Thursday, December 30, 2010

Qatar 2022 in the Winter?

Happy Holidays to all!

As the winter break continues and football is on hold in most places until after the New Year, the news from the world of Jedi soccer is about the latest in the Qatar 2022 World Cup saga.  I am sure everyone will be completely surprised (Not!) to know that FIFA President Sepp Blatter, England coach Fabio Capella, and the international players union, have all endorsed the idea of holding the Qatar 2022 World Cup in the winter, in order to avoid the searing heat of the Arabian peninsula.

I am totally sympathetic to the players union desire not to have to play in the heat.  But I must also say that the fact the players want to move the event to the winter, is a clear expression of no confidence in the Qatari plan to 'air condition' their stadiums.  After all, you can't air condition an entire country.  The players don't want to roll the dice on unproven technology, and who can blame them?

But the fact that Sepp Blatter is now advocating a Winter World Cup, really burns.  The whole Qatari bid was based on the concept of air conditioning the venues.  Those were the conditions that FIFA accepted the Qatari bid.

If they 'move the goalposts' now (as they say in American football), then it is tantamount to saying that the original bid was flawed.

In which case: Why didn't they give it to the USA, which was a totally superior bid?

Which is, of course, my whole point.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Qatar Jersey Deal Stinks

The last week of Jedi soccer has been quite interesting.  Yesterday our heroes were uncharacteristically held to a goaless draw in the Copa del Rey (King's Cup) competition by Athletic Bilbao, despite throwing everything at the stubborn Basque side but the kitchen sink.  Even so, despite this tied score, Barca remains at the top of La Liga, because just four days ago the Blaugrana totally clobbered city rivals Espanyol by the score of 5 - 1, opening a 5 point lead over rivals Real Madrid in La Liga standings.  So, things couldn't be better right now for Barcelona on the pitch, and in the league standings.

However... there is trouble brewing over the recently announced jersey sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation.  According to Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv, Israeli "diplomats had been sent to Barcelona to try to persuade the club to back out of the five-year deal it signed eight days ago.  The fresh controversy follows claims made by Spanish paper El Mundo 10 days ago that the Qatar Foundation had given money to extremist cleric Yusuf al Qaradawi, an advocate of terrorism, wife beating and anti-Semitism."

Of course, rabid anti-semites will jump on this to say its all Israeli lies; but frankly I have more faith in the Israeli sensitivity to terrorist connections, than I do in the current management of Barcelona to NOT jump on dirty money.

Need I remind anyone that the Qatar Foundation is a wholly owned enterprise of the Qatari Royal family?

Added to the litany of worker abuses in Qatar, this pretty much seals the deal in my case.  Our beloved Club is being purchased by a country with a history of abusing its workers and, apparently, funding terrorism.

In a related development, according to, "Barcelona's shirt sponsorship deal with the Qatar Foundation will reportedly allow the Catalans to launch fresh bids next summer for Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas and Liverpool striker Fernando Torres."

Fabregas is Catalan and it would be wonderful to have him playing for Barca.  Fernando Torres would also be a splendid addition to the Club.  Perhaps we can simply assemble the entire Spanish National Team and dress them in the Blaugrana, then unleash them on Europe as "FC Barcelona."  We are not far from that right now.

However, in my opinion, Barcelona is doing splendidly right now without Fabregas and Torres.  It would be great to have them but we don't need them.  FC Barcelona is kicking ass and taking names all over Europe right now, they are currently the best professional football team on the planet.  We are so rich with talent that we can actually pass on these two talented players and it won't hurt the club's performance on the pitch.

We don't need them.  Especially at the price of selling our soul and the socially responsible traditions of this great club.

Kill this smelly jersey deal, I say.  If we must sell the jersey... sell it to someone else.  ANYONE other than the Qatar Foundation.  This is all becoming a very ugly business.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Barca Sells The Jersey!

It has happened: FC Barcelona, the last bastion of commercial-free jersey wear in the world of professional football, has sold advertising on the cherished Blaugrana, and Barcelona has succumed to the allure of capital and the dictates of economics. 

