pic of the week 2/3-2/9

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A pitch invader gets a very Brazilian celebration

Like the increasing trend of students rushing the court in college basketball, invading the pitch is becoming incredibly cliché. It used to be a unique event, but it happens so often anymore it hardly warrants attention. No longer reserved for just the obnoxiously inebriated supporter — though those guys still show up on occasion — we’ve seen pitch invaders ranging from political activists to thrill seeking streakers in recent years. And when it comes to celebrating supporters rushing out en masse, it sure seems like the standard for justifying the rushing the playing surface has diluted tremendously. The television cameras at the stadium have even been instructed to ignore them, so as to not promote more banal tomfoolery.

But last week, one pitch invader managed to transcend the cliché nature of the action and captured the world’s attention in the process. Seven year old Ayo Dosumu slipped away from his father and down onto the field in the immediate aftermath of the Brazil’s 5-0 dismantling of hosts South Africa. But before security was able to whisk him away, hat-trick hero Neymar scooped up the youngster, carried him over to his teammates who then proceeded to hoist the youngster up on their shoulders. And the world ate it up, despite the fact that little guy totally broke a bunch of rules in the process.

Cuteness counts for something, right? Let’s just hope this doesn’t provoke a rash of pitch invasions this summer with fans from around the world trying to recreate Ayo’s picturesque moment for themselves.

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el clásico tranquilo

As a dedicated fan of the beautiful game, no matter who you support, there are a number of dates each year that just about all of us circles on our calendars as “can’t miss” matches.

while normally a really exciting affair, the lead up to the first of this year’s clasicos has been unusually quiet… and even boring if you ask san iker.

The obvious ones are the dates of major international finals, Europe’s Champions League final, and South America’s Copa Libertadores. There are also a number of club rivalry matches — the so called “derbies” — that get the same treatment. Even if you don’t support the teams battling it out, the history and passion wrapped up in the matches often make them extremely entertaining affairs. Notable examples are the Derby d’Italia between Juventus and Inter, the Superclásico contested between River Plate and Boca Juniors, the currently-muted Old Firm Derby between Rangers and Celtic, and more recently the Manchester Derby between United and City.

However, the crown jewel of rivalries has to be Spain’s El Clásico. 

With apologies to a very excellent Atlético Madrid side, Real Madrid and Barcelona are the two best sides on the Iberian peninsula in both a historical and modern context. Between them, the two European giants have won 53 La Liga titles, 44 Copa del Reys, and 13 European Cups. That said, the rivalry runs far deeper than just bulging trophy cabinets. It also has deep roots in the highly charged cultural and political tug of war between the Catalonia and Castile regions of the country.

And this weekend, we all have the privilege of watching the first Clásico of the season as Real visits Barça’s cavernous Camp Nou. Oddly though, the hype in the lead up to this match seems dull in comparison to years past.

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ten words or less #74

we check back in with dribble 4 toledo, who now find themselves in paulding, ohio.

we check back in with dribble 4 toledo, who now find themselves in sherwood, ohio.

It seems like everyone is hitting the road these days. Premier League clubs are playing one another in Yankee Stadium. Or how about Neyamar, who’s packing his bags and leaving Brazil for greener (potentially) pastures in Barcelona. Better yet, remember the guys I wrote about back in early February? You know, the band of four dudes from my hometown who were making an epic trip across the state with only a soccer ball at their feet and the goal of raising money and awareness for the poor of Toledo in their minds?

Well at the close of the ninth day of Dribble4Toledo‘s 250 mile route, I’m happy to report the guys already find themselves well over halfway through their journey from Monroe to Toledo. Along the way, they’ve had some interesting detours along the route, so be sure to check out their Facebook page to chart their progress and see what they’re getting themselves into. And congrats and safe travels again to the boys as they continue their path across Ohio!

