finger pointing

Sir Alex FergusonThings haven’t gone according to plan in the red half of Manchester the last couple seasons.

Sir Alex Ferguson sealed his legendary career two seasons ago with one last title before sailing off into the sunset that is the Old Trafford’s directors box. From there, the intensity of his gaze seemed to blind and break his hand-picked successor of David Moyes. Despite performing admirably with limited resources at Everton for a decade, Moyes was only able to guide more or less the same side Ferguson had guided to a title just the year before to an unthinkable seventh place finish.

Perhaps that’s a sign that Ferguson was the glue that held things together in that final season. He managed to eke out what might have been just enough to paper over the sizable cracks in the foundation, like an aging Rio Ferdinand and fading Nemanja Vidić, a weak midfield and a complete lack of depth.

Since then though, fans of the Red Devils and much of the punditry has been quick to point a thousand fingers at Moyes and the Glazers for ruining the house that Ferguson built. They provided explanations such as “Moyes wasn’t up for the stress of the job” or the “Glazers aren’t investing in the proper type of talent”.

While the first could very well be true, the second one seems a little far fetched. Looking at 2014 alone, the Glazers have approved the purchases of Juan Mata (£37.5m), Ander Herrera (£28.8m), Luke Shaw (£27m), Marcos Rojo (£16m) and now Di Maria (£63.9m). And that’s not including the £28m they authorized being spent last season on Marouane Fellaini.

So with at least one of those two common complaints now debunked, there could be another theory for explaining United’s demise that nobody seems willing to consider.

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ten words or less #73

Sir Alex Ferguson

as we say goodbye to one of the legends of the game, i can’t help but hope the door hits him on the way out.

Ever since the rumors of his imminent retirement in the early portion of the week, I’ve toiled in vain to write the perfect opus for Sir Alex’s career. Yet with all that is being penned on the great Scotsman in the time since, it’s been hard to find not only a unique angle… but also an appropriate way to express my feelings towards Ol’ Red Nose. On one hand, I have mountains of respect for a man that’s won more titles than entire leagues of clubs combined, has managed to adapt his game several times over to match the prevailing playing styles of the time, and has corralled egos larger than your average Walmart Super Center. On the other hand, I hate Fergie for his influence over the FA, the fear he invokes in referees, and the times he’s pried away Tottenham’s best players.

So since I’ve been unable to tap out an appropriate homage to the greatest manager I’ll likely ever see, I’ll do the next best thing and link to the best piece I’ve read about him so far. And that’s how I’m starting off the latest edition of TWOL.

Fair well, Fergie. Here’s hoping you have a long and lovely retirement… and that Moyes drives United to hell in you absence.

Even receiving a hairdrying invokes respect for Fergie. –

Hey… this looks familiar! –

Kobe Bryant’s new kicks looked to on-pitch inspiration. –

The Vatican not only has a league, Americans boss it. –

Despite erratic form, I still love me some Benny Assoun-Ekotto. –

American soccer re-imagined… a familiar design for Over-the-Rhine.

Nike’s updated R9’s will hit you right in the 90’s. –

Stellar MLS art: For Cub and Country. –

Cool… until they use it to buy Bale next year. –

One of the most important debates in American soccer. –

ten words or less #66

Tottenham's Clint Dempsey celebrates scoring against Manchester United

deuce earned his stripes against united once again.

From this American fan’s perspective, the long holiday weekend that’s just passed us by was quite a good one.

Saturday’s fixtures were chock full of goals, averaging just over three and half per match. Then on  #EpicSunday2 (© Fox Soccer Channel) with an entertaining Gunners loss to Chelsea and a gutsy, come-from-behind draw for Spurs against Manchester United. And with a whole additional day to recover after spending Sunday at the pub watching it all go down — not to mention being able to squeeze in a few hours of skiing on Saturday night — I would be hard pressed to design a better weekend for myself.

So with some bigger things around the corner still needing some attention and final polish, this seems like the perfect time to share some of my favorite links from the last week.

