Tuesday, April 29, 2008

United: Scholesy renaissance

Perhaps his overall contribution wasn't the most classic, but for an aging Paul Scholes, one last trademark thunderbolt should cement his name in United folk-lore forever.

More than his name, the style with which he played. The modesty which underscored his every touch. The simple passes that so many other footballers find complex.

Paul Scholes is a legend.

He typifies what is great about football. What he lacks in speed and size he makes up with vision, intelligence, and guile.

He is an inspiration to balding twenty-somethings everywhere (.. mainly here) who fancy themselves as footballers despite being remarkably slow and knobby-kneed.

Although it was not merely Paul Scholes who vanquished the Catalans today. Carlos Tevez was ubiquitous, rampaging into defenders, pressuring always. Owen Hargreaves, for a second consecutive time against the Spanish superclub, was imperious, dutiful, and full of energy. The rest of our defesce was not always as assured, but the end justifies the mean -- our passage to Moscow written on two clean-sheets.

No heroic feat is accomplished without it's villains, though. Our goalkeeper inspires fear into the hearts of his defenders and supporters. Michael Carrick seems determined to never make an impact on a football match. Nani was again guilty of being far too deliberate with the ball; so often would United benefit from Nani turning on his afterburners immediately, instead of loitering on the ball upon possession. Ronaldo, as noted in a prior entry, is yet to muster the maturity to take over games of such great occasion, although he seemed more comfortable in the second half. Ryan Giggs, to his credit, managed 2 touches on the ball in 12 minutes. A purely aesthetic cameo from the man, who justifies his moniker of "Welsh wizard" more with his elderly performances than his trickery.

Scholesy, though, who missed the historic 1999 final due to suspension, may find himself the main character in a fairy tale ending, come May 21st.

Certainly deserving of a ginger prince!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

ESPN: You talk about .. ?

I hope that by talking about my problems, I can somehow ameliorate them. Therefore, let me speak on this pet peeve I have, in view of healing my annoyance.

Analysts.. on television or radio.. on SportsNation.. definitely on Between Rounds,.. they have this horrible tendency to use the phrase "You talk about.." to introduce their topics.

"You talk about Kansas and their two standout guards.."

"You talk about a guy who's had the nastiest stuff.."

"In San Antonio you talk about a group of players who've.."

Are they having a laugh?

I don't think they even realize they are saying it.

Certainly a better way to transit into a new topic would be to say "Consider..." or "For example...", or just start the damn link with the subject and eliminate the superfluous, sports talk conditioning.

Sigh .. and I wonder why I'm balding.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

United: Semi-Final

The initial reactions to United's performance away to Barcelona have been resoundingly negative.

For a neutral, which I am not, it was a good result. The return leg has more promise for world-class football than any other football match throughout the whole European season.

For a United fan, which I am, it wasn't a horrible one. Considering how difficult United found the practiced concept of passing the ball with any sort of confidence, a nil-nil is fair enough.

The performance justified the result, but as usual, there were individual culprits, and they were also the usual suspects.

Carrick again displayed his uncanny ability to become invisible, almost like a super-hero, whose power is to be an anonymously mediocre footballer.

Giggs played for seven minutes, and it's a lucky thing my obsequious friend, either in search of my affections or merely in respect of my sensibility, had grown to share my despise for the player, otherwise he might have accepted my 5$ wager on Giggs not managing a single touch on the ball, which he didn't.

The man of the match was Paul Scholes. Not because I have a very unhealthy, ambiguously heterosexual love for the mild man, nor because of his usual offensive precision, but because of his defense! He was the only midfielder getting stuck in, and did very well to disrupt much of Barcelona's onslaught.

Our full-backs prevented United from being beset completely. Despite being occasionally out-classed, both Evra and Hargreaves managed to express their own quality in ably defending their respective flanks, with Evra's being the side most bombarded.

Elsewhere, Tevez was dogged, without much result. Rooney was less dogged, with less result. Wes Brown was typically nervy and slow. Van Der Sar did enough. Ronaldo again displayed his penchant for failing to play up to the competition; he is a player who, thus far in his young career, has yet to conquer the great occasion.

Ultimately.. as the dust of 98'000 settled at the Nou Camp, millions around the world, neutrals and partisans, shrugged in hindsight while casting imaginations forward to the return leg with bated anticipation. Myself, objectively, for football of legend, and subjectively, for a result of the same variety.

Go on United.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

ESPN: Stephen A. Smith steps down.

Sad face!

The most controversial voice on ESPN radio called it quits last week, citing an increased focus on television analysis for ESPN.

The repercussions have been immediate.

I now am subjected to an extra hour of Sports Nation, the second-most tedious radio show ESPN airs, behind only Between Rounds, a horribly dithering and painful, one-hour, once a week mixed-martial arts show. At least the two blokes on Sports Nation have voices which are distinguishable from one another's, even if their analysis is weak, and their content over-reliant on input from their "co-pilots" (the American public), as they gauge and measure the publics opinion on increasingly desperate topics.

Essentially, it's a show about pie graphs.

Smith's shows were filled with intrigue. He's a guy who spoke his mind, and although he spoke sometimes ostentatiously, filled to the brim with his own image and power, it made for great radio. He is one of those rare guys that just sees things how they are, and can express it simply enough to get everyone nodding.

