Change At The Human Rights Champagne

It has been reported here, here, and here, and probably elsewhere, that Joe Solmonese will shortly be stepping down as the head of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC).  [Update:  It is official.]  For those not in the know, the HRC is the largest, most powerful, and best connected gay rights organization.  It aspires to be to LGBT rights what the NAACP was to the Civil Rights Movement, although HRC is a far more inside-the-Beltway organization than the NAACP was in the 1950’s.  HRC is also an extremely controversial organization within the LGBT community.

For most of the time I have been aware of HRC, the organization’s results have been tepid at best, and that is being kind.  For every victory the HRC could claim, a crushing defeat followed.  I suppose you could say that it has been one step forward five steps back.  For example, HIV/AIDS protections were included in the Americans With Disabilities Act in 1990, but then Congress passed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the Defense of Marriage Act in the Clinton Administration, which was allegedly gay-friendly.  And then there was the extremely painful night in November 2004 when 11 states banned either same-sex marriage or civil unions.  Many of us, myself included, also blame the HRC for being practically invisible during the ballots to overturn same-sex marriage in Maine and California.  Some may argue that this was outside of HRC’s scope, but I strongly disagree with that.  They were highly invisible during those battles, so even from a public relations point of view, they failed (along with every LGBT-rights group.)

HRC treads a thin line because it is supposedly party-neutral, but in reality that simply is not true.  The overwhelming majority of the LGBT community lies somewhere along the left-wing of the political spectrum–from moderately progressive to outright Maoist.  Yes, there are some exceptions like the Log Cabiners, and the useful idiots of GOProud, but for the most part, the LGBT community is firmly liberal, and therefore firmly Democrat.  With good reason too; Republicans have staunchly allied themselves with the religious right, people like James Dobson, Michele Bachmann, and Jerry Falwell.  People who have more or less called for the destruction of the LGBT community, even if they don’t say it in those exact words.  Therefore, HRC tends to skew Democrat.  Every time HRC tries to cozy up to the Republicans (for example suggesting that they might support the privatization of Social Security if same-sex couples were included), the backlash from the LGBT community is loud and severe.

HRC is simply not very popular among the larger LGBT community, and it goes beyond endorsing the occasional Republican or conservative idea.  The community, despite general political uniformity, is remarkably diverse in terms of economic, ethnic, and cultural makeup.  There is actually very little about the community that is similar, the idea of a “community” is little more than an umbrella group for historical outsiders who defy society’s gender definitions.  HRC has, with some justification, been repeatedly accused of being a group that caters primarily to the concerns of specific subset of that community: white, gay, economically secure men (in other words, the homosexual counterparts of the same people who have always been in charge.)  HRC’s annual black tie dinner–which costs a pretty penny to attend, but gets some very powerful and prominent speakers–only reinforces this image, as did HRC’s implicit support of an Employment Non-Discrimination Act that protected sexual orientation but not gender identity.   (The transgender community has had a long history of neglect from the gay rights movement.)  One of HRC’s associates/competitors, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, attempts to be so inclusive that it doesn’t actually do anything, which could suggest HRC’s elitist strategy is the right way to proceed.  On the other hand, an overwhelmingly Democratic Congress with a Democratic President could not pass even a watered-down ENDA, which shows exactly what the Democratic establishment thinks of HRC.

Nevertheless, since 2009, the gay rights movement has seen tremendous gains, and for the first time really these gains have been at the federal level as well as the state level.  There have been two major pieces of pro-gay legislation (the Matthew Shepard Act and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell), and the federal agencies have become more aggressive and proactive at protecting LGBT rights, culminating in the Justice Department’s refusal to enforce the Defense of Marriage Act.  Additionally, a US-led coalition basically forced the UN, the epitome of inefficiency and homophobia, to declare gay rights to be human rights–for the little that such a declaration is worth.  No doubt HRC would like to take credit for that, and it has tried.  Not being privy to the Washington, DC corridors of power, who am I to deny HRC such credit?

