Friday, January 02, 2009


12 million pounds. For Wayne Bridge (pictured, left, in some bizarre alternative universe where he is considered to be of international calibre)

Jesus Wept. Someone actually managed to make Chelsea look canny in the transfer market.


Remember the good old days of 2003? When the English FA refused to tolerate impropriety in its players, and Alan Smith (still a decent player at the time) was denied an FA call-up because of news that the police were investigating him on criminal charges after he responded to having a plastic bottle tossed at him by tossing it back into the crowd? Police never brought charges against Smith, as it happened: but no matter, even the hint of impropriety was enough for him to miss a call-up.

So what, then, are we to make of the FA’s recent declaration that under no circumstances would the England status of peace-loving Steven Gerrard’s (pictured, in a tender moment with Gary Naysmith) be affected by his recent fracas in a Southport bar.

That would be the incident in which Gerrard was arrested (not just “investigated” like Smith) and charged with assault and affray. Because he (allegedly) punched a DJ who wouldn’t play the Coldplay album he’d requested.

(A DJ who won’t play Coldplay? The man deserves a freakin' medal, not stitches in his face.)

Assault and Affray can land you with a five-year jail term, thought first time offenders if found guilty are more likely to receive community service.

The FA say they learned from the Smith case, and refuse to punish someone because they are under a police inquiry. This conveniently ignores the fact that the police are NOT making inquiries about Stevie G – they did that and decided the evidence warranted actual charges. This is something quite different.

But then again, this is Gerrard we are talking about. The self-proclaimed living personification of all those “English” footballing value; the ones that always believe 1966 is always around the corner, provided there is enough grit and determination and hard work. Without Gerrard, England would be robbed of one of its central clichés – ones which have regained importance now that a foreigner is once again in charge of the national team.

The Italian for the English term “having double standards”, by the way, is the far less pejorative “usare metri diversi”. Use it wisely – as Fabio would.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Man City - An Apotheosis of Sorts

It's a good thing the emir of Abu Dhabi was born to inherit the wealth attached to one of the earth's richest pool of hydrocarbons. Because he is clearly intent on pissing away hundreds of millions of dollars at Man City.

Just so there's no mistaking my meaning: this is a disaster. There is literally no chance whatsoever that this project is going to work out.

OK, gazumping Chelsea for Robinho's signature was kind of funny. But 32.5M GBP? 160,000 GBP/week? For what amounts to Jermaine Defoe with better footwork? Don't get me wrong, Robinho's a good player. But since moving to Europe he's yet to put together a sustained run of good form for as long as even half a season. We have no idea how well he'll fare in the rough and tumble of the premiership. And, let's face it, chances are he's going to be bored shitless in Manchester and, like most young people in such situations, will end up to no good. Making him the world's best-paid player just seems guaranteed to send him down Ronaldinho Lane inside a few months.

But the Robinho business is small beans compared to the rest of the nonsense about to befall Man City. The Abu Dhabi United (a name which is going to cause all kinds of confusion, I can tell you) Group's frontman, Dr. Sulaiman Al-Fahim (pictured), says he has plans to offer Manchester United 135M GBP for Ronaldo come the winter transfer window. He also says he is interested in bringing Thierry Henry, David Villa, and - dear sweet, merciful God - Ronaldo (the larger one) to Eastlands to complement Robinho.

This is clearly a man whose knowledge of the game has been gleaned from an Xbox. There are no doubt people suffering from river blindness in the furhter reaches of Burkina Faso who might still think of Ronaldo as worthy of a punt as a top division striker, but surely to God no sighted person with an interest in football could say the same. Nor could football fans who have ever heard the words "Real Madrid" and "Barcelona" and have intellects surpassing that of cottage cheese actually think that an attack-heavy galactico strategy is likely to produce returns on the pitch.

And when Dr. al-Fahim casually stated that the team would be bringing in "18 players, minimum" next year, what effect did he think he would have on the morale of the squad for the next nine months? Will Joe Hart be extra-enthused to keep clean sheets so Gianluigi Buffon can play in the Champions League next year? Will Martin Petrov be banging in the goals so he can be replaced by Cristiano Ronaldo?

