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That wasn’t all Terry’s fault you know. October 29, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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In all the acrimony surrounding John Terry’s epochally hilarious pratfall in Chelsea’s loss to Arsenal this Saturday, it seems to have been decided that the goal was all Terry’s fault by people such as Paul Hayward of the Guardian.

Of course, the slip was a glaring and eminently replayable mistake. But Hayward, for one, is so compelled by its narrative possibilities that he torpedoes reality to describe it. Hayward claims the slip was part of Terry’s response to a “simple back-pass” from midfielder Florent Malouda.

Watch the replay. That’s no simple back-pass. Malouda slips the ball behind Terry, forcing him to turn toward his own goal. The blogger on 101greatgoals, who claims to be Zico even though he probably isn’t, is more reliable than Hayward when he says “Malouda ‘released'” Robin van Persie. If Terry had stayed on his feet, he might not have been able to reach the ball, and would have been spared the headlines too.

There’s something larger this indicates: it’s not just media desperate for narratives either. Media are market-based and this particular narrative is so appealing because we, the media consumers, are desperate to see John Terry punished  for using the words “black cunt” when talking to Anton Ferdinand.

If he did, I guess he should probably suffer. I don’t like Terry personally myself. But all the same, as Brian Phillips argues here, there feels like being something wrong with believing one reaps sporting consequences for his actions. It shouldn’t make sense.

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I’ll root for the favorite October 24, 2011

Posted by michaeltomlinson in English soccer, European soccer.
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Mario!

lulz cold!

Manchester City has more talent at more positions than any team in the English Premier League and did it by systematically buying the best players in the world over the past two seasons. As a Barcelona fan and a large proponent of a strong youth system, this conflicts a bit with what my ideal franchise looks like. But fuck it! I am under the impression that cute little quips like nearly setting your house on fire and acting like a 14 year old are adorable and lead to more goals in derby games.  Also David Silva and Kun Aguero are  some of the most visually stunning soccer players when the ball is at their feet. I’d like to think I’m not usually a bandwagon jumper but ever since City signed my beloved Yaya I have had a thing for the boys in baby blue. To have a team other than the Red Devils or the Blues win the title would be pretty exciting, void of who wins it, but hey Man City is up 5 points so might as well roll with them.

Guardian not really brave enough to tell Jody Morris’ story. October 22, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Scottish soccer.
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Ewan Murray’s psuedo-feature on St. Johnstone’s newly appointed manager Jody Morris is kind of an act of cowardice. Morris’ career trajectory goes like this: promising youngster struggles to break into Chelsea first team, loses his way under a torrent of scandals (insensitive comments about 9-11, alleged brawling, rape allegations that were subsequently dropped), succumbs to extreme lower league mediocrity (ten appearances in half a season at Rotherham), then somewhat resuscitates his career first at Millwall and then in the Scottish second division. That middle part, the scandal part, is something Murray describes only as “negative headlines relating to off-field events.”

It seems like a big part. It seems like something that somewhat undermines the idea that Murray is putting forth, that Jody Morris is some sort of august elder statesman of football. The entire article is unclear, but the flat, cursory mention of “off-field events” was to me the most glaring part of the entire article. After reading it, I wondered what it was I wasn’t reading there.

What is Murray afraid of? Storytelling?

Just how much control did Carlos Queiroz have when he was Manchester United assistant coach? October 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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In his contrast of the Manchester United and Manchester City defenses, the Guardian’s Daniel Taylor writes the following about the team’s preparations for the 2008 European Cup semifinal against Barcelona:

The best defensive performances of Ferguson’s tenure can probably be traced back to Carlos Queiroz’s time as assistant manager. Many of the players found Queiroz’s methods bogged down in specifics – “It was as if he didn’t want us having too much fun in the week so we’d be hungrier on Saturday,” Gary Neville writes in his autobiography – but it did produce results. Queiroz’s daily routine before the Champions League semi-final against Barcelona in 2008 was to put sit-up mats on the training pitch to mark exactly where he wanted the defenders to be to the nearest yard. “We’d never seen such attention to detail,” Neville recalls. “We rehearsed time and again, walking through the tactics slowly with the ball in our hands.” United went through over two legs, with Barcelona not scoring in either.

Just how much control did Queiroz have? Because if he was dictating the defensive positioning, you’ve got to wonder what exactly Sir Alex Ferguson was doing. You’ve got to wonder just to what extent Sir Alex Ferguson is even in control anymore. It makes you wonder whether Mike Phelan is really running the show right now. Queiroz and his predecessor Walter Smith were both storied managers, but Phelan has no experience. Strange.

Olympiakos-Dortmund makes it to NPR. October 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Champions League, German soccer.
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Here’s a quote from this National Public Radio segment about debates regarding what the European Union will do about Greek debt:

Here in Athens, the Greeks did have one small consolation: their soccer team Olympiakos had a big win against the German Borussia Dortmund team, and sports headlines today called this “the revenge on the Germans.”

Not being European, I hadn’t thought about it in that context, but maybe that’s a more cogent answer to the question “What in the Dickens is happening to Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League?” than “What indeed?” which is basically the answer given in point five of Amy Lawrence’s list of five lessons from the midweek Champions League games in today’s Guardian. A football-as-catharsis moment, a one-off caused by outside factors like Helleno-German tension. On the other hand, what the Dickens is happening to Borussia Dortmund?

Who is Isaac Cuenca? October 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Champions League, Scottish soccer.
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In Barcelona’s routine victory over Viktoria Plzen Wednesday, Pep Guardiola put on a player called Isaac Cuenca. I’ve never heard of him. Evidently, he spend last season on loan at Sabadell in the third division and has only played three times for Barcelona B, let alone the first team.

