cat and mouse

My email inbox blew up yesterday, a multitude of emails from concerned and inquisitive friends filling it up several times throughout the day. They all asked about the same thing: how was I handling the news? And while the news of the passing of one America’s foremost innovators was the headline story of the day, that wasn’t the story to which my friends wanted to hear my reaction.

cesc fabregas in puma gear

the cat is out of the bag: cesc has jumped ship for puma.

No, they were all much more concerned with hearing my thoughts about Cesc Fàbregas’ traitorous, out-of-the-blue switch from Nike to Puma. Riveting, right?

Some in the boot-obsessed corners of the game are calling Puma’s capture of Cesc “one of the biggest brand transfers in football history”. Personally, I think that’s a bit sensationalist: Thierry Henry leaving Nike for Reebok in 2006 was a much bigger bombshell (Although ironically, Henry just signed on with Puma too.). But it’s still a massive move by a brand that’s been losing ground to industry leaders Adidas and Nike for years, as well as to upstarts UnderArmour.

So, what was my reaction to one of my favorite players leaving one of my favorite brands?

Admittedly, it was a bit hard to swallow at first. After all, my choice in boots has mirrored Cesc’s almost identically over the last few years. I’d argue that this wasn’t a conscious decision on my part, but I’m not entirely sure that’s true. But from the Tiempo Legend II’s through to both models of the CTR360’s, I feel like I formed a(n obviously non-existent) bond with my idol by way of our common footwear. And now that he was leaving Nike, I foolishly felt a bit betrayed and hurt.

Though, after seeing his first promotional picture for Puma — the awkward picture from the top of the post that makes him look a bit out-of-place in their digs — I did feel a bit more vindicated in my feelings. Then I remembered that Cesc jumping off the Nike boot train doesn’t mean that I have to, too. And then I remembered that none of this is really that important.

But, it did make me wonder why a player like Fàbregas — one of the elite players on the planet — would ditch a lucrative sponsorship with a deep-pocketed, innovative, industry leader to join forces with a company that appears on the wane.

To Nike, Cesc might have been the lead athlete on their CTR360 line of boots, but there are also a small herd of other stars that rock the same boot, including teammates Andrés Iniesta and Javier Mascherano. And considering that Nike already have the entire club wrapped up in Nike apparel, it wouldn’t be crazy for the Oregonians to think that they’re already getting plenty of exposure out of the Barça camp.

cesc fabregas and puma

cesc loyalty goes no further than the city behind him or the largest checks offered to him.

To Puma, Fàbregas appears the perfect pitch man for their footballing endeavors. By all accounts, the Catalonian is a good lad that won’t cause them much worry about exposure to bad PR on his behalf. He also just happens to be a member of the most famous and idolized team on the planet at the moment, and prior to his signing, Puma didn’t have a single endorsement on a roster that’s dominated with Nike (11 of 16 regulars) and Adidas ( 4 regulars) athletes. With Barcelona sure to make deep runs in the Champions League, Club World Cup and La Liga competitions, there are few other athletes that could offer the sheer amount of global exposure that Cesc’s feet can.

The plain and simple fact seem to point towards one conclusion: Puma offered more money to Cesc than Nike thought would be worth the investment to match. And though I’d love to believe with starry eyes that he would be loyal to the brand that’s paid him for so long, Fab4 has proven recently that he’s only loyal to two things: FC Barcelona and money.

Fàbregas — along with Kun Agüero — will now undoubtedly serve as the face of the brand now that their former face, Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o, has moved to the wilds of Dagestan far from Western eyes and their bank accounts. And it will likely do Puma, and the player’s bank account, well.

And to all of my friends who think that I’ll now be giving up my beloved Nike boots to copycat Cesc’s latest move, you’re crazy… I won’t be doing that until Chris Rolfe loses his endorsement and/or grows bigger feet than me.

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ronaldology

Do you have an hour to kill? Oh you do. That’s great, because you’re going to need it.

cristiano ronaldo was scientifically amazing against real zaragoza

some scientists have decided to use their magical methods to figure out why ronaldo is so good being good.

Don’t worry, I promise you that this isn’t just another babbling tirade about the mundane day to day drama of being a Tottenham Hotspur fan. This is far more interesting — wait, no — fascinating even.

Anyway, the reason you’ll need an hour is I’m about to subject you to four, ten to fifteen-minute YouTube videos focused on everyone’s favorite greasy Iberian… Cristiano Ronaldo. In some odd, convoluted effort to try to sell us all motor oil that I don’t fully understand, Castrol teamed up with SkySports to “forensically analyze what makes him such an efficient machine.” Cheesy tagline? Yes. But trust me when I say it’s worth watching Cristiano Ronaldo: Tested to the Limit.

The experts managed to breakdown this highly scientific affair into four separate categories in which to further inflate Ronaldo’s gargantuan ego:

  1. Body Strength
  2. Mental Ability
  3. Technique
  4. Skill

In each segment, they compare CR7 against a series of benchmark tasks to see how he excels — or maybe fails? — in each category. And surprisingly, they don’t always set him up to crush the benchmark either.

