• Wednesday, 18 July 2012

    Open letter to Luis Suarez

    Dear Luis,

    You did what you did. Due process was applied. Now for love of everything you hold dear, shut the fuck up and stop picking at this festering sore.

    Yours etc,
    The Euroballs team

    Friday, 13 July 2012

    Marking your card #13

    The football never stops. Here's what we'll be keeping an eye out for this week.

    It was a turbulent 2011/12 season in Switzerland, so here's hoping for better this season. The champions FC Basel kick things off away to Servette who have so far steered themselves around financial imperilment. Gone from the champions are Xherdan Shaqiri (FC Bayern) and Granit Xhaka (Gladbach), but the turnover of young talent continues with high expectations of Fabian Frei - who has been around for a while already - Darko Jevtic, Marcelo Diaz and Stjepan Vuleta - who haven't. Hopefully Sion can stay off the naughty step this season as they've brought in a bit of quality in the shape of Rino Gattuso and a big lummox up fron tin Kyle LAfferty (subject to international clearance). They open away from home at Grasshopper who have a certain Taulant Xhaka in their ranks.

    Fresh from co-hosting the Euros, the Ukrainian league begins this week. It looks set to be another battle between Dynamo Kyiv - at home to Metlarugh Donetsk this week - and Shakhtar - also at home, to Arsenal Kyiv. Shakhtar have held onto their stars, for now at least, and look marginal favourites, though Dynamo have strengthened with the likes of Niko Kranjcar joining the club.

    We're up to round 9 in Brazil's Serie A wher Atlético Mineiro lead the way by a point from Fluminense. And it's Flu who are involved in the big game this weekend, away to fourth-placed Botafogo. Will Clarence Seedorf make his debut for the home side? Corinthians may have won the Copa Libertadores while we were focusing on Euro 2012, but they remain second from bottom having won just one game so far this season. They're at home to Nautíco this weekend.

    No rest for the wicked in Chile. Just a week after the Apertura final - won by U de Chile on penalties after two 2-1 results against O'Higgins - the Clausura began, though the finalists were given the week off. Therefore, with 14 of the 18 sides having played last week, La U begin their title defence on Monday against La Serena. O'Higgins are at home to early leaders Colo Colo. Peru dispensed with the Apertura/Clausura model for a more European style league which hits round 23 this weekend. It's a three-way fight with Real Atlético Garcilaso leading by one from Sporting Cristal who themselves are one clear of Universidad César Vallejo. The leaders take on last-placed Cobresol this week with Univ César Vallejo, The Poets, who have hit a rough patch of form, taking on fifth-laced José Galvéz.

    Further north, MLS rumbles on. DC, Sporting KC and New York Red Bulls are away and clear in the East, San Jose and Real Salt Lake in the West. Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps are fighting for the final play-off place in the West and both have tough cross-conference games this week. Seattle travel across the country to play New York, while the Whitecaps go to Chicago to play the Fire who are still in with a chance of making post-season without the need for a play-off. The big news from the States this week though is that the New York Cosmos are back! Next season, they'll play in NASL2 as they try to work their way back up to the big time.

    Back in Europe and to Scandinavia. The Swdish Allsvenskan hits half way this week with Elfsborg leading by six. Coming off the back of a big Europa League win, they take on Kalmar this weekend, also big winners in Europe during the week. Kalmar's league form, however, isn't all that as they sit just outside the relegation places. The Norwegian Eliteserien also reaches the half way point and it's Stromsgodset in front by four from Molde. Rosenborg are in third and their game against Haugesund, a point further behind them, is the pick of the week there. Denmark get their league off and running this weekend. Champions Nordsjaelland begin away to Horsens, but last season's second and third placed sides Kobenhavn and Midjtylland meet in the game of the week.

    We'll see how that lot got on early next week.

    European round-up #1

    We said we'd pick a team in both major European club competitions and follow that thread through to the end. And at the first hurdle, both of our first choices bow out.

    In the Europa League, we went for Jeunesse d'Esch, the Luxembourgeois side. Realistically, the tie was over after the first leg against Olimipija in Ljubljana. After a goalless first half, Djodje Ivelja put the home side in front and Brazilian substitute Franklin added two more late on for a 3-0 win. Any hope Jeunesse had of sneaking back into the game was snuffed out inside half an hour with Adnan Besic's goal and Sreten Stretenovic made it two before half time. Nik Omladic wrapped up a second 3-0 win and sent Olimpija through.

