Tag Archives: Mourinho

Is The Prem Still The Best League In The World?

The run-up to this Saturday’s Premier League kickoff, an extraordinarily tiring process that premier league champsbegan pretty much the moment last season ended, has included all the usual touchstones: transfer-window mischief, pre-season mini-scandals, explosive Jose Mourinho press conferences. At the end of July, NBC released its annual Premier League promo-short, a whimsical 30-second montage filled with artsy shots of sun-dappled stadiums and cheering fans. At the end of the video, the words “Are you ready for football?” flash across the screen, as the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” plays in the background: “I’ve got a wonderful feeling, everything’s going my way.”

The Premier League is often touted as “the greatest league in the world” – a “competitive and compelling” spectacle graced by the best players on the planet. But the media’s promotional grandstanding and the league’s corporate propaganda create a misleading impression. The Premier League currently occupies a fascinating, paradoxical position in the changing landscape of European soccer. It certainly remains the most popular league in the world. But its true entertainment value, especially compared to the star-studded Spanish Primera División, is the subject of an ongoing debate that reflects time-honored, probably irreconcilable questions about the aesthetics of sports.

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Mourn Casillas, Blame Perez

The sight of legendary Spanish goalkeeper Iker Casillas sobbing into a press-conference casillasmicrophone as he bid farewell after 25 years with Real Madrid shouldn’t merely sadden Real fans nostalgic for past glories. It should send them charging to the gates of the Bernabeu, torches blazing and pitchforks aloft.

Casillas, who is on his way to Porto, is the highest-profile victim of the internecine political feuding that has consumed Real since megalomaniacal businessman Florentino Perez returned as president in 2009. In a recent tell-all interview with El Mundo, Casillas’ parents claimed that Perez had long hoped to replace Casillas, whom he allegedly considers too “short” to play in goal, with a signing of his own. “It’s been an attempt to hunt him and destroy him,” Casillas’ father said.

Perez has faced widespread criticism for his management of Casillas’ final weeks at Real. In May, after Real failed to win a single major trophy for the second time in three seasons, Casillas emphatically declared, “I can’t conceive of myself at any other club next season.” Nevertheless, Perez proceeded to conduct a very public flirtation with Manchester United keeper David de Gea, who grew up in Madrid and reportedly “dreams of playing at the Bernabeu. Sunday’s press conference was a half-hearted affair noticeably bereft of the fanfare that usually accompanies the departure of a club legend.

Given Casillas’ poor form, the decision to sell him seems perfectly defensible. But the years of rancor – the accusations and counter-accusations, the rumors of dressing-room unrest, the personality clashes – that precipitated his on-field decline raise uncomfortable questions about Perez’s player management.

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Saying Goodbye To English Soccer’s Long-Serving Scotsmen

On Wednesday evening, when Aston Villa finally sacked manager Paul Lambert, the Paul Lambert Aston VillaPremier League lost its one remaining Scottish coach. Since the 1950s, gruff Scottish geniuses have been a fixture in English soccer, engineering memorable league campaigns and delivering pithy sound bites. Lambert, a mediocre coach with all the charisma of a wrinkled warm-up bib, has little in common with Matt Busby, Bill Shankly and Sir Alex Ferguson. But his sacking, the inevitable result of one of the longest goalless streaks in Villa’s history, carries symbolic weight. Over the last few years, as long-serving coaches like Shankly and Ferguson have become increasingly rare, what might be termed the “Scottish model” of sustained team-building, in which a visionary manager molds a squad over the course of several seasons, has given way to a new reality: a cutthroat league in which players and coaches never stay at one club for very long.

The Premier League’s growing volatility is especially pronounced at Manchester United, once a bastion of stability in the rapidly changing landscape of English soccer. In 2013, after 25 years in the Old Trafford dugout, Ferguson retired from coaching, and his final act as United manager was to anoint fellow Scotsman David Moyes as his successor. Ferguson, who saw traces of his own Glaswegian toughness in Moyes’ no-nonsense coaching philosophy, naively assumed that fans and journalists would wait patiently for the ex-Everton manager to blossom into Sir Alex 2.0. They didn’t, and less than a year later, Moyes was fired.