So kick back, maybe grab a small snack, and watch science tell you why you should like Cris more Leo.

Body Strength

While we all probably could have predicted the results of Ronnie facing off against Spanish sprinter Ángel David Rodríguez, solely based on the way the two guys are used to running. But it’s also worth noting that Rodríguez’s personal best in the 100m of 10.14s is pretty far off of Usain Bolt’s World Record of 9.58s.

Extrapolated out, Ronaldo’s time in the 100m would (roughly) be 11.06s. A far shot off of both sprinters, but as the specialists in the film noted, his form was atrocious. If you taught the Real Madrid star how to run properly, I’m guessing he’d probably be able to close the gap on the Spanish champion pretty quickly.

Then again, this isn’t a sprinter’s blog, so I could just be blowing smoke up your ass. The math seems somewhat logical, right?

Mental Ability

This segment was truly amazing, as we got to see the scientific explanation of why renowned dribbling players like Ronaldo, Messi, and Maradona have so much success beating opponents. Essentially, this segment shows the role that instinctual, muscle memory training plays in allowing each player to see exactly when the defender is off balance or unable to shift a particular direction. If we were to place those fancy eye-tracking visors on other successful dribblers, I wouldn’t be shocked at all if we saw very similar eye movement patterns.

Secondly, Ronaldo’s ability to judge a ball’s flight path based solely on body language is absolutely mind blowing. He wasn’t just able to connect with the ball despite the lights going out, but he was able to showboat. Awesome. Also, my neighbors are going to be awfully pissed off with me tonight when I’m flashing floodlights on and off at 3 AM tonight trying to replicate this experiment.

Technique

This segment felt like one of those crappy ESPN Sports Science shows where the network tries to explain to people who never studied physics why things in sports happen the way they do. When they made this, it’s like they expected every viewer to say, “Ahhhhhhh, curving the ball is all due to air pressure!” Quit belittling me Castrol! I took physics in high school and college!

Otherwise, I feel like the only purpose of this segment was to allow Cristiano to roll up his shorts to show off his oily legs and fulfill his childhood dream of breaking five windows with two shots.

Skill

I can only imagine the producers sitting around drumming up ideas for how they were going to test Ronnie’s amazing footwork:

Should we just have him dribble through a bunch of cones?

No. Too elementary. We need more entertainment.

Maybe we can have him do some skills and then another guy do the same skills, and measure how much faster Ronaldo is than the regular bloke.

On the right path, but how are we going to get viewers with just that?

Well fine, Jack, how about we just have a bunch of trained snipers come out and try to shoot Ronaldo with a bunch of lazer guns while he’s dribbling!? Would that be exciting enough for you, Jack!?!?

BRILLIANT!!!!!!!

Not much science involved in this segment really, as all we were really able to prove is that Ronaldo is either really unpredictable in his dribbling or that England have a load of shit snipers.

—————————————————-

Overall, it was a pretty interesting bit of footy video. My biggest complaint was that they never bench marked Ronnie against another professional player. It wouldn’t have to be anyone special… hell, it could have been Robbie Savage or some other footie celebrity. But to be able to compare Ronaldo to someone who is at least close to him on ability level.

To be fair, no other pro would volunteer to devalue himself by competing against the former World Player of the Year in a bunch of tests that are devised to make that guy look like a deity. But it would have been nice to have a standard of comparison.

Regardless, I learned a lot about what makes Ronaldo so great… he’s a physical freak with the perfect mix of various body features that make him an ideal footballer, and that he’s a dedicated professional that’s put in his time on the training ground to fine tune and hone his skills.

However, I do think some researchers did overlook one thing that does give him an advantage: that extremely greasy and oily hair and skin. Perhaps that helps him with aerodynamics and opposing players not being able to grab onto him… can we get some scientists in here to figure this out, like now?!?!

ten words or less #34

sexy mike ashley

after seeing newcastle owner mike ashley's sexy body, i bet you're not mad at me anymore for not posting for a week. right?

I feel a bit like a bad boyfriend right now, one who’s been accused of ignoring my long-term girlfriend for a while, since I haven’t posted in a week. And even though it appears that I’ve not been working on it — ignoring the fact this TWOL post has been sitting around for at least a week itself — I promise that I’ve got some original content in the pipeline for you. Whether you’ll find that new content interesting, that’s another issue…

So, consider this quick posting a small bouquet of flowers to make up for my perceived lack of attentiveness.

“FIFA: For the Good of the Game a Select Few” – grantland.com

Barcelona youth teams occasionally have to play on dirt pitches!?!? – youtube.com

I would watch this. – regista-blog.com

Spanish football is in some serious (financial) shit. – fourfourtwo.com

Germany loves my favorite formation: the 4-2-3-1. – soccernet.com

If true, I’m just glad it’s not some Union-Jack monstrosity. – football-shirts.co.uk

More bad ass football art. – miniboro.com

A brilliantly written article on racism in football. – runofplay.com

the stench of new money

“Class warfare” is a dirty phrase these days, mostly used sparingly by politicians publicly attempting to convince their constituency that they’re being looked out for while conducting the shady, backroom negotiations that pass for the legislation process. It pits the upper class against the lower class, those with versus those without, the have’s battling the have not’s.

manchester city as fa cup winners

the stink emanating from the midlands became much more pungent after city's f.a. cup win.

