WSOTP pod: shuffling the deck

WSOTP - Blog - Season 3 Episode 20

The ax now fallen on Mourinho at Chelsea, we spend a sizable chunk of this week’s #Pondcast talking about the chain reaction of hirings and firings that we’ll possibly see around the upper echelons of European football that José’s firing will spark. A few of England’s other top clubs struggled this past weekend as well, and we were sure to discuss that detail in our Premier League whiparound. And too, the guys tackled the trouble in the upper reaches of FIFA as well, as Sepp Blatter and Michel Platini were given heft bans for their nefarious activities. Plus, the normal weekly segments were still there to help fill in the gaps.

Make sure to be like all of the cool kids and get involved with the show by sending us your topic suggestions or questions. You can do so by emailing or getting in touch with us via social media. And don’t forget to subscribe using the links below to automatically receive the newest podcast episode each Tuesday.

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ten words or less #76

Paulinho in Tears at his last press conference for Corinthians

for some players, like new spurs acquisition paulinho, transfer season is so intense that it brings them to tears.

The European transfer season is upon us, and players, agents and club chairmen are crisscrossing the globe in search of pay days, pay days and pay days respectively. Keeping up with it is nearly impossible — there are those who try, with some better than others — and not something I plan on attempting any time soon. What rumors are true? Is that source safe? For many fans, filtering through it all every summer can be extremely stressful. And still for others, it’s a time of excitement. But regardless of how you feel about it, one things is for sure: with all of the wheelings and dealings set to go down over the next two months, it’s easy to be left with your head spinning.

So if you’re looking for a little break from the rampant speculation and baseless hype, I’ve kept the transfer fodder to a minimum in this week’s TWOL. 

Want to know why transfer windows are called silly seasons? –

The MLS All-Star shirt is unique, maybe even cool. –

Practice safe sex with Ronaldinho and Atlético Mineiro. –

Peep the excellent Crew fan art of Massive City FFC. –

Freaking out about Baldini at Spurs? You shouldn’t be. –

Buy me any of these and be my new BFF. –

OKC goes from zero to two clubs: a good idea? –

Why Abramovich, Qatar, Abu Dhabi have bought their football clubs. –

Nike can turn any open space into a pitch. – (WARNING: Spanish)

Orlando plans to join MLS: hectic but well-planned. –

not gonna happen

Forget this writing gig… I’m going to become a bookie. Because if I’m really ever going to make some money out of my life long love affair with soccer, that’s clearly the best avenue.

Mourinho Caught Back in London

turns out having this guy pop up back in london will cause quite a stir. and just in case, i’m NOT talking about the dude on the right.

In order to get paid to play, I’d have to be good (I’m not). In order to manage, I should probably have first been a player (Ditto). I could be an agent or an administrator, but only if I knew the right people (I don’t know enough of them). Or I could always referee, if only I was a bit mental (I’m not that mental). And there’s a million writers out there, so I’m currently a dime a dozen (Sigh). So that narrows my options to just sports betting and organized crime… which are more or less the same industry, anyway.

For instance, take a look at the current betting odds on who will be the permanent manager at Chelsea Football Club at the start of next season, when Roberto “The Players Hate Me More Than AVB” Di Mateo’s stint as caretaker is currently scheduled to end. At the time of writing, the favorites are as follows:

Rank Manager Odds
1 José Mourinho 13/8
2 Fabio Capello 11/4
3 Pep Guardiola 4/1
4 Rafael Benítez 5/1
5 Roberto Di Mateo 10/1

So what about those numbers has me contemplating a career switch? Oh I don’t know… probably because there’s not a chance in hell that the man currently sporting the best odds will actually end up taking the Chelsea job. I think anyone putting their hard-earned money on Mourinho is simply giving it away to someone… why shouldn’t they be giving that money to me?!?!

Now after reading such a bold claim, I can understand if you’re questioning my confidence about the matter, what with so much time before the position will be filled and so many possible indicators already seeming to hint as much. I mean, he made no secret of his recent house hunting trip to London. Many fans will be quick to place a quid or two on Mourinho taking the job for just that reason, like they’ve forgotten that there will potentially be two other high-profile job openings in the same city this summer.

