Football News (Part II)

Final update for tonight about the u20 South American Championship.  Brazil beat Ecuador 1-0 (without the suspended Neymar.)  As a result, Ecuador is officially out of the Olympics hunt and in danger of being the tournament goat.

On Saturday, Uruguay and Brazil will duke it out for the title, however both of them will probably go to the Olympics.  Even if Brazil lose to Uruguay (and they will have to lose to miss out on the Olympics), the goal differential looks like to be too much for Argentina to overcome (Brazil is +6 and Argentina as a 0 goal differential and Argentina will have to beat Colombia by at least 4 goals.)  The good news however, is that Argentina made the Youth World Cup again after missing out on the last one.  The loss of the Olympics is going to hurt though, especially since Argentina is the the two-time defending Olympic champion.

Ecuador’s players must be kicking themselves.  If they had beaten Uruguay instead of drawing them (which almost a reality but for one of the all-time great misses in football history), then they would still be in the hunt for both an Olympic berth and the title.  As it is, they need to beat or draw Chile just to qualify for the Youth World Cup.

So the final match day on Saturday is going to be extremely exciting.  The title is still up for grabs, as is one Olympic berth and a final spot in the Youth World Cup.  What a great tournament.  South America never fails to entertain.

Finally, I want to link to a great drawing I came across.  Matt Groening of Simpsons fame immortalized the Spanish National Team.  His rendition of Carles Puyol is spot on.

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Game On at the U20 South American Championship

The biggest match of the Neymar Tournament, Argentina v. Brazil, took place today.  Argentina won 2-1 (Brazil was down to 10 men within the first 10 minutes of the match.)  Neymar scored no goals; Juan Iturbe scored the winner for Argentina.  Uruguay beat Chile 1-0 and Colombia and Ecuador drew 0-0.

Uruguay, leading the standings with 7 points, has already qualified for the Youth World Cup with its win today.  Brazil and Argentina are tied for second place in the standings with 6 points each.  Ecuador is just behind with 5 points.

There are two matches left in the tournament.  Uruguay has the toughest draw of the top four, having to play both Brazil and Argentina.  Argentina may be able to relax a little after Uruguay (if the Albiceleste win) because its final match is against hapless Colombia, who is already assured of a Cup bid and pretty eliminated from the Olympics.  In the next match, Argentina plays Uruguay and Ecuador plays Brazil.  Brazil beat Ecuador in the first group stage, but it was a rough 1-0 victory (Brazil’s advance was already assured by that time though, and Neymar sat out.)  Argentina beat Uruguay 2-1 in their first match of the first group stage.

Chile will next play Colombia in a match that no one will care about.  Chile is pretty much out.  Yes, there are still two more matches, but really, they’re out.  Chile can only play spoiler to Ecuador now, and even that is dependent on circumstance.

The Youth World Cup teams entrants will be Uruguay  and Colombia definitely and Brazil, Argentina, and Ecuador probably.

The Olympics berths will be . . . stay tuned.  If Brazil doesn’t get one, there will be hell to pay.

Some Thoughts

Marcelo Bielsa is definitely out at Chile.  It’s quite tragic given what he has done for the national team both in terms of style and substance.  It was not a happy parting either.  The Chilean people must be sure to thank the clubs who voted Harold Mayne-Nicholls out of office, thus ensuring that Bielsa would also go.  They should also thank the Chilean FA for making sure that all bridges with Bielsa were burned.  If Chile does not make the 2014 World Cup, the Chilean people can be comforted with the knowledge that the local clubs’ fiduciary interests were put first.  Hopefully Bielsa will be able to find a new national side or club team to realize his crazy, beautiful ideas of how the game should be played.

This year is an off-year for the African Cup of Nations.  Apparently CAF is not satisfied with having a tournament only every other year.  Hence the African Championship of Nations, which started today in Sudan and which I had never heard of before today.  Basically the only difference between this tournament and the Cup of Nations is that players in this tournament are required to play for a club in their home country.  No expatriates allowed (even in other African countries.)  Because this is a tournament of lesser quality, I won’t bore you all by recapping it the way I did with the Asian Cup or the Neymar Tournament.  Not surprisingly, the last (and first) winner was the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the home of TP Mazembe–the club that shocked the world in December by upsetting Brazil’s Internacional to become the first African club to reach the World Club Cup final.  Most of the top African nations’ players are in Europe, so they are ineligible.   That is also why in the CAF Champions League clubs like TP Mazembe or Cairo’s big two (Al Ahly and Al Zamalek) dominate while clubs from places like Ghana, Nigeria, and the Ivory Coast underachieve.

