Monday, September 27, 2010

Why No one wants to buy Liverpool FC

As a key date for the potential sale or take over by The Royal Bank of Scotland approaches, you have to wonder why no real contenders are stepping up to buy the legendary Liverpool FC.

The answers lay in the the position of RBS who is the major creditor against LFC and The Kop Holding company, which is the company which co-owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks set up back in 2005. The situation is complicated but the easiest way to break it down is like this:

Tom Hicks wants to sell the club as it has now become a dead weight around his finances. He would like to sell at either a profit which at last estimate would be around $600 million pounds or at the break even point which would be around $400 million. This would allow Hicks to walk away with some of his money, buy out Gillett who pulled out of the team last year, and still keep other aspects of his business sound.

The problem for Hicks and for the club is that if a buyer cannot be found before the October 15th deadline proposed by RBS, then the bank may seize the club in order to get back some of the money it lent to Hicks and Gillet to buy the club back in 2005. RBS has made it clear that it is not in the business of owning and running football clubs, and the last thing RBS wants is to hold onto Liverpool.

If the bank takes control of the club it will try to sell it almost immediately. This is where finding a buyer before October 15th gets tricky.

The bank can only sell the club for the amount it loaned Kop Holdings, approximately $240 million pounds. Which means any potential buyer logically would wait until after the club is taken over to put in an offer. For fans of the club they would have to endure the embarrassment of being taken over buy a bank, oddly enough a bank that needed to be bought out by the government because of bad business dealings like this. It is a further sign of the slow decline of a once dominant football club.

May no mistake about it the American owners Tom Hicks and George Gillett are to blame for most of this, they bought a team with credit, hedged on the value of the market. When the economy faltered in mid 2008 the team was officially in trouble. Their stand off-ish nature with the supporters, the at times unbelievably hostile nature between the Hicks and Gillett and the long time stand off between the ownership and former manager Rafa Benitez had left this club unattractive to buy for some. However make no mistake someone or some group will buy this club.

The question for supporters is will it be before or after the RBS reign?


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Another contender for goal of the year!

This was from Sunday's match between Manchester United v Liverpool, the score ended up being 3-2 in favor of Man U, but the story of the game aside from the face John O'Shea probably should have been sent off was Dimitar Berbatov. He scored a hat trick of goals and the second one was sheer genius, an excellent over head kick. The video below is a full match highlight, but really enjoy Berba's second goal.

As always I don't know how long the video will stay up for enjoy it while you can!


A quick thought on TFC's 0-0 at Cruz Azul

First things first, you have to complement the club on gaining 4 points on the road which is very difficult given the team's history with away fixtures.

However I'm not so pleased with the performance by TFC. Granted they were playing at altitude in Mexico City against the group leaders, but the inability to even retain a small bit of possession became irksome during the match. The broadcast made it seem like TFC produced a heroic defensive display against the Mexican side, and it is true to a certain extent. The defense was very good, but it was forced to be the main focus as neither the up front players nor the midfielders could hold on the the ball for more than a few seconds.

At points it seemed that it was inevitable that Azul would find a winner as they were all over them, even after being down a man. Although this seems to be a case where the opposition played down to the level of its competition. Azul had several chances to finish the game, but either they squandered it or the back four swept the chance away.

I know a week and two matches will not be enough to assess the squad's new leadership, Nick Dasovic has a lot of work to do before TFC play again this weekend against San Jose....Which of course is another must win.


Monday, September 20, 2010

Can a domestic league work in Canada?

I've been pondering this question for quite sometime now and I not sure if I'm any closer to finding an answer than I was when I began looking into the idea. I have quickly learned that to build a coast to coast professional first division league in this country is extremely difficult. The logistical issues of a proper balanced fixture list, finding financing, getting corporate Canada on board, T.V rights, Stadium expenditures, travel expenses for the clubs, which cities merit a club etc,  make this dream look impossible.

There is also the issue of local interest, are there enough people in cities outside of the big three of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver who care enough to spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching their local club? Just as importantly would they travel to see their side take on an out of province team? Unlike the leagues in Europe it is not as easy to travel along with your club as this country is massive in size.

On my recent travels in Europe I observed not just the results of matches, but the culture and logistics of the domestic leagues. In England and Spain travelling to away matches was just as important as going to their home ground. Now this is made easy by the fact that neither country is that big which makes driving to games or traveling by train fairly easy and quick. However what I found to be the biggest factor in the success of these leagues outside of money, is the density of clubs in a particular area. For example within the greater London Area there are 5 teams in the Premier League (Chelsea, Fulham, West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham) This creates a sense of rivalry between the clubs and supporters and it's ends up being a league within a league so to speak. Those 5 clubs vie to be not only the best club in England, but also of London.

