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.

wrong side XI: left mid

this is part X 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.

Ezequiel Lavezzi, Gareth Bale, Eden Hazard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Juan Mata

my shortlist for left mid compiles players from all over the world: argentina, wales, belgium, portugal and spain.

At long last… we finally reach the front three of my hypothetical team. It’s been a long time coming, considering that this series was originally intended to wrap up prior to the end of Summer 2011. And while I’ve spent roughly the last 10 months (occasionally) working on this project, debating relatively boring positions, we’ve now crossed the threshold into the so-called “glamour” positions.

Whether you want to call this player a forward, an outside midfielder, or a winger, he’s almost exclusively an attacking player. Sure, my formation defines this position as one of the five in the 4-5-1. But in practice, it’s a position that behaves much more like one of the forward three in a 4-3-3.

In general, I expect these players to attempt to receive the ball high and wide on the touchline. From there, they can do what they like: drive further forward on the flank, cut into the middle, or drive in a cross. In fact, I expect a large majority of my attacks to funnel through the left or right mid’s feet as I would instruct my players to look to the wings as option #1. Defensively, I just want them to high pressure when the ball is near, and track back whenever the other side breaks.

The job of picking this player, as you might expect, isn’t very easy. The primary reason for this is the cornucopia of wide attacking players that I enjoy watching. The second is because many modern wingers are becoming more and more ambidextrous in their wing of preference. But I’ve got a good set of contenders in mind that I doubt many would argue with… jump past the break to see if you would or not.

Continue reading

ten words or less #46


louis saha rushed in for tottenham medical

louis saha was rushed in for a late medical to complete his move from everton to spurs.

As the dust settles after another underwhelming transfer deadline day, I’m sure all of you readers are fed up with transfer news and gossip. I am, at least. In an effort to stray away from that topic of conversation, and to give your brain a break from digesting it all, I’ve put together this TWOL that contains absolutely zero transfer news. Except for the mocking picture above. So if you’ve come here look to catch up on yesterday’s “madness”, you might want to navigate elsewhere.

Barça’s kits next year: taking Blaugrana to literal the extreme. –

Milan disrespecting a man to whom they owe so much. –

The perfect artwork for me: one part nerd, one part Spurs. –

FIFA’s looking into allowing four subs… only in injury time. –

I want to play Norwegian Bubble Football right now. –

Trolling Atlético fans, Spanish press, and knock-off kit manufacturers. –

Pushing your best player out the door, Philly? Bad idea. –

Don’t click this unless you have a lot of time. –
courtesy of an old high school frenemy, @Ryan7Hurley

Bravo to whomever “amended” Dan Borislow’s Wikipedia profile. –

Someone needs to make Twellman and Wynalda watch this. –

big brother is watching

Modern technology, and the way it’s seeped into our everyday lives, sometimes blows my mind. That I can sit in my living room in Cincinnati and watch a live Premiership match — taking place nearly 4,000 miles from said living room — unfold on a picture so clear I can literally see blades of grass kick up on a slide tackle, or beads of sweat explode off a player’s head while heading the ball, is something truly to marvel.

premier league cameras

premier league cameras are like the eye of sauron: all-seeing and ever-watching.

While these HD telecasts are definitely luxuries, they’ve definitely enhanced the match day experience for foreign fans of the European leagues. Most of these fans will never be able to afford a ticket to their favorite club’s match, let alone the costs to travel there and back. Being one of those lucky enough to have watched a game in person, I can say with great certainty that watching on your high def television isn’t a bad substitute. Hell, you could even say it has its advantages: it’s cheaper, you can watch a wider selection of matches, and there’s the lowered possibility of getting cornered by hooligans after a match… I  mean, I don’t know what your friends are like.

But what really blows my mind about the dawn of the HD-era in worldwide football broadcasting is how the players could possibly forget that their every move is being broadcast to, and watched by, the entire world.

Premier League rules dictate that there are a minimum of 24 cameras in each team’s stadium in order to provide every viewing angle possible during a match. The players appear to be aware of at least some of them, judging by how often they tend to run in and kiss the camera during moments of celebration. But in times of frustration or menacing evil, some players just seem to think that nobody is watching them. Yet the video cameras are still there, ever watching. And if the TV guys somehow miss it, there’s an army of journolists and fans with camera phones there to serve as backups. Virtually nothing can go unnoticed.

