Sunday, September 28, 2008

Dave from Newcastle Returns in "I'm on Setanta Sports"

In this week's episode, Wayne Rooney conducts yet another insightful interview, this time with an insider in the Newcastle takeover situation. Wazza, fresh off scoring a goal in United's 2-0 win over Bolton yesterday, also receives some tactical instruction from Fabio Capello.


Monday, September 22, 2008

No Excuse for Attack of Manchester United Team Bus

Shortly after Manchester United's 1-1 draw at Chelsea yesterday, their team bus was attacked by an as-of-yet unknown assailant, who cracked the bus' front windshield (as pictured here) with a thrown bottle. No one was hurt, and United continued their short trip across London to the train station and following trip back to Manchester.

Let's be clear here. I'm not exactly going out on a limb when I say that it seems obvious that a Chelsea fan, or fans, was responsible for this. There would be no real motivation for anyone else in this instance to hurl something at a moving vehicle belonging to Manchester United. Yes, there's a possibility that it was just a random act, but come on, let's be serious.

There is a rivalry between United and Chelsea, of that there is no doubt. United have won the last two Premiership titles after Chelsea had won two in row before that. United beat Chelsea in a shootout in last year's Champions League final. They battle for big-name signings all the time, including the much-debated controversy regarding John Obi Mikel, who eventually went to Chelsea, in 2005. Rio Ferdinand, hardly a model citizen, and Patrice Evra got involved in heated exchanges with Chelsea personnel the last time United visited Stamford Bridge.

These two teams don't like each other. Their respective fans really don't like each other. I get it, believe me. With that said, however, there is no excuse for what happened yesterday. None. There can be no justification for it.

What many fans in England, and more so in other places, to be fair, fail to realize, or at least don't want to embrace, is that soccer is just a game. That's all it is. It isn't life and death. No matter what happens in one particular game, the world will go on. Life doesn't stop for soccer. It's a game. It doesn't need to be taken as seriously as it is. There are more important, pressing things going on in the world, in this country, in your city that merit your attention.

If people worked as hard in their daily lives as they care about "their club", this world would be a better place and those people would be better off. They have a bad habit of living vicariously through a team that plays once a week and vastly overpays their players and overcharges their fans to watch those same players. They don't realize that for the most part, the club doesn't care about the fans half as much as the fans care about the club.

I love soccer and the Premiership very much. It's entertaining stuff, and there's so many stories and so much quality to talk about every week. But that's all it is to me, and that's all it should be. It hasn't yet and will never cross the invisible line to where it becomes life and my sole drive. I don't count the days until the next time a game is played. I don't get through the week only looking forward to the weekend when my team plays. That's not how it should work.

Whoever is responsible for yesterday's event needs to get over him/herself in a hurry. There's more to life than soccer.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

"I'm on Setanta Sports" is Back

Despite the addition of new "director of programming" Fabio Capello, The Special One tries to carry on, business as usual. With his staff being rotated, though, a showdown between Mourinho and Capello was always on the cards.

Who won Round 1? Stay tuned to find out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Two Academy Subs Would Be a Mistake

According to an article on ESPNsoccernet, the Premier League will explore the possibility of implementing a rule that would require its 20 member teams to include at least two academy graduates from that particular club in the seven available substitutes on gameday.

This was one of the options put forward this summer in addition to the 7-man bench, which is up from its previous five this season. Obviously it wasn't introduced; the Premiership likely wanted to take things step by step and not make radical changes right away. Like FIFA and UEFA, though, the Premiership is in favor of increasing the amount of home-grown players on each team.

To get this proposal passed, it would take the approval of 2/3 of the top flight's 20 clubs (14, for all you math majors out there).

I'm completely against this idea and most others like it. There should be no requirement for a club to field a certain number of players from whatever country said club is based in. Teams should field the best side they can, regardless of players' nationalities. If you're an English club, who cares how many players from Ghana or Japan or the US or France or Sweden or wherever you have. Your primary goal is to win games and be successful. If you believe you can do that without one English player, then that's fine. Why should there be a rule forcing teams to include or play players they don't want to use?

My good friend, Kartik Krishnaiyer, is in favor of MLS requiring its teams to have a certain number of Americans on their rosters and in gameday lineups, and in Toronto FC's case, is in favor of them having a certain number of Canadians. That's silly. MLS is a league that is desperate for attention in this country's crowded sporting landscape. If the best a team can get is Americans, fine, but if a team can get better players from outside the US that can make an impact, they should make their best efforts to get them.

