Archive for August, 2010

Counterpoint: Mesut Ozil, Necessary

Read a piece in SI by Sid Lowe on how the signing of Mesut Ozil presents a problem for Real Madrid with its olio of talented middle men.

Mesut Ozil, a necessary step for The Special One

It’s a good read; I recommend it, but the author’s points are perhaps not well-founded.

Lowe’s sentiment is that Real Madrid has painted itself into a corner by bringing in Ozil when they have needs at other positions as well as a glut of players competing to get a runout at the Bernabeu.

If Real Madrid were any other team: one confounded with financial concerns and management, one that has to coddle it’s stars and stroke their egos, one that is perhaps not in an attractive location or league then I would be inclined to agree.

Real Madrid has none of these problems. They freely spend and where once they may have kowtowed to their stars, they now have the Super-ego (pun intended) of Jose Mourinho, perhaps the most qualified coach for a team still referred to as Los Galácticos.

The Special One cannot be the Shackled One in finding the right World Class players for his squad...

What Real Madrid needed upon Mourinho’s entrance was talent.


A stockpile of it. Sure, as the writer correctly adds, Real Madrid acutely, and has stated, that is needs a striker and perhaps a right back.

But consider also that you are talking about a manager who, in the most critical game for his team last season, deployed a tempermental striker primarily at leftback in Samuel E’to to best Barcelona at Camp Nou. Not a peep from E’to as well as an eye-opening performance by the Cameroonian.

Mourinho–in all his magnetism–is more than adept and reaching players and getting them to buy in to the team. Especially superstars.

All Mourinho really needs to do early in 2010 here is get Ronaldo to commit to him. For if Ronaldo–in all his audacious ability–can commit and give of himself than how can any other player on Madrid not?

As TSG witnessed in person a few weeks ago at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Ronaldo from opening whistle to closing whistle–as our photographer Shaun put it–“worked his socks off.”

In a meaningless friendly.

Madrid, again as Lowe points out, is at 26 players on its roster where Mourinho wants to keep 23.

Now, with the addition of Ozil, the Special One can choose from a perceived glut of World Class players, those who want to conform to his strategy and tactics.

Mourinho would not have been able to choose from World Class talent if it wasn’t there in redundancy. What do you do if you’re goal is Champion’s League and La Liga glory if you have to choose between a World Class talent who plays individually and an above average player who plays for the team? Who do you choose…if you’re Mourinho that is?

That Real Madrid will have to turn around and sell players at a discount to when they purchased them isn’t an the issue Lowe makes out.

This is a team that extravagantly spent over $190M last year on just two players and then hired Mourinho knowing full well that the manager would demand players for his system that might not be the ones that Madrid just spent for last year.

This is a team that purchased Wesley Sneijder for $27M in 2007 only turn around and sell the player for $15M in 2009 when he didn’t fit into last’s year crowded midfield at the Bernebeu.

No, the Mesut Ozil signing doesn’t present a problem for Real Madrid on the pitch and or on the balance sheet.

It is and was in fact a necessity for Mourinho’s Darwinistic means of weeding out who’s going to buy in to his strategy at Real Madrid and play for him.

You can’t do that if the talent, duplicative World Class talent, is not there.

Reply from SI’s Sid Lowe:

Unfortunately Twitter doesn’t offer the space to reply properly.

Thanks for the nod, by the way. and it’s an interesting response, which I broadly agree with.

Now, I know that sounds contradictory but it’s not entirely. A few reasons why and points to make: I agree, Madrid needed a little more talent, although Mourinho has gone for specific players that, until the signing of Ozil, you wouldn’t necessarily describe as talent players. In the article note that they need a striker, which Mourinho still wants, and a left back (not a right back). And that in a sense they don’t need another media punta – which, going by the ‘overbooking’ as the Spanish call it, they don’t. Ozil’s position has more players than any other.
Of course he is not a problem per se (he’s a very good player and at a very good price). And if I had been in Madrid’s shoes, I would have taken him too: as Mourinho said, it was a good opportunity. But as I said in the piece, his arrival does provoke one, very specific problem – and that is what I was writing about. Madrid do need to find an exit strategy, they do need to lighten the sqaud. And that is not so easy as I think you suggest. Money IS tight for Madrid now, it DOES matter what they can recoup. And if they can’t get rid of players, the risk is to dressing room harmony (this is one area, of course, where Mourinho is especially talented). There is also a long-term question mark over Kaka; Ozil does present something of a challenge. I suspect, when Kaka returns that one of he or Ozil will end up playing as a narrow left-sided player in that line of three behind the striker. Mourinho’s greatest skill is often keeping those who don’t play happy, rather than those who do.

