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Even Ottoman geography doesn’t make sense of Capello’s five-Turk claim December 30, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, German soccer, The World Cup.
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Fabio Capello’s recent tirade about “player threft” is so surreally bizarre it’s difficult to know where even to begin with it.

Capello apparently said regarding the last World Cup, “Germany had five of Turkish origin who opted to represent them and we all know what happened.”

That’s not true. Germany had only two, Serdar Tasci and Mesut Ozil, at the last World Cup. The Soccernet article quoting Capello makes the very gentle assumption that, when Capello said “Germany,” what he meant was “Germany and Switzerland,” meaning that the three Swiss players of Turkish origin could be counted as well.

It’s bizarre enough that Capello can’t keep the distinction between Central European countries clear in his head. Did he even know what players Germany was fielding against him in the World Cup round of 16? Which five did he think were Turkish, or did he assume he was facing the combined national team of Germany and Switzerland? Is he using a bizarre, outdated definition of “Turkish”? If we define Turkey as “the former Ottoman Empire,” we can squeeze in only two more “players of Turkish origin” (Sami Khedira and Marko Marin).

Bleacher Report confusingly proclaims simultaneous decline and rise of Liverpool, City December 29, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, Media.
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According to Bleacher Report, Liverpool and Manchester City will fade in 2012. Also according to Bleacher Report, both teams will surge ahead in 2012. I don’t know how that’s possible, but there it is.

The site has released a list of “7 Teams Who Will Fade in 2012” and a list of “10 Sleeper Soccer Teams That Will Explode in 2012,” and the two English teams are on both. Just to be clear, the distinction is not the “bang vs. whimper” dichotomy, but between teams that will improve and teams that will get worse in the new year.

To be fair to the site, though the headline for the second list reads “Will Explode,” the individual summaries of Liverpool and City only say that the teams have the potential for improvement (City could bounce back from being eliminated from the Champions League, while Liverpool can push on if a few more players return to form). The other list, meanwhile, only makes the case that both clubs will lose their most important player (Luis Suarez for Liverpool, Yaya Toure for City) for a month that also includes dangerous fixtures. It should also be stated that the lists were written by different columnists with different opinions.

Still, though, it’s kind of embarrassing.



Half Volley eleven of the year: Goalkeeper December 29, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in American Samoa soccer, International soccer, The World Cup.
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For finally getting the joy he deserved after a decade of the kind of psychological trauma most footballers will never know, for defeating his demons, Nicky Salapu is our goalkeeper of the year.

Photo credit: Next Goal Wins

Ten years ago, Nicky Salapu suffered perhaps the biggest disgrace ever handed out on a soccer field. He was in goal for American Samoa as Australia thrashed the Pacific Island nation dishing out the most lopsided defeat in the history of international soccer, 31-0 during the qualifying tournament for the 2002 World Cup.

That defeat certainly wasn’t Salapu’s fault. A passport dispute meant that American Samoa was forced to field its youth team, since Salapu was the only member of the seniors with proper documentation. At just 21, the keeper was thrust into the role of captain. He played behind a suicidal 3-3-4 formation and pulled off nearly a dozen saves, some of them spectacular, to keep the score down, relatively speaking.

But the game made international headlines and, fairly or not, Salapu’s name became synonymous with it. Caption writers lampooned him, despite his monumental performance.

It wrecked Salapu psychologically. It was a turning point in his life.

“This guy’s got major demons going on,” American Samoa coach Thomas Rongen told the BBC this year. “Totally driven by the 31-nothing, erasing this for himself, for his family. Every time you talk to him that back comes up, to a point where he’s so preoccupied and almost crazed about that. He gets confronted in Seattle (where Salapu now lives), when he talks about American Samoa, and he gets, ‘Oh, are you the guy that gave up 31 goals?’ There’s some incredible scars.”

News outlets reported that the keeper was in tears after the match. Salapu told the Guardian’s Rob Bagchi that he drank to ease the pain for a while. He scored goals ritually against an unmanned Australia team in a PlayStation video game to purge the ill-feeling.

“My teammates were celebrating,” he told the BBC. “I was like, this is the worst thing ever.”

A lesser man would have let the result destroy him. The disgrace was so intense that Salapu intimated to the BBC that his son had even been teased about the result against Australia. Salapu had a stint in Austrian soccer, but he’s an amateur. He has a day job at a Seattle supermarket.

Travelling to the South Pacific to play must be an inconvenience, for a man trying to hold down a job and raise a family. And Salapu’s only reward for a decade of dedication and sacrifice to the team was more pain. The team lost every game it played without scoring once. Salapu conceded more than 200 goals. By November of this year, American Samoa was the bottom-ranked team in the world.

