Surrendering the Moral High Ground

Until recently, Barcelona was not only the most successful team in European soccer; it was also thesuarez barca most virtuous. UNICEF’s logo was emblazoned on its jerseys. Its coach, Pep Guardiola, won admirers simply for not being Jose Mourinho. In 2011, longtime captain Carlos Puyol let his teammate Eric Abidal, who had been treated for cancer, lift the Champions League trophy at Wembley.

But as Barcelona’s dominance has eroded – last season, the team didn’t win a single trophy – the club has gradually surrendered its moral high ground. I don’t need to remind you that Luis Suarez made his Barca debut on Monday. Or that a Qatari airline now sponsors the team’s jerseys. Or that Lionel Messi may have committed tax fraud.

Earlier today, FIFA upheld the two-year transfer ban it imposed on Barcelona in April. Apparently, while we reveled in the talents of homegrown stars like Xavi and Iniesta, Barca was illegally importing underage players to its academy. I am thoroughly disillusioned.

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Maybe David Moyes Wasn’t United’s Only Problem

David Moyes chose a good day to complain about how Manchester United treated him. This morning’s Mail moyes unitedon Sunday quotes Moyes saying, “I don’t feel I was given time to succeed or fail” at Old Trafford. Yesterday, Louis van Gaal’s back-three-ified United lost 2-1 to Swansea in a game depressingly reminiscent of, erm, last season’s home defeat to Swansea. Meanwhile, Ed Woodward, United’s chief executive, has just two weeks to complete 150 million pounds’ worth of transfer deals. We have been here before. It didn’t end well.

Somewhere in Cheshire, Moyes is hooting with laughter.

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Italy Can’t Kick Racism Out of FIGC Presidency, Let Alone Football

Racism is a major problem in Italian football – just ask Mario Balotelli, who fled Italy the first chance Carlo Tavecchiohe got, only to return three years later to escape the not-racist-but-still-pretty-awful English press.

That problem just got a whole lot worse: Earlier today, Carlo Tavecchio, a bona fide racist, was appointed president of the Italian Football Federation. In July, Tavecchio said he hopes to strengthen the rules governing non-EU players, so that Africans “who previously ate bananas” can’t insinuate themselves into Serie A.

Tavecchio won 63 percent of the vote. I think it’s time for Balotelli to move back to England.

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Pep Guardiola Gets Mad, Commits Crime of Century

Soccer fans get really upset when players and coaches don’t shake hands with the other team. Remember the guadiola wagWayne Bridge-John Terry incident, when romantic intrigue spilled onto the playing field? Remember the Rio Ferdinand-John Terry incident, when brotherly solidarity compelled Rio to eschew the traditional pre-match greeting? (It’s amazing how many players have spurned Terry’s outstretched hand.) And remember the days when, every time Manchester United played Liverpool, Fox would skip a commercial break in case Patrice Evra and Luis Suarez started slugging each other?

The first #handshakegate of the new season comes from a surprising source: Pep Guardiola, the anti-Mourinho, the guy widely regarded as the classiest manager in European soccer. At the end of Wednesday’s MLS All-Star game, Guardiola refused to shake hands with MLS coach Caleb Porter, because he resented the All-Stars’ aggressive tackling.

Cue the usual sanctimony. “Poor form from the Bayern coaching staff,” Grant Wahl tweeted. “You don’t deserve a Champions League,” added another user. Before long, #disgrace was trending.

In other news, the Premier League’s new concussion protocol does not empower independent doctors to decide whether injured players should reenter the game. It’s time we started complaining about an actual disgrace.

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We Are The Champions (Of A Meaningless Pre-Season Tournament)

Last night, Manchester United won the Guinness International Champions Cup – or the Guinness Cup, asguinness cup television commentators are instructed to call it – even though the team isn’t actually a champion. Liverpool, which lost 3-1 to United in the ICC final, isn’t a champion either. In fact, of the eight teams that entered the tournament, only three won trophies last season.

This obvious inconsistency left Fox, the network that broadcast yesterday’s final, with a difficult task: to convince viewers that the game really meant something, that it was more than just an excuse for a pre-season fireworks show. JP Dellacamera pointed out that as the players lined up in the tunnel, they eschewed pre-match greetings and instead stared straight ahead, focussed on the job at hand. Keith Costigan kept insisting that the match represented Javier Hernandez’s last chance to impress Louis van Gaal before next week’s cuts. And Warren Barton touched on the same themes – bravery, spirit, intensity – that animate his analysis (if “animate” and “analysis” are even the right words) of the Champions League.