I don't mean to be anti-nationalist or nationalist here at all; I'm saying go after the best players you can get, no matter where they're from. If you feel that signing Americans makes better business sense because your fans can identify with them more and may buy more jerseys or merchandise, then that's fine too. Sign those Americans. But there shouldn't be a rule requiring teams to do so.

Let's face it -- the Premiership is a global league now. The only thing traditionally English about it anymore are the cities and stadiums where teams play, and the core group of fans for each club. That's it. The world's top talent isn't coming from England anymore; the vast majority of the Premiership's best players are foreign, with Steven Gerrard and a few others the primary notable exceptions. Forcing clubs to play a certain number of English players would just water down the league, because the fact of the matter is English players, by and large, aren't good enough at this point in time. We're seeing it with probably the top 10 or 12 teams in the league: starting lineups have more foreign-based players than English and British players, and it's not even close. Why? Because there's more talent to choose from outside of that small island's borders.

It's not even necessarily about that either, though. I don't care where players come from. If they're good enough to play for me, they're going to play. Not playing them because of where they're from or playing others because of where they're from is wrong. I'd have no problem playing a midfielder from Burkina Faso over a midfielder from England if I was a Premiership manager if the former was a better player or fit what I was trying to do more. That's what it should come down to, not filling out rosters and playing players to satisfy a stupid rule.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink Has Retired

The Premiership's 8th-leading goalscorer of all time, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, retired today, and I'm amazed at how quietly the whole thing has gone down.

The Dutchman is one of two players never to have played in the Eredivisie and still be selected to Holland's national team, scoring 9 goals in 23 games for the the Oranje.

Hasselbaink tallied 128 goals in England's top flight with Leeds, Chelsea, Middlesbrough, and Charlton Athletic, and piled up a whopping 175 in all competitions. His best years were spent at Stamford Bridge in the early part of this decade, where he was a club-record $30 million signing at the time and scored 87 goals in 177 games, a staggeringly proficient strike rate at any level, much less the Premiership.

He then moved to Middlesbrough, where he was still a solid option, but Father Time finally caught up to him at Charlton in '06-'07 and Cardiff last season. His contract with Cardiff wasn't renewed for this year, and although there were some rumors linking him to a couple Championship clubs late this summer, nothing ever came to fruition. Instead of pursing other options further, the 36-year-old Suriname-born striker has chosen to hang his cleats up.

As I said earlier, though, it's shocking to me how little attention this announcement has gotten from the media. There's no question that Hasselbaink's career really stalled at the end of his tenure at Middlesbrough and at Charlton and Cardiff, but this guy was as good as there was in three countries -- Portugal, Spain, and England -- for 10 years. Anything better than a goal every three games is considered pretty good for a striker, and Hasselbaink was close to a goal every two games at his prime.

I get the feeling that if Hasselbaink was English, this would be more of a story. He'd be hailed as a national hero and celebrated far and wide. Because he isn't, however, this is getting overlooked and it's a shame. The article I found was buried way down on the BBC's soccer page and wasn't even on ESPNsoccernet or Sky Sports, at least not at the time of my writing this post. Instead, I have to read things about Chelsea's appeal of John Terry's red card, Manchester United's backup goalkeeper signing a contract extension, Samir Nasri's questionable status for a Champions League game against Dynamo Kiev, and Craig Fagan's broken leg. Come on.

Hasselbaink is a classy, classy individual, and there aren't enough of those left in the game. He was dangerous every time he stepped on the field. He'll certainly be missed by me, and I hope you pay tribute to his accomplishments as well.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Mike Ashley Got the Message

After a week of protest and criticism from fans and neutrals alike, myself included, current Newcastle owner Mike Ashley finally got the message: he’s not wanted anymore.

Here’s the complete transcript of the statement he made earlier today:

“I have enjoyed sport since I was a boy. I love football. I have followed England in every tournament since Mexico ‘86. I was there to see Maradona and his hand of God.

I know what it means to love football and to love a club. I know how important it is to other people because football is so important to me.

My life has been tied up with sport. It was the passion that I felt for sport that helped me to be successful with my business. That success allowed me to mix my passion and my business.

