Mostly Baffled, But There Are Some Answers

I’m big enough to admit it. I have no idea what the hell is going on. Does Rafa Benitez have any idea what he’s doing at Liverpool? By almost everyone’s estimate, he came into the season with the second best team in the Premiership. They’ve struggled for their form to say the least so far. Everton just dusted them in the derby at the weekend 3-0. I can understand perfectly well that he may have been less than thrilled with some of the perfomances.

Tonight in the Champions League he sat most of the usual suspects and PSV Eindhoven held them to a 0-0 draw. They used to accuse sweet Claudio Ranieri of being too much of a ‘tinker’ when he was at Chelsea, but Benitez is taking it well beyond even that. Liverpool is much stronger this year, but still not Chelsea-like–being able to field an entire second team with enough talent to beat just about anyone. Liverpool has to field the likes of Gerrard, Alonso, Hyppia, and Crouch to have much of a chance against a quality team. He sat them all.

Maybe he had a point to prove, but it seems like lately every time a manager decides to drive home a point it costs them a big game. There must be better way.

No such slip-ups for Chelsea. They took care of Werder Bremen fairly easily, 2-0. That was the one team in the group good enough to surprise Chelski, especially this early, if they looked past them, but Mourinho had them awake and ready to play. Looks like they’ll get through along with Barcelona. Their chances look much better than they did when the draw first came out. It was wonderful to delude myself into thinking they could get knocked out in the group stage. It’s not going to happen, but I still don’t think they’ll win the thing either.

I also can’t begin to figure out Tottenham. I’ve kept up my end and have been avoiding watching them live. No matter. They still look shaky. Actually, they look fine, they just can’t seem to be able to score. Not playing Defoe is obviously not wise. He wants out, but play him while you have him. Of course, he only wants to leave because Jol, for some reason only he must know, doesn’t use him much.

Ipswich has always been beyond me. I’ve decided to just ride the wave and not get too bothered about where they’re going. They looked awful to start the season, but have managed to win three on the trot now. They are a mid-table team, through and through. They’ll be streaky all season, I’m afraid. Just when I start getting my hopes up that they may be good enough to contend, they’ll drop several points to teams they should easily beat. I blame Magilton for some of that, but the reality is they’re just a very average Chamionship side.

One manager that can easily be blamed for his team’s up and down performance is Gareth Southgate at Middlesborough. They look absolutely great one week, and absolute rubbish the next. Southgate is a great guy and I hope he eventually succeeds, but you can’t tell me ‘Boro wouldn’t be better off with practically anybody else at the helm. He should be learning the ropes somewhere in the lower leagues. Well, he may have ‘Boro down there where he belongs soon enough anyway.

One other thing that has become glaringly obvious is how great Martin O’Neill really is. He won’t be out-coached by anyone, and Aston Villa already look like a completely different team. Randy Lerner should be very pleased with his English football team, unlike the American one.

Is the US ever going to name a national coach? One should have been hired as soon as Arena left. I don’t think they’re cannily waiting to land the one they want. I’m convinced they have no idea what they’re doing at all. I think they want an American, but none strike me as being capable of taking the team beyond where Arena had them. They had a quick chance to do something dramatic and make a difference right after the World Cup. That moment looks to be gone.

‘New’ Transfer Dealings Mess

The transfer window closed a week ago. I’ve waited until now to soak this mess in and see how I actually feel about this so-called ‘new way of doing business’. I think my initial reaction was right.

When I first started watching European football–especially the Premier League–I embraced every delicious aspect. My love was non-judgmental and unconditional. Many things seemed like a breath of fresh air after watching American sports for so long. The thing that took the most getting used to, was the whole transfer system. It is completely alien to anything I had seen before. I didn’t like it then, but I trusted it was all for the best. It has some merits and I made my peace with it eventually. But it is not perfect.

All the power lies with the players. It is as free-market as the free-market gets. Contracts aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on.