The European Transfer Market: Visualized. –

Greeting fans through your car sunroof isn’t the best idea. –

Il Fenomeno finally get’s his move to England. –

Well look who’s decided he wants to play this year. –

Footballer lowered into a well to save a little girl. –

Ferguson has bigger issues than Zeki Fryers move to Spurs. –

Like Rapinoe, I wish more USWNT players would move abroad.

Ronaldinho get’s his own, footie-themed Bollywood Space Jam. –

If MLB ran soccer teams… their kits could be AWESOME. –

Adu now looking for his 9th club in 9 years. –

ten words or less #59

It’s time for the young 2012-2013 season’s first international break, and contrary to my normal reactions, I’m actually pretty excited for this one. The last few international breaks have featured the USMNT squaring off in friendlies against opponents preparing for other tournaments, meaning they’ve all been devoid of any of the passion and desire that makes an international fixture entertaining. This time, however, the Yanks are actually playing two meaningful, relevant World Cup Qualifying matches.

Columbus Crew Stadium

if you’re heading to c-bus for the 9/11 world cup qualifier against jamaica… be on the lookout for WSOTP!

My excitement is likely also buoyed by the fact that I’m actually heading to one of those relevant matches, the second qualifier against Jamaica in Columbus on 9/11. I’m planning on prowling the Crew Stadium parking lot prior to kickoff to take pictures of the tailgating fans. So if you see me walking around with my wife in the new striped US kit, feel free to stop me and say hello… you might just end up with your face on the blog!

Anyway, here are some links to keep you entertained in the mean time.

Grown men wearing full kits in public. –

Sir Alex personally handling United transition to Guardiola? –

This is seriously big for Australian football. –

I can juggle all the way to… potato. –

Only a rumor, but potentially bad news for Revs fans. –

Having conquered one natural disaster, Boca now on to tsunamis. –

The US finally has 24-hour, soccer-only radio! –

Nike’s clever: Iniesta as a puppet with the new CTR360’s. –

No more jokes. This is actually getting pretty sad now. –

The official 2014 World Cup ball’s name… Brazil + Bazooka = BRAZUCA?

ten words or less #51

The New 2012 USA Nike Kits... now with hoops.

in all the hullabaloo yesterday', i somehow missed the USMNT/USWNT kit announcement... we were long overdue for making the same kit for both teams, though i'm still not sold on the hoops.

With the dust having settled after yesterday’s epic announcement, I wanted to extend welcome to all of the new readers who were lucky kind enough to stumble across WSOTP over the last 48 hours. The Cult of Rolfe extends far and wide, and I’ve been mightily impressed at the speed and distance by which they’re able to spread information… you lot had Soccer by Ives tweeting and Taylor Twellman re-tweeting my link within an hour of posting. Stellar work.

Hopefully some of you will stick around to see what else the blog has in store… and maybe disseminate my writing a bit further. But just as I warned on Twitter yesterday, if you’re expecting this space to be inundated solely with Rolfe/Fire news… you might end up a bit disappointed.

Anyway, thanks again for stopping by the blog — whatever your reason — and as a reward just for you, enjoy some of my ten favorite links from the last week.

Solid Euro 2012 infographic to help build the excitement. –

The official song of Sir Alex Ferguson’s mindgames. –

Facepalm Level: Infinity. Worst idea ever to fix US soccer. –

I need the brown ones, but I want the rest. –

The only way you could get me to play golf. – (warning: French)

Spurs vs. Norwich… through the lens of a crack pipe. –

The new Houston Dynamo stadium looks drool worthy.

Puyol gets his face stapled mid match, like a man. –

The Predator line just made a major left turn. –

An honest look at the urgency for goal line technology. –

ten words or less #33

Aaron Biber and Tottenham's Peter Crouch

crouch visited and got his haircut by aaron biber. when biber's barbershop was trashed during the riots, the looters shockingly left the autographed crouch photo he's holding.

Welcome back, distinguished readers, and thanks for reading my latest article on wrong side of the pond. I am attempting to keep today’s posting very formal, proper, and short as this blog needs to get into in-season form for the start of this European campaign. So with that in mind, let’s skip the silliness today and get on to the sub-ten-word links below.