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First Day of School

What do Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton and Stoke have in common? New coaches.moyes

David Moyes (Manchester United): Over the past 20 years, Manchester United has consistently won domestic trophies, consistently filled stadiums, consistently scored stoppage-time goals, consistently mounted amazing comebacks, and consistently reached the Champions League elimination rounds. In short, United is awesomely predictable: both the best and the least interesting team in the Premier League.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement threatened that status quo. Jose Mourinho, the antithesis of everything that United supposedly stands for, was briefly rumored to be in line for Ferguson’s job, as was Jurgen Klopp, the up-and-coming German coach/rebel. But once it became clear that David Moyes – whose Everton team consistently finished in the top eight, consistently made the best of a meager transfer budget, and consistently caused United problems at Goodison Park – would succeed Sir Alex, Phil-Neville-to-United rumors began to outnumber Mourinho-to-United rumors and the dream of a genuinely chaotic season died.

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The Very Best Of Friends

It’s La Liga’s winter vacation, and Lionel Messi hasn’t scored a goal in more than two weeks. Which, after Messi’sbarca real era-defining, award-winning, 91-goal 2012, comes as a bit of a relief. He’s good, but enough already. Messi’s Barcelona is undefeated in the league, and with two Champions League titles, four La Liga championships and the odd Official FIFA Triumph[1] under its belt, the team is arguably (because these things are always arguable) the greatest of modern times.

At this point, the ins and outs of Barcelona’s recent history are common knowledge: how homegrown players like Xavi, Iniesta, Fabregas, Puyol, Valdes, Pedro, Busquets and Messi gelled in Barca’s legendary academy; how Zlatan Ibrahimovich, one of the most talented players of his generation, simply couldn’t adjust to Barca’s selfless passing style and eventually fell out with Pep Guardiola (supposedly the nicest man in football, so the joke was definitely on Zlatan); how Spain, a perennial underachiever for most of its history, suddenly became world and European champions, thanks mostly to the same homegrown players (minus Messi) who boarded together as kids. It’s impossible to understand the last five years of football history without first understanding Barcelona. Since 2008, virtually everything that’s happened on the European football scene has happened because of Guardiola-era Barca.

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A Blue Revolution Powered By The Green Stuff

“In soccer, money is destiny,” Brian Phillips wrote in 2011. “And destiny’s not distributed equally.”

At its best, the Premier League is an exhilarating spectacle sustained in part by a moneyed elite that spends millions on superstar players. At its worst, the Premier League feels like a lame excuse for the moneyed elite to play for more money. In the early 1990s, English clubs broke away from the old Football League and formed their own competition designed to realize the commercial potential of a new, streamlined league that would fully embrace live television. Since then, a small band of financially empowered teams has dominated. Sometimes they’re a “Big Four;” sometimes they’re a “Big Three;” once in a while they’re even a “Big Five.” While those clubs vie for major honors, the rest of the Premier League invents and then competes in a series of phony battles, the most notable of which is “The Battle To Avoid The Drop” and the most banal “The Battle To Finish In The Top Ten If, By April, We’re Too Good For The Drop But Not Good Enough For Europe.”

Occasionally, it’s possible for traditionally weak teams to break into the top tier; however, such maneuvers require the type of money that Chelsea, traditionally a promising but never truly successful club, has enjoyed since 2003, when Russian billionaire and celebrity yacht-owner Roman Abramovich decided, virtually on a whim, that he rather liked Stamford Bridge. After a couple of seasons of steady investment, self-proclaimed “Special One” Jose Mourinho secured Abramovich’s team the Premier League title. And last year, after numerous failed attempts, Chelsea became the first London club to win the Champions League, or European Cup — as it was known before a certain fascination with the green stuff necessitated a rebranding.

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