Thursday, March 02, 2006

Blatter is at it again....

Sepp Blatter, bleating and "blatting" again, this time wants to cap the number of teams in the top leagues in Europe. He wants to limit leagues to 16 teams, saying that teams now play too many games in leagues like Italy, Spain, France, and England--where the top leagues are 20 teams.

On one level, this makes some sense. For an English Premier League side that reaches the finals of all domestic cups and of the Champions League (without having to go through the qualifying stages and not counting any replays), the team will play 63 games in a season. Granted, no one has done that, but it would be a lot.

On the other hand, though, Blatter is off base again--because no one does that. 50 games in 9 months does not seem like a lot to ask of a top-notch player, does it?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

No Shame in Being a U.S. Soccer Fan

Then again, maybe my last comments were wrong. We've got Newsweek from just before the draw for the World Cup declaring that there is No Shame in Being a U.S. Soccer Fan. I can relate to this guy's statement that, on occasion, he'd take a cab a decade ago just to talk soccer with someone. My stories from last week came from reading the Tinkerman's book on the 2004 season with Chelski, Proud Man Walking, and from hearing an English accent.

In the Starbucks at St. Armond's Circle in Sarasota, I met a pleasant Englishman who regaled me with a story that Gazza (otherwise known as English nutter but fantastic footballer Paul Gascoigne) used to own a house on Longboat Key. Gazza apparently came to Florida's west coast for the same reason a lot of footballers come to Florida for holiday--anonymity. Very few people know who these guys are in America, so why not come here for a vacation?

The other story from Sarasota was randomly meeting a guy from Kentucky who loves football. He saw Ranieri's book in front of me and we talked about football for a while. I was diverted by the fairly attractive woman who was telling me where the best places to go out in Sarasota are, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

Finally, on my flight back to Atlanta, I sat next to a Dutchman and his wife who politely left me alone to finish the book. But when we were about to land, we engaged in a brief conversation about football. Of course, since I brought it up. He was an Ajax supporter who longed for the days when the Dutch national team all played in the Dutch Eredivisie (and mostly for Ajax at that!). Instead, these days, Ajax has even employed Americans like John O'Brien (who is now with ADO Den Haag...hope you can read Dutch for that one).

At any rate, maybe I just seek these things out (and I do), but perhaps we could build more of a football/soccer culture here...after all, the MLS is only like 11 years old.

A German Winter Wonderland

What a great looking picture this is: Pablo Mastroeni, an American of Argentinian descent (and probably Sicilian too) trying to get around a Polish defender in the snow. It is awesome to play sports in snow--a ton of fun, really, when you're talking about any sport, but more for American football (the "gridiron" version), but the U.S. made the most of the situation anyway and saw Clint Dempsey score the goal that gave the U.S. a 1-0 win over Poland.

Much of the lead up to this fixture from the American side talked about how the crowd in Kaiserslauten was likely to be more pro-American than most games played on American soil. Why? The Ramstein Air Force Base is located in Kaiserslauten, and the Germans were playing their own match in Florence, Italy, to prepare for the World Cup (where they got smoked by Italy 4-1), so any Germans who might come out to catcall the U.S. were probably staying home to watch that debacle. Add in that the people who come to the U.S. national team games in the States are far more likely to be from the country against which the U.S. is playing (ungrateful gits that they are), and you end up with a pseudo-home game in the snow in Kaiserslauten.

Mind you, the next time the U.S. plays in Germany, the crowd won't be as friendly--the U.S. is scheduled to take on Germany in a friendly in the Westfalenstadion in Dortmund on March 22. After that, the U.S. will take on Jamaica in Cary, North Carolina on April can even buy a ticket to sit on the field for that game for only $125 a pop. Better yet, you can get one of these seats, along with your very own personalized U.S. men's national team jersey, pre-game field access, and a U.S. Soccer yearbook ("and more!" promises the flyer for this deal) for just $400. Great deal, eh bud?

All fun aside, it would be a great change if the American national team could get support anywhere near what other countries have, but that probably isn't in the cards, and frankly may never be. The most likely people to be soccer players and fans in America are the suburban middle & upper middle classes; these folks are raised to be polite and all and to act appropriately. In most other countries, the football/soccer fans traditionally are working class people--you know, the ones that mortgage their houses in America to buy season tickets for the New York Jets.

The other people in America who enjoy soccer/football and want to go to games are immigrants, who likely retain their love for their old home country. But the traditional American sports fan doesn't watch soccer--he (and traditional sports fans are still predominantly "he") watches college and pro football and baseball, maybe the NBA, maybe even a bit of hockey, but not soccer. It's sad too. As a reformed "soccer hater," I can honestly say I enjoy watching a soccer game on TV as much as most pro football games and far more than any baseball game. The Georgia Bulldogs still win out for me over soccer, but still--I'm far from typical as a result.