The little guy, alone, could never stand a chance versus the established elite. With generations of “old money” giving them a distinct advantage over the masses with little to no individual wealth, the rich could always quash the competition by paying over the odds for the precious resources in their industries. Meanwhile, all of the little guys are dependent on the powerful for their jobs/money/needs, so there’s little they can really do. The rich maintain their monopolies, spending big to keep their perch on the top of the pile where they can continue to take advantage of their power and wealth.

So when the many little finally realized that they could band together to fight against the big few, class warfare was born. History is written on the back of class warfare struggles, cyclical in nature as they follow the rise and fall of power/money distribution between the classes. The successes of the lowly are still present in modern society in the form of institutions such as unions, social welfare programs, and public works projects.

In truth, class warfare is just a symptom of human societies. While political figures might conjure images of blue-collar workers armed with tire irons and food stamps attacking white-collar scoundrels armed with hired mercenaries and bars of solid gold, class warfare is more akin to the mechanism by which the lowly can raise themselves up out of the gutter into more palatable circumstances. It’s as pervasive as it is necessary to our culture, present in all aspects of our lives, like a yin and yang to keep society in equilibrium.

Football: a war’s battle field
Sport is not immune to class warfare, as its battle has been ongoing since the early days of the professional game. A look across the world footballing landscape, and you see a select group of clubs that have dominated their domestic programs since nearly the beginnings of professional football:

  • River Plate and Boca Juniors in Argentina.
  • Santos, Palmeiras and São Paulo in Brazil.
  • Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in England.
  • Bayern Munich in Germany.
  • Olympiakos and Panathinaikos in Greece.
  • Ajax and PSV in Holland.
  • Juventus, Inter and Milan in Italy.
  • Benfica, Porto and Sporting in Portugal.
  • Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spain.
  • Fenerbahçe, Beşiktaş and Galatasaray in Turkey.
  • I’ll quit here because I’m sure you get my point.
manchester united's trophy cabinet

you're trophy cabinet doesn't get this full without having a long line of success and wealth to build upon.

These clubs, often backed by wealthy entrepreneurs (think Manchester United) in their primitive years, built upon their early successes and the ensuing popularity that came with them to become today’s super powers. While good financial management and opportunistic thinking was also required to get them into the class of elite, almost none of that would be possible without the original advantages that wealthy ownership provided.

Unfortunately, the dichotomies created by these gaps in wealth left thousands of other clubs left to fight for the scraps year after year. Sure, a small(-ish) side breaks through from time to time, with recent examples including Sampdoria in 1991, Blackburn Rovers in 1995, Valencia in 2003 and VfL Wolfsburg in 2008. But in the last 10 years of the eight leagues mentioned above (minus Brazil and Argentina, as their league systems are vastly different from the rest), the 19 dominant clubs won 82.5% of the 80 championships awarded. They all spend big to remain so dominant, but then again, they’re able to.

So for a club to break the mold and evolve from a small time club into a big time club, an enormous amount of financial resources would have to be poured into the club.

We saw that happen in the late 90’s when Leeds United and Blackburn Rovers spent their way into the English elite. But when both squads were split up and relegated due to the heavy debts they incurred in the process, it served as a warning to other clubs that wild spending wouldn’t pay off in the long term. “Remain small and live on” became the rule.

So when the occasional breakthrough by a smaller club does happen, it feels like a victory for the masses. Thoughts of “Look at us! We/They stuck it to the big guy!” or “Take that privileged elite!” rush through our brains. We know that the one elite will reclaim their “rightful” place next year, so now is the time to rub it in their faces.

But what would happen if a small club were able to find a steady stream of investment from an owner that wouldn’t up and vanish when the going got tough? Would that be enough for a victory in class warfare?

Lucky for us, we’re finding out the answer to those questions right now. All across Europe, a trend is developing where meek clubs are being taken over by insanely rich individuals with the aim of toppling the status quo.

The trail was first blazed by Chelsea’s takeover by billionaire Roman Abramovich. Prior to Russian’s arrival at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea had just a quintet of major trophies in their 106 year history: a single 1st division championship (1954-’55), two FA Cups (’69-’70, ’96-’97), a League Cup (’64-’65), and UEFA Cup Winners Cup (’70-’71)… not exactly the stuff of an elite club. But in the eight years since his takeover, Abramovich’s injection of approximately £800 million into the club for both transfers and managerial changes has bore fruit in the form of eight major trophies. New money could buy you titles after all.

However, Chelsea’s rise from obscurity to power wasn’t easily swallowed by the rest of the soccer world.  How could that be possible when it was a “smaller” club disrupting the old guard’s rule?

Roman Abramovich, Peter Kenyon & Jose Mourinho

abramovich's expensively assembled ensemble proved that money would be the most valuable asset in this class warfare.

