Pep, Where Do You Go From a Treble?

Yesterday, Pep Guardiola was somewhere in the world scouring his contract with Bayern Munich for the release clause if they won everything. Expectations were high for the Spanish manager months ago when he agreed to become Bayern’s next gaffer but in the extremely likely possibility that Jupp Heynckes and his side come out victorious against Stuttgart in the DFB-Pokal final, repeating a treble or at the very least a double is going to be the measuring stick for Pep.

After I got past Gus Johnson’s annoying, over-the-top, canned enthusiasm, I was able to sit down and watch a good game of football that showed all the finer points of the game and all the reasons that Bayern Munich is on the precipice of being the continent’s powerhouse. Wave after wave of yellow-clad attack crashed against Bayern’s goal in the early parts of the game and Manuel Neuer pulled off a few saves that would deem him a worthy man of the match choice.

If it weren’t for his opposite number, Roman Weidenfeller, making just as many spectacular saves including one with his face and Arjen Robben’s refusal to use his right foot, Bayern could have easily run away with this game.

Pep Guardiola may have thought about extending his sabbatical to avoid taking a side that is one win away from a treble.

Pep Guardiola will have the highest expectations of any manager in Europe when he takes over Bayern Munich, who are one win away from completing the treble on the season.

Fortunately, Robben was able to use his right foot to cross it to Mario Manzudkic for the opening score (I actually think he was trying to shoot) and got the ball in a place that he could shift it onto his left foot to score the game-winning goal.

It must be said that normally when I watch a game as a neutral fan of the game, I tend to lean towards the team that isn’t the media’s darling. Deep down, it is difficult for me to get behind a side that is being trumpeted for how they built their team rather than how good that team is. There’s been more than a few times when I’ve wanted to smash my TV during a Barcelona game because the commentators kept saying they “built their club the right way.”

It must also be said that I respect Borussia Dortmund and Jurgen Klopp for what they have done in the past handful of years but even they had to go out and buy a few key players to mix into their youth system stars.

The second half was a showcase of what happens when you take a club willing to splash the cash on the players they need and mix it with a world-class manager who knows how to use those players. Heynckes’ men spent the better part of the forty-five minutes putting their rivals to the sword. Dante’s moment of insanity in the penalty area was one of the few blotches on an otherwise spectacular performance by the Champions of Europe.

All that’s left now is to applaud the efforts of Borussia Dortmund. We know we all got up off our seats when Neven Subotic slid in to clear the ball off the line (and we all cursed at Robben a little for not sliding in himself to push it into the net). They performed valiantly but when the chips are done nothing beats experience. Three Champions League finals in four years is pretty experienced.

Winning the German Cup will cement this season’s Bayern Munich team as one of the best teams in recent memory, if not ever, and that’s the club that Guardiola will be taking over in due time. The man who showed a penchant for winning trophies at the club that he himself played at will have a much more difficult time keeping the Bayern board on his side after this season.

His first game in charge, the UEFA SuperCup, will give him his first opportunity to win silverware with the Bavarians and you can be assured that even if it is against Jose Mourinho and a hungry Chelsea side, Bayern is expecting to add that trophy to their cabinet as well as a few other from the next campaign.

Regardless of how many pieces of silverware Pep wins in Munich, we will all remember the night when Bayern climbed to the top of the European football mountain and planted their flag atop it. We can all be assured that their tie with Liverpool as the only two five-time winners of Europe’s most prestigious competition will not last too much longer and I hate to say that the English club won’t be winning its sixth anytime soon.

Is Neymar’s Hype Getting Too Big?

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar has been at the center of transfer speculation for the last few years. Some have said that his eventual move to Barcelona is one of football’s worst kept secrets and I’m inclined to agree with that statement. We all know that although only 21 years old, Neymar’s international fame has long outgrown the Campeonato Brasileiro and Santos.

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar is one of the world's brightest talents.

Brazil and Santos winger Neymar is one of the world’s brightest talents.

Now that David Beckham, the last footballer who it could be argued was more famous for his underwear ads and marrying Posh Spice than his talent on the pitch, has retired, the door has been opened for Neymar to become the international superstar that the hype surrounding his move to Europe is leading him towards.