And for all his bizarre good fortune in escaping the giant financial suckhole that Thaksin Shinwatra came to represent, spare a thought for Mark Hughes. He's a decent manager but not the kind of brand name luxury good his new Arab bosses so clearly adore and is very clearly Tinker-Man Walking.

Now, to be fair, there are worse fates than that about to befall Man City. You could be part of the Toon Army, for instance. Or you could be a Liverpool fan, coming to grips with the fact that maybe, just maybe, Rafa's consistent shiteness might be (correctly) rewarded with something less than fourth place (this, it seems to me, is the principal silver lining for United fans tonight).

But my guess is that City fans secretly kind of liked being an underdog. Jimmy Grimble fit them well. Yes, that image was obviously cracked last year when Shinwatra with his vast fortune and Human Rights Watch charge sheet the length of your arm blew into town. But for the last couple of months the chaos surrounding Thaksin's financial and legal affairs still lent the team the necessary air of incompetence to appear a viable alternative to those who felt the Glazers and their Red Devils needed to be opposed.

No more. The new regime doesn't just have more money than sense; it's obscenely wealthy and agressively stupid. It will be globally hated with a ferocity unparalleled in the history of football. Supporting Man United will cease to be the act of a gloryhunter, and come to seem like an act of football patriotism. Which in turn will make City even more hated.

It's a sad, sad day all around.

TFC Asks Me for an Interest-Free Loan

You'll remember, of course, the general contempt that TFC has shown for travelling fans. Well, now it's showing it to home fans as well.

My season ticket renewal form arrives in my inbox. Apparently included in this year's price is not just my 15 league games, but also an international friendly (I see they've learned their lesson and are now scheduling only one of these atrocities), two Canadian championship matches, and (drumroll please) a premliminary round CONCACAF game.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that would be the CONCACAF round we are not guaranteed to play in (and which, indeed, we did not play in this year due to Cunningham's complete inability to from a range of four feet with only air molecules to beat).

Now, the team is very nice about this. If we don't get to play in this game next August, they say they'll refund me the money.

Hmmm. Hmmmmmmmmmmm.

Average ticket price: call it $45. Season ticket holders: 16,000. That's a $720,000 interest-free loan the MLSE boys are asking from us fans for the next eleven months. At prime, that works out to about $33,000, or enough to pay two and a half developmental players' salaries for a year.

I guess the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan (owner of MLSE and its aggressively mediocre family of sports teams) didn't get to be the multi-billion dollar behemoth it is withour nickel-and-diming its customers along the way.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Competitveness is a Matter of Perspective

A perennial topic of conversation among football fans is whether or not football has become "too predictable" and "too slanted towards the top teams", and often the blame for this is laid at the feet of greedy owners, Sky, globalization or what have you. Veteran denizens of the kingdom will likely know that I'm sceptical of such claims - I'm not sure football's playing field has ever been particularly flat.

So I read with interest Paul Wilson's recent article in the Guardian claiming that this year's odds on sorry little Hull City's winning the Premiership (10,000 to 1, since you ask) are so much worse than the odds of the weakest teams in Serie A and La Liga winning their leagues (1,000 to 1, he says) are proof that the Premiership is the least competitive league in Europe thanks to all this money.

Hmm. Hmmmmmmmmm.

Let's assume for the moment that the pre-season odds of winning are a reasonable method of gauging competitiveness. Is looking at the odds of the weakest team really the best way to look at the competitiveness of a league? That seems weak - when was the last time a promoted team won the championship? I can think of several others that might make more sense.

For instance, one could measure it by the odds given to the strongest team - that is, by asking the question: how certain is the eventual winner before the season even starts?By this measure, England is actually the most competitive major league in Europe. Man U is currently quoted (according to at 1.8, Inter at 1.45, PSV at 1.375, Real Madrid at 1.2, Lyon at .72, Porto at .57 and Bayern at a mind-boggling low .5.

Alternatively, one could measure it by asking how likely is it that there will be as many as three teams in the hunt for the title? Here, too, England does reasonably well: Arsenal at 6-1 are not as good as Benfica at 4.5-1, Roma at 5-1, or Bordeaux at 5.5-1, but is better than Feyenoord at 7-1, Schalke at 10-1 or Atletico at an amazing 22-1 (so much for Spain being the continent's most competitve league...)