It was both kind of sad and kind of funny. It was, in short, vintage Fox.

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Join In For The Hat Trick’s FPL Mini-League

Last month, in an article about the return of the official Fantasy Premier League game, I promised an In For fantasy plThe Hat Trick mini-league.

Well, here you go: Log onto the Premier League website, type in the mini-league code 831717-201538, and join me for a season of frustration.

Let’s all be mediocre together.

 

Cristiano vs. Dude from RI: Who Is The True CR7?

Cristiano Ronaldo has spent the last decade speeding past international defenders. But now, according to cr7Reuters, he may finally have encountered an insurmountable obstacle: United States trademark law. Rhode Island-based entrepreneur Christopher Renzi says he trademarked Ronaldo’s CR7 moniker in 2009, and he’s suing in federal court to prevent JBS Textile Group, the company that manufactures Ronaldo’s clothing line, from selling CR7-branded underwear in the US.

Renzi also has a clothing line, but he’s best known for his exercise app, the “CR7 Workout,” which he promises will get you in shape in just a matter of weeks – so that “when your friends challenge you to do 50 push-ups, you can say…‘No sweat!’”

Interesting. I know of a different Ronaldo who might benefit from Renzi’s fitness regime…

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Public Relations Gott

Bastian Schweinsteiger has taken to Facebook to apologize for singing a few lyrics from a profane Bayern Munich schweinifan chant at a party to which at least one guest brought a smartphone.

In a video that surfaced over the weekend, Schweinsteiger stands on a chair, claps his hands, and leads a rousing chorus of “BVB, sons of bitches.” Then some people in the background start chanting, “Bastian Schweinsteiger, fussball Gott,” and the camerawork quickly deteriorates. Which is a shame, because I would love to know whether Schweinsteiger joined in the second chant. Did he, after drunkenly insulting Borussia Dortmund, proclaim himself a soccer God? Sadly, we’ll never find out.

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A Sad Day For Bojan Krkic

Earlier today, Bojan Krkic – the all-time leading scorer in Barcelona’s vaunted youth academy, the wunderkind who bojanused to play alongside Lionel Messi – signed for Stoke City. “Anyone who knows European football will be aware of him as a player,” Stoke manager Mark Hughes said. “The fact that he sees his future at Stoke City is really exciting.” Personally, I think it’s a little depressing that Bojan, whose once-promising career fizzled during his recent stint in Serie A, has ended up at the Britannia Stadium. Stoke is no longer the place where good football goes to die – to be honest, I wish it still were – but it remains a less-than-attractive destination for players who aren’t desperate. Put it this way: I doubt Bojan had even heard of Stoke in the days when he regularly scored goals like this one.

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Bebe’s Set To Leave United–And About Time, Too

Louis van Gaal’s decision to leave Bebe – the Portuguese winger Sir Alex Ferguson bought for nearly bebe wolveseight million pounds in 2010 – out of Manchester United’s 25-man pre-season squad marks the beginning of the end of one of the strangest Old Trafford careers in recent history. For those of you who haven’t kept up with developments on the Bebe front, here’s a quick summary of his first two years at United.

  • August 2010: United signs him for only slightly less than what Real Madrid will pay for Mesut Ozil a few days later. Early reports indicate Sir Alex has never seen him play. Early reports also indicate he once participated in the Homeless World Cup. Early reports turn out to be right about Sir Alex but wrong about the Homeless World Cup.
  • November 2010: He produces what one YouTube user later terms the “Bebe Crossing Show” during a Premier League match against Wolves.
  • June 2011: He signs a season-long loan deal with Besiktas, then breaks his leg and misses most of the season.
  • March 2012: He returns from injury in time to appear in a league game against Istanbul Belediyespor.
  • April 2012: He breaches a strict 2:30 a.m. curfew, and the Besiktas coach kicks him off the team.
  • December 2012: He scrapes past Alexander Buttner in the 2012 Manchester United Christmas Challenge. This hard-fought victory remains the highlight of his United career.

To be fair, since then Bebe has scored a reasonable number of goals during loan spells in the Portuguese league, probably because the Christmas Challenge boosted his confidence. He is expected to sign for Benfica any day now. I hope, for the sake of the Benfica fans who sit behind each goal, that someone in Portugal teaches him how to cross.

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