US and Swiss officials bust FIFA: what does it all mean?

Today’s arrests are just the beginning. Is it the end of FIFA as we know it?

I read the news today. Oh boy.

It’s early and I’m still processing the stories, trying to a) understand the scope of the actions against the congenitally corrupt leadership of football’s governing body, and b) read between the lines so I can anticipate what comes next.

Here are some stray thoughts.

1. FIFA president Sepp Blatter hasn’t been arrested. Yet.  Continue reading

Sports

Jurgen Klinsmann vs. Don Garber at Hell in a Cell: it’s just not that complicated, folks

A few days ago there was another dust-up between US Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann and MLS Commissioner Don Garber. In the aftermath we’ve heard analysis upon analysis, take after take, all trying to sort things like why can’t we all get along and why does Jurgy hate America’s domestic league.

I get that controversy is good for certain corners of our society – say, those who make money off of ratings – but I really don’t get why this is so complicated for people. In truth, Klinsmann’s position is straightforward and logical, totally in line with a fact that we all know about athletics: To be the best, you have to compete against the best. Continue reading

The future of the World Cup: three burning questions

World Cup 2014 was a great one. But what does the future hold?

russia-2018Copa Mundial 2014 was a wonderful tournament, despite the bad officiating, diving and cannibalism. We saw the emergence of new stars (what do you mean it’s pronounced “Hahm-es”?), brilliant swan songs by old stars (here’s to you Miroslav Klose), dramatic overachieving (hail Ticos!), epic flame-outs (remember back in the old days when Spain was good?), spectacular individual performances in service of doomed causes (Memo Ochoa and #thingstimhowardcouldsave come to mind) and a whole lot more. Best of all, in the end the best team won.

Now we look ahead to 2018 and beyond with a series of questions on the mind of every avid football supporter. Continue reading

World Cup intermission: underachievers and overachievers so far

The round of 16 features at least nine surprises. Who has outperformed expectations? Who swallowed their tongues?

The group stage of World Cup 2014 is done and we have our entrants in the round of 16, which commences tomorrow. As always there have been surprises, so let’s have a look at the teams who have performed contrary to our expectations.

Overachievers

1: Costa Rica. Anyone who has watched this Tico team in recent years knows they’re tough as damned nails. Honestly, CONCACAF qualifying trips down there are about as bad as visits to Azteca. Continue reading

#USMNT 0:1 Germany: Yanks back into round of 16

It wasn’t pretty, but the Yanks advance. What next? Also, the ghost of Landon Donovan.

The US Men’s team lost to Germany today, but thanks to Portugal’s win over Ghana the Americans advance anyway. 10 stray thoughts, in no particular order.

1: The pervasive emotion is relief, not elation. Thanks to its last-minute collapse against the Portuguese this was tense until the final whistle for the US. Still, backing in is better than not getting in at all. Continue reading

#USMNT should pledge itself to Jurgen Klinsmann for the long term – regardless of what happens in Brazil

Landon Donovan was left off the World Cup team and American soccer fans are up in arms. Everyone needs to calm the heck down and think about the big picture for a minute.

Yesterday US Men’s National Team manager Jurgen Klinsmann announced the 23-man roster that will represent America in this summer’s FIFA World Cup in Brazil. That roster didn’t include one Landon Donovan, the nation’s best-known soccer player (and one that many casual observers mistakenly regard as the best player in our history, but that’s another argument for another day). Continue reading

NCAA Final Four: Kentucky vs. UConn reminds us how bad American sports are at deciding champions

US sports leagues reward inferior teams and routinely deny their best teams the championship.

Richard Allen Smith and I have argued from time to time about the merits of the BCS vs. the NCAA basketball tournament. Rich defends the BCS, while I point out its unfairness and corruption. He argues that the BCS does (did) a good job at getting the two best teams on the field for the final game, and that the single-elimination format of the Dance routinely allows inferior teams to win.

Whatever you may think about the BCS, it has to be said that Rich is right about March Madness. Tonight we’re going to see a “national championship” game featuring a team whose regular season performance merited them a seed in the 28-31 range playing a team whose record earned them an 8 seed – which is to say, they were somewhere in the early- to mid-30s. Continue reading

In an alternate universe, life sucks for Manchester United but is AWESOME for me

Speculative journalism and Quantum Mechanics provide us all with a vision for a better life.

The other day I was lamenting to one of my online sports groups that the place would be a lot more fun if we had a couple of vocal Manchester United supporters on board. Normally I don’t long for the company of muppets, but this year is special for us Manc haters. See, the once-mighty Red Devils, having seen legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson retire over the summer, find themselves in a really disappointing mess under new head man David Moyes. Disappointing for United fans, that is – the rest of the world can’t stop laughing.

Manchester’s supporters have gotten accustomed to winning, and not winning isn’t settling well. As sports fans everywhere know, few things on Earth are bitchier and whinier and altogether more entertaining than the entitled backers of a dynasty run aground. Hence my longing for the wailing of Mancs on the list. (The place hasn’t been totally unrewarding, I should note. We do have a couple of Arsenal fans, and they’re generally easy enough to stir up, especially after a 6-0 pasting at the hands of my beloved Chelsea.)

