They Should Know Better, But…

I have often wondered whether football clubs employ only people with no sense or if only people with no sense try to get jobs at football clubs.  Time after time, clubs, particularly very wealthy clubs, go after players who had already proved that despite their talent, their tenures would inevitably end badly.  Manchester City is probably the most egregious recent example with Robinho, Tevez and Balotelli all coming and exploding in spectacular fashion.  City is not the only offender though; off the top of my head I can think of very prominent flops at Barcelona and AC Milan, and there are many more (Brazilian clubs are equally bad).  I could have called every single one of those failures (and often did) even with my limited football experience.  How come if I can see it, then people who spend their lives around the game cannot?

Liverpool FC is definitely run by the football foolish.  Not just for the Suarez/racism debacle, or for overspending for untested players simply because they are British, or for letting the fans make the important decisions, or for keeping Kenny Dalglish as coach even though he hadn’t been a coach in about two decades.  Liverpool’s follies could fill an entire book let alone one paragraph of one blog post.

But this story caught my eye.  Now that Damien Comolli is no longer the director of football at Liverpool, owner John W. Henry is considering none other than Johan Cruyff.  Yes, that one.  Now in fairness, this is a story that came out of Soccernet (that most reliable of sources), and even according to the story Cruyff is not the only man under consideration.  Among the others under consideration are Louis van Gaal and Txiki Begiristain (both of whom, like Cruyff, have a Barcelona connection).  But Cruyff is the standout name.  He would be an utter disaster.

Now you may be thinking about Cruyff’s admirable record as coach and wondering if I am crazy.  He had some success with Ajax in the mid-80’s and then brought Barcelona to its greatest pre-Guardiola era ever.  Under Cruyff Barcelona won its first European Cup.  He gave Barcelona Guardiola.  More importantly, he instilled his philosophy in Barcelona, a philosophy that two decades later birthed this current team of legends.  In some ways, this is a good position for him; as director of football, most of his glaring managerial deficiencies such as hubris and a lack of tactical acumen (ironic given his role in Total Football) would not be an issue.

But Cruyff is still wrong for Liverpool for one simple reason: his ego.  Now there are other good reasons he would be awful: his dedication, his temperament, his lack of recent experience (apparently not a problem for Liverpool), the fact that his philosophy doesn’t fit in to the English/British game, his dislike of the English/British game, and the fact that his philosophy requires a long view and patience which do not jibe well with the modern money-based, instant gratification game of the present day.  Sure Liverpool need some kind of change, but Cruyff’s vision is too radical.

But it is his ego that will ensure he is a horrible fit for Liverpool.  Cruyff is a very cranky old man who demands nothing short of total devotion, and he takes umbrage and vengeance against those who oppose him.  Ask the former Ajax board of directors.  If Liverpool were willing to cede him total control than maybe, just maybe, it would be a workable fit.  But that is never going to happen, and Kenny Dalglish is the reason.  At Ajax and Barcelona, Cruyff is a legend, almost a deity, and was before he managed the clubs.  What would he be at Liverpool where he never had any connections?  And what happens when he inevitably clashes with Dalglish, whose philosophy is almost the complete polar opposite of Cruyff’s?  When push comes to shove, the fans will choose King Kenny over Cruyff every time.  And the fans control at Liverpool.  If Cruyff becomes director of football, it will be a miracle if he lasts a year.

Cruyff at Liverpool is insanity.  The foolish delusions of a senseless old man who refuses to accept reality.  In other words, the exact kind of person that a football club hires.

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And speaking of foolish old men, Pele has spoken again, and that is never a good thing.  Because Pele is a jealous god, he cannot handle the plaudits that Lionel Messi receives week in and week out.  This is not a new thing, and I’ve written about it before.  Pele’s latest dart is that Messi is not only not the greatest player ever, he’s not even as good a player as Neymar (who plays for Pele’s old club Santos.  What are the odds?).  Never mind that Neymar himself would say that Messi is better right now–no doubt all the more so since the humbling of Santos at the Club World Cup.

