Tag Archives: premier league

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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Manchester City: Where Young English Players Go To Die

On Wednesday, Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling skipped his team’s daily training sterlingsession, supposedly because he felt ill. “Sterling is now set to be assessed by a club doctor, as is standard practice at Liverpool when there are doubts regarding a player’s health,” ESPN FC reported. In reality, there is very little doubt regarding Sterling’s health: As Lionel Messi demonstrated last January, in European soccer “illness” has nothing to do with bodily discomfort. It’s merely a rhetorical tool wielded by unscrupulous agents, an especially transparent example of the cynical bullshit that dominates summer transfer news.

Sterling, who has reportedly informed Liverpool coach Brendan Rodgers that he isn’t “in the right frame of mind” for a pre-season tour, has spent the last four months angling for a transfer to Manchester City. In April, his refusal to sign a new contract overshadowed the admittedly-not-that-impressive conclusion to Liverpool’s league campaign. Then City submitted a 40-million-pound bid for Sterling, which Liverpool promptly rejected.

Over the last couple of weeks, Sterling has been vigorously lampooned. BBC pundit Jamie Carragher recently claimed that Sterling has permanently sullied his public image. “He’s starting to get a reputation that could be hard to rid himself of in the future,” Carragher said. The Daily Mail’s Ian Ladyman compared Sterling to Pieree van Hooijdonk, the Dutch forward who infamously went on strike in 1998 when Nottingham Forest refused to sell him. But frankly, Sterling’s recent conduct isn’t particularly unusual or surprising. Every year, celebrity players lobby for transfers to richer, more successful clubs: the rather well-paid Cristiano Ronaldo declared himself a “slave” the summer he pushed for a move to Real Madrid. That’s how modern soccer has operated for at least the last two decades. Once Sterling makes his City debut, nobody but a few aggrieved Liverpool supporters will remember that he feigned illness during pre-season.

On the other hand, Manchester City’s involvement in this transfer-window tug-of-war highlights a relatively recent, genuinely alarming trend that has actively stymied the development of young English talent. In 2010, the Premier League instituted the Homegrown Player Rule, a regulation intended to boost the fortunes of the English national team. Under the HPR, clubs are required to include at least eight homegrown players on their 25-man rosters. The rule targeted teams like City – big spenders that had invested hundreds of millions of pounds in foreign signings, rather than nurturing academy prospects or recruiting the best English players from smaller clubs.

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Why We Should All Cheer for Arsenal

In 2011, midfielder Samir Nasri left Arsenal to join Manchester City, insisting cech arsenalhe wanted to play for a club capable of winning major trophies. Outraged Arsenal fans accused Nasri of selling out, and when City visited The Emirates in November, the home crowd booed Nasri mercilessly. Months later, after City clinched the Premier League title on the final day of the season, Nasri fired back at his critics. “I hope they are watching me now,” he said. “They should celebrate their third-place achievement, and I will focus on winning titles.”

Arsenal has not won the Premier League since 2004, when Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry led the team to an unbeaten campaign. Indeed, before defeating Hull in the 2014 FA Cup final, Arsenal had gone nine seasons without winning a single tournament. Over the years, the club’s long dry spell became a social media touchstone, the easy 140-character punch line to a joke that never seemed to get old. One popular website invited fans to tweet about everything they had accomplished in their personal lives since Arsenal last claimed silverware. Special 1 TV, the satirical talk show hosted by a Jose Mourinho puppet, dedicated numerous episodes to the travails of Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger. When Arsenal finally broke the streak, the real Mourinho, who once called Wenger “a specialist in failure,” responded with his signature brand of sarcastic condescension: “In the last nine years, Arsenal won an FA Cup. That is nice for them.”

Arsenal’s trophy-less run was not just a lesson in sustained athletic humiliation. It was also a graphic demonstration of the changing economics of English soccer. The taunts flying across Twitter, however trivial they seemed, were indications of a profound power shift. The influx of billionaire owners to the Premier League has elevated clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City, underperforming minnows for much of their histories, to awesome new heights, often at the expense of less wealthy competitors. Indeed, City’s newfound ability to poach star players has fundamentally destabilized Arsenal’s on-field development: Since 2009, Nasri, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy, Kolo Toure and Bacary Sagna have all left Arsenal for the stadium formerly known as Eastlands. Earlier this month, City was rumored to be monitoring Arsenal midfielder Jack Wilshere.

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Bye-bye, Big Sam

It’s a sad day for English soccer. Sam Allardyce – Sir Alex Ferguson’s second-most reliable sam allardycepunching bag, Charles Reep’s spiritual descendant – is leaving West Ham. He intends to take next season off.

“As a manager, you just ignore your family 24/7 when you do this job, and it’s time for me to give the family a little bit of time,” Allardyce said after West Ham’s 2-0 loss to Newcastle, adding that he plans to fly to Spain next week to vacation with his grandchildren.

