New Signings

January 3, 2011

Well, there aren’t really any yet – but it seems an apt title considering the long, as in season-long absence of the writing crew here at Total Football. But, rest assured that we’ve picked back up our pencils and put them back down, considering we use computers.

Shitty jokes aside, let’s talk about football.

Perhaps the biggest stories of late are coming out of the English Premier League – surprise, surprise. With five teams in it [United, City, Arsenal, Spurs, and Chelsea] at this important point of the season, the gap is growing between them and the rest of the pack.

Let’s start at the top: United. This season has been the consistency that United has become known for. Not rotating rosters, not following the growing trend of spending a small nation’s GDP on a single player that barely produces, grows tired of the fans and leaves for greener (read: foreign, continental) pasture. But, remaining the starting XI that has given birth to Sir Alex’s identity.

With the youth of Javier Hernandez, a great catalyst was given to the scoring form of United – and has sealed victory several times this season, most recently at West Brom.

Up next, the big spenders – proving only that money doesn’t buy happiness. Arguably, with their game-in-hand, the game this Wednesday against Arsenal in London will be pivotal in each team’s title race. With a loss, City could become easy prey to be overtaken by Tottenham.

Dominating the news around the team, is not only the security of Roberto Mancini’s post, but also of the morale of his team. With other managers on the chopping block – which I feel certain Julian will cover in his next post – Mancini’s trouble has fallen near silent in the press as his team has moved higher and higher in the table. However, with a loss Wednesday, he – and his scarf – could be back in the forefront, and under scrutiny.

Next in the table, Arsene Wenger and the gunners. Season after season the claims have been made that it’s Arsenal’s year. However, with a drought stretching back to the FA Cup in 2005 with Arsenal beating United on penalties – the claims have lost their impact.

With the pitch and bench both filled with talent, it’s no shock that the gunners brushed off their soft stereotype that’s developed this season and have begun to take the identity of a team that can play all 90 minutes, again.

With the return of Aaron Ramsey from injury, and a spell at Nottingham Forest, Arsenal will have another viable threat form their midfield adding to the excitement of seeing what the young Welshman can do for the remainder of this season.

However, results like the one against Wigan last week provide more fuel for critics that Arsenal are a team that can’t defend, and can’t tough it out. With proving tests coming this week against Manchester City, and perhaps the biggest test of the season coming in February against Barcelona, only time will tell if Arsenal have what it takes to secure top place come May.

Trailing Arsenal are their North London rivals, Tottenham. Sitting just three points behind the gunners, Spurs could overtake provided a loss by Arsenal to City and a win against Everton. However, stirring the speculation is the possibility of David Beckham joining the London club on loan – as Harry Redknapp has expressed his desire for the former EPL legend to join the team for the remainder of the season. More to come on this, I’m sure, from Jon Ballenger.

Personally, I’d be fond to see the return of Beckham to English football, just not at the club down the road. However, with the interjection of Beckham to a side who’s undoubtedly made the best purchase already this season with Rafael van der Vaart, coupled with the attacking presence of Gareth Bale – this winter could prove to be very entertaining domestically, and abroad for Spurs fans.

As far as the widening gap is concerned, it ends with Chelsea. Starting the season off at a blistering pace, the title holders dropped off in recent months, and boss Carlo Ancelotti has been added to the list for managers who could lose their job this January.

Losing recently to Arsenal, the Blues gave the gunners their first big four win in the league since Liverpool last season.

Falling off the pace, the Blues could be facing “Liverpool” circumstances if things aren’t fixed. Soon.


Spurs Were All Heart, City Were All Hart

August 15, 2010

In a rematch of last season’s most priceless game, Spurs were unlucky to drop two points in the opening game of the English Premier League. Manchester City were thrilled to leave White Hart Lane with a result, one that has been rare for the Eastlands outfit against Spurs in recent years.

