Blog

Kevin Brown October 26, 20145:28 pm

The once great Manchester United now celebrates late home draws

Consider this: Robin van Persie scored from a rebound on a late set-piece to give Manchester United a 1-1 draw against visiting league leader Chelsea. Then he celebrated.

That’s fine. Goals and points are important, but look at this reaction. Roy Keane’s beard is rolling in its unmarked grave.

Paul Scholes didn’t take 20 years of professional ginger abuse so Robin van Persie could have skinny man 150lb Hulk-outs over home draws.

This is Manchester United! This is Manchester United? This is Manchester United.

The team of your youth. The team you spent weeks defending whenever someone disrespectfully said “ManU.” The team you immediately abandoned because too many people at school were claiming it, and you just wanted to branch out as an individual and find yourself. Even Jose Mourinho was disgusted, and he spent the whole day dressed like the manager of an airport car rental kiosk.

MORE: Bad manager fashion is a problem, and these five guys are the worst.

Surely, the club’s fans deserve more triumphant moments. More elegant celebration like the Olympic-quality slide Didier Drogba delivered after scoring.

That’s quality. It’s that sort of slide and flourish that put teams into the Champions League. Act like you’ve been there about 175 times before and let the crowd know that you are, and always have been a magnificent bastard. Even on a day when unexpected humidity had you sweating out your relaxer much earlier in the weekend than you has planned. Rise above like Didier!

Robin van Persie has much to learn about projecting a glorious image. His lack of celebratory development is yet another reason to call Louis van Gaal’s leadership into question. If Manchester United wants to start celebrating home points in bunches of three, changes must be made.

Kevin Brown October 25, 201411:29 am

Russell Brand gives Sam Allardyce a big fat smooch on the cheek

Freedom fighter, revolutionary, “comedian,” and future president of Earth Russell Brand crashed Sam Allardyce’s post-game interview following West Ham’s 2-1 win over Manchester City. He was emotional.

Brand, defender of the proletariat, watched the game from a corporate box.

Zac Lee Rigg October 23, 201411:25 am

It’s Arsène Wenger’s birthday so an Arsenal fan made him a super creepy cake

Happy 65th birthday, Arsène. Many happy returns (with hopefully slightly less creepy cakes than this one.)

Zac Lee Rigg October 23, 201411:21 am

Hey, want to pay money to decide which club this dude’s baby will support? Okay then.

Yo. Support one of the Manchester clubs and want to pay money for a baby to support it too? This father’s got you covered.

Some guy, Ian Charters, doesn’t really follow soccer and knows that his kid, growing up in Manchester, won’t support Watford, where Charters is from. So he’s willing to sell you his son’s allegiances on eBay.

ebay

Just a quick status update on the world: We now live in a time when club allegiance can be literally bought. And the auction already 50 has bids, with nine days to go. Cool.

Here’s what Charters will do to insure his kid supports City or United or City, whichever one you pay for:

  • Buy him a jersey and tweet a picture;
  • Buy him curtains in the appropriate color;
  • Take him to “a few” games;
  • Do “the best I can to make sure he doesn’t end up supporting the other team.”

Anyway, it’s not all horrible. Turns out the kid was born premature, and 100 percent of the proceeds will go to a charity that cares for premature and sick babies. So, you know, either bid on this kid’s fan future, or just donate to the charity directly. Whatever works for you.

Kevin Brown October 22, 20147:13 pm

Gaël Kakuta had a doppelgänger who charged thousands to his American Express card

Medi Abalimba, a man who is definitely not Gaël Kakuta, was arrested and sentenced to four years in prison for pretending to be Gaël Kakuta.

Abalimba crafted himself a fairly elegant and expensive fantasy life, using info from American Express cards he stole or photographed from a gym he broke into with a stolen skeleton key. That’s an impressive amount of crime. Layered crime, if you will. His biggest victim was Rayo Vallecano (on loan from Chelsea) winger Gaël Kakuta.

Abalimba would call different business claiming to be Kakuta’s agent and later show up to places, claiming to be the player. He is said to have spent 20,000 pounds at upscale department store Selfridges — showing off soccer skills while shopping — where he helped himself to untold cable-knit sweaters, expensive new digital cameras that look old to make him seem more interesting, and these very necessary snake skin UGG slippers. I assume. Otherwise, what’s the point?

There were chauffeured Bentleys, free meals and 2,600 pounds worth of champagne. (That’s it? That’s only a strong lunch’s worth of champagne when someone else is paying.) It was all on poor Kakuta’s unsuspecting dime.

He once flew four women to Manchester on a helicopter and crashed at an £800-per-night mansion in Berkshire. Abalimba was living out a bad rap video from 1997. For free! He was ballin’ out without having to go through all the nonsense like actually playing a sport. This man had the free credit of a French international. He was skipping life steps and living dreams.

The dark comedy here is that Abalimba was, himself, a professional player at one point. In 2009, he joined Derby County for over 1 million pounds but never caught on. He also spent time with Oldham Athletic, Southend United, Fulham and Crystal Palace.

How long did this go on for before Kakuta noticed thousands of pounds in charges that he hadn’t racked up? Was Kakuta himself so “about that life” that a 2,600-pound Ace of Spades bill could show up and he was just like “Yup, Wednesday” and kept it moving? Seems like that was the case. Applaud that man, too.

Medi Abalimba got a taste of the good life and couldn’t let go. Can’t blame him. Free shrimp is delicious.

Richard Farley October 22, 20145:08 pm

Harry Redknapp’s fat, lazy Moroccan international is back training with QPR

by Tom Dart

The bantering, likeable Cockney persona that Harry Redknapp presents to the media ensures he typically enjoys favorable coverage. Good old `Arry: one of English soccer’s “characters.”

But sometimes we get a glimpse of an alternative Redknapp: a Redknapp who gets extremely pissy if described as a “wheeler-dealer”. A Redknapp that is less Dick van Dyke in Mary Poppins, more Vinnie Jones in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Adel Taarabt has brought out this Angry `Arry in the wake of the 3-2 defeat by Liverpool on Sunday, with the manager calling the playmaker fat and lazy. Twice.

Redknapp told the Sun: “The only reason he has lost weight is because he has had tonsillitis. That’s the only way we could get any weight off him. He is not fit to play a game, that’s the truth. He is the worst professional I have ever come across and I have been his only ally at QPR for the past three years. He doesn’t try and I have protected him for too long.”

In reply, the Moroccan posed for pictures showing a flat (and possibly waxed) stomach, and said that Redknapp sits in his office all day and hardly bothers to take training.

I’s an undignified, albeit massively entertaining, public row. Though QPR’s league position couldn’t get any lower (they are bottom of the EPL, below Burnley!), the club has found a way to sink deeper into the mire.

Disapproving dad Tony Fernandes, the QPR owner — who must now qualify for the descriptor “long-suffering” — issued a statement telling the pair to make up, and the Guardian reported that the 25-year-old trained with the first-team on Wednesday. The author didn’t note whether Redknapp could see him from his office.

Short of living inside an Arby’s and having liquified M&M’s pumped intravenously into the bloodstream, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who runs around for two hours a day, five or six days a week, could actually be fat. Still, Taarabt is a mercurial player, in the sense that he’s a reminder that if you get too exposed to mercury, it’s highly poisonous. He’s got the talent to be QPR’s savior, the temperament to be its destructor.