Do the players think they’re too clever? Well, we all know that most footballers aren’t known for their minds, but that doesn’t mean they don’t think of themselves as clever. Just ask Joey Barton.

Perhaps they think their actions will be too quick to be noticed, or could at least be interpreted as unintentional. In a day of age where slow motion replays of player two-second player reaction being stretched into 10-second “emotion shots”, they shouldn’t be naive enough to think that their quick actions can’t be dissected by the millisecond.

Yet, whether through ignorance or arrogance, players persist to make these idiotic decisions. And for one reason or another, they always seem to come in bunches of three.

First up, Real Madrid’s Pepe gave us this boneheaded move during their midweek Copa del Rey first-leg tie with hated rivals Barcelona:

real madrid's pepe stamping on barcelona's messi

Pepe, we all saw you alter your stride and look down to make sure that you stepped on Lionel Messi’s hand. To brush it off as accidental in your “apology” is an insult to anyone with eyes. Each additional angle you bring into play makes your actions provides even more evidence against your cause. Considering the Spanish FA should still have you on a multi-year ban for this ludicrous attack from a few years ago, you’re lucky to have had the opportunity to be this stupid again. This kind of act is an embarrassment, and is one of the reasons that make me ashamed to publicly admit that I’m a supporter of Real Madrid these days.

Just why Pepe would choose to stamp down on something that has very little affect on Messi’s spectacular playing ability — like a foot, perhaps? — is further proof that players aren’t the sharpest tools in the shed.

Next in line for thinking that nobody will catch his dirty tricks is Manchester City’s Joleon Lescott:

manchester city's joleon lescott elbowing tottenham's younes kaboul

Perhaps not as obvious as Pepe’s stamp above upon first glance, Lescott’s elbow to Kaboul’s face also appears increasingly intentional the more angles you watch it from. Just why Lescott felt it necessary to raise his elbow to Kaboul is beyond me, since he’d already won the ball and the play was moving on.

Already on a yellow, the former Everton man was extremely luck to have not been sent off for the action. Yet his actions — just inches outside the City penalty area no less — somehow went unnoticed by Howard Webb.

Amazingly for Webb, a referee I normally rate as the best in England, he somehow missed another intentional assault on a Tottenham player just under ten minutes later. Could it be that Howard has traded in his United Red-tinted spectacles for a new pair with a City Blue hue? Unlikely. As a Spurs fan, it’s a conspiracy theory I’d be willing to hear, especially after watching this happen:

manchester city's mario balotelli stamping on tottenham's scott parker

I mean nobody — especially someone already on a yellow — while in the process of falling, will jam their heel backward away from the direction they’re moving. If anything, Balotelli’s momentum suggests that his right heel would foot would have moved away from Parker’s face. And just like Pepe’s stamp on Messi’s hand, you can see the controversial Italian adjust his stride so he could complete his heinous act. Adding insult to injury, a further ten minutes on from this incident and Balotelli was being taken down for and converting a match-winning penalty. Total bullshit, says this Spurs fan.

Apparently, Super Mario is incapable of learning from his past mistakes. For a man who’s been caught on camera trapped in a training bib, using an iPad on the substitute’s bench of an international match, and who was well aware that he’d draw massive amounts of attention for claiming “WHY ALWAYS ME?“, you’d think he would have developed a heightened awareness that the cameras were always trained on him. Nope.

Whether these ignorant, unprofessional and intentional acts to harm players are punished remains to be seen. But if nothing else, thanks to the onset of modern television technology, they’re not going unnoticed anymore. And if the court of public opinion has taught us anything before, it’s that it won’t be long until the authorities stand up and take notice, too.

By that time, if they players have any brains to them, they’ll have learned that big brother is watching, and they ought to be on their best behavior.

ten words or less #45

tim lieweke, david beckham and bruce arena

you have to wonder if beckham knew about the galaxy's new kits before he agreed to come back to MLS.

I don’t know about any other bloggers, but sometimes I go through spells where I feel like I have absolutely nothing to write about, which are then followed by very brief periods where I feel like I have a million things I need to share. Right now, I’m in the middle of one of the busy bits. I’ve got at least four separate pieces I’m working on at the moment, so if nothing else, you’ve got some original content coming shortly…. Hooray, right?!

