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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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.

Barcelona’s Messi-Dependency

In the two-legged semi-final against Bayern Munich, it has been downright painful watching Barcelona. That gilt edge that they’ve been known for playing with was dulled and the Bavarians dominated them for 180 minutes to the tune of an astounding 7-0. While I did predict something like this would happen to Barca, I didn’t think they would roll over as easily as they did when they decided to not play the world’s greatest player, Lionel Messi, showing their dependency on the Argentine.

It’s not often that you see the likes of Xavi and Andres Iniesta being hauled off, not because they are hurt or being rested but because they aren’t involved in the game. It seemed as if the entire machine failed to work properly without Messi in the fold. Of course, it also failed to work when Messi was on the field in the first-leg albeit with a bit of a knock.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

Lionel Messi watched from the bench as Bayern Munich completed the dismantling of Barcelona.

As strange as it sounds, a club with the world class talent that Barcelona has has developed a frightening dependency on one player. It’s the same knock against Tottenham and Gareth Bale, however, one would believe that Barca has the talent to overcome any dependency on any one player.

Tito Vilanova has a problem on his hands. He needs to find a way to break the dangerously strong link between Messi’s play and the success of the team. His side is good enough to beat anyone with or without Lionel Messi, but they should still be able to put the ball into the back of the net even with him sitting on the bench.

And that’s why I think it’s time for the Blaugrana to start filtering in the next crop of players and re-tooling their side. Don’t misunderstand me here, I don’t think they should get away from what has gotten them to where they are, but I think they need to get players in who haven’t developed the tendency to look to Messi to bail them out of the difficult situations they find themselves in.

It’s time for Barcelona to see if players like Gerard Deulofeu, Cristian Tello and Jonathan Dos Santos have what it takes to continue to move this club in the right direction or if they need to bring in the likes of Neymar to get the club’s ambition and drive back to where it was under Pep Guardiola.

By no means is this a knock against the team’s talent. We all know that Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world on their day but that’s not the team that we’ve saw in the two legs against Bayern Munich.

We saw a club that was overmatched, outcoached, outplayed, out-everything and it has a lot to do with Barcelona’s dependence on Lionel Messi.

A Special Failure in Madrid

Again, Real Madrid was ousted in the Champions League semi-finals despite their valiant effort to fight back from their 4-1 deficit against Borussia Dortmund. This makes the third straight year that the Merengues have been knocked out of the race for the cup for the big ears, all under Jose Mourinho. With the money backing them and the amount of talent at the Bernabeu, it could be considered a massive failure that Mourinho has only won three trophies while in Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One, but his special-ness hasn't extended fully to Real Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is known as the Special One, but his special-ness hasn’t extended fully to Real Madrid.

Mind you, they do still have the final of the Copa del Rey to play against Atletico Madrid and if last week’s game against them is any sign then they will probably bring that cup home this season. However, when you look at Mourinho’s track record, you can easily believe that Real Madrid expect more than a couple Copa del Reys, a La Liga title and a Suppacoppa.

His list of accolades demand more. Just take a look.

  • Porto: Primeira Liga (2), Taça de Portugal, UEFA Champions League, UEFA Cup (Europa League)
  • Chelsea: Premier League (2), FA Cup, League Cup (2)
  • Internazionale: Serie A (2), Coppa Italia, UEFA Champions League

With that in mind, you have to believe that the Special One has failed at Real Madrid. He’s been quoted as being a master at managing his players and a student of the game, but when he got his shot to cement himself as one of, if not the, greatest manager of all time he fell well short of the mark.

Even in a season where Barcelona has looked less than impressive at times in continental play, Real Madrid wasn’t able to keep pace with them in the league and have been pegged into second place well before the mid-way point of the season.

It could be the reason that Mourinho is dropping hints that he is ready to leave Spain’s capital to return to Chelsea where he will have both the transfer kitty of Real Madrid with half the expectations. Roman Abramovich is known to be quick in sacking his managers but surely he won’t do that to the only manager who has brought him success for more than a couple months.

Jose Mourinho will go down as one of the greatest managers of all-time when his career is over but everyone will remember the time he went to Real Madrid and couldn’t produce a Champions League with a massive amount of money and a hugely talented squad that featured one of the top two players in the world.

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.