Don’t mistake this as a knock against Neymar’s playing ability. It is clear as day that with a continued push in the right direction, we’ll be talking about him for the next few decades for his ability on the ball, the flashy dribbles and the even fancier finishes that he has become known for in his surprisingly short senior career. Remember that it was only four years ago that he burst onto the scene. Even Santos knew he’d be something special when they paid 1 million reals to keep him at the club after he passed a trial with Real Madrid when he was 14.

The prospect of Neymar, who Pele described as the best player in the world, linking up with Lionel Messi is something that would create a media maelstrom around the world. How many football fans would pass up the opportunity to see those two on the same pitch playing together?

And this is when you have to ask yourself if Neymar is ready for the lofty expectations that will follow his move to whatever club gets his signature in the near future.

He is an easy player to market, as many Brazilian football stars are. They play with flair and style while making it seem like they are having the time of their life while doing it. Take a trip over to YouTube and look up Neymar’s celebrations after goals. He’s all you would expect of a 21-year-old professional footballer, not yet having the cynical attitude that comes as we grow older, until he nutmegs you on the way to another goal and it looks like he’s more seasoned than a player ten years older.

However, the burden of carrying the superstar tag has destroyed its fair share of rare talents. No one thinks Neymar is Messi’s heir apparent. In terms of age, they are contemporaries, only four years apart. With sports science these days, Neymar will be well into his 30s by the time Messi hangs them up. Instead, it is expected that Neymar will be on Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s level in terms of international appeal. Those players that even people who don’t watch football know about.

Mario Balotelli is a good example of what happens when a player gets too much fame and hype too quickly. He may have had his moments at Inter but his antics at Manchester City were more often than not well out of the realm of the excuse “Oh, it’s because he’s young.” Fortunately, Balotelli has performed extremely well since moving back to Italy.

There is similar risks in Neymar’s situation. You’re taking someone who is already quite rich and has shown he has a care-free attitude and bringing to football’s biggest stage in the world where you will give him more money and expect him to become ruthless in terms of winning games. No disrespect to Santos, but they aren’t winning as many matches as Barcelona nor do they currently have the winning attitude that the Catalan side has.

No one wants to see Neymar flame out before his time has come but as his hype grows everyday we have to admit that this is a real possibility. The hounds will be out if he moves to Barcelona and doesn’t finish second in scoring in La Liga to Lionel Messi.They’ll knock him if he takes longer than a game or two to acclimate himself to a new country, a new league and a new team. He’ll be under a microscope that not even Messi has had to experience.

I think we need to take a moment and remember that we are talking about a 21-year-old kid despite all the talent he has. At a better club, he will progress and likely cement himself as one of the game’s great but we have to let it happen naturally. So calm down, we have at least ten more years of him playing at the top.

 

Goliath Needs David: The Premier League’s Brand of Entertainment

Yesterday, the Premier League came to a rather fitting close. Arsenal dispatched Newcastle despite Theo Walcott hitting the post on a shot that seemed harder to miss, setting up a few terse minutes for the Gunners and in doing so sealed their spot in the Champions League for the umpteenth straight year. And yes, they celebrated like it was 2004 all over again.

The fact that Arsene Wenger and his boys got to lift their pseudo-trophy once more is of little significance. What is important is that the Premier League hierarchy had been maintained for another season — that is, if we are to consider Liverpool’s position as one of the Big Four a thing of the past now ceded to Manchester City.

Laurent Koscielny's goal sealed Arsenal's place in the Champions League for next season -- nothing new here.

Laurent Koscielny’s goal sealed Arsenal’s place in the Champions League for next season — nothing new here.

If I were to make an extremely early prediction about the Prem’s next season, no one would call me crazy to assume that Manchester United, City, Chelsea and Arsenal would be the teams occupying the top four positions. Put them in whatever order you desire. Tottenham will likely finish fifth with Everton behind them. Liverpool will finish well out of Champions League contention and Brendan Rodgers will be sacked in favor of whoever the hot commodity is at the time.

It’s nothing new that the Premier League is an oligarchy of the rich, powerful clubs and with the financial restrictions coming into play soon, it’s going to persist for the foreseeable future.

