Archive for the 'Players' Category

Dec 07 2013

Profile Image of Elena Kim

La Corée du Sud & cette prochaine Coupe du Monde

Le moment est enfin arrivé – Juste hier, le finale tirage au sort de la Coupe du Monde 2014 très attendu était annoncé. Bien sûr, comme chaque Coupe du Monde, il y avait beaucoup de conversation en regardant la probabilité de chaque pays d’avancer dans leur groupe…

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C’est le 8ème consecutive finale de la Coupe du Monde pour la République de Corée, mais il n’y était pas un parcours facile d’avancer au finale tirage ce temps. L’équipe Coréen a finit deuxième après Iran et le directeur précédent, Choi Kang-Hee, était viré par conséquent. Mais sur une note plus positive, le 15 novembre, la Corée a réussi par 2-1 contre la Suisse, qui est classée huitième. Alors la Corée est dans le Groupe H avec la Belgique, l’Algérie, et la Russie. Comment vont-elles correspondre contre ces équipes ?

Park Chu-Young

Park Chu-Young

D’abord, on doit examiner les joueurs spécifiques qui peuvent guidera l’équipe vers la victoire. Donc, qui est quelques vedettes de l’équipe à surveiller ? L’un des joueurs les plus populaires de la Corée qui joue pour Arsenal est Park Chu-Young. Dans la Coupe du Monde 2010, Park a dirigé l’équipe avec son coup franc contre le Nigeria, ce qui porte la pour les huitièmes de finale. En plus, aux Jeux Olympiques de Londres, il a marqué le premier but de la victoire 2-0 contre le Japon.[1] Et jusqu’à présent, il a marqué six buts dans les éliminatoires de la Coupe du Monde pour l’équipe Coréen. Une autre vedette de l’équipe potentielle est Son Heung-Min. Il a juste 21 ans, et il a tous les ingrédients de devenir icône de football prochaine en Corée. Comme Park Chu-Young, il joue à l’étranger pour l’équipe allemande, Bundesliga.

Son Heung-Min

Son Heung-Min

Et l’entraîneur ? Hong Myung-bo est le joueur le plus capé de la Corée et a joué sous Guus Hiddink dans la 2002 Coupe du Monde quand la Corée a avancé aux demi-finales— l’une des moments les plus fiers de la Corée dans l’histoire. Hong était aussi l’entraîneur de l’équipe Olympique de la Corée l’été dernier à Londres, où son équipe a gagné la médaille de bronze.  Avec la victoire récente contre la Suisse, Hong donne de l’espoir aux Coréens.[2]

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Entraîneur Hong Myung-Bo

Je crois que l’équipe Coréen ont une très bonne chance de faire passé le tour du groupe, mais elles ne peuvent pas sous-estimer la concurrence. Selon agence de presse, Yonhap, l’entraîneur Hong Myung-bo a déclaré :

Les fans sud-coréens peut-être ne sont pas très familier avec la Belgique, mais je pense qu’ils seront une équipe encore meilleure l’année prochaine… La Russie est une équipe de joueurs physiques et qualifiés et l’Algérie est aussi une équipe solide. Il n’y a jamais un groupe facile à la Coupe du Monde, et nous ne pouvons pas se permettre de penser que nous avons retrouvés dans un. [3]

La Corée jouera d’abord contre la Russie le 17 juin, alors l’Algérie le 22 juin, et la Belgique le 26 juin. Voici quelques informations statistiques sur chaque équipe de Groupe H [4]:

La Belgique
FIFA Classement Mondial: 11
Dernière Coupe du Monde: 2002
Meilleur résultat: Quatrième place (1986)
Comment qualifié: UEFA Groupe A gagnant

L’Algérie
FIFA Classement Mondial: 26
Dernière Coupe du Monde: 2010
Meilleur résultat: Tour de groupe
Comment qualifié: Battu Burkina Faso dans le CAF play-off

La Russie
FIFA Classement Mondial: 22
Dernière Coupe du Monde: 2002
Meilleur résultat: Quatrième place (1966)
Comment qualifié: UEFA Group F gagnant

Corée du Sud
FIFA Classement Mondial: 54
Dernière Coupe du Monde: 2010
Meilleur résultat: Quatrième place (2002)
Comment qualifié: AFC Group A second

 


[1] Itel, Dan. “World Cup 2014: Korea Republic national soccer team.” http://www.mlssoccer.com/worldcup/2014/korea-republic.

[3] “World Cup Hell Draw for Aussies, Easier for Japan, Korea, Iran.” Yahoo Sports Singapore. http://sg.sports.yahoo.com/news/world-cup-hell-draw-aussies-easier-japan-korea-013725468–sow.html.

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Nov 27 2013

Profile Image of Jun Yoon

Would you like some Sushi..taka? The Japanese style of soccer

Recently, the Japanese soccer team has been on the rise. They’ve recovered from the recent criticisms arising from their poor performance in the Confederations Cup. In their most recent matches, the Japanese national team has stood toe-to-toe with both the Netherlands and Belgium.

In the match versus the Netherlands, Japan was not fazed at all by the goals of Van der Vaart and Arjen Robben. They played their style of football known as “Sushitaka” and came back from a 0-2 deficit by goals from Yuya Osako and Keisuke Honda. Even though the match ended up on a 2-2 draw, the general consensus was that Japan outplayed the Netherlands. To add on to their hot streak, Japan surprised the world by beating the dark horse of the 2014 Brazil World Cup, Belgium, 3-2 in a friendly match.

