals. I know fathers want their sons to make their own decisions (and I can respect the fact that Bunbury has spent half his life in the US), but from a playing perspective, Teal’s path is not blocked the way it is in the US (Jozy Altidore is the starting striker for the foreseeable future). Of course, the US will likely make it to a few more World Cups before Canada, and playing a World Cup is every player’s dream.

On the other hand, this is good for the US. Bob Bradley needs to attract dual-nationality players to (a) improve the team and (b) increase the team’s depth at all positions. He does have the US’s standing as one of the two best teams in CONCACAF (and therefore all but guaranteed to go to the World Cup) as a positive. On the other hand, he is very stuck in his ways and finds it difficult to work in new blood. Thus, while Bunbury may or may not get to play in a World Cup (depending on injuries, skill development, etc.), he definitely would have played more with Canada and could have been, with Will Johnson and David Edgar, the foundation of the Canadian national team for the next decade. However, assuming he fights his way on to the US national team, he probably made the right choice for him.

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The Manchester derby, part 1

Michael Carrick and Nemanja Vidic are challenged by Yaya Toure (Getty)

The hype machine went into overdrive for no real reason. The derby was built up to something it was never going to be: a back-and-forth game full of scoring chances and acrobatic saves.

Have any of these commentators seen Manchester City play this season? More importantly, do they know anything about Roberto Mancini?

The problem with the general assumption that the derby would be a cracking game is that neither team is really playing that well right now. Also, City spend all of its money on defensive midfielders rather than creativity (and the one creative winger they do have – Adam Johnson – played 8 minutes). On the other hand, Wayne Rooney was out and my opinions of United’s wingers are well known. Not only that, but Michael Carrick was starting, which is never a good thing.

I figured Sir Alex would match City’s formation and try to counter-attack given his squad’s status (pay no attention to the virus claims, David Hirshey; they’re called mind games). In fact, United dominated the second half, esp. in terms of possession. I figured City would come out more aggressive, but they didn’t, partly because they’re not built that way and partly because that’s not Mancini’s style. True to form, the game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Can we take any grand conclusions from this game? No, not even a little bit. Both teams played like any rational evaluator would have guessed. Neither looks like it will challenge Chelsea for the title this season because both are deeply, deeply flawed. City has delusions of grandeur, but Sir Alex knows he’s getting the most out of his players as (I hope) he looks for reinforcements.

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TFC panders to its fans

Jürgen Klinsmann

A couple of days ago, I read with interest the report that Jürgen Klinsmann was on his way to Toronto. He had been hired as an consultant (or adviser, whichever term you prefer). The term itself is interesting. In and of itself, “adviser” is a meaningless term, especially for a team with neither a general manager nor a coach. The question, then, is two-fold: first, what is TFC trying to do here? Second, what about Klinsmann’s desire for control?

It seems relatively obvious that TFC is pandering to its fans. By appointing Klinsmann as an adviser, it gives the illusion of action when, in reality, there was none. In short, TFC did nothing, except pay for a plane ticket and possibly some wages, with this appointment. I’d like to think that the club’s fans are a little savvier than MLSE thinks and are not, in fact, fooled by this appointment. Klinsmann should be given a proper title and a proper place in the organization if ownership wants to prove it’s doing something.

Now, how much control does Klinsmann actually have? Famously, the lack of control is why he is not currently the manager of the US national team. Apparently, Bob Bradley is more pliable (what that says about Sunil Gulati and the USSF is another post). So what’s Klinsmann’s role in Toronto? Is he going to hire the GM and manager and then step aside? Something tells me that’s a no. Klinsmann wants to be on the sideline. He wants to be in control. Will TFC’s players respond to someone with no real title? His name guarantees instant respect, but his odd ways might rub some players the wrong way (though he did have success with Germany in 2006).

Klinsmann is, in my opinion, a talented manager. He has a lot to learn (don’t we all?), but he should be given a chance. If TFC wanted to make a bold step, it would hire him in an official capacity. As it stands, Klinsmann is smokescreen, designed to distract people from looking at the fact that the organization is in shambles.

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