The Blues were accused of inflating prices in the transfer market, making it prohibitively expensive for other clubs to bid for the services of top players. At times, they were accused of entering bidding wars for players not with the intent of purchasing that player, but instead just to drive up his price. They lured players to Stanford Bride by offering wages that no other club could match, unsettling players at their current clubs, and utilized other generally shady transfer practices.

So while some fans, clubs, managers, and chairmen were busy gathering the pitchforks to march down Fulham Road, a group of wealthy businessmen/oligarchs around the globe sat up and took notice. “If Abramovich was able to do it,” they must have wondered, “why couldn’t I do it at my own club?”

And then the money pours in…
What’s resulted is an avalanche of money into the European game as billionaires race to exploit capitalize on the sport’s growing global audience

Of course we all know that the next club to join the craze was that other club from Manchester, as they received the backing from Abu Dhabi royal, Sheikh Mansour. Nearly £600 million in personnel and coaching changes and four years later, and we’re talking about Manchester City being a legitimate title contender on four fronts this season.

England isn’t the only place we’re seeing the new money rush in either, as other formerly small, continental clubs have begun joining the fray recently, too.

sheikh abdullah, joaquin at malaga

sheikh abdullah has pledged to help málaga challenge real madrid and barcelona's dominance in spain.

Qatari royal family member Sheikh Abdullah Al Thani recently purchased La Liga minnows Málaga in June 2010. After a year of relatively little spending, Abdullah has dished out €58 million to bring in ten new players this summer, and is on the record saying his club’s ambition has no limits.

Another Spanish side that recently become a billionaire play-thing is Getafe CF– ahem, excuse me, Getafe Team Dubai. Shockingly though, and despite the club’s purchase by the Royal Emirates Group (the marketing arm of Dubai government), they’ve only seen a transfer outlay of €14 million since the takeover. But world domination is always just around the corner when you’ve got oil-rich owners, right?

Making waves in France are perennial almost-there’s Paris Saint-Germain, whose recent purchase by the Qatar Investment Authority means they too are now filthy rich. They’ve been the summer’s biggest spenders to this point, spending a cool €47 million on Argentine starlet Javier Pastore and another €37 million on another seven players.

And perhaps amazingly, the craze is even spreading to the wilds of Republic of Dagestan. Yes, Dagestan. Capital club Anzhi Makhachkala, a member of the Russian Premier League, has also become one of European football’s most lucrative spenders when they were taken over by Suleiman Kerimov, another russian oligarch.

After dishing out a ridiculous sum a year ago to lure Brazilian senior citizen legend Roberto Carlos from the warm coast of his homeland, the club has just landed an even bigger and highly more expensive target. Cameroon’s 30-year-old striker, Samuel Eto’o, signed just yesterday with Anzhi for a astounding €20.5 milllion a year after taxes. Yes, that’s nearly the total combined yearly wages of Messi and Ronaldo.

That’s what we call “new money”
If Chelsea are to serve as our template (and it has to, as we don’t really have any other concrete examples), the ridiculous amounts of money that are being tossed about by these formerly small clubs will likely end up shaking up the game a bit. Results are likely to follow, assuming that these new owners don’t lose interest and bail out to leave their clubs in billions of pounds of debt.

And if one thing is certain in all of this, just like with Chelsea, the public will not take kindly to it.

But doesn’t that seem kind of, well, ironic? Isn’t the point of class warfare to topple the establishment and allow the proletariat club to rise? Shouldn’t we all be standing up and applauding their efforts and achievements?

It appears that answer is a resounding “No”.

Just for a minute, think about the city you live in. Many modern metropolises have several “rich” areas in town. One of them is where the “old money” lives; the folk who inherited or come from a long line of wealthy family members. There is also likely a “new money” portion of the city, where all the formerly-poor and now-wealthy individuals live.

The “old money” crowd certainly don’t want to socialize and live with the “new money” crowd, for fear of possibly tainting their gene pool. But then again, the “new money” crowd aren’t as welcome in their lower/middle class neighborhoods as they used to be because they face the envy of all of their former peers who haven’t been as fortunate. So are the after effects of spending their new-found fortunes with loud purchases.

In short, nobody likes new money.

While the masses desire to see the Manchester Uniteds and Real Madrids of the world fall to one of the “small” clubs, the masses demand that they do it on their terms. They want to see a little guy steal the limelight… but do it the honest way. Clubs shouldn’t beat their bourgeois counterparts at their own game, outspending with their greater purchasing power. No, they need to do it in someway that seems genuine and organically.

The soccer world wants to see a club rise to the top like a true Cinderella story… but only if Cinderella doesn’t have a rich uncle who will buy her a ticket to the ball.

But the ire isn’t just reserved for the clubs. Take for instance the Arsenal fans angrily shaking their fists at the departing Samir Nasri, or Inter fans miffed that Eto’o left for so much money, or Napoli fans angry with Alexis Sánchez for heading to greener pastures. We like to call them traitors and say that they’ve sold their souls to the devil in exchange for some additional coin.

And to be honest, I get all that, at least on a purely sentimental level.

samir nasri arrives at manchester city

nasri seems to be saying "don't blame me" for joining city, and he's right.