It was almost unfathomable that Spurs did not get a goal in the first half, muchless three. Young English keeper Joe Hart got the shock nod over the vastly experienced and gifted Shay Given, a decision which may have lifted Roberto Mancini’s buffoon-like status. Hart’s performance had English fans reminiscing of Gordon Banks and Peter Shilton, and the media is eating up the story to proclaim their keeper issues have been solved for the next ten years. Great performance, but it’s a bit premature. Other goalkeepers who have turned in brilliant performances against Spurs in the last year include Marton Fulop, Boaz Myhill, Steve Simonsen and Marcus Hahnemann (twice). 

Point being, relax.

It has to be said that Spurs looked really impressive despite not getting on the board. A team that has made one signing this far in Brazilian Sandro (yet to move due to the Copa Libertadores), looked like they hadn’t skipped a beat from last year’s fourth-place form. You know the signings will be coming soon, but the question of who has become more and more mysterious. It’s become obvious that the main reservation to splash big cash is due to chairman Daniel Levy’s wanting to make sure we get through to the Champions League group stage. With Switzerland’s BSC Young Boys in the cards, Mr. Levy should atleast be able to rest a littlle easier.

Another proper CB, a striker can play up front by himself, and either a winger or box-to-box CM (depending on who leaves the Lane) would seem to be the three positions Harry has identified as needs. If these signings come to fruition, there is no reason that Spurs can’t be a strong contender in England and Europe with the depth in this squad and the massive potential of some of our youngsters.

While we still don’t know who will be coming in, it’s quite clear that they won’t come from Spurs opening day opponent and top-four rival in City. Manchester City must offload a number of players with the new 25-man squad rule, and for obvious reasons, they don’t want to strengthen a team that played them off the pitch.

Manchester City should (still a big if for me) only get better and better each week as this team gels. With each week they don’t, Roberto Mancini’s seat will only get warmer.

On the other side Spurs can feel very confident with what they have going on. With a very complete squad once again, it would be a mistake to discount their credentials to repeat last season’s league success. A very lofty run of fixtures face Spurs in England, and they have the opportunity to get out to the great start thst proved to be so crucial last season. A real test of character awaits on Tuesday in Bern, Switzerland as Spurs Champions League-metal will be seen. The game will be on Fox Sports Net at 1:45 CT.

Come On, You Spurs.

Feeding the Fire

August 7, 2010

One of the most common criticisms that players and clubs hear during tough spells is a lack of effort. A team losing isn’t showing  pride in their team, their city, and so on and so forth. A team goes one-nil down and they don’t possess enough heart.

For D.C. United fans, they are about to put this old sports cliche under the litmus test. Curt Onalfo after a poor run of results in the league has been dismissed as D.C. United manager. In the last six league matches for D.C. United they’ve only scored two goals, both of them by 17 year-old Andy Najar. Players like Santino Quaranta have been unable to make the impact they are expected to, and the root cause in many people’s eyes including the front office of D.C. United is a lack of passion.

That worry shouldn’t be a problem with newly appointed interim head coach Ben Olsen. There’s no questioning Olsen’s pride and love of the game and especially D.C. United. I can’t imagine any player not giving effort surviving under Olsen. That much is to be expected. But I don’t think that’s enough.

Onalfo was not getting results, and there cannot be too many complaints about letting him go. It wasn’t working and there didn’t seem to be any real plan to get it back on track, but I’m not confident that there’s a person out there that can get D.C. back on track, especially during this season. D.C. have a whole host of issues ranging from a lack of investors, to stadium issues, to personnel problems. They don’t have a consistent presence in the box, the backline is in constant flux, and youthful mistakes have plagued the team along with this supposed missing fire.

It’s a simple fact that D.C. cannot attract the big players that Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle are currently pursuing and landing. They don’t have the financial comfort and the only way they are going to consistently compete is if their front office can make solid moves on matters dealing with the team on the field and the club off of it. So far they’ve failed to do this.

