Friday, January 26, 2007

Platini president!

UEFA just elected Michael Platini to be their president. Of course I cannot hide my bias towards having the French legend run the most powerful Football association.

However, taking out my bias, I think this is a great move for UEFA. The exiting president, Johansson had been in office for the past 16 years. There is no doubt that European football has seen some tremendous changes and improvements. The European Nations Cup has really seen its "star appeal" the past few tournaments, it is truly a mini-World Cup The Champions League is an international event, albeit it has become too power league dominated more on that later. But it was time for some new thinking and new blood at the helm of the UEFA.

A couple of issues that Platini will be championing:

  • A salary cap for spending. On the surface this would be a great idea, give clubs who do not have multi-billionaires bank rolling them a chance to sign and compete. When is the last time a team not named Arsenal, Manchester United or Chelsea won the premiership? And Chelsea only started winning when a questionable billionaire from Russia opened his bank account to the spending orgy that has defined Chelsea the past few years. How about in Italy or Spain, where clubs not named Juventus, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Real Madrid or Barcalona rarely mount a long term challenge. When is the last time we have seen teams like Newcastle, Tottenham, AS Roma, Lazio, Atheletico Madrid to name a few mount a season over season challenge in their domestic leagues? The main hurdle with a salary cap, is unlike the NFL or NBA in the United States we are talking about a multiple leagues through out Europe. With different budgets, revenues, markets, cost of living issues, etc it will be extremely difficult to impose a salary cap, would it be done on an individual league? How would the cap in England measure to the one in Holland? Would you have to do a revenue sharing model? Would that be pan Europe? I think there are too many hurdles, as well as too much opposition from the powerful clubs, to make this happen.
  • Limiting nations to 3 teams for the Champions League. This is something I agree with Platini. Of course the loudest voices against this are emerging from the "big leagues," especially from the blow hard loud mouth Manchester United manager SAF. Some of us remember when the Champions League, or at the time the Champions Cup, was limited to the teams that WON their domestic league...isn't that a novel idea, allow the teams that won their league to see who is the best of Europe. Now some might argue that the best team in the Portugese league is not as good as a second place Real Madrid team or a third place Arsenal team. However I would argue that the team that won the Portugese league had to win consistently to win a domestic league championship, and that gives them a right to be measured with the best clubs in Europe.
Also, by having the Champions League weighed heavily towards the large leagues, they freeze out other leagues that could benefit from the revenues from the Champions league. And for those that would argue that the Champions League would lose some of its appeal, are barking up the wrong tree. Platini is looking to limit the entrants to three much as I hate to say it, does a 4th place Arsenal team deserve to be in a competition to determine the best club team in Europe? I say no. And you will still get the potential for the best clubs from Italy to play the best clubs from Spain.

Allowing the smaller leagues to get more teams into the dance of the Champions League will get them more access to the Champions League revenue, help build the clubs, help retain players, and make the competition more competitive! Additionally, this would give the UEFA cup more appeal by adding another big club from Spain, Italy and
England. I hope that Platini finds a way to work with the leagues to get this passed. I think that it is a bit of a joke that Liverpool was the Champions League winner two years ago, when they have not won a domestic league titles since 1990! Being in the Champions League is something a team must earn, not an exclusive club for the likes of Italy, England and Spain.
  • Racism and corruption, these are problems that have plagued European and International football for decades. Platini will need to make this a top priority with regards to his administration. Will he eliminate these problems, no. But he can put in place the proper controls and punishments to limit these issues and eradicate as much as possible within the European leagues. Teams need to be punished severly for allowing their fans to be racist morons...when PSG fans run wild and lead to the death of a fan they and the French League need to be punished. When Juventus and others are caught looking to fix matches, they need to suffer true punishement and not be able to appeal their way back into the Champions League (as did AC Milan). The carrot has been pumped up over the past few years, now the stick needs to be strengthened as well.
I think that the election of Platini will give the UEFA some new blood. It might anger some of the large european clubs, since Platini will push to make this a more open "club" something that the established club members will fight tooth and nail, but for the betterment of the game I think this is the right direction.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Hinguain joins Argentina

No surprise that Gonzalo Hinguain will play for Argentina....speaking no French and having only been in France for a few months. While Domenech tried to pull off a coup and grab the Franco - Argentine, it was clear that Hinguain was more "french" only to be able to play for a european club.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Title chase is back on

Tremendous win for Arsenal this weekend, but that in and of itself is an understatement. Manchester United was 10 minutes from placing one hand on the Premiership trophy, but in a tough battle Arsenal fought back for a famous 2-1 victory.

What Arsenal demonstrated in the last 15 minutes is what they need to do consistently in order to be a title contender. Rather than looking for the pretty pass that leads to the pretty goal, they need to mix it up when appropriate and play a physical style of football that is required to win in England. The first half of the game was marked by both teams cautiously feeling each other other, testing and probing the defense with out much success. What did give me some fearful moments was again watching Senderos constantly wiff and be found out of position. Thankfully nothing came of it. The real sparks started in the second half. A masterful run by Evra, who had a huge game, set up a simple goal by Rooney.

At this point I thought Manchester would kill the game, but surprisingly they appeared tentative, rather than go for the 2 goal to kill off the game they sat back, allowing Arsenal to come at Manchester United's defenders in waves...even bringing in Heinze to shore up the defense. However they lost a battle they should typically win, a 50 - 50 battle on the edge of the 18 yard box gave Eboue a clean run of the ball which he crossed nicely to Henry who....surprise....scored the winner with a powerful header.

