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

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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.

where are you putting your money?

The money in professional football these days is just silly. Though never as pure or untainted as some might lead you to believe, the meteoric increase in investment in the game has seen the bank accounts of many a player, club and owner swell tremendously.

Manchester United Opening Bell at the NYSE

manchester united had the red carpet rolled out for them on the day their shares started trading on the NYSE.

But comprehending just how much money is flowing through the veins and arteries of professional football these days is sometimes a difficult task. So why don’t we put some of these numbers in terms that might make them slightly more relatable for the average reader.

Take for instance the average weekly salary at big spending Manchester City, a sizable $138,117… or more than twice what your average two person household earns in the UK in a year. At oligarch-funded Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala, 31-year-old striker Samuel Eto’o will be earning nearly $29 million this season — or the equivalent of 16,201,117 Doritos Locos tacos. And just this last summer, Premier League sides spent a combined $784 million on player transfers — or roughly 1,571,142 iPads. Okay, so maybe those weren’t figures that are easier to understand, but you have to admit the money is pretty staggering.

Unfortunately, most of this investment that’s been drawn into the game is increasingly concentrated in its upper echelons. While the titans of club football have used this increase in funding to evolve into multimillion dollar, international corporations, legions of smaller clubs are rife with financial problems as they try to compete with the increased wages and transfer sums being offered by their wealthier peers. Even those who have previously seen prosperity have been left behind or have mismanaged their fortunes, leaving them ruined: just ask fans of Rangers, Portsmouth and more or less every club in Spain. For every well-to-do club PSG, there are probably twenty clubs struggling to keep their heads above water. The rich have gotten richer, while the poor have gotten poorer… football imitating life once again.

Real Oviedo's Estadio Carlos Tartiere

one of the clubs struggling is spain’s segunda b side real oviedo. and without proper investment, their estadio carlos tartiere will be always looks this empty.

So when two clubs recently announced the ability for the public to buy shares and pump even more money into football, it definitely caught my eye.

The first offering came from around a month or so ago, when Manchester United’s American owner Malcom Glazer floated shares in the club on the New York Stock Exchange (symbol: MANU). After the news broke, I started furiously composing a post outlining the reasons why I thought investing stock in the Red Devils would be a really poor decision. Here was the wealthiest club in the world asking fans to purchase shares in United simply to service the debt saddled on the club by Glazer’s own takeover at Old Trafford in 2005. Not only that, but the shares themselves are nearly worthless B-class shares that feature zero voting rights and the same amount of dividends. Oh, and at the time of writing, they’re currently trading at $12.94 — down nearly 8% since their opening discounted price.

Contrast that with the current offering from Spanish third division side Real Oviedo. If you’re not familiar with the team, odds are you have probably heard of some of their academy graduates such as Juan Mata and Santi Cazorla. And though they were playing in the Primera as recently as the 2001, the Asturian side has plummeted through the Spanish footballing pyramid over the last decade thanks to numerous fiscal set backs. Oviedo’s financial situation became so dire this season that, if unable able to raise €2.5 million in back-owed taxes and player wages, the club would be forced into liquidation by the equally financially obtuse Spanish government. So much like United, the Carbayones decided to appeal to fans to buy stock to raise capital. The major difference being that they were doing so to stave off extinction, not just lower interest payments so the owners can turn a larger profit each year.

Now let’s be honest, buying either Manchester United or Real Oviedo stock is really less of an investment and much more of a donation. The likelihood of seeing a return on either is highly unlikely, meaning you’re pretty much kissing your money goodbye. And though the ability to trade and sell your Manchester United stock will likely be significantly easier, it’s unlikely to see massive gains anytime soon either.

Real Oviedo Stock Certificate

$14.63 landed you a single share in real oviedo stock.

So as a potential football investor — putting aside club allegiance — it really comes down to where you want to put your money. Do you want it put into corporate football or sustaining football?

Without the money raised by selling stock, Real Oviedo will cease to be. That means a community of 224,000 will be left without a local professional football club to support week in and week out, and an academy that’s produced dazzling players will close its doors. Meanwhile without the money raised by offering their shares, Manchester United will continue to challenge for trophies annually. And that means millions of fans around the world will continue to watch the Red Devils play week in and week out. They might not be breaking the bank to sign top-level players like their city neighbors without it, so they’ll have to still bargain buy a “decent” player like Robin van Persie from time to time.

