With the Premier League season entering the final stretch, just about every match has taken on some sort of importance, either contributing to the title race, the fight to make the top four and/or the relegation scrap. And this weekend’s matches most definitely checked all of those boxes, meaning Jeremy and I had a lot of games to offer up our opinions on. Of course, there was also MLS “Rivalry Week” to contend with, including a thrilling Cascadia Cup tie between the Timbers and Sounders and a Trillium Cup match up between the conference-leading Crew and big spending Toronto. And let’s not forget about last midweek’s USA-Mexico game and this midweek’s Champions League matches that will also need to be chewed upon. You’ll get all that and more on the latest episode of the WSOTP Pod.
With the MLS 2014 season just days away, D.J. and Jeremy figured it was high time to give the domestic first division a full preview ahead of this weekend’s First Kick festivities. You’ll here the guys’ thoughts on this season’s playoff contenders, what they’re looking forward to the most for the upcoming campaign, and where they think the local-ish side will fare this year. The normal Premier League and Champions League run downs are also still in there, as is a look ahead at some of this week’s international friendlies. Plus, we finally share the “big news” that we had been hinting at for weeks.
It’s been a big week here at WSOTP, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the world of football has stopped spinning. Champions League knockout round first legs wrapped up, European action abounded, World Cup news continued streaming, MLS preseason concluded, not to mention the upcoming round of international friendlies on the horizon. And when I wasn’t busy soaking up all of the attention of dropping an announcement of my own, I did manage some time to jot down some of my favorite links in between my moments in the limelight. And no, nothing has gone to my head. So enjoy the links, plebians.
ESPN/ABC schedule for the World Cup… better schedule vacation now.
I’m really surprised we haven’t seen this already. Ingenious. – fcbusiness.co.uk
Hey Nike… quit teasing us and show us the boots! – youtube.com/nikesoccer
The only Chivas USA re-brand that really makes sense. – theoriginalwinger.com
I miss you, Gareth. – reddit.com/r/soccer
Someone get this for me for Oktoberfest this year. - football-shirts.co.uk
The Crew win a (preseason) trophy! – thecrew.com
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.
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.
I’ve been a little USA-Mexico heavy in this space for the last week or so, and understandably so. And predictably, a little bit of that spills over into this weeks TWOL posting. If you’re feeling a little burnt out on the subject, don’t worry… there’s still a further six links below that aren’t related to that match in any way. So the #USAvMEX talk is slowly dying down, if nothing else. And don’t worry, there’s more coming on the blog tomorrow that doesn’t have anything to do with it either.
However, if you’re wanting even more of the US Soccer coverage, be sure to check out Episode 5 of the WSOTP Pod — a.k.a. the “Dos A Cero Special” — and you can hear all my thoughts on all of the festivities that surrounded the epic match in Columbus.
Insight into the USMNT’s most important and stoic star. – buzzfeed.com
Certifiably the worst corner of all time. – telegraph.co.uk
The cyclical rise and fall of Puerto Rican football. – inbedwithmaradona.com
Check out this family-friendly US Soccer supporters group. – redwhiteandbluesbros.com
Who wouldn’t want a Steven Lenhart Chia Pet? – kckrs.com
A.O. BACKTRACKING CONFIRMED. - sportsmyriad.com
The best looking kit in England this year, hands down. – footballshirtculture.com
I promise this isn’t from The Onion. – washingtontimes.com
The Mexican legend of “Dos a Cero de Columbus” explained. – dirtytackle.net
Watch as Fox Soccer dies a quiet, yet odd death. - deadspin.com
“The Club can announce that it has signed a partnership agreement with Real Madrid FC and reached agreement for the transfer of Luka Modric, subject to medical, to the Spanish club. The partnership agreement will see the two Clubs working together in respect of players, coaching, best practices and commercial relationships.”
- tottenhamhotspur.com, 27 August 2012 (link)
Back in late August of last year, that first quote listed prompted a wide variety of responses. What was this “partnership” with Real Madrid? Many Spurs fans — myself included — nervously joked that it probably meant little more than Los Blancos having first right of refusal on Gareth Bale. We all hoped it was more to do with youth player exchanges, coaching co-ops, and a piggy backing of Madrid’s marketing might. But deep down, we all questioned how a club known for its relentless tapping up strategies could truly be a partner with world-class players there for them to cherry pick.
And here we find ourselves, a year on from that initial statement, a second statement from the club all but confirming our fears:
“The Club can announce that it has reached agreement with Real Madrid for the transfer of Gareth Bale.
- tottenhamhotspur.com, 1 September 2013 (link)
I absolutely loath this topic.I don’t want to write about it. But the circumstances dictate that I must. I have to.
It pains me to just think about Gareth Bale leaving Tottenham Hotspur, let alone write about it and think about it logically.
Bale has been my favorite players since I unearthed him as a young Southampton starlet in FIFA Manager Mode back in college in 2006. He’s left footed, takes free kicks and used to play left back. All attributes I share, though admittedly to a far lesser fan fair and effect. So that practically makes us twins… from different moms, different countries and seven years in between our births. You get what I mean. If you still need further proof of my old school love, I have two Spurs shirts with Gareth’s name on the back: one of with the #3 and the other with the #16.