The recent success of the Japanese national team can be attributed to the midfielder Yasuhito Endo (Gamba Osaka).

Yasuhito Endo

Endo is a veteran player who has played in 139 matches for Japan since the 2002 World Cup. He has won a spot on the J-league Best Eleven from 2003~2012 and in addition won several other accolades such as 2008 Asian Champions League MVP, and the 2009 AFC Player of the Year. He is known as the Xavi Hernandez of the Japanese football team. However, over the years, Endo’s health has deteriorated to a condition where he can’t play the whole 90 minutes like his old self. Due to this, the so called “Endo Time” was born.

The manager of the Japanese national team, Alberto Zaccheroni, started out by looking for Endo’s replacement. He tried out several players during the East Asian Cup and found his answer in Hotaru Yamaguchi, a 23 year old defensive midfielder. However, Yamaguchi couldn’t perfectly fill up Endo’s shoes. You can’t just replace a player like Endo, similar to how you can’t just replace Zidane, Pirlo, or Xavi. So what Zaccheroni came up with was a plan to use both Yamaguchi and Endo: Yamaguchi during the first 45 and Endo in the last 45.

This plan worked to perfection as Endo came alive when he was put on the pitch. In the match versus Netherlands, when Endo came on the pitch the Japanese were able to score two goals to tie the match at 2. Even Arjen Robben said it felt like a defeat in the second half.

“We simply weren’t able to play our normal game and we didn’t have the capability to alter our tactics and hurt them in some other way.”          

Saving up his energy allowed Endo to play even better than before and as a result, when he came on the pitch during the game against Belgium, he was able to assist a Keisuke Honda goal with a beautiful pass. But it wasn’t as if Endo was the super hero of the match, who saved the Japanese from a terrible defeat. Japan suffocated Belgium in their home ground (the match was held at Baudouin Stadium in Bruxelles). After Mirallas scored the opener on an error committed by Sakai, Japan pulled up their four-back line. Considering the fact that the match was held in Belgium and with opposing players as talented as Hazard and Lukaku, Japan could have easily played a defense-minded game. However, Alberto Zaccheroni decided to meet fire with fire.

After conceding a goal, the Japanese players started to pressure the ball more often as Belgium swung the ball from side to side. As the Belgians retreated back into their side of the pitch, Hazard also had to come down more to receive the ball. From here started the “seal off Hazard” plan. As soon as Hazard got the ball, 2-3 Japanese players stuck to him like glue and forced Hazard from turning and accelerating. This bought time for the Japanese defense to get set before Hazard could turn to counter. This plan held on when Fellaini came on the second half. Also by forcing Mertens and Mirallas out of the danger zone, the Japanese forced the Belgians to pass towards the backs or to the side, something that you don’t really want to do in soccer. Then with players like Hasebe and Endo, Japan was able to shake of the pressure of the Belgian defense. With the creativity of Honda added in Japan was able to score and beat the Belgians in their home ground.

http://youtu.be/vaQSOcLq07g

I’d hate to say this but Japan has improved tremendously over the past few years and is considered the “alpha dog” among the Asian countries. Whenever I see Japan and South Korea play, I can really grasp that South Korea is of no match for the Japanese. Also, along with the arise of “Endo Time,” Japan has found the answer to their prayers of a lack of strikers in Yoichiro Kakitani, who scored the wonderful header against Belgium, and Yuya Osako, who scored against Holland. With the help of the new comers and the veterans Hasebe, Honda, and Kagawa, Japan is looking to surprise the world in the 2014 Brazil World Cup.

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Oct 29 2013

Profile Image of Matthew Schorr

Le Chaos de la vie des footballeurs professionnels

Filed under Fans,Players,World Cup

Certains supporteurs ne font pas attention au foot que toutes les quatre années, en prévision de la Coupe du monde. Particulièrement aux Etats-Unis, ce n’est pas rare de trouver un Américain qui apprécie le foot mais qui ne sait rien de ce qui se passe dans le monde de foot quand la Coupe du monde n’est pas en train de se dérouler. Ces supporters comprennent comment jouer le foot et ils connaissent le tableau de service des équipes nationales. Mais ils ne savent rien des clubs qui payent aux stars des salaires énormes et des rivalités régionales qui provoquent des émotions intenses. Un article récent publié dans le New York Times, « In European Soccer, World Cup Is One of Many Priorities », démontre que l’internationalisme du foot—la Coupe du monde—n’est qu’une seule face du foot.

