Category Archives: soccer

Premier League Predictions 2009 – 2010

It’s that exciting time of the year again when European football starts anew. As much as I like scouring the gossip rags for potential player transfers, it’s no substitute for the enjoyment I get watching the league unfold week by week. Sitting, from my perspective, on the wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean, I’m in the curious position of lacking a real reason to support a particular side.

When I was about 10, my father returned from a trip to England with a t-shirt, hot off the presses, commemorating an Eric Cantona-inspired league title for Manchester United. Delighted to be probably the first person in Connecticut to own that particular shirt, I became a Man United supporter then and there. The few snippets of Champions League football shown on American TV over the next few years solidified my allegiance. Oddly, the two television moments I remember are Lee Sharpe scoring with an outrageous backheel and Nicky Butt firing over the bar, the announcer declaring that it just wasn’t to be United’s night.

More advanced age saw me play a great deal of Championship Manager, particularly the 2001/2002 vintage. I naturally brought Manchester United plenty of glory, with new signings Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron basically unbeatable (more and less like real life). But I also became fascinated with the challenge and culture of the lower leagues, and soon established favorites in each of England’s professional divisions despite not being able to spot them on a map. The old Division 1 choice was Crewe Alexandra. In D2 it was Stoke City. In D3 it was Leyton Orient. And in the Conference, Farnborough.

At this point, I consider myself more a fan of the game than any particular team. Certainly I always find a reason to support one team over another during any given match, but I’d be delighted to see Everton, Aston Villa or even Fulham somehow win the league at the expense of my old favorite MUFC. This past spring, I attended the Man Utd v Liverpool match at Old Trafford, a 4-1 drubbing Manchester’s finest that was also my first live Premier League game. Needless to say, it was an incredible experience despite the scoreline, and I was left with the feeling that many Mancunians don’t appreciate how amazing it is to have one of the world’s best teams play in their city every fortnight.

And so I follow the action mostly via television and Internet. I’ve spent many a happy Saturday lounging on my couch with ale in hand and cat curled up on my chest. I feel I have as much right as anyone to make predictions for the coming season. And why not? It’s fun (even if my predictions from last year couldn’t have been more wrong if I’d tried). So without further ado, here’s how I think they’ll finish this season in the English Premier League, with each team’s key player in brackets.

  1. Chelsea [Frank Lampard]
  2. Liverpool [Steven Gerrard]
  3. Manchester United [Wayne Rooney]
  4. Arsenal [Andrei Arshavin]
  5. Tottenham [Luka Modric]
  6. Manchester City [Robinho]
  7. Everton [Tim Cahill]
  8. Aston Villa [Ashley Young]
  9. Sunderland [Darren Bent]
  10. West Ham [Dean Ashton]
  11. Fulham [Clint Dempsey]
  12. Blackburn [Nikola Kalinić]
  13. Wigan [Jason Scotland]
  14. Bolton [Kevin Davies]
  15. Stoke City [Rory Delap]
  16. Wolves [Michael Kightly]
  17. Hull City [Alvaro Negredo]
  18. Portsmouth [Niko Kranjčar]
  19. Birmingham City [Seb Larsson]
  20. Burnley [Chris Eagles]

Champions: Chelsea

FA Cup: Arsenal

League Cup: Manchester United

Champions League: Barcelona

Disagree? Of course you do. Feel free to submit your predictions in the comments.

Premier League Predictions 2008 – 2009

Another Premier League season is finally upon us after a terrific summer of Euro 2008 action. There’s also the more immediate prospect of the Olympic soccer tournament, which should feature a good number of young and old stars including Pato, Messi, Diego and Ronaldinho. Looking back at last season’s Premier League predictions, it could have been worse… just. I won’t congratulate myself for picking Man Utd to win, or Birmingham to go down. Unfortunately, that leaves me with nothing to congratulate myself for. So let’s just move on and get straight to this year’s predictions, in the same form as before. And as always, don’t keep your brilliant opinions to yourself.

