Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Tottenham Hotspur: The Anti-Arsenal

As an Arsenal supporter, the temptation to laugh at yet another hapless Spurs team has been almost impossible to suppress. But the point of this post is not really ridicule - it's to demonstrate the difference between a well-run club and one that's managed poorly. Spurs aren't the anti-Arsenal simply because the supporters of the two teams hate one another; it's because their style of management and personnel selection runs directly contrary to that of the Gunners. Not to mention the fact that those that join and leave each club seem to experience opposite effects.

At the beginning of this season, I was convinced that Tottenham had a legitimate shot at cracking the Top Four at the expense of Liverpool or Arsenal. I, like my esteemed colleague, was sure that Arsenal had missed its opportunity to strengthen the squad. Meanwhile, Spurs had made some major moves starting mid-season of the previous campaign. They brought in Juande Ramos, a fine manager with a record of success and a reputation for getting the best out of both his stars and his less-skilled players. Jonathan Woodgate, Luka Modric, Gio dos Santos, David Bentley, and Roman Pavyluchenko have followed. Though all have had some questions asked during their careers, these are (or ought to be) world class players. The same goes for some of the Spurs mainstays: Jenas (whom I despise), is nonetheless a fine player; Gareth Bale shows a lot of promise; and Ledley King, if he could ever stay healthy, would be one of England's top central defenders alongside Ferdinand and Terry.

Meanwhile, Arsenal in the past few years have bought almost no one of note aside from Samir Nasri, and even he was a bit of a gamble. The season before, they signed Eduardo and Bacary Sagna. Nobody really knew what to expect. Wenger began starting players who had formerly served as backups for global stars (Clichy for Ashley Cole; Adebayor for Henry) and told them to pick up where they left off. Lo and behold, it seemed to work. Why? We'll get to it in a moment.

Even before this, Wenger was bringing in unknown players like Patrick Vieira, Freddie Ljungberg, Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Marc Overmars, Cesc Fabregas, Alexander Hleb, and Matthieu Flamini. All of these players became stars at Arsenal. Those who have left have continually run into "the Arsenal curse" and have rapidly lost fitness or generally failed to achieve the same level of personal or club success. I recognize it's far too early to say with Hleb and Flamini, but both their clubs are off to nightmare starts.

Tottenham's curse is precisely the opposite. When good players and managers come to Tottenham, they become bad. And when they leave again, they often rediscover their form. Defoe and Mido, two Spurs striking castoffs, are off to great starts with Portsmouth and Middlesbrough, respectively. Martin Jol has Hamburg off to a league-leading start in the Bundesliga (that won't last, but a Top 3 finish isn't out of the question). Again, why?

The answer lies in how each club approaches building a team. For Tottenham, each year without success brings an outcry from management and the fans to blow up the whole team and start again. And so Spurs sell off players that still have great potential and buy a new load of quality players. These players arrive over the summer and are expected to learn a brand new system and to play with brand new players immediately. Every year, Tottenham sputters out of the starting gate and picks up steam as the season goes on and players grow accustomed to each other. Hell, last year they even managed to string together enough positive results in the middle of the season to win something (the Carling Cup, but still). But in terms of the league and qualifying for the CL, it's always too little, too late. The board and the fans are unhappy again. Solid players are sold at a loss. The hot new stars on the scene are brought in. Failure begets failure.

At Arsenal, Wenger has been given freedom by the board to take the opposite approach. Change is gradual. A good illustration of this comes from his first season in charge. Wenger took over a back line of Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn, and Keown. All of these players were 30+ and were used to a style of play far different from what is now associated with Arsenal. Yet Wenger retained them. And when he bought new players, it was usually one immediate impact player and then five or six for the future. He extended the careers of the veterans and maintained a true sense of team by gradually integrating the newcomers. He was the first to start using the Carling Cup as an opportunity to play youngsters alongside and against first team regulars. Though the pace of this adaptation has necessarily sped up in recent years, the principle remains the same.

Tottenham would do well to emulate this example. Ramos is a fine manager. With time, I believe he can identify the players that will constitute a "heart and soul" base of the squad and add to it. But this means no board hysteria when Tottenham rally to finish 6th this season. No calls for a shake-up, no pressing of the panic button. Listening to the fans is often a good thing, but when the voices of frustrated supporters are given too much consideration (e.g. Tottenham, Newcastle, West Ham), you end up with the inmates running the asylum. And the bottom line remains that you can't buy a league title. (Unless you're Chelsea, and then you get two for your money. But that's a whole other story.)

[Note: I originally drafted this a couple days ago. Since then, Wenger and Ferguson have come out and discussed this issue. Love the picture in that article. And Ramos himself came out and begged for patience. Though I personally don't mind seeing Tottenham embarrass themselves every year, I think Spurs fans would do well to listen.]

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 1, Leg 1, this is the diary of the Champions League

It has been rumored that the Champions League this year is robust with talented and legit teams.