And to keep the trend going, I’ll also be hitting the road this week… albeit in significantly more lazy fashion, as I’ll be in a car and not hoofing it like the boys from D4T. First, I’ll be heading North to watch the US Men as they take on a Spurs-rich Belgium side in Cleveland. Then at the weekend, I’ll be sliding over to Chicago’s Toyota Park to watch the Fire battle DC United and kick off the next big project here at WSOTP. All told, it will be over a 1000 miles worth of driving just so I can fill these pages with content and keep your prying eyes coming back for more. Don’t worry, you can thank me later.

In the mean time, enjoy these excellent links from around the interwebs.

NYCFC’s logo won’t look like this; and that’s a shame. – mwillis.com

A brilliant breakdown of the reasons behind Falcao to Monaco. – reddit.com/u/nikcub

But will Monaco even be allowed to play in France? – guardian.co.uk

Neymar will either prove he belongs or crash and burn. – espnfc.com

The end of a beautiful friendship: Cosmos switch to Nike. – footballshirtculture.com

Trying to get into the Champions League Final… for free.
- supportersnotcustomers.com

Americanisms vs Britishisms. Funny thing: there is no right answer. – bbc.co.uk

Cesc on a mission to play for everyone I hate. – foxsports.com

This one is for mi amiga colombiana… crazy Colombian hair! – thebeautifulgear.com

Everton redesign their kit: fans hate it. Club’s response: surprising. – evertonfc.com

ten words or less #64

christmas soccer

what… this isn’t how you celebrate your christmas every year?

No matter what your beliefs, as the oft-played song says, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”. But while most might label it as such because of the presents, the family gatherings or the excessive amount of eating and drinking that often accompanies the holiday season, my reasoning is a little different: football, football and more football. Between three full sets of match days in a fortnight and the upcoming January transfer window, there’s enough soccer on tap to feed the needs of even the most ardent footie fanatic.

So to help kick things off, I’ve prepared my latest TWOL posts to help get you in the mood for the insanity.

Most leagues put up nets to protect fans, not players. – bbc.co.uk

Should we start sounding the death knell for GolTV? – philly.com

Lone Udinese fan travels to Sampdoria, shown excellent time. – football-italia.net

“The oldest extant professional U.S. soccer footage.” – freebeermovement.com

Apparently, Neymar has a thing for Disney princesses. – dirtytackle.net

The reasons behind Timmy Chandler’s USMNT indecision. – inbedwithmaradona.com

This might explain some of the shit writing on Goal.com. – guardian.co.uk

Get me this, and I might start drinking hard liquor. – theoriginalwinger.com

Who’s better: EPL or La Liga? It’s not even close. – blog.paddypower.com

This kid is… what’s the word… deluded. – reddit.com/soccer

sell by date

Sometimes, I find it amazing how factors outside the world of football can so profoundly affect the game.

Brazil's Lucas Moura

lucas moura’s £35 million capture by PSG is a sign of the times with young brazilian talents.

For instance, a nation’s culture often influences its traditional style of play. England’s fast-paced, direct style can very much be linked to the importance of bravery, determination and a “do it for the Queen” mentality in the country’s cultural values. Germany’s traditionally disciplined outlook might have given way to a more creative one in recent years, but that was due in large part to refocusing their efforts on technical development — a prowess for which the German’s are well-known. Even in the US, our wear our heart on our sleeves, work harder than anyone else attitude shines through in our national side’s tendency to have extremely fit, industrious players.

Political fighting and revolution has seen club football in Egypt suspended since March 2011. The Pacific Northwest’s fondness for the alternative scene made it the perfect location to become soccer’s American hotbed, as they’ve embraced America’s most-bagged upon sport like true hipsters that they are. It’s even been postured that the main reason the World Cup has been hustled about to so many far-flung locations is so Sepp Blatter can win himself a Noble Peace Prize.

Of course, the biggest outside factor that I’ve neglected to mention so far is also the most obvious: money.

