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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.

Thierry Henry’s tears December 10, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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Some people don’t like Thierry Henry. Henry may be my favorite player ever because of the way he played in Barcelona’s 2008-09 season, so I’m biased. Sue me. The people that don’t like him are silly.

Today he gave a speech as Arsenal unveiled a statue of him outside its stadium. He shed tears. Fun fact: many men aren’t man enough to shed tears.

Here are some other traits he exhibited:

Candor (Robin van Persie was “not easy to deal with” when he first came to the club). Introspection and self-criticism (admitting he wasn’t either). Humility (“I can only admire what he’s doing.” False. You played better for Arsenal. You could point that out. They’re unveiling a statue of you for a reason.)

He is intelligent. He is perceptive. He is a free thinker. For some reason this is threatening to people.

Half Volley Ballon d’Or shortlist: Enoch Barwuah. December 9, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, HalfVolley World Footballer of the Year Award.
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This article is part of a series of profiles of players nominated for the Half Volley’s Ballon d’Or.

Have I nominated Enoch Barwuah (left in the above photo) for World Footballer of the Year only so that I can post this adorable photo of him with his brother, Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli? I don’t know. Have I?

You may think that Enoch Barwuah wouldn’t even be worthy of our Ballon d’Or if we only left it open to the biological children of Thomas and Rose Barwuah (obviously Balotelli is second and his older sister Abigail Barwuah is first). If you thought that, you’d be wrong. Just look at this evidence:

  • Mario Balotelli, at the age of 22, is already a force of nature in world football. His has been less a footballing career, more a footballing rampage. Barwuah was obviously a key part in that, as the above photo shows. Here, Balotelli is three and Barwuah is, it would seem, one. Yet Barwuah has the worse of the two balls. That thing’s not even round! Obviously, he was sacrificing himself so Balotelli could develop. So any amount of technique or ball skill Balotelli can take credit for, Barwuah should also be given credit for. Also, it shows that even at a ludicrously young age, Barwuah had a sense of sacrifice, of putting others ahead of himself. A born leader.
  • Speaking of technique, he’s demonstrating some pretty outrageous skill in that photo. At one year old, I doubt many footballers had the technical ability to actually hold a soccer ball that firmly in their arms. And look at his nonchalance. Let’s just say Mario’s not the only showman in the family.
  • Barwuah may not have Balotelli’s physique or talent, but he did play all of 81 minutes for Stoke City reserves.
  • It was allegedly Enoch Barwuah’s friends who set off fireworks in Mario Balotelli’s house, thus prompting Balotelli to embark on a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of fireworks. Look at Barwuah doing work outside the sport for the good of all!

Nationality: Ghanaian

Club: Stoke City reserves

Accomplishments: Helped develop footballing force Mario Balotelli, great strides in raising awareness of the dangers of fireworks.

Many of the ideas here cribbed from the Dirty Tackle. Deal with it.

Manchester United did get what it deserved actually December 7, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in Champions League, English soccer.
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This Surreal Football article does an excellent job of explaining why the governing structure of Manchester United got what it deserved:

The real brain-teaser is: why can’t Manchester United afford to make mistakes in the transfer market? City can: their famously expensive bench is largely a collection of overvalued disappointments; Chelsea can: Fernando Torres and David Luiz haven’t changed the club as was hoped last January and yet there is talk of further millions this time around. Glazernomics is the difference, simply.

True. And though I perceive, perhaps erroneously, that this is a blog run by Manchester United fans, they also hit the nail on the head when they say fans deserve it too. When Glazer came, all the worthwhile Manchester United fans followed the soul of the club over to FC United of Manchester. If you don’t believe this is a moral issue, listen to this Beyond the Pitch interview and educate yourself.

Similarly, Sir Alex Ferguson, narcissistic thought-terrorist that he is, deserved what he got. If you are arrogant or in denial enough to dismiss people who correctly suggest you aren’t living up to your potential, you deserve a reality check.