Michael Essien

  1. Chelsea (Michael Essien)
  2. Manchester United (Rio Ferdinand)
  3. Arsenal (Cesc Fabregas)
  4. Liverpool (Robbie Keane)
  5. Portsmouth (Jermain Defoe)
  6. Tottenham (Luka Modric)
  7. Manchester City (Elano)
  8. Everton (Mikel Arteta)
  9. Aston Villa (Gabriel Agbonlahor)
  10. West Ham (Dean Ashton)
  11. Newcastle (Michael Owen)
  12. Fulham (Andrew Johnson)
  13. Sunderland (Kenwyne Jones)
  14. Bolton (Kevin Nolan)
  15. Blackburn (Roque Santa Cruz)
  16. Wigan (Paul Scharner)
  17. West Brom (Scott Carson)
  18. Middlesbrough (Alfonso Alves)
  19. Stoke City (Dave Kitson)
  20. Hull (George Boateng)

I’m pretty confident in these picks, although it’ll be close between Middlesbrough and West Brom for the final relegation spot. As for Blackburn, it depends how quickly they sack Paul Ince (reports indicate that he may not last until the first game). I’m most looking forward to seeing an expansive, new-look Spurs and a classic little-and-large partnership of Crouch and Defoe. My second team, Everton, look too threadbare to compete against deeper squads with deeper pockets and it’ll be business as usual for the top four teams. However, I think an unsettled Ronaldo, an ageing goalkeeper and the lack of genuine creativity in midfield will scupper Manchester United’s chances of defending their title. The underrated Michael Essien and a hungry Chelsea will do enough to reclaim the Premier League. Agree? Disagree?

Nations Not Fit for FIFA

A recent 4-4-2 magazine article about marginal nations banned from FIFA piqued my interest in some fascinating cultural enclaves. It’s hard to define or draw comparisons between these places/groups of people, but football appears to be a common thread. Combined with some fascinating geography, here are four of my favorite non-state footballing nations.

As non-FIFA teams go, the Basque football team is more internationally recognized than others. According to Phil Ball’s excellent book Morbo, the Basque Country of Spain and France (so named due to its border with the Bay of Biscay) has historically been a rich source of talent for professional Spanish teams. Even now, Atletic Bilbao has a strict policy of using only Basque players, and it’s possible to construct a very impressive team from among the Basques across the world, with Mikel Arteta and Xabi Alonso at the heart of its midfield. In general, Basques can be identified by their names, which contain more of certain letters like x, z and k than Spanish names. Here’s an example of the uniform and a formidable starting XI.
A sample Basque Starting XI

The Sapmi football team represents the Sami or Lapp people of northern Scandanavia. Players like Morten Gamst Pedersen and Sigurd Rushfeldt are Sami, and may play for the Sapmi national team after retiring from the Norwegian national side. Mostly a reindeer-herding people, the Sami were instrumental in organizing the Viva World Cup, which they will be hosting in 2008. They won the 2006 tournament in Occitania, scoring 42 goals in 3 games.
Sapmi Football Uniform

Defined as the regions in France, Italy and Spain where the language of Occitanian is spoken, Occitania founded its football association in 1901. However, the Occitanian national side was only created in 2004. They hosted the inaugural Viva World Cup in 2006, and have played matches against Chechnya, Northern Cyprus and neighbors Monaco. Interestingly, Eric Cantona is elligible for the national side, while the Occitanian cross is the symbol of Toulouse FC.
Occitanian Flag

The football-mad Tibetans have suffered under Chinese rule since they invaded the country in 1950. The international community’s failure to stand up for the Tibetans is reminiscient of tolerance for South Africa’s apartheid. As such, Tibet officially remains part of China and therefore has no chance of fielding its own FIFA-approved national team. A documentary called “The Forbidden Team” followed the selection, training and matches of Tibet’s first national game away against Greenland. China attempted to gazump the game by threatening to suspend trade with Denmark if it went ahead. However, the Danes allowed the game to be played and Tibet lost 4-1. Though they’ve still got no wins, every international match is a statement of independence from China. On the eve of the Tibetan selection tournament that was to determine who would represent the nation, Sonam Wangyal said:

“We are taught by our parents and everybody that you never pray for yourself, you pray for all beings in the world. All living things including the beings because that will include you. You’ll be uplifted with the beings. I just prayed that everybody gets selected.”

My Top 5 For 2007

After seeing numerous end-of-year lists around the web, I thought it fitting to sum up my Top 5 in each category of The Cookblog. And so, without further ado, here they are:

The Cookblog's Best of 2007


These are the best web sites and artists that I discovered during the past year.

