Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Link of the Day

Just a quick link today (real life sometimes gets in the way of blogging) but a good link: here is Phil Ball's latest column on La Liga, Death, Dying, and Relegation. I think Ball might be the best writer on football right now easily availiabe to American readers (he has a weekly column on and I will keep pitching his great stuff until I am convinced that everyone is reading him regardless.

His latest peice can be found here:

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Tale of Two Transfers

This morning, as has been expected over the past few days, it was announced that Ronaldo has been transferred from Real Madrid to AC Milan. While one can question if this transfer will have great effect (Big Ronnie hasn’t played much lately) there is no doubt that Ronaldo will be the biggest name to transfer this month.

Personally, I am on record as saying I like Ronaldo, and I hope he does well. The sport as a whole is more fun when larger-than-life superstars like him are doing well and scoring goals. Hopefully this move will shine a little much-deserved light on Series A and perhaps give Milan the nudge they need to start winning a few more games.

All that being said, I am a little surprised at how things played out for Real Madrid this transfer season. If you had asked me a few months ago what would have happened to Real’s last few Galacticos, I probably would have said that at least one of them would be gone. But I would not have predicted where.

I honestly believed that David Beckham would have stayed in Europe. Believe what you will about Beckham, but he has always been a fierce competitor, and at 31 I thought he was too young to give it all up to come to America. I thought there was a decent chance Beckham would re-sign with Real (and they eventually did offer him everything in the world except playing time) and if not I believed he would sign in Italy; perhaps with one of the Milan clubs or Juve. Instead, Beckham signed with the LA Galaxy. He said it was to open up the sport of soccer to the big time here in America. Others believed he was seduced by the fame and relatively stress-free lifestyle the MLS would promise. I guess time will tell.

On the other hand, if you remember, there were a number of credible rumors that the New York Red Bulls, the Big Apple’s MLS franchise, was going to make a play for Ronaldo. That, to me, made sense. Ronaldo had the reputation as a fun-loving party guy who had become too fat for football but not too big for the ladies. He still loved soccer, but he could play it on the weekends in front of undemanding fans and have fun the rest of the time. On top of all that, it was a much shorter flight to Rio!

But Ronaldo proved me wrong. Aside from the fact that New York probably couldn’t match Milan’s fee, it was obvious that Ronaldo still had something to prove at a big club; for better or worse he still sees himself as a top player, and that is something that is to be admired. While Beckham has taken what could be argued is the easier path, Ronaldo has chosen to test himself again against the world’s best. We will see how it goes in the long run, but I will find myself again rooting for Big Ron.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Chelsea Nonsense and Zidane News that Makes No Sense

Even when Chelsea wins, as they did this past weekend as they destroyed Nottingham Forrest, one cannot shake the feeling that the club is, at heart, nothing more than the incredibly apt description once voiced by the magazine When Saturday Comes: “A financial basket-case club run like a third-world diamond republic by a mysterious and shadowy foreign billionaire.” While that sounds neat, I do believe I will stick with Sheffield United.

Here are just a few of the fun things that have emerged from Chelsea over the past week or so:

· World-class striker Didier Drogba publicly calls out his fellow forward Andriy Shevchenco, suggesting to the media that Sheva doesn’t pass enough. Apparently Drogba didn’t finish his sentence, as he meant to say that Sheva didn’t pass TO HIM enough. But whatever.

· Drogba also took time out of his busy schedule to reportedly criticize Michael Ballack (who makes $250,000 per week for playing the same position as teammate Frank Lampard. At least Ballack does it with less whining and without writing dreadful books.) Anyway, Drogba later denied those criticisms.

· Speaking of Ballack, last week German legend Franz Beckenbauer said Ballack made a mistake by signing with Chelsea. I’m sure Ballack can think of millions of reasons why Beckenbauer is wrong, and Ballack basically said he didn’t need to be a surf to Bayern Munich the rest of his life, which is a pretty good point. Still, I’m sure no German soccer player wants to get on Beckenbauer’s bad side. That would be like a Brazilian footballer being criticized by Pele; like an Argentine being criticized by Maradona; like an American being called to the carpet by…Alexi Lalas? Kobi Jones? Mia Hamm? Maybe Rodney Dangerfield from that Ladybugs movie?

· Finally, the circus around Coach Jose Mourinho continues to be just exhausting. Regardless of what everyone is saying, I don’t think at this point that anyone really knows whether the special one is leaving or not. I think Jose is a lot of fun, but frankly, I think he’s nuts to stay. He needs to pretty much win everything every year, or he will be hammered in the press. With an unlimited payroll and any players you may wish for, you have no excuse but to win. Still, he seems to like being at the center of it all; and lets face it, Chelsea is never dull. Or, at least, hasn’t been since the mysterious and shadowy foreign billionaire took over.

One other interesting bit of news came out this weekend; apparently the Chicago Fire made an attempt to sign the recently retired Zinedine Zidane.

Now obviously I really like the Footballfan-atic poster boy. He’s one of my favorites. But it’s kind of hard to imagine the great man plying his trade in…Chicago. The city of broad shoulders. The city where women induce early births so there husbands can go to the Bears game. Would Zidane have been bigger than Jordan? Bigger than Ernie Banks? Bigger than Bill Murray? Perhaps; and it is certainly fun to imagine Zidane warbling through a rendition of the “Star Spangled Banner” at Wrigley before catching a late dinner with Mike Ditka and Ben Wallace at the Chicago Steak and Chop house. However, I do believe Zinedine is enjoying his happy retirement in France with his family, and that is probably where he should stay. He can leave America to be conquered by the Beckhams.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Weekend Matches: January 26-27

While nothing could top last week’s slate of great games, there are some interesting match-ups this weekend, including one potentially great game in Italy (the Milan game) and a few interesting things in Spain. England is having a “cup weekend” so this is also a chance to see some of the big boys play some teams that normally do not get any television time at all here in the states. It also looks as if the always-intense John Terry might come back this weekend for Chelsea, so we will see if he cripples some poor Nottingham striker due to his pent-up rage.