What about competitiveness for Champions League spots? How good are the odds for the team with the fifth-shorted odds in each country? Now the case for England as less competitive gets better: Villareal's 25-1 is the best of the bunch (oo! competitive again!) followed by St. Etienne at 33-1, Twente at 40-1, Fiorentina and Wolfsburg at 50-1, Spurs at 60-1 and Vit Guimares at 80-1.

But then again, there is more to football than the top five. Let's see the odds for the teams that are at or just above the median in each country; that is, the ninth-shortest odds in each league. Here again, the case against England gets stronger: France's Stade Rennais is shortest at 66-1, NEC is at 125-1, Vit. Setubal at 150-1, Hannover at 160-1, Racing Santander at 300-1 and Newcastle and Palermo at 500-1.

As for the odds of the weakest team: Portugal's Trofense gets 500-1, Heracles, Grenoble and Bologna get 1000-1, Gijon 1250, Cottbus 1500 and Hull 10,000 (though one can at least suspect that the odds on Hull have more to do with the gimmicky habits of English bookies than anything else).

So the English league is certainly unforgiving to teams in the bottom half and the top 4 so seem to be set almost in stone (of the big leagues, Spain's seems to have the most porous top 4). But by the same token, England is arguably the European league where the identity of the winner is least predictable.

Does that make them more competitive? You be the judge.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Wait, I just thought of two more

After a little more thought, I’ve just come up with two more books that I want to write.

1) A History of Cheating. There are so many ways to cheat in football. Players can break the rules, players can simulate. Referees can be bought and matches can be thrown, either by teams themselves (see Italy’s recent calciopoli scandal, or the Marseille scandal of 1993) or by gambling syndicates (see innumerable scandals in China, Russia, Finland, etc.). In Africa, massive disputed have arisen over the unfair advantages brought by juju techniques, such as the burial of certain items beneath the pitch. How much of the game’s history is “real”, in the sense that it reflected the results of two teams playing on even terms, and how much has been the result of pre-arranged chicanery. Are there moral differences between different types of cheating? If, as is alleged, Juve players did not know that referees were being bought on their behalf, does that make them innocent of cheating? This book would examine all of these questions.

2) Religion and Football. Forget the clichés about football being a religion and stadia being churches; there is a serious story to tell about how religion has influenced the development of the sport around the world. In Europe and Latin America, the church’s views on the relationship between the body and the spirit had a serious influence on the development of the game. The Muslim world has had massively different reactions to football, ranging from the ecstatic to the horrified. The Buddhist world, never really one for team sports, has yet to produce a decent football squad: why? Hinduism seems to have little against football, yet the subcontinent has embraced another eleven-player game instead. The African animist sensibility (which also exists among descendents of African slaves in Brazil) has brought a whole unique culture of superstition and luck to the game – though the role of prayer and its modern equivalent of sports psychology has a long history in more developed countries, too. In a game where the outcome so often smacks of luck, the favour of a deity can in theory make all the difference; this book would show how varieties of religious belief around the world has contributed to the variation in football culture around the world.

Come on, book editors! Give me advances, dammit!

Three Books I'd Love to Write

I’ve been reading a heck of a lot of footie lit recently (various reviews to follow). While doing so, it has occurred to me that there are whole forms of football literature which are rapidly approaching obsolescence. Football biographies have long ceased to be of much interest to anyone; in the past ten years, only those of Gazza and Tony Adams have provided much in the way of interest. Follow-the-money books a la David Conn are getting a bit tedious, too – pretty much everyone understands the new economics of sport. Books on football violence were never that interesting to begin with, but the explosion of hoolie lit has drained any possible remaining interest in the subject.

