Archive for May, 2008

WTF

May 28, 2008

Seriously? And they call us dumb…

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The pictures keep rolling

May 27, 2008

If it’s true that Aberdeen and St. Mirren fans think that Jean Claude Darcheville is just a fat Eddie Murphy, then I don’t feel too bad making my own horrible look-a-like:

And if you don’t know who Wee-Bey is, then shame on you.

Projection

May 27, 2008

I was going to use this post to utterly destroy the feeble-minded US soccer fans who post on Big Soccer and SBI about Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore transfer rumors. But I just don’t have the energy.

So just let me put it on the record here, now, and forever, that no matter what clubs they join, no matter  how little playing time they receive, their seasons will not be failures barring any serious injury, or major clubhouse drama. There simply aren’t very many 20 year old midfielders or 19 year old strikers who make 25+ starts in their first season in a major European league.

So lower your expectations and tone down your rhetoric now, or I will have no choice but to revisit this topic with charts, graphs, and a seriously sarcastic tone. That is all. Let’s never speak of this again.

Djibril Cisse

May 27, 2008

My one hard and fast rule about transfers is as follows:

Anytime you get the opportunity to sign a player from the future you must seal the deal.

Just imagine what we could learn from him…

Meanwhile, the storm clouds gather…

May 25, 2008

It’s only Sunday, but I am getting seriously excited about the upcoming England – USA friendly this Wednesday. I fully expect that by kick-off, I will be a gibbering wreck incapable of forming a complete sentence.

I think that the feeling must be similar for many of the US players. The following games against Spain and Argentina may turn out to be stiffer challenges and better games, but a game against England, at Wembley, has to be the most potentially lucrative.

Landon Donovan has been playing with a chip on his shoulder all season, and recent comments signal that he may be ready to make US fans’ joy complete by once again testing the water overseas. If he has a good game, expect the rumor mills to increase production, probably based on some juicily ambiguous post-game comments.

The same goes for Michael Bradley who is already being linked to a host of mid-table premiership clubs. A commanding performance against England’s potent midfield could provide the final evidence needed for a Moyes/Hughes/Southgate/Keane to make the leap and start printing contracts.

Carlos Bocanegra needs a new club. Can he find a home in the Premiership? He can if he helps hold England’s attack.

It’s a case of a team with nothing to gain (England) playing a team with everything to play for (the US). I am optimistic. As long as the US doesn’t deal with their nerves the same way I plan to (i.e. ordering pints three at a time) Thursday could be a very good day for a lot of players and their agents.

Next up: How Familiarity Breeds Contempt, or, Why WithAPlum Should Stay Off the Message Boards.

Our Clint

May 22, 2008

There was a moment during Fulham’s dark winter when Clint Dempsey received the ball with his back to goal and a defender behind him. With incredible precision, he flipped the ball over his head and spun past the defender, retrieving the ball behind the defense, clear on goal.

Three steps later he was caught from behind by the recovering defender and coolly dispossessed.

This is our Clint. It’s not that he followed up a brilliant move with a boneheaded one, but rather that talented though he is, he is also limited.

He’s quick but not fast. He’s a good passer and a somewhere between good and great dribbler, but not a great striker of the ball, either shooting or crossing. He’s not tall, but he’s good in the air. He’s tough. He is a lot of things, but he’s also not a lot of things.

He has missed more than a few sitters this year but he also dropped a pin point thirty yard pass onto Bouazza’s feet from a rabona.

He’s Jimmy Bullard without the free kicks or the effervescent leadership. He’s Simon Davies without the pace or the crossing ability. He’s Danny Murphy without the vision or command of the game. He’s Brian McBride without the height or x-factor.

It’s been well documented that he missed a lot of soccer in his teens for various reasons. Maybe this is why he is, if not maddeningly inconsistent then consistently “almost.”

It’s clear that he can do a job for Fulham. Except for a brief spell under Hodgson, which was probably due to fatigue as much as anything, he’s been one of Fulham’s more featured players.