New manager or not, United will never finish below third. Chelsea will have some bumps in the road, but as soon as they find a manager who can survive a season (coughJoseMourinhocough) they’ll be fine. City is building for the future at all costs and has the money and talent to keep themselves fighting for silverware in the meantime. Arsenal will always be happy with fourth place.

Therein lies the perceived problem with the Premier League. Take a trip to ESPN or any other sports site and check out the comments on most articles about the Premier League. In an effort to save you time, it’s mostly people whining about how boring and uncompetitive that league is. The uncompetitive quip is more than likely true, but the boring part… not so much.

The Bundesliga is currently touted as Europe’s most entertaining league because there are multiple teams that challenge for the competition’s top spots and in most seasons, there isn’t a run-away champion.

I’m going to tell you two things about that: One, German football has been and is still dominated by one team. Two, competitiveness has no correlation to entertainment.

Surely, I’m already being called a Premier League apologist but hear me out before you banish me to the realm of people who are ignorant to the world’s other leagues and their pluses over England’s league.

Because the Prem’s best talent is consolidated in a handful of teams, Goliaths, the entertainment comes from the other teams, Davids, beating them. Southampton thumping City 3-1? Painful for City supporters, entertaining for everyone else.

If you were to go back through the years, the most memorable games are probably either titanic struggles involving United, Arsenal or Liverpool or some upstart knocking off United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

A little club is going to fight harder against a big club than the big club is going to fight against the little one because the larger club is much more used to winning. For example, West Brom fighting for a 5-5 draw yesterday in Fergie’s last game. You are never going to see United and City score 10 goals in one game unless the score is 9-1.

In no way am I saying relegation six-pointers aren’t as memorable, I am only arguing that the battles between the haves and the have-nots are what makes people call the Premier League the world’s greatest show.

An ultra-competitive league is actually a negative. Let’s be honest, no one really wants to see the club they support struggle in every game of the season. I doubt Bayern Munich supporters stopped going to games because the Bavarians had the league wrapped up months ago.

However, from a neutral standpoint, competitiveness is what we want and that creates the fallacy that competitiveness breeds entertainment. The beauty of the modern world is that we can pick and choose the games that we want to watch.

But how many of us neutrals can say that we tuned in to watch Deportivo La Coruna play Getafe or Greuther Furth face off against Düsseldorf? Not many, I’m sure.

The proof is in the pudding, so to speak. Millions upon millions watch the Premier League every season then head to message boards to complain about how boring it is to watch United crowned champions every season. Believe me, I agree that it’s boring to watch United crowned champions season. I’d much rather see City crowned champions every season.

the amount of money the Prem is raking in from TV deals is astronomical when compared to the other leagues in Europe and it’s all because the same four teams win every season and the other sixteen try to pull off a big win against those four.

Summer Transfer Speculation Shows Lack of Respect for FFP

Throughout the season, we’ve heard teams were going to be spending less with UEFA’s Financial Fair Play on the horizon. Straddled with the fear of being excluded from the continental competitions, clubs were supposed to be looking to expand their sides with the cheapest possible options or relying on their current players to improve in an effort to foster progression. However, one look at the moves being lined up for the summer will tell you (whether they are true or not) that most of the bigger clubs don’t believe FFP is an issue.

Soon-to-be Ligue 1 side Monaco has money to spend and they seem to be in pole position to land Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid in a spectacular transfer coup and yet, there are reports linking them with numerous other high value players such as Carlos Tevez and Bacary Sagna. I find it hard to believe that Monaco’s income will balance out their purchases if they do indeed get Falcao and, let’s say, Tevez. Those two players alone would come with a ridiculously high price tag.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco's high-spending ways.

Dmitry Evgenevich Rybololev is behind AS Monaco’s high-spending ways.

The Ligue 1 new boys are just the tip of the iceberg. Chelsea and Manchester City look to be back in for big summers with new managers coming to Stamford Bridge and the Etihad, respectively, despite the Premier League instituting it’s own financial regulations. Manchester United posted record profit, but getting Cristiano Ronaldo would put a gigantic dent into it.

And you can bet that the rumblings that financial fair play is actually illegal has something to do with the empty threat that it poses.

Just last week, news broke that Belgium-registered agent Daniel Striani filed an official challenge to the rules with the European Commission claiming that they restricted his income.