In an announcement that is barely a few hours old, today team officials announced a five year deal to sport the emblem of the Qatar Foundation on the jersey (noooo!!!), worth more than 200 million US Dollars.  The team has announced that it will receive $20 million for the remainder of the current season, plus an additional $40 million for the next five seasons each, plus up to $7 million in bonuses for any titles won. The Qatar Foundation, founded in 1995, is a non-profit organization whose purpose is "to bolster education, science and development" in the nation and surrounding regions.

The Qatar Foundation!

I knew Pep Guardiola was supporting the Qatar 2022 bid (I'm sure a nice paycheck went with that), but I could not believe that it would lead to the sale of the Blaugrana to Qatar.  For the first time in the 110 year history of FC Barcelona, the club has sold its jersey to the highest bidder.  According to team officials, a new jersey incorporating both the Qatar Foundation logo and the UNICEF logo is under design by Nike, but supposedly if the new design is not visually appealing, the UNICEF logo takes precedence.  We can only hope.

I am really devastated by this news.  Barcelona is supposed to be "Mes Que un Club!"  Is this not the club that was once (and still is) a bastion of Republicanism in Spain?  The heroic Workers Team, instead of stuffy aristocratic Real Madrid?  Barcelona, selling the jersey?  Unbelievable!

I recognize that despire their spectacular on-field success, Barcelona is struggling financially.  The club posted a loss of 79.6 million euros last season -- their first in seven years -- and they have debts of 442 million euros.  I get it.  But surely there are other ways of raising the capital, other than selling the blaugrana.  Raise ticket prices or something.  Raise club memberships.  There are other ways.

And I'm not the only one who feels this way.  According to ESPN and AFP news, "Johan Cruyff, the great Dutch Master and Barcelona legend, has roundly denounced the deal.  Cruyff said that by signing the deal, Barcelona whose slogan is "mes que un club" (more than a club), had become "just another club."

"Socially we've made a bad deal," said Cruyff, who is currently coach of the Catalan national team. "There are other solutions rather than sullying the jersey."

In his weekly column El Periodico de Catalunya , he remarked: "We are a unique club in the world, no one has kept their jersey intact throughout their history, yet have remained as competitive as they come.

"We have sold this uniqueness for about six per cent of our budget. I understand that we are currently losing more than we are earning. However, by selling the shirt it shows me that we are not being creative, and that we have become vulgar."

"If things are so bad," continued Cruyff, "then we should cut out the deal we have with UNICEF, and all the values it represents, because we pay them to carry the logo on our shirts."

Wow.  Thank you, Johan Cruyff.  Surely there is a better way to make up about six percent of the budget?

I'm not going to stop supporting Barcelona because of this.  At least the UNICEF logo will take priority.  But Cruyff is right: this is a boner move and a betrayal of the club's principles.  I hope the fans let them know how much they dissaprove of this move.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Barca Bombs Basques 5 - 0

Same story, different day.  The last time a team with the word 'Real' showed up at Camp Nou, it was Barcelona over Real Madrid 5 - Nil.  Yesterday, Real Sociedad came to play, and the result was the same: 5 - Nil.  Its seems that Barcelona has a visceral reaction to the word 'Royal,' no?

Taking the field just hours after Real Madrid momentarily captured the top spot in La Liga with their 3 - 1 win over listless Real Zaragoza, Barcelona opened the scoring at the nine minute mark with a perfectly centered ball from Pedro to David Villa, who fired home the opening score.  Just a few minutes later, Pedro again set up another score with a determined near-post drive that he dished off to Andres Iniesta at the last moment, catching Sociedad goalkeeper Claudio Bravo out of position.  Iniesta put the ball in the back of the net and just like that, it was 2 - 0. 

The scoring continued just after the second half re-start, with a characteristically beautiful one-two drive by Dani Alves and Lionel Messi, finishing with a characteristically beautiful goal by Messi Wan Kenobi.  Soon the overmatched and overworked Sociedad defense began to break down, suffering Death by Tiki-Taka.  Messi Wan Kenobi scored a second beautiful solo goal in the 85th minute, and then Barca substitute Bojan nailed the coffin closed just before full time with a final insult-to-injury goal.