Bien que certains supporters se focalisent uniquement sur le Mondial, c’est impossible pour les footballeurs de faire de même, malgré le fait que c’est l’événement le plus important dans le monde de foot. Les footballeurs ont plusieurs responsabilités à la fois—leur club, leur équipe nationale, leurs parrains et leur santé. Quand plusieurs tournois ont lieu dans une période courte, c’est difficile pour les joueurs de jongler toutes leurs priorités, particulièrement quand ils doivent jouer avec deux équipes à la fois. Ça c’est un sujet que Rob Hughes déborde dans son article dans le Times. « Is there is [sic] any other walk of life in which the principal protagonists are expected to be at peak performance in three such diverse tournaments in such a short time? » demande Hughes, qui fait référence au fait que Cristiano Ronaldo, le star de l’équipe portugaise et du club Réal Madrid, jouerait dans les matches préliminaires de la Coupe du monde, dans « el Clásico » (contre Barcelona), et dans le tournoi de la ligue des champions (contre Juventus). On dit que c’est impossible pour un homme de servir plus qu’un seul maître à la fois. Les footballeurs n’ont pas d’autre choix : « They play, they rest and recuperate, and if they are not injured they have to be ready to play again, in different circumstances, on different grounds, and perhaps with different teammates on their side », remarque Hughes. Bien que le Mondial domine des pensées de beaucoup de supporters, il ne permette pas aux footballeurs d’oublier leurs responsabilités diverses. La vie des footballeurs est chaotique, et il faut respecter ceux qui, en dépit du chaos, parviennent à performer chaque jour et sur n’importe quel terrain d’une manière impressionnante. Ces footballeurs défient la douleur, l’épuisement, et la pression de réussir. Ces footballeurs sont presque surhumains.

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Sep 23 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

“Fair Play”: Science, Steroids and Sports

 

Skill is a delicate balance between hard work and natural ability. And while the tension between the two has to be efficient to produce a capable student/shot putter/basket-weaver, it’s often completely lopsided; you’ll have that kid in your chemistry class who only every studied the night before every final and waltzes out with an A, and you’ll have the kid who comes off as dumb as a bag of rocks, yet works like a dog for every assignment put in front of him, and has the results to show for it. Each arrives at the finish line, and there’s no guarantee that the naturally gifted will get there first, but Brilliant McOrgo had to put in a lot less work.

The dynamic between discipline and natural talent is evident in a number of domains, but particularly visible in any kind of physical field.  My area of expertise isn’t soccer, but ballet—in that discipline, the body you’re born with can mean the difference between the stage of Lincoln Center, and its mezzanine.  Natural flexibility, high arches, loose joints, long Achilles tendons, and a short torso with long legs, arms, and neck; lacking any of these isn’t enough to preclude a person from a successful career in ballet, but possessing one or all of them makes success a whole lot more likely.

In the September 9th issue of The New Yorker, Malcolm Gladwell reviewed David Epstein’s new book “The Sports Gene,” in which the author applies this phenomenon to, well, sports.  Gladwell refers in his review to renowned Finnish cross-country skier Eero Mäntyrant, who carries a genetic mutation that causes his bone marrow to produce a surplus of red blood cells.  In a high-endurance sport such as cross country skiing, this gives him an immense advantage; it doesn’t mean he didn’t work immensely hard to get where he is today, but it means that he naturally had a better springboard than his fellow skiers.  The same goes for Bahamian high-jumper Donald Thomas, who, as the lucky beneficent of remarkably long Achilles tendons, was able to win the world championships 8 months after he first started training. But the focus of Gladwell’s article is the athletes who try to level the field; athletes like Lance Armstrong, and Alex Rodriguez, each of whom used science to further the possibilities of what the human body can accomplish, or as most people would describe it, cheated.

But it’s possible to argue that Armstrong and Rodriguez’s actions, in principle, were in fact ‘leveling the field.’ In baseball, for instance, MLB has no problem with players receiving corrective surgery on their eyes, or replacing the ulnar collateral ligament in the player’s pitching arm with one from a cadaver or from elsewhere in the player’s body; this, too, is using basic scientific understanding to correct for slight deficiencies that make a substantial difference in successful play.  Baseball players, on the whole, have vision immensely superior to the rest of the population, on which they rely to accurately catch and hit tiny balls zooming at 90 miles an hour; better vision can be the difference between bench warming at the local high school and pitching for the Yankees. Tendon replacement surgery, too, turns the athlete into a “better version of his former self.” Armstrong and Rodriguez used endocrinology as opposed to ophthalmology or orthopedic surgery in order to enable themselves to work harder—is the line between different areas of science really stark enough to delineate the quotidian from the morally depraved?  This is the question Gladwell raises in his review of Epstein’s book, and I think it has value.

Soccer is famously all but free of doping scandals, as sheer force or superhuman endurance, while helpful, aren’t as quite key as in other sports.  There’s no steroid for agility (though if there were, I’m certain soccer would be more of a part of this conversation). But that’s not to say that the sport is immune; just in June, FIFA voted to incorporate new biological profiles for players to insure against doping.  In any event, the overall question applies to all areas of sports: why do we so thoroughly revile players for some measures, and not others? Why is the difference between corrective surgery and EPO doping the difference between getting ahead, and craven cheating? Gladwell doesn’t exculpate Rodriguez or Armstrong, and nor should he.  But emotions are often too intertwined with sport for rational discussion to even be possible; the suggestion that an athlete who used measures to ‘get ahead’ is anything but the most disgusting kind of traitor is more often than not laughed out of the room. In the specific cases of Armstrong and Rodriguez, they should be reviled; Armstrong in particular cloaked himself in the credibility of the cancer community to dispel suspicion, and any revulsion thrown his way is pretty well deserved.  But at the same time, it’s important to examine the assumptions we operate under when we consider any and all physical enhancement to be morally reprehensible in sports.