Tottenham vs Southend Utd. 10:00am FSC

Atl. Madrid vs Racing 2:00pm GolTv

Villareal vs Real Madrid 4:00pm GolTv

Boca Juniors vs Racing 8:00pm FSC


Milan vs Parma 9:00am GolTv

Levante vs Sevilla 11:00am GolTv

Barcelona vs Celta 1:00pm GolTv

Chelsea vs Nottingham Forrest 5:00pm FSC

Sampdoria vs Inter 5:00pm GolTv

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Transfer News

Just a couple of quick thoughts about the transfer market today…

  • It seems that it’s becoming a certainty that Ronaldo will be transferred to AC Milan in the next day or so. Good for big Ronnie, who as I’ve said before deserves to be on a big stage, and good for Milan for not overpaying. The numbers being reported right now are still sketchy, but it looks as if Milan will pay about 8 million dollars for the transfer, a number that is staggeringly smaller than the 28 million they offered for the player this past fall. One could argue that the new price is a testament to Milan’s negotiating savvy, but it must also be acknowledged that Madrid has acted like armatures the entire time. It seems, in retrospect, that Capello never wanted Ronaldo as a player, which is fine. But to turn down a 30 million dollar offer, only to put the player on the bench and see his value decline dramatically, is absurd and reeks of inexperience. Madrid President Calderon’s insistence on getting midfielder Kaká in the original deal was not only stupid (since it was never going to happen) but also very hurtful to his own club in the long run. In a just world he would probably fire himself form his job; somehow I don’t think that’s going to happen.

  • Another piece of transfer news that I found surprising was Ashley Young’s ₤8 million sale from Watford to Aston Villa, a number that could rise up to £10 million with incentives. Young, who was a backup at Watford, and who is definitely a “prospect,” hopes to have a steady starting job under Martin O’Neil. The outrageous sum Villa paid, in my mind, is related to the effect that Andriy Shevchenko has had on English football. Shevchenko, who last year at this time was still considered one of the best strikers in the world, has been a qualified failure at Chelsea, in spite of his two goals in a cup match the other night. This seems to have crystallized the fear in many English manager that foreigners simply cannot adapt to the ‘English’ game, or at least not adapt fast enough for the manager not to get fired. Thus they are over-paying for home-grown English talent, even when that talent is of the very mediocre variety. I suspect that this will not help the English game in the long run, and will eventually reward those still willing to take a gamble on a player born outside the merry realm.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Book Review: Ronaldo: Journey of a Genius by James Mosley

One of the things I wanted to do when I started this website was to review books about soccer. I decided that I would only set one rule for myself as I wrote them: I would only write reviews of books that are easily acquired here in America. As you can imagine, countries like England, Italy and elsewhere have an enormous range of books on football for sale. Here in America that selection is much more limited. Yes, of course, books can be ordered from overseas, and it is especially easy with services like But these overseas books can be prohibitively expensive and also be hard to find. Thus I will only review books that can be had easily here in the states, which means that the book can be bought from your average Barnes and Noble or Borders or ordered through a company like our domestic With that caveat, away we go. I will publish these reviews periodically, when I have the time to write a fuller blog entry than usual.

Ronaldo: The Journey of a Genius is the only English-language biography available here in the states of the great Brazilian and Real Madrid striker Ronaldo. It covers his life from birth to last year’s season with Real; it was published before the ’06 World Cup and this current season that Ronaldo is “enjoying” with his Madrid employers.

Ronaldo is the first book ever written by James Mosley, and, for the most part, it reads like it. Mosley is virtually star-struck as he writes about his idol, and works hard to explain away every miscue and bad decision made by his Brazilian hero. For instance, Ronaldo demonstrates a pattern throughout his career of constantly leaving his current team whenever there was a chance he could make more money elsewhere. This was true at Barcelona and Inter, even though both teams paid him very handsomely and also paid world-record fees for him. It would be easy to characterize Ronaldo as a sleazy money-grubber with no discernable loyalty, but Mosley simply describes him as “savvy.” Each time Ronaldo does some stupid, like publicly insults the employers who are paying him massive wages, Mosley explains it away by citing Ronaldo’s “frank and open personality.” The author even goes so far as to explain away Ronaldo’s propensity for weight gain by essentially explaining that he is “big boned.” Geez, he sounds like my mother.

When Mosley excoriates the Madrid fans for having the gall to boo Ronaldo during one of his down patches, the reader is quite certain he is not reading a balanced account of the striker’s life.

So this book is by no means a shining example of the biographer’s art. However, it does have some value. Because of the lack of good football books here in America, it is one of the few places where readers can get information about things like Brazilian soccer and the sleazy underside of world football, the transfer business. Although in this book Ronaldo always comes out smelling like a rose, the author leaves no doubt that the transfer business is bad for poor countries, good for rich ones, and in general leaves everyone involved covered in a certain stench.

The book also has its charms: although the author’s nativity is shocking as he explains away every Ronaldo action, Mosley’s admiration of his hero is more appealing than much of the negativity and cynicism that accompanies many modern sports biographies. If I am not convinced by Mosley’s book that Ronaldo is a saint, I don’t particularly believe he is a great sinner either. Ronaldo is in fact, to no reasonable man’s surprise, somewhere in the middle: a remarkably great footballer (perhaps one of the ten best who ever played) who was often driven by money and fame as guiding principles. Ronaldo was certainly a genius on the field, less so off it, but overall a decent man who enjoyed life and the pleasures that came with his fame and fortune. For fans of Ronaldo, and I count myself among them, we shall wait with anticipation to see what fate next brings to the big Brazilian.