Continue reading

Italian football sanctions AC Milan over fan insensitivity

The Federazione Italiana Giuoco Calcio (FIGC), the governing body of football in Italy, just broke bad on AC Milan over its supporters abusive behavior. Gab Marcotti at ESPN FC explains.

The Italian FA charged Milan for the fact that some of their fans engaged in racist abuse during Sunday night’s match against Napoli. In accordance with the regulations, the stand from which the abuse originated (San Siro’s Curva Sud) will be shut for one game. (Individual supporters who are identified can also be charged under separate statutes. Had the abuse been reported as more widespread, Milan could have been forced to play behind closed doors. And had it been noted by the official, the game could have been suspended.)

As you probably know, we’re not fans of racism in football at S&R. Not at all. Nor are our guest posters. So the idea that FIGC is finally getting off its ass and doing something about the appalling behavior of it fan base is welcome news.

Except, well, except that this isn’t exactly what’s happening here after all. Marcotti continues:

But here’s the thing. Of the 14 Napoli players who played that day, 13 were Caucasian. The other, Juan Camilo Zuniga, is mixed race. And he wasn’t being targeted. In fact, the songs had nothing to do with race as in skin color. They were all about Naples and Neapolitans. And apart from striker Lorenzo Insigne, none of the players were from Naples.

The song in question talked about Naples being dirty, about Neapolitans not using soap, having cholera and stinking to high heaven. Another chant implored Mount Vesuvius to erupt and clean up Naples, presumably by killing all the Neapolitans.

It’s offensive and tasteless, sure. But is it the kind of thing that should be barred from football stadiums?

Let’s venture a bit deeper into the weeds, shall we?

The Italian FA is not just taking its cue from UEFA’s new disciplinary code and specifically Article 14 (PDF), which deals with “racism, discriminatory conduct and propaganda.” And in doing so, it’s basically acting as a test case for possible future legislation.

Article 14 punishes those who “insult the human dignity of a person or group of persons by whatever means, including on the grounds of skin color, race, religion or ethnic origin.” Read it closely and you’ll see that while racism, ethnic abuse and sectarian abuse are specifically mentioned, it’s actually about insulting the “human dignity” of a group or individual. That can easily include other forms of discriminatory abuse, such as homophobic abuse.

But what they’ve done in Italy is to specify what constitutes an insult to “human dignity” and, unlike UEFA, they specifically cite (in addition to sexuality) territorial origin.

Ummm. Listen, I’m all for dropping the hammer on racism. But…this isn’t racism, is it? Is it legitimately “ethnic abuse”? Well, if you dig into Italian history, yeah, the South and the North have somewhat different ethnic histories, sort of. Of course, the diffs probably aren’t as pronounced as the gap you’d find between the North End in Boston and the cracker neighborhood I grew up in.

I don’t know. I’m ambivalent here. There can be fine lines in cases like this, and I won’t deny that sometimes Northern Italians speak about their Southern countrymen in ways that feel a bit like racism. Still, I’m not at all sure that FIGC hasn’t overreached.

Part of me says lighten up – this is basic smack talk. It’s often insensitive, I suppose, but are we going to ban fans for hurting the feelings of their opponents? (Read the rest of the article – Marcotti is on his game here.)

This one troubles me, not the least because I have earned a rep as an accomplished purveyor of the trash myself. And my beloved Rocky Mountain Blues have been known to sings songs that are, ummm, potentially hurtful. For instance, we hate the Scousers (Liverpool FC), and the article notes a certain cultural stereotype pertaining to property crime. We like to sing this one, to the tune of “You Are My Sunshine”:

You are a scouser
A dirty scouser
You’re only happy on Giro Day
Your mum’s out thieving
Your’s dad’s drug dealing
Please don’t take my hubcaps away…

And there’s “In Your Liverpool Slums”:

In your Liverpool slums
You look in a dustbin for something to eat
You find a dead rat and you think it’s a treat
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
Your mum’s on the game and your dad’s in the nick
You can’t get a job ’cause your too fucking thick
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
You wear a shell suit and have got curly hair
All of your kids are in council care
In your Liverpool slums

In your Liverpool slums
There’s piss on the pavement and shit on the path
You finger your grandma and think it’s a laugh
In your Liverpool slums

We also love to sing in honor of Manchester United hero Ryan Giggs. To the tune of “When the Saints Go Marching In”:

Oh Ryan Giggs (oh Ryan Giggs)
Is fucking sheep (is fucking sheep)
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep
He’s fucking sheep, sheep and more sheep
Oh Ryan Giggs is fucking sheep

This one works equally well for Gareth Bale, or for matter any Welshman with the right number of syllables in his name. The Welsh are whiter than I am – is this racist? Ethnic abuse? Or is it simply nationalistic, tribalistic, etc.? Am I describing a difference that makes no difference?

We even have at our own. Referencing the infamous scandal involving Blues captain John Terry and the girlfriend of former teammate Wayne Bridge, there’s this one to the tune of “London Bridge”:

Mrs. Bridge is going down
Going down
Going down
Mrs. Bridge is going down
On John Terry

Of course, this is personal, not collective. I just wanted to throw it in because it’s my favorite.

Frankly, these are some of the nicer ones. There are lyrics in a few songs I’ve heard that you wouldn’t repeat in a crowd of drunken sailors.

Perhaps you get where I’m going. There’s no excuse whatsoever for racism, but there’s a line, right? It can’t be illegal to be rude, can it? Sure, it’s primitive and juvenile and frankly, we already knew that I’m a terrible human being.