A few years ago, national histories of football were the most promising area of football literature. Deriving some inspiration from Simon Kuper’s cosmopolitanist manifesto Football Against the Enemy, in the past decade, this literature has given such great books as Brilliant Orange, Tor!, Morbo, and Futebol: the Brazilian Way of Life. But then, two years ago that brilliant bastard David Goldblatt came out of nowhere and produced a definitive single volume global history of the game (The Ball is Round) that more or less rendered the entire field irrelevant. National histories on a couple of major footballing countries are still to be written; Argentina and Mexico are still without decent English-language histories, there’s probably room for one on France, and the definitive African history has yet to be written. But for the most part, books in this vein will inevitably either re-hash old ground or tell the stories of increasingly irrelevant nations (Charlie Connelly’s book Stamping Grounds, the story of Liechtenstein’s 2002 World Cup qualifying campaign, is ground zero for this line of books).

But this need not mean the end of books looking at football culture: it just means we need a different lens through which to examine football. Herewith, a number of books which I think are just dying to be written.

1) Football and Dictatorships. Football is often described as a democratic game because of its simplicity. But in many places for many years, football has been played under non-democratic conditions. Generally, totalitarian dictatorships such as Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia preferred non-team sports; only fascist Italy gave the game a major pride of place: but even here, the glory brought to the nation by the 1934 and 1938 World Cups was offset by the increase in regional tensions brought about by the development of the club game. In Latin America, football has been accused of both weakening dictatorships (the 1982 Democracy movement at Corinthians) and of sustaining it (Argentina’s 1978 World cup victory). Even football stadia have a paradoxical relationship with dictatorships: large programs of stadium construction are often hallmarks of dictatorship as they can serve propaganda purposes, but they are also one of the few places where people can gather and talk freely in a dictatorship and often serve as nuclei for the creation of democratic opposition (the relationship between Barcelona FC and the Catalan nationalist movement is particularly tight as a result of this phenomenon). The people’s game has both resisted tyranny and been co-opted by it; this book would tell the tale of both.

2) The Latin Game. Fourteen of Eighteen world cups have been won by Latin countries. Though they did not invent the game, they have gradually come to be its masters; both on the field and in the corridors of football power. They more or less invented the concept of international tournaments both at the international and club levels. Reputed to be romantic peoples, latin countries are nonetheless often accused of cynicism and gamesmanship on the field. While English-speakers may think of football as their game because of its roots in the English public school system, the fact is that to all intents and purposes, modern football is a Latin game. This book would trace the history of the game across the Latin world and show that its superiority in many ways comes from Latin countries’ greater willingness to innovate in terms of tactics, personnel, politics and business.

3) Fans. Many trees have been destroyed talking about the development of game around the world (viz, for example, Jonathan Wilson’s latest oeuvre); but little has actually been written on how people watch the game around the world. And yet, the most striking national differences in football occur not on the field but in the stands. Singing as a form of support exists everywhere, but the styles can be very different – regimented in Italy and Japan; more spontaneous in England. Criminality among hardcore supporters is common, too, but ultras, barra bravas and hooligans have as many differences as they do similarities. Fans in some parts of the world support their teams no matter what; in other parts of the world, fans are known to physically assault their teams if results don’t go their way. In many countries, there is no particular stigma attached to supporting more than one team, and indeed where there is a “big two” or “big three” (e.g Olympiakos and Panathinaikos in Greece) everyone in the country is expected to support one or the other; in England, where there are no effectively an incredible five divisions of professional football, such behaviour is derided as “glory-hunting”. Football may be the people’s game, but the people relate to the game very differently in different parts of the world; this book would seek to explain the roots of these differences.

If there are any book publishers out there waiting with fat advances – or anyone who wants to add their own ideas, just hit the comment button.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Coming soon! The 3-6-1.

So, I just finished Jonathan Wilson’s rather good new book Inverting the Pyramid: The History of Football Tactics. I recommend a read to all real devotees of the sport (by some miracle, it has been released in North America at the same time as in the UK), though some of the press praise for the book is a little over the top in my opinion.

That said, Wilson ends the book with some intriguing speculation about the tactical developments of the last decade or so which I think are worth developing a bit.

Tactically speaking, the late 80s and early 90s were largely a battle between the 4-4-2 and the 3-5-2 (the latter occasionally morphing into a 5-3-2 if the wingers were deployed more deeply as wing backs. Yes, there were the odd romantics still playing 4-3-3 or even 3-4-3, but they were rare.