That will be the case again. But, yes, Ozil’s arrival does pose a challenge. Incidentally, you mention Sneijder as an example of how Madrid can without any problem get rid of very good players. I would argue that it shows quite the opposite: the desire to bring in certain players forced the departure of Sneijder and Robben – and they have been arguably the world’s most outstanding two players at club football level over the last year (maybe with Messi as an individual, plus Diego Milito). All the best.

Scouting Report: Eric Lichaj vs. Rapid Vienna

Thought I would add a little color to Eric Lichaj’s performance today for those that haven’t seen him.

Lichaj played effectively

Aston Villa played Rapid Vienna in the Europa Cup qualifiers to a 1-1 draw today. The Villians were using a makeshift backline with both Carlos Cuellar and Richard Dunne unavailable, the Villa backline went: Beye, Warnock, Davies, Lichaj.

So they were a little unorganized from time-to-time. Here are the bullets:

• Moved the ball well for a hockey assist on Villa’s 1st goal.

• Got beat to the spot, Chad Marshall-style (wrong hip) on the Vienna goal though his man didn’t get a head on the ball…but his mark did disrupt Brad Guzan enough to see the ball skirt through on a long service into the box.

Before this Lichaj had committed some fouls and lost his man some (Marvell Wynne-style), but certainly settled down as the game went on.

• You could tell that Lichaj–should he stay with the 1st team and play in the Premiership–will need some time to adjust to the speed.

A few times Lichaj came up on a defender expecting to win a challenge and arrived more than a tad late. Just adjustment to pace of game there.

• Villa played through Lichaj quite a bit on the right and he pushed on quite aggressively. Was not spectacular with the ball at his feet, but showed a propensity to have a first step or move and beat defenders. Yes, Yanks’ fans, an American defender who actually took on the defense.

More importantly, on the plays where Lichaj’s attack wasn’t an outright success, he wasn’t frequently dispossessed only re-routed. I consider that a very important skill in attacking defenders.

• We didn’t get to see any of Lichaj’s famed throw-in ability. At the Poland camp, maybe we can have a throw-off between Gooch and Lichaj, US Soccer?

• You can see the potential for Lichaj to play midfield if tasked, the Villa official site has listed him as an outside back of central defender. If he’s playing central defense, he’s obviously more in the realm of a DeMerit or Cannavaro chaser-type, as oppose to a stay at home Nesta/Gooch-type.

• If I was mixing up today’s Lichaj Cocktail, it would go something like this: 2 parts Steve Cherundolo (for his shiftiness with the ball, good horizontal offensive movement), 1 part–gulp I hate making this comparison–Gary Neville (for his tracking back and hard in-your-face tackling especially after he lost the ball.)

• Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (the performance showcased his talent, but also showed that he’s got a little bit of climb to being a EPL first team defender)


• Lest we not respect Brad Guzan, the American keeper looked exceedingly sharp today and showcased amazing athletic ability in making some saves and coming out on the ball. Rating: 7 out of 10 for Guzan.

Jay DeMerit Audio: MLS An Option…In Winter If..

Had not seen the site before, but just got introduced to it through a guest they just had, one Jay Demerit. Great piece and good questions.

DeMerit, listening to Bradley here and listening to offers...

You can hear the audio here.

Some comments from DeMerit:

On a contract:

I’m just being patient, but I want to get something sorted out…..I’m not trying to chase an opportunity….I’m in the luxury of being able to choose what I want to do.

On South Africa:

Playing in the World Cup was the ultimate challenge; the main goal.

On South Africa:

I’m open to most places and I’m….to be honest…open to going back to the States.