But from where I stand, it looks like these changes happened despite the HRC not because of it.  HRC appeared to drag its feet, and Solmonese especially was hesitant to criticize a Democratic President who appeared unlikely to spend any political capital on the LGBT community.  The pressure, and therefore the change, actually seemed to come from grass-roots activists who were loud, angry, and unafraid to criticize (and, amazingly enough, from the Log Cabin Republicans whose lawsuit against DADT forced the President into action.)  From an outsider’s perspective, it was these people who made the Democrats fear for the first time that they would alienate a key constituency.  This may not be the truth, but in politics the perception is reality, and HRC appears feckless.

Whoever replaced Solmonese will have a full plate, particularly given how broken down the federal system now is.  One of the major questions though that the new leader must answer is whether HRC will actually lead or whether it will continue to sit back watch the change happen.

In Praise Of The Journeyman

This weekend La Liga finally begins.  It should have started last week, but those fixtures did not take place because the players from the top two Spanish leagues went on strike.  Sid Lowe explains the reasons and demands much better than I can, so I recommend his column for the background.  At its heart, the strike was about wages, specifically player protections when their clubs have spent too much (which happens all too frequently in La Liga) and cannot pay the players’ wages.  This is an issue very important to players across the spectrum of Spanish football, and it is very telling that players such as Iker Casillas, Carles Puyol, David Villa, and Xabi Alonso–players who will never be in that situation–have given their visible and ardent support.  When it seems like the players of Barcelona and Real Madrid fight over everything else, they united for this.

Coincidentally, Italy’s Serie A is not beginning this week because of, you guessed it, a players’ strike.

A lot of people who might read about or hear about this issue may scoff at players demanding wages.  Certainly some of the more disingenuous club owners have done so.  I suspect that the average fan’s reaction was to scoff, thinking this has to do with inflated wages, contracts, and transfer fees.  I also suspect that the visible presence of famous players from Barcelona and Real Madrid did not engender much sympathy to the cause.

I fully supported the players’ actions.  Casillas, Puyol, Villa, Alonso, and the rest are came together not for themselves, but in solidarity with players from those clubs without hope of playing in Europe and without a Spanish (or other nation’s) National Team presence.  These players do not get paid exorbitant wages and do not receive millions in endorsements.  They are journeymen, and are treated as such.  If the journeyman suffers a career-ending injury, he does not have millions to fall back on.  Instead he has to find a different career, either within his sport (which in many cases is all he knows) or without.  One of the trapped Chilean miners is a former footballer.

When we think about football or any sport, we think about the stars both in the past and the present.  Messi, Beckham, Pele, Jordan, Gretzky, Rodriguez, Ruth, Manning, Montana, Tendulkar, Laver, Federer, Graf, Williams, Navratilova, and so on.  We do not however, think of the thousands of journeyman around the world who cannot win over and over again at the highest level, but are still good enough to compete.  You know of them; they are the athletes whose names we don’t know.  Like their famous counterparts, they have a very limited shelf-life, a small window of opportunity to ply their trade before age (around 30) catches up with them, and they fall into total obscurity.  Athleticism is a gift, but it is a fleeting one.

Greatness is subjective, and that is why the Pele/Maradona debate will rage on throughout the generations.  Yet there is also some kind of objectivity to identifying greatness.  There is only one Messi, and to deny that something sets him apart from his peers is to dwell in churlishness. Yet without the journeymen, a Messi could not show how special he actually is.  To prove his greatness, he needs foils, those mere mortals who cannot match his greatness.  Although in the case of Messi, even his most talented peers look average, the majority of his foils are players who are good enough to be professional, but not good enough to be stars.  Some of these lesser players can be the top dogs in mediocre leagues, but they choose to stay where the best game is.  Some of these players would be lesser no matter which league they play in.  This is not unique to La Liga.  Ever league around the world needs journeymen so that the true talents can distinguish themselves.  It seems like a cruel fate.