I could easily posture that Manchester City are buying up all of that talent, and not playing or selling them, solely to keep that talent away from their opposition. I don’t know if that’s true, but wouldn’t you believe it if someone of greater stature than my own told you so? I could easily condemn the players for money grabbing and playing with our hearts.

But then I remember that I would jump ship at my real world job if another company came calling and offered me three, five or ten times my current pay to do the exact same job. I also remember feeling genuinely envious of City when they got a mega-rich owner and Tottenham didn’t. Why couldn’t my club have a shot at becoming the next footballing power?

The reality of it is that we’re at a crossroads in the game’s history. The class warfare struggle that exists in the game rages on, yet the weapons in the battle have changed.

We can’t all hope that the little club could actually compete, using just traditional methods, against the inherited financial might of the established European elite. It’s become evident that in order to finally beat them, large amounts of money need to be spent, and there’s no way around it. If we want to see the mighty usurped by the meek, then this is the game that has to be played.

The question then becomes, if that’s really what we want, are we ready to accept everything that comes with it? The financial ruin of small clubs trying to compete (Does the Spanish players strike start to ring a bell now?) could be the cost of watching a few of the formerly small overtake the reigns of power from the original enemy.

So is the stench of new money.

ten words or less #32

potential corinthians signing bing chang bao

i'm fairly certain bing chang bao's potential signing by corinthians is not what's kept the club from being able to buy tevez.

While it’s often times more fun to squabble and make a fuss about all of the (likely) false transfer rumors that abound this time of year in the soccer blogosphere, I find it interesting that this particular TWOL posting get’s half of it’s links from mainstream media outlets. They’re not usually known for diving into the transfer drivel, so you’ll get some interesting reads this time around.

And since it’s not very often that the likes of CNN, The New York Times, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports get to grace the hallowed spaces on my blog, I’m sure their editors are rushing to publicize their distinguished appearances on today’s quick update.

Ronaldo, Coentrão and Mourinho… you dirty dogs. – dirty tackle @ yahoo.com

How I feel during every USMNT “home” match.” – cnn.com

Ooooh… that burns, doesn’t it Messi? Doesn’t it!?!? – whoateallthepies.co.uk

Signing a rubbish player probably won’t catch the Chinese market. – ojogobonito.com

Nobody on the FIFA executive committee gets dirty money. – nytimes.com

The typical American soccer fan? I hope not. – reddit.com/user/devineman

Yet nobody wondered when decent-named players signed in Turkey. – si.com

A brilliant piece on the state of the women’s game. – foxsports.com

wrong side XI: holding center mid

this is part VII in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

three spaniards, a turk and an italian battle it out for my midfield maestro role.

Since we’ve already talked about the two positions I’ve played for most of my life (wing back and center back), I figured it would be best to start off the midfield lists with the position I always wanted to play growing up: holding central midfield.

Why did I want to be the holding mid? Because that player always seemed to be involved. Whether my team had the ball or not, they looked like they were in the run of play. I jokingly labeled the position “rover” because whoever played there appeared to be allowed to rove the entire pitch. I was always so jealous of that freedom and responsibility.

And though I classified this player as a “defensive” central midfielder in my initial post in this series, it’s important to note that the holding center mid is at times a very offensively minded player. Ignoring his defensive responsibilities for the moment, this player’s sole purpose on the pitch is the crucial role of linking the play between the forwards and the defenders. Of course this means that he must be extremely strong in possession as well as a tactically adept passer.

And to be completely honest, in the system I’ve chosen to implement in this team, this player is much more of an offensive player than a defensive.

But the defense role isn’t to be completely ignored with this position, and I’ve left offensively solid holding mids off this list because they’re defensive skills are lacking (Joey Barton or Jack Wilshire for example). Clogging up the passing lanes and stifling counterattacks before they start in the offensive third are typical tasks that this player will be assigned.

So who’s good enough going both directions to lay claim to this spot? Read on…

Continue reading

wrong side XI: center back

this is part VI in the “wrong side XI” series, where i’ll be selecting my very own starting eleven, assuming of course that i could choose any player from any team in the world. you can read the rules i’ll be following to make my team selection, and what formation i’ll be squeezing them into, on the first post in the series.

gerard pique, ledley king, neven subotic, nemanja vidic, and giorgio chiellini

one of these big men will anchor my defensive line.

After what’s seemed like about ten years, I figured it might be worth getting back to making my picks for my wrong side of the pond XI. It’s been at least a month since my last post in this series, which didn’t seem that horrible until I remembered that I was trying to make this a weekly ritual. So it’s without saying that it’s time to get back on track… no promises of increased frequency quite yet though.

Diving in to the task at hand, let’s pick back up by selecting the last of the defenders in my starting line up: the other centerback. Unlike his libero counterpart from the last post, this centerback tends to be the defensive linchpin of his side. Rarely straying from his back line, he’s the rock on which the rest of the team is built. In most cases, he’s like a general that leads by example.

