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.

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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.


No Cole? No Problem

July 19, 2010

 

Don’t get me wrong, Joe Cole would be a welcome addition to almost any side, particularly on a free transfer.  I myself am an admirer of his style, which reminds Spurs fans of a modern-day Paul Gascoigne. Once Cole was out of contract with Chelsea, he was always going to be keen to stay in London with either Spurs or Arsenal with the prospect of Champions League football at both clubs. 

Spurs seemed the most likely fit, given manager Harry Redknapp gave him his first professional contract while at West Ham.  Not to mention five of his English teammates in South Africa ply their trade at the Lane, trying to convince Cole to join them.  Even Frank Lampard, ex-Chelsea teammate and nephew of Harry Redknapp, tried to convince Cole that Spurs were the right fit for him. 

In the last few weeks, it became evident that their was a three-horse race trying to secure the midfielders’ services. Word of his move to Spurs intensified within the Spurs grapevine, but nothing became official. 

To the surprise of many, Cole utlimately decided to join Liverpool in what he dubbed for, “footballing reasons”. When word of the wages the Merseyside club were set to offer Cole, it became fairly obvious where he was going.

To refer to his decision as a footballing one, and to follow it up by saying “it was not financial”, is diabolical at best.  If it were a footballing decision, he would playing at White Hart Lane or the Emirates next season.

As I said, Cole is a very talented player capable of playing on either wing, or as an attacking midfielder.  His seven seasons at Chelsea, however, were marred by injuries and maturity issues.  In those seven seasons, he was unable to command a starting place week in, week out at Stamford Bridge. 

Redknapp likely viewed Cole as a signing to booster the prospect of playing a 4-5-1 in the Champions League, a formation that is ever-popular in the competition.  Outside of him playing behind a target man in this formation, where would Cole fit in the 4-4-2?

Look at the positions Cole plays relative to this Spurs squad.  Assuming Gareth Bale on the left wing, Aaron Lennon on the right, and Luka Modric in that attacking midfield role, there is no place for him in our 11.  Not a chance Joe Cole displaces any of those three.  Redknapp has reiterated his desire to play Bale at left back, but he will certainly feature in both roles depending on our opponent, healthy players, ect..

If you look at the cover we have for those players, Spurs fans should really care less about missing out on the injury-ridden player. You could easily make the argument that another Croatian, Niko Kranjcar is a superior player. The long-awaited Giovani Dos Santos era in North London should take off this season. The young Mexican forward appears to have cut his attitude with Redknapp, and was rated by FIFA as one of this summer’s three best young technical players in South Africa. Given the chance, Giovani can and will shine in 2010-2011. 

David Bentley was markedly improved last season, and should have the chance this season to prove he was worth the pricy fee paid to Blackburn Rovers. There are youngsters aplenty on the wings and in the midfield for Spurs, with left winger Andros Townshend having been the most impressive on our first two friendlies this season. Single volley legend Danny Rose, along with midfielders John Bostock and Jake Livermore come with very high praise, and should get their chances sooner rather than later.

Point being, Joe Cole was never a necessary signing for Spurs. You can never have enough depth due to the physicality of English football, and the rigors that await in the Champions League. There is no shortage of creativity at White Hart Lane.  And for £90,000, well thank God we weren’t that inept. 

As for how he fits in with Liverpool is a different story. Assuming they don’t leave, (no safe assumptions at Anfield this summer) Cole, Gerrard, and Aquillani will all want to play the same position. That prospect spells nothing but trouble for the cash-strapped giants. Cash-strapped, and 90,000/ week for a player that does not fit their needs reaks in fiscal irresponsibility. Desperately scrapping up free transfers out there is only a short-term solution, for a looming potential crisis.


Kop Talk: Yeah, Royyyyy!

July 5, 2010

(Pardon my absence,  folks: I’ve been mourning the heart-stomping defeat of Ghana. But, I’m back now. You can step away from the ledge.)

Like the lot of you, the World Cup has consumed most of my being since June 11. After a slow start to the tournament, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that it hasn’t turned into one of the most exhilarating World Cups in a while. That said, it’s been easy to get wrapped up in all the drama in South Africa and forget about the non-World Cup side of football.