On timing:

I’m prepared to wait however long I have to. I don’t want to sacrifice my own integrity to get a job.

I’m in no rush to push it. I’m looking forward to making the right decision.

On timing:

In all reality you’d like to be at a team in the beginning of September, middle of September.

The idea of going back to the States would start up in the winter.

(*If you listen to the interview, it sounds like MLS would be more resignation or last resort for DeMerit)

On what he’s doing:

I went to Vickers Road and watch Coventry vs. Watford.


A decent listen…TSG did an interview with Jay after the Turkey game. Unfortunately our recorder ate the interview, but DeMerit was engaging and stayed around to answer all of our questions.

One which included–and I’ll paraphrase:

Matthew, TSG: Jay, you’re a phenomenal on-ball defender. For the kids that read our publication, what does it take to play solid stand-up defending.

Jay: (paraphased)

On ball defending is about two things. Desire and effort in that the attacker coming at you is not getting by and second about the responsibility to your teammates not to let that player get by you and put them under pressure.

(Really wish I had the whole interview)

EPL Jumble: Breakout Player

Which young player–and by young we mean much younger than James Milner–will have a breakout year?

Shaun, TSG: The obvious ones who will have a major impact on their teams and the league will be Chicharito (United) and Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea). Both players inject pace into an older frontline. They’re skilled, fast and determined and will be determining factors for their teams.

Victor Moses, splits defenders like the Red Sea (that was terrible, sorry...)

The not so obvious ones are Victor Moses for Wigan Athletic and Dani Pacheco for Liverpool. Moses came from Crystal Palace in last years January transfer window after having a great spell of scoring 5 goals in 8 games. He didn’t get too much playing time but he did end the year with a goal and an assist. This year look for him to get a good run out out wide and giving plenty of service to Rodallega. If Wigan are to survive the drop it will be mainly due to the play of Moses.

If Liverpool can keep him, Pacheco maybe the answer to their second striker problem. He’s fresh from a breakout performance in Spain’s second place finish at the under 19 Euro championships winning the Golden boot with 4 goals. He possess all the raw of skills of t his elder club and country team mate and should Torres be injured (likely), I as a fan would love him to get a run out. Known for his ability to score from anywhere, this could be his breakout year.

Though not so young, also look for Stuart Holden to have a breakout year at Bolton. They need him and he will get the playing time! Lets hope he can make that spot his!

• Jay Bell: Jack Rodwell.  He was getting better each and every game last year with Everton.  Unfortunately for him, they have a ton of depth in the middle of the field, but when he gets his opportunities he’ll take advantage of them.

• Eric, Followtonians: I would look for Jack Rodwell to have a break out year.  He is 19 and already captaining the England U21 squad.  Should have been called in to play Hungry.  He has pace and seems to find the back of the net in important moments.

Muamba: Not photogenic, but a hell of a player

• GeorgeCross: With the pressure on EPL managers to deliver now and not down the line, I do feel that it’s going to be hard for youngsters to break into the Contenders’ team unless it’s a substitute appearance when the game is safe or against ‘lesser’ opponents.

However, I feel that Joe Hart (City), Theo Walcott (Arsenal), Jack Rodwell (Everton), Lee Cattermole (Sunderland) and Fabrice Muamba (Bolton) will be regular starters for their teams and will start to fullfil their potential and really aquit themselves well.  But the two players I am going to go with are Hart and Walcott.

Hart and a great season on loan last year, and he will convince two Italian’s to be Manchester City’s and England’s No. 1.  Not bad for a player who cost GBP1.5M.  I have always said that Walcott has been unfairly criticised, but now there cannot be any excuses – he’s fully fit, has had a rest, and had a proper pre-season.  Time to deliver son.

The reason why I haven’t included Jack Wilshere, Kieron Gibbs, Mario Balotelli, Chris Smalling, Federico Macheda, Victor Moses, Marc Albrighton, Carlos Vela and Phil Jones amongst others is that they won’t feature enough, unless there’s an injury to the first teamer who’s ahead in the pecking order.  Disclaimer:  Unless the go out on loan to get playing time.