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In completely unrelated news, I watched the first episode of the second season of “Who Do You Think You Are”.  As someone who loves genealogy and history, this series is naturally one of my favorites.  The first celebrity up this season is Vanessa Williams, and the show does not disappoint.  I am absolutely fascinated by what Williams has discovered on her journey.  It gives me hope that maybe there will be some record that I will eventually be able to find out about my own ancestors.

This season one of the celebrities is Kim Cattrall, of Sex and the City fame.  Cattrall is the second SATC celebrity to be on the show (after Sarah Jessica Parker’s appearance from last season.)  Or so we think.  Before you get excited that you will also see Cynthia Nixon and Kristin Davis also, you should know that Cattrall’s episode was actually filmed for the British series of Who Do You Think You Are (on which the American series is based.)  Cattrall’s journey is heartbreaking, and I saw it on YouTube some months ago.

(Don’t read if you don’t want to know what happens on the show.)

Cattrall’s mother and two aunts were abandoned by their father George at a very young age.  Cattrall chases shadows throughout the episode.  She discovers that George was a bigamist who, after marrying another woman and starting a family that he did not abandon, eventually moved to Australia.  If you are not watching this show, please do.

Weekend Roundup

Marriage Equality Train: Next stops–Maryland and Rhode Island?

That both states are very close is not much of a surprise.  Maryland has been a blue state for quite some time, and its proximity to DC–where same-sex marriage is already a reality–had put added pressure on the state to legalize same-sex marriage.  All the more so after the Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler released an opinion recognizing out-of-state same-sex marriages (and after Governor Martin O’Malley won his reelection bid last November and pledged to sign the bill.)  If the bill passes, there could be a referendum.  The good news is that getting a referendum to overturn an LGBT rights law in Maryland has not been successful in the past.  The bad news is that equal rights supporters have a very poor track record in state-wide referenda.

Rhode Island is, quite frankly, just a matter of time.  If not now, then soon.  Before this week, Rhode Island had a very homophobic governor in office.  Now Lincoln Chafee is governor.  Governor Chafee is undoubtedly a (to quote a now-infamous remark) “fierce advocate” of LGBT rights.  He was when he was in the Senate, the lone Republican one could say that about.  Lincoln Chafee’s ouster in 2006 was a tragedy.  Had he turned independent, Rhode Island would still have a great Senator rather than a future great Governor.  However, he was loyal to the GOP in a year when the country was sick of Republicans.  Despite an approval rating of over 60%, he lost his seat.  When I heard he was running for Governor, I told anyone who would listen that I hoped he would win.  After his election he refused to meet with the anti-gay bigots from NOM, and then he called for a marriage equality bill in his inauguration address.  That, my friends, is fierce advocacy.

Perhaps if marriage equality is successful in Maryland and Rhode Island, the LGBT rights movement can recapture the momentum that it lost after the failures in New York, New Jersey, Maine, and California.

Future Heartbreak? This Sunday Showtime will air the episode of its new series Shameless, which is an American version of a British series of the same name.  One of the characters is a gay teen named Ian Gallagher.  I have not seen the British show, and I had never heard about either the original or the American version  until today (I don’t have Showtime, but I will watch Shameless the next time I visit my parents.)  Having said that, I am excited and terrified at the thought of this show.  I am excited because British shows are usually very good at creating gay characters (Beautiful People, the British Queer as Folk).  It seems like people really enjoyed the British version, which is now on my Netflix queue.  I am terrified because American shows by and large make gay characters horribly one-dimesnional.  While I have not watched Showtime lately, their track record with gay shows has been appalling (The L Word, the American Queer as Folk).  On the other hand, this is not a gay show, it is a show where one of the central characters is gay.  That’s an important difference, and every once in a while, in that paradigm American television does do a gay character well.  Maybe Ian Gallagher will be among the lucky few.  (Although can we talk about this Ian Gallagher as the anti-Kurt Hummel thing that Vanity Fair and Towleroad are pushing?  Gay people come in all shapes, sizes, and colors; to define a gay character as an antithesis of another gay character is to denigrate the entire community, because there is an implied superiority.  Kurt and all effeminate/fey gay men around the world are just fine the way they are; the same is true of not-effeminate/fey gay men.)