Some comments:

  • Most of the game Arsenal fell back into their usual tic tac toe passing without shooting or attacking the goal. They constanstly look to find the perfect pass to break open a defense rather than testing from distance or running at defenses. Arsenal needs to get more of an attacking mentality if they are to regain their title.
  • Gilberto loss was huge, Flamini tried to imitate the brazilian in the midfield, but too often he attempted a pass too many or lost battles in the midfield. I think Flamini is a good joker off the bench, he can play on the back line or in the midfield for spurts but not sure he is a full 90 minute player. Why not get Baptista some run in the midfield. He gives the team some snarl as well as a legitimate scoring threat.
  • Clichy, Eboue and Evra, all had huge games from their fullback positions for both teams. Evra who had been "lost" the past 3 seasons has resurfaced as a top back. Clichy demonstrated why Wenger could allow Cashley Cole to leave. He attacked when needed and kept Giggs and Ronaldo quiet, I wonder when Domenech will take note. Finally Eboue showed why Lauren was allowed to leave, he was absolutely huge against Rooney. He also gave the team a little bit of nastiness it needs on the back line, mixing it up early with Rooney, knowing that you can easily get under the English striker's skin. His cross for Henry was picture perfect.
  • Larsson...he was almost entirely invisible the entire game. I am not sure he still has 90 minutes in his legs, but can be a great joker similar to the role he played at Barca.
The title chase is most likely over for Liverpool and Arsenal, too many points back to over take both Chelsea and Manchester United, but this serves warning for next season. Had Arsenal not dropped silly points early in the season this race would have been much tighter

Friday, January 19, 2007

Domenech making more friends

Domenech goes out of his way to slam his former Scotland counterpart, saying he chased the bank account rather than his country. While he might have a point, why express it in such a manner, it does nothing for the French national team nor their ability to qualify for the Euro....

All this does is demonstrate to me that Domenech still needs a lot of work on the PR angle of the job. Being a national team manager, especially of a footballing power, is a high profile job not just in your nation but globally. With the amount of money that is floating around in global football this has become big business - just the Champions League generates close to $1b....

It is clear that with this money the club vs country row will only get deeper. With this in mind, national team managers need to do a better job working with the club managers to secure the services of the star players. I think that national team managers who have solid relationships and good communication with the club managers allows for an ability to plan on how to use players for both club an country. Unlike club managers who only need to get along with their owners and sometimes their players, and even at that do not need to be "warm and fuzzy" since they have the stick of paychecks that motivates and attracts talent, national team managers motivate players with only the carrot of playing for ones nation.

However this is something that domenech has yet to accomplish. He has stubbornly stuck by his notion that the team comes first, which I agree with, but done so in a confrontational manner, which I do not agree with - see Makelele situation and the refusal to substitute out Henry. Going out of his way to critise a former national team colleage will not help the perception of Domenech's style. Hopefully none of France's star players end up on Rangers...I am sure Smith would go out of his way to make sure they are "available" for national duty. And I am sure that the other club managers are fully aware of the latest jib by Domenech.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Le Guen to PSG

I have been traveling for a few weeks and come home to see Lacombe gone from PSG...great, and Paul LeGuen the new Manager of PSG...good.

PSG has been through more managers the past 3 seasons than most clubs. the team is complete upheaval, they have yet to figure out which direction they are heading. Even clubs like Marseille seem to have more of a clue these days as to where to go....

Throw into the mix the entire racial issues surrounding the supporters of PSG, I think that Le Guen is getting into an extremely difficult situation. If PSG decideds to stay the course with him, through thick or thin, he might have what it takes to turn this pathetic club around. If instead PSG gives him 6 months, then we will continue to watch the once proud club flounder closer to relegation than to Championship

Thursday, January 11, 2007

$250m for must be kidding me

The worst kept rumor/secret is finally official, David Beckham will be heading to the MLS and will be donning the LA Galaxy strip, for a cool $250m 5year contract. There is no doubt that the 31 year old former England captain is a world wide footie icon, but is he worth such a massive payout? I completely understand why the MLS is anxious to get some named players into the league, however I think that such contracts may create more problems than solutions.

While the "Beckham rule," allowing MLS teams to sign one high salary player without hurting the salary cap will not allow the MLS to go the NASL route where teams like the Cosmos bought the likes of Pele, Beckenbauer and Cruyff, but the MLS is still using this clause to bring in old, end of career players. Players that are looking to get one more large paycheck before calling it a career, players that were it not for the MLS would have to take a pay cut and most likely play for a second tier European club (maybe PSG???? actually second tier is too kind for PSG). What will these "old horses" do for MLS? I would argue that other than giving the MLS some marketing and name recognition boost, it will do little for the product on the field. The expectations placed on the boots of Beckham may be too much to meet. Pundits and fans will expect players such as Beckham to dominate the league, score goals, pile up assists at record paces.....however this is highly unlikely. Soccer is a team sport, with out a supporting cast one gifted player cannot entirely take over a game: Pele's Brazil teams were STACKED, Zidane always had players like Vieira, Deschamps, Henry, Desailly, Blanc to support him...maybe the only time a player carried a team was the 1990 Argentina team that made it to the finals on the shoulders of Maradona.

However Beckham will be coming into a league and a team that does not have the talent his Real Madrid or Manchester United teams had. Additionally Beckham himself, is no longer the golden boy of football, his best years are behind him.

Rather than spending the $250m on a player for 5 years, I think the MLS would be better served investing in their youth system, coaching, facilities, and young american talents. Why not try and retain some of the youth in the MLS? I understand the best competition is in Europe, but sometimes money talks. Why not try and get a hold of some of the young talent in lesser South American leagues, this would give the MLS a new flavor and could be a good business decision since said players could then be sold to Europe at a profit.

I am sure the Galaxy is excited about bringing the former England captain, but once the media buzz settles I am not sure we will see the improved product and the league moving up to the next level.
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