In a 4-4-2 vs. 3-5-2, the problem is basically that one of the centre-backs in the 3-5-2 is superfluous. What this does is open up a spot somewhere in the middle of the field for an opposing midfielder to exploit. You can make up for this if you have an exceptionally talented midfield with a couple of all-action players capable of going box-to-box and making late runs into the opposition area (as the Maradona-led Argentinan squads of the 80s, who did so much to popularize the formation, did), but if you don’t have that kind of quality, then the team using 3-5-2 is a significant disadvantage. Anyone doubting this is advised to examine last night’s TFC performance against the Whitecaps, which was embarrassing.

So, back to the story – by this decade, you could still occasionally see the 3-5-2 starting line-ups in the lower reaches of Serie A, in Croatia and in parts of Africa, but France 98 and Euro 2000 completely sealed the deal as far as the superiority of 4-4-2 was concerned. By 2002, teams playing 4-4-2 with a fast and attack-minded midfield were pretty much ruling the roost (Arsenal’s double-winning squad being perhaps the epitome of this).

But then teams started to get wise to this and realised that if the midfield could be packed a bit, it was possible to stop these free-flowing teams. Since the 4-4-2 often employed trailing strikers who played just behind the lead man (think of Bergkamp’s role vis-a-vis Henry, or Guevara’s to Dichio for that matter), it wasn’t an enormous shift to pull them back a couple of yards further and create a 4-5-1. If you were a limited side – Bolton, for instance – you could use this 4-5-1 in a fairly defensive way, with lits of long balls to a large, lone striker. If you were more fluid side with able wingers – Chelsea, for instance – the 4-5-1 could morph into a quite deadly 4-3-3 when in possession. It was flexible and it caused no end of problems for teams trying to play 4-4-2.

In the last couple of years, though, the more fluid attacking sides have come up with an even more devious solution: the 4-6-0 (which I outlined about a year ago back here). This only works if you have a lot of creative, fast, tactically aware midfielders who are capable of swapping positions and darting forwards. It’s tough to pull off because there’s literally no focus to the attack, but as both Roma and Man U showed last year, it is possible to win matches – quite a lot of them in fact – without anyone who could be described as a recognized striker.

The 4-6-0 works for the same reason that Hidegkuti and the Hungarians flummoxed England in 1953 – defenders have trouble figuring out what to do if the attacker withdraws a bit and starts with the ball from further out. Defenders who try to man-mark in a 4-6-0 are going to get pulled badly out of position and if the try to zone mark they are liable to get flooded. Its not all plain sailing for the attackers, of course – they have to learn how to play a good short-passing game in order to keep the ball moving through a more congested midfield. As long as they manage that, though, they can wreak havoc on defences.

So what’s the proper response? I would argue it is to go back to three at the back. Even against a 4-5-1, the second centre-back is somewhat superfluous. Against a 4-6-0 we’re into tits-on-a-bull territory. Get rid of the second centre back and move him into the midfield. 4-5-1s and 4-6-0s need to be smothered in midfield, not in the final third. Laying back and playing for the counter-attack is not a good move (even Arsenal have figured that one out) against a five or six-man midfield – the space simply won’t be there. A more pressing game, played further up the pitch, is necessary.

And so, I would suggest, that now that the 4-6-0 is opening up as an option, the next logical tactical counter is the 3-6-1 (or, probably more accurately, a 3-3-3-1). Against the ManUs and Romas, the key will be playing with three what amounts to three defensive midfielders and a single centre-back. Attack-minded full-backs will have to go, of course (but really, haven’t we all had enough of Ashley Cole anyway?), but some of that load can be spread to players like Daniel Alves playing in a more advanced role (indeed, one wonders if Barcelona might not start lining up this way soon, with Alves, Toure and Keita lining up right to left ahead of the defenders but behind Xavi – certainly, they are one of the few teams with the personnel to do it).

Sure, the 3-6-1 has a bad rep after the USMNT’s disastrous flirtation with it in France 98. But mark my words, you’ll see it again sooner than you think.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Book Review: Comrade Jim

I'm finally getting into some summer reading, and that always means football books. So here's the first of what I'm assuming will be many book reviews, on a new book called Comrade Jim.

