el clásico tranquilo

As a dedicated fan of the beautiful game, no matter who you support, there are a number of dates each year that just about all of us circles on our calendars as “can’t miss” matches.

while normally a really exciting affair, the lead up to the first of this year’s clasicos has been unusually quiet… and even boring if you ask san iker.

The obvious ones are the dates of major international finals, Europe’s Champions League final, and South America’s Copa Libertadores. There are also a number of club rivalry matches — the so called “derbies” — that get the same treatment. Even if you don’t support the teams battling it out, the history and passion wrapped up in the matches often make them extremely entertaining affairs. Notable examples are the Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter, the Superclásico contested between River Plate and Boca Juniors, the currently-muted Old Firm Derby between Rangers and Celtic, and more recently the Manchester Derby between United and City.

However, the crown jewel of rivalries has to be Spain’s El Clásico. 

With apologies to a very excellent Atlético Madrid side, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two best sides on the Iberian peninsula in both a historical and modern context. Between them, the two European giants have won 53 La Liga titles, 44 Copa del Reys, and 13 European Cups. That said, the rivalry runs far deeper than just bulging trophy cabinets. It also has deep roots in the highly charged cultural and political tug of war between the Catalonia and Castile regions of the country.

And this weekend, we all have the privilege of watching the first Clásico of the season as Real visits Barça’s cavernous Camp Nou. Oddly though, the hype in the lead up to this match seems dull in comparison to years past.

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pic of the week 9/30-10/6

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La Hoya Lorca and their Broccoli Kits

Often times, picking a “Pic of the Week” is a snap: one ridiculous picture will go viral in the previous week, making it the obvious choice. But occasionally, there are several pictures that I’d be more than happy to see take the prize. Such was the case this week, as I nearly went with a picture of Luis Suárez thinking it was a good idea to bring his 10-day old son out onto the pitch at Anfield for warm ups on Saturday. A narrow loss for Luis, but I’d bank on him being back here sooner rather than later.

Instead, I opted for this pre-match team picture from Spanish Segunda B side La Hoya Lorca, as they debuted their brand new broccoli-themed away kits this weekend. Yes, you read that correctly. Broccoli. And believe it or not, this is actually their second savoy-flavored uniform, as they trotted out in one several times last term.

Sure, it’s nice that the club are paying homage to the local Murcia region’s agricultural heritage and primary export. And they’ve earned a solid nickname of El Brócoli Mecánico – or “the Clockwork Broccoli” — from rocking them, too. But I can’t imagine their hue makes finding teammates on the pitch any easier. And I’d also guess they’ve had a serious drop off in the number of children attending matches, too.

ten words or less #80

Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo meet at training

this is what it looks like when £166 million pounds worth of footballers get together.

I’ve been a little USA-Mexico heavy in this space for the last week or so, and understandably so. And predictably, a little bit of that spills over into this weeks TWOL posting. If you’re feeling a little burnt out on the subject, don’t worry… there’s still a further six links below that aren’t related to that match in any way. So the #USAvMEX talk is slowly dying down, if nothing else. And don’t worry, there’s more coming on the blog tomorrow that doesn’t have anything to do with it either.

However, if you’re wanting even more of the US Soccer coverage, be sure to check out Episode 5 of the WSOTP Pod — a.k.a. the Dos A Cero Special” — and you can hear all my thoughts on all of the festivities that surrounded the epic match in Columbus.

Insight into the USMNT’s most important and stoic star. – buzzfeed.com

Certifiably the worst corner of all time. – telegraph.co.uk

The cyclical rise and fall of Puerto Rican football. – inbedwithmaradona.com

Check out this family-friendly US Soccer supporters group. – redwhiteandbluesbros.com

Who wouldn’t want a Steven Lenhart Chia Pet? – kckrs.com

A.O. BACKTRACKING CONFIRMED. - sportsmyriad.com

The best looking kit in England this year, hands down. – footballshirtculture.com

I promise this isn’t from The Onion. – washingtontimes.com

The Mexican legend of “Dos a Cero de Columbus” explained. – dirtytackle.net

Watch as Fox Soccer dies a quiet, yet odd death. - deadspin.com

ten words or less #76

Paulinho in Tears at his last press conference for Corinthians

for some players, like new spurs acquisition paulinho, transfer season is so intense that it brings them to tears.