I’m a little hesitant to watch this show because I am afraid of what would happen if I like it and then Showtime cancels the show?  My heart was broken by Beautiful People, and I’m still a little gun shy about new relationships with television characters.

edit:  I have been watching the British version on YouTube.  It’s funny, but this whole Ian Gallagher as the anti-Kurt Hummel is complete bollocks (as the British say.)

Turkish Orders Another LGBT To Close: Dear Turkey, do you really expect to join the EU?  And given that you pull this kind of thing all the time, do you really want to join?

Johnny Weir Comes Out: No, really.  I know you’re shocked.  And (what incredible timing!) he’s just about to start selling his autobiography/memoirs.  But it really was because gay kids are killing themselves.  I don’t want to hate on Johnny Weir; I liked his personality, and I liked his skating.  But his desire to play the victim now (Big Bad Gay Media made me stay in the closet!) rings hollow given his constant need for the spotlight–including television shows and a movie about his “outrageous” personality.  Additionally, after all of his complaining about the constant probing into his sexuality he outed his rival/enemy Evan Lysacek on Chelsea’s Hendler’s show.  Dear Johnny, people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones, even you really do hate Evan Lysacek.

Politics: President Obama selected William Daley as his new Chief of Staff, and progressives are up in arms.  I share their disappointment that the President appointed someone who believes the Democrats went too far to the left, but we need to be rational about this for a second.  No progressive legislation is going to be passed in the next two years, Daley or no.  As of this past Wednesday, the Administration is unofficially at war with Congress.  In the face of inevitable investigations, government shut-downs, and the 2012 election cycle, nothing progressive was going to get done anyway.  The White House needs a general right now and one who is not afraid to fight.  (But it would be nice if the Obama White House branched out and employed someone from outside of Chicago.  The rest of us are not incompetent.)

League Football: Tomorrow Barcelona plays Deportivo La Coruña in A Coruña.  Depor has not had a great season thus far, but they are still dangerous, especially at the Riazor.  Barcelona barely got past Athletic Bilbao at the Copa del Rey this week, and squeaked by Levante last week, so there is clearly some rust.  That needs to be fixed ASAP given that Real Madrid is always lurking.

For weeks I have been hearing non-stop bashing of La Liga.  The whiner complain that it is boring because only one of two teams is going to win, and that’s only because the rest of the league is so weak.  It denigrates an entire league, whose overall quality is just as good as any other (and team-by-team there is better technical quality in La Liga than anywhere else in the world.)  The bashing is usually from the English (of course), and all they talk about is how only two teams exist in La Liga.  Let’s examine why the detractors are hypocrites.  Every major league in the world has its big two, three, or four.  Spain has Barcelona and Read Madrid; Italy has Juventus, AC Milan, and Inter; England has Manchester United, Arsenal, and Chelsea (and previously Liverpool–sometimes); and Germany has Bayern Munich and occasionally a team that is not Bayern (this year it is Borussia Dortmund.)  Ligue 1 has been more competitive of late, but almost no one pays attention to Ligue 1 because the quality is just not there.  And we won’t even go into the problems with the leagues in Portugal, Scotland, Holland, and the rest of Europe.

Here are some facts.  Since the 1992-93 season, the beginning of the English Premier League, there have been 5 different winners in Spain.  There have been 5 different winners in Serie A.  There have been 6 different winners in the Bundesliga.  There have been only 4 winners in the Premier League.

From the 2000-2001 season to the 2009-2010 season there have been 3 different winners in La Liga, 4 in Serie A, 5 in the Bundesliga, and 3 in the Premier League.

From the 2005-2006 season to the 2009-2010 season there have been 2 different winners in La Liga, 1 winner in Serie A, 3 different winners in the Bundesliga, and 2 different winners in the Premier League.