No word on whether he was red carded or not. –

WTF is that face, Landycakes?!?! – dirty tackle @

Farewell to the best defender of his generation… after Maldini. –

This took balls… brilliant work by adidas marketing. –

Sir Alex 1 : the Daily Mail’s Bob Cass 0 –
A tip of my hat to 2-time defending fantasy champion Lippadona for pointing out this link.

The new La Masia: now that’s an academy. –

Don’t care if everyone’s linked to it… brilliant. –

The Canadian MLS clubs always nail branding. –

conclusive evidence

we really don’t know how lucky we all are yet. it may be too early for most to even recognize the significance of the result of saturday’s champions league final between manchester united and f.c. barcelona.

wembley stadium before the 2011 champions league final

something big was determined at wembley on saturday, and it was bigger than just determining the european champions.

many of the debates that rage within the game are purely philosophical in nature. who is better: messi or ronaldo? is joey barton crazy? should there be homegrown player quotas? what’s more important: your club or your country? we can all offer our opinions, but no definitive answers can be drawn from those questions. and we can’t really answer any of those questions because there is no right answer to any of those questions. well, except that it is fact that joey barton is certifiably insane.

so what made saturday night’s champions league final so special that many can’t even realize it’s importance? perhaps it’s because the match actually answered one of those hypothetical questions for us. namely, who has been the best team of this era? (i am not even going to attempt to tackle the “best team ever” question. it is definitely not answerable.)

what gives this game the right to answer a supposedly unanswerable question? let’s start with a few obvious qualifications.

this final was a match up between the two most dominant clubs in europe over the last decade. it was united’s third champions league final in the last five years, and barça’s third in the last seven. domestically, both are staggeringly dominant. and since la liga and the premier league have been the undisputed best two leagues in europe during this time frame, it’s even easier to call them both the best when barça have won five and united have won six of the last ten titles in their respective leagues. together, they’ve won four of the last seven european championships, and it would have been five of the last seven if inter hadn’t found a way to sneak past the catalonians in last year’s semifinal.

now i know i haven’t been the biggest barcelona supporter in this space. in fact, i’ve been outright harsh on them. but regardless of my complaints about them (mainly the excessive and unneeded diving), i’ve always said that they’re the team to beat. and when they’re running on full cylinders, as they clearly were on saturday evening, they’re impossible to beat. i’ll never claim otherwise.

and while we’ve questioned united’s credentials all season, they proved to be nearly unbeatable themselves in the end. despite an AWOL rooney at the beginning of the campaign, a major injury to valencia, an aging squad and the looming retirement of van der sar, they ended up on the top of the heap in england again this season. champions for a record 19th time. so let’s give credit where credit is due: it took a historically amazing barcelona side to knock down champions of this calibre. so…

top tier clubs: check

messi splits giggs and carrick in the champions league final

another brilliant messi performance might have helped to cement barça's place in history.

the wembley final also had some other key ingredients to answer a question such as which is the best team of this generation. messi, almost unarguably the best player on the planet, logged another inspired performance in a big match. and while much of the spotlight was on the tiny 2-time defending world player of the year, let us not forget that he also had the help of the first and second runners up to the 2010 prize. none of the triumvirate let us down, as all performed breathtakingly.

on the other side of the ball, you saw england’s most mercurial striker in rooney finally make his presence felt on the biggest stage. admittedly though, expectations proved to heavy for the legendary ryan giggs and up-and-comer javier hernandez. either way…

top tier players: check.

additionally, two of the three best managers in the world were on the benches at wembley stadium. on one side of the ring you have the seasoned and legendary sir alex ferguson (12 premier league titles, two european cups, five FA cups). on the other, the young hotshot pep guardiola (3 la liga titles, and now two european cups).

top tier managers: check.

another thing that made this such a key, question-answering event: the american sports audience finally paid attention to the champions league final. people at work were asking me about the match, wanting to know what makes that “zavi” guy so good. hell, the american castle of conservativism, fox, decided broadcasting a proper football match live on their flagship network for the first time was worth the risk of exposing their fans to socialism.

aiding the hype was the massive amount of “support” both teams have stateside. barça is today’s bandwagoned side of the moment, while the mancs held that spot for much of the late 90’s and early noughties. who those american fans support at the moment is clearly visible in my not so scientific pole on the WSOTP facebook page from a few weeks back to see who everyone thought would win the match:

of the 40 responses received on the WSOT facebook page, only 9 selected the mancunians to win.