As for the book, it is, as I said, not a very strong example of the power of good biography, but it is also not without its charms, and draws its greatest strength from the fact that here in the United States, there are just not many other competitors to give it any trouble.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

U.S. Youth Movement and Some Fanciful Predictions

Sports Illustrated writer Greg Lalas (Alexi’s brother) has an article on the recent U.S. men’s national team win in a friendly over Denmark, which can be found here:

Greg makes the point that the U.S. has a number of up-and-coming young players who will now have the benefit of a solid pro league in which to develop; this, he believes, will lead to success in the World Cups of ’10 and ‘14.

Good article, Greg. You had me up to there. Bu the U.S. team hasn’t showed any indication of progressing on the national stage. The 2002 World Cup is looking more and more like a fluke, as the team was woefully under-powered in Germany this summer. That generation of players (including Landon Donavan and Brian McBride) were as golden to our country as England’s were to theirs; both, however, met with failure, and it is probably over-optimistic to think that anything will change with the passage of a few more years.

With all that said, still a good read, especially as a means of keeping an eye on good young American talent, some of which will be on display in the MLS this summer.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Blast from the Past

Yesterday there was a great slate of games on television. Nearly every match I watched was exciting and fast paced and held my rapt attention until the final whistle. Don’t worry, Real Madrid. I’m not talking about you.

One of the most interesting games I watched yesterday, however, was one that was played more than five years ago: last night Fox Soccer Channel aired the famous 2001 match between England and Greece that led to England finally qualifying for the World Cup Finals in Asia. It was an exciting game best remembered for David Beckham’s perfectly placed free-kick, but for me there were two other things that really stood out for me.

1). The first was how much better the game flowed than what I am usually watching on television today. At first, I could not fathom why, but eventually I did figure it out. There was no diving! Or, almost none. But for the most part, when someone was knocked down, they simply got up and kept playing. It was almost as if everyone was playing as genuine sportsmen.

Contrast that with the sport today: everyone knows that the 2006 World Cup would be best known for its diving if not for my friend Zinedine’s head-butt. But this diving is starting to seep into league play, and it seems as if it is worst in Spain. Yesterday Real Madrid’s match with Mallorca was a virtual festival to the art of diving; even the announcers on GolTV don’t seem to care anymore. A fistfight almost broke out between the two teams when Real’s Rudd van Nistleroy didn’t kick the ball out of bounds on a breakaway when a Mallorca player went down. Rudd claimed he didn’t see the player fall, but what wasn’t acknowledged was that, of course, the player in question had dived anyway. It makes the football brutal to watch, and makes the game itself much less beautiful.

2). Watching this game from 2001 also hit me when I realized how long this core of guys from England were playing together. Beckham, Gerrard, Neville, Ferdinand, etc., were all there in 2001 just as they were there in 2006 in Germany; presumably some of them will still be missing penalties in Europe 2008 and beyond. Watching them play together when they were so much younger alternatively amazed me and also made me a little sad that this group of guys could never get the job done.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

More Bad News for Italian Teams not wearing Blue and Black

In December of last year (the latest issue available here in the states) the English language magazine of Italian soccer, Calcio Italia, ran a feature story on Inter Milan striker Adriano. In the story, they basically said that Adriano was a fat, lazy slob who didn’t care about his team and needed to go away.

Since then, Adriano has scored four goals in his last four games, and has made Inter look stronger than ever. They now have at least three, if not four, dangerous strikers and a formidable midfield and defense to boot. Today they destroyed my team, Fiorentina, who might very well be the second or third-best team in Italy. (Fiorentina would be right in the thick of a Champion’s spot if not for their points deduction, and might very well get one anyway.) But they were soundly beaten. Adriano’s mini-comeback suggests the race is all but over for the scudetto. Now we are left to see how Inter will do in Europe.

In England, it seems as if we still do have a race on our hands, since Arsenal was able to hold off Manchester United by scoring two in the final fifteen minutes. It was a genuinely exciting game, capped by Henry’s header in the 93 minute, following the play-by-play announcers rant earlier in the game that Henry was no good in the air. Anyway, Manchester remains six points up, meaning there is still reason to watch the Premiership. Good for Arsenal and good for us.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Exciting Premiership Action!

Liverpool’s exciting 2-0 victory this morning over Chelsea suggests that maybe, just maybe, the Premiership might be worth watching all the way to the end of the season. Today’s victory reminded me of why so many people like Liverpool so much (they have an attacking style and appealing group of players) and also why many detest Chelsea (some of their “stars” barely looked interested in the proceedings). Still, we shouldn’t over exaggerate the importance of today’s fun. If Manchester wins tomorrow, they will go nine points up on the rest of the league, a tough road even for a very good club to climb. And if they do lose to a good Arsenal squad tomorrow, they’re still up six points.

I think that all most neutral football fans want is to have the race close going in to the last few weeks, just to have something interesting to watch. It seems as if that probably will be the case, as Manchester is not very deep (we will see if they get Owen Hargreaves from Munich) and with an injury or two they could surely drop a game or two back. Hopefully, things will stay close to the end.

However, in the long run, it still looks like business as usual in the premiership; the “big four” (ManU, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool) are in the top four spots and are unlikely to be displaced. Portsmouth, Bolton, and Reading (a great story) are all having fine seasons, but it seems unlikely they will get one of the Champion’s League spots. It should be fun to watch the last few weeks come this spring, to see whether Chelsea or Manchester United is crowned champion, but we really already know the outcome: the “big clubs” have already won.

One other thing is certain, also. My English club, Sheffield United, is only going to a Champion’s League match if they buy a ticket. After getting shellacked again today, the only worries they have are about relegation.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Weekend Matches: January 20-21

There is an absolutely dynamite slate of matches on tap for this weekend. I may not leave the house from Saturday morning until midnight Sunday. Great games in England, Italy, Spain, Argentina, and even a re-run of a classic game on Sunday night. If you have a DVR, now is the time to use it; if you can't find something to watch this weekend, well, you just don't like football.

I was going to highlight the best games of the weekend, as I sometimes do, but not this time. They're all good. I'm definitly going to watch Manchester United, Fiorentina, and Boca Juniors, but I'm probably going to watch the others as well.


