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.

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.

When is a Club Successful?

It’s a topic that has been run through the ringers too many times over the past few years as more nouveau rich clubs pop up on Europe’s football landscape. Of course some have last longer than others, the funding being pulled away just as quickly as it arrived but for the ones that remain — or even for the clubs that aren’t backed by petrol-dollars but lack the tradition of the more prestigious sides around the world — when is it okay for supporters to dub their team successful?

Swansea City is one of England's upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Swansea City is one of England’s upstarts, but how successful can we call them now?

Many point to silverware as the defining factor of success, arguing that a club is only as successful as its trophy case is vast. We’re talking the Barcelonas, Real Madrids, Juventus(es?) and Manchester Uniteds of the footballing world. The clubs that expect to finish every campaign with at least one cup being added to the cabinet. However, I’m willing to argue that this is a far too simple way of looking at this.

In my opinion, as long as a club is making forward progress, they can be deemed successful. It doesn’t matter how it is achieved, if a club goes from wallowing in relegation battles of lower leagues to fighting for European spots in the country’s top flight, they should get the respect they are due.

Let’s take Swansea City for example. They aren’t that far removed from being a mid-to-bottom of the table side in League 2 or the old Third Division. A few well thought out managerial hires here and a couple cheap player buys there and they are going to be playing European football next season after winning the League Cup.

The Swans’ trophy case isn’t filled to the top but are we really not going to call them successful for such a reason? Most teams get relegated in their second season in the Premier League. With continued improvement, Swansea may be pushing Everton for Europa League spots every season.

For a look at a club with much higher ambitions, Manchester City is moving in the right direction. You can argue that finishing 2nd this season is a step backwards, but it isn’t often that teams other than United repeat in the Premier League. Regardless of the point gap or whatever qualifier you want to attach to it, the league was a two-horse battle from the onset and a few sub-par performances saw City fall behind their crosstown rivals.

And for Borussia Dortmund, coming out of a period when they were struggling to stay in the Bundesliga after their Golden Era of the 1990s, one could argue that they are possibly as successful as any club in Europe right now. They may not have the trophies of Bayern Munich, but their battle from the bottom of the table to the final of the Champions League is sign enough.

Should Clubs Sell Players to Rivals?

We’ve seen it before, a club being forced into a sale by a player and that player being sold to a direct rival of said club. Arsenal sold Robin van Persie to Manchester United. Obviously, this is only one example of this happening but I chose him because  van Persie played direct roles in Manchester United winning the Premier League. I’m sure a quick search could yield more results of players going from one side of a heated rivalry to the other.

After this season, Mario Götze will join the list of players who moved between rival clubs and it begs the question of should clubs sell their players to clubs who are rivals, either historically or in the grand scheme of winning a championship in their league.

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Carlos Tevez went from Manchester United to Manchester City after a loan deal, but is it right to sell to rivals?

Hypothetically, we would like to say that clubs shouldn’t do this and I tend to agree. Nothing would anger me more than United somehow prying Vincent Kompany away from the Etihad, but not because United had gotten better but because City sold him to the other side of the city.

Transfers are meant to strengthen clubs and we know that sometimes, clubs’ hands are forced when it comes to want-away players. Would Arsenal have benefited more from sending van Persie to Italy, Spain or Germany? I’ve seen a modified table taking out every club’s top scorer and United would have theoretically still won the Prem, but that’s only when using the season’s actual stats.

Tottenham is doing it the right way. Any time Gareth Bale is linked with a Premier League team, he is also linked with an astronomical transfer fee. They would rather send him to Spain and never play against him than send him to United, City, Arsenal or Chelsea and have to face him multiple times a season.

I also think the big two in Spain are good about not doing this. How many times have you seen a player leave Real Madrid for Barcelona or vice versa. There aren’t many stars who have made that particular move in either direction, I can assure you.

At the end of the day, money is the name of the game. No club is going to turn down a big paycheck, no matter where its coming from. City’s money is good at Old Trafford, Arsenal’s money is good at White Hart Lane and Everton’s money is good at Anfield.

But at some point, on some purely competition level, some executive has to step up and say “No, our clubs are rivals and I refuse to sell him to you regardless of how much money you are willing to pay.”

Edit: It seems in my haste and fog of early morning, I accidentally said Tevez was sold to Manchester City. I apologize for the mistake.

Beginning of a New Golden Era for Bayern?

I’m aware that it may be jumping the gun to say that Bayern Munich will be at Wembley to play in this season’s Champions League final, but after the 4-0 shellacking they gave Barcelona yesterday, you have to believe that they’ll be making a return appearance to Europe’s biggest final. Couple that with the signing of one of the best young German stars, Mario Götze, and being linked with Robert Lewandowski today, both from their only title rival in Borussia Dortmund and we could be witnessing the birth of Europe’s newest juggernaut.