And it’s those qualities that make this pick such an important one. A player without the adequate skill, intelligence, conviction or personality can cause the rest of the team to crumble around him, like removing a keystone from an arch. Witness Arsenal, a side rich with attacking talent, but unable to scale the highest heights because they lack the strong presence in the heart of defense. Conversely, part of the reason that Manchester United and Chelsea have had such success over the half decade is due to the strong leadership that comes from their primary centerback (Rio and Terry respectively). It’s hardly surprising to see this player wearing the armband for most sides.

So who’s the man I chose to lead my team from the back? Read on…

Continue reading

ten words or less #29

martin palermo of boca juniors

martin palermo prepares for his post-retirement gig as the superhero, "boca man".

blah blah blah, this is the introduction paragraph. i know you don’t really care what i say in this space at all. all you care about is getting to the links below. if i were to write something really important or interesting in this area, like “ke$ha is the lovechild of ryan giggs and julia roberts”, you probably wouldn’t even notice.

or would you?

getafe decided to spend their first dubai money on this!? – theoffside.com

a beginner’s guide to the transfer window. – offthepost.info

64% sure nobody from norwich has ever been to italy. – youtube.com

so, supporting tottenham means i shouldn’t trust my wife? – inbedwithmaradona.com

and now i’m a fan of the german women’s team (NSFW) – bild.de

amazed that neville doesn’t throw like a girl. – dirty tackle @ yahoo.com

lol. but seriously, enough with the 1999 talk. – theonion.com

love truly is blind: modrić got hitched this weekend. – jutarnji.ha

man whore all-stars

Even though I’m still knee-deep into a very drawn out series of posts to select my very own wrong side XI, I feel I have to name another very important all-star squad from the world of football.

ryan giggs on the cover of the sunday herald

maybe giggs will learn that in the age of the internet, nothing is secret.

With the near constant stream of super injunctions and confirmed tabloid stories about footballers having affairs and shagging ladies of the night, it’s only right that we give these men of such “quality” morals the credit they truly deserve… a man whore XI if you will.

Now in the spirit of fairness, I do want to make sure that I’m not unfairly labeling anyone as a cheater. And since it can also be hard to confirm who has actually committed such sinfulness, we’re also going to include players who are known for the playboy lifestyles.

So without further adieu, let’s get on to the dirtiest team in football:

Goalkeeper – Allan McGregor (Rangers)
Apparently the most faithful position on the pitch, I had to dig hard to find a current goalkeeper that plays the field… figuratively of course. After an hour of searching, I almost settled on this half-story from the South African second division. Luckily, a little extra dilligence yielded McGregor’s indiscretions. The most famous of those saw the Scotland keeper dating a series of young ladies, this despite the fact he had a live in girlfiend at the time. He later cheated on his mobster-linked ex-fiancée with that same live in girlfriend.

Left Back – Ashley Cole (Chelsea)
When not shooting club staff members, Ca$hley likes to spend the remainder of his free time either sexting pictures of his junk to American women or shagging with ladies of varying attractiveness. Apparently this became such a frequent issue that his supremely hot (yet infinitely annoying) wife decided to call off their marriage by text message. If he keeps this kind of behavior up, Cole could quite possibly be the most lonely man on the planet.

Center Back – John Terry (Chelsea)
Probably the worst teammate and friend you could possibly have in a squad, unless it’s this squad I suppose. It is never advisable to leave one’s WAG/daughter/mom around Mr. Chelsea. Just ask Wayne Bridge. And I don’t care that The News of the World have since said that the rumors were untrue. Something obviously happened because Bridge still refuses to play with his former best friend. Your 2009 Dad of the Year!

Right Back – Alon Harazi (retired)
I couldn’t find any mention of any other right backs involved in sex scandals, so we’ll have to turn our attention to the recently retired Israel defender. Hazari, who made over 600 apperances for Maccabi Haifa, was one of the contingent of Israeli players that had an all-night sex party full of prostitutes and alcohol prior to the country’s biggest ever match. Despite losing 0-5 to the Danes in the first leg of the Euro 2000 qualifier, Harazi and his teammates repeated the incident in denmark and lost 0-3. Didn’t exactly learn their lessons, did they?

cristiano ronaldo with a lovely lady

ronaldo may be a womanizer, but at least he never marries them.

Left Midfield – Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
While Ronnie has a “long-term” girlfriend at the moment, and there haven’t been any rumors of infidelity in the relationship, the oily-skinned icon makes this team more for the ridiculous list of tramps/supermodels that he’s managed to bed over the last few years. Entire websites are devoted to cataloging his sexual conquests, which includes rumored hook-ups with American media whores celebrities like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian. And when you have to pay-off an American waitress in South Beach to take the love-child you created with her, you probably know you probably deserve your spot here.

Center Midfield – Ryan Giggs (Manchester United)
The man whose name we should not say is a late and surprising addition to the squad. Long revered as a model professional, the old Welsh wizard was tricking us all after it was revealed that he was a cheating bastard. And now rumors are spurting out that Giggsy has spent the last 8 years having occasional frolics with his brother’s wife. With all of the stress of sneaking around, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing his hair quickly turn grey. I’ll now spare you some poor viagra jokes.