His problem is that he was born too late. If he’d been around in the 1970s, like QPR’s great maverick hero, Stan Bowles, his brand of indolent genius would have been revered and he’d be treated as a legend, not scorned as a liability.

Sadly, we live in more demanding times, where even cult heroes are expected to do some tackling and chasing background in return for adulation and $100,000 a week from their employers.

Richard Farley October 22, 201411:00 am

Bayern Munich’s visit to Vatican City became a series of faux pas

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

by Tom Dart

Hey, Dante: If you’ve been called to Vatican City to meet God’s representative on Earth, chances are the invitation doesn’t say “Dress code: smart casual.”

Maybe the defender feels that sharing a name with Italy’s greatest poet and the author of the Divine Comedy cuts him some slack in St Peter’s Basilica. Maybe it was Dress Down Wednesday in the Apostolic Palace. Still, notice how all the rest of your teammates are wearing ties?

And you, Xabi Alonso! Get your hands out of your pockets! You’re standing right behind His Holiness, not waiting for a friggin’ bus. As for you, Pep Guardiola: No talking during the official photograph! We expected better from you.

Pope Francis was lucky enough to be granted an audience with the reigning German champions the day after they edged their Champions League match against local favorites AS Roma, 7-1.

MORE: Bayern Munich destroyed Roma and Ashley Cole got the worst of it

Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer presented the pontiff with a signed Bayern shirt, which he’ll doubtless hang on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Francis is a big soccer fan. He recorded a video message on the eve of this year’s World Cup calling for Leo Messi to finally replicate his club form in an Argentina jersey. Well, OK, for the sport to promote “dialogue, understanding and reciprocal human enrichment.”

The Pope is a fan of his hometown club, San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires. Its nickname? The Saints.

Richard Farley October 22, 201410:59 am

Bayern Munich’s visit to Vatican City became a series of faux pas

Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

by Tom Dart

Hey, Dante: If you’ve been called to Vatican City to meet God’s representative on Earth, chances are the invitation doesn’t say “Dress code: smart casual.”

Maybe the defender feels that sharing a name with Italy’s greatest poet and the author of the Divine Comedy cuts him some slack in St Peter’s Basilica. Maybe it was Dress Down Wednesday in the Apostolic Palace. Still, notice how all the rest of your teammates are wearing ties?

And you, Xabi Alonso! Get your hands out of your pockets! You’re standing right behind His Holiness, not waiting for a friggin’ bus. As for you, Pep Guardiola: No talking during the official photograph! We expected better from you.

Pope Francis was lucky enough to be granted an audience with the reigning German champions the day after they edged their Champions League match against local favorites AS Roma, 7-1.

MORE: Bayern Munich destroyed Roma and Ashley Cole got the worst of it

Philipp Lahm and Manuel Neuer presented the pontiff with a signed Bayern shirt, which he’ll doubtless hang on the wall of the Sistine Chapel.

Francis is a big soccer fan. He recorded a video message on the eve of this year’s World Cup calling for Leo Messi to finally replicate his club form in an Argentina jersey. Well, OK, for the sport to promote “dialogue, understanding and reciprocal human enrichment.”

The Pope is a fan of his hometown club, San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires. Its nickname? The Saints.

Kevin Brown October 22, 201410:02 am

Luiz Adriano’s record-tying five goals were so good they were boring

A game that not many watched (no one can blame you) produced the day’s best performance. In a 7-0 win over BATE Borisov, Shakhtar Donetsk’s Luiz Adriano scored five times, tying Lionel Messi’s record for most goals in a Champions League match.

https://twitter.com/ChampionsLeague/status/524682042534264834/photo/1

With five on his tab, you’d think there were some spectacular clips for Adriano’s highlight reel. Not quite. Instead, his tally, and Shakhtar’s seven in total, was more the result of off-the-ball excellence than impressive finishing.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. “Get it how you live” is correct expression here.

It was just that kind of day for Adriano, who now shares a line in UEFA’s record book with one of the greatest players of all time. The individual goals may not have been excited, but the bottom line was.

Kevin Brown October 21, 20146:47 pm

Bayern Munich destroyed Roma and Ashley Cole got the worst of it

Despite what your TV listings may have told you, Roma vs. Bayern was the marquee match of the day. Two big clubs in excellent league form, both entered today’s game in with the knowledge that fellow Group E contenders Manchester City had left CSKA Moscow’s empty stadium with only a point.

This could have been a wide-open classic featuring a ball-hogging titan against a counter-attacking savant. Instead, it was over in 23 minutes, forcing us to seek contentment in an age-old theme reemerged in Rome: abusing Ashley Cole.

MORE: There’s a brutality to Francesco Totti that prevents you from loving him completely.

Arjen Robben took it upon himself to make the former Chelsea man look like the worst defender on the continent, making his right knee buckle like a balky couch leg in the eight minute with a trademark change of direction.

Twenty-two minutes later, Robben bagged his second. The now one-legged Cole drifted out of position while the Bayern sniper waited. Cole would pay for it.

Bayern Munich would go on to beat Roma 7-1, but Cole’s day was so specifically nightmarish, we should end with this very old clip of him having his soul stolen by a young Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kevin Brown October 21, 20146:47 pm

Bayern Munich destroyed Roma and Ashley Cole got the worst of it

Despite what your TV listings may have told you, Roma vs. Bayern was the marquee match of the day. Two big clubs in excellent league form, both entered today’s game in with the knowledge that fellow Group E contenders Manchester City had left CSKA Moscow’s empty stadium with only a point.

This could have been a wide-open classic featuring a ball-hogging titan against a counter-attacking savant. Instead, it was over in 23 minutes, forcing us to seek contentment in an age-old theme reemerged in Rome: abusing Ashley Cole.

MORE: There’s a brutality to Francesco Totti that prevents you from loving him completely.

Arjen Robben took it upon himself to make the former Chelsea man look like the worst defender on the continent, making his right knee buckle like a balky couch leg in the eight minute with a trademark change of direction.

Twenty-two minutes later, Robben bagged his second. The now one-legged Cole drifted out of position while the Bayern sniper waited. Cole would pay for it.

Bayern Munich would go on to beat Roma 7-1, but Cole’s day was so specifically nightmarish, we should end with this very old clip of him having his soul stolen by a young Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kevin Brown October 21, 20141:56 pm

New York Cosmos set to sign some version of Raúl

The New York Cosmos, in their eternal search for headlines, have signed former Real Madrid legend, Raúl.

This is news, I promise. The NYC Soccer Wars are real. That have cost lives, split up families, and left villages from Hoboken to the Hamptons in ashes. You don’t know this, because New York media gives local soccer about 500 total words of space per week, but trust me, it’s true. The Cosmos saw a chance to strike a strategic blow and plant a green flag in the middle of Manhattan while Red Bull New York “struggle” and before NYCFC have a chance to complete their army. When you have the chance to sign the Jeff Cunningham of Qatari soccer, you do it without hesitation.

Sarcasm aside, Raúl’s resumé is impeccable. His 228 goals in 550 appearances for Real Madrid, 44 more goals for Spain, and a broom closet full of individual awards don’t capture what he has meant for both club and country.

