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.

Chelsea’s Not So Consoling Consolation

The Champions of Europe (for the next few weeks, at least) defeated FC Basel of Switzerland and  have moved on to the Europa League final to face Portugal’s Benfica. However, considering that I just called them the Champions of Europe, a term usually reserved for the winners of the Champions League, one would think that the last thing Chelsea FC wanted to be tasked with doing was winning Europe’s second-tier competition only a year after hoisting the big-earred cup.

In a campaign where Chelsea featured in eight tournaments, it wasn’t a stretch to think that they would come away with a trophy or two. The Club World Cup has had a history of being a pretty easy road for the Champions of Europe once they manage to navigate their way through the Copa Libertadores winner.

Masked man Fernando Torres has found a penchant for scoring in the Europa League.

Masked man Fernando Torres has found a penchant for scoring in the Europa League.

Instead, Chelsea has been knocked out of the running for all the tournaments they began the season in and have to settle for being the bridesmaid in the pecking order of European tournament champions to the winner of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund’s May 25th meeting at Wembley Stadium.

Some will say the Europa League serves as a second chance for the teams knocked out of the Champions League group stage. A chance for the supporters and the players to relive old memories of working their way through a grueling two-legged knockout stage that tests the mettle of all those involved. It’s safe to say that Roman Abramovich is not someone who thinks this way.

The Blues will have a chance to make history when they meet Benfica in Amsterdam. Should Chelsea defeat the Águias, they will become the fourth team to win all of Europe’s intercontinental titles joining Juventus, Ajax and Bayern, an impressive list to join. This will surely quiet a few who say the club has no history as they continue to add to their trophy case, but how consoling are such accolades?

Rafa Benitez made his name winning the UEFA Cup — the Europa League’s predecessor — but it is all but guaranteed that he will be gone at season’s end and is only going through the motions of managing the team for a few more months. For another season, they are without Premier League glory and the sting of being one of the few defending Champions League cup holders bounced in the group stage won’t be going away soon.

The money will flow again in the summer at Stamford Bridge. It has already begun with the agreement of the deal to bring André Schürrle to London. We will see players move in and players move out, but it won’t easily be forgotten that the season’s only trophy may be won in the Europa League by the manager that no Chelsea fan wanted to win for them.

From the supporters to the highest executives, May 15th may be a day where they hoist another piece of silverware but it will always fail in comparison to the miracle run of Roberto di Matteo and the team that never should have won the Champions League.

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.