I bought Newcastle United in May 2007. Newcastle attracted me because everyone in England knows that it has the best fans in football. When the fans are behind the club at St. James’ Park, it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. It is magic.

Newcastle’s best asset has been, is and always will be the fans.

But like any business with assets the club has debts. I paid £134 million out of my own pocket for the club. I then poured another £110 million into the club not to pay off the debt, but just to reduce it.

The club is still in debt. Even worse than that, the club still owes millions of pounds in transfer fees.

I shall be paying out many more millions over the coming year to pay for players bought by the club before I arrived.

But there was a double whammy. Commercial deals such as sponsorships and advertising had been front loaded.

The money had been paid up front and spent. I was left with a club that owed millions and part of whose future had been mortgaged.

Unless I had come into the club then it might not have survived. It could have shared the fate of other clubs who have borrowed too heavily against their future. Before I had spent a penny on wages or buying players Newcastle United had cost me more than a quarter of a billion pounds.

Don’t get me wrong. I did not buy Newcastle to make money. I bought Newcastle because I love football.

Newcastle does not generate the income of a Manchester United or a Real Madrid. I am Mike Ashley, not Mike Ashley a multi-billionaire with unlimited resources. Newcastle United and I can’t do what other clubs can. We can’t afford it.

I knew that the club would cost me money every year after I had bought it. I have backed the club with money.

You can see that from the fact that Newcastle has the fifth highest wage bill in the Premier League.

I was always prepared to bank roll Newcastle up to the tune of £20 million per year but no more. That was my bargain.

I would make the club solvent. I would make it a going concern. I would pour up to £20million a year into the club and not expect anything back.

It has to be realised that if I put £100 million into the club year-in, year-out, then it would not be too long before I was cleaned out and a debt-ridden Newcastle United would find itself in the position that faced Leeds United.

That is the nightmare for every fan. To love a club that over-extends itself, that tries to spend what it can’t afford.

That will never happen to Newcastle when I am in charge. The truth is that Newcastle could not sustain buying the Shevchenkos, Robinhos or the Berbatovs.

These are recognised European footballers. They have played in the European leagues and everyone knows about them.

They can be brilliant signings. But everybody knows that they are brilliant and so they, and players like them, cost more than £30 million to buy before you even take into account agent commissions and the multi-million pound wage deals.

My plan and my strategy for Newcastle is different. It has to be.

Arsenal is the shining example in England of a sustainable business model. It takes time. It can’t be done overnight.

Newcastle has therefore set up an extensive scouting system. We look for young players, for players in foreign leagues who everyone does not know about. We try and stay ahead of the competition. We search high and low looking for value, for potential that we can bring on and for players who will allow Newcastle to compete at the very highest level but who don’t cost the earth.

I am prepared to back large signings for millions of pounds but for a player who is young and has their career in front of them and not for established players at the other end of their careers.

There is no other workable way forward for Newcastle. It is in this regard that Dennis [Wise] and his team have done a first class job in scouting for talent to secure the future of the club.

You only need to look at some of our signings to see that it is working, slowly working.

Look at Jonas Guttierrez (sic) and Fabricio Collocini (sic). These are world class players.

The plan is showing dividends with the signing of exceptional young talent such as Sebastein (sic) Bassong, Danny Guthrie and Xisco.

My investment in the club has extended to time, effort and yet again, money being poured into the Academy.

I want Newcastle to be able to create its own legends of the future to rival those of the past. This is a long-term plan. A long-term plan for the future of the club so that it can flourish.

One person alone can’t manage a Premiership football club and scout the world looking for world class players and stars of the future. It needs a structure and it needs people who are dedicated to that task. It needs all members of the management team to share that vision for it to work.

Also one of the reasons that the club was so in debt when I took over was due to transfer dealings caused by managers moving in and out of the club.

Every time there was a change in manager, millions would be spent on new players and millions would be lost as players were sold. It can’t keep on working like that. It is just madness.

I have put Newcastle on a sound financial footing. It is reducing its debt. It is spending within itself. It is recruiting exciting new players and bringing in players for the future.

The fans want this process to happen more quickly and they want huge amounts spent in the transfer market so that the club can compete at the top table of European football now.

I am not stupid and have listened to the fans. I have really loved taking my kids to the games, being next to them and all the fans. But I am now a dad who can’t take his kids to a football game on a Saturday because I am advised that we would be assaulted.