Additionally, I feel like I’m going to wet myself in anticipation of Tottenham’s clash with Manchester City this Sunday. The thrashing the Citizens gave Spurs back in August seems like eons ago. And even though the city-loaned Adebayor won’t be allowed to play, the Citizens are lacking key players (thanks to the Africa Cup of Nations) and aren’t in the best form. If Spurs win, they cement themselves as title contenders. If they lose, well, they’re just being Tottenham. Lot’s riding on this game, hence my bladder-exploding excitement.

In the meantime, enjoy these recent works by other people:

Maybe Spurs shouldn’t be buying a new centerback this window. –

I need a game like this to come to Android. –

No matter what your team nickname is, these aren’t acceptable. –

Appreciating the defensive midfielder. Best article of this young year. –

Finally: the Open Cup will be a proper cup competition. –

Wherever Tévez goes, drama is sure to follow. –

The quaint nature of Non-League football is sometimes overwhelming. – pitchinvasion

If Adidas make these in white, I might ditch Nike. –

A “How to look like Leon Best” instructional video… sorta. –

You’ve never heard of the world’s most prolific, active goalscorer. –

new year’s resolutions

As 2011 winds to a close and the dawn of a new year is upon us, I imagine many of you are in the final stages of planning for the annual — and often eventually pointless — ritual called “New Year’s Resolutions”. Every year, millions around the world make commitments to achieve personal goals over the next year such as losing a set amount of weight, breaking bad habits or forming good new ones.

times square soccer ball

now that a very soccer ball-ish times square ball has dropped, it's time to think about what we want to have happen in 2012

However, despite these resolutions generally being made with the best of intentions, for one reason or another, we normally have a hard time keeping them. Scientists tell us that only 12% of all of New Year’s Resolutions are actually met by year’s end, a rate poor enough to make you wonder why we even make them in the first place.

Personally, I like to take the easy way out by not botering to make resolutions, period. By taking this approach, it prevents me from feeling disappointed when I don’t meet the overly ambitious targets I always end up setting for myself. After all, the easiest goals to achieve are the one’s you never make… or something like that.

But just because I don’t set my own resolutions, that doesn’t mean that I can’t make empty promises for other people instead.

Why pass up soaking in all of the instant gratification of setting ambitious goals, especially when I’m not responsible for any of the work that goes into turning dreams into reality?!

With that in mind, I present to you my idealistic 2012 World Football New Year’s Resolutions list:

For Mario Balotelli to keep being… Mario Balotelli

 balotelli why always me

i don't know why, mario... but let's hope it stays that way.

To say that the young Manchester City starlet has endured a roller coaster 2011 might just be the understatement of the year. From the highs of driving around Manchester’s city centre in a convertible giving fans high fives, to the lows of lighting his own bathroom on fire with fireworks, the Italian starlet has been nothing short of a machine at producing ridiculous headlines. He seems more at home in a made-up comic strip than in the life of a real, live professional athlete. And that’s just the way we like it, especially since he tends to make my job writing significantly easier. So please, Super Mario, don’t go changing anything. Just keep being you: it’s what you do best.

For Jürgen Klinsmann to show his grand USMNT experiment is actually working.

Now, don’t take this the wrong way. I’m all for Klinsmann’s efforts to reshape the national team and build it a new identity, and I know that this transformation won’t happen overnight. It needs some time to set in, like any master plan, and I feel like a pretty patient guy. However, it’s hard to stomach loses and ties against sides that we had been — and should still be — beating. I’m not asking for us to start rolling over Mexico like the Spanish would Andorra, but I would prefer to see us start stringing together some positive results sooner rather than later. A continued run of bad showings could, after all, have a devastating impact on the team’s moral and confidence. And that’s definitely not something we need heading into World Cup qualifying.

For John Terry to finally get what’s coming to him.

I’ve made no secret for my distaste for Terry in this space, so it’s not surprising that I would want for fate to finally catch up with the bastard in 2012. And even though I don’t need to recant all of his sins since most of them have played out publicly, I still want to. So, here’s why John’s karma is long overdue to bite Mr. Chelsea: 2001) drunkenly taunts American tourists at Heathrow airport immediately after 9/11, 2002) charged with assault for an altercation with a nightclub bouncer, 2009) takes cash bribes to give unauthorized tours of Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge, 2010) may or may not have had an affair with a former teammate/friend’s baby mama, 2011) racially abuses the younger brother of international teammate during a match. Even though he’s been “cleared” in a majority of those cases, how can one guy be investigated for so many claims and they all be false? Oh yeah, they can’t. Cue the Law & Order dun-dun!