It got me thinking of how that could be applied to a coast to coast soccer league here in Canada. I started to look at an alternative way of setting up the league outside of the traditional open country model. The idea of the open country model has been suggested in the past, however I have my doubts on the idea working mainly due to high travel expenses both for club and supporter, lack of rivalry building and securing financing for such a big venture.

What I propose is a national league based on regions, my idea is inspired by of all things Major Junior Hockey. Like the CHL the country would be split into regional pools 4 in this case. Western Canada (B.C Alberta, Saskatchewan), Central Canada (Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec,)Territories (N.W.T, Yukon, Nunavut) and Atlantic Canada (Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick, P.E.I). Each pool could see 4-6 teams playing each other within their respective pools. From that the top two teams compete in a national playoff tournament, I propose a straight knock out format though I can see an argument for 2 legged ties.At the end you crown a league champion. You could also use these pool standings to see who enters the hunt for the Nutrilite Championship, however that's another post for another day.

Obviously Toronto FC, Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact would not be involved in the league as they will already be in the MLS, but this is a chance to build a soccer culture outside of the big three cities. This is not to say that clubs in anyone of these cities could not have a club, as it will eventually become important to have teams in these cities, however the idea is to grow football interest in less traditional markets.

I know my idea for a national championship is different and a bit hard to swallow for the people who want a single table league, it would seem that we're trying to split the country in order to build a league. Though I would ask you to look at it this creating a more regional system of play you build true rivalries between teams, you also cut down travel time and distance for supporters who wish to travel with the club. The national "playoff" or "tournament" between the top clubs from each pool build the anticipation of playing against the rest of the country, it can also truly be considered a "national" championship as top clubs from across the country compete against each other in an knock out style tournament.

From a financial perspective it also keeps costs down for each club as they can minimize on the length of travel and lodging. Clubs can concentrate on growing a home support base without worrying about the bigger city drain that other sports have had to deal with (i.e hockey with the Leafs or Canadiens).

Regardless if you agree with my position or not, what I hope this does is start the debate on the importance of building a proper domestic league in Canada. We cannot rely solely on the teams entering the MLS, we need to develop our own system in order to push the game forward.


Thursday, September 16, 2010

Early contender for goal of the year in Europe

It's still early in the new European season but as Champions league proper has now started up we already have as goal of the year nominee. Thomas Muller of Bayern Munich scores a absolute beauty of a left foot volley with the outside of his boot against AS Roma on Wednesday night. I've added the video below, I don't know how long it'll be up but enjoy it while you can!

This kid is only 20 and is going to be a superstar for Bayern and for Germany for years to come if he can avoid major injury! He had an amazing World Cup and the sky is the limit for this kid, remember the name Thomas Muller.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The shoe finally drops at TFC

Mo Johnston and Preki were fired on Tuesday

When it was announced that TFC executive vice president and chief operating officer Tom Anselmi had called a news conference for Tuesday afternoon people knew someone was out of a job. After the team's worst performance of the season against DC United at BMO field in do or die game, Anselmi clearly had seen enough. On Tuesday director of soccer operations Mo Johnston and head coach Preki were fired and assistant coach and former Canadian international Nick Dasovic was installed at interim head coach.

At the press conference Anselmi stated that “At the end of the day, it’s a results-oriented business, and the results just weren’t there. “It hasn’t worked, it just hasn’t worked and so we’re moving on,”

For supporters of the club neither move was all that surprising specially considering the fading hopes of making the team playoffs. However what might have caught some people of guard was the timing, with 6 games left in the regular season many (including myself) thought that the club would make this move in the off season. Johnston had always stated that if the team failed to make the playoffs this year he was gone, but with the team still in the hunt for the 8th and final playoff spot some have seen it as a reactionary move. The very vocal south end supporters made it clear on Saturday that they were fed up with the mediocre play for the squad chanting “We not going to take it” a verse from the 80's Twisted Sister song. It was first time that the discontent among the fans was so boisterous in the 4 years of the club's existence, it seemed ownership shared their view.

The rumours of Johnston and Preki's demise first started up after the Chicago loss on Wednesday, after it had been leaked that Preki and assistant coach Dasovic had a verbal dust up over tactics a few week earlier. The other coaches were called into a meeting with the brass in which they questioned Preki's knowledge around tactical game planning, and expressed that fact that Preki was difficult to work with. The rumour mill went into overdrive on Saturday when Dasovic was nowhere to be found, subsequently we learned that he had flown to his home in Vancouver.