Most of the time when thinking about the influence that the influx of money into the game displays, most would be quick to point out one of a few key examples. The success seen with Roman Abramovich’s propping up of Chelsea, the Qatari’s pumping up Paris Saint-Germain, or Sheik Mansour pouring nearly a billion into Manchester City serve as the archetype for money’s impact on the game. But billionaires investing in various individual clubs isn’t the only way that money helps to shape the current state of the game.

To illustrate this point, consider Brazil. Long recognized as the world’s pre-eminent and largest factory of footballing talent, clubs around the world have long sought to unearth their own Brazilian and take advantage of the jogo bonito that spews from their feet. It was a relatively easy task for most European sides to cherry pick, too. Dangle a carrot of substantially higher wages than what their Brasileiro clubs could afford to pay, offer their clubs a tidy fee, and you’d have yourself a Brazilian. For instance, take a look at how much it set back European sides to purchase some of Brazil’s most famous exports over the last fifteen years:

Player Brazilian Club Buying Club Year Age Transfer Fee
Rivaldo Palmeiras Deportivo la Coruña 1994 24 £10.5m
Ronaldo Cruziero PSV Eindhoven 1994 17 £4.8m
Cafu São Paulo Real Zaragoza 1995 25 £1.3m
Ronaldinho Grêmio Paris Saint-Germain 2001 21 £4.5m
Lúcio Internacional Bayer Leverkusen 2001 24 £7.4m

First, notice that all of the purchasing clubs aren’t exactly European heavyweights — well, PSG weren’t at the time anyway. For the Brazilians, that was a good thing. Each player moved to a side that they were all but guaranteed playing time, which allowed them to develop and improve their games before they could progress to bigger and better clubs. Second, notice too how low the transfer fees paid for each of them was. With the clubs not demanding ridiculous buyouts for their players, it wasn’t a massive risk for a European side to take a gamble on a player that wouldn’t be a guarantee to pan out. And when it did work out, it did ensure a rather large profit for the club that was willing to take that risk.

But that trend soon changed, and as you might expect, it was sparked primarily by a financial boom born outside the realm of football.

While the world economy has suffered through the largest recession since the Great Depression over the last decade, Brazil’s economy has been one of the few that’s bucked the trend. Thanks to a liberalization of their foreign investment policies, combined with an emerging technology sector and the growing importance off their off-shore gas and oil holdings, Brazil’s GDP has averaged over 5% growth over the last five years and will soon become the world’s 5th largest economy. And though there are still vast amounts of people living in the slums in the country, the rapidly growth of the middle class is a sign that things are moving in the right direction.

neymar being mobbed by the masses

as neymar’s star has risen, so has his asking price.

Predictably, the nation’s national pastime was quick to see the benefits of such economic stimulation. Third party investment in the star players at Brazilian clubs — which provides the investor a large cut of each player’s image rights and shirt sales — skyrocketed, allowing Brazilian sides to offer considerably higher wages than they previously could. These higher wage offerings have allowed sides like Santos to hang on to highly sought after talents like Neymar far longer than they would have been able to in the past. Additionally, it’s also helped sides like São Paulo attract veteran players such as Luís Fabiano and get them come back a few years earlier than they previously would (I penned an entire post about this last season). All of which has helped to make the Brazilian leagues much more competitive, not to mention more appealing to the all-important foreign TV market.

So all seems honky dory, right? Well, not quite.

On the surface, Neymar and others of his generation are reaping the benefits of the country’s new-found wealth. They’re getting paid as much as they would if they had moved on to Europe, but without the risk of having to move an ocean away from home and try to adapt to a new culture. All your friends and family are close, and you’re one of the best players in the country. The average player still get’s to leave behind the life of poverty, yet doesn’t have to go a half world away to make it happen. Win-win.

But like everything else in life, there’s always a flip side to the coin. And in the case of Brazilian footballers, there are several elements to other side of the coin.

Sure, Brazilians might not need Europe for its riches any longer. However, that doesn’t mean that they don’t need it’s leagues either. Look at Neymar performance in the Olympic final, where the golden boy was once again exposed. Mexico’s high pressure defense didn’t provide him the time and space for his standard flash and panache. El Trí were able to force into bad positions on the pitch, rushed passes and a handful of turnovers. So for a player that many have claimed to be one of the best players in the world, why wasn’t he able to assert himself better?