For Jose Mourinho to finally to overhaul Barcelona as the best side in Spain.

mourinho eye poke

if mourinho doesn't come out on top soon, i fear for eyes the world over.

I know it’s pretty unrealistic to think this could happen in the 2012 calendar year, despite the fact that Real are currently three points clear of rivals Barça going into the Winter Break. Pep Guardiola and his men definitely still have a death-grip like hold over Mourinho and his charges’ confidence, as is evident with their impressive strings of results in the multitude of Clásicos in 2011. And while I’d love to see Los Blancos regain the edge in the rivalry for reasons that include restoring “parity” to Spain (and I very loosely use the word parity considering it’s a league where only two teams ever win) and being a fan, my main reason for wanting to see Mourinho finally overcome his demons is much, much more important. You see, I fear that if the Special One’s galácticos don’t take over the crown as Spain’s best soon, I think he’s going to poke out EVERYONE’s eyes.

For Alex Morgan to increase the number of shoots she books like this one.

So what if I’m married? I’m allowed to have internet crushes on attractive celebrities just like anyone else. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with desiring to see more scantily clad pictures of my chosen crush. I mean as far as the picture shown, it underlines her ability to look attractive in both classy and sporty attire, not to mention her ability to knock the balls around… knock balls around the pitch you dirty perverts. And thanks to the WUSA WPS getting a renewed lease on life from US Soccer, Miss Morgan should stay in the limelight just a little bit more.

For Daniel Levy to not only continue sticking to his guns on not selling, but also pull the trigger on some big buys too.

Look, I’m stoked that the Tottenham chairman told Chelsea to shove their £40 million for Modrić where the sun doesn’t shine over the summer. It showed ambition, and sent a message to the rest of the growing egos in the locker room that nobody was bigger than the club. But aside from the last minute swoop for Rafa van der Vaart two summers ago and the bargain buying of Scott Parker from a desperate-for-cash West Ham, Levy hasn’t exactly shown any willingness to spend to match the club’s ambition. Though the free signing of Brad Friedel and the short-term solution of Adebayor up top have proven to be shrewd bits of business, the club desperately need to make a statement buy. Otherwise, can Spurs really consider themselves title challengers if we’re the only side that’s not continuously bringing in world class, young talent? I don’t think so.

For Neymar to finally move to a team in Europe, and for said team, to make him cut his hair.

neymar and his hair

hey, rufio. leave your hair in brazil once you leave for europe.

It might just be me, but I’ve grown extremely tired of the weekly Neymar transfer rumors. At this point, I’m not sure if the constant stream of “done deal” rumors to Real Madrid/Barcelona are actually true, or if it’s just an elaborate ruse by Santos to raise their asking price for the extremely talented young starlet. And if anything was learned from Barcelona wiping the floor with Santos at the Club World Cup final, it’s that Neymar needs to move on to a club where he’ll be pushed to raise the level of his game… and that clearly can’t happen in Brazil. And let’s be honest, a classier club will actually make the kid cut off his stupid rooster hair so he looks like a proper footballer.

For Blackburn Rovers owners Venkeys to finally put their manager out of his misery.

Don’t let yesterday’s upset win away at Old Trafford fool you: even a blind squirrel finds a nut from time to time. Said plainly, Rovers boss Steve Keane is not a Premier League caliber manager. The rumors of his impending sacking have been circulating since at least the tail end of last season. And to be completely honest with you, I have no clue how he’s still in his job. The Ewood Park outfit have struggled in nearly every department on field this season, and the fans have stood in unison for months saying that want the poor guy out. Maybe the Venkeys think they can save themselves from the drop if they just stick it out with the same manager all season, who knows. But regardless of whether you have a shit manager or not, if you don’t end up spending a significant amount of money to bring in fresh blood this January, you are going down.

For Carlos Tévez to end up at A.C. Milan.

