Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I had to chime in, man...

Two things:

There's been a lot going on in European football this week. I decided I couldn't wait until the weekend to chime in on a couple of events, else I forget some of this stuff.

First, Liverpool FC is now owned by American investors George Gillett and Tom Hicks. Both Gillett and Hicks already own sports franchises in the NHL, and Hicks is the owner of the Texas Rangers (let's just hope Hicks isn't responsible for recruiting football players given his record for buying pitchers in MLB). Three top-teir Premiership clubs (Liverpool, ManU, and Aston Villa) and three American majority owners. If one looks at the previous two American takeovers, we see the tale of two football clubs.

ManU, a wildly successful club, has enjoyed prosperity and was one of the few Premiership clubs that was debt-free. The Glazers changed the debt part of that equation, saddling the club with the 660 million pound debt which was the result of borrowed capital in order for the Glazers to buy this franchise in the first place. Also, the ManU fans were dead set against the takeover, and likely remain hostile to the Glazers to this day. Another reason for the hostility is the reluctance of the Glazer family to speak publicly to the supporters. On the flip side, Randy Lerner, owner of the Cleveland Browns, purchased Aston Villa. Villa has been a struggling club, and fans welcomed the takeover in hopes of fresh directions and ideas.

Supporters were all too happy to bid adieu to Doug Ellis, the former majority owner. Hicks and Gillett have been very savvy in this takeover.

They have addressed the Liverpool faithful.
"We know what you want, you want to win," said Hicks.

The two Americans also did not make the mistake of referring to Liverpool FC as a "franchise," which, in the UK denotes a soulless corporate entity.

They also kept Rick Parry on as chief executive and David Moores, the former majority owner, will be the "Life president" of the club. A shrewd move ensuring that the day-to-day business of the club will be minimally affected. So far, the two Americans are doing all the right things. For the Liverpool supporters, let's hope that this acquisition leads to future trophies and titles.

Second, most of the Italian Serie A games were postponed this past weekend as a result of some deadly hooliganism at last Saturday's Palermo/Catania match. Severe riots erupted, resulting in the death of an Italian policeman. This hooliganism is unfortunate, and needs to be better controlled in Serie A. England has taken many measures to clean up the hooliganism surrounding club and national team matches, as evidenced in this past World Cup. As a result of the violence, the Italian football federation have been meeting to discuss strategy. For the short term, several matches will be played, but with supporters not filling the stadium to capacity. Some stadiums will not even allow fans. Also, an assesment of stadium safety will likely be underway in all of the top Serie A venues.

Times are changing, and it's becoming more obvious than ever that these hooligans are not at the football stadiums for the sport.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Dateline Saturday: 'Nova basketball beats Slick Rick Patino and Louisville and Blackburn doubles up Sheffield United.

To quote Ice Cube: "Damn right it was a good day."

Transfer Deadline:

The end of January marks the end of transfers for teams in the top leagues of Europe. Who made moves? Were they good? Were they bad? Everyone has an opinion on this. I'd like to mention a few notables from January in the Premiership and possibly other leagues.

To start, several teams should be noted for not making any significant moves. By that, I'm talking about Chelsea and Arsenal. Both squads are full of good players. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, right? However, in Arsenal's case, with the uncertainty of the return of Robin van Persie, perhaps a bolstering of the attacking force might have been a good idea.

ManU made arguably one of the biggest loan moves of the Premiership. The loaning of Henrik Larsson, former Barcelona man, from Helsingborgs to ManU for the remainder of the season could well be the bump the Red Devils need to secure the Premiership trophy.

West Ham was another club that busily wheeled and dealed this January. The arrivals of former Fulham midfielder Luis Boa Morte and former West Brom man Nigel Quashie give the Hammers some good midfield help. Former Blackburn defender and Aussie international Lucas Neill and former Birmingham Blue Matthew Upson give some serious street cred to the defense.