It may not be the most financially sound decision, but I know where I’d put my money. And it’s certainly not in the pockets of the Glazers.

ronaldo’s real sadness

It’s been a rough start for a few of Europe’s mega clubs this season. Manchester United have a decent record, but they’ve had some really shaky displays. PSG, despite their lavish spending, have only been able to muster one win and three draws in their first four matches. Liverpool are off to their worst start in a half century… though that’s actually becoming fairly regular for them these days.

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo

mr. moody pants doesn’t want to tell anyone who he’s mad at… but he does want everyone to know he’s mad.

Even Real Madrid failed to earn their first 3-pointer of the league season until this past weekend, thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo brace. And while you normally might expect this to be plenty of cause for joy and celebration from the Portuguese attacker… today, that was definitely not the case.

Following Ronaldo’s 25th minute opener in the 3-0 win over Granada — a fantastic, no-angle nutmeg on the keeper — he rounded his run and slowly trotted back towards the half line, completely expressionless. He embraced the few teammates that come to see him straight-faced, though he did reserve a small smile and wave up to Irina and Junior in the stands. A similar lack of celebration came after his second goal, even prompting the announcers to make mention of his lack of reaction.

So in the post match interviews, the press predictably wanted to know what was up. Ronnie’s response, however, raised even more eyebrows:

“The people know the reasons why I didn’t celebrate the goals. I don’t do so when I am feeling sadness. It was due to a professional motive. The appropriate people inside the club know why I’m sad. I won’t say anything more.”

Ummm… what?

So we know Cris is upset for some sort of “professional” reasons with Real Madrid officials. But as you might expect, protesting one’s own goals and cryptic post-match quotes don’t really tell us who he’s sad with or why he sad with them.

That doesn’t mean we can’t guess them though.

So having analyzed his celebrations, and scrutinizing his explanation, I’ve developed my top five hypotheses why Cristiano Ronaldo might be feeling “professional” “sadness” with Real Madrid.

Sad Cristiano Ronaldo

this is the face of sadness.

  1. Though they understand and appreciate his desire to upkeep his appearance, club officials have mandated that Ronaldo is no longer to tan any longer than 3 hours per day, as his oily skin might stain their brilliant white shirts.
  2. Director of Football Zinedine Zidane told Ronaldo it wasn’t an “injustice” that he didn’t get to take a penalty against Spain in this summer’s Euros, “especially when you probably chose to go fifth… like an idiot.”
  3. Not feeling as loved as he would like by his teammates, Ronaldo insisted everyone should give him a hug before and after each training session, match and team event. When everyone refused to do so, he reportedly mumbled something about how “Mancini would make everyone at City hug him” as he stormed out the locker room door.
  4. The current holder of the los blancos famous #7 shirt was enraged when the club refused to sign his son, the two-year old Cristiano Jr., to a professional contract with the Real Madrid reserves.
  5. Having lost out on the 2012 UEFA Player of the Year award to Andrés Iniesta, Cristiano convinces himself that the only way he’ll be assured of finishing ahead of the Barcelona players for all of those awards he truly deserves, is to become a Barça player himself. Unsurprisingly, Madrid presidente Florentino Pérez rejected Ronaldo’s idea of selling him to their dreaded rivals outright.

Are any of these the real reasons Ronaldo is salty with the Real Madrid brass? Only Ronaldo and those “appropriate people inside the club” truly know the answers to that question. And until he decides he wants to be a little more forthcoming during his interviews — or perhaps reveal an undershirt with a direct complaint screened on it after his next goal — then we’ll all have to remain in the dark.

ten words or less #56

Wrong Side of the Pond's Subbuteo for The Football Attic

feeling important these days, thanks to the boys over at the football attic taking a fancy to the subbuteo figure i submitted their “league of blogs” project.

The Euros are over, thus ending a three-week stretch where I’ve felt like I have been drowning in football. I mean, I’ve been seeing matches when I sleep… far more than normal, at least. I needed a break, which is something I never thought I’d say about the game. But the headlines just keep rolling out, as if I had forgotten that the world of soccer never sleeps, takes breaks, or allows me to catch up with the rest of my life.

