Defining American Football Glory

Yesterday, Norwich City completed an impressive comeback due in part to goals from loanee Kei Kamara and the ageless Grant Holt. The Canaries picked up Kamara in the January transfer window from Major League Soccer side Sporting KC with an option to bring him on permanently at the end of the season.

However, that’s not what I’m going to discuss. If you were to look at ESPN FC’s front page following yesterday’s round of football you would have seen the headline: Sporting KC’s Kei Kamara powers Norwich City to comeback win over Everton or something to that effect.

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AZ Alkmaar forward Jozy Altidore has burst onto the scene in the Eredivisie but hasn’t enjoyed the same success with the US National Team.

As a disclaimer, I must say that I love when American players go overseas and do well. (Kamara is from Sierra Leone but his family immigrated to the United States when he was 16.) Though not often spoken of, I enjoy knowing that Jozy Altidore is one of the top scorers in the Eredivisie with AZ Alkmaar. I like that Jermaine Jones is a key cog for Schalke 04 in the Bundesliga. I can’t wait for Brek Shea to get his chance with Stoke City.

All that said, a win for American players overseas should not be celebrated like a World Cup win for the country nor a victory for Major League Soccer.

Rarely in the United States do we see Tottenham’s scores scroll across the screen on ESPN, but when Clint Dempsey plays they talk about it whether he scored or not. Kamara was referred to as Sporting KC’s player instead of Norwich City’s. The fact that the aforementioned Shea was left out of FC Dallas’ side on more than a few occasions for bust ups with manager Schellas Hyndman was forgotten when he became another American making his way across the pond.

We as Americans need to realize we are behind the curb in the footballing world. That fact is made painfully obvious when we celebrate Dempsey being subbed on in the 75th minute in some League Cup tie.

Major League Soccer is the current retirement home for European footballers. Nigel Reo-Coker, 28, is one of the youngest European players to sign on with an MLS side in some time. While Americans are busying watching Dempsey and Landon Donovan’s every move, Europeans are busying laughing at the MLS for signing players who should have hung it up three years ago. Yes I’m talking about you, Montreal Impact. Signing every over-the-hill Italian player won’t make you good.

Meanwhile, our national team flounders under bad manager after bad manager. Jurgen Klinsmann was the sexy pick, but the sexy pick hasn’t come with concrete results. How do you not call up a player who has scored 18 goals in 17 games? Altidore is the best American striker, Klinsmann. Put him on the pitch.

At some point, we need to separate the MLS from American players overseas. They may have gotten their start in the American league but their talent is not eternally tethered to it. Clint Dempsey is Clint Dempsey because of Fulham not the New England Revolution and Donovan wouldn’t be half the player he is without Bayer Leverkeusen, Bayern Munich, and Everton.

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The Power of the Youth Academy

Today, I stumbled across an amazing article about AFC Ajax’s famed youth academy called Die Toekomst or The Future and it got me thinking about how much of an impact a world-class youth system has on a club. Any football fan worth his salt knows about La Masia in Barcelona, but not every club which churns out promising youngsters can hold on to them.

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Ajax’s star midfielder Christian Eriksen is one of the best, and most sought after, young talents in the world.

Ajax is a great example of a club that could be deemed a “selling club.” Just look at some of the players who have come through the talent factory in Amsterdam; Johan Cruyff, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Wesley Sneijder and Clarence Seedorf, Now, Christian Eriksen, their current star, is on the radar of bigger, more financial powerful clubs around Europe. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Eriksen in England this summer and he won’t be the only Ajax product flying the coop.

How about the Academy of Football at West Ham? Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick, Joe Cole and Rio Ferdinand are all graduates of the Hammers’ academy but West Ham wasn’t able to hold onto them for too long once larger clubs caught a whiff of their talent.

It begs the question, what is more important? For a club to have a strong youth academy churning out promising talent or for a club to have the financial power to bring in world-class players who have already established themselves?

My answer is that you need both. We’re talking La Masia and Barcelona here. I don’t think anyone needs reminding of what happens at The Farmhouse but if you do, go take a look at who their alumni include.

I don’t think it’s feasible for a club’s supporters to expect the club to prosper solely off their academy unless that club has the financial backing to keep those players if they were to get into a bidding war. Had Southampton had the money to fend off vultures, their first team would include Gareth Bale, Alex Oxalde-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott. Those three players are enough to turn the Saints into a mid-table club overnight.