In the 18 completed seasons since the formation of the Premier League, the top winner of La Liga (Barcelona) has won 8 titles; Serie A has a three tie for the spot as Juventus, Milan, and Inter each have 5 titles (but a lot of suspicion because of the Calciopoli scandal); the top winner of the Bundesliga (Bayern) has won 10 titles; the top winner of the Premier League (Manchester United) has won 11 titles.

This season as it stands, Barcelona leads La Liga by 2 points;  AC Milan leads Serie A by 5 points; Borussia Dortmund leads the Bundesliga by 10 points; and the most thoroughly mediocre Manchester United in recent history leads the Premier League by 4 points with two games in hand.

Meanwhile there actually a race in La Liga with two stellar teams (one possibly among the greatest of all time.)  In the other three major leagues, there is a lot of mediocrity at the top, which is why the league leaders lose and draw so many matches.

Can we please give lie to this canard that La Liga is boring?

World Football: Chile is probably out of a national coach.  The election for head of the Chilean Football Association head was held again, and this time Sergio Jadue won.  Bielsa has said he would resign if Harold Mayne-Nicholls (who did not run in the recontested election) was voted out.  There is a new head.  According to local media, Jadue will try to convince Bielsa to stay, but that probably will not happen.

And FIFA head Sepp Blatter, to the surprise of no one, is now calling for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to be held in the winter.  When will Sepp Blatter go already?

The Asian Cup has started in Qatar.  Qatar lost 2-0 to the powerhouse that is Uzbekistan.

Women’s Football: Kristine Lilly finally retired, and it is a sad day for American soccer, men’s or women’s.  Lilly participated in five World Cups, and was on the winning side in two of them.  She is the most capped player of all time, men or women, and the second highest scorer in women’s history.  She saved the US in the final match against China in the 1999 World Cup.  It is truly the end of an era, and the US team is all the better for her having played on it.

Music I listened to: Well none, but I did listen to a World Football Daily podcast.

Weekend Football Roundup: You’re Always Hurt By The Ones You Love

Fallout from FIFA’s idiotic and corrupt decision to host the World Cup in Qatar continues this week.  The anger of the English media and public seems to have abated a little, but we shall see if that holds; the Qataris have decided that since they are now future World Cup hosts, they should buy world football too.

First came the news that the Qatari ruling oil-garchy, the Al-Thani family, is looking to buy a Premier League club of their very own. No doubt this is due to their passionate following of the English game. Their choices are allegedly Newcastle, Everton, and Tottenham.  Purchasing the latter would be extremely disappointing because Tottenham has long been associated with its large Jewish following. In Europe, it is very rare for Jews to be openly embraced (I have yet to see FIFA condemn anti-Semitism the way it does racism.)  Tottenham is second only Ajax is term of embracing a “Jewish” identity, even if that identity is that it once had a large Jewish following.  I wonder if that Jewish association would be scrubbed away should the Qataris buy Tottenham.

Billionaire takeovers has been the way of the English Premier League for some time.  The superrich bought clubs to show their importance and business-savvy–never for love of the game.  The list of superrich owners include the Glazer family at Manchester United, Randy Lerner at Aston Villa, Daniel Levy at Tottenham, John Henry and New England Sports Ventures at Liverpool (replacing Tom Hicks and George Gillette), the Indian poultry company Venky at Blackburn Rovers, and so on and so forth.

Roman Abramovich the owner of Chelsea was different.   Chelsea was not so much a business for him, but a plaything.  At Chelsea, his is the last word.  If a manager could not give him what he wanted (European titles and style) the manager was out.   By that standard, there has yet to be a successful Chelsea manager.  With Abramovich showing the way, Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of the the Abu Dhabi royal family bought Manchester City, a perennial underachiever/self-destructor of English football.  City has tried to replicate Chelsea’s experiment, but with far less success and inevitably more humorous results–unless you are a City fan (the latest in City’s unending litany of woes is that its star player Carlos Tevez wants out.)

Now the Qataris are getting involved.   I imagine it will only be a matter of time before the Saudis, Omanis, and Bahrainis do too.  Because of all the money involved in the modern game, the lesser clubs in the Premier League need sugar daddies to compete with Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal.  If one of those clubs should falter (should United’s debts catch up to it or Abramovich decides he is bored with Chelsea) the floodgates will open and the established order of English football will be turned on its head.  Liverpool has already been reduced to midtable mediocrity, at least in the immediate future.

