pic of the week 7/22-7/28

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic Bikini

When you are The Zlatan, you do what you want, anywhere you want. He’s pretty well proven that with his willingness to kick teammates all around Europe. And if The Zlatan wants to prance about in a “mankini” after a 0-1 preseason friendly loss against Real Madrid in his native Sweden, then you better believe he’s going to do it.

Why exactly did The Zlatan choose to strip down to what Who Ate All the Pies described as an “ultra masculine bikini”? I doubt it was so hot in Solna that it was necessary to ditch one’s shirt and shorts after the match. Maybe players swapping shorts these days too, and I’ve just not caught on to the trend. Or perhaps he’s worked out a Bendtner-Paddypower-esque deal with GPSports to help get their name out into the marketplace.

You know, on second thought, it’s probably best not to delve into the murky world that is Ibrahimović’s decision making and just let him do what he wants.

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pic of the week 5/13-5/19

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England's Golden Generation Retires

So this week’s Pic of the Week is several pictures, so I’m kind of cheating. But honestly, it would be pretty hard to deny any of the members of England’s so-called “Golden Generation” the opportunity to grace this sacred space on the week they all called time on their (mostly) glittering careers. I mean, could you really pick just one?

Take for instance Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher (top right), who ended his 17 years at Anfield in front of a Kop that’s long sung his name. Across the channel, David Beckham’s PSG teammates (bottom left) gave him a proper sending off by quite literally tossing him off the pitch at the conclusion of the penultimate match of globe-trotting career. Michael Owen (top left) completed his five-year fade into footballing obscurity as he made a late cameo bow at the end of Stoke City’s 1-1 draw with Southampton. And Paul Scholes (bottom right) capped his final appearance in Manchester United red by receiving a yellow card for one last trademark horror tackle… making for possibly the most poetic retirement moment of all time.

So while they all had varying degrees of success as their careers intertwined and went their separate directions, one things is for certain: the world of football will be a very different place without them on the pitch.

pic of the week 4/15-4/21

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Beckham's kids at PSG training

Short of the (future) children of the royals, Brooklyn, Cruz and Romeo Beckham (L-R) are most likely the most famous children in England along with their sister Harper. And given their parents’ fame, it’s not so infrequent that the little rascals show up in the news. But are Beckham’s kids really so important that they should get to buzz about a PSG training session and have kick abouts with some of Europe’s most elite footballers? Come to think of it, the little bastards also took the pitch in LA and Madrid, too. Does David make sure there’s a provision in his contracts where his kids can enter the field of play at any time they please?

Now maybe I haven’t been to enough professional level training sessions; maybe it’s pretty normal to see the players’ offspring wandering around the grounds. And it’s possible that I’m just slightly jealous of the access given to Golden Balls’ progeny. But that doesn’t change the fact that it seems just a little unsafe to have your children anywhere near so close to the Zlatan.

This week’s “Pic of the Week” brought to you by… privilege.

crisis management

Chelsea Fans Want Rafa Out

if you’ve only been in the job for a few days, and fans are already holding up signs like these… you might just find yourself in a managerial crisis.

The midpoint of the European season is often one of the most jam-packed, chaotic and turbulent portions of the yearly footballing calendar. Between the January transfer window, scheduling congestion between all of the major competitions — especially in England where there is not a winter break — and under performing clubs starting to realize that there’s hardly any time to left in the season to really turn their seasons around, the pressure mounting on some clubs and their managers often reaches a fever pitch.

Of course, the media love this time of year for just those reasons. It allows them the ability to not only fabricate report on stories concerning transfer speculation, but also pounce all over clubs who’s managers they feel aren’t able to control the crisis currently enveloping their clubs. Determining whether the agendas those media types are pushing are genuinely those of club’s or their fans’, however, can be a very difficult task. How are we, as media consumers, supposed to really know what’s going on?

Well, we can’t. But it sure can be fun to speculate. So with that in mind, below are listed five managers that the media have deemed to be currently in the hot seat at their respective clubs. For each, we’ll attempt to sift through all of the BS surrounding their situations, and predict a fate for each of these under pressure managers.

Arsene Wenger (Arsenal)

Arsenal's Arsene Wenger

wenger certainly won’t ever admit he’s feeling the pressure, but i think we can all tell he is.