With the dispute between Carlitos and City having now extended an entire half of a season, the Citizens are finally ready to rid themselves of this headache permanently. And luckily, they’ve lowered their asking price enough that a few other clubs are at least considering the thought of making a move for the temperamental striker. Though Corinthians have renewed their interest, the club making the most noise about signing Tévez are the Rosaneri. So why do I want him to end up there? Well, if Carlos is signed permanently, Milan will have the undisputed craziest front line in the world: Robinho (the brat), Pato (the indifferent), Cassano (the mad hatter), Ibrahimović (the bully) and Tévez (the ego). And with Silvio Berlusconi resuming his duties as club chairman, I’m really hoping he forces Allegri to play all five of them at once.

And lastly, for Fernando Torres to keep looking like this:

sulking torres on chelsea bench

wrong side XI: offensive center mid

this is part IX 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.

this collection of mighty mites will do battle for the honor of my starting offensive midfield spot.

Off all the positional choices for the wrong side XI series that I compiled since the beginning of the summer, my offensive mid selection has probably fluctuated more than any of the others. Of the five “lucky” men that managed to make this shortlist, all of them have occupied the top spot at least once or twice since I began work on this project. So as you might have guessed, making my final selection has been very, very difficult.

Complicating the issue is that all five of these players has been in phenomenal form over the last 18 months. They’re often one of the first names on their respective club’s teamsheets each match day, and are by far some of the most visible players on the field during those matches. Each is the central creative force for their club, and their play often dictates the fate of the outcome of the matches in which they take part.

Part of me wishes I could just pick them all. Hell, if I were to abandon the game plan I lined out in the first post in this series, and instead replaced it with a system akin to Barcelona’s interchangeable top four, I almost could have.

Unfortunately for no one but me, that’s not how I want to run my imaginary team. so we’ll have to narrow this down to just one midfield wizard… follow my thought process after the jump.

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a big dose of “aww”

As a married man that has yet to have his first kid, sometimes I feel like I’m constantly feeling pressure to start making babies.

angry feyenoord baby

while i want my eventual offspring to be a fan of football, THIS type of child fan might be a bit over the top.

My high school friends are starting to have kids, as are a few from college. There must be something in the water at work, as there at minimum five pregnant ladies wandering around the office right now. And anytime I bring up my wife around any of the lot, they feel it necessary to let me know that I’m effectively “on deck”. Hell, when we got a puppy a while back, my mother-in-law told us we should have had a baby instead.

It’s not that I don’t want to have kids, I just don’t want them yet. Considering that’s it’s a tiny miracle that I’m actually able to make it to work each day on time, it would be safe to say that I’m maybe not quite mature enough for that kind of responsibility yet.

Thankfully, my lovely wife has agreed to postpone having children, for a little while at least. I convinced her it’s so we can enjoy each other’s company sans-children, take some trips, etc. However — and perhaps more importantly — by delaying having a baby, I’ll still have the energy to get up and watch early morning soccer matches each weekend. Also thankfully, my wife very rarely reads my posts.

So, imagine my surprise this morning that, while I’m reading through my normal morning blogroll, I found myself thinking I wanted to have a kid of my own.

But, not just any kid. I want this kid:

How freaking awesome is he?!?! He knows damn near every player’s name, and he’s what, 6 or 7 at the most? And not only does he know their names, but he’s genuinely having his mind blown by seeing his Spanish heroes. That’s not to mention that he’s not even Spanish: he’s actually Costa Rican! I doubt there are more than a handful of 6-year-old grommets in the entirety of the US that can name half of the USMNT players on site, let alone the players from another country.

For those concerned that the poor little guy’s hopes were crushed because most of La Furia Roja passed him by despite his ear-splitting screams (I’m sure Carlos Puyol’s ears are still ringing after he decided to quickly bypass the youngster), worry not. As this linked video shows at the 3:08 mark, he was actually able meet a few of the stars. But that wasn’t enough for this young fanatic, as he was even so bold as to pet Fernando Torres’ magnificent blonde mop!

What… a… badass!

Now, I am perfectly aware I can’t have this particular kid. I’m sure his parents would certainly balk at the idea, not to mention the whole language barrier thing that might prove a tad problematic as well. So that leaves me only to hope that my eventual child will be half as awesome as this footy-obsessed toddler.