Players have done more with less and done less with more. On the National Team I always want him in the game, with Fulham he’s a player I’m never upset to see in the side, but never crushed to see dropped. Maybe he’s not ideal for the pace of the premiership. Maybe in another league with more space, his ball control skills could make more of an impact.

With Clint, you are always going to see what you want to see. A poster on TIFF the other day speculated that he might play some holding midfielder next season, and instantly I thought “I can see that.” He played some DM in college and in his early career with the Revs, so why not? But maybe the answer is to stop looking for what he could be and start looking at what he is. And as soon as I know, I’ll tell you.

Champions of Europe

May 22, 2008

I was cheering for Chelsea yesterday, because in football as in the navy, you must choose between the lesser of two weevils.

I try to avoid assigning moral values to football teams, but if Chelsea is the epitome of all that is wrong with English football, than what is Manchester United? Foreign owner financing the operation while plunging the club into debt? Check. Millions of plastic fans? Check. The financial flex to completely dominate English and now European football? Check.

So why does United become the choice of the neutral? Because they “play the game the right way” and  they have “history.”

I’ve already expressed my views on “playing the game the right way.” I think it’s sentimental bullshit. As for history, maybe it’s just me being an American, but I’m all for social climbing.  History is great and United should be justly proud of it. But to listen to some,  Chelsea should be ashamed of their ambitions.

The game was tight, bad tempered and well played. United won on penalties. My position in the corner of a packed bar precludes any further analysis.

One last thing, message boards provide a skewed view, but is there any other national team captain so disliked by his fellow countrymen? Maybe Landon Donovan when he puts on the armband.

What will set us free?

May 21, 2008

One of the most attractive, and frustrating, things about football is it’s subjectivity. There simply are not enough definite events in a game. There are the goals, there are the fouls, there are the cards, but even these events must be qualified. There are great solo goals, and there are undefended tap-ins. There are unarguable straight reds and there are niggling yellows. There are completed passes and there are missed opportunities.

In baseball, almost all of the mystery has been taken out of the game. Want to know who the best hitter is? Piece of cake. A few minutes on a spreadsheet will reveal his batting average, his on base percentage, his slugging percentage, his OPS, his OPS+, his runs created and even, miraculously, his win shares. That’s right, if anyone tries to tell you that shortstop A is better than shortstop B, you can simply shrug, look up their respective Wins Above Replacement Player and Value Above Replacement Player and then you shall KNOW. Simply put, the truth is out there. Well, 90% of it anyway.

Some people hate this and some people like this. I happen to like it. There’s no point in hiding your head in the sand for romantic reasons.

Most sports are like this now. In American football, even though it might be difficult to quantify the success of, say, an offensive lineman, it is still pretty easy to define the success of the offensive unit as a whole because the game is so broken up into digestible segments. (We Americans call them ‘plays’.) If your team gains four yards on a run off the right tackle, it’s not that hard to work back and see who picked up their blocking assignments and who didn’t. In basketball, things might be a little murkier due to the quick flow of the game and the team aspect, the wide range of statistics from points to rebounds, assists, fouls, blocks, charges drawn etc. still mean that one can be on fairly firm footing if one says that Kobe Byant had a better game than LeBron James.

But in football, things are never simple. For one thing, as I said earlier, there aren’t enough definite events. So if you have a striker who did absolutely nothing for eighty minutes before tapping in a sitter, and a defensive midfielder who worked his ass of all game long before giving up a fifty fifty free kick on the edge of the box leading to the equalizer, who was better? Some will say A, some will say B, but it’s all a matter of opinion. And did the striker really do nothing? And did the midfielder really work his ass off?

Which all leads me to my point, that generally, football supporters see what they want to see. I wanted Eddie Johnson to succeed. I want him to become a star. So during his short run out, I saw him pulling players out of position, using his pace to open up space, and drawing free kicks. Which is not to say that I didn’t see him diving, making bad passes, and checking back unnecessarily,  I did. But I was willing to value the good above the bad. Maybe I was right, and maybe I was wrong. But there’s no way to go back, examine the stats, and know for certain.

