Archive for May, 2008

31
May
08

Furious backpedaling

Blatter Channels Someone With a Brain

Just about the moment the ink had dried on published reports that FIFA had passed the 6+5 rule the backpedaling began. First, it was revealed that that the FA, who had previously said they wouldn’t support the quotas rule, had actually voted for the rule. Or had they? It turns out that what FIFA really passed was just an agreement to look into the 6+5 rule because everyone knows that hard caps or quotas are against the law.

Well, everyone except Sepp Blatter.

Speaking about it is illegal? For whom? For when? If there is a law, a law can be amended. I have already a meeting planned with the speaker of the European Parliament on 5 June in Brussels, as he said, to explore now the ways [forward]

What he’s revealing here is that he knows it’s illegal but what he wants to do is change the EU labor law to exclude football and football players. That’s the only way his plan would be legal. What’s interesting is that the UEFA plan to force teams to have more “homegrown” players — the rule is currently that you must have at least two young men who came through your academy e.g. Fabregas — looks like it has legs. We’ll have to see.

For now, I think the whole affair is kind of comical. From the idea that Man U’s Champions League team fit the bill to the whole “we’re just examining this!!!” backpedaling, I can’t help but laugh. Just think about the idea that Man U fielded “6” Englishmen. Blatter has stated that Welsh, Scottish, and N. Irish players WOULDN’T count because they have their own leagues but a Canadian like Hargreaves counts because Canada doesn’t have a league? It’s just one of many many funny questions that need to be answered.

I love this article about how Man U’s 1994 Champions League final was ruined by the old quota system. Imagine if Cantona had not been suspended. I guess they would have had to put another second-string Englishman in. Even funnier, to me, is that there was a hard quota system in place and if you remember, England failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. Clearly what they needed was more Englishmen in the top flight.

Robin van Persie is doing some backpedaling of his own. After he made a remark about how Arsenal need to open the coffers to keep their best players, it’s now been revealed that Mr. 55 (that’s how many games he’s started in 4 years at Arsenal) is renegotiating his contract. Now that it’s been revealed he’s in negotiations he says his remarks were “not about the money” he says, he just “wants to keep the team together.” Whatever Robin. I just hope Arsenal include an injury clause in any contact with him.

And finally, on the injury front, Eduardo’s leg that broke itself is healing itself extra fast and he might even be available for training in late July. Good for him, I’m sure Wenger will bring him along at exactly the right pace. No word on whether Martin Taylor has recovered from his horrific psychic injuries but I trust ESPN Soccernet is on the case, after all they broke the story that Taylor was backed to recover from the Eduardo Tackle.

That’s it for today… unless you want to know what kind of quota system is in place for Netball. Personally, I’m going to start checking passports at the local pickleball tournament. We can’t have any of those Norwegians taking over our beloved pickleball!

30
May
08

Now they’ve gone and done it

That outfit is a straight red card

Yesterday, FIFA’s congress officially thumbed their noses at the European Union and voted overwhelmingly to adopt Sepp Blatter’s 6+5 proposal. Over the next 4 years, FIFA plans to mandate that football clubs have an increasing quota of national players that start any given match. Starting in 2010, barring any legal challenge, teams will be required to field at least 4 national players. This number will rise each year until 2012 when all teams in all countries will be required to field 6 national players.

There’s no word on what will happen to teams that fail to adhere to the 6+5 rule, after all this is just “exploratory” according to FA chief Brian Barwick. Also, there are already signs that the plan will fail immediately upon legal challenge with EU spokesman John MacDonald saying

If they were to implement the ‘six plus five rule’ in Europe what would happen is any professional football player who feels aggrieved by the rule would be able to take the football club concerned to court and he would probably win the case.

Interesting that the player would take the club to court, after all it’s not really the club that is forcing the rule. So, again there are a lot of unknowns about how this whole thing will play out, who will be suing who, and what FIFA will use to punish teams that violate the rule.

Another aspect which hasn’t been worked out is exactly what will be defined as a “national player.” Sepp Blatter is suggesting that players like Owen Hargreaves might count toward the quota. He said that Man U filled the rule when they fielded 6 players for the Champions League final. Technically, this is true. Hargreaves was born in Canada but due to the Act of Union is eligible for English citizenship and thus the English national team.