Only 15 games into the season, and Barcelona has already scored 46 goals and conceded only 8.  WOW.  And our hero Messi Wan Kenobi has 17 goals already this season, only one goal behind That Annoying Portuguese Fellow Who Plays for Madrid. 

And so the Blaugrana remain on top of La Liga standings, chased two points back by 'The Evil Empire' AKA 'Real Madrid.'  It seems they are not accepting their recent 5 - 0 dismissal by Barca.  We shall have to spank them a second time, I fear.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Barca over Rubin Kazan 2 - 0

Barcelona's midweek victory over Russian side Rubin Kazan in Champion's League play, has made clear that the Catalan giants are yet again on track for another brace of trophies this season.  What was especially insipiring about Barca's win over Rubin Kazan, was that both goals came from second team rookies Andreu Fontas and Victor Vazquez, showing not just the quality of Barca's first team, but also the depth of the whole squad.  Given that Rubin Kazan has been a thorn in Barca's side the last few seasons of Champion's League play, this win is all the sweeter.  Barcelona now advances from the Group Stage of Champions League play to the knockout stage, having won all their matches and Group 'D' as well, with 14 points.  The knockout stage of play begins in early February 2012.

Tommorrow Barca returns to La Liga play against newly-promoted Real Sociedad, up this season from the Segunda Division.  The Basque side knows that the last time a team with the word 'Real' in its name visited Camp Nou, they left after a humiliating 5 - Nil dismissal.  Although not as talented as Real Madrid, look for Real Sociedad to be more prepared for the Catalan Tiki-Taka.  Even so, Barca will triumph, 3 - Nil.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

What is Tiki-Taka?


December 30th marked the utter humiliation and destruction of Florentino Pérez’s New Galacticos at the Camp Nou. It was the greatest defeat ever suffered by José Mourihno as a manager and marks the largest margin that Madrid have been defeated by their Catalan rivals in this decade.

There are some questions that still remain: Were Pep Guardiola’s men actually five goals better than their Madrid adversaries or was it that the “tiki-taka” that La Blagurana are so proficient in was too much for the Master Tactician and his team to cope with?

What is tiki-taka? Tiki-taka is a style of play coined and popularized by Spanish commentator Andrés Montes. According to Wikipedia, tiki-taka is a style of play "characterized by short passing and movement, working the ball through various channels, and maintaining possession."

This style originated under Dutch and Barcelona Johan Cruyff's tenure as manager of Barcelona and continued with Guardiola’s predecessors, Dutch coaches Louis Van Gaal and Frank Rijkaard.

As demonstrated in the recently played El Clàsico, the continuous passing and holding of the ball is such a devastating tactic because it does not require you to switch from offense to defense because you are always in possession of the ball.

The match statistics speak for themselves a staggering 67 percent for Barca while Madrid held the ball for a measly 33 percent. Suffocating the opposition's hopes of scoring by having such high possession was the aim of the home team. From the blow of the first whistle, you could have seen the how much of a disarray the Madrid team was in.

Any structured plan implemented by Mourihno came crumbling down as five white uniforms came running after the ball at any given time. This opened up space in the midfield for  the wizardry of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta to work their magic.  Possession, domination and clinical finishing ripped apart the defensive quartet of Sergio Ramos, Pepe, Ricardo Carvlho and Marcelo. Deficiencies in Madrid’s defense were uncovered, especially in the full back positions, as they weren’t able to stop the flood of goals by Xavi, Pedro, David Villa and Jeffrén Suárez...

This “blow out” suffered by the hands of Real Madrid was due in part by three of the world's best players and Fifa Ballon d'or finalists Andres Iniesta, Xavi and Lionel Messi.  Their vision and extraordinary technical skill on the field has made them one of the most formidable midfield combination in world football today.

Beating the other team down with impossible telepathic passes and mind-boggling plays was pure poetry in motion and there was no tactic that José Mourinho could have implemented that could of prevented this impending defeat.