I have tremendous respect for journeyman players.  They have spent their lives dedicated to something they love, despite the fact that they are putting their bodies and health at risk, despite the fact that they will never get paid like their more famous counterparts, and despite the fact that some of them are only semi-professional and need outside jobs to pay the bills.  Journeymen continue to play, not for the wealth, but so that they can do what they love.  There is honor in that.  I am glad that they players got some measure of victory, because most of them are not making millions.  Like us, they have mortgages and families, and a lifetime of responsibility.  They only have a little bit of time to earn money from the game before they have to move on into an unknown future.

The Future Of The International Game

After surviving an earthquake (which was not a very big deal) and now awaiting a hurricane (which is), I have some time to think about the future of international soccer, and that future does not look bright.  By now it is cliché to talk about how much less interesting the international game is than the club game, how the tactics are less sophisticated, and how it is less entertaining from an objective view.  And the international game has the added disadvantage of the bloated, corrupt entities that are FIFA, the continental confederations, and the national FAs.

I have been wondering what the international game will look like after the 2014 World Cup.  The vile, evil, kleptocrat Ricardo Teixiera, the President of the CBF and, according to one reputable (if hyperbolic) source, the worst person in the entire world, is probably going to take on Michel Platini for FIFA President after Sepp Blatter steps down.  Platini is no white knight, but there are very few who would be worse than Teixiera.  Regardless of what happens, but especially if Teixiera wins, football will be the biggest loser.

In his most recent blog post, Bill Archer wrote the following (see the link above for the full column):

[T]he European federations, who represent the financial, developmental and media engines which have made football what it is, believe that the biggest problem the sport faces is the fact that the vast majority of federations within FIFA don’t understand where all that lovely money actually comes from, namely the big clubs who create the big stars that everyone is willing to shell out all that big money to watch.

In fact of course, the problem isn’t that the, shall we say, “less prominent” footballing countries don’t know where the money comes from: they know perfectly well.

The problem is that they don’t care. They have the votes, and thus the power, to keep things exactly as they are and they have no intention of giving up all those mounds of money and power just because it might be the right thing to do, and if a bunch of prominent players break down while playing in yet another meaningless “friendly” staged solely for the purpose of fattening up the Presidential office budgets of a bunch of two mule federations, well, as they say in the Arctic: tough titties.

Archer is absolutely correct.  However, this is another element to this story which he does not write about (unsurprisingly, given that it is outside of the scope of his column.)  Around the world, devotion to local football clubs has been on the decline and loyalty has shifted to the top teams of the top leagues.  The best football in the world is played by a very small but very prominent number of clubs spread throughout Spain, England, Germany, and Italy.  The top clubs of these four nations have the most money, the most visibility, and have hoarded the world’s top players.  The best club in the world will always be on of their number, FIFA World Club Cup be damned.  Around the world, including the United States, local league suffers in comparison because it is remarkably easy to watch the top European teams and players on television, and more people would rather watch a top league on television than go watch their own local team, which can be distant, expensive, or dangerous.*

The European clubs realize this, even if, as Archer points out, the European national federations do not.  The super clubs cannot wait to pull away.  Right now they have agreed to a peace of sorts with FIFA and UEFA, mostly around the Champions League, but the clubs make the Champions League, not the other way around.  If Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Bayern Munich, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City, AC Milan, Inter Milan, and Juventus decide to hold their own tournament, the Champions League will fall apart, especially if those teams invite some historical powers (Porto, Ajax, Benfica, Marseilles, Lyon), the Qatar-owned, powers-to-be Malaga and Paris St. Germaine, and a few others.  No club would refuse that kind of visibility or money (which would be shared among the clubs only, cutting out UEFA entirely.)