Most sides that he faces in South America adopt a very deep back line to leave room for their favored counter attacking style. Coupled with the respect his talent deserves, and Neymar tends to have loads of time for his theatrics. But when forced where he was forced to face a high pressure defense, that space and time evaporated. The same thing happened to him in the Club World Cup last year, where he was in over his head against Barcelona. Just like his time playing in this summer’s Olympics, he had his moments of brilliance, but they were few and fleeting against the top-notch competition.

Oscar of Brazil

oscar shown for team brazil during the olympics, but will he be given the same opportunity at stamford bridge?

So while going to Europe won’t necessarily provide young Brazilians with the fatter wallet it used to, the old continent is still unrivaled when it comes to providing top class competition. Everyone in your side is a good player, and the day-in-day-out training and stiffer competition for both your place on the pitch and the results of the match will undoubtedly push a special talent to reach their full potential. As long as Neymar continues to stay in Brazil, it’s highly probably that he could potentially never reach that potential… and that would be a shame, especially considering the country’s sky-high ambitions.

So now that we’ve established why the young starlets of Brazil need to move on to Europe at one point or another, how does this tie back in to the country’s finances?

With these young players staying longer and getting paid on par with their European counterparts, they’ve become infinitely more valuable assets to their current Brazilian clubs. When they sell on a star player, Flamengo or Grêmio or Fluminense don’t just lose a hard to replace member of their starting eleven, but also a possibly impossible to replace income stream from advertising dollars and shirt sales. So if some club from Europe really wants to pry away one of their most prized resources, they’re going to have to shell out a handsome sum to do so. That’s why we’re seeing a young 19-year old starlet like Lucas Moura requiring nearly a £35 million transfer fee, an outrageous fee that only a super-rich side like PSG can afford. In fact, this has been a developing trend for quite a while now:

Player Brazilian Club Buying Club Year Age Transfer Fee
Robinho Santos Real Madrid 2005 21 £18.8m
Pato Internacional A.C. Milan 2007 18 £18.8m
Oscar São Paulo Chelsea 2012 20 £20.0m
Lucas Moura São Paulo Paris Saint-Germain 2012 19 £34.8m

That’s silly money, the kind that only a few teams in the world can pay. And with Internacional president Giovanni Luigi claiming Tottenham or any other suitors will need to meet the £47m buyout clause for Leandro Damião, and Santos saying Neymar is now “priceless”, it certainly looks a trend that will continue. Which would be fine, if it weren’t for just one more niggling factor.

When a 20-year Oscar arrived in West London — with the weight of expectation from his £20m pricetag hanging around his neck — there are a half dozen other players that can play in his favored central creator role: Mata, Hazard, Ramires, Essien, Benayoun and McEachran. And like we’ve seen from players that don’t get regular minutes at this pivotal point in their lives, they don’t continue to develop. Every emerging talent moving to a European power should expect a dog fight to climb into the first eleven, and understand it’s a risk.

Now compare those clubs to those of the players mentioned in the first list, and notice the size difference. If a player goes earlier to a smaller club, they might not get the pay day, but they’re given a much more realistic chance of establishing themselves in the side. The pay off for which can mean the difference between success abroad, establishing one’s place in the national team, and eventually reaching their maximum potential.

It’s almost as if young Brazilians are gallons of milk at the grocery: if they’re held onto too long, they go past their sell by dates.

One would hope that CBF officials are taking note of these kinds of trends, too. If they have any hope of Brazil lifting the World Cup trophy in the Maracanã in two year’s time, they’ll have to break the stranglehold of Spain’s mile deep talent pool, beat the German’s in the race to redevelopment, and maybe find a way to beat Mexico! And they’ll need this extremely talented crop of youngsters to reach their full potentials to do that. Yet if their starlets waste away on the benches of European giants for the next few years, I don’t know if that will be possible.

