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.

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Is the United States Ready for a Gay Footballer?

In February, former US Men’s National Team winger Robbie Rogers stepped away from the game after announcing that he was gay. Now, Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy in what all signs point to as a comeback to the pitch. During the same week that NBA free agent Jason Collins announced he was gay and proclaimed the United States was ready for an active gay athlete, it begs the question is the United States really ready for a gay athlete?

I’d like to preface this by saying I largely respect Rogers and Collins for what they have done to stay true to themselves while I don’t agree that it is anyone’s business who or who they do not like to be involved romantically with. However, I think it is very easy for Collins to make such a proclamation when he is not contracted to a team. It is now a proclamation that Rogers will have to prove or disprove when he makes his eventual return to the MLS.

Robbie Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but is the American public ready for an active gay athlete?

Robbie Rogers is training with the Los Angeles Galaxy, but is the American public ready for an active gay athlete?

Rogers may not have the exposure playing the MLS that Collins would have had should he sign with an NBA team, but with the soft-press, gossip-driven media in the United States, Rogers will be catapulted to David Beckham-esque status. Just as the press put the NBA and its players under a microscope when Magic Johnson announced he had HIV, every altercation between Rogers and an opponent will be placed under a similar lens.

Mind you, this is less than a month after San Jose Earthquakes’ Alan Gordon was sent off against the Portland Timbers for using a homophobic slur. Gordon may be out to atone for what he did, but I assure you he isn’t the only one who uses such language, he’s just one of the ones who got caught.

All American football fans can remember the polarizing character that Tim Tebow has been since his days at Florida. While his actual skill may be questionable, his ability to bring out everyone who agree with him — even the crazies — as well as those who don’t — crazies on this side, as well — can not be doubted.

Whether he wants to be or not, Rogers will be a similarly polarizing figure. I’m just waiting for the Westboro Baptist Church to picket a MLS game that Rogers is playing in while a gay rights group pickets the picketers.

Let’s not forget Justin Fashanu who was charged for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old boy in Maryland,  not because the boy was underage but because in 1998 homosexual sex acts were illegal in Maryland. 1998 may sound like a long time ago, but the same type of people still remain in this country.

Regardless of how many goals Rogers scores, he will soon become the most followed footballer in the United States by both those supporting him and those who are against them.

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.

Manchester City Owner in Negotiations for MLS Club

For months, I’ve come across articles linking the owner of Manchester City, Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan with Major League Soccer’s twentieth team which will play in the New York borough of Queens. I figured it was like many of the other rumors about Manchester City. If it’s about money, City has to be involved. Obviously, the Sheik is the only rich sports owner in the world. Not like the Glazers could fork over the $40 million that the Montreal Impact paid to join the MLS as an expansion team nor the $100 million the Sheik is reportedly paying as an expansion fee.

But I digress.

Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, center, whose private investment group owns Manchester City in the English Premier League is looking to expand to Major League Soccer.

Sheik Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan, center, whose private investment group owns Manchester City in the English Premier League is looking to expand to Major League Soccer.

According to the New York Times, sources close to the negotiations have said they have entered into the final stages and an announcement is likely before Manchester City’s friendly with Chelsea in Yankee Stadium on May 25th.

Take a step back people who thought Financial Fair Play or the abrupt absence of the Sheik would end the beginning of the Premier League’s Evil Empire at the Etihad. This is a move that benefits Manchester City just as much as it benefits the MLS, the Sheik and the club we’ll refer to as New York City FC for now.

Stefan Szymanski, co-author of the book “Soccernomics” (a great read which I highly recommend), believes the New York franchise could be used to help develop Manchester City’s young players. In addition to the Etihad Campus, we could be looking at the start of one of the world’s best youth set-ups if this is indeed the idea behind the purchase.

It is also likely that this a direct move to get a handle on the ledger and fall in line with Financial Fair Play rules set forth by both UEFA and the Premier League. I’m not entirely sure how this would be viewed but I’m sure getting a star player from New York FC owned by Sheik Mansour would not cost Manchester City owned by Sheik Mansour an arm and a leg.

But fear not MLS fans, the salary cap will prevent the Sheik from dumping hundreds of millions of dollars into a New York franchise. I’m inclined to believe that we’ll see a similar situation to that of Udinese Calcio, Grenada CF and Watford FC, all owned by Giampaolo Pozzo. Watford has 9 players on loan from Udinese and Grenada. Grenada has 5 players on loan from Udinese.

Scott Sinclair not getting time at the Etihad, wait until February and send him to New York on loan. Sinclair clearly makes well over the salary cap but who knows how many ways there are to circumvent that with loans. I’m certainly no economist and no expert on the MLS salary cap.

As for the MLS, they get a team that can build a suitable youth set-up and that will get a following simply from being owned by the same man as Manchester City. I know that I’m willing to call myself a supporter of New York FC, three years before they are scheduled to play their first game.

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Freddy Adu: An American Cautionary Tale

He was a prodigy. An American football phenom who came to prominence in 2004 for becoming the youngest person to sign a professional sports contract in the United States since 1887. Freddy Adu was supposed to become America’s Messi at a time when the US was in need of a football legend. Ten years later, all we got was a kid who never reached the dizzying heights expected of him.

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From prodigy to pretender, Freddy Adu will always be remembered as the American football star that never was.

Adu joined the IMG Soccer Academy at the age of 12 and by 14, he was being drafted first overall by the D.C. United in 2004. Signing a 14-year-old to a professional contract sounded absurd then and it sounds absurd now — if you forget that time VVV-Venlo signed a toddler to a 10-year contract.