I mean just some of the headlines that caught my attention, and probably deserve an article of their own. Thanks to an epic final, Spain have officially entered G.O.A.T. territory. Transfer madness is in full swing: big names already on the move, others look to be doing so soon, and – GHASP!!! — Spurs are even getting in on some early action.

So as I put the finishing touches on about four different articles, I figured I could pacify you readers with another edition of TWOL. And if that sounds like a raw deal to you, I’m sorry… but you’re going to need to deal with it.

I made the Football Attics League of Blogs top 3! - twitter.com

Ever wonder how MLS sides utilize statistical analysis? – mlssoccer.com

Brazilian side Vitoria have a bloody brilliant kit promotion. Literally. – 101greatgoals.com

Who wouldn’t watch a late night TV hosted by Crouchy? – givemefootball.com

Why the international game lags tactically behind the club game. – newstatesman.com

Spanish B sides up for promotion are causing massive issues. – inbedwithmaradona.com

If all holds true, the Colorado Rapids are disgraceful. – prostamerika.com

Everything you wanted to know more about Italy’s kit font. – designboom.com

Never underestimate the combined power of the internet and idiots. – dirtytackle.net

Gyan is a text book case for “lack of ambition”. – theoriginalwinger.com

handle with care

Everyone knows that players aren’t invincible. Nearly every match you watch will feature at least one player limping/strechered off with some sort of injury, and a quick glance at the weekly physio report from around the Premier League will confirm as much. Some are severe, requiring lengthy rehabilitation spells, while others are simple knocks that only keep them out of action for the rest of the match.

Aston Villa Support Stan Petrov

before this season, you didn't often hear of players having major medical issues. this year, they're damn near omnipresent.

Oddly though, these expected injuries seem to enrage us. How can they get hurt so often, when it’s their job to stay fit?

This unrealistic expectation normally boils to the surface whenever a player falls victim to repeated injury blights. Think of all the ridicule leveled at Arsenal’s Robin van Persie during his extended and repetitive injury spells over the last few years. Fans and media members alike skewered the Dutchman for glass-like fragility, even throwing him to the wolves when he sought out alternative – albeit an odd alternative — methods for finally getting healthy.

However, injuries that result from playing or occur during training are expected parts of the modern game, especially considering the congested fixture calendars and pre-season tours that players are subjected to these days. Ultimately, they annoy us, but there’s no possible way we can completely eradicate them from the sport.

What isn’t expected, though, are illnesses that fall outside the realm of football. Yes, we’ve grown accustomed to a player picking up an injury from time to time. But the news of a player being diagnosed with potentially life-threatening disease always seems to catch us by surprise. Which is odd, because the same thing happens to us “commoners” all the time.

Modern professionals are already blessed with speed, strength and athleticism that the average fan could only dream of having. With so many perceived “superhuman” qualities, we can be forgiven for believing our on-pitch heroes should also be immune to the ailments that trouble normal folk.

Unfortunately, this season we’ve seen that isn’t exactly the case..

Barcelona's Eric Abidal Scar

abidal had to go under the knife a second time to treat his liver cancer. hopefully they at least gave him a matching scar on the right... you know, because aesthetics are important.

Milan’s Antonio Cassano suffered a stroke on a return flight after a match, thanks to a small hole found in his heart. Manchester United’s Darren Fletcher was diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease, which has kept him out of action since November. Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov was unexpectedly forced to retire from the game after he was diagnosed with acute leukemia. Barcelona’s Éric Abidal had to have a liver transplant last week after it was determined that an earlier surgery to remove a tumor was unsuccessful. Fabrice Muamba’s heart stopped and didn’t beat on its own for over an hour after he collapsed on the White Hart Lane pitch.  And then just last week there was the tragic passing of Livorno’s Piermario Morosini, who also suffered a massive heart attack mid-match.

With such a high number of major medical problems plaguing the game in such a short time span, you can’t help but suddenly feel alarmed for the players. You wonder things like “Is playing soccer make an inherently dangerous to a player’s health?” I mean I still play a significant amount myself, so in the interest in self-preservation, I should also probably ask “Am I at risk?”

Luckily, the players are asking themselves the same questions.