There’s no word on whether naturalized players like Arsenal’s Manuel Almunia might be eligible but I suspect he will; judging by the Hargreaves comment, it looks like just having the proper passport is the only qualification. Almunia will receive his British passport in December and as long as he never responds to a call up from Spain, would be eligible to play for England. And of course, in Britain, Welsh, British, Scottish, Canadian, Australian, and Northern Ireland (among others) are eligible to hold a British passport. France, as well, has a ton of African countries where the citizens can claim a French passport. Right now, I can’t see any way for FIFA to further discriminate and force teams to only pick people who have a genetic heritage linked to some piece of soil but given Blatter’s current position I have no doubt that proposal is forthcoming.

For my regular readers you know how I feel about this proposal: basically it’s a Nationalistic quota based affirmative action program. This proposal will not do anything that Blatter thinks it will. First, it will not bring up the level of English players, even Steve McClaren (who is an unabashed nationalist) sees that

People are trying to change (the percentage of English players) through legislation, through quotas. I can see that concept but the main one I’m concerned about is improving our players and improving our coaches because if you do that you’ve got a long-term plan.

He’s 100% correct here. If you really want to make English players better, you have to make English coaches better. They are the ones who teach players like Martin Taylor that hard tackles and heart are more important than technique. Not at Arsenal: at Arsenal kids are taught technique first and tactics second. Is there any wonder why Arsenal’s academy has turned out more skilled English players than any other academy?

But overhauling the culture of English football is a difficult fix. Playing on fan’s nationalism and introducing a hard quota is easy. You get the fans behind the idea, it’s easy to manage (punish teams who don’t fit the quota), and it’s easy to implement.

Another lie bandied about is that the proposal will help small clubs. HA!  It won’t make teams like Arsenal and Man U less dominating because they have the capital and academic infrastructure to weather the coming storm.

English players, who already command a hefty premium, are about to get a whole lot more expensive, it’s simple economics. If the rules are that a team must field 6 players with the correct passports then teams like Arsenal will pay for those passports. So, instead of signing a player like Samir Nasri they would sign Bentley or Shawn Wright Phillips. Instead of Adebayor, they’d get Crouch. Football fans know immediately when I name these names what would happen to the lower clubs.

In the 6+5 system, players like Crouch go from being decent players who might go to Portsmouth to being valuable players. Big clubs like Arsenal, clubs with 60,000 seat arenas and Champions League football, will be able to lure players like Crouch with the promise of a big salary… if they could prise him away from Liverpool, who would be desperate to keep an English player of Crouch’s “quality.” So, instead of leveling the playing field, the 6+5 rule would concentrate talent even further into the hands of the big four. Because the big lie here is that there’s some huge hidden pool of English talent who would get a start if only they were given a chance.

The other reason why English talent would concentrate in the hands of the big four is because their academies are head and shoulders better than others. You only need to look at all the Englishmen who currently play in the Premiership who have come through Arsenal’s academy to see what would happen. Instead of letting a player like Bentley go he’d be starting at Arsenal or if they did sell him, it would be for a huge sum certainly out of the reach of a team like Blackburn.

In the end, I’m not opposed to the proposal because I think it’s going to hurt the Arsenal. I oppose the proposal because it’s illegal, discriminatory, based in Nationalism, and it won’t achieve anything that they suggest that it will. In short, it’s the perfect plan for a small minded man like Sepp Blatter. Let’s hope that it’s challenged and overturned immediately.

29
May
08

The sins of wages

Oft injured Arsenal striker Robin van Persie yesterday publicly challenged Arsenal over their wage structure.

Arsenal have a policy in which they will not go over a specific amount of money when agreeing the salary of a player. They won’t pay enormous amounts of money. I think that they should go to a higher level of salary. If you want to keep the group together, you have to keep them happy. If you are 27 or 28, I can understand that you would make the decision to go elsewhere if you can earn three or four times as much. If that sort of money was also paid here, I’m sure that person would stay.