I have talked about all this before, and I regret boring (all four of) my readers by repeating it, but I am interested in what the international teams will look like when the clubs no longer comply with FIFA and UEFA.  No nation will suffer more than England.  The EPL hates the FA, and the clubs only release players for international duty grudgingly.  For non-calendar events, like youth World Cups, the top English clubs don’t release their English players at all (they do however release foreign players as per contract agreement.)  One wonders if English players (or non-English EPL players) will be released when FIFA coercion no longer exists.  I suspect no.  I also suspect that the top English players, despite their lip service to the cause, will secretly be relieved.  One gets the sense they don’t actually want to play for England, a suspicion confirmed in the past few months by Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.  Both recent retirees have blasted international duty and their fellow England players.  Not coincidentally, both were also career players under Alex Ferguson, who has made no secret of his hatred for the international game.

I suspect this is the trickle before the flood, and within two decades at most the international game will be completely unrecognizable.

Footnotes: 

On the BBC’s World Football Phone-In, North American correspondent Sean Wheelock ranted about American fans who don’t support their local teams.  I strongly disagree with Wheelock’s assessment.  Fans have no duty to support a local team.  Sport is a business and a past time–in that order–not a cause, as any fan of women’s football knows all too well (and I would ask Wheelock why he doesn’t have the same passion and sanctimony about the WPS.)  Around the world, fans prefer European leagues to their local ones.  Leagues around the world, including MLS cannot compete with the money, talent, or history.  In a world and era as closely networked as here and now, the tradition of supporting your local club no long holds the same meaning.  Especially if you did not grow up supporting that club.

A Lesbian Walked Into A Bridal Shop…

This story has been making the rounds, and I find it both disturbing and fascinating.  A woman by the name of Alix Genter was shopping for a wedding dress at a bridal store in New Jersey.  Ms. Genter found the right dress, but the owner of the shop refused to sell it to her after discovering that Ms. Genter is a lesbian who planned to marry her girlfriend in New York.  Her bizarre reasoning for refusing to sell the dress was that the marriage was “illegal” and she would not participate in an illegal action.

Ronnie Polaneczky of Philadelphia Daily News wrote a column (linked above) apologizing to gay people everywhere on behalf of straight people.  She interviewed Ms. Genter and the store’s owner Donna Saber (Ms. Saber refused to give her last name, but other news sources have printed it, proving yet again that privacy is a thing of the past in the Internet Age.)

As a rule, I try to be skeptical of discrimination claims because (a) it is up to the (allegedly) wronged party to prove, and (b) it is very easy to make a claim based on discrimination without actual discrimination ever having taken place.  In this case though, it is very clear that Ms. Saber discriminated against Ms. Genter.  She admitted as such to the Ms. Polaneczky (as a side note, as lovely as the sentiment may seem to be, apologizing to all gay people on behalf of all straight people is a touch condescending.)  Ms. Saber’s voicemail message for Ms. Genter, the one that describes her marriage as illegal, was posted online.  Ms. Saber, for her part, sees nothing wrong with what she did, and told Ms. Polaneczky that she sensed Ms. Genter’s father was disappointed that his daughter was not marrying a man.  (Although she is trying to reach Ms. Genter’s parents to smooth things over.  Notice which party was excluded.)  She also told Ms. Genter that it was a shame that a girl from a nice Jewish family was gay.  It’s incredible arrogance.

The backlash against Ms. Saber has been fairly universal.  Yelp, a site which allows customers to reviews businesses, now has (at the time of this writing) over 450 reviews for this store, the vast majority of them incredibly negative and posted solely because of this incident.  The reviews will be removed eventually; Yelp is a review site for customers only and has stated it will not let the reviews stand.  Probably that is for the best.

The damage is done though.  This story has blown up and has hit the blogs (major and minor), the local media, and the national news.  This incident is probably going to put Ms. Saber out of business one way or another.   In the past her store has been poorly reviewed, and customers cite her as their primary source of discontent.  The reason Ms. Saber’s store still exists seems to have less to do with her business savvy and more to do with the fact that her store filled a vacuum–there are just not that many bridal shops in her area.