The subtitle of this book is The Spy who Played for Spartak. It's a lovely short book if you can get past two things: he was never really a spy and he barely played for Spartak.

As a tall, gangly child growing up in Portsmouth, he often played centre-half for his school teams. He was never of a calibre to play professionally, but he enjoyed it and continued playing into his army days when he was drafted into the national service. He had been a bright lad, and had managed to secure a place in a grammar school and stuck it out through his A-levels, to the disapproval of his working-class mum's friends who thought that all that studying would make him "one of them, not one of us".

In the army, he was considered bright enough to be sent for Russian lessons - 8 months of intensive language study which would enable him to monitor Soviet radio broadcasts. Subsequently sent to Berlin, he listened in on communications traffic at airbases in eastern germany. This, it turns out, was the sum total of his "spying".

Indeed, far from a career in spying against the communists, he became one himself. The actual circumstances in which this occurred in 1959 seem somewhat hazy. He had a love of Russia instilled in him by his admittedly non-ideological teachers in the army. His Soviet studies teachers at Birmingham University seem to have been predominantly of the view that Bolshevism was bad for Russia. And he implies that he was quite aware of Krushchev's Secret Speech and the invasion of Hungary in 1956. And yet, there he is, applying for a Party card in 1959 and little more than two years later being sent by the CPGB to attend an 18-month course of training at the Higher Party School in Moscow, where he lived with (among others) the future hero of the Prague Spring, Alexander Dubcek.

He was no pasing communist, either. Despite meetings in Moscow with many emigres who had spent years in gulags after false accusations, despite himself having been tossed out of Russia in disgrace following false allegations, despite having quite a clear view of the double standards of the nomenklatura, this is a man who held on to his party card until the CPGB itself finally collapsed in 1991 and who claims that the first time he rued having been a communist was in 2005, at the sight of the altar on which Isaac Babel was tortured to death during the Great Terror. Why it was Babel's death that made him rue this and not any of Stalin's victims - some of the 1,000 executions a day at the height of the terror in 1937-38, perhaps, or any of the seven million who died in the Ukranian forced famines - is not entirely clear.

During his time in Moscow, he played regular kickabouts with a number of people from various team's diplomatic corps. As he was gathering information for a planned PhD dissertation on Soviet sport and culture, he was often in contact with senior Moscow sports officials and football players, some of whom happened to see him at these kickabouts. Strangely under the impression that he could play at a top level (while in National Service he had played a few times with the British Army on the Rhine selects and the Russians appeared to believe that this was the equivalent to playing for the CSKA Red Amry squad), they asked him to come along to training with them whilst they were in the midst of an injury crisis. To his shock, they asked him to play two games in their colours at the massive Lenin stadium under the name Yakov Eeordahnov (foreigners still being highly suspect in 1962 Moscow). This was the extent of his Spartak career.

Doesn't sound like much of a book? Well, it has some padding, too. In one chapter he manages to toss off the entire Passovotchka story for no reason other than that he was in England at the time and later became a communist. In another he retells the Nikolai Starotsin story (although Jonathan Wilson more or less beat him to the punch on this two years ago in his book [i]Football Behind the Iron Curtain[/i]).

But mostly, it's just the curious tale of how one working class boy from Portsmouth managed to spend five years in Moscow rubbing shoulders with composers, gulag survivors, and ex-spies amidst the obvious insanities of post-Stalinist Russia. It's no less enjoyable and informative for the fact that the author seems not to question the rightness of supporting such a monstrous regime. And it has some nice little football stories thrown in - his excitement at the arrival of Alexei Smertin arriving in Pompey from Spartak is quite charming.

If you're ever wondering about the power of football to sell books, though, it's amazing to think how 180 minutes spent 45 years ago on a pitch 1500 miles from the UK can turn an old communist's memories from being unwanted and unprintable to being a reasonable publishing success. Amazing.

Culture Clash

An intriguing story in today's Observer about Cristiano Ronaldo and his (alleged) seven-months-in-the-making transfer to Real Madrid.

