Monthly Archives: July 2012

Arsenal Crisis? It’s That Time of Year

In the weeks leading up to Premier League kick-off, fans know to expect a few things. Newspaper pullouts, gigantic fixture lists and billboard advertisements are all necessary reminders of the approaching excitement, without which we might begin to doubt the once reliable word of the kitchen calendar. But even if Sky suddenly gave up on football montages, we’d know it was August, because now there’s an even surer sign. It’s always exactly this time of year that Arsenal’s off-season rumblings become painfully audible.

Arsene Wenger must be getting a little discouraged. In 2011, he watched Arsenal’s two most dangerous players, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, join rival Champions League teams. And then, earlier this summer, Robin van Persie sensationally refused to sign a new contract.

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Where Will Tim Cahill Fit In?

A quick piece on Tim Cahill’s move to the New York Red Bulls…

The guy who punches corner flags is coming to MLS. That may be a reductive way to present Tim Cahill’s underrated talent, but it’s the line that New York Red Bulls fans have immediately latched onto. The LA Galaxy have a cartwheeling, machine-gun-blasting Irishman up front. Now the New York faithful, too, can enjoy an unorthodox celebration.

The Red Bulls, who currently sit atop the Eastern Conference, have already done a lot of celebrating this season: they’re Major League Soccer’s second-most prolific team behind the San Jose Earthquakes, and, in Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper, they boast two of the league’s most efficient marksmen. New York are famous for their attack-oriented style, a zesty playing philosophy that ignores one of the fundamentals of modern football – defending. They’ve conceded 29 goals this season, more than any other team in the Eastern Conference’s top six. Nevertheless, the Red Bulls remain one of the favorites for this year’s MLS Cup.

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Fallen Star: The Decline of Federico Macheda

Federico Macheda took just 25 minutes to become a legend. His goal against Aston Villa in April 2009 was the cathartic explosion that propelled Manchester United to their 18th league title, equaling Liverpool’s long-standing record and answering what now seems a very ill advised banner. This being Old Trafford, Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United, the goal came in stoppage time, completed a comeback and obscured what was otherwise a worryingly poor performance.

Conventional wisdom holds that Macheda’s strike – which, if you’re like me, you watch on YouTube about 25 times a day – confirmed that United’s youth system had life after Giggs and Scholes and that Ferguson wasn’t turning into a big-spending, modern football capitalist after all. Although this view is prominent on Manchester United forums, it is more than slightly dubious: Federico Macheda is not in fact a Manchester native. (Yeah, I know: I was fooled, too).

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What’s Next For Andy Carroll?

Brendan Rodgers is one of an ever-increasing number of football managers devoted to the mystical Barcelona Way, the aesthetically pleasing football method that, after a couple of years of obscurity, suddenly popped into our collective consciousness in 2008. The Barcelona Way got Rodgers where he is now. Without the inspiration of Cruyff, Guardiola and company, he would never have succeeded in teaching a Swansea team composed of honest, lower-league professionals to “play football the right way.” And had Swansea employed traditional kick-and-run tactics, they would probably have been relegated. And had they been relegated, Rodgers almost certainly wouldn’t have been hired by Liverpool.

It’s a bummer for Andy Carroll that Barcelona exist.

The really frustrating thing about Andy Carroll is that he fooled us all. That six-foot something bludgeon of a center forward, that Anfield flop, that money-grubbing drunk: he had us. All of us. When he scored ten goals during the first half of the 2010/11 Premier League season, when he routinely scared the bejesus out of real-life European defenders, we all thought he was good. Not just good; good. Future-of-English-football good. Gonna-bring-home-the-2018-World-Cup good.

These days, the best you can say about Carroll is that he probably didn’t do it on purpose. No footballer can control tabloid hype. Carroll didn’t decide to have his potential international future elevated from “maybe decent” to “certainly brilliant,” The Sun decided for him. Even in his glory moment – and moment is certainly the right word — Carroll probably knew that the press was only praising him to the heavens in preparation for a precipitous trip back down.