Salapu was determined to keep fighting. This year he finally purged his ghosts. Dutch coach Rongen came in for American Samoa, changed the team’s mentality, and brought in new training methods. In this year’s World Cup qualifiers, the American Samoa team beat Tonga 2-1. It was the first goal and win ever for the team in an official game.

Ten years after the Australian disgrace, American Samoa’s soccer team made worldwide headlines, this time for the right reasons. The same media outlets that had gotten cheap laughs at Salapu’s expense in 2001 were cheering for his team in 2011. Indeed, for a week, the whole world was behind American Samoa.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last. The team needed a win from its final game in the qualifying tournament against its neighbor Samoa to advance it to the next round and keep its hopes of making the 2014 World Cup alive. It held out for 90 minutes, with Salapu putting in an octopus-like performance to keep the team in the game against a Samoa team that dominated the game, before finally conceding in stoppage time. American Samoa was eliminated.

After the whistle, Rongen’s players cried openly. But unlike Salapu’s tears ten years before, these were not tears of utter helplessness. There was disappointment, but between sobs the players also spoke of pride. Nobody was happier than Salapu.

“I feel like I’m just released from prison,” he told the BBC after the Tonga game.

Merry Christmas footy fans December 25, 2011

Posted by michaeltomlinson in European soccer.
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From me, Alex and Gerard Piqué who sounds like a Spanish Sean Connery.
“Murry Krishmusss Rooooney”

With the African Nations Cup coming up, the Premier League needs Thierry Henry December 23, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, U.S. soccer.
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Somewhere, someone seems to have decreed that the idea that Thierry Henry could sign for an English club this January should be treated as insanity. I don’t know why, because it makes perfect sense to me.

It may be that English pundits are simply unfamiliar with Henry’s time at Barcelona. The English narrative surrounding Henry is that Arsene Wenger took an anonymous Juventus winger and unleashed his potential by moving him to center forward. When he went to Barcelona, people seemed to forget about him after his misfit first season under Frank Rijkaard.

Nobody has ever given Henry enough credit for his second season at Barcelona. He scored more than a goal every other game. And he did it, playing on the left wing in a 4-3-3.

If Henry is seen as a player who can contribute effectively from the left wing in a front three, he seems like just the man for Arsenal. Gervinho will leave Arsenal for the African Cup of Nations in January. The Ivorian is the Gunners’ starting left winger and he’s similar in style to Henry: moves intelligently, cuts in onto his right. Henry’s no longer as fast as Gervinho, but he has a better touch and certainly finishes better. He also knows the club and appears to have matured and mellowed out. It doesn’t make sense to sign him as cover for Robin van Persie, since even if the Dutchman’s understudy, Marouane Chamakh, is going to the Nations Cup too, the South Korea striker Juyong will still be waiting in the wings.

And it’s not just Arsenal. Chelsea’s Salomon Kalou, another Ivorian striker who cuts in from the wing will also be leaving for the Nations Cup, along with Didier Drogba. Fernando Torres is basically no longer a footballer, and if he isn’t reincarnated with the club’s Ivorians away, meaning that Chelsea will be down to Daniel Sturridge, Juan Mata and Romelu Lukaku up front. Henry could do a job for them.

Henry has also been linked to Everton, which shows you how smart David Moyes is. The Toffees are short of goals and creativity and Henry would be an excellent source of either, certainly better than Louis Saha or Denis Stracqualursi.

There’s also Newcastle, which has a strong francophone emphasis, seems to be going places, and will lose Demba Ba to Senegal’s Nation’s Cup bench. These are just clubs that need cover, too. Henry could enhance nearly any of England’s clubs and, since the loan would be short-term, there’s very little downside to the move. If none of England’s clubs make a move for Henry this January, they’ll be the ones suffering from insanity.

South Korea makes even more bizarre coach selection than expected December 21, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in South Korean soccer.
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After flirting with questionable options such as Steve Bruce and Sven Goran Eriksson, the South Korean football federation settled on Choi Kang-hee as its new manager.

I had never heard of Choi Kang-hee, so I decided to look the name up. Turns out this is a very big deal. I don’t know why it’s not getting more attention.

According to Wikipedia, Choi is a 34-year-old woman who has never coached a football team before. Her experience, instead, is chiefly in screen acting and music. If this is a publicity stunt, it seems to have backfired, because I don’t think anybody’s noticed. The only explanation, then, must be that Choi has some sort of secret managerial talent we know nothing about.