Liverpool vs Chelsea 7:30am Setanta USA

Newcastle vs West Ham 10:00am FSC

Atl. Madrid vs Osasuna 2:00pm GolTv

Villarreal vs Sevilla 4:00pm GolTv

Boca Juniors vs River Plate 8:00pm FSC


Inter vs Fiorentina 9:00am GolTv

Arsenal vs Manchester United 11:00am FSC

Lazio vs Milan 2:30pm FSC

Mallorca vs Real Madrid 3:00pm GolTv

England vs Greece (2001) 11:00pm FSC

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Series A.....ggravating

I’m a big fan of Italian Series A football. I really am. I love the passion of the fans and the knowledge and dedication of everyone you meet in Italy for their favorite clubs. I am personally a huge fan of Fiorentina and I also like Siena very much. Luca Toni, the great Fiorentina striker, is one of my favorite players in the world, and I also always go out of my way to watch Yoann Gourcuff, who is quickly becoming one of favorites.

I also don’t have much patience for the standard complaints about Series A. The people who call it “boring” or “defensive” or “too low scoring” typically are revealing nothing more than the fact that they don’t watch Italian football and don’t know what they are talking about. This season Series A continues to be one of the highest-scoring leagues in the world, and the passing and attacking football couldn’t be any more attractive.

However, Italian football has to get its act together, or soon it will lose even its most dedicated followers. This week the President of Inter and the Vice-president of Milan were called into questioning for cooking the books; remarkably, this comes on the heels of the most damaging football corruption case in the history of the sport, which happened just this summer. It’s as if no one learned anything.

Here in the United States, our sports scandals typically involve steroids or something. There is no doubt that steroids are bad news, but in Italy, over the past year, we’ve seen clear and convincing evidence that certain favored teams were essentially bribing refs to have games decided in their favor. This, of course, shakes the sport to the very core and rightfully leads fans to ask why they should pay for a product if the game is going to be decided in advance. In the US, if such a sports scandal happened, it would surely be the biggest and most talked-about sports problem in the history of the country. In Italy, it seems as if it was nothing more than business as usual.

The punishments handed out in this summer’s scandal were scandals in themselves; it’s the one area where I have trouble defending Italian football. The fact that everyone got off so lightly almost ensures that people will do it again. If the Italian authorities have any sense at all, they will throw the book at Inter and Milan if they are guilty of cooking the books. Otherwise, people like me might just start agreeing with our friends that there is just something wrong with Italian football.

One other quick note today: Real was bounced, a little while ago, from the Kings Cup. Good job, everyone. Perhaps if the team president wasn’t publicly embarrassing the players, followed by the president immediately apologizing to the players, following the team coach giving rude and obscene gestures to the home fans, the team would be a little more stable. At least as a Real fan I can take with me that Robinho and Gago played well. Still, the team was terrible today in dead-ball situations. It’s too bad the team doesn’t have anyone who is good at the dead ball. You know, someone who is world-renowned for scoring from free kicks. Like maybe even someone who was sitting in the stands watching the game? Ah, well.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

MLS and Ronaldo

Two quick things for today. First, the news is now heating up that another star is leaving Real Madrid, only this time it is the enigmatic but truly great striker Ronaldo. As the rumors now stand, Ronaldo will go to AC Milan. Madrid Coach Fabio Capello has announced that Ronaldo will not play for the remainder of the season, and thus Milan has wisely said they will take the striker off their hands, but only at no cost. This, of course, is a bold move, as reports have circulated that Milan actually offered more than $28 million dollars for Ronaldo just last August. (Real rejected the deal because they also wanted Kaka; yes, it was a nutty request.) It would be astounding if Milan now was able to get Ronaldo for free after offering so much money just a short time ago.

There are also persistent (but probably just hopeful) rumors that Ronaldo is going to go to the New York Red Bulls. I don’t really think the Red Bulls would pay a large transfer fee either, and reports are that Ronaldo wants to go to Milan because he still thinks he has something left in the tank. While I would love to see big Ronnie in New York, it just seems like a player of that stature should be playing his football at a big club like Milan.

On the never-ending Beckham front, Grant Wahl of Sports Illustrated has a great article on the anatomy of the Beckham deal, demonstrating how it was actually a years-long process. The article can be found here:

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The MLS in a Nutshell

Yesterday was a big day for me; I purchased season tickets to a professional sports team for the first time in my life. The tickets were for my home-town MLS team, the New England Revolution. The very act of buying the tickets was almost an epitome of everything, good and bad, about being a fan of an MLS team in America.

I have a good friend who enjoys football as I do, and together we decided to get season tickets last year. We were going about our business quite leisurely when the Beckham signing was announced, and thus we decided to get our tickets last week.

I first called the Revolution’s home stadium on Saturday, but I discovered that the team did not open the box office on weekends. Curious, I thought, but in many ways the MLS is a mom-and-pop league, so I decided to wait until the following Monday, since I was home from work because of the MLK holiday.

It turns out the box office would have been closed Monday, as well, because of the holiday, but when I called a New England Revolution representative told me I could come to the stadium, since the co-tenants of the stadium, the New England Patriots, had won a playoff game the night before lots of people would be around.

So my buddy and I went to Foxboro Stadium, co-home of the Revs and Pats. It was actually pretty fun to be there since the (American) football team had one such a big game the night before. First we went to the box office, which in spite of what the person on the phone had told me, was completely closed. We then proceeded to the “clubhouse shop” where there were lots of people buying Patriots gear. We were sad to see there was virtually no Revs stuff for sale at the gift shop of their own stadium, but it was American football season. We ended up talking to a manager in the gift shop, and she directed us to a doorbell we could ring that would get the attention of the one person working in the ticket office. We trudged back to the ticket both and caught the attention of a young man who indeed was an employee. He seemed almost startled by our request to purchase season tickets and had no idea how to conduct such a transaction. Finally he told us to get in out car and drive around the huge stadium to the administrative offices, and that someone should be able to help us there.

