Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Football Brand in America

Beckham: The Face of Football in America

This week, Bloomberg Businessweek released its Power 100 ranking of the most prominent athletes in America.  Only two football players made it: Landon Donovan came in at 40th — on the strength of his exposure from the World Cup — and David Beckham… of course.

Becks came in at 19th… which is not bad, but it’s not great.  He came ahead of Derek Jeter (Mr. Yankee himself), Venus Williams, NFL photographer Brett Favre and NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (America luuuuuvvvvvs its NASCAR!!!).

David Beckham the Brand has become bigger than David Beckham the Player ever was.  The high-profile wife, the high-profile teams, the high-profile switch to the MLS.  Becks is photogenic, scandal-free (lately) and is one of the few soccer players who will get stopped on the streets of North America.  He’s a marketers dream… which is why the MLS inked a major deal to make him the poster boy for the LA Galaxy and, by proxy, the League itself.

Becks tells Capello he still wants to play for England...

Except it hasn’t exactly worked out that way.  Becks hasn’t played nearly as much as he was supposed to, focusing more on his waning England career… and trying to get as much continental football to fight for his place on the Three Lions. That quixotic quest led him to infamously tear his Achilles tendon while playing for Milan… excluding him from the World Cup AND his MLS obligations.  He tried to earn a temporary place back in England this winter… but the Galaxy are apparently getting fed up with his wantaway ways.

Thierry Henry looks miserable in NYC

Becks’ signing with El Lay hasn’t exactly brought the intended stampede of Europeans to American airports either.  Lots of fading players give lip service to wanting to end their careers here, but that’s all it’s been… lip service.  And those who have come have become anonymous. Thierry Henry — the world’s greatest striker in his day — claims to take the New York subway to home games and practices, travelling unaccosted.

Becks’ ranking indeed shows his marketing power… and his marketing potential.  But with only one other player on the list — an American who is a regular squad member in any big European club — it goes to show you how far football/soccer still has to go in the eyes of the North American consumer.

Brent Lanthier

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The Bulgarian Question

Berbatov tightens his grip on the Golden Boot

It is damn near irresponsible to count out Manchester United this season, as they once again showed in their comeback away to Blackpool. But it is within the realm of reality to question whether their Number 9, Dimitar Berbatov, will maintain his torrid pace.

After the first half of Tuesday’s match, it looked the Seasiders might record a famous win against Sir Alex et al.  But the Unconvincing Invincibles served up something special in the second 45 minutes, and the cherry on top of that Mancunian sundae was Berbatov.

The striker scored the first and third goals against Blackpool, awakening the Red Giant and giving Man U just their third away win this season.  The goals make it 19 in 20 games for the Bulgarian.  It was the fifth time that he scored more than once this season, and it followed his third hat-trick performance just three days before against Birmingham. 

What is so impressive about Berba is how he does it. For the most part, he embodies the classic Centre Forward, waiting at the end of a series of passes to put the ball in the net… and he rarely makes a mistake.  Most of his goals are one-touch beauties, efficiently simple without great movement, but lovely to watch all the same.

Of course, he is also able to put on a show… especially when he knows he is in control.  Look back at his second goal of five against Blackburn.  Berbatov practically wills the ball in and then walks away, as he if knew it was going in all along. 

His third in that game is even more impressive.  He starts with the ball back at his own box, passes it to Patrice Evra, who then gives it back to a rushing Berba at the half. After kicking far and right to Nani, the No. 9 casually trots up the middle and into Blackburn’s box, madly signally for Nani to give him the ball.  The right winger agrees and Berbatov easily slots it in. 

But those goals pale against his performance against Liverpool at Old Trafford.  Never mind the enormity of the occasion. Never mind that he became the first United player in 64 years to score a hat trick against the hated Merseysiders.  His technique, his finishing were flawless.

His second against Liverpool might have been Goal of the Season

Case in point: the second goal.  Berbatov is in the outer box and takes an Evra pass from the right corner.  Sidling up to a wall of Liverpool players, the Bulgarian takes the ball on his knee, turns his back and scissor kicks the ball into the back of the net.  Jaw-dropping stuff that just might win Goal of the Season.

But there are things he is not.  He is not Wayne Rooney, United’s wayward son, who has yet to find the form he had before his injury last March.  And he is not fellow countryman — and fellow CSKA Sofia grad — Hristo Stoichkov.  The elder was a burly, volatile man who played well off the wing… not unlike Rooney.

He is not someone who seems to enjoy life away from Manchester: fifteen of his 19 goals this season have come at Old Trafford… and eight of those were against Blackburn and Birmingham.  His life doesn’t get any more pleasant on the continent.  Berbatov has appeared in five of United’s six Champions League games this season, without scoring a single point.