The problem is, that guy isn’t on his way to Long Island. Who the Cosmos are getting is the 37-year-old former captain of Al-Sadd. That reads “former” because Raúl announced his retirement from the club and the game back in March, but never doubt the cosmopolitan allure of Hempstead, Long Island. The Fuddrucker’s there is amazing.

Congrats, Cosmos. You’ve got your superstar. I hope Shuart Stadium is expandable.

Truthfully, Raúl’s biggest impact will probably come in his as yet undefined role with the Cosmos’ academy. He can tap into his 37 years — wow, 37 years — of experience and a career that’s brought him tremendous success at the highest levels. Lord knows that impact won’t be at the box office. Second division American soccer is still second division American soccer, no matter what Jurgen Klinsmann and the pro-rel dungeon goblins would lead you to believe.

Good on ya, Cosmos! You’ve been passing “Do you like me?” notes to Raúl for months now, and he’s finally checked the “YES” box. Blessings and many happy returns. May your 2015 Apertura season, or whatever it is NASL does, be filled with warmth, togetherness, and limited track delays on the LIRR. You deserve it.

Kevin Brown October 21, 20141:10 pm

Joe Hart sounds like he’s scared for his life in CSKA’s empty stadium

“AWAY! GET UP! NOOOOOOO!” – Joe Hart screams in terror watching his team defend.

CSKA Moscow and Manchester City are playing their Champions League game today in an empty stadium, because too many of CSKA’s fans are terrible. The emptiness of Arena Khimki has added a special dimension to the broadcast: The panic of Joe Hart. Any time the ball is within 75 yards of his net, Hart screams fearful pleas to his teammates, as if giving instructions on how to diffuse a bomb from a distance.

He sounds like a super-advanced cyborg that was just given emotion simulation software, and someone turned the “oh shit” knob too hard. It’s great. The game itself has become almost secondary.

Surprising, really, he sounded oh so confident before the game.

Kevin Brown October 21, 20141:08 pm

Joe Hart sounds like he’s scared for his life in CSKA’s empty stadium

“AWAY! GET UP! NOOOOOOO!” – Joe Hart screams in terror watching his team defend.

CSKA Moscow and Manchester City are playing their Champions League game today in an empty stadium, because too many of CSKA’s fans are terrible. The emptiness of Arena Khimki has added a special dimension to the broadcast: The panic of Joe Hart. Any time the ball is within 75 yards of his net, Hart screams fearful pleas to his teammates, as if giving instructions on how to diffuse a bomb from a distance.

He sounds like a super-advanced cyborg that was just given emotion simulation software, and someone turned the “oh shit” knob too hard. It’s great. The game itself has become almost secondary.

Surprising, really, he sounded oh so confident before the game.

Kevin Brown October 21, 201411:17 am

CSKA Moscow is being punished for racism, but the club’s Nigerian striker thinks it’s unfair

On Tuesday, CSKA Moscow will face the difficult challenge of going up against Manchester City in the Champions League. It will do so in an empty stadium following UEFA sanctions — fines, a three-match stadium ban at home, and a ban from buying tickets to away games — for a repeated pattern of awful behavior from fans. This being Russian soccer, CSKA supporters’ favorite way to express their horribleness is usually through racist chants and gestures, aimed at any and every player darker than the background of this blog post.

When asked what he thought about the stadium ban, CSKA’s Nigerian striker (NIGERIAN striker) Ahmed Musa told reporters:

“Yeah, it’s unfair. We are going to miss the fans in the ground and it will be difficult for us to play without them there. But we will try our best to win the game.”

Bruh. What?

This is the third time CSKA Moscow has been punished in some way for racist fan behavior. To catch you up, here’s a quick run down of their supporters’ greatest (recent) hits, all of which were denied by team officials:

  • Fined $252,000 for throwing flares and missiles onto the field.
  • Monkey chants directed at Yaya Touré and the referee in previous Champions League game against Manchester City.
  • Fans taken to the hospital with stab wounds after fighting with opposing fans and police after taking a 5-1 beating away to Roma
  • Fans charged with “displaying far-right symbols” in a match at Viktoria Plzen.

There are two immediate and unpleasant reactions to Musa’s comments. The first is the emotional, harsh, and possibly irrational one — the one where you want to grab Musa by the shoulders, shake the hell out of him, and ask, “What kind of self-loathing, ignorant asshole are you? How can you even agree to play for these fans, let alone call these punishments unfair? Is the money that good? Did no one else offer you a contract? Has being in European football since the age of 18 (Musa is 22 now) beaten you down to the point that you believe CSKA fans’ behavior to be acceptable, or somehow normal? What, exactly, is wrong with you?”

MORE: Big month of hate speech deserves some Racism Power Rankings

The second is the more measured, reasonable, concerned response. The one where you want to grab Musa by the shoulders and calmly ask “Ahmed, are you OK? Are you being forced to say something this stupid? Blink twice if you need help.” Maybe that’s the case. Maybe Musa knows the fans of his chosen club are horrible people, but at the same time he’s afraid to speak out against them. He’s witnessed first-hand how CSKA Moscow fans respond to people who look like him or offer opposing sociopolitical views. A threat from club supporters doesn’t have to be spoken directly to Musa to be real. Their track record alone could be a constant reminder to Musa that, no mater what he does on the field, he’ll never be truly accepted by the home fans, and being seen as an enemy is a very dangerous position to find himself in.

Regardless of his motivation — or worse, lack of motivation — what Musa said was both confusing and disappointing. Racism in the global game only seems to be getting worse — particularly in Russia — as society supposedly progresses and evolves in its views on the subject.

For anything to improve in soccer, the primary recipients of hatred have to be the loudest and most visible opposition to unacceptable behavior. Black players need to understand the power they have within the game, come together and make a collective effort to demand the basic levels of respect they inherently deserve, but often do not receive. Hopefully, in time , Ahmed Musa and others will understand that, or feel safe and strong enough to speak out.

Richard Farley October 20, 20145:29 pm

Lionel Messi has no time for Luis Enrique’s substitutions

by Tom Dart

No player likes to be substituted. And if you’re Lionel Messi, you don’t have to be. This Saturday, Messi appeared to refuse to come off when Luis Enrique tried to substitute him after he’d put Barcelona 3-0 over Eibar.

In the middle of a four-game scoring streak, it’s not surprising he didn’t want to exit, but the 27-year-old has played every minute of every match for Barcelona so far this season. It hardly seemed unreasonable that Enrique wanted to give him a rest for the last 15 minutes of a game Barcelona had already won.

Why risk injury? Why court fatigue? Especially given the short summer rest in a World Cup year?

Presumably Messi is fully aware of the La Liga golden boot race, which even at this early stage shows him on seven goals, Neymar on eigh …and Cristiano Ronaldo on 15 (which is more than 16 La Liga clubs).

This time last year, Messi had already been substituted three times by Enrique’s predecessor, Tata Martino (once through injury). But Enrique seems to want to manage by consensus.

“What happened can be interpreted in many ways,” Enrique told reporters. Though how many ways can video of Enrique shouting to Messi, gesturing towards the bench, then ultimately taking off Neymar instead be interpreted, really? It’s not the Zapruder film.

