Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A Quick Thought

Several months ago, I asked the rhetorical question who DC United's DP, Branko Boskovic, was. The question remains, but it's a bit more existential now. The day that I wrote this, Boskovic captained Montenegro to a nil-nil draw with England at Wembley in their Euro 2012 qualifier. By all accounts, Boskovic has been a valuable contributor to the relatively remarkable start that Montenegro has had to Euro qualifying. DC United supporters remain unconvinced. Any post on a United message board that mentions Boskovic is certain to start a debate: Is Boskovic an average level central midfielder, no more capable of adding to DC's attack than any other United attacker? Or is he a clever passer of the ball with good vision and quick feet who simply doesn't have any talent in front of him with whom to combine?

Boskovic is inexpensive as far as MLS Designated Players go. He may have neither the name nor the talent of the marquee DPs like Henry, Beckham, or Marquez, but he isn't paid as they are either. Nevertheless, he does make nearly double of the next player on the team, but he hasn't led DC to glory.
If his primary talents do lie in passing, then it can be expected that it will take time for him to adjust to the team as his teammates learn to read his passes and he learns to read their movements. Moreover, the attackers in front of him have struggled all year and, to a man, lack speed to really exploit through-balls into space.
Boskovic, for his part, however, has failed to adapt. He has still failed to adapt to the physicality of the league. He is, no doubt, being hacked. But that is an element of the game in MLS. Moreover, the same charge that I leveled against Gallardo, I level against Boskovic - he cannot play the game as he wants it to play in his head. The Austrian Bundesliga may have superior players to Major League Soccer; maybe they are tactically more aware. Boskovic is no longer playing in the Austrian Bundesliga, he's not even playing with a top MLS side. It could be simply that he is an above par player who doesn't have the right skill set for MLS. However, more often he passes to players who are well covered and that's when he doesn't pass it directly to the opposition. I would be less critical if he were getting the ball to his teammates who subsequently lost it. Often he looks par for the United course: he spends too much time of the ball, dribbles into the traffic, and then gives the ball away.

What about next year? A lot of fans seem to think the Boskovic is not worth the money that he is being paid, but it is unlikely that he will stay at a decreased salary. I am tempted to give him the benefit of the doubt; he was tossed into a horrible situation, it took him some time to get match fit, and given all the injuries, he has had no consistency in the starting eleven due to injuries, and frankly, DC does not have the type of talent necessary to be competitive in the league this year. So, I want to see what Boskovic looks like with a rebuilt team and with an offense that was actually designed to incorporate him. Frankly, I still don't know who he is because this year looks too much like an outlier.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Re: Who Needs This Kind of Trouble