Sadly, that’s also making a big assumption that I won’t smother him/her so much with soccer that they end up hating the sport and preferring that disgusting gridiron variety just to spite me.

the great schism

There is a war going on, and it’s battlefield is professional football.

michel platini

if i were uefa's michel platini, i'd be very worried about the complaints from my biggest clubs.

Now, before you get all worked up about me calling a soccer problem a “war,” I know that any issue occurring in the game isn’t exactly comparable to any of the “real wars” that are currently plaguing the planet — Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Sudan or even Mexico’s drug war, for example. It’s completely fair to say that any conflict brewing within a sport is effectively a first world problem. I don’t mean any disrespect, so why don’t you go ahead and put down that pitchfork.

But for all intensive purposes, I’m calling it a “war” because there is an enormous battle getting ready to take place over the future of the professional sport we all love and obsess over. Just like the Great Schism of 1054 that broke apart the Catholic Church, this impending war will shake the very foundations of professional soccer if not resolved.

I wrote a month ago about class warfare in the game, and the damage that financial inequality has done to it. The cascading pyramid system of European football has created a system where the powerful become more powerfulon the backs of the little guys (shades of real life, perhaps?). That’s why it takes a club like Manchester City to spend it’s way into powerful elite.

This system has also given increasing amounts of power to the clubs with respect to the international game, and rightfully so. After all, the national teams only pay a fraction of the costs in developing international caliber players, the majority of which is paid by the many clubs across the globe. But in the end, the national teams reap rewards from all of that investment by the clubs without as much at risk if a player get’s injured. At the very least, this is why I think it’s fair that clubs should be compensated by FIFA in those situations.

But as the club game has grown in popularity, the race to capitalize and profit on the club game has caused the clubs to continuously push for more and more concessions from the international game and the governing bodies.

And frankly, their demands are ever increasing and completely troubling.

jorge valdano

when a former major executive at a major club makes major accusations, i have major concerns.

Former Manchester City CEO Garry Cook was one of the first to publicly claim that the idea of a breakaway European Super League was being discussed back in 2008. But he wasn’t the last either. As recently as last month, former Real Madrid Sporting Director Jorge Valdano claimed that Real and Barça will eventually have to move on from La Liga because the competition isn’t strong enough for them.

Let’s focus less on the fact that both Cook and Valdano are publicly-shamed, formerly high ranking members of their clubs’ hierarchies, and focus more on the fact that they were both very high ranking officials at their former clubs.  These guys were the ones sitting in on and directing the shady backroom deals that everyone knows suspects happen at the world’s biggest clubs.

The fact that both of these departed executives, coming from two vastly different countries with very different sporting cultures, have declared that their clubs were at least kicking around the idea of breaking away from their existing domestic leagues… isn’t that extremely worrying to anyone else?!?!

Throwing fuel on the fire is the speculated work of former Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon. Unlike Cook and Valdano, Kenyon is very well respected within the game’s management circles, and apparently he is already working on a plan to help clubs break away when they want to do it. Though he has yet to publicly back up said claims, I can’t imagine Peter working on a project that was merely a pipe dream.

The idea of a break away “European Super League”, akin to the major sports leagues on this side of the pond, has long been a dream of the major clubs. The best playing the best, week in and week out, is — no matter how you put it — a mouthwatering idea.

But with clubs once again apparently threatening their imminent withdrawal, would a EuroLeague really be the right move for professional football?

The positives, at first at least, seem to heavily tilt the scales in favor of this breakaway league.

  • For the fans, it would easily be a mouthwatering opportunity to truly see a European champion crowned in the same way a normal national league system would crown a champion: through a weekly league table. The current Champions League format almost promotes conservative/boring tactics as clubs look to minimize the risk of conceding away goals while waiting for the other teams to make a mistake. Replacing the knockout rounds with a league table would allow teams to focus on putting in solid performances across an entire season instead of just trying to go on a good run towards the end of the competition.
  • The clubs would surely rake in a mountain of cash through a revised competition. By breaking away and drawing up their own rules, they would suddenly have the ability to take a significantly larger chunk of the profits than the current set-ups allow.
  • Playing off the potential increase in revenues is that money’s ability to possibly save some “super” clubs that are currently on shaky financial ground. Proud, illustrious clubs hampered by leagues they’ve outgrown (The Old Firm, Ajax, FC Copenhagen, etc.) could potentially return to their former glory by using the higher revenue provided by a Euro League to strengthen and balance their books. Some of these clubs, notably Rangers in Scotland, are already looking to break away from their existing leagues just to survive, and would surely jump if a bigger opportunity showed itself.
  • Players the world over, just as they do today with the Champions League, would undoubtedly strive to compete in this one competition to rule them all. Just like with James Milner, guys would leave behind starting spots at slightly less prestigious clubs just to ride the pine at clubs competing in the world’s penultimate league. The wages are sure to be higher for those that are able to make the jump, thus increasing the desire of players to make it to that level. And just like their employers, some are even calling for the league themselves.