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Goodbye, Ji-Sung Park

Ji-Sung Park isn’t a gifted footballer, but not for want of trying. Manchester United’s first Korean player is also Manchester United’s most endearing try-hard, their most blatant commercial maneuver and their most bizarre success story. When Rafa Benitez bought Dirk Kuyt and then immediately shifted him to an unnatural wing position, he probably had Ji-Sung Park in mind, which – considering that United and Liverpool are about as friendly as Olof Mellberg at the full moon – says a lot, and not just about capitalism.

As you may have heard, the Ji-Sung Park Old Trafford fantasy, packaged and sold to millions of hopeful Seoul teenagers, is about to come screeching back to earth in a burst of super-charged dream-busting so powerful that it will probably blow the roof off Loftus Road, a quaint stadium in the middle of a quiet London neighborhood terrifically unsuited for this type of cosmic event. For legions of gullible Korean teenagers, Park’s transfer to QPR will probably be heartbreaking, maybe life-changing, and certainly soul-destroying. United scarves will burn tonight.

For a man whose right to play football for Manchester United has been questioned constantly by a cohort of cynical newspapermen convinced that he was bought more for his marketability than for his playing ability, seven years at arguably England’s most successful club, but indisputably England’s most successful club over those seven years, represents a fair old career. Compared to the career of United’s other notable “commercial” recruit, Chinese striker Dong Fangzhou, Park’s tenure looks even more impressive.

Park broke into the United first team through sheer persistence. So what if he couldn’t keep up with Nani’s juggling, or was blinded by Ronaldo’s stepovers? No one expected Park to be skillful. Occasionally, he’d score a great goal, and, as one, the entire Stretford End would gasp, gawk and stare suspiciously: He’s not supposed to do that, is he? Park was always so predictable in his mundane effectiveness that every time he did something extraordinary, fans’ initial excitement dissipated in confusion. Watching Park dribble past three players wasn’t just surprising, — it felt wrong, almost as if this particular professional footballer, the captain of his country and a Champions League winner, couldn’t copy his talented peers without breaking some law of footballing physics.

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Reflecting on the Euros: Team of the Tournament

So that’s it for this summer’s football entertainment. Once again, the streamers were red and yellow. Those who dared to question tiki-taka were well and truly silenced. All is as it should be. A month of tedious transfer gossip is just around the corner.

By the way, here’s my team of the tournament (playing a trendy 4-2-3-1 formation):

GK: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)- It’s not enough just to stand in between the goalposts, popcorn at the ready, and watch your defenders effortlessly repel opposition forwards. That’s why Iker Casillas didn’t get my pick. Buffon was consistently impressive throughout Italy’s ultimately unsuccessful run, saving Ashley Cole’s penalty in the quarterfinal shootout and making several important stops against Germany. Spain’s four goals weren’t his fault.

LB: Jordi Alba (Spain)- Arguably the best defender at Euro 2012. Alba is a distinctively modern fullback, fit enough to play a significant role in both penalty areas. In the final, he took his goal with the poise of a natural finisher, and the run that preceded it showcased his speed and timing. With Alba rampaging up the left flank, Barcelona should be better than ever next season.

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Reflecting on the Euros: 15 Things We Learned

1.      It’s getting harder and harder to host- In recent years, FIFA and UEFA have made a lot of noise about the importance of spreading football around the globe, encouraging traditionally unsuccessful football nations to host international tournaments. It’s no surprise, then, that, despite a couple of glorious moments, this year’s hosts were both eliminated before the first knockout round. After all, neither Poland nor Ukraine is one of the best eight teams in Europe.

Wild expectations don’t help. After Poland’s disappointing 1-1 draw with Greece, Francizek Smuda claimed that his team had been “paralyzed by pressure.” Ukraine looked similarly disabled against England, though a controversial goal-line decision provided them with a readymade excuse.

2.      Holland are still unreliable- Almost 40 years after the 1974 World Cup final, Holland are still masters of self-destruction. First, their pre-tournament preparation was marred by a dressing room argument over whether certain black players had been racially abused by someone outside the squad. Then the team imploded against Denmark, Arjen Robben forgot how to shoot, and Robin Van Persie reverted to, well, Robin Van Persie-at-the-2010-World-Cup-form. Holland exited the Euros without a single point, and Bert Van Marwijk resigned soon thereafter.

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