Without going into all the rigamarole, the money teams buy whomever they damn well please. (This causes the ridiculous situations of big teams stocking up quality players that would excel anywhere else and let them mire on the bench–the Saha’s, the Parker’s… the list is endless). The poor teams that are suddenly hit with financial doom (ie. relegation) lose everything they have of any value, but get enough cash to scrape by when the stars leave for the greener pastures. Somehow, all this had been kept in some sort of tenuous balance.

Not anymore.

The players in the last year of their contracts have always commonly been asked what their intentions were. If the player had an inkling to move on, the teams would sell them as quick as they could knowing they’ll get nothing for them in a year. The Bozman ruling lets them leave the team (free agency, in effect) after the contract runs out. It rarely gets that far. The team just sells them a year early for millions and then they go out and try to buy a happier replacement with the new money.

More and more you see players basically threatening the teams to sell them. There’s always been the idea that if a player was unhappy, they’d be better off sending him away before the whole squad was infected. Lately, you have guys like ‘William the Gaulling’ Gallas, Cashly Cole, Andy Cole… again, the list is long. These guys aren’t content to just mope about dissatisfied until they’re sent away. They threaten to quit, or sit, or now–throw games, until they get their way.

All that was bad enough, and was already beginning to leave a bad taste in the mouth. But, that was nothing to what was coming next.

Now, an even more troubling development has occured. To the shock of the world, lowly West Ham United somehow landed two of the biggest and most expensive players available during the last transfer window. Tevez and Mascherano are two Argentinian stars that all the huge teams have been eyeing. They aren’t owned by their clubs, though. Some outfit called MIS has their rights, and they basically lease these guys out to the highest bidder whenever it suits them. Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich has murky ties to this shady outfit, although that’s being denied now and everybody seems to be buying the company line.

Chelsea didn’t need the pair this year, but they certainly wouldn’t have liked to see any of their close rivals pick them up. Low and behold, out of absolutely nowhere, a non-threatening team that couldn’t ordinarily begin to afford one of these guys, lands them both. Then, next year, these slaves take the tube over to Stamford Bridge to begin their Chelsea careers.

Even without the Chelsea conspiracy theory, this is a horrible tactic that has to be nipped in the bud. Dealings of this sort will completely destroy the bit of balance that there was in football. Admittedly, it wasn’t in balance to begin with. It’s not good that the same handful of monster teams buys everyone and wins year after year after year. It would have been nice to make some sort of correction to that.

This rubbish is going to rip the whole system to shreds. Not only are the West Ham’s of the world the big team’s whipping boys, they now become playthings of agents as well. Teams will have absolutely no say in where their players go or who they can sign themselves. Players will have no say, and will have to go off to wherever they’re told. It’s the conglomerate of agents that would be controlling the whole ball of wax. What could possibly be worse than that?

The lid on this Pandora’s Box needs firmly slammed shut now. The end of the world is upon us.

Keane to Sunderland

What a Wednesday. Great stories abound from the world of football–at least the part of the world that is England.

What soap opera writer is penning the Sunderland script? Whoever it is, a hearty thank you. Just when you think it can’t get any crazier, a completely novel twist comes flying out of nowhere. The latest installment is sure to supply interesting storylines for months. Or until the murder (probably set for Christmas to boost the ratings). Niall Quinn’s big-name coach has turned out to be none other than one Roy Keane. Put aside the fact that they reputedly hated one another while playing for Ireland, Keano is simply a lunatic. Hard as nails and about as clever. This is going to be brilliant.

If you’re unfamiliar with the profundity of Roy Keane, or just want a quick laugh, football365 has helpfully compiled a list of some of his deeper insights.

In apparent emulation of Mr. Keane, ManCiteh’s Ben Thatcher tried to remove the head of Pedro Mendes with a brutal elbow in the match against Pompey. It was as cheap of a shot as I can remember seeing, but somehow was only worth a yellow from the ref. It might have been some sort of cruel karmic fate, giving a Portuguese player an actual real reason to dive to the turf for all their disgusting play-acting in Germany. In any case, Thatcher needs to go. English football is rough, but that’s uncalled for.