I mean, if you adopted these kinds of rules in the US, that would mean I could no longer point out, when the Broncos are getting ready to play the Raiders, that Oakland is the world’s largest open-air latrine. When the Avs go to play the Devils, I can’t crack that the New Jersey state bird is the housefly. That Nebraska’s football team plays on natural grass so the cheerleaders will have a place to graze. It would probably be hurtful even to snark about what a high percentage of Bengal players wind up in jail.

Or are these things okay because there is no twinge of the ethic about them?

We’ll be watching as things develop in Serie A. Like I say, I applaud any and all efforts to scrub racism from the game. But it would also be a mistake to overcorrect, I think. I’ve had some opposing fans say nasty things to me through the years, and I’d hate to see them punished over a weak-ass attempt at cleverness.

It’s bad enough that their teams suck and their children look like the mailman, don’t you think?

(Shed End) Seattle Diary: I was wrong (and Mikel scores!)

Shed End Seattle

Last weekend I was near despair. As I wrote Sunday, I had marched forth in search of a Chelsea FC community here in my new city only to come up empty. Given the vibrance of the Rocky Mountain Blues supporters club in Denver, I was not exaggerating when I explained the emptiness and disappointment I was feeling.

Within a couple hours of posting my lament, I heard from Jason Smith, the man in charge of Shed End Seattle, the city’s main (and perhaps only – the existence of the Northwest Blues is very much in question at present) CFC group. Turns out the problem wasn’t with the club, it was with the pub – the George & Dragon has decided that it’s better for business if they show games on replay so they can space out their customers during the day. Ummm, yeah. If management is reading this, give me a call. There are some fundamental marketing principles that we need to talk about.

SES was working on the problem and has found a new place – the Market Arms in Ballard – that shows the games live. They were going to be there today. I signed up for the Facebook page and traded some comments with various members of the club, and it was with borderline frantic enthusiasm that I set off this morning to meet them in person and watch the Blues take on West London rival Fulham.

I try not to be wrong any more than I have to, but last week’s post was wrong, and as a result I’m as happy right now as I was despondent then. Jason and the rest of the crowd (pictured above, and bear with me – I’m terrible with names but I will get them all down eventually) turn out to be fantastic. (Since all they had seen of me was my current FB profile pic, they were surprised that I’m bald.) Knowledgable, enthusiastic, and they went out of their way to make the new guy feel welcome. I’m already looking forward to the next match (although since it’s a 4:30am start and the Arms seems unwilling to get up quite that early, we’ll probably be watching on replay).

The Arms, for its part, is a legit pub (the full English is recommended).

While I was wrong last week about the existence of a CFC community here, the rest stands. The RMBs are a special group and I hope they never lose sight of how great they have it. With luck I’ll find the same kinds of friendships here.

Oh yeah, and John Obi Mikel scored the capper today. For you throwball fans, Mikel finds the back of the net about as often as your average backup offensive tackle gallops 99 yards for a touchdown. I predicted that this was the year it would finally happen, though, and to celebrate I stripped and streaked down Market St. I’m not sure if anyone got video, but if they did let me know and we’ll post it for the entertainment of the RMBs and beefcake-loving women everywhere.

We do have this video, though.

 

UEFA okays moving 2022 World Cup to winter: who could possibly have seen this coming?

CATEGORY: SportsUEFA (the governing body of European football) has given its tentative approval to moving the 2022 World Cup to the winter.

The prospect of a winter World Cup in 2022 took a step forward after European football chiefs agreed a summer event could not be played in Qatar.

Summer temperatures in the Gulf state can reach 50C, sparking health fears for players and fans alike.

Uefa’s 54 member associations backed the switch at a meeting in Croatia.

Yeah, I can see that.

“The World Cup cannot be played in Qatar in the summer,” said Fifa vice-president Jim Boyce. “Everyone was certainly in agreement about that.”

Right. Everyone was in agreement. And I do feel sorry for FIFA. When they awarded the Cup to Qatar back in 2010, there was no real way to foresee that there could be problems. For instance, since meteorology hadn’t been invented yet, there was no way for the committee to understand that daily high temperatures in Qatar average 106F during the summer months. Average.

Otherwise, the deal made perfect sense. With a population of 1.69 million, the emirate would rank as the 38th largest metropolitan statistical area in the US, right alongside Providence. Sure, there was the fact that when they hosted the Asian Cup they managed the lowest attendance since Lebanon around the turn of the century, but you know, things change.

And as for the weather, that wasn’t going to be a big deal. Nor was the fact that they don’t actually have, you know, stadiums. The plan was that they were going to build several new ones and spread them out around the nation’s major metropolitan markets. Also, they were going to air condition them. No, not domes. They were going to AC outdoor stadiums. In the fucking desert. In fucking July.

That huge-ass seething spot you can see with the unaided human eye from fucking Mars?! Yeah, that’s the blackest carbon footprint in the history of the universe.

(Notice how so far I haven’t said anything about the potential cultural issues surrounding a rampaging month-long drunken orgy descending upon an Islamic village? I’m proud of how I didn’t go there.)