Acutely aware of the criticism over their World Cup blunder, FIFA has managed to dig the hole even deeper.  Not that FIFA cares what the little people (fans) think.  First Franz Beckenbauer and now Michel Platini–both members of FIFA’s selecting executive council– have suggested that the World Cup 2022 be played in January instead of June/July. Then Sepp Blatter said that maybe Qatar’s neighbors could also host some of the World Cup 2022 matches (after having dismissed the merits of joints bids during the bidding process.)   These suggestion are grating for so many reasons, but first and foremost is that it underscores how meaningless the bidding process was.   Winter tournaments and participation of neighboring nations was not part of the Qatari bid.  It is a post hoc way for FIFA to insulate itself from criticism about choosing a clearly unsuitable host.

These suggestions demonstrate FIFA’s arrogant unilateralism. In order to change the World Cup from 2022 (which they have never done before, despite holding the World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere on numerous occasions) the clubs will have to agree.  Clubs hate international football.  They have to let go of their best players (whose exorbitant wages they pay) and risk uncompensated injury.  The clubs bitterly complain about the African Cup of Nations, which is usually held in January.  How much more will they complain when their biggest stars risk a season-ending injury in the middle of the season?  International football may be the biggest honor, but the clubs still foot the bills.  The World Cup 2022 is a no-win situation for the clubs.  As far as I know, none have commented on this ludicrous idea.

Blatter, who has yet to learn that silence is golden, laughably insisted that FIFA is not corrupt and the English are just sore losers (which they are, but this time they are right.)  Blatter will not be satisfied until every region in the world has hosted a World Cup, whether they want to or not.  This is about “legacy”.  By unofficial FIFA definition, legacy involves the following: (1) white elephant stadia; (2) crippling debt for poorer host nations; (3) national laws eased so that FIFA can do whatever it wants; (4) official FIFA sponsors get to push out all competition whether international or local; (5) FIFA and its ruling class get richer.  Blatter’s real legacy is to make FIFA and football a multinational conglomerate that does not just have a presence in every country, it supplants every other sport.

This story crushes me.  My beloved FC Barcelona has reached a sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation, and will wear the logo on their strips.   The rules of Spanish Football are different than in England.   In England clubs are like what Americans think of when they think of sports teams–a business.  In Spain, clubs are actually, you know, clubs. They have members (socios) who, like shareholders, select a president and a board to run the club.  They can vote the president out too.  In England the fans think they own the club, in Spain, at clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, they actually do.  The reason I bring that up is because this type of ownership prevents oil-garchs and the other superrich from buying a club.  Otherwise, I have no doubt the Qataris would be trying to take over Barcelona as they have done with Málaga CF–right now the gem of Europe and arguably the greatest side of all time. Therefore, the Qataris will take over in another way.  Barcelona is the last major club to resist sponsorship on their kits (Barcelona has a socially responsible image.  I am sure if it were possible, the Camp Nou would be powered by only the sun and cule song.)  The blaugrana kit has an almost holy resonance. A few years ago, Barcelona broke with tradition to advertise an organization on its jersey. That organization however, was UNICEF, and Barcelona paid UNICEF for the right to advertise, not the other way around.  A perfect way for Barcelona to promote its own image.

Now however, in addition to UNICEF (and a small Nike logo) there will also be some kind of advertisement for the Qatar Foundation, a non-profit. What the articles that I linked to above do not mention is what exactly the Qatar Foundation does. I checked out the website of the Qatar Foundation and this is what is listed under the “What We Do” section.

Qatar Foundation is leading Qatar’s drive to become an advanced knowledge-based society. It is transforming Qatari society by educating the rising generation to the highest world standards – these will be the skilled professionals who will be the country’s future leaders. It is turning Qatar into a producer of knowledge by building a research base. Some of the new ideas will reach the stage of commercialization, helping diversify the economy. Qatar Foundation is also reaching out to individual sectors of the community and addressing social issues to accelerate the human development process in numerous directions.