The day after Muamba’s cardiac arrest, the entire Tottenham playing staff demanded to have heart evaluations. A natural response given the circumstances, though it was alarming to learn that such exams aren’t regular requirements for professional players. Considering how much is invested in them, you would’ve thought that the clubs would want to protect those investments a little more proactively. But in most cases — outside of the medical conducted upon a player’s initial signing — they’re rarely ever put through any cardiac testing or check-ups. Which is even more odd, because this isn’t a new battle that players have just recently begun to fight.

Former Manchester City and Lyon midfielder Marc-Vivien Foe died on pitch during the Confederations Cup in 2003. Sevilla winger Antonio Puerta died three days after a series of on field heart attacks in 2007, and was followed several months later by Motherwell skipper Phil O’Donnell. Espanyol captain Daniel Jarque was also lost to a heart attack, though his occurred after hours during preseason in 2009. There have been some near misses, too. Rubén de la Red, a promising Real Madrid prospect, was forced to retire two years ago thanks to a heart condition that saw him collapse during a 2008 Copa del Rey match. Or how about young Belgian Anthony Van Loo being shocked back to life by his implanted defibrillator in this shocking 2009 video:

Look, we all know that playing the beautiful game is a physically taxing activity, and that it puts increased strain on our hearts and lungs. For most of us it’s a good thing, and we could probably all stand to get more of that kind of activity. But for the professionals that are out there each day in training and match days, that can be a lot of cumulative stress.  Darren Fletcher’s bowel issues are also thought to be the partially cause of stress — both physical and emotional — and could necessitate surgery to remove his colon. I’m no doctor, but I would have to think that the prevalence of such traumatic health problems should at least be cause for looking into the how stress is affecting players’ bodies.

The general assumption is that players are stretched too thin due to the number of games the modern game demands. Ideally, we would roll back the number of games they’re expected play. But in a world where the thirst for top flight football is growing exponentially — meaning there’s money to be made if matches are played — that’s not remotely possible.

Even if we’re not going to be rolling back the playing time expectations, I think an important Plan B would be for clubs to at least take a greater interest in the health of their players. If regular exams and physicals aren’t the norm, they should be. You would expect that regular heart screenings, stress tests, and general physical exams would be the bare essentials for a sport where fitness is so pivotal. And while it’s highly unlikely that Abidal’s or Petrov’s ailments are the result of football-induced stress, perhaps if the players were subjected to more frequent medical screenings, earlier diagnoses could have been made.

Chelsea's Eva Carneiro

i promise that i'm not abdicating more medical presence in football just so i can see more of eva carneiro.

And if all of these are things that do happen on the regular, could someone tell us about it? Otherwise we fans feel like we’re being left in the dark, thinking that the players have to resort to visiting Serbian witch doctors for crackpot placental treatments.

Regardless of the treatment they’re receiving, it’s not all gloom and doom when it comes to player health these days. Muamba was just released from hospital following his extended stay. Post heart surgery, Cassano recently returned to action for Milan and has been given a clean bill of health by his doctors. And even Salvador Cabañas, a player who was shot in the head nearly two years ago, has defied the odds and returned to playing in his native Paraguay.

If nothing else, these small miracles are enough to give courage and strength to those other players currently suffering with such issues. But we also can’t forget that these players are far more fragile than they appear, and major medical procedures are far from an exact science. Quick fixes will do nothing but conceal the problem that lies underneath. Player health needs more attention — plain and simple — and we’ll only have ourselves to blame if another youngster is lost because everyone simply assumes that professional athletes are in prefect health.

ten words or less #51

The New 2012 USA Nike Kits... now with hoops.

in all the hullabaloo yesterday', i somehow missed the USMNT/USWNT kit announcement... we were long overdue for making the same kit for both teams, though i'm still not sold on the hoops.

With the dust having settled after yesterday’s epic announcement, I wanted to extend welcome to all of the new readers who were lucky kind enough to stumble across WSOTP over the last 48 hours. The Cult of Rolfe extends far and wide, and I’ve been mightily impressed at the speed and distance by which they’re able to spread information… you lot had Soccer by Ives tweeting and Taylor Twellman re-tweeting my link within an hour of posting. Stellar work.

Hopefully some of you will stick around to see what else the blog has in store… and maybe disseminate my writing a bit further. But just as I warned on Twitter yesterday, if you’re expecting this space to be inundated solely with Rolfe/Fire news… you might end up a bit disappointed.

