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.

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.

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.

The Cost of Relegation

QPR and Reading have already secured their tickets to the Championship next season with the struggle to avoid being the third team to face the drop heating up with only a few games remaining. Wigan, the team currently sitting one spot below the safe zone, has a game in hand over the sides above them which is likely causing a few gray hairs for the likes of Aston Villa, Newcastle, Norwich and Sunderland.

Harry Redknapp has committed himself to staying at QPR, but many of his players won't do the same.

Harry Redknapp has committed himself to staying at QPR, but many of his players won’t do the same.

Whoever the third team may be, they, QPR and Reading will be facing a new challenge that isn’t as easy it sounds. The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season haven’t fared well in the Championship. Bolton is in the last playoff spot, only by goal difference. Blackburn is lingering in mid-table obscurity and Wolves… Wolves have clinched a second consecutive relegation.

The relegated teams will miss out on the £70 million domestic and international TV pot that will be split among the 20 teams of the Premier League in 2013-14 and will face financial constraints in the less lucrative championship.

This is not as much of a problem for Reading and Wigan, who is the likely third member of the relegation trip, because their wage bills aren’t ridiculously high. After all, Reading only just came up from the Championship as last season’s winners. However, it’ll be a different story for QPR.

The Hoops have a wage bill which can be compared to Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea, but they play like that group of guys in a Sunday League who all think they are Cristiano Ronaldo. It doesn’t help that Harry Redknapp decided to go on a spending spree in the winter transfer window

Luckily for them, their roster is choked full of players who have no intention of playing in England’s second tier. The likes of Julio Cesar, Loic Remy, Esteban Granero and Jose Bosingwa, just to name a few, will all be forcing their way out of the club. While the club will struggle to cope with the large wages paid to players who don’t choose to take this opportunity to leave.

Parachute payments from the Premier League are there to ease the transition for the relegated, but they only go so far to help clubs in their first season in exile and for a club like Wolves, it didn’t help them at all.

I’m tempted to say that QPR will see a similar collapse to Wolverhampton or AEK Athens in Greece’s top flight if you are familiar with their story.

Redknapp will be forced to sell his better players in response to the loss of TV money and other shared revenue while the large pockets of QPR’s owners will be largely negated by the Championship’s financial constraints and the fact that star players are not going to be willing to sign for a team that’s fresh off relegation.

The same problems will face Reading and whoever faces the drop with them and QPR. At the end of the day, the cost of relegation is much higher than a loss of TV revenue the Prem.