Although Johnston had been with the club since inception in 2007, his record is one of disappointment and failure right from the beginning. Whether it be poor coaching decisions and roster selection in the first season to ill advised signings like Pablo Vitti, Laurent Blanc, Carlos Ruiz, Ronnie O'Brian, Raivis Hscanovics etc.... Johnston has failed to bring quality to the side while also over paying for players. The club is up against the salary cap and is very thin in terms of squad selection. It will be very difficult for his successor to shed the payroll of some of these contacts.

As for Preki, he becomes another TFC coaching causality as the carousel of head coaches continues. Dasovic becomes the 5th head coach of the club in 4 seasons.

I stated in my last TFC post that I thought Preki should remain head coach as he had improved the club defensively and brought about a better work rate, I also believed just for stability sake he would be retained. However work rate and defensive football does not equal goals. It has been the Achilles heel for this club since 2007 and they are currently on a 4 match goal less streak. There also comes the question of his attitude and at time bombastic nature around the players. Saturday is was made clear that Preki had lost the players. It has been long known that DP Julian De Guzman had questioned the lack of tactical knowledge and planning of Preki, and recently other members of the squad has begun to question their treatment by the head coach. When this happens then its clear that the manger has to go.

Make no mistake in most cases players get coaches fired, and TFC's squad is not innocent of this. However it was also clear that Preki had little grasp on how to plan an offensive attack.

So as in my last post I pose the question, where does TFC go from here?

Tom Anslemi believes the season is not completely lost yet, “Short-term we’ve got six games left in the regular season of MLS. The players play up to their potential, we believe we can still make the playoffs.

“Longer term we came to the conclusion that we needed new leadership for this club on the pitch, so the search for a new manager begins today.”

At this point Toronto FC fans would just settle for stability and some winning soccer.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

Two Berbatov Videos

Just added two videos highlighting the skills of Dimitar Berbatov, the first video is from a few years ago against West Ham, when he torches the defender on the goal line. The second is the recent demolishing on the same West Ham side in which Berbatov scores a fantastic goal. Forgive the second video with the K'naan waivin' flag song, but it was the only highlight reel I could find.


Changes needed at BMO Field Part 1

For anyone who watched TFC's lacklustre loss to DC United on Saturday afternoon you could tell that something was off, broken if you will. Put aside the fact that the Reds lost to the worst team in the league, or that they dropped more important playoff points; The most disappointing thing about Saturday and even back to Wednesday night against Chicago is that you realized this team is just not good enough. The quality on the pitch is just not there and when you look at the players available for selection there really isn't any match winners on the squad, and I would even throw Dwayne De Rosario in that mix.

I should point out that I'm not questioning the team's work rate as I do believe that they play hard for Preki and they put forth a good effort, however a team with an excellent work rate and no quality goes nowhere. For myself the low was on Wednesday night, for a lack of a better term the squad was god awful in the final third of the field. Should TFC have been awarded 2 penalties in the first half? probably yes, but it does not excuse the fact that at no point in the game did they really look at a threat to score. The work rate during the game was there, but there seemed to be a disconnect between the players. It's not the first time there has been a breakdown in team chemistry, at the beginning of the season the squad had a hard time gelling. However it's now September and we have less than a month left in the season and squad look as lost as they did in April, something needs to change...

So where does the responsibility lay? The easiest place to start is the coach, Preki was brought in to make the playoffs plain and simple. At the end of last season after the club's most humiliating loss to the Henry, Marquezless bottom of the league feeding New York Red Bull 5-0 the club embarked on a mission the find a MLS experienced disciplined manager. The statement made was clear 2010 was expected to be a playoff year. At Preki's hiring news conference, he warned that the club would take time to develop under him, but that the goal was the playoffs.

So is he the man that should bare the brunt of the blame? No of course not.

The club has improved by leaps and bounds in the defensive department since his appointment. Consider last year that the team leaked goals all over the place especially in the last 15 minutes of games, this season they have only allowed 5 goals in the final 15. He has also improved the fitness and work rate of the club as mentioned above. TFC in the past have been criticized for not always fighting as hard as they should during tough matches. For the most part this season TFC have been the harder working team on the pitch which in turn helped the team on the 11 match unbeaten streak earlier this summer. Preki has also been able to work in some of the young players to the first team in cup matches. This will go a long way in improving the squad for the future.

With all that said Preki has been unable to help improve the team's biggest issue which is goal scoring. It's hard to lay this on at his feet but as the manager he needs to put out his best attacking players and place them in positions to create chances and score. At times he has failed to do this and it leaves the club in the position they're in now, struggling to finds important goals in important games.

