Sunday, August 30, 2009

News from the front (08/30)

Man United didn't deserve to beat Arsenal 2-1 at Old Trafford. Sir Alex has been so passive, planning to rely on Giggs and Carrick for another season, his club deserved to lose on Saturday.

They had no shots on goal until they were gifted a penalty. Arsenal were predictably ahead after an equally predictable Arshavin cracker, until United predictably got a controversial penalty from, as ever, Mike Dean.

Rooney was charging into the box, chasing behind a loose touch, but arrived just ahead of Gunner keeper Almunia. The Englishman's next touch took the ball careening out of bounds, after which Almunia made slight contact with the striker who was already going down.

One on one against a keeper, if the attacker's touch is wayward, and the contact is both slight and afterward, discretion is required from referees. Penalties shouldn't be called unless they're stone-cold. If a referee isn't sure, he shouldn't call it. That being said, under the current "rules"--or more accurately, "paradigm", since there are levels of subjectivity to referee's decisions--it was a penalty, and not a good one!

In a weekend where Torres, Eduardo, and Eboiue all dove flagrantly, Rooney won't be recalled a diver but he's never shied from trying to win penalties. The hope cast upon his swarthy shoulders precludes him from most cynicism that would otherwise be levied at him if he were a foreign-born player--same as Gerrard who has the same proclivity to go to ground without the stigma to his reputation.

With such high stakes in England and Europe, this genre of ignominious behavior grows prevalent as players sacrifice individual dignity for, ultimately, the cash each team gains by either placing higher in domestic leagues (the higher a club finishes, the more money awarded by the governing federation) or going further in Europe (playing more games, with more gate receipts, more television revenue, and exponentially higher winning bonuses from UEFA).

The cycle might end only with the cooperation of an enforced refereeing initiative-- touted virtually every season without yet a visible increase increase in diving bookings--with more honorable managers who condemn simulation.

Glen Johnson
scored another belter for Liverpool as they fortuitously won 3-2 at Bolton. Johnson is an uncharacteristically solid signing for Benetiz who otherwise signs obscure Spanish players. After last year, Johnson's form put him among the top three right-backs in the world with Inter's Maicon and Barcelona's Dani Alves. At 26, the Englishman has a bright future with Liverpool and England for many years.

Lucas Leva continued to be a total clown, whining and protesting in Spanglish to remind whatever maleable referee that, after a wholly innocent clipping, Sean Davis had already been booked. Davis was promptly booked again and sent off as Bolton led 2-1. Also, the Greek defender Liverpool desperately signed last week was at sea during both goals and looks like a complete joker (more consistent with Rafa's pattern of signings).

Chelsea steamrolled whoever 3-0. If I had money I'd bet on them for the title.

I'd also bet on Tottenham finishing in the top four this season. They could finish second. Wilson Palacios has changed the team. Huddlestone is starting this season instead of Zokora and the football at White Hart Lane is faster and classy. Modric is out with a broken leg after their 95th minute win home to Birmingham, but Robbie Keane can take over that roll (with much less effect) allowing Peter Crouch to resume his "big man, small guy" partnership with Jermain Defoe.

Spurs won 2-1 with Lee Bowyer comically appearing on the score-sheet in the Premier League again, tapping in for Birmingham, probably the biggest goal of his career. (lol)

It's Spur's defense that will make or break this season, but they at least have a solid enforcer in front of the backline. Palacios' graft makes him a commodity in European soccer, the most sought after type of player for clubs competing in Europe. United and Arsenal have not and may finish behind Spurs this year to prove how vital a De Jong, De Rossi, Palacios, Scotty Parker, or Lass Diarra is to a team (and how frivolous and insufficient a "specialty" player like Carrick is!).

In Madrid Ronaldo showed his best and worst, making some strong and skillful runs but also sultating around the pitch and complaining characteristically. Madrid fans will never know the innocent Ronaldo that played for United during four of his five years at Manchester, but it is during that period where he reached his peak, playing with naivete and wonder, without expectation and arrogance.

Madrid made horrible moves in the offseason
, overpaying for Kaka, who has not been a premier player since winning World Player of the Year in 2006. Milan didn't even qualify for the Champions League in 2008 and Kaka's form had been average in his final two years in Milan, outshone by Pato last term.

Real's most underrated player is Diarra, a tackling force in the middle with balance and creativity who will guard their frail defense and launch counterattacks. They sold Arjen Robben and Wes Sneijder for less than they bought Xavi Alonso.

Style over substance as usual in their pursuit of fame and legend. Robben was by far the Galacticos' best player last year. Sneidjer was injured all term but is, at times on form, the best attacking central midfielder in the world (with Gourcuff, Xavi, Iniesta, Gerrard, and Lampard, for the record!).

Bayern have one of the best forward/winger combination in Europe, if not the best, with Podolski, Schweinsteger, Klose, Robben, and Ribery all in the mix.

Inter destroyed Milan 4-0 after Gattusso typically got sent off.

Inter or Chelsea to take the Champions League this year, with Bordeaux my dark horse. The French club will make the final 16. Get on board!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Gourcuff, Bordeaux headline dangerous Group A

Prevailing media will usually cling to its most profitable darlings. They supply what is demanded: the whats-what on Man United, the latest bickering between managers, polls about Ronaldo, anything to breed divide between Barcelona and Real Madrid, what Rafa said, arguing if Arsenal can win with youth, and occasionally even talking about Inter.

But as the group stage was announced Tuesday for the 2010 Champions League season, the most footballing significance lies with Bordeaux in Group A.

France's Ligue 1 may be unfashionable to the more centrist sensationalsits, but the presence of Yoann Gourcuff alone at Bordeaux should bring relevance to a group not even on English media's radar.