The Situation: Of all the managers that the media are reporting to be in troubled situations at their clubs, as a Spurs supporter, Wenger’s crisis is the one in which I take the most joy. And though the “Professor” has been able to perform admirably on his shoestring transfer budget over the last few years, eight years without a major trophy appears to have rubbed the Gunners’ faithful the wrong way. Sure, sporadic calls for his head echoed around the Emirates in recent seasons, but those calls have grown louder and louder as time has worn on. With just one win in their last four, the discontent within their ranks finally boiled over in last weekend’s loss to Swansea with chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing!” audible even through the television. Wenger’s response? Despite languishing all the way down in 10th in the league table: “This club is in fantastic shape.” Delusional, much?

Crisis Level: 4 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: Despite the malcontent amongst their fans, Arsenal will at least stick with Wenger through the end of the year. Probably longer. Because while the fans are in an uproar, the club’s administration are perfectly content to keep selling off their best players and turning a profit… with or without trophies.

Carlo Ancelotti (Paris Saint-Germain)

“wait, you say that i am the one under pressure?”

The Situation: Despite outspending everyone in France by a country mile over the last few seasons, PSG and Ancelotti currently find themselves sitting second in the Ligue 1 table and facing mounting pressure. Big money signing and footballing anti-hero Zlatan Imbrahimović has come good for the Parisians, but the fact that he accounts for an astounding 54% of their goal tally in the league is immensely troubling for a side that also boasts attacking talents like Ezequiel Lavezzi, Maxwell and Javier Pastore. But as you might predict, Carlo has barely arched his super brow at the issue. “Things are going to change, because they’re not normal right now. The league isn’t finished. We’ll be competitive soon.”

Crisis Level: 5 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: With an ownership group that’s proven quick to pull the trigger on firing a coach (just ask Antoine Kombouaré), and oodles of money to attract a top manager, Ancelotti shouldn’t feel that comfortable at the moment. If results remain stagnant, expect PSG to make a change.

Martin O’Neill (Sunderland)

Sunderland's Martin O'Neill

considering his sunderland side’s current form, martin is justified in having that nervous look on his face

The Situation: For a man known for getting the most out of clubs without a lot of financial backing, O’Neill hasn’t been able to reproduce his successes at Leicester City, Celtic and Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light. And with one less win in his first 24 matches in charge than his predecessor Steve Bruce had in the same span, not to mention the Black Cats currently sitting in the relegation zone, pressure must surely be mounting for the club to dispatch Northern Irishman. With just one win in their last 10 outings, time could be running out for O’Neill to save his hide. And a general rule of thumb is that any time you have to refute rumors of your own resignation, things aren’t going very well for you.

Crisis Level: 8 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: Sunderland’s ownership find themselves in a precarious situation: while O’Neill isn’t producing the desired results, who exactly are they going to replace him with? There aren’t exactly a number of managers in the market that have experience in rescuing clubs embroiled in relegation scraps. Mark Hughes is available, but he seems more apt to placing clubs in relegation battles than he is at getting clubs out of them. I’d doubt they would fancy another round of Roy Keane. And unfortunately, Roberto Di Matteo seems out of their reach. So with options limited, it seems Sunderland might just be stuck with O’Neill for the time being.

José Mourinho (Real Madrid)

Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho

is mourinho feeling madrid burnout?

The Situation: The Bernabéu is a tough office environment, even for a manager known for his mental fortitude like the Special One. Not only are Real Madrid’s fans fickle and demanding, but the club’s history tells us their board and presidents are too. If you thought sacking managers after winning the Champions League was something invented by Roman Abramovich, Real were at it a decade before the revolving door was installed at Stamford Bridge. And with José’s men already 11 points adrift of bitter rivals Barcelona, pressure is mounting on the Portuguese manager’s shoulders.

Crisis Level: 4 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: While winning the league and maintaining pace with their Catalunyan foes is important, the reason why Mourinho was brought it was to help Madrid win their long-sought 10th European crown. And while doing so would most certainly save his job, the odd thing is that he’s likely to leave even if he does win his third European Cup… on his own accord. Just as he did at Porto and Inter, José would probably fancy going out on top. But should he not achieve that goal, he’ll probably abort this project and move on to another, too.

Rafa Benítez (Chelsea)

Chelsea's Rafa Benitez

one look at rafa’s face, and you can tell he knows his days at chelsea are numbered.