A more impending threat though is the lawsuit that will inevitably rise.  Despite Ms. Saber’s contention that Ms. Genter’s marriage was illegal, it is actually Ms. Saber who violated the law.  New Jersey has a Law Against Discrimination, which, much like the federal Civil Rights Act, prevents discrimination in (among other areas) hiring, firing, public accommodation, housing, and business transactions.  Unlike the Civil Rights Act, the Law Against Discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation (most famously from the Boy Scouts, although that was overturned by the Supreme Court.)  By refusing to sell a wedding dress to Ms. Genter, Ms. Saber committed an illegal act.

As noted by the Reuters article I linked to above, courts generally do not accept religious beliefs as an excuse for violating the Law Against Discrimination unless the discriminating party is a religious institution.  In this case however, religion would appear to be a red herring.  Ms. Saber did not actually use religion as an excuse.  In the Daily News column, Ms. Saber makes it clear that her refusal to sell a dress to Ms. Genter comes directly from personal rather than religious animosity toward gays and lesbians.  All this is a simple way of saying that should Ms. Genter pursue a lawsuit, she will win.  Easily.  (Conversely, had this happened in a state without protections based upon sexual orientation, then Ms. Genter would not have a case.)

Never let it be said that there is no such thing as bad publicity.  Ms. Saber is finding out that is simply untrue.

Leave Bert And Ernie Alone!

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in New York, it is nice to see that we can go back to focusing on what is really important: the sexual orientations of Muppets.  Internet “activists” began an online petition–because those are so effective–calling for The Children’s Television Workshop to marry Ernie and Bert. (Please don’t sign the petition, you’ll only encourage them.)  I thought it was a joke.  Somehow this idiotic idea got picked up by the media, who turned a complete non-story into major news.  Is it any wonder why I distrust the media?

The Children’s Television Workshop responded (foolishly in my opinion, because it only feeds the fire) by saying that Bert and Ernie are roommates, not partners, they will not be getting married, and Muppets do not have sexualities.  Critics pointed out that Kermit and Miss Piggy have sexualities–well really only Miss Piggy–conveniently forgetting that Miss Piggy is from the Muppet Show which is (a) a separate entity from Sesame Street, and (b) a show for adults pretending to be children’s entertainment.  (Miss Piggy is also violent, but no one would advocate Grover attacking other residents of Sesame Street.)

Ernie and Bert were created to show that people with different personalities, hobbies, likes, and styles can be friends.  What the petitioners don’t seem to realize is that both Ernie and Bert are actually children in the same way that Big Bird, Elmo, Prairie Dawn, and the rest are.  They were designed to be developmentally equivalent to children of specific age ranges.  Giving them sexualities would therefore be completely inappropriate.  Children do not get married.  (I can hear critics responding that children also do share apartments, but once again, it misses the entire point of Bert and Ernie.)

This is not to let the Children’s Television Workshop completely off the hook.  Sesame Street is full of different kinds of people and families.  Sesame Street could hire actors to play a same-sex couple (same-sex parents even) to live side-by-side with couples like Maria and Luis or Gordon and Susan.  Sesame Street could also invite a famous gay guest star (Neil Patrick Harris for example) and have that guest star introduce his or her family.  Or the Children’s Television Workshop could create Muppets who differ from stereotypical boy/girl behavior: a male Muppet who prefers dolls to trucks or a female Muppet who prefers trucks to dolls.  This would not to teach overtly about sexuality but rather tolerance for those who are different.  (Does Sesame Street have this?  I haven’t watched in years, but I have not heard anything of the like so I assume they do not.)

One can understand why Sesame Street is hesitant to include anything that with a hint of sexual orientation.  It’s red meat for social conservatives who already hate the show and want to cut off PBS funding.  One might describe this attitude as “Think of the children (except for their welfare, well-being, or educational needs.)”

