Monthly Archives: June 2015

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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Why Does England Keep Losing?

England U-21 coach Gareth Southgate has more than a passing familiarity with the agony kane u21of tournament soccer: In 1996, Southgate’s shoot-out miss eliminated England from the first European Championship played on English soil. But at least Euro ’96, the last time England looked capable of winning an international competition, produced some genuinely inspirational moments. England lost in the semi-finals – but it lost heroically.

On Wednesday, Southgate led the U-21s – a motley assortment of established Premier League players (Harry Kane, Danny Ings) and up-and-coming prospects (Nathan Redmond, Ruben Loftus-Cheek) – to a profoundly unheroic tournament exit. England’s 3-1 loss to Italy, which sent the team tumbling out of the group stage of the U-21 European Championships, will be remembered as a particularly pathetic collapse in the history of a national program that has raised pathetic collapses to a gruesome art.

There are clear on-field explanations for England’s underwhelming performance. Injuries deprived the team of its calmest center back and its most creative attacker. Ings and Kane, who both played surprisingly well in last season’s Premier League, missed chances they usually convert. Against Italy, a group of highly paid professional athletes failed to mark opponents in the penalty area.

But England’s real problems have little to do with the shortcomings of this particular squad. The national team’s pattern of failure is rooted in the cultural and institutional weaknesses of English soccer.

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Go Easy on Neymar

One year ago today, Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez transformed an otherwise uneventful neymar headbuttround of World Cup play – two relatively boring games, one of which featured the already-eliminated English national team – into a global referendum on biting.

In the second half of Uruguay’s group-stage match against Italy, television cameras caught Suarez nibbling the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini, who later tweeted a picture of the bite marks. “These are just things that happen out on the pitch,” Suarez said after the game. “It was just the two of us inside the area, and he bumped into me with his shoulder.” (He has since grudgingly admitted that his collision with Chiellini led to the “physical result of a bite.”) The international sports media rushed to denounce Suarez. In the Daily Mail, a reliable source of sanctimonious soccer analysis, Ian Ladyman argued that Suarez “has a dangerous mind that can never be rewired.” Deadspin’s Billy Haisley dedicated nearly 2000 words to Suarez’s long history of “acting like a shithead.” FIFA banned Suarez for nine games, ruling him out of the 2015 Copa America, which kicked off earlier this month in Chile.

Memories of #bitegate came flooding back last week, after another high-profile indiscretion triggered yet more media outrage. On Thursday, Brazilian superstar Neymar was sent off for head-butting Colombia’s Jeison Murillo in the aftermath of his country’s 1-0 Copa America loss to Colombia. According to tournament officials, in the tunnel after the game, Neymar confronted the referee who had sent him off, fuming, “You want to make yourself famous at my expense, you son of a bitch?” The Mail mocked Neymar’s “red card shame.” Columnists lined up to denounce his “petulance” and “immaturity.” CONMEBOL, the South American soccer confederation, suspended Neymar for four games, which means he will miss the rest of the Copa America.

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Women’s Soccer Has A Hope Solo Problem

The United States Women’s National Team opened its 2015 World Cup campaign last week, with a deserved 3-1 victory over Australia. Megan Rapinoe, a creative midfielder whose silky dribbling is reminiscent of Andres Iniesta, scored twice, sending the team to first place in the so-called Group of Death. Rapinoe’s second goal, a run from the halfway line followed by a powerful left-footed finish, remains one of the best of the tournament so far.

But Rapinoe’s impressive performance went virtually unnoticed in the media’s post-game coverage. The United States’ first two World Cup matches have been overshadowed by a controversy involving the team’s goalkeeper, Hope Solo. Earlier this month, ESPN’s Outside the Lines published a lengthy article recounting Solo’s behavior on the night of June 20, 2014, when she allegedly assaulted her half-sister’s 17-year-old son. (In January, a judge dismissed a two-count domestic assault charge against Solo on procedural grounds.) The story also details US Soccer’s half-hearted investigation of the incident: The federation, which has not punished Solo, neither requested police records nor contacted Solo’s nephew.

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Blatter’s Out. Now What?

We don’t know precisely why Sepp Blatter, who sealed reelection last week in typically blatter resignationdefiant fashion, chose today to resign as FIFA president. Was it the New York Times’ report on the involvement of Jerome Valcke, Blatter’s second in command, in a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme? Or the growing possibility that the US Justice Department will include the under-fire Swiss in its next round of indictments? Or was Blatter merely concerned that his troubles would distract fans from all the hot players in “feminine clothes” at the upcoming Women’s World Cup?

Whatever the reason, Blatter’s resignation is great news for soccer fans. But don’t get too excited. The front-runners for his soon-to-be-vacant position include the ringleader of the Qatar 2022 caucus and a member of the Jordanian royal family.

UEFA president Michel Platini, the oddsmakers’ favorite to succeed Blatter, called for FIFA to enact sweeping reforms just hours after the DoJ announced its corruption charges. This from a guy who lobbied hard to bring the World Cup to Qatar – where stadium construction has already cost hundreds of lives – possibly in return for a series of political favors.

The other leading candidate, Prince Ali Bin al-Hussein, lost to Blatter in last week’s election, despite promising to crack down on corruption. But, as Guardian writer Marina Hyde tweeted last Friday, “If he likes elections so much maybe they can have one in Jordan?”

There’s still hope that sanity will prevail. David Gill, the former chief executive of Manchester United, and Michael van Praag, the experienced head of the Dutch Football Association, are both competent administrators unblemished by accusations of corruption. Even Luis Figo has a few smart ideas.

But frankly, I wouldn’t vote for any of them. Soccer journalists have been writing about Blatter’s corrupt regime for almost two decades. So I’d like to take this opportunity to formally endorse Grant Wahl for FIFA president.

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