Look, it’s great that Brazil’s economy is expanding and lifting millions out of poverty. And it’s equally great that Brazilian players don’t have to seek pastures anew to achieve their dreams. But if the trickle down effect of all this money into Brazilian football continues on its current trajectory, I worry that the expectations of the entire country might be a bit too high… the victims of their own success.

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

ten words or less #39

andrei arshavin giraffe shirt

if arshavin's fashion sense catches on, we all have reason to be pessimistic.

It may just be me, but I feel like my recent posts have taken a rather pessimistic view of the beautiful game. A quick look at my front page shows a total of seven non-round-up posts, and four of them are nothing but me bitching about some current aspect of the game. I must think soccer is going to hell then, right?

Well, sort of… but I could also just be moody and hypersensitive to issues that I think are currently plaguing the game. If it makes you feel better, you can call me a pessimist. I won’t take it the wrong way.

However, if you’re not yet concerned about the state of affairs in professional football, just take a gander at a few of the links below. We’ll make you into pessimist in no time.

Is Serie A’s decline due more to TV than stadiums? – theelastico.com

The Home Nations collectively shudders at the site of this. – footballshirtculture.com

You can actually feel the sorrow in the author’s voice. – twofootedtackle.com

While a valid point, is there a workable solution? – soccerissue.com

Is Balotelli a Dynamo Dresden fan, or just their inspiration? – dirtytackle

Pelé makes boots now, undoubtedly thinks they’re the best ever. – theoriginalwinger.com

Neymar has nothing on these guys. – youtube.com

A good effort that needs revising: too much white space. – kckrs.com

trouble in the city

manchester city's carlos tevez and roberto mancini

an unsettled tevez is the largest of mancini's problems with the city strike corps.

As we broach the halfway point of the summer signing period, it’s fair to say that the transfer docket has been a busy one already. Big money moves by the traditional powers across Europe have been popping  up on the news radar since the days immediately following the close of last season:

Let’s not forget the rumor mill either, as headlines linking power sides like Barcelona (who have all but signed the dynamic Alexis Sánchez), Chelsea (links to just about everyone), and Juventus (failing miserably so far, but still in for Kun Agüero) to star names the world over. So expecting further transfer excitement this summer is a given.

Of course, there’s one other big player in the transfer market that I haven’t mentioned thus far… everyone’s favorite oil-rich side, Manchester City. City have been, predictably, linked to every player on the planet just as they have for since Sheikh Mansour’s takeover two seasons ago. (I’m convinced that they throw their hat into every transfer discussion, even if they’re not actually interested, simply to drive up the price for their rivals).

And for those concerned that the world will continue to be flipped upside down with mega bids left and right, the Citizens picked up right where they left off in January. Already completed are the signings of Arsenal’s Gaël Clichy and Partizan’s Stefan Savić, both of whom will bolster City’s wide defensive options. Neither of those acquisitions is that surprising when you consider the style of play adopted by manager Roberto Mancini, who always seems more than content to pack it in and hold out for draws.

At the attacking end of the pitch, on the surface it also appears that they’re getting even stronger without spending an (additional) dime. Disregarding the existing strikers on staff, the sky blues will also the return of several class strikers to City of Manchester Stadium Etihad Stadium this summer from various loans. Craig Bellamy returns from the wilds of the Championship, and Adebayor returns from a decent spell at Real Madrid.

craig bellamy and roberto mancini of manchester city

something tells me that bellamy is putting on a fake smile here.

It would be foolish to think that there won’t be other signings (including what could be a retarded move for Arsenal’s Samir Nasri, who is essentially the same type of player as David Silva), so you could forgive someone for thinking that they might just be unbeatable next year.

So while all of that makes Citeh look like certain trophy challengers, I can’t shake the nagging feeling that the team’s current offensive circumstances might be a sign that their master plan to become a world power might not be going to plan.