Offensive Midfield – David Beckham (L.A. Galaxy)
A serial offender deserves to be on this list, even if some of that series are only claims. The world’s most popular footballer certainly has no shortage of admirers, though he has an inkling for the help apparently. Either way, i can empathize with Becks though: I wouldn’t want to have sex with a crazed, plastic Barbie doll like Posh either.

Defensive Midfield – Paul Terry (Darlington)
The older brother to the captain of England, it seems as if adultery runs in the blood of the Terry family. Though Paul has never been able to reach the playing heights of his younger sibling, he has had just as much success in destroying people’s lives. Back in 2010, Paul managed to carry on affair with the fiancée of his Rusheden & Diamonds teammate Dale Roberts, despite already being married to Paul Konchesky’s sister. Roberts was so troubled by the betrayal of his teammate that he soon committed suicide. Those Terry boys are just stand-up individuals, aren’t they?

Right Midfield – Frank Ribery (Bayern Munich)
All the money in the world sometimes isn’t enough to find yourself a quality WAG, as the unfriendly-on-the-eye yet tremendously talented Ribery knows all too well. Maybe that’s the reason Frank felt it necessary to fly in the forbidden fruit of an underage prostitute from Paris in 2010. The then 17-year-old Zahia Dehar is also rumored to have, ahem, worked with other French internationals such as Karim Benzema and Sidney Govou… so he’s not alone in his desires at least.

Forward – Wayne Rooney (Manchester United)
While by no means saying he was right to sleep with an insanely pricey hooker, or a cheaper but older one for that matter, I can sort of see why Wazza might be prone to infidelity. He’s married to the same girl he’s been dating since he was a schoolboy, and it’s hardly imaginable that a young egotistic star on the rise could resist the lure of reaping the rewards of his talents. He probably felt a need to soil his wild oats. However, why he didn’t just head to the club to pick up some young pretty thing instead of paying for an overpriced romp in the sheets is simply beyond me.

peter crouch and abbey clancy

can someone please explain to me how crouch cheated on clancey?

Forward – Peter Crouch (Tottenham Hotspur)
Someone needs to pull Pete aside and have him look in a mirror: there’s no way he won’t recognize while staring back at his pasty, gangly reflection that he is not that attractive of a man. That same person should then show him a picture of his fiancée: there’s no way he won’t recognize that she is smoking hot and that he should have no business marrying a woman so attractive. Then that person should tell him that spending thousands of quid for expensive prostitutes is a giant waste of the very money that has allowed him to bag a girl as hot as Abbey Clancy.

Manager – Sven-Goran Eriksson
Even the managers can use their fame and fortunes to feed their sexual appetites! The former manager of every team ever has twice been caught being unfaithful to his wife. The first time was with a decently attractive Swedish TV commentator, the second with an English FA secretary. He apparently also heavily influenced his successor, as Steve McClaren must have felt the need to live up to the bar set by Sven.

Also, I would rue the opportunity if I didn’t give a nod to these other legends of the game with an additction to the nookie:

  • George Best: The England legend is the original football playboy, famously once saying, “I used to go missing a lot… Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World.” baller.
  • Garrincha: The former samba star is the Wilt Chamberlain of world football, having a confirmed 14 children and the possibility of another twenty-freaking-four around the world. Dads fret not, your daughters are safe: Garrincha passed away in 1983.
  • Jean-François Larios: The former French international famously had a fling with the wife of current-UEFA president Michel Platini in the lead up to the 1982 World Cup. I actually like him a little bit for it.
  • Ronaldo: Il Fenomeno tagged bunches of ladies in his time, and possibly even some transvestites.
  • John Harkes: The American version of Larios, Johnny boy was dismissed from the USMNT shortly before the 1998 World Cup for having a quickie with teammate Eric Wynalda’s wife instead of attending a team meeting.

Now before any of you readers jump all over my back for glorifying assholes that treat women like the property, I don’t condone the behavior of any of the men listed above… unless they’re single. If that’s the case, my advice to those boys is: get it out of your systems before you decide to settle down. No one really needs a super injunction, right?

conclusive evidence

we really don’t know how lucky we all are yet. it may be too early for most to even recognize the significance of the result of saturday’s champions league final between manchester united and f.c. barcelona.

wembley stadium before the 2011 champions league final

something big was determined at wembley on saturday, and it was bigger than just determining the european champions.

many of the debates that rage within the game are purely philosophical in nature. who is better: messi or ronaldo? is joey barton crazy? should there be homegrown player quotas? what’s more important: your club or your country? we can all offer our opinions, but no definitive answers can be drawn from those questions. and we can’t really answer any of those questions because there is no right answer to any of those questions. well, except that it is fact that joey barton is certifiably insane.

so what made saturday night’s champions league final so special that many can’t even realize it’s importance? perhaps it’s because the match actually answered one of those hypothetical questions for us. namely, who has been the best team of this era? (i am not even going to attempt to tackle the “best team ever” question. it is definitely not answerable.)

what gives this game the right to answer a supposedly unanswerable question? let’s start with a few obvious qualifications.