One day, our fair Robin is asking Arsenal to pay more salary and the very next day it’s revealed that Arsenal have the third highest salary behind Man U and Chelsea. I was taken aback by the announcement myself. I know, Fiszman had come out two days ago with a statement that the Arsenal was paying nearly what Man U were in salary and I thought “that’s just Danny talking to the press” he’s probably exaggerating for effect.

Turns out he wasn’t exaggerating at all. Arsenal’s 06/07 salary was just £2.5m below Man U. Which is quite the shock, because I always held that Arsenal’s youth policy and rigid salary structure kept wages low. I guess not. Granted, that salary figure includes the ludicrous £10m salary that Thierry Henry made in his last season (10% of the total was paid to Henry) but it’s still a huge chunk of change for a team full of youngsters. In fact, I speculated publicly that Arsenal’s salary was probably below that of a club like Everton and never once received an odd look, much less a rebuttal. Everyone I know thought Arsenal’s salary was on the low end for a top club.

Though the wage bill is high, there is a great deal of evidence that the club is not overpaying and is, in fact, practicing very prudent fiscal policy unlike almost every other Premiership team. Before I go on, I like this PDF as a visual representation of the things I’m going to talk about.

In that graphic above, you can see that Arsenal may have the third highest wages but that they also have a wage to turnover ratio of exactly 50% (third in the EPL, behind Spuds and MancU). This means that Arsenal paid for exactly half of their salaries with gate receipts. Meanwhile, Chelsea (largely due to their insane salary) are only able to pay 30% of their salary in match day receipts and most teams manage just below 27% (like Everton who are square in the middle at 75%). I think this 50% number is deliberate on the part of the Arsenal board, by the way. Based on the insistence that there is a wage structure and the all too neat 50% number, I suspect that the board wants salary at or around that mark. I would even go one further and wager that next year’s report will be 50% or a little better (due to the dropping off of Henry’s huge salary).

Also, Arsenal only increased their wages 8% over the previous season, while Chelsea increased theirs by a whopping 17%. Interestingly, it looks like Arsenal are bringing their finances in line (with the increased revenue generated by the stadium and a small increase in overall spending) and other teams are spending above and beyond their means. If Chelsea increase their salary an additional 10% and Arsenal stay pat (which is another thing I would put money on seeing in next year’s report) then you can expect Chelsea’s salary to double Arsenal’s in just two years and reach over £160 million pounds per year with gate receipts of just under £40m.   That doesn’t seem logical does it?

Another thing in the report that is oft repeated in the press is that the Bundesliga is the most profitable of all the leagues owing to the fact that their profit to salary ratio is so much higher than the EPL. But I see a small problem there in that Television and “Other Business” account for so much of their profits and gate receipts are so low. Yes, the Bundesliga has the cheapest ticket prices and thus there’s an opportunity for growth there, but Serie A and La Liga must be eyeballing their paltry gate receipts and declining attendances and hoping that they don’t lose out on television revenue or they could fall behind even further.

Which brings us full circle. I can’t for the life of me figure out who Robin van Persie thinks Arsenal need to pay “triple” the salary to; Adebayor? OK, certainly an increase, but triple over a single season of great performances? That’s too much. Ask again next year when you repeat what you did this year. Toure? He’s one of only two players who are 27 (Rosicky is the other and if I heard him asking for a raise, I’d laugh my head off) and he’s one of my favorite players but let’s face it: he had a bad season. Triple? No. Flamini? Triple? Quadruple? What did Robin want them to pay him, £200k/wk? Even I wouldn’t want to see that.

I also have to wonder what team Robin van Persie thinks Arsenal should spend like? They already spend like Man U, so does he mean Real Madrid, Barcelona, Inter, Milan? I’m sure those teams spend a great deal but on average, Arsenal are in that top tier. If Milan wants to pay £120,000/wk for a backup holding midfielder who can’t even make his national team, then that’s their business. I don’t think he’s worth it and clearly Arsenal agree. So, that leaves but one other team that he could possibly be talking about: Chelsea. Spend like Chelsea? No thanks, we’ve been over this and Arsenal are not Chelsea.

