handle with care

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

Aston Villa Support Stan Petrov

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barcelona's Eric Abidal Scar

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

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

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

Luckily, the players are asking themselves the same questions.

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

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

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

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

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

Chelsea's Eva Carneiro

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

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

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

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

ten words or less #51

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ten words or less #50

real madrid's cristiano ronaldo showing off his leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

this is bigger than one man

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

Lionel Messi of Barcelona

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pele, Maradona and Cruyff in the DeLorean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ronaldo and messi

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

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

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

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

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

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. – football-shirts.co.uk

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

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

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

I want to play Norwegian Bubble Football right now. – kckrs.com

Trolling Atlético fans, Spanish press, and knock-off kit manufacturers. – reddit.com/user/coolinwithcosta

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

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

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

Someone needs to make Twellman and Wynalda watch this. – youtube.com

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. – eplindex.com

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

No matter what your team nickname is, these aren’t acceptable. – football-shirts.co.uk

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

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

Wherever Tévez goes, drama is sure to follow. – thespoiler.co.uk

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

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

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

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

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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