Lacking creativity, I thought I would throw in my opinions on the Liverpool debacle.
I believe the claims of xenophobia and terrorism are somewhat over-stated, but not totally out-of-line. But it should be noted that Liverpool are facing the 9 point deduction of a club entering administration, should the sale not go through by, I believe, Wednesday. That's a big deal. Liverpool FC should not be in such a position - it is one of the most well-known clubs in the world and it's eminence is for it's successes, not failures.
Gilette and Hicks, I would argue, have financially run the club into the ground. It was not with malice, neglect, or casual impertinence. Rather, they, and the Glazers, attempted to use accounting and financial techniques often referred to as the Anglo-Saxon model. While such leveraging was not uncommon in England in general, it was not in English sport. The Americans came in intending to make a profit whereas Abramovich and the various Asian billionaires expected to lose money on the venture. As we all know now, the risks of the model were massively under-estimated and relied upon a relatively loose monetary supply and large amounts of credit. That dried up and has spelled disaster for Liverpool and may yet do the same to Manchester United. The same argument can be made for the now infamous "spades in the ground" comment about Liverpool's new stadium. Who can say whether their statement was intended to deceive, but once the financial crisis hit, they (and many others) were simply unable to fund such an undertaking.
However, even before all of this happened there was resistance to Hicks and Gilette and the Glazers. "Xenophobia" may be too broad. There are a variety of foreign owners and they face varying levels of derision. The Americans, however, were a particular insult. That soccer is not our national sport is known far-and-wide in Europe, which led the supporters to doubt their new owners dedication to the club. Their suspicions were further inflamed when the Americans made it clear that they were interested in the profits they believed they could reap. In this case, the American Liberalism (profit is always better than not) came into conflict with the European liberalism (a wariness of companies, businessmen, and the profit-motive). The initial resistance was sheer anti-Americanism. It's ugly, to be sure, but Russians, South-East Asians, and Middle Easterners have all faced anti-Orientalism when they assumed ownership. The Americans, however, made their case poorly and made their situations worse. Hicks and Gilette said that they were unlikely to move money from their American sports teams to their Premiership club, in fact, it was more likely that the opposite would happen. Handling of supporters has been abysmal, replete with gaffes and unvetted comments. When the financial crisis exacerbated the situation and the supporters had legitimate complaints, the Americans were doomed.
But the Kop would be wrong to pin Liverpool's failures on the field on Hicks and Gilette. Rafa Benitez complained that he wasn't supportered financially in the transfer market, but in a time of frenzied buying, Liverpool had a roster that should have made it more than competitive. The fans united behind Benitez because he opposed Hicks and Gilette, but that was deal with the devil, or at least the manager who was, in my opinion, killing the team's performance on the pitch. I have no problem with Hicks and Gilette being ousted - they gambled, they lost. They don't deserve to make a profit on the club because the club really is in financial ruin and it's hard to see how that is anyone's fault but their own. However, that more Americans are lined up to purchase the club is worrying. Liverpool will not have the Aschenputtel effect that Chelsea and the Citizens had to engender support for the new owners. Liverpudlians have unrealistic expectations and will DEMAND their their club routinely contend for the Premier League title and will DEMAND that the club perform on the highest level of European soccer. But there is too much wealth and too many contenders now. As if Tottenham weren't a threat before, the new association with AEG and it's ridiculous levels of capital may move Tottenham to a more permanent place near the top of the table, where it is likely to remain crowded for the foreseeable future. The clock will not roll back and Liverpool's pre-eminence will be harder to maintain than ever.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Who needs this kind of trouble?

Well, I'm back after being AWOL for like two and a half weeks. But here I am to give a quick thought on the biggest news story of the season so far that actually involves football(Sorry Wayne, your off the field antics don't bother me). The insane battle amongst the Liverpool board(including the owners) and the Spirit of Shankly and Hicks and Gillete are coming to an end. Or so it seemed early yesterday. New England Sports Ventures have come in with a bid to take the club from Hicks and Gilette. As of last night/this morning, Hicks is fighting to keep control of the Merseyside club.

I have two questions. First, why would Hick want to keep this club, even in the short term, when the Xenophobic fans are fighting to get rid of him? Second, why would another American want anything to do with a club that is in free fall with fans who have been chanting "Yanks out?" I am sure that most fans could care less about where the owners are from as long as they don't destroy the club, but to be so small minded as to chant xenophobically, is a problem in my mind. There is shared blame in this situation. I think Hicks and Gilette were not prepared for the task at hand with Liverpool, and I believe the fans have carried themselves in an improper fashion as it goes with Burning American flags and making more of a deal about where the owners are from.

I am in a small minority, but I see the Spirit of Shankly as a terrorist organization who has been attempting to intimidate the owners and their business partners into submission. Their internet campaigns against Hicks and Gilette amount to harrassment and their threats against Royal Bank of Scottland are unacceptable. I think everyone needs to step back and look at the overall situation. Hicks needs to find a way out which lets him leave without a ajor loss, but he should lose something from this since he handled this poorly from the start. Spirit of Shankly should make sure to apologize to the club and fans for their inappropriate behavior and look to carry themselves more positively and help the club. Perhaps even launch their own bid to run the club themselves as they see fit. I am a passionate fan, but I think their passion borders on fanaticism of a very negative nature. I don't like Liverpool, but I wish all involved good luck in moving this situation along because no supporter should be this unhappy with their club.