So we drove around the big, 60,000+ seat stadium and walked into the administrative offices, surrounded by memorabilia and trophies from the highly successful recent run of Patriots teams. After hanging out in the plush offices for a few minutes a nice man who worked for the Revs came out and signed us up for two good seats right above the corner-kick spot.

So how does this little trip epitomize the MLS? Well, the MLS is just a small operation run by pretty nice people. Sometimes it gets swallowed up by its bigger American sports cousins, and sometimes things run in the MLS as if it were designed by Don Knotts circa The Andy Griffith Show. Still, eventually the basic goodness of the people working in the MLS outshines the sometimes lax manner in which things are run (and really, it probably should be easier to buy season tickets) so now I feel like a valued member of the New England Revolution family.

And I am looking forward to the season.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Great Read

A typically excellent article by the ESPN correspondent Phil Ball, who has been a long-time follower and writer of the goings-on at Real Madrid, can be found here:

Mr. Ball really is a great writer. If you are not familiar with him, I highly suggest you check out his weekly dispatches from La Liga and also any of his very fine books on Spain.

Changes in the MLS

The biggest question right now asked by fans of American Football and the MLS is what the Beckham signing is going to mean for the rest of the league. Essentially, there are two contrasting viewpoints.

The first, and the most optimistic, is that the Beckham signing will lead to a groundswell of support and publicity for the MLS which will lead, in a decade’s time, to the league becoming far more successful. In this theory more Americans will watch the game, more foreigners will pay attention to it, more stars will sign with American clubs, and eventually the MLS will come to be seen as more equal with the great European and South American leagues. American fans, in turn, will embrace the league more and more as it gets bigger and better, and the system will be re-fed each year by an army of Beckham-inspired youth.

The second view is, of course, unduly pessimistic. It states that this folly is little more than a rerun of the Pele experiment of the 1970s, where an insignificant league signed a big star, which filled stadiums for a few years, but once he left the league essentially went bankrupt. They point out that Beckham has signed an ENOURMOUS contract, and that his deteriorating play suggests he will do little to actually improve the league.

For now, at least, I am going to take the middle ground. I think, for one, that the MLS has done a good job over the last ten years in building a solid infrastructure to a good, second tier-type football league. I don’t see it going away anytime soon. As Sports Illustrated’s Grant Whal points out time and time again, the next step for the MLS needs to be to build a credible minor-league and academy system, something they are in the process of and something Beckhammania should not distract them from.

It also seems unlikely that Beckham will bankrupt the league. His personal popularity and advertising appeal and savvy suggest that he will always make money for his employers (much of that huge contract is actually endorsements) and he certainly will, at least in the short term, provide a nice financial bump for the league. If the league is going to face financial problems in the future, it will not be because of Beckham, but because of the signings that follow him.

Let’s say that the Beckham signing works wonders for the next year or two and clubs make money and use the “Beckham rule” to sign more players from Europe. Will they go after players like Ronaldo and Figo, both of whom were admittedly great in the day (I really like them both, actually) but are clearly in decline much more pronounced that Beckham, or will they go for younger players who are better but less famous? More importantly, what will they do when the next Clint Dempsey comes along? Will they sell him to Europe, or will they be able to keep him in the states? And, more importantly, will they be able to create a league strong enough that young players like Dempsey WANT to stay? That is what is going to make the next few years of the MLS so interesting, and that’s why I’m so excited to be watching it.

Friday, January 12, 2007

This Weekend’s Suggested Games

We’re back to full strength this weekend as the EPL and Italy get started once again. All of the games listed below will feature players NOT named David Beckham, which is probably a refreshing change for football fans in the U.S. who have seen his famous mug nonstop for 48 hours. A few of the highlights this weekend include Espanyol v. Barça, River Plate v. Racing and the Torino v. Inter match, as we see if the boys from Milan can keep the steak going. My favorite game of the weekend will be Sienna, since I pull for that club (I’ve been to the beautiful city of Sienna and loved it), but I don’t think they will play the most talked-about match of the weekend.

Saturday (All Times are EST)

Chelsea vs Wigan, 10:00am FSC

Man Utd vs Aston Villa, 10:00am Setanta USA

Blackburn vs Arsenal 12:00pm FSC, FSE

Valencia vs Levante, 2:00pm GolTv

Espanyol vs Barcelona 4:00pm GolTv

River Plate vs Racing, 8:00pm FSC


Milan vs Reggina, 9:00am GolTv

Torino vs Inter, 9:00am FSC

Sevilla vs Mallorca, 11:00am GolTv

Tottenham vs Newcastle, 11:00am FSC

Celta vs Atl. Madrid 1:00pm GolTv

Lazio vs Siena 2:30pm FSC

Thursday, January 11, 2007

David Beckham coming to LA

In Madrid today, Real drew nil-nil with Real Betis in a dismal match in the Copa del Rey. Although Gago played better (a hopeful sign) there has been no obvious evidence that the biggest club in the word will be improving anytime soon. Things continue to look grim.

All of this is, of course, hardly news at all, as it has been dwarfed by other news from Madrid: that David Beckham has signed with the LA Galaxy. Since this website is dedicated to the American football fan, it is obvious this seismic turn of events deserves comment.

So what happened? Why did Beckham, the most famous football player in the world, sign with an MLS team? First and most obviously there is the money. Most media outlets are reporting that Beckham will be paid $250 million dollars over the next five year; it seems that is true, but it is not pure salary from the team. That money will include endorsement deals and other such sidelines. Still, that’s a lot of clams.

Beckham also is telling everyone that the decision was about building the sport of football here in the states. He correctly notes that soccer is the most often played sport by children here in the US, but by the time those kids have grown up, it is well behind the traditional American sports in popularity. Beckham will certainly give a boost to the MLS and to the game of soccer here in the states in general.