Striani will be represented by Belgian lawyer, Jean Louis-Dupont. If you don’t remember who he is, in 1995, he represented Jean Marc-Bosman and defeated UEFA and the commission when Bosman’s football contract denied him freedom of movement. Prior to this, clubs in some parts of Europe were able to prevent their players from transferring to other countries even if their contracts had expired.

UEFA believes they have an open-and-shut case because the European Club Association agreed to the rules. However, the ECA only has 207 members. All Striani needs is for other clubs to back him and the expected five-year legal fight may not go in UEFA’s favor.

Regardless of what happens in this case, it looks like clubs are willing to continue to spend wildly in order to improve their squads. It’s simple math. If a club wants to win trophies, they have to spend money. If they don’t win trophies, they won’t make money. If they don’t have the quality to win, they won’t win trophies anyway.

The solution? Throw caution to the wind, forget about FFP for a summer and break the bank to win as many trophies and as much money as possible before it catches up to you.

Sure, We Believe You Sepp

Sunday’s Serie A night game at the San Siro between AC Milan and AS Roma was momentarily halted because of racist chants aimed at Mario Balotelli and Kevin-Prince Boateng from the Roma Ultras. Under Serie A protocol, an announcement was made over the public address system and the game continued under the threat of being abandoned if the chants continued.

Mario Balotelli tries to quiet racist chants from the Roma Ultras Sunday.

Mario Balotelli tries to quiet racist chants from the Roma Ultras Sunday.

FIFA president Sepp Blatter was “appalled” that a game was suspended for racial abuse and Lega Calcio fined Roma €50,000 ($64,900). Again, a paltry amount for a club that’s paying its players much more than that everyday.

Blatter pledged to fight this problem what seems like years ago but the fines that have been handed down are little more than slaps on the wrists and a bit of a timeout in the corner before it happens with the same club a few months later. Lazio’s Ultras, Roma’s Stadio Olimpico co-tenant, was involved in numerous racial chants incidents in the span of two or three months but they weren’t fined much more than their Rome neighbors.

At the end of the day, you can only chalk this up to political rhetoric. Soothing the nerves of the masses who are too busy, too ignorant or too blind to the depth of the situation that they accept what is being said. Fortunately for the football community, I’d imagine that the vast majority of its inhabitants think racism severe enough to warrant players walking off the pitch and games being abandoned needs to be blotted from the game.

As of now, it seems like the fines are always too little. Fining top tier club and entire football associations, €50-100,000 isn’t going to do anything in the grand scheme of things. Forcing them to play a few games behind closed doors only goes so far.

We all remember the scrum between Serbia’s and England’s U-21 National Teams where Serbia’s fans ran on the field and fights broke out. That all began because of racist chants directed at England’s Danny Rose. UEFA ordered Serbia, a country which has a long history of racial abuse at their football matches, to play a game behind closed doors and fined them £65,000.

For comparison’s sake, Nicklas Bendtner was fined £80,000 for showing a sponsor’s logo on his boxers which wasn’t a partner of UEFA during Euro 2012.

One man fined more than an entire FA? For showing a logo on his underwear? Bendtner didn’t spark a near-riot by showing that logo. Danny Rose’s reaction, which we can argue whether he was right or wrong until we are blue in the face, to racial abuse did.

It’s time that the punishments are ramped up. Clubs and FAs need to be banned from competitions for repeated racial abuse. Sides need to be docked points immediately for repeated racial abuse.These paltry fines handed out to clubs that can easily pay them need to be doubled, tripled even quadrupled.

Here’s a good model for FIFA and all the governing bodies of the continents. Here in the United States, the NCAA oversees college and university athletics. In the ’80s, Southern Methodist University was sanctioned for paying their athletes (these players are considered amateurs and can’t be paid) multiple times in a few years’ time.

In 1986, their American football program received the so-called “Death Penalty” banning them from playing for a year. They didn’t play the next season either. They are only just recovering as a team and no program dares do enough to invoke the wrath of the NCAA almost 30 years later.

Don’t threaten it. Do it.

Is Manuel Pellegrini the Answer?