Blackburn made some deals, which may turn out to have been more out of necessity. With the loss of Lucas Neill and Andre Ooijer's season-ending leg break, the Rovers had to bring in a little backfield help. Enter former Liverpool defender Stephen Warnock and Swiss international Bruno Berler to give the Rovers a solid backfield (also with Aussie international Brett Emerton now playing right back). To offset the loss of Robbie Savage in the midfield, the Rovers pick up Birmingham's David Dunn. Aston Villa made a move I am particularly impressed with: getting Lyon's Norwegian attacker John Carew in a part-exchange for Milan Baros.

Carew is strong and impressive and will help Villa attain future glory. The Villans also picked up Ashley Young from Watford for a large fee (9.65 million). To quote the Pet Shop boys, "Was it worth it?" We shall see.

Ashley is, in fact, young, but that also means he is relatively unproven.

Fulham, alas, poached Clint Dempsey from the New England Revolution. The two free tickets I get to Foxboro every summer won't be nearly as good without Clint leading the charge of the Revs. One of the last Premiership moves I'll mention is Charlton's pickup on loan of Zheng Zhi, the Chinese international. If Zhi fits in with Charlton and with the Premiership, this loan could bear some serious fruit and keep Charlton from the drop by season's end.

Two notables from Serie A in Italy: First, Ronaldo is plaing in Milan. To many, this smacks of a very money-motivated deal, much like the Beckham-to-LA deal. How useful Ronaldo is to AC Milan remains to be seen. He doesn't have to help them with the Copa Italia, since Roma knocked off AC Milan quite handily on Wednesday. Speaking of Roma, their pickup of Christian Wilhelmsson from Anderlecht was understated. I think Wilhelmsson has a good future ahead of him, and can seriously help Roma compete with the two Milan clubs.

Difference-makers in the Premiership:

In no particular order, here are some footballers whom I think will make a big difference to their respective clubs' and their final standing in the Premiership at season's end:
1.) Petr Cech, Chelsea. If Cech comes back healthy, in game shape, and in good form, Chelsea could seriously unseat ManU and repeat as winners of the Premiership crown.
2.) Wayne Rooney, Man United. Rooney needs to be a consistent scorer, and a constant threat to the opposition's defence, if ManU is going to claim the Premiership title from Chelsea this year.
3.) Tim Howard, Everton. Howard's goalkeeping needs to be more consistent if the ManU loanee is going to help the Toffees attain a respectable position in the Prem table this season.
4.) Tim Cahill, Everton. Cahill gets healthy, then the Toffee's are a club with deadly attacking threats with the Aussie midfielder teaming up with Andy Johnson for scoring punch.
5.) Morten Gamst Pedersen, Blackburn. Pedersen is a true playmaker.
Evidenced as he provided all the scoring for Blackburn's latest victory over Sheffield United, if he is on his game, then the Rovers will be playing on the European stage next season.
6.) Obafemi Martins, Newcastle United. I had the pleasure of watching the recent Newcastle v. West Ham tie and Martins showed flashes of brilliance.
He also showed flashes of "am I on the right pitch?" He needs to show more of the former and less of the latter to keep the injury-plagued Newcastle club out of the bottom part of the table.
7.) Thierry Henry, Arsenal. Henry needs to make plays and score to keep Arsenal in contention for the Premiership to spot. This is especially true if the rest of his team goes silent in a match against an inferior opponent (Read: Arsenal v. Middlesbrough).
8.) Brad Friedel, Blackburn. Brad needs to be a rock in front of the net to keep the Rovers in games. This might end up being especially true since half the defense isn't used to working with each other (see above).
9.) Nicolas Anelka, Bolton. Anelka's attacking will keep opponent's wary of Bolton's threat to score. If only he can remain loyal to the club and not get restless feet.
10.) Marlon Harewood, West Ham. The big fella needs to score more to keep the Hammers in more games.

-Christopher J. Brigham

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