While Barça favors their own youth products, bringing players up through the ranks allows them to splurge a little when they see players they want. Bringing in players like Alexis Sánchez and Alex Song are drops in the bucket of money when you have players willing to give you a break because all they know and love is Barcelona.

As biased as it may sound, I believe Manchester City went about building their club in the right way. You can’t expect immediate returns on your investment if you expect 18-20-year-old footballers to compete with players twice their age. Now that City has a championship winning side, they can change their focus to building for the future– and we all know they have the cash to fend off any bidding wars for players like Marcos Lopes, Razak Abdul, Jose Pozo or Denis Suarez.

I would love to see Ajax keep their young players and bring back their glory days.. It would make for very interesting matchups in the Champions League. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes, money is just too powerful.

[Article on Ajax’s youth system]

Hey, Milan. Parking the Bus is Not Entertaining

AC Milan beat their heavily favored opponent, FC Barcelona, 2-0 yesterday but the way the rossoneri played was a perfect example of everything that’s wrong with the Champions League knockout round mentality.

We all know that Barcelona is known for their tiki-taka, possession style of football but it’s not often that you see a team of somewhat similar talent drop into their own half as deep as AC Milan did. There were times when Milan’s forwards were making tackles near the six-yard box.

Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against preventing away goals. After all in a two-legged tie, they hold more weight but to invite the opposition to walk the ball within twenty yards of your goal is ludicrous. Massimiliano Allegri was more lucky than shrewd in his tactics.

This is my biggest gripe about the Champions League knockout round. AC Milan did it yesterday, Chelsea did it last year to win it all and teams will continue to do it until some major tactical revolution comes about but that doesn’t make it entertaining to watch or the safest option.

If Barça was a team that crossed the ball into the box or played with a little more height and width in their attack, Milan wouldn’t have been able to park the bus and hit them with a few counterattacks, two of which ending in goals.

Barcelona probably still would have had 78% of the possession regardless of the tactics used by Milan. It’s what they specialize in but few teams have the confidence to attempt to push Barcelona back into their half when facing them in Europe. However, at some point, teams need to realize sitting back and letting Barça one-touch pass them to death isn’t always a good idea.

I’m not taking anything away from what Milan did. Everyone thought they would be sacrificial lambs for Lionel Messi and the blaugrana on their way to the Champions League final. Now, they are in control of their own destiny.

I just wish the game wasn’t so boring.

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FIFA Finally Enters the New Millennium with Goal Line Technology

Yesterday, FIFA announced they will implement goal line technology at the upcoming Confederations Cup and World Cup.

All I have to say is… about damn time.

For years, FIFA has resisted any type of advanced technology that would make it easier for the referees to know when a goal had been scored. They used every excuse under the sun as a reason why this was a bad idea.

A quick look on any search engine will show you just how 1800s football’s governing body behaved when it came to goal line tech.

The English Premier League announced today that they would also be using goal line technology next season.

Of course, like any sane football fan, I am ecstatic that my team won’t have to worry about losing points because a blind referee didn’t see the ball bundle over the line. But on the flip side, I’m a bit sad my team won’t be able to pick up points because that same blind referee didn’t see the ball bundle over the other team’s goal line.

Disallowed goals have provided us with laughter, tears and the occasional murderous rampage for years. Who could forget Roy Carroll dropping Pedro Mendes’ half-way line shot over the line only for it not to count? Or when Edison Cavani’s overhead kick against Barcelona in a preseason match clearly bounced inside the net?

Soon, disallowed goals will be a thing of the past. But in honor of the ghost goal’s final gasps, here are some of the greatest disallowed goals of all-time.

Five Reasons Why Roberto Mancini Doesn’t Need to Fear the Sack

Lately, the popular subject to talk about when it comes to Manchester City is whether manager Roberto Mancini will have a job at the end of the season.

However, anyone with half a brain knows that Mancini will not be sacked at the end of the season. Yes, City has played poorly through stretches of this season. Yes, City finished fourth in their Champions League group. Yes, they are currently in second, twelve points back from crosstown rival Manchester United.

That being said, here are five reasons why I think Roberto Mancini will be Manchester City’s manager next season.