  1. Edward Gorey – I’ve posted about him before, but the maestro of macabre was my #1 artistic discovery of the past year. Meticulous pen sketches combined with a wickedly dark sense of humor make him my favorite by a country mile.
  2. Rockwell Kent – Moby Dick is a terrific book (at least the first few chapters), and these illustrations are great. They capture the majesty of the ocean, the madness of Captain Ahab and the calm of an evening anchorage in attractive woodcut style.
  3. Chema Madoz – There’s something about black& white photography that is just cool. The pictures on these sites juxtapose and re-imagine common elements in interesting ways, like a match set against a plank so that the grain of the wood looks like smoke. Check it out.
  4. BibliOdyssey – A really fascinating site packed with high-res illustrations of esoteric old books. The quality of the images and care with which they’re chosen really sets the site apart.
  5. OldBookIllustrations – I love old books and I love the types of illustrations on this site. On top of that, most are in the public domain, so I definitely plan on returning if I need fodder for any graphic design projects.

Food & Drink

These rate as the best beers I’ve discovered during 2007.

  1. 840 IPA – An absolute classic, this well-balanced but beautifully-hopped India Pale Ale is the standard by which I now measure all others.
  2. Ten Penny Ale – The perfect counterpoint to the hoppiness of an IPA, the malty, smoky Ten Penny is made in East Hartford and finds its way into the refrigerator more than any other beer.
  3. Chocolate Stout – A great beer for a change of pace, this goes particularly well mixed with Saranac’s Carmel Lager or Guinness.
  4. Racer 5 IPA – A tasty brew offered on tap at The Library, a bar near my brother’s apartment in Los Angeles. Nice and floral.
  5. Southampton IPA – A random discovery at the local package store, this IPA with an orange label is thoroughly drinkable and always welcome.


I’ve played a lot of games this year, but only a few stack up against my high standards. They are:

  1. Carcassonne – Board games don’t get more classic than this. Every game is different and the social aspect makes it perfect for beginners
  2. Tichu – A favorite at work and probably the best card game in the world, combining bluffing, anticipation and cooperation. It’s only $7. Get it.
  3. Caylus – The opposite of Carcassonne, involving almost zero luck and total diplomacy, Caylus would be the chess of board games if chess wasn’t a board game.
  4. Foosball – The only non-board game here, there have been some epic shots and games over the past few months with my work colleagues. The laws of physics bow down before our deft control and puma-like reflexes, but we’re still easily beaten by the slow roller.
  5. Ticket to Ride: Europe – The chosen game at home, it’s good for two players and conjures up images of actually riding a train from Edinburgh to Athena. Also, my girlfriend and I can usual overcome our rage at losing after only a few minutes.


I haven’t had a chance to read as much as I would have liked, but these are the books that I enjoyed at least part of this past year.

  1. Morbo – Phil Ball has a wonderful turn of phrase and the intensely interesting subject of Spanish soccer comes alive with his words.
  2. Selected Verses of Ogden Nash – Perfect for reading to that special someone, the quirk and wit of Ogden Nash never fails to bring a smile to my face.
  3. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – That’s right, I’m a Harry Potter fan.
  4. The Stories of Paul Bowles – Imagine my delight when I found one of my favorite books at a library book sale for 1/4 cover price.
  5. The Devil Drives – A biography of Sir Richard Burton, it’s a gripping account of a man who lived in constant adventure, from India to Mecca to Ethiopia.


There was some great music this year, and though I usually prefer individual tracks to full albums, these were great the whole way through.

  1. Radiohead – In Rainbows – One again, Radiohead has delivered a phenomenal album packed with electronic hooks and human feeling. By far the most played this year.
  2. Feist – The Reminder – A great discovery, Feist has since come to prominence for her role in an iPod commercial, but the rest of the songs on her album are equally bouncy and catchy.
    I Feel It All
  3. Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga – Vintage Spoon and no complaints from me. This is piano rock at its best.
    The Ghost of You Lingers
  4. The National – Boxer – One of the most genuine bands around today, The National’s “Fake Empire” is one of the songs of the year.
    Fake Empire
  5. Peter Bjorn and John – Writer’s Block – According to the Wikipedia, this was a 2006 album, but Rolling Stone put it in their best of 2007 list, so I am, too.
    Up Against the Wall


I like to think I have a talent for spotting quality when it comes to soccer players, not that it’s difficult to tell that these five footballers are several cuts above the rest.