Louis Moult…the big teams will come calling shortly…

Matthew, TSG: I wish…heck…first choice for me is Nani. I know, big star, big location. However, after a row with Sir Alex last year, a committed and rested Nani might be the Ronaldo Jr. everyone expected when he was signed. This is the year of Nani.

On Monday I mentioned Steven N’Zonzi who is now locked in for five years at Blackburn. My two cents? Manchester City could have acquired N’Zonzi instead of Yaya Toure and fans would have said, “My Yaya has improved since his days at Barca.”

I don’t believe in Sturridge yet or certainly Carlos Vela. My real big sleeper–that I’ll claim if he truly impresses–Stoke City hometown boy Louis Moult. He’s a mature 18-years-old who might start in the reserves, but midseason should make the senior side.

EPL Jumble: Roo-ins or Sir Wayne?

Will Wayne Rooney have a better, same or worse season versus his stellar campaign last year?

You just roll Wayne Rooney's bones right over here...

Jay Bell: Part of the reason Rooney scored so much last season was because he played so much. I think SAF saw the effect that it had on his body. I would think he watches his minutes more this year. They also brought in Chicharito so maybe he plays in more of the lesser games so Rooney doesn’t have to. Less minutes —> less goals, but he may be more effective.

Eric, Followtonians: I think Wayne will have a worse season. I think he is still bothered by the groundskeeping position depicted in the Nike ads. Main reason why I have Man U finishing 3rd.

GeorgeCross: Rooney will have another very good season, but I don’t see Rooney carrying United on his own, to the same extent, as he did last year–he will still get 20+ goals though.  This year, I see Valencia and Nani sharing the offensive burden. Ronaldo was always going to be difficult to replace, but I feel Valencia, with Rooney and Nani, will be key players for United this campaign.

Another Rooneyaldo effort?

Shaun, TSG: He will not be as good but last year was exceptional. I expect to him to do well and help Hernandez become a more accomplished player.

Matthew, TSG: For United’s sake, I hope that Rooney doesn’t have a similar year.
I think the something that should be lauded about the Shrekster is that he puts so much on himself to carry the offense. If he’s not getting the ball, he’s coming all the way back to find a way to get it and even participate in the defense. Plus, he just motors full board all the time.
I agree with Jay above that Manchester United will and should play him less, hopefully–for their sake–Berba, Little Pea and a Grande Caramel Macheda can step up and carry some of the scoring burden.

Media Biz of Soccer: SB Nation, Softball, More…

Some minor happenings in the media business of soccer:

Um, that's not a soccer ball for sure...

• Just throwing this one out there: Men’s Softball.

I’m trying to work “soccer” into that comment, but really can’t.

Add another sport that will compete with MLS for viewership and production support. Softball.

The MLS…A (that’s MLSA) just announced their formation in June of this year in hopes of growing a league.

It is estimated 40M play softball in the United States (International Softball Federation) compared to about 25M for soccer (FIFA).

Softball should be a walk-in-the-park for ESPN. They have the production understanding from baseball and women’s softball, and they can follow their blueprint for poker by focusing on “the average Joe” and letting the personality of said “Joe” come through just like in poker (think: Phil Helmuth, Phil Ivey).

Finally, suds and home improvement sponsors would be waiting at the door the day the coverage began.

• If you write your own soccer blog on one of the global platforms, you may want to take a look at what’s happening in the burgeoning world-of-sport web platforms.

SB Nation is catching up in readership to Bleacher Report whilst the former heads of are about to make it a three-horse race.

The former, SB Nation, secured $8M in funding just about a year ago now and is starting to develop ties with ESPN. Their overall readership across their sites is about 1/3 that of the Bleacher Report.

Bleacher Report is aligned heavily with CBS and recently swapped out their CEO (bringing on the head of Yahoo Sports to take the company to the proverbial next level).

I would give SB Nation the leg up here–not in terms of functionality or technology–but, if you’re a soccer writer, in terms of supporting and growing the soccer coverage.

No regular soccer coverage on CBS.

One more note here: for the life of me I can’t understand how Google News labels Bleacher Report and SB Nation stories news, while meatier fare gets relegated to the “Blogs” service.