“I have to take everything into account but I trust in how he feels and what he tells me. During the course of the season he’ll be rested but it is a special moment for the team and for him,” said Enrique.

“Sometimes I look around me on the bench and think how lucky we are to have Messi. For us it is not just about what he does on the pitch. He is also a great motivator for his teammates and having him in the form he is in and adding that to the others is wonderful. It is a pleasure to work with these players.”

You could take this as a sign of Messi’s drive and enthusiasm, or as a rare moment of diva behavior. Given Barcelona’s current position at the head of the standings, it’s the sort of moment that’s easy to shrug off. But if it had happened with Barça sitting lower in the table, it would doubtless have been held up as a troubling example of managerial weakness.

Who’us the real boss at Barca, anyway – Messi or Enrique?

Messi, obviously. Coaches can be changed easily but genius is irreplaceable. And it seems like the forward knows it.

Richard Farley October 20, 20144:15 pm

The politics behind the Premier League’s best supporters

by Tom Dart

Thornton Heath is a typical London suburb: busy, multi-ethnic, grimy but slowly being gentrified, sprouting coffee shops as it’s discovered by the middle classes who can’t afford prettier parts of the capital.

It’s also home to Selhurst Park, a stadium that would be every bit as nondescript as its surroundings were it not occupied on matchdays by the highest-profile ultras group in England.

EPL fandom’s suffered something of an identity crisis in the high ticket price, post-hooligan, all-seat stadium era. As arenas have become more modern, family-friendly and orderly, they’ve also grown subdued and often far quieter than they seem on television. Civility’s up, but decibels are down.

Enter the Holmesdale Fanatics, a group of Crystal Palace fans named after a stand behind one of Selhurst’s goals, who were formed as a reaction to the sanitizing of the spectator experience. The Fanatics have been around for about a decade, and the club’s return to the EPL last year has drawn fresh attention to their activities, with even Jose Mourinho praising the stadium’s boisterous atmosphere.

Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It was evident on Saturday as Chelsea beat Palace 2-1. But they’re not just about making noise and boosting their own team. The fanatics unveiled a banner criticizing the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich: “Roman’s dirty money is a disease that has plagued our game”.

Inspired by Italy’s ultras, the Palace fans unfurl tifos, organize card displays, light flares and chant incessantly, and there’s a political dimension to the spectacle: grassroots anti-corporate, anti-authority stances that are not often seen in England, where fans are passive and rarely agitate for anything more than getting the manager or the chairman being fired when results are poor.

The Fanatics’ reaction to a Sky Sports reporter being posted outside the club’s training ground on deadline day provided footage a touch more extreme than the usual images of kids gurning and laughing as a journalist breathlessly describes the arrival of a new Moldovian left back in a car with blacked-out windows.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Sports network, the British equivalent of ESPN, has provided the television money that’s rocket-propelled the EPL’s boom and inspired the arrival of foreign billionaires such as Abramovich. This concentration of income at the elite level has come at the expense of lower-league clubs, as Palace have often been throughout their turbulent history.

When Manchester City came to south London last season, the Fanatics unveiled a banner proclaiming: “You got the money, we got the soul.”

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

Agendas aside, the noise seems to be helping the Palace players. Eight home wins last year was a crucial factor in Tony Pulis’s unheralded team (now Neil Warnock’s) finishing in mid-table in their top flight season since 2004-05.

Thanks to the Fanatics, at Selhurst, unlike so many English stadiums, the ambiance is not defined by the flow of the game or the identity of the opposition. And so far, it seems, this is being achieved without the violence that sometimes accompanies ultra culture in Europe. Heck, the atmosphere’s almost as good as Portland’s.

Richard Farley October 20, 20144:15 pm

The politics behind the Premier League’s best supporters

by Tom Dart

Thornton Heath is a typical London suburb: busy, multi-ethnic, grimy but slowly being gentrified, sprouting coffee shops as it’s discovered by the middle classes who can’t afford prettier parts of the capital.

It’s also home to Selhurst Park, a stadium that would be every bit as nondescript as its surroundings were it not occupied on matchdays by the highest-profile ultras group in England.

EPL fandom’s suffered something of an identity crisis in the high ticket price, post-hooligan, all-seat stadium era. As arenas have become more modern, family-friendly and orderly, they’ve also grown subdued and often far quieter than they seem on television. Civility’s up, but decibels are down.

Enter the Holmesdale Fanatics, a group of Crystal Palace fans named after a stand behind one of Selhurst’s goals, who were formed as a reaction to the sanitizing of the spectator experience. The Fanatics have been around for about a decade, and the club’s return to the EPL last year has drawn fresh attention to their activities, with even Jose Mourinho praising the stadium’s boisterous atmosphere.

Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images

It was evident on Saturday as Chelsea beat Palace 2-1. But they’re not just about making noise and boosting their own team. The fanatics unveiled a banner criticizing the Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich: “Roman’s dirty money is a disease that has plagued our game”.

Inspired by Italy’s ultras, the Palace fans unfurl tifos, organize card displays, light flares and chant incessantly, and there’s a political dimension to the spectacle: grassroots anti-corporate, anti-authority stances that are not often seen in England, where fans are passive and rarely agitate for anything more than getting the manager or the chairman being fired when results are poor.

The Fanatics’ reaction to a Sky Sports reporter being posted outside the club’s training ground on deadline day provided footage a touch more extreme than the usual images of kids gurning and laughing as a journalist breathlessly describes the arrival of a new Moldovian left back in a car with blacked-out windows.

Rupert Murdoch’s Sky Sports network, the British equivalent of ESPN, has provided the television money that’s rocket-propelled the EPL’s boom and inspired the arrival of foreign billionaires such as Abramovich. This concentration of income at the elite level has come at the expense of lower-league clubs, as Palace have often been throughout their turbulent history.

When Manchester City came to south London last season, the Fanatics unveiled a banner proclaiming: “You got the money, we got the soul.”

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

Agendas aside, the noise seems to be helping the Palace players. Eight home wins last year was a crucial factor in Tony Pulis’s unheralded team (now Neil Warnock’s) finishing in mid-table in their top flight season since 2004-05.

Thanks to the Fanatics, at Selhurst, unlike so many English stadiums, the ambiance is not defined by the flow of the game or the identity of the opposition. And so far, it seems, this is being achieved without the violence that sometimes accompanies ultra culture in Europe. Heck, the atmosphere’s almost as good as Portland’s.

Richard Farley October 20, 201411:28 am

Opposing supporters nearly hijacked Millwall’s fan vote

by Tom Dart

Millwall are surely England’s least-liked club (in proportion to their size). After all, even their supporters’ anthem is “No one likes us, we don’t care.” But the tough guys from London’s hardscrabble docks district who make up a large proportion of the club’s support presumably would have cared had the team played road games in pink next season.

A fan vote organized by the club was hijacked by supporters of rival clubs who were keen to see the Lions play like princesses. Either that or they wanted to help a team that usually plays in blue to take a lead in smashing gender stereotypes, fighting, sexism and promoting equality. But it was probably the princess thing, to be honest.

The plan was foiled after the club enacted a sort of retrospective voter ID law to fix the result. “We were grateful for the massive interest shown by fans from clubs up and down the country who took an unprecedented interested in the strip The Lions will be wearing next year,” the club said on its official website.