But despite all the international excitement, it’s hard to ignore the headline, “Roy Hodgson takes over at Anfield,” which is why it’s more than necessary I squeeze a Kop Talk in amidst all the World Cup fever.

When the rumors were swirling around that Mr. Hodgson may replace Rafa Benitez at the helm of Liverpool, I was skeptical. Even when it became official I still wasn’t sure he was the right man for the job, and here’s why.

I was afraid the signing was largely based on Hodgson’s dream run with Fulham this past year to the Europa League finals. While I’d never shake a stick at a run to a European final, I was of the opinion that Fulham’s journey there seemed so spectacular in light of their own expectations.

When Liverpool were in the semi-finals of the same tournament, most of the Reds’ faithful were shrugging and saying, “We’ll win this thing – though, we should still be in the Champions League.” That’s because a mammoth club like Liverpool expects that much. It seemed that Fulham, inversely, were stoked to to be there because, no disrespect, they’re a much less prestigious club that doesn’t find themselves in European football too often.

I was afraid that Europa League run wasn’t at all expected, so it seemed dazzling in the eyes of the Fulham faithful and the managerial staff at Liverpool alike. I was afraid the run was being overrated and thus too was Hodgson.

However, after hearing his initial interview as front man at the club, I’ve not only calmed down quite a bit, I’m actually excited to have Roy at the reins. One of the most admirable things about Hodgson is he brings no smoke and mirrors with him. He can always be counted to save the excuses and deliver his honest opinion. Surely this approach can help address some of the teams more pressing problems and get ‘Pool back to their deserved pedestal.

When interviewed, he didn’t showcase some forced, phony abundance of excitement to be appointed Liverpool boss. Not that he isn’t thrilled to be there, but it’s Roy Hodgson – he’s been around the game for a couple years and knows he has a lot of work ahead of him. Instead, he focused on being up front. He called upon the fans to support him in a harmonious effort to get their Reds back to the top of English football.

Maybe most importantly, King Roy (too early?) proclaimed the first item on his long agenda is to keep two guys around you may have heard of – Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres. If that doesn’t get the Liverpool masses behind the man, I’m not sure what will. Granted, a lot of work will have to be done to keep the two superstars, but it’s nice to see where his priorities lie.

He’s also already started glancing his way around the transfer market to shore up some holes in the squad that may have been responsible for the team’s seventh place finish last year.

The most calming thing about appointing Hodgson may be his resume. He’s been in the managing business for years and brings an abundance of experience with him to Anfield. While at Fulham, he rescued the Cottagers from certain relegation. The following year he brought them to seventh position on the table and into European competition. And this past year coached them through to the Europa League finals in a season that was highlighted with some high-profile wins including a 3-1 victory of his now very own Liverpool (and 4-1 over Juventus and 3-0 over United, anyone?).

If nothing else, I foresee Hodgson’s experience will provide a stabilizing force at Liverpool, which is something the club needs. Even if the current of the transfer market doesn’t flow our way this summer, I still can’t see Hodgson doing any worse than Benitez last year. I’m not shooting for a “on par with Rafa” year – I think few are – but I think things will only go up with the seasoned Hodgson.

As I put it, I’m completely swept away with World Cup fever; however, I can’t wait for that first kick of the ball in August to not only see how Roy Hodgson fairs as a Liverpool man, but to see what familiar faces are left in the squad.

Until next time, You’ll Never Walk Alone.


What Will It Take?

June 25, 2010

This is the question that has plagued American soccer for its’ existence. What will it take to truly transform this country into a soccer-crazed nation? It is a legitimate question when you consider just how improved this country’s national team is since 1990.

In that time, we have gone to six straight World Cups and have advanced to the knockout stages half of those occasions. In that time, we have a winning record against CONCACAF giants and rival Mexico. What more can you ask for right now? Plain and simple, if you didn’t get it yesterday than I’m not sure there’s any hope.

To be fair, the South and Alabama (as much as I love both), are a poor representation of “soccer nation” here in the States.  My problem with this is the fact that soccer embodies everything we Americans love about sports – athleticism, and most importantly, the passion and hatred it evokes on and off the field are truly unparalleled to any American sport (the passion and hatred aspects anyway).