This entire paragraph says absolutely nothing.  Education?  Is that what this is?  It is fair to ask what non-profit could support a sponsorship deal that the Qatar Foundation is offering.  FIFA, after all, is also a non-profit.

The writing was on the wall once Sandro Rosell took over Barcelona. He opened the books, and it turned out that the club, thought to be well-run by his predecessor (and enemy), Joan Laporta was actually deeply in debt.  I understand why Rosell did what he did.  I cannot blame him, but I still do not like him. His treatment of Johan Cruyff and the clear unease that Pep Guardiola has with him were troubling signs of his leadership.  However, what pushed me over the edge was when Rosell changed the rules for new would-be-socios, basically making it impossible for potential new members to join (also having the intention of limiting foreigners.)  Rosell closed the club that Laporta (a Catalan nationalist) offered to the world.  I will never be a Barça socio unless the next president changes the rules again, and that makes me sad. This blog post is a very good read from another non-Catalan Barcelona fan.  Between the new socio rules and the sponsorship deal with a shady Qatar oil-garch foundation, I do no like the direction that Rosell is taking the club in.

Barça has for years been the perfect club for the liberal football supporter. It has a myth-making ability that could compete with any side in history, even the Brazilian National Team.   Barça is a cosmopolitan club. Barça is Catalunya. Barça plays a unique beautiful style: the greatest in the world. Barça was the resistance to the central authority of Franco and his (allegedly) favored side Real Madrid.  Barça is més que un club.

All of this is true to an extent (although the Franco/Real Madrid connection is more legend and circumstance than proven fact.) It is also a mythologized view of Barcelona’s past.   I am not the best person to distinguish between fact and legend, which is already a gray area, but I know enough to love Barça even knowing its flaws.   FC Barcelona was founded on November 29, 1899 by Swiss expatriate Joan Gamper (Hans Kemper) and 11 other football enthusiasts of Britis, Swiss, and Spanish origin (city rivals RCD Espanyol was founded the next year to be an exclusively Spanish football club, a reaction to the international nature of Barça.)  Despite its international origins, the club quickly adopted a Catalan identity and became associated with Catalan nationalism.  Most famously, this Catalanism asserted itself during the Franco regime when the central government in Madrid attempted to destroy regional, non-Castilian identity across the country.  The Barcelona stadium was the only place where the Catalans could let off steam against the regime, use their own language, and wave their flag.  FC Barcelona was more than a club; it was a the representation of a collective, communal identity and a vehicle to remain Catalan.

Despite such a strong association with Catalan nationalism, Barcelona has always fielded foreign players, as opposed to Athletic Bilbao and its famous (but very loose) Basques-only policy.  In the late 50’s, the Herrera-managed Barcelona side that won La Liga twice fielded such non-Catalans players as the Hungarians Kubala, Czibor, and Kocsis, and the Galician Luis Suarez.  Although it never won Europe’s ultimate prize, it did win its fair share of prizes and was the first ever side to eliminate Real Madrid (the legendary team of DiStefano, Gento, Santamaría, and Puskas) from the European Cup.

European Cup came late to Barcelona, but the club still attracted some of the the greatest foreign players in the world: Messi, Maradona, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Neeskens, Eto’o Romario, Rivaldo, Stoichkov, Koeman, Laudrup, Deco, Figo, Kluivert, Hagi, Saviola, Schuster, Lineker, and, above all others, Cruyff.  It is Cruyff who changed the direction of the club to what it is today.  As a player, he brought Barcelona the  league title after a long drought.  As manager he led the Dream Team to Barcelona’s first ever European Cup title.

Cruyff’s most enduring legacy was his vision that La Masia become a youth academy similar to the Ajax Academy.  Now this vision has come into fruition as Barcelona, whose starting XI is made up almost entirely of La Masia graduates is considered the one of the greatest side is football history. Those same La Masia graduates made up the majority of Spain’s World Cup starting XI which finally answered the question “What if Holland won the 1974 World Cup?”  (winning, ironically, over the Dutch.)  No matter who win the Ballon d’Or next month, it is guaranteed to be a victory for Barcelona and La Masia and a vindication of Cruyff’s vision. As Catalan as Barça tries to be, in cannot hide the fact that its international influences are every bit as important as its Catalanism.  Despite fielding a largely Spanish team and pushing a Catalonian ethos, Barcelona is perhaps the most cosmopolitan side on the planet.