Finally, a double shot of happy news from the Chelsea camp. First, the shocking loss to lowly Middlesbrough made the day for billions around the world. There was much laughing and partying in the streets–you probably missed all that revelry while you were at work. It’s not going to be so easy this time around for the Real of the North. I suspect Ashley Cole will now be bought for the ransom Arsenal is demanding. If I were them, the ransom would have just doubled. Chelsea will pay it–whatever it is. The millionaires are too good to bother playing defense, so something must be done. The only answer for that team is to throw more Roman money at the problems. I hope Abramovich is having a good time. I suspect he’ll be getting tired of this expensive toy soon, and Chelsea will revert back to their inocuous selves. What a day that’ll be.

Then, just as hoped, they managed to draw Barcelona in the group stage of the Champions League. They’re clearly not living right at Stamford Bridge.

Sunderland Comedy Keeps Things Light

I have to admit, it’s not been a great start of the season for me. Practically every result has been going the wrong way. So my thanks go out to Sunderland. They’ve managed to keep a smile on my face through this rough patch of matches.

The only team in the Championship fairing worse than my Ipswich (we won’t even mention being bounced from the Carling Cup last night on penalties) has been the Black Cats. Niall Quinn managed to rake a consortium together over the summer to buy his beloved team for him and they immediately named him Chairman and manager. It has all gone horribly wrong.

After a horrendous start, culminating in the loss last night to the worst team in the Carling Cup competition not named Ipswich, Quinn apparently called himself into his office and had words with himself. Something clearly had to be done. A vote of confidence wouldn’t do. He sacked himself.

He claims to have a ‘big name’ ready to step in by the weekend. Out of the frying pan and into the fire is leaping to mind. We wait with baited breath for the next chapter. This happy saga takes much of the sting out of some other disappointing results. Everyone can take heart–at least you’re not Sunderland.

It seems the whole world has gone against Chelsea. UEFA has hilariously stuck them with a good possibility of drawing the likes of Barcelona in the group stage of the Champions League. Jose is not happy. He, of all people, should never whine about anything, but it’s great to watch him do it. Actually, he has a good point. The Champions of England do get short shrift the way they draw up the groups. More focus is apparently put on past history for some odd reason. Still. It’s Chelsea, afterall. All that money gone and not a single piece of silverware at the end of the year? Could happen.

A Busy First Week of Action

The Premiership season is only days old, but all of a sudden the world is wall to wall football. Finally. Thankfully.

Two matches featuring new sides are on tap for today. I will not watch Tottenham play Sheffield United tonight. Promise. Call the bookies now and throw the money at Spurs. They will win today. They really are much better than that first match. That was my fault.

I will watch West Ham and Watford instead. Watford are going to struggle for any points at all this season. An absolute sure bet for relegation. West Ham have managed to do things the right way. Despite the financial knock when they went down, and actually needing a bit of good fortune to win promotion when they did, they have built up a solid team again. On an aside worth mentioning concerning West Ham, I recently watched the movie ‘Green Street Hooligans’. It’s not much in the way of a football movie, but warrants a look if only to give the uninitiated a look at the firm culture that once abounded in England.

Lovely Ipswich will surely notch a win today. Unfortunately, it’s in the Carling Cup against lowly Peterborough instead of league competition, so it’s not going to move them out of the drop zone. Still, at this point, I’ll take anything.

Desperate Manchester United are just about to get slapped for topping-up with the whole Owen Hargreaves situation. Bayern Munich says he’s not for sale, and that’s that. Stirring that mess, trying to steal the newly popular Hargreaves isn’t going to be helpful. That, and a loss or two, could start the troubles at Old Trafford.

As an added treat, the second leg of some Champions League qualifiers take place today as well. The disreputable AC Milan will officially get back into the competition proper after tonight. Also, suddenly financially stretched, Liverpool are in Kiev to face Maccabi Haifa. The Ukraine deemed a much safer place to host the match than Israel, despite the cease-fire that has already been going on for many, many, many hours now. A loss by ‘Pool will bring about some worry for the one side that can challenge Chelsea back at home–and their form has been decidely hit or miss so far. No time for a slip.