It is easy for observers to put qualifiers on his success, and it’s easy to question his enthusiasm, interpreting his calm demeanour as a lack of heart.  As a Liverpool fan, I am obligated to loathe him.  But every time the ball comes to Berba, I always secretly question my loyalty and think, “Oh this one might be bit special…”

Brent Lanthier

This is a great Youtube video of all 19 goals this season:

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Fergie’s Fantasy – Rating the Transfers

Bent already has one goal to show for his kit change

You may have notice the jerseys on some of the players on your fantasy team have changed colour.   This is not because they were bored with what they were wearing.  It means your man has been transferred to a new squad in the January transfer window.

A move can be good or bad news in terms of fantasy points.  A benchwarmer on one team could be a starter on another and vice versa.  Here’s a few of the more notable transfers and what they mean for you…

Darren Bent – Sunderland to Aston Villa
Bent immediately became Aston Villa’s deadliest striker upon his arrival and he showed it, scoring moments into his first game with the club.  I don’t think he will regain his amazing form from last year, but I see more goals in his future.  Buy him if you need a striker.

This transfer is also good news for owners of other Sunderland forwards Asamoah Gyan and Danny Welbeck who will reap the awards of more playing time in Bent’s absence.

John Carew – Aston Villa to Stoke City
Carew has struggled this year for playing time, which has resulted in the once-powerful striker having a grand total of zero goals so far.  The change of scenery might help, but a better option would be his cheaper and more proficient teammate Kenwyne Jones.

David Bentley – Tottenham to Birmingham
I’ve always thought Bentley was better than he showed in his limited playing time with Tottenham. But without a born goal scorer up front,who is going to get on the end of his crosses at Birmingham?  I’d steer clear for now.

Steven Pienaar – Everton to Tottenham
The speedy South African midfielder finds himself in a very crowded midfield with the likes of Gareth Bale, Rafael Van der Vaart, Aaron Lennon, and Luka Modric.  Again, I’d steer clear until we see whether he gets enough playing time to merit picking him for your squad.

It's like he never left...

Roque Santa Cruz – Manchester City to Blackburn Rovers
I like this one.  RSC is bound to get more playing time with Blackburn and he’s a proven goal scorer.  He can be picked up right now for a bargain price.

Wayne Bridge – Manchester City to West Ham United
I want to say something nice about Wayne Bridge because he’s had a tough go of it lately.  But you don’t want any West Ham defenders on your squad right now.  Just don’t trade him in for John Terry because that’s been done and it was awkward for all involved…

Scott Ferguson

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Out With The Old Boys, In With The New Girls

If ever there was a more symbolic moment of English football’s position of being years off the pace, it was the actions of Sky Sports’ (Britain’s answer to ESPN) main presenters over the weekend. Idolised by many,  Andy Gray’s comments over a female official highlighted the “lad” culture of the nation.

Let’s make one thing clear here. Any Englishman telling you that Gray was out of order should probably head down to his local and listen to the conversations that take place every night. It’s a footballing country dominated by alpha-male culture. In fact, the very suggestion that a woman be allowed to officiate caused an uproar on its inception several years ago.

What Andy Gray said was wrong and colleague Richard Keys was no better. In the modern day, comments like that shouldn’t be thought of, let alone muttered under a microphone on the biggest sports channel in the country.

Many in England feel Sky firing Gray and letting Keys resign was over the top, a knee jerk reaction to the ever present mass media coverage the Premier League receives. But this is an island where, and I speak from experience, girls are banned from playing football in schools to prevent the boys’ game being hampered. In fact, I’d never even seen a game between two girls until I moved to Canada four years ago.

It’s a crying shame. So while many may feel empathy for the two, I hope the majority take this as an opportunity to realize that attitudes must change. Bullish, testosterone- fuelled aggression has quite clearly never worked on a world stage for England (well, maybe away from sport it has), so how about something new?

We could start with more money for FA Academies for girls at grass roots levels, and more exposure to the Women’s game. It is 2011 after all. Heck, Keys and Gray could do worse than use their severance packages to help out.

Oh, and while we’re at it, how about Sepp Blatter does us all a favour and realizes the suffragette movement actually happened.

Sam Saunders

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The Weekend 10: “Isms”

Hey Gerard, why the long face?

1) Pessimism: Is there something about being an ex-Liverpool manager that makes you whingy? Is it advanced age? My God, will someone tell Gerard HoullierRafa Benitez, and Roy Hodgson to stop thinking the football world is out to get them?

