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Monday, August 13, 2007


This is fascinating: I just saw a segment on the popular ESPN talk show, "Pardon the Interruption" with (Mr.) Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, where they discussed the injury of David Beckham, and his absence from the line up for LA Galaxy games.

Now this isn't particularly interesting given that in the US, there seems to be only 3 occassions when the (above) average sports fan seems to care about soccer: (1) During the FIFA World Cup, (2) During the FIFA Women's World Cup and (3) Whenever the discussion involves David Beckham.

What amazed me about this segment was a fascinating insight into the reasons behind Beckham's absence from the lineup: his desire to play for England. We've all heard the stories of how Steve McLaren made a special trip all the way to the US, just to see how Beckham was doing, and to evaluate his potential to play for England in some crucial upcoming Euro qualifiers. As a result of this absurd news, Kornheiser brought up a point that would otherwise go unnoticed if we weren't so star struck by Golden Balls.

If Beckham were still playing for Real Madrid, do you think he'd be skipping games like he is here in MLS? In my estimation: yes. Kornheiser intimated that Beckham is saving himself for England, and that he should be applauded for doing so - I couldn't disagree more. I'm all in favor of players who will never turn their back on their country, but I also believe they are professionals and have to earn their paycheck - no matter how big or small it is. So in Beckham's case, I'm of the opinion that if Mr. Tony is right, and he's playing "eenie-meenie-minie-moe" with his MLS games, he should be tarred, feathered and sent back to Beckingham Palace, along with his intolerable wife and children.

But I seriously doubt that Real Madrid, had they retained the rights to Beckham, would be playing him whilst carrying an injury. Furthermore, I don't think Beckham is any longer important enough to England to merit playing for the national team if he is not playing regularly for his club, no matter how big or small the club is.

But I am happy to observe that Mr. Tony, and increasingly more of the national media in the US, are beginning to understand what makes footballers tick, and what questions to ask of America's newest sporting star, even though his analysis is probably off the mark.

Friday, August 10, 2007


So I was in attendance at David Beckham's MLS debut, and I have to say that it was a very successful night. Although MLS has no sense of history, the Football Gods never forget; they have smiled on DC United for many years now, so it makes perfect sense that that most successful club in the history of the league serves as the host for this watershed moment. And what hosts they were - a packed house, full of the most committed and diverse supporters in the league, with a high footballing IQ, appreciated the magnitude of the night.

Beckham was warmly received both when he stood to warm up, and when he entered as a substitute in the 70th minute or so, and while the bubble-gum crowd cheered his every touch, it was an interesting transformation the Galaxy went through, as his calm and measured passes clearly added a measure of quality to the side that had been sorely lacking. It was obvious that he was nursing an injury, but even by his own timid measure, he was feisty in his brief challenges, and seemed to slot into the side quite well.

Beckham faces an uphill battle to help transform the Galaxy into a side worth watching beyond the interest in his own hero worship, but anyone who has actually watched him play over the years knows that what he lacks in pace and ability to run at defenders, he more than makes up for with his vision, passing, composure on the ball, and of course dead ball execution. By my count DC United allowed only one free kick in a dangerous area while he played, but he certainly made it count with a quality curling ball challenging the keeper to either stay on his line or punch it away - in this case the United keeper did neither and was fortunate not to give away a silly goal.

We cannot underestimate the quality of DC United supporters - there are 3 types at any United game. There are the Barra Brava, "Brave Fans", who derive their name and spirit from the supporting masses at South American matches, that operate more like a collective organism than individual supporters. They are unmistakeable in their never-ending up and down motion in the transient stands, and will certainly have pleasantly surprised their newest guest. They are accompanied by the Screaming Eagles, a home-grown collection of American fans who have become as much a part of the lore of the club as the great players and managers over the years. Their support is vocal and I have to say, impressively committed. They're all over the DC area - at bars, restaurants, in homes, and even on the metro when there isn't a game in sight.

The third kind of supporter is one that may or may not be wearing a jersey, may or may not screan and shout, but loves quality soccer and can genuinely appreciate the quality of DC United's playing style. An attractive pass and move game, that relies on posession, vision and generosity with the ball. There's only one player at the club who is a hold over from the original league winning side - Jaime Moreno - and to this day, you still expect that something extra from him. But it's amazing to see the DNA of DC United firmly embedded in the newer players, and for me personally, a member of this third category of supporters, I'm really never disappointed watching a game because I feel I either learn something new, or remember something I've forgotten, every time I watch them play.

Ultimately, what really filled me with pride is demonstrated by two things: first, every time one of the LA players feigned injury and returned to play within minutes, he was rightly booed. No polite silence as you would at an American football match, where there is no pride taken in milking a collision for sympathy from the referee, and most injuries are presumed genuine because a player feigning injury would never see the inside of the field again. These are, after all, grown men - a fact and commensurate behavior we in the US are quickly learning to expect from some of these clowns.

But nothing gave me greater pride than the merciless abuse directed towards yesterday's news, Landon Donovan, who embarrassed himself with tireless complaining and gesticulating towards teammates, and countless minutes of absolute indifference. Every time he touched the ball, United fans seemed less worried about what he'd do with the ball, than they were with letting him know that as American soccer fans, we've had just about enough of the cult of personality the league and US Soccer has pathetically tried to create around his boundless underachieving. This is precisely the sort of thing you'd get in Beckham's native England (listen at any old video clips of Liverpool away after the 1990 World Cup, and you can hear John Barnes being booed relentlessly in response to his paltry summer performances.)

