Tag Archives: Arsenal

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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Saturday Night Links: anonymous edition

Thierry Henry's handball v. Ireland (AFP/Getty Images)

Ireland has given up its quixotic quest to become the 33rd team in the 2010 World Cup. Well, I’m glad that’s settled. I was getting worried that the Irish FA might embarrass itself.

Arsène Wenger says he’ll spend money in January to replace Robin van Persie, who’s out, apparently, forever. The kicker is that Wenger will only spend “at the right price.” Of course he will. So don’t get your hopes up, Arsenal fans.

Amid speculation that Sergio “Kun” Agüero is off to Chelsea in January (ahead, apparently, of the transfer ban that was supposed to be in effect), even AS.com says ESPN is responsible for that rumor. When AS disavows a rumor, you know it can’t be true.

Lionel Messi won the Ballon d’Or. Like anyone is surprised by that.

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Saturday Night Links: fans’ protest edition

st james park protest

Fans protest at St. James' Park

Mike Ashley is an idiot. He renamed St. James’ Park “sportsdirect.com @ St. James’ Park Stadium” which is way, way worse than Citi Field or any corporately named stadium in North America or, really, anywhere else in the world. It should be protested on principle. Of course, Mike Ashley is an idiot so that doesn’t help.

Well, Arsenal are making me look like a dumbass. They won today, rising to second in the league, just ahead of idle Manchester United and just behind idle Chelsea (United and Chelsea play tomorrow). The point is that the Arse are playing well lately.

The MLS playoffs are in full swing. Did you notice? No? Shame on you! Fortunately, you still have time to catch LA Galaxy v. Chivas (tomorrow at 7.30pm EST) and Seattle v. Houston (tomorrow at 3pm EST).

Finally, the big game tomorrow is Manchester United v. Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Both managers are busy scheming but I expect a fast-paced game and I expect everyone to be excited for it.

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The Premiership at the quarter-ish pole

prem trophy

Premiership trophy

Being an analysis of the Premiership at the quarter-ish pole of the season. With 10 games down, who’s looking good and who’s looking bad? Well, read on, dear reader, for that and much more.

LOOKING GOOD

Obviously, Chelsea is looking pretty good right now. Check out their goal differential (+20) and the fact that they’re pretty much running on all cylinders. Sure, that’s a clichéd cop-out, but still. The fact is that Chelsea have looked good since their summer tour of the US and I don’t see a drop in form coming anytime soon. Perhaps it’s due to Carlo Ancelotti. Or Didier Drogba hitting the net more often than Adriano hits the clubs. Too soon?

Not to be too much of a homer, but I have to include Manchester United in this category, too. Other than the Anfield slip-up, Sir Alex has done a masterful job getting the boys ready to play. And Ryan Giggs has been nothing short of amazing; I don’t know how he does it, but the man keeps playing and playing and playing. I am truly impressed. The only downside is Rio Ferdinand’s inexplicable loss of form (well, maybe it is explicable: back injuries can be career-enders). I look for Sir Alex to go get a central defender or two in January.

Surprisingly, Spurs are doing well this season so far. I think that’s deceiving, though, because their goal differential is only +4. Perhaps a couple of reliable defenders and a keeper should be brought in because, Lord knows, they have enough firepower should they ever harness it. I’m still waiting for Giovani Dos Santos to show the form in the Premiership that he did for Mexico this summer; that’s the Gio I’ve been waiting for for what seems like ever.

LOOKING NOT SO GOOD

I know this puts me in the minority, but I’m not convinced that Arsenal have what it takes to compete. They have to beat back Manchester City’s challenge and catch Chelsea and United. I simply don’t think they have the personnel to do that.

Liverpool is cursed this season. Injured bodies are stacked like cordwood outside of Anfield and that’s not a good thing, especially when it’s the captain. Pool are a two-man team (those two men being Fernando Torres and Steven Gerrard) unless Alberto Aquilani (and his stunning girlfriend) can make a difference. I do like some of their players but it’s my position that they need one or two more to truly compete. Actually, what they need is Xabi Alonso. Shame, really.

I’m hoping for the best when it comes to Sunderland and Stoke City but I’m reasonably certain that my hope is misplaced. Which is too bad. I’d love to see them cause some chaos.

And, finally, it’s too bad Aston Villa couldn’t maintain their form. Hardly unexpected but too bad nonetheless. And Hull City is well and truly forked, methinks. Phil Brown needs to go and Jozy Altidore needs to play, dammit!

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On baby farming

Arsene Wenger

Arsene Wenger, Arsenal manager

Chelsea signed French striker Gael Kakuta. Manchester United signed French midfielder Paul Pogba. A few years further back, Arsenal signed Spanish midfielder Cesc Fàbregas from the Barcelona system. And then, yesterday, Manchester City signed two 14-year-olds from Leeds United in an act Leeds chairman Ken Bates called “baby farming.” Manchester City executive chairman Garry Cook said, “Everything to do with this is under the microscope, call it child trafficking, baby farming, whatever you like, it has opened up a Pandora’s Box, with everyone looking into that box, and clubs like ours are being unfairly pinpointed for all sorts of reasons.” And that’s exactly what it looks like: a non-denial denial. So what, if anything, should be done to prevent big clubs from signing talented youngsters from smaller clubs?