Either way, trust me when I say it’s not gonna happen. And it won’t happen for two very important reasons: what’s happened in the past, and what has to happen in the future.

Study the past, if you would divine the future.
Before we can even truly consider the Special One returning to Stamford Bridge, we have to look at why he left to begin with. It’s very important to remember that prior to leaving, José was literally a Messiah at Chelsea. He led the Blues to Premier League titles in each of his first two seasons with the club — their first in 50 years — and a club-first FA and League Cup double the following season. And while his departure seemed sudden and abrupt in September 2007, the seeds of discontent for the Portuguese manager were actually being sowed as early as 2006.

shevchenko and mourinho at chelsea

mourinho was never a fan of shevchenko, and yet roman insisted that he stay in the squad.

The first major sign of any trouble brewing between the Russian and Portuguese came with the 2006 summer signings of Andriy Shevchenko and Michael Ballack. Neither fit the mold of a typical Mourinho signing — both were proven/veteran superstars instead of up-and-coming youngsters or relative unknowns — and many rightly wondered whether they were more of Roman’s signings than José’s. Shevchenko in particular had long been admired by Abramovich, and when his €30m signing effectively ate up all of Mourinho’s transfer budget for the summer, he was bound to be displeased.

Of course, the media were quick to jump all over the emerging rift, labeling these so-called “Abrambovich signings” as the proof that the Chelsea manager was being undermined by his owner. And while neither player ever lived up to their star billings, Shevchenko’s inability to adjust to life in West London was particularly glaring. Yet despite the Ukrainian’s obviously poor form, Roman continued to pressure his manager to play his pricey signing… something that did not sit well at all with Mourinho.

But even as these troubles were brewing in the background, José was able to rally his troops and produce successes. Disciplined counterattacking and a vice-like defense were the key tenets of the Mourinho’s ability to produce trophies, but by late 2006 it became quietly known that Roman was not pleased with such “unattractive” methods. The Russian oligarch desired free-flowing, attacking football out of his side. He wanted Chelsea to be the Barcelona of London, yet the complete opposite was on display week in and week out with Mourinho at the helm.

So when Roman appointed Avram Grant as a Director of Football — a position normally responsible for overseeing player transfers — at the beginning of the 2007/2008 campaign, the not-so-private lack of backing was finally enough to push the Special One to the breaking point. After a string of disappointing results and a series of crisis meetings between Mourinho, Abramovich and the rest of the board, it was clear that there was no reconciling and the Special One walked away.

Saying that “bridges were burned” between Mourinho and Abramovich would be a gross understatement. It was more like the bridge had been bombed by Allied troops in World War II: if you hadn’t known there was a bridge there before, you would never know one had been there at all.

And though there’s been talk that some reconciling has taken place since, you have to wonder how much José trust his former employer anymore. If he were to come back to Chelsea, would the boss man be able to guarantee Mourinho the total (and I mean total) autonomy to run the club as he sees fit? Judging by the latest rumors indicating that Mou would be willing to return only if that autonomy is promised — along with absurd wages and that the guarantee that Ronaldo would be purchased too — shows that the Russian will have to put his money where his mouth is if he wants to convince him to go against his gut instinct.

To be honest, aside from the ridiculous wage demands, I don’t think Roman can promise Mourinho any of those things.

The future ain’t what it used to be.
Let us imagine for a minute a strange world where Roman Abramovich would actually be willing to give Mourinho all of the control his heart desires, and that Mourinho accepts said offer and returns to Chelsea. What tasks await him before he can right the ship? To answer that question, you have to first look at the current state of affairs at Stamford Bridge.

drogba, terry and lampard at chelsea

would mourinho even want to break up the “old boys club” that he help put together?

The anchor that’s been dragging the Blues down this season hasn’t necessarily been the manager — though AVB’s tactical and personnel choices weren’t always the wisest for the squad that he’s had — but rather an aging core of players that have an unusually large amount of influence at the club. Terry, Cole, Drogba and most notably Lampard were all reportedly at fault for undermining Villas-Boas both in the locker room and the board room. Yet aside from perhaps Lampard, none have performed well enough this season to justify such importance and sway.

