Monday, December 27, 2010

End of Year : Vol. 3 - Team of the Year

I want to give a huge thank you to anyone who reads here. I like writing about football, and I make a big effort to write something that is factually accurate and fun to read. I really believe that football is fun because it is a great game, but also because it is so easy to talk to people around the world about it. Sadly in a country like the US, it isn't as easy, so I write here or drone on and on to my co-writer and get some of this stuff out of my head. I try to be a bit original, and different rather than focusing on the same old stuff you can read at ESPN and Sky Sports. With that in mind, I am going to be a bit conventional and I want to give some individual dap to some of the best on the planet and name my team of the year.


Subs:Hart, Van Der Vaart, Iniesta, Dzeko, Donovan, Schweinsteiger, Ibrahimovic

Valdes-I think he's the better keeper than Casillas. Call me crazy, but I think he is so important to the Barca team when they struggle to score, he always keeps them in it.
Lahm-German captain, and one of the great right backs in the game. Funny that he used to prefer to play left back. None the less, I think he is a great leader and a great defender.
Pique and Puyol-This is a pairing to end all pairings. When you watch Barca play, it is amazing the understanding they have and to see the shape of the defense when Abidal or Alves go tearing down their side is fantastic. Great defenders, and Pique can score with his feet. And I haven't even mentioned how important they are to the Spanish national team.
Baines-Yes. I mean Leighton Baines. He has been in great form this season, and he is one of the few proper left backs who can defend and come forward. He should have been in South Africa. Perhaps even instead of Ashley Cole.
Messi-Best player on the planet. He will also be one of the all time greats when he finishes his career in about a decade or decade in a half.
Xavi-I'd be stupid to forget this man and you could argue that Iniesta could be here instead, but I think Xavi is the focal point of the offense for club and country and he is the best at what he does.
Sneijder-Scary coming forward and a great presence in any midfield. Made sucha difference to the treble winning side Inter, and to his national team, willing them to the final.
Bale-Breakout player of the year. He is the reason I became a Spurs fan several year ago. Now that he is the player he has become, I am so proud to have seen him then. He is fast, tricky, and is the reason Tottenham has gone where they have.
Villa-He was the force that kept Valencia as high in La Liga as they were. He has been a big part in the national team since Euro 2008. He has been fantastic With Barca.
Gyan-The feel good player of the year. He was they key to Ghana going as far as they did without Essien. Now he is tearing up the premier League and gets the credit he deserves.
Mourinho-It's the Special one. And he keeps building that reputation every year.
Hart-Should have been the England number 1 in June. Deservedly, he is now. Was amazing at Birmingham City, and is doing the same for Manchester City now.
Van Der Vaart-Has been great for the national team, but now gets to show his ability at Club level. He has helped to will Spurs to victories and will be a big part as they go forward.
Iniesta-How can I say anything about this guy that hasn't been said. Crucial for club and country and scored the winning goal in the World Cup final.
Dzeko-Amazing player who is getting the respect he deserves. Hopefully he will get the chance to do it at the top level since Wolfsburg is falling off a bit.
Donovan-Spiritual leader of the US team. Deserves so much more, but he has been trapped by MLS.
Schweinsteiger-2nd best passer of the ball only to Xavi. He is one of my favorite players on the planet. His loyalty is amazing.
Ibrahimovic-He has brought AC Milan back to life. That is an amazing feat. Coming back to the national team has also been good for him and the team. He may be a bit of a nutter, but he's a spellbinding player.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

End of Year : Vol. 2 - The EPL and CL

if you've been reading here for a while, you'll know I love to give my opinion, and I make predictions with little worry about how often I'll be wrong. My collaborator here can attest to this. Here's a look back at my views on the EPL and CL.

