Manchester City Hoping La Liga Infusion Takes Back the Premier League

NOTE: This is only an excerpt of the full article at my new site, The One Two. Click here to read it in its entirety.

It’s only been a few weeks since Manchester City were officially dethroned as champions of the English Premier League but with the recent rumors, the impending arrival of Manuel Pellegrini and the apparent signing of Sevilla midfielder Jesus Navas, it looks like the team from the blue half of Manchester is attempting to bring in as much talent from Spain and the country’s top flight as possible in a bid to re-gain their spot atop the Premier League perch in 2013-14.

In the grand scheme of things, it is not surprising that the new City executives Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain are favoring Spain as the place to get City’s transfers from this summer as the two formerly worked for FC Barcelona. One would imagine that they have a better grasp on who is and isn’t good in the Primera Division thanks to their time at Camp Nou. However, I believe that this runs deeper than simply trying to emulate what Barcelona does at the Etihad. No, this is a case of building a sense of familiarity amongst the team and picking up a few players who can be linked to the Spanish National Team’s current domination of the world.

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Was Nastasic Excluded Because He Isn’t English?

Matija Nastasic joined Manchester City from ACF Fiorentina in the summer at only 19-years-old. No one expects a player, let alone a defender, to go from one league to another at such a young age and perform well but that’s exactly what the young Serbian has done this season. Nastasic’s exclusion from the PFA’s Young Player of the Year Award final six shocked me and apparently it also shocked the man who lost his spot in the starting XI to Nastasic, Joleon Lescott.

“I have no gripe with him. You don’t begrudge someone who comes in and does well,” said Lescott told the Daily Telegraph, “It was a bit harsh he was not nominated for PFA Young Player of the Year. He plays beyond his years and if he was English he would have had a lot more recognition. He’s not a glamorous sort of player who comes out with the ball. He just does his job exceptionally well.”

Matija Nastasic, one of the best young defenders in the Premier League but not one of the best young players?

Matija Nastasic, one of the best young defenders in the Premier League but not one of the best young players?

Not glamorous. Lescott’s right. If you look at the award’s shortlist, Eden Hazard, Gareth Bale, Christian Benteke, Danny Welbeck, Romelu Lukaku, and Jack Wilshire are all midfielders or forwards. Wilshire is the closest you get to a defensive player but even he gets forward.

Nastasic’s consistent play is easy to go unnoticed. I can’t remember the last time I saw the 20-year-old Serb lost a battle in the air. He’s been instrumental in Joe Hart’s (an omission from the PFA Team of the Year which shocks me) league-leading 15 clean sheets and the team’s outstanding defensive play, also league-leading.

However, I also have to agree that he was excluded because he isn’t English. If, for argument’s sake, Rio Ferdinand was 15 years younger, would he have been included in the list? If Steven Caulker has had the breakout season that Nastasic had, would he have been included?

I’m inclined to say yes on both accounts simply because Danny Welbeck made the six-man shortlist. Welbeck, in my opinion, has been largely underwhelming for Manchester United this season. It may be due to the arrival of Robin van Persie, but 1 goal and 4 assists in 29 games isn’t the type of stats that should be having your name in the hat for any award.

Speaking of United, Rafael is another player who should have been in the running for the award but alas, he is also not English.

With those two examples in mind, it begs the question of why one of the two defenders I mentioned weren’t included? Is it because they are defenders or because they aren’t English?

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.

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.

3 Reasons I Hate Manchester United

The Manchester Derby is tomorrow and for all intents and purposes it is meaningless outside of the rivalry between the two teams. It would take a colossal meltdown for Manchester United to drop a 15 — 18 should they win tomorrow, 12 should they lose — point lead in the final six games and Manchester City is destined for second and another go next season. I’ll believe the the rumors of an empty team sheet and no manager at the Etihad in August when I see it.

However, the countdown to the derby has me — a Manchester City supporter — thinking about all the reasons I despise United. I could probably go all day, but I’ll only give you a few.

1. Manchester United boasts over 650 million supporters worldwide.

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I bet there are a few tourists in the stands there. You know, 650 million supporters and all.