But to be honest, all of those seem like such short term improvements. A look at the other side of the coin reveals some startling issues that would arrise from a breakaway European super league:

  • The little clubs that aren’t lucky enough to make the cut for the new league would eventually become second-rate, feeder squads to the EuroLeague clubs. The amount of financial discrepancies between the leagues would no-doubt cause the best players from the rest be cherry-picked by the elite sides. Not that this doesn’t already happen to an extent, but with no chance of ever being promoted to the big time, what other purpose could a small club serve? Welcome to the minor leagues of Europe!
  • How would the fans of the small clubs feel about supporting a club that could never possibly reach the big time? The appeal of the super league and it’s clubs would surely dilute the interest in smaller clubs and their competitions.
  • While the creation of a breakaway league would probably save some clubs on poor financial footing, the power vacuum left by their departure from smaller leagues will likely lead to the quick demise of many clubs and competitions. Think of leagues like the Scottish Premier League: without Rangers and/or Celtic to draw in TV viewers, would the SPL and all of its clubs actually be able to survive?

The potential ripple effect from a mass withdrawal of major clubs from European competitions could be devastating and far reaching. Stress on could.

The European Cup has long stood as UEFA’s answer to the clubs’ calls for a super league, though it’s never quite been the competition the clubs have desired. In fact, the threat of clubs breaking away from the traditional structure has essentially mandated UEFA to revamp the competition numerous times just to keep them appeased.The original rebranding of the tournament to the Champions League — a change that drastically increased the revenues generated for participating clubs — is one such example of this. And it’s good thing that they did, as the exit of the old continent’s major clubs from the domestic and international leagues which UEFA sanctions would have surely been a fatal blow to the organization.

liverpool's john henry

if you think that JWH wouldn't breakaway from the premier league to maximize his investment return, you're only kidding yourself.

Unfortunately for UEFA, the reorganized Champions League is already growing stale. The group stage is generally considered a bore, with the top teams even fielding weakened sides because the competition is often poor. There are already calls to revamp the competition to keep fans and clubs interested, once again creating leverage for the clubs to break away.

Of course, this all hinges on whether or not the owners of said clubs have the stones to make this kind of move. Considering the fallout and subsequent backing away from the purported desire of some Premier League foreign owners wanting to end the relegation/promotion system, as well as having clubs sell their own international television rights, I’m guessing that their stones aren’t quite as big as some fear.

But the failure of those initiatives doesn’t mean we shouldn’t worry about this one.

Look, I’m not sitting here saying I have a solution to this threat, and I’m not sure of anyone that does yet. Without a doubt, tackling the issue of financial inequality between the clubs is a good first step. Though as intimately tied to the solution as that financial inequality is, fixing that problem is another completely different mountain to scale itself.

I am, however, saying that I’m really worried about the prospect of a breakaway league. And if it happens, I can’t help but worry more whether Tottenham will actually be included in it.

wrong side XI: defensive center mid

this is part VIII 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.

these fine gentleman face off for my defensive midfield starting spot.

You probably thought I had forgotten about these Wrong Side XI posts, didn’t you? Admittedly, I haven’t been cranking out these posts nearly as fast I originally promised. And yet here we are, with summer in the rearview mirror and my summer post series is still dragging on. You can see my excuse on the site’s Facebook page if you’re really interested in hearing the reason for the delay.

Anyway, it’s high time we get back to it, and we’ll do so by narrowing down my selections for defensive midfield. I’m guessing due to the wait I put you all through to get to this point, I you’re probably not interested in a further wait, so let’s dive right into my #5 choice…

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