Anyway, thanks again for stopping by the blog — whatever your reason — and as a reward just for you, enjoy some of my ten favorite links from the last week.

Solid Euro 2012 infographic to help build the excitement. – betting-guru.com

The official song of Sir Alex Ferguson’s mindgames. – fitbathatba.com

Facepalm Level: Infinity. Worst idea ever to fix US soccer. – businessinsider.com

I need the brown ones, but I want the rest. – nikeinc.com

The only way you could get me to play golf. – golfoot.ch (warning: French)

Spurs vs. Norwich… through the lens of a crack pipe. – dearmrlevy.com

The new Houston Dynamo stadium looks drool worthy.
- youtube.com/houstondynamovideos

Puyol gets his face stapled mid match, like a man. – dirtytackle.net

The Predator line just made a major left turn. – soccerbible.com

An honest look at the urgency for goal line technology. – theseventytwo.com

ten words or less #50

real madrid's cristiano ronaldo showing off his leg

there's been no word yet on whether cristiano will have to cover up his oily thighs when visiting madrid's new island resort in the UAE.

We’ve finally made it to the half century mark for my TWOL series. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure if I should be celebrating that milestone, seeing as how the series exists simply because I’m a blogger who is too lazy to write his own original content all the time.

Admittedly, I’ve been a bit stretched lately due to an increased workload in my real world job, and moonlighting as a guest blogger on some other sites. But that’s no reason to ignore this space, so my deepest apologies if you’re feeling neglected. I do have some pretty interesting original content in the pipeline for you… though the ten links below will have to suffice as I continue to fine tune the new posts for the limelight.

See WSOTP (#11) on The Football Attic’s “League of Blogs”. – thefootballattic.com

Liverpool has Pinterest: not shocking considering how soft they’ve played. – pinterest.com

We need this in the U.S. far more than the UK. - soccerlens.com

Have you ever wanted to control Arsene’s Swedish dance moves? - fuldans.se

Why MLS should avoid foreigners with a long wrap sheet. – soccerbyives.com

Real builds $1b resort, removes logo’s cross to appease locals. – dirtytackle.net

Your side can’t score? Remind them where the goal is. – 101greatgoals.com

For nerds only: Kit Supplier statistics from around Europe. –  sportundmarkt.com
(warning: PDF download link)

Ronaldo vs Nadal: part of me wishes this was real. - youtube.com/NikeFootball

Pardew likens Ben Arfa to Messi… a.k.a “a stretch”. – bbc.co.uk

this is bigger than one man

For a long time, I’ve tried my best to avoid the entire “Greatest of All Time” debate. The discussion of anointing any one player as the world’s best ever player is extremely polarizing, so much so that I’ve literally seen a fist fight between friends break out while arguing over the matter. If a mere discussion among friends can lead to such drama, you better believe I’m going to bypass writing down a permanent decision that strangers will have access to and use to judge me in the future.

Lionel Messi of Barcelona

after the performance against bayer leverkusen, leo's practically been anointed by many as the next messiah.

But thanks to Lionel Messi’s recent five-goal performance against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League Round of 16, the subject has been thrust back to the forefront. And yet as monumental as Leo’s achievement was, I still hesitate to venture down that path.

Part of my reasoning for wanting to avoid the matter is personal. Though I harbor no emotional connections to the two players in the current era that most often get dragged into the discussion (Cristiano Ronaldo being the other) I realize that my fondness for Real Madrid likely skews my objectivity. Despite both players putting up numbers so insane that it actually justifies a subscription fee to Opta stats to properly comprehend them, my inherent desire — as a fan, mind you — is to dislike Barcelona players and favor Real’s. Throw in the insecurities caused by a decade of second-fiddle status in the rivalry between Madrid and Barça, and you can see why I fear the discussion from a supporter’s perspective.

But the other, more important reason I’ve avoided entering the “world’s greatest ever player” debate is because I think it’s a pretty pointless discussion to begin with.

Firstly, it’s just not possible to accurately compare players from different eras. The game changes so much from one to the next, both through rules changes and tactical evolution, that it’s hard to say whether a player player was truly great, or just played in a generally weaker generation. Nevermind that there’s not really enough footage of some of the older players in consideration (Pelé and Alfredo di Stefano) to adequately compare them on video evidence alone.