The Barclay's Premier League
here's what I said before...
20.West Brom

Top 6:
1.Man United
4.Man City

As for the relegation battle, I was really wrong. I still think Wolves will survive and Blackburn will probably go down, but I didn't think West Ham and Wigan would be quite as bad, not to mention Fulham. I think in the end, it'll be
20.West Ham

As for the top 6, I think I am still pretty well on... But admittedly, shortly after the season started, I began telling my co-conspirator that Liverpool wouldn't finish the season in the top 10. As things go on, I think I was definitely on to something there. I still don't think they will be in the top 10 at the end of the season. I actually will keep my top 5 in tact. United still haven't lost, and the Chelsea slide won't last forever. It will take major loses to see Manchester United slide out of first at the end. I think Man City's loss on Monday does make me wonder whether they won't miss out for a second straight year, but at this point, I think I'll stick to my top five.

Champions League
So, looking over my predictions, I got 12 of 16 teams correct. Sadly, only 7 in the correct place in their group. I was reasonably confident Spurs would make it but I never really believed we would win the group. I was right that Arsenal would scrape through, but who thought it would be in second? I knew Bayern and Roma would get through as well as Chelsea and Marseille and United were always going to win their group. I will say this, I am proud to have gotten 12 of 16 right. That's better than I usually do. I took punts on Partizan, Ajax, Bursaspor and Rubin and was wrong. But now we look forward to the knockout stages. Here's how I think it will go...

Roma v Shakhtar Donetsk
Tough one to call in my opinion. This will come down to how Roma handle themselves in Donetsk. I think Shakhtar will pull through this one narrowly.
AC Milan v Tottenham
Tough one for me to call. All my thoughts say that Spurs go through. We have pace, youth, creativity and a will to prove everyone wrong. Milan has experience, and are top of Serie A. I think Spurs move on to the next round though.
Valencia v Schalke
This is going to be a fun tie to watch in my opinion. Schalke has been turning it on in the CL and struggling in the Bundesliga. Valencia are a very good team and I think they will go on as they should have a few players back from injury.
Inter Milan v Bayern Munich
This is the easiest to call. Bayern will get their revenge for May. Inter are awful and just sacked Benitez, and I don't see them turning it around.
Lyon v Real Madrid
This should be a Madrid romp, but Lyon did get the better of them last year. Lyon are a very good team and can handle themselves in defense. I think this will be the most interesting and I think Madrid will finally break the 6 year streak of going out in the first round of the knockouts.
Arsenal v Barcelona
Barca... This will be the most fun to watch as Barca are the best team on the planet right now. Arsenal will not have a chance.
Marseille v Manchester United
I think this will be the upset fixture. I think Marseille will beat United. It will be cagey, but I think Marseille were the worst match up for United as they are good defensively and very good attacking.
Copenhagen v Chelsea
Is this even a possibility? No, Chelsea will make their way to the next round.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

End of Year : Vol. 1 - FIFA

I'm back. This will begin a series of end of year posts.

Today, I want to talk about FIFA. FIFA has been one of the big stories in the ending this year. I think it has become even more clear that FIFA is one of the most corrupt organizations on the planet. The English media made light of the scandalous actions of many of the FIFA executive committee members over the past two decades.

First, I want to discuss the awarding of the 2018 and 2022 World cups to Russia and Qatar respectively. At first, I thought Russia was an awful choice. I wanted England because I knew that I would probably be able to go, and hopefully I'd already be living there and since I missed my chance when the Cup was held in the US in 1994 I really want the chance to go again. After some thought, I think Russia is a brilliant choice. I think the Russian FA will need to work diligently to fight racism and the government will have to work to make it a more hospitable locale for visiting fans, but it certainly can work. But with that said, I think the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is absolutely ridiculous.

The 2022 bid was one that many people, including myself, was a lock to be either the US or Australia. I think there are so many problems with the bid and the actual possibility of running this event there. As for the bid, it seems that it was bought. I can't prove that, but there seemed to be a lot of funny business happening. The most damning point about the bid was that Qatar was the only country to get a negative technical bid. Even with 12 years to work on it, it is crazy to think that everything wrong in the technical bid could be addressed.