Jupp Heynckes has done an amazing job in his third stint at the club and has set Pep Guardiola up in a much better position than the one he inherited from Frank Rijkaard at Barcelona — if that’s even possible, as the Blaugrana  weren’t exactly starving for trophies when he got there.

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Mario Götze is set for a move to the Allianz Arena and will likely becoming a key piece of Europe’s new kings.

The amount on talent on Bayern Munich’s squad was clearly evident last night as they made use of their 37% possession with cutting attacks and superb finishing. You can argue that two of their goals shouldn’t have counted for a body check on Jordi Alba and a seemingly missed offside call but they could have easily gone on to score three or four more goals.

David Alaba is on his way to becoming one of the world’s elite fullbacks, Arjen Robben is a man reborn, Javi Martinez is proving that he was worth the trouble to sign him from Athletic Bilbao this past summer and those are just the players I want to tip off now. It doesn’t take a football pundit to know that they are stacked from top to Bayern Munich II.

The arrival of Mario Götze to the Allianz may be the straw that breaks the Bundesliga’s back. It’s the equivalent of Manchester City agreeing to sell Sergio Aguero to Manchester United and it carries the same connotations. Götze was the epitome of what Dortmund stands for. Joining the club at 9, he cut his teeth at the Westfalenstadion and now he’s moving up the big club (no disrespect to Dortmund).

The epic battle between Bayern and Dortmund that people were expecting when Dortmund capped their rise back to prominence with back-to-back Bundesliga titles has already been quashed by Die Roten’s dominating season, winning the league earlier than ever before and the loss of Götze and likely Lewandowski is going to set Dortmund back.

Surely, Bayern isn’t finished spending this summer. Uli Hoeneß‘s tax problems and Financial Fair Play won’t be able to stop this growing storm as long as they continue to reap the benefits of Bundesliga silverware and Champions League final appearances.

That Moment You Realize Barca Has No Chance Against Bayern

Tuesday, Barcelona and Bayern Munich will play the first leg of their semi-final Champions League tie and many are expecting it to be the better of the two semi-final matchups with Borussia Dortmund facing Barca’s rival, Real Madrid, the next day but I’m inclined to believe that the highly anticipated battle between Barca and the Bavarians will be a rout for the German champions.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is looking to repent for missing a penalty in last season's Champions League final.

Bastian Schweinsteiger is looking to repent for missing a penalty in last season’s Champions League final.

Bayern Munich have been on a tear since losing to Arsenal in the return leg of their Round of 16 matchup with the Gunners, scoring a staggering 32 goals in the eight games since — all wins. You know a team is playing on an entirely different level when they reel off nine goals against a mid-table top flight side. Imagine if Manchester United put nine past Michel Vorm and Swansea. People would be calling for Michael Landrup’s head.

However, the reason I believe Bayern outclasses Barcelona has nothing to do with FC Hollywood. No, I think Bayern Munich is better than Barcelona because Barcelona is getting too big for their britches. Their golden era which started under Guardiola and was supposed to continue under Vilanova is going to come to an end. Though, I’m sure they’ll continue to hold court over La Liga unless Real Madrid gets a quality manager to replace the Special One.

But I digress, watching Barca play used to be a thing of beauty as they knocked the ball around the pitch with effortless grace. It was so successful that managers in other countries blow up their own teams to attempt to play in the same vein as the Blaugrana. That being said, you have to remember that Pep himself said the only reason Barcelona used the tiki-taka play style under his guidance was because he won using it.

Now, you can see the cockiness in the way Barca’s players pass. How many times have you seen two players pass between each other multiple times without moving the ball forward, without gaining any advantage? It happens often at the Nou Camp.

It’s becoming ingrained in the fibers of the club all the way down to La Masia — players passing the ball because they feel they have or because they feel their are on a different level than their opponents. Instead of taking the most direct route to the goal, they attempt to walk it in with a myriad of passes that teams are slowly, but surely, learning to combat by simply putting eleven men behind the ball.

Those extra passes, that extra time on the ball is going to be their undoing against a team as clinical and as in form as Bayern Munich.

Besides, Bayern is on a mission. They know they should have won the Champions League last season in their home stadium against the underdog in Chelsea. Now, they are trying to pull of a likely treble as they have already locked up the Bundesliga, will likely win the DFB Pokal and should be the favorite to win the cup with the big ears should they get past Barca.

I understand, it’s hard to choke out the word overrated in the same sentence as Barcelona FC but I think it would do them justice right now. The odds makers have them as favorites, the pundits have them as favorites, but that scary good team from Munich doesn’t have them as favorites.

Pep’s trophy-winning magic might already be rubbing off on Die Roten.