The rumors are true:

Group A
Chelsea 4, Bordeaux 0

Bordeaux may have been the most uninspired team of the first round. I didn't expect much of them going into the Fortress but there was a moment in the game when Bords missed a sitter down 2-nil and I got to thinking how nice it would have been for them to leave England with an away goal. The game never really materialized for them and Chelsea looked like they were having fun. Lampard barely celebrated his wide open header and Joe Cole smiled annoyingly after his flick-on goal from no angle off a corner. Gosh, writing that makes me irritated. Anyway, then Eaux collapsed and the two kings of garbage time smashes, namely, Florent Malouda and Le Suck, scored easily just in case there was a 2nd leg to played. Turns out there isn't. Way to go Bordeaux.

Roma 1, CFR Cluj-Napoca

Highlights will self-destruct soon.
I'm going to try and go the remainder of the group stages without a horrendously cheesy joke about CFR Cluj-Napoca's choice of squad name. Honestly I hope to last this paragraph. Anyway, CFR absolutely diagnosed* Roma. Rome hasn't been sacked like this since 1527. I kinda with CFR was a French team because that historical reference would be a little more savvy. Regardless, Juan Culio crushed any lingering thoughts that Roma might escape from their early season slump with two brilliant strikes. Roma has looked so awful the last 3 games it's beginning to pass "slump" stages and enter into "diarrhea" mode - currently what the Cardinals are in just in case you were wondering. CFR should have won this game 3-1 and maybe even 4-1. It wasn't close.

Napoca better not blow this - something difficult to do at home - but I've seen Totti steal games more guarded than this.

*diagnosed - the new term I'm trying to get to stick. As in, I went to the cancer clinic and got straight diagnosed, it was terrible.

Group B

Panathinaikos 0, Inter Mourinho 2

When Ibrahimovic is on, he's on. If you haven't seen the highlight yet, look up Inter's first goal. Something possesses Zlatan and he dogs a play for 40 meters until finally he wins possession and gifts Mancini a relatively easy goal. Other than that, the Greeks couldn't seem to crack Inter's armor in a somewhat sloppy game that saw the likes of Adriano seal a win. I'm intrigued with Adriano by the way. He was apparently torching dudes during his rehab/comeback stint over in Sao Paulo and I wonder if he can keep it up. Mourinho, who I've started to really dislike since he dissed Arsenal, is just the type of coach that may inspire Adriano to play for a better contract.

Werder 0, Anorthosis 0


Group C

FC Basel 1, Shaktar Donetsk 2

Saint Jakob park still hasn't recovered from England's chirades as FC Basel fell at home. I don't know much about these teams but I must say its worth the highlights because the goals in this game were absolutely phenomenal.

Barcelona 3, Sporting Lisbon 1

I still don't think Barca has recovered from whatever it is that ails them. For me, the only reason that is disappointing is because a player like Messi should never have to deal with a struggling team. If somehow Barcelona doesn't qualify for The League next year by shatting La Liga, the soccer soul in me will die a little. Kinda like how it dies a little whenever he tears his hamstring, or how Kaka will not be splitting dudes as they collide. Sigh.

Group D

PSV Eindhoven 0, Athletic Madrid 3

Sergio Kun Aguero. Wow. He played powerful, fulfilling futbol today. His hair is flowing and so are his short strides. Madrid looked good in their Unis and looked like they belonged in the Champions League. This is a team I want matching up with everyone. I look forward to more of their matches.

Marseille 1, Steven Gerrard 2

Must see highlights... that will self-destruct of course.
(Shaking head) (roll eyes) (deep breath) Alright, Stevey G is really good. He made nothing into something absolutely brilliant and the announcers are right - only Steven Gerrard. Marseille gets my award for "friskiest team so far" and that makes Group D all that much more interesting. I'm predicting the Madrid-Marseille tie to be something like Fenerbahce-Anyone last year. Anyhoo, this match was easily the game of The League so far and it pains me to say it but Liverpool looks scary. I always thought Babel was good and it appears he's seeing more playing time which is bad news for everyone else. So long as Torres is healthy and Captain Fantastic is too then I believe Pool is worrisome.

On a side-note: I'm beginning to understand why Gerrard and Lampard were the twin saviours for the English squad going into 2006 (more like the twin towers... zing!!). I still don't think it's justified and here's why. Stevey G and Lampard are so over-exposed in the EPL that if they experience a normal amount of success, which is what I think they've experienced (Torres being the most amount of success and hmmm, lets go with Shevchenko as being the least), then due to their over exposure, fans are going to think they are sweet. But as it turns out, they play like, 50 games a year and yes, they do absolutely shine in some of them. But the World Cup is a 3 game set, and if you're fortunate, more than that, and it turns out Gerrard and Lampard were slumping - sorry.

Ah but I digress. Enjoy tomorrow - I know I will.

It's Our 100th Post!

And the Champions League is back! As if anyone needed reminding.

Chelsea and Inter should romp to victory. Nobody knows what to expect from Roma. And Barcelona-Sporting, PSV-Atletico, and Marseilles-Liverpool should be good matches. Stay tuned for more...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Looney Toons

Read this story from the BBC.