Most people just don’t give it a chance. There is this nationalist attitude toward soccer that is pretty embarrassing on a global level. We are a nation with 300 million people, but the nation has yet to be truly captivated by the sport. Here is a Facebook status update from an unnamed friend after our victory yesterday: “I would rather watch bowling from 1976 than watch the World Cup.” Give me a f**king break. This same person is a good example of why it’s hard to envision the game really catching on with all sports fans. He follows other sports, and NASCAR might be his favorite, but yet soccer is too boring?

Let’s get this straight – how can watching cars turn left for four straight hours possibly be construed as entertaining? I hate the boring argument that comes with soccer.  As much as I love American football, the amount of game time you actually see is mind boggling. When you exclude down time and commercials, the Super Bowl had a total of 12 minutes of true action.

It is great to see more interest in our team as a result of yesterday’s victory, but how can it continue? It would seem as if we almost have to get to the semis for that to happen, given it didn’t take off with a quarters exit in 2002. Would that even do it though?

One of the best attributes of our squad is that we play well in unfriendly environments. When we play teams like Honduras, Costa Rica and Mexico in home World Cup Qualifiers the fans are nearly split. The venues are sold out, but for example Soldier Field in Chicago hosted about 35,000 Hondurans and about 35,000 Americans. With a nation of 300 million, we can surely enjoy the home field advantage that nearly every other FIFA-affiliated country creates in qualifying. The U.S. Soccer Federation is apprehensive to have qualifiers in the South (where there are less of the Latin contingent in big cities) where lackluster crowds in Nashville and Birmingham in 2004 and 2009 give them no incentive to come back to the South. And then there is the very poor support for southern MLS teams like FC Dallas, which do nothing to help this region’s cause. Our supporters’ section with both the American Outlaws and Sam’s Army is very strong though, regardless of where the game is played. It’s really all about swaying the apathetic.

The major point is that our product on the field deserves to have that home field advantage wherever they play. The fact that almost all of our national team-quality players now play in quality European leagues is the best indication of our progress on the pitch. Even many young stars like Mikkel Disserud that aren’t getting a whiff at the national team are playing overseas. There are good ones here in the States as well, like Luis Gil and Jack McInerney, and we’ve seen the MLS at-large have great attendance numbers this year. Maybe that’s a strong indication of the game’s growth in many cities, but certainly not areas like this one. It doesn’t help when you have guys like Jim Rome who only point out some melee in Ecuador as the only relevant soccer news.

I think any rational sports fan who sat down to watch the game thoroughly would  appreciate it, but instead,  it’s just not given a chance.  So once again, until that attitude that soccer is a “communist game”, or “everyone else in the world’s game”, I don’t think soccer will have that nation-wide staying power we’re capable of delivering.  It’s already there in major cities, but that’s it.

Unfortunately, the players have the pressure of having to pull a minor miracle to create that staying power in smaller markets. Nothing short of one will create the atmospheres fans and the players crave and deserve.

It’s time people. Get with the rest of the world more than one month out of every 48.


Aw, man! We have a World Cup game today? *groans*

June 24, 2010

Those should be the most ashamed 23 men in the world right now… Well, perhaps I’m being a little harsh. After all, not all 23 Italians played! ZING!

Honestly, what an utterly atrocious, embarrassing, pathetic, disrespectful, lamentable, lethargic, apathetic performance from the defending World Champions! I could go on and on with the adjectives, but that should suffice for now. If you want more, simply visit Thesaurus.com and type in “Italy.”

I think the word “disgrace” would encompass Italy’s showing the best. Few expected this Italian squad to be the third team in history to repeat their triumph of four years ago (the two teams, if you’re interested, where actually Italy in ’34 and ’38 and Brazil, of course, in ’58 and ’62), but a weakened squad is no excuse for the showing the Italians put on.

Had they crashed out of the tournament after working their asses off, I wouldn’t be so bothered.  They literally looked like they didn’t want to be there in all three games, but especially today against Slovakia when their tournament life was on the line.