Therefore, I am no longer prepared to subsidise Newcastle United. I am putting the club up for sale.

I hope that the fans get what they want and that the next owner is someone who can lavish the amount of money on the club that the fans want.

This will not be a fire sale. Newcastle is now in a much stronger position than it was in 2007. It is planning for the future and it is sustainable.

I am still a fan of Newcastle United. We, my kids and I, have loved standing on the terraces with the fans, we have loved travelling with the away fans and we have met so many fans whose company we have enjoyed. We have absolutely loved it, but it is not safe any more for us as a family.

I am very conscious of the responsibility that I bear in owning Newcastle United. Tough decisions have to be made in business and I will not shy away from doing what I consider to be in the best interests of the club. This is not fantasy football.

I don’t want anyone to read my words and think that any of this is an attack on Kevin Keegan. It is not.

Kevin and I always got on. Everyone at the club, and I mean everyone, thinks that he has few equals in getting the best out of the players. He is a legend at the club and rightly so.

Clearly there are disagreements between Kevin and the board and we have both put that in the hands of our lawyers.

I hope that all the fans get to read this statement so that they understand what I am about. I would not expect all of the fans to agree with me.

But I have set out, clearly, my plan. If I can’t sell the club to someone who will give the fans what they want, then I shall continue to ensure that Newcastle is run on a business and football model that is sustainable.

I care too much about the club merely to abandon it.

I have the interests of Newcastle United at heart. I have listened to you. You want me out. That is what I am now trying to do, but it won’t happen overnight and it may not happen at all if a buyer does not come in.

You don’t need to demonstrate against me again because I have got the message.

Any further action will only have an adverse effect on the team. As fans of Newcastle United you need to spend your energy getting behind, not me, but the players who need your support.

I am determined that Newcastle United is not only here today, but that it is also there tomorrow for your children who stand beside you at St. James’ Park.”

Mike Ashley.

Sunday 14th September 2008

I can’t say I feel sorry for Ashley at all, although to be fair, I don’t think he’s asking for any kind of pity. I commend him for writing this letter; he didn’t have to do it and he doesn’t owe Newcastle’s fans any explanation if he wants to sell the club — that’s his prerogative.

His absence will benefit Newcastle, even if the new owner doesn’t have as much money to spend as Ashley does. Ashley is incompetent in his position. Just because he loves soccer doesn’t mean he should be running a club like Newcastle, or any other club, for that matter.

Once the fans turned against him, it was going to be near-impossible to bring them back on his side. Ashley has little choice but to sell the club now, which will surely devalue the return he’s going to get from any potential suitor.

Mike Ashley, the moron, will not be missed.

Legend of Cahill Continues

Last December, I wrote a post ( detailing the impressive late-game exploits of Everton and Australia attacking midfielder Tim Cahill.

There is no doubt that Cahill is the most clutch player in the world, bar none. Cristiano Ronaldo? No. Lionel Messi? Nope. Fernando Torres? No.

If your team needs a goal to either equalize or win a match, Cahill is the man for you. He has a remarkable knack for being in the right place at the right time, and most importantly, burying the chance. Cahill isn't what you'd call a natural goalscorer, it just seems like every goal he does score is so important, so significant. He'll often pop up from nowhere to convert the finish, which is amazing because you'd think opposing defenders would be marking him so tightly given his reputation and penchant for heroics.

He struck again today, scoring the 77th-minute winner off a corner kick in Everton's 3-2 victory over Stoke City, rescuing the three points after Stoke had climbed back from 2-0 down. He also had the assist on Yakubu's goal, which put the Toffees two goals to the good. That's Timmy Cahill in a nutshell for you. He gets himself in the right position and when he gets an opportunity, he makes it count. He's gutsy and hard-nosed and is at his best when the situation means the most. That's the type of player I'll take on my team any day.

His only problem is a significant one -- staying healthy. He missed the start of this season with a fractured metatarsal, the same one that caused him to miss a considerable amount of time last year. A knee injury cost him eight weeks in late 2006. Various knocks and nagging injuries have blighted Cahill's career, but when he's fit, he's extraordinarily valuable.

New "I'm on Setanta Sports" Episode

I know it seems like all I do lately is post these videos, so let me explain.