28
May
08

We need less foreigners! No we don’t!

I just had to include the image above, I know it’s cruel, but, it’s pretty funny.

There isn’t even any poop to scoop this morning.  The Hleb/Nasri saga is still drawing on and I suspect that Wenger will sign/cut them both very soon.

Cesc is asking for a reasonable increase in his wages and… has signed Darren Dein as his agent in the negotiations.

Ugh

Darren Dein is Theirry Henry’s agent and the guy who engineered Henry’s outrageous contract and then called up Barcelona and offered Henry to them.  He’s also the son of David Dein who we all know is the lackey of Usmanov.  Maybe Darren’s apple fell far from the tree and he’s not a greasy, double dealing, back stabber.

Let’s hope.

Speaking of “people I wish would just go away” David “Goldenballs 2 Electric Boogaloo” Bentley has continued his unhealthy obsession with his failure at Arsenal and taken a swipe at the youth academy.

At Arsenal, there were probably 15 or 20 different nationalities at such a young age. Sometimes that can stifle the development of players.

Right David, they stifled your development.  Which development was that?  The gambling addiction that you admitted ruined your early development? The development of you into a rational, thinking, intelligent adult?

I really think this guy is nuts because on the one hand, the foreigners “stifled” his development and on the other hand “Growing up at Arsenal and developing there was great for me. I think it’s made me stronger and a better player for it.”

Not content settling for just one contradiction he says that on the one hand, “Maybe they should change the rules of youth teams [to force teams to have more Englishmen]” and on the other:

You are going to be playing at a lower level if you let people play because of nationality and not ability. No-one should be playing just because they’re English. I don’t think they have to make restrictions on who plays in the Premier League, because everyone wants to see the best players in the world playing on a Saturday… If you’re good enough, you’ll get an opportunity somewhere and it will be up to you to prove yourself.

Then he finishes up his dizzying display of illogic by saying that while quotas are bad, maybe there should be a bench quota of three players because

Then a manager can bring them on and try to develop them in that way.  If they prove to be a success they can play.

David Bentley, complete nutjob.

27
May
08

Strange days

I feel like it’s groundhog’s day and any moment now Bill Murray is going to show up dressed like Sepp Blatter, do his Carl Spackler voice and tell me that the ridiculous 6+5 proposal is back on, the 39th game idea is still alive, and the EU agreed to force 18 year olds into indentured servitude.

Didn’t we already go over all this stuff? Didn’t the EU say that the 6+5 rule was “not compatible with the free movement of persons in the EU” and even go a step further?

The European Treaty is very clear on this point – discrimination on the basis of nationality is not allowed, this also counts for football.

As dead as the 6+5 story seems it pales in comparison to how roundly the 39th game idea was rebuffed by every country that would host such a game.  How is this even making print at this point unless I’m trapped in a day that’s repeating itself endlessly?

Further evidence of my fate is the weird “story” in the Independent about how much money’s in each team’s transfer kitty. It’s weird for lots of reasons (mainly that they don’t cite any sources and their numbers all look a little off) but the thing that stuck out like a sore, red thumb was that they are repeating the propagandistic claim that Manchester United had profits of £79m. No they did not. They lost £58m and are completely incapable of even paying the interest on their loans much less the transfer fees they owe. Didn’t we go over this last month also?

What is going on???

Please, god, tell me there’s a news story!!! Show me a sign that I’m not trapped in a summer hell of listening to Man U make false claims, Sepp Blatter bleat on about his illegal 6+5 plan, and Scudmore talk of his completely unsustainable 39th game.

PLEASE???!!?!?

Djourou wants to play holding midfied and is willing to wait until he’s 26 or 27 to prove himself capable.

Huh… no matter how hard they try to reprint the same stories (hit me with the “Nasri to Arsenal” story I haven’t heard that one for about 1/2 an hour) I guess it isn’t groundhog’s day.

So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.

26
May
08

Happy Memorial Day

Coincidentally, there is no Arsenal news today.  Regardless, here in the states it’s Memorial Day and as a veteran (and the son and grandson of veterans) I don’t work on Memorial Day.