The first goal the Italians conceded was the immediate product of a simply non-thinking ball just outside their box. The second, the defense was completely asleep as a Slovak jogged his way toward the near post to finish, and the last, the most embarrassing of all, saw Slovakia throw the ball in to Kamil Kopunek from about 20 yards out as three Italians watch the ball bounce into the path of the opposing striker who rightfully sent the ex-champions packing.

Today against the Slovaks, they needed a win or a tie, depending on other results, to advance, but not until the 75th minute did the Italian side look interested. Perhaps they were still shell-shocked from their first two fixtures that didn’t go to plan, but knowing the global ridicule that would await them if they didn’t qualify for the knock-out stage, they still produced a dull, uninterested brand of football. You could have put a Tupperware of leftover lasagna out on the pitch instead of the Italian side and would have seen more intent and excitement to be playing on the world’s greatest stage.

Put me in, coach! I'm ready to play!

Italy, if you just don’t want to play in the tournament at all, let FIFA know next time. There are countries who would literally hire assassins to kill to get into the tournament. Imagine what Ireland would have done with a spot in this year’s World Cup.

As bad as the French were, Italy were worse. France will still probably come out as more of an embarrassment to their country because of all the locker room drama, but Italy no doubt performed worse than les Bleus.

To start, France had, what I would call, one of the toughest groups in the tournament. Not that you need reminding, but it included a host country with one of the most impassioned fanbases the game will see, a very strong Mexican side and a Uruguay team that looks like one of the best in the tournament.

The is no doubt Italy’s group was the weakest. New Zealand was widely regarded as the weakest team in the tournament, and the Italians had to simulate a foul to get a penalty to draw against them! Paraguay Slovakia were two “meh”s going into the tournament, but massive applaud and congratulations to these two teams for acknowledging the privilege of participating in the World Cup and playing their hearts out for their countries. Who would have thought Italy would need to take cues on footballing mentality from Paraguay and Slovakia?

Though, there’s certainly a parallel to be drawn between Italy’s dreadful showing and that of France’s in 2002 when they managed zero goals and a lone point from another nil-nil tie to Uruguay while trying to defend their trophy.

The long and short of it? Italy were truly pathetic and should be ashamed to have wasted such an opportunity. Again, getting knocked out of the group stage is one thing, but to do so because you appear apathetic… that’s tragic for a nation.

Thanks, Italy, for giving the majority of the football world another reason to dislike you. Now dive, flop and writhe your way back home.


Boring, Boring, Arsenal

June 18, 2010

If the Vuvuzelas could have been silenced, you could have heard me shouting this from any corner of the globe. Yes, I do realize that it was not my beloved Gooners parading down the pitch, but good lord – could there have been two sides seemingly more complacent with a draw? I think not.

In ninety minutes of play, England was only able to place five shots on frame – none of these coming before the half-hour mark. Simply put – this was not World Cup quality football, and certainly not the quality expected of a team who’s in the talk of winning the whole thing. Setting aside the draw against the U.S. last week, this was England’s opportunity to right themselves and push forward with a clean slate. Today, Fabio Capello opted for the veteran services of David James over Robert Green. Unfortunately, the decision to put the tested man in between the sticks only saw one shot on goal – and that’s not to say it was in part to well played defense by the English back four.

For the Algerians, they themselves may have been the toughest opponent on the field. While not alone, constant miscommunication and ill executed, simplistic passes eliminated any hope of taking three points from the Three Lions. Continuing on, seemingly happily, with the a theme of this World Cup: terrible final balls. While England was able to force ten corners out of the Algerians, the Desert Foxes only successfully took three. Needless to say, attacking zealous left when Rommel did.

More frustrating than being an American who’s counting on his fingers to arrive at the possible outcomes to exit the group stage and advance, is this overall theme of completely obscure and prosaic matches being played. Endlessly we listen to the jokes and ridicule of America as they question why we devote so much to this game, why we have such a passion for it. Suffice to say, the matches we’ve seen this year have not helped our cause, and have only strengthened their rhetoric.

One can only hope – almost insanely so, as was done for the opening of second round matches – that the final matches of the group stage will produce some fantastic football that the world can enjoy.