(tangent warning: while both clubs have certainly earned their followings, the size of their supporters might be ballooned by the fact that most american fans aren’t able to name another team besides united or barcelona. i’d be willing to wager that only one in five yanks that identify themselves as united fans would know anything about the bubsy babes. likewise with american barça fans, i’m sure the mention of “cruyff” would result in nothing but looks of confusion. end tangent)

and as expected, the media firestorm before the final was priming the question to be answered. it seemed like everyone was ready to crown this barcelona side as the best in history (an insanely more difficult question to answer than to name one for just an era) before the match was over. and that means…

top tier interest: check.

so with the world’s best clubs, players, managers and a massive wave of interest behind it, the table was adequately set to decide who was truly the best side of this era.

let’s be honest though. it would have taken a massive victory by manchester united to get any of the punditry to hand them the title of “era’s best”. this isn’t the best squad that united have fielded under sir alex (the 1999 treble winners probably were), and the red devils would have had to turn in an epic like an 8-0 win to sway anyone into believing the title of the era’s best belongs to in manchester.

but lucky we were again, as barcelona emphatic victory made it all the more easy for us to hand them the crown instead.

statistically, the blaugrana were so dominant that it made any chance of a united payback victory impossible:

  • 68% possesion to united’s 32%.
  • 22 shots to united’s 4, 12 and 1 on frame respectively.
  • 6 corners to united’s 0.
  • 719 completed passes to united’s 301.

unusually for me though, it wasn’t the statistics that really drove home the point. instead, it was the way that barcelona won the match: they did it without all of the theatrics.

gone were the ridiculous antics that plagued their semifinal match ups with real madrid, and instead we were left with solely the beautiful game that this team is always lauded for. in fact the only time i even saw busquets grab his face is when he was actually hit in it. it’s just that  i feel much better about deeming a team worthy to be called the best of an era when i don’t think they earned it by any form of cheating. and beat united they did without it.

simply put, barcelona beat the other best team in europe with style, skill and class. my highly unscientific facebook poll showed that most of us expected that outcome, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t all get more than we expected.

barça proved themselves again, and thanks to it, have written themselves a special chapter in the history of football. and as many generations go by without the opportunity to say that they had watched a truly dominant side. what’s becoming ever more apparent, though, is that saturday… we did.

wrong side XI

A fellow fan of the beautiful game and I had a colorful discussion today regarding who we both considered to currently be the best left back in the world. The two of us argued the merits and flaws of this player and that for longer than what our manager at work would have liked, yet we weren’t actually able to anoint one player as the supreme left back on the planet.

if you could pick any team you wanted, who would you pick?

After I got over the shock of not being able to “win” a soccer argument, I came to a realization…. it’s not a bad thing that we weren’t able to name just one.

Instead, I figured out that in order to actually answer a very subjective question such as “who is the best player in this position?”, we must first define a specific formation and system into which this prospective player would be inserted.

For example, it wouldn’t make any sense to place a wingback such as Ashley Cole — known for hiw swashbuckling, long runs into the attack — into a defensively-conservative system like that of Tony Pulis’ Stoke City. Similarly, an extremely skilled player like Robinho plays very well as a striker in the hole in a counter-attacking culture that’s prevalent in Italy, but didn’t fill the role well in England because he didn’t defend as much as is required by a Premier League midfielder. See what I mean?

And then it struck me: the brainchild of that conversation should be the basis for a new series of posts on wrong side of the pond. Here’s the scenario:

  • I am given the managerial reigns at a super-rich club, such as a Real Madrid or Manchester City.
  • I have an unlimited transfer budget at my disposal for transfers and wages.
  • I am free to pursue whatever transfer targets I like, regardless of price or availability.
  • All players desire to play for my club, and UEFA’s Financial Fair Play rules don’t exist (though this may be the case anyway, seeing how most teams will still find loopholes).
  • I can choose whatever formation I want, and place the players in it in whatever way I feel fits the system the best.