With that said I believe Preki should stay as head coach. I believe that he will lead TFC to the playoffs but he needs better pieces to work with in order to accomplish this, which leads us to the guilty party.

General Manager Mo Johnston has been with the club since it's inception in 2007 and since then he has been responsible for bringing in players for the squad. Johnston has also from the beginning brought in low quality players to fill roster space, and then paying they way too much. TFC are currently brushing up near the salary cap, which wouldn't such a big deal but considering the lack of quality compared to their salaries and it has become a bit of an albatross for the club.

Mo Johnston has been in charge of TFC since 2007
The blame has to rest on his shoulders, he built this team, he offered and approved the contracts (Though MLSE brass also shares some blame as well). During the same Preki hiring press conference, Johnston stated that if the team did not make the playoffs he would resign from the club. As it stands right now TFC still have a shot of making it, but their destiny is now out of their hands as they must rely on other teams dropping points to have a chance. Realistically it is hard to see them taking the final playoff spot so as far as I'm concerned trader Mo is gone, provided he's a man of his word.

In the 4 years of TFC 's existence, he has not improved either the quality of the squad or it's results. Now much of that goes to the players, but it's the GM that signs them in the first place. He's brought in poor players, out shape players, bad apples and bench warmers.

I can't knock every signing though, De Rosario, Amado Guevara and drafting Stephan Frei were positive signings, but even signing Julian De Guzman as the first club designated player has not been the best of deals. De Guzman has has flashes of brilliant play mixed in with some serious inconsistency. Mista's signing as the second DP is still a work in progress, but with signs that he's already butted heads with Preki in the locker room do not look good.

At the end of the season, the TFC brass will have to take a good hard look at where this team is going and why it has failed to make a serious impact in the league. Every position in the organization has to be evaluated and I hate to say it...people will lose their jobs. The person that should be at the top of that list is Mo Johnston, the club needs fresh ideas on player recruitment and development and Mo just cannot provide that. I've met Mo on a few occasions in press scrums and he is a very nice man approachable man, which is why it will be difficult to see him leave as he truly has TFC's best interests at heart. However even Mo will agree that he may just be fresh out of ideas.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Canada drops friendly aganist Peru 2-0

Even with kick off moments away, BMO Field stood half empty as the Canadian Mens national team took on Peru in friendly competition, although it should be noted that Toronto sports fan are notoriously late when showing up for matches. Both small sets of supporters though were in good voice as the game kicked off.

For Canada this was in earnest the start of their Mission: 2014 Campaign. In December the Canadian Soccer Association announced a series a upcoming friendlies against higher levelled opponents in order to better prepare the team of Gold Cup and World Cup qualifying. After the disappointing turn of events during World Cup 2010 qualifying, the CSA determined that one of the factors that led to the poor form was a lack of match sharpness due to a lack of matches played together.

From the start of the game Canada controlled most of the possession and were the team driving forward, however Peru were dangerous with quick counter attacks and created more direct chances on goal. Juan Manuel Vargas was presented with the first good opportunity of the match when he thrashed his first time volley over the goal following a Jefferson Farfan cross into the box. Farfan continued to create problems as his pace and strength created another chance on goal though his shot was weak and saved easily by Lars Hirschfeld.

Canada looked lively on the ball with good exchange play, especially between Julian De Guzman and striker Rod Friend. This link up play almost resulted in a goal chance for Friend who attempted a deft flick over the shoulder of the Peruvian defender, however he was unable to find a way through. Over the past few weeks head coach Stephen Hart has been preaching a new passing philosophy in regards to the team's play. This new approach was on full display in the first half as the team kept the majority of position. However an old problem reappeared and that was an inability to find the killer ball in the final third of the field. Even with 2009 Canadian player of the year Simeon Jackson providing a goal threat on the right side, the squad never really looked like scoring. As the half ended and the rain began to come down you began to wonder where the goals were going to come from.

In short the goals were going to come from Peru who in the second half started to show their class over the hosts. Peru's quality of passing improved and the midfield's influence on the game grew, by the 60th minute the game was firmly in their control. As Canada's goal chances became slimmer it looked inevitable that Peru would find the break through. In the 68th minute Jose Carlos Fernandez headed Peru into the lead after Canada could not clear the back lines during a period of sustained pressure. Over half of announced crowd of 10,619 went wild as Peruvian supporters out numbered Canadian fans.

The pressure mounted on the hosts as the Peru controlled possession, and 4 minutes later Jean Tragodara doubled the South American's lead with a low well placed shot past a diving Hirschfeld.

As the game wound down, both sets of players looked short of full fitness as the game slowed to an almost unwatchable pace.