“However, having cross referenced all those who voted with our database, we validated only those votes cast by Millwall supporters to produce the result which will see Ian Holloway’s men running out in the predominantly white kit with the vertical blue stripe (option 2) next season.”

What a shame. After all, if the color’s good enough for Real Madrid …

rmpink

Richard Farley October 20, 201410:55 am

Gareth Bale’s sore butt could cost him games against Liverpool and Barcelona

by Tom Dart

Real Madrid released a statement on Monday saying that Gareth Bale has an injury in the right pyramidalis muscle. After consulting Internet, M.D., we think this means he has, in technical terms, a sore butt.

He’s now set to sit out a couple of games, presumably on padded furniture. Bale didn’t play in the 5-0 win over Levante on Saturday , and he’s reportedly going to miss the opportunity to twist Martin Skrtel’s blood at Anfield on Wednesday when Real face Liverpool in the Champions League. He also looks unlikely to be on the field for Saturday’s Clasico and the return of Luis Suarez, so at least he won’t be adding puncture wounds to his list of ailments.

MORE: Real Madrid’s snipers were pretty Vine-conscious against Levante

Bale already has five goals this season and tormented Liverpool in a 2-1 win for Tottenham in November 2012, setting up the first goal and scoring the second via a deflected free kick. Then again, he also did this:

Kevin Brown October 19, 201410:15 pm

Marcelo Bielsa attacked himself with a cup of coffee

bielsa

With Marseille sitting a surprising seven points ahead of financial juggernauts Paris Saint-Germain in France, manager Marcelo Bielsa has replaced Louis van Gaal as Europe’s top tactical genius. It’s easy to see why. Through 10 games played, Marseille have scored 25 goals, while conceding only eight times, a difference worthy of attention beyond Ligue 1 .

MORE: Managers dress horribly, and these five are the worst

His most impressive move came today during his squad’s 2-0 over Toulouse. Bielsa somehow landed the soccer internet’s gif of the day by not sitting on a cup of coffee. Brilliant. His tactical prowess has reached such a lofty status that he can be joke-adjacent and still have a full impact.

Kevin Brown October 19, 20146:12 pm

Hernanes did a backflip to celebrate ruining our narrative

Apparently Inter Milan and Napoli don’t read this website. A perfectly good “Who’s getting fired first” narrative was being established, but in order for that to play out, one of these teams needed to have the common decency to actually win Sunday’s game. Instead, what we got was a 2-2 draw.

Admittedly, when Rafa Benítez is a main protagonist, we should know that a draw’s a distinct possibility. Our bad, y’all.

In some ways, Inter vs. Napoli was like match from earlier in the day, QPR vs. Liverpool, in that it was dull most of the way. Then both teams realized there were people watching and decided to wake up …

… except Inter-Napoli was much worse. It was painful. Bad play, bad fouls, lots of yelling about nothing in particular – basically everything that’s turned people off to Italian soccer in the past few years.

Then that alarm went off. After 79 minutes of fans across the globe questioning their life choices, José Callejón broke through. It felt like it would be the last goal, maybe ever.

Just as I was dealing with my changed world, Freddy Guarín equalized within three minutes, establishing a goals-in-pairs pattern that would continue.

Benítez and Walter Mazzarri’s heart monitors had to be singing lovely tunes. There they were on the sidelines, going back and forth between celebrating, half-celebrating, and wondering if Monster.com was a viable employment resource. Stressful stuff, for sure.

Then the whole scenario played itself out again. Callejón was back with a goal to put Napoli up 2-1 at the death-that-was-not-the-death 90th minute.

Finally, to fulfill destiny (and ruin Tom Dart’s perfectly good article), Inter Milan dragged us back to square one with Hernanes’s tremendous 91st minute back flip, one that was preceded by a goal of some sort.

The lesson here, kids, is to never depend on Italian soccer. Or Rafa Benítez. For anything.

Kevin Brown October 19, 201411:55 am

The last few minutes of Liverpool – QPR almost made waking up early worth it

Soccer / football is a [timeless cliché], isn’t it?

Liverpool and Queens Park Rangers just gifted the world 90+ minutes of spectacular  entertainment. This game wasn’t great for beautiful, flowing play, or a managerial chess moves, or anything that was particularly good. This was about horrendous, glaring flaws — particularly for QPR — that stacked on top of each other at the worst moments possible, and left us with a magical collage of imperfect beauty.

The first two-thirds of the game can be easily summarized by saying Liverpool weren’t any good, and Mario Balotelli may need an exorcism to get his game together.

The real fun started in the 67th, when QPR defender Richard Dunne delivered an own goal with a finishing touch that would have earned him a “world class poacher” label, had someone been kind enough to pick him up and point him in the other direction.

Then — like an Old Country Buffet after all the local churches get out — all hell broke loose.

Eduardo “Jordans All On My Neck” Vargas brought hope of a point to the home fans at Loftus Road. If only they could stop time and remember how happy they were then.

Look at Harry! It’s a shame that this joy was taken from him. It had been so long since he was able to take his team out for pizza. The doctor said he needed to slow down on dairy as he got older, but he didn’t care. It was time to celebrate. Poor Harry.

Wasting no time — and making Mauricio Isla look like someone QPR grabbed out of the beer line — Philippe Coutinho put a temporary stop to the “We’re gettin’ a point!” celebrations.

But Vargas wasn’t finished! Two minutes into stoppage time, he scored again, and QPR regained the cool minty sensation that comes with a sweet, sweet home draw. Like a romantic encounter with a dream partner that doesn’t quite go according to plan, QPR could bask in the warm glow of near-satisfaction … for 3 minutes.

… and then …

Steven Caulker found himself at the end of a cross that Raheem Sterling probably didn’t intend for him. Seems like a very strange thing to spend time practicing, but you have to respect the runs and finishing ability of the QPR back line. I know their path to the Premier League has been unorthodox (thanks, Netflix), and maybe defender fist-touch finishing is some new age innovative coaching technique QRP is using, but I have to believe its application is flawed philosophically.

Whatever the intent, I’m thankful for their choices. Waking up this early was worth it.

Kevin Brown October 19, 20148:27 am

Bruno Alves kicked some fool in the back during today’s Galatasaray-Fenerbahçe derby

Today gave us another edition of the Kıtalararası Derbi* between Galatasaray and Fenerbaçe. Obviously this is a wildly important game for fans of both clubs and the general landscape of Turkish soccer, but I’d prefer to focus on the bigger picture …

… like whatever it is Bruno Alves thought he was doing here:

I could easily dedicate all of next week to investigating this clip. It’s beautiful. There is no reasonable scenario or possible physical happenstance that calls for Bruno Alves’s foot to find itself name-high on the back of an opponent’s jersey, yet there it is, shimmering under the stadium lights – planted like the flag of a proud exploratory nation in to the soil of a soon-to-be colonized land. Alves received a red card for the “foul”, but the referee should have had another color available to commemorate such a special occasion.

The game did end with few moments worthy of the clubs’ storied rivalry, such as Wesley Sneijder scoring this late winner for Galatasaray:

But that wasn’t the game’s best moment, nor was Sneijder its biggest star. That distinction belongs to Felipe Melo, for his reaction to the goal:

Somehow more majestic than Bruno Alves’ martial arts exhibition and more important than the goal itself, Melo’s celebration is pure joy. That man wanted a win, and he got one, thanks to Sneijder Claus.