When André Villas-Boas was brought in this summer, his first action should have been to break up the veteran-core. One thing that would allow him to do is implement his new playing system without the friction of the older players who are used to the old style of play. Secondly, breaking up that group would also lessen the odds of anyone challenging his authority.

Lampard and Drogba could have easily been shipped out for decent money, despite their lofty ages. Ashley Cole could have been put on a tighter, don’t-shoot-the-staff leash. And don’t get me started on how John Terry’s toxic ego is poisoning the drinking well. But due to drawn out nature of his appointment, AVB didn’t have enough time to flip them for new players before the start of the season… so he was stuck with them.

Unfortunately, this core group of influential players still remain very close to Mourinho. After all, he was the one that assembled and guided them to prominence. That they all admitted to regularly communicating with their old boss this season underlines how close they are to the guy still.

How is Mourinho possibly supposed to come back and tell them — the guys he’s still friends with — that he’s going to have to give them the boot?

Sure, he’s got a steely personality and doesn’t take smack from anyone. But would you have the cojones to tell a friend, who you’ve been propping up and reassuring all season through text messages, “Sorry guy, you actually do suck and need to move on”? I don’t think I could.

Even if Mourinho could push some of the old guard out, he still won’t be out of the woods. The Chelsea Mourinho would inherit now is not the up and coming squad that he took over in 2004, but rather a fading one with its best years behind it. There’s still a good deal of rebuilding left to do at the club, and he’ll need not only financial backing to bring in fresh faces, but he’ll also need time adjust them to the Mourinho code.

And time, if you recall, is exactly what Villas-Boas was reportedly assured of when he was charged with the project of overhauling the squad. We saw how well that worked out for the young manager. There’s no way a man as smart as the Special One could have overlooked that as anything but the same type of broken promises he’s seen before, right?


Think about it like this: to José Mourinho, this Chelsea job is like a hot ex-girlfriend. Despite all of the feelings of nostalgia, the familiarity, and the everyone will totally understand why you hooked back up with her… because she’s hot. But everyone also knows that you really shouldn’t be hooking up with her either, since she’s got a crazy dad that says he likes you one day, but the next day he’s got a shotgun to you pushing you out the front door.

Long story short, I just don’t think there’s anyway that an ambitious Mourinho will take this Chelsea job. There’s too much history there, and deep down he knows he won’t get the control that he wants. Unless Abramovich promises he’ll stay far away in Russia and not pay attention to team affairs, a Mourinho-Chelsea reunion feels very unlikely.

Besides, there are potentially other jobs in London that he would be a much better fit for…

a troubling transition

The biggest problem with success is replicating it. The blood, sweat and tears that are shed in the process of reaching greatness always takes a drastically larger toll than any champion is willing to admit, and so they’re almost always at the root of the failure to retain their crown.

chelsea celebrating 2011

chelsea's changing of the guard has been anything but a smooth transition.

In professional soccer, this saying rings particularly true.

Success usually means winning the league or advancing to the late stages of drawn-out knock-out competition(s), both of which require a tremendous amount of energy, focus and planning. For instance last season, Barcelona’s two-trophy haul was the product of a 60 match season, and their pint-sized prince Leo Messi played in 55 of those matches. I don’t care how fit you are, nobody can play that many games in 12 months and be fresh for most of the following season.

The prolonged stress on both body and mind normally don’t manifest themselves until the following season, when all of the energy from last season finally catches up with them. It’s for this reason that we have yet to see a club repeat as Champions League winners, and even more rare that we end up seeing teams that are truly dynasties.

Hell, for some teams, just coming close to sustained excellence ends up consuming them. Just look at Chelsea.

Despite pulling in an impressive three League and FA Cup titles each in the last six years, their billionaire owner, Roman Abramovich, has eyes for only one prize: the UEFA Champions League. His vast amount of oily riches has propelled the Blues agonizingly close to his goal on several occasions, but they’ve not been able to clear those last hurdles. And in pursuit of Champions League glory, Abramovich’s actions and itchy trigger finger has left Chelsea teetering precariously in the balance.