2) Alcoholism: Getting up to watching Premier League games on Saturday/Sunday is getting harder as my liver gets older… less Ales, more Rails, methinks… Maybe I’ll just start hanging out with Dennis Bergkamp

3) Racism: Fiorentina must have missed their Sunday morning caffe as they drew to Paolo DiCanio con Lecce.  I wonder how DiCanio and Fiorentina boss Sinisa Mihajlovic greeted each other after the match. Of course, Mihajlovic isn’t racist: everyone else is

4) Antagonism: Maybe the sputtering Viola are missing bad boy striker Adrian Mutu. The Romanian has been banned from the team after an alleged training ground confrontation.  Mutu denies it was with manager Mihajlovic, asking how he could he fight a man twice his size. Ummm… this is how

5) Sexism: And not even the clever kind!  The “Wait a second, the mics were on?!?!” kind…

6) Skepticism: Manchester Citeh are willing to let Shaun Wright-Phillips go for free, because they can’t find anyone who’ll pay to take on his 65-thousand-quid-a-week salary.  His agent say five teams are interested in SWP joining their team. If his negotating skills are anything like SWP’s game, he’ll probably just run all over England without actually making contact with any teams…

7) Dwarfism: ‘Arry Redknapp was robbed in Madrid when a gang of six men started pulling on his pant legs and availing themselves of the contents of his pockets.  However, Jermain Defoe managed to stay lodged against ‘Arry’s thigh, fast asleep…

8 ) Fallibilism: Speaking of Madrid, Real manager Lord Valdemorte has refused to commit his future to the club.  Ahhhh. Mourinho leaves Inter for Real… and then departs after a season. Benitez leaves Liverpool for Inter… and then he’s out after half-a-season.  Hodgson leaves Fulham for Liverpool… and then, well… Grass is greener and all that…

9) Infantilism: Cristiano Ronaldo says that of course, he changes diapers.  I had to read further into this article to find out they weren’t his own….

Hey Ruud, why the… oh never mind…

10)  Equestrianism: Hamburg have rejected a Real Madrid request to bring Ruud Van Nistlerooy back to the Bernabeu.  It appears Der Rothosen will ride out the Dutchman’s contract before putting him out to pasture….

Brent Lanthier

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The Wild Rovers No More?

Chimbonda gives his final regards to Lancashire

The putting of pen to paper today by “nice guy” Steve Kean seems to indicate a turning point for Blackburn Rovers: that Ewood Park is shedding its image as a Home for Wayward Boys.

Indeed, the news seemed to cap off what looked like a week of redemption for the club.  Rovers have sold off poor sport Pascal Chimbonda, a whiny wantaway from every team he’s ever played for.  Kean also wondered aloud to reporters whether it might be time to let go of the Human Camel, El-Hadji Diouf.  Those words come just a week after Diouf allegedly stood over QPR player Jamie Mackie, taunting the player as he writhed in pain from a double leg fracture.

Diouf: Couldn’t meet a nicer fella…

The truth is that  — in the history of the Premier League — Blackburn has been a place for boys who behave badly.  Out of the players in the top 50 for all-time Premier League fouls, 10 spent time at Rovers.  Out of all-time Prem yellow cards, 12 wore the blue and white.  Of course, it’s also what they do off the pitch that makes them such problems.

Jason Roberts (2006 – ) – He lit up what is now League One for Bristol Rovers over two seasons.  But when they failed to get promoted, Roberts handed in a transfer request to a bitter Ian Holloway.  He was just as fickle to ex-manager Sam Allardyce.  Now Roberts can’t find the bright side of a barn door and is hated by the Rovers faithful.

Paul Dickov (2004-2006) – Nicknamed “The Wasp” and “The Pest”, Dickov’s role as a second striker was more to irritate central defenders. At only 5′ 6″, the cranky Scotsman did his job but picked up a weeee bit of fouls along the way.

Brett Emerton (2003 – ) – The Aussie plays the same style as many of his countrymen (Neill, Cahill, Kewell, Viduka): nasty.  The midfielder seems to find his way to a yellow card or two internationally, including this weekend in the Asian Cup.

Emerton, Neill: Model Citizens

Lucas Neill (2001 – 2007) – The epitome of Blackburn Rovers football in the last decade, Neill is also the epitome of the phrase “See You Next Thursday”.  A dirty player, he broke Jamie Carragher’s leg in 2003… an incident that literally made him a marked man on Merseyside. Neill is now playing for Galatasaray, so if Blackburn is a stop on the Road to Perdition, then Welcome to Hell, you Aussie git!

Morten Gamst Pedersen (2004 – ) – Alternating between pest and crybaby, Pedersen made a meal of Joey Barton’s punch this season. Barton is no angel but Pedersen made it handbags at dawn.

Robbie Savage (2005 – 2008) – By all accounts a nice fella when he’s in civilians, the Welshman is probably the most hated man on the pitch.