Because Pele had an opinion, it was inevitable that Maradona would get involved to (1) defend Messi and (2) attack Pele.  Maradona called Pele “stupid” because El Diego has such a way with words.  Messi v. Neymar is really just another way to have Pele v. Maradona Round MIV.  It’s the song that never ends.

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Football Updates

The Neymar Tournament recommenced last night for the first round of the final group stage.  First, the obvious: Brazil is winning this tournament (probably).  Neymar is getting the Golden Shoe, the Golden Boot, and whatever other non-goalkeeper individual awards CONMEBOL gives out.  This is Neymar’s show, and everyone else is supporting cast.

Last night Chile put up a fight against the vastly superior Brazilians in the first half (1-1 at the interval).  Then in the second half, Brazil turned it on, and demolished the Chileans.  The final score was an embarrassing 5-1.  It was sort of like what Brazil did to Chile at the 2010 World Cup and in World Cup qualification.  Unfortunately, the Chilean game just seems to play to Brazil’s strengths.  Neymar scored the first two goals, and now leads the charts with seven goals.

The other two matches were not nearly as prolific score-wise, but definitely noteworthy.  In both, the favorites lost by a 1-0 score.  Colombia to Uruguay was not exactly a big upset, but Argentina to Ecuador?  Wow.  There are four matches left, so it is too early to draw any conclusions, but I imagine that there is a small feeling of dread in the Argentinian camp.  Argentina barely made the Olympics last time, and the the youth team has started to slip in the post-Aguero era–Argentina did not make the last U-20 World Cup.  Worse, it is now 18 years since Argentina last won a major tournament (Olympics don’t count.)   Argentina is too good a football nation for such a dramatic decline, especially when the best player in the world plays for the Albicelestes.  Admittedly, the purpose of youth tournaments is not so much to win as to create a pipeline for the senior national team, but if the youth team doesn’t play enough then the purpose behind the pipeline falls apart.

I cannot see Argentina failing to make the Youth World Cup in 2011.  There are just too many available spots, and Chile is already in trouble.  The Olympics are a different story though.

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Rumors have circulated that Barcelona want to sign Gareth Bale.  I don’t get it.  Yes he is a very good left-winger, possibly the best midfielder (player?) currently in the EPL.  But Barcelona?  I mean, he’s not that good.  At least not yet.  He’ll just be another high-priced bench warmer that La Masia graduates bypass en route to the first team.  For the life of me, I will never understand the club’s transfer policy which seems to be “throw good money after bad on players who do not fit into the system, and then complain that there is no money.”

The Barcelona front line is very, very good.  Unquestionably the best in the world.  If the Blaugrana want to improve something, perhaps they should look at the defense (an unsexy prospect, I know.)  Dani Alves is arguably the best right-back in the world, but who knows if he will be there next year, Puyol is not getting any younger, and the left-back issues are well known.

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Fernando Torres has finally moved, as he had been threatening to do for some time.  Chelsea bought him for a ridiculous amount of money.  Meanwhile, the Scousers have acted with all the class and good grace that we have come to expect from them: burning his replica jerseys in effigy and tearing his photos.  I imagine that the normal Liverpool fans are embarrassed by the actions of the few who grab the headlines–usually for burning things, but the normal fans (and everyone else at the club) seem to have ceded control to the crazies.

Which is not to say Torres has been blameless in this affair.  His parting shot was actually rather nasty and degrading toward the club and the fans who loved and supported him.  It is clear however, that Torres wanted out.  He sees Liverpool (Liverpool!) as too mediocre a club, and he was really, really unhappy.  But Torres is not been the player he once was, and I’m not sure why Chelsea wanted to buy him, especially for that high a price tag.

Torres’s exit shows the challenges John Henry and NESV face in restoring Liverpool to its former glory.  Once the club was one of the world’s biggest.  Now it no longer attracts or keeps elite players.  Xabi Alonso, Javier Mascherano, and now Fernando Torres are all gone.  Now the Reds have Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez–the former is talented but not world class, and the latter potentially world class but also a powder keg waiting to explode (and no Luis Suarez shirt sales in Africa.)

It is probably fitting that the Reds bought Andy Carroll.  Liverpool becomes Newcastle United a little more every day.

Platini Has A Point

I was not planning on writing anymore about football so soon, but this story is far too important to ignore.