So, you’re probably asking yourself – self, how the hell did Qatar get awarded the World Cup in the first place? Good question. Sepp Blatter, the head of FIFA, said “The Arabic world deserves a World Cup.” He did not say “those of us making the decision deserve this suitcase full of unmarked bills.” But I’m pretty sure he thought it. He thinks all kinds of interesting stuff.

I will admit to not being 100% objective where Bladder is concerned. When he proposed hiring Henry Kissinger to “clean up” FIFA a couple years ago I wrote this:

What kind of narco-voodoo horse tranquilizer is Sepp Blatter injecting directly into his anal glands, anyhow? Enquiring Rational minds want to know. I mean, maybe he wants Kissinger to bomb the FA? But if he does, can he be trusted not to ramp up covert bombing of the Scottish FA and the FFF?

Seriously, what could Sepp be thinking? I can’t find any concrete evidence that he’s a deranged neo-fascist (although the fact that he’s Swiss and born in the mid-’30s raises obvious questions). He’s never been institutionalized that I can tell, although he’s bound to be prone to neo-liberal sex dreams. I did find this bit, which is curious:

In the early 1970s, Blatter was elected president of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders, an organisation which tried to stop women replacing suspender belts with pantyhose.

No telling what a TSA search would shake out of that underwear drawer, yo?

Anyhoo, the collective geniusosity that is the world football braintrust has finally admitted that it would be bad to stage the biggest competition in global sport in an environment where the players’ cleats might melt. Better late than never, huh?

Now all that remains to be figured out is how to do this without completely disrupting the regular seasons of the world’s top leagues. And the Champions League. And the holiday season. And by the way, will we be doing this in January 2022 or December 2022?

#SuitcaseFullOfPetrodollars

Conspiracy theory: did Wayne Rooney and David Moyes play Jose Mourinho?

Periodically friends will accuse me of being “pure evil.” I cherish these moments, and am proud of the fact that my mind goes where no demented mind has gone before. But it can be something of a plague, because there’s this part of me that thinks if I’m that sinister, other people must be, too. This quality has not rendered me the most trusting of people, I fear.

Anyhow, if you follow football (not throwball, but football of the global variety, or “soccer,” as you Yanks insist on calling it), you know that one of the protracted dramas of the summer transfer season was Chelsea FC’s pursuit of Manchester United’s star forward, Wayne Rooney (aka “Shrek”). The Blues needed a proven presence up top, and Rooney was disenchanted both with ManUre in general and with incoming manager David Moyes in particular. Shrek played for Moyes back when he was at Everton, and apparently is not fond of the man.

Rooney made clear that he wanted out, Moyes and the club made clear that he wasn’t for sale, and along the way the manager uttered some words in a presser that he insists were taken out of context, but that nonetheless were interpreted by the English football press as indicating that Rooney was to MU’s plans as horse droppings are to work shoes.

And the game was afoot.

Of course, in the end, when nothing was really moving, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho put it out there that in order for the deal to get done Rooney needed to step up and put in a formal transfer request to force United’s hand. Rooney didn’t, and CFC wound up with Plan B, Cameroon’s is-he-over-the-hill-or-not striker Samuel Eto’o instead. For American football fans who are having a hard time following the implications here, this is kinda like you were hoping to land Drew Brees and wound up with Donovan McNabb.

All summer I wondered aloud whether Mourinho, a consummate mind-gamer, actually wanted Rooney or if he was simply fucking with Moyes’s head. Or a bit of both.

Tonight I found myself in pure evil mode, wondering the very opposite: what if it was Mou being played like a four-Euro banjo?

Here’s the scenario. Moyes takes over at MU from Everton. He’s been around the block and knows that Mourinho, taking the helm at Chelsea, is a) in dire need of a new top-tier striker, and b) as noted above, a world-class agitator. So he goes to Rooney and says a) you’re critical to my plans and I want you here no matter what, and b) let’s fuck over Mourinho. Shrek says … well, he probably asks if Moyes’s grandmother is dating anyone at the moment, but that’s another post for another day.

So Rooney suggests, within earshot of a reporter, that he is not entirely enchanted with the idea of playing for Moyes, whom he considers to be a sheep-shagger of the first order. Mourinho sees an opening and dives in.

And the summer-long drama unfolds, with Roo sending out regular come-get-me signals and Chelsea making increasingly lavish offers for his services. United has a bit of sport with the whole thing, not only rejecting the various offers but at one point demanding not only outrageous sums of money, but also Chelsea’s best players in return. (Yes, you can have Brees. For Peyton Manning, Von Miller and three #1 picks.)

Meanwhile, Chelsea swallows the hook and goes all-in. Instead of hedging their bets by lining up a deal for another top-flight striker, should the Shrek deal tank on them, they convince themselves that it’s as good as done and forego the groundwork necessary to land a respectable Plan B.

In the end, Rooney wusses out and decides to stay, leaving Mourinho standing in the rain holding his nutsack (aka Eto’o, who was hell on two legs four years ago but after pissing away the last couple of years in Siberia is, ummm, on the back nine of his career).

That’s the conspiracy theory.

Now, let’s be clear – I have zero evidence that this is what happened. As I said before, I’m occasionally just evil enough to pull some shit like this and it makes me paranoid that others might be, too.

So, you’re wondering: is there reason to believe that this isn’t at all what happened? Yes. A couple things leap to mind.