The new D.C. United should show passion during the second half of the season. They may get some hard-earned results with the effort they put it. They will still drop quite a few points, but at least the front office won’t be able to go back into the old sports cliche book and will finally have to look at themselves in the mirror. At least that’s all D.C. supporters can hope for.

Red Bulls throw punches, Galaxy’s turn to respond

August 3, 2010

The New York Red Bulls and the Los Angeles Galaxy are locked in a battle for the face of the MLS. This war was once waged between D.C. United and the Galaxy, but with D.C.’s many problems and the Beckham saga, Los Angeles undoubtedly became the biggest club in Major League Soccer. New York, despite many efforts to even the playing field including a re-branding, have been a distant second.

Now after this explosive summer period for soccer in the United States, there is a real battle on hand.

In the past, the popularity contest hasn’t translated on the field for Red Bulls and the Galaxy, neither team have won a Supporters Shield or MLS Cup in the past four seasons.Last season New York was far and away the worst team in the MLS. In 2008, the Galaxy shared the bottom of the collective table with San Jose. Despite their bigger image both teams’ poor moves in the front-office left them behind in the results with the rest of league.

Now they are starting to win. Los Angeles is currently in pole position for the Supporters Shield and the Red Bulls, with an entire half season without Henry, is in sight of ever-consistent and never talked about, Columbus Crew.

How will this summer be remembered years down the road?  So far it looks likely to be the summer of the Red Bulls. The Hans Backe appointment was  a masterstroke during the off-season and obviously Henry’s signing is ground-breaking. Add Marquez joining the Red Bulls and it’s been a spectacular summer for the club. He may not be the iconic, flashy goal-scorer that Blanco was, but he’s certainly well-perceived in Mexico, and a great pick-up on the field.  Now New York have the best attacking front in the league with Angel and Henry, and with a smart draft of Tchani and Ream they have the build to be an elite MLS team for years to come.

So far Los Angeles have not responded. They cannot help that Beckham is hurt. When healthy and not worried about the England squad he brings a whole new dynamic on and off the field. Without him there hasn’t been a front-page worthy story about the Galaxy this summer except for maybe Donovan not being for sale while several  MLS teams, especially New York have made headlines.

There’s no doubt that Los Angeles will want to move the spotlight back to the Home Depot Center. Their upcoming friendly with Real Madrid might help, but the big impact they need could come if they somehow secure Ronaldinho from AC Milan. How Henry was well known by most fans of the game, Ronaldinho is known to many who are not. A successful move for him would completely overshadow what New York have done over the last few months.It would be the ultimate statement that Los Angeles is and will be the biggest club in the MLS for years to come.

He would also be a perfect counter for the Henry move on the field. A forward line of Donovan, Ronaldinho and Buddle, and possibly Beckham pulling the strings would be devastating. The four combined would be almost unfair compared to what other clubs are putting out, especially if you factor in the depleted pool with future expansions.

It would not be easy getting Ronaldinho this summer, a massive transfer price would probably be required, and MLS isn’t keen on paying for transfers. They’ve yet to try and break the bank, but Ronaldinho may be worth it. The naturally conservative MLS might not think so and may try and wait for his contract to expire, but if there’s a time for LA Galaxy to act, it’s now.

Also, Ronaldinho has had issues off the field that have led to a decline on it. Late night partying, out of shape, and the general sense of a lack of motivation have plagued his reputation since his not-so-good 2006 World Cup. But, if the money is there, I  think it’s a risk worth taking for the MLS and the Galaxy. Certainly for the MLS.

Red Bulls have been able to overshadow the Galaxy during this summer of soccer despite Los Angeles being the best team in the league at the half-way point. Now it’s time for Los Angeles to counter and for the good of the MLS, I hope they have something big cooked up.

The league really lacks a recognized rivalry that would draw the interest of non-MLS fans. There could be nothing better for the league as a whole than a rivalry between Red Bulls and Los Angeles. With Red Bulls recent moves and a major signing like Ronaldinho for the Galaxy it would become that marquee rivalry that the league is looking for. The MLS must do what they can to make it happen. It may cost a pretty penny now, but the rewards could be huge.

