pic of the week 3/25-3/31


Paulo Di Canio Fascist Salute

Though I’m a few days late in getting last week’s Pic of the Week up on the blog, you might be even more confused that to the picture I’ve selected because it most certainly wasn’t taken last week. In fact, the picture above was taken in 2006 during one of Paolo Di Canio’s final matches with Lazio before he retired. So why, then, did I pick this as this week’s picture?

Di Canio, a self-professed Fascist sympathizer, was named the successor to Martin O’Neil as manager at Sunderland at the weekend. And though the Italian lightening rod earned the opportunity to try to save the Black Cats from relegation thanks to a very fruitful two year spell in charge at League One Swindon Town, most of the rhetoric surrounding his appointment has concerned this six year old picture. Though a few of the punditry chosen to overlook the political leanings of a potentially very talented manager and debate his merits as as a manager — a novel idea, right? — many have decided to attack Sunderland and Di Canio for the decision by calling them “racists” and “unethical”. And while Paolo can be accused of having a fiery personality and is probably guilty of some poor decision-making in his past, that doesn’t mean he’s not qualified for the job.  By all accounts, he’s a very intelligent man and a promising managerial talent.

So my selection for this week’s Pic of the Week is meant to convey this simple message: let’s let current news and future results dictate our perceptions of someone, not their past indiscretions. Otherwise, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

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.

an eye to the future

i made a decision today, and that decision is to quit being upset with USSF and sunil gulati for bringing back bob bradley.

talents like omar salgado need to be nurtured into our next national team stars.

my problems with bob as the USMNT manager are well documented, though he’s done an admirable job at the last two major tournaments. however, being the smartest retard in our group this past summer isn’t exactly something to be trumpeting either, and his true colors shown through in  the round of 16 versus ghana.

but as the saying goes, there’s no sense in crying over spilt milk (spilt beer, however, is perfectly acceptable to cry over).

so moving forward, i’m not going to bitch about bob being given another world cup cycle at the helm of our stagnant national team. i’m going to ignore the fact that we haven’t learned our lessons from this in the past (bruce arena in 2006 ring a bell?), or the fact that there were some high profile tacticians we should have hired instead (martin o’neill and jurgen klinsmann). there’s nothing i can do about it, so moving on is really the only option i’ve got.

instead, i’ll shift my thoughts to my other concern about our national team… how do we get better?

obviously, the yanks need some fresh blood in the squad and some young talent needs to be brought into the fold to develop on the international level. we’ve got  too many players in our pool right now that have probably reached their ceiling for potential or will never reach it due to one reason or another (the first name that comes to mind: jonathan spector).

while bradley does have a track record of calling in and giving players their national team bows, actually bringing along new talents and turning them into regulars is a bit of a different story. that needs to change: we’re a country of 300 million people, and among them are a number of fantastic footballers on the rise. who is going to be our first, true #10 on the pitch? who is going to be a real #9? (if jozy altidore is standing, someone try to make him sit back down).

so which players would i like to see more of this cycle? i thought you would never ask.

jermaine jones (m – schalke)
ok, so this first one i’m cheating pn a bit for several reasons. first off, jermaine has hardly ever lived in this country and wasn’t even born here. secondly, he’s been on everyone’s radar for quite a while, and would have made the world cup squad had he not been recovering from an a year long injury nightmare. either way, jones’ 3 call-ups to the german national team are reason alone to justify that the 28 year old should be a regular starter. his performance against poland for his first USMNT cap earned him universal praise (well, as “universal” of praise as an american player can actually get). however, let’s keep in mind that at his age he is not exactly a long-term solution. however, tutelage can’t be overrated either.



lichaj has been testing his mettle at aston villa for several years.

eric lichaj (d – aston villa)
in the few opportunities that i’ve had to see the youngster play for the villans, he has been fairly impressive. though, he hasn’t exactly lit the field on fire either. but that’s the point with a quality defender, right? and while earning his first cap against columbia, he he also proved that he has the ability to get into the attack a bit too. the fact that martin o’neill rated him highly enough to bring him into a squad rich with defending talent should also say something about his abilities. at this point, i would much rather have lichaj as cherundulo’s heir apparent at right back than spector.

omar salgado (f – c.d. guadalajara)
at the opposite end of the age spectrum is 16-year-old salgado,  formerly of chivas de guadalajara. the tall forward signed a contract with MLS back in july on the same day he made his debut for the u-20 national team. oh, and he scored a goal that day too. more of a diamond in the rough at the moment, omar is a player with tremendous upside.

robbie rogers (m – columbus crew)
flair. honestly, we need more of it. rogers has a bit of it stashed away in his boots. see where this is going? rogers is definitely still a work in progress, but he has also shown flashes of brilliance during the few matches he saw in the run up to south africa. i would imagine that, given time, he could develop into a prominent figure on the wing for the yanks in years to come.

justin braun (f – chivas usa)
size is something our country tends to lack in the front. we’ve got a slew of developing wide players in the team or coming through, but nobody of a larger stature to sling it in to in the air. and while braun was playing sunday league ball two years ago (does this mean there is hope for me!?!?!), his rapid development in l.a. should be further nurtured at the national team level. if we can ever convince jozy to actually work to get open as a target man, i could see a tall player like braun being the perfect end outlet on balls altidore could work out to the wings. or maybe he’ll be the next kenny cooper.

stuart holden (m – bolton wanderers)
if a guy can make me start to like bolton, then there’s gotta be something special about him. stu has been a favorite of mine since his houston dynamo days, and his inclusion in this summer’s squad was likely a move to give him more experience for this next cycle. calm and collected on the ball and also an excellent distributer, holden is a big part of bolton’s revival under owen coyle. let’s be serious here: any player holding down a starting spot in the EPL should be a shoe in for our national team. in fact, i’m making that a rule from here on out.

josé francisco torres (m – pachuca)
i’m not getting off his train yet, despite a poor single showing at the world cup this summer. i’m convinced that this is a player that needs more opportunities in a US shirt. just like rogers, torres offers a flair and creativity that is often lacking in our national side.

some other boys to consider, that i have less clearly defined thoughts about:

  • omar gonzalez (d – l.a. galaxy)
  • ale bedoya (m – örebro)
  • robbie findley (f – real salt lake)
  • gale agbossoumonde (d – miami f.c.)
  • danny mwanga (f – philadelphia union)