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

About these ads

the sort-of internationals

The international game is back in focus now that the European club season has come to a close. It’s a special time, as rival fans put aside their differences in united support of their national teams. And luckily, there is no shortage or lack of variety in international fixtures to distract us from the summer heat.

xavi playing for catalonia against argentina

wait, why is xavi playing in a shirt that’s not from spain or barcelona?

Up first are the all-important world championships. FIFA, not content to keep itself busy with just bribery, corruption and racism, has a full slate of tournaments this summer to keep us thinking about on-field matters instead of off. The world’s next generation of superstars will be on display in both the u-17 (Mexico, June 18 – July 10) and u-20 (Columbia, July 29 – August 18) World Cups. The lesser followed but equally entertaining Beach Soccer World Cup is being held in Ravenna, Italy, in early September. And who isn’t looking forward to the Women’s World Cup being held in Germany from June 26th to July 17th?!?!

There are also a number of regional competitions on the agenda, with four of the six regional confederations hosting major competitions during the summer. CONCACAF and CONMEBOL will each host their final round regional championships: the Gold Cup and Copa America respectfully. And UEFA’s European Championship and CAF’s African Cup of Nations will have qualifiers ongoing throughout the summer, as they attempt to whittle down to their final fields of sixteen.

And of course there will also be a full serving of the third type of international matches, friendlies, as teams prepare for their upcoming priorities. So what if they’re normally drab affairs that lack the passion of a competitve match and primarily used to test youngsters? There’s no shortage of matches to keep happy both neutral and major fan alike.

But if for some odd reason you can’t find any of those options enticing — after getting your head checked — you do actually have one more type of international fixture left to keep you entertained. Though with world championships, regional tournaments and friendlies off the table, what other type of international matches does that leave you?

The kind that don’t really involve “countries” at all.

Yes, there are actually national teams for places that aren’t actually countries. And no, I’m not talking about places like the U.S. Virgin Islands, who aren’t technically countries but do have true, FIFA-approved squads. (That said, the USVINT are currently ranked 200th in the world rankings and haven’t played a match since 2008… maybe they shouldn’t be a real national team).

Instead, these are the places that FIFA have turned their backs on. Despite this, these far-flung locales still feel the need to field squads to compete in friendlies and play in predominantly unheard-of competitions. They come from regions, principalities, islands, and even “non-defined areas” and play against squads hailing from other lands, real and not real. It’s for this reason that I like to call them the Sort-of Internationals.

So who are these teams?

The most famous of the Sort-of’s is the Catalonia national team. The spiritual home of tiki taka, the Catalonia region of Spain has long been a separatists dreamland. Entrenched in their own “national” identity, culture and language, the region has long sought sovereignty from the Madrid-based Spanish crown. The famous Blaugrana of Barcelona have long been a flag bearer for this movement, and this feeds into the social-undercurrent that intensifies the Barça’s Clásico rivalry with capital club Real. The passion for the independence movement and culture itself is also shared with Espanyol, the region’s other major football club.

But with all of the talent that sprouts from within the state’s borders, it’s unsurprising that a majority of the players “capped” by Catalonia come from Barcelona and Espanyol’s squads. Barça is famous for developing local talent into world class talent, and Espnayol’s has provided some of the strong local contingent too. With players like Xavi, Carles Puyol, Sergio Busquets, Cesc Fàbregas, Gerard Pique, and Victor Valdés all having earned caps recently for the squad, you can easily fathom that they just might be a decent squad. (I also suspect that at least 79% of the reason why Spain won’t let Catalonia secede is that it would deprive the Spanish national team from a major contingent of the current world-dominating squad).

xabi alonso playing for the basque country, or euskadi xi

and what’s with xabi alonso? neither madrid nor spain wear green…

The star power doesn’t stop with the players either, as the squad is currently managed by Dutch legend Johann Cruyff. Such is the attraction of this Sort-of International squad that they have actually competed against “real” national teams such as Brazil, Nigeria, and even Argentina whom they beat 4-2 in the lead up to the 2010 World Cup.

Spain also partially houses another somewhat known “national team”, that of the Basque Country. Though not as well known as the Southern coast group from Catalonia, they also have capped a few illustrious players, including: Xabi Alonso, Fernando Llorente and Mikel Arteta. Many of the Basque players come from the region’s most prominent side, Athletic Bilbao. Bilbao’s unique cantera policy, which focuses entirely on both developing young players from the Basque region and recruiting top-level Basque players from other clubs, makes them the perfect feeder for the faux-national side.