In contrast, a stoic company man like Mike Tirico (who hosts a show each morning on ESPN Radio) guarantees average ratings devoid of controversy.

Smith, though, was forthright, loud, and even often hilarious, and provided much more entertainment, analysis, and provocation, although at greater risk to his employer.

Maybe it's time to give Doug Gottlieb a better time slot.

ESPN pioneered sports coverage in America, a market they now virtually monopolize. (deservedly)

They are the undisputed world-wide leader in sports.

They should afford to take some risks!

Friday, April 18, 2008

United: Triple re-signing

Manchester United announced today the triple re-signing of defenders Rio Ferdinand and Wes Brown, and mid-fielder Michael Carrick to long-term deals.

I'm a little ambivalent, to be fair. Tying up Ferdinand is great. Although, his effect on the United back-line is regularly overstated at the expense of Nemanja Vidic, who's eastern-European style contributes more to United's balance than does Ferdinand's. However, Ferdinand compliments Vidic's bloody-nosed defending with his class on the ball and savvy distribution. Together they form a great partnership, I only warn against exaggerating Ferdinand's quality as an individual defender.

Wesley Brown, though. He hasn't shown any inclination all year to re-sign. Disputes between his agent and manager Alex Ferguson were publicized throughout the year, and the general feeling seemed to be that Brown would leave in the summer. That's a notion I got used to. Where are his virtues? He's a decent header of the ball. Otherwise, he's slow, unable to attack with any vim, gets stood up by quicker, trickier attackers, and simply isn't consistent or reliable.

Why not let him go his own way and pickup Glen Johnson, England and Portsmouth's attacking right-back, as a replacement to the elder Neville, with youngster Danny Simpson deputizing?


I was hoping Carrick would find the exit too. The last week or two he's played well, against Roma particularly, but even Giggs played well in that game. Carrick can't shoot, can't dribble past anyone, and lacks the ability to run games like little Scholesy can through passing. Perhaps his worst attribute is his tendency of being brushed off the ball worse than Darren Fletcher. At least Fletch can get stuck in. Carrick spends matches on his toes, and plays like he's afraid. He simply isn't United quality.

In the coming years I hope to see Hargreaves and Anderson bossing games, with Carrick, begrudgingly, coming off the bench.

Sir Alex Ferguson is regarded as one of the greatest managers in World football, rightfully, but if I were to criticize him at all (a tall order for a noob like me) I'd say he is, at times, too sentimental to his expensive signings and long-time servants, as evidenced by Carrick's new contract, and Giggs' continued undeserved spot on the team-sheet.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

ESPN: Where is Allen Hopkins?

Allen Hopkins used to give commentary and analysis for a wide range of matches on Fox Sports World before being recruited (affirmatively) by ESPN for the 2006 World Cup, where he has since enjoyed only a bit-part role. Instead of doing play-by-play, color, or analysis, he's relegated to the role of talking head, side-line reporting, gobbling up whatever players will give him ala Jim Gray.

Somehow Hopkins has been usurped on the pecking order by former player-jocks like Wynalda (who, Dioforce admits, have his own unique flair) or Harkes, dead-wood like Dellacamera, or the agelessness of Tommy Smythe. However, I believe I speak for most American soccer fans when I say that the novelty of the phrase "bulging the ol' onion bag" has long since worn off. So has my ability to ignore the poor analysis from a man whose vision must preclude him from seeing the game accurately. Often skewed, sometimes simply thoughtless, and usually trite analysis from these company men leave so many of us fans waiting for more.

Hopefully we won't have to wait too long.

With Hopkins, ESPN hired one of the best, young soccer match commentators in America.

The man can dissect games, and he's very perceptive about player form and the intricacy of so many deft touches that otherwise go unseen and, hence, unheard. Most importantly, he speaks with-out hyperbole, which is very rare in a broadcasting genre based largely on specious adjectives. The regrettable analysts currently on ESPN have the proclivity of prefacing every adjective with "..absolutely..", to call merely good touches "sensational", routine finishes "remarkable", and impressive, yet not incredible saves "absolutely amazing!"

Football is the thinking man's game; it's fans aren't stupid. We understand form. We understand the nuances. We don't need it spoon-fed. Certainly there is a need to attract more fans to the game here in America, but dumbing-down the analysis, or making the game production otherwise in any way similar to American football is certainly the wrong approach.

Get some intelligence in booth. Give the boy Hopkins a run-out. He's been warming up on the sidelines long enough, when he should be the first name on the team-sheet.

Monday, April 14, 2008


I am such a nerd for blogging. I suppose it was inevitable.. it's hard to avoid having a blog when your aspiration is to become a journalist. Or at least someone associated with the practice.

I don't know exactly what it is I want to do, but I want to work within the game of soccer (henceforth referred to as football), because I love it more than any other thing in the world (people aside [or at least one of them]).

I often shake my fist at the television with the shite content from so many of the perfunctorily accented analysts on the few channels that support the game out here. In addition to the general feeling of omniscience I have regarding anything related to European football, I fancy myself (as an imitator of colloquialisms, and) as a commentator on American sports as well. I know enough to at least spout some rubbish.

Here is where and now is when. Cheers!