It’s silly to judge players based upon their Youtube clips, but I can kind of see why Cuenca went out on loan. In the video, it’s evident that Cuenca is extremely fast and an excellent dribbler, but he rarely tries to pass the ball in the video and I don’t remember seeing any of the passes he did attempt connect.

There’s definitely something promising about him (his technique is on show in this clip and his passing seems more useful too; you’d have to say he must be quite highly regarded indeed to be on the field with what is otherwise the Barcelona first team).

(The second clip was uploaded by, seemingly, Cuenca’s girlfriend who is, seemingly, Marc Bartra’s sister. I’m debating whether that’s interesting.)

Why is the German league messing around with the offside rule? October 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in German soccer, International soccer.
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ESPN’s Uli Hesse wrote Tuesday about recent problems interpreting the offside rule in the Bundesliga.

“The German FA’s referees had visited the clubs before the season to inform players and coaches that passive offside would be penalised much more often in the future,” Hesse wrote. “This new directive was the result of a seminar held in May, known as the FIFA Referee Assistance Program, meant to make this particular refereeing decision less of a judgment call.”

Why?

The modern offside rule, Jonathan Wilson has written, is a “work of genius.” All of a sudden, passing, possession, technique and, in short, all the things considered beautiful in the sport, have replaced physicality as the dominant mode of modern soccer. Soccer is better now because of the liberalization of the offside law. That is to say, this has pretty much been the only thing FIFA has gotten right this century. And now FIFA is trying to undermine it. Insane.

Just think of how good Barcelona and Real Madrid might be without messed-up internal politics. October 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Spanish soccer.
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Gonzalo Higuain (center) suffers because he is associated with former Madrid president Ramon Calderon. Probably his association with Alfredo Di Stefano is not a problem.

Reading Sid Lowe’s most recent Sports Illustrated column about the debate over whether G0nzalo Higuain or Karim Benzema should start for Real Madrid, I was struck by what seems like a fundamental institutional weakness at that club: politics can play itself out in team selection.

It shouldn’t be that the identity of the president that purchased a player dictates whether he’s selected. If that even becomes a shadow of a consideration, the team is poorer for it.

I’m a Barcelona fan, though, so I would say that, but it’s supposedly happened at Barcelona too. Joan Laporta was chiefly responsible for bringing Samuel Eto’o to Barcelona; his political rival Sandro Rossell was instrumental in persuading Ronaldinho to sign. In Ronaldinho’s best years, he was surrounded by fellow Brazilians — Edmilson, Thiago Motta, Juliano Belletti, Sylvinho and the Brazilian-born Deco. In two years, Barcelona sold every one of Ronaldinho’s compatriots and brought in a group of players who, like Eto’o, spoke French — Thierry Henry, Yaya Toure, Eric Abidal and Seydou Keita (plus Lilian Thuram, who was already at the club). The rumor is that this was an intentional move to weaken Rossell and strengthen Laporta. The year when it began, 2007-8, was also Barcelona’s least successful under Frank Rijkaard.

It’s a wonder these clubs ever win anything.

Looks like Shakhtar needs Mkhitaryan October 19, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Champions League.
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Jonathan Wilson writes in his most recent Sports Illustrated column that Shakhtar Donetsk “look a side that needs to control possession.” The game between Ireland and Armenia showed they have one player who can do that: Henrik Mkhitaryan. I got pretty enthusiastic about the Armenian midfielder in that game. Let’s be having him.

(Strange note: there are TWO professional footballers who have existed with the name Hamlet Mkhitaryan. Both have played for Ararat Yerevan, although the younger, Iranian-based Hamlet Mkhitaryan has more Armenia caps than the older one, who is Henrik Mkhitaryan’s father.)

Newcastle has become the new Arsenal; Arsenal the new Newcastle. October 17, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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I tried to resist it, but I couldn’t anymore when I heard Philippe Auclair say on Football Weekly today that Newcastle’s match against Tottenham was broadcast in France last weekend rather than Arsenal’s against Sunderland. The two teams have switched roles. Newcastle is now the swankily run, Gallic-infused softshoe powerhouse. Arsenal has turned into the comedy club with a football wing.

This is how insane it’s gotten: Auclair even says that the crowd at the Emirates raised its voice to get behind the team. What? Arsenal fans are bored hipsters, shrimp-eating casuals and Japanese tourists with pastel-colored disposable cameras. They deafen their footballers with their silence, absolutely sap their lifeforce. Though it is rumored that Christopher Wreh is still alive and well and playing professionally in Indonesia, it has never been conclusively proven, to me anyway, that the Highbury hush did not actually burst the Liberian’s eardrums and kill him while he played for the Gunners. Auclair actually said that, aside from their talismanic captain/striker and defiant goalkeeper, the crowd was the only thing that kept Arsenal going.

Wait a minute? Talismanic captain/striker? Alan Shearer? Defiant goalkeeper? Shay Given? Delusional but influential crowd? Jammy win against Sunderland? Uncanny.

Obviously Thomas Vermaelen is the new Jonathan Woodgate and Jack Wilshere is the new Kieron Dyer. Andre Arshavin is the new Laurent Robert. If I were Mikel Arteta, I would be very worried I might be the new Nicky Butt. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is probably the new James Milner. Every Arsenal central defender is competing for the title of new Titus Bramble, but Per Mertesacker might just be the new Jean-Alain Boumsong instead. There is a worrying lack of a new Gary Speed.

Meanwhile, the unpredictable offensive x-factor mantle has passed from Nwankwo Kanu to Shola Ameobi. Cheick Tiote bears a passing resemblance in terms of thrust to Patrick Vieira. Fabricio Coloccini is certainly as big and slow as Sol Campbell.

This can’t be happening, probably because it isn’t, but I had to give vent to these thoughts.