To quiet any doubt that he was the true man of the match, Melo followed his bench performance with this gem in the tunnel on the way to the locker room. That’s a solid day’s work.

*I didn’t look that up. Totally knew it already. Even knew it translated to “Intercontinental Derby.”

Kevin Brown October 18, 20142:22 pm

Real Madrid’s snipers were pretty Vine-conscious against Levante

All of Real Madrid’s fancy boys added classy finishes to their Vine portfolios today – goals worthy of the posters you are going to buy yourself for Christmas; goals so pristine and powerful that they would have justified Real Madrid wearing its dragon uniforms.

Javier “Chicharito” Hernández (“The Cheech”, to his friends) shocked Levante by doing the unthinkable and scoring before the final 10 minutes of a game that was out of hand. Have to give Ancelotti some credit for going with such a bold tactical choice.

Ronaldo, who already converted a penalty, does an impression of Messi doing an impression of Ronaldo, but with better hair and without that permanent look of confusion.

MORE: There are better things you can do with $1.3 billion than buy Cristiano Ronaldo

James may have outdone his mentor with a wonderful goal of his own, even if “mentor” is an assumption on my part. After this summer, you have to think Ronaldo has taken James under his wing, giving him tips on how to survive as a new superstar. Belt shopping, sunglasses that aren’t dark enough to really protect your eyes from anything – there really is no detail too small. After all, team bonding is important.

Kevin Brown October 18, 20142:00 pm

Agüero thwarts apple industrial complex with four goals against Spurs

Sergio Agüero must have a wager: Score a hat trick, get out apple picking – the worst of fall’s coupling traditions.

At least, that would explain the effort we saw today. Universal truth: Apple picking is dumb — the worst part of fall — and no self-respecting soccer superstar would allow themselves to be subjected to it.

So he didn’t. Today against Spurs, Agüero scored four times, the final, superfluous one making it clear he was revolting against our bourgeois traditions.

The man was determined. He’s very cognizant of the fact that they sell perfectly good apples, already in bags, in the most respectable supermarkets. But he was so overjoyed by the possibility of avoiding that awkward car ride with his girlfriends’s sister, he missed a penalty for what would have been his third.

Sergio knew his girlfriend wanted him to wear that new sweater she got for him.

Sergio didn’t care. Hat trick.

Just to prove a point — to himself, to the apple industrial complex, to Manuel Pellegrini, who suggested apple-picking in the first place — Agüero bags a crisp one for his fourth.

Manchester City went on to beat Tottenham, 4-1. Agüero will go on to well-earned Sunday that doesn’t involve an orchard.

Richard Farley October 17, 20145:58 pm

FIFA claims it can’t release the full Garcia report

by Tom Dart

Seems like FIFA had a pretty smart five-point plan to handle criticism of the stinky shenanigans that saw Russia and Qatar get the next two World Cups:

1. Commission investigation into dubious bidding process
2. Receive 360-page report and 200,000 pages of documents
3. Place in locked desk drawer
4. Pat self on back
5. Never speak of these things again

Strangely enough, there are some people who aren’t fully satisfied with this just and reasonable course of events, and are calling for — crazy as this might sound — the chance to actually read what former U.S. attorney Michael Garcia found in step two.

MORE: Michael Garcia spent Monday calling out FIFA, still wants his report made public

Those folks include Garcia himself, who essentially said in a recent speech that FIFA has the sort of attitude to transparency you might expect from the CIA. Secrecy during an investigation into alleged corruption? Well, that’s just not a good look.

Sure, Sepp could tell you what’s in the report. But then he’d have to kill you. Or reopen the bidding process. Or fire a few of his friends in Zurich. Or not get to stay FIFA president until he’s 130 years old and all that’s left of him is a head in a jar, like Richard Nixon in Futurama. Who knows?

Now Hans-Joachim Eckert, the German judge in charge of overseeing the investigation, has claimed that legal reasons prevent the publication of the report in full because confidentiality had been promised to contributors.

He told FIFA.com this “would actually put the FIFA Ethics Committee and FIFA itself in a very difficult situation legally. What is more, we have to respect the personal rights of the people mentioned in the report, which in the case of full publication of the report would in all likelihood not be possible.”

He says that he and his colleagues are going to produce some sort of overview in November summarizing the report’s key parts. Right now, they are currently “deciding what form this appropriate publication should take, whether this means issuing a statement regarding the investigation report or whether certain parts of the investigation report will be published while maintaining anonymity, or indeed a combination of these possibilities.”

So it looks like, at best, we’ll get the Cliffs Notes version, and have to take Eckert’s committee’s word for what Garcia uncovered. Anyone know if Edward Snowden’s a soccer fan?

Kevin Brown October 17, 20145:56 pm

Argentine league game abandoned after brawl, 12 red cards, but let’s not be too judgmental

Remember kids, violence is wrong. Especially if you aren’t very good at it.

This week, a game in Argentina’s fourth division between Deportivo Roca and Cipolletti was called after a foul (that wasn’t even that big of a deal) resulted in a brawl and, eventually, 12 red cards.

This appears to be a #GottaHearBothSides situation. It’s easy to blame the player who ran all the way across the field to start the brawl, but we don’t know what was said in the earlier huddle, after the initial foul. What if someone said something particularly sharp about his wife and they’re going through problems? Maybe his daughter finished second in the school science fair to the other guy’s kid. Do you know if there was controversey surrounding the decision? No. You don’t know that man’s life!

Stop judging. Sometimes, you and 15 of your co-workers have to run up and kick another group of people in the chest. We’ve all been there.

Times like this, you have to look back at your past transgressions and be thankful for the lessons you’ve learned. Meditate on it and hope that Deportivo Roca and Cipolleti can be belessed with the same inner peace you have grown to have.

Kevin Brown October 17, 20143:37 pm

Jurgen Klinsmann responded to Don Garber, and it was some aloof Jedi stuff


You thought it was time to move on from the Garber/Klinsmann beef? Nope! There’s still plenty of juice to squeeze out of this turnip.

To recap: Jurgen Klinsmann has been on an anti-American rampage. He’s spent the last six months plucking bald eagles even balder and throwing your grandma’s apple pies at the faces on Mt. Rushmore. Before the latest U.S. game in Boca Raton, FL, he was spotted at a T.G.I. Fridays pouring cases of Budweiser into toilets.

The manager and technical director of the U.S. national team also wants you to know that Major League Soccer is a trash league and will probably lead to a career-ending injuries, as well as the dissolution of the marriages of any prominent players dumb enough to be involved with it. He called Michael Bradley a punk and said Clint Dempsey was a “bigger disgrace to Texas hip-hop than Riff Raff”. Harsh.

At least…that’s what I heard. I’ve been busy. Haven’t really had time to read any actual quotes.

Wednesday, Don Garber did what any self-respecting man from Queens would do when he feels his family’s been threatened: He had a conference call with the media. Seemingly out of the blue, The Don went off on a 12-minute rant delivered with the masterful clarity of one of Kanye’s mid-show digressions. The core of the message was Garber telling Jurgen Klinsmann to watch his mouth, and never make the mistake of messing with his money, unless he was ready to face the wrath of the MLS goon squad (a strongly-worded letter from the league’s Board of Governors and sponsorship partners).