In the nine years since the Russian oligarch bought the club from Ken Bates, Abramovich has burned through 6.5 managers (I’m only counting Hiddink as half, since he was technically just an interim manager), some of which were the finest and most successful in the game over the last decade. His tendency to poison relationships with his managers, most notably when the fallout pushed José Mourinho out the door in 2007, has undoubtedly undermined their efforts to be crowned kings of Europe.

chelsea's andre villas-boas

just because AVB doesn't have any grey speckled in his ginger beard (yet) doesn't mean that he isn't a quality manager.

That’s why it’s surprising that when Roman decided to dispatch of Carlo Ancelotti this summer — just a season removed from the Italian leading Chelsea to their first Double in club history — and replaced him with a very young André Villas-Boas, I was still caught off guard by the decision.

Abramovich’s track record with major purchases acquisitions up until last January have almost always had one thing in common: they all had proven track records. Whether it was a player or manager that was being brought to Stanford Bridge, they were already successful in their prior endeavors.

Makélélé, Drogba, Schevchenko, Ballack and Deco were brought in after successful careers abroad. Ca$hley was bribed to swap North London for West London after proving himself, and Anelka had literally played decently for everyone. Likewise, Scolari had won a World Cup, Ancelotti had won two Champions Leagues as a manager and one as a player, and Hiddink has to be some sort of wizard to have pulled off all of the successes he’s had.

But Villas-Boas on the other hand, doesn’t have near the same pedigree. Strike one was always going to be that he never played professionally. Sure, the rosy-cheeked AVB hauled in an impressive two trophies last year in his lone season at the helm of Porto. But prior to that, his only experience as the manager of any professional football team was a surprising 9-month spell with Portuguese minnows Académica de Coimbra. Coupled with his young age, his inexperience in the upper echelons of the game was a stark departure from any of the previous new faces that had been brought in by Chelski.

So while replacing a relatively (by Chelsea definition) successful manager is hard enough at a big club, Villas-Boas was even more under the gun due to these supposed handicaps. Unfortunately, Chelsea’s form so far this season seems to be giving weight all of those fears. And predictably, AVB has been taking the heat for poor results.

And though I love seeing Chelsea in turmoil from a Tottenham fan’s perspective, I don’t think Villas-Boas deserves to be shouldering all of the blame.

One of the biggest issues that most of the punditry thought would undermine Villas-Boas’ legitimacy in the Stamford Bridge dressing room would be his age relative to that of many of the big, influential players at Chelsea. At 36, he’s only three years older than Lampard and Drogba, and a relatively five years older than Terry and Cole. With each of those players casting long shadows of influence at the club (Terry in particular) due to their contributions the last few years, there was always a fear that they would have a hard time taking orders from a man that’s a) never played a minute professionally (though this wasn’t a problem for Mourinho), and b) was significantly younger than anyone else they had ever taken orders from.

It is this power struggle, in my questionably expert opinion, that is the root of the problems at Chelsea. If André Villas-Boas is ever to have any hope of righting the ship and getting Chelsea back to competing for every trophy under the sun, those star names have to go.

And while I’m hardly the first to promote that idea, I think it’s important to examine just why their leaving is so crucial for Chelsea to get back on track..

First and foremost, don’t take my statement above as any sort of slandering of the quality of any of those players. All are still more than capable of playing Premiership football, and I have no doubt that many top teams would love to have them in their sides. However, it is clear that they’re all in the autumn of their careers (though some more so than others).

Normally, a squad full of experienced players would be considered a great asset. But with AVB being brought in by Abramovich to reshape the squad and it’s playing style, these older players tend to become a liability. Remember that one of the main points of beef that Abramovich tends to have with his managers is the style of play they force the team to play. The oil baron yearns for attractive, attacking football similar to that found in Madrid and Barcelona, and heads have rolled when they’ve failed to deliver.

Yet to this point and much to his chagrin, Roman’s most successful appointments have been of the more defensive mindset. Mourinho’s trophies came on the back of highly organized and efficient strangling of the oppositions offense and countering. Ancelotti is Italian… so there’s not much more I need to say about that. This kind of “anti-football” as some have labeled it, requires two things:

  1. A very organized defense-first mentality from the entire team, which often involves sitting deep and allowing the opposition to bring the game to you…
  2. …which leaves loads of space behind them for your team to quickly counter into and score.