More intriguingly, I liked Roy Hodgson and wanted him to succeed. So I was willing to overlook the run of bad results for the positive impact I saw on the field. Now, of course, my hat is firmly on the side of my head. But remembering how razor thin the margins are, if we had been relegated on goal difference, or by a point, or by three points, would I begin to feel foolish? Next season, if we go on a bad run, winless in five, winless in six, winless in seven, where do I look for to find the truth? What is the final arbiter? Is it the results? Is it? Or is it simply the vague feeling in my gut, which, in a betrayal of all the sabremetric values I hold dear, tells me that things are going to be all right?

Tomorrow, how Clint Dempsey embodies my confusion. Plus a breakdown of the Champions League final. Stay tuned.

Ch…Ch…Ch…Changes?

May 16, 2008

Yesterday I wrote a fairly longish post on the UEFA cup final that I conveniently forgot to publish/save. I’ll sum it up for you though:

Blah blah blah blah blah blah Rangers, blah blah blah blah, Zenit, blah blah blah blah, Arshavin, blah blah blah Darcheville, blah blah blah blah blah blah Barack Obama, blah blah blah blah blah blah aesthetic relativism, blah blah blah blah blah abominable snowman.

Over at CCN, the Weltmeister is hoping for “tweaks” instead of wholesale squad changes. Although I have posted a couple comments over there, what’s the point of getting a house if you spend all day at your neighbors?

This season past was a strange one. The team started out brightly, but unsuccessfully, faded quickly, reached its nadir in December, then stuttered along for a few months until finally exploding at Reading:

LWLL DDDD LDD WLD LLLDLD LLLD WLL LDWLD LWLW WW

Now, I’m willing to accept that the team is not as bad as it looked in December and January, the two months in bold.

But I also don’t think that the team is as good as it looked in the famous four wins out of five run just concluded (in italics for those with difficulty remembering last weekend).

And let’s not forget, those results in December and January had just as much to do with our situation as the results in April and May. And we stayed up on a goal difference of three goals. That’s it.

So if this team has the potential to be really quite good, as we’ve seen, they also have the potential to  be pretty horrible, as we’ve also seen. And I’m betting that despite Roy Hodgson, King Among Men, next season we’ll see both.

The good news, of course, is that if survival is your goal, you only have to finish above three teams. And no team has needed forty points to survive for the last five years.

But a team can’t survive relegation battles forever, sooner or later it catches up with you. So if Fulham want to break this cycle, next year they need to claw their way up to mid-table mediocrity.

For me, a successful season would be 12-14 place, safety by March, and a decent cup-run. Do I think  that its possible? Yes. Do I think it will be easy with our squad? No. Do I sound like Donald Rumsfeld? Indeed.

Back to the question at hand. All indications point to a smallish transfer budget. With these financial restraints, no matter what we need, tweaks are going to be all we can afford. A major squad overhaul  (let’s say five plus new starters plus backups) is an expensive proposition. For 15m or so, I think we can look at two new starters, plus backups. Obviously Roy will be jettisoning some of our fringe players, but how much he can raise from sales/how much of that will go back into his transfer budget, remains to be seen.

So now that we are deep in the heart of hypothetically, if we have 15m to spend on two starters and two backups, where do we spend that money?

We need to think, what positions can we get the most bang for the buck and also what positions will our money buy us the greatest improvement on our current squad.

The first place to buy is goalkeeper. Good goalkeepers don’t grow on trees, but the position is notoriously undervalued. The fact that Craig Gordon is the British transfer record at only 9m is stunning to me. Gordon might yet be a bust, but when the Curtis Davies of the world move from West Brom to Aston Villa for 8m, something’s up. And with both Niemi and Keller getting on in years and our other options being young (Batista), or accident prone (Warner), Goalkeeper would be one position where a little bit of money could go a long way, and noticeably improve the team in the process. Then again, people have been burying Keller for years, so what do I know.

Although defenders can often be good values, I don’t think we’re going to find anything in our price range that dramatically improves the strength of that back line. If we can’t sign Stalteiri, obviously this changes, but as it is, I think we’ll be okay without a major signing. If Bocanegra and Volz go looking for first team football somewhere, we might want to spend a little bit on cover.