Here at Mercyhurst, I'm having a hard time being able to find games to watch because I don't have FSC or Setanta. I'm doing the best I can to catch as much action as I can online, but it's not exactly easy. Until I get Setanta Broadband and/or FSC Broadband, posts on game action itself are going to be few and far between as I just don't get a chance to see much.

This doesn't mean, however, that I won't be writing here. What I love doing most anyway deals with original content, which made up the vast majority of what you saw last year. I'll use what happens in real life and incorporate it into a larger point, whether it's rules changes I'd like to see, players and teams I think you should keep an eye on, or whatever. Believe me, I'm not going anywhere, so just stick with me until I can get back to full strength here at English Soccer Talk.

Enjoy the new episode, you *******.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mike Ashley is a Moron

You're an owner of a Premiership team, one that's well-known all across Europe and is one of the best-supported in England. You've just gotten rid of your manager, one who you brought back just a few months ago to rescue the club from perennial mediocrity and is a hero to the fans. Those fans are threatening to boycott home games in response to the way you forced that manager out the door. Your team itself has little-to-no top young talent (the recent sale of James Milner to Aston Villa made sure of that) and has no real shot at a place in the top half of the table.

What do you do?

You go to New York City for Fashion Week and spend "$200,000 in (a) club and (order) well over 200 bottles of champagne including Cristal and Dom Perignon - buying a bottle for every patron in the club", according to an insider for the New York Post. Those patrons weren't even anyone of note; it was a bunch of D and F-list Hollywood-types, with the possible exception of Deion Sanders. This is just a week and a half or so after you were caught drinking a pint of beer in under 15 seconds in the stands by TV cameras, drawing "words of advice" from Scotland Yard.

Let me get this straight. Instead of caring more about your team and running it properly by actually bringing people who have knowledge about the game on board, Mike Ashley chooses to fly across the Atlantic and get drunk in a club with a group of nobodies. Instead of spending some money to bring some quality players to the team, Ashley sits on his reported $2.8 billion dollar fortune and do nothing with it. Why should he, really? He only spent $270 million to buy the club. No big deal or anything. I have that kind of money in my back pocket. Besides, Newcastle has scored 2 goals in 3 league games this season. They're a juggernaut that can't be stopped.

If I was a Newcastle fan, I'd simply refuse to attend another home game until this guy sold the club. A stand has to be made here to get this moron out of Newcastle. He is an absolute joke. He is incompetent and shouldn't own a hardware store, much less a Premiership team. He clearly has no interest in turning Newcastle into a contender anytime soon, which was his stated goal.

What a fool.

Part 2 of Wayne Rooney's Interview With Fabio Capello

England blasted Croatia 4-1 yesterday in Zagreb in their second World Cup 2010 qualifying game, spurred by a hat trick from Theo Walcott, of all people. It was an impressive victory, to be sure, especially since Croatia hadn't lost in a competitive game on home soil since 1994 and England was missing Steven Gerrard and Owen Hargreaves. This was essentially the same Croatian team that beat England at Wembley last November, too, so the Three Lions have to be over the moon with this result.

Why Walcott was starting ahead of David Beckham in the first place was unclear to me, but the pacey 19-year-old came in and did the job. Talent and potential has never been an issue with him, it's been inconsistency. Don't be surprised if Walcott's form takes a dive in the next month, which would reopen the right flank for Beckham.

Fabio Capello had to have been happy with the win, and he sits down here with yesterday's other goal-scorer, Wayne Rooney, in the second part of their interview for "I'm on Setanta Sports". Enjoy.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Football Manager 2009 Release Date Announced

The Football Manager series is the best, most realistic soccer simulation game out there, bar none. It satisifies the itch you can't even begin to scratch by playing games like FIFA and Pro Evolution Soccer, which don't delve deep enough into off-field matters and what it's really like to build and lead a team.

In FM, actual game play is important, but it's more about what you do before and after the matches themselves. You can buy and sell players. You can hire staff members. You can create custom practice schedules. You answer questions in press conferences. Essentially anything that a real-life soccer manager does, you do in this game. The best part? Pretty much any team you can think of in real life is available to manage and the depth and accuracy of the player ratings and skillsets is unbelievable.

This season's edition will be coming out for PC on November 14, and I can't wait. You have no idea how many hours I've spent playing these games over the years -- probably far too many, but this game is so addictive that it's just hard to quit. Once you get into it, you're going to find yourself saying, "One more day, just one more day, one more day and I'll save it, one more day", then finally save after a month on the game calendar.