 

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Sep 12 2013

Profile Image of Lindsey Barrett

Too Darn Hot

 

For the first time in its history, the FIFA World Cup is set to be held in a country in the Middle East; the  2022 tournament will be held in Qatar.  The federation’s awarding the bid to Qatar was seen by many as bold and forward-thinking– as Sepp Blatter, FIFA’s president, pointed out, “It was time to go to the Arabic world”, as soccer is a game played “not only in Europe, but around the world.”  If we’re operating under the idea that soccer is the true lingua franca, we should act like it.  But symbolic changes bring with them technical ones as well; there are distinct differences between a global tournament being held in Qatar and one held in Switzerland, the most glaring (sorry) of which would be the heat.  The summertime temperatures in Qatar often reach 120 degrees; it poses a very real safety risk to the players to force them to play through such conditions.  And so a number of a FIFA officials, headed by Blatter, have floated the idea of a November-December Cup, when the weather would be all but ideal with a range between the mid 60’s and 80’s.

Yet Blatter is facing substantial opposition, primarily from critics who object to the scheduling conflicts such a move would create.  Shifting the Cup from the summer to the early winter would mean changed TV schedules, professional schedules; in other words, a shift could threaten profits for the television networks (namely Fox and Telemundo, who’ve paid a combined 1 billion USD for the rights), the clubs, and the players as well.  All for a competition which, for all the bragging rights winning confers, is not as financially profitable as typical club play. There’s mumbling about contradicting tradition as well, but that argument has less ultimate validity when you juxtapose it with the image of strikers fainting like schoolgirls on the pitch.

And yet in all the objections raised, it seems the wellbeing of the players has been completely lost in the shuffle.  Sports is a business like any other– but like any other business, neglecting workers is both morally reprehensible and ultimately counterproductive.  Assuring that a club’s best players are only barely recovered from heatstroke before beginning their regularly scheduled season doesn’t much help their bottom line.

This is hardly a problem unique to soccer; you need only look to the NFL’s most recent settled class action on the TBI’s of thousands of its players, or Joe Nocera’s columns on the abuse of NCAA athletes , to know that treating players like chattel is a sports-wide problem, an odd contrast with the immense monetary value our society tends to accord them.  Hopefully, in this small instance at least, the incidental fact that soccer players happen to be human won’t be forgotten.

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Aug 12 2012

Profile Image of Andrew Wenger

What is Soccer’s Business?

The business of a soccer club is to produce a winning team. At the end of the day sports are a form of entertainment. Too often, though, actions taken place in the board room or at the negotiating table take away from the entertainment displayed on the field. At times, the aggressiveness and sometimes greediness of clubs leads to failure on the field. Specifically, the mountains of debt some European clubs have amassed in recent years often do more harm than good for a club. Last year, players in La Liga — one of the world’s richest leagues — nearly went on strike when one club failed to pay wagesEarlier this year, Rangers FC entered administration after they could not pay some $77 million the club owed in taxes. I visited Rangers when I was younger on a European tour and since that time have considered it one of the oldest and most notorious club in Europe. The same has happened to F.C. Portsmouth for the second time in as many years. In both cases, the financial problems were the result of poor management decisions. When clubs with such great histories are suffering in this way, we have to ask ourselves whether there are fundamental problems with the way the business of soccer is being managed in many places.

In 2005, Malcom Glazer used the financial tool of a leveraged buyout (LBO) to purchase Manchester United for $1.5 billion and make the company private. In the end, I would argue, this action ultimately hampered the team’s ability to keep or purchase new star players. A leveraged buyout is where the takeover artist will borrow the majority of the cost to purchase the new company against the company’s future cash flows and current assets. More often than not in a LBO the new owners will have to sell key parts of the new business to pay down the debt. In the case of a soccer club their assets are their stadium and training grounds as well as their players. Manchester United, for instance, sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid for a record transfer fee of  $132 million. Even with the sale of Ronaldo, United has been unable to manage their mountainous debt payments and recently reissued shares of the club on the New York Stock Exchange for public purchase. Glazer raised $300 million dollars in the IPO, half will be used to pay down the $663 million in remaining debt. NYT blogger Graham Ruthven claims Sir Alex Ferguson may even benefit financially from the IPO. The IPO took place on Friday August 10th, with a $14 price. A price that was significantly supported by the underwriters of the IPO throughout the day.  But what if the $800 million spent on interest payments and banking fees could have instead been spent on increasing the player and fan experience at Manchester United? Even with the new issuance, control of the club will be retained by the Glazer family as they will retain 67% of B shares which have voting power, so little will likely change in the general approach taken to the finances of the club.

As you can see from the photograph below, the actions by Glazer have outraged many fans of Manchester United, who consider that he has in some ways taken the club from them. They have a point. After all, as a “brand” a club is not only made up of it’s players and managers, but also of the fans and the tradition they carry with them.

Another instance of over spending and debt damaging a club is Leeds United, formally of the Premier League. Rather than piling on debt through a LBO , the club borrowed to purchase players. Leeds were a big club in the 1980s and 1990s, culminating in a Champions League semi-final place in 2001. But the club was ultimately undone by their Chairman Peter Ridsdale’s idea to go for it. He proceeded to use shady financial products to purchase players with borrowed money using future ticket sales as collateral. Essentially the fans loyalty. Ultimately it failed and the club had to sell assets at a blistering pace as the club entered administration: the stadium Elland Road (pictured below), training ground at Thorp Arch, and any player that was worth a nickel, including some considered to be part of England’s golden generation. Great players were sold at a severe discount due to the team’s financial troubles. The club also suffered demotion to England’s third tier and have since had to claw themselves back from the brink of extinction.