First, the timing. If you were going to pull this, you’d wait until the last possible second to pull out, making sure that your trollee had no time at all to react. That isn’t what happened. It became clear a few days before the transfer window closed that Rooney wasn’t going to go through with it, and had Chelsea not had all its eggs in that basket they might have been able to get in for a suitable alternative.

Second, there was the whole Ander Herrera debacle, where the Yes Men apparently showed up at Athletic Bilbao to “negotiate” on United’s behalf. You can’t possibly think the people behind one of the sport’s greatest Keystone Kops episodes was also evil genius enough to shank the Special One.

Verdict: probably not. Still, it’s never a bad thing to remind yourself that there are scheming, evil motherfuckers out there looking to screw you to the wall. Assume that they’re at least as smart as you are and plan accordingly.

Meanwhile, Mourinho has to figure out how to turn the combination of Fernando Torres, Eto’o and Demba Ba into something resembling a real strike force. Whether he got played by Moyes or he played himself, he’s now got his work cut out for him.

Seattle Diary: if you have a community, do not take it for granted

When my marriage fell apart in 2010 I quickly realized just how much of my social life was tied to my wife’s friends and family. I had friends of my own, of course, but most were married with families, or they lived way the hell out in the ‘burbs. Very few were of the “let’s go grab a quick beer” variety, so the result was that I spent a lot of time alone.

Let me amend that. I spent all of my time alone. And given the upheaval that divorce represents, not just in your routine, but in your soul and in your psyche, it’s probably safe to say that I have never felt quite so totally alone in life. Her family had become my family, and all of a sudden my family was taken from me. No family. No tribe. No community.

In some respects alone was helpful. I needed to reconnect with the guy I had lost over several years of dysfunctional marriage, and time with my thoughts was important. But I’m a social person and I needed human contact, too. Continue reading

Racism in football: FIFA adopts the Dr. Sammy Plan

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsA couple of weeks ago I went off on FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, over the issue of racism in world football. The impetus for that post was the racist abuse of AC Milan’s Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in a Serie A match. If you recall, Blatter was appalled!

I noted that racism in European football was certainly nothing new and that the sports governing bodies had done pretty much nothing about it. Specifically, I wrote:

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

So imagine my surprise earlier today when fellow Chelsea FC supporter (and occasional S&R commenter) Bret Higgins forwards this item along.

FIFA racism measures could see teams expelled or relegated

Teams could be relegated or expelled from competitions for serious incidents of racism after tough new powers were voted in by Fifa.

First or minor offences will result in either a warning, fine or order for a match to be played behind closed doors.

Serious or repeat offences can now be punished by a points deduction, expulsion or relegation.

Jeffrey Webb, head of Fifa’s anti-racism task force, said the decision was “a defining moment”.

He added: “Our football family is fully aware that what is reported in the media is actually less than 1% of the incidents that happen around the world.

“We’ve got to take action so that when we look to the next 20 or 50 years this will be the defining time that we took action against racism and discrimination.”

Fifa, world football’s governing body, passed the anti-racism resolution with a 99% majority at its congress in Mauritius.

Wow. It’s as though FIFA leaders read my post and said “hey, that about covers it. All in favor, say ‘aye’.” While I’m just about certain that isn’t what happened, it’s still nice to see your wisdom validated every once in awhile. Suffice it to say that FIFA has gotten the policy right and they deserve major props for finally getting serious about the dark underbelly of the beautiful game.

All that remains now is to carry through with it. That, of course, could be sticky. I don’t doubt that they’d bring the hammer down in one of football’s notorious backwaters. Booting a lower division scuffer like Hansa Rostock or Hallesche FC down the food chain another notch to make a point? You betcha. I can even see them getting medieval on a big fish/little pond outfit like, say, Steaua Bucuresti.

But what about the racist ultras in some of the world’s bigger, more profitable leagues? Would FIFA and UEFA really relegate an AS Roma, one of Italy’s more prominent sides? What about Lazio, Roma’s far more virulent (and historically fascist) neighbors? As Bret said in a Facebook exchange, if FIFA is serious about this, Italy’s second division is about to get a lot bigger. Perhaps we should expect many rounds of fines and wrist-slapping before a big club is actually punished.

We’ll find out eventually. We can certainly expect a smaller club or two to be made examples early on. We won’t know for sure how serious FIFA really is until they’re faced with repeated offenses by a major side, and the smart money says that case will emerge from Italy.

For now, though, congratulations to FIFA for laying the groundwork. This policy does all the right things, and all that’s left is to enforce it.

 

 

Blatter “appalled” by racist abuse of Balotelli: hey Sepp – less talk, more action

CATEGORY: Racism in SportsRacist abuse of AC Milan striker Mario Balotelli by AS Roma fans in yesterday’s Serie A match caused the official to briefly suspend play. After an PA announcement warning the offending supporters to cease and desist, the game was resumed.

While these things are hardly uncommon in Italian football (or throughout the rest of Europe, for that matter), FIFA dictator-for-life president Sepp Blatter is appalled

“Appalled to read about racist abuse in Serie A last night,” Blatter tweeted Monday. “Tackling this issue is complex, but we’re committed to action, not just words.”

Blatter added that FIFA’s taskforce against racism and discrimination is “serious about devising a unified approach for FIFA’s 209 members.”