The European transfer season is upon us, and players, agents and club chairmen are crisscrossing the globe in search of pay days, pay days and pay days respectively. Keeping up with it is nearly impossible — there are those who try, with some better than others – and not something I plan on attempting any time soon. What rumors are true? Is that source safe? For many fans, filtering through it all every summer can be extremely stressful. And still for others, it’s a time of excitement. But regardless of how you feel about it, one things is for sure: with all of the wheelings and dealings set to go down over the next two months, it’s easy to be left with your head spinning.

So if you’re looking for a little break from the rampant speculation and baseless hype, I’ve kept the transfer fodder to a minimum in this week’s TWOL. 

Want to know why transfer windows are called silly seasons? – sbnation.com

The MLS All-Star shirt is unique, maybe even cool. – foortball-shirts.co.uk

Practice safe sex with Ronaldinho and Atlético Mineiro. – kckrs.com

Peep the excellent Crew fan art of Massive City FFC. – massivecityffc.com

Freaking out about Baldini at Spurs? You shouldn’t be. – goal.com

Buy me any of these and be my new BFF. – hypebeast.com

OKC goes from zero to two clubs: a good idea? – newsok.com

Why Abramovich, Qatar, Abu Dhabi have bought their football clubs. – youtube.com

Nike can turn any open space into a pitch. - mipista.es (WARNING: Spanish)

Orlando plans to join MLS: hectic but well-planned. - scoringthird.com

for greed, all nature is too little

Alright. Enough is enough. This whole thing is really starting to spiral out of control. It’s not like this is a revelation or anything. Everyone knows finances in European football have completely gotten out of hand.

Supporters Protest Against Raised Ticket Prices

greed has become so prevalent in european football that fans are starting to feel its effects.

Football mirroring life once again, it’s impossible to miss just how easily the rich are get richer while the poor continue to get poorer. The system is set up to work that way, and no corner of the sport escapes the effects of the greed that runs rampant within it.

You’ve heard it all before, but I’ll tell it to you again. For the effect, that’s why.

First, think about how increasingly rare it is to find an elite player outside of one of the super-rich, “mega-clubs” like Chelsea, Bayern, PSG, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Barcelona and Juventus. They’re the only ones who can afford to buy the best players, they then win things with them, which ultimately provides them with even more prize/sponsorship money to go out and hijack another small club’s best player. That’s why we see more and more young stars like Mario Götze leaving a potentially dynastic Dortmund side for Bayern, and why we’ll continue to see various behemoths attempt to pry guys like Gareth Bale away from an on-the-cusp sidesl like Tottenham. It’s a ridiculously vicious cycle, particularly if you’re a fan of a club classified with the have-nots rather than the haves.

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ten words or less #70

USA vs Costa Rica World Cup Qualifier

if this excellent promotional poster doesn’t get you amped up for tonight’s USMNT match… i don’t know what will.

It’s been a busy week here at WSOTP. This is my fourth post in less than a week, which has to be a blog record. Hopefully everyone’s been eating it up.

But as you might expect, the events that have dominated my attention over the last few days have to be crucial the upcoming pair of US men’s national team World Cup qualifiers. In the lead up for that, I’ve been busy promoting watch parties in Dayton, OH, as well as helping others to find bars/parties to watch those matches all over the country by promoting the WSOTP Soccer Pub Atlas (And be sure to peep the sidebar to check it out yourself). And of course, I’ve been obsessing over the match-ups themselves.

Anyway, if you’re anything like me, and you are impatiently waiting for tonight’s kickoff, here are some of my favorite links from around the interwebz over the last week to help keep you entertained until then.

The Free Beer Movement suddenly becomes a Middlesborough fan. – dirtytackle.net

I’m not sure how, but AVB’s brilliance is still underestimated. – thescore.com

I would get married again just to have this cake. – facebook.com

Will anyone call this third party ownership if it happens? – mirror.co.uk

Consider yourself a dedicated fan no longer. This is dedication. – guardian.co.uk

This would be so nostalgic. – phillysoccerpage.net

I might need to update my isolated pitches list. – inbedwithmaradona.com

Ole Gunnar Solskjær is so meta. - kckrs.com

Club president quits post to take the pitch… and score. - eluniverso.com
Warning: Spanish.