Of course, most of the big clubs have no come out in support of a ban on under-age signing but that smacks of covering their own asses. It’s now politically unacceptable to sign players who are under 18.

Arsène Wenger is one of the few to suggest that “baby farming” is an acceptable practice. “Look at the alternative. If you ban players from moving before the age of 18, you know what will happen? The player will be sold anyway,” he said. “To whom? To agents. At what age? At 13, 14. Where will they go? Not to top-level clubs with top-level education.” You know what? That makes sense to a certain degree, if only because it was Wenger who said it and he strikes me as believable.  But it only makes sense where there isn’t enough regulation.

I am thinking of South America, where third-parties are allowed to own economic rights, as a case on point. There, and in other places, FIFA needs to step in and police the domestic leagues. Oversight is necessary. FIFA needs to start earning the billions of dollars it takes in by ensuring that all those youngsters around the world who are trying to be professionals have some protection from unscrupulous agents.

The answer to this vexing problem lies, of course, at the intersection of competition and economics. At what point does competition trump economics? Or vice versa? When it comes to young players, the goal is to provide two things: soccer education and proper academic education. Perhaps the answer, in poorer nations, is FIFA-sponsored national academies, akin to the current projects in South Africa.

This is a prime opportunity for FIFA to step forward and be a leader. It should not be passed up.

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Saturday Night Links: college football edition

Gael Kakuta

Gael Kakuta

Where else to start but with FIFA handing Chelsea a 1-year ban on signing new players for illegally signing Gael Kakuta, a French striker formerly attached to Lens, a French club? Wow. Just wow. FIFA really laid the hammer down on Chelsea, which is great, if the precedent stands. They also have to ensure that this new precedent is applied to all clubs fairly, from the biggest to the smallest. Apparently, something similar happened to AS Roma when it signed Philippe Mexès from Auxerre in 2005. In that case, the penalty was reduced to 1 transfer window (rather than 2) and a €7 million fine. On another note, how come the victims are always French?

Not surprisingly, Chelsea has filed the “strongest possible appeal” to the ban. Perhaps that appeal will carry more weight than just a regular-strength appeal. Or it’s just hyperbole. I expect Chelsea to get at least the same punishment as Roma, even with their strong appeal. Manchester United might be in for the same problem when FIFA gets around to ruling on its signing of Paul Pogba (yet another Frenchman… seriously, what’s up with that?).

Speaking of appeals… Arsenal are going to appeal Eduardo’s 2-match ban for diving. It says here that the appeal will be rejected and he’ll be gone for 2 matches.

Silly season update: how the hell did Hull get Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink? And why did Celtic release him? What’s going on there? I’m thoroughly confused by all of this. Though he’ll make a good partner for Jozy Altidore.

Hype from CONMEBOL in that Dunga doesn’t like Diego Maradona. Does anyone really like Maradona, though?

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Premiership Matchday 4: Manchester United 2-1 Arsenal

Wayne Rooney celebrates his penalty kick goal v. Arsenal (Getty Images)

Wayne Rooney celebrates his penalty kick goal v. Arsenal (Getty Images)

Boy, am I glad I decided to get Fox Soccer Channel today or else I would’ve missed a doozy of a match. It was today, at Old Trafford, that Manchester United came from behind to defeat Arsenal by a score of 2-1.

First things first: Andrei Arshavin’s goal was amazing. One of the best I’ve seen since Cristiano Ronaldo’s 40-yarder against Porto in last year’s Champion’s League. Arshavin really is living up to the hype he created at Euro 2008 and he’s proving to be one of Arsène Wnger’s best pick-ups. Ryan Giggs set up both of Red Devil goals. First, a beautiful pass led Wayne Rooney into the box where he was tripped up by Manuel Almunia and awarded a penalty kick. Rooney coolly slotted that kick home. The second goal was a Giggs corner that went in off an Arsenal defender. How embarrassing for him.

Now, the match was exciting. It had up and down action that reminded me of a hockey game; I can’t imagine how drained the midfielders were after it was all over; Arsenal dominated the first half while United dominated the second. If it wasn’t beautiful football it was very entertaining football. It illustrated perfectly why people will get up at an ungodly hour to watch the Premiership.

With all that said, the end was marred by 2 things:

1. There were 5 minutes of added time. How the hell did that happen?

2. Wenger was tossed after he kicked a water bottle in front of the Gunner bench. In my opinion, the kick affected nothing and simply indicated frustration (a goal had just been called back on an offside call [the call was correct]). It was unnecessary intervention by the Fourth Official.

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