Some bullets here as I travel cross country:
• World Cup 2014…where Brazil’s number one challenger won’t be Argentina.
I’m not quite certain what Argentina was thinking in extending an offer for Diego Maradona to retain his coaching responsibilities for another four-year term. Just over a month ago, before “vuvuzela” was a household word, the collective soccer world was asking the question, “When will Argentina implode at World Cup 2010?”
A trip to the quarterfinals–where Argentina was thrashed 4-0 by Argentina–seems to have drown the entire pig in lipstick. Maradona’s club–as TSG pointed out two weeks ago–faced few obstacles in the group stages using their potent offensive weapons to disguise the blatant lack of tactical acumen of their side.
After a victory over Mexico in the second round–a Mexican team that line-up similarly on the pitch to Argentina and found that they just had the weaker team on the playground–Maradona’s troops got exposed, hard, by Germany. Watching that game, the lack of a game planning was amazing. Some glaring cases: Lionel Messi’s stagnation in the center of the pitch, the defense bypassing Javier Mascherano in the midfield looking to make a play as they grew frustrated, Messi then retreating in attempt to get touches on the ball, but no “off-Messi” movement, in ability to play wide, etc.
If World Cup 2010 showed the populace anything, it’s that, with collective soccer talent getting better around the world, a team must come prepped with an abundance of good players and an abundance of good tactics.
With Maradona in charge–unless he hires some Tom Thibodeau to position and school the squad–the quality will be too great for Argentina’s staple of World Class players to overcome.
Note, we haven’t even spoken about some of Maradona’s dicey player selections.
• Spain’s hard-fought World Cup campaign–its 1-0 battle of attrition against the Dutch, its minimalist tourney approach to scoring goals–might have gently shut the cracked door to tackling an issue that’s beginning to rear it’s head in world football–how to reduce physical and reckless play.
In the wake of Sunday’s World Cup final win by La Furia Roja over the Oranje came a wave of reporting on the Dutch playing “anti-football.”
Hard to argue that. Every turn in possession by Xavi, Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, was typically met with a ferocious tackle by one of the two deviants of central midfield for the Dutch, Nigel DeJong or Mark Van Bommel.
There is little doubt that the strategy of aggressive tacking and stoppage of play was one employed at the outset by Dutch Coach Bert Van Marwijk. Hard to fault him as the rules of game allow for persistent offenses until a referee feels accumulation warrants a caution.
The penalty for slowing down the game three or four times a yellow card? Seems like a good tradeoff, especially when playing the Spanish.
Mind you this wasn’t Inter Milan keeping two disciplined lines of four behind the ball mind you–comparisons to Jose Mourinho’s Champion’s League winning side would be inaccurate.
No, the Dutch were a team who adopted fouling–aggressive physical tackling–as the foundation of its defensive strategy on the day, and for that FIFA needs to do something before there is another Shawcross or Taylor situation.
Not only is the foul-punishment equation out of whack (especially if someone goes to the hospital), but the strategy stymies offensive flowing creating an advantage for the defenders.
In the past decade, nearly every sports league has wrestled with–and found a solution to–reducing physical contact on the playmaker to improve the quality of the game and initiate more offense.
Major League Baseball has adopted a warning for pitchers who serve up too much chin music.
The NFL has increased what constitutes a pass interference or illegal contact infraction down the field. In a nod to player health, they’ve enacted rules to how and when quarterbacks can be tackled.
The NBA has issued a host of different grades and punishments to flagrant fouls. More importantly, the enforcement of the hand-check rule in the mid-2000’s was vital to initiating offense and stopping teams that favored tactics from the days of Detroit Bad Boy Pistons.
I would not be as presumptous to assume that TSG had a solution here, but dialogue around reckless and overtly-abundant physical play at least needs to be in the conscience of those who regulate the game.
And here’s another thing. If you slow physical, hands-on defending, you’re also going to curb diving at the same time. The less physical a defender is the less likely an attacker can sell going down.
• Henry still played at Barca after all
A few days ago TSG posed the question, which Theirry Henry will show up in NY? Here might be a better question to pose as Henry’s arrival gets trumpeted in many corners.
Do you want Henry to have stunning success, moderate success or no success?
Let’s assume that Henry is committed, would it suggest that MLS play is better than expected if Henry fails to dominate or will is suggest that Henry is only closer to the nadir of his playing career?
Henry as we know was a member of those vaunted Arsenal teams just a half decade of go as was Freddie Lljunderg. Both are entering their mid-30’s. Ljundberg, who has the same speckled injury history as Henry, is beginning to slow a notch to the extent that he’s a very good, but not dominant MLS player. Is this what fans are to expect from Henry?
• Will CD9 take the pitch just in New Jersey?
Here’s a question fans. Do you want to see Charlie Davies August 10th playing for the States or would you rather he focus himself on club rehab? Our guess, with Davies injury happening on international duty and his club season of more importance than a meaningless feature match, good bet that USSF doesn’t call the Sochaux striker.
• Good podium work from the USMNT
A shout out to John Skipper at the ESPY awards last night for the USMNT entourage? Smart move by the USSF. As TSG has stated before, ESPN is the single most important entity to growing the “industry” of soccer in the United States.
Sitting atop the ESPN content kingdom is John Skipper who knows he needs to grow another top flight sport (not a “recreation”) to help grow ESPN. Well done at the ESPN awards to affirm Skipper’s dedication to the sport. Here’s our interview with Skipper from the end of last year. A good read if you haven’t read it before.
• I will be taking all my betting advice from Dan Kennedy and Alejandro Bedoya, who both nailed the players in the Finals and a Spain win. TSG’s horse of Brazil bowed out early.
• No one wants Rafael Marquez in MLS, huh? That’s the sentiment I’m hearing from friends and colleagues regarding the sheer rumor or Marquez as a potential MLS Designated Player for New York Red Bulls.
I think the Marquez addition would be great for any squad at the right price. Another former Barca player, a current member of the Mexico team who played well in South Africa. What better ambassador really to bringing in more top flight talent from south of the border and overseas. Further, who doesn’t want Marquez to show Tim Ream how to develop a little necessary nastiness?
• Jozy Altidore is headed to train with Villarreal in Ireland. Just as soon as we recoup from the Cup work, TSG will begin chatting with folks about possible destinations for Big Jeezy.
As we tweeted yesterday, Napoli have secured the services of Uruguay forward-striker Edinson Cavani with a loan-to-buy two-year deal, making a “potential” move their unlikely. TSG always believed that the Altidore-to-Napoli (US Player + Team with money + publication quality) rumors were just tabloid fodder.
Transfer cost for Cavani? A highly respectable $15M for a player who’s had success in Serie A already and is more accomplished than Altidore. The price tag still seems–given last campaign’s deal flow–a tad weighty. Either a flushed-with-cash Napoli had little leverage with Palermo or Cavani sufficiently increased his standing during World Cup 2010.
Altidore was bought just a few years ago for $10M. Are they demanding that now? More or less? Cavani at $15M seems a much better bet.
• According to reports, Jermaine Jones–who will be 33 when World Cup 2014 rolls around–completed his first full training in the pre-season for Schalke with no hiccups.
Schalke have also denied rumors that Jermaine Jones might be shipped out on loan this year. Turkey was one rumored league destination.