Aside from this, Beckham will have a number of other positives: he will become the face of both his franchise and league, and will have a guaranteed starting spot, something he did not have at Madrid. He will have many, many more commercial options available to make even more money. Presumably, as most cynics have noted, both he and his wife Victoria will love being in the constant spotlight and hanging around Hollywood low-lifes like Tom Cruise.

So why am I a little surprised by all of this? A few days ago, in an earlier column, I was still convinced there was a good chance Beckham would stay at my favorite club. Why?

Because as much as Beckham is a media whore, he is also a good guy and good footballer in every sense of the word. At one time, basically his last three years of so with Manchester and his first year or two with Real, Beckham was one of the best players in the world. He was also, as he is now, the most famous football player in the world. But through all of that he remained a good guy to have in the clubhouse, a guy who always trained hard and a guy who always cared out on the pitch. There are stories (see December’s FourFourTwo cover story on Madrid, for instance) that a lot of Madrid’s galacticos really didn’t train hard and didn’t care much what happened to the team. These were big names, genuine stars of the game. Beckham was never like that. He always played hard and always cared. He seemed to relish being part of massive clubs like Manchester and Madrid.

In a recent interview Beckham said that one of the things he least liked about Madrid was the lack of a team feeling; after training or a game, all the players would go their separate ways. Deep down, although Beckham always played hard for Madrid, I think he missed what it meant to play in England for a club like Manchester. Part of me seriously thought he would go back there, to another club, to catch again that feeling of being a star of English football. But I was wrong.

Obviously one of the most important factors in all of this was the fact that Beckham was not getting playing time for Madrid. Perhaps he was told flatly that this would not change in the future; I don’t know. One thing seems certain, however: if there was only a slim chance that he would ever play for England again after being dropped from the team this summer, slim just left town.

So what does this mean for American fans? Only good things, I believe. More publicity for the league; more big names from Europe coming over to play here; perhaps even a “big game” feeling when the Galaxy come to town. The MLS will be more visible on TV and in other medias. We’ll even get to see the most famous player in the world face our local sides once a year. It should be fun, although it will also probably be a little strange. I think Beckham belongs at a massive club; let’s see if he can turn the LA Galaxy into just that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Mid-Week Games

I will make every endeavor to NOT turn this blog into a simple review of La Liga, as I do have footballing interests outside of Spain. However, there are two good mid-week games in Spain for the Kings Cup, including Barça today at three and Real tomorrow at five. Both games are on GolTV, and times are EST.

More craziness about David Beckham can be found here, at cnnsi:

For a long while I thought he would eventually sign, as it seems to be the move that makes the most sense for everyone involved. Now, things look quite different.

One final note is that it looks as if, as expected, Clint Dempsey will get his work permit to play in England. If this is sad news for fans of the New England Revolution, it is probably better news for fans of American Football. I hope he does well.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

What to Read and a Friendly Little Threat to David Beckham

Continuing in my goal of helping Americans better appreciate and enjoy the most beautiful game, I thought this week I would write about some of the magazines and periodicals that are fairly easily acquired in the United States that cover the sport of football. This is, obviously, not an exhaustive list of football magazines; it is simply a summary of magazines that are easily available here in the states. Most of the items listed below can be found in major American bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders. Some, however, are more easily found than others, and all tend to be available much later here in the States than they are in England or wherever they were originally created. So generally you tend to read fairly old news.

One final note, although this is obvious: you can subscribe to these magazines, and pretty much any other magazine you want here in the States, but subscriptions from Europe can be expensive, as is buying the magazines one at a time. Sometimes it might make more sense to pick and choose than to subscribe.


For my money the best football magazine in the business. Covers the game on a world-wide scale, (with an admitted focus on England and Europe) with the best writers and the best photography. Some of their features (like the monthly feature story “More than a Game”) are consistently excellent. Always has strong interviews with players and personalities from the game. If I could only get one football magazine, FourFourTwo would be it. It’s in most major bookstores in the US, but very expensive. It’s also worth it.

World Soccer

Probably the best magazine in America that truly covers the world game. Plenty of good info here that is sparsely covered in other magazines, including coverage of leagues in Asia, Africa and South America. Excellent coverage as well of national tournaments like the World Cup. It’s a less expensive magazine and readily available here in the states.


For the follower of the English Premier League. Glossy, “Tiger Beat”-esqe magazine that’s low on real content but high on pretty pictures and fluff interviews with English stars. On one hand, Shoot gets interviews with anyone they want; on the other, it is because they ask questions like “What music are you listening to right now?” and “What brand cell phone do you use?” If you truly want to know if Steven Gerrard is as good as his reputation, or perhaps a little overrated, this is not the magazine for you. However, if you want to know which female television celebrities Steven Gerrard thinks are cute, than this is your magazine. Inexpensive and easily accessible in the states.

When Saturday Comes

Oftentimes great magazine that mostly covers the English game. Very strong writing, and the magazine as a whole has a very strong and unified voice. Often focuses on lower leagues and teams, providing information that we otherwise couldn’t get here in the states. The magazine’s anti-capitalist, anti-commercialization stance is often appreciated, at least by me, but sometimes gets frustrating. English soccer is not going back to 1860, to the days of amateur players and no advertising. Sometimes I wish they could just let it go and focus on what they do really well, which is writing about the game. Inexpensive and often tough to find here in the States.

Calcio Italia

Bills itself as “The magazine for English-speaking fans of Italian football.” Fun magazine that focuses on a country that is not well covered here in the states. Good photography and the writing is okay, although they often throw in a bit of fluff. Still the best place to get information on Italy. I wish they published something like this for La Liga. Calcio Italia is inexpensive and easily found (it seems even more so since Italy won the World cup) but often dreadfully late. Not the place to get up-to-date information.

Organizational Magazines

Organizations like FIFA and UEFA both publish glossy magazines that can be found here in the states. Although they contain some exclusive interviews, they are basically house magazines that are promoting a product. They are often, in my mind, expensive and not worth the money.

