Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking a summer nap

It is for your benefit I have not published anything lately as everything I have writen is tediously droll. After United won all of Europe, it was like I physically had sex with a football, and now I just want to lie in bed, smoke a cigarette and read the newspaper. With Euro 2008 on the immediate horizon it is likely I will return to bathing and pull up my socks to pick up the pen again. Until then, enjoy your summer, as I am mine!


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Italy: Individual ratings

The Italian top flight came to a relatively dramatic conclusion this weekend. Inter Milan edged out AS Roma for the Scudetto, and I'd like to comprehensively analyze a few teams in hindsight.

Inter Milan

Patrick Viera was injured for much of the season, and has yet to truly emulate the form that made him world-class while playing for Arsenal since switching to the Serie A from Arsenal several years ago. His best years are firmly behind him. Inter grabbed Esteban Cambiasso on a free-transfer from Real Madrid in the off-season, and Cambiasso proved to be a very effective central midfielder for the Milanese club. Elsewhere in midfield, Javier Zanetti, at times, completely outshone everyone else on the pitch, and at other times, was merely considerably better than them. A fantastic season in this blogger's eyes for Zanetti.

Attacking for Inter, Zlatan Ibrihimovic, the brooding Swede, showed glimpses of the skill that keeps his name on the tips of tongues, but injury reared it's head inevitably for the big man, disrupting any consistent form he may have achieved. Julio Cruz was simply world-class throughout the first half of the season, but disappeared for a month or two in the second-half of the year. I'd consider it a good year overall for the rarely capped Argentine based mainly on his absurd goal-scoring form throughout the first half of the campaign.. Hernan Crespo serves well as a role-playing, impact substitute. In the coming years I expect the youngster Balotelli to feature greatly, in a similar role, and trusted to produce the same effect as his neighbor Pato for AC Milan.

On defense, Marco Materazzi, plagued by injury, yellow-cards, red cards, an addiction to tattoos, and a regrettable penchant for diving, no longer appears to belong in this, or any, top-class side. However, wide protection was provided in the form of Maicon and Maxwell, both having excellent seasons, the former earning his informal moniker of 'best right-back in Europe' for the 2007-2008 campaign.

AS Roma

A second-place finish is nothing to be ashamed of for a Roman side without nearly the same depth as the Milanese clubs.

AS Roma has long centered around the whimsies of form its talisman, Francesco Totti, provides, and last season's top scorer was perfunctorily injured for durations of this campaign, much of the middle and now the end. Mirko Vucinic has emerged out from under his teammate's shadow as the focal point of increasingly dynamic Roman attack. Tallying 13 goals in all competitions, the volume of quality he possesses has yet to manifest itself in a proportionate number of goals, which will come with the continued wizening of age and match experience. Vucinic, 24, contrasts Totti completely; he is young, very quick, and attacks defenders head-on, while Totti plays as he is, older and more deliberate, using flicks and passing acumen to unlock opponents, with increasing rarity. Totti's dumb-fire approach to free-kicks underscores the need for vivacity and energy from another source which Vucinic and midfield general Danielle Di Rossi will provide.

Di Rossi could become the most complete central-midfielder in Europe, already spraying the ball around routinely like Michael Carrick should be doing, the 26 year old Roman also gets well stuck in, and can dribble with dexterity, two things the Englishman cannot. Di Rossi holds well enough to be relied upon completely in the role, while still providing flair and creativity no manager would rightly expect from such a dominant defensive, holding presence. Supporting Roma should be very exciting for the next several years.

Before I get carried away in hyperbole for my favorite Italian club, let me offer some balance. The French defender Mexes has the same proclivity as Materrazi for foolish, clown-like behavior at the center of Roma's defense. Arrogance is earned and Mexes has done nothing this season to justify the amount he exudes. The rest of the defense is lacking. Panucci has class but, sadly for fans of Italian calcio, continues to age. Juan, although a quality footballer, is not dominant enough to be a world-class central defender. Cassetti is slow and generally reminds me of an Italian Rob Halford.