Not to mention that Ferguson’s tactics have somehow managed to be both arrogant and cowardly. Only in two games against Otelul Galati has he used two strikers in this season’s Champions League. Antonio Valencia on the right of midfield in all but the most recent, despite the fact that Nani on the right is the team’s chief source of creativity. Surely you can afford to take the initiative at home to FC Basel.

Yet he has also experimented wantonly. Anders Lindegaard has started two matches. At home to Benfica, Dimitar Berbatov started ahead of Javier Hernandez. Park Jisung played in the center of midfield against Basel, even though that is a position in which he has never looked like someone who knows what he’s doing.

But of course he did what he always does when Roy Keane pithily pointed all this out. He, like any dictator, believes that if he reacts with unreasoning rage to anyone who criticizes him, nobody will do it. Fair enough, as long as he can get to the knockout stages of the Champions League.

The real brain-teaser is: why can’t Manchester United afford to make mistakes in the transfer market? City can: their famously expensive bench is largely a collection of overvalued disappointments; Chelsea can: Fernando Torres and David Luiz haven’t changed the club as was hoped last January and yet there is talk of further millions this time around. Glazernomics is the difference, simply.

So Newcastle United’s success is just a shadowy conspiracy to shift tracksuits. November 12, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer, European soccer, French soccer, Spanish soccer.
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This may look like an urbane midfield prompter, but actually it is a tracksuit billboard.

Daniel Harris on FCF proffered this explanation for Newcastle’s recent French signings:

Mike Ashley owns Sports Direct, whose main European competitor is Decathlon, a French company. Thus Newcastle buy French players, who can then be marketed in France as “Sports Direct”, wearing the tat and speaking in French, allowing Ashley to sell more towelling socks and tracksuits.

Plausible enough, if a bit too tidy:

Also true:

  • Venezuela uses no Qatari oil for some reason. The emirate’s sheikhs are desperate to break into the South American country’s market, so desperate they’ll try anything. Including a multi-million euro takeover of the club that happens to employ the country’s star striker Salomon Rondon, Malaga. Step one: buy Malaga. Step two: capture baseball-mad Venezuela’s imagination with Rondon’s endorsement. Step three: every hip young kid in Caracas is sporting Qatari oil.
  • Like many people, Suleyman Kerimov may one day need to flee Vladimir Putin’s wrath. What’s a Dagestani billionaire to do? Well, maybe pay a king’s ransom to bring Cameroon’s biggest soccer superstar to his personal top-division football club, Anzhi Makachkala. That way, when Putin’s goons come knocking, he’ll have a sunny, reasonably stable African state willing to welcome him with open arms. Goodbye freezing Dagestan, hello sunny Limbe Beach, Douala, Cameroon! Thank you, Samuel Eto’o.
  • Bill Kenwright actually has loads of money stashed away, waiting to invest it in Everton. But the theater producer has a love of the dramatic and, what’s more, his nephew Gus would do an amazing job in the role of David Moyes. The lower the club gets, the better the story. Twenty years down the line, he’ll make it into the biggest play Merseyside has ever known!

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.

I’ll root for the favorite October 24, 2011

Posted by michaeltomlinson in English soccer, European soccer.
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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.

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.

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.

Yaya Toure was a worse defensive midfielder than de Jong against Aston Villa because he wasn’t playing as one. October 17, 2011

Posted by Alex Tomchak Scott in English soccer.
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To hear whoever is behind FourFourTwo’s Stats Zone analysis column tell it, the following chart shows that Yaya Toure struggled against Aston Villa because Nigel de Jong was playing:

“The 4-1 win indicates that City thrived, and De Jong made the most completed passes for the home side (86), but Toure didn’t. Substituted after 65 minutes, the Ivorian had only completed 22 passes, easily his lowest of the season so far,” the columnist writes.

But Nigel de Jong was playing as a defensive midfielder. His job is to stay in place and receive the ball, then send it along. Yaya Toure was playing as a number 10. His job is to find space to move into and play telling passes. De Jong played zero passes in the final third, while Toure did. Does that mean he played worse? No. It’s irrelevant, because that’s not what’s expected of players in his position. Toure spent a lot of time getting behind the defense and, for heaven’s sake, he got an assist.