The idea of corporate borrowing is nothing new. Most companies must borrow to fund future growth. But there is a line between intelligent borrowing and getting caught in a credit crunch. Just like the many U.S. home owners who over-extended themselves between 2003 and 2008, soccer clubs may soon find themselves unable to pay their debts. In Europe, several countries — Spain, Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Italy — are desperately trying to reorganize its debt in order to make payments. Fiorentino Perez, the Chairman of Real Madrid and creator of the “Galacticos” is in the midst of de-leveraging in his real business, A.C.S., or Actividades de Construcción y Servicios. The company is one of the largest building services companies in the world. As he has done with Real Madrid, Perez has orchestrated huge loans, creating $12 billion in debt that the company has since had to sell assets to cover. Real Madrid, meanwhile, is currently $500 million in debt because of the money it has spent creating the “Galacticos” (pictured below). Many in business have believed that  borrowing to fund instant success is the winning formula.But the formula only works as long as growth outpaces debt obligations.

The authors of the book “Soccernomics,” Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski, make a compelling argument that the outlandish transfer costs that have become the norm in professional soccer are not the way to success. “We studied the spending of forty English clubs between 1978 and 1997, and found that their outlay on transfers explained only 16 percent of their total variation in league position. By contrast, their spending on salaries explained a massive 92 percent of the variation” (48). They conclude that the market for player wages is efficient while the transfer market is well not efficient. You can see this inefficiency at work in many cases. Tottenham Hotspurs, for instance, transferred Jermaine Defore to Portsmouth and Robbie Keane to Liverpool for a combined $52 million only to bring them back a year later under new manager Harry Redknapp. Soccernomics provides the ultimate example of transfer market inefficiency. “In 1983 AC Milan spotted a talented young black forward playing for Watford. The word is that the player Milan liked was John Barnes, and that it then confused him with his fellow black teammate Luther Blisett.” Milan bought Blisett. This type of almost comical folly may be why, down the road, Milan has had to sell two of their most valuable players this summer to pay down debt — Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva (below), both to now super-wealthy club Paris Saint-Germain. AC Milan has run a total deficit of  245.4 million euros in the last 5 years. The spending of some of the biggest football clubs in the world is out of control.

Many clubs feel that they must take on such debt to keep up with the “Jones’s” — clubs like Manchester City and Chelsea, whose  billionaire owners are not worried about the bottom line of the clubs they own. Sheik Mansour from Qatar bought Man City for a measly $330 million but then proceeded to spend close to double that on stocking his team with talented players. He was only following the lead of Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich (pictured below). UEFA reported that more than a quarter of the 650 soccer teams in Europe are spending $16.50 for every $13.50  of revenue. Running a deficit is fine for the super rich owners who care about nothing else than winning. Unfortunately not every team is owned by an owner with bottomless pockets. The massive television contracts in Europe are giving clubs increasing revenue. In June 2012 the English Premier League signed a record $4.7 billion/3 year television deal and the German Bundesliga signed a $3.2 billion/4 year deal. The deals were a 72% and 52% increase over the previous deals respectively. Compare those numbers with the $115 million Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. paid for the television rights to the Premier League in 1992. But even with the rising revenue teams are still forced to borrow to compete with the billionaire owners of the world. European teams currently run a collective $1.5 billion deficit.

Some are trying to stop the process. Michel Platini (pictured below) has launched the Financial Fair Play (FFP) plan, which is meant to force European clubs to balance their books by the 2013/14 season. If clubs fail to balance their books they will be excluded from UEFA competitions.But what if Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Manchester United, Chelsea, Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Manchester City refuse to follow the rule and are kicked out of the Champions League. Mr. Platini, what happens then? Riddle me that?

Perhaps clubs will have to start running teams like my namesake, Arsene Wenger. Are we related? I  guess we will never know. He is a fantastic manager though. It is said Wenger uses statistics to judge a players future output on the field compared rather than over-evaluating a player’s past performances. He has a degree in Economic Sciences from the University of Strasburg in France: from an economic perspective, this player evaluation model makes much more sense than the approach taken by other clubs. It is similar to judging a blue chip stock. You don’t make your decision to invest on the stock’s previous performance but attempt to judge its future performance by looking at the fundamentals of the company presented in their financial reports. As players, our statistics are our financial reports.

Perhaps the Financial Fair Play plan will alter a shift in professional soccer in Europe. Barbara Berlusconi has underlined the need for change: “Soccer teams will have to transform into proper companies. If you can only spend what you get, then you have to keep costs in check and increase revenue. It’s a challenge that can become an opportunity.” This change in soccer will be a positive one if it improves what is produced on the field, or simply forces owners to be smarter with how they spend their money. The thing is soccer clubs are not like regular companies. The authors of Soccernomics say it best: “The business of soccer is soccer,” they note, and clubs “are more like musems: public-spirited organizations that aim to serve the community while remaining reasonably solvent.” The irony of what is happening today in so many clubs is that running a soccer club with pressure to make money may ultimately contradict its stated goal of winning on the field!