I’m not concerned with how many supporters they have worldwide because quite frankly I couldn’t give a damn. This comes to mind first because United supporters like to call City supporters fake. There is no way in Hell that over 650 million supporters (only 0.1% of those come from Manchester if you believe these numbers) aren’t most glory hunters. It’s been 30 years since United has had a bad stretch of seasons. As an American, I know a lot of “football fans.” Most of them are Manchester United supporters. Half of them don’t know that David Beckham played for United.

2. Manchester United plays the victim role too often.

Why did they lose to Real Madrid? The refs. Why didn’t they win the league last season? City spent a bagazillion pounds. No team has as many 50/50 calls go their way as Manchester United does. The only reason people talk about Fergie Time is because it’s proven fact that United wins many games in added time which is easy to do when said team regularly gets 4 or 5 minutes to score in. How many times have we heard Sir Alex moan about not getting enough time added after an United loss or draw?

3. Manchester United supporters like to act like United is a poor club

Everytime City or Chelsea or any other big money club wins, it’s because they bought it. Apparently, every single player on Manchester United’s squad is a product of Manchester United’s academy. Let’s take a look. Of the current first team squad, Ben Amos, Paul Scholes, Darren Fletcher, Ryan Giggs, Danny Welbeck, and Jonny Evans are products of the academy. If you were keeping count, that’s only six players and Ben Amos is stretching the classification of a “first team player.” That means that United bought every other player on their squad. Gasps!

The Fight for Credibility

Since the English Premier League was created in 1992, Manchester United has won the league in 12 of the 20 seasons and they are well on their way to win their 13th in the Premier League era (20th overall). It’s safe to say that Fergie’s boys — as much as this pains me to say — are “the” team in Premier League history. However, when is it time to give an upstart the respect they deserve?

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Sir Alex is one of the best, but at some point it is okay to say that other managers are good enough to shine his shoes.

We all know about England’s “Big Four” and their dominance through the years. Outside of Blackburn Rovers and Manchester City only three clubs have won the Premier League; United, Chelsea and Arsenal. Meanwhile, Liverpool gets included for their exploits in Europe.

Blackburn was a flash in the pan. They went as fast as they came and they are now in the Championship, having never come close to winning the league since and will probably have a tough time repeating 1994-95. Blackburn’s meteoric rise and plunging fall is the reason that football purists don’t give credibility to teams like Chelsea and Manchester City.

“They bought the league” is something you hear when asked about Chelsea’s back-to-back under Jose Mourinho and City’s thrilling last day title clincher last season. United, Arsenal, Liverpool, those teams would never do that. They would never spend millions to position themselves to bring home the title.

It’s true, Arsenal hasn’t spent much under Arsene Wenger. His financial policy is well known and the fact that the Gunners have been paying off the Emirates is also well know. I’d like to point out that since the Invincibles season and the one following, Arsenal hasn’t finished higher than 3rd in the league. They now sit in 5th place by Spurs and Chelsea.

Liverpool… hasn’t won the league in the Premier League era.

So that leaves us with Manchester United. As far as transfers this season, only one club spent more on players than Fergie — and no, it’s not their crosstown rivals. It’d be difficult to say that Robin van Persie hasn’t been the difference in United’s 15-point lead. How many winners has the Dutchman scored this season? Basically, it can be argued that United bought the league by buying van Persie from Arsenal.

But that will not be the case because United has “credibility.”

Whether just or not, teams do not get respect for winning the league in England because United has won it so many times. Teams do not get respect for finishing high because that’s something that Arsenal does on a meager transfer budget.

It took Chelsea winning the Champions League to earn some form of credibility with the purists and they are still defined by their owner’s purse strings.

I’m one to believe that constantly finishing near the top of the league should earn a team the respect they deserve as one of the more dominant teams in English football. Manchester City has finished 5th, 3rd, and 1st in the last three seasons and they will likely finish 2nd this season. They will have won a trophy in 3 of those 4 seasons should they get past Chelsea and Millwall/Wigan.

If that isn’t deserving of credibility then the league’s name needs to be changed to the “Manchester United will win” Premier 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.