See you tomorrow.

25
May
08

FIFA and UEFA’s plan to tear down club football

At 16 years and 177 days, Cesc Fabregas became the youngest player to ever feature for an Arsenal first team, playing in the League Cup match against Rotherham United. Less than two months later, in just his second appearance for the club, he scored a goal, in the 5-1 thrashing of the Wolves, again in the Carling Cup. In fact, Wenger’s record of using the Carling Cup to “blood” numerous young players has been the cornerstone of Arsenal’s recent success and would have been the cornerstone of future success. Youth players all want to play for Arsenal, because there’s just no better footballing education in the world right now: Fabregas proves that.

But jealousy, hindsight, and nationalism have conspired in the form of FIFA and UEFA to rob children of their right to have access to that world class education. Yesterday, FIFA and UEFA announced that there will soon be a rule that will forbid anyone under the age of 18 from signing a professional contract outside of their home country. Imagine an agreement made by world tennis that forced youth to only play tennis in their home country. Imagine an agreement made by some educational governing body that would deny children the right to attend university outside of their home country, just because they aren’t 18. This proposal stinks, it’s bad for clubs, it’s bad fot players, and it’s bad for world football.

Clubs like Barcelona have always been angry that Arsenal “steal” their young talent, develop them, and sell them back on the market for hundreds of times the value that Arsenal paid for them. But it wasn’t theft, because teams like Arsenal take extraordinary risks bringing a 16 year old into the academy. Risks that Barcelona admitted they wouldn’t have taken. Since Arsenal took the risks, since they played Cesc when he was just 16, they deserve the reward.

The player too took a risk, he left the comfort of his homeland, learned another language, braved the English weather, the food, the Martin Taylor’s, and came to a club with just the slim promise of maybe playing football — if he worked hard enough to warrant it. It’s only jealous hindsight that a team like Barca would be angry over the signing of Cesc Fabregas; after all, if they wanted to take those risks, they could have signed him. So, FIFA and UEFA are hoping this proposal will pass by playing up clubs’ jealousy and hindsight.

But, in order to get the fans on board and in order to get each country’s national directors of football on board, they are also wrapping this whole disgusting proposal in the tattered flag of nationalism. What a disgrace; dragging the corpse of England’s Euro 2008 campaign out as the example of the system gone awry. Who cares what England did or didn’t do in Euro 2008? Is it because some fans and directors need to wrap themselves in the Union Jack, paint their faces with St. George’s Cross, and re-live some nationalistic dream of beating the “dirty huns” or the “Japs?” Is that why they are susceptible to the way this plan holds promoting “national football” out as the goal?

This is not about how well your national will team do. FIFA and UEFA don’t give a rat’s ass how well a particular team does. What they care about is enriching their coffers at the expense of club football. That’s what this is about; glorifying FIFA at the expense of club football and club football players. They see the wealth generated by the multicultural, multinational corporation that is the EPL and are using everything in their power to destroy that in order to put “national” football back in the driver’s seat. They want their piece of the pie back.

What will the outcome of this fevered plan be? I suspect that nations with well developed footballing schools will get immeasurably better and nations without such schools, immeasurably worse. The rich will get richer, the poor poorer. FIFA and UEFA don’t care, as long as they get richer.

Brazilian children who have little hope to escape the poverty of their homeland will be stripped of the hope of a great education at a team like Arsenal. American children will certainly get worse; having to play in “challenger leagues” here, or hold out hope to go to college and play college ball. This scenario will be repeated over and over again in small countries with underdeveloped football infrastructure.

In short, world footballing opportunities just got worse, not better. Make no mistake, national teams will suffer as well because players get better as they are introduced to a diversity of playing and teaching styles and forcing kids to play one way, with the other kids they grew up with is stultifying to say the least. I hate to sound like George W. Bush, but freedom is what’s best for the players, the clubs, and ultimately the national team and this proposal is authoritarianism at it’s worst.

Let’s all hope that some 16 year old brings a law suit as soon as this plan is implemented, because there’s no court in the world that would uphold such a ridiculous proposal.




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