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Aug 12 2011

Profile Image of Joaquin Bueno

Champions on Strike

The headline in El País said it all: “The strike of champions.”

As of Friday, August 12, the AFE (Spanish Footballers’ Association) union resolved to strike for at least the first two matchdays of the Spanish professional football season.

Their reason is  a crisis in Spanish football related to the credit bust that, thus far, has left at least 200 players in First and Second Divisions owed €50 million in wages.

Furthermore, the players are standing against the increasing incidence of their colleagues’ wage payments being delayed, sometimes for months. What’s more, they are demanding stricter oversight from Spanish football governing bodies to prevent such situations from occurring.

The way they see it, Spanish football should be looking more in the way of countries such as Holland or Germany, where club team spending is much more controlled. They even point to the Premier League, where a team like Portsmouth, declared insolvent, is punished with relegation.

In contrast, in Spain football teams have been juridically ignored regarding their spending and labor practices. To highlight the situation: Zaragoza owes its players millions from last season, yet have already signed eight new players, one of whom cost €8.6 million. Players, bound to contracts, are unable to escape the situation, and, furthermore, since there are no legal provisions to punish the nonpaying clubs, are forced to stay on since they haven’t been paid and their only hopes of getting payed are by staying put.

While many have mocked the idea of football players being slaves, one can also understand the bad positions that teams often put players in. Imagine, a young man gives up his schooling with the idea of being a professional footballer. He does so with the idea of building a career, and focusing every bit of energy on it. Yet the shelf life of an average player is shorter every season; the reality is that football is only a solid career until one’s early thirties, when the body gives out.

At this point, the situation for Spanish players is such that there is no guarantee that they will even get the financial benefits of that career. What’s more, the boom in the Spanish football industry, parallel to the boom in the economy firmly tied to real estate speculation and excessive spending, has seen teams spending exorbitant sums on players–many of them quite bad–from all over the world. The past 15-20 years have seen a global expansion in the game–via TV rights and merchandising–that has favored cosmopolitan teams with universal appeal.

Now, with the burst of the bubble and the drastic slashing of banking credit (not to mention the possibility of increased regulation), many teams are beginning to look like sinking ships. Very expensive ships with no life rafts.

What’s more, since credit has dried, very few teams are able to get any, and we could have guessed that those with that luxury are Real Madrid and Barcelona. Both teams continue to sign players left and right, paying high wages and enjoying the profits of their all-encompassing appeal in every corner of the world.

In many ways, it’s becoming a two-horse race; a look at revenues in Spain, compared to similar charts for league titles in the last ten years, shows that there is one Real Madrid, one Barcelona, and a field full of also-rans.

In a Spain (and a Europe) in which the common people are being forced to swallow “austerity measures” (cuts to social spending and increased taxes), that makes the idea of the football business somewhat more ridiculous. While small and medium businesses in Spain, still a strong economic force, are finding their credit to be cut, they see a sector of the Spanish economy not bound to the same basic rules. Solvency, spending what one can afford to pay, paying one’s employees.

And yet, the press, while highlighting the strike (though not so much its financial implications), still warms up to the idea of the start of the new season, not to mention the Fabregas saga. The nationalistic Madrid-based papers (especially AS and Marca), as well as the Catalan dailies (such as Sport),  have also given these lastly mentioned stories much more prominent attention.

At the same time, as the 15-m movement against the austerity measures continues to be vociferous in Spain, El Pais also featured an article about former Sporting Gijón footballer Javi Poves, who quit the sport for “ethical reasons,” motivated by his anarchist political beliefs.

The 15-m, short for “15th of May,” protestors have been staging nonviolent protests since May against what they view as governmental and corporate irresponsibility in the economic crisis. They demand, among other things, accountability and the upholding of workers’ rights.

And interesting bedfellows the two groups, footballers and protestors make, at least in terms of our discussion here. As the football season approaches once again, so do we get closer to finding more about the true depths and consequences of the global economic crisis. Football, more than ever, parades the fantasy that all is well, that the world is in order, and that the best team wins, again and again.

 

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Jun 21 2010

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

France vs. South Africa, Then and Now

In 1998, as the French team prepared to play their first World Cup match, they heard singing from the opposing team’s locker room. The Bafana Bafana — in their first World Cup appearance after the end of apartheid, fielding an integrated team — were gearing up to play with song, and as the two team’s marched down the tunnel out onto the pitch, they continued singing, sending echoes through the halls. For Lilian Thuram, born in Guadeloupe, and Marcel Desailly, born in Ghana, it was a deeply moving moment. “Everything was clashing” in Thuram’s mind before the game, he later recounted in his autobiography as he thought of his “far-away origins, of slavery, of the slave trade.” “I’m with the French team,” he thought, “but I could just as well have found myself at that instant in the other locker room.” “It gave me goose-bumps,” Marcel Desailly wrote of the game. “I forgot football, and thought of Mandela.”

France defeated South Africa that day, at the beginning of a run that ultimately brought them the World Cup. Tomorrow, as France and South Africa face off again twelve years later, the contrast couldn’t be starker. Desailly is gone, Thuram too — how we miss him! — and the French team is in disarray, in the midst of an explosive scandal that has all tongues wagging in France and beyond. But one thing remains the same: the French team is today, as it has been since at least 1996, perhaps the most important site through which the nation exposes, expresses, and debates issues of race, belonging, and the legacies of empire.