Bonkers Bellamy

Craig Bellamy (2005-2006) – Another Welshman,  Bellamy never shuts up, irritating “friend and foe” alike.  He pissed off former Blackburn boss Graeme Souness when both were at Newcastle. He went after Liverpool teammate John Arne Riise with a golf iron. He can’t stay at one club more than a season and a half.

Of course, one only has to look at the managers over the last ten years to see why the team is built like it is.  The seeds were likely sown with Souness’ arrival in 2000.  The Scotsman earned his reputation as the Godfather of Hard during his playing days at Liverpool. When he arrived at Blackburn he attempted to build the team in his own image.  After the Neill-Carragher incident, Souness refused to apologize for 48 hours.  Just this fall, Carragher returned the favour, saying that Souness’ time as Liverpool manager was the beginning of the end for the once-great club.

Sparky points out the Road to Perdition

But the man who probably had the most influence was Mark Hughes.  The irritable striker was a superstar for Manchester United… but it was at Blackburn that he ended his prolific career.  Sparky — another Welshman, by the way — brought in the likes of Roberts, Dickov, Pedersen, Savage, and Bellamy during his tenure.  While successful — Blackburn made two UEFA Cup appearances because of their League finishes — they were often the most penalized team in the Prem.

After Hughes left for the greener pastures of Manchester City (snicker), another bad boy took his place: Hughes’ former United teammate Paul Ince.  But Blackburn soon realized what lots of people already know: that ex-players without their coaching badges are almost always awful. Plus, the players couldn’t stand him.  Ince had a cup of coffee in Lancashire and then made way for Big Sam, who brought the same philosophy of “stuck-in” football that he used at Bolton… which leaves us where we are today.

A quick note: Even when Kenny Dalglish was managing the club, there were players getting up to no good.  Many members of the 1995 league-winning side were as familiar with the referee’s book as they were with the opposing goal.  That season, Tim Sherwood got 10 yellow cards, Graeme Le Saux got eight, Chris Sutton seven.  And just months after winning the Premier League, teammates LeSaux and David Batty fought each other during a Champions League match.

I’m not saying the arrival of the Indian Chicken family, and the permanent hiring of Kean, will make Blackburn a kinder, gentler team.  But after watching the club over the last ten years, it may be that a more attractive brand of football is on its way.

Anyway, it could be worse.  Could be Millwall…

Brent Lanthier

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The Weekend 10: Things Get Dioufy

Bridge to nowhere. Get it? Wayne Bridge? It's funny 'cause he's awful...

1) West Ham Bad Decision #1: There’s a prevalent theory that Wayne Bridge is terrible when playing on good teams… but great when he plays on mediocre team.  That theory was rubbished on Saturday.   Best 90-thousand pounds/week they ever spent…

2) West Ham Bad Decision #2: The Hammers were going to hire Martin O’Neill behind Avram Grant’s back, before they fired the Israeli manager. But they mucked it up, O’Neill gave them the V, and now Grant will likely stay put knowing his bosses tried to turf him.  Awwwwkward.

3) Blackburn are thinking of dumping El-Hadji Diouf, because they realized what Liverpool, Sunderland and Bolton also found out the hard way… he’s a liability.

Dude, where's my team?

4) Speaking of model citizens, Derby County captain Robbie Savage could be on his way to the MLS.  Savage has twittered that he has been requested by the Vancouver Whitecaps.  Huh. A long-haired loud-mouth with an accent. In British Columbia.  How novel…

5) Manchester United: The Unconvincing Invincibles. Best nickname I’ve heard in a while…

6) Liverpool is reportedly chasing Uruguay’s Luiz Suarez from Ajax.  I can only assume they want him as a backup to Pepe Reina

7)  Win, Lose or Draw. Or Draw. Or Draw. Or Draw.  No honours in the Birmingham, Merseyside or Tyne-and-Wear derbies… and the “classic” match between Spurs and United wasn’t…

8 ) Crystal Palace are looking to move stadiums.  They might want to hang on until after the Olympics when White Hart Lane becomes available.  Or not. North is South, East is West, cats and dogs living together…

The Qataris celebrated by ordering shots

9) Qatar has refused to schedule the 2022 World Cup during winter.  FIFA officials are aghast, wondering how players and fans will cope in 53 degree Celsius heat, and may be secretly rueing their decision to let the sheikhs host the event.  I suspect it’s an Arab plot to sell more $20 pints of near-beer at matches…

10) For the first pick in the MLS Super Draft, Toronto FC picked a kid with multiple sclerosis.  What the… ?!?  If this was a move to guilt me into going back into the gym: mission accomplished.  Thanks for nothin’…

Brent Lanthier

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