A clever Pablo Aimar pass. December 21, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Uncategorized.
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This is a solid gold goal but the best part about it is Pablo Aimar’s return pass that eventually reaches Ruben Baraja. Aimar receives the ball from David Albelda running toward a well-positioned Dietmar Hamann. Then he caresses the ball lightly back in Albelda’s direction. Hamann sees the ball trickling slowly across the turf and can’t help but think he can reach it, so he charges out. But Aimar has seen Baraja darting across the top of the box and Hamann hasn’t.

Aimar’s pass has opened up space for him by luring his marker out of position, leaving him utterly open for Baraja’s return ball. Such a clever pass.

All of the coaches shortlisted by the South Korean Football Association would be poor choices. December 20, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in International soccer, South Korean soccer.
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Here are the six candidates shortlisted to be manager of South Korea and reasons why each one would be a horrible choice.

Marco van Basten: More like Marco van Bastard.

Steve Bruce: He is not very good. Seriously, what does he know about a.) tactics or b.) anything else? The only explanation is that Sunderland striker Ji Dongwon is the one doing the nominating, with the sub-explanation that Ji Dongwon must be incredibly stupid because he couldn’t get a game under Bruce, despite the fact that his competition came from the patron saint of self-destructiveness, narcissism and not scoring goals (sometimes described as Nicklas Bendtner, sometimes described as a disappointment) and Jane Austen character Mr. Wickham.

Sven Goran  Eriksson: I can only assume that Sven Goran Eriksson is interested in this job for two reasons. First, he assumes the Korean FA is full of unfeasibly libidinous secretaries. Second, and far more importantly, he will be offered a ridiculous amount of money.

Senol Gunes: When he managed in the Korean league he did not win anything. The managers that did win the league there are probably better than him. They are also Koreans who would probably be happy to manage their national team.

Guus Hiddink: His major accomplishments as Korea manager were sorting out the dressing room dynamic that prevented Korean players from bonding as a team, making them the fittest side at the 2002 World Cup, and getting several suspiciously favorable refereeing decisions. He’s done all he can do. South Korea can’t squeeze anything fresh out of the man, except a tarnished reputation if he goes back.

Luiz Felipe Scolari: Builds his teams around Catholic prayers. The majority of South Korea’s players are not Catholic.

Also, am I the only one who thinks somebody here is entitled to feel left-out? We’ve got the managers of three 2002 World Cup semifinalists, but we’re missing one. Why the slight to Rudi Voller, Korean FA?

The upcoming World Club Cups will be in Morocco. December 19, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in International soccer, Moroccan soccer.
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Note: a previous version of this post stated that the next World Club Cup will be in Morocco. That is incorrect. That tournament will be held in Japan.

Fifa seemingly announced today that the 2013 and 2014 World Club Cups will take place in Morocco. I’m in favor.

The conventional take:

This is a good thing because this is an event that has heretofore only taken place in Asia. Good that it should leave that continent. It doesn’t make money anyway, so why not move it around.

My egostistical take:

If I was to make one change to FIFA, it would be the outlawing of games I personally want to watch at 2:30 a.m. Pacific time. That’s when I had to wake up to see this most recent World Club Cup final. Prime time in Morocco is far more manageable for me. (also, it probably stands a chance of increasing interest in Europe. Probably good for the tournament, but I don’t give a good goddamn about that. Why did I even bring it up.)

Half Volley Ballon d’Or nominee: Faty Papy December 11, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in African soccer, Burundian soccer, HalfVolley World Footballer of the Year Award, Turkish soccer.
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Burundi midfielder Faty Papy followed a familiar path to stardom. At 15, he was disastrously described as the “savior of Burundian football.” At 18, he was snapped up by a major European club (Trabzonspor). At 19, he was dumped in the Dutch second division on loan. At 20, he was released and set adrift. He returned to East Africa, where he failed spectacularly in the Rwandan league. He is now 21 and without a club.

When he signed for Trabzonspor, he was called “Zidane,” his Turkish Wikipedia profile probably says. His career’s pretty much just a rerun of the great Frenchman’s.

I’m normally against giving out awards to has-beens, just because the awards committee’s thinking something like, “If we don’t give Zinedine Zidane the Ballon d’Or at some point in his career, how can people take the Ballon d’Or seriously?” Obviously rubbish. Awards like the Ballon d’Or, even the Half Volley Ballon d’Or are inherently nonsense, and only become moreso when subjected to useless political concerns, worries about legacies and posterities.

Nevertheless, will people ever respect the Half Volley Ballon d’Or if we don’t give it to a great but declining player like 21-year-old Faty Papy at some point? Is that a risk we’re willing to take? It’s almost too late.

Name: Faty Papy.

Position: midfiedler

Nationality: Burundian

Club: None.