To understand what is happening with the French team today, you have to understand both the longer history and the recent catalyst for the scandal. The longer history is that Domenech has been, essentially since he took up his job, heavily criticized and rather disliked (to put it gently) by many players. There were many rumors of conflict between Zidane and Domenech in 2006, though they were ultimately overshadowed by the victories and then stunning conclusion of that year’s tournament. One common explanation of why the team did so well in 2006 is simply that Zidane actually coached the team, with strong support from Makelele and Thuram. Indeed, when Thuram visited Duke last fall and students asked him about Domenech, he was circumspect as always, but did say that when you get the World Cup you really don’t play for the coach anymore as much as for your teammates. Of course, to do that, you have to be given the chance to get into a rhythm with your teammates, too, something the 2006 team did, interestingly, during a long-awaited journey to Martinique to play a friendly match against Costa Rica.

During France’s disastrous showing at Euro 2008, the dissension was once again clear. And that’s when things really began taking a curious turn. In any normal universe, a coach who completely flubbed a major international tournament would be replaced. But Domenech was kept. And he was kept through the difficult qualifying period of the French team. The brief player’s strike on Sunday, in fact, was a long-time coming, the result of accumulated grievances, an expression of frustration at having been stuck in an absurd and increasingly unlivable situation. Obviously the players have played their role in the difficulties of the French team. But no one, it seems, can really explain why the F.F.F. kept Domenech, against the wishes of players, journalists, seemingly everyone. Lots of people have been hurling insults against Domenech while watching their TVs and reading their newspapers for some time. Anelka’s crime was to say them to his face.

But the real catalyst for the latest madness was really not so much Anelka’s outburst against Domenech during the Uruguay-Mexico game. The explosion really began because L’Equipe, France’s major sports newspaper, heard about the comments (from what Evra described as a “traitor” within the ranks) and decided to print them not in an article, but as it’s front page headline. It was, most certainly, a low point for a paper that has had plenty of them over the years. (They pummeled Aime Jacquet mercilessly in 1998, for instance — until his team won — and the normally mild-mannered coach took delight in rubbing it in their faces, calling them and other journalists “thugs.”) It was also great business for the newspaper: they sold many more papers than they usually do.

Anelka, who refused to apologize for the comments, was expelled from the team. That is what drove Evra and his teammates, in a gesture of solidarity with Anelka, to refuse to practice on Sunday. In doing so, they were being deeply French, participating in a venerable, long-standing, and much cherished tradition of work-place resistance.

That, however, is not how most French commentators took it. Instead, after having lambasted Domenech for years, many talking heads and politicians in France suddenly found much more convenient scapegoats: the foul-mouthed, overpaid, ungrateful players on the team. French television wheeled out Alain Finkelkraut, the dependable purveyor of chic, intellectual racism in France, who made headlines in 2006 when he declared that the French team was “black-black-black” and that all of Europe laughed at France because of this. The far-right immediately offered it’s interpretation: players like Anelka, who grew up in the projects of France’s suburbs, were ungovernable, irascible, dangerous, just like the other young men from those neighborhoods. And on the commentary pages and chat rooms of many newspapers, there was so much racist vitriol, seemingly just waiting for the opportunity to spew forth, that at least one paper actually shut down its commentary section, which had become ungovernable itself. The terms thrown at the players — “hooligans,” “spoiled children,” etc. — out in the open were shadowed by much worse on the web. There were interesting echoes here of the diverse responses to Zidane’s 2006 headbutt as well. Indeed, there is much to be learned by comparing reactions to the two events. It has all, however, gotten completely out of hand, as one embittered commentator (whose words are translated here by Jennifer Doyle), has noted.

The easy, much repeated line right now is that, with all the money they get, the players should simply do what they are told. These guys are millionaires, right? So shut up and play. But are we seriously to accept that there are no conditions in which athletes might talk back, and act against those who control them? It’s not as if Domenech was a great, even a decent coach: he has clearly driven this team into the ground. Was Evra’s mobilization of his team in defense of one of their own truly a crime, an absurdity, sheer idiocy as Domenech described it? Or maybe just an attempt to salvage something, anything — a shred of solidarity — in the midst of the breakdown?

There was anger among the players, expressed clearly by Evra, at the fact that words spoken in the locker room — shocking as a front-page headline, certainly, but also probably not all that uncommon in the locker rooms of losing teams at half-time the world over — had become public. Zidane made this point in defense of the players, suggesting that while Anelka should not have said what he did, it should have been kept among the players and coach. Indeed, the FFF and Domenech could easily have chosen a different path: they could have admitted that Anelka, frustrated, sounded off, but accepted that this sometimes happens and perhaps found another way to deal with it than expelling him from the team. The bigger issue here is that there seems to be a demand that players not think too hard or speak out. But if the players were frustrated, I think, it is not because they are spoiled or don’t love the team, but rather precisely because they were frustrated and devastated by what was happening to it. Indeed, for Evra and the other players to put themselves on the line in an organized gesture as they did to me signals precisely the opposite of what many critics suggested it did. If they really didn’t care, they could simply have retreated into themselves, played badly, and gone home quietly. Open rebellion of the kind the team demonstrated is always costly to players, even those as comfortable as these are. While we can certainly debate the tactics and timing of what the players did, we should see that their action was out in the hopes that an alternative was possible that would be better for the team, and therefore for France’s fortunes in the World Cup.