Club Magazines

Some of the giant clubs like Manchester United and Chelsea publish their own glossy club magazines which can be had here in the states. Similar to above, only they promote a single club. Again, it is a good place to get exclusive interviews, but certainly not vital unless you are a huge supporter of that particular team. That being said, if Real Madrid or Fiorentina produced something like these in English, I would probably buy it.


There are other magazines that you can get in the states (including Match) but these are harder to find. If you feel I’ve missed something obvious and would like me to cover it, drop me a line and I’ll check it out.

One more quick thing for today: Apparently Real Madrid has “warned” David Beckham (according to ESPN Soccernet) that they want the contract thing settled by next week. Obviously I like Beckham and like Real Madrid, so I would like to see him sign. However, “warning” your employees does not seem like a skillful negotiating tactic; this may be the surest sign yet that Becks is on the way out. We will have to wait and see, although there is a good chance this will still not be resolved by next week.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Sheffield United signs Defender; Lennon sticks with Spurs

Since there are so many Blades fans here in the U.S. frothing at the bit for some news about their club, I am happy to report that the team has signed defender Matthew Kilgallon from Leeds for ₤1.75 million pounds. I hope all seven of you are as happy as I am about this.

In all seriousness, this sounds like pretty good news. I don’t know much about Kilgallon, but he has the reputation of being a smart defender with potential to grow. (He’s only 23.) In recent weeks it has seemed as if the Blades have needed the most help on defense, which overtook the early-season problem of goal scoring as the number one concern among the faithful at Bramall Lane. Good for them.

Also of note is that it has been reported that Aaron Lennon has signed a long-term deal with Spurs. Good for both the player and the club. Lennon was impressive at the World Cup and Spurs needs more marquee players like him to keep the London Derbies interesting.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Real Ugly

I hope everyone enjoys the pun. If things continue as they are, it’s not the last time I will use it this season.

Today Real Madrid was absolutely spanked on the road by a feisty Deportivo team. In all of my time watching football I’ve never seen such a one-sided match. Deportivo won 2-0, but if there was any justice the final scoreline would have seen five or six scored by the home team. At times it seemed as if Real Madrid could not meet the challenge of bringing the ball across the halfway line; within ten minutes it was obvious that the very idea of Real winning the game was laughable. The first half in particular was the single worst display of team football I have ever seen from paid professionals.

This is all the more disheartening for Real fans because La Liga is so wide open right now. Barcelona drew today and Sevilla lost last night. Real could be sitting pretty in a tie for second right now but instead remains a distant third. Based on today’s performance it is legitimate to wonder if even a European spot for next season is falling out of reach.

So what’s the solution? I wish I knew, although I feel strongly that Robinho has something to do with it. I do still support Capello, as anyone should based on his track record, but I do wish he could get his squad to gel soon, as there are prizes here for the taking if only the team could get it together.

Anyway, since I am a bit obsessive in watching every televised Real game, I thought I would hand out grades for each player, although the report card won’t be pretty this time around…

Was essentially hung out to dry by his defense. Can’t grade a GK after a game like this, so he gets an Incomplete

Has there ever, in the history of the game, been a worse reigning holder of the Player of the Year award? I’m not talking about the debate about his play last year; I was fine with him winning the award. I mean right now. He is awful; everyone is getting by him. Arizmendi looked great today, but he still made Cannavaro look terrible. Did he go to Madrid to retire? Let’s hope not; the club needs him. F

Did he even play today? D-

Hustled all day but Deportivo was openly picking on him the entire game; playing out of position or not, the team needs better than this. F

Sergio Ramos
I think he went to a Tappas bar halfway through the first half and Capello never replaced him. Still probably the best of a very ugly lot in the defense today. D

Yes, he was terrible today. He’s twenty and it’s his first game in Spain. I’m willing to give this a little time. Incomplete

Emerson was the most exciting and creative player on the pitch for Real Madrid. And when that happens, you know you’re in a shitload of trouble. C

Beckham for Guti (injury)
Look, I like Beckham, but there’s no way to disguise the fact that he looked awful today. In his defense he sometimes looks like the only Real player who cares about the score or feels embarrassed when they’re getting beat. D+

I’m not seeing it. Fine, once in a while he does a pretty stepover and looks good in the white shirt. Does that mean he’s allowed to disappear for 30 minutes at a clip? D

Absolutely invisible. Please page Robinho for me. And I mean the good, exciting Robinho; not the one who flops three times a game. F

van Nistelrooy
I need to be convinced this guy has not become little more than a very expensive poacher. In his defense, he was left alone in front for the first half; still had no discernable affect on the game. The money Madrid spent should get them more than this. D

The big fella didn’t do much out there today himself, but at least he attacked. I would start him ahead of van Nistelrooy, but what do I know? C-

Wow, I didn’t think I would be THAT harsh. Keep in mind how terrible this game was; watch it on replay if you didn’t see it live and let me know if I am crazy. Trust me, though; I would love to give some nice, fat “A”s to the boys from Madrid. They just need to show me something.

One more quick thing: If you get a chance to see a replay of the Sevilla game this week, watch it. It’s a great game regardless, but hang in there; there is a special treat in the 94th minute. I won’t spoil it for you; but let’s just say it reminded me of two girls arguing over who gets to bring the school quarterback to the prom. It’s high comedy you have to see to believe.

Saturday, January 6, 2007

The Ups and Downs of Fandom in the US

Today provided a perfectly good example of the highs and lows of being a football fan in America. As I have mentioned earlier, I am a follower of Sheffield United, and they played today against Swansea in an FA cup match. The downside of being here in the States is that I didn’t get to see a team I like play. The upside? I didn’t get to see a team I like play. The blades were crushed 3-0, and their showing was described by someone on ESPN Soccernet as “a disjoined performance barely worthy of a top-flight team.” So maybe it’s good that I didn’t see that one.