Which brings me back to the rest of the football roundup. Barcelona’s ancient enemy, Real Madrid, is at a crossroads. For the past two and a half years they have been beaten by Barça, sometimes dominated by them. Every decision that was made in terms of personnel was done with an eye towards Catalonia. This is especially true of the additions of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, and above all Jose Mourinho. And yet on November 29, 2010 Barcelona humiliated Madrid 5-0. I read two news stories today that made me wonder if Mourinho (who has his own long and bitter history with FC Barcelona) has stopped trying to bait the Blaugrana and begun to emulate them. The first is a story that Mourinho is trying to sign his former striker Samuel Eto’o away from Inter. Now assuming that Inter lets him go (which they will not), why would he even want to? Although Eto’o and Guardiola did not get along, which led to the ridiculous Zlatan Ibrahimovic transfer, Eto’o was and is very popular among Barcelona fans.   Going to Madrid would be a slap in the face to them.   Furthermore, Eto’o was at Madrid, and from what I understand, his time there was not particularly happy.

The other more interesting story is this one.  Real Madrid is the world’s wealthiest team and buys the world’s best players.  At the most recent edition of El Clásico, only one starting player from the Madrid side (Iker Casillas) came from Real Madrid’s youth system.  Compare that with eight starting players from Barcelona and another two who came on as substitutes.  Perhaps this is Mourinho’s acknowledgement that the best team is not always the one that buys the highest profile players.  That was the folly of the first Galacticos era, but Madrid and Florentino Perez did not learn the lesson. The biggest problem for Mourinho–if he is indeed trying to emulate Barcelona by tapping the Madrid youth system–is that it takes time, a luxury a Real Madrid coach does not have, no matter how high profile he is.

The demolition of Madrid also shatters the belief espoused by some, particularly Steven Cohen at World Football Daily, that Mourinho is the best coach of all time because of the titles he has won.  Mourinho is a great coach, there is no question.  He is remarkably successful, a skilled man-manager, and a great tactician.  However, has always relied on a well-tested overly defensive style.  A truly transcendent coach, like a Rinus Michels, a César Luis Menotti, an Arrigo Sacchi, or a Gusztáv Sebes does more than just take great players to victory; he is a philosopher who creates a style that influences future generations. He molds a team, or teams, that live on in memory.  I do not think Mourinho will do that. His eye, like Sir Alex Ferguson’s, is on the immediate victory not the long term impact. I do not know if Guardiola could manage another team as successfully he does Barcelona (the side he was born to manage), but he, with Cruyff, has molded something special that has already inflamed the poetic in football fans. Tiki-taka, like its predecessor Total Football, will long be remembered.  Although I (reluctantly) admit that Guardiola has not yet approached the Michels/Sacchi pantheon, he has, like the greats, introduced a philosophy that goes far beyond tactics into the football dialogue.

The World Cup 2010 was, in a way, Guardiolaism versus Mourinhoism.  Most squads used very defensive styles inspired by Mourinho.  Fewer teams played attacking football.  Only one squad played tiki-taka: the champions.

Rounding out the rest of the news.

Italian players do not go on strike after all. Hopefully the union will have got what it wanted. I would much rather see the spoiled but talented millionaires who bring joy to fans win than the ruthless billionaires who just bring misery and money.

Finally, in a fascinating story that is not getting much airtime, a legal panel wants the election of the head of the Chilean Football Association overturned. The defeated head, Howard Mayne-Nicholls, brought in the Argentine coach Marcelo Bielsa.  Bielsa gave Chile a style and an identity that it never before had in football.  Chile were a joy to watch in the World Cup, but were unfortunately eliminated all too soon (but had their best tournament in decades.)  Although the vast majority of Chileans wanted Mayne-Nicholls to stay (and also Bielsa, who threatened to go if Mayne-Nicholls was defeated), the Chilean clubs–who vote for the FA head–wanted him gone.  The clubs voted in a Spanish businessman Jorge Segovia who they believed would be more favorable to their interests than Mayne-Nicholls was.  Bielsa quit.  Now a legal panel says that Segovia was ineligible to run and recommends overturning the election.  This is simply a fascinating story.