I encourage you strongly to pick up a copy when it comes out, which you can do by going to the official website ( and downloading it right there, or by going to that site and following the links to pre-order it through It's not going to be cheap, but it's worth the price -- about $60 here in the US. While you're there, check out the game features and screenshots, and watch a couple videos about the product. There's a community forum there too, where you can connect with other fans of the series across the world and just shoot the breeze about whatever you want.

November 14 -- remember that date. Football Manager '09, a can't miss item for fans of the beautiful game.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Two Newest Episodes of "I'm on Setanta Sports"

While I took my break last week to get acclimated to my new college, a new "I'm on Setanta Sports" segment was released and I didn't get around to posting it. I'm doing so here and that episode is followed by yesterday's show, the first in a two-part series that will take us through this international break. There's some quality new material here, including a clever game show based on "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" and Fabio Capello's interview with "The Boy", Wayne Rooney.

Trust me, you'll love these two episodes.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Goodbye, Kevin Keegan

Another Premiership manager bit the dust today as Kevin Keegan joined Alan Curbishley on the unemployment line.

The "Geordie Messiah" was supposed to turn Newcastle's fortunes around and make them a top-four contender, if you believe most of the Toon Army, but didn't even last a full season's worth of games after returning to the club midway through the '07-'08 campaign. In 21 competitive games in Keegan's second stint as Newcastle manager, the Magpies went just 6-6-9, hardly an impressive record for a team whose fans consider "big" in the English and European scenes.

As was the case with Curbishley, Keegan was unhappy with his club's transfer policy:

"It's my opinion that a manager must have the right to manage and that clubs should not impose upon any manager any player that he does not want."

This tells me he wasn't fully behind this summer's signings of two Argentine players, Jonas Gutierrez and Fabricio Coloccini. I also don't think Keegan was given permission to go out and buy players that he himself, not sporting director Dennis Wise or club owner Mike Ashley, wanted, and that's unacceptable. The sale of James Milner, the team’s only real talented young player, to Aston Villa may have put the final nail in the coffin as Keegan had made it clear that he wanted to keep the England U-21 captain. A manager knows more about players, particularly ones he believes will fit in well, than anyone in the backroom and especially the owner, who in this case has no real background in the game. Any power struggles going on behind the scenes should end up in favor of the manager, because he's the one person outside of the players most responsible for a team's success or lack thereof.

Keegan is a hero in Newcastle so this resignation has hit fans there extremely hard. They put more stock into Keegan than they would've with any manager outside of a couple of the big names that were available when the position opened in January. To be sure (and the evidence is in the archives here), I was never in favor of him coming back to Newcastle and didn't think he'd be successful. Even so, though, it's unfortunate that things ended like this because Keegan is a character and a voice that is good for the Premiership. He'll end up back on his feet somewhere if he wants another job, but the question is, where does Newcastle go from here?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Goodbye, Alan Curbishley

The first managerial departure of the season came today as Alan Curbishley resigned his post as West Ham manager. Curbishley had been at or near the top of the list of managers speculated to go, along with Newcastle boss Kevin Keegan, so this bit of news shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

However, the reason for it is very interesting. Managers typically resign or are forced to resign when their teams aren't playing well on the field and not living up to expectations. That's not the case here, though; it's still early in the season but West Ham is in 5th place, having taken six points out of nine and advancing to the 3rd round of the Carling Cup. Curbishley has taken a lot of heat over the years for mediocre finishes at Charlton Athletic and West Ham, some of it fair, but it's important to remember (and this has been vastly overlooked) that he guided West Ham out of the relegation zone (with the considerable help of Carlos Tevez) in 2006-2007 and may have been leading the Hammers in Europe this season if it wasn't for the horrific rash of injuries to his first team last year. All-in-all, Curbishley did a fine job at West Ham.

His authority was undermined, however, at the end of this summer's transfer window and that was the final straw. West Ham sold Anton Ferdinand, still a promising young center back, and George McCartney, who started every league game last season for West Ham at left back. Craig Bellamy was offered publicly as well, though no one came in and made a serious move for the injury-prone striker. Curbishley didn't seem to have any say in those decisions, and even though a manager's primary task is to lead the team he has at that moment, it's still important for him to at least be involved in incoming and outgoing transfers. After all, he's the one who has to put a squad on the field.