But what has just happened in France is a classic operation on the part of the media and the political class. Focusing on Anelka’s angry words and Evra’s gesture, they have found a convenient scapegoat — not to mention a great way to sell papers and set up another round of often insane chatter on the television. For too many, Anelka and Evra have been made to embody what is wrong with French football, rather than the serious problems at the core of the F.F.F. that has allowed the situation to decline to this level. The institutions are spared, the players take the fall. The far-right, of course, is happy to play up the idea that it’s the players who are the problem, for the players on the French football team for a long time provided a potent symbolic alternative, one in which diversity and complexity could be celebrated as French virtues rather than as dangers. The squad, in fact, has long been about the only national institution in which there were a number of prominent, even at times powerful, individuals who had grown up in the French banlieue.

Though obviously the football team, and it’s crisis, has it’s own dynamic, there is a startling parallel with the way French political leaders have, in the past years, dealt with the major political and social crises that threaten to tear it apart. Having created a massive impasse in which large numbers of French citizens feel insulted, marginalized, and discriminated against, France’s political class has sought to exonerate itself by creating it’s demons. They’ve tried, and in some ways succeeded, in convincing many people that the real problem is women in burkas, or fifteen-year-olds who write graffiti. It is, of course, a horrifying easy political game to play, and it largely works. At the same time, of course, it’s really a rear-guard action: France has already changed, and France will continue to change, with it’s colonial history and its post-colonial realities an inescapable part of its future.

What will happen tomorrow on the pitch? Last week, reeling from the France-Mexico game, I imagined the French team going on strike in order to help South Africa move on. I had no idea that they would, in a way, go on strike this past Sunday. Now Domenech has intimated that some players may not want to play tomorrow, suggesting some may still be on strike. There are, of course, precedents for this: in 1968, professional footballers joined students and workers in a strike. And ten years earlier, Algerian footballers in France went on a different kind of strike, withdrawing from their professional teams and the French international team to play for Algeria instead. This weeks events, of course, have been of much less weight, and import, than these earlier incidents. But that is no reason to ignore that the actions of Anelka and Evra are still political in some sense, and that the furor surrounding them is just more proof of the strange impasse France has created for itself.

I don’t even know what to hope for tomorrow. A beleaguered but still somehow very annoying Domenech today suggested that the French team had to try and redeem itself for its unforgivable actions on Sunday by playing well. That’s a nice idea. But I think we are beyond that now. The French team has been a pioneer in many ways over the years, and now they have created a new precedent: a player’s strike at the World Cup. In the midst of it, let’s do ourselves and them the favor of thinking about this the hard way rather than the easy one.

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Dec 16 2009

Profile Image of Laurent Dubois

Documentary on African Football

Stefan Lovgren, a documentary filmmaker who has worked on a many previous films about Africa, is now making one about football in Africa. It focuses in particular on one football academy in Ghana to tell a broader story about African football, the hopes and exploitation of footballers, and the broader context surrounding the history 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Lovgren was here filming during our October conference on “Sport, Race and Power,” and interviewed Gerard Akindes, Peter Alegi, Paul Darby, three conference participants, for the film.

He’s shared a few short clips from the film with me, including one that explores how football is being used in Sierra Leone to deal with the effects of years of war there among children, and it looks wonderful! Once I know about when and where the film will be aired, I’ll share more information here.

To learn more about the documentary visit Lovgren’s blog.

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Dec 12 2009

Profile Image of Veli Erdogdu

Puskas Awards 2009

Filed under Goals,Players

Puskas (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0f/Puskas_Ferenc.jpg)

Puskas (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/0f/Puskas_Ferenc.jpg)

Created in honour of Ferenc Puskás, captain and star of the Hungarian national team during the 1950s, the FIFA Puskás Award will be bestowed upon the player from either the men’s or women’s game judged to have scored the best goal of the year.

The final decision gets determined by FIFA.com users. In making their decision, the FIFA Football Committee applied the following criteria:

1. Aesthetics (a subjective criterion – long-range shots, team moves, acrobatic goals etc)
2. The importance of the match (an objective criterion – in descending order: national teams, continental tournaments, domestic first divisions)
3. The absence of luck or an opposition mistake as a factor making the goal possible
4. Fair Play: the player must not have conducted himself poorly during the game or, for example, have been found guilty of doping
5. The date: goals scored between July 2008 and July 2009

The winner will be unveiled at the FIFA World Player gala on 21 December and the voting will be closed on the 14th of December.

Until the ceremony please make  your choices & explain why you have chosen it:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/OjLKTI5dadc" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

My vote goes to Nilmar’s goal in the Internacional-Corinthians match that was played on May 10, 2009… His diagonal run towards the box passing several players and his insistence on scoring is worth seeing. As seeable D’Alessandro’s pass from behind the center line leaves Nilmar as the second player that is closest to the opposite post. He creates his own space and progressively continues with the ball. Obviously, positioning mistakes and lack of communication within the defense can be seen as other reasons  for the goal. A detailed analysis of the goal has been given in the following video:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/_iRiBkcRiV4" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

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