  1. Kaka – The Brazilian is the Zidane of this generation. His seemingly-effortless skill has been winning match after match for AC Milan, including the World Club Cup and the Champions League trophy
  2. Lionel Messi – The only player that can rival Kaka, Messi has been carrying one of the biggest and proudest clubs in the world on his shoulders. That he’s already made Ronaldinho dispensable is an indication of his importance to Barcelona.
  3. Christiano Ronaldo – Like the two players above him, he has dragged his team to victory even when they haven’t deserved it. If he can deliver European success to Manchester United, he’ll move higher up the list.
  4. Didier Drogba – His questionable temperament doesn’t take away from his qualities as a player. Powerful and intelligent on the field, he takes his team into a different class when he plays and is worth far more to Chelsea than the rubles they paid for him.
  5. Daniel Alves – A marauding right fullback who has been the impetus behind Sevilla’s recent success, Alves will surely earn a move to a major club soon, where he should establish himself as the best wingback in the world.


I haven’t taken too many exotic trips this year, but these places have been welcome breaks from the usual routine at home.

  1. Boston – An awesome trip up to watch the Red Sox earn a spot in the World Series still rates as one of the best days this year.
  2. Los Angeles, CA – A great visit with the family for Thanksgiving was the perfect way to spend those vacation days.
  3. Onset – Having returned there for every year since I was born, it’s impossible to underestimate its importance in my life.
  4. Danbury – Always a relaxing and comfortable place to visit, you never know who or what you’ll find at the casa de Angela, Kathleen and Connor, but it’s always a good time.
  5. New York – A weekend in NYC with John, Georgia and Co. was a ton of fun. My only regret is that it was the only one.


I’ve seen a lot of websites in my 25 years on this planet, but these deserve special mention.

  1. Slightly Shady SEO – The best blog about SEO in my opinion. Gives away secrets that are worth plenty, which makes me wonder how much more he knows.
  2. Asobrain Games – A great place to play Carcassonne with no frills, no fuss and no fees.
  3. Strange Maps – Since maps are something of a hobby for me, this site is always full of interesting things.
  4. Coudal Partners – I’m still not sure what they do there, but their features, including Photoshop Layer Tennis and the Museum of Online Museums are worth regularly checking out.
  5. Smashing Magazine – With their fingers firmly on the pulse of web design, this site displays great examples for study and inspiration.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my picks and I hope that 2008 has as much good material to see, read, hear and blog about. If you’ve got something to say about any of my choices, go for it!

England vs. Russia Euro 2008 Qualifier

In the past few days, no topic has been receiving as much attention as this the England vs Russia Euro 2008 qualifying match on Football365, my soccer news source of choice. Everyone has been writing into the site’s famous mailbox with their two cents on England’s likely tactics, best team selection and chances of winning.

England vs Russia

Much of tactical and selection talk has been informed and considered, though there’s always plenty to disagree with. My own view is that England should play a more ambitious, open game to try and put their opponents on the back foot. The match is at Wembley, after all, and the Three Lions are far more effective when given license to attack, not to mention far more pleasing on the eye. The attacking talents of Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Joe Cole and Shaun Wright-Philips would be better served if unleashed instead of marginalized by a cautious, cagey approach.

As for the Starting XI, I’m an advocate of form dictating the team slightly more than class. Over a week-in-week-out league season, class certainly tells. In the periodic schedule of qualifying, however, the form and confidence of players doing well count for far more than the superior technique of a player in a rut. This is especially true of England, where the best balm for the crippling expectations of the press is the confidence of on-form players. Unfortunately, English pundits and fans alike treat international caps as a holy grail, only to be bestowed on players who perform at a consistently high level for years at a top-tier club. My pick for 11 starters and 7 substitutes is:

  • GK: David James
  • RB: Micah Richards
  • CB: John Terry
  • CB: Rio Ferdinand
  • LB: Ashley Cole
  • RM: Shaun Wright-Philips
  • CM: Steven Gerrard
  • CM: Gareth Barry
  • LM: Joe Cole
  • CF: Michael Owen
  • CF: Emile Heskey
  • SB: Paul Robinson
  • SB: Michael Kightly
  • SB: Matt Derbyshire
  • SB: Phil Neville
  • SB: Gabriel Agbonlahor
  • SB: Sol Campbell
  • SB: Jolean Lescott

Exactly the side England will probably put out (besides substitutes and except for the goalkeeper), but the league is too young for form players to truly emerge, and most of them played well against Israel a few days ago.