Tiki-taka is not supposed to out-muscle opponents, it is a tactical art form associated with flair, creativity and is used to monopolize the ball and move it in intricate patterns and baffle opponents as it did in this latest edition of El Clàsico.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Golden Trial Balloons

Today's news in the world of Jedi Soccer is about trial baloons.  Our first tidbit comes from the Land of Rumour: according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Argentine soccer legend Maradonna is planning a visit to Iran with an eye towards accepting an offer to coach the Iranian national soccer team.  If this is true (and remember, Ahmadinejad has a history of transparent lies), then it would seem that the Argentine soccer great will do anything for enough money.  Worryingly, Maradonna has done or said nothing to discourage the speculation surrounding his alleged pending visit to Iran.

Why Maradonna would even think about working for this disgusting regime is unfathomable.  Perhaps the Iranian's have developed a new process for snorting uranium.  We shall have to see.

Meanwhile, in an altogether more positive development, today FIFA announced its short list of candidates for the Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) & FIFA Player of the Year award.  On the list are no less than three Barca players: Lionel Messi (again, of course), and also Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez. 

This is only the second time that three players from a single team have been nominated for the same award-- the last time this happened was in 1989 when AC Milan was in its glory days.  This year will also be the first time that the French Golden Ball award and the Player of the Year award are merged and given as a single trophy.  Although he deserves it, Messi Wan Kenobi was last year's Player of the Year winner, and so it is unlikely he will be voted the award twice in a row.  However, both Xavi and Iniesta are deserving candidates, given their prowess with Barca and their successful World Cup campaign.  Having never received the award before, Xavi is probably the odds-on favorite.

So there you have today's trial ballons: Maradona to coach Iran, and Xavi Hernandez for FIFA Player of the Year.  Too bad there isn't an award for 'Biggest Sellout," because I know at least one former great player who is a candidate for that award too, depending on who he decides to take his paycheck from.  We shall see.

Friday, December 3, 2010

More Bitching About Qatar

Now that another 24 hours has passed since the news that FIFA has selected Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, more details are beginning to emerge.  And as the details are coming out, the decision to go with Qatar seems even more incomprehensible.

First, I serve up this: FIFA's internal survey of the Qatar bid, was classified as 'High Risk' AFTER the FIFA inspectors had visited Qatar.  And yet despite the 'High Risk' classification of the Qatar bid, they got the nod anyway.

Second, FIFA's internal reports also indicated that an American-hosted World Cup-- with all of our sports infrastructure already in place, and the extensive media assets across North America-- would likely result in the most profitable World Cup ever held.  But still Qatar got the bid.

Third, we now learn that a HUGE part of Qatar's bid was based on the concept of modular, pre-fabricated air-conditioned stadiums, to be strategically placed around the Connecticut-sized country for the event.  This is TOTALLY UNPROVEN TECHNOLOGY and yet FIFA is betting their Flagship Event that Qatar can actually pull this off, even though they have never hosted a world-class sporting event EVER.

How is this going to work, really?  I mean, are we going to see England vs. Argentina being held in Modular Stadium C-3 at the 38 Kilometer marker outside of some little desert settlement of perhaps 30,000 people?  It's beginning to look that way.  Make sure the air conditioning in the rental car you got in Doha is working smoothly.

And then there is this, from the Associated Press:

"Qatar, with a population of 841,000, has not only never hosted a World Cup but not even played in one. FIFA inspectors who toured the country, which is half the size of Israel and slightly smaller than Connecticut, cautioned that the intense heat in summer, when the tournament will be played, posed a potential health risk for players and fans.

Qatar allayed the fears of some — but not all — FIFA voters by promising that stadiums, training venues and areas for fans to party will be cooled with solar-powered air conditioning. But it has yet to be proven that the technology will work on such a broad scale, which prompted the American on FIFA's committee, Chuck Blazer, to quip: "I don't see how you can air-condition an entire country."

"Air-conditioning an entire country."  Indeed.  You can air-condition a stadium (maybe!), but you can't air-condition the Middle East in July.  Prepare for massive visitor bitching about the heat.  And what happens if Israel qualifies for this now-scheduled middle east world cup?  Think they might have a go at it?  Not a crazy thought; the Israeli leagues are good and getting better.  If you want a security nightmare, just wait 'till it's Israel vs. Iran in Qatar 2022.  Will Qatar really work with Israeli security to ensure the safety of the team, if the Israelis qualify?  Is it unreasonable to assume that some religious loonies on the Arabian peninsula might not think this is a great chance to do Allah's work by doing you-know-what to the drunken Infidels on our sacred land?  Oy gevalt, my head hurts thinking about it.  This is the sort of thing that makes this choice by FIFA a self-assessed 'High Risk' selection.