    Elsewhere in the Europa League, the biggest name involved was FC Twente and they completed a routine 9-0 aggregate win over Andorrans Santa Coloma. 6-0 up from the first leg, they were home and hosed. Other notable results were the 12-0 aggregate win for Elfsborg against Floriana and the 10-0 win for Gomel over Vikingur. Finnish side JJK held on against a major fightback from Stabaek before winning 4-3 on aggregate and a late goal from Rafael Ledesma ensured Suduva if Lithuania progressed at the expense of Daugava Daugaspils from neighbouring Latvia on away goals. After winning 5-2 in the first leg, FK Slovenia were all but there, but played out a 4-4 draw in the return against the Maltese version of Hibernian, Radan Sunjarevic with a last-minute equaliser. Kalmar overturned a 1-0 deficit from the first leg to beat Cliftonville 4-1, Icelanders IBV did likewise to St Patrick's, requiring extra-time before prevailing 2-1 and after draws at home in the first game, Cefn Druids, Bangor City and Bohemians were all well beaten away from home.

    There were only three ties in the Champions League first round, and we were on the B36 Torshavn horse. After a 0-0 in Belfast against Linfield, it was all back to the Faroes. Again, it was 0-0 and extra-time couldn't find a winner either, so it was to penalties. Immediately, B36 handed the inititive to the visitors as Klaemint Matras missed the first spot-kick. With the next seven penalties all successful, Polish striker Lukasz Cieslewicz had to score to keep B36 in it, but missed and sent Linfield through.

    The other ties were over after the first games. F91 Dudelange were 7-0 up on Tre Penne and won the second leg 4-0 to complete a huge win. Valetta were 8-0 up on Valletta, but only added one more in the return, an early strike from Brazilian attacker Jhonnattann.

    So we say goodbye to Jeunesse d'Esch and B36 Torshavn. Your stays with us were short. For round 2, we're on the shoulders of Linfield in the Champions League as they take on AEL Limassol. In the Europa League, we're shouting for Olimpija who take on Tromsø. Here's to better luck this time.

    Thursday, 5 July 2012

    (Ex)Goalkeepers yelling at defenders #53

    Élie Baup


    Adding Champions League interest

    Some time ago, we expressed the ennui we were experiencing with the Champions League. Well, in an attempt to liven up our interest in this and the Europa League, and given the first round of both competitions start this week, we're going to select a team now at random and follow the winners of the tie through the competition through to the final.

    Now, like most of our ideas, we're a bit late to it given the Champions League actually began two days ago and we know the results of the first leg matches. There were big wins for Valletta - 8-0 over the Andorran side Lusitanos - and for Luxembourgeois champions F91 Dudelange who beat their San Marinese counterparts Tre Penne 7-0. Both those games are pretty much over, so instead, we'll pick one of the sides involved in the game that finished 0-0 in the first leg. So step forward....

    B36 Torshavn

    They secured that 0-0 against Linfield in Belfast and will be confident of getting the result they need back in the Faroes. As with things European, the second round draw is already done, so we know the winner will go on to play AEL Limassol.

    In the Europa League, our random team selector (piece of paper, pin) gives us...

    Jeunesse d'Esch

    Runners-up in Luxembourg, three points behind Dudelange, Jeunesse were once immortalised in the Half Man Half Biscuit song Friday Nights And The Gates Are Low. They're away tonight to Slovenian runners-up Olimpija who finished a massive 20 points behind champions Maribor. Will a home defeat to Jeunesse d'Esch be rendered pointless tonight? The winner goes on to play Tromsø.

    Wednesday, 4 July 2012

    They Cayman saw and (divided and) conquered

    There's a contingent in the north-west of England and a far smaller one on Fleet Street that could be forgiven for saying "I told you so" a hell of a lot today.

    Manchester United's plan to relieve the burden of debt on the club - debt imposed solely by the current owners - is to register the company in the Cayman Islands, retaining what they describe as an 'executive office' in Manchester, and float on the New York stock exchange. The prospectus for the share issue mentions the word 'indebtedness' 43 times, making plain the reasons for this move.

    The Glazer takeover was incredibly controversial. The family borrowed over half a billion pounds in order to buy the club then loaded the responsibility for paying that back onto the club itself, a move which has never seemed right even if it is allowed. Debt repayments and interest has taken another half-billion away from the club in the intervening period, yet the total debt still stands at over £400m. This is far away from the club that existed prior to the takeover, yet those supporters who did voice a concern at the time saying United was "not for sale" were wrong. Having sought to gain all the benefits from launching as a plc back in the day, they were up for sale from that point. However, under the plc, it remained a Manchester club. That will no longer be the case.