As for the post bid silliness, they want to hold the cup in January. Where was that in the bid book? I understand why, but we should have been made aware of that beforehand. I thought they were going to have air conditioned stadiums. Realistically, I could write all day about what is wrong with the Cup being awarded to Qatar now. Maybe in a few years time, I would change my tune, but now, no. Let me just quickly run through my issues with this(or at least the problems I can think of now). Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar. Not a problem for me, but this is a tournament which is supposed to be inclusive. Israel would have to be given special permission to get into the country if they qualify. And believe me. I hope like hell that they do. Alcohol is not allowed in Qatar, and they are going to have to make special amendments to the law to allow it during the World Cup. Women are still second class citizens in the Muslim world. Enough said there. The temperature is 50 degrees centigrade in the summer. This is dangerous not only to the players, but to fans traveling between games to and from their hotels and now they want to move a summer tournament to the winter. Doesn't tradition mean anything? The Cup would be held essentially in one city. Now they want to allow other countries to host some games. Where was that in the bid book? And how can we be sure that neighboring countries would be accepting of the changes that need to be made to run this in their country? The whole modular stadiums thing. It just screams safety hazard to me. I mean, I love and own Ikea furniture, but it is not the most sturdy stuff ever. I would hate to see 60,000 people piled on the contents of an Ikea. Doha has only like one stadium. It just seems silly. There's more, but I'm tired of complaining about this already.

Jack Warner. Seriously, he is one of the most corrupt and abhorrent human beings on the face of the planet. He is a liar, a cheat, and simply a bad person. He was caught selling world cup tickets. I mean, how ridiculous is that? My big worry is that he could get the FIFA presidency if Blatter is ousted. With the people who are in Warner's pockets, as well as those who don't dare oppose him now, imagine him with more power. He could ruin the game with his sin bins or something.

Blatter. I know you want to work on your legacy, but at least be honest about it then. You essentially let several countries(US, England, Spain, Korea, Japan, etc.) was millions of dollars preparing their bids which they had absolutely no chance of winning. You should be ashamed. With the economy in the state it is in everywhere, especially in Spain right now, this was just wrong to give false hope and waste finances. Hopefully we will see the back of you in six months.

Finally, I honestly believe we will see the back of Blatter soon in one way or another. I think that if Blatter remains in May, you will likely see a breakup of FIFA. This is going to be not only through the media and the Football associations, but through governmental action. The blase nature of FIFA which basically believes it is above the law will not stand much longer. FIFA has stepped in to block governments and hold back the game in parts of the world where the government should be at the forefront. This will not last much longer. I'll put my money on that.

More to come over the next couple of days. And with some luck, we'll see the first musings of our newest writer if I can coax him up to the keyboard.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

World Cup Fail

Set Honesty Aside When Dealing with FIFA

Anyone who pays any attention to the wheelings and dealings of FIFA is well aware that it is a cesspool of politics, corruption, and petty would-be dictators. Sure, CONCACAF is worse and even the USSF has had plenty of low moments, but FIFA is ridiculous. Only Sepp Blatter, Jack Warner, and the rest know just how much money they've managed to slide into their bank accounts throughout the bidding process. That said, I'm not certain that FIFA made the wrong choices when selecting the World Cup bids. The U.S. had a good bid, a safe bid that was guaranteed to make FIFA plenty of money with plenty of ready-to-go good venues, a relatively fan-friendly atmosphere, and good logistics. But there was simply no "wow"-factor. Perhaps bringing the World Cup to the U.S. would have helped solidify and accelerate the growth of soccer as a professional sport in one of the, if not the, most important markets in the world. But that is not FIFA's job - that is the USSF's job and MLS' job. Moreover, they are doing a fairly good job of it. MLS is expanding into new markets, DC United is about the closest to a team being "on the rocks" and that is not for lack of fans; ratings for the World Cup were quite good and traveling European teams continue to draw large crowds.