Midfield – The two weaknesses of Fulham’s midfield are the lack of a great option on the left wing, and the lack of a good holding midfield option. If there were someway to splice Leon Andreason’s workrate and tackling with Danny Murphy’s ball control and passing, then we’d have a great midfielder. But instead, we have two pretty decent ones. With Murphy in, the midfield is pretty lightweight (although they’ve certainly shown an ability to overcome this.) But in a passing team, a deep lying playmaker who can distribute the ball is crucial, so Leon is not a perfect option either. I think it might be possible to improve this position, although in a Moneyball world, if you want to shop on a budget you have to buy players “with warts.” So our bargain Beckenbauer may be able to hold the pall, pass with either foot, and be a shield in front of defense, but he’ll lack pace, or be homicidal. I’d still take it.

As for the left wing, naturally left footed midfielders with pace who can cross have to be one of the scarcest resources in the football universe. This market is overpriced, and I don’t think we’re going to be able to massively improve on Clint Dempsey, limited though he may be.

As for forwards, we’ve got Nevland (brilliant in cameos), Kamara (brilliant/horrific), Healy (fantastic/anonymous), McBride (legendary/old), Johnson (fast/bad) and probably some others to. Who can tell with Strikers? Any of those guys might turn out to have great seasons next year, some will have stinkers, most will probably have a little bit of both. And while I would normally warn against investing in strikers, there’s always a Roque Santa Cruz just waiting to bang in 20+ for 3.5m. Garrr!

So I’m thinking a goalkeeper, a  forward and a holding midfielder, with defensive and midfield cover, then buckle down for the relegation fight. But whatever happens, I’ll trust Roy. He may just know a little better than me. Spend wisely Roy. Spend wisely.

I don’t know if you’ve heard…

May 13, 2008

… but Fulham stayed up.

Let me just repeat that: Fulham. Stayed. Up.

Perhaps not intrinsically the most rousing sentence in the English language, but considering the position a month ago, it’s one worth pausing a moment to reflect on.

In the run up to the game, Roy Hodgson was asked several times whether the Portsmouth game was the biggest game of his career.

At the time, I found myself a little annoyed by his answers, that frankly no. It wasn’t. He pointed to his UEFA Cup final with Inter, and other big games throughout his extraordinarily long and varied career. Now of course, with the drama behind us, I find myself marveling at the privilege we, as Fulham fans, have been granted to have this man as our manager. Throughout this long and generally gloomy season, there has only been one man who has never panicked, never fallen for the cocooning hype, never failed to see the big picture. I wouldn’t trade him for the world.

A while ago, I installed an AddOn to my FireFox browser called FootieFox. It was created by the German football paper Kicker, and it sits at the bottom of my browser showing rotating football scores from pretty much every league in the world. When someone scores, a small window rises saying GOAL! It’s brought cheer to me on many a slow Tuesday morning to find that although the next game I care about may be days away, somewhere in Armenia two teams have donned their kits, fans have filed into a stadium, and Football (capital F) marches on. I suspect that this summer I may need it more than ever.

Thankfully, there should be plenty to keep me interested and this blog, at least occasionally, rolling on. There is the UEFA Cup final tomorrow, and I look forward to Rangers win on penalty kicks after 120 minutes of scoreless football (and there is nothing, repeat nothing, wrong with that). Next week there’s the Champions League final (more on that, including a deep dark secret of mine, to come). The US plays England, Spain and Argentina in friendlies before embarking on World Cup Qualifying, and the U23s look forward to a deep run in the Olympics. MLS, a league I am deeply ambivalent about, will roll on throughout the summer. Of course there’s Euro 2008, the Intertoto cup and transfer gossip.

So lastly, thank you Fulham for allowing me to enjoy this summer knowing that, whatever else happens in this constantly changing world, come fall Fulham will take their place in the Premier League, level on points with everybody else, with as good a chance at 10th place as anyone else. Seriously, thank you.