this final was a match up between the two most dominant clubs in europe over the last decade. it was united’s third champions league final in the last five years, and barça’s third in the last seven. domestically, both are staggeringly dominant. and since la liga and the premier league have been the undisputed best two leagues in europe during this time frame, it’s even easier to call them both the best when barça have won five and united have won six of the last ten titles in their respective leagues. together, they’ve won four of the last seven european championships, and it would have been five of the last seven if inter hadn’t found a way to sneak past the catalonians in last year’s semifinal.

now i know i haven’t been the biggest barcelona supporter in this space. in fact, i’ve been outright harsh on them. but regardless of my complaints about them (mainly the excessive and unneeded diving), i’ve always said that they’re the team to beat. and when they’re running on full cylinders, as they clearly were on saturday evening, they’re impossible to beat. i’ll never claim otherwise.

and while we’ve questioned united’s credentials all season, they proved to be nearly unbeatable themselves in the end. despite an AWOL rooney at the beginning of the campaign, a major injury to valencia, an aging squad and the looming retirement of van der sar, they ended up on the top of the heap in england again this season. champions for a record 19th time. so let’s give credit where credit is due: it took a historically amazing barcelona side to knock down champions of this calibre. so…

top tier clubs: check

messi splits giggs and carrick in the champions league final

another brilliant messi performance might have helped to cement barça's place in history.

the wembley final also had some other key ingredients to answer a question such as which is the best team of this generation. messi, almost unarguably the best player on the planet, logged another inspired performance in a big match. and while much of the spotlight was on the tiny 2-time defending world player of the year, let us not forget that he also had the help of the first and second runners up to the 2010 prize. none of the triumvirate let us down, as all performed breathtakingly.

on the other side of the ball, you saw england’s most mercurial striker in rooney finally make his presence felt on the biggest stage. admittedly though, expectations proved to heavy for the legendary ryan giggs and up-and-comer javier hernandez. either way…

top tier players: check.

additionally, two of the three best managers in the world were on the benches at wembley stadium. on one side of the ring you have the seasoned and legendary sir alex ferguson (12 premier league titles, two european cups, five FA cups). on the other, the young hotshot pep guardiola (3 la liga titles, and now two european cups).

top tier managers: check.

another thing that made this such a key, question-answering event: the american sports audience finally paid attention to the champions league final. people at work were asking me about the match, wanting to know what makes that “zavi” guy so good. hell, the american castle of conservativism, fox, decided broadcasting a proper football match live on their flagship network for the first time was worth the risk of exposing their fans to socialism.

aiding the hype was the massive amount of “support” both teams have stateside. barça is today’s bandwagoned side of the moment, while the mancs held that spot for much of the late 90’s and early noughties. who those american fans support at the moment is clearly visible in my not so scientific pole on the WSOTP facebook page from a few weeks back to see who everyone thought would win the match:

of the 40 responses received on the WSOT facebook page, only 9 selected the mancunians to win.

(tangent warning: while both clubs have certainly earned their followings, the size of their supporters might be ballooned by the fact that most american fans aren’t able to name another team besides united or barcelona. i’d be willing to wager that only one in five yanks that identify themselves as united fans would know anything about the bubsy babes. likewise with american barça fans, i’m sure the mention of “cruyff” would result in nothing but looks of confusion. end tangent)

and as expected, the media firestorm before the final was priming the question to be answered. it seemed like everyone was ready to crown this barcelona side as the best in history (an insanely more difficult question to answer than to name one for just an era) before the match was over. and that means…

top tier interest: check.

so with the world’s best clubs, players, managers and a massive wave of interest behind it, the table was adequately set to decide who was truly the best side of this era.

let’s be honest though. it would have taken a massive victory by manchester united to get any of the punditry to hand them the title of “era’s best”. this isn’t the best squad that united have fielded under sir alex (the 1999 treble winners probably were), and the red devils would have had to turn in an epic like an 8-0 win to sway anyone into believing the title of the era’s best belongs to in manchester.

but lucky we were again, as barcelona emphatic victory made it all the more easy for us to hand them the crown instead.

statistically, the blaugrana were so dominant that it made any chance of a united payback victory impossible:

  • 68% possesion to united’s 32%.
  • 22 shots to united’s 4, 12 and 1 on frame respectively.
  • 6 corners to united’s 0.
  • 719 completed passes to united’s 301.

unusually for me though, it wasn’t the statistics that really drove home the point. instead, it was the way that barcelona won the match: they did it without all of the theatrics.

gone were the ridiculous antics that plagued their semifinal match ups with real madrid, and instead we were left with solely the beautiful game that this team is always lauded for. in fact the only time i even saw busquets grab his face is when he was actually hit in it. it’s just that  i feel much better about deeming a team worthy to be called the best of an era when i don’t think they earned it by any form of cheating. and beat united they did without it.

simply put, barcelona beat the other best team in europe with style, skill and class. my highly unscientific facebook poll showed that most of us expected that outcome, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t all get more than we expected.

barça proved themselves again, and thanks to it, have written themselves a special chapter in the history of football. and as many generations go by without the opportunity to say that they had watched a truly dominant side. what’s becoming ever more apparent, though, is that saturday… we did.