1. Injuries have wrecked havoc through City’s dressing room. The Blues’ best offensive threat, Sergio Aguero, was injured thirteen minutes into the first game of the season. At one point during the Champions League campaign, City only had one fit fullback.

2. He is not Mark Hughes. Mancini has a record of winning, with at least one piece of silverware at every club he has ever managed. No, he hasn’t won the Champions League yet but that’s not the easiest thing to do. It’s not something that can be bought. Yes, I went there. Ask Roman Abramovic about it.

3. Speaking of Mr. Abramovic, we’re not talking about a manager at Chelsea here. Not every team fueled by one man’s millions is going to sack a manager just because he isn’t pulling a treble every season. Since being taken over by Sheikh Mansour, Manchester City has had two managers. Mancini is actually the sixth-longest serving manager in the Premier League now.

4. You simply don’t fire the manager who brought your club its first title in 44 years. It’s hard to win championships. It’s harder to defend them. I would completely understand this talk if City was outside of the top six. I would understand it if they were outside the top four, but they are second…

5. And as for being second, if last season taught us anything it’s that you can’t call the title race over until the last game is done and dusted. Manchester United had an 8 point lead on Manchester City with 6 games remaining, including a Manchester Derby, last season. Currently, Manchester United has a 12 point lead on Manchester City with 12 games remaining, including a Manchester Derby. United has played well, but no team is invincible.

I’m aware that most people will say the title race is over and it’s Mancini’s fault that this ultra-expensive squad didn’t win back-to-back titles. But if we are going to start firing managers for coming in second the season after winning a championship then we’re going to have to go back to 1995 and fire Sir Alex.

Financial Fair Play Threatening to Destroy Premier League

Recently, the chairmen of the clubs of the English Premier League passed new measures in favor of financial restriction.

While on one side of the coin, it makes sense to do so as UEFA plans to institute their own set of financial controls in the coming years. However, I think that placing constraints on teams will not only hurt smaller clubs, it will also hurt the league as a whole.

Under the new rules, teams will not be allowed to record losses of over £105 million (~$163 million) in a three year period and will limit the amount of TV money allowed to be spent on wages, or the amount players’ make per week to £60 million (~$93 million).

As I’ve said, in a way this is good for certain clubs. Teams like Manchester United, Arsenal, or Liverpool will be able to subsidize their clubs in other ways. Meanwhile, clubs like Swansea City won’t have to break the bank to keep up with the Joneses.

Swansea City won’t be finishing in the top six anytime soon under these new guidelines, either.

The restrictions, which passed by a vote of 13-6 with one club abstaining, are a blatant attempt by the league’s blue blood elite at keeping any smaller, less prestigious clubs from challenging them for their spots in the table. Recently, Manchester City and Chelsea have risen to the top of the league due to wealthy owners and the last thing supporters of Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United want is to watch another petrol-billionaire snap up a team and turn them into a title contender.

Restraining how much can be spent on a club is restraining competition. Take a look at Major League Baseball if you need an example. The Yankees can sign any player they want while the Royals are trading away all their young prospects because they can’t pay them.

This is what will happen in the Premier League. Manchester United will be able to break the bank on players, as they already do, while Southampton will be forced into selling their top young players.

It’s a slippery slope that the English Premier League is heading towards and I, for one, am afraid of what’s at the bottom.

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Europol Reveals Match-Fixing Information

For years, the FIFA (Fédération Internationale de Football Association or International Federation of Association Football in English) has been attempting to fight football matching fixing around the world. Some may call what they have done so far a success while others may call say there is still a lot of work to do. Regardless of where a person stands, Europol’s report on match fixing released last week shows that match fixing is a real problem.

According to Europol, as many as 680 games across 15 countries involving 425 players, coaches, and club officials may have been involved in an worldwide corruption ring run out of Southeast Asia.

FIFA’s president, Sepp Blatter, called for a swift reaction to one of football’s bigger problems.

“It is also time for governments to take the threat of match fixing seriously and introduce appropriate sanctions as a deterrent, for while a player may be prepared to risk a ban for throwing a match, he will most likely not wish to risk a prison sentence.”

I’m personally not sure that it is time for governments to become involved in fighting match fixing, but if the problem continues to grow at the rate it is then legal action must be taken to preserve the sport and its future.

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