So with the rules now defined, you’re probably wondering just who I would pick for my starting eleven. And if you’ve asked yourself that, then you totally understand the format for my newest blog series. If you don’t, I’m picking my very own wrong side of the pond XI. Each week, we’ll cover a single position on the pitch, who I would choose, and why. And this week lay the foundation for the weeks to follow by choosing my side’s formation and tactics. Jump past the break to see how I intend to shape my imaginary squad.

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ten words or less #15

now, which one are you? rafael? fabio? does your manager even know? oh who cares, just get in there.

for a change, i will not talk about anything tottenham or transfer related in this post. none of the following links will cover those topics, for real. consider yourself both lucky and blessed.

some love for a fellow former-dayton resident’s footie blog. –

brad friedel is broke. :( –

maradona vs. valderrama… in the present. –

mourinho’s prematch reports are… a sign of OCD. –

horrid anniversary kits. and where are dude’s boots? –

this is awesome: la furia roja simpson-ized. –

sir alex is a bastard. –

“mcdonaldization,” while a sweet word, is concerning to me. –

the right man for the job

Landing a management position in big-time, professional football has to be such a bipolar experience.

before we hang hodgson up on the cross, consider that it might not be all of his fault.

On one hand, I would have to imagine you would probably be ecstatic to have landed a high profile job. The prestige, the perks, the chance to compete with and against the best of the best, knowing that you’ve reached the pinnacle of your profession… all of the things that make you want to go out and celebrate over a few pints.

On the other hand, landing a high profile manager’s position must also be incredibly nerve wracking. The pressure, the weight of expectations of the directors/players/fans, knowing that you have a gun pointed at the back of your head from the minute you sign your contract… all of the things that make you want to go and drown your sorrows in a pint or ten.

For most, the latter is often enough for us to rule ourselves out of contention for such a line of work… as if any of us are really that qualified. Of course, that doesn’t keep any of us fans, pundits and so called experts from crucifying those who do have that ambition and turning up our noses from our lofty positions as armchair managers.

However, there is a small subset of the general populace that not only enjoys the great parts about becoming a manager, but also thrives on the negatives that scare the rest of us off. Without that pressure, the job wouldn’t even be fun for them. Unfortunately, most of the current men employed in these top positions the world over aren’t in this category. many of them are impostors, feigning fearlessness to land their “dream job,” only to quickly find themselves in over their heads.

carlo deserves a cigarette... even top managers struggle from time to time.

For every José Mourinho — ever cool as a cucumber despite taking on the most demanding jobs on the planet — there are ten Phil Browns, liable to bite your arm off because they’ve gone mad from the grind. And thus we have part of our explanation for the continuous carousel of management hirings and firings that are common place in the sport… each club desperately searching for their own Sir Alex, del Bosque or Bruce Arena (kidding).

What can even be more frustrating though is even if you land one of those special managers, he just might not be the right fit. Whether it be he doesn’t mesh well with the players, doesn’t get along with the director. Think of Juande Ramos at Tottenham, Manuel Pellegrini at Real Madrid or Rafa Benítez at Inter Milan… sometimes it just doesn’t click.

Then again, some of the above may have been the impostors I mentioned previously. Some of them may have finally succumbed to the pressure cooker and gone bananas (the Fat Spanish Waiter in particular). Maybe some were better cut out for serving mid-table sides, as was the case with Ramos and Pellegrini (Ramos with Sevilla, especially). It’s almost always a shot in the dark; a hope and a prayer.

So as we all patiently wait for the January axes to fall on the likes of Liverpool’s Roy Hodgson (a mid-table guy), Aston Villa’s Gerard Houllier (he’s French), Avram Grant (an imposter), and — shockingly — Carlo Ancelotti (a top tier manager, though his players are certainly to blame)… remember that it’s not always their fault.

Finding the right man for the job is likely just as easy as finding a needle in a very expensive haystack.