Let's Talk about Russia, That's Less Painful

The English bid, it could be said, was comparable to the U.S. bid. Safe and steady and an eventuality, really. That may piss off Jack Warner, but England is pretty much all set to hold a World Cup. The stadiums are there, the fans are there, and the logistics have been tested regularly by virtue of the EPL and their four slots into the Champions' League. The World Cup will come to England. However, that's partially the problem. There's nothing new or exciting. Many of the traveling fans will have already been to England. The World Cup isn't going to spur much new growth, it will create no new stunning stadiums and new signs of development.
Russia is regaining its strength, influence, and its wealth. Yes, it is ridiculously corrupt. Yes, it has invaded one of its neighbors recently. Yes, the press is under-pressure (unlike, say, England). But the World Cup will be bigger for Russia than it will be for England. The English love football, but for Russia and the Russians this will fit into the narrative of their re-emergence from the dark times of the 1980s and 90s. Russia will spend more money wastefully to make the World Cup a bigger event than England could - not by virtue of wealth but by virtue of an autocratic government combined with a populace that currently wants to show the world that they are back and need to be considered again.
Similarly, I will not complain in the slightest if China is awarded the World Cup in 2026. China, for all its problems, is an amazing country that is amassing wealth and influence. It will put on a hell of a show for the World Cup, FIFA and the rest of us know it (did you see the opening and closing ceremonies for the Olympics?).

Iran Will Not Attack the 2022 World Cup Final, Even If It Is the U.S. v. Israel

First of all, stop with the racist and Islamophobic garbage. Right. Now. It's goddamn embarrassing. Will Qatar have to be on alert for crazies? Sure. But keep in mind that Qatar's security forces have less compunction about repressing their own populace than a Western democracy and they will be less fettered by civil liberties when it comes their investigations and detentions. Qatar houses plenty of U.S. military personnel and there aren't car bombs going off every day in Doha.

Arrive by Water Taxi!

There are plenty of questions about the Qatar bid, but they have 12 years to plan and virtually unlimited money to throw at the issue. Because that is what Qatar has promised for the World Cup - an over-funded spectacle. Have you seen the stadiums? Yes, a stadium whose outer-skin appears to be made of plasma televisions is tremendously wasteful - but damn, if it won't create a memorable image. Qatar, like many of it's neighbors, is trying to build itself up as a tourist destination. The accommodations will be top notch. If anything, that should be the greatest fear. A friend in Doha tells me that she either stays in for the night or spends a tremendous amount of money because there are no available cheap options for non-natives and prices will be even higher around the World Cup. Nevertheless, outdoor, but cooled, drinking areas may sound weird and forced, but it also sounds like it could be a fairly impressive feat of engineering, much like the stadiums. FIFA will get to show off amazing visuals, beginning but not ending with the new architecture. It is a new an exciting locale for traveling fans in a country that will do everything that it can to show off for the visitors. Some fans may show some trepidation when it comes to traveling to the Middle East, but the same was said about Africa.

If You're Expecting Failure, Expect Disappointment

Both Russia and Qatar will have amazing World Cups. The countries may not have the most profitable World Cup. Those countries might be better served to spend their money elsewhere, but that is not FIFA's concern. My largest complaint is that FIFA has granted the World Cup to Qatar, one of the countries that refused to play against Israel and forced FIFA to move Israel into UEFA. FIFA slaps down any country whose government interferes with their domestic federation (supposedly), but has missed the opportunity to law down the law that any member nation must at least tacitly accept any other nation that FIFA has accepted into its membership. That annoys me. Sure, now that they have the World Cup, Qatar has said that it will accept the Israeli team, should they qualify, but FIFA had the opportunity to push Qatar for something more permanent. Israel-Palestine is not FIFA's responsibility, but they like to throw their weight around, bully governments, and to enforce their laws, but have chosen not to do so this time.
The U.S. put in a decent bid that may have been successful against Japan or Korea and maybe even Australia, but Qatar was always going to be a tough bid to beat. England probably had a better chance against its UEFA rivals, but could promise nothing other than success and profit and, from the other bids, FIFA can do better. If FIFA ever runs into financial difficulty, it will knocking down the door of the U.S. and England, but until that happens, the Anglos need to find a new way to pitch their countries that make them more appealing. Yes, FIFA is corrupt and the most corrupt countries won their bids, but it is not as outlandish as it sounds.