If there is one hope for Beckham's arrival that we all share, it's that through his acquisition, the money he brings the league will help bring players of a quality, one step up from the likes of Abel (the Abominable Snowman) Xavier, and help bring up the level of play to one that merits the level of support from fans like those of DC United.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


If you're an FC Barcelona supporter, the news in the following link should concern you:

Essentially, Zambrotta and Thuram, and probably a few other players, are complaining about having to do a pre-season tour of Asia, as impinging on their preparations for the upcoming season. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly these players will bite the hand that feeds them - one of the reasons why players at big clubs make so much money, is because there's no shortage of Asians desperate to get a glimpse of their stars in a meaningless series of friendlies against run-of-the-mill opponents.

What really burns me up is the idea that somehow they're problematic. You never hear Manchester United players complaining about the tour, and they're coming off an EPL title season, which included an international trip to South Africa. All the big clubs do it, and this belly-aching from seasoned professionals is disgraceful. Laporta rightly points out that they won La Liga and the European Cup two seasons ago with an international tour, so what is the difference?

One word - complacency.

These guys thought they could just show up and win everything under the sun last year, and they were rudely awakened to the fact that it doesn't work that way - not in Spain, and not anywhere in the major European leagues. You have to come to play every game of every competition, and that includes a silly pre-season tour of Asia. It's enough already with these complaints, because they don't amount to much other than a few prima donas who want to have their cake and eat it too. Unbelieveable.

I tell you what - here's a good solution: let's all agree for everyone to take a pay-cut (players, manager, staff and administrators), cut the ticket prices (giving the fans a well-deserved break) and we can forgoe these ridiculous tours if they're so intrusive. Do you think Thuram and Zambrotta would be willing to make $5M instead of $10? Would their sponsors (Nike, Adidas, Puma, whatever) agree to fewer promotional events as well? Because that would also eat into what they take home.

The bottom line is this: a man should have some professional pride, and not complain at the first sign of trouble. True, they've just come off of a disappointing season, but at the end of the day, the best tonic for that is to roll-up your sleeves, put your head down, and get to work on the pitch - even if that pitch is 10,000 miles away.


I just got through watching a friendly at Old Trafford between Inter Milan and Manchester United, and it never ceasees to amaze me how biased is the coverage on MUTV. They have their own announcers, doing their own analysis, and it is so delusionally weighted in favor of Manchester United it's comical.

First, the first goal scored by Inter was clearly not off-side. Suazo, the Inter striker, was onside when the original ball was played in. But when it was mangled by Evra and Vidic in an ill-advised attempt to do God knows what, he was in an offside position, but since it came off of Vidic, it's not off-side. But every time they replayed the goal, the announcer would say, oh-so-cunningly, "They should have given off-side, but it doesn't matter..." as if they're being generous about it because it's a friendly. Friendly or no friendly, the rules don't change just because you work for MUTV, and you're at Old Trafford. And I don't want to hear any non-sense about, "Well, it's MUTV, so what do you expect."

It's not presented as brainless sycophancy for an audience of unconditional supporters of Man U. Some of what I want to see Inter as well. And if that's the route they wish to take, then they should pull a FanZone, and put some hooligans in the booth - otherwise, they should maintain a shred of diginity and have unbiased commentary. No chance of that for Man U(re).

And yes, I'm a Liverpool supporter, and yes I hate Man U(seless).

And then, after Inter Milan started with half their regular 11 and took a 2 goal lead, they took off their remaining big names, gave up an own goal, and suddenly the announcers are talking like Man U has made a come back. You mean a gift-back, don't you? Suazo, a Honduran whose been playing in Italy for years, and was named best foriegner in the Serie A two years ago (along with Kaka, whom you may have heard of) scored a brace, and looked positively mercurial. So imagine my surprise when at the start of the second half, one of the announcers mentioned, "Suazo will be thinking he could get a hat trick at Old Trafford on his debut - not a bad start."

Well, excuse me for being realistic, but I'm quite certain Suazo has played in more intimidating venues than a pre-season game at Old Trafford; places like, say, the San Siro, Olympic Stadium or Estadio del Alpi to name a few. And, not to make assumptions about his general footballing knowledge, but I would be surprised if he even knew the name of the stadium he was playing in was, in fact, "Old Trafford". Later, when a substitute Jiminez, who had just signed with Inter earlier in the day came on, the announcer said, "What a life; you're signed by Inter in the morning, and in the evening you make your debut at Old Trafford."

Who do these people think they are? Old Trafford may be a "hallowed ground" in England, but nobody gives a dump about it on the continent, and nobody that's played in Italy would particularly care about making his debut at Old Trafford. In fact, I would venture to guess that if he had his choice he'd rather make his debut at the San Siro, if he even cares where he first gets on the pitch.

Oh, and by the way - is there anything more ironic than giving the captain's arm band to a bandit like Marco Materazzi in what is supposed to be the homeland of fair play? "Matrix" (as he is referred to by the lunatic fringe of the Nerazzurri supporters) has been booed mercilessly on Inter's tour of England. More so by the francophile Arsenal supporters at the Emirates for obvious reasons, but even at Old Trafford. And rightly so - that man is the single worst sportsman in professional soccer, and he deserves every moment of derision he gets.

A year on from Materazzi's despicable behavior in the 2006 World Cup final, Zidane still refuses to meet with him to, "clear the air", and I don't blame him. I don't know if I would have reacted the way he did, but if Materazzi were talking about my mother and sister the way he did to Zidane, I'd certainly want to. To be honest, there is something appealing about a footballer who is first and foremost a man that won't stand for someone insulting the women in his life, as did this intolerable rogue. Sure, a professional should know better, and we'd all probably just grin and bear it if someone came into our office and started spouting off about, "Your mother this....and your sister that..." even though we'd really want to pop him once good square in the chest.

...well it would be nice.