Blah Blah Blahtter. I’m not a big Sepp fan, of course. While he is to be praised for his humanitarian efforts, the pungent aroma of Eau de Fixer follows him wherever he goes. In the case of world football’s persistent racism, I have no doubt that he means what he says – he’d like it to be gone, and FIFA is exploring a variety of remedies. On this I take him at his word.

The thing is, I survey the landscape and as far as the eye can see there’s nothing but inaction. Milan coach Massimiliano Allegri had it about right in the post-match interview:

“Stopping the game doesn’t work. It’s a happy medium and like all happy mediums, it doesn’t do anybody any good.”

The fact is that FIFA (and UEFA) responses to racism have been ineffective because they favor, as Allegri says, the happy medium. The half measure. The symbolic gesture. The sternly worded warning. The slap on the wrist.

The failure to stop an undesired action by an individual or group is a function of either a) a lack of power, or b) a lack of will. There’s not a lot FIFA can do about the racism of fans as they share a pint in the pub after the game, perhaps, but there’s a great deal they can do in the stadiums. For instance, in yesterday’s match the game could have been suspended and resumed later in an empty stadium. AS Roma could be fined and docked points in the standings. If none of these measures achieve the desired result over a set period of time, the club could be relegated to Serie B. And so on.

[UPDATED: It has now been announced that AS Roma is being fined 50K euros by the Lega Calcio. This number represents nearly 3.5/1000ths of a percent of the team’s annual revenue.]

What happens as soon as the governing bodies begin taking meaningful action? Well, the technology exists to monitor every corner of a stadium, and it wouldn’t take long to identify the perpetrators. A club facing the loss of revenue associated with meaningful action would have pegged and permanently banned the perpetrators for life before the crew had the stadium swept.

The club would find itself receiving a lot of help from its more civilized fans, too. There are people in the crowd who don’t want to see their team penalized and you can bet the farm they’d be willing to help finger the troublemakers.

FIFA and UEFA could do these things tomorrow. They might encounter a legal challenge if things progressed far enough, but my guess is that they’d be on solid footing.

But they don’t. Why not? If you have the power to solve a problem and you do not do so, then it can only mean that you lack the will to solve the problem.

We can speculate as to motives all we like, but in the end it doesn’t matter. Racism of the sort directed at Mario Balotelli yesterday persists because it is allowed to persist.

I assure you, Blatter isn’t any more appalled by the actions of those fans than I am by his inaction. Perhaps less bluster, less impotent indignation and more leadership is in order.

Lone Star Funds president Ellis Short hires avowed fascist Paolo di Canio to manage his football team

UPDATE: It’s official.

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English Premiership side Sunderland AFC is considering hiring Paolo Di Canio to be its new manager. Di Canio would replace Martin O’Neill, who was turfed after Saturday’s 1-0 loss to Manchester United.

Providing negotiations proceed smoothly, club officials hope to announce his appointment on Monday morning. It remains unclear whether he will be hired on a short-term, seven-game deal or a longer contract.

The 44-year-old Italian represents an intriguing choice on the part of Sunderland’s wealthy American owner. Although Di Canio lacks Premier League managerial experience, he enjoyed an impressive 22-month stint in charge of Swindon after being appointed in May 2011.

Here’s a picture of Di Canio from his playing days.

dicanioWait – what?

The hell. No way.

What the goose-stepping motherfuck?

It’s true. Not only is Di Canio a fascist, he’s rather out and loud and proud about it. He’s gotten into hot water for his pro-ultra antics in the past (“ultra” is the term for European football’s rabid right-wing supporters, and those at Di Canio’s home club, Lazio, are among the continent’s more virulent), having drawn fines and a suspension and, in the case of his last employer, Swindon Town, causing a key sponsor to sever ties with his club.

Now, lest you get the wrong idea about di Canio, understand one key fact. According to him:

I am a fascist, not a racist.

Oh, well that’s diff…wait, back up.

“I give the straight arm salute because it is a salute from a ‘camerata’ to ‘camerati’,” he said, carefully using the Italian words for members of Mussolini’s fascist movement.

“The salute is aimed at my people. With the straight arm I don’t want to incite violence and certainly not racial hatred,” he said.

Ummm. So, di Canio is one of those Rainbow Coalition/diversity advocate fascists we’ve been hearing about? Is it possible to be fascist without being racist? Well, if you read what there is to be found on the subject of di Canio and racism, you come away with a picture that’s … conflicted? Is that the right word? He says he’s hanging onto his own ideas, but thinks that maybe all the violence was wrong. Or something.

Anyhow, di Canio is up for the Sunderland job. And Sunderland is in somewhat desperate straits. With seven matches to play, the Black Cats are a scant one point clear of the relegation zone, and being dumped down to the second tier would have grave financial consequences for the club. The stress is apparently leading their front office to consider … extreme measures?

And about that front office. Turns out the team’s owner is one Ellis Short. Short is, of all things, an American (albeit an American who has lived in the UK for more than a decade). He seems to be an almost pathologically private sort; just for fun, go Googling – it’s remarkable how little is out there on the guy, considering he’s a multi-billionaire. One thing we do know, though: he’s the (retired?) president of Dallas-based Lone Star Funds, “a worldwide private equity firm that specializes in purchasing distressed companies and assets, and also purchases under-performing and non-performing loans from banks (the company has been active in Germany in purchasing such loans).”