Unfortunately for England, no team they put out will beat Russia on Wednesday. Despite all of the bluster from F365 readers (“Can anybody actually name any Russian players? Thought not… Expect a straight forward if not expansive 2 or 3 nil victory and everyone is happy again.“), Russia are quite good and brilliantly managed. Only one of those descriptions fits England. Guus Hiddink, who took Holland to the brink of the World Cup final in 1998, South Korea to the World Cup semifinal in 2002, PSV to the Champions League semifinal, and Australia to the second round of the World Cup in 2006 where they were cruelly eliminated by dint of a bad penalty given against them.

Hiddink’s two World Cup semifinals is two more than England have reached since 1966, one with a talented but temperamental Holland side and one with a hard-working but limited South Korea side. More important that that history is the verve and assurance with which they dispatched Macedonia last Saturday. Simon Gay would surely point to the weakness of the opposition, though he might remember that England could only draw 0-0 against Macedonia last October… in England.

The English team looked decent against Israel, and were good value for their 3-0 win. But Russia shone in their match against comparable opponents, playing some excellent football and winning comfortably despite having their goalkeeper sent off with 20 minutes to play. Russia, with their “no-name” players, were tactically aware, positive and unselfish. Simon Gay may well remember a few of their names after they beat England tomorrow.

Russia 2 : 1 England

Premier League Predictions 2007 – 2008

With the English Premier League set to kick off this upcoming weekend, the pundits have been weighing in with their predictions for the new season. Despite the large number of columns devoted to the topic, almost everyone agrees on a few things:

  1. Manchester United and Chelsea will be the top two teams.
  2. Liverpool will finish 3rd.
  3. Rivals Arsenal and Tottenham will battle for 4th.
  4. Wigan, Fulham and the three promoted clubs will be fighting relegation.

Do I agree with the opinions of ESPNSoccerNet’s Jon Carter, and Square Football’s Cody Strunk? Not quite.

FA Premier League

Here is the final league table as I envision it, with the key player for each team in parenthesis:

  1. Manchester United (Cristiano Ronaldo)
  2. Chelsea (Didier Drogba)
  3. Arsenal (Robin Van Persie)
  4. Tottenham (Dimitar Berbatov)
  5. Liverpool (Fernando Torres)
  6. Newcastle (Cacapa)
  7. Blackburn (Morten Gamst Pederson)
  8. Everton (Mikel Arteta)
  9. Manchester City (Valeri Bojinov)
  10. Reading (Stephen Hunt)
  11. Portsmouth (Sulley Muntari)
  12. West Ham (Scott Parker)
  13. Aston Villa (Gabriel Agbonlahor)
  14. Bolton (Nicolas Anelka)
  15. Sunderland (Anthony Stokes)
  16. Wigan (Jason Koumas)
  17. Derby County (Giles Barnes)
  18. Middlesbrough (Yakubu)
  19. Birmingham City (Garry O’Connor)
  20. Fulham (Brian McBride)

It takes a brave man to put Wigan two places above relagation, especially since they signed Titus Bramble. That kind of defensive anchor can sink your ship. But I think they’ll hold on. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, won’t make it, while Birmingham haven’t got the quality and Fulham are as good as relegated after signing the entire Northern Irish national team (currently ranked #28 in the world). Agree? Disagree? Comment it up.

2006-2007 European XI

This past season in Europe has seen some great football. My beloved Manchester United recaptured the Premier League title from Chelski, Spain’s La Liga went right down to the wire, and the Italian league was basically a joke after Juventus were demoted with several other clubs docked points. With all of the foreign investors looking to buy into the game, refereeing gaffes grabbing headlines and shady transfers cropping up everywhere, it’s easy to lose focus on the main event: the players. Here is a European XI that have made this past season worth watching.

European XI

Cech: The best goalkeeper in the game by a country mile. When he went down injured, the Chelsea players clearly had no faith in Hilario. His return coincided with a fresh run at Manchester United that ultimately came up just short.