Given all that and plus the social and religious restrictions in Qatar that will certainly rub against western social mores, and I must predict that this could be one of the worst-attended World Cup events ever.  Maybe it would be better simply to plan not to go at all.

Look, I know that Sepp Blatter wanted to bring the World Cup to new lands.  I actually support that.  So OK, you chose Russia.  Wonderful.  The Russians at least have thrown this kind of Really Big Sports Party before, so I have confidence they can do it.  Good pick.  Mission Accomplished-- that is new ground for FIFA.  There-- you've brought the World Cup to a new country.  Congratulations.

But Qatar?  Really?  Having already picked Russia as your "new country," to follow that up with Qatar really looks like FIFA is dissing the USSF.  Given the overwhelming strength of the American bid to host the World Cup, and all of the dramatic negatives associated with Qatar's bid, and I can only conclude this:

Sepp Blatter & FIFA would rather send the world to the high desert in mid-July to play in modular pre-fabricated stadiums near little desert villages, rather than give the Americans another shot at this event.

I'm sorry, but this looks like an expensive and yet petty display of anti-Americanism by the FIFA bid selection committee.  Someone please prove me wrong.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

FIFA Taps Qatar for 2022 Cup

Today's announcement by FIFA boss Sepp Blatter has finally ended the American bid to host the World Cup once again, in 2022.  By vote of the World Cup organizing committee, the 2018 World Cup will go to Russia-- which I think is a good choice-- and the 2022 World Cup goes to Qatar, which I think is a terrible choice.

Why is awarding the bid to Qatar such a bad idea?  Let me count the ways:

1.  Qatar is ranked # 113 in the world rankings-- the lowest any host nation has ever been ranked, at the time they were awarded the World Cup.  Basically, they have no soccer tradition; almost every other country in the Middle East, including Israel, has a more fully developed soccer tradition than Qatar does.  This win by Qatar gives hope to Futbol powerhouses like Fiji and the Seychelles, that one day they too can host the World Cup.

2.  Qatar is really small!  About the size of Connecticut.  The US Air Force could cover the whole place with outdoor carpeting in less than 24 hours.  When FIFA awarded the World Cup to Japan and Korea, it was as a joint bid and both of these countries are significantly larger than Qatar, and they still had to work hard to make it work.  Same for South Africa.  But Qatar?  There is ONLY ONE CITY in the whole country-- Doha.  The bid would make more sense if it was co-hosted by the nearby United Arab Emirates (UAE), which would instantly add the large cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai to the mix.  That would make more sense.  But no-- it seems to be all Qatar.  Look for state-of-the-art football stadiums to be built in the middle of the desert, near smallish desert settlements surrounded only by hot sand, camels and vast parking lots.

3.  The country is REALLY hot!  It's a desert, for crying out loud!  Temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius are not unheard of.  Allegedly, Qatar has plans in their bid to ensure that vast air-conditioning systems are installed in the World Cup stadiums; but considering that none of this infrastructure has been built yet, I think that FIFA is totally rolling the dice on having The Most Unpleasant World Cup Ever.  If that happens, it will also be the World Cup with the lowest attendance as well.

4.  Qatar is in the Middle East.  To state it plainly: VISITING TARGETS.  The security at this World Cup is going to be a nightmare.  Sure, the citizens of Qatar are fairly modern and progressive people; but who else from the Middle East will be visiting?

Furthermore... although the Persian Gulf countries have a more progressive reputation than the rest of the Middle East, it is also true that their social mores are more... restrictive than, say, Brazil.  Women are not even allowed to bare their shoulders in public.  So what happens when all those people from other countries want to Par-Tay, World Cup style, according to their own traditions and mores?  Is this the part where we see Qatari police go nuts and lock up Brazilian women because of bare shoulders or a tit that accidentally popped out of a blouse while she was cheering?  What about the English lads who want a pint after the match?  Or the Spaniards swilling Sangria after La Furia Roja wins?  Oh yeah, this is either going to be the most repressive World Cup ever... or it will disgust the rest of the pious Middle East, if Qatar lightens up a bit on the social mores for the Cup.  Either way, someone is going to be unhappy.