An Ernie and Bert marriage  completely misses the point of Sesame Street, and that is to teach the importance of an inclusive community.  Sesame Street can take positive steps to include LGBT families, but stupid online petitions about Muppet sexuality get more publicity.

Cesc, Barcelona, and Arsenal

Although it has not happened at the time of this post’s publication, all signs point to Cesc Fabregas leaving Arsenal for Barcelona within the next week.  We’ve heard this before, but this time it feels like the seemingly decades-long saga is finally ending.  It is no surprise why FC Barcelona and the Barcelona fans want the Once and Future Cesc; he is Catalan, he is a Barcelona fan, he was brought through La Masia, and he is a part of the fabled class of 1987, the same class that produced Gerard Pique and a little Argentinian of some talent.  Unlike Pique and Messi though, the desire for Fabregas is more about the future than the present, namely he is hoped to be the replacement for Xavi, who is coming to the end of his career.  Right now, Barcelona has a packed midfield with Sergio Busquets, Xavi, and Andres Iniesta.  Despite the fact that he is a star in England, Fabregas will have trouble breaking into the Barcelona starting XI, just as he is not a starter for Spain while Xavi, Iniesta, and Busquets are.  (Fabregas is a better overall player than Busquets, but Busquets is one of the best defensive midfielders in the world, an absolutely necessary position in the Barcelona system.)  But that is not the point.  As Xavi’s heir apparent, the next season will be dedicated to making the Fabregas/Iniesta partnership as potent as the Xavi/Iniesta one.  It is also a way of consolidating Barcelona’s midfield domination for at least the next seven to ten years.  Fabregas will take over from Xavi, and eventually Thiago Alcântara will take over from Iniesta.  The next several years will be devoted to perfecting the Fabregas/Thiago partnership.

The real story in this is about Arsenal.  Fabregas is the captain of the club, he has been around for years, and at 24, he is one of the senior players on the team.  He is also one of the best, if not the best, players on the team.  The current squad has largely been built around Cesc Fabregas, the centerpiece of Arsene Wenger’s grand vision.

It’s a vision that has been crumbling apart.  Once Wenger was unquestionable, the man who managed The Invincibles and brought Arsenal to its (thus far only) Champions League final.  However Arsenal has not won a trophy in six years and that trophy drought looks unlikely to end in Year Seven.  Although Arsenal fans are loath to admit it, the blame falls squarely on Wenger.  The club that he built up he has also dismantled.  It is because of his stubbornness, his stinginess with money, most importantly, his reluctance to admit his mistakes.  Any other manager in his position, great or no, would have tried to get a new goalkeeper, better defenders, and players with experience rather than acquiring more untested young players (Gervinho may yet be a good signing, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is a head scratcher for a club that fancies itself as a contender in the here and now.)

Attracting first-rate players to Arsenal, a top club led by a respected manager in one of the world’s most exciting cities, should not be a problem.  Instead Arsenal have been written off before the season has begun precisely because of a dearth of such talent.  Arsenal play an aesthetically pleasing (at times) brand of football, but one without the killer instinct that makes Barcelona so deadly.  Barcelona meanwhile are both Arsenal’s pole star and bête noire.  On one hand, Arsenal fancies itself as an English Barcelona with a shared philosophy of how the game should be played.  Fabregas, a product of Barcelona’s system, was integral to that.  On the other hand, the Fabregas transfer saga aside, Barcelona eliminated Arsenal from the Champions League three times in the last six years.  The matches have ranged from the painful (Barcelona’s 2-1 victory in the 2006 Champions League final) to the controversial (Barcelona’s 3-1 victory at the Camp Nou this year) to the downright humiliating (Barcelona’s 4-1 demolition of the Gunners in which Messi scored all four goals.)