Not to mention the in-form French side is matched up against European superclubs Bayern and Juventus, creating what you'd assume the arbitrators of news content would love to label and fanaticize as a "Group of Death".

However, both and Espn's perfunctorily reported on the English teams matchups and promoted the grudge match between Barcelona and Inter. made no mention of Bayern, Juventus, and Bordeaux completely.

The pick of the ties sees Barcelona face Inter in Group F, where Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic are set for immediate returns to their former clubs. Elsewhere, Manchester United face some long away trips while AC Milan and Real Madrid will tangle in a glamour tie [in Group C].

Espn followed suit, preferring to feature their own EPL teams and the melodrama between Barca and Inter.

Samuel Eto'o and Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be back at their old clubs as Inter and Barcelona were drawn together in the Champions League...The other big draw is Real Madrid, many people's favourites for the title, against AC Milan... Manchester Utd face tough trips...with Liverpool also given a tough test..Chelsea will be happy with their draw...while Arsenal are also sitting pretty as they face Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar, Olympiakos and Belgian side Standard Liege.

It's bewildering that a group containing Bordeaux by itself doesn't get any play online.

Laurent Blanc's side is barnstorming, winning 14 matches in a row dating back to last season, a Ligue 1 record.

Twenty-three year-old Gourcuff led Bordeaux last season to end Lyon's eight year monopoly on the French trophy, being rightly named Ligue 1 Player of the Year in the process, and yet, he's still the most underrated player in Europe.

Four-time European champion Bayern have the two best wingers in the and one of the very best attacks in Europe. Two-time champ Juventus have Del Piero.

In other words: WTF?

Espn may get a pass; they broadcast Spanish and English Premier League games. It's cynical--isn't it?--to begrudge a broadcasting conglomerate promoting its own interests first? Business is business, at a clear detriment to pure sport. simply panders to the come-lately fans who want to debate Messi v. Ronaldo ad infintum and are so subjectively linked to their favorite and most fashionable club their view of the broader game itself is obfuscated through bifocles tinted in the club's colors.

Was each synopsis derived from the same associated press release? Why the omission of Group A in both and Soccernet?

The best football will be played in this group. Probably by Bordeaux, orchestrated by Gourcuff, leading to one of the competitions historical giants to fall aside, as the play-maker finishes his ascent he started last year into the fine, finite group of footballing elite.

The liberty to make such a declaration is afforded to those above the knowledge gap in European football consumption, while most web sites will cater to the majority below it.

Drowned out by plebian forum trolls and Man Yoo fanboys in the short term, those of us care about the game's future can only hope substance prevails in the long term.

From one fan whose passion borders on addiction, which manifested itself in hundreds of match videos a year, and thousands of articles read, heed this advice:

Watch Gourcuff this season. Youtube is only a click away. He will rival Messi to be the greatest player of his generation.

You might not know otherwise, but it's not your fault.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Sneijder perfect replacement for Scholes at United

To call current Real Madrid midfielder Wesley Sneijder want-away would be erroneous; he wants to stay, it's his club that want him to leave.

With such a surfeit of attacking options, Madrid are likely to force out the classy attacker. Rumors have the Dutch orchestrator possibly heading to Inter Milan, though he has rejected the move as recently as today.

If only one would implore the miniature former Ajax master to consider a Manchester United side still employing a traditional 4-4-2, instead of trying to run games in a Madrid side with several other top-class attackers vying for possession.

Sneijder, like United's masterful Paul Scholes, can play in the center midfield or as a second striker, as the Englishman did partnering Ruud van Nistelrooy prior to Louis Saha's arrival at the club, a period during which United played arguably their best football in this decade.

Paul Scholes built his reputation on long-range thunderbolts and late runs into the box, knifing into the area to score cheeky headers or little volleys; Sneidjer is no different.

The Dutchman has a wide range of passing, able to play through forward or long diagonally, like Scholes, with both feet, in slight contrast with him; Scholes happens to favor his right foot for passing and shooting. The equally diminutive Sneijder has the same penchant to shoot from range and is quicker—having more pace—than the fading Scholesy.

However, injuries have inihibited the 25-year-old's climb into the footballing elite, despite an awesome Euro 2008 tournament where he scored the goal of the tournament against Italy and another cracker against France, running the Oranje midfield as Netherlands looked odds-on favorites to take the tournament.

With a healthy run of games, the diminutive Madrista would re-establish himself among the best in the world, but his current club seems an unlikely place for such a stretch. Real stripped him of the number 10 shirt and haven't named him in the squad for over a week.

However, Sneijder's heart still lies in Madrid, despite ubiquitous rumors of a Dutch exodus, and his intention to stay is well-documented withing sporting media.

If Madrid did force him out, perhaps they use their speed-dial to Manchester, where a United side with an uncharacteristically weak midfield could use his class, an unequivocal attacking force, where most of their midfielders now—Carrick, Anderson, Gibson, Giggs—neither attack nor defend enough to be labelled as either, or do both well enough to be described as effectively balanced.

If Sneidjer were to arrive, his ideal partner would be Hargreaves, still recovering—as ever—from multiple knee surgery, or the ever maturing Fletcher, who has finally grown into a Keane-like mold, holding down the fort with as much gusto as his slight frame allows. Anderson may be the defensive midfielder of the future, but not yet.

Sneidjer would become the first choice free-kick taker and would also provide someone to take United's left corner kicks, as opposed to Nani, whose poor passing ability finds him usually unable to clear the first and second defenders regularly. It wouldn't be a stretch to employ the Dutchman as their choice penalty taker either.

Regardless of such transfer hypotheticals, United's midfield needs bolstering, but the crotchety Alex Ferguson has made it clear he has no intention to buy again, statements he may have to double-back on as perennial fringe teams like Spurs and Man City boast a stronger starting midfield than United's across all four.