Whooo! Garber had the internet on fire. For whatever reason people thought his response was ill-timed and heavy-handed, but those people don’t understand how the streets or corporate boardrooms operate. The code of ethics for both are surprisingly similar and have a lot of quotes from Jay Z’s Black Album. There was no video, and I wasn’t on the call, but there’s no way the Commissioner didn’t deliver his diatribe in front of an American flag, dressed like Gen. Patton, and ended it with “and may God shed his grace on deez” before making an obscene gesture. It was inspiring.

Finally, in an attempt to squash the whole thing once and for all, Klinsmann spoke to the press yesterday and hit them with the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card: “I think some things were a little misread into my comments.” A savvy veteran coach move. There’s no conflict that can’t be ended with this phrase.

From Reuters:

“It’s great to see that we have debates and public discussions like this because that shows that more and more people care about soccer in this country,” Klinsmann said when asked about criticism from MLS Commissioner Don Garber about his views.

“In Europe, in South America and in Mexico we’re all used to this,” Klinsmann said. “It’s part of people’s everyday lives – to have debates about different opinions. It’s just starting now in the United States and I think it’s pretty cool.”

 

To me, this week feels like the result of a few unpleasant phone calls from people who cut checks putting pressure on Don Garber to protect the MLS brand. I imagine he’s wanted to fire back at Klinsmann for months now.

There’s probably another angle to this – one where Klinsmann is pulling some king fu Jedi shit, and this is all part of his plan to up the pressure levels and change the way Americans think about soccer. Even if that’s true, but I refuse to give him that much credit. Possibly because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of the national team manager being that diabolical.

Richard Farley October 17, 20143:15 pm

Ebola hysteria has African confederation looking for new Cup of Nations hosts

by Tom Dart

Ebola panic continues to seep through the soccer world, and Jurgen Klopp does not like what he’s seeing through his hipster glasses.

“The fact is, I’m really worried about it,” the Borussia Dortmund coach said, according to DW. “If a country believes that it can’t stem the spread, then you have to take it seriously. You can’t just close your eyes and say, ‘we’ll go ahead with hosting the African Cup of Nations’.”

Scheduling and staging the Cup has been tricky enough in the past even without the threat of a deadly pandemic. With only three months before it’s supposed to start, hosts Morocco want out, and other nations aren’t exactly lining up to replace them.

MORE: Soccer’s getting more and more freaked out about Ebola

The Confederation of African Football has sounded out Ghana and South Africa, but as this Facebook page suggests, there’s a groundswell of popular opinion in Ghana against the idea. And South Africa also wants to steer clear, as much for financial as viral reasons, their sports minister claimed in a statement.

Given the number of African players in Europe, could their worried clubs put pressure on them not to go to the tournament? Unless CAF can calm Morocco’s nerves in a meeting planned for early next month, it may not come to that. The prospects of the tournament being postponed are clearly growing.

And if that happens, you’d have to wonder when it would finally take place, since it’s only a couple of years since it was moved to odd-numbered years to avoid cozying up too intimately to the World Cup and European Championships.

MORE: So now we’re making African players deny they have Ebola? Thanks, Twitter

Despite the virus being relatively difficult to catch and infected people only being contagious if symptomatic, the BBC reports that idiotic Greek club PAS Lamia has asked their Sierra Leone international John Kamara not to train or play with them for the three-week Ebola incubation period after he was involved in a Cup qualifier in Cameroon.

He told the BBC that club officials said “I shouldn’t be with the team for 15 to 21 days as I went to Africa to play and because of the Ebola virus … They made it clear I should stay indoors or I should travel abroad to see my family and not go to training.”

In other words: “Yeah, feel free to mingle with strangers on an airplane and come into close contact with your relatives. Just don’t come near us.”

Kamara hasn’t been back to Sierra Leone for a year according to the story, and there are no reported cases in Cameroon, But let’s not let facts get in the way of a hysterical overreaction, eh?

Richard Farley October 16, 20143:59 pm

Soccer’s getting more and more freaked out about Ebola

by Tom Dart

Ebola’s spreading through soccer; or, at least, the fear of the deadly virus is. The sport’s interest in Ebola is now moving far beyond Twitter jokes directed at minor league English striker Dele Adebola.

The BBC reports that surprisingly-still-Newcastle-manager Alan Pardew has expressed concerns about two of his African players, Chieck Tiote and Papiss Cisse, who’ve been on African Cup of Nations duty on the continent.

“They are essential to us and our doctor has looked into the problems that might arise,” said Pardew. “We have a strategy for when they return and making sure they and their families are taken care of.”

Sierra Leone played a home game against Cameroon earlier this month in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon, because of the virus’s spread in Sierra Leone. (Fans reportedly taunted the team with “Ebola” chants.)

Still, were Tiote and Cisse in Liberia cleaning up vomit in a hospital, perhaps? No, Tiote played for the Ivory Coast against DR Congo, while Cisse featured for Senegal against Tunisia. Both were home-and-away doubleheaders.

There was a small outbreak in a remote part of DR Congo earlier this year, which was contained.

But the central African country is a long way from the west African nations that are the epicenter of the current widespread and extremely serious outbreak. And Abidjan, the Ivory Coast capital, is 400 miles from the Liberian border. As for Tunisia: it’s 3,000 miles from Liberia and closer to Newcastle than to west Africa.

The Spanish flu epidemic that swept the States in 1918 led to widespread canceling of social events, including sports fixtures. While there may be legitimate concerns about the potential of matches to spread the disease among fans (given that they involve thousands of strangers gathering in crowded stadiums), it’s hard to imagine that leading players in away games — cooped up in hotels, kept away from the public — are at great risk from a virus that isn’t all that easy to catch, despite cable news ratings-chasing scaremongering.

Now there are reports — newly denied — that Morocco wants to withdraw as host of next year’s African Cup of Nations because of fears that hundreds of thousands of fans will flock to the country, potentially bringing Ebola with them. Anxiety is infectious.

Richard Farley October 16, 201411:54 am

William Gallas is taking his passive aggression into retirement

by Tom Dart

So farewell, William Gallas. Thanks for sharing your maverick talent with us, and most of all, for bringing your distinctively French passive-aggressive attitude across the English Channel.

The 37-year-old Perth Glory defender told L’Equipe that he’s retiring after a career that began in his native land with Caen in 1995, progressed chez Marseille and – unusually – encompassed cross-London spells at the capital’s biggest clubs. From 2001 to 2013, he went from Chelsea to Arsenal to Tottenham.

An Arsenal captain joining Tottenham is not the move of a man who wants a quiet life, but the beauty of Gallas is that he just didn’t seem to give a crap about what people thought.

After one of the most traumatic games in Arsenal’s recent history — the 2008 road draw with Birmingham City (2-2) that saw Eduardo suffer a horrific broken leg before stoppage-time penalty essentially derailed the team’s title chances — Gallas, then captain, infamously tried to storm off the field then staged a sit-down protest on the pitch.

Then, in November that year, Arsène Wenger stripped Gallas of the captaincy after he gave an interview suggesting his teammates lacked bravery. This came a month after he was pictured driving away from a nightclub with a cigarette hanging from his mouth, looking like some sort of lounge lizard.