Music I listened to while writing this post: Esa-Pekka Salonen “Wing on Wing”; Enya “Pilgrim”; Ike & Tina Turner “River Deep, Mountain High”; Bingoboys “Sugardaddy”; Achinoam Nini “She”; Billie Holiday “I Love You Porgy”; Johnny Cash “I Still Miss Someone”; Izhar Cohen and Alphabeta “A-ba-ni-bi”;

Great Moments in FIFA History

If you, like me, are incredibly disappointed (but not surprised) that the World Cups in 2018 and 2022 went to a kleptocracy and an oil dictatorship respectively–two countries that have a horrific history of oppression, racism (Russia), sexism (Qatar), and homophobia (both)–let us remember that FIFA has a track record for this kind of thing.  Off the top of my head:

1.  The 1934 World Cup went to Mussolini’s Italy.  To be fair, holding the World Cup in Italy in 1934 is not the same as the IOC holding the 1936 Summer and Winter Olympics in Germany (or even Italy in 1936).  Nevertheless, Italy in 1934 was still a Fascist totalitarian state whose policies and rhetoric was downright scary.

2.  Perhaps the most horrible thing FIFA has ever done (publicly) was during the qualification for the 1974 World Cup.  The Soviet Union and Chile had to play each other for qualification.  Chile’s legitimate government had recently been usurped by a brutal military junta.  The new government tortured and executed political prisoners (left-wing political prisoners) in the football stadium in Santiago.  These actions were well known.  After a 0-0 draw in Moscow, the return leg was to played in the Santiago stadium.  The Soviets refused to play there  because of the atrocities.  Rather than take action against Chile, FIFA disqualified the Soviet Union.  Chile went to the World Cup.  For once, the FIFA leadership suffered for their actions.  Stanley Rous, the head of FIFA was successfully overthrown by Joao Havelange, who ushered in a whole new era of FIFA corruption and greed.

3.  In 1978, Argentina (like Chile) was ruled by a military junta whose cruelty was well known around the world.  Despite public outcry both within and outside of Argentina, FIFA saw absolutely no problem with Argentina as host (and eventual winners.)

4.  In 2010 it was reported that the North Korean government had taken retribution against its national team and their manager after a poor World Cup performance.  FIFA buried its head in the sand until public outcry became too great.  They launched an “official investigation” which, to the surprise of no one, found out that no wrongdoing had taken place.

5.  Time after time FIFA refuses to acknowledge that technology can be used to correct refereeing mistakes and ensure a fairer tournament.  During the 2010 World Cup when Argentina played Mexico.  Argentina’s Carlos Tevez scored a goal that was clearly off-side.  The referee and his assistant missed the off-side at the time, but saw it on the instant replay in the stadium.  Because of FIFA rules, the referee could not overrule the earlier decision and the goal stood (let me repeat that, he saw the mistake, but could not change it because it happened after the fact.)  Mexico imploded, and Argentina won.  The poor referee was unfairly maligned for a mistake that could have been easily corrected.  What was FIFA’s response?  They stopped showing replays during the match.  (The United States was robbed a win against Slovakia after the referee in that match also made a horrific call.  Fortunately, the United States still won the group.)

6.  FIFA will suspend nations from participating in international competition if the nation’s government intervenes with the nation’s football association.  This is particularly galling in nations where the football association is so corrupt (Nigeria) that government intervention is the only way to clean it up.  On the other hand, an autocratic regime (North Korea) can get away with pretty much everything, because FIFA, like all bullies, is too frightened of taking real action against governments who not scared of them.

7.  FIFA has dragged its feet in responding to worldwide gambling syndicates.  One way they could help is by ensuring that national football associations, who have no oversight because of FIFA, pay their players so that said players–who are not stars and who do not make all that much money–are not tempted to throw matches.  This is a real problem in poorer nations.

These are just some of the things that FIFA has done.  This is all documented.  I am not even talking about the (probably true) allegations of bribery and corruption.  So, dear reader, if you are disappointed like me, at least let us understand that this is not the worst thing FIFA has ever done.  FIFA, like the IOC, is an international conglomerate that is solely around to ensure that its members get paid.  Russia and Qatar have money to pay those bills.