So, to summarize: a hyper-secretive Red State billionaire is set to hire an avowed fascist (but not a racist one) to save his football club from a financially damaging relegation.

Look, you know me. I hate to politicize things. But … we’re talking about a goddamned fascist. You know, World War II, concentration camps, the whole nine yards. Imagine for a second that the Dallas Cowboys were in danger of finishing last and were paying a financial price for it. Imagine that Jerry Jones were to fire his coach (okay, that’s the easy part) and was set to announce, tomorrow morning, that he had hired as a replacement a guy with a swastika tattoo, who in his autobiography had written that Hitler was “basically a very principled, ethical individual” who was “deeply misunderstood,” and who had, on multiple occasions, stood up in front of the crowd and led them in a rousing Sieg Heil or two.

Look, I hate Jerry Jones and am capable of thinking a lot of bad things about him. But I can’t even begin to imagine this sequence of events.

There it is, though. If The Guardian is right and all goes to plan, this time tomorrow an American owner in one of the largest professional sports leagues on the planet will have retained the services of the guy in those pictures above. Boggle the fucking mind, don’t it? Newspapers have been wrong before and let’s hope this is one of those occasions, huh?

Happy Easter.

ESPN FC asks: Can you call yourself a soccer fan if you don’t support MLS? Yes I can.

CATEGORY: SportsThe American soccer sphere has been abuzz these last couple of days thanks to a question that first popped up on Alexi Lalas’s Twitter feed:

Last night this was discussed: If you live in the U.S., can you call yourself a “soccer fan” even if you don’t support @MLS?

The question gets a thorough working over in an article posted on ESPN FC yesterday.

I fear this barb is aimed at me, and at fans like me, because we are not appropriately MLS-centric. The fact is that a lot of American football fans pay far more attention to bigger leagues abroad. The English Premiership is the big dog, owing to the fact that it’s the best league in the world, period. Other popular leagues include Spain (La Liga features two of the world’s great clubs in Barcelona and Real Madrid), Italy (Serie A), Germany (the Bundesliga would be bigger if it had a better broadcast deal over here) and Mexico (which feeds on our country’s booming Mexican-American population).

The quality of MLS play is certainly getting better with each passing year, and more and more players are making the leap to bigger leagues in Europe. Every time Clint Dempsey scores for Spurs, every time Jozy Altidore adds to his tally in Holland, every time a Brek Shea or Kei Kamara prove they belong in the Premiership, international regard for America and MLS ratchets up another notch. Commissioner Don Garber recently lamented that “respect for Major League Soccer is greater abroad than it is among the soccer community in the United States.”

Whether Lalas is legitimately pissed off or is just trying to motivate American fans, he’s stomping hard.

Hypocrisy is a constant thread through many American soccer fans’ attitudes,” he said. “I can’t make people follow MLS but I can point out their hypocrisy. If they do want to call themselves American soccer fans and support the national team, I hope that part of them wants the sport to succeed in the United States, and for that to happen, they have to be part of solution by supporting local soccer.

He goes on to argue that MLS is superior to much of what we consider elite elsewhere (an interesting proposition, to be sure) and says that it’s the most competitive league in the world. Well, maybe. A salary cap will create competition and parity, if not always excellence. A lot of teams go into the season thinking they have a chance to win it all. And they do, because the MLS is typical of American sports leagues. The regular season is next to meaningless, serving no purpose other than to generate revenue and seed a playoff system that all too often hands the big trophy at the end to a club that scuffed its way through the season and barely made it into the dance. In Europe if you win the regular season, you’re the champion. Over here, if you’re the best team over the course of the full 35 or so games, you get the opportunity to be upset in the first round and watch the rest of the playoffs on TV.

So “competitive” isn’t necessarily the ultimate in criteria. Just saying.

Here’s my issue. do support MLS. I watch the games on TV (last weekend I caught the season opener for my wretched Rapids and also the Portland/NY match, which was exciting as hell; as I type I’m halfway watching the New England/Chicago match). I go to the occasional game here, as well. I even watch CONCACAF Champions League matches featuring MLS teams that I hate vs. Central American sides I’ve barely heard of.

The tone of the ESPN article makes clear, though, that isn’t good enough. By their reckoning, I’m clearly being dumped into the category of “Euro snob.” Earlier today I caught the end of the Manchester City/Barnsley FA Cup tie. Later I watched a replay of today’s Norwich/Southampton match followed by the West Brom/Swansea rerun. I routinely get up on Saturday and Sunday mornings so as to catch Chelsea matches that start as early as 5am. Heck, I got up and drove to Boulder for a 3:30am kick in the Club World Cup a few months ago. I never miss a match (our supporters club gets together at the British Bulldog, which opens for the games, no matter what time they’re on), and last summer a group of us went to Seattle to see the Blues playing the Sounders in their annual pre-season tour.

Read those last two paragraphs again and answer me this: if I’m not a soccer fan, then what am I?

I understand wanting the US game to thrive – I want that, too. Not long ago I even wrote a five-part series on why soccer will eventually be bigger than American football here in the US. MLS believes it can be one of the top leagues in the world within 10 years, and while I think that’s ambitious, nothing would make me happier. (I also hope that the Rapids are good by then.)

I appreciate the passion of guys like Alexi Lalas, who was one of my favorites when he was a player and whom I continue to enjoy as an analyst and a promoter. I also appreciate how agitating and provoking in articles like the ESPN FC piece can make a point and draw attention to your cause.