Maldini: He’ll turn 40 in 4 days, but he’s still indispensible for the European champions, AC Milan. His experience was crucial in Milan’s run to the title, and along with Ryan Giggs, he must be one of the most loyal players in the modern game. He’s never played for another club since he broke into the Milan side in 1984. A true great.

Nesta: Another Milan player who was vital in the Italian club’s successful season, Nesta has long been considered one of the top central defenders in the game. More subtle and aware than a John Terry, he makes defending look easy, and last-ditch tackles are rarely needed due to his excellent positional sense.

Alves: Dani Alves has been striking terror into every left-sided player in Spain this season. His marauding runs up the flank make him more of a winger than a defender, but his effectiveness as part of the offense often makes his defensive capabilities moot. It would seem that Chelsea have picked a bad summer to stop their outrageous spending, because the addition of Alves would more than adequately fill their only problem position.

Beckham: While David Beckham has his detractors, I’ve always been a fan. Managers who criticize his high-profile lifestyle can’t seem to understand that Beckham very clearly separates his football from his fashion. Only an outstanding professional would be able to win back his place in Fabio Capello’s side, win back his place in the England side, and inspire both to victory. And that at the age of 32, when most players become jaded and complacent. Europe will be losing a great player, but what he does for the game in America will be fascinating to watch.

C. Ronaldo: Harshly criticized as a showpony in past seasons, Ronaldo has risen above the ill-will poured in his direction and produced a string of match-winning performances. The addition of an end-product to his game has given him all of the tools needed to become one of the all-time great players. Youth is on his side as well, and he should only add more to his already diverse bag of tricks.

Kaka: Just edging Ronaldo out of the “best player in the world” slot is the Brazilian maestro, Kaka. Like Zidane, Kaka’s smooth movement and effortless quality belie the effectiveness of his play. Usually situated just behind the front line, Kaka does everything. He scores, he creates, he defends, and he dictates. And he does it all better than anyone else at the moment.

Messi: I’m a huge Messi fan, and it’s been a delight to watch him this season. While every Argentinian has crumbled under the weight of being dubbed “the new Maradona,” Messi has gone out and scored carbon-copies of the two most famous goals in soccer history. Against Getafe, he ran through the entire team before finishing sublimely, and against Espanyol, he scored a “hand of God” goal that so nearly won Barcelona the title. It’s safe to say that are more great things to come from Lionel Messi.

Milito: Not a household name before the season began, Milito has scored a boatload for a very average Real Zaragoza side, propelling them to sixth place in La Liga. Not surprisingly, he has been the subject a much transfer talk already in the close season, with Liverpool mooted as his most likely destination.

Drogba: While his temperament wins him few admirers, his goals deserve a grudging respect. Strong and fast with a good eye for goal, Drogba is the brass knuckles on the dull fist of Chelsea. While his game is based mostly on power, he also has the skill to bring players around him into the game. Unfortunately, overshadows his play with the kind of theatrics that make average fans loathe Chelsea in general and him in particular.

Villa: If Drogba is a set of brass knuckles, David Villa is a samurai sword. He can score goals in any number of ways, but his all-around quality is what truly sets him apart. He can operate alone up top and is as good at setting up his teammates as he is at scoring himself. That is the role of the modern centre forward, and the reason every major club in Europe has been linked with him.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my selections for the European XI. Feel free to tell me how I’m wrong.

2007 Champions League Final

This was the first Champions League final in a while where I haven’t had the opportunity to watch it live. Fortunately, ESPN Classic had the game on at 7 PM (an instant classic?), so I even had time to grab some India Pale Ale to enjoy as I watched.

Champions League

Since Liverpool are a bunch of long-ball merchants, and AC Milan are the very epitome of negativity, I was braced for a poor match. However, the Scousers started with some real intent, taking the game to Milan and unsettling their normally-unflappable defense. Pennant had the beating of Jankulovski on the right, and Mascherano was keeping Kaka quiet down the middle. Of course, Zenden was a complete waste of space on the left.

However, a soft foul on Kaka led to a deflected free-kick goal for Milan on the stroke of halftime, and Liverpool were forced to chase the game. Whether due to their fast tempo in the first half or the long season catching up with them, they grew tired and could no longer dictate the game. Some baffling decisions by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez didn’t help, with the team’s top-scorer in Europe, the gigantic Peter Crouch, only brought on for the last 15 minutes. Benitez also took off Mascherano, and after Kaka set up a second Milan goal and Kuyt pulled one back, he brought on a defender for the finale. Very mysterious indeed. Maybe he thought the game was tied?