If you’ve got $20 to burn, why not learn to design kits. – skillshare.com

on the downward slope

Barcelona: the most popular club on the planet these days. Wayne Rooney: one of the most popular players on the planet these days. Unrelated as they might be, surveying the metaphorical terrains in which they currently find themselves in, it’s awfully easy to get confused where both club and player are going at this point in time.

Barcelona fall short in Milan

the only thing worse than another defeat to milan for barcelona? those god awful tequila sunrise kits.

Charting their success over the last few years, the blaugrana have looked permanently perched to the top of the highest peak imaginable in the club game. No other club can claim to have had such a great stretch. Barça’s run of unbelievable sustained success has been experienced by few — if any — clubs in the modern era, and is only rivaled by that of their greatest foes to the North in the late 1950′s. Two Club World Cups, Champions League winners thrice over, five La Liga titles and a pair of Copa del Rey’s only tell half the story, as they’ve also been to four European semifinals and a handful of others as well. So when they’re not winning it all, they’ve at least been in the running.

Likewise, Wayne Rooney has been at or around the pinnacle of the English and footballing worlds for quite some time. He’s been a virtual lock as a starter at United since 2004, has been an integral part of four Premier League titles, a Champions League title, and a Club World Cup title, not to mention a bevy of individual awards to bolster his trophy cabinet. He’s been the centerpiece upon which Sir Alex Ferguson built his Manchester United squad, and the same can be said about England.

But in what is undoubtedly a mere coincidence, both Barcelona and Rooney have experienced a bad couple of weeks. Following three unsettled defeats from four from Barcelona, and a curiously turbulent and dramatic season for Rooney, I’ve begun to wonder if both of their times at the top of the game might be drawing to a conclusion.

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ten words or less #64

christmas soccer

what… this isn’t how you celebrate your christmas every year?

No matter what your beliefs, as the oft-played song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. But while most might label it as such because of the presents, the family gatherings or the excessive amount of eating and drinking that often accompanies the holiday season, my reasoning is a little different: football, football and more football. Between three full sets of match days in a fortnight and the upcoming January transfer window, there’s enough soccer on tap to feed the needs of even the most ardent footie fanatic.

So to help kick things off, I’ve prepared my latest TWOL posts to help get you in the mood for the insanity.

Most leagues put up nets to protect fans, not players. – bbc.co.uk

Should we start sounding the death knell for GolTV? – philly.com

Lone Udinese fan travels to Sampdoria, shown excellent time. – football-italia.net

“The oldest extant professional U.S. soccer footage.” – freebeermovement.com

Apparently, Neymar has a thing for Disney princesses. – dirtytackle.net

The reasons behind Timmy Chandler’s USMNT indecision. – inbedwithmaradona.com

This might explain some of the shit writing on Goal.com. – guardian.co.uk

Get me this, and I might start drinking hard liquor. – theoriginalwinger.com

Who’s better: EPL or La Liga? It’s not even close. – blog.paddypower.com

This kid is… what’s the word… deluded. – reddit.com/soccer

domino effect

January: the month where a million writers, bloggers, newspapers and websites get more eyeballs on their works than any other.

the under-utilized sturridge might be gifted a move to liverpool, but the effect of his move will ripple far beyond the premier league.

Thanks to its winter transfer window, and the plethora of the rumors of potential player moves that come with it, January is a writer’s best friend. Pick up the scent of a rumor without a credible source, spin it however you like, publish, and then sit back and let it run. It’s no secret that fans, desperate for a turn in fortunes or a continuation of success, will read anything that gives them hope. Knowing that gives publishers the impetus to pump out as much rubbish each January as your average American couch potato produces in a year.

But as the case is with many rumors, there’s often a little truth in each supposition. It might not be anything too concrete. However, that doesn’t mean that a club didn’t make an inquiry, an agent didn’t talk to potential suitors, or a player isn’t slightly unsettled.

So when I read rumors of Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge potentially moving to Liverpool in a few weeks’ time, I knew I should take it with a massive grain of salt. After all, Sturridge represents exactly one half of Chelsea’s strike force. And though the £50 million Fernando Torres’ impotence isn’t as bad as advertised, the club selling of their only other option up front seems an incredibly risky move. Not even trigger-happy Roman Abramovich would pull off that kind of move without some kind of back up plan.

And it’s that backup plan which I find to be the most fascinating aspect of the January transfer window: the domino effect a single transfer can have on the rest of the professional game’s clubs across the world.