I understand why FIFA gave it to Qatar-- they want to award the Middle East for the growth of soccer there, and encourage its further development in the Middle East.  Given this basic motive, choosing one of the Gulf states was really the only option-- places like Saudi Arabia or Syria are out of the question (multiply all the concerns above x 3), and anyway they did not bid.  Further, Qatar is the richest nation on earth, on a per-capita basis.  So they have the money to spend on building oodles of stadiums, which is necessary for a successful bid.  Before this is over, Qatar will have more soccer stadiums than cities of over 40,000 people.

So, to me this looks like a square-peg / round-hole situation.  Qatar is too small, too hot, too restrictive, and too Middle East, to host this event with the degree of internationalism it deserves.  The decision to give the 2018 games to Russia is comprehensible-- the Russians have the size and the soccer tradition and the money to do a fine job.  They've hosted the Olympic games before, quite successfully.  No concerns there. 


I appreciate FIFA's committment to "spreading the wealth," but this was ridiculous. 

This is the worst Host nation selection in the history of the World Cup.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

DC United Taps Olsen

In one of the most surprising developments in American professional soccer recently, this past weekend DC United formally named interim coach and former United standout Ben Olsen, as the team's newest head coach.  This is now the seventh head coach in the history of DC United and, more tellingly, United's third head coach in less than a full calendar year.  Ben Olsen now becomes the youngest head coach in the history of Major League Soccer.

I didn't think that Olsen was ready for the job and I have said as much in previous posts.  He is without a doubt a real fan favorite, and he is clearly popular with the team; but he was thrust into the role of being the caretaker of a train wreck season that was not of his own making, and that is trying even for experienced coaches, much less a rookie coach.  More to the point, over the last several months DC United President Kevin Payne has stated on many occassions, that Olsen was just the interim coach and that he was not ready for the job.

So... what changed?  First, negotiations with coach Lucien Favre, the former boss of Hertha Berlin in the Budesliga, completely broke down.  Then negotiations with coach Caleb Porter from the University of Akron also broke down... and suddenly, United was without a leading candidate.  As the team has continued to search for a new head coach, all the liabilities that currently plague the franchise kicked in to sour interest from potential candidates:  no stadium deal in the works, no franchise player now that Moreno has retired; no clear committment on the team's part to spend the money to turn this around; and a recent history of expensive trades that have failed to produce on the field.  Given all these negatives, its no surprise that United had a hard time finding a world-class coach who was interested.

And that is truly pitiful, because there was a time, not so long ago, when almost ANY American soccer coach, and a great many European coaches as well, would have lept at a chance to coach DC United, the most successful soccer franchise in North America.  Oh, how the mighty have fallen. 

And so... Ben Olsen gets the job by default.  The team has publicly made the right noises about how he was the best choice, how he knows DC United better than any outsider, how the players like and respect him, etc. and so forth.  All true, I suppose.

But this much is clear: Olsen has a HUGE task ahead of him, trying to turn this team around.  Without a stadium deal, without a franchise player, without a fat budget for talent acquisition, and working for a team ownership and front office that is proving itself to be rather inept at managing a sports franchise.

And THAT is the real problem here.  Good luck to Ben Olsen.  I like him, and if he succeeds I'll happily eat my words.  But what I really think, is that the people running the franchise, are not football people-- William Chang is a successful venture capitalist with a proven eye for funding promising new tech companies, but I do not think either that or his Harvard education, necessarily prepares him to oversee a football operation.  It makes me pine for the days when the franchise was run by the Anschutz Entertainment Group.  At least we were winning when Anschutz ran the franchise.

Anyway, maybe I'm wrong about the inept front office too; but if so, someone please prove me wrong by winning

So, Good Luck coach... I've had my doubts, but now that you have the job, I'll be pulling for you.  And since all the fans really do like you, you'll probably get the benefit of the doubt if things go south next season.  But lets hope that it does not come to that.