Because of this, Chelsea’s current squad was built with a defensive mindset at its core. And with AVB trying to get his Chelsea squad playing with attacking flair, you see where the problems start to develop. If there’s one thing that Barcelona has taught us in the last few years, it’s that offensive, attacking football requires two things from a team:

  1. That your team apply quick pressure high up the pitch, which forces the opposition to cough up the ball earlier and closer to their own goal.
  2. This high pressure requires fit, quick players to apply it appropriately.

Understandably, aging players that have lost a step, or maybe don’t play as quickly as they used to, are far from ideal for this type of system. Lampard, Terry, Drogba

continuing to lean on the fading elder blues will only hamper the club's future prospects.

And the player who highlights this the most is everyone’s favorite punching bag, John Terry. There’s no disputing that Terry was one of the finest center halves of the last decade. His on-pitch leadership abilities, smart distribution, heart, work rate and ability to provide timely runs forward made him a linchpin in Chelsea’s dominance at the turn of the century. But the last two years have been rough on John. His always short temper has gotten shorter, his laziness has increased, and most noticeably, he’s lost some of his pace, too.

Yet, his new manager’s system requires Terry to hold a defensive line that is much higher than what he’s used to. JT’s decreased pace would be cause for concern here, unless he’s partnered in the back by a players that’s fast enough to cover for him. Luckily, the club signed what they hoped would be their center-back-of-the-future David Luiz, a player full of both youth and speed. And all appeared to be falling into place…

Trouble is, both Terry and Luiz are the type of central defender that likes to push forward and launch the attack. With both of them pushing forward and leaving the middle empty, it’s left AVB’s high defensive line extremely vulnerable to the counter attack goals that have plagued them all season. So to help stem the bleeding, Luiz’s susceptibility to caution/ejection has seen him dropped and Terry instead partnered with the more “conservative” Ivanović.

While Luiz’s sacrifice has proven to be marginally more successful as far as immediate results are concerned, it comes off as counterproductive to Villas-Boas’ long-term goal of building an attractive, competitive squad for the future. With a £21 million price tag hanging around his 24-year-old neck, it’s clear Luiz needs to be a cornerstone of that project. Are the short-term results worth  sacrificing the development of the “new” Chelsea squad that the manager is trying to build?

chelsea's meireles, ramires and sturridge

chelsea should rely on their young stars now instead of shelving them for short-term success.

Loads of money has been spent to bring in fresh blood in order to remake the squad, but they need to be playing together as much as possible to build cohesion and gel. Daniel Sturridge (£7 million), Raul Meireles (£12m), Ramires (£17m), Luiz, Juan Mata (£23m) and Fernando Torres (£50m) are all great players that need to grow together as a team, and that can only happen if they can get enough games together. Continuing to rely on Terry and Drogba instead of Luiz and Torres — no more than a temporary band-aid — will just harm their confidence and undermine the goal of creating a team for the future.

Of course, none of this has taken into account the sway that Chelsea’s veteran players still have at the club. The influence that players like Terry still have over their fellow teammates and club management is palpable, and has led to scores of rumors of a divided dressing room at Stamford Bridge. Whether Villas-Boas has more sway at this point remains debatable, and whether he or the elder statesmen of the team leaves first will likely answer that question.

Look, I’m not saying that Villas-Boas is doing a fantastic job and deserves absolute absolution from any of Chelsea’s poor form this season. He’s made plenty of mistakes, for sure, and that’s probably partly due to his age and inexperience and partly due to the normal adjustment time needed to adapt to life in the Premier League.

That said, André has also shown a lot of promise, too. And it’s through that promise that I believe he had to have been smart enough to know that this was the type of season he was facing if he decided to fill the vacant hot seat on Chelsea’s bench this summer. One would also hope that he communicated that to Abramovich when he took the job, buying himself a season or two to transition the club from the current aging squad to a young, competitive squad for the future.

The trouble with transitions — at Roman’s Chelsea anyway — is that they’re expected to be seamless and just as successful as the periods they’re attempting to bridge. His track record of quickly pulling the trigger has blown some of the time with this golden generation, and firing AVB now could set the next generation off-track before it even get’s its feet wet.