The Situation: I saw a quote the other day describing the managerial situation at Chelsea that was pretty interesting. Five managers have won the Champions League in the last six years: Chelsea have fired three of them (Mourinho, Ancelotti and Di Matteo), and the other two (Ferguson and Guardiola) don’t want to manager for them. Benítez, a man who’s won one himself, had to have known that going in, right? And he also had to have known that the Chelsea fans hated him. And with this expensively assembled Chelsea side struggling to handle the high expectations being placed on them, Rafa had to have known the timing was bad, too. I get that a man may like a challenge, but at the same time, taking over the reigns at this point in Chelsea’s chaotic history seemed more like a suicide mission.

Crisis Level: 7 out of 10

Predicted Outcome: This one is the easiest outcome to predict by a landslide. Abramovich will fire Benítez. When that will happen is little less easy to predict, but knowing how fickle and trigger happy their Russian oligarch is, another loss for the Blues could just do the trick. But let’s be clear… it is going to happen. Just give it time.

ten words or less #37

fc basel fans at old trafford

fc basel fans are bad asses. and to be honest, their team wasn't too shabby either.

International break weekends in the US are a departure from the footie fan’s normal routine of getting up at the crack of dawn to watch matches until the early afternoon. Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to afford/have access to GolTV, the selection of international fixtures available can best be described as “shite”. In fact, there’s nothing really on the television agenda save for tomorrow evening’s thrilling encounter featuring the USMNT as they take on world powerhouse Honduras.

And you know what that means? Two days of sleeping in, that’s what. But if you need something to fill your soccer fix in the mean time, feel free to browse through some of my favorite links from the last week…

Thank god I didn’t make this a Tottenham themed blog. – youllwinnothingwithyids.com

Abiding Financial Fair Play rules could get harder for Chelsea. – twohundredpercent.net

A shrine to American soccer. – placematters.net

I’d argue that I attempt to be a “Categorical Imperative”. – thescore.com

Someone lost their job over these, RIGHT?!?! – xarasoccer.com

But if PSG dominate, will the complaints begin? – inbedwithmaradona.com

Off with their heads!!! – kckrs.com

Adidas: bringing Pro Zone analysis to the (wealthy) masses. – dailymail.co.uk

the stench of new money

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

manchester city as fa cup winners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Roman Abramovich, Peter Kenyon & Jose Mourinho

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

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

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

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

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

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

sheikh abdullah, joaquin at malaga

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It appears that answer is a resounding “No”.

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

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

In short, nobody likes new money.

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

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

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

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

samir nasri arrives at manchester city

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

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

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

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

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

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

So is the stench of new money.

ten words or less #24

alejandro faurlin and neil warnock celebrate QPR's possible promotion.

perhaps faurlin (left) and QPR won't be enjoying the spoils of the premier league next season

the steam is running out of my team’s, and it’s seriously impacting my interest in the rest of the their respective seasons. real madrid are (deservingly) eliminated from europe. tottenham are (predictably) pissing away their season of “living the dream.” it’s hard as a fan of both clubs to watch on with both having very little left to play for besides pride (although if tottenham lose out on the europa league to liverpool, i might suffer an aneurysm).

forgive me my tears, for i am only human.

so as we prepare for a weekend full of title and relegation-deciding matches, here’s a quick round-up of some interesting reads from around the world of football.

no, no, no, no, no. screw clattenburg. – dirty tackle @ yahoo.com

someone should not get paid for this. – designfootball.com

it pains me to post, but another artistic masterpiece. – youtube.com

this is a huge step forward for MLS. – soccerbyives.com

how the hell did the ball move like that?!?! – sportpost.com

have to admit, i’m a little envious of this guy. – soccerbible.com

busquets is a disgrace: more evidence. – youtube.com

QPR are all smiles now; maybe they shouldn’t be. – qprnet.com

ten words or less #21

a.c. milan's robinho wearing adidas adizeros against bologna.

what's wrong with this picture? lots if you ask nike.

it’s the monday of a huge champions league match week, and i’m frustratingly behind on posts at the moment. in lieu of leaving my dedicated readers nothing to read, i’ve provided the following selection of interesting articles from the last week. be sure to check back again soon, as this should be a pretty busy week at wrong side of the pond.

this makes some sense, but will never happen. – wsj.com

while we don’t throw bananas, america still loves discriminating too. – unprofessionalfoul.com

robinho is either a moron or just needs better advisors. – footy-boots.com

they’ve jumped NINETY places in the fifa rankings. – guardian.co.uk

everyone loves my favorite formation. – tomwfootball.com

sometimes i wish april fools stories were real. – caughtoffside.com

sponsorships of this kind should die. – avoidingthedrop.com

cheating. immoral. rape? united circumventing transfer rules. – unitedrant.com