Tag Archives: football

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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It’s Like Watching Brazil!

The 1970 World Cup was almost a religious experience. The tournament has gone down in football history as the greatest, most exhilarating exhibition of attacking play ever, and anyone who dares to say otherwise, or so the argument goes, is either “too young to remember” or “too fickle to be taken seriously.” This was the stage on which Brazil’s legendary striker Pele redefined the game, playing football with more exuberance and creativity than anyone before or since. It was the moment when the cult of the Brazilian – football’s worship of anyone with decent ball skills and a life story that starts with kicking soda cans in a favela – took root.

When non-football fans think about football, they generally think about Brazil. That has a lot to do with Pele, arguably the best player of all-time, and – largely because he devoted the last three or four years of his career to self-promotion – a recognizable star. People still love him even though, in the years since 1977, when his playing career formally ended with his second retirement, he’s demonstrated just how banal a retired athlete with guaranteed lifetime fame and a cushy administrative position can be. His post-career achievements include winning FIFA’s Player of the Century gong amid controversy – it took official intervention to stop Diego Maradona from walking away with the title – and deflecting criminal charges after his company robbed UNICEF. Still, clips of his greatest goals are a must for any TV montage worth its salt, and the image of a shirtless Pele lifting the World Cup is one of football’s most iconic.

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The Beautiful Weirdness of the Community Shield

Every August, one week before Premier League kickoff, the previous season’s FA Cup winner faces off against the reigning league champion in the FA Community Shield. Manchester United has won the annual curtain-raiser 19 times, more often than any other team, but Sir Alex Ferguson, who engineered half of those triumphs, doesn’t consider it a legitimate trophy. (Then again, Fergie can afford to dismiss ten victories; he’s the game’s most decorated coach.) The Community Shield is probably the most ambiguous thing football has ever produced, and, in a sport that still hasn’t settled the handball rule, that’s saying something.

Originally, the Community Shield wasn’t the Community Shield at all; it was the Sheriff of London Charity Shield, and instead of pitting two money-grubbing big-time teams against each other in a sponsored-by-McDonald’s spectacle, it served as a 90-minute diplomatic necessity, fought between a team from the Amateur Football Association and one of its professional counterparts. Scottish whiskey distiller Baron Dewar, an early promotional expert who also founded the Theatrical Sports Five Miles Cycling Championship Shield, is credited with conceiving the event. The first-ever Sheriff of London Charity Shield match finished in a tie: at the end of regulation, Sheffield United (the professional representative) and Corinthians (the amateur representative) had each scored a single goal. With United unwilling to play extra time, the two teams elected to “share” the six-foot trophy. It was all a far cry from Mickey D’s.

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Fearsome Chelsea Prepare for the Future

Marko Marin is not an elfin warrior. The pint-sized, blond German international may look more like an extra from a Lord of the Rings movie than a professional footballer, but his flashy talents have nothing to do with Middle Earth. Indeed, from the point of view of Chelsea’s many rivals, Marin and his fellow new signings, Oscar and Eden Hazard, are a little too real; their arrival at Stamford Bridge marks the beginning of an aggressive new era.

Over the past three seasons, Manchester City’s owners have routinely outperformed Roman Abramovich in the indulgent-spending stakes. That gradual power shift culminated in City’s Premier League title success. Now Abramovich is biting back.

While City triumphed in England last season, Chelsea saved their champagne for the Champions League final. The Blues’ undeserved yet brilliantly cathartic penalty shoot-out win over Bayern Munich — in Bayern’s home stadium, no less — capped a turbulent season replete with managerial controversy and several dressing-room revolts. Many critics dismissed Chelsea’s triumph, however, claiming the team had won the tournament by “parking the bus” and playing “catenaccio” (By the way, this is one of my pet peeves. Catenaccio is not a synonym for “defensive.” It is a system built around a sweeper and man-marking, two tactical devices that are almost obsolete in modern football). Some even went as far as to blame Di Matteo’s Italian ancestry.

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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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The European Championships Mark A Football Crossroads

As those annoying Internet clocks countdown to opening day of the 2012 European Championships, we can’t seem to resist a slow, nostalgic stroll down memory lane. We indulge ourselves in Panenka penalties, Van Basten volleys and Schmeichel saves. We lament Southgate’s miss in 1996 and glory in the wonders of Turkey’s 2008 run.

The resonance of the European Championships is astounding. They have provided a canvas for some of the most entertaining international football of the last 20 years and, more recently, they have inaugurated massive tactical and stylistic changes. Short-termism is, perhaps, the defining characteristic of modern football. In the past, tactical trends lasted for decades. These days, they exist in four-year cycles. And, increasingly, those periods are bookended by the European Championships.

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Moment #5: Henry vs. Leeds

This one is by Sam Drew, editor of Chronicles of Almunia.

While there have been many excellent goals and excellent games during Arsenal’s 2011/12 season – which is surprising considering the nature of a lot of the team’s performances – one moment stands out among everything else that happened. And no, I’m not referring to any of Marton Fulop’s mix-ups. Although they were great. Cheers, Marton.

Thierry Henry re-signed for Arsenal amid a blur of publicity. He was already immortalized in bronze outside the Emirates Stadium, and there was talk of him ruining the legacy he created in North London. It seemed that half of football was in favour of the move, while the other half was against it.

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INFTH Book Review: Morbo

Morbo. In the passionate world of Spanish football, where pigs’ heads fly from the stands and clubs take on quasi-political roles in the lives of millions, it is an undefinable source of intrigue which keeps the masses coming back for more. In his book, Phil Ball admits early on to the impossibility of clear translation, but nevertheless places the force at the center of his arguments. It is morbo, he writes, that is the essence of Spain’s national pastime. Morbo; the self-perpetuating, ever evolving creature which forms the hub of rivalries across the peninsula.

This view of the game – through the vitriolic, morbo ridden inter club relationships that make up Spanish professional football – is a novel one indeed. It treats football not so much as a tool for higher political wrangling, but as a phenomenon deserving of appreciation in its own right.

An expert in his field, Ball is an authoritative guide, one that understands the context of his subject. While consumption takes an appetite for basic politics, a sense of fun continually pervades; the one that keeps fans interested in football and readers interested in reading.

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