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 #30

Chelsea manager Andre Villas-Boas

i wonder if abramovich will give mourinho-light enough time to stamp his influence on the blues.

I took a small break last week from the blog as I was having trouble balancing work, soccer, the 4th of July weekend and my 29th birthday along with my writing responsibilities. I really screwed the pooch in the lead up to that, blowing the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make my 29th TWOL post on the 29th of June on my 29th birthday…. further proof that I’m really just flying by the seat of my pants with this site.

Increasingly important to remember in today’s media-driven world. –

This is the shit. –

I found this on a college team’s website. College. –

The funny thing is, we’ll need this. –

Remember when the game was this awesome? –

God banishes lesbians from Nigerian national team. –

Nike gifts golden R9 Mercurials to o Fenômeno. –

A yearly Anfield ritual… rinse and repeat. –

round up #4

so all of the major european leagues are finally under way, and there has been plenty of news to fill many a blog posting. here are a few things i’ve come across that i’ve found interesting, but haven’t had enough time to write a full posting about. enjoy.

cheapskate: roman abramovic

cheapskate: roman abramovic

roman plots to KO spending –
want to know the true definition of irony? then read the above link. apparently, chelsea owner roman abramovich is teaming up with several other billionaire club owners from around europe to put a limit on spending on transfers. yes, the same man who bought chelsea and pumped an estimated £600 million of his own money into transfers to build “chelski” into one of the biggest clubs in europe now wants to place limits on transfer spending. “roman abramovich… [does] not want to fork out any more.” i can’t even comprehend that statement. just because someone infinitely more rich than him has rolled through and made his typical spending habits look meager, roman decides now is the time to limit spending in football. truly ridiculous.

manchester united awarded biggest slice of premier league television money in 2008-09 –
speaking of huge sums of money, manchester united don’t appear to be getting any shorter on cash. it was announced that the red devils were dished around £51.5 million in tv revenue from last season for finishing first in the league and having the most matches shown live (25). add that to the money they received for selling ronaldo and united pulled in around £131.5 million this summer, minus any amounts they paid to bring in any players of course. with the american owners hoping to reduce the staggering debt they took on to buy the club, it’s not that surprising that sir alex was “content” to not buy any more players this transfer window.

sporting emotions in the highest pitch –
espn’s page 2 writer bill simmons is by far my favorite sports writer out there, and has again been sucked in by the growing soccer enthusiasm in the states. for non-long time readers of “the sports guy,” bill was originally hooked by the beautiful game after the 2006 world cup and attempted to pick an EPL team to follow that next season. i gleefully loved that he picked tottenham! though he didn’t really discuss how that went (my guess? poorly), he has caught the bug again and attended the u.s.-mexico qualifier in mexico city three weeks ago. simmon’s entertaining account of that game shows why there is still hope for the game to catch the attention of the non-soccer fan in this country. well worth the read.

spurs close on kranjcar –
a deep price was paid to help continue tottenham hotspur’s flying start to the season, with in-form playmaker luka modric breaking the fibula in his right leg during the saturday win over birmingham. modric has been the creative force in yids’ offense this season, so his loss is potentially devastating. and with the tiny croatian set to be out six weeks, boss harry redknapp has been on the lookout for quick fix before the close of the transfer window. the gaffer seems intent to again raid his former club portsmouth, looking set to sign their croatian midfielder niko kranjcar. this is great business in my opinion, as he is a quality player with loads of experience in the premier league and niko was excellent in pompey’s run to f.a. cup glory two seasons ago. however, this probably draws a further line under harry’s complete lack in faith in jermaine jenas.

u.s.l. sold to NuRock soccer –
the united soccer leagues, the minor soccer league system in the u.s., was sold this week by sportswear manufacturer nike. despite this being big news, especially for developing pro talent in this country, i’m not really sure what to make of it. obviously, loosing the financial backing of a major corporation such as nike seems like it could be a blow to a league that’s teams often struggle with finances. however, rumors of a more european-style managment of the league (including the possible introduction of a promotion/relegation system!) and a focus on development of younger players could be signs of better things to come. our country desperately needs to find a better way to identify and produce more quality players, and hopefully the new ownership will steer the league towards providing that answer.