A Summer on the Brink

August 3, 2010

Forget Gulliem Balague’s A Season on the Brink that told the incredible story of Rafa’s first season at Liverpool and the Champions League glory that followed. In the past few days Liverpool’s assumed disastrous summer could somehow turn around in an incredible way. The following month, and especially next 10 days may be the most important period in the club’s history for a long time.

Just weeks ago Gerrard and Torres were assumed casualties to the debt and poor season. Then the signing of Joe Cole, followed by quick succession of Gerrard recommitting to the club brought a few of the more optimistic heads out of sand. Now with the news that Insua’s deal has collapsed, Fabio Aurelio resigning, and some Spanish striker named Fernando Torres claiming he is happy at Liverpool the feeling around the club has certainly turned around quickly.

Even more positive news is that at least one bidder is making a serious offer to buy the club. Kenny Huang, known for his sports-related business exploits across the world(including helping to engineer the move of Yao Ming to the NBA) has taken an interest in Liverpool, and is presumably backed strongly by Chinese investors.  Many outlets are reporting Huang has given the Liverpool board a 10 day “take it or leave it” bid. This would allow him time to invest in the club before the closing of the transfer window. There’s been no more telling sign that he is extremely serious than him going straight to RBS to discuss the situation. It sounds hostile, but that may be what it takes to finally force the Americans to lower their valuation of the club.

Kenny Huang, Thanks to Soccernet

It’s hard to get overly optimistic about the situation with the past years of ownership and potential new owners turmoil. I can admit I know nothing except what outlets are reporting about Huang, and he is certainly a businessman and not just a fan, but almost any possible way to replace Hicks & Gillett would be welcomed. Also, it’s certainly far from a done deal. Liverpool have denied any board meetings discussing Huang and the latest developments.

But we do know it’ll be up to the panel of five to deal with the bid(Hicks, Gillett, Broughton, Purslow, and Ayre) and possibly, if reports are to  be believed, five other offers. Whether the bids are a fabricated story to stall or bids that were forced by the aggressiveness of Huang is uncertain, but regardless things are heating up very quickly.

From no left-backs, to two. From no Gerrard and Torres to both. And the dream of H&G out of the club and a new owner with serious ambition and funds taking charge, things are looking up. Many things still have to fall in place, and there is still the precarious month of August to go. As we all know these things change almost hourly, let alone what could change in a month, but for now it’s great to see how things may be shifting in Liverpool’s favor.

The Kids Aren’t All Right

July 31, 2010

His story feels like a movie.

Andy Najar moved to the United States from Honduras at the age of 13. He was turned down for being too small by the D.C. youth academy that same year.  In a stroke of big-screen type luck, the assistant coach for his  high school spotted him playing a pick-up game, and Najar immediately found himself on the high school team. A year of organized soccer later and he made the cut at D.C. United. Fastfoward to 2010 and at 17 he may now be their best player.

Najar’s rise from obscurity to a poster boy for the MLS academies has been rapid and has even caught the attention of bigger fish across the sea with rumors that Arsenal want him for a trial at the end of the MLS season appearing.

He’s quick, good on the ball and incredibly aggressive when given the opportunity by defenders. He’s not the finished product, though. Najar hasn’t been the best making choices in the final third, but that’s not something that should be expected out of a 17 year old, especially one with limited organized play. Not to mention D.C. are pretty lackluster in the final third as it is. What makes Najar extra special is his effort to chase down lost causes and track back to help out defensively. I can’t think of too many young hot-shots that put in as hard a shift as Najar does on a week-to-week basis.

D.C. United  have a history of being involved with the brightest and most hyped young players in the MLS. Santino Quaranta, Bobby Convey, and Freddy Adu all were given their first shots with the club and none have reached the potential many expected from them.  Now it’ll be United’s task to prevent Najar from going down the same paths as the others.