The Euskadi XI, as the Basque Country side is known, not only plays publicized matches against Catalonia, but just like their most-frequent foe, they’ve also faced some prominent sides in friendlies. In fact, they’re currently on a three match winning streak against “real” national sides, which included wins over Estonia, Venezuela, and Serbia.

However, the quality tends to drop off pretty dramatically for the remaining 58 established sort-of international sides. But that’s not to say there aren’t some interesting “countries” to examine.

the guernsey national side kits

guernsey’s “national” side has some pretty sharp kits… and a sponsorship.

  • The Guernsey national football team, the British-owned islands in the English Channel, is well known for producing Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier. Le Tissier did manage to make a number of appearances for the Green Lions, both before and after playing for the better known Three Lions. The fellow channel islands of Jersey and Alderney also sport their own national teams, and the three “nations” regularly compete for their own cup, the Muratti Vase.
  • The Greenland national team, despite being a property of Denmark, appears on track to be elevanted to a FIFA-member status after the Sepp-asaurus approved their new field-turf pitch back in september of last year.
  • The Northern Cyprus national team is composed of Turkish-aligned Cypriots. But don’t you dare confuse them with FIFA-approved Cyprus national team that is mainly composed of ancestral-Greek players… that could get you killed. Officials on the Island aren’t dumb though: in order to spare the Mediterranean island any additional racial tensions, the two sides have never met.
  • The extravagant city of Monaco also has a national team, though they’re also easily confused with French Ligue 2 club side AS Monaco, which is composed entirely of players from outside of the principality. Like Greenland, Monaco have been eagerly been attempting to enter FIFA’s cool club for quite some time. Uniquely though, and unlike Greenland and many of the others on this list, the city state is actually a real country.
  • The Sápmi national team is comprised of players from the extreme northern reaches of Norway, Sweden, Russia and Finland. The most famous player ever to pull on the sápmi strip is Blackburn Rovers midfielder Morten Gamst Pedersen.
  • Sort-of national teams exist outside of the Europe, too. Some notable teams include: Easter Island (disappointingly not a team full of giant stone heads), the Faulkland Islands at the tip of Southern Argentina (who rarely can get a game, due to the pure lack of visitors), and Zanzibar in Africa (who, oddly enough, used to be a “real” national team).

For those of you wanting to take in a bit of the action of the sort-of international variety, you’re in luck! This year, the 14th edition of the Island Games will feature a football tournament that pits 15 teams from non-FIFA approved nations. More information about the tournament, which runs June 26 – July 1 on the Isle of Wight, can be found here.

So if anyone tells you that there won’t be any quality football to watch this summer due to the lack of club matches, be sure to smack them and tell them to open their eyes a bit wider… or maybe use a magnifying glass.

ten words or less #16

can somebody please tell robot jr. that he is supposed to be happy?

looking back over my last few posts, and i feel like i’m a scouser all of the sudden. if it weren’t for all of the other postings being about tottenham, i would understand it if you thought i had switched allegiances. though you have to admit: those boys in red have been quite the soap opera lately, haven’t they?

anyway, here are some of my favorite links from the last few days:

any way this team doesn’t average 10 cards per game? – unprofessionalfoul.com

cristiano ronaldo: toying with defenders since 1983. – dirty tackle @ yahoo.com

you have to admire how this scouser’s handling adversity. – reddit.com/user/porrridge

here’s hoping he doesn’t bleed all over her. – caughtoffside.com

this is why i debate having children. – inbedwithmaradona.com

nobody, not anyone, could possibly dislike this outcome. – whoateallthepies.tv

a perfect definition of the ethos of real madrid. – runofplay.com

this makes me a fan of glen hoddle. – bbc.co.uk

ten words or less #3

we knew maradona was crazy, but i bet you didn't know that he was homicidal too, did you?

these “ten words or less” posts are fantastic little things. i love being able to bang them out in less than 20 minutes, especially when a normal post takes me, at minimum, an hour (but usually more like three). and with the transfer rumor mill spitting out doozies already (i will not talk about the spanish team trying to sign the spanish kid from the english team), and the world cup providing us with an endless stream of content, there really isn’t a better way to address the tsunami of stories i want to share.

so it’s about time for the third edition. let’s go.

maradona will run you over and call you an asshole – telegraph.co.uk

ibrahimovic and pique… gay lovers? you be the judge – momento24.com

if yugoslavia was still around, they would be sick – thirdkit.com

who would win if 100 kids played a pro side? – metro.co.uk …with video!

inter milan’s new away kit in one word: serpents – todosobrecamisetas.blogspot.com

propoganda spin or not, this is kinda scary – soccernet.com

transfer fodder: liverpool want everyone, but have no money – thespoiler.co.uk

unwed father of 13 loves football, is crazy – bbc.co.uk