Let’s assume for a second that Liverpool do end up buying Sturridge from Chelsea, leaving the Blues short-changed and necessitating the purchase of another forward. Conveniently, Chelsea have been consistently linked to Radamel Falcao, the Colombian scoring machine currently pouring in the goals for Atlético Madrid. But just as Chelsea would be left shorthanded after Sturridge’s departure, Atlético would also need to fill Falcao’s sizable shoes if he’s shipped out. But where would Los Rojiblancos turn?

The rumor mill keeps on churning, hypothesizing that Atlético would look to buy names like Manchester United’s Chicharito, Napoli’s Edison Cavani, or even Liverpool’s Luis Suárez. Whether there’s any truth in any of those rumors is a bit beyond my reach. But at the same time, if any of those moves did come to fruition, the dominoes would begin to fall all over again.

Atletico's Radamel Falcao

falcao is likely to end up chelsea even without sturridge’s departure, but that mean’s his current side will need to replace him, too.

In the case of Napoli, Cavani has long seemed destined for a move abroad. But the Uruguayan’s departure would mean the Neapolitans‘ would be left with only two recognized strikers in their squad. Manchester United could stomach Chicharito’s departure, but you would have to imagine that Sir Alex wouldn’t be happy to rely on just Danny Wellbeck, an untested Ángelo Henríquez, and an unfancied Federico Macheda to back up his dynamic duo. And Liverpool, where this entire domino effect started, would   again be down to two strikers if they let Luis depart for pastures anew. Meaning they would again be fored to dip into the transfer market or be faced with the same issue that’s troubled them in the first half of this season.

And regardless of which guy ends up replacing whatever player eventually leaves any club,  the dominos will keep up on falling all the way down the line. A perfect representation of the butterfly effect, if I’ve ever seen one.

Of course, all of this is dependent upon what player moves where. And it’s quite possible that none of the above will hold true. But rest assured, players will move this January, and the media will spin out more rumors than any of us could ever take in. Just don’t go placing your hopes on any of them until you see a new player holding your team’s shirt and smiling wide for the cameras. Otherwise, your sanity will likely be the last domino to fall.

crisis management

Chelsea Fans Want Rafa Out

if you’ve only been in the job for a few days, and fans are already holding up signs like these… you might just find yourself in a managerial crisis.

The midpoint of the European season is often one of the most jam-packed, chaotic and turbulent portions of the yearly footballing calendar. Between the January transfer window, scheduling congestion between all of the major competitions — especially in England where there is not a winter break — and under performing clubs starting to realize that there’s hardly any time to left in the season to really turn their seasons around, the pressure mounting on some clubs and their managers often reaches a fever pitch.

Of course, the media love this time of year for just those reasons. It allows them the ability to not only fabricate report on stories concerning transfer speculation, but also pounce all over clubs who’s managers they feel aren’t able to control the crisis currently enveloping their clubs. Determining whether the agendas those media types are pushing are genuinely those of club’s or their fans’, however, can be a very difficult task. How are we, as media consumers, supposed to really know what’s going on?

Well, we can’t. But it sure can be fun to speculate. So with that in mind, below are listed five managers that the media have deemed to be currently in the hot seat at their respective clubs. For each, we’ll attempt to sift through all of the BS surrounding their situations, and predict a fate for each of these under pressure managers.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger

wenger certainly won’t ever admit he’s feeling the pressure, but i think we can all tell he is.

The Situation: Of all the managers that the media are reporting to be in troubled situations at their clubs, as a Spurs supporter, Wenger’s crisis is the one in which I take the most joy. And though the “Professor” has been able to perform admirably on his shoestring transfer budget over the last few years, eight years without a major trophy appears to have rubbed the Gunners’ faithful the wrong way. Sure, sporadic calls for his head echoed around the Emirates in recent seasons, but those calls have grown louder and louder as time has worn on. With just one win in their last four, the discontent within their ranks finally boiled over in last weekend’s loss to Swansea with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing!” audible even through the television. Wenger’s response? Despite languishing all the way down in 10th in the league table: “This club is in fantastic shape.” Delusional, much?

Crisis Level: 4 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: Despite the malcontent amongst their fans, Arsenal will at least stick with Wenger through the end of the year. Probably longer. Because while the fans are in an uproar, the club’s administration are perfectly content to keep selling off their best players and turning a profit… with or without trophies.