I can't blame Curbishley for leaving. A lack of trust and cohesion had developed between himself and the front office, and that's not healthy for either party. His resignation looks better for him personally than him being fired, which may have happened soon anyway if the oddsmakers were right. He can walk away with his head held high while West Ham looks worse as a club for taking crucial bits of control away from the man who really needed it most.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Peter Reid Becomes New Manager of...Thailand??

Here's one of those random news stories we read about every season:

Born in the same Liverpool suburb as current well-known midfielders Steven Gerrard and Joey Barton, Peter Reid had a solid playing career, most notably at Bolton, Everton, and Manchester City. He won the FA Cup and old First Division twice (both at Everton). He was selected as the PFA Footballer of the Year in 1985. Reid also represented his country 13 times and was a key cog in England's World Cup 1986 team, which was eliminated in the quarterfinals by eventual tournament champion Argentina.

He's had some success in the managerial ranks, too, with more than respectable records at City and Sunderland, where he was on the bench for 159 victories in his seven-year tenure. Reid didn't fare particularly well in either of his last two jobs, though, as he compiled a combined 16-25-12 mark at Leeds and Coventry City. He left the Sky Blues in January of 2005 after the goal of getting them promoted back into the Premiership had fallen miserably short -- they were sitting in 20th place at the time.

Still, Reid's past accomplishments basically guaranteed him a job in the game somewhere if he was interested. He departed from Coventry before the age of 50, which is relatively young for a manager these days. He'd worked in TV to pass the time -- for Sky Sports and the Football Channel -- so it was clear his enthusiasm for the sport was still there. Unlike Kevin Keegan, Reid kept himself involved.

Enter the Thailand national team, currently ranked 112th in the world by FIFA. Believe me, I've never been one to put much stock into those things (it's hard to take them seriously when you see how highly the US and England, among others, have been ranked, and how low countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Switzerland have been ranked) but common sense wins out in this case. They've never participated in a World Cup, despite the fact that Asia is without a doubt the weakest continental confederation from which to qualify. They finished last in their four-team qualifying group in the third round of AFC competition for the 2010 World Cup, behind formidable powerhouses in Japan, Bahrain, and Oman. Thailand earned one point in six games and finished with a -9 goal differential. Sure, Thailand may not be exactly the 112th best team in the world. They could be a bit better. They could be worse. They're bad either way.

None of this stopped Reid from undertaking the monumental challenge of building up the Southeast Asian nation's soccer program, however, as he agreed to a four-year contract with the aim of qualifying for World Cup 2014 in Brazil. I'd be lying to you if I said I recognized anyone on the roster chosen for their last competitive game. 15 of the 18 players picked play their domestic soccer in Thailand, and two of the other three play for Manchester City, who, until yesterday, had a Thai owner in Thaksin Shinawatra who simply brought those two to the club.

Thailand has the 20th-largest population in the world, so it's not like Reid doesn't have the numbers in his favor from that standpoint. Out of the approximately 63 million people residing in that country, surely he can find 20 of them or so and field a competitive side, right? Not so fast. Thailand is known across the world for its monsoons, which aren't exactly condusive to soccer. It's ridiculously hot and humid there. The economy is strengthening slowly and the capital city, Bangkok, is the hub of Southeast Asia, but to say Thailand as a whole is doing well financially would be a severe misrepresentation of the facts.

The odds are certainly stacked against Reid. Fellow Liverpudlian Peter Withe steered Thailand to a couple ASEAN Championships (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) in the early part of this decade, but this is a country that does want a team that can compete on a bigger stage. If Reid is able to get them there, full credit to him. It would be a remarkable managing job and one that hopefully would get its share of publicity around the world. If not, no big loss because Thailand was never there in the first place and everyone knows how difficuly of a task this is. It's a no-lose situation for Reid.

Monday, September 1, 2008

I'm Back!

It was a hectic weekend here in Erie, but one that I wouldn't mind living again. I posted early last week that I'd be taking a brief leave of absence to get situated at college, which is what I've been doing for the past few days.

Clearly I've missed a lot in the soccer world with the transfer deadline having come and gone and a whole round of fixtures played. I won't lie; I was only able to watch bits and pieces of a couple games so there won't be any analysis here of all the action -- my weekly All-Star Team will be back when the Premiership restarts after this international break.