I can already picture Allardyce in some Spanish park, furiously punting long-balls to his grandson as Barcelona’s academy team plays keep-away on an adjacent field. But perhaps today’s interview was all an elaborate ruse. Might Florentino Perez have secretly tapped Allardyce, who once memorably claimed he was “well-suited” for the Real Madrid job, to replace Carlo Ancelotti in the Bernabeu dugout? We’ll just have to wait and see.

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The Real Reason Arsenal Struggles in Europe

Arsenal’s 2-0 win at Monaco wasn’t enough to overcome a 3-1 defeat in the first leg. But arsenal monacoaccording to Arsene Wenger, Monaco didn’t deserve to go through, since the away-goals rule is an outdated relic of the 1960s. “Two Premier League teams have gone out on away goals and that should be questioned,” he said. Because if a rule hurts English teams, it must be a bad rule.

But here’s the thing: Arsenal’s recent Champions League struggles – five Round-of-16 eliminations in a row – have less to do with the away-goals rule than with the team’s inability to play consistently over the course of a two-legged tie. Arsenal has a long history of capitulating in the first leg, only to mount a courageous, but ultimately futile, comeback two weeks later. In 2012, Arsenal lost 4-0 to AC Milan at the San Siro, and then won the return game 3-0. A year later, having lost the first leg 3-1, Arsenal beat Bayern Munich 2-0 in Germany. Indeed, Wenger’s team has lost just one second-leg game since 2011.

“You can’t win a tie in the first leg, but you can lose it,” or so the old cliché goes. Arsenal routinely loses its Champions League knockout ties in the first leg. And Wenger, who’s paid to motivate his players and plan the team’s tactical approach, has no one to blame but himself.

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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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Richard C. Scudamore: Man of the Year

Premier League CEO Richard Scudamore calls the league’s gargantuan new TV deal “a scudamoresuccess story” that will ensure football continues to be one of Britain’s most popular cultural exports: “The Premier League, the BBC, the Queen – they are things that people feel are good about the UK,” Scudamore said.

But it remains maddeningly unclear whether the deal, which also promises to enrich club owners and attract foreign investment, will help resolve any of English football’s long-term structural problems: skyrocketing ticket prices, decrepit grassroots infrastructure, the embarrassing income gap between celebrity players and “nonessential” club employees.

For his part, Scudamore, who came under fire last year after the Sunday Mirror published sexist emails he’d sent to a lawyer friend, has made it pretty clear that he couldn’t care less about the plight of the working class. According to the Guardian, “Asked whether it made him uncomfortable to see clubs paying some players ‘half-a-million pounds a week’ while other members of staff earned below the living wage, Scudamore said: ‘No, it doesn’t make me uncomfortable.’”

What a guy.

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Today in Narcissistic Goal Celebrations

It was a good day for the noble art of the narcissistic goal celebration.totti selfie

First, in the Premier League, Southampton’s Dusan Tadic flexed his abdominals – I think the medical term is “the Balotelli muscles” – after scoring in a crucial game at Old Trafford.

Then Francesco Totti took a quick selfie in front of the Curva Sud to celebrate his equalizer against Lazio. “I thought about it during the week,” Totti told Sky Sports after the game. “There is this fashion for selfies now.”

There is this fashion for selfies now. I’m torn between admiration for Totti’s ballsiness and despair at his apparently sincere embrace of selfie culture. At least he kept his shirt on.

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Mourinho And The Media, Friends Forever

Jose Mourinho has always had a way with words. “It is unfair, really,” former Manchester mourinho presserUnited coach Sir Alex Ferguson, himself a skillful communicator, once said. “He’s good looking. He’s got that sort of George Clooney bit in his hair…. [And] he can speak five languages.” Mourinho – who started his career as an interpreter for English manager Bobby Robson and has coached teams in Portugal, Italy, Spain and England – actually knows six languages. “I think I am a special one,” he famously said at his first Premier League press conference.

The nickname has stuck, and so has Mourinho’s penchant for outrageous one-liners. But his press conferences are more than just an amusing weekly performance. Mourinho’s ability to manufacture headline-worthy sound bites, in whatever language he happens to be speaking at the time, has consistently allowed him to manipulate media coverage. In Mourinho, the English tabloids have found a perfect accomplice: A sly operator as adept at twisting words, and as unapologetic about his real intentions, as the grizzled cynics on Fleet Street.

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Gus Poyet Hates The Winter Schedule

On Saturday, Sunderland coach Gus Poyet sounded off about the crowded winter newcastle fansschedule. “Playing on [December] 28th is a disgrace,” Poyet said. “If you want to see the best players performing well, you need to make sure you are not playing every two days.”

Poyet has a pretty good point. All the other major European leagues shut down during the holidays. A saner Premier League schedule would prevent injuries, improve morale, and help the England team compete against better-rested rivals at the World Cup.

But the Christmas fixtures aren’t going away anytime soon. Premier League teams play through the end of December for the same reason Newcastle fans take off their shirts during snowstorms: It’s stupid but entertaining, and, crucially, it makes for good TV.

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