Building Foundations: Football in Afghanistan — Part I

April 13, 2015

Afghan youths play football in front of
“Part I: Crumbling Foundations. ‘LT! Did you see last night? Barcelona FOUR to ZERO against AC Milan! Messi with 2, Villa and Alba all scored. Iniesta said they would win and they did!’ This is what my interpreter, Johnny, said after Barcelona’s 4-0 win at the Nou Camp against AC Milan to overturn a 2-0 first leg deficit in the 2012-13 edition of the Champions League. Johnny isn’t his real name of course. He’s an Afghan national working for International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers in Afghanistan as a linguist. He was assigned to my platoon during my deployment to Operation Enduring Freedom 13. Champions League football can seem very distant from a Forward Operating Base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, but for Johnny that night, he was in the Nou Camp. For him however, football, and in particular Barcelona, is his escape from the harsh realities of his home. And for many Afghans, the same is true. Football is their oasis.” Outside of the Boot – Part I, Part II, Part III


Manchester City’s downward spiral puts Manuel Pellegrini in crosshairs

April 13, 2015

“For Manchester City, there were worrying signs in Monday’s 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace. Ostensibly, the Premier League champion was unlucky. It had 69% possession and 22 shots to Palace’s five. It hit the post and should have had a penalty. Palace’s first goal was probably a fraction offside. Fundamentally, though, City lost because it was lazy–and it is that, more than anything else, that raises doubts about the future of Manuel Pellegrini. Defeat to United in the Manchester derby on Sunday would magnify them perhaps to a breaking point.” SI – Jonathan Wilson


Lazio earned its fascist reputation, but it has since devolved into stereotypes

April 13, 2015

“The crest of S.S. Lazio depicts a golden eagle, wings outstretched, grasping a blue-and-white-striped club badge in its talons. The eagle looks a little ferocious, as many mascots are wont to do. Still, its steely glare shouldn’t provoke such loathing – yet this misunderstood avian has managed to become a perfect symbol of the much-maligned club. You see, an eagle was commonly used as a fascist symbol. It doesn’t matter that the eagles worn on Italian Fascist uniforms bear little resemblance to the Lazio eagle; for those seeking to make their cases against the side, the bird’s use gives further credence to the theory that Lazio is a fascist club, founded by army officers and doomed to be Mussolini’s team.” Fusion


English Entropy: Will the Best Premier League Teams Ever Match Madrid, Bayern, and Barcelona?

April 13, 2015

FC Barcelona v Manchester City - UEFA Champions League Round of 16
“With seven games left in the campaign, the English soccer season is effectively over. Chelsea are seven points clear of second-place Arsenal with a game in hand. Manchester City are seven points clear of fifth-place Liverpool. And all the English clubs have been eliminated from the Champions League. Sure, there’s still a relegation battle to be fought, but among the Premier League’s elite, all the excitement has been sucked away less than two weeks into April. Financially, England’s top tier is doing great. Teams up and down the table have become profitable, and a massive new TV deal means the top division has a very bright future. So, with the Premier League in such apparently good shape, why has it become an afterthought as the soccer world heads into its home stretch?” Grantland


Louis van Gaal’s latest masterstroke: Fellaini as deep-lying target man

April 13, 2015

“Throughout his career as a coach, Louis van Gaal has been dogmatic, but perhaps the only thing he is dogmatic about is the fact that he is right. He came to the Premier League and, because he’s smarter than anybody else, he took the one surviving facet of the traditional English game, and showed how we could have been using it far more effectively all these years. Look, he said, I like this target man of yours, but why on earth haven’t you been using him in midfield?” Guardian – Jonathan Wilson


“Torpedo-ed” Moscow

April 13, 2015

“Torpedo Moscow, in their latest incarnation, are a club with a whole heap of trouble. Fans warring with the owner, owner trying to placate investors, never-ending stream of bad media. One of the storied clubs of Russian football seems to want to curl up and die. Last weekend’s violence in Tula was another blow against soccer in Russia. Coming hot on the heels of the idiocy in Podgorica, the Arsenal and Torpedo fans seemed eager to grab headlines with a flare and firecracker display which presaged a full on riot.” backpagefootball


Why Italy’s top league wants to take its games beyond the peninsula

April 13, 2015

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“Once, not so long ago, the soccer world looked to Italy’s Serie A to lead the way. Now the league’s asking the rest of the planet for help. It’s considering playing the first round of matches in the 2015-16 season in cities such as London, New York, Paris, Jakarta, Shanghai and Beijing. It’s a desperate idea to drum up interest from a faltering league. We should caution that it’s Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis (below) who’s pitching the idea, and as you’d expect from a big-time film producer, he has a penchant for dramatic but unrealistic gestures – like threatening to send his players to some kind of training prison camp, and proposing suing the Italian government for $16 billion.” Fusion


United Take Back Manchester: How Louis van Gaal Finally Found His Best Team

April 13, 2015

“We’re 32 games into the season, and this much is now obvious: Manchester United are one of the four best teams in the Premier League. Yesterday’s 4-2 romp over Manchester City was United’s sixth league victory in a row and the team’s best performance of the season. Just a month removed from a heated battle for fourth place with Liverpool, United totally dominated their crosstown rival and now sit four points clear of City in third. Over the first half of the season, Louis van Gaal’s team strung together a host of ugly victories on the back of improbable goals and timely finishing. But now, with wins over Tottenham and Liverpool in addition to City, the manager has his team playing the kind of attacking soccer he warned that fans might have to wait until next season to see. So what finally clicked for United? Basically, van Gaal finally found the right starting lineup.” Grantland


La Liga’s top Spanish scorer may have played his way to Portugal

April 13, 2015

“The messages started arriving, and they didn’t stop. ‘There were more than 100,’ Rayo Vallecano attacker Alberto Bueno told El País. ‘And that’s not including Twitter. I couldn’t even keep track of the ones which were coming through on there.’ Manchester United’s Juan Mata wasn’t among those who sent a message, but he did phone Bueno, who he played with at Real Madrid many moons ago, to congratulate him on his 14-minute, four-goal haul in Rayo’s win over Levante at the end of February. And the goals didn’t stop there: One more came against Barcelona, two against Granada and another at Eibar.” Soccer Gods (Video)