Stephan Hart in his post game press conference praised the visitors for their second half performance, “I liked how they played, how they adjusted in the second half”, he said. “ It's a quality team we played against. We learned some lessons today”.

In his assessment of his squad Hart was happy with the first 45 minutes, pointing out the improvement in Simeon Jackson's game. “ His time in England (Norwich City) has helped him a great deal, he'll only get better the more he plays”. However he acknowledged that “In the second half, we became careless with the ball and seemed to die physically; the Peruvians sped up their play.

Canada will have little time to rebound from the loss as they take on World Cup qualifiers Honduras on Tuesday in Montreal. Hart will also have to produce a result without some of his top players as he has sent Dwayne De Rosario, Julian De Guzman and Nana Attakora back to Toronto FC, and first choice left back Marcel De Jong to his German club due to injury.


Monday, September 6, 2010

An evening at the Camp Nou

Me in front of the Camp Nou
On August 25th 2010, yours truly went to cover a game at one of the most hallowed football grounds on the planet. I was at the Camp Nou in Barcelona to witness for myself what football was like in the capital of Catalunya. Before I go into the details of that wonderful evening, I have to explain how and why this night came to be.

Currently I'm writing for 90:00 Soccer Magazine based in California, over the past few months I've been sharing posts from this blog in their site. I've also written some exclusive content for their site and we have had a good relationship over the past few months. So when it came time for my vacation I knew I had the once and a life time opportunity to see the grandeur of the Camp Nou. So I got a bit greedy and asked the executive editors at 90:00 to see if they could get me a media pass for the game. As someone who is still relatively unknown in this business I never thought I'd be approved for the pass.

Well I'm glad to say I was very wrong!

The day of the match was one of the most hectic I've experienced in sometime. First, the day before the match I decided with some friends I had met in the hostel I was in that I would be going to La Tomatina in the town of Buñol, which is about 40 minutes outside of Valencia. Please note Valencia is about a 5 hour bus ride from Barcelona.

If you don't know what Tomatina is...well the simplest way to explain it is that Tomatina is a massive tomato fight through the center of Buñol. If you want more details click this link. Anyway to get there in time for the 11 am fight time, we had to leave Barcelona by 4 in the morning, so in short I didn't sleep Wednesday morning.

Tomatoey goodness!
I'll also keep the details of my Tomatina experience short, I had an amazing time, and I got covered in stinking tomato from head to toe. I got hosed off by a nice old Spanish women, but I still had the issue of getting back to Barca in time to catch kickoff. We left Buñol at 1:30 ish, which would not leave me much time to get in town and get to the stadium via metro. Also complicating things it was insanely hot in Spain, over 30 degrees, with humidity it felt well over 40 so I was sweating buckets.

By the time I got back to Barcelona I had about 45 minutes before kick off, but I was on the other side of town and I had to rely on the very hot metro. This left me sweaty, stinking and desperate to get to the club office in time to pick up my pass. When I got off the metro I had 15 minutes before kickoff, and began to run...didn't help the stinking or the sweating by the by. When I finally got to the FC Barcelona office to pick up my pass I had 10 minutes before kickoff, and I looked like I had just finished running a marathon.

But nothing was sweeter than opening that envelope and seeing that pass, it let me know I had arrived!

Once I got into the press box I had a beautiful view of the pitch, and I was just in time to see the players come out of the tunnel and the crowd of over 98,000 sing the club song. That moment was unbelievable, I was using a voice recorder to do match notes and listening to it now, the noise almost drowned me out. You could also feel the supporters love for the club and the game on almost every move or good play by both sides. It probably helped that the game was a friendly against AC Milan, and it was Ronaldinho's return to the Camp Nou since he left the club in 2008.

However you felt that this was an important game, that watching Barcelona was more than just watching a football match. As one person told me in the press box, watching the blaugrana at home not matter the size or meaning of the game was "Not just a casual outing for the family, but a way for people to converse about their love of the club and their love of Catalunya".

This historical aspect of the club is not lost in the stadium. If you take the tour you'll see many links to the Catalan struggle during the Franco era in Spain. Many older Barcelona fans talk about the fact that the stadium was the only place in Barcelona that the Catalan language could be openly spoken. The club's motto "Més que un club", meaning 'More than a club' was more than fit when speaking to these supporters.

As the game continued the stylish passing and play of Barcelona was winning the fans over, and the place at louder as the pace of the game picked up, especially after Pepo Inzaghi tied the game at 1-1 with a stunning volley goal. The chants of Barca! Barca! Barca! were near deafening.

Overall my experience at the Camp Nou was unbelievable, if you even are in Barcelona and have a chance to go to the stadium of either a tour or a game....especially a game THEN DO IT!!!!!!!