Carlo Ancelotti (Paris Saint-Germain)

“wait, you say that i am the one under pressure?”

The Situation: Despite outspending everyone in France by a country mile over the last few seasons, PSG and Ancelotti currently find themselves sitting second in the Ligue 1 table and facing mounting pressure. Big money signing and footballing anti-hero Zlatan Imbrahimović has come good for the Parisians, but the fact that he accounts for an astounding 54% of their goal tally in the league is immensely troubling for a side that also boasts attacking talents like Ezequiel Lavezzi, Maxwell and Javier Pastore. But as you might predict, Carlo has barely arched his super brow at the issue. “Things are going to change, because they’re not normal right now. The league isn’t finished. We’ll be competitive soon.”

Crisis Level: 5 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: With an ownership group that’s proven quick to pull the trigger on firing a coach (just ask Antoine Kombouaré), and oodles of money to attract a top manager, Ancelotti shouldn’t feel that comfortable at the moment. If results remain stagnant, expect PSG to make a change.

Martin O’Neill (Sunderland)

Sunderland's Martin O'Neill

considering his sunderland side’s current form, martin is justified in having that nervous look on his face

The Situation: For a man known for getting the most out of clubs without a lot of financial backing, O’Neill hasn’t been able to reproduce his successes at Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light. And with one less win in his first 24 matches in charge than his predecessor Steve Bruce had in the same span, not to mention the Black Cats currently sitting in the relegation zone, pressure must surely be mounting for the club to dispatch Northern Irishman. With just one win in their last 10 outings, time could be running out for O’Neill to save his hide. And a general rule of thumb is that any time you have to refute rumors of your own resignation, things aren’t going very well for you.

Crisis Level: 8 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: Sunderland’s ownership find themselves in a precarious situation: while O’Neill isn’t producing the desired results, who exactly are they going to replace him with? There aren’t exactly a number of managers in the market that have experience in rescuing clubs embroiled in relegation scraps. Mark Hughes is available, but he seems more apt to placing clubs in relegation battles than he is at getting clubs out of them. I’d doubt they would fancy another round of Roy Keane. And unfortunately, Roberto Di Matteo seems out of their reach. So with options limited, it seems Sunderland might just be stuck with O’Neill for the time being.

José Mourinho (Real Madrid)

Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho

is mourinho feeling madrid burnout?

The Situation: The Bernabéu is a tough office environment, even for a manager known for his mental fortitude like the Special One. Not only are Real Madrid’s fans fickle and demanding, but the club’s history tells us their board and presidents are too. If you thought sacking managers after winning the Champions League was something invented by Roman Abramovich, Real were at it a decade before the revolving door was installed at Stamford Bridge. And with José’s men already 11 points adrift of bitter rivals Barcelona, pressure is mounting on the Portuguese manager’s shoulders.

Crisis Level: 4 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: While winning the league and maintaining pace with their Catalunyan foes is important, the reason why Mourinho was brought it was to help Madrid win their long-sought 10th European crown. And while doing so would most certainly save his job, the odd thing is that he’s likely to leave even if he does win his third European Cup… on his own accord. Just as he did at Porto and Inter, José would probably fancy going out on top. But should he not achieve that goal, he’ll probably abort this project and move on to another, too.

Rafa Benítez (Chelsea)

Chelsea's Rafa Benitez

one look at rafa’s face, and you can tell he knows his days at chelsea are numbered.

The Situation: I saw a quote the other day describing the managerial situation at Chelsea that was pretty interesting. Five managers have won the Champions League in the last six years: Chelsea have fired three of them (Mourinho, Ancelotti and Di Matteo), and the other two (Ferguson and Guardiola) don’t want to manager for them. Benítez, a man who’s won one himself, had to have known that going in, right? And he also had to have known that the Chelsea fans hated him. And with this expensively assembled Chelsea side struggling to handle the high expectations being placed on them, Rafa had to have known the timing was bad, too. I get that a man may like a challenge, but at the same time, taking over the reigns at this point in Chelsea’s chaotic history seemed more like a suicide mission.

Crisis Level: 7 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: This one is the easiest outcome to predict by a landslide. Abramovich will fire Benítez. When that will happen is little less easy to predict, but knowing how fickle and trigger happy their Russian oligarch is, another loss for the Blues could just do the trick. But let’s be clear… it is going to happen. Just give it time.