Bellamy hates Mancini
Since it’s been a while since the Welshman has made any relevant headlines, it might be worth me hashing out a quick refresher on the Craig Bellamy-Manchester City story. Let’s just say, it could best be described as “rough”:

  • January 2009: City sign Bellamy from West Ham, their first “big” offensive signing of the Oil Era, for a reported £14 million. Craig leaves the Hammers among rumors that he was forcing his way out of the squad.
  • December 2009: Bellamy threatens to leave the Citizens over the firing of manager Mark Hughes, and is subsequently dropped by new manager Roberto Mancini.
  • August 2010: Fearing that he might not make the Mancini’s 25-man EPL roster after the arrivals of Carlos Tévez, Jô (back from his Everton loan), Roque Santa Cruz and eventually Mario Balotelli, Bellamy mulls retirement and expresses frustration with Mancini’s lack of faith in him. He eventually leaves on loan to Championship side Cardiff City, his hometown club.
  • June 2011: Hoping to make his loan to Cardiff permanent, Craig asks that City let him leave on a free transfer. The sky blue’s respond by slapping a £4m price tag on him… very unaffordable for such a small club.
The Welshman recently stated that he fully expects City to let him rot in the reserves this year unless a club meets their valuation of him, and that he and Mancini haven’t spoken since the week after the Italian arrived at the club. Old legs and a nasty injury record do give some weight to Mancini’s position, but a player of Bellamy’s… uh… pedigree festering on the bench would be equivalent to a cancer in the dressing room. And we already know how bad that can get.

Džeko could be impotent.
It’s still too early to call the Bosnian a bust, but I think the Bosnian is a bust. Six goals in 21 appearances for the Citizens is under-performing when you cost 27 million and reportedly asked for 175k per week in wages, unless you’re Chelsea and think that’s a great return compared to their baby-faced flop.

City will undoubtedly really want Džeko to make a u-turn this season, and a return to the form he showed at Wolfsburg (85 goals in 135 matches) would be a gigantic boost for next season’s prospects. It’s a steep hill to climb back to that level though, and if his confidence in front of goal carries over from last season, it could be a very difficult hill to climb.

If Džeko does want to reach his lofty purchase price, someone needs to make sure he doesn’t ask this guy for advice.

emmanuel adebayor at manchester city

will adebayor be able to secure a permanent deal at real madrid to escape his city hell?

Adebayor hates City.
You have to give to Ade: the guy has the uncanny ability to always stumble up. Regardless of where he plies his trade, the Togolese striker has starts the stint wonderfully, ends it woefully, but still manages to turn his next gig into a better one (see his goals to games ratio during his career).

Manchester City quickly looked to loan off the big man after his production started to fall off, and newer shinier strikers began arriving on the regular. And when he predictably put in a decent showing while on loan at Real Madrid, you just knew that Adebayor would try to trip into a permanent deal at the most historically successful club of all time.

Unable to secure a deal before the close of last season, Emmanuel headed back to Manchester for preseason. But Roberto Mancini long ago deemed the striker surplus to requirements, and left him off the club’s preseason travel roster. Naturally, this angered Ade. Seeing that the player and club’s relationship over the last year could best be described as tepid, I can’t imagine that now he would be even close to the type of player you would want mingling amongst your squad.

Balotelli is certifiably crazy.
I don’t care if he is giving away money and providing youngsters with (shoddy) advice; I’m not going to be fooled. There’s not really any need for me to elaborate, but if you really want to hear my thoughts on the Italian wild child… let me just leave this here.

Let’s just say putting all of your chips in the crazy kid’s corner on the goal scoring front might not be the wisest decision.

Tévez needs to leave.
For the longest time now, I’ve thought Carlos Tévez has just been a whiny bitch. He complains about life in England and how he’s not found anything to do there in five years, but he’s not even bothered to learn English. Tévez has long said that he’s been considering retirement, despite having his peak years ahead of him and lot’s more earning power. He came off as mercenary punk during his exit from Manchester United, and then rubbed his previous supporters’ faces in the mud by openly mocking them after joining their biggest rivals. And for the better part of 6 months, he’s been trying to squeeze his way out of City.