One the plus side, Phil Jagielka, Chris Morgan and Rob Hulse didn’t play. I can face facts, however: they are going to be in a dogfight over relegation until the bitter end.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Weekend Games – January 6-7

With Italy on a break and the Premiership taking a week off for the FA Cup, this is a great weekend to get caught up on La Liga as they start the new year. Some of the highlights of this weekend’s games include:


Liverpool vs Arsenal 12:15PM(EST) Setanta
(FA Cup match)

Atl. Madrid vs Gimnastic 2PM(EST) GolTV
(See Fernando Torres tear apart the Gimnastic defense)

Zaragoza vs Sevilla 4PM(EST) GolTV
(See first place Sevilla – how long will they last at the top?)


Manchester Utd. vs Aston Villa 9AM(EST) Setanta
(FA Cup Match)

Dep. La Coruna vs Real Madrid 1PM(EST) GolTV
(Can Real get back on track?)

Villarreal vs Valencia 3PM(EST) GolTV
(Watch David Villa before he is sold)

Thursday, January 4, 2007

What to Watch

When I first committed to a full-time life of being obsessed by football, I figured I would have fairly limited options for what games I could watch and when I could watch them. That turned out to be far from the truth. While fans in the U.S. don’t get many chances to watch great teams play live, our options for televised viewing of games is about as good here as it is anywhere in the world, presuming you have cable or satellite television and a few bucks to spend. What follows is a rough guide to help people new to football fanaticism (as I was just a short time ago) find out the best channels to watch the best games on TV.


GolTV constantly advertises itself as the oldest football channel in North America, and despite some serious problems with the station, it is still my favorite.

GolTV televises La Liga games in the United States, which, as I have said, is my favorite football league in the world. This effectively means that Gol televises almost every Real and Barca game with the rest of the league occasionally mixed in. Gol also has decent coverage of Series A in Italy, although there too they understandably focus on the bigger clubs. Gol also covers games in North and South America, and often times one can find hidden gems in their schedule, especially with some of the good games they show from the Argentine league. Gol also has a few football-related shows worth watching, including 45/45, a smart talk show about world football that is dubbed into English.

GolTV has a number of technical problems which frustrate fans of the channel. The sound quality is often poor during games, thus sometimes you can hardly hear the crowd at all. Glitches occasionally interrupt the sound or pictures of the game. Most frustratingly, occasionally the announcers are not up to par; they are up-to-speed well enough with the big clubs (like my Real Madrid or AC Milan) but seem to have only a passing knowledge of the lesser teams.

Still, GolTV is a must-have if you are going to watch football in America. It is included in the basic packages of some cable and digital companies, while others (like Comcast, my cable provider) charge a small fee to receive the channel. For all of GolTV’s faults, it’s worth it.

Fox Soccer Channel

FSC is another required channel for football viewing in America. The bread-and-butter of the station is that it televises about half of the English Premiership’s games here in the states. Thus, if you want to watch big clubs like Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, or Liverpool, this is the channel to turn to. FSC also has decent coverage of Series A and special events like the recent world club championship. They also have solid football news programs at night and the enjoyable “Fox Football Fone-in” on Tuesdays at eight, where lonely shut-ins from around the country can call and bitch about Chelsea.

The production values of FSC are better than Gol (they probably spend more money) and the announcers tend to be better because they pipe in the guys who are actually calling the game for British TV; whether you like them or not they seem to know their stuff. On the downside, and despite their showing of Italian games, FSC is focused almost exclusively on English soccer; everything else almost seems like an afterthought. If you think “ManU” is the greatest club in history or that Steven Gerrard is the greatest player of all time, than FSC is probably right up your alley. For those with a more open view of the rest of the world’s football, FSC is great but is just one of an important list of stations carrying the beautiful game. Still essential, regardless of how you feel about the English game, however, when all is said and done.

The deal with FSC is similar to Gol; basic with some companies, but you have to pay a little extra with others. Comcast sells Gol and FSC together as a “sports package.” I believe it is well worth it.

ESPN Family

The family of channels owned by ESPN shows some of the best football in the world; they just don’t show that much of it. First off, ESPN and its parent company, the ABC network, shows the World Cup finals. They also show many of the matches of the Champions League.

I will write more later about the Champions league; but suffice to say that I think it is perhaps the greatest sports tournament in the world. ESPN, on its “family” of networks carry about half the games; the channels include ESPN, ESPN Classic, and ESPN Deportes, among others. The announcing is all right on ESPN and the production values are quite good. The single most frustrating thing about ESPN’s coverage of the champions league is that they post the scores of the other games going on while broadcasting a game. (Many Champion’s League matches are played at the same time.) As a result, if you are going to watch a game on ESPN, it seems you are going to see the scores of all the games played that day.

ESPN and most of its family is included basic cable packages. Unfortunately this does not include ESPN Deportes, which often shows some of the best matches. This is similar to FSE (Fox Sports en Espanol) which also shows some great games.


I did not place Setanta so far down on the list as a comment on its quality; in fact, I do not even get Setanta myself. It is a premium station only available through some cable providers.

Setanta has a big slate of football on its station, but its calling card is that it has the rights in the US to the “other” half of the premiership that is not shown on FSC. For some reason (probably because they paid more for the rights) Setanta gets first pick of many of each weekend’s games, and thus Setanta often times has better games than FSC. If you are a fan of the premiership and English football, you should definitely look into Setanta. So far it is only available with certain cable packages (like DirectTV) although there is apparently a special box one can purchase to get the station on other services. As I learn more about this I can pass it along to my readers.

The people I do know who have Setanta like it very much, although they concede that it is quite expensive.


Depending on where you live in the U.S., you can also get lucky with more regional telecasts of games. Some Spanish language channels other than the ones listed above, for instance, carries games from Mexico and South America. I’m lucky enough to live in an area with a large Portuguese population, and thus we have a local Portuguese channel than occasionally shows league games from the land of Figo and Christiano Ronaldo.

I hope this list helps people some people. I know I wish I had something like this when I was first starting out.