For all his abilities, Wenger does not seem to understand what makes Barcelona so great; he understands the velvet but misses the steel.  Therefore when Arsenal lose, Wenger finds excuses to mask his failings–usually blaming the other side for rough play.  I am no fan of fouling, but the Premier League is what it is, an intensely physical league born out of the direct English style.  Arsenal are not moving to Spain or Holland, and the EPL is not going to turn into La Liga just because Arsenal get roughed up by Stoke City.  The fans like the EPL as it is.  Besides, Arsenal are no shrinking violets, although if you only listen to the whining of Wenger and his players you would be forgiven for thinking Arsenal are merely victims of thug clubs.

The Fabregas affair is a sign of how far Arsenal have fallen, and yet completely contradictorily it shows nothing of the sort.  At the very core of this transfer is a simple truth, Fabregas always wanted to go back to Barcelona.  He left because he saw Xavi and Iniesta standing in his way to the Blaugrana starting XI.  Now a path has opened up, and it is time for him to go home.  This is nothing to do with Arsenal and everything to do with Fabregas and Barcelona.

Yet, if the core of the transfer says nothing about Arsenal, the surrounding elements are damning.  Unspoken by Fabregas is that he also wants to leave because he wants silverware, and that ambition is not matched by his club.  Despite the bravado, Arsenal have been bullied by Barcelona into selling Fabregas, and most likely for less than the desired price.  (Prices are a tricky matter.  They have been highly inflated in the EPL in large part because the rich clubs inflate the market with irresponsible spending, all the more so for unproven or unworthy homegrown talent.)  I do not defend Barcelona’s behavior during these negotiations, it has frequently been tone-deaf and tacky.  But there is fault all around for this years-long debacle.  It is not, as the English media would have it, Poor Defenseless Arsenal cowed by Big Bad Barcelona

Even more than the Fabregas transfer though, the real sign that Arsenal’s decline in prestige is that Samir Nasri wants to leave for Manchester City.  City have been fascinating to watch these past few years, as the powers-that-be have finally started to create an actual team rather than a collection of highly paid players.  Once shorthand for the eternal losers (especially in comparison with Manchester United), the Ferguson-dubbed “noisy neighbors” made a real statement of intent this summer with their signings, especially Sergio Agüero.  City are blessed with a nearly limitless checkbook and a worldwide fan base that will only grow.  City have one goal this year, toppling United from its perch.  City want the EPL title, and they want it at United’s expense.  The rest of the league is merely a formality.

Nasri’s imminent departure to the Eastlands is the real sign that Arsenal are losing its grip at the top of the EPL  Nasri, like Fabregas, is one of Arsenal’s best players.  Unlike Fabregas and Barcelona, Nasri has no connection to his future club.  Unlike the city of Barcelona (or London), Manchester is not a particularly interesting place to live.  In other words, there is nothing to attract Nasri to City save for money and ambition, both of which City have in spades.  Nasri wants out because he no longer believes Arsenal are winning club.  That is as damning an indictment as any that Wenger’s project has failed.

There was a Big Four in the EPL: United (usually the winners), Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool.  Liverpool fell out of that Big Four first and is trying to claw its way back in.  Tottenham and City competed to fill the void switching off between 4th and 5th in the last two seasons.  The Big Four is now a Big Six, although that Big Six is really a Big Three (United, Chelsea, City) and Lesser Three (Arsenal, Tottenham, Liverpool).  Without Nasri and without Fabregas, Arsenal have written themselves out of title contention.  This coming season, the goal will be to fight off Tottenham and Liverpool just to qualify for the Champions League, something Arsenal barely did a few months ago.  If Arsenal cannot offer Champions League football, the fallout for the club will be devastating.

This is not Barcelona’s fault; it is Arsenal’s.  Arsenal has had a great run since Wenger took over, but a lack of ambition and pragmatism are dooming the club with a slow decline toward mediocrity.  Arsenal may no longer be Boring, Boring Arsenal, but that is no good if the wins don’t come.  Ask Blackpool.