The England national team returns to the limelight with its first two World Cup 2010 qualifying games, at Andorra on the 6th and at Croatia in nine days' time. I haven't agreed too often with the roster inclusions of manager Fabio Capello and that won't change with the 23-man squad he picked for these two games, but I was pleased to see him call up Fulham's talismanic midfielder, Jimmy Bullard. Bullard is presumably replacing Steven Gerrard, who will miss the next two weeks after having a minor groin operation. Where’s Peter Crouch? Where’s Darren Bent? Where’s Ashley Young? Theo Walcott?? Wayne Bridge?? Paul Robinson?? Please.

England absolutely has to beat Andorra, and I think anything they get in Croatia would be considered a bonus based on Croatia's talent and how well Slaven Bilić's team plays at home (Croatia is undefeated in competitive matches on home soil since 1994). I don't see that record changing, though England may able to squeak out a draw in this game.

It's good to be back, obviously. College has been great so far but nothing really compares to the beautiful game. I'll be going back to a regular posting schedule from this point forward (hopefully).

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Why So Many Empty Seats For Cup Competitions?

Coventry City hasn’t been in the Premiership since the 2000-2001 season, when they were relegated after finishing 19th with 34 points. The Sky Blues have spent every season since then in the Championship, so close to England’s top flight, but yet so far. They’re a proud club — they’ve been in existence since the early 1880’s, they were a founding member of the Premier League, and have won the FA Cup.

Before that dismal ‘00-’01 campaign, Coventry had spent the previous 34 seasons in the First Division/Premiership. Their fans had been used to seeing the best opposition in the world on a week-in, week-out basis, so the drop to the Championship couldn’t have been easy. They’ve come nowhere near promotion since then; in fact, they’ve nearly been relegated to League One on a couple different occasions.

The Carling Cup Second Round started today, with Coventry welcoming Newcastle to the Ricoh Arena. Newcastle is a popular team in England and despite their lack of success in recent years, they’re by no means a bad side. One would think that a chance to upset a Premiership team in a one-off game in a cup competition would be a draw for Coventry fans. One would think the crowd would really be up for this game, even if it’s just to see a team they don’t get to see anymore because the two clubs aren’t in the same league. It came as a bit of a surprise, then, when I turned on the game and saw a half-filled stadium with a crowd quieter than the ones at some of my high school games, at least until Coventry equalized right at the death through a long throw-in into the box (Newcastle eventually won 3-2).

This is the problem with both the FA Cup and the Carling Cup, though. For some reason, and I’m wondering what it is, matches in these competitions don’t ever seem to sell out unless it’s the quarterfinal stage or beyond. It doesn’t matter who the opponent is; a “Big Four” team could come to town and there still probably won’t be a full crowd.

I don’t understand this, and I’m hoping you can help me out. These are cup games. They have more individual meaning than most any game in a 38-match (Premiership) or 46-match (lower leagues) schedule. In the Carling Cup, one team will advance and the knock the other out on that given day. In the FA Cup, the same could happen unless the game ends up in a draw, in which case the tie is decided in the return leg. Victories propel a side one step closer to a trophy. If a Premiership team goes to one of those lower league sides, that’s the best, most talented opponent they’ll see all season. The Carling Cup winner and usually both the FA Cup winner and runner-up receive a berth in the UEFA Cup, which is no small consolation prize for many teams. The domestic cups provide another chance to win a trophy, and it’s hard to argue with that.

It doesn’t make sense to me. Is it because the games are played on weeknights? It’s not like they go on late into the night, meaning people can still get home at a decent hour and be ready for work the next day. It’s my understanding that ticket prices are lower for cup games and at lower-league clubs, so that can’t have much to do with it.

Why do I see so many empty seats like I did today?

A Few Days Off..

Tomorrow I leave for Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania, which will be my home for the next three school years. Move-in is Thursday, with the typical orientation/getting used to the campus/meeting people stuff going on the rest of the weekend.

I'll be busy with that, obviously, and just doing the things a new college student does. My blogging pattern isn't going to change -- I'll still be posting daily or as close to daily as possible based on what's going on in the soccer world -- but I am going to take these next few days off to immerse myself in everything up there and prepare for the start of classes next week. If I get a chance and there's something worth mentioning, I'll do a post here, but it's more likely that you won't find much here at least until this weekend.

Just wanted to give everyone the heads-up. Thanks for your understanding.