Thursday, July 28, 2011

More Brazilian Magic: Neymar

He might have struggled a bit under the spotlights of Copa America earlier this month for his native Brazil, but Neymar is still the boy wonder of the moment. I submit this goal from is first game back at club side Santos as evidence.

P.S: The announcer is just as entertaining.

FIFA and Ethics are like Oil and Water

Over the past few months those of us immersed in the football world have been collectively shaking our heads, disbelief etched on our faces as FIFA's credibility has been eroded by vote buying scandals and a general lack of ethics. We, at least those of us who chose to open our eyes,  have known for quite sometime that FIFA was dodgy. We knew that there were things behind the scenes that would make us question if the leaders of world football really loved the game at all. However I don't really think any of us thought that it went this deep, or was so wide spread and common place.

Last week came the word that former FIFA presidential candidate, executive member and Asian Football President Mohammad Bin Hammam had be found guilty of corruption (vote buying amongst a host of other charges) and was banned from all football related activities for life. This in itself was no great shock, the events that lead to his conviction was.

Last year Bin Hammam launched his bid to unseat current FIFA overloard President Sepp Bladder. Bin Hammam promised an open and transparent FIFA. One that would seek to end decades of corruption, mis-management and the endless insider politik. Most of us knew this wouldn't really happen under Bin Hammam had he won, but there was a certain sense of optimism. What fans of the game were looking for in the world organizing body was a fair debate and contest over the future of not just FIFA, but the game itself. What we ended up with was nothing short of a farce.

Accusations of vote buying, expensive watches and cars given to football delegates, financial mis-management and in the end a presidential election with only one man running. This year's FIFA elections may have been one of the clearest demonstrations of how rotten the administrative core of the game has become. Its aftermath with the sacking of both Vice President Jack Warner and Bin Hammam showed us her true politik.

So fans and lovers of the beautiful game I pose this question: How do WE fix this?

I stress the we aspect of the question because it us, the supporters who will have to spur real change. Whether we boycott FIFA matches, spend less money on FIFA product; or the products of FIFA main sponsors (Coca-Cola and Adidas), or start an online campaign for change and transparency. We must DO something. The game is nearing a tipping point, the ratings for football matches have never been higher, the game has reached all time highs in exposure. But with that match fixing, and all the corruption of FIFA has come with it.

Change is coming, if it is to be either good or bad is completely up to us.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Ladies lead the way

Japan lift their first Women's Wold Cup trophy

"I wasn't really a fan before the world cup, in fact I didn't really think of it at all. But after today I'm in!" ~ Random guy at the Football Factory bar in Toronto
Sunday's epic Women's World Cup final between the United States and Japan was on of the best played, and most exciting games of football I've watched all year. I just wanted to get that out before I continued.

It was everything a cup final should be. Two teams maybe not as evenly matched on paper, but were the two in form sides heading into the final. What we got was a treat, two sides that respected the game and each other enough to bring everything they had to the pitch...and left it there. The match ended in the cruelest way any final could end, but penalties were just and the team that deserved to win lifted the trophy.

The final itself was a fitting reflection on the success of the tournament as a whole. Well played, well organized well watched and attended. We saw what at times was sorely lacking the the men's World Cup of 2010, competitive spirit. There were few games at the WWC which you could label as boring, or poorly played, I could name at least 4 from South Africa 2010. One of the most impressive things I took away from watching the women's game was the lack of whining and diving that continues to plague the men's game. Funny enough I was watching the World Cup final at the same time as Brazil took on Paraguay in the Copa America, the amount of cheating and unsportsman like play in the Copa game made it completely unwatchable. After 30 minutes I focused my attention solely on the women's final.

Although I ended up disappointed that Canada did not advance out of the group stage, it gave me a chance to view the women's game from a neutral point of view. I gained an appreciation for the skill of the players which has jumped light years ahead from when I last paid attention to the WWC in 2003. I also noticed that FIFA finally gave the tournament the media push it needed. This was the first tournament in which every game was carried on network T.V (CBC/Rogers Sportsnet in Canada, ESPN in the U.S). Christine Sinclair who I have been touting as Canada's best soccer player men's or women's for a while now, became an instant Canadian sports icon for busting her nose then curing in a sublime free kick against Germany. The Canadian sports press never gives a female athlete that kind of coverage unless it's an Olympic year or they are a hockey player, and even then most of the articles are condescending. However coverage of Sinclair was about the sport and not about the sex.

Has the women's game turned the corner into mainstream popularity? Based on the ratings of the final and the record smashing tweets per minute one would lean towards yes, but we will only truly know at London 2012. If the games are as well attended and well watched then yes, women's football has turned the corner. If not...well there's always World Cup 2015 in the good Dominion of Canada to look forward to...


Monday, July 18, 2011

Transfer madness for dummies


It's that time of year again! It's July, birds are chirping, the sun is shining, Toronto is melting under another heat wave, and it's international transfer window time in the world of the beautiful game. For those are not familiar with what exactly I'm talking about, the transfer window in football is like what the free agency period is for the NHL right now. It's a time in which players can move to other clubs either on a free (no fee paid to a club) or on a transfer in which the club losing the player is paid a fee, this can either be in straight cash or player + cash.

Moving to Man United?...please let this NoW story be true!

The summer transfer window, starting from the of middle of June to the end of August is a time in which the footy supporter like myself, dream of big name players with amazing skill joining my favorite club in the unrelenting quest for more bragging rights...and glory...but mainly bragging rights. It is also a time of wild speculation and gossip in which every player is is possibility on the move to new and sexy locations like Paris, Madrid...or Blackburn. All these are important aspects of the window, but what really gets the attention of the fan, and part time fan alike is the incredible amounts of money spent in transfer fees on players this time of year.

When looking at the reports of player signings this summer or any summer for the past 10 years the dollar/pound/euro amount spent is mind boggling. Although this summer is not anywhere near the summer of 2009 in which Real Madrid spent 140 million Euros on Ronaldo and Kaka in 4 days, and overall during the window spent over 200 million on players, the numbers are still massive. When analysing the spending of English Premier League clubs this summer you find that combined they have spent over 202 million pounds on NEW players. That doesn't cover the salary costs for the CURRENT players on their rosters. Nor does it speak to the amount of debt some of these clubs are consuming.

Recently in Spanish football the 26th team in the past 4 years declared for bankruptcy. The tend is being repeated all around European football as clubs play a dangerous "keeping up with the Jones" game with finances. The massive clubs like Manchester United, Barcelona, Real Madrid have borrowed substantial amounts of money in order to fund new signings. Now these teams can sustain the interest payments because of the large multiple revenue streams they have, however all parties know it cannot last forever. As for smaller clubs looking to go big, some like Stoke, Fulham, Villarreal, Napoli have been able to spend wisely (or be luck enough to have new owners with deep pockets) to make it to the middle or the road. Where others: Leeds United, Portsmouth, Valencia, Sampdoria spent a lot of money but because of reckless spending in their pursuit of silverware they fell of the debt wagon.

And there you have a snapshot of the madness, this is a time where a young English midfielder with just one England cap is worth 20 million pounds (Jordan Henderson). In which a Argentinian striker can hold his team ransom twice in one year, and still gets when he wants (Carlos Tevez), and a great but diva-ish superstar player could be offered a reported 400,000 pounds a week and say no (Cristiano Ronaldo).

So may the madness reign, however don't believe everything you hear in the rumor mills, some footballers phone might have been hacked for that info ;)