A year, later he scored the crucial goal that put France into the 2010 World Cup at Ireland’s expense – the goal made possible by Thierry Henry’s NBA maneuver in the build-up.

Just before he joined Arsenal, back in the summer of 2006, Gallas wanted to leave Chelsea. The club – the club! – issued a statement claiming he not only refused to play in the opening game of the season but threatened to score an own goal or get a red carded if José Mourinho picked him.

Again: the club said this! “His claims he wanted a new challenge were just a smokescreen to cover up the fact he was hawking himself to the highest bidder,” the very long, very pissed-off Chelsea statement added.

Gallas strongly refuted the allegations. Still, it was the kind of bizarre drama that seemed to fit his personality. He was a player so histrionic that a highlights video was posted to YouTube with a Christina Aguilera song as its soundtrack.

Richard Farley October 16, 201411:23 am

Pep Guardiola’s book has a terrible title and bashes the hell out of tiki-taka

by Tom Dart

Pep Guardiola has a book out about his first season in charge of Bayern Munich.

It’s called Pep Confidential, which is a terrible title: a.) Stuff is no longer confidential if you put it in a book; b.) The title makes me think of L.A. Confidential, so maybe I’ll go read me some James Ellroy instead; and c.) How is it not called Pep Talk? Open goal, missed.

In extracts serialized in several newspapers, including The Times of London, Pep expresses his regret about corruption in the LAPD in the 1950 … um, about dithering over formations ahead of the second leg of April’s Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid, telling his players to abandon their usual calm possession strategy and attack like over-caffeinated ninjas, and getting spanked 4-0.

Also: Pep hates tiki-taka! No! Yes.

“I hate it. Tiki-taka means passing the ball for the sake of it, with no clear intention. It’s pointless. Don’t believe what people say. Barça didn’t do tiki-taka! It’s completely made up! Don’t believe a word of it! In all team sports, the secret is to overload one side of the pitch so that the opponent must tilt its own defense to cope. You overload on one side and draw them in so that they leave the other side weak.

“And when we’ve done all that, we attack and score from the other side. That’s why you have to pass the ball, but only if you’re doing it with a clear intention. It’s only to overload the opponent, to draw them in and then to hit them with the sucker punch. That’s what our game needs to be. Nothing to do with tiki-taka.”

A brief bit about expressing admiration for Manchester United provides for an easy “Pep to Old Trafford” headline. Watching a game in Manchester, he told an assistant: “I like this atmosphere. I could see myself coaching here one day.”

By that logic, the clubs with the loudest stadiums in the Premier League, Swansea and Stoke, ought to be getting in touch with his agent.

Richard Farley October 15, 20143:08 pm

France U-21s burned after defender’s obnoxious celebration

Layvin Kurzawa not only has an enviable name, but the AS Monaco left back has an envy-inducing future. He’s young (22), inevitably rich, and can look forward to a career of major international tournaments. He’s doing soccer really well.

In the present, however, Kurzawa has acquired a note of infamy, one born from what started as a celebratory moment. Yesterday, while playing for the French U-21s, Kurzawa headed home the late goal that should have put his team into next year’s UEFA U-21 championships. Tied on aggregate, 3-3, with Sweden, Kurzawa allowed France to snare a vital (and, potentially tie-breaking) away goal. Les Bleuets were just over four minutes away from defending their leg one edge.

Then, as if daring to be smote, Kurzawa let immaturity get the best of him, celebrating what would have been a playoff-winning goal with a series of ironic salutes for his opponents.

Predictably, Sweden scored within a minute.

Oscar Lewicki’s goal means Sweden joins Denmark, England, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Spain, and hosts Czech Republic in January’s finals, but as you can see in the reaction from the bench, January was a long way off on Tuesday. As the team on the field piles on to its new hero, Swedes on the bench bring theirs hand to their brows, eager to remind anybody what Kurzawa had done.

It’s unfortunate that for every hero we seem to need a villain, but Kurwaza volunteered. With each new opponent he sought out to hand an ill-advised salute, his destiny as Tuesday’s goat became undeniable.

Kevin Brown October 14, 20148:43 pm

Man tests Lewandowski’s fame by trying to pick up women

Here’s the premise of the Romantic Science world’s latest experiment: Can a man with a vague resemblance (if you squint, in direct sunlight) to Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski come to America in the number nine’s jersey and pick up women?

This is the sort of experiment the general public should fear, as there is no positive outcome. If he succeeds, we are doomed, because our society has become so celebrity-obsessed that the mere implication someone might be famous (to someone, somewhere) is enough to find a mate and create the next generation of kids named Ashton and Emma. If he fails, it means being a young, world-class striker with hundreds of goals to his name still doesn’t get the social respect he deserves Obama’s America.

What are we do cheer for? The romantic equivalent of a draw (a lunch date)?

The best part of the video is the amorous con man’s attempt at an accent. Lewandowski is Polish (not that any of the women in the video were aware), but the “actor” went with an accent that falls somewhere between Moscow and Pittsburgh. Bold choice.

What I’d really like to see is the unedited footage. How many times was this man pepper sprayed? Did he come across a savvy lady, just trying to eat a cronut or something in peace, and find himself at the sharp end of a few “full-kit wanker” barbs?

Say no to street harassment in the form of cheesy YouTube videos. #NotAllLewandowskis

Kevin Brown October 14, 20145:42 pm

Serbia v. Albania European qualifier abandoned after drone flight and brawl

In events that unfortunately came as little surprise to anyone – traveling fans were not permitted to buy tickets, on UEFA’s recommendation – a brawl erupted at today’s European qualifier between Serbia and visiting Albania. The two nations have long-standing disputes, due in particular to conflict over the Kosovo region that separates them. The game was abandoned after a drone carrying a flag from Albania flew over the match. The drone hovered closely enough that Serbian defender Stefen Mitrovic was able to grab the flag and pull it down. He was immediately tackled by Albanian players, which lead to a brawl and the eventual end of the game.

Kevin Brown October 14, 20143:19 pm

Man tests Lewandowski’s fame by trying to pick up women

Here’s the premise of the Romantic Science world’s latest experiment: Can a man with a vague resemblance (if you squint, in direct sunlight) to Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski come to America in the number nine’s jersey and pick up women?

This is the sort of experiment the general public should fear, as there is no positive outcome. If he succeeds, we are doomed, because our society has become so celebrity-obsessed that the mere implication someone might be famous (to someone, somewhere) is enough to find a mate and create the next generation of kids named Ashton and Emma. If he fails, it means being a young, world-class striker with hundreds of goals to his name still doesn’t get the social respect he deserves Obama’s America.

What are we do cheer for? The romantic equivalent of a draw (a lunch date)?

The best part of the video is the amorous con man’s attempt at an accent. Lewandowski is Polish (not that any of the women in the video were aware), but the “actor” went with an accent that falls somewhere between Moscow and Pittsburgh. Bold choice.

What I’d really like to see is the unedited footage. How many times was this man pepper sprayed? Did he come across a savvy lady, just trying to eat a cronut or something in peace, and find himself at the sharp end of a few “full-kit wanker” barbs?

Say no to street harassment in the form of cheesy YouTube videos. #NotAllLewandowskis