Before I get into the story I first wanted to comment on the writing and general professionalism over at ESPNsoccernet. I've been noticing for quite some time now that the pictures Soccernet puts up on its front page to break a story are often times ridiculous. A few weeks ago when Tevez signed his big deal for United, they posted a picture of him celebrating after a goal looking absolutely crazy. You're going to have to trust me when I say that it was much, much less flattering than this one. Now I understand he's not the most photogenic footballer on the planet, but this is not the first time they've posted a purposely unflattering picture. Since I'm lazy and didn't take screen shots all the times I noticed an exceptionally ridiculous photo, I can only mention that you look out for it in the future.

I have also started to note more and more that the writing at soccernet is horribly underwhelming. Much like Wayne Rooney, I can't remember the last time a story has impressed me. The irony is ripe within this criticism as of course you, our reader, begins to think, "well I can't remember the last time you impressed me either!" Seriously though, when's the last time you read something like, "As I examine the stars, I see Leo rising, Scorpio waning, Jupiter in the seventh house, and just a whole bunch of complete and utter nonsense which tells me that Raymond Domenech isn't fit to coach in my old Olivette soccer league," on Espn? Your answer is very likely to be, never.

Similarly, I don't understand any of the humor they insert when I detect traces of it in their stories. And don't tell me that I don't understand English humor - I've always maintained that the UK version of the Office is better than our version of it. It's just that when they try to be funny, they're not, very reminiscent of Carlos Mencia. And hopefully I'm not in the minority here because it's something I've noticed since Jimbo and I started this blog. (I knew Mencia wasn't funny the first time I heard him).

I think this story typifies what I'm trying to say - and for the record, I found this story after I decided to write this. The picture is funny for a second, but then when you realize you wasted your time reading the story, the joke is suddenly on you.

Anyway, back to the story at hand. Jim touched on this subject in a previous post but clearly poop has hit the fan. Or rather, poop has hit the fans (get it!)...

Delirious fans aggravate the hell out of me. It's one of the many reasons I hate Boston sports, hated on Liverpool fans last year, and have current beef with Castlers. What's beef you may ask? Beef is when you have a billionaire owner willing to shake things up, and the fans want more. Beef is when Mike Ashley learned the hard lesson not to mix business and pleasure - cough, Arthur Blank, John Edwards, cough. But in this modern business tragedy, there was actually a catharsis, rather than Chapter 11.

Mike Ashley put the team up for sale and fired right back at the delirious unknowing fans of sodom and gamorrah. (I'm thoroughly convinced of this analogy by the way, make it work and its funny... mostly the sodomy part).

So what Juan? You ranted for several long paragraphs, distracting me from my ever important work, and for what?
Well I wanted you to remember that this type of thing does not happen. A, "phyuck you guys" of this magnitude has never happened. This type of thing is something a fantasy football commissioner would do, not a billionaire owner. The fans thought they knew better. They couldn't understand why NewCastle wasn't part of the big four. They wanted King Kev, who might very well be a good coach on the field, but a terrible manager off of it. They pretended to know what happens behind closed doors and Mike Ashley finally had enough and let this small, beautiful emotion do the talking - vindication.

Oh NewCastle nation, you know not what you do. And hey, I might be wrong, I might be way over the top here - English soccer is a relatively new thing to me. But maybe that's what lets me see clearly. And something I've learned is that nobody is guaranteed relevance. Ask Leeds United, ask major league baseball in the mid 90s, ask Jeremy Roenick.

So go yee Castle fans, mobilise and fix all your problems. Revitalize Michael Owen to late 1990s form. Rehabilitate that disrespectful thug Joey Barton with all your cheers and praise. See if Mike Ashley cares.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Matthieu Flamini: "I've Made a Huge Mistake."

No, he didn't actually say that. But the thought must have at least crossed his mind (in French, of course), as Milan fell to Genoa in their second straight defeat. And it's not as though he'll get a chance to take his mind off their woeful league start with a Champions League tie in midweek.

The more you think about it, the more the Flamster's new club looks like what I like to call a reputation team. It's a club that supporters fear because of its big names, but that players all secretly know are beatable. The New York Yankees, since 2004, have descended into a reputation team. Sir Alex tried to imply that Chelsea were one (they're not). Barcelona are in real danger of having that label applied to them.

Essentially, Milan has compiled an All-Star team... from 2003. Ambrosini has no business starting anymore. Something is still wrong with Pirlo. Inzaghi shot his wad in the 2007 Champions League final. Maldini is perhaps the greatest defender of all time, but he's 40 years old (and was responsible for the penalty today with a very reckless challenge). Seedorf is also a legend, and has won pretty much everything a footballer can win, but his last two seasons have been really unproductive. The airlines somehow lost Shevchenko's talent and goalscoring boots on his flight from Milan to London; I doubt he'll find them again in Italy. Kaka and Ronaldinho together should be able to unlock the vault to Fort Knox, but today, they were completely ineffective in unlocking a mediocre Genoa defense. If Arsenal had a chance to take any of their players, I'd say thanks, but no thanks to just about everyone except Kaka, Flamini, and Pato. For serious.