It’s been plastered over the newspapers and the internet. Roberto Mancini was sacked weeks ago with Malaga’s manager Manuel Pellegrini replacing him. Since the FA Cup loss Saturday to Wigan, Mancini was supposed to have been relieved of his duties on ten different time frames. I’ve seen reports that he wouldn’t make it through the weekend, yet he’s still with the team and preparing to face Reading tomorrow. I’ve also seen reports that he has a few more weeks as gaffer at the Etihad. However, that’s neither here nor there. We’re here to discuss whether or not Manuel Pellegrini is the answer for Manchester City.

I, as I’m sure most City fans do, respect what Roberto Mancini has done for Manchester City. The FA Cup loss hurt, but City has seen much worse. If it weren’t for Mancini, winning or losing the FA Cup would be the least of our worries.

Now, onto the topic of Pellegrini. The Chilean who has managed a host of Chilean football clubs as well as River Plate, Villarreal and Real Madrid, has been in charge in the south of Spain since 2010.

Manuel Pellegrini is the supposed heir apparent to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.

Manuel Pellegrini is the supposed heir apparent to Roberto Mancini at Manchester City.

Malaga’s league standing is irrelevant in this argument as we all know that this is not the reason he is being linked with Manchester City. If anything, Mancini is the better option when it comes to league play. You’d have to have something against Mancini to think he couldn’t keep City in the top 2 of the Premier League for years to come.

With their financial struggles and no prospect of European football next season, Pellegrini led Malaga to the quarterfinals of the Champions League before they were knocked out in the last few minutes by Borussia Dortmund. And with the end-all, be-all nature of Champions League success, this little run along with his quarterfinal and semifinal appearances at Villarreal puts him leaps and bounds above Mancini and his shed of domestic glory.

However, when Pellegrini had the top job at Real Madrid… he flopped. Pellegrini was in charge when the Merengues bought Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Karim Benzema. The total cost of those four players? Somewhere in the region of £200 million. I’m seeing a similar knock against Mancini here.

It wasn’t long before Pellegrini’s Real Madrid side lost to Segunda División B side AD Alcorcón in the Copa del Rey Round of 16 by an aggregate score of 4-1. Then in March of the following year, he and his team was bounced from the Champions League in the Round of 16 by Lyon. Of course, they also finished second to Barcelona that year albeit while accumulating 97 points.

After being sacked, he criticized the club’s “Galacticos” transfer policy.

“We didn’t win the Champions League because we didn’t have a squad properly structured to be able to win it,” he said.

Sound familiar?

Whether or not Roberto Mancini is sacked, Manuel Pellegrini is not the perfect candidate. When the pressure was on to win, he didn’t. When he had the money to drop £200 million on players, he failed. The sexy pick isn’t always the best pick.

 

 

 

End of an Era: Sir Alex to Retire

It’s official, Manchester United will begin their title defense next season without Sir Alex Ferguson on the touchline. It’s still fresh in our minds and we still have another two games of outrageous amounts of stoppage time, but it will take a long while before we get used to seeing someone else in United’s dugout. My money’s on David Moyes, but that’s a conversation for another post and another day.

Having served United for 26 years, Fergie has been the Red Devils’ gaffer longer than any other manager in team history and has led them to 13 of their 20 Premier League/First Division championships. His success is known far and wide, even extending outside of the football world. He’s managed some of the best players of all-time and built some of the greatest teams.

Sir Alex Ferguson is finally calling it quits.

Sir Alex Ferguson is finally calling it quits and the end of an era.

Sir Alex’s retirement marks more than an end of an era at Old Trafford. On the precipice of a huge TV deal, Sir Alex’s retirement marks the beginning of a transition to a new-look Premier League.

The door is now open for another powerhouse to rise to the top of the heap. Mind you, I’m not saying United are going to become a bottom-of-the table club but they’ll have to search far and wide to find a manager who will be able to get what Fergie has out of some of the mediocre players over the years.

Sure, Jose Mourinho probably could… while simultaneously pissing off the other half of the team.

Without the money of a Manchester City or Chelsea, Manchester United will lose some steam in the transfer market as players are swayed away from the club without Sir Alex on the touchline.

Regardless, it’s a story that couldn’t have had a better ending. No one would have wanted to see Fergie go out with Manchester City holding the Premier League trophy — except myself and every other City supporter.

He’s got his umpteenth trophy and now he can ride off into the sunset.