Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Graphic: EPL goalscoring efficiency 2012-13

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Jose Mourinho obeys laws of physics, leaves Real Madrid

The second law of thermodynamics states that the entropy of an isolated system never decreases, because they spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium — that is, maximum entropy.

Entropy – defined as the tendency of a system to break into terminal disorder – is such a potent force that it will (probably) be the cause of the ultimate end of the universe, as heat is unable to escape the system and gradually rises to such a point that everything falls apart – literally.

In related news, José Mourinho is again a free man.  He leaves Real Madrid after three years’ not only obeying the second law of thermodynamics but actively seeking to hasten its work.  In that time he was first feted as savior; now he has been gratefully cast to scattering winds.

It is Mourinho’s modus operandi to close ranks and build a combative team infused utterly with an “us against the world” mentality that maintains a player’s confidence in himself, his manager and his teammates.  In such a way, he inspired Porto and Inter Milan to Champions League triumphs and redressed imbalances wrought in England and Spain by iconic teams like the Invincibles and Guardiola’s Barcelona.  To look at a squad coached by José Mourinho – in his first two years at a club, anyway – is to see a completely unified front and spectacular results.

However, isolation so desired creates the closed system in which the reaction byproducts remain, increasing interior temperature until relationships break down and instability ensues.  Often his ability to rock a boat is so profound that it affects not only him and his club but the managers succeeding him.

Not only did Mourinho fashion this closed system, but also the reactions ramping up the entropy within.  He has engaged in running battles with the Spanish media and cast doubt upon his own future at every opportunity; his reputation for wanderlust has been affirmed by short, but successful, spells at four clubs in a decade (and another coming).  The intensity with which he achieves such great results also serves as a constant abrasive as his cocksure manner shuffles relationships inexorably from “we” to “me”.

Until José Mourinho learns to temper his double-edged intensity, his tenures will always be short – indeed, it was this tendency that forestalled interest in him from Manchester United, a position he so obviously covets.  However, because the results he generates are so compelling, there will be no shortage of suitors hoping to take advantage of his remarkable talent.  

Friday, May 17, 2013

Farewell, David Beckham, and thanks

David Beckham has retired from professional football at the age of 38.  The former England captain and fashion icon leaves the game a ten-time league champion in twenty seasons – winning six titles with Manchester United, two with Los Angeles Galaxy and one each with Real Madrid and Paris Saint-Germain.

He will be remembered for a great many things – scoring from midfield to announce his arrival, romancing a Spice Girl and transcending his sport more than any other footballer.  In some ways it’s a pity that his global fame has overshadowed his formidable footballing ability, for he was a truly outstanding midfielder for Man U.  He was absolutely brilliant with his dead-ball delivery and could deliver a Hollywood assist better than anyone of his generation outside retirement companion Paul Scholes

A cross from David Beckham?  On time, every time.

He will go down as the defining player of his generation, a name for the ages carrying greater widespread appeal than those who accomplished more on the field like former teammates Ryan Giggs, Raul and Andrea Pirlo.  The names forever linked with football from the late 90s and early 2000s will begin with David Beckham.

(c) Balanced Sports - from author's own collection
While his mystique was awe-inspiring, he was hardly an overpowering or dominant player.  Aside from those elegant, glorious set pieces, David Beckham rarely inspired fear in the manner of Ronaldo, nor did he befuddle like a Ronaldinho or Messi.  Indeed, it might be his greatest achievement that he leaves the game as his generation’s defining (and most marketable) player without actually being amongst the very best of the era.

Beckham’s singular talent wasn’t for football or a particular skill within it, but an immense charisma that saw everyone seek his approval (aside from one or two particular managers).  So powerful was the impression left by his simple and dignified affect that he belongs in the Athletic Charisma Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Michael Jordan and founder member Muhammad Ali.  While these two boasted a more primal and combative magnetism, Beckham’s appeal is based around a graceful and understated – almost minimalist – style.