Perhaps having the World Cup in Germany, when most games will be on TV in the late morning and afternoon due to the time difference (as opposed to Japorea 2002, where the games started at about 4 AM Eastern, or at 6 AM if we were lucky) will help. Maybe people will surprise me and embrace the sport. I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Changing priorities for Manchester United

United great Gary Pallister notes that tomorrow's League Cup final against Wigan carries a lot more import for the Red Devils this year than in the past, if only because this is the only Cup United have a legitimate chance to win this year. And that makes sense, doesn't it? No trophies for two years running would be unacceptable for a club of United's stature...Pallister says it is "unthinkable." Pallister even notes, "With the Glazers taking over, they will want to see a piece of silverware in the cabinet."

I am using this as an excuse to talk about the Glazers, though. Many United supporters were quite miffed about the American taking over at Old Trafford. Some have even resorted to asking supporters to sign online petitions and leave messages on a message board in opposition to Glazer's ownership, while others resorted to protests and forming their own breakaway club, FC United of Manchester (which, incidentally, is featuring a few very young squad members, if you believe their birthdates are January 1, 2000--which is the case according to their club biographies--even the club physio!).

At any rate, despite rumors of selling Rooney and Ferdinand, among others, and sacking Fergie, how much has actually changed at Old Trafford? Let's see....they've offloaded shitty players like Bellion, Kleberson, and (hopefully) Liam Miller and picked up Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra, and Nemanja Vidic....seems like they've done a lot more good than bad in those changes. Oh, and the construction project to add seats to Old Trafford should be complete by the beginning of next season and possibly by the end of this season, raising capacity to 76,000.

Let's be clear--Malcolm Glazer is not the worst that could have happened to Manchester United. So he's American? So what? Judge him on what happens with the team, not because he's an outsider.

Some links from the past

At my other blog, Angry Ramblings, I often went off on various football-related issues. I still have that blog and post to it, but Proper Football is the only place I'll talk about Football.

Anyway, here are all the random ravings from the Ramblings.

1. Trouble at Elland Road: Watching Leeds go straight down the toilet in 2003-2004.
2. Manchester United's 2004 tour: I had the pleasure of seeing the Red Devils take on AC Milan at the Meadowlands, a game that went to penalties and which United lost because Tim Howard missed his penalty kick while Dida hit his. Yes, duelling keepers....the final tally was 9-8 on penalties.
3. Americans Abroad: A random listing of various Americans playing overseas in 2003.
4. Just explanation: An even more random discussion on why I even watch football in the first place.
5. Aberdeen: "May I remind you of that scene/Cuz We were Arms Aloft in Aberdeen." When the Dons wanted to use "Arms Aloft in Aberdeen" to inspire the crowd. It's a great song. Don't know if they do it though.
6. Picking on Leeds again: Just after sacking Peter Reid, in the wake of a 6-1 thrashing by Portsmouth (!). In today's context, it's hard to believe Pompey beat anyone 6-1.
7. When Chelski actually scored goals: The Tinkerman had the Blues on all four cylinders that day--a 5-0 blasting of Newcastle....leaving Sir Robby Bobson [SIC] blubbering.
8. When Sheiks poked around Leeds: Can you tell I enjoyed picking on Leeds?
9. Clubs in Crisis: Seems like there are fewer in administration with the 10-point penalty given by the FA for being screwed over by an owner.
10. Forlan gets praised!?!?! Er, Deadly Diego never did diddly for United...then wins the European Golden Boot at Villarreal. Piker.
11. Sepp Blatter and his ridiculousness, Part ONE
12. Anoraks on, everyone: Yup, I was really bored at this point in my life.
13. The Rio Ferdinand suspension, Part One and Part Two.
14. Splat Sepp: It's too bad this link is now "forbidden"
15. Parma, Minute Maid's all the same: A bit of analysis on the financial morass that is Parmalat.
16. The Sh*t hair club: Louis Saha was still a Cottager. And David Seaman was still playing!
17. The Comprehensive "Yanks Abroad" list: Comprehensive as of December 2003, at least.
18. Sh*t hair, Part II: taking time off while changing jobs meant I had plenty of time on my hands.
19. Lots of time on my hands: when you're digging up "fun football names" from Cheltenham Town's website, you know you're bored.
20. Sepp Blatts On: Part Two of Blatter Bashing...couldn't happen to a nicer guy.
21. Call in the Witch: Frome Town's brush with Titania Hardie....or Tatania Hardie.
22. American Footballers in Transfer talks: 2004 style.
23. Seaman didn't last long playing: Yup, his retirement.

