» World Cup

Italy’s Mario Balotelli

Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli controls the ball during a training session at the club’s Carrington training complex in Manchester, northern England, November 1, 2011. City will play Villareal on Wednesday in their Champions League Group A soccer match in Spain. REUTERS/Nigel Roddis (BRITAIN – Tags: SPORT SOCCER)

Will Italy’s National Team ever be the same?

Here’s a great profile of Manchester City’s Mario Balotelli who also plays on Italy’s National Team.

Challenge of World Cup preparations in Brazil

Issue like corruption, crime and poor infrastructure still present problems in Brazil, and many of these issues are getting attention in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup:

For all those reasons, we should not overhype the economic effects of World Cup 2014. There will obviously be short-term gains for Brazilians working in construction and other industries, but the tournament will probably not deliver a permanent boost in income or employment levels. Indeed, many of the hugely expensive stadiums that are being built for the World Cup may sit empty and unused after the festivities are over, much like the stadiums that were constructed for the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

Even if the 2014 tournament does produce the economic windfall that government officials are promising, World Cup preparations have drawn attention to embarrassing Brazilian corruption scandals and also reminded foreign observers that South America’s aspiring superpower suffers from poor infrastructure, excessive regulation, bureaucratic waste and inflexible labor markets.

Given that Brazilian politics is plagued by rampant corruption, it is not surprising that the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) is similarly afflicted. CBF president Ricardo Teixeira, who assumed that position way back in 1989, has been accused of massive embezzlement. These charges are receiving much greater scrutiny now that Teixeira and the CBF are playing such a big role in the World Cup planning, and they are currently being investigated by Brazilian federal police. (A decade ago, the general secretary of a Brazilian congressional commission declared that Teixeira ‘is directly responsible for creating an environment which is ripe for an administrative disaster.’)

Meanwhile, the Brazilian Supreme Federal Court is probing claims that Orlando Silva, a former senior government official, embezzled up to $23 million. On Oct. 26, Silva resigned from his job as Brazilian sports minister, becoming the fifth minister in President Dilma Rousseff’s government to leave office amid corruption allegations. (The Rousseff administration has been in power for less than a year.)

Brazil is on the verge of becoming a world power, but the Brazilians need to step up in this case.

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.

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.