The other skill that David Beckham perfected was an ability to make money.  This is inextricably linked to his other singular asset: his bearing created a demand that expanded his pocketbook exponentially.  It’s hard to rationalize an athlete making the lucrative money he has, and even harder to justify.  However, considering the amount of rabid publicity he and his family endured, he deserved every penny.  Even in his last season, he earned £30 million – including a rich contract for a dozen appearance from PSG’s bench that only further heightened his public appeal

He leaves the game with as much class as he entered it.  When a young David Beckham sent a 45-yard ball floating past Wimbledon ‘keeper Neil Sullivan, the football world opened up to him and anything seemed possible.  Now, as he now walks into a much larger world, the same could be said again. 
Anything is possible.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rooney dumps himself into dilemma

We all remember the last time Wayne Rooney wanted out.  Or at least, we should.  In October of 2010, his agent Paul Stretford claimed the nascent twenty five year-old was frustrated with a lack of progress at Old Trafford and that he wanted to compete for trophies he felt were beyond United’s reach. 

After two days of death-threats and punditry reliant upon the word “entitlement”, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rooney emerged two days later and announced the forward had signed a new deal – for five years- which would make him the highest-paid Red Devil of all time.  The venerable gaffer had spent the previous two days displaying all the hallmarks of a master of amateur cod-psychology, effectively reversing the gun barrel pointed at the club and pointing it squarely at a player never looked upon by “the faithful” in the same way since.

Two and a half years later, we find history repeats itself as the player most associated with Sir Alex Ferguson’s final handful of great Manchester United teams was left out of the manager’s farewell appearance at Old Trafford.  The manager himself confirmed – on a day that should have been about him, not anyone else – that Rooney had asked out.  Current betting markets like Unibet have Bayern Munich favoured to land the most talented English player of his generation, followed by Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

However, the equation might not be so simple.  As a result both of form and also that abysmally-mismanaged game of one-upmanship, Rooney finds himself with few options.  While rumour suggests he prefers a transfer to Bayern Munich, would this year’s Champions League finalists want him – especially with a new manager entering and whispers of Neymar on the way

At Chelsea, he would be a lumbering throwback at no. 10 and a retrograde step from the scampering dervishes now en vogue forward of centre at Stamford Bridge.  Even as a designated poacher, his appeal decreases: while cash isn’t necessarily an object for either Roman Abramovich or the Qatari Sports Group, Financial Fair Play certainly is.

Rooney’s predicament is an absolute function of on- and off-field form.  Since his cumbersome double-bluff was called in late 2010, the club’s former talisman has performed only irregularly on the pitch, which has resulted in Ferguson preferring United’s other forward options in the season’s biggest games. 

This is multiplied by the lack of esteem in which he – the person, rather than the player – is held by Manchester United’s fans.  His continual lack of foresight has seen him maneuver himself into an awkward position - unlike 2010, he appears to genuinely want to leave Manchester, yet the contract he “won” at that time and patchy form hardly endears him to Europe’s top clubs.  Rather than accept a lauded position as the definitive Red Devil of the early part of this century, his myopia has led him now to almost certainly ending his career at Old Trafford an unfulfilled great.

Wayne Rooney’s lack of vision has made a very stiff rod for his own back.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Farewell Sir Alex Ferguson

It was unexpected, quick and most suitable.

Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t need a cavalcade of fanfare as he announced his retirement today after twenty-seven years as manager of Manchester United, but a simple celebration befitting an uncomplicated man.  Rather than engendering endless speculation by pre-empting his retirement or embarking upon a final series of signature mind games, Sir Alex has chosen a dignified departure. 

Though it has emerged that Everton’s David Moyes will almost certainly take over as the Red Devils’ boss – a move marked clearly with Sir Alex’s fingerprints – today isn’t a day to fete the new, but to remember the older – a man who was quite simply the best.  Despite battles lost, the war was an overwhelming triumph choreographed by a director gifted so supremely with vision, flexibility of thought and strength of character.

These adjectives will be three of the thousands used to describe him today, such is his renown and ability.  He is the defining character in the history of the English Premier League, a league which owes its popularity in large part to the inexorable United sides that accumulated thirteen titles from twenty-one.