Secondly, the wide adoption and rise of professionalism across globe has also raised the bar for greatness in recent times. In the past, being a dedicated professional or being exceptionally fast or strong could give you a leg up on a competition which included players regularly boozing it up the night before matches and/or partaking in a halftime smoke. But in modern football, the playing field has leveled because everyone is fit… with only a few of the partiers straggling along into modern times. So until someone figures out that whole time travel thing, there’s just no way we would know until we had them playing on the same pitch.

Pele, Maradona and Cruyff in the DeLorean

the only way we'd be able to figure out who was the best ever is if doc diego and johan mcfly pick up pelé and come back to the future.

Pretending for a second that Doc Brown’s manipulated DeLorean wasn’t just a figment of a plotline from a drawn out 80′s movie series, let’s imagine we would be able to fetch those other players and bring them back in their primes to face up against today’s best defenses.

Even then, I just don’t know that’s entirely possible to consider all of the variables to accurately assess what makes one player greater than the next at that level. Highlight reels, goal tallies and trophy cabinets only tell us a portion of the story about a player’s greatness. Numerous other intangibles need to be considered to differentiate them from one another. What kind of teammate was/is he? How good were/are his teammates? Was/is he a leader? What kind of impact did/will he have on the game? Et cetera, et cetera.

To put it simply, I think labeling a player as the G.O.A.T. is a pretty subjective conversation. There’s too much to consider, and even if you could, the rose-tinting from observing the game through the lenses of a fan might still taint the decision.

Naming just one player is too precise of a task for the human mind to undertake. It’s not as if each player that’s ever been discussed as a potential best ever candidate has played the exact same way. Diego Maradona, Pelé, or Johan Cruyff all played at that level, but each had their own style and unique gifts which we used to categorize them as “the best”. Just the same, each had his own shortcomings. It’s part of the beauty of the game that there’s no defined template or mold in which a player has to fit to be considered special.

And the thing we all seem to take for granted in the (somewhat) ongoing debate as to who’s the best player in the world — or ever for that matter — is that some generations come and go without producing a player that can even enter the discussion. So as we squabble with one another over who’s the best, we miss the out on the fact that not only do we have a player that’s capable of joining the penultimate pantheon playing at this time… we actually have two.

There’s really no question anymore as to whether or not Messi will join the top pantheon of players. The pint-sized Argentine has given us plenty of reason to contemplate using his name alongside the best ever, and his five goal performance last week underlines that fact.

But if we’re using numbers alone to make that call, at the rate Ronaldo is putting up goals himself, he’s has to at least be in line for consideration too, right? And even if he’s doesn’t end up sitting with the exclusive group at the top, at bare minimum you’d have to place him in the rung just below along with greats such as Ferenc Puskás, Eusébio, Zinedine Zidane, Michel Platini, Franz Beckenbauer and Garrincha.

ronaldo and messi

both of these men are amazing players. shouldn't that be enough?

It’s almost as if they’re two sides to the same coin, each the antithesis of the other. One is pale, the other is tan. Leo is small and stocky, while Cristiano is tall and athletic. Ronaldo is known for his tricks, flash and power, while Messi is known for his vision, touch and poise. Even when looking at their personalities, they’re polar opposites: Leo’s calm, quiet and reserved, while Ronaldo is emotional, egotistical and flamboyant.

Depending on how you look at the discussion, you could even say that Messi’s greatness has been partially driven by Ronaldo’s own ambition to be the best. Though neither would probably ever admit it, the pair undoubtedly push themselves to improve upon the other’s amazing performances — though Ronnie normally proves as much by shooting 800 shots-per-game the day after Leo drops a hat-trick. The best comparison of such a phenomenon is the way that Larry Bird and Magic Johnson pushed one another in the NBA during the 80′s… two fantastically talented rivals repeatedly shoving one another towards greatness.

Would we be able to truly admire and appreciate each of these great players without having the other to compare him against? I’d venture to say yes, but I doubt our understanding of their greatness wouldn’t be as deep without the contrast between the two. I just feel privileged enough to have been here to witness such a rare, dual occurrence of such talented players.

Bottom line and regardless of which player you want to crown as the best, remember that in 20 years we’ll most likely have another player — one unlike we’ve ever seen — who will capture our imaginations and cause us to ponder the great debate all over again. And if we’re really lucky, we’ll get two.