According to journalist Duncan Castles, CR has been doing all the engineering of this move on his own, and his agent had been repeatedly counselling against a move. Even Real Madrid are apparently annoyed at how publicly he's been flaunting his desire to leave (this I find hard to believe, but I'm just relaying the story here).

Specifically, Ronaldo seems to be labouring under the impression (some might call it a delusion) that having more or less single-handedly delivered two trophies to Old Trafford this year, the Man United board would be happy to "reward" him by allowing him his dream move to Madrid.

This does sound a little wacky, but I think it's a piece of cultural misunderstanding.

In Iberian football, certainly, when either Barcelona or ManU come calling, you leave. End of story. Take Sergio Ramos (please) who literally bought out his own contract at Sevilla just hours before the transfer deadline in order to play for the merengues.

What was considered shameful about the Ramos transfer was not the fact that he went to Madrid, but rather the sneaky way he did it, just as the club was starting to develop into something of a powerhouse. He left, if you will, via the back door.

Contrast this with the Dany Alves saga of last summer. Alves felt that after helping Sevilla to five trophies in two years, he had earned the right to leave "by the front door", with his head held high. And so he was quite miffed when Sevilla failed to sell him to Chelsea; it took him about two months to get his head back in the game for the rojiblancos (although to be fair, the death of Antonio Puerta probably had an impact too) and by the time he was back to his best, Sevilla were too far behind the leaders to challenge for the title even in a year when no one seemed to want it. Ronaldo, being Iberian himself, seems to be taking the same position Alves took last year. I've earned this - you owe it to me.

The English, remarkably, don't see things the same way. Winning teams are kept together almost regardless of the cost. Patrick Vieira was mercilessly persued by Madrid after both Arsenal's 2002 and 2004 championship season. Wenger stuck to his guns and kept the midfielder only to sell him for much, much less the next season (2005).

It's partly the way the English view club loyalty. They are far more likely to view team failure as a valid excuse for departure ("oh well, he wants to go win some trophies, I guess") than they are team success ("but he's won everything with us - why does he want to go when everything is going so well?")

That's not to say that ManU won't sell, of course - the Glazers' holding company is holding far too much debt for them not to be seriously tempted by the 85 or 90 million euros his sale would bring. But letting him leave as a reward for success? Never. The fact that Ronaldo hasn't figured that out after five years in England suggests that he hasn't been paying attention during his stay there.

But then again, if he only ever thought that Manchester was a penitence to pay on the way to the Bernabeu, maybe he never felt the need to pay attention.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Watching Football in Saudi Arabia

Liverpool v Arsenal three times in one week, so to avoid intra-family strife I have again fled the continent. And so to today's question: does anyone here know anything about Saudi football? Like what day they play matches here? Or what day they play in Qatar?

There's a hell of a lot of football on TV considering it's 2:30 in the morning. Right now, two channels are showing last weekend's matches from Europe (a French league roundup and Siena v. Sampdoria), one is showing Barcelona-Schalke, and one is showing a replay of what I take to be a Saudi match from earlier this week (although it's possible it;s an AFC Champions League match between two Arab teams...i really have no way of knowing). I have no idea who the teams are, though speaking to some guys on the plane, it seems that the Cup final was played earlier this week. It's a white team against a black team (possibly Al-Hilal against Al-Shabib) and it's 1-1 in the 85th minute.

There's almost no one in the stands, but the announcer is screaming as if it's the late stages of the World Cup final.

Goalkeeping styles appear to be quite interesting - let's just say that Barthez looks conservative compared to these guys. Also, some of the players' beards on display are really quite fearsome.

Well, it's just finished 1-1 and the white team seems very distraught, as if they;ve lost or something. Guess it wasn't the Cup final. I don't think I've ever seen a football match where I've understood so little about what's going on. The post match analysis looks much as I imagine Match of the Day would, if all the guests were wearing bright white thobes with headdresses and slouching a lot.

Now I've switched channels and the channel that was showing French highlights has now moved on to show Goals of the Week from the Indian league. Oh, and now they've cut to Beckham's goal yesterday in LA.

There really is far too much football in the world to keep up with.