It’s odd to think that perhaps his greatest strength was that flexibility.  Over his tenure, Sir Alex earned a reputation for uncompromising forthrightness, a character trait that hardly suggests a man given to adaptability.  However, his pile-driving outward manner masked a communicator not only able to relate effectively to players born across six decades, but to spur – or cajole – whatever greatness lay within.  The sport bears little resemblance to the one he himself played north of the Wall; the circus surrounding it even less, but he has been ever-present – a man defying time and tempering.

His longevity pays ultimate tribute to a pragmatic tactical flexibility.  Over the course of his reign, Sir Alex has not only replenished United’s stocks but also regenerated from within.  The most recent revival saw the dour Champions of 2011 moulded into a collection of title-winning freewheelers.  Neither was “vintage”, but both were utterly effective.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy will include two Champions League wins, thirteen Premiership titles (and sixteen overall), a European Cup Winners’ Cup and five FA Cups.  It is inconceivable in the disposable culture of today’s football that these accomplishments could be surpassed by one man and a team crafted, refined and re-refined. 

However, it is unfair that he will be measured by quantifiable achievements.  The past twenty-seven years have been his greatest bequest: the Fledglings, a magical evening at the Nou Camp and an inherent confidence that triumph lay only ninety minutes away. 

None are more impressive than the figures who dominate our formative years; they linger in memory having immortalized deeds never to be surpassed. Sir Alex Ferguson is the only manager that most living Manchester United – and football – fans have ever known.  For anyone aged under thirty-five, he will forever prowl the sidelines at Old Trafford as his bronzed likeness glares down from a pedestal fronting Old Trafford’s entry gates.  Flickering shadows will replace him, some of whom will succeed.  But none will match the deeds, or be remembered as fondly, as Sir Alex Ferguson.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

MLS and Manchester City a good match

With MLS seeking again to swell its ranks, the discussion has seemingly moved from where the next franchise will be located – New York City – and onto whom is best positioned to own and run such an enterprise. 

It has emerged that Manchester City’s flush-with owners are interested in soldering together this prometheus, appropriately based in the borough of Flushing.  The new team would serve twin purposes of generating talent for its parent club and increasing City’s brand recognition in the ever-expanding US market.

City’s expansion into the US market seems to have been received positively by fans of MLS as well as Don Garber, as well it should.  The league was recently judged the seventh-most attended on the planet, as has begun regularly producing players of true quality and an open gateway to Europe could provide more exposure in a nation where football highlights rarely make Sportscenter.

Close ties between are commonplace within countries, or continents even - Manchester United have had a longstanding relationship with Belgian club Royal Antwerp.  More recently – and perhaps more similarly as well – the Pozzo family has expanded from their black-and-white binding fiefdoms at Udinese to annex clubs in Spain and England, using them to develop players that they can then either use or sell, usually with a significant sticker price increase.

Any concerns MLS fans have about being home to “feeder” clubs can be assuaged by investigating the benefits of and exposure that having Sheikh Mansour involved in American sport would deliver.
Setting up an expansion franchise, youth academy and building a stadium in the real-estate mire of NYC will cost a bucketful.  Such hard costs coupled with the expense of bringing in players might intimidate a new ownership group and delay fan aggregation – we all love a winner.  Not only would the New York Blues have the opportunity to raid the Sky Blues for loan players, but also the backing to deliver some of the country’s most promising young talent.  They have more money to spend at chiseling out market share than could possibly be needed, no small feat in the City that Never Sleeps.

And perhaps the greatest benefit of all might come from the increased visibility.  The popularity of the English game transcends that of all other major leagues (with the exception of two notable Spanish clubs) and the Citizens’ five-year spending spree has ensured their position at that league’s apex until their patriarch suffers from a case of terminal boredom. 

Links with a league as outgoing as the English Premiership should be actively encouraged.

It is a fundamental truth of business that if a superwealthy investor shows interest in your product, you’re doing something very right or very wrong.  Another reality is that you generally look to involve these multi-multi-multi-billionaires wherever possible, as long as it doesn’t put you out too much – having capital in the bank never hurts.  The continued growth of MLS suggests that Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan’s interest isn’t hostile; if the feelers he is putting out are genuine, rest assured that Garber et al will move heaven and earth to make him a part of the league.