    It sounds a trivial point when figures like half a billion here and 400 million there are being thrown about, but almost every football club started because of the desires of a community. At the top end more than any other, that community link has been eroded to the point of non-existence as clubs demanded a greater share of TV monies, became more business oriented and started describing fans as 'customers'. As TV money goes up, commercial revenues go up and the gate money each week becomes less important to the business, so the fan paying their money on the gate becomes less important. But the link to the community remained, however much it was watered down with plcs, foreign ownership and leveraged buy-outs. Now, United plan to remove any last vestige of that.

    If the powers that be wish to do something symbolic to maintain a level of association and accountability, a simple demand that memeber clubs are registered, affiliated and pay tax in the same jurisdiction is a very simple thing to do. Even clubs owned by murky offshore owners - like Leeds United, for a random example - are entities incorporated within their governing FA's realm. If Manchester United want to move to the Cayman Islands, so be it. It was a competitive league season out there, with Elite and Scholars International going in to the final round of games level on points. But where Elite could only draw with George Town, Scholars - who play out of the 2500-capacity Ed Bush Stadium in West Bay - beat lowly Future 3-0 to take the title. It may skew the competitive balance of the Cayman Premier League, but if they're a Cayman club, then they must fall under the Cayman FA's auspices.

    Moreover, while the FA and Premier League in England have been happy to see the game develop to the point we reach now, it falls increasingly to HMRC and notable journalists - Matt Scott and David Conn, for two examples - and bloggers - Swiss Ramble being particularly prominent - to scratch away at the surface of the corporate world of the game. Hiding the entire operation in the Caymans avoids all that scrutiny is not a good thing in any way. Sadly, the initial Glazer takeover did a fine job of divide and conquer among the support, so whether this causes a major stir will be interesting to observe.

    Shifting a club, as opposed to a holding company or an individual owner, offshore ought to stir the FA into action. But as we've seen throughout the last 20 years or so, they're as rapacious in their capitalism as anyone, so expect this to be waved through with barely a murmur.

    Monday, 2 July 2012

    Yesterday at the Euros #19

    This is the end. We often amaze ourselves when we actually see something through.

    Spain were into their stride quickly with the 'ole's from the crowd beginning as early as the ninth minute. Ahead of the Portugal game, Andres Iniesta had said they'd combat the threat of Cristiano Ronaldo by denying him the ball. That didn't quite work, but if it was the intention to deal with Andrea Pirlo - surely the player of the tournament - then it worked a treat. Italy couldn't get hold of the ball and Pirlo cut a peripheral figure. Not only that, but while we all coo and gush over Spain's passing, what is often overlooked is the work that goes in off the ball. They press everywhere. When an opponent picks the ball up, he has a red jersey in front of him. There is no space, no time and no chance of building pressure.

    The passing, as ever, was crisp and quick. With 15 minutes gone, Iniesta freed Alvaro Arbeloa down the right and he cut back for David Silva to head the opener. Late in the first half, Italy may have thought they were getting back into it and going in to the break only one down was a bit of a result. But then Jordi Alba got the ball on the left, tapped it infield to Xavi and hared off up the field. Xavi's return was predictably perfect and Alba smashed in his first senior international goal on the biggest stage. 2-0 and suddenly Italy had a mountain to climb.

    The killer blow arrived late with Italy already down to ten men, substitute Thiago Motta forced off injured just moments after coming on. It was Cesare Prandelli's third and final change. Again it was Xavi with the money ball, again as a result of that pressing. Italy were robbed in midfield and two touches later it was in the back of the net off Fernando Torres's right boot. The fourth was cruel. Juan Mata had barely been on for a minute when Torres squared for him and he slotted it beyond Gianluigi Buffon to wrap up an emphatic win. It was Mata's first touch and, again, the movement off the ball simply exquisite in creating the opportunity. The three added minutes at the end must have felt like an eternity to anyone of even slightly Italian persuasion. Where was the mercy?

    And that's your lot from Poland and Ukraine and what did we learn? That many people find excellence boring, that England have a long old road to travel from the tactical abyss they find themselves in, that the Dutch never fail to find new levels of in-fighting to ruin another tournament. The rise of the goalkeeper as captain is to be praised, especially where both captains in the final were the respective custodians. Special mention for Casillas too, who won his 100th international in the final, something nobody else has ever done. At 31, he could go on to play another two World Cups yet, maybe two more Euros too. We will not be sorry to see the end of the kick-off countdown. That's something that can be taken round the back and shot.

    In four years time, almost half the nations affiliated to UEFA will appear in the finals in France as the competition is expanded to 24. If this is the last great European Championships, it's fitting that a truly great team won it.