Martino sports a much different 'do these days...

• Watched some of Kyle Martino’s show on Fox Soccer Channel. Your thoughts?

One comment as the show kicks off:

You can’t stay stagnant with the studio. I would have thought Fox Soccer would have sunk a little bit more money into a set that looks very much like Fox Football Fone-In.

It’s important to break from the set of a former show–especially one in the same time slot–to show commitment to the new show, and to show advertisers that you are sinking money into the new show.

You think FSC–which has their contract with MLS coming up this year for renewal–would have opened up the billfold on the set a little more.

You can see out previous interview with Kyle here.

• An update on our Spurs finances piece, Tottenham Hotspur is one of only five teams in the EPL to sell out their season. (Arsenal, Chelsea, Blackpool, Manchester City and Spurs.)

Now it’s up to Dan Levy to manage those finances and add enough talent to make Champs League play a reoccurring theme, today’s stumble against the Young Boys non-withstanding.

• Had a good Twitter discussion with Tripp Mickle (a solid columnist for Sports Business Journal with a seriously awesome NASCAR name) on MLS and the networks. I disagree with him, but he has fair points.

His Tweet that got me a little fired up (since media is supposedly part of my bailiwick):

Is MLS eyeing its own network in the future? Don’t rule it out. The league hired CSTV and Classic co-founder Brian Bedol for media advice.

Our discussion:

@trippmickle Have a hard time thinking that MLS at present, could build out/manage production talent, infrastructure, promotions, etc. $$

@shinguardian No doubt an #MLS net would be years into the future, but as the league continues to expand, it’s not out of the picture.

@trippmickle That’s kind of very open-ended. :> I would suggest it wouldn’t happen for 15 years, thoughts?

@shinguardian Tough to predict. Maybe around a ’22 World Cup in the U.S. Maybe out of necessity in ’14 after Univision /ESPN rights end.

My thoughts here:

Tripp and I are on the same page. MLS and an MLS network is likely about double-digit years away. So for now, TSG rules it out…in 7 years, maybe time to start considering it. Extended thoughts:

» First, it can’t possibly outlay the infrastructure (production resources, talent, ad sales, equipment, etc.) that is necessary to fire up their own network when the league is not in stable financial straits just yet.

» Second, the MLS advertising base is not there. It’s not like they can actually sell the product just yet and just extend an advertisers media plan to “television and internet.” Much easier to do TV when you merely extend a media buy to television.

…General rule of thumb in media is you need about a 1.0 rating to attract major branded advertisers. For perspective, MLS regularly does about a .2 with a high of .39 earlier this year when Landon Donovan returned to the Galaxy for a July 4th game after the World Cup.

• Speaking of watching the ‘tube: A .5 rating for USA vs. Brazil…that…and the revenue…is why you hold that friendly. Nothing to sneeze at there. Solid numbers for the USMNT, if not a solid performance.

• And yes folks, we’re due to do a sequel to this piece…coming soon. As a note, it looks like ESPN is following a little of our schematic….’cept on the web front (minus Jeff Carlisle).

EPL Jumble: Tactic or Formation

What formation or tactic will become prevalent and why?

GeorgeCross: I see the top 5 clubs playing a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation. However, even though there has been negative press regarding 4-4-2 it will still feature heavily, especially with the EPL’s middle and bottom clubs who will be fighting to make up the EPL numbers for the following season.

Big Sam Allardyce..

I don’t care what anybody says, but most teams don’t have two players who can play the holding role effectively–that’s reason no.1. The second is that many teams will play conservatively with the notion of not getting beat–what is more effective than two banks of four? The other is quite simply the logic that many of these managers are British, and while 4-4-2 might get exposed at the highest level, i.e. CL or International football, I don’t think the likes of Sam Allardyce, David Moyes, Mick McCarthy, Tony Pulis and Steve Bruce are going change.

Shaun, TSG: I think the recent success of the 4-2-3-1 in the World Cup and Champions League will be tried by many teams. I personally would like teams to try the 4-1-3-2 which is more attacking and exciting. Managers are stubborn creatures though and they will continue with what they know best and what they are used to doing.

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