I guess I wrote a bunch more about football on that Blog in the past than I though I ever had.

Friday, February 24, 2006

So that Chinese guy is still around, is he?

A couple of years ago, Manchester United signed Chinese striker Dong Fangzhou from his Chinese club, Dalian Shide. At the time, everyone pretty much knew that Dong couldn't get a work permit to play in England because Dong hadn't appeared in nearly enough games for the Chinese national team. For an explanation of how byzantine these work permit rules are, go here.

At any rate, Dong finally has started getting call-ups for the Chinese national team and helped set up a goal (though he missed a penalty kick) in an international friendly against Palestine. The inevitable story is that Dong hopes China displays will take him to Old Trafford. Of course he does--for pure monetary interest alone.

As to whether United could use him, well, here's the problem: striker is the one position at which United really do not have an identified need.

To wit, Ruud van Nistlerooy turns 30 this year, which would seem to indicate he has at least 2 or 3 good years ahead of him, and possibly more barring injury.

Wayne Rooney is just 20 years old. So long as he doesn't spend too much time eating pies and chips, he should be a mainstay for many years at Old Trafford.

Louis Saha is 27 years old, turning 28 in August. Saha has had a ton of injury problems since his move 2 years ago from Fulham, but he has been healthy and scoring well lately, netting 9 times in 14 games.

Giuseppe Rossi is a 19-year-old American-born Italian (who has played for Italy in U-19 matches) who has played for United in several Carling Cup games and a few league games.

Sylvan Ebanks-Blake is another 19-year-old playing in the reserves for United who has shown some promise despite some injuries.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may never play again after all his injuries, but he is on the books at Old Trafford.

So, perhaps there is room for Dong as a substitute for the Reserve side...which means he's far better off playing at Royal Antwerp than watching Rossi & Blake score goals for the reserves.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Smithy deserved better

Now that my bar exam is over, I can return to the important stuff, like football. Last weekend, Manchester United lost to Liverpool in the FA Cup 1-0, a game marred by Alan Smith's freakish broken leg and dislocated ankle that will keep him out the better part of a year. The most disgusting part of the injury was the attack on Smith's ambulance as it left Anfield. The attack was considered so bad that even Liverpool and its Supports Association condemned the actions.

Luckily for Smithy, it looks like this injury will not end his career, though the injury was so bad that Man Utd.'s keeper, Edwin Van der Sar, said he panicked when he saw Smith fall. It will preclude Smith from playing in this year's World Cup, though, which takes away a valuable midfield/striker option from Sven Goran Eriksson.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Royals unbeaten run ended

Just as soon as I laud Reading, they lose: Royals unbeaten run ended.

I'd write more, but I have to study for a bar exam.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Americans in the Championship

Reading will be in the Premiership next year, as they are 21 points clear of third place (and the playoffs) with just 12 games left to play, though Leeds (currently third) have a game in hand over Reading and theoretically could go on a 13 game unbeaten streak while Reading lose their last 12. But that is not likely. In fact, Reading have one loss this year--in the first game of the year against Plymouth Argyle. Since then, Reading have been on a 33-match unbeaten streak.

Reading feature two Americans in the starting XI, including pacy left midfielder Bobby Convey and big goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann. Convey is competing for a spot in the starting U.S. XI for the World Cup with fellow Championship player Eddie Lewis of Leeds. Lewis is 9 years older than Convey and has a bunch more international experience, but both are likely to see some action.

An American defender in the Championship who may not be on Bruce Arena's list of 23 to go to Germany 2006 (a safe assumption since he isn't even in the U.S. Player Pool) is Jay DeMerit of Watford. Watford currently stand fourth in the Championship, and DeMerit is a key part of that standing--so much so that his manager, Adrian Bothroyd, has called Arena to tell him to take a look at DeMerit. I didn't know this until clicking around at Sky Sports, but DeMerit also has an impeccable pedigree--being born in Green Bay and all. Being a Badger State refugee myself, I can appreciate that. DeMerit also has a great back story: he went to England and tried out with nonleague teams, in part because he could avoid work permit difficulties through his family. In his first game with Ryman League club Northwood FC, he played against Watford--who were so impressed they signed him on.

One other American in the Championship is Danny Karbassiyoon (a former Arsenal trainee who made a few appearances for ARSE-ne Wenger) with Burnley. He hasn't done as much to distinguish himself, though, as the foursome near the top of the league--appearing in just 5 games this season.

Bisexual Premiership stars Revealed?!?

Yes, according to English tabloid News Of the World, "The players—one capped several times for England— were caught on camera cavorting with a pal well known in the music industry in a homosexual orgy that will shock soccer." While many will speculate or ask about it, I think the answer to at least one of the players' identities is quite clear.

Okay, easy joke. Way too easy.