If you are hearing screams right now, let me assure you that you are probably not crazy; the screams you hear are coming out of Manchester.  According to the ever-reliable British press (already a red flag), the Qatari royal family, through its investment arm Qatari Holding, has put in a £1.5 billion bid to take over Manchester United.  United is denying that the club is for sale.  Besides, the owning Glazer family will not sell for less than £2 billion.

So the screams.  There are actually two different kind.  The screams of joy are from the red side of Manchester who want the Glazers far away from their beloved United, and screams of despair are from the blue side (Manchester City).  You have to feel sorry for City fans.  Ever since the oil-garch takeover of City, the fans have been hoping that the curse that appeared to have been laid on them had finally lifted. Nevertheless, every time City came this close to Champions League qualification, the squad fell apart. Overpriced talent only added insult to injury.  Just this weekend, City lost to Aston Villa, and now they are third in the standings: behind United and Arsenal, with Chelsea and Tottenham not far behind.

Despite all these setbacks, City fans still had hope.  Over the past few years only Chelsea could spend as freely as City, and Roman Abramovich has tightened the purse string of late.  City had a plan: a Champions League berth this season, the EPL title next season, European and home domination forever after.

But now the Qataris have put a bid in for United, City’s most hated enemy.  The Qataris are oil-garchs (and natural gas-garchs) who may be even wealthier than City’s owners.  The Qataris already own a club (Spain’s Málaga CF), and more significantly, they will be Barcelona’s first ever shirt sponsors–a subject which is very sore for me.

The Qataris are doing this because of their love for football; they are doing it because of a love for themselves.  By flashing their money around, they believe they are showing how important they are (and in a capitalist economy maybe they are right.)  This self-importance was the driving motivation behind Qatar’s successful World Cup bid, and it is why they are trying to buy European football.  The bigger the club, the more important the Qataris think they are.  Málaga is a nothing club really, but a Barcelona shirt sponsorship–and the first in that club’s history–that is a big deal.  Owning the legendary Manchester United would be real clout; no need to worry about the “minnows”–West Ham, Newcastle, or Everton.

Qatari ownership of United is a very frightening prospect.  First, it further drains the already steadily eroding joy out of the sport.  It’s already bad enough when the ultra-rich buy one club as a personal plaything.  How much worse will it be when they buy multiple clubs?  Second, between an Abu Dhabi-backed City and a Qatar-backed United, the already out of control races in the EPL and Europe  would spiral into football version of the nations of Qatar and the UAE–extreme wealth at the very top and extreme poverty everywhere else.  For all those people who constantly complain that La Liga is an extreme version of Scotland, just imagine an EPL that is only United and City.

In the meanwhile, fans of Liverpool FC must be wondering what is wrong with them and their club.  When Hicks and Gillett were in charge, Liverpool fans were desperate for a sugar daddy like at Chelsea or City.  Not a word from the Qataris.  Instead Liverpool got John W. Henry and New England Sports Ventures.  The Scousers are suspicious of the new owners because (1) like Hicks and Gillett (and the Glazers), Henry is American; and (2) Henry is the owner of the Boston Red Sox, and while Henry knows baseball, he has little knowledge about football.

If the Qataris were to take over United, the only saving grace may well be the UEFA financial fair play rules that Platini successfully championed.  Those rules forbid clubs from entering European competition (Champions League or Europa League) unless the clubs at least break even over a rolling three year period.  In other words, extravagant spending may be all well and good at City or Chelsea (or Barcelona, Madrid, Inter, Bayern, etc.) but those club must earn at least the amount they spend.  For the top teams (and their owners), who want European success, which is the ultimate prize, this is a real threat causing real worry.

If somehow the financial fair play rules do not go into effect–or prove to be less than successful–then what is already a limited competition will be closed off to all but those clubs who are backed by the super-wealthy.  Eventually the super-wealthy will get bored of these clubs.  The clubs will then be sold, accumulating massive debt in the process that can never be paid off (football club ownership bears more than a passing resemblance to a Ponzi scheme.)  If that happens, clubs like City, Chelsea, and yes, maybe even United, will fall and fall hard.