Elsewhere in the squad, Pizzaro had a decent but unspectacular year, however still earning his classification as a top-class footballer, and Giuly, having arrived on a free transfer from Barcelona, did more than enough to justify his place in the squad. Mancini will leave in the summer; his ever-brief flourishes of skill do not justify his place in any top side.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Chelsea: SWP remains committed: Why?

Shaun-Wright Phillips is again declaring his steadfast dedication to Chelsea FC.

The Englishman, now 26, who for many years was instead referred to as "English lad", as he turned in dominating, scintillating performances at Manchester City throughout his youth and into young adulthood, continues to make very poor decisions regarding his career.

There were times in Manchester where Wright-Phillips looked simply the ostensible answer to all of England's wing problems. People thought he would either make the left his own, or brush Beckham aside with his pace and agility. These thoughts turned to assumptions as he continued to turn in absurdly fantastic displays wearing the sky blue of Manchester City.

Yet, like most talents of the time, he moved to Chelsea. Since then he has never really had a consistent run in the team, and each year spouts the same non-sense.

'..I came to Chelsea and speculation has been going on for my whole time here and I have still not left. I have signed a contract (until summer 2010) and I'm here to see it out.'

People speculating his departure are often simply people bemusing why he hasn't left yet, when he clearly has so much talent, and so little opportunity to express it. His lack of hunger will lead to an emaciated career, bereft and devoid of many of the benefits he would otherwise be receiving, namely, turning the bemusing speculation into well-deserved praise. Form and potential alone does not earn it - using pragmatism off the pitch can play as great a role as god-given talent and work-ethic on it in determining how your career is viewed in history.

Note : This argument was made without ever needing to mention "Shevchenko".

Monday, May 12, 2008

United: Season Review, Italy notes

I apologize to all my readers in make-believe land. I have been very busy lately, doing mundane thing like studying, working, and playing soccer.

I did manage to watch the last United game against Wigan. Oh, the irony, Ryan Giggs scoring to seal the title in what would have been merely a token appearance. Having now tied Bobby Charlton's appearance record while scoring the winning goal to seal the Premiership title, and on the verge of breaking the record during the European club final, I suppose the closer to a fairy tale this year ends for Giggs the more likely he will mercifully retire after it.

Chelsea had me worried. Being a fan for the last 8 years I've seen United blow many a grand occasion, but it seems that there is real grit instilled in our team, much of it on defense, with the confidence exuded offensively by Rooney, Tevez, and Ronaldo providing precious equilibrium.

I'm surprised Anderson hasn't featured for several weeks. He has dominated games single-handedly, domestically or in Europe, and Michael Carrick continues to disappoint. If you gave Sir Alex a truth serum, he might admit it was a failed purchase. I wonder if my vision is skewed by my own bias, but in fairness, I know at least one other person who thinks Carrick is absolute garbage, but again, in fairness, that person's opinions hinge largely upon my own, which makes him an unfair ala by. If anyone ever reads this, and agrees, feel free to comment on it. Also, feel free to comment if you think I suck.

I feel bad for Liverpool. Spanish talent is the wrong foundation for a British club, with a coach who only functions in Europe, and at least one depraved reprobate for an owner, they seem destined to play fourth fiddle to United, Chelsea, and even Arsenal for the coming generation. After a decade or so, expect United to lead all of England in top flight trophies.

The age of Cristiano Ronaldo really has begun. Imagine next year, if he is even better? I don't expect him to get more goals, but if he is wiser, more skilled, more balanced, and plays a little more defense, he will be further unparalleled. Perhaps his greatest gift, often unmentioned, is his ability to avoid any serious injury--quite a feat considering the treatment he is subjected to during match play.

On another note, players have developed a new penchant for conning referees. The degenerate Marco Materazzi, who poetically missed the ensuing penalty, grappled his defender down while gazing sadly at the referee to earn it. This is the fourth time this year I've seen an attacker drag a defender down in hope of earning a penalty, and it worked at least twice. In a game where diving is already a horrible plague, it's nice to know some lesser players are always developing new ways to shame themselves and the sport.

Three cheers to AS Roma who have a chance to win the scudetto next weekend against Catania. Mirko Vucinic is one of the most underrated talents in European football, and as Totti continues to age, Vucinic and Di Rossi will be the face of one of the few respectable Italian super-clubs left.