That said, bite me. Suggesting that I’m not a soccer fan if I don’t support MLS above all other leagues is like saying I’m not a basketball fan if I prefer the NBA to Division III.

So yes, I can call myself a soccer fan. If you have a problem with that, then you’re probably something of a wanker.

Guardiola says no thanks to Chelsea, heads to Bayern – what now, Roman?

Roman Abramovich’s top choice to be the next Chelsea manager, Pep Guardiola, is heading to Munich.

Bayern Munich on Wednesday officially announced it had hired Pep Guardiola to coach next season for an undisclosed salary over three years.

Guardiola, who is the first Spanish manager of Bayern Munich since the club’s promotion to the Bundelisga in 1965, had been linked with Premier League teams Chelsea and Manchester City as well as AC Milan in the past weeks.

What happens now?

If the remainder of the current season goes well and the team perhaps wins a trophy (FA Cup, anyone?), does he stick with Fat Spanish Waiter Rafa Benitez, despite the supporters’ hatred of him? Does he pick up the phone and promise his old friend Jose Mourinho that if he’ll come back he can run the squad without any meddling from the top? If not, what choices remain? Abramovich has alienated or scared off pretty much every potential candidate in the world with his insistence on “attractive football,” his constant “helping” with personnel and his impatience with managers who occasionally lose a game or two?

CATEGORY: SportsIt will be interesting to see if Roman learns anything from l’affaire Guardiola. Chelsea has precisely the kinds of players that Pep likes. Pep has said he dreams of managing in England. Roman has chased him and is rumored to have offered him double what anyone else is paying. And STILL Pep says no. At this point, a man whose intelligence exceeds his arrogance might pause and do some soul-searching, perhaps even listening to those who keep telling him that his policy of turfing managers every couple of weeks is scaring away the good candidates.

My gut says no, Roman doesn’t learn a thing. One doesn’t become a multibillionaire oil magnate without a massive ego, and without putting too fine a point on it, he made his bones in a field that sometimes prefers strength to intellect and that perhaps undervalues the merits of reflection. (There – did I put that delicately enough?)

Time will tell. I’d love to think that this opens the door for a triumphant Mou return, but I’m not holding my breath.

Image Credit: ESPN FC

Five reasons why soccer will eventually surpass football in the US – #5: Americans love a winner

Part five in a series.

As Americans continue to succeed in the global game, expect fans to jump on the bandwagon.

Back to my original thesis, noted in part one: Americans love a winner, and the more success we achieve on the global stage, the more fans here are going to latch on.

…soccer might well have a bright future as a spectator sport in the US if we become an international power. That’s right. If our national team were one of the world’s top five sides, I assure you – I guarantee you – American consumers would fight for a front-row seat on the bandwagon. We’ve been told we ought to like soccer because everybody else does for all these years (and what do we hate worse than being told what we ought to do?), and meanwhile we’ve struggled to even qualify for the World Cup. We’ve gotten our knickers dusted on a regular basis by third-rate countries like freakin’ Brazil. And you want to tell me that if all of a sudden we were dominating the sport the way we dominate basketball that people wouldn’t be lining up for tickets and merchandise?

We’re already seeing more and more American players succeeding internationally (and not just goalies, either), with several Yanks playing key roles in England (Eric Lichaj, Geoff Cameron, Tim Howard, Maurice Edu), Germany (Tim Chandler, Fabien Johnson, Steve Cherundolo, Danny Williams, Jermaine Jones), Spain (Oguchi Onyewu), Italy (Michael Bradley) and Holland, where Jozy Altidore was leading the league in scoring up until recently.

Meanwhile, the most accomplished field player the nation has ever produced, Clint Dempsey, is starting for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premiership (which is currently engaged in Europa League competition).

Dempsey finished fourth on the FWA Footballer of the Year list behind winner Robin van Persie and Manchester United pair Wayne Rooney and Paul Scholes, who came in second and third, respectively. Dempsey became the first American to reach the milestone of fifty goals in the Premier League, with a free-kick against Sunderland in the last home game of the season.

On 7 June 2012, Dempsey was voted the Fulham ‘Player of the Season’ by fans for the second straight season.

The national team has endured some growing pains since the arrival of new coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but they have talent and he has a proven knack for getting the most of the players at his disposal. Nothing is guaranteed, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the US advance past the round of 16 in the next World Cup, and winning an elimination match would be a massive tipping point moment for American soccer.

In sum, then, soccer is posed for massive, sustained growth in the US at the same time our current alpha spectator sport is being eroded from the ground up by incredibly complex problems that suggest no obvious solutions. No one is predicting that football is going to go away for good, but it’s hard to see how it can maintain its status in the face of the dynamics described in the first two installments of this series.

While I love football (despite not being very good at it when I played as a youth), I’ve also come to understand the passion attending world football culture. Last year’s Champions League run by Chelsea FC was one of the most blindingly exciting things I have ever experienced in all my years of sports, and all those young people investing themselves in the supporters clubs are onto something. It’s more than a group of folks in matching shirts getting together to watch games, it’s genuine community.

I look forward to the coming years and the growth of “proper football” in the United States. And I hope that dedicated fans of American football will understand that this isn’t an either/or proposition: it’s okay to love them both.