D.C. broke the record for youngest MLS player three times with the signings of Convey(2000), Quaranta(2001), and Adu(2004). When Convey and Quaranta were operating on opposite wings for D.C. it looked as if the future flanks of the US National Team were confirmed for the next decade. But due to various issues(Convey- injuries, attitude, Quaranta – injuries, drugs) their careers never hit the heights that was expected. They still have time left as both are in the their mid-20s, but it will be a large up-hill battle to eliminate the “what-ifs” that will most likely surround their careers.

But D.C. isn’t the one to blame. They aren’t responsible for Eddie Gaven, Danny Szetela and Justin Mapp. While Gaven has had a respectable career in the MLS, all three had similar hype as Quaranta and Convey coming in to the league. The MLS as a whole has struggled to develop these young kids labeled as future stars. It raises the question on whether the league is suited for youth development or if it’s still very much a “link-league” to Europe. I think the MLS right now is a fantastic place for college players to come and get a crash course on the professional level, but until the league can prove it can develop so-called domestic wonder kids, I’ll favor giving these players a chance overseas if given the opportunity.

Every year more and more young players with massive potential are appearing  in the MLS.  Luis Gil and Jack McInerney are just two of the latest. While Najar will most likely play for Honduras in his future, for the future of the national team it’s incredibly important that the nurturing and developing of these special talents is improved so players like Gil and McInerney aren’t stunted. If that can happen in the MLS, I would be ecstatic, I’m just not sure it’s ready for it yet, based on the league’s track record.

The MLS need a win here. If Najar can continue to progress it would be a win for the too often overlooked immigrate population by the national team development program. It would be a big win for the MLS and its’ youth academies, and it would be a major win for the national team he chooses. I have my fingers crossed for his future, and any fan of the domestic game should do the same.

Captain, My Captain

July 23, 2010

You may have noticed that it’s been a while since Julian Kersh or myself have posted – simply put, we’ve been busy. Countless matches of Arsenal v. Liverpool, selecting MLS sides to support and figuring out the best way to frame Stevie G. and Cesc jerseys. Yes, in a purely tax motivated and business decision for TOTAL FOOTBALL – we’ve grabbed an apartment on the edge of Birmingham, rubbing elbows with millionaires.

Now that we’re straightened out, let’s talk football.

In the weeks since the end of the World Cup – US tours, international transfers and rumors are swirling through the media day-by-day. Of course, our beloved Gunners are not exempt.

THE answer to Arsenal's Goalkeeping problems

First, the man we’ve all been waiting for (since Jens Lehmann left) Mark Schwarzer. All but confirmed, Schwarzer will be making the move from Craven Cottage to the Emirates and be the first choice between the sticks – ready to start against Liverpool and the likes of Fernando Torres and Stevie G.

Arsenal have been lacking in the goalkeeping department ever since Jens Lehmann’s departure in 2008 – even then it wasn’t truly quality work by the German.

In terms of youth, it seems that the Professor has plans for Jack Wilshere in the first team this season – and I, for one, couldn’t be happier. Yes, the music is awful, but this clip of his run against Rangers in the Emirates Cup last preseason is proof enough of why this young man has talent and will be a key player in Arsenal, and England’s, future.

Perhaps I’ve saved the most controversial for last – Cesc Fabregas. I’m not really sure what can be said at this point. After seeing Pepe Reina instigating a middle school locker room bullying with the likes of Puyol and Pique – Cesc seemed rather hesitant and had a worrying laugh about him when forced into a Barca jersey. My take: he will be staying at the Emirates for the season – not leaving before the start of 2010/11, not leaving in January, staying for the season and going on to Captain us through an appearance in the Champions League final and to win the league: our Big Four performances will be different this year. That being said, I’ll wait till the transfer window is closed to hang my Cesc jersey above the TV – not yet having the same commitment that Jules’s Stevie has given to his faithful.

Ready to lead the Gunners to a title - Got that Double feeling?