So talking about my favorite player from my favorite club leaving for greener pastures — even it is for sums so large as an insane £100 million+player TBD bid from Real Madrid — literally makes me want to explode.
Many, however, would argue that turning down that kind of money is equally ludicrous. When proposed, that argument is normally quickly followed by a series of supporting points ranging from “his value will never be higher” to “Madrid won’t be back for him if you say no now.” And most of those supporting arguments are correct.
But there is one argument that really grinds my gears, and it always sounds something like “you could take all that money and reinvest it by bringing in 3 to 4 top players.”
Hearing that literally makes my brain melt. It’s this kind of incredibly one-dimensional thinking that proves why fans should never run football teams. And to explain why, let’s take a quick look at football economics.
Let’s just assume that Real Madrid bid a firm £100 million, Daniel Levy accepts, and Bale heads off to Spain. It just sounds like a lot of money, doesn’t it? I could certainly retire right now if I were given it. It’s £20 million more than the previous world record transfer fee also paid by Real for the services of one Cristiano Ronaldo. Hell, it’s enough to buy a second MLS franchise in New York.
But in reality, that £100 million transfer fee gives Spurs far less room to play with than one might think. Continue reading
Feeling deprived of football during the summer months? You shouldn’t be. I’ve been drowning in it lately.
If the regular European summer transfer speculation, coaching moves and kit releases aren’t enough to keep you entertained, there’s been plenty of actual soccer being played to watch. Drama has been in ample supply in World Cup qualifying. MLS has been entertaining as hell, as has the US Open Cup. And now that FIFA’s redheaded stepchild of a tournament, the Confederations Cup in Brazil, has kicked off, there’s even more footy to feast upon.
Not sure where to start? Below are some of the best links I’ve unearthed over the last week.
Yet another excellent NYCFC branding proposal. – hyperakt.com
Live Breath Footballs latest “Rebels” line is pretty sick. – livebreathfootball.com
Spooky explains why this summer is going to suck. – dearmrlevy.co.uk
Oh, and the Parisians are after AVB. Greeaaaaaaat. – guardian.co.uk
This is freaking awesome. – google.com/culturalinstitute
True supporters let passion flow even in times of sorrow. – dirtytackle.net
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
It’s been a rough start for a few of Europe’s mega clubs this season. Manchester United have a decent record, but they’ve had some really shaky displays. PSG, despite their lavish spending, have only been able to muster one win and three draws in their first four matches. Liverpool are off to their worst start in a half century… though that’s actually becoming fairly regular for them these days.
Even Real Madrid failed to earn their first 3-pointer of the league season until this past weekend, thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo brace. And while you normally might expect this to be plenty of cause for joy and celebration from the Portuguese attacker… today, that was definitely not the case.
Following Ronaldo’s 25th minute opener in the 3-0 win over Granada — a fantastic, no-angle nutmeg on the keeper — he rounded his run and slowly trotted back towards the half line, completely expressionless. He embraced the few teammates that come to see him straight-faced, though he did reserve a small smile and wave up to Irina and Junior in the stands. A similar lack of celebration came after his second goal, even prompting the announcers to make mention of his lack of reaction.
So in the post match interviews, the press predictably wanted to know what was up. Ronnie’s response, however, raised even more eyebrows:
“The people know the reasons why I didn’t celebrate the goals. I don’t do so when I am feeling sadness. It was due to a professional motive. The appropriate people inside the club know why I’m sad. I won’t say anything more.”
So we know Cris is upset for some sort of “professional” reasons with Real Madrid officials. But as you might expect, protesting one’s own goals and cryptic post-match quotes don’t really tell us who he’s sad with or why he sad with them.
That doesn’t mean we can’t guess them though.
So having analyzed his celebrations, and scrutinizing his explanation, I’ve developed my top five hypotheses why Cristiano Ronaldo might be feeling “professional” “sadness” with Real Madrid.
- Though they understand and appreciate his desire to upkeep his appearance, club officials have mandated that Ronaldo is no longer to tan any longer than 3 hours per day, as his oily skin might stain their brilliant white shirts.
- Director of Football Zinedine Zidane told Ronaldo it wasn’t an “injustice” that he didn’t get to take a penalty against Spain in this summer’s Euros, “especially when you probably chose to go fifth… like an idiot.”
- Not feeling as loved as he would like by his teammates, Ronaldo insisted everyone should give him a hug before and after each training session, match and team event. When everyone refused to do so, he reportedly mumbled something about how “Mancini would make everyone at City hug him” as he stormed out the locker room door.
- The current holder of the los blancos famous #7 shirt was enraged when the club refused to sign his son, the two-year old Cristiano Jr., to a professional contract with the Real Madrid reserves.
- Having lost out on the 2012 UEFA Player of the Year award to Andrés Iniesta, Cristiano convinces himself that the only way he’ll be assured of finishing ahead of the Barcelona players for all of those awards he truly deserves, is to become a Barça player himself. Unsurprisingly, Madrid presidente Florentino Pérez rejected Ronaldo’s idea of selling him to their dreaded rivals outright.
Are any of these the real reasons Ronaldo is salty with the Real Madrid brass? Only Ronaldo and those “appropriate people inside the club” truly know the answers to that question. And until he decides he wants to be a little more forthcoming during his interviews — or perhaps reveal an undershirt with a direct complaint screened on it after his next goal — then we’ll all have to remain in the dark.