But if you were to ask me whether all of the drama that comes with employing Tévez would be worth having him on my team, I would overwhelmingly tell you “yes.” There’s no arguing that the mercurial Argentine is one of the most productive strikers in the game, bagging 86 goals in 180 matches for the two Manchester clubs. He has an engine that never stops, an asset that can’t be overvalued as he does it on both sides of the ball. Simply put, his on pitch efforts outweigh all of that, and I suspect that’s why clubs puts up with him.

What I didn’t realize though, was there was another driving factor in Carlos’ hope to leave the Citizens. While it’s clear that striker is at least a little unsettled, it’s really his wife who has had it with life in England. She’s already threatened to leave her fabulously rich husband because it’s so horrible in the British Isles. I mean, her husband’s band doesn’t even have a charted pop hit in England! How is this possible?!?! And while the two temporarily patched things up, she’s already moved back to Argentina, and me thinks she’s threatened to leave him permanently if he doesn’t follow her home. You can’t blame a guy for wanting to do what it takes to keep his family together.

Whether or not Corinthians or Boca Juniors, the only clubs that Tévez says he’d go back to South America for, have the ability to shell out the funds necessary to pry one of the elite strikers on the planet away from City remains to be seen. I suspect that if Carlos does go back to one of those clubs, it will only be if his “agent” Kia Joorbachian ponies up some of the fee himself and resumes his 3rd party ownership role (which is fairly prevalent in the Argentine and Brazilian spheres).

A lot needs to happen for Tévez to be reunited with his family anytime soon, and sadly for him, he may have to retire to make it happen.

The others are unproven or not good.
I’m not going to waste my breath talking about Jô, who is miraculously getting some looks from some Russian Premier League sides, as he clearly can’t cut it in England. Roque Santa Cruz was washed up when City signed him, and he’ll be lucky to trick Blackburn into taking him back again. Alex Nimely, a 20-year-old Liberian striker who’s been at the club since 2008, hasn’t sniffed the pitch during a first team match yet.

Needless to say, if two of Tévez, Adebayor and Bellamy leave, the Citizens definitely need to bolster their attacking ranks.

—————————————-

Look, I’m not trying to write Manchester City off this season. Their pockets are too deep, their playing staff too talented, and they did well enough last season with similar problems to qualify for the Champions League. To discount them, even with their strike force’s plethora of problems, would be nothing short of foolish. But if I were a City supporter (and due to their badass line with Umbro, I sometimes wish I was), I would be extremely worried about those problems.

If you’re trying to chase glory with three unsettled and unhappy strikers looking to move away, an overpriced dud, and a player who belongs in a straight jacket, even with all the talent in the rest of the squad… well, don’t expect to make it any higher than you’ve already made it.

i’m coming home

Perhaps it started off as a homecoming; an alternative to hawking one’s fading talents for a few more substantial paychecks in Eastern Europe (Welcome to Tashkent, Uzbekistan!), the Middle East (I have sand in my eye again) , Asia (You can taste the smog) or MLS (It’s nice here, but where are the fans?).

elano blumer celebrates his return to santos

coming back to brazil, despite during his peak years, has rejuvenated elano.

As a Brazilian star, why not come home and end your playing days where you built your legend? Be close to your family. Enjoy the beach. Maybe check out your old favorite brothel… well, maybe they should get some advice from Ronaldo about that first. Whatever the reason, I can only imagine that it’s a lot more comfortable than being in some far-flung locale. Unless your Roberto Carlos, who just can’t seem to make up his mind about whether he wants to play at home or not.

Older European-based players moving back to Brazil has been the norm for quite some time. It works out great for some, for others, they slowly disappear into the Brazilian mist. And really, it makes a lot of sense that they do. Many players return home as they inch towards retirement. One last hurrah at their old stomping ground, then retire to a nice little pad outside of your old neighborhood.