The American football scene was very different 10 years ago and I believe that had an impact of Adu’s growth as a player. The MLS was less relevant then and Adu’s signing made international news. Hell, the only reason the 13-year-old version of myself knew the MLS existed was because of Freddy Adu.

Therein lies the problem.

Adu should have never been rushed to the pitch. His talent at 14 may have been prodigal, but there’s a reason American leagues stopped signing players his age in 1887. His skills were unrefined and his personality hadn’t been given time to mature. Think Mario Balotelli. All the talent in the world, but sometimes needs a swift kick to the ass to get him going in the right direction.

Nine teams and seven countries later, Freddy Adu has become a joke, mentioned with some of the worst flops in American sports history. Adu is football’s version of football’s (the American one) Ki-Jana Carter except Carter can hang his staggering descent into obscurity to being injured in his third game.

Undoubtedly, there are more Freddy Adu-esque American prodigies out there. It’s inevitable. However, we can count our lucky stars that the game in the United States and the MLS has grown up in the last 10 years. The MLS doesn’t like to sign anyone who can’t collect social security these days.

Whether Freddy Adu will ever be half the player we expected him to be can be argued for days, but Adu’s career will always be the warning heeded by the next American phenoms offered a professional football contract when he is still bringing his lunch to school in a Power Rangers lunch box.

Who’s to Blame for Soaring Transfer Fees

It’s easy to look at big money clubs and say “You’re the reason that players are getting bought for £50 million and getting paid £200k-a-week when they aren’t worth either.” Football purists will say if it weren’t for oil rich clubs being able to pay clubs those prices for players and giving them ridiculous wages, no one would be asking for it. I’m here to tell you that if you really think this way then you are wrong, my friend.

Sure, we can blame people like Roman Abramovich, Sheikh Mansour and the Qatar Investment Authority until we are blue in the face. They throw their money at any and everything they want. It’s true and I’ll admit that.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich has shown he has no problems throwing his money around.

However, it’s the clubs selling the players and the agents of those players who are creating “arms” races between the big money wielding powers that be in the football world.

Just take a look at some of the bigger transfer targets of this upcoming summer and the valuation put on them by their current clubs. Napoli demanded that bids for striker Edison Cavani must start at £60 million. Stoke City slapped a £15 million price tag on goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Manchester United made an inquiry for Gareth Bale and Tottenham told them £70 million or keep it moving. Teams are reportedly plotting bids in excess of £80 million for Brazilian star Neymar.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Anytime a player is linked with Manchester United, Manchester City, PSG, Real Madrid, Barcelona or any of the football finance giants, the club they would be leaving immediately wants excessive amounts of cash for that player.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe Asmir Begovic is a quality keeper who should be worth a pretty penny but £15 million is a little over the top. Maybe it was a ploy by Stoke to keep buyers at bay, but these days most big clubs will pay that for a player they want.

Manchester City isn’t pricing clubs out of moves for players. The clubs the players are at are pricing clubs out of moves for players. How many Premier League teams can afford Gareth Bale at £70 million? Three. City, United, and Chelsea — and United may be a stretch. And it’s not only limited to big time players, go back and take a look at how much City and Chelsea payed for players who haven’t seen the pitch in months.

As football fans, we need to take a step back and realize it’s not the oil-rich clubs that  created situations like Pompey, Blackburn and Leeds. Selling clubs see these teams getting cash injections and dollar signs flash in their eyes.

So in the summer when Napoli sell Cavani, when Bale leaves White Hart Lane and when Neymar finally makes his move to Europe, don’t blame the clubs that splash the cash for them, blame the club that sold them for that amount.

Three Reasons Why the CONCACAF Champions League is a Failure

Hands up, I was not aware CONCACAF’s Champions League was already in the quarterfinals stage. It pretty much just sprung up on me this morning while I was watching ESPN and they happened to mention that the Seattle Sounders became the first MLS club to beat a Mexican side in the competition. Kudos to the Sounders, but the novelty was quickly lost on me.

If you are not familiar with the CONCACAF Champions Leauge, here’s the rundown. It’s a 24-team tournament with 4 clubs coming from Mexico and the United States; 2 from Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Panama; and 1 from Canada, Nicaragua and Belize. Three clubs qualify from the Caribbean Football Union Club Championship. The rest is pretty similar to UEFA’s Champion League.

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

The Seattle Sounders made history in the CONCACAF Champions League, but does anyone care?

That being said, here are five reasons I think the CONCACAF Champions League is a massive failure.

1. There aren’t enough premiere clubs.

Let’s be honest with ourselves here. Can anyone name 2 clubs from the countries which have two entrants in this competition without looking on Wikipedia or Google? I’m sure there are quality sides in those countries but there’s a reason that only Mexican clubs have won this tournament since it changed to the “Champions League” format in 2008. You’d be better served to cut the tournament down to 8 clubs and jump straight into knockout rounds.

2. The scheduling is poor.

I’m not sure why it is done the way it is, but the competition begins in August which coincides with the beginning of Liga MX’s apertura but comes right in the middle of the MLS’ season. The group stages run until October when there is a five-month break before the knockout rounds begin. It’s hard to keep up with things that are separated by five months. It doesn’t help that one of the two top leagues in the competition, the MLS, does not play for most of those five months.

3. No one cares enough to go to the games.

In the 2012-13 edition of the CONCACAF, there are four teams that have a respectable average attendance — UANL Tigres, Real Salt Lake, CF Monterrey and Houston Dynamo. It’s a crapshoot after that. Six of the clubs averaged fewer than 1,000 fans at their home fixtures. Watching a game in an empty stadium is not entertaining and I could imagine going to a game in an empty stadium isn’t that fun either. Maybe if they said all the games were played behind closed doors, it wouldn’t seem so bad.