My last qualm goes to the referee. Despite a minimum of three minutes for added time shown, he ended the game after 2 minutes and 40 seconds. And this, despite an injury, a lengthy substitution and general timewasting by the Italians. I’m a firm believer in the game lasting 90 minutes, with time spent treating players’ “injuries” and all other manner of gamesmanship tacked on at the end. I’d rather see 6 minutes of added time as the standard, instead of the usual 2 or 3. It was a good game, and I was sorry to see it end like that.

Lionel Messi: Maradona’s Heir

Shortly after earning a place in my Contemporary XI, Leo Messi popped up and scored the best goal of the 21st century thus far.

Leo Messi

There’s a great column by my favorite soccer writer, Phil Ball, over at Soccernet. Ball writes about the Spanish league, and captures the culture around the game in Spain brilliantly. I particularly like his view of Messi as “a funny little chap with a child’s face and an attractively modest manner.” That modesty is evident in his interviews, and means that no one feels guilty about celebrating his tremendous goal, as they probably would if it had been scored by someone like Marco Materazzi.

Messi first caught my eye in 2005, while playing for the Argentina U-18 in the Youth World Cup. He dominated the tournament with his close control, blazing pace and pinpoint shooting, despite looking like one of the youngest kids there. Shortly after, he broke into Barcelona’s first team, and only a few months later was tormenting Chelsea’s expensively assembled squad in the Champions League. He exposed left back Asier Del Horno to such a degree that he was shipped out after only one season.

With less physical presence and tricks than Christiano Ronaldo, he is nevertheless younger, and equally hard to contain. He should set the football world alight for years to come.

April 2007 Starting XI

A current debate rages about the justice of allowing a team, such as Chelsea, to buy success. Seemingly, Chelsea have been fortunate that they were purchased and bankrolled by a cutthroat Russian oligarch that raped his motherland and pillaged her natural resources for personal gain.

I am of the opinion that there’s nothing wrong with a billionaire taking control of a club and buying players for silly money. This is because:

1. The funds are being injected into football as a whole
2. The club is likely to become despised and loathed if they simply buy up the best available mercenary players
3. The combination of so many all-stars is likely to yield at least some magical football, despite what Chelsea has done

The gulf in class between the top tier of players and the next tier isn’t so great that passion, pride and determination are unable to overcome the difference in quality.

What would I do if I were a billionaire? Buy a football club, of course. Leyton Orient, to be exact. The London club are very much overshadowed by illustrious neighbors such as Chelsea, Tottenham, Arsenal, West Ham and even Charlton Athletic.

The team is currently struggling in League One, two steps below the Premier League, but that would change with this team that I’d buy:


Friedel: Excellent keeper has been doing the job in the Premier League for years. Seems to raise his game against top competition, as Manchester United can attest.

Sagnol: An experience marauding right back, Sagnol will know when to hold his position and when to go forward.

Vidic: Every team needs an uncompromising center back. Vidic will be the defensive spine of the team.

Agger: Young and comfortable on the ball, Agger’s class and speed will compliment Vidic’s steel nicely in the center of defence.

Baines: A strong runner and a young lad, Baines also pops up with the occassional wunderstrike.

Hunt: Nicky Hunt has impressed for Reading in the Premier League, and his engine earns him a spot as my holding midfielder, breaking up attacks and distributing the ball.

Kaka: A wonderful player that oozes class, Kaka can pass and shoot, and has the work ethic to track back and do a bit of defending.

Giggs: Having lost his devastating pace, Giggs has reinvented himself as a creative midfielder and has the experience to dictate the game from the center of the park.

Messi: With huge potential and an already-enviable set of skills, Messi will torment opposing defenders all day with his pace and control.

Ronaldinho: A bit off-color recently, but still with as much talent as anyone in the world. It’s only a matter of time until he starts winning games by himself again.

Berbatov: A cool finisher to lead the line, I’ve actually picked Berbatov for his team play rather than his goals. He is the complete forward, able to hold up the ball, bring the rest of the team into the game, and finish adroitly.

A talented, hard-working, level-headed bunch. We won’t be screaming at referees or wasting time. There are goals to score and fans to entertain.