But over the last year, it hasn’t just been the old men coming home. While we’re still seeing the about-to-retire sect return to Brazil, we’ve also seen a host of “big name” young players coming back in the prime of their careers.

Ronaldinho leaving Milan for Flamengo at the peak-ish age of 30 is probably the most famous example of this increasing trend. Though his rapid decline in ability from his glory days at Barcelona may take some of the luster from this example.

Robinho is likely a better example. Though his was only a temporary return and was a necessity in order to keep the spoiled little bastard from rotting on the Manchester City bench, wouldn’t you think that some side in Europe might fancy a 6-month rental? Since the answer to that question has to be yes (he can’t be that big of a prima donna, right?), that means that Little Rob rebuffed those advances in favor of going back home. But why?

rivaldo works out in bunyodkor's squalid weight room

coming home early means you won't have to employ yourself in some foreign land with weight rooms that look like they're in a high school basement.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but up until about five years or so ago, Brazil was essentially (massive generalization warning) a giant slum. So for a player coming home from a financially rewarding European pilgrimage, playing a year or two more in Brazil wasn’t something that would substantially contribute to one’s bottom line.

Today’s a different story though, as players are no longer being paid just peanuts to leave the glitz and glam of Europe… they can now return to see paydays above, at or near their European wages. Five years ago that wouldn’t have been possible, but with the Brazilian economy raging like the fire of billion burned rain forest trees, the clubs started throwing cash around like a Lil’ Wayne video. This can also help to explain why emerging talents like Neymar have hung around the homeland a little longer than most of his predecessors.

Whether or not this is sustainable trend in a possible bubble economy with a rich tradition in corruption is another topic all together.

But money alone can’t be the reason for such a large migration to the Brazilian homeland.

As mentioned in my last round-up post, Brazilian flair and the value it brings is on the decline. In general, it used to be a double win for a European club to bring in a Brazilian player. For one, he would wind up being one of the better players in your squad. And secondly, the acquiring of a Brazilian player would be inject an “oooh-ahhh” factor into the club and make their fans salivate. However, Brazilian players aren’t anymore a sure-thing and often can be the subject of frustration for supporters.

So coming back to Brazil can allow a player the chance to resuscitate a stalling career. It’s fair to say that it would be a bit easier in Brazil, with far less scrutiny, expectation and pressure

robinho was at home in santos

robinho was able to kick start his flagging career in brazil too.

Robinho found himself in just this situation at City, and his return to the old continent has been marginally better after his ego boosting encore at Santos (at the age of 23). Serial-idiot Adriano has had multiple returns (at 26 and 29) to Brazil to do battle with weight, attitude, and self-esteem… though they’re all battles he has seemingly lost. Other examples abound too:

  • Cicinho (aged 27) spent 6 months on loan from Roma at his former club, São Paulo. He’s now back in Europe, on loan again at Villareal.
  • Easily my favorite example is Elano’s return to Santos (28). I’ve been a big admirer of the curly-haired midfielder since his days at Shakhtar Donetsk, and was disappointed that he was shunted during his time at Cit-eh. But he has resumed his development and is playing wonderfully again, easily one of the standout performers for the Seleção in recent friendlies.
  • Luís Fabiano (30), also just cemented a return to São Paulo from Sevilla. In doing so, he also crushed my hopes of Tottenham finally signing their first quality international striker since Berbatov.

Ultimately, the reasons for top players returning during their prime all vary based on each player’s circumstances. We haven’t even examined causes like homesickness, but then again, that’s an issue that probably plagues players regardless of their home country.

Look around Europe now: with a host of european-based players maybe not able to reach the high bar of expectations set by some of their fellow compatriots, maybe we’ll see this trend continue.

Anderson, Denilson, and Jô: are you debating this very idea right now?

With the comforts of familiar surroundings, the prospects of a decent wage, and the lessoned levels of expectation, maybe they should be.